Nature’s Way

I started reading a book entitled Lassoing the Sun while here in Acadia.  The author, Mark Woods, spent a year traveling to twelve different national parks.  Ironically, the very first chapter, January, takes place here in Maine at Acadia National Park.  One of the points of the year was to get a different glimpse into the parks and where they’re going into the future.  People are, of course, the greatest asset to the parks, but the concern is that the greatest asset is also becoming a great obstacle, as more and more treat the parks as vacation destinations rather than the place of wonder and exploration in which they were created.

I couldn’t help but think of that as I was hiking Beech Mountain today.  There seemed to be a lot more people than the last time I had visited.  As I hiked along, from time to time I also just sat and tried to take in what was before me.  With stops, though, came the passing through of people, who often felt like a distraction to the solitude that would often accompany each stop along the way.  I often wondered if they had even recognized that I was sitting there, usually off to the side or at least somewhat off the path.  I heard two women who were discussing whether their hair color was natural.  I heard two gentlemen discussing their tax brackets.  What maybe most struck me, though, was a young family that came traipsing along.  I saw, first-hand, the intersection of generations in relation to the natural world.

There they were, the grandparents and grandkids going off to pick blueberries.  The kids were beyond excited at the view and the enormous number of berries that surrounded them, overlooking Long Pond.  It was so great to witness their excitement for something so simple as the body of water below, which sparked a wow, a sense of wonder that was exuding them.  But like the others that passed through, there were the others that were more concerned about the lighting for their photo and selfies, a phone intercepting the natural beauty before them.  They quickly tried to pull the kids out of the bushes for the perfect photo, a memory, rather than allowing the kids to be one with this natural world which has so much to teach each of us, and to simply be kids of wonder and adventure.

It stuck with me all day, thinking of that interaction.  At times I found the people a distraction and oblivious to where they were and what we were a part of.  I had to tell myself time and again that I’m making judgment about them.  It all just seemed to lack depth.  As I sat there, now on the outermost rock formation, relaxing and taking it in, I noticed how artificial the world too looked around me, as if like the phone, even my eyes acted as an interception to the wonder.  There was a stillness in the air, prior to the rain moving in, and everything seemed untouched and motionless.  When no one was around, all you can hear were far off voices in the distance of people passing through.  It wasn’t until I got down into the thick of it that I began to see otherwise.  I had to go beneath what I had seen with my eyes to begin to see a world of life at my fingertips, as if all the critters were going about their business before the anticipated weather.

As the day grew on, the air chilled and the rain began to fall; I listened to it bounce off my jacket, zipped to the top.  It’s July but feels more like Fall here in Acadia.  The silence, as the rain began to fall, seemed to deepen and any distractions and noise had fallen to a hush.  Sure, I should be able to find solitude anywhere, but none in the way out in nature, in places like this, which has a way of folding you into her arms and holding you, embracing you, and for those final moments in Acadia today it was there.  It was present.  I was present, no longer needing to feel frustrated and annoyed with the people that passed through, somehow taking from me what I wanted from this time.  They too are on their own journey but it didn’t have to stop me from mine, of moving these days to being one with creation with one great act of Love showing the way.  It’s much too easy to separate from others and judge.  In reality it does say more about us than them.  If I can be grateful for anything it’s that I was even aware of what was going on within me, leading me to my own adventure and wonder in my heart.  Ever so gently and slowly, nature has a way of revealing ourselves to us in a way like none other.  In the quiet, in the solitude, the truth begins to reveal itself and the truth then sets us free to wonder and explore not only the great outdoors but the inner depths of the soul’s landscape being revealed in spite of and before our very eyes.

Increase Our Faith

Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2: 2-4; Luke 17:5-10

Increase our faith. It seems like a rather simple request coming from the Apostles in today’s gospel, but when we speak of any of these virtues, we seem to have a tendency to use them rather loosely. We can often throw them around without ever recognizing the magnitude of the request being made, as it is with the disciples in today’s gospel. We tend to limit faith to dogma or doctrine, something we can hold onto, but that doesn’t even begin to come close to the biblical faith that they truly desire or the faith that Jesus is going to lead them to in their journey.

It’s safe to say, though, that they’re primed for something. If you think about all that we’ve heard the past weeks and months, they really are aware of the tension that is building between Jesus and so many of the leaders. They’ve witnessed it in their interactions and in his story telling, only seeming to escalate things, allowing the drama to unfold until we come to an encounter with the Cross. It’ll be in that moment when they finally come up against something they can’t explain or rationalize, and certainly can’t control, before they can finally be pushed through and begin to make sense out of what they are asking today when they ask for an increase in faith, a faith that can move mountains.

It may be the anonymous programs where we find a deeper meaning to what it means to be faithful. It’s not something that can be taught. It’s only where we can be led in our lives and be open towards. Step one of the programs, and probably the most difficult of all of them, is to recognize and accept that we are powerless and that there is a higher being than ourselves. It’s so hard but it’s such a movement towards the faith we desire in our lives and the faith given to and show to us by Jesus.

There may be no others in Scripture where we see it exemplified than in the Prophets. Today we hear from the prophet Habakkuk. For the entire chapter Habakkuk does nothing but lament to God for all that he has seen and witnessed. All the violence, the injustice that has unfolded, the vast amount of darkness that seems to rule the land. It’s not much different than our own lives and the world in which we live. It can push us to a place where we begin to feel helpless and even lose hope, wondering why God can ever let such things happen. At times all we can do is also lament to the Lord. Finally, God gives some response to Habakkuk. The Lord hears his plight and the plight of the people, but simply assures him that it’s in God’s hands and will occur in God’s time. It’s so often at those moments of surrender when we can finally begin to let go of our own need to try to control and fix things and simply place them in the hands of God. I am powerless to so much of it and all I can do is surrender it to a higher being. It’s trust. It’s faith.

For the disciples it will come in the form of a Cross. It’s going to be the pinnacle moment of tension in their lives when they recognize that what they are truly seeking is not something they can hold onto. As a matter of fact, dogma and doctrine isn’t worth a hill of beans if there’s no faith in a higher being and a mystery always trying to reveal before and within us. Quite honestly, we can practice religion our entire lives without ever going to this deeper place, this vast place within ourselves, where we truly learn to let go of that which has power over us, and so often it’s the way we think and it is what we have believed. There’s no final point to the journey. Faith is always leading us deeper and yet beyond ourselves, into mystery with another opportunity to let go, surrender to this ever-manifesting God.

Increase our faith. It does seem so simple a request asked by the disciples in today’s gospel, but there’s nothing easy about it. It is an invitation that remains with us throughout our lives to once again be pushed where we’d rather not go, to the place of great suffering where we will once again need to give up control and our need to know and simply learn to trust. It’s God who will push us through and lead us to this place. It’s God who will push us through to this place of faith, where we once again surrender and let go, and in God’s time, allow our hearts to grow to greater depths of faithfulness.

One of Mind and Heart

Acts 12: 1-11; 2Tim 4: 6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16: 13-19

Although Peter and Paul have their own feast days throughout the year, every year on June 29th we bring them together on this Solemnity, celebrating them in a different way. They are two iconic figures, larger than life in many ways, but show us something of what we hope to attain in this life, an inner freedom that is monumental and beyond words.

So often when we see them portrayed, we see Peter holding the keys as we hear in the gospel today on this feast and we see Paul with a large sword, defender of the faith as he is known; although he is very much a writer of the faith as we know it today. But they really are more than just these symbols that have been attributed to them, keys and a sword, temporal powers; they truly have this great inner power that inner freedom that often put them at odds with one another.

In many ways I do believe Peter is a good representation of the heart of the operation and Paul, although a mystic in his own right, truly is the brains. This did often put them at odds with one another, creating tension between them. Yet, we know in our own lives how those two are often at odds. It can be so often that our heads and hearts are disconnected and we live separated lives. We do know or experience that inner freedom that they did and knew. But they also reconcile, not themselves, but something greater within working, a deeper mystery at work that brings them together, mending and reconciling what is at odds. Quite honestly, it’s what made the two of them quite dangerous to the status quo of the leaders of the time, because they no longer feared death or controlled by fear, living in and through this inner freedom.

We see that in these readings for this feast. In the First Reading from Acts of the Apostles we encounter a community at prayer for Peter, who finds himself locked in prison. Both Peter and Paul, again, no longer fearing death or confinement, take their time in prison very differently than I’d say most of us. Nothing on the exterior or the outer world can touch them and so they freely go where others will not, eventually leading them to death. On the Eve of this Feast it is the Gospel from John where Jesus lays out the kind of death that Peter will face, once he begins to put love first in his life. He becomes “broke free” from prison, by the Lord, just as his heart was broke free by an ongoing encounter with the Lord.

Paul to in the Letter we hear in the Second Reading speaks of himself being poured out like a libation. He’s not doing it, but it is being done to him. His departure is at hand, rescued from the lion’s mouth. Over and over again, these two point the way for us to let go and trust, let go and trust, and the more we do it as they did, the more that inner freedom grows within us and we too become dangerous to the status quo of life.

Even in his proclamation of faith Peter, in today’s Gospel from Matthew, speaks a truth that goes beyond even his own understanding or of his own power. It is of nothing temporal that this has been revealed to you but by my heavenly Father. At this point of the Gospel it’s safe to say that Peter doesn’t even know what he’s talking about; Jesus will go on to tell him, “get behind me Satan” in about the next verse! It comes from within and he will learn as time goes on truly what that proclamation meant and the inner freedom and awareness that it will bring to him.

As we celebrate these two iconic figures of our faith, yes, we recognize them as holding the keys and the defender of the faith, but they are much more than that. Together they represent what we seek and desire, inner freedom and a reconciliation of head and heart. It doesn’t come easy as they could attest, but the more they let go of what has bound them interiorly, the more free they come, the more space that is created for reconciliation and oneness, the more they become that dangerous duo of our faith, so often threatening all that we try to hold onto, all that holds us back, and all that keeps us from growing deeper in love with Mystery and being the person we’ve been created to be. We pray today for their intercession that we may become one of mind and heart and a force to be reckoned with in a world that is so in need of their and our witness.

Ascending Music

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Acts 1: 1-11; Luke 24: 46-53

In a conversation with a parishioner last week, we were talking about the impact that music has in our lives.  If a song comes on the radio or up on our iPod, we can almost instantly be transported to a different time and space in our lives because it has become attached to a memory, for good or bad.  Even here in church, songs remind us of weddings and funerals, make us smile or cry.  Music, more than any other part of our culture, has that kind of impact on our lives.  Even if it’s a song of thirty years ago, it feels like yesterday.  We are transported to another place as if the spirit of it all still remains with us.

As hard as this Feast is hard to preach on and even more difficult to understand since it is so connected with Resurrection and Pentecost, I do believe that our experience of music is much like this feast for the disciples, a song that comes from within their hearts and they’re just beginning to learn to tune into it.  It won’t be the typical song on the iPod, but rather one composed of Jesus’ words and actions that will finally begin to make sense.  From this moment forward, Jesus is no longer confined by space and time, but now reaches to the ends of the earth, which is where they will now be sent to share the good news.

But the disciples aren’t there yet.  The song is still unknown, and so Luke tells them stay put. Go back to Jerusalem where the passion and death had taken place, and stay there until God brings you to the point of understanding of what has gone on.  They may know the verses and the notes of the song, but it still has not become the masterpiece that they and us will come to know, that this leaving they witness to is not an end, but rather a new beginning for them and us into a larger world; for now, they remain in Jerusalem waiting to be composed in order to be sent out.  The song begins to come together when they remember the words and actions–the forgiveness, the repentance, healings, and words, then finally it will begin to make sense that Jerusalem was a necessary stop on the journey but not the place to dwell; a place of transformation in order to rise and ascend, a place where the power from on high will come upon them and the Spirit will lead them out to live the mission of the Christ.  Not to be found by looking up in the clouds, as Luke tells them, but forward in witnessing to the Christ within and recognizing the Christ in the other.  It is then that the song comes together and they can finally move beyond Jerusalem.

As we celebrate this great Feast and prepare for the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost next Sunday, we may find ourselves in Jerusalem, listening to the same song over and over again, dwelling in our own pain and suffering but also learning from it.  Today is the day of hope that the pain and suffering is not the end, that the masterpiece of our own lives will one day come together and we, like the disciples at the end of the Gospel today, will give thanks to God.  For the first time we will recognize that the song of our lives had nothing to do with us, but rather is God working through and within us, the presence of Christ in the flesh.  And when the song finally comes together, we too will know what resurrection and ascension is all about in this moment and drop to our knees, not to look up in the sky, but to thank God knowing that it was the Christ composing all along, taking us beyond space and time, leading us to the masterpiece of our lives.