Examen on a Saturday evening

banquet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it is to be, latent but translucent

that weavings and partings both,

secured in their places best suited

to their emergence or demise,

are laid out on God’s table of cards.

The goodbyes of days that turn to nights

that turn to days that turn to timeless

wonders, the crevices where only God’s

fingers fit. They’re too small for me

because I’m too big in me to see

my own smallness in him.

Wreck all chances for shoddy self-repair

and lay the table for a banquet instead,

where bread on my tongue and

the clinking glasses serve to remind me

of a better meal yet to come.

Image: www.annapolitanbride.com 

Relaxing in my humanity

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Lately, I’ve been reading the journals of the late Trappist monk, author, priest and activist, Thomas Merton. He has long fascinated me both as a spiritual mentor and as poet and literary figure. In so many ways he is among those I most seek to emulate. He’s artsy – a poet at heart, which means he’s also moody and can take forever to determine new directions because he “lives in his head” too much. He longs for silence and the contemplative life of solitude but cannot escape the draw of the monastic community and the world at large to whom he is constantly being called. “My first duty is to start, for the first time, to live as a member of a human race, which is no more (and no less) ridiculous than I am myself. And my first human act is the recognition of how much I owe everybody else.”

Merton belonged because he didn’t belong. His life away from the world was how he best loved and served it. He was not cloistered to escape his humanity but to better love and live it. “I am coming to the conclusion that my highest ambition is to be what I already am…We must first become like ourselves and stop living “beside ourselves.”” I, like Merton, have learned best from what I haven’t done well than what I have. By how I’ve failed, not passed. By how truly unremarkable and troublesome I am, not my efficiency and accomplishments. I am failing my way to the deeper realities of my own soul.

Thank you, brother Merton, you are helping me to relax in my humanity.

Oddly, I’m finding Jesus there.

Living for tomorrow’s yesterday

I’ve managed to turn brooding and melancholy into a cottage industry. It’s what I love and hate most about myself. I write much about embracing the moment, living into the time as it is given us right now. For example, here. There is an inexorable draw like a lover’s fragrance to mystique in the artist’s emotional vocabulary. It’s hip and sexy to be a little sad which, ironically, is the only thing that keeps us happy…well, keeps me happy. I must drive God up the wall, if that’s what God does when frustrated. There are times my heart seems to hate me. What causes some to shrug their shoulders can paralyze me like well-stuck spider’s prey. Where others build healthy todays on the good gifts of yesterday and the hopes of tomorrow I remain stuck in a yesterday that for me was better than good; it was holy, Otherworldly.

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I’m working hard on this (because the meds are only partially helpful). It is hard spiritual work for me, but I’m making baby steps in claiming the brightness and immediacy of now rather than pursuing a pinkish yesterday or projected tomorrow. It’s the best way to show love to those given to us. Presence. Eyes open. Ears tuned and ready. Mouth closed. I love the times in the gospels where Jesus looks directly at those he is about to heal or to whom he is about to speak. To look at someone iris to iris and see past the decor of image and the fear in posture and see him, see her, see me or you as they/we truly are right now is a gift beyond all telling.

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People, places, events, experiences; all of these root themselves deep in us, in me. They become a part of the turning pages of the Spirit writ large on the lives of those of us who believe, who boldly affix our little story to the Great Story. An early morning (late night?) reminiscence that pushed itself upon me is evidence of this kind of existential intrusion that hurts, but that I really love. I write of it here. 

Jesus is convincing me as I continue to read of his deeply personal exploits among us that that, too, is my task. Live in such a way that whoever I am at this moment is the gift I give to another even if that ‘me’ isn’t the stellar individual my inner press kit says I am. The task at hand, together with the I AM God, equally present in every moment, is to better define my past and let it go. Such authentic encounter with people, with places, with…life, is the best, well the only, way to really live for tomorrow’s yesterday.

So be it.

St. Patrick’s Day – Why the world needs the Celts

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day. A guy has to be a press-ready, crowd-pleasing commodity to get his own day. But, perhaps I’m just jealous. Besides maybe Saint Columba, he’s our best known Celt. And, in honour of his Celtic lineage, I share the following.

When one thinks of the term Celt or Celtic what images spring to mind? Is it the Pictish war-paint donned by William Wallace in Braveheart as he prepares to take Scottish troops into yet another conflagration with England? Is it the Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle where hundreds of overly plumed peacock pipers and drummers march to and fro in a celebration of Scotland’s warring past?

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Edinburgh Military Tattoo, Edinburgh Castle

Is it the drunken party at the local pub as it becomes abundantly apparent that you’ve walked into some secret society, all of whom are experts on their instruments, can drink more than any human should be capable of but with whom you feel completely welcome? Is it the great standing crosses of Ireland? Is it Larry Bird?

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Picture found here

Whatever one may think of the Celts, one thing is sure: they were a people absolutely unique in history and centuries ahead of their time. They were an aural culture, a bardic people of story, song, poetry and mythology. As such there exists a great deal of misunderstanding regarding their exact history. In fact, they seem quite simply to have passed out of existence like a fisherman’s boat sailing into the morning mist.

One example of this relates to something many bagpipers, including myself, play on the bagpipes: Piobaireachd. Let us review that spelling, shall we?

P I O B A I R E A C H D.

It was never their intention to leave any letters for anyone else. Piobaireachd is the co-mingling of 2 Scots Gaelic words: piobaire, or piping with eachd, music. Hence, piped or piping music. Piobaireachd is the classical music of the highland bagpipe and is loosely based on the musical idea of a theme and variations. It was most likely developed by a highland clan dynasty of the MacCrimmons, ancestral pipers to the MacLeod clan on the Isle of Skye. But since there remains so little written evidence of the clan and their history, many believe them, and their development of piobaireachd, to be the fanciful fabrications of folklore.

There is plenty that we do know that can benefit us, however. The Christianity that emerged in Ireland, Cornwall, Brittany, Gaul, Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales possessed some valuable gifts. I list here but a few.

The Celtic Christianity that thrived, undivided, from roughly the fifth through the twelfth centuries, is as deeply influenced by the culture in which it was birthed as the culture that was transformed by it. It is the child of the pagan culture that preceded it. We rationalists squirm a little at this idea.

We need the Celts because of their love for the poetic imagination and artistic creativity, building on a rich tradition of bards who sang the shared stories and exploits of her kin.

We need the Celts because of their similar love for kinship, relations and the warmth of a hearth. Their love of hearth and kinship translated in spiritual terms to what they called “anam cara” or “soul friends”, those with whom they shared their deepest joys, fears, sins, hopes, dreams.

The Celts were forever at odds with Mother Rome. To my mind, this equates to a paradox or at least to a willing suspension of seeming opposites. On one hand they were as profoundly Catholic as any other sect of Medieval Christendom. They yearned to be part of the larger Christian family. That is the Celtic way. On the other, they ever marched to the beat of their own drum – a Catholicism swimming in the quasi-pagan, swarthier style of the brooding Celts. They were both in and out.

How quintessentially Celtic.

We need the Celts because they insisted on the equality of all people in the eyes of God. They celebrated an egalitarianism in everything even allowing women to perform the Mass, a heresy of the first order even in contemporary, post Vatican II Catholicism! While worshippers throughout Europe frequented any number of great cathedrals, the Celts preferred smaller, homemade altars around which they would celebrate a deeply intimate Eucharist. Especially irksome to Rome was their liturgical calendar taken more from Druidic astrology than the accepted Church calendar. Rogues to the core, what’s not to love?

We need the Celts because of the monastic communities that flowered in Britain and elsewhere that became centers of classical education and learning, even possessive of literature outlawed by the Holy Roman Empire. As such, it can be said without exaggeration that the Celts kept knowledge alive and growing throughout the Middle Ages.

We need the Celts for their great love for the natural world and for preaching a God who loved it, too. They attached particular significance to particular animals, numbers, places and natural objects. Their spirituality was mystical in character, bathed in silence and solitude but rooted squarely in the everyday. It was a rich blend of the immanence and transcendence of God.

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Quiraing Ridge, Skye. With this as inspiration, who wouldn’t see the sacred everywhere?

We need the Celts because of their unquenchably adventurous spirits, well known as explorers and/or missionaries to many places. Some have suggested that they may have been some of the earliest explorers to South America where Peruvian artwork mimics Celtic knot work.

We need the Celts to broaden our sense of time. They had an understanding of time that was less chronological than kairotic. In other words, they were not especially linear in their approach to life, love, faith and relationships. They valued the cyclical dimension of time, believing that by immersing themselves in the seasons of the year and uniting their lives with the liturgical seasons of the church, they could more effectively celebrate their journey through the sacredness of time.

We need the Celts for a further distinctive, related to their concept of time; their appreciation of ordinary life. Theirs was a spirituality characterized by gratitude, and in their stories we find them worshipping God in their daily work and very ordinary chores. We, as they, can see our daily lives as a revelation of God’s love.

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Irish farm

 

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Rural Celtic life. Picture found here.

We need the Celts since their spirituality has great ecumenical value, transcending the differences, which have divided Christians in the East and the West since before the Reformation.

We need the Celts because, unlike we who are often more interested in what to believe than Who to follow, their Christianity was a way of life, a spirituality lived gratefully each day, one day at a time.

Finally, we need the Celts because they give us reason and opportunity to party in the presence of the God who loves us.

I’m in!