Thursday, May 28, 2009

ROBERT : Come Sunday . . . .

Come Sunday, another sort of building block is upon us, this last day of May in the year of our Lord 2009. It is Whitsunday — The Sunday of Pentecost.
      “I will send you power from above,” said the One Who came to those to whom He first came and to us, and in a couple of days we will mark the day when the Spirit came to them and to us, all of us huddled up with each other with fear and trembling in a room upstairs somewhere, anywhere, even here maybe.

We have observed our Lenten fast as winter moved toward spring. It was the season of confession and repentance, the season when we had our forehead marked with ashes. And as a sign of our humility in the face of the sacrifice He was about to make for us, we gave up saying our Alleluias in our worship. We did so even as we denied Him and clamored for Barabbas. 
      We have kept our Easter vigil and been attendant on the coming of a fair portion of all of the best things in the world that come together at Easter — the exuberance of spring and the greening of the earth, the gentle showers of April and the soft, warm days of May that herald the coming of summer. We proclaimed the triumph of the resurrection and the joy and the mystery and the wonder of the news of it. Hail thee, festival day, we sang as the choir processed through the cathedral aisles, and we got our Alleluias back.
      Easter does not last long but it is better than the mere twelve days we were given to celebrate Christmas if you ask me. Even so the fifty days of Easter seem hardly enough time to take in the Paschal mystery.
      But ready or not, Pentecost comes this Sunday. The name simply means fiftieth, as in the fiftieth day. The day was originally a harvest festival that took place on the fiftieth day after Passover. The notion of “harvest” seems right somehow for the season after Easter. It is a day of great celebration, the celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, and then to us. And a portion of the harvest will be celebrated in some communities with baptism and confirmation.
      Come Sunday, in the Story that was first told in the pages of the Book and now is told to us by the Church calendar as well, the Spirit is about to be given to us, again. Which begs new versions of the same old question — What is the Holy Spirit up to these days, in our days, yours and mine, these days given to us in our generation? And how are we being called to we help with that work? To what are we being drawn by the Spirit — Lord, have mercy, to what is Robert being drawn by the Spirit — in this next season of the journey home? What new thing is the One Who made us trying to do in us and with us and through us on the other side of Pentecost?
      “Be attendant upon that come Sunday,” I say to myself, “be attendant upon that.”

At the very least, I am drawn to an old prayer for this new season — Grant that we may perceive the ways in which You are calling to us, and then grant us strength and courage to pursue those things and to accomplish them; in the name of the One Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
      For those of you keeping score at home that is the same Spirit whose arrival we celebrate come Sunday.
      “Thanks be to God,’ he said, with a proper fear and trembling. And with a proper hope and joy as well.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

BEN : For as children tremble . . . .

“For as children tremble and fear everything in the blind darkness,” writes Lucretius in On the Nature of Things, “so we in the light sometimes fear what is no more to be feared than the things children in the dark hold in terror and imagine will come true.”
      Fear is indeed woven into the fabric of human design. It is perhaps the weakness St. Paul wishes would be taken from him even as it serves as a constant reminder of God’s grace. Or perhaps it is the heart of the humiliation for St. Peter as he denies the One Who is being prepared to die. Fear does not reserve itself for the unholy and does not escape the holy either.
      What I am learning is that fear is an introduction to faith. We cannot trust what is not seen without a healthy amount of fear pushing us toward a direction that is undefined and unexplored. We are all moving in such a direction. Each day we live in anticipation of what is to come and in reflection upon what has been. It is in this uncetainty where the Rule provides a timeless discipline that faciliates our development into the life that was first breathed into us at the very beginning.
      A strange thing is taking place as I etch out my Rule with a fountain pen and moleskin parchment: the fears that are keeping me from moving forward are also the very fears that are becoming my salvation. These fear may well be the beginning of spiritual growth.
      What children do not know and what adults should have learned along the way is that those things that represent fear for us are also the beginnings of great things. Not great in the scale of achievement or prosperity. Rather, great in that they become the building blocks that give us the strength to see fear in its fullness — which is really salvation not yet complete.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

ROBERT : Whatever else you fear . . . .

Whatever else you fear on this rainy day here in what is quickly becoming the Seattle of the South, do not fear being the only one who is afraid of being insignificant or destitute. In fact, in my case, you can add in the fears of being irrelevant, unreadable, and unread, just to name a few. Not to mention my fear that the spring rains are never going to end. There are some other things I am afraid of as well but I shall not burden you with the entire list.
      The truth of the matter is that our fear — both rational and irrational, justified and unjustified — is a part of the humanity that was whispered into us when we were whispered into being in the first place. It is as much a part of who we are as is the courage to take our lives apart and examine them. It is as much a part of us as our desire to properly balance our lives around our prayer and work and community and rest, to use Benedict’s Rule as a model. It is a part of our struggle to speak with and hear from the One Who made us, to find and do good work, to love and serve those to whom we have been given, and to live a life of returning and rest, a life in which we may actually be saved from our fears after all.
      To paraphrase the One Who came among us, paraphrasing done with fear and trembling, I might add — ‘Be not afraid. In fact, do not even be afraid to be afraid.’ A life of faith is meant to be lived in the midst of questions and doubts and complexities and fears. We are called to be faithful not correct; to be who we are instead of who we are supposed to be; to be courageous rather than certain.

On his deathbed, Michaelangelo is reported to have said to his assistant who was attending to him, ‘Draw, Antonio, draw. Draw and do not waste time.’
      Make your Rule, do the work, and be not afraid. Remind yourself that one can hardly go wrong choosing between two goods anyway.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

BEN : Fear is a powerful thing . . . .

Fear is a powerful thing. 
      I don’t remember when I first time I experienced fear. I’m just now seeing evidence of fear in my two year old, so I must have been very young when I was afraid for the first time. It was long enough ago that what I’m afraid of has become deeply embedded in who I am, yet fear is not part of the equation of who I want to become.
       Part of this business of making a Rule for our life is outlining our lives as they are today into four quadrants: work; prayer; rest; and community. The order of the catagories is of little concern while the four categories themselves are of paramount significance. Once you’ve divided the things you do in your life into the designated quadrant, you rate how faithful you are to each item as well as identify how important each item is. This helps reveal the contrast between what we are faithful at doing and what we believe to be important. The greater the contrast between the two, the more likely what we are doing is in conflict with what we are called to become.
       As I look at my Rule, the next couple of steps seem to paralyze me. I’m being asked to identify what I’m being drawn to and what do I need to eliminate in order to shape a practice for my life that cultivates who I am being called to be. To be completely honest, I’ve been parked here for weeks.
      The hard part is that nothing I’m doing is bad. Nonetheless, I have to let some things go. I wonder to myself why such a simple task seems so difficult. A friend once told me that discernment is never a choice between good or bad; that’s easy. Rather, discernment is always a choice between two goods.
      While I have sat at these steps for weeks, I have been paying particular attention to the fears that seem to be paralying my ability to continue to move forward. If I were to name them, they would be the fear of being insignificant and the fear of being destitute. Both of these fears are very powerful. I have never been able to name them before, but I’m beginning to understand that these fears are the reason I find it nearly impossible to justify taking anything off the list.
      What if I make the wrong decision? What if I choose the eliminate the one thing that will propel me into all that which I have been called to be? What if I make a decision and end up in a place that is unfamiliar or worse — unsatisfying?
      It seems irrational, which is probably true of most fear. Fear is grounded in perception and emotion; therefore, it must be irrational. The catch is that if I separate my emotions from my rational thinking, I separate myself and will surely leave out something important. A Rule is meant to bring our lives in balance not give us another reason to ignore ourselves so that we might then embody the expectations of others.
      I don’t remember the first time I experienced fear, but I know that fear is the silent barrier between the person I am today and who I am being called to become.