I've been through quite a few elections now as a parish priest--both secular and ecclesiastical--and through them all, certain things stay constant. One is the tenderness following a vote. In our way of doing things, some must win and some must lose. Being on the losing side can be very painful, especially if we believe only that side possesses the truth. Another is the tendency for those who "won" to forget the Golden Rule and act with swagger and certitude.
My advice to all is to remember a verse from sacred scripture (Philippians 3:20, to be exact): But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
St. Paul's words here remind us that our deepest identity is found in our membership in Christ's body, and through this body, in God's Kingdom of Love. That citizenship is secure and enduring.
While we work to proclaim God's kingdom here, and labor to fulfill our commission as ministers of His mercy and justice, we must not allow ourselves--however gradually or imperceptibly--to substitute an earthly counterfeit for our heavenly citizenship. Our earthly citizenship is passing, frequently incomplete, and involves us in much sin and tumult; our heavenly citizenship is the source of our hope, our peace, and our triumph.
No matter which "side" we found ourselves on Election Day, our real allegiance should be to Christ, whose perfect will and peace is only imperfectly known in the things of human governance. As we go forward from this week, let us bear this in mind with regard to our neighbor and (especially) with regard to our fellow parishioners, together with whom we have won over the forces of death and division through Jesus Christ our Lord.
A Prayer for the Election
Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the completion of this election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Prayer for those who Influence Public Opinion
Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Wednesday, November 4, 2020
Saturday, September 26, 2020
Today we honor the life and witness of Bishop Lancelot Andrews (1555-1626). He was instrumental in the process by which the “King James” translation of the Bible took place (being responsible for translating much of the first five books himself), and was one of the greatest preachers and teachers of his age. His guide to prayer (Preces Privatae) remains one of the essential texts for understanding classical Anglican approaches to prayer, and his 96 Sermons represent, along with Hooker’s Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity, perhaps the summit of early Anglican thought.
It was the gift of a collection of Andrewes’ prayers to me at age sixteen which began my pilgrimage to Anglicanism, and (along with his sermons) has kept me limber and faithful since. He is one of the truly great lights in my life, a father among the saints to me.
Here is what one Russian Orthodox author wrote about Andrewes:
If Andrewes was indeed a man of his own time, which he wanted to make aware of the fact that the relationship of man to God is not an idea but an experience lived out in the Church, which itself is in the final analysis nothing other than the place where the Spirit blows and where one participates in the divine life, perhaps even because he was a man of his time and not an atemporal thinker, he joins those whom one calls the Father of the Church. Now they are called that because they knew how to communicate in their own time the sense of the experience of God, showing then to others who would come later what they had to do for their own time. Their paternity is in fact actively generative, and their sons and daughters are called, like Andrewes, to become living images of their Fathers, thus Fathers (and Mothers) in their turn: that is, people who transcend the limits of their own time.
From the conclusion to “Lancelot Andrewes the Preacher,”
by Nicholas Lossky, Andrew Louth, translator (1991)
May we be found to be fathers and mothers of the faith in our own day!
May we be found to be fathers and mothers of the faith in our own day!
The Collect for the Feast of Blessed Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop
Perfect in us, Almighty God, whatever is lacking of thy gifts: of faith, to increase it; of hope, to establish it; of love, to kindle it; that like thy servant Lancelot Andrewes we may live in the life of thy grace and glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Friday, September 18, 2020
Each quarter, the Church focuses especially on ministry--the way we serve Christ, the Church, and the world in the name of Christ. These periods of prayer and reflection are called the Embertides.
The word "minister" is derived from the concept of "less-ness," a.k.a "minus-ness." Authentic Christian leadership is remarkably like what the world calls "followership," in that it comes not from ego but from lovingkindness, service, and humility. Such leadership is not only open to self-examination but thirsts for it.
The set of prayers below is one of the best Anglican means for ordained persons to do this work, with its many probing questions for consideration. As its first petition makes clear, anyone entrusted with this work must be willing to see ourselves as God sees us, or even as we see others or they see us, and have a ready "willingness to know our infirmities." Such willingness is not motivated by fear or shame, but trust, hope, and a desire to grow in the knowledge and love of the Triune God.
Named after the ancient cathedral where it was first drafted and used, the Southwell Litany (formally known as a "Litany of Remembrance") is the work of a wise 19th century bishop and pastor. In spite of its sometimes quaint Victorian prose, it serves as an excellent tool for spiritual self-examination at each Embertide--and may be adapted for laypersons, as well. I commend it to you.
A Litany of Remembrance
Commonly called The Southwell Litany
Here is a section from Thomas Merton’s 1961 New Seeds of Contemplation. It originally dealt with the media and culture of that era, but I have made changes by putting it – I trust without too much violence to the author’s intent – into the current era’s language regarding gender and technology. I believe this chapter (12) to be one of the most useful in that excellent book.
As a pastor, I find an ever-increasing connection between how much / what type of internet use a person has and the state of the soul. This is shaping up to be one of the great spiritual issues of our era. Like you, I wrestle with this issue almost daily. The point that we keep wrestling.
You will never find interior solitude unless you make some conscious effort to deliver yourself form the desires and the cares and the attachments of an existence in time and in the world.
Do everything you can to avoid the noise and the business of society. Keep as far away as you can from the places where people gather to cheat and insult on another, to exploit one another, to laugh at one another, or to mock one another with their false gestures of friendship. Be glad if you can keep beyond the reach of their radios, videos, and websites. Do not bother with their unearthly songs, tweets, and memes. Do not read their advertisements.
The contemplative life certainly does not demand a self-righteous contempt for the habits and diversions of ordinary people. But nevertheless, no one who seeks liberation and light in solitude, no one who seeks spiritual freedom, can afford to yield passively to all the appeals of a society of salespeople, advertisers, and consumers. There is no doubt that life cannot be lived on a human level without certain legitimate pleasures. But to say that all the pleasures which offer themselves to us as necessities are now “legitimate” is quite another story. A natural pleasure is one thing; and unnatural pleasure, forced upon the satiated mind by the importunity of a salesperson is quite another.
It should be accepted as a most elementary human and moral truth that no one can live a fully sane and decent life unless able to say “no” on occasion to natural bodily appetites. No one who simply eats and drinks, whenever feeling like eating and drinking…who gratifies curiosity and sensuality whenever they are stimulated, can be considered a free person….You aren’t “sinning” but simply making an ass of yourself, deluding yourself that you are real when your compulsions have reduced you to a shadow of a genuine person.
In general, it can be said that no contemplative life is possible without ascetic self-discipline. One must learn to survive without the habit-forming luxuries which get such a hold on people today. I do not say that to a be a contemplative one has to go without alcohol or a computer, but certainly one must be able to use these things without being dominated by an uncontrolled need for them. There can be no doubt that surfing the internet and drinking are obvious areas for the elementary self-denial without which a life of prayer would be a pure illusion.
I am certainly no judge of the internet, since I have never used it. All I know is that there is a sufficiently general agreement, among people whose judgment I respect, that much of the internet is degraded, meretricious, and absurd. Certainly it would seem that it could become a kind of unnatural surrogate for contemplation: a completely inert subjection to vulgar images, a descent to a sub-natural passivity rathe than an ascent to a supremely active passivity in understanding and love. It would seem that the internet should be used with extreme care and discrimination by anyone who might hope to take interior life seriously.
Keep your eyes clean and your ears quiet and your mind serene. Breathe God’s air. Work, if you can, under His sky.
But if you have to live in a city and work among machines and ride in the subways and eat in a place where the radio makes you deaf with spurious news and where the food destroys your life and the sentiments of those arounds you poisons your heart with boredom, do not be impatient, but accept it as the love of God and as a seed of solitude planted in your soul. If you are appalled by these things, you will keep your appetite for the healing silence of recollection. But meanwhile—keep your sense of compassion for the people who have forgotten the very concept of solitude. You, at least, know that it exists, and that it is the source of peace and joy. You can still hope for such joy. They do not even hope for it any more.
Monday, September 14, 2020
The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. (Numbers 21:7-9)
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3:14)
Holy Cross Day is, along with Good Friday, one of the two great occasions in the Church year when we focus on the cross. The character of Holy Cross Day is distinguished from Good Friday by its sense of triumph and joy. It also has a practical quality: it asks the question “where do I look for salvation?” in matters great and small.
The scripture readings from Morning Prayer today point out the cross’s significance to believers by recalling the connection Jesus drew between himself and the story, recorded in the Old Testament book of Numbers, of the brazen serpent God instructed Moses to make when the people were dying from snakebite. This image of death, when raised up on a pole, would provide an antidote--if they would but cast their eyes upon it.
During their nighttime conference, our Lord reminded Nicodemus of this old and mysterious story. Jesus connected the serpent on a pole to his own impending crucifixion (“lifting up”), and forecast the reality for all who would follow him: We must look to the crucified Christ for salvation, for triumph over sin, death, and the power of darkness. This is the only path to eternal life. All others are false and point only to death.
Right now, as always, the world disagrees with this message. It says we must look not to the cross but to our screens for salvation. It demands focus on hatred, division, and bitterness rather than on God’s love in Christ. The world’s love of arrogance and violence is exalted in each news cycle, while for Christian disciples it is the humility and peace of Christ which sets the standard for our behavior. This shows in interesting, often small ways.
In recent years, with the advent of social media, it has become common for people to put down entire swathes of humans as “sheeple.” This portmanteau word made from sheep and people is never meant as a compliment. It is always a verbal sneer, usually written by folks who might be called “professional sneerers” – the sort of people who mocked Christ at the foot of the cross. I find it interesting when people who call themselves Christians employ this term: Christ himself was called the Lamb of God, and we are to be his sheep. For us, being a sheep is actually a compliment: we are one of the Lord’s flock, and we look to the Good Shepherd for life, guidance, and peace. It is that "looking" we are thinking about today.
To look at Christ upon the cross means not to look down, but up—up from the earth and its ceaseless round of demeaning and demonizing others—to focus on the One who loves all people as they are, without precondition. This is eternal life. Do we get this from looking at our phone or our computer? Are our comments, postings, and positions worthy of the Lord? Are we becoming more like Christ, or more like the mockers at his crucifixion?
This motion—of looking up to Christ and seeing in him the source of love needed for us to serve, care for, and honor (not judge or demean) our neighbor—is the motion of true Christian humility for the “sheeple” God loves and for whom Christ died. Once we learn this movement, we will question our own smug self-assurance, and will become revolted by the toxic, embittered words and actions we may formerly have engaged in, let pass, or shamefully enjoyed.
Holy Cross Day is a good time to see just where I am looking for salvation: to ideology, or perhaps to some unassailable position from which I may look down on others? If I look to anything other than Christ lifted up on the cross, I am simply an idolater, “and the truth is not in me.” But, if I turn to Christ in humble repentance and love, I am being healed from the serpent’s bite, and can journey on in God’s love and strength, so that I may see Christ in my neighbor and do the reconciling work of the Gospel in justice, truth, and mercy.
The Collect for the Feast of the Holy Cross
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Wednesday, September 9, 2020
Surely one does not turn against the needy,when in disaster they cry for help. Did I not weep for those whose day was hard? Was not my soul grieved for the poor? I go about in sunless gloom; I stand up in the assembly and cry for help…My lyre is turned to mourning, and my pipe to the voice of those who weep. (From Job, Chapter 30)
Beloved in the Lord:
We are all passing through a time of trials, the latest being the destructive fires spreading across our state, and especially in our own county. The reading from the Book of Job this morning spoke to the sense of loss and anxiety surrounding us right now—who will ever forget the “sunless gloom” of these last few days? Holy Scripture teaches us to make an offering of our heart to God, including our anxiety and sorrows. It also teaches us to reach out in compassion and care for those in need even as we sorrow, and I commend the practice of donation to local relief agencies, as well as in-kind gifts and the simple act of making a phone call or offering to help a neighbor while we pray for the end of these fires and for rain to return to our area.
Today’s reading from Acts, chapter 14, provides another way of being faithful and encouraged during these hard times. After St. Paul and his companions survived many trials on their mission (including being left for dead after a stoning), they returned to Antioch, relating their experience to the church there. In utter frankness, St. Luke remarks: “There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, ‘It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.’” We need to hear this.
Following Jesus includes moments of great joy and comfort, but it also includes seasons of great trial with moment-by-moment reliance on God. Our daily recommitment to the Lord is not a quaint custom: it is a vital renewal in the sources of our faith and our ability to live and share the Gospel in hope. These are exceptional, yet not unexpected, days—as it is written: “it is through many persecutions [and struggles] that we must enter the kingdom of God.” The manna we receive through prayer, scripture, and staying in contact with each other is essential, perhaps now more than ever. Like St. Paul, we will eventually arrive back home from our difficult journey, and what a story we will have to tell! We look forward to that day, even as we journey through this smoky, difficult season. Keep the faith, and lean on God and each other, reaching out in loving service and constant prayer.
A Prayer for Rain:
O God, heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to all those who seek thy kingdom and its righteousness all things necessary to sustain their life: Send us, we entreat thee, in this time of need, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth, to our comfort and to thy honor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Friday, August 21, 2020
This is what you are to do:
Lift your heart up to the Lord
with a gentle stirring of love,
desiring him for own sake,
and not for his gifts.
The above words, from the anonymous 14th century English text called The Cloud of Unknowing, are perhaps the best and simplest description of what is often called contemplative prayer. In this one sentence is found the essence of this practice, and if one were to follow its guidance, no further words would be needed.
Few people seem capable of this simplicity. So, reluctantly, more words follow.
Contemplative prayer is as ancient as humanity itself. “To gaze in wonder on inaccessible things,” as St. Isaac of Nineveh puts it, is perhaps the simplest act of an infant, and marks the mature Christian life as well. Be it the wonder evoked by the creation or the utter silence of wordless communion with God, contemplative prayer is the form of love beneath all others, and to share in it is to receive communion with God into the heart, going to the edge of prayer, gazing on those "things unspeakable" to which St. Paul alludes in 2 Corinthians 2:4.
The path to contemplation is a path from complexity to simplicity. This sounds easy enough: discard more and more of one’s activity, and presto! Contemplation happens!
The path to contemplation, to the free acceptance of what is always offered by God, generally requires a journey from the complexity of a confused life and will to one more in harmony with God’s revealed will for us.
That journey often proceeds through the classical disciplines of repentance, prayer, study, ascesis, and ultimately, healing—not so that we might be “worthy” or “skilled,” but that we might be open, willing, and interested in the contemplative encounter.
We are speaking here of the “still, small voice” Elijah heard, as described in 1 Kings 19:11-12, a voice so quiet it will always be passed over until we are able to hear it. The journey Elijah made to Horeb to hear that voice, a journey made in urgency and risk yet marked by God’s abiding care, is a good way to think about our path to contemplation.
The contemplative journey often begins with a searing need to stop the pain or anxiety. The “still, small voice” at this stage is unheard, but our need for it is so profound that our body as well as our mind and spirit calls out for it. The first step may be simply to say: “There has to be more to life and faith than this!” The second step is to flee into the wilderness.
So, let's take that journey together in the coming weeks.
Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Beloved in the Lord:
I write to you from the coolness of my home’s basement on a warm day, thinking about the coming weeks. August is typically a rather quiet month…yet, this year has been anything but typical! Amid all our concerns, what does this month teach us about how to be faithful?
The major Holy Days in August are the Transfiguration of our Lord (8/6), St. Mary’s Day (8/15), and St. Bartholomew’s Day (8/24). Each of these tells us something about our faith and how to practice it.
The Transfiguration celebrates Christ’s light-filled presence on the Holy Mountain as recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The story connects Christ’s divinity—made manifest in this mysterious encounter—with his mission to bring humanity out of the darkness of sin and strife into the light of God’s presence. It bids us ask the question: Whose “light” do I shine into the world? Is it Christ Jesus and the Gospel light of love, or is it something quite different, the “light of this world,” with all of its limitations and ulterior motives? One leads to the Kingdom of God; the other leads to division, hatred, and death. This is a question to be asked at each day’s start.
St. Mary’s Day celebrates the traditional date of the Blessed Virgin’s “falling asleep” or death (early Christians, with their deep awareness of death’s irrelevance after being reborn in Christ, often referred to it as more like falling asleep than anything else). Each year on this day, we hear again the words of Mary’s Song (from Luke, chapter 1:46-55)—words which challenge all complacency or easy deal-making with the powers of this world (or any ideology, for that matter). It will be a good day to ask if we are, like St. Mary, “God-bearers” into the world, or more like “place-fillers.” There’s a big difference, and the Gospel has no need for the latter. When we say Mary’s Song at Evening Prayer each day, we may think about this.
St. Bartholomew is one of those apostles about whom scripture tells us nothing much beside his name. Even that is a bit sketchy in his case, as St. John never mentions "Bartholomew" in his Gospel account, speaking of “Nathaniel” instead (the Church has always treated these two names as referring to the same person, based on then-contemporary naming practices). In any case, his feast day reminds us we don’t have to be world-famous or even known to others in order to be counted as pivotal to the story of salvation. Indeed, some of the greatest and most holy people probably never know they have been anything other than “just trying” to be faithful. What is important is that we are sent by Christ, bearing and practicing his message. This is a good day to recommit to a simple life of basic holiness, not getting caught up in all the debates and details.
Three holy days, three touch-points with authentic, revolutionary, and very “homely” Christianity. By God’s grace, let’s observe these feasts on their appointed dates—and live their teaching each day.