Archive for January, 2008

Letting the Mystery Be

January 28, 2008

There is an Old Persian fable in which a man, after many months away returns home to find his home in great disarray. His man servant meets him at the door “Master, while you were away, your wife received a large box, big enough to hold a man. She had it delivered to her chambers. I have asked her to let me see what is in the box and she refuses.”

The man dismisses his servant and goes directly to his wife in her room. The large box is sitting in the middle of the floor. After they embrace, he asks his wife about the box. “Will you permit me to see what is inside?” asks the husband. “No” replies his wife. “Then will you tell me what is in the box?” asks the husband.

Again his wife replies “no”. The man thinks for a moment.

“What then, my beloved, are we to do with this box which has come between us when we vowed to hold no secrets?”

His wife thinks for a moment and the replies simply “bury the box”. “Bury the box?” asks the man, “are you sure?”

“Yes” she says “bury the box”. Immediately, the man calls for servants to take the box into the garden, dig a deep hole and bury the box.

There are times when a mystery is better left alone, a secret better left untold.

I am sure that some of you would have radically different responses to this fable. Some would say it was never the husband’s business to know what was in the box.

Others would say the box should have been opened right away, if they vowed to have no secrets between them.

Still others would gasp “what if there was someone in the box?” But the mystery was left alone.

For me the story poses a still deeper question: Must we expose everything that is hidden? Must we understand the solution to every mystery of the universe?

It is said that we are only as sick as our secrets, but is also said that mystery is not a problem to be solved but a condition to live through. As a people committee to the unending search for truth and meaning, we are troubled by the possibility that there are some things we should not know. We are a radically bottom line society; the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I propose however that sometimes it is better to accept a mystery than to anxiously wonder what it all means.

I can’t tell you why you have cancer or why God remains silent to starving children. But I do know that while the reasons may be mysterious, the solutions are not. Simple human companionship is still the best tonic for suffering. Acts of justice still make a difference in the world. In fact, I have come to believe that knowing why there is suffering is almost beside the point. It doesn’t really matter that children are born deformed; their condition is only a call to service. What are we going to do about it? Perhaps at some level this is why God is silent, it’s not about a God, and it’s about us as the hands of God. Sometimes we are so eager to end the tension of the mystery that we lose the opportunity to feel the mysteries power.

The Catholic Mass used to be said in Latin and many felt a deeper connection to the awe of the Divine than any sermon they could understand. Think about good opera, you don’t understand a word yet you can feel the sublime. There are times in my own ministry when I am so overwhelmed by the needs of my church and family that I can’t imagine going on. And then I walk outside on starry night and gaze up at those billions of stars, separated by unimaginable forces and distances and I realize that perhaps it’s not my worry to figure it out.

Like Isaiah standing at the wilderness altar there are moments when we just cry out “Here I am Lord, take me.” Except God doesn’t take us anywhere, she sends us back into life again. To struggle with what is before us, the impenetrable holy moment of the here and now. So for my money, I will let it be for now until something better comes along.

With grace and grit, John


Even For Our Needs

January 16, 2008

John Morehouse

There was a time in our past when we received food stamps. I will never forget the experience of standing in a long line with people long resigned to the bureaucracy. Nor will I forget the intense questioning I was subjected to nor the stares I received using them in the store. It was a very difficult and humbling experience which has informed much of ministry since then.


What I realized out of this time was that we each have a time to give and to receive. For many finding our way of religion for the first time find themselves in need of receiving, only later are we able to give. Both are necessary to living. We often think of the holiday season as a time of giving, which it is. But the season is also about receiving.


What I have learned from having to receive in a time of need, is that receiving is also a spiritual discipline. Learning to give and receive helps us live up to our principle of accepting one another and encouraging spiritual growth. When we learn to accept help we are affirming our inter-dependence on one another. And for the giver we learn that life is fragile and “but for the grace of the Spirit go I”.


As we prepare for the Christmas holiday, I hope that we will remember the deeper meaning that the give and take of gift giving symbolizes. Each gift given is an act of love, each gift received is an act of thanks. As we say each week in our prayer of gratitude: “May we be grateful even for our needs so that we may learn from the generosity of others”.


With Grace and Grit, Rev. John

Learning to Fall

January 16, 2008

John Morehouse


This week a young man in my congregation fell off his skateboard and is in ICU with a severe head injury. He wasn’t wearing a helmet. Of course, I was proud of the way we came together as a church, upholding his inherent worth, without judgment, we have kept up the cards, the healing prayers, and the love that makes our religion so blessed.


It occurred to me this week that we all need to learn to fall. Phillip Simmons, a young writer wrote a book by the same name, himself falling as he fought – and lost – his battle with ALS disease. Before he died, he wrote his little book. In it he offered these sanguine lessons on falling, on preserving our worth even in the midst of tragedy.


  1. Look where you are falling to. Not so easy when you are tumbling to the ground, but more possible when you are falling from grace, falling out of love or falling out of religion. Where are you going to land?


  1. Learn to roll. Actors and stuntmen practice falling, learning to roll and turn.


  1. Realize that falling is the natural state to learning. Oh yes. Our young man learned and so did almost every skateboarding kid in the church, but more than that we all might remember that falling is what helps us ride, run, walk, survive.


So that’s it. I close with this little Zen parable shared by Phillip Simmons in his book. A man is being chased by a tiger and is trapped at the edge of a cliff. He jumps and as he falls he grabs on to a branch. Holding on tenuously, he looks down and sees what? Another tiger. Just then he spies a ripe strawberry on the bush he is holding. With his free hand, he picks it and pops it into his mouth. How sweet it tasted!

With Grace and Grit,