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

Meditations on hope and resilience for the first Sunday of Advent

Hope begins in the dark … the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You don’t give up. — Anne Lamott

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope. — Thomas Merton

SONGS about HOPE:

Blessing of Hope — Jan Richardson
So may we know the hope
that is not just for someday
but for this day—here, now,
in this moment that opens to us:
hope not made of wishes
but of substance,
hope made of sinew
and muscle and bone,
hope that has breath
and a beating heart,
hope that will not keep quiet
and be polite,
hope that knows how to holler when it is called for,
hope that knows how to sing when there seems little cause,
hope that raises us
from the dead—
not someday
but this day,
every day,
again and again and again.

Advent 1: The Parable

In a mother’s womb were two babies.  The first baby asked the other:  “Do you believe in life after delivery?”
      The second baby replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery.  Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”
      “Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery.  What would that life be?”
      “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here.  Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths.”
      The doubting baby laughed. “This is absurd!  Walking is impossible.  And eat with our mouths?  Ridiculous.  The umbilical cord supplies nutrition.  Life after delivery is to be excluded.  The umbilical cord is too short.”
      The second baby held his ground. “I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here.”
      The first baby replied, “No one has ever come back from there.  Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery it is nothing but darkness and anxiety and it takes us nowhere.”
      “Well, I don’t know,” said the twin, “but certainly we will see mother and she will take care of us.”
       “Mother?” The first baby guffawed. “You believe in mother?  Where is she now?” 
       The second baby calmly and patiently tried to explain. “She is all around us.  It is in her that we live. Without her there would not be this world.”
       “Hah. I don’t see her, so it’s only logical that she doesn’t exist.”  
        To which the other replied, “Sometimes when you’re in silence you can hear her, you can perceive her.  I believe there is a reality after delivery and we are here to prepare ourselves for that reality when it comes….”
 
— Attribution uncertain: According to Wayne Dyer, the original story was told by Henri J. W. Nouwen. Possibly  adapted from the writings of Pablo Molinero. Or penned in 1947 by Orthodox Rabbi Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky. Or from the Hungarian writer Útmutató a Léleknek.

The spiritual task of life is to feed hope. Hope is not something to be found outside of us. It lies in the spiritual life we cultivate within.— Joan Chittister

There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster. ― Dalai Lama XIV
 
Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose. ― Viktor E. Frankl
 
Hope lies in dreams, in imagination, and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality. – Jonas Salk
 

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope. – Maya Angelou

They say a person needs just three things to be truly happy in this world: someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for. – Tom Bodett
 
Few things in the world are more powerful than a positive push. A smile. A world of optimism and hope. A ‘you can do it’ when things are tough. – Richard M. DeVos

A lot of people have their big dreams and get knocked down and don’t have things go their way. And you never give up hope, and you really just hold on to it. Hard work and perseverance. You just keep getting up and getting up, and then you get that breakthrough.– Robert Kraft

Hope is the dream of a soul awake. — French proverb

Dum spiro, spero: While I breath, I hope. — Latin proverb

The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. — Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

IS HOPE ABOUT NOW or TOMORROW, IS IT a HELP or an OBSTACLE?

Grounded hope has two parts. The “grounded” part refers to a realistic understanding of our lives and ourselves. Instead of painting a smiley face over what has happened, we bravely look at reality head-on. Seeing the situation clearly enables us to work toward recovery.
     We cultivate the “hope” part by building confidence in our ability to shape what happens to us next. We start by asking, “Given what’s happened to me, what am I going to do about it? How can I build a better life on top of it?” Then we set goals for ourselves and find sources of motivation to pursue those goals.
      At some point, most of us will face the task of recovering, rebuilding, and rebounding from adversity. Grounded hope can help us not just bounce back, but bounce forward. — Lee Daniel Kravetz, Option B, https://optionb.org/build-resilience/advice/steps-to-grounded-hope

Hope is important, because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today. But that is the most that hope can do for us – to make some hardship lighter. When I think deeply about the nature of hope, I see something tragic. Since we cling to our hope in the future, we do not focus our energies and capabilities on the present moment. We use hope to believe something better will happen in the future, that we will arrive at peace, or the Kingdom of God. Hope becomes a kind of obstacle. If you can refrain from hoping, you can bring yourself entirely into the present moment and discover the joy that is already here…
     Western civilization places so much emphasis on the idea of hope that we sacrifice the present moment. Hope is for the future. It cannot help us discover joy, peace, or enlightenment in the present moment. Many religions are based on the notion of hope, and this teaching about refraining from hope may create a strong reaction. But the shock can bring about something important. I do not mean that you should not have hope, but that hope is not enough. Hope can create an obstacle for you, and if you dwell in the energy of hope, you will not bring yourself back entirely into the present moment. If you re-channel those energies into being aware of what is going on in the present moment, you will be able to make a breakthrough and discover joy and peace right in the present moment, inside of yourself and all around you. — Thich Nhat Hahn, Peace In Every Step

When considered only philosophically, hope, more often than not, seems to be at odds with rational, analytical thinking. But due to its proactive nature, hope in action touches the heart and creates its own validation. A good example of this is found in the philanthropic work of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. In the 2015 Annual Gates Letter he wrote: “Optimism for me isn’t that things will get better; it’s a conviction that we can make things better — that whatever suffering we see, no matter how bad it is we can help people if we don’t lose hope and we don’t look away.” — article from ornishliving.com

Hope is not always comforting or comfortable. Hope asks us to open ourselves to what we do not know, to pray for illumination in this life, to imagine what is beyond our imagining, to bear what seems unbearable. It calls us to keep breathing when beloved lives have left us, to turn toward one another when we might prefer to turn away. Hope draws our eyes and hearts toward a more whole future but propels us also into the present, where Christ waits for us to work with him toward a more whole world now. — Jan Richardson

When God saves people in this life by working through his Spirit to bring them to faith and by leading them to follow Jesus in discipleship, prayer, holiness, hope, and love, such people are designed…to be a sign and foretaste of what God wants to do for the entire cosmos. What’s more, such people are not just to be a sign and foretaste of that ultimate salvation; they are to be part of the means by which God makes this happen both in the present and the future. — NT Wright

Reflections on the common table: who has a seat?

If the home is a body, the table is the heart, the beating center, the sustainer of life and health.― Shauna Niequist

If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. — Michael Enzi

I feign fullness, but in reality I am achingly empty. And it is because I too often sit at the table of the world instead of the feet of God. ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

SONGS about SHARING FOOD & ENJOYING LIFE:

The Thanksgivings Harriet Maxwell Converse
We who are here present thank the Great Spirit that we are here          
to praise Him. We thank Him that He has created men and women, and ordered          
that these beings shall always be living to multiply the earth.
We thank Him for making the earth and giving these beings its products          
to live on. We thank Him for the water that comes out of the earth and runs          
for our lands. We thank Him for all the animals on the earth.
We thank Him for certain timbers that grow and have fluids coming          
from them for us all. We thank Him for the branches of the trees that grow shadows          
for our shelter. We thank Him for the beings that come from the west, the thunder          
and lightning that water the earth.
We thank Him for the light which we call our oldest brother, the sun          
that works for our good. We thank Him for all the fruits that grow on the trees and vines.
We thank Him for his goodness in making the forests, and thank          
all its trees. We thank Him for the darkness that gives us rest, and for the kind Being          
of the darkness that gives us light, the moon.
We thank Him for the bright spots in the skies that give us signs,          
the stars. We give Him thanks for our supporters,
who had charge of our harvests.
We give thanks that the voice of the Great Spirit can still be heard          
through the words of Ga-ne-o-di-o.
We thank the Great Spirit that we have the privilege of this pleasant          
occasion. We give thanks for the persons who can sing the Great Spirit’s music,          
and hope they will be privileged to continue in his faith.
We thank the Great Spirit for all the persons who perform the ceremonies          
on this occasion.

Table Blessing — Jan Richardson

To your table
you bid us come.
You have set the places,
you have poured the wine,
and there is always room,
you say,
for one more.

And so we come.
From the streets
and from the alleys
we come.

From the deserts
and from the hills
we come.

From the ravages of poverty
and from the palaces of privilege
we come.

Running,
limping,
carried,
we come.

We are bloodied with our wars,
we are wearied with our wounds,
we carry our dead within us,
and we reckon with their ghosts.

We hold the seeds of healing,
we dream of a new creation,
we know the things
that make for peace,
and we struggle to give them wings.

And yet, to your table
we come.
Hungering for your bread,
we come;
thirsting for your wine,
we come;
singing your song
in every language,
speaking your name
in every tongue,
in conflict and in communion,
in discord and in desire,
we come,
O God of Wisdom,
we come

SHARED MEAL: Commentary

Food feeds our souls. It is the single great unifier across all cultures. The table offers a sanctuary and a place to come together for unity and understanding. — Lidia Bastianich
 

The heart is cooking a pot of food for you. Be patient until it is cooked. — Rumi

The table is a meeting place, a gathering ground, the source of sustenance and nourishment, festivity, safety, and satisfaction. A person cooking is a person giving: Even the simplest food is a gift. — Laurie Colwin

There are times when wisdom cannot be found in the chambers of parliament or the halls of academia but at the unpretentious setting of the kitchen table. ― E.A. Bucchianeri

It’s around the table and in the preparation of food that we learn about ourselves and about the world. —Alice Waters

They all know the truth, that there are only three subjects worth talking about. At least here in these parts,” he says, “The weather, which, as they’re farmers, affects everything else. Dying and birthing, of both people and animals. And what we eat – this last item comprising what we ate the day before and what we’re planning to eat tomorrow. And all three of these major subjects encompass, in one way or another, philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, the physical sciences, history, art, literature, and religion. We get around to sparring about all that counts in life but we usually do it while we’re talking about food, it being a subject inseparable from every other subject. It’s the table and the bed that count in life. And everything else we do, we do so we can get back to the table, back to the bed. ― Marlena De Blasi

Meals are significant because you are in close quarters with someone. Your hands are reaching into the same dishes. It is a clear act of welcoming, accepting, and befriending. It was the precise thing that you did not do with the social pariahs. It was the precise thing that the social outcast wanted: community. — Dave Dunham

You’ve spent the whole of your life filling your plate with the scraps that life has thrown your way. And even so, you feel horribly undeserving of these. But please understand that there is a glorious table generously spread with everything that you will ever need. And you might think about the fact that God sits at that very table staring at an empty chair that has your name on it. So, maybe you should step up and RSVP the God who is desperate to see you in that chair. ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

A SEAT at the TABLE: Including Stakeholders
 
I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights. — Desmond Tutu

To share a table with someone is to share everything. ― Paul Krueger

A good life does not mean just good food, good clothes, good shelter. These are not sufficient. A good motivation is what is needed—compassion, without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy—just understanding that others are human brothers and sisters and respecting their rights and human dignity. — Dalai Lama

No matter what message you are about to deliver somewhere, whether it is holding out a hand of friendship, or making clear that you disapprove of something, is the fact that the person sitting across the table is a human being, so the goal is to always establish common ground. — Madeleine Albright
 
All of your stakeholders have to have the right seat at the table, and they all have to be successful. It’s hard to do, but you have to keep your eye on developing a meaningful relationship where it is beneficial for them. Then you work backwards from there. —Brian France

If I am more fortunate than others I need to build a longer table not a taller fence. —Tamlyn Tomita

We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel. ― Shauna Niequist

It is not necessary that you leave the house. Remain at your table and listen. Do not even listen, only wait. Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone. The world will present itself to you for its unmasking, it can do no other, in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet. — Franz Kafka

The best thing we can do for the poor is offer them a place of welcome and community. Our first priority in social involvement is to be the church, a community of welcome to, and inclusion of, the marginalized. This needs to go deeper than a warm handshake at the door. People are often unaware of how much the culture of their church is shaped by their social class. Someone at the door of a church, for example, may hand a newcomer a hymnbook, Bible, service guide, and bulletin with a smile and greeting without realizing how intimidating these can be to someone from a nonliterate culture. The social activities to which the poor are invited, the decision-making processes of the church, the unwritten dress codes, the style of teaching can all be alien to the marginalized. As a result, however warm the welcome, the poor can feel marginalized within the church just as they are outside. (Total Church, 81-82) — Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

Meditations on All Hallow’s Eve: October 31

On this All Hallows Eve, who lingers close to you? — Jan Richardson

… we give thanks for all those who have come before us
handing on the faith and being used by God for simple acts of love.
— Nadia Bolz Weber

“Will we ever stop being afraid of nights and death?”
“When you reach the stars, boy, yes, and live there forever,
all the fears will go, and Death himself will die.”
― Ray Bradbury

… There is a vast mystery into which I believe
I will fall at the time of my death.
At the centre of that mystery is the power of love
who holds me in this life and
will not forsake me at the moment of death.
Christopher Page

Halloween is a celebration of the inversion of reality and a necessary
Gothic hat-tip to the darker aspects of life, death and ourselves.
― Stewart Stafford

This is love: to fly toward a secret sky,
to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.
First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.
— Rumi

Samhain
is the threshold to the Season of Death.
The fertile fields of summer give way to the bare forests of autumn.
As crops slowly die and winter takes over,
the cycle of life is once again approaching a renewal.
― Dacha Avelin

SONGS about ALL HALLOW’s EVE:

FUN HALLOWEEN Song List:

ALL HALLOWS BLESSING — Jan Richardson

Who live
in the spaces
between our breathing
in the corner
of our vision
in the hollows
of our bones
in the chambers
of our heart:
nowhere
can they be touched
yet still
how they move us,
how they move in us,
made from
the tissue of memory
like the veil
between the worlds
that stirs
at the merest breath
this night
and then is at rest.


ALL SAINTS DAY BLESSING
(Adapted by unknown medical chaplain from poems by John O’Donohue)

What we do here is brave.
We travel this land of fragile human-ness,
holding all the questions
that fear and fierce love
send our way.
We do well to remember
that we are both guest and guide.
May you have courage
to meet wounded spirits with compassion
in their stunning depths of pain
and stand by them in creative space
where story and suffering join,
new meanings emerge,
old wounds heal.
In this season of saints and souls,
may you have good companions
in this place between
the bleak despair of illness
and the unquenchable light of spirit.
May you admire
that spirit in those you serve,
no matter how expressed
—noble, troubling or unwise—
and keep faith
with the gifts you bring.
And may you learn
from these frontier places,
wisdom for your own heart—
wisdom to welcome
the blessings of your kindness,
and be held with love
in all the seasons of your life.

FOR THOSE WHO WALKED WITH USJan Richardson

For those
who walked with us,
this is a prayer.

For those
who have gone ahead,
this is a blessing.

For those
who touched and tended us,
who lingered with us
while they lived,
this is a thanksgiving.

For those
who journey still with us
in the shadows of awareness,
in the crevices of memory,
in the landscape of our dreams,
this is a benediction.

ALL HALLOWSLouise Glück
 
Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken.
The oxen sleep
in their blue yoke,
the fields having been picked clean,
the sheaves bound evenly and
piled at the roadside among cinquefoil,
as the toothed moon rises:
 
This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended,
as in payment,
and the seeds,
distinct,
gold,
calling,
Come here,
Come here, little one

 
And the soul creeps out of the tree.

MEDITATIONS on ALL HALLOW’S EVE as CHRISTIAN OBSERVANCE

It is quite a thing, really. That we are connected to so many. Connected to so much faith. So many stories. So much divine love. Especially in this day and age of alienation and trying to find community and belonging in smaller and smaller ways … what connects me to the body of Christ is not my piety or good works or theological beliefs. It’s God. A God who gathers up all of God’s children into the church eternal …Your hearts are heavy with the loss of someone dear. Many of us have our own beloved dead to remember this day. People who we’d frankly rather still have here in this room as a living person and not as a photo on a … table at church … death is never the final word because in boith life and death we … are very much connected to God and to one another. … God somehow gathers us all ip into the divine love of Christ and makes us a body both now and in the life to come … Jesus had real friends who died, and he stood outside the tomb of Lazarus and wept. … God in Jesus was so moved by compassion and love for those … a God who in Jesus descended to the dead as though to say to us “:even here I will find you and not let go” because death has no sting – death is rendered meaningless to a God of resurrection. — Nadia Bolz Weber


I am grateful that the sacred calendar provides a day to do what so many of us do throughout the year: to remember beloved ones who are no longer here but who somehow journey with us still. In sorrow and in joy, in memory and in hope, and in the love that goes even deeper than the grief … — Jan Richardson


Today is a day when Christian tradition urges us to contemplate the reality of death. Today is All Hallow’s Eve, the evening before All Hallow’s (All Saints’) Day.
     On All Saints’ Day (Nov 1) we are invited to contemplate the possibility that the barrier we normally perceive between this life and whatever follows our physical death may be more permeable than we might assume from the evidence of our physical senses. We are encouraged to consider that physical death may not be the terminus of human existence. There may be a dimension beyond the physical in which all beings who have ever existed continue in some form to dwell.
     Today is a “thin day.” Today we open to the possibility that those who are departed may in some holy way continue to engage in a sacred interchange with the tangible realm occupied by those of us who have yet to make our final transition into the mystery of death…
     So, on this All Hallow’s Eve I affirm that the dark is only dark to my impoverished perception. The darkness of death opens into the dawn of a new and transforming light that I glimpse in the life death and resurrection of Jesus and that I touch in the transcendent beauty and light of this life. — Christopher Page

SAMHAIN Annie Finch
(The Celtic Halloween)

In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.

Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn dies to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil

that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.

I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother’s mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
self, I find her, and she brings

arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty. “Carry me.”
She leaves this trail through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.

OF HALLOWEEN and SAMHAIN

Samhain is a pagan religious festival originating from an ancient Celtic spiritual tradition. In modern times, Samhain (a Gaelic word pronounced “SAH-win”) is usually celebrated from October 31 to November 1 to welcome in the harvest and usher in “the dark half of the year.” Celebrants believe that the barriers between the physical world and the spirit world break down during Samhain, allowing more interaction between humans and denizens of the Otherworld. — History.com (full article: https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/samhain)

Halloween is a holiday celebrated each year on October 31, and Halloween 2021 will occur on Sunday, October 31. The tradition originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints. Soon, All Saints Day incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a day of activities like trick-or-treating, carving jack-o-lanterns, festive gatherings, donning costumes and eating treats. — History.com (full article: https://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween)

REFLECTIONS on These Two Days

Halloween is not only about putting on a costume, but it’s about finding the imagination and costume within ourselves. – Elvis Duran

I was born on the night of Samhain, when the barrier between the worlds is whisper-thin and when magic, old magic, sings its heady and sweet song to anyone who cares to hear it. ― Carolyn MacCullough

Samhain was considered to be a moment when the veil between this world and the otherworld was at its thinnest. Old gods had to be placated with gifts and sacrifice, and the trickery of fairies was an even greater risk than usual. This was a liminal moment in the calendar, a time between two worlds, between two phases of the year, when worshippers were about to cross a boundary but hadn’t yet done so. Samhain was a way of marking that ambiguous moment when you didn’t know who you were about to become, or what the future would hold. It was a celebration of limbo. ― Katherine May

While Halloween certainly acknowledges the “dark, creepy and scary side of life”, I’m not at all convinced that it necessarily glorifies it. The world is full of strangeness and mystery, and some degree of fascination with such things is entirely normal. — Rob Grayson

Halloween in the Anthropocene, 2015Craig Santos Perez

Darkness spills across the sky like an oil plume.
The moon reflects bleached coral. Tonight, let us
praise the sacrificed. Praise the souls of  black boys, enslaved by supply chains,
who carry bags of cacao under West African heat.

“Trick or treat, smell my feet,
give me something good to eat,”

sings a girl dressed as a Disney princess.
Let us praise the souls of   brown girls
who sew our clothes as fire
unthreads sweatshops into smoke and ash.

“Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good,”
whisper kids disguised as ninjas.
Tonight, let us praise the souls of Asian children
who manufacture toys and tech until gravity
sharpens their bodies enough to cut through suicide nets.

“Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me,”
shout boys camouflaged as soldiers.
Let us praise the souls of  veterans
who salute with their guns because
only triggers will pull God into their ruined temples.

“Trick or treat, smell my feet,” chant kids
masquerading as cowboys and Indians.
Tonight let us praise the souls of native youth,
whose eyes are open-pit uranium mines,
veins are poisoned rivers, hearts are tar sands tailings ponds.

“Trick or treat,” says a boy dressed as the sun.
Let us praise El Niño, his growing pains,
praise his mother, Ocean,
who is dying in a warming bath
among dead fish and refugee children.
Let us praise our mothers of  asthma,
mothers of  cancer clusters, mothers of miscarriage 
— pray for us — 
because our costumes
won’t hide the true cost of our greed.
Praise our mothers of  lost habitats,
mothers of  fallout, mothers of extinction 
— pray for us —
because even tomorrow will be haunted 
— leave them, leave us, leave — 

Asking, seeking, knocking … beyond binaries and either/or scenarios … the door, the gate, the Way, the narrow path is love. Themes from Matthew 7.

This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not “what does it say?” but “what am I looking for?” I suspect Jesus knew this when he said, “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” — Rachel Held Evans

Why are you knocking at every door? Go, knock at the door of your own heart. — Rumi

On the other hand, ‘Knock and it shall be opened.’ But does knocking mean hammering and kicking the door like a maniac? — C.S. Lewis

The moment we begin to seek out love, love begins to seek us out. And to save us. — Paulo Coelho

Always the beautiful answer / who asks a more beautiful question. —e.e. Cummings

Contextually speaking, love is the narrow gate. — Jayson Bradley

We often remain exiles, left outside the rich world of the soul, simply because we are not ready. Our task is to refine our hearts and minds. There is so much blessing and beauty near us that is destined for us, and yet it cannot enter our lives because we are not ready to receive it. The handle is on the inside of the door; only we can open it. Our lack of readiness is often caused by blindness, fear, and lack of self-appreciation. When we are ready, we will be blessed. — John O’Donohue

SONGS about KNOCKING & ASKING:

Resource for more listening and studying: Podcast about Ask and You Will Receive (from BibleProject)


Blessing the Door — Jan Richardson (link to poem)

First let us say / a blessing
upon all who have / entered here before / us.

You can see the sign / of their passage / by the worn place
where their hand rested / on the doorframe
as they walked through, / the smooth sill
of the threshold / where they crossed.

Press your ear / to the door
for a moment before / you enter

and you will hear / their voices murmuring
words you cannot / quite make out
but know / are full of welcome.

On the other side / these ones who wait—
for you, / if you do not / know by now—
understand what / a blessing can do

how it appears like / nothing you expected

how it arrives as / visitor,
outrageous invitation, / child;

how it takes the form / of angel / or dream

how it comes / in words like
How can this be? / and lifted up the lowly;

how it sounds like / in the wilderness / prepare the way.

Those who wait / for you know
how the mark of / a true blessing
is that it will take you / where you did not / think to go.

Once through this door / there will be more:
more doors / more blessings
more who watch and / wait for you

but here / at this door of / beginning
the blessing cannot / be said without you.

So lay your palm / against the frame
that those before you / touched

place your feet / where others paused / in this entryway.

Say the thing that / you most need
and the door will / open wide

and by this word / the door is blessed
and by this word / the blessing is begun
from which / door by door
all the rest / will come.

Text from which we’re drawing this week’s themes: MATTHEW 7: 7-14

Ask, Seek, Knock
– ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.’

‘Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.’

The Golden Rule – In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.’

The Narrow Gate –  ‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.’

REVELATION 3:20
 
Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

COMMENTARY on ENTERING through the NARROW GATE

It’s a life long “finding,” of surrendering to the process of God at work in us. But WE choose that posture of surrender. We choose to open the gate and walk upon the narrow road. And really, what other choice is there to make? —Elisabeth Elliott (full article)

Do for others what you wish others would do for you. Do you want to be treated with respect? Respect others. Do you expect compassion and the benefit of the doubt? Extend it to others. Do you want to be served? Serve others. He then tells us this one principle sums up the entire Old Testament. … Contextually speaking, love is the narrow gate ... All the destruction, pain and turmoil in life comes from our inability to put others first. Love leads to life, both here and in the world to come. —Jayson Bradley, Patheos (full article)

The word change normally refers to new beginnings. But transformation, the mystery we’re examining, more often happens not when something new begins, but when something old falls apart. The pain of something old falling apart—chaos—invites the soul to listen at a deeper level. It invites, and sometimes forces, the soul to go to a new place because the old place is falling apart. Most of us would never go to new places in any other way…. This is when you need patience, guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening your controls and certitudes. Perhaps Jesus is describing this phenomenon when he says, “It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” … In moments of insecurity and crisis, shoulds and oughts don’t really help; they just increase the shame, guilt, pressure, and likelihood of backsliding. It’s the deep yesses that carry us through. It’s that deeper something we are strongly for that allows us to wait it out. — Richard Rohr (full article)

Contemplation is meeting as much reality as we can handle in its most simple and immediate form, without filters, judgments, and commentaries. Now you see why it is so rare and, in fact, “the narrow road that few walk on” … The only way you can contemplate is by recognizing and relativizing your own compulsive mental grids—your practiced ways of judging, critiquing, blocking, and computing everything… When your mental judgmental grid and all its commentaries are placed aside, God finally has a chance to get through to you, because your pettiness is at last out of the way. Then Truth stands revealed! You will begin to recognize that we all carry the Divine Indwelling within us and we all carry it equally. That will change your theology, your politics, and your entire worldview. In fact, it is the very birth of the soul. — Richard Rohr (full article)

I have lived on the lip of insanity, wanting to know reasons, knocking on a door. It opens. I’ve been knocking from the inside. — Rumi

ON KNOCKING at DOORS
 
If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you’re sure to wake someone up. — Henry Wordsworth Longfellow

The exclusion of the weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people, from a Christian community may actually mean the exclusion of Christ; in the poor brother Christ is knocking at the door. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Go to your bosom: Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know. — William Shakespeare

Even when opportunity knocks, a man still has to get up off his seat and open the door. — Douglas MacArthur

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. — Proverb (attributed to Milton Berle)

A pessimist is somebody who complains about the noise when opportunity knocks. — Oscar Wilde

The most sacred invitation that a person can extend to us is to invite us into their pain. But that means that we have to choose to knock on a door that we often prefer to pretend is not there. ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

Rain puts a hole in stone because of its constancy, not its force. Just keep knocking on doors until the right one opens — Joseph Gerber

Opportunity may knock only once but temptation leans on the door bell — Oprah Winfrey

The first time when I was organizing, I went out and started knocking on doors to see if people were registered to vote. I was a door knocker. I didn’t even have the confidence that I could register people, so I just was out there door knocking. That was my first experience. — Dolores Huerta

Guest House — Mawlana Jalal-al-Din Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

SEEKING

Love seeks only one thing: the good of the loved. It leaves all other secondary effects to take care of themselves. There, love is its own reward. — Thomas Merton

There are times to stay put, and what you want will come to you, and there are times to go out into the world and find such a thing for yourself. ― Lemony Snicket

I go to seek a Great Perhaps. That’s why I’m going. So I don’t have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.― John Green

And I shall seek you endlessly, for
I am a moth, and you’re my flame
Knowing that I’ll burn at your touch
I return, for you’re a fire; untamed …
― Zubair Ahsan

…there was no point in sighing after what I could not have. It only distracted me from what I did have. ― Robin Hobb

Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable. ― Albert Camus

Very few beings really seek knowledge in this world. Mortal or immortal, few really ask. On the contrary, they try to wring from the unknown the answers they have already shaped in their own minds — justifications, confirmations, forms of consolation without which they can’t go on. To really ask is to open the door to the whirlwind. The answer may annihilate the question and the questioner. ― Anne Rice

Thus Gotama [Buddha] walked toward the town to gather alms, and the two samanas recognized him solely by the perfection of his repose, by the calmness of his figure, in which there was no trace of seeking, desiring, imitating, or striving, only light and peace. ― Hermann Hesse

WHEN TRUTH KNOCKS: Buddhist Story

A young widower was devoted to his little son. But while he was away on business, the whole village was burned to the ground by bandits, who also kidnapped the little boy. When the father returned and found only ruins, he was utterly heartbroken. He thought that the charred remains of a little child were of his son, so he organized a full cremation, collected the ashes, and carried them with him always in a special bag.
     One day, his son managed to escape from the bandit kidnappers and made his way back to his home. In the meantime, his father had rebuilt the house. When the little boy arrived late one night, he knocked on the door. His father, kneeling at the altar he had made to memorialize his son called out, “Who’s there?”
     “It’s me, your son; please papa, let me in!”
     The father, still burdened by his grief thought this must be some wretched boy making fun of his grieving and shouted out, “Go away! Leave me alone! My son is dead!”
     The boy knocked again and again, calling for his father to open the door and let him in. The father, refusing to answer the door kept calling out, “Go away! Leave me alone!” And at last, the boy gave up and went away, never to return again.
     After he had told this story, the Buddha added: “If you cling to an idea as the unalterable truth, then when the truth comes and knocks on your door, you will not be able to open the door and accept it.”
Udana Sutta

COMMENTARY on KNOCKING & ASKING

The exclusion of the weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people, from a Christian community may actually mean the exclusion of Christ; in the poor brother Christ is knocking at the door. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It seems to me that Jesus’ words are a clear directive. Ask, Jesus says. Seek. Knock.
     And then, if I’ve got this right, Jesus follows up a few verses later by saying that God will actually respond … To me. To you. To, oh, anyone who asks. And God will do it without discretion or conditions. Without caution or prudence. Without making a list first of who has a right to which truth or who will handle the answers the best.
     The revolutionary, almost subversive, thing about asking is that it goes beyond making it OK to have secret questions and inner doubts and gives us permission to raise our hands in God’s classroom with a “Pardon me, but I don’t get it.” Or “Really, God? Can you explain further?” Or “I just can’t bring myself to believe what the rest of your class is telling me.”
     I suspect … that we’re somehow expected to keep asking. Out loud. And to keep seeking. And to keep knocking …
     … questions fall out all over the place, raw and beautiful in their authenticity … making people uncomfortable – or giddy … the way we engage our conversations may be more important than our conclusions, for if we abandon love, kindness, forbearance and gentleness in favor of fear, self-righteousness and anger, what have we gained with a mere conclusion? And the second thing she said is I wonder if we trust Jesus to be enough?
     …. “What if the root word of aspiration isn’t only to aspire to? What if the root word of aspiration is also to aspirate? To expel or dislodge the things that make people choke? To tell a truth that is so wild and so free that it helps people learn to breathe? What if you’re called to be that kind of aspiration?” And I thought, by God, if this life is about helping people breathe, I can do that.
     Ask. Seek. Knock. Breathe.
     I used to prefer for God to live in a box. Neat and tidy. Quiet and nice. Now my life is full of questions. It’s messier and louder, more disruptive and fulfilling, than I imagined. And I? I can finally breathe. — Betth Woolsey (full article)

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?
     … He reminded me that the same thing seems to have happened to Christ: ‘Why hast thou forsaken me?’ I know. Does that make it easier to understand?    
     … Of course it’s easy enough to say that God seems absent at our greatest need because He is absent — non-existent. But then why does He seem so present when, to put it frankly, we don’t ask for Him?
     … And so, perhaps, with God. I have gradually come to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help … Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear. — C.S. Lewis (article)

Mystery is what happens to us when we allow life to evolve rather than having to make it happen all the time. It is the strange knock at the door, the sudden sight of an unceremoniously blooming flower, an afternoon in the yard, a day of riding the midtown bus. Just to see. Just to notice. Just to be there. There is something holy-making about simply presuming that what happens to us in any given day is sent to awaken our souls to something new: another smell, a different taste, a moment when we allow ourselves to lock eyes with a stranger, to smile a bit, to nod our heads in greeting. Who knows? Maybe one of those things will open us to the refreshing memory of pain, a poignant reminder of glory, a breathless moment of astonishment, a sense of the presence of God in life. — Sr Joan Chittister (full article)

ASKING

Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. — Brene Brown

Ask for help. Not because you are weak. But because you want to remain strong. — Les Brown

I was looking for myself and asking everyone but myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. — Ralph Ellison

A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change. — Warren Berger

Don’t be afraid to look again at everything you’ve ever believed … I believe the more we search, the more we delve into the human teachings about the nature and God of life, which are in fact are the teachings of all the great religions traditions, the closer we come to a mature understanding of the Godself … In other words, doubt, questions, drive us to look at how we ourselves need to grow in wisdom, age and grace.  The courage to face questions is the first step in that process. — Joan Chittister

Instead of anxiety about chasing a passion that you’re not even feeling, do something a lot simpler: Just follow your curiosity. — Elizabeth Gilbert

A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea. — John Anthony Ciardi

We live in the world our questions create. — David Cooperrider

Ask me not what I have, but what I am. — Heirnrich Heine

… Ask yourself these four questions: Why? Why not? Why not me? Why not now? — James Allen

You get in life what you have the courage to ask for. — Oprah Winfrey

Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future. — Deepak Chopra

To ask the right question is harder than to answer it. — Georg Cantor

Contrary to some common assumptions, Jesus is not the ultimate Answer Man, but more like the Great Questioner. In the Gospels Jesus asks many more questions than he answers. To be precise, Jesus asks 307 questions. He is asked 183 of which he only answers 3. Asking questions was central to Jesus’ life and teachings. In fact, for every question he answers directly he asks—literally—a hundred. Jesus is the Question considers the questions Jesus asks—what they tell us about Jesus and, more important, what our responses might say about what it means to follow Him. Through Jesus’ questions, he modeled the struggle, the wondering, the thinking it through that helps us draw closer to God and better understand, not just the answer, but ourselves, our process and ultimately why questions are among Jesus’ most profound gifts for a life of faith. — Martin Copenhaver

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