Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Near Death Experiences

Morris Chapel, Oaktown, Indiana, where Wade's mom was baptized at three months of age.
Yes, that's a cornfield on the left.

I have put off writing this post for several weeks, using the excuse of describing my workshop on self-care and then explaining my guilty pleasure watching old episodes of Frasier and Murder, She Wrote and finally, using photos of signs I’ve taken in recent years.

But this picks up where I left off with “A Mother’s Work Is Never Done” about my mother-in-law’s death. I had thought to save you any more reflections on death, lest you roll your eyes or click “delete” or find something more pleasant on the internet. But, like death itself, writing about it is inescapable.

I wrote a whole book about death, The Final Deadline: What Death Has Taught Me about Life, describing many experiences finding myself in proximity to someone’s death, so you might think I’d be used to death by now. But, while more experienced, I still am at a loss when someone dies, especially as I come closer to my own final passing or “transitioning,” as a hospice worker referred to dying.

As I write this, I look out at our backyard lawn dying from prolonged lack of rain and unrelenting summer heat despite my best efforts at watering. At least it can look forward to being aerated and reseeded this fall when cooler temperatures prevail.

I am interrupted by Wade explaining he’s taking his mom’s Christmas ornaments to our nearby Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and my mood lightens as the question crosses my mind if that’s where I’ll end up!  ( ;  

When we talked about afterlife, a neighbor who looks every bit the part of a Hindu sage with long greying dark hair and beard and flowing attire and sandals, suggested humbly that expecting life to be eternal is “a bit greedy, don’t you think?” His comment made me smile appreciatively. Maybe this desire for everlasting life is simply a reflection of our acquisitive, self-indulgent culture.

In my book I wrote that belief in an afterlife is more important for me when it comes to other people I care about, especially those whose lives have been cut short or ended before fulfilling their life dreams.

In seminary I read an essay that explained early Christians weren’t thinking of life that extended forever, but rather, life that has eternal significance and thus, an eternal “view,” perspective, and effect. Earlier, in college, I became enamored of process theology, in which we live on eternally in God’s memory. This hardly seems satisfactory to those of generations past who spent their lives enslaved, marginalized, or closeted or of their descendants who become the victims of violence.

Nearer to home, I wondered what life would be like without Wade or he without me, the more likely scenario.

Wade and I spent a week in Indiana that included another memorial service for his mom and scattering of her ashes in their hometown of Oaktown. We spent part of our time finding and visiting and, in two cases, adorning the graves of his relatives.

Cemetery next to the chapel.

That’s also how I spent part of my May visit to California, but this time, not just visiting graves of my relatives, but finding and visiting the graves of two friends.  One died as a child when I was a child after initially surviving one of the earliest open-heart surgeries. The other became one of my best friends in high school and later in college after the untimely death of his nineteen-year-old brother. I discovered to my surprise that the latter friend, who died in 2009, is buried in the same grave as his brother, and has no marker of his own.

I thought of my maternal grandfather, who lived to be 95, wryly saying to me on a cemetery visit, “When you get to be my age, you have to come here to visit some of your friends.”

I also visited the grave of a friend’s brother. A promising songwriter, his life was cut short by gun violence at 29. On his grave marker are these words:

Always documenting my discoveries through music…
The music is a part of me that I received from God.
I acted as an instrument and God as the musician.
For many years I was lost…
looking the wrong way for the wrong things.
“The end justifies the means”—No, I don’t think so.
It is the journey, not the destination that is vital.

Life is meant as a gift to enjoy,
to experience, to give and to receive.
The simplest, smallest gestures can be of greatest essence.
So don’t hold back. Make life whole and complete.
Seek not material things but fulfillment of the soul and spirit.

A reminder that "God Loves Us."

Here is the Amazon link to my book: The Final Deadline

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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Signs of the Times, Ominous and Hopeful

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Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by reader donations. To support this blog: Scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The Gospel According to Jessica Fletcher and Frasier Crane

Okay, I’ve written enough heavy posts in recent weeks to warrant one that’s just for fun. I mentioned in passing in last week’s entry that one of my self-care habits is watching old episodes of Murder, She Wrote and Frasier.

First, both TV programs overlapped my move from Los Angeles to Atlanta, so they gave me continuity. And I shared Murder, She Wrote with Mom and Frasier with both Mom and my brother, more continuity. (This may make you nostalgic for the days when we all watched the same programs on the same day at the same time and thus could  talk about them the next day!)

Both helped me survive the death of my mom, followed by the death of what had promised to be a lifelong relationship, followed by the death of Open Hands magazine, whose editorship accounted for about half my income.

I know you’re thinking, where’s the lighter part of this post?

At the time, Murder, She Wrote episodes aired twice in the morning and twice in the late afternoon. I would only allow myself one episode per day, given my work ethic! But escaping to the homely and picturesque Cabot Cove, Maine, and hanging out with both a writer and a motherly figure (pardon me, Angela Lansbury) trying to solve a mystery was just the escape I needed. I preferred the episodes in her hometown to the ones on location or in New York City. (Of course I noted the scenes filmed in my home state of California, which I missed.)

What I subsequently discovered is that many clergy LOVE crime dramas, maybe because the solution to a life’s mystery can be discovered within an hour, whereas most life mysteries require a lifetime to solve, if then.

Plus, watching the show encouraged my own new project, writing a mystery novel and spoof about a “spiritual profiler” named John Boswell, not to be confused (wink) with that medieval history professor at Yale. Every afternoon I would escape to my fictional town of Crowbar, Mississippi (the prototype of which I discovered on a solo road trip) where Boswell interviewed, one by one, selective citizens of the town to determine who murdered the pastor of Primitive Presbyterian, Angus MacDonald. Originally I called it A Presbyterian Murder, but later renamed it Angus Dei.

In his sometimes stodgy first person narrative, the Roman Catholic Boswell describes how he realized his gift of spiritual profiling:

As I look back, my adulthood prescience of the spiritual dimensions of traffic accidents should have intimated to me the possibility of applying my gifts to crime scenes. One traffic accident I happened onto, for example, I sensed, came from one driver’s inability to forgive the trespass of another, and that first driver’s insistence on his right-of-way brought them together in death, though never meeting in life, giving a spiritual if not ecumenical twist on the traffic instruction, otherwise ignored, to “merge.” And another: A one-way street seemed to confirm the theology of one driver, only to run into a universalist going in the other direction. Unbelievably, only their theologies were badly shaken. And you can imagine the multiple car pile-up when a fundamentalist refused to “yield.”

Back-to-back Frasier reruns came on twice in the evening between 6 and 7, my dinner hour. And since I was now eating dinner alone (though my dog Calvin was mindfully aware of any dropped or leftover food), far from family, the ensemble cast of characters became a kind of substitute family. And it was a non-traditional family, and the stories were often about love sought and found and lost, with the “loser” always able to return to the bosom of the extended family. Of course, there were some hilariously gay episodes, my favorite, and plenty of gay sensibility humor in others, which got the series written up in a New York Times article lauding subtle gay themes and jokes in otherwise mainstream sitcoms!

The truth is, Frasier can still make me laugh out loud! So when I need a laugh, I watch an episode on Netflix or Cozi TV, the latter of which also runs Murder, She Wrote.

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Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Caring for You

South African sunset last August. Photo by Wade Jones.

This past Sunday afternoon I was invited by St. Julian's Episcopal Church in Douglasville, Georgia, to lead a session on “Care for the Caregiver” as part of a long series supporting lay people in ministry. I was a little overwhelmed by the detailed content I was given to present in an hour’s time. The night of the day I began preparing I of course had a dream of leading the event, and I feared running out of time, though in the dream I had a whole day to work with, not just one hour! But my sleeping brain (or should I credit Holy Spirit?) gave me an idea how to approach the challenge.

Part of the challenge was that the small group attending had either been part of a centering prayer group for years or were enrolled in an Episcopal Church multiple year program about faith and ministry fundamentals, or both! In my dream I said to them, “I am stepping into a river that has flowed a thousand years,” meaning their combined experience, and added, “I have more to learn from you than you from me.”

Yet we are all part of a two-thousand-year-old movement initiated by followers of Jesus who were so good—so kind, compassionate, and hospitable—that others wanted to be like them. And here I refer to Elaine Pagel’s Beyond Belief, in which she affirms that this evangelism by attraction is how the first “Christians” inspired converts.

I realized “care for the caregiver” is what this blog has always been about. I wanted to equip progressive Christians, who are not only care-givers but justice-seekers, with what I had been given to sustain my activism: a prayer life, contemplative ways of undergirding, strengthening, inspiring, and (perhaps most vitally) sustaining a ministry of compassion and care.

The course was trying to impart the wisdom of Saint Benedict, who saw spiritual community as the stabilizing foundation of a ladder to rise to great heights, to touch the face of God as well as that of other creatures through work, study, and prayer, with order, balance, and moderation.

So, still in my dream and then after as I woke in the dark to reflect on it, I began coming up with questions to solicit the wisdom and experience of the group. The members of their Community of Hope are the ones who will be there for years after my “splash in the pan” appearance—best to help them remember that and for me to recognize I am their beneficiary not their benefactor.

I’ve decided to share with you some of what I shared with them.

How do you care for yourselves? I asked. I explained not to judge any self-care methods, just be honest. As an example, I listed my own self-care practices: morning prayer and reading, of course, running and weightlifting, healthy diet and a good night’s sleep—all admirable, but also, watching old Frasier and Murder, She Wrote episodes and comfort food and chips and wine.

Do you have difficulty saying “no”? A denominational church leader came to me for regular spiritual guidance for a season and I advised her to tape “I can say ‘no’” to her office phone. A book entitled Ministry Burnout points out that often it seems to take as much emotional and spiritual energy to tell someone “No, I cannot do that” than it takes to just do it! But, as Jesus sensed healing energy going out from him when the woman with a hemorrhage touched him, anything we do may deplete our energy and effectiveness, so focus and boundaries are needed.

Do you trust your spiritual community? What I meant by that is do you believe in the variety of gifts you’ve identified in one another as you’ve come to know each other? I invited them to speak about those gifts, and I was moved by their readily offered affirmations.

I explained the “joke” in the first church I served after seminary was that, if you identify a need the church should address, you take the lead in that ministry! After all, you are the church! That’s how we started our jail ministry for gay inmates, our outreaches to homeless gay youths, our sack lunch program for the homeless.

Identifying our own gifts, strengths, and weaknesses and inviting others in our spiritual community to identify theirs, we better know when to refer to meet an expressed need or how to best assign and offer assistance. None of us have to be everything to everyone.

What is your motivation? The curriculum provided an exercise to help us sort “sympathy” from “empathy,” listing distinctions that, to me at least, were too clever and convenient, suggesting the first was controlling and the second detached. Somewhere in between is the word I would use: compassion, which means “suffering with,” and compassionate has been applied to both the Buddha and Jesus who respectively represent detached mindfulness and sacrificial love.

Compassion requires attentiveness and listening. Henri Nouwen gave the example of an incident from his early years in ministry when he gave beds to a family that had been sleeping several to a bed. Upon his next visit he discovered they had sold the extra beds and gave a party for all their friends. What they needed was a celebration, not more “things.”

When I worked with first-time AIDS volunteers and workers in the early years of the pandemic, I invited them to consider the values motivating them and identify their “spiritual community,” encouraging them to be creative in discerning the latter. One woman had the “aha” that her women’s tennis group was her spiritual community. Over the years they had been there for one another through births, divorces, deaths, jobs, unemployment, illness, and emotional ups and downs. I suggested that their values and their spiritual communities would help sustain them in this new work.

What are your boundaries and limits? Recently, working with someone with mental health and addiction issues, I am cognizant of how narrow the line between compassion and enabling can be. This is where a spiritual community and/or a spiritual director can come to the rescue. The curriculum on care advised ministering in pairs, consulting each other, and gaining input and support from the larger group.

Do you trust healing is possible? Healing and growth and fruitfulness seem to me built into the very nature of things. As Henri Nouwen once wrote, if you keep digging up a seed to see if it’s germinating, it never will grow. A physical therapist told me that wounds heal from the inside out. A massage therapist friend begins each session invisibly making the sign of the cross over the client’s body before applying his healing touch.

During the commissioning service of a trainer of hospice workers, she was to be given a charge by two clergy. The first minister went on and on and I have no recollection of what he said. The second minister cut to the chase. She said, the people whom hospice workers serve want to know two things: Am I alone? And am I loved? I believe that’s true of all who need care.

I recommended the best book on care I’ve read, How Can I Help? by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman. The authors’ presentation of first person narratives from care-givers and care-receivers from around the world suggest that the least patronizing and most satisfying care is experienced as mutually beneficial.

As an example of that, something I didn’t mention in my recent reflection on my mother-in-law’s passing was that, like other times we enjoyed talking, we continued to “talk” with each other in her final days when she rarely spoke at all. I brought reading material when visiting, but didn’t even look at it, I was so taken with simply watching her.  

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Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Armchair Contemplatives

Mount Shasta photo by Bill Buchanan.
Bill and Ruth are regular readers of this blog.

At the end of Book One of The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross, I wrote, “I don’t like his God.” What I felt is that his God is incredibly demanding, and I found myself yearning for the homeliness of Evelyn Underhill’s God in her two-level House of the Soul.

But then it occurred to me that Juan de la Cruz’s book could be compared to a manual on how to climb Mt. Everest. To do that requires demanding training, sacrifice and investment. It’s not God who’s “demanding,” any more than it is Mt. Everest that’s demanding. What’s demanding are efforts to scale seeming insurmountable heights.

I’d rather see Mt. Everest from a distance than from the top. I guess the same goes for my preferences of seeing God. Ninety-nine+ percent of the Hebrews saw Mt. Sinai from the plain. Only Moses ascended to commune with Yahweh, sovereign of the universe.* And we have his testimony of what God calls us to be and do, along with the testimonies of all the prophetic mystics of every age, of every faith and culture.

With many of you, I am content to remain an armchair contemplative. I am grateful for the stories and writings of saints, contemplatives, mystics, and spiritual authors. The spiritual horizons they offer inform and inspire our own spiritual quests. “Success” is not my spiritual objective; in fact, I don’t consider success a spiritual objective, period.

I’ve written elsewhere that a sense of “having arrived” is when we may be in the most spiritual danger. John of the Cross understood this; he warns that such folk judge others as the boastful Pharisee contrasting himself with the Publican sinner. John writes that it may be best that God not free such people from their imperfections, despite their petitions, lest they “wax haughtier in their pride.”

So I guess I should thank God for my imperfections!

John of the Cross is the first to admit that the purgation of dark nights, first of the senses and second of the intellect, does not “earn” God’s companionship. Rather it allows God’s ever-present, unyielding love to touch us, to infuse our souls.

As I move into Book Two of Dark Night, however, I resist John’s supposition that he is sufficiently purged as well as his original premise of purging the sensual and the intellectual.

Moses first encountered I AM in a lowly desert shrub that was burning and yet unconsumed. Jacob physically wrestled with God in the middle of the night. Ruth embraced Yahweh in her fidelity to Naomi. Elijah heard God in a “sound of gentle stillness.” Hannah’s fervent prayers to get pregnant were answered. God blessed Solomon with wisdom at his request. Jewish faith has been traditioned in teaching and chavrusa, debating the meaning of sacred texts in small groups or partnerships.

Mary experienced birth pangs to give rise to a refreshing renewal of the faith of Abraham and Sarah. Jesus prayed in lonely places and was sought out for his healing touch and compassionate wisdom. The Christian story is that God has been embodied in Jesus himself, whose Spirit inspires and empowers his followers. And Christians believe themselves to be members of the Body of Christ, which cannot say to the head or the hand, the intellect or the senses, “I have no need of you.”

John of the Cross’s spirituality appears to be, to me at least, more a product of Hellenistic dualism than of the Bible. Though his concept of letting go of all that is not God is admirable, I myself find everything good is of God.

Four decades ago, an elderly gay Roman Catholic priest visited the congregation I was serving and joined us for brunch afterward. He told us he first learned of God as a child on his grandmother’s knee, and though he grew up learning and studying a harsher and more demanding God, he now, in retirement, was welcoming a gentler understanding of a “grandmother God.”

*Moses was accompanied part way by others and further by Joshua but only Moses entered Yahweh’s cloud at the summit as described in Exodus 24.

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Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. Photo used by permission.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

A Mother's Work Is Never Done

The hand we held dear.

What Wade’s mom’s passing would mean ambushed me weeks before the fact as I reached around a blind corner of our kitchen cupboards and pulled out an assortment of food containers that had been passed back and forth among family members to carry home leftovers from Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners which Roberta Glenn Miller Jones either hosted or contributed to as a guest.

I realized she would be absent when next we gathered for those holiday meals, and I lost it.

Roberta sold Tupperware in her day, but more recently had a retirement job as one of those Costco ladies offering tasty treats to shoppers. Yet she had another job more central to her character and from which she could never retire: mom. Even death cannot diminish that role. I know, because my mother continues to nurture, support, and teach me two decades after her passing. She lives on in me. As Wade is quick to say, though she died the year before we met, he sees my mom in me.

And I see Roberta in Wade. Even their body types are similar. I’ve laughingly told friends that Roberta is an older version of Wade in drag. And that similarity made me mindful—as we and other family members sat by her bedside in her personal care home, holding her hand, watching her get smaller and smaller as inactivity and inability to eat took its toll—that  this could be Wade in the future.

During the stressful weeks prior to her gentle passing in the early morning hours last Tuesday, I’ve been asking our Google speaker to play jazz while I fixed breakfast. I couldn’t quite handle listening to the repeatedly troubling news on NPR, my usual choice, and I like the way jazz often takes the listener to unexpected places.

When asked to construct her obituary for the paper, I learned her middle name for the first time, Glenn, which, combined with her maiden name, Miller, prompted thoughts about the Big Band era of swing jazz. I forgot to ask her older sister, who came for the memorial service Sunday, if that was intentional on their parents’ part or if that was just a family name.

Roberta’s service in the beautiful sanctuary of Mountain Park United Methodist Church in Stone Mountain, GA, was very well attended, surprisingly for an 83-year-old who outlives so many family and friends. Her large Sunday school class, people around her age, attended en masse, as did members of the women’s circles, including her own. Relatives came from all over the country, joining local friends and colleagues of her sons, as well as the owner and manager of her personal care home.

I began looking forward to the service when her delightfully spirited pastor, Rev. Ellynda Lipsey, met with the family to prepare the service and her eulogy and message. She, other members, and the congregation’s Stephen’s Ministry had visited her, sung to her, sent her cards and brought her flowers.

When I first met Roberta as Wade’s “friend,” I knew I was in safe space when I saw a reproduction of John F. Kennedy’s presidential portrait hanging in her living room. That is the one keepsake I requested upon her passing. I had had the same portrait in my bedroom as a teenager. As I write this, I’m wondering who will get her Barack Obama campaign button attached to her wall calendar.

How we really got to know each other was sitting together in hospital waiting rooms during two of Wade’s surgeries. We had each brought reading material, but hardly looked at it as we enjoyed prolonged conversations by which I learned about her youth and Wade’s upbringing in Oaktown, Indiana, which then had a population of 600, a town I will finally visit when we bring her ashes home. She and her husband, Gary, had married in the United Methodist Church there, reared three boys, and finally retired to the Atlanta area when all three sons settled here after college. Though she was known for her reticence, we seemed to have no problem chatting away. Long before, I came to know Gary when I interviewed the family to write his eulogy, at Wade’s request.

With other family members, she happily attended our very small wedding the year the Supreme Court decision legalized same-gender marriage. She gave us two throws that we use when watching something on our flat screen. These sacramentals will continue to keep us warm in the years to come, even as her Tupperware will make the rounds of ours and other households.

Wade selected this poem to be read for his mother’s memorial service:

Donations in thanksgiving for Roberta Jones may be made to the Stephen’s Ministry of Mountain Park UMC or Homestead Hospice.

Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

"Hey Kids! Look at the Too-lah! Look at the Too-lah!"

Wade looking at the Indian Ocean along 
Plettenberg Bay, South Africa, last summer. (crg)

On a recent visit with my family of origin, I heard the usual stories rolled out by my older siblings, putting me in my proper place as the “baby of the family.” One sibling surprised me by a new take on an old story. Being the youngest, I sat in the front seat of our old Hudson with our parents on a cross-country drive, apparently considered a privileged position by my sister and brother. At one point, given my vantage point, I saw a body of water and turned to them in the back seat, exclaiming excitedly, “Hey kids! Look at the too-lah! Look at the too-lah!” We long ago decided that “too-lah” must have come from the word “toilet,” then my only frame of reference for a body of water.

On this telling, however, one of my siblings added the word “condescendingly”—that I had “condescendingly” turned to them to announce this wonder. Miffed, I replied, “How can a toddler be condescending?” My other sibling had a different interpretation, that I was simply imitating the tone my parents took to convey something exciting to us kids.

This story came to me as I am currently reading The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. A bookmark not many pages in reminds me I’ve tried to read it before. In the past I’ve made the common mistake of understanding “dark night” as simply a period of suffering externally imposed, but, at the same time, it is a spiritual practice detaching ourselves from anything that is not God (including moving beyond our mental images of God “to the state of the progressives”), while welcoming God’s transforming love of our souls. At least, that’s one way of putting it.

One by one and day by day, as I read the sins or “imperfections” that may come with the spiritual life, I am realizing that I am guilty of each one of them. The first listed is pride, how the contemplative novice may be so excited by what she or he is learning that they prematurely become spiritual teachers rather than doers. That very nearly silenced me as a writer of these “progressive Christian reflections,” much as reading and writing about Zen Masters in recent years almost nudged me to enter their silence.

I realized that my readers may be enduring what my siblings did when I was a child, hearing, “Hey kids! Look at the too-lah! Look at the too-lah!” I get so excited by what I’m learning, if not always practicing, that I want to write about it.

I overheard a monk acerbically say of spiritual author Henri Nouwen, “I wish he would stop writing about wanting to pray and just pray!” In his book, Reaching Out, Henri offered a kind of defense, which I’ve quoted before:

I found some consolation and encouragement in the words of one of the most stern ascetics, the seventh-century John of the Ladder, who lived for forty years a solitary life at Mount Sinai. In his chapter on discernment, step 26 of his spiritual ladder, he writes: “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.”

A half century ago I visited a progressive Baptist congregation whose pastor offered a good job description of his work. Along with other ministerial responsibilities, he was given time to explore theology and spirituality on behalf of the congregation and share those insights from the pulpit.

So, even if I may not have the exact word for God or the exact words or best practices for the spiritual life, I can still lean over the front seat of the Hudson and shout excitedly to all of you, “Hey kids! Look at the too-lah! Look at the too-lah!”

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Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

An Unfinished Dream

Tunnel on an unfinished portion of the Atlanta Beltline. (crg)

The other morning I was awakened from a dream that I very much wanted to finish. I tried to go back to sleep just to see its outcome, but it was lost to me.

This is no artifice, as Coleridge claimed of his poem “Kubla Khan,” to fit the Romantic Age virtue of being unfinished, when, in truth, the poem about Xanadu’s “pleasure dome” in a “holy and enchanted place” and drinking “the milk of Paradise” is considered complete. It too came to him in a dream that was partly lost when he was interrupted capturing it in words.

In my dream, a young printer, with a magician’s dark moustache and goatee and flair, intended to introduce me to a new book. I explained I loved the excitement of beginning a book I really wanted to read: I told him I like the stiff, virgin feel of cracking a book open, covers resistant and pages clinging to one another. I mentioned that a writer friend would smell the binding of each of his new books, and that I now pay attention, not only to how a new book feels in my hands and looks to my eyes, but what aroma wafts my way from its binding glue.

Smiling in anticipation of his revelation, he showed me a tiny hardbound book, enclosed in plastic, as he delicately reached for the tab that would zip open its packaging, like those found on hard plastic grocery produce containers.

The title of the book was The Cracked Turban, and I understood it exposed the far-right’s mistaken notions about Islam. Obviously “cracked turban” was a metaphor, as a turban is made of cloth, but probably meant to reveal how very far from reality Islamophobia is.

The mysterious printer told me something equivalent to “This is going to knock your socks off!” I expected an extraordinary aroma when the airtight package was opened, not to mention my hope for an intriguing book that would be a pleasure to read and to have.

Then I woke up.

I so wanted to know what was going to happen next!

On my walk that morning and during my morning prayers, I struggled to understand its meaning. Now, I subscribe to the relatively recent theory of dream interpretation that parts of a dream are the result of randomly firing neurons, and its meaning lies less in its parts than in how your brain builds a narrative from them.

Wade and I have had death on our minds as his 83-year-old mother struggles with her health. On my walk I thought how life is an unfinished dream, and how death might be a much anticipated and intriguing book that each of us will open.

I am reading Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross in my morning prayers, and his emphasis on our soul’s need to be free of our senses to unite with God immensely bothers me. Obviously, my sense-ability about wanting to smell, see, and handle the mysterious book in the dream demonstrates I still embrace my Zorba-esque “pagan” desires as a necessary part of my spirituality. With many body theologians, I believe God and/or the sacred is to be found in our bodily experiences. Judaism and Christianity are both, in different senses and in my view, incarnational.

But I believe that incarnational theology might lend itself too readily toward materialism and even idolatry, both societal demons Muhammad wanted to drive out in establishing Islam.

Clearly the dream represents my political bias and political passion: to welcome the very people the alt-right wants to purge.

And also clearly, the magician-like appearance of the book’s printer and mysterious nature of the book’s packaging, size, and promise shows my reverence for books, no matter how “small.” Note it was a printer, not a publisher, who wanted to show me the book. Having once worked in a print shop, I respect the craft and toil of producing printed material.

Producing, handling, and honoring “hard copy” could be another example of incarnational theology. Islam respects Jews and Christians for being “people of The Book.”

An afterthought comes to me. Before I encountered the printer, eager to show me an exciting new book, a female archivist came to me in my dream and offered to help me organize my papers (and this has happened in real life—someone in our church). It’s telling that my narrative jumps eagerly onward to the introduction of a new book to enjoy.

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Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

No One Should "Have to" Say the Lord's Prayer

A Nouwen retreatant fashioned this
crucifix from dried cactus at Ghost Ranch.

No one should “have to” say the Lord’s Prayer. Anymore than anyone should “have to” savor quality chocolate, bite into a freshly ripened peach, or make love.

I’ve been made aware that some folk associate the prayer Jesus taught us with all those “have to’s” of formal worship, an accessory to a spiritual straitjacket of liturgical conformity that was required wear in some Christian traditions. I guess my largely optional Baptist worship experience as a child and youth prompts me to see it as a choice rather than a requirement, on a par with the stiff reciting of the Apostles’ Creed or a self-abasing Prayer of Confession. (To be clear, though, in my better moments I try to value all liturgies and their parts as opportunities for spiritual expansion.)

But for me, the prayer Jesus taught is my favorite part of my morning prayer time. Sometimes I save it for last, like dessert. And sometimes I say it first, like a child unwilling to wait.

I write this to say I do not recite the prayer Jesus taught his disciples because God somehow “requires” it, but for selfish reasons that I can only hope become altruistic in the transformation the words may bring me.

It is a way of transcending my self, even as it connects me to my past and future selves. It connects me to Jesus, who first recommended it, and all those disciples and saints, sinners and saviors who followed, are following, and will follow in our spiritual tradition. It connects me to God—I believe, Jesus’ intent—without the “in Jesus’ name” sign-off to prayer we use as an imprimatur / notary stamp / access code / password to let God know our legitimacy as Christians.

The prayer reminds me of the permanent familial relationship we all have with God AND with each other. For me, it’s not simply a Christian prayer, but a Universalist prayer, even a Unitarian prayer for those who believe “the Lord our God is one.” When we pray “thy kingdom come” or the variation “thy kindom come” we are praying for the world a commonwealth in which everyone is a citizen, a beneficiary, and an heir—including those who do not subscribe to any faith or religious tradition. This is the grace of God at work that excludes NO ONE.

And it doesn’t ask of us any less than it asks of God: forgiveness. As synchronicity would have it, the day of writing this post I read Benedictine monk John Main’s words, “Perhaps the gift our violent and fear-filled world needs most is forgiveness…in an age so dissatisfied with its own shallowness—a dissatisfaction that produces so much confusion and violence.”

Finally, it lifts us up to God’s glory, the transformative power of God’s love, and the divine value of all that is.

Other posts on The Lord’s Prayer:

I will again be co-leading a 5-day contemplative retreat April 27-May 1, 2020 in Cullman, Alabama, through the Spiritual Formation Program of Columbia Theological Seminary. It is open to the public.

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by reader donations. To support this blog:
Scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What Is Your Golden Record?

Equinox full moon rising behind the haze in New Mexico.
Photo by my friend Trudie Barreras. Used by permisson.

On this week’s 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing, I invite us to consider, what are we—you and I—putting “out there” in the universe?

Week before last Wade and I were fascinated watching The Farthest, a documentary about Voyager I and II, still travelling through interstellar space with a “golden record” intended to depict earth and its inhabitants to extraterrestrial sentient beings. It’s amazingly diverse—amazing given the seeming narrowness of our vision these days. It includes audio greetings in more than 50 languages, a variety of musical offerings, and pictures of numerous plants, animals, places and actions to give the recipient a sense of life on Earth.

And I thought of each of us, what would our golden records be? What would we put out into the universe to represent our individual and communal lives? How would we summarize our life experience in images and words, tastes and aromas, touches and sounds, thoughts and feelings?

I considered St. Ignatius’s self Examen as a possible process to choose what best represents our individual experiences and choices, particularly Jesuit Anthony de Mello’s accessible Testament. Briefer still is my adaptation of his effort for a contemplative retreat, which I share with you in hopes you find these prompts useful in articulating what might be on your golden record:

1.These experiences I have cherished:

2.These ideas have brought me liberation:

3.These beliefs I have outgrown:

4.These convictions I have lived by:

5.These are the things I have lived for:

Numbers 1 and 5 could include images as well as words, though, with a little imagination, images could be included in any category. For example, liberation could have been felt hang-gliding, and conviction could have been the result of a baby’s smile. Outgrown beliefs could be pictured in a stack of books.

Another thought that came to me is that personally, my whole life could be summed up in the mantra that Jesus spoke to Lazarus: “Come out!” Come out of the closet, come to life, come out of your fear, come out of other’s expectations and even your own, come out of shame, come out of “resting in peace,” come out of isolationism, come out of narrow concepts and beliefs, come out and join the party, help the neighbor, enjoy abundant life!

So what is your life’s mantra(s)? And what are the contents of your golden record that you are putting out to the universe?

Only a handful of us may land on the moon. More vitally, all of us have landed on this oasis named Earth. So the question is, to what purpose, to what pleasure, to what hope, to what love?

The link on The Farthest is to the original trailer on PBS. For info on its present venue on Netflix, go to: It is also available on Amazon Prime. (I receive no remuneration for these links!)

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by reader donations. To support this blog:
Scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. Photo copyright © 2019 by Trudie Barreras.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

My Monastery

A recent selfie!

The day I write this, I realized during my morning prayers that they are my entrance to “my” monastic community. I put “my” in quotes because the community in which I’ve been blessed to participate has never been mine alone, but that of generations of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Native peoples, Celtic peoples, and more—past, present, and future, from every people and culture.

And, in my heart, I join you who read this or who have read anything I’ve written, because you are a part of me as I am a part of you. And you too enjoy the same contemplative community whenever possible.

I guess this all began yesterday afternoon as I went through “Mom’s box” of my life’s souvenirs. Mom saved things that I had forgotten I had written and published, as well as articles about my work and announcements about presentations I had forgotten. And she included a file of my stuff labelled “Chris” in Dad’s handwriting, indicating he had done likewise.

Reading and writing words has been my way into a spiritual community vaster than I ever imagined when I was a child. And it has been my way into discovering a God grander than could ever be “captured” by mere words, even those of the Bible.

As happened this morning, my morning prayers are often a means of continuing conversion and more comprehensive understanding, providing continuity to my (and our) disparate experiences. I continue reflection begun several weeks ago on Benedictine John Main’s Letters from the Heart. He writes of the monastic experience:

More and more it will fulfill its prophetic role by living in the cities where the experience of community and of spirit are all but lost. There, in these modern deserts, it will bloom by the proof of the power of faith and absolute generosity to achieve the impossible in liberty of spirit. “Let the wilderness and thirsty land be glad; Let the desert rejoice and burst into flower” (Isaiah 35:1). [ p 75]

I thought of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the early Christian monastics who went off into the wilderness to pray. Now we, in our own “deserts,” may hear the call to take what I call in my retreats “monastic moments,” opportunities to look inward, to listen to our own hearts, undistracted.

Of visitors to his monastery, Main writes,

They think they will find God in the terms they have imagined until then. But instead they first find themselves—recognized, known, and inexplicably loved. And because of that experience their expectations begin to change. They no longer seek a God of their own imagining. Instead, they begin to expand in the presence of the God they know to be beyond thought or image. [p 72]

And, he adds, “They now realize that God is seeking them. They must simply be still and allow themselves to be found.” [p 72-73]

We are called, Main says, to shape a community where others may also find their way, at the same time recognizing it is not “ours” but God’s. He correctly cites Bonhoeffer’s warning that an idealistic view of community leads only to disappointment, either in God, in others, or in oneself. The Rule of Saint Benedict describes the essence of Christian community as loving people as they are.

I will again be co-leading a 5-day contemplative retreat April 27-May 1, 2020 in Cullman, Alabama, through the Spiritual Formation Program of Columbia Theological Seminary. It is open to the public.

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by reader donations. To support this blog:
Scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Copyright © 2019 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.