Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘ritual’

nicene-creed

How do we interpret and reintegrate the concepts of the ancient Church in the 21st century? We can accept them as they are given I suppose but that strikes me as intellectually lazy leading only to formulaic thinking and all the attendant prejudice and superficially ritualistic exchanges. Or, we can toss it out altogether and find a new system of thought – drop the Nicene Creed, for example, from our Liturgies.

Yet, that amounts to throwing the baby out with the wash water. Just because something was written in pre-scientific times does not relegate it to the junk heap of history. Consider the genius of Plato and Aristotle, the pre-Socratics and the texts of the Wisdom traditions of the East. While post-modern hubris may direct many to discard what is old simply because of its age, this would be adolescent and the height of folly. As Hans Gadamer has said: ” Read nothing that isn’t at least 2000 years old.” Add to this, Alfred North Whiteheads comment: ” Everything is a footnote to Plato.”

I agree with Gadamer that all understanding is bounded by the perspectives shaped by language and  culture. Yet, wisdom transcends culture. When the early Fathers of the Church gathered in 352 AD for the First Council of Nicea they struggled with so-called heresy and, through dialogue, arrived at a consensus about what to belief about Jesus. While framed by pre-scientific thought, sincere communities in dialogue discover things that each person would not have. Often, communities of prayerful debate stumble upon rich metaphor that emerges from the intersection of different agenda and experiences that tap a deep well of Knowing.

Nonetheless, we cannot interpret through their eyes, though scholarship certainly places us in a better place to appreciate where they were coming from. We read mindful of history but of course within the context of our age, our experiences, our language and new forms of thought.  We must allow the words to soak in and find in them the wisdom that speaks to us. “What if it simply goes nowhere for me?” asks a sincere person struggling with the statements of the Creed for example. In this instance, one can do no better than focusing elsewhere on aspects of tradition that do speak to you and, failing that, to find a group that approaches the mysteries from a different vantage point altogether. I, for one, have chosen to stay put having spent two decades sampling many different approaches only to find something missing. So, with feet squarely planted on the ground in the Episcopal tradition, I struggle with the beauty and the sometimes incomprehensibility of antiquity. I choose to allow the words to rise out of history and live in whatever way they may in me as they forge new meaning especially through dialogue with others.

On this the Eve of Thanksgiving, I share a meditation in this vein on the first phrase of the Nicene Creed to be followed in subsequent posts with reflections on the remaining phrases:

” We believe in God the Father, the Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is, seen and unseen.”

Beyond all imagining, I embrace the timeless Beginning, the  matrix on which  the whole of Creation is shaped and is moving;  a Heart, a force of Love, that is ever present in this moment as in the first moments of the Big Bang, drawing all things forward toward their completion and fulfillment in a larger pattern unknown.

I believe in the “father” of time as the universe expands, the “mother” of life who inspires all becoming, the “spirit” driving patterns that ebb and flow according to unseen fields of force.

I believe that more is unseen than seen. I believe that all knowing has its roots in the Cosmic Knower who yearns for unity in diversity, and that all knowing is always personal. 

© The Harried Mystic, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »

religion

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning of life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really looking for. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. (Joseph Campbell)

I find myself engaged in frequent conversation these days with very earnest and thoughtful people who struggle, as sons and daughters of post-modernity, with the religious notions handed down from antiquity. I struggle right along with them. The struggle is meaningful in itself. I too feel the tension between the call of scientific consciousness that seeks to understand how things work and the deep need to know why there is anything at all which science can not address.

As one dedicated to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, I must navigate between their import and the traditions and rituals that have wrapped themselves around them. Should I, as one keen to know through the lens of science, dispense with all the myth that has no basis in historical fact and rededicate myself, in all aspects of my life, to only the verifiable and objective? If I did, what would I miss other than the comforting blanket of forms that surrounded my early years that were taught with such seeming authority:  a virgin birth, raising people from the dead, resurrection, an ascension, a star of Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus in December after a long journey for Mary & Joseph from Nazareth on a camel, three wise men, etc.

None of these are rooted in fact. None of these are history. They are either stories that can elevate our sights or provide quaint and dispensable legends. 

Mythos means story or fabrication. In what sense are myths true or are they simply fictions designed to avoid facing what we don’t know? As Joseph Campbell expresses so well, they actually make it possible for us to be more fully alive. They are  lenses through which we can discern meaningful movement and detail, texture and color that would otherwise be lost to us. Myths bring the banal and ordinary to a heightened level and call us to deeper presence in relating to the world. 

Myth is another form of sight. Like an astronomer using different lenses to reveal subtler detail of studied planets or a photographers use of lenses to extend seeing, myth serves to examine teachings in the form of story that engage our whole being ( head, heart and spirit). Entering the story makes it possible to journey deeper into the truths at which the teachings are pointing. Even in science, metaphor is used to capture the realities under study in ways that tell a story so we can enter into physical mysteries more deeply: black holes, white holes, warping of the fabric of space-time, the curvature of space, quarks ( never seen but evidence suggests they are real), dark matter, dark energy, etc.

So, how might we make right use of the myths of Christianity to experience its teachings more deeply and fully. I offer merely one set of possibilities born of my own meditations choosing three of those mysteries/ myths mentioned earlier:

  • a Virgin birth: I imagine Mary’s full “Yes” to the Spirit delivering such news regardless of the social awkwardness of that revelation. I envision her fear giving way to joy in accepting even the seemingly impossible – a lesson in what it means to take a leap of faith into the unknown guided by gut instinct and a personal epiphany. Mary’s “Magnificat” calls me to examine the boundaries of my own surrender to the real and cynicism in response to hope and possibility. All births are miraculous! All births are arrivals from the unknown? One life can change us all! Where is the impossible happening in spite of my disbelief and what are the self-imposed limits by which I restrict my sense of what’s real?
  • a star shining brightly over the manger in Bethlehem: Three Kings of the Orient came bearing gifts and I imagine their dedicated search for the One foretold in scripture journeying over the desert in the “bleak mid-Winter”. I see their joy at coming upon the scene marked by portents in the Heavens and adoring the Child whose life would change the world. What lies beneath such a story that communicates enduring truth? In childhood, we see things animated by fantastical purposes and then, as we age, life’s challenges weaken our hold on hope and a sense of possibilities. Are the stars so separate? Are we not made of the same stuff?Are we not children of the stars? Are there not many seeming coincidences that nonetheless strike us as meaningful and that enrich our experiences? About what am I so passionate and so alive that I will journey long and hard to search it out? Where is the dedication to revelation that this story expresses? Do I see the miracles embedded in the events that too often go unappreciated?
  • Resurrection: A Soter, a bearer of Light, dies and then rises again as prefigured in the myth of Osiris and Persephone’s rise from Hades in the Spring; a Presence too great to be snuffed out who achieves a consciousness about which we can only imagine. Is death the end? Do we live on in another condition? Is our personal consciousness dead once the brain stops? Where are we going? Do we merely become dust once more? This is the central myth of Christianity. In the universe, matter and energy is neither created nor destroyed. Carl Jung spoke of the objective psyche, independent of any one of us, that draws us toward certain constellations of thought and ultimately story. I can leap into the arms of mystery and believe that, like matter and energy, consciousness too rejoins a process that, like all things in the Cosmos, is complexifying and moving toward completion. To posit an abrupt end to consciousness would stand in contrast to everything else we know about the universe. I leap into the arms of mystery, suspend my disbelief and open my heart to what mind can never grasp. I can imagine it beyond the limits my reason would impose.

Myth is a form of poetry. Without the humanities, science is cold, impersonal and can lead to destruction ( e.g., we made the atom bomb because we could). The arts are not optional. Without the aesthetic sense and literature, all things lose their deeper essence and rootedness in the mysteries. We loose the soul in the machine. Science too is written in myth like the Myth of Objectivity. We know that our tools of study affect the phenomena that we study. Mind is structured in terms of story and stripping story of metaphor is to make it hollow.

Hegel reasoned late in life that poetry was the only language that can carry us farther than simple logic. Indeed, I could say to you: ” As I age, I see that I, like everything, am on the move propelled by the same forces”, or we can read the poetry of Dylan Thomas:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower 
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees 
Is my destroyer. 
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose 
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.

The poem carries us deeper and speaks to mind, heart and soul and from the imagery we are perpetually edified.

Myth is the process by which we see into ourselves and the mysteries and are a critical part of knowing.

© The Harried Mystic, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »

3639281836_1d91f9d2ea_z

With a rich and diverse history dating back to around 800 AD, the practice of saying the rosary (or a  place where roses grow) blossomed rapidly.

Over the centuries, many forms  emerged. It was St. Dominic who first referred to the practice of reciting  three bouquets of  fifty prayers each (prayers tracing back to the lay Medieval practice of prayer after  monastic chanting of each of the 150 Psalms of David).

The symbolism is deeply rooted in Western consciousness.

As most species of roses have five petals each, it came to represent the five wounds of Christ and became quickly associated with the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven. The rose is the national flower of England and the U.S. state flowers of New York, Georgia, North Dakota, and Iowa. It is the recognized flower of Valentine’s Day and is often associated with love. It’s fragrance too has come to connote transcendent self offering, humility, grace and peace.

A walk in a rose garden with a set of rosary beads in hand is a wonderful way to invite all of one’s senses to open to the sacred mysteries.

It is the very essence of simplicity: walk slowly through the garden, slow down your breathing. Stop on each bead and breath peace. Bathe in the silence. No need to use a lot of words or any in fact.

Simple, easy, open and thankful.

© The Harried Mystic, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »

Holy & Great Friday, April 2, 2010: The Passion

אלהי אלהי למא שבקתני translates ” ēlâhî ēlâhî lamâ šabaqtanî,” or, by one fascinating translation into English,  “My G-d, my G-d,  for such a purpose have you kept me.”

On this mournful day, the Church commemorates the suffering of our great teacher, Yeshua, a Son of G-d and Man, a soter whose destiny was to fulfill prophecy in drawing humankind closer to the One who caused the first breath of creation. This is the day on which we contemplate the central dilemma of life: transcendence and suffering. We are spirit embodied and the Christ is the epitome of that embodiment. He shared with the Buddha the role of divine exemplar, one whose mission is to chart the way forward toward paradise, not later, but in the here and now.

Theologian Jurgen Moltmann captures this pivotal dilemma in referring to the mystery of the “Crucified G-d.” How are we to understand this mystery? How do we fashion a lifestyle on it that is neither simplistic and fundamentalistically hyper-emotional, nor maudlin and masochistic, but one infused instead with mystical power, upliftment, enlightened insight and existential significance?

Is it possible to do so and keep the full measure of reason? This day itself suggests our continuous struggle with the problem of suffering in the world. It has been understandably argued that either G-d is all-knowing and not good given a world full of suffering, or G-d is simply not all-knowing    ( and that would mean he isn’t G-d). This conundrum remains so if we apply dualistic reasoning. A third way is to eliminate the two poles of this seeming dilemma (Suffering-Transcendence), and focus on conversion, transmutation, and  metamorphosis. Jung made a comprehensive study of psychical alchemy and there is tremendous richness in it that informs a post-modern reading of the Christic message.

In transmuting materials from one to another, one often applies heat. In so many instances, heat is the catalytic agency involved in breaking down molecules and allowing recombinations, more vigorous mixing, and the emergence of new things. There are sometimes unpleasant by-products to these chemical reactions. Our lives bring moments of joy and moments of pain, delightful and mournful days. In all moments, we are invited by the Spirit to adapt, search for new avenues and forms of expression. A very significant block to seeing beyond suffering is the cult of happiness. It’s the wrong goal. The better target is joy and ever-deepening meaning.

We all can build a long litany of the ways in which we suffer ( physically, emotionally, and spiritually). At times, the suffering is small. Other times, it’s great. All experience is another teaching, another side-road excursion along the course of our journey. We are, as are all things, rich in potential to be forever new. An 80-year-old woman recently learned that she had a short time to live and, so, she scheduled a first skydiving adventure. We all have a finite amount of time; nothing new in that. What we do with the time is another thing. Each moment of suffering, each “cross”, is a door to insight, awareness in the moment, and our felt, vulnerable connection to all living things.

The crucified G-d is a G-d inside human experience, not outside of it: A G-d intimately infused within the creation, not one that somehow mythologically stands apart from it. Jesus is put to death by ignorance and fear, but re-emerges as Light and new hope; he transcends the horror and the pain. As he suffered on the Cross, he says ” .. for such a purpose have you kept me.” And, at his last breath, he cried out, “It is finished.” The Mass, Missa, is the dismissal, the commissioning. In moving through suffering and into death with complete acceptance of the moment, he rises again in a preternatural state transcending space and time.

We know by daily illustration that mind can traverse infinity. Life is a school in the Lord’s service preparing us with each day’s log of the journey, the discoveries, the adventures, and the misadventures. Today is Good Friday; it’s goodness is in its embrace of the darkness of tomorrow with full anticipation and deep knowing that Sunday will surely follow.

It is time to mourn and face what is frightening and real while holding fast to our capacity to redeem it and reshape it in shared consciousness. Our great opus is not yet finished. For us, who are still among the sentient, the jobs ahead are a joyful burden: a responsibility to live according to the Prayer of Shantideva, “to be the doctor and the medicine” for all sentient beings.

May your sorrows on this Good Friday be transformed into hope and new Light. May I, at my last breath on Earth, have the awareness and knowing that makes it possible to say, with Jesus: “ for such a purpose have you kept me.”

May I be a protector to those without protection,
A leader for those who journey,
And a boat, a bridge, a passage
For those desiring the further shore.

May the pain of every living creature
Be completely cleared away.
May I be the doctor and the medicine
And may I be the nurse
For all sick beings in the world
Until everyone is healed.

Just like space
And the great elements such as earth,
May I always support the life
Of all the boundless creatures.

And until they pass away from pain
May I also be the source of life
For all the realms of varied beings
That reach unto the ends of space.

Shantideva – 8th Century

© 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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »