Monday, April 30, 2012

Remain in Me

Redbud is one of my favorite trees and one of the earliest blooming spring trees.  Unfortunately it doesn't grow at the altitude at which I live.
In John 15:1-11 Jesus tells us that he is the vine and we are the branches.  I think it is important to note that he doesn't say that he is the trunk and we are the branches.  Jesus is the whole vine and we are part of him.  This is not unlike St. Paul's image of the Body of Jesus with us as members of his Body. We are in him and he in us.
In this brief passage, Jesus uses the verb "remain" ten times.  The Greek verb "meno" is the source of our verb "remain."  It has the meaning  "to stay permanently."  "Abide" and "dwell" are other ways to translate the same verb. 
Jesus says, "Remain in me as I remain in you."  I begin my centering prayer by addressing the Risen Jesus in me and around me, on the surface of my skin and in the deepest part of who I am.  In him I live and move and have my being. Always!  This imagery feels even more intimate to me than the mutual knowing between the Good Shepherd and his sheep.  The sap flows through the trunk and into the branches.  The very life of the Risen Jesus flows through every part of who I am and through every human being.  This shared life lasts for good, forever.

Friday, April 27, 2012


Predicted freeze didn't happen last night.  Wind kept up all night and today.  White caps on the lake.  Spring wins this round.
I've been meditating on John 10:14-18.  Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd.  I know my sheep and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father."  The unique knowledge and love between the Father and Son is reflected in our relationship with Jesus.
It is a great comfort to me that Jesus knows me intimately, knows everything I am and everything about me, and still loves me.  That makes it very clear that I don't earn his love.  His love for me is not a response.  Jesus loves me, not because of who I am, but because of who he is.  His heart if full and overflowing with love always.
His unearned love, sometimes working through me, brings us all together in one flock.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Every year it seems here in our mountains spring don't come easy.  Never mind that a month ago we had two weeks of summer.  Winter still keeps pushing in.  I took this picture Monday morning from my car on my way out of my neighborhood to Baltimore.  I scraped four inches off my car before leaving and I'm told we had four more that day.  When I returned the next afternoon all the snow was gone.
We had two pleasant spring days.  I just came in from a long walk in the nearby woods.  I needed only a T-shirt.  Now weather report warns of a freeze tonight that may damage some plants.  Looks like winter may win this week.
But I know that sooner or later spring will out.  The reluctant trees will open their leaves.  I will put my plants out to stay (I've already had them out and in twice!)  The lake will start to warm up. 
Even when it looks like darkness and death are winning, new life and light will shine through.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Easter Volcano

Many years ago I came across this quote and used it without knowing where it came from. Today for spiritual reading I chose an old Easter sermon by Karl Rahner, published in "The Eternal Year"(English-1964;German-1953)and the quote was part of his sermon:
"His resurrection is like the first eruption of a volcano which shows that God's fire alrady burns in the innermost depths of the earth, and that everything shall be brought to a holy glow in his light. He rose to show that this has already begun. The new creation has already started, the new power of a transfigued earth is already being formed from the world's innermost heart, into which Christ descended by dying. Futility, sin and death are already conquered in the innermost realm of all reality, and only the "little while" (which we call history) is needed until what has actually already happened appears everywhere in glory and not only in the body of Jesus."
The resurrection, then, isn't just something that happend to Jesus as an individual. It has happened to all creation. The world may still look stale and sad, but new life is bubbling just below the surface getting ready to flow out bright and beautiful.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Deep Peace

"Peace" is the first thing the Risen Jesus says to the disciples on the evening of the resurrection in John's Gospel. Peace (Shalom) is the customary Jewish greeting, but to make it clear that he is not just greeting them, he repeats "Peace." (20:10-21) He is not wishing them peace, but telling them that his presence brings them peace.
The peace that Jesus brings is not the absence of war. His peace can exist even in the midst of war and suffering and disappointments.
The source of this kind of deep peace is our awareness of the presence of the Risen Jesus in us and around us and among us. The constant presence of the One who has conquered sin and death assures us that nothing can harm us in any ultimate way.
I have thought a lot about what peace means since my teen years. I remember asking myself when I was worried about a test how important this would be to me in ten years. A kind of stab at peace. Through the years, as more serious problems came up, I needed more than that kind of reasoning. I needed faith. Not just believing that Jesus was living within me, but believing in Jesus living within me. Learning to count on his gracious and all powerful love.
I found ways to pray that helped me to rest in this faith, especially centering prayer which has been an essential part of my life for more than 30 years now.
Music has also added to my peace. On a 1988 DVD "Jewel Lake" Bill Douglas put this Gaelic blessing to a lovely sort of chant that captured the deep peace of the words:
Deep Peace of the running wave to you
Deep Peace of the flowing air to you
Deep Peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep Peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep Peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep Peace to you.
(Even though the snow came on April 11, by evening this was the peaceful scene out my back door.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Resurrection Appearances

"Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them." (John 20:26) This is the way John describes Jesus' appearance to the disciples Easter evening and a week later. I used to think that the risen body of Jesus was so changed that it would pass through the closed doors. As I meditated on this passage yesterday and today, I found myself thinking that the Risen Jesus passed from the heavenly dimension into the earthly dimension.
I looked back through the pictures I took in the Holy Land to find this one of a grove in Capernaum, the city in Galilee where Jesus lived. I remember thinking, when I took it, that Jesus might have gathered there with his friends, just as the people in the picture. If time is simply another dimension, I imagined that Jesus and his friends were still there in that other dimension. If I had a way into the dimension of time, I could be there in the grove with them. Standing exactly where I was, I would be back 2,000 years.
Decades of reading science fiction and seeing movies about time travel are what prompt these thoughts.
While we will never completely understand what the resurrection appearances were like, I am finding it helpful to think of Jesus moving back and forth between a heavenly dimension, similar to the dimension of time, and our earthly dimension. I think of the heavenly dimension as entirely God, the Spirit of Love. When Jesus dies and rises his human body and soul passes into God. For some time after that, the Risen Jesus occasionally passes back into this dimension where his followers can really see and experience him. He's not passing through doors; he's passing from one dimension to another.
Our human concepts will never be adequate to the reality of the resurrection appearances, but I am finding this dimensional way of thinking about them very helpful, especially in my prayer.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Birds

This is the crippled female mallard who has made her home once more in one of the pine bushes near my house. She sits like this for the longest while, I guess making sure no enemies are watching, and then she flutters up a couple feet, slips underneath some branches, and disappears into the bush. The bush shows no sign of her presence. Her husband is huddled down on my dock, against today's windy, cool, rainy, even sleety, weather.
Easter morning my "gay" cardinal showed up with his wife! Big surprise! He brought her to the side mirror of my car to show her the cardinal that I thought he had been flirting with. It was funny watching her do the same thing he had done, looking into the mirror and then jumping on top of it to see the bird behind it who keeps mysteriously disappearing.
Watching birds has become a valuable part of my life here. I think even of my relationship with God.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Dawn

The morning looked overcast and I had given up on getting a picture of an Easter sunrise. I walked into a room with an east window and saw this beginning to develop. I hurried outside into the cold morning and caught this glow.
On a wonderful calendar that I have from The Ministry of the Arts today's quote is from Ilia Delio's The Emergent Christ:
"The Spirit is life, the transformation of earth into heaven."
The Risen Jesus becomes the source of the Holy Spirit who fills us and unites us to Jesus as he goes to the Father. The new life of Easter is for all of creation.
These verses from Ezekiel 36, though written long before Jesus, help me to reflect on this Easter gift. God says to us:
"I will wash you in fresh water....
I will make you a new heart,
breathe new spirit into you.
I will remove your heart of stone,
give you back a heart of flesh.
I will give you my own spirit....
You will be my people
and I will be your God."
(1994 ICEL translation)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A new age has dawned

Outside the tomb in the darkness Mary Magdalene stands alone, weeping. She has proved her devotion and courage. She stood with the Mother of Jesus at the foot of the Cross. But she's broken now by grief and by her fear that the body of Jesus has been stolen. Everything is dark. What she had hoped for is gone.
She turns and sees a man whom she presumes is the gardner. She asks where the body is. The man simply says her name, "Mary," and she immediately knows it's Jesus. She hears the love in the simple sound of his voice speaking her name.
"My dear Master," is all she can say. The darkness is gone, the grief, the fear, and in their place is wonder, peace, joy, and life-changing faith. Her relationship with this Risen Jesus will be deeper, more intimate, than before. He will live in her and she in him. An eternal union.
I've had my share of darkness, fear, grief,suffering, and sometimes it felt like Jesus was nowhere in sight. Mary Magdalene tells me, as well as the disciples, "I have seen the Lord." He is with us now forever. The Risen Jesus lives in us and loves us.
In him a new age has dawned,
the long reign of sin is ended,
a broken world has been renewed,
and humanity is once again made whole.
(Easter Preface 4, in the old translation)

Friday, April 6, 2012

What Wondrous Love

During my walk this morning I tried to get a picture of a tree that might remind me of the Cross. Nothing was right on, but out of 42 pictures I chose this tree with its curved and crooked branches and the calm, blue lake behind. I remember the Stations of the Cross that a friend painted for a church on the island of Anguilla. They all had the sea in the background even though there was no sea visible from Calvary. It brought the Cross into the lives of a people surrounded by water and reminded me of the new life flowing from the Crucified Savior.
In John's Gospel the Cross is a royal throne from which Jesus reigns, more a sign of triumph than of suffering. There is no crying out, as in Mark and Matthew. Very much in control, Jesus creates the community of his followers by giving Mary and the Beloved Disciple to one another. His words, "I thirst" have always made me think of his longing for all the world to be his. And when he says "It is finished," he expresses his total satisfaction that he has completed the work the Father has given him to do.
"Then he bowed his head and handed over the spirit." "Handed over" is the literal meaning of the Greek verb. With his head bowed toward the tiny family of his followers he hands over to them the Spirit. That Spirit flows down from Calvary and down through 2,000 years, making me one with that family of followers.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Let me love you.

With chapter 13 John begins the second half of his Gospel, often called The Book of Glory. He begins, "Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father....that he had come from God and was returning to God." His "hour" is his dying and rising into God.
This hour is powered by love. John says, "Having loved his own who were in this world he loved them to the end." The Greek phrase translated "to the end" means both "to the end of his hour" and "to the utmost." Jesus loves his disciples and us with his whole heart and this perfect love lasts until the end of his rising. His returning to God is an eternal moment.
To show how willing he is to give himself in love for his disciples he kneels before them and washes their dirty feet. This is completely improper, so not the way things are done. Peter refuses to let Jesus wash his feet. Jesus, in effect, says "Let me love you." Jesus wants to show Peter his self-giving love not only by washing his feet but by going to his death on the Cross. "Let me do this for you," Jesus says, "and I expect you to do this for one another. Let me love you."

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mary Magdalene

At first glance this picture made the tree looked like it had blue as well as white blossoms. But after I looked at it a while, I realized that the blue was the sky. I was looking into another dimension.
Jesus rises into another Dimension. The story of the Risen Christ's appearance to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18) is one of the most beautifully told stories in the Bible. John has Mary weeping by herself at the empty tomb. Two angels ask her why she is weeping. As she answers them, she turns and sees a man that she takes to be the gardener. She asks him where they have taken the body of Jesus. Jesus simply says her name and she knows that this "gardener" is Jesus, her dear Lord.
Earlier in chapter 10 Jesus had said that he was the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep by name and that his sheep would recognize his voice. In a hymn we sing words addressed to us by Jesus, "I have called you each by name....I love you and you are mine." The love Jesus has for his followers enables me to recognize his presence within me.
Jesus tells Mary not to hold on to him because he has not completed his return to his Father. The line also helps me think that from now on Mary will not be relating to Jesus as she did before he died. The relationship that he will have with her and me and all his followers will be deeper and more intimate.
Jesus tells her to go to his "brothers" (up until this point he has called them "disciples") and tell them "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." All of Christ's followers will then be brothers and sisters with the Risen Jesus and with one another.
John ends the passage with, "Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord.'" The first to see the Risen Lord,, she is called "The Apostle to the Apostles."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April Birds

April 1, within about five minutes, I saw this male and female bluebird, two tree swallows, and a downy woodpecker. Just now I saw for the first time this year the loon who comes briefly each spring and fall. The cardinal is back at my car mirror. A crippled female mallard is occasionally limping around the yard with her mate standing guard. She has nested in one of the pine trees for the last several years!
The birds mean spring to me as much as the forsythia and daffodils. New life is exploding all around. A perfect time to celebrate the Resurrection.
The calm, still Lake is right up to the spring-green grass. The dock was put in yesterday, the earliest I can remember. Everything is in readiness for God to do something spectacular.