At the Edge of the Rainbow

The Clifs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland

Scripture Passage:  Luke 3:21-22a

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.

What does it mean for the heavens to open, to somehow, whether literally or figuratively, come pouring into the earth?  When you read that, it’s a little hard to go back to the notion of the separation of the secular and the sacred.  No longer is God or whatever you think of heaven “out there”.  In some incredible, wonderful way, the Holy and the Sacred has poured into where we are.  All is sacred.

On this day when all who are Irish and all who become Irish for this day celebrate the feast day of St. Patrick, I thought we’d go back and visit his roots a little bit.  As his story goes, he was born Maewyn Succat in Roman Britain in the late 4th century.  Captured by Irish raiders when he was sixteen, he lived as a slave in Ireland for six years before escaping.  He would later return to Ireland as a missionary until his death in 460 or 461 and by the 8th century would become the land’s patron saint.  St. Patrick is, of course, associated with what we describe as Celtic Christianity.  This is a branch of Christianity that was unique to these Irish people during the Early Middle Ages.  The Celtic Christians unapologetically embraced their Celtic and Druid roots and articulated them through their new Christian lenses, even making some of their Druid gods and goddesses Christian saints.  We’re not completely sure how these Christians even got to Ireland but they were firmly established there by the 2nd century.  One view is that the Galatian Christians to whom Paul wrote (the Galts) were part of those who then migrated to what is now Wales, Ireland, and Scotland after the Roman invasion and occupation. (How cool and connected would THAT be?)

Celtic Christianity always has had a sense of pilgrimage, of journeying.  They were always, as Deborah Cronin describes it, “a bit on the edge”.  I think that would describe their physical location as well as their religious belief system.  But I also think it is where they are spiritually.  You see, the Celtic understanding is that all things are sacred.  Just as the Scripture implies, they had this strong sense that the spiritual world does indeed spill into the material world.  They embrace the image as a “thin place”, a place and time where time matters not and the spirit world is very close, a place where one can almost feel it, almost reach out and touch what is holy and sacred.  Rock bridgeThese thin places, thresholds between what is and what will be, are crossing places between the world and the Divine.  They are embraced as places of growth, as places through which we journey from one place to another, one way of seeing to another, one way of being to another.  So what we think of as ordinary places become sacred and holy as the sacred spills through them onto us.  Bridges, gateways, and causeways reconnect what is divided and make them accessible to each other.   Burial grounds mark the crossing place from life to death, from “this world” to an “other world”, from time and space to eternity and infinity.  And the rainbow?  If you remember, the ninth chapter of Genesis says that God set a bow in the clouds, a sign of the connection, the covenant, between God and the earth.

Burial site of Owen Shannon (1762-1839), Old Methodist Cemetery, Montgomery, TX (my great-great-great-great grandfather)

It is a symbol of the promise that the Sacred and the Holy is not inaccessible or removed from us but has spilled into the earth.  Never again can we become separated or isolated; never again can we close ourselves off and not move forward.

And for us?  We are always standing at the edge of the rainbow, the edge of the Sacred and the Holy.  God is in our midst and everything is Sacred.  The mundane and the ordinary is marked by God’s fingerprints and have become extraordinary.  This Lenten season is a journey of transformation.  We are moving from one way of being to another, from that mountaintop to Jerusalem, from life to death and life beyond.  And along the way are thresholds that we traverse.  We are always at the edge of the rainbow.  We just have to open ourselves to the sacredness that everything holds.  God is in our midst. Heaven has opened and has spilled into the earth.  Everywhere we walk is holy ground.

God rejoiced to see [God’s] Dream reborn.  [God] desired to mark this moment eternally, as a sign to all creation that hope is more real and permanent than despair.  [God] shone [this] perfect , invisible light–the light of joy–through all the tears that would ever flow out of human grief and suffering.  That invisible light was broken down, through our tears, into all the colours of the rainbow.  And God stretched the rainbow across the heavens, so that we might never forget the promise that holds all creation in being.  This is the promise that life and joy are the permanent reality, like the blue of the sky, and that all the roadblocks we encounter are like the clouds–black and threatening perhaps, but never the final word.  Because the final word is always “Yes”!  (Margaret Silf, in Sacred Spaces:  Stations on a Celtic Way)

On this Lenten journey, look around. What holiness do you see?  Where do you see God in your midst?  What thresholds are you crossing in your life?  

Rath De ‘ort (Gaelic, pronounced Rah Day urt, “The Grace of God on you.”)

Shelli

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

                                                                                                                  

At the Edge of the Rainbow

The Clifs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland
The Clifs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland

Scripture Passage:  Luke 3:21-22a

Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.

What does it mean for the heavens to open, to somehow, whether literally or figuratively, come pouring into the earth?  When you read that, it’s a little hard to go back to the notion of the separation of the secular and the sacred.  No longer is God or whatever you think of heaven “out there”.  In some incredible, wonderful way, the Holy and the Sacred has poured into where we are.  All is sacred.

On this day when all who are Irish and all who become Irish for this day celebrate the feast day of St. Patrick, I thought we’d go back and visit his roots a little bit.  As his story goes, he was born Maewyn Succat in Roman Britain in the late 4th century.  Captured by Irish raiders when he was sixteen, he lived as a slave in Ireland for six years before escaping.  He would later return to Ireland as a missionary until his death in 460 or 461 and by the 8th century would become the land’s patron saint.  St. Patrick is, of course, associated with what we describe as Celtic Christianity.  This is a branch of Christianity that was unique to these Irish people during the Early Middle Ages.  The Celtic Christians unapologetically embraced their Celtic and Druid roots and articulated them through their new Christian lenses, even making some of their Druid gods and goddesses Christian saints.  We’re not completely sure how these Christians even got to Ireland but they were firmly established there by the 2nd century.  One view is that the Galatian Christians to whom Paul wrote (the Galts) were part of those who then migrated to what is now Wales, Ireland, and Scotland after the Roman invasion and occupation.

Celtic Christianity always has had a sense of pilgrimage, of journeying.  They were always, as Deborah Cronin describes it, “a bit on the edge”.  I think that would describe their physical location as well as their religious belief system.  But I also think it is where they are spiritually.  You see, the Celtic understanding is that all things are sacred.  Just as the Scripture implies, they had this strong sense that the spiritual world does indeed spill into the material world.  They embrace the image as a “thin place”, a place and time where time matters not and the spirit world is very close, a place where one can almost feel it, almost reach out and touch what is holy and sacred.  Rock bridgeThese thin places, thresholds between what is and what will be, are crossing places between the world and the Divine.  They are embraced as places of growth, as places through which we journey from one place to another, one way of seeing to another, one way of being to another.  So what we think of as ordinary places become sacred and holy as the sacred spills through them onto us.  Bridges, gateways, and causeways reconnect what is divided and make them accessible to each other.   Burial grounds mark the crossing place from life to death, from “this world” to an “other world”, from time and space to eternity and infinity.  And the rainbow?  If you remember, the ninth chapter of Genesis says that God set a bow in the clouds, a sign of the connection, the covenant, between God and the earth. 

Burial site of Owen Shannon (1762-1839), Old Methodist Cemetery, Montgomery, TX (my great-great-great-great grandfather)
Burial site of Owen Shannon (1762-1839), Old Methodist Cemetery, Montgomery, TX (my great-great-great-great grandfather)

It is a symbol of the promise that the Sacred and the Holy is not inaccessible or removed from us but has spilled into the earth.  Never again can we become separated or isolated; never again can we close ourselves off and not move forward.

And for us?  We are always standing at the edge of the rainbow, the edge of the Sacred and the Holy.  God is in our midst and everything is Sacred.  The mundane and the ordinary is marked by God’s fingerprints and have become extraordinary.  This Lenten season is a journey of transformation.  We are moving from one way of being to another, from that mountaintop to Jerusalem, from life to death and life beyond.  And along the way are thresholds that we traverse.  We are always at the edge of the rainbow.  We just have to open ourselves to the sacredness that everything holds.  God is in our midst. Heaven has opened and has spilled into the earth.  Everywhere we walk is holy ground.

God rejoiced to see [God’s] Dream reborn.  [God] desired to mark this moment eternally, as a sign to all creation that hope is more real and permanent than despair.  [God] shone [this] perfect , invisible light–the light of joy–through all the tears that would ever flow out of human grief and suffering.  That invisible light was broken down, through our tears, into all the colours of the rainbow.  And God stretched the rainbow across the heavens, so that we might never forget the promise that holds all creation in being.  This is the promise that life and joy are the permanent reality, like the blue of the sky, and that all the roadblocks we encounter are like the clouds–black and threatening perhaps, but never the final word.  Because the final word is always “Yes”!  (Margaret Silf, in Sacred Spaces:  Stations on a Celtic Way)

On this Lenten journey, look around. What holiness do you see?  Where do you see God in your midst?

Rath De ‘ort (Gaelic, pronounced Rah Day urt, “The Grace of God on you.”)

Shelli

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

                                                                                                                  

Lenten Threshold

Celtic Cross-2Scripture Passage: John 1: 1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2He was in the beginning with God.3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Yes, even those of us who are in traditions where we honor few feast days of saints get in to this one and don our green.  Now, admittedly, most of us don’t even know much about Patrick or his tradition, save a few legends about snakes and stuff.  Patrick was said to have been born Maewyn Succat (Lat., Magonus Succetus) in Roman Britain in the late 4th century.  When he was sixteen, he was captured by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family.  He wrote that his faith grew in captivity and he prayed daily.  The story is told that one day Patrick heard a voice saying “your ship is ready” and took it to mean that it was time to return home.  Fleeing his master, he traveled to a port two hundred miles away, found a ship, and sailed home.  He entered the church and later returned to Ireland as a missionary.  By the eighth century, he had become one of the patron saints of Ireland.

Patrick’s life, like his Celtic tradition, is based on pilgrimage.  Life in this tradition is about growing and moving and not “pitching our tent” in one place too long.  It is about connecting to all of Creation, about honoring and revering all as sacred.  It is about treating all of life sacramentally, embracing it as a gift from God and a way to God.  Embracing the Celtic spirit means going on a journey, open to moving from one place to another, one thought to another, one way of seeing to another.  In the midst of this journey, Celtic spirituality recognizes the importance of crossing places, seeing them as thresholds of growth.  These places are truly looked upon as sacred spaces.  Bridges and gateways express a determined refusal to be stopped by what blocks our way; causeways open up pathways to places that have been inaccessible; and burial grounds mark the crossing place from life to death, from “this world” to an “other world”, from time and space to eternity and infinity.      These thresholds prevent us from becoming islands, closed off to change and moving forward.  The thresholds open up new worlds and new possibilities.  Thresholds are bridges between the now and the to be.

For us, this Celtic tradition holds a lot of things that can help us on our Lenten journey.  In fact, they are notions that we spend a good part of our Lenten season trying to grasp.  Lent itself is a threshold, a sacred doorway to growth and connection, to learning to embrace our own lives as gifts, as sacramental journeys toward a new oneness with God.  It is a journey to the ultimate threshold of all, the gateway between life and death, between the world that we know and the Way that we are called to go.  Lent keeps us from staying behind when God is moving just ahead.  There is an Old English word, “liminality”, that literally means “betwixt and between”.  It is a place of intersection, a threshold, between what is and what will be.  And we are called to that place, to the intersection of this world and the world to which God calls us.  We are called to be “betwixt and between”, with our feet firmly planted in this world and our heart, our soul, and our mind stretching beyond ourselves, stretching to God.

And the snakes?  Well the legend credits St. Patrick with banishing all the snakes from Ireland.  Evidence suggests, however, that post-glacial Ireland never had any snakes.  But some suggest that Patrick was instrumental in ridding the Celtic Christians of all the “serpents” that were so common in their pre-Christian Druid belief, of helping them get rid of those things that got in the way of their movement, of their threshold, of their journey toward God.  Hmm!  Sounds like Lent to me!

So, as we journey during this Lenten season, let us embrace our threshold, let us embrace all of time and all of space that has brought us to this place, and then let us journey toward the Way that God is calling us.

Rath De ‘ort (Gaelic, pronounced Rah Day urt, “The Grace of God on you.”)

Shelli

And They Took Joseph to Egypt

Lectionary Text:  Genesis 37: (1-4, 12-22) 23-28:
So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore;and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt.Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed.When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

And they took Joseph to Egypt…so matter-of-fact, so simple, so explanatory.  But far from being merely historical data, this six word sentence represents a turning point in the story.  With these words the Genesis story turns the corner, moving from a story of a somewhat dysfunctional family as their lives are intricately woven with the breath of God to the story of a people growing into God’s people.  We begin to prepare for the Exodus story.  Nothing will ever be the same again.  We know what is to come–slavery, plagues, wilderness, and, finally, deliverance, redemption.  This is the stuff of transformation.

When this Scripture (sorry, I cut off the first part!) was read this morning, I was struck by these words.  I know that I’ve passed them over time and time again. After all, this is an important story and there’s a lot to grasp–favorite sons, dreams, beautiful coats, family squabbles, murder, intrigue, conspiracy, enemies, slavery, lies.  (And just for the record, I would like it to be noted that no matter what I did to my brother Donnie growing up, I NEVER sold him into slavery!)  And then you take a breath and, oh yeah, “and they took Joseph to Egypt.”  What struck me is how similar those words are to some others:

Text:  Matthew 17: 1-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration.  When I realized that earlier this week, I thought it was just odd.  I mean, really, don’t we celebrate that right before Lent begins?  But the abrupt ending to today’s Old Testament Scripture made me think a little bit more about it.  In this Matthean account of the Transfiguration, the writer has Jesus and the disciples headed down the mountain.  They were talking.  Jesus warned them to be quiet about what they had just seen.  And in the same breath, he gave them a foretaste of what would come.  So, we have Jesus walking down the mountain.  Where is he going?  He’s going to Jerusalem.  And we know what happens there.  This is the turning point.  There is no going back.  A new way of being has begun.

And they took Joseph to Egypt…And they took Jesus to Jerusalem.

We all have Egypts.  We all have Jerusalems.  They are those watershed moments in our lives that are bumpy and rough and uncomfortable.  They are that way because it means that we have changed.  We have been through a transition; we have been transformed; we have been transfigured into something else.

We don’t know what Monday morning will hold for our economy.  There are those who will say that our “best years” are behind us, those who yearn for the 40’s and the 50’s when the United States was “on top of the mountain.”  Really?  I’m pretty clear that our African-American brothers and sisters will disagree with you.  Are our “best years” the ones in which only some of us are on top?  That’s sad.  I don’t think so.  Perhaps we’re being sold to Egypt.  I don’t know.  Maybe we’ve got a long wilderness ahead.  Maybe we are walking down that mountain headed for who knows what.  Maybe we will find ourselves in Egypt.  Maybe we will find ourselves in Jerusalem.  Maybe we will find ourselves enslaved by something we never saw coming or crucified by those who want to maintain things the way they are.  Maybe there is a rough road ahead.  Maybe not.  Maybe our stocks will pop back up tomorrow and everything will be hunky dory.  Maybe not.  Whatever happens, we are in the midst of change. The road to change is not always an easy one.  But somewhere on that road, we will find transformation.  We will find deliverance.  We will find redemption.  But right now we’ve got to come down from the mountain…After all, I think it’s WAY too cloudy to see what’s going on up here.  (Hmmm!  Maybe that’s our whole problem.)

And they took Joseph to Egypt…and you know what?  No one was ever the same again.  We’ve been to the mountaintop…now is the time to move on.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Threshold

In this Sunday’s Lectionary readings, the passage from the Hebrew Scriptures is the end of the account of Noah and The Great Flood. Noah and his family have listened to God, built the ark, and have now been cooped up for months as the torrential waters pounded against the wood of their somewhat tenuous residence, drowning the very earth and all the foundations that they knew. Noah sends a bird out to “test the waters”. The bird returns. After several attempts, the bird finally does not return. The land is ready; the waters have receded and the earth has reappeared. And there–there in the sky is a splash of color, a bow in the clouds, the sign of God’s promise that Creation will never again be separated from its Creator.

The Celts understood the rainbow as a bridge, a threshold between what is and what will be. It is, in Celtic terms, a “thin place”, as the thin gaseous vapors form a sort of bridge in the clouds between one way of being and the next. This is the bridge to promise and discovery; this is the bridge to life. Hey….maybe there really is a pot of gold at the end!

This is a perfect passage for Lent. We are indeed in a threshold season, a season between one world and the next, between death and eternity, between who we are and what we will be. Lent is not a season where we withdraw, pulling ourselves away from our lives and the world. For some of us, we think we need to do that, giving up things that are part of our lives to remind us of our connection to God. Don’t get me wrong. Lent is a contemplative and retrospective season, a season when we take a good hard look at our lives, at their failings and misgivings, at the ways that we have been complicit in the continued crucifixion of goodness and grace and love. But the retrospection is not to fill us with remorse or regret; it is to propel us forward through the threshold. It is to open to our eyes to the thin places, where the colors come alive and the way is clear.

The rainbow, the promise of hope, is, in physical terms, a reflection. It is a mirror of what surrounds it. And in that mirror, in that threshold, we see ourselves–our life, our death, and, our glorious resurrection. Because, after all, that IS the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

So go forth this season and seek the threshold–do not be afraid–it is filled with hope and promise like nothing you’ve ever known!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

Ash Wednesday

Lent, which, literally, means “springtime” is a time of nurturing and preparation. And, like springtime, it is also a time of growth and renewal, a re-greening and bringing back to life of our winter-worn souls. Our forty days of Lent are reminiscent of the forty trying days that Jesus spent in the dry and secluded wilderness as he readied himself for his ministry. In the same way, this is a preparation time for us as we begin that walk toward the cross and into a deeper walk with God.

Joan Chittister says that “Lent is not an event. It is not something that happens to us. It is at most a microcosm of what turns out to be a lifelong journey to the center of the self. The purpose of Lent is to confront us with ourselves in a way that’s conscious and purposeful, that enables us to deal with the rest of life well.” She calls it a “growing season”, rather than a “penitential season”. We are not called to wallow in guilt during this time; we are not necessarily called to deprive ourselves of things we need; we are called to begin to look at things differently.

So on this Ash Wednesday, as we begin this journey, we are called to repentance, to a turning around, to change. People often look upon this day with fear and trembling. It is not meant to be that way. But it is a day that forces us to look at ourselves and our own lives and, perhaps for some of us, that can be a little uncomfortable. Think of it, though, as a threshold that begins a journey into new life, a window to a new way of seeing, and a doorway to a new way of being. It is a time for clearing, a time for preparing the ground for planting; it is a time for breathing out, letting out all the things that stand in the way of your relationship with God, thereby making way to breathe in what God offers. It is the day when we say “here I am, God, just as I am. But I am ready. I am ready to change! I am ready to be renewed and made whole.” And it is the day when we finally admit that we cannot do it alone and that somewhere in the fallow of our lives, God comes in and we are made whole.

So Ash Wednesday is not just a day of morose belittling of ourselves. A rabbi once told his disciples, “Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into the one or the other, depending on their needs. When feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: “Ani eifer v’afar; I am dust and ashes. But when feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or without hope, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: “Bishvili nivra ha’olam…For my sake the world was created.”
Lent is not about giving things up; it is about emptying your life that you may be filled. Lent is not about going without; it is about making room for what God has to offer. And this beginning of Lent is not about clothing yourself in the morbidness of your humanity; it is about embracing who you are before God.

So go toward the Cross and embrace the you that God is breathing in!

Grace and Peace,

Shelli