I had heard of it before, views where earth meets sky at every degree of 360, but I think I had never seen it. It never occurred to me that mountains, hills, and forests, block your view. I always thought they were the view. It never occurred to me that sky could be seen by looking straight ahead. Pittsburgh was all mountains and valleys, everywhere. To see the sky, we had to look up. Hence, “the dome”.
And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
We see, breathe, take flight, and lie down at night, in the context of the dome. We are ever and always, sleeping or waking, present to and stirring through the dome, while never actually seeing it. The dome is as ethereal as the element we call Air, the element that breathes, sways, inspires, fills, moves, lifts and gives us life. Air is the element that is seen only by what it animates, like the hair on your arm, the leaves on a tree, or Adam, when Adam became a living being. We can see the air by how it takes a shape, in a balloon, or in a lung. We can smell it, by its lifting of a scent and wafting it our way, or we can hear it by its rapid vibration with humming bird wing or violin quartet. We feel it on our skin when someone whispers in our ear. Always, its effects, rather than the thing itself. Dust mites, in a shaft of light, float. Such is God when we find God in the elements of creation, and it makes us call Air: Holy Spirit.
Air is every moment, our holy necessity. God, from one breath to the next without thought, or intent, the dynamic of inhale and exhale, a sort of Holy Spirit resting sustaining presence. God is the effervescence in a toast, a sort of Holy Spirit joy. God, the encapsulated fullness of a child’s bubble blowing, or the lift of a dragon fly wing, a sort of Holy Spirit playing. God is the saying of our names out loud when we are brought into being, a sort of Holy Spirit animation. We gasp for air in our birthing and in our dying. This gasp for God . . . this cry for Holy Spirit. This subconscious want for God. This constant rest in Holy presence; this laughter, this joy, this play and our coming to life, with Holy Spirit.
The poet who penned Psalm 104 says that God wears light as a cloak, and stretches out the sky, for his tent. If we can see sky, then we know we are in God’s tent, and we are at home, and God is at hand. Vistas and broad expanse make me breathless with Holy Presence and elated about the ridiculous blatancy of God’s omniscience. From now on, whenever I engage my Celtic practice of praying the sky, I will think of that Holy vastness, and me, inside of it. Me, inside the Holy Dome.
One mile in the opposite direction from the cottage, we would walk to Icescroop’s Farm with empty milk jugs to proposition the farmer, for fresh cow’s milk. Fresh, unregulated, unpasteurized, unhomogenized, milk. Heavy now, to slow the journey back to the cottage.
For the four children:
A hearty walk.
A lengthy chat.
And the game making habits of unsupervised children.
Plus the successful purchase of 2 gallons of “fresh milk”! One mile from the cottage, in one direction, was the penny candy store. The four of us would walk the dirt road and traverse over wooden slat bridges with pleasing echoes over rocks in creeks, and then out onto the paved road and past the nature museum with its snakes and racoons and pond habitats. Each of us with 10 cents. We were rich!
Just one penny would get you 10 little red licorice Swedish Fish, or 3 bubble gums or a gigantic Lolli pop with a tootsie roll inside, or you could just get a whole fist-full of straight long tootsie rolls, all in a nice brown paper bag sleeve for the journey back.
For the father, I suppose:
The purchase of a couple of hours of peaceable ‘down-time’.
Relief, from these same 4 children out on their errands.
This was August in my childhood summers at the cottage in Ligonier. The Allegheny Mountains, in Western Pennsylvania. And today is the nostalgic first of August.
So, I’m thinking about the notion of
Penny candy. Unpasteurized milk. Unsupervised children for the refuge and relief of a widower.
It’s debatable, all of these: Healthy or unhealthy? Safe or unsafe? Reckless? Careless? Idyllic?
What is something worth?
What do you make of something?
How do you do your accounting?
And I’m thinking of two (out of a whole bunch more) sacred texts that demonstrate the practice of assigning value, which seems to be a random kind of thing, in the sense that we get to decide if something is valuable. Or not.
There’s the ‘shrewd manager’ of Luke 16, to whom the rich man says:
“what is this I hear about you? Give me an accounting, . . . because you cannot be my manager any longer.”
So, with new purposes in mind, he simply changed his accounting.
The value of 100, becomes 50.
The value of another 100, becomes 80.
Randomly assigned value. Weights and measures and tender in the market place.
The other story is that of the prophet Amos, who condemns his people because,
“the measure of an Ephah, you make small.
the value of a shekel, you make great.
And you sell the poor for a pair of sandals.”
YOU are deciding this. You make it. You change it.
Who decides the value of a thing, or a place, or even of a person or a people?
Who decides value? We do.
By simply changing the weights and measures.
Make it small
Make it great.
Make it five tenths, or
Make it eight.
Assigning Random Values.
Who gets to decide value?
Who gets to decide that children can be caged or young women can be sold?
Who decides that one acre of land, south of I-20 has less value than one acre of land on Peachtree Street in the heart of the city?
Who decides fair market value, or the price of and place of affordable housing?
Apparently, WE do. The people. The populous.
We assign the value.
We mark it. Name it. Change it.
The shrewd manager in the parable knows in his heart of hearts what has true, deep, real and long-lasting . . . even ‘eternal’ value, and that is: to be welcomed in, so he changed the value of other things to make it happen.
That’s the heart of it for me.
He uses all of his shrewd cleverness to secure a place for himself at the table, and to be included.
In the end, he would scramble in through an open door, that he, himself, opened, and he would be welcomed into to their eternal homes.
Who knows how he was squandering the property owner’s property?
Maybe he was buying himself new shoes, or maybe he was inviting all the tenant farmers to meet after work on Thursdays, “drinks are on me!”, at the owner’s expense, or coffee and pastries after the Sabbath’s end. Who knows?
But what would happen when he was ousted?
He would be welcomed, loved. Included in the community.
The everlasting value of household, of friend and family, of spiritual community.
The one essential thing, shrewd and dishonest, or pristine clean,
is to assign value that increases value,
to assign value that increases the love.
It is to be as shrewd as the dishonest manager in the direction of restoring value, where there is no value, opening a door where the door is otherwise closed.
It’s a funny thing to think, that increasing the kingdom of God, sometimes requires assigning value, in a free-wheeling kind of way.
We get to decide. We get to assign value. We get to change the world. For the good.
If we choose.
We get to change the transactions that happen on the street,
and in the power houses,
and in the marketplace,
for the good.
His master commended him, Jesus said, because he was more shrewd than the children of light.
We get to assign value, that will increase the love, open the doors, extend the welcome,
and set another place at the table in the kingdom.
Simply because we use our power, for good, in a clever kind of way.
We can do that.
Penny candy, unpasteurized milk, children running wild.
Assigned value? “Heaven on Earth and the Kingdom Come”!
At least in August.
Every summer of my growing up.
Well ~ Fancy that, I am now a scholar!
I have completed the third of three summer conferences for the School of Celtic Consciousness, taught by John Philip Newell, at Mercy by the Sea Retreat and Conference Center. They gave us certificates, printed on the back of this photo of Sunrise on Iona. And they called us “scholars”.
On the third night of moon rises, I watched and waited from my screened porch, but the moon never rose over the tree tops at the water’s edge on the Long Island Sound, in the place where it had been the night before, when it rose up in perfect fullness right in front of me.
So I roused myself from the rocking chair to investigate, and there, far to the northern end of the shore, a slightly waning moon, so heavy with sacred fire that it labored long to lift above the horizon, round and Red-Orange as the interior flesh of a tree ripened peach.
Oh my God. To worship the beauty of Holiness!
Mercy by the Sea. This Mercy by the Sea. A perfect place for being schooled in Celtic Consciousness, because “Celtic Consciousness” is a matter of being aware that all creation is sacred, and letting that awareness change your life. Celtic Consciousness is keeping a spiritual practice of paying attention to the presence of God in all things, and listening.
Sea breeze and bird wing,
Earth in sand and shell, stacked stone and round rock,
salt water lapping a lullaby, and rain in deluge,
fire by day, moon by night,
all for our listening for the heartbeat of God.
Mercy by the Sea is a “Finis-terra” kind of place where land meets sea and it seems you are at the end of the earth where God says, as he did to Isaiah, “Listen! O Coastlands!”
In the School of Celtic Consciousness, we practice the listening. Daring to hear the voice of God because God is in all of it. God is as accessible as the ground under your feet and the air in your lungs. Each day, the teachings were punctuated with the spiritual practice of listening and sometimes visioning.
So, for the first morning’s practice, I sat by a butterfly bush because the purple clusters reminded me of Pennsylvania lilacs. I tried listening to the butterfly, and the bush that was not a lilac.
It was kind of funny that it spoke the words back to me that were my own, from my Easter sermon, when I quoted my son’s scientific poetry about the gigantic Promethea moth in his observation box, when he told me it was “unfurling his wings to fly at dusk”.
The great silk moth, waits there clinging for a time. Waiting for wings to un-wrinkle, and the venation system of the wings to harden, to give them their structure for flight.
A step-by-step primer on resurrection.
Letting go of the former structure of the chrysalis that no longer contains or protects or guards the life within, Jesus hung around the grave for a bit, waiting for his wings to unfurl. Mary walked up on him when he was still wrinkled and damp from the effects of having been dead, and the wrapping of linen and spice bound around his lifeless body for three days, and thought that with such earthiness, surely, he was the gardener.
And there at the bush that was not a lilac flitted a happy little orange and black butterfly, clinging on to nothing, flying for the sheer pleasure of flight on a light filled summer day in Connecticut.
Just for the joy of it. This life-over-death kind of resurrection joy.
It was God’s voice in creation inviting me to trust that my own wings have indeed unfurled, already. An invitation to trust my experience of Resurrection and to claim it for myself. My own resurrection and the brave waiting, clinging to chrysalis, and the process of emergence, and the even braver practice of taking flight, for the delight of resurrection. Simply, for joy.
This life-over-death kind of joy ~ is in the wings.
Cheers to Creation’s voice and God’s mercies which, as the Psalmist sings and the sun confesses, are new every morning. Here’s to God’s voice in all things, in creation and in my practice of listening.
I like that they decided to call us ‘scholars’ rather than graduates. It’s an ongoing thing when you’re a scholar. We celebrate with graduates because they have finished something and move on to other things. A scholar goes deep, and deeper still, into knowing, listening, practicing, and loving.
This configuration of stone and concrete is the base of one of our porch posts.
It’s in the shape of a Bridget cross.
I won’t go on and on about how
Bridget of Kildaire
is my matron saint,
there I go already, going on and on with one of my lists. . .
I find it strangely ironic that last week I wrote my parson page about the sabbath moments of summer. And then, turn around this week to tell you, “ta-dah”, I’m going to take a sabbatical leave ~ of sorts.
But let me tell you how I’m thinking about this.
How serendipitous to have the shape of a Bridget Cross, in the particular location of the porch post.
[to delve in deep on this concept, see Deuteronomy 6:4ff]
The Lintel is the place where we write our love for God as we pass through every day, to remind, celebrate, tap-tap on, our devotion for the holy one,
because it is in the liminal spaces of our lives,
in our coming and going,
where transition, new life, change, and discovery, happen.
Among the many beloved things said of Bridget, one is that she inhabits liminal spaces, the passageways, transitions, the in-between places, because she is a midwife, (even Mary’s midwife in Bethlehem, at least in art and legend). She places herself with a birthing mother who uses the doorposts of a house to bear down and push for new life. (well, at least in her 5th century Ireland.)
She is always there for us to bear down on the divine. And the divine on us. And ready for the emergence of the sacred. She is said to have been a woman who doesn’t ask permission; who changes water into beer for shepherds, and who spreads her cloak over a whole kingdom to claim it as God’s abbey.
My kind of gal.
So, I am standing in this kind of place, and with a Bridget kind of company, right now. Full of life and love at home, here in Candler Park, with this porch post as symbol bearer.
Bridget as my whisperer and muse.
Indulging in summer porch life, inviting a ‘vision quest’ kind of spirituality that summer time brings. And seeing my place in the world as valuable and good.
I will stay in this bearing-down-on-love place, and the sacred one will emerge, as always, newborn and incarnate, because that's what the sacred one does.
And blessed by Bridget.
This will be the essence of my summer energy and expectation.
Writing is what I do, so I will continue to write, during this pause. [and you can be sure I will be thinking of you in my writing!] I will keep writing, and in fact, I am going to be diligent about pursuing publication for some of my written work.
Love and Joy,
Reverend Ruth Pattison
Rev. Pattison serves the people of Highpoint Episcopal Community Church as the Parson, exercising her gifts for collaborative leadership through preaching, liturgy, and the pastoral arts.