A Meditation for Advent

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Blessed are you, God of mercy and might,
with tender comfort and transforming power
you come into our midst.

You remember your ancient promise
and make straight the paths that lead to you
and smooth out the rough ways,
that in our day
we might bring forth your compassion
for all humanity.

For these and all your mercies, we praise you:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Blessed be God for ever! AMEN

What am I waiting for?

A voice says, 'Cry out!'
And I say, 'What shall I cry?'
When words seem futile
and they seem inadequate
and they seem heavy.

What shall I say? 

What am I waiting for?

I wait for a return to our eternal home. 
That place of promise where things are as they should be.
The place just beyond the veil that covers my own eyes.
That place on the other side of the mirror
or the other side of the Universe?

I wait for God, the origin of all that is spectacular and plain.
As if I knew what to look for, being rather unaccustomed
to paying attention to the plain,
and rather bad at recognizing the spectacular even
when it unfolds gently before me
in unexpected places.

Isaiah says:  "the word of our God will stand for ever."

I wait for that word... because it sometimes seems silent.
And I forget that, in that silence, God waits with me.
I wait for lighting bolts
and great revelations
as though the Incarnation
were not enough.
The Word made flesh
who dwelt among us
and dwells among us
Incarnating among us
and in us
and with us
Until the end of time.

Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
'Here is your God!'

What am I waiting for?

I wait for the One whom eternity cannot contain.
Large enough to surpass the Universe and all that we know and sense and feel...

and yet still small enough to slip through our fingers
to slip through the cells and the atoms and the particles
into infinite smallness.

I wait for the One who is more than time
and space, and quantum physics, and string theories

And I forget that we worship One whose name is Emmanuel:
God with us.

See, the Lord God comes with might,
God will feed these flocks like a shepherd;
God will gather the lambs in upraised arms,
and carry them in a soft bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

I wait for the One who inhabits the Universe
and entered time with the wails of a tiny Child.
One who is infinitely strong
and infinitely vulnerable
One who needs nothing from us
and yet desires everything that we have.

One whose self-emptying sacrifice and love
was laid in a feeding trough
in a tiny backwater town
in a tiny backwater province
among a peculiar people.
One with dubious parentage
who was swaddled
by a woman of ill repute.
One who would know rejection
more intimately
than I have ever known.

A mewling baby... our God,
helpless and at the mercy of the world.
Too young for words
Too young for ideas
The Eternal One... too young.

I forget that we grown-ups often,
if not always,
get it wrong.

I think... one day I will be wise
Age will make me wise.
Experience will make me wise.

I forget that I should be like a child.
But I forget that life is a choice between wise and jaded
and that I can easily fall one way
or another
depending upon my mood.

What am I waiting for?

I wait for that life which informs our living;
for Christ's compassion which changes our hearts;

I forget that God cannot be contained by our grand theologies and
our random exclusions.
Cannot be contained by our certainties
and cannot be pushed away by our doubts.

What am I waiting for?

I wait for Christ's clear speaking which contradicts our harmless generalities;
for Christ's disturbing presence;

I forget that Christ does not permit me to remain silent
on issues of faith, on morals, on issues of war and peace;
And I forget that for all my words
I often say nothing of any meaning
or spend too much time reducing the world
to delightful platitudes
and ultimately meaningless sound bytes.

I wait for Christ's innocent suffering;
Christ's fearless dying;
Christ's rising to life breathing forgiveness;

Because while I deal with the complexities
of my own internal life;

While I struggle to be better:
a better partner
a better listener
a better friend and colleague

While I unpack the meaning of my Christian life
what it means to be a brother among brothers
to serve rather than to be served;

While I try to listen to the voice of God
and look for the face of Christ

I forget that it is as close as the nearest mirror
or the nearest friend;
and that God speaks in the softest whisper
of my conscience, or the unnoticed "hello."

I forget that Christ has already done
what he set out to do:
That God lived our human life
died a human death
and that he rose again;

Having been rejected, God triumphed.
Having been an outcast, God embraces
one and all
with arms bared in rage at our petty divisions.

What am I waiting for?

Isaiah says again: "Go up to a high mountain,
herald of good tidings to Zion;
lift up your voice with strength,
herald of good tidings to Jerusalem.

Lift up your voice, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah, 'Behold your God!'"

When is the beginning I await if it has already begun?
Do I trust the Spirit to rise up within me?
The Spirit who, from the beginning, attracts us to God's goodness
who even now confronts us with God's claims.

I forget that God is already with us
and that I need to trust
that God's plan is unfolding
in spite of my fears and doubts to the contrary.

And I forget that the Holy Spirit
allows me to say such things;

That it is She who gives voice
to words which still astound me
regardless of how many years they have been said.

What am I waiting for?

Do I forget that I already have God's permission
to speak the Good News;
to give hope to the hopeless?

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
'Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
God will come and save you.'

But I forget that praise alone
does not fulfill Gods purpose.

What am I waiting for?

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! 
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! 
God has taken away the judgments against you
do not let your hands grow weak. Your God, is in your midst, 
God will renew you in God's love; 
God will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival. 
God says: I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. 
And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, 
and I will change their shame into praise and renown. 
I will bring you home.

My brothers and sisters:
as you prepare to reflect
on the Advent of God
as you search for meaning
in words like
waiting
and
anticipation
and
expectation...

Lay down your wisdom
and your will
and your words

search yourselves:
your hearts...
your faith...
your doubts...

empty your hearts,
bring nothing in your hands;

As we open to receive the Spirit
who converts us from the patterns of this passing world

As we trust to God to conform us to the shape of Christ

I ask you:

What are you waiting for?

On Why We Pray

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When we pray, we don’t pray to change God’s mind, to urge God to fix everything, we pray to change our own hearts. We pray to be made compassionate if we are selfish; we pray to be given strength when we feel weak. We pray so that we might take action against injustice or suffering rather than sit idly by. We pray so that we are humbled by our flaws and yet grateful for our gifts and strengths. If our heart is hard, we pray that it be made tender. We pray to see ourselves with clear eyes, neither too proud nor filled with self-doubt and judgment. We pray to be filled with empathy for those who are sick, abandoned, imprisoned, or suffering. We pray to be given the strength to do what is hard. We pray to remember what is within our power to do, and also to remember what is beyond our capacity to control. we pray to remember in hope that all is not lost, that it is NEVER lost. And that we have a role to play in making things better. We pray to grow closer to God and to those who have gone on before us so that we remember the faith that inspired simple lives to be better lives.

This is why we pray. Not to relinquish our own responsibilities to one another, but to remember them! To inflame our sense of right action, not to extinguish it by soothing our conscience to sleep.

So, we pray! We pray so that our eyes become clear and our hearts emptied enough to make room for Love. We pray to be awakened. For God to awaken us all to our present duty! It is here that the world will be made whole.

#WorldAIDSDay #GettingToZero

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HIV/AIDS has defined my generation. As a queer person over fifty, it doesn’t take amazing powers of observation to note that there are far fewer gay men in my generation than there ought to be. Of the men my age that I do know, a large percentage of them are HIV positive. I am lucky to have escaped HIV infection myself.

By the time I was 30, I’d lost many of my closest friends. Many more would succumb since then. They were frightening times. And those times are not over yet.

I came out before we knew what HIV/AIDS was. We heard whispers of “gay cancer” and “gay pneumonia.” We watched on as the media called the disease GRID (Gay Related Immune Disorder) and immediately stigmatized our community. I remember having to go back into the closet after having been out, because I worked in the food service industry and we worried about the stigma. And quite a stigma it was…even after we knew what it was and how it was transmitted.

I remember once being refused treatment by an emergency room hospital nurse because she was convinced that I must have AIDS even though I assured her I did not have the virus. This was in 1994. I still remember her with her plastic helmet and visor covering her face, the plastic covering and gloves that she wore and her refusal to take a blood sample.

Since I was first sexually active, I have never until PreP been able to enjoy an intimate sexual experience without the threat of HIV looming in the background. It was always there…waiting. I have taken the “test” more times in my life than I can count, and it was never easy - waiting to know.

I have watched my HIV positive sibs stigmatized, watched as our community struggled with how and whether to change behaviors, struggled with how to communicate about sero-status (or not), and watched as pharmaceutical companies profited off of our desire to live even while reaping huge financial benefit.

I remember buried lovers and partners. I remember buried best friends and people I thought I’d grow old with. I have witnessed untold suffering and struggle even among those who have survived.

I watched HIV/AIDS undermine the movement towards LGBT* rights, and I have watched the struggle with the disease knit together gay men and lesbians into a strong community of support, for without those women who cared for our community members during the worst of the pandemic among the gay community, we would never have survived it.

I have watched HIV/AIDS decimate countries and populations across the African continent. I have watched as at risk populations shift and morph due to ineffective education efforts, cultural dynamics, homophobia, transphobia, stigma against sex workers, and economic circumstance; watched rates of infection soar among African-American and Latino populations, watched as younger gay men ignore the lessons we’ve learned only to have HIV spike again among young gay men; watched infection rates soar among people of color, the trans* community, among older straight populations who think that it doesn’t affect them; watched HIV take root in southeast Asia, the populations of South America.

I have watched cottage industries around HIV/AIDS support turn into multi-million dollar cash cows.

I have watched candle-light vigils shrink as our LGBT* community sinks into the complacency of HIV/AIDS as a treatable disease.

I have watched survivors grow weary with fatigue and survivor’s guilt, and watched sero-positive friends deal with the effects of long term medication. And still, death awaits them eventually. What is it like to live your life as a dying person for twenty years? Thirty years?

I have witnessed friends who still dedicate every bit of free time to AIDS Walks and Runs and Cycling routes that traverse the nation, afraid that if they stop no one will remember or care anymore about the trauma of this disease. About the people we’ve lost, the great creative minds, the lost potentials, the love and the laughter.

As far as I’m concerned, there can never be enough conversation, never enough reminders about HIV/AIDS and it’s consequences. Mine is a generation where grief, sorrow, and the trauma of this disease are always just beneath the surface. It has informed our struggle for rights and for acceptance.

AIDS is not over. HIV infections continue to soar. And current estimates suggest that nearly 50% of HIV positive people don’t even know that they’re infected. Today, World AIDS Day, is important. We must never let the dialogue stop until HIV/AIDS is wiped off the planet. Whatever it takes. However long it takes.

Please share this if you wish. Remember those who have died. Remember those who still live with this disease every day. Remember those of us who have survived and grieve and struggle to remind the world that it is not over yet.

Learning to Wait Again In Hope

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We are an impatient people. We hate waiting. We want the things we want - now. We rush to build careers, rush to get married - to find love. We can’t wait for weekends. In the world of social media and the endless news cycle, we rush to judgments and criticisms. We speak without thinking, without waiting.

We sit on the edge of a precipice, ready to leap at the slightest provocation, expecting that whatever awaits us on the other side will quickly catch us so that we never really run true risk. It’s the hallmark of entitlement.

It’s no wonder that the one season of spiritual and liturgical time dedicated to waiting is one that almost no one pays attention to anymore, let alone honors. Advent shouldn’t just be for Christian folk. It should be for everyone. Sadly, some Christian folk don’t even bother with the season. And the world is worse off because we don’t show it what it means to slow down. To wait. To wait in hope.

I’ve become convinced that beneath the frenzy of our lives, there lingers either carelessness or hopelessness. Either we don’t care about what the future holds, or we dare not hope. And this is a terrible indictment of a culture that has lost its spiritual center.

We don’t seem to have a problem pausing in momentary and transient celebration. We can do so in the most hedonistic and overindulgent ways. And we don’t seem to have any issues with stopping to momentarily mourn something or someone that has passed away - even though we often do it with a moribund nostalgia.

But we aren’t a culture that thinks ahead to future hope, unless of course it involves career trajectories and marriage plans and long term retirement plans for investment.

Advent hope is different. Without a future vision of the day that the world becomes whole, when peace and justice reign, when wars shall cease and all will be well - what do we have to work for?

The Christian season of Advent is a time not only of remembering, but of hoping. We remember the coming of our teacher and Lord Jesus in his earthly life, and we await the return of that hope in a future time when the Creation will be restored at the return of the Christ consiousness.

For the non-Christian world, our celebration of Advent should be a witness to a hope that transcends the particulars of Christian faith, and offers a pause in our lives to reflect. Just what DO we hope will become of us? What is our part in that future hope?

Can we pause from the busy-ness of the world and its preoccupations long enough to indulge in hopes and dreams that one day the world will find its center again and make peace instead of war? Where we will ensure that all have enough?

Can we pause long enough to think about a vision of a world that is restored and pulled back from its folly? Where we will no longer take out our anxieties for enough on our fragile planet?

Can we take a break from the frenzy of our lives, day in and day out, to consider that the future we bequeath to our children ought to be one of hope rather than hopelessness, and are we willing to take the time to offer them that vision here and now?

Advent is a season for hope. A hope remembered, a hope restored, and a hope renewed in the midst of care and worry. Take some time to pause and reflect.

What in the world do you look forward to?

The Icon of the Wounded Christ

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When I took a retreat many years ago in anticipation of my first profession of religious vows, my retreat director gave me my first copy of the icon of the Wounded Christ. It is to this day one of the most powerful icons I've been blessed to sit with. More than Christ Victor, or Christ the King, or Christ the Teacher, the Wounded Christ brings me closer to God's deep and abiding love than any other.

As Christians, we are called to seek and serve Christ in all people. We are called to see Christ in the outcast, the stranger, and oppressed. But this is not always easy, especially when we deal with people who make us feel uncomfortable. Whose suffering is too close to our own, or whose wounded-ness reminds us too much of our own privilege and its costs.

The icon of the Wounded Christ is a gateway into what it means to find love and compassion for the suffering. It's a window into the reality of a God who endured human pain for the sake of love. All so that we might discover the truth of our unutterable human dignity.

The truth is that we are, as human beings, all united by our common suffering, and redeemed by love, precisely because our God, in Christ, suffered the same indignities and pain that we all endure. And in doing so, carried the truth of our human pain and suffering into the very heart of God.

When you gaze upon the icon of the Wounded Christ, you can see the truth of human dignity shine forth, especially from the eyes. Those windows into the soul bring us closer to our humanity, and to that place where we can find connection with a suffering world. It is not an easy icon to contemplate. It has been one of the few that is capable of bringing me to tears when I contemplate it. But, when I gaze at it long enough, I begin to understand what it truly means to seek and service Christ in all people, especially in those whose wounds are too terribly close to my own fears and anxieties.

Please scroll down and you can see the icon of the Wounded Christ at the bottom of this post.

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You probably have a copy of it in your own home somewhere. I'll bet you didn't even realize that. In fact, why don't you go grab it and bring it back here...I'll wait.

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You see, until you meet Christ here, you will struggle to meet Christ in others. To seek and serve Christ, we must seek the totality of Christ - the victories and sorrows, the loss and the joy, the wounded-ness and the inviolable wholeness of God who became flesh. And it in this icon of the Wounded Christ that we come face to face with all of those things in the image of the first Beloved of God.

I have a dear friend, Sister Merry Peter, of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. A truer prophet and mage of grace I have rarely met in this life. Sister Merry is often out and about in the neighborhood engaged in serving and caring for those who come across her path. She wears a hand mirror on a chain around her neck, to remind people that the joy they feel, the beauty they attribute to her, the blessing that she carries is really nothing more than a reflection of those who stand before her.

And so it is with the icon of the Wounded Christ. The grace, the pain, the very image of God reflected in the un-nameable dignity of the human spirit that gazes back at you - this is where you will learn to love and serve Christ in all people. This is where the seeds of mercy, forgiveness, and redemption are sown in you. In the gaze of Christ who bears all things for the sake of our God whose Name is love. In the eyes of one who is no longer afraid of death, because death will never have the final word. And in the eyes of God who became flesh so that the whole world might be healed. 

The Icon of the Wounded Christ

The Icon of the Wounded Christ

Ave Maria

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MY DEATH is on the page, is in the book,
is on the shelf, is in the house, a tale –
ribbon marked in red by father’s calloused hands
freshly from the plow, a virgin field,
in the hour when enough was never quite.

Hail Mary, full of grace…

MY LIFE is wrapped in rags and straw
in the grain in the mud in an old pine box;
the bray of beasts, a mournful tune whose price
has now come due, and fearfully is whispered
as a mother’s grieving voice within
an upper room now locked and bare illuminated;
where death's sore song is gravely now intoned.

Hail Mary, full of grace…the LORD is with thee…

MY HOPE is in the spear of light, the
thunder-roar, the whispering that,
over and again, softly in an open mouth, says,
“be not afraid,” the sword-pierced
heart that trembles, quickened as a deer
that flees the arrows; the sweet and tender
sorrow of our mad and ranting prophets
who foresaw another glory altogether.

Hail Mary, full of grace…

MY NAME is in the hammered stone,
the broken bread, the wounded flesh,
the jug of wine poured out upon the ground;
oblation for the saints who hover waiting
while bells recall a low-born handmaid, weeping,
begging in the gutter for a crust of bread to eat.

Hail Mary, full of grace…the LORD is with the. Blessed art thou…

MY SUFFERING is in the bread, the fragrant oil,
the salt that sows upon this toiling ground;
a mouth parting gently to receive
a hungry kiss with worthless silver bought; while
there beneath a concrete bridge she sits and weaves
a crown for a forgotten wedding day.

Hail Mary, full of grace…

MY GLORY wears a mantle of blood-roses
twined with thorns, or yet a shroud
of linen finely woven and perfumed;
whose barbs so prick the thumb, or threads
do bind the root of this tongue sweetly.
Be it done. To me. According to your word.

Hail Mary, full of grace…the LORD is with thee. Blessed art thou among women…

MY PEACE is freedom bought, our price
the patient gaze, an old man’s eyes that
loving rest on beauty’s perfect face, 
the darkening words of prophets in
a mother’s ear depart; 
whose sleep will these long valleys fill, 
and these low mountains blanket
with soft flowers, tender blooming.

Hail Mary, full of grace…

MY LOVE is in between these words, is
in the pause, the silence of an empty
house, a story — left behind for those
who in these haunted waters wade. 
Behold, you pleasingly beloved. 
The skies will soon burst open.

Hail Mary, full of grace…blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

Credo

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I BELIEVE that all is all and then, 
That light is not enough, 
that love is, almost. That the world is round today and wasn’t once.

That fish had scales, then legs, then words, then wars. That beauty is a deeply shadowed thing. That I am everywhere, and at all times at once, and that I’m every possibility. That I am nothing.

That the gilded edges of the book once harbored
poison, while the word remained.
That some stars died, 
before we knew that they were there.
That the notes you make are stinging sweet. 
That quarks and bosons, softly sung
by beings in the quantum, are.

That for every word once written,
yet another lurks beneath. 
That what we get is not the same
as that which we deserve...sometimes. 
That you are, whether or not.

YOU redeeming flood, wash over me; until I am submerged and I am drowned. Until I am consumed. I am in the belly of a fish. I am in the belly of a man. I am in the green stalk of the ground. In these grazing pastures. Beside the shepherd’s tent. In the belly of a woman whose left hand beneath her head now rests. Until some part of me is soon reborn in these low hills. In this village that we gather in. In this place where flocks and herds, grazing, are not harried. Over and again may I rise up. Until the hungry poor are satisfied and I am scattered by the wind.

I BELIEVE that love is just the end of self,
That there’s always one more threshold,
That resting in you feels like breath, because it is.
That no matter where I am, I am,
that you are also there.

That death is just as good a myth
as I think I’ve ever heard,
That I will never have the final word.
That surrender is a love’s truest companion,
That the void is never empty, but is filled
with particles of sweet unending grace.
That we always re-create those things
we think we’ve tossed away.

That there is always one more thing
that we’ve forgotten to consider.
That the light always abides with us
in the dark - somewhere.
That to change one’s mind is all it takes,
the heart will follow swiftly.
That this life is enough. It is enough!

That love and justice will outlive us all,
That we are wrong more often than we’re not.
That an apology is a such small thing to be owed.
That the arc of justice bends toward now,
and that truth doesn’t belong only to us.
That you are a doorframe in the dark.
That you are a book, a page, a word.
That you are a bell jar.
That you are a spoken thing.
That you are an endless gasp.
That you are a round face, laughing.
That you are all this foolishness and more.
That you have found me. 
In this dark.
In this light. 
Finally