Saturday, December 3, 2011

World AIDS Day 2011 at St Aidan's

The World AIDS Day theme for 2011-2015 is drawn from the new UNAIDS Strategy “Getting to Zero,” which focuses on zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero aids-related deaths. The liturgy used at St Aidan's on December 1, 2011 focused on the concept of “Zero Discrimination.”

The on-going discrimination and stigmatisation of people living with HIV is a major issue. People are still afraid to talk openly about their status in our congregations, communities

and society. Despite the fact that we have clear legislation on non-discrimination, people living with HIV, counsellors, social workers, and AIDS-service organizations, tell numerous incidents of neglect and stigmatisation of people living with HIV.

The liturgy sought to encourage each and every one of us to understand and promote Zero Discrimination in our specific contexts and church communities. Many have talked about discrimination, written about it, protested about it. Rather than just provide more words, we hope that the liturgy, using images and drama, modeled acceptance and inclusion.

The center of the worship space was the AIDS Names Panel Quilt created by the parish of St Aidan's honoring the men who died from the congregation in the 80's and 90's.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Everyone, Everywhere 2011

This week I am spending two days outside of Denver, Colorado participating in the Everyone, Everywhere 2011 (EE11) Conference with over 300 members of the Episcopal Church, including our Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori. This gathering hopes to fan the flames of passion for mission throughout the church that was started three years ago at the first gathering in Maryland.

The focus of Everyone, Everywhere 2011 is: Relationship in the context of mission. As Episcopalians, we are called to ‘seek and serve Christ in all persons’ and to ‘respect the dignity of every human being.’ It is this foundation of our faith that guides our efforts to nourish and deepen our relationships/partnerships in God’s unending mission. We all have our own unique identity and this gathering will engage all of God’s children from different parts of God’s world, recognizing and respecting the diversity of identity present in our Church and in the world. In addition, we recognize that, as followers of Christ, we desire to share God’s love and bring about shalom within God's world, which asks us to create more just, equitable and sustainable societies. The recognition of this desire and our multi-faceted yet common identity as people of God enables more faithful and authentic conversations around relationships and the reconciliation, partnering, and financial stewardship that can be part of them.

Our world is constantly changing and becoming smaller as in-person and on-line interaction becomes easier and more common and provides us with a myriad of opportunities that enable us to share mutual ministries, compare cultures, and experience how God is working in throughout the Body of Christ. How do we as Episcopalians deepen our diverse relationships with our neighbors – those halfway around the world and those just around the corner – to better understand our collective mission as children of God and discover our individual place in God’s wider mission?

In an effort to welcome everyone, especially those who work at the grassroots level and who many not be connected to any of the existing mission networks, EE11 will offer the opportunity to celebrate the depth and breadth of global and local relationships and ministries. It is hoped that by bringing everyone together we will see how our ministries complement each other and we will begin to shift away from the dichotomous thinking around domestic and global mission.

I look forward to reporting back on the tools I learn at this historic event in the life of the Church and how we can incorporate them in the life of our parish and community.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Finding God in New Orleans

Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit, I drove from Baton Rouge to New Orleans to experience firsthand the devastation of a place that I love dearly. I thought I had prepared myself for what I would see, but, indeed, I had not.

Approaching the city, I saw coffins that had floated out of the large above ground cement mausoleums and found a new resting place alongside the interstate. I wept. Not only had the living been affected by the flood waters, but also the dead.

Going further, I witnessed the large gaping hole in the roof of the Superdome and instantly returned to the images of the thousands who took refuge in this shelter of last resort-turned prison. Large blue tarps covered many homes and served as temporary roofs, a thin blue layer between fragile people and the wild nature that had so recently turned against them.

I parked my car in the normally bustling French Quarter, though this time, it was a ghost town. Peeking into Pat O’Brien’s famous bar, which usually hosts raucous dueling pianos, I was struck this time by the emptiness and hollow silence in its stead. The windy breezes stirred up alternating wisps of rotting food and mold. Fresh graffiti screamed anger towards President Bush, FEMA, and Governor Blanco. When I encountered people in the streets (which was rare), they were lifeless and listless: walking zombies who had their life sucked out of them.

There seemed to be so much despair, sadness, and loss of hope. Where was the light that shines in the darkness? Where was God in all of this mess?

In the many years before Katrina, I travelled to New Orleans on Sunday afternoons to gather with friends at the corner of St. Ann and Bourbon Street for what is known in the gay community as “Sunday Tea Dance”. This was sacred ground for me, a ground zero of sorts from which I “came out” as a gay man. Through the years, I had danced many nights away at the Tea Dance, laughing, singing, sharing stories, meeting new people, sometimes drinking too much and having a little too much fun. But the Tea Dance was where people knew to gather on Sunday afternoon.

My favorite stop at the Tea Dance was the Good Friend’s Bar, where a gentleman named Tom played an old piano on the second floor of the bar that sounded as if it came from a old western movie saloon. Tom was in his late sixties and gathered an eclectic group of people--gay, straight, men, women--around that old, out of key piano for a weekly sing along. We enjoyed singing show tunes, but sometimes when I would arrive, Tom would play a Gospel Set of well known Southern hymns and ballads. People would sing loudly. Many of them loved the church, but they no longer attended because they had either been either kicked out or left due to its stand on their “gay lifestyle”.

As I walked around a desolated New Orleans that fall afternoon, I wondered if any of my kindred were gathering at that sacred corner where we had spent so many Sundays at the Tea Dance. I turned onto Bourbon Street and glanced down at the section of the French Quarter where my father used to warn me, “Do not go down there son, it is where the homosexuals gather.” To my joy and delight, I saw life! In the distance, I heard the thumps of the deejay as I made out the gay anthem “We are Family” in my head. A few steps closer. Over 100 people were standing around the Bourbon Pub/Parade Disco, which reopened that day, peace and happiness swept over me. The community indeed knew where to gather that afternoon, even in the midst of desolation and despair.

A giant blue tarp covered the roof of the Good Friend’s Bar...surely, the second floor was flooded in the deluge, I supposed. But then, in the distance, I noticed the faint sound of singing. Could it be? Was Tom there? Were the faithful gathered around the piano? Drawing closer and closer to Good Friend’s, the singing was louder and louder. I walked into group of 30 people who were indeed standing around the piano, having picked it up and carried it downstairs so that they could sing.

Tom looked up, saw me, and yelled, “PADRE, YOU ARE HERE” and he began to play Gospel music and people assembled sang out from their hearts! First was “I Come to the Garden Alone”, and then a stirring rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow”. The voices grew louder and heartier. People raised the rafters in joy and celebration as tears filled our eyes. For the wayward souls assembled that day, even in the midst of destruction and despair, this was Church! We were not in a building consecrated by a bishop. The space was not filled with stained glass and statues. Instead, we were a church formed from the presence of the people and our piano became our altar, a place of sacrifice where we could offer to God our tears, our joys, our prayers, and our hopes. The piano became a sign and symbol of God’s redemption and love in our midst.

Saturday, September 17, 2011


The marvels of God are not brought forth from one's self.
Rather, it is more like a chord, a sound that is played.
The tone does not come out of the chord itself, but rather,
through the touch of the Musician.
I am, of course, the lyre and harp of God's kindness.

HILDEGARD OF BINGEN, attributed, Soul Weavings

Monday, August 29, 2011

Holy Dirt and Prayers at Chimayo

Can a spoonful of dirt transmit a miracle of healing? To the more than 40,000 people who make a pilgrimage to El Santuario de Chimayó every year, miraculous recoveries in both body and mind have shown again and again that it can — whether by the power of the divine or the power of faith and belief.

Located in a high and remote valley northeast of Santa Fe, Chimayó has been considered a sacred site for centuries. The native Tewa Indians considered the fertile valley sacred because of a spring that bubbled from the ground in the surrounding hills; the Spanish settled here in the 1600s for the same reason. But when Don Bernardo Abeyta, a member of a local Catholic brotherhood, followed a mysterious dancing light down to the river, everything changed. Here’s how the wonderful story goes:

The light appeared to be coming out of the dirt itself, so Abeyta began digging, and eventually uncovered a six-foot-tall wooden crucifix featuring a dramatic, dark-skinned Christ. Abeyta called others to see the crucifix, and together they organized a procession to carry the heavy statue to the parish church in Santa Cruz, eight miles away, where they installed it in the altar.

Except the next morning it was gone. When they looked for it, they found it back in the same spot on the riverbank where it was originally found. A second time it was brought to the church — and a second time it mysteriously migrated back to its spot of origin. When this happened a third time, the diocese got the message and a small chapel was built in Chimayó to house the statue. The current Santuario was built in 1814.

War, though, was what truly created the Chimayó pilgrimmage as it exists today. During WWI, terrified New Mexican boys huddled in the trenches made a prayerful promise that if they returned alive, they would make a pilgrimage of gratitude to Chimayó. Since then, through the second World War, the Korean War, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, servicemen and women and their frightened families have come to Chimayó to pray for — and give thanks for — their safe return.

New Mexico has the honor of contributing more young people to the armed services than any other state, and today, an entire wall of the antechamber is papered with photos of young soldiers. Many of them are accompanied by heartfelt notes from parents, spouses and siblings requesting divine intervention and protection.

How did Chimayó’s dirt, dug from a small well known as El Posito, come to be considered healing? The connection was never made completely clear to me. But why wouldn’t dirt from which a statue miraculously emerged have divine powers? The dirt itself, a reddish soft powdery dust, is dug with a child’s playground shovel from an unprepossessing hole in a closet-sized room. And church staff are quite open about the fact that the dirt visitors dig up is no longer original dirt from the chapel — it’s carried in by the bucketful to replenish the supply every night. And yet every year tens of thousands of visitors, of all ages and every faith, visit Chimayó to pray for health, taking home baggies and vials of the dirt to distribute amongst their loved ones.

It occurs to me, looking around the shrine, that here at Chimayó is an expression of our deepest fears and sorrows. What shakes us more deeply than the illness or loss of a child, parent, friend or animal companion?

Within the anteroom is an enclosed shrine honoring Santo Niño de Atocha, an embodiment of the infant Jesus. He is surrounded by baby shoes of all kinds, from hand-knit booties to miniature high top tennies, a traditional gift of supplication to El Niño. The walls of the shrine are papered with pleas for intercession on behalf of sick children, prayers for those who have died, and expressions of gratitude for children restored to health.

I can barely look at first, but then I begin to peer closely and carefully at each tiny photo and name, feeling the force of the love of the mother or father who placed it here. And it occurs to me that this may be the most powerful force of all: The love we have for our children, our other family members and friends, the strength of our desire to see them live long healthy lives.

And yes, I too brought home Chimayó dirt – as much as I could take without seeming greedy.

( story of Chimayo comes from Melanie Haiken)

Jesus and the Beloved Disciple

During my pilgrimage in New Mexico, I ran across this powerful image of Jesus and his beloved disciple John. In the writings of J. Philip Newell he says that John listens to the heartbeat of God as he rested on the chest of Jesus. Where do we as people of faith find places where we too can listen to the heartbeat of the One?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pictures from Iona

Click HERE to view a music video I created of images from my trip to Iona, Scotland

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Coming of A New Pentecost

During the last session of our retreat, we were asked the question, “What am I taking away from my experience of the Pilgrimage for Change on the Island of Iona?”

After meditating on this question, I realized that the teachings of John Philip and Ali Newell have given me a clearer language to speak about the ongoing spiritual transformations I have had ever since I had a moment of awakening on a cold winter morning in Sedona, Arizona in January 2005. My mother and I were on a Pink Jeep Tour, where we visited beautiful rock formations and admired the many majestic views of Sedona's National Park. When I was resting with my back up against a tree, I felt something akin to an electrical current going through my body. For a split second, I was not part of this world, but had a glimpse into something much greater than this world. Naturally, this experience shocked me and scared me, but at the same time brought a feeling of great peace and deep love.

Before this experience, I was at an all time spiritual low: both of my parents were dying, I was becoming a workaholic, and I was struggling with being an openly gay priest in the Diocese of Louisiana. In short, I was not taking care of myself, resulting in my losing a spiritual center. But that moment of energy was a starting point of God's magnificent grace working a new thing in me, which I've only come to piece together in the past few weeks. Since that experience in Sedona, I have grown in my knowledge and belief of God’s healing presence in nature. I believe that tree which provided me rest was part of a strong, spiritual vortex that helped me to connect with the creative, life-giving energy of the universe (God). Since then, I have been able to stretch my mind and deepen my faith in Christ by engaging with the living presence of God in healing prayers, in further exploration about our theology of the sacraments, in some reflective work around quantum physics, and in pushing myself to see the living Christ in others and to be the living Christ for others. In due time, I would like to write about all of this in a book. But for now, I can tell you the time in Iona has allowed me to see these abstract pieces of my life as part of a seamless whole, to begin articulating these thoughts in a cohesive way, and to connect with others and talk about these experiences using Celtic spirituality as a guide and inspiration.

In Iona, we began to explore the notion that a new Pentecost is coming to the Church--a new working of the Spirit for justice, wholeness, unity, healing, hope, and holiness. I feel called to be a part of God's new work. This week in Iona has given to me:
  • A renewed sense of my vocation as a priest in the Church.
  • The empowerment to be a leader and teacher of a vision for this new Pentecost in the Church where we will focus on our unity and what brings us together instead of what divides us. I look forward to speaking more for unity as a matter of justice rather than just for the sake of unity.
  • A commitment to use my new voice in order to speak the truth in love to the world and church about the deep need for peace, where all are invited to graceful engagement in what unites us as people of faith and of God’s creation.
  • A greater appreciation for the beauty of the earth/world, especially around the San Francisco Bay Area, and a yearning to spend more time connecting with that beauty every week in new and exciting ways as part of my weekly devotions.
  • A greater love, admiration, and appreciation for the work we are doing together at St. Aidan’s.

As I board my plane to make my way back to San Francisco, know you are in my hearts and prayers. Thank you for this profound, wonderful opportunity. I eagerly await the opportunity to be with you all again!

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Today John Philip Newell offered a teaching on how we can deal with the brokenness in the world. Mystic Julian of Norwich centered on the image of Jesus being handsome- not pretty- Her vision of him was one of both joy and suffering at the same time - A life who is totally alive to the gift of life but also aware of the brokenness and sorrow in the world.

St Columba talks about praying until the tears come, both joy and sorrow because when we weep something essential is stirring in us.

We meditated on looking suffering right in its face at the same time looking at the beauty of creation in its face.

I wrote the following poem today as I reflected on the joyful and sorrowful experiences we have shared as a family at "The Camp" on False River in Louisiana.


Near the lakes edge
She looks out over the deep
A view of peace, beauty, light and spirit
A view of chaos, pain, darkness and death
Two views of the same vision
Goodness and suffering
Side by side
Top by bottom
Now........... Intertwining
Spirit whispers in her ear
“All will be well”
“All will be well”
Two sides of the same place
Now intertwined
Beauty and brokenness are now one
Her outstretched arms rise over the sacred deep
God holds her up
The beauty of her smile

Tommy Dillon

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Trip to the Island of Staffa

A group of us decided to take the local boat to Staffa from Iona on the first free afternoon of our pilgrimage. It was a 45 minute ride over rough waters and gusty winds.

As we approached Staffa I was truly floored by it's size and majesty. As you approach you see the detail of the basalt columns and the magnitude of them, atop the mushroom that is the land mass. As you are looking at the island you'll see the basalt black Fingals Cave.

Staffa is an island about 7 miles north of Iona and is well known for the presence of Fingal's Cave. But apart from that, Staffa is a remarkable little island. The island was once inhabited in the 1700s by as much as 16 people but nowadays seabirds and tourists have taken over their place. Staffa is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Staffa, an entirely volcanic island, is probably best known for its unique geological features.

Fingal's cave itself has a large arched entrance and is filled by the sea; however, boats cannot enter. We walked to the cave overland, where a row of fractured columns form a walkway just above high-water level permitted us exploration on foot.

Anyway, if I could say that there is only one downer about going to Staffa, this was the amount of time you get on the Island. It is literally a feast of nature and you only have 1 hour to cram as much as you can in during that time... I think I'll have to rethink this for my next visit and ensure I travel in a way that means I can stay for longer... I loved laying in the grass soaking in the sun and the wind.

Earth as a Mattress

I rest on the earth
with a mattress made of grass
I connect with the Source of all that is and has being
Wind sweeps around me
Colors of purple, emerald and blue appear under my eye lids
The flow of God runs through me
Over me
Around me
Birds sing with joy
Flowers sing with joy
I sing with joy
Gratitude for the Wild Goose!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Prayer for the Day in Iona on Pentecost Monday

Wild Spirit,
do not let us be tamed
to a life made only
of straight lines.
May we also travel
like the geese,
sharing the load
enjoying the lift,
calling encouragement:
just flying.

– from 'Still travelling' in Tell Me the Stories of Jesus by Janet Lees

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Standing on Holy Ground: The First Day on the Sacred Island of Iona

After two trains, an overnight in Oban, two ferries, a bus ride, and a nice, long, uphill walk to our hotel- We reached our home for a week on the island of Iona at the St. Columba Hotel. This place emits the coming together of heaven and earth, also known as a liminal or "thin" place. Our group of 22 pilgrims met for the first time and had a glorious dinner before evening prayers and chants.

Our retreat leader, John Philip Newell, led us with prayers and music in the evening from his CD "Chanting for Peace" and new book "Praying with the Earth". The focus of the book and CD is aimed at ways we can pray for peace with phrases from the Quran, the Hebrew Scriptures, and the teachings of Jesus. This is a way of further opening our hearts to the longings for peace that are deeper than the fears and misunderstandings that divide us.

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of Pentecost with the Iona Community before we set off for a hike to the north beach for a prayer walk. Come, Holy Spirit!

To the home of peace
to the field of love

to the land where forgiveness and right relationship meet
we look, O God,
with longing for earth’s children
with compassion for the creatures

with hearts breaking for the people
and nations we love.

Open us to visions we have never known

strengthen us for self-givings we have never made

delight us with a oneness we could never have imagined

that we may truly be born of
makers of peace.

(from Praying With the Earth by John Philip Newell)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Iona Bound: Going Back to being a Pilgrim

After a few days in Edinburgh my friend Hannah and I are about to make the journey to the sacred island of Iona where we will spend a week for the 'Pilgrimage for Change' retreat with J. Philip Newell.

Iona is one of the most venerated places in Scotland. It receives its renown as it was the base of the Irish Christian missionary St Columba, who in 563 AD landed on the island with twelve followers and settled there.

Today, Iona remains a symbol of religious change. In 1938, George MacLeod founded the Iona Community, as an ecumenical Christian community of “men and women from different walks of life and different traditions in the Christian church that is committed to seeking new ways of living the gospel of Jesus Christ in today’s world”. This community is a leading force in the present Celtic Christianity revival, which is affiliated with the Scottish Episcopal Church (part of the Anglican Communion). Though often labelled more “New Age” than “Christian”, that is of course largely what Celtic Christianity was: it took the existing Celtic tradition, and substituted the names of the old gods with a new name, Jesus. But it left all the old attributes of the ancient gods in place. Celtic Christianity was merely an adaptation of the local beliefs, not a break with the old beliefs. In fact, in the first few centuries of the Christian era, this was exactly the official policy missionaries were invited to use and it is one of the main reasons why so many “pagan” elements can be found in the Christian calendar and rituals.

That today Iona is peacefully reverting to the olden ways, may be a sign of a socio-religious experiment that can only succeed on an island… or a sign of things to come.

Each day on Iona will begin and end with the rhythm of prayer and meditation together, either at the Abbey or elsewhere on the island. In the mornings John Philip will teach on themes related to the oneness of the human soul and the healing of creation, asking what sacrifices we are to make in our lives as individuals, as nations, and as a species, if we and the world are to be well. The afternoons will be given to hiking, conversation, and rest, and in the early evenings his wife Ali will lead us in embodiment practices of chant and meditative movement and further reflection on the way of transformation in our world. On at least one of the days we will walk the seven-mile island pilgrimage route together to reflect on the journey of our lives and universe. Wholesome breakfasts and evening meals, with provision from the organic gardens of the hotel, are an important part of our community life together.

Our leader and one of my favorite writers, John Philip Newell, is a poet, a scholar and a teacher. Formerly Warden of Iona Abbey in the Western Isles of Scotland, he is currently Companion Theologian for the American Spirituality Centre of Casa del Sol in the high desert of New Mexico. He is internationally acclaimed for his work in the field of Celtic spirituality, including his best known titles Listening for the Heartbeat of God and Christ of the Celts, as well as his poetic book of prayer Sounds of the Eternal. He is a Church of Scotland minister with a passion for peace in the world and a fresh vision for harmony between the great spiritual traditions of humanity.

It is not easy to get to Iona. We will take two trains, have an over night in Oban, take two ferries and one bus in order to reach this holy site.

Since being away from my last pilgrimage group in France I have been a little bit unsettled being a tourist in Scotland. I am ready to return to pilgrim mode!

You keep us waiting.
You, the God of all time,
Want us to wait for the right time in which to discover
Who we are, where we must go,
Who will be with us, and what we must do.
So, thank you…for the waiting time.

You keep us looking.
You, the God of all space,
Want us to look in the right and wrong places for signs of hope,
For people who are hopeless,
For visions of a better world that will appear among the disappointments of the world we know.
So, thank you…for the looking time.

You keep us loving.
You, the God whose name is love,
Want us to be like you –
To love the loveless and the unlovely and the unlovable;
To love without jealousy or design or threat,
And most difficult of all, to love ourselves.
So, thank you…for the loving time.

And in all this you keep us,
Through hard questions with no easy answers;
Through failing where we hoped to succeed and making an impact when we felt useless;
Through the patience and the dreams and the love of others;
And through Jesus Christ and his Spirit, you keep us.

(Prayer of the Iona Community in Scotland)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Experience The Wild Goose

Aléynu L’shabéy’ah: It is Ours to Praise

Text by Marcia Falk, Tune by Ana Hernandez

It is ours to praise the beauty of the world, even as we discern the torn world. For nothing is whole that is not first rent, and out of the torn, we make whole again. May we live with promise in creation’s lap, redemption budding in our hands.

This is the song that I have listened to over and over again. It has truly helped channel the Wild Goose (Celtic description of the Holy Spirit). I highly recommend purchasing my friend Ana's CD, Eternal Spirit, online and listen to it daily. It can bring you to new places like it did for me walking the Labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral. Ana will be at St Aidan's on August 6 and 7 while I am away on Sabbatical.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Holy Walking: Experincing the Labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral

"Your life is a sacred journey. And it is about change, growth, discovery, movement, transformation, continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, taking courageous challenges at every step along the way. You are on the path... exactly where you are meant to be right now... And from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing of courage, of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of dignity, and of love." - Caroline Adams

We are all on the path... exactly where we need to be. The labyrinth is a model of that path.
A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.

The labyrinth at Chartres was built around 1200 and is laid into the floor in a style sometimes referred to as a pavement maze. The original center piece has been removed and other areas of the labyrinth have been restored.

In walking the Chartres style labyrinth the walker meanders through each of the four quadrants several times before reaching the goal. An expectancy is created as to when the center will be reached. At the center is a rosette design which has a rich symbolic value including that of enlightenment. The four arms of the cross are readily visible and provide significant Christian symbolism.

Before walking the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral I meditate at the high altar for 15 minutes. I kneel before the altar at the crossing of this ancient place of worship with my hands in orans position, outstretched. My hands become warm. I feel comfort, a sense of floating, feeling an energy pushing me back and forth almost causing me to fall over. In this almost dizzy state I walk towards the labyrinth and walk around it twice in a counter clockwise direction before entering the sacred pathway.

At the start of the walk I begin to feel tension, worry about what sort of revelation will come to me. The first thing I do as I walk and pray is to unlock my jaw which is tight. I try to empty my head in order to be free of clutter. I shut my eyes as I walk only keeping them open a little bit so I can just barely see the path before me. As I walk closer to the center I once again feel comfort. I enter the center and five people are surrounding me in prayer as they stand in the rosette. I then join the others in the design. We stand in silence basking in the light and energy which is the presence of the Holy. After holy silence, each person surrounding the center enters the center one by one as we seem to pray for one another. We all seem connected even though we do not know one another. A deep sense of peace enters me and I begin to feel recharged. As I depart the center and walk the same pathway out I feel a cool breeze blow by me. I feel lighter. I begin to smile and am overcome with a holy giggle. Joy, peace, and laughter overcome me as I exit.

I had no major revelation walking and praying the Labyrinth, but I experienced the unconditional love of Christ. I felt the Holy Spirit enter my soul. I felt the peace that passes all understanding AND that is ENOUGH! Merci Merci Merci......

Gliding along the winding path
in a circle of safety
releasing my grip on my cares
and opening up inside,
dilated at the center of my soul. . .
not a hole,
a vessel
a place of silence
a vacancy reserved for God
for spiritual communion,
an inner sanctuary
purified by the consuming fire
of the Holy Spirit
and what is left there. . .
etched in the center of my soul,
"I am with you, there is nothing to fear"

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sacred Energy in the Crypt of Chartres

Thousands of years ago, Druids around Chartres held their ceremonies on this special hill which was sacred to them. Several churches and temples, whose remains can still be seen within the Crypt, had also been built there, before the cathedral dedicated “Our Lady” was erected. Special combinations of sacred geometry and the ability to redirect Light with specially alchemically designed stained glass allow Chartres Cathedral to be a place where the highest frequency energies of Creation are attracted and stored.

Chartres Cathedral is a spiritually powerful place allowing all to reach the comfort of a direct connection to God and God’s energy proving more or more difficult to connect with in our low frequency technology based society of today. I wanted to experience this connection with the Holy in the cathedral.

I have felt these energies before in places like Sedona and Joshua Tree and it heightened my spiritual journey as a priest.

So a group of us decided to take the tour offered from a shop next to the cathedral to explore the crypt of the church. Unfortunately for us, the tour was only in French but along with our ticket we’d been given an info sheet in English.

Our guide led us to a locked staircase and we descended into the largest crypt in France. Predating the cathedral, its foundations are mainly Romanesque but its roots go back further. Before the first church was erected in the 4th century, it was a Druid site, believed to be a place of sacred energy.

Only parts of the crypt were lit. As we shuffled along down a gallery, our guide flicked lights on and off, stopping at points of interest. Whatever he was saying must have been entertaining because many were nodding and listening intently.

Not understanding more than the basics, I amused myself by wandering off a few feet like a dog on an invisible leash, poking my head into shadowy corners, past pale frescoes into barrel vaulted chapels, using my photocopied sheet as a guide while taking pictures.

I paid more attention when we went a few steps lower into a sort of crypt within a crypt – the St. Lubin Chapel – built after the Vikings destroyed an even older church in 858.
It felt like the bowels of the cathedral, with layers of history exposed.

Part of the ground is 4th century. Bits of masonry are Roman. Behind me, five niches set into a semi-circular wall might have originally been windows, but no one is sure. Near a massive round column, a jagged entryway ripped out of the wall by a 20th century archaeologist revealed an abandoned Carolingian passageway.

Moving away from the others I stood next to a ledge and breathed it all in, the still heavy air, the centuries of devotion. I could feel something powerful!

Back in the main part of the crypt we stopped at an ancient Druid well, nearly as deep as the cathedral is high, and where the Vikings tossed various martyrs. While many in the group launched into a spirited discussion, I strolled off with the vague intention of retracing the passage of the Middle Age pilgrims who would come to pray at a famous relic, the veil of the Virgin.

According to my info sheet, it was a very structured procession. The pilgrims entered the crypt from a north entrance along a very long gallery and circulated south from darkness to light. As I was starting out from the wrong end, moving from the light into darkness, it was very hard to see. I ended my walk at the sacred veil and put my head next to it where I felt God’s energy sweep through me. I also stood at the ancient well and connected with the energy emitting from the earth below. It is hard to describe what I experienced but I truly crossed a portal into the Sacred. I sing the words of the Song of Mary as I depart:

My soul magnifies the Lord
And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
Because he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid;
For behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed;
Because he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name;
And his mercy is from generation to generation
on those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and has exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has given help to Israel, his servant, mindful of his mercy
Even as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity forever.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Stones and Frescoes Bring Revelation in Brancion

Imagine for a moment that you are transported back in time to the 13th century. You find yourself in the medieval fortress of Brancion, in southern Burgundy. The ancestral holding of Brancion consists of the castle, a village, and a church.

Today you can stand on this high hill and let your mind's eye transport you back to that bygone time. It isn't too difficult, because the landscape before you looks in many ways the same as it did centuries ago: the green farmland, the rolling hills. There is a timelessness here that recalls an illuminated page from a book of hours. The castle, village and church are now a museum, but a museum that lets you use your imagination to flesh out the details of life as it was in the middle ages.

Brancion has not been restored to the extent of other castles and medieval sites in the area. Rather than being a detriment, this actually helps in setting one’s mind free to picture it as it existed in medieval times.

I walked my way through the village in a meditative manner. Many of its structures date to the 15th century. Halfway to the chapel I began to look at a small rock resting on top of a stone fence covered with green moss. I used to think of buildings created centuries ago as set apart and special and that we in America are void of this type of ancient structures. We get excited over structures from the 1800s. I touched the rock and felt its energy. A revelation that all creation is holy came to mind. This rock, as well as the ones that make up the frescoes in the church have the same special energy as the stones in Glen Park Canyon behind St Aidan’s in San Francisco. Wow holiness in my backyard. I now have a new way to look at creation.

I continued to walk and arrived at the church of St. Peter. The church is a perfect example of the Romanesque architecture that is found in many towns and villages in the area. Inside are frescoes that were painted in the XIVth century, when Brancion was a holding of the Dukes of Burgundy. The interior of the church is dark and hushed. A man playing the harp added a greater sense of the Sacred as I meditated on the beautiful frescoes.

One of the frescoes called me to be with it for a while. This was the image that came to mind:

Many pious people are trying to get into a large church. They are dressed as religious and laity with arms raised as they stand before the church whose doors are locked. With their raised hands they wonder why they cannot enter - They have always been the gatekeepers.

A feeling of joy emits from the church which is filled with those who have never been welcomed into it. The ones who have been excluded are now experiencing joy, peace, and liberation. Eventually those who are in the church allow the ones who were locked out to come in and share in this radical experience of hospitality and equality and the old guard is transformed by the love of the former outcasts.

The more one becomes a friend of Christ greater liberation happens.

Every creature, every plant
every rock and grain of sand
proclaims the glory of its Creator
worships through color, shape
scent and form.
A multi-sensory song of praise.
Creator God, may we join
with the whole of your creation
in praising you, our Creator
through the fragrance
and melody of our lives

Friday, May 27, 2011

What is the Kingdom of God?

This hymn truly spoke to me tonight during prayers around the cross with the Taize' Community:

The kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.

In reality the kingdom is really simple and yet profound. I wish more Christians could grasp this concept.

Be a Reservoir and not a Canal.

As we contemplate our hectic lives, consider these words from the writing of St Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th century monk who warned of the danger of pouring ourselves out when our soul is only half-filled. This is my prayer today as I walked trough the church of St Philibert in Tournus.

"If you are wise will show yourself a reservoir and not a canal.

For a canal pours out as fast as it takes in; but a reservoir waits until it is full before it overflows, and so communicates its surplus. . .

We have all too few such reservoirs in the Church at present, though we have canals in plenty. . . Canals desire to pour out when they themselves are not yet inpoured; they are readier to speak than to listen, eager to teach that which they do not know, and most anxious to exercise authority on others, although they have not learnt to rule themselves. . . .

Let the reservoir take pattern from the spring; for the spring does not form a stream or spread into a lake until it is brimful. . . . Be filled thyself then, but discretely, mind, pour out thy fullness. . . . Out of thy fullness help me if thou canst; and, if not, spare thyself."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Celtic Spirit Moves at Fontenay Abbey

The Fontenay Abbey is one of the oldest Cistercian monasteries in Europe. Founded in 1118 by St Bernard in a marshy Burgundy valley, the abbey has not change its magnificient Romanesque style. Except for the refectory which was destroyed, all the rooms have been perfectly conserved : church, dormitory, cloister, council room, heating room, lodging for the abbots and the forge.

Walking counter clockwise in the cloister and church in meditation I noticed the details in the simplicity of the place: Celtic knots, spots of light, mold, algae, the sound of the wind, the color of pink on some vaults, worn paths, flowing water - The words of St Patrick’s Breastplate come alive!

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

A Celtic Spirit surrounds me and then..........

An image of the Good Shepherd appears and the repeated verses in John’s Gospel comes to life.......

“I lay down my life for my sheep”

God’s delight for us is total love, trust, hope in God’s sheep.

Haiku emerges:

I lay down my life
Listen to my voice my sheep
Love is eternal


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Light of Christ Drawing us into the Basilica of Saint Mary Magdalene in Vezelay

There are many reasons to visit the Basilica of Saint Magdalene in France's Bourgogne region. Some come for the classic architecture while others want to listen to hymns. But we came for something entirely different, for pilgrimage just like people have done for centuries in this holy space.

The Vézelay Basilica of Saint Mary Magdalene has been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 1979. This is a holy place that has had a powerful effect on me. I think it is the most beautiful church I have ever experienced.

The Brothers and Sisters of Jerusalem sang Vespers last night and it was then followed the celebration of the Eucharist. They are a newer monastic community and seem to be fairly younger in age, compared to many orders I have experienced. Hospitality, joy, love, and peace flowed through them during the liturgy and afterward, especially during the sharing of the peace. The music was glorious polyphonic singing. Halfway through the service, two birds began flying high above the heads of the choir, but within the domed ceiling. Their swooping and chasing added grace notes to the glorious music. I would love for their order to come to San Francisco- They all seem so happy!

Wisps of incense filtered through the afternoon sunlight in the high-ceilinged basilica. Its massiveness dwarfed the seated monks and nuns. They seemed to disappear into themselves and the white robes of their order. Choral music echoed from the walls, helping to melt away pilgrims’ cares and worries.

This basilica lacks the stained glass windows I have come to expect and yet I am struck by how ‘light’ it feels, even with its rock walls. The church was deliberately planned so that worshippers would feel they were passing from darkness into light as they went from the narthex to the nave. Even the carvings on the pillars and columns were positioned so that the Old Testament characters would more often be in the shadow than those from the New Testament.
During summer solstice at noon time, the geometry of the building creates the pools of sunlight leading to the area where relics of Mary Magdalene are resting in the crypt.

This was the perfect setting for our liturgy to bless and sanctify those of us who are pilgrims in their winter chapel which used to serve as a Chapter Room where the monks and nuns would meet to discuss their community. We each were given Jerusalem crosses to wear around our necks and blessed individually for our journey ahead after moving mediations by our leaders concerning liminal spaces, Mary Magdalene, and the holiness of food.

Many images, feelings, visions are bubbling up for me and we shall see what becomes of these revelations!

Prayer for Pilgrimage from the Gospel of Mary

Mary answered and said, "What is hidden from you I will impart to you."

And she began to say the following words to them. "I," she said, "I saw the Master in a vision and I said to him, 'Lord, I saw you today in a vision.' He answered and said to me,

'Blessed are you, since you did not waver at the sight of me. For where the mind is, there is the treasure."

I said to him, 'Lord, the mind which sees the vision, does it see it through the soul or through the spirit?'

The Savior answered and said, 'It sees neither through the soul nor through the spirit, but the mind, which is between the two, which sees the vision...'"

-Mary Magdalene, The Gospel of Mary

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fatima: Prayers and Waxy Body Parts!

In 1917, three kids encountered visions of Mary near the village of Fátima and were asked to return on the 13th of each month for six months. The final apparition was witnessed by thousands of locals. Ever since, Fátima is on the pilgrimage trail — mobbed on the 13th of each month through the spring and summer.

On my visit, the vast esplanade leading to the basilica and site of the mystical appearance was quiet, as a few solitary pilgrims shuffled on their knees slowly down the long, smooth approach. Staring at a forest of candles and wax body parts dripping into a fiery trench that funnels all the melted wax into a bin to be resurrected as new candles was evocative in this spiritual setting.

Huge letters spelling “Queen of the Holy Rosary of Fátima Pray for Us” in Latin ring the ceiling of the basilica. Pope John Paul II loved Fátima and visited it three times. (After the attempted assassination of JPII, the Vatican revealed that this event was predicted by Our Lady of Fátima in 1917.)

Wandering around modern Fátima and its commercial zone, I’m impressed by how it mirrors my image of a medieval pilgrim gathering place: oodles of picnic benches, endless parking, and desolate toilets for the masses. Just beyond the church, uniform stalls line a horseshoe-shaped mall await pilgrims. Even without much business, old ladies still staff their booths, surrounded by trinkets for pilgrims — including gaudy wax body parts and rosaries that will be blessed after Mass and taken home to remember Our Lady of Fátima.

Here are a few journal entries I wrote while sitting in the church before the statue of “Our Lady of Fatima”:

  • Sitting before the statue on the front pew I put my earphones on and hit random on my iPhone and “Save Me” by Amiee Mann from the movie “Magnolia” plays - Love how random selection works!
  • I just love watching the pilgrims process around the church stopping to pray at the tombs of the young shepherds who reported seeing visions of Mary.
  • I giggle as I observe people posing for pictures in front of Mary’s statue. Some pose with big grins on their faces while others who are waiting to take their picture begin to fix their hair and put on makeup. As they approach the statue they stand for their portrait with one leg kicked back, puffed lips, and seductive pose - Glamor shots with Our Lady. The only thing missing is a boa!
  • The white flowers around the church reminds me that it is still Easter Season and that brings me a joyous feeling.

Later that night I did not rest well. I had many thoughts and dreams resulting from my experiences in Rome and Fatima. I guess it was an evening of reflection about God’s role in the Church and in the lives of its people.

I realized that it the whole scheme of things it did not matter if St Peter’s bones or grave were under the main altar of St Peter’s in Rome or if the visions of the three young people at Fatima were part of their imagination or real: What I do know is that people come to these places in prayer and in their love of God. No matter why people come to the sites or what the theology of the people are God is present. I felt the presence of Christ probably due to the many decades or thousands of years of constant prayer and devotion to God that have been offered in these holy sites. The place is changed due to the devotion and love of God’s beloved NOT because of where someone is buried or where some young children supposedly saw visions.