>"…Star differs from star in glory…"

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(Vincent Van Gogh, “Starry Night over the Rhone,” 1888)

I Corinthians 15:40-44:

“There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body.”

I had a magnificent set of evenings over Memorial Day weekend sitting out among the moon and the stars–even sleeping out all night in my yard one night, it was so glorious–and seeing the lightning bugs begin their summer debut for the season. It was simply a magnificent weekend to be a speck in God’s Universe. The sheer size and awesome timelessness of the “big” things in nature–the sky, the stars, the ocean, just to name a few–have always been the major spiritual grounding rods for me, my entire life. People just don’t do it for me the way nature does.

I looked at the stars these last few nights and pondered the paradoxical dance that “people” seem to occupy in my existence, thinking how each star, in its own way, is its own “person.” How like the stars in the sky, we are called to community, and how each of us in our own way feels called to individuals in that community. Yet for me, the paradox has always been nothing gets my goat like people sometimes. I can only handle people for so long, and then that secular monastic in me takes over and I retreat to my safe hermitage of my country life. There is my daily retreat from work, as well as “add on” forms like my occasional “silent Saturday morning,” and my “stay-cation retreats where I never leave home.” Yet I never feel “un-called” to be a part of a community. When I am home alone, after a certain amount of time enjoying my alone-ness, I think of what it is I am supposed to “do next” when I enter back into community. When I am in that community, after a while I start daydreaming of what I want to do next in my “alone time.” Each needs the other, and truthfully, each feeds the other.

On one of those nights, I sat out and thought about different people with each star–what they were experiencing in their lives, and how it is that I am supposed to combine with them to light up the sky, yet maintain my own individual “star-ness.” Each one of us with the incarnational light of God within us, but manifested in so many unique ways.

There seem to be at least three kinds of stars in my life experience. Most valued are the “stars I can always see”–for instance, in the winter, I can always find the constellation Orion, and in the summer I can always fix my gaze on Scorpio. They are like the people in my life who have now been my friends for three decades or more. How we relate to each other has changed drastically over the years–sometimes not even close to the roles in which our relationships started out–but we somehow can always adjust. Sometimes their light is very intense and intimate in my life, and vice versa; other times, the light is dimmer. But they are constants. They are appreciated for both their longevity and their versatility.

Then there are the stars that once were a major focus, but I now no longer pay much attention to. I really don’t pay much attention to the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, or the North Star itself, per se. But there was a time I always looked for them. They are like the people who were once very involved and intimate in my life–old lovers, intense best friends, etc.–and somehow no longer figure much into the tapestry other than to be a thread once cherished, but no longer. Some of these fizzled out in a supernova of conflict, whereas others just sort of atrophied and slowly burned to extinction. Sometimes their light returns–but it is almost never of the same intensity that it once was, nor does my need to tend to that light return with the same intensity. I appreciate those stars for the history they have given me, even if it includes hard lessons.

Finally, there are the stars I just got around to noticing, like the time I first recognized all of Ursa Major, rather than just its “dipper.” The first time I realized the dipper could be converted to a bear, it was an exciting time. It made the sky seem a little bigger than it used to be. I think about the gifts and talents in people I just now got around to appreciating in people who have been around me all along, or about the new people that come into my life over the years, and something about them challenge me to tend their light and let them tend mine. I appreciate those stars because they represent hope and promise.

Even the stars are perishable–which enhances my knowledge that people are perishable. It makes me understand the urgency of the Gospel of Mark, and in Paul’s letters. If even stars are perishable, then people definitely are. Yet timelessness and infinity rides within all of them. What a beautiful, but messy, dance it all is!

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>Breaking up the big freeze

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(Photo from the author of Staying Awake)

Job 28:25-30:

Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain, and a way for the thunderbolt, 26to bring rain on a land where no one lives, on the desert, which is empty of human life, 27to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put forth grass? 28“Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? 29From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven? 30The waters become hard like stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.

If you’re wondering what the photograph above is, it’s a rather up close and personal view of the auger blades of the new snow blower our church recently purchased. This was something that we went back and forth on for years on whether it was “worth it” to purchase one. We would bring it up now and then at church, and rarely at vestry meetings, and then always talk ourselves out of it. “Oh, we could buy it, and end up only using it once or twice some winters. It’s just another thing to break down.”

Another problem is, I’m the person who normally shovels the snow, partially because I’m the junior warden, but partially because I have always enjoyed the quiet time doing it, in a “monastic work” sort of way. For most folks, the snow magically disappeared, so the need for a snow blower didn’t seem apparent. Since I liked doing it, and I had the time, it was not a big deal.

Last year, however, things changed. I started having less time, as some things with my work schedule changed. Also, for some reason, we always seemed to have snow on Friday or Saturday, and last winter it was almost like every Saturday I was shoveling, to get church ready for Sunday. For a lot of reasons, it got to be something that started “owning me.” I had created an expectation that was partly real, partly my own projections of others’ expectations upon me, and partly a few real expectations that I get it done to a certain set of specifics. I started being in situations where I had been tied down at the last minute and had to hurry through the job, and was feeling certain levels of disapproval now and then. It made me feel caught in the middle, knowing what I needed but really uncomfortable to say so.

I realized a snow blower would make my life easier, but I had a lot of reasons why I felt “now’s not the time to ask.” So I didn’t. I could have asked others to help, but I seldom did. My life (at least on the weekends) is more flexible than folks who are “householders.” I didn’t feel right asking others to change their plans on the weekends for something I used to have time to be solely responsible for. I also knew you can only cry “help” so many times before people get tired of it.

But you know the old saying…”better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t know.” So, like the ice that collects on the sidewalks, I was “frozen.” Frozen as in that passage in Job. It wasn’t a crisis, it wasn’t even anything that I can put my finger on as good/bad/indifferent. It was just frozen. I was okay with the job (I like the exercise, frankly), but the time frames were freezing me in place and freezing my imagination. I could not bring myself to ask the church for a snow blower. I was afraid it would seem “all about me.” After all, I would be the one to use it 95% of the time.

It took our interim priest to point it out. He was quite surprised that the church in the northernmost reaches of our diocesese, the place in the diocese “most likely to get snow”, didn’t own a snow blower. He simply said, “you all need to get one.” So we did.

Take a look at that picture of the auger blades. That thing breaks up the ice like you would not believe! We got a good snow blower, a two stage one, that has a powerful auger and a blower driven by a powerful motor. What I discovered is, well, honestly, driving it is a blast! It has taken what used to be a two hour job and turned it into a 45 minute job for me.

But the truth was, “the face of my deep was frozen.” It took an outside observer to see it, and to give me permission to ask for what I needed.

How many times in our own prayer lives are we afraid to ask for something for ourselves? How many times do we get ourselves in a life rut, and accept it, often even without complaint or an awareness that it IS a rut, until the rut becomes so deep it’s hard to drive out of it? The heck of it is, so many times, we would do it gladly and willingly. We might not be a single bit resentful of the rut. But we freeze. We convince ourselves, “it’s just not gonna happen, so why wish for what you know you can’t have?” We are mostly content and occasionally unhappy. It’s not “that bad,” so we don’t worry about it.

This, I believe, is the value of the prayers of others. It’s the value of a community of faith. What we no longer see as us having a need for “deliverance,” others see right away. It’s easy to see the “major” things from which we need to be delivered. But the “minor” ones are more obscure, more veiled. We might not see them, but those who care for us and pray about us, do. In that “seeing the frozen parts of others,” we deliver them…and they deliver us. Those “minor deliverances” add up, and our being relieved of them renews not just our souls, but the souls of those who care for us–thanks be to God!