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 Reflections from Bishop Dan
as published in our diocesan newspaper, The Desert Spirit

January 2008 "Following Yonder Star"
November 2007 "Sursum Corda - Lift Up Your Hearts"

Midway though this Advent Season, I was on the road, a long road. It led along state highways in  Western Georgia and Lower Alabama (“LA” means Lower Alabama back there) – where at one service station an old man, who looked as if he’d seen a lot, complimented me on my choice of road music  (Muddy Waters).  After crossing the rest of the South, I headed on through the range lands of North Texas, and then New Mexico where the land opened into long vistas of immense spiritual capacity.  Beyond Navajoland, at sunset, I came through the snow covered mountain forests around Flagstaff, a winter wonderland worthy of Bing Crosby. Then it was down the divide into the darkness. Finally, I wound my way through the environs of Hover Dam and made my way home into Nevada.
         This is a season of journey. In Luke, the Nativity begins with Mary and Joseph’s shared journey to Bethlehem so Jesus could be born in that holy little village. In Matthew, the Magi travel together even farther – from Persia, some say even China --  to see the Christ Child and worship him in his humble setting.  
         This story of a miracle 2,000 years past still touches our hearts. But it finds its true value in the Present for the Living God is ever-present, Emanuel, God with us, not only the God of Antiquity but the God of today and tomorrow. The 14th Century spiritual teacher and Dominican monk, Meister Eckhart said, “It does not matter that Christ was born hundreds of years ago in Bethlehem unless he is born in us today.” And so the journeys of Mary, Joseph, and the Magi help us recognize that our lives are journeys  toward that place where Christ is born in our compassion and to some unkempt stable where we may kneel before the holiness of innocence, vulnerability, and life.
            Certainly I have come here hoping to find Christ in you and to experience Christ in our relationships.  But one doesn’t have to drive asphalt highways. The experiences of each day, both delights and challenges, constitute a spiritual highway, which if we walk with mindfulness and reverence will lead us to our sacred destination.  The first important thing to remember is that, even when we aren’t sure where we are, we have faith in where we are going. The second is that Mary and Joseph traveled together.  The Magi traveled together. Just so, we travel together. Pilgrimage is not a solitary journey, but a path for odd collections of folks like Chaucer’s famous pilgrims, or like us.
            “May Almighty God, who led the Wise Men by the shining of a star to find the Christ, the Light from Light, lead you also in your pilgrimage to find the Lord.” (Book of Occasional Services blessing for Epiphany).

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            As I look for a way to say “hello” to the Diocese of Nevada, I want to tell you a little story. I don’t have a programmatic agenda for the Diocese, but I do have a hope for the spirit of our years together. This story at least touches on that spirit.

            A few years ago, I was driving along an interstate highway when I came up behind a huge long haul truck. It was dirty and someone had written a message in the dirt. They hard printed it in large, clear, deliberate letters. And they had printed their message extraordinarily high on the back of the trailer. I was stymied as to how they managed to get up there to write it. There the message was in big bold letters: “SURSUM CORDA.” Latin. It means “Lift up your hearts.” The opening colloquy of the Eucharistic Prayers is called “the sursum corda.”

            I told this to my congregation, which in those days included a young woman who was both an artist and a poet. She copied lines of her favorite poems onto the walls of her home. She was so impressed by the bold stroke of the anonymous truck calligrapher, that she copied his message over a doorway at her house. But she got it just slightly wrong.

            To appreciate her error, you need to know she was a bit self-critical, and perceived herself (wrongly) to be overweight. She put self-deprecating signs on her refrigerator intending to discipline her eating. All quite unnecessary. Well, what she actually painted over her door was “Sursum Gorda.” Lift up the fat woman. When she learned her mistake, she laughed heartily at herself and took down the self-deprecating notes. Better to be lifted up.

            “Lift up your hearts” translates a message from another language and another time. So it has acquired layers of meaning. The original Latin meaning wasn’t about feelings, because the heart was not considered the center of feeling, but rather the will. “Lift up your hearts” meant surrender you will to God. For us, the uplifting of the heart has a joy quality about it. “My heart leaps up when I behold a rainbow in the sky.” (Wordsworth) So it means to us something like “Cheer up” or even “Lighten up.” It suggests balloons released into the sky or a paper bag caught by the breeze.

            How should we think of the words? Either way, but better: both ways. Consider that we surrender to God’s will by cheering up, by “rejoicing in the Lord always.” (St. Paul). My hope for us is that we can do God’s will together, that we can advance God’s mission of compassion and reconciliation, but that we can do it with levity and grace, that we can laugh and play along the way. I hope we can take each other seriously, but not take ourselves too seriously. I hope our time together will be graced by mutual appreciation punctuated with moments of delight.

            I am eager to be with you. Keep the porch light burning. I’ll be home soon.


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