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It Is Finished

It Is Finished

I have been thinking about you a great deal recently, given that it is Eastertide. In particular I was wondering what it was like for you after you spoke the words, “It is finished” and then bowed your head and “gave up your spirit.”

What did that feel like?

I picture you with your arms outstretched, simply falling backwards, much like someone collapsing inversely into a body of water but without the splash, jolt or sting. Instead of water, I imagine you perfectly suspended in brilliant light, your arms still effortlessly extended. No darkness, no pain, no anxiety, no worry, no fear, no shame; just gleaming radiance bearing you with tender ease.

On one of my early morning walks with Polly, I noticed something I hadn’t discerned before. Because Polly zigzags across my path as we walk, I have to look down and slightly ahead so as not to trip over her. In so doing, I found myself listening more intently. What I heard can best be described as seeing the space around the birds’ chirps and twitters.

That positive space was teeming with expectancy; pregnant with poetry. The quietude spoke through and cradled the birdsongs simultaneously; as if it was conversing with itself as the birds were singing to each other.

Could this also be part of what you experienced?

I have read the story of your crucifixion, death and resurrection many times and have heard countless sermons about salvation, but this Easter was different. I felt and sensed you in a new and unexpected way.

The word ‘faith’ is often understood as accepting something you can’t understand. People often say: “Such and such can’t be explained, you simply have to believe it.” However, when Jesus talks about faith, he means first of all to trust unreservedly that you are loved, so that you can abandon every false way of obtaining love … It’s a question here of trusting in God’s love. The Greek word for faith is ‘pistis,’ which means, literally, “trust.” Whenever Jesus says to people he has healed; “your faith has saved you,” he is saying that they have found new life because they have surrendered in complete trust to the love of God revealed in him. Henri J.M. Nouwen

That’s it, isn’t it? That is what you did when you “gave up your spirit.” You surrendered in complete trust to Love.

Yes, Susan, that’s it. You can trust me, I love you … the more you trust me, the more intimate we become. I know you and nothing you ever do or say will make me love you less for we are one.

It Is Finished

Golden Calf

From the moment the golden Trump statue arrived at CPAC in Orlando, Florida, social media was inundated with its comparison to the golden calf that Aaron, brother of Moses, made in the desert on the Sinai Peninsula.

Moses had climbed Mount Sinai to receive the terms that would define the covenant relationship between God and God’s people. He was gone so long that the people of Israel feared he would not come back. In their supposed abandonment, they asked Aaron to make a god for them to worship.

Considering that the Israelites had watched God defeat the Egyptian gods with plague after plague, walked through the Red Sea on firm ground–walls of water on both sides, witnessed the Red Sea enclose their pursuers in a watery tomb, were being guided by supernatural fire by night and cloud by day, were supplied drinking water from a rock, it is difficult for me to believe they would choose to worship a golden calf.

But after a quick internet search on “oxen worship” I found cattle worship was fairly common in some ancient cultures, one of which was Egypt, the country where the once enslaved Hebrews were held captive for generations.

Another example of idolatry and perhaps a more appropriate juxtaposition to the golden Trump might be the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who refused to worship the golden Nebuchadnezzar statue in Daniel chapter three verses 1 through 7.

King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue 90 feet high and 9 feet wide. He set it up in a recessed area in the wall in the province of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar sent messengers to assemble the satraps, governors, mayors, military advisers, treasurers, judges, officers, and all the other provincial officials to dedicate the statue he had set up. Then the satraps, governors, mayors, military advisers, treasurers, judges, officers, and all the other provincial officials assembled to dedicate the statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. They stood in front of the statue.

The herald called out loudly, “People of every province, nation, and language! When you hear the sound of rams’ horns, flutes, lyres, harps, and three-stringed harps playing at the same time with all other kinds of instruments, bow down and worship the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever doesn’t bow down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” As soon as they heard the sound of rams’ horns, flutes, lyres, harps, and three-stringed harps with all other kinds of instruments, all the people from every province, nation, and language bowed down and worshiped the gold statue King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

Because they declined to venerate Nebuchadnezzar’s golden monolith, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace stoked “seven times hotter than usual” due to the King’s prideful rage.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18

Since the book of Daniel combines “a prophecy of history with an eschatology (a portrayal of end times) both cosmic in scope and political in focus,” it could be easy for one to imagine—due to his pride, arrogance, avarice, self-indulgence, and insolence–the gleaming graven Trump image in this scenario. Just as easy to conceptualize is Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Mitch McConnell, Franklin Graham, Lindsey Graham, et al. obsequiously genuflecting to the resplendent effigy of emptiness.

What has Trump and his cohorts failed to perceive? What did the faithful trio know that King Nebuchadnezzar and his advisors didn’t know? What did Moses and Joshua remember that Aaron and the Israelites forgot?

As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it. Exodus 20:19-20

Did he really make them drink the gold-powdered water? The following link gives a thorough explanation of this figure of speech. Moses did not force them to do anything, he was merely asking them, what are you believing?

https://www.chaimbentorah.com/2018/10/hebrew-word-study-drinking-gold/

When you are worried, what are you believing? When you are facing trials and tribulations, what are you believing? When the world around you appears to be going to hell in a hand basket, what are you believing? A simple question, one that gently reminds us that we are not separate from our Creator; that we are only lost in some form of “ignorance, deception (or) illusion.”

I read the following in a recent Richard Rohr daily meditation:

“… we don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are. We see the things we want to see, the things that confirm our assumptions and our preferred way of looking at the world … People can’t see what they can’t see. Their biases get in the way, surrounding them like a high wall, trapping them in ignorance, deception, and illusion.” —Brian McLaren

We see things the way we are believing.

He (King Nebuchadnezzar) said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”

Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!”

So, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore, I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” Daniel 3:25-29

King Nebuchadnezzar’s mixed response demonstrates that asking oneself “what am I believing” is an on-going process; that we can still see something “other,” separate.

This is why when Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment, he answered:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39

There is nothing other than God. To revere any mere object or idol as a representation of what is everything is to remove one’s own very self from this knowing that is everything. ‘I Am’ is not anything or something other than what we and all seeming others always and already ARE. To fully grasp the first commandment is to make all the other commandments completely unnecessary. Until and as this knowing is fully embraced and integrated, the rest of the commandments are offered to God’s people as a temporary abode, refuge and/or pathway.

Rupert Spira puts it this way:

Nothing has its own existence, but rather everything borrows its apparent existence from God’s being, the only being there is. There is only one reality, and that reality stands alone, indivisible, indestructible, whole, perfect and complete.

This does not imply any disparagement of people or things. On the contrary, we are elevating people and things to their proper status. We are relieving the world of its status as an object to be exploited, and we are liberating people from the projection of ‘other’ to be oppressed, thus alleviating both from the inevitable consequences that attend such beliefs.

In other words, we are removing the filter of beliefs through which the universe has been fragmented into an apparent multiplicity of objects and others.

Solely by asking ourselves one question—what am I believing—and then waiting in apparent spaciousness for the revelation of God’s presence.

This is what Moses and Joshua knew. This was the awareness of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

Me? I am still working on it, walking in “trust, not by what (I) see.”

“Waiting in Expectation”

“Waiting in Expectation”

Jesus said to his disciples, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me” (John 16:16).

Life is “a little,” a short moment of waiting.  But life is not empty waiting.  It is to wait full of expectation.  The knowledge that God will indeed fulfill the promise to renew everything, and will offer us a “new heaven and a new earth,” makes the waiting exciting.  We can already see the beginning of the fulfillment.  Nature speaks of it every spring; people [speak] of it whenever they smile; the sun, the moon, and the stars speak of it when [they] offer us light and beauty; and all of history speaks of it when amid all devastation and chaos, men and women arise who reveal the hope that lives within them. … What is my main task during my “little while”?  I want to point to the signs of the Kingdom to come, to speak about the first rays of the day of God, to witness to many manifestations of the Holy Spirit among us.  I do not want to complain about this passing world but to focus on the eternal that lights up in the midst of the temporal.  I yearn to create space where it can be seen and celebrated.  From Sabbatical Journey by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Lessons from a Dog

Lessons from a Dog

Two weeks ago, I adopted a dog.

Ten-years-old, she is a tri-color Tree Hound/Beagle mix. Found as a stray in Lewisburg, WV, she was brought to Hagerstown, MD, by an organization called For Otis Sake. The adoption agency felt she would have a better chance of finding a permanent home farther north where hounds are not “a dime a dozen.”

It has been over forty years since I owned a dog, Dolly, and seven plus years since I last had a pet—Mooch, a 26-pound ginger tabby cat, love blob. Both easily stole my heart and left me a broken mess when they made the journey across the ‘rainbow bridge.’

Polly is her name or at least the name given to her by her foster parents. I have asked Polly what her true name is—the one given to her at birth–but she has yet to confide in me.

She is super sweet, very gentle, a real cuddle bug; and oh, my goodness, she has the softest ears!

Oh, I have tried to teach her a few commands, but at 70 some in human years, she is pretty set in her ways—the quintessential “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” dog. In fact, I think I am learning way more from her than she is from me.

A heightened sense of smell makes life an adventure for her. As soon as we step outside for a walk, her nose immediately goes to ground, sniffing away. Tail wagging, butt waddling, she meanders back and forth across my path as we walk. Stubbornly stopping from time to time to do a nasal appraisal of what must be an intoxicating odor or determinedly tugging me forward because her snout caught a delicious distant scent; she is the walker and I the walkee.

I thought I lived in a relatively quiet neighborhood … that is until Polly moved in. Due to her keen hearing, I am now regularly alerted to apparent sounds and activities to which I either did not pay attention, took for granted or simply did not hear.

These notifications come in the form of howling, barking and baying. With hair literally standing on edge, head back, nose up, and craning neck, her warbles send me into hysterical fits of laughter. Once the perceived “danger” has passed, she puts her paws on my lap or at my waist and I tell her what a good girl she is as I gently and calmly stroke her ears and sides. Her wagging tail lets me know she is happy she protected me. She seized the moment—carpe diem!

Some of my favorite moments are when she is seated in my lap and leans back exposing her belly for a rub; or when I am crying, she is patiently and peacefully present with me. She is utter awareness.

What have I learned from her?

“… for in him we live and move and have our being …“ Acts 17:28

Of this mindfulness, she is my daily reminder

Whatever I do, wherever I go, all that I am, is IN awareness. At least I do the best I can to remain mindful of this most important precept because it is where everything begins and ends. There is no separation, only belief that I could be separate; that we could be separate.

Spending time with family or friends or in solitude; reading a book, baking cookies, doing chores; walking the dog, exercising, practicing yoga; watching the news, staying abreast of politics, social media; caring for the least, the last, the lost and the lonely; church activities, work, hobbies/sports; traveling, conversing, writing, praying, meditating … there isn’t anything we do that isn’t IN the Divine.

“Lo, I am with you always.”

“Waiting in Expectation”

The Bloodline of God

The bloodline of God is connected to everything . . . shells on the ocean shore, the mushrooms growing in the forest, the trees stretching to the clouds, the tiniest speck of snow in the winter, and our dust-to-dustness—we are all connected and tethered to this sacred gift of creation. —Kaitlin B. Curtice