Halloween (also call All Hallows Eve) seems to be a good season to contemplate MASKS. We wear them all year long yet on this day we publicly claim them for what they are: masks!
Al Mortenson says it like this.
"At Halloween young hobgoblins appear with their masked faces and the challenge, "Bethcha can't guess who I am." Our intentional wrong guesses add to their fascination with themselves, and soon the masks are peeled off and everyone is left to enjoy each other.
Little do the small ones realize how we grown-ups play Halloween games the year round. Individuality is threatening, so we cover ourselves up and dare each other to guess who we are. Our homemade masks seem so hard, so unbending, yet all it takes to remove them are firm but gentle hands. Then, face to face, we begin to discover the wonders underneath."
Jesus says it like this:
...And you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free!
C.S. Lewis says it like this:
We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear: the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit... as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit....
We shall bleed and squeal as handfuls of fur come out; and then surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all, a thing we have never yet imagined:
A real person, a Child of God, Strong, Radiant, Wise, Beautiful and DRENCHED WITH JOY!
St Paul says it like this:
Be imitators of God as his very dear children. Follow the way of love even as Christ has loved you. Ephesians 5:1
And again St. Paul says,
(I gleaned these thoughts on masks from an old ALIVE NOW magazine and am not certain of the author)
"Sometimes without realizing it, we assume masks---ways of being and acting that don't really express who we are. We have taken on these modes of behavior or expressing ourselves perhaps as a way to please others, to win friends, to merit personal recognition.
Masks, however well we wear them, are incongruous with our true inner feelings and, thus, with who we really are. They may look good for awhile, but in the long run, they become burdens; they cease to feel good because they do not fit us; they are not an authentic expression of who we truly are." (author unknown)
Please don't misunderstand me. I also enjoy Halloween. And I like to remember that Halloween means all All-Hallows-Eve. It's a holy evening because it is the evening before we celebrate the feast of All Saints and All Souls. These are real people who laughed and cried and trusted and doubted as we do. They were loving, compassionate, fearful, hopeful and courageous. They too wore masks but one day they took them off and things were never the same in their lives again. And now it is November 1, 2016 and once again we celebrate this feast. I hope you can all find your place in the mosaic of saints. This feast is not just for those in heaven. It is for each of us. It is for me and for you. It is for all of us. And all we need do is TAKE OFF OUR MASK and come to the table of daily life as we are.
Paging through old notebooks is always a delight for me. I never know what I will find. A few weeks ago I found the poem below. It was yellow and tattered yet through the aging pages it spoke to my heart. I'm not sure where it came from, who gave it to me, or who wrote it. These words were scribbled on the bottom of the page,
With thanks and love, Christmas '73 Cy Chiassion
I am reasonably certain that I do not know Cy and that the poem was shared with me by a friend. Yet I am amazed in the connection of 1973 with 2016 and wherever Cy is I hope he or she is having a good life. I've decided to share it with you. I love the slow transforming journey of this poetic reflection. It happens in us year by year. Let's try to take note. May you grow strong, loving and wise as you reflect on this powerful message.
THE AGES OF THE HUMAN BEING
THE FIRST AGE
Fight to kill! Peace is impossible! No one can be trusted! I must win control over my kingdom!" says human beings.
I believe in you, says God.
THE SECOND AGE
I have enemies on all sides. I must remain on guard. If I close one eye they will rob me of my life, says human beings.
I believe in you, says God.
THE THIRD AGE
Why should I care for the other person? If I reach to pull him out of the water, he'll pull me in with him. I have to protect myself you know, says human beings.
I believe in you says God.
THE FOURTH AGE
I am tried of war. My heart aches for peace. But how can I be sure the other guy won't stab me in the hand that I reach out to him? Too risky! says human beings.
I believe in you says God.
THE FIFTH AGE
Will we ever trust each other? If I am to gain someone's trust, I must become vulnerable , and I must believe he will respond to my openness, says human beings.
I believe in you says God.
THE SIXTH AGE
I believe that peace will come when human beings regard each other with total concern, a total trust, and genuine sacrifice. That takes love. Can't we love one another? says human beings.
I love you, says God.
THE SEVENTH AGE
I believe in love. I believe it is the strongest power in the cosmos, because it is tender. I believe love gives life and that we can love each other to life, says human beings.
I love you, says God.
THE EIGHTH AGE
How could you love someone like me? I have cared for myself before you. I have wounded you in your loving. Can you still love me? says human beings.
I love you, says God.
THE NINTH AGE
Because of your love, I can see. Your love has set me free to give myself to you. I love your love, says human beings.
I love you, says God.
THE TENTH AGE
I love you, says human beings.
I love you, says God.
I have long been intrigued by a story in the book of Genesis. It is the story of Jacob, in obedience to his father, traveling toward Haran to obtain a wife from his mother’s people. Jacob had a dream (Genesis 28:10-22) in which it was clearly revealed that God was with him. It was a promise of blessing. When Jacob awoke from his sleep he cried out, using words that have become a prayer for me: Truly Yahweh is in this place and I did not know it. Then he took the stone he had used for a pillow, poured oil over it and acknowledging the holiness of the place where God had visited him, marked that place as a memorial—a place of remembrance.
Jacob transforms his stone pillow into an altar. Rituals such as these can be good for the soul. I have no doubt that there are many places where God has visited you and you did not know it.
I, for one,
would rather have a stone
for an altar
than a pillow.
Are their places in your life where God once seemed absent: moments of fear, doubt, brokenness, sorrow, darkness, sin, misunderstandings, discouragement, anger, and guilt? You, too, can wake up and after a period of reflection and prayer, cry out: Truly Yahweh was in this place and I did not know!
There are also times when we fail to recognize moments of grace. We are standing knee-deep in gifts from God and do not acknowledge these gifts are heaven-sent. We fail to recognize the moment of God’s visitation. There are moments of beauty, wonderful accomplishments, joyful celebrations, affirmations and inspirations. We can also stand before these moments with the realization: Truly Yahweh was in this place and I did not know!
So why not build a memorial altar representing the moments of God’s visitation, the moments we almost missed.
Pick up your stones one by one, each stone a prayer:
BUILD YOUR ALTAR
TRULY YAHWEH WAS IN THIS PLACE AND I DID NOT KNOW!
I am sitting with my first cup of coffee looking out into a green forest with lake waters wrapped around me. This is the beginning of my morning prayer. It is a lovely spot and yet I have discovered that no matter how beautiful the setting one has to wait for Spirit to show up. In all prayer and especially in personal prayer, waiting is an essential part of the prayer. I am remembering the readings for the Feast of Ascension, which is now long past. The text from Luke 24: 49 refused to leave me this year. I still hear the echo of the words in various translations and versions...
Stay here and wait until you are clothed with power from on high...
Remain here in the city until you are robed with power from on high...
Stay here in the city until you are armed with power from above...
You must tarry in the city until you are invested with power from on high...
As I reflect on these words it occurs to me that Jesus' request for the disciples to remain waiting for the Holy Spirit could also apply to our personal prayer. This is what I hear now when I sit down for my quiet prayer. In various ways Jesus' advice comes to me. Remain here and wait! Perhaps that is the invitation of every daily personal prayer. Forget your pleading words about what God should do for you during this time of prayer. Just remain here and wait for God to robe you in power from on high. 'From on high" need not necessarily mean from the skies. The earth, too, is holy! For me, 'from on high' means beyond your little self. Remain here. Stay here. Wait here. Wait until you can see something beyond your self.
It always happens. When I am willing to simply BE in the Presence of God without a lot of words, something lifts in my poor spirit and a great Spirit visits me. Something falls away. Sometimes it is a bit of anxiety, or maybe a piece of envy. Sometimes despair moves over and lets a little hope in the door. Or perhaps, to my amazement, a love I thought had dried up starts flowing again.
BE STILL AND WAIT!
For my prayer this morning I have tried to unpack Jane Hirshfield’s poem about watermelons lying out in a field under the sun and stars, in the rain. Under the weather we might say! The poem is lavish with meaning. Read and pray this poem remembering that the watermelon is you.
Under stars in a field.
They lie under rain in a field
Are like this as well –
Like a painting
Hidden beneath another
An unexpected weight
The sign of their ripeness.
(Alaska Quarterly, Fall & Winter, 208)
I look in the mirror and see my face and I think: this is the face I show to the world and yet when I look deeper there is something more. Something is hidden beneath this face, something beautiful and unharvestable.
I walk through a field and see the watermelons growing there in all kinds of weather. I walk through the food market and see bins of fascinating melons, beautiful in there green striped attire, waiting to be chosen. I imagine the field they once lay in, the stars, sun and moon that shone upon them, the wind that caressed them.
And YES! Jane Hirshfield is right. Hidden beneath that first glimpse of the watermelon there is an exquisite world of scarlet delight—like a painting that hides beneath another painting.
The poet sees! You are not a poet because of what you write but because of how you see. Look in the mirror and wake up to layers of loveliness that you are.
Maybe this is what conversion is: connecting with the invisible face beneath the visible.
Today cherish the painting you are with its many layers of loveliness and loneliness.
A mighty wind swept over the ocean. Genesis 1:2
Perhaps it is because I am deeply feeling the chaos of our world today (even in the midst of Easter songs) that I have turned to the creation story from Genesis for my prayer. A story can be a wondrous container for a truth that must be told. The account of Genesis tells the truth of goodness in all creation. The creation story portrays the love of a creative God lifting beauty and order out of the chaos. Lifting life out of chaos! God loves life! Oh God, please lift it out again!
Be still now and listen to the mighty wind sweeping over the dark waters. Imagine that the wind is the breath of God. The wind is the spirit of God. We have seen how the wind blows things out of old places into new places.
Slowly the light and darkness emerge. The waters separate; the sky becomes visible. The rhythm of day and night, morning and evening are revealed. The dry lands and the seas appear. And oh that marvelous moment when things begin to grow. The earth makes known her potential to produce fruits, vegetables and all kind of plants--all because of the sun and the moon, the balance of light and darkness. Sometimes we need God to help us lift a little order out of our own chaos. *Is there anything in you that needs to be blown of place?
Loving Creator, in the midst of your creative work you tell the truth of how good it all is!
Easter songs of Alleluia are beginning to cover the earth.
O Christ of all these songs, be in every word we sing.
Breathe over the earth anew and we promise
to breathe over the earth with you.
MAY HEALING COME QUICKLY!
How do we learn to bless the ambiguities of our lives?
They keep us company always even when we don’t acknowledge them. There they are looking into the windows of our souls:
Be STILL FOR A FEW MOMENTS OF MEDITATION
AND PONDER JUST WHAT YOUR AMBIGUITIES ARE:
You bless these moments by naming and claiming them as part of your life. You lean toward them with awareness. Stare them down and discover their hidden goodness. No matter how discouraged you may be, there is a piece of goodness in your life that you’ve not yet named. Perhaps you’ve not named it because you’ve not discovered it. It is, however, a part of you wanting to make itself known. The monk, whose quote I’ve shared above is right. There is something hidden in us and around us that can save us from the angst in our lives if we take the time to get acquainted with this hidden goodness.
We open up the pathway to our hidden goodness by allowing our attitudes to be healed. We open up the pathway by practicing gratitude. Gratitude often helps us perceive what is hidden. Just as we listed our possible ambiguities, let's take a look at our probable goodness. These pieces of goodness are hidden only when we are reluctant to claim them:
O Lover of us all,
Open my eyes to the hidden goodness of life; my life and the life all around me. Teach me how to make a home with my goodness rather than to set up tent with my ambiguities. Encourage me to bless all of my life with your infinite love and presence, as I anoint even my discouragement so as to find my courage. Remind me to anoint everything that it may know a new life.
May it come to pass!
Almost every Lent I ask myself a question that I have begun asking ever since the day I read Gerald May's book, Addiction and Grace. The question is simply, How much energy am I giving to things that are not my true desire? Another way of asking that question might be, What am I clinging to that does not give me life?
WHERE CLINGING TO THINGS ENDS
GOD BEGINS TO BE.
In each of us there is a treasure undiscovered, a love withheld, a light grown dim, a song unsung, an ego to which we cling. There are things to which we are nailed. In her wisdom, Mother Church, gives us the special Season of Lent to assist us in singing the Song of Life more fully. During this season of growing up in Christ, I invite you to prayerfully search your life taking inventory of the things to which you are nailed. Being nailed to something is not a freeing experience. It is a way of living our lives enslaved. We become our own captives. The things we are attached to force us into captivity and enslavement. In his book, Addiction and Grace, Gerald May reminds us that the word attachment comes from the old French, "attache", meaning "nailed to." He suggests that attachment "nails" our desires to specific objects and creates addiction.
When we think of addictions what most likely comes to our minds are drugs and alcohol. These, indeed, are two very common addictions that have stifled the seed of life in many people. For our Lenten homework, however, we are going to turn our thoughts to many of the things we are nailed to that we do not ordinarily consider addictions. To help us in this soul searching examination I am quoting from Gerald May:
"Addiction exists wherever persons are internally compelled to give energy to things that are not their true desires. Addiction sidetracks and eclipses the energy of our deepest, truest desire for love and goodness. We succumb because the energy of our desire becomes attached, nailed, to specific behaviors, objects, or people. Attachment, then, is the process that enslaves desire and creates the state of addiction. (Gerald May)
The words on and surrounding the cross below represent things to which we might be nailed. Meditate on the cross and ask yourself a few questions.
During this enriching season of renewal give yourself the gift of Listening. Listen to the seed within you that wants to take root. Listen to the love with you that has weakened. Listen to the light that has grown dim. Listen to the song that has remained unsung. Listen to the nails that hold you on a cross of your own choosing.
LISTEN TO THE UNDISCOVERED WISDOM IN YOUR OWN HEART.
LISTEN TO THE WISDOM OF LENT!