There is a Vastness…


There is a vastness,
and logic
in the cosmos
that defies imagination.
I stand in awe
before it
and within it.

Something inside me
for the same greatness,
and logic
to be made real
and observable
in my short life
on this tiny planet.

All I have,
and all I am,
is a product
of this vastness,
and beauty,
and logic.

It sustains me,
even when I forget
and take it for granted.
Perhaps then,
I can find the strength
to let go
of resentment
when others forget
and take me for granted
as well.

I remember this
in moments of peace,
that I might remember it
in days of stress,
and thus be freed
from anxiety:

This vastness,
and logic
does not come from me,
did not begin with me,
and will not end with me.

It never has,
and never will.

By Unknown -, Public Domain,

A God’s-Eye View

Click here to read the service bulletin, including biblical texts.


Think about a time when you felt misjudged or misunderstood. How did it feel? Who was involved? What was it that you wanted them to realize about you? What do you wish you had said to make that person understand?

Most of us have memories like that. The pain of the memory can sometimes cause us to seethe with anger at the injustice, even years after the fact.

Less common and less visceral are memories of times when we have discovered ourselves to be the ones misjudging others. Psychologists have discovered a reason for this: they call it “the fundamental attribution error.” What it means is that people tend to name external circumstances as the cause of their own faults, while simultaneously blaming other peoples’ faults on defects of character.

Here’s an example: You are at a stoplight and cut across a lane of traffic to turn right in order to not be late for work, cutting another driver off in the process. You think to yourself, “Sorry about that, but I can’t be late for work!” Now, if you’re the driver in the other car, and you see this happen in front of you, and are forced to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident, you think, “What a jerk! They must not know how to drive!” That’s the fundamental attribution error in action. The first driver chalks the mistake up to circumstances, while the second driver chalks it up to the other person’s character.

People do this. In the story of our own lives, we tend to cast ourselves in the role of the hero or the victim, almost never as the bad guy. The role of villain is given to others. The funny thing is that the “bad guys” in each of our stories also think of themselves as the “good guys,” while we ourselves play the role of the villain in their stories.

The world loves to divide people into categories: us and them, good guys and bad guys, heroes and villains. We pass judgment on one another and react, rather than respond, when circumstances turn inconvenient. In time, we learn how to impose those categories on whole groups of people: black and white, straight and gay, men and women, American and Russian, Republican and Democrat. It’s as though each of us is in the process of writing our own superhero comic book, fighting like mad to ensure that the good guys win in the end.

The problem is that, when we do this, we aren’t relating to each other as whole people, each with their own complex challenges of circumstance and character. Life is complicated. People are complicated. And at the end of the day, there are no good guys or bad guys, just people.


In today’s gospel, we get to see an example of a time when one person was able to look at another and see the truth beneath the surface of that person.

Last week, we looked at the relationship between Jesus and St. John the Baptist as a door that opens us up to the relational nature of reality in the Trinity. Today, we are going to look at that same relationship from the opposite direction: we are going to see how one’s relationship with the Triune God opens a door for us to see our relationships with our neighbors differently.

When St. John the Baptist looked at Jesus, he saw past the categories that other people used to put on him. John saw Jesus for who he truly is: the Son of God and the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Jesus was no stranger to being categorized by other people. We read about this time and again in the gospels. His hometown neighbors listened to his first sermon and couldn’t get past the mental categories in which they had placed him, as the son of Joseph the carpenter. The clergy and theologians couldn’t get past the fact that Jesus sounded like a heretic to them, calling into question centuries of religious tradition. The political authorities had him pegged as a dangerous radical. Even his own family came to believe that Jesus had lost his mind. All of these made their judgments about Jesus and tucked him away in their mental categories as a way of dismissing him and his message. But John the Baptist doesn’t do that. John sees Jesus with a different set of eyes.

The gospel calls John a “prophet”, who was “sent from God” as “a witness to the light.” Whatever else this may mean, we can at least say that it means this: John the Baptist saw the world at large, and Jesus specifically, from a spiritually-centered point-of-view. He saw Jesus clearly, with spiritual eyes.

John was able to this, most basically, because of the gifts and calling that God had placed on his life. God wanted John to see Jesus in this way. But, along with that, I tend to believe that John was able to sharpen and hone this gift of God by his spiritual practices.

We know that John lived simply, out in the desert. He had few possessions and sustained himself, as the text of the Bible tells us, on “locusts and wild honey.” As far as we can tell, he was unmarried. He was given to prayer and the preaching spiritual renewal in baptism. In many ways, his life resembles that of an Old Testament Nazirite, a holy person dedicated to God and separated from the world. Traditionally, they refrained from alcohol, haircuts, and funerals. Other famous Nazirites from the Old Testament include the prophet Samuel and the hero Samson.

Although John is not specifically named as a Nazirite, his life resembles that of one, being wholly dedicated to the service of God. In modern terms, we might think of him like a hermit or monk.

John’s spiritual practices give him the ability to see the world differently from the way most people see it, and when Jesus arrives on the scene, John is ready to see him differently too. Where some saw just another crazy person or heretic, John saw Jesus as the Son of God, upon whom the Holy Spirit had descended, and the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. John saw Jesus’ true self, beyond the categories imposed on him by the world.


I don’t think this ability is unique to St. John the Baptist himself.

First of all, I think we get a glimpse, in John’s vision, of the way God sees each and every one of us. When we are misunderstood or misjudged, there is another who sees and loves us as we truly are. God looks at us and sees past the shell of worldly categories to the treasure beneath the surface of our lives. That treasure is there in your life because God wants it to be there and placed it there himself. Even better, God wants us to see that treasure too, so that we can share it with others. Whenever our dignity is maligned by our neighbors (or even ourselves), God is working quietly behind the scenes to bring prophets like John into our lives who will see and draw out the divine treasure that is in us.

Second, I believe that John’s gift of spiritual insight is available to all of us, if we choose to make use of it. Like John, we can make use of spiritual practices to sharpen and focus the way we look at the world and people around us. Studying the Word and celebrating the Sacraments keep us connected to the core beliefs and values that tell us there is inherent dignity in every human life, no matter what categories people may try to impose on it. We read in the Bible that our neighbors are reflections of God’s image, members of the Body of Christ, and living stones in the temple of the Holy Spirit. In the Sacraments, we all pass through the waters of Baptism and partake of the bread and cup of the Eucharist as members of the one Body of Christ. We are part of each other, precisely because we are part of Christ. This is how St. Paul is able to say, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Cor. 12:21)

In prayer and meditation, we connect the joys and concerns of daily living to our divine life in God. Even secular psychologists have come to admit in recent years that the practice of meditation is good for human relationships. When we meditate, we lower our stress levels and become better able to respond to crisis from a place of peace, rather than react out of anger. Meditation helps us develop empathy and detachment, so that we can see past the hard categories we impose on each other. Spiritually centered people don’t see “good guys” and “bad guys,” but instead just see “people.” They don’t think in terms of “us” and “them,” but think instead of “We.”

God sees each of us as beloved sons and daughters. People learning to see the world from God’s point-of-view begin to see their neighbors in that same way.

That’s how John saw Jesus. That’s how God sees us. My prayer this morning is that we too will learn, day by day, by Word and Sacrament, by prayer and meditation, how to see each other in this way. When we do, we will be seeing one another with the eyes of God.

“As the Waters Cover the Sea”

This is an odd turn of phrase that appears in today’s first reading from the Daily Lectionary.

The full sentence is:

But the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

It strikes me as odd because it is the very nature of the sea to be covered with water. Without water, the sea would simply be a valley or a large hole in the ground.

In the same way, God is the very nature of the universe itself. Theologian Paul Tillich referred to God as “the Ground of Being”. St. Thomas Aquinas similarly wrote that it is more appropriate to say that God is “existence” than that God is an object that “exists”.

As a self-described panentheist (not to be confused with pantheism), I would agree with Tillich and Aquinas. Here is how I would say it: God is in all things because, more accurately, all things exist in God.

One of my favorite images of God is the pregnant mother. God creates the universe, distinct but not entirely separate from God. The universe is growing within the divine womb.

When a baby grows inside of her mother, it would not be inaccurate to say that her mother is her whole world. Ask a fetus, “Where is Mom?” And the child would answer (if she could), “Mom is everywhere.”

Does this mean that the mother only exists within the child or the womb that carries her? No, that would be an incomplete statement (although it is certainly reflective of the child’s limited experience). It would be more accurate to say the opposite: That the child exists within her mother, who loves her and sustains her growth.

I believe the same to be true of our relationship to God.

We are not wrong to say that “God is everywhere.” In a sense, we are also justified, based on our limited experience, in saying that “God is in all things.” But I tend to believe the opposite, that “All things exist in God,” just as a fetus grows in her mother’s womb.

This, I think, is at the root of Habakkuk’s vision that the divine shekhinah covers the earth “as the waters cover the sea.” This is the fetus waxing eloquent about the mother.

Even more interesting is the context in which this revelation arises.

If the universe exists within the Divine womb, then it must certainly be a troubled pregnancy. The prophet describes a world gone awry, rife with social stratification where the rich have isolated themselves from the poverty they create by their indulgence:

Alas for you who get evil gain for your houses, setting your nest on high to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life.

The entire economic system is founded on violence and indulgence:

Alas for you who build a town by bloodshed, and found a city on iniquity!

He describes it as an act of rape:

Alas for you who make your neighbors drink, pouring out your wrath until they are drunk, in order to gaze on their nakedness!

The destruction extends even to the earth itself. The prophet warns of mass extinction emerging from human exploitation of the environment:

For the violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you; the destruction of the animals will terrify you– because of human bloodshed and violence to the earth, to cities and all who live in them.

Yet, the central truth remains: That the universe exists within the Divine womb.

We have only forgotten it. Unable to see the mother’s face directly, we have decided that we homo sapiens are the be-all, end-all of existence. We have decided that this womb, the amniotic fluid, the umbilical cord, and our magnificent selves are the product of some unknown, random accident.

Believing ourselves to be the only intelligence in the cosmos, we try to set ourselves in the place of God, and quickly discover that we are bad at the job. Destruction ensues.

Habakkuk invites us to return to our roots by way of contemplation. He writes:

I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.


For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.

And finally:

But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!

The prophet interrupts his descriptions of violence with repeated calls to “watch” and “wait” in silence. The dual-practice of prayer and meditation empowers us to disconnect from the mindless flow of chaos around us and see reality more clearly.

A fighting couple stop their arguing momentarily to take a deep breath, and suddenly the situation becomes clearer.

Gandhi famously said that, if only one percent of the world’s population would meditate, there would be peace on earth.

The practice of contemplative spirituality might not change the world directly, but it does change those who practice it. It changes our perspective and relationship to the world. It frees us from the endless cycles of violence so that we (as Gandhi also said) can “be the change we wish to see in the world.”

Contemplation reconnects us to the Ground of Being. It increases our conscious awareness of the Divine presence, which “covers the earth as the waters cover the sea.”

This deepened relationship with God is the fruit of contemplative prayer. It is what the prophet refers to as “the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.”

“The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!”

Glimpses of Wholeness

Image by Cassie J.  Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.
Image by Cassie J. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

Have you ever look at a dog and really seen it in its total “dogness”?  A dog is quite miraculous when you really see it…

Never mind dogs.  What about a bird, or a cat, or a tree, or a flower, or a rhinoceros?!  They are all quite miraculous really.  When you really look at one, you can hardly believe it exists; there it is, this perfect thing, just being what it is, complete in itself.  Any imaginative child could have dreamed up a rhinoceros, or an elephant, or a giraffe.  But  they didn’t get here as the product of a child’s imagination.  The universe is spinning these dreams.  They come out of the universe, as do we.

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living, p. 153-154

Setting Out / Coming Home

Image by Tevaprapas Makklay. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons on 10/14/2012

In the first pages of his classic book, Orthodoxy, the twentieth century British journalist G.K. Chesterton outlines the plot of a novel he would like to write:

I have often had a fancy for writing a romance about an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas. I always find, however, that I am either too busy or too lazy to write this fine work, so I may as well give it away for the purposes of philosophical illustration. There will probably be a general impression that the man who landed (armed to the teeth and talking by signs) to plant the British flag on that barbaric temple which turned out to be the Pavilion at Brighton, felt rather a fool. I am not here concerned to deny that he looked a fool. But if you imagine that he felt a fool, or at any rate that the sense of folly was his sole or his dominant emotion, then you have not studied with sufficient delicacy the rich romantic nature of the hero of this tale. His mistake was really a most enviable mistake; and he knew it, if he was the man I take him for. What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of coming home again? What could be better than to have all the fun of discovering South Africa without the disgusting necessity of landing there? What could be more glorious than to brace one’s self up to discover New South Wales and then realize, with a gush of happy tears, that it was really old South Wales. This at least seems to me the main problem for philosophers, and is in a manner the main problem of this book. How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it? How can this queer cosmic town, with its many-legged citizens, with its monstrous and ancient lamps, how can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honour of being our own town?

I love this passage.  For me, it really captures what my own spiritual journey has been like: simultaneously setting out to explore places where I’ve never been before and returning home to the place where I’ve been all along.

This is one of the great paradoxes of spirituality.  Authentic spirituality is often characterized by paradox (i.e. truth in apparent contradiction).  Christian spirituality in particular is no stranger to paradox: we believe that Christ is both fully divine and fully human, God (as conceived in the Holy Trinity) is both three and one, the elements of Communion are both bread & wine and flesh & blood.  Paradox is the air in which we live and breathe.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that we are able to conceive of the spiritual journey as both a setting out and a coming home.

We Christians have often made use of journey imagery as well, especially when it comes to our spirituality.  Just think about some of the classics of Christian religious literature: Dante’s Divine Comedy is a fantastical journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven.  John Bunyan’s allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, is the story of a journey.  Even in the Bible itself, the Christian life is described as “following Jesus” and those who walk this path are referred to as “followers of the Way”.  Keep that in mind when you hear the opening words of today’s gospel reading, which sets the scene for Christ’s encounter with the rich man as Jesus is “setting out on a journey”.  The setting for this story is the open road, where people are traveling together toward some other destination.

Where are they going?  The text doesn’t say explicitly.  The important fact seems to be that they are traveling.  However, I think we can understand this journey metaphorically as a symbol of the great spiritual journey.  If such is true, then the journey’s destination is implied no less than three times during this passage.  It’s described as: eternal life, the kingdom of God, and salvation.

At the beginning, the rich man asks Jesus, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Later on Jesus comments, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”  Finally, the disciples ask in desperation, “Then who can be saved?”

Eternal life, kingdom of God, and salvation: these three ideas are pretty common to discussions of Christianity.  Most of the time, people talk about them in reference to the ideas of immortality and life after death.  They would say that we receive salvation so that we can have eternal life in the kingdom of God (a.k.a. the kingdom of heaven).

The afterlife discussion is certainly an important one, but I’m not going to have it here.  I think these ideas have a much broader definition and a much deeper application than simply as speculative statements about what happens after human beings physically die.  I think the ideas of eternal life, the kingdom of God, and salvation have much more to do with the quality of life we have here and now in this world.

Eternal life, for instance, has less to do with length of days (i.e. life that lasts forever and ever) and more to do with the kind of life one is living.  In John’s gospel, Jesus talks about abundant life, which is a similar idea.  He’s talking about the life that’s really living and not just surviving or existing.  One can see why the rich man might have been interested in discussing this subject with Jesus.  After all, he was wealthy, successful, and religious.  By anyone’s account, this guy had it all and had it all together.  By all accounts, he was an icon of the ideal life for first century Jews.  However, this same successful guy knew deep down that he had not managed to silence that inner voice of uneasiness or fill the void of emptiness.  He knew that, in spite of his relative comfort and devout observance of tradition, he wasn’t yet living, he was still simply surviving and “getting by” (even though he seemed to be doing a better job at that than most of his peers).  The question he brings to Jesus was born out of intense existential anxiety and a hunger for real life.

We can also look at the deeper meaning of the kingdom of God.  God’s kingdom is not a place in heaven or on earth, but a way of being in the world.  In the words of biblical scholar Marcus Borg, the kingdom of God is God’s vision of what this world would be like if God were allowed to be in charge instead of the powers that be who currently run things.  According to Jesus, the kingdom of God is a state of affairs where “the last will be first and the first will be last.”  When God’s dream comes true, when God’s vision becomes a reality on this earth, relationships characterized by domination and exploitation are redefined and turned upside down.  Anyone who enters into this reality (this way of being in the world) no longer recognizes the artificial and hierarchical distinctions we humans construct along the lines of gender, race, and social class.  As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  As the old social pecking order is dismantled in the kingdom of God, people begin to recognize one another as family, co-equal brothers and sisters: children of God.  With this end-result in mind, it makes sense then that Jesus would advise the rich man, “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  Jesus was inviting the rich man to let go of these old status symbols and enter into this new way of being in the world that recognizes the drunken bum sleeping under a park bench as his brother.

Finally, let’s look at the other word that appears in this passage: salvation.  This word, more than any other, is most often used to describe one’s religious affiliation and presumed status in the afterlife.  Many folks say, “Hallelujah, I’ve been saved!”  Some ask, “Have you been saved?  Do you want to be saved?”  When we use this word in such a limited and narrow sense, we miss the deep nuance implied by its use elsewhere in the Bible.  Most often, the word saved refers to deliverance or liberation.  For Jewish people (including the apostle Paul and Jesus himself), the central story of salvation is the ancient legend of God, through Moses, liberating the Hebrew people from slavery and genocide in the land of Egypt.  In the New Testament, the Greek word Sozo (i.e. save) can also be translated as heal or make well.  So, when Jesus goes around healing people, the text literally says that he is saving them from their illnesses.  So, when Jesus challenges the rich man to let go of possessions, he is trying to set this man free for a life of real wholeness and well-being.  This is what it means to be saved or experience salvation.

So then, let me sum up our new and deeper definition of these three ideas: eternal life, kingdom of God, and salvation.  You and I are being set free so that we can experience a new way of being in the world that empowers us to really come alive instead of just surviving.

Eternal life, kingdom of God, salvation: that’s the destination, the end point, of the spiritual journey.  But as we said back at the beginning, the setting out is also a coming home.  We are only reconnecting with that which is deepest within each of us and has been all along.

This is why, I think, Jesus was able to look at this rich man and “love him”, as the text says.  I don’t think Jesus was all that intimidated by the rich man’s reticence to give up his earthly possessions.  Jesus didn’t fear for this man because he (Jesus) knew that the answers this man was searching for already existed inside him.  The text says that this man “went away” from Jesus, but it never says that Jesus stopped loving him.  It says that the rich man was “grieved” at Jesus’ words, but it never says that Jesus did likewise.  I like to imagine Jesus quietly smiling as the man walks away, trusting that “for God all things are possible” and slyly knowing that this man’s journey would one day lead him back to the place where he started: with himself.

The rich man in this story, with his life of material success and religious observance, knew an awful lot about having and doing, but very little about being.  He came to Jesus with the question, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He felt like he was “lacking” something, but he didn’t know what.  Jesus’ advice to this rich man involved a letting go of both having and doing in favor of just being.

It was obviously a letting go of having because Jesus advised him to give away what he owned.  Less obviously, it was also a letting go of doing because Jesus asked this person to complete an impossible task.  “For mortals it is impossible,” Jesus said, “but not for God; for God all things are possible.”  In order for the rich man to let go of having, he will also have to let go of doing.  He will have to just “let go and let God,” as they say.

You and I are no different.  Like the rich man in this story, we live in a society that trains us to identify ourselves by the things we have and the things we do.  We hold on to having and doing and so we forget all about being.  As a result, we are slaves to survival.  We need to be set free so that we can experience a new way of being in the world that empowers us to really come alive instead of just surviving.  We need to experience eternal life, the kingdom of God, and salvation.  We need to set aside time to just be, to adopt a regular posture of non-doing and non-having.  We need to allow our souls to embark on this incredible journey of simultaneously setting out and returning home.

Personally, I have found that the best way for me to adopt a posture of being and non-doing is by setting aside time for regular meditation practice.  I can’t say that I’ve fully entered into this peace of being as  of yet, but I do feel like this practice has been helpful to me in my journey.  Maybe it will be helpful to you as well.  There are no special chants or postures in meditation as I practice it.  I simply sit upright in a straight-back chair with my hands in my lap and my feet flat on the floor.  I let myself become still and quiet to the point where I begin to notice my own unconscious breathing.  I focus my attention on the rhythm of my abdomen as it expands and contracts with each breath.  Whenever my mind begins to wander, I calmly remind myself to focus on the breath.  If I have to do this a hundred times, so be it.  I just keep gently redirecting my attention back to my breathing.  I try to do this for about twenty minutes or so a day.  If you don’t think you have that kind of time or patience, try it for a shorter period.  As Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Any practice is better than no practice.”  If five minutes a day is all you can manage, then go for it.  Given time, you just might find yourself longing and ready for more.

Just be.  Let go of having and doing.  Herein lies eternal life, the kingdom of God, and salvation.  This is the whole agenda.  It is the beginning and the end of your spiritual journey.  That which you seek is already within you.

Stillness: Hearing God’s Voice

Psalm 131

Excerpt from God Has A Dream:

God is available to all of us.  God says, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Each one of us wants and needs to give ourselves space for quiet.  We can hear God’s voice most clearly when we are quiet, uncluttered, undistracted—when we are still.  Be still, be quiet, and then you begin to see with the eyes of the heart.

One image that I have of the spiritual life is of sitting in front of a fire on a cold day.  We don’t have to do anything.  We just have to sit in front of the fire and then gradually the qualities of the fire are transferred to us.  We begin to feel the warmth.  We become the attributes of the fire.  It’s like that with us and God.  As we take time to be still and to be in God’s presence, the qualities of God are transferred to us.

Far too frequently we see ourselves as doers.  As we’ve seen, we feel we must endlessly work and achieve.  We have not always learned just to be receptive, to be in the presence of God, quiet, available, and letting God be God, who wants us to be God.  We are shocked, actually, when we hear that what God wants is for us to be godlike, for us to become more and more like God.  Not by doing anything, but by letting God be God in and through us.

As many of you already know, we’ve been making our way through this summer with Desmond Tutu’s book, God Has A Dream.  Last week, we read the chapter entitled “Seeing With the Eyes of the Heart” and we talked about the way in which you and I are called to look past our present life-circumstances and deep into this present moment in which we find ourselves.  It is here, in the very essence of this moment, that we find the loving presence of God: creating and sustaining us moment-by-moment.  We took a look at the lives of those remarkable individuals who, through their own “seeing with the eyes of the heart”, were able to bear witness to God’s ongoing redemption of the world.  We talked about Joseph from the book of Genesis, who was sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely imprisoned for a crime that he did not commit, and eventually elevated to a high office in the land of Egypt.  He looked with the eyes of his heart and saw God at work in his life, drawing light out of darkness, order out of chaos, and life out of death.  When his brothers came back, groveling and begging, he seized the opportunity for reconciliation instead of revenge.  He said to them, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.”

We also talked about Nelson Mandela, who went to jail as an angry young man in the 1960s and emerged to become the first black president of South Africa and a moral leader of the free world.  Finally, we also talked about Jesus, who suffered an ignoble death by torture and execution as a failed nonviolent revolutionary under the thumb of corrupt political and religious leaders, but whose life continues to shine as a beacon of hope for over two billion Christians in the world today, two millennia after his birth.

This week, we’re going to talk about how it is that we too can learn to see “with the eyes of the heart” and become the kind of people who see past surface appearances and into the very essence of reality.  The key element in this process, according to Archbishop Tutu, is the practice of stillness.

We North Americans, on the whole, tend to be suspicious of stillness.  Personally, I have a three year old at home, so I usually equate the sound of silence with trouble.  There have been many times when I’ve emerged from an extended period of pleasant silence only to discover the bathroom sink decorated with lipstick or a dining room chair entirely slathered with diaper cream.  Silence is not golden.  Silence is suspicious.  Tell me, parents and grandparents, am I right?

But, even without the presence of our tiny little bundles of destruction, we North Americans still tend to be suspicious of stillness.  We prefer to keep the radio or TV going at all times in order to keep the stillness at bay because the bottom line is that, at heart, we’re afraid of stillness.

Why?  What is it about stillness that scares us so much?

Based on what I’ve seen in myself and others, I think it’s two things.  First of all, we’re afraid that if we surrender to stillness and allow ourselves to just sit in silence for a while, we’ll be overwhelmed by that haunting sense of loneliness and isolation we carry inside us.  This is true for all of us, without exception.  Deep down, we are all afraid of being alone.  So we try to keep moving with the herd and keep up with the pack of our fellow homo sapiens.

The second thing that scares us about stillness is the way that our own thoughts tend to creep up on us when we’re not constantly overloading ourselves with information.  Specifically, I’m talking about that inner voice of criticism and self-hatred that follows us around.  You know the one I’m talking about: it’s the voice that says things like, “You’re not good enough.  You’re not smart enough.  You’re not pretty enough.  You’re not successful enough.  You don’t work hard enough.  You don’t make enough money.  Your house isn’t clean enough.  You don’t spend enough time with your family.  You don’t spend enough time at the office.  You don’t pray enough.  You don’t go to church enough.”  It could be any or all of those voices that you hear inside your head.  It could even be something else that pertains specifically to you, but you get what I’m saying.  We feel guilty because there’s always something more that we could or should be doing.  It’s really too much for any one human being to manage, so we just try to stave off the guilt by drowning out that inner voice with noise… any noise will do, so long as we don’t have to be left alone with our thoughts.

Aloneness and self-criticism, those are the two things that scare us most about stillness.  Together, they form the reason why we fill our lives with endless amounts of what Shakespeare called “sound and fury”.  Our fear keeps us running from our true selves and, ironically, the source of our power to overcome our fear, change our own lives, and maybe even the world around us.

Most of my heroes in this world points to their respective practices of prayer and/or meditation as their primary source of energy and inspiration for the extraordinary work they do.  I’m thinking of my usual list: people like the Dalai Lama, Dorothy Day, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, and yes, Desmond Tutu.

Archbishop Tutu says:

The Spirit of God sends us into the fray, as it sent Jesus, but we must observe the sequence in his life and we will see that disengagement, waiting on God, always precedes engagement.  He waited to be anointed with God’s Spirit, which made him preach the Good News to the poor and the setting free of captives.  He went into retreat in the wilderness.  He had experience of the transfiguration and then went into the valley of crass misunderstanding and insistent demand.  If it was so vital for the Son of God, it can’t be otherwise for us.  Our level of spiritual and moral growth is really all we can give the world.

So you see, not only is the practice of stillness essential for Desmond Tutu in his work, but it was even essential for Jesus himself.  There is something about the stillness itself that empowers us to overcome the fear that keeps us from stillness.

There are several scenes in the gospels where Jesus deliberately takes time away by himself or with only a few close friends to pray and commune with God.  I like to imagine that it was in these moments of quiet contemplation, as he observed the world around him with the eyes of his heart, that he received the inspiration for most of his parables and teaching.  Maybe there was a day when he was struggling with how to explain the Kingdom of God to his students.  Then, looking around on the lonely hill where he had gone to meditate, he spotted a mustard bush with a bird’s nest in it.  And that’s when it hit him: “Aha!” he says, “That’s it!  The Kingdom of God is like this mustard bush.  It starts as a tiny seed, but then grows into a great, big bush where birds can come and build their nests.”  Maybe the same kind of thing happened for those times when he compared the Kingdom of God to crops growing in a field, a woman kneading bread dough, or farm workers calling it a day.  I can easily imagine that it was through his practice of meditation that he came to realize the truth of God’s abundant providence as it was revealed in the natural world.  With the eyes of his heart opened through prayer and meditation, he was able to look around and see God’s love in the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.  Birds and flowers don’t drive themselves crazy running rat race or keeping up with the Joneses, yet God feeds and clothes them so well that we hold them up as our highest standard of beauty.  Think about it: what do people do at weddings and proms when we want to look our best?  We decorate our clothes, our dinner tables, and our churches with flowers.  It’s like all our finest fashion designers and interior decorators just give up because nothing they make can compete with the beauty of what God has already made.  Kind of ironic, isn’t it?

Jesus’ practice of prayer and meditation gave him the eyes to see that.  And I think the same can be true for us as well.

The great prophets, mystics, and sages of the world’s religions drew spiritual power from their cultivation of stillness in the practice of prayer and meditation.  Like each and every one of us, each and every one of them probably wrestled with the same fears and insecurities.  They too probably had times when they were afraid to be alone or were haunted by the inner voices of criticism and self-hatred, but they bravely faced the darkness, the silence, and the stillness rather than running away or trying to fill every moment with some kind of noise or activity.  And the amazing thing is this: they found what Jesus found in the stillness.  The eyes of their hearts were opened and they began to see another, deeper reality.  They began to hear another voice in the silence.

Instead of that haunting voice of criticism and condemnation, they began to hear the voice of love and acceptance.  You are loved.  You matter.  Paul Tillich, the great twentieth century theologian, described that voice like this:

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!”

Likewise, instead of the loneliness of which we are so afraid, the great mystics, in their stillness, experience a deep sense of belonging and interdependence.  I am not alone.  My life is connected to and dependent on yours.  We belong to the trees, the animals, the earth, and they belong to us.  We share this one planet in common.  All life has its origin in the heart and mind of God.  Therefore, all life is significant, important, and worth preserving.  Everything and everyone belongs in this web of existence.  We can never truly say “I don’t need you” to anyone and no one can truly it to us.  We affect each other.  We are a part of each other.

My favorite illustration of this truth comes from science itself: Did you know that most of the atoms in your body could only have been formed during the superhot explosion of a supernova?  Do you know what that means?  It means that, at the most basic level, the very substance of our bodies is made of the remnants of old, exploded stars.  You and I are literally made of stardust.  Isn’t that amazing?  And, since matter cannot ultimately be destroyed, it makes me wonder what the atoms of my body will be part of in another four billion years.  Who knows?  Maybe these very oxygen atoms coming out of my lungs right now will one day be breathed in and out by another preacher in another kind of church on another world where she is telling her congregation about this same reality of interconnected existence.

I’m sorry if this is starting to sound a little too much like science fiction for you, but I get really excited about it because it’s just so amazing.  We are never alone.  We are all connected.  We are part of an interdependent web of existence.  Within and around us all is that great, eternal mystery that we Christians call God.

This mystery is the ultimate reality that the great spiritual geniuses of the world have discovered in their practice of stillness.  Instead of the voice of criticism, they discovered the voice of love.  Instead of being alone, they discovered that they belong to the great community of life.  That dual sense of acceptance and belonging is what gives them the power to stand up, speak out, and overcome all kinds of wrong and injustice in the world.  Archbishop Tutu, Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama were all able to face the darkness because they knew from their practice of stillness that injustice was doomed to fail because it goes against the grain of nature.  Exclusion and inequality based on something as ridiculous as ethnicity or skin color is not only offensive, it is ridiculous.  There’s no way it can succeed because that’s just not how the universe was designed.  Martin Luther King, quoting the Unitarian minister named Theodore Parker, once said, “The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

When we are troubled by the evil we see in this world, we can laugh in its face.  We can know that it’s ultimately doomed to fail and disintegrate.  Just as sure as the law of gravity, the wrong in this world will one day fall to the ground.  This promise woven into the very fabric of space and time.  When we cultivate the practice of stillness through our own exercises of prayer and meditation, we can learn to hear that voice and trust that promise as well.  We, like our prophetic heroes, can be empowered to become world-changers.

All that is required of us is nothing.  We must simply be.  As someone once told me, we have to remember that we are human beings and not human doings.

If you have never taken the time to cultivate a practice of stillness, I would like to encourage you to do so.  Take fifteen or twenty minutes out of your day and just sit in the quiet.  Just be.  Many of us have heard the urgent phrase, “Don’t just sit there, do something!”  Right now, I want to encourage you to do the opposite: “Don’t do something, just sit there!”

With your eyes closed and your back straight, focus your attention on rhythm of your breathing.  Whenever you notice your mind beginning to wander, just gently bring your attention back to the unconscious rhythm of your breath.  If your mind wanders a thousand times, just gently bring it back a thousand times.  It’s simple, but it’s not easy.  Try this for twenty minutes a day and see what a difference it makes in your life.  If you can’t find twenty minutes, then do it for fifteen, or ten, or five.  Any practice is better than no practice at all.  Believe me, I have two jobs and two kids, so I know how hard it can be to find twenty quiet minutes to yourself in a day.  But if I can do it, anyone can.

Stillness is frightening, but it is also your friend.  Within its bosom, we find the power of acceptance and belonging that can set us free from what we fear most.  In silence, we can hear the voice of God reminding us that we are loved and inspiring us to love the world as God does.




Abiding in the Vine

Symbolic enactment of Ubuntu by African school children. Photo taken at Nazareth House Apostolate in Sierra Leone

John 15:1-8; 1 John 4:7-21

This past week, I was glad to wrap up another semester in my teaching job at Utica College.  I have to say that one of my favorite things about this academic year has been my daily walk from the parking lot to my office.

When I first arrive on campus in the morning, I like to sit in my car for a few minutes.  With two young kids, it’s hard to find a quiet moment to myself at home.  During these few minutes in my car, I like to close my eyes and pay attention to the natural rhythm of my breathing.  This is an exercise that I learned from a doctor named Jon Kabat-Zinn.  You would be amazed at the effect that it has on my day.  I feel so much more relaxed, focused, and “tuned in” to the present moment.

When I get out of my car, I am so much more aware of my immediate surroundings.  I feel the wind blowing my hair back as the soles of my feet hit the ground rolling and propel me forward, I smell the dirt emerging from beneath the snow, I hear the sound of birds chirping and cars going by, and I see blue sky meeting red brick and green grass that stretches as far back as the eye can see.

I’ve become particularly good friends with the two deciduous trees who flank the front entrance to White Hall, where my office is located.  I don’t know my botany well enough to name their species, but I’ve enjoyed watching them change with the seasons.  The brilliance of autumn gave way to the stark bareness of winter.  The buds of spring have now given way to new green leaves that seemed to burst forth overnight.  I suppose they have been right there for at least as long as I have been teaching at the college, but I never really noticed them before this year.  I guess you could say that, because of this new meditation practice, I’m literally “coming to my senses” in ways that I hadn’t before now.

I’m tempted to label this effect as a “spiritual experience,” except that it lacks so many of the characteristics that are often associated with mysticism.  There are no visions of angels or voices from heaven.  There is no intuitive sense of a supernatural presence within or around me.  I am simply aware of the present moment and caught up in what I like to call the “is-ness” of everything.  If I am experiencing God at all through this meditation exercise, it is as the “Ground of all Being” and the great “I Am Who I Am” that Moses encountered in the burning bush at the beginning of the book of Exodus.  If God is present at all, it is in the overall wholeness of “the big picture” and the natural lines of connection that weave us into “the interdependent web of existence.”

I said, “if God is present,” but of course I do believe that God is eternally present in all places and at all times, whether we perceive God’s presence or not.  Our moment-to-moment existence, as creatures, is forever dependent upon that which is greater than us.  For example, we do not “take birth,” our mothers give birth to us.  To illustrate further: imagine the finely-tuned delicate balance of creation that allows for life to exist on this planet.  If Earth were just a little bit closer to the sun, the oceans would boil and we would burn up.  If she were just a little bit farther away, we would freeze.  If Earth’s rotation on her axis were just a little more tilted, the seasonal conditions would be so extreme that the Arctic Circle would reach all the way to the tropics and vice-versa.  If the moon floated only a few miles closer to the Earth tidal forces would decimate our coastlines.  I could keep going, but I think you get the point.  We do not create or sustain ourselves.  Life cannot be taken for granted.  Existence is a gift that is given freely to all.

All of this has been in the back of my mind this week as I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ words from John’s gospel: “I am the vine, you are the branches.”  He goes on to talk about “abiding” in the vine and “bearing fruit.”  This is a powerful image.  It speaks beautifully of the grace of being, which connects us to each other and to the greater whole.  Christians from the first century to the 21st century have come to believe that the great Source of Life and the Ground of all Being was revealed to the world through Jesus, not just in his words and accomplishments, but in his very person.  Other religions have noble sages and prophets who delivered the will of God or the meaning of life to people, but it was always the message and not the messenger that was most important.  Christianity is unique in our belief that the messenger is the message.  Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”

Each of us is begotten and sustained by our connection to this vine, the Source of Life.  This truth is so easily forgotten by people who live in the modern age.  We are trained to be rugged individualists.  In spite of our rational disdain for all things superstitious, we retain our belief in the ridiculous myth of the “self-made man (or woman).”  I think you can ask anyone in a hospital maternity ward and they’ll tell you that there’s no such thing.  We are all branches off the same vine.  Our lives intertwine and intersect with one another.  Our separate identity as branches presents us with the illusion of independence, but we can only keep that idea up so long as we persist in living what the Greek philosopher Socrates called “the unexamined life.”  The minute we start asking questions about who and what we are, it becomes self-evident that we are all connected to and dependent on each other and the whole.  Scientists have identified this inherent connection in their study of ecosystems.  Individual species are mutually supportive of each other in symbiotic networks that form the engine, if you will, of evolution.  Plants feed animals, who feed other animals, who die and return to the earth, where their bodies become fertilizer for plants.  The food chain, it seems, is not so much a line as a circle.  One of my favorite illustrations of this point comes from the process of breathing itself.  We animals inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide as waste.  Plants, as many of you already know, inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen.  What a wonderful coincidence!  What beautiful symmetry!  We are sustaining one another through the very air that we breathe.

As Christians, we have come to understand and interpret our connection to the whole through the person of Jesus.  To us, he is far more than our favorite philosopher and an ancient wise man.  What we celebrate during this Easter season is our experience of Jesus as an eternally living reality.  Christ is alive in our hearts and the world around us.  He may not be visibly present, but he lives nonetheless.  We’ll say more about that when we celebrate Ascension Sunday in a few weeks.  Christ is alive.  He is the vine of which we are all branches.  This is the Christian’s fundamental understanding of the universe.  You might even call it our most basic principle.

In response to this truth that we believe, Jesus instructs his followers in John’s gospel to “abide in” him so that they might “bear fruit.”  What is that all about?  If we’re all branches on the same vine, wouldn’t we just naturally “abide in” (i.e. “stay connected to”) the vine?  On one level: yes.  We can’t cut ourselves off from the source of existence any more than one of us could willingly disconnect ourselves from an arm or leg.  But the vine analogy breaks down when we consider that human beings have a quality that plants do not have, to wit, consciousness.  We are able to think and make decisions in ways that other life forms cannot.  Through the choices we make and the lives we live, we are able to either honor our connection to the whole or not.  We can nurture the common life that is in us all or not.  We can water the seeds of faith, hope, and love in our souls or not.  That much is up to us.  To the extent that we choose well, our lives will tend to flourish.  To the extent that we choose poorly, we will wither and die.  Jesus’ words in today’s gospel reading make it clear that we are meant to flourish.

How can we do this?  How do we, as branches, abide in the life of the vine?  I think there are many ways that this is possible.  Personally, I have found my aforementioned meditation practice to be most helpful in this regard.  It reminds me of the significance and sacredness of the moment in which I find myself.  There is no day but today.  There is no place other than here.  Here and now is where I live.  Simply recognizing and respecting this reality goes a long way in nurturing my connection to the vine.

If you want to try it sometime, I recommend that you set aside a quiet place and time (I find that early in the morning, after my first cup of tea, works best, so that I don’t fall asleep).  Sit upright in a comfortable position with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor.  Close your eyes and try to become conscious of the fact that you are breathing.  Don’t try to breathe more deeply or slowly than usual, just notice this unconscious act that is happening in us all the time, whether we realize it or not.  Stay in this place for a while.  As thoughts pop into your head (and they will), don’t fight them or get angry at them, just simply acknowledge them and then gently direct your attention back to your breathing.  Do this as often as you need to.  It doesn’t matter if thoughts pop up one time or a hundred times.  Simply recognize the thought and redirect your attention.  You’re not trying to accomplish anything in the moment.  There are no “altered states of consciousness” that you are trying to reach.  You’re just trying to be fully aware of the present moment.  If you want to, try this exercise for five minutes a day.  When you feel ready, try increasing it by another five minutes at a time.  Some people stay at five minutes, some go for fifteen or twenty, and some sit like this for as long as an hour at a stretch.  It’s your practice.  Do what works best for you.

Another way that we can “abide in the vine” is through the Christian sacrament of the Eucharist (a.k.a. Communion).  Just as we’re about to do in a few minutes, we gather as a community around one table, breaking bread and drinking wine.  This ritual reminds us that we are part of one another through Christ.  We are what we eat: the body of Christ.  The wine reminds us that the blood of Christ flows in our veins.  They say that “blood is thicker than water.”  This blood is thickest of all.  As we eat and drink in this sacramental ritual, the branches abide in the vine.

Finally, and most importantly, the best way to “abide in the vine” is to nurture our relationships with each other.  This is the true mark of our religion and the true measure of our spiritual health.  Jesus continually told his followers that the “fruit” of this vine is love.  The community that first published John’s gospel also published his epistles, which we also heard from this morning.  They offered additional advice to flesh out what Jesus meant by “abiding in the vine.”

They remind us that “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  If you want to know how spiritual a person is, don’t look at his/her church attendance or theological beliefs.  Look at the way s/he treats other people.  I once heard someone say, “A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter is not a nice person.”  The size of your waiter’s tip says more about the quality of your Christian faith than the Bible you leave on the table.  In fact, your life might be the only Bible that another person ever reads.  What does that Bible say about what you believe?

I was talking to someone just yesterday about politics.  I know that’s a dangerous topic for preachers to broach in church (especially in an election year), so I’ll choose my words carefully.  I’m not going to tell you how you should vote.  Frankly, I don’t care what your ideological stripes are: conservative/liberal, Democrat/Republican, whatever.  That doesn’t matter nearly so much as the way we treat each other.  I care very much about that.  We live in a time of intense polarization in this society where those labels (conservative/liberal) are thrown around and used as insults.  We slander each other with names like “fascist” and “socialist.”  We categorize and demonize those who think differently from us.  We paint them as stupid or evil.  This, rather than the particular views we fear, represents the real threat to our democracy.  We’re so busy attacking each other that we’re unable to make any real difference in advancing the common good.  It’s high time that we learn to “abide in the vine” and nurture the life of the whole plant, so that we might bear the fruits of peace and justice.

There is an African word, Ubuntu, that refers to a particular character quality.  A person who has Ubuntu is conscious of the interconnectedness and interdependence of all people and all life.  We might say that a person with Ubuntu really knows how to “abide in the vine.”  We need more Ubuntu in our common life today.

The Erotic Spirit

The first week of spring has felt more like the first week of summer in New York.  We’ve had temperatures in the 80s most days.  This is unheard of in a land where I’ve preached Easter sermons under a blanket of snow.

I’ve come to love spring over the last ten years or so.  It started when I was living in Vancouver, where spring’s arrival is loudly announced by the explosion of cherry blossoms and the rhododendrons just outside my apartment window.  The combined effect is like floral fireworks.

Flowers aren’t the only things popping out either.  I’ve noticed that, as human beings emerge from hibernation, they have some kind of instinctual urge to get out of their clothes in public.  They do it while jogging, sunning, or going to class.

I like to say, “It’s mating season for the earthbound human!”  I stole and adapted that phrase from a movie in the 90s.  While sometimes annoying, this tendency never fails to be entertaining.

Earlier this week, the weather being what it is, I decided to take my work out of the office to the lake.  Grading papers, prepping for next week’s lectures, and quietly meditating.  Not normally sexually charged activities.  I was rather surprised to find, on a weekday afternoon, our wannabe naturists already out in force with all the coy subtlety of Britney Spears’ famous claims to virginity.

In years past, I probably would have stormed off in a self-righteous huff, annoyed at the distractions while I was trying to get work done or “be spiritual” (whatever the hell that means).  It reminds me of something Rich Mullins said (I think he stole it from Tony Campolo).  I paraphrase:

“If you’re a [straight] guy on a beach and a young woman walks by in a bikini and that doesn’t do something for you, that doesn’t mean you’re spiritual.  It means you’re dead.”

So, in the interest of (a.) reminding myself that I’m not dead and (b.) liberating myself from old habits of belief and behavior, I decided to stay where I was and see if it was possible to be spiritual and sexual at the same time.  To many out there, this will probably come across as rather basic, but it’s still a new concept for me, thanks to my previously disembodied (my seminary prof, Loren Wilkinson, would call it gnostic) orientation toward all things theological.

What I discovered in that moment was happily surprising.  I began to recall particular prayers of thanksgiving from the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship.  In one prayer, we express gratitude for “All beauty that delights us…” and in another, “The treasure stored in every human life…”

I began thinking about the Greek word Eros.  It’s one of several words that sometimes gets translated as Love.  It’s where we get the English word Erotic.  Eros is romantic love, desire, and attraction.  Matthew Fox and Diarmuid O’Murchu, who have written on this subject far more than me, like to emphasize Eros as creative love.  It simultaneously includes and transcends animal lust.  I’m currently coming to believe that lust is neither foreign nor antithetical to love unless the two are deliberately divorced in the name of either licentious selfishness or “purity” (which can become a form of religiously legitimated selfishness).

I found myself saying prayers of gratitude for that indefinable magnetism that draws human beings together.  It drives us to know one another fully.  No other single psychic factor is so motivating.  We yearn for intimacy, not only in our minds and spirits, but in our bodies as well.

The coming together of human beings (in the lab, studio, classroom, boardroom, or bedroom) is inherently life-giving and creative.  It’s also complex, tricky, messy, and requires lots of skill and commitment in order to be fulfilling in the long-term.  I pray that we would learn how to honor the meaning of our connections with each other so that we might sustain the beauty we have created.  In this sense, all of life is as erotic as it is spiritual.

As my time of meditation at the lake came to a close, I surveyed the trees, the water, and the hills of the earth around me.  I thought about the Jewish creation myth depicted in the first chapter of Genesis.  Delirious in the pulsating and passionate throes of creation’s rhythm, God cries out repeatedly in climactic pleasure, “It’s good!  It’s good!  It’s SO good!”

Descent Into Sanity

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.




Note: I recently discovered that I unintentionally plagiarized this poem.  Call it a case of unconscious memory.  When I first wrote this post, I thought it was original to me, but then I went back and picked up the book Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr and found this same poem within its pages.  Oh, the embarrassment!  So, mea culpa: this poem is not original to me, but can be found on page 62 of Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr.  Apologies.