Seeing through the chaos

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, got into a boat, and started across the lake to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The lake became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the lake and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land towards which they were going.
– John 6:16-21

These days our most significant perils are often not things that happen out in the world. Instead they originate within our own psyches.

In the chaotic sea of the soul, dark falls. And when dark falls, we are consumed by the agony of self-focus. Our thinking gets crazy. We begin to imagine how huge our mistakes and shortcomings are, how we have let down everyone we have ever loved and performed badly at everything we have ever attempted. We look in the mirror and see ugliness. We appraise ourselves and imagine stupidity, incompetence, loathsome inadequacy.

In these tossing waters, we lose our sense of perspective and direction, and we don't know which way to turn. We can see nothing except what our fear shows us. There is no hope of redemption. All is bleak. We are worthless – unlovable and useless. And there is no way out.

When this kind of darkness falls, our only hope is to hunker down in the boat and ride out the storm. Maybe we have friends there with us, maybe we are alone. We cannot solve the problem with the same mind that got us into this state in the first place. Nothing does any good. How in these moments do we see beyond our own befuddled state? We hear everything our friends say through filters that strain out all that is positive or affirming. Everything feels impossible. All they can do is keep watch with us. We need someone outside the boat to lend a hand.

The breakthrough often comes when we have finally given up completely. Then sometimes something comes to us from deep within, at that place where we are one with God. At first it is terrifying. It asks questions and presents options that are horrifying in the ways they seem to dismantle our lives. But we know that what is being presented is a radical truth. It is the unorthodox, unexpected, unbelievable intrusion of the Saving One. “I am,” he says to us as he walks to us across the surface of the water. And he is completely undisturbed by the storm. Once he arrives and we invite him into the boat, the raging waters are calmed and the journey is over.

Inviting him into the boat can be rather tricky though. His viewpoint is never tame, never ordinary and almost certainly never what we would expect. At bottom we might have to renounce cherished things with which we identify, such as our low self-esteem and our family's story about us, our less than fulfilling job, even our most cherished relationships. On the other hand we might have to stretch into understanding that we really are beloved, that we really are one of a kind, precious in God's sight, and that we really, truly are more valuable than the biggest pearl or the greatest treasure in the world.

We will have to accept the fact of being who we are, in all its most potent mystery and wonder. And we will have to live into that particular reality. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life,” says Jesus. Be who you were created to be, no matter what the risk, no matter what the cost. Choose your own particular life, make your own mistakes, fall down hard, be a fool, create something. Give what you were meant to give. Work for what brings you present into the eternal moment, into now.

Whenever the storm threatens to swamp us in its cold unruly darkness, we can watch for the Christ within to come walking across the water to our boat. He is always a surprise. First terrifying, then as welcome as coming home, he is the end to the turbulent darkness and a way forward into a new life more truly our own.

Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.

Praying with our feet

On the feast day of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Seminarian, Martyr, and Witness for Civil Rights- we marched for peace and justice in Ferguson, Missouri.

Forty-nine years after Jonathan Daniels was shot in place of Ruby Sales after they were released from jail in Alabama for registering African Americans to vote, we went to protest the shooting death of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, on the streets of an American suburb by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson police officer. We went into an area that had seen tear-gas and armored personnel carriers on the streets of America aimed at American citizens by American citizens. We went- lay, ordained, Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists- to lay claim to peace. We went onto streets that had seen rioting, burning, looting, and terrible bloodshed, but also kindness, cooperation, aid, and ministry. We went into a community where compassion and hope keep breaking out despite all portrayals of chaos and despair, and to witness to that.

PrayingFeet.jpgWe prayed with our feet for peace and justice, and the right to protest peacefully in the name of righteousness, compassion, and unity. We went not because we shouldn’t be outraged in the face of prejudice and pre-judgment, but because justice needs to be heard over the popping of tear gas canisters and the shattering of shop-windows. We went because we must pluck out the violence, prejudice, hostility, inequality, and mistrust in all our hearts. We went because our silences can oppress as forcefully as our actions.

We came to join with the hundreds of peaceful protesters and residents who are already there. We went because we were asked to be there. We went because we ache for those in mourning, for those in fear, and for those in anger. We went, and we who are Christians were asked to bring our Bibles (and our prayer books) to demonstrate our peaceful intentions. We went to witness, to overcome the pull to look the other way, to move along, to believe that we are not all diminished by injustice to anyone. We went, because when God is in the street, that is where we should be. We went because God is not just in the street, but in the homes and the businesses and the schools and the churches that line those streets.

On what would have been the 75th birthday of Jonathan Daniels, we were still being confronted with the idea that one wrong makes another wrong justified. We went to confront a society that is entertained by scenes of destruction while discounting the very real pain that destruction represents. We went to confront a legacy of segregation and mistrust that is prevalent within our neighborhoods and within our hearts.

We were still being confronted with the fact that in our hearts and our society, bright, tight circles are drawn around “us” versus “them,” and that we simultaneously celebrate that and then decry the fraying of the social fabric that should bind us together in humility, in empathy, and in love.

We went because we know that we all live in the shadowy border between truth and secrecy, between right and wrong, between error and malice, between consequences and justification, between retribution and reconciliation. We went because we are Michael Brown, and we went because we are Darren Wilson. We are the mother crying out for her child, and we are the family hoping their loved one comes home safe each night after attempting to place his or her life on the line for our safety. We went to listen, we went to protest, and we went to pray. We went with the hope that the soft, still voice of peace and justice could be heard over the sounds of destruction and vengeance.

We went to counter the idea that justice should be denied anyone, whether that someone is a teenager walking the street or a policeman whose actions resulted in the death of a person he stopped. We went because justice will break free. We went so that, in the words of the prophet Amos, justice might roll down like waters. Justice, with her companion, Truth, that not only cannot be denied, but that no one should be shielded from. Justice, which can never be confused with retribution. Justice, which must always be tempered by mercy and reconciliation.

On the feast day of Jonathan Daniels, we marched for peace and justice in Ferguson, because we ARE Ferguson, no matter where our houses are. And we must continue to march and pray; we must educate and listen; we must examine our silences as well as our words and actions, until the streets of Ferguson, and every pathway within our hearts, roll down with justice.

Leslie Scoopmire is a newly retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She will attend Eden Theological Seminary beginning in the fall of 2014. She is a member of and musician at the Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, tweets daily prayers and news of note @HolyCommUCity. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.

A Gospel for Slow Learners

Matthew 16:13-20

Just who is this Jesus? By the time of this gospel he has gained far too much buzz to be ignored. Is he a trickster, a blaspheming charlatan, a sacrilegious upstart? The Pharisees think so. Is he a good man, a prophet, a healer, an agent of God? His followers think so. And one of them is beginning to believe he is something infinitely more than that. The disciples still can’t quite pigeon-hole Jesus. And it’s a bit unnerving. For a people raised to never even utter the name of God, the something more that Jesus might be is literally unthinkable. And so they don’t think it.

But for sixteen chapters of Matthew, Jesus has been bringing them along. They are slow learners, but not because they are intellectually challenged. They are slow learners because the answer to the identity of Jesus cannot be learned. It must be revealed. And so Jesus opens this gospel with a Socratic Q&A to draw them out.

Roman keys.jpgHis initial approach is round about, asking the disciples who do people say he is. They launch into a barrage of name-that-holy-man. But Jesus cuts them off, asking directly who they say he is. And Peter is right there with the answer: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Bingo! Peter got it right the first time… not because he read it somewhere, not because he learned it… but because God revealed it to him.

Jesus is telling us that we can learn about faith. We can make ourselves open to faith. But we cannot learn faith. We cannot acquire it. It is a gift from God. It is integral to the grace we receive when we take on Jesus at baptism. Our faith can grow or it can wither. It can be a robust virtue or a neglected relic. God has done his part and stands ever ready to do more. Everything we want from this life… everything we hope for in the next… begins with faith. It is the entry point to the trinity of virtues… faith, hope and charity. It makes the others possible. It is a beautiful gift to exercise, to nurture and to grow… until we can give it back to God when we stand before him.

Peter’s embrace of God’s revelation makes our church possible. He has taken the lead in proclaiming Christ and Jesus replies by giving him leadership in building the church. The word church is used only twice in the gospels, and never in an institutional or architectural context. “Church” means those who are called and respond to God’s call. As Jesus explains later in Mt 18:20: If two or three people come together in my name, I am there with them.

In response to Peter’s correct answer, Jesus tells him to go to the head of the class. Christ confers on Peter leadership of those who are called. It is, in effect, Peter’s ordination. He is to be a keeper and minister of the revealed truth. He is to be an “apostle”… one who is sent to bring the word to the people, a channel of God’s grace, a servant of the servants of God. Jesus was the ultimate servant/leader. And anticipating his coming sacrifice, he confers that role on Peter to pass down to every other priest and minister who would follow in his path to serve and lead his church.

Anyone who preaches the gospel can find great comfort in Christ’s reply to Peter: You are blessed… because no person taught you that. My Father in heaven showed you who I am. And so it is with all of us. Only amazing grace will lead us home. No biblical scholar ever learned his way into heaven. No stem-winding orator ever preached a soul to salvation. It is solely the grace of God that illuminates and attracts. We are at best, like Peter, flawed vessels of the Word. And that’s OK. Peter made himself open. He worked at it. He stayed close to Christ. He followed Jesus even when he didn’t know where that would lead. And so should we. God’s grace will do the rest. Slow learners can become quick saints.

The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.

"Roman keys". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

Small things leading the way

If you’ve ever been honky-tonking down on the Texas gulf coast -- or anyplace else, probably -- you know that when the blue jean jackets come off, there’s going to be trouble. And you can’t just lay your jacket across the bar stool. What you do is, you give it to your best buddy. And the next day, when everybody is nursing their wounds, if you are said to have been holding someone’s coat, it’s as if you’d been in the fight yourself. That’s how it is in the honky tonk.

Something kind of similar was going on in the early part of the first century. What people would do is, they would lay things at the feet of people they admired, their leaders. In Acts 4:35, for example, people sold what they had and laid the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. In that way, they were bound together in the ministry of caring for the poor.

Mosan Workshop - The Stoning of St Stephen - Walters 71140It happened again in this morning’s reading, “… and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.” It is possible that people just took their coats off in case they were called on to help in the stoning. That makes honky-tonk sense. But, I think the writer has included this little tid bit for another reason: he is showing us that the shameful ones in this situation are the witnesses, the bystanders. According to the law, Stephen should have been stripped. It was part of the shaming process, a sign of his guilt. Instead we see that it is the witnesses who bear the shame. They are the guilty party.

I wonder what might have been going through their minds as they removed their own garments. Was there a moment when one or more of them realized that they were acting out a shame-reversal and that the guilt was theirs? Or, maybe it was just Saul.

Saul was at the height of his powers as a young man. I imagine he was full of passion and zeal -- or, spit and vinegar as we might say in the honky tonk. Imagine him standing there supervising the stoning of Stephen, and also on the cusp of a great mission to eradicate The Way. It might appear that he was a man who had the world by the tail. But -- and I’m just guessing here -- but, I’m guessing that something else was going on beneath Saul’s veneer of bravado.

Maybe Saul noticed where the shame fell? Maybe he heard the words of his teacher, Gamliel, urging a more cautious approach to the Jesus movement. Or maybe it was just long simmering doubts in the back of his mind. Whatever it was, it was enough to allow the Holy Spirit to enter his life en route to Damascus. These little things: the drape of a cloak, a niggling doubt, the almost-forgotten voice of an old teacher… these can break us open at the right moment and allow the Holy Spirit to change us.

What are the holy voices in the back of your mind saying?
What small things may be calling you to attention today?
Can you see where these things, which may seem small, may be leading you?

Ask the Holy Spirit to bring all things, especially small things, into their fullness.

To paraphrase Saul’s old teacher, if those small things are from God they will bear their fruit at the appointed time. And if they are not, they will wither away.

Linda "Lindy" McMillan is a native of the American state of Texas. She currently resides in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Lindy's vocation is adventure, expressed in the ministry of loving the world back to its peace in God.

Impediments to transformation

Psalm 118 (Morning)
Psalm 145 (Evening)
Judges 16:15-31
2 Corinthians 13:1-11
Mark 5:25-34

A few weeks ago, while the Priest Associate at my parish was preaching, she reminded me of the old "That's great!/That's awful!" shaggy dog story. (The version I always heard starts with an old farmer who loses his barn in a storm...but his son returns and rebuilds it...but the son falls out of the hayloft and breaks his leg...but his broken leg keeps him from being conscripted by soldiers passing through...etc. etc. etc.) Of course, this can alternate between the farmer's friend saying "That's awful!" and "That's great!" as long as the storyteller can keep up the sequence and until the listener yells, "STOP IT!"

The bottom line of the story, of course, is that what on the surface might appear great, turns out to be awful, and vice versa. We just never know.

Our Epistle today makes one wonder if they told some version of that old shaggy dog story in his day, as well. "But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong—not that we may appear to have passed the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed," Paul says to the folks at Corinth.

Healing of a bleeding women Marcellinus-Peter-Catacomb.jpgIn our Christian walk, our certainty too often turns out not to be what it's cracked up to be, and uncertainty turns out to be the substrate for transformation. Take our woman in Mark today. She had to live with the uncertainty of being shamed publicly for her spontaneous hemorrhages. Probably about the only certainty she had was was her belief that somehow, this Jesus fellow was capable of curing her. Yet in the story, Jesus and the disciples were uncertain of who even grabbed his cloak, given the fact a crowd was pressing in. It was only when the woman's shame and fear caused her to out herself that she became known...and in the end, Jesus doesn't tell her, "Oh, yeah, sure, I can fix that," but assures her that her own faith had made her well.

It's a reminder that our Prayer Book language of "in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection," doesn't necessarily mean we know the mechanism by which that hope is made manifest. In the topsy-turvy world of the Good News in Christ, "That's good!" may not turn out to be so good, and "That's awful!" might not be awful at all. Those things we might be so certain of in our perception of others, might not be the case at all. Perhaps Thomas Merton's prayer from his book, Thoughts in Solitude, sums it up best:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

When is a time in your life where "That's awful!" turned out to be the vehicle for an amazing transformation you never would have imagined? When has "That's good!" been an impediment to transformation?

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. She occasionally finds time to write about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid.

"Healing of a bleeding women Marcellinus-Peter-Catacomb" by Unknown - Scan from Grabar, Die Kunst des frühen Christentums. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Delivery is everything

AM: Psalm 107:33-43, Psalm 108:1-6 (7-13)
PM: Psalm 33
Judges 16:1-14
Acts 7:30-43
John 4:43-54

Today's readings are, in effect, the stories of three men, each of whom had a job to perform and who, in the course of that performance were discredited or plotted against. Each had a mission and more than enough obstacles in the way of that mission, yet each, in his own way, did what needed to be done.

Samson was, in a way, like Isaac, Samuel, even John the Baptist, in that he was born to a childless couple who had pretty much given up hope of any child at all. From birth he was dedicated as a Nazirite, a dedication to God involving several specific actions: no contact with corpses, refraining from eating or drinking anything that came from a vine (specifically grapes and wine), and the hair must not be cut. That last one played an important part in Samson's story. Samson's weakness seemed to be his love of (or lust for) women. Delilah the Philistine was able to worm the secret of Samson's great strength out of him but she wasn't the first to use that tactic on him, merely the last one. Once she had the secret she merely waited for Samson to fall asleep and then beckoned in a barber to perform his tonsorial duties. Samson lost his strength, was captured and blinded by the Philistines and put on display like a chained bear. 145px-Philips_Galle_-_Sans%C3%A3o_Destr%C3%B3i_o_Templo_dos_Filisteus.pngHis revenge was to use the strength gained from the regrowth of his hair to pull down the temple in which they were exhibiting him, killing himself but also a huge number of Philistines in the process. It was a deliverance for the Israelites

In the epistle, the deacon Stephen was giving a lengthy oration in front of the council trying him for blasphemy. The speech covered salvation history from Moses to Jesus and, in the reading for today, he is discussing the difficulty Moses had with people who didn't really accept his leadership or his mission. While Moses was on the mountain conferring with God, the people took things into their own hands and had Aaron make them an idol they could see and worship like the Egyptians. Moses returned to resume leadership over the recalcitrant Israelites although many of them died as a direct result of their disobedience and, many of their descendants would be sent into exile in Babylon for repeating the errors of their ancestors in the desert. Moses survived to bring the Israelites to the borders of the Promised Land but was forbidden to enter it. He died alone but undoubtedly peacefully with God watching over him. Stephen did not die quietly but rather was stoned for his faith. Both accomplished their tasks during their lifetimes which is not a bad epitaph.

Jesus, like Stephen, was killed for doing his job although the Jewish hierarchy and the Romans thought of him as a blasphemer and a troublemaker. Funny how people who do their jobs conscientiously often are seen that way. At any rate, Jesus was doing the things he was supposed to: teaching, preaching, healing, exemplifying what a life lived in God and totally with God was supposed to look and be like. He gained followers during his all-too-brief career as an itinerant preacher and healer but after his death his message spread like wildfire. It is still spreading, but the full import of those teachings has not been realized as there are still poor, hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned, oppressed, damaged and dying people who haven't yet benefitted from the kind of help Jesus offered and instructed his followers to continue to offer.

Samson had a career as a strong man, able to defeat enemies like a superhero yet he had feet of clay when it came to women. Did Moses have a weakness? Perhaps impatience was his biggest flaw. Stephen probably had weaknesses but they were not part of his story, only the strength of his commitment to the Christ in whom he believed so fervently. Jesus didn't have a weakness unless it was a heart wide open to the disadvantaged. Yes, there was the Syrophoenician woman who begged for his help but who Jesus tried to rebuff. She didn't take no for an answer and in her persistence, Jesus changed his mind. Was that a weakness or was it a teaching moment, when he showed his disciples yet again that all should be heard and helped, even if they weren't people whom the disciples would normally have expected to tend.

From Samson I think I should learn that when someone consistently tries to worm something out of you, even if that someone is a person you’re crazy about, perhaps that’s a sign that maybe that person isn’t the right one to establish any kind of long-term relationship with. Another thing is to not have secrets that anybody would want to know, especially if it could make things dangerous or even deadly.

From Stephen I think I should learn that sometimes service can get you in real trouble but that standing for your beliefs and doing your job, even when the cloud of potential harm or death hangs over your head is the right and honorable thing. If, when threatened, you can calmly give a good speech that directly bears on why you were doing what you were doing, you might win some converts to your position but it might still end up badly. You have to try anyway, though.

From Moses I think the lesson is to keep going forward, even when those surrounding you are busy trying to go in another direction.
From Jesus there are so many lessons to learn that I don’t know that anyone could literally learn them all much less practice them. I’m supposed to try my best, however, and trust that God will look after me. Thinking about it, the trusting part may be the easiest.

From Jesus there are so many lessons to learn that I don’t know that anyone could literally learn them all much less practice them. I’m supposed to try my best, however, and trust that God will look out for me. Thinking about it, the trusting part may be the easiest.

Whether it is holding off people who want to have some leverage, standing up to enemies, herding cats, or getting the message of the gospel across in a way that makes others want to pass it on, I can look to the four men in today’s reading, all of whom faced the challenge of delivering their message.

As every good performer knows, whether it is a great punchline or a message of hope, delivery is everything.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.

"Philips Galle - Sansão Destrói o Templo dos Filisteus" by Philips Galle - [1]. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

At the Center of the Heart

O God, who have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect for the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin, August 15, 2014)

God sat upon God's big, white throne.
God sat staring out the window alone
not seeing the superstrings and quanta, the quarks and the gravitons, not
seeing the gamma rays and x-rays and the dark matter, not
seeing the galaxies and the suns, the stars and the planets, not
hearing the drumbeat of time nor the music of the spheres, not
witnessing the dances of asteroids and meteors and comets, not
appreciating the wonder and the beauty that sprang
forth from God's word, from God's Big Bang.

God sat upon God's big, white throne,
God sat staring out the window alone
at what only God could see;
God sat listening
to what only God could hear;
God sat witnessing
what only God could understand;
God sat appreciating
what only God could answer;
God sat pondering the question
at the center of the human heart.

God heard that question arise
from women and men, from girls and boys of
every tribe and language and people and nation;
God heard that question asked
by each of them, in his or her own native language --
Parthians, Medes, Elamites,
and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene,
Romans and Jews, Cretans and Arabs,
Angles and Saxons, Inca and Aztecs,
Iroquois and Dutch, Celts and Chinese,
Inuit and Swahili, Vikings and Fijians --
in their own languages God
heard them speaking the question
at the center of the their hearts.

God heard that question arise
from priests and shamans, prophets and philosophers of
every religion and sect and theology and denial;
God heard that question asked
by each of them, out of his or her own terms and conditions --
Law and Obedience, Relationship and Sinfulness,
Light and Shadow, Existence and Meaning,
Disease and Death, Poverty and Wealth,
Suffering and Satisfaction, Sacrifice and Service,
Time and Eternity, Rebirth and Completion,
Intimacy and Loneliness, Despair and Joy,
and even feelings and thoughts and emotions
the asker could not or would not name --
in their own terms and conditions God
heard them speaking the question
at the center of the their hearts.

God rose from God's big, white throne.
God rose and walked out the door alone,
passing through choirs of
angels and archangels, and
all the company of heaven,
as they lauded and magnified
God's glorious Name.
God passed out heaven and walked upon the earth;
God walked in gardens at the time of the evening breeze;
God among stones of fire and in the midst of flames;
God stirred up seas so that their waves roared;
God marched in the tops of trees and strolled through the grass of the fields;
God sat upon altars,
placed his feet on temples,
stood atop pyramids,
climbed the steps of ziggurats,
rested in secret places,
housed in Holies of Holies,
visited public sanctuaries,
spoke to prophets and priests,
gazed on household shrines,
sat in people's kitchens and at their dinner tables,
stood in their chambers and at their bedsides,
guested in workrooms and in their parlors; and
heard them speaking the question
at the center of their hearts.

Brooklyn Museum: Archangel Gabriel
God returned to God's big, white throne.
God returned and God called, "Gabriel!"
Robed in white, wings aflame,
a sword of righteousness in his angel hand,
Gabriel answered the holy summons:
"Here am I. Send me."
Gabriel stood before God's big, white throne and asked.
"Lord, should we strike with the sword?"
"Put your sword back into its place," answered God.
"I have heard the question
asked in the tongues of mortals
and even of angels.
I have heard the question
ringing in the noise of gongs
and the clanging of cymbals.
I have heard the question
pursuing prophecies that will cease,
craving knowledge that will end.
I have the heard and there is
but a single answer to the question
at the center of the human heart."

Gabriel stood before God's big, white throne.
Gabriel stood and trembled, anticipating
a mighty tempest, with peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, expecting
a devouring fire, melting wax, refining silver and gold, awaiting
an earthquake, splitting mountains and breaking rocks.
A sound of sheer silence filled the room;
in a still small voice God said:
"Go to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin engaged to a man whose name is Joseph, of the house of David.
The virgin's name is Mary."
Gabriel stood and trembled, questioning
at the center of his angel's heart,
"Why, God? Why this? Why her?"
God sat upon God's big, white throne,
God sat staring out the window, not quite alone.
"Gabriel," God said in that deep quiet voice,
"She alone can make the choice; she alone
of all flesh has heard me speaking the question
at the center of my heart."

Gabriel stood and trembled, greeting
"Hail, thou that art highly favored,
the Lord is with thee:
blessed art thou among women."
She questioned; he explained.
A sound of sheer silence filled the room;
in a still small voice Mary said:
"Be it unto me according to thy word."
And Gabriel stood and trembled, sighing,
and relieved, departed,
still, perhaps, unsure of the question
at the center of his angel's heart.

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
The Answer to the question
at the center of the human hearts,
however spoken, however phrased,
or never spoken, never phrased,
was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through the Answer,
and without the Answer not one thing came into being.
The Answer was in the world,
and the world came into being through the Answer;
yet the world did not know the Answer.
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors
in many and various ways by the prophets,
but in these last days he has spoken to us the Answer,
and the Answer became flesh and lived among us.
The Answer grew and became strong,
increased in wisdom and in years,
and in divine and human favor, but
sometimes wondering, sometimes asking,
"Simon son of Jonah, all of you,
do you love me? Do you place me
at the center of your heart?"
before returning
to the center of God's heart.

Fra Angelico 046.jpgAnd Mary sat upon her chair crafted by Joseph; Mary sat staring out the window alone. Mary, who had birthed the Answer, from the center of her womb, treasured all these things, at the center of her humble heart.

The Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston is rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, an EfM mentor, and a writer of Daily Office meditations offered on his blog, That Which We Have Heard & Known.

"Fra Angelico 046" by {{creator:|Permission=[1]}} - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Jonathan Daniels

On The Feast Day of Jonathan Daniels

Broad-tailed HummingbirdA broad tail hummingbird has claimed our back yard for her own. I noticed her flashing green iridescence one morning and watched her hover around the red bird seed feeder. Hoping she would linger, I rushed out and bought her a feeder of her very own.

With the distraction of her torpedoing body catching the corner of my eye every twenty minutes or so, it has been hard to write this week, though. I find myself instead googling for hummingbird facts. Their iridescence comes from light refracted through platelets full of air on their feathers. They consume nectar with their tongues, which are twice as long as their beaks and fringed like buckskin moccasins. The broad tail hummers can live as long as twelve years, though the perils of the world make their average life span much much shorter.

The life we are celebrating today is that of the martyr Jonathan Daniels, the young seminarian who pushed a black teenager out of the way of a shotgun blast during the Civil Rights Movement, dying in her place. The words I reflect upon this week are his, quoted in the article about him you can read here. They are from his journal, written about a march he participated in a few weeks before his death.

After a week-long, rain-soaked vigil, we still stood face to face with the Selma police. I stood, for a change, in the front rank, ankle-deep in an enormous puddle. To my immediate right were high school students, for the most part, and further to the right were a swarm of clergymen. My end of the line surged forward at one point, led by a militant Episcopal priest whose temper (as usual) was at combustion-point. Thus I found myself only inches from a young policeman. The air crackled with tension and open hostility. Emma Jean, a sophomore in the Negro high school, called my name from behind. I reached back for her hand to bring her up to the front rank, but she did not see. Again she asked me to come back. My determination had become infectiously savage, and I insisted that she come forward--I would not retreat! Again I reached for her hand and pulled her forward. The young policeman spoke: "You're dragging her through the puddle. You ought to be ashamed for treating a girl like that." Flushing--I had forgotten the puddle--I snarled something at him about whose-fault-it-really-was, that managed to be both defensive and self-righteous. We matched baleful glances and then both looked away. And then came a moment of shattering internal quiet, in which I felt shame, indeed, and a kind of reluctant love for the young policeman. I apologized to Emma Jean. And then it occurred to me to apologize to him and to thank him. Though he looked away in contempt--I was not altogether sure I blamed him--I had received a blessing I would not forget. Before long the kids were singing, "I love ---." One of my friends asked [the young policeman] for his name. His name was Charlie. When we sang for him, he blushed and then smiled in a truly sacramental mixture of embarrassment and pleasure and shyness. Soon the young policeman looked relaxed, we all lit cigarettes (in a couple of instances, from a common match, and small groups of kids and policemen clustered to joke or talk cautiously about the situation.

Ruefully I remember how many times through the years I have been embroiled in some form of self-righteous rage, and how badly each of those events has played out. Not once has my (justifiable) fury created anything but divisiveness and estrangement. And yet, I can't imagine having acted any differently. The silent luminous moment Daniels describes can only happen where the willingness to see differently opens a heart to pure grace.

Daniels describes other such moments, instances when The Present intruded quietly but forcefully on his posturing egotism, a self-righteousness with which anyone who is honest can fervently identify. He was drawn in by grace like I am drawn in by my incandescent hummingbird, first to quiet and then to love.

Willingness to see differently is the attitude of an open mind that takes itself with a grain of salt. It is capable of jettisoning whatever it believes to be important and true when new information presents itself. Both humility and the ability to tolerate shame play a part – both very difficult mental attitudes to maintain.

Grace, on the other hand, is the hummingbird. It is a bright, fast streak across the field of our awareness, catching the corner of the eye. It is beyond our grasp, luminous and tiny. Yet, when we turn to it it will consume us completely. It will fill our vision, likely lifting us out of our everyday lives. We are bound to be transformed. Everything we planned will take second place to the kind of understanding that reaches out and pushes the teenager out of the way, to absorb in our own bodies the deadly hot ejaculate of rage.

Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries.

Video of Jonathan Daniels' life here.

Photo courtesy of Lindell Dillon© all rights reserved.

The Samaritan Woman

John 4:1-26

Jesus and the Samaritan woman (Jruchi Gospels II MSS, Georgia, 12th cent.)The sun was high in the sky when she came to the well. The cool of the morning would have been long gone and evening was still hours away. She came to the well for the same reason anyone would, to get water for the household for drinking, for washing, for cooking. It was a necessity and the well was the closest place to find the water she needed. She didn't just run out; women knew how to gauge water use so that they only had to go once a day to get it, usually early in the morning when the air was cool and other women would be there to chat with and share the neighborhood news. Yet this woman came at noon, alone and almost furtively, to get water for her household and this visit to Jacob's well changed her life.

There was a man sitting there by the well, feet dusty from the road, thirsty but with no bucket or waterskin to lower into the water. She was the first person he encountered who might be able to help him. This was a precarious cultural moment. He did not know her, was not related to her, and she had no male escort to whom he could address his request for a drink. She, being a woman and, as we learn, one with a "past," would have been taken aback that he should even speak to her, especially since it helped to establish that he was a Jew and Jews just did not associate with Samaritans who, in their view, were outcasts and sinners, yet here was a Jew asking her, a Samaritan, for a drink of water as if he lived just down the block or she were a sister. I wonder what was going through her mind as all this was taking place. Should she run away? Custom said that if he were thirsty he should be given something to drink yet he was offering living water to her, not merely the well water she could give him. What was this about?

Jesus spoke of her past and it opened her eyes a bit. “I see you are a prophet, sir,” she said. A prophet is someone who sees things other people don’t and who also isn’t afraid to speak of what other people would generally ignore or excuse away. As he was a stranger and not a local, his knowledge of her past was something he could not have known any other way other than by divine revelation. The fact that he spoke of this in a way that was not condemning or shaming but as a matter-of-fact recital of fact undoubtedly made a change in her that was almost instantaneous.

He definitely made an impression on her. She ran back to the village, proclaiming loudly to whoever could and would hear that there was a prophet among them who had told her everything that she had done, and who is offering living water. For once people listened to her, the outcast, and they too came to hear Jesus. Suddenly, almost in the blink of an eye, she went from an outcast to what we might consider the first evangelist or, at least, the first woman evangelist.

We all have situations in our lives where we would rather be somewhere else, places and situations where we definitely try to avoid being s because we’re embarrassed or shy or perhaps just hesitant, not being sure of how we would be received for some reason or other. It can be very uncomfortable. It’s easy to understand the woman at the well because, on some level, I think everyone has been in those shoes or sandals at least once in their lives. Luckily for the Samaritan woman, the man there was Jesus. Thinking of her situation, it makes me wonder if sometimes, when I have walked into a strange situation and not been totally sure of how it was to work out, maybe there wasn’t a bit of Jesus present and asking for my attention, asking me for water, offering me something over and above anything that I had ever had.

I have walked in the Samaritan woman’s shoes. I have been in some strained situations due to my own bad choices, misstatements and misunderstandings. I was grateful when someone offered me a hand of friendship or some expression that told me that they saw me as a human being who has value even though I had made some pretty rotten mistakes in my life. Maybe I didn’t meet Jesus in those times, but I think I met people who reflected who Jesus was and what Jesus was about. They may not have offered me living water but they did offer a cooling draft to my parched soul. I think that was the Jesus in them, whether they knew it or not.

Sometimes when you give you get back something far more and far better than you offered. There are plenty of people around who are thirsty for more than water but who don't have a bucket or even know where the well might be found. Sometimes even Google doesn't have a clue as to where to find it and how to tap into it. It takes a human heart and human hands to do that, and those are what Jesus expects us to use to help the thirsty of the world.

It's our turn to go out and draw water for the world. There are a lot of thirsty people out there waiting. One of them just might be Jesus.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho's Daughter . She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.

God Bothering

Matthew 15:10-28, 10th Sunday after Pentecost, 8/17/14)

Annibale Carracci, Cristo e la Cananea, 1595, ParmaThis is one of those rich gospels that can take us productively in so many different directions. There is the courage of the Canaanite woman in the face of institutional prejudice. There is Jesus signaling the opening of God’s kingdom to all people. But before we turn to these great issues, let’s take a closer look at a lesson that has more immediate impact on our lives… the power of prayer.

“God bothering” is a sarcastic description of prayer that worked its way into the English language in the 19th Century. While it was coined as a nasty putdown, it seems particularly appropriate when applied to this colloquy between Jesus and the Canaanite woman. In her persistent appeals to Jesus, she is literally “God bothering.” As they say in Yiddish, she’s a “nudjh”… a mega-pest, a super-nagger. But she’s more than that. She’s on a mission to save her daughter. And she won’t be brushed off by the disciples or overawed by Jesus. She believes only Jesus can save her daughter and she won’t stop petitioning him, bothering him until he does.

How like our own personal prayer lives. We live in nodding acquaintance with God, until there’s a crisis. Then all of a sudden we start praying up a storm. Petitions pour forth. In our desperation we promise God all sorts of things. Solve that problem and I’ll do this. Cure this illness and I’ll never do that. The crisis will pass or it won’t. The promises will be kept or they won’t. Whatever the outcome, our prayer, our intimate conversation with God, contains an answer in itself. It acknowledges our total dependence on our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Beyond the immediate crisis, living in the reality of our dependence on God, actively seeking his will, begins to put the problems of our lives into a more manageable perspective.

But the Canaanite woman isn’t looking for perspective. She wants action and she wants it now. In response, Jesus draws her into dialogue. He is not the Johnny Appleseed of miracles, strewing them randomly everywhere he goes. His time is short. His mission is massive. His every public moment is a teachable moment. And he uses this moment to teach the disciples that God rewards faith wherever it is found. His every miracle is a deliberate life-lesson… always proving his divinity, always demonstrating his compassion. But sometimes, as on this occasion, they also give us insight into the new covenant.

Jesus is the embodiment of the new covenant, preaching to the faithful of the old covenant. Their image of God too often is tribal and vengeful. Their relationship with God is shaped by strict adherence to regulations governing virtually every aspect of life. Among those rules is a prohibition against speaking with an unrelated woman and a codified contempt for gentiles. Jesus breaches both rules by engaging the Canaanite woman. And here is a point long contested by theologians. Was Christ’s initial rejection of the woman, a manifestation of his human nature, formed over years within the strictures of his people? Or was it Christ’s divine nature, knowing where this encounter is headed, wanting to dramatize the coming of the new covenant? Or perhaps it’s a hybrid… first rejecting, then embracing… reflecting the dual nature of Jesus?
Whatever the interpretation, the results are the same. Christ hears and answers her prayer. Her faith and courage are rewarded. And more significantly, Jesus opens the door to salvation a little wider, welcoming more and different people than ever envisioned by Abraham, Isaac and Moses. The faith of the Canaanite woman is part of a continuum of converted outsiders and outcasts along with the Roman centurion, the Samaritan, the woman taken in adultery, the lepers… appropriately, all documented by Matthew… the despised collector of taxes.

Obviously this is a gospel about the power of prayer and the worth and rights of women. But beyond that, it is a gospel of God’s love available for the asking to every one of his children… every tribe, every race, every hue, every sex, every sexual orientation, the young, the old, the saints and the sinners, the exalted and the lowly.
The Canaanite woman cried out: Lord, help me. That says it all, both to God and to ourselves. It proclaims the divinity of Jesus. It voices our total dependence on God. In petition, in contrition, in thanksgiving, in adoration, in joy and in sorrow… our loving God invites you and me and all his children to call on him… to “bother” him anytime, anywhere, anyhow. He always listens. He always answers.

The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.

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