Friday, September 18, 2020

A Willingness to Know our Infirmities: Praying about Ministry


The doorway into the Chapter House at
Southwell Cathedral,
where this litany was first used.


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


[Dr. George Ridding, first Bishop of Southwell, who composed this Litany for use at meetings of his clergy, was accustomed to introduce it with the following words:

"Seeing, brethren, that we are weak men but entrusted with a great office, and that we cannot but be liable to hinder the work entrusted to us by our infirmities of body, soul, and spirit, both those common to all men and those specially attaching to our office, let us pray God to save us and help us from the several weaknesses which beset us severally, that he will make us know what faults we have not known, that he will shew us the harm of what we have not cared to control, that he will give us strength and wisdom to do more perfectly the work to which our lives have been consecrated--for no less service than the honor of God and the edifying of his Church. I will ask you to let me first say the suffrage to each petition, and then all join in repeating it together; after which a short pause shall be made. 

Let us pray."]

O Lord, open our minds to see ourselves as Thou seest us, or even as others see us and we see others, and from all unwillingness to know our infirmities, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From moral weakness of spirit; from timidity; from hesitation; from fear of men and dread of responsibility, strengthen us with courage to speak the truth in love and self-control; and alike from the weakness of hasty violence and weakness of moral cowardice, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From weakness of judgment; from the indecision that can make no choice; from the irresolution that carries no choice into act; and from losing opportunities to serve Thee, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord. 

From infirmity of purpose; from want of earnest care and interest; from the sluggishness of indolence, and the slackness of indifference; and from all spiritual deadness of heart, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From dullness of conscience; from feeble sense of duty; from thoughtless disregard of consequences to others; from a low idea of the obligations of our Christian calling; and from all half-heartedness in our service for Thee, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From weariness in continuing struggles; from despondency in failure and disappointment; from overburdened sense of unworthiness; from morbid fancies of imaginary backslidings, raise us to a lively hope and trust in Thy presence and mercy, in the power of faith and prayer; and from all exaggerated fears and vexations, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From self-conceit, vanity and boasting; from delight in supposed success and superiority, raise us to the modesty and humility of true sense and taste and reality; and from all harms and hindrances of offensive manners and self-assertion, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From affectation and untruth, conscious or unconscious; from pretence and acting a part, which is hypocrisy; from impulsive self-adaptation to the moment in unreality to please persons or make circumstances easy, strengthen us to manly simplicity; and from all false appearances, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From love of flattery; from over-ready belief in praise; from dislike of criticism; from the comfort of self-deception in persuading ourselves that others think better than the truth of us, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From all love of display and sacrifice to popularity; from thought of ourselves in forgetfulness of Thee in our worship; hold our minds in spiritual reverence; and in all our words and works from all self-glorification,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From pride and self-will; from desire to have our own way in all things; from overweening love of our own ideas and blindness to the value of others; from resentment against opposition and contempt for the claims of others; enlarge the generosity of our hearts and enlighten the fairness of our judgments; and from all selfish arbitrariness of temper, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From all jealousy, whether of equals or superiors; from grudging others success; from impatience of submission and eagerness for authority; give us the spirit of brotherhood to share loyally with fellow-workers in all true proportions; and from all insubordination to law, order and authority, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From all hasty utterances of impatience; from the retort of irritation and the taunt of sarcasm; from all infirmity of temper in provoking or being provoked; from love of unkind gossip, and from all idle words that may do hurt, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

In all times of temptation to follow pleasure, to leave duty for amusement, to indulge in distraction and dissipation, in dishonesty and debt, to degrade our high calling and forget our Christian vows, and in all times of frailty in our flesh, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

In all times of ignorance and perplexity as to what is right and best to do, do Thou, O Lord, direct us with wisdom to judge aright, order our ways and overrule our circumstances as Thou canst in Thy good Providence; and in our mistakes and misunderstandings, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

In times of doubts and questionings, when our belief is perplexed by new learning, new thought, when our faith is strained by creeds, by doctrines, by mysteries beyond our understanding, give us the faithfulness of learners and the courage of believers in Thee; alike from stubborn rejection of new revelations, and from hasty assurance that we are wiser than our fathers, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From strife and partisanship and division among the brethren, from magnifying our certainties to condemn all differences from all arrogance in our dealings with all men, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

Give us knowledge of ourselves, our powers and weaknesses, our spirit, our sympathy, our imagination, our knowledge, our truth; teach us by the standard of Thy Word, by the judgments of others, by examinations of ourselves; give us earnest desire to strengthen ourselves continually by study, by diligence, by prayer and meditation; and from all fancies, delusions, and prejudices of habit, or temper, or society, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

Give us true knowledge of our brethren in their differences from us and in their likenesses to us, that we may deal with their real selves, not measuring their feelings by our own, but patiently considering their varied lives and thoughts and circumstances; and in all our relations to them, from false judgments of our own, from misplaced trust and distrust, from misplaced giving and refusing, from misplaced praise and rebuke, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

Chiefly, O Lord, we pray Thee, give us knowledge of Thee, to see Thee in all Thy works, always to feel Thy presence near, to hear and know Thy call. May Thy Spirit be our will, and in all our shortcomings and infirmities may we have sure faith in Thee, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

Finally, O Lord, we humbly beseech Thee, blot out our past transgressions, heal the evils of our past negligences and ignorances, make us amend our past mistakes and misunderstandings; uplift our hearts to new love, new energy and devotion, that we may be unburdened from the grief and shame of past faithlessness to go forth in Thy strength to persevere through success and failure, through good report and evil report, even to the end; and in all time of our tribulation, in all time of our prosperity, 

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

O Christ, hear us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

Our Father…

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all forever. Amen.

Merton on the Internet (?)

 


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

Looking to the Cross


"What Our Lord Saw from the Cross" by James Tissot

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

Faith under Fire


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.

 

In Christ,

 

Brandon+

 

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.


A Litany in Response to Natural Disaster
O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

O Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, One God
Have mercy upon us.

Remember not, Lord Christ, our offenses, neither reward us according to our sins. Spare us, good Lord, spare your people, whom you have redeemed by your cross and passion, and by your mercy preserve us forever.
Spare us, good Lord.

From all natural disasters, from hurricanes, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, blizzards and floods,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all disease and sickness, from famine and violence,
Good Lord, deliver us.

In all times of sorrow, in all times of joy; in the hour of death and at the day of judgment,
Good Lord, deliver us.

Hear our prayers, O Christ our God,
O Christ, hear us.

For the + repose of the souls of those who have died in this disaster, that your holy angels may welcome them into Paradise,
O Christ, hear us.

Console all who grieve: those whose loved ones have died, whose families are torn; whose homes have been destroyed, whose possessions have been ruined, who are now unemployed.
O Christ, hear us.

Heal those who suffer from injury and illness, emotional and spiritual distress. Give them hope and encouragement to meet the days ahead.
O Christ, hear us.

Give food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty.
O Christ, hear us.

Give rest to the weary and peace to the restless.
O Christ, hear us.

Give strength to the governments and emergency services of affected regions and all others in authority and leadership; grant them wisdom and power to act in accordance with your will.
O Christ, hear us.

Bless the clergy and people in areas of danger and destruction who strive to do your service in the midst of their own grief and pain. Give them fortitude to serve as you would serve.
O Christ, hear us.

Grant your people grace to witness to your word, to open their hearts in love, and to give generously from their abundance, that they may bring forth the fruits of your Spirit.
O Christ, hear us.

Forgive us Lord, for all negligence and hardheartedness, for an over-reliance on technology and a lack of preparedness that result in bitterness and strife, in injury and death.
O Christ, hear us.

In the midst of loss, grant us eyes that see, ears that hear and hands that work so that we may discern how you would have us respond.
O Christ, hear us.

We give you thanks, Lord God for all agencies and individuals who assist in relief efforts; continue in them the good work you have begun, through them your presence is made known.
We thank you O, Lord

V. You are our refuge and strength
R. Our very present help in trouble

V. In you Lord is our hope
R. And we shall never hope in vain

Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever.
(Eph. 3:20,21)

Let us pray.

O merciful Father, you have taught us in your holy Word that you do not willingly afflict or grieve your children: Look with pity upon the sorrows of your people, especially the people of East Marion County and all fire-afflicted places, for whom our prayers are offered. Remember them, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of your goodness, lift up your countenance upon them, and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.