Living in the Presence

St._Jude_Thaddaeus_Bicci_di_Lorenzo_OPA_FlorenceWhen he is here, I see holiness. I tell you something different goes on between him and the Lord God. Sometimes I get to thinking that if the light was right, I might get a glimpse of God right beside him. They is that close, that familiar.  
                                                    Thaddaeus, Is It I, Lord?, Loretta F. Ross
Living in conscious awareness of the presence of God dramatically changes us and how we see and respond to the world around us. This issue of Holy Ground explores the experience of God’s presence.
There is a profound difference between our words, concepts, theologies about God and our experience of God. For some people our language about God and our denominational theological systems and beliefs create barriers to their experience and encounter with the Holy One.
God is an event of communion. Richard Rohr

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Would you send us three or four sentences about why you support this ministry with your prayers, your gifts, or your presence? We would like to share your experience of The Sanctuary with others. You may also include any suggestions you have or what you would like to see us offer.
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The contemplative who can stand back from a situation and see it for what it is, is more threatening to an unjust social system than the frenzied  activist who is so involved in the situation that he cannot see clearly at all.  –  Karl Barth
“The Sanctuary reaches out to help people stand back and see the immensity, depth, and richness of faith.”                                                                  
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Contemporary Spirituality of Kansas City Upcoming Events
Wisdom Teachings for Spiritual Seekers
  May 5, 2018
 
Rethinking
Communion and Community
9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Country Club Christian Church

 6101 Ward Parkway,  

Kansas City, MO 64113


July 20-21, 2018
 
Christianity as Planetary Faith: 
Engaging Teilhard’s Vision
 
Friday, July 20, 2018 – Saturday, July 21, 2018
7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. & 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (lunch included)
Bishop Miege High School
5041 Reinhardt Drive
Roeland Park, KS 66205
To register and learn more: Eventbrite
or contact: Mike Matteuzzi at 913-253-2510  
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PESACH – PASSAGE, 2

Pesach – Passage,  No. 2

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry, come and eat! All in need, come and join in celebrating Pesach!
This year we are here, next year we will be in the land of Israel!
This year we are slaves, next year we will be free men!
                                                – Haggadah, Gerald Garouste, Marc-Alain Ouaknin

The night we celebrated Pesach –
what did he say, what did he mean
“leaving”
and that we knew the way to where he was going?

I was trying to work it
out when another sea split open
not waters humping up like steel cliffs
but a great scythe slashing
through the middle of everything
and him falling, tumbling down into the rift

a passage
where there had been none before
death leering from either side.

I heard the soldiers coming,
swords clanking, down the path.
My lungs burned in the acrid air
eyes stung to see flames
draped from clouds in smoky sheets.

And while they dragged him off
blood blossomed
over the vast lintel and door posts
of the writhing world
and ran down quietly
like tears.

 

 

 

 

 

This is a slightly altered poem from an earlier series of lenten poems I wrote called, Love in Small Doses.  Pesach, or Pasach, also spelled Pascha  is Hebrew for Passover or passage. The verbal form means to protect and to have compassion as well as pass over. Exodus 12 -14; John 14-19

PESACH – PASSAGE, 1

Pesach – Passage,  1

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. All who are hungry, come and eat! All in need, come and join in celebrating Pesach!
This year we are here, next year we will be in the land of Israel!
This year we are slaves, next year we will be free men!
                                                – Haggadah, Gerald Garouste, Marc-Alain Ouaknin

After we were passed over
we passed over.

When the waters split
drew back
a shimmering wall rose
seething strength, waves
smacking, spitting above us.

Some of us hesitated –
to weigh the odds
consider and debate.
Was it more magic?
Who was this son of Abraham
with his stave of almond wood?

Crippled from scrabbling straw in the fields
mixing mortar for the man
meeting his cruel quotas
we dawdled on the shore.

Others, children, especially, ran out
skipping over the coral
through the sea grass
past the shipwrecks
and green turtles
raising their mottled beaks, amazed.

We heard hooves pounding,
shouts, thunder of chariot wheels.
Death before, death behind.
Better to drown
than die by the hands of those bastards.

The kids, though,
did not flinch,
tossing up fistfuls of sand,
diamonds in the sun,
playing on the seabed
like shrimp.

We hobbled over,
leaning on each other,
fearful, fretting.
Seems when a soul is crushed
it takes a long time to rinse out the slave.

Though at Pesach, when we gathered,
it would all come back.
We would shake off another chain
see more clearly, sip
liberty like wine.

 

Mural from American Visionary Arts Museum, Baltimore, MD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a slightly altered poem from an earlier series of lenten poems I wrote called, Love in Small Doses.  Pesach, or Pasach, also spelled Pascha  is Hebrew for Passover or passage. The verbal form means to protect and to have compassion as well as pass over. Exodus 12 -14; John 14-19

The Profligate Daughter

“Truly I tell you, wherever, this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” Matthew 26: 13

We remember
how you ran through the streets of Bethany
clutching the precious flask under your shawl
dodging merchants, beggars
searching for the house of Simon
peering in dim doorways
hurrying to be back in time for supperhow with bold extravagance you broke the flask

and poured the fragrant oil on the One at table
and then were gone
while the oil ran like hot tears

from his brow
down his cheeks
dripping onto shoulders
soon to be soaked in the whip’s bloody lather.

And truly, where the gospel is preached,
women remember you
in acts of reckless outpouring love –
the egg money, hoarded over months for a new sofa,
handed to a daughter on a spring afternoon
for a prom dress
cakes and pies and holiday meals prepared for long into the night
visits to the sick and shut-ins on days off
patient listening to the tales of children
hours of rocking, holding, folding,
smoothing, soothing, embracing, forgiving,
breaking open the alabaster walls of self
and pouring love onto love
in the name of Love.
We remember,

blessed by your daring waste
of a Love which knows no scarcities.

 

 

“In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human successes, but on how well we have loved.”
― San Juan de la Cruz

 

Waking Up Is Hard to Do

All historical experience demonstrates the following: our earth cannot be changed unless in the not too distant future an alteration in the consciousness of the individuals is achieved.
Catholic theologian, Hans Kung

And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.
Mark 13: 37

Waking up and becoming more and more conscious, aware, and alert are fundamental tasks of being a disciple and growing in faith and spiritual maturity. Some of us sleepyheads will resist such bold, open-eyed, clear seeing, tooth and nail.  The call to consciousness rings throughout the scriptures and in the season of advent and Christmas the wake-up call is sounded loud and clear.

Real change and transformation is not a simple escape to a dream of a better place. Real change requires an honest appraisal and engagement with what is so. This may involve getting our noses rubbed in some realities we do not like. It may require first creating enough safety for oneself to speak aloud truths long denied, forgotten, or covered up with various kinds of painkillers and band aids. Before our external reality changes, before the people, institutions, and conditions around us change for the better, we must change internally. Our inner reality conditions and shapes how we see, experience, and respond to exterior reality.

A Box of Dread
and Horror
Remember Pandora’s box? When I was a child I was fascinated and horrified by the myth of the young woman created by Zeus, who was given special gifts by each of the gods. In addition, Zeus added the gift of curiosity to her other gifts of beauty and wisdom.  Then Zeus sent Pandora to earth to be Epimetheus’ wife.  Zeus was still angry with Epimetheus’ brother, Prometheus, who had stolen fire from the gods.  Pandora arrives on Epimetheus’ doorstep with a wedding gift from Zeus. The gift was a box or jar with a lid.

Read more of Waking Up Is Hard to Do, Autumn 2017 Issue of Holy Ground

The age of spirituality lite,
and the gospel as entertainment is over.

 

Observations and Update
From The Sanctuary

2017 annual letter

Learn what I have been hearing over the past year, as I listened in over 300 conversations with people struggling with the challenging task of waking up and not giving up.  When “things fall apart and the center cannot hold,” will the falcon hear the falconer?

A Goodly Theme

This post is an adaptation of a post first published July 5, 2010.

My heart overflows with a goodly theme
as I sing my ode to the King. Psalms 45:1

The kingdom of God will come when men and women are willing to be penetrated by bliss.
-M.C. Richards – Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person

Her words stopped me in my tracks and resonated like a struck gong. Little seemed blissful in my life at the time. It was 1973. I was living alone in an apartment in Ann Arbor, Michigan, working at a job I hated, depressed, and hurting deeply. These words of artist M.C. Richards penetrated my defenses, self pity, and sense of worthlessness like a swift shining sword. For the first time in a season of sadness I felt hope.

The notion that the rule of God, the peaceable kingdom, the promise of wholeness for all people is a function, not of ridding the earth of evil, not of righting all injustice, not in overcoming human sin and limitation, but rather our willingness to receive goodness and mercy into our being  has animated my life ever sense.

“Put down your sword!” Jesus tells Peter in the garden of Gethsemane. Peter, in a desire to protect his master, had taken a sword to the ear of one of the Roman soldiers who had come to arrest Jesus. However, Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world. It is a Reality already here, present, and accessible to all. Jesus says, it is within you and everywhere like a seed, common and transforming as leaven. The winsome, disarming Jesus manifested that kingdom wherever he went and invited his followers to do the same.

Two disarming black labs, my Elijah and Jean Luc Picard, who arrived with some house guests, have been teaching me about bliss. The dogs met for the first time a week ago with the hearty delight of Adam, when God introduced to him the woman he had made of Adam’s rib.

“Ah, at last a fit companion! Bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh,” Adam exults. Though not recorded in the scripture, I figure Adam then wiggled all over just like my dog, Elijah.

The best-friends-forever have been inseparable – wrestling, play fighting, swimming, fetching, and sprawling, here and there, exhausted and snoring. Holding back nothing, these fellows have allowed bliss to penetrate and animate every cell of their bodies. Bliss surrounds, follows them, spills out of their eyes, and rolls off their shoulders. Even the cat has a spring in her step and an amused quality to her feline reserve.

I believe the great challenge of our time and all mortal time is holding our hearts open to the rain of grace – the glorious reign of delight that ceaselessly offers itself to the whole creation.

“But hold on!” you say. What about climate change eating away our coasts and killing off species? What about health care crisis?  What about the lives and shores devastated by oil spills? What about your own personal crisis and impasse, your unemployment, your grief, your illness? What about the suffering ones everywhere we turn?

Could you, will you, permit the tiny possibility of joy to penetrate your darkness, to kiss you on the face, to pounce upon you from behind? Maybe, before you know it, it will jump up into your lap and go to sleep in your arms.

To notice, delight in, and allow ourselves to be penetrated by the goodness of God does not mean we ignore the places where that goodness is obscured or sorrow and pain exist.

The amazing opportunity to be a member of the homo sapiens species alive on this earth at this time is an incredible gift.  Our willingness to receive, to lay down and roll on our backs in, the sheer bliss of being alive is what allows God to transform that vortex of darkness, greed, and hate through us. What evil and sin target and destroy is joy, because joy is a unfallable sign of the presence and power of God.

The world does not need our disgust, outrage, anger, and rage. It needs the Reign of Christ’s joy with its unfailing hope, faith, and love. The world – sucked into the whirlpool of greed, violence, and  suffering – will not enter the Kingdom of God through our anger, retaliation, and swords, but through our bliss, the utter delight and lab-lucious joy of being children of the Father of Goodness and the Mother of Mercy.

Let no one and no circumstance rob you of such a splendid birthright.

Download and read latest issue of Holy Ground – A Quarterly Reflection on the Contemplative Life,  “Try a Little Tenderness”

Holy Ground Spring 2017

Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair

In early March of 1991 I watched the horrid beating of Rodney King in south Los Angeles on our television in Holton, Kansas. We lived in a big older home with a  wrap around porch. I often rocked my daughters on the porch swing. Ages 9 and 7, they played on the swing – reading books, eating popsicles, and spending long afternoons with Barbie dolls. On summer evenings I would sit there listening to the crickets and birds. That was where I took a harrowing journey of prayer with Mr. King and other brothers and sisters.

A year later in April of 1992, we learned the news of the acquittal of the four officers involved in the brutal beating. Soon after this news a white man was pulled from his truck and beaten until dead by some black men. What followed were riots in south Los Angeles. The riots lasted five days. More than 60 people died and over 2000 were injured. Damages were estimated at one billion dollars.

At the time I was studying the story of the stoning and death of  Stephen in Acts, thinking about deep intercessory prayer, and feeling helpless to make a difference.

So I wrote a  poem in the style of a rap, which reflects the story of Rodney King, and other stories similar to his and the story St. Stephen. This poem has numerous references to scripture texts, which I have provided here at the end of the poem.

Twenty five years later I still believe we are called and capable of deeply transforming prayer for people we may not even know, as well as acts of justice and mercy. Rodney King himself became a sign of the power of love and sacrifice. In April of 2012 his autobiography, The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption. Learning How We Can All Get Along was published. In June of 2012 Mr. King died.   I offer this poem in his memory and the memory of all who suffer injustice.

-Loretta F.  Ross

LA Riots92

New York Daily News 1992

Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair

Run brother, trapped in the ghetto
in a gangland nightmare, run.
Here, look quick, a hole in the darkness,
startled with starkness,
a tiny crack of light at the end of the street,
a rupture in time, a rent in the curtain,
the one thing certain,
a valve slid open in the throb of a heart beat.

Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair
weaving hopefulness out of thin air
Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair
exchanging your lives for a thing more fair
Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair
rock in the porch swing, singing your prayer.
Daughter of Promise, Son of Despair
run through the dark streets meeting death’s dare.

“I see an opening in the heavens,” Stephen cried,
and slipped in an instant to Eternity’s side.
“Jesus, receive my spirit,” he prayed.
“Forgive them!” he shouted, knelt unafraid.
Stephen preached full of power and grace
doing wonders and signs with his angel’s face.

“You stiff-necked people!” he railed, then died,
killed by the stones in the hearts he’d tried
to turn from malice and murder and lies
to the truth of a Love which could die and rise.

I’ll hold the door open for you,
I’ll lift the latch that seals the catch
that quarantines time from eternity,
heaven from hell.

And then the first stone fell.
Hip thrust out against the door,
arms spread wide, shoulders aching, stomach quaking
straining beneath the blow of doubt and pelt of defeat.
Promise’s child prays on the porch swing.
Promise’s child picks up the beat.

Here, you running down the street,
looters, shooters, losers, boozers, resisters,
you who don’t believe, cannot conceive
a way out, an open door
you lost, walking in circles, blinded by pain
you know this voice, hear it again
here is the way, the cleft, the gate, the threshold
make for it with all your heart,
and safely enter the sheepfold
before she loses her nerve and the sea unpart.

Brother, sister, God hears your cries!

And she spies the skies opened and glory spilling out,
God’s tears like golden rain down mercy’s spout.

Help is coming. Here this life laid down for you,
for love of you, for love of Love –
this life laid down, fallen down,
hunched in a ball and rolling down,
spread out, offered down to the quick,
to the dregs
this life drinking your cup of sorrow,
swallowing your poison,
handling the vipers, walking across the floor of hell
this life laid across yours like a shield
absorbing the shocks that you may be well.

You there running down the streets with your gun,
has anyone ever laid down her life for you?
Can one white lady sitting on a porch swing in Kansas
turn the tide of rage and hate you carry in your bones?
Maybe tonight you catch a glimpse of hope.
Maybe tonight the fear that clutches you releases
and you imagine a new future –
maybe somewhere something lets go in the cosmos,
something stopped up, clogged, frozen, held enthrall.
A new wind wakens, rushes in and you are freed.

She prays for you, child of Despair,
running down the streets carrying your VCR,
running down the streets grabbing for what you never had,
running after a stolen dream.

The politicians rant.

The child on the curb by the burnt out building is hungry.
We need a new program, a plan, an idea, a solution…
some mental gymnastics to comfort us
that there is something that can be done
without costing us too much.
And then they will all settle down
and we can turn back to our own affairs.

We shall not get out of this
without paying to the last penny.
Sit down on the curb with the hungry child
and drink her cup.

The sickening blows fall again and again.
The man draws up his knees and rolls in pain.
Still they come, faster and harder,
mercilessly over and over,
slamming into the soft flesh,
pulverizing bone and sinew –

speak to him of eternity now
while sin and evil rain steady destruction
speak to him of salvation now

But she is beyond talk,
running for her life, lungs straining,
gasping for air in the smoke,
tears coursing down her cheeks,
sweating, legs aching, hearing the shots,
backing up against a wall of despair,
the bitter gall moving through her
like a stream of fire,
holding his bounty to her heart, darting out of alleys
running home.

And her brother is sitting in the sweet night air
swinging in the porch swing calm and cool,
listening to the mourning dove, waiting for the fireflies
swinging low, carried home.

They say it can happen like this
if you have a mustard seed of faith:

 One night while sitting at supper, talking about your day, asking for the salt – you are transferred in a wink of an eye to the camp, where you stand in line with your cup for rice and wrap the thin blanket around your shoulders against the chill . . .

and a gaunt refugee woman sits down at our table munching your hamburger,
and we pass her the salt.

Cram your cranium into heaven,
poke a hole in eternity
hold it open with your body
and be transformed
in a twinkling of an eye
by the renewal of your mind
unconformed
and cradled in the looter’s arms

and no one can snatch you out of his arms
and you shall never perish
for you belong to him and he to you
to have to hold and to cherish.

The daughter of Promise sings her lullaby:
Swing low, sweet brother
and have mercy.
Christ have mercy.

Sweet brother, swing low.
Hear the wind blow.

For days I have lain in your pain.
And I have lain in that thick smoke-filled darkness
murky with ambiguity and lies
oned with you and with the one from whom we come
descended into your hell
that you might rise
and I be carried home
in this dark world no more to roam.

Swing low.

~ written in April of  1992

Stoning of St. Stephen – Domenico Piola, early 1650s

Scriptures cited:
Acts 6: 8-15, 51-60

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit[a] with which he spoke. 11 Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13 They set up false witnesses who said, “This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth[b] will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.” 15 And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.  . . . 

51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

54 When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.[j] 55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Romans 12: 2
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 

I Corinthians 15: 49-52
What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.

John 10: 27
My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 

John 10: 14-16  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Learn more about Rodney King and the LA Riots of 1992