16 November 2012

Thirteenth Understanding

13. We are committed to hospitality, receiving others as they are; who they are in Christ. Our service is through our homes, with common meals, caring hospitality, as we extend family and friendship. In the breaking of bread, sharing our food, we recognize Jesus amongst us; in entertaining strangers we welcome angels.

I admit, I’m an introvert by nature. I’d much rather be left alone to my own devices and imagination that to spend time with others. The only exception is my wife and daughter, but, let’s be honest, even then there are times when I like to spend time by myself.

On the flip side, I like the occasional get together. And still, as the time approaches, I sometimes dread it - I wish I hadn’t committed to it. But, then again, when I do get with others, I enjoy it and wonder why I don’t do it more often.

But at other times, when I’m in the middle of the gathering, I just think about how I would much rather be at home - reading a book, snuggling with my love on the couch watching a movie, etc.

At the same time, my wife and I love taking care of other people. We have opened our doors to others who needed a place to sleep or a meal. One of our desires is for our home to be known as a place of refuge, a place of “sanctuary” (or the right of asylum) like in the old stories (think about that scene from The Hunchback of Notre-Dame where Quasimodo rescues Esmeralda). A place where people can come and find comfort and guidance. A place where people know that they can come for a food and shelter. We aren’t there yet, but we hope to get there one day.

In the meantime, we really are committed to hospitality. I don’t recall a time we ever turned anyone away. Oh, there have been people I sure thought we should have at the time, but looking back later, it has always been a positive experience.

There was a time when we were involved with a street ministry (we helped found it, actually). Every Friday evening, we would go downtown by the local bus station and provide coffee and donuts to the homeless and those in need. We weren’t there preaching condemnation or passing out tracts (though we did you some from time to time), we were just...there. And the homeless noticed. On more than one occasion, we had some of the homeless tell us that we were different from others Christians. “They just tell us we’re going to hell and then get back in their van and we never see them again. You guys are always here and are really listening.”

One of the things we would do was invite the people to church with us on Saturday night (it was a Single’s Ministry that had a healing service and went out for pizza when it was over). After spending several months with this routine, we naturally befriended several of the people. A couple of guys in particular struck a chord with us. One night, while talking over pizza, the guys were interested in coming to church with us on Sunday. But, they were embarrassed because they didn’t have “nice clothes.” My wife and I quickly talked it over and decided that they could spend the night at our house (they were “living” in a condemned house that they had to break into). One of the guys decided that he didn’t want to go with us, so we took him home. Unfortunately, we never saw him again.

The next morning, we made breakfast, and I gave our guest some of my clothes. He said to us, “I’ve never met anyone like you before. You’re different.” It was humbling, to say the least.

We have since moved on from that church and ministry. But we kept tabs on our friend and found out that he obtained a job, was promoted to manager of the crew, got his own place, and got married. All because we were “different.”

That story always comes to my mind when my wife and I talk about wanting to help others - to let people know that our home is open. That they are welcome. So, if you’re ever in the neighborhood, drop by and see us. If we’re able, we’ll give you some good food and drink, an encouraging word, and listening ears.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br Jack+, LC

15 November 2012

Samhain Celebration?

A dear friend sent me this question:

Jack,  I’ve been wanting to ask you something...Why would you celebrate or even call attention to Halloween or Samhain when it is a dark, pagan holiday and has nothing to do with furthering the cause of Christ?  I copied the following...simply from Wikipedia...

Samhain (pronounced sow-en) is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. Most commonly it is held on 31 October – 1 November, or halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Along with Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasadh it makes up the four Gaelic seasonal festivals. It was observed in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. Kindred festivals were held at the same time of year in other Celtic lands; for example the Brythonic Calan Gaeaf (in Wales), Kalan Gwav (in Cornwall) and Kalan GoaƱv (in Brittany).

Samhain is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature. Many important events in Irish mythology happen or begin on Samhain. It was the time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter. In much of the Gaelic world, bonfires were lit and there were rituals involving them, as at Beltane. People and their livestock would often walk between two bonfires as a cleansing ritual, and the bones of slaughtered livestock were cast into its flames. Samhain (like Beltane) was seen as a time when the “door” to the Otherworld opened enough for the souls of the dead, and other beings, to come into our world. Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. It has thus been likened to a festival of the dead. People also took steps to protect themselves from harmful spirits, which is thought to have led to the custom of guising. Divination was also done at Samhain.

It was popularized as the “Celtic New Year” from the late 19th century, following Sir John Rhys and Sir James Frazer. It has been linked with All Saints’ Day (and later All Souls’ Day) since the 9th century, when the date of that holiday was shifted to November 1. Both have strongly influenced the secular customs of Halloween.

Samhain is still celebrated as a cultural festival by some (though it has mostly been replaced by Halloween) and, since the 20th century, has been celebrated as a religious festival by Celtic neopagans and Wiccans. Neopagans in the southern hemisphere often celebrate Samhain at the other end of the year (30 April – 1 May).

This is such a great question that I decided to forgo the quick reply and offer a more reflective response.

First of all, I send out well wishes to people of other faiths for the simple fact that I love and respect my family and friends! Just as Jesus had table fellowship with outcasts and sinners (and, in that culture, that meant one was considered an equal or part of the family; see Matthew 9.9-12; cf. Matthew 12.46-50, Acts 17), I welcome people of all faiths, not only by treating them with respect, but would (and have) gladly opened my home to them. Christ welcomes all people and so should his followers.

Second, Pope Gregory the First issued an edict in the 7th century to consecrate local customs and beliefs instead of obliterating them (Celtic Christian missionaries were doing this for quite some time). This included their holy days (holidays). Samhain became All Saints Day (it starts at sunset on 31 October and ends at sunset on 1 November). Of course, this practice changed over the years when the Church started wiping out those it considered “outside” God’s grace (including other Christians!). And, unfortunately, this practice still goes on in a lot of churches.

Third, I want to talk about some of the specific things you stated. You wrote, “...Halloween or Samhain...is a dark, pagan holiday and has nothing to do with furthering the cause of Christ.” I want to push back against this a bit.

While I am no expert on the ancient Celts (not yet, anyway), I’ll offer my understanding of Samhain. The ancient Celts (people from Ireland, Scotland, Britain, Wales, etc.), like a lot of ancient cultures, were very connected to nature. Their lives were governed by the seasons and they had celebrations marking those seasons. Whereas Beltaine was the festival (feast day) of “life,” Samhain was the festival of “death.” It marked the end of Summer (Samhain literally means “summer’s end”), the beginning of Winter, and the New Year. It represented the end (i.e., “death”) of the harvest season and was the time when the livestock would be culled - animals not expected to survive the winter were slaughtered to prepare the meat stores for the coming cold season.

Since Samhain was the “death” festival, it was also a time to remember, celebrate, and honor loved ones who had passed away, relationships that had broken, seasons past, etc. This celebration was also a time when clans or tribes reconnected, family ties were strengthened, and loyalties pledged to the High King (Ard Ri).

Part of the Samhain celebration was a purification ritual and a grand communal feast. The Druids (the priests of the ancient Celts) would erect large bonfires and light them before the last Summer sunset. The people would bring animals and grains for offerings, passing between the bonfires to purify them before they were offered to the gods. These offerings and some of the culled animals were then used for the communal meal. Later, families took embers from the bonfires back to their homes to light their hearths with the last glowing fire of summer - symbolically using “the summer sun” to warm them through the harsh winter weather.  

The ancient Celts believed that our world and the world of the departed, sometimes called the Otherworld, overlapped and interlocked. They believed that both worlds were part of a whole intertwined and integrated reality. There were places and times were the distance between these worlds were short or “thin” (i.e., the veil between our world and the Otherworld was almost nonexistent). We can see this expressed in their artwork, especially throughout the medieval period (see some great examples here).

Since Samhain marked the “death” of Summer and the old year, it was a “hinge time” or  a“time between times,” and especially a “thin” time. Because of this, the ancient Celts felt loved ones from the Otherworld could visit their families during Samhain. In preparation for that, the people would set extra places at the table for their departed loved ones at the feast.

With all of that stated, I think that there are some clear images that “further the cause of Christ.” I’ll work backward through the points.

One of the things that is extremely powerful about the Christian faith is that the “river is wide.” That is, there are several different views and understandings within the tradition and all of those understandings are considered “orthodox” or “right belief.” This means that while a particular doctrine or understanding is not held in one part of the Christian household, it is held in another part and still considered correct. And while there may be differences, they are still part of the same family.

Many Christians (as well as Jews and Muslims) leave out places at the table for departed loved ones, especially during the holidays (holy days, feast days). For example, during Pesach, a place is set and a glass of wine was left for Elijah (and some people leave the door open for a while), who was supposed to come during the Seder.

Another image is that of thin places. Within the wide river of the Christian tradition, there is the idea of thin places. This is seen especially in the Celtic Christian traditions, but also within the Orthodox traditions of the East, and others. Admittedly, for quite sometime the mystical side of Christianity has been dormant. But in recent years it has been gaining a comeback, especially with the resurgence of contemplative prayer and Celtic Christianity.

The taking of the “summer sun” home from the bonfire brings to my mind a couple of images - Eucharist and salvation. Let me explain. The ritual celebration is like a “church service” in that it was facilitated by clergy (the Druids, the priestly order of the Celts1), the congregation or parish brought offerings, and left purified. The people would then take with them something that would save them from the world (in this case, fire so they wouldn’t freeze to death). In a church service, and depending on that service, a person can take Christ home with them - in their heart and/or within them (by way of Eucharist). Either way, Christ is within them and saves them from the “world.” Also the communal meal is clearly tied to the Eucharist (or Lord’s Supper or Communion).

And let’s not to forget that part of the Samhain ritual was to make offerings and be purified, both of which are things that people do in Christian services. Especially during the persecution periods of the Church (that is, when the Church was being tortured and slaughtered, not when they were doing the persecuting), people met together for support and solidarity - to pledge allegiance to each other and to Christ, their High King. They were (and still are) part of the same family (or tribe or clan).

The Church has clearly marked seasons as well (whether some parts of the family use them or not). And each new season has it’s own special services. The churches “new year” begins with Advent, the preparation time leading up to the birth of the Christ child. Next year’s Advent begins December 2, 2012.

Lastly, I whole heartily believe that God speaks through various means to different people. God is not limited to “our” institutional religions to guide and speak to people. Sometimes, even “pagans” have more faith than God’s people (see Jesus admonition of the Roman centurion in Matthew 8.5-13).

So, I hope that helps in understanding why I offer holy day greetings to my family and friends who are of a different wisdom tradition. Thanks again for the great question!

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

1.  As an interesting aside, St Colum Cille (Columba) stated that “Christ the Son of God is my druid.” He’s one of my favorite saints. You can read more about him regarding this quote here.

07 November 2012

Twelfth Understanding

12. We are called toward a generous, self-giving lifestyle. In order for that to happen, we try not to hoard our time, talents, money or gifts; developing the habit of giving things away. In the Lindisfarne Community we encourage members not to be limited by the tithe, to be more expansive in our thinking about generosity; listening for the gentle promptings of the Spirit. We are often surprised how giving God wants us to be. We seek, too, to be generous with the faults and mistakes of others. Forgiveness is seventy times seven — in truth there is no end to it.

A lot can be said about this Understanding but I want to focus on the last two sentences —

We seek, too, to be generous with the faults and mistakes of others. Forgiveness is seventy times seven — in truth there is no end to it.

I like the way we move from “giving” to “forgiving.” To be truly giving people, we must first start with forgiveness. We must extend mercy and love to everyone.

I’ve often heard people say we should only forgive people who ask for it. That there’s no such thing as “free” forgiveness.

But I’m reminded of Jesus on the cross.

At one point, while people were still hurling accusations against him, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23.34; CEB).

Nobody was asking for forgiveness but Jesus extended it anyway.

And then there’s Stephen.

In a scene very similar to that of Jesus in the Gospels (Acts 6.8-15; cf. Matthew 26.47-61), Stephen is drug off to the council and false witnesses are brought in to accuse him. He is found guilty and taken out of the city to be stoned (a truly gruesome thing; a modern equivalent is seen in the movie The Stoning of Soraya M). In the middle of his execution, just like Christ, Stephen said, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them” (Acts 7.60; CEB).

Nobody was asking for forgiveness but Jesus extended it anyway.

To me, this shows that our giving must come from the same place. There shouldn’t be a need for the Other to even ask - our giving should flow naturally out of the very depth of us.

Of course, this isn’t easy. There are too many times that I just don’t feel like being generous - not with my money, or time, or talents, or even grace and mercy, let alone forgiveness. Sometimes I just flat out am hurt and wounded and I don’t feel like trying to be like Christ in those moments.

So, I say this to myself as well...this is what Christ expects from those who follow him. We are to give all of ourselves to others. All. That is what’s expected. It’s hard. It hurts. People will treat us like garbage and less than them. But that’s what we are supposed to do.

Forgive without being asked.

In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC