Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Altar of the Heart

To become part of God's offering leaves no room for self-reflection, and even if reminded by someone else from time to time, there is little more than raising one's head in dumb wonder and thanksgiving before returning to the task.

There is a terrible danger here: as soon as we begin to realize what is happening. to be self-reflective, as soon as we begin to grasp at this power, it is, by our grasping, turned to evil. As soon as we reflect that God's power has come in to and is working through us, we already threaten to become luciferian, usurping mastery, a mastery that is by definition not kenotic, a mastery that dominates and twists and controls everything with which we come in contact in the name of all that is holy.

We begin to attempt to trap, maintain, possess, shore up the illusion of possessing the power of God; we become possessed by the terror of losing it. The power of God can be present only through the tears of acknowledged powerlessness and sin. As soon as we say we are righteous we are evil. This is not a doctrine of total depravity: we are created good, but when we use our free will to grasp power that belongs to God, that power becomes evil.

Many of us live under the illusion that if we are not for good or for evil we can exist in some moral limbo. The reality is that if we do not choose to be given for the purposes of God, then we are available to be used for the purposes of evil. To be unconscious is to leave oneself open to being manipulated; to be awake and weeping is to be in touch with reality and available to be poured-out-through by the love of God.

We come again and again to this precarious moment: the choice of willingness or willfulness, of kenosis or self-aggrandizement; of service or dominance. The moment we waver, this power ceases to be God's power and becomes our narrow enslaving fearful will turned on our selves.

The more we become the power of God, the more we must know our need of God. To become part of God's infinite possibility is to live always within a question: what shall it be? Slavery or freedom? Prison or possibility? Death or life?

Becoming God's power in this mingling of kenosis, of tears becoming fire, is true priesthood. God's kenosis is a constant giving up of power, and God's kenosis is God's tears. This kenosis in us is a readiness always to engage but also always ready to disengage, so as not to limit possibility. This is how God's power must be expressed in our kenosis.

Although we are finite, God treats us as image and not as object, and thus infinite possibility becomes possible even in finite creation, although our capacity for the love of God remains finite. We are still creature. Our kenotic life is our life in the life of God and God's in us: this kenotic life is our life in the kenotic Trinity.

Love itself is the polarity in this exchange, and our tears are born of it.

The Fountain and the Furnace, pp. 207...209.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The School of Kenosis

For most of us, the Beatitudes sound so utterly impossible, so fantastically untenable and unlivable, that we shake our heads and turn away in sorrow like the Rich Young Man. But they are impossible, untenable, unlivable only if we insist on making them static ideas of self-mastery required to placate a cold perfection external to us. The seeds of the Beatitudes are already within us, and we have only to become aware of this latent potency, to desire them to grow, to water them with the tears of our desire as we search for the Face of Christ our Sun, whose warmth will mingle with our tears and bring us to being; whose light will disperse confusion and illuminate the darkness; whose love will transform and sustain for all eternity.

Pillars of Flame, pp. 140-141.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Eighth Beatitude

"How blest are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of right; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs." How blest are we, for persecution is the sign that God's justice and holiness radiate from Mercy indwelling; how best are we, when slander has brought us to the freedom then to act with integrity and responsibility, for cursing and lies cannot touch us; how blest are we, for in the face of fearless humility, tyranny senses the crumbling of its empire and the feebleness of its energy that wildly and futilely grasps for support; how blest are we, for the leaven hidden in the loaf has begun to transfigure; how blest are we, for we know that all that is and will be now resides in the silence of the priestly sacrifice of our lives.

Pillars of Flame, p. 140.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Seventh Beatitude

"How blest are the peacemakers; God shall call them the fruit of divine love." How blest are we when we bring forth silence amid the noise of conflict and illusion, when we find the common ground, when we make the connection; how blest are we when the self-effacing Spirit breathes through us the spirit of peace; how blest are we when rage and annihilation are transformed by tears of reconciliation; how blest are we when we are so found in God we have nothing to defend; how blest are we when our suffering gives birth to greater love; how blest are we, waiting in the dark, in the still-prayer that is our being that silences the blasphemers and the debaters.

Pillars of Flame, p. 140.

Holy Trinity Update

Holy Trinity has now, metaphorically speaking, buried its dead and is entirely focused on the future. On June 5 the church site was deconsecrated and on the 16th asbestos decontamination began, followed by demolition. The tear-down process should be finished within 60 days.

'Insurance would probably pay for most of the demolition and rebuilding "if we wanted only what we had,"' the rector told the Juneau Empire. 'But what the church had, was a 110-year-old building and nearly 60-year addition. The congregation is looking to reconfigure it for the 21st century and beyond.' (18 June, 2006)

In the meantime, church members have been organizing themselves to prepare for the task of building anew. A priest/architect, Eliza Linley, 'spent a weekend with the building committee and vestry leading two workshops on the process of building a parish "program document" for use by an architect, and reviewing the timeline and options for an architect's involvement in the design and building process.' (private communication)

And the task of fundraising continues, with a goal, including insurance contributions, of 2.5 million dollars. The parish is grateful for the fundraiser that was held by All Pilgrims in Seattle on May 7, and on Midsummer Day, June 24, Holy Trinity itself held a Summer Solstice Tea, Garden Tour and Plant sale. Holy Trinity Youth created a float for the 4th of July parade with the theme 'Thank You, Juneau', and 'on June 30 Holy Trinity hosted at St Brendan's a Hawaiian choir of youth and adults from the Kahikolu Congregational Church of Kona, Hawaii. A powerful night of praise, music and dance, the event raised the spirits of all who attended, and raised several hundreds of dollars towards the rebuilding of Holy Trinity.' (ibid.)

'We have been humbled by circumstances, certainly,' the rector writes in a personal circular letter, 'but even more so humbled with gratitude by the need to receive—we who have so much in material wealth—from God. Far more than we could have imagined, expected, or had the faith to pray for, we have received prayers and gifts from across the country, from parishes large and small, from individuals, past parishioners and friends. Some obviously a widow's mite, given in faith in God and the hope in what we may become...'

Grateful, too, for the help of other churches. 'Maundy Thursday we were with the Lutherans, Good Friday with the Presbyterians, Holy Saturday we hosted the Great Vigil in the local Methodist church.... Trinity Sunday, the 111th year since our dedication, we received the gift of an icon of the Holy Trinity from our neighbor, the Orthodox (Russian) Church of St Nicholas.'

The Roman Catholic cathedral continues to offer hospitality for Sunday services in its parish hall. The parish is looking forward to the resumption of a joint Sunday School in the autumn and the two congregations meet every Sunday for joint coffee hour/fellowship.

The parish expects rebuilding to take a minimum of two years.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A National Disgrace

On June 12, 2006, here in Juneau, Alaska, James P. Sullivan, a taxi-driver, jumped off the Juneau-Douglas bridge after pushing aside a motorist who tried to stop him. It was early evening; the tide was running fast under the bridge and there were many horrified witnesses. The boat Wilderness Swift, owned by author ('The Blue Bear') Lynn Schooler, managed to stabilize the body next to its hull until the Coast Guard arrived, but attempts to resuscitate Sullivan were futile.

"Laflin [Sullivan's boss] said Sullivan had learned he had cancer and that it would cost him $10,000 just to find out if it was operable. Sullivan also had glaucoma, Laflin said. When he sought help paying for medical costs, he was told he would have to be destitute to receive public assistance.... Laflin said everyone who knew Sullivan was in shock Tuesday morning when they heard it was he who had jumped from the bridge." [Juneau Empire, June 14, 2006]

A lot of people who didn't know Sullivan were in shock, too. That this man was forced to choose among the alternatives of death by cancer, death by suicide, or the abject humiliation of becoming destitute is unconscionable. That an anesthesiologist by contrast—to cite just one example—can make upwards of $2500 an hour, points to something very sick in our medical system. That a relatively few number of people can become wealthy by exploiting the suffering of others is, in my view, at the same level morally as genocide, torture, or other war crimes. The Hippocratic Oath says nothing about profit being the criterion for medical treatment.

In a recent broadcast on Alternative Radio (NPR), Stephen Bezruchka reported that America spends more money on its health care system than any other country in the world and yet its people are less healthy than, for example, a working-class Brit. Advances in profit-based medicine require patients to pay for them. It's a vicious circle.

Also aired recently on NPR have been several stories about America's rapidly increasing population of poor people who are often forced to choose between food and their prescriptions. Their plight is complicated by the wacko decision of the present administration to split off prescriptions from Medicare and/or supplemental insurance (for those who can afford it). The new discount cards vastly complicate the lives of the elderly, create gaps in coverage of medications and are driving pharmacists out of business.

Our lack of a universal health care system degrades us both as a nation and as individual human beings. There are always problems with government-run health systems including waste and abuse, but the quiet desperation—not to mention suicides—of a large percentage of our population here in the United States is simply unacceptable. And the situation is only going to get worse: procedures and drugs will become increasingly expensive and only the elite will be able to afford them.

The State of Massachusetts recently decided that the ineptitude of federal government can no longer be tolerated. If we cannot count on the creation of a federally run National Health system, then we must do it our selves, state by state.

If we remain indifferent to this crisis or fail to overcome our sense of powerlessness in the face of a heedless, callous and cynical federal government, then yet another aspect of our humanity will have withered and died, and James Sullivan's death will be merely another statistic.