Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Resurrection Today - Part One

Beverly Wildung Harrison was a delightful twentieth century theologian that I held in high esteem. Our paths crossed occasionally, but the first encounter I remember distinctly was a cocktail party near New York’s Union Theological Seminary where she taught. I was finishing my service on a Presbyterian Task Force on Homosexuality that was split on the ordination of “avowed, practicing homosexuals.”

She laughingly asked me if it was true that a member of the opposition on the task force had been paid a million dollars to serve as consultant on a film about the antichrist, The Omen. It was the first I had heard of it. She was right about the consulting, I later discovered, but the compensation was greatly exaggerated.

I tell the story to set in context a later conversation we had over brunch when I served a congregation in West Hollywood. A relative of hers, knowing her as a renowned feminist and body theologian, had been quizzing her about whether she believed in the physical resurrection of Jesus. Finally, with her usual “cut-to-the-chase” practical style, she said to him, “Really, does it matter to you, living in the twentieth century, whether Jesus’ resurrection was a physical or spiritual encounter?” He allowed as to how it didn’t; that a spiritual experience of Jesus’ presence was satisfying enough.

One of my college professors recounted his ordeal seeking ordination before a church committee determined to discover if he shared their understanding of resurrection. “Tell me this,” one queried, “if you were present at the tomb on that first Easter morning with a Polaroid camera, would you have been able to take a picture of Jesus coming out of the tomb?” The professor thought a moment, then replied, “Yes, but only if the camera were equipped with the lens of faith!”

As Christians, we stumble over the resurrection when we confuse a confession of faith for a statement of historical fact. It is when we treat matters of faith as matter-of-fact that we miss the mystery, the meaning, and the extraordinariness of our faith. Peter pointed out that only people of faith were given sight of the resurrected Jesus: “God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses” (Acts 10:40-41).

From the first Easter, Christians have held different views on the nature of the resurrection. The author of the gospel of John apparently believed that Jesus’ body was transformed spiritually, leaving his shroud in place. Several resurrection stories in the other gospels confirm this physical transcendence, reporting Jesus’ request not to be held, his appearance through locked doors, and his disappearance after breaking bread.

Others suggest Jesus’ bodily presence as he eats with the disciples or encourages Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and his side. The latter story combines physical presence and mystical vision, for though the disciples are able to touch Jesus, he appears in their midst through locked doors.

With all these variant descriptions of the resurrection, it’s safe to say Jesus’ first followers were not nailed down to a bodily interpretation! If the early Christians were not of one mind as to the nature of Jesus’ resurrection, why should Christians today expect uniformity of belief?

Watch for next week’s post, “Resurrection Today - Part Two.” The final five paragraphs of today’s post are adapted from the chapter, “Manifesting Christ’s Glory,” in my book, Come Home: Reclaiming Spirituality and Community as Gay Men and Lesbians (Harper & Row 1990, Chi Rho Press 1998).

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Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Jesus' agony in the garden may be seen 
in the twisted trees of Gethsemane.

I once witnessed someone become distressed when it was suggested that Jesus might have been able to tell his disciples on which side of the boat to cast their nets because he could see a school of fish from his vantage point on the shore. For that person, it “destroyed” the miracle.

And a 7th grade teacher at my fundamentalist school got very upset when my oral book report included a character’s thought that the food with which Jesus fed the multitude might have been food that the crowds had brought but kept hidden lest they be expected to share. For her, it became less of a “miracle.”

That Jesus had the common sense of a fisherman to look for a dark patch near the surface of the water and the prescience to know his followers would share what food they had are, to me, examples of “futuring,” having knowledge of what is to come. And such abilities are often associated with contemplation, serious thought about the nature of things, as well as practical application of ancient and modern wisdom.

Some of you will be relieved to know that this may be my last reference to Teilhard de Chardin’s The Future of Man, which I’ve been reading during morning prayer. This has not been my only source of meditation, as I am usually reading several books during any given period. But it has both lifted me up and caused a “downcast spirit within me” as I’ve considered his optimistic view in the light of so much distressing news in this and other countries.

But as a Jesuit and a paleontologist, he shares the long view of human history. He sees the future in terms of our evolutionary past, that what took millions of years to evolve may still have millions of years to mature and further evolve. That he could do so in the midst and aftermath of two world wars suggests we may share his faith in the future in our own difficult times.

In a sense, he too sees the fertile “dark patch in the water” that Jesus saw, and has the prescience to know we already hold the resources to address our common human concerns, just as Jesus had by providing food to eat and food for thought to a multitude.

Which brings us back to Jesus, our exemplary contemplative, whose time in the wilderness and whose prayers in lonely places gave him perspective and hope. He could see a realm beyond religion and Israel and Rome, a “kingdom not of this world” yet “in the world” and “among us” when healing and reconciliation occur, where mercy and grace are experienced, and as compassion informs our every choice, political and spiritual.

He saw those who needed “catching” for this new world (“the harvest is plentiful, but the harvesters are few”), and knew offering his own “loaves and fishes” would prompt others to share ours. He warned of trials and tribulations to come, foreseeing his own martyrdom and that of his followers, while promising to be with us through the ages.

One could say that his “last supper” with his loved ones served also as the “first supper” of the world to be, as he offered meaning to what was to come this holy week and the means by which to hold the community together afterward, by remembering through shared bread and wine, rituals and words. A recent social science study reveals that shared ritual increases trust even among strangers.

These six Wednesdays I have offered memes of contemplative prayer and of contemplative life. I consider myself a “contemplative-wannabe,” wanting to incorporate these practices into my life more and more: remembering, solitude, unceasing prayer, holding myself “in quiet and silence,” spiritually struggling like the psalmists, recognizing the sacred everywhere and in everyone and in everything, treating life as a pilgrimage, and anticipating the possible.

Many progressive Christians hope to do the same: we realize that without a strong spiritual center we can neither transform ourselves nor the church nor the world.

Like other “contemplative-wannabe” writers, I take comfort in John of the Ladder, a seventh century ascetic of forty years, who wrote: 
If some are still dominated by their former bad habits, and yet can teach by mere words, let them teach…For perhaps, being put to shame by their own words, they will eventually begin to practice what they teach. 

Previous posts in this contemplative series:
Remember the Gift – The role of memory in contemplation
“Peace! Be Still!” – The prayer of the Desert Mothers and Fathers
Rage to Ecstasy: Praying the Psalms – Monastic use of the psalms
Altars in the World – Contemplative vision of the sacred everywhere and in everyone
Pilgrim’s Progress – Pilgrimage as an aid to contemplation

The next two Wednesdays: “Resurrection Today: Parts One and Two”

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Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Pilgrim's Progress

Hindu pilgrims, India

My third-grade teacher at my Christian school, Mrs. Olive Sandvig, was innovative, teaching us things like how to churn cream into butter, and inviting us to listen occasionally to stories on the radio, helping us, the first television generation, learn the power of words without pictures.

For a while, during quiet time, she read to us from Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s metaphorical tale of Christian’s pilgrimage to the Celestial City. Though Christian met with dangers and challenges and temptations, the spoken words had a calming influence on me, and to this day, I can place myself at my classroom desk with my head laid down, eyes closed, imagining the trip.

When I was spiritual leader of Atlanta’s Midtown Spiritual Community, a congregation that had left the Unity denomination because it was “too Christian,” I appreciated the challenge of talking about spirituality in a more generic way. I still had much to learn. Once I spoke of the need to move and to travel in order to grow spiritually—in essence, the need for pilgrimage, and I was taken to task by my dear friend Linda Pogue, who explained that a neighbor in her English village had never gone anywhere all his life, yet she knew of few as spiritually mature as he! For some of us, our only necessary pilgrimage is through time.

Due to economic limitations, my own pilgrimages these days are mostly limited to my imagination and my morning walks. But I have travelled widely when my circumstances permitted it.

During my first decade of ministry at a Presbyterian Church, I was expected to take study leaves, and I travelled on two Fordham University religious studies tours led by Byron Shafer: one to Egypt, Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel; the other to India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.

Though we were visiting sacred sites of the world’s religions, these were not billed as “pilgrimages,” but I approached them as if they were. My personal text for the first trip was The Bible, and for the second was Gandhi: Selected Writings.

Given last week’s post on “Altars in the World,” blog readers may not be surprised that the open, natural places I encountered felt more “spiritual” to me than the closed, box-like structures (as beautiful as they are) that housed religious meaning.

Though early one morning I walked the Stations of the Cross alone along Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa, what spoke more to me were the green pastures beside the Sea of Galilee, the great rivers of the Nile and of the Ganges, the Egyptian wilderness devoid of any visible plant life, the gnarled trees of Gethsemane, the everflowing sea of faces throughout India, the wild-elephant-populated jungles of Sri Lanka, the Himalayas as seen from Nepal, and the colors of the stone of Petra in Jordan, which I’ve written about earlier.

Given my predilection for open spaces, I found that the retaining wall that served as the Jerusalem Temple’s base, known now as the Western Wall, is a fitting place for prayer and contemplation all by itself, without reconstructing the temple.

And, in New Delhi, serendipitously stumbling alone upon the garden where Mahatma Gandhi was martyred gave me the opportunity to give in to my spiritual emotions un-self-consciously.

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Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Altars in the World

Nature's baptismal font, Hawai'i

When you’ve finished reading this, I invite you to click on “comments” at the end of the post and share your favorite/most meaningful “altar in the world.” Click on “comment as” and if you do not have an account with one of the services listed, choose “anonymous” and enter your comment followed by your name, if desired. I will be publishing your comment later in the day. Thanks!

A seminary friend, Barbara Brown Taylor, has a book titled something like the title of this post. I haven’t read it yet, but having read three other books of hers, including Leaving Church, I have a sense that its theme parallels what I write here.

The contemplative life is about finding altars everywhere. Celtic “thin places” where heaven shows itself on earth. Creatures who, much like Meister Eckhart’s caterpillar, are so full of God a sermon is unnecessary. Leonard Cohen’s broken places that let the light shine in. Strangers who are angels unawares. The “least of these” who are Christ himself. People who, as in Thomas Merton’s epiphany at a city intersection, do not realize they are walking around “shining like the sun.” Maya Angelou’s “caged bird,” Ruben Alves’s datesRumi’s beloved guide ShamsMother Teresa’s “Christ in a distressing disguise.” 

For a contemplative like Hildegard of Bingen, music is another altar: “a person often sighs and moans upon hearing some melody, recalling the nature of the celestial harmony.”

Etty Hillesum, who was to die at Auschwitz, might smile to be considered a contemplative, but who but a contemplative could observe the following in Nazi-occupied Holland, when Jews were forced to wear yellow stars of David? 
That man in Beethovenstraat this afternoon won’t get a mention in [the history books]. I looked at him as one might at the first crocus in spring, with pure enchantment. He was wearing a huge golden star, wearing it triumphantly on his chest. He was a procession and a demonstration all by himself as he cycled along so happily. And all that yellow—I suddenly had a poetic vision of the sun rising above him, so radiant and smiling did he look. 
In her “Spiritual Autobiography,” Simone Weil saw herself forever standing on the threshold of the church, because so much that she loved and that God loves is outside the church.

“The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” Gerard Manley Hopkins declared, as so many poets, artists, visionaries, and mystics have witnessed through the ages.

The contemplative knows no bounds, no walls, no restrictive or exclusive way of experiencing the sacred. Altars are everywhere for those with fingers to touch or noses to smell or tongues to taste or ears to hear or eyes to see or bodies to be held or minds to imagine or love to be made or justice to be done. Anyone with any sense may know the altars of God’s presence and pleasure.

That’s why contemplatives often find more in common with mystics of other faiths than their fellow “believers,” why they find kindred spirits in so-called “primitive” religions that are more down to earth, or why, even among “godless” sciences they find a cause for awe and praise and—reverence.

Contemplatives do not have an exclusive view of their vocation: they learn from everyone, for, just as it is sometimes said “we are all theologians,” we are all contemplatives who do it more or less. The trick is to do more, to find ways to open ourselves to the altars in the world, to the sacred ways of other cultures, to the guidance and wisdom of other spiritual communities, to the diversity of spiritual experiences and practices even within our own faith traditions.

Listening is key. Self-Realization Fellowship founder and contemplative Paramahansa Yogananda wrote a song I use in leading retreats: 
Listen, listen, listen to my heart song;
Listen, listen, listen to my heart song:
I will never forget you, I will never forsake you;
I will never forget you, I will never forsake you—
Listen, listen, listen to my heart song.
“In this tempestuous, havoc-ridden world of ours, all real communication comes from the heart,” Etty Hillesum also wrote. Hearts may be altars as well, and listening is something we best do with our hearts.

Attending, attention, mindfulness, presence—these are our teachers, these are our guides, and these are the ways we bring healing to one another and to the world—one person at a time. “Ninety percent of life is just showing up,” Woody Allen famously quipped--and yes, comics may also be contemplatives. We need more of them!

So many places to find God; so little time!

To support this blog ministry: 
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Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Rage to Ecstasy: Praying the Psalms

Prayers at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, 1981.

If I were to send into space one item that would explain the human experience to other civilizations, it would be the Psalms. They would serve as warning and explanation and exaltation of our capabilities.

Cross us, and we will dash your little ones against the rocks. Exile us, and we will nonetheless try to sing God’s song in foreign territory. Wow us, and our spirits and words will soar in thanksgiving and praise.

An agnostic boyfriend wanted to better understand my religious devotion, so I suggested that we read a psalm each day on our own, conferring occasionally. Soon into the exercise, he good-naturedly but definitively expressed dismay at the texts. He said something like, “I expected a more uplifting experience, but there’s a lot of vengeance and wrath.”

A retired church member whose lifelong partner died was about to go on his first trip without him. I suggested we pray the psalms together, one each day, as he travelled. Afterward, he said he felt less alone, knowing I was praying the psalms with him.

That’s a gift of the Psalms, that praying them, we feel less alone. Those who wrote the psalms were imperfect, much like us. They didn’t know everything, but they had feelings about everything. And, like us, they had multiple situations and events to have feelings about, some good, even great, some bad, even evil. They reflect the human range of experiences and emotions.

They are like us, but perhaps unlike us, they are willing to express even their uglier aspects. They are not pretending to “have it all together.” They are willing to offer their broken spirits to God, to one another, to us. They are the original 12 Step meeting, the first confessors, the first monastics using prayer as a place of transformation.

As much as they, like us, might pray that God will “fix” things, they understand repeatedly their need to hope in God, to trust in God, to witness the beauty and wonder of creation, from the heavens to the earth. And they give us wonderful images and metaphors for God: a good shepherd, a mother’s lap, the rising sun of justice.

For centuries, monastic communities have prayed the psalms during their daily multiple prayer services. My first real taste of that was visiting the Episcopal Order of the Holy Cross at their Mt. Calvary Retreat House in the foothills above Santa Barbara, California. Over the years of my occasional retreats there, I found peace joining them in the reciting or chanting of the psalms. The brief silence between each line gave the words a chance to sink in, as one might pause after any line of poetry. And saying or chanting the words myself and with others gave the psalms an altogether different resonance than reading them silently on my own.

In praying the psalms, if we can’t identify with a particular mood or condition in the words, we might consider those in the world who are experiencing that mood or condition, praying with them or on their behalf. That makes the psalms at least one more way in which we realize we are not alone.

At the risk of offering a mere tautology: that the psalms are directed at the self and others and God makes them a resource of reflection and contemplation: an opportunity for dialogue with ourselves, with others, and with God.

The psalm that got me through my toughest times is the psalm divided between Psalm 42 and 43 that begins, “As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.” The psalmist was prevented from going to God’s house, perhaps by illness, but the longing presented reminded many of us in the LGBT community of the church’s exclusion.

More than once I have prayed with the psalmist, “Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me” and “Restore to me the joy of thy salvation.”

And, during an extreme and extended period of multiple griefs, Psalm 73 spoke of my experience: 
My heart grew embittered,
my affections dried up,
I was stupid and uncomprehending,
a clumsy animal in your presence.
Even so, I stayed in your presence,
you grasped me by the right hand;
you will guide me with advice,
and will draw me in the wake of your glory. 
Psalm 73:21-24 (NJB)
“Even so, I stayed in your presence” became my mantra and my discipline that year, else I would have been lost.

My favorite psalm for contemplation when leading a retreat is 131, whose key mantra is, “I hold myself in quiet and silence, like a little child in its mother’s arms” (NJB).

Please support this blog ministry: 
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Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

"Peace! Be Still!"

Full moon over the Sea of Galilee, 1983.
(Intentional double exposure.)

How easily my calm was shattered as I started to write this post! My mouse stopped working, and I had to figure out once again how to open it, and then find a fresh battery. Still, it wouldn’t work, until Wade figured out to detach and reinsert its wireless receiver.

Then Jesus’ words came to me as balm for my exasperation as well as the title I was trying to come up with for this post on the Desert Mothers and Fathers: “Peace! Be still!”

Those of you who read last week’s post on memory know that I am reflecting on six themes of contemplative spirituality, and today’s focus is on the contemplative practices of those escaping “empire,” both politically and religiously, in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Ammas and abbas, the “mommies” and “daddies” of this movement, felt called to withdraw from the corrupting influences of society even as Christianity was embraced and entangled by “the powers that be.” They were true radicals, as in going back to the roots of a faith and practice that had earlier been marginalized, persecuted, and martyred.

Today’s Queer movement within the LGBT community is culturally reminiscent of those Christians who feared the faith would lose its cutting edge qualities through accommodation and assimilation.

When today we screw up our faces (and our psyches) trying to understand how so many Christians reconcile inhospitality, xenophobia, the death penalty, sexism, torture, economic inequality, and preemptive wars with the teachings of Jesus, we get a smidgeon of the distraught felt by those who went out into the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, and Persia to pray, following the advice given to Arsenius: Flee, be silent, and rest (fuge, tace, quiesce).

Thomas Merton pointed out that “quiesce” is so much more than “contemplation”: “Quies is a simpler and less pretentious term, and much less misleading. It suits the simplicity of the Desert Fathers [and Mothers] much better than ‘contemplation’ and affords less occasion for spiritual narcissism and megalomania.”* Quies is Latin for quiet, and quiescere means “be still.” It was about letting go of all human pretensions of self-sufficiency and control, even our drama!

For Merton, crossing “the abyss that separates us from ourselves” would prevent human atrocities: “the great travelers and colonizers of the Renaissance were, for the most part, men who perhaps were capable of the things they did precisely because they were alienated from themselves. In subjugating primitive worlds they only imposed on them, with the force of cannons, their own confusion and their own alienation.”** I would think that today this could apply to globalization of economic or ideological interests.

And, of our own time, he wrote, “We can profitably reflect that modern mass-man is the one who has returned so wholeheartedly to fanatical projections of all one’s own evil upon ‘the enemy’ (whoever that may be). The solitaries of the desert were much wiser.”*** This could’ve been written yesterday!

So first, the contemplative way of life served as a prophylactic against visiting our toxins upon other people and other cultures.

It could be said that the early Christian monastics were first and foremost about removing the beam from their own eye so they were better able to help remove the splinter in another’s.

Merton compared civilization to a shipwreck, with contemplatives scrambling to shore, not solely for their own safety, but so that once on dry land they could extend a saving hand to others struggling to survive. This metaphor is particularly apt when we think of the many present-day refugees on overcrowded and rickety boats seeking sanctuary on distant shores, from the Mediterranean to the South Pacific.

So second, contemplation may serve as the first act of activism on behalf of others.

More than once I’ve used the story of Jesus and the disciples caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee as a way of contrasting our usual prayers with contemplative prayer. Jesus, who regularly prays alone, sleeps soundly in the heart of the boat in the midst of a storm, while his disciples, frantic, call to him, “Don’t you care that we might lose our lives?” Awakened, with spiritual power, he tells the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And it was so. And the disciples are in awe.

Three qualities characterize the Desert Mothers and Fathers prayer of the heart: they are short and simple; they are repeated, thus unceasing, as in “pray always,” joining the rhythm of their lives; and they are inclusive of all concerns and, I would add, of all people, of all creation. When we pray “Thy kingdom come,” it is not just for the individual or a family or a nation or all human beings, it is for all of creation, for all of the cosmos.

As to brief prayers: “One phrase on the lips of the tax collector was enough to win God’s mercy; one humble request made with faith was enough to save the good thief,” Henri Nouwen wrote in The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry.+

Amma Syncletica compared the contemplative’s work to that of a homeowner: 
For if someone who owns a ruined house receives guests there, harm is done because of the dilapidation of the dwelling. It is the same in the case of someone who has not first built an interior dwelling; loss is caused to those who come.++ 

*The Wisdom of the Desert, 20.
**Ibid, 12.
***Ibid, 22.
+The Way of the Heart, 81.
++The Forgotten Desert Mothers, 52.

Highly readable and helpful:
Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert and Contemplative Prayer.
Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry.
Laura Swan, The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women.

To support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description. Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Remember the Gift

Resting in God, temple in India, 1983.

My sleep was interrupted very early the morning I write this as I struggled with a request to co-lead a several-day contemplative retreat, doubting my qualifications. Suddenly my mind began structuring the course, bringing order to chaos. I continued organizing in a dream as I drifted off to sleep again. Waking, I felt more confident.  

I have yet to share it with my co-leader, so there will be changes to come, but I thought it would also be a helpful way to write posts that might speak to those of you who follow the spiritual season of Lent and Holy Week as well as those of you who don’t! So eager was I about this that here I am, up at 5:19 a.m., writing.

For the next six Wednesdays I plan to reflect on themes that could be used in such a retreat, in an order that roughly parallels the evolution of contemplation in the Christian tradition. Today I write of memory.

I have been told that studies indicate personal memory is unreliable. But I could not do my work or “do” my faith were it not for such a faulty instrument! My present self may easily be reshaping my personal narrative to suit myself. Lillian Hellman, believed to have reshaped her own personal narrative in her memoirs, famously wrote that the longest sentence in the world begins with, “I remember…”

One of the things I remember but have never been able to document is a line from W. H. Auden: 
Remember the gift,
The one from the manger,
It means only this:
You can dance with a stranger.
When I used to send Christmas cards, I created a card with that verse one year. It is in “remembering the gift” that contemplation begins. The first followers of Jesus told stories about him, recounted and amplified his teachings and parables, and remembered, re-enacted, and sometimes re-shaped his deeds and life events. Lent is simply remembering his 40-day sojourn in the wilderness after his baptism.

If personal memory is faulty, collective memory can be fanciful, and as it passes through time, evolves into myth. Myth, for me, offers a deeper spiritual truth. Jesus came to represent to those who followed him and those who followed them what the world needs.

Teilhard de Chardin (yes, I’m still reading him) writes, “However personal and incommunicable it may be at its root and origin, Reflection can only be developed in communion with others. It is essentially a social phenomenon.” I would add, a social phenomenon over time, a communion of saints over the ages. In another context, he writes, “Coherence and fecundity, the two criteria of truth.”*

This is what separates mythological truth from “alternative facts.” There is both coherence and fecundity in mythology: it makes sense to our inner selves and is fruitful in its outcome. The sacrificial love that Jesus taught and practiced and lived bears fruit in our transformation and in the transformation of the world.

Zen Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield tells the story of a woman attending the trial of her son’s murderer. Overwhelmed with grief, at one point, she cries out, “I’m going to kill you!” After he was imprisoned, to his surprise, she came to visit him. “Is there anything you need?” she asked casually, and she began providing little things here and there whenever she came to visit.

When he approached release, she asked, “Do you have a place to go?” He said, “No, ma’am, I don’t.” So she offered him her son’s room. She also found him work with a relative. After living together for a while, she asked him if he remembered when she shouted, “I’m going to kill you!” “Yes ma’am,” he said, “I could never forget that.” The mother replied, “You see, I did ‘kill’ you. You are no longer the man who killed my son.”

Sacrificial love transforms. That’s why early followers of Jesus gathered to relive his sacrifice in the Eucharist in which all attending, not just the spiritual leader, spoke the Words of Institution that rendered bread and wine into body and blood.  The Eucharist was preceded and prepared for by the Service of the Word, the reading of scripture and a contemporary interpretation. Liturgy too is a way of remembering, spoken or sung or choreographed. And early on, art and architecture served the Christian memory, especially in a largely illiterate world.

In Jesus and the Eucharist, Jesuit Tad Guzie wrote that the meal was “above all, a natural way for Jesus to express the meaning of his impending death, a death which he knew lay at the heart of Yahweh’s promise of life and a kingdom for his people.”**

This, to me, is not a sacrifice to an angry God, but a sacrifice to show us a greater love.

*The Future of Man, 133, 182.
**Jesus and the Eucharist, 57.

To support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description. Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Where Ladybugs Come to Die

Wade and I have moved back into my house in the Ormewood Park neighborhood of Atlanta, two blocks from where we lived before.

This is the home that received a house blessing from my church, was graced by two visits of my mom from California, witnessed the end of one relationship and the beginning of my present one, was blessed by two loveable and loving golden retriever/Labs, Calvin and Hobbes, and offered hospitality to overnight guests such as John McNeill, Henri Nouwen, Erin Swenson, and Rick Ufford-Chase, then the Presbyterian General Assembly Moderator. This house also hosted parties, including a reception for MCC friends visiting Atlanta for General Conference.

The year I served MCC San Francisco, it sheltered my friend Jim Mitulski whenever he came to Atlanta while serving as MCC’s regional elder, becoming also an office for him and administrative assistant Ritchie Crownfield.

During that time I jokingly called it an MCC “safe house” because of the occasional MCC pastor or denominational leader who stayed here when visiting the city. At MCC gatherings I would sometimes have people tell me with a smile that they had stayed in my “cute little house.”

This house then welcomed my former partner in recovery and subsequently others in transitional periods of their lives. All “loved” the home it provided them.

I longed to return, not so much because of the house itself, but because of its placement overlooking a green ravine and creek with long-lived tall trees, which I see from my home office windows whenever I look up from my laptop as I write this. Sitting on its small deck to do my morning prayers feels like being on retreat.

But I had forgotten about the ladybugs.

As a child, the only bug of which I was neither afraid nor annoyed was the ladybug.* It was small and cute and round and red and landed unthreateningly on me or a plant or surface. It would not be until I was an adult that I learned how beneficial they are to the environment, happily consuming plant-devouring aphids. I also learned that, possibly for that reason, they are considered lucky or a good omen.

Every time a ladybug has landed on me throughout my life, I have smiled.

As I moved some boxes into the attic space off our master bedroom, I remembered about the ladybugs. Just as Tippi Hedren discovered birds in a similarly tight space in Hitchcock’s The Birds, I found dozens of far-less-threatening ladybugs—all dead. I remembered that this was, for some unknown reason, the place where ladybugs come to die.

A few make it inside the house itself. By our bathroom sink I have turned more than one ladybug off its back and onto its feet in a vain attempt to prolong its tiny life. Adjusting the pillows on our bed, I have been careful not to hurt the occasional ladybug crawling on our headboard. But I have given up opening window screens to free ladybugs who find their way inside.

Maybe it’s the sky-blue color of our house that attracts them. Maybe it’s the warmth in colder months and the coolness in hotter months.

Maybe it’s the same thing that attracts us and all who have found hospitality here, a welcome to be what they are and a welcome to become what they will be. Maybe they come here to die because they know they will be left alone; they will not be squished or sprayed or swatted or shooed.

They only make us smile, but not without regard for their passing.

Didn’t Jesus say something about ladybugs? “Not one shall fall to the ground without God knowing”?

*I didn’t realize then that butterflies were “bugs”!

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Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Stay with Me

On the sacred mountain of Haleakala, a lone silversword, 1982.

My friend, Henri Nouwen biographer Michael Ford, asked me to write something about Henri, his affinity for Vincent van Gogh, and loneliness, as he prepares to write a book about Henri and loneliness.

Loneliness is the wilderness for the writer, the artist, and the contemplative. Writing, creativity, and prayer are not ways out of the wilderness, but a way to make the wilderness blossom, to turn the ache of feeling lonely to a fulfilling solitude, transforming “lone” to “alone,” derived from joining the words “all-one.”

French existentialist and novelist Albert Camus wrote a book of short stories, The Exile and the Kingdom, stories contrasting being alone and being with others. I’ll never forget the Algerian woman who leaves her husband’s bedside in the middle of the night to ascend to the roof and commune alone with the stars.

The story pertinent here is about an artist whose work makes him famous, acquiring admirers and students alike until he can’t work anymore—that is, until he finds a hidden attic in which to rediscover his art in solitude.

In his prolific and often profound letters to his brother Theo, Vincent van Gogh writes sometimes of his loneliness, while tending the fire in his hearth should a passerby stop to be warmed by its glow. His paintings became a way of offering himself to others, his “sermons,” as he once called them, that he hoped would have the same consoling effect that the Christian religion once offered. “While I sit here lonely,” Vincent wrote, “My work perhaps speaks to a friend.”

A theme or strand of loneliness wove its way into every one of Henri’s “letters to Theo,” his dozens of books on the spiritual life. A desperate extrovert, Henri nonetheless needed times of exile to hone his craft as writer and contemplative. His most severe exile, a time away from his community nursing a heart broken at the ending of a promising relationship, arguably produced his most profound, most simple, and most heartfelt spiritual treatise, The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey through Anguish to Freedom.

Henri’s loneliness spoke to my own. Upon hearing a tape of a lecture on loneliness for his class, I enrolled in the course, the notes of which became Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. The movements were from loneliness to solitude, from hostility to hospitality, and from illusion to prayer. Of all his books, Henri later observed, this was closest to his lived Christian experience.

When I write, create, and pray, my loneliness is transformed, my exile becomes community, my wilderness blossoms and communion is possible.

My writing is talking to a friend, making conversation, or a stranger, breaking the ice. My creativity is imagination let loose, hopefully to entertain as well as to encourage. My prayer is recognizing and enjoying God’s presence and remembering people I care about as well as those I should care about.

Jesus taught love, compassion, mercy, and gratitude as ways of transforming our wilderness. Reaching out to one another is the way to the kingdom, the commonwealth of God.

“Pray with me,” he urged his disciples in Gethsemane.

“Stay with us,” the Emmaus disciples urged their fellow traveler.

“Stay with me,” the haunting cry of a popular song goes, explaining “Guess it’s true, I’m not good at a one-night stand.”

That’s true of all of us, even God.

Related post:

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Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Reflections on "Reflections"

Reflections on the Sea of Galilee, 1981.

On this sixth anniversary of Progressive Christian Reflections, as we begin our seventh year together, I take this time to reflect on its possible meanings for me and for its readers, as well as offer specifics about its outreach.

In the vast universe of the internet, its numbers are tiny, even inconsequential, though growing. Three-hundred and fourteen weekly meditations are available at any time to any one on the globe with an internet connection.

Visitors come primarily from the United States, but substantial numbers regularly come from Russia, France, The Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, China, Ukraine, Poland, India, Malaysia, Australia, Greece, South Africa, Brazil, Barbados, and more. Total number of visitors to date, not including subscribers: 227,000.

Progressive Christian Reflections was recognized by Feedspot in 2016 as one of 100 top Christian blogs in terms of quality and searches. It is listed as a “recommended” blog on other blogs and websites, and its posts routinely appear on

My copyright line makes it clear that I welcome use of my posts free of cost for non-profit purposes, as readings, in newsletters, on blogs, only asking for attribution of author and blogsite. Visits and subscriptions are free, and the blog is not “monetized” so there are no distracting ads. Book links are sometimes provided for convenience; I receive no compensation for these.

Subscribers have hovered around 600 for several years. Monthly visitors have grown from a base of 3000+, to 5000+ last June, 8000+ in December, 12,000+ last month, and 13,000+ this month!

The three most visited posts for 2016 are:

Don’t You Want Me? with 15,818 visits*;
Henri’s Wound with a View, with 2,448  visits;
R.I.P: Ormewood Park Presbyterian, with 2,094 visits.

Few comments are made on the blog, perhaps because the process seems to require a Google account, though one may choose “anonymous” and add one’s name to the comment itself, or not. Many more comments come to me directly, and I have enjoyed hearing about readers’ circumstances and having some ongoing conversations.

Occasionally I use personal photos from my life or my travels.

Donations—the blog’s only source of income—for 2016 totaled $2500, with several giving monthly. I write thank you notes for each donation, so if you have contributed and not heard from me, your gift has found another route into MCC, a good cause in any case! I am grateful to MCC for recognizing Progressive Christian Reflections as one of its Emerging Ministries since 2012, permitting tax-deductible donations.

Subscriptions are handled by Feedburner, which does not notify me when someone subscribes but does notify me when someone unsubscribes, which always gives me a small “ouch.” In the first years I would inquire why or ask for ways of improving the blog. Usually the reply was positive. Lest it seem as if I were “guilting” those who unsubscribed, I stopped asking.

As is true of most ministries, my blog ministry means more to me than it probably does to readers! It gives me a voice, an opportunity to encourage, inspire, inform, and influence the church. And of keen interest to me is to support and enhance the spirituality of progressive Christians and all who consider themselves spiritual, Christian or not.

I can only speculate upon this blog’s meaning for readers, though I’ve received encouraging feedback that progressive Christians “take heart” from my posts, even if  and especially if they are the only progressive voice in their congregations. And for those unable to attend services, they serve as a link to the Christian community.

While still in college, I visited a Baptist church whose young, progressive minister described what I too experience. He said his work was to do the reading and reflection not everyone in the congregation had the time or opportunity to do, as well as reflect upon and support the congregation’s spiritual growth, offering that on Sunday mornings.

I like that description of a preacher, and I think of all those ministers, imams, rabbis, priests, and spiritual leaders (including lay leaders) who give of themselves on a weekly basis to help shape the spiritual future in that way.

One Teilhard de Chardin translator, Norman Denny, has written that Teilhard distinguished between “reflection” (“the power of conscious thought which distinguishes human beings from all other living creatures—the animal that not only knows but knows that it knows”) and “reflexion” (in which humanity “coils inward upon itself and thus generates new spiritual energies and a new form of growth” or spiritual evolution).

I am grateful to you readers, subscribers, and contributors for giving me this opportunity to join the countless numbers in pulpits, pews, and elsewhere contributing to that evolving spiritual future.

*I have no idea why this particular post has been visited so many times. If you do, please let me know!

Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description. Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What I Pray for These Days

Hindus at prayer on the Ganges, 1983. 

A Facebook friend puzzled over my last post, wondering if it implied a kind of us-vs-them outlook. What I intended was assurance to those of us apprehensive about the Trump-Pence inauguration, including possible Trump voters, who may themselves now face loss of health care coverage, rising prices, diminished Social Security and Medicare benefits, reduced personal safety, and international insecurity.

That’s not to mention immigrants, refugees, women, minorities, and the environment who may suffer as a result of everything from current executive orders to future Supreme Court decisions.

To me, these are not simple “political” issues, but more vitally, moral and spiritual concerns.

I find myself praying for President Trump more intently and regularly than any previous president. And I am praying for the electorate and the electoral process that put him in office.

I am praying for our healing, and I am praying that our demons will be cast out.  It’s easy to point to our leadership in Washington as possessed by ideologies or ideologues at odds with our American dreams, but demonic possession, as cultural anthropologist RenĂ© Girard has pointed out, is as communal as it is individual. It takes a village to make a person crazed with fear, prejudice, self-absorption, and self-certainty.

It’s easy to judge another; harder to judge ourselves. In my first parish after seminary, on Holocaust Remembrance Sunday, I gave a sermon entitled, “The Holocaust of Our Minds and Hearts.” The gist of my talk was that we can easily point to historical expressions of hatred, violence, and prejudice, but we are less inclined to examine our own minds and hearts. Within us there is another Auschwitz and another Selma: a place where we curse, confine, scourge and crucify those different from ourselves.

Those who deny the Holocaust or the cruelties of slavery or the indignities suffered by women over the ages or the inequities of class are likely those most fearful of confronting the Holocausts in their own minds and hearts.  That’s something the LGBT movement surfaced as we recognized those most opposed to us were fearful of their own sexuality and gender expectations. 

Though, with the poet Robert Frost, “there is something in [us] that doesn’t like a wall,” we build our own walls to exclude those of different cultures, faiths, races, gender, gender identity, and sexuality. The contemporary examples of this ghettoization are our social networks, which often serve as echo chambers for our limited perspectives.

Our better natures—God’s own image—often keep such feelings in check, and our spirituality may redeem and transform misguided passion, making it instead work for justice and peace, sisterhood and brotherhood. That’s what conversion is all about. But conversion is not a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience: it is a constant effort of the will to align with God’s will that we love our neighbor as ourselves, and that we find ways to love strangers, even enemies.

The demons of anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, nationalism, nativisim, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, and more, need to be cast out. Like the Gerasene demoniac, their names are Legion.

Another response to my post suggested a “yes, and” to its spirit, which I never intended to exclude. We are not only to be comforted that “this too shall pass” or that God or Jesus are with us “in the mess” (to quote Evelyn Underhill)—we must be challenged. We must be challenged to speak up, not to silence others, but to encourage others to tell us what’s on their minds and hearts, what are their needs, fears, hopes, and dreams.

We are also challenged to actively resist the demons and temptations of our time, in ourselves, our communities, our nations. Naming them in others will put them on the defensive; confessing them in ourselves may lead to conversation, if not conversion.

And we must put our bodies, voices, resources, and votes in the direction that our better selves urge us to go.

This is what I’m praying for these days, in myself, in others, and in our leaders.

Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description. Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.