Spiritual Fitness

by Derek Olsen

Most of the things that we do in life—especially our modern lives—take up our time. However, I am firmly convinced that there are two things that actually give us time back: prayer and exercise. I find that when I’m doing these regularly, I can think more clearly, am more focused, and am better able to stay on task. (Not coincidentally, I also find I’m a better dad and husband then, too…) Of course, trying to fit these things in around an overcommitted schedule—day job, side jobs, church work, and chauffeur duty for the girls’ activities—is never easy.

Our schedule has just made its great Autumn Shift as the girls are back in school and ballet is back in full swing. As usual, I’m trying a new exercise routine to pack it all in. Early mornings consist of a 50-minute block for tai chi, speed rope jumping, and stretching. Then, my lunch hour alternates between a strength workout or running. It’s been moderately successful so far… (Translation: I haven’t gotten a single strength workout in within the past week and only ran two days!)

One of the issues that fights against the success of this program is keeping different physical activities in play. Some folks say that it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you get yourself moving. That’s entirely true, if you’re getting yourself active, but at this point in my life that doesn’t work best for me. I just hit the big 4-0 this summer. I find myself creaking and joints crackling more in the morning when I go up and down the stairs in the morning chase to get hair and teeth bushed, lunches and schoolbags packed. I know I need to work on my mobility and flexibility; the stretching and tai chi help with that. The jump rope and running help with the two kinds of cardio, anaerobic and aerobic. The strength training helps me to keep what muscle I’ve got. (Yes, I’m finally mature enough to accept that I’ll never be buff, and I’m better off trying to preserve what’s actually there!) Because they are all targeted on different body systems they’re not interchangeable. Tai chi doesn’t do what running does; jumping rope can’t replace strength training.

And this same principle is just as important in my spiritual life too.

I read with great interest the article posted the other day on The Lead about diminishing silence in modern life. The writer is spot-on that our schedules and gadgets make it too easy to drown out the silence that used to appear in spaces in our lives and that we need to intentionally cultivate it as a discipline.

Now—my fear is that some enterprising clergy person reading that article will decide that the best way to do it is to put more intentional “quiet time” into the Sunday Eucharist. And that won’t cut it.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with some silence in the Eucharist, but there is a pernicious notion that if Episcopalians are going to do something “spiritual” then it has to occur between 10 and 11:15 on a Sunday morning. This defies both logic and the prayer book.

The Eucharist has its own rhythms and purpose: we join together publicly as the Body of Christ to participate in his own self-offering to God the Father through the Holy Spirit. We are privileged to get plugged into the internal dynamics of the Trinity.
But we also have the Daily Office. Here we lift our voices in prayer and praise at the hinges of the day, and make our own sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to recall who God is and what God has done for us in our own person and through our ancestors in the faith.

And we are called to read and search the Holy Scriptures. Yes—we hear these in the Eucharist; yes, we read them in the Daily Office. But those times are not and cannot be a substitute for our own engagement with the Scriptures where we, with the aid and guidance of the Spirit, play hide and seek with the Word amongst the words.

And too we must engage in holy silence. We must shut our own mouths, still our own thoughts, and open our own hearts to the Holy Other whom we meet in the quiet.

Our spiritual lives need to incorporate a variety of exercises; one is not enough. The Sunday morning Eucharist is not a catch-all where we try to cram all of our spirituality for the week into a single hour and a quarter (or half…). You can’t substitute one for the other and expect to have a balanced spiritual life. That’s specifically why the Book of Common Prayer has continued to insist, communicating to us the wisdom of centuries, that our wholeness is found by opening ourselves to God along many channels, not just one.

It takes a routine to accomplish it; it takes discipline. As I struggle to keep my own routine, the Eucharist is pretty easy to manage—it shows up once or twice a week and in public. There’s a certain community accountability built in. But meditation, Scripture, and the Office: they’re important too. I find that I’m—literally—not all there when they’re not a regular part of my life. Like my running and my lifting, I can’t pretend I get to them every day. Sometimes a week will go by without me cracking my devotional Bible. Sometimes an apologetic prayer on the way out the door will have to take the place of the Office. But I know that the pieces have to be in play.

As the run up to General Convention starts and as voices start getting louder presenting various plans and platforms for fixing the Church, I think this is going to have to be mine… The Church can’t be the Church only on Sundays. The Eucharist is glorious—but not sufficient. It’s an important piece of a balanced spiritual diet—it can’t be the only dish on the table. Reading the Scriptures, praying the Office, embracing holy silence, these aren’t things we can delegate away or farm out to contractors. We—us—the great mass of laity, this is what we’ve got to be about. I know it’s not easy—believe me! But there’s no way we’ll get anywhere towards accomplishing it if we don’t make these activities priorities—in our personal lives and in our common life. Our clergy and bishops should be helping us with this, helping us towards this. A full and balanced spiritual life for the laity bolstered by the clergy is not a distraction from the Church’s work but the foundation of it. Justice, mercy, loving-kindness are most fully enacted when we are in constant contact with their source, the true Fountain of Virtues. Only then can we fully be who we are called to be—the Body of Christ united in our on-going pilgrimage to inhabit the Mind of Christ.


Dr. Derek Olsen is a layperson in the Diocese of Maryland where his wife is a priest and his daughters are an acolyte and boat-bearer respectively. He serves as Secretary of the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music and is the Liturgical Editor of the newly revised edition of the Saint Augustine's Prayer Book. An IT specialist by day, Derek created and maintains the online Daily Office site The St. Bede's Breviary. His reflections on life, Anglo-Catholic identity, and liturgical spirituality appear at Haligweorc.

Part 1: The Joys of F.O.G.

by Donald Schell

Part 1 of 2

Last month my congregation offered a free week-long day camp called F.O.G, an apt name for a summer gathering in San Francisco with perennial summer weather report, “Foggy near the coast, clearing by noon.” I think the joke is deliberate, but as an acronym it also refers to the teaching of Gregory of Nyssa that Christian life in community makes us “Friends Of God.” To the fourth year of our summer F.O.G, Sylvia Miller-Mutia, St. Gregory’s associate rector and the founder of F.O.G. asked me to lead daily Bible drama workshops for the children, each day exploring a different Gospel parable through improvised dramatic enactment of that day’s Godly Play story.

Until F.O.G. my only experience of Vacation Bible School had been summers growing up in a fundamentalist church. I still treasure that first learning of Bible stories, and am also grateful for good support in conversations with my parents for shrugging off the creationism, anti-Semitism, and horrifying interpretations of the atonement some of the teachers offered. What caught my heart, even in that fundamentalist setting was the offering generous-hearted teachers made when they really gave us the stories with room to ask questions and make our own interpretative discoveries. And as we come back to the stories, the discoveries seem to on through a lifetime.

Over the years between that long ago Vacation Bible School and my happy experience with F.O.G., I’d begun doing drama work with Bible stories, starting in summer camp chaplaincies – Family Camp summers in Idaho when I did my first parish work there, and then a couple of decades of summers of both Family Camp and Kids’ Camps in the Diocese of California.

Improvising theater to encounter and interpret Bible stories uses imagination something like Ignatius Loyola’s method of using imagination and the senses to read ourselves into familiar stories to feel how the stories live for us when we’re in them. For my drama workshop version of Ignatius Bible study I’ve worked with stories about Jesus and with the stories Jesus offered as a story teller, the parables.

As preacher/teacher/theater director I learned to spend time ahead with the text, reading it over and over slowly and looking for ways to guide actors recruited from the congregation or gathering to make simple, wholly embodied, interpretative gestures and actions to flesh out the stories.

Sometimes the Gospel story gives specific gestures, for example, in Matthew’s version of the Syrophonecian woman,“…a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’”

The Gospel says she “came and knelt,” two simple gestures to offer our actors in an improvisation. But each gesture contains more choices - HOW does the woman come and HOW does she kneel?

Does she approach very respectfully and kneel as if in church?

Or does she run to Jesus and throw herself at his feet?

And if she throws herself at Jesus’ feet, does she touch him?

Acting gestures need to be energetic and, as actors say, “specific.” How ever the preacher/director, actor or congregation decides the gestures should be enacted, “kind of walking” toward Jesus and “sort of kneeling” won’t give life to an improvisation.
Sometimes specific choices aren’t just the “how” of a gesture in the story, but discovering spatial arrangement and response of one character to another that aren’t given, but still have to be specific. As in Ignatian Bible study, we mae choices about gestures and movements that the Gospel story omits.

For example, in the story of the resurrection appearance to Thomas in John’s Gospel, does Thomas take Jesus’ invitation to touch the wounds in his hands and put his hand in the wound in his side? When I’ve worked with this text and asked the congregation, we discover that some people feel strongly the text assumes that he did reach out and touch Jesus’ hands and side. Others feel equally strongly that for Thomas hearing Jesus’ invitation and seeing the wounds was enough – often those people feel the writer of John wants us to picture Thomas dropping his skepticism and doubts in a moment of overwhelmed worship.

Some questions of “how” only show up when we’re planning or even guiding the congregational volunteers creating an improvisation. In this same resurrection appearance, it simply says that eight days later Thomas and the other disciples were gathered again in the upper room. And then, “Jesus appeared.” Embodied enactment demands more specifics. Different, specific blocking (the placement and movement of our actors) shapes the story differently. If the actor playing Jesus “appears” by slipping in to stand between or among disciples facing our Thomas, Thomas may see Jesus’ first. The actor can use his face and body to show his startled transition from not seeing Jesus to seeing Jesus. The other disciples might see Thomas experiencing something before they see Jesus. But if our Jesus actor comes and stands directly behind Thomas --where other disciples see him before Thomas, perhaps Thomas seeing his friends’ faces makes him turn to face Jesus, even before Jesus speaks. Neither is the “right” answer of how to enact it, but we do experience something different either way.

In the first instance, perhaps we’d find ourselves wondering how the other disciples might see Jesus’ presence through Thomas’s revelatory moment, while in the second instance, we might sense how the other disciples’ faces and faith move Thomas to a very literal turnaround conversion.

GP1.JPGOne of our stories this year was Jesus’ parable of the pearl merchant. I’d never worked with that story before, in my difficulty preparing to work with that particular parable made some unexpected interpretative discoveries. The essay that follows this describes my difficulty, the process of discovery and what I and we learned about the parable from enacting it. But to conclude this first essay, I’d like to encourage readers to visit the F.O.G. website to learn more about embodiment in prayer and teaching. Sylvia Miller-Mutia has been developing Friends of God Day Camp for the children of St. Gregory’s and other children in the church’s neighborhood. Sylvia’s approach to inter-generational liturgy and storytelling, like mine guides a congregation to embody text and song together. You can see additional ways of praying with our bodies and our senses Sylvia has developed at the resource website she’s made for F.O.G. leaders and parents.

Seeing what she’s creating for children and adults, you won’t be surprised to learn that before becoming a priest, Sylvia danced professionally with the Utah Ballet and then in modern dance was a member of Carla de Sola’s Omega West Dance Company. Improvisational interpretation of Bible stories and Sylvia’s embodying prayer in movement invite experience and questions, like a Godly play “I wonder.” Rooting interpretation and reflection in imagination, feeling and intuition leads us to discover new possibilities in familiar readings.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Watts, Wesley and the hymns I have 'by heart'

by Kathy Staudt

A passage from Scripture I’ve come back to a lot is from Matthew 13:52 “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the Kingdom of Heaven is like a householder who takes out of his treasure what is old and what is new.” Having been raised in a United Presbyterian congregation and having chosen the Episcopal Church as a young adult, I recognize that I have been formed in what social scientists are calling the “mainline” Protestant tradition and despite the mainline’s unfortunate and false image of being “God’s frozen people” (Harvey Cox’s phrase, in the 1970s), now in decline, this tradition does have a strong heritage of faith that blends a respect for reason and individuality with a recognition of communal tradition, a sense of mystery and an image of a loving, sustaining God whose purpose for humankind is good, and who calls us to be our very best selves. An important part of my formation was the hymnody of this tradition, and the many hymns I know “by heart” are often the deepest foundation of my prayers and meditations.

I was reminded of this by a recent adult forum teaching assignment that put me back in touch with the poetry of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. These voices are arguably from the beginning of the “mainline” Protestant tradition that we have come to know in the US.

Watts has been called the “Father of Protestant Hymnody” because he was the first to produce metric psalm settings in English that were actually beautiful and singable – and also among the first to write hymns about personal faith experience. Writing in the 18th century, Watts was a learned man, a man of the both science and faith – in an era before these were considered somehow mutually exclusive choices. Author of a popular textbook entitled Logic, or the Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry after Truth with a variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and of Human Life, as well as in the Sciences. He was also a Nonconformist pastor, a man of deep faith, and a genius at rhyme. (As a poet, I find myself in awe of the man’s ability to turn a line, to write rhymes that actually work without seeming forced – this is really hard to do in English, as most poets know!) .

Isaac Watts’s hymn O God, Our Help in Ages Past provides us with a God-image, not gendered or culturally limited, that sings down the ages, and certainly speaks to me. God is, for me, “our help. . . our hope. . . our shelter. . . our guide. . . our eternal home. And the poetry of that hymn, recognizing the fleetingness of our lives and the eternity of God, has provided deep reassurance in times of loss and change – including now; (“A thousand ages in thy sight/ are like an evening gone. . . .”) I hope what this hymn assumes is true: that there is a God, who has been carried and known in tradition and who abides with us now – even when language, culture and practice shift. Watts wrote over 600 hymns, some of them a bit baroque and pietistic for modern tastes (“Alas, and Did my Saviour Bleed,” for example, which is in the LEVAS hymnal) – but they continue to speak. I am helped each Lenten season by the invitation to contemplate the Cross as a mystery having to do with love. Watts explores in his hymn “When I survey the Wondrous Cross,” which ends in a beautiful poem of self dedication: “Were the whole realm of nature mine/that were an offering far too small. /Love so amazing, so divine/demands my soul, my life, my all.” It is a gift of grace to come to those moments in life when we really want to offer our whole selves to the Good Thing we hope God is doing in our broken world. Watts’s hymn, which I know by heart now, after so many years, gives me words for those moments.

A generation after Watts comes Charles Wesley, whose hymns come out of a profound “religion of the heart” that has been the strength of evangelical Christianity – a part of the mainline tradition, we often forget. Evangelical in the sense of being a religion of the converted heart, that makes us want to share good news with the world. Wesley wrote over 6000 hymns and many of them just don’t work in modern worship, being too embedded in imperialist ideas of mission from his era, or language that is sexist or militaristic (for example, his Easter hymn, “Christ the Lord is Risen today/ Sons of men and angels say. . . . Love’s redeeming work is done/ fought the fight, the victory won” has been excluded from most of our Protestant hymnals and replaced by the more inclusive poetry of “Jesus Christ is risen today/ Our triumphant holy day”). But Wesley too is the author of some of our deepest prayers. Henry Ward Beecher wrote that he would rather have composed Wesley’s “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” than to be the richest man in New York or to have all the kingdoms of the world. It is a “heart hymn” that speaks to certain times of life: “Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, til the storm of life be past/ safe into the haven guide. . . . “All my hope in thee I’ve found. All my trust to thee I bring. Cover my defenseless head/in the shadow of thy wing. “

I would echo Beecher’s admiration when I think of Wesley’s great hymn “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” which celebrates the deepest good news, that God’s love is never finished with us – that there is always a better way to be for humanity, drawing us toward a “perfect love” that we can hardly imagine and that God is helping us with that, “perfecting” us in ways we cannot do for ourselves. There is more to learn, more to celebrate, as we become God’s “new Creation.” The life eternal begins now and carries forward – changing us as we are called to be transformative agents in the world around us And so for me the last verse of Wesley’s hymn sums up with some meditative depth the spirituality that has formed me – a spirituality I hope we as a church can continue to claim even as our language and liturgy and cultural expressions shift. Wesley’s words bring together a vision for our best selves and for the reign of God:

“Finish then thy new creation. Pure and spotless let us be
Let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee
Changed from glory into glory, til in Heaven we take our place
Til we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.

I am very aware that our hymns are one of the things that feel like obstacles to seekers not raised in the church – we hear a lot about the problem of “classical music” just not being accessible to modern seekers. A challenge for me, and for those like me who have been formed in this hymnody, is to stay in touch with the deeper spirituality that is carried in the best of our hymn tradition, both in the music and the poetry – and perhaps to find new expressions of that spirituality. Our best hymns remind us of a basic and healthy spirituality: We believe in a God who ”has us,” in the mystery of Incarnation and the love of Christ as there for us, even in the hardest moments of human suffering and despair. We experience the Holy Spirit at work in the world, past, present and future, to heal, shape and transform. We see a continuity between this life and the world to come. These are spiritual values to continue discerning and carrying forward. We can fiddle with words that simply don’t work for contemporary public worship, but we need to keep track of the deeper spirituality that we come to “know by heart” in this tradition, and find ways to carry it forward. Another invitation to “take from our treasure what is old and what is new. “


Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph. She works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area and is the author of two books of poetry: "Annunciations, Poems out of Scripture" and "Waving Back:Poems of mothering life", as well as a scholarly study of the modern artist and poet David Jones.

Spiritual AND Religious

by Rie Linton with Nancy Kern

During my Education for Ministry (EfM) journey, the subject of the “Spirituality versus Religion” meme was discussed. In examining this, I was reminded of a parish I attended. The parish had a thriving youth program. Older adults congregated at the church as if it was a social club but it was lacking in something for young adults often called millenials and/or Generation “Y”. They said that “millenials” did not attend church but, after much persistence, they finally began a new young adult class. It was suggested the class take over the “prime” classroom and have a coffeehouse theme. Metal chairs and long tables were relegated to storage closets, replaced by upholstered chairs, lamps, a rug from the attic, etc. The posters and mailers announcing the class were loved by the millenials and deemed “garish” by vestry members, who stood outside the classroom, counting the people who came. One week later, they stood outside that same door, awaiting the Bishop and insisting the class stay to “account” for the change in the décor. When the Bishop arrived, he asked to see the room and then smiled: “I think John the Baptist would feel right at home here” he said.

The millenials of today and Generation “Y” live and breathe in part according to meme theory. Many theologians blame it for the decline in their effectiveness. What is “meme theory” and from where did it originate? According to Wikipedia, a go-to reference for all millenials, a meme is "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture." The word is an abbreviation of the word memetic, a theory of mental evolution based upon the work of Charles Darwin, coined by British evolutionary scientist Richard Dawkins. Opposing the religious culture, which most assuredly could be said to be based upon a meme, the term has become the battle cry of atheists who ironically, in their attempt to be different, have formed their own communion.

The coffeehouse feel was on target in developing the spirituality of the young adult meeting room and created an environment that drew people in and allowed for a “safe” exchange of ideas. They had cappuccino mix for the coffee pot, tea, hot cocoa, doughnuts and communion. Class “lessons” included a scientific flowchart for the Summary of the Law. Sadly that vision was blinded by the status quo. The class became more “conventional, more religious” and within three months no one was present. Once enrollment numbered fifty-five; it became zero.

What we can learn from this is that we must address spirituality if we want to engage our young adults, our future. They know more of Ziglar’s pump parable than Jesus’ lost coin parable. We have got to have the vision to allow the former in order to discuss the latter. Today’s young adult is not content with following blindly but wants to engage his/her spirit – fully and completely. We exactly is this “spirituality versus religion” concept?

Spiritual Healer Nancy Kern explains it this way: “Spirituality is a direct experience of God, by whatever name: Source, Spirit, the Light, All That Is, Allah, Shiva, Jesus. Religion is learned, passed on through families and cultural institutions, including churches. Religion is built around form, characterized by dogma, ritual and social interaction. Religious organizations are built around spiritual values, and also encompass politics, fund-raising and identity built on beliefs and practices.

“Spirituality involves a direct experience of grace through a bodily knowing; no intermediary is required, no particular beliefs are necessary. The ego cannot manage spiritual experiences or make them happen. Spiritual experiences range from beautiful to frightening, and may contradict religious and scientific beliefs. Both religion and spirituality can involve prayer, contemplation and/or meditation. Both can be positive forces of healing from emotional and physical distress. Spirituality can be encouraged through sensitivity to nature and the cultivation of awareness, gratitude and loving kindness. Religion can encourage and foster spirituality, but does not necessarily do so.”

Kern adds: “Mysticism is spiritual. Mystics from all religious backgrounds see connection between traditions rather than separation. This is because mystics cultivate direct experience of oneness with all of creation. Creativity is innately spiritual. All people are innately spiritual. Religion must be learned. Spirituality is a formless realm of limitless possibilities. Religion limits possibilities through beliefs and taboos. Spirituality may contradict or reinforce religious teachings. Although beliefs in Hell begin as religious teachings, when internalized, they become spiritual fears.”

If we continue to make enemies of spirituality and religion, then we are looking at the future with very poor vision. Today’s young adults live passionately and want a passionate faith. Religion should be a living entity that embraces and uses their spirituality. We must let faith breathe, embracing that which emboldens our spirit to receive the Holy Spirit.


Rie Linton is a professional musician and conductor, writer, graphic artist, community family values educator and child advocate, a lifelong Episcopalian who has served as Girls Friendly leader, EYC advisor, church school director/teacher, ECW officer, church musician, EfM journeyer, and member of the Order of Daughters of the King. She hosts the blog n2myhead, is currently developing a curriculum on Diversity and lives in Huntsville, AL.

Nancy Kern is a professional artist and writer, former midwife, licensed massage therapist, Cranial Sacral Therapist, Flower Essence Practitioner, trained in Buddhist meditation, Native American shamanism, Akashic Field therapy, guided imagery and counseling. She teaches at the Spectrum Center and the Jung Center of Houston, TX and can be reached at her website.

Chagall's crucifixions

by Deirdre Good

In preparation for this piece I asked FB friends what images the name Marc Chagall (1887-1985) conjured up for them. “Blue,” someone said. “Windows at the Paris Opera and the Chicago Museum” said someone else. “Murals at The Metropolitan Opera” others said alluding to the giant murals hanging at the entrance to the opera house visible to the Lincoln Center Plaza and from Columbus Avenue. Heidi Shott said, “Windows in the Fraumünster Church in Zurich. First trip to Europe at 20. Took my breath away.” Someone else quoted lines from the movie Notting Hill: “happiness isn't happiness without a violin-playing goat.” Another lent me Chagall’s illustrations of the Bible. Still others spoke of exhibits of his work they attended: at a Chagall retrospective in Paris, for example, Jane Redmont remembers a video in which the interviewer asked Chagall a question like "why are there so often cows inside women" or "women inside cows" or "why is there a cow inside that woman.” Chagall smiled and said "They're just there!" “I've never forgotten that,” Jane said. Several people mentioned crucifixion scenes, and one person posted Chagall’s painting “The White Crucifix.”

We went to see the current exhibit “Chagall: Love, War and Exile” at the Jewish Museum in New York City last week. It’s on until Feb 2, 2014. I was astonished to discover that the focus of the exhibit is on a roomful of paintings featuring Crucifixion scenes drawn and painted within a short time span. Chagall apparently produced over 100 paintings and drawings of the crucifixion. So I tried to find what he wrote about them. Of his first crucifixion scene he explains: “for me Christ has always symbolized the true type of the Jewish martyr. That is how I understood him in 1908 when I used this figure for the first time…I was under the influence of the pogroms.”

“Rarely exhibited and often misunderstood,” the catalog says, the Crucifixion scenes in the exhibit were produced in the years surrounding World War II when Chagall lived in France, then briefly in the US to escape the war in Europe, and then again after the war in France. By concentrating on Chagall’s work during the Holocaust years, and on the Crucifixion scenes in particular, the exhibit shows a darker side of the artist. What does any visitor to the exhibit, regardless of religious conviction, make of these paintings and drawings? I found them riveting. To exhibit images of the Crucified Christ by a Jewish artist in the context of the Holocaust raises fascinating questions: what makes an image of the Crucifixion theological? How and in what ways is the image of a crucified Christ a non-Christian symbol?

The exhibit’s Crucifixion scenes are very different: there are paintings including figures with halos, as in “Exodus” (1952-66), and “Christ in the Night” (1948). In a self-portrait, “The Artist With Yellow Christ” (1938), Chagall turns the face of himself as artist at the foot of the cross away from the figure on the cross. In “Descent from the Cross” (1941), the letters “MARC CH” replace the traditional “INRI” on the cross, and an angel holds a palette and brush. In most paintings, Jesus hangs upon the cross with a tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl around his waist. And there are other figures in the scene: figures at the foot of the cross including a person with a ladder, a mother and child Madonna type, angels and Torah scrolls.

The number and intensity of paintings produced in 1941, “Christ Carrying the Cross,” “Descent from the Cross,” and “The Painter Crucified,” makes that year a turning point, I think. In 1941 Chagall was preparing to leave Europe. By June of that year he was in New York. An ink drawing “Christ carrying the Cross” of that same year drawn before leaving Europe shows other crucified figures, pogroms and smoke in the background towards which a figure helping Christ carry the cross is looking.

By painting Crucifixion scenes, many Jews believed Chagall had rejected Judaism. And it seems that some Christians regarded his recourse to Christian symbolism as “naïve and misguided.” Yet Chagall’s electric choice of the image of a crucified Jewish Jesus to express the suffering and slaughter of Jews and others in the Second World War not only claims the Crucified Jesus as Jewish but reverses the mistaken trope in which Jews were blamed for the death of Jesus by presenting a Crucified Jesus to personify Jewish suffering and bring it to the attention of the world. Chagall’s images of a Crucified Jewish Jesus reach out and present to any who care to see embodied images of both suffering and atonement at the darkest hour of the Holocaust.


Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. Her blog is called On Not Being a Sausage.

Why?

by Donald Schell

Our oldest grandchild is three, or more accurately three and a third. Many readers won’t be surprised to learn that his word of the day (and week and month) is

- Why?

When our own youngest was this age, I discovered that if I didn’t try to respond his questions with answers, but paused
hmmmm

and then asked,
- What do you think?

He’d often have an answer that he was glad to offer. And sometimes that answer told me that the answer I was ready to give wouldn’t have actually addressed his wondering. I’m making that my default response with the grandson and finding again that a child (maybe our inner child too) asking “why” frequently wants to talk and think aloud.

My wife teases me when I slip into being a pedagogical and theological Piaget, and yes, I do think of Jean Piaget as I notice what startlingly fertile reflection on human learning and our insatiable drive to find meaning in our experience I witness in our grandson’s learning process.

His three year old answers to his own questions of why (and how) move freely among Aristotle’s four kinds of causation –

Material cause (“when ice melts it becomes water”)
Formal cause (“because she’s your mother and parents make those decisions”)
Efficient cause (“it fell because you dropped it”)
And
Final cause (“because saying ‘thank you’ makes you and the person you’re thanking happy”)

(I’m happy for comments or refinements to this sketch of the four causes from any philosophers or Aristotle scholars who’d like to offer them as a comment here.)

What I often notice in conversation with my grandson is that my adult default answer (the “because…” that often gets left unsaid when he supplies us with a more satisfactory answer) tends to be an efficient cause, the “what started it all” in a chain of cause and effect. My grandson’s “why” is a richer question than we adults usually let ourselves ask so nakedly. He’s asking for (and often offering) an answer that’s part of a whole spectrum of meaning, how things fit together, how they work, why we care about them, what we’re committed to.

Aristotle’s cluster of possible answers may hint what our own internal three year old is looking for as s/he keeps asking “why.” We’re not actually hoping for “The Answer.” There are all kinds of answers, many of which we can frame for ourselves. Maybe we want to tell our answer. Maybe hearing someone else’s question prompts us to discover an answer we hadn’t yet framed. What we’re looking for is the pleasure of engaging with someone we’d like to talk with about what it all means and how.

In Sunday by Sunday church practice in the Episcopal church, are we in danger of rushing to offer and assert “the answer.” I fear that partisans of the Nicene Creed in the liturgy have lost sight of the process that runs through the historic liturgical action, inviting the Spirit to come among us as we become and partake of the Body of Christ. We come to the point in the service where we all articulate our faith in ancient words (not a story, not a prayer, a series of finely tuned philosophical and Biblical points). We’ve unconsciously shifted the public work of liturgy to deliverables (proclaiming the Word, defining the faith, receiving the sacrament).

Was the liturgy of the first five centuries in the East and the first eleven centuries in the West defective for not having its moment of reciting the answer? What does it tell us that the liturgical use of the creed began when Monophysites in the East introduced it as a protest against the Council of Chalcedon? Why did the West resist using it liturgically for half a millennium? And what about finally introducing it in the West with the filioque added in (“who proceeds from the Father AND THE SON”) so that the recitation of the Symbol of Christian Unity cemented the division between Eastern and Western Christians. Is the creed like answering my grandson’s question when he wants to talk? What I notice talking with him is that the faster I offer answers, the more “why” he throws back. Answers aren’t giving him what he wants or needs.

Let me rush to add that the content of the creed makes sense to me. All I’m questioning is its liturgical use. When I’m in a congregation that uses it, I do say (or more happily sing) the creed. As a text and theological formulation, I welcome what it adds to our understanding of (and wonder at) our faith in Christ.

But I think the “why” question we’ve been asking since we were three years old and are all still asking, our craving to get closer to “what it ALL means” and to get closer to that meaning in the company of people we’re also learning to love and may be better “answered” by the Prayers of the People (where prayer and the action that flows from it are our shared response to what God is doing), or the Peace (our physical celebration and enactment of God’s reconciling work), or the Eucharistic Prayer (that tells the same story as the creed but does so as a prayer in, to and with our loving God).

I also suspect that what a Godly Play “I wonder” session or an EFM theological reflection conversation touches is truer to our ceaseless why than something that thinks we’re looking for “the answer.”

My grandson is asking me to join him discovering and reflecting on what the world and everything in it means. Whether I’m preaching and presiding or happily attending and sitting in the congregation to pray and sing and listen and share, what I find enlivening, satisfying, and sustaining is feeling and knowing that we’re plunged into that discovery together. Prayers and intimations are truer to our discovery and fit the richness of our “why” better than anything that presents itself as “the answer.”


The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Church Camp: This isn't "like church" it IS church

by Donald Schell

My wife Ellen and I just returned from a week at the Bishop’s Ranch, an Episcopal Diocese of California Conference and Camp Center in Healdsburg California. We were there as grandparent participants in the annual Family Camp that Bishop Bill Swing asked us to found twenty-five years ago.

It was the longest our grandson had been away from his parents and the longest time we’d been responsible for him. He is three years old. He experienced a the different kind of independence and interaction with many adults that the temporary village of Family Camp makes possible. He did arts projects alongside us (or vice versa). He began exploring water games in the swimming pool. We participated in daily Eucharist with us. We read him bedtime stories and talked about how he missed his mom and dad. At the end of camp he was eager to see them and then wondered if we could bring them back with us for “more camp.” The three of us had a rich and joyful time together.

For Ellen and me, it was also a return; we’d been away from this Family Camp for ten years. Starting when our youngest was fourteen months old and for fifteen years, we’d led and participated in this camp as parents-leaders, me as camp dean shaping staff, guiding chapel and collaborating on program development, and Ellen as camp nurse and collaborating on program development. We shared leadership over those ten years with other volunteer staff

– an energizing and inspiring convenor/gatherer,
- a storyteller,
- an artist who could conceive and guide hands-on multi-generational arts projects,
- a musician gifted to inspire even “non-singers” to join our music making.

Together we grew this event until our team was leading an annual, multi-generational gathering of a hundred or so people, capacity for the Bishop’s Ranch. For a week each year new and returning parents and children, grandparents, uncles and aunts, teenagers and infants and a handful of close family friends lived, worked, prayed and played together.

This year, the twenty-sixth Family Camp in this ongoing tradition, we joined regulars and newcomers to welcome Kate Flexer’s new leadership. At a closing Family Camp Eucharist last year Elizabeth and the whole community had blessed Kate and Jim in the new role they were taking on. Kate is a parish priest from El Camino Real, our neighboring diocese. She and her husband Jim Hinch (a writer and editor with the voice and spirit to make people glad to hear daily announcements and a great gatherer and people-organizer) we were working with a team that our successor and Kate’s predecessor, Elizabeth DeRuff had gathered -
-musicians Fred Goff and Christopher Putnam, two skilled classically trained musicians who also love community singing and practice both with their congregations in the diocese of California,

- artist, Rene Billingslea, is a visual artist on the faculty of Santa Clara University with the imagination to create projects that will engage people of many levels of skill and the different attention span of differing ages,
- guitarist and youth encourager, Craig Benson, a water resources specialist from California’s far northern reaches who brought a strong ecological voice to our chapel and program.

Elizabeth DeRuff herself, the priest who’d led Family Camp for ten years after my wife and I moved on, was back for a couple of days with her husband Dave, who’d carried the role of energizing and inspiring convenor/gatherer for their ten years. They’d come back to spend a couple of days with the Family Camp community. Kate invited Elizabeth to preside at one of our six daily all-generational, Gospel-enacting, sung and danced Eucharists.

It was a joy to Ellen and me to be back and to sense the camp community’s deeply rooted continuity and lively development. I was pleased and startled to see the culture, customs, and ritual of family camp growing so recognizably from patterns of its earliest days. Undoubtedly part of the continuity we saw in the chapel was thanks to the ongoing participation of Rick Fabian, my longtime work partner in parish work founding St. Gregory’s, San Francisco.

As you’d expect in any community that had passed the quarter century mark (!) at lot had happened in the ten years we’d been away. Several families had moved on as their children had grown up. New families we’d never met before had made this camp a regular part of their summers, often finding their way into the extended leadership network Elizabeth and Dave DeRuff had fostered. Moms, dads, uncles, aunts, and grandparents were continuing to devote a week of their summer vacation to being together and with their children and continuing to do the work of Christian and human formation together. It was recognizably and undoubtedly…yes, church.

An old friend, a Family Camp regular since her now grown older daughters were toddlers, was at camp with her young teen.

Her husband, an attorney who’d developed a bad case of laryngitis, was reluctantly healing at home. He deeply understands and values community and loves Family Camp, and he thought keeping silent for the whole of camp would be harder than not speaking as he healed at home.

My friend offered the word “church” to describe what we were experiencing and what twenty-five years had built. She said, “You know, this isn’t just ‘like church,’ this IS church. It really is another parish of the diocese. Think about it – every day we’re sharing Eucharist and offering our prayers. We pray at each meal and eat together. We work together, caring for the children and giving them safe space to grow and find their freedom. We listen to each other and help people celebrate great things and make their way through hard things. There’s a lot of congregations where people don’t spend this much time praying and working with their fellow congregants in a whole year.”

I recognized the simple truth my friend was offering. This Family Camp (like other ongoing gatherings at Episcopal Camp and Conference Centers around the country) does what our best congregations do. Whether playing together or facing the flare-ups of conflict and working them through, we were practicing love and looking for the presence of the Spirit among us. We were becoming and experiencing ourselves as the Body of Christ. We were engaged in genuine human and Christian formation of the most powerful sort as Episcopal Camps do (and as ECCC and Forma, our network of Christian Education and Formation professionals are working to help the whole church understand)

In our first year of camp Ellen and I and our planners made a serious planning mistake. We sent word out in diocesan communication channels that Family Camp would be “more fun than Club Med.” Does our congregations sometimes make the same mistake. In that first year some campers were dismayed that we were counting on people to participate and to pitch in to help a build a community. The families who didn’t see what we were building together for taking their kids to movie matinees and an amusement park in the nearest town. We talked together a lot that year, staff and participants, about what we were doing and how to tell the story and invite people in. The next year our promotion line was “Come and help make it happen!” The talking together during camp that first year and the shift in how we invited participants made a huge difference to the shared experience of the second year of camp.

Like any congregation, Family Camp has a congregational culture, Family Camp ways of doing things. Part of that culture lies in the chapel, meal and activity practices we offered and which participants embraced. Part of the culture was shaped over time as leaders and participants together developed a shared story. Camp makes a tradition and continues to welcome change. It’s not just what camp does together - every year Camp has welcomed new participants (this year, it was about twenty out of a hundred participants, a typical proportion) and helped them join in making Camp happen, invited them to share practices, told the story, and invited them to make their own invitation to camp activities. My friend’s calling this “church” feels accurate. Family Camp is a yearly week-long practice in the Communion of Saints.
I told my wife what our friend had said about Camp being real church. Ellen added her thought that the gathering bell calling us to daily sung Eucharist, to gather to sing grace before every meal, and to find our way to the day’s work brought participants an undeclared, hidden taste of monastic community. Her observation also felt true to me.

We’d seen this happening in our fifteen years leading the camp -

- When Family Camp gathered around a lesbian couple that we prayed through the agonizing wait while domestic court considered their move to adopt their foster daughters,
- When we provided solace and five days of day care for parents coping with insurance claims and sifting through the ashes of the family home that burned down the first day of camp. We heard the horrifying news with them at dinner our first evening. We prayed with them, and then for the week folded their kids into the camp community as mom and dad commuted home daily and back to camp each evening for dinner and after dinner singing and storytelling as camp was the only shelter the family had that week.
- As we grieved and laughed and wept with a mom who was at camp between chemo sessions in stage four cancer and heard her wish that if she didn’t make it, her husband and daughter return to camp the following year to bury part of her ashes at Family Camp. Family Campers reached out through that year as she was dying, and the dad and daughter did return for the next year’s camp. We had her ashes with us in the chapel through our week of camp and prayed for her and her family, and at our concluding Eucharist we celebrated an all-generations-included Eucharist and committal service and said our good-byes.
- During the months away from camp, when campers were scattered to their home parishes, other campers, grandparents, parents, and at least one child in the ongoing Family Camp community died. And of course children grew and we all aged and welcomed young adults are children’s ages into leadership with us. The ongoing Family Camp community moved through a whole generation of time and more.

Loving stories of what we’ve been through and done together, of the friends who’d died and of those who’d moved away are part of Family Camp, the cultural work of remembering and shaping the narrative of a shared journey.

Coming back after a decade away, I was moved as moved seeing how completely the Family Camp community had embraced ways that we’d begun as I was delighted to experience how creatively and naturally the community had found ways to grow and expand its repertoire of practices and customs.

It was hugely evident Elizabeth and Dave, our successor leaders, had done a great job of steadily building on experience, recruiting more volunteer leaders, welcoming newcomers and building the culture. Talking with Kate, my younger colleague who has taken on this annual pastorate to share it with her husband and other lay and clergy volunteers, I realized how much I’d learned from all we tried together at camp, practices and experiences that I took home to congregational life and crucial growth in my skills as a collaborative pastoral leader.

When we started this Family Camp twenty-five years ago, our youngest son was fourteen months old. We returned this year as primary caregivers (for the week) of our three-year-old grandson. This year’s new leaders, Kate and Jim have their own small children. Whole-hearted participation (by all) and full-time leadership (for some) necessarily overlaps with full-time parenting. It can only happen with a leadership team of other parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents working together.

We were a couple of years into Family Camp when I first heard the African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child.” I thought immediately of Family Camp. Because we were leader-participants with a toddler and two other children at the beginning, we had to build shared leadership into this model of weeklong community. But what shared leadership helped create is a culturally resilient, vibrant community that is, as many adult campers say, “What church back home should be.” And stepping back into this continuing community ten years out, what I saw so clearly what my friend had said, this isn’t “like church,” it IS church.


The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Human science

by Marshall Scott

Some years ago – at least 20, and possibly more – I attended a conference in Chicago on neuroscience. I don’t remember a whole lot about the conference, but I do remember one thing. The keynote speaker on the first night said something like this: “The goal of the neurosciences is to understand how all human behavior is a function of the biochemistry of the human brain.” Now, I’ll admit that’s not an exact quote; but that is what I remember: “All human behavior is a function of the biochemistry of the human brain.”

That incident returned to me as a read a recent column by David Brooks in the New York Times. In it Brooks writes about the recent publication of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (known in health care, sometimes affectionately, as DSM V). The gist of Brooks’ column is to note that in fact the categories of the behavioral sciences are not nearly as specific as those of, say, geology or physics. As Brooks put it, “The problem is that the behavioral sciences like psychiatry are not really sciences; they are semi-sciences. The underlying reality they describe is just not as regularized as the underlying reality of, say, a solar system.”

I had my own experience of that in my first clinical pastoral education residency. I was sitting with a psychiatric nurse and he said, “Let me show you something.” He opened up the DSM – I think it was DSM III, with DSM III R (as in Revised) about to come out. He opened to one diagnosis that showed symptoms A, B, C, D, and E. He opened to a second diagnosis that showed the same symptoms, but listed in order of B, A, D, E, and C. Finally, he turned to a third diagnosis that listed the same symptoms as C, B, A, E, and D, and had this footnote: “This diagnosis is appropriate for adults but not for adolescents, for whom these behaviors may be considered normal.” So, I would agree with Brooks that the categories in the behavioral sciences are neither as discreet nor as subject to verification as those of other disciplines.

At the same time, I wouldn’t say that they are not really sciences. First, all these disciplines (and I have my vocation in one of them) are trying to be just that: disciplined about their study of their fields and about their areas of expertise. Chaplains do research, and we have our own studies in which we try to narrow our questions to identify a specific, verifiable, reproducible result. When Brooks writes, “Mental diseases are not really understood the way, say, liver diseases are understood, as a pathology of the body and its tissues and cells,” he is both understating what we do know about, say, brain chemistry, and also, I think, overstating what we know about liver chemistry. He can say, “What psychiatrists call a disease is usually just a label for a group of symptoms;” but that’s also true of a number of conditions that we do not attribute either to brain chemistry or to attitude, like many of the immune disorders. We might know that Symptom A is caused by Biological Change B, and have no idea what has caused Biological Change B – whether the subject is dementia or diabetes.

Indeed, I think Brooks buys too easily into the belief that the “hard sciences” are really all that firm. I would argue (in fact have argued) that the material sciences come again and again to faith statements (have you ever really seen a quark? Or even an electron?) propounded as facts because they make sense in the language of the faith (which is the language of mathematics). Indeed, most folks in those fields admit this. They don’t necessarily use religious language for that, or refer to metaphysics. Instead, they talk about their wonder and the sense of discovery about what they don’t know and want badly to know; and about what they believe to be because it makes sense in light of what they already believe and know, even though they can’t verify it (at all, much less to a lay community).

In any case, Brooks is really positive in his column. The very uncertainty of the behavioral sciences doesn’t discount the importance of the practitioners; it ennobles them: “I just wish they would portray themselves as they really are. Psychiatrists are not heroes of science. They are heroes of uncertainty, using improvisation, knowledge and artistry to improve people’s lives.”

I do, of course, agree with him, and not just about folks in psychiatry and psychology. The same is true of the pastoral care and spiritual direction provided by congregational clergy, chaplains, and volunteers. “They are combining an awareness of common patterns with an acute attention to the specific circumstances of a unique human being.” In my business we call that “studying the living human document” of the person in front of us. It’s also true, really, of “scientific” medicine, whose practitioners also know that each patient is unique. The study of what it means to be human, and the application of that knowledge to benefit specific humans, is an ancient practice that has always sought to organize the process of care in the face of the uncertainty inherent in any human encounter.

Which brings me to the most important thing that I think Brooks has forgotten: that “science” is about knowing; and that different sciences bring to bear different ways of knowing. Some of those are experiential and experimental, even if not terribly sophisticated. You know quickly that poison ivy isn’t good for you, without knowing the specific irritating oils it produces or the particular characteristics of human skin. Some of those are social, and even quite personal – experiential certainly, but not amenable to verification or reproducibility. Some of them are matters of insight, and even – dare I say it? - of revelation! So it is that until the Enlightenment, and for some time after, theology was understood as “queen of the sciences.” That wasn’t to deny the value of examining the material world around us and learning from it. Rather, it was to appreciate that there were other ways of knowing (“sciences”), and that simply appreciating the material wasn’t complete.

And so it is in understanding the human person. We’ve learned a lot since Augustine wrote, “I became a question to myself;” but we haven’t gotten an answer to the question that we could call enough. In an NPR news story also about DSM V the reporter comes back to the observation that “the human brain is the most complicated thing in the universe” (a faith statement if ever I heard one). I would go farther to say that about the human person, which I certainly do not believe is simply encompassed in the biology, or that we will “understand how all human behavior is a function of the biochemistry of the human brain.” In that article, psychiatrist Michael First commented, "When people walk into our offices they come for help, not some explanation of the neurobiology of what's going on.” The “queen of the sciences,” and the behavioral sciences, and, really, all of the sciences have their uses in that quest: to provide help. Or to paraphrase John 9, it’s not nearly as important to know what caused a condition as it is to reflect God’s activity in the world by responding. Knowing the mechanism may well be useful to that end; but it’s not enough.

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a hospital chaplain in the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

A catholic future for the Episcopal Church

by Jared C. Cramer

As I approach nearly ten years worshiping in the Episcopal Church, including nearly five as a priest of the church, I’m struck by what first drew me into the church as someone in his young twenties. Though I was raised in an evangelical tradition, it was one that emphasized both the early church and the importance of reason, study, and intellect in the practice of the Christian faith. The more I studied in my undergraduate and graduate work, the more I found myself drawn to a more ancient expression of Christianity, one that didn’t view the early church merely as an historic curiosity, but instead as a group to whom we were organically connected. I began to realize that certain ideas I had been told were “catholic innovations” growing up—ideas like the Presence of Christ in Communion, a hierarchical structure, the veneration of saints—these were actually important concepts in the church from her earliest centuries.

For the past five years, my priestly ministry has been deeply shaped by a group known as the Society of Catholic Priests in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. The Society began in England in the mid-nineties as a place for Anglo-Catholic clergy who also supported the ordination of women and of gay and lesbian Christians. It believed that the ideals of the catholic heritage of Anglicanism were not only essential, but that they needed a resurgence in the church today.

Five years ago, along with a handful of colleagues, the Society came to North America. Over that five years we have grown to count over two hundred priests, deacons, bishops, or vowed religious among our membership. We have hosted Annual Conferences in New Haven, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Plans are now underway for our Fifth Annual Conference in Philadelphia.

And, I must say, I believe the mission of the Society is a tremendously important one in the Episcopal Church today. We are not a political organization. Whereas our mother Society in England is still spending significant time fighting on behalf of our female and GLBT colleagues, we have a different context in the Episcopal Church. We absolutely embrace all those ordained to Holy Orders in our church… but our true charism moves beyond that. We have two twin aims: the cultivation of priestly spirituality and the growth of catholic evangelism.

Originally, the founding membership of the Society wrestled with the role lay people might play in our life. We decided in those first years that the focus should be on honing our identity and providing a place for deepening the spirituality of our clergy. However, we also increasingly discovered the gifts lay people were bringing to the aims of priestly spirituality and catholic evangelism. Many of us have lay spiritual directors who keep our ministries centered on the person and teaching of Christ. All of our conferences have had presenters who were lay academics, enriching our understanding of the church and of what catholic evangelism might look like in the twentieth century. People like Dr. Derek Olsen, a leading lay voice in the church on questions of liturgy and the church, along with being a contributor to Episcopal Café, have brought profound depth to our Conference experiences.

The Society is certainly not simply a “gin and lace” group—our discussions have focused on questions regarding church planting, the faithful practice of hearing and making confession, healing ministry, and beauty in the church. Of course, there is still a bit of gin and lace among us—we are, after all, a society of Anglo-Catholics—but the center of our existence is much deeper than that.

As we have developed and grown, the question of lay involvement has been more pressing and has resulted in a significant change for our 2013 Conference. Registration has opened to include lay and ordained guests, those who may be interested or curious about the Society, but who are not members. With speakers ranging from former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold to gifted author and retreat leader Martin Smith, we are hopeful that we will indeed be joined in Philadelphia by a broader group of Episcopalians and members of the Anglican Church of Canada.

It’s sort of cliché these days to say that the Episcopal Church stands at a crossroads. As some of the debates of the latter twentieth-century begin to subside, we will need to ask how modern Anglicans will define themselves. We are absolutely a church that welcomes all, that affirms and celebrates the gifts of all baptized Christians, regardless of gender or sexual orientation… but can we be more than that?

What might it mean for us now to move more deeply into the spiritual practice of the church? What might it mean for us to seek, through sacrament and piety, to find old and new ways of conforming ourselves to the mind of Christ? How might the riches of our theological and liturgical heritage bring a new sense of beauty and the divine to the lives of twenty-first century North Americans who are unsure what good, if any, the church has to do in the world?

Many of the members of the Society, myself included, believe that we are on the cusp of a new revival in the Episcopal Church. The membership of the Society skews particularly young, as our strongest growing segments are seminarians and clergy under 35. Our conversations are filled with experience of younger people entering the church, looking not for a political sermon (whether from the right or the left) that merely confirms what they already think, but instead looking for an experience with the Divine Mystery.

Yes, I do believe that we are on the cusp of a possible new revival in the Episcopal Church. As we engage in the work of restructuring, as we seek to re-imagine what Anglican Christianity looks like in North America, I believe that by diving deep into our rich heritage we can reclaim a way forward that invites us into a way of life that is more than individual wants, needs, or preferences.

And I hope, I dearly hope, that all baptized members of this church, whether lay or ordained, who want to explore what this vision might look like, will join my sister and brothers in the Society in Philadelphia as we explore the Catholic Future of the Episcopal Church.

More information on the Society can be found online here.
Information on the Fifth Annual Conference is here.


The Very Rev. Jared C. Cramer serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, MI, and as dean of the Lakeshore Deanery of the Diocese of Western Michigan. He is also on the Provincial Council of the Society of Catholic Priests. His reflections on life and ministry can be found at carewiththecure.blogspot.com

Outcomes

by Marshall Scott

I’ve been thinking a lot about outcomes. For a chaplain, outcomes are an ongoing concern. Actually, for just about everyone in healthcare outcomes are a concern. We measure our success – and to a greater and greater extent, we’re going to be reimbursed – according to the outcomes.

However, it won’t surprise anyone that for chaplains outcomes are difficult. Just how do chaplains establish outcomes? By in large, for our colleagues in healthcare outcomes are pretty clear. Blood pressure goes up or it goes down. The infection responds to the antibiotic or it doesn’t. The patient’s pain is better or it isn’t. But for chaplains, the problem is different. Indeed, it’s a matter of great discussion among chaplains.

Indeed, chaplains have among themselves a real difference of opinion. What are the spiritual outcomes that are most important? A sense of peace. A sense of gratitude. The capacity to love. The capacity for generosity. Relationships reconciled with others, with self, with God. Arguably these are important for a sense of wellbeing, and for physical and behavioral health. Those relationships are known, and even studied. At the same time, they’re not easy to document, and not always easy even to describe.

There are outcomes that we can describe and document. We can enumerate how many folks we visit, and how many visits include prayer. We can identify who we spoke to (patient, family, etc) and perhaps some of the topics discussed. Those, though, are really process measures, and not outcomes per se (granted that whether appropriate things happened is an outcome in and of itself, and is certainly relevant). We can document whether coping seems improved, or anxiety is less. These are outcomes, of course, but still hard to describe, and sometimes to relate specifically to spiritual values. As I have said often enough, it seems the outcomes we feel important aren’t amenable to measurement, while the outcomes we can measure don’t seem so important.

As I was thinking about this, I also found myself thinking about Lent. As we prepare for Lent, many of us, I think, find ourselves having thoughts that are similar. I sometimes think there is this progression of questions: “What shall I do this year?”; followed by, “Well, what have I done before?”; and ending with, “When I did that, what came of it, really?” Certainly, we worry about motivation, but motivation is integrally related to results and consequences. There is the recurring story that would be apocryphal, if it weren’t for the fact that not only has it happened, it happens somewhere every year (and probably in any number of places). That is the young person who commits to giving up dessert in Lent, who hears the response, “It isn’t really Lenten abstinence if your real purpose is just to look better in your bathing suit this summer.” The young person clearly had a result in mind for abstinence during Lent. It just wasn’t a result that was actually about Lent.

What are the results of Lenten discipline? If I do give up desserts or take up a regular exercise program, there may well be results that are good for me. If I give up caffeine, there will certainly results, but I don’t think they’ll be good for me – or, for that matter, anyone around me. That’s not to say that giving up desserts or caffeine, or taking up regular exercise can’t be part of Lenten discipline. It’s just that the reason for choosing, and the results sought in choosing, can’t simply be what’s good for me, or what makes me uncomfortable. Those may or not be reasonable consequences, but as ends in themselves they’re lousy, and certainly not Lenten.

On the other hand, what are the consequences of reading Scripture more, or praying more, or taking more time in silence? My experience is that they help my relationship with God. However, just what that looks like can sometimes be hard to demonstrate. I feel closer – but, how is that lived out? Am I kinder or more patient? Does prayer come easier, or can I stay silent longer? If there is a difference, would anyone besides me notice?

You can see why this would feel to me like my quandary as a chaplain. Arguably, for Lent, too, the important results are hard to measure, and the measurable results don’t seem as important.

I do want to have results, and I also want those results to be about my relationship with God. I want to experience them both day to day during Lent, and also to have them reshape my life. So, I seek something that augments something that’s already part of my discipline. I want to challenge myself. I want to choose something important enough to me that if I miss it during the day I’ll notice and remember to ask forgiveness at night. I want to choose something attainable, so that if I do miss it during the day I’ll know it’s my own failing and not a physical or emotional wall. And especially I want to choose something that in its very nature turns me to God. It may not turn me entirely away from myself – for, after all, what is good for my relationship with God is good for me – but it’s clearly not about me.

I know that I’m “preaching to the choir” about this. So, I don’t think readers will be too skeptical if I say that, following these principles, I have over the years seen results. Sometimes those results have been temporary. Sometimes those results have become permanent. Most of the time, those results have been things God and I have been clear on, that would be less obvious to others – although I do think perhaps others might note that I listen a little better, and better root my reflections in my faith. Whether anyone else sees them, I am aware of them in my closet, when I know I am not alone. They aren’t necessarily the most measurable results; but I’m more than convicted that they are most important.


The Rev. Marshall Scott is a hospital chaplain in the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

You don't have to see the whole staircase

by Margaret M. Treadwell

“If you want to be close to Jesus, be with the poor,” says Terry Flood, creator and director of Jubilee Jobs (JJ) since 1981. Today, JJ is one of the longest serving, best non-profit workforce development providers for those considered hard to serve in the Greater Washington Area.

Terry grew up in a middle class Chevy Chase family, attended public schools and graduated from American University where she became interested in social action and justice. This led her to The Church of the Saviour where each parishioner is required to join a mission group designed to address a place of need in the world. After the 1968 riots, Terry helped raise money for Jubilee Housing, where she worked until the 1981 recession when residents lost their jobs and became hungry for employment. Jubilee Jobs was born with a desk, two chairs, a phone and a job counselor to help focus on job preparation, placement, retention and career advancement. This remains the core of its mission today.

Terry says,” We always are looking for the strengths and the good inside the people who come to us for help. We want the personal connection not possible in big training organizations. My best example this week is Samantha, the daughter of our very first applicant. She worked hard with her job counselor and in the small community groups we provide to help our people stay on track. Samantha has obtained scholarships and will start The University of the District of Colombia this fall. The Samanthas keep me going as I see our work paying off generation to generation.”

Terry and I became friends at a Bible study group. Her enthusiasm for her work and ability to relate it to Jesus’s teaching convinced me that I was ready to add one –on- one ministry of presence to my volunteer work.

JJ offers several opportunities to help - becoming a job counselor’s assistant to walk applicants through the employment process including resume writing and on line applications, becoming a mock interview partner or leading workshops. I chose the latter and have been teaching “Eyes on the Prize” twice a month for a couple of years.

This last workshop before applicants begin interviewing for entry level jobs highlights specific steps for goal setting, practical ways to keep focused with deadlines and also a time to write down dreams as in Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. The message: Each applicant has strengths and skills this city needs! Dr. King said, “ Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Before we begin, I learn and call each person by name for the rest of the morning. I feel personally transformed as participants openly share their determination to move up with faith, hope, a positive attitude and humor despite rock bottom stories of survival. I learn from them what it means to face all sorts of sabotage from self and others and to keep on keeping on. It helps that I’m speaking from personal experience (most of my family members and I have struggled with job loss) so that it’s not about them separate from me but rather all of us in exploration together. JJ clients teach me how to look for Christ in each person as sparks of wisdom, new ideas and strategies ignite everyone in the room.

Feeling like I always receive more than I give at JJ, it was natural to join St. Columba’s, (Washington, DC) “Light the Fire” initiative and start a SPARK group where fellow parishioners could experience God’s grace and become re-energized and connected working together on a Christian mission. Our group is engaged in a process unfolding with prayer and thoughtfulness rather than concern about the end result. There are currently nine of us who have met since March, visited Terry’s orientation program, sat in on workshops and benefited from St. Columba’s “Light the Fire” SPARK resource material in thinking about how we can be most useful. Presently we are planning an October Saturday morning training and participation as mock interviewers at JJ.

SPARK member Kay Tatum has provided our group’s most exciting development - inspiring her law firm to provide on site training classes in developmental and technical skills once a month to clients of Jubilee Jobs. In preparation for September’s highly successful first class, several of her firm’s trainers and other human resources personnel attended a JJ orientation and their recruiting manager began working with JJ staff to plan the classes for clients who want to move up from their entry level jobs. Our SPARK group has helped fuel JJ’s more intentional focus on this move- up program. The firm’s HR Director said, “This work is becoming a ministry to us.” We have expanded our circle.

It is always fun and rewarding to volunteer with my husband, Jay, but our connection with other parishioners in this endeavor has added spiritual depth and clearer intention to our work with JJ. I envision our SPARK group creating a circle of light radiating out from St. Columba’s to Jubilee Jobs as we come to know and respect staff and participants. In turn, this amazing place, these people, complete the circle and reflect the light back on our church.

As one member noted, “The Christian service with Jubilee Jobs is a means to experience fellowship at Saint Columba’s – to have other parishioners know me and call me by name.

Margaret M. (Peggy) Treadwell is a psychotherapist, columnist and teacher in the Washington, DC area. She is co-editor of “A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix,” by Edwin H. Friedman.

*This article was originally published in the October 2012 newsletter of St. Columba's Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C.

Miscibility and spiritual transformation

by Maria L. Evans

"[God] stays far away from us, because if He approached He would cause us to disappear. he waits for us to go to him and disappear."--Simone Weil, from The Things of the World

In what seems like another life, I was a junior high science teacher. One of my favorite demonstrations to illustrate the miscibility of substances was to take 50 milliliters of water and 50 milliliters of absolute ethanol and place them next to a larger graduated cylinder.

"Ok, gang, I have 50 ml of water over here and 50 ml of ethanol over here. When I pour these into this graduated cylinder, how much will be in it?"

Of course, I would get the "DUH" look and eye rolls and the scrunched up faces and a couple of annoyingly-toned responses of "Well...a hundred milliliters." I would then pour the two liquids together dramatically.

"Billy! Come up here and read what it says on this cylinder. How much does it say?"

Then little Billy would look...and squint...and look again. "Uh...ninety-six."

"Really? Well, how'd that happen?"

Of course, the theory was that I had tricked them somehow. I hadn't poured it all in. So I'd have little Billy pour his own and mix them...and again, the cylinder stared back unmercifully. Ninety-six milliliters.

"Ok, y'all. How is this possible?" Blank stares.

I would then take out two beakers, one with 250 milliliters of gravel, and one with 250 milliliters of sand.

"Watch carefully. Here's how it works."

I'd then take a large bowl and mix the sand and the gravel thoroughly.

"Again, folks, here's a bigger beaker. What should it say when I pour this in here?"

"Five hundred milliliters."

"Suzie, would you pour this in there? Get it all in, now."

"What's it say?"

Now, the answer would differ based on the size of the gravel, but it was always less than 500 milliliters.

In questioning the students, they would get around to the idea that the physically small size of the sand particles could fit between the cracks and crevices of the gravel...and I would go on to explain that in our two liquids, that was what was also happening. The more compact shape of the ethanol molecule slipped in between the cracks and crevices of the more "V" shaped water molecules and this fully mixed, or miscible substance resulted.

This, I believe, is the stuff of spiritual transformation.

I suspect the spiritual molecules of what we call the human soul are rather bulky entities indeed. I suspect at our birth, they are more like Buckyballs, but as the weight of the world presses and shapes them, they begin to become more studded and irregular from years of sin and turmoil. The molecules of God-stuff--something we tend to imagine as large and voluminous--are actually quite small and compact. When we open ourselves up to the possibility of transformation--when we embrace radical hope--when we dare to become vulnerable to the power of God--those molecules slip between the cracks and crevices of our soul and we become a more miscible entity. However, we can't sit still and expect it to happen. We have to allow mixing to occur. We have to consent to being stirred, shaken and bounced around like a chicken leg in a bag of Shake and Bake.

Perhaps the fearful part of this is that, like in our junior high science demonstration, the end result is we will be a contracted substance compared to the two substances in their separate containers of volume. As ego and self gives way to God, we will become 96 milliliters instead of a hundred. That said, it's important to remember that this transformed substance cannot be separated at room temperature. It can't go back to being just water and just ethanol. Once transformed, we can't go back.

Perhaps, as we watch the institutional church change, and us change with it, and feel fear, we have lost track of the power of miscibility. Could it be that somehow, the windows of the institutional church have been flung wide open, God-stuff is pouring in, and we are a little nervous about it sliding between every crack and crevice of our being?



Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

Jesus meets us at the border

by Beth Kelly

The term “border” puzzled me as a child. Every map had a hard black line on it, and I fully expected to see exactly such a line on the earth. Not so. Looking from home and heart I never really knew where the border was, but the discovery came when I crossed it. I began to notice that when I crossed a border, people showed up either upset or happy or at least with announcement (“we’re in Oregon now”). I can’t hear the border, I can’t taste the border, and I really can’t feel the border, but this invisible boundary reveals itself when I cross it…where ever that is. This is true of most borders between states and even between countries. Except, the U.S. now does have a very definite tangible border fence with Mexico. A very significant fence that makes a border you can feel, smell, see. And there are calm alert men with guns that you will meet at this border.

Last December I was having lunch with another priest, Jennifer Hughes, and Bp Diane Bruce. My heart was strangely moved when Jennifer said she felt ‘called to the wall’. She felt a call to go to the wall between U.S. and Mexico and pray with Jesus. This call has grown into what is now a pilgrim’s event to the border. My childish fascination with borders drew me into being one of the planners for this Diocesan event being held Monday of Holy Week at the border of U.S. and Mexico. As I’ve been involved with this “call” I am seeing borders and Jesus very differently.

Jesus always meets us at the border. Jesus meets us at the border of life and death, life and love, as far as I can tell he is there at all of the borders of life. Every important decision we make is a border we cross into new territory. Life is never the same. Inevitably we go deep across the border and we’re soon speaking a new language. Getting married is a border and leads us into a new language of love and forgiveness. Having a child certainly is also. Choices for college, new careers, decision for retirement, all borders. Even crossing the threshold of a new church. All borders. Others are always there on the other side. I do so hope they are friendly. A different life will be had. If we are attentive, we quickly learn that spiritual borders are frequent. Borders just "are" and Jesus is there. I like to have a Word with Him when I arrive at any border.

In this prayerful event to be held at our national border, I recognize this border is an immense symbol of the dark sides of our expression of immigration. I also recognize that Jesus 'immigrated' from heaven to earth. I wonder if he left his homeland to make a better life for himself by knowing his journey would draw us back all together. I then wonder how Jesus’ homeland changed because of his immigration; surely we did. Like some immigrants, did he risk dying and die for the sake seeking a better life? It seems he was seeking a better life for all of us.

These are just the beginnings of what comes up in my prayers since bringing borders into my spiritual life. This Easter as we celebrate that Jesus crossed the border of death, and, in fact, a way was made for us over that border. Please offer prayer for everyone involved with our southern border. Pray for peace. Pray for wisdom.


The Rev. Beth Kelly is the Rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Fullerton, CA. She has been featured in the books, "Divine Daughters", and "You Can Do It." Her sermons can be found on Internet Archive. She also is the first female Episcopal priest to have private audience with the pope. She has been a priest for 25 years.

Showing up

by Maria L. Evans

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

--Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent, Book of Common Prayer, p. 218

Recently the Barna Group released some rather striking data on "What people get (or more accurately, don't get) out of worship." They surveyed church attendees (it was not clear in the web overview of this how this got broken down exactly, just that they "had attended church in the past") and perhaps the most distressing part of the data was that only 26% of those polled felt that their lives had been changed or affected “greatly” by attending church. Additionally, 46% of them stated that their lives had not changed at all as a result of their churchgoing. Even more distressing was that even among those who attended church in the prior week, half admitted they could not recall a significant insight they had gained.

One could postulate that some of the folks that are "astray" are sitting right in the pews. We talk a lot about mission and evangelism, but as with all dysfunctional families there might be a need to look to ourselves a little bit.

On the other hand, some more heartening info from the study showed that 68% of them felt that attending church made them “part of a group of people who are united in their beliefs and who take care of each other in practical ways.” Sixty-six percent said that feel they have had “a real and personal connection” with God while attending church, although the data does show this to be a sporadic occurrence and rather infrequent.

When I ponder this data, what comes to mind for me is how I've seen many people over the years in churches that have experienced a difficulty in the shared life of the congregation and are not particularly happy, but hang in there and stick it out. Another phenomenon that comes to mind is when something comes along to really rattle one's faith in God that has nothing to do with the congregation per se, but stay in the hopes that this somehow rights itself. They are occupying a pew, they may even be participating in the work and worship of the congregation, but it is, in so many ways, going through the motions.

In my own shared life in our parish, I have thought many times in the past about people I know that are going through some form of loss, yet seem unapproachable, or the people I don't always see eye to eye with, but find myself respecting their hanging in there and sharing the Sacraments with me. I've thought about the people over the years who rearrange themselves in line to avoid getting bread and wine from certain clergy or certain Eucharistic ministers, or the people who moved around a certain way at the Peace to minimize the chances they'd have to share it with certain people. On rare occasions, the person being avoided was me.

What I've come to recognize, in looking at this data, that what at first seemed depressing might only reflect that as much as we want our Sunday services to be the epitome of shiny and happy, perhaps it's not such a terrible thing that they reflect the dry and mundane in our lives. I remember a time in my own life when my faith had been shaken so deeply to the core, to be able to say "I attended church on those Sundays and nothing insightful or revelatory came from it," was, really, a victory--because I hadn't run. I hadn't left. I showed up and went through the motions, and over time, slowly, imperceptibly, something began changing. Eventually it did, and I began to have the occasional episode of insightful joy again.

But when I think back, and I think about the earliest that it could be viewed in retrospect, and people close to me knew more of the story, I could not really claim any bravery or gumption when those close to me thanked me for "sticking it out." I remember looking at one of them and saying, "I wasn't brave at all--I just had nowhere else to go."

This collect is a reminder that there are so many times, so many people, and so many situations that we are powerless to "bring someone" to a place that one can embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of the Good News in Christ. This is business between God and that person. We neglect to remember, however, that each of us in the gathered body on Sunday is the base material for sacramental transformation--even if we provide the means for another to simply be in place, because they have nowhere else to go.


Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

Magnanimity as a Christian Virtue

by Deirdre Good

My grandparents’ lives (what I know of them) were remarkably stable when it came to marriage and family. On my father’s side, my grandfather was ordained in the Church of Ireland, married in church, and he and my grandmother had children who grew up and repeated the pattern. The same was true on my mother’s side. My grandparents were all church-going Christians. There were no divorces and remarriages. People didn’t talk about cancer or mental illness and we had examples of both in the family.

Most of my parents’ generation were church-going Anglicans. Some were ordained and quite a few were missionaries. Several did get divorced and remarried. True, it was unusual but it was known amongst us. And we also knew that my uncle became a paranoid schizophrenic as an adult. He came to stay with us regularly. We also used the C word when people were diagnosed, and we knew who had died from what sort of cancer.

When family members in my parent’s generation divorced and remarried, tensions within the family arose that were sometimes compounded by religious opinions. Some family members like my parents attended second marriages of their relatives, embracing the new relatives as family. Others refused to attend such weddings because they disapproved of divorce and remarriage on religious grounds, or because they felt X should not be marrying “that person” and should simply stay divorced. These people effectively terminated ongoing relations with family members whose second (and perhaps third) weddings they shunned. Later on, however, they changed their minds about exclusion, and degrees of harmony were restored.

Through it all, my parents’ attitude was one of generosity: they attended remarriages of their relatives when others in the family didn’t, they welcomed new family members into the family, and maintained relationships with divorced spouses, inviting them to their own family celebrations. At their 50th Wedding Anniversary, for example, I sat next to the second ex-wife of my mother’s cousin at lunch whilst the cousin and his third wife sat nearby.

My parents’ reasoning was straightforward: they prayed about it, and they read Scripture. They didn’t publicize their attitudes but decided to give family members the benefit of the doubt over responsibility for divorce, and were equally forgiving regardless of who argued the other party was more wronged. They were sympathetic listeners but refused to judge, saying instead, “Who are we to apportion blame? Every situation has more than one side. And our lives are not those of stained-glass window saints.”

Since they were able to invite any and all to family celebrations regardless of their status as divorced, remarried or single, responsibility for attending fell on the invited guests. It was not my parents who disinvited the second wife on the grounds that his adult children disapproved of the marriage. Nor was it my parents who excluded the excluders. People made their own choices whether or not to attend since they knew that all were invited. On one family occasion, a member of the family turned back from entering the reception because he realized he’d have to meet people he had refused --for many years--to meet inside. His loss, and ours.

You might say that my parents practiced a magnanimous Christian charity. While I don’t know what Scripture they read or how they read it, I can say that that reading the New Testament not only bears out their assessment but that this assessment opens up a space in which old and new personal realities can unfold.

Take marriage and family relations. Paul's letters, affected by notions of imminent apocalypse commend “staying as you are” whether single or married. Marriage is containment and second-best. To “brothers (and sisters)” in various communities, Paul commends humility, patient affection, and competition in honoring each person as the body of Christ. After Paul, the authors of the “household codes” in Ephesians, Colossians, and the Pastoral Epistles of 1&2 Timothy and Titus counsel wives, children, and slaves to be obedient to their husbands, fathers and masters.

But Jesus, according to gospel writers, conveys different views. In heaven there will be no marriage, he stipulates. In Mark, when pressed, Jesus prohibits divorce, but in Matthew’s gospel Jesus allows divorce under a single circumstance – adultery. In Matthew, certain disciples make themselves “eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom” in single-minded devotion to God. Married disciples in Matthew, Mark and Luke have left wives, families, professions and households to follow Jesus. Sometimes Jesus insists that followers repudiate family, wealth and property for the sake of the kingdom; on other occasions, Jesus commands individuals to return to family and community.

If the New Testament portrays a variety of ways in which the early believers became followers of Jesus in the differing circumstances of single, married, and community life, who are we to commend one practice over another? Is it not the whole text that has authority, taken together, rather than any few isolated words? Paul’s celebration of diversity in the body of Christ warrants recognition of various communities and individual patterns. Similarly, the authority of the Gospel is self-limiting and self-defining through the very fact that the church has canonized four distinct, different, and equally authoritative Gospel witnesses.

In practice this might be a congregation of different worshippers around the table of the Last Supper sharing salvation through Jesus Christ. Side by side at the altar with someone whose construction of family looks radically different from mine, we kneel as an attempt to open up a physical space for encountering a different person and as a witness to a God whose generosity and creativity cannot be limited by our tiny hearts and minds.

We may be wrong. But we are consoled by the parable in which weeds and wheat are to be left side by side until the end. So when it comes to families, let us recognize our limited and provisional judgments and err boldly on the side of generosity and magnanimity, counting on God’s forgiveness both in this life and the next.

Dr. Deirdre Good is professor of New Testament at The General Theological Seminary, specializing in the Synoptic Gospels, Christian Origins, Noncanonical writings and biblical languages. An American citizen, she grew up in Kenya and keeps the blog On Not Being a Sausage.

Bible-Reading Episcopalian: Who Knew?

by Kathy Staudt

“Who knew that Episcopalians read the Bible”? Twice in the last month, someone has said exactly these words to me, in contexts that now have me wondering. Both conversation partners were people who have been excited to find that you can read the Bible faithfully without taking it literally (indeed, a new book by Christian Smith that I’ve just started reading has suggested that “Biblicism” as we know it in American Protestant tradition actually undermines the enterprise of Evangelism -- but that’s for another post). One was a young adult raised in a progressive, pluralistic household, who is curious about the Bible, and has become more interested in reading Scripture because conversations with an online Episcopalian friend. The other was a priest raised in a deeply conservative Evangelical tradition, who told me he was drawn to the Episcopal Church partly through a “Disciples of Christ in Community” (DOCC) class. “I was raised to think that Episcopalians knew nothing about the Bible, he said, and here were people animatedly engaged in learning about Scripture: Who knew that Episcopalians were readers of the Bible?”

I wonder now whether some of the efforts in the 1980’s and 90’s to promote Bible Study among the laity -- the development of DOCC and EFM, the teachings of people like Verna Dozier and the adult Bible studies she designed -- are actually beginning to “take” among a critical mass of Episcopalians. Certainly it is true to our tradition to take Scripture seriously -- part of the “three-legged stool” of Scripture, Reason and Tradition, but taking a place of priority in many ways. At the consecration of Bishop Mariann Budde I noticed again that one of the things every ordained person must say publicly (in addition to accepting the “doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them”) is “I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary for salvation” (BCP, 538). And the next morning, in church, we offered this collect -- which comes around every year just at the end of the long season of Pentecost:

Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. (Proper 28, BCP p. 236)

“For our learning,” Verna Dozier emphasized: We read Scripture, the record of how men and women experienced the work of God, as our way of learning who God is calling us to be, in our time and place and lives. And each generation is invited to this practice of reading, marking learning, taking in Scripture. When I read recent books by former evangelicals promoting “new ways of reading Scripture” I find that I recognize the way that I have been taught to read Scripture, first in a fairly liberal Presbyterian church in the 1960’s, but then beginning in the 70’s, in Bible studies and conversations with fellow Episcopalians. In our effort to distinguish ourselves from literalist and fundamentalist approaches to Scripture and doctrine, we may well have ceded too much ground in the public conversation about and use of Scripture to guide and inform our account of ourselves.

“Who knew?” What would it be like, if people knew Episcopalians as people who were faithful, creative, thoughtful and open-hearted readers of the Bible, and who do regard it as the Word of God for us, in each succeeding generation, using all the resources of reason and tradition to “hear read, mark learn and inwardly digest” what the Scriptures contain?



Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

A Celtic pilgrimage

By Margaret M. Treadwell

It all started on a gray February day when I received an e-mail invitation from a colleague and clergyman to join his summer Celtic Pilgrimage, carefully planned and fine honed over the past 18 years. He wrote, "Tourists pass through a place and stay the same. Pilgrims pass through and they become different." A readiness for change washed over me and I hit an instant "yes" reply.

My first reward was a bibliography of suggested reading, which provided me with light in winter darkness. Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization, John Philip Newell's Listening to the Heartbeat of God, Ian Bradley's Celtic Christianity and biography of St. Columba were among my highlights.

The pilgrimage itinerary, designed to trace the rise and decline of Celtic religion, began in Wales, moved 28 of us by bus and ferry to Ireland and Scotland, then ended in York, England. Monastic ruins, holy wells, ancient Celtic crosses, Iona Abbey, Durham and York Cathedrals came alive with historical significance under the tutelage of our superb guides. The guides suggested we ask two questions at each site, and a good friend asked me to return with my answer to the third:

1.What is it like to be in this place? What will you take away in your heart?
2. How is it different to experience this place with a group of pilgrims?
3. When did you first experience Jesus on the pilgrimage?

A heart takeaway occurred on the second day when we gathered around our first holy well at Penmon Priory, a coastal monastery founded by Seiriol in the 6th century on the island of Anglesey, Wales. The group became hushed as we approached the rock-protected well of clear, cold water hidden in a beautiful green vale. A clergy leader spoke about holy wells as the source of life for pagan Druids who built their communities near them to experience the womb of Mother Earth. Later, the Celts sought balance between the dark properties of water such as storms that destroy life and the light represented in holy wells where God shines in nature and the goodness of creation. This tension is reflected in their prayers and hymns, which we practiced on the bus from the Iona Worship Book for our daily worship services.

We then reflected on what water means to us individually. I recalled my near drowning terror at age 12 when at the last moment I was mercifully pulled from the darkness into air and light. Suddenly I realized on a deep emotional level a truth I have long known intellectually: Light can be fully appreciated only when we experience it in contrast to darkness.

Two pilgrims in particular gave me an opportunity to observe the balance of light and dark: One fractured an ankle requiring emergency room visits, a cast, and a wheelchair for the duration; another was hospitalized for three days. Both spoke about the pos- itive impact a community of fellow pilgrims had on their recovery. Observing their courage and humor despite intense pain offered us insight into the Celtic way of balancing the tension of opposites and strategies to promote that balance through our efforts to help.

I experienced Jesus for the first time in the most surprising way on the Island of Iona, known as a "thin place" between heaven and earth. I had not anticipated enjoying three pilgrims, a single father with his little girls ages 8 and 6, the exact ages of two granddaughters I adore but wouldn't invite on an adult two-week spiritual journey.

My plan to distance myself shattered when the 8-year-old began talking with me about her love of reading and memorization. She recited her lines from last Easter's pageant, when she insists to the soldiers that Jesus cannot have been killed "because I just saw him yesterday." His presence was palpable at that moment. During our last service at Whitby Abbey before pilgrimage's end she magnificently sang for us assembled wor- shipers, "To Everything There is a Season," culminating in the words, "Until we meet again may you keep safe in the gentle loving arms of God."

I had been slipping into tourist mode when a child, rising above the darkness of her parents' recent separation, taught me what it is to be a pilgrim. I came home changed by her faith in Jesus, who opens our eyes to new possibilities in others and ourselves.

Margaret M. "Peggy" Treadwell, LICSW, is a family, individual and couples therapist and teacher in private practice.

Wounded by God

By Bill Carroll

On a recent Sunday, we heard the rather strange and disturbing story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. I’ve been fascinated by this story for about 30 years, ever since I heard my friend chant it in Hebrew at his Bar-Mitzvah. I’m pretty sure I had a yarmulke on at the time. Thank God there was an English translation.

This odd little story comes in the midst of a much longer tale of family conflict. Jacob has stolen the birthright of his brother Esau and the blessing of their father Isaac. In another land, he has worked hard to acquire two wives, two maids, many children, and large flocks of sheep. He has been chased cross country by his father-in-law and is about to reenter territory controlled by his brother Esau. Jacob is afraid for his life and that of his family. Nevertheless, he lingers behind as his wives, the maids, and the children cross the River Jabbock. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, he spends a troubled night
alone, wrestling with a mysterious man who turns out to be the living God—or at least the angel of God.

Jacob is wounded in the encounter, as the man strikes him on the hip, pulls it out of joint, and leaves him with a limp. Yet he refuses to let go. Even at break of day, when the man begs to be released, Jacob refuses to let him go, unless he will bless him. In response, the man gives Jacob a new name, Israel. And Jacob, for his part, realizes that he has, in fact, been face to face with God.

What is exceedingly strange about this story is that most of us don’t think of God as our adversary--certainly not one we could fight with and win. Moreover, for many of us, our relationship with God is a place of safety, comfort, and security. We are wounded enough already!

If we do think about struggling, our adversary is Satan. Or perhaps some lesser demon, temptation, or sin. Perhaps we struggle with an addiction or other self-destructive tendency. Maybe it’s a painful memory or broken relationship. Maybe it’s pride or anger or feelings of worthlessness. But it’s not—at least not for most of us—a struggle with God. On the contrary, God is the one who takes our side when we are fighting against one or another of these enemies. God is good, merciful, loving and kind. And, it’s true, God is all these things and more.

But some of us, perhaps, have come to know it’s not always so easy. Sometimes, we do stay up half the night wrestling with God. Sometimes, the encounter leaves us wounded, wondering if our relationship is worth it. There’s a dark side to faith. God may be good and loving but isn’t always nice. The living God is not some cosmic wish-fairy who waves a wand and makes the bad stuff go away. Relationship—especially the most holy and life-giving kind of relationship—is always fraught with risk. When we get close enough to another person—he or she can wound us. He or she will certainly challenge us and spur us to difficult and painful growth.

Often, when we wrestle with God, we are wrestling not so much with the reality but with our false preconceptions about God. That may have been true for Jacob, who tricked his brother into selling his birthright and deceived his father into blessing him. Maybe he thought God was like his brother or father, who were capable of giving or denying their blessing. Often, our families are the scene of a life and death drama, as we encounter the imperfections of significant persons whose words and deeds take on a significance far larger than life. And let’s face it: we are seldom as gracious with each other as we might be—and never so gracious as God. God is not like some human parent, who might either give or withhold a blessing. God is the infinite ocean of mercy, who is always giving more than we could ever receive.

But, there is also a real sense in which God can become our adversary. At least insofar as we are lost in sin. We are, in fact, in love with our sins—and our journey into God may involve a painful process of letting go—as we struggle to tear away from those parts of ourselves that keep us in bondage. God may have our best interests at heart, but we so identify with the things that are killing us that God appears as adversary rather than friend. The apostle Paul speaks of being crucified with Christ—of dying to sin, that we might live to God. For Christians, the path toward wholeness and victory involves deep darkness and participation in the Lord’s suffering. We may wrestle with our conscience. We may struggle against the Holy Spirit, who speaks deep within us about the gift and demand of love. And, in the end, we may find ourselves limping along as we try to follow God but keep on walking in the way of sin and death.

But the wounds we suffer are more than merely something negative—the painful removal of obstructions to relationship. They may also be our way into God. Walking in the way of the cross, a beloved prayer reminds us, we find it to be none other than the way of life and peace. Christ loves our wounds, because they make us more like him. Our wounds are signs of our status as frail and dependent creatures. Vulnerable, intimate, self-giving love is what we are made for. It’s the kind of love that Jesus gave us, when he came among us in the flesh. We are called to love each other with the hearts of human beings.
Moreover, in the Christian mystical tradition, we often speak of the wound of love—a wound that is impressed upon our soul by the presence and action of God within us. St. John of the Cross, for example, in The Living Flame of Love, speaks of the sweet cautery and delightful wound of the Holy Spirit. By a cauterizing action, like a hot iron applied to stop a bleeding artery, love burns and heals the soul, ultimately through the grace of our union with God.

“The fire of love,” John writes, is “of infinite power” and can “inestimably transform into itself the soul it touches. Yet He burns each soul according to its preparation: He will burn one more, another less, and this He does insofar as He desires, and how and when He desires.” John goes on to contrast the wound of love with that caused by material fire:

The wound left by material fire is only curable by other medicines, whereas the wound effected by the cautery of love is incurable through medicine. For the very cautery that causes it, cures it, and by curing it, causes it. As often as the cautery of love touches the wound of love, it causes a deeper wound of love, and thus the more it wounds, the more it cures and heals. The more wounded the lover, the healthier he is, and the cure love causes is to wound and inflict wound upon wound, to such an extent that the entire soul is dissolved into a wound of love.

Brothers and sisters, we ought not to pity poor Jacob—but to imitate him. Like him, we ought to persevere through the night and never, ever let go of God. For, in the very act of being wounded, he prevails and receives a blessing after a long, hard struggle. He receives a new name—Israel, the one who sees God. And his wound results from the divine touch—the Holy Spirit, who sets us on fire with heavenly desires. The more we are wounded by this love, the more deeply we thirst for God. In this desire and this thirst lies our salvation. For this is the touch of our Savior—the Great Physician--who, in wounding, makes us like himself—even as he heals us and makes us whole.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

The practice of "thank you"

By Donald Schell

I wanted to write about a practice of gratitude, a new daily routine that I’m hoping to make as habitual as flossing my teeth. No, more than wanted to, I guess I am beginning to write about it. I’ll get to the problem in a moment.

The practice is new for me. For the past two weeks each night after I set the alarm and just before putting my bedside light out, I’ve journaled a short litany of specific “thank you’s.” Literally I begin each night’s journal page - “thank you God for…” and then simply make a new list, thank you’s for eight or ten specific things I’ve experienced or done or seen that day. I’m looking to remember that my life is blest, that all life is blest.

My inspiration for the practice came from reading Robert Emmons’ research on gratitude. Emmons is a professor at University of California, Davis. U.C. Davis’s website tell us, “Dr. Emmons' research is at the interface of personality psychology, the psychology of emotion and the psychology of religion. His primary interests are in the psychology of gratitude and the psychology of personal goals, and how each is related to positive psychological processes, including happiness, well-being, and personality integration.”

There’s no surprise in my interest - as a priest working with congregations and church leaders, especially clergy and church musicians - in this interface of personality, emotion, and religion. Even when I was a parish rector, and now, even more, as a teaching priest and liturgist, I’m trying to notice and understand community spiritual practices, the things we choose to do that shape our human and spiritual character.
Emmons, as a psychologist (along with some fascinating colleagues) is asking those big questions that contemporary neuro-psychology and primate studies struggle to answer –
- what is compassion?
- how does compassion become part of our human character?
- how does compassion relate to the violence and the competitive struggle of one against all that’s also in us?
- is compassion as natural to us as our violence, anger, and fear? and
- what can compassion teach us about common humanity and morals that might be deeper or more universal than particular human culture?

With too few in the church listening, these researchers are coming to new transformative understandings of the evolutionary bases of human character, communication, and community.

Whew! Did I really just dump all that in one paragraph? Bear with me - in much of my recent reading, I’ve been trying to catch up with a largely secular, often atheist or agnostic inquiry into human character that could be guiding, informing and even empowering our church’s wise and inspired emphasis on Christian formation. I’m hearing secular researchers asking powerful questions and giving arresting data of what they’re finding forms and nurtures people to become who we are most deeply, and, I guess I’m adding this part, who we’re meant to be.

Robert Emmons’ research on gratitude described an experiment in which he’d introduced a group to a simple practice that significantly changed participants’ experience of themselves and others’ experience of them.

Actually he had three study groups undertake distinct ten-week disciplines of journaling, none of the groups knowing what they other group had been asked to do.
- One group’s daily task was to write a single sentence giving thanks for five things that had happened to them or that they’d been able to do.
- Another group’s task was to write a one-sentence summary of five things that they’d experienced as hassles, things that they were displeased or troubled at.
- And the third group was simply asked to list five recent events that had some impact on them or had made some difference to them.

The group assigned to journal their gratitude reported that they were noticeably happier, more productive, and were sleeping better at night. Their measurable stress indicators (like blood pressure) went down. And they reported family and friends repeatedly asking them what had happened to them that they’d changed so much. Those recording hassles did not show the positive changes, and those in the neutral group showed some changes, but not nearly such big changes as the gratitude group.

I’m enjoying my first week of this new practice. I look forward to the few minutes’ writing before sleep. I think I may feel the small beginning of valuable shift in my spirit. All good. I was planning to reflect more on the practice, what it felt like, and what kinds of things I give thanks for, and then connect it to St. Paul’s repeated exhortation to us to “give thanks in all things.” I was thinking to tie that “all” to Paul’s longing to see Christ “all in all,” and the Gospel of John’s quoting Jesus saying, “When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.”

But am I giving thanks in, for and with American celebrations of Osama Bin Laden’s death? The sense of blessing is hard to find there. It’s a victory celebration, something that feels like what “we” did beating “them,” maybe too much like football fans cheering “their” defeat of a rival team.

And then I read The New York Times' story of Javier Sicilia, the distinguished Mexican poet whose twenty-four year old son was one of seven university students in Cuernavaca randomly kidnapped and murdered by drug traffickers.

Javier Sicilia is a Catholic poet. His last poem, the poem he wrote as he put down poetry to take up activism to end the violence in Mexico says:

The world is not worthy of words
they have been suffocated from the inside
as they suffocated you, as they tore apart your lungs…
the pain does not leave me
all that remains is a world
through the silence of the righteous,
only through your silence and my silence, Juanelo.

St. Paul, who admonished us to give thanks in all things, lived his life in a world as violent as ours, and with the bodies of crucified criminals hanging outside the gates of cities across the empire, a world where violence and death were more visible than in much of America.

And Jesus’ prophecy? Those words Desmond Tutu loves to quote so emphatically and yet so playfully, “he said, all people, ALL PEOPLE!”? Desmond Tutu knows the context well enough, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”
As I clipped out the story of Javier Sicilia’s loss and his witness, I remembered reading that Dostoyevsky used to save newspaper stories of human violence to make certain that when he wrote his steady hope that in Christ the whole world and all humanity would sing a hymn of praise together his steady vision had to include the whole of human suffering, human grief, and the evil we do to one another.

Juan Francisco Sicilia is dead, a loss that his father will carry for the rest of his life.
Osama Bin Laden is dead, a death that some felt justice had demanded; others were simply relieved.

Javier Sicilia, you are in my prayers. My twenty-four year old son is still alive. Yours is gone and a poem won’t bring him back. I’m grateful for your witness.

Osama Bin Laden, I pray for your soul and the souls of the many who died in the Twin Towers, in a field in Pennsylvania, and for my cousin and all who died with him in the plane crashed into the Pentagon. And I pray for all who grieve those many deaths and the many more deaths that followed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And Episcopal Café readers? I will continue my ‘thank you’ prayers in the evening. Perhaps you’d like to join me in this practice. I may give a progress report on my experience some months from now and would welcome hearing the voices of others who have been exploring the practice. For now, I want to acknowledge (and give thanks) for the context, the hunch, the intuition that makes thanks possible:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Tonight, before I write, I’ll pause to remember those two deaths and pray for the wisdom and simplicity to recall today and give thanks in all things.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Revisiting Evelyn Underhill: the Centennial Year of Mysticism

By Kathleen Staudt

2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Evelyn Underhill’s groundbreaking book, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Human Spiritual Consciousness. This book has been remarkable in that it has appealed both to scholars and to seekers, and it has been continuously in print for 100 years -- a miracle in itself, as anyone familiar with publishing knows. Even though Mysticism is not my favorite among Underhill’s writings, I have welcomed the invitation this centennial year brings to read more widely in her work, and to appreciate again how vividly she speaks to our own time. (Most recently I’ve been involved in organizing a conference on her work, to be held at Washington National Cathedral June 3 and 4 -- more information about this here.)

Mysticism is the product of the Edwardian era, when the more affluent classes, as well as clerics and academics, were interested in various aspects of the life of the spirit. Underhill herself was the author of several spiritual novels with neoplatonic world views, and spent some time with a spiritualist group known as the Golden Dawn. The interest in personal spiritual experience in her era mirrors the New Age spirituality of the 1980’s and 90’s, and also speaks to the popularity in our own time of being “spiritual but not religious.” To this audience, Underhill, largely self-educated in the area of religion, assembles here a comprehensive survey of the great Christian mystics, especially of the west, insisting at once upon their universality as “pioneers of the (human) race” and on the particularity of their Christian identity, rooted in the mystery of the Incarnation.

What is fascinating about Mysticism, and a thread through all of Underhill’s writing, is her simple insistence that spiritual experience is about God, and not (primarily) about our own internal psychology or makeup. A thoughtful and well-reasoned Christian apologist, she is unapologetic about insisting on the “reality” of God as the ground of mystical experience. In the 1920’s, following the upheaval of the Great War, she embraces to a decidedly “catholic” Anglican faith and moves into a remarkable career as a writer and lecturer on Christian spirituality, directing retreats, writing letters of directions and teaching “normal people” about the life of prayer in the modern world. Archbishop Michael Ramsey said of her that “ in the twenties and thirties there were few, if indeed, any, in the Church of England who did more to help people to grasp the priority of prayer in the Christian life and the place of the contemplative element within it.”(Preface to Christopher Armstrong’s Evelyn Underhill (1975, Eerdmans), pp. ix-x)

I find Underhill increasingly appealing as her work matures, from the Romantic celebrations of Mysticism to a focus on what her later work calls “the spiritual life,” preferring that term to “mysticism” when she discusses the life of prayer for ordinary people. Particularly infectious is her deepening appreciation for the ancient wisdom of the Christian tradition, which she sees forming the greatest of the western mystics, and whose theological heritage she finds, increasingly, in eastern orthodoxy. Though my preferences vary when it comes to Underhill’s work, at the moment I am very much taken with the series of Lenten retreat addresses on the “Christian creed” which she published in 1937 under the title The School of Charity. I led a study course on this work recently and was surprised to find how fresh and wise it is, for contemporary Christians seeking clarity about our identity and practice in the postmodern world. It presents the Creed (mainly the Nicene Creed), not as a series of propositions to be debated or assented to, but as a series of themes for prayerful exploration and contemplation.

The heart of her argument in The School of Charity offers fresh and We are created by, and in the image of, a God who relates to the world as the “Artist-Lover” -- delighting in Creation and loving us and desiring us to grow into deeper and fuller companionship in the divine life. “We are Christians,” Underhill writes, bracingly, and so we accept, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, the Christian account of [God’s] character. God is Love, or rather Charity; generous, out-flowing, self-giving love, Agape. When all the qualities which human thought attributes to Reality are set aside, this remains. Charity is the colour of the divine personality, the spectrum of Holiness. We believe that the tendency to give, to share, to cherish, is the mainspring of the universe, ultimate cause of all that is, and reveals the Nature of God: and therefore that when we are most generous we are most living and most real.” (10-11)

The Incarnation follows naturally from this fundamental character of God as generous love: it is out of compassion and love that God becomes one of us, taking on the “pattern” of a human life, and inviting us to make our own Christ’s life of loving service and availability, compassion, radical peacemaking, and ultimately radical self-offering. Rather than pursuing the theology of a “substitutionary” atonement, Underhill invites us to marvel at the generosity of the divine self-offering, which enters the brokenness of our human experience to share and transform it. And so the heart of our faith is the Incarnation; the Cross, the central symbol of that faith, is the inevitable outcome of the divine decision to share our human nature. In the Crucifixion, the extremes of human suffering experienced in his own humanity by the One who loves us. The suffering that we experience in our lives is given meaning and hope by the profound generosity of self-offering Love - “caritas” - “Charity,” which is the heart of the divine life, the goal of our formation in the Christian life, the ground of human transformation.

“A Christian’s belief about reality,” she writes, “is a wonderful blend of confidence and experience. On one hand it asks great faith in the invisible world that enfolds us. On the other hand it includes and embraces the hardest facts of the actual life we know, and gives them a creative quality. It is a religion which leaves nothing out (p. 51).” In her chapter on the Spirit and the Church, she insists that however incongruous it may seem, the Holy Spirit’s mission of transforming a broken world happens through us, the Church, in our ordinary, practical lives. So she writes with wry awareness:

. . . . .All this seems terribly concrete to the enthusiast for “pure spirituality”: and when we think of pews and hassocks and the Parish Magazine, we tend to rebel against the yoke of official religion, with its suggestion of formalism and even frowstiness. It seems far too stiff and institutional, too unventilated, to represent the generous and life-giving dealings of the Divine Charity with men. The chorus which exclaimed with awe and delight, “I believe in one God! Thins out a good deal when it comes to saying, “I believe in one Church!. . . . Yet there it is; the Christian sequence is God-Christ-Spirit-Church-Eternal Life. No link in this chain can be knocked out, without breaking the current of love which passes from God through his creatures back again to God. The incarnation of the Holy in this world is social. We are each to contribute our bit to it, and each to depend on the whole.” (92)

Rereading these and other works by Evelyn Underhill has invited me to recognize the excitement at the heart of Christian faith, and try to live into it more fully. Hers is a “practical mysticism”-- an aliveness to the Reality of the Divine mystery that embodies itself in a way of life. Her work continues to hold wisdom for us in the Church today. It has been well worth a revisit in this centennial year of Mysticism.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

Anchored in God

Summer hours continue. Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Kathy Staudt

In several different contexts over the past month, I’ve been brought up short again by this quotation from Evelyn Underhill’s The Spiritual Life. She writes: “a spiritual life is simply a life in which all that we do comes from the centre, where we are anchored in God.” It came up at the annual Quiet Day in honor of Evelyn Underhill, at Washington National Cathedral, and at a conference I was leading on Poetry and the Journey toward God, where we listened for the ways that poems can be an invitation, an opening, a first step into prayer-- into what Mary Oliver calls “a silence in which/ another voice may speak.” Underhill invites readers to think about people they’ve known either personally or through the tradition who reflected this confidence -- insisting that this life from the center is available to “normal people”; it is not some kind of superhuman spiritual achievement.

That same image of the anchor comes up in a spiritual we sing sometimes at my home parish, a hymn by Mother Jones that says what we all know about what we need -- particularly timely nowadays:
“In times likes these, we need a Saviour;
in times like these, we need an anchor
I’m very sure, I’m very sure
My anchor holds, upon the so-lid-rock.

(If you know the tune you’ll recognize how the tune and the meter leave us “anchored” in the rock, who is Jesus).

The anchor image is a good one, actually, because it suggests that even though we may drift, we ultimately know where we are, and there is a place we can get back to. And the spiritual life, considered as an integral part of our journey of faith and mission, is about grounding all that we do in the love and power of a reality beyond our inventions, prejudices, even righteous political positions , and a justice and mercy beyond our own making. Perhaps a fruitful direction for meditation is this: what causes me to drift away from where I am anchored? And what brings me up short, and pulls me back? This anchor image reflects a solidity of faith that many of us yearn for in ourselves and in our leaders. How do we get back to that, individually and collectively? And what sets us adrift?

So often our discussions of church life, governance, mission, and denominational politics seem to lose track of this kind of vision -- to reflect more familiar cultural values of marketing, institutional survival, or for leaders, personal mental health and self-care. Somewhere recently (Was it on the Café? I can’t remember.) I even ran across some discussion about how church leaders and clergy find they may not believe in God any more, and that’s just how it is (though we can be reassured that even if clergy have a crisis of faith this does not affect the validity of the sacraments). I’ve been musing about how often, in the privacy of a spiritual direction conversation, people have been relieved but surprised when I’ve raised the question: “so where is God in all this?” Something makes us forget to ask this question, whatever image that word “God” carries for us. It has become almost a commonplace that spiritual burnout is an inevitable outcome of ministry -- but I keep asking myself, why do we settle for this? Don’t we believe that there is something on offer in the life of faith? Some centering point that can draw us back to what is most real to us? At some point in most of our lives, someone’s centered faith helped bring us into the life of the church to begin with. So why is it so hard to keep track of that “centre, where we are anchored in God?”

I’m just raising the question, today. I suppose (and hope) that for many Café readers this will all seem obvious, perhaps not worth mentioning, but I’ve been brought up short by that quote from Underhill, and that “anchor” image, enough times lately to wonder whether there is something there worthy of continued meditation. Since genuine faith is usually “caught” rather than “taught,” I am wondering what the church would look like if more of us in leadership paid closer attention to where our faith is “anchored, ” and to what it takes for us, in our own particular lives, to relocate and find our center, in a quiet, undramatic, and “normal” way. The answers will be different for each person, but I think they’re good questions, and they’ve been helpful to my own meditations over this past month.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

A call to humility in times of conflict

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Bill Carroll

(Note: All parenthetical references in the text are to Thomas Merton's Thoughts in Solitude)

For a while now, I have been working out an analysis of Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton’s short spiritual classic, in terms of what he has to say about poverty and humility. It occurs to me that one of the subtexts of the longer paper I intend to write is a need for spiritual leadership in the churches of the Anglican Communion. I think it might be worthwhile to address this theme more explicitly in a shorter piece for a slightly different audience.

Thoughts in Solitude was written at a time when Merton was granted leave by his superiors to live in solitude for an extended period. In this work, he finds himself grappling with the relationship between the individual and the community. As he does so, he helps us to ground insights familiar to many of us from family systems theory more deeply in our life in Christ. Paying attention to what Merton has to say about the life of a poor and humble solitary before God may teach us how to be more fully ourselves as we seek the highest degree of communion possible with others.

Merton’s analysis of humility unmasks the spiritual violence behind recent exhortations to “stand in a crucified place” or to sacrifice our conscience for the sake of the perceived good order of the Anglican Communion. Life in Christ does involve deep immersion in the paschal mystery. What is more, a stripping away of the illusions of the false self, including pride and self-centeredness, is necessary for genuine Christian community. In the opening words of the first chapter, Merton contrasts true and false ways of participating in Christ’s life-giving death:

There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality, for life is maintained and nourished in us by our vital relation with realities outside and above us. When our life feeds on unreality, it must starve. It must therefore die. There is no greater misery than to mistake this fruitless death for the true, fruitful and sacrificial “death” by which we enter into life. The death by which we enter into life is not an escape from reality but a complete gift of ourselves which involves a total commitment to reality. (3)

Merton does believe that dying with Christ involves self-conquest and self-surrender. The self as we know it is a false self, deeply implicated in sin, illusion, and “unreality.” And yet true self-conquest (like the Church’s communion of love, which it makes possible) is not something we can manufacture for ourselves:

“Real self-conquest is the conquest of ourselves not by ourselves but by the Holy Spirit. Self-conquest is really self-surrender. Yet before we can surrender ourselves we must become ourselves. For no one can give up what he does not possess.” (18)

True self-conquest involves a form of self-love:

To love our nothingness we must love everything in us that the proud man loves when he loves himself. But we must love it all for exactly the opposite reason. To love our nothingness we must love ourselves. But the proud man loves himself because he thinks he is worthy of love and respect and veneration for his own sake. Because he thinks he must be loved by God and man. Because he thinks he is more worthy to be honored and loved and reverenced than all other men. The humble man also loves himself, and seeks to be loved and honored, not because love and honor are due to him but because they are not due to him. He seeks to be loved by the mercy of God. He begs to be loved and helped by the liberality of his fellow men. Knowing that he has nothing he also knows that he needs everything and he is not afraid to beg for what he needs and to get it where he can. (35-36)

To love oneself with the love of a humble person does not mean that we love only the self as it is before the fall (or in glory). It means to love ourselves as we actually are, acknowledging our faults, struggling against them, and handing over what we cannot handle to the inexhaustible mercy of Christ. We do so, realizing that there are some fights we cannot win and that even our ability to struggle is contingent on God’s creative gift. To love ourselves with a humble love is to accept, radically, that we are poor and needy creatures—and fallen ones at that. And it is to accept our humanness as it is and not as we would have it be, so that we might place ourselves, as we truly are, in the hands of the living God: “It is necessary that I be human and remain human in order that the Cross of Christ be not made void. Jesus died not for the angels but for men.” (129)

How do we treat one another, if we adopt this posture before God and neighbor? First and foremost, we discipline our tongue (and our actions), especially when provoked. From the New Testament letter of James onward (there are precedents in the Old Testament Wisdom literature), the unbridled tongue has been seen as a profound danger in the Christian life, a threat to the charity that ought to prevail among us After the fall, our language can obscure reality as much as disclose it. Indeed, although the task of naming was given in Paradise as a means of reverence and gratitude, it can be perverted into an act of violence. Merton notes the different roles played by words in prayer and magic: “Prayer uses words to reverence beings in God. Magic uses words to violate the silence and the sanctity of beings by treating them as if they could be torn away from God, possessed, and vilely abused, before the face of His silence.” (64)

Merton also contrasts the speech proper to pride and humility: “It is not speaking that breaks our silence, but the anxiety to be heard. The words of the proud man impose silence on all others, so that he alone may be heard. The humble man speaks only in order to be spoken to. The humble man asks nothing but an alms, then waits and listens.” (89)

It would be a profound misunderstanding of Merton’s teaching, however, to think that this implies passivity on the part of the humble person: “Humility is a virtue, not a neurosis. It sets us free to act virtuously, to serve God and to know Him. Therefore true humility can never really inhibit any really virtuous action, nor can it prevent us from fulfilling ourselves by doing the will of God.” (58)

Now, it seems to me (of course I could be wrong), that recent controversial actions of the Episcopal Church are the result of a long and careful discernment of God’s will in community. Like all discernment, this is ongoing, but its fundamental direction is unlikely to be reversed. As such, this represents a real breakthrough for us as a church, grounded in many breakthroughs of a similar kind in the lives of some of our members. For some of these members, this has been a matter of life and death, certainly a matter of personal integrity and truthfulness. Given this discernment, the actions we have taken (first steps toward Church-wide liturgies for blessing same sex unions; consecration of duly elected bishops living in such unions) seem to us to be not just permissible but morally required. Humility, therefore, cannot inhibit us from taking these steps.

Humility does, however, call us to perpetual self-examination and repentance before God and deep reverence before our brothers and sisters, all of whom are sacraments of the Gospel. At the present, for a variety of reasons, some continue to make a contrary discernment to our own. As sinners redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, this ought to give us pause. When we speak with our brothers and sisters about these matters, we should not do so out of an anxiety to be heard. Nothing we say to each other should come from a desire to dominate or control our neighbor or to manage the outcome of our conversation. We should speak and listen with deep awareness of the many ways in which our perspective is distorted by sin and self-serving illusions. In particular, many of us speak from a position of relative affluence and power, rooted in sinful structures absolutely opposed to the Reign of God. We should speak only in order to be spoken to, with a genuine fraternal desire for instruction and correction if need be, but not in such a way that we fail to discharge our moral obligations to our LGBT brothers and sisters, in any part of the world, or to the truth as we have come to know it in Christ Jesus. We should speak simply and clearly whatever God gives us to say, and then trust God for the rest.

Filled with a sense of our own lowly status, as fallen yet beloved creatures of God, perhaps we can renounce quick institutional fixes and learn what it means to live together as brothers and sisters in knit together by the Holy Spirit in the bonds of charity. At the heart of this lies the forgiveness of sins and mutual forbearance, for whatever virtues we have are fleeting—and, in any event, are ours only by the mercies of God. In the end, as Merton observes:

We must love the poverty of others as Jesus loves it. We must see them with the eyes of His own compassion. But we cannot have true compassion on others unless we are willing to accept pity and receive forgiveness for our own sins. (26)

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

Loved like children

Daily Episcopalian will publish every other day this week.

By Martin L. Smith

The staid Washington dress code hardly encourages men to display ‘wearable art’ but I do have a silver bracelet I wear occasionally. It would be worn by an elder of the Nisga’a people of Northern British Columbia, an elder of the eagle tribe, and is incised with representations of the raven, eagle and clamshell, all vibrant symbols in the mythology of this marvelous people who have lived in the Nass Valley for 10 millennia.

It came into my hands as a memento from one of the most fascinating of my spiritual expeditions around the churches of North America. I was asked to take part in the annual synod of the Anglican Diocese of Caledonia, opening with a day of spiritual retreat. We gathered in a senior citizens center in a logging town in the heartland of this vast diocese. Delegates came from numerous indigenous peoples, Haida, Tsimsian, Gitsxan, Nisga’a, and there were white ranchers from the high plateaus in the west.

Frank speeches testified to the struggles they had been through to accept each other as equals, and to help those of European ancestry surrender their privileges. But the longer I spent with these impressive Anglicans, the more I was struck by a tradition I hadn’t come across before—the honored practice of adopting adults into family and tribe. I soon realized that the bishop, who was entirely European in ancestry, had decades before as a parish priest been adopted into a Nisga’a family. Now he was, by seniority, a revered tribal elder, woven into a huge extended family of cousins, nephews, brothers and sisters. There was no hint that this adopted kinship was make-believe.

A woman from another First Nation spoke of her grief years before at losing her son in a motorbike accident. She had other sons, but there was an unbearable gap in her heart, and so she had asked her parish priest whether she could adopt him as her son, to be in that place. And so it came about. And there they stood together, mother and son, different races, different cultures, different heritages. But they had become mother and son, out of choice and longing. It touched something very deep within me.

I thought of her as I polished my bracelet the other day. I had presided earlier at one of our wonderful Eucharists for pre-schoolers and their parents at St Columba’s, and a parishioner had brought the young toddler she had recently adopted from a Russian orphanage. Here he was, taking part in the first worship service of his life, gazing around with fascination, clapping his hands during the songs, sitting on the rug for story-time with the swarm of his newfound church brothers and sisters. I was full of emotion. What an adventure adoption is, with awesome rewards and such risks and vulnerability!

I feel that our Christian speech about being sons and daughters of God often sounds glib. We would do well to take deeper soundings in its meaning. In his outdoor sermon in Athens, Paul quoted with approval a line from a pagan poet, “We too are his offspring” (Acts 17:28): simply as creatures all human beings are begotten and birthed by God.

Jesus taught that we are called to prove that we are children of God by acting as God acts—with compassion toward the undeserving. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:38) But in the New Testament imagery of divine parenthood, the imagery of adoption has a special place. In Christ, God reaches out to choose, adopt and, yes, rescue us. Each of us is the wanted child God has yearned for. As adopting parents so often experience themselves, God had to go to the utmost lengths to find us and bring us home to his heart.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption.” (Gal. 4:5) In the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul speaks of the “spirit of adoption.” Being an adopted child of God is no mere idea. It is something we feel to the core, it stirs our deepest need to know in our gut that we are a wanted child. God has won us and claimed us as children the hard way, as the cross shows. So “when we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if in fact we suffer with him so that we might also be glorified with him.” (vs.15-17)

Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiritual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba’s, D.C.

Keeping death before our eyes

By Leo Campos

In talking with a friend of mine who works for a divorce lawyer, she told me the story of a client who is dying of cancer. All of us have been directly affected by cancer, and most of us have been directly impacted by the death of someone close. We also know plenty of survivors and we rejoice with them. This is one of the reasons why every year I join the Susan G. Konnen Race for the Cure here in Richmond. I have been taking my son since he was 6 to run the 5k with me. He is quite knowledgeable about cancer by know, and a strong advocate of wearing pink.

There is something very bitter about terminal illnesses that comes from the degeneration, usually quick, of a loved one before our very eyes. It is as if they are running their lives in fast-forward while we are in normal speed. It is not as if any of us do not know we are going to die (excepting the chronic megalomaniac and teenagers). It is not death as such, I believe, that is shocking and bitter about this. Rather, it is the rush towards death which the disease causes, bringing with it accelerated suffering.

We are all dying slowly, at a natural pace, at an orderly rate. Cancer and other diseases break that unspoken contract, and go speeding down the road. We cannot keep up - emotionally, mentally, spiritually.

Monastic wisdom has always recommended that everyone keep in mind their mortality. Benedict in his Rule suggests that the religious keep "death in mind at all times". At first blush nothing seems to be less desirable. Why would I want to remember such a depressing thought? To our ears it seems like a morbid focus on the negatives.

Here it is important to find ways to take a step back and assess our own judgments. First, we live in an age which idolizes youth. Everything, nearly everything, is about staying young. Our whole culture has a form of thanatophobia (fear of death) which seems to have reached unprecedented levels. If you listen to the news (something I highly discourage) you will see that almost all the dire health warnings, the "obesity epidemic" or the tobacco pogroms that are going on, they all reference how eating fatty foods leads to...premature death. Smoking leads to...premature death. Lack of exercise...premature death. And then take the advertising for cosmetics and other drugs. They are "age-defying", "youthful looking skin", "feel young again!"

So when a voice from the past, a voice which lived in a world where death was imminent, and the expectancy of a long life was of about 40 to 50 years, that message seems so foreign as to be nearly alien.

But if we allow ourselves a little patience and the space to deal with issues of mortality, we will find much wisdom in the idea of keeping death before our eyes. All this means is that we need to make decisions based on reality. I have found that I tend to make decisions as if I was going to live forever. Is it a mistake to do this or that? -- it does not matter if I have infinite time to fix any mistakes.

But let us go a little deeper. Keeping death before our eyes is possibly the most effective way to counteract our implicit egotism (also known as "unconscious self-enhancement" - I love that phrase!). We all are egotists and we work hard at transforming our environments to both bolster our self-image and to protect it from any harm. Notice that I say "it". But no matter what barriers we put up, no matter what Neverlands we build, death always enters. And disease (always a threat) is the ultimate offense to our anxiety for immortality.

Back to my friend and her story about the client who was dying of cancer. You might wonder why she needed a divorce lawyer? Because her final wish was to get divorced. The lady was so weak they needed to go out to the car to depose her. She could die any day - so the paperwork needs to be rushed.

I am not sure if this is tragic or liberating (it certainly is uncommon). But death makes individuals of us all. At death's door we will stand in our own convictions and our own faith - nothing imported will do.

When you have all those external things that support you in life removed, what will you stand for?

Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude, a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the "tech guy" for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).

The Word became flesh, right here

By Martin L. Smith

I've just recycled my Christmas cards and a last glance brought smiles of gratitude for old friendships. One card always makes me laugh, even though it's not intentionally humorous. It's just that a card from the rector whose curate I was almost 40 years ago reminds me of the pleasure we had working together, how hardly a day went by without laughter. Tension is often the order of the day between rectors and young assistants, but we enjoyed our friendship, respected each other's gifts, teased each other about our shortcomings and found endless merriment in our parish life. Humor was such a bond we even liked to preach together sometimes; I at the lectern and Robin in the pulpit, presenting the sermon as a dialogue. Occasionally we would improvise two-man plays which we would present in place of a sermon.

One thing that deepened our pleasure in preaching arose from a distinctive feature of the parish tradition. For a generation the parish had organized a pilgrimage to the Holy Land every three years. No one had much money, but the pilgrimage was cherished as a once-in-a-lifetime experience worth saving for. These pilgrimages had woven an extraordinary degree of intimacy with the stories of scripture in the congregation. At any service, more than half the worshippers had personal memories of the places mentioned and every reading triggered a ripple of response. All sorts of expressions would play across their faces, elbows would nudge to signal unspoken reminiscence, little sighs or murmurs could be heard.

"There was a wedding at Cana in Galilee…"; Even before we started our sermon, you could tell people were there, remembering how really nasty the local wine is, since we had tasted it (think rusty nails!) Or, typically English, we couldn't help looking down and noticing that the Orthodox priest showing us what purported to be one of the actual jars was wearing pajamas under his cassock. Mention the Sea of Galilee, and people were back on a beach there on the northern shore, or on a little hill watching the stars fade and the sun rise as the fishing boats set out from Capernaum. Memories wove a shared language: "Do you remember when we went to pray in the chapel on the site of Calvary, and the lady came in with her shopping basket full of cabbages and set it down by the altar so she could crawl on her hands and knees to the place where you could put your hand down a hole in the marble and touch the rock? How we gave that look to each other that said without words, "Well, if she can do it, so can we!" So that when we preached on Good Friday we knew that eyes were shining in the congregation from the felt memory of touching that bedrock of this strange faith of ours.

I've never been convinced by people who claim to be indifferent about visiting the places of where Jesus lived and walked. Surely, even if it were to mean scrimping and saving for a few years—or am I being hopelessly old-fashioned?—this is an experience worth having once in a lifetime, something that will change the way we experience the scriptures and worship and prayer. But of course fear – of what that vivid personal contact might entail – might be the real reason concealed behind the arguments used in dismissing the idea as ‘not for me.'

In a diocese like ours where we are aware of the struggles of the Palestinian people and we know what terrible contradictions roil under the old pious title ‘the Holy Land,' there are extra motives for making the pilgrimage, with opportunities for expressing solidarity with the wronged and for gaining first hand knowledge as a basis for political action and witness. But the core reason that has always moved people of faith to go on pilgrimage remains the same as it has been for millennia. The Word was made flesh, and the life of faith is an embodied experience. The spiritual journey is one we sometimes make with actual footsteps, the climbing that makes us out of breath, the immersion that gets us soaking wet.

I have a hunch that as more people restrict themselves to virtual experiences online, regaling themselves with the infinite array of images a key-stroke can summon to their screens, a counter-cultural revolt will not be long in coming. Communal flesh and blood encounters, incarnational practices, all that is face to face and physical and tangible will begin to be revalued. The Word was made flesh, and Christianity won't stand for that sacred flesh being volatilized into the virtual and evanescent. Real pilgrimages will be a part of that counter-cultural reclaiming of the embodied, sacramental flesh and blood experience in real time.

Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiritual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba's, D.C.

Alone before the almighty

By Leo Campos

For Peter Damian the fundamental question is "How can I live an authentic eremitical life?" He, smart man that he was, quickly realized that physical separateness does not a hermit make.

Rather, the call of the hermit, of the solitary, is a call from and to Authenticity. How can you respond to the True God truly and truthfully? I know this all sounds like an academic question, or perhaps a niche topic for a bunch of cave-dwelling hermits. But I have come to believe this is the question facing all Christians. And the answer is authenticity.

It is important to highlight that authenticity is not the same as creativity, and certainly not truth. Creativity is desirable in purely intellectual activities. There is much more creativity required of the mathematician than the historian or the novelist. Truth is orthogonal to authenticity - but they are not causally connected. Of course in any healthy authenticity there must be a correlation to truth. But truth (or Truth) travels independently and meanders through both creativity and authenticity. It also (frequently!) traverses beauty. Authenticity may be geometrically parallel to beauty, but there is hardly a correlation between the two - only at points which are crossed by Truth in both lines.

Authentic expression is possible only after work is done to nullify the programming which everyone uses to navigate life. In fact it could be said that authenticity is the very flow of Life, while Truth transcends it, or is at best liminal.

To find an authentic expression a couple of pre-conditions are necessary. These are probably apriori phenomenologies. The first is that of The Caller. The Holy Spirit initiates, the creature, at best, responds. Always reacting to the movement of the Prime Actor. Always a step behind. The second, assuming the initiative of the Ghost, there is the personal effort of the Called - the work of sanctification, deification (in Eastern terminology). It is me becoming Jesus God.

But how? Here we enter some hypothetical territory. But the evidence for the correctness of this path is available for those souls who are of an empirical nature, who are not afraid to try things. First, for those who truly want to pursue this path there must be a tendency to distrust personal judgment. This is either something which the individual is born with, or it can be learned through experience. There is a reason why monastic life is best left for those older among us, who have had enough life experiences to realize that our own judgment is a poor guide.

Secondly there is a need for the soul to have (or develop) a great and joyous desire to abandon judgment in favor of response. Response is how a sinner can act righteously. It is a mimicking, a shadow-play, following the Spirit. To be responsive to the way the wind is blowing requires quick hands and quick feet as a sailor friend of mine put it.

Thirdly, as evidenced by all who have attempted this work is that there will be an overflow of charity. This charity, this love, comes not from the emotional center, nor does it come from the intellect. Emotional love is passing, and it varies, fluctuates. This is carnal love. It can be harnessed to much good use, but not solid enough to use as foundation. The intellectual love comes from understanding the nature of Truth and the demands it makes. Thus loving a neighbor is a duty - a joyous one, but still duty. Duty is subject to many things, mostly interpretation, evaluation, history. Truth being transcendent will always be scattered in the prism of the zeitgeist, which makes it inauthentic, even while it does bring light.

Authentic love comes from another approach. It is not that emotional or intellectual love is incorrect or invalid. Far from it. But they are unstable in the eyes of eternity. What is needed is something that will last. And here is where the Christian is called to take up their own cross. Authenticity comes from incarnation. To use more monastic terminology, it comes from presence. It is only in being present to the present that authenticity can blossom.

The only way to do so is to be given the gift of seeing, profoundly realizing the uniqueness of God's Love for me in my totality. I am not if not loved. Saying YES to this love of God is the authentic response.

At that level true Rock is found, true foundation. It is pure light.

This is why I always say that every Christian is called to be a hermit: alone before the Almighty and Ever-Living God.

From that place, word by word, brick by brick, the hermitage can be built - the place of healing for all who enter, the place of safety for all who seek it. In the presence of the authentic Christian hermit the Church exists.

And nowhere else.

Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude, a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the "tech guy" for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).

The sandhill cranes

By Sam Candler

The day had already been satisfying and successful. I had led a men’s retreat on a beautiful piece of property about an hour and a half south of Atlanta, Georgia. The crisp November air had nourished a new sparkle in the oak and poplar leaves. Some of us went fishing; some of us shot guns. The trailing wind and rainy remnants of a distant hurricane had came through and opened up the night sky, revealing a thick and lush panoply of stars.

Out in the open country, the retreat itself was also thick and delightful. I remembered how Herodotus described the war discussions of the ancient Persians. Apparently, when deliberating about whether to go to war, they made such decisions twice. First, in the steady light of reason and tempered discourse, they reached one rational decision. Then, apparently, they would engage the same question while they were drunk. If they came to the same decision in both situations, they would act on it.

So it went on our men’s retreat. After Thursday night, on Friday, we discussed manhood and spirituality. What are the masculine features of a healthy spirituality? What does it mean to be a liberated man in our current economic situations? What is the love of the father, and why are there masculine images for God? We considered the four archetypal “soul types” that Richard Rohr presents in his book, “From Wild Man to Wise Man.” (those types are king, warrior, magician, and lover; more about those soul types on another day.)

On the way back to Atlanta, I drove through the county where I had grown up. I was actually trying to get to the county airport, where my son was preparing for a two hundred and fifty mile cross-country airplane trip. He has been obtaining the necessary licenses to be a commercial airplane pilot. But I just missed him. By 2:00 pm, he had already left with his instructor, flying southward. I texted him with our familiar family lines: “Have fun and be careful.” Those lines have informed our family blessings for almost thirty years.

Back home in Atlanta, I sat outside to catch up on mail and necessities. Given the late hour of my previous evening, I thought perhaps I should take a nap. But then, I heard the sounds.

I heard the familiar, wonderful, and guttural sounds. They sound like gurgles first, so clear and so loud – especially so on a crisp fall afternoon in Georgia. But they cannot be true gurgles, for they come from above, from the air. I have heard them almost every year of my fifty-three years. They are as dependable as these flaming November leaves on maple trees before me.

They were sandhill cranes. I counted at least eighty of them, not far above me this year, undulating in the breeze, substituting the lead, flanking out asymmetrically and raggedly. They were beautiful. This year, with the crisp afternoon sun on them, I could observe astounding detail in their necks and heads.

They were flying right over the developed city of Atlanta, which is nevertheless still blessed with trees and some open land. No matter how congested the Atlanta traffic becomes, and no matter how frantic our daily human lives are at this time of year, the sandhill cranes are an annual prayer flag for me. God sends them fluttering southward in the wind. They are being led and piloted by a power that has existed long before I was born.

Inevitably, I always hear the birds before I see them. So it is, Jesus said, with those born from above, those born of the wind of the Holy Spirit. “You hear the sound of the wind, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes.” The Holy Spirit pilots those birds up and down the continent every year.

This year, I am waiting for that telephone call or text message or email from another pilot, my son. No matter how different he is from me, and no matter how much he faithfully differentiates himself from me, still, a piece of me is with him all the time. A piece of me is up there with him in the Cessna airplane right now, flying freely to the south.

This year, my spirit has leaped up to join the sandhill cranes. Maybe I can fly with them. I’ll try to catch up to that airplane that took off a few hours ago. It has landed now, and the cranes will catch up to him. I hope he remembers to look up, even after he has landed. Even after he has succeeded in the day’s challenge, I hope he remembers to pause and to look up.

I think he’ll see those same sandhill cranes flopping and flapping overhead. They are always there this time of year, but most humanity in this generation has never seen them.

The Holy Spirit, too, is flying over us – and maybe through us and among us; but we will not glimpse that power until we pause and look around. Maybe we will look up, on a retreat; maybe we will have to look down, toward our own children. Maybe we will hear the Holy Spirit before we see anything, and maybe the sound will seem like guttural foreign tongues. The Spirit speaks like that sometimes. But she always soars, and she always waves for us to follow.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. He chaired the House of Deputies' Committee on Prayerbook, Liturgy and Church Music at the General Convention. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

Encountering The Examen

By Adam Thomas

Three Novembers ago, I was a recluse in my seminary dormitory, I ate meals alone at tables with seven other people, and the light had gone out in my eyes. Heartbreak six months old continued to ferment within me. I had no way to deal so I drank deep of my own depression. I was a wretched creature, cast from the pages of Dickens or Dostoyevsky. To borrow from the psalmist, the water had risen up to my neck: I was sinking in deep mire and there was no firm ground for my feet.

In this state, I drove to St. Alban’s in Northwest DC to meet with my spiritual director. The month before, in our first meeting of the new school year, she could tell right away that something was different about me. I was waiting to be buzzed into the office, and she saw me through the little window in the locked door. The door opened, and without a word, she took my arm and pulled me into an embrace. The tears would have come if I had had any left.

A month after that first meeting, I had slipped even lower in the mire. The only thing that could have made the situation worse had happened, and I was struggling to go an hour without wallowing in the future that would have been. I sat down in the rocking chair in my spiritual director’s office. She lit the candle, and we sat in the relative silence of the intersection of Wisconsin and Mass Ave.

Over the next hour, I talked about how difficult it was not to dwell on the woman who left me. In that special way spiritual directors have of eliciting responses by being quiet at the right times, my director helped me discover something. During the nearly two years that we were together, I prayed for this woman every day. I lifted her up to God, and thanked God for her presence in my life. But the prayer dissolved with the relationship, which, of course, was the exact wrong time to stop praying. “When your mind starts to spiral to thoughts of her,” my spiritual director said, “pray for her instead. You are still connected through the love of God, even if you are no longer together.”

The guidance helped, but I don’t think I would have ever recovered if a new spiritual practice hadn’t accompanied the counsel. That same session, my director handed me a sheet of paper entitled “Ignatius’ 5 Step Daily Consciousness or ‘Awareness’ Examen.” “Pray these steps every night for the next month,” she said, “and write them down if writing makes you focus better.” This was a prescription for soul medicine, and, in my desperation, I saw it as a cure. She might have said, “Take two Examens and call me in the morning.” Of course, that’s not how spiritual practices work.

On the first night, I placed a red, five-subject notebook on my pillow so I wouldn’t forget. In the top right corner of the first page, I wrote “1,” and on the first line, “November 6, 2006.” Feeling a bit silly and wondering if I should get a little lock for my new diary, I took out the Examen.

“Step One,” I read: “Be Mindful.” I scratched the words, “Yes, Lord, you are here” under the date and took a deep breath. Something detached from my consciousness with that breath and I wrote it down. Yes, Lord, you are here in the presence of my friends. (My friends who I have abandoned because I’m sure that none of them has ever felt the way I feel right now. How presumptuous.)

“Step Two. Be Thankful.” A roast beef sandwich, spiritual direction, sweater weather. When I thought about it, I found that I was thankful about some things. How wonderful.

“Step Three. Be Humble.” Ah, here’s the tough one, I thought. Humility and I have never been close; cards at Christmas – that’s about it. What is God teaching me through the lesson of today? How has God illumined me today without me realizing it? How uncomfortable.

“Step Four. Be Reflective.” What’s that one encounter from today that has stuck with me? Did the encounter bring me closer or push me away from God? Can’t think of one? How distracted.

“Step Five. Be Responsive.” I read over what I had written, and breathed deeply again. And again, something detached and I wrote it down. So this is where God is leading me. How revealing.

Three years later, the Examen has become a part of my life. I make mental notes during the day about what I want to write. I’m on my sixth notebook, and I switch between blue and black pens, so I can tell when they have run out of ink. The woman, who initially appeared in every entry, no longer stars in its pages. New thanksgivings and desolations and encounters and hopes abound. They are all parts of my story, which God already knows, but which I am discovering every day. I pray to be mindful, thankful, humble, reflective, responsive. I pray for the courage to live a life that can fill dozens of more notebooks. And I pray that God continues to guide my hand as I spill my soul onto those college-ruled pages.

The Rev. Adam Thomas, one of the first Millennials to be ordained priest, is the curate of Trinity Episcopal Church in Martinsburg, WV. He blogs at wherethewind.com.

The Alchemy of Effort and Grace

In the confluence of personal narrative and reflective theology that often mark the experience of a CREDO conference, the Rev. Brian Taylor, rector at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and CREDO conference faculty member, offers a look at how change moves into deep transformation. Join an online conversation on the just-released book All Shall Be Well: An Approach to Wellness (William S. Craddock, Jr., editor: Morehouse Publishing, 2009), and visit the CREDO Web site.

By Brian C. Taylor

I live in New Mexico, and my favorite time of year here is the beginning of fall. It’s not just the impossible blue skies, the cool, clear air, the explosive yellow cottonwoods, and the smell of roasting chili. It’s the palpable feeling of change. You wake up in the morning and there’s something electric in the air, something fresh and new, something that is just starting to become. The world is born again.

This is the same feeling that I sometimes get when returning from a good vacation or retreat. I return to my daily life with hope, with a sense of promise. I see that life is what I make of it, and that it just might be possible to slow down and be “perched a little more lightly on the globe,” as Peter Levi described monks in The Frontiers of Paradise: A Study of Monks and Monasteries (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1990).

Changes such as these are renewing. But if we’re paying attention, they also hint at a much more compelling possibility: genuine, deep transformation. But how does one move from change to real transformation? There are several models of change and transformation to consider.

One model of transformation relies almost entirely on divine intervention, and it assumes an instantaneous, and sometimes complete, change. This is often how conversion is described: “I was immersed in worldliness, running after women, drugs, and money, living the high life, not even knowing how miserable I was, when BAM! God stopped me cold with a heart attack. I realized that I had been living for nothing. My Christian friend came to see me in the hospital, and there I accepted Christ, and haven’t looked back since. I was lost and now am found.”

This is the transformation of Paul on the road to Damascus, knocked off his horse and temporarily blinded. It is the transformation of an alcoholic who one day walks away from a horribly destructive life, into the light of health and sanity. It happens to people because of a crisis, a powerful retreat, or just because we’re unconsciously ready for God to slap us upside the head.

Miraculous, transformative intervention either happens or it doesn’t. We can’t sit around waiting for an epiphany. And yet this doesn’t stop some from trying to manufacture one: straining to hear the life-changing voice of God in their heads, saturating themselves with emotional prayer by a crowd of prayer-warriors, or sweating it out in rigorous meditation until enlightenment is attained. When the breakthrough doesn’t come, we are disappointed in ourselves (we don’t have enough faith) or in God (who apparently doesn’t care, or even exist).

There is another kind of transformation, one planned and executed through our own efforts. It comes out of the business model. We see it today in programs to lose weight, get in shape, improve our effectiveness at work, build intimacy in our marriage, and yes, grow spiritually. We set overall goals, identify measurable objectives, and practice the seven steps promoted by the author or workshop leader.

A rule of life can function this way, as the practitioner gradually takes on a series of activities that he or she knows will bring positive results. My wife essentially did this on a recent vacation, re-plotting her normally distracted week into a format that would allow for quiet time every morning and painting in her studio for two uninterrupted days every week. Previous efforts such as this never worked for her, but this time the timing was right. The plan took hold, and she changed her life for the better.

But the planning/execution model doesn’t always work. A well-planned rule of life can become the life-killing law that Paul warned about, a method of measuring our spiritual inadequacy when we fail to keep it perfectly (or worse, a source of smugness when we do). Sometimes we are not ready for change; we instead to stew awhile longer in our unhappiness in order to learn a lesson at a deeper level. Sometimes we can’t see what is best for ourselves, and so any plan we might come up with is worthless. There are times when even if we do know the direction forward, we keep bumping into a familiar roadblock that prevents us from progressing.

There is a third way toward transformation, a mysterious interplay of human effort and divine grace.

When I was growing up in California’s Bay Area, every self-respecting teenager had to at least try to surf on occasion. What I remember most vividly about my occasional ventures into the surf is not an image of myself standing triumphantly upon the board, but rather, bobbing peacefully in the water, watching the horizon as swells came in groups, and wondering if this set was going to be The One.

I remember turning towards shore, paddling hard (the boards were long and heavy in those days), only to fall back when I couldn’t catch the momentum of the wave. I remember especially the glorious sensation when my vigorous strokes were magically met by the powerful surge beneath, lifting me up and forward. It was an amazing physical sensation, when, after having waited, discerned, tried, and failed, suddenly my strength and the ocean’s strength came together in a glorious alchemy.

So it is with spiritual transformation. We put in our time in prayer, we go to therapy, read books, talk to friends, offer ourselves in worship, and practice our rule of life. We paddle along by our own strength, trying to propel ourselves forward, hoping to catch a wave of freedom, compassion, simplicity, or intimacy with the divine.

But there is a significant place for the waiting on grace. We float in the deep waters, waiting, praying, watching the horizon. Eventually the waters beneath us surge. We receive insight, we hear as if for the first time a familiar passage of scripture, or a part of the old self just sloughs off like dead skin.

Transformation does not usually happen to us by magic or simply because we will it into being. It happens because we try, we fail, we surrender, we wait, we try again, we get help, we let go, we beat our heads against the wall, we wait some more…and all the while, we do our best to trust that the Spirit is actually working harder than we are, beneath the surface of consciousness. Occasionally we catch glimpses of this graceful work, until finally, when the timing is right, it comes out into the open, when all our efforts are matched by the more powerful surge of grace, and we are carried forward.

Understanding snakeheads

By Leo Campos

As someone who wears black robes regularly I can tell you I attract all sorts of people to talk with me. The most interesting effect is that the robes become a projection screen of the speaker's own assumptions. Some approach me and automatically assume that I am a defender of "traditional family values", others assume that I live an "alternative lifestyle" and thus am a defender of experimentation.

I am less interested in discussing my own personal opinions than I am in being a generous listener. Usually people’s positions fall within the same rough outlines: all positions are based on some understanding of the issue which in turn is a response to personal experiences within an ecosystem. You and I and everyone else have opinions which come from some amount of reflection on what has happened to us.

Our phenomenological hermeneutics (interpretation of events) does not occur in a vacuum, of course. Our own "tribe" sets much of the context for events. Very few people are able to transcend such tribal context and pursue an individual approach. I am not even sure such a thing is desirable, let alone possible - we all have "tribes" even if they are a tribe of “rational hermits.”

My concern and my constant work (both personal and with directees) is to become more aware, as aware as possible, of the context for my understandings, because not all of them are positive, life-affirming and charitable.

I think it a sign of spiritual maturity when someone is able to cogently demonstrate awareness of the contexts within which they are operating. You know you are at the beginning of your spiritual walk when you say things like “they just don't get it” or “he just doesn't understand.” The work then is to help you question whether maybe, just maybe, the other does not share the same context, even while sharing the same symbols (language, faith, culture).

Your understanding may be consistent within your ecosystem, but it may be woefully maladapted for a different environment.

To indulge this conceit further, we should look at other cases of transplantation which are not so beneficial to ecosystems, though the creature itself may be quite successful. Just a little up north from my home, in Maryland there have been stories of the snakehead fish. The oysters of the Chesapeake Bay are being seriously damaged by the Japanese veined rapa whelk (a type of predatory sea snail).

But there are literally thousands of invasive plants, animals, bacteria and viruses which are brought here via air and sea and which some estimate to have caused damages of up to $137 billion (these numbers come from the National Governors Association). In their new environment these foreign species have no natural predators and are free to multiply quickly, eat up all resources (food, native animals) and spread their own diseases to livestock, and even humans.

Most of our conversations have been no more than the throwing snakehead fish at each other’s waterways. We have created mental "organisms" (dare I say memes?) who are perfectly suited for living in our favored mental environments. But when we try to transpose them to a new environment they perish. And we don't understand - they were so healthy over here, how come they are not over there?

My focus is to develop (and help others develop through the use of spiritual “technologies”) an irenic heart-space. First, life is always an approaching - both in the sense of bringing together as well as a calculus where we get closer and closer but never quite reach. This realization alone goes a long way in removing the cancer of blind faith in our understandings. We must, therefore leave space in our hearts for the other, the strangers we meet on the road.

Second, we absolutely must live into Philippians 4:5 if we are to have any positive impact. Or, to say it another way, if anything good and noble and healing is to come from your life, gentleness and a spirit of peace is to be firmly established. Remember Jesus gave us his own spirit of peace, the peace that is beyond all understandings. Aha!

So here's an appeal - spend some time with your spiritual director doing some work in identifying your thoughts. Also go ahead and identify the health of your mental ecosystem. How are the pollution levels? Do a serious analysis of all heavy metals and nitrates. What kind of impact are you having in the broader environment? Are you a toxic wasteland? Are you blissfully introducing snakehead fish into new environments?

There are countless reasons why a person’s mental ecosystem developed the way it did – and introduction of new ideas, willy-nilly, without respect for the indigenous life, is simply intellectual imperialism, and I will say it, un-Christian.

Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude, a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the "tech guy" for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).

In praise of adoration

By Martin L. Smith

What is your very earliest memory? How far back can you push the frontier of remembrance until it will go no further? I thought of this during a brief halt in my dusting last week after I had rubbed the frame of an old photograph of my Ukrainian grandmother. I had a flashback to a moment of terror I had before I was 3, when a sparrow flew into the bathroom, scaring me to death. I staggered onto the landing with my pants entangling my ankles, wailing. Relief came with the sight of my grandmother hauling herself up the stairs to rescue me, murmuring soothing words in a muddle of Russian and English and waving a Mars bar.

What is your earliest spiritual experience? How far back do you go to reach the first time you had some intimation of the Holy One? I must have been 4. My mother had to take me to the office one day, where she worked as the secretary of a formidable stock-broker, Miss Moscrop-Robinson. I was forced to come to terms with her hideous, snuffling pug-dog as I whiled away the hours, listening to the tap of the typewriter and the clanging of the clock. But I must have been good, because my mother gave in to my insistence that we visit a peculiar building across the road before going home. I could tell this made her uncomfortable but I was intrigued by the pointed black chimney that towered over the entrance, and I could see that people were coming in and out. I was astonished by what we found inside. Men and women were scattered around sitting very still. Some were kneeling. Others were lighting candles. Beautiful colored windows glowed. The walls were the hue of a thrush’s egg. I could tell that something quite wonderful was going on, even though nothing appeared to be happening. There was a look on people’s upturned faces I had never seen before. They were paying attention to something I couldn’t see that made them serious and calm. I was thrilled. I was told this was a church.

No one in my family practiced religion, but I must have pumped my mother later for further explanations, and she must have drawn on her experience at a convent grammar school to do her best to satisfy my questions. What were those people doing? “Adoration.” Somehow I got it, and to everyone’s bafflement by my 5th birthday I was announcing my intention of becoming a priest.

Sometimes first impressions give us a spool of thread to be unwound as we negotiate the labyrinth of life, the thread we can use for getting home again wherever the twists and turns have taken us. There’s something in me that is going to light up when we start singing again soon, “O come, let us adore him.” Adoration. I can’t help thinking that this belongs to the core of religion for all, and if it is relegated to the attic or pushed offstage then that seems to me a church’s worst betrayal. When I was very small I could tell that perfectly ordinary people going about their daily work (not some special niche group interested in spirituality, as we so often imagine today) had been initiated into a practice, an activity, a way that they wanted to return to again and again, in which they let themselves experience a kind of rapture. There in the midst of ordinary activities in this dirty industrial town, they could let themselves go and bask for while in the sheer reality of a loving God. Those who ached from life’s demands could soak in God like a hot bath. Those who felt cold and wet could simply “dry off in the sunshine of his love,” as Therese of Lisieux would say. Or they could simply look at God, “looking at them lovingly and humbly,” as her namesake Teresa of Avila put it, and it wasn’t a big deal, something they were in the habit of doing before they caught the bus home.

I can’t accept that adoration is some kind of special faculty for a few. The folks I saw praying in St Marie’s would have been deeply perplexed by the notion that it was for contemplatives. Wasn’t this simply the core of religion? I saw it, I felt it and I suppose I was unselfconsciously coached in it by working people with no sophistication. My earliest spiritual director was Nora, our Irish cleaning lady. She adored Christ, and actually adoring was for her as concrete and real as swimming. It wasn’t an idea. It was something she knew how to do and she assumed that it was what we were born for, and that the feel for it was latent in everyone. She was poor, but she felt rich, and it saddened her whenever she found that someone had not discovered that God is wonderful.

Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiritual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba’s, in Washington, D.C.

Freaks for Christ: Mourning Brother Squirrel

By Christopher Evans

Imagine someone holding a funeral for a squirrel on the roadside as you drive to work. Crazy, no? Probably.

Some time back as I drove to work, I noticed a dead squirrel in the middle of the opposite lane. Two other squirrels were trying to rouse him, shaking his body to and fro without success. A third was chattering from the bank on the side of the road, clearly agitated. They were all running back and across the road. Should I stop? Keep going? I continued driving on. I had nearly made it into the parking lot at work when my fellow-feeling hit. In their attempts to help their fellow squirrel, now presumably dead, one of the other squirrels might get killed as well.

So, I turned around and drove back. I parked. I got out and searched through the trunk, coming up with some cardboard and a plastic lid with which to move his body. As I moved toward his body, one squirrel was trying to move his body, little legs widespread, pushing the body toward the curb with great difficulty. I paused as a truck approached, put my hand up to indicate slow down, and waived the driver around. I turned back to the body. He, for he was clearly male, was dead. I was relieved for that much for his own sake and for mine, as I do not know what I would have done if he were still alive and suffering ever so slowly to death from crushed innards. His right-hand eye was popped clear out of its socket. His teeth were pushed clear forward nearly out of his mouth, blood beginning to dry on his lips. I stooped down and scooped his furry tan-and-black body onto the hard plastic lid using the piece of cardboard. I moved his body to the side of the road beneath a three evergreen trees.

I placed his body on the ground, resting his paws in his breast, and having no spade with which to dig, I did my best to cover his body with earth using the plastic lid which I’d used to move his body. And with one squirrel on the ground to my left observing, another nearby in a tree chattering, and the third to my right up another tree, I made the Sign of the Cross, paused with them for a moment of silence, and then raising my hands in the orans position, I chanted aloud a version of my “Roadkill Prayer”:

Blessed are you, O God of all creation, we give you thanks for the life of this squirrel, your creature. Now receive him into your eternal care where he might enjoy you forever according to his estate; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I closed with the Sign of the Cross. Yes, it all felt a little silly at near 8:00 AM on a workday morn. A man was mowing his law across the street. What must he have thought as I stood there praying with three very twitchy squirrels momentarily still? Another Bay Area freak?

But the gesture was profoundly right. I was changed. It is as if scales began to fall from my eyes just a bit. Who pauses to mourn a squirrel? To think anew about how we drive without care of our surrounds and those who inhabit them with us? There are countless millions of these pesky rodents. Yet, this squirrel was a fellow creature, a unique creation of flesh and blood whom God declared “good, indeed, very good.” He too is a subject of God’s care and concern in his own right irrespective of how he stands in relation to us human beings. God hears his “Holy, holy, holy” with our own, as the Psalmist reminds: “All thy works shall give thanks to thee, O Lord, and all thy saints shall bless thee!”

In our anthropocentrism, we are only now discovering the vast and varied intelligence of our fellow creatures and the relationship of ours to theirs. And as our own existence and survival is pressed, we are just beginning to understand the ecological and cosmological dimensions of our faith in Christ and calling as Christians. We need not go far to readjust our vision. We need only put on our Prayer Book lens to recover a sense of reverence.

This line of oblation from Prayer D in our Prayer Book exemplifies and sums our role in Christ and our proper orientation to all of creation: “and offering to you, from the gifts you have given us, this bread and this cup, we praise you and we bless you.” In the Orthodox tradition from which Prayer D heavily borrows, in Jesus Christ we are priests of creation, called to glorify, bless, and praise God without ceasing and to pray for and serve all of God’s creatures as bearers of blessing.

To give thanks, eucharist, is our rightful place at Holy Communion as well as in the Daily Office. These properly mark our daily life and work as thanksgiving in their own right. Thanksgiving and blessing and service are our “dominion” and “rule,” “right” and “image.” Our Prayer Book stands in complete contrast to those who justify the “rape of the earth” for the sake of production, consumption, and progress.

Tongues wagged as my own bishop, Bishop Steven Charleston, addressed the close of General Convention 2009 with a prophetic challenge: This earth, “our island home” is in grave peril. Species are dying. Biomes are changing too rapidly for adaptation. Toxins are killing everything. We cannot keep living like this.

While most paid all of their attention to matters of human sexuality, I rejoiced at the passage of resolutions addressing animal welfare. I am sure some eyes rolled at the passage of Resolution C078: Liturgy for Loss of a Companion Animal.

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That this 76th General Convention reaffirm that all animals are a part of All Creation, for which we are called to be stewards of God's gifts; and be it further

Resolved, That the Episcopal Church embrace the opportunity for pastoral care for people who grieve the loss of a companion animal; and be it further

Resolved, That this General Convention direct the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to develop liturgical resources to observe the loss of a companion animal and that it reoprt its work to the 77th General Convention.

EXPLANATION
Various groups within the Church have shown an interest in developing inclusive liturgies for events that touch people's lives, for which there currently exists no authorized rite. The bond between humans and their animal companions can be strong, causing a deep sense of loss, grief (or even guilt) over the animal's death, especially when dealing with the loss alone, without the presence of their community of faith, or having the preconception that such an event falls outside the interest of their church. Our animal companions provide a unique connection to creation and expand our sense of God's diverse gifts in creation. In many cases they also join us as partners in ministry, in such capacities as assistance animals, i.e., seeing eye dogs, etc. as well as therapy dogs and cats used in health care facilities and for pastoral care. An authorized rite in the Book of Occasional Services would give clergy and others a resource for offering pastoral care at the death of a companion animal.

How far-gone must the Episcopal Church be that they are passing legislation directing the development of rites for animals? Too few in the Episcopal Church know of the jabs the Rev. Dr. Andrew Linzey has taken for developing precisely these sorts of liturgies and a theology of animals heavily rooted in the Incarnation upon which his thought and concern are based. We are witnessing the expansion of our lex orandi through revisiting and reappreciating our lex credendi: Christ’s Incarnation is for the sake of all flesh. No less than SS Benedict, David, Francis, and Seraphim could have told us as much, if we would but pay attention to our ancestors in faith. Again, the seeds are already planted in our Prayer Book and resources.

To bless God in Christ by the Spirit is the foundational act for our living, our serving, our dying. This is the embrace to which our Lord Christ calls us as images of His own “great High Priesthood,” in the words to the close of Prayer C. Reverence begins with what is in front of us by giving thanks for God’s goodness. A bow for He who comes in the Name of the Lord matters at the Thrice-Holy. A thanksgiving before eating daily bread acknowledges gift. A desire to see each person blessed by tangible graces and up-building words greets Christ. An unwillingness to pause in appreciation at the felling of a thousand-year old tree teaches blasphemy. The put-down of another makes flesh our curses. Or in F.D. Maurice’s words, “the Incarnation may be set aside in acts as well as words.” The recovery of this sense of wonder and awe at a God’s creation is a first step to finding our proper place again, that is, to learning humility. To recover reverence of God’s gifts is to profess the Incarnation.

Certainly, to offer words of thanksgiving for the loss of a domesticated animal companion will not save the planet. Nonetheless, to bless God for the life of just one animal, who has been a friend and companion, begins to have us think anew about our fellow creatures, about creation, about ourselves, about God. Such a gesture may be small, but it is significant step toward recognizing our coexistence with, our reliance upon, and our shared flesh as fellow creatures. And so we find these words from another resolution passed, D015:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 76th General Convention support the humane and merciful treatment of all of God's Creatures; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention urge Diocesan Environmental Commissions or Committees to provide information to educate our congregations about decisions that would affect the lives and health of endangered species, farmed food animals and domesticated animals; and be it further

Resolved, That each congregation be encouraged to refer this resolution to their outreach committee or other such venue in order to ensure the education and dissemination of information to their members about endangered species, farmed food animals and domesticated animals.

EXPLANATION
The Christian Tradition holds that God has created the earth and all that lives herein. It teaches that all God created is “good”, and further, that we are held accountable for the right stewardship of God's creation. A number of endangered species are rapidly becoming extinct; a notable example is the Red Knot bird that traverses between Argentina and the Arctic with a key food stop in New Jersey where one specific local species is under siege threatening the elimination of the Red Knot's critical food, the eggs of the horseshoe crab, by the crabs' over-capture as fishing bait. And overdevelopment of United States' virgin lands has put a large variety of indigenous species' existence in imminent jeopardy. Food animals continue to be cruelly and mercilessly treated: pregnant sows are totally confined in gestation crates, veal calves are penned in veal crates and are barely able to move around or even stand up; chickens are crammed together for life into battery cages in a space no larger than this page; geese are brutally force fed to make foie gras; grazing animals are fed antibiotics to increase size, that are then contained within their meat, passing these antibiotics on to consuming humans who become more and more vulnerable to resistant bacterial strains. Huge factory farms house animals in deplorable and unsanitary conditions resulting in foul run off, polluted ground water, and contamination linked to human diseases. Stressed food animals produce stress hormones. This can compromise their immune systems. Antibiotics are in turn routinely given to ensure that the animals are not overwhelmed by ambient microorganisms. Small doses of these antibiotics, showing up in the meat eaten by humans, actually increase human vulnerability to resistant strains of microorganisms. By education we can make a real difference in the level of awareness of these problems and practices. Congregations can become aware of the most vulnerable of God's creation and respect the dignity of “all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all” (Cecil Frances Alexander, Hymn 405 in Hymnal 1982).

In all truth, to do so is to begin to recognize the height and depth and breadth of the Incarnation. In the words of our newer prayers, Prayer 3 of Enriching Our Worship: “through Jesus Christ, your eternal Word, the Wisdom from on high by whom you created all things.”

It is precisely these lines borrowing from the Prologue of John and the hymns of Colossians and Ephesians that inspired a revolution in theology—Creation is in Christ. As St Maximos the Confessor, F.D. Maurice, and Charles Gore and the Lux Mundi school discovered, Jesus Christ is a social Person. We are not autonomous, but embraced. In Christ is the whole of creation. In Christ we live and move and have our being. By Christ we have hope for all of God’s creatures. We are most ourselves in Christ. And we humans are charged to “live no longer for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us, he [who] sent the Holy Spirit, his own first gift for those who believe, to complete his work in the world, and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all.” May we be freaks for Christ. Amen.

(For footnotes, click Read more.)

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Washing away our sins

By Lauren R. Stanley

PETION VILLE, Haiti – The power went out – again – the other day, leaving me with little to do on the computer. No power, no Internet. No Internet, no connection with others.

So I did what I usually do: I washed my clothes.

Washing clothes in Haiti is arduous work. Most of us do it by hand, in round rubber tubs, sitting, in my case, on the edge of the shower stall. It’s not like washing clothes at home: There, we dump the clothes in the washer, add detergent, turn a few knobs, push a few buttons, and walk away. After a while, the washer stops, we take the clothes out, toss them in the dryer, turn a few more knobs, push a few more buttons, and walk away again. When the buzzer goes off, we take our clothes out, fold them and put them away.

Here, washing clothes is intentional work. You pour water in the tub, add soap, dump in the clothes (not too many at once), let them soak a bit, then start churning away. You try to replicate what the washer does back in the States, agitating and swishing and swirling the clothes around. You take the special bar of laundry soap and scrub at stains and dirt. You examine each article of clothing individually to make sure it’s clean. You rub the material together to get the clothes cleaner. Then you wring each piece out and put them in another tub. When you think everything in this batch is clean, you start the rinse cycle. Each piece of clothing gets dipped and swished and swirled through the clean water. You wring again and again. Then you hang up your clothes in your bathroom, or out on a line if you have one (but they’ll get dirty outside, hanging in the polluted air, so drying them inside seems to be the better option). Finally, you wait … sometimes overnight … for your things to dry. Haiti may be a hot climate, but in this rainy season, it’s also a humid one. Few things dry quickly here.

It can be a tedious job, doing the wash by hand, but even so, I’ve found some blessings in it. All this cleaning and scrubbing has become good prayer time. As I wash, especially those collars on my shirts, I find myself thinking about the people and places I love, and sending prayers to God for their well-being. I pray for the end of war and violence and oppression. I pray for others’ happiness. For peace in the world. For the people with whom I served for four years in Sudan. For my incredibly extended family, moving in my mind from place to place, hop-scotching across the country and around the world. I give thanks for the blessings of my life, and pray for guidance in my ministry. My hands do the work and my eyes watch for stains, but my heart and soul are with God the whole time.

And I reflect on how washing my clothes in this time-honored fashion is rather like being washed clean by God. You see, as I’m washing and scrubbing and agitating the waters, swirling the clothes around, I see all the dirt come loose. I watch the water, which is more or less clean at the start, turn gray, and then, sometimes, dark gray. Occasionally, the water turns almost brown. Haiti is not a clean place … we have dirt, we have dust, we have all the pollution from cars and trucks. It’s hot, and I sweat a lot. All that combines to make my clothes pretty dirty, sometimes after just one wearing. As I pour out the now-dirty water and watch it swirl down the drain, I think of how washing the dirt from my clothes is rather like washing the dirt from my spiritual life. Sometimes, I can leave my spiritual life to soak, and that’s enough. Usually though, I think God has to put me through a wringer, swirling and agitating and scrubbing hard at those sinful parts of my life, those times when I was not nice, when I hurt another person, when I have been frustrated and thought of tossing this whole ministry-in-another-country out with the wash water. I think that some days, God has to work especially hard to get me clean again, dunking me again and again into the waters of forgiveness, not because God has to work to forgive me, but because I can be so stubborn I don’t want to be forgiven, or I won’t forgive another for some perceived slight.

But God doesn’t give up on me. God keeps scrubbing away, keeps checking for hidden stains, keeps soaping up and rinsing and wringing me out until, when God is done, when I have finally acquiesced to all the God freely offers me, the stained, dirty parts of my life wash down the drain and God’s love and forgiveness make me clean again.

By the time I finish my wash, even a small load, I am exhausted. My arms get a great workout from all the wringing out, I’m covered in sweat and the clothes I wore to the do the wash are the next ones to go into the wash basket.

And each time, I am left to wonder: Does God have to work this hard to get me clean?

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Haiti, where she works on the Partnership Program and Development. Her website is http://web.me.com/merelaurens/GoIntoTheWorld.net.

Eternity Happens

By Adam Thomas

‘Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” ’ (John 8:58)

You can always tell when Jesus says something truly sensational and scandalous because people respond by searching for rocks to fling at his head. The eighth chapter of the Gospel According to John contains four instances of Jesus saying, “I am,” which is one way Jesus imparts his divine identity to his listeners. Out of the four, only the final one elicits such a stony reaction, while the first three build to the climactic iteration. The escalation begins slowly when Jesus says, “I am the light of the world” (8:12). Next, Jesus says, “You will die in your sins unless you believe that I am” (8:24). Then, a few verses later, he says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am” (8:28). Each of these statements of his divine identity flies right over the heads of his opponents. But then the conversation intensifies. Jesus says they are from their father the devil. They think he may have a demon. He says no one will see death if they keep his word. They are sure he has a demon. He says Abraham rejoiced to see his day. Now they know that he’s crazy—he’s not even fifty! How can he have seen Abraham?

Then Jesus knocks their socks off with his most dangerous statement in the whole Gospel: “Before Abraham was, I AM.” This time, no one mistakes his meaning. No one asks him to clarify his words. They understand the full significance of saying, “I AM.” They know God said the same thing to Moses when Moses was brash enough to ask God for God’s name (Exodus 3). But underneath the shocking nature of Jesus’ statement is a subtler point (ultimately missed in the search for stones) about how our eternal God interacts with a finite creation.

Jesus’ “I am” statements in the Gospel According to John are revelations of God’s very being. Because of the simplicity of the sentence (just a subject and a verb), “I am” is as close as language can get to universality and eternity. Since we live in a temporal world, eternity is an impossible concept for us to wrap our heads around. Eternity is not “endless” time; nor is it the framework in which time finds a snug fit. In eternity, before and after are undefined and the only when is now. (The previous sentence makes no sense, of course.)

When Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am,” he uses our language to express the eternal nature of God. He does not say, “I was before Abraham was,” which is the grammatically correct way to articulate the thought. Instead, his “I am” (while functioning in our world as a present tense construction) is really a representation of the eternal tense. In eternity, I AM is the only sentence that makes any sense at all. In other words, eternity happens. It didn’t start and it won’t stop because the notions of beginning and ending are thoroughly temporal. And eternity happens because God is.

We run into trouble when we expect God to exist in the same way we do. Our minutes tick by one after another. For every one of our actions there is an equal and opposite reaction. Objects fall at a rate of 9.8 m/s2. But those are our minutes, our reactions, our gravity, and they all rely on linear experience. When Jesus says, “I AM,” he reminds us that God created linear experience, and thus is not beholden to it.

When we stumble into God’s presence, we encounter eternity making utter nonsense of time. Time ceases to matter because eternity overrides the rules of linear experience. That’s why it’s so hard to say how long we feel the presence of God. We feel that presence in moments, not minutes. When Jesus says, “Before Abraham was, I am,” he pushes us to relinquish our need to order events when God is concerned. God exists in eternity, which just happens.

N.B.
If you read my last contribution to the Café in conjunction with this one, you might deduce two things: (1) I like to use Holy Scripture to discuss spirituality and (2) I seem partial to the Gospel According to John. These deductions are both entirely correct. As a member of the Millennial generation, I am attracted to the Fourth Gospel’s combination of mystery and revelation. If you have a group of Millennials in your church (right now, that would be your middle schoolers through your college students, give or take) who huff and sigh and roll their eyes every time you pull out the Bible, try some passages from the Gospel According to John. You might encounter fewer glazed looks and drool-flecked chins.

The Rev. Adam Thomas, one of the first Millennials to be ordained priest, is the curate of Trinity Episcopal Church in Martinsburg, WV. He blogs at wherethewind.com.

"Every bird that cuts the airy way"

By Kathleen Staudt

My spiritual practice in the summer is to begin each day on my patio, in the cool of the early morning, sip my first cup of tea of the day, sometimes write in my journal, and watch what is going on in my back yard. We have a regular wildlife sanctuary this year, on our fifth-of-an-acre suburban lot. In the yard of the abandoned house next door (awaiting new construction), grass and shrubs have grown up, and a family of deer has taken up residence there. There’s now so much growing next door that they don’t even come into my yard any more. The rabbits, on the other hand, have eaten down just about whatever will grow – and yet there is something lovely, peaceful about them, browsing on the clover in the grass, in the early morning light. As I watch them, and the growing light, the sound of birdsong around me increases – cardinals, catbirds, crows and mourning doves, gradually drowning out the not-so-distant hum of cars on the capital beltway, half a mile away.

But what I most love is watching the birds on the feeder each morning. Though the English sparrows and grackles can be aggressive, a wonderful variety of birds visit each day, sometimes fighting over the black oil sunflower seeds, sometimes perched beside each other, simply being fed. Purple finches, goldfinches, house finches, cardinals, sparrows, downy and hairy woodpeckers, a flicker and occasionally a red-headed woodpecker, the occasional blue jay – and, this morning, hovering briefly over the bright pink and orange potted zinnias beside me, a tiny hummingbird!

I don’t get tired of watching them, even when they’re fighting over roosting spots or charging each other off with a flap of wings. Rather, I have the sense that I am being admitted into another world, watching them from my patio. They have their issues and their competitions but there is such a variety of species, colors, shapes among them – all birds, but abundant in their diversity. I find myself delighting in just seeing them all there together in all their variety – and I wonder, sometimes, how they see each other – across species and families yet within their bird-world. My feeling, watching them from the outside, is delight. They seem to be giving to another way of being, beyond my understanding. They invite me to watch and pay attention.

William Blake wrote somewhere, “How do you know, but every bird that cuts the airy way is an immense world of delight, closed by your senses five?” He’s on to something there. Watching the birds each morning is a contemplative practice, bringing me to the limit of what I can see and observe, fascinating me, offering a glimpse into a beauty, a mystery, I cannot name, and teaching me to sit still and pay attention. In this way it is a contemplative practice. It is one of the things that I love most about the summer months –this time to sit outdoors, before the air becomes too warm, to watch and wait for the birds to invite me into the mystery of prayer.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

Deliver me from evil

By Leo Campos

The office where I work is being moved. The whole corporate office is being boxed up and we are moving to a new building. While this is wonderful news, it is also cause for much weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is amazing to me the amount of stuff that people can collect in their tiny cubicles. They look like a clown car - boxes and boxes of stuff keep coming out of each of these small workspaces.

Together with the sheer volume of stuff accumulated, there is also a large amount of discontent and stress which is associated with any move. Psychologists tell us that issues of work, and moving houses are among the top three or top five (depends who you ask) most stressful things in life. When you have an office move you are pretty much guaranteeing a perfect storm.
So I walk around trying to simultaneously stay out of people's way and reassure them that the servers will be functioning just perfectly the day after the move, that none of their highly important emails, all 1,527 of them, will be lost - even though I not-so-secretly suspect that the majority of these highly important pieces of data refer to cookie recipes or hangover cures.
I also try to be prayerful or at least cognizant of my own need for prayer during these times. I grab on to my prayer beads like a drowning man to a rope.

As is gets closer to the day of the move I find myself praying against all sorts of possible, probable or completely ludicrous things that might go wrong - from a clumsy mover dropping a server on the floor - deliver us Lord. From having another meeting so people can vent their frustrations - deliver us Lord. From a meteor striking the Earth - deliver us Lord! And on and on.
This whole petition for delivery tends to be one of the most overlooked or over-used of the lines in the prayer the Lord gave to the disciples. Usually it gets translated in our hearts as "Lord protect me and do not allow anything bad to happen to me." There is a tone of fear and trepidation. There is recognition of weakness. there is also a petition for the opposite to happen - don't let me get fired, don't let me get robbed, don't let me be injured. The request for deliverance from the Evil One or just generic, garden-variety evil is also common in Jewish prayers of the time.

But is this how I should read it? Or is this the only way to read it? There is an interesting story from the Desert Fathers which goes like this:

There was an old man living in the desert who served God for so many years and he said, "Lord, let me know if I have pleased you."

He saw an angel who said to him, "You have not yet become like the gardener in such and such place." The old man marveled and said, "I will go off to the city to see both him and what it is that he does that surpasses all my work and toil of all these years."

So he went to the city and asked the gardener about his way of life. When they were getting ready to eat in the evening, the old man heard people singing bawdy songs in the streets, for the cell of the gardener was in a public place.

Therefore the old man said to him, "Brother, wanting as you do to live according to God, how do you remain in this place and not be troubled when you hear them singing these songs?"

The man said, "I tell you, Abba, I have never been troubled or scandalized."

When he heard this the old man said, "What, then, do you think in your heart when you hear these things?" And he replied, "That they are all going into the Kingdom."

When he heard this, the old man marveled and said, "This is the practice which surpasses my labor of all these years."

In this story it is clear that the evil I am asking to be delivered from is not the other, but rather myself. To be able to say with all certainty that "I have never been troubled or scandalized" would be amazing.

Take a leap of imagination and pretend for a second that you are not and will not be troubled by the behavior of others (or your own); that your environment will not have any effect on you, that you can truly say with Paul that you have nothing though possess all things (2 Cor. 6).

The next part, "Scandalized" is a lovely word which comes to English via the Old French "scandale" which means "cause of sin". It in turn comes from the Latin "scandalum" which means a trap, stumbling block, or temptation. And, as usual, these words come from the Greek.

Imagine and pretend for a moment that you are not and will not be scandalized by others. That their atrocious behavior will not bother you in the least. And, perhaps harder, that you will also not be impressed by their apparently flawless behavior either.

Hold on to this image. See how easy it is to then be able in your heart of hearts to know, not just believe or hope, but be certain that they are all going into the Kingdom?

Every day I sit at my boxed up cubicle, listening to the semi-hysterical prattle of my co-workers about the latest moving crisis and let try to let this be my prayer: they too are going to the Kingdom. Followed quickly by only 5 more days Lord. Only 4 more days Lord…

Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude, a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the "tech guy" for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).

Remaining Faithful: Monastic Witness in the Christian Tradition

By Peter Pearson

Introduction

Around the time of the Second World War, the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “The renewal of the Church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time men and women banded together to do this."

In the Acts of the Apostles we read: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the communal life, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…Those who believed shared all things in common…” (NAB- Acts 3: 42-45). Another translation of the same phrase states that they “remained faithful.” Those who gather around and in the name of Jesus strive to remain faithful to his mission and his message, to the way that he lived and died in faithfulness to God. How that fidelity has been lived out by his followers has varied greatly throughout the centuries.

Monastic/Religious Communities and their Origins

Echoing the example of the first Christians, there have always been men and women within the Christian tradition who have sought to live a more radically dedicated Christian life in response to their baptism. During the first several centuries of the Christian era there were many martyrs who sacrificed their lives as witnesses to the Lord Jesus. They died for Christ. After them, other believers chose to live for him in a way that also witnessed to the power of the gospel message. Individuals and groups that came to be known loosely as the virgins and ascetics emerged as they gathered in private homes and the doorways of churches to pray the psalms and to encourage one another in the life of faith. In the third century, not long before Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, hermits like Paul of Thebes headed out into the deserted places of Egypt to focus their lives more completely on prayer and penance. Later, Saint Antony also went into the desert and other seekers gathered around him. Together they began to establish the first Christian “monasteries” in the Egyptian desert. By their common life, these early monks were able to learn from one another and to counter the excesses of penitential practice that sometimes occur among people who are passionate about God.

Saint Basil, one of the Cappadocian fathers in the fifth century created a rule for the ascetic, cenobitic (community) life, as distinguished from the more eremitical (solitary) practice of Saint Antony. He was greatly influenced by his sister Macrina and his friend Gregory of Nanzianzus. Together they began to map out a life of ascetic discipline and gospel witness with one end in mind – union with God. His Rule is still the basis for Orthodox monasticism.

In the sixth century, Benedict of Nursia lived for a while as a hermit and shortly thereafter a community of monks gathered around him. He wrote his Holy Rule, a guide to monastic living in community which quickly became the norm for the Western Christianity. In the north, the Celtic monks and those who lived under the Rule of Benedict were the impetus for the spread of Christianity throughout that part of the world. They have been credited with saving the intellectual treasures of Western culture during the Dark Ages. Over the next several centuries, monastic groups of both men and women flowered and died and were reborn in reform after reform.

The thirteenth century saw a new spirit of religious fervor arise within the church. Holy men and women such as Francis of Assisi, Clare, and Dominic felt called to a radically different form of life, focused on the gospel but outside the confines of the monastic enclosure. Their followers came to be known as mendicants and they took to the streets to serve, to preach, and to pray wherever the Spirit led them. Others like Julian of Norwich and Catherine of Sienna enriched the church as a result of their deep mystical witness which has been an inspiration to believers throughout the centuries. Subsequent generations have seen hundreds of variations of both monastic (cenobitic/eremitic) and mendicant life throughout the church in which the poor were fed, the sick tended, the illiterate taught, vocations were nurtured, truth was explored, the arts flourished, and all of this was supported by the ceaseless prayer of the contemplatives.

The reformations in Europe took a heavy toll on the religious orders of Northern Europe and the British Isles. Monasteries and assets were seized while the monks and nuns were exiled or worse. This left a large geographical area completely devoid of any religious communities for centuries.

Monastic/Religious Communities in the Anglican Tradition

Although the monasteries and religious houses in England were dissolved during the 16th century, Anglicans began to rediscover religious life in the 1840’s as a result of the Catholic Revival and the Oxford Movement in England. Today there are dozens of Anglican religious orders taking their inspiration from Benedictine, Franciscan, Carmelite, as well as other established communities. Along with these are communities which hearken back to Celtic origins or are completely new entities. Throughout the world orders of Anglican monks and nuns, friars and sisters, hermits and consecrated women can be found where ever the Anglican Communion’s presence is known.

The Twentieth Century's Ecumenical Monastic/Religious Communities

Around the globe, the twentieth century saw the rise of some daring, new experiments with religious community and monastic living. In the 1940’s Roger Schutz, a Swiss Protestant man began to live a monastic life in a farm house in a small village in France. Soon others joined him from a variety of Christian churches and the ecumenical Community of Taize was born. Now, seventy years later they number almost one hundred brothers and annually welcome thousands of young people to join them in prayer and conversation. Their unique style of simple sung prayer has gained international popularity and has enriched the lives of many who cannot worship in conventional, institutional ways. In the early 1960’s, other communities sprang up in response to the liturgical renewal and the spirit of openness created by the Roman Catholic Church’s visionary movements articulated in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. In that environment of faith-filled creativity many of the “givens” in religious life were re-examined and re-evaluated. As a result, several new ecumenical religious orders and communities have emerged. The Iona Community in Scotland, the Community of Sant’ Egidio, based in Rome, the Bose Monastic Community in northern Italy, and Green Mountain Monastery in Vermont are a few among many which are known for their rich prayer, their emphasis on eco-spirituality, their dedication justice and peace, as well as their invitation to abide with them for a time of rest. More recently, the Benedictine Women of Madison were released from their vows as a Roman Catholic Monastery. They became a non-canonical and ecumenical community so that their welcome could be more genuine. This was a bold move made in the spirit of radical hospitality and one that was not completely understood by some yet applauded by others.

New Forms of Community

Within the recent developments in the Emergent Church in which alternative forms of expression are being tested by people from many different backgrounds, “New Monasticism” is a movement of young people who have committed themselves to a revitalized interpretation and expression of an old way of life in community. They have created this with the joyful passion and energy of youth that just might change the world. These Christians are moving into what they call the “abandoned places of Empire,” the poor neighborhoods in inner-cities, to share a life focused on gospel living based on prayer, service, care for the Earth, reconciliation among Christians, economic equity and justice, as well as providing a contemplative presence. This adventure seeks to glean the very best from monasticism’s long history and to reinvent them in today’s society. Although they admit that they do not know what will come of this, they are happy to know that “God has not abandoned the world” and that something important is happening in their gatherings that speaks a message of hope to a battered world.

Perhaps more than anything else, the New Monastics help us to see that in all of these variations on a theme, being “monastic” or “religious” is not the point of anything we do. The point is simply to be better people and better Christian witnesses to Jesus. We seek to become more loving, more prayerful, and more attentive to God as God comes to us in each moment by participating in these traditions of prayer and work. Using these tools and belonging to these communities helps us to become more present to God and maybe to help others in their quest to go deeper with God as well.

The Community of Solitude

Among the recent and innovative expressions of the monastic tradition within Christianity, the members of the Community of Solitude are finding a place in today’s church. The founders of CoS had been vowed members of a Benedictine community in the Episcopal Church which is itself attempting to live out that tradition in a new way. After a period of discernment, they decided to embark in a new direction that focuses on the eremitical roots of monasticism. Consequently CoS is an ecumenical monastic community in the tradition of Taize or the Benedictine Women of Madison. It is an intentional community sharing a common life of solitary prayer united through a common vision rooted in the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Community’s Constitution. This is lived out through common practice in the daily recitation of the Divine Offices, Lectio Divina, and the study of those teachers and masters who have gone before us, especially the writings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, as well as the Camaldolese saints. From this flows the apostolic work of service to the world through prayer, silence and solitude. CoS does not restrict admission to the community based on age, gender, clerical or marital status. Any baptized Christian who accepts the traditional Creeds of the Church (Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian) is welcome as Christ. CoS believes that if people are called to this way of life by Jesus, no one can stand in their way. And once called to this way of life by Jesus, they become disciples who cannot stay as they are because they are on a path of irrevocable transformation. The Community of Solitude seeks to echo the witness those who have gone before, our spiritual forbearers, without being locked into the forms of the past. It’s all about remaining faithful.

The Rev. Peter Pearson is priest in charge at Saint Philip’s Church in New Hope, Pa. He is a former Benedictine monk and icon painter.

Monks, in a nutshell

By Leo Campos

"Are you a monk?" I have been asked this question many dozens of times. Sometimes the person really means "What is a monk?", and a short conversation about monasticism ensues. At other times they mean "You are a monk?", the tone normally surprised, especially when they see my children playing around. Of course, for some people the word "monk" (or even worse "nun") may evoke some strange caricatures. Quite often it involves rigidity, inflexibility to some set of incomprehensible rules, and otherwordliness. To others a monk is equated with a solitary out in the desert, as if a monk was some sort of Spiritual Lone Ranger.

Regardless of the reason any conversation in monasticism usually involves a mandatory pit stop at the "But aren't monks some sort of cloistered uber-Christians?" question. This might be said with a tone of genuine reverence for something exotic, or said with a tone of contempt reserved to those who have read their fair share of John Calvin and are suspicious of anything which might look like "papist" works-righteousness spirituality. Personally, I find that both are legitimate responses and I myself shift from one to the other like a person shifts feet while waiting for a bus on a cold day.

But having lived a vowed monastic life for years now I feel empowered to claim that spiritually the call of the monastic life is absolutely identical to the call of every Christian. If we must insist on differences between lay and religious (and perhaps ordained and all other forms of ministry), then perhaps there is a difference in intensity. It is likely that the average person living a consecrated life in a monastic community prays longer than the average non-monastic in a parish. Please note I say "average" - there are those non-monastics whose prayer life and intensity of asceticism would put many a House to shame - and they are more common than is supposed. But what is critical to point out here is that in principle, the monastic and the non-monastic follow the same form of life (or should!).

Sometimes it is useful to think of a "monastic" as someone who is leading a "consecrated life" - a life consecrated to the service of God in whatever way God designs for them. This might mean a life of seclusion and solitude, or it may mean a life of social engagement, or it may mean a life of radical prayer (radical as in radix). All of these are "lifestyles" which fall within the umbrella of a life consecrated by the Church. In a sense all of these ways of life are missionary lives, sent by God through the Church to do some work - even if that work is to retire from society and pray for it.

But the more I think about it the harder it is for me to discern exactly where such a call becomes the exclusive right of a group of people called "monastics", and where it is the public property of all Christians by virtue of their baptism. It is true that consecration is the act which clarifies the difference, but in my conversations with brothers and sisters of various colors of robes I find that the call to the religious life precedes the consecration (in theological language the inner grace precedes the outward sign). As it should! We are talking here about the action of God, the Holy Spirit, and the external consecration is simply a "rubber stamping" (in the nicest possible sense of the term) to something which God has already made clean, as Peter found out (Acts 10:13).

But let us not stop there! All I "do" as a contemplative monk is to live out my baptismal covenant. In other words, I do exactly, no more or less, than what every other Christian does. Or better, I try to do exactly what everyone else tries to do. And I fail just as badly at it. But perhaps here's the point where being a monk can be a service - my struggles can become an object lesson for others. Hopefully not a risible case study in failure, but rather a visible reminder of what we are all going through together. It is a communal experience, where my robes and my public profession become a mirror for others.

When someone realizes that I am trying to be a mirror to them it usually leads to their adoption of various defensive postures and gestures. "Oh I don't think so, I am not a monk! I am not this or that." It is unfortunate that we in the Episcopal Church do not live more openly the theology of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, where the life of the laity and that of the monk are much more closely aligned.

But the monastic life is quite simple really. Take the Baptismal Covenant, which I am sure most Episcopalians have recited hundreds of times in their lives. You vow to live up to God's calling, and you renounce in your life all that is not God's calling, be it the voice of your sinful nature or the luring songs of the Adversary. You further promise to live out God's calling within the pattern specifically laid out by the apostles, together with a supportive believing community, with special emphasis on mutual prayer.

So, in my definition, a monk, professed or not, vowed or not, is a person who gives all they have up to God, who surrenders their life to God in a personal, intimate way. The personal sacrifice made is the 'monos' in monastic. But it is never a selfish enterprise. Someone who says "It's you an' me God - let's do it," and who can understand that such an individual reliance on God is the most profound form of self-sacrifice, is, in my view, a monastic. The robes are pretty and the liturgy and the Offices are well-designed. But robes are just cloth and the Offices just noise without the sacrifice to the community.

To say it another way, only the relationship with God is fundamental, unique and primary, and everything that comes from that relationship, through that relationship, and for that relationship, is the duty and privilege of all Christians.

In a nutshell the monastic life is the Christian life. The question really should be asked by me: "Are you a monk?"

Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude , a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the "tech guy" for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).

Lord, give me patience. Now!

By Leo Campos

My sister has just recently given birth to her first child. I admit that nearly the first words out of my mouth were: "Where are the pictures? Has she updated her Facebook page?" I admit to being an information junkie, and my TV is also connected to my computer so I can check IMDB and Google and Wikipedia while watching a movie or documentary to check up on more facts - what other film has the actress been in? What is the GDP of Indonesia? My family tends to leave me alone during these times. I find I am less than unique in this addiction. My colleagues frequently chide me for not having either an iPhone or a Blackberry, and the fact that I do not Twitter makes me look like someone with "things to hide" from my more connected friends.

The fact that we want things now is really not new, after all Adam and Eve wanted the apple now, not later...

Serpent: Where u at?
Eve: Here
Serpent: Wanna get some appels? [sic]
Eve: Nah. Big Man says No-no.
Serpent: Natch. But why make them so red and delish. Here's a pic.
Eve: Lookin good.
Serpent: How about it then?
Eve: Gotta talk to BF
Serpent: Bring him too!
Eve: OK. SYL.
Serpent: 7 by the tree.

And we all know where that got us. We want instant gratification. We want instant results. We want immediate reduction in discomfort. We are, all of us, "Immediatists".

It seems the idea of spending time watching a sunset or staring at a blank wall doing Centering Prayer is nonsense if not downright madness. Imagine how many chores could've gotten done in that time! But the truth is that the very best stuff takes time to mature. Everything from thoughts, to works of art, to food preparation, to eating a meal together, is better if not rushed. We want immediate solutions to problems which came about in the first place because we rushed into solving the problems that preceded the current one.

One thing is the result of this Immediatist faith: the breaking apart, the incompleteness, of our lives in the deepest sense. In a strange sense, the rapid multiplication of instant "solutions" actually leads to a deep spiritual paralysis.

Against all this you have the methods and process of the Church. We got our Episcopal liturgy which can only move so fast (no matter how short the sermon) - before you can get to the Eucharist. We also got the church liturgical calendar which seems to stretch interminably in Advent and Lent. We also have the nearly 1500 years of monastic formation which demands a slow, almost plodding, approach. It takes a year to even begin as a Novice. It take two more to begin the process of vows. It takes 6 or 7 years to "graduate", to take Final Vows. Who wants to hand around for 7 years? And not even get an MDiv out of it?

Over and over again I have seen people come to me for spiritual direction or to one of my lectio retreats, who almost physically vibrated with anxiety (which is a St. Vitus's Dance of Immediatists). Over and over they had to find a way to slow down, to surrender to a more organic pace. To put up with psalms being recited slowly.

In monastic life, in the life of the Church, agitation is a disease. Chomping at the bit to jump at the next thing, without properly stopping before to pray for assistance from God and upon completion for a prayer of thanksgiving is like trying to hammer cold iron: a lot of noise and effort, not much result.

Anyone who takes some serious spiritual work learns first of all to move at the "speed of God." This does not mean some artificial speed. In fact it is the opposite of all our artificial speeds. Sometimes the work is frenetic; sometimes the work is measured and slow. The speed of it is based on the intrinsic properties of the work that God has set before us. It comes from nowhere else.

Monastic life treasures patience. Wait for things to evolve. Wait longer than you think you can wait, and the wait a little longer. The novice is usually wanting to move on - but move on to where? There is nothing that a senior knows or does which the novice is forbidden. The very act of waiting is formation. The need to move ahead and get to Vows and so on tells most Formation Masters that the Novice should be made to wait a little longer.

The same thing with our Sunday services. It has little to do with the type of music (classical or contemporary), or the amount of charismatic experiences we have. The order of the service ensures that there are enough pauses and enough slow moments for every person to take a deep breath and bask in adoration of God.

So, begin practicing a little more patience. Look for opportunities to be slowed down or even delayed. Look for those moments when life conspires to slow you down. Those are epiphanies - and only the patient will know God.

Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude , a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the "tech guy" for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).

The wisdom of "Whatever"

By Heidi Shott

My prayers have taken a certain turn in recent months. Increasingly my supplications tend toward “Whatever God.” Not spoken in a flip, slangy tone, but with the growing recognition that I am in no position to dictate terms to the God of the Universe.

Not that I have this dynamite prayer life. When I wake early and, in a myopic haze, happen to catch a beautiful, impressionistic sunrise that I’m usually not privy to, I whisper, “Way to go, God.”

When I leave my Portland office late and race to pick up my son whose carpool has dropped him in the Moody’s Diner parking lot, I plead for traveling mercies and step on the gas. The “Whatever God” prayer has entered my repertoire as a substitute for “Please heal this dying loved one right this second” or any number of other extremely specific demands I’ve been known to make of God. The big picture about what we need, what is best, what blessings we will count further down the road is not, I’ve decided, for me to know in great detail.

But I’m beginning to perceive this spiritual myopia as a gift. By not being allowed to see, we’re required to trust. Were we to have the whole, big show of our lives, our congregations, our Church, our world laid out before us, how smug we humans would become. Were we to know, “Oh yeah, that problem will turn out fine,” would we ever grow or attain new strength from having to work our way through it? Were we to know the sadness and tragedy that await us all from time to time, would it color and ruin our joy today?

Graham Greene once said, "You can't conceive, my child, nor I nor anyone, the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God." Perhaps, to paraphrase his fellow poet, T.S. Eliot, we could not bear very much of it. Perhaps God gives us clear vision – God-eyes – in small moments, in little doses because it’s all we can handle. With near-sightedness we’re required to get close, nose-to-nose like lovers. We work to eliminate hunger by serving hungry people on Tuesdays. We model loving-kindness by treating gently those who challenge us. When we can’t see, we’re not afforded the luxury of distance. Our blurry, temporal vision keeps us both engaged and in need of frequent spiritual sustenance.

The wisdom of “whatever” is not Doris Day singing “que sera sera” or a gloomypuss affectation, but rather shorthand for the prayer, “Into your hands, God, I commend my spirit and the whole nine yards.” St. Peter, with all of his problems during that first Holy Week, probably never stopped to pray too specifically. I can’t imagine, “Dear God, please let Jesus rise from the dead, later send the Holy Spirit, and then pull this whole worldwide church thing together,” ever left his lips.

As I open my eyes these late winter mornings, the big blurry Norwich maple in our backyard is outlined by the rising sun. Without my glasses, the bare branches are indistinct, but I have faith that the leaf buds are present and will burst forth on a fine spring day of their choosing.

Heidi Shott is Canon for Communications and Social Justice in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine.

Searching in "the mirror of the soul"

By Greg Jones

In the ancient Church of Syria and Iraq, emphasis was placed on the spiritual value of "wonder." The fathers of the Syriac Church understood that to attempt to fathom the sacred truths of God was a difficult exercise for the faithful Christian to say the least — and nearly impossible if approached in the wrong way. The wrong way would be to attempt to seek after God's truth using only deductive, rational or purely intellectual methods. As John of Dalyatha, an 8th century Iraqi Christian, understood it: the seeker after divine truth must "carry the remembrance of God in one's heart" and search for the vision of God's glory in the "mirror of the soul." (Mary T. Hansbury, The Letters of John of Dalyatha, Gorgias: 2006.)

Pursuing the truths of God is a work of wonders, not a work of the rational mind alone. It is a sweet and mystic thing to attempt communion with the God of all things. And, as the wise have discerned over the millennia, it ultimately is a work offered to us by God's own giving. In other words, the path to the Kingdom is there for us to walk on and is not made of the stones we put there, but of the handiwork of the King who made it for us to find. Seeing the path to the Kingdom is a work of wonder, of soul, of heart. Yet, surprise, surprise, while it is not discernible by our reasoned grasping alone, when the path is found, the human mind does indeed delight in its finding.

John of Dalyatha taught that by Christ's incarnation and Baptism, the garment of God's light is offered to us, who since the Fall have been wearing garments of shadow. By putting on Christ, we put on the light, which enables to see the King and the Kingdom — and thus we are robed in glory enough to see the path which has been laid for us to follow. Peter and the others did not quite get this at first, of course, and neither should we. The whole thing is a matter of wonder and is of course hard to grasp on our own. Yet, if we will trust those who went before us and who became enlightened, we may then begin our own seeking after God with a kind of head start, by trusting that by putting on the garment of Christ, even if we're not quite sure what that all means, He will come to enlighten us.

John of Dalyatha, like so many of the ancient fathers and mothers of the Church, took to life in the desert, bereft of worldly distractions, so he might become enriched by the pursuit of wonder and the truths of God. Lent for us modern folk is an opportunity to do the same.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ('Greg') is rector of St. Michael's in Raleigh, N.C. and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders - whose fourth studio release is available on iTunes. He blogs at Anglican Centrist.

New Year's: beyond resolutions to conversion

By Peter M. Carey

In this time of year, it is customary for many of us to make New Year’s resolutions. With the ending of the calendar year, it is natural to look back over the last year and reflect about what has happened, and what we have done, and then to look ahead to see how we might smooth some of our rough edges, take care of our bodies, minds and spirits, and look ahead with hope. The trouble for us, however, is that many New Year’s resolutions only last a few weeks, or perhaps (if we’re really diligent) a month or two. If you frequent a gym, this is the most crowded time, but, no worries, within a few weeks the classes will thin out, and you will be able to get back to the Stairmaster or treadmill or bench press without any waiting.

A trouble with New Year’s resolutions is that they don’t seem to “stick” unless we really have dedicated ourselves to them, unless we have been “scared straight,” or until we have adopted a set of daily practices that lend themselves to a change of behavior, and not merely just a change of intention. As Mark Twain reminds us, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

The promise of the Christian Faith is that God is with us, helping us always to turn to our better selves, and to grow into the fullness of who we are meant to be. This may sound like a cliché, but let me illustrate my point with three images: Scrooge, Groundhog Day, and “metanoia.”

First, we have the character Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Like so many stories of the just-passed Christmas season, we have all probably seen multiple adaptation of Dickens’ novel, from Mickey Mouse, to the Muppets, to Patrick Stewart from Star Trek, to older films depicting Scrooge and his visit from 4 night visitors. First he is visited by his recently deceased partner, Marley, wrapped in chains, clearly suffering in death for his chintzy life before he died. Marley tries to warn Scrooge, that he needs to change his ways, that he needs some new resolutions, some new ways of living. But, to enact a change, what follows are three ghosts, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

Scrooge is given the gift of remembering the past – even the hard parts of the past, to see a bit more about why he might have ended up this way. Not immediately, but gradually, his heart begins to be open again, to grow a bit more supple, to grow a bit larger. The ghost of Christmas Past offers Scrooge the gift of a wider perspective, to see himself in earlier times, when his heart was not so hardened. The ghost of Christmas present offers the gift of seeing the love, and also the poverty of the Cratchett family, to see what Joy they have, even while they don’t have much materially, they have an overabundance of love, compassion, and generosity. This vision is in contrast to his material riches, but spiritual poverty. His heart continues to open. Finally, the ghost of Christmas future paints a picture of heartache for the Cratchetts, as Tiny Tim has died for lack of good medical care, and the family is devastated, but not without Joy, and love and compassion, even as they mourn their loss.

As you know, Scrooge emerges from his slumber and immediately changes his behavior, he is Joyful, loving, caring and generous, and he begins immediately to make amends, and to give away what he has. His heart is opened, is supple, and he turns from his old ways.

The second character is Phil Connors from Groundhog Day. If you’ve seen the film, you will remember that Bill Murray’s character is a rather grumpy weather reporter who has been assigned to cover “Pauxutawney Phll” the groundhog who comes out on February 2nd and looks for his shadow. Anyway, Connors becomes “stuck” in the same day over and over again. At first, he does all he can to learn the background and interests of a romantic interest he has – so that the next day, he can go on a date with her. Along the way, he decides to learn the piano, because the skill at the piano remains with him each day, until he is a virtuoso. However, gradually, his interest in repeating the day moves beyond selfish aims. He becomes focused on an older man who is wandering the streets, homeless and hungry. At first Connors avoids him, but one day Connors learns that this man has died, and Connors is shocked, and devastated. So, the following day Connors does all he can to give the man food, to care for him. Gradually, living this day over and over again (somewhere like 100 times – it is hard to count the days while watching it), Connors’ character is transformed from a focus on self, to a focus on others. His focus becomes on helping others, and doing good for goodness sake. Finally, when his transformation is complete – and he falls in love, he awakes and it is February 3rd.

The third strand is the New Testament term “metanoia” which means “repentance” or “change of heart,” or “to turn.” Also, it can mean “to be converted.” It is used from time to time by preachers or people who think they can force us to change from the outside. But, more accurately, this “change of heart,” or metanoia is caused by the work of the Spirit. This transformation is a gift from God, a gift of perspective upon our past – the ghosts of our past, a gift of wider perspective about our present, and a gift of greater vision about the future that waits for us if we continue doing things the same old way. Some have said that insanity is “Doing the same things the same way but expecting change to happen.”

For the story of the wise men who visited Jesus, the change might have been so subtle that we didn’t hear it in those readings from Matthew at the start of Epiphany. However, though subtle in the text, this change of heart for the wise men was profound. King Herod’s chief emotional response is fear. This king is in fear of the possibility of a new king who will take over the land, and threaten his earthly rule. He sends these scholars, astronomers, these wise men, to go and “pay homage” to the child – but really, they are on a spy mission, they are there to gain information and report back to Herod – so that he might wipe out this child.

However, something amazing happened to the wise men; they were transformed. The gospel doesn’t say much, but what it does say is that they “went home by another way.” They encountered the Holy in Jesus in such a way that they could not go back to their old ways, their hearts were opened, and they turned, somehow, to a new way – literally “another way” back home.

Isn’t this the gift that we also have been given in the Spirit? Whether the image is of these wise men going home by another way, or it is the idea of metanoia, a “change of heart,” or the image of Phil Connors seizing the everyday opportunity for transformation, or the sense that the ghosts of our past, present, and future might offer us the gift of accepting Scrooge’s transformation?

So, sure, go ahead and make New Year’s Resolutions, but also accept the true gift that has been given to us, the gift of transformation in the Spirit – the gift of a supple heart, an open Spirit, and a richer and truer life that God desires us to have.

See you at the gym!

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

Incarnation and Suffering

We did not want it easy, God,
But we did not contemplate
That it would be quite this hard,
This long, this lonely.
So, if we are to be turned inside out,
and upside down,
With even our pockets shaken
Just to check what's rattling
And left behind,
We pray that you will keep faith with us,
And we with you,
Holding our hands as we weep,
Giving us strength to continue,
And showing us beacons
Along the way
To becoming new.

Anna McKenzie

By Jane Redmont

The seasons of Christmas and Epiphany are difficult, even painful for many people: those who mourn, those who suffer from depression, those who struggle with sobriety, those for whom “family” does not mean “joy.” Some colleagues in ministry have taken to offering a “blue Christmas” service at their churches in acknowledgment of this reality.

Our immediate and constant call is to welcome and comfort and offer pastoral care, sometimes in the simple form of acknowledging that this is not a time of rejoicing for everyone. And always, poverty and hunger are at our doorstep; wars batter many lands, including the one where Jesus walked; like the child Jesus, refugee children are born away from their parents’ homes.

But there is more, spiritually and theologically. Perhaps because I have had a difficult few months –a house destroyed by a falling tree; a job whose demands caused me to choose constantly between work and sleep; an attempted break-in at my new residence; stresses in the ordination process; deadlines met and unmet— I have been especially aware this Christmastide of the suffering dimensions of the Incarnation.

I came home early from the office on the day before Thanksgiving hoping for a nap and some quiet and found that someone had thrown a brick through the window of my study. In addition to the brick and to the dirt that clung to it, there was shattered glass all over the room. Days after the police visits, the sweeping and vacuuming, the window repair, and the restoral of order after chaos, I was still finding shards in and on and under the furniture and the stacks of paper. I have kept one of the fragments, for reasons I do not entirely understand, on my desk, where it sits amid the Post-Its and icons.

The symbolism is so obvious I hesitate to use it: sometimes suffering comes crashing in, shattering the windows, a blatant intruder; sometimes it is less obvious: we walk our daily rounds and slivers of sharp glass surprise us, reminding us of old wounds and creating new ones.

On the first Sunday after Christmas, meditating aloud in a sermon on the Word made flesh I spoke, briefly of some meanings of incarnation, of the ways in which Christ is present among us, on this earth, in this flesh of ours. Among the forms of Christ’s presence I mentioned incarnation and suffering in one breath, in a way I had never done before at Christmastide.

Because I was preaching with a small community and one which I know well, I had decided to keep my reflections brief and to open up a space for shared reflection on the Word. At the end of my reflections I asked: How has the word been made flesh in your life? How do you see the Word being made flesh in the world around us?

Toward the end of the shared sermon time, a longtime member of the congregation, active for years in many causes for justice, from faith-based opposition to the death penalty to the plight of the people of Darfur, began to speak and to weep. “Where is God?” she asked. “Where is God in the lives of children whose bodies are distorted by hunger? It is easy to feel that God is here when I am holding my well fed grandchildren in my arms. But there…” She found it hard to continue.

Silence followed. I spoke only a few words after. They are less important than the suffering, the cry, and the remembrance, then and later, that our God is a God who suffers.

Into this world,
this demented inn,
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ has come uninvited.
But because he cannot be at home in it,
because he is out of place in it,
and yet he must be in it,
his place is with those others for whom there is no room.

His place is with those who do not belong,
who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak,
those who are discredited,
who are denied the status of persons,
tortured,
excommunicated.
With those for whom there is no room,
Christ is present in this world.

Thomas Merton (from Raids on the Unspeakable)

I have often thought –and preached—that in this season we consider the vulnerability of God. That has never felt out of place. But though related to the suffering of God, it felt somehow different, different from speaking of the suffering of God on Christmas. Save that one for Good Friday, we think.

Yet there is long Christian tradition, in poetry and music and other theologies, for reflecting on the shadow of the cross that looms over the manger: Mary’s sufferings in later life in that other time of gazing at her son’s body, and Jesus’ suffering in adult life -- not only the sufferings imposed by Herod on Jesus’ migrant family or on the Innocents whose massacre we remember so soon after the feast of the Nativity.

I have often felt that the shadow of the cross had no place on Christmas or took away from the celebration of incarnation. But cross –cross as suffering, Jesus’ suffering and ours, not surrogate suffering, not substitutionary atonement, just suffering, the kind with no explanation—does belong there. Or rather, it is there, at Christmas, amid the hugs and the tinsel and the cherished carols and the crèche.

I understand better this year the lines in T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, which I have read on or around Epiphany, year after year, for decades now:

… were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

In these days of Christmastide and Epiphany, of considering our suffering and that of others, of pondering the suffering of God and yes, God’s vulnerability, another poem always returns to visit. It comes from the theologian Dorothee Sölle, who wrestled all her life with how to speak of God in the face of the reality of evil, particularly that of the Shoah (Holocaust) in her native Germany. In those times of torment, she wrote, especially times of massive social evil, when countless people suffered and systems failed, God was weak. God was small and needy; God needed more friends.

God needs us. Like the cross on Christmas, like Christmas itself, this truth turns our thinking upside down. And so it should.

He needs you
that's all there is to it
without you he's left hanging
goes up in dachau's smoke
is sugar and spice in the baker's hands
gets revalued in the next stock market crash
he's consumed and blown away
used up
without you

Help him
that's what faith is
he can't bring it about
his kingdom
couldn't then couldn't later can't now
not any rate without you
and that is his irresistible appeal

Dorothee Sölle (from Revolutionary Patience)


Jane Redmont’s book When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life has just been reissued in paperback by Sorin Books. She blogs at Acts of Hope and, on behalf of the Bishop’s Committee for Racial Justice and Reconciliation of the Diocese of North Carolina, at Race, Justice, and Love. Poems used by permission.

Practicing my "other religion"

By Donald Schell

Stacey Grossman is a priest colleague who rows with a women’s club on San Francisco Bay. She blogs as a rowing priest. We were talking about her practice of rowing and mine of Aikido, a martial art, and I described Aikido as “my other religion.” Stacey recognized the thought, said she was working on an article for her rowing club on “The Church of Rowing,” and observed that she has other Christian friends who use the phrase “my other religion” to speak of disciplined athletic practice.

Had Stacey or I been applying to a Commission on Ministry we might have used more cautious language, but we were talking of the joyful (and maybe professionally embarrassing) truth that for each of us, physical practice lives in the place of committed devotion and grace. Our conversation moved me to talk about physical practice in this season of celebrating Jesus, God’s Word made Flesh.

Aikido’s name combines three Japanese words that resonate with theology or spirituality. ‘Ai’ means ‘joining/reconciling/harmony/love.’ ‘Ki’ is ‘energy/power/Spirit.’ And a ‘Do’ is ‘a way,’ ‘a path,’ or ‘a practice.’

Hearing the name, I wondered if Aikido practice might reinforce aspects of my faith, but seeing Aikido converted me. In 1980, the year Ellen and I moved to San Francisco to help start St. Gregory’s Church, a musician friend invited me to an Aikido demonstration. Ellen says I came home from that demonstration saying, ‘I’ve got to do this thing I saw today. I’m getting a black belt.’ I do remember feeling love at first sight, but can’t recall such a clear declaration that I would do it, because I’d fallen in love with Aikido, but was also so frightened that it took me a whole year of reading about it and talking to people who were practicing it to get up enough courage to begin myself. There may be a parable there, or at least an echo of what we read in the Epistle of James about people who see Jesus’ Gospel but don’t do anything different as a result. Yes, I was scared. Scared I somehow wouldn’t fit in with a dojo. Scared I might get hurt.

Maybe it’s the rich young ruler who gets what Jesus is inviting him to and walks away with a heavy heart.

I’ve gotten over most of my fear (and find what’s left a valuable study). I had guessed right that injuries were possible. I’ve banged both my shoulder sockets badly, and pulled a hamstring so I could barely walk, so there’s risk, but nothing too bad. And what do we ask people to risk in church?

I’m there at practice every morning at 7:30. An old friend who is now seventy-eight comes as regularly as I do. Younger Aikidoists (men and women in their mid- twenties to late thirties) fill out the morning’s practice group. I was a bit older than they are when I deprived myself of the daily choice whether to attend practice and simply began going every day. I’m not talking about a ‘firm resolution,’ or a ‘declared commitment’ but something I’ve chosen to make as habitual as brushing my teeth in the morning or going to church on Sunday whether I have any priest work that Sunday or not.

A mark of practice is regular discipline and open attention to oft repeated core forms. The point isn’t to figure something out, but to learn it well enough to pay attention and find continuing surprises in doing it.

As some Christian clergy and laity work to reclaim a language of Christian practice for the sake of Christian formation and community, I wonder how willing we are to ask ourselves and our congregations to ourselves to submit to the sheer repetition and steady attention that would make anything we do together in church genuinely practice? Is our church culture too expert-driven and so focused on what we know and what we’ve been taught that it separates us from the learning opportunities (and confusion and frustration) that come with real practice?

“Practice” in professions and religion also suggests continual learning and the humility (and humiliation) that acknowledges and accepts provisional proficiency.

My two religions do shape and inform each other.

Aikido is a fiercely gentle martial art; it’s fast, aerobic peacemaking. The declared context is universal love. Our goal is to partner an attacker and take him harmlessly to the ground. I
sometimes joke that Aikido is my daily study in conflict resolution. Physically, the practice echoes loving enemies and turning the other cheek. Rather than blocking or stopping an attack, we practice joining with the attacking energy, taking straight lines of momentum
to big dance-like circles, and landing the attacker harmlessly on the ground. When we’re the attacking partner, we practice making strong, sincere attacks and then giving ourselves to the fall that our own energy has generated. In the basics, Aikido feels quite congenial to
Christianity.

As a Christian priest, Aikido practice grounds my whole day in a more peaceful, forgiving encounter with people and a deeper longing for God.

Lots of touch, the freedom to strike and fall, getting thrown by guys who are smaller than me and by women including my 78 year old friend, and fearlessness (more or less) in the presence of strong onrushing energy all help me feel and know my own and other people’s God-given spirits and bodies, to live respectfully in the moment where God is present and acting and, in some small way daily, to risk openness to the Presence of Spirit animating God-given flesh.

I have known such practice moments in liturgy: in the deep communion of joining my voice to the congregation’s voice for an unaccompanied singing of the Beatitudes to a Russian chant, or in the settling of my restless mind sitting in silence with two hundred fellow Christians who have just listened to a scripture reading together, and when I preside at the Altar Table praying with my hands upraised, sometimes I can feel how a presider leading the Eucharist from the table is born up on the expectant, patient prayers of friends and strangers; and sometimes, presiding or standing with sisters and brothers while someone else is leading the prayer, I feel the mighty Breath turn our ocean swell into a breaker we’re surfing together.

Like Aikido practice, these are moments of incarnated, Spirit-inspired aliveness. In a coming piece I’ll be writing about such moments when Spirit fills practice and how liturgy opens us to such moments.

For now, while watching a video of my teacher’s teacher, Kato Sensei, my body feels and remembers the privilege of having him correct my practice one of the times he’s visited us from Japan. The generosity of his throw and the gratitude of receiving such energy literally knock me off my feet. Remembering such falls today as write for others walking in Jesus’ Way, I wonder if making an attack and then taking such a fall might resonate for an eager young Pharisee tossing Jesus a challenging question and getting one of the great parables in response.

The Rev. Donald Schell, founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, is President of All Saints Company.

Converting the baptized

(Today the Daily Episcopalian returns to its regular rotation.)

By Martin Smith

A certain wistfulness can visit spiritual guides as we listen to some of those who come to confide in us and talk about their religious experience, or want of it. We can feel a bit sad though not surprised when we hear experienced Christians who have “borne the burden of the day” as faithful members of a parish, men and women who have worked hard for years in many ministries, sharing the fact that inside they have never felt able to say honestly that they loved God or sensed God loving them. They have no problem with the idea that God is a loving God, or with the commandment to love God. But it is as if in their heart of hearts they experience the face of God to be a blank, or worse, a frown. The wistfulness spiritual guides feel when we hear this is often associated with a hunch that underlying the chill in this inner climate of the soul may lie a story of suffering, especially childhood suffering. And it so often turns out to be the case. In many cases early emotional or physical abuse has seemingly left behind a kind of coating on our hearts, a potent kind of ‘sun block’ that filters out the radiation of God’s tenderness.

That’s why it is important to speak about conversion in the Church, conversion as healing. Not referring to conversion to the Christianity of so called outsiders. Not persuading people that certain things about God and Jesus are true. But conversion within our community of those who have thought along Christian lines for years and have worked hard for God—but have not yet experienced the transformation of their inner alienation from God, their secret fear and estrangement, into actual openness to God’s tenderness and love. In that commitment to conversion within and among longstanding members we realize what a vital resource of realism and encouragement we have in spiritual life stories, published and unpublished. In the autobiographies of saints and spiritual seekers time and again we discover that their inner conversion to freedom to love God only came after many years of practicing Christianity, living faithfully to all appearances while secretly missing out on the experience of God as loving and lovable.

That’s why the published diaries and journals of spiritual seekers are such irreplaceable resources. We discover time and again that people may persevere in being religious for years before the spell is broken that inhibited them from really accepting the utter mercifulness and tenderness of God. Often seekers will date a journal entry very carefully to note the time when some inner barrier broke, some felt sense of God’s love welled up unexpectedly. I love the staccato poetry in which these breakthroughs are often expressed. There is the famous scrap of paper on which Blaise Pascal recorded his breakthrough, found at the end of his life sewn into the lining of his coat. “The year of grace 1654, Monday 23rd of November…Fire. God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not of the philosophers and the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace. God of Jesus Christ. My God and your God. Your God will be my God. Forgetfulness of the world and of everything except God. He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel. Grandeur of the human soul. Righteous Father, the world has known you but I have known you. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy…”

I also often turn to this from Victor Hugo: “Thursday, March 8, 1855, at a quarter to ten in the evening. The infinite is only infinite because it is merciful. If one could lose oneself in God, one would rediscover oneself by orientation to the rising of the eternal smile. The firmament is bounded to the north by bounty, to the south by charity, in the east by love, in the west by pity. God is the great jar of perfumes which eternally wash the feet of the creature. He spreads pardon through every pore, exhausts Himself in loving, labors to absolve.”

Of course, these are traces left behind by writers. But ask any spiritual director and she or he will tell you that we hear from the mouths of ordinary spiritual seekers accounts of breakthrough, when the inhibition that has deflected God’s love from their hearts has melted and let the light flood in, that are in their own way every bit as eloquent as these.

Our conversation about priorities as Christian communities should make room for speaking quite openly about the fact that our ministry of healing addresses not only physical illness and injury, mental pain and suffering, but the promise of healing for those whose knowledge of God’s love is a second-hand knowledge, not a first-hand experience. What are the healing arts we should devote ourselves to that address that common condition?

Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiritual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba’s, D.C.

Mourning Cathedral College

The Daily Episcopalian will be the Somewhat-Less-Frequent Episcopalian during the Christmas holidays.

By Kathleen Staudt

Like many people I have felt great sadness at the news that the Washington National Cathedral will be “suspending” programs at the Cathedral College beginning March 31, and until further notice. Sad, certainly, about beloved staff members who will be laid off. Two programs that I’m involved in with Esther de Waal, are still a “go” for the month of February – “Approaching God Through Poetry” from February 2-6, and a weekend conference on “Faith, Art and Poetry in a Post-Christian Age” February 27-1. I wouldn’t ordinarily “plug” these except that I think people may not realize that the conferences being offered before March 31 are still a go this year, and may offer a last chance for awhile (we hope not forever) to be in this very special place. But the closing of the College feels to me a bit like a death in the family – and it has me reflecting on what the place has meant to my own spiritual growth over the years.

The College has been a part of my inner spiritual landscape for many years. I first visited there on a Saturday in June, perhaps in 1995 or 1996, for a Quiet Day in honor of Evelyn Underhill, a yearly event that we have held at the College whenever we could reserve the space. We met in the book-lined library, with its black chairs and red cushions, worn but homey rugs, and those high casement windows, facing out on the “garth” at the center of the place, and the thick stone walls that turn out to be soaked with prayers. Especially as we shared communal silence, I was aware that this was sacred space. If you have been there when there aren’t many people around, you may know that feeling—walking into the foyer of the place, one experiences a resonant silence, and a sense of being at home.

I went often to the College for quiet during the years when my two children were attending Cathedral schools, working, with permission, as a kind of always-unofficial “fellow” on various writing projects. I would go there after teaching and before a late-evening carpool pickup, or in the early morning after dropping off my chorister for rehearsal, and spend a few hours in the gentle half-light coming in the windows from the garth, finding a creative energy in the awareness that this was a place where many people have come to find focus, to do one thing for awhile and refresh their ministry.

And over the years I’ve been involved in various programs, mostly locally directed, in the College. I remember gathering in the chapel one year at the end of an Evelyn Underhill day, in a violent thunderstorm, the rain beating on the roof, as we celebrated Eucharist with then-program director Fred Schmidt presiding, and experiencing the white linen, the candle-light, and the gathered community as a kind of stronghold. I remember a retreat for MTS students from Virginia seminary, held in the white-paneled, light-filled lounge, where we began to share stories of how we had experienced God’s call to discipleship, and found ourselves in tears of amazement at the affirmation and welcome that we were able to provide one another – a group of laity called to ministry in the world, in a place so often used for the nurture of clergy. We truly sensed the liveliness and vigor of the Holy Spirit working among us that day. And it wasn’t the first time I’d met Her there.

And I remember two years of regular meetings, in the shabby but lived-in seminar room, with a lively group of gifted spiritual companions, dreaming up together a new educational program on “The Art of Spiritual Companionship” – now in its second run at the Cathedral in 2008-9. I don’t know what will happen to this program, but the fellowship of those planning meetings, in that little room beside the chapel with its worn upholstered chairs and heavy wooden furniture, was charged and fruitful time.

Last year, I worked with Esther de Waal and Bonnie Thornton leading a week long program on “Approaching God through Poetry” with a lively group of more than 30 participants who were in residence for the week. All week we took in and shared the spiritual power of shared imagination, and of the beauty of the place, the silvery bronze light of February in Washington reflecting off the stone cloister around the garth, and illuminating our gatherings. Anyone who has been to the College for some time in residence can appreciate the fellowship that came in gathering for (very good) meals in the refectory, with high-vaulted gothic ceilings and portraits of previous wardens gazing down – and many will remember special insights that come out of those conversations, with a group of people who have stepped out of the swirl of life for a few days, into the sheltered calm of these massive stone walls. Upstairs where overnight guests stay, the rabbit warren of hallways and rooms gives a sense of secret blessings hidden away, and invites withdrawal into solitude with God. It is obvious, if you look closely, how huge the burden of deferred maintenance must be for this quirky old building. There have been leaks and peeling paint and cold radiators here and there for years. Still, living among those prayed-in corners and for a weekend retreat a few years ago taught me a lot about solitude with God – and in learning there I felt myself sustained by the prayers of generations.

At a plenary session during our poetry week last year, Esther de Waal and then-warden Howard Anderson were making connections between the sense of place that flows through Celtic tradition and the reverence for land and locality in Native American tradition. Alluding to our own indigenous tradition, and speaking of the College, Howard affirmed that “an Underground River flows beneath this place.” I have felt that energy, too, gathering with others or coming alone for prayer, learning and reflection, in the “thin place” that the Cathedral College has become for me. I have no inside information on the future, though clearly there are huge financial challenges. I’m told that there are task forces gathering to consider both the Cathedral’s vision for education and the future of the buildings, and I pray for their work. Yet even if the College must be closed soon (hard as that still is for me to imagine), I believe that the Underground River keeps flowing. You can’t stop it. It carries the wellspring of spiritual energy that has brought so many to the College for so many years. And I pray that we will see it springing up again, and bringing renewed life to this beloved and prayed-in place.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt (Kathy) keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

The discipline of waiting in a go-go world

By Jean Fitzpatrick

Le Trung, a Toronto inventor, has built himself a robot girlfriend. Aiko, who speaks about 13,000 sentences in Japanese and English, can do the cleaning, mix his favorite drink, and read him the newspaper headlines. She does algebra, trig and geometry, and tells the weather in foreign cities. Did I mention she has silicone breasts? Apparently after a heart attack Le Trung worried that he'd need someone to care for him in his old age. He couldn't wait to meet a real, live woman. Just couldn't wait.

These days in my psychotherapy practice, I'm hearing a lot about waiting. "How long am I going to feel this way?" says one woman, grieving after her fiancé left her and acutely aware of her biological clock's ticking.

"When will I meet someone I can have a real relationship with?" says a gay man sick of the dating scene.

"It's tough, not knowing yet what he'll decide, where we'll end up," says a woman working hard to mend a broken marriage. Nobody has raised the idea of creating a silicone robot. Mostly they're longing for a flesh-and-blood person to share coffee and a bagel with before rushing off to work, as long as they're lucky enough to still have a job. They're looking at the empty side of the bed and longing for someone to fill it with warmth and connection.

I can't say anybody has mentioned Advent. Too bad, as most of us have noticed, that the idea of a penitential season before Christmas doesn't play too well with ordinary civilians. Thanks to centuries of bad p.r., the whole idea tends to sound to the average person experiencing loss like a church plan to kick a person who's already down while everybody else is out whooping it up with Christmas sales and eggnog. Even Advent as a time of inner preparation for the joyous birth of hope leaves some people cold; when times are hard, it's not always easy to imagine oneself into the story of the infant in the manger. The hope of Christmas morning can sound like the ultimate bailout plan that collapsed.

In today's culture, when we find ourselves waiting -- not getting what we want -- most of us think there must be something wrong. Aren't we supposed to make things happen for ourselves? Aren't we supposed to be all that we can be? If I'm waiting for something I don't have yet, am I a loser? We end up angry, off-center, as though we've been robbed of something.

We all have experiences of dislocation and loss, of course, every single one of us. Every human life includes experiences of not-having, of not-there-yet, of doors closing. Absence, loss, and emptiness all drizzle like rain on the just and the unjust, and sometimes they pour. That's when it's helpful to recall, as Bill Tully pointed out in a recent, eloquent message to his flock at St. Bart's, that the Advent reference to coming signals not only the imminent birth of the babe in the manger, but points us toward end times and ultimate concerns. While we wait, we have a chance to feel the ground under our feet, to discover and experience what the Buddhist clinical psychologist Tara Brach calls the "sacred pause" and weave it into daily life.
Most of us find less-than-healthy ways to take that pause. People who have quit smoking often tell me that what they miss is those languid moments of time away from activities during the day. I just discovered that "The pause that refreshes," a phrase that's been running through my mind lately, was Coca-Cola's advertising slogan in none other than 1929.

When we stop trying to avoid the emptiness or thrash around in it or fill it up, and instead honor and walk with it -- with all the heaviness and slowness of a pregnant woman bumping along on a donkey -- we discover that we are not alone. Finding our way through the anger and hurt and fear, we are freed to simply feel. And watch. And wait.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

The spirituality of travel

By Margaret Treadwell

The summer I was 16, my rector and his wife (my godmother) invited their same age niece Mary and me on a European spiritual adventure. The purpose of their trip was to visit the surviving cathedrals he had grown to love during WWII. He had been an Army-Air Force pilot and on one terrible mission high in the clouds over Germany had a spiritual conversion that led to his ordination in the Episcopal Church after the war.

The cathedrals were awe- inspiring in their musty grandeur, especially the first one in Cologne, Germany, where we climbed the tower, looked out over the city and I felt God’s presence in a powerful way that I later defined as my own teenage conversion experience.

But by the time we arrived in Rome a couple of weeks later, Mary and I were lagging in our religious and spiritual interests, which left us open to exploring relationships instead. Those pesky, handsome Italian men who wouldn’t leave us alone gave our chaperons many laughs while they inadvertently taught me that meeting the inhabitants of a foreign land is as important a spiritual aspect of the journey as is the awesome architecture and art.

The people of Southeast Asia taught me this anew when my husband and I had the recent opportunity to spend several weeks there. He was on business, while I had a unique invitation to join the trip as a participant with few responsibilities. I hoped to open myself once again to the spirituality of travel and what I might find in four countries that together represent all the world’s great religions – Hinduism in Bali, Buddhism in Cambodia and Vietnam and Islam in Malaysia, a country that takes pride in living harmoniously with all religions. Christianity is growing in each of these countries.

Ban Hoang Xuan, our wise and gentle Vietnamese guide explained his conversion from the philosophy of Confucius – the worship of family ancestors so that one can become a good person to lead his own family. He laughed when I told him that some of us family therapists can fall into that worship trap too.

He then told his story about a friend who took him to a Christian church where he discovered a new way: “When I heard the preaching about salvation it made sense to me that we all need forgiveness from God and we can have it through Jesus, our savior who died for us. At first my parents and siblings thought I had abandoned them, but gradually they’ve accepted that I can participate in family celebrations for the dead without holding on to old superstitions because God is my Alpha and Omega. I think my faith is stronger for having risked family ties to live my Christian beliefs.” Ban met his wife at church, and now his 25-year-old daughter is engaged to a parishioner there with whom she teaches Sunday school.

Liv Gussing, the young general manager of Amandari Resort in Bali, and her assistant, Pitu Sudiari, personify the beauty, peace and harmony they strive for in their serene hotel. When I asked how they achieve this state of grace they talked about the practice of Balinese Hinduism: “Religious ceremony based on the Bali calendar envelops and blends in with our lives. Before we construct our buildings, we prepare a ceremony to bless the place and keep bad spirits away. Our homes have shrines for our rituals – in a corner of the house, in the courtyard and outside the gate. When I prepare family meals, I make offerings of some of the food to thank the gods for what we have. We also make blessings with water and incense throughout the day in our offices, hotels, restaurants and factories. We pray in thanksgiving and to ask for safety and security. Our temples are alive with ceremonies to honor our gods.”

Listening to these and other testimonials from people who have so little materially and so much spiritually, I gleaned a new slant on travel and the Great Commandment: “ Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” For me, this means first to seek and let shine my own joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and respect for differences. Only then can I appreciate those qualities of love in others when language barriers and diverse spiritual beliefs come to matter not at all.

“You simply will not be the same person two months from now after consciously giving thanks each day for the abundance that exists in your life. And you will have set in motion an ancient spiritual law: the more you have and are grateful for, the more will be given you.” – Sarah Ban Breathnach

Margaret M. (“Peggy”) Treadwell, LCSW -C, has been active in the fields of education and counseling for thirty-five years. Following a long association with Dr. Edwin H. Friedman, during which she served on his faculty, she co-edited and helped posthumously publish his book, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.

Are we still in the salvation business?

By Martin L. Smith

Sometimes we wake from a dream with only a strange question as its trace, and the other morning all I could remember as I shaved was a voice asking, “Do you mean business?” It’s a good question to ask looking into one’s own eyes in the mirror, a challenge to weigh the intentionality we are bringing—or not—to everyday living. And it is a question about faith, because for us today faith is about finding meaning in life and for life. Someone who means business today about becoming a genuine believer is conscious of wanting, needing, her life to have meaning. In fact, for Christians in the postmodern world, to find life meaningful as a gift from God through relationship with Jesus is what it means to be saved. Salvation is both to be rescued and fulfilled. Rescued from the spiritual vacuum of meaninglessness, and fulfilled by receiving with the love of God a sense of connectedness, purpose and destiny.

It is a good question to ask about the church. Does the church ‘mean business’? Do we accept that our main business today is with meaning, the struggle to find meaning, and the mission to help people discover the gift of meaning through the good news that has Christ at its heart? Are we still in the business of being saved and saving others? I wonder sometimes because of the negativity or indifference with which many Episcopalians react to the very concept of being saved. Perhaps it’s because they equate being saved with the idea of God reprieving (some of) us from the sentence of eternal damnation in hellfire. In recoil from that idea many seem to think that salvation is a concept best quietly shelved. In how many of our churches is the language of salvation really alive?

A certain historical perspective can help. How did the church mean business at first in the culture in which it grew so rapidly? It brought good news to a civilization haunted by the ravages of mortality, the inevitable decay that reduced human effort to futility. The gospel of the resurrection counteracted all that with an unprecedented sense of God’s abundance of life and his desire to bring human beings into such intimacy with himself that they could experience a fullness of being that was proof against death. How did the church mean business in later centuries? Its good news addressed the nightmare of alienation, the sense that guilt estranged us from the Holy One. The gospel offered a way through it to reconciliation with God, through the sacraments that made Christ’s gift of himself on the cross a contemporary healing power, and through a message of justification as a free gift received by faith.

In our era, mortality and guilt are all too real but they are not what haunts us most. We suffer from a crisis of meaning itself. In the doubting that comes when our defenses are down we wonder whether human consciousness is merely an accidental froth, just a spectacular by-product of evolution in a single primate species. We wonder whether human consciousness has such flawed wiring that civilization is doomed to be short-lived, and we shall bring on our own extinction sometime in the next 10 generations, leaving the planet to wheel on to its own eventual demise in a universe whose origin and destiny is a sheer enigma. Perhaps all human religions, not just some, are the product of sheer projection, imaginary thought-patterns that human beings have fabricated for bonding societies and marking pathways through the joys and pains of human life. In the kind of thinking to which we are vulnerable at 3 in the morning, we find ourselves in the horror of sheer doubt. For us religious doubt isn’t really a matter of questioning this dogma or that. It’s more primal. Have human beings been making it all up? Is there in reality any greater meaning in which my life is taking part?

A church that means business speaks to this crisis of meaning head on and is unafraid to talk of being saved. It encourages people to articulate their doubt, not just about this church teaching or that, but about the value and ultimate meaning of our fragile human lives on this little blue planet circling as a speck in a galaxy that is merely one of billions.

When I hear the gospel addressed to me in the midst of this vertigo of doubt, and accept its poignant insistence that our lives are meaningful because they are what God meant, and that we mean everything to him, and that he means to take us into his life by uniting us to the one who suffered with us and for us, whom he raised from the dead, I can say “This is what it means to be saved, and I want others to receive the same gift.”

Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiritual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba’s, D.C.

A Scottish pilgrimage

By Ann Fontaine

Last spring, our daughter called to say we should take a trip to Scotland together. Scotland is the birthplace of my maternal grandmother. We had gone to Norway a few years ago to see the birthplace of my father so it only seemed right to balance our family tree. She bought the airline tickets and left the itinerary to me. I planned our pilgrimage by thinking of people and places I wanted to see. Now that we are home and our ions are beginning to coalesce in one place, I am surprised by the depth of the experience and the sense of the Spirit that I encountered and which lingers.

We began in Torquay on the south coast of England, the “English Riviera.” Staying with friends whose guest room overlooks the sea, we spent a few nights getting into the time zone and seeing the sights of the area. Little did I know how Victorian churches were decorated on the inside: a wild cacophony of striped pillars, painted ceilings, and bright colors. Every inch covered with images or designs. After a fire, the ceiling in the local church was repainted and Sputnik was included. Around the font a scene of ponies and farm animals had been added. Traveling further out to the moors we crossed the river Dart – hence Dartmouth, Dartmoor, Dartmeet. (duh). At Exeter (on the river Ex) Richard Hooker’s statue dominates the churchyard and town square as his writings dominate Anglicanism.

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Noting the current economic news, the trip to Alyth, Scotland was reassuring in an odd way. Alyth was the town where my grandmother was born. People told us that it was not much changed. Millworkers cottages dominated the street where she lived until she was about 14 years of age. The closing of the mills to centralize weaving into the larger cities seems to have been the impetus for her emigration. Her mother was a power loom weaver and her father was a slater (roofing with slate). The roof over their heads was dependent on working for the mill owner. No mill, no job, no home. It puts modern life in perspective. At church on Sunday one of the hymns was one that was sung at my ordination – serendipity or Spirit?

From nostalgia touring we went to the Island of Iona, home of Columba and Celtic Christianity. More smashing of icons of the mind as we learned that Columba banished all the women to the Isle of Women – nearby but off “his” island. So much for inclusion in that branch of Christianity! Throughout the trip we noticed the merging of old and new in religion, however. For instance, in the wall of the convent built in 1200 is a Sheila na gig. When the walls were covered perhaps it was not as noticeable but now as the weather takes its toll it is clearly there. I wonder if it was a gift or a joke for the nuns from those who built the building?

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Fingal’s Cave was as wondrous as Mendelssohn’s overture portrays it as we discovered on a boat trip to the Isle of Staffa. Towering columns of hexagonally formed basalt from ancient lava flows form the walls and roof.

From ancient Christianity off the coast of Scotland we traveled to Chester Cathedral to see a modern sculpture of the Woman at the Well and Jesus. I had caught a glimpse of it on the internet and it was in my heart to see it in real time and not just virtually. It is more than amazing. The artist captures the longing of God and humankind for intimacy with one another.

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As we entered the cathedral once again the same hymn from my ordination was heard as the choir practiced for Sunday. It is not an old chestnut so I have to wonder at hearing it twice in one week, once in a united Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregational church and once in an Anglican cathedral. Is it a message from the Spirit or just chance encounter?

It was a trip like that – things just turned up as we journeyed together – mother and daughter. We connected with sites and sights, our history, old friends, a cousin, and new friends until now only known on a blog or listserve. We made reservations for a bed each night – usually staying at least 2 nights or more but did not overplan our days. We left time for the Spirit to appear, whether in the opportunity to see a concert by a well know folk duo or cream tea with a cousin in the Kensington Gardens Orangery. And we learned if you have to sleep in the same bed with someone who is not your usual sleep partner – order two duvets!!!

Slide show of a few more photos http://gallery.me.com/annfontaine#100029

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blog what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

I am religious, but not spiritual

By Kit Carlson


“I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious.”

This has become an incredibly popular statement in recent years. In a Beliefnet excerpt from his book, Spiritual, But Not Religious,” Robert C. Fuller estimates that about one in every five people describes themselves this way. The increasing individualism and consumerism in modern culture has also extended into the realm of the spiritual. People who describe themselves this way see spirituality as something private, not public, something personal, not communal, and something they can design and control and devise, rather than something handed to them by an institution of some sort.

Fuller quotes researchers who say such folks are “less likely to evaluate religiousness positively, less likely to engage in traditional forms of worship such as church attendance and prayer, less likely to engage in group experiences related to spiritual growth, more likely to be agnostic, more likely to characterize religiousness and spirituality as different and non-overlapping concepts, more likely to hold nontraditional beliefs, and more likely to have had mystical experiences.”

Practically, this statement – “I’m spiritual but not religious” -- has a way of raising a wall between a regular, church-going sort of person and a friend or colleague who has no intention of becoming a regular, church-going sort of person. It says, “Back off. Don’t butt into my private relationship or lack of relationship with the Divine. I know all about you ‘religious’ folks. You want to tell me I’m going to hell or imply there’s something wrong with me. Well, I have my own way of connecting – or not – with God. So shut up.”

Well, that’s how I hear it any way. It may not be what is intended, when the person speaks it. But it cuts. It says to me that the person believes that “spiritual” is somehow more authentic, nobler than “religious”, with its checkered history of pogroms and persecutions, its tedious liturgies and self-righteous evangelistic approaches. It makes me -- as a sort of regular, church-going person who actually is religious -- feel like a representative of the Spanish Inquisition or a denizen of the shiniest buckle in the Bible Belt.

But I have decided to feel inferior to these “spiritual but not religious” people no more. I am going to claim my identity as “religious but not spiritual.”

What do I mean by that? I mean to celebrate the fact that one can become part of a faith community and enter into its life and practices and find meaning there, without ever having been smacked over the head by a supernatural experience. That one can choose to adhere to the tenets and expectations of a religious community and let that life of following those expectations create a space within one’s soul where the spiritual might occur. That – much like entering into a long marriage, rather than looking to hook ups for love and affection – one might find that the long, tedious, faithful activities of a committed relationship actually can make one a larger and more loving person than one would have been otherwise, left to one’s own devices.

I mean that discipline, duty, and devotion to a religious community can work as well for the spiritual life as it does for the physical life. No one says, “I’m athletic but I don’t work out.” No one says, “I’m tennis player but I have no partners.” To become athletic, a person has to move. It helps even more if one joins a team or a health club or gets a personal trainer. To become a tennis player, you have to play tennis with other people. You can only get so far whacking the ball against a concrete wall day after day.

Religion, admittedly, has brought the world its share of grief. But religion has also given the world hospitals and health clinics, universities and inner-city schools. Religion has fed the hungry and clothed the naked. Religion gave us Habitat for Humanity. It gave us Bach. It gave us Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Religion, faithfully practiced, might even help the “spiritual but not religious” folks to grow more spiritual, to be more connected to God, and to give them fellow travelers on the way who can help them in their spiritual quests.

I’m glad that I am religious. My religious life forces me to think about God even when I don’t feel like it. It inspires me to be a better person than I actually want to be. It connects me to people I never would seek out on my own and helps me to relate to them as my brothers and sisters in the eyes of God. It believes for me when I don’t feel like believing. It prays for me when I can’t pray. It opens the pathway to God for me, week in and week out, and invites me to take another step along the way.

So, yes, I have joined the “I’m religious, but not spiritual” group on Facebook. I honestly think that this may be an idea whose time has come -- especially for those shy and staid sort of folks who go to church dutifully every Sunday, cook casseroles for families with new babies, work on the Habitat house, make a pledge, show up at church clean-up day, haul their protesting teenagers to youth group, who remember their church in their will, but who … urk … cough … struggle to offer up an extemporaneous prayer, or to articulate what exactly it is they are doing here, anyway.

There are more of us out there than you think. Religious, but maybe not quite so spiritual.

The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich., where she blogs at Saints Alive!

Beyond words

By Martin L. Smith

I’ve been traveling around Turkey, in slow trains and buses that give leisure for musing. Ancient sites passed by and triggered old memories from reading the spiritual classics. I peered through the window at Nevsehir on the way through Cappadocia, which was the see city of the bishop, mystic and theologian Gregory of Nyssa. Later, as I walked through canyons riddled with ancient monasteries and settlements, I got to thinking about what the ancient fathers of the Church can still teach us. We think of theology as the profession of academics, but this wasn’t true in Christianity’s springtime. At first the word theology referred not to a field of study, but first hand spiritual knowledge gained from contemplation. “If you are a theologian, you pray in truth. If you pray in truth, you are a theologian,” wrote Evagrius, one of the pioneers of Christian spirituality.

Today the word ‘theology’ is so embarrassingly degraded that TV pundits often use the term as a scathing reference to abstruse theorizing unmoored in reality. And the word ‘orthodoxy’ has had a similar fate. These days, orthodoxy is almost a synonym for rigid dogmatism and moralism, hidebound ecclesiastical formulas in which changeless truth is supposed to be set in stone. But originally orthodoxy meant the lived experience of being on the right track (orthos) in giving glory (that’s what doxa means) to God, in worshipping and adoring God, in community. And what these pioneers of Christian orthodoxy insisted on, with all the eloquence at their disposal, was the utter impossibility of capturing God in words and images, or grasping God in even the most sublime spiritual experience. God surpasses anything we can possibly say or imagine, and all our experiences of God are merely touching the hem of his garment. God is without rival and nothing is really like God, therefore all language, all symbolism, all our metaphors can only point into further unexplored depths. Christian orthodoxy was—dear God, what has become of it?—a passionate commitment to the mystical core of the Gospel. As such, orthodoxy is the polar opposite of what we call fundamentalism.

As our trains rumbled through the endless valleys of Anatolia, I was running over in my mind some of the meditations that Gregory has left us. He wrote a marvelous commentary on the life of Moses, using it as an allegory of the journey of faith. He comes to that strange vision that Moses has from the cleft in the rock, when he is allowed a fleeting glimpse of God’s backside. This odd detail in the legend Gregory takes as a symbol of the truth that we can only follow God. God is always ahead of us, leading us out of ourselves further into the unexplored territory of his glory. We can only see God’s back, because he is carrying us on his back into mystery. And Gregory taught that even in eternity we will always be on the move as explorers into God, since God is infinite and inexhaustible. There will always be more God to know.


The Church Fathers surprise us. Later I stayed in Sanliurfa, ancient Edessa, a city which embraced Christianity in the second century. I thought about Saint Ephrem who lived and worked here at a time when the city was ringing with a cacophony of rival versions of Christianity (not so unlike modern America.) How did he bear witness as a voice for the orthodox teaching about the Incarnation and the Trinity?

Not through argument, lectures, propaganda, classes. He bore witness through passionate song, writing hundreds of lyrical, fabulously imaginative hymns which were sung in the public squares by a dedicated choir of women. For him, the incandescent truth of the Christian message was best suited to poetry, in the exaltation of music, not prosaic argument. And this is the strange, paradoxical dynamic of the theology of the ancient fathers. At one and the same time they are passionate about the absolutely mysterious character of God, the utter impossibility of defining him, and yet they feel authorized and inspired to use a vast array of imaginative, even outrageous symbols and metaphors, to point to the mystery. Orthodoxy is the paradoxical state of being both blinded by the dazzling darkness of God’s unknowability and of being thrilled by God’s encouragement and permission, through the Incarnation, to deploy every kind of metaphor and poetic symbol to kindle the heart’s awareness of the attractiveness of God’s beauty and power and love. Ephrem’s poetry, like Dante’s, is ablaze with the erotic audacity of lovesong. We pray for God to send laborers into his harvest. Are we praying for spiritual poets, prophets and visionaries, who will help us set our speech about God on fire again today? Or will we as Episcopalians succumb to the fate of becoming—you know—the bland leading the bland?

Martin Smith is well-known in the Episcopal Church and beyond as a priest, writer, preacher and leader of retreats. Through such popular works as A Season for the Spirit and The Word is Very Near You and in numerous workshops, lectures and retreats, he continues to explore a contemporary spirituality that encourages a lively conversation between new knowledge and the riches of tradition.

Honoring Evelyn Underhill

By Kathleen Henderson Staudt

For many years now an important spiritual resting-point in my life has been the annual day of quiet reflection in honor of Evelyn Underhill, sponsored by the Evelyn Underhill Association at the Washington National Cathedral. It is always held in mid-June, on a Saturday close to the day when the Episcopal Church calendar observes Evelyn's feast day, June 15. It is a beautiful time of year on the Cathedral close, usually with lovely weather, the roses blooming in the Bishop's Garden, quiet places to walk and pray on the grounds or in the Cathedral. Always the day has included several hours of communal silence, punctuated by a leader's reflections on some theme from the writings of this 20th century mystic, spiritual director and retreat leader.

Evelyn Underhill’s gift to the Church may best be summarized by the title of one of her early books: Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for Normal People. The first book of hers that I really read was called Life as Prayer, a volume of occasional talks, now out of print. I keep returning to two essays in this volume. "The Spiritual Life of a Teacher," an address to church school teachers, seems to me to speak equally to the vocations of teacher and parent, two callings that I have always sought to weave together in my own life. “Life as Prayer,” the title essay, speaks to the way that I have experienced the mystery of intercessory prayer, and prayer in community. More widely available is her little book The Spiritual Life, a series of radio addresses offered on the BBC in 1938. There she speaks of the connection between the call to the interior life and the Church’s vocation to serve the needs of a suffering and broken world. Evelyn’s writing invites people to adoration, communion and cooperation with God, and depicts prayer as an immersion in God's love, an activity natural to human beings formed in God's image, and an exciting journey. "The life of prayer," she writes, "is so great and various there is something in it for everyone. Or again, it is like that ocean of God in which St. Gregory said that elephants can swim and lambs can paddle. Even a baby can do something about it. No saint has exhausted its possibilities yet." (“Life as Prayer,” p. 175)

In “The Spiritual Life of the Teacher, her wisdom extends not only to teachers but to mothers and fathers and mentors of all kinds:

In one way or another, you are required to be pupil-teachers, working for love. You must learn all the time, and give all the time; freely you have received, freely give. That is your Charter. Only do see to it that you fulfil the condition in which you can receive. The most up-to-date and efficient tap is useless unless the Living Water can come through and does come through.

Or again, further on:

God is always coming to you in the sacrament of the present moment. Meet and receive Him then with gratitude in that sacrament; however unexpected its outward form may be. (Life as Prayer, 185)

Here and elsewhere in her writing, this voice of quiet, grounded spiritual authority has named my experience. It is a joy to find in Evelyn an apparently "normal" person, an upper middle class, educated, married woman, like myself in some ways, whose work names and invites others into the depths of the life of prayer, grounded in what she describes elsewhere as “that deep place where the soul is at home with God.”

Evelyn Underhill is best known for her fat scholarly book, Mysticism, published in 1911 and continuously in print since then. It has always seemed clear to me that her scholarly work on the mystics grew out of a deep need to integrate her own spiritual experience with an intellectual understanding of human psychology and religious experience. Throughout her writing, she insists that the experience of the great mystics of all traditions is actually an experience available to all human beings in some way or another, that the greatest mystics' experience differs from that of the rest of us "in degree, not in kind." Most important, the life of prayer is never separate from our daily work in the world. Rather, if it is healthy, prayer calls us to participate in some way in God's ongoing effort to heal and redeem all that is broken and hurting in the world. In "Life as Prayer," she writes of prayer as a "mysterious, and yet very practical, work”:

A real man or woman of prayer, then, should be a live wire, a link between God's grace and the world that needs it. In so far as you have given your lives to God, you have offered yourselves, without conditions, as transmitters of his saving and enabling live: and the will and love, the emotional drive, which you thus consecrate to God's purposes, can do actual work on supernatural levels for those for whom you are called upon to pray. One human spirit can, by its prayer and love, touch and change another human spirit; it can take a soul and lift it into the atmosphere of God. This happens, and the fact that it happens is one of the most wonderful things in the Christian life." (55)

I return often to Underhill’s writing, fascinated by this intensely prayerful woman, who wrote articles, books, and letters of direction and led retreats at a time when there was no real category to describe her vocation. The voice that comes through her work reveals a personality that was consecrated, alive, ardent, joyful and very insistent, a strong personality, absorbed in the love of Christ, yet with a homey, conversational style that is engaging. I always feel that strength of personality among us when we gather for this Day of Quiet in Evelyn Underhill’s honor. Though the meditations we hear are based on her work, ultimately the gathering is not only “about” her. Rather, in coming together we accept an invitation to enter the life of prayer in community.

Even though I usually have a leadership position now, that June quiet day has become for me a time of re-rooting, reconnecting to my own deepening experience of God's presence in my life. It is a time to rest with others in what Evelyn somewhere calls "that deep place where the soul is at home with God."

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt (Kathy) keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area, and teaches courses in literature, theology and writing at Virginia Theological Seminary and the University of Maryland, College Park. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

The spirituality of sweet tea

By Luiz Coelho

Fifty years ago, in most of Brazil, it was still common to see people watch the sunset sitting on a comfortable rocking chair on the porch of their houses. Families and neighbors were usually invited over, and food and refreshments were widely available. In more urban scenarios, people would bring tables and chairs to the sidewalks, and chat before dinner. After the Second World War, these moments had an important effect: they helped build communities, often composed of people from different backgrounds and ethnicities, and offered hope for a better future.

On colder days, if the weather allowed it, hot coffee or black tea, accompanied by a few slices of carrot, orange or corn cake, was just enough to bring families around the outdoor table, and soon neighbors and friends would join them. They would eventually bring more snacks, and conversation would go on until it was time to go inside and have dinner. On hot summer days, hot coffee was replaced by cold juices and mate, a special Brazilian tea cherished by many in its cold and sweet form. Sometimes, this happy encounter would be followed by a garden dinner, which could go on for hours and hours.

As a Southerner “by adoption”, I soon learned that some traditions are ubiquitous everywhere, especially when it comes to “Pan-American late afternoon environments”. Some of the foods were probably slightly different, and mate was surely replaced by intese doses of freshly brewed sweet tea on the rocks. However, the feelings and bonds of affection were the same, and long nights of laughs and conversations helped foster the sense of community here and there, especially at a time when the future seemed to be uncertain.

In churches, similar events also happened. From “dinners on the grounds” to Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers, food, community and conversations have always been part of our Church life. The rich noise of children running around the parish hall and vivid conversations between parishioners of different sorts still can be heard in many of our Churches across the world. In many places, however, this community life centered around food and conversation is dying, often substituted by an innovative “consumer Gospel”, which produces short term growth, but in the long run has increasingly contributed to empty houses of worship.

Sadly, I do not belong to the slow sweet tea generation. Raised in a middle class apartment, I did not have the possibility of playing with neighbors on the street and hearing my mother's call to come inside for dinner. To be true, I barely knew my neighbors' names. Only in the summer, when I would spend some free time at my grandparents' cottage, did I have the opportunity to enjoy the slow life of “the good old times”: playing with their pet (a dog named Perigoso - “Dangerous” in English – who was anything but dangerous), helping my grandfather harvest fresh vegetables, playing with the neighbors' kids, jumping in trees and getting dirty. And, at the end of the afternoon, we would always drink refreshments and chat for a while in front of their house. The neighbors were always invited to join the conversation, after all, everybody was part of a “big family.”

That's how Churches are supposed to be: a big family. However, the “community” aspect of church life is emphasized in our “modern” world less and less. Many search committees now expect priests to be much more like business administrators who are able to celebrate a quick liturgy rather than spiritual leaders called by God to announce the Good News of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, with a schedule filled with committee meetings, there is little time for visiting the sick, talking on the phone with parishioners or even enjoying a cup of coffee or a glass of sweet tea at the end of the afternoon.

Parishioners also have less and less time for Church affairs. Sunday school is rarely heard of in some places. Coffee and refreshments, usually served after the main service of the day, are taken “to go” as people run to their cars, ready to drive to the nearest restaurant. There is little time for weekday activities, including longtime parish programs and traditions, which risk being extinguished within a couple of generations.

It is necessary to reclaim the “spirituality of sweet tea” in our world: the long talks, the hugs, the common meals and warm conversations. Yes, the world has changed, and the Church inevitably has to adapt to a fast-paced society. However, the essence of Christian community life cannot change. Some regard it as the strongest aspect as the early Christians' most impressible aspect and wherever it still persists, the Church is strong and active.

Maybe it is time, then, to use community life as a tool for church growth and evangelism. Younger generations, often so technologically savvy, lack the “people” aspect of daily life. If the Church will provide a warm and welcoming environment, where all are known and cherished by their brothers and sisters in Christ, it surely will be able to reach the unchurched. Our Episcopal/Anglican identity provides a solid and traditional liturgy, complemented with a comprehensive and inclusive theology. When allied with intentional Christian community, which naturally flows from our liturgy centered around the Eucharist, Christ is made truly present among us and a conduit is created that enables people to find wholeness in God in Christ.

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view."

Reclaiming the Sabbath

By Jane Carol Redmont

A colleague and I met for lunch recently to discuss diocesan business and enjoy conversation with each other. The meeting took weeks to schedule. As we settled into our meal, the topic shifted to Saturday all-day meetings, attendance at evening and weekend programs, and the time crunch in the lives of church members.

The church, we agreed, was one of the culprits.

My colleague is a parish priest. I teach in a small college and do pastoral work “on the side” as well as at my job. Both of us are involved in leadership at the diocesan level. We both have families we love, friends with whom we try to carve out time, a commitment to prayer. She lives with her husband. I live with a cat equally dedicated to sleep and play.

A little over a year ago, a class of mine read The Sabbath, the classic work by Abraham Joshua Heschel. We studied the Jewish meaning and context of Shabbat and made note of the practices associated with it: a regular weekly rhythm of rest, time for reconnecting with the sacred, festive meals with loved ones, the nurturing of community life, study of holy wisdom and sacred texts, attention to beauty and sensuality, honoring intimacy. I suggested to the students (none of them Jewish) that they try to observe some form of Sabbath time (even one more brief than the traditional 25 hours) and keep a journal about their experience. When the students reported back, many had been unable to find time even for a Sabbath afternoon.

The loss of Sabbath time in our culture is not news. Contemplative spaces are increasingly scarce. The speed of life in the U.S. has been increasing for decades. Cell phones, the internet, and other electronic realities have added to this, although the internet, as this Café attests, can also support the contemplative life. Labor policies and practices have as much to do with our time bind as e-mail and the 24-hour news cycle.

In both the corporate and the nonprofit world, individuals are doing the work that two or three people were doing ten or twenty years ago. Work days and weeks are longer. Arlie Russell Hochschild documented over a decade ago the overlap and blurring of household time and job time. This transformation was taking place long before the World Wide Web threaded its way into our lives. Alone among industrialized nations and unlike more than 130 countries worldwide, the United States has no guaranteed paid holidays mandated by law. Low-wage jobs keep workers under the poverty level and sap their energy, as Barbara Ehrenreich has eloquently reported and David Shipler subsequently noted. The more privileged among us are not exempt from the time crunch. John de Graaf, coordinator of the U.S./Canada Take Back Your Time initiative, has pointed to the yoked phenomena of overwork and “time poverty.”

Is it any wonder we have trouble with attendance at Saturday workshops?

Of course there are other reasons. Sometimes a household member is sick. Sometimes church is a lower priority for people than their children’s soccer games or the NBA playoffs. Sometimes we design our programs poorly. Sometimes our publicity is inadequate. Sometimes the weekday evening or weekend day on which a church program or meeting takes place is the only one on which people can spend time with their families.

My point, though, is the church’s responsibility in the struggle for Sabbath. We contribute to the overscheduling of the culture.

We are between a rock and a hard place: we want our churches to nourish their members, to challenge and educate them, to provide spaces for prayer and opportunities for service and the building of community.

All of this takes time.

To be in the world but not of it has been a challenge for Christian churches since the beginning. For some, being countercultural means not waging war. For others, it means offering a witness on how we live our sexuality. For many, it means both. Both witnesses are based on our discernment of the path to which Christ calls us, but also on an assessment of the signs of the times in the society around us.

On the matter of time, what does it mean for us to be countercultural?

One of the greatest challenges to us as church is to go against the culture’s use of time as a commodity, its business model of program evaluation, and its focus on production and consumption. God loves us. God saves us and makes us whole. God rests on the seventh day. If we decide to embody this as church, what will the shape of our time look like? How will we operate differently from the culture around us?

I am not about to cancel the work of the diocesan anti-racism committee which I chair. I do wonder whether, in addition to an anti-racism audit, we in the churches also need a “Sabbath audit.” The “audit” language is, of course, hardly countercultural. But it helps make my point.

My intuition is that in addressing the problem of overscheduling and the struggle for Sabbath, we will get to the root of our vocation in the world as surely as we do when we address an issue of justice. The lack of time for rest and contemplation is, in fact, a matter of justice – among other things. Protecting Sabbath time may remind us that contemplation and action for justice are neither opposed to one another nor mutually exclusive. Each withers in the other’s absence. Brother Roger, founding prior of the Taizé community, knew this when he spoke of lutte et contemplation, struggle and contemplation, in one breath.

I have no easy response to the Sabbath struggle and the overscheduling of churches. I have only an assessment, some intuitions, and some questions. I also know that the solutions, like the problem, are likely to be systemic and economic as much as “spiritual.”

I also have – it would be more fitting to say “we also have” – the blessed rhythms of the liturgical year, the wisdom and resources of monastic orders, and lessons from sisters and brothers of other traditions, from the Jewish Sabbath to Zen mindfulness practice.
Writers in the Christian tradition have also reflected on the Sabbath from their perspective, with much practical insight. (Dorothy Bass and Tilden Edwards come to mind.)

Read the signs of the times and consider the shape of our time. Think about this one with me. But first, take a deep breath. Take the afternoon off. Then, let’s talk. And listen.

Jane Redmont chairs the Anti-Racism Committee of the Diocese of North Carolina and teaches at Guilford College. A new edition of her book When in Doubt, Sing: Prayer in Daily Life will come out in October. She blogs at Acts of Hope.

The spiritual life of Grades 3 thru 6

By Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick

What percent of your happiness comes from your spiritual life? Three percent, would you say? Or is the percentage closer to 6.5?

I'm still puzzling over the question. For me the spiritual runs through relationships and moments the way blood circulates around the body, and trying to isolate and measure it as a percentage of happiness sounds as impossible as it would be pointless. But recently two researchers at the University of British Columbia concluded that 6.5 to 16.5 percent of children's happiness can be accounted for by their spirituality. Mark Holder, associate professor of psychology, and Judi Wallace, a graduate student, asked 315 children aged nine to twelve to describe their daily spiritual experiences and private religious practices by rating statements such as “I feel a higher power’s presence,” and answering questions including “How often do you pray or meditate privately outside of church or other places of worship?” Teachers and parents described each student's happiness level and the researchers made the correlations.

Considering that parents' wealth accounts for less than 1 percent of a child's happiness, the 6.5 to 16.5 percent results for spirituality took Wallace and Holder by surprise: “From our perspective, it’s a whopping big effect,” says Holder in a UBC press release. “I expected it to be much less – I thought their spirituality would be too immature to account for their well-being.”
So much for "and a little child shall lead them."

Well, it's easy to poke fun at the percentages. And it's hard for many of us to understand how much statistics like these can possibly mean. The researchers' definition of spirituality as "having an inner belief system" is sadly heady. It seems to ignore the natural, hands-on spiritual connection a child develops through loving relationships, nature, and play. And the scientists' tendency to speak of spirituality as though it were no more than a happiness-enhancement tool is all too familiar these days.

Still, in discussing their research Holder and Wallace zero in on two aspects of children's spirituality. One is a sense of thankfulness. As many parents recognize through table graces and bedtime prayers, in a loving home, the impulse to give thanks is a child's natural spiritual expression. "The prayer of children up to the age of seven or eight is almost exclusively prayer of thanksgiving and praise," noted the Italian Montessori educator Sofia Cavalletti in The Religious Potential of the Child over twenty years ago. "The adult who tries to lead the child to prayers of petition falsifies and distorts the child's religious expression. The child feels no need to ask because he knows himself to be in the peaceful possession of certain goods." When we share our own gratitude and encourage our children to do the same, we help them hold onto it as they grow.

What's even more intriguing is that Wallace and Holder talk about the the anticipation of beauty as an important aspect of children's spiritual lives. In my own workshops on children's spiritual nurture, parents often tell me that their childhood and adolescence experiences of beauty -- in redwood forests, under vast starry skies, at midnight mass -- have been touchstones in their own journeys. Children are far hungrier for these moments than many adults recognize. I still remember how as a ten-year-old I saw Michelangelo's Pieta' under a spotlight in an otherwise dark pavilion at the New York World's Fair. To this day I can picture the gleaming marble and the dramatic beauty of the figures, which took my breath away -- and which had far less impact on me a decade later when I saw the sculpture again in St. Peter's basilica.

Today, with children's lives often structured and scheduled from breakfast till bedtime, many are growing up far removed from nature and immersed in a media culture of banality and violence. The habit of seeking that which is harmonious and inspiring in the world is one that must be nurtured. Children need to move beyond the television, the computer screen, the classroom and the sports field to discover that which is truly awe-inspiring in nature, art, music, dance and literature. Too often we think we need to justify such exposures by claiming they will lead to increased fine-motor development or higher SAT scores. Surely it's enough to know that in sharing these experiences we are helping our children's tender hearts stay open. When we learn to look around us for beauty, we tend to find it in our world, in one another, and in ourselves.

Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child's Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.

Mother in Heaven

By Luiz Coelho

A few months ago, after Evensong, I decided to do one of my “favorite” Sunday night activities – grocery shopping. There I was in one of Midtown Atlanta’s supermarkets strolling my buggy, drinking my latte and trying to get everything I needed as fast as I could. Until, at a certain moment, my eyes were attracted to a cute little girl, with a big smile and curly hair, who was fascinated with a basket full of multicolored tie-dye balls in front of her.

As I contemplated in awe the beauty of innocence, a horrifying thought suddenly came to my mind: “where are this girl's parents?” I was not the only one to wonder where they were; within seconds the little child also realized that she was alone in the midst of strangers. Immediately her smile was erased from her face, and my heart started aching as I heard her begin to yell desperately, “Mommy, Mommy!”

Thankfully, within seconds a young woman came from behind a pile of products and hugged the frightened girl. Everything was alright; Mommy was there. My heart settled in peace as that same wide smile that had first caught my attention came back to the child's face as she was embraced by the one who has loved her for her whole life. Since that Sunday night, I have not been able to erase that scene from my mind; and, the reason, I believe, is because through it God has been speaking to me.

That scene speaks a prophetic message to me and to all of us ‘adults’ that even when we pretend to believe we are strong and self-sufficient, we know deep down that we are as lonely, frighened, and vulnerable as that little lost girl. There are moments when we walk away from God and think we can live our lives apart from God; yet, even in those moments when we think we are capable of controling our own lives, our hearts are crying and we too are yelling, “Mommy, Mommy, where are you?”

It happened to me; I can still remember it vividly. I was serving in the Brazilain Army and was on a flight from Manaus, in the Amazon, to Brasília, in order to take part in a “War Games” symposium. I boarded the plane, confident in the power of humankind, knowing that it would arrive to its destination safely, since it was a safe aircraft and the weather was wonderful. That's not what happened, though. As the plane flew through the Amazon forest, it found itself being sucked by an unpredictable low-pressure zone, and went deeply into freefall. Passengers screamed; dishes, bags and even a baby were flying around us. A woman on my right side held my arm so tightly that it hurt. I knew that there was no way of surviving. Even if we landed in the forest, it would still be in the middle of nowhere and our chances of surviving in the wild were nearly impossible. At that moment, I knew that nothing that human beings had ever developed or created would be able to save me. All of the things in which I had placed my trust were powerless to help me. I was defenseless and scared.

And then I decided to pray. It was nothing more than a simple sentence: “God, into your hands I commend my life.” It was my first prayer in years, as I had given up on “church” and walked away from God. But, I can say those words were probably the deepest and truest ones my mouth had ever said. Only God knows why, but the plane shook hard, and found its track back on course. Everybody was safe again. Even the baby who was flying over our heads was rescued and restored to his mother. My life (and probably the other passengers' lives too) would never be the same, though.
I think most of us have been through similar situations. An accident, a disease, the death of a loved one – each of these moments, and other tragic moments like them, remind us that we are nothing but children running around carelessly, until we find ourselves apparently lost, and begin to scream for our parents. The pain of human impotence and the realization that we human beings are powerless towards such situations bring us the scariest, deepest fears. Even our Lord Jesus in the fulness of his human nature, felt the fear and pain of his abandonment and loneliness on the cross and he too screamed to God in agony.

The good news, however, is that it does not end there. We are not left in our despair, and neither was Our Lord Jesus. As we go through Eastertide, let us not forget that the greatest rescue took place in Jesus Christ's Resurrection. God did not forsake the forsaken One on the cross; God heard the cries of agony, and raised Jesus Christ on the third day. Christ is risen indeed, and the power of sin and death is no longer upon us. We, who were lost, are now found; as the mother was at there in the supermarket to rescue her child, so God is always present to rescue us to new life.

After that moment in the airplane, I knew there was someone who really cared about me. Soon, I began to view all of those Christian beliefs and Biblical stories that I had been taught in my youth and had cast aside as a set of irrational children's tales in a new light. I began to relaize that they meant something; and I rediscovered truths that I will never forget.
Throughout my life, I have seen the Risen Christ with his message of hope even in the midst of despair. He has been there through the prayers of friends, through the tears in the eyes of my family, through the intercession of his Blessed Mother, though hymns, icons and scripture verses... and in my heart, always giving me a reason to live and have hope that in the end, all will be well. I can not say my life is perfect, but I know, now, that I have a “mother in Heaven” who will always come to me with a healing embrace when I cry out in moments of despair.

Our highest Father, God Almighty, who is ‘Being’, has always known us and loved us: because of this knowledge, through his marvellous and deep charity and with the unanimous consent of the Blessed Trinity, He wanted the Second Person to become our Mother, our Brother, our Saviour.

It is thus logical that God, being our Father, be also our Mother. Our Father desires, our Mother operates and our good Lord the Holy Ghost confirms; we are thus well advised to love our God through whom we have our being, to thank him reverently and to praise him for having created us and to pray fervently to our Mother, so as to obtain mercy and compassion, and to pray to our Lord, the Holy Ghost, to obtain help and grace.

I then saw with complete certainty that God, before creating us, loved us, and His love never lessened and never will. In this love he accomplished all his works, and in this love he oriented all things to our good and in this love our life is eternal.

With creation we started but the love with which he created us was in Him from the very beginning and in this love is our beginning.

And all this we shall see it in God eternally.

Blessed Julian of Norwich

Luiz Coelho, a seminarian from the Diocese of Rio de Janero, spends part of the year in the BFA program at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His Web site includes his art and his blog, Wandering Christian, on which he examines "Christianity in the third millennium, from a progressive, Latin American and Anglican point of view."

Amen. I'm in!

By Martin Smith

Nurturing children in the faith is hardly a one-way activity since they are capable of saying extraordinarily original and perceptive things about the spiritual life that seem like true gifts from God. Adults have been marveling from the beginning of time at the striking oracles that children sometimes utter: words and sayings that jolt adult out of their jadedness and refresh tired religious ideas. “Out of the mouths of infants and children your majesty is praised above the heavens.” (Ps. 8:2)

A young boy in our congregation developed the habit of giving his mother a ‘high five’ after prayer. She asked him why he was doing it, and he replied, “Don’t we all say ‘I’m in!’ when we’ve finished a prayer?” And of course she marveled at this striking and completely accurate ‘hearing’ of the word Amen and its implications. This ancient Hebrew word of affirmation at the end of prayer is intended to be our expression of personal commitment to all that has gone before. The boy totally got this, even though he was mishearing the sound. And he felt that this invitation to personal commitment called for a sign, a physical ritual that expressed that willingness to be in God’s team, ready to play on God’s side—the high-five. I have a feeling that this could even catch on as an innovative liturgical action. It certainly turned out that way at a retreat I gave in Alabama a few weeks ago. I told the story, and from then on in all our services everyone without prompting gave a high five to his or her neighbor at the end of every prayer, gleefully substituting “I’m in” for Amen!

There is a great precedent for wanting to re-energize this ritual word Amen—no less than the spiritual originality of Jesus himself. So many of the sayings of Jesus begin with the word Amen that we must assume that this was a personal habit. (This peculiar quirk of Jesus is completely lost in most English translations of the gospels, as we often find it translated there as verily or truly).

This usage—Amen, I say to you—was completely original! Scholars can find no examples where anyone else before or after Jesus took the word from its place at the end of a prayer and used it at the beginning. This is truly interesting. What can we make of it? It seems to reveal the deep-seated sense of authority that Jesus possessed. In him, personal commitment to God’s will, his faith in God’s rule, did not come as an after-thought. It was the origin and source of all that he had to say, and all that he had to do. This ‘high-five’ to God came at the beginning of every expression of the message that he believed God had chosen him to launch, as one called “to set the earth on fire.” (Luke 12:49)

Rabbis and scribes sought precedents for everything. They merely expounded what had been revealed in the past. Jesus derived his authority as Son directly and immediately from God his Father, and this immediacy he affirmed by daring to transpose Amen to the beginning of his words. A famous scholar once described Jesus’ daring innovation as “containing all Christology in a nutshell.” It implies that Jesus was indeed acting out of a unique sense of mission and authority to speak and act directly on God’s behalf.

We should hardly be surprised then that the word Amen carried a huge voltage of spiritual energy for early Christians. It was no mere noise to be muttered automatically at the close of a prayer. Amen throbbed with meaning. It actually became a title of Christ himself. Christians heard Jesus as the Word that said two things at once. Jesus as God’s Son was God’s word of affirmation to us, his great Amen, his great Yes to us. At the same time, Jesus our brother, as one of us, expressed humanity’s resounding Yes to God, our Amen finally resounding without qualification or reserve. In the book of Revelation, Jesus is called “the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.” (3:14) And in the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians, we have evidence that the early Christians used the great Amen affirmation in their worship as a shout of praise, inspired by the Spirit, in response to God’s great Yes to us through Jesus. “In him it is always ‘Yes’. In him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen’ to the glory of God. But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in hearts as a first installment.” (1:19-22)

Martin Smith is well-known in the Episcopal Church and beyond as a priest, writer, preacher and leader of retreats. Through such popular works as A Season for the Spirit and The Word is Very Near You and in numerous workshops, lectures and retreats, he continues to explore a contemporary spirituality that encourages a lively conversation between new knowledge and the riches of tradition.

Salvation and spin class

By Melody Wilson Shobe

A few months ago, I began going to spin classes at the local YMCA as part of my exercise routine. Spinning is a group exercise class in which an instructor leads a group of people on stationary bikes through a cycling routine designed to simulate an actual bike ride. The students increase or decrease the resistance on their bikes to imitate climbing hills, sprinting, or intervals. It is a great workout, and usually a lot of fun. My husband and I make a habit of going to a particular class on Thursday nights, because it’s the one night of the week that neither one of us has a standing church commitment.

On Maundy Thursday, however, we had a service in the evening. So I decided to try the Thursday morning spin class instead. Little did I know, the Thursday morning class is “Devotion in Motion:” an hour-long spin class during which the instructor plays praise and worship music and talks about God. The instructor, a layperson who attends a local non-denominational church, uses the idea of a bike ride as a metaphor for the spiritual life to direct his devotional comments throughout the class.

The class was problematic for a number of reasons. The first problem was merely a matter of my personal taste. The instructor, who seemed like he was a very nice guy, had the unfortunate habit of singing along to snatches of the praise music pulsing through the room. This in itself would not be so bad, except for the fact that the instructor in spin classes wears a headset microphone in order to give directions to the class. So, throughout the class, interspersed with the instructions, we got a miniature concert. It was all a little too Brittany Spears for me.

The second problem was purely practical. As I mentioned earlier, spinning is a class in which “the students increase or decrease the resistance on their bikes to imitate climbing hills, sprinting, or intervals.” This instructor, however, starting telling us to increase the resistance on our bikes from the minute we began riding. Then he kept yelling, “Increase!” every two minutes for the rest of the class. By fifteen minutes in, I was at the maximum amount of resistance on my bike, waiting for him to tell us to decrease so that we could build back up. By twenty-five minutes, I was physically incapable of riding at maximum speed any longer. As a spiritual metaphor, it didn’t work very well for me; if, in fact, my faith journey is like a bike ride, it has both hills and valleys, steep climbs and long smooth descents. My relationship with God, at least, has not been all uphill. But regardless of the spiritual implications, it certainly didn’t work as an exercise regime. Asking a room full of people, some of whom have never been on a spin bike before, to “increase” every two minutes is neither feasible nor safe.

But my biggest problem with the class that I attended was theological. It was obvious from the beginning that the instructor and I differed on a number of theological points. He spent a good bit of time talking about the lies that the Enemy (you could actually hear the capitol E) whispers in our ears, which revealed a different understanding of evil than mine. He made a remark about God conquering your depression that revealed a different understanding than I have about mental health. But our theological differences weren’t an obstacle until, in between repeatedly saying, “Increase,” he yelled, “There is no ‘I can’t’ in the spiritual vocabulary!”

I almost fell off of my bike. In the midst of Holy Week, those words struck a deeply dissonant chord inside of me. Because “I can’t” is what Good Friday is all about. When we look at the cross, we are forced to acknowledge that Jesus did something there on that day that I cannot do for myself. And the same is true of Easter and the empty tomb; resurrection is something I can’t do. The transformation of places of death into places of life, the victory over death and the grave, life after death: these are all things that I cannot reach or accomplish. Through his life, death, and resurrection, God does for me something that I can’t do for myself.

In fact, I think the words “I can’t” aren’t just Holy Week words, or Easter words. They are the foundational words of the life of faith. They are integral, not inimical, to the spiritual journey. I grew up going to Baptist summer camp, and each summer counselors would give their testimonials, telling us how they had been saved. As an Episcopalian, I had a great discomfort with that language. But I was also uncomfortable because I felt out of place. My counselors always seemed to have dramatic stories: they had been saved from a life enslaved to drugs or alcohol, they had been saved from illness or injury or anorexia, they had been saved from dangerous or depressing home situations. My own life seemed, by contrast, inadequate and boring. Just what, exactly, was there for God to save me from?

It took me a long time to figure it out. But now, when I’m asked to talk in “salvationspeak,” I tell people that God saved me from thinking I could ever save myself. As an oldest child, I’ve always worked extra hard to be good and do the right thing; I’m the classic over-achiever. But through the years I’ve come to know there’s nothing I can do to earn God’s love, and nothing I can do to make God love me less. God saved me by teaching me to say: “I can’t.”

Holy Week is over, and my Thursday evening is open again. I’m back to my usual spin class this week, and I think from here on out, I’ll try to keep my spinning and my salvation separate.

The Rev. Melody Wilson Shobe is Assistant Rector at a church in the Diocese of Texas. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary and is married to fellow priest The Rev. Casey Shobe.

The urgency of forgiveness

By Lauren R. Stanley

RENK, Sudan – We gathered in church this week to talk about forgiveness, a good topic to tackle on the last Sunday of Lent.

Far too often, when we talk about forgiveness, that’s all we do: talk. It’s usually nothing more an intellectual exercise for us, because heaven forefend that we should seek forgiveness for the wrongs we have done, heaven forefend that we should forgive those who have wronged us.

But in Sudan, a land that has been at war for most of the past five decades, forgiveness is a much more immediate issue. This is a place where religious, tribal, ethnic, language and gender differences have resulted in the deaths of millions of people. This is a place where land has been taken, families have been split, livelihoods have been destroyed.

Talking about forgiveness here is all the more poignant because everywhere you turn, there are reminders of the wars, reminders of the deaths, reminders of the devastation that has sundered this land.

On this past Sunday, our preacher at the Cathedral of St. Matthew was The Very Rev. Martha Deng Nhial, possibly one of the first African women to become a cathedral dean in the Anglican Communion.

Using texts from Luke on forgiveness and Matthew on temptation (“lectionary” frequently is a loosely followed word here), Mother Martha got right to the point:

We have to forgive, she said, because Jesus said so. If we don’t forgive those who have wronged us, she stressed, why should God bother to forgive us?

And then she brought in the devil.

The devil, she said, doesn’t want us to forgive. So the devil instead comes into our lives and tells us that we don’t have to forgive, because the other person isn’t forgiving us.

“The devil is not far from us,” she said. “He will be with you, eat with you, sit with you all the time. And because the devil is right there in our lives, we don’t forgive.”

Forgiveness – with all its attendant difficulties – is a very personal, absolutely urgent issue here. Every single Sudanese sitting in the Cathedral on Sunday has lost family members in one or more of the wars that have plagued this land. A culture of hatred has grown up over the last several generations, hatred between North and South, East and West, between the tribes, between the different religions. It almost seems ingrained some days.

Asking people to forgive those who have killed their families and friends, or who have denied them jobs or education, or who have striven to keep them from simply enjoying a life of peace and prosperity is hard, very hard.

Forgiveness in this place is not some intellectual exercise; it’s reality. It’s a daily need. Mother Martha wasn’t discussing some esoteric theological point; she was directly telling the people in her care to work at something some of them don’t want to even consider.

But in this place, a place of war and death and destruction, forgiveness is the only thing that will save this land. True forgiveness – the kind that hurts, the kind that stretches you beyond anything you’ve ever conceived – is the only thing that will heal this land.

So on the last Sunday of Lent, preparing ourselves to go into Holy Week – where forgiveness was modeled for us in the most memorable way possible – talking about forgiveness was real, poignant and necessary.

If the people take to heart that which Mother Martha preached, there is a chance that one day, Sudan will be healed. But only if the people start by forgiving.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an Appointed Missionary of the Episcopal Church serving in the Diocese of Renk, Sudan. She is a lecturer at the Renk Theological College, teaching Theology, Liturgy and English, and serves as chaplain for the students.

Pilgrimages among the impoverished

By Martin L. Smith

One of the most popular expressions of outreach in Episcopal parishes takes the form of group travel to offer practical service to distant communities. The needs of communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina have called forth hundreds of such expeditions, and groups from our diocese alone are traveling all over the world.

Many of these expeditions link Christian communities, but the phenomenon is far wider than the churches. Thousands of people take part in projects such as those organized by Habitat for Humanity without any explicitly religious motivation. Nevertheless, this burgeoning of altruistic travel seems like a mutation of the ancient phenomenon of pilgrimage. Human beings from time immemorial have gone to great lengths to reach remote destinations in the quest of meaning. Our groups that set out to work for struggling communities, usually of the poor, are finding more meaning in their expeditions than merely the satisfaction that comes with being helpful.

Some of this surplus of meaning lies in the fact that in our socially stratified society middle class folk may never get the opportunity to make contact with the poor except through a mission trip. Maybe participants are being spurred not only by generosity but also a quest to find out what meaning people enjoy while living with a range of physical hardships and discomforts that our North American society is obsessed with eliminating. Many people return from their pilgrimages to Central American villages with compelling questions such as: How come that people who live with such physical discomforts seem far happier and contented, more trusting and hospitable than we are, who are so cocooned and protected?

The question calls to mind Henry Miller’s book about American culture, The Air Conditioned Nightmare. The title refers to our passion for controlling the environment through technology in order to insulate us from direct experience of the world around us. We have come to demand the right to determine the exact temperature of our homes and offices year round by the flick of a switch. Sixty years after Miller’s diatribe, our cult of technology and our worship of physical comfort is steadily intensifying as computers enable us to weave electronically controlled cocoons around us that we can fine-tune with the touch of a remote.

The nightmare consists in the disappointment that dogs so much apparent ‘progress.’ Does this ever increasing physical comfort generate any more joy or even alleviate anxiety? Does this compulsive concern with comfort and control achieve result in any healing or enhancing of our inner worlds? Our hearts remain recalcitrantly unstable and turbulent. Doesn’t all this self-coddling that almost abolishes physical exertion and muffles the impact of the natural seasons actually exaggerate our personal unease, making it seem gratuitous and intolerable? No one can invent a remote to enable us to bring our feelings into comfortable equilibrium. What we can control seems to throw into relief what stays beyond our control, the pervasive stress and anxiety that drugs can only medicate and hectically stimulating electronic entertainments merely repress.

Our people often come back from enjoying the simple hospitality of poor communities feeling that they gained more from their pilgrimage than they gave. The poor have something we are losing or have lost and their mission to us may be more important in the long run than the help we can give them. Where lies the secret of the hospitable and joyful life? What forms of simplicity, vulnerability and direct exposure to the natural world belong to our very humanity, that we lose at our peril?

We can’t answer these questions in a fog of romanticism. There is nothing blessed about dysentery, foul water, bad roofs, lack of schooling. There are fundamental human needs we must struggle to make sure are met everywhere. But there is nothing blessed either about our hyper-consumerist world that has enthroned comfort as its highest value and is obsessed with our technological ability to neutralize the reality of the natural world to which in reality we belong as creatures.

I wonder whether our local churches are up to the task of exploring these questions in depth. In the beatitudes, In the Beatitudes, Jesus prophetically congratulated the poor who keep faith with God, proclaiming that God intends the meek to inherit the earth. What they have and who they are is what God desires to establish across the globe. It is interesting that so many liberal Christians who pin their faith on Jesus’ teaching rather than classic Christian doctrine baulk when asked, “Do you long for the day when the meek inherit the earth?” (Congratulations to the honest Episcopalian whom I heard replying, “No, they wouldn’t know what to do with it!”) What have the poor got that we are losing, and that God our Creator supremely values and wants to have permanently established worldwide?

Martin Smith is well-known in the Episcopal Church and beyond as a priest, writer, preacher and leader of retreats. Through such popular works as A Season for the Spirit and The Word is Very Near You and in numerous workshops, lectures and retreats, he continues to explore a contemporary spirituality that encourages a lively conversation between new knowledge and the riches of tradition.

Speed, noise and Lent

By Peter Pearson

Over the last few days I have been one busy priest. The deanery in which I serve has held meetings for its delegates, for its priests and yesterday we had a liturgical workshop. I attended each of these along with leading the Sunday worship and vestry meeting at my parish, visiting some folks who can’t get out, doing some necessary paperwork, attending our mid-week evening prayer and discussion, connecting with the folks who were responsible for some of the parts of our Lenten observances, answering phone calls, meeting with my spiritual director, walking the dog, chatting with friends on the phone, attending my own 12-Step meeting schedule, talking to my sponsor, and hitting the gym when possible. (Please feel free to add the hyperventilating sound effects for added punch.)

Like you, I’m a busy Christian. For some reason, this morning I thought of Linus Mundy’s statement in his book A Retreat with Desert Mystics: Thirsting for the Reign of God about how the Desert Fathers and Mothers recognized that the greatest enemies of leading a spiritual life are: speed and noise. Perhaps I thought about it because this is the first day in a week that I haven’t over-booked, over-extended, over-done, and, as a result, I am completely over myself. I have no one to blame here; I ‘m nobody’s victim. It’s me. The problem is me.

Maybe this momentary slowing down began when I got home last evening and got a message about the lunar eclipse that was happening through the evening. I grabbed my binoculars, ones given to me by someone I love and admire who died last year, and went out to watch. Did you ever notice how s-l-o-w lunar eclipses are? It was especially apparent because it was pretty cold last night up here in Pennsylvania. Maybe it began when I built a fire in the wood stove and lay on the couch with my dog to warm up and found myself delighting in the dance of the flames. Maybe I helped it along when I turned the phone off before heading to bed so I would get a good night’s sleep. And maybe I am missing Lent along with lots of other wonderful moments in my life due to the rapid fire speed at which I live. Maybe I should slow down.

Along with all my business, I have loads of noise in my life too. First, there’s the cell phone and you already know how that goes. I can be reached anytime, anywhere, by anyone and it all seems urgent. When I am not on the phone, I am at the computer (like I am now) getting all the news and weather and commentary about all sorts of vital things. When I am in the car, I like to listen to public radio or books on tape so I can keep up with the whole Hillary vs. Obama thing and The New York Times’ picks of good books to read or listen to. Oddly, I don’t have a television and wear that fact as a badge of honor around my poor, unenlightened friends who watch mindless things like “Project Runway” and “Survivor” and talk about these programs like they’re important. Funny but I seldom realize how mindless my noise can be at times. Still, have you ever really listened to a deep, thick silence? I have and I loved it but somehow I forget that fact every time I reach for the phone, the radio, the ear phones, or the computer. I guess you could say there’s a great deal of noise in my life.

Reflecting on the amount of speed and noise in my life makes it apparent that I am not as attentive to my spiritual life as I sometimes think I am. Heck, I’m not even good at just being still and silent whether it’s a spiritual thing or not. I suppose I could go to town beating myself up for what I am NOT doing here but it just occurred to me that even the simple fact that I am attending to and reflecting on my need to slow down and be quiet is itself a beginning. Years ago my therapist said that, “Problems are seen leaving.” Let’s hope she’s right.

So, if you find that you can relate to my life, my insane addiction to speed and noise, perhaps you can just spend some time honestly looking at the truth of your life and see the insanity of it all. Breathe it in and sit quietly for a few moments. That’s a beginning.

Just breathe.

The Rev. Peter Pearson is priest in charge at Saint Philip’s Church in New Hope, Pa. He is a former Benedictine monk and icon painter.

Just one thing

By Peter M. Carey

“It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
It’s the end of the world as we know it
and I feel fine….(time I had some time alone).”

REM, It’s the End of the World as We Know It

As I enter this Lent, the pounding beat and the prophetic words of the REM song “It’s the end of the world as we know it” run through my mind. I yearn to cultivate a Holy Lent, but there is much to do, and many to-do lists seem to stand in the way. However, listening carefully to the song, one hears the reply, “and I feel fine” and then, very quietly, toward the end of the song, “time I had some time alone.” There is a hope in the song that even in the midst of a busy life that feels like the end of the world, one can find solace; perhaps finding a bit of time alone is a key to unlock the door to a Holy Lent.

And then I say, “If only I could get through all this “stuff,” then I could have a Holy Lent! I could pray more, read more, take a class, go to church more, be more holy, give up caffeine and sweets, and meditate more. If only I could get through my to-do list, if only I had not so many commitments, maybe I could lead a Holy Lent!”

I wonder, if we are already feeling overwhelmed with projects, could Lent be a time when we just try to do one thing?

I have used this concept of “one thing” in my life as a teacher and coach and found it to work pretty well when people are feeling overwhelmed. In the midst of coaching a junior varsity soccer team after a terrible first half, when we were already down 3-0, I asked my team to agree to one thing that we would do better in the second half. I asked them to think of only one thing to concentrate on, such as communication, or movement off the ball, or pushing hard forward on the counter-attack. One thing—we had something to find unity around, and we had a goal on which to concentrate as we crawled out of a deep hole. In that case, we found a way to struggle back into the game, which ended in a tie that felt like a Super Bowl victory.

For this Lent, for those of us who are in the midst of multi-tasking, email flooding, blackberry buzzing, children running, bosses calling, grocery shopping, doctor visiting, there may be just one thing that we can do.

For that one thing, I would suggest “attention”.

That one thing is to strive to be attentive to the now and the here of our lives. If we have the courage to be where we are, we can cultivate awareness, we can cultivate attention. Attention to what, one might ask. Well I would make the claim that when we cultivate attention, when we turn aside from our to-do lists, from our cell phones, from our multitasking, even for a moment or two, several times a day, we are offered the gift of knowing God’s presence. God does not “come to us” only in times of calm reflection, but is ever present, what theologians call “prevenient grace.” God is with us always, if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

I take wisdom from the words of the deranged prophet figure in the 1984 film, The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai across the 8th Dimension: “Wherever you go, there you are.” And, so, here we are. It is here and now that God breaks into our lives, not in some other place or time. It is here that God is, not only in mountaintop experiences, not only when we go away on retreat, not only in the midst of nature, not only in the midst of a concert hall, not only in the exhilarating rush of endorphins when we exercise. One of the Desert Fathers said: “Your cell will teach you all you need to know.” This does not mean that we all have to become monks. For the monk, the cell was his everyday place; it was his place of work. This going to one’s cell was not a retreat from the work of the monk, but was encouragement for the monk to go to his place, to seek God in the everyday place.

Rowan Williams claims in his book, The Trial of Christ, that “hardest place to be is where we are,” for if we want to turn our selves toward God, we must first work to be fully present, which can be hard when our minds leap forward and back, and we multitask ourselves away from where we sit. Cultivating attention may offer us a deeper sense of beauty, if we have eyes to see. As Buddhist master, Thich Nhat Hahn claims, “The present moment is a beautiful moment.” And if we truly embraced the present moment, we might, indeed see the beauty of this place, and even see God.

So in the midst of the messiness of raising three children under 5, God is there. In the balancing of the checkbook, God is there. In the waiting room of the hospital, God is there. In the boring meeting, God is there. In the frustrating traffic jam, God is there. Lent might be a time when even in the rush of our appointments and commuting and to do lists we can be attentive to the place where we are, and attentive to God.

As we cultivate a greater sense of attention, we might experience frustration, we might have to acknowledge our fears and our anxieties, we might be confronted with thoughts of the past, and our worries for the future. However, taking the time to turn and cultivate attention may give us eyes to see the beauty of nature, the wondrous diversity of people, and God’s presence even in those interruptions.

To be where we are, in the present moment, means that we cannot deny the cries of the outcast, that we cannot ignore economic injustices, that we cannot ignore the sin of racism that not only surrounds us but is also within us. And it is our practices of being where we are, and in the present moment, that move us to take on the challenge of the brokenness and sinfulness of the world, as it is, in this place, in our own time. We are empowered by Jesus Christ to be agents of reconciliation, to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. We are given the strength to be reconciled with each other, to seek peace.

However, before we take on all of these projects, we can claim the gift of attention to the here and the now of our lives. God is with us always, so we do not need to recover some past glory, or hope for some future rest. God is with us where we are, so enormous journeys are not needed to know God in our lives. In the messiness of the stuff of our lives, in the feeling of “the end of the world as we know it,” we can find “some time alone,” and cultivate attention to this moment, to this place, for this is a beautiful time and place. Do we have eyes to see it?

The Rev. Peter M. Carey is the school chaplain at St. Catherine's School for girls in Richmond, Virginia and is also on the clergy staff at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Richmond. He blogs at Santos Woodcarving Popsicles.

The art of being still

By Heidi Shott

In 1979 a small island in the Southern Caribbean made a bold move by designating the real estate between the high tide mark and 200 feet below the surface a national marine park. Rules require dive boats to use moorings instead of reef-damaging anchors and make illegal spearfishing and the use of diving gloves, lest divers be tempted to touch vulnerable coralheads.

Nearly 30 years later Bonaire, one of six islands that comprise the Netherlands Antilles, has done more to preserve the complex ecosystem of the coral reef and the variety and abundance of fish life than anywhere else in the Caribbean. Not only have the Bonairians preserved their natural resource, but they have also ensured steady economic growth by drawing divers to their pristine underwater park year after year. My family has returned to dive off the island ten times over the last 15 years. We’re in a rut, but it’s an awfully nice rut and very affordable once you get there.

Diving is something my husband Scott and I have shared throughout our life together. The thrill of seeing a sea turtle or a eagle ray or to swim in the midst of a huge, flock-like school of silversides or to have dolphins frolic along side our boat, binds us in a way that is hard to explain. Scott learned to dive at 14 in the mid-seventies in the murky lakes and frigid quarries of West Virginia. I learned in 1985 in the tropical waters off the Micronesian island of Saipan when we were first married and teachers at the island parochial school.

During our most recent trip in January, our twin 14 year-old sons learned to dive. Finally we could dive together as a family. We spent two weeks diving, reading, playing scrabble and gin rummy, and watching the sun set from our porch with boat drinks and snacks – no phone, no email, no computer games, no TV, no diocesan or hospital emergencies that required our response. When we awoke in the morning, the drill was not the mad morning rush to school and work but to drink some tea with a slice of toast, gather our gear bags, squeeze into the bottom half of our wetsuits, and make our way down the dock to the happy camaraderie of the dive boat. “So where we goin’ this morning?” the day’s dive leader would ask.

“Salt Pier!”

“La Dania’s Leap!”

“Carl’s Hill!”

“Anywhere, it’s all good!”

Under the Caribbean sun we would arrive at the dive site and hoist our air tanks onto our backs, the acrid smell of hot neoprene in our noses. How delicious to let the weight of the gear flip us backwards off the side of the boat into the cool ocean.

As a diver, one skill I’ve paid close attention to over the years is controlling my buoyancy. I’ve learned to rise and fall in the water by gauging the amount of air in my lungs and to control my pitch and yawl by the flick of a fin or the twitch of a hand in the water. I’m not an expert – I don’t dive enough for that – but after a dive or two the fluency comes back. By maintaining neutral buoyancy a diver can get close to things…really close. This is important because so much of what goes on in your average coral reef neighborhood is tiny and complicated and if you want to get a sense of the intricacies of life on the reef, you need to be as close and as still as possible.

What an honor to be a visitor to this little corner of creation. It takes hundreds of years for the coral reef to grow: one generation of a hundred of species of coral dies to form a minute layer over the great exoskeleton of the reef, a millimeter at a time. One of my favorite things to do, and I taught my sons to do it as well, is to kick back from the reef into the deep water and pause to take in the whole wide expanse of the scene. We’re looking at part of creation that was in this very place doing its silent, magnificent thing at the same time Henry VIII was beginning to grow a teensy bit dissatisfied with Catherine of Aragon, when our boys were shooting themselves to bits at Second Bull Run, and when my grandfather was in the trenches faraway in France. For millennia tiny blue-lipped blennies have bravely defended their two inches of territory, orange frogfish have extended their deceptive lures, the spectacular and shy spotted drum has swum in and out of the hollows of brain coral…over and over and over again. For the past 60 years, since M. Cousteau and his friends figured out how to breath underwater, we humans have been privileged to observe this world for up to 75 minutes at a time.

Last month, on the day before we were to fly home and resume our life in Maine, I jumped off the dock with my fins, mask and snorkel. We’d made our last dive earlier in the day and were now allowing all the dissolved nitrogen built up in our blood to dissipate before we flew." (Getting the bends in an airplane is a seriously dumb, seriously dangerous rookiesque thing to do.) Before long, I was swimming 30 feet above the terrain I’d dived inches from a half dozen times in the past two weeks. From the surface I recognized certain distinctive coral heads, a large prickly West Indian Sea Egg, brilliant purple stovepipe sponges and delicate, translucent vase sponges, five different species each of parrotfish, angelfish, damselfish, and butterflyfish, and little groupers called Rock Hinds. I recognized them from 30 feet above only because I already knew them intimately from close at hand. Fish we don’t recognize at depth, we study in our fish books when we surface so we will know them the next time. Divers sport the geeky enthusiasm of birders, we just don’t often talk about it in public.

As I paddled around in the gorgeous turquoise, warmer than our mill pond ever gets at mid-summer, I started to finger this essay in my mind. Out of habit and propensity, I often contrast whatever situation I’m find myself in to the state of the Episcopal Church or the nuttiness of trying to live like a Christian in this complicated world. It’s an annoying habit and I’ve tried unsuccessfully to break it. I’ve compromised by only writing about one in five ideas that wash over me. Still, what I was thinking was something like this: If one part of God’s glorious creation - such as the ecosystem of the tropical coral reef – is so amazingly complex and fragile, doesn’t it follow that other parts of creation – the family, the congregation, the diocese, the Church, the Communion – each would be just as complex. Think of how nuanced and complicated the life of any congregation or diocese is. Yet, if we’re on the outside, how easy it is, with a little bit of distant observation, to feel we have captured the nut of a place in the palm of our hands.

As a diver at depth, so careful with my breathing to remain close but not intrusive amid the life and death action of the reef, I can observe a world that I don’t belong to. I can learn a lot, but I’ll never be a fish. I’ll never know what causes the Pederson’s Cleaning Shrimp to climb onto that particular anemone. As a snorkler 30 feet above, I can see the bigger coral heads and the bigger fish, but I’ll never see the two-inch blenny defending his little home in the crack before darting back to safety or the baby spotted moray eel poking its head and mouth full of teeth from a burrow.

But my inability to really, really know doesn’t stop me from pretending I know the undersea world. In his song, “Laughter,” Bruce Cockburn sang, “A laugh for the dogs barking at our heels, they don’t know where we’ve been. A laugh for the dirty window panes, hiding the love within.” I’ve always loved that line because he calls us on how willing we are to be dismissive of people with whom we don’t agree or with whom we have little in common. We’re especially good at that in the Church.

I don’t know how to change that, but scuba diving provides some good lessons: control your breathing, be still, watch carefully, and, for God’s sweet sake, don’t open your mouth.

Heidi Shott has served as press officer to Bishop Chilton Knudsen of Maine since 1998. She is also communications director of the Genesis Fund, a revolving loan fund that provides expertise and low-interest loans to nonprofits engaged in community development. Heidi's essays about trying to live a life of faith may be found at Heidoville.

Galileo, Darwin and Lent

By Sam Candler

This week, I will be glad to remember the birthdays of Charles Darwin and Galileo Galilei, Darwin born on February 12 (1809), and Galileo born on February 15 (1564). It so happens that their birthdays occur during the Christian season of Lent this year. We all know how much controversy their work caused the Christian Church (and society!), but Christians should be forever grateful for their courage and their wisdom. In fact, Galileo, Darwin, and Lent have something in common.

Both Galileo and Darwin actually set out to be friends of the Christian Church. Educated in an Italian monastery, Galileo intended to join the Camaldolese Order of the Church; but his father had already decided that he would be a medical doctor. Galileo’s interests, of course, turned from medicine to mathematics and the natural world. With the use of the newly developed telescope, Galileo recorded wonders of the natural world – the stars and the heavens—that no one had ever seen. Of course, these were the observations and interpretations that would also change the world.

Galileo would finally be charged with heresy, for adopting the Copernican view that the earth revolved around the sun. After all, Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, and 1 Chronicles 16:30 all say something like "the world is firmly established, it cannot be moved." Ecclesiastes 1:5 states that "the sun rises and sets and returns to its place, etc." Was Galileo denying the Bible? Galileo apparently believed in some form of biblical inerrancy, but he struggled with interpretation. He wrote to a friend that the Bible should always be interpreted in the light of what science had shown to be true.

Charles Darwin, at one time, studied to become an Anglican priest. He, too, was in love with the natural world and was convinced at one time in the naturalist William Paley’s argument that design in nature proved the existence of God. Later Christians objected to several elements of On the Origin of Species; the book refuted the notion that creatures had been individually designed by God, it claimed that the Earth was much older than the literal biblical account, and in claiming a common ancestor for apes and human, it denied a certain uniqueness to humanity.

How strangely ironic that many in the Church should be blinded to the truth that these two gentlemen showed the world. For, in essence, both Galileo and Darwin were using science to claim that humankind is not at the center of everything. Our earth is not at the center of God’s creation, and our species is not at the center of God’s creation.

Isn’t this what Lent is supposed to teach us? “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” many of us heard on Ash Wednesday. Lent is supposed to remind us of humility. The opposite of humility is hubris, to be so self-obsessed as to think we are at the center of everything.

Galileo, Darwin, and Lent all teach us about truth and humility. A holy Lent is about acknowledging the truth of ourselves, and the truth of this beautiful world, no matter how uncomfortable that truth might be. A holy Lent is also about acknowledging our own humility. No matter who we are, we are not at the center of everything, and we are not at the beginning of everything. May God bless the memories of both Galileo and Darwin, and all who lead us in the paths of truth and humility this Lent.

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. He helped start that city’s interfaith group, and leads regular community bible studies. He is also inspired by playing jazz piano, hunting, astronomy, and poetry. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

Fasting 102

Second of two parts. Part One.

By Derek Olsen

Yesterday we began talking about fasting, the pre-eminent spiritual discipline recommended by the prayer book for Lent. We got as far as the externals, the nuts and bolts of the discipline. Now we’ll take a step deeper and look into the theology, spirit, and purpose that animates the practice, connects it to Lent, and empowers it as a tool for the Gospel.

Reading what any of the authors of the Early Church wrote about fasting will quickly dispel any illusion you might have that the discipline of fasting is fundamentally about food. Leo the Great proposes that the food should be primarily a symbol of a deeper kind of renunciation. Fasting for him is a whole-person endeavor where we abstain in mind and spirit as well as body. Indeed, the bodily abstaining from food is a reminder that we should be abstaining from a whole lot more. Like what? In a word: sin—and from the habits that give it comfort and growth. The act of abstaining from food reminds us that we should be abstaining from other behaviors as well.

Fasting jolts us out of our regular patterns. As a result, Leo enjoins, it gives us an opportunity to take a step back from business-as-usual. If we’re going to take care about what we eat, why not take care about how we live, think, and talk? Don’t just refrain from food, Leo counsels; refrain from some of your bad behaviors too. (See Leo's Sermon XLII.)

In offering this advice, Leo is doing nothing more than reiterating and recasting the words of the prophet Isaiah whose voice thunders down through the centuries:

Is such a day the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
When you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
(Isaiah 58:5-7)

John Cassian who introduced monasticism to Gaul gives deep advice as well that builds on Leo's. He tells us to always keep before our eyes the goal, the whole point of the exercise. Fasting, he reminds us, is a means to an end, not an end in itself. If we ever lose sight of the end, then it’s time to end the practice and to consider some other ways to go after the real goal. He writes:

For the sake of this [purity of heart], then, everything is to be done and desired. For its sake solitude is to be pursued; for its sake we know that we must undertake fasts, vigils, labors, bodily deprivation, readings, and other virtuous things . . . so that by taking these steps we may be able to ascend to the perfection of love.

These observances do not exist for themselves . . . what is gained by fasting is less than what is spent on anger, the fruit that is obtained from reading is not so great as the loss that is incurred by contempt for one's brother. It behooves us, then, to carry out the things that are secondary—namely fasts, vigils, the solitary life, and meditation on Scripture—for the sake of the principle scopos (goal), which is purity of heart or love, than for their sake to neglect this principle virtue . . . (Conf. 1.7.1-2)

Acts of piety like fasting are entirely secondary to the real goal which is, for Christians, always the cultivation of love towards God and neighbor. They are means to the end and never the end in themselves—as Jesus himself reminds us in his words on the subject:

And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matt 6:16-18)

Jesus—and Matthew who records these words—evidently saw no need to explain to the people why they would want to fast; for them it was self-evident. For us, it's not so clear.

In the Bible, fasting is mentioned any number of times. It's particularly prevalent in the Minor Prophets (Hosea through Malachi) that we know all too often as the biblical equivalent of “fly-over territory.” Preeminently fasting appears as a sign of repentance and sorrow for sins—and here’s our Lenten connection. Whenever I consider the Ash Wednesday imposition of ashes, the words from my Lutheran youth ring in my ears: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return; repent, and believe in the Good News.” This one line collects the two major themes of the day and of Lent: remembrance of our mortality and our need for repentance to hear again God's word of grace. We fast, following the example of the patriarchs, prophets, and martyrs, to feel in our flesh the pangs of hunger—reminders of our embodied-ness and signs of our mortality—and as a sign of contrition for those things done and left undone.

This Lent, I urge you to take seriously Ash Wednesday's invitation—to consider the state of your life and soul in the face of ultimate realities—and to embrace some form of fasting and self-denial. It needn't be something heroic (indeed, it's probably better for your humility if it's not), but I urge you to make it something worthwhile. Furthermore, I commend to you not just refraining from something but embracing the full discipline of the church: restraint coupled with almsgiving and prayer. As Christ fasted these forty days in the wilderness let us persevere in his company. Watching, waiting, hoping, praying, may these days fit us for the joyful Easter morn when we rise to greet that Sun who shall never go down.

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of a Ph.D. in New Testament (with a healthy side of Homiletics) at Emory University. He is an adjunct professor at Emory’s Candler School of Theology where he teaches in homiletics, liturgics, and New Testament. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X dad appear at Haligweorc.

Fasting 101

First of two parts.

By Derek Olsen

This year, the coming of February brings with it the coming of Lent. The prayer book tells us that we are to observe the days of Lent with special acts of dedication; specifically the “Invitation to a Holy Lent” commends to us the “fasting and self-denial.” I think most Episcopalians aren’t very clear on the practices of fasting. We know what this word means, but there is quite a bit of uncertainty about its boundaries as an actual practice: what is it, why should we do it, and what—if anything—does it have to do with Lent?

Let me begin by clearing up the biggest major fallacy about fasting: Not eating is not fasting. Oh sure, if you look in the dictionary you’ll find that as one of the definitions. Likewise that’s what your doctor means if he orders a fasting blood test, but simply not eating is not a spiritual discipline—and that’s what we’re talking about here, a spiritual discipline. Some folks who want to try fasting fall into trouble because they assume it just means not eating, and that’s not always safe. As a discipline, the Church has historically put strictures around who should and shouldn’t that sound like something at the end of a pharmaceutical ad: it’s not for children; it’s not for women who are pregnant or nursing; it’s not for the elderly, the weak, or the sick. And, in thinking of the maladies of our day, it’s not for those with eating disorders either; there’s nothing holy about self-starvation. For those who cannot or should not fast, an alternative is what we commonly know as “giving something up for Lent.” While I’ll focus on fasting here, both the practices and the theology behind it can easily be applied to whatever you choose to give up during Lent whether that falls into the realms of food, entertainment, or something else that makes sense in your life.

Throughout the scope of Christian history, the practice of fasting has, indeed, involved the regulation of one’s diet. However, another major fallacy is that there’s one right way to regulate it that counts—and that other variations don’t. Again, not true. Christians have used different standards across time and space often modulating between degrees of fasting and abstinence, that is, not eating or reducing food intake (fasting) versus abstaining from certain kinds of foods (abstinence). The Eastern Orthodox, for instance, limit particular kinds of food on certain kinds of days. Their pre-Lenten period includes a gradual paring away of food categories so that by the time Lent arrives, the diet is almost entirely vegan with no animal products in it whatsoever. Some Western early medieval sources speak of similar regimentation. For monks following the Rule of Benedict, Lenten fasting meant no food at all before the ninth hour (around 3 o’clock) and what they received then was sparse. In other times and places fasting meant not eating anything until sundown and, in others, simply not eating solid food at all.

The generally accepted standard that emerged in the Western Church, though, was this: fasting means eating half of what is normally consumed for two meals, then for the third a regular amount of food is prepared, but simply. That is, fasting from breakfast and lunch isn’t to provide room for lobster and truffles later on; think, rather, of hearty soups with simple crusty bread instead. The point of the meal is sustenance rather than titillation of the palate. In no way does this mean the food shouldn’t be enjoyed; rather, its chief virtue should be in the simplicity of wholesome ingredients.

If these standards seem a bit much, abstinence from meat or other classes of foods are also historic acts of self-denial suitable for Lent, especially for those unfamiliar or uncomfortable with fasting.

In case you’re keeping track, I haven’t said anything yet that you can’t find in a diet book or being promoted by your neighborhood locally-grown organic food market (which, come to think of it, is not a bad place for Lenten food shopping…). We’re still not to the level of a spiritual discipline, but that brings us to our last major fallacy: that fasting (or abstaining from something else, remember) is fundamentally about food. It’s not.

Instead, the act of abstinence is only one part of a three-part discipline. The full scope of the discipline includes fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. It is incomplete without these. Furthermore, they are interconnected. The reduction of food logically means that you will be spending less money on your grocery bill. According to the discipline, this doesn’t mean more money in your pocket—instead, this is money to be given to the poor. You forgo food in order that others may eat, to share your bounty with your brothers and sisters. Your solidarity with their hunger provides their very sustenance. (See, for example, Leo the Great's Sermon XII)

How you give the alms is up to you, of course. One way to make it happen is simply to take your personal weekly food bill, subtract the difference from your usual bill and each week send that difference to an organization like the Heifer Project, Meals on Wheels, or our own Episcopal Relief and Development. Another option is to go beyond writing checks; deliver your donation to your local food pantry or soup kitchen in person and take a turn cooking, serving, or cleaning.

Prayer, then—our spiritual food—replaces physical food at mealtimes. The other half of the two lesser meals, the time allotted for food now shared, is spent in prayer and intercession. Furthermore, tummy rumblings throughout the day serve as a reminder to pray even if it’s a short little breath prayer like “O God make speed to save me; O Lord make haste to help me” from the psalms or the Jesus prayer of the Orthodox: “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner” both of which can be prayed in a single cycle of inhalation and exhalation.

These, then, are the practices; these are the externals of the discipline. In fact, we’ve talked so much about the externals that you could be forgiven for thinking that this is an outward, showy thing with a high potential for devolving into legalism or, worse, the one-upmanship that threatens any practice through which individuals and communities can make measurements and judgments about the spiritual fitness of others. These things have no place within any of the spiritual disciplines and are contrary to the spirit of the Gospel and the message of Christ—and that is what this exercise is really about. Tomorrow we shall take up the more important part: the internals of the practice—the theology, the spirit, and the purpose of the discipline of fasting.

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of a Ph.D. in New Testament (with a healthy side of Homiletics) at Emory University. He is an adjunct professor at Emory’s Candler School of Theology where he teaches in homiletics, liturgics, and New Testament. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X dad appear at Haligweorc.

The gift of tears

By Martin L. Smith

I have a standing joke with a friend ever since he asked me about a sermon I was preparing: “Which bodily fluid will you be mentioning this time?” He had picked up on my tendency to gravitate toward symbols that derive from the body. So during Lent, long before we arrive once again in Holy Week to confront the primal imagery of the cross and “the water and the blood” which the evangelist John tells us to notice, we can think about tears.

What place do tears have in our spiritual lives? Tradition speaks of the gift of tears. Lent is supposed to be a time for reflecting on our own religious experience, and a rewarding discipline might be to question ourselves about our own tears, the tears we permit and the tears we repress. Here is an experiment: During Lent set aside half an hour each week, sit quietly in a private place with notepad and think where your tears are. Which are the kinds of tears that connect us with God and ourselves and one another? Do I ever allow any of these tears to flow?

I can already think of some of the headings I could use to help me focus on different aspects. Perhaps the first would be Forbidden Tears. Many of us have gone through life with unshed tears pent up inside us because some authority figures forbade us to cry. I’ve lost count of the men whom I have had to help release the tears their parents shamed them into suppressing. It is one thing for parents to stop us whining in self-pity. It is another to censor the expression of grief and loss. The terrible truth is that many adults have been trained not to cry. So many griefs turned to ice in the deep freeze of the heart’s recesses! Many of us will never warm up, or become open and free, until those tears have thawed and we allow them to flow. The old hymn Veni Creator Spiritus prays “what is frozen warmly tend…” There is an entire spirituality of healing contained in that petition. Imagine what a breakthrough might begin if we had the courage to confess before God that we don’t know how to mourn, and need help.

Another category might be Tears of Truth. Here we venture into the territory of discernment. Tears tell us different things. Some tears expose our shallow sentimentality. We sob in spite of ourselves at tear-jerking movie scenes. We choke up at martial music and mawkish songs. Other tears reveal our vulnerability to manipulation. How easy it is for so-called evangelists and political orators to work us. The lump-in-the throat tears they stimulate warn us that hackers know exactly how to get into our emotions for their own ends.

But we also cry because we have allowed truth though our defenses. These are different tears that cleanse and heal us. They tell us that we don’t have hearts of stone after all, and that makes us grateful. We can be moved by what is true, what is good and what is beautiful. Tears can assure that we are touched by truth, braced by its painful realism, inspired to embrace its integrity, and honor its demands. Sometimes when I play songs by two artists who have touched my life, Mili Bermejo and Abby Lincoln, I weep, but not from sentimentality. These songs bring tears because they remind me what these women taught me about passion, and the wholeness that can only be discovered by honoring loss and desire, grief and yearning, fierce anger and tenderness.

And there are Tears of Connection. Paul sums up our spirituality of mutual service succinctly: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Rom. 12:15) And the shortest sentence in scripture is, “Jesus wept.” Tears of self-pity water make seeds of resentment germinate. Tears of empathy join us to each other. A heart that is open to God’s Spirit allows us to shed tears of joy at the successes and delights that come to others. (Saints even shed tears of joy at blessings given to those they don’t even like.) Tears of compassion allow us to share the burdens of others. Tears of intercession might even be ways we can cry on behalf of others, so that thanks to our connectedness in the Spirit, they might not have to cry as much.

Our list of tears can get longer. Tears of Compunction through we which we admit our own brokenness and surrender denial. Tears of Bliss. Tears of Relief. Above all, Tears of sheer gratitude. Think about them. It won’t be long before we realize why the spiritual masters spoke of the gift of tears. Most of us in our very emotionally controlled Episcopalian milieu haven’t opened that gift up yet. We need to ask God very simply and sincerely for that gift.

The Rev. Martin L. Smith is a well-known spiritual writer and priest. He is the senior associate rector at St. Columba’s, D.C.

New Year's resolution

By Derek Olsen

The secular New Year has come and gone—and that means it’s time for resolutions for the year that will be 2008. Like many Americans, I’m making a resolution to do something about my physical health. Now, I could just resolve to “be healthy” but something that vague and general will never translate into actions, something that vague and general will never be formed into habits. And that’s what we’re really talking about, right?—habits, dedicated ways of being.

I’m not just resolving to “be healthy”, I’m resolving some specific things: to buy organic food whenever possible, to buy local food whenever possible, to eat my five servings of fruits and veggies daily, and to exercise at least three times a week.

So far so good, but now—what about my spiritual health? Doesn’t it require just as much nurture as my physical health? And again, what sort of resolution should I make? Let me give you a hint: if “be healthy” didn’t cut it, neither will “be holy”… Just like the physical goals, we need something that we can be accountable for. As a Scripture scholar, I’m always partial to the goal “read more Scripture” but even that’s too vague and general to form a habit.

One option is to select a plan that reads through the whole Bible in a year. Some folks may be wary of such a thing…as if it weren’t properly Anglican or something...but let me assure you, nothing could be farther from the truth! As it turns out, the earliest one-year Bible reading plan that I know is thoroughly catholic. It’s a set of instructions from the 8th century that lays out the cycle of readings for the monastic Night Office. Biblical books were read straight-through in patterns that coincided with the liturgical seasons: for instance Exodus was read in Lent, Isaiah in Advent, Acts and Revelation in Easter, etc. It was a plan with staying power, too—I’ve seen versions with minor edits and tweaks from the 11th century and we can even find references to it in the very first Book of Common Prayer.

In the preface to the 1549 BCP, Archbishop Cranmer (following the work of the Spanish liturgist Cardinal Quiñonez) laments the loss of this yearly reading system and goes on to present a new version of it in the body of the prayer book. No longer restricted to the Night Office for monastics and clergy alone, Cranmer incorporated it into reworking of the monastic liturgies that we know today as the Daily Office—Morning and Evening Prayer. This revised system offered two readings per service for a total of four daily that read sequentially through the Old Testament (except for some bits of Leviticus, Chronicles, and Ezekiel) once every year—and through the New Testament (except for Revelation) three times every year. This system remained in place until sometime after the authorization of the 1662 prayer book. In short, a one-year Bible reading plan is about as Anglican as you can get!

If a one-year plan sounds like a little much, another terrific option to work on your spiritual health is to move to the modern two-year plan. Cranmer’s one-year system eventually gave way to longer versions with shorter readings. The Daily Office lectionary in the back of our current prayer book stands in direct continuity with these. It reads through most of Scripture with three readings a day stretched over two years. Perhaps taking up the discipline of the Daily Office and utilizing this Scripture reading plan might be a good option for you.

While either of these plans appears daunting at first glance, remember that we’re talking about habits here, not one-time—or even one-year—events. If you want to start reading through Scripture or praying the Daily Office, approach it with the same strategies as you would a physical exercise plan. Find some buddies to help out! You don’t have to read or pray together—though it may help—but checking in and being accountable to others is often a great motivator. Also, commit to reading your Bible or doing either Morning or Evening Prayer a certain number of times each week and increase it as you are able. If you pick a sequential plan and you miss a few days or even a week, show yourself a little grace; don’t beat yourself up or even try to make up what you missed—just continue on with your plan. After all, it’s a cycle—you’ll catch it the next time around!

Click here for a copy of Cranmer’s original reading plan and here for online and downloadable resources to help you get started with the Daily Office.

Derek Olsen is in the final stretch of completing a Ph.D. in New Testament (with a healthy side of Homiletics) at Emory University. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X dad appear at Haligweorc.

Anticipating Advent

By Kit Carlson

It is mid-November. Halloween is past, and Veterans' Day is just behind us. Down my street, my neighbor has illuminated his Christmas display. The seasonal banners are hanging from street lights all over town. "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" has already aired on TBS.

It makes me feel extremely Grinchy.

I used to love Christmas, the sense of eager anticipation, the joyous hustle and bustle of much to get ready in a short time, of a great festival lurking around the corner like the eschaton ... almost here but not quite.

But of course, that was when the season started on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. That was before radio stations started playing 'round the clock Christmas songs starting in the middle of November. Although this all had roots in pagan celebrations to fight back the darkness of the winter solstice, our current celebrations now dawdle their way through the crisp and colorful autumn, practically from the equinox. It makes one wonder ... hmmm, shall I blow leaves, or shall I inflate the penguin snow globe on my lawn?

We have lost the sense of holy anticipation, one that was once evoked even by our culture ("Only 22 shopping days until Christmas!") until just a few years ago.

But I find myself feeling all kind of tingly inside anyway. I am anticipatory, looking forward with great joy and eagerness to the upcoming season ...

to Advent.

Advent is coming! Four weeks of secret retreat and refreshment among the cultural commercial festival. Four weeks of quiet prayer, of hymns that have nothing to do with Santa Claus coming to town, but that sing instead of Jesus coming to town, often in a big and judgmental, wrapping-it-all-up-in-a-big-finish-kind-of-way. Forget the drive-through light festival in the local park. We've got the moon running red with blood and stars falling from the sky.

Advent is coming! With hairy, scary John the Baptist filling two full weeks with his cries of "hurry up!" and "turn around!" and "the Messiah's coming right quick!" It's urgent, it's important, and it has nothing to do with getting my shopping done. It's bigger. It's cosmic. It's fantastic.

Advent is coming! And this year we get Joseph, mulling and puzzling -- not over what to get old Aunt Martha -- but what to give Mary, his fiancee. A quiet divorce, an annulment of their betrothal, or the gift of a name, a husband, a father for her child? Will he share in the gift that God wants to give the world, or will he turn away, caught up in the demands and dreams of the culture that surrounds him?

Advent is coming! With carols and hymns you'll never hear on the local, all-Xmas, all-the-time radio station: "Lo, he comes with clouds descending," "Creator of the stars of night" "On Jordan's bank, the Baptist's cry," "Wake, awake, for night is flying." With candles lit, one by one, week by week -- lights shining in the darkness. With early twilights and trees etched like black lace against the fading sunsets.

Advent is the church's gift to us this holiday season, a holy, sacred, secret observance nestled quietly in the heart of ho-ho-ho and Santa Baby and too much angst and stress and nonsense.

Advent is coming, and I can't wait!

The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich. She is a graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary. In 2003, she played the apostle Paul on the world's first internet reality series, The Ark, a project of the Christian humor website Ship of Fools.

Reinventing ourselves: A spiritual look at New Orleans

By Steven Charleston

By now most of us will have read all about what the Episcopal bishops said (or didn’t say) at the House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans. As usual in political controversies some of us will be happy while others are disturbed. But what ever your reaction to New Orleans might be, there is one common denominator that I believe unites all sides of the argument: for better or worse, the church is reinventing itself. We may not like it. We may not admit it. But that is what is happening.

I know it is not popular to say that we actually invent the church each generation. Many people like to think that there is a rock solid core of tradition that never changes. But even the most core beliefs of any religious community are continually transformed by the interpretation, the nuances, each generation brings to their understanding of those beliefs. Did people in medieval Europe believe Jesus was the Son of God? Yes. Do Christians in Iowa today believe the same thing? Yes, but beyond that the cultural values and historic realities of these two communities make that single belief a prism, not a rock. We are not building on the firm foundation. We are building on the ever shifting sands of culture.

What is happening in the church now, whether from the Left or the Right, is the reinterpretation of the culture we call church. The forces of change are played out in the kind of negotiation process we have been witnessing for several years around subjects like human sexuality and church governance. The actions taken in New Orleans are only a small piece in a continuing process. In effect, we are negotiating our future, shaping the community to fit the assumptions we hold about the values we cherish arising from the beliefs we have interpreted from the past. Therefore, New Orleans is not the last word, but only more words in the chain of change that will make the Episcopal Church a radically different community within the next decade.

Should we be made anxious by this process? Yes and no.

Yes, if we abrogate our role in the negotiations. We should be anxious if others are doing all the talking, making all the choices, or defining all the terms.

No, if we are fully engaged in designing our own future. We should not be anxious if we are actively listening, learning and negotiating no matter how difficult or frustrating that effort may seem.

While the decisions made in New Orleans will reassure some, comfort many, and upset a few, they are only the visible brush strokes of a much deeper creative process. Other challenges and other compromises will be reached in the days to come. All of them will be the outward signs of an inner cultural shift. Like the tectonic plates of the Earth, the interpretations we give to long held beliefs will move us to a new place whether we are ready to go or not. Change will happen and the process will recycle itself within the next generation.

Does that make what we do meaningless in the politics of the moment? Not really, not if you believe that beneath it all, behind it all, God is working out a future in negotiation with us. Our rock solid tradition is to believe that God is a God of history. Our common sense historical experience teaches us that this history is as pliable as necessity and as resilient as fear.

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, former Bishop of Alaska, is president and dean of Episcopal Divinity School, and keeper of the podcasting blog EDS's Stepping Stones. A citizen of the Choctaw Nation, Bishop Charleston is widely recognized as a leading proponent for justice issues and for spiritual renewal in the church.

After

by Ann Fontaine

Is there life after death and if so what will it be? In a Woody Allen movie, a man (played by Allen) converts to Christianity. His mother screams and goes to her room. The father asks why he would want to do that. Allen’s character replies by asking his father, “Aren’t you worried about you know, ... after?" The father says, "No, I don’t worry, I will be dead!"

Philosophers and religions discuss death and afterlife extensively. Some religions do not profess any concept of life after death; others such as Christianity have extensive belief systems and writings on subject. I tend to agree with the father in the movie – “I will be dead.” All I can really do anything about is here and now.

Currently I am intrigued by the concept put forth in the trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. Note: The daemons in his trilogy are an externalized part of the human's spirit embodied in an animal form. A daemon is capable of shifting species to reflect the emotional state of their human companion until puberty when the daemon's identity become fixed.

Lyra, the heroine of the trilogy says, "When you go out of here, all the particles that make you up will loosen and float apart, just like your daemons did. If you've seen people dying, you know what that looks like. But your daemons aren't just nothing now; they're part of everything. All the atoms that were them, they've gone into the air and the wind and the trees and the earth and all the living things. They'll never vanish. They're just part of everything. And that's exactly what'll happen to you, I swear to you, I promise on my honor. You'll drift apart, it's true, but you'll be out in the open, part of everything alive again." (The Amber Spyglass, page 335)

"Even if it means oblivion... I'll welcome it, because it won't be nothing, we'll be alive again in a thousand blades of grass and a million leaves, we'll be falling in the raindrops and blowing in the fresh breeze, we'll be glittering in the dew under the stars and the moon out there in the physical world which is our true home and always was." (The Amber Spyglass, page 336)

"To know that after a spell in the dark we'll come out again to a sweet land like this, to be free of the sky like the birds, well, that's the greatest promise anyone could wish for." (The Amber Spyglass, page 532) 


Many funeral sermons talk of reunion with loved ones or life continuing in some improved version of what we know now. The Scriptures give a mixed message. The letters of Paul give some suggestions. Much of our imagery comes from Revelation with its metaphors of streets of gold and lakes of fire describing what awaits us. Some Christian denominations have a highly developed idea of afterlife and others leave it to the category of mystery. Some branches of Islam tell of living in gardens of pleasure. Most of Judaism does not have an afterlife theology. The most one can read in The Bible is that there will be some sort of ongoing life in God but even that is unclear. As I age and more and more friends die, it is comforting to imagine that I will be in an improved known life but I wonder. I think it more likely to be nothing like anything I know but I trust that it will be in the hands of God if it is anything at all.

What I do care about is life now, making the kingdom of God present in the world. As it says in the Lord’s Prayer, I pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as in heaven.” I care about leaving the world having contributed to making it a better place for all people. I hope that our children and grandchildren and their children will have a place to live on earth, that they will find meaningful lives, and contribute in their time.


Mary Oliver wrote in “When Death Comes” 


…When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.

The people I look to are those who have not just visited with their time here on earth. They have delighted in their time here and brought joy as a primary gift to those around them. They have spent their days making space for others.

In the end I hope that death will be as Pullman describes it, "The first ghost to leave the world of the dead was Roger. He took a step forward, and turned to look back at Lyra, and laughed in surprise as he found himself turning into the night, the starlight, the air... and then he was gone, leaving behind such a vivid little burst of happiness that Will was reminded of the bubbles in a glass of champagne." (The Amber Spyglass, page 382)

Philip Pullman web site -- http://www.randomhouse.com/features/pullman/
Movie website -- http://www.goldencompassmovie.com/ Fall 2007

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blogs Green Lent and what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blogs Green Lent and what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

The Fourth Commandment

By Liz Zivanov

I’m in the final two weeks of a four-month sabbatical. It’s been a journey of surprises, joys, challenges, changes, rest, adventure, and much reflection. I’ve discovered family in Romania and made new friends there; I’ve spent unstructured time at home with my cats, Hooker and Cranmer; I was welcomed into a religious community for six weeks; I learned about the art of fine furniture making and about the gift of humility; and I’ve vicariously enjoyed the Hawaii vacations of the many friends who cared for Cranmer and Hooker and enjoyed some down time in Paradise.

When I left the parish on March 10, I thought I knew what the four months would look like but I was also ready to be flexible and allow events and travels to happen, even if they weren’t scheduled. And I was and continue to be so grateful for the gift of this sabbatical from my parish.

There is one issue, though, that has continued with me from the beginning of my preparations: The comment that was sometimes said in jest, sometimes in appreciation, sometimes in anger: “I wish I got a sabbatical!” Or in semi-private conversation: “How come she gets a sabbatical and the rest of us don’t?”

Sabbaticals used to be known only in the academic community. They were seen as a time for writing, for study, for research. Sabbaticals in the clerical community are still somewhat of a novelty, and are often misunderstood.

This misunderstanding is not surprising, though, considering the difficulty our society has with the concept of sabbath. When we think about Sabbath, we think about God resting on the seventh day after the work of creation. For many centuries, Christians have observed the Sabbath on Sundays by going to church, having family time, and generally resting from the rest of the week. This Sabbath time rarely happens any more. Various sports and performing arts and other enrichment activities keep children busy on Sundays, even in the morning. Parents have opted to allow secular organizations to determine family schedules because they don’t want their children to miss out on an opportunity. Adults work on the Sabbath. They go into their offices, they work at home; they are too busy to take time to relax.

Most parish clergy are all too aware of the competition that Sunday School and church are in with secular activities. The importance placed on these activities is such that they are seen as crucial to a young person’s success in their adult life. (I did serve in one community where the churches came together and put pressure on the local sports leagues to stop scheduling events on Sunday mornings. They succeeded.)

Parents and other adults have difficulty stepping off the treadmill for any length of time; children and young people watch the behavior of their elders and buy into it as well, scheduling every day with meetings, practices, and other school and extra-curricular activity.

There is no Sabbath any longer for so many Christians and Christian families. This is not about taking vacations. This is about taking time for rest, for stopping, for day dreaming, for worshipping God. It’s about taking time for silence and for listening to God.

What I knew intellectually before my sabbatical and have learned since being in the midst of sabbatical is that we people of God actually do have control of our lives. The problem is that we have passively turned that control over to secular institutions. We talk about how we “can’t” take time off or come home for dinner or get the family together without great efforts at planning ahead and synchronizing calendars. We do this to the extent that we will not step back and take control of our own time and our family’s time for emotional and spiritual health. To put it bluntly, even God needed the seventh day for rest, but we seem to have more important tasks to take care of than God.

We have scheduled our own lives and our children’s lives out to the maximum so that we and they don’t miss any “opportunities” that might – just might – play a significant role in the directions of their lives. We’re afraid that we and they will somehow fail if we don’t keep up with the rest of the rat race.

When someone – like a member of the clergy – takes time for spiritual and emotional renewal, we get angry because that individual has dared to stop working. The real question though is why the rest of us will not reclaim control of our own lives and that of our children and provide for a regular time of Sabbath. Sundays, perhaps. Or maybe we could imitate the Mormons, who pledge each Monday evening for a family gathering, or the more conservative Jews, who actually observe the Sabbath and insist that their children observe it too, regardless of what else is happening on Saturdays. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a child who didn’t make it into college because he or she observed the Sabbath rather than play soccer. There have even been Olympic level athletes who have refused to compete on the Sabbath, and their observance has been honored.

It is a sign of strength, a sign of integrity, a sign of wisdom, a sign of faith to insist on a balanced life that includes regular Sabbath periods. Rather than insist that we “can’t,” we must instead have the courage to take back control of our lives and teach our children the importance of balance and rest. Those of us who claim to be Christians must focus again on the fourth commandment for our own wholeness and holiness. We cheat ourselves, we cheat our children, and we cheat our Creator by turning our lives over to the world instead.

There’s absolutely no reason to covet the sabbaticals of clergy or the Sabbath-taking of others. Each one of us has the power to claim a Sabbath for ourselves. God expects it of us, and God knows we are fully capable of honoring a holy time in our lives and the lives of our families. But each one of us must have the courage and faith to take that first step toward our own Sabbaths and sabbaticals.

The Rev. Liz Zivanov is rector of St. Clement's Church in Honolulu, Hawai`i, a deputy to General Convention 2006, and president of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Hawai`i. Her sabbatical adventures can be followed on Stopping By Woods.

Community, intentionally

By Will Scott

According to the Fellowship for Intentional Community, “Intentional Community is an inclusive term for ecovillages, cohousing, residential land trusts, communes, student co-ops, urban housing cooperatives, and other projects where people strive together with a common vision.” I’ve been wondering whether one helpful way to describe the church is as an intentional community striving together toward the vision of Jesus, the reign of God, the beloved community. Whether you work in corporate America, are a missionary in Brazil, or are a social worker on the streets of Philadelphia, being a Christian in today’s world requires intentionality and community. While I don’t currently live in a residential community, below you¹ll see I’ve been thinking about it for a while.

Early in my childhood, my extended family would spend a week in a rented cabin near my maternal grandmother’s hometown, a primarily Mennonite and Amish community in Pennsylvania. I was captivated by the unique dress and practices of the Anabaptists. Something inside me ached for the apparent simplicity, communalism, purpose, and salt-of-the-earthiness these people exuded. Everything about their lives seemed to have reason, faith and intentionality behind it. Ever since then, I have been fascinated by intentional community.

When I was about 10 years old my grandmother and aunt took me for a brief visit to an ashram in western Massachusetts. As in Pennsylvania, I was moved by this community’s distinctive ways and patterns of life that seemed so obviously hospitable to the holy. I remember how in the lobby of this large center two people ran from one end to the other in the middle embracing one another saying loudly “Let’s bond.” I yearned for what these people had.

It was not that my everyday life was completely devoid of community, but for some reason the distinctive patterns and practices were less noticeable in our parish church or neighborhood because they were so familiar. Later, after spending time away from the church and studying abroad in south Asia, I returned to the church of my youth and discovered communal intentional practices. After college I spent some time in a non-religious intentional community in the Midwest made up of artists, musicians, gardeners, and activists. In seminary, I explored the communities of the ecumenical Church of the Savior and found spiritual support in a weekly small group of diverse people that went a long way toward fulfilling this yearning for community. Now in the Bay Area I have discovered a variety of manifestations of communal living from co-housing, to “new monastic” and more traditional religious orders like the Episcopal/Anglican Franciscans.

But throughout my exploration of community I have struggled with the role of change. My grandmother and other women of her generation fled the Anabaptistism of their youth because they yearned for something they saw elsewhere: growing equality for women. My grandmother has since returned to the church of her youth and found that much of the church has evolved and now many Mennonite churches have female ministers. The ashram I visited in western Massachusetts, I later discovered, had been led by a guru who was accused of abusing power and engaging in sexual impropriety. The ashram, though once closely united, split up and became a non-profit yoga center. For me these particular changes reflect justice, progress and maturity --- in a theological sense, the Holy Spirit moved these communities forward together into healthier, more just practices.

Yet not everyone in these communities was of like mind. People suffered and still ache about decisions some viewed as progress and others as heresy. For the changes to happen people had to risk something, others had to compromise, and those who bitterly disagreed had to move on. While some argue that those pushing for change in our contemporary church (blessing same-sex relationships and gay leadership especially) are advocating an “anything goes” approach, I would say we’re discerning together the call of the Holy Spirit toward justice, progress and maturity. The changes we are striving for are for the health, progress and maturing of the church, not its destruction as some suggest.

I still yearn for intentional community but I have lots of questions. My hunch is that communities that are flexible and open to change with the help of discernment are able to endure while those that are rigid on the surface may appear stronger yet in the end are more likely to break. As one person in my Bible study class said the other day, “the people in this book are just as screwed up as you and me.” The people in any community are screwed up but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something by opening up, having a conversation, struggling together for lives of simplicity, holiness, purpose, and salt-of-the-earthiness.

The Rev. Will Scott, is associate pastor at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. He blogs occasionally at Yearns and Groans.

A cross on the forehead

By Missy Morain

Celebrant: Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

People: I will, with God’s help.
"Baptismal Covenant," Book of Common Prayer

Sebastian was five years old, when he decided after much consideration to be baptized. He really didn’t want to be baptized for a long time prior to making his decision but, one day that changed, and he announced to the priest at his church “I want to be baptized” in a loud voice. After Sebastian’s baptism I asked him what it felt like to be baptized. His response was “It is going to take awhile to get use to this cross on my forehead.” Sebastian instinctively knew that from that moment on, he would be wearing a cross, serving as a disciple of Jesus.

During baptism we welcome new members to the household of God. We promise to the baptized, to God and to each other to form the newly baptized as a Christian. One is not baptized as an Episcopalian but as a Christian. We gain new ministers during the baptismal service and we must then begin to form these ministers. Formation is such a formidable promise that we can only agree to this promise with the help of God.

I am frequently asked "What is Christian Formation anyway?" or "Why do you say Christian Formation and not Christian Education?" I believe that the change was partly made to get away from the 1950s direct instruction style of education, a style where the teacher has the information and the students get the information from their teacher. Formation is deeper than that. It acknowledges that everyone has knowledge of God from the beginning, like Sebastian knew. Formation is about sharing our knowledge together as a community. It is about transforming a person as a Christian. It is about forming Christians and thereby forming the Body of Christ.

Christian Formation is not tangible. The results cannot be held in my hands. There are not papers to grade or projects to observe. Formation is more than education, although education is an integral part of formation.

I have not been at the baptismal service of most of the young people that I have ministered with. I have not been there to be a part of the covenant in person, and yet those promises hold true for me as well, they serve as the basis for my ministry. Each and every time that we as Christians bring a new person into the household of God we are making a great commitment for the entire body of Christ, one which each of us is called to uphold. Not for the Episcopal arm or leg of the body but the whole body. That is an awesome commitment and one which can inspire me to flee in fear. One which would make me flee and yet I don't, because I am not making this covenant on my own. I am making this covenant with all the members of the Body of Christ, which of course brings up a whole other set of fears. But hey, I can only deal with one set of my issues at a time. Right?

Missy Morain, Program Coordinator for the Cathedral College Center for Christian Formation at Washington National Cathedral, is keeper of the blog Episcopal Princess. She is on the board of directors of the National Association for Episcopal Christian Education Directors and works with the Colloquium of Episcopal Professional and Vocational Associations.

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