Closer to the Spirit


The Art and Writing Class is growing, with both numbers and a range of ages, 7 to 76!  I keep thinking I’ll come up with a sexier name for the class…and each blog posting I’ve done has had a slight variation…but maybe just the simple Art and Writing will do. The emphasis for this class was healing mandalas.  We used a format suggested by Richard Rohr, thinking of four areas of our lives or in the world that needs to be healed.  Journaling, making lists, doodling ideas to represent these areas.  We then painted and/or made collages to represent these.  

Pat Giacomini created the beautiful collage above, as well as the one below, the first page of an art journal she has started.


IMG_1003Participants in the process of creating

Saro Deacon started this mandala.  Her method is a very precise.  Notice the details of the paintings she included, including one of a lifelike human heart.  I hope she finishes this at home, or brings the piece back next month.


The Montanez and Espinoza families joined us.  The first picture is of Maria and Maria, mother and daughter.  Abuela Maria wrote eloquently of missing her children in Mexico and worked on coloring a mandala.  Maria Montanez, mother of Kelly, Nicholas, and Regina began a painting of colorful orbs…representing herself and each of her children. Briana (in blue) and Kelly (in black) joined us after their soccer game, deciding to fingerpaint. IMG_0998(null)-7 

Rosa Espinoza explained the meanings of the colors she chose for love, happiness, and her family.


(null)-6 Jennifer Kelly created this fascinating mandala, using circles to represent the strengths she finds from areas that might be considered points of growth.  We discussed that this is what it’s all about!  Our supposed places of “weakness” or places in us that need healing are the exact places we find our greatest strengths, compassion for ourselves and others, and are what stretches us emotionally and spiritually.

Fran Ransley is here contemplating her project, which is finished on the right.  Her collages are complex and team with symbolism and story! IMG_1001IMG_1009

Alexis Mattson, who is nearing completion of high school, created the mandala on the right.  The flower made of paper celebrates the love and support she receives from her family.


We started our session with an exercise called Writing the Present, which I learned through participating in Let the Crazy Child Write workshops offered by Bay Area poet Clive Matson.  As people were coming into the class I noticed a lone blackbird sitting on one of the barren limbs outside my classroom window.  That was the present I began with. The blackbird was resting on the barren tree branch outside the window under the shadows of the quiet gray morning. I am thinking of circles, of pure white spaces that need to be filled with color, with words, with the scattered moments of the past, of the future and discover how they collect to create Now. They are shadows, ephemeral as clouds. In the center of my being, I find the spinning nexus of life. It pulses, deeper than my heart, along the ledge of all the tomorrows, the gifts of spirit, wholeness, transformation. They each are a blackbird that surprises me, perched on the tributaries of my journey. Come beautiful words. Come visitations of what is possible. Come love. Come divinity within me, circling, circling.


I’m still trying not to be in a non-judging place about my collage above… I do like to work messy at times…hmmm….whether or not I like to is not the point, I guess…it’s what happens.  But in the mess I find a lot of meaning, most of the time, after I’m done playing.  I’ve been under the weather this weak, so haven’t written about what this is trying to tell me…but it did start off with the idea that our imperfections can be places of beauty within us, echoing the sentiments of Jennifer Kelly.    

Patti Jahsman’s creations have had mysterious open spaces in their centers.  Look at the color spectrum she uses in her mandala, how the colors pulsate with life and energy.  I thought this seemed like a sun or a star as she was sharing, and then she sent this….it’s the universe!


At the heart of the Universe,

Love. At the heart of Everything,


At heart we are All One.

Peggy Thompson created two wonderful pieces.  Her mandala is below.  This piece features hers son tuning his guitar before a gig he was playing in San Francisco.   Her writing is full of life, capturing a moment in time, bringing right into it. IMG_1006


The guitar player steps outside the stage door into the city, seeking to find a quiet place to tune his axe away from the excited crowd inside. A child sings Ring Around the Rosy on the playground as she spins, and spins and then falls down with glee. A young couple drinking Irish coffee in a waterfront bar join hands and gaze at each other when the piano player starts to play, their song. The elevator music love song mocks the heart of the women headed upstairs to state her case in divorce court. A street sweeper whistles an upbeat tune from his native land as he goes about his job, and the work seems less tiring. The church bell chimes out across the city and the atheist stops to remember the faith of his grandmother,and her sweet familiar smell of candle wax and roses.


Here we all are!   IMG_1019

Light is Found in the Dark

UnknownFirst Sunday After Epiphany

Genesis 1:1-5

Psalm 29

Acts 19 1-7

Mark 1:4-11

The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; And God saw the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen

I started this homily at two o’clock in the morning, awake because of a certain chronic darkness which found a purchase in my cells so long ago it’s beyond memory, unable to sleep because as hard as I’ve tried, in this aspect of my life, it has been hard to hold onto light. The formless void inside of me awaits for God’s breath. I wrote out the passage that I’ve just read to get the template ready to write more at a later date, thinking that it would be as far as I would get, that it was time to go back to bed. And then I read it. And read it again, noticing two things. First, from the very beginning, in the void, in the first words of the Bible, water exists. Secondly, the light is already there, or how else could it be separated from the dark?

Barbara Brown Taylor, Episcopal priest and author of Learning to Walk in the Dark, says that we should consider that when the lights have gone out in our lives, and we’re left to find our way in the dark, perhaps that this is exactly what the soul doctor has ordered. She describes the need for the antidote to the “full solar spirituality” our culture and much of our church language embraces. She believe there is a spirituality of darkness.

Jesus, as each of us, was conceived in the dark of his mother’s body. He was born in a cave, and the pictures we have of this event are always set at night. His birth is celebrated in the darkest part of the year, but now we have celebrated Epiphany and the light, though still weak, is returning and our days are slowly lengthening. Jesus does bring light to our souls, but this light, without the backdrop of the tomb of Good Friday, would not shine so brightly with its healing grace.

With Jesus’ baptism, Mark prepares his readers for the scandals that would surround him. He would embrace lepers, feast with whores and tax collectors, associate with the less than holy, calling to all of those who live in the dark places of the world with lives chaotic as the darkness before creation. Jesus touches each life, saying, “Let there be light.” Most of the established order, then as now, could not see God acting in the world through him.

Mark anchors Jesus to history through John the Baptist, making it clear that Jesus was the theophany, the revelation of God in history. John was a verifiable historic figure. The historian Josephus, who was Jewish, but also a respectable Roman citizen who hobnobbed with Roman high society, wrote that John the Baptist was killed in 29 CE. Because so many people were impressed by John and followed his teachings, Herod was afraid they’d raise a rebellion and executed him, just as his cousin Jesus would be three years later. Even as late as when Luke/Acts was written, his influence was strong and people were being baptized under John’s name.

The author whom we call Second Isaiah implores God, “Oh, that you would tear apart the heavens and come down.” The Greek translation for tear apart is the word schizo, the same word used to describe the tearing apart of the temple veil at the moment of Jesus’ death. At Jesus’ baptism, the sky tears apart as well and the holy spirit descends like a dove into Him. Jesus hears a voice echoing Isaiah’s words written about the Suffering Servant who would come, With you I am well pleased. Mark makes it very clear, even though Jesus will suffer through the darkest rejection and every projection of evil that will lead to what the world conceived as a humiliating death, He is beloved of God, his Son, the anointed Messiah, and the bearer of God’s incarnation into the world.

But why was Jesus, who supposedly was without sin, drawn to baptism? Mark writes the story in part to try to answer this question. It’s possible that for awhile Jesus was John the Baptist’s disciple. Mary found refuge with John’s parents when she was pregnant, and it may be that his relationship with John was a safe place for him, one where he found the acceptance and a community he could not find at home because of the scandal of his birth. It’s his own townspeople, after all, who want to throw him off a cliff when he formally announces his ministry several weeks after his baptism.

Speaking of scandal, how would we react if the patron saint of our church walked through our church doors right now? My first reaction would probably be: this is a crazy bug eating homeless person dressed in camel hair robes and a leather girdle who’s disrupting our nicely structured service. How can we quiet him down? Yet, it was this eccentric soul that recognized the light of God’s incarnation in Jesus and whose message touched Jesus’s heart.

The waters of the River Jordan became the source of God’s most creative act on earth. Jesus’ baptism was not so much about repentance but about acceptance of his task. Mary could have said no to Gabriel. Jesus could have said no to God and let the dark places and experiences in our world continue to have no meaning, no hope, no place for us to take our leap of faith in the foolishness of the cross. But He said yes, and then went to the desert to ready himself to face a future he probably would have preferred to run away from. On dark nights lit with the smallest points of lights in the heavens, he faced his fears and temptation, and found the light of God within himself to venture into the chaos that lay before him. As Christians, we are here to keep His light in the world, to ease the chaos of 2015 by our love, by our saying yes to our baptismal vows, to our material and spiritual gifts, and our unique calling to love and serve the Lord.

I finished writing this in the light of day, the voices of shame and insecurity quieter than they had been when they would not let me sleep the night before. Jesus accepted his sacred mission, accepted that God was in his cells, his mind, that his very being was to show that God’s light is in all people, in you and in me, so that we may know that we are held when the dark waters surround us, as we wait in what often seems like an ocean of silence for the wind of God to breath, to ruffle the waters, and bring out our most precious light from within.

Alethea Eason is a lay preacher at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Lakeport,

9135dcATkzL._SL1500_     Lesley_Downie_web-200x300

Lesley Downie knows tunnels! TUNNELS (Astraea Press), her newest novel, based legends of ones beneath Redlands, California, where Lesley has lived all of her life.  Her heroine, Kat Goldstein, is cheeky, brave, and has a nose for detecting mysteries, as well as a well-honed ability for getting into trouble with her best friend Evan.  Their search for answers leads them into danger as they try to save an old man’s life while uncovering secrets buried since World War Two.  Lesley works for Esri, a world leader in GIS technology which, in REVOLUTIONARY ADVENTURE, her first novel in her CHAOS CAVE series, provides a time travel ride to 1776 for a curious brother and sister.

  1. Katherine Goldstein, the 11 year-old narrator of Tunnels, is quite a character. Did you feel you were letting out your inner tween as you were writing the book? Absolutely. That’s the beauty of writing. You can be who you always wanted to be. As a kid, I was painfully shy. Kat is the kind of girl I admired and wished I’d had the guts to be. Determination, even in the face of the mean kids, or even just the other adversities we all encounter growing up, is a hard thing to muster. But Kat manages to do that. She’s the brave girl who I still want to be.
  1. Citrus Grove, where Katherine lives, is modeled after Redlands, California. I went to the university there but never heard about the tunnels! You explored them as a girl, the way Katherine did. Would you share some information about these mysterious underground pathways? Did you ever encounter anything like Lizard People or a Roosevelt Room? Well, of course, we’ve all heard about the underground tunnels at the university, so there’s that. And also the fact that Redlands is on the list of the most haunted towns in the U.S., so my imagination was always in high gear. The actual tunnels are in my head, but I do believe they’re there. Living in a historical town just lends itself to this stuff. So as a kid when I’d play in the Zanja (the irrigation channels the Native Americans built), I’d have the opportunity to explore other worlds in my imagination both above and below the streets of Redlands. It was beautiful as it set my writerly aspirations into motion. The tunnels are an extension of the Zanja, and I still love them today. Wish I had discovered the Roosevelt Room because my love of the 40s and Roosevelt era runs deep. I think the Lizard People come from two places: an urban legend my brother told me about the Grover bears who allegedly inhabited the orange groves; and the little people that escaped ridicule to settle in Redlands where they built a community of tiny houses that look straight out of The Hobbit stories. If I weren’t a writer, I’d want to be an archaeologist, so there you have it.
  1. What was the easiest part of writing this novel? The hardest? The easiest part was the story has been in my head since a kid, and I had the beauty of those years to shape the novel. The hard part was striking a balance to include what was interesting to more than just me. The novel was written.  I considered it finished, but my agent suggested several changes that I initially didn’t want to make. To remove important elements that I wanted to hold to was hard. But she was absolutely right. The important thing when you’re a writer is to have a group of trusted readers and to remove your ego when considering the criticism. Your story can only get better if you do that.
  1. I really enjoyed your first novel Chaos Cave, which reminded me of Magic Treehouse Books, but for older children. You work for a company that makes GIS software. Would you tell us about this connection with the book?The story idea came from a dream. I was really dying to get back to writing at the time but had a family and was working full-time. I guess my day job seeped into my unconscious, and the universe said, “Hey here’s a fun story to get your writer-feet wet again!” I love the idea of time travel and historical fiction so it was great; here was a way to do that. A brother and sister, taking useful technology to the past to help famous patriots and historical figures…what’s more fun than that? Since the Revolutionary War time in the U.S. is fascinating to me, researching the story gave me a chance to explore that time more. And, most importantly, the germ of this story was in my head as a kid when we returned home to my birthplace and walked across the Lexington and Concord Bridge where the first battle of the Revolution began. I could hear the men, the shots being fired. It was magical.
  1. Do you have any sequels planned either with Tunnels or Chaos Cave? Any other writing projects in the works? I think Tunnels is a one-off, but I’d love to do another Chaos Cave. Right now, however, my attention is on another series, and I’ve finished the first novel. My FORTUNEate Life will hopefully be a three or four book series, and I just love it. The theme is about when life goes horribly wrong and the universe gives you a chance to fix things by granting a do-over. My character, Abby Howard, is another strong girl just like Kat in that she’s brave, but Abby has a true character arc that up until now I haven’t had in my stories. I love stories where you see a character at their lowest point and as a reader it’s hard to have empathy for them because they’re aren’t necessarily likeable. Maybe they whine, are mean, whatever. It’s important to show that in a story; it’s why the story makes sense, touches us as individuals when that character transforms. It’s that moment of epiphany when the character must decide to change or stay stuck. I’m super excited about this book because Abby makes a choice, and the story hinges upon what she decides.

FullSizeRenderFor the Love of All Species

by Patti Jahsman

May you love all beings
living together in this light.
May you release any hatred
allow the truth of compassionate sight.
May you feel within your heart
the wound of love that we all grieve.
May you be blessed by mystery
breathing us all like a breeze.
May you bow in gratitude
and be graced with depth of peace.
May you find the hope of courage
and the power of release.
May you love all beings
May we love all beings.

Patti created this beautiful poem and collage when the Art and Writing Class met for the third time a little over a week ago.  The depth of our work and our bonding seems to be growing together each time we meet.  And the flexibility of art, collage especially, for different types of writing, different kinds of exploration keeps surprising us.  We hope others will join this great experience, especially the parents of Middletown Unified School District students.  We also would love for students to join us.

Jennifer Kelly has taken collage as a vehicle to brainstorm plot, character, and setting.  She graciously opened the class by sharing her idea journal as she maps out the story for a novel she intends to write in a couple of years.  The collage below is for a short story she is working on at present.  Notice her notes below the pictures as she asks herself questions about the pictures…what are they telling her about the story than needs to be written?


Pat Giacomini began a memoir at home after the second class.  For December, she continued to work on it as, well as making this lovely design.


Pat’s story is about risk taking:

Gently sloping rounded hills mask the invisible dangers. As far as the eye can see ahead … tan, brown, golden sands glistening here and there with the light from the sun. Those dark clouds are still up there … moving across the sky, but the sun follows and finds its purchase thru cracks … then the glistening answers from below ahead of me as I glide over the rolling sand dunes. Up, then gently sloping downward to another endless rise, to the next rise, and over and over I ride … the sand and movement hypnotic in its gentleness and beauty. The freedom of movement carries me quickly over the endless landscape. Joyfully, the ocean rolls to my right as I follow the dune colored hills up the coast … the waves pushing and crashing with the momentum from the storm out to sea … that storm. We’ve been keeping an eye out, watching for its first drops to signal a change in plans … or just a change. I have no plan to stop … I am here and am pulled with the beauty and seemingly endless roll of the dunes.

I ride with a partner to my left … she, in her Odyssey, and me in mine. Both strapped in tight, helmeted, no way to talk … hand signals are all we share. Cold fingers gripping the wheel. I never seem prepared enough with protective clothing … so my fingers are reddened and chapped as they grip strongly. It hurts to raise them to the cold wind in signal… so I don’t. My thoughts don’t reach her, nor do hers me. We just ride the dunes. Up … down, up … down ….

Coming to a rise we stop. This was the point of attention and focus or goal … if you can say we had any goal other than just to ride. Seen from afar we headed toward the top of the rise.

No rolling dune this one … hidden steepness so unexpected and stunning. Last year’s winter storms whipped up this dune carving a slope so steep … as steep as the sands would stack. Below, a bowl … not just one face of the dune, the wind must have swirled around and around carving dune faces into a gully bowl surrounded by several tall dunes, each curving and folding in on each other with shadowed hints of pathways. But, to our eyes from above, the trails below only promised to guide thru and out.

Cold fingers not wanting to fumble and find the seatbelt catch, I leaned my helmeted head out to see below. Glancing at my partner, she is craning her neck too … but, the helmets, wind and cold stifle any words. We lock eyes, questioning our next move …

The sand only stacks so steep … Odysseys will go down anything … keep my arms inside no matter what … I will be brave … I am going to do this …

The Dunes December 6 workshop.docxPat used a digital paint program to draw this wonderful dune buggy.

Fran Ransley’s collage brought up memories of a mystery in her past, an acquaintance who disappeared without a trace, and plot for a story about a missing person and a pioneering family coming from the east to the west.  FullSizeRender-3

I used my collage to help me find the “bigger” story for a novel I’ve taken up and then put away again. I’ve managed to get 4,000 words from an hour’s work of putting pictures together! I have the collage above my desk and have used the images to “tell” me the next steps.


Just a sample of the writing.  Novel unnamed as yet.

A voice more male than not said her name, “Lilith.”

She stepped back and turned to see the eldest of the four angels. Who knew an angel might be bald and have skin the color of pure onyx and eyes like sapphires? As a girl, when she was human and unimportant, from a poor family whose only legacy was that they were not slaves, though they had less to eat than many who did work for others, she had been soft spoken, a quiet, dutiful child. Alone now in the presence of Raphael, she felt her words lift from her mind, birds flying off to the beautiful dawn, and she felt naked and unprotected.

“The OnHigh rejoices that you have joined us,” Raphael said. His hands lightly touched her shoulders and he bent and kissed her left check. “Uriel told me she has never seen more beautiful wings on any angel newly born. I’m sorry that the birth was so painful, but here we are now.”

Lilith noticed that his wings were now invisible. She reached to rub her neck and simply thought hers evaporating like sugar in water.

“You’ll get used to their weight,” he said. “We don’t use them nearly as much as the stories might indicate, even on Earth when we’re working. We like to blend in.”

Lilith finally could speak, “I’d like to see how you blend in there.”

Raphael laughed and the sky above them shifted to a color just a shade or two lighter than his eyes. “I manage.”

They began walking and others…angels?…appeared, most walking past and politely nodding, but a few stopped and scowled.

“They’re angry I’m here,” Lilith said.

“Yes, as is Michael.”

Lilith humphed. “I wondered if he still held his grudge.”

“And you?” Raphael asked.

Lilith stopped and grabbed him by both arms and then let go, her hands suspended in the air, “Oh…maybe I shouldn’t touch you…but I’m just pissed off that he’s still pissed off. I’ve forgiven him for sending me to Hell. If I hadn’t gone, I’d never have gotten here. But, he’s an archangel, and shouldn’t he get off his high horse and show a little humility. My God, we’re in heaven. If he can’t do it here, is there any hope for anyone?”

Raphael took her hands. “If Heaven was perfect, you wouldn’t be happy here, admit it. Michael is not pleased, but he has been and will always be loyal to the OnHigh. It is impossible for you to be harmed by him.” He sighed. “Dear Lilith, you are the sand in the oyster. An important job.”

His words passed through her like a breeze rising from a deep lake of compassion. She felt her heart open wide enough to receive his love, and this terrified her. Love was what had gotten her in this mess; what had driven her mad, and finally what brought her back, the magnet that had gathered the particles of her soul she had deliberately smashed and debased. The panic she had been ignoring since she first saw her wings, rose up inside her like a tortured bird, flaming feathers, a phoenix fighting its rebirth.

She pulled her hands away from Raphael’s grip and put them over her heart. He pulled her close to him as she began to sob. This was the pain of love, what Beatrice’s wound carried, it was now hers, coursing through her body and in her scars.

“How do you stand it?” she asked the archangel.

Revolution and Rejoicing

tumblr_inline_mj0w15Xpys1qk3ggqThird Sunday of Advent Year B

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Canticle 15

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8, 19-28

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

to bind up the brokenhearted.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen

After Jesus spent his forty days in the desert, he began to preach in synagogues and soon came to the one in his home town in Nazareth where he read the words of Isaiah I have just quoted. When he was done, he “closed the book and sat down,” announcing, “Today the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” What a commotion he caused! People who had watched him grow up, including some family members, no doubt, got so riled up they drove him out of the synagogue, out of town, to the edge of a cliff to hurl him off. He managed to pass through this angry crowd like a fish through water to continue his work on Earth, but here, in this very first story Luke shares of his public ministry, there is a foreshadowing of his death on the cross.

The gospel has always been dangerous. Wrapped in the message of the abundance of God’s love for the poor, the brokenhearted, the captive, and those who mourn, there is a shadow, the dark intensity of human ego, of those who cannot accept the Good News of God’s promise that God wants something better for all of us, but especially for those who lack, the poor in spirit, the burned out, the powerless, the sick, and the oppressed.

But let us rejoice that despite danger, Jesus rose to his calling, that John the Baptist proclaimed his coming realm, and that a poor teenage girl risked her life by saying yes to God’s audacity to take on flesh, to share the joys of human life, and to give the greatest gift of all, the willingness to die, sharing the greatest fear we all face. Jesus as the incarnation is our way-shower, willing to experience everything that you and I must face during our time on Earth. And then to rise again so that we can be assured, to be glad and to exult that we are eternal. Divinity has met us within our cells and souls and will always be there with us no matter our circumstances.

There are two voices in the book of Isaiah. The first is stern and employs what some friends and I have coined the wagging finger of God. As a teacher, I admit there are students who need tough love, and I think we all find points in our lives when we needed a finger wagging at us. But, emphasis has to be on the love, not so much the tough, for too many admonishments kill the soul. Second Isaiah, the voice we hear today, through exquisite poetry, tells how God offers tidings of comfort, and joy to the people of Judah. His voice proclaims how God will always surprise us, stir things up by making the last first, those in bondage free. The Israelites have been released from bondage by Cyrus, the last person they’d expect to free them, and they have returned to renew their land. God’s eternal covenant has been honored and ashes have been exchanged for garlands.

Mary’s canticle echos these same promises. Her words are a revolutionary hymn, and her acceptance of allowing God to enter her body, to intertwine with her human DNA is probably the most revolutionary act in history. She could have said no, but instead she chose the dangerous path when Gabriel, the strange messenger, came to her to announce that she would be the Mother of God. She did the irresponsible thing and said yes. Imagine a 15 year-old girl in Clearlake, living in the Avenues, not finished with school. Her mom’s on food stamps. She has a boyfriend, and though it would be a stretch to think of them as betrothed with all of the ancient Jewish customs of Jesus’ time, we can pretend they’re at least going steady. Let’s say she’s tried to be a “good” girl, and by saying yes to Gabriel she’ll upset her mother dreadfully. Of course, the social consequences are not as severe in the United States as they were in Mary’s time. She won’t have to worry about being stoned to death, but there’s a father or step-father she’s afraid of and the threat of being beaten when he hears the news is very real. Like Mary, she’s at risk of being rejected and of growing up into deep generational poverty. And still she says, “Yes.” Imagine her as Mary and the courage she would need to do this. Yet, because of this small word, God was carried in her body, born through her. Jesus would literally touch lepers, the eyes of the blind, and bring life to a little Roman girl who had died. God literally touched the world because of her assent.

Thanks be to God that Mary had Elizabeth to support her, and when she went to her to find a safe haven, she is met with God turning the world upside down again. Like Sarah, whose pregnancy with Isaac was announced by angels, Elizabeth has conceived as an older woman, long past her fertile years. Perhaps having experienced the impossible become possible in her own body, she was able to believe Mary’s story. Jesus’ cousin, John, the baby who shares his same DNA, leaps in her womb upon their meeting, from the very beginning bearing witness about Whom Jesus is. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist continues to point to Jesus, choosing the dangerous path for himself. In the synoptic gospels the passages about him are about his ministry, but in John he says what he is not. He is not the Messiah, nor is he Elijah, nor the light of the world. He then speaks Isaiah’s words: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.” Later, he uses the word that this Sunday has been named for, “Rejoice.” His joy has been fulfilled.

Twenty years or so later, what does Paul tells the Thessalonians? Rejoice always, in good times and bad. Know that beneath sorrow, in the betrayal of our bodies in illness, and ultimately in death, God will surprise us with the unexpected. God is stirring things up for us, individually and collectively. God will meet us dressed as the people we love, whispering the message of reconciliation to humanity in Scripture, and will be there on the day when we return to our Source. When we feel the ashes of life gathering around, let us remember that God is faithful and find joy in this. Let us be good to one another and give thanks that God came to Earth as a weak baby born of a poor mother who said Yes to Jesus’ conception. Let us give thanks that John the Baptist was willing to publicly testify and give his life to show that the incarnation of God in Jesus was absolutely true. In this Advent, let us open ourselves to the peace of God as we hold fast to what is good.

Art and Writing: Workshop 2

IMG_0962Four women and I gathered in my classroom on November 6, 2014.  The emphasis was on spontaneous art which will leads into writing more from the gut than from the mind.

Pat Giacomini‘s free formed essay captures the interplay between the creative mind (the child who wants to play) and the critic/editor (the adult who is concerned for us but overly cautious to the point we stop ourselves.)  Pat said she was terrified of painting, but she went ahead and let herself explore this medium, creating the beautiful picture above.

The Paint

Just have fun today. Don’t be afraid to try the PAINT!!! But I’m terrified of painting. I’m scared of the smudge .. smudge the creative process .. ooops .. a smudge .. see? .. rats .. start over again??? No time, oh never mind .. But not today! I’m going to give it a try today.

It’s Fall and the colors are coming. Every day more and more and more intense .. Oh I have to capture that view with the sun shining thru the leaves and creating the aura of vibrancy that nothing else can give! Snap the photo .. rats .. nope that’s not it; didn’t capture the beauty of the light playing with the leaves as the colors emerge as they prepare to fall; prepare to give a few more weeks of stunning beauty before the long sleep. I wish I could capture the stunning shades and glow that my eyes see, that my heart breathes … a quiet smile that lifts my spirits. The camera just doesn’t do it – nothing like how my eye brings it all into the beautiful dimension that is the perfect merge of eye and light and brain and heart … Ohhh, I love that!!!

Maybe today I can try to paint that … hmmm … maybe not. Hmmmmm … Let’s see what happens…

No fear today! Well, maybe just a little, but I’m gonna give it a try … got my life line on the side .. OK .. try the color, pick a brush, splash some water and splotch the lifeline paper … OK, breathe (…); ok, I can do this … swipe with water; that way if it’s bad it will be fainter … blue my safe color … OK, its faint, kinda safe, not scary. Swipe a path of water, follow with more color … yep, its quite a bit fainter, hmmm is that a problem? … faint but still there … but wait … not bad … I like the color … hey! Try another … head back to the lifeline and try another color combination … Oooo I like the red with the orange … yes, let’s do a little here … oooh ok that works. But it’s too single dimension … I want a little stipple of the rain that we just had … ooh yes! this brush let’s me do that … back to the lifeline for courage … ok, taptaptap under the broad strokes; nice outline and a bit of a rain cloud, but not too much …


Pat then used a plate to create a 3-D collage sculpture.  Buzz Lightyear was the catalyst.  Her essay concludes:

The Collage

To infinity and beyond! Buzz Lightyear what a flash to the fanciful years of my kids leaping off chairs hollering the slogan at the top of their lungs .. echoing in my heart as I whisper it to myself .. infinity and beyond … falling with style … you’ve got a friend in me … What a comfort in such simple assurances.

Dee Dee Lawton said she was terrified to come to the workshop because art was something she has felt blocked about all of her life. Her 3-D collage expresses her buoyant personality…she has a joyful presence…and her love of music.  She called her work “chaotic,” and we talked about how chaotic is not a bad thing.  Notice how she combined painting, collage, and sculpture. We thought she was brave to paint a self-portrait on her first artist adventure.


I wrote a poem to go with my collage.  I used the back of the clipboard I had made a collage on for the first class.  I tried to work on a different canvas, but the clipboard finally called to me…it wanted to be covered front and back.

Treasure Chest:

What You Seek Is What You Are Going To Get


Their faces are so vulnerable, wide-eyed, the innocents of the world,

too young to know to take the ripe fruit or that their true treasure is inside,

laying deep in dark oceans in the kingdom of strange animals

who will ultimately love them.

My eyes seek all the fruit, even the rotting grapes. I have so many faces,

vanity in old age, soft angel skinned children. Faith and trust have not informed

my body. I have not known to love my strangeness, my treasure

in the soft dark sea.

Masks hide my fear, but inside my monkey’s paw the children

beg that my tight grip open. Use your vulnerable eyes, they whisper.

Unlock your heart. Let go of the thread of the woman

writing her story.

My heart beats in red floral breaths. I open to imperfection,

and pledge to find my innocence, my treasure, and to eat

sweet pears and grapes, to love my ugly masks, my large eyes,

a new thread of my animal body.

Fran Ransley’s work developed into symbolic layers.

IMG_0958 The image of the calla lilly became important as she discussed her collage with us.  We knew it was a lily but none of us could remember the “calla” part.  This is what she discovered about the flower’s meaning:

“The calla lily was by the Romans in association with the winter solstice. The lilies were forced to bloom indoors during the darkest time of year to celebrate the preservation of the light and bringing the light indoors. Calla lilies were often associated with funerals, only later to become a popular wedding flower.

The lily was a sacred flower to the Minoans and also prized among the ancient Jews. In Christian iconography, the flower came to represent purity and chastity. In contrast with this, the flower’s large spadix, a phallic flower stalk containing many male (pistillate) and female flowers, was symbolic of lust and sexuality among the Romans. As mentioned above, calla lilies have been viewed as a symbol of death and associated with funerals. In this capacity, they have been placed on the graves of youth who have suffered untimely deaths.”

Finally, Patti Jahsman collage reflected the interplay of outward and inward strength.


Her work inspired this lovely poem.  The intensity of bittersweetness of last line has stayed with me since Saturday.

Freedom of Light

How can “I” know
what to “no”?
What is True heart hearing of
my heart?
Who am ‘I’ to resist
being a moth to the light?
Burned up
by not blocking the heart.
No ‘one’ is immune from
conditional pain, the
heart-wounding inevitability
of losing ALL
to universal fire light.

  • IMG_0965

P.S.  Here is an image that Pat and Dee Dee made with an Art Studio map on my iPad Mini:



1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Matthew 25: 1-13

Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’

But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’

Keep awake therefore for you know neither the day nor the hour.


We are in the last days. The church has been in the “last days” since the ascension of Christ. We await the long expected Jesus and his realm of peace, justice, bounty, and love. Our passages today have a stern tone, though, and remind us that we have responsibilities to attend to the present. We may be eternal, but we are also mortal. We will experience grief and loss, and every one of our relationships will end in earthly time. We must find the eternal in the now as we relate to God because one day, a time that is certain to come but which date is a mystery for each of us, we will have to stand before God with the light and darkness of our hearts broke open and the path we took in this life examined.

When I consider this, I am filled with fear and trembling, but then I remind myself that God is love. So often things in our lives or in the world do not seem well at all, but God is always here. God’s love for all of us is a grace.  In the words of St. Julian of Norwich, “All will be well,” a beautiful paradox. Yes, we are accountable for our actions, and our non-actions, but at the same time forgiven by the love of God shown through Jesus.

The passage of time was a concern for Paul and to the Thessalonians. Why hadn’t Jesus come back yet? He wrote to assure this particular church that they would be reunited with the loved ones who had passed on. Fears were growing that those who died would have a second hand status once Jesus did return. Paul gave them a message of hope, but also an admonition wrought by love: be ready, prepare yourself, the day will come when you will be reunited. Nothing, even death, is more powerful than God’s love for us. He encouraged them to move forward into the future and guided them to change their expectations. We must wait for the advent of Christ, but prepare ourselves that it might come in our next breath.

By the way, his words “caught up in the clouds” has been high-jacked into the non-Biblical notion of the rapture. The words “caught up” are a translation of the Greek for “force” or “suddenness”. There was some speculation starting in the late eighteenth century about the idea, but in 1830 an ex-Anglican priest named John Darby was the first to espouse the idea that the Rapture would be a literal event. C.I Scofield then referenced Darby’s idea in the Scofield Reference Bible which became popular. Then the ideas of pre-millennialism and post-millennialism began to evolve, from which any number of scenarios that foretell the return of Christ have been spun, right down to the Left Behind movies intent on scaring the hell out of people to make a profit. No one can say why or when Christ will return. And unless you believe Christ went up through outer space on his ascension, believers being raised up into literal clouds seems a bit of a stretch.

To prepare for writing this, I googled “Episcopal beliefs on the return of Christ.” The first link that came up said, “The Episcopal religion is straight out of the pits of hell.” Perhaps we should be flattered that the author thought we had our very own religion. We should not be angered though for being judged for our openness to the Holy Spirit, to peace, acceptance, and God’s infinite grace. The Episcopal Church would welcome even the Internet Trolls who search out progressive Christian discussions to claim that those who don’t believe in a literal hell are the exactly the ones destined for it. Should someone who thinks the worst of us ever wander through our doors, I believe that we are willing to offer our welcome with our hearts open, ready to dialogue and share communion.

I believe that there is room at the feast for everyone, that we live now in a time of redemption, and that there is no one on the inside or the outside of God’s kingdom. Am I reconfiguring my faith with my own notions of reality? I hope not. If I am, the story of the wise and foolish virgins taken on face value in my English speaking twenty-first century Western mind is a scary story. There is such a brutal finality to the barred door. Interestingly, the bridegroom is delayed. Matthew was written at least thirty years after Paul’s epistles; Christ still had not returned.

Father Leo discussed with me that Matthew was writing to a Jewish Christian audience embedded with traditional beliefs, not exposed to the greater world of Hellenistic thought or Roman culture, and it is this context that we need to view the story. Bridesmaids, the virgins, would come from both sides of the betrothed families. The groom and his young escorts would find reasons to delay to meet the bride and come to the feast, partying as young men might who realize they are at the cusp of adulthood and their lives are going to be forever changed. The wedding feast would go on for a week, and, to honor the family, guests would have to stop tilling the fields, minding their shops, or preparing for the coming winter. This was a sacrifice expected of the guests, a commitment to community and culture; if guests were not prepared, they could not attend and perhaps be barred from future celebrations.

Back to the bridegroom. He is so late that the Virgins, both the foolish and the wise, have fallen asleep. Perhaps the guests who have come early are asleep as well. But…where is the bride? And why when I read this parable do I feel the impact of the door closing, barring those poor Virgins who didn’t get their act together soon enough? Are they really barred from the eternity of the Great Feast? I feel this exclusion much more strongly than I sense the light from the oil lamps of conscious discipleship of the wise virgins.

I found a blog called The Waking Dreamer written by one of those rebel Presbyterians, Alan Brehm. In his commentary on this parable, he refers also to the community for whom Matthew wrote his gospel. These Jews had been persecuted, their families murdered, and knew hardships firsthand that you and I can only get a glimmer from watching the news about ISIS or Ebola. This is apocalyptic thinking, that God’s justice was coming and this justice meant revenge of some sort…the worse revenge…God would close the door of eternity on those who persecuted them, and, then by extension, for those who did not have the correct beliefs, the right consciousness of God’s prism of light, who had not prepared for judgment in the culturally accepted way.

Maybe this is why the bride is missing, and why the trolls still lurk to condemn and judge anyone who believes that God’s love is a full spectrum of light, not just a one hue. Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Christ has broken through all barriers, continues to break them, and will always break open that which excludes and condemns. Paul writes in Corinthians that the only thing God’s judgment will destroy is sin and death. Yes, our actions matter, and we are and will be held accountable for them if only because of simple cause and effect. But, yes, this is also true: Brehm writes of the strange kingdom of God that will someday materialize where all will be made well, but no one can say when this kingdom will be fully realized.

Christ is always coming and always arriving. Christ meets us every day in our challenges and the doors that close in our faces. Christ is with us now in this sanctuary. We are constantly being redeemed, and if we open ourselves to his love, renewed. The clouds of glory are present wherever we go. Now is the time to make our commitment to Christ our Lord, to fill the lamps of our souls, and bring his kingdom into each precious moments we have, to wait with joy in the knowledge that someday all heavily bolted doors will unlatched; the day the wise virgins will open their arms to their brothers and sisters whose lamps ultimately have also been filled.

Alethea Eason is a Lay Preacher at Saint Johns Episcopal Church, Lakeport, CA

Treasures in Secret Places

Untitled-2  Who or what unexpected in your life shows you God’s grace?  Perhaps it’s the last person or situation you expect. This is a homily I gave to my congregation at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lakeport, CA as a lay preacher in training.  Some of the content is specific to our needs but I think the main message is universal.

Proper 24 October 19. 2014

Isaiah 45:1-7  Psalm 96:1-9(10-13)  1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10 Matthew 22:15-22

I will give you treasures of darkness, and treasures in secret places.

In the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit. Amen

What are the treasures of St. John’s? Certainly, our spiritual wealth is deep and flowing. Each of us bring wisdom to our congregation gathered from our life experiences, successes, failures, pain, and joy. We bring our gifts: gifts of faith: the talent of our hands, of words, of listening, of administration, of seeing a need and asking for help to fill it, all done in our human way but led by our love of Jesus. And because of all of this wealth, the challenges our church faces will be met. There are treasures hidden by the darkness of the future, treasures that for us are in secret places called grants and gifts, pledges and plate offerings. Our dear church is 116 years old, and truth be told she’s showing her years. Thanks to generous donations we’ve done a lot already: the exterior has been refurbished, new shingles, new supports. But, listen… the wiring here in the sanctuary must be replaced someday, there are concerns for the Thrift Store and Food Pantry. We need to remodel our entrance for handicap accessibility, and make space for wheelchair access here in the sanctuary. And dare I mention earthquake retrofitting?

We are blessed with your work in the thrift shop and pantry, in the prayer shawl ministry, in making our church beautiful with flowers inside and out, in taking care of the myriad administrative tasks a church needs to keep functioning, in preparing the worship services and bulletins. I’m sure there are ministries I’m not mentioning; ones you do quietly. Thank you so much, but our church has many other needs as well: Eucharist ministers, worship leaders, alter guild members, someone to proof read the bulletin…a twenty minute weekly ministry…extra counters for the money we received during services, Vestry members for the coming year.

I read a lot of religious blogs, and in them there is speculation about the viability of traditional forms of Christianity. Church attendance is supposedly at an all time low, people flock to churches that seem to offer worship as entertainment and a much narrower message of the Gospel than I believe found in the Episcopal church. But dark times happen, and in them some of the greatest spiritual growth occurs.

The Hebrews, captured once again, lived in Babylon for two generations, their children never having stepped on the land of Israel. The exile was a dark era, yet scholars believe that during these 70 years of captivity, when there was no temple, no center of worship, was when the oral history of the Jews was first written as the Talmud and worshiping in synagogues began, treasures discovered when the future must have seemed bleak and deliverance a dream.

The Jews did not expect liberation from a non-Hebrew, but God works in unexpected ways. Cyrus, the ruler of the Achaean Empire which stretched from the Balkans to the Indus Valley, the mighty Cyrus who was the most powerful person on Earth stormed the gates of Babylon. Certainly, the Jews trembled along side the Babylonians when they saw his army approach…but after he conquered the city, he did what none of them could have foreseen in their wildest hopes: Cyrus freed them, and they returned home.

Isaiah’s words in today’s reading was an answer to the questions the people around him must have asked as they were faced with their liberation: is it proper that a heathen be our savior, for a non-Jew to help us rebuild Jerusalem? Isaiah answers, “Yes!”…echoing all the yeses within scripture bound in God’s love…God suffers along with us, and he will use even tyrants and emperors to express this love, to give meaning to our suffering, to surprise us with hope and renewal when we have wandered away, or have been captured by people or places far away from any light. As Christians, we believe this love finally manifests in Jesus who embodies our suffering, our hope, and our deliverance.

The Pharisees were not expecting Jesus’ response when asked about taxes. They were, of course, trying to trap him. The fact that the Pharisees had a coin with Caesar’s face on it meant they were up to something, as Jews were allowed to have their own coins without Caesar’s image. The emperor was officially thought to be divine, the son of Augustus…the son of God…everyone who watched this scene knew this, and so the tension ratcheted up as soon as the words were out of their mouths. If Jesus had said, “Pay Caesar,” he would seem like a traitor to his people. If he said “Don’t pay Caesar,” then he could be charged with sedition. Yet, Jesus thought out of the box…and didn’t really answer them. What are things of the empire anyway? What are God’s? How does our Christian faith shape our economic decisions? What unexpected things can we find in our talent and treasure? How do our small grains of mustard seeds accumulate into having enough to do what needs to be done, not only with Saint John’s but the world as a whole?

I entreat you to be diligent in sharing your gifts and pledges to St. Johns, to be diligent in recording your hours of work and your expenditures, and to help us think of and find unexpected sources to preserve this church and our faith community for generations, for children who are exiled in the Babylons of the future, whose paths someday may lead them here. Let us pray that mighty Cyruses of funding come out of unexpected places, let each of search our hearts to know what resources and time we can give to our church, our family, so that we may continue to honor God and show the love of our Savior in this treasured place of worship.

Five women and I gathered in my classroom yesterday morning and indulged in creative play and writing.  The work we did is below.  Enjoy!

by Peggy Thompson

by Peggy Thompson

Peggy did two collages.

This collage is of a health worker being sprayed by Clorox after carrying the body of an Ebola victim.

Be sure to read her poem inspired by her second one below.


Pat Giacomini wrote a beautiful piece about finding grace in the challenges of life to go with the next collage.

by Pat Giacomini

by Pat Giacomini

Welcome to Holland

A person shared a story with me written by a woman with a child with special needs who was trying to explain to other people what it is like to be a parent of a child with … unexpected beauties. She explained it thus: that when you are expecting a child you prepare and plan as if you are taking a trip to Italy … everyone you know has been to Italy, and are joyous with you and your upcoming trip to Italy … that’s where you are going, and you prepare and bring everything with you for that trip … to Italy. Your dreams are of Italy and what it will be like living and growing as a family … in Italy.

So you get on the plane and the flight eventually lands and the pilot comes on the over the intercom and says, “Welcome to Holland. Enjoy your stay.” And you say, “Wait!! I’m not going to Holland; I’m going to Italy. I’m not supposed to be in Holland … I planned! I dreamed! and I am going to Italy!!

But, Holland it is. The author’s message was one of encouragement and a vivid, yet gentle reminder … To grieve for the loss of Italy is understandable and to a certain extent needed; and the loss of those dreams should be honored … but if you live your life always in that grief for what you lost, or didn’t get … you will miss the beauty of the gift you did get … the beauty of Holland … with its tulips!

My process for this collage started with the startling sight of a painting of a sweet house at the edge of a tulip field … It shocked me and raised the consciousness in me that I am once again (like a recurring wave) struggling with my grief over my lost dream of Italy. As do we all, from time to time, I need the reminder of the beauty of the gift of the life I have with the colorful spirits that are my tulips, corny as it sounds. There is beauty, and it is grace filled at every moment of the struggle, and also the joys.

My collage is backed with the golden light of Grace that is always surrounding me in every moment of my life. My dreams are there, grace filled; my hopes are there, grace filled; my heart is there … and my fears. It is a moment by moment leap of faith to trust in Grace sufficient to the day, to the struggle and to appreciate and embrace the joys, and the struggles, that are there and that are perhaps hidden gifts. Pictures of Tulips come to me from time to time from the hearts of friends who move thru this journey with me. They may be in Italy, but they love Holland too.

We encourage, enjoy, share and vicariously experience each other’s lives in our different worlds of grace, love and children! Today’s tulips are timely. The gift of today is my collage bringing me to the center of my heart once again, embracing my life, how time has fashioned it, and how my choices have crafted the ever evolving beauty


Susanne La Faver used a file folder as the background for her collage.  She was inspired by memories of time spent in the Middle East and her life now in Lake County, California.

Collage by Susanne La Faver

Collage by Susanne La Favor


Here is Peggy Thompson’s What Does It All Mean?  Her collage follows.

What Does It All Mean?

Yellow, yellow, catch a fellow?
Well I already have the fellow,
so why all of this yellow?

Hot trends and cool stuff?
It is so not me,
well the cool stuff maybe.

Cool stuff what makes it cool?
One gals junk,
is another gals tools.

Changing horses in mid-stream?
Now what does that all mean?
Yellow, yellow catch a dream.

by Peggy Thompson

by Peggy Thompson


Jennifer Kelly used the workshop to create a collage to explore aspects of a novel she plans to write.  This is a collage of Zieg and the Magic of Niebel.

by Jennifer Kelly

by Jennifer Kelly

Finally, I wrote a fable, of sorts, based on the collage that I made on a clipboard.

by Alethea Eason

by Alethea Eason

Turned the World Upside Down

We lowered our eyes at her audacity. No one challenged King Cock.

He stood in front of his throne, chest puffed out, eyes narrowing, hands on the ample girth of his royal sides. He had come to power through battle in the ring, not through inheritance like the sissy French Pullet to the south, and the red crown of his comb quivered with rage at the sight of the witch in the golden robe that glimmered brighter than anything else in the room, including his thrown, including the amulet that hung from his neck, the signet of his ultimate authority over the yard.

We ministers mumbled to ourselves.

“How did she managed to pass through the guards outside the castle?”

“Did she suddenly appear out of the emptiness of air?”

“Where did she find such cloth with the very sun itself stitched into it?”

“Silence!” the king raged, and his voice sent a shock wave through the room. “Hen, why is it that you come in robes glowing of impertinence? Why are not you laying at the hen house? Or being cut and quarter, your breasts Sunday dinner for the humans who live in the far kingdom of Farmhouse?”

The miserly Banty, now the Minister of Treasury, wheedle from our clutch, strutting unctuously toward the witch. He was called Uncle Sam, though no one knew why, and over the years had grown closer to King Cock, conspiring with him long into the night, feather-a-feather. One by one, the bolder ministers had been sent to the pot. We who remained were chickens, nothing else.

“I believe she was the witch sister of Queen Cluck, your cuckolding wife,” he said, yanking the hood away from the witch’s face. “My spies warned me about her treachery, and she was sent to the pot, only on a more quiet trip than the queen’s. This figure before you is an illusion by some disgruntled subject whom I will soon discover and make soup of. Behold, there is no substance here.”

He raised a spur toward the form, but then he froze. The hen pulled the rest of the robe from her and flung it over Uncle Sam’s frame. He vanished with one loud squawk. We crowed in alarm. The king’s eyes narrowed and his beak stabbed the air like a knife white meat.

She did not cluck like a good hen but spoke in clear tones, her voice clear, despite coming from the realm beyond the pot.

“The world has turned upside down.”

Most kings had such short reigns; the next contender’s beak and spurs soon claimed the throne. But King Cock, the Strongheart, was powerful, brilliant, and so ruthless the thought his oppression would someday end was just scratch in the yard blown away by the wind. But now, deep within my own breast, under the feathers of fear that have grown under the years of tyranny which have made me wish I had been born an ordinary rooster in the yard, a small cock-a-doodle-do of hope sprouted.

The good witch spread her wings. “I pour out my heart. My love for my sister fills this realm.”

A visage, a shadow, of Queen Cluck grew large, her reflection overshadowing the king himself. King Cock flew toward the witch hen. She was Princess Ruby Breast, I knew now. We ministers stepped back to let the feathers fly. Even at this moment, to my shame, I was afraid. The princess had the courage of a tigress, the wisdom of the ancient Tree of Life from from whence we all come. She simply vanished, taking the king to whatever poultry realms that lay beyond this mortal one.

May justice be done.

And we were left alone, ministers of Feathers and Crowing, Clutch and Yard, without a king for the first time in memory, but out of the pot as well. I looked at my chest. The golden amulet hung there, no longer sparkling. I would lead? I left the chamber for the long trek to Farmhouse to hide it there for some human to find.



A homily I gave at St. John’s Episcopal, Lakeport, CA.

A wonderful thing about reading the Bible is to be challenged by it, grappling with what doesn’t fit in one’s world view, when it conflicts with the way one wants things to be said and resolved. Notice I’m using third person here. I could say “you”. But in reality I need to say “me”. There have been times I’ve put the Bible down because I’ve taken what it says literally; my Southern Baptist background colors my perceptions. I often feel I can’t trust God, that I don’t want to believe in God, or at times even don’t believe because how could all that is Holy, all that is perfect, be so egotistical and cruel to throw people into Hell? Especially since God has some seemingly impossible standards to live up to.

So when I read the passages for today, a familiar wall arose. Since I’m trying to become a preacher, I suppose I’ll have the opportunity to scale many more walls as I wrestle with looking beyond the literal, beyond a God I’ve projected as one to fear. To learn, instead, to find the Holy Spirit within and discover She is love. God is love, but that doesn’t mean God needs to be “nice,” or that Jesus doesn’t have to hit us over the head with a verbal two-by-four to wake us up from time to time. And this week, we’re awakening into the nature of real forgiveness.

In the Old Testament reading, Joseph of the Techno-Color Dream Coat fame is older, his treasured multi-colored coat a memory that stirred envy and downright nastiness in his older brothers. They sold him into slavery and lied to Jacob, their father, telling him that Joseph was dead. If anyone had a case to not “get over” what was done, it’s Joseph. He does have his touche moment by pretending to keep the youngest brother Benjamin as a hostage, but by doing so he gets the Israelites to safety. Being in Egypt is temporarily good for them. Though things go south fast in the first verses of Exodus, they have survived and have a future as a people thanks to the fidelity Joseph shows to his family.

Today’s story brings the book of Genesis to a close, and in it Joseph demonstrates some Christ-like behavior toward his brothers who seem to still be scheming. Joseph has told them they are forgiven, but they don’t believe it. When Jacob dies, they grow paranoid. What if he still holds a grudge and wants revenge? “We’d better grovel,” they tell themselves. And what does Joseph do when they commence to grovelling? He cries, just like he did when they first arrived and did not recognize him. Does he cry this second time because his brothers have been unable to receive his forgiveness? Is he just tired of the drama? I have no idea, but when they offer to be his slaves, he abides in love and says, “Do not be afraid,” echoing Jesus’ frequent command. And then he asks, “Am I in place of God?” Joseph has done his Earthly work; they are in God’s hands now. Perhaps seeing Joseph’s tears, they finally understand and the weight of their guilt lifts from their shoulders because by being forgiven they can forgive themselves.

The scope of the Bible leads us in one direction, despite however meandering the stories flow within it: our limited perceptions are challenged and we are asked to do the hard work of letting go in love, over and over again, as often as we need to; for some aspects of our lives this may be a lifetime’s work. To forgive not only others, but ourselves as well, and to trust that God has forgiven us.

The discussion between Jesus and Peter about how often we must forgive sounds pretty academic as it starts off. Maybe it’s just me, but does Peter act like he’s trying impress Jesus? Look, Jesus, I get it…we need to forgive a lot…7 times! Good try, Peter, but let’s try again. Not 7, but 77. Whenever certain numbers appear in Bible, 7, or 12, or 40, we know that these are symbolic. Jesus was not giving Peter a recipe for forgiveness…there is no magic number that we need to forgive, keeping track of the exact number of attempts we have made. The number seven in this passage represents an ongoing spiritual discipline, the never-ending search in our hearts for peace.

Some wrongs done to us can be let go of without too much struggle. But there are other wounds, the ones that hurt to the depths of our souls that others have cause because they were suffering or were simply not aware of the toxicity of their words and actions. Some of us have been hurt by people who have taken pleasure in the wounding. Maybe something in childhood has impeded our ability to be true to ourself as adults. Maybe we feel God has wronged us, taken someone too early that we cherished, and we can’t understand why this child, this young person, this mother or father has died. In these situations, it is impossible to forgive seven times and be done with it, even seventy times seven.

At the end of his conversation with Peter, Jesus turns personal and talks to all of us. The father will hand you over to the fires of Gehenna…the trash heap outside of Jerusalem…where you will burn forever. I’m talking to you, are you listening? This is my two-by-four: forgive or you will burn in Hell.

I’ve often closed the Bible at moments like this, too much of Dr. Bob’s haranguing sermons from Central Baptist in Anaheim filling my ears. How could I ever be good enough? How could I ever forgive enough? But aren’t we already in hell, and doesn’t every day feel like an eternity when we’re eaten away by anger, beating ourselves up with self-pity and regret, putting salt on our wounds and reliving our betrayal over and over?

In writing to the Romans, Paul asks the members of the church to forgive what they see as extreme grievances, some thinking the others were dishonoring God by what they ate, insisting upon or ignoring practices that defined who was a Jew, or for this group, a true follower of Jesus. Like Joseph, Paul reminds his readers that God is the judge, not us. We are not to condemn someone else because she doesn’t vote like us, believe in gun control or not, marry whom we think he should marry. To love each other as a community, as Christ’s Church, we must forgive each other for not measuring up to our personal values and standards of piety, even as our judgments rise up time after time.

Forgiveness is a continual practice, a prayerful awareness we must be vigilant about, even when we feel it’s impossible, even when we’re convinced that the beliefs of others are wrong. This isn’t easy stuff. This doesn’t mean we need to be in relationship with someone who will continue to harm us, nor that we must be nice and never challenge one another, but we can ask for the Holy Spirit to lead us toward dialogue, reconciliation, and communion. We do this again and again, until layers of pain and resistance release, until one day we find we are able to breathe deeper into the darkness of our hearts, to cool the smoldering trash heaps that blind us from becoming more whole, healed, entrained with the sacredness of our lives, present with ourselves and each other in the love of Christ Jesus.


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