Saturday, March 31, 2018

Of First Importance

I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.
(1 Corinthians 15:3-4)


In a post during Holy Week, I reflected on Jesus’ words from the cross, “My God,my God, why have you forsaken me?” in light of the horrific story of Christian Choate who was kept in a dog cage and eventually beaten to death by his father. Such stories are the test of anything we say about God and faith.

The Christian story of Incarnation and cross claims the promise of God’s solidarity with his creatures caught in the web of sin, brokenness, and death. The credal affirmation that the Son of God has descended into hell is hopeful. God has poured the potent, relentless mercy of Jesus’ presence into every hell, on earth or beyond. There is no one, no place, and no situation that is god-forsaken. Hopeful as that is, is it enough? What more can we say about the good news of Jesus Christ in light of the tragic story of Christian Choate and those of so many others?

In his first letter to the young church in Corinth, Paul reminds them of what he considered of first importance, what he in turn had received – that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.

Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures
 I suspect few of us have done anything as egregious as Christian Choate’s father. But each of us has failed to love as we are meant to love. Each of us has been negligent of God and neighbor. Each of us has contributed in ways large or small to the mess of the world.

And yet, in spite of that, God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). William Temple wrote,
In the most true sense [God] loves me even while I sin; but it cannot be said too strongly that there is a wrath in God against my sinning; God's Will is set one way and mine is set against it. There is a collision of wills; and God's Will is not passive in that collision.

At the cross is the collision of those wills in which God’s love overcomes all our unlove – all of our envy and enmity, all of our indifference. God poured out his love on the hard wood of the cross and thereby entered into the worst humans can do and made a way for us to enter into his forgiveness. There is no one – including Christian Choate's dad – that is beyond the reach of his saving embrace where there is forgiveness.

I suppose, in ways we do not know or comprehend, we have to accept that Christian Choate, as part of the human web of sin, needed that forgiveness as well. But that is where I think an exclusive focus on the cross and our need for forgiveness starts to fall short. Is it really satisfactory if all we can say about Christian Choate is we hope he had an opportunity to say the ‘Jesus Prayer’ and receive God’s forgiveness before his dad beat him to death? Especially given that we have no evidence that he had ever even heard anything about Jesus? And if he didn’t? Were those horrific thirteen years just a brief prelude to an eternity of torture in hell? Is it satisfactory to say, as some might, that, if he didn’t repent, it was due to his being predestined not to do so? That his brief life of suffering was just a small part of the larger story of human sin and he only received in this life a foretaste of the penalty of sin to be exacted by God on all the reprobate? That hardly seems worthy of the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

But, neither is it satisfactory to say, as an any honest atheist must, that what happened to Christian Choate is just one example of the kinds of things that are coded into the world into which we have been born. It is what it is. Any moral outrage about it is just a matter of inherited taste.

The Christian hope is more than that. In Christ, God has addressed more than our guilt. In Christ, God has addressed the deep wound of humanity, and of human history and, indeed, all of creation.

Few of us have suffered anything as terrible as Christian Choate – though my wife, who is a therapist, told me recently that as many as one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually molested. Physical and emotional abuse are also more common than we like to think. So, maybe more of us have such stories of suffering and sorrow than we usually let on. But even if we have avoided abuse of that nature, each of us bears the wounds and brokenness endemic to humanity. We don’t just need forgiveness. We need healing.

It is important to note that healing was as significant a part Jesus’ ministry as was his call to repent and offer of forgiveness. His mercy included both. So did his dying and rising.

He was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures
 Handing on to the Corinthians that which he considered of first importance, Paul referred to the resurrection using the exact language he used for the death of Christ suggesting that the two go together as two aspects of one salvific intervention. The Cross and Easter the Resurrection are two sides of the one coin of the world’s redemption.

In some theologies and popular pieties Jesus’ resurrection is treated as an addendum to what is considered the really important thing which is Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins. The resurrection is sometimes reduced to little more than proof of Jesus’ divinity or the assurance that there might be life after death. At most it is God’s vindication of Jesus’ life and message. Though I emphatically affirm all of these, the resurrection is also much more.

The crucifixion and resurrection include the promise of healing, transformation, restoration, and new creation. I am persuaded that that is true for the past as well as the present or the future. As Wolfhart Pannenberg has written,

The kingdom of God embraces the earlier generations of mankind as well as the coming ones, and hope for the coming of the rule of God does not only expect salvation for the last generation; it is directed towards the transfiguration of all epochs of human history through the fire of divine judgment, which is one with the light of the glory of God.  

Similarly, Michael Ramsey wrote of Jesus’ Transfiguration as a foreshadowing of the Transfiguration of all things in the General Resurrection that is the world’s destiny in Christ,
Confronted with a universe more terrible than ever in the blindness and the destructiveness of its potentialities, men and women must be led to Christian faith, not as a panacea of progress or as an otherworldly solution unrelated to history, but as a gospel of Transfiguration. Such a gospel transcends the world and yet speaks directly to the immediate here-and-now. He who is transfigured is the Son of Man; and as he discloses on the holy mountain another world, he reveals that no part of created things, and no moment of created time lies outside the power of the Spirit, who is Lord, to change it from glory to glory.

Our hope of the resurrection of the body is not just a hope for individual escape from death. It is that. But, it is also the expectation that the body of humanity, stretched out and tortured on the rack of history will be restored. In the final resurrection and restoration of all things (Acts 3:21), it is not just the memory of Christian Choate’s agony that will be redeemed. The trauma, torture, and terror of human history twill not just be forgotten, but redeemed. The very reality of it will be caught up and transfigured–scars and all–in a way we can barely fathom.

In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has broken open the cage of sin and death and decay that holds us all. The resurrection of Jesus is a ray of light piercing the cloud of Death that is cast over all people (Isaiah 25:6-9) guaranteeing that the world's story ends in resurrection and transformation. Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died (1 Corinthians 15:20). As Paul insists in Romans 8, that is a promise for all of creation as well. All of creation will be renewed.

In the meantime, creation continues to groan under the reality of death and decay. And not just the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).

The Gardener come to repair and restore the garden
Mary Magdalene, who the scriptures point out followed Jesus because he healed her (Mark 16:9), not because she had any unusual need of forgiveness (despite later tradition to the contrary), came to honor his tortured dead body at the tomb. There she found the grave empty. She assumed someone had taken the body. What else would she suspect? She asks one she takes to be a gardener where they have taken the body of the one she had hoped would redeem Israel and the world. When the gardener speaks her name, she recognizes that he is in fact Jesus who had been dead, but is now risen and more alive than before.

But, in fact, Mary had rightly identified him the first time. Jesus is the Gardener, come to restore the Garden of creation and history that has been infected with the thorns and thistles of sin and death that have made it a curse for so many to be born (Genesis 3). According to the ancient story, the curse began with a tree in a garden. And the healing and restoration begins with a tree (the cross) and a garden.

The fullness of the restoration of all things remains a hope of the future. We do not pretend that all is already well. In Christ we have received the first fruits. We live in expectation. But, if we allow the Gardener to work in our lives, forgiveness and healing can begin now. New creation can begin now. Transformation can begin now. And as his Spirit moves in and through us we can participate with him in the healing of the land and live now in the shade of another tree in another garden at the heart of the City of the New Creation– the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2).

The tragic life and death of Christian Choate reminds us that we still walk in the valley of the shadow of death. Sin, with all its violence and greed, is still present. But the shadow of death has been transformed into the shadow of the cross, backlit with the hope of resurrection. Christ has died for our sins and was raised on the third day. In that two-fold event, God' mercy has entered into the deepest, darkest human reality of sin and suffering, like that of Christian Choate. And he has broken out of that hell with the promise of forgiveness, healing, and new creation. Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.

See also:


Friday, March 30, 2018

Gathered at the Foot of the Cross

A Good Friday Meditation









He we are again,
gathered at the foot of the cross,
our gaze fixed
on the figure fixed on the wood.
Beaten, bruised, bloody, broken;
here is revealed the Mystery at the heart of all,
the author of creation.
What can be said
if this is the truest image?
This is almighty God,
Ruler of the universe?
It is mind-breaking.
It is heart-boggling.
It is tongue-disarticulating.

What does this cock-eyed king,
ruling from this splinter throne,
reveal?
Only this:
“O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity.”
If not only, chiefly.
Whatever God’s holiness, justice, sovereignty, or authority mean,
whatever we think such things mean,
they are dying before our eyes.
They might return on Sunday.
But transfigured.

Fixed on the cross, 
God is revealed 
chiefly to be on the side
not of the powerful, the rich, the beautiful, the successful,
not the self-righteous or the self-satisfied,
not those in the know; 
but chiefly on the side of 
the numb and confused
the battered and bruised
the poor, the meek, the lowly.
the tortured and terrorized,
the oppressed.
The powerless and the poor in spirit.

This is the Mystery revealed.

But more is revealed.
And more disturbing.
The figure fixed to the cross,
on whom our gaze is fixed,
gazes back.
Fixing his gaze on us,
he reveals us to ourselves.
And what is revealed?
Humanity.
Each of us.
All of us together.
From our earliest days,
we have been at the foot of the cross.
We are all neighbors.
This is our common stomping ground.
We are united as members of the crucifying mob
Each of us. Every. One.
All of us together.

We were meant for another locale,
a different kind of community.
Common unity.
Harmony
The Garden of Delight.
The City of God who is Mercy.
But we moved away.
Went astray.

If we did not know before

into what neighborhood we had moved,
now we know.
And here we are,
the crowd gathered
at the foot of the cross.

The common heirs of Cain,
we are marked.
Marked with envy and enmity,
here we are,
gathered in the neighborhood of the cross.
We are the taunters and accusers.
We are the betrayers, deniers, abandoners.
(We are not the Blessed Mother or the Beloved Disciple. Not yet.)
Those are our bloody fingerprints on the hammer and nails.
Yours. Mine. Ours.
How so?
It is not just God on the cross,
mysteriously revealed in Jesus.
Mysteriously revealed in Jesus,
is all humankind.
We do to him
only what we have already done 
to one another.
What we do to one another
we do to him.
"Truly I tell you,
 just as you did it to one of the least of these
who are members of my family,
you did it to me.”
It is mind-breaking.
It is heart-boggling.
It is tongue-disarticulating.

What we do to one another,
we do to him.
That is the fix we are in,
which has fixed him to wood.
And we hammer away.
All selfishness and pride – whack
All envy and malice – whack
All slothful neglect of loving God – whack
All slothful neglect of loving neighbor – whack
All greed, gluttony, and lust – whack, whack, whack
Every disdainful thought, word, or deed – whack, whack, whack
Every violent thought – whack
Every violent intention – whack
Every violent word – whack
Every violent action – whack
All torture and terror – whack
All that is not love – whack
All that is not mercy – WHACK

We fix one another to the cross.
We are the taunters and accusers of one another.
We are the betrayers, deniers, and abandoners of one another
Our bloody fingerprints are on the hammer and nails.

He said that when he was lifted up,
he would draw all people 
to himself.
And here we are,
gathered, all together, 
at the foot of the cross.
Fixed on the cross where we have fixed him,
the battered figure
fixes his gaze on us.
No good claiming innocence.
No good claiming ignorance.
Each fingerprint,
like every hair,
is known.
No good pointing accusingly at others
“Their fingerprints are more!”
The revealing gaze will not be diverted
from me,
from you,
from us.
We are all in this together.

And yet . . .
That fixed gaze
is power-full
of mercy and pity.
In that gaze, we are known,
guilty, fingerprints and all,
unable to save ourselves.

In that gaze, we are also known
fixed to the cross ourselves,
wounded and scarred,
unable to heal ourselves.

The figure, fixed to the cross,
fixes his gaze on you, on me.
It is a gaze of sorrow and love.
This cock-eyed King, 
this slaughtered Lamb,
this Mystery at the heart of all, 
revealed,
knows what we have been up to, 
things done
and left undone,
And, still, he reveals his almighty power,
his implacable judgment,
chiefly
in showing mercy and pity.

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Discerning the Body


A Maundy Thursday Meditation


When I was a newly minted priest in the Diocese of Chicago, William Wiedrich was the suffragan bishop. Bishop Wiedrich was known as a great storyteller. I am particularly fond of a story he told of a church he once served as rector that seems to have had a problem with static electricity. This problem was only exacerbated when they installed a new carpet in the sanctuary. The combination of dry air and the new carpet built up a considerable electrical charge. The first Sunday after the new carpet was installed, Father Wiedrich prepared to distribute the body of Christ. It happened that the first person at the altar rail was his senior warden, kneeling reverently with his mouth open to receive the sacrament. Father Wiedrich said, “The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.” But, as he placed the wafer on the tongue of his warden, there was such an electric discharge that it knocked the warden on his backside. The static electricity became such a problem that Wiedrich enlisted an acolyte to stay near him so he could touch the acolyte to take the shock rather than the people at the rail. The acolytes, in turn, began to draw straws to see who would have to serve as the rector’s human electrical ground. At least at that church, people began to understand that celebrating the Lord’s Supper is serious business and not altogether safe. 

Apparently, the church at Corinth had forgotten that. Of course, the Corinthian church is notorious for being dysfunctional. There were divisions of several kinds. Some of its members were so sure of their superior spiritual prowess that they had pretty much left everyone else behind, including Paul. Some prided themselves on their sophistication and looked down on those they considered unsophisticated in their faith. Others were scandalized by those who did not see things their way. The church was divided over which leader of the larger Christian movement was most worthy to be associated with. There was sexual misconduct and confusion. There were class prejudices that divided the church when they gathered for the Lord’s Supper. In other words, it was pretty much church as usual.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul, rather sternly, reminds them–and reminds us–that church as usual is not the same as being the body of Christ. He warns us against being content with anything less than living together as the body of Christ. He does that by reminding us of the Lord’s Supper and its seriousness. It is serious business because it is where the body of Christ ‘happens’. In the mystery of the Eucharist we encounter, tangibly, the presence of Christ in the Bread and Wine. And in that same mystery, we who have been baptized into the body of Christ are re-membered again and again as we regather in communion at the Communion Table. It is shocking and not altogether safe because what happens is partly determined by the quality of our common life. The quality of our encounter with the Body of Christ in the Eucharist is inseparable from the quality of our common life and the way we engage one another as the body of Christ in our life together and in the world. Paul even warns that if our life together does not rhyme with his, it is possible to receive Jesus in an unworthy manner. We can eat and drink judgement to ourselves. That is shocking.
                                     
Jesus said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” That is part of the command the we receive on Maundy Thursday. Jesus freely offers himself to us, nourishing, forgiving, healing, and transforming. But, essential to that remembrance is obeying the other command which he enacts in the footwashing. "So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you." Then he lays down the fundamental mandatum, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” They are all of a piece.

Discerning the body means we recognize Jesus in our midst and in each other. So we submit ourselves to one another in love, giving ourselves to one another and receiving one another, just as Jesus gives himself to us and we receive him in the Eucharist. Discerning the body means every Eucharist is a challenge to again take up the cross and follow Jesus in his Passion; to live as he lived, to love as he loved, to serve as he served, to be people of the basin and towel. Discerning the body means recognizing that the Lord’s Supper, the self-denying disciplines of love, and life in community are inseparable. Am I prepared to receive Jesus in the Bread and Wine if I am not prepared to receive him in the neighbor who comes to Table with me? Am I prepared to receive Jesus offered in the Bread and Wine if I am not prepared to similarly offer myself to that neighbor? If we discern the body, we will engage one another with the reverence and gentleness due the body of Christ.

We are made the body of Christ in baptism and called to live the grace-filled Eucharistic life of Jesus with and for one another. We are both judged and nourished by the body of Christ in the Eucharist. Together we are called to be the body of Christ, broken and poured out for the sake of a hungry, hurting world. That is serious business. It is not altogether safe. It is not the usual, expected way of the world. When we actually live it, it is also, in the best sense of the word, shocking.

See also:



Wednesday, March 28, 2018

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?



Last Sunday, many of us heard the Passion of Jesus according to the Gospel of Mark which included this,

When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. (Mark 15:33-37)

Christian Choate’s body was discovered near Gary, Indiana one summer day. He was buried in a shallow grave under a slab of concrete behind the trailer where he once had lived. He had actually died two years earlier. He was only 13. 

Those were thirteen years of misery. Years of isolation and neglect. Years of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of his father and step-mother. He lived with them because his mother and her boyfriend had been accused of molesting him.

He was kept home from school and home schooled. The essays his step-mother asked him to write are heart-breaking. She asked to write about "Why do you want to play with your peter? Why do you still want to see your mom? Why can't you let the past go? What does it mean to be part of a family?"

Christian spent much of the last year of his life locked in a three-foot-high dog cage, with little food and drink and few opportunities to leave. He was let out briefly to clean and vacuum. And he endured savage beatings from his father.

One night in April of 2009, Christian was too weak to keep his food down. His father beat him to the point of unconsciousness, then locked his limp body in the cage. The next morning, his sister Christina found him dead.

Christian wrote of why nobody liked him and how he just wanted to be liked by his family. He stated that he wanted to die because nobody liked the way he 'acted.' Christian's writings detail a very sad, depressed child who often wondered when someone, anyone, was going to come check on him and give him food or liquid. Christian often stated he was hungry or thirsty.

But Elijah did not come for Christian. And we have no knowledge of his hearing God or being aware of God’s presence. Given the constraints on his life, we don’t even know if he knew enough to cry out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

It's a story that haunts me and has become a sort of test case or talking about God. Any god-talk  worth the trouble has to take this story and the myriad other stories of human suffering into account.

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

They are the most disturbing of the words Jesus spoke from the cross. But, for me, they are also hopeful. The truth is I often find it hard to believe in God. Much god-talk strikes me as little more than sentimental fancy. Talk of god in a baby’s smile or the beauty of nature doesn’t quite cut it. Generic talk of “the Holy” or “the Sacred”? I don’t know what that means. Even talk of god as love, by itself, seems to me to too easily slip into sentimentality. All such talk falls flat in the face of the horror of Christian Choate’s story. Or the realities of Syria, the Congo, or Parkland, Florida.

But, this is different. From the cross Jesus cried with a loud voice, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" What are we to make of that? I want to suggest that there are at least a couple of things we can say.

Jesus, in the fullness of his humanity, experiences the horror of being betrayed, denied, and abandoned by his friends and rejected by his people. Jesus experiences all the torture, terror, and tragedy that humanity inflicts upon itself when it turns from God.

And, mystery of mysteries, Jesus, who knew such intimacy with the One he called ‘Father,’ experienced the awful, bewildering silence of God. Even as we remember that Jesus cried out using the worship language of his people as found in Psalm 22, there is no escaping that it was a cry of anguish. We dare not try to get around that.

But there is a second thing. In Jesus, we affirm that God’s very self entered into the darkest depths of human experience. As Madeleine L’Engle wrote,
For Jesus, at-one-ment was not only being at-one with the glory of the stars, or the first daffodil in the spring, or a baby’s laugh. He was also at-one with all the pain and suffering that ever was, is, or will be. On the cross Jesus was at-one with the young boy with cancer, the young mother hemorrhaging, the raped girl [and at-one with Christian Choate and his sister. And even with the broken tortured spirits of their parents]. We can withdraw, even in our prayers, from the intensity of suffering. Jesus, on the cross, experienced it all. When I touch the small cross I wear, this, then, is the meaning of the symbol.

The cross is what makes it possible to believe in God at all. That is on of the reasons this Friday is good.

William Temple, who was Archbishop of Canterbury during the first years of WWII, wrote in Christus Veritas,
The revelation of God’s dealing with human sin shows God enduring every depth of anguish for the sake of His Children. . . All that we can suffer of physical or mental anguish is within the divine experience. . . .He does not leave this world to suffer while He remains at ease apart; all suffering of the world is His.

Temple goes on to claim, “Only such a God can be God of the world we know.” Only such a God can be God in a world that includes multiple stories like that of Christian Choate. Only such a God can be God of our own stories.

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Let’s be clear. This is not Jesus vs God. This is not God the Father torturing Jesus so he won’t have to torture us. The God we know through Jesus is not like Christian Choate’s father. This is God, the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – working in harmony to address the deepest, darkest depths of human need to bring forgiveness and healing and the promise of restoration.

And we know – thanks be to God, we know – that whatever Jesus experienced in his cry of dereliction, he did not despair and God did not abandon him. We know the rest of the story. We do not need to pretend on Good Friday that we don’t know what happens on Easter Sunday. We know that God was in Christ reconciling the world. Through the cross and resurrection God has come to transform the torture, tragedy, and terror.

This does exhaust the meaning of the cross. It does not answer all the questioned raised by the hard reality of human suffering. But, we can give thanks that in Jesus’ cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" there is the assurance that there is no human experience – not even the appalling, heart-rending experience of Christian Choate – that is finally God-forsaken.

(To be continued on Saturday with Of First Importance)







See also:







Saturday, March 24, 2018

Yearning for the vast and endless sea of God



“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”*

This is a paraphrase of something written by 20th century French author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Best known for ‘The Little Prince’, Saint-Exupery was an aviation pioneer with a taste for adventure.

I’ve been thinking about this quote in light the Gospel passage which we just heard and the old diocesan motto, “In Altum” – Into the Deep. We are called to “Put out into the deep water.” We who are leaders are charged with inspiring others to put out into the deep.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” It might serve as a description of good preaching and teaching. The Church needs preachers and teachers, lay as well as ordained, (and, yes, bishops) who are soaked and smell of salt water and look like they have faced into the Wind and the Sun, who sound like they have put out into the deep of the vast and endless sea and returned to share the wonder of it.

I say that. And, then, I wonder how much of my preaching and teaching over the years has been more about drumming up people to gather wood, dividing the work, and giving orders rather than inspiring them to yearn for the vast and endless sea of God. But, that is what I need to be about. It is what we need to be about for the sake of the Church. It is what the Church needs to be about for the sake of the world. I can only do that if I – we can only do it if we – put out into the deep of God.

I just finished reading the story of an old Irish saint who literally put out into the deep. Brendan had already founded several monasteries when he was visited by another old monk visited him and told of journey to the Island of Delight where there was a community of monks. They sent him on to another island – the Promised land of the Saints. On that island there were trees that bore tasty fruit all year long. There was no night and it was always comfortably warm because Christ was its Light. It was as it were, the day God just beyond the horizon waiting for the Day when God would unfurl it everywhere and his will would be done on all the earth as in Heaven.  The old monk asked Brendan, “Do you not smell the fragrance of heaven that we carry on us?”

So, yearning for the sea and for the vast expanse of God and the Promised Land, Brendan, along with some of his monks , built a ship and sailed west. They had many adventures, so the story goes, including taking their rest on an island that turned out to be the back of a resting whale. They stopped at the Island of Delight on their way to the Promised Land which they found just as they had heard. They returned in wonder, rejoicing in the Lord.

Brendan was part of larger movement of wild Irish monks who put out into the deep in search God. Some sailed to islands where they founded monasteries like Iona and Lindisfarne. Or more remote and wilder islands like Skellig Michael which was featured in the last Star Wars movie. But others did something even wilder – mad even. There is an account of three monks who wash up on the southern coast of England in a small boat made of wood and leather, a coracle. They had no oars or sail. They had just set out into the deep, vast and endless sea, trusting that the wild Spirit of God would guide and protect them on the wild sea as they dedicated themselves to prayer.

Crazy. But, I have to wonder, what wild vision of God had so captured their imagination as to provoke those monks, Brendan, and the others? And can we recapture it?

We are not likely to literally set out into the deep like they did. But, we don’t have to. We can recommit ourselves to setting out in the coracle of our hearts in prayer, yearning for that vast and endless sea of God. Perhaps you already have some experience with that. Have you felt the grace of God splash over you, soaking you to the bone with his forgiving, healing, transforming love? Have you tasted the saltiness of God’s mercy and delight? Have you been bedazzled by the awesome splendor of God? Have you seen a vision of your own self and others in the glory of that splendor? Have you seen what glorious and beautiful beings we are meant and destined to be? Have you also dared to face into the stormy, surging waves of your spirit and to acknowledge the dead weight of sin that holds you back threatening to swamp the boat of your heart – Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Greed, Gluttony, and Lust? If our hearts are full of those, there will be no room for the Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Have you gotten a glimpse of the approaching kingdom of God just beyond the horizon? The kingdom of love and joy and peace where swords and spears and guns are beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks? Where all divisions cease and there is no stranger or enemy? Where there is no more violence or war? Where  death is swallowed up and all that is left is abundant and eternal life?

Set out in the coracle of your heart into the deep waters of God. That is where our nets will catch the goodness God desires for us. And do it frequently and long. Go further and further. Otherwise however grace-soaked we have been we will dry. And our bedazzled eyes will adjust again to the mundane selfish fear and violent ways of this world. I urge you, as we renew our vows today, to make that your first priority. I commit myself to doing the same. We just might begin to take on the fragrance of the Promised Land. And we will be able to inspire others to yearn for the vast and endless sea of God.

The Church has long been likened to the ark, a boat, or a ship. That is why the area where the congregation worships is called a “nave” which comes from the same word as navy. Look up. It looks like you are sitting under a large upturned boat. Like Brendan and his companion monks, each congregation is a band of pilgrims called to set out into the deep. Let’s set out together on the adventure of seeking the vast expanse of God’s mercy and delight. Let’s open ourselves to being transformed by the by God’s grace such that we bear the fragrance of heaven. And let’s dare to set out into the deep of the communities around us bearing witness to the gospel of life and peace, justice and truth. And serving with them to do what we can to make the world rhyme a bit more with the kingdom of God in anticipation of the Day when God’s will will be done on earth as in Heaven.

Let us teach the world to yearn for the vast expanse of God and invite them to join us as we set out into the deep. In Altum.


* The actual passage that gave rise to the quote above is probably, "One will weave the canvas; another will fell a tree by the light of his ax. Yet another will forge nails, and there will be others who observe the stars to learn how to navigate. And yet all will be as one. Building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, forging nails, or reading the sky. It’s about giving a shared taste for the sea, by the light of which you will see nothing contradictory but rather a community of love."
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wisdom of the Sands