Easter with Benedict and the Creation’s Hope

Happy Easter! The season of Alleluia returns, and our prayers can finally sing with the coming of spring.  Here in Northern Michigan we are just starting to feel the warmth.  The last thin layers of ice on the bay have thawed, and there is even a little green poking through the grays and browns of winter’s remains.

The weather of the world is even starting to feel a little different.  And the Rule of Benedict makes some allowances for the turn of seasons with adjustments to food, wine, and time.  Even the times of prayers shift with the seasons.

We are not mechanical, and our time is not mechanized, though it often feels that way with the watches and phones of our common life.  We are so often driven by calendars and times that are set with no regard for the organic nature of life.  It is easy to forget that we are cyclical and seasonal beings by design.

God made us to live on the earth, which makes sense as caretakers and keepers of Creation called to bear God’s image and love in the world.  We are set to live in synchronicity with the seasons and changes of the natural world.  Benedict could recognize that fifteen centuries ago, and so can we.

Often we think of faith in these mechanized ways that come with the setting of our religious clocks and calendars and letting them run on and on without regard for the natural flux and flow of life.  Our faith becomes another modern deafness to the world we are called to live in and love.

One way to claim these days of glory is to let our lives get grounded again in the natural rhythms of nature, turning down lights after sunset and avoiding the florescence we rely on in the days of darkness.  Get outside or let the outside world in with open windows and doors.

Another important piece is our language.  Pray the natural world.  Our Book of Common Prayer is filled with natural images and prayers soaked in the natural world.  Let that language inform your personal prayers.  Glorify God for the natural world, giving care and attention to the land and rivers and rocks and trees, for the changes in seasons, and for the light, which I always take for granted (to say the least) after decades in the desert glare.

O Creator of the earth and skies, we your stewards and keepers of the world and word give you thanks for the changes of seasons and the coming of the light.  Remind us always of the true light of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who breathed his Spirit into us at his resurrection to continue the healing and redeeming of your world.  Give us such a love for your creation and your creatures that we may see your love’s dominion in our world and may love your children with pure devotion and leave our children with a world more full of life, light, and grace until that day when your dominion is whole and heaven and earth made whole, through your Son Jesus Christ our Risen Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit are one God, now and always. Amen.

Alleluia.

Rule of Grace – Chapter 2

Our new life begins in baptism, where we are made children of God and heirs of the Rule of our Abba.  This great and holy calling comes with a real danger to see that God’s covenant was with us, but did Jesus not say as the elder repeats week after week in the Eucharist, “This is my blood of the new covenant shed for you and for the crowd for the forgiveness of sins.”  Or did Paul not say, “For while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Were not all sinners?  Yes, as Paul had just affirmed in his letter to the Romans.  Salvation is not for the few, but for the whole earth.

And this is not dependent on us, for as God says seven times in the covenant with the whole earth after the flood, this covenant is made with all flesh, all creation, but it is dependent on God.

We humans have often become tribal in our survival thinking, our flesh thinking, that we roll back God’s calling and covenant to be about us.  This sin was what brought the temple down and has led to sin time and time again.  Indeed privation of good is how philosophers often describe evil.  When we take God’s covenant and make it personal only we are on the road away from the New Jerusalem and we have tossed Christ’s yoke from our necks.

It often shows up in the simplest of errors, greeting only our fellow Christians, our friends, in the marketplace.  Soon we are protecting ourselves from the very people we are called into new life for!

The followers of Jesus are to be a house of prayer for all the nations.  We are a royal priesthood.  And what does a priesthood do except represent God to the world and present the world to God!

We did not earn our belonging to God.  We came home like the prodigal son; perhaps we expect to become servants again, but to be returned to our true created status seems to good to even dream.  Did we earn it?  No, if anything we have earned our condemnation, if we are to follow Paul’s logic.  But this only makes sense if we understand the whole and holy good love that we have walked away from.

If God is the God of the so much of our theology, the angry score-keeping sacrifice-needing god of the pagan systems of sacrifice that has often replaced YHWH, especially in the deserts, then we would be brave to escape.  We would be heroic to flee from such a god to the worship of self and pleasure.  But oh, this misses the gospel by a mile or more!

We can only be said to have offended God if God is good.  We have to know our true blessing to understand the offense.  We have to return to ourselves to understand how far we have fallen from our true nature.  This is what the “depravity of man” theology can totally miss.  We were not created in sin.  We were created in goodness, in blessedness, in order to be the blessing of God in the world.  If we are to return to ourselves, we must see how we have become a blessing only to our self in our pursuit of pleasure, comfort, personal happiness.  The tragedy is that in being a blessing only to ourselves, we have become a curse to ourselves.

This seems heavy handed in the world of self-worship. But it is simple.  We were created for a purpose, to love God and care for creation including each other.  We were meant to bear the image of a creative Creator in love to others.  When we turn that to our self alone, we are like hunting doges kept in apartments, destructive creatures who are deeply unhappy.  We destroy things seeking the true nature of our purpose.

O, unhappy fate, to be a Vizsla in a city apartment!  We eat couches and chairs, dig up the furniture, and terrorize the cat looking for one moment of deep satisfaction.  We make do with the small walks in the park of worship on Sunday when we are meant to run, to stalk, and pursue through the great hunting lands of Hungary!

Let us admit that a deeper purpose is calling us.  In our pursuit let us turn our search outward to the welcome and service of others.  Let us worship the good God, creator and Abba, YHWH who is always beyond our grasp but who welcomes us home in open arms; and let us study God’s ways in the Scriptures and in our deepest selves, in tradition, the apostle’s teachings and in fellowship.  Let us look outward to our world, that God loves and Christ died for.

In practice, take a person, any person on the street, that you can see, and practice seeing them as God’s child, beloved.  Can you see God’s delight in them?

Begin your day the same way, remembering who you are.  Come to your self daily as a child of God among God’s children.  Sit up straight, breathe deeply, and delight in our Abba who delights in you.  This is the right beginning to set us on the way of salvation.

Do not be discouraged when you realize how far you have wandered from your calling, God is waiting for your return.  The road may be short or long, but God will put a ring on your finger and sandals on your feet.  He will put you again under the mantle of Christ your savior.  Breathe deep and start walking.

This Rule is Only a Beginning of Perfection

The reason we have written this rule is that, by observing it in monasteries, we can show that we have some degree of virtue and the beginning of monastic life.  Ch. 73 of the Rule of Benedict

Where would we begin a Rule for the local church?  I think this question is vital for our time.  Benedict begins his prologue with “Listen, my son, to the instructions of a master . . . ” but his first chapter begins with a description of the kinds of monks and so what kind of life he is addressing.  What equivalent place would we begin?

I think I would begin the instruction to any church with a basic orientation to the Rule of God revealed in Christ.  But again, so large a thing must be taken in bites.  I would begin the Rule with God, who is this God revealed in Christ?  I have written about that here on Hidden Habits several times.  But I think with that basic theological statement must come the two anthropological statements of Scripture, that God loves humanity and that we have a calling in the world to be God’s image, God’s children, emissaries.

In the Christianity of our day, those two statements seem most important for unity and clarity.  Unity because, whatever else we may define ourselves by, we are all claiming by the name that we are following Jesus.  Clarity because we must define carefully who we are talking to and what we assume behind our talking.

Christians are baptized into the body of Christ, into the Spirit of God, given new life, new humanity, and new covenant.  But we are called into the world that God loves and that Christ died for, that the Spirit created and will someday renew completely.  We are not enemies of the world.  If the world does not love us, it is because it does not love Christ, but that doesn’t change that Christ died for it and rose again.  We are to love the world doggedly, relentlessly, because we belong to Christ, because we have faith in God, because we trust the Spirit to provide all we need.

Our Rule is only an agreement of how we will work together, how we will give flesh and goals to this way of living.  It does not guarantee perfection, in deed it cannot.  We will fail.  That is okay.  The love of God is not dependent on our ability to meet expectations, thank God.  What else could be meant by,  “. . . while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  But we are not to remain as we are, but rather to be transformed by the Spirit at work within us, and the Rule at work without.

So with these parameters, let us begin our Rule:

There is one God, the Creator who made us and who is made known to us in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.  God loves the world and has set us free in Christ and is renewing us in his Spirit to be a royal priesthood, a people set apart to bear God’s image of love, grace, forgiveness, justice and peace in the world.  We are to be a people of prayer who know and love God and serve the world calling the whole creation back to the Creator, living in the resurrection that has begun in our Lord.

There are seven activities for every one who would follow this Rule with us as we seek to live into the Rule of God as revealed in Jesus and held by the church.  We are to be a people of witness and stewardship, who welcome, worship, study and serve in the name of Christ, living not for ourselves alone but for him who died and rose for us.

Here at Grace, we are a congregation within the Episcopal branch of that great mustard plant of the church.  We are shaped by its worship, doctrine, and discipline, and we hold that this church is and must be in continuity with the root stock of God in Christ and the teachings and fellowship of the apostles.  We affirm baptism in water and the Holy Spirit as the only entrance into the church and the eucharist meal as the sign and seal of our life and discipleship in Jesus the Christ.

So what do you think?  What would you change?  How would you begin a Rule for a community in our day and age?

A Coffee Connoisseur (Snob) Thinks about Creation and Creativity

So two weeks ago I was drinking a freshly roasted, and dark enough for a change on my small roaster, Sumatra Mandehling from a Chemex filter in a Hario v60 pour-over filter holder.  It was good but really overly refined for a Sumatra coffee.

You see, Sumatra coffees are famously funky; grown on volcanic soil and notoriously poorly sorted has meant that for more than twenty years there has been a sort of typical Sumatran flavor that was reliable crop to crop.  Some of that was due to, of course, to the unique growing conditions of the tropical South Pacific Island and its volcanic soil.  But, a great deal of the earthy and unpredictably unstable quality was due to the coffee being mostly grown and picked on small family lots or yards and poorly picked through leading to a diverse lot of beans that varied in color, size, and density.

These days, a lot has changed.  Twenty or more years of success in the market has meant that Sumatra has better coffee growing conditions, better pay to farmers, and more strict quality control measures than twenty years ago when I first had a cup of coffee that was single origin designated.

That cup was darker, more uneven, and had a wild quality that took that funk that I would describe as orange clay earthiness and layered in complexity with bright overtones and periodic notes of white orchid aromas and pungent citrus that was just short of the sharp smack in the face of grapefruit.  The overall quality was wild and dark, like being chased through a dense forest by an unseen tiger.

These days Sumatran coffees are more regularized. They have a more sophisticated, straight forward predictability.  It is ecotourism compared to my fearful flight from the teeth of that clay come to life in stripes.  This is advancement.  Everyone involved is benefitting from these advancements, but I cannot help but miss that cup that first captivated and chased me two decades ago.

I have an odd memory for flavor, I guess, but this moderated coffee has reminded me of Epictetus’s maxim that you can’t step in the same river twice.  Now he had never eaten at a McDonald’s, but he lived at a time when the world was still wilder, even than now.  Though it should be noted that the trees of Greece were already being lamented by other voices.

Coffee is a fruit, an organic substance that is grown not manufactured, and it changes lot to lot, season to season.  I cannot ever have that original cup of Sumatran Mandehling, even if I could find the exact yard those beans were grown in, could process them the same way, and brewed on the same machine.  Not one stage of that hypothetical is remotely possible.

How many pursuits in life are a search for that moment when something magical happened, when the right set of circumstances came together in a perfect moment of revelation?  Life is a river that moves and dances, always with new circumstances coming upstream or down, with new growth on the banks, new animals and fish, different climate effected by volcanoes or factories a world away.  Everything moves, and the water for my coffee is not the same today either.

Life is never caught, never repeatable.  We remember but from a constantly new place.  Even our memory is created.  I am God-obsessed and think God must be a weaver at the loom of creation, moving the shuttle of this moment across billions upon billions of threads, pulling together themes and re-tying broken or lost or ended lines.  Every single moment the coming together of a universe in a verse of the song of creation, a line in the poem of making.

This cup of coffee is a new thing, a taste of the creation coming together from several places in the world all at once.  Water from a cold Great Lake watershed, beans from a yard turned field on a tropical volcano side, gathered by locals and sold to a processor from Milwaukee who wanted to do good, who shipped by way of a freighter from Norway whose Chinese captain now claims Canada or Oakland as home, delivered by American men of so many descents they are a confusion of history to my father’s warehouse in Mississippi, where I bagged them up myself, unaware of how much of the world went into that bag of burlap.

Yes, I roasted them at home on a small roaster that it takes forever to get up to heat in our midwestern fall as the snow drifts over my green yard for the first time this year, and I recalled that first cup of Sumatran coffee I ever had two decades ago.

Dear reader, I hope you are a creator.  We are children of the God of the Loom, makers and creative caretakers of the world.  You were designed to work the loom of creation, bringing together threads and themes in new and fascinating ways, whether you are making a cup of coffee or teaching children or running an office or painting a landscape.

You are a maker.  Creation is the work of weaving the threads of the existing world and its constant changes and movements into new moments of creativity.  A businessman looks at the people in his office and, knowing them, weaves a marketing plan that utilizes their unique skills and abilities and personalities to enable clients to reach potentials that would be impossible without his imagination and prophecy.  A craftswoman takes a file to a rough metal housing and shapes the sounds of a concert pianist fingers from force to force of sound through miles of metal cord.  What will you do with the raw clay before you? What breath will you breathe into creation?  You have been given the breath of God at your making, O little creator, O child of God.

Make something new.

Taste and see that the LORD is good. Psalm 34:8

*Take a look at our family business.   Coffee Bean Corral:  You can find Sumatra coffee and all the stuff a maker of coffee needs, including roasters there.