Tag Archives: Elijah

Elijah and the Stone Dog

dog statue

The brown and white English spaniel sits erect on the broad green lawn. Elijah, trotting along beside me, halts, stares, and sniffs the air.  My black lab and I look at the dog sitting still as stone. He wears a small box at his throat. Elijah has seen stone dogs before and stone rabbits too. Once he went up to sniff a stone deer standing in someone’s front yard and barked and barked at it. Giant inflatable Halloween yard ornaments, jiggling and bowing in the wind, scare the wits out of him.

Elijah scents the air again, nostrils dilating, inhaling the meaning of this mystery. Then he tilts his head, wags his tail, tugs at the leash. This dog is not stone! Yet the spaniel remains still, forlorn before this large house on its immense, immaculate sweep of real estate, free of unsightly fences.

Elijah bows and barks. The dog sits, unmoving. I walk closer and say, “Hello, little dog. How are you today?” He gazes into my eyes with a soulful intelligence and silent pleading, which take my breath away. When I speak again, he replies in a whimpering yelp.

As Elijah and I move on, the pup rises and silently follows us along the line of his invisible fence.


Lawn

Anymore, I have less and less stomach for keeping things in cages – dogs, rabbits, people, theories, truth, God. They won’t stay anyway. When you force them to remain, they wilt, turn gray, and whimper.

jailcell2_1

Do you see something or someone wilting and whimpering around you, or in yourself?   What does it mean for you to release the captives?

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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.


EKKLESIA

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
naked
staggering
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
dizzy
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.

Hillsides
held them in the night
tucked under arms of trees
prostrate and panting
luminous
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
silent
crystal prisms
receiving light
in stillness
and shattering it
in myriad dancing rainbows of delight.

Meanwhile
Janet
with the yellow sweats
under her blue dress
cleaning up on a Saturday morn
in the rest room of the public library
paused
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.

kyrie
eleison

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

waiting
birthing
dying
rising
gifting

waiting
birthing
dying
rising
gifting

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?

kyrie
eleison

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
conditions
limitations,
extremities.

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

The terms consist most of obedience.
Love
Serve
Die

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


Exploring Solitude: Where the Wild Things Are

Come away by yourselves to a lonely place,” Jesus

God then told Elijah, “Get out of here, and fast. Head east and hide out at the Kerith Ravine on the other side of the Jordan River. You can drink fresh water from the brook; I’ve ordered the ravens to feed you.”  Elijah obeyed God’s orders. He went and camped in the Kerith canyon on the other side of the Jordan. And sure enough, ravens brought him his meals, both breakfast and supper, and he drank from the brook. I Kings 17: 2-6 (Msg)

Nothing better expresses the urgent call of the wild for me than John Masefield’s Sea Fever.

I must  go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, . . .
I must go down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; . . .
I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife; . . .

Wild places and wild things invite us to themselves. If not the sea, perhaps, the mountains, the desert, the plains, or the forest draw you. The trout in the stream, the grizzly bear turning in his sleep, the mushroom popping up in the moist woods, the redwood tree dwarfing all else in its magnificence summon us to gaze in wonder and appreciation and share in the communion of all beings.

Shifting from Virtual Reality to Reality
In the wilderness we smell, and see, and touch, and hear, and taste – not a virtual reality, but reality. And here, we are likewise smelled, seen, touched, heard, and tasted. We not only change and act upon our surroundings, we are also changed and acted upon by those same surroundings. In the wilderness, we find again our place as a member of one of the species of beings on this planet. We leave our thermostatically, controlled environments and modern conveniences to feel the bracing chill of  the wind in our face, the tickling blurred vision through snow dusted eye lashes, the heavy ache in our calves after walking several miles.

In the process of wilderness dwelling, we shed the heavy brittle shells of our self importance and settle in with all our relations – brother sun, sister moon, and cousin fox. We discover the deer we are watching are also watching us.


Solitude may occur, of course, away from wilderness in the midst of a noisy crowd, in a beehive high rise apartment, or on the back porch with city sirens screaming past. However, many of us find solitude most easily and fully in a place apart in some natural setting. For over twenty years I found my wilderness solitude in a one room cabin with a stone floor, built into the side of hill on a small lake in northeast Kansas.

The call to the wilderness runs deep in some people, and expresses itself as unappeasable longing, or a palpable need to be in wild places among wild things. These persons often feel compelled to seek out remote spots away from power grids, traffic, concrete, and housing developments. Some struggle to explain and justify their desire to family and friends.

Wilderness as Arena for Spiritual Growth
The Biblical Hebrew word for wilderness is often used interchangeably with desert and includes many varied kinds of terrain, arid and semi arid, pasture land, mountains, and the sea.

The wilderness, a place uninhabited by the human species, is a significant location for the spiritual journey, both in its literal and figurative senses. The Bible understands transformation and spiritual growth as a process, which involves the experience of both physical and psychic dis-location and re-location. The experiences of being lost and being found, of moving from a familiar land to a strange new country appear over and over in the Biblical narratives.

An important aspect, then to solitude and our development in faith, is that exposure to wilderness, both in the physical geographic sense, and in the internal experience of the self. I will set aside consideration of internal wilderness to another post, and focus here on the external physical places and settings in which we find solitude.

As a species and as varied races and ethnicities, we have been formed in part by the land in which we and our ancestors have made our living. The lay of the land itself, the richness or poverty of its soil, the vegetation, wild-life, presence or absence of water, winds, and temperature have shaped our economies, our languages, our diets, our health, what we value, and our religions.

David Abram in his masterful book, The Spell of the Senses – Perception and Language  in a More-than-Human World, writes about this relationship of humankind to the earth and its features and all that dwell upon, within, above, and in its waters.

our bodily rhythms, our moods, cycles of creativity and stillness, and even our thoughts are readily engaged and influenced by shifting patterns of the land. Yet our organic attunement to the local earth is thwarted by our ever-increasing intercourse with our own signs. Transfixed by our technologies, we short-circuit the sensorial reciprocity between our breathing bodies and the bodily terrain. Human awareness folds in upon itself, and the senses – once the crucial site of our engagement with the wild and animate earth – become mere adjuncts of an isolate and abstract mind bent on overcoming an organic reality that now seems disturbingly aloof and arbitrary. (p. 267)

Abram writes of our relationship with the whole of creation as an interpenetration and mutuality in which all parties are affected, changed, and interdependent. The creation is not something I act upon, seek to dominate, or control, but rather the creation is a whole gathering of life with which I may enter into a relationship of mutual benefit.

In the past seven years the consequences of our lack of communion with nature has received attention and comment as Nature Deficit Disorder. The lack of time spent out doors by children and adults is suggested as a factor influencing several illnesses, including obesity.

Starving for the Undomesticated God


Over many years I have observed person after person starving for such connection and communion. Some would trek across the country just to sit in a simple cabin without  running water in a Kansas pasture in order to touch in to such a relationship. With some notable exceptions, namely camp and conference ministries, the church has largely ignored this fundamental need. Though our faith was formed in our ancestors in deserts, tents, mountain tops, sea shores, ship wrecks, storms, and many solitary encounters with the Holy One, we insist that most of our faith be nurtured in buildings and classrooms under florescent lights. We further claim that knowledge of God may be gained by memorizing a set of propositions articulated by theologians, who gained most of their credentials in similar buildings and classrooms.

In contrast, we meet an undomesticated God in the wilderness, an unpredictable, wholly other God, who is neither tamed by sedate doctrines, nor penned up in church polity, nor leashed to political issues. The waves and meadowlark give testimony, the stones hold the stories of the ancient ones, the Spirit hovers over the waters, the prophet emerges from his cave, and hears the still small voice of the Lord.

Most pastors have heard from the person, who apologetically recounts the familiar reason for his Sunday morning absence. “I am closer to God on the golf course or in my boat out on the lake.”  

But can’t you do that on Saturday, wonders the pastor, whose district superintendent keeps count of his worship attendance. He needs to show an increase this year. “You need to worship with the community too, and we need to have you with us,” he tells the fisherman.

Both are right, of course. We need the solitude and nature and we need the gathered  community of believers. Yet, perhaps, rather than feeling defensive, our pastor could become genuinely curious about her parishioner’s life in God and what he is telling her. “Could we get together sometime? I’d like to hear about what these times mean to you and how you experience the Lord.”

A Cabin in the Woods
My brother and his wife recently moved and their first project was to build a small cabin in the woods behind their new home. The one room cabin perches part way down a steep ravine in the woods, above a pond and a river beyond. My brother spends hours down there and confesses, most of the time he just sits and looks out the window, watching the birds and critters, and resting his sore eyes on a vista absent of manipulation by his own species.

Formerly a hunter of deer, my brother is now living in more intimate and complementary relationship with his relatives. He rises early each day to put out food. Keeping track of them, he gives some of them names. He is respectful of the space they need and watches for signs of illness, or overcrowding of the herd. He worries about the invasive mustard grass, which chokes out the native plants.

Likewise the animals of this ravine are more intimate with my brother. They are eating well, unafraid, and willing to share more of themselves with this human. My brother is changing too. He has lost weight and strengthened his legs from making the steep climb down and back from the cabin to the house. He has become an evangelist for the gifts of that little structure. “Solitude is magnetic,” he tells me. Yes, indeed.

He shows me a little book he keeps for guests to write their impressions of time spent in his cabin. I open the cover and read the longing and gratitude in their comments.

The Force which Draws All Things Together
Solitude and the wilderness, where we find it, are magnetic. The wild things and places draw us to them by the force of our common relationship with each other as creatures on this earth. We are drawn by our desire to connect with and to enter into communion with Reality in a deeper, truer way than we find in the glib, sound bite assessments that surround us constantly. Such communion changes how we see ourselves and one another. Thomas Merton writes in his second chapter of Thoughts in Solitude that the wilderness invites us to stand back from our lives so we see things in a new perspective.

We cannot see things in perspective until we cease to hug them to our own bosom. When we let go of them, we begin to appreciate them as they really are. Only then can we begin to see God in them. Not until we find Him in them, can we start on the road to dark contemplation at whose end we shall be able to find them in Him.

 Get the Stink Blown Off
Do you postpone going down to your wild places until the time is right, until you have several days free, until you finish this or that project? I will tell you a secret. You don’t have to wait. Just go with whatever time you have. As Eugene Peterson, paraphrases I Kings 17: 2, “Get out of here and fast!” My mom’s version was, “You kids go on outside right now and get the stink blown off ya.” God receives what little time you can offer, a day, an afternoon, or ten minutes, and turns it into abundance with enough leftovers for you to eat on for the rest of week.

So go on. Get out. Go for a walk. Drive over to the lake or the beach. Take a blue highway home. Look around. Breathe. Smell.  Feel. Gaze into the eyes of a deer. Watch the eagle land and fold its wings on its perch above the river. Be seen by the squirrel, be blown by the wind. Be changed and shaped by the interplay and exchange of the animate world of which you are a beloved part.


Solitude Practice:

  • To what kind of wild places are you drawn? Have you been there recently? What keeps you from going?

  • What happens when you go? What changes or shifts do you notice in yourself?

  • Take some time to pray about your need for solitude and wilderness places. Listen for God’s response.

Next Post in this series on Exploring Solitude : The Wild Things Within


 



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Legends of Elijah, the Tishbite, Prophet Dog

The Early Years

Wake, O wake, and sleep no longer,
For he who calls you is no stranger.


Elijah was up bright and early, alert and expectant. He barked sharply before the door of his mistress. She, however, failed to rouse from her slumber. So the little prophet chewed away his frustration at the zipper on the cover of his bed until it fell open the whole length. Poking in his snout, he bit off a hunk of the white foam inside. He diced it up into nice small pieces and strewed the bits across the kitchen floor. Then he barked a while.  His mistress stretched, yawned, turned over, and went back to sleep. Elijah bit off another hunk. By the time the sleeper awoke, an inch of foamfall covered the entire kitchen floor.


Imagine Elijah’s astonishment, when shooed outside, to find the whole backyard and as far as he could see, covered in white stuff like the foam in his bed. Only this was better. He could wet his throat with it and roll in it and leave his tracks. By chewing up his bed he had not only made his mistress awake, but changed the world! His heart swelled with the power of the Spirit within him.


This would be the first of many miracles in the prophet dog’s career.


Later, on that great day, he would tell Seal, the cat, “What you do inside in the kitchen has the power to change the world!” The feline, however, having been around the block a time or two, told him to save his preaching for the ravens. In one of her nine lives the old cat was Queen Jezebel’s kitty. Seal made it a policy to never worship anything.


She did vaguely remember cuddling up to the Goddess Asherah, but she hadn’t seen her for a long time, and how the stinky dog could ruin a perfectly good napping spot was beyond her.


Inquiring minds may want to read I Kings: 16-17


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