Tag Archives: communion

Kairos

I thought of you this morning
while the dove cooed under the feeder
and I knew how I had utterly failed.

How is it with you, really?

Words fill the distance between us
pushing in drifts
against your door.

Discarded costumes, masks, disguises
lie
on the fitting room floor.

I step out to tell you what I want
what I am trying to find here
is the one
true moment

which strips off
the tight suits of expression
to expose
the bare naked beat
of love.

_____________

I cannot tell you how deep
is this need to communicate,
how vast the reach of longing.
We plead face down in the dirt.
You who know no separation,
make us one.

Pear Blossom Blessings

It snowed pear blossoms here in Kansas this week. Tiny white petals floated down like confetti and drifted into the corners of my patio. They festooned the back of my black lab, Elijah, and rode into my kitchen stuck to the soles of my shoes.

The pear flurries crept up on us quickly and then were over. All week I planned to stand under the tree and gaze up through that lacy veil to the branched blue sky above. When I finally went out to behold this beauty, the green shoots of leaves were already pushing off the petals and the moment was over.

Dripping with blossoms, the tree was stunning in the sun, lifting her arms like a bride to her beloved. Then, impetuously, she dropped her gown, sending her skirts floating past my windows.

Watching the petals fall on the lawn, I remembered the poem my mother read to me one spring, years ago.

The Pear Tree
In this squalid, dirty dooryard,
Where the chickens scratch and run,
White, incredible, the pear tree
Stands apart and takes the sun,
Mindful of the eyes upon it,
Vain of its new holiness,
Like the waste-man’s little daughter
In her first communion dress.
        Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1919

Spring comes like a sudden lump in the throat, a sharp stab to the heart, a pear blossom falling too soon. Beauty does that to us. Beauty, a thing we cannot possess, or control, belongs, finally, to the Creator. The waste-man’s little daughter will outgrow her communion dress. She will move past her vanity and grow into holiness, as her girlish charm gives way to the inner radiance of the Bread of Life she takes between her lips.

Like the woman of Bethany, hastening through the streets with her perfume for the beautiful Savior, soon to die, spring spills her treasures over us, and then is gone.  The pear tree blooms for a week. Too soon her splendor falls softly, grows transparent, yellows, and dries in the cracks of the sidewalk.

Last week I saw a man with a pear blossom petal caught in his eyebrow. He wore it, perched like a tiny cap, over the arch above his spectacles.

I would like to be so baptized with pear blossoms. May you each have your transcendent moment in the sun, and see yourself as the stunning beauty you are.

Ought we not always be pouring the priceless gift of our attentive love on every particle of this world? Ought we not be running recklessly through the streets and fields, smitten and ravished?  We, here so briefly, so soon to be released and blown to rest in the softly greening grass, are surely born to be pierced through by such beauty and spendthrift love.

Are not we here for this above all reasons:

to lift our arms like brides,
and to wear the kiss of God upon our brows?

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”        Matthew 26: 6-13 (NIV)


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God Goes to Podcamp

Looking around the room, I saw a lot of smart phones, iPads, laptops, as well as salon haircuts, and expensive eye glasses with predominately black frames.  I picked out grungy geeks, staid state employees, hip local media moguls, and a few old dudes like me among the crowd. One stunning young woman arrived, wearing tight black leggings and a short black jacket. Her stiletto boots with open toes showed off her bright red pedicure. She carried an equally beautiful baby on one hip.

I sat down at a table with two young web design entrepreneurs from Iowa. College students and high school buddies, they had made the nine hour drive to spend the day at of all places, the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.

The event, sponsored by my local public library, is the brain child of librarian, David Lee King, who is definitely nothing like Miss Mabel Hrencher, who presided at the check out counter in the library of my childhood. PodCamp Topeka, billed as the “best unconference in the Midwest” is “Topeka’s annual low-cost unconference focused on social media, podcasting, audio and video production, and the web. Our goal? To learn about social media from social media experts, to network with fellow bloggers, podcasters & social media creators … and to have a blast!”  Which, as far as I am concerned, we did. Though I skipped the Tweet-Up event at a local bar at the end of the day in order to walk my dog, I left thinking, “Wow! Topeka, Kansas just keeps getting better and better.”

I purchased a new TV remote a month ago after my dog, Elijah, ate most of my old one. The new remote still sits in its box, because I can’t figure out how to get the darn thing to work. So how did I come to be sitting among tech cool, social media movers and shakers, learning tricks for emerging web technology? What was I, a hermit, solitary type, who needs large, sustained doses of silence, and thinks about God a lot, doing here? What could the keynote speaker, social media guru, Patrick O’Keefe, owner of I Froggy Network , have to say of interest to me? The last Froggy I had heard of “went a’courtin’” years ago.

Why did I go? Simple. The event was all about communication,  joining together, communion. This, you may recall, was a particular concern for Jesus. In the intimate moment in the gospel of John, where we listen in on Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, we overhear Jesus’ deep yearning that somehow, someway his followers might taste and enjoy the communion and oneness he shared with the Creator, whom he called Father. “Please let them be one, as we are one, not just kind of one, but completely, perfectly one. And Father,  I don’t want just these here, my disciples, to be part of this joining together, I want also those, who believe in me through my followers’ words about me, to be one with us. (John 17: 20-22, paraphrase)

Part of the nature of the Holy One and those created in God’s image and likeness is the ability to communicate – to extend oneself out of oneself in order to interact in some meaningful way with another. An infant expresses his needs and learns trust, as his caregivers respond to his cries with comfort and nurture. Hopefully, the infant learns that when he expresses a need, someone beyond him will respond with kindness. The child experiences the deep satisfaction and relief of being heard, and understood. If for some reason its need is not met, if the infant is unable to successfully connect, to attach to another, and get his or her needs met, the baby may waste away and develop a host of difficulties in communing with others.

Communication forms the basis of human community and a reflection, for the believer, of the Trinitarian nature of God. Theologian Miraslov Volf in a recent article in Christian Century writes:

If the One God is utterly unique and beyond number, why do Christians speak of divine triunity? Christians believe the word [God’s communication] was made flesh in Jesus Christ. From this belief it follows that the one utterly unique God who is beyond all counting, is internally differentiated as the Speaker, the Word and the Breath.

We live in the midst of the praised and condemned transition from print and broadcast communication to digital communication. This is one more passage in the long journey that began at the campfire, where we gathered to hear the hunters tell us the story of how they stalked and killed our supper. We have now arrived at the blog, podcast, and webinar to tell our stories of conquest and to instruct others in monetizing, ROI (return of investment), and how to put supper on the table. According to M. Rex Miller, author of The Millennium Matrix, the movements from oral communication, to print media, broadcast, and digital media have each brought about sweeping changes in how we believe, how we know, how we live together, how we see beauty, and how we work and trade. Our institutional structures, our architecture, our religions, our art, our self understanding, even our brains have been conditioned by how we communicate.

What is an unconference? you may wonder. According to Wikipedia, “an unconference is a facilitated, participant-driven conference centered on a theme or purpose. The term ‘unconference’ has been applied, or self-applied, to a wide range of gatherings that try to avoid one or more aspects of a conventional conference, such as high fees and sponsored presentations.” An unconference moves away from a top down, gathering of authorities, experts, and hierarchical structures. Power in the form of information and know-how is no longer controlled by Miss Mabel Hrencher with her tight grip on your library card.

We, along with the Holy One yearn to know and be known, to receive another and to be received, to see and be seen. We find deep satisfaction in that moment of mutual apprehension: the yes! the nod, the I-get-you-baby. We seem to never tire of the joy of recognition, affirmation, acceptance, and to be heard and understood. “Hey, Mom, watch. See how I do this! Dad, look at me!”

The glance of another is a blessing beyond words, the bestowal of understanding is a gift of great price. During a break at the Podcamp, the hip young mom came toward me down the hall. I stopped and told her, “You are just beautiful.” She smiled and her baby looked at me and crowed.

At Podcamp most of us contained our look-at-me tendencies, but they were not far below the surface. The longing to enter into the sweet and deeply satisfying experience of communion runs like a subtext of desire through many human interactions. The man, who came for the fall check up of my furnace, the day after the midterm elections, visited with me a bit about politics and the state of the nation. At one point I said, “It sounds like you have thought deeply about these things.” The earnest, intelligent fellow perked up and talked for another half hour. Somebody cared.

It takes so little in the dance of communication – a comment, response, the slightest gesture of recognition, the click of the Like button. We possess great power to enlarge one another or to diminish and demean.

Prayer, as I understand it, is communication with the Holy One, an exchange in which we speak and listen ourselves into ever fuller being and carry with us our whole community into that fullness.  We reach beyond ourselves and our essential isolation to enter another’s reality, and in that moment of communion, however momentary, virtual or real, is the opportunity for expansion, mutual exchange, and transformation.

A warning: death is involved in such communion. Life changing communication requires a dying to self and an opening out in trust to the other. I die to my personal exclusivity as an authority or expert, as I reach out to the collective, communal wisdom of my brothers and sisters. I find I am dying all the time, as I bump up against my perceptions, opinions, and personal critiques of those around me, only to discover just how dead wrong I am and how much more is going on in the realm of the Spirit, than I am aware of, or which I discount in my arrogance.

There is no room for a cozy “me and Jesus” theology in such communion. Theologian Miroslav Volf explains,

Because the Christian God is not a lonely God, but rather a communion of three persons, faith leads human beings into the divine communion. One cannot, however, have a self-enclosed communion with the Triune God- a “foursome,” as it were– for the Christian God is not a private deity. Communion with this God is at once also communion with those others who have entrusted themselves in faith to the same God. Hence one and the same act of faith places a person into a new relationship both with God and with all others who stand in communion with God. After our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity

The words, love, forgiveness, God, and Jesus were not mentioned at the unconference. Those young men at my table might have moved if they knew I was an ordained minister, not a popular profession in many circles. There was some bowing before the God of Technology. However, there was also an awareness of boundaries, rules, and internet etiquette:  Act nice, or you will be deleted.

Some final words from M. Rex Miller:

The internet is fundamentally about connecting with people of common interest, facilitating person-to-person conversations, collaboration, assistance, and collective learning. The internet inverts the power curve away from centralized control and content to distributed power and member-generated content. The internet is about the exponential value of networks, the power of conversation, and liberation from past obstacles of time, location, gender, age, ethnicity, disability, and tradition.(The Millennium Matrix, p 205)

Though Christ, in whom St. Paul tells us there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, is not mentioned in this description, digital communication offers, for those with eyes to see, a mortal and incomplete reflection of the image of  self-giving communion we find in the Trinity. The heart of digital communication sounds a lot like like church to me. That’s why I went to PodCamp.

As for God, I figure the Almighty, having created the people who made it, must love digital communication, and is surely showing up in black leggings toting her son at every Podcamp she can.

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My Own Devices

You don’t have time for this. Who can afford to dally about in the woods and meadows at the start of a busy day? So much to do, tasks to complete, bills to pay. The little dimwitted tyrant in the basement of your soul has already been up for hours, pacing and shoveling coal on your furnace of anxiety.
Here, right now, is the crux, the moment on which everything turns. Here is your choice.
That quiet place within is always there – the woods, the mountains, the meadow, the shore – where the waters of life perpetually flow and splash.
Likewise, the summons never ends. Each day is an engraved invitation, each moment, an extended hand.
Here is what I want you to do: find a quiet secluded place so that you won’t be tempted to role play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace. Matthew 6:6 (The Message)
Will you calm the little bully in the basement, who doesn’t know much more than how to push, grab, worry, and pout? Will you find that place where you can be fully yourself and just be there simply and honestly?
Can you feel yourself relaxing, your tunnel vision widening, and grace softening your rough edges? Do you notice how your perception changes, how something is reordered or realigned within?
It’s your choice. You are endowed with an immense and crucial freedom. You can leave peace and beauty on the mountain, in the woods, or up in the attic in a box next to the Christmas decorations, or you can take the hand of Love in this moment and be led into delight.
As you offer yourself to God and enter into communion, this interpenetration of your being and the being of God heals, transforms, and mutually satisfies you and Holiness. Here is what amazes me. God desires, even longs to be with us in conscious relationship.
Ours is a God who, yearning for our companionship, plaintively asks his people,
Why was there no one when I came? Why did no one answer when I called? … I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that did not call on my name. I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices… Isaiah 50: 2; 65: 1-2
Up at dawn, checking my calendar on my hand held device, I am stopped in my tracks by these words of Isaiah.
St. Therese of Liseaux put it like this:

God has no need of our works. God has need of our love.

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Eating God

I have been on study leave the past month in order to work on a new book. The generosity of Crestview United Methodist Church, where I work part time, and several generous donors to the Sanctuary Fund have made this gift of time and space possible. I have prayed, listened, written, and rested in the stunning abundance and goodness of God. Did I make progress on the book? Oh yes. I also discovered how much more there is to do. My goal is to complete it by the end of  this January. I tell you this so you will hold my feet to the fire. All of you are in my heart and thoughts. Thank you so much for your support and presence in this conversation about our lives together in God.

Here is a sneak preview of the work in progress:

God is voluptuous and delicious. Meister Eckhart
O taste and see that the Lord is good, promises the psalmist. (Psalm 34:8) Yet many people find God hard to swallow, not to mention the side dishes served up with God: religion, piety, doctrine, rules, austerity, judgment, conflict, and war. According to contemporary research quite a few people are not swallowing Christianity.
Over one third of the people in this country looking at Christianity from the outside have a bad impression. Researcher David Kinnaman writes, “The growing hostility for Christians is very much a reflection of what outsiders feel they receive from believers. One outsider I met put it this way: ‘Most people I meet assume that Christian means very conservative, entrenched in their thinking, antigay, antichoice, angry, violent, illogical empire builders; they want to convert everyone and generally cannot live peacefully with anyone who doesn’t believe as they do.’
In a time when faith didn’t have such a bad image, Thomas Merton, teaching a group of monks about swallowing God, used this approach, recorded in a poem by Ron Seitz:
So, you see, it’s something like this, to use an image or a metaphor.
…In total inhalation, in the act of the Eucharist, you eat the Mystical Body,
the Cosmic Christ by accepting, by participating, by celebrating, in joy
the total charity of your Being in creation! …
And in total exhalation you offer up, give back, go home in redemption.
You do this by curing the inner spirit between you and God the Incarnate Creator,
what we oftentimes call in Mystical Theology, original sin.
That’s why you go to the monastery, the primary reason anyway.
It’s to do that, to heal the illusion of separation, the separation of you from your true person,
from the world in creation, and especially from God.
It’s all, we’re all one. So relax. Quit apologizing.
We really don’t have anything to be afraid of, now do we?
If Merton is too abstract for you, try this: Seeing the communion elements being passed down the row the little girl exclaims, “O look Grandma, we are getting snacks!”
Holiness seeks intimacy, asks to be consumed, taken in and digested by us in a fundamental, earthy way as food. Fruit of the vine, wheat from the fields grown in the soil, watered by rain, tempered by wind, kissed by the sun. Simple ordinary food becomes transformed by the presence of the one who said, “Here, this bread, this wine is my body. Drink it and it will become your body too.” We get snacks.
Merton continues,
See. Either we are one with the Holy Spirit or not, eh.
And if the incarnation, the Word make flesh is a living reality,
then the whole cosmos is sacramentalized, is sacred and holy.
Is really church,
see (laughing) and you cannot get out, eh, can’t escape that, even if you wanted to.
Not everyone understands God as Merton. A friend and long time church member once confided that one Sunday when the pastor tore off a chunk of bread and handed it to her with the words, This is the body of Christ, “Something happened. I almost gagged and suddenly this seemed like some primitive cannibalistic ritual of eating the body of some person to gain his prana. It seemed repulsive.” She hasn’t been back to a communion service since. Another friend, victimized by a satanic cult, has excruciating flash backs when she goes to receive the Eucharist. Add a few verses of the old hymn “Nothing But the Blood,” and one can imagine most any curious new comer beating a path out the door before the pastor gets out the benediction.
As one of my daughters would say when she was little with her hands on her hips, “Mom, you have a lot of splaining to do about this.”
For starters let’s take a larger, metaphorical view. God invites us to eat what is before us, the fundamental reality of our lives, no matter how unsatisfactory. As we taste and see, chew and digest our experience and truth, we are nourished and transformed by the sacred reality of this world. We grow into the likeness of God, holiness itself. In placing us in this life, God has asked us to swallow this world and one another with an inclusive unconditional love.
Many times I have preferred to spit it all out.
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racking Holiness – Newsletter
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Prayer Boots – Part 2

This post is a continuation of last week’s, Prayer Boots – Part 1, a chapter from my book, Letters from the Holy Ground.

This summer a friend and I had a yard sale.  For a week I hauled boxes from attic and basement.  The children and I lugged baby clothes and infant swings to the dining room, where the kids promptly set up house.  “Remember this?  O Mom, look!  I remember this cute little dress.  I really looked so sweet in it, didn’t I?” they chirped sounding like they were eighty years old.  Cicelia spent two hours playing with the Johnson and Johnson baby blocks.  They had a tea party with the chipped china sitting at the little red table with their knees up to their chins.  Each box held wonder.  “Look mom, these beautiful curtains.  Can I have them in my room?”  Diana crowed, pulling out the tattered remains of the drapes that hung in our first apartment.

 Later that evening she came to me.  Holding a tiny blue sock to her lip and tucking her head under my arm, she said softly, eyes glowing with the rapt smile of one who has seen a vision of angels, “Oh Mommie, I remember me.”

Something forgotten, something precious, tender and pure that Diana called me had been recovered for her in that tiny sock.  When I asked what she meant, she said, “Well I just remember myself when I was a baby.”  That tiny sock I could never keep on her foot took her back to a pre-verbal time where she was held, rocked, nursed, sung to. It was a place where me dwelled, the essence of her being in the holy ground of the womb.  And she stilled her non-stop seven year old inquisitive mind to forget herself, to pay attention, and remember who she is: a child cradled in the loving bliss of One who is larger, kinder and more beautiful than she, and in whom she lives and moves and has her being.

She still crawls in bed with me in the mornings, her coltish long legs and arms poking, thrashing around, giggling, telling me jokes and that she loves me so much. She seeks herself in that safe place, before she bolts into her day of dolls and math and spelling and exuberant surprises. I wish we could all come to our prayer with her trust, playfulness and devotion.

I stared in shock whenever I passed the dining room with all those cartons brimming over with my past.  This is the room where we gather to pray, to recount our salvation history, to remember and receive the Eucharist.  Boxes lined the walls.  Infant seats and infant carriers and infant bottles and infant sleepers, undershirts and socks spilled all over the space where we sing songs of love to Mary’s baby.

My daughters poked about in their past, where we come to poke in our past, holding it to the light, turning it over in our palms, wondering what sort of price it would bring, praying God to be merciful.

The sale was one day only.  My friend and I sweated it out, swilling ice tea, tallying our profits and losses. During lulls in business, stricken with visions of having to haul all the stuff to the dump, we rushed about with markers slashing our prices.  “Everything must go,” we resolved, as we paused to fold one last time the sleeper we had laundered and folded so many occasions we had lost count.  We smoothed tiny collars and wrote $.10 on the stickers.

The Age of Aquarius macrame went, along with the tires, decrepit lounger, ice crusher, and malt maker.  We carted off my friend’s wedding gown, the fondue pot and five or six boxes of baby clothes to the thrift shop.

It was afterwards as I was picking up hangers and empty boxes from the floor of the room where we, breaking the bread and lifting the cup, do as he asked. Gathering up scraps of newspaper and tags, I saw the little nightie on the table.  It was then, forgetting myself in the mystery that rocks us all, and holding the soft worn flannel, sweet with baby scent to my cheek, that I remembered me.

One of the deepest mysteries of holy ground is the mystery of identity.  When God meets Moses at the burning bush, the two exchange their identities.  God calls, “Moses, Moses.”  The call is unique, distinct.  There can be no mistaking who is being summoned.

Moses’ response is the classic prophetic response to a call from God:  Henanni, or Here I Am.  After Moses receives his mission, he presses this burning Reality for its identity.  “Who shall I say sent me?” he asks.  And God responds, “Tell them that I Am.”

Holy ground is the place of exchange where I Am meets Here I Am, where What I Have Been will be transformed by Who I Am Becoming, where I forget what I thought I was and remember I am.

On just about every communion table I have ever seen are carved the words:  “Do this in remembrance.”  The little sacraments of our lives are those graced moments of holy communion when we do something prayerfully and in remembrance.  We release our grasping and coping. Then bread is transformed into the body of Christ, a blue sock into an angel’s wing, and a mortal being into a being in God.

God instructed Moses on Mt. Sinai to make holy garments for Aaron and his sons, including a plate of gold engraved with the words “Holy to the Lord,” which Aaron was to wear on his forehead, apparently to help everyone keep their parts straight.  My boots came with a tag that read: “Genuine Leather, Ozark Trail.”  They didn’t have any with gold plates.  I’ll try to remember my part anyway.

These days you can buy all kinds of prayer paraphernalia:  crystals, incense, podcasts of famous pray-ers, cds of words of power, icons, statues, pictures of Jesus in a startling array of poses, holy bells and whistles, oils and unguents.  My hunch is that it’s best to travel light, and you could do a lot worse than to get a good pair of boots.

Why not do it in remembrance?  Maybe we’ll meet on the trail.

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Contact Loretta at
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Prayer Boots – Part 1

I am off to do some teaching and visiting with family. This week and next, I offer here in two parts a chapter from my book, Letters from the Holy Ground. Get some boots and go pray.

bootsI went to Holton Farm and Home Store last week and bought some praying gear, boots, warm socks and gloves.  I selected a pair of sturdy waterproof boots from the row of five buckle galoshes next to the watering troughs.  I think I am ready now.  I purchased the boots with money friends at the church I served gave me when I left. I kept the money, which came attached to the leaves of a prayer plant, for a whole year not knowing just how to spend it.  I considered books, office supplies and liturgical accouterments.  Now I see that proper prayer vestments include boots for walking over this land we call holy.

The more we pray, the more we discover prayer’s richness and power, and the more we hunger for it.  In its essence prayer is simply paying attention to God.  And that turning of the will to God, that choice to attend to God, is how we participate in making holy ground.

There is a temptation in the spiritual life to talk about praying, to read about it, to write about it, to attend workshops on it, to preach sermons about it, to feel guilty about not doing it, to build edifices where it is supposed to happen- anything but the scandalously simple, yet arduous task of doing it.  In contrast to our institutions of theological and religious education, the one thing the disciples asked Jesus to teach them was how to pray; and Jesus taught them by simply praying. “Here, do it like this,” he said.

So I am praying, turning my attention to God more intentionally and for longer periods of time with no particular result in mind beyond a simple open presence to the Holy One.  A good deal of this praying is happening on the land.  And when you stalk holiness in autumn in Kansas, you need a good pair of boots.

Crouched under the cedar in the rain, sloshing along the winding creek, following the deer trail up the gully, I try tocedar branch forget myself in prayer that I might remember who I really am.  I imagine hiking toward a place of being so self-forgotten in God that one needs nothing external to validate oneself.  Is it possible to follow the path to holy ground where the communion of prayer alone feeds and sustains us and the earth?

Perhaps our task is not so much making holy space in our lives, as becoming holy space ourselves. One way of becoming holy ground is to remember who we are.  And we are often quite convinced that we most certainly have been forgotten. That may be because we just can’t bear the wonder and joy of love.  Is that why Love stood before us that night before we killed Love and told us: “This bread is my body…this wine, a new promise sealed in my blood.  Don’t forget!”?

“Don’t forget,” Love said.  “I beg you not to forget.  For when you forget, you hang me back on the cross with your lies and self deception and fear and heedless stampede over my tender presence in all creation.”

communionStill we do forget.  Psychiatrist Gerald May writes that we often do not remember experiences of communion with God, because they are so threatening to our egos. The loss of self-definition characteristic of unitive experiences arouses unconscious fear. Wiping off the chalkboard of our spiritual experience, our officious ego scolds, “Let’s just forget this ever happened and go back to worshiping me as almighty in your life.”

 What might you need to remember?

 More next week…

 Gerald May in Will and Spirit (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987) Chapter 5.

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