Sunday, March 2, 2008

Thrilled by God

In the ebb and flow of the spiritual life, I have had my share of flows--thankfully so. This weekend will be a 'flow' that I will not soon forget. In fact, I am still in the midst of it.

My dear friend, Zen Musician Scholar, was ordained--she is now Rev. Zen Musician Scholar~RZMS ! The service was stunning. And she was stunning, radiant. She glowed throughout the whole thing. As I sat there and occasionally looked over at her, I began to move into the center of God's grace. Oh!!!! What a feeling filled with beauty! Seeker Executive talks about being in the flow of God's grace in terms of sailing and how you suddenly "catch" the wind and off you go! It was like that for me yesterday.

As my name for her indicates, RZMS is a musician. A professional. She plays the flute regularly for the Symphony Orchestra in Large City to the East, and the orchestra came out in force to be a beautiful part of her ordination service. She had three scriptures, and after each was read, her friends blessed us with sublime music. Scripture. Music. Scripture. Music. Scripture. Music....each an opening to God.

(For those of you interested, the music was: "Morning has Broken" Adagio from "Concerto in C Minor" for violin, oboe, and basso continuo, J.S. Bach...."Preludiettino" by Georges Barrere....Andante from "Sonata in C Minor" by G. P. Telemann....And during Communion: "Sheep May Safely Graze" by Bach, Allegretto from "Hamburger Sonata in G Major" also by Bach, and "Minuet and Dance of the Blessed Spirits" by C. W. Gluck. The postlude was "Toccata for Organ" by Charles-Marie Widor.)

After I sat down from preaching, the "presentation of the candidate" began, and one of the presenters was R H, whose quote appears at the bottom of this blog. As I wrote in my very first post, R H incarnated Christ to me, years ago, in a way that became the pivot point of my life. My friend RZMS has practiced Zen with him for years and years, her practice deepening to the point where she is now a teacher of Zen as well.

Well, when R H began to speak, and held his hands up together in a gesture of prayer and respect (the Zen tradition), my heart broke open. I went back, viscerally, to that moment when everything changed and I began to take the 'right' path for me. I had just sat down, and when he began to speak, I realized that I had given everything, everything, everything, POURED MYSELF OUT to my friend and to God and to the gathered congregation, and had yet at the same time RECEIVED everything ~ renewal and wholeness. I realized that I had actually embodied what I was trying to say in my sermon.

That sense of the closeness of God and oneness with my life have continued all weekend. Last night all of us~myself and all three children and their friends~went to my husband's final performance of "Driving Miss Daisy" at a local community theater. The acting was superb. Truly. We were all very happy for D. I felt tremendous joy for him, with him.

And then this morning we had a healing service in both Sunday services, and as I prayed with those who came forward for anointing and prayer, I felt the purity of being God's vessel, filled by the very act of emptying.

Oh, I am so so so very grateful.

God thrills me.

Here's the sermon, but I've deleted those parts that would identify my friend. It doesn't flow, but for what it's worth....

The title is "Where Wisdom Dwells."

(Besides Wisdom of Solomon, which I posted earlier, she also used the Philippians hymn and the Markan version of the Shema)...

There is a place on this earth where our souls meet—our souls meet each other and they meet God. That place is wisdom.

[one paragraph about how I began thinking of this "souls meeting"]

Wisdom’s dwelling place… "RZMS"'s choice of text from the Wisdom of Solomon was not hugely familiar to me. Perhaps that’s the same with you, so let me echo Mary’s lovely reading of it. Perhaps we can remember in the coming moments that scripture carries within it a power to transform.

So, let me invite you now to open yourself to its power by closing your eyes, taking several deep-deep-deep, cleansing breaths...Breathe in the Here and the Now, the very Wisdom of God that surrounds us…"For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom. She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against Wisdom evil does not prevail. She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well." (Wisdom of Solomon 7: 26 - 8:1)

Let me provide a bit of context for Wisdom in the Bible. In some of the Wisdom Literature, Wisdom is "optimistic and assumes the goodness and the justice of the world we live in." That’s a quote from "RZMS." I’ve been reading her writings for years, since we both entered B----Divinity School as first year seminary students in the mid 1990’s. RZMS, now Dr. _____, as we know, tells us that Wisdom assumes the goodness and the justice of our world…. Creation itself–the whole world!-- is imbued with an order that we can actually perceive/know. Once this is understood, we can live in harmony with God’s design. Ah, it’s beautiful.

But, as she also points out, that’s only some of the Wisdom Literature of ancient Israel. For a more complete view we must look at other books in the Bible in which actual human experience amplifies the complexity of Wisdom—I think, ultimately, to the point of paradox.

We learn from Job and Quoheleth (Ecclesiastes) that:

  • Wisdom is The Law~knowledge/knowing, AND Wisdom is The Spirit—Wisdom is also not-knowing, for Wisdom honors doubt.
  • Wisdom is gain and prosperity, AND at the same time loss and profound poverty.
  • Wisdom is creation and life! It is annihilation and death.

In "RZMS"'s view, Wisdom’s “purity” lies in its diversity (—ah! more beautiful paradox!):

  • the intelligence and clarity of Wisdom found in Proverbs,
  • the conservatism of Wisdom in Ben Sira,
  • the ambiguity of Job,
  • the skepticism of Qoheleth—

"Unchecked by this diversity, Wisdom’s “purity” alone could choke the life out of the living Law, the Torah," God’s gift to Israel making Wisdom accessible.

By the time of the Wisdom of Solomon, Wisdom, personified as female, is "no longer Law, but mediator between God and humanity." She is “holy spirit.” And as we heard, but a point I want to stress, “while remaining in herself, Wisdom pours herself out in renewal of all things.” Human reason can neither help us understand that, nor experience the truth of it.

[story of a conversation, "sitting acroas the table from my friend" in the early years of seminary. The point was that in looking back at that conversation, I realize that I had ...]

made the unfortunately common mistake of equating vulnerability with weakness. That was how I heard what she said, when in actuality vulnerability like this is strength! It is power! As the Wisdom of Solomon tells us, it’s "wisdom’s power for good against which evil does not prevail."

Looking back, experience tells me that RZMS was living on and speaking from the cusp of life and death. I mean, actually on the cusp of it—not telling herself cover-stories to protect herself She was right there, in that painful place, the place of intense awareness of life's delicacy, it's fragiity. She was right there, in that joyful place of no fear. NO. FEAR.

Of course I don’t know whether that was exactly her experience sitting there at that table with me 12 years ago. But I do know it’s been her experience since then because at other tables, sitting across from each other through the years, usually at La’Madeliene at P____ and _____, she and I together have moved into this place of awareness, and we have spoken of it in that moment. We are suddenly AWAKE and in this place where souls meet—our souls meet each other and they meet God. We’re in that place where Wisdom dwells.

Let me ask you: How does Wisdom manifest in our world? Remember, “While remaining in herself, Wisdom nevertheless pours herself out.” How does she manifest in our world like that?

I happen to think that this is very important question for the church today. Perhaps one answer — among many more that I’m not even aware of, I’m sure — is vulnerability. Philippians: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, [poured himself out!] taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him…” –

I suppose we can read the rest of that passage as some kind of If-Then formula: Because Jesus was so good that he allowed himself to be vulnerable, so then God later rewarded him, and he became “the name at which every knee should bend, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!

But I don’t read it like that.

Vulnerability, pouring out your very self—I think Jesus did that every moment of his life. The pouring out of oneself is its own reward. Wisdom pours herself out, yet remains in herself, and renews all things. Talk about powerful!

While remaining in herself (with all integrity, with all authenticity), Wisdom pours herself out with a vulnerability so strong it knows No Fear. NO FEAR.

The Wisdom Table, so to speak, at La’Madeliene, P____ and F____, is wonderful. It’s a great table. I highly recommend it! But the place where Wisdom should always be found is the Church. The church is meant to be wisdom’s dwelling place. That is our purpose.

How tragic that the Church, instead, so often holds open no place for true Wisdom. Our souls long to meet each other, and God, but too often they are afraid to show themselves in our churches. Perhaps with good reason. The church is frequently no sanctuary for the souls of wounded people—like us.

  • Perhaps it’s too much noise and busyness.
  • Too much judgment, when the soul longs for openness.
  • Too much trivia, frankly, when the soul longs for depth.
  • And perhaps it’s too many easy equations—"Hey, you know that church down the street’s offering a blueprint for success and wealth!"...."Yeah. Well, I’m going to that church across town—have you seen its diagram for happiness?"

The soul does not speak the language of easy formulas. That’s not the way souls meet each other and God.

The language the soul understands?—Well, if you said to me it’s the language of love (as in "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your SOUL and all your mind and all your strength") I would agree with you.

But I also think the soul speaks the language of paradox.

Paradox gets us to that place Wisdom knows where knowledge is no good to us. It’s the language of paradox that Jesus used so often that gets us to that place where human knowledge -- and the need for control that so often motivates our quest for knowledge -- in frustration, just gives up. It’s the language of paradox in which reason is rendered useless, and in which the friction created when “yes and no” and “life and death” are the same thing! propels us to an empty, open space—a place where we can give everything we are, and in that giving receive renewal and wholeness. We awaken to a place on this earth where souls meet. They meet each other and God. That place is where Wisdom dwells.

Dr. "RZMS" has gifts for ministry too numerable to name them all. Perhaps the most important, certainly the most beautiful, is how often she dwells in Wisdom. I speak of--

  • The Wisdom that remains open in the midst of pain, and loving in the face of fear.
  • The Wisdom that knows the wisdom of not-knowing, but nevertheless stands up courageously for what it believes, in faith, is just and good.
  • And I speak of the Wisdom that dares to stand on the cusp of life and death and say “yes” to both, trusting the Gospel truth that from death true life is born.

The Church is meant to be Wisdom’s dwelling place on earth; it is meant to be a place where souls of wounded people can meet each other, and God, and in that space, be healed.

I believe with all my heart—and I know you are with me in this—that the Church will be blessed beyond measure by its soon-to-be (as in “any minute now”) REV. Dr. "RZMS."

May the Church take the RISK of joining her often . . . where Wisdom Dwells.



Kathy Doerge said...

Beautiful Katherine...all of it...your friend, your words, the service.

Also, it is so very encouraging to see how the "enemies" that came upon you last week "stumbled and fell". (Psalm 27:1,2)

"God shall set me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; Therefore will I offer sacrifices of joy in God's tabernacle; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises to the LORD." (Psalm 27:5-6)

I love hearing how you fleshed that out! God truly set you upon a Rock and lifted your head above your enemies.

RevDrKate said...

Thank you for sharing this. All of it. Such a blessing that the church has such women as RZMS and Katherine E to embody Wisdom.

Jan said...

Katherine, it is warming to me that God has been opening us both up to such Love. You are such a good friend, theologian, and minister. How blessed I am to know you.

"PS" (a.k.a. purple) said...

Thank you for sharing this. Your friend is a very fortunate person.

Rev SS said...

Awesome! Thanks for sharing.

Jiff said...

Oh, Katherine!
Thank you for sharing such beautiful, meaningful words about such a divinely infused weekend!