Reflections on questions & doubt: Thomas as a model of curiosity, questioning, and courage

Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving. 
– Frederick Buechner


I talk to God but the sky is empty. ― Sylvia Plath

I think the trouble with me is lack of faith… often when I pray I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existent address. – C.S. Lewis

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty! ― Douglas Adams

Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one. ― Voltaire

Who among us has not experienced insecurity, loss and even doubts on their journey of faith?… We’ve all experienced this, me too. – Pope Francis

… the Old Testament, which is where many of the questions (and questioners) are. The Old Testament proves that God honors questioners. Remember, grumpy Job emerges as the hero of that book, not his theologically defensive friends. — Philip Yancey

Songs about DOUBTS & QUESTIONS:

A Sonnet for St. Thomas the Apostle
Malcolm Guite

“We do not know… how can we know the way?”
Courageous master of the awkward question,
You spoke the words the others dared not say
And cut through their evasion and abstraction.
Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,
You put your finger on the nub of things
We cannot love some disembodied wraith,
But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.
Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,
Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.
Because He loved your awkward counter-point
The Word has heard and granted you your wish.
Oh place my hands with yours, help me divine
The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.
 

QUESTIONING: An Act of Faith

When I speak to college students, I challenge them to find a single argument against God in the older agnostics (Bertrand Russell, Voltaire, David Hume) or the newer ones (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris) that is not already included in books like Psalms, Job, Habakkuk, and Lamentations.  I have respect for a God who not only gives us the freedom to reject him, but also includes the arguments we can use in the Bible.  God seems rather doubt-tolerant, actually. — Philip Yancey

In other words, no matter how strong our faith is, at some point we may experience doubt. But instead of being a sign of weakness, doubt can actually be something that causes us to dig deeper into our relationship with God, and can even make our faith stronger. — Jesse Carey

Certainty is so often overrated. This is especially the case when it comes to faith, or other imponderables. — Julia Baird

Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith… Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful. – Paul Tillich

Belief in God does not exempt us from feelings of abandonment by God. Praising God does not inoculate us from doubts about God. – Eugene Peterson

Surely… we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety. – John Calvin

I do not believe there ever existed a Christian yet, who did not now and then doubt his interest in Jesus. I think, when a man says, “I never doubt,” it is quite time for us to doubt him.  – Charles Spurgeon

The minute we begin to think we know all the answers, we forget the questions, and we become smug like the Pharisee who listed all his considerable virtues, and thanked God that he was not like other men… Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.”– Madeleine L’Engle

When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate… I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. – Brennan Manning

We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can almost be as stupid as a cabbage as long as you doubt. – Dallas Willard

All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it, tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest – if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself – you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.‘  — C. S. Lewis

I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me—that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. — Anne Lamott

Who among us—everybody, everybody!—who among us has not experienced insecurity, loss and even doubts on their journey of faith? Everyone! We’ve all experienced this, me too. It is part of the journey of faith, it is part of our lives. This should not surprise us, because we are human beings, marked by fragility and limitations. We are all weak, we all have limits: do not panic. We all have them … If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. — Pope Francis

Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God … The torture and pain I can’t explain. — St. Mother Teresa

For more than a week I was close to the gates of death and hell. I trembled in all my members. Christ was wholly lost. I was shaken by desperation and blasphemy of God. — Martin Luther

The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble … Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise amid overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. — Charles Spurgeon

If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation. ― Yann Martel

COMMENTARY on THOMAS as a DOUBTER

Here’s my simple contention about this passage: Thomas is not so much a doubter as he is a realist. Think about it. Everything we know about Thomas up to this point suggests that he is forthright, genuine, and even courageous …
      Thomas, I would contend, is at heart a pragmatist, one who likes his truth straight up and who relentlessly takes stock of the situation before making a decision.
     
Which leads me to believe that what changes when Thomas is confronted by the risen Lord is not that he is no longer a doubter – he never really was – and certainly not his realism. No, what changes is his perception of reality itself. Of what is possible. Of what God can do. Even of what God can do through him….
     Jesus comes and takes his mocking words and turns them back on him, not to humiliate or scold him, but simply to confront him with the possibility that his reality was too small, his vision of what is possible too limited. And when Jesus calls him to faith, he’s actually inviting him to enter into a whole new world. …
      And this issue of having too small a vision of reality is what I find interesting. Because I also fall into a worldview governed by limitations and am tempted to call that “realism.” Which is when I need to have the community remind me of a grander vision. A vision not defined by failure but possibility, not governed by scarcity but by abundance, not ruled by remembered offenses but set free by forgiveness and reconciliation …
    There are, I suspect, a lot of Thomases in our congregations…. who should not have to surrender their sense of realism, but instead be invited to a whole new reality that God created  — David Lose

So, two things I noticed and wondered about when reading this passage.
     First, Thomas only asks to see what the other disciples have already seen. … Thomas asks for no extraordinary proof to move his extraordinary doubt, but only requests what the others had already been given.
    Second, is Thomas’ reaction one of doubt or realism? Might it be that Thomas was, above all else, a realist? And that reality had come as never before ….— David Lose

This week’s gospel lection offers us a secret room, and, with it, an invitation to touch, to cross more deeply into Jesus’ story and our own… History has labeled this disciple Doubting Thomas, as if his uncertainty were the most memorable thing about this follower of Jesus who, elsewhere, is the first to step up and say he is willing to die with him Yet Jesus, as is his way, gives Thomas what he needs  — Jan Richardson

I was reminded that in the story of the raising of Lazarus, Thomas is the one—the only one—who steps forward and expresses his willingness to die with Jesus. In this week’s reading, Thomas once again crosses into a place where others have not ventured: into the very flesh of the risen Christ… The wounds of the risen Christ are not a prison; they are a passage. Thomas’s hand in Christ’s side is not some bizarre, morbid probe: it is a union, and a reminder that in taking flesh, Christ wed himself to us.— Jan Richardson

Inventory ― Dorothy Parker
Four be the things
I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow,
a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things
I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity,
freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things
I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and
sufficient champagne.
Three be the things
I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope
and a sock in the eye.

ON DOUBT

We learn from failure, not from success! ― Bram Stoker

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. ― René Descartes

Doubt everything. Find your own light. ― Gautama Buddha

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.― William Shakespeare

To deny, to believe, and to doubt absolutely — this is for man what running is for a horse. – Blaise Pascal

Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.
― George Carlin

Doubt as sin. — Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature — is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned. ― Friedrich Nietzsche

I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess. ― Walt Whitman

And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrased, perhaps also protesting. But don’t give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when, instead of being a destroyer, it will become one of your best workers–perhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life. ― Rainer Maria Rilke

THE GIFT of DOUBT —from Between the Dark and the Daylight by Joan Chittister (Penguin Random House)

As Voltaire remarked, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”
      The problem is that certitude seduces us. It enables us to believe that what was said to be true is true because someone else said so. It simply cuts off thought. It arrests discussion in midflight. And yet we yearn for it with a passion. We spend endless, sleepless nights grappling with intellectual options in order to wiggle them into a satisfying kind of certainty without so much as a scintilla of evidence.
     Rulers of all stripe and type dispense certainties—theirs—with great abandon. They do whatever it takes—define cultural dogmas, assert organizational doctrines, impose decrees, and use power, force and penal systems—to suppress the ideas of anyone who dares to question them. Ideas, after all, are dangerous things. Ideas have brought down as many myths and mysteries as they have toppled kingdoms.
     But there is another way to live that runs hot and bright through darkness. There are always some in every population who know that life is not meant to be about certainty. Life, they realize, is about possibility. They see certitude as a direction but not an end.
     Doubt is what shakes our arrogance and makes us look again at what we have never really looked at before. Without doubt there is little room for faith in anything. What we accept without question we will live without morality. It is in populations like this that monarchs become dictators and spiritual leaders become charlatans and knowledge becomes myth.
     An ancient people tell the story of sending out two shamans to study their holy mountain so that they could know what their gods expected of them. The first shaman came back from the north side of the mountain to tell them that it was covered with fruit trees, a sign that their god would always bless them abundantly. The second shaman came back from the south side of the mountain to tell the people that it was barren and covered with rock, a sign that their god would always be with them but intended them to take care of themselves. So, which shaman was right? If both, then it is dangerous to dogmatize either position.
     It is doubt, not certitude, that enables us to believe, because it requires us to think deeply about an entire subject, and not simply depend on the side of reality that is on our side of the mountain. Only when we look beyond absolutes to understand every level of life can we possibly live life to the fullest, with the deepest kind of insight, with the greatest degree of compassion for others.
     Voltaire was right, of course. Certainty is comfortable but always unlikely and forever disruptive. As life changes so must our explanation and response to it.

The Blessing of Thomas
— Maren Tirabassi

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” — John 20:29b

Blessed are the ones, says Thomas,
to those who listen to him, this eastertide,
who don’t need a sanctuary to worship God.
Blessed are those who don’t need a choir to hear holy music,
and who don’t need to sit in a pew
to open their hearts in prayer,
and who don’t need a stained glass window,
or a preacher or even bread and cup
to find the good news.
Blessed are those who really touch
even with gloves on,
who really smile with a mask,
who can be kind on Facetime or Zoom,
who follow a livestream to find Jesus alive.
But also blessed is the Thomas in every one of us
who acknowledges our longing
to hold someone’s real warm hand
not just the story of a hand
that reaches out to someone else, and who wants to feel
not Jesus’ long-ago bleeding side
(we congratulate ourselves about that)
but at least to feel side by side
with other Christians
in order to be side by side with Christ.
Blessed is the Thomas in all of us, who lives with doubts and hopes,
and learns to let go of all expectations
when waiting to meet God.

A Valentine’s Note from JCC: Songs and poems about different kinds of love: for people, for the world, for each other (hopeful, sad, reflective, rowdy)

SONGS about LOVE:

Blessing for the Brokenhearted  — Jan Richardson
There is no remedy for love but to love more. – Henry David Thoreau

Let us agree
for now
that we will not say
the breaking
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.

Let us promise
we will not
tell ourselves
time will heal
the wound,
when every day
our waking
opens it anew.

Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
so broken
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—

as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it,

as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
for breaking
is to love still,

as if it trusts
that its own
persistent pulse
is the rhythm
of a blessing
we cannot
begin to fathom
but will save us
nonetheless.From The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief
© Jan Richardson (Wanton Gospeller Press, 2016). janrichardson.com


Beatitudes for Those Who Love
This prayer-poem is by Rev. Maren Tirabassi.

For Valentine’s Eve, Luke’s Beatitudes

Blessed are you who are poor
with no pink greeting cards or chocolate,
because you love someone with dementia –
for God remembers enough for both of you.

Blessed are you who are hungry for a love
forbidden by family or culture,
by law or religion,
by damage sustained in heart or spirit,
or by anyone who tears your family apart at a border–
because God promises you the taste of kisses.

Blessed are you who are shunned or bullied
in person and online for your body or your abilities,
for you will have a day  
when you will see yourself in a mirror
and laugh with joy at how God made you beautiful.

Blessed are you when someone
assumes the fact that you didn’t marry
means you don’t know about love,
or when they call a child you cherish –
“just a foster kid,”
or bar the way of the therapy dog
who holds your heart together,
because your wounds do not fit
their definitions,
or turn you away in tears
from an ex-spouse’s visiting hours.

Re-joy in that day, for you understand
far more than most ever will.

But woe to you who hoard a loving family,
rather than sharing it with the lonely,
for you are consoled now.

Woe to you who expect life
to be all honeymoon,
for you won’t be resilient to disappointment.

Woe to you who laugh at anyone
who is unloved,
or whose love is dismissed –
for you will never be able to take it back
when the tears in your life teach you wisdom.

Woe to you when all congratulate
your penmanship or tech savvy in life,
but you forget the teacher
who once told you to make
a Valentine, not just for those like you,
but for everyone in class,

no, not the teacher in second grade –
the one two thousand years ago.

+++

Rev. Maren C. Tirabassi

POEM  — Maya Angelou

We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
Love arrives
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.

The Dance— Wendell Berry

I would have each couple turn,
join and unjoin, be lost
in the greater turning
of other couples, woven
in the circle of a dance,
the song of long time flowing

over them, so they may return,
turn again in to themselves
out of desire greater than their own,
belonging to all, to each,
to the dance, and to the song
that moves them through the night.

What is fidelity? To what
does it hold? The point
of departure, or the turning road
that is departure and absence
and the way home? What we are
and what we were once

are far estranged. For those
who would not change, time
is infidelity. But we are married
until death, and are betrothed
to change. By silence, so,
I learn my song. I earn

my sunny fields by absence, once
and to come. And I love you
as I love the dance that brings you
out of the multitude
in which you come and go.
Love changes, and in change is true.

Reflections on journeys that involve struggles with demons: Part 2 – Facing fears, naming hurt and healing ourselves, our loved ones and strangers (sometimes through forgiveness)

We are not responsible for what breaks us, but we can be responsible for what puts us back together again. Naming the hurt is how we begin to repair our broken parts ― Desmond Tutu

Awareness is the first step in healing. — Dean Ornish

The wound is the place where the Light enters you. ― Rumi

The place of true healing is a fierce place. It’s a giant place. It’s a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work really, really, really hard to get there, but you can do it. — Cheryl Strayed

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. —  Helen Keller

Being brave isn’t the absence of fear. Being brave is having that fear but finding a way through it. —Bear Grylls

SONGS about HEALING:

The JOURNEY — Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice –
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.
 


THE HEALING THAT COMES — Jan Richardson
I know how long you have been waiting
for your story to take a different turn,
how far you have gone
in search of what will mend you and make you whole.
I bear no remedy, no cure,
no miracle for the easing of your pain.
But I know the medicine
that lives in a story that has been broken open.
I know the healing that comes
in ceasing to hide ourselves away
with fingers clutched around the fragments
we think are none but ours.
See how they fit together,
these shards we have been carrying—
how in their meeting
they make a way
we could not find alone.

FACING OUR FEARS (Demons)
 
Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it. — Judy Blume
 
Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. — Dale Carnegie
 
You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do. — Eleanor Roosevelt
 
The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. — Nelson Mandela
 
He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
 
Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones. — Thich Nhat Hanh
 
Have no fear of perfection–you’ll never reach it. — Salvador Dali
 
Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. — Helen Keller
 
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. — Theodore Roosevelt

One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do. —Henry Ford

I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear. —Rosa Parks

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. —Nelson Mandela

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. —Marie Curie

Fear comes from uncertainty. When we are absolutely certain, whether of our worth or worthlessness, we are almost impervious to fear. — William Congreve

ON HEALING

These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them. ― Rumi

What about evil, you may ask? Aren’t some people just evil, just monsters, and aren’t such people just unforgivable? I do believe there are monstrous and evil acts, but I do not believe those who commit such acts are monsters or evil. To relegate someone to the level of monster is to deny that person’s ability to change and to take away that person’s accountability for his or her actions and behavior. ― Desmond Tutu

Through meditation and contemplation we can learn, for example, that patience is the most potent antidote for anger, satisfaction for greed, bravery for fear, and understanding for doubt. It is not very helpful to rage against others. Instead, we should strive to change ourselves. — Dalai Lama

These verses – and all those like them scattered throughout the Scriptures – are encouraging, inspiring, and revealing. But they can also be quite painful for those who are suffering and do not experience healing. Why then and not now, we might ask. Or, more poignantly, why them and not us? — David Lose

Our own life has to be our message. — Thich Nhat Hanh

Keeping your body healthy is an expression of gratitude to the whole cosmos—the trees, the clouds, everything. — Thich Nhat Hanh

The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.—Marianne Williamson

Healing yourself is connected with healing others.— Yoko Ono

Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you – all of the expectations, all of the beliefs – and becoming who you are. — Rachel Naomi Remen

There are so many ways to heal. Arrogance may have a place in technology, but not in healing. I need to get out of my own way if I am to heal. — Anne Wilson Schaef

The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love. — Hubert H. Humphrey

Love one another and help others to rise to the higher levels, simply by pouring out love. Love is infectious and the greatest healing energy. — Sai Baba

I’m touched by the idea that when we do things that are useful and helpful – collecting these shards of spirituality – that we may be helping to bring about a healing. — Leonard Nimoy

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. — Proverbs 16:23-25

To me, forgiveness is the cornerstone of healing. — Sylvia Fraser

The art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician. Therefore, the physician must start from nature, with an open mind. —  Paracelsus

The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind. —Caroline Myss

All healing is first a healing of the heart.—  Carl Townsend

Eventually you will come to understand that love heals everything, and love is all there is. — Gary Zukav

Everybody has losses – it’s unavoidable in life. Sharing our pain is very healing. —  Isabel Allende

When I stand before thee at the day’s end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing. — Rabindranath Tagore

ON HEALING ― Richard Rohr

To finally surrender ourselves to healing, we have to have three spaces opened up within us – and all at the same time: our opinionated head, our closed-down heart, and our defensive and defended body. That is the summary work of spirituality – and it is indeed work. Yes, it is also the work of “a Power greater than ourselves,” and it will lead to a great luminosity and depth of seeing. That is why true faith is one of the most holistic and free actions a human can perform. It leads to such broad and deep perception that most traditions would just call it “light.”

Remember, Jesus said that we also are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), as well as saying it about himself (John 8:12). Strange that we see light in him but do not imitate him in seeing the same light in ourselves. Such luminous seeing is quite the opposite of the closed-minded, dead-hearted, body-denying thing that much religion has been allowed to become. As you surely have heard before, “Religion is lived by people who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is lived by people who have been through hell and come out enlightened.”

The innocuous mental belief systems of much religion are probably the major cause of atheism in the world today, because people see that religion has not generally created people who are that different, more caring, or less prejudiced than other people. In fact, they are often worse because they think they have God on their small side. I wish I did not have to say this, but religion either produces the very best people or the very worst. Jesus makes this point in many settings and stories. Mere mental belief systems split people apart, whereas actual faith puts all our parts (body, heart, and head) on notice and on call. Honestly, it takes major surgery and much of one’s life to get head, heart, and body to put down their defenses, their false programs for happiness, and their many forms of resistance to what is right in front of them. This is the meat and muscle of the whole conversion process.

Dogfish Mary Oliver

Some kind of relaxed and beautiful thing
kept flickering in with the tide
and looking around.
Black as a fisherman’s boot,
with a white belly.

If you asked for a picture I would have to draw a smile
under the perfectly round eyes and above the chin,
which was rough
as a thousand sharpened nails.

And you know
what a smile means,
don’t you?

*

I wanted the past to go away, I wanted
to leave it, like another country; I wanted
my life to close, and open
like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song
where it falls
down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery;
I wanted
to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know,

whoever I was, I was

alive
for a little while.

*

It was evening, and no longer summer.
Three small fish, I don’t know what they were,
huddled in the highest ripples
as it came swimming in again, effortless, the whole body
one gesture, one black sleeve
that could fit easily around
the bodies of three small fish.

*

Also I wanted
to be able to love. And we all know
how that one goes,
don’t we?

Slowly

*

the dogfish tore open the soft basins of water.

*

You don’t want to hear the story
of my life, and anyway
I don’t want to tell it, I want to listen

to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.

And anyway it’s the same old story – – –
a few people just trying,
one way or another,
to survive.

Mostly, I want to be kind.
And nobody, of course, is kind,
or mean,
for a simple reason.

And nobody gets out of it, having to
swim through the fires to stay in
this world.

*

And look! look! look! I think those little fish
better wake up and dash themselves away
from the hopeless future that is
bulging toward them.

*

And probably,
if they don’t waste time
looking for an easier world,

they can do it.

FORGIVE — Wendell Berry

I was your rebellious child,
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.

On Healing with Christ  — Nadia Bolz-Weber (excerpts)

He just touched him, looked to heaven, sighed and said “BE OPEN.”

It’s a wonderful statement for healing isn’t it? Be open.

It’s an image that’s stuck with me all week.  This might sound weird but all week I kept picturing Jesus sticking his fingers in each of your ears and saying “BE OPENED.”  And then in the same daydream, before I could stop it, I pictured Jesus’ Holy and unwashed fingers in my own ears. He sighed he looked to heaven and he said, “Be opened.”  To which I said, “No thanks.”

See, It’s painful to be open.  There’s no control in it. No self-determination. But Jesus is like that, taking us away from whatever the THEY thinks about us, getting all up in our business and insisting on our wholeness.

Be opened, he says.

Be opened to a life where you aren’t the broken one anymore.

Be opened to the possibility that there is healing in the world and it might not look like you think it should.

Be opened to knowing that your own brokenness doesn’t need to be hidden behind someone else’s brokenness.

Be opened to the idea that you are stronger than you think.

Be opened to the idea that you aren’t as strong as you think.

Be opened to the fact that you may not ever get what you want and that you will actually be OK anyway.

Be opened to finally being happy.

Be opened to your own need for healing especially if you yourself are a healer.

Be opened to life and life abundant.

Maybe that’s what healing really is.

We think it’s about identifying what’s wrong with someone else or with ourselves and then having that thing cured, but I wonder if spiritual healing has more to do with being opened than being cured…

But it’s not easy. Healing can hurt.  It can feel like a loss as much as it can feel like a gain.

Because sometimes healing feels more like death and resurrection than getting a warm cookie and glass of milk.

Maybe you are someone who has for so long been the one who suffers depression or illness or dysfunction that you are simply more comfortable that way, because frankly, when you stay sick no one expects much from you. And that’s easier.

Maybe you are someone who deals so much with the brokenness and sickness of others in your work that you forget that you are in need of healing too.

Maybe you are someone who has experienced healing of hospitality here in this community and you have yet to be healed through offer the same thing to others.

Maybe you, like myself, would rather not admit to needing anything form anyone. Including Jesus…

FORGIVENESS as a HEALING PROCESS 

From article by Religious News Service — Jonathan Merritt: As the former Archbishop of Cape Town, Tutu became a leading human rights advocate who has championed causes such as poverty, racism, homophobia, sexism, HIV/AIDS and war. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. In his … work, The Book of Forgiving (co-authored with his daughter, Mpho Tutu), he offers four steps to forgiving and healing:

  1. Telling the Story
  2. Naming the Hurt
  3. Granting Forgiveness
  4. Renewing or Releasing the Relationship

Transformation begins in you, wherever you are, whatever has happened, however you are suffering. Transformation is always possible. We do not heal in isolation. When we reach out and connect with one another—when we tell the story, name the hurt, grant forgiveness, and renew or release the relationship—our suffering begins to transform.
― Desmond Tutu


7 SKILLS for FORGIVING

1- Understanding
The skills of making sense of one’s suffering, researching & learning phase
Nothing is easier than to condemn the evildoer, nothing is harder than to understand him.Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Before we can forgive one another, we have to understand one another. — Emma Goldman

Broaden perspective through history.
A potentially useful way to seek an understanding of one’s suffering is by considering the bigger historical context in which the harm took place. Such consideration may help uncover the links between one’s suffering and the adversary group’s suffering. An understanding of one’s suffering in relation to the past or current suffering of the ‘other’ may reveal insights into the adversary group’s basic psychological needs (e.g. security, autonomy, avert existential threats). A threat to these needs may have given rise to the motivation to use aggression to protect them.

Relinquish rigidity.
For some, it may be possible to make sense of their suffering by viewing the roles of victims and perpetrators as reversible. Such flexibility can result from considerations that a degree of victimhood and hopelessness must have lied within the perpetrator to motivate him/her to cause suffering in others. The inter-changeability of roles between victims and perpetrators may further be encouraged by beliefs that human beings are fallible and that they all share a potential to harm each other. This skill may also require one’s acceptance that one’s views of justice and truth may not be shared by others, especially by the adversary party.

Move beyond understanding.
Sometimes victims become too preoccupied with their search for understanding the causes of the harm they’ve experienced and consequently may neglect to harvest the benefits of the above researching & learning skills phase. In other words, understanding becomes the only and ultimate goal. The above skills are not intended solely to accumulate knowledge but also to utilize that acquired knowledge to stimulate shifts in one’s static, uncompromising attitudes and positions.

2- Building bridges born out of suffering:
The skills of relating to another person’s pain
If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Build bonds of suffering.
A tendency that maintains the cycle of revenge is to compete over one’s share of suffering (akin to Dr Noor’s concept of Competitive Victimhood: We have suffered more than the other group!). However, it is also possible to use one’s suffering as a bridge to connect to someone else’s suffering, their ‘imperfect’ humanity. Thus despite political, economic, religious and other types of divides, the victims of two conflicting groups can use their suffering (e.g. loss of loved ones and other traumatic losses) to establish a strong, emotional and psychological bond (akin to Dr Vollhardt’s concept of Inclusive Victim Consciousness). They can find it possible to agree that the conflict has brought about adverse consequences for both groups, albeit in perhaps different ways. A focus on common suffering can result in unexpected discoveries of intimate bonds based on shared pain and it can trigger generosity in attitudes and actions between counterparts.

Grasp the concept of Ubuntu.
My humanity is caught up in yours. This ethic which originated in South Africa is a critical skill. Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes this perspective as, ‘Ubuntu’ is not, “I think therefore I am.” It says rather: “I am a human because I belong. I participate. I share.” In essence, I am only because you are.

3- Empathy
The skill of putting oneself into someone else’s shoes without judgement.   You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it. — Atticus in To Kill A Mocking BirdTry on dirty, uncomfortable, new shoes.
Attempts to understand how the world is viewed by the adversary party might shed further light on what motivated them to cause the suffering. For example, the adversary party’s attacks on one’s child who serves in the military may be incomprehensible to the bereaved mother/father, especially because of the child’s best intentions and limited choice to avoid compulsory conscription. However, after taking the perspective of the adversary group, from which the military is viewed as a force of oppression, and thus their child as a symbol of that oppression, the hostile behaviour towards soldiers may become more understandable. Thus the skill of putting oneself into someone else’s shoes enables one to acknowledge that the world can be viewed and understood in ways that may be very different from one’s own worldview. To do this, it is required to first become aware that these other types of perspectives and worldviews exist and then to develop the desire to relate to them. Healing work is about acquiring a new pair of spectacles. Practising this skill in relation to someone who has inflicted harm can result in insights into the person’s thoughts, feelings and actions that motivated him/her to cause the suffering. Such empathy is void of moral judgement and thus can move the person beyond simple understanding. Yet, it does not necessarily contain condoning of the suffering.
4- Curiosity & Courage The skills of looking beyond yourself.
You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. — Andre GideGenerate curiosity to correct stereotypes.The benefits of the other skills in the tool-box can be honed partly by developing the skills of curiosity. To develop a sense of wanting to find out more about the ‘enemy’ requires one to go beyond oneself and one’s existing knowledge. It also requires an acceptance that one’s knowledge of the world as well as its sources are imperfect, limited and in need of expansion. Such expansion can be implemented by developing a desire to reach out and add to or revise one’s existing knowledge. It is also possible to gain further understanding of one’s own suffering and the circumstances that led to it by generating curiosity to find out who the enemy group really is. Such curiosity often generates a motivation to engage with the other group, which in turn creates opportunities to correct one’s stereotypes of the other group.
Be courageous.
In tandem with the skills associated with curiosity, the skills of developing courage to engage and potentially meet with the person who is responsible for one’s suffering may be required. One way of developing courage is to become aware that the adversary might have to go through a similar courage-generating process full of its own challenges and that they could have opted for ‘easier’ options (e.g. avoidance, offers of pseudo-apologies).   5-Accepting personal and collective responsibility:
The skill of locating the ‘I’ and the ‘We’ in the suffering
The gunman and his family are victims too. Perhaps victims of the society we have responsibility for. — Andrea LeBlanc, (lost husband in 9/11) commenting on Boston bombings
Rediscover agency without shame or guilt.
Acknowledgement and apology are important factors in the healing journey but they may not be available and therefore can put the power in the wrong hands, keeping the harmed stuck in a place of disappointment and expectation. Instead, rediscovering one’ personal and group-based agency is a more fruitful approach to healing. The skill of reviving one’s agency requires that one does not separate oneself as a passive recipient from the harmful event, but instead one acknowledges that as human beings we have agency. At the time of the harm such an agency may have been perceived as non-existent or strictly diminished. Acknowledging personal and collective responsibility is to concede that even at the time of the difficult harmful situation one had a degree of agency. Such insights may produce feelings of guilt and shame. However, the above skill is intended to direct individuals towards empowerment such that it helps them to rediscover their agency after the harm has been done. Whether erroneous decisions (miscalculation, missed opportunities, etc.) were made by one’s group leaders or by one’s own inaction to challenge short-sighted leaders, accepting personal and collective responsibility requires the development of a critical awareness of how oneself and one’s group have contributed to the situation that led to the suffering. Such insights into own contributions to one’s suffering can in turn enable one to act in order to change the course of action from further harming to healing.
6- Resisting conformity The skills of finding your own path
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that has ever happened. — Margaret Mead

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist. — Friedrich Nietzsche
Defy what others may have in mind for you.
Traditionally, there is a piece of cautionary advice not to overburden individuals who have experienced major painful events in life, for example, by encouraging them to re-adjust too quickly or to engage with the person who caused the pain. However, as useful as this advice may be, it is equally important to bear in mind that at times these individuals may be trapped within their victimhood, not because they want to remain victims but rather because of the expectations by their families, community, society, etc. to conform to their victim role. Thus, in order to counter these expectations individuals may be required to develop the skills involved in resisting such expectations, namely, deviance. The kind of deviance referred to here involves two sets of skills:   Be a small black sheep The first set presents a number of challenges at the personal level and encourages the individual to acquire skills that were described earlier (e.g. challenges to the self to empathize with the adversary, to consider the non-static nature of victim and perpetrator roles, to acknowledge personal responsibility, to be curious and brave, and to engage with the person causing the pain).
Be a big black sheep This set of skills presents challenges at the group-based level and requires critical thinking about one’s own group, their assumptions, norms, values and worldview. It further requires a genuine understanding of the adversary group’s concerns and psychological needs (e.g. need for safety). These skills will help develop awareness that one’s own group may have contributed to the conflict and suffering as well, be it through provocation, poor negotiation skills or missed opportunities for a peaceful co-existence. The above sets of skills essentially enable the individuals to discover the ‘full story’ and to move beyond the ‘always guilty other’ and the ‘always innocent me/us’.   7- Recovering from resentment: The skill of letting go of anger and bitterness

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies. — Anon
Return to being human.
No-one is born angry, resentful or evil. However, our hearts and minds can easily be filled with strong and persistent negative emotions and intentions due to a victimhood experience. The more that resentment plants the desire in one to exact a wrong, the further one moves away from our humanness with which we are gifted at birth. The skill of letting go of anger and bitterness requires the realisation that resentment has the potential to undermine our humanity, its integrity and its capacity for compassion, as well as the potential to eat away at our peace of mind and well-being. Holding onto resentment has a cost. This skill is the ability to transform the impulse for revenge into a search for something larger; it is about broadening one’s perspective to encompass a sense of the ‘other’.
This skill invites the act of forgiving.
Forgiveness is not a pancake movement. Feelings cannot just be flipped, but you can tilt the balance in the direction towards the discovery of a new way of operating in the world. Hatred and resentment have a tight grip in the same way that the more one focuses on a problem the more engrained it becomes. Forgiveness results in a loosening of that tight grip. It generates  space and creates capacity to doubt, modify and think anew.

Reflections on being seen and supported (or not) by family and community as you come home changed, or as you embark on a journey, a mission, a life’s adventure

And this is it. This is the life we get here on earth. We get to give away what we receive. We get to believe in each other. We get to forgive and be forgiven. We get to love imperfectly. And we never know what effect it will have for years to come. And all of  it…all of  it is completely worth it. ― Nadia Bolz-Weber

The prophet is the eye of the people. ― Lailah Gifty Akita 

Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. — Matsuo Basho 

What is a Man / Woman who does not try and make the World Better? ― ‘Kingdom of Heaven ‘ the movie 

Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin,
and in their own house. — Gospels of Mark & Luke, Bible

It’s kind of spooky when you are caught talking to God everybody thinks you’re nuts. They used to call you a prophet. ― Paul Zindel

SONGS about COMING HOME:

So where are you from? What are the places, the people, the experiences that formed your path? What holds your roots? How does where you’re from help you understand who you are? How does it enable you to make a way for the one who comes in this and every season? — Jan Richardson

Where to Go with “Where I’m From” — George Ella Lyon (more info: http://www.georgeellalyon.com/where.html)

… you can also see it as a corridor of doors opening onto further knowledge and other kinds of writing. The key is to let yourself explore these rooms. Don’t rush to decide what kind of writing you’re going to do or to revise or finish a piece. Let your goal be the writing itself. Learn to let it lead you. … Look for these elements … and see where else they might take you:

  • a place could open into a piece of descriptive writing or a scene from memory.
  • your parents’ work could open into a memory of going with them, helping, being in the way. Could be a remembered dialogue between your parents about work. Could be a poem made from a litany of tools they used.
  • an important event could open into freewriting all the memories of that experience, then writing it as a scene, with description and dialogue. It’s also possible to let the description become setting and directions and let the dialogue turn into a play.
  • food could open into a scene at the table, a character sketch of the person who prepared the food, a litany of different experiences with it, a process essay of how to make it.
  • music could take you to a scene where the music is playing; could provide you the chance to interleave the words of the song and words you might have said (or a narrative of what you were thinking and feeling at the time the song was first important to you (“Where I’m Singing From”).
  • something someone said to you could open into a scene or a poem which captures that moment; could be what you wanted to say back but never did.
  • a significant object could open into a sensory exploration of the object-what it felt, sounded, smelled, looked, and tasted like; then where it came from, what happened to it, a memory of your connection with it. Is there a secret or a longing connected with this object? A message? If you could go back to yourself when this object was important to you, what would you ask, tell, or give yourself?

Remember, you are the expert on you. No one else sees the world as you do; no one else has your material to draw on. You don’t have to know where to begin. Just start. Let it flow. Trust the work to find its own form.

Where I’m From  George Ella Lyon

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
          from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
          and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
          with a cottonball lamb
          and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
          to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.
 


Where I’m From — Jan Richardson

I am from orange groves
and old Florida,
from a house my parents built
in a field my grandfather gave them.
Black-eyed Susans grew there in the spring,
so thick we played hide and seek
simply by kneeling among them.

I am from a town
with more cows than people,
from Judy and from Joe,
from generations that have grown up
in one place.

I am from peanut butter and
honey sandwiches every morning,
from my grandmothers’ kitchens,
from Thanksgiving feasts in the
community park,
from Christmas Eves in the
white painted church
among the pine trees.

I am from the dictionary we kept
by the dinner table
where we ate words like food,
from hours and days in libraries,
from miles of books.
I am from the path they have made.

I am from solitude and silence,
from the monks and mystics who lived
between the choir and the cell,
from the scribes bent over their books,
from parchment and paint,
from ancient ink and from gold
that turned pages into lamps,
into light.

I am from women less quiet,
women of the shout and the stomp,
testifying wherever they could make
their voices heard.
I am from Miriam and Mary and Magdalena
and from women unknown and unnamed,
women who carried their prayers
not in books
but in their blood
and in their bones,
women who passed down the sacred stories
from body to body.

I am from them,
listening for their voices,
aching to hear,
to tell, to cry out,
to make a way for those
yet to come.

Longing for Prophets — Shirley Kaufman
Not for their ice-pick eyes,
their weeping willow hair,
and their clenched fists beating at heaven.
Not for their warnings, predictions
of doom. But what they promised.
I don’t care if their beards
are mildewed, and the ladders
are broken. Let them go on
picking the wormy fruit. Let the one
with the yoke around his neck
climb out of the cistern.
Let them come down from the heights
in their radiant despair
like the Sankei Juko dancers descending
on ropes, down from these hills
to the earth of their first existence.
Let them follow the track
we’ve cut on the sides of mountains
into the desert, and stumble again
through the great rift, littered
with bones and the walls of cities.
Let them sift through the ashes
with their burned hands. Let them
tell us what will come after.

How do you make room for those who challenge you to remember who God created you to be? What kind of holy space might God be wanting to create in your life? In you? Blessings to you as you discern where to extend a welcome, and where to receive one. — Jan Richardson

Advice to a Prophet — Richard Wilbur
When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,   Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,Not proclaiming our fall but begging usIn God’s name to have self-pity, Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,   The long numbers that rocket the mind;Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,   Unable to fear what is too strange. Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.   How should we dream of this place without us?—The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,   A stone look on the stone’s face? Speak of the world’s own change. Though we cannot conceive   Of an undreamt thing, we know to our costHow the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,   How the view alters. We could believe, If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip   Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip On the cold ledge, and every torrent burnAs Xanthus once, its gliding troutStunned in a twinkling. What should we be without   The dolphin’s arc, the dove’s return, These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?   Ask us, prophet, how we shall callOur natures forth when that live tongue is allDispelled, that glass obscured or broken In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean   Horse of our courage, in which beheldThe singing locust of the soul unshelled,And all we mean or wish to mean. Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose   Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding   Whether there shall be lofty or long standing   When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.

@@@

Three Travellers Tell Their Dreams — Rumi

Three devout men of different religions fall in together
by chance traveling. They stop

at a caravanserai* where the host brings as a gift a sweet
dessert, some taste of God’s

nearness. This is how people out in the country serve
strangers. The Jew and

the Christian are full, but the Muslim has been fasting all
day. The two say, “Lets

save it for tomorrow.” The one, “No. Let’s save self-denial
for tomorrow!” “You want it

all for yourself!” “Divide it into three parts, and each can
do as he wants.” “Ah,

but Mohammad said not to share.” “That was about dividing
yourself between sensuality

and soul. You must belong to the one or the other.” But finally
for some reason, he gives in,

“I’ll do it your way.” They refrain from tasting. They sleep,
and then wake and dress themselves

to begin morning devotions. Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman,
Zoroastrian, stone, ground,

mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the
mystery, unique and not to be

judged. This subject never ends! Three friends in a grand
morning mood. “Let us tell

what dreams we had last night; whoever has had the deepest
dreams, gets the halvah**.”

Agreed. The Jewish man begins the wanderings of his soul.
“Moses met me on the road;

I followed him to Sinai: an opening door, light within
light. Mount Sinai and Moses and

I merged in an exploding splendor, the unity of the prophets!”
This is a true dream. Many

Jews have such. Then the Christian sighs, “Christ took me
in his arms to the fourth

heaven, a pure vast region… I cannot say…” His also
deep. The Muslim, “Muhammad came

and told me where you two had gone. ‘You wretch!’ he said,
‘You’ve been left behind! You

may as well get up and eat something.'” “Noooo!” laugh the
Christian and the Jew. “How

could I disobey such glory? Would you not do as Moses and
Jesus suggest?” “You’re right,”

they say. “Yours is the truest dream, because it had immediate
effect in your waking life.”

What matters is how quickly you do what your soul directs.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

* caravanserai: an inn surrounding a court in eastern countries where caravans rest at night

** halvah: a flaky confection of crushed sesame seeds in a base of syrup (as of honey)

Silent Prophet — Carl Dennis
It’s the last day, but I’m keeping the news to myself.If yesterday it made sense for letter carriersTo carry letters from door to door,The job still ought to be worth doing.Why tell what I know and risk a walkout?Let firefighters race to the last fire.Let platoons of police set up their last linesSo the factions that come to the demonstrationDo battle only in words and gestures. The day is different, but only for me,Knowing as I do that it offers the last chanceFor a cautious investor to resist his nature enoughTo back a grocery in a battered district,And the last chance for the would-be grocersTo open a bottle of good champagneIn the kitchen of the friend who’s led themThrough the small-print maze of the application.And now they’re toasting the months to comeScheduled to move the project alongFrom drawing blueprints to cutting ribbons.Shall I tell them their expectations are dreamsIf the dreams impart to the day contour and substance? Though silent, I’m rooting for them to let the dayExpand to include the days to be denied them.And I hope that the friend who’s pouringA final round in his kitchen isn’t disturbedAs his small apartment fills with the soundOf squeaking from across the hall, though yesterdayHe banged on his neighbor’s door for quiet.It’s his last chance to endorse a womanBent on learning from scratch to play the viola,To respect her for finding an hour a day for practice,As if raising two sons aloneAnd teaching civics at a high schoolNot renowned for civility weren’t enough. Should I sit on a stone and lamentThat the day is her last if it still contains,Scrolled up within it, the years she’ll needTo master the art of voicing feelingsNot now expressed, at home or in class,About the distance between the worldShe’d like to inhabit and the world she does? Some other prophet, convinced the futureDepends on the flow of time to give it substance,May decide to speak out. I’m keeping silentAs one of her sons sits at his deskDividing a page into reasons for leaving homeAnd reasons for staying. Now on this last dayIt seems that home is best defined as any regionOn earth that has much to teach him,And now as the region fit to receive the mostOf whatever he’ll have to offerAfter he learns where his talents lie.

There is a Zen story about a student who felt he hadn’t really received the deepest essence of his master’s teaching, and so he went to question him. His master replied, “On your way here, did you see the cypress in the courtyard?” Perhaps the student was not yet very mindful. The master was saying that if, on the way to see our teacher, we go past a cypress tree or a beautiful plum tree in blossom and we don’t really see it, then when we arrive in front of our teacher, we won’t see our teacher either. We shouldn’t miss any opportunity to really see our cypress tree. There are wonders of life we walk past every day, and yet we haven’t truly seen them. What is the cypress tree on the path you take to work every day? If you cannot even see the tree, how can you see your loved ones? How can you see God”? — Thich Nhat Hanh

WHO ARE PROPHETS? 

I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people. — Nelson Mandela

My religion is kindness. This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness. — Dalai Lama

I’m a storyteller, not a prophet. I’m just interested in a good story. —David Eddings

Never once did Jesus scan the room for the best example of  holy living and send that person out to tell others about him. He always sent stumblers and sinners. I find that comforting. ― Nadia Bolz-Weber

A writer is not a prophet, is not a philosopher; he’s just someone who is witness to what is around him. And so writing is a way to… it’s the best way to testify, to be a witness. — J. M. G. Le Clezio 

I think that modern medicine has become like a prophet offering a life free of pain. It is nonsense. The only thing I know that truly heals people is unconditional love. ― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross 

The poor are always prophetic. As true prophets always point out, they reveal God’s design. That is why we should take time to listen to them. And that means staying near them, because they speak quietly and infrequently; they are afraid to speak out, they lack confidence in themselves because they have been broken and oppressed. But if we listen to them, they will bring us back to the essential.  ― Jean Vanier, Community And Growth

God takes away the minds of poets, and uses them as his ministers, as he also uses diviners and holy prophets, in order that we who hear them may know them to be speaking not of themselves who utter these priceless words in a state of unconsciousness, but that God himself is the speaker, and that through them he is conversing with us. ― Socrates 

Holiness is the union we experience with one another and with God. Holiness is when more than one become one, when what is fractured is made whole. Singing in harmony. Breastfeeding a baby. Collective bargaining. Dancing. Admitting our pain to someone, and hearing them say, “Me too.” Holiness happens when we are integrated as physical, spiritual, sexual, emotional, and political beings. Holiness is the song that has always been sung, perhaps even the sound that was first spoken when God said, “Let there be light. ― Nadia Bolz-Weber

Being the soothsayer of the tribe is a dirty job, but someone has to do it. ― Anthon St. Maarten 

You do not need any preacher or prophet to learn about God. The teaching is spread on the trees and the mountains, on the stars and the river, on the Sun and the moon. The ultimate teaching is written in your heart. You just need to wake up and see. ― Banani Ray

In solitude and when fatigued, one is after all inclined to take oneself for a prophet. ― Albert Camus

In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams. — Book of Joel & Book of Acts, Bible

 Maybe I am a prophet. I really hope one day there will come Confucius, Muhammad, Buddha and Christ to see me. And we will sit at a table, taking tea and eating some brownies. — Alejandro Jodorowsky

Maybe that’s the way to tell the dangerous men from the good ones. A dreamer of the day is dangerous when he believes that others are less: less than their own best selves and certainly less than he is. They exist to follow and flatter him, and to serve his purposes.
     A true prophet, I suppose, is like a good parent. A true prophet sees others, not himself. He helps them define their own half-formed dreams, and puts himself at their service. He is not diminished as they become more. He offers courage in one hand and generosity in the other. ― Mary Doria Russell

The word “preacher” comes from an old French word, predicateur, which means prophet. And what is the purpose of a prophet except to find meaning in trouble? ― Marilynne Robinson

 If one has the answers to all the questions – that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. — Pope Francis

Learn the lesson that, if you are to do the work of a prophet, what you want is not a sceptre, but a hoe. The prophet does not rise to reign, but to root out the weeds. — St Bernard

It is better for a leader to make a mistake in forgiving than to make it in punishing. ― Joel Hayward

God is in every particle in the Universe. No religion, no prophet can make division on it. ― Amit Ray

Prophets will say things others will not say. God touches the prophet’s mouth. When God touches a person’s mouth, He puts power and authority in their words. ― John Eckhardt

… is the writer a prophet or priest – does he show the truth or serve the truth?…― John Geddes

Another way of judging the value of a prophet’s religious experience, therefore, would be to examine the type of manhood that he has created, and the cultural world that has sprung out of the spirit of his message. —  Muhammad Iqbal

Prophets do not bring new truth. Revelation is simply a revealing of what is already true and bringing it to bear upon our heart and soul. Revelation is based upon insight into the written Word of God, not into visions and dreams and prophecies. These other things are simply tools for expressing the Word, they are not the Word; no more than the water hose is water, it simply delivers the water. ― Chip Brogden

Our Prophet was a radical too- he fought against the injustices of his community and challenged the feudal order of his society, so they called him a radical. So what? We should be proud of that! — Abu Bakar Bashir

The Prophet Muhammad himself sought to erase any distinctions between the message he taught and that taught by Jesus, who he called God’s ‘spirit and word.’ — Ibrahim Hooper

How many more Christs, Buddhas, Tolstoys, Kings, Naskars have to rise, for humanity to have the revelation that, humanism is the greatest form of religiousness that any conscientious being can ever have! ― Abhijit Naskar

On my journey from the fantastical to the practical, spirituality has gone from being a mystical experience to something very ordinary and a daily experience. Many don’t want this, instead they prefer spiritual grandeur, and I believe that is what keeps enlightenment at bay. We want big revelations of complexity that validates our perceptions of the divine. What a let down it was to Moses when God spoke through a burning bush! But that is exactly the simplicity of it all. Our spiritual life is our ordinary life and it is very grounded in every day experience. For me, it is the daily practice of kindness, mindfulness, happiness, and peace. ― Alaric Hutchinson 

If Prophets and Messengers are the closest to godliness as any human is capable of being, and yet even they fail, how the f*ck can anyone, less than perfect, be so arrogant as to expect they will do better than a Prophet, or Messenger of G-D. ― Alejandro Carbajal Estrada 

I don’t want to pretend to be a prophet or a saint. I’m very conscious of my limitations. I know my flaws. — Norman Finkelstein

Between the scribe who has read and the prophet who has seen there is a difference as wide as the sea. We are today overrun with orthodox scribes, but the prophets, where are they? The hard voice of the scribe sounds over evangelicalism, but the Church waits for the tender voice of the saint who has penetrated the veil and has gazed with inward eye upon the Wonder that is God. And yet, thus to penetrate, to push in sensitive living experience into the holy Presence, is a privilege open to every child of God.― A.W. Tozer

COMMENTARY about JESUS PREACHING in SYNAGOGUE & BEING REJECTED in HOMETOWN

Prophets are not “guided and limited by in-group loyalties.” — Robert Tannehill

Preachers beware. This is what happens when you get the gospel right. — Will Willimon

After Jesus reads from Isaiah 61 he declares that they are fulfilled “today.” This is a remarkable claim since the passage in Isaiah is associated with the year of Jubilee – the time when the slaves would be set free and land returned to the original owner. N. T. Wright regularly points out that this prophetic text alludes to Lev. 25:8-12 and would have been understood as a reference to a new age of release and forgiveness for the nation (Simply Jesus, 75, for example). — Phillips Long

[Year of the Lord’s Favor]: This phrase is clearly reflective of the year of Jubilee, the year when all debts were to be forgiven, slaves were to be emancipated (Lev. 25:8-17), and the oppressed captives were to be given their freedom.This year was to occur once every fifty years, but it was seldom honored. Jesus proclaimed that this year was symbolic of Him because He is the one who forgives debts and gives freedom to humanity. That was absolutely stunning! It is noteworthy that the English words sins and debts are both translated from the Aramaic word hoba. Therefore, when Jesus speaks of sinners He is also speaks of debtors; when He speaks of the forgiveness of sins He also speaks of speaks of the forgiveness of moral and spiritual debts. — Bill Heinrich

Luke takes notice of Jewish practices, as when Jesus stood to read the Scriptures and the audience always stood to listen. This tradition is still practiced today. Following the reading from the Torah was a reading from the Prophets, which, in this case, was from the Book of Isaiah.  It was the cultural norm that, after He finished reading, He sat down to preach a sermon. What has been preserved by Luke most certainly is only a small segment of a much larger sermon presented by Jesus.
       … The tradition was that men of the congregation would take turns reading Scripture in the worship serviceunless there was a visiting guest, then he was given the honor to lead the service. The readings from the scrolls were continued from week to week and, in any three year cycle the entire Hebrew Bible was read.  That, in itself, was a difficult task to accomplish since there were no chapter and verse divisions.  Furthermore, there were no vowels and all the letters were run together.It is normally assumed that Jesus simply selected a text from Isaiah, read it, and applied it to Himself. Clearly, this was not the case. At the point where the reader of the previous Sabbath ended, that was the beginning point for the reader the following week.  The miracle lies in the fact that Jesus did not select the text, but His reading was the continuation from the reading of the previous Sabbath.  This was hardly a coincidence, but a miracle by a divine appointment.  One would hardly notice a miracle had occurred unless the order of synagogue worship was known. The custom of the day was as follows:

  1. The congregation would recite the Shema (Deut. 6:4), which was a short prayer. At the end, there was a moment of thoughtful silence which was when the worshipers “folded up the Shema.”
  2. A prayer followed.
  3. There was a reading from the Law (Parashah),
  4. There was a reading from the Prophets (Haphtarah).
  5. The reader would then give an explanation and life application to each reading.

— Bill Heinrich

Jesus didn’t come to bring vengeance, he came to close the book on vengeance. Jesus announced the Jubilee good news of pardon, amnesty, liberation, and restoration…but not vengeance. Jesus doesn’t bless revenge, he blesses mercy, and teaches that the mercy we show to our enemies is the mercy that will be shown to us… Does this mean there’s no divine judgment? Of course not. Certainly there is divine judgment, but it is a judgment based in God’s love and commitment to restoration. The restorative judgment of God gives no warrant to a schadenfreudeyearning to see harm inflicted on others. Jesus has closed the book on that kind of lust for vengeance. — Brian Zahnd

Even though we remember that Jubilee never fully reasserts the complete fairness and equality God desires, we look for places where justice is lacking, and places where efforts are underway to create more equity. When we see those efforts, we celebrate them. When we are able, we emulate them. When is it Jubilee? We’ll never see it. But we can access the ideal, just as the ancients did, by celebrating it, moving toward it, and dreaming of justice. — Melissa Bane Sevier

Jesus then provides two examples, well-known in Israel, of the prophet coming to the aid of outsiders:  the Zarephath widow and Elijah, and Elisha and Namaan the Syrian (1 Kgs 17:8-24, 2 Kings 5: 1-19).  In both cases, a prophet came to the aid of a gentile when there were people similarly in need in Israel. Luke probably means us to see an additional contrast:  The widow was on the margins of society and undoubtedly poor.  Naaman, on the other hand, was powerful–the commander of Syria’s army–but suffered from leprosy. In citing these two examples, not only is Jesus further identifying with the role of prophet–indeed, two of Israel’s greatest, Elijah and Elisha–but also telling his hometown people that they don’t get special treatment.  — John Petty

Jesus edited out vengeance, and this gives us a key to how Jesus read the Old Testament. And lest we think that Jesus’ omission of “the day of vengeance” was simply an oversight or meaningless, consider what Jesus says to the hometown crowd in the synagogue following his edited reading of Isaiah. Jesus recalls the stories of the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the leper — Gentiles who instead of receiving vengeance from God, received provision and healing. Jesus is announcing the arrival of the Lord’s favor, but he is emphasizing that it is for everybody…even for Sidonians and Syrians, even for Israel’s enemies! Jesus is making clear that in bringing the Jubilee of God he is bringing it for everybody! — Brian Zahnd

Ramsay MacMullen has noted that one’s social pedigree would easily be known in the Greco-Roman world and that a description such as “carpenter” indicated lower class status [Roman Social Relations: 50 B.C. to A.D. 384]. At the back of his book he gives a “Lexicon of Snobbery” filled with terms used by literate and therefore upper-class Greco-Roman authors to indicate their prejudice against illiterate and therefore lower-class individuals. Among those terms is tekton, or “carpenter,” the same term used for Jesus in Mark 6:3 and for Joseph in Matthew 13:55. One should not, of course, ever presume that upper-class sneers dictated how the lower classes actually felt about themselves. But, in general, the great divide in the Greco-Roman world was between those who had to work with their hands and those who did not… If Jesus was a carpenter, therefore, he belonged to the Artisan class, that group pushed into the dangerous space between Peasants and Degradeds or Expendables… — John Dominic Crossan

Notice that they neither dispute that he has wisdom or that he performs mighty works; they are just dumbfounded that it comes from a hometown boy like Jesus. More than just a matter of familiarity breeding contempt, this comes from the ancient mentality that geographical and heredity origins determine who a person is and what his capacities will always be. They see Jesus as someone who is not merely exceeding expectations but rather is overreaching. — Juel

The refusal — or inability — of Jesus’ neighbors to accept his status confirms what the story has suggested thus far: the world’s standards of judgment appear to run headlong into God’s ways. Jesus does not measure up. The circumstances of his origin allow no way of accounting for the stories about him. His common beginnings do not fit the assessment that he is a prophet. The result is scandal and fear. The reaction of the people from his hometown also suggests that real insiders are not necessarily those who by birth or circumstance are closest to Jesus. In fact, those who ought to know best turn out to be the most incapable of insight.— Witherington

Reflections on starting journeys: themes from baptismal scripture

If you can’t fly, then run,
if you can’t run, then walk,
if you can’t walk, then crawl,
but by all means keep moving.
– Martin Luther King Jr.


BELOVED IS WHERE WE BEGIN  — Jan Richardson

If you would enter / into the wilderness,
do not begin / without a blessing.

Do not leave
without hearing / who you are:
Beloved, named by the One
who has traveled this path / before you.

Do not go  / without letting it echo
in your ears, / and if you find
it is hard / to let it into your heart,
do not despair. / That is what
this journey is for.

I cannot promise / this blessing will free you
from danger, from fear,
from hungeror thirst,
from the scorching of sun or the fall of the night.

But I can tell you that on this path there will be help.

I can tell you that on this way there will be rest.

I can tell you that you will know
the strange graces that come to our aid
only on a road  / such as this,
that fly to meet us
bearing comfort and strength,
that come alongside us / for no other cause
than to lean themselves / toward our ear
and with their / curious insistence / whisper our name:

Beloved.
Beloved.
Beloved.

SONGS about STARTING a JOURNEY

Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute,
Whatever you can do, or dream you can—begin it;
Boldness has genius, power, magic in it;
Only engage,—and then the mind grows heated;
Begin!—and then the work will be completed.
—Goethe


It’s just as well, my pitcher shattered
I’m free of all that hauling water!
The burden on my head is gone….
A single well, Kabira
And water-bearers many!
Pots of every shape and size
But the water always One.
— ‘Bhala Hua Meri Gagri Phooti’ –song of Kabir.
translated by Rabindranath Tagore 1915, 55-56


Blessing the Baptism — Jan Richardson

As if we could call you
anything other than
beloved
and blessed

drenched as we are
in our love for you

washed as we are
by our delight in you

born anew as we are
by the grace that flows
from the heart of the one
who bore you to us.

STARTING a JOURNEY

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.– Lao Tzu

To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself. – Søren Kierkegaard

The only impossible journey is the one you never begin. – Tony Robbins

The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance, and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning. – Oprah Winfrey

 We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. – Aristotle

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant. – Robert Louis Stevenson

Tell me, O Swan, your ancient tale.
From what land do you come, O Swan ?
to what shore will you fly ?
Where would you take your rest, O Swan, and what do you seek ?
Even this morning, O Swan, awake, arise follow me !
There is a land where no doubt nor sorrow have rule: where the terror of Death is no more.
There the woods of spring are a-bloom, and the fragrant scent “He is I” is born on the wind:
There the bee of the heart is deeply immersed and desires no other joy.
 — Poems of Kabir, translated by Rabindranath Tagore 1915, 55-56

COMMENTARY on BAPTISM

So I hope in this baptismal life ahead of you that when you encounter water – this most common of substances which surrounds land and comprises our bodies…I hope when you drink it in; when you dive deep in a pool of it; when you wade in a stream of it; that even when you wash dishes with it; I hope that you are reminded of the promise of life eternal: a promise that life with God is as close to you as water and bread and wine and human bodies.  Because to be Christian is to know that the eternal is always contained in the present. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

Water figures in many of Jyoti’s paintings, as too in biblical imagery: the waters that were ‘the face of the deep’ before creation; the waters of the flood, over which the rainbow shone, sign of God’s covenant of peace with all creation; the waters of the Red Sea parting to liberate the fleeing slaves, the ‘children of Israel’; the ‘water of life’ with which Jesus identified himself, both with the alienated woman at the well and during debate in the temple; the waters of baptism – that of Jesus and of those who accept his way. — Jyoti Sahi Art Ashram

Jesus has become part with the waters. His character is innately like that of water. … water seeks out the lowest place. Or, as [St] Francis says in his Hymn to Creation, the waters are humble – they offer life to others and for others – and in themselves are clear, like light. — Jyoti Sahi Art Ashram

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