Sermons

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Evening Collect for Serenity

Merciful Jesus, you are my guide, the joy of my heart, the author of my hope, and the object of my love. I come seeking refreshment and peace. Show me your mercy, relieve my fears and anxieties, and grant me a quiet mind and an expectant heart, that by the assurance of your presence I may learn to abide in you, who is my Lord and my God. Amen.
(Enriching Our Worship 2, 77)

Sunday Reading

Here is an article about the feeding ministry of St Barnabas Episcopal Church in McMinnville, Oregon. The ministry started in 1990 with a single act of Christian charity - when one family arrived at the church asking for food. Now they the "soup kitchen" operates like a full-service restaurant for anyone who comes in hungry, complete with waiters and appetizers and desert. Read this heartwarming story here.

And do read this gentle but thought-provoking Lenten meditation from Sister Joan Chittister, who is one of my favorite Christian writers and a Benedictine nun. She speaks of both the healing and the honing of the soul as part of our work during Lent, a time when we must again choose to live in belief even after the star of Bethlehem has dimmed in our lives.

Enjoy!

Collect for Sunday, Lent II

Gentle Father,
show us our sins as they really are
so that we may truly renounce them
and know the depth and richness of your mercy.
Amen.

(A New Zealand Prayer Book, 576)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Evensong (A poem by George Herbert)


The Day is spent, and hath his will on me:
I and the Sun have run our races,
I went slower, yet more paces,
For I decay not he.

Lord, make my Losses up, and set me free:
That I, who cannot now by day
Look on his daring brightnes, may
Shine then more bright than he.

If thou defer this light, then shadow me:
Lest that the Night, earth's gloomy shade
Fouling her nest, my earth invade,
As if shades knew not Thee.

But thou art Light and darkness both together:
If that be dark we cannot see:
The sun is darker than a Tree,
And thou are more dark than either.

Yet Thou art not so dark, since I know this,
But that my darkness may tough thine:
And hope, that may teach it to hine,
Since Light thy Darkness is.

Oh let my Soul, whose keys I must deliver
Into the hands of senseless Dreams
Which know not thee, suck in thy beams,
And wake with the forever.

(Evensong, a poem by George Herbert)

Wallowing in Poetry

Today is the feast day of George Herbert, the 17th Century Anglican priest and poet. He is best known for his book The Country Parson, a handbook for priests that has been rather highly romanticized, although Herbert apparently wrote it for himself, to set the bar high so that he might make his best efforts on behalf of Our Lord in shepherding his flock. In the book, he suggests (among many, many other things) that preaching not extend past an hour so as not to induce loathing on his own part for the task; he advocates using weekday afternoons to visit parishioners in their homes, where "he shall find his flock most naturally as they are, wallowing in the midst of their affairs." On Sundays, you see, they are able to compose themselves before coming to church and then the parson cannot help them with their lives. The parson is generally sad, because he constantly thinks about the Cross of Christ, and yet must do what he can to be pleasant and even mirthful, since "nature will not bear everlasting droopings and pleasantness of disposition is a great key to do good... because all men shun the company of perpetual severity." Herbert's biographer, Izaak Walton, and his friend, Nicholas Farrer, described Herbert as a saint. He was a priest for only three years.

It is Herbert's poetry, however, that puts him on the English literary map. Many of his poems (the subjects of which included feast days, vices and virtues, and church furnishings) were collected and published posthumously in The Temple. Here are a three of my favorites of his poems. The first was set to music by Ralph Vaughn Williams (Hymn 487 in the Hymnal 1982). The second is about stained glass windows in churches which tell the story of Christ better than the mere words of a preaching parson. And the third is about prayer - all the things that prayer is - the soul in paraphrase, an engine assaulting heaven, a thing of beauty, a thing understood.

The Call

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
And such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joys in love.


The Windows

Lord, how can a man preach thy eternal word?
He is a brittle crazy glass:
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
This glorious and transcendent place,
To be a window, through thy grace.

But when thou dost anneal in glass thy story,
Making thy life to shine within
The holy Preacher's; then the light and glory
More rev'rend grows, and more doth win:
Which else shows wat'rish, bleak, and thin.

Doctrine and life, colors and light, in one
When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and awe: but speech alone
Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
And in the ear, not conscience ring.


Prayer (1)

Prayer the Church's banquet, Angels' age,
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;

Engine against th' Almighty, sinners' tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;

Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, a bird of Paradise.

Church-bells beyond the stars unheard, the soul's blood,
The land of spices, something understood.

Noon Prayer

Our God and King, you called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls, a poet, and a priest in your temple: Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to perform the tasks you have given us to do, knowing that nothing is menial or common that is done for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Lesser Feasts and Fasts)

Morning Prayer for Peace

O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace. Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our wrath and sorrows, and give peace to your Church, peace among nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts.
Amen.
(A New Zealand Prayer Book, 142)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Evening Prayer

Light of the world, in grace and beauty,
Mirror of God's eternal face,
Transparent flame of love's free duty,
You bring salvation to our race.
Now, as we see the lights of evening,
We raise our voice in hymns of praise;
Worthy are you of endless blessing,
Sun of our night, lamp of our days.
(Enriching Our Worship I, 23)

Noon Prayer


Heavenly Father, you see how your children hunger for food, and fellowship, and faith. Help us to meet one another's needs of body, mind and spirit, in the love of Christ our Saviour.
Amen.
(A New Zealand Prayer Book, 578)

Friday Morning Prayer: Confession


God of all mercy, we confess that we have sinned against you, opposing your will in our lives. We have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world you have created. We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf. Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may abide in your love and serve only your will. Amen.
(Enriching Our Worship I, 19)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Evening Collect for the Answering of Prayer

Almighty God, who hast promised to hear the petitions of those who ask in thy Son's Name: We beseech thee mercifully to incline thine ear to us who have now made our prayers and supplications unto thee; and grant that those things which we have faithfully asked according to thy will, may effectually be obtained, to the relief of our necessity; and to the setting forth of thy glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP 834)

Tradition

This is a statue of John Carroll, the first Roman Catholic bishop and archbishop in this country and the founder (or, if you are Latin, fovnder) of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. The statue stands near the front gate at Georgetown and before one graduates from the university, one tries to have one's picture taken while one is sitting in the lap of the blessed fovnder. Since it is against the university's rules to sit in the fovnder statue's lap, and since the statue is prominently placed in a busy area of campus that is located right next to the campus security gate, the leaping-into-the-lap-and-having-a-picture-taken-by-a-co-conspirator must be done quickly and yet with some significant planning. But the deed is done year after year, student after student, because it is a Tradition.

How do we get traditions anyway? At our house, for a while, if we did something once at Christmas, then it became a Tradition. It didn't take long for there to be way too many Traditions in relation to the number of days around Christmas for them to all fit it. We had to find ways to reduce some "traditions" (or nip them in the bud) or face the unsavory task of just saying no to the Nutcracker or skating or Moravian sugar bread breakfast or whatever.

A seminary classmate once mentioned that his parish church acquired a portrait of its patronal saint, and since a permanent display location had not been determined, it was temporarily propped up against the wall in a stairwell. Where it stayed for some weeks and then months. "Heaven help the person who dares to move it now," he quipped. Tradition.

While the Christmas and Saint Parish Patron examples are the kind of thing about which one shakes one's head, the Georgetown fovnder statue stories provokes a different kind of head-shaking. And by different people. You can supply your own mental image for who might say: "Kids! They try to keep the world from being so chaotic - they crave routine!" Or the one who laments: "Church people! 'That's the way we've always done it' is their usual rationale for nearly everything!" And of course this one: "Oh, those students, always trying to get around the rules!"

Actually, I am finding the students' tradition kind of attractive right now. Not so much about the getting around the rules part, but rather I am attracted to a kind of joyful tenacity that involves creativity, flexibility, and focus. (Obviously this does not include stupidity, I hasten to add; a tradition that is destructive or dangerous is not what I'm admiring here.) I am really attracted to being creative about keeping a tradition alive. About joy and fun and daring and tradition being all together in the same sentence. About valuing the tradition without having the tradition becoming an idol or a sacred cow.

Traditions come and go and they change. (Watch Fiddler on the Roof if you need a refresher course in how traditions change. And how hard it is to live through that change.) They must not become idols. They can be the source of creativity and joy. Once they become drudgery or demanding and draining of one's energy and resources, once they become the source of bad behavior and ill-feelings and hurt, then maybe it's time for a break.

Noon Prayer


God, you know better than we the temptations that will bring us down. Grant that our love for you may protect us from all foolish and corrupting desire.
Amen.
(A New Zealand Prayer Book, 574)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Evening Prayer


Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.
(BCP 124)

Noon Prayer


Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, "Peace I give to you; my own peace I leave with you:" Regard not our sins, but the faith of your Church, and give to us the peace and unity of that heavenly City, where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, now and for ever. Amen.
(BCP 107)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Night Prayer


Be present, Spirit of God, within us, your dwelling place and home, that this house may be one where all darkness is penetrated by your light, all troubles calmed by your peace, all evil redeemed by your love, all pain transformed by your suffering, and all dying glorified in your risen life. Amen.
(A New Zealand Prayer Book, 183)

Noon Prayer


Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts, to direct and rule us according to your will, to comfort us in all our afflictions, to defend us from all error, and to lead us into all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP 107)

Morning Prayer


O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP 819)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Evening Prayer

God our judge and companion, we thank you for the good we did this day and for all that has given us joy. Everything we offer as our humble service. Bless those with whom we have worked, and those who are our concern. Amen.
(A New Zealand Prayerbook, 113)

Communication


We live in an age of unprecedented communication options. Occasionally one writes letters, although this is becoming increasingly rare. In addition to written materials (remember how newsletters arrived in the mail?) of all kinds through which we might communicate with one another, there is the telephone, which comes in a variety of "flavors" - land lines with cords, land lines with cordless phones, cellular phones and "smart phones" that one can use for voice calls and messages, text messages, and email. Some of you access this blog through a smart phone, too. There is electronic mail, and we might have several e-mail addresses, including Facebook e-mail. There's chat - text chat, video chat, Skype, iChat, Google chat, Facebook chat etc etc etc. And of course there's the internet - folks communicating via weblogs like this one, bulletin boards, Facebook notes, MySpace pages, chat rooms, virtual worlds like Second Life. And Twitter, of course. And television. And radio - hams, CBs, police scanners, digital, subscriber, public...... And .....

What sometimes seems to be getting short shrift in all this communicating, though, is attentive listening. One gets so many texts, emails, notes, Facebook wall posts and all, not to mention the media one subscribes to (newspapers, magazines, newsletters etc) that it is simply impossible to keep up with them all. And so one learns to skim. Just a quick glance at a text gives one the gist of the message. I have learned that certain friends will not read an email that is longer than three sentences - anything at the bottom of a two-paragrapher will not get read. I do it myself - just a quick glance at the inbox before I run out the door, skimming the Facebook feed, giving the newspaper headlines a hurried once-over while eating my morning oatmeal, doing an unbroken double-finger scroll through the various blogs I read.

And so in this age of unprecedented information flow and access, one hardly has time to take in what others are actually saying. One gets half the message, or misses the "not" and gets the opposite message. There is not time or space for body language or voice inflection; there is not time or space for deep listening to one another.

And yet all this communicating we are doing, sending out our status, texting, Twittering, e-mailing, posting on blogs suggests that we really, really want someone to hear us. We really want someone to interact with us. We want people to listen to us. To really listen. We want others to hear our hopes, our fears, our dreams, our disappointments. To share our joy, our happiness, our hard-won successes, in more than 140 characters.

I enjoy all this communication. I love to write and receive e-mails; chatting is fun; texting comes in really handy sometimes; I spend plenty of time reading and writing online and checking in on folks via Facebook. I love that I can be in conversation with a whole bunch of people every day even if I don't leave my house. (This is especially nice when one is sick but not too sick to "computer.") But I am increasingly aware that I am missing out on deep conversation. On listening and being listened to. On hearing the yearning, the joy, the real issue that sits just underneath the surface comment or question.

Noon Prayer


Almighty Savior, who at noonday called your servant Saint Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles: We pray you to illuminate the world with the radiance of your glory, that all nations may come and worship you; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.
(BCP 107)

Morning Prayer

Holy One, holy and eternal, awesome, exciting and delightful in your holiness; make us pure in heart to see you; make us merciful to receive your kindness, and to share our love with all your human family; then will your name be hallowed in heaven.

Lord God when you give to us your servants any great matter to do, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of it, until it is thoroughly finished which yields the true glory.

God of work and rest and pleasure, grant that what we do this week may be for us an offering rather than a burden; and for those we serve, may it be the help they need. Amen.
(A New Zealand Prayer Book, 111)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Night Prayer


Visit this place, O Lord, and drive far from it all snares of the enemy; let your holy angels dwell with us to preserve us in peace; and let your blessing be upon us always; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP 140)

Music

The role music plays in one's spiritual life is simply not quantifiable. Suffice to say that for many people, music is the way they express their religious feelings. Most everyone has their favorite hymns, the ones they know by heart. My mother and her three sisters used to sing in churches when they were teens back in the 1940's and they knew so many hymns by heart. When I get together with my aunts and my cousins on my mother's side, somebody always wants to have a hymn sing, and I am amazed at how many hymns my aunts and cousins and I know.

In my own journey, music has been part and parcel of my walk with/toward/seeking God. As a junior high student, I played the piano for Vacation Bible School at my Southern Baptist church for several years . . . Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus; All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name; O, How I Love Jesus; among others, were the standards. When I became an Episcopalian, it was the music that drew me first - Lo! He Comes, With Clouds Descending and singing the O Antiphons during Advent, Easter morning with brass and timpani, chanting the Psalms and the Eucharistic Prayer and singing the service music. The King of Love My Shepherd Is, At the Name of Jesus, What Wondrous Love is This? The Pange lingua on Maundy Thursday. I love how the hymns are identified by their tune names. I have a long list of favorites, but I'll spare you.

We are formed by singing and listening to music, just as we are formed by reading scripture or hearing it read. Some hymns express a theology (such as the Pange lingua (Sing my Tongue the Mystery Telling), which was written by Thomas Aquinas and lays out his Eucharistic theology), tell a story (The First Nowell), paraphrase scripture (My Shepherd Will Supply My Need), or otherwise express Christian duty (Lift Every Voice and Sing), praise (When Morning Gilds the Skies), themes from a liturgical season (Songs of Thankfulness and Praise) or doctrine (Ah, Holy Jesus).

On Ash Wednesday I heard Marcel Dupre's Lamento. The first time I heard it was on a Good Friday. My husband told me that he wants that played at his funeral (which should not be any time soon, I hasten to add).

Music helps us with our religious feelings and expression. Sometimes we sing by heart, sometimes we listen to someone else play or sing, sometimes we sing together, sometimes alone, sometimes we suddenly "get" something as we read the words as we sing, but always with music we are engaged in worship, in drawing nearer to God. As St. Augustine of Hippo said (and I both paraphrase and abridge here), "One who sings, prays twice."

Sunday Reading


Dr. Donivan Bessinger of Greenville, SC, wrote about the art of the Sainte Trinitie, the Episcopal Cathedral in Haiti, and posted pictures of the art that has now been destroyed. Dr. Bessinger is a surgeon who visited Haiti annually for about ten years. You can read his article here or just skip to the pictures here (this is a .pdf file with lots of images so it will load slowly).

And here is a poem for Ash Wednesday written by Mark Harris, an Episcopal priest in Delaware, who blogs at www.anglicanfuture.blogspot.com.

Sunday Morning Collect

God, you are are beginning and you will be our end; we are made in your image and likeness. We praise and thank you for this day. This is the day on which you created light and saw that it was good. This is the day in whose early morning light we discovered the tomb was empty, and encountered Christ, the world's true light. This is the day you have made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Lord make us instruments of your peace; where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

Eternal God, grant to us this day and every day such readiness and delight in following Christ, that whether our lives are short or long, we shall have lived abundantly. Amen.
(A New Zealand Prayer Book, 106)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Evening Prayer


O God and Father of all, whom the whole heavens adore: Let the whole earth also worship you, all nations obey you, all tongues confess and bless you, and men and women everywhere love you and serve you in peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP 124)

It's Bishop Duracin's Birthday!



Today is Bishop Jean Zache Duracin's birthday. He is the Episcopal Bishop of Haiti. If you would like to give him a gift, the Episcopal Cafe suggests that you make an online donation to Episcopal Relief and Development's Haiti Fund by clicking here. ERD is the Episcopal Church's international relief and development agency and is currently working with Bishop Duracin (often through the Episcopal Diocese of the Dominican Republic) to provide food and water, sanitation, technical support, and medical care as well as working to provide Bishop Duracin with more long-term support as reclamation and rebuilding efforts begin.

Signs of Growth

Most folks I know mark their children's height on some kind of growth chart. Many of us just pencil in lines on a wall or inside a doorframe somewhere in the house. My children still occasionally come in and demand to be measured, even though I now have to stand in a chair to draw a mark at the tops of their heads. My sister-in-law has charted the growth of both her children and mine inside a doorway into her kitchen. Perhaps there is a little competition going on there among our four boys.

Inner growth is harder to recognize, much less keep track of. It is difficult to say, "Let's see how much you've grown spiritually" and then put an X on a chart somewhere. One cannot plot one's spiritual growth the way one charts a child's physical growth. Which may be a good thing - I imagine that my chart would not be a steady line going up but rather one that seems to go forward for a while and then takes a turn for the worse for a while. And I would certainly not want to see my chart subjected to the percentiles calculator to see how I stack up against others!

Still, it's important to look for and recognize signs of one's spiritual growth. For myself, it sometimes happens that I suddenly become aware that I now understand something that used to bother me, or that I am not spending energy on this thing or that thing any more. Although "understand" is a relative term here - I do not actually "understand" prayer, or the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, or the resurrection, but thanks to something I read or something someone said that opened it all up for me in a way that helped me see it differently, I now recognize that I have grown.

Which leads to this recognition: Like most spiritual things, spiritual growth is best done in community. We wrestle with others, not to sharpen our blades against one another, but to engage spiritual questions and allow ourselves to be transformed in community. It never ceases to amaze me how much I learn from people whom I would not necessarily think to go to with a burning spiritual question. Sometimes an offhand comment by someone I hardly know at the hospitality hour goes to the very heart of something I've been fretting about for weeks, so that I have an "aha moment" and the door to a new understanding is unlocked. Sometimes a deliberate discussion with those I consider teachers and mentors leads me to formulate my own, different, take on something, which I could not have done if I were simply in my room, puzzling alone.

Our spiritual growth is not linear or progressive or predictable. There is no need for a percentile calculator to see how we stack up against others in our spiritual growth. We are individuals with free will who strive to be in community as the Body of Christ in order to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Our own growth strengthens the community just as it strengthens us in our personal spiritual life. Others support us in our growth, whether or not we are aware of that support. And we support others, even when we are not necessarily trying to. It just happens when we are intentional about being in community, when we are present to God and to one another, just as it happens that green shoots come out of bulbs in February.
Because that's how bulbs work. And that's how the beloved community works, too.

Noon Prayer

Let us be at peace within ourselves.
Let us accept that we are profoundly loved and never need be afraid.
Let us be aware of the source of being that is common to us all and to all living creatures.
Let us be filled with the presence of the great compassion towards ourselves and towards all living beings.
Realizing that we are all nourished from the same source of life, may we so live that others be not deprived of air, food, water, shelter, or the chance to live.
Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be a cause of suffering to one another.
With humility let us pray for the establishment of peace in our hearts and on earth.
May God kindle in us the fire of love to bring us alive and give warmth to the world.
Lead me from death to life, from falsehood to truth;
lead me from despair to hope, from fear to trust;
lead me from hate to love, from war to peace.
Let peace fill our heart, our world, our universe.

(A New Zealand Prayer Book 163)

Morning Prayer for the Good Use of Leisure


O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP 825)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Evening Prayer/Protection

O God, the life of all who live, the light of the faithful, the strength of those who labor, and the repose of the dead: We thank you for the blessings of the day that is past, and humbly ask for your protection through the coming night. Bring us in safety to the morning hours; through him who died and rose for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
(BCP 124)

Fasting and Almsgiving

The three practices one observes during Lent are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. While prayer is "in-season" with any liturgical season, fasting and almsgiving receive special notice during the penitential season. The ancient practices of fasting and almsgiving during Lent are actually integrally related. When one gives up something during Lent (say chocolate), then one calculates the cost of the (chocolate) one would have eaten during Lent and gives that money to the poor. This connection seems to have been lost these days. Now the emphasis is on fasting as a solo discipline or perhaps combining fasting with prayer to draw nearer to God. Given that in Scripture Jesus tells us over and over again to treat the least of these as if one would treat Jesus himself, it makes sense to connect fasting with almsgiving in this way.

Noon Prayer


O God of many names, lover of all peoples; we pray for peace in our hearts and homes, in our nation and our world; the peace of your will, the peace of our need.
Dear Christ, our friend and our guide, pioneer through the shadow of death, passing through darkness to make it light, be our companion that we may fear no evil, and bring us to life and to glory.
O God of peace and justice, of holiness and love; knit us together in mind and flesh, in feeling and in spirit, and make us one, ready for that great day; the fulfillment of all our hopes, and the glory of Jesus Christ.
Keep us in the spirit of joy and simplicity and mercy.
Bless us and those who you have entrusted to us, in and through Jesus Christ our Savior.
Amen.
(A New Zealand Prayer Book, 162)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Evening Prayer


O Lord God Almighty, as you have taught us to call the evening, the morning, and the noonday one day; and have made the sun to know its going down: Dispel the darkness of our hearts, that by your brightness we may know you to be the true God and eternal light, living and reigning for ever and ever. Amen.
(BCP 110)

Journeying


"Journey" is an important theme in religious life. The followers of Jesus called themselves followers of The Way. Jesus called himself The Way in the Gospel of John. We have a vast tradition of pilgrimage in fact and literature - from the fourth century diary of Egeria, a pilgrim to the Holy Land during Holy Week, to the fourteenth century Canterbury Tales, stories written by Geoffrey Chaucer about English pilgrims journeying to Thomas Becket's shrine at Canterbury, to modern day youth pilgrimages that are an integral part of the spiritual exploration in the Journey to Adulthood curriculum in the Episcopal Church. There are other, less admirable pilgrimage/journey events, too, including the Crusades. And of course in that other great religious tradition, sports, there is also the theme of journey, on-the-road-to, which is ubiquitous in the sporting world. This spring, NCAA basketball teams will be on the road to Indianapolis. During the Olympics special coverage traces various athletes' journey to the Gold (medal). There was last month the Road to the Superbowl as well.

Many of us characterize our spiritual life as a journey and ourselves as pilgrims, seeking God, seeking the Holy, seeking, seeking. We call ourselves seekers. We find ourselves on The Way. Life is a journey; life in God is a journey; life together as a parish is a journey. Priest and people journey together. And now we find ourselves on the journey of Lent.

What do we hope to find? Is the journey the thing, or is there a destination we have in mind? (Was Jesus "On the Road to the Cross?") Now that we have begun Lent, do we know where we want to go or do we want to just notice the scenery as we pass by on our liturgical journey? How will we mark the time? How will we pass the time? Will we be action oriented, or will we be learning on our feet a la the disciples, or will we tell one another stories like the Canterbury pilgrims?

I honestly don't know what I have in mind for the Lenten journey this year, other than to discipline myself to pray and reflect regularly and to be intentional about prayer and reflection that is oriented toward listening for where/what God is calling me toward. For me, this year, I think that is enough. I know enough about spiritual journeying to realize that all sorts of other things will happen as I am on this journey, if I have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. For me, the journey as outlined by the church's tradition is enough. I can be a follower of The Way, a Lenten pilgrim, and allow myself to be formed by the liturgy and the music and the songs we sing and the lack of alleluias and flowers. I am grateful that we have such a rich tradition. I am grateful for my formation. I am grateful that we have this time to ponder, to listen, to notice and live into the fast that will, as it always does, become the feast.

Noon Prayer

For the hungry and the overfed, may we have enough.
For the mourners and the mockers, may we laugh together.
For the victims and the oppressors, may we share power wisely.
For the peacemakers and the warmongers, may clear truth and stern love lead us to harmony.
For the silenced and the propagandists, may we speak our own words in truth.
For the unemployed and the overworked, may our impress on the earth be kindly and creative.
For the troubled and the sleek, may we live together as wounded healers.
For the homeless and the cosseted, may our homes be simple, warm and welcoming.
For the vibrant and the dying, may we all die to live.

(A New Zealand Prayer Book, 162)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Night Prayer/Ash Wednesday


God of the desert, as we follow Jesus into the unknown,
may we recognize the tempter when he comes;
let it be your bread we eat,
your world we serve
and you alone we worship.
(A New Zealand Prayer Book, 573)

Time and Place

Tonight I went to a church in midtown for the Ash Wednesday liturgy. I love that church, for many reasons, but one of those reasons is the juxtaposition of what goes on inside the church with what's going on in the city. Tonight, while the priest was inviting us to a Holy Lent and blessing ashes and smudging ashy crosses on black, white, brown, old, young, and what-have-you foreheads there were sirens blasting outside and horns beeping as the world loudly went on in its lurching from crisis to crisis. Inside we were kneeling to say the 51st Psalm; outside, people were being rude to one another in their cars. Inside we were hearing that we are to remember we are dust; outside a siren wailed and lights flashed as a firetruck or perhaps an ambulance roared by. Inside white robed teenagers with calmness and purpose carried the wooden cross and the torches to accompany the Gospel book into the midst of the congregation; outside, teenagers were drifting by the windows, perhaps oblivious to what we were doing inside.

My friend Elizabeth delivered a lovely homily connecting the temporal and the eternal and reminding us that we are both temporal and eternal - our bodies came from the earth and will return to it some day and yet the love of God, from which we are also formed and to which we will also return, is eternal. Being reminded that we are dust is what we did tonight and also what we did last year and the year before that and on and on. And that is what connects us to that promise of eternal love and eternal life. In this life we will return to dust but after that we will have a new, eternal life in the presence of God.

Time and place, temporal and eternal, music and torches, sirens and busy city noises, ashes and bread and wine. Again.

Markings


A few years ago on Ash Wednesday, I was imposing ashes at the altar rail when a young mother and her baby came forward. All of the folks on whose foreheads I had smudged ashes in the shape of a cross had been adults, many of them older adults. And then here comes this fresh faced young woman with a precious little girl. And I thought to myself, I don't want to put ashes on this child. I don't want to say to her, "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return." I don't want to call her, or her mother either for that matter, to repentance, to a remembrance of her mortality. I don't want to remind these two who are bursting with life, with twinkling eyes and soft skin, that it's time for them to be penitent and practice self-denial.
But of course, I did. And afterwards I recalled the reading from Matthew (6:16) where Jesus says that whenever one fasts one should not look sad/somber/disfigure the face so that people can tell one is fasting but rather should wash one's face and anoint it will oil. Which is the reading for Ash Wednesday anyway. And there is the prayer that the celebrant says before the imposition of ashes:

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen. (BCP 265)

That first half of the petition is what I had been thinking of - the ashes as a sign of our mortality and penitence - but the child made me aware of the joy that lies in the second half of the petition. It is only by God's gracious gift that we are given everlasting life. The sign of the cross traced upon our foreheads in ashes is not only a sign and mortality and a call to penitence, but it is also a sign that God has give us the most wonderful gift of all - life. Life now and life everlasting. As Origen said (loosely), we come from God and we return to God. That we should repent of our living a life that turns away from God is obvious. But I realized also that on what I put on the face of that child was the mark of promise and life in God.

I mistook the ritual of the ashes as marking someone for death. And it is the reminder that we are mortal, but it is also making plain that death is not the end of the journey, as will become obvious at Easter. The call to repentance is not so that we will make ourselves miserable but so that we will strip away the things that weigh us down and keep us from knowing God and loving one another and loving ourselves. The call to repentance is a call to free ourselves from bondage to those things that keep us from having life abundant here and now. The call to repentance is to ask us to look for those things and to cast them off gladly.

The little girl, at a year old, did not need to repent or understand her mortality. But like the rest of us, she did come to be marked as one who belongs to God and who will return to God in the fullness of time. She came to be marked with the promise. She served as a reminder to me and to all who saw her that all of this stuff we do during Lent is to help us live into true Easter joy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Night Prayer


Be our light in the darkness, O Lord, and in your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
(BCP 133)

Solitude


I self-identify as an extrovert. My Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tests always show not only that I am an extrovert, but that I score 10 on extroversion and zero on introversion.

Nonetheless, I am beginning to notice that I have a need for at least occasional solitude. Time by myself, away from distractions (particularly noise). Maybe because I am more easily distractible than ever, maybe because I live in a house with people and animals and televisions and kids who come and go, maybe because I am older and less able to think clearly. At any rate, this surprises me, but it has become clear. I need alone time, not so much to recuperate but for study and thinking and reading. Sometimes I need to be able to make sense of things and that seems best done with few distractions. It's hard enough to make sense of things to begin with, much less to try to do so amid temptations to abandon the effort.

So I wonder, am I changing? Is this temporary? Am I going to develop a contemplative side after all? (I've always said I don't have a great deal of talent for contemplation, so this could be embarrassing.) Could it be a sign of the times in my own life, when I need to be able to think and make sense of things that may not be more important than the usual things that need making sense of (which of course are not run of the mill stuff at all but Life, Death, God, Relationships, Growth, Meaning) but things which are bubbling rather intensely in the stew of my own life right now? Like questions about Calling and Vocation?

Solitude of course is not complete alone-ness. God is with us, even in our alone-ness. I look forward to enjoying solitude as a gift and not a penance these next days and weeks.




Evening Prayer

O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the Spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 125)

Mardi Gras


Today is the last day of the Season of Epiphany. It is Mardi Gras, the day to say "laissez les bon temps roulez" (let the good times roll), also known as Fat Tuesday (time to use up all the fat and wheat in the house, so how about some pancakes or a King Cake?), or Shrove Tuesday (time to say your confession - be shriven - before Lent begins tomorrow). The season of light gives way to the season of penitence and preparation for renewal, a season of cultivating a deepening spiritual life by way of discipline, study and prayer.

I suppose that going hog wild today would make one start out the season of Lent appropriately penitent, but that's not the route I plan to take. I hope to spend some of the day really thinking about how I plan to spend Lent (and eat some pancakes for supper).

One often gives something up for Lent (fasting). Notice that some of the fast food eateries are now offering either meatless or fish options to assist the faithful in their giving up of meat, a perennial favorite Lenten discipline. Others take something on for Lent, a discipline of prayer, reading, reflection, doing good deeds, that sort of thing.

The truth is that Lent is my favorite season. For whatever reason, Lent seems to coincide with times I need to be doing some deep prayer and study and contemplation because of Big Things going on in my life at the time. And so I have often felt that Lent is a time to mine the tradition, to mine my relationship with God and others. It is the time I dedicate myself to what I know is good for me - study, prayer, discipline. And also I know that it has a temporal limit. I am not promising to do this for the rest of my life. Just for the next forty days. Some of it will sink in and become part of me, some of it should but won't. No matter, though, for another Lent will come.

One thing I plan to do during this Lent is to be intentional about posting appropriate prayers and reflections here; I invite you to join me (and bring along a friend or two) for daily morning and evening and night prayer along with something to think about for the day on the theme of feasting and fasting, taking on and giving up. I welcome and encourage your comments and discussion!


Prayer for the Knowledge of Creation

Almighty and everlasting God, you made the universe with all its marvelous order, its atoms, worlds, and galaxies, and the infinite complexity of living creatures: Grant that, as we probe the mysteries of your creation, we may come to know you more truly, and more surely fill our role in your eternal purpose; in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 827)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Prayer for the Unemployed


Heavenly Father, we remember before you all those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP 824)

Fear


This is a photo of the beach at Cape Fear, the actual spit of sand that curves into the Atlantic at the southeastern corner of Bald Head Island, NC. It doesn't look so fearsome, although when the tide is high and there is wind or storms, the surf is surprisingly rough. And the Frying Pan Shoals just offshore are littered with shipwrecks. But it is really a great beach on an island that is closed to vehicular traffic (which gives it a certain peacefulness missing from many other beach locations). And since it is a dreary February day where I am now, I thought a photo of a sunny beach would be in order.

But I'm also thinking about fear. How we are ruled by it, more than anything. In our society, spokespeople for everything from political parties to products for personal enhancement tap into our lizard brains by playing on our fears, however subtly. In church, I regularly hear folks talking about their fear that they or their loved-ones somehow won't get to heaven. Parents fear that their children will be failures if they do not get into the right school (preschool or college!). These fears keep us from being open to others, from being joyful and grateful for what we have, from growing and changing and being transformed. Our fears encourage us to treat others as objects, to deal in stereotypes, to shield us from human relationships. Most especially our fears keep us from risking ourselves for the sake of others. What if those others are or poor or bad or mean or dangerous or will challenge us to think differently or might change us if we come too close/let them in? What if we have to grow, when growing can be so painful?

It is no accident, then, that almost every time an angel of the Lord visits someone in the Bible, the angel says, "Fear not." Fear not, I am with you, God says - to Abraham, to Moses, to Mary, to shepherds. Don't be afraid to let others in, to risk ourselves for the sake of others. Don't be afraid to go and free some other people from their poverty, bondage, loneliness, hunger, pain. Don't be afraid to let God in and at be transformed because of it.

A Prayer for Quiet Confidence


O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our shall be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray you, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP 832)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Church/Culture/Community

I continue to reflect on the tragedy of the newborn baby's death and the event of the community coming together at the church to mourn and to look for hope. Today being Sunday (traditional "church day," although one hopes that all days are religious days to the faithful) and today being the day of the memorial service, I have been thinking about the role of the church in the world.

It is not often you will find me quoting someone who spends a lot of time reading Barth and Neibuhr, but while reading something else, I came across the work of Tim Gorringe, Professor of Theology at the University of Exeter on the church and culture. Professor Gorringe says that given that the Christian (and particularly Anglican) doctrine of the incarnation (meaning, God became human in Jesus the Christ) is central to our faith, then God can and does work through the culture in which the church is currently set. The world is flesh; God became flesh. All culture has its dark side (I don't need to provide an example for you here - I'm sure you can think of your own), and yet God is able to work through culture, which ultimately will be transformed ("behold, I will make all things new"). The place of the church in this scheme is to make God's goodness and friendship to humanity visible to itself and to the world.

The transformation toward which we look is the transformation of this broken world through the transformation of our communities. Today the community of the church opened its arms to include those some folks would consider outside the community. To include some who were not even there, to include the baby's mother. This is the transformation of community - not that we within the community will become "better Christians" or "more spiritual people" but that the whole notion of community itself will become transformed to include and shelter everyone just as God's embrace includes and shelters everyone.

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