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Posts Tagged ‘Easter’

The Sun was in full expression for most of Easter Sunday here in the Northeast U.S.: a special treat after so many days of heavy fog and rain. The weather on Holy Saturday was bleak, a day full of shadows. The Sun was out one moment and gone the next, rain came and then lifted and then very dense fog rolled in toward evening. The cadence, the rhythm of all this was so synchronistically well-calibrated to the spiritual import of the transformations of which the Trideum is emblematic. Holy Saturday is a time of expectant waiting and still one of regrets and dark moods.

Sunday was a day of tiny miracles as the Sun shone down and our bed of day lilies and tulips opened up, as if on cue, for the first time this season: a grand opening that moved me to snap a few quick photographs to mark the moment.

At one point in the afternoon, it was downright hot. I opened my front door and just left it open, and sat facing out for just moments of quiet contemplation on the bright Light, emerging colors, fragrances and the promises of long ago planted bulbs fulfilled. The birds were out in force and their choir seemed especially sonorous and full. It was a perfect, if fleeting and fragile moment of synchronized living, and then the need to travel intruded, with all the necessary flurry of things to take along on the journey to make the obligatory visits for the holiday.

Now, at the end of Easter Monday I reflect back on yesterday and find myself drawn to the memory of those precious few moments at the doorway blessed with an ever so brief taste of heaven presented for any and all who took but a moment to put aside all other agenda to bathe in it.

It’s the littlest things that contain so very often the true “magic” and sacrament, the real Presence of the Spirit, embodying the most authentic Call to Discipleship.

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The universe began in unimaginable darkness. Then, light pierced the darkness and out of nothing emerged everything, kinetic and potential.

We are reflective creatures of the Light. The Resurrected Light of the World in Christ ( alpha and omega) is the matrix of all matter. Love and true compassion are the surest signs and expressions of that first resurrected light.

Let it shine brightly and consume all darkness as we are Knights of the Dayspring.

+ Happy Easter and blessings to you and yours.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Easter Sunday Vigil & First Eucharist, April 3/4, 2010

This is the central feast of the Church, the day commemorating the Resurrection, the rebirth of the Light of the World. It is the conclusion of the 40 days of Lent. At the Vigil, the celebration begins with the lighting of a fire in a small urn outside the church after sundown. From that fire, the Paschal candle is lit, and then all individual candles held by congregants are ignited from that central one. All walk into a darkened church holding their candles, and it creates a marvelously otherworldly feeling. It is beautiful and one of my favorite liturgical celebrations.

What follows are readings that make clear the promises of G-d to Man and retell the stories of His mythic interventions in Human affairs beginning with the creation itself. The readings draw our attention to the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. We re-read the story of the seven days of creation and the formation of diversity out of an undifferentiated fabric. We revisit the legendary flood, Noah, and his rescue of all species on the Ark. We reconsider the Exodus of the Jews and their deliverance from Egypt, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, allowing the chosen people to pass, and how the water’s divided then collapse in upon the Egyptians as they attempt the crossing. We read, once again, the harrowing and deeply disturbing tale of Isaac and his son Jacob, whom Isaac was first asked to sacrifice at knife-point by G-d, but was then turned away from doing so by the Spirit of the Lord at the very last moment.

All of this context setting and pre-figurement exists as stage-setting for the telling of the central mystery of Christendom: G-d’s sacrifice of His “Only Begotten Son” ( doing, in effect, what he would not have Isaac do) in an act of incomprehensible Divine vulnerability that reveals the marriage of divine and creaturely aspects within humanity. As I wrote in my last post for Holy Saturday, the celebration revolves entirely around the return of the light that pierces all darkness, once and for all.

Tonight, I chose a local church to visit that I’ve never attended before. Consequently, I knew no one there. My intent was to have the experience of Easter Vigil not as a Priest but as a stranger to a congregation on the central night of the liturgical calendar. The good news is I arrived successfully. The bad news (maybe) is that I arrived about 10 minutes late. As I parked down the road, the congregation was gathered outside the church for the lighting of the first fire. As I approached ( as covertly and unobtrusively as I could), a gentleman reached out to me with a candle so that I could immediately join in the process. The prayers outside were just finishing up and then we began the precessional.

Once inside, while just a little sheepish and a bit distracted from the rushing to get to the church, I soon relaxed and entered into the rhythm of the proceedings. It was delightful, and people reacted as if I had attended for years. I spent time pondering each of the readings and then the Gospel, and listened attentively to the homily, simple and to the point: Live in the Light!

It was all a palpable demonstration of the need for the “sangha,” the community. Collective worship reconnects everyone together in a mystical union that cannot otherwise be duplicated. It is a necessary part of the journey (balanced, of course, with ample contemplative time in solitude). The Vigil itself clinched my meditations this week (as I’ve shared them in my earlier posts). One question kept going through my mind, though, as I followed along and joined in the singing of the hymns (a few of which I frankly didn’t much care for as they seemed less than pleasantly melodious).

What are they each experiencing? How will this experience shape them, affect them, and trigger the next steps in their own spiritual odyssey? What mystery is unfolding underneath our moments together?

It is these things that are so much more important than what anyone believes intellectually. All that imagery and “mind-stuff” is interesting, but it doesn’t usually rise to the level of existential drama when things get very real. In the church at such times, one sees G-d in the smiling faces and in the greetings of recognition. There is a warmth (almost familial) and a yearning to get above the personal troubles of the days and weeks before and after the event.

There is a need to be noticed and acknowledged. It is a time to be received, accepted unconditionally, without judgment, and with open arms. [At least, that is the aspiration, the fervent hope. Certainly, there is no lack of politics and game-playing in parishes. In fact, parish life and conflicts can get quite ugly, pedestrian, and trivial]. While that is part of the human experience in all communities, on this special night, the celebration turns to matters of deepest urgency: our identity beyond space and time, an identity that transcends issues and personalities.

One case in point was in the singing. The cantor, up above and behind me in the  balcony, had a sweet coloratura, yet faint, almost hesitant. I could not see her, but the voice communicated advanced age and a reserved manner. It was pleasant enough, though some of the notes were well off, but none of that really mattered. After a while, her antiphons and timbre became a part of the complex texture of the overall experience. There was an innocence to it. Altar servers, male and female, were attentive, especially when one of the deacons set the forsythia branches on fire in a moment of careless positioning of the candle he was holding. He dealt with it and seemed furious with himself and embarrassed. I could relate to how he must have felt having had many mishaps of one kind or another of my own at the altar over the years. But this too was only a minor blip (fortunately) in the proceedings, and not the main event that was bubbling up from beneath.

The service was long and I caught myself drifting. I gently brought myself back to the process. About mid-way through the readings, the content began to stir  memory and imagination. Everything up to that point was a preparation, a getting settled in, a tuning of the instrument as it were. I started to remember key events in my younger life:

  • my first communion ( and choking on the host & feeling as if I’d be consigned to hell for that),
  • the Confirmation slap ( which hurt, seeming a bit angry, I recall, from a Bishop who I thought was a bit peeved),
  • my wedding service ( and the Priest’s comment that statistics on marriage success were appalling),
  • my early endeavors toward Priesthood in the Episcopal Church ( dashed by conflicts with an autocratic and narcissistic pastor),
  • my discovery much later of an Independent Rite and ordination, after Seminary, to the diaconate and priesthood ( whereupon that community fell apart owing to conflicts among the bishops),
  • my invitation by a Bishop in a separate Rite in the northeast to serve once again, elevation to the Episcopacy and election as Coadjutor ( then followed within a year by my disillusionment with actions on the part of the archbishop that were politically motivated, irregular, and non-canonical.

What an interesting series of contrasts, adventures, and misadventures: openings and closings, great promises, and deep disappointments. I then thought about the far more important moments:

  • praying with my mother when she laid dying,
  • doing the same with my father,
  • being present to bless a cousin suffering after major surgery and bolstering his confidence and faith in the outcome,
  • visiting other sick and despondent people,
  • working with young people and adults in the context of pastoral counseling, and
  • offering my listening to the always fascinating stories of good people trying to wade through the drama and mysteries of their lives.

What a privilege!

Adding all these fleeting memories together, one golden thread ran through them: a call to shine light into places that needed it, sometimes entailing disappointment and distress for me, but nonetheless a mandate to be authentic and true to principle. It was about shining light first on my story, without dodging the difficult moments, the foolishness, the times of ego and ambition, and allowing the fabric of time to draw a picture of what it really means to live in good faith. Only then could I be of any real service to others. The Vigil tonight was, at least for me, a confirmation of a path and a renewed call to serve based on whatever emerges; a peripatetic ministry.

The alchemical task and the meaning of Easter is to be the Christ for others; to be a catalyst for their discovery of their own path, their own meaning, helping them to uncover their own genius so that they can be a brighter beacon in the firmament of time.

The Crucifixion and the Resurrection are continuous, conjoined, unfolding sacred happenings in our lives. The dance of night and day, darkness devoid of light and Light devoid of darkness, is perpetual. In the readings of the Vigil Liturgy, the compilers of Biblical lore told of many promises made to the chosen people. These were promises that meant the foretold the end of suffering and, in being among the elect, to experience a virtually charmed and divinely favored life. Never again, G-d is said too  have promised Noah, will Humanity suffer the likes of the Great Deluge.

But history instead is a story of one after another broken promise: the oceans are rising, the hurricanes more ferocious, the coastlines are dramatically eroding, earthquake generated tsunamis are much in the news, the ice caps are melting and many rivers have crested and we read of extensive flooding, damage and loss of life. We focus on the revelation and the fulfillment of the scriptures, but the “promises” attributed to    G-d represent humanity’s deepest hope. In reality, the objects of that hope are hard won and elusive.

Our task is to see a deeper truth in scripture; that the end of suffering is our’s to achieve. We were fashioned in His image ( the “Imago Dei”). We are accountable to be the solution, not to wait around for supernatural agency to do it for us. Frankly, He isn’t coming. That’s the key. He gave us everything we need to find the answers. His blessing is on us. The Light is eternal. It is real and it burns brightly within us. It is ours to shine or to extinguish.

This is the hard but true lesson of the Easter season, of the tension between Crucifixion and Resurrection. As consciousness truly leaps ahead, and we see more clearly, we can act with full and unfettered Spirit and transform the World. Christ is in us.

Let us embrace the Christic miracle and be the Christ for one another. This is the real transformational fruit of authentic liturgy vs what can otherwise become a routine formula of merely skin-deep public worship.

Happy Easter. He is Risen and the Rising is evolving every second within Us!

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Great ( Holy) Thursday, April 1, 2010

A day also called “Maundy”  Thursday in the Anglican tradition, or the “mandatum”, the mandate to perform the “Lord’s Supper.” This is also the day of the washing of the feet. Traditionally, the Pope washes the feet of priests and priests do so for parishioners. Together, these ritual jewels of the Church celebrate the central mystery: the Presence of the divine savior among us in the intimate acts of washing and eating.

A good friend and fellow Bishop refers to the “Mass” as “Divine Alimentation.” We are fed by the Prince of Peace. We are directly privy, without need of any intermediary, to the sanctum sanctorum. Celebrating the savior in an act of eating is to continue in the path of total conversion; the transfiguration of mind-body and spirit from the inside out. We literally become the Temple of the Lord.

The word “Mass” is telling. It derives from the latin word “missa,” which means dismissal, or, put differently, a going forth in accordance with a great commissioning. In the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, we are fed with the expectation that we will then go and likewise feed others. We are given the mandate to be fishers of men and women; to bring them the great comfort and consolation of the truth that the Kingdom of G-d rests within them.

It is traditionally on Holy Thursday that the bishops consecrate the oils of chrism, the catechumens, and the sick. In addition, the Holy Thursday celebration also calls for a gathering of the priesthood so that priestly vows can be reaffirmed. Looking at the day in its entirety, we recognize in it a call for deep personal and transpersonal renewal and a resetting of purpose. It is a time for blessing, cleansing, and the reinvigorated zeal to serve the Gospel. We are reminded of our sacred identity and our calling. It is a beautiful celebration and it is an alchemical re-enchantment.

I am a priest. I vowed to serve for the rest of my life. My service is different from that of a parish priest as I do not have daily celebrations to officiate but mostly ad hoc ones. As the Abbot of  a “monastery without walls,” the role is that of spiritual facilitator, teacher, friend, and the sacerdotal functions come as they may.

What does it mean to be a post-denominational priest? It means that one’s identity is wrapped in continuous and diverse prayer, and the readiness to fulfill the mandatum in nontraditional ways. It means finding new paths for engaging the teaching in dialogue with people while maintaining a less visible or pronounce priestly profile. It  also always calls for celebration of the sacraments as living vehicles for conversion and epiphany when there are two or more gathered with a yearning to do so.

I enter into this Holy Thursday evening as I have earlier ones, with a deep sense of awe and gratitude. I feel honored to have been called to witness to mystery and to be a voice for spiritual living. I rejoice in the meditative time in which I can hold up all those I love and know, and the world around me with profound hope of an enduring illumination. I rest tonight in the firm conviction that a powerful force is present to synchronistically guide my next steps and words.

I am a child of the stars, of the wind, of the stillness and of the laughter. I am a child of the Eucharist and a minstrel singing about the depth and breadth of our capacity for love. I am a humble poet searching for the right words and phrases to give sound to my heart.

I am a simple priest. I open myself to the next mandate, the next need, the next chance to touch the fabric of the Son of Man. I am one who is ever searching for His face among all the writing, all the poetry, all the religions, all the cries and tears and laughter, and the rich tapestry of human thought and scientific discovery.

Maranatha!

Amen.

1 Corinthians 11- 23-26, New American Bible

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread,
and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 12
A person should examine himself, 13 and so eat the bread and drink the cup.
For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment 14 on himself.
That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.
If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment;
but since we are judged by (the) Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that your meetings may not result in judgment. The other matters I shall set in order when I come.
[I am separately uploading a Liturgy this evening that emerged from my scholarship and passion for ritual over the years. It is the Liturgy that I use in the Order and at the High Masses that we celebrate here. I hope you find it a helpful complement to your Eastertide meditations. You can find it on a page linked to the “Garden of the Christos” page in pdf format.]
© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Great ( Holy) Wednesday, March 31, 2010

This day is also called “Spy Wednesday,” the day designated by the Western Church, as the one on which we recall the first betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot in his collusion with the Sanhedrin, while Jesus was himself at Bethany where he was anointed by Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. The spikenard oil she used was expensive, and so a controversy broke out among the apostles over what seemed to them an extravagance, and frivolous behavior on Mary’s part, especially given the fact that the oil would have fetched a good price at market and the proceeds could have been better applied to feeding the poor.

The power of this day is in the parallel themes of betrayal/ second-guessing, and a costly, unhesitating generosity.

On the theme of betrayal, we can all painfully recall moments when those close to us have acted without  forethought in ways that hurt us. Maybe they revealed a confidence, or chose to openly criticize us in front of others, perhaps making use of knowledge that they could only have had because they were so close. Much in the news these days, and far more serious, are the stories of flagrant infidelities; promises broken that wound whole families and tarnish reputations.

Very often, the one committing the act of betrayal is well-intentioned if misguided. In the case of Judas, he was the dupe of the Sanhedrin. He envisioned a rapprochement between Jesus and the Sanhedrin. His real sin was in being so blinded by his own egoistic vision of how things should evolve ( and his inflated sense of himself as more politically astute) that he failed to accurately read the motivations of shadowy and secret alliances, and the deeper vision of the one he truly had hoped to serve.

When we let people draw very close, they become the most dangerous people in our lives. They have intimate details of our habits and usual whereabouts and our soft spots and vulnerabilities. The old cliché “you hurt the ones you love” is all too true. We are given a treasure to hold when people offer themselves to us in deeply personal ways. Our faithful stewardship of that gift is a spiritual imperative. In acting, we must always ask: In whose interests am I acting? To what degree is it mostly about my needs, agendas, priorities and beliefs, and not theirs?

There are certainly betrayers among us, and those who one day can become so. One only need look at the depth of enmity expressed between once trusting but now estranged partners in a marital breakup to see the tragic miscarriages of love. More important on this day, however, is the “spy” (or betrayer) within. It is a day on which to think back to the moments when our own better judgment was absent, and when we acted so foolishly as to cause someone dear to us to suffer through our words, deeds, or sins of omission.

There are also those times when we feign friendship in cultivating a politically valuable relationship. In those moments, we deceive and are disingenuine,  using the other person for our own ends. (We have all been there either dramatically or in more subtle and nuanced ways). The Gospel calls us to a very high standard of conduct. It demands so much more from us by way of fidelity and follow-through on our commitments and vows. It also demands that we move swiftly to forgive those who wrong us through a thoughtless word or deed for there, by the grace of G-d, go we.

We live in a time when vows seem anachronistic. This is the age, after all, of the pre-nuptial agreement, and the so-called “trial periods” of living together. We suffer cultural paranoia and so risk losing the joy attached to firm and unshakeable vows in which our fidelity, though surely to be tested, is proven resilient and robust. In achieving such relationships, we move, as Teilhard de Chardin captured in his writing, toward the “Pleroma,”  or the Fullness of the Christic vision.

What are the vows that I have taken? Today is a good day to renew them and consider the history of my faithfulness to them and where, when, and why I fell short.

On the matter of the anointing with precious oil by Mary at Bethany, I can certainly appreciate the frugality expressed in the Apostles’ objections. The act seemed wasteful and careless. Of course, this is the epitome of homo economicus, a strong feature of the current zeitgeist. But there are other considerations. In Mary’s gracious act of expending the precious oil, she, in one movement, foreshadows the Chosen One, the death on the Cross, and the later anointing of Jesus’ crucified body  with the precious oils as mandated by Jewish custom of those times. Her intent, in the moment, spontaneously and without calculation, was to signify, viscerally and sensually, the deep personal meaning of her vow to Jesus, her devotion, and Christ’s unshakeable vow to the World; to be its Light!

My daughter has her best friend joining her in our home this week for a few days. My wife and I are delighted to see her again and extend the warmth of our home to her. We have worked pretty hard over the last few weeks to make things ready. We wanted her to feel an important part of the family. We have (and would always) go the extra step to make the time and the space special, and invest the resources to do so.

Now, one can argue that the “budget” may not have a line item set aside for such an occasion, especially because they are usually not planned well in advance. In our case, we accelerated needed work on the room that would be offered to our friend and guest. We redecorated it (certainly with the longer term future in mind) but with principal focus on making her time with us very special and memorable.

There are times when we spend more than others might, who,  looking “in” at these times of constrained finances, might challenge the wisdom of  unflinching and unreserved hospitality. They might (and have) argued that doing less is more prudent, and that the extras are nice-to-have, but maybe ill-timed. These are well-meaning comments and articulate a reality I recognize, particularly since the economic crash of late 2008. They are offered from an objective and essentially economic vantage point.

Nevertheless, having acknowledged that, our choices are motivated not by objective criteria alone,  but more substantially, by a subjective “enthusmia;” our intent to create a place of relaxation and restoration, a sanctuary of warmth and friendship. In doing so, we extend our love for our daughter to all those that she calls “friend.” This is as it should be. This is spiritual practice ( and very much consonant with the spirit of Franciscan Spirituality).

While one can still be “economical,” life is too short to miss the small chances to add light and joy when given the opportunity to do so. Hospitality, as I wrote in an earlier post, is an advanced form of spiritual practice, and it warrants pulling out our finest linens, dishes, foods, and, yes, the precious oils by which to “anoint” in the names of Love and caring.

The Spirit of Holy Wednesday asks us to retake our vows, redouble our efforts to fulfill them, and recalibrate the sincerity of our loving so that it  transcends the vagaries of politics, economics, and all the many other temporal agendas.

Mark 14:10-12 (King James Version)

10And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.

11And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.

12And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?

The Hymn of Kassiani

[written by Kassiani the Nun in the 9th century]:

O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins, sensing Your Divinity, takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer. With lamentations she brings you myrrh in anticipation of your entombment. “Woe to me!” she cries, “for me night has become a frenzy of licentiousness, a dark and moonless love of sin. Receive the fountain of my tears, O You who gathers into clouds the waters of the sea. Incline unto me, unto the sighings of my heart, O You who bowed the heavens by your ineffable condescension. I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and dry them again with the tresses of my hair; those very feet at whose sound Eve hid herself from in fear when she heard You walking in Paradise in the twilight of the day. As for the multitude of my sins and the depths of Your judgments, who can search them out, O Savior of souls, my Savior? Do not disdain me Your handmaiden, O You who are boundless in mercy.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Great ( Holy) Tuesday, March 30, 2010

“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”

This day in the Easter cycle commemorates this parable about remaining attentive, vigilant, at the ready to receive the invitation to join in when that offer comes.

Recalling the parable, ten virgins awaited the Bridegroom of which only five were really well prepared when he arrived. The attentive five had procured what they needed by way of oil for their lamps. The other five were lax and put off doing so, and when word came of the Bridegroom’s approach, they begged the well-prepared five for some of their supply. The vigilant five denied them realizing that all of them had equal opportunity and resources to get ready. The “foolish” five then rushed to the market to buy the necessary oil, but the Bridegroom arrived before their return and so they were shut out. The five that had planned were ready and were received with open arms and enthusiasm. The other five were denied access. G-d favors the well prepared.

This is a story about “mindfulness,” a much used, if not abused, word in today’s lexicon. There are many moments in the Gospels ( and, indeed, in the Jewish scriptures overall) about the need to be watchful. It is also a story about the differences between false and true compassion. Doesn’t the Master’s rejection of the five “foolish” ones betray a lack of compassion on his part?

Not at all! He simply holds the lax five accountable; a lesson in “tough love.”  They failed to be ready, so he moved on. They squandered the time they had with trivialities. They allowed themselves to become distracted. Authentic compassion is not saccharine and undifferentiating. Quite the contrary, it respects each person enough to hold them accountable.

We are all accountable for what we say, do, and think. We must answer for who we really are. In facilitating executive leadership development sessions, there are those who invariably return late from a break or from lunch. Some argue that it is best and more gracious to wait for all to arrive. Others contend that at the appointed time, our session continues regardless of who isn’t yet in the room. I am an advocate of the latter over the former philosophy. Out of respect for those who are there on time, I begin on time. The stragglers simply have to catch up.

In these days of political spin-meisters and subterfuge, excuse making and deceptive speech and advertising, the art of lying has been elevated to a seemingly grand and noble art form. The gift of gab and salesmanship has taken a front seat, and quiet leadership, diplomacy, and inviolable integrity, a back seat. With but a very few refreshing examples of notable leaders who are working hard to be otherwise in a terribly dysfunctional system ( e.g., Barack Obama), the choir of demonizers, hate mongers, fear peddlers, and distractors are legion.

It would seem that telling a lie over and over, despite clear factual evidence to the contrary, is held equal to truth in the easily influenced minds of way too many. Whatever happened to accountability? Ignoble and disreputable behavior should result in penalty. In these days of rehab clinics for all things, taking a brief  time away in so-called “rehab” ( e.g., Tiger Woods and the sexual addiction rehab clinic), and all is forgiven. Remarkable, it seems, is the rate of rehabilitation among those with means.

Camouflage, gamesmanship, coercion, lobbying, advertising, bargaining and calling in favors, and buying votes does not a well prepared “virgin” make!

Today is a day for inner diagnosis. In fact, all of Easter week is a time for self-assessment, and this day is set aside as the one on which we test our integrity, our attentiveness to detail, our discipline, or the lack thereof, and the mindfulness with which we step through our daily round. It is a time to ask about whether we too are caught short and find ourselves rushing off to the store to buy some 11th hour oil as we’ve just heard of the Master’s approach. As usual, the best tests are not those that involve big things, but the small ones that betray our careless distractibility.

Yesterday, our gardener was scheduled to stop by the house to pick up the signed contract for his continued work with us over the upcoming growing season. I marked down that he would be stopping by and had the contact in hand when we spoke by phone of his intent to do so. Well, he came by  the house and my wife answered the door and then notified me that he was waiting. I then rushed around my office desperately looking for the contract that was nowhere to be found. Obviously, I mindlessly set it down somewhere meaning, no doubt, to put it out so it would be handy when he arrived.

In effect, when I spoke with the gardener, a very good and hard-working man who cares deeply about the fine work that he always does, a generous and gracious man, I was not really paying close attention. My mind was divided among several things. As a result, I embarrassed myself by not having the contract to give him. He was, as always, gracious and understanding. He laughed it off and said he would catch it two weeks from now when he stopped by to begin the Spring cleaning.

As I meditate on this event today, I  must confess to being like one of the “foolish five” having allowed myself to get fragmented and lose focus and so make a commitment that I couldn’t keep. When I spoke with him on the phone, I was clearly NOT present!. This is a call to fresh action. I apologized for my lapse and I was sincere in that apology but what was also necessary was an immediate change in how I handle planning for meetings after such phone conversations. The only proper response is an accountable one which means one followed by demonstrable and reliable change. There is no excuse. He came out of his way and I wasted his time, and his time is no less important than mine.

This is the meaning of this day. To recalibrate our inner resources so that we are fully vigilant. To practice real, not theoretical zen, in being alive to the compelling NOW, and embrace the real and emergent over the anticipated and imagined.

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
And five of them were wise, and five were foolish
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

– Matthew 25:1-13, King James Version

Final questions: Why ten virgins? Why not two, or four, or six ( three wise and three foolish)? The Bible in fact makes much of the number “10.” It recurs often. For example: the 10 plagues visited upon Egypt, Abraham’s 10 trials, completion of the Lord’s Prayer in 10 clauses, Noah’s completion of the Antidiluvian Age at the 10th generation from G-d, etc. The examples are many. Many commentators refer to the Biblical reference to “10” as symbolic of the perfect Divine Order.

The number ten completes a decade cycle and is a short-hand representation of all numbers. It is the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. The “10” Virgins are symbolic of the entire nation of Israel and the fundamental paradox of maintaining the sacred vigil vs losing heart, focus, and becoming lost on the narrow path of righteousness.

Why virgins and not mature women? Well, this seems more straightforward. The Bridegroom brings experience to innocence. There is more of a trembling expectation among the young and inexperienced, and a mix of intoxicating excitement and profound tension and apprehension about being all the other expects.

When one pictures the scene and recalls that time in life, it is easy to feel the rightness of the parable. To be distracted on the night of the Bridegroom’s arrival is truly a sinful condition. It suggests that the full import of this night and the transformative character of it compared to all others is unappreciated. The foolish virgins betray a lack of right and natural anticipation.

The characteristic enthusiasm of such a night would never permit even the possibility of being so blatantly ill prepared. Is the “Nation of Israel” keeping faith, eyes wide open on the truth, and seeking after true Knowledge, or is she seduced by matters of power, wealth, status, territoriality, gossip, and game-playing?

This day challenges us to answer this query personally.

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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