Wednesday, June 29, 2011

From the Inside Out

Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.

Jesus offered the spiritual insight that content is more vital than form:

“Not what goes into a person is what defiles a person, but what comes out of a person’s heart.”

“Woe to you … Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.”

“Do not pray on street corners so your piety can be seen by others, but go into your pantry to pray in secret.”

“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” 

“Your faith has made you whole.”

“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Thus Jesus emphasizes a theme of his own Jewish tradition:

“Yahweh does not look on the outward appearance, Adonai looks on the heart.”

“I shall write my laws on their hearts.”

“Their hearts are far from me…” 

“Unless their hearts turn to me…”

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind…”

As the contemporary adage goes, "Spirituality is an inside job."

During a retreat I led at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, a ceramic artist explained the process of throwing a pot on a spinning wheel. You begin with a lump of clay and reach one hand to the inside as the other hand holds the clay in place. He said of the creative process, “How you shape the inside of the bowl determines the shape of the outside of the bowl.”

A week later, leading a similar retreat at Kirkridge, in the Poconos of Pennsylvania, a physical therapist explained the nature of physical healing. She said, “A wound heals from the inside out.”

Spirituality also moves from the inside out. That’s why Jesus insisted, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Said another way: “Transform yourself—your way of thinking, your way of doing—so you may welcome the commonwealth of God.”

Attending to our interior lives shapes our spirituality and heals our spiritual wounds. Praying “thy kingdom come” invites transformation of our souls and of our world.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

When Life Begins

Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.

I re-tell an old joke I overheard at the gym where I worked out when I lived in West Hollywood. Old Jewish men, some of them with concentration camp numbers tattooed on their arms, would sit in the sauna spinning stories and telling jokes.

A priest, a minister, and a rabbi got into a heated discussion about when life begins, the moment when conception occurs. The priest spoke first, “Life begins when the egg is fertilized by the sperm, don’t ya know.” The minister disagrees, “No, life begins when the child is born.” The rabbi expresses still another view, “No, no, no! Life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies!”
Anyone who has had a child or been a child knows that conception is more than the mere biological act of a sperm wriggling its way into an egg. A child’s conception begins with adolescent daydreams of intimacy and raising a family. At its best, it begins with a twinkle in the parents’ eyes, moments of ecstasy, months and then years of planning for the child’s welfare and well-being, dreaming of who the child will be or become, investing in the child’s future with education and recreation and a college fund. Life begins when the child is welcomed and loved and eventually honored as an independent being.

Like many mothers, Jesus’ mother Mary conceived more than a child. She conceived a vision of her child as one who would turn oppression on its head, one who would bring justice to those who had more than their fair share and compassion to those who had less. What mother does not think her child is divine—at least, at first? Babies, puppies, and kittens are all made cute by nature, I believe, to prompt our tender feelings toward them and our desire to care for them. We are born with the same-size eyes we will have in adulthood, and those big eyes in a little face are endearing, compelling us to protect such vulnerability.

If only every child could be welcomed as a divine emissary, a fulfillment of prophecy, a hope for the world! The model of Mary for our world today is not that of a virgin but the model of a mother’s feelings for her child, a mother who would treasure all things related to him in her heart. Unlike Christians of an earlier era who needed to see Jesus as other than a product of sexual intimacy, Christians today are on our way toward affirming the divine inspiration of such intimacy. Whether Joseph was his biological father is irrelevant to our vision of Jesus, just as it surely was for Mary, for every conception cradles divine possibility.

This Sunday, June 26, Chris speaks on "The Power of Words" during 11 a.m. worship at Our Hope MCC, which meets in the Univ. of GA Presbyterian Student Center, 1250 S. Lumpkin St., Athens, GA 30605. Tel: 706-202-3723. His books will be available.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Theory of Everything

Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.

One night I dreamed I was at a scientific conference explaining a theory of everything. I knew the answer, and on the podium in front of me were three reports that verified the scientific data that, integrated, revealed the theory. What I discovered in my dream was that, though I knew the answer, I could not explain it. Nor could I prove it.

The next morning I read in The New York Times that a scientific test may have revealed though not proven the existence of dark matter, as well as “the first evidence of a new feature of nature” that could bolster visions like string theory that could “unify all of the forces of nature into one mathematical expression”—in other words, a theory of everything! 

Dennis Overbye wrote, “A wide range of astrophysical and cosmological measurements have subsequently converged on an intimidating recipe for the cosmos of 4 percent atoms, 25 percent dark matter and 70 percent a mysterious energy that has been called dark energy and has nothing to do with” dark matter.

What that says to me is that we are only seeing with our eyes the manifestation of 4 percent of what’s here, the 4 percent of the universe that consists of atoms. We can’t see the 25 percent that is dark matter, or the 70 percent that is dark energy holding it all together.

Now this is a vision as wondrous, as amazing, as unbelievable as anything in scripture. Last week I wrote of visionaries, artists, poets, children, and mystics having the ability to see things “as if for the first time.” I wanted to add scientists and engineers as well, but then I began to see that all vocations, when inspired, could be listed. A teacher, for example, improves her ability to teach when discerning fresh ways for children to learn.

Jesus was a teacher like that. He taught Judaism in a fresh way so that even us Gentiles could get it! And his “theory of everything” was love.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Seeing Things as if for the First Time

Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.

In his novel Zorba the Greek, the Greek author and lifelong spiritual seeker Nikos Kazantzakis observed that poets, artists, and visionaries see things “as if for the first time.” The narrator’s friend Zorba, based on an acquaintance of the author, witnessed a rock rolling down a hill and observed in awe, “Boss, did you see that? On slopes, stones come to life again!”

Such fresh vision, without prejudice or jadedness, opens God’s commonwealth to us in the here and now. As the gay poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins observed, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

“Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it,” Jesus said. A teacher of children, “Ranger Rich,” helped me see a tree as if for the first time by inviting several of us to lie down beneath its branches with the tops of our heads toward the trunk and look up. I highly recommend you try this!

Mystics, too, see the world and God “as if for the first time” as they cast aside expectations and look beyond tradition to embrace imagination as spiritual artists and poets, and welcome fresh insight as spiritual children. Remember the famous story of Thomas Merton’s vision at a Louisville intersection, after a prolonged solitary retreat, that people were “walking around shining like the sun.”

Mystics, artists, poets, and children are all “progressives” in this sense.

Perhaps no mystic was so imaginative and so playfully childlike as Saint Francis, who is said to have hugged a leper and saw Jesus, preached to a tree and made it blossom, gathered the birds of the air for a sermon, befriended a wild animal and prevented it from killing villagers, called earth, wind, fire, earth, sun, and moon mother and brother and sister, recognized the dignity of those in poverty, and regarded popes, beggars, and robbers equally.

According to Kazantzakis, in his book, Saint Francis, this little saint even saw the devil differently. To his companion Brother Leo he says, “Do not lose heart, Brother Leo,” he told him, stroking his head. “Stand on your feet, and if the Tempter has straddled you, have no fears: the gates [of heaven] will open, and the two of you will enter together!”

Brother Leo exclaims, “The Tempter too! He’ll enter [the gates of heaven] too? How do you know, Brother Francis?”

To which Francis replies, “I know because of my heart, which opens and receives everything. Surely paradise must be the same.”

Enjoy a conversation led by Chris Glaser about sex "as if for the first time" this Saturday, June 11, 10-3, at First MCC Atlanta. No charge, free lunch, his books available. Open to everyone!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I Wanted to Be Famous

Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.

I am 60 years old, and sometimes I fear I have done my last great thing. And Oprah never called.

I confess I wanted to be famous. Household-name famous. Not for something inconsequential, but famous for writing the great American novel, an award-winning play or screenplay, or a “must-read” spiritual treatise.

Apologies for contradicting my website’s promise that my posts would not be self-centered; but perhaps it’s inevitable that genuinely spiritual writing—perhaps all writing—comes always from the perspective of one’s self. Thus academic papers that began, “I write as a white, older, American male, etc.” became fashionable.

Yet I make my confession about wanting to be famous because I believe that many share this experience of having been infected to varying degrees with a hunger for celebrity. Many of us want to stand out from the crowd, or at least, in our field.

Reading a recent article about Lady Gaga, however, I felt exhausted just learning about her busy, frenetic schedule. I act the part of the extrovert well, but afterward I am exhausted, and need some down time away from the crowd.

And I would not like to be under the scrutiny of the media, which often plays the harsh, judgmental, unforgiving, and omnipresent “god” of our time. I don’t even like to be the subject of local gossip.

In my morning prayer yesterday, I reflected on all the other things I wanted from life. I wanted to love and be loved, and that’s happened. I wanted to write, and I have. I wanted respect, and often I have had that, though sometimes I let out a Rodney Dangerfield grumble. I wanted to do ministry, and even my non-ordination made that possible. I didn’t want to struggle financially—well, that’s another post for another time!

Last week, my neighbor Jose gave me Andrew Greeley’s autobiography. Greeley has achieved fame as an author and is also a Roman Catholic priest. A New York Times writer is quoted, saying of him, “His parish is in his mailbox.” These days it’s probably in his e-mail box as well. As a writer, that’s where my parish has been, for the most part, and on the phone and Facebook.

I don’t really think a “contemplative” blog like mine can make me famous, though I’d love to be proven wrong! The reason I write this is to cheer on a “congregation” again, one that is wholly voluntary and so far, conflict-free.

Chris Glaser’s next workshop will be held at First MCC Atlanta, Saturday, June 11, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., free of charge with lunch included: “Sex Talk: The Interface of Sexuality and Spirituality.” His books will be available for purchase.