Back in 1996, I had the good fortune of literally sitting at the feet of the great Vermont Poet, David Budbill, as he shared his poems with my Cohort at Vermont College of Norwich University in Montpelier, Vermont.  He was so earthy, in fact, David was as much as “earthy monk” as any person I ever met.  He was amazing, humble, down to earth, true blue Vermonter (although he was born in Cleveland, OH).  I love his words and this spectacular poem came into my Inbox and I looked David up online only to learn that he died back in September 2016.

Saddened by this, it is right and fitting that one of my favorite poems of David Budbill be shared here…especially since I now reside in the neighboring state of New Hampshire and I am deep in the soulful state of Winter

Enjoy David Budbill

Tonight at sunset walking on the snowy road,
my shoes crunching on the frozen gravel, first

through the woods, then out into the open fields
past a couple of trailers and some pickup trucks, I stop

and look at the sky. Suddenly: orange, red, pink, blue,
green, purple, yellow, gray, all at once and everywhere.

I pause in this moment at the beginning of my old age
and I say a prayer of gratitude for getting to this evening

a prayer for being here, today, now, alive
in this life, in this evening, under this sky.


Source:

“Because the Word that God speaks to us is always an incarnate word – a word spelled out to us not alphabetically, in syllables, but enigmatically, in events, even in the books we read and the movies we see – the chances are we will never get it just right.

We are so used to hearing what we want to hear and remaining deaf to what it would be well for us to hear that it is hard to break the habit. But if we keep our hearts and minds open as well as our ears, if we listen with patience and hope, if we remember at all deeply and honestly, then I think we come to recognize, beyond all doubt, that, however faintly we may hear [God], he is indeed speaking to us, and that, however little we may understand of it, his word to each of us is both recoverable and precious beyond telling.

In that sense autobiography becomes a way of praying, and a book like this, if it matters at all, matters mostly as a call to prayer.”

– Originally published in Now and Then

“Those who look to the law of love as Jesus taught it, as the law of perfect liberty, and act accordingly as doers, whose acts are motivated by that love, will be blessed by God for living by that teaching.”

– Br. David Allen

“Jesus risked reputation and dignity in order to love—risked loving even a sinner.  “O Lord, who risks everything to love, show us compassion that does not count the cost, and teach us to share it without hesitation.” 

Thomas HoffmanA Child in Winter

Do I?

Do I risk ‘everything’ to love like Jesus?  Do I follow a royal law of Love at all costs?

Do I risk my pithy reputation to love like Jesus loved?  I sit in churches so often and all I hear is sermons majoring on the minors (so to speak), but rarely do I hear sermons about loving like Jesus did.  Some say love the sinner and hate the sin, but I am only human and do not possess the surgical precision needed to separate the “sin” from the sinner, so I end up hating the sinner even as I say I am only hating the sin.

I can sit in the rooms and listen to others share their experience, strength and hope and I slice my fellow alcoholics to bits with the surgical knife of my mind.

Plain and simply put, I am afraid to love like this.

I am aware that most followers of Jesus are afraid to love like this: we fear being called gay, radical, Muslim, liberal, drunk, addict, loser, sinner, scum, one of “them” if I am in proximity to “them” attempting feebly to love like Jesus.

Or even worse, I fear being called “Jesus freak” – which is actually a grand compliment.

The old adage says, visiting someone with cancer does not mean I condone smoking; but I fear if I love those different from me, then I will be accused of being one of “them.”

But is that so bad?

Jesus was accused of being a sinner, a glutton, a drunk, a ‘friend’ of sinners, one who dined with traitors and whores…  And yet, all he did was love, love, love.

Do I…?

 

Here is a simple truth: prayer works.  And it works always (in all ways).  I make a statement like that because in my three decades of being a ‘novice’ pray-er, combined with what I am learning daily about prayer is this:

  • Either prayer works on me changing me and my responses; or
  • Prayer works in me transforming my heart and my perspective; or
  • Prayer works through the events and circumstances for which I am praying sometimes altering them.

But the bottom line about prayer working is that prayer always, always, moves me closer to God and to those around me.

Prayer can turn burdens into blessings and obstacles into opportunities.

Prayer can heal my heart and the heart of another.

Prayer is the name of the constant, ongoing conversation I am having with God.

Prayer opens my eyes to see the holiness of all creation.

Prayer moves my heart from resentment to gratitude.

Prayer leads me to embrace the truth that all that happens to me and within me is the will of my loving God.

Prayers helps me see and taste God in the mundane and the profane as well as the profound and the cursory.

Prayer can move mountains, open doors, lead to the miraculous, soften the hardness, and turn wrestling into nestling.

But for me, today, above all, prayer is the language and movement of love I use to speak to my Holy Beloved.

 

Brother Curtis Almquist is an Anglican monk who lives in Massachusetts and is part of a community known as The Society of St. John the Evangelist.  Every morning I am greeted by wisdom from the monks who spend their days in prayer and work, every morning they move me.  So, I encourage  you to sign up for their email “Brother, give us a Word” service.

But in the mean time, these words about Jesus seemed so perfect for this blessed day.

May we all grow closer to God and in doing so become more like Jesus, the Living Flame of Love!

We need not change to be loved by Jesus; but by being loved by Jesus we will change.

What we see and hear in Jesus is God’s love – for you: love without qualification. Love, only love, heals.

-Br. Curtis Almquist

Author’s Warning: the following diatribe may step on your toes, anger you, disgust you, challenge you, or cause you to judge me, lose respect for me, make you give off a sigh of relief…or you may merely shrug your shoulders and say ‘big deal, get original.”  

Here is my starting point: we do not find God in church.

Before anyone starts sifting through stones to see which ones is best for casting, pause and permit me a moment to expound on what I see as the truth that we do not find God in church.

For you see, I believe, it is the other way around.  We ‘find’ God (a misnomer) and out of that flows a living community incarnation called church.  For no “model” of church will produce God or God’s life in us.  It is in fact our life in God – our shared life in and through Jesus – that becomes the building blocks of the expression called ‘church.’

Because we have gotten it backwards (thinking we find God in church) has led us to become dependent, or codependent, upon church – both the building and the denominations – as well as church leaders for ‘creating’ God’s life in us.  We have done this so much so that we become passive in our own spiritual growth.  When we rely upon others to “impart” God’s life to us, we become spiritually lazy; veritable spiritual coach potatoes.

We not only end up waiting for others to show us how to grow spiritually but we even begin expecting others to do the work for us (as if spiritual growth can be imparted magically with no effort or desire on our part).  And to top it off, we then end up complaining about the lack of “fruit” or growth and as a result of our spiritual passivity we then tend to give up on the most important relationship we will ever have in our lives – the one we have with God.

It is vital that we become active in our spiritual journeys; we must hunger for Jesus and desire to experience what it means to live deeply in God and to follow and imitate Jesus (the word “Christian” means “little Messiah”).   And the great work that we do is the mere desire; for grace comes and draws us closer to the One Who is closer than our own skin.

I can tell you about my experience of God, but I cannot impart my experience of God into you; you have to have your own experience of God.  Others can offer guidance, but the truth be told, there should be 8 billion spiritual experiences happening, namely each and every person in the world must have their own personal (and therefore unique) experience with God.

In our modern age, it seems everything has become too easy, too fast to obtain that we have surrendered the daily, lifelong journey of a life with God.  We have settled.  We have settled when we allow our relationship with God to become an historical event instead of what it has always been meant to be – what Jesus showed us it could be – a dynamic, living, breathing, loving, bare bones to the wall, intimacy with God!

And this relationship is about God sorting things out within us.  God transforms us and by God’s grace and doing (not ours), we learn to live contentedly in God’s love and Providence instead of in the realm of worry, hurry, and religious structures.  But to have this life, to be this type of people, we must each and every one of us be friends with God.  Reading spiritual giants, reading about spiritual giants is all good, but at the end of the day, I am held accountable for my own spiritual growth.

I must actually have a relationship with Jesus rather than merely talking about having one.

Paradoxically, I cannot do this alone, but I do this within myself.  Community of some sort nurtures our connections to God, but we must in some form of solitude come face to face with God Who is the Ground of All Being (see Paul Tillich).  And rest assured, God longs to have this dynamic intimacy with each of us.  God pines for you and me more than we desire God.

So hold on to this Truth: God starts it; God sustains it; God waters it; God nurtures it; and God completes it.  Our role is to “show up” and surrender to this Living God of love.

Here come some toes stomping: forget the rules, the rigidity, the exclusiveness, the holy rollers club techniques, the loopholes that allow the church to reject me because I’m a democrat, a republican, an anarchist, gay, black, white, yellow, red, brown, poor, rich, a dope fiend or a drunk, all tatted up or whatever.

Jesus longs for you, as you are, where you are.  And it is up to God to do the transforming, not me.  If we seek Jesus we will be rewarded with an intimacy that is beyond comprehension, beyond words, beyond being.  But for this kind of intimacy, there is one basic “requirement” – we must surrender to God, plain and simple.

And as we surrender (daily, if you are me), we learn to depend upon the power of God’s in all things and for all things.  And as we do this we gradually learn and discover the fullness of life – the fullness of God’s life – within us.  I believe that when Jesus said that he came to bring life and to bring it abundantly, that is what this aspect of life first and foremost that he was talking about (see Gospel of John 10:9-11).

This abundance of God’s life, both in and through us, is not based on circumstances.  For circumstances do not make or break us, they merely reveal us.  And in this ‘revelation’, God reveals more and more of the divine life to us, and the more God reveals to us, the more we grow in love with and become more like Jesus.

This reality – this dynamic of all of us experiencing God and having Christ’s life in us – leads us to experience called “church.” And rather than trying to figure out how to “do” church, force community to happen, or even worse creating a place where a false sense of community and conformity is commonplace, something else happens – we begin to focus on God’s love and what Jesus is doing inside each of us and through this, we learn to be with each other in God’s love and from this comes authentic community – a living church.

God is the God of community.  Some examples include the Trinity (God in relationship with God’s own self), the ancient Hebrews who were brought together by YAHWEH – which literally means I AM WHO I AM – and were made into a people by this I AM and of the I AM; and then there are the apostles, the disciples, and the early church.  All these forms of community, of “church”, flowed from people being called into deep, intimate relationship with God and concurrently with each other.

The paradox here is that we must have our own intimate encounter with God, but what authenticates it is our connection to and relationship with others.

“Church” is our experience of God and God’s love flowing freely into us, through us, and out of us through Jesus – and towards a wounded world in desperate need of God’s grace.

The world does not need the experiment called “church” that is about being rudely right, or smug or pious or having a holier-than-thou attitude that has become so symbolic of the frozen chosen lost in a holy huddle – that is not what Church is supposed to be.  Church is meant to be a symbol of our collective experience of God and the unconditional love found in Jesus.  Without God’s life in us, in each of us, our expressions of church can become administratively-based religious country clubs, where the broken, hurting, and addicted are excluded from membership.  Without authentic intimacy with God, church becomes a place of self-righteous ethics dictated by appearances rather based on the crazy love of God.

We sometimes forget the very people that hung out with Jesus when he walked the earth would nowadays be frowned upon and judged right out of our congregations.  And lest we forget, Jesus – the man who said if you have seen me, you have seen God – hung out with the whores, the traitorious, the forgotten, the poor, the unclean and the ostracized, and the unholy not the righteous.  The only occurrences we know of Jesus ever judging anyone is when he was confronted by the pious hypocrites of his day, those who thought they held the keys to the rule and reign of God’s love and grace.

God’s life in us – coming from our intimacy and friendship with Jesus – will by default pour into us the very nature and love of this God Whose love is relentless and Whose mercies are never-ending.  As we become a people filled with this God, we are bound to imitate the lives of the early followers of Jesus: turning the world upside-down with divine love.

Now that is Church.

When we are with God, allowing the Spirit to change and mold us like the Master Potter, we are transformed.  And when we share what God is doing inside of us – instead of focusing on what we think others “should” be doing – God uses that to draw us all together, to grow the circle of a place called “Church.”

I have done this before  – revised parts of Scripture to capture and emphasize points – but felt the need to do it again as we come to the close of a very long, tough, confusing and tumultuous year (at least for me and those whom I call family).  It has been another year of growth and pain, joy and hope, loss and life and as I do every year (like most others), I take stock of my life, my faith, and my mission.

I am reminded that my mission is to help people grow spiritually and to do the same for myself.  I am reminded that I am in relationship with Jesus who for me is Life and Resurrection, the only hope that outlasts all my dread and despairing.

So, I needed a reminder – a condensed version if you will – of exactly WHO Jesus is.

I believe that 1 Corinthians 13 is the most succinct and descriptive theological dissertation on the nature of Jesus and God.

And in a year, where we all seemed to focus more on our differences, and did so with intense vitriol and hatred, I also thought it appropriate to do my revision.  God is love and in Jesus we see all the glory of God, so I took out the word “love” and replaced it with Jesus.

So when you are wondering who Jesus is and how he thinks, feels and would respond to you, read this…

Blessings.

1 Corinthians 13 (New International Version – NIV) – Revised by Niles Comer

13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have Jesus, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have Jesus, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have Jesus, I gain nothing.

Jesus is patient.  Jesus is kind.  Jesus does not envy, nor does He boast, and He is not proud. 5 Jesus does not dishonor others, and is not self-seeking, Jesus is not easily angered, and Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 Jesus never fails.

But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and Jesus. But the greatest of these is Jesus.

 

Suffering of any kind can be a compelling opportunity to see and experience the face of Jesus in places where otherwise we might be blind.  We find and are shown Grace at the margins of life.”  N.C. (the author)

 “In Jesus, we discover that God is just sloppy with his amazing grace and completely beyond common sense when it comes to his love.”   Chaplain Mike (Internet Monk)

As I sit basking in the warmth of a cozy, cuddly Juno, a warm cup of coffee and some good music on in the background, I also sit in awe and wonder at the grace of God.

As I marvel at God’s grace, shown to us most poignantly in Jesus the Nazarene, I am taken back to Christmas Day 2010 in West Virginia.  I had worked a 16 hour day at Maya Angelou House, a 90-day residential addiction treatment program for homeless women from Washington, DC who have hit rock bottom in almost every way.  Being with the women of Maya Angelou House on that Christmas Day reminded me of the two truths quoted above.

Maya Angelou House is run by a group I worked previously with back in the early 19090s as the AIDS case manager for the addictions program and the addictions counselor to the AIDS Program – the place is called SOME, Inc.  SOME stands for So Others Might Eat and was started by Fr. Horace McKenna 40 years ago as a soup kitchen in the basement of St. Aloysius Church barely a mile from the Capitol building in Washington, DC.  Since then it has grown into a variety of programs, from feeding the hungry and homeless, to addictions treatment, to medical and dental and counseling services to the poor and uninsured, as well as various housing programs for the formerly homeless (women with children, men, families, the elderly, and those in recovery).

I love what SOME does for they do Gospel work – the works of mercy, by showing mercy and walking with the poor and dispossessed, in solidarity.  I see the face of Jesus in what they do and in whom they serve.  But I digress…

Christmas Day 2010 was for me a day for finding grace at the margins.  Being with and listening to the stories of these courageous women who had lost, had taken away or in some cases – under the influence – had resigned certain parts of themselves to feed their addictions was painful and inspiring.  But there we all were on that Christmas Day, hanging out and cooking, speaking of God’s goodness and grace.

It was and still is a deeply humbling thing to listen to people (who in the eyes of the world) have lost everything, speak so gratefully of the goodness and grace of God.  It definitely put me in a different perspective and it also put me in my place…it still does thinking back.

I am grateful for the women of Maya Angelou House, as I am grateful for my addiction (and my recovery) as I am shown again and again God’s grace at the margins of life.  I am shown time and again just how “irresponsible” God is with his grace and love, pouring it out lavishly on the just and the unjust, the addicted and the petulant.

God truly is “sloppy” with his amazing grace, and it is in Jesus that I discover this truth.  On days like Christmas, when the new and unknown is almost unbearable, it truly does not make any sense how abundant God is with his love.  For even as I find myself still filled with doubt and confusion (fearing a dream may once again be deferred), I am showered in the goodness and love of God.

The challenge is to “let go” of the assumption that in times of confusion, despair, sadness or lostness that we are being punished by God for some action (see Luke 13:1 – 5 to dispel that myth).

No, it is quite the opposite: God is fully present at the margins lavishing grace upon those, who in their own eyes or the eyes of the world, do not ‘deserve’ it; God is in the confusion and the lostness, being fully present to us, wrapping his love around us like a warm blanket on a cold night.

So this Christmas, I challenge you to ‘surrender but never give up’ – to stop wrestling with God and start nestling with God, to let his grace pour over you, lavishly, unexpectedly, and with reckless abandon.

I challenge all of us to surrender to the ‘sloppiness’ of God’s love shown to us in Jesus.

So, let’s all go love and live, basking in the grace that is found at the margins and in the manger, knowing that in Jesus we are totally accepted and completely acceptable.

Now that’s…Amazing…Grace.

Author’s Note: Today is the Winter Solstice – the shortest day in terms or actual daylight.  So in honor of the Creator’s grand order of changing Seasons and in celebrating them, I offer these poems.

 

Winter Night

Autumn is slumbering into winter,
messy and graceful like God’s ongoing
Advent within us.

And the World stands
Still, again
and Silent
Like it did once on a Holy Night
thousands of years ago.

 

 

Winter Solstice Luna

Brilliant ivory friend of mine,
rising with quiet passion over the
midnight mountains…
you, all fecund…
me, all lost, empty and searching…
You light my way, oh gracious Luna,
Lighting the splendid darkness of my
night with Divine light.

 

 

Gift

The late afternoon sky reminded
me of old, worn out bones,
ashen gray but  filled with a holy Spirit,
mine and God’s.

and I wondered if my life would be as
much of a gift to those who have
been such a Gift to me…

 

Luke 1:26-38 (New American Bible)

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”  And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.  And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”

Mary said, “Behold, I am the [slave] of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

We are deep into the season known as Advent.  For some it means nothing, for others it means presents and ornaments and family gatherings, for others still it is painful, full of sadness, remorse loneliness and fear.

Advent is supposed to be about HOPE – the hope of a coming Messiah promising liberation, the Hope of a new year, the hope of a life full of abundance and community.

For many hope is lacking; for others it is found in material things; for others still it is found in the still, small voice calling us deeper into divine love, deeper into ourselves, deeper into each other.

Few people talk about the underpinnings of this Advent Hope – that it is both dangerous and wild.

We can try all we want to tame this wild and dangerous Hope that comes during Christmas.  We can tame it with pageants, public creche scenes, ‘Xmas’ parties and Black Friday, but nothing can take away the edge-like danger and hope revealed in the story of Advent – the birth of the Messiah (God in flesh pitching his tent among us) taking on the vulnerable stature of a newborn infant born to an unwed, teenage Hebrew virgin, and this under the duress of an occupying empire; and then add to that the Annunciation herald was that this newborn infant would be the Savior of the world. If that is not disturbingly dangerous and wildly hopeful, I don’t know what it.

The account of Mary and the ‘annunciation’ of Jesus by Luke the Physician reminds me of just how much we need Wild Hope right now!  The Annunciation is all about the paradoxical power of God to bring such Hope into the dark times and dark recesses of our hearts and days. And God is all about Wild Hope!

It is Wild Hope because we are given the momentous news that Messiah is being born anew in the world, into our lives, and into our hearts – for he is the same yesterday, today and forever. And if you really ponder this, it is just insane: God longs to come into our lives and live in and through us!  There is no rational explanation why God would dare enter such a profane vessel as myself, or you, none whatsoever aside from pure, unconditional Love.

And that truth is indeed Wild Hope.

This story of the birth of Jesus is also an example of one of the few times God shows bold rudeness (forgive my anthropomorphizing of God here) as well because as we remember and celebrate the birth of Messiah, we must also remember that God did not actually ask Mary’s permission to enter her! God did not ‘knock at the door’ and ask polite permission if he could come and turn her world upside down. Go did not wait for us to ask for permission so he could come into and alter the human world.  Nope.  God just did it. That is crazy love and wild hope.

I mean, if an angel of God came to me and said, “Niles, I am going to flip the world on its head through you, so have faith” and then up and disappeared leaving me to ponder such words. Well, you and the head shrinkers would have a field day with me – “he’s paranoid schizophrenic, or bipolar; quick, let’s put him on meds and get him stabilized stat!”  Praise God that he did not decide to come to Blessed Mary in 2016, for she would surely be institutionalized, analyzed, medicated, and patronized – thrown away and forgotten about with all the other marginalized people living with chronic mental illness.

But no, God just sends an angel (that alone would freak me out) and says to Mary, “you are Blessed among women and I am going to use you to change the world and I am going to do it by coming into your very being, your holy Womb, and birthing the miracle of all miracles.” How utterly and unabashedly rude of God. God asked for no permission, no invitation sent weeks early via the mail with an RSVP envelope, no Evite, no Facebook updates, no Tweets. None. Well, how dare God? Just Who does this God think he is? What does Mary get: a divine message sent by a divine messenger to a teenager whose audacious response was “be it done to me according to Your will.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but I know quite a few 14 year olds and they can’t even answers politely when asked to pick up their clothes, much less respond with such faith and grace when they are given earth-shattering and world changing truths.

Now that is Wild Hope, my friends!

God chooses a poor, unwed Hebrew teenage girl to bring about the greatest and wildest Hope the world has ever been given.  How much lower can you go on the social class sphere?  And the good news here is this Hope is still living and loving today, for this Wild Hope is not just a notion or an idea. No, this Hope is a resurrected person and his name is Jesus.

What is still mind-boggling, so utterly precocious, about this is the Wild Hope of God is still coming, interrupting our lives, giving his love to us and to a well-worn world still teetering on the edges and yet pregnant with desire.

The Wild Hope of God is still coming in bold compassion, coming into hearts and minds, disconcertingly flipping us and our world on its head.  God’s Wild Hope is still rudely loving those we do not think are worthy of his love, forgiving those we do not think forgivable, showering messy grace and lavish mercy to those we would rather punish and ignore.

Yes, Wild Hope is still coming to us, without permission, planting wild dreams and desires in our hearts, asking us to trust the pregnant expectancy of Divine Visitation.

God’s Wild Hope is still blowing our minds first and foremost by saying “I am Emmanuel” (God is with us) and I love you more than life itself! Wild Hope is still coming, being born anew in the living mangers of our hearts, filling them with radical grace and love. The true Wild Hope – Jesus – is pouring out faith over fear, beckoning us to come and do something “Wild” for Him.

 

 

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