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Archive for April 4th, 2010

cold clouds well past us, and now the Son’s Day breaks,

warming colors, sweet scents, the rejoicing Sun makes.

the buds seem close to popping, Forsythian yellows bloom,

I walk within emergence, bearing witness to the Loom.

no art can be more stunning, no genius can be clearer,

the artist of this Cosmos is stepping ever nearer.

I move and I rest, I rest and I move,

there is nothing whatsoever I ever need to prove.

April 4, Easter Sunday Buds

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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One of the joys of Easter is to gather with our wider family and dine together over entrees that each member of the family prepares. While the noble egg figures prominently in Easter lore and tradition, the icon of Resurrection Sunday in fact, what of the simple potato? Solanum Tuberosum, one of the nightshades and an herbaceous perennial, has been a vital part of history. It has for centuries been the perfect complement to a meal. Prepared properly, it is a very special delight.

It has become a family tradition that we prepare the bean casserole and the mashed potatoes. Everyone digs into the large bowl with enthusiasm and impatience for what is a unique taste experience. With just the right proportion of butter and cream, this velvety smooth accompaniment to a meal centered on a marinated roast is quite honestly “heavenly.” It is food that deserves far greater prominence and celebration. After all, it has been a vital staple in Europe and in the States for a very long time.

Furthermore, as  a student of signs and symbols, I find it a striking tuber to serve on Easter Sunday. The potato arises from the Earth.  It must be surfaced and then cleaned off, peeled, and then cooked ( mashed or otherwise). It is food that can only be enjoyed in its arising. That it comes from the earth itself is also poetic: such a great and enlivening, delicious, and velvety flavor from something that spent its growing years in complete darkness: a burial food enjoyed upon its resurrection.

In dining today on whatever main courses and vegetables, I do hope you enjoy the sensational potato and everything it represents.

Bon Appetit!

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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Easter Sunday Vigil & First Eucharist, April 3/4, 2010

This is the central feast of the Church, the day commemorating the Resurrection, the rebirth of the Light of the World. It is the conclusion of the 40 days of Lent. At the Vigil, the celebration begins with the lighting of a fire in a small urn outside the church after sundown. From that fire, the Paschal candle is lit, and then all individual candles held by congregants are ignited from that central one. All walk into a darkened church holding their candles, and it creates a marvelously otherworldly feeling. It is beautiful and one of my favorite liturgical celebrations.

What follows are readings that make clear the promises of G-d to Man and retell the stories of His mythic interventions in Human affairs beginning with the creation itself. The readings draw our attention to the four elements: earth, air, fire and water. We re-read the story of the seven days of creation and the formation of diversity out of an undifferentiated fabric. We revisit the legendary flood, Noah, and his rescue of all species on the Ark. We reconsider the Exodus of the Jews and their deliverance from Egypt, Moses and the parting of the Red Sea, allowing the chosen people to pass, and how the water’s divided then collapse in upon the Egyptians as they attempt the crossing. We read, once again, the harrowing and deeply disturbing tale of Isaac and his son Jacob, whom Isaac was first asked to sacrifice at knife-point by G-d, but was then turned away from doing so by the Spirit of the Lord at the very last moment.

All of this context setting and pre-figurement exists as stage-setting for the telling of the central mystery of Christendom: G-d’s sacrifice of His “Only Begotten Son” ( doing, in effect, what he would not have Isaac do) in an act of incomprehensible Divine vulnerability that reveals the marriage of divine and creaturely aspects within humanity. As I wrote in my last post for Holy Saturday, the celebration revolves entirely around the return of the light that pierces all darkness, once and for all.

Tonight, I chose a local church to visit that I’ve never attended before. Consequently, I knew no one there. My intent was to have the experience of Easter Vigil not as a Priest but as a stranger to a congregation on the central night of the liturgical calendar. The good news is I arrived successfully. The bad news (maybe) is that I arrived about 10 minutes late. As I parked down the road, the congregation was gathered outside the church for the lighting of the first fire. As I approached ( as covertly and unobtrusively as I could), a gentleman reached out to me with a candle so that I could immediately join in the process. The prayers outside were just finishing up and then we began the precessional.

Once inside, while just a little sheepish and a bit distracted from the rushing to get to the church, I soon relaxed and entered into the rhythm of the proceedings. It was delightful, and people reacted as if I had attended for years. I spent time pondering each of the readings and then the Gospel, and listened attentively to the homily, simple and to the point: Live in the Light!

It was all a palpable demonstration of the need for the “sangha,” the community. Collective worship reconnects everyone together in a mystical union that cannot otherwise be duplicated. It is a necessary part of the journey (balanced, of course, with ample contemplative time in solitude). The Vigil itself clinched my meditations this week (as I’ve shared them in my earlier posts). One question kept going through my mind, though, as I followed along and joined in the singing of the hymns (a few of which I frankly didn’t much care for as they seemed less than pleasantly melodious).

What are they each experiencing? How will this experience shape them, affect them, and trigger the next steps in their own spiritual odyssey? What mystery is unfolding underneath our moments together?

It is these things that are so much more important than what anyone believes intellectually. All that imagery and “mind-stuff” is interesting, but it doesn’t usually rise to the level of existential drama when things get very real. In the church at such times, one sees G-d in the smiling faces and in the greetings of recognition. There is a warmth (almost familial) and a yearning to get above the personal troubles of the days and weeks before and after the event.

There is a need to be noticed and acknowledged. It is a time to be received, accepted unconditionally, without judgment, and with open arms. [At least, that is the aspiration, the fervent hope. Certainly, there is no lack of politics and game-playing in parishes. In fact, parish life and conflicts can get quite ugly, pedestrian, and trivial]. While that is part of the human experience in all communities, on this special night, the celebration turns to matters of deepest urgency: our identity beyond space and time, an identity that transcends issues and personalities.

One case in point was in the singing. The cantor, up above and behind me in the  balcony, had a sweet coloratura, yet faint, almost hesitant. I could not see her, but the voice communicated advanced age and a reserved manner. It was pleasant enough, though some of the notes were well off, but none of that really mattered. After a while, her antiphons and timbre became a part of the complex texture of the overall experience. There was an innocence to it. Altar servers, male and female, were attentive, especially when one of the deacons set the forsythia branches on fire in a moment of careless positioning of the candle he was holding. He dealt with it and seemed furious with himself and embarrassed. I could relate to how he must have felt having had many mishaps of one kind or another of my own at the altar over the years. But this too was only a minor blip (fortunately) in the proceedings, and not the main event that was bubbling up from beneath.

The service was long and I caught myself drifting. I gently brought myself back to the process. About mid-way through the readings, the content began to stir  memory and imagination. Everything up to that point was a preparation, a getting settled in, a tuning of the instrument as it were. I started to remember key events in my younger life:

  • my first communion ( and choking on the host & feeling as if I’d be consigned to hell for that),
  • the Confirmation slap ( which hurt, seeming a bit angry, I recall, from a Bishop who I thought was a bit peeved),
  • my wedding service ( and the Priest’s comment that statistics on marriage success were appalling),
  • my early endeavors toward Priesthood in the Episcopal Church ( dashed by conflicts with an autocratic and narcissistic pastor),
  • my discovery much later of an Independent Rite and ordination, after Seminary, to the diaconate and priesthood ( whereupon that community fell apart owing to conflicts among the bishops),
  • my invitation by a Bishop in a separate Rite in the northeast to serve once again, elevation to the Episcopacy and election as Coadjutor ( then followed within a year by my disillusionment with actions on the part of the archbishop that were politically motivated, irregular, and non-canonical.

What an interesting series of contrasts, adventures, and misadventures: openings and closings, great promises, and deep disappointments. I then thought about the far more important moments:

  • praying with my mother when she laid dying,
  • doing the same with my father,
  • being present to bless a cousin suffering after major surgery and bolstering his confidence and faith in the outcome,
  • visiting other sick and despondent people,
  • working with young people and adults in the context of pastoral counseling, and
  • offering my listening to the always fascinating stories of good people trying to wade through the drama and mysteries of their lives.

What a privilege!

Adding all these fleeting memories together, one golden thread ran through them: a call to shine light into places that needed it, sometimes entailing disappointment and distress for me, but nonetheless a mandate to be authentic and true to principle. It was about shining light first on my story, without dodging the difficult moments, the foolishness, the times of ego and ambition, and allowing the fabric of time to draw a picture of what it really means to live in good faith. Only then could I be of any real service to others. The Vigil tonight was, at least for me, a confirmation of a path and a renewed call to serve based on whatever emerges; a peripatetic ministry.

The alchemical task and the meaning of Easter is to be the Christ for others; to be a catalyst for their discovery of their own path, their own meaning, helping them to uncover their own genius so that they can be a brighter beacon in the firmament of time.

The Crucifixion and the Resurrection are continuous, conjoined, unfolding sacred happenings in our lives. The dance of night and day, darkness devoid of light and Light devoid of darkness, is perpetual. In the readings of the Vigil Liturgy, the compilers of Biblical lore told of many promises made to the chosen people. These were promises that meant the foretold the end of suffering and, in being among the elect, to experience a virtually charmed and divinely favored life. Never again, G-d is said too  have promised Noah, will Humanity suffer the likes of the Great Deluge.

But history instead is a story of one after another broken promise: the oceans are rising, the hurricanes more ferocious, the coastlines are dramatically eroding, earthquake generated tsunamis are much in the news, the ice caps are melting and many rivers have crested and we read of extensive flooding, damage and loss of life. We focus on the revelation and the fulfillment of the scriptures, but the “promises” attributed to    G-d represent humanity’s deepest hope. In reality, the objects of that hope are hard won and elusive.

Our task is to see a deeper truth in scripture; that the end of suffering is our’s to achieve. We were fashioned in His image ( the “Imago Dei”). We are accountable to be the solution, not to wait around for supernatural agency to do it for us. Frankly, He isn’t coming. That’s the key. He gave us everything we need to find the answers. His blessing is on us. The Light is eternal. It is real and it burns brightly within us. It is ours to shine or to extinguish.

This is the hard but true lesson of the Easter season, of the tension between Crucifixion and Resurrection. As consciousness truly leaps ahead, and we see more clearly, we can act with full and unfettered Spirit and transform the World. Christ is in us.

Let us embrace the Christic miracle and be the Christ for one another. This is the real transformational fruit of authentic liturgy vs what can otherwise become a routine formula of merely skin-deep public worship.

Happy Easter. He is Risen and the Rising is evolving every second within Us!

© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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