Monday, April 02, 2018


In honor of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, I am sharing this poem “Bedspread” by my friend, Jamaican poet laureate Lorna Goodison, about the struggle against apartheid.


Sometimes in the still
unchanging afternoons
when the memories crowded
hot and hopeless against
her brow
she would seek its cool colors
and signal him to lie down
in his cell.
It is three in the afternoon Nelson
let us rest here together
upon this bank draped in freedom
It was woven by women with slender
capable hands
accustomed to binding wounds,
hands that closed the eyes of
dead children,
that fought for the right to
speak in their own tongues
in their own land
in their own schools.
They wove the bedspread
and knotted notes of hope
in each strand
and selvaged the edges with
ancient blessings
older than any white man's coming.
So in the afternoons lying on this
bright bank of blessing
Nelson my husband I meet you in dreams
my beloved much of the world too is
asleep blind to the tyranny and evil
devouring our people.
But, Mandela, you are rock on this sand
harder than any metal
mined in the bowels of this land
you are purer than any
gold tempered by fire
shall we lie here wrapped
in the colors of our free Azania?
They arrested the bedspread.
They and their friends are working
to arrest the dreams in our heads
and the women, accustomed to closing
the eyes of the dead
are weaving cloths still brighter
to drape us in glory in a Free

(From Selected Poems, The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 1992)

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Iona Paradox

Several years ago I spent the winter on a small (one by three mile) rocky island in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Scotland-- Iona. St. Columba first brought Christianity from Ireland in the 560's, which he then used as his base to evangelize Scotland and Scandanavia. Since then various monastic communities, crofters, fisherman, seagulls and presbyterians have inhabited this bleak but beautiful isle. About fifty residents and guests lived, worked and worshipped at the retreat center when I was there.

IONA contains some of the oldest black surface rock on the earth, and some of the worst weather. Huge storms with gale force winds would blow in from the north Atlantic and rage for days. I learned to walk bent over to compensate for the 50 mph gusts. Occasionally the driving sleet, snow and rain would stop and there'd be a brief period of calm and "brightness." We'd run outside to savor the weak horizontal light. Sometimes amidst our "sun dance" there were even wee glimpses of rainbow. But mostly it was absolutely the worst weather I have ever seen.

During one five day storm the ferry from the island of Mull was cancelled for the week, and we had to live off food stocks: endless tea, oatmeal (with salt not sugar), thick stale bread and old yellow pudding. When I grew weary of caffeinated tea and asked for the herbal variety the locals laughed, "The Yank wants Herb tea!" Later in the month when I came down with the inevitable flu and was bedridden, friends somehow found and brought me fresh green salad with a slice of tomato-- a miracle!

TWICE daily we trudged though the darkness and cold and gathered to worship in the abbey. There was no heat and only candlelight (my job was to light the candles, so I better not be late). There was no organ, just the sound of the wind howling outside. I remember singing with that small company, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel, to ransom captive Israel, who mourns in lonely exile here... Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel."

Strangely the severity of weather and life seemed to contribute to the warmth of the Spirit and community. Acknowledging the existential darkness, allowed the Light to truly shine. Why is that?

I believe the Iona Paradox can be stated as follows: the more we acknowledge our hurt and darkness the more we may receive the divine-human light. And the inverse is equally true: the less we acknowledge our hurt and darkness (and project it on to others), the less we are open to the true light of forgiveness, justice and hope. In the very things that we ignore, reject and even despise as dirty and strange, God's incarnate light and presence is shining deep in the flesh.

IN other words, God is in the wound. The prophet was right, "The people who walked in deep darkness have seen a great light; those who have lived in a land of deep darkness-- on them light has shined."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

On Scapegoating

All scapegoating, the process of both denying and projecting our fears and hates elsewhere, only perpetuates suffering. The scapegoat mechanism is hidden deep in the unconscious; it proceeds from our unrecognized desire to project our hostility and anxiety elsewhere.

Either we transform pain within ourselves or it is always an outflowing wound.

We are transformed when we refuse to project our anxieties elsewhere, and learn to hold and forgive them within ourselves, which can only be done by the grace of God.

God's grace doesn't project the dilemma on to any other group, race, or religion; Christ held it and suffered it and thus transformed it into medicine for the world.

Adapted from Richard Rohr

Monday, March 20, 2017

On Freedom

Freedom is a challenge and a burden against which we rebel. We are ready to abandon it, since it is full of contradiction and continually under attack. Freedom can only endure as a vision, and loyalty to it is an act of faith. There is no freedom without awe. We must cultivate many moments of silence to bring about one moment of expression. We must bear many burdens to have the strength to carry one act of freedom.  

Abraham Joshua Heschel

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

On the Alternative to Risking Tragedy

Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries, avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

But in that casket --safe, dark, motionless, airless -- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.

C.S. Lewis

Monday, February 13, 2017

On Thanatos Rising

From Thomas Merton:

What attracts people to evil acts is not the evil in them but the good that is there, seen under a false aspect and with a distorted perspective. The good seen from that angle is only the bait in a trap. When you reach out to take it, the trap is sprung and you are left with disgust, boredom-- and hatred.

Unrepentant people hate others because their world is necessarily full of betrayal, full of illusion, full of deception. And they are the most boring people in the world because they are also the most bored and the ones who find life most tedious.

When they try to cover the tedium of life by noise, excitement and violence-- the inevitable fruits of a life devoted to the love of values that do not exist-- they become something more than boring: they become scourges of the world and of society. And being scourged is not merely something dull or tedious.

Yet when it is all over and they are dead, the record of their sins in history becomes exceedingly uninteresting and is inflicted on school children as a penance.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

On Living Fully in the Midst of Death

William Stringfellow repeatedly warned Christians...not to allow the fear of death to diminish the power of Christian witness. Faith becomes real on the edge of the abyss. “In the face of death,” he wrote, “live humanly. In the middle of chaos, celebrate the Word. Amidst Babel, speak the truth. Confront the noise and verbiage and falsehood of death with the truth and potency and efficacy of the Word of God.”
Chris Hedges

Friday, January 13, 2017

On Listening

Many voices ask for our attention.
There is a voice that says, 'Prove that you are a good person.' Another voice says, 'You’d better be ashamed of yourself.' There is a voice that says, 'Nobody really cares about you,' and one that says, 'Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful.'

But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, 'You are my Beloved, my favor rests on you.'

That’s the voice we need most to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, community, silence, and a strong determination to listen. That’s what prayer is.
It is listening to the deep voice that calls us 'My Beloved'.

Henri Nouwen

Thursday, December 29, 2016

On Ekstasis

Human beings seek ekstasis, a ‘stepping outside’ of their normal, mundane experience. If they no longer find ecstasy in a synagogue, church or mosque, they look for it in dance, music, sport, [money], sex or drugs.

When people receive the Bible receptively and intuitively, they find it gives them intimations of transcendence. A major characteristic of a peak religious insight is a sense of wholeness and oneness. It has been called coincidentia oppositorum: in this ecstatic condition, things that seemed separate and even opposed coincide and reveal an unexpected unity. Karen Armstrong

On Spiritual Practice

Spirituality is whatever it takes to keep your heart space open. That is daily, constant work because your ego and the events of life want to close it down. The voices in the dominant culture tell you to judge, dismiss, hate, and fear. If you don’t have some spiritual practice that has kept your heart open in hell, I know you’re going to be a grumpy old man or a hateful old woman. By the last third of life, negativity is all you have left.
Richard Rohr

Friday, June 17, 2016

Now Go in Confidence

Now go in confidence that God hears your prayers and mine, the prayers we sing and speak, the prayers wrapped in our sighs too deep for words. Discover the healing hidden in secret truths over which you have despaired.  So God grant you a cheerful and a faithful heart, fresh courage, and the love to make it all worthwhile.  And may the blessing of God dawn on you even in the darkest hours that ever come: The peace of God be with you today and forever.  Amen.

Coleman Brown

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

When Thanatos is Ascendant

There is much intense hatred in the world today, particularly against the marginalized, including within institutional religion. I could sense it even tonight. Here is a word for when hatred is rising, overtly and covertly:

To survive as a human being is possible only through love. And when Thanatos is ascendant, the instinct must be to reach out to those we love, to see in them all the divinity, pity, and pathos of the human. And to recognize love in the lives of others-- even those with whom we are in conflict-- love that is like our own.

It does not mean we will avoid war or death. It does not mean that we as distinct individuals will survive. But love, in its mystery, has its own power. It alone gives us meaning that endures. It alone allows us to embrace and cherish life. Love has power both to resist in our nature what we know we must resist, and to affirm what we know we must affirm. And love, as the poets remind us, is eternal.

Chris Hedges, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

On the Discipline of Gratitude

Gratitude goes beyond the 'mine' and 'thine' and claims the truth that all of life is gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline.

Gratitude as a discipline involves a choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint…

The choice for gratitude rarely comes without effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer...There is an Estonian proverb that says: "Who does not thank for little will not thank for much." Acts of gratitude make one grateful because, step by step, they reveal that all is grace.

Henri Nouwen

Saturday, May 14, 2016

A Prayer for Grace

May God give you grace never to sell yourself short, grace to risk something big for something good, grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.

William Sloan Coffin

On Hope Against Hope

These are words expressing the thought of the philosopher Gabriel Marcel. They are philosophical words and demanding, but let us hear them:

The other person as sacred leads me to God. But love is the discernment of the other as imperishable, and this is the hope of immortality. The loved person is imperishable in two senses. She is of such a quality for me that she ought to endure, she possesses a unique worth that may not be dispensed with.

And also her being as opposed to her existence moves in a realm exempt from change; it is not an object that it should cease to exist as the Roman Empire once existed but does so no longer.

But it is precisely because the loved one is imperishable in these two senses that her death is so awful. For death reduces the person to the status of a thing, she goes the way of objects in the world, though her place is not with them; what ought not to perish appears to perish before my eyes. I therefore turn from death with the hope of immortality and stake out a claim for her in the beyond.

So we arrive at a metaphysic of hope. What for the onlooker is a piece of wishful thinking is for the one who thus hopes grounded in reality.  What he hopes for is not for the continuance of the other person as he might hope for the persistence of a flower that is withering.  Because he participates by love in the being of the other person, he hopes that the participation will endure and conquer death.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

No Bars To Manhood

After years of struggle, perplexity, and doubt, my own course is at last clear. In a sense, I claim a certain sorry advantage over most of those who have yet to choose the place and time of their response to American violence, a response that will embody their existence and carry their lives captive, in bonds to a choice, in a direction they cannot yet know. Such an hour may still come to them--we have every reason to believe that the price of peace will escalate grievously in the months ahead. And nothing in our history makes such a prospect easily bearable. 

We have assumed the name of peacemakers, but we have been, by and large, unwilling to pay any significant price. And because we want the peace with half a heart and half a life and will, the war, of course, continues, because the waging of war, by its nature, is total-- but the waging of peace, by our own cowardice, is partial. So a whole will and a whole heart and a whole national life bent toward war prevail over the velleities of peace... We take it for granted that in wartime families will be separated for long periods, that men will be imprisoned, wounded, driven insane, killed on foreign shores. In favor of such wars, we declare a moratorium on every normal human hope-- for marriage, for community, for friendship, for moral conduct toward strangers and the innocent. We are instructed that deprivation and discipline, private grief and public obedience are to be our lot. And we obey. And we bear with it--because bear we must--because war is war, and good war or bad, we are stuck with it and its cost.

But what of the price of peace? I think of the good, decent, peace-loving people I have known by the thousands, and I wonder. How many of them are so afflicted with the wasting disease of normalcy that, even as they declare for the peace, their hands reach out with an instinctive spasm... in the direction of their comforts, their home, their security, their income, their future, their plans-- that five-year plan of studies, that ten-year plan of professional status, that twenty-year plan of family growth and unity, that fifty-year plan of decent life and honorable natural demise. "Of course, let us have the peace," we cry, "but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor disruption of ties." And because we must encompass this and protect that, and because at all costs--at all costs---our hopes must march on schedule, and because it is unheard of that in the name of peace a sword should fall, disjoining that fine and cunning web that our lives have woven, because it is unheard of that good men should suffer injustice or families be sundered or good repute be lost-- because of this we cry peace and cry peace, and there is no peace. There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war-- at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison and death in its wake.

Consider, then, the words of our Savior-- Who speaks to us gravely, with the burden of His destiny heavy upon Him, perplexed as we are, solicitous of heart, anxious with a kind of merciless compassion--that we comprehend lucidly, joyously, the cost of discipleship:

"..Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you."

And,"Pilate said to him, You are a king, then? Jesus answered, You say that I am a king. For this was I born, and for this have I come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice."

Daniel Berrigan

Monday, April 11, 2016

On Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis on April 9, 1945.

"We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself."

"I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith."

My People the Enemy

From the point of view of the Christian faith, the monstrous error is to think that the whole saga of history takes place merely between a celestial God and terrestrial human beings. But the truth is quite otherwise, both Biblically and empirically: The drama of history takes place among God, human beings, and the principalities and powers, those dominant institutions and ideologies active in this world. It is a shallow humanism which encourages Christians to believe that human beings are masters of these principalities and powers.. 

This is the power with which Jesus Christ was confronted throughout His own ministry and which-- at great and sufficient cost--He overcame. This is the power with which any person who is a Christian has contended and from which--by his own participation in the death in Christ--she is set free... 

What it means to be human is to be free from idolatry in any form, including, but not alone, idolatry of race/white supremacy. What it means to be human is to know that all idolatries are tributes to death, and then to live in freedom from all idolatries. To be human means to be freed from the worship of death by God's own affirmation of human life in Jesus Christ. To be human means to accept and participate in God's affimation of one's own life in Christ. To be human means the freedom, in the first place, to love yourself in the way in which God has shown that God loves every man and woman...Reconciliation one to another first requires that we be reconciled to ourselves; to love another means first the freedom to love yourself. 

Into that freedom, from time to time, men and women are baptized. In that freedom men and woman are born into the society of all humankind wrought by God in the life and ministry of Christ. In that freedom is the way and witness of the Cross in which is reconciliation. In that freedom is the love and unity among human beings which can endure death for the sake of all, even unto a person's own enemy, even unto my own enemy, even unto myself. 

William Stringfellow

On Meaning in the Mystery

God is the good shepherd who goes looking for the lost sheep. God is the woman who lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches everywhere for her lost coin until she has found it. God is not the patriarch who stays home, doesn't move, and expects his children to come to him, apologize for their sinful behavior, beg for his forgiveness, and promise to do better. God is the father who watches and waits for his children, runs out to meet them, embraces them...

Henri Nouwen

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Is There Any Word From the Lord?

I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their doings.

Am I a God at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? says the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? says the Lord. I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, "I have dreamed, I have dreamed!" How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart, who think to make my people forget my name by their dreams which they tell one another...? Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets, says the Lord, who use their tongues and say, "Says the Lord."   
JEREMIAH 23:21-31.

Then Zedekiah the king asked Jeremiah secretly in his house and said: "Is there any word from the Lord?" And Jeremiah said: "There is: For thou shalt be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon."  


This is a question asked by people in all periods of history. It has been asked by kings in moments of danger. They asked it of priests and prophets. It has been asked by people in all ages and places in times of unrest. They asked it of extraordinary men and women, often of those considered to be abnormal, of ecstatics and hysterics. It has been asked by individuals in moments of great personal decisions. They asked it of holy Scriptures which should give a special word to them, from saints and inner voices.

What about ourselves? Have we never asked for a word from the Lord? Many, certainly, will answer with a definite "No." They will tell us that they always decided for themselves, using their own reasonable judgment, based on experience, knowledge, and intelligence. Perhaps they impress us. Perhaps we are ashamed to confess that sometimes we have asked for a word from the Lord. But let us wait with our answer until we have found out what these words mean.

We should not be misled by the phrase, "word from the Lord." It sounds as if we turned to a heavenly authority after all others, including the authority of reason, have failed. It sounds as if we asked the Lord of providence to give us for a moment a glimpse into what He plans for us, individually and in history. But such a favor is not granted. The answers given by seers, ecstatics, books and inner voices are mostly ambiguous, open to different interpretations, so that we would have to ask for a second Divine word to interpret the first, and so on indefinitely. Or, these answers are clear and agree with the best wisdom we can have without them. Therefore, I repeat: Let us not be misled by the phrase "word from the Lord." It is not an oracle-word telling us what to do or to expect. Then what is it?

It is the voice from another dimension than that in which we ordinarily live. It cuts into the dimension of things and events which we call our world. It does not help us to manage things within this dimension more successfully than before. It does not add to our knowledge of the factors which influence a situation, it does not remove the responsibility for our decisions. It does something else. It elevates the situation in which we have to decide, into the light of a new dimension, the dimension of that which is ultimately important and infinitely significant and for which we use the word "Divine."

So it was in the case of the king Zedekiah and of the false prophets with whom Jeremiah had to fight. The king came to Jeremiah in a hopeless situation, in a situation into which he had brought himself and his people through guilt and error and disregard of the warnings of the prophet. He was supported in his wrong decision by nationalistic politicians who called them-selves "prophets" without having received a word from God. They did not interpret the situation of Judah in the midst of threatening empires in its seriousness. They lacked the realism which is the quality of true prophetism. They were not able to look beyond political chances and military calculations. And so disaster approached and brought about Zedekiah's desperate attempts to get a consoling or helping word from the prophet. But he did not get it. Out of his prison Jeremiah tells him the only thing he did not want to hear: You shall be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon! God will not save you! And the king felt: So it is! He did not slay the prophet of doom, as present-day dictators or nationalistic mobs would do. On the contrary, he helped him out of his miserable prison. But he did not do anything to change the situation. It was too late for this politically and psychologically, and the threat of the prophet, the word he had received from the Lord for Zedekiah, became a terrible reality. Yet it was not spoken in vain. It has been remembered ever since, not as an interesting historical report but as an event in which the eternal gives ultimate meaning to an historical catastrophe.

The many words from the Lord which are recorded in the Old Testament have the same quality. They are not promises of an omnipotent ruler replacing political or military strength. They are not lessons handed down by an omniscient teacher, replacing sound judgments. They are not advices of a heavenly counselor, replacing intelligent human counsel. But they are manifestations of something ultimate breaking into our existence with all its preliminary concerns and insights. They do not add something to our situation, but they add a dimension to the dimension in which we ordinarily live. The word from the Lord is the word which speaks out of the depth of our situation. It is, one could say, the deepest meaning of the situation, of every situation which comes to us in such words.

It is also the depth of our own situation that speaks to us when we receive a word from the Lord.

Let us imagine an hour in which we have to make an important decision, be it the choice of a vocation, be it the choice of a mate for life. We know most of the factors which could determine our decision, and we know the ways our souls work in relation to these factors. Nevertheless, we cannot decide. The anxiety of the possible makes us restless. We see one, two, perhaps more possibilities. We realize a disturbing number of possible consequences in each of them. We ask friends, counsellors; we seek for counsel in ourselves. But the anxiety of having to decide increases. And a longing grows in our souls, a longing for something that liberates us from the anxiety of the possible and gives us the courage toward the real. It is the question of our text: Is there a word from the Lord? And perhaps an answer has been received. But it was not an oracle-word pointing to the right vocation to choose, or the right man or woman to join with. It was a voice out of the depth of our situation, elevating our concrete problems into an ultimate perspective. In doing so, it probably has devaluated some factors determining our decision and has stressed others. Or it has left the balance of possibilities unchanged, but has given us the courage to make a decision with all the risks of a decision, including error, failure, guilt. The word from the Lord, the voice out of the depth of our situation, ends the anxiety of the possible and gives the courage to affirm the real with its many questionable elements.

Some of you may say: If this is what "word from the Lord" means, how can it help me in moments of decision? But would you really want me to tell you where to turn for an oracle which would liberate you from the burden of decision? Certainly, that which is weak in you would like it. But that which is strong in you would reject it. The Lord from whom you derive a word wants you to decide for yourselves. He does not offer you a safe way. You may be wrong in your decision. But if you realize that in relation to God man is always wrong, your wrong may turn out to be right. If in the presence of the eternal you risk defeat, through your very defeat a word from the Lord has come to you.

Let us now look at a quite different situation, one in which we do not have to make a great decision, and in which the small decisions we have to make daily do not give us much anxiety. There are not concrete threats against life and well-being, there is not a depressing guilt feeling or a despair about ourselves. There is not a disintegrating doubt or an intolerable emptiness. There is not an extreme situation. Does this mean that there is no desire to ask for a word from the Lord? Are the situations which are not extreme situations, deprived of a word out of the dimension of the eternal? Is God silent if the foundations of our existence are not shaken? A hard question, and answered in many different ways!

How would we answer? I shall never forget the word of a wise old man who said to my grandfather when I was still a child, "I need somebody whom I can thank when a great joy is given to me." Can we share this experience? Do we remember such moments in which the eternal made itself felt to us through the abundance or greatness or beauty of the temporal? I believe that none of us is completely without such experiences. But did we not say that a word from the Lord is the eternal cutting into the temporal? Certainly that is what it is! But cutting into the temporal does not mean negating it. This it can mean, and this it does mean whenever we are driven into an ultimate situation. There are in everybody's life such situations, and they are frequent in man's tragic history. But the eternal can also cut into the temporal by affirming it, by elevating a piece of it out of the ordinary context of temporal things and events, making it translucent for the Divine glory. Without such moments, life would be poor and sad; there would be no creations in which the greatness of life is expressed. But they exist, and the eternal shines through them; they can become a word from the Lord to us.

But still some of you are thinking: All this may be as you say, but it remains strange to us. Neither in ultimate situations nor in moments of a great elevation has the eternal cut into our temporal existence. We never got a word from the Lord. Maybe you did not hear it. But certainly it was spoken to you. For there is always a word from the Lord, a word that has been spoken. The problem of man is not that God does not speak to him: God does speak to everyone who has a human countenance. For this is what makes him man. He who is not able to perceive something ultimate, something infinitely significant, is not a man. Man is man because he is able to receive a word from the dimension of the eternal. The question is not that mankind has not received any word from the Lord; the question is that it has been received and resisted and distorted. This is the predicament of all of us. Human existence is never without that which breaks vertically into it. Man is never without a manifestation of that which is ultimately serious and infinitely meaningful. He is never without a word from the Lord and he never ceases resisting and distorting it, both when he has to hear it and when he has to say it.

Every Christian, and especially every Christian minister, should be aware of this: We resist and distort the word from the Lord not only when we hear it, but also when we say it. When we ask why our message of the Word of God is rejected, we often find that one does not reject that for which we stand, but the way in which we stand for it. Many of those who reject the Word of God reject it because the way we say it is utterly meaningless to them. They know the dimension of the eternal, but they cannot accept our names for it. If we cling to their words, we may doubt whether they have received a word from the Lord. If we meet them as persons, we know they have.

There is always a word from the Lord, a word that has been spoken. The Christian Church believes that this word has a central content, and that it has the name Jesus the Christ. Therefore, the Church calls not His words but His Being the Word of God. The Church believes that in His Being, the eternal has broken into the temporal in a way which once for all gives us a word, nay, the word from the Lord. It believes that whatever word from the Lord has been said in all history and in every individual life, is implied in this Word, which is not words but reality, a new reality, the reality of the eternal in the temporal, conquering the resistance and the distortions of the temporal.

So we have not a, but the word from the Lord? As Christians we can boast that we have it? Can we really? Did we not receive the message through men, and are not we who heard it men? And does that not mean that the message, while it went through the mouths of those who said it and through the ears of us who heard it, lost its power to cut into our world and our soul?

Those who said it-the Church and its servants in all periods-made it a matter of law and tradition, of habit and convention. They made it into something we believe we know and have tried to follow. It does not cut any more into our ordinary world. It has become a part of our ordinary world. Like the prophets with whom Jeremiah fights in our text, the ministers of the word have ceased to ask, to cry for, a word from the Lord. They claim to have it as their possession, and since the Word of God can never be a possession, the words they say are not a word from the Lord. We have received it. But as it has been distorted in the mouths of the preachers, so it has been resisted in the ears of the listeners, that is, in all of us. We hear it, but we cannot perceive it. As Christians we do not reject it, but it has lost its voice, that voice with which Yahweh spoke into the hearts of the prophets, that voice with

which the Spirit spoke into the hearts of the disciples. We hear the words which have been said before. But we do not feel that they speak to our situation, and out of the depth of our situation. They may even produce torturing doubts and drive us to ask passionately for a word from the Lord against what we have received as the Word of God, in Bible and Church.

For there is no word from the Lord except the word which is spoken now. How can we get such a word that is spoken now and is spoken to us?

There is only one answer: By keeping ourselves open when it comes to us! This is not easy. We try to resist it, and if it is too strong for us we try to falsify it. We may be in a situation out of which we cannot extricate ourselves. It is too late for this. So the word from the Lord comes as a word of judgment and we cannot take it. Or the word which comes to us requests a radical change in our ways of life and thought. But this we cannot achieve, and we back into our habits of good and evil, of right and wrong. Or we are in doubt and guilt and despair, and the word comes to us and tells us that we can say yes to ourselves because an eternal yes has been said to us and of us. But we resist the word which demands of us the courage to say yes to ourselves because we are in love with our doubt and our guilt and our despair.

It is not easy to keep oneself open for a word from the Lord. And nobody can make it easier for us by giving us the direction in which to listen. No fixed place can be named, either in our religious tradition or in our cultural creations, or in the depth of our souls. But for this very reason, no place is excluded from communicating to us a word from the Lord. It is always present and tries always to be perceived by us. It is like the air, surrounding us, omnipresent, trying to enter every empty space. It is the empty space in our souls into which it tries to enter here and now.

So the last question is: Is there an empty space in your soul? Or is everything filled with that which is transitory, preliminary, ultimately insignificant, however important it tries to be? Without a soul opened for it, no word from the Lord can be received. Listening with an open soul, keeping an empty space in our inner life, sharpening our spiritual hearing: this is the only thing we can do. But this is much. And blessed are those whose minds and hearts are open.

Therefore, let us keep open our ears and let us keep open our hearts, and ask with great seriousness and great passion: Is there a word from the Lord, a word for me, here and now, a word for our world in this moment? It is there, it tries to come to you. Keep open for it!

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

On Democracy and Habits of the Heart

Our religious communities — to say nothing of our schools...could make a vital contribution to democracy by teaching and practicing five habits of the heart on which so much depends:

1. An understanding that we are all in this together.
2. An appreciation of the value of "otherness."
3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
4. A sense of personal voice and agency.
5. A capacity to create community...

If I were asked for two words to summarize these habits of the heart citizens need to help democracy survive and thrive, I'd choose chutzpah and humility.

By chutzpah, I mean knowing that I have a voice that needs to be heard and the right to speak it. By humility, I mean accepting the fact that my truth is always I need to listen with openness and respect, especially to "the other."

Parker Palmer

Friday, January 29, 2016

On Freedom

panted for honors, for money, for marriage, and You were laughing at me. I found bitterness and difficulty in following these desires, and Your graciousness to me was shown in the way You would not allow me to find anything sweet which was not You. Look into my heart, Lord; for it was You who willed me to remember all this and to confess it to You. Let my soul cleave to You now that You have freed it from that fast-holding bird-lime of death. How unhappy it was then! And You pricked its wound on the quick, that, it might leave everything else, and turn to You who art above all things, and without whom all things would be nothing, so that it might turn to You and be cured.

Augustine of North Africa

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Some Questions For Epiphany


...Will you hold on to it and let it harden you and poison and finally kill you? Or will you give it--your gift, perhaps your greatest gift, to the Christ child?

That which we think keeps us from worship, keeps us from joy, keeps us from love...will we bring it all?--resentment, bitterness, sorrow--an cry out, "Here, for you--my gift! Even when my excellence is destroyed and my longing is gone, I have a gift for you. And I give it to you. For it is mine... Receive it as my gift!"

And it is received. It is received.

Gold is our excellence. Frankincense, our longing. And myrrh, that strange perfume blended of our bitterness, our resentment, our sorrow.

We must give or die. We die if we hold on to our gifts. Giving ourself and worship are intimately related; they are finally one.

Then from the story come questions to us:

What is the star which, really, you follow?

Herod or the Child? To whom will you finally be loyal?

To what, to whom are you bringing the gifts of your life?

There is a wisdom which allows those held by it to rejoice exceedingly with great joy... They have come-- to the beginning, the beginning of new life, the beginning of true life. With them we may enter in and see, and fall down and worship;

Free at last to bring our excellence, our longing, our resentment, our bitterness and our sorrow--to bring ourselves--to God, new-born in us; and begin to love our neighbor as ourself...and to love You, O God, and to enjoy You here and now--and forever.

So be it.  


Saturday, November 28, 2015

On This Life

This life therefore is not... health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being transformed.


Monday, October 19, 2015

And a River Runs Through It

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. 

I am haunted by waters.

Norman Maclean

Friday, October 16, 2015

On Courage

Courage does not remove anxiety. Since anxiety is existential, it cannot be removed. But courage takes the anxiety of nonbeing into itself. Courage is self- affirmation "in spite of," namely in spite of nonbeing. She who acts courageously takes, in her self-affirmation, the anxiety of non-being upon herself. Both prepositions, "into" and "upon," are metaphoric and point to anxiety as an element within the total structure of self-affirmation, the element which gives self-affirmation the quality of "in spite of" and transforms it into courage. 

Anxiety turns us toward courage, because the other alternative is despair. Courage resists despair by taking anxiety into itself. This analysis gives the key to understanding pathological anxiety.  She who does not succeed in taking her anxiety courageously upon herself can succeed in avoiding the extreme situation of despair by escaping into neurosis.  She still affirms herself but on a limited scale. Neurosis is the way of avoiding nonbeing by avoiding being. In the neurotic state self-affirmation is not lacking; it can indeed be very strong and emphasized. But the self which is affirmed is a reduced one. Some or many of its potentialities are not admitted to actualization, because actualization of being implies the acceptance of nonbeing and its anxiety...

This structure explains the ambiguities of the neurotic character. The neurotic is more sensitive than the average person to the threat of nonbeing. And since nonbeing opens up the mystery of being he can be more creative than the average. This limited extensiveness of self can be balanced by greater intensity, but by an intensity which is narrowed to a special point accompanied by a distorted relation to reality as a whole... 

One cannot command the courage to be and one cannot gain it by obeying a command. Religiously speaking, it is a matter of grace.

Paul Tillich

Thursday, October 15, 2015

On Spiritual and Sexual Repression

Synthesis: So, I assume you agree with those who have suggested that the concept of a spiritual life is repressed in the modern world, much as sexuality was repressed by the Victorians. What other factors may be involved in promoting such repression? 

Coleman Brown: I do agree. You ask about the factors, and that's a dangerous question; I'm not a historian. It seems to me that a doctrine of human innocence that has grown since the eighteenth century is at least as hard to swallow as the doctrine of the original sin. We tend to say today, particularly in educational institutions, that "humanity has problems" but that we ourselves are not the problem; but I'm not so sure. The repression in part that you speak of is invited by a doctrine of human innocence. Our atomized individualism-and the sources of that are multiple but certainly our economic system and the need to be able to function as a saleable individual has led to a kind of repression. 

The invitation of culture continually is to make the self-interested individual the center, and when the self, in that sense, is the center, it will be under enormous pressure to repress some of the most important things about our existence. Our narcissism requires that we repress matters that disclose our need for humility, for forgiveness, our need for others, let alone the "other."

The authority of explanatory knowledge has led us to a sense of an empty universe. Explanations tend to empty, don't they? Contemplation needs fullness. When we can see through everything, there's nothing left to see. We are in a situation in which we can't bear either our own finitude and apparent insignificance, or the awe and reverence necessary for the rediscovery of our significance. 

Our significance is something with which we're endowed. It's very hard for me to understand how it is self derived. If we have no awe or reverence for the mystery of why we came into being, I tend to wonder how long we can find significance in our own being. A sense of personal significance for your life in a way that you can't get away from is a powerful anchor in times of terrible uncertainty. 

Also, when a sense of personal significance is lost, when I'm only accountable to rnyself, the question arises (as Lucy in the Charlie Brown comic strip asked) "what are the others for?" People begin to think: "what is this infinite worth of the individual? I guess we made it up." Then there is a denigration of our humanity that is hard to stop without some kind of recovery of spirituality. 

One other thing about repression. It seems to me that we repress these questions of meaning because of the awesome questions of justice which they raise. Jefferson (who never released his slaves) nevertheless during the slavery period said something like "I tremble to think that God is just." Spirituality divorced from the question of justice is still a thing of repression. The awful disparities of our society, or our world, lead to repression of the question of justice, and thus to repression of attention to a human community built on love and justice.

Friday, October 09, 2015

On Grieving vs. Mourning

God is hidden within the soul, and the true contemplative will seek God there in love saying, “Where have you hidden yourself?

St. John of the Cross

I understand grief to be the total experience of loss, anger, outrage, fear, regret, melancholy, abandonment, temptation, bereftness, helplessness suffered privately, within one's self, in response to the happening of death.

By distinction and contrast, I comprehend mourning as the embodied liturgies of recollection, memorial, affection, honor, gratitude, confession, empathy, intercession, meditation, anticipation for the life of the one who is dead.

Empirically, in the reality of someone's death, and in the aftermath of it, grief and mourning are, of course, jumbled. It is, I think, part of the healing of mourning to sort out and identify the one from the other. In any case, of all those I have known and loved and grieved and mourned, Anthony's life was the closest to my own, and the most complementary, so his death is my most intimate experience in grief and mourning.

From that experience—so far—what I have to say is: grieving is about weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth; mourning is about rejoicing—rejoicing in the Lord. From that standpoint, I confess I have found mourning Anthony an exquisite, bittersweet experience...

William Stringfellow, A Simplicity of Faith: My Experience of Mourning

Sunday, September 27, 2015

On Living in the House of Fear Vs Journeying with Beloved Community

Most of us people in the twenty-first century live in the house of fear most of the time. It has become an obvious dwelling place, an acceptable basis on which we make our decisions and plan our lives. But why are we so terribly afraid? Would there be so much fear if it was not useful to somebody?

Fear is the great enemy of intimacy. Fear makes us run away from each other or cling to each other, but does not create true intimacy. When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples were overcome by fear and they all 'deserted him and ran away' (Matthew 26:56)

God alone is free enough from wounds to offer us a fearless space. In and through God we can be faithful to each other: in friendship and beloved community. This intimate bond with God, constantly nurtured by prayer, offers us a true home.

Henri Nouwen

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Waiting Embrace

God is the good shepherd who goes looking for the lost sheep. God is the woman who lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches everywhere for her lost coin until she has found it. God is not the patriarch who stays home, doesn't move, and expects his children to come to him, apologize for their sinful behavior, beg for his forgiveness, and promise to do better. God is the father who watches and waits for his children, runs out to meet them, embraces them...

Henri Nouwen

Sunday, September 13, 2015

My People the Enemy

From the point of view of the Christian faith, the monstrous heresy is to think that the whole saga of history takes place merely between a celestial God and terrestrial human beings. But the truth is quite otherwise, both Biblically and empirically: The drama of history takes place among God, human beings, and the principalities and powers, those dominant institutions and ideologies active in this world. It is a shallow humanism which encourages Christians to believe that human beings are masters of these principalities and powers.. 

This is the power with which Jesus Christ was confronted throughout His own ministry and which-- at great and sufficient cost--He overcame. This is the power with which any person who is a Christian has contended and from which--by his own participation in the death in Christ--she is set free... 

What it means to be human is to be free from idolatry in any form, including, but not alone, idolatry of race/white supremacy. What it means to be human is to know that all idolatries are tributes to death, and then to live in freedom from all idolatries. To be human means to be freed from the worship of death by God's own affirmation of human life in Jesus Christ. To be human means to accept and participate in God's affimation of one's own life in Christ. To be human means the freedom, in the first place, to love yourself in the way in which God has shown that God loves every man and woman...Reconciliation one to another first requires that we be reconciled to ourselves; to love another means first the freedom to love yourself. 

Into that freedom, from time to time, men and women are baptized. In that freedom men and woman are born into the society of all humankind wrought by God in the life and ministry of Christ. In that freedom is the way and witness of the Cross in which is reconciliation. In that freedom is the love and unity among human beings which can endure death for the sake of all, even unto a person's own enemy, even unto my own enemy, even unto myself. 

William Stringfellow

Saturday, September 12, 2015

On Prayer

All prayer is communion, not only between Christ and me, but also between everybody in beloved community and myself. All prayer takes us into the communion of saints. Perhaps it would be helpful to think that when I am praying I am closely united with everybody who ever prayed and everybody now praying.
Thomas Merton

Monday, August 31, 2015


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
Seamus Heaney

Saturday, August 29, 2015

In All Things

The crucified One who lives--would teach us in all things to be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; in all things dying, yet in all things coming to life; always having nothing, really, yet possessing all things.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Thy Word Calls us into Life

Thy Word, O God calls us into life. Thy Word reveals our life's lie.  Thy Word forgives and makes new.  In those moments when we know that we are defenseless and vulnerable, grant us, O God, the grace to hear thy Word and to be healed.
So be it.

Friday, August 21, 2015

On Radical Hope

Where is our true hope against hope but on the boundary of death and life? We all live nearer to death then we may realize, and yet also we are nearer to life. MG 

To hope for what is clearly impossible is downright folly. Yet clearly there are situations in which to hope is foolish yet not to hope is cynicism, or maybe cowardice. A father standing at the bedside of his fatally ill child hopes on when all hope is gone. 
He has no objective grounds for expecting his child's recovery; he knows that he is dying, yet he cannot and will not abandon him to the grave. To be devoid of hope in such circumstances would show a want of fidelity, a lack of courage, a taint of inhumanity that would mark the man as lacking some kind of integrity. 
On the other hand, to hope in the sense of expectation, to suppose that it were reasonable to believe that his son could recover, would show a want of clear thinking, an unwillingness to face facts. 
No, this father hopes against hope as we say, aware that all hope is gone yet unwilling to capitulate before death's assault on the boy who claims his heart in love. Like Abraham, when hope is gone, he hopes on in faith, in fidelity; and his hope is an affirmation which cannot otherwise be spoken: "This dying child is my son — forever."
In hope a person thus affirms what the circumstances of his life cannot support: his confidence that his life is grounded in the power that gives continuing and enduring meaning to his present in spite of the fact that all hope is gone. 
So, his son dies, his beliefs and his ex­pectations are shattered, his friends are politely sympathetic but totally unable to stand with him in the intensity of his grief and emptiness. Death, doubt, deceit — these three can rob us of every reason for wanting to live; but one may yet hope on.
His hope doesn't alter the circumstances of his life; it can't raise his child from the dead, nor restore his broken convictions, nor give him friends with courage and humanity. It wins for him only himself — naked, it may be, defenseless, humbled, stripped of any assurance about tomorrow, immobilized in the still powerful memory of yesterday's disasters—but himself able to affirm his life in spite of the overwhelming powers that threaten it.
Hope, you see, like everything Christian, is a trifle mad. One hopes in spite of the folly of it, certain that what one hopes for cannot come to pass, yet confident that, in spite of this, one's hope will be fulfilled. Another dares to hope for shalom in a world incurably stricken by the scourge of racism and hatred and war. 
Foolish? Obviously. But not so to hope is to flunk out of life in cowardice. A person, desperate in the realization of inner weakness and dishonesty, dares to hope that he will become the person he dreams of being, in spite of the fact that he knows his will to be totally in bondage to these attitudes. 
And precisely in the folly of such hope, in this mad defiance of reasonable expectation something of the grandeur of man is visible. 
Otherwise hope never rises higher than a careful and cautious calculation of probabilities, in which one becomes wise about what the circumstances of his life will allow, what chances he can afford to take, how binding a commitment he can safely make, how honest he can be in saying to this person or that what is in his heart. It's safer that way; but the price of security is the loss of hope — the loss of the courage to hope on when all hope is gone...
Faith is courage: the courage to accept the miracle of God's presence when all hope is gone.
Steve Hartshorne