June 12, 2022
Good morning. In Jeremiah 1:9, Jeremiah denied skill in oratory, and the Holy One’s answer was that the words which he has to speak were not his own. The words were given to Jeremiah by God. So, I pray,
“O God, may you touch my lips that the words I utter are the words you have put there for me to speak”. May it be so.
This is Trinity Sunday, a time to rest deeply in all that is Holy, accessible in our lives as Most Wonderful Creator, Jesus who walks among us, and as Wisdom, all of whom I believe we not only rest in, but who are indwelling in each of us. I describe indwelling by borrowing from and paraphrasing the poet and author Mark Doty: each human who understands the unknowable, the self, and the smallest elements of our environment on this earth, understands the Trinity.
At this moment in time, I struggle every day because I have a desire to know everything happening, “good and bad”, however it affects my daily life. With the horror of what feels like day to day mass shootings, I check the Gun Violence Archive with some frequency. In the daily updated posting as of 6 PM yesterday, there have been, in the U.S., a total of 19,352 deaths due to gun violence, of which 10,692 were suicide, 8,660 were homicides, in addition to 16,315 injuries. In that number are the unconscionable 256 mass shootings that include 735 children killed, and 1844 children injured between the ages of 0-17 years old. All since January 1st. The numbers for officer involved killings and injuries, both as perpetrator and victim are also horrific. David Brooks’ opinion piece in Thursday’s Washington Post sent shivers down my spine. It ends with this: “we need a committee that will be focused not on the specific actions of this or that individual but on the broad social conditions that threaten to bring American democracy to its knees .” Every fiber of my being aches when I hear people who claim to be Christians loudly proclaim beliefs like White Supremacy and Replacement Theory, and subvert the education in our schools to prevent subversives like me from growing up knowing the truth about our history. The war that Russia is waging against Ukraine has surpassed the marker of 100 days, and I, as so many believe, we stand with Ukraine because they are fighting for the future of democracy, which hangs by a thread everywhere it has even a toe hold in the world. The World Bank has delivered a grim economic outlook, especially for countries under autocratically led governments where people are experiencing extreme hunger and the worst examples of the climate crisis – an example is evident in the sacred Cedars of Lebanon being illegally felled by desperate people without heat or the power to cook the meagre amount of food on which they are subsisting. Oh, did I forget to mention the predicted end of the Anthropocene? The list that is weighing me down seems endless even as I readily acknowledge that my own life is comfortable enough for me to modestly contribute to making a modicum of comfort available for others.
I am not fine in my heart, the place where joy and sorrow should be dancing together, taking turns leading in the realities of human life. Not being fine was a sentiment several expressed in the sharing at the Eyes to See, Ears to Hear mission group meeting this past Monday. I can’t make sense of the world around me; my heart is so incredibly heavy in my chest; my blood pressure has been somewhat elevated for several months; and I suffer sleep deprived nights fraught with nightmares when I do sleep. I cry at the least provocation.
Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? (Proverbs 8:1) I wonder if the question should be where is Wisdom? Has she abandoned her post and given up on us mere humans?
Let me publicly claim that this is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. That Wisdom, the female being of and in the Holy, is magnificent, and dare I say, even allows me to believe, to have faith at all. This passage from Proverbs speaks to me of the promise of all life on our small planet, and yes, the feminine in our meager understanding of the fullness of an unknowable Creator. And yet I know we have fouled the soil, the air, and the seas. Why were we, mere humans, given stewardship of the astonishing gifts of creation? Am I still tenderly holding the holy Trinity in my own being, and when and where can I hear Wisdom calling me?
As I deleted paragraph after paragraph as not fitting what I was trying to convey, Wisdom called. So yes, Wisdom is still standing at the gate and calling to all who would listen. She has to shout rather than call so that her voice rises above the cacophony produced by those who willfully choose not to listen, creating chaos and manifesting the ills of society. And yes, sometimes she approaches on tip toe, whispering up close and personal, pitched for a solo recipient. I am trying to learn to listen more intently.
She kept whispering, over and over, in my ear one morning, and so I finally listened, pulling The Feminine Face of God – The Unfolding of the Sacred in Women, off the bookshelf. I wish I had time to read you the story of a dream telling at the beginning of the book by Sherry Ruth Anderson. I hadn’t read it for many years. It takes me back to my Jewish roots, and it still takes my breath away. The most precious and stunning lines for me are:
“…because what you need to know now is not written in any book. You already contain that knowledge. It is to be unfolded from within you.”
In the dream there is a company of prophets dancing around her, and when they stop Melchizedek says to her: “We are celebrating because you, a woman, have consented to accept full spiritual responsibility in your life. This is your initiation as one who will serve the planet.” He continues, “And you are not the only one. Many, many women are coming forward now to lead the way.” Wow! Which reminds me that in my own lifetime, more and more women of great intellect, integrity, and the gift to lead in change making have risen, and continue to rise. (Oh how I miss Ruth Bader Ginsberg!) I look to younger generations to continue the work, some of them in our own community, though I will endeavor to do my part.
The whole dream sequence has so much in it to celebrate and inspire, and in the rereading I have retrieved some hope, some intangible hold on how Wisdom lives and breathes in our communal and my personal present. I fear and confess that I lapse in my commitment to accept full spiritual responsibility for my life.
Which leads to my saying that in the 31 years I have been part of Seekers Church in a number of different ways, my heart and soul have undergone many transformations, some small, some rather sizeable. I have changed beyond even my own recognition. The places I think I am most visible in this community are focused on justice work, and I pray, hope, yearn to answer the Holy Three in One’s call. I believe our Holy Creator, Jesus, and Wisdom are weeping on a scale I can’t imagine, through all of us who are crying.
And yet… there is another side to the story of what is transpiring in our world. Generally, it doesn’t make the headlines, or even the last page. Before I go any further, I will be so bold as to recommend signing up to receive Reasons to be Cheerful, online or delivered to your inbox. Each week there is a wide variety of articles gleaned world over that tell the stories of, well reasons to be cheerful about people and communities making real change, one effort at a time.
Close to home, for a brief moment, I want to focus on the work of the Servant Leadership Work Group. It is one place where I felt Wisdom at work as a committed group of volunteers made every attempt to hear as many voices from the larger community as possible, to address what I see as a crossroads in the life of Seekers Church. Speaking solely for myself, I believe the final report and recommendations made from our discernment confirm that the founding structures of Seekers are still valid, even as tweaks are considered. Building on Seekers’ history of forging a different path than other Church of the Savior communities, we need to call on Wisdom to find ways to expand our structures to acknowledge, uplift, value and integrate the ways that some members, new and old, are committed to accountability in their spiritual journey in new ways, finding alternative places to claim their deep belonging, so that Seekers can move into the future with integrity. After something of a rough beginning in bringing the work to the whole community, I am finding reasons to be cheerful. I pray all who engage with our discussions on the recommendations will hear Wisdom calling as we figure out how our community will move forward together.
I suspect that many of us have looked for and found ways to live with personal demons, and the despair that demands our attention as people of faith called to love and serve one another. Over the course of my own life, that has been a difficult challenge for many reasons that nibble away at the tender foundations I construct in faith and Wisdom. Finding balance and the motivation to live as rightly as possible is, I think, true for everyone. Despite all that I have already said, Sophia shines for me, and dances with me in this community of Seekers, in close friendships with supportive women, in the time I spend in my garden, in meditation, and when I can, in making art.
And I have been lifted up, and danced for joy, because those with far more wisdom than I possess, offer themselves to the world in places to which I am grateful to have access. Wisdom massages and readies my heart for what comes next, and next after that when I open myself to poetry, essays, memoirs, fiction and nonfiction. I am taken outside of myself and am guided into liminal space. Sophia reminds me then that the Trinity is indwelling in my personhood, preparing me for the work in the world that is mine to do.
I’d like to share some of where Sophia speaks to me, with the fervent hope that you have made the same discovery, or a corollary that you will share with all of us, or are intrigued enough to explore mine. I especially respond to lyricism in writing, and appreciate the fine tuning it takes to convey thought that fires the heart brain connectivity getting so much attention in scientific circles lately.
Walt Whitman has been important to me for many years, and I am currently reading Mark Doty’s memoir What is the Grass – My Life With Walt Whitman in which he shares such intimate details of his life that I feel privileged to be able to even glimpse. My love affair with words right now also includes Maria Popova who writes Marginalian online, Robin Wall Kimmerer, David George Haskell, and Barry Lopez*, all in books or in Orion magazine, to name just a few. Places I can encounter them, and many others, who move and inspire me are in some of the examples I’m sharing here.
Emergence Magazine has delivered, right into my inbox, innumerable hours of reading and audio enlightenment that fill an emotional and physical need in me. From May 12th, I share a small part of the piece called Where the Horses Sing by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, a Sufi teacher, and author:
My own garden, on a hillside beside the bay, is a place where the worlds come together: colors and fragrances; lavender; buddleia bushes, whose honey-scented flowers are so often full of bees; chamomile, yellow and white; jasmine, a cascade of evening sweetness; and the soft magic of the spirits that are welcomed, at home like the quail with her babies in the early summer, hiding between the plants. This is how the land was always alive, seen and unseen, movement and stillness. And we were a part of it all, our senses attuned in ways long lost. And now, as the Earth is calling out to us to remember Her sacred ways, there is the possibility to return, to walk as our ancestors walked, to be a part of the world coming alive after a long winter, after storms and snow, after a landscape so barren it pains the eyes.
“Here, where the land sings, where the worlds meet, is a way to be that resonates with both the soil and the soul. Making a garden sing, for the unseen to be present, is a simple act of welcoming the worlds our ancestors knew, the spirits of the land as well as the beings of light. I have found it is simplest through an openness of heart and a deep knowing that we are surrounded, nourished, and met in ways beyond our rational minds: a multidimensional kinship. The colors of the flowers then reveal a vibrancy beyond the physical, and even the stones in the garden feel awake.
This is a simple celebration of the wonder that was always around us, and a nourishment we need for our shared journey together into an uncertain future.
From Maria Popova on June 1st:
To be human is to live suspended between the scale of gluons and the scale of galaxies, yearning to fathom our place in the universe. That we exist at all — on this uncommon rocky world, just the right distance from its common star, adrift in a galaxy amid hundreds of billions of galaxies, each sparkling with hundreds of billions of stars, each orbited by numberless possible worlds — is already miracle enough. A bright gift of chance amid the cold dark sublime of pure spacetime. A triumphal something against the staggering cosmic odds of nothingness.
Stationed here on this one and only home planet, we have opposed our thumbs to build microscopes and telescopes, pressing our curiosity against the eyepiece, bending our complex consciousness around what we see, longing to peer a little more deeply into the mystery of life with the mystery of us.
Also on the roster of reading from my inbox that helps me to center and understand what it is to believe in the Holy Three in One, are the daily reflections from Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation, written by a variety of learned theologians. I was deeply touched by Diana Butler Bass’s reflection from June 1st, though my whole life has not centered around Jesus, as hers has. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know that when asked why I became a Christian, my response is that I followed Jesus, a Jew. I offer an edited quote from Bass’ story:
…How do we understand where and how the divine, where God, the Holy Spirit is operating in our lives, in our institutions, and the world around us? What gives us the capacity to even understand any of that? . . . people started asking me about ten years ago, ‘Why do you stay Christian?’… And I’d have all sorts of fancy answers and then I’d just say, well, it’s because of Jesus…
“That’s where I wanted to go, and think about: who is Jesus really? Who has Jesus been for me? And why has that been so central to my own life story?… somehow staying Christian is about staying in and with and through Jesus. Jesus has everything to do with it. And that really matters to me. Yet Jesus has not stayed the same for me through my whole life’s journey. And so, I’ve had to be open to understanding that, even though there’s one verse in Hebrews that says “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever” [Hebrews 13:8], I have not stayed the same yesterday, today, and forever. The church does not stay the same yesterday, today, and forever. And so, in a very real way, Jesus has changed for me. Jesus changes for the world. Jesus changes for the institutions of faith, for the church… If you’re not doing that kind of work, of letting the end of one image emerge for you and a new image of Jesus be born for you, you’re probably in a pretty static place in your own faith.
I do not want to be in a static place in my own faith. I want to live into something of a retelling of the Beatitudes, which I posit Wisdom taught Jesus, and Whitman, intentionally or not, though I think so, offered in Leaves of Grass:
This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labour to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence towards the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school, or church, or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.
Seekers Church is the very place I found grist and structure and support for my still unfolding story. It is a matter of faith to hope that your love for me will excuse my relying so heavily on the writing of others.
I am privileged to have the acquaintance of Reverend Susan K. Smith, whose Tuesday Reflections arrive faithfully in my inbox. Part of her message on May 24th resonates strongly for me since a Carolina Wren has decided to nest in my patio umbrella just outside my living room window:
If it is true that God in fact did not give us spirits of fear, but of power, love, and sound mind, then it is also true that we need to nurture those gifts. God has put in our lives the evidence of God’s presence, power, and creativity and has given us the tools to look and see what the ‘beauty of holiness’ looks and sounds like…
“And as I look and see, hearing at the same time the birds going wild with their music, providing a gradual ascension of spirit as they go from allegro to vivace to presto to prestissimo, I smile. I can hear it! I invite it all into my spirit, thus enabling me to say to the world and its evil, “You are not the boss of me. You are not the boss of all who are struggling for dignity in this life. God is here and because of that fact, you are minimized.
It is not my gift to write as those I have quoted do, who illumine Wisdom and my own journey, and I trust that you have found some wisdom in what I’ve shared. In Leaves of Grass, again, Walt Whitman put it this way in some lines from Song of Myself:
I celebrate myself,
And what I shall assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I pray that we may all find that deepest connection Whitman knew, that we are absolutely and totally interdependent. Wisdom guides us on the inner journey in order to prepare us for the outer journey. In our living with the indwelling Holy Unknowable Mystery, Jesus, and Wisdom, we are one.
Amen and Amen
*a recent tribute to Barry Lopez was co-hosted by Point Reyes Books and Orion magazine to celebrate the posthumous, upcoming publication of his last book of essays, Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCiEy-Kks5E