Es ist vollbracht – a Good Friday Reflection, 2015

I write this blog entry on April 4, 2015, Easter Saturday. It is the day after Good Friday, the day before Easter. Pat and I are seeing this day, Saturday, as a day of integration of our experience of Good Friday, Maundy Thursday, Holy Saturday, and, for me, several weeks before Holy Week. I call it a Good Friday Reflection for 2015. The “Es ist vollbracht”?  More about that at the end of this blog.

Context: a brief spiritual history

Underlying this Good Friday story is my long 50+-year history with the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS), with a dash of Christian Fundamentalism thrown in during the years following the death of my parents in a car crash on Saturday, September 23, 1972, just as I was turning 30. In the decade following my parents’ sudden death, a conservative Christianity is what I needed to support my life, and I shall always be grateful for these roots of my faith journey.

The Good-Friday-Easter message I heard so regularly all these years in the Lutheran Church, at least the message as I came to take it in, rightly or wrongly, went something like this: Because of original sin, I, like everyone else on the planet, was born “a poor miserable sinner.” And because of this original sin, and of course my many sins hence, I faced judgment by God. Being found guilty in God’s eyes, both of original and of subsequent sins, I deserved temporal punishment in this life and eternal punishment in Hell meted out by a righteous God. But, as the “Gospel” explained, God was not only righteous, He was also love, and because he loved me and all people so much, He sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world, where, as a human, Jesus would suffer and die. Jesus’ sacrifice of his life on the cross was considered by God payment for my sins and the sins of the whole world. Since my sins were atoned for by the blood of Jesus, I could feel secure in the promise of eternal life in heaven when I died, provided I had faith in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for my sins. This faith was said to have been imparted to me through the Holy Spirit at my baptism (shortly after my birth) and was reinforced throughout my life, beginning in Lutheran grade school and followed by active participation in the Lutheran Church, through the sacrament of Holy Communion and diligent study of the Word of God, the Bible. This is my brief early history and lays out the doctrine I confessed and professed as my belief while in the Lutheran Church – for my first 57 years.

While this was my professed conscious confession, underneath, I was troubled on several levels. What were these troubling thoughts? Early on I had a pretty good sense that my faith in Jesus certainly was not strong enough to save me. Then later, much later – in my fifties — this sense changed and I was no longer plagued by an inadequate faith but rather I had the sense that this “Gospel” was not really true, at least not literally true, and, in fact, was not true on many levels.

What was untrue to me in this “Gospel”? I could name the following as no longer true for me:

1) That a loving-but-righteous God would punish people for their sins and earlier, with His chosen Jewish people, require sacrifice of animals for the atonement for their sins. This would make my relationship with God as that between a loving but domineering father with his unruly son — for all of my adult life! It seemed to me that, as with children and parents, adults grow up and have a different basis for their relationship with God.

2) More specifically, that a loving God would require a human sacrifice of Jesus for sins of the world. Human sacrifice was never in the cards from my perspective, and the idea of another dying for my sins left me feeling even more unworthy in my essence as a human being — an unworthiness reinforced regularly in the Lutheran confession beginning “I, a poor miserable sinner.”

3) That the only purpose for life on earth for us humans is to come to have faith in Jesus for the atonement of one’s sins so one would go to heaven when one died (in other words there was no real purpose to living on earth beyond coming to have the faith required to go to heaven when one died – and of course spreading this “good news” so that others would come to faith and go to heaven instead of hell also).

4) That the bible, compiled over centuries and completed nearly 2000 years ago was the end-all source of truth for man to live by, that the bible was inerrant and hence the infallible word of God (even all the pages of the bible filled with Jewish ritualistic and dietary laws, the drama of God in history, controlling the fate of nations on earth, and so on). This simply felt off. Surely if God communicated through writing such writing would evolve with human consciousness. It seems very limiting and foolish to force everything taught to find its veracity by its being in the bible.

5) That everything in the church that is built on these teachings, such as the sacraments, liturgy, creeds, church calendar, catechisms, sermons and formal teachings of the church, most of them from centuries-old practices, needed to be believed and were intended to be foundational in the believers’ lives (though most of these church practices seemed to be built on and reinforce doctrines I did not truly believe in my heart). It seemed as if the conservative Christian church had been frozen and trapped in time.

In my forties I began to realize that I had been and was becoming even moreso a closet agnostic as it related to most of the church’s teaching about theology, Jesus Christ, salvation, the meaning of life, church traditions, and the bible – these teachings might be true, might be partially true, may have been true at one time, or might be totally false – I concluded that one just could not know for sure. I realized that I was more certain about what I did not believe than what I did believe.

Finally my hypocrisy, my being out of integrity, became intolerable, and in my late forties, while staying in the church, and even teaching bible classes in the church and elsewhere, I began looking outside the Lutheran Church and outside Christian Fundamentalism for answers that would ground my spirituality. I found various avenues to these answers. One was a liberal teacher at a local Catholic seminary whose courses I took regularly in my early fifties. Another meaningful avenue were several small 12-step-type groups that I helped create in my early fifties (by 12-step-type groups I mean 12-step in form, but without a named addiction). At 57 I formally left the church altogether and entered a time where I was officially adrift, seeking what would feed my soul, and yet knowing on some level that my soul was very hungry.

Finding answers after leaving the church

With this increasing hunger for spiritual food, at age 58, in August of 2000, I was led to Pathwork as a possible spiritual path for me, and over the next 15 years Pathwork became my spiritual path. Pathwork’s goal is personal and spiritual transformation through a rich combination of psychological work, spiritual awareness and awakening, and Grace. Each year it increasingly grounded me in what my spiritual journey is all about.

Most importantly Pathwork created room not only for psychological and spiritual growth, but for Mystery.  Concerning Mystery, I agreed with Pathwork teachings, agreed from my soul, that, “with my limited mind in a limited 70-year life span in a world that is quite complex and multifaceted and where awareness of this complexity is evolving ever exponentially on all fronts —  scientifically, socially, and religiouslyMystery had to be my starting point. And perhaps even my ending point.” The reality, even centrality, of Mystery became my mantra for the journey.

My Spiritual Life Partner

Pat Peterson, my life partner these past 15 years (give or take) became my companion in this spiritual adventure, and has been increasingly important and valued by me as both of our journeys have unfolded and continue to unfold in our lives as a spiritual couple.

Our ways of being with each other during our lives together have been centered in our daily morning practice. Everything else in our relationship and in our respective lives has emanated from this precious time together — usually 1.5 – 2.5 hours each morning. We have found that Pat can follow her Buddhist path (a former Catholic, she considers herself a follower of the Christ and a student of the Buddha) and work with her teachers, counselors, and dear collection of friends. Meanwhile I follow my Pathwork path with my Pathwork teachers, counselors, and a variety of deep friends. In June of 2012 we engaged the support of a Pathwork-based couples counselor, Sage Walker, who, with her husband Anthony Wilson, have worked with us to further open and ground our relationship and support the growth in each of us that comes out of our relationship. This relationship is central to both of our lives and our spiritual growth and evolution. 

Support for what I do not believe from outside sources

Other than my soul’s own inner conviction that what I understood, correctly or incorrectly, as Conservative Christianity (including both the LCMS and Christian Fundamentalism) was really no longer true for me, other voices joined in to support my disillusionment with Conservative Christianity as I had taken these religions in during the first five decades of my life (and again, they had supported me during some pretty rough times).

One of these voices is Peter Rollins in his books The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction ©2013, and Insurrection: To Believe is Human, To Doubt, Divine ©2011.

Another voice is that of Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong (see link to excerpt from his statement on Fundamentalism from A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying and a New Faith is Being Born ©2002). Still another voice I respect is that of Marcus Borg (Borg Died in January, 2015 –  link to brief Obituary)(link to excerpt on Borg’s five classifications of Christians in his Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most ©2014).

On the subject of Evangelical Christianity (which is usually fundamentalist and always conservative), Pathwork also has a clear statement in Pathwork Lecture 63 Questions and Answers (link to quote: True Faith in Jesus Christ – An Experience Arising From Within; A View of Evangelical Christianity).

There are many other voices in this camp moving me away from Conservative Christianity, and so I see that I am far from alone in my doubts concerning Christian Fundamentalism in general and slight variation of this in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in particular.

A Transition Period

At age 60, being outside organized religion and just beginning Pathwork, I was basically “cut loose” and free to enter these waters of Mystery.  I was curious as to where I would be led. And this freedom to enter the waters of Mystery meant I felt totally safe in being curious concerning the meaning of life itself!

Part of my journey these recent weeks included one of The Great Courses I just finished last week: Philosophy, Religion, and the Meaning of Life.  I thoroughly enjoyed this course, although many of the listeners of this 18-hour 36-session teaching program by Professor Francis J. Ambrosio, Georgetown University, were quite critical.

In this very helpful work of Professor Ambrosio, two things stand out for me: first is his sense of the primary place of  Mystery in regards to such a question as the meaning of life. And secondly I appreciated his quoting Rilke’s line from Letters to a Young Poet, a line that has been one of my favorite bylines for over 15 years. It goes: “Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

So Ambrosio’s series on the search for the meaning of life is based upon living the Mystery and living the questions – and this is a foundational statement of what, from my soul, I believe life is all about, especially during transition periods.

But what do I “believe” now beyond the great Mystery and Living the Questions?

Having been clear what I do not believe, and coming through a transition period, what, now, do I believe, if anything? To be clear, in parts of my life I am still very much in transition, and probably will be until I die, but in some areas I am beginning to find clarity for myself.

To begin to explain and put some loose structure around where I am in my faith journey, I recommend looking again at Marcus Borg’s classifications of Christianity (link to this excerpt). Borg identifies five classifications of Christianity:

Conservative Christians (Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, LCMS, main line Catholics, etc.)

Conventional Christians (Christians for reasons of family and culture),

Uncertain Christians (not sure what to make of the beliefs of Conservative and Conventional Christians),

Former Christians (those who grew up in a church but lost interest) and

Progressive Christians (have strong Christian faith but do NOT hold, and usually oppose, beliefs of Conservative Christians).

For my journey, I am helped especially by his named distinctions between Conservative and Progressive Christians. His statements about what Progressive Christians do not believe and what they do believe fit me well. In fact, I would say that in many ways Pathwork is a Progressive Christian path! I say that especially because of the emphasis both have on transformation as a core process for life, Jesus Christ as a model of that transformation process, and, to a lesser extent, the role of the Bible as foundational is some way. I would say that Pathwork could be considered a toolbox of various tools for a Progressive Christian to use to facilitate the psychological and spiritual aspects of his or her transformation.

So I consider myself to be a a follower of Pathwork AND a Progressive Christian.  I am relieved that I can be a Christian without being a Christian Fundamentalist or a conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran! Somehow I am strongly drawn to and relate to Jesus Christ, so “being Christian” feels very “right” for my soul. And with this knowledge that I can be a Progressive Christian, and that there are Progressive Christians in some if not most Christian churches, there may be room for me in a Christian Church.

In his book Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most (quoted above) Borg confesses that he himself became increasingly unsure of any life after death, and yet this did not stop him from claiming to be a very strong Christian, of the Progressive Christian category. How does a strong and committed Progressive Christian differ from a strong and committed Fundamentalist Christian? His words on these both help clarify this point for me.

There is another dimension to Marcus Borg’s story as revealed in his autobiography Convictions. In Chapter 3 he describes the role that Religious Experiences played in his life (link to quote on these).  I have always been curious about such experiences. Of course the classic work in this is William James’ work The Varieties of Religious Experiences. And I link this to experiences with other non-ordinary states of consciousness produced by LSD and other psychedelics (see works by Stanislav Grof, Albert Hofmann, etc.) as well as Near-Death Experiences (Link to The Science of Near-Death Experiences by Gideon Lichfield in The Atlantic April 2015). But of course all of this, while of great interest to me, takes me away from the main subject of this blog!

Getting back to my being a Christian without being a Conservative Christian, I could also see that John Shelby Spong, mentioned above in his statement about not being a Christian Fundamentalist, certainly still calls himself a Christian and still is affiliated with the Episcopal church where he served as Bishop for years.

Pat and I were also refreshed and helped by reading Thomas Moore’s A Religion of One’s Own ©2014. Moore points out the obvious: As we grow, evolve, and individuate from our earlier moorings, whatever they might have been, including perhaps an overly fixed and “secure” “faith” of any variety (even atheism), we, if we are serious about our faith journey, are each bound to be on our own individual journey to God, apart from any particular named classification of spirituality or any particular organized religion.

Moore, now 74 and using his own life as an example, points out the obvious: each of us is a unique individual, and as such we each have a unique and very individual spiritual path to God. Moore’s own religion is a blend of many traditions that he has experienced and borrowed from through his long life, including his roots from being a monk in the Roman Catholic Church for 12 years. As I have with Pat, Moore feels supported and connected to his wife in his spiritual journey. And, as Pat has a different journey from mine, Moore’s wife has blended her roots in Catholicism with Sikhism. So today Moore and his wife, both beginning in Roman Catholicism, have “religions of their own” that enrich their lives individually and in their couplehood.

Migration from Conservative to Progressive Christian; the Dilemma of for the Progressive Christian Church

I stated that in my history I was raised a Conservative Christian. In my twenties I was beginning to explore other spiritual interests (such as Edgar Casey, the paranormal, etc.), but with the sudden deaths of my parents I was pulled back into Conservative Christianity and became a bible class teacher and so on. I said also that I needed Conservative Christianity to make it through my parents’ death.

What happened, however, is that convenient beliefs about death, going to heaven when I died, and so on were superimposed upon an underlying skepticism that would not go away. It was only in my forties that I began to return to my skepticism, not out of rebellion but out of an inner conviction that these Conservative Christian dogma were simply not true, and my soul was committed to finding truth.

Could Progressive Christianity sustained me through the death of my parents? I’m not sure. But this whole matter points to a dilemma for many non-Conservative Christian Churches. What best serves the people when perhaps all five of Borg’s classifications are represented in the parish? And when such a parish wishes to include programs for spiritual growth, where does one start when people are at very different stages in life?  This is especially true for the adults in the parish. How many parishioners would really want to engage in the deep psychological work that must accompany true adult spiritual formation?

Recent Experiences with the Pathwork Lectures

I need to set the stage for how my work with the Pathwork Lectures impacted my recent weeks leading up to Good Friday. For the past 18 months I have been creating what I call the Devotional Version of the Pathwork Lectures. As I craft the Devotional Version of each Pathwork Lecture I am very intentional in carefully structuring each lecture in a way that slows the reader down so that this dense, sometimes intense, usually profound, and yet at the same time sometimes opaque writing of the source, the Pathwork Guide, can be transmitted into the soul of the reader.

As an aside, and yet a relevant aside for this story of recent weeks, I have been listening to two other books just this past week. The first is a new translation of Martin Buber’s I AND THOU by Professor Walter Kaufmann. As I was listening yesterday morning, the translator, Kaufmann, spoke of the difficulty of translating this material from the original German to English. The German words do not have equivalent English words that exactly connote the meaning to an English reader that the German words would connote to a German reader. Kaufmann, who was requested by Buber’s family to make this translation, spoke of the importance of not contaminating the original with the translator’s own views or own interpretation. Rather, the translator has to be as careful as possible to assure that the translation into English will have the same end affect on the English reader (or listener) that the author intended to have on the German reader in his original German writing.

I could see that this is precisely my intention with my creation of the Devotional Version of the Pathwork Lectures – making sure that the way I structure the Devotional Version and the words of interpretation I add in brackets create both the feeling and intellectual response in the reader that was intended by the Guide in the original transmission some 50 years ago.

The second relevant audiobook I was listening to was by Paul Levy and titled Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil ©2013. Quite by “accident,” my iPhone had jumped to the middle of the audio book and I was at first unaware that this had happened. But instead of being angry and frustrated that things got messed up, I realized that I needed to hear what I was now hearing from the middle of the book. Here in the middle of the book Levy speaks of his relationship as author to me as listener or reader. In his concept of field theory (confession: I don’t understand what he means here as yet) he speaks of how his soul was communicating to and affecting my soul at this moment I was listening, and in this timeless moment we were “connected” as I listened. He called this process a kind of transmission, even though we were separated in time and distance.

I realized that this, too, is how I experience my work with the Pathwork Lectures. Between 2006 and 2012 I recorded, in my own voice, over 200 hours of the Pathwork Lecture material that took probably 1,500 hours to record and carefully edit to match the text as precisely as possible. As I did this meticulous work I was aware of a kind of mysterious connection with the Pathwork Guide (source of the Pathwork Lectures). I could “feel” the connection with the Pathwork Guide as I stood at a podium and read into the microphone. And further, in making the recordings I was becoming a kind of “transfer tower” to others, who listened to them much later and sometimes even in some distant foreign country. Listeners would share with me that the audio recordings I made “went into them” in a different way from that of the written word that they had used and that I had read in the recording.

I now intuit that the very same thing that happens with the audio recordings is also happening with the Devotional Version I am now working on. My soul is being stirred by the Pathwork Guide as I work with the text in creating the Devotional Version, and this “stirring of my soul” is transferred to those who, later in time and in a place far away, are moved to read this Devotional Version.  They are touched by the Pathwork Guide through this process, and their souls are stirred accordingly — and, I would say, transmission from Pathwork Guide to the reader’s soul happens.

This background on the Devotional Version of the Pathwork Lectures leads into my recent experience these past 4 or 5 weeks with two particular lectures I have been working with to make Devotional Versions of each. For a Pathwork Program Pat and I shall be attending next weekend, one particular lecture was assigned: #82 The Conquest of Duality Symbolized in the Life and Death of Jesus.  I had not yet created the Devotional Version of this lecture, so these recent weeks I have been working on the Devotional Version of two Pathwork Lectures that relate directly to Good Friday and my experiences therein. These two Pathwork Lectures are #81 – Conflict in the World of Duality and the assigned lecture, #82 The Conquest of Duality Symbolized in the Life and Death of Jesus.  (For the full power of these lectures I would encourage you to open these links and read them, or at least part of them, maybe small sections at a time.)

I again recognize the synchronicity of this experience in that I would not have even been working on these two lectures had the latter, #82, not been assigned for the program we shall attend next weekend. The former, #81, was heavily referenced by the latter, and so I was moved to do that as well as the assigned #82. I am not missing the synchronicity in all of this being exactly what I needed for this Good Friday of 2015! And #82 was actually given originally on Good Friday in 1961, over 50 years ago, worthy of pause in and of itself.

The central message of both these lectures deal with death in general and the role of Jesus’ death on Good Friday in particular. Lecture #81 deals with us humans going through death only to discover that life continues beyond death. AND, most importantly, states that this reality that life continues beyond death is not to be used as a superimposed “belief” that denies the reality of death.

On planet Earth and to us humans, in our humanity, death is not imaginary but very real. I truly relate to this statement, and I see a problem in trying to “convince” people to “believe in Jesus” so they will no longer be fearful of death, especially on their deathbed. They may have such a faith, but if it is real faith it will not be an intellectual ascent or act of the will. This making faith a means to face death fearlessly, I sense, is terribly misguided and turns “faith” into a “good work.” In Truth, One either has faith or does not, one cannot force oneself to believe what one does not, in fact, believe at the deepest level of one’s consciousness.

Then Lecture #82 builds on how Jesus approached death and emphasizes his humanity in doing so. As the Apostle Paul states in Philippians 2: 5-8, Christ emptied himself of any form of God, and became human, submitting to death, as all humans must do, and in Jesus’ case, even death on the cross, that most torturous form of death. As any human would, emptied out of one’s divinity, Jesus cried out in a “loud voice” as his final words (the final and only words of Jesus from the cross that are recorded in both Mark and Matthew, but not even mentioned in Luke or John), “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me.”

Pathwork Lecture #82 points out that these words were Jesus’ human words, they were words of real human doubt that any of us as humans would have in such a devastating tortuous death. Jesus was not clinging onto his Divinity, to his faith, but speaking from his fully incarnate humanity, from his vulnerability, from his doubts that God was even there with him. I agree with some others that say that the “miracle” of Jesus was not his Divinity but rather, as Divinity, his full 100% incarnation into his humanity, brother to each one of us humans, experiencing, as we humans all experience, the limitations, constraints, and confusions that being fully human connotes.

In this explanation in Pathwork Lecture #82, Jesus is not dying as an atonement for the sins of the world, he is not taking on our punishment that God, in his righteousness, would have to mete out on us due to our sinfulness, thereby atoning for our sins so we can go to heaven. Rather Jesus, through his life AND death manifests a human being that is like every other human being. To this Jesus, who is familiar with my suffering, AND who is familiar even with my doubting and with my confusion concerning the meaning of life and death in general and his own and my own life and death in particular, to this Jesus I can relate!

Hypostatic Union For All

And Jesus was also Divine (in some sense, not necessarily the sense understood by Conservative Christians). This is the doctrine of the so-called Hypostatic Union – Jesus Christ being simultaneously fully human and fully Divine – so it seems to me that the Gospel message – the really GOOD NEWS – is that we too are beings of the hypostatic union – being at once fully Divine in our Essence AND yet fully human in our manifestation as creatures in this dualistic world on earth. (Link to my September 30, 2014, blog entry on this.)

To me this “Hypostatic Union for All” fits the teachings of Jesus – such as the Kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21 ), or the beautiful words of John 17 about the oneness of us being similar to the oneness between Jesus and the Father (John 17:11 — so that they may be one, as we are one, and then John 17:21 –that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.) I am not quoting these as “proof-texts” supporting my point here, but rather saying these scriptures allow for what I intuit from within myself as Truth. Yes, our oneness is with each other – but that oneness would not be compared to the oneness of Jesus with the Father, as expressed in John 17,  unless we too are one with the Father in some sense the same as Jesus is one with the Father.

Purpose of Human Life on Earth, a Progressive Christian’s View

And why are we living beings on earth in this model where our goal is not to go to heaven when we die, especially when we see and experience all the suffering that happens on earth? Well that would be the entire lesson of all of Pathwork (and perhaps of all true spiritual teachings). The short version is that we are here for purification and transformation – dealing with our sinful nature without having our sinful nature as our very Identity and Essence. The work is both psychological and spiritual, requiring both our participation (deep psychological work, self-responsibility, and surrender to God) and God’s Grace (transformation — turning our negative intentionality and “No” current into a positive intentionality and “Yes” current). Yes, we have a job on earth — for service in love for sure, but also for our own purification and, by God’s Grace, transformation.

This truth, I see, is the GOOD NEWS of the Gospel – in my Essence I am one with God, with Christ. Christ and God are not “other” than me, except in our perception in our dualistic level of consciousness on this earth, a consciousness we can awaken from, and in awakening we can experience the great Oneness with God in the Cosmos.

Pat’s and my Morning Practice

Here I revisit Pat’s and my morning practice. In relationship to all of this identification of our Essences, Pat and I have evolved, over the past two years (well 10 years actually) our morning practice of what we now call Intentional Substantive Spiritual Engagement, and this practice also includes prayers and blessings. (Link to the framework of our practice). Note that our blessings and prayers include our statements about our oneness with God, and because of our oneness with God, our holiness, AND ALSO include seeing and healing our split off parts that are to be seen, accepted, and healed – transformed and brought back to our Essence through a process of personal work and Grace that leads to purification and transformation. This entire process of purification, transformation, and awakening is called, in the 258 Pathwork Lectures, God’s Plan of Salvation.

With this background, I now proceed into my experiences of Holy Week 2015

Maundy Thursday Service Experience

Pat and I attended the Maundy Thursday Service at our church, St. Thomas Episcopal. The service was formal, ritualistic, full of symbolism and music, … and moving. Intentionally, I entered into the experience, especially the foot washing experience and the mass. In the mass I noticed that when I received the host from Pastor Mary our eyes met for but an instant, but powerfully, and when they met they seemed to lock for a split second, an experience that nearly moved me to tears. In that instant my soul was somehow touched and stirred. I was not sure how I was being affected, but I knew that I was. The service ended with the traditional stripping of the altar. Pat and I left in silence, moved by the experience.

Good Friday Experience

Our Good Friday experience began for us at 7:00 AM as we participated in the Good Friday vigil at St. Thomas. The vigil had run all night and would run up until noon on Good Friday, each hour through the night and morning being “watched” by one of the St. Thomas parishioners. As participants for the 7-8 AM hour, Pat and I sat alone, in silence, in the parlor of the church, for our one-hour commitment. We were surprised at the care given even to this practice. This care was reflected in the setting: fire in the fireplace of the parlor, the elements of bread and wine set out, and the quiet. It was a perfect opening to our Good Friday experience.

At noon we went to the Good Friday service. Again this service was rich with ritual, including venerating the cross. At first, seeing this “veneration of the cross” listed in the bulletin, I resisted the very idea of veneration — not something even an ex-Lutheran would do! But when the time came, Pat immediately stood up and went forward. It felt right to me to follow her, but what did this mean to me?

As I approached the cross I realized that for me this wooden cross at the front of the church symbolized how Jesus died, and how I shall die at some point as well, the “taking up my cross,” whatever that might be at my own death, and following Jesus into my own death, however my death experience shows up for me.  Standing there behind Pat, I reached out over her and touched the rope that bound the crossbeam of the wooden cross. The rope was coarse to the touch. Yes, death, my death too, will be new, will be challenging. Like Lectures 81 and 82 invited me, I would approach this experience of death, when it comes, in whatever is honest for me, including shouting out against God, like Jesus did, if that is what is honest for me. I returned to the pew, and upon dismissal, Pat and I left in silence, again moved.

The rest of the day included some work on the next lecture I’m working on, #151 – Intensity: An Obstacle to Self-Realization. Again this lecture is so rich. We had a light supper and then Pat suggested that we watch a movie. She listed some from our Netflix download queue. Not knowing much about it, other that it was a documentary, I, in an unusual move (I seldom select documentaries), suggested we watch Life Itself, a documentary on the life of the popular movie critic Roger Ebert. Neither Pat nor I had any idea what to expect from this movie.

From the first scene – Roger Ebert in the hospital shortly before his death from bone cancer in his jaw — the movie gripped us emotionally. Yes, it covered Ebert’s entire life, but it centered around his dying days – as he suffered from a hideous cancer that led to his jaw being removed so that he could not talk except by way of a voice synthesizer. But he was undaunted through it all.

It was not lost on me that he was born in Urbana, Illinois, about 125 miles east of my birthplace and home in Quincy, Illinois, and that he was born on June 18, 1942 – four months before I was born on October 15, 1942. It was also not lost on me that his cancer was the same cancer that my Grandpa Ritzmann (my mother’s dad) died from when I was 9.

The movie was gripping in many ways, and I was struck by the fact that watching it happened synchronistically; we had had no intention of watching a movie earlier in the day, and would not have normally chosen this one. Somehow it arose in Pat to watch a movie and in me (and it did feel like right action in me) to choose this particular video.

Holy Saturday Experience

Our coffee time on Saturday morning was split in half by a run to the bakery and grocery, wanting to make sure we got first choice for Easter baked goods (Pat’s son, daughter-in-law, and grandson were coming on Sunday for Easter brunch).

During this short drive to the bakery and grocery Pat noticed that the setting moon was strange. She knew the night before it had been a full moon, and yet now it was strangely cut in half, and then moved to a crescent shape.  Was this strange appearance due to clouds? I suggested that it was a lunar eclipse perhaps, strange as that seemed, since I was not aware of one happening. Upon returning home we looked it up – yes on April 4 one of two full lunar eclipses in 2015 occurred – and at 7:00 AM, the time we observed the moon. It is very unusual to “just happen upon” a rare solar-lunar experience such as this, doubly rare since we are never out at 7:00 AM driving about and “just happened” upon it. We have no idea what it means, but I make note of it here. If later we discover its meaning, we will have at least made note of the experience. We are paying more attention to such unusual occurrences in our lives these days!

In the first half or our morning coffee time, the 45 minutes before making our bakery/grocery run, we simply took in and pondered what we had experienced on Good Friday. This Saturday morning coffee time felt like a time of integration. Upon returning from our grocery run, the second half of our morning time consisted of our half-hour guided meditation preceded by more than another hour of additional pondering.

During the second half of this morning time together I took time to look up some additional background on Roger Ebert. He died on April 4, 2013 – exactly 2 years ago today!  We then looked up, for no particular reason except that it caught my attention in my Google-search for entries related to Roger Ebert, an entry just beneath the Roger Ebert Wikipedia listing, an interview by Paste magazine where the interviewer talked with Roger’s wife, Chaz Ebert. (link to interview) As we read the interview I noticed that it was posted on the web YESTERDAY, Good Friday, a little after 12:00 noon – exactly the time Pat and I were in the Good Friday service. Again, I take notice of the synchronicity of it all.

Holy Saturday – A surprise Easter Experience

St. Thomas scheduled The Great Vigil of Easter for Saturday at 7:00 PM and then three grand Easter services on Sunday. We planned to do both the vigil, though we were not sure what that would be, and then of course the 10:45 AM Easter service on Sunday.

We arrived at church Saturday evening in our jeans for the vigil, reflecting the fact that we did not know what this service was about. We were meeting in the Parish Hall rather than church for some reason. There were quite a few people there already when we arrived, and we were surprised (and somewhat embarrassed) that most had on their Easter best.

There were several rituals, a sermon, and readings from the Old Testament scriptures in the one-hour service in the Parish Hall. The scripture readings dealt with Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-15:1), then passages from Isaiah and from Ezekiel, followed by the sermon and renewal of baptismal vows (confessing the Nicene creed). Among all the ingredients of the program in the Parish Hall, I was most deeply touched by an a cappella number by the choir. This portion of the program complete, each person was given a candle and after all candles were lit we processed to the church. The pastor who led the way rapped three times on the door of the church. The hall was dark, lit only by our candles.

The church door opened in response to the three knocks, and someone inside announced, “He has risen!” We filed into the brightly lit church, filled with Easter flowers, with the organ and trumpets playing and the choir leading us in a rousing Easter hymn!

This entering of the church took my breath away. It was an overpowering and moving experience of Easter, especially since we had no idea this was planned.  Inside the church, now another service unfolded. The scripture readings were from Romans and then the resurrection story from Mark’s gospel. We then celebrated Holy Communion. After a post-communion prayer and hymn (the very familiar Jesus Christ is Risen Today, Alleluia!) the service came to a close.

Obviously Pat and I were not prepared for all of this — an hour and forty-five minutes in all. As we left the church I told Pastor Darren that the experience was certainly “Over the Top!” In reflection, I was not relating much to the scripture readings or even the sermon per se, but the whole experience taken together was profound, and we were moved! For me its was a unique and beautiful Easter experience, one I’ll never forget! Not expecting this Easter service made it all the more special. What a climax to our Holy Week. There was no further need to come to an Easter service on Sunday. Beautiful on all counts. 

A blog entry

In the end Pat suggested that all of this synchronicity these past few days pointed to my putting this Good Friday experience, and all that led up to it and followed it, into a blog of some sort. And so that is what I have done here.

Es ist vollbracht

Why did I select this title for this blog entry? Well of course it contains my name: Vollbracht. But what about the “Es ist” part? The words, “Es ist vollbracht,” are the words of  Jesus in John 20:22 in Luther’s German Bible: Jesus’ words from the cross on Good Friday, the words, in English, It is finished.” Since our entire experience centered around Good Friday this year, it seemed doubly appropriate to use these words for this blog.

But what does this mean for me, “It is finished”? Other translations are, “It is accomplished,” or “it is done.” This awareness of the origin and meaning of my name has been with me for years. When in Germany one time I went to a Lutheran church and was touched when I looked up John 20:22 and actually saw the words “Es ist vollbracht” in a Lutheran bible. The same German phrase occurs also in Bach’s St. John’s passion – and I have listened to piece several times (youtube link to Es ist vollbracht)

But again, what task is being completed, or being accomplished, or being finished in my life of 70+ years on planet earth, and in however long I have left?

Perhaps what is being “finished” in me at least in some sense, is a significant part of my transformation, a transformation to a state from which, without tension or anxiety, I can say, “I, Gary, am of God and I am holy. May I see and heal all that has split off from my holy Essence.” And say also, as we do in our morning practice, that “ALL OF HUMANKIND is of God and is holy,” and is in the grand process of the Plan of Salvation, a process of “seeing and healing all that has split off form humankind’s holy Essence.”

Or perhaps that I am coming to a place where I am free to be me, whoever that “Me” may be –  an invitation to be fully incarnated into my humanness with all of its inherent limitations and faults. A sense, from a higher stage of consciousness, that, in my humanness, “all is OK in the world, even when, in my being ‘merely and utterly human,’ I am seriously doubting that all is now or ever can be OK.” A time to be free to live and fully experience ALL of life as it comes — living into Rilke’s “The point is, to live everything!”

Perhaps in arriving at such a point, I shall be able to say, with Jesus, both “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” AND, “Es ist vollbracht!” Perhaps, just perhaps. 

Shared in love, Gary