Dreams & Visions

Dream: the temporary cessation of the waking state.

1. From time to time in this period anything from a single picture or figure to an elaborate story may be vividly perceived, which is in no sense a direct perception of the outer physical world. This happens 4 or 5 times per night.
2. In addition there are periods of conceptual activity or thinking between dream periods. [Parts of the brain never go to sleep].
3. A third form of dream is the spontaneous image or vision that appears to a person in the borderland or wakefulness when a person is not sure they are awake or asleep.
4. The waking dream or vision consists of dream images that intrude into waking consciousness. The images are not different than the ones in sleep.

From God, Dreams and Revelation – Morton T. Kelsey

After a bit of computer trouble I am able to post again.  Soon.

Trudging Through the Middle

Pie in the Sky - Mark Bryan
Pie in the Sky – Mark Bryan

The journey is easier at the beginning and the end than the middle when we are far from home and home. As I approach old age I find it hard to remember a time when ministry did not inhabit a large space in my inner life. I was baptized at eight scared into the Kingdom at a Baptist revival. But that was only the outer thing, the thing that hooked my fear and plunged me into the fishpond at the White place over fifty years ago. It was at the same farm that as a three year old I sat in great-aunt Myrtie’s lap on the bank of Anderson creek as my parents were baptized down in the pool formed by a gravel bank.

Thought some might doubt it, I remember it clearly. Like a scene from a movie people were standing and sitting by the water. The grass was green in the way it is in the South Titus-Baptized-021before being scorched by the August Sun. Folk went down into the water lost and came up found. I’ve learned since then that found takes a long time. The pilgrimage to God is rarely dramatic it is mostly as an old timer in AA spoke to the wisdom he had gained as he learned “the inevitability of gradualness.”

This was before the Baptist got “baptisteries” those walk-in bathtub artificial kind of “improvements” that keep us from nature and perhaps [they are un-natural which mates poorly with the] super-natural as well. However well intended these innovations, what is gained in convenience is lost in affect. There is something about inconvenience that is comforting in its discomfort. Coming to God is not convenient.

I read once in Anglicans on line that a group of clergy, God help us, were bringing a resolution before the Synod of the Church of England that Easter be fixed on the same Sunday every year. This is about as foolish a proposition as I’ve heard. We will convenience ourselves into nothing at all. C. S. Lewis once said that “the Gospel can be of no concern. The Gospel can be of ultimate concern. The Gospel can never be of moderate concern.” The convenience of moderation has the affect of warm water it is wet but not refreshing.

water We are at the midpoint of Lent.  It is time to prepare for the Paschal Feast as the Book of Common Prayer states in the second proper preface for Lent. Gradualness will give way to the acute phase we call Holy Week followed by the consequences of resurrection.  It happens every year and still I am ill prepared.  But then the middle is the most difficult part of the journey,  is it not, beloved.  JWS



Sunday – March 16, 2014

Bring yourself out of your birthplace, “Yahweh said to Abraham,” our of your father’s house, your homeland – to a land I will bring you to see. I will make of you greatness, a nation and a blessing; of your name, fame – bliss brought out of you. Genesis 12:1-3   Abraham: The First Historical Biography – David Rosenberg. pg. 6

 We don’t know exactly how God communicated with Abram (as he was known in those days). We do know where he was. Ur, more or less at Basra near the Persian Gulf in Iraq, was something to behold in those days.

abramurTradition has it that Abram was an up and coming young man with a future; the sort of young fellow that older men consult at the club and introduce to their daughters. One Day, Terah,  Abram’s Father, moved to Haran, 500 miles away supposedly to start a new  business.

To the amazement of the Guys at the Water Cooler, Abram went with him; why he walked away from such a future no one ever really knew.  They didn’t speculate for long, they were too busy taking advantage of the golden boy’s disappearance, calling his contacts and asking out his old girl friends.

 “Speech Act: Any utterance considered in terms of the content of the message, the intention of the speaker, and the effect on the listener.” Dictionary.Com
 “I pronounce that this (man and woman) are husband and wife, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder,” BCP. Pg. 428

A  wedding pronouncement is a speech act.  The status of the man and women changes, and even the State of Tennessee acknowledges the new entity.  Words have power.

God told Abram to leave his country and family and head out into the unknown. God promised That it would be a Great deal for the Abrams family.  Abram   figured God’s promise WAS A SPEECH Act.

So Abram went. Just like that, he left the future in Haran and the family business and without an address, a map or even a GPS, Abram Went. You see what Abram believed that when God makes a speech act, there is no need for a letter of intent.   because God’s word is enough; it is not God’s nature to deceive so God’s WORDS MADE GOD’S promise iron-clad.

While God’s promises are always fulfilled, our faithful response often has the quality of slogging, one foot in front of the other with the mud sucking at our boots.  It is those days, I believe, that please God the most.

“A comparable rhythm of divine word and faithful human response“ Abraham: Trails of Family and Faith – Terance E. Fretheim page 30f
“Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as Righteousness.”  Saint Paul, Letter to the Romans 4:3b

It is prudent always to consider carefully where we put our confidence.  Promises are only worth the worthiness of the “promiser”.  Abram made a wager that the God who called him had “worth-ship” and believed God.  God considered such faithful response as righteousness.  Notice the truth that we can never get through our silly heads; it was never perfection God wanted from humanity! What God wanted then and wants now is a faithful response to his grace.

For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  Saint Paul  – Romans 4:3
The word “reckoned” is a bookkeeping metaphor, indicating either the placing of something in a column of figures to be added up or the result of the addition itself.  N.T. Wright Romans (New Interpreter’s Bible)

Works often follow but as gratitude not investment.  Our belief in Jesus adds up to a balance every time it is “reckoned” to our account.  The books always balance.

Christ and Nicodemus on the roof top - Henry Ossawa Turner
Christ and Nicodemus on the roof top – Henry Ossawa Turner

Nicodemus was an important man in Jerusalem,   but not so powerful that he could act with impunity, so he came to see Jesus after dark one night.  Taking no chances, he slipped through the back door with a ball cap pulled over his eyes. I sort of think Jesus was a little amused by the sight of the equivalent of a supreme court justice and archbishop skulking through alleys.

“Rabbi,” Demus (his friends called him Demus) said, “clearly you are a teacher come from god or you could not do the signs you perform.”  Jesus, didn’t pause long enough to be flattered, launching into the heart of the matter, “you must be born again.’”

[Hit the PAUSE BUTTON:  The word translated born again is also equally translated Born from Above.  It has both the sense of time: born again and space: born from above at the same time. there is no such English word so take your choice. Hit the continue button]

Demus was confused and got a little snarky, “My momma is going to be shocked when I show up at the nursing home and tell her we have to start my birth all over again!”   Jesus further confused him by saying, “you have to be born of water and the spirit.”  chuckling at his guests expression, Jesus suggested they retreat to the roof garden.

They got drinks and settled into the cushions in the wicker chairs.  the late evening breeze stirred the bougainvillea; JESUS pointed to the swaying pink flowers, “the wind blows where it chooses, and you do not know where it comes from or WHERE IT goes.  So it is with everyone born of the spirit.”

Why does Nicodemus keep missing the point?  Nicodemus is speaking LITERALLY while Jesus speaks MYSTICALLY.  Fr. Richard Rohr puts his finger on it when he wrote,

Don’t let the word “mystic” scare you off. It simply means one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience. All spiritual traditions agree that such a movement is possible, desirable, and available to everyone. Richard Rohr adapted from the naked now: learning to see as the mystics see, pp. 29-30

Jesus is telling Nicodemus (while we eavesdrop) what matters is not what we know or what group we belong ,  what matters is that we actually experience God’s loving presence in our innermost being.

Jesus said, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” [John 3:14-15].

 Jesus took a familiar story, reframed it, and gave it, not a new meaning, but a fuller/richer one; the Bible is filled with such mirrors.

[TOP OF PAGE 109 IN PEW BIBLE]   In Numbers 21:4-9, the Israelites became impatient and began to mummer against God and against Moses.  Like children on a road-trip, impatient and having asked once too often, “Daddy, are we there yet,” retreat to the recesses of the back seat and begin to mummer.  I define murmuring as speaking loud enough to be clearly heard but not so loud that you have to take responsibility.

Rome - After Raphael
Rome – After Raphael

The Children of Israel (note they are never referred to as even the Adolescents of Israel)  whine the same old line about how put upon they are having been pulled out of  Egypt only to die in the wilderness; followed by the second verse, namely bitter complaints about the quality of the food. Nothing changes much over the millennia.

Then poisonous serpents with their name on them infested the camp and people died left and right. Now feeling metaphorically and literally snake bit, they decide that things were not as bad as they had thought before the serpents slithered into their sleeping bag.   They were right pitiful begging Moses to save them (again).

 So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. Numbers 21:7b-9 (NRSV)

 I heard Bishop of Durham,  Tom Wright on a pod-cast  say,  A sacrament is an acted speech that does more than words can say!  A sacrament is enacted speech.   Remember the Word became flesh.   We are here today to eat the body of Christ -  The bread of Heaven in order that the word can go on becoming flesh.

God’s Promise: Speech Act –> Faithful Response –>   Adds up to Righteousness –> Sacrament IS ENACTED Speech –>   Eating the Bread of heaven is a Faithful Response –> God gives us grace  (Market Place of Monday) Speech Act –> Having been Fed Be Bread.   There is not end to it – It is the very life of the Triune God where there is perpetually in perpetuity love  given and love received

 O Holy Triune God,   Jesus was lifted up on the cross to die for the whole snake-bit world.  The instrument of death becomes the means of life. To God the Creator and God the Redeemer and God the Sustainer be glory and grant that we find grace such  for a faithful response to your promises  and grace to know that what matters is that we follow you (not how good we look doing it). Amen

The Birds & The Lilies

Robert TannehillNote:  This little book has instructed my soul.  I am grateful for it.  JWS

MATTHEW 6:25-33 from The Sword of His Mouth,  Robert Tannehill

25Therefore I tell you,

       Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat [or what you shall drink,]

        Nor about your body, what you shall put on.

        Is not life more that food,

        And the body more than clothing?

Matt. 6:25 attacks squarely the anxiety which springs from man’s insecurity with respect to such basic needs as food and clothing.  This is a very powerful enemy to attack, for our anxiety is very deep.  It suffuses our personal and communal existence, shaping the life of society and individual.   It leads to the development of elaborate systems of production, and of equally elaborate systems of protection from those who might take our products always.

[George Carlin had a commentary on "stuff" that was telling.  I will post it.]

 We are hardly able to change our world view with one simple command, “Be not Anxious!”  This can only be true is we have a new world view – if we can see the world in a fundamentally new way.   We must be shown a reality which we do not now recognize as real.

 Here Jesus uses images.  He takes ordinary things, birds and lilies and each section beings with strong words referring to perception:   LOOK & CONSIDER.  We are not to look casually but observe carefully, so that we will understand the hidden meaning which we ordinarily overlook. 

 26Look at the birds of the air:

        They neither sow not reap nor gather into barns,

        And yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

        Are you not of more value than they?

Birds and Lilies are contrasted with the life of humans.  The elaborate structures of care in which we are involved are absent, and yet life goes on.  A strange fact when we begin to think about it!  This makes the birds and flowers seem strange to us.  Or, perhaps, they make our world seem strange.  When this happens, they are taking on the force of images of change. They are becoming heavy with meaning, for we see that our sense of reality is itself at stake.

27 [And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?

28 And why are you anxious about clothing?]

       Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow,

        They neither toil nor spin;

[We can argue wth the text and point out that birds are also concerned with food; indeed, they spend most of their day seeking it.  Even so, the contrast remains between man’s elaborate structures of care and the comparatively simple, direct supplying of needs in the lives of other creatures, and it is on this contrast that the text wishes us to mediate.]  [It is also true that birds do not always get enough to eat, nor do flowers always grow to full beauty.  Nevertheless, they do about as well as care-ridden man, and the text assumes that, on the whole, their existence is good, not tragic. ]

 29Yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Here the lily is elevated by extravagant language to mythic heights. God’s lavish nature is seen. 

  •  “O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron’s beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all, give us grace to live as true men – to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve Thee as Thou hast blessed us – with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Amen.”

Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection

The simple comparison between man’s care/anxiety and the simple existence of birds and flowers is not likely to have the desired effect.  Our ways of seeing and thinking are too deeply ingrained for that.  It is necessary to turn up the volume.  The pattern is used twice and then turned upside down.  The glorious lily is now “grass” that abides for a brief time. This is not tragic but the grass has a life span appropriate to it.  But even in its short life there are signs of God’s care. 

30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field,

        which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven,

        will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith?

31Therefore do not be anxious, saying

‘What shall we eat?’

Or  ‘What shall we drink?’

Or “What shall we wear?’

32 For the [Gentiles seek all these things; and] your

        heavenly father knows that you need them all.

33 But seek first his kingdom [and his righteousness.]

        And all these things shall be yours as well

 We begin to wonder which is the real world, the world of our anxiety, or this other world of which the birds and flowers are images.  Thus the text induces a sense of strangeness about our life and a sense of the presence of something more, something deeper, which offers an alternative for action and makes finally unimportant our structures of care.  We experience a heightened awareness and the disturbing impingement of another reality.  This opens a new possibility for life, a possibility which the text describes as seeking the Kingdom. 

 While the direct command at the beginning of the passage is unlikely to be effective, when that command returns in Matt. 6:31, there is a greater change that we may consider this a serous possibility, one founded on a realty deeper than our reality, provided the intervening worlds have done their work.  This is a highly personal experience, reaching to the depths of personal existence, and whether it will indeed take place depends not only on the text but also on us.  However, the form of this passage indicated that it is striving for this goal. 





Lenten Meditation

Monday of Lent I – March 10, 2014

The Garden of Eden - Thomas Cole
The Garden of Eden – Thomas Cole

 Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

The mischief began early.  Eve and Adam, unlike many newlyweds, lived in a new planned neighborhood called Eden. (It was a family development). The rent was reasonable; all they had to do was look after the place which practically ran itself.

Naturally there were covenants; the prime one was a prohibition of picking the fruit on the specimen trees in the common land. Rumor had it that at least one of them was poisonous. They decided not to even touch it let alone eat the fruit.

Having put a fence around the God’s probation (He never said not to touch but that may have been wise). We must learn that good intentions are no guarantee of righteousness, temptation being what it is. But, I get ahead of myself.

Ed Friedman, my teacher, used to warn us by saying, “When things are going really well, look out!” Our language warns us of the danger, “leave well-enough alone”; pride goes before a fall (or in this case THE fall); know when to hold ‘em and when fold ‘em.

Lord, today remind me when I need to watch out. Amen. ©