Radical Availability

For some people believing in God doesn’t work.  One friend, a scientist, requires proof that can be objectively quantified and measured.  Another friend attended a Christian seminary.  For a few years he served as a chaplain on a college campus.  But it didn’t fit for him.  He wasn’t a theist.  The concept of a God that is involved and engages our human condition doesn’t fit for everyone.

But that’s not me.

Since I was a boy I have been graced with a deep-seated belief that God is real.  My belief can’t be measured or quantified.  It is based not so much on doctrinal teachings but an experience of that which my tradition calls Spirit.  While my understanding of God continues to evolve, my awareness of a sacred presence remains with me.

In Judaism (Genesis 1: 1,2) the Spirit of God is reflected in the word ruach which speaks of the breath of the Creator bringing the cosmos into being.  In the Gospels the word for Spirit is pneuma which like ruach reflects the essence of the Divine being breathed into creation, including you and me.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruach_(Kabbalah) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pneuma

Why does the Spirit resonate for some of us and not for others?

What I have is my experience and the stories that others share with me.  Experiences that are sometimes subtle and other times ecstatic.  Witnessing to the movement of the Creator’s breath being breathed into ordinary lives.

Theologian Gerrit Scott Brown offers that receiving the gift of  Spirit requires an openness. What he calls ‘radical availability’:

Heeding God’s call can mean leaving home and all that is familiar.  It can demand our accumulated wealth and security or dare us to place our blessings, even our lives, at risk. It can also mean simply living where we are but with an entirely new set of priorities. In every case, our particular vocation in God’s service arises from our response to the basic call to radical availability.

This Sunday in my tradition is Pentecost.  That day when the Holy Spirit entered into a dispirited, fearful group of Jesus’ followers.  The Spirit filled and transformed them.  Transformed from fear to courage, from despair to hope.  (Acts 2: 1 – 13)

The Spirit filled and inspired these ordinary men and women to leave the safety of what they knew, for the promise of being both blessed and a blessing.

For me the Spirit is real.  As familiar as the air I breathe and the sun against my face.

I can’t objectively prove, measure or quantify this ethereal gift called Spirit. Nor do I feel the need to.  All I can do is share my story and say ‘thank you’ for this gift.

Hope Springs Eternal

Nine days until Spring and our third blizzard in ten days is about to hit.  In New England we pride ourselves on our ability to endure.  But truth be told, this winter is stretching the patience of the most hardy among us.

Yet there are signs of Spring all around.  In my backyard the call of newly migrated birds greet me.  Even in the midst of the storms, the birds are busy building nests and looking for a mate.

Waiting for a blanket of snow.

In my garden tulip bulbs planted last Fall are emerging.  Tomorrow they’ll be blanketed by up to a foot of snow.  The snow however won’t last.  The tulips will continue to rise and perhaps in time for Easter, break into bloom.

Spring we know is both a season and a metaphor for what ails us.  Watch the news and listen to the most recent political pronouncements and it’s enough to believe that sanity and hope is lost.

Yet Spring is coming despite another snow storm and despite the craziness in Washington D.C.  As a person of faith, I believe that the Spirit is always at work, preparing the way for that which is life-giving.  Theologians have a term for this prevenient grace, the deep-seated belief that there is more going on than meets the eye.

Underneath the fear mongering of politicians and the seeming complacency of so many, the Spirit is at work.  Alison my friend and a rabbi, reminds me that the creative breath, ruach,  that brought the cosmos into being continues to be at work.  In my Christian tradition we speak of the Holy Spirit, God’s own breath being breathed into creation including regular folk like us.

This is all to say that chaos, injustice and despair will never have the final word.  Soon the big storm will come with a forecast of high winds and deep snow.  But underneath the snow the tulip grows.   Praise be!

 

 

Celts and Geese

The Wild Geese

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer’s end. In time’s haze
over fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed’s marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here. ~ Wendell Berry

photo-of-goose

In Celtic spirituality a goose is the symbol for the Holy Spirit.  For the Celts raised on the windswept cliffs of the Irish Sea it is the goose that survives and thrives.

For the Celts a wild, loud, sometimes aggressive goose is a more fitting symbol of that great mystery called Spirit.  Whereas tradition depicts a dove, it is a goose which honks with an explosive energy and flies on wide, powerful, expansive wings.

Wendell Berry the Kentucky farmer and poet believes that wild geese flying over remind us ‘that what we need is here’, that the mysteries of life surround us…seed and earth and honking geese…awakening us to the gift of now.

 

 

 

Forgetting Pentecost

This Sunday is Pentecost and I forgot. This troubles me in a big way. I realize for many the word has little if any meaning. But for me as a believer and as a pastor in a Christian church this is a big deal.

Pentecost is that wild, bizarre day when everything and everyone became un-hinged. A day we are told in Acts 2 when that mystery we call the Holy Spirit came upon the first followers of Jesus and they were transformed. It was as if everything became clear, all confusion fell away and each person knew that they were loved and known by God and each person knew they loved everyone and everything. Scripture says it was as if they were ‘on fire’ with this new awareness. It was a time of profound enlightenment. Everything was new. Everything was different.

And I forgot Pentecost.

pentecost-edfriedlander

It was only when Julie, my pastoral colleague leaving for vacation wished me a ‘good Pentecost’, that I realized I’d forgotten. My sermon, the music chosen, the prayers offered would have had no reference to this extraordinary day when the fledgling, fragile church of Jesus Christ was born.

My excuse for forgetting are many: I’d been away on vacation and attending meetings as a college trustee; my Mom’s health needed attending; the car needed to be repaired; families at church were in need; church meetings needed to be planned for etc.

But what troubles me is that Pentecost, when we remember that the Spirit moves in wondrous ways, had (at least for the moment) become secondary both for me and I suspect for some in the church I serve and the church universal.

What troubles me is that I know that the only path to renewal and spiritual transformation for me, the church I serve and the church universal is through openness to that great mystery we call Spirit.

What gives me hope however, is knowing that the Spirit has a habit of breaking into our carefully constructed lives and making all things new. We can’t constrain or contain the life-giving force we call the Holy Spirit.

The Good News is that Spirit comes even when we forget.

Mary Oliver and the Gift of Red Bird

Yesterday, the great American poet, Mary Oliver died, at age 83.  Her poetry grew out of a love for nature, that served as a refuge during a turbulent childhood.  In the woods and ponds around her rural Ohio home, she found beauty, healing and hope. Throughout her adult life she would find wisdom and renewal in the her daily walks along the beaches and forests of Provincetown, Cape Cod.

Her poem Red Bird, invites the reader to look for the gift of color that breaks into the often grey and cold days of a New England winter.

Red Bird reminds us that beauty however fleeting, comes into even the darkest of times. May Red Bird speak to you.

 

Red Bird

Red bird came all winter
Firing up the landscape
As nothing else could.

Of course I love the sparrows,
Those dun-colored darlings,
So hungry and so many.

I am a God-fearing feeder of birds,
I know he has many children,
Not all of them bold in spirit.

Still, for whatever reason-
Perhaps because the winter is so long
And the sky so black-blue,

Or perhaps because the heart narrows
As often as it opens-
I am grateful

That red bird comes all winter
Firing up the landscape

As nothing else can do.