Friday, December 28, 2007

Support "Remain Episcopal" of San Joaquin

The remaining faithful Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Joaquin need your prayers and support. Go here to their website "Remain Episcopal", to find out how you can help them endure this Advent season with more hope than sorrow, more joy than grief, at what happened at their diocesan convention where the secessionists led by Schofield [I no longer consider him a real bishop since he has left the Church that ordained and consecrated him] and others who have led delegates, other clergy and parishioners astray with their twisted non-gospel news.***

I could not sit idly by when our brothers and sisters need our prayers and support now so that they will not lose heart. Pray for the mission churches and their vicars who wish to remain faithful to the greater Church, and those parishes whose property is being carefully appraised by the overfed, purple-shirted man who would be king of his little fiefdom of the Southern Cone. Pray for the faithful prayer leaders who may be asked not to pray for the Presiding Bishop, as Iker has ordered the prayer leaders in his diocese of Dallas-Ft Worth. Pray for those who have been led astray from the Gospel of Christ to be hood-winked by the false gospel of John-David Schofield.

Pray without ceasing...


***Was that a run- on sentence or what? :-)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Leaves Still Green

Little red rose

You struggle so

Up through the flakes

Of white, bright snow,

Crystal weeping of

Clouds fighting over mountains high,

The resting place

Of Holy feet.

And down comes He

Who plucks away the

Laden snow, brushing

Ever so with Life's breath the

Burden of your leaves

Still green

From a summer long ago.

And away the burden of

Sorrow and dimness,

Light is coming to shine

Upon delicate petals,

Trembling cold stem,

And yet your leaves remain green,

From a summer long ago.

Star life moves over

The midnight, casting hope

Upon snow-covered earth

And in the frozen, forgotten

Places where life is abandoned,

A fire whose embers

Once blazed,

Glow once more

To bring life once shut

Closed to only become

Open again.

He will come ‘round to

Lifeless, cold places

And bring the heartbeat

Of life to His creation.

He will feed the fire,

Pour the water,

Shape the land,

Feed the flock.

The wind moves heavy

A resigned sigh...

He renews with breath of life

remaking in our seeing.

And the little rose

Shall bloom again, blood red,

To recall the Love

That has come to love us,

The Love that with holy exhalation

Puffs away snow from leaves

Still green, as in the Beginning,

From a summer long ago.



Thursday, December 20, 2007

He draws nigh...

We draw closer to the time when that earthbound Star arrived so long ago, that our breath sometimes catches in the awe of it, and the One who let it come to us. Luci Shaw wrote the poem you are about to read and I found it by way of British university chaplain Maggi Dawn. It is one of my especial favorites about this time of year, about this season and why it yields such shy majesty.

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest .
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly.
Quiet he lies whose vigor hurled a universe.
He sleeps whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by doves' voices, the whisper of straw,
he dreams, hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he is new.
Now native to earth as I am, nailed to my poor planet,
caught that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.



Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Mystery of Advent: Journey to the Manger

This is the time of year when my sense of Christian mysticism becomes a bit more fine tuned than at other times of the year, with the exception of the Easter season. The road to Easter is a cold and mystical journey. There is something inherently awe inspiring about the anticipation of Emmanuel and the human mind trying to comprehend the concept --much less the reality-- of God with us. Some people simply cannot get their mind around the juxtaposition of the divine and the human as one person, in the flesh, looking much like us, as being anything but extraordinary. Actually a lot of them think it is wishful nonsense, a panacea for the trouble this world is in, that we who do believe are a bit muddle in the head. Then there are those who believe but aren't sure what to do with the information. There are many who try to analyze it to death, thereby not experiencing the wonder that comes from just letting the concept be.

The category I know I fit into is the one where you know its real, as real as the stars and roses blooming. As real as wondering how a horsehair can produce on the taut string of a violin the soaring sound that elevates our souls to a state of such elation that we hear a little echo of heaven. The words are hard to come by because those particular words don't exist...yet.

And so the season of Advent is this way for me. There are those of us who do get it and understand it. Perhaps not as well as we would like in this life but we understand the concept of the "thin place", the ethreal, the inexplicable. We believe in miracles. We know they happen. We see them daily. Where others see the ordinary, we detect the inordinary. It is not an easy life by any means. Your friends think you are one apple short of a bushel, or the only nutty chew in the box of See's candy. Or you end up with an unusual sense of well, "sight". That's all I will say on that subject for now.

One of the most common ways Christian mystics tried to express their experience was in writing, either prose or poetry. And so I have sought out poetry and prose that reflects attempts by both ancient and modern mystics, to put into words what can best be described as their perceptions of mystical experience or epiphany.

As we enter into Advent I will be sharing with you examples of both to enrich your journey on the way to the manger. I decided that we need hope and spirituality at this time, not only in the world and in the Church, but in the Holy of Holies of our hearts where God's Spirit dwells.

For now I would like to point you to a few web sites and blogs that may be of help to you as you prepare for your anticipatory journey.

The Way of the Pilgrim has many resources and examples of mystical writings, especially about the Jesus Prayer.

Anamchara is the site that led me to the first one. It also speaks of the Jesus Prayer and has articles on the prayer as well as how to make a prayer rope by tying knots in a particular pattern.

Christians Mystics: A Journey into the Presence of God has many resources, both scholarly and grassroots on the subject of mysticism as well as examples of their writings. I really like this one because it leads you to more.

Then there is Mystics In Love, a very good site that explains what Christian mysticism is and what it is not. You will find several examples of writings from some of my absolute favorite mystics here.

Every evening, I look skyward and marvel at the stars and light from the heavens. It does make you wonder...

Silent air
crisp in clarity,
I see God's eye

I look forward to sharing my finds with you as we prepare for the coming of The Child.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

In the Quiet...

In the quiet of this still time of night when all is settled from a day of thanks and feasting, I now focus on the needs of those far-flung friends in the blogosphere who are in need of heartfelt prayers...

I think of Eileen at EpiscopaliaFem for one. She has had a terrible time with sick children, trying to fulfill a job promotion and deal with domestic issues, and through it all, maintains her faith with a steadfastness in spite of it all that baffles my mind. Please keep our Eileen in your prayers so she can get through this maelstrom...

I remember also Elizabeth+ at Irreverent Musings. She lost her dad to a terminal illness this last week and she has blogged about it some on her site. If I may be so bold as to ask for prayer for my friend, Elizabeth+, I would appreciate it, even from the Mad One. Prayers are ascending, E+...

Breath of Heaven, hold me together...

be forever near me, Breath of Heaven...

And for my friend Lynne in Newport News, VA I ask your prayers as well...such unselfish giving to the poor and the homeless, working tirelessly through the holiday at a shelter whilst doing hospice work at home and in the community, displaying humbly Christ's compassion and living His mission...I bid your prayers...

I give thanks to God for blessing a friend in Tacoma with a job after a long time of unemployment that has sent her into frequent spirals of depression and hopelessness. Now she knows not only future financial relief but also peace of mind. She had returned to church after a spell of that same hopelessness due to my relentless and loving prodding. She's not an Episcopalian yet but I can hope! And no, T, that's definitely not why I wanted you to go!

I'm thankful too for Lisa's story of faith at My Manner of Life. Need to be inspired to love your neighbor and share the Gospel without causing physical harm? You know, no Bible marks from being thumped....Go and read her story...

As Advent approaches and our long green season comes near to its conclusion, I am reminded of the lore surrounding this time of transition. In and of themselves, transitions are not always easy; in fact they rarely are simple or straightforward. It's like the weather here in southern Oregon. One day it can be sunny, in the 70's and a warm, spring-like breeze blows, and then the next day the temperature drops 15 to 20 degrees and the wind is chilled, the sky battleship gray and you know a new season has arrived. Transitions can be abrupt like that, like day and night by the flick of a switch. And so Advent draws near and with it, the promise of new life: a spiritual spring of the soul as we prepare for His coming as flesh of our flesh, and blood of our blood; in the likeness of flawed humanity, His creation from the beginning.

O Desire of Nations, come...

It's not about giving gifts or putting up decorations, trees or stars, or dressing festively...or is it?
It's about a simple thing: Love. Loving us enough to become one of us, the Divine diminished to the dust of the earth and yet exalted to the place of such value that God comes to us, instead of us to Them. And in the voices of others we hear the basic teaching of that Love. And those others don't have to know God for the Voice of the Trinity to speak through their words or music, their art or engineering, or any of the other myriad of gifts we are given. After all, we are all loved and the Cross was for all of us too, without exclusion.

I close this entry with another poem by Mary Oliver from "Why I Wake Early"*. The mystery of creation and of God are so clear. I hope you sense its gentle message for what it is, in the quiet...

Night after night
enters the face
of the lily

which, lightly,
closes its five walls
around itself,
and its purse

of honey,
and its fragrance,
and is content
to stand there

in the garden,
not quite sleeping,
and, maybe,
saying in lily language

some small words
we can't hear
even when there is no wind

its lips
are so secret
its tongue
is so hidden --

or, maybe,
it says nothing at all
but just stands there
with the patience

of vegetables
and saints
until the whole earth has turned around
and the silver moon

becomes the golden sun --
as the lily absolutely knew it would,
which is itself, isn't it,
the perfect prayer?

*Mary Oliver, "Why I Wake Early", page 24, 2004 edition.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Diocese of Oregon Convention News Update

Two major developments have occurred in the first and second days of the diocesan Convention.

The first development is that our Bishop Johncy has announced his intention to leave the post of Bishop of Oregon sometime next year. Read the ENS story here.

The next major and positive development has to do with a Resolution voted on and passed at Convention concerning Integrity Portland and their reaction to the statement of the House of Bishops made in New Orleans . Here is part of it:

, That the 119th Diocesan Convention considers the statement made by the House of Bishops at their September 2007 New Orleans meeting to be non-binding on the diocese of Oregon and on the Episcopal Church unless adopted by General Convention; and be it further

Resolved, That the 119th Diocesan Convention deplores the lack of access to adequate pastoral care and liturgical rites for the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in The Episcopal Church and calls upon the House of Bishops to publish guidelines for such care; and be it further

Resolved, That the 119th Diocesan Convention recognizes Integrity, Inc., and it’s local presence, Integrity/Portland as an official diocesan program, and calls upon the Diocese of Oregon and Integrity to build a positive working relationship to meet the pastoral needs of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender persons in the diocese of Oregon; and be it further

Resolved, That the 119th Diocesan Convention commends the House of Bishops for its call to increase implementation of the Communion-wide listening process as a process of real engagement, and calls upon the Presiding Bishop and her staff to further develop this process within the Episcopal Church, recognizing that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people continue to be marginalized in many parts of our Church; and be it further...

Read the rest of the Resolution here.

William Jenkins, Convener of Integrity Portland stated in a newsflash to all Integrity PDX members, the following:

"The Resolution put forward by Integrity at the 119th General Convention passed with a majority as amended. The amended portion is crossed through in the text above.

Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow. Amen!"



Why wonder about the loaves and the fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into the many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don't worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it was all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.
~ Mary Oliver ~
From: Why I Wake Early, written in Memory of John Paul II

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Secessionists, Squid, a Waffle and Prodigals

Some people have been a bit critical of me because I haven't made mention about the latest breaking news out of TEC. So many bloggers, pundits and people in general have been talking so much about it, I thought "Gee, what can I possibly say about it that hasn't already been said?" So here are some random reflections on that very subject. Disclaimer: some of this may seem redundant.

The Presiding Bishop, our Kate, extended once again the right hand of fellowship to the rebel dioceses but to no avail. Duncan is so full of himself that he thinks it is the grand gesture to refuse that right hand in the vain belief that what he has to offer is better. I am SO in support of the Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh that I could cry. You ask why? Look at what Duncan and his minions are wreaking upon the good people of that diocese...chaos, in a word, chaos resulting in the very division that Christ came to prevent. He died to unite us not divide us, and yet Duncan along with Iker and Schofield and the rest are delighting in tearing this communion of saints apart for their selfish gain, all in the bogus name of preserving the faith. They have, quite literally, hoodwinked the delegates of their respective dioceses into believing that their way is the only way; that God will not love them anymore if they don't go along with their way of thinking. Hitler and Stalin did pretty much the same and succeeded in twisting the Scriptures into their own weapons of mass destruction. It's a power trip for them and a way to finally gain the pitiful control and power they have been seeking all along. They think so little of their fellow Christians that they denigrate women and those of the same gender who seek Holy Orders and deny the rightful place of all the baptized in this Church, a Church that deigns to lead the way into fulfilling the Gospel in our time, taking loving your neighbor as yourself to the max.

These men who pretend to be Bishops of something other than The Episcopal Church are discrediting the very Savior who died for them, who died for us all. They are as misled as those Evangelicals who pray daily for the hastening of the coming of the Lord to destroy the earth, instead of doing what Jesus bid them do: Go into the world and spread the Good News...not the bad news, but the GOOD NEWS. As much as I think that St John was inspired by...something...I much more believe the words of Christ, God with us, than a guy left in solitary on an island to do some creative writing. Now a bunch of dudes "back when" decided what was divinely inspired to be called the Bible, and given their penchant for patriarchy and power-mongering, it is no wonder that the Scriptures include some...shall we say interesting and misogynist stuff. And the modern day dudes are using Scripture for pretty much the same reason...patriarchy and power-mongering in the form of Duncan, Iker, Schofield and Associates, rebel priests at large, not to mention Akinola and Gang.

In the convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh it was decided by one--count'em ONE--lay vote to secede and/or withdraw from the Constitution and Canons of TEC regardless of the outlined consequences of such an action by ++Katharine [who is as we know, more intelligent than all of the rebels put together, spiritually and intellectually]. She has been trying so hard to wait at the threshing floor before having to separate the wheat from the chaff. It's the patience of Job all over again. And the repeated attempts to get these guys to see reason as well as the Gospel would have worn me out a long time ago, but then she is the Presiding Bishop and she is Katharine. If she can be patient with studying squid then she can work darn-near miracles, thank you. The two circumstances really are not that different when you come to truly consider it. It cannot be said that she has not tried everything to keep TEC together as part of the Anglican Communion, no thanks to Rowan who is about as useful in this dilemma as Waffle the Cat.

I don't waste time reading at Stand Limp or Blog Viagra or Virtueless Online because they aren't very rational about much if anything, and why ruin my good disposition by stepping into a mud puddle? All they live for is to incite hate and bigotry in the name of God, giving Christians everywhere a worse reputation that we globally have or deserve.

This whole scenario reminds me of the parable of the Prodigal Son. Here are the rebel diocese with their patriarchs, wanting their share of the inheritance of the Church and they won't settle for anything less. So TEC lets them go in every sense of the word but without the assets or buildings or fair linen, and off they go to find their way. Once they have severed ties with TEC they leave and go their own self-righteous way. They will find it is not a bed of roses, that the pig sty they have found themselves in is not so ideal after all. They will see the error and greed of their ways and return home, and we will receive them back with open arms and with rejoicing because the lost have been found once more. And perhaps they will have to wait "a season" before it is decided that they are sincere and will not do further harm to the Church when we do receive them back. Perhaps a little "fasting " is in order. Then they will know what they have perpetrated upon part of the Church endured in this present time, "a season" of waiting to be accepted as fully baptized members of the Church, as members worthy of the episcopacy. As today's Old Testament reading from Habakkuk stated:

"Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
But the righteous live by their faith."

Humility is the way to go, unhappy boys and girls...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A Dark Horse, Bishops, a Priest and Flourishing = The Episcopal Church

Well, Nevada is getting a bishop at long last. And what a bishop!

The new bishop-elect is The Very Rev Dan Edwards who is currently rector of St Francis Episcopal Church in Macon, Georgia. Read more about this nifty guy here. And yes, he does write poetry and its not half bad [wink].

Some people have commented at church that I haven't said anything about the House of Bishops' meeting in New Orleans.

What's to say? They went, they met, they left. End of story.

Nothing earth-shattering happened. The world is still turning. The Episcopal Church USA still stands. Congregations continue to worship and the coffee is still on in the parish hall. Did we really expect anything special to happen? I didn't. Did our gay brothers and sisters gain any quarter? No.

++Rowan had to show up or lose what credibility he is managing to hold onto. He truly exerted himself by staying to visit for a full 8.5 hours before jetting back to Canterbury, or wherever deflated Archbishops go after being unable to sway our House of Bishops his way, or their way [the rebels trying to manufacture a cause to divide the Church]. And even if he had succeeded in swaying the House, it would be meaningless without the House of Deputies or a General Convention where legislative action and decision-making occur in America.

So there are my thoughts on the HoB meeting in NOLA.

There has been a lot of talk on the various lists regarding the dropping numbers of members in the Episcopal Church. I don't know about a lot of other churches, but mine is growing rather exponentially. This last Sunday, our Bishop Itty confirmed, received and reconfirmed about 20 people. Parishioners and family members were shoehorned into the pews; most likely there was standing room only.

On any given Sunday about 250 folk attend Eucharist, and for our parish church, that's quite a feat. You add 20 people into that mix and it is a thing called "growth", not atrophy, as the naysayers are so ready to proclaim. I have no doubt that the Episcopal Church will be alive and well for many decades to come, so I'm not worried.

Recently it came to my attention that I had first cousins that I didn't know I had...I suspected but needed empirical evidence. That came in the form of email and a very long phone call. I have four new-to-me cousins but only two are on the west coast. J is in San Fran and M is in Seattle. The most exciting part is discovering that M is an Episcopal priest and rector of a parish in downtown Seattle. Finally a relative who speaks my language! Spiritual, liturgical, Gospel language. Ahhhhh...did you hear that delighted sigh? Yes, I am beside myself with glee! [me, jumping around the living room, artfully dodging a bewildered small dog...]. And thankfully it is a progressive congregation too, much like our Trinity.

Oh, a comment about Facebook. How often does the Bishop of California ask someone to be his friend? I have no idea, but I know he asked me and also invited me to become one of his ninjas against some pirates. O.K. Don't ask...after all it IS Facebook!

May you go in peace to love and serve the Lord...I will!


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Facebook, Bloggers and People [and yes, bloggers are people too]

Everyone by now has heard of MySpace and all the news that went along with it when it began. Not long after, Facebook began.

I had considered MySpace for blogging but it didn't "feel" right, and what I mean by that is I didn't care too much for the way the HTML was formatted or the blocks for text and and other related stuff ["stuff" is such a handy word...]. I was looking for something more. Something simpler, less complicated, flexible. So I found Blogger and felt at home. Now some would say that WordPress is better. I guess it's all in how your blog looks in the blogosphere.

In the Internet world, there are a myriad of groups and organizations for people to join and become part of a cyber-community; a place to meet people with similar interests, make friends, find God, find Buddha, find science. If you look long enough, you will find a group or groups that shares your views and goals, and so forth.

I belonged to a groups for INFP's and made a friend or two in that group before leaving, only because the members got off on weird tangents and silly subjects. Sorry, I am a more focused person usually and when conversations start stretching out like Silly Putty, well I know I need to move on.

One day I was checking my email and there was an invitation from one of the group leaders who had also left the group, and she was inviting me to become her "friend" on Facebook. Well, to do so required some research on my part into Facebook and its privacy policy. What I found I liked, so I joined Facebook and now Robin and I can poke and send virtual chocolate or red wine to each other [as true friends should!].

What I have discovered is that some of the bloggers whom I visit on a regular basis have invited me to become friends and I am delighted to accept. Most of them are Episcopalians of varying degrees of seriousness but there is the comic in each and everyone of them [got to love that!] because when you think about it, it is almost a prerequisite that you be able to laugh at yourself to be an Episcopalian. It is an intellectual exercise to make fun of ourselves and crack jokes about the hierarchy of our Church and you only have to read Dave Walker's Cartoon Blog to see how far the art form has evolved.

Getting back to Facebook, it is a great way for me to catch up on the goings on of my friends from one vantage point. I can even find out of members of my parish are on Facebook. I can think of a few people who could benefit from a SuperPoke or a martini, or a sheep for that matter [yes, you can give sheep, you just need a throwing arm to do so...].

There are Episcopal groups that I belong to or have been invited to such as, the Episcoposse, or Notoriously Anglican [it's for all "Anglicans", including us, the disagreeable cousins, allegedly causing the kerfuffle that we have read so much about since +Gene in 2003, who by the way, I admire and respect as a man of God and quiet leader in the about humility...], EpiscoBloggers, OCICBW, and Integrity USA, to name a few.

I have also met others who love animals, especially bunnies [...sigh...], and so you never know who will come into your life to bless it. Nothing is too great for God to find a way to glorify Himself through His creation. I mean, I see God in ordinary things. I see God in my Shih Tzu, for instance, when he looks up at me a certain way and pats my toes with his paw.

I guess what I am trying to get to here is that if you need community, don't isolate yourself on your computer. It is part of being in community but you need live bodies too that you can talk to, share a meal with, or discuss a book over coffee with in your own local community. I love my Internet friends and bloggers and I hope to meet them face to face one day in my travels, or I in theirs, but until then, go to your faith community, meet with your friends on a regular basis, join a book group, join Facebook and find others with similar interests to your own. We can always learn from each other, regardless of where we are in the world.

And while you are at it, please pray for the Bishops' Meeting in New Orleans this week. Now there's a group that needs prayer and positive thoughts motoring their way 24/7. Prayer for the Church and for the World. Pray for your neighbor and the stranger. You never know when you may be entertaining angels.

So, see you in the world...


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Giving Thanks and A Time To Dance

And so, I return, well and healthy. NO cancer. I am blessed. Others would say I am lucky. Yet others would say "Good genes!" Some might say its fate. All I know right now is that, as I awaited my surgery on 09/07/07, I knew the kind of peace you sort of dream of or imagine. I attribute this peace to the prayers, support and love I have received since this medical ordeal began from friends, parishioners and unseen friends in the Blogosphere. No, let me correct that: it wasn't an ordeal but a situation for me. It's when you or someone you know actually has cancer that it can become, or is, an ordeal.

I have recovered sufficiently enough to return to work and to blogging. I am now 0 - 2 for cancer, meaning Cancer-0 and Me-2, just so we are clear on the scoring stats. Just as I was sharing the news with everyone that I was going to be OK, I learned that a priestly friend--Mary+--from the northern part of our Valley actually has been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. I was still happy for me and so were others, even the afflicted Mary+. I hold her up in prayer for healing and peace, and may she know the power of the laying on of hands as I have...

We are now enjoying the last days of official Summer and next week Fall begins again. I'm ready for the change, after all we KNOW we'll have summer again next year.

I wish to thank at this time all of those who have been caring for me and continue to do so, near and far. I've learned a lot about people and their willingness to put themselves "out there" for others. I thank my best friend, Joyce, for taking me to surgery that morning and I thank Ann from my church for picking me up and bringing me home. And of course, I thank my priest, my deacons and various other clergy and holy people from my church for praying for me and checking on me frequently.

And all of those wonderful Trinity women who prayed tirelessly on my behalf. I would name them all but then it would be an extremely long post, but they know who they are. And those fellow bloggers of mine: Eileen, Kirstin, Elizabeth+, Cecilia+, Jonathan+ aka Mad Priest, Quixotic Pastor, Christina, Jan, Lisa, Magdalene, Little Mary, just to name a few.

So you all have my thanks and my blessing. Pray without ceasing for all who are afflicted and show kindness to all. It's time to dance before the Lord, who has done great things for me...



Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Sacred, Love and Baptism: Our Trinity

As promised, here is another sermon by The Rev Anne K Bartlett. Remarkable in its simplicity yet powerful in its message of sacredness, love and the blessing of baptism--the becoming one in Christ, as one of His own within the family of the true and living God. May you be blessed by its Gospel truth as I was last Sunday [and yes I share the pew I happen to try to sit in every Sunday...there, I said it!]. Please visit us at Trinity Episcopal in Ashland, Oregon

2 September 2007
Trinity Episcopal Church, Ashland, OR
The Rev. Anne K. Bartlett, Rector

In the name of the living God, who is and was and is to come. Amen.

Annie Dillard, one of my favorite authors, tells a story from her childhood about hiding a shiny penny in a tree stump and then drawing chalk arrows and messages on the sidewalk for blocks around: “Treasure this way!” “Don’t miss it!” “You’re almost there!” She would then hide behind a large forsythia bush and watch which people in her neighborhood would play the game and which ones walked right on by, either preoccupied with their own affairs or not wanting to be bothered with the prospect of an unexpected treasure.

Annie Dillard reminds me of how the Holy Spirit works through Scripture and in our lives, leaving us messages along the Way, with arrows pointing to unexpected and unearned treasures, if we’re not too preoccupied or too jaded to respond. And who knows? Why not imagine the Spirit is hiding near at hand, watching if we will become as children again, and let our steps quicken with excitement for unexpected treasure along the path if we but follow Her clear directions.

So let’s see what surprises await us this morning, first in the Scriptures. The prophet Jeremiah is dumbfounded by a people who have stopped asking the question “Where is God? Where is God in my life? Where is God in the life all around us?” Instead they have exchanged their glory of being God’s people for that which does not give life, relying instead on the prizes the culture holds out. Instead of wondering “Where is the Lord,” their question – maybe our question – has become, “What’s in it for me?”

“What’s in it for me?” is the attitude that Jesus was lambasting at the dinner party in the Gospel story. As I’ve frequently observed, Our Lord ate out a lot, and often with the wrong sort of people. Today, however, he is eating with folk like you and me, good religious people, upstanding citizens, but he notices that the guests are scrambling for the best places at the table.

I can’t help but be reminded how we sometimes choose our places in the pews. Some of us like to sit up front. Many of us like to sit in the very back. Newcomers have told me they feel uneasy, queasy because they are sure they must be sitting “in someone’s place.” As if we own our favorite spots! Jesus tells us to stop jockeying for position and instead pay attention to the needs of the other person. “Blessed are you who give up your favorite spot for a stranger. Even more blessed are you who scoot over to the center and let the stranger have the seat on the aisle.” You know, it really is unseemly to ask our guests and visitors to clamber over our knees so that they can have a place with us. Taking the less promising seat is an act of hospitality of the most fundamental kind.

Stories about being at the table run all through the Bible. We are always being fed, or yearning to be included in the party. At Eucharist, we are God’s guests, and Jesus is our host, and there is room for all. The image of the Kingdom is the heavenly banquet, the feasts of all feasts, and it’s always a topsy-turvey toss-up about who is seated where and who is serving whom. Jesus also had words for his host that night. “Don’t invite your rich friends and your family, because they can invite you back, and you’ll get gourmet food and fine wine,” he says. Stop behaving in the old economy of exchange, asking “What’s in it for me?”

Liberate yourselves from the dynamic of mutual benefit, the “this for that” mentality. I’ll pay you this for that; I’ll do this for you if you do that for me; I’ll invite you to my house if you invite me to yours. Instead, operate under the laws of God’s economy, the economy of sacrifice.

Now hold on. Usually when the word “sacrifice” is put on the table, we tend to assume we know what it means: we assume ‘sacrifice’ always entails a loss to us or at least a diminishment of our selves. Actually, the literal meaning of the word “sacrifice” means “to make sacred.” And – get this! –the origins of sacrifice are in food offered to the gods, as an acknowledgement that we are not our own, we do not belong to ourselves, and we are thankful for the sustenance that keeps us alive. So the food of the sacrifice itself became sacred, holy. And the offering of such food was a sacramental act. Which is why, in our Eucharistic prayer, we speak of “offering to God this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving,” and sometimes we pray that we too may be made a “living sacrifice to God.”

So, the economy of exchange asks: What’s in it for me? But the economy of sacrifice asks: How can I offer myself fully for your sake, no strings attached? Going back to our table talk, the beatitude would be: “Blessed are you who invite those who will never be able to pay you back, for yours is the kingdom of God.” In the economy of sacrifice, we invite others to our tables as we have been invited to God’s table, with no sense of how the others might repay us, but simply to acknowledge the worth and the value of the other. God’s economy of sacrifice – of making sacred – invites us to love and care in ways which draw us outside of ourselves and into union with all creation.

There’s a new book out titled Eat This Bread by Sara Miles, an Episcopalian who belongs to St. Gregory’s of Nyssa in San Francisco, a congregation known for its hands-on service to the poor as much as for its innovative liturgy. Sara describes how they play out this “making all things sacred” way of sacrificial living. During worship, the high round table in the center of the sacred space is the altar, on which the Eucharistic feast is prepared and blessed, broken and distributed. Immediately after worship, the altar cloth is whipped off and replaced with a festive tablecloth, the coffee pot and plates of cookies come out of the kitchen and the table becomes the center of coffee hour, the feast of fellowship. On Fridays, the table is loaded with jars of peanut butter and cans of tuna fish and is one of many loaded with food for the poor, who stream through the open parish doors. Eucharist, fellowship, service: all served at the one table. All is held in God and all is holy.

A couple of years ago I heard of hot new restaurant in the Portland Pearl district. Listen to this. For $30 you can buy a place at a table with 35 people you don’t know. It’s a big long table, simple flowers, very good food, served family-style. You eat what has been prepared; no other choices. The pace is leisurely – no rushing – plenty of time for table talk. The point? To share a meal with strangers and talk with them. That’s all. The man and the woman who cook and arrange for this meal have a young child, who goes from lap to lap. The conversation, they say, often turns to discussion of the things that are giving meaning to the lives of the guests. It’s very hard to get a reservation, because many people are yearning just for this experience. And the ones who have been lucky to go once often want to come back time after time. What are those guests really yearning for? Hospitality and community and a sense that life has meaning and a desire to connect with strangers and find an unexpected treasure in the connection.

Did you know that the literal meaning of “hospitality” is “love of a stranger”. We seem these days, as a culture, to be yearning for what we don’t have: for time to sit and talk about what our hearts desire, time to be in communion with others beyond our own network of family and friends, time to be at table with all ages, time to be hospitable to one another, a chance to lay aside our mistrust of the stranger.

Hospitality is a primary Christian virtue, it is based on the economy of sacrifice, it means to welcome the unknown, especially those on the “margins,” and seek Christ in them; it means to offer food, fellowship, and full inclusion.

Annie Dillard said that many people when they came to the treasure walked right on by the shiny new penny, free for the taking. I guess to most people, when they saw how small it was, of such little apparent worth, it wasn’t worth the bother to stoop and pick it up. But isn’t that how it goes in the spiritual life? That when we can get out of ourselves for even a moment and open ourselves to the possibility that the divine Mystery has stamped upon us the imprint of itself, and that we are participating in a power beyond the pitiful little power that we think we yield, and connection to this Mystery and to this Life and to this Life is being offered to us, over and over again, if we but let go of our pride and our despair and our striving and humble ourselves by stooping to notice and rejoice.

In a few minutes, this congregation is going to have the privilege of witnessing the baptism of Colleen Graves, whom we have come to know and love over the past year. We will have the privilege also of welcoming her into our midst, to travel with us on the Way, to be pilgrims with us. We are here to lean on if you become discouraged, and we know you will be there to lend us a hand when we falter or fall. We’re all in this together, sealed by the Spirit, and made one with Christ. For Colleen to choose to take this step is an act of courage as well as faith. I cannot overemphasize the change that has occurred in our western culture in the past several decades.

Colleen’s friends no doubt find her decision to be baptized to be very strange if not downright incomprehensible. She is daring to do a profoundly counter-cultural act this morning, and I want us all to be aware of that fact. In that respect, her generation of Christians is more like the earliest Christians than any of us ever were. She will pay her own form of sacrifice in order to throw in her lot with Jesus. She knows what she is doing.

You are not alone, Colleen. That we can promise you. And we rejoice in you and your decision, and we thank the Spirit for guiding you and we thank you for noticing the arrows of grace and of promise that have appeared to you on your path and for your courage and your joy in valuing the treasure of grace which is being given to you, this day and always.

Colleen has chosen Jodi and Paul French, who brought her to Trinity and with whom she shares her ministry of music to be her sponsors on this day of her baptism. Will the three of you now please come forward….

And so it was...a glorious baptism, one more Episcopalian, sure, but truly, one more disciple of Christ. And the pundits say the Episcopal Church is losing members. I dunno, at the rate Trinity is adding members, I doubt that the pundits really know what they are talking about.

That said, this will be my last post for a bit with my surgery the day after tomorrow. I hope to recover quickly so I can be up and writing again. Keep one another in love and joy, and show love to a them how sacred their life truly is...


Sunday, September 02, 2007

When Life Gets In the Way and the Wonder of Baptism

Health issues are always a bit of a quagmire to approach with anyone, on any level. And yet they do occur,whether we are ready for them or not. And so it is, with me, an issue of the health variety.

Almost a month ago, I discovered two lumps that seemed to just show up one day [monthly exams are part of my health routine]. They had not been there previously so it caused my eyebrows to knit [what? my eyebrows can knit and my fingers cannot...the unfairness of life!!!]. So, I make an appointment with my doctor to see what she thinks. She thinks I need the routine imaging I do once a year and an ultra sound.

I go; tests are done; I wait. The next morning my doctor wants to see me...fine, I go and not only does she confirm the two lumps I had found but a third is found, discreetly tucked further back against the chest muscle. A fine howdy-do, don't you know. So we decided that a biopsy is needed. No big deal; common routine procedure.

Finally those results come in and they are "bizarre" as the radiologist describes them. Turns out that he only biopsied one of the lumps and not all three [in 2002 I had a similar procedure except that the radiologist then biopsied both lumps in that situation; they were benign]. Well, needless to say I was not happy about that and neither was my doctor. So, there we sat, a bit peeved at the lack of thoroughness. His report had said that since the one was benign then most likely all three were the same way. Kim and I did not agree. She felt that a second opinion should be considered.

Not being one to sit on a fence and doddle, I said let's to it, and she seconded the motion. We decided on my previous surgeon, a good "breast man" [VBG!] to obtain the second opinion so she made the call and an appointment was made.

During that appointment, he and I discussed things and it was decided by both the surgeon and myself that a more involved biopsy be performed. He said, however that he would excise the lumps completely and then biopsy them afterwards, giving me peace of mind and the knowledge that these offending lumps of renegade tissue were out of my body.

SO...the big day is this coming Friday, September 7th, 8:30am sharp, PDT. I am actually looking forward to the procedure with much relief. I went through this in 2002 so I know what to expect as far as the surgery, the pain and discomfort. And I won't be going through it alone either.

My priest, Anne+, my spiritual mentor Shirley, our deacons, Carol+ and Meredith+, several retired clergy, and a bevy of Trinity women will be lifting me up in prayer that day especially. They have been for about a month now anyway but more have joined the ranks as well. I also have some far-flung friends across the nation who have also been praying and will continue to pray for me. A few of them asked me today after church if I had blogged about this yet and I had to say, in all truthfulness, I had not even considered it until they had mentioned it. And so here I am this evening, writing about it, sharing it with my cyber-Episcopal/Christian family.

And today I was so thankful to be present in church. I just love it when we have a baptism! And it was a grown up. A young grown up who is willing to proclaim her faith in front of not just us but her peers who will --as Rev Anne put it in her sermon --think that Colleen has lost her mind! But it was so beautiful and church was packed. You see, we don't usually announce baptisms [at least I didn't know about it]; they just get sprung on us and the excitement is palpable. And for the church to be packed on a holiday weekend? Well, that was even more hot coals upon our heads! Anne's+ sermon said it all really and that will be another post to follow this one. But the blessing part for me personally was that it was a great service to be at and in [yes, every Sunday at Trinity Ashland is like that--amazing!], the Sunday before my surgery. As Colleen is sealed in her baptism by holy oil, I am sealed in the prayers of those who care for me and trust in the healing power of Christ risen from the dead.

The oneness, the solidarity if you will, of a parish congregation that surrounds the newly baptized as well as the afflicted, is a glorious and humble experience. It is a congregation that stands as a shining example of what Church in the Episcopal tradition really is: all encompassing, strengthening, nourishing and supporting. It is "Christ Alive!" in those who have and do receive Him as Lord and Savior. Its' spiritual life is life-giving and life-affirming. That is what Trinity is to me. It is home, my spiritual home. It is my family. And it is because of this reality that I go forward in faith to meet my appointed medical procedure with confidence and assurance that all will be truly well.

And because I care for friends and strangers alike, I urge you all, men and women, to perform monthly breast exams and report to your physician any changes you find, because you might be saving your own life. And YES, men can get breast cancer too. So be diligent and be aware, physically and spiritually, as you continue your life journey.

Thanks for listening, and for all the sweet, little prayers...


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Letterwriting 401: Where's my penmanship certificate?

Recently I did something I haven't done in a good while: I wrote an honest-to-God letter. Now if you know me, I love to write about lots of things and issues. I wrote stories and poems as a kid and even a screenplay once. And, might I say "religiously" I wrote faithfully to my friends in college and graduate school. Another thing you may or may not know is that I am very picky about what I write on and with. No notebook paper for me, no sirree, and ballpoint stick pens either. I would use materials and implements that showed just how much I cared about the person and what they were worth to me as companions in the world and in life.

Instead of shopping for sensible shoes, I was at the stationer's drooling over fine papers made in Italy and England. I would sigh over Waterman pens and Cross writing sets. And I was equally picky about the stamps that would go on these letters, making sure that they sort of went with the style of the paper and envelopes. I know, OCD of the letterwriting kind.

Recently I have taken up the art once more at the indirect prompting of a delightfully holy friend. I dug out the seldom used Florentine stationery and Wallah! A letter was newly minted and was four pages long before I knew it, written in careful cursive with only a little evidence of the arthritis in my right hand. I can remember in grade school striving to earn a penmanship certificate from my writing teacher, and finally getting one before junior high; in those days we actually got letters [ a felt H in my case, like the ones athletes got for sports, but that everyone got for music or in my case penmanship along with a certificate ]. I was so proud of that achievement but over time and much hard use of my hands in the garden and around the house, my hand is not so steady as it used to be and the perfect cursive that I had worked so hard for is wearing away with time and use. But it is still so "me"!

Nowadays I enjoy writing with a good gel ink medium point blue pen or a rollerball black. Watermans are wonderful instruments but I can do just fine with less spendy utencils and the letter looks none the worse for it.

Subject matter is another thing. I don't wax poetic like I used to though it is not beyond my reach to do so as circumstances dictate. I do share things like what butterflies I have seen in my garden, or describe a hummingbird chase, or the antics of the neighborhood rabbits as they come and go in our busy lives. In the day of electronic mail, this letterwriting takes on new meaning.

To actually make time to sit down at a table or desk, pull out paper, envelope, and the arcane postage stamp to write in longhand, a letter to a friend with a real pen and with real that is slowing life down a bit, I would say. Isn't it so much faster to simply type an email and hit the "Send" button and be done with it? There is little investment in time or materials. But when we take the time to invest in communicating ideas and thoughts on paper, something magical happens. Concepts and consciousness find their way out into our fingertips to guide the stylus to express in our own unique handwriting thoughts and images that typing simply cannot convey. It is a complex thing, writing a letter, and yet so simply satisfying.

I find that if I am listening to music murmuring in the background when writing, it seems to influence--to an extent--the subject matter or tone of the words being expressed. Most of the time this is a good thing but it can also impede as well. Where I write is another factor: indoors or out, in the sun or under the shade of a redbud tree; in a park or in the car
[ parked legally of course ], next to a labyrinth or on a plane
...location, location, location.

There is an enjoyment I have missed in not writing real, "old-fashioned" letters. Now that this art has been rekindled in moi, I find myself looking forward to the time I spend on the weekends or in the evening, writing a letter to someone I know will truly appreciate it.

I think we need to consider making time in our days--in our lives--for the simplicity of using this age old technique of communicating to one another. Not only does it enrich and show value to the person receiving the letter or missive, but it seems to be adding something to my life as well.

Write someone a real letter and see how it goes, for both of you. I don't know why I ever stopped.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

Prayer 101: Lord, teach us to pray

The Rev. Anne K. Bartlett is Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Ashland, Oregon. If ever we need to know how to pray, it is in this present moment in our lives in this world. Here is a simple guide to talking to God, from her sermon of the 9th Sunday in Pentecost. It also teaches us how to listen...

Luke 11:1-13

In the name of the Living God, in whose name we pray. Amen.

“Lord, teach us to pray.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find it the easiest thing in the world to talk publicly about prayer. Real prayer, that is: prayer from the heart, not “autopilot” prayer, when we’re just going through the motions.

Yet I’ve spent my vocational life praying: praying in public; leading our common prayer in worship, praying at the bedsides of those who are dying, praying at weddings, praying with individuals and families in both sorrow and joy, praying before potlucks, praying in monasteries, praying with words and praying in silence.

But the truth is, I still feel shy talking about prayer, especially my own prayer life, as if I’m some kind of expert on the subject. The experience of prayer is so personal. Besides, there’s not a doubt in my mind that many of you are more faithful at prayer than I. After all these years I still feel like a beginner. I always seem to be starting over. There’s a little book on Benedictine spirituality written by a layman from Memphis, Tennessee, with the immensely comforting title Always We Begin Again. That’s me, and that sums up my life of prayer.

When discouraged, I am also comforted by St. Paul’s words that though we do not know how to pray as we ought, the Holy Spirit is praying within us, “with sighs too deep for words.” I trust Paul, and I trust his words, and I do believe that the Spirit is praying within each one of us, bringing us to God whether we are aware of it or not. And that is grace. Even our prayer life is not left totally up to us, thanks be to God.

“Lord, teach us how to pray.”

Jesus did not give a lecture about prayer, he didn’t describe the five different types of prayer – intercession, petition, praise, thanksgiving, repentance; he didn’t suggest several good books about prayer, or a DVD series, or tell us to attend weekend workshops on prayer. He did not imply that we are such spiritual amateurs that we should best leave the praying in the hands of the pro’s. Jesus gave no directions about prayer positions – whether he liked it better if we knelt or stood or sat still as a statue or raised our hands or bowed our heads or danced in a trance – but he didn’t say not to do any of those things either.

What Jesus did was to pray. He was always slipping away and going off by himself, early in the morning or late at night. He prayed with his disciples, and he prayed for them, too; he prayed for healings, and he prayed when he was afraid, and he prayed when he was full of grief and also when he was full of joy, he prayed that our spirits would be bound inseparably to his spirit and thus to the Source of all Life and all Love. When asked, he taught this prayer.

He said, “Say, Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins as we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

What, we say? That’s not how it goes! The older we become the more sure we are about the exact wording of the prayer Our Lord taught us, and some of us are adamant Jesus did in fact pray in Elizabethan English. Truth is, I doubt that Jesus ever imagined we could make such a fuss about whether we asked forgiveness for our sins or for our trespasses or for our debts. I suspect he would much rather that we understand that when we ask God for forgiveness we need to have already made a move on our part to forgive those who have done us wrong in some way.

Episcopalians are especially susceptible to the temptation to make idols out of our prayers, to worship the ritual rather than let the rituals help us to worship God. We love our Book of Common Prayer, and understandably so. It holds us together. Historically our biggest fights have not been over doctrine but over changes in our prayers. When asked what we believe, we often respond with “Come, worship with us.” Our praying is what shapes our believing, and we know that if we can continue to pray together, we can bring all sorts of differences to the sacred table, where the Spirit will sort them out, in Her own good time.

Corporate prayer forms us into Christ’s Body. The Spirit is acting deep within us – here and now – forming us and molding us more and more into being the church. That formation is a great and wondrous mystery. The work and grace of our common prayer is not much valued in this age of rampant spiritual individualism. But we believe that we are not simply individual pilgrims, making our own isolated ways up the holy mountain. We are also a community of faith, indeed the very Body of Christ, and we trust that God has a purpose for us in this time and place. It is our parish vocation to discern that purpose with prayer and with passion.

Prayer is like any regular habit of love and of relationship. Our prayers get woven into our souls and bodies and maybe even create cellular memories at a level beneath our ordinary consciousness. That’s one reason why the prayers we learned in childhood remain so powerful. God is great and God is good, and we thank Him for this food. That’s why it is so important to pray with our children and grandchildren, to say grace before meals and to give thanks to God for the day that is past and to pray with our spouses and pray with our friends and pray publicly at times, even if it makes us self-conscious. Remember: No one has yet died from being self-consciousness.

It took me quite a while to feel comfortable to hold hands across a table in a restaurant and quietly give thanks to God for food and for friendship. It’s a quiet kind of witness, and it’s good for our souls, and I ask you to be bold and be brave, and try it, if it’s not already a habit. How often I have been privileged to be at the bedside of someone dying, someone already halfway to the Kingdom, and find that when I start the Lord’s Prayer, I see the person’s lips begin to move, and the words are there and something shifts in the room and we know we are held in the divine presence. But it is the dailiness of saying our prayers that forms a structure within us that supports us and holds us fast not only when we’re dying but also as we’re living the most ordinary of our days.

Prayer is how we open ourselves to the presence of God. Let me say it again: Prayer is how we open ourselves to God. I used to pray: “ O God, be present with us…” but one day I realized I was assuming that God was not present with us unless we specifically called. I’m learning it’s the other way around. When we pray, we make ourselves present to God. We intentionally open up space inside and out. Outwardly, we make a space in time and gently push away external distractions. Inwardly as we detach from our ordinary preoccupations and busy thoughts we open up ourselves and create space inside. Prayer is about making room. We empty out so that there is room for God.

Most prayer practices – meditation, contemplation, lectio divina, the labyrinth, even spoken prayer – what they have in common is this emptying and letting-go, this creation of a thin space in time and space. It’s all about detachment from our own busy-ness and from our own ego’s, from our incessant thoughts, worries, plans and fears. Prayer is as natural as breathing, as natural as being with your beloved, as natural as letting yourself rest in God. There’s nothing weird or woo-woo about it. The paradox is that the more we pray, the more we discover that all time is sacred, and there is no there where God is not.

So why do so many of us resist prayer? Oh there are many reasons, but one of them is because we know that when we pray faithfully and intentionally, we will be changed. When we empty out and make room in our lives and in our selves for God, then Spirit will start to make some shifts in us. At some point, we find the stakes have been raised. We may find ourselves making business decisions based on what we believe God wishes us to do rather than solely on the basis of the bottom line profit margin. Thy will be done. We may find the Spirit nudging us to make amends to someone against whom we have trespassed, and it is only after making those amends -- usually with some discomfort on our parts – that we find the inner peace for which we longed.

Forgive us as we forgive others. We may find that we are drawn more and more to simplicity in our lives, and that we can no longer live comfortably with the amount of clutter or consumerism as we had become accustomed: Give us this day our daily bread. As we become more faithful in our times of prayer, some of us may find that our words slow down and then begin to disappear as we come more comfortable with the silence deep within us where Christ dwells, until only an occasional “help” or “thank you” bubbles to the surface.

I have known Christians, regular folk like you and me, one of them a saint from this parish, on the altar guild for many years, now gone to glory, who once told me that for most of her life she said the Lord’s Prayer “oh, about 100 times day, I guess.” In classical spirituality, that kind of praying is called “constant recollection” – prayer on a barely conscious level that is constantly infusing all of a person’s life, recollecting – re-collecting – bringing one back to the one thing necessary in life, which is connection to God.

Many Christians through the millennia have found the Jesus Prayer from the Orthodox tradition to be helpful. The full version goes like this: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner. In my own practice with this prayer, over time it has distilled into simply “Jesus…mercy.” When I time it with my breath – breathing in on Jesus, out on Mercy – I find my center of gravity shifts from my shoulders to my solar plexis, my heart opens, and I feel calmer. I have often suggested that when people are facing an MRI or an unpleasant medical procedure that they find their own prayer mantra – a few words at most – to hold them close to Christ as they go through what they have to go through.

Millions of people in recovery claim the Serenity Prayer as their lifeline to God and sanity: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I wonder how many times the Serenity Prayer is prayed every day across the world. Many of us know of its power and transformation, a day at a time.

When we sing Taize chants at communion time, we are praying. The thing about sung prayer is that the words and melody can take on a life of their own inside of us, and we may find that the prayer is praying us at unexpected times. Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom. I know a man who said he got through the middle-of-the-night hours of a very difficult illness by letting himself rest in that particular chant-prayer.

This week I spent some time with an out-of-town friend who has been to hell and back, having endured six months of weekly chemotherapy for Stage Four cancer and then recovering from the effects of the prolonged chemo. We know each other well enough to for me to ask what that experience of suffering was like for her, and how she was changed by it. It was a sacred story, and I wept as I listened. She said that what got her through was that so many people, known to her and unknown, were praying for her. I had put her name on our own prayer list for a while, so this congregation is part of her story. “I would not have made it without those prayers,” my friend said. “I could literally feel the support; sometimes it felt like a web of light literally holding me up, and other times, as if I was riding on the back of whales.”

“Lord, teach us to pray.” And he did. And then he told us to be persistent. Keep knocking, keep asking, keep searching, keep praying, keep making space, keep looking for the sacred in the ordinary, keep making yourself aware that God is present, keep aligning your spirit with God’s Spirit, for your own sake and for one another’s sakes and for the sake of the whole world.

And when we forget and slip back to our old ways? Well, let us remind each other that our longing for God is a holy hunger. Always we begin again, each one of us, until the day we die, and then it won’t matter anymore, because then we will know that we always have been and ever shall be in the presence of the Holy One and held in the very heart of God.

In Christ’s name, I pray. Amen.

The photo was taken by an unknown Trinitarian.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The "Compassionate Samaritan": A new take

The following sermon was delivered on Pentecost 7, July 15th, at Trinity Episcopal Church in Ashland, Oregon by The Reverend Tom Murphy, one of several "Wise Guys" that think they are retired clergy and who are occasionally called upon to deliver the sermon by The Reverend Anne K Bartlett, rector. Though the sermon is great reading and holds a myriad of truths about how we should live the Gospel, to have heard it "LIVE!" was a real treat and had us laughing in our pews with wholehearted agreement. I even heard some well-placed, rumbly AMENs that I have only heard in Baptist congregations to go with! But there is no time like our present to hear this Gospel parable again and to savor and soak in its message.


I got to thinking that maybe the most useful response for us to this compelling story of the Compassionate Samaritan would be to just sit together in silent reflection on it for 6 or 7 minutes and think about how the meaning of this story gets worked out in our lives, or needs to. It doesn’t seem to need a lot of interpretation. It just grabs you. Its force is just unavoidable. I’d guess it’s one of the most accessible and best known portions of Scripture there is even by folks who don’t go to church and don’t know much about the Bible.

It’s one of the few Scriptural images that’s still part of our common culture, and the idea of being a Good Samaritan is still widely understood even if maybe in a rather superficial way. It’s even the name of a club for recreational vehicle owners – the Good Sam Club, with its promise to come to the aid of a fellow-RVer in distress! Some of you may be or have been members of the Good Sam Club. I hope before I’m through to suggest our membership in an even more profound and all encompassing Good Sam Club!

And, as you can plainly see, I’m not going to shut up for a few minutes while we all meditate! I haven’t got the intestinal fortitude to do that. I’m a weak person, and to give up the chance to yak at you for a few minutes is a sacrifice I’m not prepared to make, although you’re perfectly free to tune me out completely and do your own meditating on this magnificent text – probably be a better sermon than this one! Besides, it’s my sense, from my observation of the passing scene these days that it’s easy to overlook or ignore the real heart of this story. It’s about a lot more than just letting the guy next door use your weed-whacker or deciding to pick up a hitchhiker or giving a buck to a pan-handler. It’s really about our understanding of where the boundaries of the human race are, and how we behave on the basis of that understanding.

I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence and I assume we all understand that Jesus’ story about the abundantly compassionate Samaritan is His vigorous attack on all ingrained institutions of race and ethnic hatred, and by implication, any other dehumanizing ism, and all attempts to reduce the limits of the human race – those who have a legitimate claim on our care and love – to just those who are like us. The assaulted traveler was a Jew. So were the religious figures, the priest and the Levite. The one who came so overwhelmingly to his aid was a Samaritan.

In the culture of Jesus’ day one of the givens of social life was that Jews and Samaritans – who shared a common ethnic and religious root – had a virulent group hatred for each other. In His encounter on another occasion with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well, in which Jesus asks her for a drink of water, she puts the tension succinctly and starkly when she says to Him, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans”!

You may be thinking, “Well, not much has changed in two millennia, except now it’s Israelis and Palestinians!” But things have changed, because the ethnic hatred and exclusion that was considered normative and even a good thing in the First Century has been replaced among many, not all, participants in that struggle today with an eagerness to really find a way to live harmoniously as good neighbors in that tiny place, and we have to believe and pray that out of the present maelstrom the forces of reconciliation and authentic neighborliness will prevail. And from this distance in time and in vastly changed historical circumstances from those of the first century, we can’t ever let Scriptural texts like this be used as an excuse for any kind of anti-Semitism.

When I think of this story that reveals so gloriously what the real depth of authentic neighborliness means, I think of other ideas and words and images that help me enter into the heart of this stunning and transforming incident and give some direction for myself in trying to conform to its challenge for my life – and one of the things that comes to my aid is the Baptismal Covenant in the Prayer Book, part of whose language arises directly out of this parable.

The Episcopal Church gets beaten up in certain circles including from many of its own members, for being “deficient in theology” – for not having clear and forceful teaching – for being wishy-washy and crippled by theological relativism – too much of ‘on the one hand this, and on the other hand that’ – for being vague and vacillating and excessively open and inclusive! What this usually means is that the Church doesn’t endorse the critics’ narrow, rigid, reactionary and exclusionary ideas. Anyone troubled by this complaint would be well advised to take a good look at the Prayer Book Baptismal Covenant. It’s found in two places – in the Baptismal liturgy itself beginning on page 304, and in a slightly altered form in the liturgy for the Great Vigil of Easter.

This brief statement is of immense importance because it represents the consensus of the Church at this point in time as to what the components are of a viable and authentic Christian life – what it means to be and to live with integrity as a person in Christ.

The Covenant is rendered in traditional question and answer form, and each word is carefully and thoughtfully chosen. It’s the last two questions I think of when I reflect on today’s Parable. We are asked in the fourth question, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” That’s what the Samaritan did – and that’s what it means to be in the real Good Sam club! Then the final question in the Covenant really puts it over the top when it calls us to be Samaritans and asks us:

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”

And my knees shake at the challenge as I say in response:

“I will, with God’s help”.

The Episcopal Church doesn’t teach or believe anything, and has a deficient and vague theology? Don’t make me laugh!! To live into the meaning of those breathtaking words is the challenge of a lifetime, and to accept the identity they suggest and move toward it is the most thrilling thing in the world.

What the Episcopal Church does not have, thank God, is any system of punishments or sanctions or penalties for not ‘toeing the line’. We don’t have any “shape up or ship out, our way or the highway, kick-butt theology or spirituality”. You will never hear an Episcopal Bishop threaten to excommunicate some Episcopalian senator for not supporting the Church’s teaching on reproductive issues! What we do have is an invitation to a journey to the lifestyle of the Samaritan.

It’s an invitation that says “whoever you are, whatever you bring, whatever you do or don’t believe – if this journey with us and with Christ toward a life that seeks Him in every single person and respects the God-given dignity of every single human being - if that journey calls and excites you then come join us - and we never are successful, we never arrive in this world, we never do it perfectly or even very well, we fall and fail over and over again, and we pick ourselves and one another up and dust each other off – or as that other phrase in the Covenant calls us to do, we “repent and return to the Lord” - but being on the journey together is everything – because He is the journey and the End of the journey and we believe that in walking in that Way with Him and one another, we will assimilate Samaritanism and be “changed into Jesus’ likeness from glory to glory”. Amen.

The Rev. Tom Murphy
Trinity Episcopal Church, Ashland, OR

The art work, "Good Samaritan", is by He Qi at