Pastor’s Pen for February 2018

“Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves.

And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white.”

– Mark 9:2-3

“And immediately [after his baptism] the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness.”

– Mark 1:12-13

Beloved of God,

From the mountaintop to the wilderness. That’s our trajectory this month.  The season of Epiphany culminates with brilliant light on the Mount of Transfiguration as Jesus holds council with Moses and Elijah while Peter, James and John try to make sense of what they’re experiencing.

Some things are more challenging than others to put into words—and this seems especially true when numinous moments break into ordinary time and we find ourselves awestruck, disoriented, or overwhelmed.  These experiences are often fleeting, leaving us wondering whether what we experienced really did happen, or if it was that extra glass of wine or something else that lay behind the otherworldly encounter.

In his book, Convictions, in the chapter entitled God is Real and is a Mystery, New Testament scholar Marcus Borg—perhaps best known for theological approaches to the Christian faith that challenge traditional ways of understanding God and Jesus—shares a mystical experience he had later in life while flying on a plane from Tel Aviv to New York.  The experience, he recounts, lasted about 40 minutes, the longest and most intense experience of this kind in his life.  Suddenly, he recounts, the light in the plane changed and became golden, and everything was filled with exquisite beauty.  Under the influence of this spiritual moment Borg saw that everyone looked wondrous—even the man pacing the aisle who was perhaps the ugliest man Borg had ever seen—even he was transformed in that golden light.

Last night our family went to hear the St. Olaf Choir at Benaroya Hall.  Entwined throughout the program were texts and music—ancient and modern—which wove the same golden thread and sublime conviction into a seamless whole.  There was a setting of St. Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun, powerfully embroidered by violist Charles Gray; and a song based on the words of Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í faith, testifying to God’s “most mighty grace…infused into all created things,” and calling us to reconcile differences and “with perfect unity and peace, to abide beneath the shadow of the Tree of His care and loving-kindness.”  I experienced what I can only name a deep resonance and solace throughout the evening, and particularly so with the setting of William Blake’s poem, Can I see Another’s Woe? [1]

Can I see another’s woe, and not be in sorrow too?

Can I see another’s grief, and not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear, and not feel my sorrow’s share?

Can a father see his child weep, nor be with sorrow fill’d?

Can a mother sit and hear an infant groan an infant fear?

No, No! never can it be! Never, never can it be!

And can he who smiles on all hear the wren with sorrows small,

Hear the small bird’s grief and care, hear the woes that infants bear,

And not sit beside the nest, pouring pity in their breast;

And not sit the cradle near, weeping tear on infant’s tear;

And not sit both night and day, wiping all our tears away?

O, no! never can it Be! Never, never can it be!

He doth give his joy to all; he becomes an infant small;

He becomes a man of woe; he doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not though canst sigh a sigh and thy maker is not by;

Think not thou cast weep a tear and thy maker is not near.

O! he gives to us his joy that our grief he may destroy;

Till our grief is fled and gone he doth sit by us and moan.


The God to whom the choir testified is a compassionate companion to the suffering; a LOVE-infused Lord who blesses us and all creation with unfathomable grace; a beautiful Savior. This God not only rightly evokes our songs of GLORY and PRAISE; this God invites us to take up the song in our own lives.  This God beckons us beyond petty arguments and turf mongering to a place where forgiveness reigns; a place of mysterious, wondrous light which illumines the Other whom we encounter across the table, across the street, and within our own selves, revealing all to be Beloved.

The artistry of the choir allowed this union of text and melody to touch us in the audience in profound ways.  At the end of the concert, after a long ovation, the choir’s conductor Anton Armstrong spoke heart to heart with us about the universal language of music and its power to unite people of every race, tongue, political affiliation, and creed.  His message, and the gift we received last night, is that music breaks down barriers; it grounds us in unity and civility. “If we could go to Washington DC and teach those politicians how to sing together,” he said, “the world would change.”

I heartily agree. In the words of Henry Van Dyke,

“Music, in thee we float, and lose the lonely note

Of self in thy celestial ordered strain,

Until at last we find

The life to love resigned

In harmony of joy restored again;

And songs that cheered our mortal days

Break on the coast of light in endless hymns of praise.”[2]

Experiences such as these remind us that beneath all the surface issues which dominate our days, our agendas, and our conflicts is an abiding light, and pulsing heart that names us BELOVED and calls us into community with all living things.

Lent begins on February 14th this year—Valentine’s Day.  I like the pairing.  It calls us to carry this heartfelt conviction with us as we move with Jesus from that Mount of Transfiguration into the Wilderness of Lent.  Lent is a season for returning to our basic covenant with God of baptism, and entering into disciplined patterns that lead us, by the Spirit’s guidance, back to the one who is the ground of our being.  This year our Green Team is offering a new approach to the old rhythm of fasting during Lent—a CARBON FAST.  We human beings have begun to awaken to the deeply negative and consequential impacts our patterns of consumption are having on creation, and our responsibility to address those impacts with faithful actions.  Perhaps LENT this year can be a time when the LOVE associated with Valentine’s Day is expanded beyond human relationships to encompass more of God’s beloved creation.

With you on the Way,

Pastor Erik


[1] The piece mingles melodies written by J. S. Bach and Martin Luther, in a setting by John Muehleisen.

[2] To Music. Choral setting by David Conte.

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