prostrate

A Glory that Breathes Life

Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 8:5-17 OR Acts 17:22-31
1 Peter 3:13-22
John 14:15-21

There is a glory that breathes life back
in a corpse and brings strangers together

as friends. Call that one back who fills
the held-out robe of a thornbush with

flowers, who clears muddied minds, who
gives a two-day-old infant wisdom beyond

anyone’s learning. “What baby?” you ask.
There is a fountain, a passion circulating.

I’m not saying this well, because I’m too
much in the scatterbrain sweetness. Listen

anyway. It must be said. There are eyes
that see into eternity. A presence beyond

the power and magic of shamans. Let that
in. Sink to the floor, full prostration.

– Rumi (“Scatterbrain Sweetness” in The Soul of Rumi, Barks, Coleman, ed.)

Growing up in my small-town Midwestern church, we were, on the whole, conservative in our speech about the Holy Spirit. Being committed to the practice of baptism, we immersed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but baptisms are the only memories I have where the Spirit was spoken of among our church people, let alone invited as a presence into our worship or shared life together. Read more

The Rupture of Impossibility

The Baptism of the Lord

Acts 10:34-48

Freeze the frame, theologian James Alison instructs, on the moment in Acts 10 when the Holy Spirit falls on the surprised gentiles and on the even more astounded circumcised believers. What looks to be a scene from a pentecostal or charismatic rally is, on closer inspection, a “cultural earthquake of immeasurably greater proportions” (Quotes and wording are taken from Alison’s On Being Liked, esp. pp. vii – xvii, and Faith Beyond Resentment).

First, the trance of things vile, repugnant, unclean; animals strictly and expressly forbidden by the purity code. Peter’s visceral response showed that he had been formed by what he had inherited and had always believed to be God’s Law.

Then, the “inwardly perplexed” journey to Caesarea and the entrance into Cornelius’ household. Even to get to this point, Alison says, “Peter had to undergo a stomach-churning disorientation of losing the sense of goodness and holiness which came from being separate.”

Then Peter began to speak. Until then he had assumed that the good news of Jesus was a completely Jewish story. Now he tells the same story to gentiles… and all heaven breaks loose. Read more

Where in the World?

Pentecost Sunday

Acts 2:1-21
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Romans 8:14-17
John 14:8-17 (25-27)

One of my prized possessions is a cassette recording of Thomas Merton lecturing his fellow monks at their Kentucky monastery during Advent of 1964. He tells them that we must come to see that Christianity exists in history, and that we have to see Advent in terms of contemporary history. He details some then-current events: the shootings and killings in Mississippi, the war in Rhodesia. Then he says, “Pious meditations on how rough Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus had it are meaningless unless I have some response to the sufferings in the flesh today. Events are manifesting a reality which is present. We’re living in Advent. What’s happening around us is the Advent liturgy of 1964.”

Merton’s words shed light on every season of the church year. In this case, they raise the question of the difference between mere pious mediations on the early disciples gathered at the festival in Jerusalem and the events that indicate we are living in Pentecost. In seeking an answer, we do well to remember John Howard Yoder’s caution against reading “the surface of history,” that is, making simplistic connections between current news reports and the mysteries of what God is up to in the world. But with that due caution, what is the 2013 Pentecost liturgy? Each appointed Scripture text provides not only a lens through which to see the world but also a unique focus on the gift of the Spirit.

In Acts 2, the out-pouring of the Spirit is a dazzling convergence of Passover and Pentecost, signs and wonders that extend God’s message of repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations. The coming of the Spirit crosses countless barriers, and, in Augustine’s words, “gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages.” Where in the world is that happening? Read more

Internalizing what Externals Mean

1 Samuel 16:1-13

We live in a culture obsessed with appearance.  Tanning beds promise us sun-kissed bodies year round.  Moleskine notebooks remind others of how creative we are and our designer eye wear helps us not only to see but to be seen.  In this image obsessed culture we are tempted to continually modify the external, often in an effort to avoid the work of tending to the inner life which cannot be so easily dressed up.

God, however, is not so easily distracted by the temptation of the external.  This episode in the life of God’s people is a brilliant example of the declaration God made to Isaiah “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” says the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55.8-9) Read more