Sunday, January 31, 2016

Day Six in Costa Rica

Day Six began with rain--a pleasant rain--a rain on which this forest's survival depends.  My spirit is immersed in wonder as I listen to the pitter-patter of the raindrops on the roof and then the "drip, drip, drip" of the raindrops falling from the flora and fauna as we walk to breakfast.  I notice too, as we return to our room, how many plants live off each other in the rainforest. We call these plants parasites.                                                                                        

The  Costa Rica Arenal rainforest has over 3,000 plant species, which include hundreds of parasitic plants.  These plants have difficulty obtaining the nutrients needed to survive, so they have evolved a system whereby they attach themselves to a host, such as a tree or shrub, and absorb nourishment. Parasitic plants are adapted to live on the forest floor or high up in the top canopy layer.   Are these plants Nature's way of telling us that the only way this world will hold together in the future is if we learn to be dependent upon one another?  I believe so.  Already there is drastic evidence that we need a stable economy in Greece, China, and Saudi Arabia in order to have economic security elsewhere.  People need one another, nations need one another.  In the future this will become even more evident as we wrestle with limited resources and other issues, such as global warming.

We hear the word "parasite" and immediately conjure up in our minds a negative meaning.  I would suggest that we put a more positive note on the word.  A parasitic plant cannot survive on its own.  Neither can we.

On the other hand, parasitic plants take what they need from the host plant and typically give nothing back.  This is precisely what humankind has done for centuries with the earth.  We have taken everything from it and given little back.  Our relationship with the earth must now be a vital balance of taking and restoring, of receiving and returning.  The same is true in our human relationships, both personal and societal.  We cannot long survive without the rainforests.  We cannot survive without a global community of mutual care and support.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Day Five in Costa Rica

Day Five in Costa Rica

At breakfast, Davy not only poured my coffee, but also gave me my daily Spanish lesson.  Someday Davey hopes to be a teacher.  I think he'll make a "Profesor excelente."  Some rain came to the Rainforest today.  I guess it shouldn't surprise anyone that it rains and rains often in a Rainforest!  The rain comes in intermittent showers at this time of the year. It did not prevent us from enjoying some time at the thermal pool and even soaking up a little sun in the morning hours.

The afternoon was bright with sunlight as we joined a group of eleven folk for a tour of the Rainforest via the  "hanging" bridges. This 2-3 mile hike through the Rainforest over 15 bridges, some stationery and some suspended over the forest, provides accessibility to the flora and fauna from different perspectives as you walk through different levels of the jungle.  What a treat it was to walk above the forest's canopy.

Many tourists take this hike thinking they will see all the wildlife a Rainforest has to offer.  It doesn't often work out that way.  Here are the birds, insects, reptiles, and animals we observed along our walk:  four Howling Monkeys (way up high in the trees), five or six different bird species and two hummingbirds--male and female--according to the guide, the male "dancing for his lady;" two wild turkeys, 1 turkey vulture,  5 Coati,  3 squirrels, 2 snakes (little, but very poisonous ones), 1 little iguana, a tarantula and leaf-cutter ants (lots of them!).   The highlight of our walk was seeing an Anteater as we crossed one of the suspension bridges--this sight was, according to our guide, a rare one.

Have you ever seen a tourist who is more interested in getting a photo than actually looking at and basking in the experience of whatever is being seen?  I think we had eight of them on our hanging bridges tour!  I was so much in awe of what I was seeing, so absorbed in the experience of being in the Rainforest, that my photos during the hike are few.  However, I took into my mind and heart many an indelible sight, sound, and smell, that I will treasure more than any photograph could possibly display.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Day Four in Costa Rica

My fourth day in Costa Rica began as all days do for me--getting up quite early and having a cup of coffee.  How special it was to sit in front of the patio doors here at Tabacon and look at the flora and fauna of the Rainforest and watch hummingbirds and butterflies do their thing (as I was doing  mine).  Davy waited on us at breakfast and tried to help me with my Spanish.  Cristian served lunch.  Aban served us at dinner. Wonderful guys! The Costa Rican people have a gentleness about them--a relaxed and easy-going spirit that is very appealing to me.  Perhaps some of it will rub off.

After a leisurely morning, enjoying the hot tub and swimming pool, we went on the Arenal Volcano Hike Tour.  Confound it!  Three-score and ten years plus 3 is creeping up on me!  I could feel it as we climbed up the lava rocks to a summit where we had a wonderful view of Lake Arenal and the volcano.  I could feel it going downhill too!  Don't wait to do your traveling-- confound it, do it now!

Along the hiking path we saw some unique birds (and heard their strange jungle songs) flowers, and some animals too.  One of the animals was the Coati, a mammal similar to our raccoon.  There were a few orchids blooming along the pathway too.  A wonderful hike.  I just need to get in shape--the issue has nothing to do with arthritic knees, extra fatty tissue, or age!

When I was young, National Geographic magazines and Tarzan movies helped me conjure up in my mind a great fantasy.  I imagined myself an explorer in the jungle, a naturalist collecting different species of insect and wildlife.  And here I am today in the Costa Rican Rainforest.  I still, every once in a while, when no one is paying attention, pretend to be that explorer of my youth cutting a swath through the jungle.  What?  You can't picture me cutting a swath through the jungle?  If I have to conjure it up in my imagination, then you can only "picture it" in your own imagination!  It is quite a sight--hope your imagination can get hold of it!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Day Three in Costa Rica

Yesterday we traveled 93 miles north from San Jose to La Fortuna, Costa Rica.  The shuttle in which we rode included two people from Sweden, one from France, three from the USA, and the driver.  By the time we reached La Fortuna we had become an international community of travelers.  Along the way we saw several sloths and numerous giant iguanas.  Our temporary home for the next few days will be the Tabacon Grand Spa Hot Springs hotel, located near the 30,000 acre Arenal Volcano National Park.  The hotel houses guests in the middle of the Costa Rican Rainforest. I can look out the back door and see butterflies, humming birds, and the Rainforest flora and fauna. From the front of our little building of 8 guest rooms we have a magnificent view of the 5,347 foot Arenal Volcano.

Arenal is Costa Rica's most active volcano.  It's most recent eruption period began in 1968 and continued through  2010.  Seismologists say it is resting now, but still very much alive. Arenal National Park surrounding the volcano has nearly 75% of the total 850 species of birds in Costa Rica.  Other inhabitants in the park are sloths, white-faced capuchin monkeys, coati, deer and snakes, including the infamous fer-de-lance, parrot snake and boa constrictor.

A five minute walk (or a very brief shuttle ride) from the hotel location is the Tabacon Thermal Hot Springs Spa Resort, where the water heated by Arenal cascades down into the Rainforest to form bubbling streams and babbling waterfalls.   I enjoyed a relaxing time sitting beneath one of those waterfalls yesterday!  I shall do so again today!

Home and loved ones are never out of mind when on the road or across the sea.  Our granddaughter Katie returned from England last night and our home will be her home while we are away.  She graduated with a Master's degree from Bangor University in January (and grandad adds braggingly with a 4.0!). Her friend from England, Liam, is now shoveling snow from our drive--an opportunity he had never had before--and here we are in lovely Costa Rica,  soaking up the thermal waters.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Day Two in Costa Rica

Hallelujah!  The luggage arrived last evening at 8 p.m.  Throughout the afternoon I would wander into the lobby checking for it and asking about it.  The folk there became aware of my plight and when I walked back into the lobby at 8, looking forlorn, a very elated group yelled, "Mr. Owens, Mr. Owens, it has arrived.  We have been trying to call your room!  Your bags are here!" The most striking and noticeable thing about Costa Rica is its people.  They are a friendly, smiling, cheerful, accommodating, and seemingly happy people.  They are a delight to be around!

Our visit with nephew, Todd, was a good one.  If we had missed getting on that stand-by flight in Miami the night before we would have missed that opportunity.  (It was the only day in our schedules). Sometimes things work out--not often--but sometimes.   Todd has lived in Costa Rica for 18 years.  He calls it "Paradise."

After a couple of days and nights of just relaxing here at the Marriott in San Jose, I'm inclined to think that Todd might be right.  If it isn't "paradise," it sure is awfully close.  We've been well-pandered.  I may not be able to pour my own cup of coffee in the morning when I return to the hum-drum and routine of my own home.

Today we travel north to Fortuna.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Yesterday's Travel Adventure

Shh!  It's a secret.  We skipped town yesterday for a new adventure.  On Sunday I dug a narrow passageway through the snow to the street (the driveway was full of drifted snow) so that we could sneak off in the shuttle that picked us up at 3 a.m. on Monday.  I-95 was clear and we were at the airport in no time at all.  Our 6  a.m. flight was a go!  How could everything be going so smoothly?  Well, wait, wait, for the rest of the story.

Passengers boarded that flight to Miami in a festive mood.  It had not been cancelled like so many others.  Then the bubble of good fortune burst when we were told that everything was set to go, except for the fact that there were no pilots to fly the plane.  The pilots were in Dallas or Miami, flying from there to Philly to fly our plane to Miami!  Everyone got off the plane--stood in line for two hours making arrangements (or trying to do so) for connecting flights--and waiting.   At 10:30 we boarded the flight to Miami (with pilots this time--all the way from Miami) and arrived safely there at 1:30 p.m. (10 hours after leaving home). We were unable to get confirmed seats on the last plane (6:05 p.m.) of the day flying to San Jose, Costa Rica--our destination.  We were on stand-by, however,  and fortunately there were seats available (and pilots).  We arrived in Costa Rica at 8:45 EST.  Our luggage did not!  So I stood in another line for another hour or so attempting to find our luggage.  "Ah, your luggage is in Miami," well, who would have guessed!

If you travel, you must be prepared for adventure like this and you must have a good travel agent to help you along the way.  We have Rose and how grateful we are for her.  I texted her as we left Miami.  When we arrived in San Jose, someone was there to take us to our hotel, with or without baggage.  Today, we'll be with my nephew who lives here in Costa Rica. We may be in yesterday's clothing and our hair a bit out-of-kilter, but we've had a peaceful rest, a shower, and even brushed our teeth with complimentary brushes and paste. My gypsy heart is having a blast!  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Nature’s Beauty and Havoc

The “Blizzard of the Ages” (aka Jonas) has now passed, leaving behind wondrous sculptures on rooftops, decks, and vehicles.   Emerson, in his poem, “The Snow Storm,” describes it as "The frolic architecture of the snow.”   Like all other similar storms, however (from “The Great White Hurricane” of 1888, the Knickerbocker Storm of 1922, the Blizzard of 1978, the “Storm of the Century” in 1993 and the blizzards of 1996 and 2010) Jonas wreaked havoc as well as “frolic architecture.” That havoc will continue for days to come at astronomical cost all along the mid-Atlantic as attempts are made to clear the highways and byways, repair and rebuild the coastal aftermath, and make up all those cancelled flights at major airports.  

The pristine whiteness of the snow yesterday will soon turn an ugly brown along the highways.  The beautifully sculpted drifts will be plowed down or shoveled away and eventually the snow will melt and coastal waters recede.  Normality (whatever that may be for each of us) will return they say—eventually.

In every storm of life something can be found that is beautiful, as beautiful as the wind-sculpted snow.  Every storm of life brings havoc too.  Nature tells us so.  Life is a conundrum, a confusing and difficult riddle, a puzzle which often times we think has several missing pieces, a brainteaser that we wrestle with everyday.  It is both beautiful and unsightly.  

Saturday, January 23, 2016

“The Blizzard of the Ages”

The “Blizzard of the Ages” (and Jonas, too) they have named it, but I doubt that it is.  The snow continues to fall on this Saturday morning and the wind howls and blows it about creating unique snow sculptures never before seen by the human eye.  Perhaps the meteorologists have it right after all.  The winds of this blizzard are shaping forms and shapes that are wholly new, never seen in ages past!  It fills me with a sense of wonder.

I am reminded of another snow storm some years back when my elderly friend, George Prettyman, called to ask if I had a copy of John Greenleaf Whittier’s long narrative poem, “Snow-Bound.”  He was feeling alone in his empty home (having distributed his books and much of his household furnishings in preparation for moving to an assisted living home) and wanted the company of that familiar poem.  I sent the poem to him via the internet as the storm began to materialize. George often remarked afterward that being in the company of Whittier helped him through the storm.

Unwarmed by any sunset light
The gray day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
As zigzag, wavering to and fro,
Crossed and recrossed the wing√ęd snow:
And ere the early bedtime came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.
The old familiar sights of ours
Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers
Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood,
Or garden-wall, or belt of wood;
A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed,
A fenceless drift what once was road;
The bridle-post an old man sat
With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat;
The well-curb had a Chinese roof;
And even the long sweep, high aloof,
In its slant spendor, seemed to tell
Of Pisa's leaning miracle.

Today, looking out my study windows at the wonder of the storm, I shall read “Snow-Bound” again and enjoy both Whittier’s and George’s company.  It will help me through the storm.

Friday, January 22, 2016

With God All Things Are Possible, Maybe

What I know and what you know and what others know is fragmentary.  The world may contain far more than what we envision in our little philosophy.  Therefore, it is plausible that there may be divine invasions into this world especially if we think that God is superior to what we call natural law.  Natural laws, after all, do not tell us what must be, but rather tell us what has generally been observed over time.  Natural law is the way in which God’s  purpose and activity normally take place in our little corner of the universe.  But, if God is, as I believe, then God cannot be imprisoned in God’s own creation.  God can act in unusual ways (supernatural ways) that override natural law.  If not, we ought to be honest and give up the practice of prayer.  But if God can intervene in history and does circumvent natural law on occasion,  then we can believe, “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).  God is not limited to the natural order, nor limited to whatever is in human experience.  God is the “world beyond”—and that world is supernatural—and real! 

Indeed, that world beyond is the world to which we are called to align ourselves.   We are to align ourselves with God and God’s eternal purpose.  What is God’s purpose?  The primary purpose is to bring this world into alignment with that world beyond.  It is the Dream I keep alluding to, of a “friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.”  God wants us to love one another.  God wants all the walls and partitions to be broken down.  God wants nations to be brought into a family of nations.  God wants races, and people of different beliefs, to be accepted and be made a part of the world community.  God wants people to understand one another.  God wants this world to love as God loves—a degree of love it has never known.

My knowing is just as fragmentary as that of any other finite person.  But, this is what I know and I am under obligation to share it whenever, however, and wherever I can.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Reality Check

In the eighth to sixth centuries BC, prophets in little Palestinian villages and elsewhere proclaimed that in spite of the prosperity and progress of the time, sin was having a heyday.  This wrongdoing, unacknowledged and unrepented, they announced, would bring dire consequences. Their message was ignored, but in the course of time, their predictions seem to have come to pass and their countries annihilated.  Prophets appear in every age and every age ignores them.

Has anything really changed since the Druids?
Many centuries have passed since.  Has anything changed?  Human beings continue to be busy, “getting and begetting, fighting and defending, creating and destroying.”  The population has increased and we occupy every available place and now want to waste the far reaches of space.  We’ve raped the land, covering grass with asphalt, cutting ugly gashes in the mountains, killing off the wildlife, downing the forests, damming the rivers, wrenching out every available resource upon and beneath the earth and in the atmosphere above, besmearing the earth and the oceans with our waste and refuse.   The atmosphere has been contaminated.   Climate warming is a reality, but who cares? We’ve ignored, to the peril of our children, old neglected infrastructure which now fills the rivers of the land with poisonous lead and mercury and other harmful stuff.  It kills the fish and it may kill our great grandchildren. We’ve learned to communicate with each other instantaneously with new technologies, but still fail to communicate in ways that really matter. We traverse the world by land, sea, and air with regularity and still can’t fathom that we live in a global village.  

Many of us live comfortably while thousands die of starvation.  We’ve relegated some people to our old “left-over housing” in urban centers and complain because they don’t keep up their homes—homes which were already unlivable when they moved in.  We fight “enemies” we do not know and don’t want to know.  We develop fictitious reasons for fearing and hating them.  We lie, we cheat, we blame, and nobody seems to give a damn. We engage in angry dissensions over privilege, race, religion, policy, property, and  priorities.  Fear-mongering is being promulgated consciously and deliberately, leading the “fearful” to arm themselves with privately owned arsenals of AK-47’s.  The sown wind reaps the whirlwind.

An automobile with a front-end alignment problem causes the car’s tires to wear unevenly and eventually destroys them.  We are out of alignment.  The tires that have moved us along are now threadbare!

Monday, January 18, 2016

King (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr) and I

I never met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Never marched with him or heard him speak in person.  We both graduated from Crozer Theological Seminary.  King graduated in 1951.  I graduated nineteen years later.  King and I both heard the lectures of Dr. Kenneth L. Smith, Crozer Professor of Christian Ethics, who urged his students to work for social change.  I met King's wife, Coretta, and spoke with her briefly, at the Philadelphia airport years ago, and I once talked with his daughter Bernice on the telephone.  I've listened to his recorded speeches and I've read most of his writings.  Not much of a connection to warrant the title, "King and I."

Alive and burning in us then and now was the Dream
--the hope that we could and would become
builders of communities of caring.
Yet there is a deeper connection.  That connection has to do with our common commitment to the Christian faith.  King and I are soul-mates at the point of our commitment.  King and I, and that great cloud of witnesses, who have gone before us, and who are yet to come, affirm that we are called to "overthrow the existing order!"  We proclaim that the world as we know it is broken.  A little mending here and there will not do the trick.  A new world is in the making.  Even now we experience "the birth pangs of [that] new creation."  It is not just a change within an individual life (though it must begin there) but it is a new order that overcomes the existing inequalities of our society--both here at home and abroad.  There are so many!  King and I share a dream.  It is a dream that sees beyond today and looks to the future from a mountaintop.  From that vantage point we can see a day coming when everyone will have equal pay for equal work, when all shall be accepted (regardless of race, creed, or gender) and given an opportunity to be all that they are meant to be.  There are times when, standing on that mountaintop,  my eyes fog up and I have difficulty seeing.  Can this dream really be?  Yes, it can be and it will be.  It is happening now, and will be happening tomorrow.  Will we do our part in "overthrowing the existing order" and bring this dream to reality?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Epiphany Dream

Epiphany's dream is that all people (Wise Persons from the East, Jews, Gentiles, Shepherds, yes, even King Herod, and the children of Bethlehem too) are to be accepted and valued, not because they hold a particular faith, or hold my values or yours, and not because they adhere to the same laws as you and I do, but simply because they (we) are all human beings.  If we give credence to God creating man/woman, then we must, or so it seems to me, accept the Quaker notion that there is "that of God" in all persons.  We are all human!
Glaciers in the Canadian Rockies

The distinctions or categories we have made up:  Us/Them; Democrat/Republican; East/West; Christian/Jew/Muslim; Black/White; Male/Female; have no place in the Epiphany dream.  Indeed, these separations are really ludicrous!  We are all human!

Nowhere is this more clearly expressed than in the words penned by Shakespeare in the "Merchant of Venice":

"Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?  If you prick us do we not bleed?  If you tickle us do we not laugh?  If you poison us do we not die?"

You can substitute any of your categories in place of the word "Jew" and it still gives the same message.  The Epiphany dream could become REALity if we would simply accept and value one another, and work hard to avoid our made-up categories.  We are all human!  We are meant to become community.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

We are Free

The world is, as we know it, fundamentally different from the way in which God conceives it.  God’s dream is to have it ordered differently.  This is why, though often overlooked in scripture, there is a call “to overthrow the existing order.”  This overthrow will not occur through armed insurrection, or the taking over of government offices, or by more guns, or the death of Isis, or by electing a new president or congress of either party, or by a larger military, or by the elimination or exclusion of those who are different in terms of culture, religion and race.

Canadian Rockies, Lake Louise
It is important to note also, that our present world and society has always been fundamentally different from God’s dream for it.  Therefore, to suggest that there was a time, when somehow or another, we were great or were more closely aligned with God’s dream is a blatant fallacy. 

Human beings (you and I) were created free—not good, or perfect, or programmed.  We alone among all other living creatures have the choice to respond or not to respond to God or God’s dream.  That dream (to keep things simple) was quite adequately expressed by Howard Thurman as “a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.”  God is vulnerable (can you imagine that?).  God is vulnerable because God made us free.  We can and do reject God, much to God’s sorrow.  It no doubt pains God deeply to be rejected, just as it pains us when we are rejected (that is being vulnerable).   Sometimes I think it is God’s tears that have filled the seas and oceans of this earth.

We are, in my opinion, most fully human when we recognize ourselves as creatures and respond to God.  We are most fully human when we use the gift of our freedom to do God’s will (if God is love, God wills us to love) and to align ourselves and our society with God’s dream.  So why not see the world as a friendly place, with friendly people, under a friendly sky, rather than continue to abuse our freedom by disparaging one another?  Hate, meanness, arrogance, and selfishness are anathema to God’s dream.  

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Epiphany in Crete

Today is Epiphany (Theophany).  For the Greek and Russian Orthodox community it commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River with a rite called the “Great Blessing of the Waters.”   The celebration begins with the divine liturgy at the cathedral or church.  Then a procession is formed.  The procession  moves down the road toward the harbor or any body of water nearby.  The cherub icons lead the way, followed by the priests dressed in their best holiday vestments, then the VIPs (those very important people) of the city or village, followed by all the faithful.  Sometimes, in the larger cities, there is a parade, music, military contingents, etc., to accompany the procession.

Once at the water, the priest conducts the sanctification ceremony and when he finishes, he throws a cross into the water (blessing the water).  Then some of the young people of  the village or city jump into the water and compete in retrieving the cross.  The person who gets the cross first, swims back and returns it to the priest, who then gives a special blessing to the swimmer and his family.

What a privilege it was for me to observe this celebration in Heraklion, Crete, in January 1961 and again in 1962. I have never seen anything like it before or since.  I did not, at 17 years of age and as a member of the American Baptist Church, have the slightest idea that there was such a day as Epiphany, much less understand its meaning! I do now, and I celebrate it today with all my Orthodox brothers and sisters around the world. The Apostle Paul wrote to Titus, “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting” (and I add—“in yourself”).  I experienced other epiphanies in Crete and I’m grateful for all of them, for they did “set in order the things that were wanting, in me” including learning about Epiphany.  I’m glad too, in the depths of me, for being “left in Crete!”

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Twelfth Day of Christmas: The World Beyond

This is the twelfth and last day of the season we call Christmas. The Greeks had two different words to describe time:  kronos time and kairos time.  Kronos time is the passing of minutes, hours, days, months and years, what we might call ordinary, or sequential time.  The word chronology is the word we use to describe kronos (ordinary) time.  We live most of our time in kronos time.  It just keeps on ticking, hour after hour, day after day.  Henri Nouwen suggested this kronos time is opaque, like a window covered with mist through which our vision is blurred and cloudy.

Kairos is the word used by the ancient Greeks to describe special, extraordinary time—the right or opportune moment (season), when the window is no longer opaque, misty or cloudy, but becomes transparent and one can see clearly.  I think the Advent and Christmas seasons are kairos seasons, when time becomes transparent and the reality of God—and the world beyond breaks through.  The holy, the numinous, the spiritual, the mysterious is present and everything is different.  We are touched to our depths.  We experience the extraordinary.  Another dimension is present—a world vastly different from the one we know.

Sunset on the Nile--2010

The reason we keep retelling the story of the life of Jesus (and the episodes in the Old Testament as well) is because these are accounts of kairos time.  Jesus was so deeply in touch with the One he called “Father,” that God was always breaking in, always speaking to him, always doing something through him. So kairos is a time of special breakthrough, when the ineffable breaks in.  There are no adequate images to describe this real world, which is beyond this world.  We think of that beyond world as ephemeral, transitory, a momentary thing.  There may be such a beyond world, we say, but it is impossible for that world (where Love is at the heart of all things, where love, forgiveness, healing, and compassion abound) to work here in kronos time, in this real world in which we live.  “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus tells Pilate. “Be of good cheer, “ he tells his disciples, “I have overcome the world.” The real world has broken in and continues to break in.  Kairos moments will multiply and  abound, the mist that obscures reality will clear, the window will become transparent.  We are meant to live in kairos time, in that real world beyond,  and we are to do that living in this one!

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Eleventh Day of Christmas: God Comes in Many Ways

Will an Epiphany (“manifestation, revelation, or striking appearance”) happen for us as we come to the end of the Twelve Days of the Christmas?   Epiphany (January 6) celebrates God’s revealing and disclosing of himself to the world through Jesus.  Will God show up in some new way in me, in you, and in our world?  Will we experience a new birth of some kind?  Will we be cut loose from old wounds and inner fears to sing a new song, or dance a new dance, or do a new thing,  or hear an annunciation? 

Prayer is one channel by which we receive the gift of Christmas, the gift of God in Jesus.  Prayer is a time when we become still—a time when we let God address us, command us, and penetrate us.  Prayer is the time when we are most likely to be addressed by God, a time when we can respond—a time of dialogue.  The fact that prayer is a low priority in our lives says something about our resistance to God.  We really do not want God to get too close.

For many centuries God has spoken to his people in a unique way—through the written word, particularly through the Old and New Testaments.  God is not to be limited to just this one book. There are many witnesses, who, through their testimony via the written word, open a way for God to speak and come to us.  The Bible is not a book of answers, but a book of wrestlings—and therefore extremely relevant to each of us.  God is not limited by that one book, but God does speak through it.  We don’t read it properly and we don’t read it much, because we really don’t want God to get too close.

Epiphanies occur in our meeting with others.  Without “Star Persons” to guide me, would I have entered into faith?  I doubt it.  God speaks through our friends, our neighbors, and reveals himself and comes to us through them.  Perhaps we keep a proper distance from our friends and neighbors, because we don’t want God to get too close.

Our tendency is to put God in a straitjacket, to mold God into the God we want to hang around with everyday.  Prayer, the reading of the written word, and our meeting  God through  others are just a few of the ways in which God speaks and comes.  There are burning bushes, pillars of cloud and fire, Damascus roads, and the opening of Red Seas everywhere.  Look for them—for God comes in many and varied ways to each of us—eager to take us on in love.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Tenth Day of Christmas: The Christmas Gift

There is evidence that God is and there is evidence that indicates God is not.  No one can ignore the evidence in either case.  I personally, have many reasons for believing in God, but the one inescapable reason is the testimony of Jesus about God and about himself (Belief).  I believe Jesus is trustworthy.  The one piece of overwhelming evidence for me that God really is has come through the personal relationship  (Faith) I have known through the years with Jesus.  

The Christmas narrative is the story of God breaking through and giving the concrete gift of himself to humanity through Jesus.  It is through this gift of Jesus that God reveals and discloses God’s own nature—Love at the heart of all things.   When we are open to this gift all of life is thrown into a new pattern.  It doesn’t make the person in relationship with Jesus any better than anyone else, or more moral, or more successful, or more right, or more just.  What it does do is free us from the entanglements within ourselves.  Love frees us.  He gives himself totally to us in love and asks that we give ourselves totally in love to him.  Like all relationships, this doesn’t take place overnight, or in a year or two; it is a journey that goes on and on. 

Ausable Chasm, Adirondacks, New York--2011
If we accept this gift of God, the gift of his own life, we cannot remain what we have been; we will become a new creation—whatever that may mean for each of us (Love doesn’t lump us all together).  We have to trust that whatever may happen in this relationship will be right, because God is doing it and whatever emerges will be rooted in love.

What will we do with the gift on this tenth day of Christmas?  What will happen if we open ourselves and let him come in; if we give him all that we are?  What will we be as he begins to work with us?  What will we be when he is done with us?  This is the great risk of faith—not only to believe that Jesus is trustworthy, but to actually enter into a relationship with him.  

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Ninth Day of Christmas: Anger, Fear, and Love

My thoughts wander in all directions in these early hours. This morning I’m thinking about how the media is continually saying that we, or at least a segment of the American people, are angry.  Have you heard that over and over again?  People are angry, the pundits say, with the government, with the economy, angry about everything.  Where does this anger come from?  I think it comes from fear—a deep-seated fear—more individual than it is societal.  People are angry because they fear there isn’t enough to go around, that any change in the way things are is a catastrophe because it will deprive them of their position, power and control, that it will take away what they have.  They are afraid of going forward and therefore want to go back to some imagined greatness that never really was.  Anger, rooted in fear, is extremely dangerous because the tendency is to project that anger and fear (rather than deal with it as our own problem) on to something else or on to some other group of people. Fear breeds new enemies. 

Fear is dangerous, it restricts life, and leads us astray from who we really are.  “Fear not.”  How many times does Jesus say this when greeting a friend?  How many times are the words, “Be not afraid” repeated in the angelic announcements in the Christmas narrative? “Why are you so anxious (worried, concerned, apprehensive, fearful?…,” Jesus asked.   Look at the birds, consider the lily…”You are worth more than the birds!”   Love casts out fear.

The Christmas message is that Love (God) is at the heart of all things.  God is the source of all that is.  God is constantly bringing into being that which was not, that which is new.  The flow of God’s love is limitless and will never give out.  You don’t have to hoard your resources.  You can be lavish and prodigal.  There is enough to go around—more than enough.  You can’t exhaust it.  There is a superabundance of love and caring.  This is a friendly world.  It may be difficult learning how to touch that current of God’s love,  how to get into that stream, to be carried by it, but one thing is certain, in my mind, the stream is there.  And it is limitless.  Do not be afraid.

Snowdonia National Park, Wales-2015

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Eighth Day of Christmas: Beyond Belief to Faith

What we believe makes a difference.  Our belief in God, however, creates some real issues.  In one sense, this belief is very easy to hold, but on the other hand, it is very difficult.  It is hard to believe the idea of God presented in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, a God who can and does break through history. It is even more difficult to deal with Jesus of the Gospels.  This is quite obvious since there are so few authentic Christians.  John Wesley described most of us as “Almost Christian.”

To believe in God is easy, but to live with God is difficult.  Belief and faith are not the same thing.  Faith in God grows out of a real encounter in which something happens that cannot happen solely within a person’s thought life.  This encounter takes place with a God who is self-revealing and self-affirming and self-disclosing, a God who enters into our lives and history.  This God cannot be devised in human thinking.  God is always the absolute subject and can never become our object.  God is discovered only through God’s own self-disclosure.  This is why Advent and Christmas are so important— the “time” and the “story” may open us up enough for God to break through.  To believe in such a God is an affront to us, a real stumbling block.

The road of life is not easy. Bangor, Wales, 2015
Why?  Because if God is, then we are creatures!  We are not God.  This is anathema to us.  If we are creatures, we have been created by and are entirely dependent on God.  Certainly we are special creatures.  God can talk to us and we can reply.  But what irritates us is this business of being dependent upon God.  We want to go our own way.  We want to be our own God.  This attempt to emancipate ourselves from dependence has entangled us, both as individuals and as a world, throughout history, in a desperate, incurable contradiction of our own being.  Belief is one thing.  Faith is another.  Perhaps on this eighth day of Christmas we will be encountered and our belief will become faith.