Walking for Spiritual, Mental, and Physical Health

All four gospels have different stories surrounding the resurrection of Jesus, but they agree on a few overarching paradigms, for example, that resurrection is not just about ghostly apparitions, it’s not about resuscitating the dead body which then merely resumes its former life, and most important for me this year, Easter is all about movement. Easter is all about movement. Resurrection somehow moves the cells as well as the soul and identity of Jesus, and it moves the cells, souls and identities of his followers as well. The Easter earthquake still has power, even this morning, to get us out of our comfort zones and call us to the open road, spiritually, ethically, and sometimes physically.

I love to walk outdoors in nature. I’ve spent a lot of hours walking and running on treadmills at the gym, mostly in winter when outdoor walking isn’t an attractive option. When I’ve had dogs, I enjoyed walking with them—sometimes being walked by them. When I lived in an apartment behind Foster Park, I walked or bladed every morning in the cool light of sunrise for my morning constitutional, as I called it. This two mile walk took me along the river, through some wooded areas, and around a golf course. I loved it. I would spend the time observing nature all around me, and work on sermons or chapters for my book or whatever my current project was.  I often used the time for prayer and personal centering, taking in God’s energy of love and expressing my deep gratitude for this gift of life. There is power in walking, and that’s why virtually all monasteries the world over have a covered cloister walk so that the monks or nuns can pray as they circle the inner courtyard. There is an old Latin proverb I learned at the Community of Our Lady, where I first embraced my vocation as a Benedictine: solvitur ambulando, or in English, “it will be solved in the walking.”

A walk and a meal can transforvesour life, and that’s what happens in the encounter of Jesus with two of his earliest followers. Trudging down the road, two depressed and confused followers are joined by a third man. Their world has been turned upside down by the events of the past week: celebration, conflict, violence, and death, and now the possibility that their martyred spiritual leader has come back to life. It turns out that resurrection is just as profoundly unsettling as crucifixion.  It doesn’t fit into anyone’s rational world view, including the theology of resurrection of first century Jewish people. They could imagine a resurrection of everyone at the end of human history, but not the resurrection of one solitary man.

But, they walk the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, first sharing their common grief, and then entering into a conversation with their unexpected companion, who unfolds the story of salvation through resurrection to them. Somehow, they can’t recognize their companion as the teacher and healer Jesus. Perhaps, it’s a gentle gift of God who is allowing them to gradually get used to a new way of seeing reality. Maybe it’s the essence of resurrection itself that both reveals and conceals Jesus’ identity.

Confused and grief stricken, the two travelers nonetheless reach out to the stranger. They invite him to supper, and it is only through the breaking of the bread that they come to know the identity of the Risen Jesus. Hospitality leads to epiphany: an encounter with the Risen Jesus, who is known in the simple Eucharistic acts of praying and eating.

Movement and meal lead to revelation, and then Jesus is gone, vanishing from their sight, but leaving them changed in some profound ways: their hearts are warmed, their spirits restored, their bodies are energized. They are so charged with resurrection power that they walk the seven miles back to Jerusalem to share their good news that Jesus is risen and on the road.

After breaking the bread, Jesus vanishes from their sight, and this tells us something profound about resurrection: clearly Jesus needs to be on the move as well. God is not static, like some plastic statue or childish image we carry in our heads. God won’t be imprisoned by yesterday’s revelations or by the Church’s Scriptures, creeds, statements of faith, policies or traditions. God is always on the move, doing new things and sharing new insights with other pilgrims on the journey.

Historically speaking, scholars have no idea where Emmaus is located: there is no other reference to the place other than this Gospel story. Some possibilities have surfaced over the years, but there is no consensus among historians or archeologists.  That, too, is potentially important because maybe there is no such place.  In other words, Emmaus is nowhere because….Emmaus is everywhere.  Wherever we are on the road and at every mealtime, Jesus comes to us, filled with energy and possibility, and the powerful joy of resurrection. We too can have new life, and we too can be born agai– right now, at any place, at any time. The message seems clear: keep moving, chart new adventures, extend more hospitality, make Jesus reveal himself in all of our living so that, in the end, everyone will finally come to see and accept that’s it’s been Jesus walking alongside us on the road all along.

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Give Tom a Break!

Thomas gets a bad rap because he doubted the resurrection of Jesus insofar as the story the other disciples told him didn’t make sense to him.  But remember, it’s this same Thomas who, when the crowd picks up stones to kill Jesus, says to the others, “Well, come on then, we may as well follow him to his death!” Well, if it is true that the greatest love one can show is to lay down one’s life for a friend, then it really is as a risk-taking friend not a doubting friend who makes it clear that he’ll support Jesus no matter what.

Here’s a little history lesson. By the time John started to write his Gospel, Thomas had already written his own.  While it is true that the Gospel of Thomas didn’t make it into the final cut of NT books, it is also true that Thomas’ Gospel is older than all of them—AND furthermore, it’s clear that Mark (our earliest Gospel) was familiar with Thomas’ Gospel because he borrows heavily from it when writing his own version. Many of the sayings of Jesus in Mark are taken directly from Thomas, and even more interesting, Thomas picks up on some things from Jesus that are quite different from those selected by John. Some of the scholars even suggest that John appeared to stress Thomas’s deficiencies to imply that John’s was the more reliable gospel. Perhaps this is why John says that Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the disciples on that first Easter night—in order to prove that Thomas wasn’t in the “in” group of disciples.

In John’s gospel it’s pointed out that Thomas expressed doubt when told by the others that Jesus had come back to life—which is pretty reasonable! Dead people tend to stay dead. I understand his skepticism: if I had witnessed someone’s death, then a few days later at the funeral home had been told by someone that the deceased had, in fact, come back to life, I wouldn’t believe it. Just like Thomas.

But the story of Thomas does not end with his doubts. John records him as meeting Jesus a few days later with the words “My Lord and my God”, but we need to hold on to the truth that it’s not our words that define our faith, it’s our thoughts and actions. For Thomas, his faith is deep enough for him to travel to India and eventually to die a martyr’s death.

My question to each of us today is simple: what would convince us of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection to the point that we would take risks and change our lives?

During WW2, a man named Lord Cherwell, a former professor of physics at Oxford, was named scientific advisor to Churchill. One problem Cherwell was charged with rectifying was the problem of fighter planes going into tail spins and crashing suddenly to the ground.  The very tight turns during dog fights often resulted in these uncontrolled spins. So Cherwell worked out the physics, and thought he had the answer—the problem was, if he was mistaken, more pilots would die. Cherwell had a solution. He took flying lessons, then as soon as he was able, he took the plane up to a height, put it into a spinning dive, then to get out of the spin applied his theoretical solution – and it worked. Then just to be certain he went up again, this time putting it into an anti-clockwise spin, to show that the solution was just as effective the other way. Because he trusted sufficiently in his solution and could show it worked, pilots were convinced and many lives were  saved as a result.  That is an example of someone taking a risk for the truth he knows to be true.

 

I’ve been a priest and pastor for a little over a decade, and the more time I minister, the less I know for sure.  But this is something I hold dear: I never give a sermon or express a theological reflection unless it is legitimately mine, unless it is part of who I am as a man. I don’t preach what the institution might expect me to, and as a result, the Christian truth I try to proclaim is an expression of my own identity, which is why, I think, my sermons are different from most preachers I know. In other words, I try to be like Thomas.

Thomas tried to live with integrity; he wasn’t going to believe something just somebody else told him it was a good idea. And more than that, he also knew that faith isn’t about high sounding words, it’s about changing the way we live. The early Christians appear to have understood the realities of how faith is meant to impact on life. They had a special word for it. They called it “pistis”. Pistis is not properly translated as meaning faith. Rather it is more like: trusting, abandoning or even venturing. To have Pistis in Christ certainly didn’t merely mean that Christ was there in some mysterious way. Rather it meant the slender hope that the reality Jesus represented might also have value and truth for the ones who trusted him enough to follow.

For Christians, the arguments about whether or not we might think God exists have little meaning away from what Jesus showed this God to mean. Because these days our firsthand experience of witness comes via other people, it is worth remembering that from the days of the early Church obtaining inspiration is not only based on what can be learned from studying Christ, but also via those in each generation who have been prepared to follow Jesus. Lives lived with integrity are inspiring and attractive in every generation.

In the debates about which books should be included in the Bible, the Bishop of Lyon (Irenaeus) dismisses the Gospel of Thomas as an “abyss of madness and blasphemy against Christ”, yet when Thomas’s long lost book finally resurfaced amongst the caves at Nag Hammadi in 1948, the modern biblical scholar Elaine Pagels, far from finding madness and blasphemy found Thomas recording sayings of Jesus in a way she found helpful in her own belief.  For example from the gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said: If you bring forth what is within you, what you will bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

The genius of the saying is that it doesn’t give us doctrine, it merely challenges us to find what lies hidden inside ourselves and to bring it out. In addiction recovery we often say, “you are only as sick as your secrets”, so to me this saying of Jesus rings true.

In John’s Gospel, Thomas is eventually persuaded by the evidence of his eyes, but he is converted not to a doctrine, but to an awakened form of living. Because of his encounter with the Risen Christ, Thomas finds inner strength to leave behind his comfortable life in favor of adventure and risk. And though we may have individual doubts, those don’t matter and they don’t need to prevent us from witnessing to the resurrection of Christ with our lives.

The Church Universal has wasted a lot of time arguing theology, when what we should have been pointing to were changed lives, transformed lives based on the inner truth of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing can stop an individual prepared to work wholeheartedly for the transformation of the world. Thomas who doubted grew into someone who made a difference. And if that can happen for doubting Thomas, just think what it might mean for you and me!

 

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Easter Message 2018

Yes, I am a slacker, thanks for noticing!  I could’ve posted this four weeks ago, but just now found it…by accident.  Easter and Christmas are ALWAYS the hardest times to say something fresh or even moderately useful….so I offer this to those of you who, like me, are lagging behind a bit…

A few years ago, a powerful earthquake hit Italy, killing more than 300 people, most of whom were buried in the largest state funeral in the history of the country. The funeral took place, coincidentally, on Good Friday that year.  Several days after this tragedy, the news reported a tidbit of good news to art historians and the residents of the little village of Rocca di Cambio. Like many of the buildings in the small mountain town, the local Catholic church was also heavily damaged.  The altar pulled away from the back wall of the apse during the earthquake, and when grieving parishioners arrived on the scene to assess damage, they found a long-lost 11th  century fresco depicting the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus.  Until the earthquake, it had been hidden behind the altar.

The earthquake that we’ve been considering throughout Lent this year is mentioned only in the Gospel of Matthew, and it occurred when an angel rolled the stone away from Jesus’ tomb, revealing what had been hidden.  Upon arriving, however, the women did not find the body of Jesus, instead they found only the emptiness of an unoccupied tomb.

I always pictured the stone that sealed Jesus’ grave as a big round boulder pushed into the opening, sort of like a giant cork sealing the tomb.  It probably wasn’t like that at all.  Tombs in first-century Palestine were typically sealed with a carefully shaped round slab of rock, sort of like a giant wheel, that rolled along a groove cut into the ground.

As we reflect on this central story of the Christian faith, it’s important, I think, to understand that the stone wasn’t rolled away so Jesus could get out.  The stories shared by early Christians in the gospels insist that Jesus’ post-resurrection body was capable of going wherever it wished.  Jesus appeared to his disciples in an upper room, even though all the doors were locked.  So why bother with an earthquake? Why bother rolling the stone away at all?

The answer is so simple and so obvious: the stone was rolled away so those nearby could go in.  And look around.  And see that it was empty.  And then go and find Jesus.

Mary Magdalene and a woman known to us only as the “other Mary” went to Jesus’ tomb at dawn and “suddenly there was a great earthquake.”  All of the gospels tell a different part of the Easter story, but I have to say that Matthew’s version is the best.  Luke tells us about some disciples who meet Jesus on the road and don’t even recognize him.  Mark and John at least tell about happy reunions in the cemetery, but only Matthew bothers to say that the earth shook that morning.

Easter changed things, in fact, it changed everything, as we’ve learned reading our Lenten book this year.  The word “Resurrection” is now part of our vocabulary.  I think it’s important to note that Resurrection is not simply Resuscitation.  If you’ve taken a CPR course you’ve likely worked to restore breath – and life – to a plastic effigy named Resuscitation Annie.  And a few people have experienced the wonder of saving an actual life with those skills.  But the resurrection is much more than restoring breath and extending a life.

Three Easters ago I was still experiencing a personal earthquake due to the death of my friend, Steve Yanner, on Good Friday. I had had a dream of him the night before, after having spent the bulk of that day with Mary and the family, watching Steve being kept alive on more machines than it takes to build a GMC truck. He was in a medically induced coma so it was impossible to know if he was aware of anything around him.  In my dream, he and I were walking in a snowstorm to my grandparents’ house in Appleton, and I was walking ahead of him by a couple paces.  I turned to go up to the house, but Steve kept walking down the street. I said, “Hey Steve! We’re here, where are you going?”  And he turned and looked me in the eye and said with a humorous but sarcastic tone in his voice, “You’re the priest and you don’t know where I’m going! That’s a good one!” And as I watched he was swallowed up in the snowstorm.  I awoke immediately, crying, because I knew then that Steve was already gone and we had to take him off the machines.

I had spent a lot of time with Steve in the months leading up to his surgery, the final time was only a couple days prior to his surgery.  And a miracle had occurred because in listening to him, it was so clear that all his fear was gone, that he was ready to place himself completely in the hands of fate, trusting with childlike faith that, no matter what, God would have his back. He believed in resurrection, just like Jesus did, not focusing on resuscitation of his worn out heart.

None of Jesus’ disciples expected the resurrection, although Jesus had certainly tried to give them the heads up.  Although death on a cross and the defeat of their community was regrettable, it was very explainable.  They might have comforted themselves by saying, “It was a good campaign while it lasted.  We didn’t get him elected Messiah, but death is final, so we need to be realistic and accept the facts.”

Here’s the thing: our whole world is in the death-grip of facts.  We have come to know that everything that lives, will eventually die. It happens to the best of us; it happens to all of us.  There are few real surprises, we think, so we live our lives with a limited view of what is possible.

The crucifixion of Jesus was the inevitable, predictable result of Jesus saying the things he said and doing the things he did.  Crucifixion is what the world always does to those who threaten it.  But on Easter God’s earthquake shook up our “fake news” and inserted a new fact.  God took the worst we could do, all of our death-dealing deeds, and offered love.  And life.  No wonder the earth shook!

 

A writer and preacher named Will Willimon tells the story of visiting a church in Alaska.  He writes: “During my sermon, the earth heaved for a moment that seemed to last forever.  The little church shook.  The Alaskans sat there like it was another day at the office.  Their only response was the woman who said, “How about that, the light fixtures didn’t fall this time.”  Willimon concludes, “I ended my sermon immediately.  I was shaken by the earthquake, but also shaken by those nonchalant Alaskans.  Afterward, I asked the pastor, “What would it take to get this congregation’s attention?  I’d hate to have to preach to them every Sunday.”

When the earth shook and stone was rolled away, God got our attention.  We got our first glimpse of a new world; a world where death does not have the last word, a world where injustice is made right, and a world where the followers of Jesus live not by artificial resuscitation, but by the amazing power of resurrection.

The resurrection likely means many different things to those of us gathered here this morning.  For some it is a literal and essential doctrine that defines the Christian faith.  For some it is symbolic of what they have come to understand as truth, that death is not an ultimate, final force that can keep life from springing forth again.  For others, resurrection speaks of hope; regardless of how large the rock or the heart attack, or illness or disease or addictions, in other words, no matter how tightly the stone has sealed our fate, God’s power is greater still. Christ is risen!  Alleluia!

 

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Why Forgive??

Forgiveness is a very tender subject. It brings up lots of memories, emotions and desire in most of us. Forgiveness is also something I’ve struggled with most of my life; I still don’t have it down perfectly, but I’m making progress.

Forgiveness is in fact heart medicine because it involves the healing experience of touching God. I realize that some of you have an issue with the term “God”, so think of that word as code for “the Divine.”  Or maybe think of it as Spirit, Nature, or the “peace that surpasses all our understanding.” The important thing for us to remember is that in the whole universe there is only One Power, and that Power is LOVE.  It is the LOVE that unites and creates and sustains literally everything in creation.

Forgiveness is a call to jump into the river of compassion. Life is a crap shoot: we don’t choose our parents, our situation, our genetics or even our gender. Life gives us our experiences in order to teach us that, no matter what, only compassion will bring us peace and security. Embracing compassion allows us to release our sadness and find gratitude for all the lessons we’ve learned.  Yes, ALL the lessons!  The river of compassion reveals to us that we are all the same, that all people are broken in some way as we are, and that life is not about demanding perfection on any level. .

Forgiveness is not about ignoring our pain and disappointment. It’s not about pretending that terrible things haven’t been part of our story. It is about enlarging our ideas about who the victim is and who the perpetrator is: this is true because we ourselves have played both roles with gusto. Compassion reveals to us that all of us, including those who’ve harmed us, are enveloped at all times by the grace of God.

As a young boy I lived in a home where fighting, verbal abuse and physical violence were commonplace. I thought, of course, that this had something to do with me—even though it didn’t. It changed my life: I graduated high school early so I could flee to another town and rush into a marriage with a girl from an eerily similar background. I was so focused on my own victimhood I neglected to see how that violence had become a part of me.  True, I never verbally or physically abused anyone, but a lot of energy was wasted on asking things like, “Why me?”

That’s because when we’re kids, we don’t have the emotional maturity to separate ourselves from our parents, peers and teachers. We don’t understand the impact of the pain others are carrying when it’s projected onto us. We unknowingly take on the legacy of their trauma in an elaborate human dance that has lasted for untold generations. And the thing is, as adults we’ll keep on projecting this mess onto our children and our grandchildren unless we stop the momentum. This is possibly the most important stand we can take in life.  This is the most important lesson Jesus taught us by dying the way he did; it’s the most important lesson redounding to us in the aftermath of the Easter earthquake. Instead of continuing to pass on the pain, clinging to sadness and unforgiveness, we can choose to dive into that river of compassion and proclaim instead, “All of this stops with me.”

Praying for each of you this week, that whatever you’ve turned to to escape the past—alcohol, drugs, serial relationships—you find your way to the banks of that river.

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Faith in the Resurrection means DOING, not BELIEVING

Thomas gets a bad rap based on today’s Gospel reading (Easter 2B) because he doubted the resurrection of Jesus insofar as the story the other disciples told him didn’t make sense to him.  But remember, it’s this same Thomas who, when the crowd picks up stones to kill Jesus, says to the others, “Well, come on then, we may as well follow him to his death!” Well, if it is true that the greatest love one can show is to lay down one’s life for a friend, then it really is as a risk-taking friend not a doubting friend who makes it clear that he’ll support Jesus no matter what.

Here’s a little history lesson. By the time John started to write his Gospel, Thomas had already written his own.  While it is true that the Gospel of Thomas didn’t make it into the final cut of NT books, it is also true that Thomas’ Gospel is older than all of them—AND furthermore, it’s clear that Mark (our earliest Gospel) was familiar with Thomas’ Gospel because he borrows heavily from it when writing his own version. Many of the sayings of Jesus in Mark are taken directly from Thomas, and even more interesting, Thomas picks up on some things from Jesus that are quite different from those selected by John. Some of the scholars even suggest that John appeared to stress Thomas’s deficiencies to imply that John’s was the more reliable gospel. Perhaps this is why John says that Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared to the disciples on that first Easter night—in order to prove that Thomas wasn’t in the “in” group of disciples.

In John’s gospel it’s pointed out that Thomas expressed doubt when told by the others that Jesus had come back to life—which is pretty reasonable! Dead people tend to stay dead. I understand his skepticism: if I had witnessed someone’s death, then a few days later at the funeral home had been told by someone that the deceased had, in fact, come back to life, I wouldn’t believe it. Just like Thomas.

But the story of Thomas does not end with his doubts. John records him as meeting Jesus a few days later with the words “My Lord and my God”, but we need to hold on to the truth that it’s not our words that define our faith, it’s our thoughts and actions. For Thomas, his faith is deep enough for him to travel to India and eventually to die a martyr’s death.

My question to each of us today is simple: what would convince us of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection to the point that we would take risks and change our lives?

During WW2, a man named Lord Cherwell, a former professor of physics at Oxford, was named scientific advisor to Churchill. One problem Cherwell was charged with rectifying was the problem of fighter planes going into tail spins and crashing suddenly to the ground.  The very tight turns during dog fights often resulted in these uncontrolled spins. So Cherwell worked out the physics, and thought he had the answer—the problem was, if he was mistaken, more pilots would die. Cherwell had a solution. He took flying lessons, then as soon as he was able, he took the plane up to a height, put it into a spinning dive, then to get out of the spin applied his theoretical solution – and it worked. Then just to be certain he went up again, this time putting it into an anti-clockwise spin, to show that the solution was just as effective the other way. Because he trusted sufficiently in his solution and could show it worked, pilots were convinced and many lives were  saved as a result.  That is an example of someone taking a risk for the truth he knows to be true.

 

I’ve been a priest and pastor for a little over a decade, and the more time I minister, the less I know for sure.  But this is something I hold dear: I never give a sermon or express a theological reflection unless it is legitimately mine, unless it is part of who I am as a man. I don’t preach what the institution might expect me to, and as a result, the Christian truth I try to proclaim is an expression of my own identity, which is why, I think, my sermons are different from most preachers I know. In other words, I try to be like Thomas.

Thomas tried to live with integrity; he wasn’t going to believe something just somebody else told him it was a good idea. And more than that, he also knew that faith isn’t about high sounding words, it’s about changing the way we live. The early Christians appear to have understood the realities of how faith is meant to impact on life. They had a special word for it. They called it “pistis”. Pistis is not properly translated as meaning faith. Rather it is more like: trusting, abandoning or even venturing. To have Pistis in Christ certainly didn’t merely mean that Christ was there in some mysterious way. Rather it meant the slender hope that the reality Jesus represented might also have value and truth for the ones who trusted him enough to follow.

For Christians, the arguments about whether or not we might think God exists have little meaning away from what Jesus showed this God to mean. Because these days our firsthand experience of witness comes via other people, it is worth remembering that from the days of the early Church obtaining inspiration is not only based on what can be learned from studying Christ, but also via those in each generation who have been prepared to follow Jesus. Lives lived with integrity are inspiring and attractive in every generation.

In the debates about which books should be included in the Bible, the Bishop of Lyon (Irenaeus) dismisses the Gospel of Thomas as an “abyss of madness and blasphemy against Christ”, yet when Thomas’s long lost book finally resurfaced amongst the caves at Nag Hammadi in 1948, the modern biblical scholar Elaine Pagels, far from finding madness and blasphemy found Thomas recording sayings of Jesus in a way she found helpful in her own belief.  For example from the gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said: If you bring forth what is within you, what you will bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.

The genius of the saying is that it doesn’t give us doctrine, it merely challenges us to find what lies hidden inside ourselves and to bring it out. In addiction recovery we often say, “you are only as sick as your secrets”, so to me this saying of Jesus rings true.

In John’s Gospel, Thomas is eventually persuaded by the evidence of his eyes, but he is converted not to a doctrine, but to an awakened form of living. Because of his encounter with the Risen Christ, Thomas finds inner strength to leave behind his comfortable life in favor of adventure and risk. And though we may have individual doubts, those don’t matter and they don’t need to prevent us from witnessing to the resurrection of Christ with our lives.

The Church Universal has wasted a lot of time arguing theology, when what we should have been pointing to were changed lives, transformed lives based on the inner truth of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Nothing can stop an individual prepared to work wholeheartedly for the transformation of the world. Thomas who doubted grew into someone who made a difference. And if that can happen for doubting Thomas, just think what it might mean for you and me!

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Defy Gravity!

Throughout most of my childhood and young adult years I had a recurring dream theme that I could fly.  Sometimes I fled danger and school yard bullies; sometimes I simply chose to fly with the birds to distant places. I haven’t had one of those dreams in many years, and I guess I miss them. We humans have always been fascinated by winged creatures of all kinds, and the idea of being able to spontaneously lift off from the earth and fly is so compelling to us that we invented airplanes and helicopters and myriad other flying machines in order to provide ourselves with the many gifts of being airborne. Flying high in the sky, we look down on the earth that is our home and see things from an entirely different perspective. We can see more, and we can see farther than we can when we’re on the ground. And like the dreams of my youth, that immense feeling of freedom inspires me to take flight as often as I can.

Metaphorically, we take flight whenever we break free of the gravity that holds us to a particular way of thinking or feeling or being. We take flight mentally when we rise above our habitual ways of thinking about things and experience new insights. This is what it means to open our minds in light of Christ’s resurrection. Emotionally, we take flight when the strength of our passion exceeds the strength of our fears: the floodgates open and we are free to be fully present. Spiritually we take flight when we locate that part of ourselves that is beyond the constraint of linear time and the world of form—our soul—and allow ourselves to revel in that essential boundlessness that often accompanies our experience of resting in God’s love.

Taking flight is always about freeing ourselves from the ordinary, if only temporarily. When we literally fly, in a plane or on a hang glider, we free ourselves from the strength of gravity’s pull. As we open our minds and our hearts, we free ourselves from habitual patterns of thought and spiritual blockages. As we remember our true nature in the resurrected Christ, we free ourselves from identification with the temporary state of our physical world. The more we stretch our wings, the clearer it becomes that taking flight is a state of grace that simply reminds us of who we really are.  That is one more of the countless blessings accrued to us in the aftershocks of Easter resurrection.  If we’re not quite on that page yet, it’s okay.  We will have 50 days of celebrating Easter, which means 50 days of practicing what it means to put our faith into praxis.

Come fly with me!

 

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Easter Earthquake!

When we feel physical pain, at least since the middle of the last century, our first impulse is to find a way to eradicate it with medication. This is an understandable response, but sometimes in our hurry to get rid of pain, we forget that it is the body’s way of letting us know that it needs our attention. A headache might inform us that we’re hungry or stressed; a sore throat might be a signal to shut up; an aching muscle or joint might be indicating that we need to rest. If we override these messages or block them with medication instead of respond to them, we risk worsening our condition. But more than that, we disconnect ourselves into segments that need to be kept in homeostasis: body, mind, spirit.

Physical pain is not the only kind of pain that lets us know our attention is needed. Emotional pain provides us with valuable information about our inner state, and it informs us that we have been affected by something that requires our awareness to be turned inward.  Just as we tend to a cut on our arm by cleaning and bandaging it, we treat a broken heart by surrounding ourselves with love and support. And though we may be tempted to pour a stiff drink, or find other unhealthy ways to numb that pain, we really do know on a deep level that we won’t feel better until we allow the effects of our emotional earthquake  to manifest in our consciousness.  It’s natural to want to resist or avoid pain, but once we understand or at least open ourselves to accepting that the Easter earthquake  touches every aspect of who we are, we can take a breath and pause before reaching for medication in whatever form it beckons to us.  Sometimes the act of merely drawing a deep breath is enough to noticeably reduce the pain, because its message has been acknowledged and, in light of the resurrection of Christ, we know that suffering always leads to triumph. Speaking personally, sometimes we medicate pain because we’re afraid it’s never going to go away and we can’t stand that thought. But this is when our faith has to mean something. Our faith has to empower us to realize that there is nothing but a glimpse of Easter’s glory in every downturn, in every pain.

I realize this sounds like some crazy pastor’s platitude, but having shared this Lenten journey with you and our book Easter Earthquake, I feel more convinced than ever that if we say we believe in Easter as the capstone to all the suffering of Christ, then we have to live that truth in our own experiences of death and dying. So maybe the next time we feel pain or experience suffering, we could try listening to what it is that God might want us to understand about it. It could be simple message telling us to slow down, to take a breath, to maybe reflect and write in a journal about how hurt we are feeling. The bottom line in all of life’s suffering—and I believe this more each day—is that pain has only one purpose, and that is to heal us and bring us to glory.  That is the message of Easter.

On behalf of David and myself, I pray you have an Easter earthquake of your own this week, and that the stone, regardless of its size, will be rolled away for you.

Fr. Michel

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