Something in the water

Psalm 118 (Morning)
Psalm 145 (Evening)
Zechariah 9:9-16
1 Peter 3:13-22
Matthew 21:1-13

Recently some friends of mine and I were together, and I'm sure you know how this goes--One says something, another makes a clever comeback, and suddenly it's just one hilarious remark after another until everyone's abdomen aches from the belly-laughing. When we all catch our breath, someone says, "There must be something in the water."

FontSalisbury.jpgWell, our Epistle reminds us that there's something in the waters of baptism, too.

Today's reading from 1 Peter brings up that old bugaboo of fear and uncertainty. The reality is that no matter how convinced we are that we are God's beloved sons and daughters, we still encounter uncertainty in life, and there are always times that we never know if we are doing the right thing, or making the right decision. We encounter situations where we know deep in our hearts we did nothing wrong, but things are simply not turning out well.

Our tendency is to second guess (that old "woulda, shoulda, coulda" trip around the barn--maybe even several trips around the barn) and often, the tendency of others is to tell us just how we messed it up. But really, until time passes, we don't know how it's going to turn out. We only know we did the best we could at the time we did it.

When we are maligned or our reputation suffers, it's incredibly painful. Yet it's the exact time we need to remember that there's something in the water--namely that Christ joined us in baptism and mingled in that water is the pain of Christ's own sufferings when he walked this Earth. Whatever we're feeling, we at least can take comfort that Jesus "gets it."

Suffering, however, isn't the only thing in that water. Christ's saving grace and healing power is in there, too. The purpose of baptism isn't to remove our crud or make the crud of life go away--it's to join each of us to Christ and to one another, and there's power in that knowledge, as well as comfort, grace, and blessing.

When is a time in your life that your Baptismal Covenant reminded you that you were not alone in your suffering or uncertainty?

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.

Giving thanks

Saint_Cecilia_Wymondley.jpgReading from the Commemoration of Cecelia

Then the three with one voice praised and glorified and blessed God in the furnace:
‘Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors, and to be praised and highly exalted for ever;

And blessed is your glorious, holy name,
and to be highly praised and highly exalted for ever.

Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
and to be extolled and highly glorified for ever.

Blessed are you who look into the depths from your throne on the cherubim,
and to be praised and highly exalted for ever.

Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
and to be extolled and highly exalted for ever.

Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven,
and to be sung and glorified for ever.

‘Let the earth bless the Lord;
let it sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.

Bless the Lord, mountains and hills;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.

Bless the Lord, all that grows in the ground;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.

Bless the Lord, seas and rivers;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.

Bless the Lord, you springs;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.

Bless the Lord, you whales and all that swim in the waters;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.

Bless the Lord, all birds of the air;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.

Bless the Lord, all wild animals and cattle;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him for ever.

All who worship the Lord, bless the God of gods,
sing praise to him and give thanks to him,
for his mercy endures for ever.’ - Azariah 1:28-34, 52-59, 68

When I first became an Episcopalian, we were using the 1928 prayer book. It was one of the things that drew me to the church in the first place. Another was the corporate chanting the canticles for Morning Prayer, including one called Benedictus es, Domine which was one our parish used after the reading of the first lesson. Standing in the little church, built in 1697, it was like being surrounded by all those who had stood where I did, chanting the same words. It was a feeling of being surrounded by a cloud of witnesses.

We only chanted verses 28-34 of this morning's reading. but then, we didn't hear a lot about the apocryphal writings. It has been a joy to discover the origins of one of my favorite chants and find that there is so much more there.

The Song of the Three Young Men was an addition to the book of Daniel, and was said to be praises to God as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stood in the fiery furnace where they had been thrown by Nebuchadrezzar for refusal to worship an idol. Instead of seeing them die horribly, those who witnessed saw not three who had gone in but also a fourth, and none of them had so much as a hair singed. The song reported here was sung by Abednego (Azariah) and was a catalogue of creation, animate and inanimate, and which blessed or conferred on God a part of their own beings and not just mere words. In the concluding verse, Azariah calls for those who worship God to bless, praise and thank God. That part about thanking is particularly important this week when we celebrate the holiday we call Thanksgiving.

Think of Thanksgiving and most folks will visualize a big, golden-brown baked turkey on a platter surrounded by dishes of various sorts from mashed potatoes to green bean casserole to jewel-like cranberry sauce. A few will be industriously making lists and checking newspaper ads for Black Friday sales the next day. The intent of Thanksgiving, however, is focused in the word itself -- giving thanks for all the blessings we enjoy (and maybe some we don't really consider joyous but for which we feel we should give thanks anyway). We are encouraged to stop and give thanks not only to God but for those who surround us daily: our families and friends, a roof over our heads when so many go without, clean air and water (which again, so many do without), the ability to go to church (or not) at the church of one's own choosing, the ability to disagree and debate without fear of imprisonment or death, and so many other things. Once a year we are reminded to be thankful for what we have, and encouraged to not just sit down to a long table surrounded by family and great quantities of food but to also remember the homeless and hungry by volunteering at soup kitchens and food banks.

It is also a time to bless God and be thankful for the gifts we have received over the past year -- or even years. Among the things I am grateful for are health which, even if not perfect, is still far more than so many deal with. I am grateful for friends who love, support and accept me, even when I'm cranky. I am grateful for the four furry kids I call my boys (even though one's a girl) who give me a reason to get up in the morning (a demand, really), and for the roof we have over our heads, the food on our plates and bowls, a furnace that works in the winter and an air conditioner in the summer. I'm grateful for the Episcopal Church of the Nativity which feeds and supports me spiritually.

Included in my thanksgiving this year is gratitude for Episcopal Café, Daily Episcopalian, and especially Speaking to the Soul where I have been able to share my reflections on scripture and other topics. I am grateful to Jim Naughton, who allowed me to share in this unique and respected site, and for Ann Fontaine who encouraged, questioned, edited and illustrated what I wrote. I am thankful for Jon White, our new chief, and for those exceptionally talented people with whom I work and who have offered so many "AHA!" moments. Most of all, I am thankful for the people who read and have read what I've written, whether or not they comment or "like" what I've said. It is a feeling of awe that comes knowing that my words are heard beyond the front door of my house and that perhaps someone might find something of value in them.

May all of you have a blessed Thanksgiving next week, and may we all remember to join all of creation in blessing, honoring and thanking God for our many blessings.

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.

"Saint Cecilia Wymondley" by Shaggy359 - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons

Keep Bothering Me

Friday, November 21, 2014 – Proper 28, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 102 (morning) // 107:1-32 (evening)
Malachi 3:1-12
James 5:7-12
Luke 18:1-8

It's tempting to lower our expectations for justice when various powers seem stacked against us. But today's gospel reminds us that we don't have to wait for justice. We just have to keep bothering people.

Jesus tells a story about a widow pleading her case and "a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people." The judge doesn't appear to have a moral compass, a vision of God's kingdom, or a sense of human worthiness and dignity.

He does, however, have a quality that seekers of justice can use to their advantage: limited patience. The judge eventually decides in the widow's favor, saying, "because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out." Perhaps some of us are called to this ministry of bothering others in pursuit of justice!

The good news is that we don't have to wait for the institutions and systems of this world to be personally converted to love of God and love of neighbor. We just have to pester them incessantly.

The even better news is that God is much more responsive to calls for justice than the unjust judge. As Jesus goes on to say, "will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

What sort of faith will the Son of Man be looking for? From this passage, it seems that faith means seeking and fully expecting justice, even in the face of hostile or indifferent powers. Even they can be worn out by a faith that just won't wait and just won't quit.

And having faith means continuing to bother the Lord himself for the justice he longs to deliver for us. Today can bring us one day closer to God's desires for all people and to the day when the judges of this world wear out.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Finding holy ground

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’ – Luke 17:20-21

In search of holy ground, a friend of mine went on a journey to Jerusalem. She explored lots of very interesting and deeply moving places, but she came back dissatisfied. Months later, she burst into my work room excitedly waving a new find, Barbara Brown Taylor's lovely book, An Altar in the World. “X marks the spot,” she said, quoting from the Introduction. “X marks the spot. The holy ground I've been looking for is right here, right under my feet.”

Here's another story I remember, that of a woman who was very disappointed at not, for health reasons, being able to join with the Doctors without Boarders program. She had so wanted to use her medical training in aid of the poor in Africa. But then, during a visit downtown in the city in which she lived, she discovered an organization that needed her. They were offering free medical exams to mothers and children who could not afford health care.

194px-Burgruine_honberg_fenster_web.jpgI imagine the door to the kingdom of God just suddenly appearing as we go about our daily business. On street corners, in alleyways, along the path we walk through a silent early morning forest, it manifests like the gateway to the magical fairy kingdom, then quickly fades away. It is usually visible only for fleeting moments. In that instant when sunlight ignites the egg yolk colored leaves of the oak tree in the front yard, there it is. Along the misty lake shore when we hear the calling of the loons, there it is again. Or as we're crossing the street to the grocery store and a teenage boy smiles tentatively through his windshield at us after stopping even though the light is already green, I imagine it there. Or, then again, we can see it in that brief window of time when a man whose face is reddened by cold is vulnerable enough to make eye contact and ask for a few dollars to buy a sandwich and a cup of coffee. And it is present as we are visiting a friend at the hospital and talking to her about death, enjoying the particular gait of the dogs and how they embrace the smells along the pathway we walk together, serving soup, praying, or writing a check to Episcopal Relief and Development.

I have to admit that I often miss it. I am too wrapped up in what I am doing – or planning – or feeling righteously indignant about – to see its shy arrival. Later I might turn back with an, “Oh, wait. I should have handled that differently.” But by then it is often far too late. The sunlight has faded, the youth has driven on, the vulnerable man has hardened his heart and hunched his shoulders once again.

All I can hope is that each regret at a missed opportunity will make me more mindful in future. Each time I look back with chagrin and the need to be forgiven makes it possible to choose differently in the future. I hope. And I hope as well that the elusive doorway of the kingdom of God will always make its appearance in unexpected places, and that I will always have the opportunity to open the eyes of my heart and see.

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.

"Burgruine honberg fenster web" by Sebastian Kirsche - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons

More Doing, Less Judging

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 – Proper 28, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 101, 109:1-4(5-19)20-30 (morning) // 119:121-144 (evening)
Malachi 1:1, 6-14
James 3:13-4:12
Luke 17:11-19

Our second reading this morning from the letter of James presents us with an interesting dilemma. It seems as though we can't be both a law-abiding citizen and a judge simultaneously. According to this passage, if we judge others, then "you are not a doer of the law but a judge." We have to choose whether we will follow the law revealed through Christ, or whether we will assume the role of judge. We can't do both.

But there is no room on the judicial bench for both us and God: "There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?" It seems as though we can play only one part in this universe, either "doer of the law" or "judge," and the part of judge is already taken.

Even when we seek justice or exercise our faculties of wisdom, we are not acting as judges in the sense of this passage. The judge is the one with the capacity "to save and to destroy." When we offer mercy, strive for justice, or love others, we should not take upon ourselves the burden of trying to save or destroy anyone else. The tasks of mercy, justice, and love will keep us plenty busy today, and every day.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Through the Eyes of Love

Matthew 25:31-46

trombone.jpg"Love thy neighbour… even if he plays the trombone." That's a lovely Yiddish proverb that reflects the essence, if not the sober tone, of this Sunday's gospel. Few of us have the makings of a Mother Teresa. We'll probably never be called on to drag the destitute and dying off the streets and into our homes. But chances are God will place lots of suffering people in our paths, either directly or tangentially. They may not prove to be grateful for our help. And more than likely, they'll be inconvenient and even annoying. But we ignore them at our peril.

Not only are the poor always with us, but so are the frail, the challenged, the depressed, the aged, the troubled, the addicted...they're in our towns, our neighbourhoods… even in our families. They come afflicted with every stripe and degree of pathology. They are of every age, race and condition. But they have one single unifying characteristic. They, like each of us, are made in the image and likeness of God. Their immortal souls reflect their maker. They are God's beloved. Jesus died for each and every one. No matter their condition, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must love them.

This gospel commands us to look past their brokenness and blemishes… to see the beatific vision of Jesus beaming back at us. But to see Christ in others we must learn to see through the eyes of love… that is through the eyes of Christ, who is God’s love incarnate. Like all other graces, that perspective is a gift from God, not an aptitude that we can acquire. But once that grace is received, it cannot be ignored. It requires practice and prayerful application. Seeing through the eyes of Christ, living in his love, gives every one of us the opportunity to stand among the saints, to be heroic, to empty ourselves and be filled with God's grace.

In this I have been particularly blessed. I thank God for bringing my brother-in-law John into my life. What a shower of grace he brings. From birth John has been challenged by quadriplegic cerebral palsy. His developmental disabilities have been compounded by a range of autistic behaviours. Yet there is no one I know who loves or is loved more completely than John. Commenting on the impact those with special needs have on our lives, Jean Vanier, the apostle of the developmentally challenged, writes: “I’m not sure that we can really understand the message of Jesus, if we haven’t listened to the weak, to people who have been pushed aside, humiliated, seen of no value. At the same time through them we see that we too are broken. Our handicaps are the handicaps of power… of elitism… of valueless values.”

In Proverbs 29, the Bible teaches us: Where there is no vision, the people perish. Faith is the power behind this saving “vision.” It creates an inspiring system of shared values. And that requires a shared perspective. The operative concept of this gospel is to share the perspective of Jesus, to embrace his vision, to see the world through the eyes of his love. This week’s parable poses the question: Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and... thirsty? God's conclusion and our instructions are contained in the answer: As you did it to...the least of did it to me.

We cannot overstate the significance of this gospel. It is Christ's final public statement before giving himself up to the cross. It is the climax of the ecclesiastical year. Yes, there is poetry here… but the message is straightforward and imperative… no artful solicitation … no cajoling… no lofty appeal. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked. Welcome the stranger. Nurse the sick. Visit the imprisoned. See Christ and love him in those in need. These are our marching orders in good times and bad.

What better time to put this lesson to work? From Thanksgiving to Christmas is the traditional season of giving. Our love… translated into the currency of time, talent and treasure… is needed now more than ever, both in the parish and in the community. Jesus has told us where to look for him and how to find him. Let's not keep him waiting.

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.

On Our Doorstep

Monday, November 17, 2014 – Proper 28, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 89:1-18 (morning) // 89:19-52 (evening)
Habakkuk 2:1-4, 9-20
James 2:14-26
Luke 16:19-31

Our readings today show us that our greatest fear should be the gulf between the rich and the poor. According to these Scripture passages, the gulf between rich and poor can destroy society in this life and divide humanity after death. These readings use the language of the Lord's anger and of Hades to convey how deeply the gap between rich and poor should terrify us.

In the first reading, the prophet warns God's people against building houses that are set apart from others. In the words of this prophet, "Alas for you who get evil gain for your houses, setting your nest on high to be safe from the reach of harm!" By putting property values above all other concerns, the wealthy no longer have to deal with poor neighbors. But in doing so, "You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples." The prophet predicts that violence and destruction will result.

In the second reading, the letter warns people that faith alone cannot save us. As the letter says, "If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,' and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead." It is deadly for us to keep our faith to ourselves without clothing and feeding others.

Finally, the gospel tells us the story of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Unlike some wealthy homeowners, this rich man isn't completely isolated from his poor neighbors. Lazarus the beggar lays at the rich man's gate, hoping to eat a few crumbs from the rich man's table. Presumably, the rich man walks past or steps over Lazarus each day.

After both the rich man and Lazarus pass away, the gospel story tells us that their fortunes are reversed. Because the rich man received his good things in this life, he spends his afterlife in agony. And because Lazarus received bad things in this life, "now he is comforted." But unlike in this life, the rich man and Lazarus can no longer commune with each other: "between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so." In this image of the afterlife,
the rich and the poor are irreversibly divided.

Whatever the afterlife looks like, and whatever the future holds for this world, the Scriptures have a resounding message for us: Bridge the chasm between the rich and the poor . . . before it's too late. We need to be neighbors to each other, and reach out to one another, while we have the chance.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Talents and the Reign of God

There is something very troubling to me about today's Gospel, Matthew 25:14-30. This well known parable is often preached in conjunction with stewardship campaigns and seems to confirm all our U.S. cultural myths about how to get ahead and that you can make if it you just invest wisely. How can these be the words of Jesus, who says sell everything and follow me. Does he suddenly, so near the cross, change his mind about how to live a life of faith? Is this the same person who says if you have 2 cloaks give one away? Instead of giving one away he seems to be saying - if you have 2 sell one at a profit and buy more so you can sell more at a profit? Makes me wonder (as they say in Godly Play).

I am just home from convention for the Diocese of Wyoming where we had a long respectful but painful debate about social responsibility in investing, especially as it regards companies that profit from the Israeli/Palestine conflict. Both pro and con had equally passionately held beliefs about the church's relationship with money and investing in "good" companies and "evil" companies.

I wonder if we are all buying into at the domination system of oppression and oppressors regardless of our strongly held beliefs about how to invest wisely. Are the landowner and his slaves all caught in this same system. Are any of the characters acting out of holiness? Is the landowner God? Or are the slaves who invest wisely being holy? In Jesus' world all profit was made by those who had more taking and getting more and those who had less were left to scramble for a daily piece of bread for their families. How can this parable be Good News of the One who preached about everyone getting paid the same wage no matter when they started to work? Who says - it is not just the strong and privileged who will get the most because they are called to work first but also the weakest and least likely who will receive as well.

Thursday of our convention we heard a presentation about the work done by the churches in Salem OR to help keep people in poverty and without shelter to keep it together day to day. They work to support people to find shelter, work, clothing, food, personal hygiene products, safe places. Hundreds of people are served - many who are working but whose wages do not pay the rent, health care, or for enough food. It is an amazing ministry, but I went away thinking why in this country are all these people suffering like this? Why can we raise millions of dollars in a lottery and not be able to pay people to live decently?

Which brings me back to Jesus and this parable. Interest is earned by profits taken on other people's work. But the parable seems to be more a judgment on the whole system that leaves one person out in the darkness with gnashing of teeth. Has the parable become adrift from something more Jesus is saying? He is at the end of his days, he has given away everything and soon his life. Surely he is not giving investment advice?

Leaves me wondering. What do you think?

The Rev. Ann Fontaine is the priest associate at St Catherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church, Nehalem/Manzanita on the Oregon Coast. Her book of reflections on scripture following the Daily Office is Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

Electing Mercy

James 2:1-13

The recent mid-term elections are over. The campaign rhetoric is done, the back-slapping of the winners has died down as surely as the campaign posters of the losers have disappeared from the roadsides and front lawns of supporters. Dissection of the electoral process has pretty much ended and now comes the period where the work has to begin.

Reading the lesson from James this morning, I couldn't help but reflect on the election through James's lens. What I saw in the last electoral process was a combination of what James was talking about -- the choosing of the rich to the detriment of the poor, disenfranchisement of people who should have had the right to vote but who were denied it, and promises to further shut down or cripple programs designed to help the neediest in our society. To say it is somewhat disheartening is a bit of an understatement; it is more like a feeling that the collapse of the Roman Empire was nothing compared to what is coming for us.

Everybody has ideas and beliefs that firmly endorse and for which they stand. Be it a favorite color, drink, book, fashion designer or whatever, there are things we like and things we definitely don't. Usually, though, choices of colors or drinks or designers won't affect the rest of the world, unlike choices between political ideologies or religious beliefs. Those two things have caused a world of hurt for millennia and it hasn't stopped.

Even when it comes to the Bible we have parts we like and take very seriously and other parts we ignore or pay lip service only. There are lots of passages in both testaments about taking care of others -- the poor, widows, orphans, prisoners, the hungry, the sick, the dying -- but nothing about "Me first, then maybe somebody else if there's any left over." Is salvation about saying the right words once and then going on as usual, or does it involve a change in thought and behavior? Is grace only for the rich who contribute liberally to the church but not much if any to outside organizations who tend to the poor and oppressed elsewhere? Is our giving tinged with a bit of "There but for the grace of God go I" or is it a matter of image, our image in the eyes of others who are watching us?

Then there's that tricky thing called mercy. We thoroughly expect mercy to be extended to us, but are we as careful to extend it to others? What about to those of a different race, religion or orientation? What about to those who may not dress as well or whose vehicle is older, shabbier and of a cheaper brand? Do we value people based on their income or their humanity, something we all share?

Rich poorWhat would Jesus do? He never put himself first and I don't think he expects us to do it either. When Jesus spoke the parable of the lost sheep, I don't think he had in mind that the one sheep represented the rich while the ninety-nine were the poor and even middle-class. But then, maybe that one lost sheep needs the shepherding because it is determined to go its own way while the ninety-nine stay together for mutual help and support.

We can hold on to the hope that eventually mercy will overcome judgment, but it's for sure that it probably isn't going to happen any time soon. Meanwhile, it might be a good thing to extend mercy to those with whom we come in contact who may have experienced a dearth of it. One person doing one small act of charity or mercy may not change the world but it may change another person. What if that were multiplied by 10 or 100 or even 1000 small acts? Like ripples in a pool, mercy could spread outwards and help change what one person surely could not.

It's worth a shot. Maybe in the next election mercy could be on the ballot?

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.

© Nevit Dilmen [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

What's Your Religion?

Friday, November 14, 2014 – Proper 27, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 88 (morning) // 91, 92 (evening)
Joel 2:28-3:8
James 1:16-27
Luke 16:1-9

Many people, understandably, like to keep "religion" at arm's length. They are "spiritual" rather than religious. Or, they proclaim that Christianity is "not a religion, but a relationship." Religion is the foil to life-giving and transformative ways of connecting with the divine.

The author of our second reading also seems to know that "religion" doesn't always have a good connotation. But instead of offering us an alternative to religion, the reading asks us to refine our understanding of what religion is. In its purest form, religion has two parts: (1) "to care for orphans and widows in their distress," and (2) "to keep oneself unstained by the world." Imagine if "religion" simply meant care for people at the margins and people in need, and resistance to the harmful forces around us.

A medieval guide to religious life called the "Ancrene Wisse" uses this verse from today's second reading from the Letter of James when advising a small community of women. If people ask the women which religious order they belong to (meaning Benedictine, Gilbertine, Cistercian, etc.), they should reply that they belong to "the order of St. James."

There is no order of St. James, though: no Rule of St. James, no special religious habit, no specific religious house. Rather, the so-called order of St. James is a simple and pure alternative to the proliferation of religious orders that are available. Instead of choosing and joining a religious order, the women should focus on the two tasks from today's reading: care for orphans and widows, and keeping themselves unstained by the world.

Like these medieval women, we find ourselves today with an array of religious options. What religion should we choose? Simple: the religion of caring for those at the margins of our society and in deepest need, and of preserving our health and wholeness in a sometimes hostile world. Our religious tradition and denominational affiliation are meaningless otherwise.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul's in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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