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I have been housesitting for friends this week, so I have with me only a minimal shrine, some incense to burn, tap water to offer. I decided I would write some prayers for the day and share them here, as well as say them later, perhaps with an offering of hot dogs and beans (my celebratory national holiday dinner *g*)

Prayers for Independence Day

 

To Columbia

 

Great goddess of these western lands, Columbia,

We whose ancestors came here have not always lived well.

We did not honor the gods and spirits who already dwelt here.

We were often brutal and dishonest toward the people of these lands.

We often took what was not ours and used it for our own gain and used it up.

And yet we recognized you and gave you a name, albeit the name of an invader.

 

Come to us now, Dea Columbia,

not draped in stars and stripes or wearing liberty cap,

but crowned with tobacco leaves and buds of peyote,

dressed in fine leathers or hand-woven gown,

bearing sheaves of the golden maize, heaps of tomatoes,

all the foods these lands have given the world.

Teach us to belong here as those who are born here,

teach us to eat and to drink what we find here,

teach us to use well the mind-changing plants,

teach us to speak to this land’s gods and spirits.

Make peace between us and our gods of the old lands

and the ways of this new land whose spirit you are.

On this Independence Day, hail to you, Columbia!

 

To Liberty

 

Hymned by so many poets before me, goddess Liberty,

you lift your lamp still by the door and still summon those

who seek a better way of life. Gift between allies, your noble statue

embodies the best of what we call America.

 

Mother of Exiles, shine your light on our future.

Bring greater liberty to this land of the free.

Bring greater justice to this shrine of democracy.

Bring greater wealth to the poor’s huddled masses.

Bring illumination to our understanding.

On this Independence Day, hail to you, goddess Liberty!

 

To the Founding Fathers and Mothers

 

On this anniversary of Independence Day

I call on George Washington, first President

of our nation, commander in chief, general

of the Revolutionary War, and on his wife Martha

 

I call on John Adams, second President of this nation

on his wife Abigail and on their son John Quincy,

sixth President of our nation, on their daughter Nabby,

who died of breast cancer, and on their other children,

Susanna, Charles, and Thomas.

 

I call on Thomas Jefferson, composer and signer

of the Declaration of Independence,

third President of our nation,

and on his wife Martha and his mistress Sally

and on his children, both free and slave

 

I call on all the signers of our Declaration of Independence

and on their wives, their children, their slaves,

their unrecognized, unremembered helpers, supporters, enablers.

 

I call on our Presidents from James Madison to Abraham Lincoln,

on their wives, their children, their servants, their slaves.

 

I call on the generations of Native Americans who helped European settlers,

fought with them, made treaties with them, were made war against by them.

 

I call on the Founding Fathers, the forgotten Founding Mothers,

the Native Americans and enslaved Africans,

the immigrants from Ireland and Italy, Germany and the Ukraine,

Russia, China, and lands around the world, drawn by

the torch of Liberty held aloft over New York harbor.

 

Hear me, noble ancestors, as I pray to you for help.

Help us to live out the potentials of Jefferson’s words,

that all men are created equal, that all human beings are persons,

that all persons have equal rights before the law.

Help us to keep separate church and state,

never to let one dominate the other,

never to let them join hands and become one.

Help us to treasure and conserve the lands

that were clean and wild and revered by their people

when our ancestors came to these shores.

Help us to do no more damage to our land,

no more damage to the lands of other sovereign peoples,

no more damage to the poorest among us.

Let there be liberty and justice, prosperity and peace

for all Americans.

 

Honor to the ancestors of the United States of America!

Honor and blessing to them, and may their blessing be upon us.

 

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Apollon touched me once; I don’t know why.

A cool breeze on the back of my neck,

on a hot day; the hairs stood up, there

where he touched me. The breath of a god

on the back of your neck will chill you,

will stop you, as you’re walking down

the street. Who is that? you ask yourself

What just happened?

 

Apollo is a god of light, but not a god

of heat; he illumines without burning.

He shoots from afar, the Greeks said,

he and his sister Artemis. He doesn’t have

to come close to touch you; you will not

see where the arrow comes from, or

who it was that spoke. Only the clouds

will suddenly clear, the sun will be

visible, and you will feel, not warm,

but cool.

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In the heart of a piece of coal

both the fire and the diamond

In the heart of a human body

both the blood and the pulse of nerve

In the heart of a clod of dirt

the spark of the star that birthed it

In every heart, in every hearth,

in flame, in lamp, in power plant,

Vesta, Vesta, Vesta

 

Goddess of the primal fire

who humbly consents to warm our homes

to cook our food, to drive the machines

that serve us, Vesta Dea,

may we also serve you

with prayer, with praises,

with fuels that burn clean,

with clean and focused hearts,

Goddess of the primal fire,

Vesta Mater, fire of life.

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JesusHomelessIt’s Holy Saturday, and as a Christian I’m in that strange pause between the abyss of Good Friday and the explosion of the Easter Vigil. I should be thinking about the words of the Creed, “he descended to the dead”, or as the older renditions had it, “he descended into hell”.

The ancient tradition of the Church is that during the time of his death, Jesus offered salvation to all the departed who had come before him. Orthodox icons of the Resurrection show him trampling the gates of hell, pulling up a frightened and diffident Adam and Eve by their wrists.

There is so much more I could say about that, but what I’ve been thinking about, yesterday and today, is how Jesus was guilty and deserved to die.

Christian theology has always emphasized that Jesus was sinless and did no wrong. He was tempted and did not yield; he carried out the will of his Father, but humankind rejected what he offered. The crucifixion was a rejection of divine love, the ultimate horror, injustice to Jesus as man, blasphemy to Jesus as God.

From the point of view of Easter, the point of view of the Resurrection and Ascension, that is of course correct. But it helps me also to look at Jesus from the point of view of those who condemned and executed him.

He came from Galilee–the armpit of a province that the Romans considered the armpit of the Empire. He was yet another itinerant preacher and healer and miracle-worker–or was he? He gathered larger crowds than usual. He was rumored to be connected to the old royal line, descended from David–unlike the Herodians. At least some of his followers wanted to make him king, which would have been a direct challenge to Roman authority. All this peace and love talk, healing the sick, eating with outcasts, breaking down the divisions that keep a society functioning properly, could be a cover for something more.

Then one day this Jesus enters Jerusalem in a sort of triumphal procession. People are acclaiming him as Son of David and King of Israel. Then he’s in the Temple, throwing around a whip, tipping over tables, interrupting the lawful commerce, and saying things about destroying and rebuilding the Temple. Hadn’t they just done that? Hadn’t Herod just finished restoring the Temple that had been desecrated by Antiochus and re-dedicated by the Maccabees? Worst of all, the Roman governor was actually in the city, having come with his soldiers to keep a close eye on things during Passover.

What you have to remember is, first, the Palestine of Jesus’ day was an occupied country, ruled by the Romans with some collaboration from the Jewish religious and political authorities; and second, that the Temple in Jerusalem was not just the religious center of the country, but the political and financial center as well. Jesus threw his own tickertape parade, then walked in and set off a bomb in a location that was the White House, the World Trade Center, and the Vatican all in one. He was obviously dangerous.

In John’s Gospel, Caiaphas the high priest says, “It is expedient that one man should die for the people.” John connects that to the saving nature of Jesus’ death, but Caiaphas also meant, I think, that it was better for them to turn over a dodgy popular figure to the Romans–however popular he was–than to give the Romans any pretext for military action. Better to get Jesus crucified and safely out of the way than to risk Roman soldiers marching through the holy city, killing everyone in sight. Whatever this man is teaching, it’s too dangerous, too volatile. Get him off the scene.

John’s Gospel, and to a lesser extent the Synoptic Gospels, also present the Roman governor Pilate as doing everything he can to avoid executing Jesus. Frankly, this just doesn’t jibe with what we know of Pilate historically. He was a fairly brutal governor who would no more have thought twice about executing a possible insurrectionist than he would about swatting a fly that was biting him. If someone was willing to testify convincingly that Jesus claimed the old Judaean monarchy, Pilate no doubt executed the man with a clear conscience. He was protecting the interests of the Empire and of the locality.

I don’t think Jesus was a terrorist, a zealot, as a recent book has argued. I think the Gospels are fairly reliable about what he did and taught. And I think that what he did and taught, as the Gospels show it to us, is plenty threatening to occupying armies, political collaborators, governments that want to keep the peace at all costs. He ignored the distinctions between men and women, Jews and Gentiles, pure and impure. He healed and ate with people without checking their bona fides. He counseled neither resisting oppression nor submitting, but rather subverting it. He encouraged people to think of themselves as more than worthless peasants, cogs in the machine, drudges in the field, commodities to be exploited. He questioned rules and regulations and dared people to look at their motivations, their beliefs, their inner dispositions.

I have no doubt that the same self-styled Christians who oppose gay marriage, who want women out of the workforce, who affirm capitalism as a God-given economic system, who think the poor deserve their poverty and the rich their wealth, would be standing right next to Annas and Caiaphas recommending that Jesus be crucified. These are the same people who were offended by a statue of Jesus as a homeless man, sleeping on a bench–the same Jesus who said of himself that he had nowhere to lay his head. They have forgotten, if they ever knew, that they worship a homeless man who was executed as a terrorist.

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Today, on the last Sunday of Epiphanytide, we heard the Gospel of the Transfiguration, as related by Matthew. My rector preached on how, after the vision has faded and Peter, James, and John are still prostrate from panic and confusion, Jesus doesn’t reprove them; instead, he tells them to get up and not to be afraid. The same verb which our translation rendered “get up”, my rector said, is used to mean resurrection. Jesus tells his disciples to be raised and not to fear.

The first lesson, from the Hebrew Scriptures, spoke of Moses going up on the mountain to receive the Torah from the LORD. From the description of fire, light, and cloud, smoke, vapor, it sounds like he’s walking straight into a volcanic eruption. But the point that mostly caught my attention is that Moses spent forty days and forty nights on the mountain with God, receiving the Law for Israel.

In three days it will be Ash Wednesday, and the likelihood of singing the well-known hymn “Forty days and forty nights” is very high.

Forty days and forty nights thou was fasting in the wild;

forty days and forty nights, tempted and yet undefiled.

We tend to associate Lent with Jesus’s fasting in the desert after his baptism, during which time he was tempted by Satan. Surely he was also contemplating his vocation, seeking his path, asking in prayer to be shown the work God wanted him to do, the God who had so unexpectedly called him son. But that’s not the only event in Scripture marked by the symbolic forty days and forty nights. There’s also the floating of the ark on the flood waters, Noah and his family and a lot of very smelly animals waiting for the rain to stop and the waters to subside. The ark was carved on baptismal fonts; Lent is the journey of new Christians toward baptism.

And there are those forty days and forty nights Moses spent in dialogue with God, receiving the law. Moses entered the cloud, and what happened there is something no one can know except Moses and God. Gregory of Nyssa looked at this story and wrote a Life of Moses in which progression into the cloud is progression into knowledge and love of God and unity with God. That same cloud is the controlling image of the famous medieval work on contemplation, The Cloud of Unknowing.

This Lent, I’m going to try to imagine myself less as Jesus, wandering in the desert, hungry and thirsty, tempted by the slanderer, and more as Moses, climbing the mountain which is also the mountain of Christ’s transfiguration, getting closer and closer to God.

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Today is the feast of St. John the Evangelist, the writer who is credited with the Fourth Gospel, three short letters, and the book of Revelations in the New Testament, the beloved disciple.  According to legend, John was the youngest of the twelve apostles and the only one who did not die a martyr; he lived, indeed, to be a very old man, who eventually preached only one sermon to his congregation: “Little children, love one another.”

St. John and the poisoned cup, by El Greco

Years ago, I read Gertrud Mueller Nelson’s lovely book, To Dance with God, in which she recounts that St. John once drank poisoned wine and was unharmed. In commemoration of this, wine and cider were blessed in the church, and people toasted one another with the words, “I drink to you the love of St. John.” It is said that he blessed the poisoned cup when it was offered him and the poison manifested itself in the form of a serpent, which is why you sometimes see images of St. John holding a cup with a serpent rising out of it.

St. John is the great poet of love in the New Testament. He is the writer who gives us the great images of Word made flesh, of Way and Truth and Life, of the cosmic dramas of Lamb and Serpent and War in Heaven. But he is pre-eminently the one who speaks of love, of God’s love motivating his actions for us, of divine love preceding and eliciting human love, of love for one another being the fullness of response to God’s love for all. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may perish but may have eternal life.”

I don’t see a lot of emphasis in the churches right now on God’s love. I hear it from the pulpit of my own church, for which I am grateful; I see it in some of the excellent blogs I read. But in the wider church, especially here in the U.S., I get the impression that people are not as impressed with God’s love as they are with God’s holiness, God’s justice, and even God’s wrath. God is not like us, seems to be the message. God is bigger, holier, more powerful, all-knowing, and, well, meaner. God is easily offended.

It’s as if divine Love is not tough enough for some people. It’s namby-pamby. It’s wussy. Dare I say, it’s *gay*? The tough upright cis-hetero-normal-sexual white men of America deserve a God who’s as tough as they are, right? Right?

I don’t get it. Because love is the most terrifying thing in the world.

If you have not faced a point in your life where someone loved you, and you felt undeserving of that love, and terrified of it, and tempted to shove it away, to reject it as vehemently as possible, then I think maybe you haven’t lived.

Let me be frank. I’ve had a pretty easy life in many respects. I coped with most of my family being chronically ill during my teen years; I lost my grandmother and my mother by the time I was twenty. But I’ve never suffered a life-threatening injury, or a chronic illness, or an addiction, myself. My depression is easily medicated. Even separated from my husband, I spent time on Christmas day with him and his sweetie, his mother, our daughter and her husband, and it was peaceful and good.

And yet, I have known those moments when I felt profoundly, grossly unlovable, when being loved was a threat and an affront and the last thing in the world I wanted. Someone stood by me and loved me and withstood my loathing, and because I have been fortunate, those times passed over pretty quickly. But I know. The light of love shining into our darkness does not always lead us out into the light. Sometimes it causes us to flee deeper into the darkness and the abyss. And St. John, in his writings, shows us and teaches us that.

St. Catherine of Genoa is reported to have said that the fires of hell are only the love of God, as felt by those who reject it. The first time I read those words, they made perfect sense to me, and they still do. All of us, in this life or the next, will confront the absolute, unconditional, unyielding love of God for us, each individual fucked-up self. And for some of us, the experience will be more terrifying, more destructive to the self we created, than any amount of divine wrath or punishment, any transcendant holiness and otherness. Love is the cup we are offered; it is our own fear, our own shame, our own sin that can place a serpent in it.

I drink to you the love of St. John.

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O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their desire, you are
the cornerstone makes us both one: 
Come, and save the creature which you fashioned from clay.

The reason why God came into the world as a human being, as Jesus, was to make one that which was divided in two. This is the absolute bottom line of theology.

He came to make one the creature and the Creator, separated by their natures, separated further by the creature’s sin.

He came to join together Jew and Gentile, to break down the most basic, the most unshakable division of the culture in which he was born, a division even more fundamental that the division of male and female. The Jews were a peculiar people, a race set apart; the function of many of the commandments in the Torah, of the laws about diet and clothing and what to sow and how to reap, was simply to separate the Jewish people from the nations around them, to make them *different*, and to remind them that what is different, like the wool of an animal and the linen spun from a plant, must always be kept separate.

He came, Paul boldly tells us, to erase the divisions of Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free. I submit that if Paul had had the concepts in his world, the words in his vocabulary, he would have added that Jesus came to erase the division of gay and straight, black and white, cisgender and transgender.

He came to unite heaven and earth, and to cure the most fundamental division of all, the one that lies deep inside each of us, between the clay of the earth from which we were formed and the breath of God’s life that was breathed into us.

It is my belief that no rule, no cult, no practice, no morality which relies on separation, division, and exclusion can be part of the way of Jesus, the Cornerstone, the unifier.

We democratic Americans are apt to think of a king as something we got rid of a long time ago, and good riddance, for all that people read tabloid articles about the British monarchy as fervently as about the Kardashians (and the Windsors, after all, have been famous for a good deal longer). A king is a useless object that sits on top of the heap of hierarchy and claims everything as his own.

My wanderings in the forest of druidry, my attempts to learn something about the ways of my pre-Christian ancestors, have given me a somewhat different model of a king, as the one who is not the top, but the center. In the great mead-hall of Tara, the high king of Ireland sat in state with his attendants about him, and at the four quarters of the hall, the lesser kings of the four provinces and their attendants, and everyone in their ordered ranks, with the fires burning. When chaos threatened, as in the nights of Samhain, the doors would be shut, and the order of the court about the king kept safe the order of the realm.

The Rex Gentium, the King of Nations who is their secret desire, is the king at the center, not at the top. Thus in the book of Revelation, the Lamb is upon the throne, with the four living creatures about him and the twenty-four elders encircling him, and the whole heavenly court with all its myriads of angels enclosed in a golden city which is a perfect cube. Christ is the cornerstone.

Come, and save the creature you fashioned from clay.

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