Falling in Love With God

Lectionary Passage: Song of Solomon 2: 8-13

To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Song+of+Songs+2:8-13&vnum=yes&version=nrsv

Do you love God?  Sure you do!  That’s the whole point, right?  But here’s perhaps a harder (or at least a weirder) question:  Are you in IN love with God?  After all, being “in love” seems to be something so profoundly human, so earthy, so “fleshy”, so intimate, so private.  It’s more than just loving.  It’s more than just being together.  It’s almost a completion of who you are called to be, an entirely different way of being.  It really is more about being one than being two that love.  We proper Western Protestants understand loving God (and, certainly, pleasing God).  But do we let ourselves fall, with utter abandon, into love with God?    The Old Testament passage from this week’s Lectionary selections is from the wisdom writing known in Hebrew as the Song of Songs.  It’s not the usual fare for our lectionary.  I mean, it borders on what is sometimes characterized as almost erotic imagery and it doesn’t even mention God.  So, as you can imagine, there were lots of debates about whether or not it belonged in the canon at all.  The matter was settled by Rabbi Akiba, the great teacher and mystic, who said this: “The whole world is not worth the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the Scriptures are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.   The Holy of Holies?  Wow!  We’ll have to think about that one.  I mean, really?  We struggle with that, as if our relationship with God should be proper and acceptable, as if it should be reverent of the One in whom we live and breathe and have our being.  So what is reverence?  Is it standing away, removed from the One whom we revere?  Or it is realizing that every molecule of our being desires to connect with God, longs to return to the One who created us.  Or maybe, just maybe, it’s falling in love with God.   Implicit in this poem is a sort of pining absence, a longing so deep that the poet cannot be complete without the One that is loved. I think that’s the way we’re called to be. I mean, think about it, we were created in the image of God, made with a shape and a sense into which only God fits. And we struggle. We struggle to find what fits into that shape. And in the absence, in the longing, we finally find that Presence of God, we finally find that One in whom we are destined to fall in love. Seventeenth century mathematician, Blaise Pascal spoke of it as a “God-shaped vacuum” in every human, a hole that only God could fill. It’s like being in love.

Like I said, this poem is not your usual reading from the Bible. There are no parables, no words of judgment, no promises of future and unrequited redemption. Rather, there is presence; there is reverence; there is a depiction of the most joyous and incredible love imaginable. It is flirtatious, and playful, and filled with utter joy. It is the very love of God. And the poet depicts it as transforming, a veritable spring at the end of winter, when life bursts forth from lifelessness and literally consumes death.  (Sounds like resurrection to me!)

Perhaps it is the language that makes us bristle, that makes us squirm a bit in our pews.  Perhaps we are even a bit uncomfortable with a God who is so intimate, so a part of us, that falling in love is all we can do.  Perhaps we really haven’t thought through what it means to be created in the image of someone else.  It means that we have to let ourselves go, that we have to become who God called us to be, that we have to realize that there is something more, that WE are something more, that we are created in the image of our Beloved, that we are created to fall in love with God.  It is about completion; it is about wholeness; it is about being who we were created to be.  It is about falling in love with God and falling into God.

Our lectionary probably doesn’t do us any favors because it doesn’t even allow us to finish the poem.  The next four verses go like this:

O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that ruin the vineyards— for our vineyards are in blossom.”   My beloved is mine and I am his; he pastures his flock among the lilies.  Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on the cleft mountains.

My beloved is mine and I am my beloved’s.  That’s a whole lot different than an image of a seemingly-removed deity sitting up somewhere waiting for us to get our act together and catch up.  And it flies in the face of us spending our earthly lives wallowing in chaos and muck, hoping against hope that we will finally rack up enough points to make it to heaven someday.  Once again, it’s present tense.  We are God’s and God, in a show of grace more amazing than we could ever sing, becomes ours.  We are not just called to love and support and please God and try to figure out who or what God is; we are called to let ourselves go, to fall into love with God and fall into God with utter abandon and profound joy.

Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved…My beloved is mine and I am [my beloved’s].  Thanks be to God!
There is only one love.  (Teresa of Avila)
Grace and Peace,


To The Cloud

Lectionary Passage: 1 Kings 8: (1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=1+Kings+8:1-43&vnum=yes&version=nrsv

The Cloud…what IS that?  Where does your data actually go?  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I think it’s pretty cool that you can save it on one thing and then see it on another.  It’s as if it’s known and not known, here and not here, controllable and out of control.  But, really, what is that all about?  Where does it go?  Do we just put it out in cyber-space and hope it returns?  Or does cyber-space actually somehow identify with us, offer us a claim of sorts to store our data and then actually be able to retrieve what we need?

It’s an interesting name for this thing that we know but we don’t.  After all, we’ve encountered clouds before. Remember the Israelites escaping the Egyptian army when Moses went up onto the mountain, out of sight, out of what they knew, and received the Commandments as a gift from God?  And then there was the Cloud that descended onto the tabernacle, the very Presence of God.  The Cloud was there, following them through the desert, always there, and, yet, it was different.  They didn’t understand it.  It was beyond what they could control or even imagine.  And now…again, the Cloud comes to dwell, the holiest of holies, the thing that, though unknown and unimagineable, is the very crux of life itself.  This Cloud, the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, is still here, dwelling with them.

For us in our Christian understanding, it is difficult to understand the significance of the Temple in Jewish theology.  The Temple is the place of which God says, “My name shall be there.”  It is the place where heaven meets earth and where God’s glory appears.  It is the place of The Cloud, the thing that we do not understand, that makes no sense, but that gives us life.  And yet, Solomon’s prayer does not confine God to the Temple.  He acknowledges that the “house”, the Temple, cannot contain God.  For this reason, even though the Templeis central to Israel’s worship, it is not essential.  God is there, so Solomon bows and prays.  He prays to the God that he cannot know but is open to knowing, the God who cannot be contained but who he can depict in a cloud, the God who is here and for whom he searches. This is God known and not known, here and not here, controllable and out of control.  It’s not about the Temple or a God contained.  In fact, when the Temple is destroyed (twice to come), God is still present and attentive to the people.

Solomon’s words bring us an important understanding of prayer.  The Lord is not just the property of Israel (or, for that matter, any other one group of people).  Solomon alludes to the incomparable and magnanimous grace of the Lord which extends beyond the imaginations and beyond any disagreements with neighbors that we may have, which extends into the world, the just and the unjust, the wise and the unwise.  Realization of this and prayers for wisdom and justice drive home the notion that God is God, that God is not our property or our agent, that God is not on our side or on the other side or even on some side that a third party is inventing.  It is finally getting us to the point where we figure out that the way we connect with this God is to leave our alliances, our riches, and our own sense of who we think God is on the ground beneath us, repent, and then, finally, turn toward a new perception of reality that we cannot control or contain.

Maybe we systematic, dogmatic, and pragmatic followers of Christ have it wrong.  Perhaps there is a cloud after all.  Perhaps when we understand faith not as belief or knowledge but as gaining the insight to walk into the cloud, to walk into the unknown, the uncontrollable, then we will finally be on our journey toward Communion with God.  It’s not a new concept.  Others have said the same thing–for centuries.  Most of them draw upon the work of an anonymous 14th century mystic, who saw Communion with God not as a pursuit to attain but, rather, a way to become.  Maybe that’s the problem–is your spiritual journey headed toward something or walking in clouds, embracing what you do not know but know has been there all along?  I mean, after all, The Cloud is always there, always present.  So, for whom are you looking?

 Grace and Peace,


Flesh and Blood, Literally…

Lectionary Passage:  John 6: 51-58
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=John+6:51-58&vnum=yes&version=nrsv.

Yes, more about bread!  But we can’t help but read this passage and think of our own Eucharistic language.  That is probably intentional.  Commentators think that this sixth chapter of the version of the Gospel story by the writer that we call John might have actually been composed over time and that the implications to the Eucharist might have been added later.  It, like our participation in Holy Communion, is an opening of oneself to a life in Christ.  The bread and the cup are lenses through which we can see things differently.  When taken literally–the notion of eating flesh and drinking blood–, they are downright shocking to the ears of this world.  So, if not literal, then are they merely symbols?

The truth is that this idea of “living bread” is something more.  It is more than just an over-spiritualized connection to the idea of God.  Rather, it is meant as a real, even a physical, maybe EVEN a literal, connection to the real God that is ever-present in our life.  This is hard for us.  We tend to be a little more Puritanical than most of us would care to admit.  We tend to try to separate the spiritual from the physical, perhaps trying to hold off at bay that physical self that is sometimes so raw, so vulnerable and exposed, perhaps even so dirty from that seemingly pristine image of God that we hold so dear.  But is that what Jesus intended here?  Listen:  “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

So what would it mean to connect to God, to literally abide in God, in every aspect of our being?  What would it mean to actually become the living, breathing image of God Incarnate?  We all wear skin.  We all live and breathe and walk around in this absolutely incredible physical body that is not disconnected from our soul or from our spiritual selves but actually part of it.  What does it mean to realize and affirm that God loves all of us–our souls AND our bodies?  And what, then, in turn, would it mean to love God in the same way?

The last things that Jesus did had nothing to do with making sure that the Disciples had all the Scriptures memorized or that they believed the right way or worshipped appropriately.  Jesus did not leave them instructions on how to be righteous or right.  Rather, in those last hours, he fed them bread and wine, things they could see, smell, and taste.  And then he touched their feet, caressing them lovingly, pouring cool water over them and wiping them with a towel.  And, lastly, he said the words that they needed to hear:  “Do this–not BELIEVE this or UNDERSTAND this or SPOUT this to the masses–but DO this.  Do this in remembrance of me.”

Stanley Hauerwas claims that “Christianity is not a set of beliefs or doctrines one believes in order to be a Christian, but rather Christianity is to have one’s body shaped, one’s habits determined, in such a way that the worship of God is unavoidable.”  Our faith is not limited to the spiritual.  It really is literal; it really does have to do with the flesh and the blood and sometimes even those funny looking, flat-bottomed things with the not-so-pretty toes at the end of our legs.  God created all of us.  God loves every molecule of our being.  And with every thing we are, we are called to love God, to become one with God, to live in full Communion with nothing left behind.

And, when you think about it, those senses, those very literal expressions of our bodies, are the ways that we connect to each other.  So, stop, and see, hear, smell, taste, and touch and do this in remembrance of me.  Eat this bread and drink this wine–together.  And kneel and wash and serve–together.

The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw–and knew I saw–all things in God and God in all things. (Mechtild of Magdeburg, 13th century mystic)

Grace and Peace,


As God in Christ…

Ruins of Coventry Cathedral

Lectionary Passage: Ephesians 4: 25-5:2To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Ephesians+4:25+-+5:2&vnum=yes&version=nrsv

I’m not usually a big Ephesians fan.  I mean, first of all, it probably wasn’t even written by Paul but rather by a seemingly zealous (and sometimes over-zealous) disciple of his.  There are problems with it–mainly for women!  But this passage speaks something hauntingly real, something with which we can identify regardless of our gender or our place, regardless of where we are in life.  We are called to discard our old nature and don a new one.  Well, there you go!  How easy is that?  We are called to see that we are part of one another, that not speaking the truth to others is the same as not speaking the truth to ourselves.

But lest you think that this is some sort of sappy morality check where we all stand and sing “Kum-ba-yah”, think again!  It is not a vision of good or right behavior.  It is not a call to all be the same so that we can all just get along.  It is the call to be something different, to leave our old selves behind and see ourselves anew.  No longer can we dismiss our shortcomings as “only human”.  Rather, we are called to see ourselves as fully human, fully living imitations of Christ, and immersing ourselves in the Truth that is God, in the Truth that is who we are called to be.

OK, full confessions….I got mad at someone today.  No, let me elaborate:  I got REALLY mad at someone today.  I felt violated, taken advantage of…you name it.  You’ve been there.  I thought I had it all figured out.  And then, I began working on the notes for this week’s lectionary passages.   And, there, as if our Sovereign Creator saw fit to provide some sort of show of colossal sacred humor, there it was:  “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”  Are you kidding me?  NOW?  You throw this at me NOW when I’m so incredibly justified????  So, in my own show of incredible restraint, I slammed the book shut and headed off to the sanctuary.  (Now, see, that’s the good part of no longer working in oil and gas.  Their sanctuaries did not hold near the draw that ours does.) And I sat there in the darkened sanctuary, struggling to be at peace.  And I saw something that I’d never seen before.  I looked at Jesus in the Gethsemane Window.  I’ve always assumed that he carried a look of resolve, a look of incredible peace.  But, today, I saw a look of ire.  Spilling out of him was an anger so immense, so intense, that it consumed him.  What were they doing asleep?  Don’t they know how hard I tried?  Don’t they know what this means?  And then…take this cup, take it from me, so that I can be who you call me to be.

I’m sure it’s wrong, wrong to saddle Jesus with so much humanity.  But isn’t that why we’re all here?  Because Jesus was human, fully human.  Third-century theologian, Athanasius, is attributed with the words, “Christ became human that we might become divine.”  To expect yourself to be perfect is not even spiritual, much less realistic.  I mean, if you were perfect, why would you need Christ, why would you need God?

The first time that I ever encountered this passage with any real intent was on a choir trip.  (Because, in my previous oil and gas life, I actually sang!)  Our choir was invited to be part of a national music festival in Coventry Cathedral in England.  Now you have to know that Coventry Cathedral, a beautiful middle-age cathedral, was destroyed by bombing during World War II.  Everything that they knew was gone, burned, ashes….And, so, in 1940, their provost ordered the words inscribed on the altar that was left:  “Father, forgive.”  Today there stands a brand new cathedral next to the ruins of the old one dedicated to the work of reconciliation.  And where the altar stands, engraved with those words, are two statues, gifts from two countries celebrating the work of reconciliation that the cathedral had proclaimed.  The countries who gave the statues are Germany and Japan, the very destroyers of what was.

And so, that year that we were there, the festival commissioned a musical arrangement of their own creed, if you will.  It is called their Litany of Reconcilation.  It recognizes who we are and affirms what we can become:
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
Father Forgive.

The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,

Father Forgive.

The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Father Forgive.

Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,

Father Forgive.

Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,

Father Forgive.

The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,

Father Forgive.

The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,
Father Forgive.

Modern Coventry Cathedral

The litany ends with this:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Grace and Peace,


Mirror, Mirror

Lectionary Passage: 2 Samuel 11: 26-12: 13a
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=2+Samuel+11:26+-+12:15&vnum=yes&version=nrsv

Do you remember the story of Snow White?  The fantasy begins with a magic mirror.  And every morning, the hopelessly vain evil queen rises, dresses, coifs her hair, applies her make-up, and then admires herself in the mirror.  But as we know, it’s not an ordinary mirror.  This mirror can carry on a conversation.  Better than that, this mirror tells her exactly what she wants to hear.  Every morning the evil queen looks into the mirror and says, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”  And the dutiful mirror, perfectly rehearsed, answers, “You, my queen, you are the fairest of them all.”
But even brainwashed mirrors can go rogue now and then and one morning when the queen looked into the mirror with the familiar question, “Mirror , mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”, the mirror replied, “Snow White, my queen, Snow White is the fairest of them all.”  You know, the truth hurts, doesn’t it?  Sometimes we would rather just live our lives with a magic mirror affirming that everything we do is the right thing, one that would somehow allow us to hide in a fairy tale.  But life is not a fairy tale.
Our Old Testament passage is the continuing story from last week.  Remember that David, home alone while his armies were out fighting battles, had spied the fair Bathsheeba and, in what can only be described as a colossal failure of leadership and an implausible abuse of  power and authority, had sent for her, slept with her, impregnated her, and then in an attempt to cover up the deed, lied, schemed, and finally murdered her husband Uriah the Hittite.  So, Uriah is now dead and Bathsheeba mourns.  With Uriah dead, David then is free to take Bathsheeba as his wife, bringing legitimacy to their son.   Well, as you know, there are a variety of ways that this story is told.  Some will shift the blame to Bathsheeba, depicting her as some sort of harlot or something that wooed David into the affair.  But that, of course, ignores the fact that it was David that had all the power here.  Others will somehow characterize it as God’s work, as if God would call David to cheat, lie, scheme, and murder to further the building of the Kingdom of God.  Sorry, I don’t really think that’s quite what God had in mind.
So today we have the story of Nathan.  I love Nathan.  He confronts the problem head-on.  And he does it in quite a remarkable way.  He tells a parable.  (Where have we heard that style of teaching before?)  He tells the story of a rich man who possessed many flocks and herds—so many, in fact, that he didn’t even really know them all–and a poor man who possessed one lowly little lamb who the poor man actually had grown to love.   Yet when a traveler appeared, the rich man, replete with livestock, actually took the one lamb from the poor man to feed his guest.  Well, David was incensed.  After all, what a horrible man!  Someone should do something!  That is not justice!  That man should be punished!  That man doesn’t deserve to live!
You know, John Westerhoff once said that “if a parable doesn’t make you a bit uncomfortable, [doesn’t make you squirm a little in your seat], you probably have not gotten it.”  So, obviously, David didn’t get it.  Obviously, it was much easier to hand out judgment for someone else’s acts than to recognize his own failures and shortcomings.  So Nathan, courageously speaking the truth in love, essentially, holds up the mirror.  “David,” he said, “You are the man!”
He then explains in detail what David has done, all the time holding a mirror, forcing David to look at himself, to look at his own actions, to realize that his actions have consequences, that they cannot be hidden from God.  And, maybe even more painful, they cannot be hidden from himself.  David has to face what he has done, look at the consequences, look at the pain and the suffering that he has caused.  And David finally admits his wrong.  He confesses.  It’s a hard thing.  It’s a hard thing to admit when you’ve done something wrong.  It’s a hard thing to be forced to take a good hard look in that mirror and see the reflection not of that image of God in which you were created but rather someone that you’d rather not be around.
Yeah, sin is a hard thing to talk about.  It’s a hard thing to look at, particularly, when that mirror is showing us someone that we don’t really want to be.  Where did we go wrong?  And what will everyone else think?   And, after all, we’re good Methodists.  We don’t need to talk about sin.  We have grace.  Really?  I think Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor has possibly written the most incredible book on sin that I have ever read.  I highly recommend it.  In her book entitled “Speaking of Sin:  The Lost Language of Salvation,” she depicts sin as our only hope.  Well that’s a new spin on it!  After all, aren’t we trying to avoid it?  She says that “sin is our only hope, because the recognition that something is wrong is the first step toward setting it right again.” (pg. 59)  In other words, no longer can we just sweep something under the rug hoping that it will go away, hoping that our good Methodist upbringing will shower us with grace and keep our sins closeted away where they need to be.  It’s a phenomenal way to think about it, to realize that in some way, holding the mirror up for ourselves or, if we can’t do that, hoping that someone in our life will be grace-filled enough to do it for us, can actually bring us closer to God, actually put us on the road to beginning again.
We often talk about sin as that which separates us from God.  Traditional Christianity loves to take it all the way back to Adam and Eve, as if the first couple’s transgression somehow changed the path for us all.  Do you think that’s a way of trying to cover it up?  (OK, I must admit, I’m not really an “Original Sin” type of person!)  Do you think that’s our way of trying to shift the blame from us a bit, a way to somehow transfer over to someone else’s mirror?  Well, I think we may need some sort of holy spurt of Windex or something.  Because tucking it away or covering it up or shifting blame does us no good at all.  It’s still there, still separating us, still standing in the way of the grace-filled relationship that God offers each of us. 
Truth is, the opposite of sin is not innocence.  I don’t even think it’s righteousness.  The opposite of sin is choosing God, choosing to look ourselves in the mirror and finally see that image of God in each of us. We don’t live in a fairy tale.  God did not create a bunch of robotic, perfect creatures and claim them as children.  God created us—sometimes cheating, sometimes lying, sometimes sinful, always wanting to do better, always wanting to find our way, always searching and wondering what it is God desires for us.  I don’t think God wants or expects us to remain innocent.  If God had wanted that, we wouldn’t be here at all.  We would have no reason to be.  Faith would be non-existent.  Innocence has no reason to choose God.  Innocence does not need faith.  Maybe we need a Nathan in our life unless we can somehow learn to look into the mirrors that God provides for us along the way, to truly see ourselves, where we fall short, where we choose darkness over light, where we choose or just acquiesce to those systemic sins that we see (hunger and homelessness over shared resources,  prejudice over acceptance, classism over equality, nationalism over patriotism ) and, most of all, to see that image of God that is always part of us somehow slip through and reveals itself in the most miraculous ways.
We are not innocent; we are forgiven.  But that’s not an eraser on the giant chalkboard of life.  God’s forgiveness comes when we don’t deserve it, when we haven’t earned it.  It comes in the darkness; it comes at our lowest point; it comes when sin is our only hope.  It is grace.  “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?”  It is that you that is staring back—doubtful and assured, sinful and forgiven, speaking the truth in love with a tiny piece of God in you—only an image, a faint glimmer that holds your whole life in its hands.  That’s all that God needs to create beauty, to create wonder, to create life.  You see, God has done this before—many, many times.  It is the very mirror that shows us the image of God, that shows us who we are really called to be.
Grace and Peace,