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.

Nests

In the Cottonwoods behind the house where I am staying is a large bundle of sticks and debris. I mean large—probably 3 feet across. It has been added to over the last couple of years, and until something happens like a windstorm coming through, it will continue to grow. On a calm evening you can see the residents—a pair of Bald Eagles, sitting calmly in adjacent branches. It won’t be long before there are eggs and little ones to feed.

We’re looking for a nest. I’m in Washington state and Karisse is in New Mexico. She joins me in May. Our nest is on the market in Silver City, and we’re in the market here. Discussion of our nest occupies much of our time on the phone with one another. We’re constantly surfing the internet for options. We need our house in New Mexico to sell, but if we find something we can’t live without here maybe we can squeeze through for several months…the bottom line is, our nest is stirred up. A windstorm has come through.

Another part of it all is what we put in our nests. Like the eagles, we seem to add to it each year, in spite of ourselves. Getting rid of stuff is hard work. Sometimes the decisions involve the augury of trying to predict whether or not in some unknown distant time you won’t really need it, and kick yourself for having gotten rid of it. The easy thing, of course, is just to stash it somewhere and forget about it. Most likely, when you do want it you won’t remember where you put it and you’ll go out and buy another one…and so the mess mounts, reproducing in the darkness of our forgetteries. Windstorms are often blessings in disguise.

Nests and Windstorms, stability and change, standing and walking, the two great principles of living in time, all caught up in where I’m gonna lay my head when it’s all said and done. Here we hang, caught in the middle of existing.

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Moving and Location

Several days ago, I hiked with my friend through old-growth coastal forests on Whidbey Island. We found some really big trees. He has lived in this area for the last 40 years and does a lot o hiking, but the identity of this particular one eluded us. Online searching that evening pegged it as a Douglas Fir. I met Douglas Firs in New Mexico. If they get to 15 inches in diameter at the base they’re huge, and they only grow on the cold, wet north sides of the hills, usually in steep canyons. This ancient one stands on the level, just yards from the salty Sound. Location, location, location!

Location is so important in all areas of life. Where you stand determines not just what you see and what you don’t see, but what you do with what you see, hear, taste, smell, feel, ingest, expel and breathe. These trees have found a place where they can create a life that lasts hundreds of years. Their cousins in New Mexico struggle along on the margins of their best environments.

The socioeconomic and political landscape is also textured with places where certain people with certain convictions, like different kids of trees, thrive or falter. Even within a given area, different people do differently, for what they do with what they see, hear, taste, smell, feel, ingest, expel and breathe is different. I don’t know about trees, but I know humans have choice in the matter. We can change what we do with what we are given. We can change our location without moving, and we can move without changing our location.

Perhaps real distance is not measured in miles, but in space between hearts.

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Rally

I’m going to a rally tonight. It’s organized by a group of people for whom this is their strong point—organizing rallies to mobilize public action. Their agenda is progressive. This rally is to make a statement against the recent declaration of a national emergency along our southern border.

I’m not usually that in-your-face about political issues, but I lived along the southern border for a very long time, and I can tell you that there is just no such emergency. The people who live along the border by and large do NOT want a wall. Those who do are mostly NOT from there, and locals see them as wanting to make the border feel like where they are from, which it is not and won’t ever be. Borders are places of crossing, cross-pollination and mixing of traditions and cultures. Those who have been named as posing a threat are not military personnel. There is no invasion going on. There are bad apples among them, to be sure, but the vast, vast majority of them are driven from horrific violence in their homelands and drawn here by the ideal of the American Dream. I am going because to be quiet is to be complicit. I will be joined by members of both of my churches, St. Paul’s and Resurrección. We have a bull-horn and a banner!

Community means learning to live with one another. Sometimes that requires forbearance. Sometimes that requires decisive action. Without community, neither has any meaning. Definition and connection are two ideals dancing together in dynamic tension out of which healthy community spins. Too much of either and it is no longer a dance, but a brawl.

If I get arrested I hope the Bishop comes to see me!

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Dancing

This morning as I drove to the office, I noticed a falconine form on top of a tree in the corner of the Presbyterian Church’s lot. She was silhouetted against the sky, so I couldn’t see any color, but her shape was unmistakable. She sat there fluffed out in the cold, watching the world as only a raptor does. From her size and shape I guessed her to be a Merlin. Like all raptors, they look like they’re not paying attention, but they are always a millisecond from dashing off in hot pursuit of breakfast. Breakfast for this little one is most certainly another bird of some sort. Her high metabolism requires a lot of calories, especially in the cold. She is built to get those calories from flesh. She cannot survive on anything else. Her life comes from death.

As I got out of my truck in the church parking lot, I heard the telltale rata-tat-tat of a woodpecker hammering away at a tree trunk. I never quite found the little guy, but he was sure making noise. From the speed of his drilling I guessed him to be a Hairy Woodpecker. He’s drilling for one of two reasons: To find wood grubs to eat or to carve out a nesting cavity. It’s a bit early for the nest, so maybe he’s just hungry like the falcon. Even his nesting cavity is carved into dead or dying wood. He, too, subsists on the lives of others. He, too, lives on death.

Death and life are in a constant dance. The salad I ate last night ties the death of a living being (lettuce) to the live of another (myself.) Each depends on the other. Neither is possible without the other. We only truly know life or death when we see them dancing together. We can only live on this planet responsibly when we see that we share in the dance.

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Blessings and Woes

Looking at his disciples, he said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God….But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort….”1

This comes from Luke’s Gospel, and has been called the Sermon on the Plain. It contrasts with Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount by the geography, the use of second-person pronouns, the inclusion of “woes” and what comes immediately before. Both Matthew and Luke record great gatherings of people that Jesus heals followed by these teachings, but Luke includes another line. Just before he begins to teach it says, “and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.”2 The Greek word translated “power” is dynamis (δγναμις),3 from which we get words like “dynamite” and “dynamic.” This is not delegated authority that Jesus is exercising, it is power from within, from who he is. He is a person of unexpected power.

Christians hold that Jesus is divine and also human. The question is, is this power coming from the divine in contrast to the human, or the divine as enhancing and bringing out the best in the human? The best (and earliest) theology goes with the later, but it is a dangerous proposition. If we are human, and our ideal is to be so united with the divine that we look like Jesus, then this power lies latent in us as well.

So, what is so powerful about being poor, about being hungry, about weeping and being persecuted? What is so bad about being rich, well-fed, happy and popular? Is Jesus saying that we will all get our due, either here or in the hereafter in a zero-sum game where in the end you pick your poison? No. In Luke’s Gospel being wealthy always means putting your trust in your wealth. It is not so much external assets as internal ones. Being poor means that you recognize the limited capacity of life if all you look at is the body. Having the Kingdom means being able to see that rich and poor are both the same, that life consists of recognizing an underlying unity in all things, and that that unity is energized by the dynamic power of God, that is, of self-giving love. The poverty of the rich, the hunger of the well-fed, the sorrow of the happy, and the persecution of the popular is precisely that it depends on seeing things as divided into them and us, documented and undocumented, white or color, gay or straight, or whatever the division du jour is—just as Western Christianity is prone to trying to see Jesus’ actions as either divine or human, rather than both.

The challenge of this passage is to learn to live in the power of radical, self-giving love.

 

1Luke 6:21, 24, New International Version.

2Luke 6:19, New International Version.

3http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/luk6.pdf

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Eating

I have a crucifix that I find visually unappealing, but has made me think a lot. It shows Jesus on a bare, black wooden cross. Jesus’ body is made up of flatware—spoons and forks. It makes me think of eating—in church, one of those things most Christians in the world do every Sunday.

Following Christ’s words at the Last Supper, since very early in the life of the Church, the bread and wine of communion have been called the Body and Blood of Christ. Participating in communion is participating in his body and blood, the sacrifice of the Cross. Medieval scholastic ruminations about physical changes in the actual stuff of the bread and wine are uninteresting to the Enlightenment, giving room for criticisms of magical thinking and (as the Presby Scots taunted) ritual cannibalism. These fights were merely pawns of the larger struggle between the emerging Protestant movement and the power centers in the Roman church. Those struggles are now uninteresting to post-modern thinkers today.

It’s time to go back to the beginning. Participating in the ritual of communion is eating—it is sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ. In the ritual we accept the discipline of dying to egocentric living and look to the power of the Spirit to lift us to spirit-filled, self-giving love. In this spiritual act we are nourished, strengthened, to live the essence of the Christian life. The physical act of eating and the spiritual act of eating are one and the same. Furthermore, in connection with this, Augustine of Hippo reminds us of what St. Paul wrote, that we are the body of Christ.1 It is us who are on the holy table. It is us that is broken. It is us that is poured out. It is the renewed and empowered us that are sent forth into the world. Transubstantiation is magical thinking and ritual cannibalism if it doesn’t speak about us.

In today’s world many are far from blood family, either by the economics of our day or the realities of human migration. The worshipping community offers another family in which we find identity, purpose and opportunity for life. Here, if we are not communing in and on the Body and Blood of Christ we have nothing to offer the world.

1Augustine of Hippo. Sermon on the Day of Pentecost, To the Infantes, On the Sacrament. 408 CE

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Comer

Tengo un crucifijo que mucho me ha hecho reflexionar. Representa un Cristo en un madero muy sencillo, y su cuerpo es formado de cubiertos; cucharas y tenedores. Me habla de la Eucaristía.

¿En qué sentido comemos el cuerpo y tomamos la sangre de Cristo en la Santa Comunión? Es un acto de alimentación, por seguro, pero no solamente del cuerpo, sino también del espíritu. En el acto, Dios nos une a Cristo en su muerte y resurrección. Sufrimos una muerte al pecado y una resurrección a una nueva vida renovada. Así nos alimenta nuestro vivir cotidiano.

El nombre de nuestra congregación es “Resurrección.” San Pablo escribe que nosotros somos el cuerpo de Cristo. Como Cristo no está en el mundo en la carne, nosotros, su iglesia, que llevamos a Cristo en nuestros corazones, llevamos su presencia al mundo. En el acto de comulgar somos unidos los unos a los otros en una familia espiritual. Muchos de nosotros tenemos la familia muy lejos, pero aquí en la iglesia tenemos otra familia. Dependemos los unos a los otros y respondemos los unos con los otros en las necesidades y las bendiciones, una realidad que celebramos en la Eucaristía.

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