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Enough will never be enough

We thirst for something far greater than this world can satisfy. So we are always disappointed. Always. But disappointment is itself a gift. Disappointment drives our search for life. We go from one false promise to another, gobbling up things and people in great gulps only to find them go tasteless too soon. And that is the secret of contentment.

It’s when we discover that enough will never be enough that we can finally stop kicking and scratching our way through life, put it all down, and let God be the point of the compass for us. Then we are ready to link arms with the rest of the human race as partners in the great enterprise of life. Then we realize not only the insufficiency of the other on whom we have put the burden of our emotional satisfaction, but of ourselves as well. Because neither we nor they are God, we can finally be gentle with one another.

From Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir by Joan Chittister (Sheed & Ward, 2004).


Feast of John Keble

The surest way to uphold or restore our endangered church will be for each of her anxious children, in his own place and station, to resign himself more thoroughly to his God and Savior in those duties, public and private, which are not immediately affected by the emergencies of the moment: the daily and hourly duties, I mean, of piety, purity, charity, justice.

From “National Apostasy” by John Keble, quoted in Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality by Richard H. Schmidt (Eerdmans, 2002).


My messy house

Children are frequently astonished to discover that the psalmists so freely express the more unacceptable emotions, sadness and even anger, even anger at God, and that all of this is in the Bible that they hear read in church on Sunday morning.

Children who are picked on by their big brothers and sisters can be remarkably adept when it comes to writing cursing psalms, and I believe that the writing process offers them a safe haven in which to work through their desires for vengeance in a healthy way. Once a little boy wrote a poem called “The Monster Who Was Sorry.” He began by admitting that he hates it when his father yells at him; his response in the poem is to throw his sister down the stairs, and then to wreck his room, and finally to wreck the whole town. The poem concludes: “Then I sit in my messy house and say to myself, ‘I shouldn’t have done all that.’” “My messy house” says it all: with more honesty than most adults could have mustered, the boys made a metaphor for himself that admitted the depth of his rage and also gave him a way out. If that boy had been a novice in the fourth-century monastic desert, his elders might have told him that he was well on the way toward repentance, not such a monster after all, but only human. If the house is messy, they might have said, why not clean it up, why not make it into a place where God might wish to dwell?

From “Repentance” in Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith by Kathleen Norris (Riverhead Books, 1998).


John Donne

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,
For those whom thou think’st thou doest overthrow
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From pleasure, than from thee, much more must flow,
And sooner our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and souls delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Holy Sonnet No. 10 by John Donne, quoted in Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality by Richard H. Schmidt (Eerdmans, 2002).

For Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday some years back in Atlanta, I don’t remember which. But we are doing our thing—having our annual dramatic reading of the passion story, and it is going particularly well this year. We practiced hard and it shows. The narrator is great. Jesus knows his lines. And then the part comes when Pilate says what he says every year. What do you want me to do with this man? This is the signal for the whole congregation to get in on the action. And the crowd yells, CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM! Bloodcurdling effect. Very satisfactory.

And while the crowd’s pretended rage is still ringing in our ears, from about two-thirds back in the pews, comes a woman’s voice bellowing. NO. NO. NO. Not my Boy. No. Don’t. Not my Boy. And then sobs throbbing through the air to break your heart.

We are appalled, deeply appalled. What had been an audience is becoming something else. What is happening? Somehow 400 observers are transformed into a body of witnesses. I crane my neck and see that someone sitting near her comforts her. Well, thank God. They look for all the world like Mary and John lost at the foot of the cross, her head collapsed on the shoulder of her pew-mate, whose name, I remember, is actually John.

We sit in silence, all of us, for a timeless time. For what had been a well-done scripted and rehearsed play has become anamnesis, has become Real Presence. And the veil of the temple is torn in two. She is there at the foot of the cross. Perhaps you would have diagnosed her as mentally ill or maybe drunk—but she is there and she is our host and takes us there too.

What if we had ushered her out? What a loss. But we didn’t and she was peculiar and beautiful and rich with gifts to give and plugged into the power like I’ve never seen before. Where else would such a woman belong on Palm Sunday during the Passion of Our Lord but in the Body of Christ?

From “Behold Your Mother” in Alive and Loose in the Ordinary: Stories of the Incarnation by Martha Sterne. © 2006. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com.


In the Cross

Augustine says that Christ is present among those who are ‘in severe trial’, and goes on to say that ‘we progress by means of trial. No one knows himself except through trial’. How true that is. The cross is about being broken. Many years ago I worshipped in a ‘storefront church’ in the London docks, and one of our favourite hymns was ‘Jesus, keep me near the Cross’. The chorus is:

In the Cross, in the Cross,
Be my glory ever
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.

A large West Indian lady, known by all of us as Aunt Matilda, always sang ‘ruptured’ instead of ‘raptured’, and her voice was so powerful that the whole congregation followed her. Yet in a way she was right. The cross does involve a rupture, a break, a cleavage. It is a moment of division and disturbance, a point of crisis, a breaking point.

From We Preach Christ Crucified by Kenneth Leech. Tenth anniversary edition. Copyright © 1994, 2005. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org.


Jesus in anger

In praying over the incidents in the New Testament where Jesus is moved to anger, I’ve come to understand that anger, in and of itself, isn’t wrong. Jesus did indeed get angry—very angry—but he never lashed out in manic rage. When Jesus chased the money changers from the temple, he “fashioned a whip out of cords” (John 2:15). In meditating on this scene, I kept asking myself why he would take the time, in a moment of rage, to make a weapon. In some ways, the action makes him seem intent on inflicting severe physical punishment. As I puzzled over the incident, I grew more confused. A friend of mine, a scientist who has a reason for everything, has a theory: “I think he was giving himself time to channel the anger and get it under control. He didn’t want to lash out in a blind rage. He wasn’t seeking hand-to-hand combat. He was slowing himself down.”

From Praying Thieves and the God Who Loves Them No Matter What by Anne Marie Drew. © 2006. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com.


Handing Himself over


If the truth of God is disclosed and the glory of God is manifest in Jesus, then the truth of God must be this, and the glory of God must appear in this—that God so initiates and acts that He destines Himself to enter into passion, to wait and to receive.

Of His own will and freedom God so acts as to enter into passion, to encompass His own passion. This, as John sees it, is the truth of God, and it is in this that the glory of God is manifested at its deepest level. The glory of God is disclosed at its primary level in the work and activity of God; but that glory appears at its deepest level when the activity of God achieves the exposure of God, when by His working God destines Himself to the necessity of waiting. One might say that the ultimate glory of God’s creativity is the creation of His own exposure to that which He has created: that of all that God has done in and for the world the most glorious thing is this—that He has handed Himself over to the world, that He has given to the world not only power of being but also that power to affect Himself which is best described as power of meaning.

From The Stature of Waiting by W. H. Vanstone. © 1982, 2006. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com.


Maundy Thursday

Ordinary life discloses to us, in the experience of loving, this dimension of glory—discloses the transcendence of loving over everything else that a human being can do. The Gospel of John suggests to us that the divine glory, in that ultimate dimension in which it appears in the handing over of Jesus, is of this same shape, though on a vaster scale. There is in it something whose shape we know and can recognize—the shape of the glory of loving. There is in the God Who is disclosed in Jesus first the glory of signs and mighty works—the glory of free and unfettered activity and achievement; but when Jesus destines himself, by His own will and initiative, to wait at the end of exposure and helplessness, there is disclosed, as the ultimate dimension of the divine glory, that same glory which we dimly perceive in our own experience when, because we love, we destine ourselves to wait and to be exposed and to receive. The glory of that waiting figure in Gethsemane is not wholly strange and unfamiliar to us—not so strange that we could mistake it for misfortune and regard the figure with pity or sheer incomprehension. The glory of God which finally appears in the waiting figure in the Garden is the glory of that not wholly unfamiliar activity which always, in the end, destines itself to waiting—the activity of loving.

From The Stature of Waiting by W. H. Vanstone. © 1982, 2006. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com.


Good Friday

The real tragedy of Good Friday was the death of Judas. This death was truly tragic, meaningless, violent and desperate. Much of my ministry has been spent with people who have died tragic deaths. Others have lived lives which have been devoid of hope. I think particularly of the experience of many heroin addicts as they moved towards despair. Unless we can identify in some way with this loss of hope, we have not begun to understand the Good Friday experience. In fact only those who know something of the meaning of despair can come to experience victory. Only the dead can appreciate resurrection, and all Christians must confront and experience the darkness as they move along the way to death. One of the worst aspects of the darkness which we face is the painful fear that some of the darkness we encounter may not be redeemable, that it may be the darkness of original sin. Yet this too must be faced in trust and confidence.

This entry into the darkness is the very heart of faith and of hope. To be a Christian at all is to enter this dark night: the night in which we do not know the way but in which God becomes luminously present. This dark night is a paradigm of the paschal transformation by which we are integrated into the life of God.

From We Preach Christ Crucified by Kenneth Leech. Tenth anniversary edition. Copyright © 1994, 2005. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Holy Saturday

The third procession is that of the Easter Vigil ceremony which is held on the night before Easter Day and once again it is possible to come into this central moment of the Christian year, the celebration of the completion of salvation, by the simplest of ways, by walking, bowing, standing, breathing, being. On Easter night we are on even more fundamental ground in the simplicities of this procession, which is shaped by the basic elements of earth, of air, of fire, and of water. There is silence at the basis of it: when all lights in the church are extinguished, we stand with Adam in darkness, at the moment of creation, in earth and air only, until new light is struck out of the rock. The Scripture readings of the Vigil will later emphasize this beginning, by using Genesis, with the creation of all things, of which humankind is the crown, the complete image of God. This is the time of new beginning, a new creation, and therefore especially it is the time of the catechumens; this is, those who are preparing for baptism, and for those already baptized who are with them as they go towards baptism, the unifying basis of Christian life. There is in this moment of darkness a sense of alienation, of exile, of not being at home, created in the image of God but still far off, helpless of ourselves to change. From the rock of the tomb a new light is struck from flint and shines into darkness. A candle is lit and from it small candles take their light, so that behind each small candle-flame there is the face of a human person newly made in Christ whose only identity in the darkness is that of this new light. We are taken into a new dimension of life which is pure gift. We are with the reconciled, with the baptized, with the risen Lord, who is the new Adam. It is the first and timeless day of a new creation.

From In the Company of Christ: A Pilgrimage Through Holy Week by Benedicta Ward. Copyright © 2005. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org.

Wishing you a joyful Easter

Here and now in this new dawn there is someone who weeps, broken-hearted, in a garden and hears her name. The young man is risen, death is taken into victory, but it is still a time of tears, both of sorrow and of longing and of wonder for amazing love. It is overwhelming: as Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) wrote, meditating on the meeting of this new Eve in this new garden with the new Adam:

The Lord called her ‘Mary’,
the name he had so often called her by as if to say,
‘I know who you are, and what you want;
behold me; do not weep, I am he whom you are seeking.’
At once her tears were changed;
I do not believe they stopped at once,
but where once they were wrung from a heart
broken and self-tormenting,
they flow now from a heart exulting.

From In the Company of Christ: A Pilgrimage Through Holy Week by Benedicta Ward. Copyright © 2005. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org.

A loose thread

April 9

I found a loose thread in the sleeve of my jacket the other day and hesitated to pull it off in case it unraveled the entire seam. I did it anyway and of course the whole lining came apart. This made me think of certain questions we are reluctant to ask ourselves. We think twice about dealing with them in case we make a worse rip in the fabric of the story we tell about ourselves. Just now, as we approach the celebration of Easter, I am not sure that I want to ask: “How real will my Easter joy be this year?” Questions about the authenticity of our feelings scare us. Where might it lead if I start wondering whether my religious experience is fake?

So what is authentic Easter joy? Well, I do know it isn’t relief at the return of spring, however welcome that is. Easter joy has to be something that I would experience just as much in the southern hemisphere, where Easter heralds the onset of winter cold. Easter joy is not a seasonal mood of uplift.
Neither is Easter joy to be confused with a sense that Jesus’ resurrection is a reassuring illustration of the adage “All’s well that ends well.” A penetrating remark made by the fearless Anglican philosopher Donald McKinnon has always haunted me. He claimed that a lot of conventional talk about the resurrection misrepresented it as “a descent from the cross given greater dramatic effect by a thirty-six-hour postponement.” The counterfeit version of Easter joy depends on the make-believe that God pulls a surprise “happy ending” on us after the ghastly setback of Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus is presented as a Houdini figure who, it seems, could not possibly have gotten out of the ultimate trap of crucifixion and burial in a sealed tomb. But no! To our relief—our so-called Easter joy—out he comes! All is well and our hero is victorious, the One they couldn’t keep down! Happy Easter! Let’s congratulate ourselves for being on the winning side!

From “The Real Thing” in Compass and Stars by Martin L. Smith. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

The shock of the tomb

April 10

Many of those who are skeptical about the story of the empty tomb and take the stories of Jesus’ appearances as legends opt for an interpretation that is similarly reassuring. They assume the early disciples created the stories to express in a vivid but imaginary way their inner conviction that Jesus’ soul had passed triumphantly and inevitably into heaven. But this is impossible to square with the evidence that the apostles regarded the resurrection as a shocking anomaly. Something utterly unprecedented had happened to transform the dead Jesus, and this transformation involved the passing of his body into an entirely new state. The visible trace of this transformation was an empty grave.

From “The Real Thing” in Compass and Stars by Martin L. Smith. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

The last word

April 11

Easter joy focuses then on why God would do this unique thing to Jesus, something that by definition only he could do. If someone is raised while history is allowed to go on, this is God’s only way of showing us what he is actually like. The resurrection is God’s way of showing that it is the crucified Jesus who is the ultimate manifestation of his identity and character. In the resurrection, it is Jesus-on-the-cross who is confirmed as the “last word” about the nature of divine love and creativity—and divine vulnerability.

From “The Real Thing” in Compass and Stars by Martin L. Smith. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org


In on the joke

April 12

This is where it gets scary. The resurrection only makes sense as God’s “showing his hand” about the meaning of the cross. So I can’t have Easter joy if I don’t find joy in Jesus-on-the-cross. In fact, I can’t even believe in the resurrection, unless I want to believe in a God who would be so crazy as to identify himself with the crucified Jesus. God identifies with Jesus’ choice to risk being crucified, his refusal to make the compromises that could have saved him from it. Paul speaks of the foolishness and weakness of God shown on the cross. The resurrection, far from supporting the notion of a triumphalistic deity of power, mysteriously confirms how deeply hidden and baffling the Creator truly is, as he reveals that he is at one with the man who so willingly exposed himself with an open heart to the fate devised by political power and religious expediency to crush him.

Authentic Easter joy—the genuine pearl of great price—is unfeigned delight in my heart of hearts that a hidden God turns out to be so different from all the stuff, aggressive or sentimental, that gets fabricated about him. Centuries ago, a custom grew up of beginning Easter sermons with a joke, known as the risus paschalis. The subtlety of Easter joy is like getting a joke. It is impossible to explain the resurrection to someone who doesn’t get the foolishness of the cross. You either get it or you don’t. The real God has authenticated himself in an event only the poor in spirit can appreciate. Easter faith comes with a desire to be in on the secret, to get the joke.

From “The Real Thing” in Compass and Stars by Martin L. Smith. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org


Practicing Resurrection

April 13

Wendell Berry, the great environmentalist poet-theologian, has written a piece about somebody he calls a “mad farmer” who goes around shouting, “Practice resurrection!” “Practice resurrection.” That’s not bad advice. It’s certainly what Thomas does—and maybe, just maybe, the other disciples are rehearsing the story and replaying the experience, too. Most of us don’t “get it” the very first time. Most of us spend our lives learning what the reality of resurrection looks like, feels like, and tastes like—because it keeps on happening in new ways every day of our lives.

How do we practice resurrection?

Maybe the most important skill is learning to live in the now, looking toward the future, rather than living in the past. That doesn’t mean we forget about what’s come before, though we are meant to honor what’s good about it, and grieve what is gone if we need to. It also means that we live in hope for the new thing God is doing.

Resurrection means that creation isn’t over and done with. And if we’re made in the image of God, then we’ve got creation work to do. What’s coming may not look exactly like what we knew before, but God promises that it will be abundant and life-giving.

From “Practicing Resurrection” in A Wing and a Prayer by Katharine Jefferts Schori. © 2007. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Living in expectation

April 14

Practicing resurrection means living in openness. It’s a vulnerable attitude. Jesus invites Thomas to examine his wounds—come and see the ugliest thing you can imagine. God has made it a source of beauty and healing. It means that our fears, our inadequacies, the wretched parts of ourselves, can be the vehicle for new and more abundant life—if we’re willing to confront them honestly and openly. In the baptismal covenant, it’s the second promise we make—to repent and return to the Lord. But it’s not just our wrongdoing—the weak and untried parts of ourselves can be the stuff of new life, too. That’s what exercise is all about—stressing, trying the weak parts of our bodies so that they become stronger. Our psyches and souls can find new strength too if we’re willing to journey within and confront some of that darkness or fear or mystery.

Practice resurrection. Live in open expectation of the new thing God is doing at all times and in all places. It means opening ourselves to that new thing, recognizing that the change it brings will cause some distress. But there is always more abundant life on the other side of the pain and grief that comes with change and growth.

From “Practicing Resurrection” in A Wing and a Prayer by Katharine Jefferts Schori. © 2007. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

"That Which Waited There"

April 16

I am very sure that so long as we are caught in time, we will never be able to see heaven, which I believe is entirely and absolutely seeable. But having arrived at that statement (which, alas, I have discovered is the only definitive one I can actually make at this juncture), I immediately run up against the very core of the problem for me: namely, that I have had what is now euphemistically referred to as a near-death experience. In 1955 when I was having it, there were no easy terms for such, no almost jocular NDE abbreviations to lessen the outréness of the experience.

The whole thing was fairly straightforward, really. I was threatening to miscarry our first child; and the drug I was given, while hardly experimental, was nonetheless new and, as it turns out, highly toxic to some women. Six or seven of us died, in fact. I didn’t . . . Correction: I did, but I came back.

The second most vivid memory of my life is that of sitting, hunched up like a gargoyle, in the upper corner of my hospital room, watching Sam and the nurse beat on my body, trying to restart my heart. The most vivid memory is when the corner opened up and let me out of the room into a tunnel, pleasantly grassed even on its curved surfaces. Walking through it, I could see the light coming from the other end and I could know myself drawn without effort toward That Which Waited There.

I never left the tunnel, though I stood at the edging place where it ceased and the translucent goldenness began. We talked there, just on the brink of the entering, I saying I needed to go back, that there were children I wanted to have before I came . . . and the What Is saying, “Go,” and my soul breaking within me that I was leaving a greater love for a lesser one, but knowing that I must go . . . and knowing as well that I would return and that the What Is and I were, and would be, when I do return.

So it is—and for over fifty years has been—that I cannot, in any discussion of heaven, get beyond the verge where the end of the tunnel met the That Which Waits There. Neither my mind nor my necessity are ever sufficient to push beyond that place.

From “Sweet Reluctance” by Phyllis Tickle, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org


The actuality of the thing

April 17

I do not know—none of us does—what it must have been like to have a dead man materialize through the wall of a meeting room and lay out for public viewing the holes in his hands where his executioners had nailed him to a cross or the rip in his belly where they stabbed him open to hasten his demise. Whatever they felt or experienced, those witnesses to the unspeakable, they knew. They knew what they had seen, and it was enough to persuade them at all costs of the actuality of the thing . . . which is by way of saying that I, too, know what I saw and am persuaded, at all costs, by the actuality of the thing.

I know no more to say or write; but the exercise of having tried has not been entirely wasted. At least I can admit now that I shall never be able to speak of the what-I-don’t-know that lies beyond the what-I-do-know. There is relief in that, as well as comfort and a certain inexpressible pleasure in realizing that someday soon I shall be about the business of greeting again that which I once left with such sweet reluctance.

From “Sweet Reluctance” by Phyllis Tickle, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org


"Do not cling"


In the garden Christ gently but deliberately says to Mary Magdalene, “Noli me tangere.” “Do not touch” is a misleading translation that deprives us of the significance of what is happening here. “Do not cling” is a more accurate rendering of the Greek, for surely we do need to touch, to touch the hem of the garment, to touch the wounds and feel them. But we must not cling, for that carries the danger of becoming dependent, of clutching or holding on in the wrong way. I love the statue of the Walking Madonna by Elisabeth Frink in the cathedral close at Salisbury. Here is this young woman who strides out boldly into the future, her one hand strong and determined, while the other is vulnerable. She knows that she has seen the Lord, the risen Christ; she has heard the resurrection message and now she is ready to cross the threshold and engage whatever lies before her. What gives her the strength to move forward with today: such assurance, calling out that loving welcome, that Deo Gratias, to a future that is unsure, unknown?

From To Pause at the Threshold: Reflections on Living on the Border by Esther de Waal. © 2001. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com


Abyss of wonders

The cross is the abyss of wonders, the centre of desires, the school of virtues, the house of wisdom, the throne of love, the theatre of joys, and the place of sorrows; it is the root of happiness, and the gate of heaven.

Of all things in heaven and earth it is the most peculiar. It is the most exalted of all objects. It is an ensign lifted up for all nations, to it shall the gentiles seek. His rest shall be glorious: the dispersed of Judah shall be gathered together to it, from the four corners of the earth. If love be the weight of the soul, and its object the centre, all eyes and hearts may convert and turn unto this object, cleave unto this centre, and by it enter into rest. There we may see God’s goodness, wisdom and power: yea his mercy and anger displayed. There we may see man’s sin and infinite value, his hope and fear, his misery and happiness. There we might see the Rock of Ages, and the joys of heaven. There we may see a man loving all the world, and a God dying for mankind.

From Centuries by Thomas Traherne (Faith Press, 1960).


Nevertheless

I can explain why heaven makes no sense, why the most logical response to the human condition is despair, why the future that lies ahead of us is only chaotic and dark, why we—as individuals, as a species, as a planet—in fact have no future at all. I can explain why belief in heaven as afterlife or belief in heaven on earth is equally impossible, equally absurd. But eventually, and often when I least expect it, something in me rises up and declares: Nevertheless. Is it the Risen Christ? That’s what I would say. For when it comes, so does heaven—a glimpse of it, anyway, a chink in the wall, an echo in the ear. And hope becomes possible again, a hope as lovely and startling as the sight of Earth rising above the barren landscape of the moon.

From “When Heaven Happens” by Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org


Saint Anselm's Day

See, Christian soul, here is the strength of your salvation, here is the cause of your freedom, here is the price of your redemption. You were a bond-slave and by this man you are free. By him you are brought back from exile, lost, you are restored, dead, you are raised. Chew this, bite it, suck it, let your heart swallow it, when your mouth receives the body and blood of your redeemer. Make it in this life your daily bread, your food, your way-bread, for through this and not otherwise than through this will you remain in Christ and Christ in you, and your joy will be full.

Consider, O my soul, and hear, all that is within me, how much my whole being owes to him! Lord, because you have made me, I owe you the whole of my love; because you have redeemed me, I owe you the whole of myself; because you have promised so much, I owe you all my being.

From “Meditation on Human Redemption” by Anselm of Canterbury, in The Prayers and Meditations of St. Anselm, translated by Benedicta Ward (Penguin, 1973).

Transfiguring energy


In the common way of looking at things heaven is a place you go after you die (if you’ve been good). And I suppose that overall this shorthand is true: when the physical body has dissolved, there is less to obscure what had really been there all along anyway.

But it is possible to encounter heaven earlier, while still in physical flesh, and to live in it—and from it—here and now. In fact, more than a few people think that’s exactly what Jesus meant by his term the kingdom of heaven: it’s this world seen through the eyes and heart of divine love. Or perhaps better, it’s the flood of transfiguring energy set loose in this world once the eyes of heaven have awakened.

So why not go for it now? For sure, this question stumped Jesus; you could even say it comprised the tragic miscalculation of his life. Why, when this angelically tinged “other” is as simple as opening the eyes of the heart here and now, why wouldn’t people immediately open their eyes and give thanks? Why does the good news tend to receive a rain check?
But the fact is, this other way of seeing requires a high level of spiritual attunement—to use the current buzzword, presence—far more so than is accustomed or perhaps comfortable in this life. “Those who are given liberty by Him to act freely are nailed on the earth; and those who are free to act as they choose on the earth will be nailed in the heavens,” an old Sufi proverb goes. One becomes a fastidious servant of the Now, not of daydreams and future options, and certainly not of one’s personal preferences and agendas. It’s a strange, Himalayan environment of the heart that seems out of tempo with most of what we usually call “getting the most out of life.” And so heaven can wait, as the old saying goes. It’s easier to get caught up in the enchantments and diversions of this existence. Drink it in for all it’s worth, then allow heaven to be “next,” once the veil has melted on its own.

From “Hobbling (Walking, Flapping) North” by Cynthia Bourgeault, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org


Image (detail) "I Will be What I Will Be" by Margaret McGee

In the victim's company

What I have said so far suggests a provisional definition of the primary stage in preaching the resurrection as an invitation to recognize one’s victim as one’s hope. The crucified is God’s chosen: it is with the victim, the condemned, that God identifies, and it is in the company of the victim, so to speak, that God is to be found, and nowhere else. And this is not simply to say, in the fashionable phrase, that God makes his own the cause of the poor and despised. We are not talking of ‘the’ poor and despised, ‘the’ victim in the abstract. The preaching of the resurrection is not addressed to an abstract audience: the victim involved is the victim of the hearers. We are, insistently and relentlessly, in Jerusalem, confronted therefore with a victim who is our victim. When we make victims, when we embark on condemnation, exclusion, violence, the diminution or oppression of anyone, when we set ourselves up as judges, we are exposed to judgment, and we turn away from salvation. To hear the good news of salvation, to be converted, is to turn back to the condemned and rejected, acknowledging that there is hope nowhere else.

From Resurrection by Rowan Williams (Darton, Longman & Todd, 1982).

St. Mark's Day

Evangelion (that we call the gospel) is a Greek word, and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance and leap for joy. This Evangelion or gospel (that is to say, such joyful tidings) is called the New Testament; because that as a man, when he shall die, appointeth his goods to be dealt and distributed after his death among them which he nameth to be his heirs; even so Christ before his death commanded and appointed that such Evangelion, gospel, or tidings should be declared throughout all the world, and therewith to give unto all that repent, and believe, all his goods: that is to say, his life, wherewith he swallowed and devoured up death; his righteousness, wherewith he banished sin; his salvation, wherewith he overcame eternal damnation. Now can the wretched man hear no more joyous a thing, than such glad and comfortable tidings of Christ; so that he cannot but be glad, and laugh from the low bottom of his heart, if he believe that the tidings are true.

From “A Pathway into Holy Scripture” by William Tyndale, in The Work of William Tyndale, edited by G. E. Duffield (Sutton Courtenay Press, 1964).


Last hours

We spent the afternoon like that, the three of us. Vincent and I changed places at [my mother’s] bedside. We sponged her mouth. I watched her eyes. I held her hand. Her face was smooth. Her eyes were like the eyes of a child or a delicate bird. A creature. Curious, delighted. She was, we were, there is no other word for it, changed.

How is it that things fall away? The hours of that afternoon were like a wave set off by a stone dropping into a pool of water; the ripples reverberated backward through her life. The past is not what we think it is. It is not written in stone after all, but can be washed over and through by the present’s events.

I felt I understood a part of the resurrection. Jesus rode a wave backward into time and human history and redeemed events, that is, stole them back from chaos and destruction. He walked among the dead and woke them up with the power of the same thing that stood with us that afternoon. In the mind of God, there is no past or present and nothing ever dies.

That afternoon, whatever we had done together in our lives, or failed to do, the fragments of love in all three of us were gathered up so that they coalesced to the point of profound connection. We crossed over, my mother leading the way. It was as if a door had opened into heaven, allowing heaven in. In my Father’s house are many mansions. It matters that it was only a fraction of a long life, a few hours at the end of eighty-eight years, but it was, for then, and for now, enough.

From “Her Last Hours” by Nora Gallagher, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Conserving a vision

Of course the Church is conservative for it has so much to conserve. But let it conserve a vision of the world’s destiny and not the structures of the world’s past. Let the Church in remembering Christ remember that it is conserving the most uprooting, the most revolutionary force in all human history. For it was Christ who crossed every boundary, broke down every barrier. He crossed the boundaries of class by eating with the outcasts. He crossed the boundary of nations by pointing to a Samaritan as the agent of God’s will. He transgressed religious boundaries by claiming that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Everywhere he manifested his freedom and called others to theirs, calling them forth from family, national, and religious loyalty to the world at large. If ever there was a man who trusted his origins and had the courage to emerge from them, it was Christ.

From Credo by William Sloane Coffin (Westminster-John Knox Press, 2004).

To love as God loves

Love for God cannot be separated from love of neighbor. Jesus calls us to love God through our neighbor—by visiting prisoners, by hospitality to strangers, by actions that ostensibly give us no reward at the end of a long day’s work. Jesus seems idealistic at best. When we look around and see others prospering through violence or greed, most of us pay little attention to God’s love. How can we? After all, we live in a “real” world in which survival is paramount. Work with prisoners or those on death row may be typical of God’s kind of love, which gravitates toward generosity and gift, but not for our kind of love that is seeking to survive in a violent world. Jesus knows our dilemma, but he does not let us off the hook. He still requires us to channel God’s infinite generosity. Just as we cannot love God without loving our neighbor, we cannot worship in a church building without also ministering in a jail, hospital, or school.

God’s love always points toward the capacity to love outside of self-interest. When it came to heaven, Jesus was no realist—if by realism we mean self-interest. This was his genius. Perhaps the greatest lesson in this for us is to learn that we must prepare to love as God loves—through random acts of kindness. We prepare through our daily prayers. We prepare through the butterflies in our stomach when we make our first volunteer visit in a jail. This kind of preparation hones our skills of navigation as we make our way toward heaven—toward the real heaven, not just our own narcissistic version of heaven. We must practice heaven. In so doing, we catch glimpses of God’s idea of what’s real because we are increasing our attention span to see beyond the ordinary.

From “A Strange Route to Heaven” by Michael Battle, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

More than assent

Daily Reading, April 30

It is essential to remember that for a Christian “the word of the Cross” is nothing theoretical, but a stark and existential union with Christ in his death in order to share in his resurrection. To fully “hear” and “receive” the word of the Cross means much more than simple assent to the dogmatic propositions that Christ died for our sins. It means to be “nailed to the Cross with Christ,” so that the ego-self is no longer the principle of our deepest actions, which now proceed from Christ living in us: “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:19-20). To receive the word of the Cross means the acceptance of a complete self-emptying, a kenosis, in union with the self-emptying of Christ “obedient unto death” (Phil. 2:5-11). It is essential to true Christianity that this experience of the Cross and of self-emptying be central in the life of the Christian so that he may fully receive the Holy Spirit and know (again by experience) all the riches of God in and through Christ.

From Zen and the Birds of Appetite by Thomas Merton, quoted in Wisdom of the Cloister, edited by John Skinner (Image Books, 1999).

Freed from formula

Daily Reading, May 1

The Cross is completely baffling both to the Greeks with their philosophy and to the Jews with their well-interpreted Law. But when one has been freed from dependence on verbal formulas and conceptual structures, the Cross becomes a source of “power.” This power emanates from the “foolishness of God” and it also makes of us “foolish instruments.” On the other hand, he who can accept this paradoxical “foolishness” experiences in himself a secret and mysterious power, the power of Christ living in him as the ground of a totally new life.

From Zen and the Birds of Appetite by Thomas Merton, quoted in Wisdom of the Cloister, edited by John Skinner (Image Books, 1999).

A re-creation of the world

Daily Reading, May 2

By becoming incarnate in Jesus, the Logos had enabled human beings to transcend themselves and, in a pregnant phrase of the New Testament, “to become partakers in the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). “The Logos of God has become human,” [Athanasius] would say, “so that you might learn from a human being how a human being may become divine.” The original creation in the image of God, in which true human greatness consisted, had been brought about through the Logos; that creation would now achieve not only restoration but consummation and perfection through the same Logos: his incarnation would achieve our deification. And the whole cosmos would have its proper share in that consummation; for “the establishment of the church is a re-creation of the world,” in which “the Logos has created a multitude of starts,” a new heaven and a new earth.

From Jesus Through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan (Harper & Row, 1985).

Wednesday Daily Office

Only One
who knows
the heart
can be kind
to the ungrateful
and wicked.

Read more »

The place of tears

Daily Reading, May 3

It was Isaac of Nineveh who confirmed what I had supposed all this time: that the biblical phrase “the world to come” refers not to pie-in-the-sky by-and-by but to “the kingdom of heaven within you.”

Once you have reached the place of tears, then know that the mind has left the prison of this world and set its foot on the road towards the new world. Then it begins to breathe the wonderful air which is there; it begins to shed tears. For now the birth pangs of the spiritual infant grow strong, since grace, the common mother of all, makes haste to give birth mystically to the soul, the image of God, into the light of the world to come. . . . Then you will start to become aware of the transformation which the whole nature will receive in the renewal of all things, dimly and as though by hints.

Heaven is without beginning and without end. It’s when I’m not looking for heaven that heaven appears. It is by definition more than I can ask or imagine. It permeates all that I live, have lived, and will live, in weal and in woe. It suffuses the ordinary flow of our lives if only we will stop trying to cut it down to our size, to objectify it, to make it finitely less than it is.

From “Heaven Can’t Wait” by Maggie Ross, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY.

Feast of St. Monica, mother of Augustine

Daily Reading, May 4

Not long before the day on which she was to leave this life—you knew which day it was to be, O Lord, though we did not—my mother and I were alone, leaning from a window which overlooked the garden in the courtyard of the house where we were staying at Ostia. We were talking alone together and our conversation was serene and joyful. In the presence of Truth, which is yourself, we were wondering what the eternal life of the saints would be like, that like which no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart conceived. But we laid the lips of our hearts to the heavenly stream that flows from your fountain, the source of all life which is in you, so that as far as it was in our power to do so we might be sprinkled with its waters and in some sense reach an understanding of this great mystery.

As the flame of love burned stronger in us and raised us higher towards the eternal God, our thoughts ranged over the whole compass of material things in their various degrees, up to the heavens themselves, from which the sun and the moon and the stars shine down upon the earth. Higher still we climbed, thinking and speaking all the while in wonder at all that you have made. And while we spoke of the eternal Wisdom, longing for it and straining for it with all the strength of our hearts, for one fleeting instant we reached out and touched it.

From the Confessions of Saint Augustine

Inflamed

Daily Reading, May 5

I have learnt to love you late, Beauty at once so ancient and so new! I have learnt to love you late! You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself. I searched for you outside myself and, disfigured as I was, I fell upon the lovely things of your creation. You were with me, but I was not with you. The beautiful things of this world kept me far from you and yet, if they had not been in you, they would have had no being at all. You called me; you cried aloud to me; you broke my barrier of deafness. You shone upon me; your radiance enveloped me; you put my blindness to flight. You shed your fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet odour. I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am inflamed with love of your peace.

From the Confessions of Saint Augustine

Saturday Daily Office

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; you right hand shall save me.

The LORD will make good his purpose for me;
O LORD, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands. Psalm 138:8-9 (BCP)

Songs of hope
fly against
the storms of despair.

An Eastern heaven

Daily Reading, May 6


Christians inherit two basic views of heaven. The popular Western version tends to be of the static angels-and-harps variety. I prefer the Eastern version. It has more of the flavor of dynamic continuity. We move “from glory to glory” right now, not simply after we’re dead. In the Eastern tradition, human beings long for the infinite. We are not fixed entities, but beings-in-process, defined by an infinite longing which pulls the soul forward in an infinite progression. We live out the questions, and it might take longer than a lifetime. For Christians, the best metaphor for heaven is a banquet. Heaven is not a place you go to when you die. Heaven is present now, all around us, a code word for where God is—in the music, in the feast.

So the question of heaven isn’t an intellectual puzzle which in principle has an answer. If there is life after death it begins now. At the moment, I find myself occupied by the question “Is there life after birth?” So, whatever heaven is, it isn’t about “the hereafter.” The danger of imagining heaven as a destination or a final resting place is that we miss the glory of the present. To quote the wise theologian N. T. Wright, if heaven is going some place it’s “going to be with God in the place where he has been all along.” It’s about presence or, better, Presence right now.

From “’I Tell You a Further Mystery’” by Alan Jones, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org


Indispensable emptiness

Daily Reading, May 7

My adventure into fullness of life (which I take to be the kingdom of heaven) involves reading, writing, and great conversation—preferably over a good meal. It is nourished by the arts, especially music. But there is a paradox here, one that the mystics might understand. What are virtues for the mystics are torments for many of us: alienation, loneliness, silence, solitude, interior emptiness, stripping bare, poverty, not-knowing, emptiness. The arts have, more often than not, given me an experience of being emptied. What we really need is often to be found in what we dread most—risk, not being in control, in the emptiness of the self. This doesn’t sound much like “heaven,” but how else can we make an inner space for living with ourselves and with each other? Cultivating gratitude helps us draw out the gold that is often hidden in the loneliness, the silence, the interior emptiness, the suffering, the poverty, and “the knowledge-that-knows-nothing.”

Emptiness, then, is indispensable to true enjoyment of the world because true enjoyment has nothing to do with possession. It is the kind of emptiness that encourages me to give myself away to others in love and service. Heaven isn’t a private possession, anymore than music, anymore than food.

Food is a delight. I love cookbooks and miss the times when the whole family would gather together to make bread. There was flour all over the kitchen and we loved to throw the dough around—especially the smooth oily dough of challah. There’s no pleasure quite like preparing and cooking a meal with the bounty of the earth. Where is the food for the soul? It is in the “useless” activities of music and play. We get a taste of heaven in the various ways in which we “waste” our time eating and drinking and delighting in one another.

From “’I Tell You a Further Mystery’” by Alan Jones, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org


St. Julian of Norwich

Daily Reading, May 8

God is the goodness that cannot be angry, for He is nothing but goodness.
Our soul is one-ed to Him, who is unchangeable goodness,
and between God and our soul is neither anger nor forgiveness, as He sees it.
For our soul is so completely one-ed to God by His own goodness,
that there can be absolutely nothing at all separating God and soul.

From A Lesson of Love: The Revelations of Julian of Norwich, edited and translated for devotional use by Father John-Julian, OJN (New York: Walker and Company, 1988).

Mother bird

Daily Reading, May 9

The cell was a sacred space, a place in which a woman could be with herself and the divine Presence and listen. The cell was a place of divine encounter and of ongoing, daily experience of being immersed in God’s presence. Amma Syncletica’s counsel with regard to this uses a tenderly maternal metaphor—that of the mother bird hatching her young. Each woman in Syncletica’s community would have been formed by this teaching as it was repeated and handed down. The life of faith looks like a mother bird, sitting on her eggs. For all we know, that mother bird has moments when it seems like nothing is happening. There are moments when real boredom sets in and the temptation to leave the eggs and do something more interesting arises.

Amma Syncletica’s metaphor speaks directly to one of the dilemmas of the spiritual life—that of coming to terms with the plain old ordinariness of spiritual practice and the life of prayer, of the whole of life becoming prayer. Instead, we are encouraged not to sit, not to persevere, not to struggle with boredom. We are enticed by a variety of means to leave our “eggs” and simply move continually from one interest to another. The result is that we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to bring forth new life. The “eggs” die because they are not tended. We miss the deeper life of the Spirit because we are constantly moving from one interest to another rather than focusing on one thing.

From The Desert Mothers: Spiritual Practices from the Women of the Wilderness by Mary C. Earle. © 2007. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com


Wednesday Daily Office

One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, 'Let us go across to the other side of the lake.' So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, 'Master, Master, we are perishing!' And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, 'Where is your faith?' They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, 'Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?' Luke 8:22-25 (nrsv)

Terror:
Fishermen
asking a carpenter
about storms at sea.
Did the storm cease
or did they remember
how to sail?

At home with Christ

Daily Reading, May 10

An African woman perceives and accepts Christ as a woman and as an African. The commitment that flows from this faith is commitment to full womanhood (humanity), to the survival of human communities, to the ‘birthing’, nurturing, and maintenance of life, and to loving relations and life that is motivated by love.

Having accepted Christ as refugee and guest of Africa, the woman seeks to make Christ at home and to order life in such a way as to enable the whole household to feel at home with Christ. The woman sees the whole space of Africa as a realm to be ordered, as a place where Christ is truly ‘tabernacled’. Fears are not swept under the beds and mats but are brought out to be dealt with by the presence of the Christ. Christ becomes truly friend and companion, liberating women from assumptions of patriarchal societies, and honouring, accepting, and sanctifying the single life as well as the married life, parenthood as well as the absence of progeny. The Christ of the women of Africa upholds not only motherhood, but all who, like Jesus of Nazareth, perform ‘mothering’ roles of bringing out the best in all around them. This is the Christ, high priest, advocate, and just judge in whose kingdom we pray to be.

From “The Christ for African Women” by Elizabeth Arnoah and Mercy Amba Oduyoye, in With Passion and Compassion: Third World Women Doing Theology, edited by Virginia Fabella and Mercy Amba Oduyoye (Orbis Books, 1988).


Thin places

Daily Reading, May 11

Can we say it is God’s home? I prefer to perceive it “through a glass darkly” as what I might call God’s holiest of holies. What is my connection, if any, to heaven? I’ve seen glimpses of it only by eyes of faith. I’ve felt the presence—never in a merely logical way—in thin places or passages that I’ve encountered on occasion between the visible world and—what? Greater reality? God’s love and power? Awareness of the holy?

Ten days before her ninety-ninth birthday, my mother lay dying. I was with her in the convalescent hospital where she’d resided for the past four-plus years. Beatrice appeared to be unconscious. I held her limp hand in mine.

Suddenly, a change occurred. Her hand gripped mine with fierce strength. Now her eyes opened, staring directly into mine with a determination, even a passion, that was startling. I grasped her hand, held her gaze. Then, after a moment, her eyes closed. Shortly her grip wavered and let go.

I knew Beatrice had left and gone to heaven. I could almost follow her journey into what seemed to be light. Her departure was not passive, nor had her life been. In Beatrice there burned an intensity. Born in 1898, she had always lived in what used to be referred to as “a man’s world.” While accepting its Spartan rules, she kept inviolate a part of her life that was a “secret garden.” So, as a single mom who had to work, she did so during her days. But, in her private time, she painted and sketched and gardened. Fame did not touch her; she had no interest in it. Her honesty could be almost shocking in its directness. She remained open to life, clearly honoring the moment at hand.

Being with Mother on the occasion—at the very moment—of her journey’s end here, and the start of her journey to heaven, was a deeply touching revelation of God’s mercy, healing, and treasured gift of this thin place close to heaven.

From “Moments in Thin Places” by Malcolm Boyd, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org


Mother love

Daily Reading, May 12


Some of our mothers taught us what it was like to be loved. Some others of us grew up with mothers who couldn’t really teach us much about love, because they’d never really learned themselves. We tend to idealize mothers as the perfect dispensers of love.

Sometimes mothers do their best work by getting out of the way, or by leaving. After all, children need that to grow up, too. After all, even Jesus gets out of the way so we can try his way for ourselves.

When Jesus is getting ready to leave his disciples, he begins to tell them good-bye. It’s not so different from the speech a mother on her deathbed might give the kids: “Now children, I won’t be with you much longer. You are going to keep looking for me. . . but you can’t come where I’m going. I’m giving you some new instructions: love each other, just the way I’ve loved you. Everybody will know whose family you come from if you love each other.”

The kids get a remarkable challenge—now it’s time to put to work everything they’ve been taught. Love one another, as I have loved you.

What does love look like? Getting out of the way, so another person can try. Blood, sweat, and tears. Feeding one another. Above all, love liberates, love sets us free to be more than we thought possible. Love one another as I have loved you. Befriend the stranger. Engage your enemy in love. Challenge the unlovable. Go hunting for the unloved.

From “Mother Love” in A Wing and a Prayer by Katharine Jefferts Schori. © 2007. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

On View: Beggarwoman, Photograph by Diane Walker.

Garden of hope

Daily Reading, May 14

Gardening within a monastery is both a task and an art, and it’s something we only gradually begin to fathom in the early years of our monastic life. The more experienced gardener monks teach us to start slowly. They instruct us how to improve our soil with compost and other amendments, knowing well that this will have a profound effect on the variety of plants we grow. I learned early, as well, to let Mother Nature be our guide. Her signals often indicate the propitious time for many garden chores. For instance, when the crocus is in bloom, we begin cleaning up the winter’s debris. When the forsythia begins to flower, we prune the roses, evergreens, and the plants that have been damaged by the winter. When the soil warms up, we begin to divide and transplant the perennials.

Spring gardening nurtures hope in the monk, then fulfills the promise of new life when all creation is renewed by the power of Christ’s Resurrection.

From A Monastic Year by Brother Victor Antoine, quoted in Wisdom of the Cloister, edited by John Skinner (Image Books, 1999).


Heaven in the making

Daily Reading, May 16

“Hell is other people,” according to a character in Sartre’s play No Exit, and it is difficult to imagine a more aggressive contradiction of the Christian vision. The doctrine of the communion of saints affirms that heaven is other people, and the hope of the resurrection of the body affirms that those other people are no wraiths and abstractions but fully alive. When most people talk of heaven, they tend to speak of reunion with certain loved ones and imagine encounters with a chosen few they want to meet. But those great artworks of the resurrection that stir me do not lie—Stanley Spencer’s resurrection paintings contain over seven hundred lovingly delineated figures. The resurrection of the body brings together everyone, including our unloved ones, the strangers. Heaven is the new embodiment of all, and our encounters will be with all, stranger and former enemy, as surely as our neighbor and kin. Our lives, transfigured within the memory of God and remembered by us in a completely new way in all their depths and meaning, will be gifts for sharing with one another. It will take eternity to exchange with one another—all of us—the meaning and fullness of our lives.

Meanwhile, heaven is in the making in this world, and I am one of its makers. My hopes mean little unless they lift the routine of today. So I want to live with the thought that my life is not only a gift now for other people, but that it will be in eternity. In my odd and short life, I take up into myself a certain time, particular relationships, just these parts of creation. They will rise in God with me. So loving what I see, and what I do, and those I meet, helps to get us all ready for surprise.

From “Bodies, Rising” by Martin L. Smith, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org.

Ecstatic union

Daily Reading, May 18

Most people I know seem to think of heaven as compensatory. Whatever is missing here will be present there. Those who have endured war will know peace. Those who have suffered want will have plenty. Those who have been broken will be made whole. In this sense, heaven is essential both for divine justice and compassion, for heaven is where God’s purpose will be fulfilled, and all people shall see it together. This is more or less what scripture promises, and what my Episcopal tradition teaches as well, yet it does not exhaust my curiosity about what comes next.

That something comes next seems likely to me, although I would gladly admit that I have no certainty about what it is. People I trust speak of seeing through the veil to the life beyond death. I have sat with dying people often enough to watch them become translucent toward the end. Plus, my sense of the communion of the saints is so strong that I have never in my life been lonely. Even when I cannot hear them speaking any language I understand, the very air is thick with their presence. This could be my imagination. What if God’s imagination is where heaven exists?

I suppose my greatest curiosity about the afterlife is whether I will continue to be me. I want to continue being me, of course. I want not only to see all of those creatures that I have rescued through the years; I also want to see the loved ones whom I have lost. I want to lay my head on Grandma Lucy’s lap again. I want to shell field peas with Fannie Belle and listen to Schubert with Earl. The problem with this scenario is that it turns heaven into my perfect version of earth, with a perfect me in the middle of it. As appealing as this is, it strikes me as an underutilization of God’s gifts.

Since ecstatic union with God is my best idea of heaven, I think I have to be ready to let myself go—literally, I mean. I think I have to entertain the possibility that joining God in heaven may mean surrendering everything I hold dear on earth, including my me-ness, in order to be made entirely new. In Christian terms, I think I really do have to die, and be willing to leave the rest to God.

From “Leaving Myself Behind” by Barbara Brown Taylor, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org


Transparency

Daily Reading, May 19

One enduring sense I have is that everything will be revealed in the hereafter. In the words of the old Anglican collect for purity, heaven exists in the presence of the God “unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” I think of this when I say something disloyal about someone who is not present, or when I try to hide the truth about myself from people whose illusions flatter me. If all of this will be perfectly transparent by-and-by, why not prepare for that by practicing transparency now?

Of course I also harbor the hope that if I have managed to do or be any good for God, that will be transparent too. I am embarrassed to admit that, but as someone who has spent my whole life confessing my sins, the prospect of being allowed to discover what I might have done right in this world sounds like heaven to me.

If it is true that most of us give what we want to get, then in the end my highest hope for heaven is simply to be rescued when my time comes—plucked from the roadside where I have fallen, struck dumb by all there is to love and grieve in this world—and gathered into God’s own safety, whatever that turns out to mean. I am willing to forego the details, as long as I know whose lap I am in.

From “Leaving Myself Behind” by Barbara Brown Taylor, in Heaven, edited by Roger Ferlo. A Seabury Book from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Threshold moments

Daily Reading, May 21

There is a traditional saying of ancient wisdom: “A threshold is a sacred thing.” When I visited Japan I experienced the role of the threshold in a very simple daily experience. Before entering the house, the Japanese stand on the lintel in order to remove shoes worn outside in the street. Upon entering the house, they put on slippers placed inside the door. This forces a very deliberate and conscious way of standing still, even if for only a moment, in order to show respect for the difference between two spaces, the outer and the inner; the preparation for the encounter with another person, another household.

This is very similar to the traditional monastic practice of statio, which also pays homage to the threshold moment, and shows reverence for the handling of space and time. The monk or nun enters the church for the saying of the daily offices, but always leaves him- or herself time to stand, to wait, to let go of all the demands of whatever the previous activity had been, with all its concurrent anxieties and expectations. That stillness permits each one to enter into that space kept empty in the heart for the Word of God. By rushing, whether through a sense of duty or obligation, or to save a few extra moments for the task at hand, they may gain something in terms of daily work. What is lost, however, is the attention, the awareness of the crossing over into the time and the place for opus Dei, the work of God.

From To Pause at the Threshold: Reflections on Living on the Border by Esther de Waal. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

On View: detail from Pentecost Installation at Trinity Episcopal Church, Bloomington, Indiana. Photograph by Susan Kinzer.

Monday Daily Office

As they were going along the road, someone said to [Jesus], "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another [Jesus] said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." Luke 9:57-62

Digging holes of excuses
instead of plowing
Making nests of regrets
instead of flying
Will not plant and grow
holiness of life
the kindom of God.

Border country

Daily Reading, May 22

In his book Living on the Border of the Holy, a title that is itself significant, William Countryman writes of that border country that we all carry within us. He describes it as a kind of fault line that runs right down the middle of our lives. We can of course ignore it but it does not go away. We all live with it and we all have our unique experience of it, for it is part of who we are as human beings. It connects the surface or the ordinary reality with its deeper roots; indeed, he would actually claim that the border country is the realm in which human existence finds its meaning:

This border country is a place of intense vitality. It does not so much draw us away from the everyday world as it plunges us deeper into a reality of which the everyday world is like the surface. . . . To live there for a while is like having veils pulled away. In the long run we find that the border country is in fact the place we have always lived, but it is seen in a new and clearer light. Stay at the border, in active conversation with the holy and the everyday.

From To Pause at the Threshold: Reflections on Living on the Border by Esther de Waal. © 2001. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com


Tuesday Daily Office

Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
Luke 10:8-12 (nrsv)


The sandbox
has room for all
or none.

The owl of wisdom

Daily Reading, May 23

Recently when a nun in her mid-nineties sent me a note on my birthday, she quoted a line of Hegel: “The owl of wisdom flies in twilight,” and then said, “I like to think that as we get older we live in two twilights; the evening twilight of letting-go and the dawn of looking forward. In both, Christ is our Light.” This makes me think of “a kind of double vision in which we see both the light and the dark together and both sustain us,” words actually taken from a book significantly entitled Let Evening Come: Reflections on Aging.

Here is the giving up of the solace of certainty, for it means living with both/and. It is enjoying juxtaposition. It is embracing ambiguity. And if I recognize this poignant mix in my own inner landscape, ought I not let it shape my approach to the world around?

From To Pause at the Threshold: Reflections on Living on the Border by Esther de Waal. © 2001. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com


The partial truth

Daily Reading, May 24

Whatever name we may choose—the time between, the threshold, the pause—it is by naming it that we honor it and thereby honor change, movement, difference. When a book recently appeared in England written by the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, it was significantly given the title The Dignity of Difference. In it Sacks wrote:

Truth on earth is not, nor can it aspire to be, the whole truth. . . . God is greater than religion. . . . Can I recognize God’s image in someone who is not in my image, whose language, faith, ideals are different from mine? If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his.

The first step in listening, learning, and changing is to see that different is not dangerous; the second is to be happy and willing to live with uncertainty; the third is to rejoice in ambiguity and to embrace it. It all means giving up the comfort of certainty and realizing that uncertainty can actually be good.

From To Pause at the Threshold: Reflections on Living on the Border by Esther de Waal. © 2001. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com


Thursday Daily Office

Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" He said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."
Luke 10:30-37 (nrsv)

In the ditch
of my life
I watch.
You move
to the other side
offended by
my blood and tears.

Bede

Daily Reading, May 25 • The Venerable Bede

Bede’s industry and scholarship are generally acknowledged, but his most significant achievement lies in his inspired ability to select and integrate the vast mass of facts and traditions that he gathered into a single framework. He doubtless rejected much material as unreliable or irrelevant, but all that he retained he welded together into a coherent and eminently readable unity. Even a modern historian, with the advantage of greatly superior facilities and assisted by the researches of many generations of experts, faces a formidable task when compiling a history covering several centuries. And when we consider Bede’s limited facilities and resources, it is clear that his achievement is unique. For although Bede’s monastery at Jarrow possessed a library, it would seem insignificant by modern standards, and while it contained theological works of the Greek and Latin Fathers, there was little material useful for Bede’s purpose. Furthermore, in addition to the slowness and uncertainty of communications, the physical conditions under which the writers of that day had to work were extremely inconvenient and austere during the long northern winters. It is noteworthy that despite the many difficulties under which it was written, Bede’s History contains relatively few errors, and modern research has confirmed the accuracy of most of his statements.

From the Introduction to the Penguin edition of Bede’s A History of the English Church and People (Penguin Classics, 1968).


Friday Daily Office


Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet. Ezekiel 34:18-19 (nrsv)

Closets fill
with more
than can be
worn in a year
while many
shiver with lack.
Food piles
in storage
until it rots
while bellies
stretch with hunger.
Houses multiply
across the landscape
while people live
on the streets.

On View: Burning Bush by Jan Neal, as seen in Visual Preludes 2006 at Episcopal Church and Visual Arts

Augustine
of Canterbury

Daily Reading, May 26 • Augustine of Canterbury

Augustine, Bishop of the Church of Canterbury, sought advice on certain problems. The Pope answered his enquiries without delay, and I have thought it proper to record these replies in my history. . . .

The second question of Augustine: Since we hold the same Faith, why do customs vary in different Churches? Why, for instance, does the method of saying Mass differ in the holy Roman Church and in the Churches of Gaul?

Pope Gregory’s reply: My brother, you are familiar with the usage of the Roman Church, in which you were brought up. But if you have found customs, whether in the Church of Rome or of Gaul or any other that may be more acceptable to God, I wish you to make a careful selection of them, and teach the Church of the English, which is still young in the Faith, whatever you have been able to learn with profit from the various Churches. For things should not be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things. Therefore select from each of the Churches whatever things are devout, religious, and right; and when you have bound them, as it were, into a Sheaf, let the minds of the English grow accustomed to it.

From Bede’s A History of the English Church and People (Penguin Classics, 1968).

Pentecost

Daily Reading for May 27 • Pentecost

Being the living Christ today means being filled with the same Spirit that filled Jesus. Jesus and his Father are breathing the same breath, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the intimate communion that makes Jesus and his Father one. Jesus says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10) and “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). It is this unity that Jesus wants to give us. That is the gift of his Holy Spirit.

Living a spiritual life, therefore, means living in the same communion with the Father as Jesus did, and thus making God present in the world.

From Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri J. M. Nouwen (HarperSanFrancisco, 1997).

Memorial Day

Daily Reading for May 28

There used to be parades in every town at this time of year in honor of those who died in the defense of our country. Old guys in uniforms they wore as young men marched along Main Street with the high school band and last year’s homecoming queen, and every fire engine the town had crawled through town at the end, blowing its siren. People along the route clapped and cheered. Some of them waved little American flags.

Some towns still have a Memorial Day parade, giving in to the odd human desire for a ceremonial walk to mark important times and feelings. Parades are pretty universal. We have them when people get married and when they die. We have them when people graduate, and years later we still choke up when we hear “Pomp and Circumstance.” We have them in churches, when people bow as the cross passes before them. We have them in synagogues, too, parades in which people dance with the sacred scrolls of the law.

Special walking happens in enough different places, and for enough different reasons, that it seems safe to say that it’s something human beings need to do. People need to have parades. You don’t necessarily need to be in the parade. But you probably need to see one from time to time. It gives you a place to remember. Unless there’s a parade, some kind of special occasion that demands our attention, we’ll just go on being busy. And soon we’ll forget that we owe a lot to those who have gone before.

From Finding Time for Serenity by Barbara Cawthorne Crafton. © 1994. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

A Prayer Book for All

Daily Reading for May 29 • The First Book of Common Prayer (1549)

The 1549 Book of Common Prayer was as much the child of worship in the preceding centuries as it was a product of the Reformation. But there is an essential difference. Whereas the 1549 was intended to establish this new, universal relationship between every worshipper and the single, authoritative service book for the whole nation, the preceding era was different altogether. A number of different books were in use for different groups of people and different occasions. Each one started its life long before the invention of printing. In that sense, the Book of Common Prayer, provisional as it came to be, was also the child of the printing press, and its effects and legacy would have been impossible in other circumstances.

What were the original motivations behind the production of such a book? These were partly doctrinal – to embody a liturgy that put Reformation teaching into praying words – and partly social – to signal and spread the use of the vernacular. Above all they were liturgical, bringing together the main services of the (now reformed) Church of England under one cover and placing them in direct relationship not only with the clergy who presided at them, but the laity as well – few could read, but all could listen to and understand the English text. Even though not everyone could afford to pay for a copy (3s.4d. was the price fixed by law), the notion of having the same book in the hands of potentially anyone attending a service was a novel idea, reinforced by the new technology of printing and the new (but also very ancient) conception of the church as the baptized people of God.

From “Worship by the Book” by Kenneth Stevenson, in The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: A Worldwide Survey, edited by Charles Hefling and Cynthia Shattuck (Oxford, 2006).

On View: Transfiguration: Dwellings by Susan Tilt, as seen in Image and Likeness at Episcopal Church and Visual Arts

Following the Work of Love

Daily Reading for May 30

The gift of the Paraclete is one of the most remarkable of all the promises in sacred scripture. Through the Holy Spirit God makes it possible for each of us to become one with him through love. This is no mere metaphor, but something quite real and quite palpable. By looking into the deeper parts of ourselves and by seeing love’s work there, each of us may glimpse God’s active, transformative presence. God already dwells within us, and by waking up to this reality we become one with him. Consequently, the chief way of finding a clear path through the desert is to follow the work of love within oneself. Whatever damps down this holy wonder is a cul-de-sac, and whatever fosters it points to our final destination. It is in this way that the Holy Spirit teaches everything.

From From Image to Likeness: The Christian Journey into God by William A. Simpson (Continuum, 1997).

Imagining a
New Creation

Daily Reading for May 31 • The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

From the beginning, Christians have known that they were called upon to do the impossible. But when we look at Scripture and at the history of the Christian community, we can see a pattern in the way former impossibilities became subsequent realizations. The dynamics of the prophetic are in the creative imagination. A fundamental task of Christian spirituality is imagination. It is the task of breaking the process of interpretation wide open to glimpse entirely new and different possibilities of human life and relationships.

Imagination is exercised in influential ways through literature, through the visual and performing arts, through music, but also through human relationships, social structures, technology and science. Christian spirituality is related to all of these in two ways: it should inform them and it should be informed by them. Christians steeped in the Scriptures and deeply influenced by prayer and by the imperatives of charity should pursue the arts as a vocation, should engage in political process and policy, and should devote themselves to technological invention and scientific research. They need only be fully what they are and take the field seriously for what it is, and the redemption of the society through the expanding imagination will happen because the channels for redemptive grace run through us if we all them to be open.

From Christian Women in a Troubled World by Monika K. Hellwig (Paulist Press, 1985).

On View: Mary and Elizabeth by Margaret Adams Parker (Woodcut, 2004, 9" x 7") St. Mary’s Episcopal Church - Arlington, VA, as seen in Visual Preludes 2006 at Episcopal Church and Visual Arts

Thursday Daily Office

Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; *
do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
For they shall soon wither like the grass, *
and like the green grass fade away.
Put your trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and feed on its riches. Psalm 37:1-3


Abide in goodness
Not in what others
are doing
or not doing.

Peace Amid Persecution

Daily Reading for June 1 • Justin, Martyr at Rome, c. 167

It has been said that the lives of the early Christians consisted of “persecution above ground and prayer below ground.” Beneath Rome are the excavations which we call the catacombs, which were at once temples and tombs. Both pagans and Christians buried their dead in these catacombs. When the Christian graves have been opened, the skeletons tell their own terrible tale. But despite the awful story of persecution that we may read here, the inscriptions breathe forth peace and joy and triumph. Here are a few:

“Here lies Marcia, put to rest in a dream of peace.”
“Lawrence to his sweetest son, borne away of angels.”
“Victorious in peace and in Christ.”
“Being called away, he went in peace.”

Remember when reading these inscriptions the story the skeletons tell of persecution, of torture, and of fire. But the full force of these epitaphs is seen when we contrast them with the pagan epitaphs, such as:
“Live for the present hour, since we are sure of nothing else.”
“I lift my hands against the gods who took me away at the age of twenty though I had done no harm.”
“Once I was not. Now I am not. I know nothing about it, and it is no concern of mine.”

The most frequent Christian symbols on the walls of the catacombs are the good shepherd with the lamb on his shoulder, a ship under full sail, harps, anchors, crowns, vines, and above all the fish.

From Fox’s Book of Martyrs (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1926).

Friday Daily Office

But as for me, I have trusted in you, O LORD. *

I have said, "You are my God.

My times are in your hand; *

rescue me from the hand of my enemies,

and from those who persecute me.

Make your face to shine upon your servant, *

and in your loving-kindness save me." Psalm 31:14-16

The sand
of my life
runs through
my days
each grain
holding
a moment
in time-
holy, eternal.

Witnesses to
the Resurrection

Daily Reading for June 2 • The Martyrs of Lyons, 177

The word “martyr,” derived from the Greek martus or “witness,” was originally applied to the first apostles as witnesses of Jesus Christ’s life and, especially, of his resurrection. Slowly it came to be associated with those Christians who had suffered hardship for their faith and eventually was limited to those who suffered death. Martyrdom became the ultimate symbol of faithful Christian discipleship and thus of Christian holiness. More than this, the tranquil acceptance of martyrdom was an affirmation of the believer’s faith in Christ’s promise of victory over death and of resurrection for all who accepted the good news of God’s salvation.

Martyrdom literature underlined the virtue of sacrifice, imitation of Christ, and the cost of allegiance to Christ, and resistance to an unquestioning acceptance of surrounding cultural norms. The cult of martyrs was also the beginning of a more general devotion to saints in Christianity. Martyrs, because united with God, could now intercede for believers on earth. Festivals were instituted to mark their deaths (or “heavenly birthdays”) and this began a liturgical calendar of saints in the Christian Church.

From A Brief History of Spirituality by Philip Sheldrake (Blackwell Publishing, 2007).

Saturday Daily Office

"Weeping may spend the night,*

but joy comes in the morning." Psalm 30


Evening darkens,
grief knocks at my door
and moves in for the night.
With the dawn
I pack his bags
and busy myself in life.



from Streams of Mercy by Ann Fontaine

The Circle Dance

Daily Reading for June 3 • Trinity Sunday

When Nicodemus comes to see Jesus, he comes at night, which is probably the writer’s way of saying that he was in the dark or didn’t get it. Nicodemus is interested in Jesus and what he’s teaching, but he can’t get past his usual way of seeing things. “How can I be born again?” he asks. “I’m already a grown-up.” But as Jesus always seems to be doing, he tells Nicodemus that if he wants to meet God, he’s going to have to let go of those old understandings and see things in a new way. “The wind/spirit blows where it wants to,” he answers Nicodemus, “and you can hear it, but you’ll never know where it came from or where it’s going.” God is always doing more surprising things than we can imagine, right in our midst, if we’re willing and ready to notice.

That’s probably the biggest hint we get about the Trinity—God is always more, and more mysterious and surprising, than we can imagine. The early theologians talked about the three in one as a circle dance—God who creates, the human face of God, and the way God continues to come into our lives, unbidden and unexpected. We experience God in different ways because God is most fundamentally relational.

About fifteen years ago theologian and Roman Catholic nun Sandra M. Schneiders wrote a famous paper entitled, “God Is More Than Two Men and a Bird.” We may use the language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Old man, young man, the dove or the bird. But it’s just language—it hints at, or points toward, the ways in which we experience God, but it can never fully describe God.

What Nicodemus learns is that if he thinks he knows who God is and what God is all about, then he’s several cards short of a full deck. He cannot predict what the fullness of God is like from just the few cards he has. He has to be willing to let go of his fixed and unchanging ideas. He has to be willing to engage the Spirit and be surprised. We discover God in wrestling with what the Spirit brings—the very wind blows us off our secure footing.

From “Finding God in the Differences” in A Wing and a Prayer by Katharine Jefferts Schori. © 2007. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

On View: The Father's Embrace by Ruth Councell as seen in Art and Faith - A Spiritual Journey at Episcopal Church and Visual Arts

God the Trinity of Love

Daily Reading for June 4

God is Love, Lover, and Beloved.

An ancient Sufi mantra.

Our soul is a made trinity

Daily Reading for June 5

Not only are we made in his image and likeness, but the whole workings of our redemption, the way we walk in and towards God, is Trinitarian. Truth sees God, and wisdom beholds God, and of these two comes the third: that is a holy marvelous delight in God, which is love. For where truth and wisdom truly are, there too is love flowing from them both, and all is of God’s making; for he is the endless sovereign truth, endless sovereign wisdom, endless sovereign love—unmade.

And so was my understanding led by God to see in him and understand, to learn and to know of him that our soul is a made trinity, like to the unmade blessed Trinity, known and loved from without any beginning; and in the making it is oned to the Maker.

From the Revelation of Love by Julian of Norwich, quoted in Wisdom of the Cloister, compiled by John Skinner (Image Books, 1999).

Tuesday Daily Office

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, 'Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!' When he saw them, he said to them, 'Go and show yourselves to the priests.' And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, 'Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?' Then he said to him, 'Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.' Luke 17:11-19 (NRSV)

I would have thanked you but:

1.my dinner was burning

2. my kids were crying

3. my business needed me

4. I didn't have any note cards

5. I didn't want to embarrass you

6. I thought you knew

7. I was tired

8. I was so excited

9. I forgot.

From Streams of Mercy

Wednesday Daily Office

Though the cords of the wicked entangle me, *

I do not forget your law.

At midnight I will rise to give you thanks, *

because of your righteous judgments.

I am a companion of all who fear you *

and of those who keep your commandments.

The earth, O LORD, is full of your love; *

instruct me in your statutes. Psalm 119:61-64


Bound yet free
Love unties the knots


from Daily Office

God the Trinity

Daily Reading for June 7

God made a covenant with us. The word covenant means “coming together.” God wants to come together with us. In many of the stories of the Hebrew Bible, we see that God appears as a God who defends us against our enemies, protects us against dangers, and guides us to freedom. God is God-for-us.

When Jesus comes a new dimension of the covenant is revealed. In Jesus, God is born, grows to maturity, lives, suffers, and dies as we do. God is God-with-us.

Finally, when Jesus leaves he promises the Holy Spirit. In the Holy Spirit, God reveals the full depth of the covenant. God wants to be as close to us as our breath. God wants to breathe in us, so that all we say, think, and do is completely inspired by God. God is God-within-us. Thus, God’s covenant reveals to us how much God loves us.

From Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith by Henri J. M. Nouwen (HarperSanFrancisco, 1997).

Thursday Daily Office

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And 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?’ Luke 18:1-8 (nrsv)

is the widow
The Judge
knocking on the door
of my unjust heart

From Streams of Mercy

God in three persons

Daily Reading for June 8

The Fathers of the church saw an analogy of the image of God in three persons in the original nuclear family: Adam, Eve and Seth. In spite of all the problems and limitations of this analogy it allows some insights which may give us a better understanding of human relations. The human family as image of God shows us that God is the mystery of love—and a fruitful love—and that God’s Trinitarian being is not closed in on itself but is fulfilled by surrendering itself and giving itself freely out of the richness of its immanent being. Moreover, if the woman, man, and child are images of God on earth, then eternal paternity, maternity, and infancy are revealed to us in the Triune God. Femininity and infancy, then, have an assured place in the divine mystery.

From “Reflections on the Trinity” by Maria Clara Bingemer, in Through Her Eyes: Women’s Theology from Latin America, edited by Elsa Tamez (Orbis Books, 1989).

Columba of Iona

Daily Reading for June 9 • Columba, Abbot of Iona

Let me bless almighty God, whose power extends over sea and land, whose angels watch over all.
Let me study sacred books to calm my soul; I pray for peace, kneeling at heaven’s gates.
Let me do my daily work, gathering seaweed, catching fish, giving food to the poor.
Let me say my daily prayers, sometimes chanting, sometimes quiet, always thanking God.
Delightful it is to live on a peaceful isle, in a quiet cell, serving the King of kings.

A prayer of St. Columba, quoted in Holy Companions: Spiritual Practices from the Celtic Saints by Mary C. Earle and Sylvia Maddox. © 2004. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Turning to God

Daily Reading for June 10 • The Second Sunday after Pentecost

What motivates us to begin to follow the Christian path? Here we find that motives cluster around three major features of Christianity that attract many people: God’s power, goodness, and wisdom. Some people are motivated to turn to God because they seek help with various kinds of distress; others are drawn by the hope of nourishment for a hunger that nothing can satisfy; still others are attracted by the understanding of themselves and their world given by the Christian vision. Even in those cases in which one of the three motives is primary, the others may be significantly operative as well.

Throughout the ages, the most familiar motive that has led people to look to God for help is various kinds of distress. Supernatural power is sought in the face of external dangers such as diseases, storms and droughts, military invasions, and death. At a deeper level supernatural power is sought because of a destructive addiction, or as in the case of Augustine, inability to control one’s passions.

By and of itself relief from suffering does not establish that there is a God, but it is a powerful motive for belief in God. Supernatural relief has always been regarded as a reason to be committed and grateful to God. The account of the people of Israel is a witness to us—an invitation—to consider walking the path they have walked because, among other things, they have found guidance for life and relief in their distress.

From Spiritual Theology: The Theology of Yesterday for Spiritual Help Today by Diogenes Allen (Cowley Publications, 1997).

Blessed are the poor

Daily Reading for June 11 • St. Barnabas, Apostle

Is poverty abysmal or blessed? One of the most famous lines in the Gospels is Jesus’ beatitude: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). Through the ages, Christians have been puzzled by what Jesus meant.

Many people act as if death is the worst thing that can happen to one, and pain the most tragic, but they are not. More to be feared are lovelessness, apathy, self-centeredness, or dread. But in our society, so often it seems that what we fear most of all is impoverishment and its companions: exclusion, ridicule, stigma, coercion, or early death. Poverty in spirit may refer to the characteristics in which people—whether they are materially deprived or not—do not rely on material provisions for their security and sense of self. The spiritually poor may be more “totally at the disposition of the Lord.” Dealing with harsh conditions of impoverishment sometimes creates a kind of intimacy with one’s own limits that deepens the soul. It can even create joy. Kahlil Gibran’s phrase is often quoted because it is often found to resonate with people’s experience: “The deeper sorrow has carved into your being, the more joy you can contain.” So the poor in spirit are “blessed” or happy—and this blessedness has a stable core that neither ridicule nor penury can rock.

From What Can One Person Do? Faith to Heal a Broken World by Sabina Alkire and Edmund Newell. © 2005 by Church Publishing, Inc. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Embracing poverty

Daily Reading for June 12

Voluntary and involuntary poverty are interconnected. On the one hand, true “liberation” is found by voluntarily renouncing the things of this world, by accepting real suffering and utter dependence on God. For instance, Christians have often chosen to give up their possessions and to embrace poverty as a path to spiritual intimacy. The voluntary poverty of monks, nuns, and other Christians remains a powerful reminder of the spiritual liberation this state of life can bring.

Yet, on the other hand, liberation is also to be found in the good things of this life, in being freed from poverty, oppression, and disease; in becoming educated and empowered and fulfilled; in working alongside God for the coming of God’s reign.

Wealthy Christians (among others) are obliged to enable others to avoid involuntary extreme poverty. All persons, rich and poor, must also consider whether or not to seek out and embrace poverty voluntarily at a personal level. Finally all persons, including the impoverished, are to seek spiritual blessedness and union with God in any state of life—and in this regard the materially poor may be ahead of others.

From What Can One Person Do? Faith to Heal a Broken World by Sabina Alkire and Edmund Newell. © 2005 by Church Publishing, Inc. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Poverty is not sanctity

Daily Reading for June 13

Two final points need to be made to counter a sentimental understanding of poverty to which people sometimes appeal. First, poverty is not sanctity. It goes along with all moods. Depravity and viciousness are found among all; so too gentleness and prayerfulness. Second, extreme poverty is distinct from the elegant simplicity of life that many seek. It is harsh, burdensome, and not generally desirable. Yet those who live in these conditions at times flourish with amazing generosity, hospitality, and faith, and challenge our own overdependence upon material comforts and our own fear of material impoverishment. We have much to learn from them. As the theologian Dorothee Soelle writes, “From the poor of Latin America I learn their hope, their toughness, their anger, and their patience. I learn a better theology in which God is not Lord-over-us but Strength-in-us.”

From What Can One Person Do? Faith to Heal a Broken World by Sabina Alkire and Edmund Newell. © 2005 by Church Publishing, Inc. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Basil the Great

Daily Reading for June 14 • Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea, 379

A perfect illustration of Basil’s methodology is the analogy he draws between the life cycle of the caterpillar-butterfly and Paul’s teaching on the resurrection body. For most Greeks, the idea of a resurrected body made little sense philosophically, religiously, or physically. How, many wondered, could a body that had decayed be raised from the dead? How could this type of change actually take place? The mechanics of resurrection seemed an impossibility. Basil responded by encouraging his listeners to observe more closely the many creatures, such as the caterpillar, who demonstrate this kind of metamorphosis in their life cycle. The lesser surely can illustrate the greater.

From Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall (InterVarsity Press, 1998).

Plain bread

Daily Reading for June 15 • Evelyn Underhill, 1941

God gives Himself mainly along two channels: through the soul’s daily life and circumstances and through its prayer. In both that soul must always be ready for Him; wide open to receive Him, and willing to accept and absorb without fastidiousness that which is given, however distasteful and unsuitable it may seem. For the Food of Eternal Life is mostly plain bread; and though it has indeed all sweetness and all savour for those who accept it with meekness and love, there is nothing in it to attract a more fanciful religious taste. All life’s vicissitudes, each grief, trial or sacrifice, each painful step in self-knowledge, every opportunity of love or renunciation and every humiliating fall, have their place here. All give, in their various ways and disguises, the heavenly Food. A sturdy realism is the mark of this divine self-imparting, and the enabling grace of those who receive.

From Abba by Evelyn Underhill (Morehouse-Barlow, 1981).

The love of benevolence

Daily Reading for June 16 • Joseph Butler, Bishop of Durham, 1752

That which we more strictly call piety, or the love of God, and which is an essential part of a right temper, some may perhaps imagine no way connected with benevolence: yet surely they must be connected, if there be indeed in being an object infinitely good. Human nature is so constituted, that every good affection implies the love of itself; thus, to be righteous, implies in it the love of righteousness; to be benevolent, the love of benevolence; to be good, the love of goodness; whether this righteousness, benevolence, or goodness, be viewed as in our own mind, or in another’s: and the love of God as being perfectly good, is the love of perfect goodness contemplated in a being or person. Thus morality and religion, virtue and piety, will at last necessarily coincide, run up into one and the same point, and love will be in all senses ‘the end of the commandment.’

From “Sermon II: Upon Human Nature” in The Works of Bishop Butler, Volume 1, quoted in Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, compiled by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams (Oxford, 2001).

Right practice

Daily Reading for June 17 • The Third Sunday after Pentecost

I am not suggesting that anyone learn more about world religions in order to subvert them. Sacred truth is a very deep well into which human beings have been lowering leaky buckets for millennia. The more we learn about what other traditions have fetched up, the more we learn about our own. It is helpful, for instance, since Jesus was a Jew, to know that Judaism has no doctrine of original sin, and that salvation is conceived of as life lived in obedience to Torah. Heaven and hell have never been very lively concepts for most Jews, who find the Christian focus on the world to come more than a little irrelevant. The point of human life on earth, as any son or daughter of Torah can tell you, is to assist God in the redeeming of this world now.

It is also helpful to know that most eastern religions have very little to say about God at all. The Buddha taught that theological speculation is about as useful as wondering what kind of arrow has struck you in the chest. You may measure it if you want to. You may develop theories about where it came from, who shot it, and what kind of wood it is made from, but all in all your time would be better spent deciding how you are going to remove it from your body. The focus is not on orthodoxy—right belief—but on orthopraxis—right practice—which strikes me as a refreshing alternative to the heresy trials that have plagued my own denomination in recent years. Sin, in Buddhist teaching, is ignorance about the true nature of reality, and salvation is a matter of removing the arrow, or waking up.

From Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation by Barbara Brown Taylor (Cowley Publications, 2000).

Mud season

Daily Reading for June 18 • Bernard Mizeki, Catechist and Martyr in Rhodesia, 1896

The example of Jesus, and the experience of mud season, remind me of a harsher truth: to be reborn, we first must die. The way to Jerusalem lies through mud. Dying, like mud, can take many forms, but every death, in the sense I mean, is a letting go. We let go of ambition, of pride, of ego. We let go of relationships, of perfect health, of loved ones who go before us to their own deaths. We let go of insisting that the world be a certain way. Letting go of any of these things can seem the failure of every design, the loss of every cherished hope. But in letting them go, we may also let go of fear, let go our white-knuckled grip on a life that never seems to meet our expectation, let go our anguished hold on smaller selves our spirits have outgrown. We may feel at times that we have let go of life itself, only to find ourselves in a new one, freer, roomier, more joyful than we could have imagined. All of us, young and old, soon and late, find our way to the mud, the season of our terrible and certain joy. Let us bring to it all the spirit we can muster.

From Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life by Philip Simmons (Bantam Books, 2000).

Wildlife preserve

Daily Reading for June 19

Wild animals don’t have to accept themselves. They can simply be. As thinking animals, we must work to create some space for our wild natures, to give them room to roam. Whether keeping our awareness on the breath as we meditate, on our bodies’ rhythm as we run, on our sensations as we sink our hands in bread dough, our practice anchors us in our bodies, takes us further into our wild selves. With time such practice begins to open a space within us. Call it a wildlife preserve, a space where our wild selves can breathe while our judging, criticizing, worrying, doubting minds are kept safely on the other side of the fence. With practice we find ourselves living more and more inside this preserve, a place we come to recognize as our true home.

We practice wildness so that we may live more fully and constantly in the midst of anima, in the midst of soul. Wildness will not save us from misfortune. Fear, doubt, grief all lie in wait to strike and seize us as before. Only now their grip will not be so tight or last so long. In life’s thicket we will have created a clearing for our wild selves. And in that clearing, in the face of confusion and worry, in the face of failure and loss, in the face of death itself, we will lift our noses to the moon and sing.

From Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life by Philip Simmons (Bantam Books, 2000).

Washing dishes

Daily Reading for June 20

For much of my life I’ve lived contentedly by a few simple rules: don’t track mud in the house, take care of your own, help others, do as little harm as you can, change your oil every three thousand miles. But maybe enlightenment is simpler than we think. I’ve been told that religion boils down to two beliefs: first, that there is something of ultimate significance in the universe; second, that there is a way of being connected to it. Each of the world’s religions offers a distinct way of connecting, and each of us must find his or her own way in to ultimate significance. Prayer, meditation, and selfless service are all honored methods. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has taught me that, if done right, washing dishes can serve as well.

From Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life by Philip Simmons (Bantam Books, 2000).

Speak out of love

Daily Reading for June 21

I have on my office door these words from an accomplished Indian yogi: “Before speaking, consider whether it is an improvement upon silence.” The man who wrote them once went nineteen years without speaking, setting a standard I can’t hope to meet. Yet his words remind me that when we do speak, we must speak truth. Even more important, because truth so often eludes us, we must speak in kindness. In fact, we might amend the yogi’s saying to read, “Before speaking, consider whether you speak out of love.” If we could learn always to speak out of love, we could change everything.

From Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life by Philip Simmons (Bantam Books, 2000).

The vessel of character

Daily Reading for June 22 • Alban, First Martyr of Britain, c. 304

What’s needed is a structure for our spiritual life, some container to keep our growing awareness from dribbling away. As John Tarrant writes, in The Light Inside the Dark, “Everything new needs to be held, needs a place into which it can be born.” The name of this container is “character,” he writes. Character, Tarrant says, is the vessel in which to hold “our swirling selves.” We do not have a say in all that befalls us, but we do have a say in the shape of our own character.

In our daily work, in our roles as caregivers and providers, in our manner of receiving gifts and good works of others, we can be disciplined or not, mindful or not, responsible and responsive or not, but always our actions both shape and are shaped by the vessel of character. And traditionally, religious faith and spiritual practice are thought to strengthen this vessel, creating a sound container for our developing relationship to mystery, suffering, and the Divine. Life throws things at us that we cannot predict and cannot control. What we can control is who we are along the way.

From Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life by Philip Simmons (Bantam Books, 2000).

Living at the edge

Daily Reading for June 23

This experience of living at the edge is not so extraordinary as it may sound. We have all had it. Perhaps you have sat with someone who was near death, and found yourself drawn into her inner radiance, into a place where pain and fear give way before a lucid awareness of the nearness of life’s source. Or perhaps you have listened to a friend who has just lost a loved on, and heard in his voice, through the grief and exhaustion, a wondrous and wondering connection to life’s deepest levels. Perhaps you have had it while giving birth or witnessing a birth, when we seem to rise out of our bodies and become winged things, hovering over all we love. Or you have had it in those ordinary moments, when watching a child butter a slice of bread or a crow settle in a field, and suddenly nothing else matters and you fell like removing your shoes and bowing down.

We all have within us this capacity for wonder, this ability to break the bonds of ordinary awareness and sense that though our lives are fleeting and transitory, we are part of something larger, eternal and unchanging.

From Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life by Philip Simmons (Bantam Books, 2000).

Genuinely human

Daily Reading for June 24 • The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Once we owned a cat named Nora who seemed to have set up shop at a middling level on the ascent to God. Placid and fat, Nora spent her mornings lying in a pool of sunlight near the back door, and sometimes she gazed into the distance as if she were seeing something of great importance hidden from the rest of us. Then she would pad away from the door to dip water from the toilet or present us with a hair ball. For these reasons I decided that Nora had arrived at the feline equivalent of the illuminative way. The chief characteristic of the illuminative way is a heightened awareness of God’s presence which comes about as the capacities of one’s personality come habitually to be directed toward what is most real and genuinely human.

From From Image to Likeness: The Christian Journey into God by William A. Simpson (Continuum, 1997).

Arriving in the desert

Daily Reading for June 25 • The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

To the biblical mind the wilderness is a holy place in which one may enter into communion with God. It is a place where one can clearly sense God’s sustenance, and, more importantly, it is a place where one learns to turn habitually toward God. We may arrive in the desert by different paths. We may journey there of our own accord, or we may be led there by the hidden work of the Holy Spirit. Once we arrive, however, the geography is the same. The clear and penetrating light of the desert requires that we remove the layers of fear and pretense we thought we needed in the land of unlikeness and recognize these as the unnecessary baggage they are. Now is the time for honesty. The desert demands that we discover who we really are and that we persevere in this knowledge. There is, in short, only one rule for the desert pilgrim: God created you in his image, seek his likeness.

From From Image to Likeness: The Christian Journey into God by William A. Simpson (Continuum, 1997).

Desert solitude

Daily Reading for June 26

Solitude is one of the defining features of the wilderness. When one is alone with God two distinct opportunities emerge. In the first place, one can be more attentive to the work of the Holy Spirit inside when freed a while from competing, outside concerns. Oftentimes, God chooses to be subtle, and his subtle activity can go unnoticed if one’s world is full of jabbering televisions or idle chatter. In solitude one comes to know God as an engaging, and often witty, companion on the day’s journey rather than as an occasionally-glimpsed, stern presence. In this way, solitude often has a unique sweetness and beauty.

As one passes through the wilderness on the way back to God, one discovers a new depth and efficaciousness at prayer. Previously one might have thought that prayer consisted in saying things to God and that it trafficked only in words and mental images. In the desert the words and images fall away, and one is left with a simple awareness of God’s presence. The subtle presence of God is as palpable as that of a friend or lover, and yet one does not see God. Rather, it is as though for a moment in the corner of one’s eye one glimpses God passing. One feels caught up in God’s presence and transformed by it.

From From Image to Likeness: The Christian Journey into God by William A. Simpson (Continuum, 1997).

Keeping vigil

Daily Reading for June 27

Another of the standard tools of the desert is the vigil. Keeping a vigil consists in changing one’s pattern of sleeping and using tiredness or the stillness of the night to foster a quiet attentiveness to God’s presence. The Christian tradition recommends vigils to those who are discouraged or in danger of giving up on the journey back to God. A vigil is an exercise in hope. Simply doing it is an act of faith, and where there is faith love and hope are also present. By waiting one hopes, and in hoping one loves.

Recently, I discovered a new way of keeping a vigil. Sometimes before dawn I drive up Lookout Mountain and sit with my back to a cold rock to watch the sun rise over Denver. At first, I sit in the dark watching a lake of lights shimmer all the way out to the horizon. Then a thin line of blue sky appears in the east. Sometimes I notice a herd of deer grazing below me in the half-light. The sun abruptly breaks over the horizon. The deer pause a moment and look back toward it sensing the first touch of its warmth, and I notice that my hand casts a shadow. I am substantial again and ready to return home for a bowl of cereal and a cup of coffee.

From From Image to Likeness: The Christian Journey into God by William A. Simpson (Continuum, 1997).

The church's book

Daily Reading for June 28 • Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, c. 202

The awareness of the communal nature of exegesis was particularly highlighted in the early church’s encounter with the Gnostics, hermeneutical lone rangers who claimed to have received in secret both revelation and interpretive insight. Irenaeus, the Gnostics’ great opponent, rejected the possibility of secret revelation and interpretation because the meaning of Jesus and the narrative leading up to his coming can only be discovered and explained in the community he founded, the community whose very existence culminates the biblical narrative’s plot structure. In effect, as Robert Jenson explains, “It is the church that knows the plot and dramatis personae of the scripture narrative, since the church is one continuous community with the story’s actors and narrators, as with its tradents, authors, and assemblers.”

For the fathers, then, hermeneutics is not an objective science that can be practiced by any scholar within any context. Rather hermeneutics in Christ becomes a spiritual, communal, interpretive art. It can be safely, wisely, and fruitfully exercised only by those whose minds and hearts have been soaked in and shaped by the gospel itself—within the Christian community’s reflection, devotion, and worship.

From Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall (InterVarsity Press, 1998).

Gospel agenda

Daily Reading for June 29 • St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles

Debate within the church about who is eligible to be “in” and who must be excluded is nothing new. It was a main feature even of the very first years after Christ. That first debate was so long ago, and so decisively settled, that it is hard to realize today just how difficult a question it really was: Can Gentiles be included in the Christian church?

The argument that Gentiles should follow the law, from what seemed to be a clear and unquestionably correct reading of Scripture, could have appeared unassailable, except that it was met by the experience of the working Holy Spirit in the midst of this new community of faith. Jewish Christians spoke up on behalf of the Gentile Christians, speaking about what they had seen in their lives. They had seen evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the Gentile believers, just as they had seen it in their own. After much personal internal struggle, the apostle Peter baptized Gentile believers without requiring them to first be circumcised. When challenged about this, he defended his actions in this way: “If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”

Now it is time for me, as a straight person, to speak up. I can bear witness, like Peter, to seeing the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those whom the church has traditionally said were “unclean” and “unfit” for consideration as members of Christ’s body. I can bear witness to seeing and experiencing in my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters lives of repentance, forgiveness, and transformation through Jesus. It is up to you, and to me, to be like Peter and not hinder God but to welcome God’s grace in the lives of others.

From “The Gospel Agenda” by Susan Buchanan, in Episcopal Life / New Hampshire Episcopal News (October 2006).

Faiths of the
founding fathers

Daily Reading for July 1 • The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

To discuss the religion of the founding fathers means to discuss religion in the United States of their time. Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe were born and baptized in what Virginians of the time called “the Church,” “the Church of England,” “the Established Church,” or “the Church of Virginia.” The independence of the thirteen colonies from the mother country prompted the American members of the Church of England to discard the word “England.” In its place they adopted the term “Episcopal” (essentially meaning “we have bishops”) and named their denomination “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.” The name “Episcopal” traced back to the tumultuous Commonwealth period in English history, when clergy and laity who desired continued rule by bishops employed that term for themselves.

This church provided the religious background out of which Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe—as well as such founding fathers as Patrick Henry, George Mason, and George Wythe—emerged. The earliest religious memories of these men would have revolved around the wood or brick church their families attended on Sundays. Most of their fathers would have served as vestrymen of their parishes. In due time, the founding fathers would have assumed the same position. The parish priest—or parson—would have been a familiar figure to them, and they would have received much of their early education at academies run by Anglican clergy. The words and cadences of the Book of Common Prayer ran in their blood.

From The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Deist influences
in the colonies

Daily Reading for July 2

Continuing to belong to the Episcopal Church even when at variance with some of its central doctrines did not seem to discomfort the Deistically inclined founders such as Jefferson, for they liked its liturgy and the historic cadences of its language. The Anglican faith of Virginia differed from the New England Puritanism out of which Adams and Franklin emerged. Both Adams and Franklin changed their religious views and embraced a form of Deism. So, too, did Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. But all of these men, except Franklin, continued to worship at least occasionally in the church of their ancestors—and their wives and daughters were usually devout supporters of it. The Virginia founding fathers married under the church’s auspices, consigned their children to its care, and were buried by its clergy. The impress of their religious background remained strong, even though their questioning of certain of their church’s fundamental doctrines led them to Deism.

During the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, Deism had adherents throughout continental Europe, the British Isles, and the American colonies. Because it was guided by individual reason, the movement was neither organized nor uniform. Thus some Deists renounced Christian belief more thoroughly than others. “The Deists,” an American clergyman wrote, “were never organized into a sect, had no creed or form of worship, recognized no leader, and were constantly shifting their ground. . . so that it is impossible to include them strictly under any definition.” The cleric went on to attempt “as near a definition as possible”: “Deism is what is left of Christianity after casting off everything that is peculiar to it. The Deist is one who denies the Divinity, the Incarnation, and the Atonement of Christ, and the work of the Holy Ghost; who denies the God of Israel, and believes in the God of nature.”

From The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes (Oxford University Press, 2006).

More on the faiths of the founding fathers

Daily Reading for July 3

Regardless of where they fell on the Deist spectrum, many Deists continued to respect the moral teachings of Jesus without believing in his divine status. But the tendency of Deism was to emphasize ethical endeavors—hence the concern of most Deists for social justice and their profound opposition to all forms of tyranny. In addition, they replaced the Judeo-Christian explanation of existence with a religion far more oriented to reason and nature than to the Hebrew Bible, Christian Testament, and Christian creeds. In the understanding of the typical Deist, a rational “Supreme Architect”—one of a variety of terms Deists used for the deity—created the earth and human life. This omnipotent and unchangeable creator then withdrew to let events take their course on earth without further interference.

Just as a ticking watch presupposes a watchmaker, so Deists thought that the rational, mechanistic harmony of nature revealed a deity. The Deistic view of nature was so high that men such as Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine could write of it as God’s revelation. “There is a word of God,” Paine declared, “there is a revelation. The word of God is the creation we behold.”

From The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Independence Day

Daily Reading for July 4 • Independence Day

In place of the Hebrew God, Deists postulated a distant deity to whom they referred with terms such as “the First Cause,” “the Creator of the Universe,” “the Divine Artist,” “the Divine Author of All Good,” “the Grand Architect,” “the God of Nature,” “Nature’s God,” “Divine Providence,” and (in a phrase used by Benjamin Franklin) “the Author and Owner of our System.” The Declaration of Independence displays precisely this kind of wording and sense of a distant deity. In its 1,323 words, the Declaration speaks of “Nature’s God,” “Creator,” “Supreme Judge,” and “divine Providence.”

Thus Deism inevitably undermined the personal religion of the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the worldview of the typical Deist, humans had no need to read the Bible, to pray, to be baptized or circumcised, to receive Holy Communion, to attend church or synagogue, or to heed the words or ministrations of misguided priests, ministers, or rabbis. Many Deists criticized not only the Judeo-Christian tradition but also all organized religion for fostering divisive sectarianism, for encouraging persecution, and for stifling freedom of thought and speech throughout history. Their fundamental belief in reason and equality drove them to embrace liberal political ideals. In the eighteenth century, many Deists advocated universal education, freedom of the press, and separation of church and state. These principles are commonplace in the twenty-first century, but they were radical in the eighteenth.

From The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes (Oxford University Press, 2006).

The beliefs of Benjamin Franklin

Daily Reading for July 5

Five weeks before his death, when he received an inquiry about his religious beliefs from a Congregationalist minister who was president of Yale College, Benjamin Franklin replied: “Here is my Creed: I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe: That he governs the World by his Providence. That he ought to be worshiped. That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing good to his other Children. That the Soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another life, respecting its Conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental Principles of all sound Religion.”

Morality remained primary for Franklin even as he approached death. Jesus had established the best system of morals and religion in the history of the world, Franklin continued, though Christianity itself had undergone some corrupting changes since the time of Jesus. He concluded: “I have . . . some Doubts as to his Divinity, tho’ it is a Question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, & think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble.”

Late in the evening of April 17, 1790, Franklin died with a picture of the Day of Judgment by his bedside. Almost twenty thousand citizens observed his solemn funeral procession in Philadelphia. At the front of the cortege marched “the clergymen of the city, all of them, of every faith.” He was buried in the cemetery of Christ Church.

From The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes (Oxford University Press, 2006).

The beliefs of John Adams

Daily Reading for July 6

“The Christian religion, as I understand it,” John Adams declared to Benjamin Rush in 1810, “is the brightness of the glory and the express portrait of the eternal, self-existent independent, benevolent, all-powerful and all-merciful Creator, Preserver and Father of the Universe. . . . Neither savage nor civilized man without a revelation could ever have discovered or invented it.”

Like other Deists, however, Adams substituted a simpler, less mysterious form of Christianity for the Christianity he had inherited. Reading and reflection caused him to discard such beliefs as the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, total depravity, and predestination. God, he declared, “has given us Reason, to find out the Truth, and the real Design and true End of our Existence.” Thus he asserted that humans should study nature and use reason to learn about God and his creation.

Above all, Adams opposed religious oppression and narrow-mindedness. All of this displays the blend of Unitarian Christianity and rational thought that was the religion of John Adams. Like many of his contemporaries, he brought the religion in which he was raised into the court of his reason and common sense and judged it by what he found.

From The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes (Oxford University Press, 2006).

The beliefs of Thomas Jefferson

Daily Reading for July 7

Thomas Jefferson came to believe that the combined effect of power-hungry monarchs and corrupt “priests” had despoiled the original, pristine teachings of Jesus. But beneath these corruptions—which he labeled with such words as “nonsense,” “dross,” “rags,” “distortions,” and “abracadabra”—Jefferson came to believe there lay a fulcrum of eternal truth. In 1803, he wrote to Benjamin Rush: “To the corruptions of Christianity I am, indeed, opposed, but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian in the only sense in which I believe Jesus wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other.”

Jefferson disagreed with the Galilean on some matters: “It is not to be understood that I am with him in all his doctrines. I am a Materialist; he takes the side of Spiritualism; he preaches the efficacy of repentance towards forgiveness of sin, I require a counter-poise of good works to redeem it.” Having disagreed with Jesus, Jefferson then indicated what he admired about Jesus: “It is the innocence of his character, the purity and sublimity of his moral precepts, the eloquence of his inculcation, the beauty of his apologues in which he conveys them, that I so much admire. . . . Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence.”

In some famous correspondence with a Unitarian minister, Jefferson predicted that Unitarianism would soon sweep the nation: “I rejoice that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its creed and conscience to neither kings nor priests, the genuine doctrine of only one God is reviving, and I trust there is not a young man now living who will not die an Unitarian.”

From The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes (Oxford University Press, 2006).

The Rule of St. Benedict

Daily Reading for July 9

The Rule of St Benedict, written in sixth-century Italy, became the most influential monastic guide in the Western Church. In the period from the sixth to the tenth centuries it gradually replaced other traditions. While the Rule of St Benedict is characterized by relative moderation, urbanity, and balance, it nevertheless presupposes a life of withdrawal from the outside world. The outward-looking ethos of the Augustinian tradition is largely absent although hospitality to strangers (who are to be received as Christ) is a major injunction. Listening and obedience (both to God and to the spiritual master, the abbot) are intertwined. In the many respects the Rule contrasts with the Rule of St Augustine in its hierarchical stance (although fraternal charity is mentioned later in the Rule). The God of the Rule is an awesome figure and the abbot, who stands “in the place of Christ,” is a ruler rather than “first among equals.” The Rule is also detailed and programmatic rather than a collection of spiritual wisdom.

Its popularity is partly explained by a well-organized structure and the priority given to good order. However, its spiritual success also relates to a healthy balance of work, prayer, and rest and the creative tension between the values of the individual spiritual journey and of common life under the authority of an abbot. The central task of the monk is common prayer or the opus Dei supplemented by personal meditation, spiritual reading (lectio), and manual work. Apart from its emphasis on obedience and on humility as the primary image of spiritual progress, the Rule also teaches the complementary spiritual values of stability (faithfulness expressed by staying in the monastery until death) and the virtually untranslatable concept of conversation morum (literally “conversion of manners”). This stands for an overall commitment to a monastic lifestyle including deep conversion and spiritual development throughout life.

From A Brief History of Spirituality by Philip Sheldrake (Blackwell Publishing, 2007).

Monday Daily Office

After some time had passed, the religious authorities plotted to
kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the
gates day and night so that they might kill him; but his disciples
took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall,
lowering him in a basket. Acts 8:23-25

Basket of reeds
hanging ready
woven strong
to cradle a man
escaping to life
sister to a basket
in Egypt
floating an infant
to safety



From Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible

A homely Rule

Daily Reading for July 10

The Rule of St. Benedict has a special way of viewing the patterns and dynamics of Christian life. The whole orientation of the Rule is to the principle that God is everywhere, all the time, and thus every element of our ordinary day is potentially holy. Very few of us believe that and/or act on it. Benedict urges us both so to believe and so to act. It is an enormous challenge, involving life-long response, and yet it is very simple and can be begun at this moment. Because the Rule is so “homely”, so oriented to the opportunities of daily life as grist for the mill of Christian consecration, it has a great deal to say which is directly helpful to a Christian lay person, struggling to live the Christian life even in our contemporary, secular world.

From Preferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary and Workbook on the Rule of St. Benedict by Norvene Vest (Source Books, 1990).

Benedict of Nursia

Daily Reading for July 11 • Benedict of Nursia

This, then, is the good zeal,
which monks must foster with fervent love:
They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other,
supporting with the greatest patience
one another’s weaknesses of body or behaviour,
and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.
No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself,
but instead, what he judges better for someone else.
To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers;
to God, loving fear;
to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love.
Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ,
and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.

From The Rule of St. Benedict, quoted in Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal (Liturgical Press, 1984).

Balance and harmony

Daily Reading for July 12

Balance, proportion, harmony are so central, they so underpin everything else in the Rule, that without them the whole Benedictine approach to the individual and to the community loses its keystone. This is something which speaks to us very immediately in the later twentieth century. The search for personal fulfillment has become something of a fetish in our society today, and yet we complicate our search by at the same time admiring expertise, specialization, professionalization. Total success in one particular area commands great respect. We ask our children early in life to make choices between subjects they intend to master. We acknowledge the superiority of a lifetime devoted to one highly esoteric form of research. It could be valuable to ask ourselves what we are losing, and to set ourselves the task of discovering if we could not, without being impossibly romantic or escapist about it, attempt to become more fully, more totally human, by recognizing that all the elements in our make-up are God-given and are equally worthy of respect. It is the interrelationship of body, mind, and spirit that now eludes us. Yet St Benedict insisted that since body, mind and spirit together make up the whole person the daily pattern of life in the monastery should involve time for prayer, time for study and time for manual work. All three should command respect and all three should equally become a way to God.

From Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal (Liturgical Press, 1984).

A wise latitude

Daily Reading for July 13

The Rule can be appreciated for various aspects, but one that particularly appeals to me is its wise latitude in the way it encourages us monks to walk in the footsteps of the Gospel. The Rule tacitly acknowledges a certain pluralism, making general points instead of specific ones about many observances, allowing for creativity and improvement, where this is possible. The Rule is not limited to its original place and time; like the Gospels, from which it draws its inspiration, it has wisdom as alive and full of meaningful implications today as it was at the time the Rule was composed.

The Rule prescribes an equal distribution of time among prayer, sacred reading and intellectual work, manual work, and rest, thus bringing into balance all the activities of the monastic day. Saint Benedict was a genius in establishing through the Rule a way of life where the seasons of the earth, with their sequences of darkness and light, and the seasons of the Christian liturgy come into harmonious consonance, thus giving a dynamic balance and a healing rhythm to the monk’s daily life.

From A Monastic Year by Brother Victor-Antoine, quoted in Wisdom of the Cloister: A Monastic Reader, edited by John Skinner (Image Books, 1999).

Jane R has a fine post on Benedict and Scholastica at Act of Hope today.

With empty hands

Daily Reading for July 14

There can be no more role-playing for those who attempt to follow the rule of St Benedict, no more hiding behind a mask. We stand daily before God with empty hands, just like the publican. “Suspice me, accept me O Lord as you have promised and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope.” These are the words the novice says on entering the community. They are words that I come back to, time and again, as a prayer for myself. They mean more now that I have learnt that the Latin words comes from the verb sub-capere, to take underneath and so with the idea of supporting, raising, and that in Roman usage it was the word for a father taking up a new-born infant from the ground and thus recognizing it as his own. The implication here then becomes one of acceptance and thus of survival.

So when I say suspice me it conveys the full depth and warmth of that word. Accept me, receive me, support me, raise me up—wonderful singing words that say everything that I want to say as a prayer for myself. They are words that I understand at one level today, as I say them now, and as I present myself today before God. But they are also like some Eastern koan in which the full mystery of what I am saying will only gradually unfold and grow as my own fortune opens up before me.

For the self that I present full face to God is not anything static. If I ask God to accept me as I am now, in the present, I am also able to receive whatever he has in store for me in the future. If I really hand myself over, making an act of personal surrender, asking God to accept me just as I am now, open, vulnerable, powerless, then I shall also be able to receive whatever he has in store for me in the future.

From Living With Contradiction: Reflections on the Rule of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal (Harper and Row, 1989).

Commonplace mysteries

Daily Reading for July 15 • The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

It is a quotidian mystery that dailiness can lead to despair and yet also be at the core of our salvation. We express this every time we utter the Lord’s Prayer. As Simone Weil so eloquently stated it in her essay, “Concerning the Our Father,” the “bread of this world” is all that nourishes and energizes us, not only food but the love of friends and family, “money, ambition, consideration...power...everything that puts into us the capacity for action.” She reminds us that we need to keep praying for this food, acknowledging our needs as daily, because in the act of asking, the prayer awakens in us the trust that God will provide. But, like the manna that God provided to Israel in the desert, this “bread” cannot be stored. Each day brings with it not only the necessity of eating but the renewal of our love of and in God. This may sound like a simple thing, but it is not easy to maintain faith, hope or love in the everyday. I wonder if this is because human pride, and particularly a preoccupation with intellectual, artistic or spiritual matters, can provide a convenient way to ignore our ordinary, daily, bodily needs.

From The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work” by Kathleen Norris (Paulist Press, 1998).

Starting where we are

Daily Reading for July 16

As a human being, Jesus Christ was as subject to the daily as any of us. And I see both the miracle of the manna and incarnation of Jesus Christ as scandals. They suggest that God is intimately concerned with our very bodies and their needs, and I doubt that this is really what we want to hear. Our bodies fail us, they grow old, flabby and feeble, and eventually they lead us to the cross. How tempting it is to disdain what God has created, and to retreat into a comfortable Gnosticism. The Christian perspective views the human body as our God-given means to salvation, for beyond the cross God has effected resurrection.

We want life to have meaning, we want fulfillment, healing and even ecstasy, but the human paradox is that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we wish we were. We must look for blessings to come from unlikely, everyday places—out of Galilee, as it were—and not in spectacular events, such as the coming of a comet. The best poetic images, while they resonate with possibilities for transformation, are resolutely concrete, specific, incarnational. Concepts such as wonder, or even holiness, are not talked about so much as presented for the reader’s contemplation.

From The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and “Women’s Work” by Kathleen Norris (Paulist Press, 1998).

Guardians of the faith

Daily Reading for July 17 • William White, Bishop of Pennsylvania, 1836

This [1985] Convention has special significance, for this is the month in which we celebrate the bicentenary of the first General Convention. That small gathering in Philadelphia in September 1785 met when the very survival of Anglicanism was in doubt. Amid the turmoil of revolution, the old Church of England in the American colonies had been shattered, and many of its clergy had fled. The Philadelphia Convention was composed of clergy and laity who had supported the revolutionary cause. They set to work to fashion an independent church in an independent nation. Led by the brilliant young William White of Pennsylvania, they sought to re-form the Church with the democratic ideas of their new republic. So, in the ‘Philadelphia plan’ the Episcopal Church was to be independent of any outside authority and responsible for its own doctrine, canons and liturgy. The dioceses were to be federated under the triennial general convention. Bishops were to be elected officers working under a constitution, and the laity were to have equal voice with the clergy.

It was a scheme which accorded well with the aspirations of the independent United States, and its basic wisdom has been shown by the way it has become a model for other independent Anglican churches. But it was right for Samuel Seabury of Connecticut, then the only American bishop, to sound a word of warning. He refused to attend the Convention until the authority of bishops as guardians of the faith of the whole Catholic Church had been safeguarded. He feared that Enlightenment philosophy might separate the Convention from the body of Catholic Christianity.

When the Convention began to revise the wording of the creeds his worst fears were fulfilled, and there was danger of two Episcopal Churches. You will not mind my reminding you that the tension was eased by the counsel of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The changes in the creeds were withdrawn and in 1786 William White and Samuel Prevoost were consecrated bishops in the chapel of Lambeth Palace. A sound Anglican compromise was reached by the creation of a separate House of Bishops in the General Convention of 1789.

From “A New Presiding Bishop” in One Light for One World by Robert Runcie (SPCK, 1988).

Harriet Ross Tubman

Daily Reading for July 18

I looked at my hands, to see if I was the same person now I was free. There was such a glory over everything, the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in heaven. I had crossed the line of which I had so long been dreaming. I was free; but there was no one to welcome me to the land of freedom, I was a stranger in a strange land, and my home after all was down in the old cabin quarter, with the old folks, and my brothers and sisters. But to this solemn resolution I came: I was free, and they should be free also; I would make a home for them in the North, and the Lord helping me, I would bring them all there. Oh, how I prayed then, lying all alone of the cold, damp ground; “Oh, dear Lord,” I said, “I ain’t got no friend but you. Come to my help, Lord, for I’m in trouble!”

From a story by Harriet Ross Tubman, the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. Quoted in A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

One human family

Daily Reading for July 19

Among the many important questions which have been brought before the public, there is none that more vitally affects the whole human family than that which is technically called Woman’s Rights....The world waits the coming of some new element, some purifying power, some spirit of mercy and love. The voice of woman has been silenced in the state, the church, and the home, but man cannot fulfill his destiny alone, he cannot redeem his race unaided. There are deep and tender chords of sympathy and love in the heart of the down-fallen and oppressed that woman can touch more skillfully than man. . . God, in his wisdom has so linked the whole human family together that any violence done at one end of the chain is felt throughout its length, and here, too, is the law of restoration, as in woman all have fallen, so in her elevation shall the race be recreated.

From Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s first public address to the First Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York, on July 19, 1848. Quoted in A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Speaking for women's rights

Daily Reading for July 20 • Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Ross Tubman

Unfortunately, her name is forever associated with a type of woman’s undergarment, but Amelia Bloomer was actually a distinguished writer, publisher, and social reformer and a pioneer in the woman’s suffrage movement. She was also devoted to her church. When she moved to Cedar Bluffs, Iowa, she helped organize an Episcopal congregation in the community and entertained visiting missionaries in her home. She took it for granted that God was at work in the causes she espoused, writing, “The same power that brought the slave out of bondage will, in His own good time and way, bring about the emancipation of women, and make her the equal in power and dominion that she was in the beginning.”

Bloomer became an articulate speaker for women’s rights. Using her magazine Lily as a vehicle, she wrote that women ought to be admitted to institutions of higher learning, that they should own property and receive paychecks in their own name, and that the law should do more to protect victims of abuse. She even produced a woman’s Bible to challenge patriarchal views.

And, yes, she did advocate less restrictive clothing. The whalebone, tight-laced corsets, and voluminous skirts then fashionable restricted movement and injured health. Dressing like this made women, in Bloomer’s words, “unpaid street sweepers.” She didn’t invent the garment that was given her name, but Bloomer did popularize it. She gave up wearing bloomers herself after eight years, though, because she felt they detracted attention from issues that mattered more.

From “Amelia Bloomer” in A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Sojourner Truth

Daily Reading for July 21

Born black and female at the end of the 18th century, Isabella Baumfree had two strikes against her—but only two. To balance the account, she stood six feet tall and had a commanding voice and personality. She used these assets to preach the gospel and for other causes as well. She preached “God’s truth and plan for salvation” in Long Island and Connecticut and arrived in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she met and worked with such abolitionists as William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and Olive Gilbert. Later she went to Washington, met President Lincoln, and spoke before Congress. She spoke about abolition and woman’s suffrage as well as her own experience of slavery. She is best remembered for a speech she gave at a women’s rights conference when she noticed that no one was addressing the rights of black women.

“Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped over carriages, and lifted ober ditches and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody eber helps me into carriages, or ober muddpuddles, or bigs me any best place. And ain’t I a woman? Look at me. Looka at me arm. I have ploughes and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman.”

From “Sojourner Truth (Isabella Baumfree),” in A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Become fully human

Daily Reading for July 22 • The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

After saying this, the Blessed One greeted them all, saying: “Peace be with you—may my Peace arise and be fulfilled within you! Be vigilant, and allow no one to mislead you by saying: ‘Here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For it is within you that the Son of Man dwells. Go to him, for those who seek him, find him. Walk forth, and announce the gospel of the Kingdom.” Having said this, he departed.

The disciples were in sorrow, shedding many tears, and saying: “How are we to go among the unbelievers and announce the gospel of the Kingdom of the Son of Man? They did not spare his life, so why should they spare ours?”

Then Mary arose, embraced them all, and began to speak to her brothers: “Do not remain in sorrow and doubt, for his Grace will guide you and comfort you. Instead, let us praise his greatness, for he has prepared us for this. He is calling upon us to become fully human [Anthropos].” Thus Mary turned their hearts toward the Good, and they began to discuss the meaning of the Teacher’s words.

From The Gospel of Mary Magdelene. Translation from the Coptic and Commentary by Jean-Yves Leloup (Inner Traditions, 2002).

Mary Magdelene

Daily Reading for July 23 • St. Mary Magdalene

Having said all this, Mary became silent, for it was in silence that the Teacher spoke to her. Then Andrew began to speak, and said to his brothers: “Tell me, what do you think of these things she has been telling us? As for me, I do not believe that the Teacher would speak like this. These ideas are too different from those we have known.” And Peter added: “How is it possible that the Teacher talked in this manner with a woman about secrets of which we ourselves are ignorant? Must we change our customs, and listen to this woman? Did he really choose her, and prefer her to us?”

Then Mary wept, and answered him: “My brother Peter, what can you be thinking? Do you believe that this is just my own imagination, that I invented this vision? Or do you believe that I would lie about our Teacher?”

At this, Levi spoke up: “Peter, you have always been hot-tempered, and now we see you repudiating a woman, just as our adversaries do. Yet if the Teacher held her worthy, who are you to reject her? Surely the Teacher knew her very well, for he loved her more than us. Therefore let us atone, and become fully human [Anthropos], so that the Teacher can take root in us. Let us grow as he demanded of us, and walk forth to spread the gospel, without trying to lay down any rules and laws other than those he witnessed.” When Levi had said these words, they all went forth to spread the gospel.

From The Gospel of Mary Magdelene. Translation from the Coptic and Commentary by Jean-Yves Leloup (Inner Traditions, 2002).

A mirror of life

Daily Reading for July 24 • Thomas à Kempis, Priest, 1471

If your heart be right, then every created thing will become for you a mirror of life and a book of holy teaching. For there is nothing created so small and mean that it does not reflect the goodness of God.

Were you inwardly good and pure, you would see and understand all things clearly and without difficulty. A pure heart penetrates both heaven and hell. As each man is in himself, so does he judge outward things. If there is any joy to be had in this world, the pure in heart most surely possess it; and if there is trouble and distress anywhere, the evil conscience most readily experiences it. Just as iron, when plunged into fire, loses its rust and becomes bright and glowing, so the man who trusts himself wholly to God loses his sloth and becomes transformed into a new creature.

From The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, translated by Leo Sherley-Price (Penguin 1952).

St. James the Apostle

Daily Reading for July 25 • St. James the Apostle

The next martyr we meet with, according to St. Luke, in the History of the Apostles’ Acts, was James the son of Zebedee, the elder brother of John, and a relative of our Lord; for his mother Salome was cousin-german to the Virgin Mary. It was not until ten years after the death of Stephen that the second martyrdom took place; for no sooner had Herod Agrippa been appointed governor of Judea, than, with a view to ingratiate himself with them, he raised a sharp persecution against the Christians, and determined to make an effectual blow, by striking at their leaders. The account given us by an eminent primitive writer, Clemens Alexandrinus, ought not to be overlooked; that, as James was led to the place of martyrdom, his accuser was brought to repent of his conduct by the apostle’s extraordinary courage and undauntedness, and fell down at this feet to request his pardon, professing himself a Christian, and resolving that James should not receive the crown of martyrdom alone. Hence they were both beheaded at the same time. Thus did the first apostolic martyr cheerfully and resolutely receive that cup, which he had told our Savior he was ready to drink. These events took place A.D. 44.

From Fox’s Book of Martyrs (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1926).

Mary's parents

Daily Reading for July 26 • Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The blessed and glorious ever-virgin Mary, sprung from the royal stock and family of David, born in the city of Nazareth, was brought up at Jerusalem in the temple of the Lord. Her father was named Joachim, and her mother Anna. Her father's house was from Galilee and the city of Nazareth, but her mother's family from Bethlehem. Their life was guileless and right before the Lord, and irreproachable and pious before men. For they divided all their substance into three parts. One part they spent upon the temple and the temple servants; another they distributed to strangers and the poor; the third they reserved, for themselves and the necessities of their family. Thus, dear to God, kind to men, for about twenty years they lived in their own house, a chaste married life, without having any children. Nevertheless they vowed that, should the Lord happen to give them offspring, they would deliver it to the service of the Lord; on which account also they used to visit the temple of the Lord at each of the feasts during the year....

Now, when Joachim had been at the temple for some time, on a certain day when he was alone, an angel of the Lord stood by him in a great light. And when he was disturbed at his appearance, the angel who had appeared to him restrained his fear, saying: Fear not, Joachim, nor be disturbed by my appearance; for I am the angel of the Lord, sent by Him to you to tell you that your prayers have been heard, and that your charitable deeds have gone up into His presence. . . . Conceptions very late in life, and births in the case of women that have been barren, are usually attended with something wonderful. Accordingly your wife Anna will bring forth a daughter to you, and you shall call her name Mary: she shall be, as you have vowed, consecrated to the Lord from her infancy, and she shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from her mother's womb. She shall neither eat nor drink any unclean thing, nor shall she spend her life among the crowds of the people without, but in the temple of the Lord, that it may not be possible either to say, or so much as to suspect, any evil concerning her. Therefore, when she has grown up, just as she herself shall be miraculously born of a barren woman, so in an incomparable manner she, a virgin, shall bring forth the Son of the Most High, who shall be called Jesus, and who, according to the etymology of His name, shall be the Saviour of all nations. And this shall be the sign to you of those things which I announce: When you shall come to the Golden gate in Jerusalem, you shall there meet Anna your wife, who, lately anxious from the delay of your return, will then rejoice at the sight of you. Having thus spoken, the angel departed from him.

From the apocryphal Gospel of the Nativity of Mary.

A more flexible Prayer Book

Daily Reading for July 27 • William Reed Huntington, Priest, 1909

Three years later at the 1880 Convention, the persistent Dr. Huntington tried again. He proposed a joint committee to consider “whether in view of the fact that this Church is soon to enter upon the second century of its organized existence in this country, the changed conditions of national life do not demand certain alterations in the Book of Common Prayer, in the direction of Liturgical enrichment and increased flexibility of use.” A joint committee, consisting of seven bishops, seven presbyters, and seven laymen, was appointed and ordered to report to the Convention of 1883. . . .

The 1892 Convention was businesslike and determined that nothing would be permitted to set aside or delay the completion of Prayer Book revision. The task was completed by noon, October 11, 1892. The Church had a new Book of Common Prayer. It was a very conservative revision of the Book, especially considering the years of discussion and the number of proposed changes. Unquestionably, the primary force behind the movement for revision was Dr. William Reed Huntington. It was his resolution which had set the process in motion back in 1880. He was secretary of the first joint Committee on Revision which served until 1886 and was the recognized floor leader in the debates on the subject in all five Conventions, 1880-1892. Huntington was respected and admired by his colleagues, not only for his ability but also for his affability and kind consideration of everyone. The Churchman of October 22, 1892, spoke of him as a man of “consummate tact . . . so conciliatory that his very opponents cannot help wishing they could agree with him, even when they are compelled to differ.”

From The Prayer Book Through the Ages by William Sydnor. Copyright © 1978. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Eucharistic fellowship

Daily Reading for July 28

Just as this Eucharistic action is the pattern of all Christian action, the sharing of this Bread the sign of the sharing of all bread, so this Fellowship is the germ of all society renewed in Christ.

From On Being the Church in the World by John A. T. Robinson (SCM, 1974).

Sacred meal

Daily Reading for July 29 • The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

From very early times, human beings have shared meals together, and seen in such an act a symbol of fellowship, common life, common love. The sharing of food and fellowship, the drinking of wine in the atmosphere of warmth and joy, such activities are among the most important in life. It is not surprising therefore that at the heart of the worship and experience of God in Christian tradition is the activity of a meal, the Eucharist. Christian spirituality is of a eucharistic type, that is, it comes to see and know and even digest God within the framework of the liturgy of eating and drinking. It has thus the marks of an active and social experience, not those of a passive and private one. And both the involvement in action, and the social character of the experience, are of the essence, and not simply incidental aspects, of the Christian spiritual path. It is an experience of God which takes place within the context of an action involving movement, responses, manual acts, greetings of our fellow participants, the offering of gifts, the receiving of communion; and this action is the action of a community in which individuals are caught up. It is not therefore on the fringes of the common life, but at its centre, that Christian spirituality, even Christian contemplation, happens. ‘Now is the time for God to act’ as the Eastern liturgy says of the eucharistic action. To come to the sacred meal of the community is to expect a divine encounter, it is both to consume and be consumed.

From Experiencing God: Theology as Spirituality by Kenneth Leech (Harper and Row, 1985).

William Wilberforce

Daily Reading for July 30 • William Wilberforce

Compared with the work of the Quakers, the Salvation Army, or Anglo-Catholic “slum priests” later in the nineteenth century, the Evangelical movement has sometimes been accused of lacking a spirituality of social engagement. This is an unfair generalization. It is true that “action” implied an active spreading of the word of God (evangelism) expressed, for example, in the work of the Church Missionary Society throughout the British Empire. However, for many people action also implied social philanthropy. The former slave trader John Newton, later Rector of St Mary Woolnoth in the City of London, became a notable supporter of William Wilberforce’s campaign to abolish slavery. William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was the leading champion of the abolition of slavery as a result of his evangelical conversion. Wilberforce witnessed to the direct connection between spirituality and social action by beginning each working day with two hours of prayer and Bible reading. Wilberforce became the political leader of the Evangelical movement and on his death this role was taken on by Anthony Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury, a leading Conservative parliamentarian and one of the greatest social reformers of the nineteenth century.

From A Brief History of Spirituality by Philip Sheldrake (Blackwell Publishing, 2007).

Ignatius of Loyola

Daily Reading for July 31 • Ignatius of Loyola

The Spiritual Exercises is one of the most influential spiritual texts of all times. Despite their Reformation origins they are nowadays used as a medium for spiritual guidance and retreats among an ecumenical spectrum of Christians. The text is not intended to be inspirational but is a series of practical notes for a retreat-guide that suggest how to vary the process according to the needs of each person. The ideal is a month away from normal pressures but a modified form “in the midst of daily life” is allowed. Much of the text consists of advice about the structure and content of prayer periods, guidance about spiritual discernment and making a choice of life, and helpful hints about practical matters such as the physical environment for prayer, moderate use of penance, rules about eating, and about scruples.

The explicit aim of the Spiritual Exercises is to assist a person to grow in spiritual freedom in order to respond to the call of Christ. From the Exercises, it is possible to detect fundamental features of Ignatian spirituality. First, God is encountered above all in the practices of everyday life which themselves become a “spiritual exercise.” Second, the life and death of Jesus Christ is offered as the fundamental pattern for Christian life. Third, the God revealed in Christ offers healing, liberation, and hope. Fourth, spirituality is not so much a matter of asceticism as a matter of a deepening desire for God (“desire” is a frequent word in the text) and experience of God’s acceptance in return. The theme of “finding God in all things” suggests a growing integration of contemplation and action. The notion of following the pattern of Jesus Christ focuses on an active sharing in God’s mission to the world—not least in serving people in need. Finally, at the heart of everything is the gift of spiritual discernment—an increasing ability to judge wisely and to choose well in ways that are congruent with a person’s deepest truth.

From A Brief History of Spirituality by Philip Sheldrake (Blackwell Publishing, 2007).

Joseph of Arimathea

Daily Reading for August 1 • Joseph of Arimathea

On the day of the Preparation, about the tenth hour, you shut me in, and I remained there the whole Sabbath in full. And when midnight came, as I was standing and praying, the house where you shut me in was hung up by the four corners, and there was a flashing of light in mine eyes. And I fell to the ground trembling. Then some one lifted me up from the place where I had fallen, and poured over me an abundance of water from the head even to the feet, and put round my nostrils the odor of a wonderful ointment, and rubbed my face with the water itself, as if washing me, and kissed me, and said to me, Joseph, fear not; but open thine eyes, and see who it is that speaks to thee. And looking, I saw Jesus; and being terrified, I thought it was a phantom. And with prayer and the commandments I spoke to him, and he spoke with me. And I said to him: Art thou Rabbi Elias? And he said to me: I am not Elias. And I said: Who art thou, my Lord? And he said to me: I am Jesus, whose body thou didst beg from Pilate, and wrap in clean linen; and thou didst lay a napkin on my face, and didst lay me in thy new tomb, and roll a stone to the door of the tomb. Then I said to him that was speaking to me: Show me, Lord, where I laid thee. And he led me, and showed me the place where I laid him, and the linen which I had put on him, and the napkin which I had wrapped upon his face; and I knew that it was Jesus. And he took hold of me with his hand, and put me in the midst of my house though the gates were shut, and put me in my bed, and said to me: Peace to thee! And he kissed me, and said to me: For forty days go not out of thy house; for, lo, I go to my brethren into Galilee.

From the non-canonical Gospel of Nicodemus, translated by Alexander Walker, in The Lost Books of the Bible (Bell Publishing, 1979).

The origin of our desiring

Daily Reading for August 2

At the heart of the Spiritual Exercises is learning how to discern the origin of our desiring. Each of us knows the pull and tug of various urges, some for our well-being and some for our downfall. These pulls, tugs, urges, and desires are movements that come from different sources. One of these sources is God and the other is not-God or, as Ignatius calls it, “the enemy of our human nature.” We can tell where a movement is coming from if we can tell where it is leading, says Ignatius. If we can play out in our imagination where a particular desire will lead us—closer to God or farther away from divine love—we can be sure which spirit is behind that urge.

Ignatius calls those movements toward God and toward the deepest truth of ourselves “consolation,” and he calls those movements away from faith, hope, and love and into self-centeredness “desolation.” Harking back to his recuperation time in Loyola, Ignatius recognizes the movements of the spirits in his own life and wants the retreatant to know the same. Thus we can choose to follow the movements of grace and avoid falling into the temptations of the enemy of our human nature. We come to recognize the patterns of temptation in our lives as well as the gentle pull of divine grace. As we come to understand the value system of the Gospel more clearly and in greater detail, through contemplation of Jesus, and as we grow in our understanding of the value system of the world, we are equipped to make better choices in our lives.

From “How Ignatius Would Tend the Holy: Ignatian Spirituality and Spiritual Direction” by Marian Cowan, CSJ, in Tending the Holy: Spiritual Direction Across Traditions edited by Norvene Vest. Copyright © 2003. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Finding God in all things

Daily Reading for August 3

Sometimes I need to explain to directees what is meant by the phrase “finding God in all things.” It has nothing to do with reading God into things, blaming God for disasters, saying this or that is God’s will. Rather, it involves opening ourselves to an encounter with God in whatever presents itself to us. God is present in all things, seen and unseen. We are invited to experience this presence in nature, in people, in circumstances, in everything. God is the essence of all that is, and God is within all, in ways that will benefit us. So I ask a directee, “Are you able to feel (or know) God with you in this terrible moment?” “Do you realize that what you are describing as luck is really God’s grace?” Finding God in all things turns life into a love story between God and the directee. It leads one far from self-centeredness into love of all creatures. It puts one at the disposal of God to bring all of creation one step closer to its fulfillment.

From “How Ignatius Would Tend the Holy: Ignatian Spirituality and Spiritual Direction” by Marian Cowan, CSJ, in Tending the Holy: Spiritual Direction Across Traditions edited by Norvene Vest. Copyright © 2003. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Sensing scripture

Daily Reading for August 4

Centuries ago, Ignatius of Loyola urged readers of scripture to participate in the life of Christ through a disciplined use of all the senses. When reading a story from the gospels, like the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, Ignatius tells us to enter the scene fully and to become each character in turn:

With the eyes of the imagination we should look . . . at the persons. With our hearing we should perceive how they are speaking or could speak. With the sense of smell and taste we should smell and taste the infinite sweetness and loveliness of the Godhead. With our sense of place we should embrace and kiss the place where these persons have set their foot and where they come to rest.

From Sensing God: Reading Scripture With All Our Senses by Roger Ferlo (Cowley Publications, 2002).

Loving infinitely

Daily Reading for August 5 • The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

We are made to love, both to satisfy the necessity of our active nature and to answer the beauties in every creature. By love our souls are married and soldered to the creatures, and it is our duty like God to be united to them all. We must love them infinitely, but in God, and for God, and God in them, namely, all his excellencies manifest in them. When we dote upon the perfections and beauties of some one creature, we do not love that too much, but other things too little. Never was anything in this world loved too much, but many things have been loved in a false way, and all in too short a measure.

From Centuries by Thomas Traherne, quoted in Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality by Richard H. Schmidt (Eerdmans, 2002).

Treasure in every sand

Daily Reading for August 6 • The Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ

Suppose a river or a drop of water, an apple or a sand, an ear of corn or an herb. God knows infinite excellencies in it more than we. He sees how it relates to angels and to men, how it proceeds from the most perfect lover to the most perfectly beloved, how it represents all his attributes. And for this cause it cannot be beloved too much. God the author and God the end is to be beloved in it; angels and men are to be beloved in it; and it is highly to be esteemed for all their sakes. O what a treasure is every sand when truly understood! Who can love anything God made too much? His infinite goodness and wisdom and power and glory are in it. What a world would this be, were every thing beloved as it ought to be!

From Centuries by Thomas Traherne, quoted in Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality by Richard H. Schmidt (Eerdmans, 2002).

Baring all the Godhead

Daily Reading for August 7 • John Mason Neale, 1866

Amongst His Twelve Apostles
Christ spake the Words of Life,
And shew’d a realm of beauty
Beyond a world of strife:
‘When all My Father’s glory
Shall shine express’d in Me,
Then praise Him, then exalt Him,
For magnified is He!’

Upon the Mount of Tabor
The promise was made good;
When, baring all the Godhead,
In light itself He stood:
and they, in awe beholding,
The Apostolic Three,
Sang out to God their Saviour,
For magnified was He!

From “Transfiguration” by John Mason Neale, quoted in Love’s Redeeming Word: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, compiled by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams (Oxford, 2001).

Dominic

Daily Reading for August 8 • Dominic, Priest and Friar, 1221

It is not unfair to suggest that the character of the two largest mendicant orders, the Dominicans and the Franciscans, reflected the personalities and backgrounds of their founders. St Dominic (1170-1221) was originally a Canon Regular of St Augustine at Osma in Castille. In 1203 he and his bishop were in southern France on diplomatic business when they came across the papal preaching mission confronting the dualist heretics known as Cathars or Albigensians. Bishop Diego and Dominic bolstered the mission by gathering together a band of dedicated preachers who, in line with the spiritual fervor of the time, also espoused a life of gospel poverty. As early as 1206 an associated community of women was founded at Prouille.

On the bishop’s death in 1207, Dominic remained in France and developed his group of preachers into a religious order. Basically Dominic followed his background experience as a Canon Regular. Thus he sought to combine liturgy, contemplation, and pastoral ministry. The Order of Preachers was formally approved in 1216 and from the start embraced women and lay associates, although their full incorporation only happened years after Dominic’s death.

From A Brief History of Spirituality by Philip Sheldrake (Blackwell Publishing, 2007).

Dominican spirituality

Daily Reading for August 9

Dominican spirituality does not originate in high theory or in a particular spiritual wisdom embodied in clearly defined techniques. Effectively, Dominic’s vision was to respond to concrete pastoral needs. This, and a reliance on structures that he already knew, suggests a fundamental pragmatism and functionalism in his approach to the spiritual life. The Domincan structures were relatively simple and democratic rather than hierarchical. Clearly preaching as a medium for spreading the gospel lies at the heart of Dominican spirituality. In that sense, Dominican spirituality is evangelical and missionary.

As a foundation for preaching, Dominic placed a strong emphasis on study which really replaced the traditional monastic emphasis on manual labor as a critical spiritual discipline. Veritas (truth) became a kind of motto of the Order expressing its deepest ideals of intellectual integrity at the service of the gospel. Behind the ability to minister effectively also lay a contemplative spirit focused especially on liturgy. This connection between contemplation and action was expressed in a traditional phrase contemplate aliis tradere--it is what is contemplated that leads to everything else.

From A Brief History of Spirituality by Philip Sheldrake (Blackwell Publishing, 2007).

Stir up no dust

Daily Reading for August 10

What you hold, may you [always] hold,
What you do, may you [always] do,
and never abandon.
But with swift pace [and] light steps
stir up no dust,
go forward:
securely, joyfully
and swiftly
on the path of prudent happiness.

Letter 2 of Clare of Assisi, quoted in Peaceweavers: Medieval Religious Women, Volume 2, edited by John A. Nichols and Lillian Thomas Shank (Cistercian Publications, 1987).

Clare of Assisi

Daily Reading for August 11 • Clare, Abbess of Assisi, 1253

Although Francis’ life and writings are a primary source for Franciscan spirituality, it is now widely recognized that Clare of Assisi (1194-1253) was not merely a dependent figure but a significant personality in her own right in the origins of the Franciscan tradition. Inspired by Francis’ preaching, Clare dedicated herself to a gospel life in 1212 and became the first woman member of the Order. She held to the same vision of poverty and gospel living in the face of considerable opposition from Church officials. Some historians have suggested that Clare originally wished her sisters to have an unenclosed lifestyle of service rather alone the lines of the lay movement of Beguines. Whatever the case, Clare was forced to accept the Rule of St Benedict for her sisters but this was mitigated in 1216 by papal permission to observe the same “privilege” of poverty as the friars—that is, freedom from normal monastic possessions, buildings, estates, and complex finances. However her moderate Rule for the Poor Sisters (the Poor Clares) was only finally approved on her deathbed in 1253.

Although the sisters were dedicated to a life of contemplation, this should not be contrasted with the men’s dedication to preaching in poverty. Enclosure was not the end purpose of Poor Clare life. This was the bond between poverty and contemplation—contemplation in poverty and poverty as itself a form of gospel-centered contemplation. In her famous Letters to Agnes of Prague Clare writes of Christ the Mirror into which the contemplative gazes and there discovers the poverty of Christ and his intense love of the world expressed in the cross. In turn, Clare suggests that the sisters are to be mirrors to those living in the world—mirrors in which people can see the gospel life.

From A Brief History of Spirituality by Philip Sheldrake (Blackwell Publishing, 2007).

Venturing into the desert

Daily Reading for August 12 • The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

The desert is the threshold to the meeting ground of God and man. It is the scene of the exodus. You do not settle there, you pass through. One then ventures on to these tracks because one is driven by the Spirit towards the Promised Land. But it is only promised to those who are able to chew sand for forty years without doubting their invitation to the feast in the end.

Alessandro Pronzato, quoted in The Desert: An Anthology for Lent by John Moses. © 1997. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com.

Right intentions

Daily Reading for August 13 • Jeremy Taylor, 1667

It is probable our hearts are right with God, and our intentions innocent and pious, if we set upon actions of religion or civil life with an affection proportionate to the quality of the work; that we act our temporal affairs with a desire no greater than our necessity; and that in actions of religion, we be zealous, active, and operative, so far as prudence will permit; but in all cases, that we value a religious design before a temporal, when otherwise they are in equal order to the several ends: that is, that whatsoever is necessary in order to our soul’s health be higher esteemed, than what is for bodily; and the indispensable necessities, of the spirit, be served before the needs of nature; or plainer yet, when we choose any temporal inconvenience, rather than commit a sin, and when we choose to do a duty, rather than to get gain.

From Holy Living and Dying With Prayers: Containing the Complete Duty of A Christian by Jeremy Taylor (Thomas Wardle, 1835).

Jonathan Myric Daniels

Daily Reading for August 14 • Jonathan Myric Daniels, 1965

Like the early Christian witness, Daniels could write, “We are beginning to see as we never saw before that we are truly in the world and yet ultimately not of it.” He was sickened by signs saying “White Only,” but uncomfortable as well with making too “smart” an answer to a segregationist. He wrote: “We are beginning to believe deeply in original sin—theirs and ours.”

In the midst of this ambiguity, the reality of hatred remained, along with the possibility of death. Shortly after writing his report, Daniels was struck down by a supremacist’s bullet. An instinctive reaction led Daniels to throw himself in front of a young black woman when a white man aimed a rifle at her. Yet instincts are the product of prayer and a commitment to justice made long before the event. Daniels seems to have understood that his commitment might require the highest price. He also knew that the way of life can conquer the powers of death. He had written not long before: “A crooked man climbed a crooked tree on a crooked hill. Somewhere, in the mists of the past, a tenor sang of valleys lifted up and hills made low. Death at the heart of life, and life in the midst of death. The tree of life is indeed a Cross.”

From A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

St. Mary the Virgin

Daily Reading for August 15 • St. Mary the Virgin

It is the moment of the annunciation which makes sense of all other moments. It is a moment which is truly in time, not out of time. It has a whole series of temporal consequences; the embryo begins to stir in the womb. But it is a moment in which eternity has really come, in which God is present and at work. Both the birth and the death of Jesus witness to the depth and immensity of God’s love, and to the infinite openness and potential of human life. And just as, in baptism, the death of each one who is baptized is included in Christ’s death, in order that the whole process of dying may become dying into life, so also the birth of each one is included in Christ’s birth, in order that the whole process of living may be open to the coming of the Spirit, who is Lord and giver of life.

It is in this sense that we may rightly think of Mary as the mother of us all; in this sense that Andrewes speaks of the font as the womb of the Church, of one substance with the Virgin’s womb, with a power given it by the Spirit of bringing forth sons of God. From his participation in our human nature follows our participation in his divine nature. The life of eternity enters into time, so that the life of time may find its fulfillment in eternity.

From The Joy of All Creation by A. M. Allchin (Cowley Publications, 1984).

Flesh and blood

Daily Reading for August 16

There is a closer relationship between faith in the Virgin birth and faith in the bodily resurrection of Christ than might at first sight appear. Both doctrines affirm the depth of God’s love, the extent of his involvement in the human mass, in the very substance of our human history, its reality of flesh and blood. And both doctrines affirm the potential greatness, the infinite openness of that human history. In the reality of flesh and blood, the eternal is made present and made known. It is not surprising that our own society, with its sense of being held in an ‘iron reign’ of necessity and death, with its particular difficulty in believing that human life can open out into something larger than itself, finds these doctrines difficult to accept. In some sense, however, this has always been the case, for at all times these articles of faith have brought a judgement on our fallen ways of thinking. They are bound to come to our minds first as a cross and only afterwards as a fulfillment.

Neither Christ’s conception nor his rising again is an isolated wonder, unrelated to the rest of human history, to the nature of the universe as a whole. ‘The truth, which is revealed in them, is at the same time situated at the heart of history, at the basis of creation and at the goal of history.’ All stories of strange or miraculous births, and there are many in legends and mythology of man, hint at the potential of a birth from above, at the mystery of each human life as a new creation, a possible point of intersection of the timeless with time. The birth and death of Christ, given from on high, are a full and perfect confirmation of these half-lost human longings. They are at one and the same time a revelation of the mysteriousness of the divine love which goes far beyond anything the mind could have thought or the heart desired, and also a revelation of the mysteriousness of the human calling and destiny. Planted at the heart of man’s being there is an openness to what is beyond him.

From The Joy of All Creation by A. M. Allchin (Cowley Publications, 1984).

Joy of all creation

Daily Reading for August 17

Thus in Christ it is revealed both at birth and at death, man’s life can conquer time through time. The moments which in themselves can be and are the perfect symbols of man’s bondage to time and of his imprisonment in a world of endless recurrence, birth, copulation, and death, become the very symbols of man’s liberation from death, and of the liberation of all creation. This is not only a liberation from the cycle of birth and death, it is a liberation through them by the taking up of time into eternity. She who stands at the entrance to this mystery, the place where the Spirit is made manifest, is indeed the gate of heaven, the joy of all creation.

From The Joy of All Creation by A. M. Allchin (Cowley Publications, 1984).

William Porcher DuBose

Daily Reading for August 18 • William Porcher DuBose, 1918

We have our religion through the medium of languages that have been long dead, and that present tendencies in education threaten to render more and more dead to us. Along with the languages, there is a growing disposition to relegate the ideas, the entire symbolic expression and form, of Christianity to the past. The modern world calls for modern modes of thought and modern forms of speech. We have to meet that demand and be able to answer and satisfy whatever of reason or truth there is in it.

There are two tasks before us as students and teachers of Christianity. The first is to know and understand our sources. To begin with, we must know our Old Testament as we have never known it before, if we are to take part in the new interpretation of our New Testament that the times demand. For each time must have its own living interpretation, since the interpretation cannot but be, in half measure at least, relative to the time. If the divine part in it is fixed, the human is progressive and changing just in so far as it is living.

We must cease to treat the phraseology, the forms, definitions, and dogmas of Christianity as sacred relics, too sacred to be handled. We must take them out of their napkins, strip them of their cerements, and turn them into current coin. We must let them do business in the life that is living now, and take part in the thought and feeling and activity of the men of the world of today.

From High Priesthood and Sacrifice by William Porcher DuBose, quoted in A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

The consecrated life

Daily Reading for August 19 • The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

There is a profound sense in which all of one’s life is lived out in God’s presence, and this recognition becomes a powerful tool for understanding all of one’s life as being consecrated unto God. The Carmelite lay brother Nicholas Herman (1611-91), known as “Brother Lawrence,” cultivated and practiced this sort of life, and its character has been preserved for us under the title Practice of the Presence of God (1692). Without forsaking the mysterium tremendum, Brother Lawrence advocated a style of spirituality that developed a continual sense of being in God’s presence, and the practice of returning to God’s presence through deliberate acts of prayer. He aspired to a habitual sense of God’s presence that penetrated and invigorated all of a Christian’s life. Brother Lawrence wrote: “This presence of God, if practiced faithfully, works secretly in the soul and produces marvelous effects, and leads it insensibly to the simple grace, that long sight of God every where present, which is the most holy, the most solid, the easiest, the most efficacious manner of prayer.”

From Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology, edited by John R. Tyson (Oxford University Press, 1999).

Bernard of Clairvaux

Daily Reading for August 20 • Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, 1153

As a theologian Bernard stood in the Augustinian tradition. Like Anselm before him, St. Bernard believed it was necessary to grasp religious truth by faith before one could probe its meaning. His personal mysticism caused Bernard to look from the mind (as in Anselm) to religious experience for certitude. His theology was deeply concerned about the reality of humans being created in the image of God, and the unity that remains between humans and their Creator. Bernard found this most powerfully expressed and experienced in terms of love (Latin caritas). His interior theology was often phrased in the language of romantic love and courtship. Bernard understood the love song of the Hebrew Scriptures, Canticles, as a vivid description of the soul’s relationship with God; his sermons on Song of Songs were among his most influential works.

From “Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)” in Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology, edited by John R. Tyson (Oxford University Press, 1999).

Prompted by God

Daily Reading for August 21

To love one’s neighbor with perfect love it is necessary to be prompted by God. How can you love your neighbor with purity if you do not love him in God? But he who does not love God cannot love in God. You must love God, so that in Him you can love your neighbor too. God therefore brings about your love for Him, just as He causes other goods. This is how He does it: He who made nature also protects it. For it was so created that it needs its Creator as its Protector, so that what could not have come into existence without Him cannot continue in existence without Him.

From “Four Degrees of Love” by Bernard of Clairvaux, quoted in Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology, edited by John R. Tyson (Oxford University Press, 1999).

How sweet the Lord is

Daily Reading for August 22

Humanity’s frequent needs make it necessary for us to call upon God often, and to taste by frequent contact, and to discover by tasting how sweet the Lord is. It is in this way that the taste of His own sweetness leads us to love God in purity more than our need alone would prompt us to do.

There is a need of the flesh which speaks out, and the body tells by its actions of the kindness it has experienced. And so it will not be difficult for the person who has had that experience to keep the commandment to love his [or her] neighbor. He truly loves God, and therefore he loves what is God’s. This love is acceptable because it is given freely. It is chaste because it is not made up of words or talk, but of truth and action. It is just because it gives back what it has received. For he who loves in this way loves as he is loved.

From “Four Degrees of Love” by Bernard of Clairvaux, quoted in Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology, edited by John R. Tyson (Oxford University Press, 1999).

Poured into God

Daily Reading for August 23

Since Scripture says that God made everything for himself, there will be a time when He will cause everything to conform to its Maker and be in harmony with Him. In the meantime, we must make this our desire; that as God Himself willed that everything should be for Himself, so we, too, will that nothing, not even ourselves, may be or have been except for Him, that is according to his will, not ours. The satisfaction of our needs will not bring us happiness, not chance delights, as does the sight of His will being fulfilled in us and in everything which concerns us. That is what we ask every day in prayer when we say, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

To love in this way is to become like God. As a drop of water seems to disappear completely in a quantity of wine, taking the wine’s flavor and color; as red-hot iron becomes indistinguishable from the glow of fire and its own original form disappears; as air suffused with the light of the sun seems transformed into the brightness of the light, as if it were itself light rather than merely lit up; so, in those who are holy, it is necessary for human affection to dissolve in some ineffable way, and be poured into the will of God.

From “Four Degrees of Love” by Bernard of Clairvaux, quoted in Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology, edited by John R. Tyson (Oxford University Press, 1999).

Preparing something new

Daily Reading for August 24 • St. Bartholomew the Apostle

Prayer and meditation have an important part to play in opening up new ways and new horizons. If our prayer is the expression of a deep and grace-inspired desire for newness of life—and not the mere blind attachment to what has always been familiar and “safe”—God will act in us and through us to renew the Church by preparing, in prayer, what we cannot yet imagine or understand. In this way our prayer and faith today will be oriented toward the future which we ourselves may never see fully realized on earth.

From Contemplation in a World of Action by Thomas Merton (Doubleday, 1971).

Honest experience

Daily Reading for August 25

Better just to smell a flower in the garden . . . than to have an unauthentic experience of a much higher value. Better to honestly enjoy the sunshine or some light reading than to claim to be in contact with something that one is not in contact with at all.

From Contemplation in a World of Action by Thomas Merton (Doubleday, 1971).

God within creation

Daily Reading for August 26 • The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The feature of Celtic spirituality that is probably most widely recognized, both within and outside the Church, is its creation emphasis. Like most children, I had grown up with a sense of awe at creation. Our earliest memories are generally of wonder in relation to the elements. Connected to these moments will be recollections of experiencing at the deepest levels a type of communion with God in nature, but there will usually have been very little in our religious traditions to encourage us to do much more than simply thank God for creation. The preconception behind this is that God is separate from creation. How many of us were taught actually to look for God within creation and to recognize the world as the place of revelation and the whole of life as sacramental? Were we not for the most part led to think that spirituality is about looking away from life, so that the Church is distanced from the world and spirit is almost entirely divorced from the matter of our bodies, our lives and the world?

I had discovered characteristics of the old Celtic Church in the prayers of the Western Isles, but where was the original source of this spiritual tradition? When I explored the earliest manifestations of Celtic Christianity, in the fourth-century writings of Pelagius, for example, I found a similar emphasis on the life of God within creation. This much-maligned early British Christian stressed not only the essential goodness of creation—and our capacity to glimpse what he called ‘the shafts of divine light’ that penetrate the thin veil dividing heaven and earth—but the essential goodness of humanity. It was a spirituality characterized by a listening within all things for the life of God.

From Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality by J. Philip Newell (Paulist Press, 1997).

Thomas Gallaudet

Daily Reading for August 27 • Thomas Gallaudet, 1890, and Henry Winter Syle, 1902

The growth of the spiritual kingdom, as a divinely appointed organization, is a mystery; and the growth of spiritual life in the hearts of each individual member of the spiritual kingdom is a mystery. We behold indications, from time to time, marking the gradual progress of these two kinds of growth; we believe in them, as realities coming to pass, in consequence of Christ’s redemption, and yet we know not how. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Oh! let those to whom the gospel announcements have come, be not faithless, but believing. Beholding the wonderful work which God, through Christ, has wrought for mankind by the mysterious instrumentalities of his infinitely wise appointment, let all become genuine, devout communicants of the organization which has existed, though they know not how, for upward of eighteen hundred years, as the grand regeneration of the human race; and in due time, they shall be the possessors of the peace of God, which passing understanding, is the earnest of the good things to come in the future life, of which it hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive. Oh! let us have entire faith in the Divine arrangements for the growth of spiritual life, although they are to us, in our present condition, unfathomable mysteries.

From the sermon preached at the first service held at St. Ann’s Church for Deaf-Mutes by Thomas Gallaudet, quoted in A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Augustine of Hippo

Daily Reading for August 28 • Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 430

In his system, [Pelagius] posits and distinguishes three faculties, by which he says God’s commandments are fulfilled, —capacity, volition, and action: meaning by “capacity,” that by which a man is able to be righteous; by “volition” that which he wills to be righteous; by “action,” that by which he actually is righteous. The first of these, the capacity, he allows to have been bestowed on us by the Creator of our nature; it is not in our power, and we possess it even against our will. The first of these, the capacity, he allows to have been bestowed on us by the Creator of our nature; it is not in our power, and we possess it even against our will. The other two, however, the volition and the action, he asserts to be our own; and he assigns them to us so strictly as to contend that they proceed simply from ourselves. In short, according to his view, God’s grace has nothing to do with assisting these two faculties which he will have to be altogether our own, the volition and the action, but that only which is not in our own power and comes to us from God, namely the capacity; as if the faculties which are our own, that is, the volition and the action, have such avail for declining evil and doing good, that they require no divine help, whereas that faculty which we have of God, that is to say, the capacity, is so weak, that it is always assisted by the aid of grace.

The apostle, however, holds the contrary, when he says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” [Phil. 2:12]. And that they might be sure that is was not simply in their being able to work but in their actual working that they were divinely assisted, the apostle does not say to them, “For it is God that worketh in you to be able,” as if they already possessed volition and operation among their own resources, without requiring His assistance in respect to these two; but he says, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to perform of His own good pleasure” [Phil. 2:13]; or, as the reading runs in other copies, especially the Greek, “both to will and to operate.” God works within us those two very things, even “willing” and “operating,” which [Pelagius] so determined to be our own, as if they were in no wise assisted by the help of divine grace.

From On the Grace of Christ by Augustine of Hippo, quoted in Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Volume 1: From Its Beginnings to the Eve of the Reformation, by William C. Placher (Westminster / John Knox, 1988).

A contrasting view

Daily Reading for August 29

Augustine’s influence was particularly harmful in relation to sexuality. While he did not actually identify concupiscence with sexual desire, his general orientation—and even more, that of his successors—did lead to a devaluing of sex. Sex was in fact basically bad, but tolerable for the purpose of procreation. For, in Augustine’s view, the essence of the fall was loss of control of mind over body. On this view, all sexual acts have the nature of sin, because they are inherently lustful. The view that original sin was actually transmitted by sexual intercourse was accepted by Thomas Aquinas, and has remained a powerful strain within conventional Western Christianity to this day.

By contrast, incarnational theology involves the acceptance of the goodness and wonder of our physical bodies, and more than acceptance: a joyful, awesome, tender joy in them. Sebastian Moore, in a moving prayer-poem, speaks of the ‘accuracy of the flesh’, the place of knowledge:

Christ! I’m ready now
ready to get lost in the evangel of people’s bodies
accuracy of the flesh
kiss of truth
we cannot say what we are
we can only be to each other
touch each other with truth.

He goes on:
Having known deeply and quietly the goodness of the flesh
I cannot follow the safe self-crucified men who say ‘God alone’.

From Experiencing God: Theology as Spirituality by Kenneth Leech (Harper and Row, 1985).

Pelagius

Daily Reading for August 30

Pelagius, born in the latter half of the fourth century, was a Celtic Briton. Tradition has it that he was the son of a Welsh bard, which would help to explain his breadth of learning. He was a big, enthusiastic man; even his physical appearance became subject to adverse comment. Augustine’s friend Orosius describes him as a huge, proud Goliath, over-confident in his own strength, and even criticizes Pelagius’ hair-style, which may well have been an early example of the Celtic monastic style modeled on the pre-Christian Druidic tonsure (long but shaved around the sides and back), as opposed to the traditional Roman cut (shaved at the crown of the head). This same issue was to draw attention a few centuries later, at the Synod of Whitby, and of course was much more than a mere disagreement about hair-style. It signaled an unease about the Celtic mission’s readiness to incorporate aspects of the thought and symbolism of the nature mysticism and religious practice that preceded Christianity in Celtic Britain.

The early writings of Pelagius contain themes that would develop into some of the main characteristics of the Celtic tradition over the following centuries. Pelagius even makes reference, for example, to the practice of finding an anamchara or ‘soul friend’, a well-known feature of the spiritual discipline within the Celtic Church in later centuries. Typically, he focuses less on looking to the organized Church for spiritual counsel than on finding in life a ‘friend of the soul’, one to whom the inner self can be opened, ‘hiding nothing’, as Pelagius says, ‘revealing everything’ in order to know and further explore what is in one’s own heart.

From Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality by J. Philip Newell (Paulist Press, 1997).

Early Celtic tradition

Daily Reading for August 31 • Aiden, Bishop of Lindisfarne, 651

The most typical mark of the spirituality of the Celtic tradition apparent in Pelagius’ writings is his strong sense of the goodness of creation, in which the life of God can be glimpsed. Everywhere, he says, ‘narrow shafts of divine light pierce the veil that separates heaven from earth’. Because Pelagius saw God as present within all that has life, he understood Jesus’ command to love our neighbour as ourself to mean loving not only our human neighbour but all the life forms that surround us. ‘So when our love is directed towards an animal or even a tree,’ he wrote, ‘we are participating in the fullness of God’s love.’

Much of Pelagius’ teaching can be seen to stem from the Wisdom tradition of the Old Testament. He saw Christ as the fulfillment of that tradition, as the perfect exemplar of wisdom and humility. Again, his Celtic emphasis was not so much on religious belief and the doctrines of the Church as on living a life of wisdom; by that he meant such things as loving all people, friends and enemies alike, and doing good in return for evil.

From Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality by J. Philip Newell (Paulist Press, 1997).

God's image in every person

Daily Reading for September 1 • David Pendleton Oakerhater, 1931

There are two areas in which explicit criticism of Pelagius does begin to emerge: his practice of teaching women to read Scripture and his conviction that in the newborn child the image of God is to be seen. These issues are clearly related, for the desire to educate women was rooted in Pelagius’ conviction that God’s image is to be found in every person, both male and female, and that the goodness of that image is nurtured and freed largely through the grace of wisdom. The Celtic world was one that gave much greater scope to the role of women and more fully incorporated both the feminine and the masculine into its religious life and imagery.

The second, and much more controversial, feature of Pelagius’ teaching to attract attention was his conviction that every child is conceived and born in the image of God. He believed that the newborn, freshly come forth from God, contains the original, unsullied goodness of creation and humanity’s essential blessedness. This was in stark contrast to Augustine’s thinking and the developing spirituality of the Church in the Roman world, which accentuated the evil in humanity and our essential unrighteousness. Augustine, with his sharp awareness of the pervasiveness of wrong-doing in the world, stated that the human child is born depraved and humanity’s sinful nature has been sexually transmitted from one generation to the next, stretching from Adam to the present. Augustine believed that from conception and birth we lack the image of God until it is restored in the sacrament of baptism, and that conception involves us in the sinfulness of nature. The perspective conveyed by Pelagius, on the other hand, is that to look into the face of a newborn is to look at the image of God; he maintained that creation is essentially good and that the sexual dimension of procreation is God-given. The emphasis that would increasingly be developed in the Celtic tradition was that in the birth of a child God is giving birth to his image on earth.

From Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality by J. Philip Newell (Paulist Press, 1997).

Work and prayer

Daily Reading for September 2 • The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

If you are at your manual labor in your room and it comes time to pray, do not say: “I will use up my supply of branches or finish weaving the little basket, and then I will rise,” but rise immediately and render to God the prayer that is owed him. Otherwise, little by little you come to neglect your prayer and your duty habitually, and your soul will become a wasteland devoid of every spiritual and bodily work. For right at the beginning your will is apparent.

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, quoted in Essential Monastic Wisdom: Writings on the Contemplative Life by Hugh Feiss (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999).

What do you see?

Daily Reading for September 3 • Labor Day

In whatever work that you do, you should say to yourself at every moment: “If God looks at me, what does he see?” Then see how you answer yourself. If you condemn yourself, leave immediately. Stop the work that you were doing and take up something else in order to be sure to reach your destination. For it is necessary that the traveler be always ready to continue his journey. When you are seated at manual labor, when you are walking along the road, when you are eating, tell yourself this: “If God called me now, what would happen?” See how your conscience answers and hurry to do what it tells you.

From the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, quoted in Essential Monastic Wisdom: Writings on the Contemplative Life by Hugh Feiss (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999).

The method of war

Daily Reading for September 4 • Paul Jones, Bishop and Peace Advocate, 1941

In the first place, let me say that I, as a loyal citizen, am whole-heartedly for this country of ours in which all my hopes and ideals and interests are bound up. I believe most sincerely that German brutality and aggression must be stopped, and I am willing, if need be, to give my life and what I possess to bring that about. I want to see the extension of real democracy in the world, and am ready to help that cause to the utmost; and finally, I want to see a sound and lasting peace brought to the world as a close to the terrible convulsion in which the nations are involved.

But the question is that of method. It is not enough to say that the majority have decided on war as the only means of attaining those things and therefore we must all co-operate. I believe that it is not as easy as that, for the problem goes deeper.

If we are to reconcile men to God, to build up the brotherhood of the kingdom, preach love, forbearance and forgiveness, teach the ideals that are worth more than all else, rebuke evil, and stand for the good even unto death, then I do not see how it can be the duty of the church or its representatives to aid or encourage the way of war, which so obviously breaks down brotherhood, replaces love and forbearance by bitterness and wrath, sacrifices ideals to expediency, and takes the way of fear instead of that of faith. I believe that it is always the Church’s duty to hold up before men the way of the cross; the one way our Lord has given us for overcoming the world.

From a statement by Bishop Paul Jones to the House of Bishops, quoted in A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

The weapon of prayer

Daily Reading for September 5

Prayer is, I believe the best test of the whole matter. If it is right and our honest duty to fight the war [World War I] to a finish, then we should use the Church’s great weapon of prayer to that end; but the most ardent Christian supporter of the war, though he may use general terms, revolts against praying that our every bullet may find its mark, or that our embargoes may bring starvation to every German home. We know that those things would bring the war to a speedy, triumphant close, but the Church cannot pray that way. And a purpose that you cannot pray for is a poor one for Christians to be engaged in.

From a statement by Bishop Paul Jones to the House of Bishops, quoted in A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Unlearning not to speak

Daily Reading for September 6

Although I had just finished writing a lengthy doctoral dissertation on the history of the Episcopal Church, my truest self was silent. I do not know how or where I learned it, but I had learned not to say what I really thought or truly believed or most desired. I internalized Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: women who express their deepest passions get run over by trains. The way of safety is to say what others want you to say, to repeat the words of those who hold power. And if you do that well enough you might gain a modicum of control over your own life.

Christianity is a faith of words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” God speaks creation into being, the Spirit whispers life into the world. Wisdom is God’s name and holy words impart the way of holiness and the mystery of being. Through scripture, theology, prayers, and hymns, the church proclaims God’s presence in the world.

Throughout church history, however, the words of women and children, of the poor, the sick, and enslaved, have often been silenced by words of the wealthy, learned, and powerful. And if no one listens, you learn not to speak. When such voices are lost, the Word is diminished. I could express few genuine words. I needed to find my voice. Poet Marge Piercy writes in “Unlearning Not to Speak”:

She must learn again to speak
starting with I
starting with We
starting as an infant does
with her own true hunger
and pleasure
and rage.

From Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community by Diana Butler Bass (Jossey-Bass, 2002).

The wood

Daily Reading for September 7

Years after I found my way back to mainstream Protestantism, someone asked what attracted me to the Episcopal Church. With only a moment’s pause I replied, “The wood.”

I am convinced that wood is holy. Cut from living things, it takes on new life when used as beams and columns and pews in traditional church architecture. It is as if the trees continue to grow as they absorb generations of candle smoke, incense, and prayer. The rings no longer measure age. Rather, they measure decades of spirituality and faithfulness. When colored light from stained glass windows falls across this holy patina, the wood itself seems to breathe God’s spirit.

I found God in a building. All Saints shocked my spiritual senses. Wood and windows, icons and organ—it was as if I had stumbled into God’s own house. Here was holiness, robust and physical, passed down through generations. It was the Christian tradition embodied in architecture, music, and liturgy. But it was not a “wooden tradition,” stilted and moribund. Like All Saints’ glowing woodwork, here, tradition was vital, a living thing, crafted in the faithfulness and vision of God’s people, present and past. I felt as if I had stumbled into some great secret world and found the biblical pearl of great price. Although I could scarcely name it myself, I was seeking God, incarnated in dynamic tradition, and God was there at All Saints-by-the-Sea.

From Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community by Diana Butler Bass (Jossey-Bass, 2002).

God loves everybody

Daily Reading for September 8

Early in his ministry, Bishop Johnson conducted a sort of diocesan listening tour. Christ Church, as one of the largest churches in the diocese, was picked to host one of these events. As Buck and I drove to church, I suspected a hostile audience might ambush the new bishop. The parish hall was full. The bishop told a number of stories about settling in the diocese, expressed some of his hopes for the diocese, and made some vague theological statements about inclusion and openness. Finally, he asked for questions.

A number of parishioners quizzed him on his position regarding controversial issues and theology. They did not like his answers. Part of me appreciated the courage of my fellow parishioners, but another part recoiled as their level of theological indignation grew. Then, to my complete horror, an emboldened Buck raised his hand.

“Bishop Johnson,” he began. “It says in the book of Timothy that the bishop is to guard the gospel. Sir, listening to you, I cannot discern what you are guarding. Can you tell us, please, exactly what you think the gospel is?”

The bishop leaned back against the podium, looked first at Buck, and then, slowly, cast his gaze around the entire room. He unfolded his arms—which he had held across his chest—and stretched them out so widely that he almost looked like Jesus hanging on the cross. “God,” he said deliberately. “God loves everybody.”

“Well, yes,” Buck started to protest, “but . . . .”

“God loves everybody,” he replied. “That’s it.”

“But . . . .”

“God loves everybody.”

Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, I knew that that squishy liberal bishop was right and I was wrong. God really did love everybody—including all the people I thought were excluded from the reach of the gospel. I had limited God’s mercy—just like the Calvinists, who insisted that God predestined only some to be saved, and the Catholics, who said that theirs was the only true church. The bishop said no. No limits. God loves everybody. God’s love is as vast as the universe and as difficult to comprehend as eternity itself. God’s only boundary is love.

From Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community by Diana Butler Bass (Jossey-Bass, 2002).

Alexander Crummell

Daily Reading for September 10 • Alexander Crummell, 1898

Although Alexander Crummell and other black Episcopalians could do little to stop white church people in the South from regarding them as inferior, they organized an association (the Conference of Church Workers among Colored People) designed to lobby for recognition and respect in denominational affairs. Crummell believed in a strong racial ministry, and this attitude set the tone for the CCW. Like many white clergy of the time, he lamented the fact that so many African Americans had deserted the Episcopal Church after the Civil War. But rather than blaming African Americans in the South for their exodus from the denomination, Crummell knew (from painful personal experience) that the refusal of whites to encourage and accept the leadership of black men and women was the real cause. If the Episcopal Church adopted an evangelistic plan that allowed African Americans to minister to and uplift their own people, Crummell asserted, it would have a providential opportunity to imbue a significant portion of southern society with its theological and social ideals.

Leading black Episcopalians actually agreed with white paternalists about some of the reasons for bringing African Americans into the church: their denomination had the potential to become a stabilizing and uplifting presence within the black community. They disagreed with whites, however, about who should have the primary responsibility for ministering to the black population in the South. If white Episcopalians were as concerned as they claimed to be about the education and conversion of African Americans, why had they continually ignored the contributions of their fellow church members who were black? Black Episcopalians also opposed white southerners on theological grounds. Skin color, they maintained, could not be used to prevent a priest from exercising the authority, judicial as well as sacerdotal, to which ordination entitled him. No matter what some whites happened to believe, Christian theology taught that race had no bearing on the powers a priest received at his ordination, and black clergy, at least, should be granted seats in the legislative assemblies of their dioceses.

From Episcopalians and Race: Civil War to Civil Rights by Gardiner H. Shattuck, Jr. (University of Kentucky Press, 2000).

Honest dialogue

Daily Reading for September 11

Of course, Christian-Muslim dialogue must go on. But I am wary of the term ‘inter-faith dialogue’. It often suggests a disconnected, middle class, rather intellectual activity which is cut off from the mass of the people, both inside and outside the faith communities. To be of practical value, dialogue must be localized, honest and courageous. It must explore common ground while recognizing that there are important differences between faith traditions. It must also be very practical. For example, it is often of critical importance that faith communities get together quickly, and the mechanisms that enable this to happen must be put in place. Sadly, the history of inter-faith dialogue suggests that the situation is often the opposite. Often the dialogue is not rooted locally but is vaguely national. It is kind and charitable but tends to blur or avoid areas of controversy. It explores common ground but only at an intellectual level. It avoids differences, and creates no ability to act together when such action becomes really important. Fortunately there are many examples to the contrary.

My main experience has been with Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These three faith traditions have a common belief in communion with God. As I have said, I believe that, in the context of inter-faith work, Christians need to develop a new and extended idea of catholicity. This involves the transcendence of birth, ethnicity, race and nationality, and the commitment to the struggle for a common humanity.


From Race by Kenneth Leech. Copyright © 2005. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

John Henry Hobart

Daily Reading for September 12 • John Henry Hobart, Bishop of New York, 1830

In uniting us to a visible society, for the purpose of redeeming us from the corruptions of our evil nature and of the world, and for training us for the purity and bliss of a celestial and eternal existence, the Divine Author of our being has not only exercised that sovereign power which makes us in all things dependent on his will, but has mercifully accommodated himself to the social principle which so strongly characterizes us. This, uniform and powerful in its influence, prompts us in spiritual as in temporal matters, to mingle with our fellow men our thoughts, our feelings, our pursuits, our hopes. Most conversant are we, too, with material objects, and most affected by them; what an aid to our conception of spiritual truths, what an excitement to our hopes of spiritual blessings, when they are exhibited as conveyed and pledged by external symbols. Hence the doctrine that the ministrations and ordinances of the church are the means and pledges of salvation to the faithful, to all true believers, is not more enforced by the plainest declarations of sacred writ, than it is conformable to a rational and philosophical view of our nature.

From a sermon by the Rt. Rev. John Henry Hobart, quoted in A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Cyprian of Carthage

Daily Reading for September 13 • Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, 258

We ought to hold firmly and maintain our [Christian] unity, especially those of us who are bishops presiding in the Church, thereby revealing the episcopate to be one and undivided. The episcopate is one; it is a unity in which each bishop enjoys full possession. The Church is likewise one, even though it is spread abroad far and wide, and grows as her children increase in number. Just as the sun has many rays, but the light is one; or as a tree with many branches finds its strength in its deep root; or as various streams issue from a spring, their multiplicity fed by the abundance of the water supply, so unity is preserved in the source itself. You cannot separate a ray from the sun any more than you can divide its light. Break a branch from a tree, and once broken it will bud no more. Dam a stream from its source, and the water will dry up. In the same way the Church, flooded with the light of the Lord, puts forth her rays throughout the world, but it is an identical light that is being diffused, and the unity of the body is not infringed. She extends her branches over the whole world. She pours out her generous rivers but there is one source, one Mother, abundant in the fruit of her own creativity. We are born in the womb of the Church; we are nourished by her milk; and we are animated by her Spirit.

The bride of Christ cannot commit adultery; she is pure and chaste. She knows but one home and guards the sanctity of its marriage-bed with chaste modesty. She keeps us for God and she directs the children she has borne into his kingdom. But whoever parts company with the Church and consorts with an adulteress, becomes estranged from the promises of Christ. No one can have God as Father who does not also have the Church as mother.

From On the Unity of the Church by Cyprian of Carthage, quoted in Spiritual Classics from the Early Church by Robert Atwell (National Society/Church House Publishing, 1995).

Holy Cross Day

Daily Reading for September 14 • Holy Cross Day

Christ on the cross cries:
My people, what wrong have I done to you?
What good have I not done for you?
Listen to me. Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look and see if there is any sorrow like to my sorrow.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

From the Good Friday Reproaches, probably from tenth-century French rites. Quoted in 2000 Years of Prayer compiled by Michael Counsell. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Sabbath rest

Daily Reading for September 15

Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways;
re-clothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives thy service find,
in deeper reverence praise.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
where Jesus knelt to share with thee
the silence of eternity,
interpreted by love!

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
thy coolness and thy balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still small voice of calm.

From a hymn by John Greenleaf Whittier, quoted in 2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Become his living body

Daily Reading for September 16 • The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

O eternal God,
Turn us into the arms and hands,
The legs and feet
Of your beloved Son, Jesus.
You gave birth to him in heaven
Before the creation of the earth.
You gave birth to us on earth,
To become his living body.
Make us worthy to be his limbs,
And so worthy to share
In his eternal bliss.

A prayer of Hildegard of Bingen, quoted in 2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Hildegard of Bingen

Daily Reading for September 17 • Hildegard, 1179

Jesus Christ, the love that gives love,
You are higher than the highest star;
You are deeper than the deepest sea;
You cherish us as your own family;
You embrace us as your own spouse;
You rule over us as your own subjects;
You welcome us as your dearest friend.
Let all the world worship you.

Holy Spirit, the life that gives life.
You are the cause of all movement;
You are the breath of all creatures;
You are the salve that purifies our souls;
You are the ointment that heals our wounds;
You are the fire that warms our hearts;
You are the light that guides our feet.
Let all the world praise you.

A prayer of Hildegard of Bingen, quoted in 2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Too late have I loved thee

Daily Reading for September 18 • Edward Bouverie Pusey, Priest, 1882

Good Jesu, too late have I loved thee, nor ever yet have I wholly followed thee; make me now at last wholly to love thee, and out of the fullness of thine infinite love give me all the love I might have had, had I always loved thee. O dearest Lord, too late have I loved thee, too late have I loved thee, too late is it always, not always to have loved thee wholly. Now, too, I cannot love thee as I would. O dearest Lord, who art love, give me of thine own love, that therewith I may wholly love thee. Good Jesu, who gavest thyself for me, give me of the fullness of thy love, that for all thy love, with thy love, I may love thee.

A prayer of Edward Bouverie Pusey, quoted in 2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Joy in learning

Daily Reading for September 19 • Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, 690

Because both of them [Archbishop Theodore and his assistant Abbot Hadrian] were extremely learned in sacred and secular literature, they attracted a crowd of students into whose hearts they daily poured the streams of wholesome knowledge. They gave their hearers instruction not only in the books of holy Scripture but also in the art of metre, astronomy, and ecclesiastical computation. Never had there been happier times since the English first came to Britain; for having such brave Christian kings they were a terror to all the barbarian nations, and the desires of everyone were set on the joys of the heavenly kingdom of which they had only lately heard; while all who wished for instruction in sacred studies had teachers ready to hand. From that time also the knowledge of sacred music, which had hitherto been known only in Kent, began to be taught in all the English churches.

From Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, quoted in The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society by John Blair (Oxford, 2005).

John Coleridge Patteson

Daily Reading for September 20 • John Coleridge Patteson, Bishop of Melanesia, and his Companions, Martyrs, 1871

This is what they did for the sick. They were not ashamed to carry the bucket of waste matter and take it to the sea; they washed out the bucket and brought it back into the sickroom. Then I thought that they were doing what the Bishop had told us in school, that we should love one another and look after each other with love, without despising anyone; we should help the weak. All this they did to those who were sick. Then I thought that it was true, if anyone taught the Law of God and the things that Jesus did and his way of life, he must follow it himself, and humble himself and be quiet and slow to speak; his conduct must be good in the sight of all men; he must speak without cursing; he must visit the sick; all this work must follow the teaching of him who teaches. But if he merely teaches but does not follow it in his life, it is no good, and his work will remain fruitless, people will not listen to his teaching or believe what he says, nor will they respect him in his work. But whoever teaches must follow his teaching himself, and people will know him by the work he does, and they will like him for his work, and will listen to him and respect him because when he teaches them he does not speak of his own accord, but speaks to them in the name of Jesus, and his teaching has power. And this is what I saw Bishop Patteson doing at Kohimarama.

From They Came to My Island by George Sarawia, quoted in Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, compiled by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams (Oxford, 2001).

St. Matthew

Daily Reading for September 21 • St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

The shape and the content of Matthew’s gospel suggest that the author himself is a scribe like the one that Jesus names. The scribes of the first century were all teachers. The “training” of the scribe that is mentioned is the Greek verb matheteuo—“to teach, to learn.” And this is the same word from which we get Matthew’s name. As the teacher of Judaism and the teacher for Judaism, Matthew’s gospel tells a story that is both new and old. Matthew’s story of Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s promises is written “like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” In this heart of the first gospel, Matthew opens his own heart to his reader. It is a radiant heart and gleams like a fine gem in clear light.

When the dust of the first siege of Jerusalem had settled in A.D. 70, the religious world had to reorganize, reconstruct, and rebuild itself. This was true for the Jews who believed Jesus to be the Messiah. This was also true for the Jews who believed that the Messiah was yet to come. We think that both of these groups of our faithful forebears gathered in southern Syria and northern Judea in order to sort themselves out. We know that around A.D. 90, the remnants of Pharisaic Judaism gathered in Jamnia to decide upon the content and order of their Holy Scriptures and to discuss the future of worship in the synagogues. We think Matthew is their Christian-Jewish colleague and competition, teaching those who are to carry the “good news” of the one who fulfills the Law and the prophets.

Matthew insists that those who confess Jesus as Messiah must honor the tradition and “keep the faith.” His gospel was first in the hearts of our forebears who fashioned the Christian church; his gospel is first in our Holy Scriptures for precisely this truth. When we reach out across ninety-nine generations to hold the hand that Matthew offers, we, too, receive his mandate to honor the tradition and “keep the faith.” It is the right mandate as well as a radiant heart. For if we are to be the ekklesia, those whom God calls out, we must be trained like the scribe who was trained for the kingdom of heaven—the one who is “like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” The hand offered by the “one to teach” is a wise hand to hold, indeed.

From One to Watch, One to Pray: Introducing the Gospels by Minka Shura Sprague. A Seabury Classic, an imprint of Church Publishing. Copyright © 2004. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

From famine to feast

Daily Reading for September 22

Let me define what I mean by famine. Famine is the reigning myth. It is king and queen, emperor and president. As the kids would say, “It rules.” Myth one is that there is not enough. You will barely get through an hour anywhere in the first-world without the subtext of “there is not enough” coming up. “I would love to come but I am so busy.”

Myth two is that more is better. “When I get the promotion or the gig or the partner, then I will have the more I need to be better.”

Myth three is that there is nothing you can do about it. “I won’t get the promotion or the gig or the partner, and if I do it won’t work out, so there is really nothing to do but stay here and whine about it along with the rest of the culture.”

Myth four—and this is really a new one, straight from the Republicans—is that you are personally responsible. No pension? You must have invested your 401K wrong. No health insurance? You probably didn’t take good care of your health. No freedom from work? You probably went to the wrong graduate school.

These four myths are relatives. They all belong to the same family. They dine very well together every night. There is not enough. More is better. There is nothing you can do about it. You are personally responsible.

The story of the wedding at Cana is a striking alternative to the king, queen, prince, and princess myths. It says just the opposite: there is plenty, we have enough, there are lots of things you can do to change things, and we are positively personally responsible. There is not blame here—as in who ordered the wrong amount of wine—but there is hope. As they will say at the World Social Forum, over and over again, another world is possible.

I am a recovering famine freak. I am training myself to be a feast freak. I choose small strategic gifts. I choose a feast mentality (even though there are plenty of days of desperation and despair still left). I also choose a steady principled pace that has plenty of time for setbacks—as well as plenty of time built into it for my money to create lasting change. The better wine is coming. That is the first and central point of view I have on money. From there the rest is simpler.

From Living Well While Doing Good by Donna Schaper. A Seabury Book, an imprint of Church Publishing. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Pray for the church

Daily Reading for September 23 • The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Crucified and risen Lord, we pray for the Church.
Save us from dawdling by an empty tomb.
Save us from bondage to the past.
Save us from the hypnotic fascination of decay and death
and make your Church to know your resurrection life.
May we follow where you lead and live for you in today’s world.
The Lord is risen.
He is risen indeed.

Savior Christ, we pray for the whole human family.
Hanging on the cross, you gave hope to a rebel at your side
and prayed for those who condemned you to that violent death.
We too live amid violence,
the violence of subversion, of repressive governments,
and all the subtle violence by which the powerful
seek to impose their will on the weak.
You alone can give victory over the violence of the world and of our hearts.
Save us, Lord. Give us the will and the power to share your victory.
The Lord is risen.
He is risen indeed.

Living Lord, we pray for our society,
entombed in material possessions and oppressed with ever-changing fears.
Many know no better hope than that things may get no worse
and that they may enjoy a few years of quiet retirement before the end.
Release us from this living death.
Cause us to live with the life you alone can give.
The Lord is risen.
He is risen indeed.

Lord, you know what it is to suffer pain, degradation, and rejection, and to die an outcast.
We pray for all who suffer....
May they know you as one who shares their agony
and enables them to share your triumph.
The Lord is risen.
He is risen indeed.

With thanksgiving for the life that was given
and joyous hope of the life that is yet to be,
we remember those who have died....
As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be brought to life.
The Lord is risen.
He is risen indeed. Amen.

From The Daily Office Revised, in The Wideness of God’s Mercy: Litanies to Enlarge Our Prayer, revised edition, compiled and adapted by Jeffery W. Rowthorn. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Renew us by your Spirit

Daily Reading for September 24

Almighty Father, you give us life
as you give life to all people.
You call us into the Church
that with men and women
of different races, colors, and languages,
different experiences and different traditions,
we may be one body
to the glory of Christ on earth.
Help us to be what you have called us to be.
You are the giver of life.
Father, renew us by your Spirit.

Father of all, you give us
wealth in the earth and in the oceans,
forests and fertile plains,
air to breathe, water to drink,
and all that is needful for human life.
We pray for those who know little of your bounty,
for whom the earth is a cruel desert
and existence a constant struggle
against overwhelming odds.
We acknowledge that their burdens should be our burdens;
we acknowledge that we share a common humanity.
You are the giver of life.
Father, renew us by your Spirit.

Father, you have so made us that we need one another,
but because we do not know how to love everyone,
you tell us to start with the sister or brother at our side.
We pray for any from whom we are estranged.
Bless them,
and bless us in our future relationships with them.
We pray for our families, our friends,
and all whom we meet day by day....
In their particular needs we ask you to bless them.
You are the giver of life.
Father, renew us by your Spirit.

Father, you are present in every part of human experience.
We hold before you
the infant lying in a mother’s arms,
the young lovers planning together their first home,
the sick and infirm battling with weakness and incapacity,
the dying, soon to experience your new creation.
You are the giver of life.
Father, renew us by your Spirit.

Eternal Father, we remember before you
those who have passed from this world....
As we all received from you the gift of life,
so we pray that you will bring us to the life eternal.
You are the giver of life.
Father, renew us by your Spirit. Amen.

From The Daily Office Revised, in The Wideness of God’s Mercy: Litanies to Enlarge Our Prayer, revised edition, compiled and adapted by Jeffery W. Rowthorn. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Teach us to love

Daily Reading for September 25 • Sergius, Abbot of Holy Trinity, Moscow, 1392

We pray for the Church,
where all too often, like Cain,
we have made the worship offered by our brother a cause for hostility and division.
We pray that our Lord may bind us together,
teaching us to value the richness of our diversity
and to rejoice in every fresh glimpse of God’s glory
seen through traditions other than our own.
Lord, teach us to love:
That we may be children of God.

We pray for those lands where brother and sister fight sister and brother,
divided by arbitrary borders, ideology, or religion.
We pray for those lands where extremes of wealth and poverty are bitterly divisive.
We pray for those lands where power is grossly abused
and the dispossessed bear the heaviest burden.
Lord, teach us to love:
That we may be children of God.

We pray for all who have been nourished on bitterness
and fed with the wrongs suffered by earlier generations.
We pray for all who have grown to hate people
instead of hating that which evil has done to people.
We pray for the young who are impatient for change
and the not-so-young who resist all change.
Lord, teach us to love:
That we may be children of God.

We commend to God any special needs known to us....
As we remember the sick, the sorrowful, and all who are in any distress,
let us also remember that God has supremely made himself known to us as Savior
and calls us to share in God’s rescuing work.
Lord, teach us to love:
That we may be children of God.

Lord, we would heal and not destroy.
Teach us the discipline of obedience to the commandment
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,”
and give us the fortitude to go on obeying to the end.
Lord, teach us to love:
That we may be children of God.

Let us remember before God those who have died....
Lord, we are all sinners and utterly dependent on your grace.
We praise you for the forgiveness of sins
by which men and women are enabled to rise from death to eternal life.
Lord, teach us to love:
That we may be children of God. Amen.

From The Daily Office Revised, in The Wideness of God’s Mercy: Litanies to Enlarge Our Prayer, revised edition, compiled and adapted by Jeffery W. Rowthorn. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Save us when we fall

Daily Reading for September 26 • Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester, 1626

Lord Jesus, you have faced temptation,
you know how difficult it can be to distinguish
between vision and mirage, between truth and falsehood.
Lord, help us when we are tempted:
And save us when we fall.

Help us in the Church —
When we confuse absence of conflict with the peace of God.
When we equate the shaping of ecclesiastical structures with serving you in the world.
When we imagine that our task is to preserve rather than to put at risk.
When we behave as though your presence in life were a past event
rather than a contemporary encounter.
Lord, help us when we are tempted:
And save us when we fall.

Help us in the world —
When we use meaningless chatter to avoid real dialogue.
When we allow the image presented by the media
to blind us to the substance that lies behind it.
When we confuse privilege with responsibility
and claim rights when we should be acknowledging duties.
When we allow high-sounding reasons to cover evil actions.
Lord, help us when we are tempted:
And save us when we fall.

We pray for our families and our friends
and hold them before you in our thoughts....
We especially pray for any who may be under particular pressures and stress at this time....
Lord, help us when we are tempted:
And save us when we fall.

Lord Jesus, you have passed through the test of suffering
and are able to help those who are meeting their test now.
We pray for all who suffer....
We especially pray for those who suffer through their own folly
or the folly or malice of others....
Lord, help us when we are tempted:
And save us when we fall.

Before the throne of God, where we may find mercy and timely help,
we remember those who have departed this life....
Dying, Christ broke the power of sin and death
that we might enter with him into the life eternal.
Lord, help us when we are tempted:
And save us when we fall. Amen.

From The Daily Office Revised, in The Wideness of God’s Mercy: Litanies to Enlarge Our Prayer, revised edition, compiled and adapted by Jeffery W. Rowthorn. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Rejoice, my spirit

Daily Reading for September 27

Lord, we often fold our hands in prayer,
when we should really jump for joy
because you come to us as rescuer, as Savior,
cleaning up the mess we make of our lives,
putting together what we pull apart.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord.
Rejoice, my spirit, in God my Savior.

We pray for the Church.
You have called us to have a part in its life
and, despite our failures, you have not cast us off.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord.
Rejoice, my spirit, in God my Savior.

We know that much of the Church’s life
and witness looks silly and weak in the eyes of the world at large,
but you still use its foolishness to shame worldly wisdom
and its weakness to witness against the abuse of power.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord.
Rejoice, my spirit, in God my Savior.

We pray for those who cry desperately for salvation,
for tyranny to be overthrown, for the despised to be given dignity,
for the poor to receive a proper share of the earth’s resources.
You are the source of hope and the inspiration to action.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord.
Rejoice, my spirit, in God my Savior.

We bring you particular needs....
With confidence we share these with you
for you are the God who lives among us.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord.
Rejoice, my spirit, in God my Savior.

We pray for our families....
Your human life brought both pain and joy to your earthly relatives.
Help us also to know you in both the joys and the pains of family life.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord.
Rejoice, my spirit, in God my Savior.

We remember those who have died....
Through our sorrow and sense of loss
we are glad for the promise that there shall be an end to death,
and to mourning and crying and pain;
for the old order has passed away.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord.
Rejoice, my spirit, in God my Savior. Amen.

From The Daily Office Revised, in The Wideness of God’s Mercy: Litanies to Enlarge Our Prayer, revised edition, compiled and adapted by Jeffery W. Rowthorn. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Help us to live in peace

Daily Reading for September 28

Lord Jesus, in a dark hour you spoke of the gift of peace;
we beg that gift for ourselves,
that we may have the inner serenity that cannot be taken from us.
Then we may be messengers of your peace to a strife-torn world.
Give peace in our time, Lord.
Help us to live in peace.

We pray for those who are fighting—
injury, disfigurement, and death their constant companions,
nerves and bodies strained beyond endurance,
the streams of compassion drying up within them,
their only goal the destruction of the “enemy.”
Whatever the color of their skin—we pray for them.
Whatever the sound of their tongue—we pray for them.
Whatever the insignia they wear—we pray for them.
Give peace in our time, Lord.
Help us to live in peace.

We pray for all who have been broken in battle;
for those who weep and those who can no longer weep;
for those who feel the anguish
and for those who have lost the capacity to feel;
for all prisoners—and all prison guards;
for those who exist in war-torn lands
and for those who no longer have a homeland.
Give peace in our time, Lord.
Help us to live in peace.

We pray for all who stir up strife;
for all who make a profit out of the misery of others;
for all who are led into vice as they seek a momentary forgetfulness;
for all who believe that war is inevitable.
Give peace in our time, Lord.
Help us to live in peace.

The desire to press self-interest is deeply rooted in us.
We defend our attitudes when we should be ashamed of them.
We compare the noblest aspects of our own cause with the basest of that of our opponents.
We are reluctant to admit that our own selfish desires could contribute to the miseries of others.
Give peace in our time, Lord.
Help us to live in peace.

We bring to you particular needs....
and we remember those who have died....
Give peace in our time, Lord.
Help us to live in peace.

From The Daily Office Revised, in The Wideness of God’s Mercy: Litanies to Enlarge Our Prayer, revised edition, compiled and adapted by Jeffery W. Rowthorn. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

One family

Daily Reading for September 29 • St. Michael and All Angels

Spirit of power, we find it hard to come together in the Church,
even within a single congregation.
How shall we learn to be one family, loving and serving the whole of humankind?
Lead us into such unity of purpose that we may receive power:
not the power to threaten or destroy, but the power to restore waste places.
Use us to declare your glory, that blind eyes may see,
deaf ears hear, and the cynical be brought to faith.
Spirit of the Living God,
Hear our prayer.

Spirit of truth, we live in a modern Babel
where words are used to conceal meaning rather than make it plain.
Lead the peoples of the world into such a love of truth
that nation may speak with nation,
not seeking to confuse but to understand and to be understood,
whereby trust is created, out of which a truly international community may be born.
Spirit of the Living God,
Hear our prayer.

Creator Spirit, you give to the old the capacity to dream dreams
and to the young to see visions,
but because we exalt ourselves and our desires to the place that is yours alone,
our visions are visions of horror and our dreams nightmares.
Raise up artists and prophets among us
with the will and the ability to inspire and cleanse our society,
to set our hearts aflame and turn our eyes to the heights.
Spirit of the Living God,
Hear our prayer.

Source of all comfort, we pray for the lonely, the sick, the sad, the bereaved,
and all who suffer or are ill at ease....
We claim for them the gift of your peace,
that their troubled hearts may be set at rest and their fears banished.
Spirit of the Living God,
Hear our prayer.

Giver of life, we remember those who have died....
May they enter into the Kingdom where your presence is all in all.
Spirit of the Living God,
Hear our prayer. Amen.

From The Daily Office Revised, in The Wideness of God’s Mercy: Litanies to Enlarge Our Prayer, revised edition, compiled and adapted by Jeffery W. Rowthorn. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Service in creating

Daily Reading for September 30 • The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Lord, shall we not bring these gifts to Your Service?
Shall we not bring to Your service all our powers
For life, for dignity, grace and order,
And intellectual pleasures of the senses?
The Lord who created must wish us to create
And employ our creation again in His service
Which is already His service in creating.

From The Rock by T. S. Eliot, in Collected Poems 1909-1962 (Faber and Faber).

A Prayer for Grace

Daily Reading for October 1 • Remigius, Bishop of Rheims, c. 530

Hedge up my way with thorns,
that I find not the path for following vanity.
Hold thou me in with bit and bridle,
lest I fall from thee.
O Lord, compel me to come in to thee.

Two things have I required of thee, O Lord,
deny thou me not before I die;
remove far from me vanity and lies;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
feed me with food convenient for me;
lest I be full and deny thee and say, who is the Lord?
Or lest I be poor and steal,
and take the name of my God in vain.
Let me learn to abound, let me learn to suffer need,
in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.
For nothing earthly, temporal, mortal, to long nor to wait.
Grant me a happy life, in piety, gravity, purity,
in all things good and fair,
in cheerfulness, in health, in credit,
in competency, in safety, in gentle estate, in quiet;
a happy death,
a deathless happiness.

May thy strong hand, O Lord, be ever my defense;
thy mercy in Christ, my salvation;
thy all-veritable word, my instructor;
the grace of thy life-bringing Spirit, my consolation
all along, and at last.

A Prayer for Grace by Lancelot Andrewes, quoted in Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality by Richard H. Schmidt (Eerdmans, 2002).

No Dove, no church

Daily Reading for October 2

The Holy Ghost is a Dove, and he makes Christ’s Spouse, the church, a Dove, a term so oft iterate in the Canticles, and so much stood on by Saint Augustine and the Fathers, as they make no question. No Dove, no church.

And what shall we say then to them that will be Christians, and yet have nothing in them of the church, nothing in them of the dove; what shall we say? You may see what they are, they even seek and do all that in them lies to chase away this Dove, the Holy Ghost. The Dove, they tell us, that was for the baby-Church, for them to be humble and meek, suffer and mourn like a dove. Now, as if with Montanus they had yet “another Holy Ghost” to look for, in another shape, of another fashion quite, with other qualities, they hold these be no qualities for Christians now. Were indeed, they grant, for the baby-Christians, for the “three thousand” first Christians, this day; poor men, they did all in simplicitate cordis. And so too in Pliny’s time: harmless people they were; the Christians, as he writes, did nobody hurt. And so to Tertullian’s, who tells plainly what hurt they could have done, and yet would do none. And so all along the primitive churches, even down to Gregory, who in any wise would have no hand in any man’s blood. But the date of these meek and patient Christians is worn out, long since expired; and now we must have Christians of a new edition, of another, a new-fashioned Holy Ghost’s making.

For do they not begin to tell us in good earnest that they are simple men that think Christians were to continue so still; they were to be so but for a time, till their beaks and talons were grown, till their strength was come to them, and then this dove here might take her wings, fly whither she would; then a new Holy Ghost to come down upon them that would not take it as the other did, but take arms, depose, deprive, blow up; instead of an olive branch, have a match-light in her beak or a bloody knife.

Methinks, if this world go on, it will grow a question problematic, in what shape it was most convenient for the Holy Ghost to have come down? Whether as he did, in the meek shape of a dove? or whether, it had not been much better he had come in some other shape, in the shape of the Roman eagle, or of some other fierce fowl de vulturino genere?

But lying men may change—may, and do; but the Holy Ghost is unus idemque Spiritus, saith the Apostle, changes not, casts not his bill, moults not his feathers. His qualities at the first do last still, and still shall last to the end, and no other notes of a true Christian, but they.

From “Sermon VIII of the Sending of the Holy Ghost” by Lancelot Andrewes, quoted in Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, compiled by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams (Oxford, 2001).

Captive of a thousand causes

Daily Reading for October 3

St. Francis, regrettably, has become the captive of a thousand causes, among them the spirituality of escape. The popular domesticated reading of St. Francis, enshrined in backyard statuary and best-selling guides to the spiritual life, reflects the very schizoid spirituality that many North Americans take for granted. Francis is read by Christians and other seekers as the champion of an escapist nature mysticism: someone who can teach us by example how to move beyond the crowded ways of postmodern, computerized existence in order to experience transforming encounters with the beauties and the wonders of the natural world, encounters akin to those that seem to be articulated by Francis’s enormously popular “The Canticle of the Creatures.” Conversely, among devout Christians, Francis is sometimes read as the champion of spiritual interiority: as one who turns away from this world to seek solace within, exemplified, above all, by the mountaintop story of his spiritual and physical experience of being touched by the cross of Jesus, the stigmata.

These popular readings of Francis have had, as a matter of course, the effect of reinforcing today’s schizoid spirituality of escape and consumerism and have, in turn, provided spiritual support to those very forces that are working to destroy the earth and to abandon the poor, both loved so profoundly by Francis himself. To learn from Francis, therefore, we must divest ourselves of our own assumptions about him, such as they may be, and encounter him in his historical otherness.

From “The Spirituality of Nature and the Poor: Revisiting the Historic Vision of St. Francis” by H. Paul Santmire, Ph.D., in Tending the Holy: Spiritual Direction Across Traditions, edited by Norvene Vest. Copyright © 2003. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

St. Francis of Assisi

Daily Reading for October 4 • Francis of Assisi, 1226

Francis broke radically with his wealthy class and its lifestyle in 1206, when, standing publicly before his own bishop, with his father looking on unhappily, he threw off his garments, the signs of his wealth and social standing, and revealed himself to be wearing a hair shirt, the sign of a new commitment to poverty on his part. He then threw off that shirt, too. Thus he began his new spiritual vocation—naked, with no possessions whatsoever. For some time he lived as a hermit, supporting himself by begging and reaching out, on occasion, to the poorest of the poor, even to lepers. In 1208 Francis heard Jesus calling him, as the Savior had called the first apostles, to take to the highways and byways to witness to the kingdom of God, all without any possessions of his own.

In his new apostolic ministry, Francis immersed himself in the emergent urban culture of his time, a setting that the spirituality of the then-declining feudal monasteries was generally ill equipped to influence. In this sense, Francis was an urban minister, first and foremost, not a spiritual recluse or a nature mystic. His mission was not to retreat to a solitary life in the wilderness, a still viable spiritual option in his time. Nor was it to retreat to a protected monastery, where he might have imagined himself to be living anew in Paradise, surrounded by a hostile world, awaiting the coming kingdom of God, also a spiritual option that many in the Christian West had been choosing for centuries. No, Francis’s spiritual retreat was in fact an advance into the rising urban culture of his time. His solitary life was in fact a commitment to seek out the lonely and the godforsaken, who were flocking to the cities. Even more comprehensively, the monastery where he awaited the coming of God’s kingdom was in fact the whole world, not just its cities. Francis had become a latter-day apostle who believed that he had been sent by Jesus to preach the Gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15).

From “The Spirituality of Nature and the Poor: Revisiting the Historic Vision of St. Francis” by H. Paul Santmire, Ph.D., in Tending the Holy: Spiritual Direction Across Traditions, edited by Norvene Vest. Copyright © 2003. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Preach to every creature

Daily Reading for October 5

Francis led a life of exceedingly great joy and a life of constant praise of God, a life of blessedness in the midst of the fecund goodness of God’s creation, celebrated most forthrightly by his “Canticle of the Creatures.” As a citizen of the peaceable kingdom, transported there by his vision and his prayers, Francis could thereafter call every human, however different or distant, and each of the creatures of nature, however alien to human sensibilities, his brother or his sister. He could be a troubadour of a higher order, constantly rejoicing with friends and foes alike, and with birds and oxen and even wolves and worms. The mandate of Christ had claimed Francis’s soul profoundly: to preach the Gospel to every creature. This he made remarkable efforts to do, in deed most often and in word whenever necessary. And, notwithstanding all the challenges he experienced and all the pains that were thrust upon him, he found joy in the nearness of God to him in every creature, in his encounters with lepers no less than in his songs of praise with the birds of the air.

Francis found peace and joy in his vocation not by getting away from it all, but by getting into it all. His was a vision and a way of life that is open to all of us by the grace of God, even to the most affluent among us who choose to claim his vision and follow his way, to engage ourselves with this world as if it were the world of the kingdom to come.

From “The Spirituality of Nature and the Poor: Revisiting the Historic Vision of St. Francis” by H. Paul Santmire, Ph.D., in Tending the Holy: Spiritual Direction Across Traditions, edited by Norvene Vest. Copyright © 2003. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

William Tyndale

Daily Reading for October 6 • William Tyndale, 1536

Prayer is a mourning, a longing, and a desire of the spirit to God-ward, for that which she lacketh; as a sick man mourneth and sorroweth in his heart, longing for health. Faith ever prayeth. For after that by faith we are reconciled to God, and have received mercy and forgiveness of God, the spirit longeth and thirsteth for strength to do the will of God, and that God may be honoured, his name hallowed, and his pleasure and will fulfilled. The spirit waiteth and watcheth on the will of God, and ever hath her own fragility and weakness before her eyes; and when she seeth temptation and peril draw nigh, she turneth to God, and to the testament that God hath made to all that believe and trust in Christ’s blood; and desireth God for his mercy and truth, and for the love he hath to Christ, that he will fulfil his promise, and that he will succour, and help, and give us strength, and that he will sanctify his name in us, and fulfil his godly will in us, and that he will not look on our sin and iniquity, but on his mercy, on his truth, and on the love that he oweth to his Son Christ; and for his sake to keep us from temptation, that we be not overcome; and that he deliver us from evil, and whatsoever moveth us contrary to his godly will.

Moreover, of his own experience he feeleth other men’s need, and no less commendeth to God the infirmities of other than his own, knowing that there is no strength, no help, no succour, but of God only. And as merciful as he feeleth God in his heart to himself-ward, so merciful is he to other; and as greatly as he feeleth his own misery, so great compassion hath he on other. His neighbour is no less care to him than himself: he feeleth his neighbour’s grief no less than his own.

From “The Parable of the Wicked Mammon” by William Tyndale, quoted in Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, compiled by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams (Oxford, 2001).

First you leap

Daily Reading for October 7 • The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

I love
the recklessness of faith.
First you leap,
and then you grow wings.

From Credo by William Sloane Coffin (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004).

Convincing talk

Daily Reading for October 8

When Jesus says, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” I listen. Even during my doubting days in college I listened, and carefully, because Jesus not only knew more about God than I did—that was obvious—he also knew more about the world. He could talk convincingly to me about a father in heaven because he took seriously the earth’s homeless orphans. He could talk to me convincingly about living at peace in the hands of love because he knew that the world lived constantly at war in the grip of hatred. He could talk to me of light, and joy, and exultation, because I knew that he himself knew darkness, sorrow, and death.

From Credo by William Sloane Coffin (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004).

Scientist and theologian

Daily Reading for October 9 • Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, 1253

Robert Grosseteste was a convinced expositor of the ‘light metaphysic’, regarding light both as the first metaphysical constituent of bodies and as the genetic power of all being. Divine and intellectual light, which to us are no more than analogical applications of the physical term, were to him different manifestations of the same entity. There was for him, therefore, no gulf, no partition between metaphysics and physics such as existed for his thoroughgoing Aristotelian contemporaries, and sciences such as mathematics, geometry, optics and astronomy were an essential part of the philosopher’s equipment. It was only a stage from this, easily traversed under the guidance of Aristotle, to take interest in the subject-matter and methods of science for their own sake, and in order to enlarge and perfect positive knowledge of all kinds. This stage was rapidly attained by Roger Bacon and other pupils and they rightly claimed Grosseteste as their standard-bearer.

He gave them two principles of permanent value: the use of mathematics as a means of description, not (as they were to Plato) as revealing physical or metaphysical cause of things; and the use of observation and experiment controlled by logical methods of analysis and verification. The characteristics of his teaching were: a close attention to the study of the Bible, read textually and critically, as the basis of theology; the study of languages, especially Greek; an interest in securing faithful translations of all ancient works as a necessary part of a scholar’s equipment; and, above all, an attention to mathematics and kindred sciences.

Grosseteste, like the other eminent scholastics of his age, lacked the qualities and tastes of a humanist. His treatises and private letters are wholly without beauty of form and language. Indeed, the element of charm and the impress of personality are almost entirely absent from his correspondence; it is not easy to instance any other man, equally and as justly celebrated for his mental and moral qualities, of whom such a judgement can be made. To us, there is a massive quality about his learning that borders on the ponderous, and an aridity that hides from us the appeal of his holiness. Yet to acute contemporaries, to Adam Marsh, Roger Bacon and Geoffrey of Fontaines, he is the great master, the most learned man of his day.

From The Evolution of Medieval Thought by David Knowles (Vintage Books, 1962).

Provide a place

Daily Reading for October 10

You bishops, gather the faithful with much patience, and with doctrine and exhortation, as ministers of the kingdom everlasting. Hold your assemblies with all decent order, and appoint the places for the brethren with care and gravity.

And for the presbyters let there be assigned a place in the eastern part of the house; and let the bishop’s throne be set in their midst, and let the presbyters sit with him.

But of the deacons let one stand always by the oblations of the Eucharist; and let another stand without by the door and observe them that come in; and afterwards, when you offer, let them minister together in the church.

And if any one be found sitting out of his place, let the deacon who is within reprove him and make him rise up and sit in a place that is meet for him. And let the deacon also see that no one whispers, or falls asleep, or laughs, or makes signs.

For so it should be, that with decency and decorum they watch in the church, with ears attentive to the word of the Lord. But if, while young men or women sit, an older man or woman should rise and give up their place, do thou, O deacon, scan those who sit, and see which man or woman of them is younger than the rest, and make them stand up, and cause him to sit who had risen and given up his place; and him whom thou hast caused to stand up, lead away and make him to stand behind his neighbours: that others also may be trained and learn to give place to those more honourable than themselves.

But if a poor man or woman should come, especially if they are stricken in years, and there be no place for such, do thou, O bishop, with all thy heart provide a place for them, even if thou have to set upon the ground; that thou be not as one who respects the persons of men, but that thy ministry may be acceptable with God.

From the Didascalia Apostolorum, quoted in Deacons and the Church: Making Connections between Old and New by John N. Collins. Copyright © 2002. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

The seven preachers?

Daily Reading for October 11 • Philip, Deacon and Evangelist

Deacons have constantly been inspired by the story of the seven Greek men who were presented to the apostles who, in turn, ‘prayed and laid their hands on them’ (Acts 6:6). Tradition has seen in these men, and in particular the most famous of them, Stephen, the forerunners and prototype of the church’s deacons. Ancient authority and nineteenth-century scholarship give to the idea of an original seven deacons the look and feel of authenticity. And yet Lightfoot himself was aware that the idea of deacons so early in the church’s life—and in this passage in particular—had been ‘much disputed’. A prominent contemporary voice here would be that of James Monroe Barnett, a long-standing champion of the diaconate, who closes his pages on the subject with the plain statement, ‘we must conclude that the Seven were not deacons’. This too has been the view which my own study of Acts 6 has demanded. . . .

Luke does not use a diakon- word again until Acts 6:1, where he refers to ‘the daily ministry/diakonia’ (which we have already met in the phrase of the modern translation, ‘daily distribution [of food]’). Then, in the same part of the story, the Twelve rededicate themselves to their original commission of ‘the ministry/diakonia of the word’ (6:4). Luke then closes the scene of the Seven with the tell-tale phrase, ‘the word of God continued to spread’ (6:7).

With these touches Luke keeps us in mind of his major theme as he moves into the great preaching event in the brief career of Stephen, one of the Seven (7:2-53). With Stephen’s death immediately following, the theme of the progress of the Word re-emerges in the account of another member of the Seven, Philip, engaging in a mission to Samaria; Samaria is the first station outside Jerusalem and Judea according to the stages of the Lord’s programme outlined by Luke (1:8). This mission leaves Philip poised at Caesarea, the port leading to Rome (8:4-14, 26-40), which is Luke’s ultimate objective in the trajectory of the Word. . . .

What does this make of the Seven? It makes of the Seven a new group of preachers, directed at first to the needs of the Hellenists—note how happily the story ends at 6:7: ‘the word of God continued to spread; the number of disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem. . . ’ —and then, after the death of Stephen in Jerusalem, to the wide worlds beyond, as begun in Philip’s mission (8:5). Indeed the only other time we hear of Philip he is called simply ‘the evangelist, one of the seven’ (21:8).

From Deacons and the Church: Making Connections between Old and New by John N. Collins. Copyright © 2002. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Liturgical angels

Daily Reading for October 12

The range and variety of intermediary functions of the deacon have been emphasized in recent studies of diakonia. Ormonde Plater, for example, notes that in the liturgy the deacon “embodies two symbols, servant and angel” and recalls from the New Testament the image of the four living creatures guarding the altar of heavenly liturgy, as seen in Revelation 4. Thus the deacon, Plater tells us, is not only a liturgical table waiter but a liturgical angel—a guard and messenger, one who manages and conducts transactions with the outside.

In one of the earliest patristic references to deacons, Ignatius of Antioch, in his letter to the Philadelphians, indicates that one of the deacon’s functions is to serve as a messenger outside the liturgy, traveling between the churches of distant cities:

News has reached me that the church at Antioch in Syria is at peace. Consequently, it would be a nice thing for you, as a church of God, to elect a deacon to go there on a mission, as God’s representative, and at a formal service to congratulate them and glorify the Name. (Philadelphians 10)

Bishop Richard Grein has recently generalized the go-between status of the deacon in this way:

I like to think of deacons as people on the boundary, that is, on the boundary where the church and the world interface. On this boundary they sometimes face the world to speak the message of the Gospel. Other times they face the church to speak on behalf of the world. In this their task is to keep the boundary open to exchanges between church and world.

The media of those exchanges are matter/energy (for example, bread and wine) and information (money, words, pictures). Whenever the church is in transaction with the world, there is diakonia and there should be its deacons.

From “Serving Intermediary” by Frederick Erickson, in Diaconal Ministry: Past, Present and Future, edited by Peyton Craighill (North American Association for the Diaconate, 1994).

God hears every whisper

Daily Reading for October 13

You know that God is everywhere, which is a great truth; wherever God dwells there is heaven, and you may feel sure that all which is glorious is near His Majesty.

Remember what St Augustine tells us—I think it comes form his Meditations; how he sought God in many places and at last found the Almighty within himself. Do you consider it of slight importance for a soul given to wandering thoughts to realize this truth and to see that it has no need to go to heaven in order to speak to the eternal Father or to enjoy his company? Nor is it requisite to raise the voice to address him, for he hears every whisper, however low.

Teresa of Avila, quoted in The Joy of the Saints: Spiritual Readings throughout the Year, edited by Robert Llewelyn (Templegate, 1988).

Love what is true

Daily Reading for October 14 • The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

The soul that truly loves God loves all good, seeks all good, protects all good, praises all good, joins itself to good people, helps and defends them, and embraces all the virtues: it only loves what is true and worth loving.

Do you think it possible that one who truly loves God cares, or can care, for vanities, or riches, or worldly things, or pleasures or honours? Neither can such a soul quarrel or feel envy, for it aims at nothing save pleasing the Beloved. It dies with longing for his love and gives its life in striving how to please him better.

Teresa of Avila, quoted in The Joy of the Saints: Spiritual Readings throughout the Year, edited by Robert Llewelyn (Templegate, 1988).

Teresa of Avila

Daily Reading for October 15 • Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila taught us to pay attention to the potential of our humanity and to the process of growing into the fulfillment of our baptismal promises. Openness to God’s spirit at work in our lives can lead to the transformation of our desires. Eventually, our desires become less and less fragmented and we desire more and more what God desires. Assuming that God desires the well-being of humanity, a person transformed by him then lives in a way that furthers the actualization of that desire of God. Our desires become consonant with God’s. Yet this intensification of personal encounters with God is not a matter of smooth, always ascending biographies. On the contrary, breaks, leaps, bounds, detours, and crises necessarily form a part of this concept of growth and are often the needed impetus toward the next step in the maturation process. “In spiritual growth nothing can be forced. Periods of growth occur, as well as creative incubation periods—containing regressive arrests and progressive spurts of growth.”

The guide on this way of growth, as in all concepts of Christian spirituality, is God, or rather the Holy Spirit. Thus spiritual growth can be more precisely characterized as growth guided by God’s good Spirit. It is growth toward freedom and maturity, particularly freedom from various kinds of dependency and slavery. And it is growth that is progressive, a process beginning with the purgative way, continuing with the illuminative way, leading towards the fulfillment in the unitive way. It is like a science of psychological health. Holiness is true wholeness of the human incarnate spirit.

From “Freedom to Souls: Spiritual Accompaniment According to the Carmelite Tradition” by Michael Plattig, O. Carm., in Tending the Holy: Spiritual Direction Across Traditions, edited by Norvene Vest. Copyright © 2003. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

In you will I rest

Daily Reading for October 16 • Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, 1555, 1556

If you will build a glorious church unto God, see first yourselves to be in charity with your neighbours, and suffer not them to be offended by your works. Then, when ye come into your parish-church, you bring with you the holy temple of God; as Saint Paul saith, ‘You yourselves be the very holy temples of God:’ and Christ saith by his prophet, ‘In you will I rest, and intend to make my mansion and abiding place.’


O heavenly Father, the author and fountain of all truth, the bottomless sea of all understanding, send, we beseech thee, thy Holy Spirit into our hearts, and lighten our understandings with the beams of thy heavenly grace. We ask this, O merciful Father, for thy dear Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.


From The Second Sermon on the Card by Hugh Latimer and a prayer by Nicholas Ridley, both quoted in 2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Ignatius of Antioch

Daily Reading for October 17 • Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch and Martyr, c. 115

I am writing letters to all the churches, to assure them that I am dying for God of my own free will--that is, if you don’t interfere. Please, please don’t make a misguided attempt to do me a kindness. Let me be fodder for the wild beasts--that’s how I can come to God. I am God’s wheat, and the teeth of the beasts are grinding me to flour, to be made into a pure loaf for Christ. Please encourage the animals to become my tomb; don’t let them leave any scraps of my body behind. That way, when I have fallen asleep I shall be a nuisance to nobody. Then I shall be a real disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world can no longer see my body. Pray to Christ for me, that in this way I may become a sacrifice to God.

From the Letter to the Romans of Ignatius of Antioch, quoted in 2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Saint Luke the Evangelist

Daily Reading for October 18 • Saint Luke the Evangelist

Our tradition has always been that the author of the third gospel and Acts is “Luke, the beloved physician.” This title comes, however, from a letter written by one of Paul’s disciples to the Colossians (Col. 4:14). The tradition is appropriate and—though we can never prove it—it may even be true. As we do, our forebears could see that the third gospel has more emphasis upon Jesus’ ministry of healing than Matthew, Mark, or John. Luke’s healing stories stand out, then and now. In our time, however, we can see even more evidence for the tradition. Luke uniquely distinguishes among “caring,” “curing,” and “healing” with his Greek vocabulary. Much of this language occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, but does have parallels in the medical journals and records of the first century.

For Luke, the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth is healing for the world. For Luke, the power of God’s Holy Spirit and the incarnation of God in Jesus is healing for the world. For Luke, the power of evil in the world is overcome by the power of God’s Spirit in the person of Jesus and in the life and work of the faithful. This is true, he says, before and after the resurrection. This is true, Luke claims, from the moment of Gabriel’s good news for Zechariah until this very day. The healing embrace the writer of Luke–Acts offers describes a creation that is healed when God and creation love each other in return.

From One to Watch, One to Pray: Introducing the Gospels by Minka Shura Sprague. A Seabury Classic from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2004. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Already in heaven

Daily Reading for October 19 • Henry Martyn, Priest, and Missionary to India and Persia, 1812

O send thy light and thy truth, that we may live always near to thee, our God. Let us feel thy love, that we may be as it were already in heaven, that we may do all our work as the angels do theirs. Let us be ready for every work, be ready to go out or come in, to stay or to depart, just as thou shalt appoint. Lord, let us have no will of our own, or consider our true happiness as depending in the slightest degree on anything that can befall us outwardly, but as consisting altogether in conformity to thy will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A prayer of Henry Martyn (1781-1812), quoted in 2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

The prayer of power

Daily Reading for October 20

We have never run or knowingly patronized sweat shops, or underpaid workers; the struggle between organized labor and company unions is wholly out of our picture. Indeed, we have really no direct contact with these great abuses and injustices which wise men are denouncing. We live within the capitalistic order, to be sure; and we are being taught not to approve of it; yet we can not run away. We could not escape the profit system for that matter, even if we wove cloth for our own garments on Gandhi’s spinning wheels. There are always a few interesting idealists who are trying to run away but they are very partially successful. We can not escape; we do not feel responsible for the system; we agree with our spiritual guides that it is a very bad system. Then they tell us that “we” must change it, and we inevitably ask them, “how?” No answer comes. . . .

The responsibility for social intercession is not satisfied by vague aspiration, “Thy Kingdom Come.” That petition, to be sure, covers all our desires; but if we pray specifically for the recovery to health of a beloved friend, for example, we should be equally specific in our prayers for the health of the body politic. Now we can not be specific unless we have some conviction and some intelligence. There is a type of purely formal prayer; not wholly, useless, we hope. But most Christian people have some little experience at least of another kind of prayer, the prayer of power. That kind of a prayer must be enlightened; it must be lit at the torch of knowledge. The chief reason why all Christian people should be making themselves intelligent about the great issues of the day, is that they may learn to pray with fervor and to use the prayer of power.

To cultivate social imagination; to study; to pray; here even if no practical activity is possible to us, are outlets for that need of action native to men, here is sure release from bewildered and unworthy private-mindedness. . . . But let us not suppose that what lies before us will be easy. To evolve that “new economic order” which the Churches desire, will mean heavy cost to every single man. Let us rejoice; for tests of heroism and of readiness for sacrifice await us. The fate of our whole Western civilization hangs today in the balance; and on the Church, that is, on the body of her children, this fate may well depend.

From “Social Problems Facing the Church” by Vida Dutton Scudder, quoted in A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Ripening faith

Daily Reading for October 21 • The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Again, we pray and pray, and no answer comes. The boon does not arrive. Why? Perhaps we are not spiritually ready for it. It would not be a real blessing. But the persistence, the importunity of faith, is having a great effect on our spiritual nature. It ripens. A time comes when we are ready for an answer. We then present ourselves to God in a spiritual condition which reasonably causes him to yield. The new spiritual state is not the answer to our prayer, but it is its effect; and it is the condition which makes the answer possible. It makes the prayer effectual. The gift can be a blessing now. So God resists us no more. Importunity prevails, not as mere importunity (for God is not bored into answer), but as the importunity of God’s own elect, that is, as obedience, as a force of the kingdom, as increased spiritual power, as real moral action, bringing corresponding strength and fitness to receive. I have often found that what I sought most I did not get at the right time, not till it was too late, not till I had learned to do without it, till I had renounced it in principle (though not in desire). Perhaps it had lost some of its zest by the time it came, but it meant more as a gift and a trust. That was God’s right time—when I could have it as though I had it not. If it came, it came not to gratify me, but to glorify him and be a means of serving him.

From The Soul of Prayer by P. T. Forsyth, quoted in The Westminster Collection of Christian Meditations, compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild (Westminster John Knox Press, 1998).

Perseverance

Daily Reading for October 22

Perseverance is not merely the crown and stamp of perfection, it must accompany every step in the growth of every grace; just as the texture of the tree must be woven firm in every stage of its growth, so perseverance has to watch over the growth of each virtue day by day; every day in which it fails, the graces which are under its care begin to droop and lose their bloom.

Thus perseverance is not only a virtue in itself, but it is one without whose constant presence and assistance no other virtue can develop on step in its growth. If charity, then, be the soil into which all must spread their roots, perseverance is the cohesive force that gives form and consistency to all over whose development it presides. And thus temptation will often leave all the graces that the soul is trying to form unassailed, and attack the one grace of perseverance; for it knows well that if it can destroy this, all else must fail with it. We often meet with people with very high aspirations and the beginnings of many graces and with great possibilities, but nothing in them matures, nothing attains its full bloom, for they are lacking in the one grace which is the guardian and protector of all—they have no perseverance.

From Some Principles and Practices of the Spiritual Life (1899) by B. W. Maturin, quoted in The Westminster Collection of Christian Meditations, compiled by Hannah Ward and Jennifer Wild (Westminster John Knox Press, 1998).

True community

Daily Reading for October 23 • St. James of Jerusalem, Brother of our Lord Jesus Christ and Martyr, c. 62

It is quite easy to found a community. There are always plenty of courageous people who want to be heroes, are ready to sleep on the ground, to work hard hours each day, to live in dilapidated houses. It’s not hard to camp—anyone can rough it for a time. So the problem is not in getting the community started—there’s always enough energy for take-off. The problem comes when we are in orbit and going round and round the same circuit. The problem is in living with brothers and sisters whom we have not chosen but who have been given to us, and in working ever more truthfully towards the goals of the community.

A community which is just an explosion of heroism is not a true community. True community implies a way of living and seeing reality; it implies above all fidelity in the daily round. And this is made up of simple things—getting meals, using and washing the dishes and using them again, going to meetings—as well as gifts, joy and celebration.

A community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thanksgiving as it sets. Community is only being created when they have recognized that human greatness is to accept our insignificance, our human condition and our earth, and to thank God for having put in a finite body the seeds of eternity which are visible in small and daily gestures of love and forgiveness. The beauty of humanity is in this fidelity to the wonder of each day.

From Community and Growth by Jean Vanier (Darton, Longman & Todd, 1979).

Enclose us in your threefold wings

Daily Reading for October 24

Holy Wisdom in your power
Hold us fast in every hour.

Enclose us in your threefold wings
Spreading to embrace all things.

One pierces heaven’s heights above,
Another touches earth with love.

The other moves with tender care
In mystery through the cosmic air.

Holy Wisdom in your power
Enlighten us in every hour.

A prayer of Hildegard of Bingen, quoted in Invincible Spirits: A Thousand Years of Women’s Spiritual Writings, compiled by Felicity Leng (Eerdmans, 2006).

Come home

Daily Reading for October 25

May the Lord be my friend,
Who once on earth endured on the gallows-tree
Suffered here for the sins of men.
He has redeemed us, he has given us life
And a home in Heaven. Hope was renewed
With bliss and blessing for those who had been through burning.
The Son was successful in that expedition,
Mighty in victory, when with a mass,
A great crowd of souls came to God’s kingdom.
The Almighty Ruler, to joy among the angels
And all the saints, who in heaven already
Lived in glory. Then the Lord,
Almighty God, came home to his own land.

From “The Dream of the Rood” (c. 780), attributed to Cynewulf, a poet in Northumbria. Quoted in 2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Alfred the Great

Daily Reading for October 26 • Alfred the Great, King of the West Saxons, 899

We pray to you, O Lord, who are the supreme Truth, and all truth is from you. We beseech you, O Lord, who are the highest Wisdom, and all the wise depend on you for their wisdom. You are the supreme Joy, and all who are happy owe it to you. You are the highest Good, and all goodness comes from you. You are the Light of minds, and all receive their understanding from you. We love you—indeed we love you above all things. We seek you, follow you, and are prepared to serve you. We desire to dwell under your power, for you are the King of all. Amen.

A prayer of Alfred the Great, quoted in 2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Guide me to my soul's need

Daily Reading for October 27

Lord God almighty,
I pray you for your great mercy,
and by the token of the holy rood,
guide me to your will, to my soul’s need,
better than I can myself;
and shield me against my foes,
seen and unseen;
and teach me to do your will,
that I may love you inwardly before all things
with a clean mind and a clean body.
For you are my maker and redeemer,
my help, my comfort, my trust and my hope.
Praise and glory be to you now,
ever and ever, world without end. Amen.

A prayer of Alfred the Great, quoted in 2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

The church exists by mission

Daily Reading for October 28 • The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Identity, vocation, and mission for Christians are not three separate realities, but are mutually dependent. Christian identity is realized through Christian mission. Mission defines and fulfills identity. Vocation, a word derived form the Latin verb vocare, “to call,” is the calling every Christian has both to be with God and to carry out God’s mission. We can see all this as a theological expression of the relationship between being and doing, living and working. One’s being is only partly separable from one’s doing, for just as our doing is grounded in our being, our being is realized through our doing. Our doing expresses who we are, but we also discover who we are through our doing. Just that intimate is the relationship between Christian identity and Christian mission. As the Swiss theologian Emil Brunner is reputed to have said, “The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.”

From Horizons of Mission by Titus Presler, Volume 11 of the New Church’s Teaching Series (Cowley Publications, 2001).

Bishop James Hannington

Daily Reading for October 29 • James Hannington and his Companions, Martyrs, 1885

The Church Missionary Society had had for some years a station at Mombasa, on the coast, but when the discoverer Stanley, who had visited Uganda, told the story at home of his intercourse with King Mtesa and with his people there, they at once resolved to send a mission to Lake Victoria Nyanza and its neighbourhood. In 1876 the first band went forth, but in the course of a year and a half four out of the eight had fallen in Africa, and two men were obliged to return home. . . . The news reached England—it reached the Sussex village, and it stirred the heart of the young minister there. Why should not he go forth and fill the place of those who had fallen? He had had thoughts of missionary work before, but there were home claims—he was a husband and father—and the way was not clear.

Now, however, he deemed the call from God had come, and he offered himself to the Society to go out for a time without finally giving up his church at Hurst. He was accepted, and leaving his quiet parsonage and peaceful home, the brave soldier of Jesus Christ went forth to hardship and exile for His dear sake. He sailed with five other missionaries for the east coast of Africa, in May, 1882, and in the following month they left Zanzibar for the interior, whither they were bound. . . . It was not such an easy life as he had known before, as regards outward comfort, but when the love of Christ is in the heart we can do without being easy and comfortable. . . .

What were the Bishop's thoughts on this, his last journey? He has told us himself. After speaking of his difficulties and trials, he adds, “Yet I feel in capital spirits, and feel sure of results, though perhaps they may not come in the way that we expect. In the midst of the storm I can say—

‘Peace, perfect peace, the future all unknown?
Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.’

"You must uphold my hands in prayer lest they fall. If this is the last chapter of earthly history, then the next will be the first page of the heavenly; no blots and smudges, no incoherence, but sweet converse in the presence of the Lamb.” This was his last letter to the Church Missionary House. He was “almost home,” though he knew it not.

The party arrived safely at the north-east corner of the lake, and a few days from here would have taken them to Uganda, where welcome would have awaited them. For the work had been prospering, other helpers had joined Mr. Wilson, and more than a hundred natives had been baptized into the Christian faith. But there was a new danger of which the Bishop was unaware. Mtesa had died some time before. He had been very uncertain in his behaviour to the Christians, though he had professed himself one; his son Muangu was much the same, and just now he had been alarmed about German invasion and annexation in this part of Africa. So when he heard of a party of Europeans entering his dominions by the north side, a thing never done before, he put the two things together, and sent to forbid them.

The Bishop meanwhile had gone forward with about fifty men, leaving Mr. Jones with the rest. The messengers of King Muangu met them, and arrested them, saying it was the “back door” into their country, and they must not proceed. They were kept in confinement eight days, and then, alas! were killed, the men being speared and the Bishop shot with his own rifle. Four men only escaped, and fled back to Mr. Jones with the terrible news; then the sad remains of the party retraced their steps back to the coast.

It was a sad ending (as it seems to us) to a brave and noble Christian life. But God's ways are not as our ways. He makes no mistake, and there is no such thing as failure in His purposes. Already the death of the good Bishop has fired anew the missionary spirit, so that even in the few weeks after the news came fifty-three young men offered themselves to the Church Missionary Society for the mission field. Let us pray that many more may do the same.

From the introduction to Peril and Adventure in Central Africa: Being Illustrated Letters to the Youngsters at Home by the late Bishop James Hannington (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1886).

The missionary legacy

Daily Reading for October 30

Mistakes that Christian missionaries from the Global North made in their work in the Global South have become so well known that caution and suspicion are the first reactions many people have to the mention of world mission. Many missionaries have dismissed the primal religions of Africa and Polynesia and have demonized such world religions as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. Some have presented the gospel through their own ethnic and cultural identity, depicting Jesus, for instance, as a blonde European. Missionaries have sometimes not bothered to learn the language of the people to whom they were sent, insisting that their hosts should learn English or French or German. Some missionaries have disparaged and dismissed indigenous cultures as lacking worthwhile values and have sought to substitute western norms. In their evangelistic zeal, they have ignored human needs, and some have lived a lifestyle far removed from that of the people they seek to serve. The style and content of development projects have sometimes been misconceived and poorly implemented.

It is very important that Christians in the Global North absorb this history and avoid naïve optimism about mission, both historically and for the future. It is equally important that we not be paralyzed by this history. Not only is Christianity now a global religion, but Christians in many recently evangelized societies have vital and growing autonomous churches, and they have their own affirmations and critiques of the western missionary enterprise. These indigenous Christians describe the mistakes that western missionaries made much more acutely and eloquently than we can, for they experience them from the inside. Often they also celebrate how missionaries preached the gospel, established churches, and founded institutions of education and healthcare that continue to be crucial in the indigenous churches’ witness in newly independent nations. Assessments of those on the receiving end, in other words, tend to be more balanced between shortcomings and gifts, while our own soul-searching is often more uniformly negative about the past and pessimistic about the future. If we are serious about learning from our partners, we need to listen to their perspective on the missionary legacy.

From Horizons of Mission by Titus Presler, Volume 11 of the New Church’s Teaching Series (Cowley Publications, 2001).

Toward practical resurrection

Daily Reading for October 31

Three weeks after Celusim’ne’s death her mother turned up at our nutrition office. She placed before me two bulging baskets of large, ripe Haitian grapefruits. She had walked six hours from Bouly in the hot sun just to offer me this gift. I was overwhelmed, speechless under the generous donation of such wealth out of such dire poverty. “But . . . we failed,” I wanted to say. “We didn’t save her.”

But then I saw the gift for what it was: her act of resurrection in the face of death. This was her work of hopeful solidarity. More pointedly, for me her gift was a sacrament of understanding and perception; through it I began to learn how it is that Christian solidarity can and should move from failure to serious hope, from hiddenness to revelation, and through death toward life.

Herein lies a central principle of Christian solidarity often neglected in certain ecclesiastical circles that issue amorphous calls to “social justice.” Far too often we see but do not perceive. We must learn that it is not we, Christians of the developed world, who bear the right to define the contours of our companionship with the poor and the suffering. Rather, it is the poor and the suffering themselves who bear that right. It is they whose knowledge of death and marginalization is terribly intimate, and thus it is often they who can point us the way forward through destitution and toward practical resurrection. Our task, then, is as much one of listening to and understanding suffering as it is a responsible and determined work toward its alleviation.

From “Solidarity with the Suffering” by Justin Mutter, in The Scripture of Their Lives: Stories of Mission Companions Today, edited by Jane Butterfield. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

The Feast of All Saints

Daily Reading for November 1 • All Saints Day

This hymn was written by the Reverend Robert Lowry, D.D., a Baptist minister in New York and the editor of a number of popular Sunday school songbooks. He wrote the words to this well-known hymn when he was a pastor in Brooklyn, on a hot July day in 1864 during a severe epidemic. Dr. Lowry was thinking of the sad scenes all around him when the question arose in his mind, “Shall we meet again? We are parting at the river of death; shall we meet at the river of life?” With his heart full of these thoughts, he seated himself at his parlor organ, and both the words and the music of the famous hymn came to him as if by inspiration.

Shall we gather at the river,
Where bright angel-feet have trod,
With its crystal tide forever
Flowing by the throne of God?

Chorus:
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
The beautiful, the beautiful river;
Gather with the saints at the river
That flows by the throne of God.

On the margin of the river,
Washing up its silver spray,
We will walk and worship ever
All the happy, golden day.

Ere we reach the shining river,
Lay we every burden down;
Grace our spirits will deliver,
And provide a robe and crown.

At the smiling of the river,
Mirror of the Saviour’s face,
Saints, whom death will never sever,
Lift their songs of saving grace.

Soon we'll reach the silver river;
Soon our pilgrimage will cease;
Soon our happy hearts will quiver
With the melody of peace.

From A Treasure of Hymns by Amos R. Wells (Boston: United Society of Christian Endeavor, c1914).

The communion of saints

Daily Reading for November 3

The “communion of saints” is an important resource for the cultivation of Christian spirituality. A portion of the current consensus is based in a willingness to think of the “saints” in a fashion that includes and yet goes beyond the formal process of canonization. Lawrence Cunningham, for example, suggests that “the saint is a person whose life is so centered on a profound religious vision that it is radically different; that difference is so apparent to others for its quality and depth that the sympathetic observer can see the value of the religious vision that has grasped the saint.” Karl Rahner and William Thompson pointed in this same direction as they linked the classical saints and mystics to the spirituality of “Every Day Mystics.” Viewed in this fashion, Cunningham was correct to point out that consultation of the saints “serves both a paradigmatic and prophetic function” for Christian spirituality. It is paradigmatic because the saints offer us models for pursuing and practicing Christian spirituality that are road-tested and reliable; it is prophetic insofar as the luminous sanctity of the saints’ lives carries with it—either implicitly or explicitly—a judgment upon our own lives and values.

The role of the communion sanctorum in Christian spirituality is based in the fellowship with Christ and fellowship among Christians that is epitomized in the Eucharistic celebration of Christ’s body. It emphasizes the transcendent unity of Christians, “the saints” past and present, that shapes Christian spirituality through the quality of life engendered by Christian koinonia and that takes expression in congregational life, community life, and various forms of devotion. “Such devotions,” Edward Yarnold reminds us, “can express a joy and confidence in the way in which God works through human intermediaries; they depend upon the doctrine of the communion of saints, which asserts the interdependence of all Christians, living and dead.”

From the introduction to Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology, edited by John R. Tyson (Oxford University Press, 1999).

One choir

Daily Reading for November 4 • The Sunday after All Saints

This is the depth of the liturgy. It is the presence of angels, archangels, the kingdom of heaven, earth and its people, the whole of creation, and the Creator, too. It is an all-embracing drama, a meeting-place of the earthly and the heavenly. This truth is made plain during the Small Entrance, when the following prayer is recited: ‘Make with our entry an entry of your holy angels, celebrating the liturgy with us.’ ‘In this mystery,’ the liturgy continues in the Great Entrance, ‘we are icons of the cherubim.’ Indeed, as John Chrysostom elsewhere affirms: ‘Those in heaven and those on earth form a single festival, a shared thanksgiving, one choir.’

Everything is always sung in the liturgy of the Orthodox. It might be said that Orthodox Christians do not come to church simply to pray. Nor do they go to church to be in silence. Something is happening there, in liturgy, and Orthodox Christians are invited to participate. Before each liturgy, Sunday by Sunday, Orthodox Christians pray: ‘God, our God, who sent your heavenly bread, the food of the whole world, to bless us, bless also the offering.’ Orthodox Christians assemble in liturgy to eat and to enjoy together; and not just to see and hear and feel the Word of God.

Together, heaven and earth offer one hymn, one prayer, one feast and one doxology. Everything sings and exclaims, ‘crying aloud and saying: holy, holy, holy.’ Everything aspires to divine holiness and symbolizes an overture to paradise. The created world does not escape to heaven; indeed, the whole world becomes an organic part of the mystery of heaven. Within that context, one diminishes in humility and offers thanksgiving and glorification for all.

From Light Through Darkness: The Orthodox Tradition by John Chryssavgis (Orbis, 2004).

Religion and politics

Daily Reading for November 5

An old saying holds that religion and politics don’t mix. Probably it was first said to Pharaoh when he turned down Moses’ plea to “let my people go.” Generally what it means is, “Your religion doesn’t mix with my politics.” If religion is where it all comes together—the microcosm and the macrocosm, intimate relationships and public policy—if Christians are called so to live “that in everything God may be glorified” (1 Peter 4:11), then religion and politics do mix and to claim otherwise is really to understand neither.

But to claim they mix is not to say they are identical. It is one thing to say with the prophet, “Let justice roll down like mighty waters” (Amos 5:24), and quite another to work out the irrigation system. The former is a religious concern, the latter a political task.

While Christians certainly don’t have to take positions on every issue, on matters of justice they have no choice. Said South African bishop Desmond Tutu, “When the elephant has his foot on the tail of the mouse, and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

And neither will God. When you stop to think about it, how can God be neutral? How can God do otherwise than side with the oppressed? If God sided with tyrants, God would be malevolent. If God sided with no one, God would be indifferent, which is to say again “malevolent,” because God would be supporting tyranny by not protesting it.

The story of God and Moses and Pharaoh reminds us that compassion, for its implementation, demands confrontation. It also puts churches on notice to identify not with the structures of power but with the victims of power.

From “Beyond Charity” in A Passion for the Possible: A Message to U.S. Churches by William Sloane Coffin (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004).

William Temple

Daily Reading for November 6 • William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1944

Christianity and Social Order, published in 1942, was Temple's last and perhaps his most provocative book, in which he articulated the principles which had guided his political activity and challenged many popular assumptions. The church is not a department of life concerned only with personal beliefs and devotional practices, he wrote. From earliest times, the church has spoken out on public matters, and it is only in recent years that this right has been questioned. When the economic order fails to build Christian character, the church must seek to change it. "The church may tell the politician what ends the social order should promote; but it must leave to the politician the devising of the precise means to those ends," Temple wrote. Society should be structured to give each person the widest opportunity to become what God has placed it in that person to become, Temple said. He saw personal freedom (maximum individual choice), social fellowship (strengthening family, national, and international ties), and service (wider loyalties taking priority over narrow ones) as the key principles leading to such a society."The art of government," Temple wrote, "in fact is the art of so ordering life that self-interest prompts what justice demands."

From the introduction to William Temple in Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality by Richard H. Schmidt (Eerdmans, 2002).

St. Willibrord

Daily Reading for November 7 • Willibrord, Archbishop of Utrecht, Missionary to Frisia, 739

Many miracles were also wrought by divine power through His servant Willibrord. Whilst the ministry of preaching the Gospel is to be preferred to the working of miracles and the showing of signs, yet, because such miracles are recorded as having been performed, I think mention of them ought not to be suppressed; and so that glory may be given to God who vouchsafed them, I will insert them into this narrative, and in this way what we know to have been achieved in former times may not be lost to future ages.

Thus, when the venerable man, according to his custom, was on one of his missionary journeys he came to a village called Walichrum, where an idol of the ancient superstition remained. When the man of God, moved by zeal, smashed it to pieces before the eyes of the custodian, the latter, seething with anger, in a sudden fit of passion struck the priest of Christ on the head with a sword, as if to avenge the insult paid to his god. But, as God was protecting His servant, the murderous blow did him no harm. On seeing this, Willibrord's companions rushed forward to kill the wicked man for his audacity. The man of God good-naturedly delivered the culprit from their hands and allowed him to go free. The same day, however, he was seized and possessed by the devil and three days later he ended his wretched life in misery. And thus, because the man of God followed the Lord's command and was unwilling to avenge the wrongs done to him, he was vindicated all the more by the Lord Himself, just as He had said regarding the wrongs which the wicked inflicted upon His saints: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

On another occasion, when the blessed man was on his way to a cell belonging to him called Susteren, from the name of the stream that flows past it, he took a narrow path running through the cornfields of a certain wealthy landowner. When the keeper of the fields saw this he was furious and began to revile the man of God. Those who accompanied Willibrord wanted to punish the man for insulting him, but the saint of God mildly restrained them, not wishing that anyone should perish on his account, since his whole happiness lay in bringing salvation to all. When he found it impossible to calm the fury of the foolish man, Willibrord did not persist but returned by the way he had come. Next day, however, the wretch who had not feared to heap insults upon the servant of God was struck down on that very spot with sudden death before a crowd of onlookers.

From The Life of St. Willibrord by Alcuin (c. 796).

Christ loves childhood

Daily Reading for November 9

One day when the disciples were asking among themselves as to who was of greatest importance in the kingdom of heaven, the evangelist recounts that Jesus “called a little child over and stood the child in their midst and said: ‘I assure you, unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God. Whoever strives to be lowly, becoming like this child, is of greatest importance in that heavenly reign.’”

Christ loves the childhood which he first assumed in his soul and body. Christ loves childhood: toward it he steers the conduct of adults and toward it he leads the aged; after its example he fashions those whom he raises to the eternal kingdom.

From a sermon for Epiphany by Leo the Great, in Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, edited by J. Robert Wright. Copyright © 1991. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Leo the Great

Daily Reading for November 10 • Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome, 461

The whole body of the faithful profess that they “believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary.” By which three clauses the engines of almost all heretics are shattered. For when God is believed to be both “Almighty” and “Father,” it is proved that the Son is everlasting together with himself, differing in nothing from the Father, because he was born as “God from God,” Almighty from Almighty, Coeternal from Eternal; not later in time, not inferior in power, not unlike him in glory, not divided from him in essence, but the same Only-begotten and Everlasting Son of an Everlasting Parent who was “born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary.” This birth in time in no way detracted form, in no way added to, that divine and everlasting birth; but expended itself wholly in the work of restoring man, who had been deceived; so that it might both overcome death, and by its power “destroy the devil who had the power of death.” For we could not have overcome the author of sin and of death, unless he who could neither be contaminated by sin, nor detained by death, had taken upon himself our nature, and made it his own.

From The Tome of Leo, quoted in Readings in the History of Christian Theology, Volume 1: From Its Beginnings to the Eve of the Reformation, by William C. Placher (Westminster / John Knox, 1988).

Patriotism

Daily Reading for November 11 • The Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

I have urged the need to chip away at national sovereignty and expand global loyalty. But I believe that global loyalty will be reached through patriotism, not by rejecting it. Christians simply cannot allow political leaders to hijack patriotism in the service of fervent jingoism. As I see it, there are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad patriots are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics of their country. The good patriots are those who carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country, a reflection of God’s eternal lover’s quarrel with the entire world.

Nationalism at the expense of another nation is as evil as racism at the expense of another race. Nevertheless, just as husbands can love their wives without denigrating other women, so patriots ought to be able to love their country without disparaging others. I love America, and it is precisely because I love my country and want to promote her best interests that I want her citizens to recognize their interdependence with all nations, their need for common rather than national security, the worldwide need for disarmament, environmental protection, and greater economic justice.

Genuine love expands, it doesn’t contract. True patriotism can only extend minds and hearts, extend them to the point where all citizens in every land will one day vote for a vision of human unity once so eloquently described by a candidate for no less a post than that of the U.S. presidency: “We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship, dependent on its vulnerable supplies of air and soil; all committed for our safety to its security and peace, preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and I will say, the love we give our fragile craft” (Adlai Stevenson).

To eyes that are open, this vision is still accessible, not yet beyond hand’s reach.

From “A Vision of the Future” in A Passion for the Possible: A Message to U.S. Churches by William Sloane Coffin (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004).

Charles Simeon

Daily Reading for November 12 • Charles Simeon, priest, 1836

Merely speculative knowledge is of little avail: it is only like the light of the moon, which dissipates obscurity indeed, but communicates neither heat nor strength. The knowledge which alone will augment our love, is that which produces suitable impression on the mind; it is that which, like the sun-beam, enlivens and invigorates our whole frame. Now there is a great difference, even amongst good men, with respect to their perception of divine truths. There is, if we may use the expression, a spiritual taste, which is acquired and heightened by exercise. As, in reference to the objects of sense, there is an exquisite ‘judgment’ attained by some, so that their eye, their ear, and their palate can discern excellencies or defects, where others, with less discriminating organs, perceive nothing particular; so is there, in reference to spiritual things, an exquisite sensibility in some persons, whereby their enjoyment of divine truth is wonderfully enhanced. Now this is the knowledge which we should aspire after, and in which our love should progressively abound. We should not be satisfied with that speculative knowledge which may be gained from men and books; but should seek that spiritual discernment, which nothing but the operation of the Spirit of God upon the soul can produce. Whatever be the particular objects of our regard, we should get a realizing sense of their excellency, and be duly impressed with their importance.

From “Discourses Digested into one continued Series” by Charles Simeon, quoted in Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, compiled by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams (Oxford, 2001).

Holiness is our only option

Daily Reading for November 13

No nation is well served by illusions of its righteousness. All nations make decisions based on self-interest and then defend them in the name of morality. Saint Augustine gave excellent advice not only to individuals but to nations as well when he said, “Never fight evil as if it were something that arose totally outside of yourself.” He was reflecting Saint Paul’s “all have sinned and fallen short.” It is tempting, of course, to believe that some have sinned—for example, “that evil empire”—or that “most have sinned, but not us.” Paul’s insistence, however, that all have sinned makes an important point: if we are not one with our enemies in love, at least we are one with them in sin, which is no mean bond, for it precludes the possibility of separation through judgment. That is the meaning of the injunction “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

Innocence may be beguiling in children, but it is spiritually disastrous in adults, who ought to know that in the sullied stream of human life it is not innocence but holiness that is our only option. As with individuals, so with nations, their salvation lies not in being sinless but in believing that there is more mercy in God than sin in us.

From “Beyond War” in A Passion for the Possible: A Message to U.S. Churches by William Sloane Coffin (Westminster John Knox Press, 2004).

Samuel Seabury

Daily Reading for November 14 • Consecration of Samuel Seabury, First American Bishop, 1784

The general practice in this country is to have monthly Communions, and I bless God the Holy Ordinance is so often administered. Yet when I consider its importance, both on account of the positive command of Christ and of the many and great benefits we receive from it, I cannot but regret that it does not make a part of every Sunday’s solemnity. That it was the principal part of the daily worship of the primitive Christians all the early accounts inform us. And it seems probable from the Acts of the Apostles that the Christians came together in their religious meetings chiefly for its celebration. And the ancient writers generally interpret the petition in our Lord’s prayer, ‘Give us this day,’ or day by day, ‘our daily bread,’ of the spiritual food in the Holy Eucharist. Why daily nourishment should not be as necessary to our souls as to our bodies no good reason can be given.

If the Holy Communion was steadily administered whenever there is an Epistle and Gospel appointed, which seems to have been the original intention, I cannot help thinking that it would revive the esteem and reverence Christians once had for it, and would show its good effects in their lives and conversations. I hope the time will come when this pious and Christian practice may be renewed. In the meantime, let me beseech you to make good use of the opportunities you have; and let nothing but real necessity keep you from the heavenly banquet when you have it in your power to partake of it.

May the consideration of this subject have its proper effect upon every one of you! And the God of peace be with you, keep you in the unity of His Church, and in the bond of peace and in all righteousness of life, guide you by His Spirit through this world, and receive you to glory through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From “An Earnest Persuasive to Frequent Communion” by Samuel Seabury, quoted in Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, compiled by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams (Oxford, 2001).

Life in the slow lane

Daily Reading for November 15

My move from New York City to western South Dakota changed my sense of time and space so radically I might as well have gone to sea. In journeying on the inland ocean of the Plains, the great void at the heart of North America, I've discovered that time and distance, those inconveniences that modern life with its increasingly sophisticated computer technologies seeks to erase, have a reality and a terrifying beauty all their own.

Like all who choose life in the slow lane—sailors, monks, farmers—I partake of a contemplative reality. Living close to such an expanse of land I find I have little incentive to move fast, little need of instant information. I have learned to trust the processes that take time, to value change that is not sudden or ill-considered but grows out of the ground of experience. Such change is properly defined as conversion, a word that at its root connotes not a change of essence but of perspective, as turning around; turning back to or returning; turning one’s attention to.

Both monasteries and the rural communities on the Plains are places where nothing much happens. Paradoxically, they are also places where being open to conversion is most necessary if community is to survive. The inner impulse toward conversion, a change of heart, may be muted in a city, where outward change is fast, noisy, ever-present. But in the small town, in the quiet arena, a refusal to grow (which is one way Gregory of Nyssa defined sin) makes any constructive change impossible. Both monasteries and small towns lose their ability to be truly hospitable to the stranger when people use them as a place to hide out, a place to escape from the demands of life.

Because of the monotony of the monastic life, the bad thought of boredom (or acedia, the noonday demon) has traditionally been thought to apply particularly to monks, but I think most people have endured a day or two along the lines of this fourth-century description by the monk Evagrius:


I makes it seem that the sun barely moves, if at all, and the day is fifty hours long. Then it constrains the monk to look constantly out the window, to walk outside the cell to gaze carefully at the sun and determine how far it stands from the dinner hour, to look now this way and that to see if perhaps one of the brethren appears from his cell.

Anyone living in isolated or deprived circumstances, whether in a monastery or a quiet little town on the Great Plains, is susceptible to the noonday demon. It may appear as an innocuous question; “Isn’t the mail here yet?” But as monks have always known, such restlessness can lead to profound despair that makes a person despise his or her neighbors, work, and even life itself.

From Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris (Houghton Mifflin, 1993).

Queen Margaret of Scotland

Daily Reading for November 16 • Margaret, Queen of Scotland, 1093

The Norman Conquest of England could not fail to exercise a deep and lasting effect also on the northern kingdom, and it was the immediate cause of the introduction of English ideas and English civilization into Scotland. The flight to Scotland, after the battle of Hastings, of Edgar Atheling, heir of the Saxon Royal house, with his mother and his sisters Margaret and Christina, was followed at no great distant date by the marriage of Margaret to King Malcolm, as his second wife. A greatniece of St. Edward the Confessor, Margaret, whose personality stands out clearly before us in the pages of her biography by her confessor Turgot, was a woman not only of saintly life but of strong character who exercised the strongest influence on the Scottish Church and kingdom, as well as on the members of her own family. The character of Malcolm III has been depicted in very different colours by the English and Scottish chroniclers, the former painting him as the severe and merciless invader of England, while to the latter he is a noble and heroic prince, called Canmore (Ceann-mor great head) from his high kingly qualities. All however agree that the influence of his holy queen was the best and strongest element in his stormy life.

Whilst he was engaged in strengthening his frontiers and fighting the enemies of his country, Margaret found time, amid family duties and pious exercises, to take in hand the reform of certain outstanding abuses in the Scottish Church. In such matters as the fast of Lent, the Easter communion, the observance of Sunday, and compliance with the Church’s marriage laws she succeeded, with the king's support, in bringing the Church of Scotland into line with the rest of Catholic Christendom. Malcolm and Margaret rebuilt the venerable monastery of Iona, and founded churches in various parts of the kingdom; and during their reign the Christian faith was established in the islands lying off the northern and western coasts of Scotland, inhabited by Norsemen. Malcolm was killed in Northumberland in 1093, whilst leading an army against William Rufus; and his saintly queen, already dangerously ill, followed him to the grave a few days later.

From The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII; http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13613a.htm

Hugh of Avalon

Daily Reading for November 17 • Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, 1200

Richard I took only a passing interest in the affairs of his kingdom, for his life was so totally absorbed by the Crusades that, out of his whole reign of ten years, he spent only four or five months in England. Meanwhile the government of the country was carried on by his ministers, most of whom were bishops and many of them far more interested in the details of political organization than in the routine of pastoral duties. Hubert Walter, who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1193 to 1205 held, in addition to the primacy, the offices of legate, chief justiciar, chancellor and vicegerent. But he was a good and conscientious man, a great civil servant anxious to make a success of his labours and to guide the country through an exceedingly difficult time. William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely (1189-97), who was also chancellor, was a less attractive character who made himself much disliked by his domineering and extravagant ways. Geoffrey Plantagenet, an illegitimate son of Henry II, had far less claim to ecclesiastical preferment; yet he became Bishop of Lincoln at the age of fourteen and Archbishop of York seven years later, though his interest in the affairs of the Church was of the very slightest and he spent most of his time abroad. One bishop alone stands out as a shining example of pastoral devotion, and that was S.Hugh of Lincoln.

. . . .

Among the minor orders which found their way into England in the twelfth century was the order of Carthusians, founded by S. Bruno at the Grande-Chartreuse in 1086. Unlike most of the other monastic orders the Carthusians were hermit-monks, who renounced the corporate life and lived each in his own cell, where he did his work, cooked his own food and said his prayers. The community met only for the night-office, Mass and vespers. For the rest of the day each monk lived the life of a solitary. The order never made much progress in England, for the life was very hard and the standards remained very high. It produced, however, one of the most saintly characters of the medieval English Church—S. Hugh of Avalon, who came over to found the charterhouse at Witham in 1178 and in 1186 was elected Bishop of Lincoln, where he lived for fourteen years, setting an example of what a really pastoral bishop might be.

From A History of the Church in England by J. R. H. Moorman. Copyright © 1963. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Blessed poverty

Daily Reading for November 19 • Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary, 1231

O blessed poverty,
who bestows eternal riches
on those who love and embrace her!

O holy poverty,
to those who possess and desire you
God promises the Kingdom of Heaven
and offers, indeed, eternal glory and blessed life!

O God-centered poverty,
whom the Lord Jesus Christ
Who ruled and now rules heaven and earth,
Who spoke and things were made,
condescended to embrace before all else!

From the letter of St. Clare of Assisi to Agnes of Prague, quoted in Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology, edited by John R. Tyson (Oxford University Press, 1999).

Edmund the blessed

Daily Reading for November 20 • Edmund, King of East Anglia, 870

Edmund the Blessed, King of East Anglia, was wise and worthy, and exalted among the noble servants of the almighty God. He was humble and virtuous and remained so resolute that he would not turn to shameful vices, nor would he bend his morality in any way, but was ever-mindful of the true teaching: “If you are installed as a ruler, don't puff yourself up, but be among men just like one of them.” He was charitable to poor folks and widows, just like a father, and with benevolence he guided his people always towards righteousness, and restrained the cruel, and lived happily in the true faith.

Eventually it happened that the Danes came with a ship-army, harrying and slaying widely throughout the land, as is their custom. In the fleet were the foremost chieftans Ivar and Ubbi, united through the devil. They landed warships in Northumbria, and wasted that country and slew the people. Then Ivar went [south-]east with his ships and Halfdan remained in Northumbria gaining victory with slaughter. Ivar came rowing to East Anglia in the year in which prince Alfred—he who afterwards became the famous West Saxon king—was 21. The aforementioned Ivar suddenly invaded the country, just like a wolf, and slew the people, men and women and innocent children, and ignominiously harrassed innocent Christians. Soon afterward he sent to king Edmund a threatening message, that Edmund should submit to his alliegence, if he cared for his life. The messenger came to king Edmund and boldly announced Ivar's message: “Ivar, our king, bold and victorious on sea and on land, has dominion over many peoples, and has now come to this country with his army to take up winter-quarters with his men. He commands that you share your hidden gold-hordes and your ancestral possessions with him straightaway, and that you become his vassal-king, if you want to stay alive, since you now don't have the forces that you can resist him.”

Then king Edmund summoned a certain bishop with whom he was most intimate, and deliberated with him how he should answer the fierce Ivar. The bishop was afraid because of this emergency, and he feared for the king's life, and counselled him that he thought that Edmund should submit to what Ivar asked of him. Then the king became silent, and looked at the ground, and then said to him at last: “Alas bishop, the poor people of this country are already shamefully afflicted. I would rather die fighting so that my people might continue to possess their native land.” The bishop said: “Alas beloved king, thy people lie slain. You do not have the troops that you may fight, and the pirates come and kidnap the living. Save your life by flight, or save yourself by submitting to him.” Then said king Edmund, since he was completely brave: “This I heartily wish and desire, that I not be the only survivor after my beloved thegns are slain in their beds with their children and wives by these pirates. It was never my way to flee. I would rather die for my country if I need to. Almighty God knows that I will not ever turn from worship of Him, nor from love of His truth. If I die, I live.”

After these words he turned to the messenger who Ivar had sent him, and, undaunted, said to him: “In truth you deserve to be slain now, but I will not defile my clean hands with your vile blood, because I follow Christ who so instructed us by his example; and I happily will be slain by you if God so ordain it. Go now quickly and tell your fierce lord: ‘Never in this life will Edmund submit to Ivar the heathen war-leader, unless he submit first to the belief in the Saviour Christ which exists in this country.’” Then the messenger went quickly on his way, and met along the road the cruel Ivar with all his army hastening toward Edmund, and told the impious one how he had been answered. Ivar then arrogantly ordered that the pirates should all look at once for the king who scorned his command, and seize him immediately.

King Edmund, against whom Ivar advanced, stood inside his hall, and mindful of the Saviour, threw out his weapons. Lo! the impious one then bound Edmund and insulted him ignominiously, and beat him with rods, and afterwards led the devout king to a firm living tree, and tied him there with strong bonds, and beat him with whips. In between the whip lashes, Edmund called out with true belief in the Saviour Christ. Because of his belief, because he called to Christ to aid him, the heathens became furiously angry. They then shot spears at him, as if it was a game, until he was entirely covered with their missiles, like the bristles of a hedgehog (just like St. Sebastian was). When Ivar the impious pirate saw that the noble king would not forsake Christ, but with resolute faith called after Him, he ordered Edmund beheaded, and the heathens did so. While Edmund still called out to Christ, the heathen dragged the holy man to his death, and with one stroke struck off his head, and his soul journeyed happily to Christ. There was a man near at hand, kept hidden by God, who heard all this, and told of it afterward, just as we have told it here.

From Abbo of Fleury’s Life of St. Edmund, from the Anglo-Saxon version as it appears in Sweet’s Anglo-Saxon Primer, ninth edition, translated by K. Cutler (Oxford University Press, 1961).

Gratefulness

Daily Reading for November 21

Why is it so difficult to acknowledge a gift as a gift? Here is the reason. When I admit that something is a gift, I admit my dependence on the giver. This may not sound that difficult, but there is something within us that bristles at the idea of dependence. We want to get along by ourselves. Yet a gift is something we simply cannot give to ourselves—not as a gift, at any rate. I can buy the same thing or even something better. But it will not be a gift if I procure it for myself. I can go out and treat myself to a magnificent treat. I can even be grateful later for the good time I had. But can I be grateful to myself for having treated myself so well? That would be neck-breaking mental acrobatics. Gratefulness always goes beyond myself. For what makes something a gift is precisely that it is given. And the receiver depends on the giver.

This dependence is always there when a gift is given and received. Even a mother depends on her child for the smallest gift. Suppose a little boy buys his mother a bunch of daffodils. He is giving nothing that he has not already received. His mother gave him not only the money he spent, but his very life and the upbringing that made him generous. Yet his gift is something that she depends on his giving. There is no other way she could receive it as a gift. Gift giving is a celebration of the bond that unites giver and receiver. That bond is gratefulness.

From Gratefulness, Heart of Prayer by David Steindl-Rast (Paulist Press, 1984).

Thanks for small things

Daily Reading for November 22 • Thanksgiving Day

Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts he has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith and difficulty; if on the contrary we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

From Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (SCM Press, 1963).

Breach of unity

Daily Reading for November 23 • Clement, Bishop of Rome, c. 100

Because of our recent series of unexpected misfortunes and set-backs, my dear friends, we feel there has been some delay in turning our attention to the causes of dispute in your community. We refer particularly to the odious and unholy breach of unity among you, which is quite incompatible with God’s chosen people, and which a few hot-headed and unruly individuals have inflamed to such a pitch that your venerable and illustrious name, so richly deserving of everyone’s affection, has been brought into serious disrepute.

There was a time when nobody could spend even a short while among you without noticing the excellence and constancy of your faith. Who ever failed to be impressed by your sober and selfless Christian piety, to tell of your generous spirit of hospitality, or to pay tribute to the wide range and soundness of your knowledge? It was your habit at all times to act without fear or favour, living by the laws of God and deferring with correctness to those who were set over you.

Humility, too, and a complete absence of self-assertion were common to you all; you preferred to offer submission rather than extort it, and giving was dearer to your hearts than receiving. Asking no more than what Christ had provided for your journey through life, you paid careful heed to His words, treasured them in your hearts, and kept His sufferings constantly before your eyes. The reward was a deep and shining peace, a quenchless ardour for well-doing, and a rich outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon you all.

From the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, in Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, translated by Maxwell Staniforth (Penguin Books, 1968).

The open gate to life

Daily Reading for November 24

There must be no time lost in putting an end to this state of affairs. We must fall on our knees before the Master and implore Him with tears graciously to pardon us, and bring us back again into the honourable and virtuous way of brothers who love one another. For that is the gateway of righteousness, the open gate to life. There are many gates standing open, but the gate of righteousness is the gate of Christ, where blessings are in store for every incomer who pursues the path of godliness and uprightness, and goes about his duties without seeking to create trouble. By all means let a man be a true believer, let him be capable of expounding the secrets of revelation, and a judicious assessor of what he hears, and a pattern of virtue in all this doings. But the higher his reputation stands, so much the more humble-minded he ought to be; and furthermore, his eyes should be fixed on the good of the whole community rather than on his own personal advantage.

If there is true Christian love in a man, let him carry out the precepts of Christ. Who can describe the constraining power of a love for God? Its majesty and its beauty who can adequately express? No tongue can tell the heights to which love can uplift us. Love binds us fast to God. Love casts a veil over sins innumerable. There are no limits to love’s endurance, no end to its patience. Love is without servility, as it is without arrogance. Love knows of no divisions, promotes no discord; all the works of love are done in perfect fellowship. It was in love that all God’s chosen saints were made perfect; for without love nothing is pleasing to Him. It was in love that the Lord drew us to Himself; because of the love He bore us, our Lord Jesus Christ, at the will of God, gave His blood for us—His flesh for our flesh, His life for our lives.

From the First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, in Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, translated by Maxwell Staniforth (Penguin Books, 1968).

Christ the King

Daily Reading for November 25 • The Last Sunday after Pentecost

O Lord; O King, resplendent on the citadel of heaven,
all hail continually;
and of your clemency
upon your people still have mercy.

Lord, whom the hosts of cherubim in songs and hymns
with praise continually proclaim,
upon us eternally have mercy.

The armies aloft, O Lord, sing high praise to you:
those to whom the seraphim reply, “have mercy.”

O Christ, enthroned as king above,
whom the nine orders of angels in their beauty
praise without ceasing,
upon us, your servants, ever have mercy.

O Christ, hymned by your one and only church
throughout the world,
to whom the sun, and moon, and stars, the land and sea
ever do service, have mercy.

O Christ, those holy ones, the heirs of the eternal country,
one and all with utter joy proclaim you in a most worthy strain:
have mercy upon us.

O Lord, O gentle son of Mary free;
O King of kings, blessed redeemer;
upon those who have been ransomed from the power of death,
by your own blood, ever have mercy.

O noblest unbegotten, yet begotten son, having no beginning,
yet without effort (in the weakness of God) excelling all things,
upon this your people in your pity, Lord have mercy.

O sun of righteousness, in all unclouded glory,
supreme dispenser of justice,
in that great day when you strictly judge all nations,
we earnestly beseech you, upon this your people,
who here stand before your presence,
in your pity, Lord, then have mercy on us.

A prayer of Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury in the tenth century. Quoted in 2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Prayer in changing seasons

Daily Reading for November 26

Mindfulness and awareness, though the essential foundation of a life of prayer, are not in themselves sufficient. There must be some structure and framework, regular times for prayer, particularly shared prayer, and it is these that Benedict is establishing here [in Chapter 8 of the Rule]. Prayer is never taken out of the natural flow of life itself. It is firmly inserted within the rhythm of the changing seasons, of winter and summer, of day and night, and not least of the rhythm of my own body. In a world in which the techniques of prayer are widely discussed and so many varying techniques seem to be offered, it is rather startling to have the subjects of sleep, digestion, and making time to go to the lavatory introduced into this short chapter. This, however, at once makes it clear that the daily office is tailored to suit the needs of the monks, rather than according to some idealized blueprint or an abstract principle. Benedict respects our total humanity—body, mind, and spirit—and recognizes that balance here: praying is disassociated neither from a gentle handling of bodily needs, nor from intellectual demand. The gap between the first two offices of the day is to be used for reading and for study, for memorizing the psalms in order to make them one’s own, “to possess the psalms and be possessed by them.”

From A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal (Liturgical Press, 1995).

From dark to light

Daily Reading for November 27

In the world of his day, Benedict’s monks would go to bed at 6:00 p.m., so that after eight full hours of sleep they would awaken at 2:00 a.m. They would thus start the day in the dark, and the slow coming of the dawn would be a symbolic daily reminder of the movement from dark to light, from sleep and death to new life. Anyone who has read what Thomas Merton has told us of his life in his hermitage at Gethsemani will know, even if they have not experienced it for themselves, that those hours before dawn are perhaps the best time of all for prayer. Merton himself would rise at 2:15 a.m., when the night was at its darkest and most silent.

It is necessary for me to see the first point of light which begins to dawn. It is necessary to be present alone at the resurrection of Day, in blank silence when the sun appears. In this completely neutral instant I receive from the eastern woods, the tall oaks, the one word “Day” which is never the same. It is never spoken in any known language.

From A Life-Giving Way: A Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict by Esther de Waal (Liturgical Press, 1995).

The church in Hawai'i

Daily Reading for November 28 • Kamehameha and Emma, King and Queen of Hawai’i, 1864, 1885

If we are Christians according to the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, we cannot withhold our belief in the Holy Catholic Church established on earth by Jesus Christ our Lord. There are branches of this church in every land. How the church has come down from the times of the apostles to these days in which we live is not a matter about which the generality of men are ignorant. It were useless perhaps to set forth how she has taken root sooner or later all over the world. She is planted in America, in Asia, in Europe, in Africa, in the islands which stud the ocean, and now, behold! She is here with us in these islands of our own.

Let us see how she felt her way and reached us at last. Our ancient idols had been dethroned, the sexes ate together, and the prohibition upon certain articles of food was held in derision by the females to whom it had been a law, the temples were demolished, the kapu had become no more than a memory of something that was hateful before, and the priests had no longer any rites to perform—indeed, there were no priests, for their office had died out. These changes came no doubt by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, acting through blind, unsuspecting agents. These revolutions were greatly furthered and helped along by those devout and devoted men who first brought here and translated into our mother-tongue God’s Holy Word, and we, while these lines are being written, see the complete fulfillment of what the Bible enjoins in the establishment here of Christ’s church complete in all her functions.

The church is established here in Hawaii through the breathings of the Holy Spirit and by the agency of the chiefs. It is true that the representatives of the various forms of worship had come here, and there had been many controversies, one side generally denying what some other sect had laid most stress on. Now we have grounds to rejoice, and now we may hold fast to the hope that the true Church of God has verily taken root here.

A reading from Kamehameha IV in the Hawaiian Book of Common Prayer, quoted in A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Discipleship

Daily Reading for November 29

Next to the calling of the disciples, I expect that Matthew’s story about their sending forth is one of the most confrontational stories in all the Bible. Can you imagine? There you are, perfectly content to be a follower, when Jesus comes home all worn out one day with his hair hanging in his face and his clothes ringed with sweat and dirt. He looks around at those of you who have been with him all along and says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. I need some help, and I’m nominating you.”

Since we have been hearing this story about the sending of the disciples for so long now, we may take their job description for granted. In short, they were given exactly the same things to do that Jesus himself had been given to do, but it did not have to be that way. He could have pointed out that none of them was the son of God, after all. None of them had been born under a blinding star, or had angels sing hosannas over their cribs, or received exotic gifts from foreign dignitaries before they so much as cut a tooth.

He could have reminded them of all that and insisted that they remain his assistants—for their own safety, you understand, to avoid malpractice suits. He could have let them mix the mud when he healed blind people, or spray the Lysol when he cleansed lepers, or unwrap the bandages from those he had raised form the dead. He could have done that, but he did not. Instead, he transferred his ministry to them while he was still alive. He entrusted it to them. With no training and very little advice, he sent them out to heal wounds and restore outcasts and bring the dead back to life.

What keeps nagging at me, though, is the way he sent them out—no money, no shoes, not even a walking stick. Why send them out with so much power and so few accessories? The way Jesus set it up, they could not provide for others out of their own abundance; they could only provide for them out of their need. What must it be like to own nothing, to have nothing but your own need, and to understand that the only thing you have to offer anyone else is what you yourself have been given?

When it comes down to being a provider of God’s love, there is really only one provider, who sends us out with nothing at all and with everything we need: healing, forgiveness, restoration, resurrection. Those are the only things we really have to share with the world, which is just as well, since they are the only things the world really needs.

From “Heaven at Hand” in Bread of Angels by Barbara Brown Taylor (Cowley, 1997).

Call to friendship

Daily Reading for November 30 • St. Andrew the Apostle

One common element in the gospel narratives is the story of Jesus’ call of the disciples. By the sea of Galilee he meets and calls brothers Simon Peter and Andrew, fishermen who are invited to ply their skills in new ways and new "waters." On one level it might seem to us that Jesus is organizing a campaign or setting up shop. Perhaps this is because we view the stories through what is familiar in our day; we read backward through the lens of institutional and church history and see in these early associations the pattern of our own administrative structures. But is it not curious that when Jesus calls these early companions, he is terribly hazy about job descriptions and mission statements?

Clearly, the pattern here is somewhat different. The relationship between Jesus and his disciples emerges as more that of friends than of professional staff. There is no evidence of how he comes to choose the particular individuals he chooses. No rationale is offered and no apparent design for their deployment emerges. He is not hiring workers or associates, but calling friends.

Jesus’ selection of his own circle of companions may well have been something more than a conscious organizational plan for the implementation of a well-planned ministry. It may have been his first opportunity to choose friends freely. Like Jesus, when we are free from the familial and the familiar and offered the opportunity of new circumstances, we find and embrace those friends who are of our own choosing. They are uniquely ours, and in that uniqueness lies much of their preciousness. In these relationships we often share everything. Most importantly, through them we build sufficient confidence in others to express our ideas openly. . . .

What we observe in Jesus’ pilgrimage of vocational fulfillment is that he experienced a series of radical changes and reorientations. Each one was essential to his formation as a person, and each was a response to vocational urging. That he found himself knee-deep in the Jordan being baptized by John, or living in Galilee on the opposing bank of the Jordan from Nazareth, or in the midst of strange but chosen companions, or broadening his notion of family to include those who were not tied to him by blood or nationality, was not by whimsy or will. He was where he was and what he was in response to his discernment of God’s will for him, God’s call to him.

From Crossing the Jordan: Meditations on Vocation by Sam Portaro (Cowley, 1999).

Born again

Daily Reading for December 1

Advent offers all of us a chance to be born again. We might well ask with Nicodemus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus tells us that if we want to be part of the people of God we must be born “from above”: “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit” (John 3:4–7). In truth, all of life is an ongoing opportunity for us to find new life and to get in touch with God’s ongoing work of co-creating the world with us.

In the beginning God created everything. Created by God, we are called to be stewards of all that we have and receive from God. The mystery of the incarnation, Christmas, and Christ’s coming invites us to enter fully into God’s ongoing acts of creation and to participate joyfully in the reign of God.

Advent calls us to remember that God is our Creator. Remembering God’s acts of creation, as well as God’s acts of redemption, liberation, salvation, and grace, we grow in anticipation of the Child’s coming at Christmas and on the last day. The first step in Advent is to remember that we are created by God and loved by God.

From The Womb of Advent by Mark Bozutti-Jones. Copyright © 2007. Seabury Books, an imprint of Church Publishing. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Beginning to shake

Daily Reading for December 2 • The First Sunday of Advent

There is perhaps nothing we modern people need more than to be genuinely shaken up. Where life is firm we need to sense its firmness; and where it is unstable and uncertain and has no basis, no foundation, we need to know this too and endure it.

We may ask why God has sent us into this time, why he has sent this whirlwind over the earth, why he keeps us in this chaos where all appears hopeless and dark and why there seems to be no end to this in sight. The answer to this question is perhaps that we were living on earth in an utterly false and counterfeit security. And now God strikes the earth till it resounds, now he shakes and shatters; not to pound us with fear, but to teach us one thing—the spirit’s innermost moving and being moved.

Here is the message of Advent: faced with him who is the Last, the world will begin to shake. Only when we do not cling to false securities will our eyes be able to see this Last One and get to the bottom of things. Only then will we be able to guard our life from the frights and terrors into which God the Lord has let the world sink to teach us, so that we may awaken from sleep, as Paul says, and see that it is time to repent, time to change things. It is time to say, “All right, it was night; but let that be over now and let us be ready for the day.” We must do this with a decision that comes out of these very horrors we have experienced and all that is connected with them; and because of this our decision will be unshakable even in uncertainty.

Condemned as a traitor for his opposition to Hitler, Father Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest, wrote this piece in a Nazi prison shortly before he was hanged in 1945. Quoted in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Plough Publishing House, 2001).

Flesh of God

Daily Reading for December 4 • John of Damascus, Priest, c. 760

So then, after the assent of the Holy Virgin, the Holy Spirit descended on her . . . purifying her, and granting her power to receive the divinity of the Word, and likewise power to bring forth. And then was she overshadowed by enhypostatic Wisdom and the Power of the most high God, the Son of God Who is of like essence with the Father as of Divine seed, and from her holy and most pure blood He formed flesh animated with the spirit of reason and thought, the first-fruits of our compound nature; not by procreation but by creation through the Holy Spirit; not developing the fashion of the body by gradual additions but by perfecting it at once, He Himself, the very Word of God, standing to the flesh in the relation of subsistence. For the divine Word was not made one with flesh that had an independent preexistence, but taking up His abode in the womb of the holy Virgin. . . . So that He is at once flesh, and at the same time flesh of God and the Word, likewise flesh animated, possessing both reason and thought. Wherefore we speak not of man as having become God, but of God as having become man.

From Exposition of the Orthodox Faith by John of Damascus, quoted in Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology, edited by John R. Tyson (Oxford University Press, 1999).

Celebrate the mighty Child

Daily Reading for December 5 • Clement of Alexandria, Priest, c. 210

Bridle of colts untamed,
Over our will presiding;
Wing of unwandering birds,
Our flight securely guiding.

Rudder of youth unbending,
Firm against adverse shock;
Shepherd, with wisdom tending
Lambs of the royal flock;

Thy simple children bring
In one, that they may sing
In solemn lays
Their hymns of praise
With guileless lips to Christ the King.

King of saints, almighty Word
Of the Father’s highest Lord;
Wisdom’s head and chief;
Assuagement of all grief;
Lord of all time and space,
Jesus, Savior of our race;

Shepherd, who dost us keep;
Husbandman, who tillest,
Bit to restrain us, Rudder
To guide us as Thou willest;
Of the all-holy flock celestial wing;

Fisher of men, whom Thou to life dost bring;
From evil sea of sin,
And billowy strife,
Gathering pure fishes in,
Caught with sweet bait of life:

Lead us, Shepherd of the sheep,
Reason-gifted, holy One;
King of youths, whom Thou dost keep,
So that they pollution shun:

Steps of Christ, celestial Way;
Word eternal, Age unending;
Life that never can decay;
Fount of mercy, virtue-sending;
Life august of those who raise
Unto God their hymn of praise,
Jesus Christ!

Nourished by the milk of heaven,
To our tender palates given;
Milk of wisdom from the breast
Of that bride of grace expressed;
By a dewy spirit filled
From fair Reason’s breast distilled;
Let us sucklings join to raise
With pure lips our hymns of praise
As our grateful offering,
Clean and pure, to Christ our King.
Let us, with hearts undefiled,
Celebrate the mighty Child.

A hymn of Clement of Alexandria, quoted in Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology, edited by John R. Tyson (Oxford University Press, 1999).

Act like children

Daily Reading for December 6 • Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, c. 342

We can choose the light. Choosing the good and the light is not always an easy process. Many give up on growth in the Christian life because they find it difficult to shake their destructive patterns of behavior. We have learned we should choose the good, but we do not always understand the role of desire. If we do not understand desire, we will never understand choice. Desire is what saves us in the Christian life.

Desire is an innate gift of the Holy Spirit that needs to be intentionally cultivated. Desiring to do good, even when we do not choose to, is a step in the right direction. Let us be patient with ourselves when we fail to pray, fail to be courageous, or fail to practice what we preach. Let us tap into our gift of desire and cultivate it though prayer.

Advent invites us to stand up as children of God. Being children, of course, requires having birth parents, and this is the rub. Some of us do not treasure the time spent with our parents or do not have parents at all. Because of this, we find it hard to understand what it means to have God as our parent and to be children of God. On the other hand, some of us have had wonderful relationships with our parents, and it is easy for us to understand God as loving parent. In Christian community, we can share our experiences of childhood and explore our understandings of God as parent. When was the last time we shared our experiences as parents and children in a faith setting? When was the last time we shared the joys and pains of our childhood in the context of a prayer gathering or Eucharist? Doing this could be a tremendous source of healing and life this Advent.

Being children of God requires that we act like children. Cry when you need milk. Act silly to make God laugh. Listen to what God says. Throw things off the table and experience God’s patience. Curl up in the arms of God. Ask God to read you a story. Allow God to throw you up in the air. Play hide and seek with God. Allow God to play hide and seek with you. Cry when God goes away. Squeal with delight when God comes back. Listen to God say how much you are loved. Tell God of your love. This, without a doubt, is what Advent is all about.

From The Womb of Advent by Mark Bozutti-Jones. Copyright © 2007. Seabury Books, an imprint of Church Publishing. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Fountain of water

Daily Reading for December 7 • Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, c. 397

To Thee, O Fountain of mercy, my mother poured out still more frequent prayers and tears that thou wouldst hasten thy aid and enlighten my darkness, and she hurried all the more zealously to the church and hung upon the words of Ambrose [of Milan], praying for “the fountain of water that springs up into everlasting life” [Jn 4:14]. For she loved that man as an angel of God, since she knew that it was by him that I had been brought thus far to that wavering state of agitation I was now in, through which she was fully persuaded I should pass from sickness to health, even though it would be after a still sharper convulsion which physicians call “the crisis.”

Ambrose himself I esteemed a happy man, as the world counted happiness, because great personages held him in honor. Only his celibacy appeared to me a painful burden. But what hope he cherished, what struggles he had against the temptations that beset his high station, what solace in adversity, and what savory joys thy bread possessed for the hidden mouth of his heart when feeding on it, I could neither conjecture nor experience. I heard him, indeed, every Lord’s Day, “rightly dividing the word of truth” [2 Tim 2:15] among the people. And I became all the more convinced that all those knots of crafty calumnies which those deceivers of ours had knit together against the divine books could be unraveled.

From the Confessions of Augustine of Hippo, quoted in Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology, edited by John R. Tyson (Oxford University Press, 1999).

The double Advent

Daily Reading for December 8

When we call God ‘Father’, we are called to step out, as apprentice children, into a world of pain and darkness. We will find that darkness all around us; it will terrify us, precisely because it will remind us of the darkness inside our own selves. The temptation then is to switch off the news, to shut out the pain of the world, to create a painless world for ourselves. A good deal of our contemporary culture is designed to do exactly that. No wonder people find it hard to pray. But if, as the people of the living creator God, we respond to the call to be his sons and daughters; if we take the risk of calling him Father; then we are called to be the people through whom the pain of the world is held in the healing light of the love of God. And we then discover that we want to pray, and need to pray, this prayer. Father; Our Father in heaven; Our Father in heaven, may your name be honoured. That is, may you be worshipped by your whole creation; may the whole cosmos resound with your praise; may the whole world be freed from injustice, disfigurement, sin, and death, and may your name be hallowed. And as we stand in the presence of the living God, with the darkness and pain of the world on our hearts, praying that he will fulfill his ancient promises, and implement the victory of Calvary and Easter for the whole cosmos—then we may discover that our own pain, our own darkness, is somehow being dealt with as well.

This, then, I dare say, is the pattern of Christian spirituality. It is not the selfish pursuit of private spiritual advancement. It is not the flight of the alone to the alone. It is neither simply shouting into a void, nor simply getting in touch with our own deepest feelings, though sometimes it may feel like one or other of these. It is the rhythm of standing in the presence of the pain of the world, and kneeling in the presence of the creator of the world; of bringing those two things together in the name of Jesus and by the victory of the cross; of living in the tension of the double Advent, and of calling God ‘Father’.

From The Lord and His Prayer by N. T. Wright (Eerdmans, 1996).

Heard by God

Daily Reading for December 10

Do we feel seen, heard, remembered, and blessed by God? In our busy lives, we easily forget that we are precious in the sight of God. “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30). Indeed, it is our faith in God that reminds us we are forever in the sight of God. Our search for meaning as Christians is to come to this realization of knowing that we are always in God’s view. To live in the sight of God calls us to trust the providence and the workings of God.

The more we attune our lives to this reality, the more we take on the eyes of God. Numerous times throughout the Scriptures we hear God described as seeing the suffering of individuals and entire peoples. God does see the suffering of our hearts, which we try so hard to conceal from one another. God sees the suffering of millions of poor and homeless people, whom our society tries to hide from our view. God sees us when we are Leah, needing to give birth. God sees us when we are Jacob, struggling to make sense of God’s promises. God sees us when we are Rachel, desperate to have things work out.

Advent is also a time to be heard by God. To approach Christmas without prayer is to go to the airport without a ticket. God wants to hear our prayers, our hopes, our conflict, our pain, and our joys. In an ever more talkative society, we have distanced ourselves from talking to our Creator. As Christmas approaches, we spend a lot of time talking to friends, but few of us spend sufficient time giving God a chance to hear us. God knows that we are happy, but God wants us to sing thanks. God knows that we hurt, but God wants us to proclaim a ballad. God knows that we can speak, but God wants to hear our voices. How often do we cry out to God? How often do we sing God’s praises? When was the last time we said “I love you” to God?

Do we remember that we are beginning again, starting over and growing? It is a joyful season and also a difficult one. By the end of the year, the last thing most of us want is to be asked to improve and to grow. The weather and the light contribute to a desire to give up, to lie down and not do much. For us as Christians the call goes out to wake up and be watchful. Pay attention, the Scriptures remind us over and over again. In the quiet and in the cold, we listen attentively to God, and we warm our hearts by drawing close to God. Who knows the birth places deep within us that God will open?

How do we grow in the areas where we feel forgotten by God? How do we grow when we feel barren like Leah and Rachel? How do we grow in the quiet and the dark? Spend some time today reflecting on your spiritual journey in the dark night of the soul. Let us be still, let us be contemplative in our actions, not for our own sake, but because God needs us to be light, even as the night approaches.

From The Womb of Advent by Mark Bozutti-Jones. Copyright © 2007. Seabury Books, an imprint of Church Publishing. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Come!

Daily Reading for December 11

Every year we celebrate the holy season of Advent, O God. Every year we pray those beautiful prayers of longing and waiting, and sing those lovely songs of hope and promise. Every year we roll up all our needs and yearnings and faithful expectation into one word: “Come!”

And yet, what a strange prayer this is! After all, you have already come and pitched your tent among us. You have already shared our life with its little joys, its long days of tedious routine, its bitter end. Could we invite you to anything more than this with our “Come”? Could you approach any nearer to us than you did when you became the “Son of Man,” when you adopted our ordinary little ways so thoroughly that it’s almost hard for us to distinguish you from the rest of our fellow men?

In spite of all this we still pray: “Come.” Is it true, then, that we only “celebrate” this season, or is it still really Advent? Are you the eternal Advent? Are you he who is always still to come, but never arrives in such a way as to fulfill our expectations? Are you the infinitely distant One, who can never be reached?

You promised that you would come, and actually made good your promise. But how, O Lord, how did you come? You did it by taking a human life as your own. You became like us in everything: born of a woman, you suffered under Pontius Pilate, were crucified, died, and were buried. And thus you took up again the very thing we wanted to discard. You began what we thought would end with your coming: our poor human kind of life, which is sheer frailty, finiteness, and death.

From “The God Who Is to Come” by Karl Rahner, in Encounters with Silence, translated by James M. Demske (St. Augustine’s Press, 1999).

Behold, you come

Daily Reading for December 12

Contrary to all our fond hopes, you seized upon precisely this kind of human life and made it your own. And you did this not in order to change or abolish it, not so that you could visibly and tangibly transform it, not to divinize it. You didn’t even fill it to overflowing with the kind of goods that men are able to wrest from the small, rocky acre of their temporal life, and which they laboriously store away as their meager provision for eternity.

No, you took upon yourself our kind of life, just as it is. You let it slip away from you, just as ours vanishes from us. You held on to it carefully, so that not a single drop of its torments would be spilled. You hoarded its every fleeting moment, so you could suffer through it all, right to the bitter end.

Is that your real coming? Is that what humanity has been waiting for? Is that why men have made the whole of human history a single great Advent-choir, in which even the blasphemers take part—a single chant crying out for you and your coming? Is your humble human existence from Bethlehem to Calvary really the coming that was to redeem wretched humanity from its misery?

It is said that you will come again, and this is true. But the word again is misleading. It won’t really be “another” coming, because you have never really gone away. In the human existence that you made your own for all eternity, you have never left us.

But still you will come again, because the fact that you have already come must continue to be revealed ever more clearly. It will become progressively more manifest to the world that the heart of all things is already transformed, because you have taken them all to your heart.

Behold, you come. And your coming is neither past nor future, but the present, which has only to reach its fulfillment. Now it is still the one single hour of your Advent, at the end of which we too shall have found out that you have really come.

O God who is to come, grant me the grace to live now, in the hour of your Advent, in such a way that I may merit to live in you forever, in the blissful hour of your eternity.

From “The God Who Is to Come” by Karl Rahner, in Encounters with Silence, translated by James M. Demske (St. Augustine’s Press, 1999).

Santa Lucia

Daily Reading for December 13

The feast of St. Lucy (304) occurs during the Geminid meteor showers, sometimes called “St. Lucy’s Lights.” The northern sky filled with shooting stars prompts us to put on the “armor of light” in anticipation of the day of the Lord. Before the Gregorian calendar reform in 1582, the feast of Santa Lucia fell on the shortest day of the year. Lucy (“light”) marked the close of the long, dark nights and heralded the new light to come. Thus her feast is identified with a wreath of candles to drive away the darkness and welcome the returning sunlight.

Born to nobility in Syracuse, Sicily, young Lucy accompanied her mother on a pilgrimage to the tomb of Agatha. Her mother was miraculously healed, convincing Lucy to serve God. She gave all her riches to the poor and lived a life of service. She was beheaded after surviving extreme torture during the Diocletian persecutions. Her relics remain in Venice, Italy, at Santa Lucia Church.

Tales of a miraculous appearance of Lucy to a desperately hungry Sweden, her head haloed with light and her arms filled with enough food for everyone, generate the traditional “Lucia bride.” In Swedish homes, at cockcrow, the eldest girl in the house dresses in a white gown sashed in red and crowns her head with an evergreen wreath of seven to nine candles to impersonate Lucy. The Lussibrud wakes all the sleepers with coffee, sweet drink, and cakes called “Lucy cats.” The cakes are circular swirls, like cinnamon buns, that represent the eternal Sun. All gather for breakfast and tales of Lucy, who announces that darkness is broken and the Son is coming.

To honor Lucy and the Advent of the Light of the world, choose a family member to rise early and awaken the household with beverage and donuts or round sweet rolls. Just before dawn, you may want to go outside and try to spot the Geminid lights.

From Teach Us to Number Our Days: A Liturgical Advent Calendar by Barbara Dee Baumgarten. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

O Come, Emmanuel

Daily Reading for December 14

Advent. A time of waiting and watching and preparation. A time, if we are not careful, of rampant materialism and tension that looks forward only to a too-secularized and too-commercialized Christmas holiday. On the other hand, Advent can be a time like no other—a time in which we pause and ask Christ into our hearts, invite God into our world.

But who is this God who comes to us and enters into our life? How do we invite God into our lives? How do we know Christ Jesus? One way to discover Christ and to pray for God’s coming is to use the ancient prayers of the early church together with a present-day understanding of what Christ’s coming will mean for us.

The well-known carol, “O come, O come, Emmanuel,” provides just such a passageway linking the old and the new. The carol’s familiar names for Christ are based on the Advent Antiphons—the “Great O’s”—which date back possibly to the sixth century. These antiphons—short devotional texts chanted before and after a psalm or canticle—were sung before and after the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, at Vespers from December 16 through December 23. Each of the antiphons greets the Messiah and ends with a petition of hope. The simple refrain of the carol, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!” sets the tone for this Advent time of waiting and expectation.

From Hasten the Kingdom: Praying the O Antiphons of Advent by Mary Winifred, C.A. (Liturgical Press, 1996).

The Great "O's"

Daily Reading for December 15

The Advent antiphons are known as ‘the great “O’s’, from the initial ‘O’ of each one, which conveys our longing for the coming of the Lord. The longings of the human heart are part of the glory of humanity. Why do people climb Everest, explore potholes, cross the Antarctic on foot or the Atlantic in a rowing boat, build cathedrals like Chartres or tombs like the Taj Mahal, write and read poetry, compose and listen to symphonies? We discover in ourselves ‘high instincts before which our mortal nature did tremble like a guilty thing surprised.’ There is a yearning for the transcendent, even among moderns who have done so much to make the world a comfortable place to live in.

It is the conviction, not only of Christians but of all who believe in a personal God, that this longing is implanted in us by God and can only be satisfied by him. All our desires are, in one form or another, a desire for God. Sometimes desires conflict with one another and with our desire for God, but when purified and graded according to their true value, they will be seen as a longing for God in his manifold being and activity. Love for things and for other human beings reaches fulfillment in subordination to love of God.

We speak disparagingly of ‘cupboard love’ in pets and children, but their frank enjoyment of the good things they receive from parents and owners shows a genuine, uncomplicated love without any attempt to analyse its constituent elements. A child-like love which looks for presents may be more pleasing to God than one which is wholly disinterested and high-minded. Other desires can be rivals to our desires for God, but they can also be included in that desire. Given a subordinate place, they can receive full satisfaction in God’s infinite bounty. The deepest longings of our hearts find their satisfaction in the coming of Christ.

The longing for God expressed in the antiphons is the pale, human shadow of God’s longing for us. God longs for us, longs for our love and devotion, longs to give us the cup of joy which is communion with him, longs to share with us the vision of eternal beauty, truth and goodness. God’s longing creates in us a human, creaturely longing for his gifts and above all for himself. The Advent antiphons articulate that longing under different figures—Wisdom, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Emmanuel—and gives us the words in which to pour out, though we may not recognize it, the deepest desire of our hearts.

From O Come Emmanuel: Scripture Verses for Advent Worship by William Marshall. Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

O Sapientia

Daily Reading for December 16 • The Third Sunday of Advent

O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High and reach from one end of the earth to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence. (Listen)

In his book, The Far-Spent Night, Edward West pointed out that the first thing needed in preparing to meet the Lord is prudence or “good sense.” “It is good sense,” he said, “which makes the disobedient listen to the wisdom of the just. It is good sense which makes [us] cope with the whole of life as a unit. It is good sense applied to every area of living which is the outward and visible sign of an inner integrity. In short, it means to have understanding, but it is an understanding of wisdom.”

In the context of the Old Testament, wisdom is always a gift from God, rather than some skill or knowledge that we can gain for ourselves. In the context of the New Testament, wisdom is a person. Wisdom is who Christ is and what Christ does. Wisdom is often thought of as feminine—as the Greek “Sophia”—through which we access a deeper knowledge and understanding of God not only as creator, but also as nurturer and sustainer.

It is when wisdom truly comes to us that we will have the prudence—the good sense—to listen and to follow where Christ leads. In asking Christ to come as Wisdom, we are praying for a unity in our life that will draw us into purpose and vision, and away from fragmentation and unproductivity. The Wisdom that is Christ may well lead us in the ways of the just: into compassion, concern, peace, justice, and love.

O Wisdom,
gift on the breath of creation,
measurer of the earth and seas,
singer of paths for stars and planets in the heavens,
holder of all things together
since before time and forever.

My sister, my friend,
as the Spirit of the Lord fills the whole world,
and as you know every word that is said,
come as mentor and guide:
so I’ll delight in knowledge,
claim intuition and understanding for my own,
discern, learn
what his advent holds for me.

O Wisdom, my sister,
let us lean close, laugh and weep together,
be one with each other as we shout our whispered greeting
to the Lord of life.

From Hasten the Kingdom: Praying the O Antiphons of Advent by Mary Winifred, C.A. (Liturgical Press, 1996).

O Adonai

Daily Reading for December 17

O Adonai and Leader of the house of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm. (Listen)

‘Adonai’ is the Hebrew word for ‘Lord.’ God has a person name in the Bible but it was considered too holy for normal use, so when the reader at public worship in the synagogue found the holy name in the text, he read the word ‘Adonai’, ‘Lord’, instead. The original text of the Hebrew Bible was written in consonants only and the name of God occurs as YHWH so that its pronunciation can only be guessed.

The name of God which is rendered ‘Lord’ is associated with the description of Moses as ‘I am who I am’ in the account of God’s appearance to Moses in the burning bush. The designations ‘Lord’ and ‘I am’ indicate that God is both known to us and beyond our knowledge. He gives us his name, yet this name directs our attention to God as he is in himself, rather than any ideas we may have of him. He is I am, not anything we can define or capture in human concepts. So we cry in the antiphon, ‘O Adonai, . . . come,’ not with any power to manipulate God or compel him by knowing his name, but adoring his transcendent majesty and asking him with childlike trust to come and help us.

This antiphon presents the God revealed in Jesus Christ as the ultimate answer to the world’s need for leadership. The wisdom which ‘mightily and sweetly ordereth all things’ does not override our freedom or force us into a particular line of conduct. God leads us but does not drive us. We follow his leading, not because we have to, but because it appeals to those urges in our nature which we judge to be deepest and best. Our Christian faith is that God is sovereign Lord over all creation, yet his leadership is not like the heavy hand of a totalitarian state. His supreme rule is known only by faith, not with the coercive evidence of logical demonstration. We have the choice to accept or reject his rule, but if we accept it then we commit ourselves to him as Lord and make all other concerns subordinate to God’s kingdom.

May the cross of the Son of God, who is mightier
than all the hosts of Satan, and more glorious
than all the angels of heaven, abide with you in
your going out and your coming in! By day and by
night, at morning and at evening, at all times and
in all places, may it protect and defend you!
From the wrath of evil men, from the assaults of
evil spirits, from foes visible and invisible,
from the snares of the devil, from all low passions
that beguile the soul and body, may it guard,
protect, and deliver you. Amen. (–an Indian blessing, the Christaraksha)

From O Come Emmanuel: Scripture Verses for Advent Worship by William Marshall. Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

O Radix Jesse

Daily Reading for December 18

O Root of Jesse, you stand as an ensign to the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths and nations will bow in worship: Come and deliver us, and do not tarry.

As Adonai is our lord and leader, it is the Root of Jesse that delivers us into love for each other—not a love that molds another into our own image, but a love that sees each one through the eyes of God. It is because Christ comes as a sign for all creation that king and servant are equal, Jew and gentile are alike in their search; everyone is holy.

Queen, prince, street person, priest—everyone is holy. And it is Christ himself who not only leads us into mutual concern and compassion, but also reminds us just how holy each one is. Charles deFoucauld summarized this truth, “I do not think there is a gospel phrase which has made a deeper impression on me and transformed my life more than this one: ‘Insofar as you did this to one of the least of these. . . you did it to me.’ One has only to think that these words were spoken by the uncreated Truth, who also said, ‘This is my body . . . This is my blood.’”

It is with the coming of Christ that the groundwork for our union with God is begun, but we will only be able to grow in this union when we are in communion and in community with others. Christ comes as the sign that all are welcome.

O Root of Jesse
The nations—all the nations—seek you.
And kings—even kings and rulers, prophets and seers—
even kings and queens,
who usually understand and make pronouncements—
even kings stand speechless,
dumbfounded,
witness to something
they cannot begin to imagine: God!

God, himself, a sign of the people—
the average, ordinary, everyday, all people.
God himself a sign
that the people are holy . . .
wholly wrapped in the Spirit
of wisdom and insight,
of counsel and power,
of knowledge and awe,
of godliness, itself—
all the people are holy.
O Root of Jesse
stand as a signal,
as a sign to the people
of the holiness of God,
of the holiness of us all.

From Hasten the Kingdom: Praying the O Antiphons of Advent by Mary Winifred, C.A. (Liturgical Press, 1996).

O Clavis David

Daily Reading for December 19

O Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel, you open and no one can close; you close and no one can open: Come and bring captives out of the prison house, those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

Only those who have been incarcerated can know fully the isolation and dehumanization of being physically locked in prison—the humiliation of strip searches, the desolation of loneliness, the fear of physical and sexual abuse from officers and other inmates, the terror of nightmares, the often unabated guilt and anger over past mistakes. It is no wonder that the scriptural texts for today’s antiphon refer to prisons as an analogy for darkness and captivity, and then also echo a hope of future release and freedom.

It is only because Christ comes as the Key of David that prison can also be a place of transformation. In his book, Summons to Serve, Richard Atherton shared his vision of one redeeming influence of prison life. Atherton, for many years a prison chaplain in England, knew first hand of the harshness of prison life. “Using the imagery of Scripture, I like to think of prison as a desert; a place where the human spirit may be purified and ennobled but, alas, more easily twisted and damaged; a place that is often threatening and almost always unpredictable; a place where faith is put to the test—the faith of the inmates, but that of their pastor too; a place of loneliness and powerlessness and frustration, where [one] begins to feel . . . the truth of our Lord’s words: ‘Without me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5); and so ultimately a place of encounter with God.”

For those who have not experienced life in an actual prison, there are, nevertheless, other “prison” experiences—prisons that can be rigorously isolating and dehumanizing in their own way. There is a prison of fear and hate, a prison of anger, and a prison of resistance to openness and change; there is a prison of physical limitation and disability, of painful relationships, of difficult employment, and of unemployment. Most often we lock ourselves into these prisons; with Christ, however, even here we can encounter God. And it is this encounter that will begin the unlocking, opening process to freedom.

O Key of David,
come,
unlock my prison of self-distrust and fear,
of secrecy and doubt,
of injustice and unkindness.
Unlock my blindness
to the splendor and glory of your light.
Unlock my deafness
to the melody of the world
and the harmony of the universe.
Unlock my stumbling lameness
to the dance of your life.
Unlock my depression and gloom
to the majesty and gentleness of your love.

From Hasten the Kingdom: Praying the O Antiphons of Advent by Mary Winifred, C.A. (Liturgical Press, 1996).

O Oriens

Daily Reading for December 20

O Day-Spring, Brightness of Light everlasting, and Sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

There can be few words of such universal significance as ‘light’. It is both a common metaphor and a potent religious symbol. One of the most beautiful prayers in the Hindu scriptures is ‘Lead me from the unreal to the real, lead me from darkness to light, lead me from death to immortality’, words which have been incorporated into the baptismal liturgy of the Church of South India. The Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, which, incidentally, usually falls quite close to Advent, celebrates the hope of returning light when the days are getting shorter. Muslims affirm ‘God is the light of the heavens and earth’ (Qur’an 24:35). The religion of ancient Persia, Zoroastrianism, calls God ‘Ahura Mazda’, Wise Lord and Lord of Light, and the sacred, ever burning fire symbolizes the eternal divine light. The first specific thing which God created, according to the Genesis account, was light (Genesis 1:3).

The universal idea of light as closely related to God finds its fulfillment in the Jewish and Christian scriptures and preeminently in Christ, the light of the world. The Antiphon O Oriens brings out a special aspect of the light of Christ by its use of the word Oriens, rising sun, day-spring, dawn. It is new light, light after darkness, light which has conquered darkness. In some ways the most welcome light of all is the dawn which brings the long, weary night to an end. Jesus is the dawn which we long for above all things. He is the new light that fills us with hope, putting to flight the darkness of despair. The new light also guides us when we have been floundering in the darkness of ignorance, uncertainty and indecision by leading us into the way of peace, the wholeness of communion with God.

From O Come Emmanuel: Scripture Verses for Advent Worship by William Marshall. Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

O Day-Spring,
dawn of day,
bright clearness of the light:
Sometimes, in the very early morning,
I watch for your coming
to unravel the darkness,
to unhide the unknown,
to unmask the shapes and shadows of the night;
And in your sun-brilliant shining
to discover the secrets of righteousness and justice,
to discern and learn that where you are,
there is no shadow,
no darkness,
no death.

From Hasten the Kingdom: Praying the O Antiphons of Advent by Mary Winifred, C.A. (Liturgical Press, 1996).

O Rex Gentium

Daily Reading for December 21 • St. Thomas the Apostle

O King of the nations and the Desire of them all, you are the Cornerstone who makes both one: Come and save the creatures whom you fashioned out of clay.

The figure of ‘the cornerstone’ is particularly apt to describe Christ’s role of reconciliation. The cornerstone is the place where two walls of a building at right angles to each other meet, and as such as a key function in holding the building together. Both St. Paul and St. Peter describe Christians as forming a building of living stones held together by Christ and growing up to maturity in him so that they may be a fit dwelling place for God through his Spirit. A world torn apart by conflicts based on colour, race, religion, inequality of wealth, and many other causes desperately needs the unifying power of Christ. In Christ differences need not be abolished, though injustice must be removed, but they can be combined into a rich and living unity. In that spirit, we pray to Christ, the cornerstone who binds us together, to come and deliver us form sin which separates us from God and each other.

The final words of the antiphon, ‘whom you fashioned out of clay’, have profound and subtle links with those which go before and beautifully round off this prayer to God. The ‘clay’ of our common humanity takes up and reinforces the thought of the universal reconciliation achieved by Christ the King. We are fully part of the material universe and Christ’s redeeming work does not cut us off from our earthly roots but is part of his gathering up of all things into one. Today, when human mastery over nature has advanced so far that we are in danger of destroying our planet, we can see more clearly the connection between human sin and the pollution of the environment.

The antiphon is the cry of humanity, in its earthly state yet longing for union with the divine, to be remade in God’s image and reunited through Christ, the king of the universe, with its source in God.

From O Come Emmanuel: Scripture Verses for Advent Worship by William Marshall. Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com


O King—
King and Desire of the Nations,
made one by the cornerstone
of your coming,
of your being.
How can it be?
The cornerstone rejected,
misused as rubble for rocks and stones
to hurl and smash.
They didn’t understand then
(and often we don’t now)
that cornerstones are
for fastening onto,
for building up,
for foundations and transformation.
Come, O King,
Desire of the nations,
Cornerstone.
Save for us, formed of clay,
the opportunity of being transformed by your peace.

From Hasten the Kingdom: Praying the O Antiphons of Advent by Mary Winifred, C.A. (Liturgical Press, 1996).

O Emmanuel

Daily Reading for December 22

O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Expected of the nations and the Savior of them all: Come and save us, O Lord our God.

When we pray, O come, O come Emmanuel, we are asking that God will indeed come to us in human flesh, that Christ’s incarnation will be made real for us. This is a petition of hope and for deliverance. It is a prayer that, had God not made the first move toward us, we would not be able to utter. God does not remain distant from us, but actually enters into our joys and sufferings. In the words of a popular Christmas carol, “And he feeleth for our sadness, And he shareth in our gladness. . . .”

Rather than ask why the innocent suffer or where God is when there is suffering, we need to ask ourselves how it is that we cause the innocent to suffer and what we can do to alleviate suffering. How much can we share of our own brokenness so that someone else can endure the otherwise unendurable? The way people know God is through us—we are here to make God’s kingdom known to other people.

And it is only because Christ is Emmanuel—God with us—that Israel, and in fact all of us, are able to rejoice! It is when Christ comes as Emmanuel that the importance, vocation and dignity of every person will be restored.


O God with us,
Emmanuel,
whose law and life and rule are love;
You are, in fact, our only hope.
Greed and injustice
in the justice of the nations
discover us deep into poverty,
starvation, corruption and war.
And into our homes sneak silent abuse
and assault,
incest and injury—
a polite and private life of poverty,
starvation, corruption and war.
Make no mistake—we
don’t know the slightest
what we’re asking you: to be saved
will be a costly bargain—
and one we hadn’t rully reasoned on or planned.
Nevertheless,
you are our only hope,
O God with us,
Emmanuel.

From Hasten the Kingdom: Praying the O Antiphons of Advent by Mary Winifred, C.A. (Liturgical Press, 1996).

O Virgin of virgins

Daily Reading for December 23 • The Fourth Sunday of Advent

O Virgin of virgins, tell us how shall this be? For neither before you was any like you nor shall there be after. Daughters of Jerusalem, why do you marvel at me? The thing which you behold is a divine mystery.

Although this antiphon, unlike the others, is not addressed to Christ, it is nevertheless an attempt on our part to know and understand that which we worship. It is as though we are asking for a sharing into Mary's human insight and intuition in order to help us understand. But when all is said and done, God's incarnation must remain for us a mystery beyond human comprehension. We can imagine such love, but only imagine, for the depth and breadth of God's love for us is immeasurable—inestimable—by any standards that we have.

Perhaps, by drawing close to Mary, the God-bearer—Theotokos in Greek: she who gave birth to God—we will understand. But no, even then our "knowing" and "understanding" will always remain and require a leap of faith. God with us remains a divine mystery!

From Hasten the Kingdom: Praying the O Antiphons of Advent by Mary Winifred, C.A. (Liturgical Press, 1996).

Make haste

Daily Reading for December 24 • Christmas Eve

The shepherds who hear of the birth of the Child make haste to see what the angel told them. Notice how the shepherds decide to go together, and quickly.

Advent is a time to make spiritual haste. “Let us go now,” the shepherds say. It is never too late to set out to see Christ. The announcement of the birth to the shepherds came after the Child was born. In the same way, the invitation comes to us today. The Child is born, the promise is fulfilled: we need to go and take part in the ongoing story.

As Christians, we need to bring a certain urgency to how we live out our Christian values. Our urgency comes from a place of love: we are called to go see the helpless, newborn child. The Child, who resembles the weak among us, invites all of us to come and see him—and to see ourselves in him. Where do we encounter weakness in our own hearts? How do we become a neighbor to those who are weak in our society? How well do we represent the visiting and caring presence of God in the world?

When we live lives characterized by love and caring, we model who God is in the world today. Church communities that take seriously their call to model God’s reign offer what secular institutions cannot: devotion to the ideal of unmerited love and care, conscious effort to avoid evil, and an ideal of fruitfulness in which gain is understood through sharing. Following Jesus’ way of life, Christians have a school in which to live differently and better.

Strangely enough, we cannot model a better way of living without first encountering God. Many hear and see the angels, but choose to stay out in the fields. Advent calls us to respond differently. Advent calls us to be outstanding in our field, as opposed to be out standing in the field. To be outstanding in the field is to detach from the things and ways that are not of God and to stand with God.

Today is the day when we need to leave the things that keep us busy to go and see. God has come to us. The time has come. Let us go in haste. Let us go today.

From The Womb of Advent by Mark Bozutti-Jones. Copyright © 2007. Seabury Books, an imprint of Church Publishing. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Christmas Day

Daily Reading for December 25 • The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Some say that ever ’gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad,
The nights are wholesome, then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is the time.

(Hamlet, I, ii, 157)

So hallowed and so gracious is the time—these lines from the first scene of Hamlet in a sense say it all. We tend to think of time as progression, as moment following moment, day following day, in relentless flow, the kind of time a clock or calendar can measure. But we experience time also as depth, as having quality as well as quantity—a good time, a dangerous time, an auspicious time, a time we mark not by its duration but by its content.

On the dark battlements of Elsinore, Marcellus speaks to his companions of the time of Jesus’ birth. It is a hallowed time he says, a holy time, a time in which life grows still like the surface of a river so that we can look down into it and see glimmering there in its depths something timeless, precious, other. And a gracious time, Marcellus says—a time that we cannot bring about as we can bring about a happy time or a sad time but a time that comes upon us as grace, as a free and unbidden gift. Marcellus explains that Christmas is a time of such holiness that the cock crows the whole night through as though it is perpetually dawn, and thus for once, even the powers of darkness are powerless.

Horatio’s answer is equally instructive. “So have I heard and do in part believe,” he says to Marcellus, thus speaking, one feels, not just for himself but for Shakespeare and for us. In part believe it. At Christmas time it is hard even for the unbeliever not to believe in something if not in everything. Peace on earth, good will to men; a dream of innocence that is good to hold on to even if it is only a dream; the mystery of being a child; the possibility of hope—not even the canned carols piped out over the shopping center parking plaza from Thanksgiving on can drown it out completely.

For a moment or two, the darkness of disenchantment, cynicism, doubt, draw back at least a little, and all the usual worldly witcheries lose something of their power to charm. Maybe we cannot manage to believe with all our hearts. But as long as the moments last, we can believe that this is of all things the thing most worth believing. And that may not be as far as it sounds from what belief is. For as long as the moment lasts, that hallowed, gracious time.

From The Faces of Jesus by Frederick Buechner (Harper and Row, 1989).

John's icon of Jesus

Daily Reading for December 27 • St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

The icon of Jesus painted by John is his gospel is not a naturalistic rendering. The other gospel writers also created distinctive impressions of Jesus with an artistry wholly unlike modern biography or journalism. But John has taken the boldest steps away from reportage into the creative realm, using distortion and selectivity and elaboration with shocking freedom. What we recognize as some of the most emphatic features of John’s portrait of Jesus are, I believe, the very features that we ourselves will acquire through conversion. John has Jesus continually return to certain themes so that we can see as in a mirror the new features of our own converted lives.

Three very prominent characteristics of John’s portrait of Jesus are as instantly recognizable as the elongations and storminess of an El Greco painting. The first is an intense awareness of being sent by God. The theme of phrases such as “this is the will of the One who sent me” resound again and again. But the intensity and saturation of this coloring of all Jesus’ words and actions with the sense of “sentness” is not meant to separate us from him, and thus degrade our discipleship by comparison. The opposite is true. The believer in Jesus gains in conversion exactly the same conviction of having been given life and of being brought into the world to fulfill a mission from God. The new vision that comes with conversion brings with it the gift of a sense that one’s life is purposeful, that one has been given a mission, a life-task for God.

The second and intimately related feature of John’s icon of Jesus is agency. Jesus knows what he is doing and when it is time to do it, and he knows that he is doing it. We can be pretty sure that this is based on actual memories of Jesus. All the way through, Jesus’ words emphasize his own authority and responsibility for his actions. Now it is just this sense of agency and responsibility that comes as a gift from God in the converted life. In profane life, human beings suffer from a sense that not only are their lives accidental, but the fate to which they must resign themselves is that of being forever pushed around, manipulated, and dictated to. In the converted life, we are endowed with responsibility and with power.

The third feature of John’s gospel, which blends into the other two, is that of centeredness. The Jesus of John’s gospel can say “I am” so powerfully because he is totally understood and known by God. He is so known by God that he is in the Father and the Father is in him. And this is the authority that comes to us as converted believers. If I know myself to be utterly known, utterly known and completely loved, then I am. I really am. I really exist. I mean everything to God and therefore my life has meaning.

From “The Converted Life” in Nativities and Passions: Words for Transformation by Martin L. Smith (Cowley Publications, 1995).

Disruption at work

Daily Reading for December 28 • The Holy Innocents

Sorting through the stack of cards that arrived at our house last Christmas, I note that all kinds of symbols have edged their way into the celebration. Overwhelmingly, the landscape scenes render New England towns buried in snow, usually with the added touch of a horse-drawn sleigh. On other cards, animals frolic: one card shows an African lion reclining with a foreleg draped affectionately around a lamb. Inside, the cards stress sunny words like love, good-will, cheer, happiness, and warmth. It is a fine thing, I suppose, that we honor a sacred holiday with such homey sentiments. And yet when I turn to the gospel accounts of the first Christmas, I hear a very different tone, and sense mainly disruption at work. . . .

The earliest events in Jesus’ life give a menacing preview of the unlikely struggle now under way. Herod, King of the Jews, enforced Roman rule at the local level, and in an irony of history we know Herod’s name mainly because of the massacre of the innocents. I have never seen a Christmas card depicting that state-sponsored act of terror, but it too was a part of Christ’s coming. Although secular history does not refer to the atrocity, no one acquainted with the life of Herod doubts him capable. Five days before his death he ordered the arrest of many citizens and decreed that they be executed on the day of his death, in order to guarantee a proper atmosphere of mourning in the country. For such a despot, a minor extermination procedure in Bethlehem posed no problem. . . .

As I read the birth stories about Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog. Growing up, Jesus’ sensibilities were affected most deeply by the poor, the powerless, the oppressed—in short, the underdogs. Today theologians debate the aptness of the phrase “God’s preferential option for the poor” as a way of describing God’s concern for the underdog. Since God arranged the circumstances in which to be born on planet earth—without power or wealth, without rights, without justice—his preferential options speak for themselves.

From The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey (Zondervan, 1995).

On love alone

Daily Reading for December 29 • Thomas Becket, 1170

The Child we seek
doesn’t need our gold.
On love, on love alone
he will build his kingdom.
His piercéd hand will hold no scepter,
his haloed head will wear no crown;
his might will not be built
on your toil.
Swifter than lightning
he will soon walk among us.
He will bring us new life
and receive our death,
and the keys to his city
belong to the poor.

Amahl and the Night Visitors by Gian Carlo Menotti (G. Schirmer, 1950).

God of good news

Daily Reading for December 30 • The First Sunday after Christmas Day

God of good news,
today you begin again to reshape our lives and communities.
You do not start from the outside, but from within.
You begin in the hidden place.
Behind the inn. Before the marriage. At the wrong time.
You invite a handful of guests into your company.
Shepherds. Local children perhaps. Maybe some animals.
You join the community of the invisible ones.
The homeless and hopeless. Refugees, fleeing a tyrant king.
Later, you find fisherfolk. And a tax collector. More children.
The small. The unimportant. The forgotten. The frightened.
These are the people you choose,
as little by little you start sharing
the secrets of a kingdom that will change the whole world.
From within. From the hidden place.

God of good news:
as we celebrate worldwide the tidings of your birth,
as we set the heavens echoing with angel songs,
as we contemplate a new year and pray for peace on earth. . .
remind us of the hidden places, of the forgotten people,
of the starting-points and the time it takes,
of the pace of the slowest and the dreams of the children
and the human scale and the soul of our towns
and the freedom to create secret dens.
Remind us that the great joy promised to the whole people
starts with those who need it most, in places where they hide.
Remind us, with all our seasonal cheer and tinsel,
that some people are left out in the cold;
that it is there, with them, that you are being born into the world again;
that it is there, through them, that you will change the world.

God of good news,
help us to find you again
in the hidden place.
Amen.

From Advent Readings from Iona by Brian Woodcock and Jan Sutch Pickard (Wild Goose Publications, 2000).

Not much time left

Daily Reading for December 31 • The Eve of the Holy Name

Something about this time of year makes us resolve to do all manner of things better. Almost all our good intentions will be history in a week or two. But there is also that other aspect of this time of year, the part that taps us on the shoulder and whispers that our lives are speeding away, faster and faster, evaporating as we speak. That there is not much time left. That soon we will be gone.

At the end of the year we remember the other years. Look at photos of people who are gone. See our young selves—they, too, are gone. We marvel at them. Was that party really sixty years ago? Was I ever that young?

Yes, comes the answer from the pictures. You were. You still are. I’m still here, inside you, your eighteen-year-old self. But remember, we are leaving soon. Good-bye, good-bye.

The only remedy for that sorrow is a life well lived now. “Love well that which thou must leave ere long,” Shakespeare wrote, and he was right.

Don’t let a day of the new year pass without marking it, because it will be gone when it is over. Put into your days the things you want there—no one else will fill them for you. Anything we have can be taken from us at a moment’s notice. Some of the people in our old photographs are dead already, and one day we will be, as well, and no one knows when.

But today is ours.

From Let Us Bless the Lord, Year One: Meditations on the Daily Office, Advent through Holy Week by Barbara Cawthorne Crafton. Copyright © 2004. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Becoming persons

Daily Reading for January 1 • The Feast of the Holy Name

Back in the 1950s you opened up the newspaper on the first January certain to find the cartoonists trotting out the images of the little baby in diapers imprinted with the new year’s numbers, and old Father Time with his hourglass and scythe. These secular symbols are already so threadbare that in comparison the scriptural image of today’s liturgy, the Feast of the Holy Name, seems quite dramatic and still replete with meaning. Here the child held up before us is a real infant, and the figure with the sharp blade a real elder who cuts the flesh of the boy as the sign of the covenant with Abraham, while his parents give him his name. We are present at a fateful event: the newborn is becoming a person. And we are also persons, are becoming persons. This feast has to do with us. This becoming a person is what we would know the meaning of.

Seven full days have passed since the birth of Jesus. A week of namelessness, a symbolic hiatus. The infant is only a newborn. Only on the eighth day does the trajectory of the child’s human identity begin; he is acknowledged as a member of the community. He is inserted into its history, claimed by its tradition, and given a destiny within its future by naming. This name that bears his future is one that gathers up into a single sound the whole past experience and hope of his forebears and parents. Yahweh Saves. It is the name of the leader who took the desert wanderers into the promised land.

The feast is no longer called by its old name, the Feast of the Circumcision. Perhaps we are appalled to think about the radical givenness of identity that the irrevocable surgery on a helpless infant expresses so sharply—literally as a matter of flesh and blood. Before there is an I to choose, others choose and must mold and make me and do what calls me into life as a person in a particular community. Each of us is marked for life by the scandal of initial absolute dependence and vulnerability to the cutting edge of our situation. The persons we become can never dissolve or undo this givenness, though some of the wounds may heal and some of the blessings be lost.

From “Seek My Face” in Nativities and Passions: Words for Transformation by Martin L. Smith (Cowley Publications, 1995).

Reciprocal joy

Daily Reading for January 2

No one can say that the classic pattern of the liturgy of Christmas is light on the tragic side of human existence. It has its themes of the census, the exclusion from the inn, the martyrdom of Stephen, the massacre of the innocents, the flight into Egypt, and now this serious evocation of the wound of historical existence, of submission to the narrow way of becoming a unique person through utter dependence on others. But there is throughout the Christmas season an ambience of hope, a yes radiating from the face of Mary that prevails over the shadow. Mother and child smile in mutual recognition, in reciprocal joy. Many of us are captivated and allured by the mystery of Jesus’ emerging self, summoned out of latency by his mother’s gaze and care.

As we contemplate in liturgy, icon, and prayer the face of Mary, we know we are in a mystery. This face launched the movement of the Savior into both personhood and faith. This is the face in which Jesus felt the presence of a loving other, a presence and a sign of wholeness which orders the universe as safe enough for life.

We could do worse than begin the new year by paying loving attention to this crucible of personality, the face-to-face interaction of mother and child, Mary and Jesus, and the arms and face of Mary as primal originating sacrament of the faith and trust of Jesus.

From “Seek My Face” in Nativities and Passions: Words for Transformation by Martin L. Smith (Cowley Publications, 1995).

The saving name

Daily Reading for January 3

Loving God,
whose angels proclaimed
the saving name of Mary’s child,
grant that we might live each day
in the light of your incarnate love
and guided by your Holy Spirit
find our salvation in and through
the redeeming and most precious name
of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

A prayer for the Feast of the Holy Name by Frank Topping (2001), in Daily Prayer, edited by Frank Topping and based on the classic collection compiled by Eric Milner-White and G. W. Briggs (Oxford, 2003).

Uncontrollable mystery

Daily Reading for January 5

E. M. Forster said that the most deep and terrible line written on the nativity is the last line of Yeats’s poem, “The Magi”:

Now as at all times I can see in the mind’s eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary’s turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor. The magi mysteriously shimmer as faces in the sky, forever peering back behind Calvary to their encounter with the baby lying on the stable floor among oxen and asses, a revelation so mysterious that its depths still baffle them, ever preventing them from being satisfied.

The key to their dissatisfaction is the terrible word “uncontrollable.” Magi were spiritual technicians. Their role was to assist people in getting control of their destinies through divinizing, augury, and horoscope. They offered means of controlling divine presences and forces through spells, charms, and rites. Human religiosity is about control. If the divine is close at hand, right here, then we can manipulate it. It is within our grasp, susceptible to our control. If, on the other hand, the divine is far away in a remote heaven, then we are on our own, and our religious practices serve just as well to calm our fears and put a spiritual gloss on our attempts to keep order.

What met the magi at Bethlehem was the mystery of divine creativity itself, which cannot be usurped or deflected; the uncontrollable mystery of God’s sheer initiative, which cannot be bent or blocked. What met them was the mystery of suffering love, which cannot be bought or seduced, there, right there, lying on its back on the bestial floor. Here is the uncontrollable mystery of Love present in all its fullness as a vulnerable baby.

All at once their potions, their horoscopes, their charts and crystals, their incantations and secret lore collapse into nothing. So they unload onto the floor where the baby lies gazing at them their obsolete bag of tricks—the talismans of gold, the incense with which they fogged and scented their rituals, the myrrh they used for magic ointments. They let all these go in the presence of the uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

From “The Uncontrollable Mystery” in Nativities and Passions: Words for Transformation by Martin L. Smith (Cowley Publications, 1995).

Home by another way

Daily Reading for January 6 • The Feast of the Epiphany

A colleague of mine noticed several years ago one of those marvelous phrases of multiple meaning strewn throughout our scriptures, the familiar reference to the magi who, “having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, . . . left for their own country by another road.” We both had noticed that the political acumen of the magi surely certified their wisdom. But it was my friend who noticed something else: that nearly everyone who encounters Jesus ends up going home by another way. The encounter with Jesus changes people, makes them different. After they have met this Jesus, they seem incapable—or certainly unwilling—to go back the same way they had come.

The Feast of the Epiphany and the season that follows is, for the church, a traditional season of mission and evangelism. Of course, for the modern church in America, there are very few mission fields left to us, few places where the basic outlines of the gospel has not penetrated geographical, political, and cultural barriers in one fashion or another. And evangelism demands some good news to proclaim, but too many days there seems precious little good to report. But there is still a ripe mission field remaining for each of us, if only we turn our sights inward.

I was reminded of this at a national conference for Episcopal students where we used varied liturgies from prayers books across the Anglican Communion. I was reminded of how very different we all are, and how much more so we grow daily. In this modern-day church, as in that ancient stable, those gathered really have nothing much in common. If we look around that manger, if we look at those who surrounded Jesus throughout his life, and even those who stood around at his death, we find that they were as diverse a lot as one might find. Like us. For truth be told, when you get right down to it, we probably really do not have much in common, you and I; the only thing we have in common is this person, Jesus. And that was certainly true for those of us who gathered at that conference. Even when we could not agree on what this Jesus looked like, or what he thought, or the meaning of what he said and did, we could still acknowledge that he was our common connection.

That was his singular gift, a genuine gift, something inherent in his person, and not some skill he crafted or stratagem he employed. For on the first Epiphany he was but an infant. Yet the force of his person was such that the different gathered around him.

From Daysprings: Meditations for the Weekdays of Advent, Lent, and Easter by Sam Portaro (Cowley, 2001).

Listen to the story

Daily Reading for January 7

The story of the magi ranks right up there with the Christmas and Easter stories in terms of snaring the human imagination. Poets as distinct as William Butler Yeats and William Carlos Williams have wrapped words around the visit of the wise men. Longfellow even gave them names: Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar. Hundreds of artists have painted the scene, including Botticelli and Fra Angelico.

In more recent years, Garrison Keillor has told the story on National Public Radio’s “Prairie Home Companion,” and James Taylor has written a lilting song from which the title of this sermon comes. So much has been made of this story about which we know so little. They were not kings, of course, and there were not three of them, at least not according to Matthew. We do not know who they were, where they came from, or how many of them there were. We do not know how long it took them to get to Bethlehem or how old Jesus was by the time they got there. We are not even sure about that famous star.

It is not that the facts don’t matter. It is just that they don’t matter as much as the stories do, and stories can be true whether they happen or not. You do not have to do archaeology to find out if they are genuine, or spend years in the library combing ancient texts. There is another way home. You just listen to the story. You let it come to life inside of you, and then you decide on the basis of your own tears or laughter whether the story is true. If you are in any doubt, it is always a good idea to watch other people who have listened to the story—just pay attention to how the story affects them over time. Does it make them more or less human? Does it open them up or shut them down? Does it increase their capacity for joy?

From “Home By Another Way,” in Home By Another Way by Barbara Brown Taylor (Cowley, 1999).

Harriet Bedell

Daily Reading for January 8 • Harriet Bedell, Deaconess and Missionary, 1969

St. Andrew's Mission at Stephen's Village on the Yukon River between Fort Yukon and Rampart, deserves a special word because its actual starting was the result of a really clamorous importunity on the part of the Indians themselves. So long as the white man's town of Rampart was large enough to warrant a resident missionary, Stephen's Village, with its native catechist, was visited from that post, eighty miles away. It was on a Christmas journey thither that the Rev. John Huhn, our last resident clergyman at Rampart, contracted the illness from which he died, in 1906. He is buried on the hill above the old native village near Rampart, in the burying ground of the Indians whom he loved.

As Rampart decayed many of the natives who had flocked thither when it was prosperous (to their demoralization and general detriment) returned to the more eligible Indian residence at Stephen's Village, situate just on the edge of the Yukon Flats, ten or twelve miles above the abrupt beginning of the Lower Ramparts of the Yukon. The village thus grew by accretions until it numbered nearly an hundred souls. There had been a Government school there for a few years, but it burned down and was not rebuilt (for lack of funds) and the teacher was withdrawn. Every time that the Bishop stopped there on his visitations there were eager demands for a mission of their own. At length the Bishop told them that if they would build a church themselves (so far as the log structure was concerned) he would send a missionary, and the next summer the church was built and the missionary demanded.

So Miss Effie Jackson was sent and for two years taught school and held service in the church, and a convenient cabin was built for her. She was followed by Miss Harriet Bedell, of long experience in Indian work, who for three years past has lived all alone in the village, exercising all the functions of a woman missionary and swaying almost undisputed influence over the native mind. Off the steamboat track in summer--for the steamboats do not like to cross the river amidst sandbars and make the turn necessary to reach the place unless they have freight to discharge--entirely cut off from communication in the winter, for there is now no mail route down the Yukon and the nearest post office is eighty miles away, this is one of the most isolated spots in interior Alaska, although it is situated on the main Yukon. And again this very isolation makes for more intensive educational and religious work. Such a post requires a missionary entirely absorbed and happy in the work, and such a one is Miss Bedell.

From The Alaskan Missions of the Episcopal Church: A brief sketch, historical and descriptive by Hudson Stuck, D.D., Archdeacon of the Yukon (New York: Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, 1920).

Julia Chester Emery

Daily Reading for January 9 • Julia Chester Emery, 1922

Julia Chester Emery is not the kind of person one expects to meet in a calendar of religious commemorations, in part because of the nature of her accomplishments. Her story does not involve extraordinary feats of courage, neither was she tortured or executed for reason of her faith. She was only twenty-four years old when she assumed the only ecclesiastical post she would ever hold, secretary of the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church. In that office Julia Emery served for forty years, a faithful lay woman.

By the time Julia Emery left her post in 1916, she had helped organize branches of the Woman’s Auxiliary in nearly two-thirds of the eighty-five hundred parishes of the Episcopal Church. Moreover, the Auxiliary itself dispensed many dollars in financial aid to missions and raised the awareness of the larger church to the important work of outreach.

Julia Emery reminds us that the most difficult and demanding work of mission is the most mundane, the work of administration and education. Increasingly, missionary work involves not exotic travel or rare courage; far less does it involve a zeal for conversion to one’s own ideals or methods. Instead, modern mission demands just those qualities Julia Emery devoted to service—gifts for educating, organizing, and administering.

We remember Julia Emery for raising funds, organizing volunteers, administering institutions, and educating lay members of the church. Apparently, her only training for this ministry was a willingness to try it, for she possessed no special education or preparation. Her only authority was collegial, for being a lay woman, she had neither the office nor the perquisites of ordained status to buttress her leadership. Julia Emery reminds us that we all possess the resources we need to be effective missionaries, except perhaps the two most important qualities exemplified in her—a willingness to try and the commitment to stick with it, even for a lifetime.

From Brightest and Best: A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts by Sam Portaro (Cowley, 2001).

William Laud

Daily Reading for January 10 • William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1645

The ‘unity,’ then, ‘of the Spirit,’ to which the apostle exhorts, includes both; both concord in mind and affections, and love of charitable unity, which comes from the Spirit of God, and returns to it. And, indeed, the grace of God’s Spirit is that alone which makes men truly at peace and unity one with another. To Him it is to be attributed, not to us, saith Saint Augustine. It is ‘He that makes men to be of one mind in an house.’ Now one mind in the Church, and one mind in the State, come from the same fountain with ‘one mind in an house;’ all from ‘the Spirit.’ And so the Apostle clearly, ‘one body, and one Spirit,’ that is, ‘one body,’ by ‘one Spirit.’ For it is ‘the Spirit’ that joins all the members of the Church into ‘one body.’ And it is the Church that blesses the State, not simply with ‘unity,’ but with that unity with which itself is blessed of God. A State not Christian may have ‘unity’ in it. Yes; and so may a State that hath lost all Christianity, save the name. But ‘unity of the Spirit’ nor Church nor State can longer hold, than they do in some measure obey the ‘Spirit,’ and love the ‘unity.’

This ‘unity of the Spirit’ is closer than any corporal union can be; for spirits meet where bodies cannot, and nearer than bodies can. The reason is given by Saint Chrysostom: because the soul or spirit of man is more simple, and of one form. And the soul apter in itself to union is made more apt by the Spirit of God which is ‘one,’ and loves nothing but as it tends to one. Nay, as the Spirit of God is one, and cannot dissent from itself, no more ought they whom the Spirit hath joined in one; and the Spirit hath joined the Church in one; therefore he that divides the unity of the Church, practices against the ‘unity of the Spirit.’

And now I cannot but wonder what words Saint Paul, were he now alive, would use, to call back ‘unity’ into dismembered Christendom. For my part, death were easier to me, than it is to see and consider the face of the Church of Christ scratched and torn, till it bleeds in every part, as it doth this day.

From Sermons Before King Charles’s Third Parliament by William Laud, quoted in Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, compiled by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams (Oxford, 2001).

Be not afraid

Daily Reading for January 11

The question is not whether the things that happen to you are chance things or God’s things because, of course, they are both at once. There is no chance thing through which God cannot speak—even the walk from the house to the garage that you have walked ten thousand times before, even the moments when you cannot believe there is a God who speaks at all anywhere. He speaks, I believe, and the words he speaks are incarnate in the flesh and blood of our selves and of our own footsore and sacred journeys. We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music. Sometimes we avoid listening for fear of what we may hear, sometimes for fear that we may hear nothing at all but the empty rattle of our own feet on the pavement. But be not affeard, says Caliban, nor is he the only one to say it. “Be not afraid,” says another, “for lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” He says he is with us on our journeys. He says he has been with us since each of our journeys began. Listen for him. Listen for the sweet and bitter airs of your present and your past for the sound of him.

From The Sacred Journey by Frederick Buechner (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1982).

Aelred of Rievaulx

Daily Reading for January 12 • Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx, 1167

When God created man, in order to commend more highly the good of society, he said: “it is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a helper like unto himself.” It was from no similar, nor even from the same, material that divine Might formed this help mate, but as a clearer inspiration to charity and friendship he produced the woman from the very substance of the man. How beautiful it is that the second human being was taken from the side of the first, so that nature might teach that human beings are equal and, as it were, collateral, and that there is in human affairs neither a superior nor an inferior, a characteristic of true friendship.

Hence, nature from the very beginning implanted the desire for friendship and charity in the heart of man, a desire which an inner sense of affection soon increased with a taste of sweetness. But after the fall of the first man, when with the cooling of charity concupiscence made secret inroads and caused private good to take precedence over the common weal, it corrupted the splendor of friendship and charity through avarice and envy, introducing contentions, emulations, hates and suspicions because the morals of men had been corrupted. From that time the good distinguished between charity and friendship, observing that love ought to be extended even to the hostile and perverse, while no union of will and ideas can exist between the good and wicked. And so friendship which, like charity, was first preserved among the all by all, remained according to the natural law among the few good. They saw the sacred laws of faith and society violated by many and bound themselves together by a closer bond of love and friendship. In the midst of the evils which they saw and felt, they rested in the joy of mutual charity.

From Spiritual Friendship by Aelred of Rievaulx (Cistercian Publications, 1977).

Christ is baptized

Daily Reading for January 13 • The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptized; let us also go down with him, and rise with him.

John is baptizing when Jesus draws near. Perhaps he comes to sanctify his baptizer; certainly he comes to bury sinful humanity in the waters. He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake and in readiness for us; he who is spirit and flesh comes to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water.

The Baptist protests; Jesus insists. Then John says: “I ought to be baptized by you.” He is the lamp in the presence of the sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman in the presence of the firstborn of all creation, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of him who was adored in the womb, the forerunner and future forerunner in the presence of him who has already come and is to come again. “I ought to be baptized by you;” we should also add: “and for you,” for John is to be baptized in blood, washed clean like Peter, not only by the washing of his feet.

Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him.

From Oration 39 by Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople (389), quoted in Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, edited by J. Robert Wright. Copyright © 1991. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Beloved one

Daily Reading for January 14

A voice from heaven tells Jesus he is a beloved son who is well pleasing. Close your eyes. Silently or aloud say, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Then in your mind’s eye, see Jesus and imagine his unspoken response.

Now visualize what it would be like for you to have God descend upon you. Ask yourself:
—If that were to happen in my life, what might I have to give up or take on?
—The word beloved—what does it mean to be a beloved one?

Look around your office or school or dining room table and wonder:
—Who has ever called me a beloved son, daughter, friend, spouse, lover, or colleague?
—From whom do I yearn to hear those words?
—To whom have I given that blessing?
—Who has waited and still waits to hear me say: “You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased”?

From Finding Jesus, Discovering Self: Passages to Healing and Wholeness by Caren Goldman and William Dols. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Daily Reading for January 15

It was not until I became part of the leadership of the Montgomery bus protest that I was actually confronted with the trials of life. Almost immediately after the protest had been undertaken, we began to receive threatening telephone calls and letters in our home. . . . After a particularly strenuous day, I had reached the saturation point. I was ready to give up. I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing to be a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage seemed almost gone, I determined to take my problem to God. My head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers, I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never before experienced Him. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice, saying, “Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth. God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to pass from me. My uncertainty disappeared.

Three nights later, our home was bombed. Strangely enough, I accepted the word of the bombing calmly. My experience with God had given me new strength and trust. I knew now that God is able to give us the interior resources to face the storms and problems of life. Let this affirmation be our ringing cry. It will give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future.

From Strength to Love by Martin Luther King, Jr. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981).

The way to God

Daily Reading for January 16

The desert fathers withdrew from ordinary society and sought the solitude of the desert. This was the first step in their ‘spirituality’. Then they placed themselves under spiritual fathers. After that, the daily life was their prayer, and it was a radically simple life: a stone hut with a roof of branches, a reed mat for a bed, a sheep-skin, a lamp, a vessel for water or oil. It was enough.

The aim of the monks’ lives was not asceticism, but God, and the way to God was charity. The gentle charity of the desert was the pivot of all their work and the test of their way of life. Charity was to be total and complete. Antony the Great said, ‘My life is with my brother’, and he himself returned to the city twice, once to relieve those dying of plague, and once to defend the faith against heresy. The old men of the desert received guests as Christ would receive them. They might live austerely themselves, but when visitors came they hid their austerity and welcomed them. A brother said, ‘Forgive me, father, for I have made you break your rule’, but the old man said, ‘My rule is to receive you with hospitality and send you on your way in peace.’

From The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers by Sister Benedicta Ward SLG (SLG Press, 1975).

Integrity before God

Daily Reading for January 17 • Antony, Abbot in Egypt, 356

Abba Antony said, ‘Whatever you find in your heart to do in following God, that do, and remain within yourself in Him.’ This personal integrity before God, without any disguises or pretensions, is the essence of the spirituality of the desert. All ascetic effort, all personal relationships, life in all its aspects, was to be brought slowly into the central relationship with God in Christ. All the means to this end were just that, means and no more; they could be changed or discarded as necessary. The Sayings of the desert fathers must be used in the spirit in which they were spoken, otherwise they will have less than their true value. They are not just for interest but for use. Radical simplicity and integrity is their aim and purpose.

From The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers by Sister Benedicta Ward SLG (SLG Press, 1975).

You are the Christ

Daily Reading for January 18 • The Confession of St. Peter the Apostle

From apostolic times, Jesus has been spoken of, and proclaimed, as the Christ, the anointed One. While such usage is common in the earliest Christian preaching, it is not common in the Gospel accounts, although Peter proclaims Jesus as the Christ at Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8.29; Matt. 16.16; Luke 9.20). However, Mark tells us that Jesus forbade his disciples to speak of this (Mark 8.30), and he himself does not speak of himself as the Christ (apart from the two references in Matt. 23.10 and Mark 9.41 which are from secondary sources). Christ, Messiah, was not at this time a divine or even supernatural title, but was associated with an act of earthly liberation, with the restoration of Israel. Whether Jesus ever specifically accepted the title is not clear. When asked by the High Priest about the claim to messianic status, he seems to have accepted it (Mark 14.61; Matt. 26.63) though this may simply reflect the early Church’s view. Yet within a generation of the crucifixion the name ‘Christian’ was being used in Antioch (Acts 11.26), and King Agrippa II knows and understands this usage (26.28).

In view of the clear centrality of the identification of Jesus with the Christ/Messiah in the early Church’s preaching, it is significant that there is so little evidence in the Synoptics, or even in John, for an explicit claim from the lips of Jesus himself. Had there been more evidence to produce, the early Church would surely have produced it in support of their belief. . . . It was out of the experience of what Jesus had achieved, in his ministry, death, and resurrection, and out of reflection on this achievement in the light of the Jewish hope, that the early Christians came quickly to see Jesus as the Messiah.

From Experiencing God: Theology as Spirituality by Kenneth Leech (Harper and Row, 1985).

The sevenfold gift of God

Daily Reading for January 19 • Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, 1095

Isaiah the prophet wrote about the sevenfold gift of God in his prophesy about the Holy Spirit and about his sevenfold gifts. The sevenfold gifts are named thus: sapientia in Latin, that is wisdom in English; intellectus in Latin, that is understanding in English; consilium in Latin, that is counsel in English; fortitude in Latin, strength of spirit in English; scientia in Latin, good sense in English; pietas in Latin, piety in English; timor Domini in Latin, the fear of God in English. These sevenfold gifts truly were in our Lord in perfection, and the Holy Spirit still daily distributes them to Christians, each according to his desire and his spirit’s eagerness, just as bishops in confirmation eagerly long for God himself.

And indeed that person has wisdom through the gift of God who lives wisely and always considers how he might please God. And he has good sense through God’s gift who always turns it toward his Lord’s will with good works. And he has good counsel through God’s gift who ever guides himself about what is to be done and what to be left undone. And he has strength of spirit through God’s gift who can forebear and endure much and ever be patient in every humility and again in good occurrences not forsake his diligence but be always discreet in every way so that he be not too glad in joy or too despondent in woe. And he has good sense through God’s gift who loves goodness and innocence and is better within than he is thought without and knows for himself the difference between truth and untruth. And he has piety through God’s gift who is devout and shows respect to other people, to his peers and also to his subordinates and does not want to despise or shame the other with words or deeds. And then the fear of God is the seventh gift of these spiritual gifts, and this gift is the beginning of all wisdom. And he who has the fear of God fully by no means forsakes many of the things that are necessary for his soul to have and to hold.

From “On the Sevenfold Gifts of the Spirit” by Wulfstan, quoted in Anglo-Saxon Spirituality: Selected Writings, translated and introduced by Robert Boenig, in the Classics of Western Spirituality series (Paulist Press, 2000).

Warming my spirit

Daily Reading for January 20 • The Second Sunday After the Epiphany

In the mystery of our Lord’s incarnation there were clear indications of his eternal Godhead. Yet the great events we celebrate today disclose and reveal in different ways the fact that God himself took a human body. Mortals, enshrouded always in darkness, must not be left in ignorance, and so be deprived of what they can understand and retain only by grace.

In choosing to be born for us, God chose to be known by us. He therefore reveals himself in this way, in order that this great sacrament of his love may not be an occasion for us of great misunderstanding.

Today the Magi find, crying in a manger, the one they have followed as he shone in the sky. Today the Magi see clearly, in swaddling clothes, the one they have long awaited as he lay hidden among the stars.

Today Christ enters the Jordan to wash away the sin of the world. John himself testifies that this is why he has come: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.” Today a servant lays his hand on the Lord, a man lays his hand on God, John lays his hand on Christ, not to forgive but to receive forgiveness.

Today Christ works the first of his signs from heaven by turning water into wine. But water [mixed with wine] has still to be changed into the sacrament of his blood, so that Christ may offer spiritual drink from the chalice of his body, to fulfill the psalmist’s prophecy: “How excellent is my chalice, warming my spirit.”

From a sermon of Peter Chrysologus, Bishop of Ravenna [450], quoted in Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, edited by J. Robert Wright. Copyright © 1991. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Genuine festival

Daily Reading for January 21 • Agnes, Martyr at Rome, 304

The Word who becomes all things for us is close to us, our Lord Jesus Christ who promises to remain with us always. He cries out, saying: “See, I am with you all the days of this age.” He himself is the shepherd, the high priest, the way and the door, and has become all things at once for us. It was Christ who shed his light on the psalmist as he prayed: “You are my joy, deliver me from those surrounding me.” True joy, genuine festival, means the casting out of wickedness. To achieve this one must live a life of perfect goodness and, in the serenity of the fear of God, practice contemplation in one’s heart.

This was the way of the saints, who in their lifetime and at every stage of life rejoiced as at a feast. Because of their holy lives they gained freedom, and now keep festival in heaven. They rejoice after their pilgrimage in shadows, and now distinguish the reality from the promise.

From an Easter Letter by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria [373], quoted in Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, edited by J. Robert Wright. Copyright © 1991. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Defending the faith

Daily Reading for January 22 • Vincent, Deacon of Saragossa and Martyr, 304

Another early deacon with close ties to his bishop was Vincent of Saragossa, martyred on 22 January 304. Vincent was not only the eyes and ears of his bishop, but literally his mouth. Because Valerius stuttered badly, Vincent often preached for him. According to legend, they were arrested by the governor of Spain, threatened with torture and death, and pressured to renounce their faith. Vincent said, “Father, if you order me, I will speak.” Valerius replied, “Son, as I have committed you to dispense the word of God, so I now charge you to answer in vindication of the faith which we defend.” Vincent defied the governor and was tortured to death. . . .

Scholars may question the historical accuracy of these legends about Laurence and Vincent, Apollonia and Thekla, and other early martyrs, but they tell us a good deal about deacons in the early church. They stood close to their bishop, they brought help to the poor and brought the word to the people, and they held the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience, even to death.

From Many Servants: An Introduction to Deacons by Ormonde Plater (Cowley Publications, 1991).

In the way of love

Daily Reading for January 23 • Phillips Brooks, Bishop of Massachusetts, 1893

I find myself pitying the friends of my youth, who died when we were twenty-five years old, because whatever may be the richness of the life to which they have gone, and in which they have been living ever since, they never can know that particular manifestation of Christ which He makes to us here on earth, at each successive period of our human life. All experience comes to be but more and more of pressure of His life on ours. It cannot come by one flash of light, or one great convulsive event. It comes without haste and without rest in this perpetual living of our life with Him. And all the history, of outer or inner life, of the changes of circumstances, or the changes of thought, gets its meaning and value from this constantly growing relation to Christ.

I cannot tell you how personal this grows to me. He is here. He knows me and I know Him. It is no figure of speech. It is the realest thing in the world. And every day makes it realer. And one wonders with delight what it will grow to as the years go on.

Less and less, I think, grows the consciousness of seeking God. Greater and greater grows the certainty that He is seeking us and giving Himself to us to the complete measure of our present capacity. That is Love,--not that we loved Him, but that He loved us. I am sure that we ought to dwell far more upon God’s love for us than on our love for Him. There is such a thing as putting ourselves in the way of God’s overflowing love and letting it break upon us till the response of love to Him comes, not by struggle, not even by deliberation, but by necessity, as the echo comes when the sound strikes the rock.

From Life and Letters of Phillips Brooks, quoted in Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, compiled by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams (Oxford, 2001).

Ministry transformed

Daily Reading for January 24 • Ordination of Florence Li Tim-Oi, First Woman Priest in the Anglican Communion, 1944

The first woman priest in the Anglican Communion was not an American. In a curious parallel to the seating of Elizabeth Dyer in the House of Deputies in 1946, the upheaval of wartime had also made possible the 1944 ordination of Florence Li Tim-Oi by Ronald O. Hall, the bishop of Hong Kong, to provide priestly ministrations to Chinese Americans under the Japanese occupation. When word of the ordination reached England, Bishop Hall was roundly denounced and Li Tim-Oi agreed to suspend her sacramental ministry to protect Hall from punitive action. Her subsequent disappearance throughout the years China was closed to the West made it easy for the Anglican Communion to resist dealing with the implications of her ordination, but Li Tim-Oi’s ordination reminds us that the issue was by no means an American invention of the 1960s. In fact, women’s ordination to the priesthood had been urged by women’s rights activists on both sides of the Atlantic since the turn of the century, and was first alluded to in a Lambeth Conference report of 1920. . . .

On February 11, 1989, before a jubilant crowd of eight thousand people in the Hynes Auditorium in Boston, Barbara Clementine Harris was consecrated suffragan bishop of the most populous diocese in the American church. . . . Everything about the service testified to the fact that the old order was changing. The preacher was Harris’s mentor, Paul Washington, rector of the Church of the Advocate which had hosted the Philadelphia ordinations fifteen years earlier. Joining Bishop Harris around the altar to concelebrate the Eucharist were Florence Li Tim-Oi, the first Anglican woman ordained to the priesthood in 1944, and Carter Heyward, one of the Philadelphia Eleven. . . . A woman had become a bishop, and the episcopacy had been transformed: no longer a male preserve, it had become an image of human leadership within a community of diverse men and women united in Christ’s service.

From New Wine: The Story of Women Transforming Leadership and Power in the Episcopal Church by Pamela W. Darling (Cowley Publications, 1994).

Prayer for unity

Daily Reading for January 25 • The Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle

We have come together in the presence of Almighty God to pray for the recovery of the unity of Christ’s Church, and for the renewal of our common life in Jesus Christ in whom we are all made one.

Silence

Let us give heed to the words of Holy Scripture which set forth God’s will and purpose for the unity of his Church.

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
Lord, write your word in our hearts:
That we may know and do your will.

“There is one body, and one Spirit, as there is also one hope held out in God’s call to you; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Lord, write your word in our hearts:
That we may know and do your will.

“For Christ is like a single body with its many limbs and organs which, many as they are, together make up one body. For indeed we were all brought into one body by baptism, in the one Spirit, whether we are Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and that one Holy Spirit was poured out for all of us to drink.”
Lord, write your word in our hearts:
That we may know and do your will.

“But it is not for these alone that I pray, but for those also who through their words put their faith in me; may they all be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, so also may they be in us, that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Lord, write your word in our hearts:
That we may know and do your will. Amen.

A litany for The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity from Prayers for Today’s Church, quoted in The Wideness of God’s Mercy: Litanies to Enlarge Our Prayer, revised and updated edition, compiled and adapted by Jeffery Rowthorn with W. Alfred Tisdale. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Companions in the faith

Daily Reading for January 26 • Timothy and Titus, Companions of St. Paul

Heavenly Father
you sent your apostle Paul to preach the gospel
and gave him Timothy and Titus
to be his companions in the faith:
grant that our fellowship in the Spirit
may bear witness to the name of Jesus;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
one God, now and for ever.

Collect for the Feast of Timothy and Titus from An Anglican Prayer Book 1989 of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (HarperCollins, 1989).

Following Jesus

Daily Reading for January 27 • The Third Sunday After the Epiphany

If persons and communities follow Jesus and proclaim the kingdom of God to the poor; if they strive for liberation from every kind of slavery; if they seek, for all human beings, especially for the immense majority of men and women who are crucified persons, a life in conformity with the dignity of daughters and sons of God; if they have the courage and forthrightness to speak the truth, however this may translate into the denunciation and unmasking of sin, and steadfastness in the conflicts and persecution occasioned by this forthrightness; if, in this discipleship of Jesus, they effectuate their own conversion from being oppressors to being men and women of service; if they have the spirit of Jesus, with the bowels of mercy and the pure heart to see the truth of things, and refuse to darken their hearts by imprisoning the truth of things in injustice; if in doing justice they seek peace and in making peace they seek to base it on justice; and if they do all this in the following and discipleship of Jesus because he did all this himself—then they believe in Jesus Christ.

From Jesus in Latin America by Jon Sobrino (Orbis Books, 1987).

Thomistic synthesis

Daily Reading for January 28 • Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Friar, 1274

Though involved in numerous ecclesiastical and civil affairs, Thomas Aquinas was primarily a theological thinker and writer. The only comparable figure in previous church history is Augustine, and Aquinas quotes his distinguished predecessor more frequently than any other of the Fathers. But unlike Augustine, Aquinas was a systematizer with a neat, orderly mind that delighted in logical and dialectical coherence. Aiding him in this architectonic ideal was the newly rediscovered Aristotle, whose precision of definition and syllogistic distinctions provided Aquinas with the philosophical instrument he needed for his theological construction. Thus in Aquinas both Augustine and Aristotle meet, and the synthesis added an astonishing brilliance to such perennial problems as the relation of revelation and reason.

There are two distinct lines of development in Christian theology. One comes out of the Hebrew-Christian tradition and the other from the Greco-Roman philosophy and culture. The so-called Thomistic synthesis brought the two into functional coexistence.

From Readings in Christian Thought, edited by Hugh T. Kerr (Abingdon, 1983).

Taking on our littleness

Daily Reading for January 29

To restore man, who had been laid low by sin, to the heights of divine glory, the Word of the eternal Father, though containing all things within His immensity, willed to become small. This He did, not by putting aside His greatness, but by taking to Himself our littleness.

The reparation of human nature could not be effected by Adam or by any other purely human being. For no individual man ever occupied a position of preeminence over the whole of nature; nor can any mere man be the cause of grace. Nothing remains, therefore, but that such restoration could be effected by God alone.

There are also other reasons for the divine Incarnation. Man had withdrawn from spiritual things and had delivered himself up wholly to material things, from which he was unable by his own efforts to make his way back to God. Therefore divine Wisdom, who had made man, took to Himself a bodily nature and visited man immersed in things of the body, so that by the mysteries of His bodily life He might recall man to spiritual life.

At the same time, by willing to become man, God clearly displayed the immensity of His love for men, so that henceforth men might serve God, no longer out of fear of death, which the first man had scorned, but out of the love of charity.

From Compendium of Theology by Thomas Aquinas, translated by Cyril Vollert (B. Herder, 1948).

Humbly I adore thee

Daily Reading for January 30

Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen,
Who thy glory hidest ’neath these shadows mean;
Lo, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed,
Tranced as it beholds thee, shrined within the cloud.

Taste, and touch, and vision, to discern thee fail;
Faith, that comes by hearing, pierces through the veil.
I believe whate’er the Son of God hath told;
What the Truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.

O memorial wondrous of the Lord’s own death;
Living Bread, that givest all thy creatures breath,
Grant my spirit ever by thy life may live,
To my taste thy sweetness never-failing give.

Jesus, whom now veiled, I by faith descry,
What my soul doth thirst for, do not, Lord, deny,
That thy face unveiled, I at last may see,
With the blissful vision blest, my God, of thee.

Thomas Aquinas, c. 1260; hymnal version, 1939. Hymn 204 in The Hymnal 1940 (Church Pension Fund, 1940).

The monastery at Kildare

Daily Reading for January 31

“And who can describe in words the supreme beauty of this church, and the countless wonders of that minster—of that city as we may say, if it can rightly be called a city when it is surrounded by no circuit of walls? But because countless people come together in it, it earns the name ‘city’ from the gathering of crowds there. This city is supreme and metropolitan, in whose suburbs, which holy Brigit marked out with a precise boundary, is feared no mortal adversary nor onslaught of enemies. But it is the safest city of refuge, with all its external suburbs, in the whole land of the Irish for all fugitives. . . . And who can count the varied crowds and countless peoples flocking together from all provinces? Some come because of the abundance of feasts, others to obtain healing of their ailments, others to stare at the crowds; others bring great gifts and offerings to the celebration of holy Brigit’s birth.”

Thus the seventh-century Irishman Cogitosus praised Kildare. He was writing in a tradition, suffused with biblical conceptions of cities of refuge and the heavenly city, which presented the minsters of Ireland as places of safety, centrality, and popular resort as well as places of cult. The main centres of early Christian Ireland were indeed its monastic sites, and several of them have now yielded archaeological evidence for complex zoning of activities, including specialized craft production and industry, during the seventh to ninth centuries.

From The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society by John Blair (Oxford, 2005).

Abbess of Kildare

Daily Reading for February 1 • Brigid (Bride), 523

Father,
by the leadership of your blessed servant Brigid
you strengthened the Church in this land:
As we give you thanks for her life of devoted service,
inspire us with new life and light,
and give us perseverance to serve you all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Collect Two for Saint Brigid, in The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland (Dublin: The Columba Press, 2004).

Faith to believe

Daily Reading for February 2 • The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple

Hope and fear, laughter and tears have been part of our journey.
Joy and pain, longing and doubt meet on the pathway.
Often we do not believe, O God,
and sometimes we doubt that your promises can be true.
Grant us and our world the freedom to laugh,
the courage to cry,
the heart to be open,
and the faith to believe.

From Celtic Treasure: Daily Scriptures and Prayer by J. Philip Newell (Eerdmans, 2005).

Exodus and transfiguration

Daily Reading for February 3 • The Last Sunday After the Epiphany

Consider one of the central symbols of the Bible: the exodus from Egypt. It recurs again and again in both the Old and New Testaments. At first the symbol may work on us by inviting us to explore in prayer the implications of the historic event itself. The event reveals God as the One who takes up the cause of the defenseless, the exiled and oppressed. God does not soothe the oppressed with promises of heaven, but wants their freedom in this life. In our meditation on the Exodus event we find ourselves challenged: do we really look to God as liberator? Do we hear God saying today to those who hold their fellow human beings in various kinds of political, social and economic bondage, “Let my people go”? Where do we stand with regard to the oppression perpetrated by the powerful of our own day?

The symbol may then have another effect on us. It is used in the New Testament to interpret redemption, the liberation which Christ achieved through the cross. Luke represents Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration speaking of “the exodus which [Jesus] was to accomplish at Jerusalem.” In meditation on the theme of redemption we find our hearts searched and tested. What do we believe Christ has done for us? What was the slavery we were powerless to escape from? What did Christ do to set us free? Do we in reality look to him as our liberator and rescuer? As we explore for ourselves what it is we have been emancipated from, what kind of promised land is now ours to enter, our meditation begins to turn into praise of Christ.

From The Word is Very Near You: A Guide to Praying with Scripture by Martin L. Smith (Cowley Publications, 1989).

Moving the boundaries

Daily Reading for February 4 • Cornelius the Centurion

If a boundary defines, then moving or removing that boundary means redefinition. Something new is being identified and named. The work of changing a boundary—or moving ourselves across a threshold—demands attention and a willingness to listen to the voices around us. . . .

Any decision to include or exclude either creates a different system altogether or modifies the existing one. Indeed, revolution itself might be defined as the setting of a new boundary. Responsible shifting of boundaries requires our asking a number of questions: Where is the boundary? Who or what determined it in the first place? Is this line of God, or was it set by powers acting contrary to God’s will? Does there need to be a line drawn where there was none before? How do we know? The answers we make to these questions can help us discover when and where boundaries need to be maintained, shifted, or abolished altogether, especially concerning those areas of human life in which there is considerable disagreement. Answers do not come easily. They will emerge only after intense work in personal and communal discernment—prayer, wrestling with God’s word in scripture, honest exchange.

From Good Fences: The Boundaries of Hospitality by Caroline Westerhoff (Cowley Publications, 1999).

Shrove Tuesday

Daily Reading for February 5 • The Martyrs of Japan, 1597

Shrove Tuesday calls us to think about sin in preparation for the season of repentance, yet the tradition of revelry associated with Mardi Gras militates against deadly seriousness. Can we let ourselves into the subject of sin a little lightly?

Ogden Nash has a delightful poem called “Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man” that explores comically the classic distinction between sins of commission and sins of omission. He warns us not to bother our heads about the first kind, “because however sinful, they must at least be fun or else you wouldn’t be committing them.” It is through the sins of omission that we get bitten. These are the things that “lay eggs under our skin.” What we do wrong is often less harmful than our failure to do good. Our wrongdoing is so often powered by an energy that can be converted to good. The secret of sin does not lie in our energetic but misdirected action; it lies in our inertia and forgetfulness, in our inner deadness, denial, and boredom. The secret of hell lies in our not loving, in our not risking, in our withholding. Evil is our paralysis in the face of love’s invitation, our great refusal.

From “What Shall We Do For Lent?” in Nativities and Passions: Words for Transformation by Martin L. Smith (Cowley Publications, 1995).

Entering the wilderness

Daily Reading for February 6 • Ash Wednesday

Lent is not a temporary affectation of gloom or a brisk interlude for self-improvement. It is for being in the wilderness, which means stopping long enough to recognize the truth of our inertia and faithlessness. This deadness inside is a fact. On Ash Wednesday we are called first to face this fact—but then what? What shall we do?

This may seem strange, but this year every time I have asked myself the question “What shall I do for Lent?” I have immediately thought of a brief exchange that occurs in a droll Russian novel by Goncharov. The hero, Oblomov, is asked what he does. The question astonishes and offends him. “What? What do I do? why, I am in love with Olga!” To him, the question about what he does is a question about his identity. He is a man in love, and that is who he understands himself to be.

The question that should be put to us all at the beginning of Lent is not “What shall we do?” The right question is the one to which the answer is, “Why, I am in love with God!” What begins to enliven our inertia is remembering and realizing that we are in love with God. True repentance, true change of heart, consists in grasping the fact that we are called to be in love with God, and that the love with which we love God is something already given to us. Repentance is coming alive to our given identity as lovers of God.

So, what shall we do for Lent? We shall act on our identity as women and men who are in love with God. We shall do whatever helps us remember and realize that identity and do what arises from it.

From “What Shall We Do For Lent?” in Nativities and Passions: Words for Transformation by Martin L. Smith (Cowley Publications, 1995).

Clearing a space for prayer

Daily Reading for February 7

If prayer is something important to us, then much more of our time will be directed to trying to bring about possible conditions for prayer than to actually doing it. I have several times compared the act of prayer with the act of writing, and here once again the comparison holds true. As a writer I seem to devote an awful lot of effort and time to clearing a space in which to write. I means turning down invitations to things like coffee mornings and conferences. It means trying to persuade my friends not to telephone me in the mornings. It means finding someone to do the housework that I can’t get done.

It means, on a more seductive level, refusing jobs, and friendships, and good works, and hobbies, that simply would not leave enough time and energy over.

Prayer seems to me to work in much the same way. We want the space in which to deepen our awareness of ourselves and of God by one method or another; but, much as we want it, we can still be tempted into activities which exhaust us and leave us as unsatisfied as ever. These may not necessarily be what people used to call ‘frivolous’ activities—frivolity can often feed us in unexpected ways. In fact for many Christians now it often seems to be the sheer weight of earnest and worthy duties which makes self-discovery no more than a wistful hope.

Perhaps if, collectively, we had a bit more spiritual insight, we should know that there are occasions in people’s lives when a kind of moratorium on works, even good works, is what is needed most, and that this is as much a proof of their love for mankind as feeding the hungry.

From Christian Uncertainties by Monica Furlong (Cowley Publications, 1982).

What is the spiritual life?

Daily Reading for February 8

The perennial question, centuries old and ever new, harries us: What is the spiritual life? How do we develop it? Is it real? Is it possible? Is it even desirable? Isn’t earth about earth and heaven time enough for heaven? The questions plague us in the deepest parts of ourselves, to the blackest recesses of our souls. “We live most of our life,” Wendy Miller wrote, “oblivious to our true identity as persons created and provided for by God.” The starkness of the statement catapults us into another dimension of religion entirely. To know our true identity—to really know down deep where we came from, to whom we belong, out of whose life we live—is to know that the God who made us is with us still. God is the eternal memory, the inseparable presence, the unending energy that beats within us yet, inchoate but clear. . . .

Once we empty ourselves of our certainties, we open ourselves to the mystery. We expose ourselves to the God in whom “we live and move and have our being.” We bare ourselves to the possibility that God is seeking us in places and people and things we thought were outside the pale of the God of our spiritual childhood. Then life changes color, changes tone, changes purpose. We begin to live more fully, not just in touch with earth, but with the eternal sound of the universe as well.

From Called to Question: A Spiritual Memoir by Joan D. Chittister, OSB (Sheed & Ward, 2004).

Lent in Jerusalem

Daily Reading for February 9

When the season of Lent is at hand, it is observed in the following manner. Now whereas with us the forty days preceding Easter are observed, here they observe the eight weeks before Easter. This is the reason why they observe eight weeks: On Sundays and Saturdays they do not fast, except on the one Saturday which is the vigil of Easter, when it is necessary to fast. Except on that day, there is absolutely no fasting here on Saturdays at any time during the year. And so, when eight Sundays and seven Saturdays have been deducted from the eight weeks—for it is necessary, as I have just said, to fast on one Saturday—there remain forty-one days which are spent in fasting, which are called here “eortae,” that is to say, Lent.

This is a summary of the fasting practices here during Lent. There are some who, having eaten on Sunday after the dismissal, that is, at the fifth or sixth hour, do not eat again for the whole week until Saturday, following the dismissal from the Anastasis. These are the ones who observe the full week’s fast. Having eaten once in the morning on Saturday, they do not eat again in the evening, but only on the following day, on Sunday, that is, do they eat after the dismissal from the church at the fifth hour or later. Afterwards, they do not eat again until the following Saturday, as I have already said. Such is their fate during the Lenten season that they take no leavened bread (for this cannot be eaten at all), no olive oil, nothing which comes from trees, but only water and a little flour soup. And this is what is done throughout Lent.

From the Travels of Egeria, Abbess, and Pilgrim to Jerusalem [late fourth century]. From Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, edited by J. Robert Wright. Copyright © 1991. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Temptation

Daily Reading for February 10 • The First Sunday in Lent

There are so many difficulties in life that we seem to be engaged in a daily battle just to keep from going under. We struggle to keep on top of our job, maintain our household, take care of our children, cope with bad health, homework, and money problems. None of us is without difficulties, sometimes overwhelming ones. We are often advised to turn to religion for help, and in fact the phrase “Christ is the Answer” has even appeared on a bumper-sticker.

But genuine religion begins by revealing to us that Christ is the answer, not in the sense of lifting all our troubles from us, but in directing us to the place where the right battles are to be fought. He reveals to us where we should be struggling. He does not magically remove us from all strife, but shows us which specific struggles will lead us into a haven.

The situation then is not that there are those with troubles and those without them, but that there are those caught in a whirlpool, going around and around, and those making for shore. Christ is the answer in showing us the direction to take, the place where we are to struggle, if we are to find a way that leads to the kingdom of his Father.

We discover what we ought to struggle with by looking at what he struggled with. He did not calmly inform us of the gateway, but he himself labored and pioneered his way through the place we are to follow. All three synoptic gospels tell us that Jesus was tempted; and all three portray the temptation scene as a gateway through which he passed. Before he began his life’s work of healing and teaching, he had to pass through temptation. Mark only records the fact; Luke and Matthew give the details so as to reveal which specific conflicts or temptations form the gateway. They tell us that there were three specific temptations, concerned with how he should direct his life in order to create a path to lead people into the kingdom.

From Temptation by Diogenes Allen. A Seabury Classic from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2004. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Bread or obedience

Daily Reading for February 11

Temptation does not usually come when we are ready for it. It does not come when we are strongest, when we are at our best. It comes when we are weak. It came to Jesus when he was hungry, very hungry. . . . When he had grown weak, when he was not physically strong, when it became hard to see straight and clearly in the dazzling sun of that sun-drenched land, it was then that temptation came.

Jesus was exposed to terrible hunger, his body giving him no rest. Perhaps he was looking at the smooth round stones that lay at his feet. They looked something like the smooth loaves just out of a baker’s oven, and then it struck him, “Turn these stones into bread.”

It was a temptation to use his powers to bring comfort to his body, to use his unique relationship to God as a magic wand to care for his earthly needs. That was a personal temptation he faced: to avoid the pains of a bodily life. More broadly, it was to avoid being subject to one of the common human conditions we face. It was a temptation to reject a condition set by God, namely, that we are to seek him as beings who must eat, who are vulnerable to starvation, as beings who are made to desire material goods and who can therefore become greedy, covetous, envious. To use his powers to provide food in a miraculous way when he was in trouble would have been to reject a condition his Father sets for us. He could hardly have pioneered a new way for us to the Father if he rejected one of the conditions to which we are subject in our pilgrimage.

But it was also for him a temptation that concerned the welfare of others. He could have made his mission to the world an attempt to satisfy people’s bodily needs. He could have tried to see to it that everyone had food, clothing, and shelter; to see that everyone’s sensuous needs and desires were fully satisfied.

His Father faced that decision when he made the universe; he could have protected us from all shortages, from being vulnerable to starvation. But clearly we are vulnerable and we are not fully protected. Whatever the reason for this situation, it is where we are. The decision the Father made at creation, to allow this, was now faced by Jesus. He had to ratify or to reject his Father’s decision by deciding what his mission was to be—bread or obedience to his Father’s will.

That was for him a temptation, a terrible temptation. For are not we all, as he was, frequently moved by compassion at the suffering of people, their terrible suffering? All people are not being fed. At the same time do not we all know that people do not live by bread alone? None of us is hungry. . . . We consume and consume and consume, and we learn the hard way—if we learn at all—that we cannot be satisfied this way. We need it; it is good; yet it does not fill us. We find here that we are tempted into evil, not by something that is evil, but by something that is good.

From Temptation by Diogenes Allen. A Seabury Classic from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2004. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Our restless heart

Daily Reading for February 12

So we are faced each day with the terrible temptation, the powerful pull of two forces: our need and enjoyment of goods that are of this world, and our need for the good that is not. We need both. For we cannot live by bread alone; we do not live without it either. How can we face that temptation?

Jesus faced it by quoting the Old Testament: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” We shall live by listening to all that God tells us. So attend to that craving in yourself that only God’s words can fill. The danger is that we shall not notice or we shall forget that the world cannot satisfy us. We overlook that craving that goods do not satisfy. That emptiness is only one desire among a multitude of desires, and so it may easily be thought to be insignificant.

But do you remember the experience of thinking that if only I had—a what? Whatever it was, you fill it in. And remember when you got it? How wonderful it was? Remember how after a while it didn’t matter so much and you wanted other things? Such experiences are of vital importance. They tell us about our restless heart, our craving. For we are tempted to forget the one thing that points us to God: our restlessness with all that the world has to offer. Only he can fill that void.

We must, in other words, forsake the world. This is what we must renounce before we can enter the gateway of a new reality and receive. To forsake is not to hate the world, or to reject it. It is not to turn from material goods—food, drink, clothing—and become an ascetic; for as Jesus said, “your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” It is instead to recognize that all this world’s goods are not able to satisfy us.

From Temptation by Diogenes Allen. A Seabury Classic from Church Publishing. Copyright © 2004. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

You must not kneel here

Daily Reading for February 13 • Absalom Jones, Priest, 1818

I thought I would stop in Philadelphia a week or two. I preached at different places in the city. My labour was much blessed. I soon saw a large field open in seeking and instructing my African brethren, who had been a long forgotten people and few of them attended public worship. I preached in the commons, in Southwark, Northern Liberties, and wherever I could find an opening. I frequently preached twice a day, at 5 o’clock in the morning and in the evening, and it was not uncommon for me to preach from four to five times a day. I established prayer meetings; I raised a society in 1786 of forty-two members. I saw the necessity of erecting a place of worship for the coloured people. I proposed it to the most respectable people of colour in this city; but here I met with opposition. I had but three coloured brethren that united with me in erecting a place of worship--the Rev. Absalom Jones, William White, and Dorus Ginnings. These united with me as soon as it became public and known by the elder who was stationed in the city. . . .

We felt ourselves much cramped; but my dear Lord was with us, and we believed, if it was his will, the work would go on, and that we would be able to succeed in building the house of the Lord. We established prayer meetings and meetings of exhortation, and the Lord blessed our endeavours, and many souls were awakened; but the elder soon forbid us holding any such meetings; but we viewed the forlorn state of our coloured brethren, and that they were destitute of a place of worship. They were considered as a nuisance.

A number of us usually attended St. George’s Church in Fourth Street; and when the coloured people began to get numerous in attending the church, they moved us from the seats we usually sat on, and placed us around the wall, and on Sabbath morning we went to church and the sexton stood at the door, and told us to go in the gallery. He told us to go, and we would see where to sit. We expected to take the seats over the ones we formerly occupied below, not knowing any better. We took those seats. Meeting had begun, and they were nearly done singing, and just as we got to the seats, the elder said, “let us pray.” We had not been long upon our knees before I heard considerable scuffling and low talking. I raised my head up and saw one of the trustees, H-- M--, having hold of the Rev. Absalom Jones, pulling him up off of his knees, and saying, “You must get up--you must not kneel here.” Mr. Jones replied, “wait until prayer is over.” Mr. H-- M-- said “no, you must get up now, or I will call for aid and I force you away.” Mr. Jones said, “wait until prayer is over, and I will get up and trouble you no more.” With that he beckoned to one of the other trustees, Mr. L-- S-- to come to his assistance. He came, and went to William White to pull him up. By this time prayer was over, and we all went out of the church in a body, and they were no more plagued with us in the church. This raised a great excitement and inquiry among the citizens, in so much that I believe they were ashamed of their conduct. But my dear Lord was with us, and we were filled with fresh vigour to get a house erected to worship God in. . . .

We then hired a store room, and held worship by ourselves. Here we were pursued with threats of being disowned, and read publicly out of meeting if we did continue worship in the place we had hired; but we believed the Lord would be our friend. We got subscription papers out to raise money to build the house of the Lord. By this time we had waited on Dr. Rush and Mr. Robert Ralston, and told them of our distressing situation. We considered it a blessing that the Lord had put it into our hearts to wait upon those gentlemen. They pitied our situation, and subscribed largely towards the church, and were very friendly towards us, and advised us how to go on. We appointed Mr. Ralston our treasurer. Dr. Rush did much for us in public by his influence. I hope the name of Dr. Benjamin Rush and Mr. Robert Ralston will never be forgotten among us. They were the two first gentlemen who espoused the cause of the oppressed, and aided us in building the house of the Lord for the poor Africans to worship in. Here was the beginning and rise of the first African church in America.

From The Life, Experience, and Gospel Labours of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen (Martin & Boden, Printers, 1833). http://docsouth.unc.edu/neh/allen/allen.html

Known for unity

Daily Reading for February 14 • Cyril and Methodius, Missionaries to the Slavs, 869, 885

When the time came for him to set out from this world to the peace of his heavenly homeland, [Cyril] prayed to God with his hands outstretched and his eyes filled with tears: “O Lord, my God, you have created the choirs of angels and spiritual powers; you have stretched forth the heavens and established the earth, creating all that exists from nothing. You hear those who obey your will and keep your commands in holy fear. Hear my prayer and protect your faithful people, for you have established me as their unsuitable and unworthy servant.

“Keep them free from harm and the worldly cunning of those who blaspheme you. Build up your church and gather all into unity. Make your people known for the unity and profession of their faith. Inspire the hearts of your people with your word and your teaching. You called us to preach the Gospel of your Christ and to encourage them to lives and works pleasing to you.

“I now return to you, your people, your gift to me. Direct them with your powerful right hand, and protect them under the shadow of your wings. May all praise and glorify your name, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Once he had exchanged the gift of peace with everyone, he said: “Blessed be God, who did not hand us over to our invisible enemy, but freed us from his snare and delivered us from perdition.” He then fell asleep in the Lord at the age of forty-two.

From an Old Slavonic Life of Cyril, Monk, and missionary to the Slavs in the ninth century, quoted in They Still Speak: Readings for the Lesser Feasts, edited by J. Robert Wright. Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Qualities of a missionary

Daily Reading for February 15 • Thomas Bray, Priest and Missionary, 1730

But since, I am not over sanguine to hope for any publick Funds for the PROPAGATION OF CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE, either in this, or the other Colonies: And my great hopes are from the pious Clergy themselves, and such particular Persons amongst the devout Laity, whose Hearts are inflamed with a Love of God, and of those Souls which he has purchased with his own Blood: I shall rather turn my self to you, my most Reverend Fathers, and other Noble Patrons of Religion, giving you a general Estimate of the number of Missionaries, which we hope to be supplied withal from your Paternal Care, and Pious Assistance: . . . .And the necessity that there should be both so many, and those singularly well qualify’d for the purpose, I am next to shew you. . . . The Persons which alone can do good there, as I conceive, must,

In the First place, be of such nice Morals, as to abstain from all Appearance of Evil;. . . It is the worst Fault of the Plantations, that they give their Tongues too much liberty that way, especially if they can find the least Flaw.

Secondly, They must be Men of good Prudence, and an exact Conduct, or otherwise, they will unavoidably fall into Contempt, with a People so well vers’d in Business, as every the meanest Planter seems to be.

Thirdly, They ought to be well experienced in the Pastoral Care, having a greater Variety, both of Sects and Humours, to deal with in those Parts, than are at home; and therefore it would be well, if we could be provided with such as have been Curates here for some time.

Fourthly, More especially they ought to be of a true Missionary Spirit, having an ardent Zeal for God’s Glory, and the Salvation of Mens Souls.

Fifthly, Of a very active Spirit, and consequently, not so grown into Years, as to be uncapable of Labour and Fatigue, no more than very Young, upon which account they will be more liable to be despised.

And, lastly, They ought to be good, substantial, well-studied Divines, very ready in the Holy Scriptures, able with sound Judgment to explicate and prove the great Doctrines of Christianity, to state the Nature and Extent of the Christian Duties, and with the most moving Considerations to enforce their Practice, and to defend the Truth against all its Adversaries: To which purpose, it will be therefore absolutely requisite to prove each of them with a Library of necessary Books, to be fix’d in those places to which they shall be sent, for the Use of them, and their Successors for ever: This to be a perpetual Encouragement to good and able Divines, always to go over, and to render them useful when they are there.

From A Memorial Representing the Present State of Religion, on the Continent of North-America by Thomas Bray, D. D. http://anglicanhistory.org/england/tbray/memorial1701.html

Openness

Daily Reading for February 16

Openness is not gentility in the social arena. It is not polite listening to people with whom we inherently disagree. It is not political or civil or “nice.” It is not even simple hospitality. It is the munificent abandonment of the mind to new ideas, to new possibilities. Without an essential posture of openness, contemplation is not possible. God comes in every voice, behind every face, in every memory, deep in every struggle. To close off any of them is to close off the possibility of becoming new again ourselves.

From Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light by Joan Chittister (Orbis Books, 2000).

Born again

Daily Reading for February 17 • The Second Sunday in Lent

How was it possible, I thought, that a change could be great enough to strip away in a single moment the innate hardness of our nature? How could the habits acquired over the course of many years disappear, since these are so deeply rooted within us? If someone is used to fine feasts and lavish banquets, how can they learn restraint? If someone is used to dressing conspicuously in gold and purple, how can they cast them aside for ordinary simple clothes? Someone who loves the trappings of public office cannot become an anonymous private person. While temptation still holds us fast, we are seduced by wine, inflated with pride, inflamed by anger, troubled by greed, goaded by cruelty, enticed by ambition and cast headlong by lust. . .

But after the life-giving water of baptism came to my rescue and washed away the stain of my former years and poured into my cleansed and purified heart the light which comes from above, and after I had drunk in the Heavenly Spirit and was made a new man by a second birth, then amazingly what I had previously doubted became clear to me. What had been hidden was revealed. What had been dark became light. What previously had seemed impossible now seemed possible. What was in me of the guilty flesh now confessed it was earthly. What was made alive in me by the Holy Spirit was now quickened by God.

From the treatise To Donatus by Cyprian of Carthage, quoted in Spiritual Classics from the Early Church by Robert Atwell (National Society/Church House Publishing, 1995).

One thing necessary

Daily Reading for February 18 • Martin Luther, 1546

One thing, and only one thing, is necessary for Christian life, righteousness, and freedom. That one thing is the most holy Word of God, the gospel of Christ, as Christ says, John 11, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.”. . . Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing, since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and of every incalculable blessing. . . .

You may ask, “What then is the Word of God, and how shall it be used, since there are so many words of God?” I answer: The Apostle explains this in Romans 1. The Word is the gospel of God concerning his Son, who was made flesh, suffered, rose from the dead, and was glorified through the Spirit who sanctifies. To preach Christ means to feed the soul, make it righteous, set it free, and save it, provided it believes the preaching. Faith alone is the saving and efficacious use of the Word of God.

From “The Freedom of a Christian” by Martin Luther, in Martin Luther, Three Treatises, second revised edition (Fortress Press, 1970).

He is Christ the Savior

Daily Reading for February 19

When Jesus came to Jordan’s stream his Father’s will obeying,
and was baptized by John, there came a voice from heaven saying,
“This is my dear beloved Son upon whom rests my favor,”
And till God’s will is fully done he will not bend or waver,
for he is Christ the Savior.

The Holy Spirit then was shown, a dove on him descending;
the Triune God is thus made known in Christ as love unending.
He taught, he healed, he raised the dead, yet in his great endeavor
to save us, his own blood was shed; but death could hold him never.
He rose, and lives for ever.

He came by water and by blood to heal our lost condition;
he cleanses, reconciles to God, and gives the Great Commission.
Then let us not heed worldly lies nor rest upon our merit,
but trust in Christ who will baptize with water and the Spirit
that we may life inherit.

Hymn text by Martin Luther (1483-1546), paraphrased by F. Bland Tucker. Hymn 139 in The Hymnal 1982. Copyright © 1985. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

God's longing

Daily Reading for February 20

What are we assuming when we ask to know God’s will? Are we imagining a God who, like a master planner, has a five-year, ten-year, or lifetime plan mapped out for us and leaves it up to us to figure out what it is? Are our discernments basically concerned with “getting it right,” with making the choice that down the road we will be able clearly to see was “correct” because everything came out in the end in a neatly wrapped, manageable package?

I prefer to rephrase the question and thus to reframe the reference somewhat. I ask instead, “What is God’s longing for our lives?” Such reframing will situate us in the arms of a God who desires the fulfillment of creation, who longs for justice, mercy, and love to dwell among the creatures and the created world fashioned in the divine image and likeness. We are unique, unrepeatable, loving responses to the divine desire. There is a particularity to our reciprocal desiring. But the path of love that I walk is neither predetermined nor clear-cut. It is forged in the process of walking day by day, listening deeply to the silence brooding beneath the noisy instructions issuing from without and within our own hearts. God’s will is not a puzzle to be solved but a mystery to be lived into. It is a mystery whose contours emerge as we journey on.

One of the pieces of our Lenten journey is cultivating the art of discernment, listening for the voice of God in the wilderness of our hearts, trying to sense the divine will. Discernment is part of our ongoing conversion, our ongoing struggle with the holy mystery and creative chaos that we encounter as we turn toward the rising beacon of the light of Christ.

From The Rising: Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost by Wendy M. Wright (Upper Room Books, 1994).

Untangling the threads

Daily Reading for February 21

The patient process of untangling the threads of voices, of settling down to the center was the lifelong work of the desert. It is our work as well. Like the desert ascetics, we must learn the art of inner listening. . . . Lent is a time for tuning our ears, for listening carefully, for discerning the texture and quality of our own demons, for attending to God's unceasing, creative plea amidst the noise of cultural pressures, the busyness of life, and our own self-limiting habits. Some of our Lenten discernments may be fairly straightforward. We may have become inattentive in our eating or drinking and need to give our oversatiated bodies a holiday. We may need to cultivate a more rhythmic pattern of prayer or bring the scriptures into clearer focus in our everyday life. We may need to mend the pieces of a broken relationship. We may need to take some of the time we hoard so tightly for work and lavish it on our children or friends. We may be called to respond to the cry of the poor, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, or to visit the prisoner. All these can rightly be discerned as God's prompting to a freer life.

But the ongoing process of discernment, which I think is the more subtle invitation of the Lenten season, is not always so straightforward. It involves a radical and risky self-evaluation and a commitment to rethink and rework everything you know and are. God is always calling us out of ourselves, into a more generous freedom, so that we can love and serve ourselves and one another more authentically.

From The Rising: Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost by Wendy M. Wright (Upper Room Books, 1994).

Fully born

Daily Reading for February 22

A door opens in the centre of our being and we seem to fall through it into immense depths which, although they are infinite, are all accessible to us; all eternity seems to have become ours in this one placid and breathless contact. God touches us with a touch that is emptiness and empties us. He moves us with a simplicity that simplifies us. All variety, all complexity, all paradox, all multiplicity cease. Our mind swims in the air of an understanding, a reality that is dark and serene and includes in itself everything. Nothing more is desired . . . you feel as if you were at last fully born.

From Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton (Dell, 1949).

Consider unity

Daily Reading for February 23 • Polycarp, Bishop and Marytr of Smyrna, 156

Ignatius, who is also called God-bearer, to Polycarp, bishop of the church of the Smyrnaeans—rather, the one who has God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as his bishop. Warmest greetings.

I welcome your godly way of thinking, which is fixed firmly as upon an unmoveable rock; and I exult all the more, having been found worthy of your blameless face. I hope to enjoy it in God! But I urge you by the gracious gift with which you are clothed, to forge ahead in your race and urge all to be saved. Vindicate your position with all fleshly and spiritual diligence. Consider unity, for nothing is better. Bear with all people, just as the Lord bears with you. Tolerate everyone in love, just as you are already doing. Be assiduous in constant prayers; ask for greater understanding than you have. Be alert, as one who has obtained a spirit that never slumbers. Speak to each one according to God’s own character. Bear the illnesses of all as a perfect athlete. Where there is more toil, there is great gain.

From “The Letter of Ignatius to Polycarp,” quoted in The New Testament and Other Early Christian Writings: A Reader by Bart D. Ehrman (Oxford University Press, 2004).

Coming to faith

Daily Reading for February 24 • The Third Sunday in Lent

That Jesus’ revelation and the woman’s realization of him come through dialogue is an important feature to notice about the Gospel of John. Jesus does no sign here. There is no “miracle.” Rather he makes a claim and offers living water to this stranger. To understand it requires back and forth question and answer, partial understanding, correction, and deeper knowledge. Martha’s conversation with Jesus after the death of Lazarus is like this too. So are the Easter conversations of Mary and of Thomas. These dialogues in John’s gospel reflect a way individuals and peoples come to faith—through a process of effort and discussion. Those who converse with Jesus put Jesus’ claims into relationships with their own traditions and beliefs: I know he will be raised on the last day. I know that the Messiah will come. I am the resurrection and the life. I am he, the one who is speaking to you.

From Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of John by Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, in the Anglican Association of Biblical Scholars Study Series. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

The hidden ones

Daily Reading for February 25 • St. Matthias the Apostle

All we know is that his name was Matthias and that for some reason he was chosen to replace the traitor Judas in the circle of Jesus’ apostles. . . . I have a feeling that Matthias turns up many times in our lives. He is the person who just failed to get into the photograph; either he was not there when it was taken or he stood behind someone taller or bigger. Matthias is the new neighbor we have glimpsed only once; is he worth getting to know? Or is he the person we have met only briefly, and yet when he walks out of our lives forever we are intrigued and haunted?

Matthias turns up many times in the lives of parish churches, especially in the very large ones, the kind we call corporate parishes these days. These are the people that you never really get to know beyond the shake of the hand at coffee hour, the exchange of smiles. At first she may volunteer her name, but somehow it never settles in your mind and she remains anonymous in her quiet, faithful way. Months, even years, go by until something happens or something is said that makes you realize that there is within this person a very great soul. Perhaps it turns out that the whole congregation comes to realize that hidden within its life is someone whose courage or faithfulness or generosity puts others to shame. I call someone like that my Matthias.

From For All the Saints: Homilies for Saints’ and Holy Days by Herbert O’Driscoll (Cowley Publications, 1995).

Let's fight

Daily Reading for February 26

Two old men had lived together for many years and they had never fought with one another. The first said to the other, “Let us also have a fight like other men.” The other replied, “I do not know how to fight.” The first said to him, “Look, I will put a brick between us and I will say: it is mine; and you will reply: no, it is mine; and so the fight will begin.” So they put a brick between them and the first said, “This brick is mine,” and the other said, “No, it is mine.” And the first replied, “If it is yours, take it and go.” So they gave it up without being able to find a cause for an argument.

From The Desert of the Heart: Daily Readings with the Desert Fathers, edited by Benedicta Ward (Darton, Longman and Todd, 1988).

As fair as ever

Daily Reading for February 27 • George Herbert, Priest, 1633

Herbert had a particular fondness for the imagery of bees and herbs. Bees represent productive lives not least when Herbert expresses his deep desire to serve God usefully (‘Employment I’) or when he laments his spiritual weakness (‘Praise I’). Bees also become an image of the natural wisdom that all creatures have that enables God’s providence to express itself effectively in the world’s workings.

Bees work for man; and yet they never bruise
Their master’s flower, but leave it, having done,
As fair as ever, and as fit to use;
So both the flower doth stay, and honey run.
(‘Providence’)

Heaven may be compared to a hive to which our lives are drawn like laden bees.

Surely thou wilt joy, by gaining me
To fly home like a laden bee
Unto that hive of beams
And garland-streams.
(‘The Star’)

For all that Herbert relishes natural imagery and offers a positive view of the created order, his vision is not merely romantic or a form of nature mysticism. Creation is the second book of revelation precisely because it draws us to the deeper truth of God’s reality, loving presence and powerful action.

From Love Took My Hand: The Spirituality of George Herbert by Philip Sheldrake (Cowley Publications, 2000).

Anna J. Cooper

Daily Reading for February 28 • Anna Julia Heyward Cooper, Educator, 1964

Anna Julia Cooper, the widow of an Episcopal priest and a teacher at St. Augustine’s College in North Carolina, was an important supporter of [Alexander] Crummell’s efforts to foster racial uplift. Cooper, who was born in slavery, emphasized the value of education, religion, and proper conduct in assisting the rise of black women and men in the South. One of six delegates from the United States to the Pan-African Conference in London in 1900, Cooper was an active public speaker and writer. In an address to a convocation of black priests in 1886, she summoned the clergy to the task of saving their people from “the peculiar faults of worship” into which they fell when left on their own. She praised the Episcopal Church for the positive influence it had offered African Americans before the Civil War, but she was concerned that, following emancipation, white Episcopalians had been pathetically slow in recruiting and ordaining black priests. Although white southerners complained that African Americans were no longer interested in the Episcopal Church, they had created the problem themselves. Since most southern bishops advised black ministerial candidates to aspire only to deacon’s orders, they not only relegated black men to “a perpetual colored diaconate” but also tacitly encouraged them to seek full ordination in other denominations. African Americans in the Episcopal Church needed priests of their own race, Cooper said, for only black men could be fully trusted to “come in touch with our life and have a fellow feeling for our woes.”

From Episcopalians and Race: Civil War to Civil Rights by Gardiner H. Shattuck (The University Press of Kentucky, 2000).

True progress

Daily Reading for February 29

True progress is never made by spasms. Real progress is growth. It must begin in the seed. Then, “first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.” There is something to encourage and inspire us in the advancement of individuals since their emancipation from slavery. It at least proves that there is nothing irretrievably wrong in the shape of the black man’s skull, and that under given circumstances his development, downward or upward, will be similar to that of other average human beings.

But there is no time to be wasted in mere felicitation. That the Negro has his niche in the infinite purposes of the Eternal, no one who has studied the history of the last fifty years in America will deny. That much depends on his own right comprehension of his responsibility and rising to the demands of the hour, it will be good for him to see; and how best to use his present so that the structure of the future shall be stronger and higher and brighter and nobler and holier than that of the past, is a question to be decided each day by every one of us.

The race is just twenty-one years removed from the conception and experience of a chattel, just at the age of ruddy manhood. It is well enough to pause a moment for retrospection, introspection, and prospection. We look back, not to become inflated with conceit because of the depths from which we have arisen, but that we may learn wisdom from experience. We look within that we may gather together once more our forces, and, by improved and more practical methods, address ourselves to the tasks before us. We look forward with hope and trust that the same God whose guiding hand led our fathers through and out of the gall and bitterness of oppression, will still lead and direct their children, to the honor of His name, and for their ultimate salvation. . . .

Now the fundamental agency under God in the regeneration, the re-training of the race, as well as the ground work and starting point of its progress upward, must be the black woman. With all the wrongs and neglects of her past, with all the weakness, the debasement, the moral thralldom of her present, the black woman of to-day stands mute and wondering at the Herculean task devolving around her. But the cycles wait for her. No other hand can move the lever. She must be loosed from her bands and set to work. . . .

Only the BLACK WOMAN can say “when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.” Is it not evident then that as individual workers for this race we must address ourselves with no half-hearted zeal to this feature of our mission. The need is felt and must be recognized by all. There is a call for workers, for missionaries, for men and women with the double consecration of a fundamental love of humanity and a desire for its melioration through the Gospel; but superadded to this we demand an intelligent and sympathetic comprehension of the interests and special needs of the Negro.

From “Womanhood: A Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race” by Anna Julia Cooper; read before the convocation of colored clergy of the Protestant Episcopal Church at Washington, D. C., 1886 and published in A Voice from the South by Anna J. Cooper. http://docsouth.unc.edu/church/cooper/cooper.html

David of Wales

Daily Reading for March 1 • David, Bishop of Menevia, Wales, c. 544

Christ hear us, sovereign Lord,
lest I should suffer some oppression;
lamb-lion, alpha and omega,
god-man eternally true,
redeeming king you must dispense
true council to us against death. . . .

True king of heaven for your peace,
for your suffering, for your passion, . . .
for your tribulation on Friday,
and your true light and your wounds,
for your praise, heavenly king,
valiant teacher, and your surpassing qualities
give me understanding to withstand evil,
pure wise lord, for your true blood:
this I wish, this I will get,
this I seek, fine objectives,
the protection of the true cross and protection of Idloes,
and giving me life, me and mine,
the protection of Maria and the protection of Anna,
and the saints of Asaph and the saintesses,
the protection of the saints of Bardsey and of Cybi,
and of David, Nudd of the South,
and of Ieuan and of Cadfan,
and of Sanan, Nudd of the saints,
the protection of Michael and Gabriel,
and of Uriel, the best protection,
the protection of the saints of the world be with me
to safeguard me against the snares.

A Prayer of Iolo Goch (Welsh, fourteenth century), quoted in A Celtic Primer: The Complete Celtic Worship Resource and Collection, edited and compiled by Brendan O’Malley. Copyright © 2002. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

I do believe

Daily Reading for March 2 • The Fourth Sunday in Lent

For many centuries, dating back to the ancient Jerusalem liturgy, the Church has singled out stories from John’s Gospel to be read at Mass during Lent. In our era, three of these stories—the most sacred narratives in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ public ministry—appear on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. They are the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), the healing of the man born blind (John 9) and the raising of Lazarus (John 11). . . . Why are these stories given such prominence during Lent? Because during this season, from the earliest days, people were being prepared for Baptism, and John’s stories fitted beautifully into the process of Christian initiation. In time, the three narratives were read at specific stages in the Lenten preparation of catechumens for Baptism on Holy Saturday. . . .

If the story of the Samaritan woman has illustrated an initial coming to faith, this [story of the man born blind] shows that often first enlightenment does not result in adequate faith. Sometimes faith comes only through difficult testing and even suffering. Saint Augustine recognized that this man born blind stands for the human race. And the initial dialogue where Jesus proclaims, “I am the light of the world,” alerts us to the fact that more than physical sight is involved. . . .

Besides recognizing a baptism theme in this story, readers of John would also be taught that a series of testings may be necessary before sight really comes. Only gradually and through suffering does the man born blind come to full faith and enlightenment. . . . How many of us who have a traditional faith stemming from our Baptism come to believe in our hearts only when difficult decisions test our faith in God and Christ? It is then we understand what it means to say, “I do believe.”

From Reading the Gospels with the Church: From Christmas through Easter by Raymond E. Brown (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1996).

Reconciled to God

Daily Reading for March 3 • John and Charles Wesley, Priests, 1791, 1788

I observed many years ago, “It is hard to find words in the language of men, to explain the deep things of God.” Indeed, there are none that will adequately express what the Spirit of God works in His children. But perhaps one might say, (desiring any who are taught of God, to correct, soften, or strengthen the expression), by the testimony of the Spirit, I mean, an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God immediately and directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ hath loved me, and given Himself for me; that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God. . . .

I do not mean hereby, that the Spirit of God testifies this by any outward voice; no, nor always by an inward voice, although he may do this sometimes. Neither do I suppose, that He always applies to the heart (though He often may) one or more texts of Scripture. But He so works upon the soul by His immediate influence, and by a strong, though inexplicable operation, that the stormy wind and troubled waves subside, and there is a sweet calm; the heart resting as in the arms of Jesus, and the sinner being clearly satisfied that God is reconciled, that all his “iniquities are forgiven, and his sins covered” [Ps 85:2].

From “The Witness of the Spirit, Discourse II” by John Wesley, quoted in Invitation to Christian Spirituality: An Ecumenical Anthology, edited by John R. Tyson (Oxford University Press, 1999).

A skeptical world

Daily Reading for March 4

We hear much of modern skepticism. There is, perhaps, no more in the world now than there has always been, only its forms have changed. Its answer lies not in argument, but in the lives of Christ’s followers. It was Christians who lived like Christ that won the first battle for Christianity, and it must be Christians who live like Christ that shall win the last. The life of faith in the Son of God, when fully lived out, always has been and always will be a victorious argument.

But to live this out faith must be firm. We cannot meet a skeptical world with weak faith. If we would draw our friend out of a swift-rushing current, our own feet must not stand on slippery places. We must seek faith in looking to him who has the giving of it. We must keep him before our minds and come so near him in daily prayer that we can say, “That which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and our hands have handled of the Word of Life, declare we unto you.”

From Footsteps of the Master by Harriet Beecher Stowe, quoted in A Time to Turn: Anglican Readings for Lent and Easter Week by Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2004. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Perpetually unfinished

Daily Reading for March 5

The main reason that the Church is unfinished, of course, is that we humans are ourselves perpetually unfinished. We’ve all experienced the sense that there is always something more to learn, to accomplish, to become. It is this “incurable unfinishedness,” as one philosopher calls it, that sets us apart from other living things, because in trying to “finish” ourselves, we become creators. Our incurable unfinishedness keeps us childlike, capable of learning and growing. We may be trying to head toward perfection, but none of us will ever arrive there.

Benedict understands this, and is constantly making allowances for human weakness and frailty. For example, although he would prefer that the monks abstain from wine altogether, he admits that “monks of our day cannot be convinced of this” and so he allows for a certain amount of wine to be allotted each day. Similarly, after saying “a monk’s life ought to be a continual Lent” he concedes that “few have the virtue for this, so let us at least keep the forty days of Lent in a special way.”

Imperfections, setbacks, and sins, then, are all part of the striving; they’re all grist for the mill. They’re the place where we are destined to meet God—in the gap. Wherever there is that unfinishedness, there is the call to holiness: in the kitchen, the office, the hospital room, or the supermarket. Wherever there is that sense of striving, there is a saint in the making. From this point of view, then, there is no such thing as an “obstacle” to sainthood. Saints may be preoccupied with raising a family and balancing a checkbook; we may be struggling with our too-crowded daily schedule, our short temper, or our jealousy; we may have to live with a painful experience in the past or a physical disability. No matter what, it is through and in the experience of our imperfections that God wants to meet us.

From Pilgrim Road: A Benedictine Journey Through Lent by Albert Holtz, O.S.B. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Opportunities for redemption

Daily Reading for March 6

I don’t believe in spiritual formulae anymore. I believe God presents each of us with opportunities for redemption, and we either name them or not, embrace them or not. We can’t anticipate those moments—we can only become ready as best we can and pray for the grace that we will experience God. We ready our lamps with the enlightening oil of inner work. We feed the soul in the inner world—in meditation, prayer, study, reading, psychoanalysis or therapy, creative arts, woolgathering, dream work, thinking, dialoguing. Each one’s way in unique and belongs to her alone. We commit to know, to love, to become ourselves, and to stay with it. All moments are God’s moments, and through grace we come to recognize some of them. Our lives gradually begin to reflect more accurately who we really are, and we find our own meaning. We truly do experience God. These promises are not empty. They are full to overflowing.

The process is frightening, difficult, dangerous, painful, and consuming of both time and energy. It is also comforting, transforming, clarifying, deeply satisfying, and is the source of inner peace.

From an essay by Lois Ann Peckham, quoted in Gifts from Within: Women’s Meditations for Lent by the Women of Brigid’s Place. Copyright © 2002. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

A second baptism

Daily Reading for March 7 • Perpetua and her Companions, Martyrs at Carthage, 202

The day of their victory dawned, with joyful countenances they marched from the prison to the arena as though on their way to heaven. If there was any trembling it was from joy, not fear. Perpetua followed with quick step as a true spouse of Christ, the darling of God; her brightly flashing eyes quelling the gaze of the crowd. Felicitas too, joyful because she had safely survived child-birth and was now able to participate in the contest with the wild animals, passed from one shedding of blood to another; from midwife to gladiator, about to be purified after child-birth by a second baptism. As they were led through the gate . . . Perpetua was singing victory psalms as if already crushing the head of the Eyptian. Revocatus, Saturnius and Saturus were warning the spectators, as they came within sight of Hilarion they informed him by nods and gestures: “You condemn us; God condemns you.” This so infuriated the crowds that they demanded the scourging of these men in front of the line of gladiators. But the ones punished rejoiced in that they had obtained yet another share in the Lord’s suffering.

From “The Martyrdom of Perpetua,” in Patricia Wilson-Kastner, G. Ronald Kastner, Ann Millin, Rosemary Rader, and Jeremiah Reedy, trans., A Lost Tradition: women Writers of the Early Church (University Press of America, 1981). This conclusion to the Vibia Perpetua is thought to have been written by Tertullian..

Through a blinding sandstorm

Daily Reading for March 8

It is true that the solitary life must also be a life of prayer and meditation, if it is to be authentically Christian . . . But what prayer! What meditation! . . . Utter poverty. Often an incapacity to pray, to see, to hope . . . a bitter, arid struggle to press forward through a blinding sandstorm.

Do not mistake my meaning. It is not a question of intellectual doubt. . . . It is something else, a kind of doubt that questions the very roots of a person’s own existence, a doubt which undermines their very reasons for existing and for doing what they do. It is this doubt which reduces a person finally to silence, and in the silence which ceases to ask questions, they receive the only certitude they know: The presence of God in the midst of uncertainty and nothingness, as the only reality but a reality which cannot be placed or identified.

From The Power and Meaning of Love by Thomas Merton (Sheldon Press, 1976).

Matrix of love

Daily Reading for March 9 • The Fifth Sunday in Lent

The account of the raising of Lazarus is a wonder marveled at by generations of Christians. It speaks of God’s redemptive action in the midst of human life, of divine fulfillment of the ancient covenant in the person of Jesus. It proclaims Jesus as the Christ, the fount of eternal life.

Beyond this, the Johannine passage is an incredibly rich mine of images and ideas that can enliven its hearers. It contains the poignant account of Jesus’ friendship with this family, the encounter with the weeping Mary with her distraught accusation—“If you had been here”—and the episode of Jesus’ tearful response to her grief. Even more strikingly, it contains Martha’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Except for the confession of Peter found in Matthew 16:16 (and the confession of Andrew to Peter in John 1:41), there is no other comparable statement of faith discovered in the gospels. For the early church, to confess Christ in this way was the mark of an apostle. Thus we have here a somewhat lost tradition, apparently current in the community from which the Gospel of John comes, of Martha as the first witness to Jesus as the resurrection, the one who brings new life.

The Lazarus passage speaks eloquently to me of hope and healing, especially as it is discovered in the communities of friendship in which we find ourselves. It is a Gospel that speaks of tears and compassion and the empathetic suffering we share with one another, a suffering which raises us beyond our own small sorrows and limited vision. It is a Gospel that proclaims the miracle of renewal that is discovered as we allow ourselves to know our interdependence. Our personal lifelessness, our private wounds are made whole as we tenderly touch and are touched by one another.

This late Lenten Sunday is one in which we enter into the mystery of pain and brokenness, both our own and the world’s, to discover that we are not alone, that what seems hopeless is in fact hope-filled, that what appears dead can spring forth into life. It happens because we are embedded in a wider, more sustaining matrix of love than we can possibly imagine.

From The Rising: Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost by Wendy M. Wright (Upper Room Books, 1994).

Power of interconnection

Daily Reading for March 10

This truth of the power of our interconnectedness was brought home to me in an unexpected way not long ago. One recent spring I was referred by my family physician to an endocrinologist because of a growth on the right lobe of my thyroid. The specialist informed me that he needed to perform a biopsy on the growth to gain the necessary information he needed to make an accurate diagnosis. This procedure involved placing several small needles into the lump in my neck and drawing out tissue which would then be analyzed in the laboratory.

To get clear access to the growth, I was asked to lie on the examination table and prop a pillow under my shoulder blades and upper back so that me head fell backwards off the pillow and left my throat prominently exposed. I felt like Isaac, docilely submitting to the one in whom I had placed trust.

Just before the physician inserted the first needle, one of the two nurse assistants who were standing by his side toward the end of the exam table took my hands in hers. I could not see which nurse it was but I knew immediately what she expected me to do—hold on to her. That is in fact what I did. As each of the needles was inserted deep into my throat, I found myself communicating my response to the pain to her hands. As the pain rose I held tighter, as it subsided I let go. I remember thinking that she had remarkable hands, healer’s hands, that they “said” much more than simply, “Hang on here if you have to.” . . .

About four o’clock, driving to pick up my children after school, suddenly the experience came rushing back to me. In the recalling, I became aware of the inner shift that had occurred when I took the unknown nurse’s hands. I had been making the kind of inner preparation that I might usually make, a sort of burrowing down into myself to find the resource, strength, or attitude that could get me through, when suddenly I found myself connected to a source of strength outside myself, a self-transcending energy that was greater than my bounded efforts and capacities. It was a graced moment, a grateful recognition of the holy, if you will, and, flooded with gratitude for it, I broke into tears.

From The Rising: Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost by Wendy M. Wright (Upper Room Books, 1994).

Somebody there

Daily Reading for March 11

Most of all, we don’t want to be alone. We may long for some peace and quiet, assaulted as we are by the needs of other people all day. But we don’t want there to be no one for whom we matter. We want somebody to be there.

People who are dying want that. They are embarked upon a fearsome journey, and it looks, at first glance, like a journey into oblivion. “I’m afraid to go see him—what do I say?” someone says about a friend who is terminally ill, and she stays away. But the dying one doesn’t expect pearls of wisdom from his visitors. Just your presence is enough—your brief presence, usually since people who are dying don’t feel well and need to rest. Tell him you love him, if you’re built that way. Or don’t—talk about baseball instead, if that’s what your friendship has been about. But you don’t need to talk much on his account. He knows who you are.

As death comes nearer, something extraordinary happens. The dying one becomes more resident in the next world than in this one. Less tied to the existence he has known. This can be seen in a certain detachment from the people around him, a quietness with regard to interacting with them. Sometimes the family is hurt by this—doesn’t he care that we’re being separated? But his detachment is a blessing for the dying, a natural anesthetic against the pain of separation. It enables him to focus on the difficult task at hand: leaving this existence for another. It is like the quieting in the womb mothers usually note as childbirth becomes imminent. Both the baby and the dying person are gathering strength for the journey.

In life, in death, it is the same: Whenever we appear to be completely alone, Jesus is there. We began life with God, and we return to God when we die. When we can no longer reach out for the hand of the one we love, he grasps our hands firmly and helps us across.

From Living Lent: Meditations for These Forty Days by Barbara Cawthorne Crafton. Copyright © 1998. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

A bishop's love

Daily Reading for March 12 • Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome, 604

Summer is hard for me physically, and has brought about a long interruption in my explanations of the gospel. But because I’ve been silent my love has not ceased. I’m only saying what you all know within yourselves. Our expression of love is often hindered by other concerns; it remains undiminished in our hearts even though our actions do not show it. When the sun is covered with clouds we on earth can’t see it, but it is still there in the sky. It is the same with love: it produces energy within us even if it does not reveal itself outwardly in our activities. But it is time now for me to speak again. Your enthusiasm is stirring me as I see you eagerly awaiting my words.

From Be Friends of God: Spiritual Reading from Gregory the Great in an English version by John Leinenweber (Cowley Publications, 1990).

The church in Haiti

Daily Reading for March 13 • James Theodore Holly, Bishop of Haiti, 1911

During the middle years of the 19th century, the position of African Americans in the United States remained unresolved. While white abolitionists battled the institution of slavery, black Americans were divided between the movement advocating a return to Africa and those who demanded freedom on the grounds that so much of this country’s development resulted from their own tears and toil. Though James Theodore Holly was born free in the north, it seemed to him that there should be a place where black people could control their own destinies. Since its revolution, Haiti had been an independent black republic, so Holly felt it would be an ideal place for him to work.

Ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church, Holly served briefly in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and then, after visiting Haiti, took a group of 100 people with him to establish a church there and a center for settlement by American blacks. He established churches, schools, and medical facilities, and in 1874 Holly was consecrated the first black bishop in the Episcopal Church and the second in any major white denomination. . . . By the time of his retirement, the church he had established had twice as many priests as when he was made bishop and twice as many church members. Abandoning its independence, the Haitian church ultimately became an Episcopal diocese, but the strong foundations Holly had laid served well and it continues to grow so that today it is one of the largest dioceses of the Episcopal Church.

From A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Can these bones live?

Daily Reading for March 14

“Mortal, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37:3)

Some setbacks in life are so profound that they feel like death. I called him as soon as I heard. He was in disgrace, incredibly so: stripped of his position, perhaps even of his orders. Everyone was talking about it. The misdeed that brought about his humiliation was a grave one, too grave to overlook. He was finished.

The day of our date arrived, and there was an unsurprising message on my answering machine. He wouldn’t be able to make it today. I called him back. Let’s wait a while, he said. Okay. I knew we would never have lunch. And we never did.

His life and career were dry bones. A gifted ministry dead, dry as dust. I hope there was some other friend, one whose overtures he could accept. But I think there may not have been. I think he may have chosen to be alone. I think the isolation of death may have been what he craved. Life was such a mess. Don’t bother me. I’m dead now.

But he is the same gifted man he was before his sin was revealed. Every good thing he ever did is still good, no matter what bad things he may also have done. This is true of every one of us. None of us can be understood solely in terms of the worst things we’ve ever done. Death may end our lives, but it doesn’t cancel them.

And he yet may rise again. He isn’t really dead yet. In the rubble of his repentance may lie his resurrection, waiting to reveal itself.

From Let Us Bless the Lord, Year One: Meditations on the Daily Office, Easter through Pentecost by Barbara Cawthorne Crafton. Copyright © 2005. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Accepting resurrection

Daily Reading for March 15

“They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.” (John 12:9-11)

In the midst of joy and miracle, resurrection and love, we have Lazarus fresh from the dead and under the death threat of the chief priests! This part stops me—“What? This man has just been resurrected and now you want to kill him because people’s beliefs are changed?” For me, this is where the story becomes real. I know people are resurrected, and what a glorious experience that is; yet, I know that the world does not take kindly to resurrection, to fundamental changes in who a person is and can be.

Think of experiences where change threatens us: watch churches separate rather than accept new modes of being; watch society as we struggle to redefine families in the wake of divorce, single parenting, and same-sex unions; watch our nation as we try to understand what it is to be an American in the midst of a global village. Change, coping with resurrection, is scary, hard, and assaults the core beliefs about the way things are or should be.

As Christians, we are called to be a part of resurrection and accepting of the change that it brings—to move beyond our comfort level to see new possibilities. My resurrection experience of being made whole may threaten people just as Lazarus stumbling out of the tomb did. Yet it also may lead me into a new relationship, a new way of imagining the world. So, when fear and discomfort become apparent, I need to remind myself to look for resurrection and ways to welcome this miracle into my life.

From Aimee Estep’s essay in Gifts from Within: Women’s Meditations for Lent by the Women of Brigid’s Place. Copyright © 2002. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Acquainted with grief

Daily Reading for March 16 • The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

The cross is the exhibition of Life being precisely that; more—as knowing itself to be precisely that, as experiencing itself as being precisely that. We are relieved—may one say?—from the burden of being naturally optimistic. “The whole creation groaneth and travaileth together.” If we are to rejoice always then it must be a joy consonant with that; we need not—infinite relief!—force ourselves to deny the mere burden of breathing. Life (experience suggests) is a good thing, and somehow unendurable; at least the Christian faith has denied neither side of the paradox. Life found itself unendurable. Life itself consents to shrink from its own terrors; it concedes to us its utterance of our own prayer: “O not this! If it be possible, not this!” I am not for a moment equating our sorrows with that; the point is that the sorrow is centrally there. Life itself is acquainted with grief.

And not grief alone. Crucifixion was an obscene thing. It was revolting not merely because of the torture and the degredation, but also because of the disgust; or rather it is revolting to us—I do not know that it was revolting to those who saw it. They were as accustomed to it as our fathers were to burning and castration or we to many years’ imprisonment or to the gallows. It was, however, definitely more spectacularly obscene than the gallows; we can hardly, in the nature of things, realize it so, and even our best efforts tend to make it a little respectable. But then again life, as we know it, is obscene; or, to be accurate, it has in it a strong element of obscenity. Again and again we become aware of a sense of outrage in our physical natures. Sometimes this is aroused by the events of which we read in the papers, but as often by the events which happen to us. The family, for example, is a sacred and noble thing, but the things that happen in the family are the result of blood antagonistic to itself. “Love,” it is said, “is very near to hate.” Without discussing the general truth of that, it may be allowed that were it is so, the hate is often of a particularly virulent and vehement kind.

I take these two qualities—the sorrow and the obscenity—as examples of that dreadful contradiction in our experience of life which is flatly exhibited in the living of life by Life.

From “The Cross” by Charles Williams, in Charles Williams: Essential Writings in Spirituality and Theology, edited by Charles Hefling (Cowley Publications, 1993).

Bold responses

Daily Reading for March 17 • Monday in Holy Week

The story of the woman anointing the head of Jesus with precious ointment is yet another story of conflict. The woman is immediately despised for her action. The indignant critics condemn her for senseless waste: that stuff of hers should have been donated for the relief of the poor instead of being emptied over Jesus’ head. The voices are pragmatic, moralistic, high-toned. Jesus, with the oil trickling down all over him, springs to her defense. “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mark 14:6, RSV).

The critics see only a frivolous and meaningless gesture. Jesus experiences it as rich with meaning, gracious, grave, and truthful. She is saluting him magnificently as the one getting ready to die for all. . . .

This woman breaking open her costly flask appears again and again in stories of faith. She has inspired artists in their creation of works that glorify God in wood, stone, paint, gesture, movement, melody, and thread, while the pious sneered that these things were unnecessary, wasteful, impractical, and unspiritual. She has inspired men and women following the Spirit’s call to monastic life, to make adoration their reason for being, when their friends and family complained that they were wasting their lives. She has smiled upon thousands who tend the flame of prayer and love of Jesus in the midst of busy lives, when those around them view their devotion as wasted effort diverting them from achievement and doing good. Her memory has been present like a fragrance in thousands of bold responses to Jesus in the face of condescension and disapproval.

From Martin Smith’s A Season for the Spirit: Readings for the Days of Lent. © 1991, 2004. A Seabury Classic published by Church Publishing, Inc. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Having nothing

Daily Reading for March 18 • Tuesday in Holy Week

Reflect, my son, Do you walk too quickly for God?
Hear that song which the Lord sings with your life. Recall that:

There is one time for the lattices of heaven to give dew,
And another for the sun to fire the sands.
There is one time for children to play with coloured toys,
And another when they rest upon their pallets.
There is a time when life blooms and youth is all,
And another when white hairs close life’s door.

Reflect again my son, Do you climb too high for God?
Recall that a solitary:

Seeks not the voice of God, but hears it in cracking ice, blowing reeds and brethren’s laughter.
Seeks not the gifts of God, but finds them in new bread,
the darkness of dawn and brethren’s love.
Seeks not the vision of God, but spies His Print on bee’s wing,
fishes’ fin and brother’s heart.

Reflect again my son. Do you ask too much of God?
Know that:

When His prize is downfalling, you may find a rising.
When His favour is silence, you may catch a melody.
When His blessing is suffering, you may sense deep peace.

So:
The heart of darkness is new light.
The heart of despair is fresh hope.
The heart of death is eternal life.

Only those who have nothing
can accept everything.

“Having Nothing” by Abbot Nicholas and John the Dwarf, in the Abbot and the Dwarf by Derek Webster (St. Paul’s Publications, 1992). Quoted in The Desert: An Anthology for Lent by John Moses. © 1997. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

We are his body

Daily Reading for March 19 • Wednesday in Holy Week

Sin, sorrow, and suffering, and death itself, were indeed taken away at the Cross, but we mortals must enter into the depths of this mystery in actual experience. The fact that the Savior bore all this for us does not mean that we bear nothing of it; rather, it means that we are invited in to that place (the Cross) where suffering is transfigured. We (the Church) are his Body, says St. Paul. As such, we share in his suffering for the life of the world.

Jesus tells his followers that they will drink the cup of which he drank and be baptized with the baptism with which he was to be baptized (he was speaking specifically of his imminent suffering in Jerusalem). Where, suddenly, is the theology that teaches that because the Savior did it all, we thereby are reduced to the status of inert bystanders? Whether the sorrow of the moment is a lost glove or a lost spouse or a bombed city, I am invited by the Divine Mercy to unite this terrible loss (for the child, the loss of the glove may threaten the end of the world) with the suffering of the Savior at Calvary and thus to discover that my suffering is his suffering, and that—paradox of paradoxes—his is ours (again—we are his Body).

From “The Crucifix” by Thomas Howard, quoted in Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Plough Publishing House, 2003).

Blood covenant

Daily Reading for March 20 • Maundy Thursday

“Take, eat, this is my body,” Jesus said. Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Have we done it so often that we have forgotten how to be shocked by it? Of course it is not real blood in the cup. It is probably Taylor’s Tawny Port, but clearly, this is a blood covenant we are being asked to enter into, with staggering implications. . . .

The death cannot be overlooked, nor should it be, but it is the life that is being offered, the life that rushes out of that cup like a spring of living water. It is God’s promise from before time and forever, spelled out this time in flesh and blood. It is the new covenant and the last one—new because it is offered to us fresh each day and last because there is nothing more that God can say or do. This is as close as God can get: blood kin, indissoluble union, friend bound to friend for life, forever. When we lift the cup to our lips and drink, we accept the gift, renewing the covenant and reminding ourselves that we do not live for ourselves alone. We are possessors of a double life, having taken our friend’s life and nature into ourselves. Inside of us God rides in our bloodstreams straight to our hearts where the covenant is written: I shall be your God and you shall be my people.

From “Blood Covenant” in Gospel Medicine by Barbara Brown Taylor (Cowley Publications, 1995).

They know not what they do

Daily Reading for March 21 • Good Friday

In Jesus’ time, crucifixion was not against the law. It was carried out by the law. It was an exceptionally gruesome method of torturing a person to death, carried out by the government not in secret dungeons but in public. Everyone knew what it looked like, smelled like, sounded like—the horrific sight of completely naked men in agony, the smell and sight of their bodily functions taking place in full view of all, the sounds of their groans and labored breathing going on for hours and, in some cases, for days. Perhaps worst of all is the fact that no one cared. All of this took place in public, and no one cared. That is why, from the early Christian era, a verse from the book of Lamentations was attached to the Good Friday scene: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?” (1:12). . . .

The crosses were placed by the roadside as a form of public announcement: these miserable beings that you see before you are not of the same species as the rest of us. The purpose of pinning the victims up like insects was to invite the gratuitous abuse of the passersby. Those crowds understood that their role was to increase, by jeering and mocking, the degredation of those who had been thus designated unfit to live. The theological meaning of this is that crucifixion is an enactment of the worst that we are, an embodiment of the most sadistic and inhuman impulses that lie within us. The Son of God absorbed all that, drew it into himself. All the cruelty of the human race came to focus in him.

In his first word from the Cross, Jesus does not pray for the good and the innocent. He prays for people doing terrible things. He prays for men who are committing sadistic acts, offering them to his Father’s mercy. It is for his enemies that he prays, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

There is a suggestion here that human beings are in the grip of something they do not fully comprehend. The evil that lodges in the human heart is greater than we know. This means at least two things. It means that there is nothing that you or I could ever do, or say, or be, that would put us beyond the reach of Jesus’ prayers. Nothing at all. And it also means that no one else, no one at all, is beyond that reach. His prayer for the worst of the worst comes from a place beyond human understanding. From that sphere of divine power we hear these words today as though they were spoken for the first time, as though they were being spoken at this very moment by the living Spirit, spoken of each one of us: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

From The Seven Last Words from the Cross by Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans, 2005).

Creation freed

Daily Reading for March 22 • Holy Saturday

Clearly for these Greek-speaking Christians [Clement of Alexandria and Athanasius] our human reconciliation with God was effected by the entire dynamic of the Christ-coming. The salvific emphasis was placed upon the incarnation as much as upon the crucifixion. And the sense of redemption was universal and creation-centered rather than individual and focused solely upon humankind. This is a precious insight to take forward with us into the twenty-first century as we grow increasingly aware of the symbiotic and endangered relationship between our own species and all the species in the ecosystems of the earth. God is not simply above the earth, raising us up from our God-lessness by bypassing the created order. Rather, God in Christ breaks the chains that enslave us and our earth-home, and radically frees creation to realize its own intrinsic God-likeness. . . .

This descent to the dead, while not deeply explored in any other quarter of Christendom than Eastern Orthodoxy, is wonderfully rich in its implications. The descent to the dead as it is elucidated in that tradition speaks symbolically to the length and breadth of divine compassion, to the extent of the redemptive promise and to the utter intimacy of a God whose love penetrates to the furthest reaches of creation’s fallen depths. There is no place God is not.

From The Rising: Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost by Wendy M. Wright (Upper Room Books, 1994).

In the midst of death we are in life

Daily Reading for March 23 • The Feast of the Resurrection: Easter Day

The last certainty is the certainty of death. It is the one thing of which we can be sure. We may try to forget it, but it will not forget us. Nor can we ever really forget it until we have faced it and come to a decision about it. In the midst of life we are in death, unless we know that in the midst of death we are in life.

Faith in eternal life is and must be the logical conclusion—using logic in its fullest human sense—of the instinct of self-preservation. As we grow, so grows that divine discontent that severs us completely from the rest of the animal creation and bids us reach out to fuller and fuller life. We can find endless reasons to justify the instinctive craving, but it is the instinct that sets us reasoning, and unless the world is a fraud, that instinct points to something real by which it can be satisfied.

Unless then life mocks us and has no meaning, the instinct for self-preservation must have its perfect work and must lead to truth, not falsehood. The Christian hypothesis is that life is as good as God revealed in Christ and that behind the Cross there is ever and always the resurrection. And it is only by taking that hypothesis and living life as though it were true, flinging ourselves upon it recklessly in the faith that God keeps the good wine until the last, that we can come to that triumphant certainty which destroys death and makes us sure that in the midst of death we are in life everlasting.

From The Wicket Gate by G. A. Studdert-Kennedy, quoted in A Time to Turn: Anglican Readings for Lent and Easter Week by Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2004. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

The empty tomb

Daily Reading for March 24 • Monday in Easter Week

Of all the mysteries our faith invites us to contemplate, the Resurrection is by far the most astonishing. Not simply in the sense of being difficult to believe in a logical fashion. That, in a way, is the very point of it. The very idea of resurrection shatters all the categories of comprehension with which we make sense of our world. It draws us instead into a reality that transcends present possibility. For myself, the wonder of the Resurrection is not so much discovered in my shoulder-shrugging acknowledgement of the power of God to effect the impossible. It is discovered instead in our own capability, pried open by the sight of the empty tomb, to live into our most poignant longings, to dream our farthest dreams, and to hope with the full expansion of our hearts. We are met, at the far limits of our resources, with limitlessness. We are met at the gates of death with a freshness and fullness of life barely grasped by the wildest stretches of our imaginings.

From The Rising: Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost by Wendy M. Wright (Upper Room Books, 1994).

The power of God

Daily Reading for March 25 • Tuesday in Easter Week

For Paul the Resurrection was no metaphor; it was the power of God. And when he spoke of Jesus as raised from the dead, he meant Jesus alive and at large in the world not as some shimmering ideal of human goodness or the achieving power of hopeful thought but as the very power of life itself. If the life that was in Jesus died on the cross; if the love that was in him came to an end when his heart stopped beating; if the truth that he spoke was no more if no less timeless than the great truths of any time; if all that he had in him to give to the world was a little glimmer of light to make bearable the inexorable approach of endless night—then all was despair. . . .

The earliest reference to the Resurrection is Saint Paul’s, and he makes no mention of an empty tomb at all. But the fact of the matter is that in a way it hardly matters how the body of Jesus came to be missing because in the last analysis what convinced the people that he had risen from the dead was not the absence of his corpse but his living presence. And so it has been ever since.

From The Faces of Jesus by Frederick Buechner, quoted in Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner, compiled by George Conner (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992).

Each day is Easter

Daily Reading for March 26 • Wednesday in Easter Week

Easter is not merely an event of long ago. It is not only the celebration of divine desire to be at one with humankind. It is not only the renewal of the cosmos. Nor is it simply our kindled hope for what is promised us. Easter is also realized when we are most fully alive and aware of all that is. A former bishop of Romania has been quoted as saying, “If we only knew the truth of it we would know that each day is Easter.”

From The Rising: Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost by Wendy M. Wright (Upper Room Books, 1994).

We are with God

Daily Reading for March 27 • Thursday in Easter Week

The Bible tells us one thing—only one—about the dead who have passed out of our sight. They are with God. How simple that is! How sufficient it becomes! How cheap and tawdry as we dwell on it, it makes the guesses and conceits with which people try to make real to themselves what the dead are doing! They are with God. Their occupations are ineffable. No tongue can tell their new, untasted joy. The scenery in the midst of which they live speaks to the spirit with voices which no words born of the senses can describe. But the companionship and care—those are the precious, those are the intelligible things. The dead are with God. O you who miss even today the sound of the familiar voices, the sight of the dear, familiar faces, believe and be more than satisfied with that.

From a sermon on the resurrection by Phillips Brooks, quoted in A Time to Turn: Anglican Readings for Lent and Easter Week by Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2004. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Two springs

Daily Reading for March 28 • Friday in Easter Week

Holy Week is the world’s sacred Winter;
The earth is a widow, the skies are sere,
There’s a sound of scourging and nailing in the vinegary wind;
And the darkness chokes the Son of Man.

But spring, two springs, are coming to the world
From the depths on the third morning:
The lily, the primrose and the daffodil
Will follow the Saviour from the Egypt of soil.

The rejoicing is green and white, the praise is yellow
Because the new Adam has risen alive from the grave;
And the ivy, tying itself round the tree like the old serpent,
Is for us eternal life with God.

Gwenallt, Gwreiddiau, 1959 translated by Patrick Thomas, quoted in A Celtic Primer: The Complete Celtic Worship Resource and Collection, edited and compiled by Brendan O’Malley. Copyright © 2002. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

New life of spring

Daily Reading for March 29 • Saturday in Easter Week

No season of the Christian year speaks to the soul as does the Easter Tide. It is the beautiful season of the year, when the winter is ended and all things bud forth; the graves and sleeping-places of the dust are broken up and the beauty of the floral kingdom comes back to us in the fresh glory of living green and painted leaves and with the perfume of the incense-breathing gardens of spring. Now best may the gospel of immortality be preached, when ten thousand times ten thousand witnesses confirm the word; when bud and leaf and flower, when every little branch that swells with new life of the spring, and every brook that frees itself of ice and resumes the song of the past, and every gentle bird and beast, and tiny creatures of the dust, and all that have life and health, seem to rejoice in the morning of their returning day; now comes to us the gospel of immortality, attested by a great cloud of witnesses in earth, sea, and sky, and vouched for by the deeper tones of years that are past; by the testimony of all ages since Christ was here; by the voice of those who have lived and died believing that, to God, there are no dead, that “for to him all are alive.” This is the thing which has been most surely believed among us; the event from which all else is reckoned backwards and forwards; the stay of those on their journey, the inspiration of genius, the melody of music, the strength of manners and morals, the support and consolation of the mourning heart. From the natural and the moral world, the world of history and art, the worlds of mind, of matter, and of religion, come voices announcing that Christ is risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that sleep.

From the sermon “The Morning of Eternity” by Morgan Dix, , quoted in A Time to Turn: Anglican Readings for Lent and Easter Week by Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2004. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Practicing resurrection

Daily Reading for March 30 • The Second Sunday of Easter

Wendell Berry, the great environmentalist poet-theologian, has written a piece about somebody he calls a “mad farmer” who goes around shouting, “Practice resurrection!” “Practice resurrection.” That’s not bad advice. It’s certainly what Thomas does—and maybe, just maybe, the other disciples are rehearsing the story and replaying the experience, too. Most of us don’t “get it” the very first time. Most of us spend our lives learning what the reality of resurrection looks like, feels like, sounds like, and tastes like—because it keeps on happening in new ways every day of our lives. . . .

Practicing resurrection means living in openness. It’s a vulnerable attitude. Jesus invites Thomas to examine his wounds—come and see the ugliest thing you can imagine. God has made it a source of beauty and healing. It means that our fears, our inadequacies, the wretched parts of ourselves, can be the vehicle for new and more abundant life—if we’re willing to confront them honestly and openly. . . . But it’s not just our wrongdoing—the weak and untried parts of ourselves can be the stuff of new life, too. That’s what exercise is all about—stressing, trying the weak parts of our bodies so that they become stronger. Our psyches and souls can find new strength too if we’re willing to journey within and confront some of that darkness or fear or mystery. . . .

Practice resurrection. Live in open expectation of the new thing God is doing at all times and in all places. It means opening ourselves to that new thing, recognizing that the change it brings will cause some distress. But there is always more abundant life on the other side of the pain and grief that comes with change and growth. Like Thomas, all of us get opportunities to learn something that we can’t believe without firsthand experience. True joy and abundant life come out of those experiences of resurrection.

From “Practicing Resurrection” by Katharine Jefferts Schori, in A Wing and a Prayer: A Message of Faith and Hope by Katharine Jefferts Schori. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

The difficult way

Daily Reading for March 31 • St. Joseph (transferred)

We know that Joseph was concerned about his future with Mary because they were not yet married when she conceived. We know that he considered divorcing her, as the Jewish law allowed. So Jesus’ life began in a difficult and even dangerous situation in that small town in Israel.

This difficulty provides us with what is perhaps the most important ethical lesson we can learn from the Nativity of Our Lord. Not only in his teaching but even in his birth, Jesus showed us that the way of life is a difficult way, and may even collide with the rules of polite society. We can never say that we have fulfilled righteousness because we have followed the rules; Jesus went beyond the rules to the mercy that often lies on the other side of them.

We might object to this idea, saying that the case of the Holy Family was a special case, a case involving a miracle, not like our cases. And so it was. But the purpose of miracles in God’s plan is always to show us something about the way God works in the world, to show us the fullness of what God intends for us. None of us is the Blessed Mother or St. Joseph. But by showing us these people in the context of their world, a difficult one as ours is, the Scriptures challenge us to live up to the miracles we see in their pages.

From A Year of Days with the Book of Common Prayer by Bishop Edmond Lee Browning (Ballantine Publishing Group, 1997).

The gutsy one

Daily Reading for April 1 • The Annunciation (transferred)

I once heard an old piece of folklore about Mary. Imagine, this story goes, that the angel of God had been wandering the earth sine the beginning of time, asking people if they would be willing to bring God’s child into the world. Mary was not the most pure, most holy, most beautiful; she was simply the only one gutsy enough to say “yes.”

I love that little addition to the Gospel narrative because it makes us look at the story from a different angle. The Church has traditionally taught us that Mary was selected by God for the most important task of all time, the birth of Christ. Mary is seen as the most pure, the most devout woman in the world. She was selected, out of all the women of all time, to be the mother of God. It’s almost as if Mary is the valedictorian of devotion, she was the best, and she was awarded the greatest honor. But what if her role was awarded to her because she alone was willing, because she agreed? What if it was Mary’s willingness that set her apart?

In the Gospel of Luke, Mary says to the angel Gabriel, “Here am I.” These are words repeated by some of the most devout lovers of God in Scripture. Abraham says, “Here I am.” Isaiah says, “Here I am.” These are the words of those who volunteer to submit themselves to the will of God. These are the words of true devotion. After uttering these words, no one ever stands still.

From Between Two Worlds: Daily Readings for Advent by Kate Moorehead (Cowley Publications, 2003).

The praying people

Daily Reading for April 2 • James Lloyd Breck, Priest, 1876

From what I have now written you, you will learn, Christian brethren, that plants are ripening here for the harvest that comes on apace, before the reapers can be prepared to enter in. But you will like to know something further, viz., in what have the two years promised fruit, where we have been laboring? Seeds of glorious light have been sown, and they are even now shooting forth branches which promise, in due time, an abundant harvest.

Enter with me now, please, the near squared-log church. It is the very picture of simplicity and solemnity. Ever kept sacred to the Divine homage, it is always in that perfect order which becometh his sanctuaries. These Indians call Christians the “praying people,” and the church building the “Wigwam of Prayer.” . . . It is a week-day; fifty-six natives are present. The average number of daily attendants is over forty—quite frequently there are fifty; as large a number as you would see at their medicine dance, which occurs but twice in the year! Pagan is well translated into Ojibwa by one word, which signifies the people who do not pray! The small handful of whites you observe in the church are my fellow missionaries in the Lord, who have, male and female, come thither to instruct the heathen in the better way of things, both temporal and spiritual. . . . I am thankful to say I am able to read the liturgy in their own tongue, and thus appear before them in the true light of a clergyman. The interpreter gives the sermon and other instructions by word of mouth to the people, and also leads in the Ojibwa responses, which the people commit to memory and say orally. . . .

How exceedingly thankful, then, should we be, in this remote corner of the wilderness, to see not only a Christian temple built, but a body of daily worshippers in it, to the number that I have stated; not only so, but amongst them three Indians and one white young man actually going through a course of preparation for the ministry. How thankful, I say, should we be for all this evidence of life in the use of all those divers helps which the Lord hath appointed in his church on earth.

From a report by James Lloyd Breck describing his ministry among Native Americans, quoted in A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Day by day

Daily Reading for April 3 • Richard, Bishop of Chichester, 1253

Born at Droitwich, Richard of Wyche became chancellor of Canterbury under Archbishop Edmund Rich. King Henry III refused permission for Richard to be consecrated Bishop of Chichester, until the Pope threatened to excommunicate the King. Richard was a deeply spiritual man and an excellent administrator. The Prayer of St. Richard of Chichester, which has recently been set to music by several composers, is now one of the most popular in the English language.

Praise to thee, Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou has won for me,
for all the pains and insults thou has borne for me.
Most merciful redeemer,
friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day. Amen.

From Richard of Wyche (1197-1253), quoted in 2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

The struggle against racism

Daily Reading for April 4 • Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights Leader, 1968

How deeply King understood the role of forgiveness in the creation of his beloved community is seen in his assertion that the struggle for justice and the resistance against evil is not a struggle against other persons. It is rather a struggle against the structures of evil that entrap not only the oppressed but the oppressors as well. Thus the struggle against racism was not a campaign of hatred against racists but a militant resistance against racism itself which sought to release those caught on both sides of the battle from the sin of racism. Revenge was to be foreign, forgiveness commonplace.

Christianity, for Dr. King, required not only that we have our own sins forgiven but that we, through forgiveness, dismantle what holds all of us in bondage. The power of forgiveness is a gift of Christ bestowed upon the community for the purpose of ushering in the kingdom, the beloved community. The power to forgive is given to us by the Holy Spirit.

In the process we must be willing to take on suffering ourselves rather than inflict harm on others. We must renounce not only the use of physical violence but the internal spirit of violence as well. We must genuinely love our enemies, not sentimentally, not because we like them or find their actions comprehensible, but because we have been challenged to do so by the Gospels. In this we find cosmic accompaniment, which, King believed, was aligned ultimately with the emergence of justice.

From The Rising: Living the Mysteries of Lent, Easter, and Pentecost by Wendy M. Wright (Upper Room Books, 1994).

Free from death

Daily Reading for April 5

I see flames of orange, yellow and red
shooting upwards to the sky, piercing the whole clouds.
I see the clouds themselves chasing the flames upwards,
and I feel the air itself reaching for the heavens.

Down below I see great, grey rocks beating against the earth,
as if they were pushing their way down to hell.
At your resurrection that which is light and good rises up with you,
and that which is heavy and evil is pushed downwards.

At your resurrection goodness breaks from evil,
life breaks free from death.

“Easter” by Adam of St. Victor, in The Liturgical Poetry of Adam of Saint Victor, translated by D. S. Wrangham (Kegan, Paul & Co., 1881). Quoted in 2000 Years of Prayer, compiled by Michael Counsell. Copyright © 1999. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Something happened

Daily Reading for April 6 • The Third Sunday of Easter

Without the resurrection the Christian movement would have petered out in ignominy and there would have been no Christianity. Without the resurrection Christianity would not be itself, as the distinctiveness of Christianity is not its adherence to a teacher who lived long ago but its belief that “Jesus is Lord” for every generation through the centuries. . . .Something happened so as to vindicate for the apostles the meaning of the cross, and to make the person of Jesus contagious to them. The evidence for a stupendous happening, which the New Testament writers mention, was the survival of the church, the appearances of Jesus in a visible and audible impact on the apostles, and the discovery that the tomb was empty. The several elements in this threefold evidence no doubt had different degrees of evidential weight for different people, and they have such varying degrees still. . . .

The Emmaus story illustrates the various ingredients of belief in the resurrection. There was the climax, Jesus known and recognized in the breaking of the bread and vanishing from their sight: it was the moment of faith and encounter. But there had been previously the reflection on the divine purpose in scriptures which the stranger had unfolded to them on the road. There had been the report that the tomb had been found empty, and that the discovery had been corroborated by other observers. There was the corroboration of the two disciples’ seeing of Jesus at Emmaus by the news that the apostles in Jerusalem had also seen him.

I am suggesting not that the Emmaus story tells us exactly how the Easter faith began, but that it illustrates the apostolic church’s view of the factors in the creation of that faith for the original and subsequent believers. To value these evidential factors is not, as Bultmann suggests, to lapse into a worldly-minded historicism, for the Easter faith, existential as it is, was and is related to evidential history. Christians believe in the resurrection partly because a series of facts are unaccountable without it.

From God, Christ, and the World by Michael Ramsey, quoted in To Believe is To Pray: Readings from Michael Ramsey, edited by James E. Griffiss (Cowley Publications, 1996).

Come, receive the light

Daily Reading for April 7 • Tikhon, Patriarch of Russia, Confessor and Ecumenist, 1925

‘Come, receive the light!’

With these words, the entire church, previously waiting in darkness, lights up in splendour. People’s faces shine. It is Easter midnight. The night said to be brighter than any day. Everyone, young and old, whether born into or received into the Orthodox faith, knows by heart the chant that will be repeated over forty days,the song that colours the yearly cycle: ‘Christ is risen from the dead.’ In an age when we look for ways and moments to celebrate life, Easter marks the feast of feasts. . . .

The cross is indeed the final word. In the paradox of the cross, problems and difficulties do not disappear. They simply appear in a new light. They are appreciated in a new perspective. We know differently. They are perceived in the light of the final age that is to come. We understand that, through them and beyond them all, there exists the invincible power of Christ’s crucified love. The light of the cross is stronger than any darkness in the world.

The Greek word for Easter, Pascha, derives from the Hebrew meaning ‘passover’. The crucifixion and the resurrection are a ‘passing over’ from survival to fullness of life, and from mere life to life in abundance. The tomb of Christ was not empty. It was open! It remains for us an open invitation.

The thunderous response to the Easter greeting is: ‘Christ is truly Risen!’

From Light Through Darkness: The Orthodox Tradition by John Chyrssavgis (Orbis, 2004).

The more we bring

Daily Reading for April 8 • William Augustus Muhlenberg, Priest, 1877

A good Christian is always fit to partake of the Sacrament; but yet, in order to do it, he will desire to collect himself—to repair himself, as it were—to wipe off the dust and soil of the world, which are forever settling on the soul. . . .The communicant, though conscious of having the main qualification for meeting his Lord acceptably at the Holy Table, yet desires to examine it, again and again—to try himself, as the apostle bids him, “whether he be in the faith.” Every time he ventures into the presence of the King he endeavors to have his marriage garment cleaner and whiter, more thoroughly purified from the stains of earth. He feels as if he must repent anew—believe anew—love anew—make good resolutions anew, and begin, as it were, his whole Christian life anew. True, the grace which is to enable him to do all this, is the very thing he seeks in going to the Eucharist, yet the grace which he obtains is ever in proportion to that with which he comes. . . . So oft the grace of which the Eucharist is the means. The more we have to come with, the more we bring away. If none we bring, then none we gain.

From The Weekly Eucharist by William Augustus Muhlenberg, quoted in A Year With American Saints by G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber. Copyright © 2006. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Supported by the Bible

Daily Reading for April 9 • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1945

In a few days it will be Easter. That makes me very happy. But do you think that either of us by ourselves could believe or would want to believe these impossible things that are reported in the gospels, if the Bible did not support us in our belief? Simply the Word, as God’s truth, which he vouches for himself. Resurrection—that is not a self-evident idea, an eternal verity. I mean, of course, resurrection as the Bible means it—as a rising up from real death (not sleep) to real life, from life without God to new life with Christ in God. God has said (and we know this through the Bible): “Behold I make all things new.” He made that come true at Easter. Must not this message appear much more impossible, distant, unreal than the whole story of King David, which, by comparison, is quite harmless?

There remains, then, only the decision whether we will trust the Bible or not, whether we will allow ourselves to be supported by it as by no other word, in life and death. And I believe that we can only be happy and at peace when we have made that decision.

From “The Bible Alone: A Letter to Dr. Rudiger Schleicher” (Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law and good friend), quoted in Meditating on the Word by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, translated and edited by David McI. Gracie, second edition (Cowley Publications, 1986).

The advantage of language

Daily Reading for April 10 • William Law, Priest, 1761

Sometimes the light of God’s countenance shines so bright upon us, we are so affected with the wonders of the love and goodness of God, that our hearts worship and adore in a language higher than that of words, and we feel transports of devotion, which only can be felt. On the other hand, sometimes we are so sunk into our bodies, so dull and unaffected with that which concerns our souls, that our hearts are as much too low for our prayers; we cannot keep pace with our forms of confession, or feel half of that in our hearts which we have in our mouths; we thank and praise God with forms of words, but our hearts have little or no share in them.

It is therefore highly necessary to provide against this inconstancy of our hearts, by having at hand such forms of prayer as may best suit us when our hearts are in their best state, and also be most likely to raise and stir them up when they are sunk into dullness. For, as words have a power of affecting our hearts on all occasions, as the same thing differently expressed has different effects upon our minds, so it is reasonable that we should make this advantage of language, and provide ourselves with such forms of expression as are most likely to move and enliven our souls, and fill them with sentiments suitable to them.

From A Serious Call to the Devout and Holy Life by William Law, from the Treasures from the Spiritual Classics series, compiled by Roger L. Roberts (A. R. Mowbray and Co Ltd, 1981).

A coherent structure

Daily Reading for April 11 • George Augustus Selwyn, Bishop of New Zealand, and of Lichfield, 1878

When George Augustus Selwyn went as bishop to New Zealand, where Queen Victoria had assigned him a large part of Polynesia as well as the two islands of New Zealand itself, he realized the need for synodical forms to be developed to give Anglicanism outside of the Church of England establishment a coherent theological structure. In the twentieth century those synodical forms became the pattern of church polity in all parts of what developed as the Anglican Communion, particularly as churches in Africa and Asia achieved self-government in a way which was often parallel with independence from colonial rule by Britain. With the first Lambeth Conference in 1867, there began the series of Lambeth Conferences which have been a chief means of holding together an increasingly widespread Communion now rooted in many different cultures, and freed from domination first by the British Empire, then by English education and language.

From Love’s Redeeming Work: The Anglican Quest for Holiness, compiled by Geoffrey Rowell, Kenneth Stevenson, and Rowan Williams (Oxford, 2001).

Going to Emmaus

Daily Reading for April 12

Emmaus is where we go when life gets to be too much for us . . . the place we go in order to escape—a bar, a movie, wherever it is we throw up our hands and say, “Let the whole thing go hang. It makes no difference anyway.” . . . Emmaus may be buying new clothes or a new car or smoking more cigarettes than you really want, or reading a second-rate novel or even writing one. Emmaus may be going to church on Sunday. Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred, that even the wisest and bravest and loveliest decay and die; that even the noblest ideas that men have had—ideas about love and freedom and justice—have always in time been twisted out of shape by selfish men for selfish ends.

From The Magnificent Defeat by Frederick Buechner (Harper & Row, 1966).

Sheep

Daily Reading for April 13 • The Fourth Sunday of Easter

Most of what I know about sheep is hearsay, undocumented, and not flattering. They are reputed to be stupid, lacking in initiative, and likely to fall over cliffs or entangle themselves in brush. They are not playful. Lambs have an innocent charm, but the adult animal is stolid and a little boring. Rams are distinguished by their horns, and there may be some variation in color; but the average sheep looks just like the rest of the flock. To look into the face of one sheep is to have seen them all.

I am not really pleased to be grouped with the sheep. In this I suspect that I am not alone. We live in a society that places high value on ingenuity, creativity, and individuality. It is better to be a leader than a follower—can you imagine parents urging their children to be good sheep, to aim for mediocrity in things academic and athletic? We admire people with high levels of energy and a zest for exploration. No, to be a good sheep is not part of the American Dream.

Most significantly, sheep need a shepherd. There is no such thing as an independent or self-made sheep. They need the shepherd if they are to be guided and cared for, and—in dire straits—to be rescued. There is nothing sentimental about this relationship: for the sheep it is a matter of survival, and for the shepherd it is a matter of economy. The sheep are not pets, to be cuddled and cosseted; rather, they are valuable property. The shepherd’s treasure, if you will.

There are no sheep on the streets of my neighborhood, but I am increasingly and keenly aware of those people whom we so easily turn into sheep, those people who “all look alike,” who are indistinguishable to the unloving eye. The boisterous, slightly threatening teenagers who rush onto the subway when school is out at three o’clock, the homeless who warm themselves on sidewalk grates and huddle in doorways, the frail aged lined up in their wheelchairs in nursing home corridors, the caged young men in our jails and prisons—they can become sheep, one like another, and easily replaceable. Or not missed, if one disappears. When I see pictures of refugees, those victims of indescribable suffering, they blur and begin to look alike. Even the individual child, with great pleading eyes and the bloated belly of starvation, begins to look like every other starving child, while the mother holding the body of her dead infant looks like all the other mothers.

I want to turn people into sheep because it is easier that way. It shields me from being touched by the depths of their pain and need, and it helps me deny my kinship with them. It lets me forget that I am a sheep too.

From “Sheep” in Just Passing Through: Notes from a Sojourner by Margaret Guenther. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Distinct value

Daily Reading for April 14

It’s quite all right to be a sheep, so long as we pay attention and hear the shepherd’s voice. The essential, crucial point is this: the good shepherd knows the sheep. This is not just a matter of a head count; each is of distinct value.

I yearn to be known, and at the same time I fear it. Most of the time, we let ourselves be known by bits and pieces, and we know others in the same way. My husband of nearly half a century thinks that he knows me, my children are sure they have me figured out, my colleagues and students and friends also would claim that they know me. Foolishly, I think I know myself. Even as I want to be known, I want to be known on my own terms—a carefully constructed and edited version, not as a sheep who gets lost, falls off cliffs, and gets hung up in the brambles. Certainly not as a sheep who can’t find her own way.

To be known, fully known, is not possible in our human relationships, but it is the foundation of our relationship with Christ. To be known, fully known, is both painful and profoundly comforting. It is to accept the humble status of sheep, to let the masks and defenses drop away, and to let ourselves be carried on the shepherd’s shoulders and occasionally poked by his staff. It means sometimes to be thwarted—the edge of that cliff doesn’t look too dangerous, and I wasn’t going to wander very far, honest!— and sometimes to be shut in a pen. It means to listen for the shepherd’s voice and to rejoice that he knows which one I am, in this great, blundering, well-intentioned, sheepish flock.

From “Sheep” in Just Passing Through: Notes from a Sojourner by Margaret Guenther. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

The true shepherd

Daily Reading for April 15

I once read about a doorman who worked at the same building in Manhattan for dozens of years. On the eve of his retirement, he was interviewed about his life experience as one who opened the door for so many New Yorkers. What struck me was his faithful service, even when he was essentially ignored. People would come and go, many of them so self-important they just walked through the open door without even a thank-you nod. A large number of them, however, came to appreciate him and often would chat with him as friends.

Regardless, he said, he came to know most everyone who lived in that building better than perhaps they knew themselves. As he did his job, he listened and observed carefully—not to be nosy, but to try to serve them better.

I think of that faithful doorman every time I read this passage. Commentators tell us that in Jesus’ time, shepherds would guard their flocks at night by lying across the opening of the pen, serving personally as the gate. That way they could watch over their sheep, ensure their safety, keep them in for rest and protection, and let them out for pasture and exercise.

Jesus says he does the same with his followers. As a true shepherd, Jesus has the best in mind for us, his loving followers. He came to give us something we could have no other way, something we yearn for from the depths of our being. He came to give us “real and eternal life, more and better life” than we could ever dream of. But we must first find our place in the sheep pen, under his protective care.

What sort of life are you dreaming of? One marked by love and joy, by purpose and meaning, peace and fullness? That is the life Jesus wants you to experience, day by day, forever.

How can you experience it? Pay attention to Jesus as he works in your life. Be aware of the Spirit working out the rough edges of your life, calling you to deeper faithfulness, opening up opportunities to learn about yourself, about God, about serving others. Let him reach out to you when you need to be held, watched over, protected and cared for, and filled with rest and peace.

And when you are ready, go through him, through the Gate and into the world, taking that same love and care and peace with you to share with others, always under his watchful eye. This is real life, eternal life, more and better life than you ever dreamed of.

From Living Loved: Knowing Jesus as the Lover of Your Soul by Peter Wallace. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

He speaks our name

Daily Reading for April 16

The faith in Jesus this prayer [the Collect for Easter 4] expresses is a quality of faith we possessed as a child, wish we possessed now, and, in rare moments of spiritual vision, do possess. When in those moments we do achieve this level of faith in our Lord, we allow him to be our good shepherd. This is what Jesus wishes to be, what he always has been, and what he waits in unrelenting love and patience for us to recognize. This simplicity and sureness of faith in him as God in human flesh is what he waits for his church to recapture and rejoice in again. Whenever and wherever the church does recapture this conviction, it finds that our Lord becomes again its good shepherd. It then becomes possible for him to lead us where he wishes us to go, and to give us grace to follow him into places we sometimes do not wish to go or have the will to go.

This prayer reminds us of something else. It tells us that when we hear the voice of the good shepherd, what we hear is the most powerful of all sounds in our ears—our own name. All our lives we hear our name as we hear nothing else. We hear it called in every conceivable tone and setting, and for reasons and purposes too numerous to mention. Our name has been spoken by voices we will never forget and by voices we wish we could forget and cannot. Our name has been called lovingly, sternly, harshly, gently, angrily, seductively. We have heard it whispered passionately and shouted in exasperation.

To know that our name is on the lips of our Lord is to possess the richest intimacy with him. To know that he speaks our name gives us our ultimate sense of who we truly are. When we know truly who we are we can respond to his invitation to live fully and courageously. As this prayer calls us to do, we become capable of following where he leads.

From Prayers for the Breaking of Bread: Meditations on the Collects of the Church Year by Herbert O’Driscoll (Cowley Publications, 1991).

The open gate

Daily Reading for April 17

As long as we are alive, we are on the move. To become static is to stagnate and die. It is necessary for all living things to move and grow and change. Life is meant to be an adventure; change is a gift that we have to learn to use aright. In Celtic folk-tales a curse that could happen to a person was to enter a field and not to be able to get back out of it. To be stuck in that place for ever. It was seen as a definite curse to be unable to venture or to change. Yet we all know this experience in some small way; we all get ourselves stuck in routines and habits that can act like shackles. We all refuse to open our eyes to the vision that is before us; too often we select only what we want to see. In the same way we restrict what we hear and what we respond to. The open gate is the opposite to this. It is the invitation to adventure and to grow, the call to be among the living and vital elements of the world. The open gate is the call to explore new areas of yourself and the world around you. It is a challenge to come and discover that the world and ourselves are filled with mystery and with the glory of God. It is the ever present call to become pilgrims for the love of God, to take part in a romance that will enrich our hearts and our lives.

From The Open Gate: Celtic Prayers for Growing Spiritually by David Adam. Copyright © 1995. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

The gate of glory

Daily Reading for April 18

The open gate is the choice that God is always placing before us. It is a sign of the opportunity that is ours. It is to do with our basic freedom; we can choose to go that way or to ignore it and go along another path. We should look upon the open gate as a way to extend ourselves and our vision. Here we can see further and reach beyond where we have been before. It may take a great deal of discipline to get off the old familiar track and to break with old habits, but in return it offers the excitement of new ground and new vistas. What we have to learn is to recognize when an open gate is presented to us. There are many gates, physical, mental and spiritual, through which we can travel to the ‘other world’, or, as I would prefer, ‘to a greater vision of this world of ours.’ There are always deeper levels of reality to explore. To accept open gates is to accept the role of a frontiersperson, an adventurer going where no one has gone before. Yet there are those who have made like journeys, taken similar adventures, so we are not without guides and fellow travelers. Just as when you go to a new country you can buy a guidebook to help you to get around, so in the venture of life, you can get advice and direction from those who have traveled before and direction from those who have traveled before you. When you make this venture, you will discover riches that you never dreamed of. St. Brendan of Birr says, ‘If you become Christ’s you will stumble upon wonder upon wonder and every one of them true.’ We need to discover that Christ has opened up for us the gate of glory.

From The Open Gate: Celtic Prayers for Growing Spiritually by David Adam. Copyright © 1995. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

Alphege of Canterbury

Daily Reading for April 19 • Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Martyr, 1012

In this year,[1011] between the Nativity of St. Mary and Michaelmas, they beset Canterbury, and entered therein through treachery; for Elfmar delivered the city to them, whose life Archbishop Elfeah [Alphege] formerly saved. And there they seized Archbishop Elfeah, and Elfward the king’s steward, and Abbess Leofruna, and Bishop Godwin; and Abbot Elfmar they suffered to go away. And they took therein all the men, and husbands, and wives; and it was impossible for any man to say how many they were; and in the city they continued afterwards as long as they would. And, when they had surveyed all the city, they then returned to their ships, and led the archbishop with them.

Then was a captive
he who before was
of England head
and Christendom; —
there might be seen

great wretchedness,
where oft before
great bliss was seen,
in the fated city,
whence first to us
came Christendom,
and bliss ’fore God
and ’fore the world.

And the archbishop they kept with them until the time when they martyred him.

A.D. 1012. This year came Alderman Edric, and all the oldest counsellors of England, clerk and laity, to London before Easter, which was then on the ides of April; and there they abode, over Easter, until all the tribute was paid, which was 48,000 pounds. Then on the Saturday was the army much stirred against the bishop; because he would not promise them any fee, and forbade that any man should give anything for him. They were also much drunken; for there was wine brought them from the south. Then took they the bishop, and led him to their hustings, on the eve of the Sunday after Easter, which was the thirteenth before the calends of May; and there they then shamefully killed him. They overwhelmed him with bones and horns of oxen; and one of them smote him with an axe-iron on the head; so that he sunk downwards with the blow; and his holy blood fell on the earth, whilst his sacred soul was sent to the realm of God. The corpse in the morning was carried to London; and the bishops, Ednoth and Elfhun, and the citizens, received him with all honour, and buried him in St. Paul’s minster; where God now showeth this holy martyr’s miracles. When the tribute was paid, and the peace-oaths were sworn, then dispersed the army as widely as it was before collected. Then submitted to the king five and forty of the ships of the enemy; and promised him, that they would defend this land, and he should feed and clothe them.

From The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Part 3: A.D. 920-1014, Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #17; http://omacl.org/Anglo/part3.html

Just like us

Daily Reading for April 20 • The Fifth Sunday of Easter

The disciples were simple people. They were ordinary folks who worked for a living, paid bills, and had to fulfill all the mundane responsibilities of life. Some were married and had to take care of those relationships properly. A few certainly must have had children. They had all the ingredients for the recipe of ordinary, everyday people.

Just like us.

But Jesus called them. He called them to follow him, to be with him and learn from him. He called them to see him heal and touch and transform people’s lives and to hear him teach amazingly simple yet startlingly counterintuitive truths.

Just as he has called us.

So, the disciples followed him, and they were amazed to see Jesus’ astonishing works, to hear his challenging words. They’d never seen anyone do things like this. But Jesus told them that they would not only do the same work he did, but “even greater things.”

Greater things than Jesus did? It’s hard to believe. Yet Jesus really only touched the lives of a handful of people in a very small area of the planet. The disciples who followed him, and those who followed them even until today, have made an impact on the entire world, sharing the message of God’s loving forgiveness and gracious acceptance in word and deed. As a result of their simple acts of obedience, the world is a different place.

Jesus’ words are meant for us too. He challenges us to follow him, to do even greater things for him. It’s not about who we are—our personality or gifts or background. It’s about how willing we are. How touched we are by Jesus’ love. How filled we are by his Spirit.

So, what’s stopping you? Even greater things await you.

From Living Loved: Knowing Jesus as the Lover of Your Soul by Peter Wallace. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

A monastic scholar

Daily Reading for April 21 • Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1109

In the year 1109, on the Wednesday in Holy Week, the Archbishop of Canterbury lay dying. His friends, knowing that they were at the death-bed of a saint, were ready to improve the occasion: ‘My lord and father,’ they said, ‘we cannot help knowing that you are going to leave the world to be at the Easter court of your king.’ But Anselm was not to be caught by pieties and sentimentalities. His reply is the key to his life and a way to begin to understand him: ‘And indeed,’ he replied, ‘if His will is set upon this I will gladly obey His will. However, if He would prefer me to stay among you, at least until I can settle a question about the origin of the soul which I am turning over in my mind, I should welcome this with gratitude, for I do not know whether anyone will solve it when I am dead.’

There is in this reply first the obedience of the monk—a joyful love of whatever might be God’s will for him. And secondly a true estimate of his own intellectual powers as a scholar, without false humility; a mind still employed to its utmost in understanding the things of God for the sake of the people of God. . . .

As a monk Anselm understood theology to be the dynamic reflection upon mysteries already accepted and believed, by which the whole person, engaging in an arduous and totally demanding task—an ascesis—would be transfigured, receiving more and more of the light which is God. Anselm was a man of profound learning and alert mind who made his intellectual genius an integral part of his commitment to God as a monk. . . . Fides quarens intellectum, or, as Hilary of Poitiers said: ‘Bestow upon us, O Lord, the meaning of words, the light of understanding, the nobility of diction, and grant that what we believe that we may also speak.’

From Anselm of Canterbury: A Monastic Scholar by Sister Benedicta Ward SLG (Fairacres Publication No. 62, 1973).

The power of Christ

Daily Reading for April 22

O Christian soul, O soul rid of death’s burden and restored to life, O soul redeemed and liberated by the Blood of God from wretched servitude, exert thy faculties, remember how thou hast been raised, consider thy redemption and thy setting free! Ask of thyself anew what is the power that saved thee, and where it is found; make it thy business to ponder thy salvation, and thy delight to contemplate the same. Shake off disinclination, rouse thyself to effort, constrain thyself to think about these things. Enjoy the Saviour’s kindness, and let love for thy Redeemer kindle thee. Chew on his words, as on a honeycomb; suck out their flavour that is more than honey-sweet; swallow their healthful sweetness down. Chew by thinking, suck by understanding, swallow by loving and rejoicing. Chew happily, suck thankfully, swallow delightedly.

What, then, is the power and might that saved thee, and where is it found? Christ raised thee up from death, assuredly; he was the Good Samaritan who healed thee; he was the Good Friend who laid down his own life to buy thee back and set thee free. Christ, I say. The power that saved thee, therefore, is the power of Christ.

From “A Meditation on Human Redemption” by Anselm of Canterbury, in Prayers and Meditations of St. Anselm (Mowbrays, 1952).

Domesticating emptiness

Daily Reading for April 23

The symbol of Easter is the empty tomb. You can’t depict or domesticate emptiness. You can’t make it into pageants and string it with lights. It doesn’t move people to give presents to each other or sing old songs. It ebbs and flows all around us, the Eastertide. Even the great choruses of Handel’s Messiah sound a little like a handful of crickets chirping under the moon.

He rose. A few saw him briefly and talked to him. If it is true, there is nothing left to say. If it is not true, there is nothing left to say. For believers and unbelievers both, life has never been the same again. For some, neither has death. What is left now is the emptiness. There are those who, like Magdalen, will never stop searching it till they find his face.

From “Easter” in Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith by Frederick Buechner (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004).

Practical mysticism

Daily Reading for April 24

The spiritual life is not a special career, involving abstraction from the world of things. It is a part of every man’s life; and until he has realized it he is not a complete human being, has not entered into possession of all his powers. It is therefore the function of practical mysticism to increase, not diminish, the total efficiency, the wisdom and steadfastness, of those who try to practice it. It will help them to enter, more completely than ever before, into the life of the group to which they belong. It will teach them to see the world in a truer proportion, discerning eternal beauty beyond and beneath apparent ruthlessness. It will educate them in a charity free from all taint of sentimentalism; it will confer on them an unconquerable hope; and assure them that still, in the hour of greatest desolation, “There lives the dearest freshness of deep down things.”

From Practical Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill, quoted in Wisdom of the Cloister: A Monastic Reader, edited by John Skinner (Image Books, 1999).

Gospel writing

Daily Reading for April 25 • St. Mark the Evangelist

The authors of the New Testament were very much like the scribes who would later transmit those authors’ writings. The authors too were human beings with needs, beliefs, worldviews, opinions, loves, hates, longings, desires, situations, problems—and surely all these things affected what they wrote. They too were Christians who had inherited traditions about Jesus and his teachings, who had learned about the Christian message of salvation, who had come to believe in the truth of the gospel—and they too passed along the traditions of their writings. . . . Matthew, in fact, is not exactly like Mark; Mark is not the same as Luke; or Luke as John; or John as Paul; or Paul as James. Just as scribes modified the words of the tradition, by sometimes putting these words “in other words,” so too had the authors of the New Testament itself, telling their stories, giving their instructions, and recording their recollections by using their own words (not just the words they had heard), words that they came up with to pass along their message in ways that seemed most appropriate for the audience and the time and place for which they were writing. . . .

The point is that Luke changed the tradition he inherited. Readers completely misinterpret Luke if they fail to realize this—as happens, for example, when they assume that Mark and Luke are in fact saying the same thing about Jesus. If they are not saying the same thing, it is not legitimate to assume they are—for example, by taking what Mark says, and taking what Luke says, then taking what Matthew and John say and melding them all together, so that Jesus says and does all the things that each of the Gospel writers indicates. Anyone who interprets the Gospels this way is not letting each author have his own say; anyone who does this is not reading what the author wrote in order to understand his message; anyone who does this is not reading the Gospels themselves—he or she is making up a new Gospel consisting of the four in the New Testament, a new Gospel that is not like any of the ones that have come down to us.

From Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005).

Let nothing trouble you

Daily Reading for April 26

Given the reality of medieval office politics (as real for us in the twenty-first century as it was in the thirteenth), Hadewijch offered two main pieces of advice: “be on your guard against instability” and “never abandon the true life of good works.” Hadewijch seems to understand how easy it is to lose one’s center, and how detrimental that can be to one’s spirituality. She writes, “For there is nothing so able and so quick to separate you from our Lord as instability.” As an antidote, she gives us a sort of mantra with a warning attached.

“Whatever troubles may come to you, do not commit the folly of believing that you are set for any other goal than the great God Himself, in the fullness of His being and His love; do not let folly or doubt deflect you from any good practice which can lead you to this goal. If you will confide yourself to His love, you will soon grow to your full stature, but if you persist in doubting, you will become sluggish and grudging, and everything which you ought to do will be a burden to you. Let nothing trouble you [as Teresa of Avila will also advise three centuries later], do not believe that anything which you must do for Him whom you seek will be beyond your strength, that you cannot surmount it, that it will be beyond you. This is the fervor, this is the zeal which you must have, and all the time your strength must grow.”

From Wisdom from the Middle Ages for Middle-Aged Women by Lisa B. Hamilton. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. www.morehousepublishing.com

A love gift

Daily Reading for April 27 • The Sixth Sunday of Easter

If you love me, Jesus says, you will do something and I will do something. You will do what I have set out for you to do: Love one another. Serve others humbly. Reach out to those in need. Be an agent of healing and life. And, if you love me, I will provide you with another Friend. I will not be with you in the flesh, but Someone will be with you always: the Spirit of Truth.

That’s quite a love gift.

So often we leave a token of our love for someone when we have to be away from them—a card, a stuffed animal, a piece of jewelry or a book that means something to us. I still have Taffy, the stuffed toy dog my parents gave me when I was five years old and had to stay alone in a children’s hospital—something to hug in their absence. But Jesus gives us something beyond our wildest imaginings: He gives us the very presence of God in the form of the Spirit. As a child of God and lover of Jesus, you have God’s Spirit with you, within you, and around you at all times.

You can’t see him. The world certainly is unable to see him. But you can know the Spirit is with you and in you, holding you up, giving you strength, showing you the road ahead, filling you with peace and purpose and love. The Spirit helps you do what Jesus has told you to do, to share and to serve. You aren’t on your own. You have a constant companion, a Friend to help you and guide you.

You can plumb the depths of even the simplest pronouncements of Jesus about the love relationship you share with him and still feel as though you never touch bottom. Understanding it—living it—requires a lifetime. But it all starts with your love for Jesus. And it will never end.

From Living Loved: Knowing Jesus as the Lover of Your Soul by Peter Wallace. Copyright © 2007. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY. www.churchpublishing.org

Wisdom of the cross

Daily Reading for April 28

The wisdom of the cross was, then, the disclosure not only of human morality but of divine love. Placing this at the center of his description of what Christ had done by his life and his death, Peter Abelard, in a sermonic essay entitled “The Cross,” emphasized that the love of God in Christ lay beyond “our own power to share in the passion of Jesus by our suffering and to follow him by carrying our own cross.” Therefore he insisted that it was unfair to accuse him of teaching that Christ had only provided an example for our imitation, as though such imitation were possible for the powers of an unaided human nature to achieve. On the contrary, the fundamental meaning of the wisdom of the cross was that contained in the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Such love had its ground and origin only in God; but from God it came to humanity, and it did so through the cros