As far as the East is from the West

As far as the East is from the West

Today, January 25th, 2018 is the feast of the conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. What does “conversion” mean? In Christianity, it means “repentance and change to a godly life”. It is very closely related to the Hebrew concept of “teshuvah”, which is often unfortunately translated as “repentance”. A better way of translating it would be “a turning” – to turn away from sin, and to turn towards God.

What are you following? Or better, WHO are you following? Which way are you headed? What direction are you pointed? What is in front of you?

Consider this verse from Psalms –

As far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed
our transgressions from us.
– Psalm 103:12

And now consider this quote –
“When a person stands facing the east, that person needs but a turning about to face west. Likewise, a sinner needs but a slight mental turning-about to be far removed from one’s transgressions.” – Rabbi Nathan David Sidlovtzer (19th century Hasidic rabbi)

How far apart is the East from the West? A long distance, you’d think. Yet, really, the only difference between East and West is direction. If you turn around, you are facing the other direction.
It isn’t about distance, but direction.
Our sins are removed from us in that turning towards God.

It isn’t about how far away we are from our sinful past, but what direction we are pointed. It doesn’t matter if you have been sober for an hour or a decade – it matters that you are on the right path.
Every time we turn towards God, our slate is wiped clean. We get a second chance.

(Inspired by Hasidic rabbi Nathan David Sidlovtzer’s quote “It is only one step to turn from east to west. Likewise a sinner needs but a slight mental turning-about to be far removed from his transgressions, east to west.”)

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Spiritual but not religious – poem

“Spiritual but not religious”?
So was Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come to create a religion
he came to start a relationship.
Jesus wants you to know
that God loves you personally.
That God isn’t some
amorphous thing in the sky
waiting to catch you screwing up.
God loves you
God made you.
God wants you
to know God personally,
directly,
without an intermediary.

Jesus couldn’t stand
the religious authorities
of the day
and how they made sure
that people
saw them praying,
and saw how big
their prayer shawls were.

Jesus wants people
to show
how big
their hearts are.

Jesus wants us
to be in relationship
with each other
and with God.
He wants us to serve God
not by religious observance
but by taking care
of each other.

Jesus would rather a person
never go to church
than spend all their time
in church
and none of their time
helping people.

With Jesus,
your religious observance
would be in a soup kitchen
or helping people clean up
after a tornado
instead of sitting for an hour
in a building, in “church”.

Jesus came to tell you
that you
are the church,
not the building.
That we collectively
make up living stones.

Jesus didn’t want us
to be anything
other than equal.
We are not supposed
to have
ordained and lay people,
but all the same people.
We’re not supposed
to have
bishops and popes.
The only one
above us
is God.

So “spiritual but not religious”?
So was Jesus.
His teachings are true.

The missile alert

The missile alert wasn’t a mistake. The island had been targeted. It was real. A missile had been launched. And then it was gone, instantly.

There had been a blip on the radar, an object coming fast. And then there wasn’t. The radar tech had to look again to be sure. He tapped the side of the machine. He hit refresh. And it still wasn’t there. Had it gone into stealth mode? Was there technology they didn’t know about? Was it still coming but they couldn’t see it, had no way of seeing it?

There wasn’t time to send up a pilot to check it out. The initial estimate said 15 minutes. If it was still there, then there was only 12 left.

Should he turn the computer off and back on to reboot? He’d lose a precious two minutes that way. He had already sent the alert out to everyone. Everyone on the island who had a cell phone had been notified. The sirens had gone off. There wasn’t a distinctive wail for “missile” so the usual one for any and every imminent natural disaster was used. Tsunami, volcano, hurricane – it didn’t matter. The same sound was used because it all meant the same thing.

Stop what you were doing right now.
Grab your go bag and seek cover.
Nothing else matters.

But now he wasn’t so sure. He called the nearest radar site and asked to speak to the tech. Email wouldn’t do. He needed to hear it in the other tech’s voice, see what was happening through his eyes.

But that radar too was clear, and that tech too was confused. They ran back the recording. Yes. There had been a bogey. And then there wasn’t.

They decided to say it was a mistake, a bumped switch, human error. Nothing to see here. The truth wasn’t something they could have handled anyway.

Every town had one. Every town, village, city, named and unnamed had one, and only one. One was enough. Not all were needed – only a dozen were required at any one time. In a pinch, only one was truly necessary, but that required a great deal of focus on their part.

When the sirens went off
(for none of them had cell phones, having long ago given up that tech)
– like the Amish who waited 50 years to see if ballpoint pens were safe,
-the rest of society being their coalmine canaries,
they stopped what they were doing, the same as everyone else.

It wouldn’t do to call attention to their sacred work, their holy mission. They could never speak of what they did, never claim credit, never get fame or money for their work. It would cheapen it, tarnish it, make it less like love and more like a one night stand.

They used the only tool they had at hand, but it was the only one they needed. They prayed. They didn’t pray for anything specific, because they would never presume to tell the creator what to do.
They simply prayed to.
They prayed to the One who knew all to do what was best.

They never became anxious or upset during such emergencies, because they knew those reactions were fruitless. They put their faith in God, and God alone.

And God sent the angels,
Elohim, the Lord of hosts,
the commander of the heavenly army of angels,
the One who fights our battles for us,
yes, that God,
the God who defeated enemy armies
with hornets,
with fear,
with walls of water.

That God sent his angels who surrounded the missile, who made it cease to be, who reminded the metal Who created it, and then rendered it
into a thousand billion atoms,
a google’s worth of yes and no,
of positive and negative
and quarks
and up and down
and sideways
and that was enough.

It simply ceased to be, because they reminded it of its true nature, not as a singular weapon of war, made by men, but as many elements of nature made by God, and God alone.

What God has created,
let no man re-create,
or break apart
or make in his own image,
impressing his own will,
his own hardened, angry, violent nature upon.

Nature is not a mirror, not a plastic thing for us to mold to our will, to shape to fit our plans, and ownership is a form of slavery. These people knew this, and knew it well.
And the missile simply wasn’t there anymore.

How Jesus heals

Jesus heals by taking your burden from you, or carrying it with you. Just like how we can hand him our worries, we can hand him our diseases.

Because they are the same.

Diseases are worries that have grown because they were not addressed early on. Worry, fear, and doubt if not dealt with early on become cancer and addiction.

For instance, your liver does not fail on its own. It grows weak because of your drinking, which you did as a flawed coping mechanism for stress.

Disease is the result of you carrying a burden that you aren’t made to.

Give it Over and Up to Jesus – that thing you are worried about. That thing you are trying to control.
Don’t let the world become your worry. Don’t let the world become your idol – the thing that controls you. Put your faith back into the hands of God.

A choice to return

It is tiresome to hear someone point out negative things all the time. Like a coworker I had who was always talking about the bad things – patrons, news stories. Like the friends who have to share only bad news on Facebook – their own, the world’s. It is hard to stay centered and focused and calm when this happens.

But we are told to love our enemies. That is the test. It is easy to love people when they are good. Jesus tells us that even unbelievers do that. But the rubber meets the road when people and situations are difficult. That is when we must rise above our human nature.

The only way to do that is to ask Jesus into the situation, to take up his yoke. It is when things are hard that we are given an opportunity to grow, to get stronger, to get better. It is when things are difficult that we have a reminder an opportunity to recommit to our path. It is then we can choose again to follow Jesus, and not the world.

A different communion

I was at St. Meinrad Archabbey monastery on Sunday, September 11th, 2016.

I knew that I was not officially allowed to take communion there, because I’m not Catholic.  Jesus made no such rules or limitations, but that does not seem to bother them. Perhaps the monks understand the hurtful nature of this made-up rule.  Or perhaps they think that those of us who are not Catholic are in the dark, and not deserving of this sacrament.

I’d already checked out of my room and was wandering around the grounds by this point.  I wasn’t sure when Mass would end, but I wanted to be in there afterwards to smell the incense.  I walked up to the side door and saw that it was still going on.

There is no way to sneak into that place.  The doors are very creaky and loud.  I couldn’t slip in and stand at the back and just listen.  They were at the main point, where the priest was facing the altar and saying the words that (they think) blesses the bread and wine.

God blesses it, and blesses us.  People don’t do that.  They can’t.

I sat outside, near the Mercy door.  There are windows there.  Perhaps one of the many priests there saw me, outside, sitting, listening to their ritual.

These rules of who is in and who is out are man-made.  They are not from God.

So I left, and found my own communion.  I went to the kitchen and made tea and toast.  The tea was herbal – and to my surprise, red.

c1

The toast was from bread the monks had made there, with their own hands.  I added peanut butter, and honey, and raisins, and cinnamon.

c3

I chose to say the blessings in Hebrew, and enjoy my quiet moment with God.

c2

Silence and stillness and stuff

When I read this verse “He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic…'” (Luke 9:3) I think I’m doing retreats entirely wrong. I take a lot of “stuff” so I won’t get bored. Perhaps it isn’t the silence that is the issue – but the fear of really being alone with God. Making art, writing, reading books – all of that can be noise. Maybe “silence” for me is more about “stillness”.

rock 5

The rock garden at St. Meinrad used to be my favorite place. Now it is full of “stuff”

I feel that the garden needs some editing. Like the “stuff” needs to be rotated out, like an art display. How much is “whimsy” and how much is “crazy”?

Yes – you need to slow down and really look here. That is part of the point. To get you to see things that are small or hidden.

You will never see this rock unless you crouch down.  It is at most five inches high.

rock 2

How are you to hear God’s voice amidst a lot of noise?  Noise isn’t just sound – it can also be visual clutter, or too many things to do.

rock 1

God didn’t start speaking to Moses from the bush until Moses stopped – turned around – and came back to look at it. He almost walked by. He almost didn’t get the order to lead Israel out of slavery.  What are we missing being freed from – and leading others out of their slavery (to false gods, to addiction, to worry) by failing to take the time to really notice God’s messages to us?

This was in another courtyard, but I have seen the same thing in the rock garden.

This is a daylily –

rock 6

While this is a seed pod – brown and decaying.

rock 7

There is a lot of this decay in the garden.  And yet – this is beautiful.  I’d never see this shape if it had been taken away in a need to keep everything tidy.  Sometimes “clutter” is helpful.