Category Archives: Spirituality

What Will the New Year Bring?

I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions.

Partly because I’m not very good at following through with them. Yes, I always say I will lose weight, exercise more or keep up with the laundry and cleaning better. Today I’ve noticed an extra number of joggers on the roads and many folks posting what their resolutions are going to be on Facebook. And I’ve learned there is a App to make sure you stay on track with your resolution.

I’m wondering if I should resolve to post more regularly here. That’s a tough one; I already blog daily at Building Faith and weekly at The Prayer Book Guide to Christian Education. With editing manuscripts and writing educational program materials, that’s a lot of writing. So, I’ll probably pass on this as a resolution.

However, this afternoon I cleaned up my office. AKA moving around file folders, straightening up books-to-be-read stacks, and filing receipts and clips I’ve torn out of magazines for some future reference. I rediscovered a number of books that I’ve picked up on my travels. I’m a sucker for book stores at conferences. I’ve started a few, but got sidetracked with other reading material. And my Kindle often takes precedence if I’m traveling (or looking for mindless entertainment).

In looking back at 2011, I’ve read plenty of books. Lots are work-related (I wrote the study guide for several*, so I really did read these) and definitely have a theme to them.

  • Love Wins: A Book About Heaven and Hell by Rob Bell
  • Christian Formation 2020 by John Roberto
  • Formational Children’s Ministry by Ivy Beckwith
  • Child by Child: Supporting Children with Learning Differences and Their Families by Susan Richardson (as editor)
  • Conversations with Scripture: Daniel by Edmund Desueza and Judith Jones*
  • Conversations with Scripture: Judges by Roy Heller*
  • Tweet if you ♥Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation by Elizabeth Drescher
  • What Episcopalians Believe: An Introduction by Samuel Wells*
And some (fewer than I’d wish) were for pleasure:

So what’s on the list for 2012? Guess I should tackle that stack in my office:

Hmmmm . . . I sense a theme. Could 2012 be telling me something? What book would you recommend I add to my list?

Monks & Angels

I spent last week at Holy Cross Monastery, located in West Park, New York along the Hudson River. Part of the Order of the Holy Cross, the brothers are an Anglican Benedictine Community of Men whose primary work as a community is worship and prayer. The Monastery has a ministry to the community, offering hospitality and worship.

What brought me to Holy Cross was the annual Retreat with Adults Who Work With Youth, led by Jenifer C. Gamber, author of My Faith, My Life and musician Fran McEndree. Being able to reconnect with others whose passion is youth ministry was my primary goal, the second being some time away for personal reflection and rest. I received both. (You can also check out participant and photographer George Reiner’s blog for another perspective of the retreat and life at the monastery).

Outside of our plenary gatherings and group meditations, I spent my time in my little room (one might call it a ‘cell’) reading, writing, and yes, sleeping. I realized the rhythm of the day in a monastic community fit me well, and I grew more and more comfortable sitting in the chapel in silence, being summoned five times a day by the tolling of bells.

The day begins with Matins at 7:00am, followed by a silent breakfast. The Holy Eucharist is celebrated at 9:00am and the day then commences with whatever one might choose to do. At noon, we gathered again in the church for Diurnum (Midday Office) followed by lunch. The first part of the meal is eaten in silence, as one of the brothers reads a chapter from a book. While there I learned a little about how the Puritans (and others) determined whether the Sabbath was to be on Saturday or Sunday – a random piece of information. The work day closes with Vespers at 5:00pm. Compline is sung at 8:30pm in anticipation of God’s care through the night, followed by silence until we join together again at Matins in the morning.

Entering the “great silence” for about 12 hours brought new meaning to the opening sentences of Matins, which we also say in Morning Prayer at the Invitatory:

  • Officiant: Lord, Open our lips.
  • People: And our mouth shall proclaim your praise.

The services were all chanted, and we were invited to participate in singing (quietly), allowing the brothers to hear each other as they seek to sing with “one voice.” With candles and incense, one can really enter another dimension in time and space.

A treat was being at Holy Cross on the Feast Day of St. Michael & All Angels, September 21st. Brother Andrew’s sermon was particularly thought provoking:

Next year will be my fiftieth anniversary of ordination – fifty years of pastoring, praying and preaching.  And this is the first time I remember preaching about the angels!!!

That feels odd because Scripture is full of angels… from the Garden of Eden to the garden in Revelation.  Angels with Abraham, angels with Lot, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel.  Hosts of them at the Birth of Jesus.  They appear to kings, to the poor. They glorify God in heaven and tromp the earth.  They are fearful and beautiful.  Some are righteous and some are crooked. They bear good news and they mutiny and rebel.

How come I’ve never preached on them?  Well, we’ve become so rational and so intellectually elite that we scorn such quaint ideas.  Unless, of course, we’ve gone off the deep end and into that place where people see angels everywhere… guarding their cars, in the garden like gnomes and fairies, or hovering over babies.

We don’t become angels when we die; they don’t get their wings when a bell on a Christmas tree rings; Della Reese and John Travolta are not angels! Nor do we become angels when we die.  Cherubs were never babies.

We’ve given up the angels!  We have let them go to those we call superstitious or the naïve.  We have turned them into shadows of themselves and stolen their power.  The mystery and beauty have become suspect.

But Scripture shows us beings with power.  Maybe that’s why we don’t mention them. We don’t quite understand what they’re all about.  They’re messengers. They speak for God…and so we fear them.  Each instance of their appearing seems to be imbued with awe.  They don’t look different, but their power and presence means that they usually have to start their messages with “Do not be afraid.”  Fearful and wonderful!

I think most faiths have the equivalent of our angels – beings from the heart of the Divine power who testify and challenge and protect the created universe.

It’s sad that we ignore them and I miss them.  Especially now, I miss them.  Now when other powers are rampaging in rage and arrogance and blindness through the world.  

Michael, Archangel, we need you!  We need your righteous sword that will cast down injustice and war-mongering. Defy tyrants.  Stand in darkened rooms where children are raped and protect them. Raise your hand against wife beaters and bullies. Give power to the weak; strength to the afflicted.

Gabriel, Archangel, who stood before the Maiden and announced a Savior, speak again!  Speak of the One who comes to dark and empty places in the human soul. Call us back! Proclaim the freeing Word that gives hope to the hopeless and joy to the mourners. Announce the coming of the One who restores and makes new.

Raphael, Archangel, spread healing in famine ridden Africa and in Asia; and in our military hospitals, in half-way houses, and under the bridges where homeless people shelter. Fight for an end to endemic illnesses; bring nourishment to the people starving needlessly. Teach us to spend our resources on life not on death.

Uriel, Archangel, you stand in God’s Presence where there is only Light.  Shine Light in our darkness.  This world is subsumed by the darkness of greed in business, in government.  Light must shine on the needs of the poor; on prisoners and addicts.

Angels in all your hosts, strengthen our voices to glorify the Redeemer, to speak to and for the lonely and voiceless.  Guard our children, cradle the sorrowful.  Shine, for God’s sake shine!

Now maybe that’s too outlandish for belief.  Maybe I’m verging too far on superstition.

But I don’t care. If you don’t believe in the angels, then for Christ’s sake become one.  Become a healer, and a proclaimer; become a warrior against hunger and hopelessness and evil.  Be a Light Bearer in the darkness around us.

Do that for Love’s sake and, believe me, you will find yourself on the side of the Angels…you will be Messengers of God, bearers of good tidings, protectors and lovers of God and God’s people. And the angels will rejoice!

That’s probably good enough!

Amen.

In God we live and move and have our being . . .

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” Acts 17:24-28

It’s been two years since I spent 8 days disconnected to the world.  It was a time I was also most connected to the earth. No phone, no e-mail. No electricity or plumbing. Water. Rock. Sand. Open sky. I was an insignificant fleck in the midst of something too large to fathom.

Along with my husband and our two 20-something children, we were on an adventure of a lifetime. We were rafting down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.  Along with nine other adults and two guides, we embarked at Lee’s Ferry just over the border from southern Utah onto one of the Colorado’s tributaries. It looked like an ordinary river with some interesting cliffs springing out of the ground. After stopping under a shaded outcropping of rock for introductions and safety instructions, the water began to have a life of its own. From then on it was water, shale, limestone, sandstone, and more water. Colors and shadows changed with every turn. Silence, except for the water lapping onto the sides of the pontoons. Or the screams of all of us as we hung on for dear life going through a rapid, to come out at the bottom laughing and shivering from the frigid waters that drenched our skin.

August 9, 1869 – “The river turns sharply to the east and seems enclosed by a wall set with a million brilliant gems. On coming nearer we find fountains bursting from the rock high overhead, and the spray in the sunshine forms the gems, which bedeck the wall. The rocks are covered with mosses and ferns and many beautiful flowering plants.” Major John Wesley Powell from his exploratory expedition journal into “. . . the Great Unknown.”

Layer after layer we went back in time as we floated farther into the Canyon. The dark contorted rocks of the Inner Gorge are the ancient, highly metamorphosed remains of even older sedimentary and igneous rocks. How ancient? Detailed studies of radioactive elements reveal that the Canyon’s oldest rock, the Vishnu Schist, was metamorphosed some 1.7 billion years ago. I couldn’t help but think, “In the beginning, God created . . .”

The rhythm of the water and the lights of the heavens marked our days and nights. We were up at sunrise and usually in our sleeping bags soon after the light left the canyon. Meals were prepared wherever we found a flat place to “park” and set up camp. Lying on my back, with my glasses on, I fell asleep under the Milky Way with more stars than I had ever seen before; I was in a living planetarium.

Each morning we awoke to the sound of birds, sitting up in our bedrolls to discover the tiny tracks of the ringtail cats that had circled us while we slept on the sand. The early sunshine glowed red off the canyon walls; shades of orange on what had been pink the evening before. What would this day bring? What part of creation would we experience for the first time?

Although most of the Grand Canyon is dry and arid, it teems with life. Day hikes into side canyons gave us opportunities to discover tree frogs, sand verbena and evening primrose. Every crevice, every rock and every stream opened up God’s creation to us in new and unexpected ways. Tiny desert flowers and cacti of all varieties grew out of the rock. Small streams trickling down the side of cliffs would host moss and fern. Mule deer and Desert Bighorn Sheep were common sights, once hunted by the native peoples of the Canyon, the Hualapai. Today their descendants, the Havasupai Indians, try to live by the traditional concept of harmony with all life. They want to preserve the natural beauty of their homeland, believing themselves to be inseparable from the land. Could I live here forever?

A week later, the canyon walls began to lower, and we began our entrance into Lake Mead. On the last day of our voyage, civilization began to creep back . . . helicopter tours circling above us, catching a glimpse the ‘viewing bridge’ placed over a side portion of the canyon for tourists. The Canyon was behind us, but the dust remained in us – in our shoes, our clothes, under our skin. The dust of the earth of which we were created.

In Acts, Paul speaks to the Athenians about God as creator of all, and of the irrelevance of temples that cannot contain the divine reality. We had been in a temple made by God. All of creation is God’s temple. Paul harkens back to Genesis, and the creation of the world. Such is the Grand Canyon. Impossible to be made by human hands, but filled with life where many would say it could not exist. Ever changing, slowly through the millennia.

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We are just a small part of God’s immense, indescribable creation. The “Great Unknown” might be around the next corner or river bend, where we can see God working in us and around us and through us. Water. Rock. Sand. Sky. Such is the stuff of life. Such is the stuff of the Creator.

This, Too, Is Heaven

It’s snowing here again in Connecticut. We seem to have had a major storm every week for the past five (is it five?) weeks. Yesterday I went to fill the bird feeders, and had a hard time tramping in the snow that went past my knees. I fell over a couple of times. Of course, not having have boots on could have attributed to this. Later in the day, Shadow (our cat, who has found a nice perch at the window to watch the squirrels and birds close-up), flipped out. Not knowing what spooked her, we looked up to see a deer climbing the pile of snow at the window to feed. Guess we should get a salt lick.

Every day I get a meditation from Inward, Outward. Today’s was especially appropriate as I look out my office window with more white stuff coming down from the sky.

Henry David Thoreau‘s, “This, Too, Is Heaven

Every winter the liquid and trembling surface of the pond, which was so sensitive to every breath, and reflected every light and shadow, becomes solid to the depth of a foot or a foot and a half…and it is not to be distinguished from any level field. Like the marmots in the surrounding hills, it closes its eyelids and becomes dormant for three months or more.

Standing on the snow-covered plain, as if in a pasture amid the hills, I cut my way first through a foot of snow, and then a foot of ice, and open a window under my feet, where, kneeling to drink, I look down into the quiet parlor of the fishes, pervaded by a softened light as through a window of ground glass, with its bright sanded floor the same as in summer; there a perennial waveless serenity reigns as in the amber twilight sky, corresponding to the cool and even temperament of the inhabitants. Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.

Source: Walden


Telling YOUR Story

The Art of Spiritual Autobiography

As a former mentor for Education for Ministry (EfM), every fall I would introduce the concept of writing one’s spiritual autobiography for this adult formation seminar program. Sharing one’s spiritual autobiography builds a group faster than anything else. And it provides the individual the chance (some for the first time) to reflect on where God has (or has not) been throughout the stages of their life. It is a humbling experience to have another person share their spiritual autobiography with you. Even if they just share portions, it is an honor and a privilege to be entrusted with something so sacred.

Public Narrative is another project from Harvard University that has also gotten some traction in spiritual circles. It was used as a focal point at the 2009 Episcopal Church’s General Convention. Marshall Ganz, lecturer at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, explains, “Public narrative is woven from three elements: a story of why I have been called, a story of self; a story of why we have been called, a story of us; and a story of the urgent challenge on which we are called to act, a story of now. This articulation of the relationship of self, other, and action is also at the core of our moral traditions. As Rabbi Hillel, the 1st Century Jerusalem sage put it, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, what am I? If not now, when?””

Thomas Groome, Professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College, is another person who taps into the notion of “My Story, God’s Story, Our Story”. His shared Christian praxis, includes scripture and tradition as part of one’s educational foundation.

The Jesuits give an excellent definition of a spiritual autobiography: “A spiritual autobiography focuses less on the people, events and experiences of a person’s life and more on what these people, events and experiences meant for him and how they formed him or shaped the course of his life. It allows the writer to communicate who he is as a person and what is important in his life. Yet the process of crafting a spiritual autobiography demands that he communicate this to himself as well. It demands that the writer look within himself and that he ask himself the very questions he hopes to answer – Who am I? and What is important in my life? It demands that he look long and seriously at the people, events and experiences of his life, his struggles and conflicts, his strengths and weaknesses, and the decisions he has made. Yet it is in seeking to understand these seemingly disparate facets of his life that he gradually comes to understand them in all their interrelatedness. More importantly, it is there that he will often discover God in his life, not simply as his Creator and Redeemer, but as One who has been present and actively ‘at work’ in his life, inviting, directing, guiding and drawing him into the fullness of life.”

This year’s EfM focal point for creating one’s story is through a process called “Stepping Stones”. Jenifer C. Gamber, an on-line EfM mentor, has created a video explaining the metaphor to those who are discerning the moments of shift and journey in their lives.

There are a variety of ways of gathering one’s thoughts about your own history with God. You can develop a time-line, thinking about the historical events that occurred during your life and placing your thoughts, feelings, location and other personal events alongside it. Put together some photos – personal or magazine clippings that resonant with you for different phases of your life. Or following the model of Godly Play, create an Object Box containing mementos and artifacts which have had meaning to you throughout your life.

“Each person has a history because of his or her own experiences. But not until the person’s history is expressed does it have life. The telling generates the story, giving it form and meaning. Once expressed, a person’s history becomes concrete and actual. It becomes something that can speak to the self. You do not have one history but many.” (Common Lesson Year D of the EfM materials.)

Tell your story however it suits you. Allow your story to be part of God’s story. After all, you are part of God’s history and re-creation of the world each and every day.