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.

The Issue is Not the Issue

Yesterday here in Silver City members of the Interim Water and Natural Resources Committee listened to testimony about the planned diversion project on the Gila River.  There is great controversy about this project.  A strong and loud group wants to keep the Gila River free of any diversion in the state, the last and only river to so qualify, as a symbol of the Gila Wilderness. Another part of the population can’t see just giving Arizona all that water in a thirsty desert Southwest.

I’m of a split mind over the diversion.  On the one side the preservationist platform is idealistic to the core–noble, but I wonder how practical.  The diversionists, if we can call them that, are perhaps more practical, but also rather selfish.  What concerns me is what concerned the legislators who were at the meeting.  The money allotted for such a project is only a small percentage of the actual cost of the project, and the diversionists are not talking very openly about where the money will come from.  We all know–taxes and costs of water.  This will ride on the backs of the every-day Joe and Jane who use water to wash dishes or irrigate fields.  The issues generally thrown around have very little to do with the actual issue at hand:  Somebody has a chance at getting quite wealthy on the backs of people who can ill afford it.

But isn’t that life?  The issue is rarely the issue.  The source of the anxiety that drives things is rarely owned publically, because it is so often unacceptable–so we find acceptable labels to put on it.  The reality is that anxiety springs from within and is triggered by things around us.  Blaming another for making me anxious is an exercise in diversion; it throws stones to hide my hands.  As such it rarely gets what it is after.  Making the other change rarely handles the anxiety within on a long-term basis.

What we need is honesty within and a capacity to sit in the anxiety until the real cause surfaces, which is usually quite a while.  Can we as a people learn to hold the burn in our hearts without trying to shove it off onto another, who is already holding their own burn?  Then might have a chance at growing up as a people, owning humbly our own agendas, and beginning to live in peace.

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Our local Fort Bayard marked its 149th anniversary over the weekend. The head of the Historical Society is a member of the parish, and she and her husband appeared on the front page of today’s paper. They are out to tell the story of Fort Bayard, a landmark of huge historical significance in our area.

When I was a kid I was strictly instructed not to “tell stories.” Our reporting of misdeeds was to be factual and honest. What we quickly learned is what all kids soon learn, that factual and honest can be in themselves “spun” to a certain extent, to the benefit of one’s hide or personal freedom. I have learned through that and through many other experiences in life that story-tellers are the prophets of our age. How we tell our stories are how we live, and to change the way we live all we have to do is to change the way we tell our stories.

But stories mean nothing if there is no one with which to share them. We tell stories in community and we believe stories in community. The Christian Church is the society of those who tell the story of life through the lens of the person of Jesus Christ, and through the centuries we have done it a gazillion different ways. Some of those versions are less-than-compelling for today, some would be downright harmful. Others are being discovered that enlighten us and open to us the mystery at the heart of existence. Stories told by Meister Ekhart, John Scotus Eriugena, Dame Julian of Norwich, and even the maligned Pelagius of old, and in our day, people like C. S. Lewis, Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen, (to name but a few) are opening the doors to a vital and transforming spiritual walk with the Christian God to many who had been alienated.

Tell your stories. Never give up the power of the word—your words. And then listen to your stories. Do they give life or death? Do they enlarge or shrink? Are they loving or selfish? Do they honor or dishonor? In short, are they godly or not? You can always change the way you tell your stories, and hence, the way you live.

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In the second chapter of the Gospel of Mark the writer records the story of men who, out of compassion for a suffering friend, tore through the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching and lowered him down before the Master.  The first thing Jesus said to the man was to forgive his sins.  The Pharisees took umbrage at what seemed to them blatant blasphemy—how could a mere mortal forgive sins?  Jesus’ response is telling.  “Which is easier to do, to forgive sins, or to tell the man, get up and walk?  But to show that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins….”  And he heals the man.

Which is easier? As a clergy person I get to tell people they are forgiven all the time. It is a great honor, but in one sense it’s easy.  Forgiveness before God is not a quantifiable thing.  Unless it precipitates a change in the person who is forgiven it gets lost in the ether, and becomes an easy stroking of another’s ego.  To tell the man, “get up and walk,” and to have him do it requires a commitment to quantifiable and evident involvement.

We’re off to Honduras for a week to get people up and walking.  Hopefully they will also know that they are forgiven, loved and included in the Kingdom of God.

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The Triennial Convention of the Episcopal Church is meeting in Salt Lake City these days. Applause broke out on the legislative floor when word was received of the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage between same-gendered couples. This question has been rattling around in the Episcopal house for a long time now. The dialog about the role of people of homosexual orientation in the Church really got its head in 2003 with the consecration of a partnered gay man as Bishop of New Hampshire. Personally it launched me on a journey, theologically, liturgically, and relationally. This has been 12 years in coming, but l hear two voices sounding off quickly in my own parish in Silver City:

Yeay! Finally! This is long overdue.

Oh, no! Not this! Now they’ve gone too far!

Those who know me know that I am celebrating. I think this is a justice and equality issue and I am proud of what we have decided to do. If you have a while I can tell you how I square this with the Bible and the Christian faith.

But more than anything I hope that this can be the occasion of real equality, where each of us looks to our own responsibilities and the other’s dignities, applied equally all around. May this be an occasion where we will be more concerned with doing to others what we would have others do to us without paying undue attention to what others are doing to us. May we not miss this opportunity to treat all the same out of the fund of love we draw from deep within where our spirits and the Spirit of the God of Unconditional Love sit together in prayer.

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Way Forward

Way has not always opened before,

But way has so often closed behind,

So says the prophetess, quiet and wise,

So is the path out of darkness inside.

I choose, and walk forward into the fog

The doors of what might have been keep silent log

Showing in hind-glance what, no longer there

Need not be heeded by feet in the bog.

I choose and the halls of heaven attending

Providence’ map, turning and bending,

Co-drawing the freedom of my footing,

Heaven and human are intersecting.

Walking away from the mists of these,

The ways that are no more,

Into the world that God and I

Choose and open my door.

prm, 6/26/15

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We are currently finishing up a Cursillo Retreat Weekend. Cursillo originated in Majorca, Spain in the 1940’s as a way to get men back into Church. It has spread into the Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian churches, and a Baptist form of it that is very much interdenominational. There is even a form for use in correctional facilities. It presents a simple, yet effective model for the spiritual life. The spiritual life as described in Cursillo consists of a three-legged stool, involving are piety (what one does to enhance one’s vital union with the divine,) study (what one does to form one’s mind after the mind of God,) and action (what one does to live out the implications of the spiritual life in the world.) In our case, a team of 18 people has put on one of these retreats for 18 candidates, and we have had a great time together.

These kinds of programs are great, in one sense. Kataphatic to the core, the retreat is punctuated almost to the point of the ridiculous with little letters of encouragement, more snacks and food than anyone should ever eat, and the presentations in which the method is explained. The apophatic phase comes shortly, as each is sent back into their communities of faith.

Cursillo has the same weakness as any such program. They can become magical. We can come to expect the method to work without reflection, and we get fuzzy about what “work” means. The “work” is really the tremendous task of opening one’s inner being to the presence and power of the divine. Without the potential of this going on Cursillo would be about as useful as a dead church. I would not be involved. But just as my priesthood in the Christian Church only makes sense if our community encourages spiritual openness and then responsive action, so with Cursillo.

Actually, there has been about as much evidence as one can really get that this retreat has been the occasion of many such “openings,” or as the Gospels call it, “waking up.” I am satisfied…

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Three days ago we rode the belly of the silver bird from one reality to another.  We left the high mountains, humid coastlands and colorful people of Ecuador to return to the dry mountains, windy desert flats and colorful people of southwest New Mexico.

We had spent a couple of days shopping in souvenir shops for things to bring back across the great divide.  When you shop for souvenirs for people back home you have to keep the two realities in mind.  We looked for things Ecuadorian, but no so foreign that the ones who will receive them cannot relate to them.  It is a way of sharing our trip.  It is a way of sharing another reality.  Maybe it is also a bid for inner union.  When one lives in two realities one can either bring them into conversation within or succumb to a disjointed pseudo-schizoid existence.

The possibility that the two realities might in truth be one reality is tantalizing.  If we can strip away the apparent autonomy of each we arrive at a collage of human experience and creativity spanning our multicolored planet.   I firmly believe that if you stand back far enough, as Bette Midler sang, from adistance one can perceive the face of the one Humanity.  Ifeye-of-the-world-300x199 she is indeed right that God is watching us, then God is not so distant that the human condition is of no importance to the divine heart.  I would like to imagine that the face of the one Humanity is at once the face of the varied human expressions of the divine expressed in humanity.  By my own tradition that is the multifaceted image of the Child of God, seen in faces around the globe, and grounded by the face of the one who defines incarnate deity, Jesus the Christ.

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