Monday, October 4, 2010

Jesus taught us how to pray:

Our Father,
who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day
our daily bread
and forgive us our
debts as we forgive
our debtors.
And lead us not
into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power,
and the glory forever.

Or something like that. This is the archetypal prayer: we honor God, we invite him to transform us, we ask that he give us what we need to survive, and we ask him to allow us to do his work uninterrupted. I have been reciting this prayer for as long as I can remember.

But what I just noticed is that this prayer is in the collective voice: our, we, us. I don't know why I didn't notice this before. I hadn't realized that Jesus was teaching us to pray as a community. This isn't the "Lord, let me get there on time" or "Lord, please get rid of this flu" type. This isn't even the "Lord, don't let him die" or "Lord, relieve the suffering in Haiti" or "Lord, give me a good harvest" or "Lord, show me the way" type.

This prayer essentially acknowledges God's presence in collective human existence. It doesn't ask for something so much as it puts into words what God does anyway. He gives humanity what it collectively needs to survive. He understands humanity's shortcomings, gives it transformation, and continuously lifts it into goodness. We are his people, and he is our rightful home, our power, and our radiance. Amen.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A letter from a friend

Hey Stephen,

Whilst typing up hundreds of pages of notes from my boss I stumbled across this quote on aspen trees in myths, which called to mind a conversation we had about how awesome Aspen trees are.

"Aspens were thought to tremble because they had the most acute hearing and were moving in response to a divine calling."

I thought of your description of Quakers, trembling in their seats before speaking in meeting. Cool connection. And also a striking picture of Aspens themselves- what a way for trees to sing.

I hope that all is well with you in Providence!


Monday, August 9, 2010

Tuolumne Meadows, in the awe-inspiring Sierra Nevada, California: millenia ago, massive glaciers passed through these parts and gouged out a vast, rippling valley full of towering granite monoliths. As the glaciers moved on and began to melt away, sparkling lakes formed in the hollows and depressions left in the rock by the passing ice. Cold streams brought sediment and sand into the lakes, and rich nutrients began to support a flourishing web of life. As layers of sediment and organic matter grew thick, the lake waters grew shallow. The lakebottom lifted toward the sun and the air, and soon a succession of reeds and grasses broke the surface of the water. Exuberant wildflowers followed soon after, and then soft, spreading bushes.

Where the lakes had been, buzzing meadows now rested, cradled by smooth expanses of granite. Many hundreds of years from now, the meadows will lose enough of their moisture for pioneer trees to set root. These trees will grow to maturity, shadow out the wildflowers, and initiate the slow transition to sweet-smelling forests of pine, fir, and incense cedar.

But for now, they are meadows, and I find myself in the middle of one. It's still blossoming, but the feel of the soil is dry. Perhaps it is nearing the end of its time. Like graceful vultures, pine trees perch on the meadow's edge, patiently waiting to make their move. Although this meadow will become a forest several centuries from now, long after I myself am dust, I still get the feeling that I ought to enjoy it while I can. I take off my shoes. White pebbles, worn smooth by ice and water, nevertheless bite at my feet. I make my way toward a nearby pond, and my toes feel the relief of silky, cool mud. I bend toward the water, and am amazed to see feathery strands of bright green bladderwort, an aquatic carnivorous plant luxuriantly beaded with tiny traps engorged with miniscule crustaceans. As my shadow falls across the surface of the water, herds of tiny minnows recoil at my presence. Their retreat startles larger fish lurking in the center of the pond, and these fish jerk into motion and then disappear languidly amidst the silt and stones.

Barefoot, I am able to avoid crushing too many of the delicate pondside plants as I step. I gingerly make my way to dryer ground, and my feet are enraptured by the velvet feeling of grass and moss and diminutive mountain flowers. My favorite flower here is Parish's yampah, a relative of the carrot that rises from the ground like tiny white lace parasols and covers the meadows like a fine dusting of snow. I walk beside the river where the grass is most lush. All along its edge, there are places where the riverbank has crumbled into the water, taking carpets of grass with it. Some of the chunks of riverbank still glow greenly beneath the rippling surface, and they look like beautiful emeralds, submerged, just out of reach.

I sit down. A groundsquirrel flees into its burrow. I remain quiet and still, and it reappears. Another groundsquirrel comes to greet it, and they touch noses and caress each others' cheeks. What are they thinking? Suddenly, they are off, bolting across the meadow to do whatever it is groundsquirrels do.

Around this meadow, in other granite pockets, lie gorgeous alpine lakes. These lakes that exist now--young, fresh, clear-eyed--are daily receiving sediment from the streams that fringe their banks. Slowly, the silt at the bottom of these lakes grows thick, rising higher and higher to eventually kiss the mountain air. When these lakes have become meadows with groundsquirrels and bladderworts and pale white yampah, the meadow where I sit now will perhaps be a fragrant forest, dusty, strewn with resinous pine needles. But for now, there are no pine needles, only grass, and my naked feet seem to draw vital energy from the green fronds. I tilt my head. Above me, the clouds glide effortlessly but dramatically, stunning white on blue.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Good News

Okay, here’s a credo (at least for this moment). I know that universalism of the “all paths lead to God” variety is fashionable now. This is why evangelism is getting such a bad rap these days, even in Christian circles; thinking that Christianity has something to offer to the world is, apparently, gauche (Buddhism, on the other hand…). The underlying unity of all religions is certainly an enticing prospect, but unfortunately, the evidence just doesn’t support this. I have definitely come to see that there are vast, fundamental, and irreconcilable differences between the world’s religions, and that some major shifts need to happen in order for all of us to find our rightful unity (one world under God, indivisible?). The world’s religions can’t agree on what God is like, how many gods there are, or even whether there is a God. The way things are now, it is clear that all paths do not lead to the same place. That is why we have needed Jesus. Obviously, humanity has become extremely confused. The man Yeshua was born in the ancient Middle East to show us (remind us?) what God is like and what he wants. And if God is indeed anything like Jesus we’d all have to agree that none of us would have ever imagined a God like that on our own. The various world religions that humanity has concocted (including what Christianity has become) demonstrate this.

I have heard some people make the argument that Jesus was meant for “our civilization” (implying, of course, that “their” civilizations got the other religious luminaries of the world). I believe that Jesus, mysteriously, was God, and not only a teacher or a prophet. So I don’t believe that Jesus was sent only to Christians (or only to Euro-America). I believe he was sent to the entire world, to all cultures, to lead and instruct and inspire humanity. Christ invites all to the table. That is why I believe that all people, regardless of religious tradition, have been given the Light of Christ, the Light of God-With-Us. But very few of us cleave close to this Light. Instead, we become confused by the colorful trappings of our individual religious traditions (“Christians” are as susceptible to this as anyone). The “Good News” that disciples of Christ are commanded to share with the world is the news that all of us can set aside our trappings and grow together in this Light. Together, we can seek out the true God, the Living God, the Great and Holy Spirit that loves us passionately and has the will and the power to unite us.

After all, have you noticed that deeply God-centered people are the ones who have most successfully seen beyond the hard encrustations of their individual religions? Also, have you noticed that these people—whether they identify as Quaker, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, or a follower of any number of indigenous faiths—have come to recognize a God that looks remarkably the same, and that this God is the God that Jesus has shown us? That is, the God of power and compassion and love and suffering, who loves all humankind equally and commands us to do the same? How could we have ever imagined such a God on our own?

Jesus said that he did not come to change The Law but to complete it. So it seems to me that all religious traditions (like the ancient Judaism—“The Law”—into which Jesus was born) have salvific potential. But too often these faiths become complicated and distracting (or even self-centered and tribal), and lead us away from the Central Presence rather than drawing us close. So The Laws of the world, all of which seek to connect humanity and divinity, must be completed through Christ, who causes us to recognize the immanence of the true God that he makes known to us. Jesus asked the ancient Jews to look beyond their political, tribal conception of God. Now, he commissions us to ask the same thing of the entire world, so that we may all grow together in his Light. This is good news.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Just thought I'd share. One night at the co-op, a chance encounter of some very politicized Palestinians (and their activist American cohorts) exploded in the kitchen. One guy's criticism of some Palestinian politicians brought down angry accusations of siding with Israel, and it soon devolved into a venomous screaming match.

Thankfully, I had a rehearsal to go to. I ate dinner and left the anger and the blaming and the shrieking and escaped into the quietness of night.

Three hours later, I returned home. And there in the kitchen were the same people. But they weren't screaming--they were dancing. Yes, while I was gone, a vicious political argument had somehow erupted into a crazy dance party.

If only that happened more often, you know?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Have you ever felt it?

In meeting this past First Day, a woman stood to ask for prayer. Her friend's young son had just been diagnosed with a malevolent brain tumor.

As she sat back down, suddenly, WHAM, I felt it. I felt the prayer. All of us, united in prayer. It was thick, warm, pulsing, viscous, arrestingly visceral. Almost aggressive (if prayer can be aggressive). I was breathless.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

...and speaking of planting the seeds, last night we prepared Providence for spring. Around midnight, seven of us headed out to the ugly, abandoned, blighted parts of the city. We were waging war on the ugliness, and our weapons were shovels, spoons, and a large paper bag full of plump, tender little bulbs.

In the larger vacant lots we used the shovels to break up the ground for planting. This worked well in some spots. But in many places the shovels were often thwarted by rocks, gravel, trash, and broken glass. For this, we turned to the spoons. Using these smaller "shovels" we were able to remove debris and make a hospitable place for delicate young roots. The spoons also came in handy when we were excavating little plots of dirt around abandoned warehouses and the soil between chunks of cracked asphalt. Although we were all prepared for confrontation, we were not once harassed by the police. We never stayed in one location for very long, and quickly moved from place to place, under cover of darkness. A policeman did drive by once, and slowed down as he passed, but all he saw was Alex straddling a bike and me, standing with spoon in hand. Who knows what he thought was going on.

Anyway, we must have planted over a hundred bulbs in that part of the city. I'm not sure we'll be able to find our planting spots again, so it's possible that the bulbs will bloom in the spring and we won't ever see them. I guess it's our little gift. I hope someone will stumble upon them (someone who needs some flowers in their life), and that they're pleasantly surprised.