Vision Quest

Vision QuestScripture Text:  John 12: 20-33

 20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. 27“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.


In some Native American cultures, a vision quest is a rite of passage, a time of coming of age. In many tribes, a vision quest requires that a person spend at least four to five days secluded in nature, in the wilderness, so to speak. During that time, the person participates in what is characterized as deep spiritual communion. It is a time of transition, perhaps of “finding oneself”. It is a time of finding one’s direction, a turning toward who one is supposed to be.


We know this Scripture passage well. It is the point where Jesus metaphorically, if not literally, turns toward the Cross. It is the point where Jesus begins walking and beckons others to follow, to let go of all to which they are holding and follow. But I think I have often sort of skipped over the first two verses. What an odd interplay. Greeks, outsiders, come to worship at the festival. Now I guess you could assume that they were Jewish if they were coming to worship. But they are still not part of Jesus’ inner circle. And they head right up to Philip. The passage makes it clear that Philip, too, was on some level an “outsider”. He was from Bethsaida, the “house of fishing”, the place on the Galilean Lake where Jesus had probably called him to follow, along with some of the other disciples. And to Philip, the Greek questors make their request: “We wish to see Jesus.”


On the surface, it is a simple enough request. But when you consider that they were Greeks, accustomed to knowledge and learning, probably used to the more pragmatic way of looking at things, the notion of “seeing” Jesus is interesting. And there is no answer given. Jesus goes right into laying out what is about to happen. Maybe the idea is that wishing to see is a way of seeing, that desiring to be close to Jesus brings one closer, that one’s awakening to Jesus’ Passion is what brings one into it.


What if this season of Lent became our vision quest? What if here in the wilderness that leads to the Cross, where our plans go awry and we are at the mercy of circumstances that we cannot seem to control to our liking, we see life, we see Jesus, we see ourselves in a different way? What would it mean here, in a place to which we are unaccustomed, we were to ask to see Jesus—not just assume that Jesus is there, not just walk through Passion and Holy Week the way we always have, but to truly, in the deepest part of our being, desire to see Jesus, to know Jesus (not the Jesus that picks us up, not the Jesus who we like to call our brother or our friend or whatever word implies a close friendship, but the Jesus who has turned and walked away toward the Cross and now beckons us to follow.)? Now is the time. Now is the time for your own vision quest.


Every question in life is an invitation to live with a touch more depth, a breath more meaning. (Joan Chittister)

FOR TODAY:  Go on a vision quest.  Learn to see anew.  Wish, in the deepest part of your being, to see Jesus—not the one that you’ve been so comfortable seeing, but the one who beckons to you to follow.

Grace and Peace,


Be Thou My Vision

Celtic CrossScripture Text: John 1: 1-5

 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 being 4in 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.


Well, just because we’re wandering in the wilderness does not mean that we are not allowed to paint ourselves green and celebrate with good ole’ St. Patrick. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Because even those of us who are in traditions where we honor few feast days of Saints get in on this one! 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.


I love the Celtic tradition. It has fed me spiritually for some time.  It’s probably a little wilder than that to which most of us are accustomed. Deborah Cronin characterized is as “a bit on the edge”. Rather than shunning the pagan belief that they inherited, they brought Christianity into it, letting the two traditions enter into a holy conversation. In fact, the Celtic Christians, without the limitations imposed by the Roman church, embraced even those considered “heretics” as part of their faith. So their version of the Christian tradition was “broadened” a bit beyond the traditional claims. See, history tells us that the Roman Empire never made it to Ireland, leaving the green isle just beyond the control of both the emperor and the authorities of early Christianity as most of us know it. So Ireland and the other islands that claimed this Celtic strain of belief, birthed a Christian experience somewhat removed both geographically and theologically from mainland Europe. It is Christianity mingled with, but not compromised by, the finest aspects of pagan Celtism, those that found resonance with Christian symbols and understanding. For Celtic Christians the experience of vision is a tangible way of seeing what God has done and then seeing it through God’s creative eyes, followed by seeing the life-giving possibilities God sees. Not overly concerned with ecclesiastical matters, the Celtic Way is instead expressed through the beauty of art and symbols, the richness of prayers and poetry, and an understanding of the sacredness of all of Creation.


What would our faith look like if we understood all Creation as sacred? What would our beliefs be if we allowed them to grow beyond what tradition has handed us? What would our lives look like if saw everything as “of God”, as a way that God is perhaps speaking to us, maybe leading us down a different path? What would our journey be if we became connected to more than what we know, more than what we see? What would it mean to live our lives “a bit on the edge”, in liminality (“betwixt and between”), as the Celts would have called it, on a threshold between what we know and what we don’t, between what we see and what has yet to be revealed to us, between what is true and what is Truth? In this season of Lent, we are called to open our thoughts, open our hearts to the way that God is leading us. We are called not just to see what is obvious but to let God be our Vision, our way of seeing, to enter the Sacred with new eyes and a new heart. Maybe we will find that the way out of this wilderness is not by exiting it but by beginning to see it differently, as a way filled with sacredness and wonder, as a Way of God.


Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish—separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world. But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two. Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars. (Barbara Brown Taylor)


FOR TODAY: Close your eyes and imagine God as your Vision. Open your eyes and behold the Sacred in everything…And THEN paint yourself green and do whatever you do to celebrate St. Patty’s Day!


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




Garden Gate-2



The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.  (Rainer Maria Rilke)


Scripture Passage for Reflection:  Isaiah 62: 10

Go through, go through the gates, prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway, clear it of stones, lift up an ensign over the peoples.


I heard today that “selfie” is the word of the year for 2013.  Amazing, really, that the most prevalent part of our lives as a people and as a culture has to do with taking a picture of oneself; in other words, the thing that we have elevated to the most descriptive part of who we are is a focus on our selves.  But look, look up ahead!  There is so much out there.  There is beauty that we’ve never seen and things that we’ve never experienced.  There are those that can teach us, those that can lead us, and those that can walk with us.  There is more to us than our selves that we have fabricated, the selves that we think are “photo-ready” for the world.

Once again, we find ourselves standing at the gate of a new year.  We’ve done this before.  We’ve made resolutions and with every part of our being have meant to change our course, to do things differently, or to make our lives better or more fulfilling.  Perhaps our problem is that as we enter the gate each year, we enter something new but we somehow manage to drag our own baggage with us.  We step through the threshold still harboring regrets of past failures or fears for what may lie ahead.  We don’t really want to let go of those selves that we have worked so hard to show to the world.  Our eyes are still inwardly focused.

This gate is a place of liminality, where our eyes are opened to both the past and the future.  It is the place where we connect to both.  Now I don’t think that we can possibly separate one time from the next, nor do we want to.  God has placed us in a world that was here long before any of us came to be and one that will more than likely be here long after any of us are gone.  We do not exist in a vacuum.  Each of our years builds upon the ones before and our lives build upon lives that came before us, some of which we never knew.  Each of us are called to be builders, one brick at a time, to build this road that God lays before us.  So which brick is yours to place?  What part is yours to build?  And what parts do you have to set down and leave behind so that your hands will be free to build?

In her book, There Is a Season, Sr. Joan Chittister tells a story that goes: Once upon a time some disciples asked their rabbi, “In the book of Elijah we read: ‘Everyone in Israel is duty bound to say, “When will my work approach the works of my ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?”’ But how are we to understand this?  How could we in our time ever venture to think that we could do what they could?”  The rabbi explained:  “Just as our ancestors invented new ways of serving, each a new service according to their own character—one the service of love, the other that of stern justice, the third that of beauty—so each one of us in our own way must devise something new in the light of the teachings and of service and do what has not yet been done.”

Devising something new…no pressure there!  But maybe it’s not a “thing”.  Maybe it’s just a new way of looking at one’s life, a way of looking at the world and one’s place in it.  It means oh so much more than a selfie!  (Which I guess is no longer put into quotes since it is apparently an actual word!)  This gate is the place where we embrace what we’ve been handed from those that came before us as well as the self of our past.  This gate is the place where we can peer into the unknown.  The gate is the place where we begin our new selves.

I stand at the gate of this new year.  I do not know what the other side will show me or what the road will hold.  I know that there are things that I love, things that I think  in this moment that I cannot live without, that I will leave behind and people and things that I do not know that will become part of me.  I know that I will feel joy and grief.  I know that there is beauty that I have not seen and lessons that I have not learned.  I know that there are things that I will discover, things that I will write, and things that I will make my own.  I know that there are new dances to dance.  I know that there are those things that will bring me closer to God.  But, above all, I know that the other side of the gate holds God’s vision for me, the vision of the self that I am supposed to become.

Sacred Mystery,  Waiting on the threshold of this New Year, you open the gates and beckon to me:  “Come! Come! Be not wary of what awaits you as you enter the unknown terrain, be not doubtful of your ability to grow from its joys and sorrows.  For I am with you.  I will be your Guide.  I will be your Protector.  You will never be alone.”

Guardian of the New Year,  I set aside my fears, worries, concerns.  I open my life to mystery, to beauty, to hospitality, to questions, to the endless opportunity of discovering you in my relationships, and to all the silent wisps of wonder that will draw me to your heart.

I welcome your unfailing Presence and walk with hope into this New Year.  Amen.

(Joyce Rupp,  Out of the Ordinary:  Prayers, Poems, and Reflections for Every Season)


Have a wonderful and blessed New Year!

Grace and Peace,


What God is About to Do

HorizonPassage for Reflection:  Isaiah 65: 17-18

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

I know…more visioning.  I guess that’s where I am this year.  I’m sorry if you were tuning in hoping to feel good about where you are!  No really, I don’t think God is disappointed in us; God just wants the best for us.  Isn’t that just like God?  There is nothing wrong with where we are.  I love this earth.  I love this country.  I love this state and the fact that I’m generations into it.  I love this city.  I love St. Paul’s.  I love my house.  I love my life.  But in case you think I am nothing more than an annoying cheerleader, I also count on the fact that there is always something more, something just over the horizon.  I think that Advent does a good job of reminding us of that horizon, reminding us that what we have and what we hold is really not “it”.  No, regardless of where we think we’ve been headed, we have not “arrived”.

This passage for today is not some unrealistic pipe dream.  It is not something that slashes our view of the life that we’ve created.  It just shows us something more.  It is real.  It is what God is about to do–maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, maybe not even in the next ten centuries.  But we are people of faith.  We are people of what God, always, is about to do.  The question is do we live our lives holding on to what we have or do we live our lives looking for what God is about to do.

There is a Native American tale of a chief who had three sons.  He knew that he was nearing the end of his life and had not yet decided which of his sons would succeed him as chief.  So, he gathered them together and pointed to a mountain in the distance.  “I want you to journey to that mountain, climb to its summit, and bring back the thing you think will be most helpful in leading our people”.  After several days, the first son returned with a load of flint stones, used to make arrow tips and spear points.  He told his father, “Our people will never live in fear of their enemies.  I know where there is a mountain of flint.”  The second son climbed to the top of the mountain, and found forests rich with wood for making fires.  When he returned, he said to his father, “Our people will never be cold in winter.  I know where wood can be found in abundance to keep them warm and to cook their food.  The third son returned late and empty-handed.  He told his father, “When I got to the summit, I found nothing worth bringing back.  I searched and searched, but the top of the mountain was barren rock and useless.  Then I looked out towards the horizon, far into the distance.  I was astonished to see new land filled with forests and meadows, mountains and valleys, fish and animals—a land of great beauty and perfect peace.  I brought nothing back, for the land was still far off and I didn’t have time to travel there.  But I would love to go there someday; I delayed coming back because I found it very difficult to return after seeing the beauty of that land.”  The old chief’s eyes blazed.  He grasped his third son in his arms, proclaiming that he would succeed him as the new chief.  He thought to himself, “The other sons brought back worthy things, necessary things.  But my third son has a vision.  He has seen a better land, the promised land, and he burns with the desire to go there.”

As I said, this is not something that God is dangling out there like some sort of teaser knowing that we will never reach it.  God really means for us to glimpse what God is about to do, to move toward it, to love and desire it so much that we can do nothing else but go toward it.  I do not know what my future holds.  None of us do.  But I know that just over the horizon is something so incredible that I burn with desire to go there.  It is the place that God means for me to go.

Today is the twelfth day of Advent.  (Wait, wasn’t that supposed to be the twelfth day of Christmas?)  We are halfway through this waiting, halfway through this season that calls us to put a hold on our plans, to look to the horizon, to strain and squint for a glimpse, just a glimpse of what will be.  Today is the twelfth day of the twelfth month.  The symbolic meaning of twelve is completeness, whole.  That’s right.  The vision has not come to fruition, but that doesn’t mean that it is not complete.  It is there, just as it should be, just over the horizon.  And now…now we will start living into what we see.  Because, you see, it is about what God is about to do…

Reflection:  What does that place just over the horizon look like to you?  What would you give up to take the time to go toward it?  What do you see that God is about to do?

Grace and Peace,


Impersonalization of Faith

“The Peaceable Kingdom”
John Swanson, 1994

This journey of faith is a personal one, right?  Isn’t that what we’re told?  We’re suppose to find some way to connect to God, some way to find our own path to God, some way to express our own faith.  We are told that we’re supposed to have a personal faith in Jesus Christ.  And so we spend our time to trying to find our way, trying to find that one thing or that one way that makes us feel the most connected to God, makes us feel like we’re finally once and for all getting this faith thing figured out.

But ARE we called to a personal faith?  ARE we called to “find our own way?  I thought we were called to make disciples, to love one another, and to put down our lives.  Those don’t really sound all that individual and personal, when you really think about it.  They sound like community.  They sound like connection.  They sound like Communion.  We are called to be the Body of Christ.  It’s hard to do that by yourself.  I really do think that God envisioned us together.  Perhaps God even envisioned this bantering and this arguing and even this war of words and wits that so many of our religious denominations (including my own United Methodist one) are experiencing.  Maybe it’s part of what we’re meant to do.  It’s painful; it’s hurtful; it sometimes pulls us apart. 

We all have our own vision of what God’s Kingdom looks like.  I know I do.  I envision a world where all of us are welcomed, all of us are fed, and all of us are valued for the gifts that God has placed in each of us.  But do I?  Do I welcome those with whom I disagree?  Do I feed those with whom I am uncomfortable?  And do I truly value those gifts that God has placed in those persons that have a vision that is different from mine?  I don’t think that unity is about sameness.  I’ve come to think that it’s not even about agreement.  Unity has more to do with recognizing that the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ is bigger than any one group, or one view, or one way of experiencing God.  It has to do with leaving the door open, with sensing that there’s something more, something beyond what we think and what we believe.  And together in faith, we will have to discern when we are called to be patient and when we are called to be persistent, when we are called to be open to moving and when we are called to stand firm, and, finally, when we are called to go into the wilderness, into the unknown and face our demons and prepare ourself for what is to come, and when we are called to go as a people to Jerusalem.  Perhaps this Lenten journey is a call not to strengthen our faith but to impersonalize it and realize that we are called, together, to be the Body of Christ.

So on this twenty-fourth day of Lenten observance, get out of yourself.  Impersonalize your faith a bit and open yourself to someone else on this journey.

Grace and Peace on this Lenten Journey,