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.

Reflections

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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Fall

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.

Whoo-hoo!

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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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News

Who says the news doesn’t report anything but bad stuff? In the paper this week one article announces that a junior from Western New Mexico University will be sharing about her summer in Thailand studying Asian elephants. Another page noted the arrival of fall colors in the area, and a third proclaimed the renewal of contract for a very successful University president in our town. Yes, a pipe bomb was successfully identified and removed from behind the Convention Center and Islamic militants invading Syria are now facing the Turks as well as the Syrians, but Little Toad will host Octoberfest, and that same University has signed a contract with a Mexican university to share classes, courses and credits, and Nigeria has pronounced itself Ebola-free.

In the Sunday Peanuts comic Lucy climbs up on Snoopy’s dog-house to give him a pounding for all his insulting behavior. Just as she’s about to push him off the end of his house he kisses her on the nose. All freaked out, she jumps down and runs away. He says, “A good kiss is always worth two judo chops.”

A kiss, a smile, a helping hand to someone even though they might not deserve it or have a legal right to it—any candle burning in the darkness makes the world a brighter place. And light is of God. Yes, men hate the light because it shows that their deeds are evil, but it just as quickly shows goodness for what it is. So be good—not just your Christmas presents depend on it!

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Community

This evening the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande will gather in a big festive celebration of the Eucharist at St. Andrew’s Church, Las Cruces. We will commend our coming work to God and give thanks for our common life. Then tomorrow and Friday delegates, alternates, visitors and guests, bishops and other clergy, will gather at the Convention Center to discuss the various issues that confront and enhance our community of faith. It will be a time to renew old friendships and forge new ones. There will be vendors there selling everything and anything liturgical, spiritual or religious you might want. There will be booths promoting various ministries of the Diocese and of parishes spreading the word about what is going on. There will be the giving of reports, discussions and votes, appointments and elections. It’s all rather grand, really.

But it’s more than grand. We are communal creatures. We need one another. Alone we mean nothing at all, but in community we relate, and in the relating we discover who we are, for who we are is always “who we are together,” I am me because of you. It’s not just that we are incomplete if we are alone, we are meaningless if we are truly alone. Now, community extends beyond the human species so that I can be alone in the sense of not having other humans around and I still have meaning, but the community of the human family is the most important element in the community of creation, and with other humans we gather intentionally. Feeling utterly alone is perhaps the most devastating of experiences a human can undergo.

The Christian concept of God is communal: Father, Son and Holy Spirit in perfect harmony. From this unconditional love spins creation itself. To not be in community is to deny the nature of our Source that permeates and conditions all existence. To be in community, be it ever so flawed, is to approach the mystery of the Ground of our being. It is to be on the journey back into the heart of God.

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