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.
My day got ahead of me so I didn’t get out for a run
until the sun was high in the sky and the temperature registered: 82’
A bit warm for a run,
but just right for the heavy scents of spring, weighty and voluptuous,
Privet Hedge and Honeysuckle both, floating on the breeze.
I don’t know the chemistry of air, or how heat changes the air into a structure that can do this heavy lifting, or if in fact that’s how it works at all.
But I’m a romantic, so it makes me think of the offertory sentence that I say to you most every Sunday.
“Walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us,
a fragrant offering and sacrifice, to God.”
What a mystery! The changed structure of resurrection-laden air.
We’ve been to the grave and beyond our knowing, Christ has been raised, and his heavy scent, weighty and voluptuous, rises with the heat of the Paschal Fire.
And it gets all over us!
Resurrected Love! Somehow, it has a scent.
And we smell like it!
And St. Paul says to us: "You, are the fragrance of Christ"
People who haven’t been around the fire, know that we have, because they can pick up on the scent. They can get it, from us ~ the love of Christ.
All the world can know the love of Christ, because we walk in love.
The household is heady with the fragrance of divine love, simply because we walk through the room, and they can smell the love.
The neighborhood is sensitive to the presence of the Divine, because the love of Christ exudes from our pores, and drifts on a breeze, invisible, but making certain of an unmistakable Sacred Presence.
The world is tilting its curious head, for an uncanny, recognizable but yet unidentified, Holy Fragrance.
Because we, are walking in love.
We carry our Paschal pillar candle in procession, because we know what the fragrance is
and we delight in it!
It is the victory of love!
It is life over death!
It is mortality putting on immortality!
It is Divine love!
It is the light of Christ!
It is our Sunday celebration!
See you in Church,
Nine of us gathered before the break of dawn.
The word “gathered” is a bit of a stretch. Rummaged really. We rummaged around in the dark.
It is the spiritual life, mind you, this rummaging around in the dark.
The spirituality of Holy Week and Easter. Our rummaging. The darkness.
A veritable ransacking if you think about it.
Darkness and lostness. Denials and betrayals.
And fighting sleep.
Symbols of death.
Disciples who were heavy with the pull of gravity and the grave to where they could not stay awake in the garden with Jesus. Could not pull themselves out, for knowing themselves to be going down into the deep.
The story says that the women came to the tomb while it was still dark. . . (rummaging)
We want to feel it in our bones, know it in the fiber of our being, so there we are in the dark, tromping around in wet grass, bundled for cold in the wee hours of Easter Morning.
We imagine ourselves to be nearing the edge of the tomb, though a simple cold fire pit is what it actually is.
We stumble around and can’t find our stuff and whisper even though it doesn’t matter if any one hears us, it’s the instinctive behavior of operating in the dark or when something precious and holy is under way.
Brave bird-song not minding to wake up the world.
We act things out. That’s what ritual is about. We do it so we know it.
We act things out, not the full extent of the drama, but in symbol and gesture, we act it out.
We kindle new fire.
The cold dark empty echoing fire pit bursts into flame and we say:
“sanctify this new fire”, and
“The Light of Christ!”
“The Lord is Risen! Alleluia!”
“Grant that in this Paschal feast, we may so burn. . .”
The ancient church gave us a pillar candle, weighty, and worthy of leading the lot of us in procession for the whole of Easter season; their instinct that fire is the stuff of resurrection, and that we should carry it around.
The implement. The element. The power.
The uncreated light that fuels the life of the world.
So we kindle. New Fire.
Children intuitively see God in the lighting of wicks and, in fact, their inclination is to play with the flame! Our inclination is to say “be careful you might get burned!”
I think the nearness of God does burn, and I suspect that the resurrection will singe quite extensively, and I remember that story where the Holy Spirit lighted up an upper room, caught their hair on fire, and everybody suddenly spoke in different languages. What a hoot!
God in Holy Fire was playing with them!
Practicing the Resurrection is our taking up God’s invitation to play. Yes, with fire!
We played with fire. This Holy Uncreated Light.
Rummaging around in the dark and Practicing Resurrection.
In this Easter season we will lead the procession with the Paschal Candle, that tall pillar candle that we lit with the flame of the new fire before day break.
And we light our tall thin beeswax votives.
A practice of resurrection.
Our procession of resurrection.
Our ritual play.
We act it out. We want to feel it in our bones, know it in our fiber.
Flickering candles that compel us because of the flame, even if sometimes it seems just a preoccupation with the fire itself. That preoccupation is a good thing!
Recognize that fire as God,
Name it as the Light of Christ,
Carry it as your passion for God, your delight in the Holy One, your want for resurrected life and everlasting light!
This is our rummaging around in the dark for God, and bursting into flame with his Resurrection.
Lighting a simple candle: Death’s vanquishing!
and taking Christ’s victory over the grave as our own!
Playing with Fire, as is my want to do, with you,
(As an added flourish, I collected the stubs of our burned-out vigil candles from Maundy Thursday's altar of repose, and tossed them on the stack of wood as kindling. Thought you’d like to know.)
Marshall won the smart phone race to get Siri to define ‘prodigal’ for us last Sunday morning. So then our sermon conversation wrapped around the notion, of:
Having or giving on a lavish scale
Spending resources freely and recklessly
Spending without holding anything back
[Webster, via Siri]
So, what, we asked, describes the picture of prodigal living in Luke 15?
The obvious giveaway in the text is that it wasn’t just the renegade son.
The father was just as prodigal when the son returned, broke and broken.
His running to meet him when he was still far off,
a kiss to bless him, an embrace to take him back.
A ring, a robe, a pair of sandals for his feet.
And then of course, a Resurrection Feast with the fatted calf,
for ‘this, my son, was dead, and is alive again’
Complete and thorough Restoration.
And then, throw in the Epistle that changes the reconciled into reconcilers and we off on a mission to live a prodigal life ~ loving without holding back, wastefully extravagant, risking, reckless about restoring relationships, raising the dead to life.
I am connected with a group called the Wild Church Network.
A contributor to the network brought the earth into the conversation as a prodigal.
The earth. And don’t we know it? Reckless giving, abundance, spending on a lavish scale.
The violet volunteering in the broken pot comes to mind.
Our community garden comes to mind, stretched across the swath
where the earth was scored, it’s complexion scarred.
A grave was dug, and a pipeline laid down. So we could live.
And like a perennial-cut -and-come-again Zinnia, the earth
continues to give recklessly, without holding back.
15 garden plots abound,
tomatoes and chili peppers flush in the summer sun,
sweet potato vines and blackberry brambles
stretch far and wide in playful profusion,
okra and pole beans reach skyward in glory
as if to announce the coming of the kingdom of God
deep down under the earth, roots and tubers in silent stillness, rest.
This Prodigal Earth,
the wastefully extravagant giver of goodness,
the reckless high-risk presence under our feet,
supporting our very lives;
The Earth, as it says in the Psalms, rejoices and sings praise.
AAaaand, the fox is back!
Blessing us to and fro!
Take a moment to write or draw on a prayer flag or two as we offer our thanksgivings, hopes and dreams, praises, wants and desires, to the earth, from Equinox and Earth day to Easter. Supplies are on the table by the coffee pot.
Seeking to live a prodigal life, with you,
Let the sea roar,
Let the floods clap their hands,
Let the hills be joyful together.
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.