Tuesday, October 30, 2012

In the eye of the storm

For most people on the mid-Atlantic and Northeast coasts Monday morning brought hurricane Sandy, the super storm, the Frankenstorm.  For me, Monday morning also brings Centering Prayer and Morning Prayer.

This week was no exception.  Schools and businesses were closed, but worship continued.  Prudence over driving in the weather meant that many of the regular worshipers chose to stay home, and that is perfectly ok; but worship continued.

As the storm raged outside, the walls of the chapel that have stood for 235 years sheltered those who were inside.  Warm, dry, and with only the sounds of the wind and the rain surrounding us there was a gentle peace.  

It was not unlike the eye of a hurricane.  In the eye of a hurricane the sky is crystal blue, the winds are calm and there is a reminder of the dove returning to Noah saying that all is right with the world.

Being at prayer in the chapel with the storm raging outside was a reminder that all is right with God and God’s world; there may be storms around us, but all is right with God.  The chapel provided a place for the inner peace to unfold.  And deep inside each of us as we worshiped, we found an inner peace.

We did this while the storm raged.  So I have to wonder, why do we not always find that inner peace when the storm is not upon us?  How do we learn to live each day in the eye of a hurricane with a dove returning to us with a message from God?

Monday, November 14, 2011

How does your garden grow?

It is wonderful how Scripture speaks to us in different ways at different times. But most will admit, that at times, it is not always easy to hear what Scripture is saying to us. If only we could hear it differently. Well of course we can. Reading different translations of the Bible is a great way to hear the same passage in unique ways. The ancient Jewish practice of Midrash, the retelling of a story, is also a great way to hear the passage in a new voice. Writing your own Midrash is also a way to understand the passage in a new way.

At least, that was my experience as I sat with Matthew 25:14-30. The story of the five, two, and one talent took on a new life as I read the passage, prayed with the passage, and wrote my own Midrash of the passage. What follows is my humble retelling of the story of the talents found in the Gospel of Matthew 25:14-30:

There was a land owner with three laborers. Not accustomed to explaining himself he was ready to leave town for parts unknown and return as he chose. Prior to leaving he entrusted his land to his laborers and gave each of the three a small packet of seeds.

After many harvests the land owner returned. Immediately he called his three laborers to his side so that he could learn of their efforts. The first laborer invited the land owner to walk with him to a south-facing hillside. It was on the hillside that he had removed the rocks and roots from the ground and watered the seeds lightly. There before them was a field resplendent with color and fragrance enough to make you dizzy with delight. He told of the many harvests of flowers that he has had. He told of the beautiful flowers that now filled the churches and homes of the area; and how everyone seemed to be just that little bit happier because of the beauty that surrounds them. He also told him of the riches he had brought in selling these flowers. The land owner said that he was “good and trust worthy” and that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” And then he received his rewards.

The second then asked the land owner to walk to where he could look down upon a low lying field. There he saw an orchard in full bloom. He explained that he had planted the seeds that and drew water from the stream, he had been able to harvest many different fruits and sell them in the market place. The people in the town were happy with the variety of fruit and the sweetness that enhanced every meal. He also told him of the riches he had brought in selling these fruits. The land owner said that he was “good and trust worthy” and that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” And then he received his rewards.

The third then walked over to the rocks where he had hidden his seed packet. Removing the outer rock a pungent odor crept out from the crevice. He then removed the seed packet from the crevice only to find a mold encased mass. The land owner looked at him in disgust and exclaimed “Not only did you not encourage the seeds to grow, but now they are wasted and of no value. Even if you had only scattered the seeds on the ground then the birds would have had at least one meal to eat.” He was sent away with the burden of the mold encased mass now hanging from around his neck.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tales from Canterbury - part XIV

Some experiences feel too amazing to be true, but God has a way of showing us the way and teaching us the truth.

Today was remarkable in many ways, it is Pentecost, it is the last day that the Canterbury Scholars are in residence, and it is the day I witnessed hospitality and servanthood in a manner that is beyond imagination.

For the past two weeks I have been treated royally eating wonderful gluten free meals and always having a gluten free host available at Eucharist. These were always provided with a smile and the feeling that it posed no inconvenience; it was true hospitality. The Pentecost mid-day Eucharist was much larger than previous Sunday worship, it was a high mass complete with incense. The presider was the Arch Bishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. The liturgy, music, and homily were all amazing, clearly the Holy Spirit had descended upon us.

The Dean and Canons of the Cathedral had become accustom to serving me a gluten free wafer during Communion; however when it was time to receive Communion I realized that I was in line to receive from the Arch Bishop. I began to question if I should receive the regular host that is poison to my body, or should I step past the Arch Bishop and receive only the wine. Before I realized it, I looked up and asked the Arch Bishop if he had a gluten free host. When the answer was no I tried to indicate that I would receive wine as communion in whole. But he as not to be deterred. The Arch Bishop quickly asked the Canon across the aisle and she indicated that it was on the altar. Before I knew it the Arch Bishop was walking back to the altar and returned with the gluten free host. I had been served by a true servant.

Feeling very humbled by my own forwardness and wanting to apologize to an appropriate Canon I proceeded to the scheduled reception at the Deanery. There I stood in the crowd trying to not cause more trouble.

It was then that I felt a gentle hand upon my shoulder. I turned thinking that it was a new dear friend; as I turned there stood the Arch Bishop of Canterbury in his crimson cassock. He had sought me out to apologize for taking so long in providing the gluten free host. This humble and gentle man embraced me with hospitality and servanthood.

As I write this it has been hours since this experience unfolded and I am still overwhelmed by emotion. The life he lives and embodies is a living example of service to God and to others. On the first day that the Canterbury Scholars met servanthood was a topic of discussion. Two weeks later, on the final day of the pilgrimage, a living example was presented to me; God always knows how to fill your cup when it is most needed.

When Jesus met Bartimaeus, a blind man, along the road Jesus asked Bartimaeus “what do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus asked to receive his sight, and he was healed.

When I went forward to receive Communion the Arch Bishop asked with his gentle presence “what do you want me to do for you?” And with that I was fed.

On this last night in Canterbury my prayer is that you are fed and hospitality surrounds you,

May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

and the love of God,

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you evermore.


Tales from Canterbury - part XIII

In the 580’s Ethelbert, heir to the throne of Kent, married the French princess Bertha. As a condition of her wedding Ethelbert was required to allow Bertha to continue worship as a Christian. Ethelbert provided a Roman building to be used as the royal chapel. Because Bertha had been raised near Tours where Saint Martin had been bishop two centuries earlier this chapel was named for Saint Martin.

When Saint Augustine arrived in 597 it was in Saint Martin’s Church (pictured here) that he lead worship. It was also here, in about 601, that King Ethelbert was baptized as a Christian. This change was significant, not only for Ethelbert’s baptism, but also because for the first time in English history the monarchy and the Church were united.

Baptism is a significant change for an individual as they are welcomed into the Christian community. This Anglican Pilgrimage at Canterbury also provided the impetus for significant changes for the participants.

For some this means they will listen more. For others they will speak out more. Still others found changes in their prayer lives. It is also safe to say that for many the recognition of change will only be apparent with time.

During our final formal session we crafted a statement explaining what occurred these past two weeks. It was an interesting exercise in getting thirty two people to agree on one statement. The result reads as follows:

As servants of God we gathered in diversity to meditate upon our ordination vows. We built friendships through prayer, fellowship, and sacrament. Through respectful listening we learned that the Anglican Communion is a dynamic, rich part of the Body of Christ sustained by God’s Grace for His Glory.

It is not possible to spend two weeks in community, praying together three times a day, eating together three times a day, and participating in discussions both simple and complex without being transformed.

For Christians baptism is our most significant moment of change, at that moment we move from a life facing death to a life eternal. Ethelbert’s baptism was significant for him and for the spread of Christianity in England and the Western world. For the Canterbury Scholars our experience was transformative. With God’s help this will also be transformative for the Anglican Communion.

On this Pentecost Eve my prayer comes to you from the Church of England prayer book:

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your people,

and kindle in us the fire of your love.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tales from Canterbury - part XII

On Friday I was treated to a different perspective. Many of us had the opportunity to climb the very long spiral stair case to the top of Bell Harry Tower. The tower was completed in 1498 and is 249 feet tall, at the top is the bell that calls everyone to service. The bell is named for Prior Harry (Henry) Eastry.

Climbing that tower provided a very different perspective. From about the mid-point you can look out on the inside of the church and see the quire and the nave from very different perspectives.

A little further up is a large wooden wheel, it looks a bit like a water wheel at a granary. Two men would have stood inside the wheel and walked in one direction or another to raise and lower building supplies for the tower. It is a “modern” convenience from a different time and culture. Though now tied off the wheel is still functional. The trap door in the ceiling used for the rope and basket is now used for hanging television cameras when a service is to be broadcast.

High upon the tower you can look in all directions and see the city of Canterbury. From this perspective you can see that the town was built around the Cathedral in rings moving out from the center, like rings in a pond when a stone is dropped in. Interspersed among the many old buildings in the city are new buildings dating to the mid 20th century. These buildings were placed there out of necessity; the bombings of WWII had destroyed their predecessors. In many cases the exact date of the bombing that destroyed a particular building could be identified. Seeing these holes in the fabric of the building history is most noticeable from the perspective of the tower.

Climbing this tower provided a very different perspective on this Cathedral, the surrounding town, and the Anglican Communion.

On the surface it would seem that two priests from the same country, both women, would have similar stories. Yet one priest is from a First Nation. There are some aspects of her ministry that have more in common with a First Nation priest from North America than her colleague in the same country. They share different perspectives.

Other members of the Anglican communion can literally face death for what they preach. Speaking out in opposition to a rival group can lead to a quick and final retribution.

Another perspective shows us that in some areas widows and orphans are not cared for, they are cast aside. In that community people can eat for weeks on the amount of money many in the Western world spend on a coffee at Starbucks each day.

We share different perspectives on the Episcopate and Bishops. The US Episcopal Church is often remembered for the advertising campaign that said “You don’t have to check your brains at the door in an Episcopal Church.” Yet in some parts of the Anglican Communion the bishop will tell a priest where to serve, what to preach, and what to believe. One brother on this pilgrimage was informed by his bishop that with his ordination to priesthood only months away he must find a wife and be married prior to ordination.

Or consider the country where Anglicanism is relatively new. If a priests talks about the history of the Anglican Church in terms of King Henry VIII and his desire for a divorce the faith is not received well; however if the history begins with Saint Augustine arriving in England in 597 there is great acceptance. It is simply a matter of different perspectives.

This pilgrimage has provided a very different perspective on many areas of ministry and of the Anglican Communion.

My prayer from Canterbury is that you are blessed by different perspectives,

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tales from Canterbury - part XI

Early in this Anglican Pilgrimage we were reminded to look and listen. Several days later the Arch Bishop of Canterbury reminded us to look and listen. Scripture tells us that Jesus did what he saw the Father doing; he also was practicing a ministry of look and listen.

Have you ever read the Bible and heard the stories and wondered why there are two Creation stories? Have you ever looked and listened and wondered why there are two flood stories? Did the animals come two by two, or where there seven of each kind? Have you ever wondered why and questioned what difference does this make? Have you ever looked and listened to the stories about Jesus and wondered why Mark, Matthew, and Luke are so similar and John is so different? Why would that occur and what difference does it make? Have you ever wondered why some of the Bible is written in prose and other in poetry? Have you ever wondered what the world was like when the Bible was written, what was occurring and what did life look like? Have you ever wondered why one translation uses a particular word and a different translation found a different word more fitting? What is the effect when we consider that many of the original Greek words have multiple definitions? Looking and listening to the Holy Scripture brings these questions and so many more.

Asking these questions is how many, though not all, Anglican seminarians and clergy learn to look and listen to Scripture. As I look and listen to my brothers and sisters from around the world I find that for some their education and their ethos does not lead to reading the Bible in this same manner.

Every November or December the same conversations occur; some people complain about the use of “X-Mass” in lieu of “Christmas.” They say you should not take the Christ out of Christmas. This argument is not about intelligence or education level, it is about different education. An education in Biblical Greek will inform the recipient that “X” is the letter chi; the first letter in Khristos or Christ. With that knowledge Christ is very much a part of X-Mass, it is a matter of a different education.

In our pilgrim journey walking 12km along Saint Augustine’s trail to Canterbury we all walked differently. Some walked and constantly paused to look or listen to the sounds of nature. Others strode confidently as if in a race. Some listened to music and others to nature and some talked with their walking companion. In our pilgrimage in quiet in All Saints Chapel some sat in silence, some prayed, some fidgeted and left as soon as possible, and some struggled with the silence. We all manifest our pilgrimage differently.

We also read the Bible differently, the same words but different meanings. Some of that is a result of different seminary and theological education. Some of that is the pressures of the hierarchy of the Church. Some of that is culture.

In some ways the 800 pound gorilla in the room was recognized today; Americans are ordaining homosexuals and lesbians. Unfortunately there was little looking and listening. I was told that as Americans we don’t read Scripture properly and that we don’t take the Bible seriously enough; as a result we have all these problems with “the gays.” Sexuality is not a new issue. In the mid 1900’s the bishops at Lambeth Conference discussed ordination of women. Some fifty plus years later the Lambeth Conference was preoccupied with sexual orientation and ordination. Hundreds of years prior to all of these contemporary questions the celibacy and marriage of priests was questioned. These are the same issue, just different perspectives.

I am saddened that not all brothers and sisters of the Anglican Communion are ready to look and listen. Not all are ready to find an understanding of the other. Until understanding occurs, note I did not say “agreement,” the 800 pound gorilla will continue to sit in the corner and eat much of our valuable time and efforts. It takes a lot to feed an 800 pound gorilla.

I am also pleased that dialogue does exist with others, many do look and listen. And I am pleased that we can find common ground on so many other parts of our ministry. This view is true for the Anglican Communion, it is also true for differences within a parish.

Looking and listening is so simple, but clearly not easy. Reading the Bible is so simple, but clearly not easy. This is not a me - you, or us - them problem; we all struggle with looking and listening at different times.

Saint Augustine’s grave (pictured above) lies among the ruins of the monastery that he built in Canterbury. When Augustine arrived in 597 he had been instructed by Pope Gregory to look and listen. He was to take what was good of the customs of the existing Christians and of the pagans and use those customs as appropriate. Our religious practices today incorporate elements of these other cultures. Saint Augustine looked and listened and Christianity flourished.

From Canterbury I pray that you may be blessed by looking and listening,

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tales from Canterbury - part X

“In my Father’s house there a many mansions.” House within a house? That does not make much sense does it? The Latin word mansio is the root of mansion; however it is more accurately translated as a resting place.

On a journey a resting place might be a brief stop, or it might be a longer stay for rejuvenation. During a pilgrimage the mansio may be the destination or it may be found along the path. Finding the space that rejuvenates you could be invaluable.

Yesterday, Tuesday, we took a pilgrimage that traced a probable 12km route along Saint Augustine’s path to Canterbury. Today we made a very different type of pilgrimage. Along this pilgrimage we rested in a small chapel up a very narrow set of curved stone stairs. We found ourselves in the Chapel of All Saints. This Holy Space high above the south transept dates to about 1400.

It was in this resting place, this place of hospitality that, after a reflection on a Bible passage, one of our fellow pilgrims led us in the singing of Dona nobis pacem.

The Chapel of All Saints became a mansio for me. I have other spaces like that as well, whether it is the office of my mentor, the sea, a mountain top, a kneeler before a candle, or my new found space Christ Church Canterbury Cathedral. We all need a space of hospitality and rejuvenation.

Sometimes that space is the journey, sometimes that space is the destination.

I pray that you find your own mansio and in the silence of the hospitality you remember that “silence is the language God speaks and everything else is a bad translation.”

From Canterbury I pray, Dona nobis pacem,