by Charles LaFond
This week in The Daily Sip, we have continued our exploration of the Rule of Life by continuing to write our chapters. We explored “the Church” in this week’s work. Here are the two chapters on “The Church” in my Rule and an end-note on writing chapters in general, as a part of a Lenten practice.
Chapter VII– The Church
A Rule of Life chapter
The Reverend Canon Charles LaFond
Like silence, stillness is at once a choice, a luxury, an honored spiritual practice and a defiant action in a country and culture fueled by coffee, power and money. Stillness is a threat to the spiritually shallow and a comfort to the perpetually exhausted. Stillness is hard for me and stillness will be my salvation in such an anxious, molting church and culture of greed and noise. Stillness is the starting point of discernment; and discernment can be dangerous to systems. So stillness is where I begin as I imagine my beloved and beleaguered church with its thousands of expressions, rectors, wardens and people.
As I watch this final season of Downton Abbey, I see, reflected in the television screen, the Episcopal Church I am trying so hard to love into its next phase of life. I so want to be a good ancestor to the next generations. Every character in the television show seems to be an archetype for the church. One by one they seem to represent and characterize some aspect of so many of the people in the average (and not so average) Episcopal Church . . . and perhaps many other churches too if they were courageous enough to be honest.
Jesus wanders our ecclesial version of Downton Abbey and I wonder what He thinks as he sits softly, un-noticed in the corner of a parlor, a breakfast room, a tea room, a solarium, the garden, the dining room, the bedroom, the scullery; observing people living their lives in the castles of wood and stone constructed so many generations ago for such a different world – such a different church – opened occasionally, weekly, for an annual membership fee – a contribution to maintain its grandeur for occasional visitors using it to buttress flagging spiritual self-esteem not to mention the grandeur of those who live inside.
What is going through Jesus’ mind? If He is resurrected in body, and truly ascended into heaven, then he has a mind. What is Jesus thinking in His stillness as He gazes on the church? What does Jesus think of the dowager countess clinging to the past with such ferocity that she is pretending nothing has changed, seeming perpetually surprised – living a pretend existence – suspicious of the electric light and vaguely unsure of what a telephone is? What does Jesus think of the deeply kind mother trying to host love as the past gives way to the future? What does Jesus think of the butler, resolute in his desire not to let standards slip, holding his teacup precariously on a saucer as a culture shifts under him like an 8.0 earthquake? What does Jesus think watching the sad Earl of Grantham, ulcerated in his anxiety about a life and a way that is simply slipping away like sand in hands?
What does Jesus think of the next generation with such diverse opinions ranging from a warrior-like determination to hold onto an expensive, outdated way of life to the awareness that life might even be fun in this new way of poverty, intimacy and liberation from outdated rules? And what does Jesus think of the scullery maids and other servants, running up and down back stairs, unseen, with buckets of bath water up, hundreds of steps, and then down again, in a castle without plumbing and wondering what is happening in Paris. Who is Madame Defarge anyways? Is one nearby? Is it you? Is it you? Is it you? Who is the threat and to what?
Stillness is not a delightful respite from work – some tv and a drink. Stillness is a volatile act of defiance in which time is taken to discern about my life, my church, my guilt, my liberation, my way on this planet, this day – and yesterday. Stillness is both the chance to rest as well as the harbinger of revolution.
What does Jesus do? I expect He says, over and over, “I love them!” What, as priest of this Episcopal Church do I do? I guess the same thing.
But after so many terrible experiences in the church, I can’t help but wonder “What if they let us eat cake after all?” What if we stop and see, really see and name the great, kind, honest hard-working clergy and…and… what if we did the same when we see the lazy or stupid or creepy clergy? What if we begin to notice things? What if we start talking with each other? What if the changing culture outside the castle is just enough to tip the scales against canon-law designed in favor of clergy and bishops? What does Jesus see in His stillness? And what might we see?
May God help me to employ stillness in my life so that I may stop long enough to see what I need to see- about myself and about the world in which I live and about this Church. May stillness offer discernment to any family – any person- in any crisis or any trouble. May God help us all to embrace stillness and then have the courage to act on what we discern within it. May my (our) penchant for relentless activity, stimulation and exhaustion no longer be used by the evil one as a drug to dull our minds and souls – and all without a paper-trail. May stillness be the chance for the Holy Spirit to speak truth and courage – for our support of goodness and the undoing of evils. And may Jesus, silently, gently come alongside me in my stillness, and quietly, slowly, gently take my hand so that as we both look and the Church, a sense of peace emerges no matter what we see from within stillness’ cave.
Chapter VIII – Engaging The Church
A Rule of Life
The Reverend Canon Charles LaFond
Please, may I remember that I am part of The Church. What that means changes from time to time. Sometimes I love being part of it. Other times I want to run away screaming. And if “The Church” is Christ’s wounded, diseased body then, what I see of “The Church” and “the churches” of “The Church” makes more sense.
It is hard to be reminded – though be reminded, I must – that Jesus was neither a monk nor a prophet. Jesus was a Zealot. Jesus was a man involved in insurrection for God and God’s people, and against Rome. Jesus walked a lot- in dust. Jesus met and engaged in conversation with rejected, outcast people. Jesus prayed. Jesus gently walked into a storm, knowing He was doing so and pretty sure how it would end. And yet, in His humanity, not sure. And Jesus was very clear that he was modeling behavior. God, please me the follow that kind of Savior! Please send people into my life who share courage with me for a new kind of church.
This Rule of Life needs to remind me, as I fall on this chapter monthly, that I am not part of an institution designed for passive and pretty experiences on Sunday mornings. As a member of “The Church” is am a revolutionary and I must imagine how to best be a member of a Church and a denomination (The Episcopal Church) so that I keep “the main thing” the main thing. And the main thing is how we love each other, how we love God and how we love God when God shows up as the financially poor, the marginalized … and as God.
As a priest of the church, I am aware there are blurred boundaries between my religion, my spiritual practice and my job. But I also know that as a priest, I need to join the prophets, the zealots and the revolutionaries if I am to be faithful to Christ and His mission. “Church” is not, and cannot be, only a soothing, charming experience. Church is not a concert, though there may be beauty. Church is not a Fine Arts Membership Club though I will invest in music and liturgy. Church is not a group of like-minded people, though we may tend to agree on Jesus’ divinity, there will be millions of interpretations. Church is not a spiritual spa for the rich – it is a workhouse for the rich and a spa for the financially poor, the emotionally sick, the relationally hungry and many marginalized.
Church is a place and a time and an experience for questions, not answers. Church is a place to experience the heavy glory of God and to do so with others. Church is a boot camp for the fight against tyrannies of time, money and power. Church is a base camp for an ascent – a hard hike to the top of a transfiguring mountain on which we are changed. And if not, then it is a museum or a club or a gated-community in which pretty people feel that by attending its liturgy, they have checked the “I am a good person box” on their weekly “life-to-do list.” And if it is that, then Jesus will be outside, on the grass, unwelcome. And if so, may I be there with Him!
May “The Episcopal Church” be a place of TRUTH for me -lead where it may and cost what it will. And may I, to the best of my ability, continue daily, to make the choice to give my life to it; for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us unite.
And a word on writing the chapters of the Rule of Life by which you hope to live…
As you write your Rule of Life, remember that it need not be complicated nor long. Indeed, if it is either, you will threaten your willingness later to read it daily. A Chapter is usually about 600-1000 words. They can be less. They can be only a few sentences (if they are the right ones) and they can be just one or two paragraphs. The important thing to remember when writing a chapter of your Rule of Life is that each chapter is a letter from you, to you, for you.
These “chapters” are letters of encouragement to you from you. That is why this process is so powerful. We are not often inclined follow “rules” set up by others for us – especially if we do not agree with them. But a Rule of Life is set up by us. We hope and believe that God meets us as we write our Rule of Life by showing up as the Holy Spirit. So that is why there is a meditative tone to the way – the setting- in which we write our Rule of Life chapters. They should be written when we are fresh, not tired. They should be written in silence so that the Holy Spirit can speak and be heard by you as you write. And they should be written in response to life and not in reaction to events within life.
Each morning that you turn the page of your Rule of Life you are turning to a passage written for you, about you, by you and for your own encouragement. A Rule of Life is a long letter of encouragement to you. Each chapter is a reminder to you, by you, for you, regarding your vision for how you want to live. We write a Rule of Life so that we can remind ourselves of the pathway we have chosen because we will always wander off it from time to time. The Rule of Life is there so that each day, for 30 days (or less if you have less chapters) you have a reminder of the various pathways you have set for yourself so that as you read this day’s chapter or that day’s chapter, you are reminded of your hope for your life. As you read, you will think “Oh, re-reading this chapter on ________ I remember writing this chapter and I remember that this is how I wanted to live regarding _________. I am so glad to be reminded because I find I am not living this way. I have wandered off my life-path. I must get back on track. I will use this reading as a motivator to cut through the “woods” into which I have carelessly wandered in order to find my pathways again in this forest of life.”
I suggest the pages be in a three ring binder so as to early turn pages and easily replace pages with revised re-writes when need be. I also suggest a big red ribbon taped to the top of the spine so as to have daily marker and o that you can easily remember where the “next” chapter to be read will be found.