On Tuesday Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov killed eight people and injured 29 with a rented truck. He said he did it in the name of ISIS. Death to the infidels, I guess. Is ISIS a death cult?
Día de los Muertos is certainly NOT a death cult. If anything, it is just the opposite. Knowing that the dead are not gone, but continue as part of the human family, the tradition of Día de los Muertos celebrates the Great Divide, but not any sort of Great Absence. Death is not an enemy or a punishment, it is a natural part of living. Life transcends the body. “Death to the infidels” is nonsensical in the face of Día de los Muertos. On this day when our loved ones who have passed through the veil return for a visit, we must not make the path home slippery with our tears. So, we laugh instead, laugh at death, and dress up Catrina and Catrín in wedding garb, the celebration of love that is greater than death.
I am not in a position to say if ISIS is a death cult or not, but I am in a position to say that on this day I will remember with tenderness and love those in my life who have passed through the veil, and I will know that in remembering them they will not be far, but very, very near.
Thank you, Google, for the doodle today.
Today Christians consider on whose shoulders we stand. All Saints Day looks back through history to acknowledge in humility and not just a bit of awe those whose lives form ours, sometimes from a long way away. Some of them are well-known: Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Francis, St. John of the Cross, Ignatius, Luther, Erasmus, Hooker, Andrewes, Edwards, Moody, John-Paul, Teresa of Calcutta…I’m wandering all around the many streams of our faith, but you get the drift. Others are more personal. For me they are Bruce, John, Bob, Don, Orville and a number of others, including a now-nameless 9th century Scottish monk who made a bee-hive stone hermitage on the isle of Iona and prayed the place into a place of transformation for me. It was probably his “place of resurrection,” in that he died there, and for me it was a place of resurrection because I began to live there.
There are many who are nameless in our lives, on whose shoulders we stand without realizing who they were. Bernard of Chartres of the 12th century is credited with the phrase that we are dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants. Maybe he is one of the ones I unknowingly stand on. My recent studies have unearthed a host of others, people whose ideas formed the world I live in, who thought my thoughts before me and point the way further down the road, whose witness to goodness laid the foundation for my actions of goodness. And to think that if I now stand at such giddy heights, how about those for whom I might become one of their giants? To what heights might they rise, even if they never recognize my face under them?
No wonder I believe in the Communion of the Saints.
This is NOT the Devil’s Day. I refuse to give such a corruption of anything good the time of day today, much less consign a whole 24 hours to the principle of evil. Is the day scary though? Well, maybe it ought to be. Evil isn’t fun, and sometimes it’s downright scary. The great idols of evil of recent history are proof enough: Hitler of Germany, Idi Amin of Uganda, Efraín Ríos Montt of Guatemala, Pauline Nyiramasuhuko of Rwanda, and Kim Jong-un of North Korea—to name but a few. To use almost unlimited power to destroy rather than built up is certainly evil—and scary. But that is not why this day should be scary.
This day should be scary because the idea of God is scary. In C. S. Lewis’s novel, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, right at the end of the story the fawn says to Lucy as she sadly watches Aslan walk away, “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” In the movie Lucy responds, “but he is good?” and the fawn assures her he is. What do you do with a great good that is wild? If you’re not going to turn it into an evil in your head there is only one response: surrender. Surrender sounds like a wonderful word, but it is really, really scary. I guarantee that the biggest enemy to surrender is your ego’s need to control. The ego in and of itself is fine—just not when it wants to steer, and it is the nature of the broken ego to want desperately to steer. So, you see, the idea of God is essentially really, really scary to the free ego. If it’s not then you haven’t really faced God or you haven’t been truthful about your ego—which is another of the ego’s elusive tricks.
Wanna be really, really scary today? Take your ego by the scruff of the neck and insist that it surrender to Love. After the fight, when you’re bloodied and battered but your spirit is not bowed, walk down the street and people will find you really, really scary!
This morning I sat in darkness. Daylight Savings Time will not return my prayers to the morning light until Sunday morning coming, so I have another 5 days of sitting in darkness. The pink glow outlining Cooke’s Peak, however, announces what kind of darkness I sit in. It is the dark before the dawn. They say the dark before the dawn is the darkest time of the night, but I’m not sure I agree. It’s only dark if you cannot trust that the light is coming.
I will work in the same dark before the dawn today. I am about to start the semi-final draft of the last chapter of my dissertation. By the end of the week, about the time Daylight Savings Time returns my prayers to the light, I should be sending the whole shoot-n-caboodle off to both my editor for final tweaks on my footnotes and to my advisor for his final read-through. Then I will busy myself with a couple of out-of-town trips while suggestions for final tweaks come in and I prepare it for my committee. The pink light is highlighting a “DMin” after my name. It’s only dark if you cannot trust that the light is coming.
And so as I bent my head to prayer this morning, I bend my soul to the work of this week. This, too, shall pass, and the light of day will once again shine. I can trust.
My mind kept drifting downstream. Time and again, like our Buddhist brothers and sisters say, I had to figuratively pick up the puppy and take it outside to the task at hand. Count the breaths, count the breaths…I could never get past one without my busy mind racing off in some direction or another, and then I would have to start all over. “One…(in and out,)…One…(in and out,)…One…(in and out.) Just as silence began to creep in around the edges of my busy thought something would come charging through and spoil it all.
Well, my Buddhist brothers and sisters would say I am trying too hard, and that was most likely true. Just relax into the moment. The business itself is a factoid of my state of consciousness, and in and of itself can be noticed, and set on the shelf for later. Step back, step back, one…one…one. Slowly but surely the puppy learns the lesson and I get up from my prayers just a little more centered for this busy day’s work—but it’s been hard to reach all the same.
Silence is work, it is hard to reach, and yet it is right beside us. What makes it hard is not the silence, but our own busy preoccupation with what absolutely must be done or things will go to hell in a handbasket—or so we imagine. Yes, people depend on what we do, and being reliable is a good thing. But in the end, reliability is a function of silence, of going back to the table and stepping back…one…one…one. It always impressed me how Jesus could go off into the hills and pray over and over and over again. Maybe he, too, was practicing silence. He told the parable of the two builders, one who lays his house’s foundations on bedrock and the other on sand. Which one does the flood of self-imposed business wash away? Silence is bedrock.
To reach for what is hard to reach is to dig down to bedrock. Otherwise we build our house on sand.
I listened to a commentary about conduct on Capitol Hill this morning on NPR. Two GOP senators have taken our President to task for the quality of his interactions, with implications for all kinds of nasty and undesirable things. The one this morning called for more dignified communications. Is this what it has come down to, people calling one another out for the way they are acting? It reminds me of the teenager’s retort to her significant other, “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice!” Now, I’m all for dignity and decorum, they grace our interactions with peace and beauty, and the challenge of one of the senators to our President that “telling it like it is” is no excuse for ugliness ought to be heeded. One can be direct and ruthlessly honest and do it with grace. One can cast a compelling vision for the future without blaming anyone at all. Maybe this is one of the differences between legislators and statesmen.
But even then, what of substance? You’ve all witnessed polite, nicely dressed people standing at the bar at a cocktail party, sipping their manhattans and trading platitudes in a calm and reassuring manner without saying anything important at all. This is kind of a silence where words crowd the air with precisely nothing.
There is another kind of silence. To sit in the morning and attend to my breathing while watching Venus descend toward Cooke’s Peak, and let the concerns of the day wash down river one by one until silence emerges from deep within, and to get up from my chair with a peaceful joy resting easily inside is a much more elegant and eloquent thing. (“And the peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…)*
We have a lot of names for the church. We call her the Church Penitent to describe her as humbled, suffering and expectant. We talk about her as the Church Triumphant when all is finally brought to its final fulfillment at the end of time. And we talk about the Church Militant to describe her constant struggle with evil in the world. These are nice monikers that help us talk about our corporate life and its hopes and pains.
Like everything else in the world, these can be taken to its ridiculous extreme. The Church Penitent can be used to justify the self-flagellating false humility that is meant to impress people more than God. The Church Triumphant can become a theological justification for a pie-in-the-sky avoidance of the challenge of evil today. And the Church Militant can become a pathway for the person who visited church Sunday and visited with me afterwards. In hushed tones and sideways glances (I kid you not!) he informed me that there was a temple to the devil on the next street corner, and would I help him burn it down? (I reported him to the police and they already know about him.) He may (or may not—that’s for the police to decide) be harmless, but the same kind of thinking underlies a whole lot of other evils of the day. As a Christian I don’t have to look outside my own faith to find militancy run amok. The Klan’s use of Christian terminology is perhaps an extreme case, but any sense that the United States (or White people) are blessed by God above all others because of some inherent godliness in our political or social system is cut from the same cloth. I hear it used to justify walls and laws that allow us to pay less than minimum wage to the people that pick our vegetables and clean our hotel rooms. How about successionism, that claims that the Christian faith is greater than and therefore meant to conquer (or at least be manifest as the fulfillment of) all other faiths, based solely on the a priori reasoning that the Bible says so (which is hard to actually prove)? Just register the shock in the faces of good Church goers when a homeless person stumbles through the door on Sunday morning, or the speed with which we do ministry “to” people who are unlike us rather than “with” them.
As I see it, the Church Militant first fights against its own hubris, then in humble love it seeks to overcome evil with good.