Monday, April 30, 2007

A New Link

One of the things that's so exciting to me about the Internet--and I'm really still such a neophyte when it comes to these things--is the way we can make links between sometimes seemingly quite dispirit things, place, people, ideas. It's amazing and really rather awe inspiring to me.

I've just added a new link to the right side of this blog, a link to the blog of the Rev. Szilárd Sándor, minister of the Unitarian Church in Jobbágyfalva, Romania. Jobbágyfalva is the partner church of the church I'm currently serving in Brewster, Massachusetts.

It's amazing to me that you could be reading my ruminations of the death of Kurt Vonnegut one minute and then reading the reflections of a Transylvanian minister the next.

What a world we live in!

in Gassho,


Unpacking a Prayer

For the past couple of weeks I've been using a "breath prayer" (one of those short, two line prayers you recite giving one line to your in-breath and the other to your out-breath). Mine has been, "Here I am, Grandfathers / Do with me what you will."

In seminary we used to talk a lot about "unpacking" passages, or phrases, or even words that had a depth of meaning in them that might not be immediately apparent from a look at the surface. I feel that these ten words have much to unpack.
Here I am, Grandfathers . . . Right here, in this time and place of my life. I'm not in a monastery. I'm not on retreat. I'm not at the top of a mountain. I'm in the frequently chaotic, often stunningly wonderful, mess that is my life--kids crying, partner getting on my nerves, me doubting myself. I don't have all the answers, I
haven't (yet?) arrived, I'm just here.

Here I am, Grandfathers . . . And it's just me who's here, not some saint. It's not the Buddha or the Christ, just the overweight man with too much anger and too little patience; the me who tries hard but often falters and fails. It's just me, here.

Here I am, Grandfathers . . . When the emphasis shifts to this word I am reminded to be present, to be doing more than merely mouthing these words but to try to really be here, all of me, fully in the present reality of my life. To be alive in the "here" and the "I" of this moment. (I'm often mindful, too, that God's response to Moses at the burning bush was to offer as a name "I am.")

Here I am, Grandfathers . . . When I began using this prayer I said, "Here I am, Lord." After a recent men's weekend, when we often invoked the wisdom and the power of the "grandfathers," I found that this new word speaks volumes to me--about my place in the world as a man, of the need to remember my own ancestors, and of the necessity of connecting to something deep and primordial. (And don't grandparents often have a special relationship--at least in the popular conception--with their grandchildren that even the parents cannot access?)

Do with me what you will . . . This is a reminder that I am here to do something, to be of some service, to be useful; life has a use for me.

Do with me what you will . . . But I'm integral to that usefulness; it is a mutual thing. Whatever God (the Higher Power, the Universe, Life) wants me to do, whatever "plans" there are to accomplish it will be done with me, not to me, or through me. (I remember reading that if Mary had not assented the incarnation could not have occured.)

Do with me what you will . . . This is saying that I am not just open to the "whims of fate" or the capricious desires of a despotic deity. The word "will" implies, to me at least, a lot more than merely wanting or wishing. To will something is to put the full force of myself behind it. And so I invite the grandfathers to work with me to accomplish that which they will to be done (and not merely what they might wish).

Such an exercise can be done with virtually any prayer. (Or piece of scripture, or line of poetry.) This is one of the virtues of reciting "rote" prayers such as the Catholic rosary or the Jewish 23rd Psalm--saying the same words over and over again increases the opportuity to find ever new and deeper meanings in them.

Here I am, Grandfathers. / Do with me what you will.

In Gassho,


A New Focus

I've been away from the blogosphere for a while and am returning with a newly developing focus. I once knew an artist named Deborah Jones-Buck who would paint a picture and, as soon as it was done would paint another one over top of it. Three, four, or more layers of different paintings would rest beneath the surface of the one she finally showed to the world. She said that she did this not because she didn't like the earlier pictures but that she simply had so many images in her head that she had to get them out or she'd explode. Too many images, too few canvases.

I feel like that a bit, too. There are a million "mini-sermons" that pop and crackle in my little grey cells, and far too few Sundays. So I'm going to share them here. I'll continue to write my commentaries on this socio and political. I'll just add a few more things "spiritual."

In Gassho,


Friday, April 13, 2007

Lucky Mud

Kurt Vonnegut died on Wednesday.

I haven't read a Vonnegut novel in years, but upon hearing of his death I picked up Cat's Cradle and realized just how deeply I'd imbibed him in my youth. As a teenager I drank deep of Slaughterhouse Five (or The Children's Crusade); Player Piano; The Sirens of Titan; Welcome to the Monkey House; Happy Birthday, Wanda June; Mother Night; God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater; and Breakfast of Champions. Even after all these years the rhythm of his writing, the style as well as the substance, was so familiar yet utterly fresh.

I am supposed to be doing some writing on a project of my own right now, but I could not let his death pass without comment. I suppose I could quote the Tralfamadorians and say, simply, "So it goes." I could refer to the comment Billy Pilgrim, the hero of Slaughterhouse-Five, says of himself at one point, that "he was doing nothing less now . . . then prescribing corrective lenses for Earthling souls."

But there's a passage in Cat's Cradle which I've long hoped will be said during my own memorial service someday; I hope someone is saying it in his. It's the recitation from the Bokononist Last Rites:

God made mud.
God got lonesome.
So God said to some of the mud, ‘Sit up!’
‘See all I’ve made,’ said God, ‘the hills, the sea, the sky, the stars.’
And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around.
Lucky me, lucky mud.
I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
Nice going, God!
Nobody but You could have done it, God! I certainly couldn’t have.
I feel very unimportant compared to You.
The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud that didn’t even get to sit up and look around.
I got so much and most mud got so little.
Thank you for the honor.
Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.
What memories for mud to have!
What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!
I loved everything I saw!
Good night.

Good night, Mr. Vonnegut. Sleep well. And thank's for the glasses.

In Gassho,