Author Archives: watchingthespaces

About watchingthespaces

I like to watch the spaces between the things that other people see, the overflowing gaps and the chock-full emptiness.

Good Advent News

The headline on the paper declared why there had been a black-out for several hours on Wednesday. Lightning had struck a power station. Good news? Well, I guess it could have been worse. But papers sell sensational news, and often that is more compelling when it involves other peoples’ suffering.

On the other hand this is the day when many people celebrate a very different story. In 1531 Juan Diego, a pious Indian man was making his way to Mass at dawn when he had a vision of a beautiful lady. The lady bade him go to the Bishop to ask for a shrine to be built in her honor on that place. The place was significant to the Indian man, it had been sacred to Tonantzin, the Aztec goddess of hearth and home. Now the one he instantly recognized as the Mother of our Lord was making him, the Indian man, welcome.

It was nice that she have him her welcome—a personal and interior thing that he could treasure with no threat to the outer inequities under which he lived. But the faith is never only personal, it is always also social. To have an Indian man go and request such a thing from the Bishop upset the social hierarchy of the Spanish colony—it would never work, and he knew it.

But she insisted. And he was right. The Bishop demanded a sign. And so the lady gave him roses of Castile, growing on the top of a desert mountain in December. When the Bishop saw the roses and her image emblazoned on his “tilma” or poncho, he was touched to the heart. He, then gave Juan Diego his welcome, and the next day Juan Diego led the bishop to where the shrine was to be built. More than the image, the real miracle occurred in the unjust social structures of the day, undone and leveled by the faith, so that these two Christians, though socially so distant, stood side by side at the holy site.

What would Guadalupe challenge in our world today? I think she would ask us to build an interfaith shrine to all the souls lost in the deserts of the Southwest trying to find a life with the dignity of the opportunity to make a living wage. I think she would ask us to build one to all the women and children who braved incredible dangers to get to our borders, fleeing even more dangerous situations at home. I think she would ask us to have the INS budget fund the shrines and Congress come to witness their blessing.

Anyone got roses?

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Homebound Family

My wife is not a morning person. She is the kind who will sleep to the very last minute and dash into work without breakfast because her stomach hasn’t woken up yet and she’s just not hungry. Her best hours are in the evening—provided she got to sleep in. I, on the other hand, find my best creative energy in the morning. I wake up hungry, and without a good breakfast to fuel my mind and body I drag through my best hours.

This morning, however, she was up almost with me. She dressed, and I had to work around her in the kitchen to make breakfast. She was cooking for the kids who are due in tonight. By tomorrow evening all three of our sons and their respective families will be here. We will have 11 people in the house, plus 7 dogs and 6 hawks. The energy level in the house will shoot to “Crackling!”

Why is the home-gathering of family so profoundly moving? For some people a home-gathering is not a joyous occasion but they do it anyway. For a sad few home-gatherings are avoided because the pain of their relationships has eclipsed the wondrous joy that (I believe) should be in it. But that is telling in and of itself. I believe it should be moving, and yet I don’t really grasp why. Such is the stuff of mystery. We can approach it, but we cannot control it!

For whatever the fullness of it might be, the home-gathering of family reaffirms things we hold dear: For one thing, it reaffirms the continuation of the family line, which is more than the life of any one individual in it. On a larger scale it reaffirms the continuation of the human family, of which all of our families are a part. Another thing: It reaffirms the necessity of trusted community. Ideally, family is the source of those one can most trust. Here are people who are supposed to have your back! Community puts our living in context. It is when we relate to one another that we come to know who we are most profoundly. Without community we are nothing, without individuals there is no community. They go together as one character said, “like peas and carrots.”

What else there might be escapes my present mind…but this I know: As the family gathers around the table on Thursday I will have a sense of expanded presence, of enhanced being, of paradoxically, being most fully myself and most profoundly connected!

That’s better than smoked turkey! Can’t wait!

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It snuck up on me, but I double-checked the certificate. Yesterday was the 23rd anniversary of my ordination to the Episcopal priesthood. 23 years have been a long time. I was a young, idealistic man with hair and a scared wife and three rambunctious and happy boys—and I was scared, too. I knew instinctively that the job was too big for me, but I also knew from my brief life history to that point that I was wont to taking on things too big for me. Somehow I knew that I did not face the task alone, and that it would be OK. I knew in my bones that this was the life that was truest to the light within me.

And I have not been wrong. After 23 years I often look back and think, “What if I had not gone into full time Christian service?” In High School I was convinced I wanted to go to Cornell University and spend my time doing ground-breaking research on Neotropical birds, living in tents in the rainforest or high in the Andes Mountains, scribbling earth-shattering insights on damp paper with a stub of a pencil while I cursed yet another day of rain. But I know now that the little voice I heard in my soul in High School was right. I would not have made a good scientist. I would have gotten frustrated with the constant rigor of minutia, and I would not have done earth-shattering work.

When I got to St. Christopher’s Church in Killeen part of me wondered if I should not have answered the frequent letters from the Bishop of the Armed Forces inviting me to consider becoming an Army chaplain. I had circular-filed them all without hardly a glance. I wondered if maybe I would have learned things about myself and the way the world really works had I accepted the uniform. But again, the little voice within me that pushed those letters into the waste can was right on. The conflict of interests—U.S. foreign policy vs. the Kingdom of God—something that for many of my chaplain friends over the years was never an issue—would have constantly tripped me up. Besides that, I just don’t do sleep deprivation very well. I would not have been a good soldier.

That little light has guided me well. I don’t know what is before me in my ministry. I am completely content in my little parish in the Southwestern Mountains of New Mexico. I love what is going on in the Diocese of the Rio Grande, and I’m happy to be part of it. I’m starting a Doctor of Ministry program next year (I’ve always done well in school,) and we have plans in the parish. But the little voice does not give me light for as-yet-unasked questions. It stands at that threshold of the past and the present and answers to the conditions that are right in front of me, nothing more. For 23 years, in the space of that holy moment of listening, I have struggled toward a semblance of full humanity as a priest, and of trying to bridge the gaps between God and people, between people and people and between people and the rest of Creation.

Being in that moment for 23 years has led me to Meister Ekhart’s quote: “If the only prayer you say in life is, ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice.”

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It’s Fall in Silver City. Yes, by the calendar we’re well into the Fall season, but it seems that the day after the first good freeze all the trees decide to “Fall.” The leaves are literally raining down. It’s not that you watch and you see one come down, and then another. At any given moment under any given tree there are at least 10 or 15 leaves in the air, having let go of their birthplace moorings on tiny twigs to take up the next stage of their transitory embodiment of energy—giving it back to the earth.

According to biologists (and we have a son who is one,) the energy is not gone, it is not lost. It goes back into the earth as nutrients, to e resorbed, possibly by the same tree, and made into various tissues. Could it be that each leaf might find its reincarnation in another leaf next year? Or maybe an apple or a pear, if their karma is good, or perhaps if not so good, the tip of a root that breaks into a sewer line somewhere.

I’m not sure about reincarnation—I don’t seem to have those resonances with places and things that people talk about, at least not very often—but I do believe wholeheartedly in the transmutation of energy, the change through death to life that moves the world down its eternal path. The little things I let fall from the twigs of my own making do not leave me, but return in some form or another, each form representing to me something of my own faithfulness to the light of the divine within. Sometimes it’s the very vision of that light that I have to let go, when that light has proven to be darker than I first thought. Sometimes its visions of people I’ve had that prove to be less than what they really are. Sometimes its desires I have that have gotten their cambiums mixed up and are flowing energy where the real need is not met. Every one of these deaths is the path to resurrection. Some day the trunk of this body will fall and I will make the final and great surrender to resurrection. I am, after all, a Christian.

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Caught in the Now

I was looking out across the valley toward Cooke’s Peak, rising to over 8,000 feet and making a perfect, black silhouette on the horizon. Behind it the emerging colors announced the approach of dawn. North and south of it lower hills also cast their black forms against the sky. I sat in my office with my feet on another chair, watching it all. A funny sort of happiness began to well up inside me, a grateful joy. There it was, in all its beauty. Of course, it didn’t have to be there, and science and history could explain how it got there, but nothing but gratitude can grasp WHY it is there. It is just there—and that alone is enough for rejoicing.

I began my Zazen, trying to sit and count breaths, returning to 1 when I got distracted. I finally just gave up and made each breath the first one in a series of one. It was easier that way. My monkey mind would wander and I would lose that bubbly sort of joy at the “isness” of things instantly. And then it hit me! Monkey mind lives in the past, with its regrets and its olive wreaths of glory, or it lives in the future, constantly projecting a fleeting image onto it in hope or fear. But the body does neither of these. The body calmly carries the scars of the past, and can be harnessed by the psyche to express he fears of the future, but such things are foreign to its being. The body lives in the Now. Yesterday does not exist for it, neither tomorrow; not even the very next moment or the one that has passed. It has just the same majestic “isness” as Cookes’s Peak.

Thank God for our bodies and for all the material realm, for by it we touch the realm of the eternal Now of God!

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Real School

I’ve always been pragmatic about school. If I could not see the potential of the end result it was hard to get motivated. In early High School I decided I wanted to be an ornithologist, so I knew college was ahead of me. I graduated 4th among 53. But my life did a course-correction in my senior year and I began studying for Christian ministry. I wasn’t focused on what kind of ministry I wanted to do, or where my particular gifts were, so I dinked around in college and never earned an undergraduate degree. I managed anyway.

I joined a mission that does Bible translation around the world, and found that I could teach. I began teaching classes in intercultural relations and grass-roots development and felt the need for more formation, so I went back to school. I found a place that would accept me for a Masters in Intercultural Administration without a Bachelor’s degree, and completed that program in fine style. I was launched as a missionary trainer.

But then the voice of the Hound of Heaven chased me toward ordained ministry, and I began studying theology in the Bishop’s School in Ecuador, a non-accredited program. I finished the coursework and was duly ordained. I came to the U.S. to find that most of my colleagues had Masters’ of Divinity, and I felt under-trained, under-equipped. But I also had a growing family and responsibilities so I put my nose to the grindstone and did my best, picking up continuing education credits where I could. When I had the chance to do a Master’s in a religious field I jumped at the chance, and at 55 years’ of age, I graduated with a sheepskin in a religious field, a Master of Arts in Spiritual Formation. It helped my ministry in incalculable ways, giving me the solid theological framework on which to build ministry that I had only held partially before.

Now, with only 10 years’ to retirement, I have been accepted at the flagship seminary of our Church, Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexander, for a Doctor of Ministry degree. I start in January. I should be done in three years. And for the first time I don’t have a clear focus for my work out there. A lot of Episcopal clergy have D.Min’s. Nonetheless, I’m a little astounded, surprised and chagrined.

Maybe finally questions of inadequacy need not drive my studies, and I can do them for what they are—a chance to delve deeply into the truths of what it means to be a spiritual person in a spiritual community, and how religion can inform, form and guide that process.


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All of Me

After talking about some Church business, a friend recently shared a dream with me. The different characters and movements in the dream didn’t make much sense to her, but as I heard her speak parallels between what she had just told me and her dream came to mind. I reminded her that every part of the dream is something in her, and that if she would just take some time to dialog with the different characters its meaning would come clear. Then I ran way out on a limb ready to have it cut off behind me, and offered my observations. Her face lit up and she walked away to think about it.

It’s true, our dreams are all of ourselves, symbolically represented, and every piece in it is really within. That’s troubling, sometimes, but there is something in us that really does not forget anything, but stores it up, and makes the home of our souls out of it, like those worms in the ocean that line their tubes with bits of coral and shell that come drifting by. Suppression of memories on the conscious level only invests them with energy to erupt at another time, with far less control over the damage done. (How many of us can relate to that one!)

But what does that say about what it means to be human? Obviously, “being good” is not synonymous with being human, for none of us conform to outer standards of goodness even most of the time. Being right isn’t any more promising, since we’re all wrong at least part of the time. Similarly, getting the task done, and getting along don’t help much either. No, I think full humanity has to do with full ownership of ourselves.

C. S. Lewis makes a great little statement in The Screwtape Letters, that alludes that God never wastes anything in the life of a human being. It’s much different from the devils who are only interested in certain things and have no use for goodness, altruism, love, or, most of all, self-sacrifice. If that is the case, then all that is within us is useful to our Source in making us who we really are. To deny is to be devilish, pretending to carve our psyches up like apples, cutting away the parts we don’t particularly want to eat. But if God’s love is unconditional, then God loves all of what is stored in our beings. Some (as we see it, but perhaps not the divine heart sees it) he uses in spite of itself and some he uses because of itself, but nonetheless all is raw material for the divine, because all is loved.

Do I dare be so bold as to love myself as I am loved?

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