Heeding the Signs

I arise today, through

The strength of heaven,

 The light of the sun,

 The radiance of the moon,

 The splendor of fire,

The speed of lightning,

 The swiftness of wind,

 The depth of the sea,

 The stability of the earth,

 The firmness of rock.

Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, part 4 (for full poem, click About Saint Patrick’s Breastplate)

There’s nothing quite so beautiful as the ocean; day or night, the power of the Atlantic still amazes me when I walk Maine’s Marginal Way. But there’s a majesty to the mountains that can’t be found anywhere else. Whether in clouds or sun, standing on Mount Washington takes my breath away. Then again, my first view of the Grand Canyon left me speechless; the infinite sky, birds flying high but still below me, and the brilliance of colored stone winding beyond the horizon is a study in infinity and patience.

These are wild places – sea, rock, earth, wind. So wild are these places, that signs are posted to warn visitors when the weather makes them dangerous. Both ends of the Marginal Way carry warnings of being swept off the land into the rocky ocean below. Avalanches, lightning, gale force winds and rapidly dropping temperatures merit signs in parking lots and on trails warning hikers to visit Mount Washington another day. At the top of the Grand Canyon are permanent signs urging tourists to take care, bring water and food, and be aware that the heat in the canyon is deadly. These are wild places – sea, rock, earth, wind.

Every year people die because they do not heed the warning signs. For whatever reason, visitors assume that nothing will happen to them. If the danger isn’t immediately visible, the foolish charge right past the signs – unprepared and unaware. Rescue teams are sent, sometimes saving them, sometimes losing one of their own in the attempt. Living near the wild doesn’t make it tame – a truth most of the locals know and heed.

All living is living in a wild place. Human life is beautiful and powerful, but it can and has gone from welcoming to dangerous in a second. The warning signs are posted: greed, envy, false witness, and vengeance can kill the souls of those who ignore the signs. God keep stranger and friend well away from them, and strengthen those who are brave and compassionate enough to rescue the foolish souls who didn’t heed the signs.

My Prayer

I arise today (I bind unto myself this day)
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of the patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.
Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, Third stanza
(For complete prayer, click Lent 2016: Saint Patrick’s Breastplate)

My God,

May I have the eyes of a child and a heart full of ancient wisdom – both necessary to see your cherubim, angels, and archangels

May I remember that resurrection is your way with all things, now and forever, meeting me here and now; resurrection is its own reward

May my life answer to the prayers of the patriarchs, not reject them

May the prophets’ words bless me with compassion for anyone in need and the strength to help them even at my own cost

May my words about Jesus be truthful and plain

May faith infuse my every thought

May I value innocent trust over worldly mistrust

Whoever I am, whatever I do, keep me in your love. Sinful and righteous, there is no life for me beyond you.

Amen.

Strength, obedience, service

I arise today (I bind unto myself this day)

Through the strength of the love of cherubim,

In the obedience of angels,

In the service of archangels,

In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,

In the prayers of the patriarchs,

In the predictions of prophets,

In the preaching of apostles,

In the faith of confessors,

In the innocence of holy virgins,

In the deeds of righteous men.

Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, Third stanza (For complete prayer, click Lent 2016: Saint Patrick’s Breastplate)

 

I don’t bind unto myself or arise through strength or in obedience and service in general: I do so through the strength of the love of cherubim, in the obedience of angels, and in the service of archangels. Strength, obedience, and service to all that is holy and compassionate can transform the world, bringing creation closer to the heart of God. Strength, obedience, and service to anything less can break the spirit and bring devastation to the universe. I must be careful what I bind unto myself and what gives me the strength to arise.

Cherubim, angels, and archangels live before God and for God. They see and serve the Mystery of the Creator and Sustainer. If I ever encounter one, I’ll be frightened by my own helplessness in the presence of such power (I’ll definitely need a “fear not”). But they come from the God who loves me and will not harm me. Instead of annihilation from such strength, obedience, and service, I arise because of it.

But I don’t live before and for God with my whole self. I am capable, willing even, to seek partial power for myself rather than rest in the holiness of God. I seek my own good at the expense of others. I cannot wish good things for my enemies, or even my friends, unless the love of God surrounds me.

But I dare to arise because others have arisen. Not completely, not without mistakes, but arisen nonetheless: patriarchs, prophets, apostles, confessors, holy virgins, and righteous men who dared to live in and for God’s love.

Now, it’s my turn.

 

cropped-nighttracks.jpg

Sand Pail Theology

I arise today

     Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,

     Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,

     Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,

     Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

                    Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, Second stanza

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time at the beach. Exploring tide pools was my favorite pastime – picking up starfish, jellyfish, barnacles, and crabs from the many pools of water hidden among the rocky coastline at low tide. I’d put some sand in my pail, fill it up half way with ocean water, then add whatever I living creatures caught my attention. I’d keep them for an hour or so, amazed by their beauty, sharing them with my parents and siblings. Then I’d return them to their rocks and pools, knowing that my bucket was way too small to keep them alive and happy.

Creeds and statements of faith remind me of my sand pail. They hold enough of God’s truth to let me explore life and hold it in my hands. But they can’t contain God or sustain life any more than my plastic sand pail could sustain the life of even a single starfish. Words and buckets give us just enough time to be amazed by this creation and the God who created and sustains it all. But the lives we hold and the truths we treasure only live when given back to the great big world and the infinite God who loves every single atom of every single thing that lives in its embrace. When I try to limit life or truth to my own little bucket and meager understanding, things suffer: whatever I’ve attempted to keep and the soul expanding grace that only comes when I am content being a child, standing by the ocean in a big, beloved world.

God given strength

I arise today Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism, Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial, Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension, Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

Saint Patrick’s Breastplate, 2nd stanza

Taken out of the rest of the poem, this looks suspiciously like something we might read in church. A creed of some sort. And it is, but not in the usual way. It’s not an “I agree with the general ideas or principles” kind of thing: it’s a “there isn’t a single part of Jesus’ life that was unrelated to God” proclamation.

Christ is born: God giving him to the world; Christ is baptized: Jesus gives his work life over to God for us.

Christ is crucified: this world of fear rejects him; Christ is buried: his friends and family give Jesus back to the earth and to God.

Christ is resurrected: Jesus reveals the face of God, his face, to his followers; Christ ascends: the humanity of Jesus is forever part of the inner life of God.

His descent for the judgment of doom: death cannot separate anyone from the love of God. Our small, partial, fragile egos are doomed because our true, whole, God given selves are too big and too holy for them to contain.

These things we read in poems and creeds were never meant to drag us down or punish us. They are our strength because they reveal the soul saving truth: no one is excluded from the love of God. We arise in this time and in this place through the strength they give us.

Ash Wednesday: Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

I arise today 


Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,


Through belief in the Threeness,


Through confession of the Oneness


of the Creator of creation.

The wonder-full arising – a daily blessing, miracle even, when I arise with God’s mighty strength. When I praise God for this day with my first breath upon awakening, the Creator of creation is known to me;

the one who became like you and me, who walked through History with dusty feet and showed us the Way, cementing salvation in our souls, is known to me; the one who is in me, nearer than hands and feet, closer than that first awakening breath, whose presence is real when I am truly awake, is known to me.

I have called these realities the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit but they are the One. Whatever I say about God the Father – omnipresent, eternal, loving – can be said of Jesus and the Spirit. What a great God we serve who has pulled out all the stops to be known in this moment of awakening.

May I be truly engaged this first day of Lent, this Ash Wednesday, in this Presence – and throughout these 40 days be tuned in to the Frequency that is my life.

Offered by Bill Albritton, teacher, leader, follower of Christ.

 

 

 

Brilliant Light, Gathering Darkness

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Matthew 17:1-2, NRSV

The season of Epiphany ends here on this mountaintop. The disciples see Jesus shining like the sun, and they are nearly blinded by the light. But this isn’t a story about Jesus having a supernatural transformation: he didn’t change on that mountain, the disciples did. Their blindness fell away and they saw Jesus as he always was: divine and human.

This is one of my favorite passages in the New Testament. It says something about who Jesus is (God’s son, real person), and something about who I am – capable of seeing the glory of God in this life and equally capable of closing my eyes to it in willful blindness. Even when I see the glory of God, I am as likely to misunderstand its meaning in my life as Peter did just a few short verses later. The glory of God is more than a brilliant light burning on a mountaintop. This light is the living, breathing, love of God who will leave the heights to bring light and hope to the darkest of places.

The shadows are darkening, and the road to Jerusalem beckons. The brilliance of this mountaintop transfiguration will shine into resurrection. But the days in between are dark, and I am afraid. I would not dare to walk this road alone. But I walk with all the faithful who have ever lived. Like Saint Patrick did when in danger, I will arise to walk the road, and I will bind unto myself the strength of God. I will dare to follow Jesus on this Lenten road…

[Note: A different part of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate will be the focus for each week of Lent. To read the full prayer, click Lent 2016:Saint Patrick’s Breastplate at the top of the page. Background information on the prayer and resources for further study can be found by clicking About Saint Patrick’s Breastplate.]

Resolution: Stay Connected

I keep up with friends by phone, email, the occasional text, over coffee, and at the dinner table. Most of my friends and family keep in touch on phones, tablets, and computers – a few clicks and it’s done. What’s happening with the family, where everyone is meeting, and a review of the new local restaurant go to everyone as a group. Social media is an efficient way to communicate, and this month I’ll jump in – the last one in the information pool.

I’m not opposed to social media. I think it’s a great way to share information. But information isn’t connection. Pictures with captions and a few sentences about my friends’ latest adventures are life snapshots: better than nothing, but just a passing glimpse of who they are. To connect in a personal way, there has to be more. Social media can go both ways: lead to deeper connections or keep those deeper encounters away. Information instead of or for encounter, Oz hiding behind the digital curtain or Bastian Balthazar Bux moving through the words to save a world and reveal himself.

Deep encounter takes time. When I don’t take the time to move through pictures and blurbs on a screen to true connection, the best I can hope for is a passing familiarity with those I love. That’s the easy road, requiring little more from me than an occasional hello. But it doesn’t bring me to the home where they live. To get there is a different journey on a road that requires time, effort, and sacrifice to walk. To be at home with those I love is communion – the true purpose and destination of all communication. Social media puts me at the crossroads. I hope I choose the road that will make all the difference…

[Oz can be found in Baum’s The Wizard of Oz series; Bastian Balthazar Bux lives in Ende’s The Neverending Story.]