Look to the Glory – Br. Curtis Almquist
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Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.
”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. (John 17:1-11)
When people are near death, if they know it, and if they can talk about it, they most often speak in profound simplicity about what really matters to them. They speak about what is most important. And this is true for Jesus, who speaks these words, from today’s Gospel lesson, just prior to his being betrayed, then tried, then crucified, which he knew was coming. What are Jesus’ last words about? They’re about glory: that he would be glorified by the God whom he calls “Father,” and that he, in return, would glorify the Father.1 It’s like a light shining into a mirror, which in turn reflects the light back to its source which, in turn, reflects and receives and reflects and receives so that the light’s beginning becomes it end. Jesus says he looking to reclaim his glory, the glory that he had in the Father’s presence before the world existed. Those are Jesus’ last words, last wishes: glory.
Glory, or to be glorified, is to teem with God’s light and life and life. It’s to draw from the deepest waters of life, how the psalmist prays: “For you are the well of life, and in your light we see light.”2 The Gospel writers speak of glory as if someone were simply luminous, irradiated with God’s light and life and love.3 It’s like what happened to Jesus when he was transfigured on the mountaintop. He looked up to the heavens and he received so much of God’s light and life and love that his face shone like the sun. 4 That’s how the Gospel writers describe being glorified.
Jesus, in his last days, in his last wish, is looking for glory. But here’s the catch: it’s not for himself. Jesus is looking to reclaim glory for you, to glorify you. He prays to the Father, “The glory that you have given me I have given them,” that is, given to you here, given to me: glory.5 This is Jesus’ gift for you. Now a gift only becomes a gift when someone receives it. I could say, “I have a gift for you. Here it is.” In actuality, what I have for you is really not yet a gift. It becomes a gift when you receive it. Up until that point, what I have for you is only a promise, or an intention. It becomes a gift when you can take hold of it. Jesus has a gift intended for you – his gift of glory – and this gift will make a world of difference how you live your life. Grasp the glory. Here’s how:
Dare to enjoy your life. Laugh at squirrels. Gaze at flower petals in their most intricate colors, and forms, and fragrances. Eat slowly enough to guess the spices. Listen for the oboe at the symphony. Watch your cat watching; scratch your dog’s chest. Experience what good architecture does for your soul. Notice the difference in color between the light of dawn and the light of dusk. Notice how shadows make life so much more interesting. Wink at yourself in the mirror. Hum. Turn off you radio or IPod and hum. Hum from memory; hum up something new. Watch children playing. Risk being silent. Revere your body as a miracle and delight in what your body can do, what you hands can do, what your fingers can do, what your index finger can do. How many things can your index finger do? Listen for birds and choose your favorite bird call, your favorite that day. Recall the road less traveled that you have taken that has made all the difference. Say “thank you” at least a dozen times a day. Take a sip of tea, and put your tea cup down; when you’re ready, take another sip. Find an outdoor fountain and watch the flow of water. Repeat after me: “rubber baby buggy bumpers,” or make up your own tongue twister and try it out at a dinner party. Close your eyes and fly like you could when you were a child. Retrieve something old, something that you had almost forgotten. Create something new. Remember who it was, that first person who got through to you, who convinced you that you could do it. Reclaim your most notorious failures, and what good has come out of them. Find something that makes you laugh. Go to a museum and visit one gallery, one only, and stay until you’ve learned the secret you need to know. Remember your first love. Remember what brings tears to your eyes; remember who brings tears to your eyes. Why is that?
On I could go. On you could go, and you should. Live the miracle of your life, each passing moment. Take nothing for granted; take everything for gratitude. Dare to enjoy your life. And recognize that the Creator of life – the life that surrounds you and the life that fills you – has given you a life to share delight. In the beginning, God created life, and it was good, so good, so amazingly good that God could not help but share it… with you: God’s grandeur in its infinitely manifold forms, shared with you, created in God’s image.
So you could well ask, is that glory? Daring to enjoy your life, is that glory? It’s a manifestation of God’s glory: your being able to “taste and see” that God and God’s gift of life for you is good.6 Jesus promises to give us life, and to give it to us abundantly.7 Receive that promise – it’s God’s gift for you – and lap up the goodness of life, the goodness of your life. Let God’s light and life and love shine upon your countenance, and savor every moment of your life. Don’t miss a minute of it.
There’s three reasons I can think of why you might not risk taking in Jesus’ promise of abundant life, life to be savored and enjoyed. Three reasons I can think of why basking in the God’s glory – God’s light and life and love for you – could seem beyond your grasp.
For one, you may think you are unworthy, unworthy of God’s light and life and love. To that, I say “hogwash.” Not so. You have to know how God sees you. God sees you as belonging to Jesus. We bask in Jesus’ reflected glory. Our founder, Richard Meux Benson, says that God sees us “in the glory of the light of his only begotten Son.” Father Benson says, “it is not a separate glory flowing over to us, in addition to the glory of his Son, but it is the very same love which is the glory of the Son in which [God] sees us.”8 Look to the glory that God bestowed on Jesus, and that’s yours. Honest. The psalmist says, “Look upon [God] and be radiant, and let not your faces be ashamed.”9 Jesus is worthy, and he makes you the same. Where is God’s glory to be found in the here-and-now? In you. You are God’s glory. It’s true.
Here’s a second reason why life may seem so hard to enjoy, and why you might stumble in apprehending God’s glory within you and around you. And that is because there is so much suffering, despair, deceit, cruelty, injustice, death in our world. That is also true. As is God’s grandeur. In this world, we have to make space in our soul to live amidst both the best and worst, and sometimes simultaneously. You can feel more than one thing at once. Your feelings may even be incongruous and irreconcilable. But you can feel more than one thing at once. In our life in this world, we are on our way, somewhere between the beginning of life and the end. In the beginning, The Book of Genesis, where all was good; and in the end, The Book of Revelation, when there will be crying and weeping no more.10 And in the meantime, and sometimes it is a very mean time, we have to make space in our souls – using St. Paul’s language – to “rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.”11 Do both. You can do it.
A number of years ago I was out for a run with one of our brothers, James Madden. We were actually just down the block from the Monastery when we passed by someone, a friend to our community. He hailed us and he said to James, “How are you?!” James had been living with cancer for more than a decade, and after years of remission, the cancer had aggressively returned, which this friend knew. “How are you?” he asked James, to which he responded. “I’m terrific! My multiple myeloma has metastasized, but other than that, life’s wonderful!” We laughed, because we knew this was so true for James. In fifteen days he was dead.
If life is really tough for you just now, name it, claim it, know Jesus to be with you always, even in the valley of the shadow of death… and meanwhile, take time to smell the flowers.
And thirdly, here’s the obstacle which I’ll call an invitation. Look to the glory beyond this world. Presume that what is glorious in this world, and glorious in your own life, is just a foretaste of what is to come. That doesn’t mean we should not enjoy our life, savor it, be deeply grateful for it; however it’s simply a foretaste of what Jesus calls “the food that will last,” the dwelling place he prepares for us for all eternity. Using the language of an art critic, I would say that life on this earth is an excellent reproduction of the original. Using the language of the church, we say, at death, “life is changed, not ended.”12 You can feel more than one thing at once. That includes: “this is wonderful, and there is more yet.” In a very difficult time, it may mean – once more to use St. Paul’s words – “for this slight, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory.”13 Love your life, and when it’s slipping away from you, know that what you’ve loved the most has simply whetted your appetite for what is to come. Bask in God’s iridescent glory now; look to the glory to come. Glory, or to be glorified, is to teem with God’s light and life and life… and it will last forever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
3 Luke 2:9; Matthew 16:27; Mark 8:38.
4 Matthew 17:2; Mark 9:2; Luke 9:31-32.
8 This taken from a retreat address given by RMB in 1873, recorded in Cowley Evangelist, Feb. 1918, p. 29.
10 Genesis 1:31; Revelation 21:4.
12 Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 382, in the Preface for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist at the time of death.
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Thank you. I was this morning reading Evelyn Underhill’s classic book Worship. On page 334 she cites your founder Father R.M. Benson. Marvelous praise by Underhill of the founding of SSJE (though she does not refer to your order by name). Underhill (as you probably know) was a great Anglican poet, novelist, and was a huge influence in the revived interest in mysticism in the mid-20th century. Her book Worship (published in 1936) has an excellent section on Anglicanism at the end.
How much I needed to hear this today! I have been mourning the loss of mobility and independence. However this sadness is displaced by looking for beauty around me. There are plenty of joy giving memories. . Even now there are so many things of beauty in ordinary things around me. New friendships are precious when you are old! I am in a wonderful assisted living facility near my family, where many care for one another Thank you for your insights. I have an active prayer life and help others. Appreciate the reminder to look at the positives and enjoy my walk through life with Jesus.
I believe this homily says all we need to know. Bless you, bless all of you who responded…
Dear Br. Curtis,
Thank you for the wonderful light that you have shone on these words of Christ.
What a wonderful sermon! I read it to someone who has experienced one disappointment after the other and your words were greatly appreciated. You put everything in perspective. We are so grateful for the support of community with SSJE and the wisdom that flows from this fellowship.
As is. So often the case with The Brothers, and particularly Br. Almquist, a very timely answer to challenges I face. Thank you!!
Absolutely beautiful, and filled with the Light and Life that Jesus spoke of. Thank you Brother Curtis, and all of the wonderful Brothers of SSJE, for the time and great care that you take in conveying God’s messages of love and encouragement to His hurting world, as we press forward on our journey to Him. And for reminding us that He is with us every step of the way.
Your words are so reasssuring. Thanks be to God.
Glory Gods Glory is just what I needed this morning! Thank you
I am behind on my SSJE readings, so I read this on a beautiful Sunday when I was so thankful that my husband was able to join me for church, and at the same time so sad and frustrated at the news of the horrific attack in Orlando last night. Indeed, I feel two opposite things at the same time, yet in both, my heart reaches out for God. Thank you (again) for this wonderful message.
Dear Br. Almquist , ‘ Silence’ .. you have said “life” .. what a gift you have passed on. thankfully. barbara f.l.
Dear Curtis thanks for those thoughts. I am truly grateful to believe in our Lord and give thanks for the help and guidance i need. I know the Lord does not give you more than you can handle. Thank you to all the brothers for their prayers and thoughts. jane
Thank you, Brother Curtis. I needed to hear this sermon today. I thank God for helping me break out of a fearful burdensome life and into a glorious life of freedom from fear. Daring to enjoy our life is a choice we must make each day. It is my prayer that everyone who reads or listens to this sermon dares to enjoy their life. For many of us, it is much easier said than done, but for me, remembering that “love and courage are greater than fear” helps. Thank you for reminding us to dare to enjoy our lives and for illustrating so beautifully what that looks like.
As we are one… I believe that Jesus felt a sense of joy as well as incredible anxiety in saying this, and he is with both of these in this life here and now. Thank you for the reminder of glory in the here and now. I’m pleased that my brain is being slowly rewired to see glory and despair as both possible at the same time, for I was taught glory was a heaven thing and dysfunction was just the way life is and mostly attributed to the “them” out there who don’t understand and accept as we do. As we are one…
Not having to choose one feeling over another is an intelligent and comforting things to think about
Curtis: A very Powerful Message this morning; especially the reflections and words about James Madden. As I’m sure also for many others, I have always felt most mightily the power and presence of God in and through His Spirit within others and which then is given to me. This is not to diminish the importance & power of prayer, reflection nor the Eucharist’s, but just to proclaim that I hear and feel His presence best in and through others. See you in July. Dick
Thank you for a lovely needed read this grey rainy Spring morning in NE . We have had 2 weeks of bone-chilling cold rainy dark days. And, more to come! with only one(!) day of partial sun in the forecast. Yet this homily awakened me to pay attention to the unfurling buds of green, the myriad shades of new growth, the thirsty dark smell of soil receiving precious water after a dry winter. Baby birds beckon me to join in praise to the Creator. I have a warm coat and an umbrella. Thanks be to God!
This morning I prayed “Thank You for today, the first day of the next ten years of my life”—because my husband had told me earlier that he thought I had at least another ten years! (When I will turn 95!) Sometimes I have not been so sure. Perhaps the uneven process of aging can reveal new glories!
Thank you for this meditation/sermon, for the light and life it brings, and for the reference to BCP, p. 382. Last Friday, I took home Eucharist to our vicar emeritus and her husband, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. A few weeks ago, I sat across a table with him at coffee hour after church. He said to me that he “knew” that he would not be at our church much longer, which he then extended to a general comment, that he “knew” that he would not be with us much longer. In the interim he has had a minor stroke. During communion, I looked deep into his bright blue eyes. At the beginning of the visit, I had told the vicar emeritus what he had said personally to me a few weeks ago. She said, “I don’t go far (away).” His eyes reminded me of my Daddy’s deep and bright blue eyes. That you for the reference to this special prayer. God’s blessings are ever present.
Thank you. I take the verse “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them” along with your reminder to live in the present and the example of James to heart. I often feel powerless in providing stability for my sons as their mother battles mental illness. I don´t feel like my face is shining like the sun, but I believe God´s light is shining through the cracks of our brokenness, and in the community around me and my sons. Maybe God is even being glorified through an unmedicated bipolar mother. The squirrels are laughing at me, and I can laugh back at them. And all is well.
Thank you, Br. Curtis, for this food for thought to start my day. I needed this. I am having a mixture of joy and anxiety at this time. I believe now that having both feelings are okay, so long as I give God the glory for all my blessings, small and great, in my life. My great-grandson, age 13, is spending some time with me, a great blessing.
The prayer on p.382 in the BCP is one to which I have not paid attention heretofore. I like it and pray it today.
Thank you Brother Almquist. This has to be one of the most amazing homilies I have ever heard or read. As an artist, this is the way I have always lived life, and it is the well from which I draw all my paintings. However, I would love to add one more thought which keeps me from accepting this gift fully – it just seems too darn easy and obvious!! I adore life on this planet, which I see as a reflection of God’s glory. This awe and delight in God, which has survived all manner of hardships, is again the well from which I draw all my joy and energy for living, and yet somehow I feel this is not enough. I feel guilty about it somehow. However, as I write, a pastor told me once that guilt can be just another mask for fear – for refusing the gift. So perhaps I am back to your first point after all. Thank you again for this amazing and thought provoking sermon.
it’s a most glorious thing that these words of John were written, and have survived for us to treasure
“But you can feel more than one thing at once.” This is so helpful to me. My four adult daughters and two granddaughters suffer from enormous health problems. First a bipolar daughter, then an autistic granddaughter and now a genetically confirmed disorder called myotonic dystrophy that will slowly debilitate and eventually incapacitate both granddaughters and our two eldest daughters. I have found my feelings so conflicted–bouncing from sorrow for them to a confidence and even joy in God’s sure purposes for us all. It is a relief that I really do not need to choose between feelings, but that both can be, and usually are, present together within me. This understanding relieves a vague sense of guilt for having any feelings at all! Thank you Brother Curtis.
Dear Louise: I just wanted to thank you for your response to Brother’s word because the ‘way’ you said it, resonated with me so completely!
All too often, I feel such intense sadness about being happy in the midst of so much pain and turmoil in our world, (and of course within our families as well). The guilt that occurs when feeling happy and grateful overshadows every ‘gifted’ moment. Knowing that feelings ‘happen’ and aren’t actually ‘chosen’ allows me the joy of FEELING without guilt. Every moment, whether good or bad, is a gift from our God. Present moment awareness is something I ‘attempt’ to work on each day.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Mourning and praying about the tragic death of a best friend. Your words were perfect. With gratitude and blessings.
Smiling with tears in gratitude for these words
I read this while patting my border collies, right after finishing the readings for St. Dunstan. Meet and right, and writing that is full of glory. Many, many thanks
Dear Curtis, you make me glad that I am old and have so very many wonderful gifts from God to remember and be grateful for.
Me too Curtis, and Polly.
This is just wonderful. Needed today and absorbed like water on soil! Peace to each of the brothers this day.