Friday, November 14, 2014 – Proper 27, Year Two[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 88 (morning) // 91, 92 (evening)
Many people, understandably, like to keep “religion” at arm’s length. They are “spiritual” rather than religious. Or, they proclaim that Christianity is “not a religion, but a relationship.” Religion is the foil to life-giving and transformative ways of connecting with the divine.
The author of our second reading also seems to know that “religion” doesn’t always have a good connotation. But instead of offering us an alternative to religion, the reading asks us to refine our understanding of what religion is. In its purest form, religion has two parts: (1) “to care for orphans and widows in their distress,” and (2) “to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Imagine if “religion” simply meant care for people at the margins and people in need, and resistance to the harmful forces around us.
A medieval guide to religious life called the “Ancrene Wisse” uses this verse from today’s second reading from the Letter of James when advising a small community of women. If people ask the women which religious order they belong to (meaning Benedictine, Gilbertine, Cistercian, etc.), they should reply that they belong to “the order of St. James.”
There is no order of St. James, though: no Rule of St. James, no special religious habit, no specific religious house. Rather, the so-called order of St. James is a simple and pure alternative to the proliferation of religious orders that are available. Instead of choosing and joining a religious order, the women should focus on the two tasks from today’s reading: care for orphans and widows, and keeping themselves unstained by the world.
Like these medieval women, we find ourselves today with an array of religious options. What religion should we choose? Simple: the religion of caring for those at the margins of our society and in deepest need, and of preserving our health and wholeness in a sometimes hostile world. Our religious tradition and denominational affiliation are meaningless otherwise.
Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.