Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Happy Christmas and a Joyous 2016

May the joys of the season sustain you this season and always!

So I wrote this long sentimental letter about why I am thankful for Jesus.  I do really mean it but it seemed a little much to write to the people I love.  So I decided to post it here, and give people a link if they were courageous.

Happy Christmas and a Joyous New Year!

It is with a little hesitation that I share this with you because it can seem cliche, or fake, or tired, but it is nonetheless becoming more clear to me the older I get. The most important thing that ever happend to me was the birth of Christ.  I was introduced to him before I could talk, and I have hung out with his devotees all my life, yet it is only as I grow in age, and I hope wisdom, that I begin to truly suspect the grace I have been given..  

Jesus seems to have also been introduced to faith from before he could talk.  His mother was as much the people of Israel, and Moses, as it was our dear lady, Mary.  They nurtured and cradled him and were the shoulders he stood upon, and so to love him is to love his family.  So to her, and to the Jewish people and faith I owe immense love and respect. May I be a devoted friend.  

Jesus himself loved people. The gospels say he had a special place in his heart for the outcast, the neglected, the unloved, the poor, the sick and the lost.  He also loved, though he also seems to have had little patience with, those who felt better or more important than others.  He loved his rag tag band of disciples and trusted them with his mission, and that proves that he has great faith in humanity even if humanity does not always return the favor.  Trusting his disciples seems like a really bad plan to me, especially given what I know of them from the gospels. Nonetheless, though it was a very bad plan, it does seem more or less to have worked. They have kept the word and mission more or less going, and I am thankful to the holy Apostles and all the Saints, because without them I would not have known Jesus..

I have far less faith in myself than Jesus seems to have in me.  St. John writes of Jesus that the light shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overwhelm it.  I will admit that my head stays buried in darkness far more than it should, even though if I will only open the eyes of my heart his light will shine bright.  I bring him less devotion than he deserves.  I follow his ways with far less attention than I should.  I frequently find I put other things before him, yet, when I realize my need for him, I sometimes come to my senses, and remember again that I have no greater treasure in life than his love.  

So I feel a bit vulnerable writing this to you, but if I did not I would be holding back on you, and you deserve my best.  Perhaps you do not share this sentiment or faith with me, and that is okay.  I trust that God is working in your life, and I trust you to follow the call you hear in your heart in the way you deem best. I do, however, ask you the favor of sharing my joy with me on this great feast, if for no other reason than the friendship we share.  Isaiah wrote many years ago the words made famous by chant and music:"Unto us a son is given, unto us a child is born ... and his name shall be Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace, the Everlasting Father"  I celebrate this Christmas the birth of him who is my friend, my lover, my savior, my lord.. 

Happy Birthday, Jesus.  Happy Christmas, Everyone.  May God bless us each and every one,  May our hearts and lives shine bright with the light.


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Is St. Gregory Watching Us?

"It often happens in the Church that some leaders, forgetting that they have been given oversight of their brothers and sisters for the sake of their souls, end up devoting the energies of their heart to secular causes. ... The reality of their situation is that they have found significance in being weighed down by external duties, and fidn it impossible to stop working.  They rejoice in being weighted down by many heavy demands of the world, but neglect their inner life which ought to be the well from which they teach others.  As a direct consequence of this, it is inevitable that the life of their people will languish." -- St. Gregory the Great from Pastoral Care

I have one comment to make.  Busted.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Asking Directions

We have learned that allowing students to explore concepts on their own is an effective teaching method because it draws them to the subject with greater interest.  And we acknowledge that the "School of Hard Knocks" imparts much highly useful knowledge.  But if we overemphasize the importance of personal experience we risk neglecting one of the primary benefits of the spiritual life: wisdom through humility.

Joan Chittister, commenting on Benedict's eighth degree of humility begins by quoting a Jewish proverb: "'It is better to ask the way ten times than to take the wrong direction once.'"  She continues, "The eighth degree of humility asks us to stay in the stream of life, to learn from what has been learned before us, to value the truths taught by others, to seek out wisdom and enshrine it in our hearts.  The eighth degree of humility tells us to attach ourselves to teachers so that we do not make the mistake of becoming our own blind guides."

This lesson is hard to learn today for two reasons.  First, we have the only too vivid experience of people who claimed to be our teachers, but who truly wanted to control us to suit their own purposes, and our culture has come to suspect religious institutions in general as particularly guilty of that fault.  The second hardship is that we hear such different guidance from many multiple sources: whom do we trust?  I hear many religious leaders who spout things unwise and unhelpful.  Sometimes the same teacher says some things very helpful, and others quite suspect.

We do not have to blindly accept the teaching of others.  We should attempt to discover whom we can trust, measuring what we are taught by what we have learned in prayer and humility.  We will make mistakes often, trusting some much when we should not, and trusting others little when they can truly help us.

However, if we wish to follow the spiritual path of humble pursuit of wisdom, we must learn to ask directions so that we become lost less often.  Wisdom can sometimes teach us well with our getting knocked hard.  My fear is that our modern culture does not encourage being humble students as much as it should, making this a skill we must deliberately choose if we are to grow in it.  To be a humble student is in a way counter-cultural because in it we admit our need when our culture wants us to be self reliant. Our culture understands knowledge, things which no reasonable people can disagree about, but our culture has much less grasp on wisdom, choosing a wise path when knowledge is imperfect.

I am small and often afraid.  Life overwhelms me with some frequency.  I find it hard to keep faith, to go forward taking holy risks because I can feel helpless, often disappointed or bruised by the way I have taken.  Experience teaches me that I need teachers.  Choosing teachers is surely a risk in itself, but one we take in order to find a way to even greater peace, joy and service of others.  For me, even though there is also much to be avoided, there is also a vast treasury of wise teaching among those who have chosen to follow Jesus and his Apostles over the last 2000 years.  O Lord, teach me to hear the teachers you send me and to ask directions often.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Soul Stretching So We May Be Filled

Long have I been aware of what I call the curse of being "pretty-much-okay".  I realize that when our lives are doing pretty much okay we are less aware of our deepest needs, and we are more likely to be self-satisfied to the point that we fail to see the hurt and need of the very people around us, the people who sleep on my doorstep for instance.  I think of the Jack Nicholson character in the movie, "As Good as it Gets".  He is deeply aware of his suffering and need, and when two acquaintances of his tell him everyone suffers he replies, "That is not true.  Some people have a good life.  For some people they have what they need.  For some people life is noodle salad.  For some people they don't know much suffering."  [Okay I don't remember the actual words but I feel I do justice to the sentiment.]  I think he is talking about people doing "pretty-much-okay".

Charles Simeon whom the Episcopal Church commemorates today wrote, "There is a kind of religion which is held in esteem by mankind at large.  An outward reverence for the ordinances of religion, together with habits of temperance, justice, chastity, and benevolence, constitute what the world considers a perfect character."  He goes on to say this pretty much describes St. Paul before he met Christ on the road to Emmaus.  Paul came to realize that he needed Christ.  He needed a savior.  There was sin in his life,  he needed the love of Jesus, he needed to attach himself to the mission of Jesus.  St. Paul came to realize that he could not attain the beauty God could envision for him on his own.  When we are pretty-much-okay, like St. Paul was, we are settling for far less than what God has in store for us.

St. Augustine tells us we need God because we are unable to imagine or describe God, and God chooses to give nothing short of Godself to us.  St. Augustine says we can desire that which we cannot describe.  And in that process of longing God expands our hearts more and more so that we can contain the blessing that God chooses to give.  If we hoard other things in our heart, money, sex, popularity, family, feelings of competence or feelings of incompetence in denial of our God given gifts, if we hoard these things in our hearts we do not have room for the better things God wishes to put there.

There are many in life who find it hard.  I'll be honest, I am one of those.  The blesssing in that is that in my struggles I come across my need for God, and I ask for the grace of God to open me to his workings in my life.  And since to be open to God cannot be an infatuation with my own health, at the same time I pray for those who have either in their struggles not turned to God yet, or for those who have fallen under the curse of being pretty much okay.  I feel certain that the lover of our souls will be busy at work until he meets their eyes in mutual affection.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Never be Satisfied!

I am in mid-life crisis.  I know this because I am intently aware of my dissatisfaction with what I have accomplished and who I have become.  Imagine my delight to hear the words of a wise teacher who tells me never to be satisfied!

St. Columbanus tells us  "...that is lovely to excess which is ever eaten and drunk, and ever hungered and thirsted after, ever tasted and ever desired, wherefore the prophet-king [David] says, 'Taste and see how lovely, how pleasant is the Lord.'"

God does not desire to satisfy us.  His desire is to feed us over and over again in loving relationship. The more we taste of God's goodness the more we desire, and this is God's joy and ours.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A More Glorious Day

Yet lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day! The Saints triumphant rise in bright array!

Last night in our spiritual growth group we wrestled over what it means to repent, and what it means to live a "perfect" life.  So lo and behold I came across a reading this morning that commented upon our discussion, and reflected some of our thinking.

"There must be both ethics and doctrine in every gospel we present to the world.  But the moment ethics predominates over doctrine,  the moment, that is, that the thought of man ousts the thought of God from the place of primary honor the whole purpose of a gospel is undone, whether the gospel be Christian or any other.  Ethics, the teaching about man and the conduct proper to him, centers a person's thoughts upon himself; and the end of self-centerlines* is unethical and unevangelical alike.  It is bound to result as St Paul so clearly showed either in spiritual pride or in spiritual despair; and by neither of these roads can we find our true destiny.  The path of purity, humility, and self-sacrifice is only possible to those who can forget themselves, can disinfect themselves from egoism; where the mind is centered not upon self, but at least upon one's fellows and their needs, and at most and at best upon God, and our neighbors as seen through the eyes of God."  from The Vision of God by Kenneth Kirk and included by Atwell and Webber in their volume of readings Celebrating the Saints.

* he speaks about self-centerlines and God-centerlines.

No Looking Back

I have played with the idea of gathering ideas in a place to share many times before.  Mainly I have
been too timid to actually say what I think.  I lack confidence.  Even when people around me see me as very self assured ... make no mistake.  That is fake.  I distrust my instincts.  I distrust my judgment.  I live with a lot of fear.  But nothing good happens without risk taking.  There comes a point when one must dare to try, put oneself out there, attempt to be humble, but also be willing to be open and real.  So here goes after many tries.  May God bless risk-taking, and may the one or two people who actually make it here actually find a blessing.
By the way, the pictures on this blog are just to add color.  Only occasionally will the pic actually have anything to do with the post!