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:

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 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.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

You Can Walk through a Storm

There’s a wonderful biblical story about the disciples seeing Jesus strolling on a stormy Sea of Galilee. Peter decides to join him, only to falter, frightened by the strong wind, and begins to sink. He cries to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” Jesus comes to the rescue, chiding him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

I was helping with a spiritual formation course on discernment the week of the U.S. election. The morning after, sensing the downcast feelings of many if not most of us, instructor Marjorie Thompson (Soul Feast) began the class with a rhetorical question, “Does God still reign?” As I recall, she repeated it a couple of times for emphasis, smiling. “Does God still reign?” To the participants, however we felt about the election results, the answer was obvious. Yes, of course, God still reigns.

It reminded me of a visit to the Capitol Hill office of Mary Jane Patterson, the Presbyterian Church lobbyist in Washington, D.C., during the Reagan presidency. An African American longtime activist on behalf of all kinds of progressive causes, the plaque prominently displayed on her desk grabbed my attention, “This too shall pass.” My inquiry about it brought a mischievous smile and a twinkle of an eye to her face, and without a word, she communicated her hope about future administrations.

Teilhard de Chardin, whose essay “A Note on Progress” was the subject of my post last week, did not come to his faith in the future in a storm-free place, but rather, as a stretcher bearer in the trenches of World War I.  In Christ of the Celts, J. Philip Newell reminded me of that: 
As Teilhard wrote after the harrowing Battle of Ypres in 1915, “More than ever I believe that life is beautiful.” … As he agonized over what was happening between the nations and personally despaired about the direction of the world, he heard himself being addressed by Christ, “Ego sum, noli timere (It is I, be not afraid).” 
These were the words the disciples heard when they witnessed Jesus walking on the waters of the storm on Galilee, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Fellow Jesuit scholar John McNeill (The Church and the Homosexual) experienced Christ also in the battlefields, that of World War II.  As I wrote on this blog on the occasion of his death: 
Being silenced by the church and then ousted from the Jesuits gave him the opportunity to fulfill a greater calling than he originally anticipated when, as a starving prisoner of war during WW II, a slave laborer, at risk of death from a vigilant SS guard, tossed him a potato, making the sign of the cross. John dated his priesthood from the moment of that courageous and compassionate act. 
During the spiritual formation course on discernment, a participant came to me, her fear palpable, wondering what the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence could mean for her and her partner. I had met this couple when they attended my course on Henri Nouwen earlier in the fall. I tried to assure her, but I’ve found similar apprehension among all kinds of people, even among likely Trump voters, who fear what this administration bodes for us.

It deeply troubles me how my hopes and so many others’ hopes in the future have been dashed.

“You’ll Never Walk Alone,” was my high school principal’s favorite song, and, with the school choir, The Chanters, I would sing it with passion and pride whenever we performed it for him. James B. Taylor, an African American, was very popular with students, faculty, and parents, but had been prevented from buying a home for his family in the neighborhoods surrounding the school, and this was in “liberal” California in the 1960s!

“When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high, and don’t be afraid of the dark,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from Carousel begins, and “though your dreams be tossed and blown,” concludes with the assurance, “You’ll never walk alone.”

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

“Does God still reign?”

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.