A Burning Speck of Star Dust

The rain and clouds have dispersed
and the night is noisy.
Cicadas and bullfrogs
fill the soundscape.
In the distance
an owl hoots
and some coyotes respond.

Sixty miles overhead
a speck of star dust
left behind
by some visiting comet
hits the atmosphere
and starts to glow
before becoming
completely vaporized.

It is dark in the neighborhood
most of the humans are sleeping
and no outdoor lights are visible.
On a distant road
a car can be heard
driven somewhere
by someone
not noticing the show
and, oh,
there’s another shooting star.

Unlike on radio
or television
where dead air
is to be avoided
and viewers become
quickly impatient
we wait on the porch
for the next flash.

We count the seconds
one thousand one
one thousand two
as we wait for another;
just one more piece
of celestial candy
before we return
to bed.

(Categories: )

Collective Effervescence and the Cloud of Witnesses

The Epistle reading for Sunday, August 14th included the verse,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

This has always been a favorite verse of mine, and this past week, I’ve been reflecting on the great cloud of witnesses. I am reminded of those who we can learn so much from by looking at the The Lectionary Page’s Lesser Feasts and Fasts, and additions from A Great Cloud of Witnesses.

Monday, August 8th was the feast of St. Dominic and I spent a little time reading about the Order of Preachers, commonly known as the Dominican Order. Tuesday, August 9th was the feast of Herman of Alaska, “a Russian Orthodox monk and missionary to Alaska”. Wikipedia goes on to say “All biographers agree that at Valaam, Herman studied under Abbot Nazarius, previously of Sarov Monastery, who was influenced by the hesychastic tradition of Paisius Velichkovsky.”

This lead me to do a little reading on Hesychasm, or stillness in prayer. As I spent time reading related topics, I found my way to The Ladder of Divine Ascent. I found a translation online, but I haven’t found a recording of the translation I can listen to on my commute.

August 10th was the feast of Lawrence of Rome and August 11th was the feast of Clare, Abbess at Assisi. A quote for St. Clare has been making its way around the Internet recently:

"We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God´s compassionate love for others."

This fits nicely with the thoughts about the cloud of witnesses. We become more like what we love as well as like those around us who love the same thing.

August 12th was the feast of Florence Nightingale. Working in health care, I try to observe this health day, as well as get people to recognize other aspects of her life, around statistics, social reform, and theology.

August 13th was the feast of Jeremy Taylor who “is sometimes known as the ‘Shakespeare of Divines’ for his poetic style of expression, and he is frequently cited as one of the greatest prose writers in the English language”. Part of his writing is recorded on Librivox, so I may listen to some of this later on.

August 14th was the feast of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an Episcopal Seminarian martyred during the civil rights movement. I thought of Daniels as I prayed for Milwaukee.

Another part of the crowd of witnesses can be found, starting off with this article: Science Says If You Go To Music Festivals, You’re Happier Than Most People.

Can partying be spiritual? Maybe.

The fact you can feel more connected to people around you while enjoying good music is a great reason to actually go to festivals

The article puts it into context by bringing in Emile Durkheim

The phenomenon of shared energy at festivals is attributed to what French sociologist Emile Durkheim calls “collective effervescence.” It’s basically what happens when a group of people get involved in something that allows them to communicate the same thought simultaneously while participating in the same action.

Wikipedia talks about Collective effervescence as “the basis for Émile Durkheim's theory of religion as laid out in his 1912 volume Elementary Forms of Religious Life.”

The Elementary Forms of Religious Life is available on Project Gutenberg, but not on Librivox. It goes onto my reading list.

Collective effervescence, the cloud of witnesses, and becoming like that which we love all has implications for churches. It also has implications for each of us in our daily life, and perhaps especially, in our online interactions.

The Moral Revival

Recently, I stumbled across an article, New group aims to boost evangelical voice. Yet as I read about the group, I would not use the word ‘evangelical’; perhaps conservative, perhaps fundamentalist, but not evangelical. I consider my beliefs generally evangelical and also very progressive. Is Progressive Evangelical even a thing?

Another article I read, Why a stout theological creed is not saving evangelical churches, drew a distinction between white evangelicals and black evangelicals. It notes that the conservative white evangelical churches are declining in attendance. Ideological purity does not seem to be a saving grace.

One of the first articles I came to was 10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Progressive Evangelicals. The first two things mentioned are, “We exists” and “We are not totally comfortable with the terms ‘progressive’ or ‘evangelical.’”

It is a good article, worth reading. It references Sojourners, which I’ve always liked and Red Letter Christians, which I hadn’t seen before. The first article I read there was A Revival to Hope America by William Barber.

I have long been interested in revivals and great awakenings. I have hoped for a great moral revival in our country, and here I find a reference to precisely that. The Moral Revival. Let us hope for a revival based on loving God and not ideological purity.

Between Pope Francis and The Year of Mercy, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement, and Rev. Barber and his friends in the Moral Revival, there is hope, mercy, and love.

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself: Vote

This morning I read an article, Why I Refuse To Register To Vote and various comments about it. I have many different reactions to this, which I’m trying to put into the Guidelines for Mutuality (developed by VISIONS, Inc) that is frequently used in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut.

The teaser for the article says, “I refuse to register because direct action is the only way to make our city better.” To me, this sounds very much like either/or thinking. The guidelines urge us to practice “Practice ‘both/and’ thinking”. Voting is a direct action. It does not preclude other forms of direct action. In fact, it can lead to and facilitate other forms of direct action.

Many of the responses include things like, “This author is white, right?... Total privilege here in this article….” As an older straight white cis guy who feels called by God to vote, these comments capture a big part of my reaction as well. However, going back to the Guidelines for Mutuality, we find “It's okay to disagree. It is not okay to blame, shame, or attack, self or others.” Some of the comments, while raising important points, feels a little too much like an attack on the author for my comfort. I disagree with the author, but I hope we can all learn from him and from one another.

Towards the end of the article, the author asserts, “To vote is to do nothing.” This is a place where I fundamentally disagree. I currently work in health care. Every day, I run into people whose lives have been significantly impacted by voting, people who would not have had the access to health care that they have if it weren’t for people who voted in officials that expanded access to health care and community services.

Before you say voting does nothing, spend some time with those for whom every day is a difficult struggle. Spend time with a young black Muslim woman who suffered from domestic violence, lost her son to brain cancer, and has faced many other difficult struggles, supported by her neighbors, including those neighbors who helped elect people who would pass laws to protect her. Spend time with old black men who had been injured in their workplaces and are now fighting chronic pain and mental health issues as the live on the streets whose lives would be even worse if it weren’t for parts of the safety net. Yes, if you’re a young white man living in Brooklyn who knows where your next meal is coming from and where you are sleeping tonight, if you’ve never been pulled over or harassed because of your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, maybe voting doesn’t have a big effect on your life, but it does have a big effect on the lives of your neighbors, and we, as Christians are called to love our neighbors.

The author quotes Thoreau, “A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.” Yet not voting is part of leaving the right to the mercy of chance and allowing what is not right to prevail through the power of the majority.

The author also talks about the idea of being “an ambassador from another country as we read in Jeremiah 29“. Yes, we are called to be in the world but not of the world. We are admonished not to be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

Most importantly, we are called to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbors as ourselves. What is the best way to love our neighbors? We need to listen to our neighbors, talk with them, help make sure their needs are met, advocate for them. To me, this means voting, and doing much more.

Tai Chi with Seals

With skins of freshly picked
wild blueberries
lingering on my lips
and the oil
of freshly crushed
sassafras leaves
on my ankles
and wrisrs
to ward off
those pesky black flies
that interrupt
I faced the sea.

With knees slightly bent,
wrists, elbows, and shoulders
I inhaled
and felt the energy
of the vast ocean and sky
in my belly
and then down
through the soles of my feet
through the sand
and into the sea
where the seals
gently waited
and watched.

They watched
as I struck
the tiger pose,

They seemed more curious
about the deer pose
and they joined with the seabirds
who seemed amused
at the human
standing on one leg
flapping his arms
like an awkward crane.

Once more,
I sank my chi
thanked the birds
and seals
that joined me
and sent them
good fishing energy.

(Categories: )
Syndicate content