Homilies and Poems

I am a Catholic Deacon and a Professor of English at Oregon State University. I've created this BLOG as a way of sharing my Sunday homilies, for anyone who would like copies, as well as some of my poetry. I'm also very glad to continue the conversation, over email or in person. Just click on "profile" and then onto my email address. Peace be with you and the Lord be with you. Also visit me at my website.

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Location: Corvallis, Oregon

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Three Homilies from the Holy Land


Three Holy Land Homilies
            from the St. Mary’s Holy Land Pilgrimage, March 19-30, 2014
 

March 23, 2014
outside, on the Mount of Beatitudes, overlooking the Sea of Galilee
Matthew 6:24-34 

     Barb and I want to thank you all for coming on this pilgrimage—for your patience and openness and stamina.  You are the pilgrimage, you are the Church, and we are very grateful for your faithfulness and your generosity of spirit. 

     Last week at the Timberhill Starbucks in Corvallis, I was having coffee with a friend, a scientist, who has just learned that he is dying.  He has been given a few months to live.  And he said something very striking to me.  He said, “there are 73 trillion cells in my body, and all but the hydrogen comes from the stars.”

     He said this with a kind of wonder in his voice.  A kind of excitement.

     A few days ago at breakfast, here on the Mount of Beatitudes, I was having coffee with Jaga, and she said something really striking, too, about her research on the aging process in fruit flies.  We share 13,000 genes with fruit flies, she said.  We have more.  We have 23,000, but we share those first 13,000, exactly.  Fruit flies are our brothers and sisters.  They age like we do, only faster.  They get stiff.  They decline.
 

     And I think of these two conversations here, in this beautiful place, where tradition says Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, the Sermon on the Mountain, because it’s clear from the language of the sermon, and of everything Jesus says and teaches, that he loved the mountains and the waters and the trees, the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.  His language is everywhere full of the earth and the sky.  Look at these, he tells us.  They are made by God and so they are holy, they are beautiful, and they have lessons for you—be like them—be like the birds—be like the flowers.   

     And this is why we come here, on pilgrimage, to be reminded that the earth, too, is a temple, a church, and nature a great book like the Bible, the other great book, just as holy and sacramental as the scriptures. 

     God could have made the Incarnation happen in any place and time, but he made it happen here, at the Sea of Galilee, in these little villages, and in the first century, 2000 years ago, long before all the technology that speeds up our lives and drives us to distraction, and there’s content in this, there’s revelation.

     We are called to be like Jesus, to imitate him, and he moved through his life and his landscape so much more slowly than we move through ours—7-9 miles on an ordinary day, on his own two feet, one step at a time, slow enough to see the flowering mustard and hear the mourning doves and stop and talk to the people who sought him out--and we should, too, as much as we can.  “There’s no smallness anymore,” Joe Cantor said to me yesterday, in the Valley of Doves, and he’s completely right, no smallness and no slowness, and as Christians we have to challenge that. 

     That’s why we’ve come here to the Holy Land, even though it’s been so hectic and hurried sometimes, for the same reason we go on retreat, the same reason we come to mass:  to slow down, to quiet down, and to take inventory of all that keeps us from this quiet and peace.

     Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus says in the Beatitudes, the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, and being here together, on this grassy hill, above this broad, shining lake, we can feel for ourselves how directly this peace flows out from the peace and beauty of this particular landscape.  Blessed are the poor in the spirit, are the humble, the small and the slow, and being here together in the freshness of the morning we can better understand how humility and gentleness are the only way to be in right relation with nature and with the people around us.
 

     It’s not that God is more present here than anywhere else.  It’s that we are.  It’s we who change, or can, we who can learn to see again.  By coming into this small world, here in Galilee, Jesus came into all our worlds.  By coming into that particular time he came into all time—and transcended it, gathering it all into himself—and the call for us is always to be aware of this, always to be amazed, as Fr. Matt said, always to walk in this light.

     What Fr. Steve called “the liturgical East” is everywhere.  It is made up of atoms.  It is made up of stars.  It is made up of fruit flies and the cells of our bodies and the joy we feel and even our sorrow.

 

     Here’s how my friend put it, my friend who is dying, the scientist, in the prayer he wrote and asked me to read here on the Mount of Beatitudes.  Death has called him on pilgrimage—has slowed him and opened him the way we are slowed and opened now through our travelling—and in this prayer he uses the language of science to invoke in a new way the peace which Jesus proclaimed 2000 years ago. 

Our Father, who art Creator of the Universe,

God of Evolution and Ultimate Reality,

I praise you and I thank you for Your Word

and for the knowledge you have deigned to be revealed about Your Creation

through the human pursuit of science.

The evolving flow of creation throughout the universe

is majestic and clothed in your mysterious ways.

In the dynamic exchange between energy and matter, visible and invisible,

in the relativity of space and time,

I temporarily exist,

a collection of atoms forged in the nuclear hearts of ancient stars.

Now, as my death approaches,

I know there is so much more about life, and death, and existence

than I can ever comprehend.

And so, I trust.

I trust in your unfathomable love and mercy.

I trust that you will give me patience and strength during the weeks and months ahead.

I trust that what comes next for me will be alight.

I trust that in your love for them, you will hold and comfort my wife and children and grandchildren.

In these and all things, not as I will, but Thy will be done.

This I pray through Christ, Your Son, Our Lord.

 

            Amen.

 

March 26
Dominus Flevit Church, Jerusalem
Luke 19:28-45
 

     Judy Reed’s moment came at mass on Mount Tabor as we were singing a hymn.

     Jan’s at the River Jordan, when she looked up and saw a white dove descending—a real dove, over the waters.

     The tears came then, to both of them, what our tradition calls “the gift of tears.”

 

     For Tom it happened at Magdala, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, when he opened the door to the new church and felt the wind blowing and saw it bending the palm trees and he thought of the storm that rose over the sea in the Gospel, the storm that Jesus calmed.

     He thought:  everyone can feel the wind.

     Everyone.
 

     And sometimes we don’t feel anything, we’re not moved at all, and that’s OK, too, that’s just as spiritual, because it gives us a chance to be in the wilderness, to be bewildered, to be barren.  At times like this we are reminded that all is grace, out of our control.

     Whenever we are moved, that’s what God wants us to feel.  It’s our turn.  It’s our job to feel what other people can’t feel in that moment.

     Whatever we feel is what God wants us to feel, including our negative emotions.  The gospels several times describe the irritation and the anger Jesus felt on his pilgrimage to the Jerusalem, and, we assume, his boredom and distractedness and fatigue.  He was fully human, after all, and if he was, so can we be, too.

     If Jesus embraced his own humanity, we can embrace ours—especially our sorrow, our grief.

     It’s not “blessed are the happy, for they shall always be happy.”  It’s “blessed are they who mourn”; “blessed are those who persecuted.”  Jesus wept over Jerusalem on just this spot, on this hill overlooking the stones of the city, and he had reason to, as we have reason to weep over Portland or Corvallis or Eugene, over all the sorrows and the losses in our lives and in the world, all the violence and ugliness, in us and outside of us. 

     There’s no use repressing it, it’s real, and we can’t heal it if we can’t feel it.

     As Judy Rubert says, the key to travel is this:  when you get tired, stop.  And this is the key to our psychological and spiritual health, too.  When you feel grief, grieve.  It won’t overwhelm us, it won’t carry us away, God will hold us up, as He always holds us up.  Feelings are just feelings, they come and they go, and if we can just admit to them—if we can acknowledge them without letting them define us—they will eventually pass.
 

     Or deeper.  To admit to our most negative feelings is to enter through the Door of Humility.  It’s to stoop down.  To die to ourselves.
 

     In a way the most striking thing of all in this gospel is that Jesus doesn’t force the people of Jerusalem to conform to his will, as the Pharisees demand.  “Teacher, rebuke your disciples,” they say, and he could, of course.  He could call down his armies of angels.  But he doesn’t.  In another, paradoxical sense, God himself is powerless here, because he wants to respect the freedom of others, as he must, being God, being Love.  He allows the Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way to the Church of the Nativity, and the “Star-Bucks,” and the tawdry music videos, out of love.  He allows the garbage and the poverty and the sheer human waste and stupidity because he wants to leave a gap, a space, in which we can move towards him ourselves, we can choose him. 

     I wonder if we can ever fully grasp who the God of our faith really is—not the dictator, not the granter or denier of wishes—but the one who surrendered himself completely, who entirely emptied himself out.

     I wonder if we can ever really understand that the most important thing about Jesus isn’t what he did but what he didn’t do:  he didn’t come down from the cross.
 

     I wonder:  if God himself can refrain from imposing his will on us, can’t we refrain from imposing ours—on our children, our co-workers, our friends?

     If God himself is willing to live with all these imperfections and unresolved contradictions, can’t we?

     It’s not just our humanity we have to accept.  It’s the humanity of others.

 

     I saw something out the window in Nazareth as we were waiting for people to board the bus.  A middle-aged man was walking with his son.  The son was 15 or 16, with wild eyes and a wild smile, his head at a crooked angle, bouncing and weaving down the sidewalk.  He was obviously disabled, mentally and physically, and it really shocked me.  I looked away.  I didn’t want to see it—not there, at Nazareth.

     But later I remembered.  I remembered how patiently the father managed to get the boy into a car.  I remembered how heroic the father seemed, and how terribly burdened.   

     Just how sad life is, and how beautiful. 

    I don’t know what to do with this.  I don’t know what this means.  It just makes me want to weep. 

     But I believe in the dove, too, descending from the sky.  I believe in the wind blowing against the door.  I believe that the man who wept over this city entered into it, and let it enter into him, and that we must, too, and that when we do, when we feel what must feel, we will rise with him and we will live with him and that somehow, in the midst of all this sadness and loss, there is joy, too, always joy, joy that we can’t explain either and don’t have to because it’s real, it exists, it’s true.  All of it.  All at once.

 

March 27
St. Peter in Gallicantu
Matthew 26
 

     Peter denied Jesus three times, in the courtyard here, around a coal fire.  He denies his master, his beloved friend, his very life.

      And we deny Jesus, again and again, in our kitchen, in our offices, in our parishes.  Our master, our beloved friend, our very life.
 

     We deny Jesus when we laugh at a joke we shouldn’t laugh at.

     When we turn on a screen rather than face our own emptiness.

     When we assume the worst about someone else.

 

     We deny Jesus when we fail to speak up for ourselves.

     When we don’t say what we really mean.

     When we let other people tell us who we are.

 

     We deny Jesus when we are too embarrassed to talk about our faith.

     We deny Jesus when we do talk about our faith, but for our own ends, or without gentleness or respect.

 

     We deny Jesus when we don’t really know what the Church teaches.

     When we make assumptions.

     When we simplify what is really nuanced and complicated and open-ended.

 

     When we drink too much, eat too much, talk too much.

     When we do a shoddy job.

     When we don’t make an honest effort.

 

     When we read the Bible literally, reducing its mysteries to mere fact.

      When we dismiss the truths of the Bible as mere myth and symbol.

 

     When we get obsessed with remodeling or cars or the way we look.

     When we measure our worth by how much money we make.

 

     When we expect our parents to be better than we are.

     When we expect our children to be better than we are.

     When we expect our friends to be better than we are.

 

     When we expect our priests to better than we are.

 

     When we fail to prayerfully listen to the teachings of the Church—

     prayerfully question the teachings of the Church—

     prayerfully think for ourselves, with the Church.
 

     When we fear change.

     When we fear sickness.

     When we fear growing older.

     When we fear death.
 

     When we give up hope—when we give up joy.
 

     But Jesus forgives us, as he forgives Peter.  He is always forgiving us, he will never stop forgiving us.  He is never shocked or put off or discouraged with us.  He makes us, too, the rocks on which the Church is built, even after being on pilgrimage with us for more than week, seeing us tired and cranky and not always at our best.

     We are made in the image and likeness of God, and deep down underneath all the layers isn’t something ugly and unlovable and vile but something beautiful and precious and beyond all price.

     The sin in the garden wasn’t that we were naked but that we were ashamed to be—that we couldn’t accept who we really are—that we had to cover up our true natures. 

     “If God loves me,” someone told me yesterday, “he can love anybody.”  No.  I know she was joking and I know what she means, but there’s an assumption underneath this all the same, an assumption I think most of us make, and it’s completely wrong.  Jesus loves us not in spite of who are but because of it—because we are lovely, and ordinary, and precious, and good.

     In a profound way Jesus isn’t really calling us to change.  He is calling us just to be ourselves, truly ourselves—to let go of all the masks and disguises. 

     It’s not just that Jesus is our beloved friend, it’s that we are his, and we deny him when we deny this.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

My Theophany


March 16, 2014
Second Sunday of Lent
Genesis 12:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9
 

     A few years ago I had an experience of God, a theophany, and I want to tell you about it.

     I’d been fasting and praying, I’d been studying the Bible, and suddenly God appeared before me, clear as day, all in white and with a flowing beard, and in a deep, resonant voice He said to me, my son, because you are so morally pure and spiritually advanced, I have chosen to explain to you the secret of life.  And he did.  Everything was clear.  I understood everything and I still do.  The Big Bang.  Why people suffer. 

     At the end God gave me a plastic card about the size of a credit card, and with it I can judge the moral worth of everyone I see, whether they’re good enough or not, and if you doubt me I can show you the card, not to mention the video I took with my smart phone.  I’ve got proof.

      I was so calm while this was going on, so happy, and I have been ever since.  People love me.  Money keeps pouring in.  I go from triumph to triumph, utterly confident, utterly serene.

 

      And of course at this point you know that I’m joking, you know I’m making all this up, because the theophany I’ve described is nothing like the theophanies of Abraham or anyone else in the Bible.

 

     Genesis doesn’t tell us anything about Abraham at first.  We have no idea why he was chosen, he just was, and we have no idea what God looks like or sounds like or anything about Him except that He comes.  “The Lord said to Abram, go forth.”  That’s all.  The language of Genesis is wonderfully spare, wonderfully minimal, and that spareness speaks volumes.  It tells us that God is beyond all language, beyond all understanding.  It shows Him reverence.

      The Jews won’t even utter the word “Yahweh.”  It’s too holy.  They substitute the word “Adonai,” which in our English translations is indicated with the word LORD, in all capital letters.

      In the theophanies later in Genesis Abraham is taken out to see the vastness of the stars, or he is sleeping or in a kind of trance--these experiences almost always take place at night or in the threshold times--and far from understanding everything clearly, Abram later laughs out loud, he falls on his face and laughs, as later Sarah laughs, too, bitterly, because what God is promising is so improbable:  me, an old man, become the father of the nations?  Me, a barren old woman, a mother after all these years?  And by the way, Lord, where have you been?  You made this promise years ago and nothing has happened, no baby has come, the Promised Land is nowhere in sight.  What’s going on?

     In fact, from the minute Abraham receives the call his life gets far more complicated than it was before.  He wanders all over the desert, has to battle other tribes, is always dealing with family squabbles and tensions.  A son is finally born, and Sarah laughs in joy, and they name their son Isaac, which means laughter, but when the child is older the Lord asks Abraham to take him out and offer him as a human sacrifice, only staying the knife at the last minute. 

     All the way down the generations, through Jacob and Joseph and the twelve tribes, this is one big, dysfunctional family, torn apart by violence and hatred and sexual abuse.

     Abraham is a man of great resourcefulness, it’s true, and often great fidelity, but the first thing he does after the first theophany, after God himself comes to him and promises him a nation, is to lie.  There’s a famine, and he and Sarah flee to Egypt, and Sarah is so beautiful the Pharaoh wants to take her into his harem, and he does.  But he’s not at fault for that.  Abraham is, because he allows it to happen.  He tells Sarah to lie and say she’s his sister, not his wife, so that the Pharaoh will take her and not kill him, and even though Sarah is Abraham’s half-sister, we find out later, that doesn’t let him off the hook.  He’s still being selfish.  He’s still doubting the truth of the theophany he just had.

 

     Like we all do.  All of us.  This is real life.  All our families are dysfunctional families, all our lives are a mess, and this is the good news, these stories in Genesis, because they mean that we’re in good company.  We’re one with the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs, and the Lord keeps coming to us anyway, and He knows us by name, too, and He never gives up on us, no matter how stubborn and selfish and bullheaded we are. 

 

     If our lives are a mess, God comes into the mess. 

     The mess is a sacred mess.  The mess is where our salvation keeps happening. 

 

     Look at the disciples in the Gospel.  Peter is the rock on which the Church is built, and he’s the one who denies Jesus three times.  The only difference between Peter and Judas is that Peter repents.  Here in the Transfiguration scene Peter is so overwhelmed he makes a fool of himself, wanting to build booths and pin things down that can’t be pinned down, and just a few passages later he’s arguing with the other disciples about who will be first in the kingdom.  The disciples really have no idea what’s going on.  They don’t get it at all.  They keep being stubborn, flawed human beings, even after they’re chosen, and even as disciples, even as friends of Jesus, they have to suffer and struggle the whole rest of their lives.

     And this is good news, it really is, because it means that when we are confused and when we deny Jesus and when we suffer, we can see this confusion and failure and suffering as sacred, as part of the journey, as leading to the Promised Land.  When we turn out to be human beings like everyone else we can see our frailty as continued proof of our need for grace—and we can be grateful, we can be full of gratitude, because that grace always comes, is always pouring down on us. 

 

     “He saved us and called us to a holy life,” St. Paul says, “not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus.” 

     What Abraham was promised was fulfilled in the Transfiguration, and it’s still being fulfilled.  This is always going on. 

     The historical Jesus was the manifestation in history of the energy and creativity and personality that has flowed through the universe from the beginning of time and before, and is flowing through us now, is here now, in all our trials and in all our laughter, for we are all blessed, we are all citizens of the great nation, and the Promised Land is this land, is this place. 

 

     We can laugh in disbelief, we can laugh in bitterness, we can laugh in joy, for all our laughter is blessed, all our laughter is true.  Everything is theophany.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Keeping Secrets


March 5, 2014
Ash Wednesday
Matthew 6:1-18 

     The word “secret” appears a lot in the Bible, as it does in the gospel today.  The word “hidden.”  Over and over again.  And in a positive way, as a good thing.

     There are bad secrets, of course, sins and problems we need to confess and talk about.  But secrecy and hiddenness are necessary and appropriate, too, as for example when someone confides in us and we need to keep that confidence.  Or when sharing something really personal with someone else would burden that person, would cross a boundary.  There’s a good distance we need to maintain most of the time, out of respect for others.  “Don’t tell me too much,” the novelist Henry James says.  He’s talking about making writing better, but the same idea applies to our actual lives. 

     But there’s a deeper reason, I think, why the gospel today emphasizes the importance of secrecy, and that has to do with our dependence on what other people think of us, with our desire to impress others, with the way we let other people define who we are instead of God.  To keep certain things secret is to trust in God, not the world.  To keep certain things hidden is to say that all that matters is what God thinks of us, not anyone else.  Secrecy is an act of faith.

     “Think of a little child that is given a taste for drugs,” Anthony DeMello says.  “This is exactly what society does to us when we are born.  We are given a taste for the drug called approval, appreciation, attention, and so we lose our freedom.  Others now have the power to make us happy or miserable.”

     I think almost everything we do is motivated by the desire to impress others, however unconsciously, even our religious behavior.  It’s odd, isn’t it, that on this day when the gospel is telling us to pray in secret and to keep our piety to ourselves, we get a cross of ashes etched on our forehead--something everyone else can see the rest of the day.  It takes courage to go out into the world and show our faith that way.  But some of us are too anxious to walk around with the ashes.  We like it.  We like looking different.  We like being special. 

     Evangelization is important and sometimes that involves talking with people about our faith.  But evangelization doesn’t depend on words.  That’s part of our problem, too:  we think too highly of language, of saying things.  No.  In the synoptic gospels there’s something called the “Messianic Secret,” Jesus’s insistence that no one tell what they’ve seen and heard from him, that they  keep their faith a secret, as he keeps his own identity a secret until the end, and I think we need to practice that ourselves more often.  We need to keep quiet.

     Our friends and classmates and coworkers should be able to tell that we’re Christian from what we do, not what we say:  from our courage, our confidence, our compassion.  To be a Christian in the world means to be a Christian, just to be our selves, in the company of others.

     Psalm 51 is the psalm today, the great penitential psalm.  “Indeed you love truth in the heart,” the psalmist says.  “Then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.”   This is it.  This is where we can find wisdom, in the secret of our hearts, because this is where we will find God, and where God will find us.  It’s hard to pin down, this reality.  It seems unreal.  It seems invisible.  We can’t put our hands on it.  But it’s there, it is real, there is this love overflowing in us, this truth, and it’s deep down where no one can see it and where no words can describe it, and this is what we have to accept, this is what we have to surrender to, this is what we have to die into.  Only then can we rise:  into our freedom, into our joy, into our true selves.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Embracing Hopelessness


March 2, 2014
Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time
1 Cor 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34 

     There’s a famous inscription on the gates of Hell in Dante’s Inferno:  “abandon all hope ye who enter here.”  To live without hope is to live in Hell, and in a way, of course, this is completely contrary to the life of faith.  To believe is to be full of hope—hope for the future, hope for heaven, hope that one day we will see the Lord face to face. 

     But in another sense faith, too, requires us to abandon hope. 

     In a recent New Yorker cartoon Hell is called “Heck” and the inscription reads, “give up on things getting better, ye who enter here,” and in a way that’s the inscription on the gates of heaven, too.  That’s what Jesus is saying today when he tells us to learn from the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.  Be hopeless. 

     Birds don’t have any hope.  Flowers don’t have any hope.  They never think about the future and they never worry about the future, and they don’t have to, because the present is enough and more than enough.  It’s beautiful.

 

     Pema Chodron talks about being totally tired out and fed up, about “the experience of complete hopelessness,” and she says this is a good thing, “the beginning of the beginning”:

Without giving up hope—that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be—we will never relax with where we are or who we are.  To think that we can finally get it all together is unrealistic.  To seek for some lasting security is futile.  Believing in a solid, separate self, continuing to seek pleasure and avoid pain, thinking that someone ‘out there’ is to blame for our pain—one has to get totally fed up with these ways of thinking.  One has to give up hope that this way of thinking will bring us satisfaction.

Chodron is a Buddhist thinker, and this passage has a Buddhist feel.  It doesn’t quite sound Christian at first. 

     But Christian theology rests on two basic premises.

     The first is that God is present in every moment and in every molecule, that His grace and His love are nowhere less than complete and full, anywhere in the universe, anywhere in time.   What’s happening right here and right now is as holy and as beautiful as anything that has ever happened or ever will.    

    The second premise is that the love of God and the grace of God are freely given, are nothing but gift, that there’s nothing we can ever do to earn them and nothing we have to do.  No matter how much I read or pray or do good works, I will never be more loved by God than I am in this very second.  Yes, we should strive to be better, we should always strive to be more moral and faithful people, but not in order to merit the love of God but rather as a loving and grateful response to it.

     We can give up hope because we already have everything we need:  we have Christ.

     Yes, we believe in a Second Coming, we believe in Heaven, we believe in a future more wonderful than we can imagine. Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.  But we also know that in Christ from the beginning of time God has transcended all time, that God isn’t linear as we are, isn’t stuck on a timeline, as we are.   Jesus’s call in the Gospel today is to a radical surrender to the present moment, is to give up worry and to trust in him, and when we do, when we enter into this freedom and this playfulness and this joy, we are already experiencing eternal life. 

     When we get to heaven, we will recognize it.

 

     In the meantime, of course, we still have to get the lawnmower fixed, we still have to pay our taxes, and that means putting things on calendars and planning ahead.  But maybe, if we have a list of six things to do in a day, we can cross out three of them.  Save them for later.  Maybe if we don’t get to everything by the end of the day we don’t have to feel guilty and anxious. 

     Maybe if we have a weekend free, we shouldn’t fill it up.  We should let it be open, be blank, and see what happens.   See who comes. 

     As Luke Timothy Johnson says of Jesus, “nowhere in ancient literature do we find an equally accessible character.”  Jesus is approached by everyone and he receives everyone.  “He is immediately present to them all.  He is never distracted.   He never gives the slightest sense that there is something more important to do than what he is then doing.”

     “Because he refuses to be defined by any finite plan or project,” Johnson says, “he is not enslaved by any plan or project.”

 

    And maybe we should think about how much of our anxiety has to do with worry about what other people think of us, how much our anxiety depends on our fear of being judged.  Our Inner Critic is always telling us we’re not good enough right now and so we have to keep hoping for a better future.  But as Paul says, “it does not concern me in the least that I be judged by you or any human tribunal.  I do not even pass judgment on myself.”

     There’s a poem I love by Wendell Berry, the Kentucky poet and essayist and horse framer.  It’s called “A Purification” and it describes how every spring Berry goes out among the birds of the air and the flowers of the field and digs a trench in the ground.  And into this he puts all the winter’s accumulation of paper, all the “pages I do not want to read again, useless words, fragments, errors.”  And into it, too, he puts the contents of his outhouse, he puts all that has passed through him that year, what he calls “the gathered refuse of mind and body.”

     And then he stands there and he prays, in these beautiful words:

            To the sky, to the wind, then,

            and to the faithful trees, I confess

            my sins:  that I have not been happy

            enough, considering my good luck;

            have listened to too much noise;

            have been inattentive to wonders;

            have lusted after praise.

And then he closes the trench, folding things up again “in the dark, the deathless earth.”

 

     Let us go out into the fields and dig our own trenches, as we come into Lent this year, and let us bury our own refuse, the contents of our own outhouses.  Let us confess our own sins:  our own inattention, our own lust, our own lack of gratitude. 

     Let us abandon all our hopes but our hope in the Lord.  Let us be hopelessly playful and joyous and free.  Let us be hopelessly trusting.  Let us be hopelessly in love with God, the giver of all that is good, who is with us always, even unto the end of time.