Saturday, February 25, 2012

Dust and Ashes and Transfiguration

Biblical stories seem to become increasingly our own stories.  If we pay attention and ponder.

For us, the Burning Bush. 
For us, the Call
The sacred struggle.
Burning coal touched to unclean lips.

For us, the handwriting on the wall
The Fall.

Exile....  And merciful homecoming.
Immense Gratitude!  For undeserved Mercy

Healing.   Spiritual anointing.

Becoming the Blessing one Receives.

Many saints - across the centuries - have testified to such experiences, infused wisdom - which actually befriends us we are told.  Arriving out of the blue.  Or at times of utter extremity or holy visitation - when Holy Mystery and one's intense yearning meet - Divine Mercy answering wordless supplication, stretching forth from every fiber of one's being.  Sort of like a cosmic SOSSent out.  And answered - at a time not of our choosing.  Out of the blue.  Indeed, I think it could happen due to someone else.  Even someone unknown to us - sending out an SOS-prayer into the cosmos -  today, long ago, or even in the future.  For time, as we know it, has no bearing on this unreserved and undeserved redemption - which greets us like a Holy WHAM!

I've noticed that the greatest saints were among the greatest sinners.  Indeed, if you ever meet this wisdom WHAM, you instantly know that for a fact; I find that comforting actually.  (St. Mary of Egypt is one of the few women of this type, no matter how much of a legend is her "history" as conveyed by St. Sophronius.)  Yes!  There is comfort and wisdom for us all here.  That and the Mercy of this tender creative Mystery - so Transcendent and yet so compassionately, personally Intimate.

I think passion is the key for why great sinners become great saints.  Passionate Gratitude.  Passion humbled; no longer dissipated.  Passion honed to a fine point, as if to the finest knife edge of oneself.  Passionate stretching out in awareness of our utter emptiness / nothingness - after we come smash (!) into our own limitations and we know the utter depth of our need.  When that need reaches down to our roots.  And our yearning is stretched tight - striving to reach that last distance - totally aware that we can never make it further on our own.  (That all our efforts to wing it ourselves have failed.)  That we require Divine Assistance.

At that moment we live the cry of the Psalmist:
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my prayer.
With a pinpoint willingness for risk-taking - to make a leap of faith and yield to the Mercy held out to us.  A Passionate Mercy, too, I might add - arriving in a totally unexpected way - at a totally unexpected moment.

A Personally-Attuned, Sacred Moment.

A moment of Pure Choice!  Of meeting and transformation.  Transfiguration.  A moment which, if seized, seizes you at the same time.  A kind of life-and-death moment  Even in the ultimate one of the those moments, which we term death, we die into it.  Into transformation, transfiguration.  Nothing to fear...

Now, it may seem that I have written about this before.  But I have never really understood it this way before.  I may have experienced it.  I may have read about it.  Or stretched my deepest self in such a direction (consciously or unconsciously).  But for whatever reason it's only "fallen together" for me over the last few days.  It's still falling together...  Partly because of things I've read or pondered.  Partly the time of year.  Partly because of deep concern on behalf of the suffering, even dying, of others. And how to assist someone Godward, one might say.  Which is just about as much of a stretch as trying to make that leap oneself.  For each one's journey is unique.  As one of the saints has written (in my phrasing):  "The road toward Intimacy with Holy Mystery is the very path The Holy One has already beaten in our direction."   Ponder that one!

A two-way street.  Unique for each of us.  For which the saints are willing to be called MAD - having staked everything to set out into the biblical darkness and the desert

Have you ever seen the desert in bloom?  A rare event - I once felt its personal Presence.  Yearned to see it "for real."  Amazingly, it was granted to me.  By chance (is anything ever really by chance?) the very Spring we set out on a month's journey to the southwest was a Spring of rains in the desert.  So we arrived to find Joshua Tree National Park in resplendent beauty -  just behind our campsite, in addition to the drives we took.

What I'm getting at here....  the saints try to convey this.  A few dare to describe mystical experiences.  It all sounds so tantalizing, yet esoteric.  So impossible for normal humans to pursue.

And yes, there is a training part to it.  Once I anticipated a 10 day intensive meditation retreat for a whole year.  Training for it - as one trains for a marathon, so to speak.  Did it in the dead of winter.  In the mountains. 

Structure may be of assistance, to be sure.  But the sacred moment of God's choosing can also occur within one's everyday - to use Rahner's vocabulary.  Sister Wendy is a prime example.  Though I warn you, that "moment" (those moments...) will turn your life inside-out and upside-down.  (I actually think these moments are far more available than we could ever imagine - if we just paid more attention, were poised and ready, our lamps trimmed, just waiting to be set alight.)

But this is not just something for the saints.  This is God's great Invitation to us all.   The banquet we're all invited to:  Come to MeWhen Me is also THREE.  And hospitality is at its uttermost.  Bread and Wine being its Common Meal we partake in - to celebrate the Great and Holy Mystery held out to us.  Ever knocking on our hearts.  If we just grant a moment's supreme attention and risk the Divine Embrace.

As again and again we too set out across the desert or up the mountain.  Experience anointing.  Follow a call.  Fall.  Wander astray from the route.  Come across it again.  As God makes straight our zig-zag twists and turns.

Have a little sympathy for Holy Mystery.  Whose search for us poor blighted, error-prone humans is so sorely tried!  And who, daily, hourly, moment by moment, stands ready to run and meet us - holding out two holy hands - Son and Spirit - to surround us prodigals in the Divine Embrace, inviting us to dance - at the banquet commissioned in our honor.

As we "turn" - in a state of utter extremity, utter depth - to the Unknown ~ Holy Mystery, at a moment, in a manner, we may least expect it.  And take the risk held out to us.

There's no "one experience" for this.  It could be we find ourselves resonating to a sound we seem to hear both inside and outside - our whole being in tune with the Beyond within.  It could be like an indwelling which also surrounds us at the same time.  Or like an upwelling from within or through us.  Or a flame that leaps up and surrounds or lies within.  Or like a gushing inner well, spilling over into tears.  But... do we grasp the moment?  Do we turn and meet it?  Do we leap and take the risky invitation?  Sell all for the pearl of great price?  Stake our very lives upon it?

Your mystery and my mystery.  Unique.  Death, as I've mentioned, is the "ultimate" in this regard.  But it's the same Mystery - which, each time, bids us leap, as one might leap from a burning building -  seeing appear beneath us (to our stunned eyes!) our very own "personal safety squad/God" - holding out that waiting "net" to catch us.

Ash Wednesday, in my 67th year....