Monday, October 24, 2011

From the real orchard again: retreat time

Day 1 - The car pulls in to the property, in the dark and the rain. No matter, the atmosphere of this place is unmistakable. I am sure even the car knows it. Quiet. The trees again acting as the welcoming committee. Up the long drive, stop in front of Loyola House, unload, then park for a week. The 40-day retreat known as the Spiritual Exercises has been underway for two weeks and so this is already sacred space. Many other people like me come and go, in shorter retreats of a week or less.

Settle in, and reflect on what I want from this retreat. Before I get too far into that, though, I open my journal notebook and write the date: October 15, 2011. I note that in the journal, Oct. 15, 2011 is the day after Oct. 21, 2010! It strikes me that the years actually feel that way at times. Only a page away. A whole year. A lot has happened. I have been involved in a great many activities, and I think how I do not feel worthy of this ministry thing - and yet the Lord has given me the gifts and support I need to do it. It is his work, and I am grateful.

Day 2 - I tell my director of the experience last night, and he leads me into a reflection on gratitude. He gives me Week IV of the Exercises to pray with. I have never had this to pray with on retreat. It has always been the material of the first weeks of the Exercises, the ones that ground us, re-orient us, to our relationship with Jesus, making the ‘election’ to follow him, to surrender to him. Week IV is gratitude. The notion is that in reflecting on what God has done for me, I turn to the relationship between God and me, and commit to giving back. This is way more than ‘thank you.’ It is a commitment to a way of living, a way of seeing life. It only makes sense, since gratitude to someone with whom you are in love does not just stand there. It moves, it embraces, it seeks to please, it .... well, it loves, with great affection. With God this means doing things differently now. Mostly it means staying in the relationship, because we are actually not all that good at doing things differently. We - I, anyhow - keep falling back on what is important to me only. The process will never end in our lifetime. We call it conversion, and it is a work in progress. What has changed for me is that I used to despair of not getting rid of things in my life. Now I see better to trust the relationship with God and what God will continue to do for me.

Day 3 - rain has let up, and I can walk the land. This is a 650-acre farm that used to have animals on it, but is now used for fruit and vegetable growing. There is a sense that, like the trees on the driveway, the hills sit here and remain both quiet and beautiful in their reflection of God’s creative power. And I marvel and am grateful. I suppose they are no different than any other hills, but in this context and in this quiet, they are able to proclaim in a manner that is something akin to giving a homily. They speak of God.

Day 6 - the week has been about gratitude, commitment, and prayer. New form of prayer for me - stillness. No words. God’s presence. Invite God in. A gifted week, surprises from the Lord as always. What helps make it so authentic is that what happens is so often by surprise. Never goes as I planned it. And so, home tomorrow, taking gently the experience of God’s presence in me. Anchored in that, and hopefully passing on the fruits of it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Of wagging fingers and the personality of God

You will know from a couple of months ago that I have been waging a small battle with unnamed forces who would cast our God in the image of the Old Testament angry vengeful figure who wreaks havoc on citizens, on Kings and Queens, and on whole nations for their sinfulness.

To be sure that Old Testament language is powerful and compelling. It occurs over and over. We heard it when we (well, the slightly older generation, anyhow) were growing up, and we saw it in our art. Wow, was he - or she, no, always he - ever mad! Fire in the eyes. Lightning bolts in the hands. Meant to scare the bejabers out of us. And it did. And many people today love that stuff. Anger and fear, what great motivators, I guess.

Except they could not be more wrong when it comes to the God of Israel, the God of Jesus, the God of Peter, the God of the death and Resurrection. Are you ready? God loves Paul Bernardo. God loves Clifford Olsen. God loves, are you ready again? Adolf H.

"God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God." (1 John 4:16)

There is the point. The one who does NOT abide in love - love for God, love for God's people - is in for such devastation, self-induced devastation especially in the form of loneliness, isolation, alienation, that we cry out for images to express it. The Old Testament image was of the angry warrior God. Served its purpose in a warrior culture. Needs to be brought into better perspective, a perspective given us by the Good News. Oh yes Jesus talks about people being thrown out into the darkness, imagery his contemporaries would have understood, but he told the parable of the Prodigal Son too. Fr. Eric Jensen says that all the parables of Jesus need to be seen through the lens of that one. And if you read that parable you see that it is the elder son who represents the angry personality, not the father.

"God is love....." The thing is, God holds us to our word if we turn away from him. No need for lightning bolts. We bring the devastation on ourselves. It is built in. But the love is not, repeat not, withdrawn. It is waiting in exactly the same way it was waiting for the prodigal son. But it will never be imposed.

So here is where I find an article in the Toronto Star on October 3, 2011, interesting. Rabbi Dow Marmur quotes writer David Brooks as saying that today's people are "more than ever led to believe that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit." Great observation. Rabbi Marmur goes on to say " "We find it very difficult to see reality other than through the lens of our personal needs and aspirations. We want clergy to applaud, not castigate us. We distance ourselves from traditional religion when we perceive it to wag accusing fingers at us......... Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it's thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart. "

Beautifully put. What catches my imagination here is that this is today's 'violence' if you will, at the hands of God. Nobody will listen - nor should they - if you tell them that God burned down their house as punishment for their sins. But they should take notice of the wagging finger. It is the finger of the parent punching the air to make a point. It is the finger of the teacher raising the voice to get our attention. It is the wagging finger of - no, not punishment, anger or retribution. It is the wagging finger of someone who loves you so much that they want to get your attention and say, hey it's over here! I have Good News for you!