Friday, October 30, 2015

Night of the Living Dead

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

Sometimes I get confused. I listen to a group of people and learn that what I heard was completely different from others. Or I make assumptions and discover that they are totally wrong. I see something from a very different perspective and begin to wonder about myself. Am I out of touch with reality?
How do I find my way in times of confusion? Occasionally, I’ll plow ahead, testing my truths. I gather more information. I take some risks. I say to myself, “I’ve nothing to lose so WTF?” Other times, I’ll pull up a chair, sit down, and enter into the silence. "Okay," I ask God, “What’s Up?”
Of course, God always responds. Sometimes God booms from above, like a clap of thunder. With an encouraging cry God says, “Right. WTF!” Other times, God answers my question with the same question, “What’s up?” I guess God needs to gather more information too. 
Yesterday I told God that I was confused; and God responded with two poems. In “Fateful Days” by Hermann Hesse God told me that even though occasionally my “days turn gray and the world looks cold and unkind, (my) tentative, tender, timid trust is then thrust back on itself. When there is no further way forward and (my) old life has lost its luster, (my) faith will find new paths to new heavens never dreamt of.” What’s up? I think God told me (again!) that my faith in God is an answer to my confusing life, but that my trust is currently tentative, tender, and timid….like a new shoot on an old sycamore tree.
The poem “In Memory: Ivan Illich” by Wendell Berry provided another answer. “The creek flows full over the rocks after lightning, thunder, and heavy rain. Its constant old song rises under the still unblemished green, new leaves of old sycamores that have so far withstood the hardest flows.” “Trust God but tie your camel to a tree” said the old sycamore tree. “The creek is full of rocks on its sandy bed but you know where they lie and you remember how they got there.” I could see that the water flows full and freely after the storm. “WTF,” said God. “Jump in!”
The tender, new, and green leaves are beginning to sprout from the trunk of that old sycamore tree. I can see old life and new life integrated into one. While the tree is shedding its fall foliage into the rushing stream below, the colorful leaves cry out, “Let go and let God” with carefree abandon. Beside the tree was a freshly dug grave where the fingers of two hands were beginning to emerge from the recently tilled soil. It is the night of the living dead, and resurrection life is just beginning. And the One on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Spiritual Blindness

Consecration Sunday October 25, 2015
Christ Church, Exeter, New Hampshire
The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling
Mark 10: 46-52, Psalm 126
Dear Lord, help us to see again. Amen.

Human beings are wonderfully made. We have both material and spiritual parts to our bodies. We have eyes that can see things of this world, and eyes that see things that are other-worldly. To state the obvious, if our eyes are healthy, we can see. If we’re blind, like Bartimaeus in today’s gospel lesson, we cannot.
Now there are many reasons for blindness. Unlike ancient times, we know that blindness is not a punishment from God. Instead, we know that it is a result of many things like accidents, glaucoma, or macular degeneration. Our blindness can be immediate and irreversible, or it might be progressive, changing slowly over time.
There are two stories about blind men in the gospel of Mark. Both men are physically blind and both are healed by Jesus, one slowly, and one quickly. But Mark also tells us the story of spiritual blindness. The disciples of Jesus became increasingly blind to who Jesus was and what he was all about, despite his powerful words and actions.
On some levels, we’re all spiritually blind. We all have cataracts; we all have vision problems; and we all get infections. We’re blind to many of our own transgressions, and we’re well aware of others. Like Bartimaeus, we often cry out for God’s mercy, not only for ourselves, but also for our world.
The transformation of my own spiritual blindness has been both dramatic and slow. Like my physical eyesight it has changed over time. Sometimes I have seen Jesus from a distance, or not at all. Occasionally I need to squint, find magnifying glasses, binoculars, or rely upon the good eyesight of others. Other times, I have seen Jesus up close and personal, as if I’m sitting in the chair of my eye doctor.
I’ve had many vocations throughout my life. In retail stores, I sold hosiery, body wear, and children’s clothing. As a banker, I sold money at a price. Then as a lay person and later as a priest, I offered the good news of Jesus Christ, saying with a smile that the good news is free. And yet, I’ve learned that grace is not cheap; indeed, there is a cost to discipleship.
We lived in Newtown, Connecticut for almost 20 years, and both of our children attended Sandy Hook Elementary School. The memory of a young man’s decision to kill his mother, teachers, and children will never be erased from our memories or our history; everyone was affected by that violent act. Unfortunately, as you well know, it is only one of many violent acts throughout our world today.
When our children were younger, our family worshiped at Trinity Episcopal Church in Newtown. Among many things, I  served on the vestry. During budget times, I often felt as if the rector was trying to take my money. I had this image of me holding my pocketbook and us having a tug of war over its contents. Trinity was known as the rich church on the hill; and I didn’t think this church needed my money. I didn’t have a job, we had small children, a good sized mortgage, and college bills were looming in the future. Let someone else take care of the church bills, I thought. I’m giving plenty of my time and talents, and that’s enough.
Before going to seminary, I was actively involved in our community, serving in town government to help create affordable housing, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, and through a coalition of 5 churches, we created a transitional living facility for homeless families. During this same time, my husband Paul began to see that his use of alcohol was ruining his life; I know that it was ruining mine and our children’s.
Both from a personal perspective as well as working with the homeless, I have learned 1st hand about the suffering that comes with addictions and homelessness. I too had young children, I was without a job, and I depended upon the actions of my husband for our security. Under different circumstances, I easily could have been without a home.
The people at Trinity Church taught me about God’s amazing grace. Twenty six years ago they supported Paul, me, and our children into a life of recovery and faith. Today, after 41 years of marriage, Paul and I now practice living and loving one day at a time. Through 12-step spirituality, we’ve learned that you can’t keep it unless you give it away; and so giving generously has become part of our daily practice.
Our son and daughter were raised by the people of Trinity Church. We saw how inter-generational worship and acts of charity can make a difference. The mission trips that we took were critical to our formation. We saw how lives that are destroyed by poverty, illness, government decisions, natural disasters, and random acts of violence can be rebuilt. We saw how blind we were to the suffering of other people. We saw how blind we were to our many blessings.
Paul and I come from families who are privileged, educated, and who regularly attended church. We learned many different things about money, one being that money is good, because it provides certain kinds of freedom and choices; and this is true. But our greatest learning about money came through our own suffering, and seeing the suffering of others. We came to see that money couldn’t ultimately save any of us in the end.
Theologians call the gospel of Mark as the one with the messianic secret. Mark’s gospel shows Jesus casting out demons, healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, and raising the dead. And yet, for the most part, people were blind to who Jesus was. People were looking for a political king to save them, and Jesus was about to enter the capital city of Jerusalem, with disciples who wanted cabinet posts in his new administration. The crowds that followed him were calling for tax reforms.
Previous to today’s gospel passage, there is a rich man who wanted to inherit eternal life. When Jesus told him to go and sell what he owned, and give his money to the poor, the rich man could not do it. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God”, said Jesus. His disciples cried out in fear, “Then who can be saved?”
The bad news for all of us today is that, like the rich man, we are all doomed. As my spiritual director is fond of saying, “We’re all goners.”  Whether we see death from a distance, or death up close and personal, we all face the cross eventually. And now, seeing the gospel of Mark from a distance, we know the messianic secret. We see Jesus differently, as the messiah who saves not only the people of Israel, but also the whole world. We see Jesus not as a powerful king but rather as a suffering servant. And so, the question is not, “Then who can be saved?” but rather,“How then shall we live?”
Money is a temptation for all of us. Although our dollar bills proclaim that in God we trust, we actually trust our money even more. We look to our presidents and kings, our high priests and popes, our military powers and financial markets, our medical technology, and even our human intelligence to save us; but you and I know, ultimately they will all fail us in the end.
As St. Paul said to the church in Corinth, we see now only through a mirror dimly. Our spiritual blindness remains. We still need other people to help us see God’s mercy and grace. We still need magnifying glasses to help us see what may be right in front of our eyes.
Today, I see the Church differently. I see the Church as a place where I can see God in real time, with real people, and through real events. Church is a place where I can throw off my own cloak of fear, knowing that God has the power to forgive me, to heal me, and ultimately to save me. The Church is a place where I can meet Jesus face to face. I see His Body and Blood on my outstretched hands, remembering that he stretched out His arms of love on the hard wood of the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of His saving embrace.
Today, whether you are a newcomer, a long-timer, or a visitor like me, together we represent the Body of Christ. We are the head, the heart, the hands, and the feet of Jesus. We have been called by God for a purpose: to provide fuel for God’s mission of love.
I believe that giving money to Christ’s Church is important because it’s like transfusing some of my own blood into Christ’s Body. It’s like giving that nutrient drink called Boost to strengthen Christ’s arms and Christ’s feet for service. I think of giving money to the Church as if I’m buying corrective lenses for us all. And finally, I give to the Church because I believe in Jesus, who in the words of Samuel Wells said, "Jesus walked slowly, purposefully, intentionally into the eye of the storm, because only through the storm would he find what he was truly looking for; and what he was looking for was us.”
So here we are, us, sitting on the side of the road in Exeter, New Hampshire, blind as bats, and begging for mercy. Here we are, us, wanting to know that we’re not goners after all.
Given this good news, how then shall we live? You say in your mission statement that you will live joyfully, connect with God and one another, and serve the local and global community. I say, “Then give faithfully, give gratefully, and give generously for “the Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed.” Amen.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Holy Discontent

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

I thought I was at peace, finally. Content with life and the way things are. Then I sat down for prayer. In a trusted community. In a circle of wisdom. In a place where I felt safe. Eagerly turning to the written materials provided, I started with the familiar ones, before turning to the new day's offerings. I began with John O'Donohue's poem, For Longing.

Tears welled up immediately. What? I was content, happy, at peace, even excited for life's unfolding today. And now this, that old familiar feeling of discontent. At first, I was shocked, even a little angry. Will there ever be any peace? Peace for my heart which is still "haunted by ghost-structures of old damage"? Must I find courage once again so that I don't "settle for something safe"? Will God provide that wisdom today so that I might once again "enter generously into my unease to discover the new direction my longing wants to take"? Is my longing an old and familiar discontent, or is it  "divine urgency"?

And then I remembered the wise words of an old friend, "Nancy, maybe God wants you to have this discontent for a reason. Perhaps your prayer is not for peace, and for the discontent to go away, but rather for you to embrace it, even love it. Call it your ‘holy discontent’." And so, sitting still, I began reading the new offerings for today's contemplation. And there it was: the invitation by Steve Garnaas-Holmes in his poem, A Cup of Tea.  Now with a cup of tea in my hand, in another room, I invited my Beloveds to make eyes at me and at each other. I asked my Beloveds to make peace with my wandering and wondering heart once again. Blessed be the longing that brought me there.

For Longing
Blessed be the longing that brought you here
and quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
that disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your unease
to discover the new direction your longing wants to take.
May the forms of your belonging--in love, creativity,
and friendship--
be equal to the call of your soul.
May your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of
old damage.
May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.
~adapted from John O’Donohue
To Bless the Space Between Us  

A Cup of Tea
by Steve Garnaas-Holmes

The Beloved beside me
and the Beloved within
call out to one another.

Which is the Holy One?
and which is the wanderer?

Ah, I will make them both 
a cup of tea,

and we will sit,
the three of us,
without words

while they
make eyes at each other.

Friday, October 2, 2015

St. Francis and the Sow

The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling

Thanks to Galway Kinnell, a Scottish poet, who wrote this stunningly beautiful poem entitled St. Francis and the Sow. Thanks to our Creator who made buds, sows, and us. Thanks to all those people who put their hands to the plows and don't look back, who put their hand on feverish brows, cooling and smoothing them for healing, for the blossoming of inner self-blessing, for the reclaiming of our loveliness as beloved children of God. Thanks to sows who remember all of it, the groveling, slopping, and snorting, perhaps in their great broken-heartedness. Thanks to the long perfect loveliness of sows who reclaim their spiny hardness and rejoice in their spiritual curly tails, who continue to offer themselves to others, suckling them with the blue milken dreaminess that spurts and shudders from the Dream of God onto all of creation. Thanks to our Creator, Mother Earth, brother wind and sister moon, and to all of God's Creation for the creativity that never ends. Thanks to St. Francis for putting his hand upon this old sow's forehead, and for Galway Kinnell making him come alive for me once again.

St. Francis and the Sow

The bud stands for all things,
even those things that don't flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to retreach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within,
of self-blessing;
as St. Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow,
and told her in words and in tocuh
blessings of earth on the sow,
and the sow
began remembering
all down her thick length,
from the earthen sbout all the way
through the fodder
and slops
to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess
spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourtenn teats
into the fourteen mouths sucking
and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.
                    ~ Galway Kinnell