Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Practical Resources for Lenten Practices

  • #livinglent "is designed to be a simple and scaleable reflection that anyone, including groups, can participate in. All that is necessary is a camera, smartphone or other device to take a picture or short video with, and people to help recreate the scene."
  • An ecumenical carbon fast. The Catholic site has the best calendar overview for the whole season of Lent; the Anglican/Episcopal site has the best daily prayer, via blog. It's the same project.
  • The Mission of St. Clare. The Daily Office - Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, Compline - has never been so accessible.
  • Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals. Another wonderful resource for those exploring rhythms of daily prayer; Common Prayer features a strong social justice and education component.
  • Podcasts from TaizĂ©. Featuring a small collection of 10 minute devotionals as well as a weekly recording of the hourlong Saturday night prayers at TaizĂ©.
  • Silence
  • The Exhortation. For a couple of Lents now, it's been my practice to choose a small portion of the Book of Common Prayer to read at the same time each day. Last year, I chose the 5 questions of the baptismal liturgy concerning daily life and practice. This year, I will be reading the Exhortation, with its emphasis on discerning the Body and living toward reconciliation with my sisters and brothers in Christ. 
What's on your list? Share your own practical resources for Lenten practices in the comments below! 

Peace to you as we begin this Lenten journey.

JRM+

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Monstrance & the Dark
(The Nightmare that Shook Me Awake)


This past Friday morning - in early pre-dawn hours - I had a couple of old-fashioned, shake-you-awake, bedlam-and-terror nightmares. I woke up, both times, in the typical way: utterly disoriented, sweating, panting, having had what I thought was the best of my courage completely exposed, flailing my arms out to each side, grasping for something - anything - that/who might comfort or console or understand. I hadn't had dreams like these in years.

Both dreams involved the church.

Looking back, it's not that strange, I guess, that both nightmares involved the church: since becoming a priest, "church" had always held a shadow side of fear for me, one that regularly touches the realms of dreams. At the start, it was the embarrassingly predictable and recurring dream that plagued me for my ministry's first few early years; the dream in which the procession begins and I, the preacher, continue to rationalize the time I have left for sermon preparation, until I am there, at the pulpit, and time has run out. Now, very often, I preach without notes, which helps me laugh more at myself and those early dreams.

Of course, it is not a surprise to me that laughter, even at nightmares, comes easily, after the fact. Most of the time, the dread that seizes the dreamer is only tangentially connected to the details of the dream. So I don't expect you to find my Friday morning nightmares frightening.

Even so, I do want to share one of them with you.

____


I was there, in a church. Not sure which one. Familiar, but strange. I was under the strong impression I was presiding, but also that I did not know for sure. There were a bunch of us. Clergy and acolytes. An elevated altar, a good-sized congregation, strong light flooding the windows into the nave,  beautifully brightening the colors of the gathered assembly, as well as that of the space. No stained glass needed. Smoke, some incense. A crowded bottleneck caused by liturgical furniture at the base of the stairs leading up to the altar, where most of the clergy and others in vestments were gathered.

At the appropriate time, I went down the stairs, let by the acolytes, to read from the Gospel. I remember being frustrated by the bottleneck. Each of us was in the other's way, it seemed, no matter which way we turned. While it looked like a mess, it was how excruciatingly long the mess made the procession that bothered me most. I blamed myself and went up to the altar, after the reading, with a renewed sense of focus and resolve toward the Eucharist. Didn't matter. Minutes later, the bottleneck was still not alleviated, even by the absence of any liturgical activity in the space. It was nobody's fault. Or everybody's fault. Perpetual chaos.

Later, I stepped out to the sacristy, I think, for some water. It was crowded there, too. Clergy and acolytes. Altar guild. Back and forth from the sanctuary. Changing vestments. Checking mirrors. Rehanging frontals. Replacing flowers. In the middle of the service.

It was at this point that I felt my panic start. I was trapped in the sacristy.

Some minutes later, the traffic eased, and I had a clear path back to the sanctuary. But by then, I was starting to despair that the service was really headed anywhere. Before I took the clear path back into the church, I looked to my friend and colleague, Gary, and confessed my suspicion that this was a dream. "And if it's a dream," I said, "my subconscious will have discovered that more than anything else I want to share the Eucharist. Having discovered this - if it's a dream - my subconscious will, of course, never allow the Eucharist to be celebrated. Quick: hit me twice in the face, so that I can be glad that this is not a dream and that the patience I'm being asked to show is the ordinary patience of human process and not that of a tortured dream." Gary was all too happy to oblige, and I smiled a relief, soon lifted, as I woke up from the dream.

That was it. All of us, gathered for a Eucharist that would never be celebrated. Because, on some level, we didn't want to celebrate it. Or we wanted the other stuff more. Or we thought the other stuff was what made the Eucharist possible. Like we'd forgotten how it worked. Too damn distracted or detailed or whatever else to discern the Body of Christ in our midst.

Or maybe we weren't too distracted at all, but I was only impatient. Another possibility, I thought. That Eucharist, though, was never going to happen.

I freaked.
____


All good bad dreams have their daytime inspirations. Like late night bad pizza. Looking back, mine was, I think, the morning prayer I attended the previous day at the Catholic student center. I joined the student community for fifteen minutes of an hour long time of mental prayer in front of the blessed sacrament before participating in morning prayer, the solemn exposition, and benediction. It was a time of both holy patience and discernment of the Body. If was a quiet time in fierce contrast to the bustle of the dream.

Later, at coffee with a friend who is also an intern for the Catholic community, we asked each other about the gifts we see in the other's tradition. He mentioned the prayer book and hymns. The Episcopal heart for social justice and action. C.S. Lewis!

I mentioned the silence. The deep grounding in prayer. The theology that comes from the prayer.

The naming of gifts in the other's tradition was a personal expression of a corporate intention toward reconciliation and friendship: my friend and I are inviting our communities to join in each other's times of prayer throughout the season of Lent. "Of course you all can come to morning prayer," my friend said. "Maybe on the other days, though. We only do the solemn exposition on Thursdays. I wonder if your community wouldn't find that too strange."

"Huh," I said. "Maybe. I hadn't thought about that."

My friend's concern was that it would seem like idolatry, "if you don't believe the bread has been changed, I mean," he said.

We talked eucharistic theology for a bit, before circling back.

"It's not the monstrance that would make it idolatry," I said. "(And I don't think your exposition is idolatry.) For Episcopalians, idolatry would be to discern the presence of God in the sacrament and not find in that encounter the resources and imperative to discern and serve Christ in our sister and brother, our neighbor. For us, that's a primary work of our baptism: to seek and serve Christ in all persons. Time spent in front of the Eucharist is time learning to discern the presence of Christ. Before the eucharistic elements, I am reminded that nothing else in this life is more important than the presence of God before me. I can rest in God's 'enough.' The patience we learn there becomes patience out here - a conviction I heard this morning in your tradition's morning prayer."

We went on to talk about Sam Wells and the instincts and imagination with which the liturgy gifts and equips God's people for faithful improvisation as a part of God's story in and for and alongside the world. And, remembering my friend's equal appreciation for and amusement at C.S. Lewis' popularity among Catholics, I shared Lewis' observation from The Weight of Glory that
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If [that person] is your Christian neighbor [she/he] is holy in almost the same way, for in [her/him] also Christ vere Latitat [Latin, “truly hides”]—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.
____


Just today, it struck me how squarely that conversation with my Catholic friend intersected the St. Francis House community's ongoing exploration of the relationship between prayer and love and action, the focus of our Wednesday night conversations this semester. Unsurprisingly, our community has borrowed from our Catholic sisters and brothers along the way, looking closely at the life and witness of Dorothy Day and also at the heritage we share through the desert mothers and fathers of the early church. I am glad for the nearness of a tradition that can at the same time name the gifts of my own and put flesh and blood on practices from which my tradition can continue to learn.

If does not surprise me when Catholics and Episcopalians end up needing each other to discern the Body in our respective midsts. Indeed, I would be surprised if the discernment can be rightly done with only the Catholics and Episcopalians present. After all, in the other - says Lewis - Christ is.

As my nightmare laid bare but did not explain, to live - to abide - where Christ is requires attention and work. But mostly, it requires remembering that Christ is there to be discerned. God, give us the patience and impatience and whatever else we may need - the holy desire - to prioritize the good work of discerning the Body - on the altar and in each other.

And God, thank you for holy friends and the love that casts out fear.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Rock in My Pocket
(Stuck with a Church Built on Peter)


"What's in your wallet?" Samuel L. Jackson asks.

Thanks for asking, Samuel L., but I won't tell. Not here.

I will tell you what I keep next to my wallet - that is, in my pocket - in addition to the lifelines that are my iPhone and Case pocket knife.

A rock.

The rock in my pocket used to rest in the water. I picked it out from the shoreline of the only public access point around the Sea of Galilee, in the town of Tabgha, Israel. As it happens, this access point is also home to a church: the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter.

I am sure it is strange for an Anglican/Episcopalian to value a rock from the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, such that he considers the rock - a large pebble, really - as fundamental to his daily rhythm as his iPhone, with its attendant and essential access to Facebook and Instagram. Stranger still: that I so value this rock, even as a non-Catholic, has everything to do with the teachings of a pope! - a pope who, like most of the popes before him (and presumably many of the ones after him) cites the primacy of Peter as the underpinnings of the papal office, the See of St. Peter, which, of course, is a sore spot for Protestants - even theologically complicated Protestants like the ones you find in the Anglican/Episcopal church - like me.

So I will explain.

To begin, we should acknowledge that the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter could easily have been named something else. For example, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was once called the Church of the Resurrection, which I very much prefer. Similarly, the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter might well have been called the Church of Peter's Reinstatement, the Church of Forgiveness, or (even) the Church of an Unexpected Fish Breakfast on the Beach.

Any of these names would have fairly accounted for why there's a church at this particular spot along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The church is the spot, says the tradition, where Jesus finds and engages his first disciples - his friends - while they are fishing, post-resurrection. On that early morning, Jesus eats fish with the disciples around a charcoal fire (Jn 21). Later, Jesus has a one on one with Peter, "reinstating" (say all the bold Bible headlines) the one who was last seen denying his Savior in the hour of Jesus' trial. Of course, Peter had had his better moments - Peter is the same one on whom Jesus had earlier promised to build his church (Mt 16)! Thus the necessity for - and significance of - this moment of reinstatement. Primacy it is.

Cue the Reformation, and this is where things get fun.

Or sad.

Everybody wants to be first - or "most right," or "closest to God," or "God's favorite"- but none of us is very good at remembering for long what, in God's Kingdom, it means to be first, or closest, or God's favorite.

In Called to Communion, written by then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI writes at length about the primacy of St. Peter in a way I immediately recognized, when I read it, as compelling and true. He says that Peter's being made the head of the church is the risen Christ's way of communicating that the foundation of the church is forgiveness. Not just offered. Received. To be church is always to know one's need of forgiveness; is to live and move and be with others out of an awareness of the forgiveness we've, in Christ, received.

We can only give what we have. What we have is forgiveness and our need of it.

If it had been James or John, it might have been different. One might have wondered, "What special quality of leadership did each or either of them, uniquely, bring to the table?" If had been Matthias, much later, a necessary distance from the first motley crew might have been inferred. Sure, there from the beginning, but not close enough to have failed as spectacularly as the starting lineup.

Instead, it's Peter. The first. And the winner is forgiveness. As Jean Vanier writes - echoing Bonhoeffer, and countless saints before him - each of us comes to the community of faith with our ambitions, agendas, dreams, and goals. And every ambition, agenda, dream, and goal fails us - kills us - until it dies, and we realize that the only real purpose living in community is to forgive the other seventy-times-seven, and to be forgiven at least as much. Moreover, the risen Christ is not simply the possibility of such a community; he is the necessary center. Because Peter is the head of the church.

That the church is built on forgiveness has not made me Catholic; but it has given me Catholic friends. And more-than-me liberal friends. And Big E Evangelical friends. And Lutheran friends. And more-than-I-can-count Methodist friends. Muslim friends. Doubting/doubtful friends. Truthful friendships, all. Because, with forgiveness, and like our first parents, I am learning I do not need to hide.

So I carry this rock in my pocket. Because Peter is the rock, and Peter names forgiveness and my need for it. The rock in my pocket is as an hourly challenge to the ambitions, agenda, dreams, and goals I would impose on my sisters and brothers in Christ before I am reminded how and why this miraculous community of belonging came to be, and also toward what end.

The rock in my pocket challenges but also consoles me. When I come to my neighbor with an agenda to impose, I am challenged; when I come to my neighbor with every awareness of my own inadequacy, not knowing what it is I have to offer, I am reminded. In every moment, I have only what I've carried to that moment, but I do have, and can give, what I've carried: forgiveness.

Christ's own forgiveness. The possibility and ministry of reconciliation. To be asked for. Offered.

And received.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Prayer and Action: The Early Church

Two Wednesdays ago, the UW Episcopal community explored and discussed the life and witness of Dorothy Day. Tonight, we're looking at themes related to prayer, love, and action, from the very early church. Here's the very loose outline.

Prayer and Action: the Early Church
(excerpts from To Pray and to Love, Roberta C. Bondi)

On Prayer

If a [person’s] deeds are not in harmony with his [or her] prayer, [that person] labors in vain. The brother said, ‘What is this harmony between practice and prayer?’ The old man said, ‘We should no longer do those things against which we pray.’ Abba Moses

Bondi: “Prayer is for you. Prayer is not a test of your character, an endurance contest, or a heroic task set before you.” Prayer is God’s gift for and in you.

How do you think about prayer? What is your prayer life like?

On Beginning

“A man had a plot of land. And through his carelessness brambles sprang up and it became a wilderness of thistles and thorns. Then he decided to cultivate it. So he said to his son: ‘Go and clear that ground.’ So the son went and cleared it, and saw that the thistles and thorns had multiplied…He said: ‘How much time shall I need to clear and weed all this?’ And he lay on the ground and went to sleep. He did this day after day. Later his father came to see what he had done, and found him doing nothing. When his father asked him about it, the son replied that the job looked so bad that he could never make himself begin. His father replied, ‘Son, if you had cleared each day the area on which you lay down, your work would have advanced slowly and you would not have lost heart.’ So the lad did what his father said, and in a short time the plot was cultivated.”

What things, tasks, realities in life make it tempting to lose heart?
When have you found unexpected life in simple obedience toward an unpromising or daunting task?
What would a cultivated prayer-plot look like in your life?

“Do a little work and do not faint, and God will give you grace.”

Scripture

“The nature of water is soft, that of stone is hard; but if a bottle is hung above the stone, allowing the water to fall drop by drop, it wears away the stone. So it is with the word of God; it is soft and our hearts are hard, but the [person] who hears the word of God often opens his [or her] heart to the fear of God.”

When do you encounter Scripture? Do you ever intentionally seek images from Scripture to put in conversation with your own life?

patterns of love

“Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge or we labor in vain.” Anthony

Bondi: “In order to grow in love, Christians must make choices about what kinds of patterns of love they want to grow into.”

What kinds of choices have you made? Whose own patterns of love helped shape your own?

The role of community

“The monks were convinced…that the first help they could give toward the reconciliation of the world was learning to live in and model love in their own communities. At the same time they did not believe that they would be able to act in love toward those outside their own communities if they did not first begin to love one another.”

What patterns of love can communities of faith uniquely facilitate?

Vulnerability and Interdependence

Bondi: “Learning to receive gifts is as much of a Christians discipline of love as that of giving (p107). Luke 14:7-14: We come to the table because the Lord extends hospitality to us.

“If it is my duty to get something done, I prefer it to be done with my neighbor’s advice, even if I do not agree with him and it goes wrong, rather than to be guided by my own opinion and have it turn out right.” Dorotheos of Gaza

What is it like, for you, to need help? What are obstacles to asking for help? When was help from another life-giving for you?

Forgiveness

“Abba Poemen … said about Abba Isidore that whoever he addressed the brothers in church he said only one thing, “Forgive your brother, so that you also may be forgiven.”

Most of us are too polite to intentionally wound people in ways that warrant forgiveness (we think); where are some places for forgiveness in your life?

Well Being

Bondi: “Wanting another’s well-being is not necessarily wanting what he or she wants. It is wanting another to be able to live in the love God created us for.”

What thoughts do you have about the love God created us for? What is your experience of living in the love God created us for?

How Love and Action Shape Prayer

Abba Theodore of Pherme asked Abba Pambo, “Give me a word.” With much difficulty he said to him, “Theodore, go and have pity on all, for through pity, one finds freedom of speech before God.”
How would an honesty without fear transform your prayers tonight?

Bernard of Clairvaux & The First Step of Pride

“The first step of pride is curiosity. How does it show itself? Here is an example. There stands a monk who up to this time had every appearance of being an excellent monk. Now you begin to notice that wherever he is, standing, walking or sitting, his eyes are wandering, his glance darts right and left, his ears are cocked. Some change has taken place in him; every movement shows it. These symptoms show that that monastic’s soul has caught some disease. One who used to watch over his own conduct now is all watchfulness for others.” Bernard of Clairvaux, a twelfth-century Cistercian reformer, quoted in Common Prayer, February 11.