KickHumpty

Speech given at Christ Church Cathedral on Thursday 29th January 2015 at the FORMA Conference http://episcoforma.org/forma-annual-conference

 

The Evensong of Humpty Dumpty
By Jamie Coats

Humpty Dumpty sat on the harbor wall.
In Pigeon Cove Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty back together again!

The one called Emma, the love within said:
It is time for peace on the earth
From heaven’s all gracious King
Goodwill to all Humpty Dumpty Men.

You are an egg-man,
Pregnant with a white pigeon
Ready to be a fledgling
Hoping its world will crack.

Inside you, all scrunched up
There’s a dove irritated,
Uncomfortably aware
It’s time to hatch.

But stopped by your pride,
Your work for today’s earthly king
You’re in perfect egg-shape
Unwilling to crack,

With thoughts:
“So much to achieve,
So much to do,
So many ways to work.”

Dusk has come,
It is time to stop work.
Will you make sacred and give thanks
Or will your busy-ness outrank?

Know this, when the sun fades,
When you, egg-on-the-wall, silhouette
If you have not fallen,
I will give you a shove.

All your king’s horses
And all your king’s men
Can’t stop the cycle, can’t stop nature,
They will never put you back together again.

Hello baby dove, so fluffy,
I’ll place you in a soft nest.
I will feed you, watch over you
And when your wings are spread,

Peace will fly,
No power on earth can resist
A dove from the cove,
With a message for all mankind,

Learn to break for Evensong
It is when “shoulds” must die
And it is time for gratitude
In your heart to reside.

And on Humpty Dumpty Day
Invite friends to celebrate
Their brokenness, not success.
Give each an egg,

They’ll write what they need to give up.
They’ll take the eggs to the edge.
They’ll throw them onto the rocks.
They’ll let the dove in their hearts, hatch

#KickHumpty

Let me sum up this poem in four words:
You shall Kick Humpty!

But honestly, can you KickHumpty?
Can we stop work?

I have a real problem stopping work. I have a real problem of unplugging from my electronics. When I am at home and I stop working and try to cook with my family I find that my mind goes on working. I need to do something to end my work.

I wrote the poem The Evensong of Humpty Dumpty to help me stop work. When I stop work I now read this poem out loud and I achieve a sense of peace.How was I able to take the time to do this?

My understanding of time began to change dramatically when I went to work in 2006 for a bunch of monks, the Brother of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, the SSJE Brothers.

The SSJE Brothers describe their life this way, “The Brothers gather throughout the day to pray the Daily Office – Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline. Six days a week we join in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Our common prayer and worship sanctify the work of the day, interrupting it so that we can direct and offer it all to God in thanksgiving.”

This is a society of men who understand that the first priority of church is to interrupt work. What I have learned is that:

  • Morning prayer helps you center yourself as you begin your day.
  • Noonday Prayer, in the thick of the day, gives you opportunity to offer all you are trying to achieve, to God, so you can be in awe.
  • Evening Prayer or Evensong, stops you working, allows you to be grateful, and begin to recover a sense of peace.
  • Compline gives you hope for the following day and helps you rest in God’s peace.

As I began to understand this I realized that I needed my own practice and where I most desperately needed help was in stopping work. I needed my own Evensong.

Br. David Vryhof recently drew my attention to the Ten Commandments.

In Exodus (20:8-11) it says about stopping work, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” Like God we need to rest. Notice that that this commandment clearly lays out that if we are in any authority we should use that authority to help others rest.

Br. David then pointed out that in Deuteronomy (5:12-15) it says about stopping work, “Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.” If you work seven days, or are made to, you are a slave. Are we becoming slaves? If so, how do we break free?

With great difficulty it seems. In the Ten Commandments in Exodus it take four words to explain that we should not steal, it takes 94 words to remind us not to keep idols … and 93 words to remind us to rest. In Deuteronomy 92 words are used to remind us not to keep idols and a whopping 132 words are used to remind us to rest. In turns out that stopping work is the Commandment that requires the most explanation and extra no exception clauses presumably because we have been dodging the issue, forever!

May I suggest that to bring the clarity of the Commandment “You shall not steal” and its four words to the issue of stopping work that the Sabbath Commandment that we will now keep is, “You shall KickHumpty.”

Let’s get started. How do I KickHumpty? I have to give up “Have-to” and limit “Better.”

A few years ago I realized that I had to give up “Have-To.” I have to achieve, to get so much done, I have list of projects to accomplish. I realized how bad my problem was when my teenage daughter came home and I typically greeted her with “Have you done your home work or what homework have you got to do” and we would get off on the wrong foot or even have a fight. She is very tactile and loves soft things. I discovered that if I gave up “Have-to” and said something like “You have got to feel this soft yarn I found or have you seen this YouTube video of a fluffy bear cub,” we began the afternoon feeling connected. I have had to learn to give up “have-to” and take up “fluffy” in order to transition from being at work to being with my family. My striving, my “have-to” made me seem hard not loving.

Br. David told me that he gave up the word “should’ve” and said, ““Should” is a dangerous word in the spiritual life, in my opinion, yet I often find myself at the end of the day telling myself that “I should’ve done this or that.” The accompanying sense of ‘falling short’ detracts from what has been done and leaves a residue of regret rather than gratitude. Better to recall the words we sometimes pray at Compline: “What has been done has been done. What has not been done has not been done. Help us to let it be.””

Do you feel that urge to respond immediately, efficiently and professionally to all who email or call you? Do you believe that if you work harder you will be better?

How many of you have a voicemail messages that says, “Hi, this is Jamie. Please leave a message I will call you back as soon as I can.” Do we dare say we will call back when we are rested?

Part of my addiction to work is that I like to please people and I like to do better. But where is the limit? Where do we stop? Br. Geoffrey Tristram helped me one day when I remarked to him that I thought I was becoming a better person working for the Brothers. He looked at me appalled, and said, “What lousy theology, you have been loved all along.” And he added, “You’re merely becoming more Jamie.”

So I am working on giving up “Have-to” and limiting being “Better.”

How do I KickHumpty? I have to be intentional about Stopping.

Stopping work is really hard. We live in a culture that does not stop. Our devices keep us plugged in at all times.

In our household we now say things like, “When are you going to KickHumpty?” “I am Kicking Humpty at 530pm.” My daughter is great at helping to keep us accountable. On Advent Sunday when I took time, and in her opinion, too much time away from Christmas tree decorating to attend to the Brothers’ online Advent Calendar she asked me to apologize to the family.

What language do you use to stop work? How addicted are you to your email, your smart phone, to achieving?

You can make this fun. The SSJE Brothers at their rural Monastery, Emery House, have a practice at the end of the Evensong on Sunday, which is the moment their Sabbath begins, they shout “Yippee.”

Be intentional about stopping. Celebrate the moment.

Let us now get to the tough part of how we KickHumpty – authority.

A few years ago the Brothers at SSJE sent me on a compulsory retreat. I had got exhausted from work and was told that I was banned from the monastery for a week. I now go on retreat every year and it was on retreat last year that this poem came to me.

I realized that if I do not KickHumpty I become a rotten egg.

How good are the organizations that you work for at keeping the Sabbath Commandment and modeling that behavior? Remember in Deuteronomy it says “your male and female slave may rest as well as you.”

If you are in charge are you careful with other people’s time? Are you good with vacation time, sick leave, with not interrupting their day of rest? Are you good at keeping agenda’s doable? Are you good at no over working people or most importantly yourself? Are you becoming a rotten egg?

I also believe that we must not overlook money in thinking about how authority affects people’s ability to KickHumpty. Without a living wage how can you KickHumpty? Are you paid enough? Do you pay enough? Do your wages and expenses balance or stress you out. Are we trapped in rotten egg economics where rest is not possible?

It is tough. Can we be free? Can we KickHumpty?

  • Think about what you need to give up to KickHumpty?
  • Think about how you can intentionally KickHumpty?
  • Think about how authority denies or supports KickHumpty?
  • Think about how we can support one another to KickHumpty?

So I give you today a Hashtag.

Please take to the digital streets and use Hashtag KickHumpty on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to announce how you KickHumpty so that we can support each other.

Share your KickHumpty songs:

  • that end your work,
  • that begin your evening prayer,
  • that begin your Sabbath, your day of rest,
  • that begin your retreat time,
  • that announce you are sick,
  • that announce your maternity or paternity leave,
  • that announce that you are on vacation,
  • that announce your yippee,
  • that announce you are stopping to let peace in.

Let us profit in our lives by stopping work.

You shall Kick Humpty!

Let us pray in unison together now the Evensong of Humpty Dumpty

Share your stop work song: #kickhumpty and www.kickhumpty.com

Jamie Coats (c) 2015

Posted in Episcopal, Poems, Prayer, Why Monks Matter | Leave a comment

How to explain to my daughter what it is like being hit by a bus while bike riding

The Jackal-Headed God Anubis Speaks to Alexandra

“Dear Alexandra, how old are you?” “Nine.” “You want to train dogs?” “Yes” “That is good because humans don’t understand their dogs, wolves they have made their own,” said Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the Dead. “It is strange that humans are so blind to the responsibility they have taken.”

“You see Alexandra humans stole fire. They have created machines and built large organizations of great power, all ultimately dependent on the capture of fire. But when humans captured fire they caught the carbonized-black jackal dogs of death that race through the flames eager for human blood. It goes like this, when a human takes control over fire I assign one of my jackal dogs to that man or women and see how well they do. When then they get in a car or take a position of power they have at least one of my jackals with them too. It is there on a leash. Some humans deliberately set their dogs of death on others but mostly humans are careless and forget what they have right next to them, waiting to attack, to kill, to send the souls to me, a dog of death. I show the dead compassion as I understand what killed them.”

“Careless. It was a lovely summer’s day when your Dad set off on his bike from home to ride to the Monastery where he works. He was wearing a bright orange shirt with reflecting stripes, just to be extra careful.”

“A bus passed him then pulled across his path. The driver had forgotten my dog; he failed to check his mirror. The rear of the bus hit the bike. My dog pounced on your father, sent him flying through the air and into the ground. Biting his helmet, cracking it through both sides, tearing through his clothes, ripping off his watch and backpack, smashing his glasses and phone and mangling his bike. My dog was after his life, biting his shoulder, mauling his left side skin, shunting his collarbone into his sternum to make it crack and even bruising his lung. But basically my dog failed, merely licking him, not tearing the life out of him, leaving him naked but alive.”

“A dog is always a kind of wolf, Alexandra, needing training. My dogs require humans to pay close attention to training, something the driver and my guess his bosses too were lax about.”

“Lying on the roadside your Dad had an image of you appear right before his eyes, his heart opened and he cried in joy knowing that it is the love for others that is the center of what our lives are about.”

“The dogs of death do abound. Luckily for your father he was quickly attended with people who know about my dogs and have the training. People stopped to help him. One man called Alejandro had met one of my dogs when he fell off his motorbike. Knowing that my dogs are always willing to strike and other humans can be careless, he got trained in emergency first response. He helped your Dad. The ambulance and hospital staffs know about my dogs too and with much training patched up your Dad.”

“I am pleased you know your Dad’s friends George and Carolee and how they trained Baxter to be a service dog. You remember George’s 80th birthday party at a synagogue? It was a Viennese themed birthday party because George was born in Vienna before the Second World War. When George was about your age or a bit younger Hitler took over Austria and Vienna. George is Jewish. Suddenly George was not allowed to go to school anymore. His parents were worried that Hitler would kill them and their children, they were right to be worried because Hitler did later organize the killing of many millions of Jews. That is like killing you and every single person in your town and 150 towns of similar size. George was put on a train with his older brother by his parents and sent to England. Luckily his parents escaped later and they were welcomed to the come to the USA. Hitler knew about my dogs and deliberately unleashed them on innocent people and children. George and Carolee know about my dogs and trained Baxter out of his biting into a caring animal for the young woman in the wheel chair who you met.”

“It is good to learn how to train dogs, Alexandra. Humans seem blind that they live with wild jackals all around them for which they are responsible and need to train. Your parents learned how to train dogs when they got feisty Karma, your adored now seventeen-year-old male Nova Scotia Duck Tolling retriever. Humans have a choice, they can unleash their dogs of death consciously or carelessly or they can take responsibility for their dogs. It is great you want to learn to train dogs. Alexandra.”

On July 31th 2009 as I bicycled to work I was hit by the rear of a Boston MBTA bus that passed me and cut me off. My helmet saved my life. It took me 10 months to fully recover. The driver was cited by the police for negligent driving. The MBTA never apologized but settled my law suit.

Jamie Coats 2009 (c)

Posted in Horror & Terror | Leave a comment

God’s Economy – a view on Stewardship

By Jamie Coats
Published as part of the Vestry Papers issue on Sharing Our Gifts (September 2014). This article is also available in Spanish.

For 85 years the Brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist lived in their monastery on the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The monastery is so beautiful that it has become a place of pilgrimage for many, where even before you meet a monk, you are reminded by the place that God sees beauty in you. For 85 years the Brothers did not set aside money for building upkeep and finally the monastery fell apart, windows, roofs, electric wiring, heating — even the sewers packed in. And then the financial crisis hit. The Superior, the person who serves as the leader of the monastery, at that moment was Brother Curtis Almquist.

At a meeting at the home of a friend of the Society, Br. Curtis said, “As Superior I have a responsibility to ask for money. I also have no idea how much money any of you have. I ask one thing: please pray to God, and between you and God figure out what is right for you. Thank you.”

In saying this, Curtis made a distinction between his role as a leader who has to ask for money and his role as a monk who helps people deepen their relationship with God. Curtis helped me understand what Jesus meant by “Render under Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that God’s.”

We live in a world with two economies: the economy of transactions and the economy of gift, Caesar’s economy and God’s economy.

There is a simple exercise that I like to use to help people understand how they live in these two economies. You can do it verbally or ask people to write down their answers.

What do you do?
How do you exchange your time for money?
What do you care about?

I always used to answer the first question as how I earned money, forgetting to mention that I am a parent of a teenager, I write poetry, I try to stay fit, and so on. I used to let money solely name what I do, forgetting to mention the relationships that matter to me.

In the transaction economy we humans name a price for everything and then trade. This allows us to bring our gifts to bear to earn a living. I am not the farming type, so I value being able to exchange what talents I have to buy stuff like food. Trade is important, but it is not everything and it is not the business that the Church is in.

Living in the gift economy, God– not us–names the price: we are all loved; we see beauty in the world and each other; we care and are cared for; we rely on each other; we give as we receive, living in a cycle of kindness; we deepen relationships and understand meaning.

So here is the core challenge that I believe Br. Curtis defined so well: you have to name the price of your church. You have to ask for money. But to receive money you have to help your friends and parishioners deepen their relationship with God — you have to help them pray, be of service, and see themselves as stewards of their lives.

When churches ask me for fundraising advice, I urge them to be more upfront than many churches often are about their finances. Don’t claim to celebrate a balanced budget when no money has been set aside for building upkeep. As one donor helping us renovate the monastery put it, “Why should I give you money when you have been stupid and irresponsible for 85 years?” Buildings rot. The Brothers started a building fund the year before they began asking for capital donations – and they continue to fund the building fund annually.

The heart of stewardship is helping people deepen their relationship with God. When Br. Curtis asked people to pray to God over what to give, he was able to provide support in helping them steward their own lives first. A core part of the Brothers’ ministry is to help people develop a personal rule of life, to discern a rhythm for their life that allows them to live well in both economies. Simply put, the Brothers ask people to explore and examine their relationships in four dimensions:

With God
With themselves
With one another
With their stuff (including money)

We all need help learning how to be stewards in our own lives. When our churches help us do this for ourselves we are deeply appreciative. The challenge is that this formation works best when it does not happen in stewardship season. When you are asking for money we tend to tighten up in our souls, tend to think in transactions. If earlier you have helped us understand our personal stewardship, and think about how we live in two economies, then the conversations in stewardship season will be easier, more fun, and maybe joyous.

I am pleased to report that Monastery was successfully renovated in 2010. Information about the Brothers’ work on a developing a rule of life, learning to steward your own life can be found at www.SSJE.org/rule.

Jamie Coats serves as the director, Friends of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, a monastic community of the Episcopal Church. He shares his personal writing at wingedboots.com.

Posted in Why Monks Matter | Leave a comment

A DAILY WORD — Using the Internet to Help People Pray Everyday

Written for Trinity News, The Magazine of Trinity Wall Street, Summer 2014 Vol. 61 No.2

BY JAMIE COATS

Richard Meux Benson, the founder of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE), was concerned about the pace of the Industrial Revolution and its effect on our humanity. He wrote that he was worried about what the impact of the train arriving in Oxford would be when people started traveling over 30 miles an hour for the first time. Benson did something radical: he did not run away to create a reclusive order but founded SSJE to stand in the middle of modernizing developments and uphold the timeless wonders of daily prayer, reflection and meditation, and focus on God’s love in the world. He founded SSJE in Oxford, England, in 1866, and the order thrives to this day at two monasteries in Massachusetts.

One hundred and fifty years later our technology has swept us along to unimaginable wealth. This progress has been marred with terrible losses in two World Wars and many other conflicts. As we now move at an accelerating pace, maybe our progress will be unmarred by further losses of humanity. I hope so. I believe, like Benson and the Brothers at SSJE, that if we help people pray every day it will help. But we can’t just pray when things go wrong—we need to pray to keep our lives humane and make sure we use well the gifts of technology.

I have the good fortune to work for SSJE and be involved in efforts to bring prayer to the Internet. The Brothers, as is laid out in The Book of Common Prayer, publicly pray at least four times a day: Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline.

I think of these prayers as follows:

MORNING PRAYER: Center yourself as you begin your day.
NOONDAY PRAYER: In the thick of the day, offer all you are trying to achieve, all you see, to God. Be in awe.
EVENING PRAYER: Stop work, be grateful, begin to recover a sense of peace.
COMPLINE: Have hope for the following day. Rest in God’s peace.

With these practices we can try to keep our humanity in the busiest of worlds.

The Episcopal Church, like most mainline churches, is largely organized around a service and a sermon on Sunday morning. Monks and nuns place less emphasis on Sunday and more emphasis on every day. The question we are asking at SSJE is, “Can we provide ways to pray every day when people need it?” We are learning how to use the Internet to help people pray, at least once a day to help people not just be swept along in the business of their lives.

A few years ago we started sending out a morning daily email called “Brother, Give Us A Word.” It consists of a single word to meditate on with a very short reflection. For example, “Gift—This life is a gift— not to be earned, but received—the gift of living in union with God. —Br. David Vryhof”

We now have many subscribers all over the world. We discovered that we had developed a simple form of Morning Prayer. Recently we received this comment: “I work with the dying—with men who are in the process of dying from HIV, AIDS, terminal cancer—and ‘Brother, Give Us a Word’ is so helpful to me in that work. The other day, for instance, when I wake up, there is ‘Hope’ on my iPhone. That’s the day’s word. Or there is ‘Love.’ And I carry that word with me throughout my day, as I’m companioning the dying. The simplicity of it is perfect. Through this study, every day, I’m learning more and more about myself, about others, about spirituality. It’s a very important part of my daily life. It is so helpful to me to have these words, as I companion the dying in prayer.”

Through these meditation emails we have seen both new forms of church and mutual care grow. In Lent 2014 we sent daily emails with very short videos featuring the Brothers talking about love in the Gospel of John. The series was called LoveLife and can be viewed at SSJE.org/lovelife. With each video we posed a question. The first video asked, “Where can you know abundant life? Where can you still grow?”

A reader wrote: “What is ‘abundant life’? I am mourning the death by suicide of my 29-year-old son, Joe, three months ago. I wonder if/when I will love life and accept that Joe did not.”

The Brothers replied: “Our hearts go out to you as you grieve the death of your son, Joe, three months ago. We will remember you in our prayers—for strength and courage to claim the gift of life amidst this terrible loss, and to know Jesus’ promise of his presence with you. And we will remember Joe in our prayers, that he will know healing in death, that he will be filled with Jesus’ light and life and love.”

People who had never met revealed their suffering and compassionate desire to help one another. These replies were posted by other readers: “I lost my younger son in 1999 to suicide. The one thing I would say to you is that I am proof you can eventually return to an appreciation of life. I don’t know how you will do it, but it can be done. Please don’t go it alone. There’s help to be found.”

“I am so deeply saddened by your loss. I too lost a son, age 32, by suicide almost four years ago. I also lost my ability to enjoy all that I had enjoyed before his death. Slowly, and much to my surprise, my life has changed, and I have found new enjoyments, for lack of a better word, among them a much closer relationship with God.”

All of this has given the Brothers encouragement to support daily prayer online. I am currently working with them on a Noonday Prayer offering. Over time and with enough support, we hope to help people pray four times a day.

Recently I received some unexpected encouragement for helping people pray daily. I was in a taxi in Washington, D.C., and my driver was El Mostafa, who was working long hours to support his family in Morocco.

He asked me, “What brings you to D.C.?”

I replied, “I work for Episcopal monks—we teach people to pray four times a day.”
He reached up to his meter and turned it off, saying, “The rest of the ride is free, please pray for me. Where I come from, we are told to pray four times a day. But most people only pray when things go wrong.”

Please pray for El Mostafa. Please don’t wait for things to go wrong. Pray every day.


Jamie Coats serves as the Director, Friends of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, a monastic community of the Episcopal Church.


Brother, Give Us a Word
Monasticism began when a few faithful men and women went into the desert to seek God and live a life of prayer. These Desert Fathers and Mothers, as they became known, were spiritual beacons whom others sought out for their wisdom in the ways of God. The seeker would approach and ask, “Father (Mother), give me a word.”

The Brothers have adapted this ancient tradition for today, offering online a daily “word” to all who seek a deeper knowledge of God, a means of handing on what we ourselves have received.

You might use each day’s word as a focus for your prayer. Say the word to the rhythm of your breath and invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you through that word. You might also use the day’s saying as a focus for meditative reading or lectio divina, reading slowly and allowing your mind to drift as the words inspire you to further prayer and reflection.

You can find the daily word at ssje.org/word.

Posted in Prayer, Why Monks Matter | Leave a comment

The Evensong of Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty sat on the harbor wall.
In Pigeon Cove Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty back together again!

The one called Emma, the love within said:
It is time for peace on the earth
From heaven’s all gracious King
Goodwill to all Humpty Dumpty Men.

You are an egg-man,
Pregnant with a white pigeon
Ready to be a fledgling
Hoping its world will crack.

Inside you, all scrunched up
There’s a dove irritated,
Uncomfortably aware
It’s time to hatch.

But stopped by your pride,
Your work for today’s earthly king
You’re in perfect egg-shape
Unwilling to crack,

With thoughts:
“So much to achieve,
So much to do,
So many ways to work.”

Dusk has come,
It is time to stop work.
Will you make sacred and give thanks
Or will your busy-ness outrank?

Know this, when the sun fades,
When you, egg on the wall, silhouette
If you have not fallen,
I will give you a shove.

All your king’s horses
And all your king’s men
Can’t stop the cycle, can’t stop nature,
They will never put you back together again.

Hello baby dove, so fluffy,
I’ll place you in a soft nest.
I will feed you, watch over you
And when your wings are spread,

Peace will fly,
No power on earth can resist
A dove from the cove,
With a message for all mankind,

Learn to break for Evensong
It is when “shoulds” must die
And it is time for gratitude
In your heart to reside.

And on Humpty Dumpty Day
Invite friends to celebrate
Their brokenness, not success.
Give each an egg,

They’ll write what they need to give up.
They’ll take the eggs to the edge.
They’ll throw them onto the rocks.
They’ll let the dove in their hearts, hatch.

Please see www.kickhumpty.com

Theme for Year
© Jamie Coats February 2014

Posted in Nature, Poems, Prayer, Theme for 2014, Theme for the Year | Leave a comment

Sermon on The Transfiguration of Jesus

SERMON For Saint John’s Episcopal Church
Beverly Farms, Massachusetts

The Transfiguration of Jesus
By Jamie Coats
March 2nd, 2014

Last Sunday after Epiphany

Readings: Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9, Psalm 99
Reference: Luke 9:37-43

Thank you for inviting me to your beautiful church to reflect on the Transfiguration. I bring you greetings from the Brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, the Episcopal monks, – a wonderful band of kind men for whom I work. I know that you have invited the Brothers here on many occasions. They are grateful and send their love.

In today’s reading we learn of two different men in different times who went up to the mountain top, communed with God, and came down to the valley. The messages of Moses and Jesus are very different.

We hear in the last verse of Psalm 99 that we should
“Proclaim the greatness of the LORD our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the LORD our God is the Holy One.”

We are to “worship him upon his holy hill.” I believe that in the story we hear today in the New Testament Jesus disagrees, it is not enough to worship God upon his holy hill. We have to be able to come down the mountain, into the valley and look into each others eyes and see the love of God.

But let us go back to Moses. He goes up to the mountain top. He is changed and he brings down badly needed laws, the Ten Commandments that patterned God’s love into the lives of the wandering Israelites, and to a great extent patterns our lives to this day. This is good top-down stuff.

But you can have too much of top-down. By Jesus’ time the laws brought down by Moses had been expanded upon, a purity system had developed, by a few, who so-to-speak claimed the mountain top for themselves and dictated from their elite height how the rest of us were to live. People were kept in their place, told what they could do, could not do, who was in, who was out, who was loved by God, who was not.

Jesus shows up and starts breaking these purity rules. We hear time and time again the religious authorities being appalled at Jesus’ behavior including daring to heal on the Sabbath. What message does Jesus bring down the mountain?

I have it on good authority that in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition it is held that nothing happened to Jesus at the Transfiguration, he was not changed. He already was the son of God, the man of light. What changed was the disciples, the love of God flowed through them too. What changed because of Jesus is the knowledge that the love of God flows through every one of us, without exception. Orthodox icons of the Transfiguration show the light infusing everyone.

Understanding this explains the story that Luke tells about what happened on the next day. Luke describes how Jesus is off the mountain in the valley amid a big crowd. A man comes to him whose son is desperately ill, in the clutches of an unclean spirit, and he tells Jesus that the disciples have not been able to help. Jesus first rolls his eyes at the disciples saying “”You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” In other words, don’t you get it, you have the power to heal this boy too, why don’t you heal him. He says some unrecorded words to the boy and the boy is healed.

Through my association with the Brothers of the Society of Saint Evangelist I think I have an idea of how Jesus connected to the pain in the boy and also what you and I are capable of doing to help heal each other and bring in God’s light.

In 2010 I found myself in a similar situation to the man in Luke’s story whose son was ill. Except in my case it was not my child but my oldest sibling, my sister Emma. She was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital in Oxford, England. I flew back and forth to England with my boss at the time, Br. Curtis giving me all the time I needed. Sadly there was no Jesus to say the necessary words to Emma, to connect with her and release her pain. She went missing, there was a large police search. Nine days later we learned of an unidentified body at the foot of a sea cliff. We knew it was her from the description.

Just before I flew from Boston to England to organize services for Emma Brother Curtis called me. He had known me for four years and he is pretty good at looking into another person’s soul. He said, “I have been praying for a word for you to take with you, the word “wonder” keeps coming to me.” I thanked him but felt it would be a long time before I ever felt wonder again.

The year before Emma died she wrote a long poem that described a walk through a wood in Devon, England. On what would have been her 50th birthday we gathered with her friends where Emma described sitting at the river’s edge. We read her whole poem. I waded in and poured Emma’s ashes into the river, into her poem. At that moment I was flooded with wonder.

Afterwards, to work through my grief I wrote a series of poems called the “Grief & Wonder Trilogy.” The first poem goes:

We all have tragedy.
Will it hold us
And we pass it on
Tragically?

Or can we let
Our friends hold us
So hold our own tragedy
And then let it like ash

Spread into the stream
Returning to the cycle
Of a greater love
And experience wonder?

Br. Curtis had looked into my soul, knew what I needed and gave me one word, Wonder. It is an amazing spiritual gift that one man or woman can do that for another. I am not a monk. I am not very good at looking into the soul of another and producing the right word, as Curtis did for me and Jesus did for the boy.

But we are told that Jesus knows that we can transfigure one another. That is the story of the Transfiguration, it is about you and me helping each other. It is about us letting our friends hold us. It is not about truth on high coming down the mountain top. It is about when you greet each other after this service. Jesus knows that we can transfigure each other, even in coffee hour.

And here is one way I have been learning about Transfiguration. Some of you may be aware that the Brothers publish a very short daily meditation by email call “Brother, Give Us A Word.” A couple of years ago in 2012 I was joking with the Brothers that in Lent we could ask instead for friends to “Give up a Word.”

So I thought I would give it a try. I set off to ask anyone I might encounter the following:

If you could give up a word for a week that would transform your life for the better, what would it be?

What happened amazed me and continues to.

A woman told me that in her head she always called her self “Stupid” as her mean older sister had done when she was little and felt destined to go the grave calling herself “Stupid” until she gave up the word.

Br. David Vryhof said to me that he needed to give up “Should” because other wise at the end of day he can’t be grateful to God.

Once on a plane a fellow passenger gave up the word “daughter” to her own horror and went on to explain how she struggles to relate to her daughter. She spent her life saving to put her daughter through college and currently her daughter is not saving for her own children’s college and this causes this lady so much anguish.

I have asked people in bars, restaurants and planes. I should warn you that asking this question in Gloucester produces very salty replies.

A few words can transform a situation and it is transforming me. I was at an airport restaurant and I was grumpy. But for some reason I asked the waitress if she would like to give up a word. Her word was “No.” Then she said, “I say it to my little boy all the time but if I gave up “No” I am scared I would hit him. I am so tired. I so need a vacation.” I went from grumpy to tears.

In another restaurant the food was terrible. I had even sent the coffee back because it was cold. But when I asked the waiter if he would like to give up a word, he smiled joyously, and also told me that his word was “No” because he needed to begin saying “Yes” to more things in his life. Our whole relationship changed. The food was still awful but our time together was good.

What I have been learning with these conversations is that we can break our own top-down, from on high, purity system and bring healing this sabbath day. All we need is simple words of the heart. Not your normal, conventional phrases like “What do you do?” or “How do you do?” Or even “How are you?”

When greeting people if we try phrases like “What do you most love to do?” “What is your life dedicated to?” “What is your passion?” the world will change. Today I invite you to ask each other “If you could give up a WORD for a week that would transform your life for the better, what would it be?”

You might like to try this for Lent.

Try this question, share your word to give up and I think you will have a sense of how Jesus connected to the boy in Luke’s story and understand Jesus’ belief that you and I can transfigure each other.

Amen

Further reading:

Writings by Jamie Coats: www.wingedboots.com
Give Up A Word: www.giveupaword.org
Society of Saint John the Evangelist: www.ssje.org
Brother, Give Us A Word: www.ssje.org/word

(c) 2014 Jamie Coats March 2014

Posted in Episcopal, For Sister Emma, Grief & Wonder, Love, Prayer, Why Monks Matter | Leave a comment

No Nothin’! GOD!

You’re a No Nothin’!
baptize
with fire
water
blood

You’re a No Nothin’!
brand you
drown you
rape you
stab you

You’re a No Nothin’!
drag you out
dress you up
white sheet robed
walk up, spit

You’re a No Nothin’!
plunge a knife
into your chest
blood ooze out
now squirting red

You’re a No Nothin’!
dead

dove appears
above your head
knife falls out
bleeding stops

stain of blood
at first a mess
forms a cross
red crucifix

baptized by Spirit
love of Jesus
loudly you say
In The Beginning

No Nothin’! GOD!

Written for the Sunday before Martin Luther King Day in honor of Martin Luther King and his work.

Read on MLK day 2004 at the Church of Our Saviour, Arlington, Massachusetts as an alternate recitation to Duke Ellington’s “In the Beginning God” from his Sacred Concert. Scriptural inspiration from Genesis 1:1, Isaiah 43:2 and Luke 3:21-22.

© Jamie Coats January 2004

Posted in Horror & Terror, Poems, Portrait Poem | 1 Response

No Word of God

 

 

 

 

“I am so happy,” said the Devil. 
“People rarely use the word “Evil.”
Or words of God so beautiful,
Crafted to be so prayerful.”

“That hateful wonder, the holy Liturgy,
Vanishes as people talk on their own authority.
Linguistic worship reduced to Sunday,
They chuck it out every weekday.”

“Who’s left speaking? My favorite preachers,
Who hammer words, not like teachers.
Mashing God’s meaning, in their judgmental way,
Driving people from sacred texts away.”

“Who responds? Reasoning voices,
With no hint of scripture” the Devil rejoices.
“I love their godless word parade,
Raising Reason as God to masquerade.”

“In the beginning was the Word, the Word was God.
No Words of God, In the Ending was the Void!
Don’t try mentioning the Light from Light, Jesus.
People will think you quite ridiculous.”

“God commanded us not to speak of him in vain.
He’d better worry now no one even mentions his name!
Now don’t call me the “Devil” or “Beelzebub,” just “No Good,”
We don’t want any inspired language in the neighborhood.”

© Jamie Coats                                               February 2004

Posted in Episcopal, Poems, Prayer | Leave a comment

Still Hope at Pigeon Cove

Still
I sit at dusk
Quiet, with a sea view

Half sky
Quarter sea
Quarter grass

And me
My hands cupped
Waiting to receive

At dawn the sun arose
The love within, Emma
Emmanuel for some

Released a dove
Looking for a cove
All day it comes

Across the half sky
Across the quarter blue
Across the quarter green

Arriving to alight
On my left shoulder
Its feet prickle my skin

With a slight flutter
Down my arm
It nestles into my hands

So fluffy
So warm, so light
It coos

My partner cups her hand
Gently under my right
So slowly I slide it out

Our white pigeon
Still comfy
Lets us know

It is time to sleep
And we will awake, with
Hope

Theme for 2013

Posted in For Sister Emma, Love, Nature, Poems, Prayer, Theme for 2013, Theme for the Year | 1 Response

Looking for Emmanuel – post Newton

In the late 90s I volunteered one morning a week for one class in a middle school in Mattapan in Boston at a time of many youth-on-youth shootings.  I asked my sixth grade class how we could make the class safe. Quickly ideas were shouted out:  “armed guards, metal detectors, bars on the windows.” Then a boy, one of the smallest, put his hand up. He said, “Then we will be in a prison,” he paused and said, “We could try to get along.” A murmur of assent went round the class.

 

 

Posted in Poems | Leave a comment
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