TAPESTRY OF MERCY

It is my great privilege to include this guest blog by my great friend and mystic, Thomas Telhiard:

GLACIER-TAPESTRY2

“I was at prayer in the city of Joppa when in a trance I had a vision, something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered from the sky by its four corners, and it came to me.”

As we move into the 4th week of the Easter season, Spring is brimming over and rushing forward with the Good News Joy of the empty tomb and beyond.  Seeds planted in the earth break the ground and blooms take their turns at glory in the Sunlight, coloring the waking earth that shakes the drowsiness of death from its eyes.  All that has been bleak and bland, dormant and reclusive, now bursts forth with vigor.  The protecting mulch both nourishes and uncovers new beauty’s rebirth.

It’s amazing how fast-paced the Acts of the Apostles is, recounting the seedling Christian church that struggles and flourishes in somewhat equal proportionality, through the efforts and openness of Peter, Paul and many other disciples.  In today’s first reading, (ACTS 11: 1-18), we hear the description of how Peter was enlightened through a trance, wherein a revealing tapestry drops down from heaven and he must cast away the prejudices that he might have regarding the particular manner in which we can participate in the Good News story.  At question is the holiness or cleanliness of that which we can consume or eat.  Peter, in the dream, is invited to partake of food that is considered “unclean” in the Jewish culture.  In correction, he is told outright, “What God has made clean, you are not to profane.”

We discriminate by nature.  Our conceptual mind allows us to do so, and this is an important faculty that permits us to operate in our lives on a daily basis.  But the odd thing is that it is precisely the discriminating nature of our mental faculty that can lead to destructive forces in our relationships.  In a world of diversity, we struggle to allow and tolerate, much less embrace and celebrate, the differences that we have as cultures, societies, and even families and individuals.  Peter was criticized for eating in the household of uncircumcised people in the Acts story.  It took not only a heavenly screen in front of his eyes, but the company of strangers that enabled him to grasp the value and necessity of, shall we say, meeting people where they are and walking and talking with them, i.e., MERCY…

Just then three men appeared at the house where we were, who had been sent to me from Caesarea.  The Spirit told me to accompany them without discriminating.”

It was in the company of these strangers as well as others, that it was revealed to Peter, a most important lesson…”If then God gave them the same gift he gave us…who was I to hinder God?”

Life is nothing without the diversity of giftedness.  Paul called this the body of Christ.  Yet, we so often unjustly treat the lives of each other in a way that dishonors, demeans and dehumanizes the precious particularity that we have all been given.  In doing so, unwittingly, we are disrespecting ourselves.  Why would we be given a gift not to share?  We poke fun at re-gifting presents that we have received, but I am amazed at how at white elephant or dirty Santa parties, a gift that did not mean much to one person truly ended up surprisingly enough to be precious to another.  I think this says something about discrimination and discernment, mercy and giftedness.

Just as Peter was instructed to accompany these men without discriminating, so are we led to accompany each other in our differences that can cause us skepticism, irritation and even pain at times.  If we can bracket our seemingly natural powers to discriminate and walk far enough along in the company of differences, my experience has been that the Spirit of openness begins to stir.  Appreciation is born from patient journeying.  To sit long enough with something or, more importantly, with SOMEONE, grants a gift beyond measure.  The gift of realizing that, as the Scriptures say, is that the Holy Spirit “falls upon” all of us without discrimination.  We simply must have the eyes of compassionate discernment to see that there is nothing that God has created that is profane  – nothing unredeemable!

Ironically, the most beautiful experiences in life are oftentimes birthed from pain, suffering, and something perhaps what we would initially consider ugly or unreasonable.  If you have ever spent time with someone who is nearing death, you may have witnessed what I am speaking about here.  It’s the letting go that leads us home to each other and empowers us to replace discrimination with participative mercy.  Again, we have the image of the Body of Christ that feeds us – our selves as community.

Interestingly, in the Gospel story today (JN 10: 1-10), we have the image of Christ as the Sheep Gate.  Coming off of yesterday’s celebration of Good Shepherd Sunday, we now have the image of Christ as not just the Shepherd, but the gateway that provides care and protection.  I love the image of Christ as the Shepherd who lies on the ground across the opening in the hilled-in areas where the sheep can rest peacefully within.  Though, I wonder if the thieves and marauders that the ‘Christ gate’ is protecting us from could actually refer to our own attitudes toward ourselves and others.  Could Christ as the Sheep Gate be referring to the Holy Spirit’s field of openness that can pervade our hearts and minds so that we can, not so much look beyond differences, but actually look into them, celebrate them, let them speak to us and bring out the graceful and specific giftedness of ourselves in a way that would otherwise be unimaginable.

The tapestry dropped down from heaven before Peter’s eyes becomes present in the strangers who became his companions in the sharing of the Holy Spirit.  This is the way in, the Christ opening or gate where the only strangers that can harm us are those attitudes of death that trample the precious uniqueness that always returns in the Spring and blooms in our gardens of Mercy!

Peace

Thomas

WE’RE A RESURRECTION PEOPLE (and I’m really trying)

Tears stung my eyes and my emotions welled up as I took part in recent Good Friday services. I tried to identify the source of my emotions. Sadness? Grief? Of course – this would be expected as we commemorated the brutal death of Jesus the Christ. Yet, there was something deeper going on within me – something mingling with the tears . . . . That’s it – it was anger! We’re doing it again, I thought. We keep on doing it again – over and over! Jesus was tortured and put to death in the most horrific fashion that the Jesus scourgingoccupying Romans could muster, not to mention being deserted and betrayed by those closest to him. Why was he put to death? It was because he dared to challenge the religious establishment. He dared to love and embrace those in the margins – those who were despised and outcast from the temple and society. He dared to turn the church law upside down in order for all to really understand what the love of God really means, even if it meant going against those in power. . . and, yes, even among God’s people, we continue inflicting the violence . . .

Yes, we continue with the persecution of people throughout the world who dare to speak and act prophetically, often at a severe cost – torture, banishment, excommunication, and even death – at the hands of religious and civil authorities and individual members of society. This includes those of us who are members of the LGBTQ+ community and our allies, created as we are by a loving God, who have no choice but to speak our truth and work for a society which is loving and violence imageinclusive, as Jesus taught us to do. The abuse continues, though, in spite of information from reliable science along with the testimony of our lives that a wide diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity is indeed quite natural and has always been with us. (My heart is freshly broken as I write this post. Last night, I learned of the news of  the 23-year old African American transgender woman who was beaten unconscious in a Dallas apartment complex where she lived three months ago was shot to death yesterday on a Dallas street! I was also informed in the same message that an 18 year-old transgender person from Louisiana was recently kicked out of her home and was homeless – looking for a safe place to reside. Our circle is feverishly working on finding immediate and long-term resources for this precious person.) Quite naturally, then, I continue to be frustrated, frightened, perplexed; and, yes, angry at this situation. It seems that we, as a society, often take two steps forward and one step back when it comes to issues of social justice and our ability to embrace “the other”.

So, what to do as we continue to experience these constant waves of crucifixion? In the midst of this latest round of internal malaise and despair, I have prayerfully turned to some mystics of our time. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton insists that “we must have complete faith in the resurrection” In his 2019 Easter homily, he recounts a time in the life of Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador when, in the height of violence in his country several decades ago, a reporter asked him, “Why don’t you flee the country, leave? They’re going to kill you.” His name was on the death list; everybody knew it. But the archbishop said, “Of course I’ve been threatened with death many times, but I don’t believe in death without resurrection. Even if they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people.” (1). I must also remember that, even though there is often a “one step back” within our “two steps forward”, these steps still are an important part of an Oscar Romeroevolutionary process within our own God-given humanity, which is part of the cycle of dying and rising. Sr. Ilia Delio breaks this open so well when she states, “Because we humans are in evolution we must see Christ in evolution as well – Christ’s humanity is our humanity, Christ’s life is our life . . . . To live Christ is to live community; to bear Christ in one’s life is to become a source of healing love for the sake of community” (2).

I therefore must believe (not always easy) that, in our often difficult “rubber meeting the road” moments in our ministry to build a just, loving, and inclusive community for all, death is not the end nor does it signal defeat. On the contrary, we must be prepared for our small and large deaths – which will inevitably lead to resurrection. I must believe and trust that to live Christ is to live community and to bear Christ in one’s life is to become a source of healing love for the sake of this community. As Gumbleton said of Archbishop Romero (a human being who experienced his own process of evolution), “Here is a person who, like John in the Gospel, has complete trust, belief, confidence that Jesus is risen from the dead and that his resurrection is a sign, a promise of our resurrection that we too will rise from the dead and share everlasting life and joy, fullness of peace and happiness forever in our risen life” (1). These words have helped me to articulate what is honestly on my soul: “’Yes I believe, but help my unbelief because it’s a struggle.’ Sometimes we think that faith is a gift and once we have it, we’ll never falter. Not true. Faith is a choice” (1). Thanks, Bishop Gumbleton.