Thursday, November 29, 2007
Today we went to a memorial service for Tom, Elaine's uncle. He committed suicide Thanksgiving day. He was an atheist. As I reflected on it, he really lived what he believed too. His life is how I would probably live if I didn't have my Divine Love.
Tom was a musician and a free spirit. He could pick up and go anywhere, love anyone, fulfill any apatite. He loved many women and kept them as friends when no longer lovers. He enjoyed his drugs and alcohol until two years ago, and why not? His friends at the memorial service were saddened by their loss of a truly unique and honest human being. They had only their memories to keep him alive.
In a way he is heroic. He looked death in the eyes and met it on his own terms. He had no fear of death, it was life that had become fearful. He lived his life well, just how I would hope to live without a God.
I say to God again, "Thank you for being here with me, for the grace of drawing me to you. Thank you for the grace to love you, the grace to stare life in the face with out fear. Thank you for the grace to gaze at death with hope. Please Lord, grant that grace to the wonderful bohemian friends that are mourning the loss of Tom. Amen"
The fierce wind battered the tent fabric around me. I sat in the corner keeping the tent from becoming a kite, half hoping that this would be the day I fly. I sat hunched, the collar of my trench coat meeting the brim of my hat. My eyes peered through the crack toward the tent floor, at crystal of frozen coffee where it had spilled scalding. I spent two hours of my experiment in solitude in this way.1
Shortly into my experience of chill. I examined my thoughts, I found that my mind was wandering to attempts to put words to the descriptions of the wind, the cold, the frozen coffee. I pulled out my rosary and fingered the beads, the Jesus prayer bringing focus back to my mind.
Bonhoeffer says, “Do not ask ‘How shall I pass this on?’ but ‘What does it say to me?’ Then ponder the Word long in your heart until it has gone right into you and taken possession of you.”2
That quote from Soul Feast has stuck with me. Too often my initial response to my conversation with God is, How am I to relate this? How do I describe this? But the discipline of solitude begs silence, begs secrecy. “Without silence there is no solitude.”3 Even though I was greatly tempted to categorized, describe and catalogue my experience, I found once I was with people I had a reticence to speak at all. It is with some difficulty that a day removed from the experience of Solitude I now turn to description.
So there I sat with my rosary beads, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” The touch of the beads and the recollection of prayer tuned out for a moment the writer in my mind, the cold, and the clutter of thought. I finished making my way around the decades and returned to allow the distractions of my surroundings to speak to me.
The overwhelming image, as the wind howled and tent flapped and fluttered, was that of Elijah hidden in the cleft of the rock as God passed by.
The LORD said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.4
“What if God was in the terrible wind?” I thought as my body leaned back into the wind and the billowing fabric embraced me. “What if this thin nylon is all that separated me from the real presence of God in the wind?” I imagined that the only reason I was inside the tent was that the fabric protected my body from being vaporized by his Holy Presence. “Wouldn’t it be better,” I thought, “to go out there and be vaporized just to see him face to face?” In the tent it certainly sounded and felt like a mountain shattering kind of wind was whipping me across Saginaw bay, but the Lord was not in the wind.
After two hours of wind and below freezing temperature5, I felt like giving in and giving up. I asked God what I should do. I looked longingly out the vents at the top of the tent, but not for long, the wind froze my face and blew me back. I heard him say in my heart, “Go in and enjoy my warmth.” I did not dare question whether it was my imagination or if it was truly his voice - I ran for the church.
Even before I could make myself a double English toffee latte, I was overwhelmed with a release. It was a climax. I entered into God hard after my fast from shelter. He was the warmth around me, he was the walls that kept the wind out. He was mine. If I had a fire place I would have perhaps calmed gently but instead I cried out to him and sucked the heat from my coffee even as I sucked life from His breast. I sat and listened. Silence is the essence of solitude.
In taking away shelter, I stood in solidarity with the homeless, going without another of the basic needs at the bottom of the Maslow Hierarchy. I wondered through chattering teeth what the man, a friend of a parishioner, who lives in a tent and works in the sugar factory, was doing this cold night. Has he found an affordable apartment yet? Is he freezing with me?
Simplicity strips away the romantic notions of the disciplined life. I imagined myself enjoying a few hours sitting in the middle of the tent with a cup of coffee surrounded by candles. The wind knocked over my coffee, I had to sit in the corner struggling against the wind, and the candles wouldn’t light. All the amenities stripped away, I found raw solitude. In simplicity I sat before the Lord, fully aware that I was dependent, uncomfortable and lost without him. Simplicity makes independence a dread thought.
Simplicity challenges me to the core. Do I give away the MacBook I bought for my studies? Should I have bought the new printer to go with it? Simplicity also demands that I not cast myself in a good light, so here I confess my extravagance, my printer is a color laser printer. I am not comfortable owning these hip and useful things.
Both solitude and simplicity are dear and painful to me. They stretch and buffet my soul. They answer the prayer I have prayed with John Donne, “Batter my heart, three person’d God.”
1 I thought I would see what would happen if I took away another element from the base of Maslow’s pyramid, so in my experiment I pitched a tent in the corner of the church yard furthest from all action. I didn’t stake it in so my body was all that kept if from flying away.
2 Thompson, Marjorie J. Soul Feast. Westminster John Knox Press. Pg. 26.
3 Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline. Harper Collins. Pg. 98.
4 1 Kings 19:11-13 (NIV)
Friday, November 23, 2007
He reminded me of Richard Foster's treatment of study.
"The handiwork of the Creator can speak to us and teach us if we will listen. Martin Buber tells the story of the rabbi who went to a pond every day at dawn to learn "the song with which the frogs praise God."
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Of course, as with all such revelations, I can let this remind me to go back to my source, to my true bread. Back to breath prayer and Divine Office.
Well, my body clock has reset. I don't normally eat breakfast, so I'm pretty comfortable this morning. I am looking forward to my break-fast though: Thanksgiving dinner. While not strictly an event on the traditional church calendar, it is, or should be at least, a spiritual feast for Americans.
Winner notes in Mudhouse Sabbath that early Christian tradition pairs fasting with feasting. In order to prepare for a feast, it is good to know hunger.
"Eastern Orthodox Christian communities, it seems, understand an inhabit fasting best. During Lent, for example, they completely abstain from all meat, dairy, and egg products. the Orthodox also fast on Sunday mornings, refraining even from drinking a cup of coffee until they have partaken of Holy Communion, feeding on the body and blood of Christ before they indulge in a croissant or a stack of pancakes."Cliff has a service this morning, but though he's preaching on Christ as the bread of life, they aren't celebrating communion. I told him if he was, "I'm so there."
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
At home I put the kids to bed and prayed compline with them.
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Webber tells that the Apostles' Creed was used as a weapon for Spiritual warfare. In its use as a baptismal formula it was meant to steel the new Christian against Gnostic heresy. I find its origin in baptism interesting. We tend to focus on the testimony of the convert, while this privative rite focuses on God's story, we testify to his work in the world as well as our lives. I wonder if I can use the ancient rite to baptize some time, or will it freak people out too much? Originally, Hippolytus tells us, after being asked, "Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty?" the one being baptized should reply "I believe" and be immersed immediately. Then he is asked the same for creedal articles about the son and the spirit, being immersed in their statement of belief in each. This trinity of immersion provides a single baptism into the Triune God.
Today, for good or bad, I am not very sympathetic.
"But, I'm hungry... I'm starving."
I tell her what I told my stomach at lunch time. "Calm down, you'll be all right."
Richard has been on my heart as I fast today. When Jesus came down from the mount of transfiguration, his disciples were trying to cast out a devil. "And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting."
Richard has been struggling with addiction and wants out of its grasp. I listened to his story rejoicing in what God was doing in him, but felt that he might not realize how much grace he needs. So I pray for him, and fast. God give him wisdom, grace and a heart after you!
This morning was breakfast with the church people. It wasn't much of a problem though, I sometimes don't order anything for myself in order to be able to afford breakfast for the kids. They were off of school for Thanksgiving break so they were with me. Aside from Ella asking if I was going to eat, I didn't have any questions. Ella has been concerned about me.
I made them some Spaghetti Oh's - Cars shaped. When I got the kids set up to eat, I went to my room to pray and write. Ella came in and asked, "Daddy, what are you going to eat?"
"I'm not going to eat. I'm all right."
"That's OK," she said, rubbing my back, "You pray your good morning prayer." She went back to eat.
When she was done she came back and wanted to pray the noontime prayer with me.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
The Hope of History: From a Garden to a City - Essay posted 12 November 2007 - The Journey with Jesus
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I didn’t pass over the question with my initial responses. I started to go through a list of all my awkward emotions to see what I talk to God about.
- My embarrassments? Yup, Oh God, why did I do that? help me to forget.
- My disappointments? Yes, sometimes just a groan, Oh God!
- My fears and stress? Yes, O God, come to my assistance, make haste to help me.
- My awkward uncoolness? Yes. God I don’t fit in here, I can’t believe that you delight in me, but I thank you for it! Thank you for providing me with a place to belong.
- My frustration, anger, and moodiness? Not usually, I am too caught up in it. It is not that I don’t want to express it in prayer, or that I feel it is taboo, but I don’t pray when I feel this way. It is Grace that allows me to pray and when I do I no longer feel crabby so I don’t talk about it.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
My heart has led me back to my lover through out the day more often as I have grown close to him, but there are times a plenty when the business of my day has crowded out thoughts of love and left me with empty loneliness. I am beginning to resonate with Martin Luther when he said, “I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer” (Foster 34). I have returned this week to the joy of praying the hours. I have found times of meditation stretching and coming back to me. I spontaneously start a breath prayer, “Jesus!”
The repetition of the Liturgy of the Hours, the rosary and breath prayers have brought a rhythm to life and spirit. The disadvantage is the repetition can become rote and I can disengage my attention. I also have to deal with the funk when the rhythm breaks down.
Since experiencing the spontaneity of breath prayer erupting in me, I have tried to make it a discipline. It is overwhelming. I breath in the breath of God. I imagine him filling my inner being, as the breath escapes I whisper breath on me. The power of his spirit filling me is too much for me to handle. This kind of prayer will take much practice to be able to withstand its power for longer times. With greater endurance a breath prayer could powerfully bring me back to attention on God throughout the day.
I was surprised when I learned that most Catholics who pray the rosary do it with a particular intention. I guess my intention is to know God. The intention is what you want God to do, your greatest desire. Praying the rosary like centering prayer is how I express my desire for God.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
What do I delight in? A good shot of espresso for one. The day I replaced the pump in our coffeehouse espresso machine and pulled our first really good shot was a day of delight. I was hopping around the room hooting and shouting. I was so gleeful that tears came to my eyes as I giggled like a little girl. I'm a geek. I know.
So many things in my life have been delightful: realizing again how much I love my wife, getting a computer to work, really good Greek food or my kids quoting rhymes from The Princess Bride (Does anybody want a peanut?).
I was floored today with a verse from Psalm 149.
For the LORD takes delight in his people;
he crowns the humble with salvation.
Let the saints rejoice in this honor
and sing for joy on their beds.
That God would delight in me somehow hit me hard. It was somehow to tangible and rich. Sobs were stuck in me. It was too much, like when our kids are so upset they can't even cry, they just stand mouth agape, confusion in their eyes wondering why nothing is coming out. It is indeed humbling - his delight.
Monday, November 05, 2007
My mission itself was a source of anxiety. Instead of sleeping in, and watching cartoons with the kids I was off to fulfill a challenge for my masters course. I was going to a Sabbath Service at Temple Israel. I asked Steve what he thought of my going, and if he’d been going lately.
“I have not - between health and some MAJOR confusion over faith - been attending anywhere. I am not even certain there are regular services at the synagogue in BC anymore . . . Last year they were talking of selling the building, and I have been so out of touch with everything in BC that I am not sure if that went forward.
The congregation there is very, very small and very, very protective...”
He suggested I go somewhere else, but I was out of options. So with not a little trepidation, I was on my way. Somehow NPR and all my distracted thoughts made the time pass quickly. I was already in Bay City and early. I drove by the synagogue to see that the parking lot was empty. I proceeded on to The Harvest, where I should have gotten my tea before sitting down and talking with the klatch of geezers I knew from my days of working there. By the time I looked at the clock it was time to run.
I didn’t even get across the parking lot before an older lady asked, “Who are you?”
I told her, “I’m Chris Hooton, I’m from Sebewaing.” I didn’t want to give away too much. I didn’t want to be turned away as an outsider.
I went in and found it was time for Bible study. Every one I shook hands with was keenly interested in knowing my name. And here I was. In the midst of my insane week (for this week has meshed into another with only this little pit stop) I came to a community celebrating Shabbat Shalom. After Bible study, we went into the sanctuary. I stuck close to a new convert to Judaism, who helped me figure out the ropes. I put on a yarmulke, and entered. We prayed, some in Hebrew, some in English, we stood praying together silently, and we sung together. The Rabbi gave a sermon from the day’s Torah reading, “The Life of Sarah,” which is in fact about Abraham’s mourning for her. She talked about how Jew’s mourn for their dead, how to live the life now.
“Resurrection,” she said, “is a mystical part of Jewish tradition, but it is peripheral, what really matters is this life now.”
At the end of the service she read the names of those who’s yahrziet was this week. The anniversary of their deaths are marked by lighting a candle and praying the kadesh. I flipped to the English translation as relatives of the those being honored prayed. I was Surprised to find that it wasn’t a lament, but rather a song of praise to an almighty God.
After the service I stuck around for a brunch. I imagine the early church love feast looked just like it. They started by drinking a glass of wine to sanctify the day and then broke the challa with some salt, the bread harkens back to the waving of the grain offering and substitutes for temple sacrifices. I marveled at how the custom is similar to the Eucharist.
The Rabbi’s husband said, “Of course, Jesus was a Jew!”
After the meal and conversation I was given a tour of the sanctuary and an explanation of the symbolic elements.
My short Sabbath was over and I ran back home for a nap, and sermon writing.