Sunday, March 31, 2013

Love wins!

sunrise


It's Easter Sunday - the day when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

But even for Christians, the whole idea of the once-dead Jesus returning back to life is so hard to grasp that many just gloss over this part of Easter and focus instead on bunnies and brunch.

As for me, I don't have a clue about what actually happened on that first Easter morning inside the tomb where the dead body of Jesus lay. In fact, the Gospels don't give any account of a stone rolling away and Jesus emerging triumphantly (those are Hollywood images). 

The Gospels simply say that on Easter Sunday, when Jesus' friends go to the tomb to anoint his body, they find the tomb is empty and they hear a message that he has been raised up. 

Actually I'm not all that concerned about what "really" happened on Easter, rather I look at what the Easter story means. For me, the Easter story is a powerful metaphor proclaiming a a deep eternal truth. 

On Good Friday, the forces of hatred wrestle with the powers of love.  I think the Easter message is a proclamation that, in the end "love wins!"

Jesus' life was an icon of incarnate love, acceptance, reconciliation and forgiveness. The oppressive powers of empire tried to execute that life - eliminate everything about who Jesus was and what he stood for.  But the forces of empire could not overcome.  On Easter, the life of the Christ was unleashed onto the world to be a living presence for all people of all times. In the end, love wins!

Whether you are a Christian believer or not, Easter is a day to celebrate the ultimate power of love over hate. 

The Buddha put it this way, "Hatreds do not ever cease in this world by hating, but by love; this is an eternal truth...Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good."

Happy Easter!




Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mindfulness

waiting for the sun to rise 


I sat in my meditation garden this morning and looked to the east, waiting for sunrise. As I sat in anticipation, I was struck by the fact that, while I was focusing on what was about to happen in the future,  I was missing all that was happening in the moment.

I was waiting for the sun to rise and so I missed seeing the beautiful hummingbird sipping water from  the fountain. I was waiting for the sun to rise and so I missed the two road runners scurrying about the garden searching for a place to make their nest. I was waiting for the sun to rise and so I failed to enjoy the exotic fragrances of the herb garden in the breaking dawn. 

I find that I spend a lot of time remembering the past or planning for (thinking about) what is yet to come. So, I wonder how much of real life I often miss.

On this Saturday before Easter (known as Holy Saturday in the Christian calendar), plenty of people are waiting for and preparing for tomorrow. Some may be waiting for the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, others are anticipating an Easter Brunch, a family gathering, an egg hunt.  

Plenty of people today are waiting for the sun to rise in the future and, in doing so, missing what is rich and full in the present.

The Buddhists have much to teach me about being in the present. In fact, one of the greatest gifts that Buddhism has presented to me is the emphasis on the practice of "mindfulness." I am mindful when I clear my mind of thoughts and ideas and simply make myself available to the immediate moment.  I am mindful when I live in the present without resorting to past memories or future anticipation.

Every morning I go into my meditation garden and try to practice "mindfulness." For me, this is no simple task. In fact, I obviously failed to be mindful this morning. I sat there looking for something that was about to happen and I missed all that the moment had to offer.

Today is a good day to work on being more "mindful." 

As I write this, I look out my office window onto the meditation garden. A beautiful yellow butterfly is resting on a branch of a desert bush. 




Friday, March 29, 2013

Darkness and Light

darkness and light wrestle with one another over the desert mountains


Today is "Good Friday" - the day on which Christians commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross. 

I must say that, for many years I had a real hard time making much sense out of what I was traditionally taught about Jesus and the cross.  Ever since I was a little boy I was told that God sent His only son Jesus to  die on the cross to take away the sins of the world. 

I never understood what that was all about. Why would a loving father send his beloved son to be slaughtered so brutally? Moreover,  how does Jesus' death take away sins? 

As I grew older and learned more I discovered that the belief about Jesus dying to take away our sins was a doctrine that was developed by the church well after the time of Jesus. Moreover I discovered that,  throughout the ages, this doctrine was a hotly debated topic. 

Anyhow, I'll leave the theological discussion to the theologians because,  over the years, I think I have finally discovered another way of understanding and embracing the cross. And I think my discovery makes the cross accessible, not only to Christians, but to every human being.

Throughout his life,  Jesus Christ was the icon of compassion. He was love in the flesh -  all embracing, all forgiving, always welcoming, every human being equally valued.  Everything Jesus taught and everything he stood for flew in the face of the empire of violence and human degradation embodied in the oppressive governance of Rome. This became a problem when ordinary everyday people started to pay attention to Jesus. 

By living a life of radical hospitality and unbounded compassion, Jesus had become a threat to the status quo of the empire, and so had to be eliminated. 

As I see it, that cross on that first Good Friday, is the sight of a great cosmic battle. The powers of light and love embodied in Jesus engage in a mighty battle with the forces of darkness, violence and oppression embodied in the culture of the day. Good Friday is a day to commemorate the battle between darkness and light. If darkness wins, we will hear no more of Jesus. The threat will have been eliminated.

Everyone knows something about wrestling with darkness and light. That struggle is part of our human condition. 

A brutal North Korean tyrant threatens to destroy nations with nuclear fire as a humble pope kneels before frightened youthful inmates in a Roman prison, washing and kissing their feet. 

In our own personal lives we all experience the constant struggle. We are torn between feeding the desires of our own selfish egos and laying down our lives for the welfare of others. Darkness and light are always wrestling with one another.

The cross that we lift up today is not just a Christian symbol. It belongs to all humanity. What a beautiful struggle we are in.









Thursday, March 28, 2013

Eating Alone

Along with some friends, I share a meal with the Abbot of a Buddhist Monastery in South Korea



Because of my schedule, there are many occasions in which I find myself eating alone - it's one of my least favorite times. When I eat alone I feel so isolated, especially of I am eating in a restaurant and other people are all around me at other tables sharing meals together. 

As I reflect on it, the act of sharing a meal does far more than meet some bodily requirement. When we eat together, we tap into a deeper reality. We human beings may think of ourselves as independent from one another, but as the Trappist monk Thomas Merton once said, the idea of being separate from one another is an "illusion," and a myth. We are all connected to one another. In fact, we are one another.

The Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, put it this way, "You are me, and I am you, isn't it obvious that we inter-are?"

As I see it, eating together helps me to tap into the reality that we all are one another.

All the great religions of the world celebrate feasts and festivals with meals.  

Tonight the Jewish People continue to celebrate Passover by sitting down together at a table and once again eating the Passover meal. 

Tonight Christians throughout the world gather together to celebrate Christ's Last Supper. They will share bread and wine in memory of Jesus at this sacred meal, and enter into a "holy communion" with Christ and with one another. 

Eating together is the way in which we human beings enter into a deeper awareness that we "inter-are."

So whether you eat the Passover meal, share the bread and wine of the Eucharist at church,  or simply sit at a meal with friends or family this day,  let today be a day of "holy communion." 


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Kiss

clouds gathering over the desert mountains


On this Wednesday of Holy Week,  as Christians enter into that period of recalling the betrayal and death of Jesus,  the figure of Judas Iscariot comes onto the scene.

The Bible says that Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, and ever since that day, the "kiss of Judas" has become an almost universal icon of betrayal and breaching trust.

I have another story about a Judas kiss. It's not a story you hear in the Bible - more like a folk story - but it is tender and touching, and very much in keeping with who Jesus was and what Jesus taught.

As the story goes, Judas has betrayed his friend Jesus with a kiss. Jesus has been arrested, crucified and after Jesus dies, he visits the condemned souls in hell. Judas is there, of course, and when Judas sees his friend Jesus whom he has betrayed, he cringes in fear. Jesus comes to Judas, lifts him up, and yes, he kisses him, and with that kiss of mercy and forgiveness they both enter into life eternal.  The kiss of betrayal now becomes a kiss of peace. I love the story!

The story of Jesus kissing Judas, makes me reflect on two things

I think about and celebrate a God who is all merciful and always forgiving. Even when I am selfish and go my own foolish ways, God kisses me into life.

I also think about my own call to be a forgiver and a reconciler. Today I want to remember all those who have betrayed me,  and do what I can to give them a kiss of peace.



Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Universal Prayer for Holy Time

a desert trail near my retreat house

The beginning of Spring is a sacred time of the year for most religions. Today is the first full day of Passover for the Jewish People, and Christians are celebrating Holy Week. Regardless of faith or background,  when the hint of Spring fills the air the human spirit begins to stir with hope that something new is rising up.

This morning, I came across a beautiful Sufi prayer (Sufis are the mystics of Islam). The prayer talks about walking down a narrow path with a wide outlook. I think that's what all religious paths should be - narrow enough so that we can clearly follow,  but always giving us a broad outlook. 

In this Holy Week and Passover season, I am praying this universal prayer because it helps me to be on my Christian path without being limited by the restrictions of religious boundaries. This prayer gives voice to the sacred Springtime stirrings in every human heart. 

I invite you to pray this beautiful  prayer today, and when you do so, look at the the picture of the desert trail in this posting. It seems most appropriate.


A SUFI PRAYER 

Give me, O God
Deep thoughts
High Dreams
Few words
Much silence
The narrow Path
The wide outlook
The end in Peace.



Monday, March 25, 2013

Passover and Rules for the Road

the desert floor- steps away from my retreat house


Tonight the Jewish People begin the celebration of Passover - the time when the Hebrew People were set free from Egyptian slavery and sent on a journey to the "Promised Land."

As I took my daily walk along the desert floor today, I realized that Passover is very much a "desert" celebration. 

After the Hebrews were freed from slavery, they found themselves in the midst of a vast wilderness much like the one just outside my retreat house. They had been freed but they had no idea as to how to get to the Promised Land- no maps, no roads. They were in a wild wilderness and could not find their way.

As the story goes, God gave the people two basic rules for the wilderness journey.  God told them that, if they wanted to make their way through the unchartered desert and arrive at the Promised Land, they would first have to totally trust in God's all abiding presence to guide them. 

The second rule was just as important, if they wanted to make their way through the wilderness they would have to take good care of one another, help each other to find the way.  In particular they were told to take special care to help anyone who may be weaker or might need a little more help along the way. They were to assure that no one would be left behind. 

I love the Passover/Exodus story. After all, life is a vast wilderness, isn't it?  If we are honest, none of us is sure of what road to take or how to find our way. So the rules for the road, first given to those Hebrews in the desert, continue to provide us all with some excellent advice about traveling through life. 

Trust in God's abiding and guiding presence and never travel alone -  help one another along the way, and be sure no one is left behind.

Travel well!


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palms, Placards, Protest

palm trees in front of my desert retreat house

Today is Palm Sunday on the Christian Calendar.  When I was a parish priest we would often walk along the city streets of Los Angeles on Palm Sunday and carry palms along with placards announcing our protest against violence and oppression. Some of the placards would read: "help the homeless," or "feed the hungry," or "end racism in our city" or "justice for the immigrant." 

I always felt that a protest march was extremely appropriate for Palm Sunday because that's what Jesus and his disciples were doing on that first Palm Sunday, 2000 years ago,  when they entered into the city of Jerusalem. 

The people of Jerusalem were used to grand processions in their streets - processions which proclaimed  the might of the cruel and oppressive Roman Empire, soldiers on steeds, clad in armor and weapons, banners unfurled,  bullying their way through the populace. Processions such as these were designed to intimidate the Jewish citizens. People on the streets would stop and bow down at their passing, terrified of the power of an empire who would crush anyone who got in the way. 

Jesus enters Jerusalem along with his "rag-tag" bunch of followers. He sits on a lowly donkey.   They are all  carrying palm and olive branches and sing songs of peace and goodwill for all people. It's a protest march if ever there was one, flying in the face of the powers that be - enough to get you killed in fact.

As I walked out into the vast desert floor this morning, in my mind's eye I saw a procession walking by.  In the procession was Jesus on the donkey, but along with him were all the great prophets of compassion from all places in all times. Jesus was walking with the Buddha and with Ghandi. I saw the great prophets of Israel who throughout the ages were a voice for the voiceless. I looked further and saw that Martin Luther King Jr. was in the march, and along with him was Susan B. Anthony and Harvey Milk. It was a grand procession, indeed.

Palm Sunday is a day to protest injustice, it's a day for a  compassion procession. I want to join that march.

Long live the revolution!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Passion

"Crown of Thorns" cactus in my meditation garden 


I sat out in my meditation garden this morning and found myself especially focused on one of my favorite desert cacti,  popularly called "the crown of thorns." It's a noble plan t- very bold, with such beautiful red flowers blooming from the rough spikes of the cactus. The plant is "passionate."

In the Christian calendar, Holy Week begins tomorrow. It is a week to celebrate the "Passion of the Christ" - a week when Christians throughout the world recall the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus. 

But as I reflect out here in the meditation garden of my desert retreat house, I think that the upcoming Holy Week is reduced to something far too small, and perhaps even petty, if it is simply a time to remember what happened to Jesus many years ago.

When I look at the life of Jesus of Nazareth, I see someone who embodied what it meant to live passionately and act boldly.  He was a voice for the voiceless. He was a source of radical hospitality. He pushed no one aside, reaching out to those on the margins of life so that everyone would be  welcomed into the circle of belonging. He was passionate in his effort to embrace the sick, the suffering, the sinner and the outcast. He gave his entire life to promote the dignity of every human being.

And of course, that's what got him killed. His compassion for the world was a direct affront to temple and empire. He stood against the powers of the "status quo" - powers of violence, oppression and human degradation which stood in judgement against the lowly and those on the margins of life.  His passion led to a crown of thorns and a cross.

But, the Christian Holy Week is far more than an annual  remembrance of Jesus' long-ago suffering and death. It is more than a time to remember who he was and what he did and taught.  Holy Week calls all Christians to model our lives after Jesus by living boldly and embracing our own world with deep compassion and radical hospitality.

In fact, Holy Week can be far more than a "Christian" celebration. Holy Week can also be a time for all people of goodwill everywhere,  regardless of their faith or belief,  to become more passionate, boldly living to promote the dignity of every human being.

It's time to get passionate!




Friday, March 22, 2013

Expectant Awe


A view of the mountains from my front yard


As we sat there in the shadow of the palms, knowing the great silent desert was just behind us, and towering mountain peaks just ahead, we felt full of a strange, expectant awe as if some new, great, wonderful thing might happen at any moment.”
                                                                                                            -George Wharton James


I was exploring some literature which our little city of LaQuinta sends out to new residents when I came across the above quote.  What a perfectly wonderful description of desert spirituality!

In our "Western" culture, we learn to seek out God through our intellect and our will. We study theology and read the Bible. We read books or think profound thoughts in order to figure out the great mystery we call God.  We also say prayers, go to church and engage in various spiritual practices in order to conjure up God's spirit - make God come down out of "His" hiding place.

But the fact is, God is indeed a profound mystery who can never be explained or figured out. And we don't say prayers or engage in rituals in order to entice God to come to us because God is already here.

God is an all encompassing holy and abiding Presence - the One in whom we live and move and have our being. God intimately abides in us and among us but we are often unaware of the abiding cosmic presence because our minds are too preoccupied and our lives too cluttered to take notice.

When I walk out into the vast desert, I am often so overwhelmed by a sense of God's awesome presence, that I find myself unable to think and even unable to pray with words.  All I can do is walk along and listen to the deafening silence. And in the silence I experience an "awe" that I could never explain or analyze or put into words. In the desert silence I have come to expect that something wonderful may indeed happen at any moment.

Take some time today to practice some desert spirituality. Go to a quiet place and simply do "nothing"- don't think or read. Don't even pray. Just listen with a sense of expectant awe.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Welcome to my desert retreat house




This picture was taken just at sunset as I stood outside the front door of my house located in LaQuinta California in the heart of the Sonoran Desert of the Coachella Valley,  and the picture seems to capture what I hope to be doing in these blog postings.

This is the first posting of what I hope will be an ongoing invitation to share some of my incredible experiences of living in a desert -an awesome  place for finding deeper truths- a place for soul searching.

I hope you can think of this site as a place where you can "virtually" get away from it all. Take a few moments out of a hectic schedule and busy life,  and enter into my little retreat house where you can read some of my own soul searching reflections or take advantage of some teaching I might be able to offer.

I trust your responses will help create some fruitful dialogue

The Jewish People  are about to celebrate Passover and Christians are about to celebrate Holy Week and Easter. What a perfect time to begin this soul searching journey in the desert.

Peace, shalom, namaste!