Category Archives: Church

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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Do you have a story about how  The Sanctuary has made a difference in your life? Maybe you are a long time subscriber of Holy Ground, or came for spiritual guidance. You might have participated in a retreat or workshop. Did you read some of our publications or blog? Perhaps, you join us on Friday mornings for silence. The Sanctuary has been tending souls for nearly thirty years and we have crossed paths with many people.
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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.”                                                                  
Contemporary Spirituality of Kansas City Upcoming Events
Wisdom Teachings for Spiritual Seekers
  May 5, 2018
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  

Irony and Bliss



On Trinity Sunday I arrived early at First Congregational Church, a block from where I live, and settled into my pew to contemplate the glory of the Holy Trinity. Yes, I know, who does such a thing? But the Trinity is something I can actually get carried away by. Before I left for church I read the beautiful prayer to the Trinity by Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity. Her prayer begins with these words,  O my God, Trinity whom I adore; help me to forget myself entirely that I may be established in You as still and as peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity.(You can find her prayer below. Be careful, if you read it, though. It is pretty hot stuff for Protestant non mystical types.)

First Congregational United Church of Christ is a denomination, whose Reformed roots I share, and I feel gratitude for.  United Church of Christ folks hired me,  a young Presbyterian minister, fresh out of seminary, and pregnant to boot, to be interim pastor of one of their churches here in Topeka, Seaman Congregational Church. That baby she was carrying, whose footprint you can still see in the sidewalk behind the church, turned 32 last month.


As my imagination was roaming around the abyss of God’s greatness with Elizabeth, the good Rev.Tobais Schlingensiepen was moving about the sanctuary checking on his sheep as they arrived.  He passed along the rows in his robe, sleeves billowing, shaking hands, and patting shoulders like a benediction. No skinny jeans and sport coat for this pastor. Nor was he busy checking his twitter feed.  He spoke to the sheep by name, asked questions, looked for nettles, matted coats, signs of infection, injury, illness.  Had any wolves slipped into the fold over night? Were the pregnant ewes eating well? The lambs coming along okay? He checked the weather and the flock’s energy. What do they need from him today? Is what he has planned on track with what he is seeing this morning?

Arriving at my row, he reached to shake my hand. “Hi, how are you today?”

I responded with something like, “Splendid, just fabulous,” all smiles. (Because I really was in that high dazed state of the fullness of love for God that comes upon me sometimes.)

He smiled, looked in my eyes. And asked again, “How are you…,” leaning in a bit more, waiting. He knows how sheep lie.

“I am great!” a little embarrassed by my own high spirits. “Sometimes I feel people shouldn’t be this blessed.”

“I just wanted to be sure you were not being ironic. People use irony so much.”

Let’s take a moment to let this sink in. Is this the world, the church, we find ourselves in? A place where bliss and ecstasy are so rare that they may be mistaken for irony?  Or has irony, that sarcastic twist of reality into its opposite, created a world of smoke and mirrors, where what one says rarely matches with what one means?

Without irony the psalmist shouts, “I was glad when they said, ‘Let us go into the House of the Holy One!’ I among many others have carried a  heavy heart with little or no joy into the house of the Lord on some occasions. And on those days I also know how very much it matters that someone notices, shows concern, and checks for any irony in my voice.

Yet are really happy sheep, saturated with love and joy, rare? I do not think so.

“The kingdom of heaven will come when men and women are willing to be penetrated by bliss.”

Years ago in a very unhappy season of my life I read these words by poet and potter, M.C. Richards.   Richards’ words opened my eyes to my own freedom and responsibility for the joy in my life. I knew deep down that her words were true, absolutely, and I have been wriggling my way into such a reality ever since. I believe that joy awaits us and is ours by virtue of our willingness to open the door, receive it, and to offer that willingness on the altar of the messes in our lives and this world.

Meninger mic

The Sunday before I went to First Congregational Church, I was on retreat listening to Father William Meninger, a Trappist Monk, and one of the leading voices in the conversation on Christian contemplative prayer. We had gathered at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. Meninger is now 81, and an unfettered, jubilant soul, if I ever saw one.

He began the retreat and introduced himself with the Buddhist saying, The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon. Meninger said the way (method, creed, practices, and means of revelation) to God is not God. The way (your way, my way, the Presbyterian way, the bumblebee’s way) is a finger pointing beyond itself toward ultimate Truth.

Meninger might have been channeling the German theologian, Karl Barth, who said that the Bible is a whole gathering of people pointing up at the sky. The Bible is not God; it points us in the direction of God. The particular mode through which God reveals divinity is less than the reality to which it gestures toward. For God is always beyond any particular description, form or conception of God, which we can reduce, carry around in our minds, and try to shove down somebody’s throat as The Way.

Speaking of contemplative practice in the church Menninger addressed the group of 140 lay people, nuns, pastors, and priests from a wide variety of Christian faith traditions, including Assembly of God and Evangelicals. The group included one or two young people under thirty. Meninger is quite clear that contemplative practice arrives for most people in the second half of life and did not gnash his teeth over the lack of young people in attendance at the retreat. “They are not ready yet. They have other things to do first.”

But he refuses to let us off the hook when he says, “Our churches today take their people to the door, but we hold them back. We don’t lead them into the silences.”

At First Congregational we had some silent time.  The worship leader took us to the door and gave us some time to check it out. The bulletin said:  Silence (30 seconds). I would have liked 30 minutes, but I figured that was all that the sheep here could tolerate; and that it helped them to see a time limit in print; and that, further, this silence thing was not going to go on and on and leave them sitting there stewing in their own juices forever.

I think Meninger is right. We do take people right up to the door to the deeper mystery and beauty of God, but we stop short. I see this often. Why is that? I wonder – failure of nerve and lack of faith, or maybe because some pastors do not spend much time on the other side of the door – simply surrendered to Christ in love, being in union with all there is – and want to get through the next point of the sermon and the sheep home before noon.

Old Woman Praying (Prayer without End) Nicholas Maes

Our problem is not that the sheep have never crossed over to the silences. You know how sheep are. They will poke their noses anywhere. They know and have experienced union with God, that shimmering silence and peace which rises up in their hearts, but they will call it something else. Day dreaming, sitting on the deck, holding their grandchildren, looking at a sunset… We all have moments where words fail, time stops, and a moment brims over with beauty and joy.

What the church may fail to do is give us time, space, and permission to savor, taste, swallow, and deeply enjoy these moments and value them as holy. Instead we get anxious, feel we are wasting time, need to stick with the agenda, or are being lazy. We worship the relentless, mean, crushing, 24/7 gods of consumerism and production instead of the endlessly abundant, overflowing goodness of the Trinity. As neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson writes, we have a serious problem in our brains and in our culture with our ability to take in, soak in, and absorb the good in this world which is constantly pouring itself out upon us.

On Trinity Sunday the Holy Spirit at First Congregational kept opening the door and I am sure quite a few of us there that morning went over the threshold to  communion with the Trinity.

The sublime guitar and violin duet did it for me.

Pastor Tobias did it too.He swung a door wide open in his thoughtful probing of the creation story in Genesis 1 as he invited questions and observations from his flock. He gave us some history and asked us to see beyond the story to the minds that told this story and found incredible hope in it in a time of their captivity. In this poetic account of the beginnings of things we find a God who stands outside, beyond the fingers of time, space, creation, and history. Here is a God who is sovereign over all that I can possibly imagine and not subject to anything that has been made or thought by the creation. Here was a God who was more than my little piece of history and present suffering who had made a world that is good, surely a God worthy of my hope.  Such a wide open door inspires a long silence, a bent knee, and a prolonged dwelling in the wonder of this God.

So I say, be bold in leading ourselves and others into the silences! Encourage ourselves to take more than a tentative sniff.  Take us gently by the scruff of our necks and say, “Come on, try it. I will go with you.”

Holiness likes to camp out in those nooks and crannies of time and space, for which we tend to have such disdain. We even call them “dead spaces.” Look again. Such unscripted moments are empty tombs resonant with the echoes of a risen God and the swift beat of wings.

Go ahead. Take a chance on bliss.


More about fingers and the moon

More about William Meninger

Elizabeth’s Prayer

Note to Topeka Area Readers
Father Meninger is interested in offering a retreat in Topeka next year.  Any persons interested in helping to make that happen please comment or contact me.



Ravished by Love

I attended a protest march and prayer vigil last week here in Topeka, Kansas. In response to recent criticism and censure from the Vatican,  a group of protestants, Catholics, and some Zen Buddhists gathered in support of Roman Catholic sisters.

Thus the day came when, Elijah the Tishbite, my Labrador retriever named for the Biblical prophet, who spent much of his ministry in protests of various kinds, began to live up to his namesake. Elijah, the prophet-dog, rose near dawn the day of the march, and spoke in his canine way, “Don’t mess with the sisters! Thus saith the Lord.” We put his prophetic utterance on a placard. I donned my clergy collar, and off we went.

Ever since the woman of Bethany ran across the city to pour out the oil of her love on Jesus, women of God have endured criticism, ostracism, and hostility to the ways they express their faith and serve Christ. It only takes the breeding of a sheep dog to attempt to corral religious orders into neat doctrinal boundaries, and lines and rows pleasant to those who seek to control what they cannot understand. It is quite another thing to fathom the love and devotion of a soul, who is willing to give up possessions, power, prestige, and marriage for love of God.

I wrote a poem some years ago, about women and men, who take prayer seriously, who are ravished by love, and willing to give themselves to it with total devotion. Such people are often misunderstood by the prevailing culture.  I titled the poem, Ekklesia, which is the Greek word we translate as church. It means a gathering or assembly. Just what ought to happen in such a gathering has been under dispute for centuries, though most agree ekklesia should have something to do with prayer, worship, and love for God and others.

The poem draws images and some of its style from The Song of Songs (also known as The Song of Solomon). This book of the Hebrew Bible extols the wonders of human love and it has often been interpreted as a metaphor of the love between Christ and the church, or between an individual soul and God.

I offer the poem today in praise of all those women and men who have given radically of themselves to God, even in the face of criticism, ridicule, and suffering.


Sustain me with raisins,
refresh me with apples,
for I am sick with love. – Song of Solomon 2: 5

Who is that coming up from the forest
leaning on her beloved
coming up
dripping apple blossoms
crazed and drooling?

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the hinds of the field,
that you stir not up nor awaken Love until it please.
                                                       Song of Solomon 2: 7

They are coming
coming up
from the forest
smelling of earth
and musk
trailing shreds of God stuff
God dander
God sweat
God hairs
coral streaks upon their cheeks
stumbling into the light
falling to their knees
rolling in balls
splayed upon their faces
begging for raisins and apples
sick with Love.

Called forth from nuptial beds
summoned, half-ravished
to tie a shoe
to feed
to lead
to plant
to mend
to make all new
with rapture round their eyes
and power in their step
and mouthwash on their breath,
swilled to hide the scent
the sweet taste of God,
thick and smooth on the tongue
as honeysuckle in the throat of night.

When they spoke
it was like being in the forest.
Birds chirped.
Rabbits hopped.
The air was alive
and twigs cracked under foot.

held them in the night
tucked under arms of trees
prostrate and panting
beneath pale light
of lunar ooze
smeared cross a starry sheet.

They lay trembling, hushed
listening for the rush
the fleet beat of wings
so soft, so hard
and ah!
so sweet.

At dawn
sun’s blaze
and dusk
they came up
in the sleet
the cold
the mud
the snow
the heat
coming up
out of the forest
at dawn
sun’s blaze
and dusk
to hover round the manger –
pale flickering fires,
pleasing incense,
consuming themselves in ever rising prayer.

There they sat
crystal prisms
receiving light
in stillness
and shattering it
in myriad dancing rainbows of delight.

with the yellow sweats
under her blue dress
cleaning up on a Saturday morn
in the rest room of the public library
in her ablutions
to talk to the children
who were entranced by the pedal flush toilets
and to their mother
who smelled the over familiarity
and felt the ache and loneliness of Janet
who announced she was a realist and a humanist.
I don’t take everything in the Bible.
Like spare the rod and spoil the child.
That’s bad. A kind word turns away wrath.
My mother always used to say that. That’s hard to do,
said Janet.

She followed them out to the car
asking if they were going to have lunch now
and could she ride along.


awash with Love
spinning slender crystal threads
from tangled, matted mind,
are they surprised
they, who hoist holiness from murky depths,



saying the seasons’ cycles
strung like beads on the Spirit’s breath,

are they surprised
that on a Saturday morning
a humanist and a realist
washing up at the library miles away
slams into their prayer,
Our Bag Lady full of grace,
preying on us sinners until we die?


Are they surprised
the woeful world beyond the woods
wakes from its sorrow
and sniffs the nectar of their blooming silence?

Ah they think they are alone.
Their solitude is filled with throngs.
Their restless nights passed
in company with crowds.
They thought their anguish hidden
in the vines.
It is a rushing current
cutting channels for compassion’s surge
down hillsides and across the plains.

The terms!
The terms
do not forget the terms
in small print at the bottom
on the private underside of bird wings
where soft down separates
air into feathery streams,
on the pale intimate flesh of the underside of leaves
under rocks and fingernails,
whatever clutters, clamors underfoot
and in the book they keep.
There are the terms

To read the terms stand under
but do not seek to understand.

The terms consist most of obedience.

Follow orders and do not ask too many questions.
Those who do, don’t stay
or lose their hearts
and can no longer pray,
deranged and dribbling,
bewitched by reason.

They ate God
slowly there
chewing carefully
in spite of their hunger
and flooded their thirst
with tiny sips.

This food for you, they said to one another.
I am not worthy
that Thou shouldst come under
come under
my roof
under me.

I will stand under Thee
and looking up,
say but the word, I healed,
shall see,
the underparts of Three in One:

the soft belly
the wing
and the hum
that dwells beneath Silence.

You can go there if you dare.
They will invite you in
into infinite unappeasable longing
into insatiable hunger
into the belly of God.

There you can watch Desire smack its lips
Sisyphus roll his stone
while you, shivering, groan
to be swallowed up by life
and find your home at last
next to a hayfield
in some celestial timber.

They will invite you in.
Watch out,
hospitable spiders all!
It is a trap.
Their tactic:
evangelism by voyeurism.
For the main attraction
their ravishing belly dancer
will seduce you through diaphanous veils
of flesh and matter.
This epiphany burlesque
is rated X.
Admission free.
The only catch –
the show lasts till eternity
and death the only exit be.

And you
dear foolish you
only looking for a rest
now must spend your life in making love,
this ardent Lover’s guest.

You want to go?
You cannot miss them.
They are a haggard bunch
ragged, wrecked souls in a crunch
having totaled their hearts in prayer.

Their name is Servant.
It isn’t far. Around the block
beyond the lake –
you needn’t search.

And the name of the place?

is church.

Many waters cannot quench love,
Neither can floods drown it.    Song of Solomon 8: 7

Elijah, the Prophet-Dog, Protests Rome