Monday, December 4, 2017



“And what I say to you, I say to all:  Keep Awake.”

Mark13: 37

For the past several Sundays now, the Gospel lessons from Matthew 24 and 25 have been focused on the Eschaton, the end times; what is commonly referred to as the last judgement and the Second Coming of Christ.
It seems appropriate to end the Church Year by talking about the end of time, but today is the beginning of a new Church year and we’re still talking about the end of time. The fact is every First Sunday of Advent starts with one of three versions of the same account found in Matthew 25, Mark 13, or Luke 21, depending where we’re at in the lectionary’s three-year cycle.

We hear in today’s reading from Mark 13about the Son of Man, Jesus the Christ, descending in clouds with great power and glory and the angels gathering the elect from the ends of the earth and to the ends of the heavens at the end of the age.  In fact, Mark 13 is a shorter, albeit an earlier version of Matthew 24, 25 and Luke 21in which this discussion about the Son of Man coming in power and glory is set in Holy Week, the day before or the day of Maundy Thursday with Jesus and his disciples in the Temple precincts disciples commenting on the beauty and impressive structure of the Temple to which Jesus replies that not one stone will be left standing on the other. Jesus’s disciples ask, “When will this happen?  What will be the signs?”
This was an important question for Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s audience and congregations which primarily consisted of Jewish Christians, because by the time these Gospels are written, the Temple is destroyed, Jerusalem is in ruins and the Church of Jerusalem – the geographic center of early Christianity no longer exists because in 70 CE, the Romans destroyed it all.

And the question that is burning in their minds is “Where was Christ?

Why didn’t he come?  Isn’t this the end of the age?
Because if there ever was a time for Christ to appear – NOW is that time.” 

To answer these concerns these Gospel writers comb through Jesus’s teachings and reframe their congregations’ questions as the disciples’ question and presents “Jesus’s answer” in a context that encourages faith and hope for the long haul.
If one reads these accounts thoughtfully, it becomes clear that Jesus is not offering a prophecy about the future, which unfortunately has become the way most Christians think about these particular scripture readings.

Prophecy is nothing more and nothing less than pointing out the ignored obvious that’s happening under our noses, right now, along with a pinch of hope to get us through whatever it is being addressed at the time.  As is true of all prophets, Jesus was and is a prophet of the present.  He is the one who taught us, “… do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”[1] And this approach can be illustrated by reading Jesus’ response to the disciple’s question of when that was left out of today’s reading.
This is Jesus talking:

"When you hear of hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come.  For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there ill be famines.  ...Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you be hated by all because of my name[2].”

Does any of that sound familiar?  
It should.   It’s almost daily headlines today. Jesus took their concerns and took our concerns for the future and places them squarely in the present.

And here’s the clue that Mark is referencing the destruction of the Temple to his audience in Jesus’s voice:
“But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand)  then those in Judea must flee to the mountains;  someone on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away;  someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat.”[3]

Mark’s original audience understood exactly what Mark meant by “let the reader understand.” The desolating sacrilege was the Roman banners flying where the Holy of Holies once was and the thousands of corpses of those trying to protect the Temple from desecration lay rotting in the open air.  This was the experience these early Christian congregations had gone through.  This is what they witnessed.
Jesus continues:  

… And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it.  False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.”[4]
Let’s be clear about what Jesus is talking about when he talks about false Messiahs: He’s talking about individuals who at the time these gospels were being written and who in every age since that time have claimed: “I along, can save you.”

In essence, Jesus’s answer to the question when will this occur has been through the ages, “NOW!”

What emerges from that moment on is an awareness the Apostle Paul wrote about some ten to twenty years before the destruction of the Temple; that we are called into a relationship that presents Christ to the world as the Body of Christ, the Church.
As Paul states in today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  … God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship (into a relationship) of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” [5]

It can be speculated that in the two-hundred thousand years that identifiable Homo sapiens (us) have walked the earth, human behavior hasn’t changed much; which explains why the headlines haven’t changed much throughout history, but throughout the course of human history, we have been given a different perspective of who we are and who God is. 
Beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures, in Genesis, we learn that we are made in the image of God and throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that understanding is deepened until we find ourselves, in Paul’s language, incorporated into the Body of Christ and find our being in the very Being of God.[6]

Advent always begins in Holy Week with Jesus telling us that “the son of Man will come again in power and glory,” but if the story of God’ incarnation in the form of Jesus should tell us anything, it is that God comes among us like a thief in the night[7] or like the midnight arrival of bridegroom[8]. 

The imagery of Jesus born in a barn and Angels announcing his birth to lowly shepherds on an isolated country hillside rather than in the palaces of kings or with trumpets blaring in the Temple precincts – should tell us something of how Christ’s coming again is revealed.
It is not likely to be seen with eyes that look for power and glory in the form of military might, swelled treasuries, gilded palaces, and lavish displays to underscore it all, but rather through the eyes of faith, because God is faithful, and God, in the form of the Son of Man, comes as one of us because he is one with us – Emmanuel.

So we start this new Church Year, as we start every new Church Year, with a reality check – that the world can indeed be a dark place in need of light, in need of a new perspective that is embedded in our faith of the Christ who came, in our love of the Christ who is, and in our hope of Christ who comes again.

Advent urges us to heed the call of John the Baptist to repent – to turn around and face the marvelous truth that God is with us. For in listening with the ears of our hearts and absorbing the stories of God’s love for us in Christ throughout the ages, we are given a new perspective of who we are in God. 
So let us keep awake, be present in the moment; be present to the moment, maintaining the perspective of who we are by God’s grace amidst any darkness we encounter by keeping lit the light of hope, faith, and love so that the Christ in us can greet the Christ who comes our way.

Nameste and Amen!

[1] See  Matthew 6:34
[2] See Mark 13: 1 through 26 for the full context of selected scriptures.  All quotations from scripture are in keeping
   with the Revised Common Lectionary as found in The New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, the
   Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America
   © 1989, 1995
[3]  Mark 13: 14 - 17
[4]  Mark 13: 21- 22
[5] 1 Corinthians 1: 7 & 9
[6]  See Acts 17:28
[7]  See Matthew 24:43 and 1 Thessalonians 5:2
[8]  See Matthew 25:6

Tuesday, November 21, 2017



Elijah is a mythic figure that is a mystery in his own right.  The designation of being a Tishbite is enigmatic and possibly indicates an unknown origin as the term is used to denote a resident alien in some contexts.  The location of Tishbe is controversial as it is reported to be in the area if Gilead, but other locations are contenders. No one knows an exact location. We know nothing of Elijah's origins or his life story prior to his appearance in the first book of Kings. He enters the Hebrew Scriptures as a full-blown prophet of Yahweh (YHWH). His name means, "My God is Yahweh."  He is also the head of a school of prophets, which we know little to nothing about.   

With Elijah we return to the mythic within the historical context of the reign of Israel's King Ahab and his notorious wife, Jezebel.  As I have mentioned in another post, the mythic has applicability. This is certainly true with the tale of Elijah who rises to the level of a personage.

For example, the personage of Elijah is attached to the personage of the Messiah, as a forerunner to the Messiah. Elijah is read back into the tradition of celebrating the Passover and other Jewish holy days.  This is remarkable in that the tale of Elijah is relatively short; comprising seven chapters from 1Kings 17 through 2 Kings 2.[1]

 While the tale of Elijah is presented in the context of the ninth century BCE kingdoms of Israel and Judah, its mythical aspects represent a mystical pause in that historical narrative that is relevant to any discussion of mysticism found in Abrahamic monotheism.


The particularity that Elijah's tale presents in a discussion of the mystic journey revolves around the issue of maintaining faithfulness and integrity of a people chosen by the God of being, YHWH and whose ancestors swore devotion to the same.

In this tale we pick up where we left off in the tale of Moses and the Exodus.  Centuries have passed since that time.  The Israelites are settled in the Promised Land.

What started out as a confederation of tribes became a united kingdom under Saul, David, and Solomon.  Then it became two separate kingdoms, the Kingdoms of Israel with its capital of Samaria and the kingdom of Judah with its capital in Jerusalem. The only identity they had in common was a shared theism, a shared devotion to an unnamable god of their common ancestry, the God Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; YHWH, the Lord, who led them out of the land of Egypt.

In the final chapter of the Book of Joshua, we find as the Israelites finally have established themselves in the Promised Land.  Joshua their leader asks them to make a final decision as to whether they will serve the Lord or serve other God's. They choose to serve the Lord, but Joshua tells them they cannot for God is holy, but they insist and Joshua instructs them to put away their idols.

Joshua's prophecy turns out to be correct.  In the long run, they find it hard to be faithful to a god they cannot speak of or idolize.  It is hard to appeal to a power that cannot be seen, much less use to generate power, that is increasingly seen as residing in a monarchical system that derives its authority from the divine other.

The question that the monarchies of Israel and Judah beg is what happens to faithfulness and integrity when the governing powers on this earth define its appeal, use, and generation; when they ignore their original covenant with YHWH and resort to political pragmatism rather than ensuring that justice is done?   Where does that leave the average Joe and Mary?  What becomes of God?

Political pragmatism of the time dictated alliance being made through marriage.  Marrying the daughter of a powerful king allied one with that king.  This is what King Ahab did to protect his borders and ensure he had the resources to fend of his enemies.  To that end, he marries Jezebel the daughter of the King of Sidon.

Jezebel also happens to be a priestess to Asherah and Baal or the Baals.  She attempts to establish this religion as the only religion in Israel and, with Ahab's consent, goes about killing prophets of YHWH who undoubtedly are outspoken critics of a regime that has abandoned its covenantal relationship with God. Elijah is sent to inform Ahab of its arrival, and the whole region is affected by a severe draught that is implicitly sent by God in response to the idolatry that has become rampant in Israel. During the draught Elijah is sent to live with a widow and her son in Zarepath, which ironically is located in Jezebel's home turf of Sidon. 

This detour has a purpose.  The tale of Elijah establishes that God is not limited by geographical boundaries; that God is God and there are no others.  It also demonstrates that God is merciful to those who act from faith, as the widow did by feeding Elijah when she and her son faced certain starvation.  It is important to recognize that she did this even though she did not acknowledge the God of Elijah as her god.

As she tends to Elijah's need for food, God supplies her with what she needs to do so and she and her son are fed also.  When her son becomes ill and dies, she sees it as a result of her own sinfulness (unknown) and believes that his death is her punishment.  Elijah proves otherwise and brings her son back to life.  It isn't until that moment that she acknowledges Elijah as a true prophet of God.  She demonstrates that where faith and integrity is exercised, the imprinted image of God on humans is revealed regardless of who they are or where they live.

When the draught is about to end, Elijah returns to Israel and informs Ahab of its ending and tells Ahab to summon the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel for what amounts to a prophet's duel.  The result is YHWH demonstrating immense power and the elimination of both the prophets of Asherah and Baal.  In response to that event, Jezebel threatens to kill Elijah who escapes to the wilderness and asks God to take his life.

God doesn't.

Instead, an angel directs Elijah to eat and retrace the steps of the earlier Israelites back into the wilderness of Sinai, to the mountain of God; the mountain Moses received the Ten Commandments, Mount Horeb.


It is on Mount Horeb that the tale of Elijah grabs my attention. Up to this point, Elijah's tale follows a fairly mythical pattern of miracles and heroic deeds, but suddenly there is a shift in gears.  The mythic hero becomes a mere mortal like the rest of us[2].  One would have thought that after the Mount Carmel experience, Elijah would have been unstoppable.

"Jezebel's threats…  Ha! Who's she trying to fool? She's nothing; a nobody!"

But that is not what we encounter.

What we encounter is a withered prophet - emptied out - a shell of a human.  We see Elijah as Elijah sees himself, and it's an interesting view.

After being instructed to go to Mount Horeb, Elijah wanders forty days and nights in the wilderness, a nod to the Israelites of the Exodus tale wandering there.  Once he arrives he spends the night in a cave. It is there in the dark night of his indwelling soul that the voice of God comes to him and asks, "What are you doing here?"  The writers if First Kings are turning up the volume that Elijah is having with himself. The voice of God speaks in Elijah's voice as if Elijah is asking the same question.

God often speaks to us in our inner conversations. The place where we can ask the questions we don't want anyone else to ask. So the voice is familiar, even if the question makes us inwardly squirm. We have no choice but to listen. Elijah bears his human soul to God, how his zeal for seemingly led nowhere other than putting his own life at risk.  God's response is for Elijah to stand on the mountain for the Lord is about to pass by.

In this story, it is important to keep in mind the details, the setting in which this conversation with takes place. Elijah is still in the cave when he hears a great wind.  He is still in the cave when an earthquake tends the mountain. He is still on the cave when a great fire appears.  He is still in the cave when there is the "sheer sound of silence."[3] At hearing/experiencing a profound silence, Elijah , like Moses at the Burning Bush, is intuitively prompted to cover his head.  It is after this "sheer sound of silence" that Elijah exits the cave.

Then the voice of God comes to Elijah again and asks the same question as it did in the cave, "What are you doing here?"  Elijah gives the same response as he did before as if nothing happened, because "nothing" did just happen and it was God. Then the inner voice of God gives Elijah instructions to carry out and his goes back to finish his ministry.

What was that all about?

Most Christians go no further in this tale than Elijah hearing the still small voice version of this story.  There is so much more going on in this tale, if one moves to the enigmatic next verse.

For a wrinkle in time, Elijah has a totally mind blowing encounter with God that cannot be explained verbally.  It can only be felt which the writers of 1Kings give us a sense of when we are back to the question God originally asked and the same reply Elijah gave at that time. It represents a lapse in time and space – a mystical moment in which Elijah finds himself caught up in an experience that defies explanation.  It's not a transfiguring moment, in the sense that it changes who Elijah is.   Rather it affirms who Elijah is and it affirms God's being in all moments as God's peace, God’s silent but active presence. 

What it says about the mystic journey we’re all on is that God's silence is a sign of God's most intimate presence in our lives.  When our complaints remain unanswered, the answer is to continue doing in the peace of God.

This tale provides one of the most profound revelations of God, and it will play itself out in story of Jesus's crucifixion in the Christian scriptures. The sense of abandonment and being spent that Elijah experienced after defeating the prophets of Asherah and Baal is the same sense of abandonment the Jesus expresses on the cross and is reflected in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus says, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?"[4] (Matthew 27: 46 &47)

In my opinion, the author of Matthew employing a double entendre when he has the bystanders at Jesus’s crucifixion question whether he is calling for Elijah.  What I believe Matthew does is connect Elijah's experience on Mount Horeb to Jesus's crucifixion on Golgotha; demonstrating that where and when God is silent, God is near.

I believe this is the primary reason mystic's seek silence. God is often found in the silence.  This should not be construed as God standing still.  God may be silent, but God is never still.  There is always something to God's doing nothing.

We are because God is

When Elijah experiences that exquisite moment of revelatory silence, he recognizes he is still here; that he, Elijah, still is; just as God always is and in this sense we see him being carried up in whirlwind of God's being at the end of his ministry.

Until next time, stay faithful.

[1] Elijah is briefly mentioned in 2Chronicles 21: 11-15 as sending a letter to Jehoram, King of Judah.
[2] If you're reading my posts for the first time, don't freak out about my choosing to call stories in the Bible myths.  I have a deep respect for both the Holy Bible and myths. Myths are not lies and they're not false. On the contrary, the intent of any myth is to convey truths that cannot be conveyed by fact.  Truths, in the sense I use the term, are akin to governing principles that hold their sense of truth but no one can adequately explain exactly why they hold true.  This is where myths become helpful; in that, they allow us to engage with them through story - sometimes fanciful and creative stories that exaggerate reality in order to highlight the truths embedded in them.  They are similar to the parables of Jesus.  There is, in my opinion, a parabolic, a mythic, feel to all Hebrew and Christian stories of people found in their scriptures.
[3] 1 Kings 19:12. I like the translation of this verse as found in the New Revised Standard Version – Anglicised, 1989, 1995, The division of Christian education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States, which is  used here, as it capture the essence of the what Elijah is reported to have experience better than the usual translation of what he hear as a “still small voice”, which is probably true to the actual Hebrew expression, but which doesn’t capture the actual meaning of the experience.
[4] Matthew 27:46 & 47

Thursday, November 16, 2017


As a whole, mysticism is about finding definition through perspective. I will discuss this further in a concluding series of posts on the mysticism of art (both aural and visual).   Mysticism offers a perspective on what it means to be, from the intimate inward to the distant outward and from the distant outward to the intimate inward; in seeing the divine cosmic at work in the chaotic quantum environment of mundane human existence.  It is very imaginative – very creative – and filled with both meanings and unanswered questions.  It’s a mindful and soulful journey of which I am only touching upon the very surface of a small but significant part of its domain in these posts.   
I’ve been literally skimming through stories found in the Torah as a way of introducing basic thematic schemes found in most mystic experiences and tales.   The Torah is both central and foundational to mysticism as experienced and understood in Western civilization.  For Judaism it is central.  For Christianity it is foundational.  Neither of these two religions would exist in their present forms without it.  Attributed to Moses, the Torah was written by a variety of Judaic schools of thought.  It honors the Moses as Judaism’s greatest prophet, as all roads leading to the Moses and the Exodus event and all roads proceeding from that event. 
The Torah is an attempt to codify the human experience in relation to a divine intuition.  It does this through the establishment of laws written in response to observations by humans about the human experience and given a divine imprimatur.  When viewed from a distance one can see that they are a way to identify, differentiate, and measure the quantic, human behavior.  It is the universal nature (found in almost every ancient and primitive civilization) of these laws; particularly regarding the preservation of life and property that enables one to intuit a divine imprimatur. They (the laws) actually say very little (on the surface) about the divine cosmic, but the Torah, as a whole, reveals a great deal about the divine cosmic (God) in relation to human experience.  In fact, it is in this tale of Moses and the Exodus that the nature of God is revealed reflecting a universal understanding of the divine that emerged during the axial period in which the Torah was written.
In the tale of Moses, Moses picks up the thread of God’s love that was discussed in the last post.  In fact, Moses acts as a threaded needle to sew together the fabric of the Chosen People, or a spindle upon which their tale is spun.   His tale picks up where Joseph’s tale ended.  Like Joseph, Moses begins as a slave, is adopted by an Egyptian princess, becomes a prince of Egypt, and then flees Egypt after murdering an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew slave.  It is in the wilderness of Midian that Moses becomes the mouth-piece of God, like Joseph became the mouth-piece of Pharaoh.  As Joseph brought Israel to Egypt, Moses will lead Israel out of Egypt.  There is a theological symmetry to the enslavement of Israel – the four hundred years Israel was in Egypt.  Unlike those before him, Moses is depicted as having face to face conversations with God.  In fact, Moses’s conversation with God at the burning bush is one of the longest direct conversation between a human and God recorded in the entire Holy Bible.  In other parts of the Torah, God speaks at length to Moses regarding laws and the construction of the Tabernacle, but the burning bush incident is a conversation unlike any other in the scriptures because in it, God reveals God’s nature. 
The tale of Moses and the Exodus is a story of meaning.  Implicit in all of these tales is the question, “Why?”  Why Abraham?  Why Joseph?  Why the enslavement of Israel?  Why Moses?  Why forty years in the Wilderness?  Why? 
The why of any event is at its root always a mystery:  Why this?  Why that?  Why now?  Why-questions are never answered by why-answers or answers that begin with “because.”  Because-answers actually answer “what,” “who,” “when,” and “where” questions since they answer the conditions and situations in which events occur, but they never get to the root of why something happens.  If one can ask a why-question that prompts a because-answer, the questioning and answering can result an endless cycle of such questions and answers.  It is like a parent trying to answer a small child’s question about why something happened with a because-answer. To every because-answer the child intuitively and invariably asks, “But why?”   

As comedic and frustrating such questions can be, they make children of us all.  We adults find ourselves in the same place as the child as there is never a final definitive answer that begins with “because.”  We usually end a cycle of why-questions by admitting “I don’t know” or by curtly stating “because I said so,” or “that’s just the way it is." The latter response revealing an unintentional insight into mystery as it brings one to the liminal expanse of being.
Moses can’t help but examine a bush that is blazing on fire but not consumed by it in the dryness of a desert.  All his questions about what and how are immediately transfigured into who and why questions.   As he approaches the phenomenon, Moses finds himself in the presence of God, told to remove his sandals and intuitively covers his head.  Initially God introduces godself as I am the God of your fathers Abraham, etc. and goes on to tell Moses that he has been chosen to lead Israel from bondage and inform Pharaoh to let God’s people go. 

Moses objects and explains that he is not up to the job; that he cannot speak well.  Like the story of Jacob and his fight with man in the darkness, Moses is faced with his own sense of failure – and struggles with his own doubt.  This is not about trying to get out of job, but rather engaging with one’s sense of integrity – “all hearts are open” to God from whom no secrets are hid”[1]  
God’s gentleness is evident with Moses who grants Aaron to be his mouthpiece.  Like Abraham being concerned that he is too old to see God’s promise of son of his own body, Moses is concerned that walking into the Israeli communities back in Egypt to announce that God has told him to tell them that they will be set free to engage in a journey to the Promised Land won’t fly.  Egypt is land full of identifiable gods and goddesses.  It is clear from reading scripture that not only the Egyptians worshipped these gods, but so did their slaves, including the people of Israel.  Moses intuits that walking back to the Israelites, much less, the court of Pharaoh,  to say God (a god) of our fathers has told me to tell you…  won’t go over very well either, so Moses asks, “Who shall I say is sending me?’’
The answer is staring Moses in the face, but God answers, "I am that I am," which is sometimes translated as "I am what I am" or, since Hebrew does not have a future tense to express future tense, it is sometimes translated as "I will be, what I will be."  Regardless of how it is translated, the meaning is clear. God is pure creative energy, a fire that does not destroy but rather creates, recreates, and transfigures what is created.  God is a paradox, a nominal verb, who "neither slumbers nor sleeps."[2]
This one declaration in scripture is, in itself, a transfiguring moment.  God is truly holy – truly other – there are no human words that can contain the sense that God is as represented as a flame that creates, refines, consumes[3], but does not destroy. Moses has an answer that cannot be spoken, but rather that must be acted out, and so to demonstrate the presence and will of God we have the Ten Plagues. 
What is intriguing in the account of the ten plagues is the “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart.  Exodus give two versions of Pharaoh’s hardened heart.  At first it states that Pharaoh hardens his hearts and then, as the plagues increase with intensity, it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.  I think what can be taken from this, mystically speaking, is that God goes to some extent where we go; that God works with, uses, the material at hand; in this case, Pharaoh’s stubbornness.  The result is that in each refusal to let Israel go, God’s power; God’s presence is increasingly revealed to the point that Pharaoh’s priests convince him that their might cannot compete, and he should acquiesce to Moses’s demands.  Even the death of Pharaoh’s firstborn and that of the Egyptians does not quell his thirst for revenge against a god who had power over life and death, as he pursues the Israelites to the Red Sea only to see his army drowned as a result. 
The path of one’s mystic journey is always forward. The past is the past and it is closed to us.  We can recall it.  We may long for it, but we can never return to it and this becomes the lesson the Children of Israel are taught in the wilderness.
Up until now, the Hebrew scriptures tales of the mystic journey have focused on individual, but in the Exodus, the journey broadens out to include the who people of Israel and from this point forward the journey must be seen and understood in the context of the Chosen People, who are chosen to represent the whole of humanity, the nations of the world – a light to them and a light on them. 
 Exodus tells us that there were shorter routes for the Israelites to take to the Promised Land, but that they would have had to face fierce foes in the Philistines.  After all they have no skill for battle, they have been slaves. They did not have the faith to deal with the grace that was thrust on them, so God directs them to the longer path, the longer journey – a journey into faith based on grace of God. 
Pause, as presented in scripture is a time to instill faith and integrity.  Integrity is impossible without an active faith.  We have seen pause used this way in the tales of Jacob and Joseph and we see it being done in the tale of Israel’s time spent in the wilderness. 
The essential point of this tale is to say that it is easier to transfigure and individual than a whole emerging nation.  We see the struggle the Israelites have with placing their faith – their trust in God and turning that faith into an active process.  They long for the certainty of the past.  They knew their lot in life as slave, but faith thrusts one into the unknown – to walk with God not by sight, but by faith, as Paul would say some fifteen hundred years later.
In fact, at the start of their journey, God is said to have led them as fire – a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Later this imagery fades and the Israelites must rely on the unseen.  Even though they are sustained by water and manna in the wilderness, the results of God’s direct intervention, they complain of the condition which I suspect had more to do with having to depend on unseen that led them to question their status – who were they?  Who is God?  Can God be trusted or is God capricious?  Better to know that one is a slave to than to be a toy in the hand of a capricious god.  They long for Egypt from time to time. 
It has been suggested that the forty year of wandering in the wilderness was needed for a whole new generation to arise who did know slavery in Egypt, who could not long for the certainty[4] it represented, but who grew up living with the need to trust God and live life as an act of free and willful faith rather than from the perspective of certain fear. 
There are many details given in the tale of Israel’s exodus wandering in the wilderness that are worthy of their own mystical exploration (the Passover, the receiving of the law, the creation of Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle).  Apart from Joshua and Caleb, none of those who originally left Egypt make it to the promise land, including Moses.  A new generation arises that is transfigured in the wilderness from being slaves to fear to being faithful servants of God – a holy nation, a people set apart.
In a broader context, the Exodus tale is about the transfiguration of not only the nation of Israel, but of theism – from a world that was largely polytheistic and exclusive in its various theistic (each  kingdom, tribe, and family having its own gods) to its narrowing as monotheism and inclusiveness – one God above all gods, one people to be a light for all people. 

The story of the exodus is a story of global transfiguration on so many levels that one could spend multiple posts on its implications, but the purpose of this series of posts to illustrate how it fits in telling the broader tale of the mystic journey. 
The concept of a Chosen People is to provide a lens into seeing ourselves as such people, to connect rather than disconnect and differentiate, which unfortunately has been more often the case than not when it comes to anti-Judaic and anti-Semitic activities and sentiments. 

We are all chosen people in the broader sense of creation, as Genesis points out and we all have histories of enslavement and release and wandering in the wilderness – moments of Pause and Transfiguration. 
We are all on the same journey of faith, even if we don’t share the same beliefs or share the same perspectives because faith is inherent in human existence.  We’re all on a blind journey of faith, guided by hope, and embraced by an active love many call God.
Until next time, stay faithful.

[1] From opening collect in the Eucharistic service from the “Book of Common Prayer.”
[2] Psalm 121:4
[3] What God consumes is not destroyed, but becomes part of God.  As Paul writes, God is that being in which we live and move and have our being.  All things are in God.  In essence all things can be said to be consumed (taken in by God, part of God) and refined, renewed and transfigured.  The burning bush is aglow with fire of God that consumes it.  It is in God, but not destroyed.
[4] We humans are prone to become addicted to certainty. When it is in the form of a concretized ideological belief, certainty becomes antithetical to faith.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


The tale of Joseph begins in Genesis 37 and ends with the end of the Book of Genesis.  The writers of Genesis introduce Joseph as seventeen year-old tattletale.  The first thing we read that Joseph did was to give a bad report to Jacob about his half siblings who he was helping tend sheep.  We are also told that Jacob favored Joseph above his other sons, that he gave Joseph a coat with long sleeves, making his brothers jealous.  To top it all off Joseph starts telling his brothers about his dreams and his interpretation of them; that his brothers and his father will bow to him.  Even though Jacob takes exception to Joseph's dream of preeminence, he recognizes there may be more to it than what this seventeen year-old can know.

Once again, Genesis presents us with a character who, like a young Jacob, does not fit the popular mold of a he-man hero.  In fact, Joseph appears to lack any sense of instinctual self preservation and comes across as a na├»ve, arrogant teenager cruising for a bruising.   Genesis constantly reminds us that appearances are deceiving.  


Joseph, like Jacob, is highly intuitive; so much so, that  his intuition expresses itself in vivid,  abstract, prophetic dreams.  Joseph also has the ability to know what his dreams mean.  In fact, his ability to interpret dreams launches him to a position fulfilling his dreams of preeminence.

As arrogant and naive as Joseph appears, what we see and encounter is the prophetic compulsion to prophesy.  Prophets are portrayed in scripture as being compelled by the nature of being a prophet to reveal their prophecies.  This compulsion frequently leads to putting their lives in danger.  In Joseph's tale we see this graphically played out.

Joseph, like Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham before him is portrayed as being on a personal journey that the writers of Genesis use to great effect to point out its universal implications.  What the tale of Joseph reveals is the prophetic nature of mystic journey.  While we are all on this journey together, it is "the mystics" in our midst who remind us that being on this journey is what life is about.  This is why justice and mercy are what prophets emphasize because they clear the path to Paradise Regained from the unnecessary obstruction that is caused by our injustices and lack of mercy. 

It is Joseph's dreams that reveals Joseph as a fellow mystic to his father.  Jacob knows the power of dreams and sees them as mark of one who is a kindred spirit. There is a resonance between this Jacob and Joseph that extends beyond their parent-child relationship.  On the other hand, Joseph's ten older siblings (a rather murderous lot) are deeply offended by Joseph's prophecies and his goody two-shoe nature. They plot to kill him, but instead sell him into slavery which positions him for his rise to power and prophetic fulfillment. 


Slavery is just the beginning Joseph's dark night.  What could not be bought or taken from Joseph is the kernel of integrity  he possessed. As Potipher's slave, he became a trusted servant in control of Potipher's household.  Joseph, being described as handsome, caught the attention of Potipher's wife who tried to entice him into committing adultery with her which he repeatedly refused to do. Genesis makes it clear that while he was in control of Potipher's household, the only thing not at his disposal was Potipher's wife.  Joseph was Potipher's slave, not his wife's slave.

Long-story-short, Joseph is eventually accused of attempted rape by Potipher's wife when she fails to entice him and Joseph is imprisoned. In prison, Joseph does well and becomes a lead prisoner in charge of other prisoners. Genesis makes a point of saying that God was with Joseph and blessed Joseph in these less than desirable situations.    It is in prison that Joseph's ability to interpret dreams leads him to release and transfiguration.

Nothing happens overnight for Joseph.  It takes years of enslavement and imprisonment for him to breath the air of freedom.  In fact, Genesis tells us that Joseph never feels fully free until he is united with his family and the father who loved him.


By now most of you have figured out that I'm using the term transfiguration atypically.  By transfiguration, I mean a person is transformed into their true mystical (cosmic) self that sees his/her world differently or is seen by others differently.  In Joseph's case, he is transfigured into the prophetic person of his dreams.

It is when Joseph interprets a dream of Pharaoh that Pharaoh elevates him to unprecedented position of power; where Joseph's word is treated the same as Pharaoh's word. He literally is transformed from an imprisoned slave into an Egyptian potentate who saves the then known world of Joseph's time from starvation.

It is when his father Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to purchase food, that his brothers and Jacob find themselves caught up into Joseph's mystic journey.  They must come to him  for survival and find that their once loathed, arrogant brother is literally in control of their world.  At first they do not recognize him and are given a taste of their own medicine which Joseph uses to entice them back to his court.

What is intimated in Joseph's tale is that during the period from when his brothers sold him into slavery to their begging him for food at his court they too were in a state of pause.  Their deceiving Jacob into thinking Joseph was killed by wild beasts  came at a price to Jacob and to them in the form of relentless regret for causing Jacob such intense suffering which is evident in their protective attitude towards Joseph's full sibling, Benjamin. 

Joseph's absence obviously left a void in their family relationships that was never rectified.  Genesis does not specifically talk about this but it is implied in their reaction to Benjamin being accused of thievery; in particular, that Judah, who suggested that Joseph be sold into slavery, ironically offers himself to be imprisoned instead of Benjamin rather than return to Jacob without Benjamin.  It is at the brink of their despair that Joseph reveals who he truly is and his revelation, his brothers are transfigured also.


If one steps back far enough to look at these tales found in Genesis from a distance, one can see that what appears to be an everyday human occurrence is caught up in something much larger than its everydayness.  The "real," mundane, world doesn't seem to change when viewed up close.  Human behavior hasn't changed since the day of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.  Yet, in their tales we see something that cannot be seen at the time by those living at that time; that all our lives are on a trajectory towards the fulfilment of God's promises.

What Genesis points out is that we cannot adequately judge the times in which we live.  God works silently and personally with and through the serpentine twists of human affairs to move us along the mystic path of our collective  journey to paradise regained.  

What we see in these four related characters is a deep love at work.  It starts with God's deep love for humanity as a whole which is established at the start of Genesis and then demonstrated in the deep love of all shown in the love to one everyday Joe, called Abram.  There is no reason given why God chooses Abram, and that fact is extremely important to hold on to.

Genesis asserts that Abraham is the mystic father of all of us.  All the nations are blessed through this average Joe that God choose to be  the father of a nation, whose children would be as numerous as the stars.

We experience in these tales a Godly love that involves letting go and letting be; that bridges the catastrophic relational chasms we see.  Abraham loves God who directs him to send his beloved Ishmael into the desert and demand the sacrifice of his beloved  remaining son, Isaac.   Both Ishmael and Isaac are saved by God's grace and fare well; ultimately bonding  as brothers.

Isaac who favored Esau also loved Jacob deeply and being mindful of God's favor maintained his personal integrity after bestowing his blessing on Jacob through deception and allow Jacob's deception to run its course.  Jacob's fear of Esau proves unfounded.  Esau does not seek revenge, but reunion with his twin.

Jacob's tragic loss of his beloved Joseph due to the  jealous actions of older children  is turned to joy in the discovery that Joseph survives and Joseph restores the familial bond of love in the unconditional forgiveness he shows his older siblings in their time of need.  He proves not to be arrogant or self-serving individual at all.  In fact, Joseph proves to be a pure heart, who has no guile.  His is a life of integrity;  lived in hope, faith, and love.

At the time of the occurrence of these events, the outcome was anything but certain.  The likelihood that any of these tales would end happily was near impossible:

Ishmael could have starved, and Isaac could have been sacrificed.

Isaac could have disowned Jacob, and Esau could have actively sought revenge.

Joseph could have been killed by his murderous brothers or thrown to the crocodiles by Potipher for being suspected of adultery.

That those results didn't occur is meant to tell us that God is present; working in and through the drama that is human life which ultimately is shaping the trajectory of our collective history.

Genesis makes a point of telling us that all these characters die, which is to say that life on this planet has an ending, but that ending is not the ending. The promise God made to Adam and Eve of Paradise Regained and to Abraham being father of a nation through which all the nations of the world will be blessed is never fully realized in their lifetimes nor at anytime. It remains a fluid, ongoing process that I suspect will extend to the end of time on this planet.  It is living in such a fluid atmosphere that encourages all and engages the aware to live like Joseph, in hope, faith, and love.

Until next time, stay faithful.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


The tale of Jacob spans a large portion of the Book of Genesis, beginning at the death of Abraham in chapter twenty-five and technically ends with his death at the end of Genesis in chapter fifty.  For the purpose of this post we will concentrate on stories specifically related to his personal journey which extends from chapter twenty-five through chapter thirty-three.

What we begin to see and what we will look for in these tales are common markers indicative of the mystic journey that became established in the story of Abraham.  Admittedly, I am being selective in whose tale I am examining.  There are mystic elements to most every personal story in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. My intent in this discussion of the mystic journey is to look at those tales that provide insights into the patterns found in them and in the collective journey we share with them.


The tale of Jacob is one of the most important stories of the mystic journey.  Jacob's entire life story is cast in a mystic light.  Like Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca finds having children difficult.  Jacob's birth comes wrapped in a prophecy that was given to Rebecca.  He is portrayed as the product of a divine vision, a traveler on the path to Paradise Regained and the father of nation that furthers the fulfillment of God's covenant with Abraham.


Jacob is the second-born of twins; his brother Esau being the first.  By ancient tradition, Esau is Isaac's heir by birthright. Through Jacob and Esau, the writers of Genesis present two principles that shape human perception and guides human interaction; the feminine and masculine principles.

Esau and Jacob are not identical twins.  They don't look alike, sound alike, or think alike. They don't even smell alike.  They are dichotomous and are portrayed as polar opposites.  Esau presents the masculine principle, which reflects an instinct-based intellect.  On the other hand, Jacob presents the feminine principle which reflects an intuition-based intellect.  To further highlight these two principles, Isaac is said to favor Esau and Rebecca is said to favor Jacob.

In terms of mysticism, the feminine principle appears more operative.  This, of course, has nothing to do with gender identification or preference, but rather a way of perceiving and processing life.  Esau lives in and only for the moment; so much so, that he lacks appreciation for consequences of his actions and has little time for subtleties as these tend to interfere with an instinctual response his he relies on at any given moment. This is how he is able to survive in the wilderness amongst the wild game he hunts.  Tomorrow is nothing more than another today. His world is the world of the hunter and the hunted.  He sees himself as a rugged individualist, a manly-man, an adventurer, self-assured, and comfortable with his place in the world because he knows he is favored by Isaac.  As such, he demonstrates certitude and an impetuous demeanor that leads him to disregard what others are thinking and doing.  After all, when he receives Isaac's blessing (so he believes) they will be his servants.

Jacob, on the other hand, appears content with the moment, but Jacob possesses a subtle nature, one that is almost serpentine.[1] The writers of Genesis go out of their way to portray Jacob as being a somewhat effeminate boy, having soft smooth skin, soft-spoken, a homebody doing what most would have considered woman's work in his day.


Jacob is a making a lentil stew when Esau returns from a particularly rough hunt which leaves him famished. Seeing the stew that Jacob had made, Esau demands that he is given some.  Jacob intuitively sees and seizes an opportunity to set the stage for obtaining Isaac's blessing and responds that he will give Esau some stew on the condition that Esau gives him his birthright. Jacob not only gives him the stew but also bread to go along with it. This is what a good servant would be expected to do.

Esau doesn't bat an eye at the request and being hungry agrees to get what he wants at the moment.  He doesn't take Jacob seriously and does not consider that others are listening to this exchange.  In fact, Genesis does not mention any witnesses to this event.  What it says is that "Esau despised his birthright."[2]


Few today would take Esau's selling of his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew seriously.  Surely, he must have been kidding.  To make it a more damning case, Jacob deceives and lies to his father, Isaac in order to receive his blessing. Jacob impersonated Esau. And true to his serpentine nature, sheds his own persona and covered his skin with wool to make Isaac, who was blind, believe Jacob was Esau.

The writers of Genesis ensure that there is a strong case against Jacob that would span the ages. There is no justification for his behavior.  The fact that Rebecca received a prophecy indicating the ascendancy of Jacob is no justification for the means by which he ascended. The writers intent is to demonstrate that God's good will is worked even in less then stellar incidents.


Isaac plays a relatively small role in Genesis, but a significant one.  The deception of Jacob reveals Isaac's integrity.  The most important moment in this twisted tale of family dysfunction is when Isaac refuses to give his blessing to Esau once Jacob's deception is revealed.  By any standard, ancient or modern, Isaac would have been justified in condemning and cursing Jacob, but he doesn't. In fact when Jacob flees the scene, it isn't because he fears Isaac. It's because he understandably fears Esau, a fear that will follow him along his journey to transfiguration.[3]

Isaac loves both his sons, but his blessing is not something he gives willy-nilly because it is a blessing of God he is only transferring - something given to him - an act of grace that cannot be requested nor denied once given. It is a sacred, holy act.  As saddened and as disappointed as he may have felt, Isaac knew that a course had been set that could not be changed.  Isaac's integrity reflects God's integrity - a willingness to live with and work through the serpentine twists and turns of the human experience.


Jacob is sent to seek a wife from his amongst his uncle Laban's daughters. It is on his journey there that he is awakened in a dream to the reality that he has embarked on a mystical journey to fulfill the covenant made between God and his grandfather, Abraham.

Dreams are one of the means by which one personally becomes aware of being on a mystical journey.  It is possible that we all have mystical dreams; that is, the dream or dreams that stick with us, that we don't - can't forget - dreams that guide us in some way or another - become touchstones that give meaning to certain events in our lives when they occur or after we sit down and try to make sense of something that feels oddly familiar, yet unexplained.   We may not know what these dreams mean at the time, but we sense a meaning to them that sometimes becomes clear decades later.  Most of us, like Peter, James, and John in the story of the Transfiguration found in the synoptic gospels, don't share them because, like their vision of the transfigured Christ, our dreams frequently do not make a lot of sense at the time. 

Jacob's dream at Bethel, however, has an obvious meaning.  It is making it clear that he is on a journey that was started by his grandfather, Abraham, and continuing with him.  Jacob's ladder or staircase is a clear reference to his being on path that ends in paradise regained.  The dream serves to embolden him with a sense of purpose that will see him through the twist and turns of life as he encounters them. In fact, I think it safe to say all dreams of mystical nature keep us engaged with life as its pathways unfold.

Jacob's dream has two purposes - a personal one for Jacob in fathering the tribes of Israel and a cosmic one.  Paradise regained sees fulfillment in the idea of Israel becoming a nation - and it is retained in the idea of all nations becoming blessed through it.  In other words, Jacob's dream is meant for all of us.  We are all caught up in the dream - the idea - of becoming that was given to Jacob at Bethel.  The mystical journey on this side of life is always about becoming, always about the journey.


In every tale of the mystic journey, we encounter what I have termed pause - a period of time - sometimes a long period of time when the journey is put on hold.  Sometimes pause is a matter of seconds, as in the case of Isaac. In Isaac's case, pause occurred when he was about to be sacrificed.   It is the moment just before transfiguration.  Isaac was transfigured from victim to one restored.

For Jacob, pause occurs when he seeks a wife, finds Rachel, and then is deceived by his uncle and soon to be father-in-law, Laban, into marrying Leah.  Jacob works for Laban seven years, on the basis that he will marry Rachel.  When he is deceived into marrying Leah, Jacob ends up working another seven years after marrying Rachel. 

 Much can be said about the apparent dysfunctional relationships that are threaded through these stories.  The point, I believe, in telling them is to say that they can become tools that shape us along the way.  In Jacob's case he becomes a man of integrity- a man of his word.  Even though he loves Rachel more than Leah he has children by Leah and her servant as well as Rachel's servant and Rachel.  Jacob prospers in his twenty years of service to Laban.  Laban becomes increasingly jealous with Jacob's success and it is time for Jacob to leave.  True to form, it is a dream in which an angel of God informs Jacob to move on with Laban in hot pursuit because Jacob takes what was owed him and it was plenty. 

 Laban, himself, is warned in a dream not to say anything to Jacob.  They meet and make a covenant with each other, then leave and live in peace.  The pause has ended and Jacob journeys towards transfiguration.


Jacob returns to his home turf where Esau and his tribe also live.  He wishes to live in peace in with his twin, but he knows that Esau has every right to seek revenge on him for stealing his birthright.  It is interesting that Genesis mentions in chapter thirty-two that Jacob is met on the way by angels of God.  There is nothing said about what took place in that encounter. What we are led to think is that the place where they met (called the Camp of God) is the place where Jacob will meet God.  Was Jacob being prepped for what was about to take place? 

In reading these accounts there are repetitive themes and events in all of the tales involving Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  Isaac lies about Rebecca being his sister to avoid being killed, just like Abraham lied about Sarah being his sister on two occasions.  Abraham meets angels and so does Jacob.  Their similarities are like experiencing a repetitive dream and perhaps that's the point the writers are making - there is something large and mystical taking place here - that are shaping events – markers - telling the reader this is all one journey, just different pieces and players, but it is a collective journey – a shared journey – our journey towards transfiguration.

Jacob's transfiguration occurs in the darkness of night - a metaphor, perhaps, for the dark place he feels he is at.    When his servants return to tell him that Esau is coming his way with four hundred men, Jacob sends servant with copious gifts to give to his brother Esau in the hope of assuaging any anger or resentment he may have towards Jacob.  Jacob is in a state of panic and fears for the safety of his family.  Jacob separates himself from his family and Genesis says he was "left alone... ."  In the same sentence. Genesis says, "... and a man wrestled with him till daybreak."

 What are we to make of such an inconsistent statement?  Was Jacob alone?  Who was the man wrestling with him?  Where did he come from? 

The fact that there are no good answers to any of those questions lead us to the visionary - the waking dream - the mystical.  This was a personal moment for Jacob - a moment of transition, reconfiguration - a moment of transfiguration.  In some sense one can see this moment as Jacob wrestling with himself - his doubts, his deceit, his faith in God, and in his own ability.  He is weakened by the "man" who touches and wounds his hip, but Jacob finds the strength not let go of the man. 

Suddenly we find ourselves in an intuitive situation - that becomes inquisitive. The man asks Jacob to identify himself and when Jacob tells him his name, the man says, "You will no longer be Jacob, but Israel because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."  Jacob tells this unknown man in the dark, "I will not let you go until you bless me?"  

 This is such a heavy moment that one is tempted to psychoanalyze it, but there is a deeper mystical agenda being played out here because Jacob insists that the man he is struggling himself reveal his name and the man replies, "Why do you ask?"  The question that awakens Jacob's intuition to the situation.

Then the man blesses Israel (Jacob) and Jacob recognizes the man as God - "I saw God face to face and lived."  I would like to think that the face, Jacob ultimately saw in the dark was his own - the divine image of God as himself.

 It is noteworthy that the writers continue to refer to Jacob as both Israel and Jacob.  Transfiguration does not change us outwardly, but inwardly.  Transfiguration changes how we see the world and in seeing the world and those around us in a new reconfigured light - a transfigured light in which the transfigured appear altered also. 

The meeting between Esau and Jacob turns out to be a true loving reunion between twin brothers who ultimately are bonded by love and by recognition of their common journey through life.  Israel sees Esau in a different light.  Esau has been on his own mystical journey after losing his birthright and appear to have done well for himself. In the end, Esau, like Ishmael is blessed by God. Their lives are caught up in the mystic journey that we all are on.  The writers brilliantly include them as a side narrative to ensure that the we understand that Abraham's, Isaac's, and Jacob's journey is not an exclusive tale, but one that includes everyone.  Truly, everyone is blessed through the telling of their journey to paradise regained.

Jacob’s tale will continue, but the focus in Genesis will turn on Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph. 

Until next time, stay faithful.


[1] I see in Jacob the serpentine because the serpent is associated with the feminine principle, not as an evil force but one that is wise. Wisdom is subtle.   Genesis refers to the serpent in the Garden of Eden as being more subtle (code for wise) than all the other creatures.  The serpent approaches Eve because Eve, being the feminine principle archetype proceeding from the one unified creation of mankind, is approachable and intuitive – Adam, the archetypal masculine principle is less approachable and more concrete – not wishing to struggle or take issue with God.  Jacob is serpentine – seeing opportunity when to strike and when to bide his time.  He possesses an intuitive wisdom that will assist him in his struggle with God and man. 
[2] Genesis 25:34.  To say that Esau despised his birthright offers some insight into the possibility that Esau saw his birthright as burden he didn’t really want.  In fact, as this story plays out, one is given the sense that Esau, even though feeling cheated, is relieved when Isaac gives his blessing to Jacob. 
[3] There is a subtext to this story.  Esau takes Hittite wives who prove to be troublesome to both Isaac and Rebecca.  Eventually Esau chooses a wife from one of Ishmael’s daughters to make things better.  There is a sense in this side narrative that Esau does not want to fail either Isaac or Rebecca and therefore is relieved of the thought that he could disappoint them by not living up to the high expectations – Isaac’s blessing would entail.