Follow a turtle (on the edge of mystery)

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FEAST OF THE HOLY TRINITY ~ May 31, 2015

This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday when we give praise to God as we Christians understand and know God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For me, it’s all about being caught up in ~ getting lost in ~ finding my true self in the awesome dynamic relationship with our God as we come to know that God is love.

Here is a story I love to tell when I’ve preached on Trinity Sunday.  Enjoy.

My first assignment as  a priest was to Holy Name of Jesus Parish across the street from the Atlantic Ocean.  I have fond memories of that place, not only of  the whole parish but also of its geographical and ecological setting.   Today I see it as one of the finest parishes in the continental United States in the wonderful ways in that hundreds of parishioners are involved in 85 ministries.

And so, I have a story to tell.  I have told it on Trinity Sunday almost every year of my priesthood.  It’s about some sea turtles.  You’ll probably be wondering as you read what turtles have to do with the Trinity.  But I’ll save that for the end.  It is a powerful connection.

Indialantic, Florida, summer 1969.  I had just arrived in the parish and was meeting my new parishioners.  Several asked, “Have you seen the turtles yet?”  I assumed they were talking about turtles who came to our beach but I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was.  So I accepted Tony’s invitation, a teen from the youth group I had just met:  “Meet me on the beach at 9:00 tonight; bring a small flashlight.”

I was a little early, so I sat on the steps watching the 2-foot waves lap the shore.  It soon learned what a joy it was to live across the street from the ocean!  I lived there the first three years of my priesthood.  That night was a quiet, dark night; there was no moon.  I took off my shoes and put them beside a small-sized dune.  I could see the light of flashlights bouncing across the sand towards the south  but the beach  was dark to the north.  Apparently, prize turtle-watching happened on the south stretch of beach.  Indeed, the most active area for loggerhead turtle nesting is south of Cape Kennedy.

Tony came along and we walked south and the waves washed further up the shore.  He quietly explained that loggerhead turtles grew to about 38 inches and had huge loggerhead_emily_mannionheads with short necks and powerful beaks that can break open mollusk shells.  He said they weigh from 200 – 350 pounds.

We were silent for a while.  I noticed that the flashlights were all turned off; apparently the sea creatures are spooked by light.  A dark night is best.

“What will we see?” I asked.

“The huge creature will lumber slowly up the beach to reach an area above the high water line. The tracks she makes resemble caterpillar or loggerhead-turtle-4331tank tracks.  She will then turn around facing the ocean and use her rear flippers to dig a hole. Sometimes she will not leave any eggs and fill in the hole again to fool us turtle-watchers.  There are sometimes egg poachers around. But if she does lay eggs there will be about 100-126 white-colored eggs about 2 inches in diameter.”

We soon saw some turtle tracks, leading out of the surf up the beach.  None of us used our flashlights, keeping some distance and, interestingly, even the children kept silent,  as if there were a spell over us.

That was my first experience of turtle watching.  I had many more.  But there was one night I will long remember.  It is that night that I have told in my Trinity Sunday homilies all these years.

I was alone that night — no companion, no other turtle-watchers. The moment opened up for me to be a profound mystical awareness, a moment I still remember vividly.  I watched the giant turtle lay her eggs and slowly make her way back toward the surf.    I moved  a little closer as she came to the edge of the water.  It was really dark.

I felt drawn to her by some compelling or impelling force.  I wanted to follow the turtle! As it disappeared beneath the waves, I was drawn to follow her, to enter  the unknown world beneath the sea.

But I hesitated.  I pulled back.

I was on the edge of mystery.

The turtle has its own mystery; the turtle is at home in two worlds — land and sea.  We also live in two worlds — the physical and the spiritual, the seen and the unseen.  For a brief  moment, I was drawn to follow the turtle down beneath the waves. But actually  I was drawn into the mystery of the life of God which the feast of the Holy Trinity celebrates for us.  And there, too, I hesitate.  I pull  back.  I prefer to get close, but not too close.  I prefer to stand upon the shore, to walk along with my toes only in the water, not to plunge in.

The shoreline is  highly symbolic.  It is the liminal space (the margin) between land and sea.  As such, it is a powerful space, a place of mystery in its own right,  as any liminal space can be.  I have stood on several of the shores of the world and it’s always a powerful experience.  Perhaps the shoreline runs down the middle of my soul.

So, what do we make of this feast of the Holy Trinity?  In having this feast the church is telling us we live on the edge of mystery.  We live on the edge of God’s wonderful life — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This is not to be solved like a Perry Mason or Agatha Christie mystery.  In religious experience, a mystery is to be lived and to be unfolded as we uncover its multifaceted dimensions, as we allow it to envelop  and sometimes enrapture us.

The immensity of God’s love is a mystery for us, for sure.  But we should not be afraid of mystery.  We should not be afraid to immerse ourselves in the mystery of God as the turtle immersed herself in the mystery of the ocean.

The day will come, sooner or later, for me and for you to let go of our hesitancy and fear and to fall into the ocean of God’s love.  To no longer live on the edge of mystery but to be immersed fully in  the mystery of God’s love — Father,  Son and Holy Spirit.

I had the experience last year when I got off the shore and onto a dive boat. After three years, I finally got my Scuba certification, and like the turtles went below the surface of the Atlantic ocean for the first time and entered a brand new astonishingly beautiful, silent world!

There’s a similar story told about the great St. Augustine who lived in the Fourth Century. The story or legend goes that he was walking on the beach contemplating the mystery of the Trinity when he saw a boy in front of him who had dug a hole in the sand and was going out to the sea again and again and bringing some water to pour into the hole. St. Augustine asked him, “What are you doing?” “I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole.” “That is impossible, the whole ocean will not fit in the hole you have made” said St. Augustine. The boy replied, “And you cannot fit the Trinity in your tiny little brain.” The saint was instantly confronted with the mystery of God.

And so, dear friends . . . .

Follow a turtle!

IMG_0533 Before we quit, let’s ask, what of the baby turtles?

They hatch in sixty days and are completely on their own.  The hundreds of condominiums on the Florida shoreline are in themselves a threat to the newborn because the little ones are drawn to the light and away from the ocean where they should be.  There is a law that only a few lights are to be on the sea-side and these are to be covered.  Like so many other little babies they are endangered.  May we protect them all!

Now, before you go, here’s a cute music video about “Caretta, the Sea Turtle.” Click Here.  Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full Screen.

And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

Ruah! Breathe in the Holy Spirit!

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The Great and Glorious Feast of Pentecost

Sunday, May 24, 2015

In our last blog, we talked about the Feast of the Ascension.

After Jesus left the disciples and ascended into heaven, they were cowering behind locked doors,

despondent, worried, fearful, bewildered, devastated.

“[Then] suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind,

and it filled the entire house in which they were. 

Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire which parted

and came to rest on each one of them. 

And they were all filled with the holy Spirit

and began to speak in different tongues, 

as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim (Acts 2:1-21.)

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.”

“When the day of Pentecost came it found the brethren gathered in one place.  Suddenly from up in the sky there was a noise like a strong driving wind.”

The Holy Spirit is associated with that wind.  The wind that blows where it wills. The wind that stirs things up and gets them moving.

The word for “wind” in Hebrew is “Ruah” — the same as the word for “breath.”

One night as I was sitting in my chair and just paid attention to my breathing as I often do.

I imagined that the Holy Spirit was breath entering me, and when I exhaled, I was breathing out the Holy Spirit as well.

What a wonderful image is breath.  Breath is life itself.  No breath, no life in the body.

The mighty wind of Pentecost stirred things up as the church was born.  The apostles and the others who were part of their company, including the women, were given enthusiasm.  No longer afraid, they courageously preached the message that Jesus established a new order for people’s lives. They began gathering the church.  The Acts of the Apostles is in effect the gospel of the Holy Spirit.

In the beginning of scripture, there is a story about the tower of Babel, a story that tries to explain why there are so many different languages on the earth  that we cannot understand each other, so much discord,  so much disharmony.

The story has God confusing the languages of people at Babel  (Gen. 11: 1-9) and from that day onward they were scattered.

On the day of Pentecost the opposite happened.  People were gathered together.   Parthians and Medes and Elamites; people from Cappodacia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia and Egypt  — all heard the apostles speaking to them in their own languages.

On the day of my ordination, I was filled with enthusiasm.  It was day before Pentecost, May 24, 1969.

I was reminded of this prophecy of Joel:

I will pour out my spirit upon all humankind.

Your sons and daughters shall prophesy,

your old men shall dream dreams,

your young men shall see visions.

Even upon the servants and handmaids,

in those days, I will pour out my spirit.” Joel 2:28, 29)

These were the days immediately following the Second Vatican Council.  There was a lot of enthusiasm all over the Church.  Those of us who were young, had wonderful opportunities to serve.

The enthusiasm that poured onto me and into me  lasted the first full three years of my priesthood.  The Spirit really touched my ministry, as he did with another priest who was ordained the same day as me.

Nine years later, the opposite happened.  My life crashed in upon me. And I was reminded of still another scripture about the Spirit — the prophecy of the dry bones.

“Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord:”  See I will bring spirit into you that you may come to life again.   Breathe into these slain, O Spirit that they may come to life.” (Ezekiel 37: 1)

That’s what Pope Francis is trying to do. Breathe new life into the Church The Holy Spirit will draw the church together in a new way!

~ ~ ~ ~

There is still another thing to note from the Pentecost story.  A tongue of fire rested individually on the heads of each person.  The Spirit of God has a special relationship with each of us.  The Spirit will enliven us according to the gifts and talents of each one.

So this Holy Spirit does wondrous things!

The Spirit is the source of inspiration for all who would design and create.

“There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries, but the same Lord;  there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in every one.  To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

The body is one and has many members, many though they are, are one body;  and so it is with Christ.  It was in one Spirit that all of us, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, were baptized into the one body.   All  of us have been given to drink of the one Spirit.”     I Cor. 12

 In the seminary I learned to pray for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit before each class.  And for me it was a powerful devotion.  I realized that the work I produced was more than the sum of its parts.  I realize that is still true some 40 years later.  If we seek and cooperate with God’s grace, wonderful things can and will happen that are so far beyond what we ever imagine!

But I must realize that there were also times in my priesthood when I experienced a great deal of powerlessness.  I felt like Samson who had lost his strength.  My soul had become like the valley of dry bones.    I didn’t like my own mediocrity.

It is clear that I needed to bring the Holy Spirit to the foreground of my life again and again.  I want to have a vibrant and vital relationship with the Holy Spirit from moment to moment.  In each moment of my life I hope that I will discern and follow the Spirit’s lead.

Actually, I learned in high school to seek excellence in my endeavors.  Seek excellence; avoid mediocrity.  That was the motto of my class in our senior year of high school.

The Holy Spirit can make that happen in your life, in your children’s lives, and in mine too.

This Pentecost 2015, with all that is happening in the world and in the church, may we clearly see our need for the Holy Spirit in our life and ministry.  Without the Spirit, there is no meaning.  Without meaning, there is no reason to live.

The lesson I relearned as I wrote this reflection is that to seek the Spirit’s involvement in our work is to refuse to settle for mediocrity.  As we get older, we may not have the energy of our youth to go for the brass ring, but we still can revive some enthusiasm as we go about our work.

The Spirit of God is as close to us as our own breath.  I have trained myself to become conscious of my breathing often each day.  So too can we train ourselves to be conscious of the Holy Spirit from moment to moment.

May we celebrate today the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, in the Church, in our world and in, indeed, all of creation!

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,

and enkindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.

and You shall renew the face of the earth.

May it be so.  May it be so.

Now, here’s the ancient Sequence for the Feast ~ or if you will, a poem that occurs within the Mass . . .

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
And from your celestial home
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come, Father of the poor!
Come, source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine.
You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul’s most welcome guest;
Sweet refreshment here below;
In our labor, rest most sweet;
Grateful coolness in the heat;
Solace in the midst of woe.
O most blessed Light divine,
Shine within these hearts of yours,
And our inmost being fill!
Where you are not, we have naught,
Nothing good in deed or thought,
Nothing free from taint of ill.
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guilt away:
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill;
Guide the steps that go astray.
On the faithful, who adore
And confess you, evermore
In your sevenfold gift descend;
Give them virtue’s sure reward;
Give them your salvation, Lord;
Give them joys that never end.
Amen. Alleluia.

And before you go, here is the haunting chant melody “Veni Creator Spiritus” and the English “Come Holy Ghost.”  Click here.    Be sure to enter full screen.  There are many images of Pentecost in art displayed there.

And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman,

Contemplative Writer

You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth!

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Ascension Sunday 2015 ~ May 17, 2015

The feast of the Ascension of our Lord is part of the Easter mystery.  First is the resurrection in which Jesus conquers death for us and reveals that life for us will never end.

Then there is the ascension in which Jesus is taken up into heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand.

And finally Pentecost in which God pours forth his Spirit upon the church and all humankind.

All three experiences are intertwined; they reveal different aspects or facets of the same reality.  The Scriptures separate them over 50 days to afford us the opportunity to reflect on each aspect of the Easter mystery.

Now, let us look at today’s feast, the Ascension.

At the very beginning of the Acts of the Apostle (first reading ~ Acts 1:1-11), written by the same author as Luke’s gospel, describes the experience.

Then Jesus told them not to depart from Jerusalem but to “wait for the promise of the Father of which you have heard me speak; for John baptized with water but in a few days you  will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  He, of course, was referring to Pentecost.

. . . Then he said,

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you

AND YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, and to the ends of the earth.”

Then Jesus was lifted up, a cloud took him from their sight.

They stood there, awestruck, spellbound .

Then two men dressed in white garments stood beside them and said,

“Men of Galilee, why are standing there looking at the sky? 

This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”

This feast is about heaven, but also about earth.

Jesus is taken into heaven; that is, he returns to his Father where sits at the Father’s right hand.

And the second reading from Ephesians states that. . . .

God the Father “put all things beneath Christ’s feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” (Ephesians 1:23)

Thus, there is a cosmic dimension to Christology.  The great mystic and theologian Father Teilhard de Chardin  talked about “Christogenesis” – the entire universe evolving by the power of Christ’s all-embracing love.  When Chardin was far away from bread or wine and could not celebrate Mass, he talked fervently and passionately about the  “Mass on the world – that the whole planet was the body of Christ.

So we think about Jesus as Lord of the Universe,  and we pray that people on earth would somehow find ways to stop the violence and inhumanity toward each other.  And so the feast of Ascension is also about earth.

The angels ask the disciples — Why are you standing there looking up in the sky?  You and I have work to do!

YOU MUST BE MY WITNESSES in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

A witness is one who knows with one’s own eyes and ears what has taken place.

A witness is one who has filtered through one’s own senses what their account of the truth is.

I consider myself a witness to the resurrection.  I have had enough experiences of risen life, even of mystical experience that I am convinced that Jesus is real, that he lives and reigns, that he empowers us through his Spirit. Throughout my life I have found myself immersed in the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I know this also, because Jesus has allowed me the ability to share his life with others, and they with me.  Many others have deepened and enriched their faith as the Holy Spirit worked through me.

Brothers and sisters, we have work to do.  We are put on notice in the scriptures of today’s feast.

Next Sunday we will attend to the third aspect of the Easter mystery ~ Pentecost ~ the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit upon all humankind.

During the coming week may we pray that the Holy Spirit would renew each of us individually, the whole Church of God and indeed the whole world.

Christ is Risen!

Now, before you go, here’s a rousing version of the wonderful hymn, Crown Him with many Crowns. Click here.   Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

Life Surge

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THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER

Dear Friends,

Jesus is so cool in the images he uses to communicate.

In the gospel passage today (John 15:1-8), Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” (You can read the entire passage below.)

Our Scripture scholar-friend William Barclay tells us that Jesus often uses images that are familiar to the people of his day that are part of their religious heritage.  Time and time again, Israel is pictured as the vine or the vineyard of God. “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel” Isaiah 5:1-7).  “Yet I planted you a choice vine,” says Jeremiah to Israel (Jeremiah 2:21).  Ezekiel, in turn, likens Israel to a vine in Chapter 15 and in 19:10.  “Israel is a luxuriant vine: said Hosea in 10:1.  “Thou didst bring a vine a vine out of Egypt,” they sang in Psalm 80 as they remembered their deliverance from Egypt.  

One of the glories of the temple was the great golden vine in front of the Holy Place.  It was considered a great honor if you were rich enough to give gold to mould a new bunch of grapes or even a single grape to that vine.  

Then Barclay gives us a bit of interesting exegesis.  Jesus calls himself the true vine.  The point of that word alethinos, true, real, genuine is this, he says:  “It is a curious fact that the symbol of the vine is never used in the Old Testament apart from the idea of degeneration.  The point of Isaiah’s picture is that vineyard has run wild. Jeremiah complains that the nation has turned into ‘degenerate and become a wild vine.’  It is as if Jesus said: ‘You think that because you belong to the nation of Israel that you are a branch of the true vine of God. But nation it is; a degenerate vine, as the prophets saw.  It is I that am the true vine.” (Barclay / The Gospel of John, Volume 2, p. 173)

Now here are my own thoughts on today’s gospel.

Take a look at the picture above.  It’s not a vine, but every little portion of that bush, every flower, receives its life by being connected to the source of its life.

So, too, with us.  I have some readers who are not professed Christians.  But if you think about it, the message is the same:  If we stay connected to the Source of life, whatever that is for you, then our lives will flourish and bear fruit.

But some of us are like withered branches.  We have cut ourselves off from the source of life and we do not bring fruitfulness into our lives.

Take a few moments to consider the fruitfulness of your relationships.  Are the people in your life growing because they know you and are in your life?  Or are they withering up?

Stay connected.  Stay connected with your family, your friends, the people you love and the people who love and care about you.

We want to be connected to the Internet, on Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and other social media.  But those connections are most often superficial.

What about connections of the heart?  The ones that really matter.

What about your connection with the earth and the environment and with the creatures who share this world with you?  Or does the world revolve around you?

What about your connection with God and his desire that the whole church, indeed the whole world be connected in love.

Jesus, you use simple images to help us understand

what life for us can be like when we stay connected to You.

Wonderful life-surging energy flows through You as the Vine.

Let that same life-surging energy which is Your Holy Spirit

surge through us as well

and renew the face of the earth!

To You be glory now and forever!

Jesus said to His disciples: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does He prunes so that it bears more fruit. You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in Me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in Me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without Me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in Me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned. If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become My disciples.” (John 15:1-8)  

And now, before you go, here’s a song for your reflection on your relationship with Jesus. Click here. 

And here are all of today’s Mass readings. Click here.   

With love, 

Bob Traupman 

contemplative writer   

William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / the Gospel of John – Volume 2 Revised Edition  / Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975