The Social Justice of Silence

by Brian Cole

Read
“The grace of Easter is a great silence, an immense tranquility, and a clean taste in your soul. It is the taste of heaven, but not the heaven of some wild exaltation. The Easter of the soul is not riot and drunkenness of spirit, but a discovery of order—above all, order—a discovery of God and all things in him. This is a wine without intoxication, a joy that has no poison hidden in it. It is life without death.”

-The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton

Reflect
In case you haven’t heard, silence is in right now. Especially for Episcopalians, there’s no prayer like Centering Prayer.

I say this as one who practices Centering Prayer, often embodying the stereotype—Buddhist bell by my Bible, with icons and unscented candles all at the ready, inviting the small circle that gathers each week at my church into silence. They will know we are Christians because our eyes are shut and we are sitting straight up in our chairs, right?

There is much to commend regarding silence and the use of silence in prayer. However, a recent a Sunday New York Times Magazine article from March 26, 2015 entitled, “Inside America’s Toughest Federal Prison,” was an important reminder that the setting for silence is crucial. Silence, as it is experienced in solitary confinement, as a form of punishment, is damaging and degrading. Over time, the mental health of a person subjected to solitary confinement is severely put at risk.

Silence that is isolating, that cuts us off from community, that reminds us of deep loneliness or longing, that is forced on us without knowledge of when it will cease, is no grace. Rather, it is a hell without noise.

The silence that heals, that calls out the “grace of Easter” mentioned in Merton’s writing, is available to us only when freedom is also present.

The use and abuse of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons is not a “time out” in order for reflection on behavior. Rather, it destroys time, and degrades the person made in the image of God, regardless of what wrong they have committed.

This Easter season, as I sit in silence with others for Centering Prayer in common space, I am particularly mindful of the luxury of the act. I know when the silence will begin. And because I keep one eye on the watch, I know when it will end.

When the silence ends, it will still be Easter. However, where silence is used to hurt and harm, the Resurrection must seem like some far-off dream, only offered to the lucky few.

Respond
Consider your neighborhood, parish, and the places you travel during the week. Who do you know that lives alone and is cut off from community, whose silence is not freeing, but imprisoning? What acts can you offer to share with them the great silence of Easter (which may include a conversation with them)?

Love, Light, and Life

by Mary Wright Baylor

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Love, Light, Life

Reflect
Entitled, “Love, Light, Life,” this gorgeous image was painted for me by a young woman I was privileged to know in my work as a pastoral care nurse. It adorned the cover of a tender note she wrote in the midst of a terrible storm of depression that she suffered for twenty years. Yes, TWENTY years. No remission at all for 2-0 years. Beautiful, witty, bright, inquisitive, and faithful, she was so incapacitated that she could not work. She was hospitalized 14 times including one stay in cardiac intensive care due to complications of a new drug. Multiple rounds of electroshock therapy did little for her other than to make her foggy and forgetful, but she was willing to try anything. Though often suicidal, somehow she always hung on. Her faith (and her extraordinary psychiatrist) kept her alive in the long dark tunnel of this merciless mental illness.

Desperate for any relief and yet hopeful for a life worth living, she sought out new treatments across the country. Eventually, she was eligible for an experimental clinical trial involving brain surgery for deep brain stimulation at a medical research center halfway across the country. Despite the risks without guarantee of any improvement, she felt it was her only option. As expected, the surgery was arduous; she emerged in the recovery room with a shaved head, huge incision, and throbbing headache. But almost immediately, she could tell a difference. As her hair grew back, So did her hopes. She began to feel her spirits lifting. As the incision healed, she knew that the depression was finally in remission.  Love, Light, Life.

Miraculously, now a number of years since her surgery, she has continued to improve. In her words, “I am a Resurrection story.” She profoundly believes that the grace of God delivered her to this new dawn. She works full time, travels and continues with her artwork. Indeed, her colorful image above was prophetic that someday, she would emerge from her dark tunnel. Love, Light, and Life awaited her.

Permission granted by the artist to share her work and her story.

Respond
Using color (pens, markers, crayons, or paints) illustrate your own interpretation of “Love, Light, and Life” in your life.

 

Come On, Get Angry

by Megan Castellan

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My Sweet, Crushed Angel 
You have not danced so badly, my dear,
Trying to hold hands with the Beautiful One.
You have waltzed with great style,
My sweet, crushed angel,
To have ever neared God’s heart at all.
Our Partner is notoriously difficult to follow,
And even His best musicians are not always easy
To hear.
So what if the music has stopped for a while.
So what
If the price of admission to the Divine
Is out of reach tonight.
So what, my dear,
If you do not have the ante to gamble for Real Love.
The mind and the body are famous
For holding the heart ransom,
But Hafiz knows the Beloved’s eternal habits.
Have patience,
For He will not be able to resist your longing
For Long.
You have not danced so badly, my dear,
Trying to kiss the Beautiful One.
You have actually waltzed with tremendous style,
O my sweet,
O my sweet crushed angel.

– Hafiz

Reflect
How do you believe in God and watch the news at the same time?–the perennial question, and more pressing than ever now that our access to information has grown so instantaneous and so vast.

CS Lewis, St. John of the Cross, any mystic worth their salt, speaks of the spiritual life as having peaks and valleys.  Periods where you travel through a desert, then you find an oasis again.

One day you are bathed in the immediate, felt, certainty of God’s goodness and presence.  Everything around you sings divine praise; everything that happens is clearly working together for the glory of those that love God. The next day, your certainty has evaporated–humanity hardly seems worth it, and everywhere are signs of our imminent destruction.

In a tradition that mandates we read about Thomas each year, and that has preserved the story of Judas for so long, I find it curious that we don’t discuss more openly how to navigate these desert places in our spiritual lives.  Why don’t we admit that they are there? Why is our recourse so often to try to force faith through an act of will?  Denial never produces faith–it just produces ulcers and some creepy smiles.

Thomas, on the other hand, hearkens back to another famously frustrated person in the scriptures: Job.  In the stories of both Thomas and Job, neither one resorted to denial to remedy their frustrations with God.  Job vented his anger to God for 40+ chapters (occasionally in some pretty blasphemous terms).  Thomas folded his arms, stamped his foot, and got snarky with the other disciples about THEIR faith.

Yet, in both cases, God shows up.  God shows up, talks to Job and responds to him, affirming his right to argue with the Divine.  The risen Christ shows up especially for Thomas, so Thomas can believe like the other disciples do.

Having a mature relationship with God demands that we not just praise God when we’re full of faith, but that we argue, and we talk back to God when we aren’t.  God is big.  God can take it.  And God will show up.

Respond
Are you in a desert place?  Write a letter to God of the things that have been bothering you.

God’s Creation

by Neva Rae Fox

Read
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
Psalm 95

Reflect
The Psalmist is praising the greatness of God for the environment and all the earth.  Psalm 95 chronicles the creations of God – from the depths of the seas to the tops of the mountains, from the wet waters to the dry lands.

For too many years, humans have ignored the greatness of God in this world and on this earth.  For too many years, we’ve paid the price of our conspicuous consumption with the eradication of plants and rainforests, and the elimination, extinction or severe endangerment of animals on the earth, in the sea and in the air.

In a few short days we will observe Earth Day 2015.  Earth Day has been celebrated on April 22 since 1970. Forty-five years later, and we still need to set aside a day to honor the earth. Forty-five years later and humans still have not taken adequate steps to keep the earth healthy and green and growing.

Earth Day isn’t a religious holiday, but it honors the works of God, and it is a means of recognizing our responsibility to maintain God’s beautiful works.

Respond
We are facing an environmental crisis.  We can do something about it – there is still time, but we need to act now. Take time to reflect on what your carbon footprint says about yourself.  Have you taken steps to protect, secure and save the earth that God has made?  Every person – whether as an individual or in groups, communities, or congregations – can make an effort.  A little effort can go a long way.

Sign up for 30 Days of Action, developed by the Episcopal Church to empower each of us and our communities of faith as we care for God’s Creation.  Celebrate earth Day 2015 by making a personal commitment to honor God and his earthly creations.

Being Unfinished

by Ryan Shrauner

Read
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

Reflect
Year after year I am struck by how industrious our churches have become at seasons of preparation (Advent, Lent) and how wretched they are at seasons of realization (Christmastide and Eastertide). How easily we embrace the one and neglect the other. How quick we are to fast and how reticent we are to feast. Why can we not abide abiding, resting in the joy of what God has done for us?

Children are always growing. By far, the most common thing family, friends, and acquaintances say to my son is some variation about how big he is. He has often been accused of “growing overnight” (although there is next to no solid data to validate this claim). Maybe this is one way of conceiving of us as children of God; while we like to think of ourselves as all grown up, in reality we are God’s children now, still growing:  “what we will be has not yet been revealed.”

Perhaps the reason we are restless and un-abiding is that we are unable (and unwilling) to sit still for very long. Perhaps we buck against the celebratory seasons of the church like Easter and Christmas because we sense deeply that we are unfinished, even in the light of Jesus’ Incarnation and Resurrection. Perhaps we sense that there is much purification to be done to live into the hope that we share.

The only imperative in this reading to “[s]ee what love the Father has give us”. All the rest is description. This may be a most difficult thing for us who are fidgety children.

Respond
Practice seeing the love that has been given to you. Name the love present in your life now, and cultivate a practice of naming this love in prayer and thanksgiving. It will serve you well when he is revealed and we will be like him.

 

Signs of Life

by Martha Spong

Read
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:26-28, NRSV)

Reflect
When I was a little girl growing up in Virginia, I expected spring but did not appreciate it fully. Surely the Easter season would be filled with the sunshine of jonquils, the fragrance of lilies, the buzz of bees around the azalea bushes. Surely the crape myrtle in our backyard would blossom, its pink flowers adorning a slender, pale silver trunk. I relied on these things.

In my twenties, I moved to Maine, where I learned the hard way that spring could not be taken for granted. March went by, a season of muddy snow melt adorned by bare forsythia branches. April came and went, bringing rain and more mud and, in a good year, crocuses peeping through the fresh snow. What happened to Easter flowers? You could buy them at the florist, and we adorned the church with them, but outdoors remained grey.

Finally, as May matured, I smelled a heady fragrance: lilacs. I began to see them everywhere around Portland. Here was a pink one, and there a white. Some purples are pinkish, but the most beautiful are almost blue. When their blossoms fell, suddenly we had summer; our brief Spring had passed.

I found this discouraging at first, but over the 25 years I lived in the Northeast, I came to treasure the signposts of our short spring: each eager crocus, each hardy tulip, each home-forced branch of forsythia made its effort. For some of us, the Resurrection will always be a work-in-progress.

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Respond
How goes your Easter season? Are the great 50 days lavish and abundant? Or are you poking your head up cautiously like a tiny purple crocus? Look around your world today for signs of new life. Take a picture of something that surprises you and share on our Facebook or Twitter sites with #signsoflife