Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Grasshopper: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Summer is not quite here, but it feels like it. We took our kayak out Monday on a local reservoir and paddled around for a few hours, enjoying the serenity and wildlife that you can only see from tiny boat on a lake.

This is my favorite Mary Oliver poem, commonly called "Grasshopper" though that's not its title. The words are perfect for bringing in the warmth of summer. Below the text is a short video of Mary reading the poem. Here it is:

The Summer Day
By Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down,
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day: Remembering all those who have died in wars

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”
– Luke 9:24

Those words from Luke are set for today, Monday in the sixth week of Easter in the Daily Office Morning Prayer cycle (Luke 9:18-27). Those words have a special ring on this Memorial Day.

Today we pause to remember those who died in wars for our country. We remember those who gave the last full measure of their devotion in wars we are still fighting, and wars long ago, distant in our collective memory. Today we pause because it is right to do, and we pause to give thanks. Today we set aside politics. Today we remember.

Some of you may have fought in one or more of our wars. Some of you are far from our shores engaged in one of these conflicts now, or you have just returned, or you are about to go. You are in my constant prayers.

Today we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your service.

Memorial Day has its origins in the American Civil War. It began as a day to honor the dead of both sides. The day was deliberately chosen because it was near the anniversary of the day that our nation was reunified, thus making Memorial Day a reminder that our highest value is not warfare but reconciliation with our enemies.

Today we must pray for our enemies.

Following World War I, the dead of all wars were included in Memorial Day. The calamity of World War I was without parallel in world history; no war had ever claimed so many lives globally. Both of my grandfathers fought in that war; both survived.

There came a growing awareness that the dead of that war – and every war – should never be forgotten. The word "Memorial" began to be used in naming public buildings and churches, including our own St. Paul's Memorial Church. The name "Memorial" in our church title was meant to evoke the memory of the dead, and as our parish took shape in the 1920s, the name took on new meaning as our founders remembered those who had died in World War I. The name of our parish reminds us that we should be unceasing in our effort to end all wars.

Today, let us remember those who have died in all wars, and remember those who are still dying on battlefields across the globe. Let us remember those Americans who have died for our country, and let us pray that all who are at war may one day find peace and reconciliation.

Here is the Collect we used Sunday for Memorial Day (found in the Book of Common Prayer on page 839):
O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

I am in you: Finding the Holy in a hazelnut

"Mystical Union," by Wayne Forte
Soon we reach the end of Eastertide. The lessons today are Acts 17:22-311 Peter 3:13-22, and John 14:15-21. Here is my sermon for today:

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Happy Easter. 
Yes it is still Easter – Easter Day came so late this year that it may feel like Pentecost will come on the Fourth of July. 
But I assure you, we are coming to the end of Easter; only one more Sunday after today remains in the sequence of the seven Sundays that are Eastertide, and there is still so much more to tell of the story. 
So today the architects of our lectionary crowd us with lessons densely packed with layers of theological meaning, and they are giving it to us by the truckload. 

We get Saint Paul standing at the gates of the Acropolis teaching the Athenians to not worship idols made by human hands, but to search for the divine “not far from each one of us.” 
Next, we get this curious letter from Peter talking of how Jesus has gone to make a “proclamation to the spirits in prison.” 
Finally, the gospel of John gives us this flashback dialogue at the Last Supper between Jesus and his disciples wherein Jesus tells them he is about to leave them but will come back in a different way. 

“I will not leave you orphaned,” he says. 
“This is the Spirit of Truth…You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” And he goes on, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me, and I in you.” 
What does this avalanche of words mean? 

I must admit to you that I have bounced around inside these lessons all week wondering where to come out in speaking to you this morning. I have felt a little like Jacob wrestling with God at the riverbank, pleading for understanding, and waiting for it to come. 
Yesterday it occurred to me that it comes down to two tiny words – “is” and “in.”
Two tiny words, no bigger than a hazelnut. Today’s gospel lesson comes down to two tiny words – “is” and “in.” 
Two tiny words packed with enough meaning to fill the universe. 
In these lessons, we get this promise that the Risen Christ of Easter is here in us. The lessons state this as a present reality and as a reality to come. 

It is and will be. 
We are entering the realm of the mystical, a realm that sometimes feels, well, uncomfortable.
Sometimes the Church talks of the Christ dwelling in us as some kind of supernatural being taking up residence in a vacant corner of our bodies. It can sound like science fiction or wishful thinking.
So what do we mean by this? How do we know Christ is in us? 
We have some teachers who can help us, and many of them are from long ago.

We are blessed to be living in a time when we are reaching back to re-discover the authentic experiences of the holy by our ancestors, and they have much to teach us about experiences of the holy within us. 
One of the most endearing chroniclers of this experience was Julian of Norwich who lived in England in the 14th century. 
She fell ill, and as she hovered near death, the “Spirit of Truth” came to her. 

Julian found the infinite in something tiny: A hazelnut, and it opened wide the universe for her. 
This is what she wrote: “And in this the Lord showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand. 
“I thought because of its littleness, it would suddenly have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and it always will because God loves it.” 
Julian writes that the thread holding the universe together is God’s love, and that thread is in each of us, connecting us to each other and to all of creation.

And that bring us to another meaning to the word “in.” The Christ of Easter is dwelling not just within us personally but is here with us as a community. 

The Spirit of Truth dwells among us as a gathering of people. 

There is a common thread to all of the stories of Jesus in the four gospels. Everything he does he does in a group. Healing, teaching, sharing a meal – always in a group. 

And Jesus gathers people together at the home of Matthew the tax collector for a meal, and the 5,000 to share the loaves and fishes, and for a “sermon on the Mount.” 

Unlike some of the Hebrew prophets, for example Elijah, Jesus does not have a single disciple. He has twelve. 

And he has us. 
The greatest mark of Christ dwelling among us is not a majestic mountain or a great cathedral. It is in this gathered community itself. 

He is here among us, in the love we show for each other when we are in the most pain need, and in the love we bring beyond our walls to others who are in pain and need – it is in those places where we can catch a glimpse of the Christ who is in us. 
And so I bring you back to the curious letter from Peter about Jesus making a “proclamation to the spirits in prison.” His letter connects to this. 
The Church has long interpreted that phrase as a description of Jesus descending to the dead to free sinners and take them to heaven – going into hell itself to open the gates and rob the devil, the idea of “the harrowing of hell.” 
You can take that literally or figuratively.

Peter’s letter is foundational to the words of the Apostle’s Creed, and so I thought, just to expand our horizons a little, we would recite the Apostles’ Creed today rather the Nicene Creed that we usually do. 

Listen to the poetry of the Apostle’s creed, for small words can bring us beyond theological abstractions. Heaven and hell are not just concepts of another dimension; they are concepts presently real in this world. 

Heaven and hell exist everyday on this earth, and sometimes side-by-side on battlefields and in hospital rooms; in refugee camps and prison camps; and in the devastation wrought by tornadoes in Missouri, a tsunami in Japan or an earthquake in Haiti. 
We do well this Memorial Day weekend to especially remember those who died in battles for our country. For many of them, heaven and hell was only a trench or a roadside bomb away. 
The Spirit of Truth is especially in those places. The Spirit of Truth wants us to see not just sweetness and light, but also the hard places, the painful places, because that is where God dwells, too, and where we are sometimes called to go as people of faith.

This way of the Risen Christ is not always easy. The journey inward will lead us outward, and from tiny moments and small words can come infinitely big horizons and large challenges. But hear again the words of the One who is in us still: 
“Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father and you in me, and I in you. 
“And I will love them.” 

Forever. Amen.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Patience, kindness, mercy: Keeping the faith in our differences

Saint Paul is a hard read sometimes, as members of our Education for Ministry groups have pointed out more than once this year. Paul can be crabby, pushy, self-righteous, and to use a phrase of an old editor of mine, "he is not without ego."

But this morning we get Paul at his finest (Romans 14:1-12):
Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.
Paul is not talking about just diets or the calendar on your Blackberry. He is talking about religious practice and piety. Why do you quarrel over your opinions about religion? Some of you are vegetarians as a religious practice, or you don't drink coffee (Mormons), or you abstain from alcohol (Baptists). Others of you eat and drink anything you like (Episcopalians). Some of you keep Sunday holy (Christians) or Saturday (Jews), some of you observe Christmas and Easter. Some of you don't observe any holidays (Jehovah Witnesses). Some of you say the Rosary (Catholics), some of you keep it simple and without ornament (Quakers). Why do you think you are better than your brother or sister? Each of you is on path to being with God. Stop quarreling. Or, to use the slang of our own day, cut each other some slack, you don't have to win every argument. Let each other be.

What's the test of our faith? We get that from the Book of Wisdom 14:27-15:3 today: "But you, our God, are kind and true, patient, and ruling all things in mercy."

Patience, kindness, mercy. When you experience that, you will be closer to God than you can imagine. Patience, kindness, mercy.

Lately we've been engaged in a parish-wide conversation on same-sex blessings. We've held seven Sunday forums, an all-day Saturday workshop, and last night was the fourth of five Wednesday forums. We have shared a lot of information and many personal stories. Last night, we talked about the development of "traditional" monogamous heterosexual marriage, and we had people of differing views on same-sex blessings. Meanwhile, our Vestry is also engaged in this discussion. You can read all of the presentations at the forums by clicking HERE.

We've heard many differing views, yet for the most part, we've been able to come to the table, and show patience, kindness and mercy with each other. Not always, but when we don't, we've found ways to remind ourselves to have patience, kindness, mercy.

And we don't have to agree, as Saint Paul implores us. We don't have to quarrel either, as he also implores us. And we can still worship the Lord in holiness, share in the bread and wine of our sacraments, and work together to bring patience, kindness and mercy to our world, united by our baptismal covenant.

Patience, kindness mercy -- that is the essence of our faith.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A blessing that you make a difference and do what cannot be done

Sometimes our "spirituality" can be a little too easy, a little too comfortable. But now and then the Holy Spirit gets my attention, and she pulls me off my front porch and out of my domesticity. I heard this blessing the other day and I leave it with you today (I am not sure of the author; if anyone knows, I will gladly give credit):

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May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war,so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

And the blessing of God, who creates, redeems, and sanctifies, be upon you and all you love and pray for, this day and forever more.
Art "Warm Embrace," by Cathy Jamison

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

End times, rapture, now what?

In recent days, we've heard quite a bit about "rapture" and "end times" and "doomsday." A self-styled biblical prophet predicted the rapture would happen Saturday, but alas, May 21st came and went, and the world kept on spinning. People made jokes and a few people gave up their life savings. It is a sad story, really, and in the end, not very funny.

We live in anxious times, and perhaps that is why the story of the prophet-of-doom from Oakland had legs. I've not commented on this, mostly because I've been much wrapped up in other things closer to home and family than the fate of the planet.

Maybe it is that the rapture came, and we are all right, but we didn't notice, and now we have work to do on this planet that is ours to do.

And so I turn to poets.

Franz Wright won a Pulitzer Prize a few years ago for his book, Martha's Vineyard. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker. His next book, God's Silence, speaks of the longing to know what comes next, and in his own dark way, pokes fun at our own self-centeredness in needing to know what comes next. His poems speak of the grace in the dark spaces. He is the son of a friend of mine, and it was my privilege to be host him a few years ago for a reading of God's Silence. It was an extraordinary afternoon.

I give you two of Franz's poems that have something to do with all of this rapture business, and is better than any analysis I could give you:

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Franz Wright

The scheming and chattering
mind's abrupt sense
in the night of its being

surrounded by mind,
unendingly, starrily
dwarfed and encircled

by mind whose voice
is silence, utter
silence unequivocally

kind . . .
The first bird
talking to the last stars –

maybe it was you
who woke me today in the dark;
I know you're still around here somewhere.

I love you, therefore you are here.
For the first time in days I got dressed;
and I walked outside this morning,

and I saw a new heaven and a new earth.


But if they were condemned to suffer
this unending torment, sooner or later
wouldn't they become the holy?

God's Silence: Poems by Franz Wright, Alfred A. Knopf, 2006
Art by Kathrin Burleson

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Monday Funnies

We've all survived the rapture, or at least I think we have. Maybe it happened and we didn't notice. In any case, welcome to the rest of time. I am back from taking care of family business and will get down to the business of writing here once more. Congratulations to all of our University of Virginia graduates, and enjoy your Monday.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A break

I am traveling today to the San Francisco Bay Area to take care of family business. I am going to take a break for a few days from posting here. Please feel free to read what you've missed, and new posts should resume in about a week.
Easter blessings to all,

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Good Shepherd Sunday: Healing, hope and grace, may you have it abundantly

Today is "Good Shepherd Sunday," and the lessons are Acts 2:42-471 Peter 2:19-25John 10:1-10 and Psalm 23. May you be filled with blessings overflowing this day and always. Here is my sermon for today:

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“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.”

First, this morning I must begin with some sad news that some of you may not have heard. Paul Brockman, a beloved member of our congregation, died shortly after midnight on Wednesday after a long battle with cancer. 
Paul loved all of you, and he loved this parish, and he loved the Episcopal Church. He was a member of our Vestry, and of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia, and he served ably at two of our national General Conventions, the highest governing body of our denomination. 
This morning I would like us to offer our Holy Eucharist to the Glory of God in the memory of Paul, and in thanksgiving for his courage. 
There are times in my life and ministry among you when I catch a glimpse of how very thin is the line between this world and the next. This was one of those times. 
All of us who were with Paul at his bedside could sense he was being healed as he slipped from us into the next dimension of life wherever or whatever that is. 

I believe healing really does come to all of us no matter who we are, or what we have done or not done. It is not ours to earn, but only to have, and if we are perceptive, to notice. 

In the 23rd psalm, there is a line that translated in traditional English says this: “He restoreth my soul.” But a better translation from the Hebrew is this: “He restores my whole self.” 

All of me. All of you. 
If there is any psalm – any biblical words – deeply imbedded in our culture, it is the 23rd psalm. 
But this morning we also hear these words from John’s gospel, and they seem to cut sharply against this very idea: 

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.” 
And then this: “I am the gate,” Jesus says in John’s gospel. “Whoever enters by me will be saved.” 
The passage begs the question: Who is on which side of the gate? Who are the sheep, who are the bandits? 

Who is saved? Am I? Are you? 
These words, and others like them, have haunted the Church for all of its existence. The words seem to say if you don’t enter the sheep pen a certain way, through Jesus, you will be left out. 
And where does that leave most of humanity that is not Christian, or even a particular kind of Christian? Did God create humanity to leave most of it outside the gate? 
The fact is, Christianity has spent most of its existence arguing over that question. I recently read a book, The Jesus Wars, by Phillip Jenkins, that tells the very bloody story of how orthodoxy came to be in the 4th and 5th centuries, with bishops excommunicating and burning each other at the stake over their arguments about the nature of the shepherd standing at the gate. 

Was Jesus God? Was he human? Was he both? If he was both, how do we understand and explain that? 
Was he the substance of God masquerading in human form, or human with God substance all at once? 

Did he have a human will guided by God, or the single will of God? If you lived in the 5th century, you best be careful how you answer; any answer would have marked you as a heretic in the eyes of someone. 
The words of Jesus – about love, forgiveness, and selfless giving and servanthood – virtually disappeared in those centuries. It is a miracle those teachings survived at all.
My only solace in this is the realization that our church arguments today are rather tame in comparison. 
At the core of those arguments – then as now – is who is included? Who receives the blessing? Who is on what side of the sheep fence? 
One way of hearing these words is Calvinistic – that humans are dirty animals like sheep, and are in constant need of tending. We need to be careful of who gets inside the fence because if the bandits get in, we are all in danger. 

Yet there might be another way to hear this as an echo of the 23rd psalm. 
“The gatekeeper opens the gate,” Jesus says in the gospel, “and the sheep hear his voice.” 

This shepherd knows us by name – each and every one of us, as the gospel puts it:
“The sheep follow him because they know his voice.” 
I am convinced that this shepherd calls to everyone on this planet, in words they understand, and brings to them healing and wholeness. 

Why would we think that the Shepherd can’t speak to a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Jew or a Hindu in the language and symbols that they understand? Who are we to put a limit on the shepherd? 
Elsewhere in John’s gospel (10:16), the shepherd says this: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” 
The common core values of every world religion are love and hope – and that, I believe, is how God intends this world to be. God finds people in every corner of this globe and reaches them in ways unique to them. 
Yet, there is an even deeper level to this gospel than this. Each of us has a part of ourselves that is good, healthy and blessed. 

And each of us carries burdens that wound and hurt us, and steal from us the best of ourselves. 
The shepherd will bring the best of who you are inside the gate to be healed and made whole, and leave the worst outside the gate. 

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” Jesus says, and that is the core of the gospel. 
The parts of us that hurt us, our wounds, our diseases – all that harms us – will left outside gate, sometimes here in this world, and sometimes in the next, and the line between the two is really very thin. 
That is the meaning and purpose of God’s Grace. 
I was powerfully reminded of this reality with Paul Brockman this week. Even in the tears of his leaving this life, the blessings of healing and hope were coming forth all around us, and all of us with him could feel it. 
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 
“You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.

“Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” AMEN
Art: Russian Orthodox mosaic of the the Good Shepherd.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Saturday's workshop on marriage and same-sex blessings

Forgive me, dear readers, for not spending much time on this blog. Much has been happening at St. Paul's recently, including a number of pastoral care needs and diocesan events.

This morning (Saturday), the Rev. Dr. Heather Warren and myself will offer a workshop on the issues marriage and the same-sex blessings. We begin at 9 am and will end about 2 pm. Come join us, and bring your lunch. This will be most of the same material we've offered on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings, with opportunities for more small group discussion. We hope our presentations are informative and thought-provoking. Please come with open mind and an open heart. Hope to see you later this morning.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A prayer for mothers everywhere

I've been asked about the Prayer for Mother's Day we offered on Sunday. I found it on the Internet, and the author is unknown (and if anyone reading this can find the name of the author, I will happily give credit). I tweaked it slightly, and here it is:

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Prayer for Mothers 
God our Creator, we pray:
for all mothers, with thanks for all that they give;
for expectant mothers, wondering and waiting;
for those who are tired, stressed or depressed;
for those who struggle to balance the tasks of work and family;
for those who are unable to feed their children due to poverty;
for those whose children have physical, mental or emotional disabilities;
for those who have children they do not want;
for those who raise children on their own;
for those who have lost a child;
for those who care for the children of others;
for those whose children have left home;
and for those whose desire to be a mother has not been fulfilled.
Bless all mothers, that their love may be deep and tender,
and that they may lead their children to know and do what is good,
living not for themselves alone, but for God and for others.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Monday Funnies

How about a few jokes to start the week. The Joke Department here at Fiat Lux is scraping the bottom of the ecclesiastical barrel to bring you these. Welcome to the Monday Funnies, enjoy your week . . .

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At a wedding I recently attended, the priest called for a moment of silence to remember the faithful dead.

As the church grew quiet, a little boy sitting in front of me turned to his father and said excitedly, "Dad, you have some of their albums!"

* * *

One man was talking to another at church. He asked, "So where is that boy of yours?"

"Josh is in college," the second man replied.

"What's he taking?"

The second man grimaced, "Every cent I have."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

What keeps you from seeing who is walking beside you?

Today is Youth Sunday, and our young people will be narrating an enactment of the story of the

disciples on the road to Emmaus, based on Luke 24:13-35. I preached a homily at 8 am on the story. Here it is:

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“Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” 

What kept them from recognizing who was walking beside them?

What keeps you from recognizing who is walking beside you?

Two men – disciples of Jesus – are walking down a road talking about the astounding, preposterous news from women who tell them that the tomb of Jesus is empty.

As they walk along, a stranger joins them on the road.

“Their eyes were kept from recognizing him,” the gospel account tells us.

I’ve often wondered what kept their eyes from recognizing him.

Was it their grief? Is it their sadness? Or the horror of the crucifixion?

Or was it their doubts and their inability to trust the women who told them about their experience?

Or was it the sheer strangeness of all they were encountering? The gospel does not tell us. 
Maybe it was something they carried with them, something very personal? A burden, a disappointment, a failure?

They thought Jesus would be the leader the had waited for, the messiah to redeem Israel. But now their hopes were dashed on the Cross.

Maybe they were just wrapped up in their disillusionment and they just could not see who was walking beside them on the road. They were somewhere stuck in Good Friday.

There is a United Church of Christ pastor in Atlanta, Shannon Michael Pater, who puts it this way: “Easter does not always come in three days. Stones are rolled away, but sometimes we stay in the tomb.”*

The two disciples, engrossed in their darkness, walk on with this stranger, who tells them many things, but still they do not see.

Not until they arrive at an inn, and not until this stranger takes bread, blesses it and breaks it, do they see the Risen Christ in front of them. They see him finally in the act of sharing a simple piece of bread, in sharing a meal. Finally they recognize him in the blessing.

Now they get it.

What gets in your way of seeing?

This story of the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus puts the question squarely before us. What gets in our way of seeing the Christ in front of us, the Christ in each other, and the Christ in the people around us?

What keeps us from recognizing the Christ in total strangers? Who do we overlook in our daily life and work?

Who brings you blessings, and yet you do not see?

It was not until the disciples on the road to Emmaus were open to the surprise that they finally saw the blessing that was theirs to claim all along.

They caught the newness of this in the very familiar words of a table blessing. The common suddenly became uncommon, the old and familiar became new and different. Nothing for them was ever the same again.

In churches, we commonly talk about our life as on a spiritual journey. We walk on a spiritual path, each our own way, and that is true enough.

The path can take us on an intensely inward journey, encased in the “interior castle,” as medieval mystic Teresa of Avila called it.

Yet, often overlooked is that we are on this journey as a community, with each other. Yes, each of us must walk in our own way, but we are walking together. This does not have to be a lonely path. Even solitary monks gather together to share a meal and escape the interior castle.

When we gather here each Sunday, when we share the bread and wine of our Holy Eucharist, we are like those first two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Standing at the table, kneeling at the altar rail, we open ourselves to seeing each other, and I pray, open ourselves to the surprise of being blessed by each other.

With these blessings comes a large responsibility. We are called to reach outside ourselves, and touch the hurt and wounds of the world. The walls of our interior castles must have openings that others may see in and we see out.

Our spiritual path can lead us to places most of us would rather not go, and that is why we need the strength of walking together in community.

It is in those difficult places – in hospital rooms, homeless shelters, jail cells, or in an almost forgotten friendship – where we become the hands and face of Christ for someone else on their road to Emmaus.

But to walk that path, we need to ask again: What keeps you from seeing who is in walking beside you? AMEN.
* Commentary by Shannon Michael Pater, Feasting on the Word, 3 Easter.
Painting, Road to Emmaus, by He Qi.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Survey by the Diocese of Virginia concerning the search for a new Bishop Suffragan

You may not have heard much about this yet, but the Diocese of Virginia is in the midst of a search for a new Bishop Suffragan, to replace The Right Rev. David Jones who is retiring. We will be electing the new bishop next April. For more information, please click HERE.

The bishop search committee has posted an on-line survey, and the information and link to it is below. If you are a resident of the Diocese of Virginia, please take the time to complete the survey:

Share your views with the Bishop Suffragan Nominating Committee by participating in this important diocesan survey.  
Welcome to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, where our mission is to worship our Lord and serve the world in unity and diversity. Our diocesan community strives to support and grow our priority ministries: youth & young adult formation; strengthening our congregations; multicultural & ethnic ministries; mission beyond ourselves; and evangelism & proclamation. I invite you to explore this Web site to learn more about our faith, our community of churches, our ministries and our staff.
--The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, Bishop

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cool sweet springtime rain

It is raining today in Virginia. We need the cool sweet downpour here. Our water comes from a well deep beneath the small mountain we live upon. The earth here is red clay, and the trees work hard to burrow in their roots. The birds are singing in the branches all around us this morning.

I came across this poem the other day by the incomparable Langston Hughes (1902-1967). He writes about another state to our South, but these words could be about here.

Daybreak in Alabama
By Langston Hughes

When I get to be a composer
I'm gonna write me some music about
Daybreak in Alabama
And I'm gonna put the purtiest songs in it
Rising out of the ground like a swamp mist
And falling out of heaven like soft dew.
I'm gonna put some tall tall trees in it
And the scent of pine needles
And the smell of red clay after rain
And long red necks
And poppy colored faces
And big brown arms
And the field daisy eyes
Of black and white black white black people
And I'm gonna put white hands
And black hands and brown and yellow hands
And red clay earth hands in it
Touching everybody with kind fingers
And touching each other natural as dew
In that dawn of music when I
Get to be a composer
And write about daybreak
In Alabama.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble”

“Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
— Martin Luther King Jr.

By now, the killing of Osama bin Laden is two-day-old news. By next week the news cycle will have moved on. I feel compelled to write something today because I must.

Ten years ago this September 11, I was living in Sacramento, California. I had been on the staff of Trinity Cathedral one year and eleven days. My alarm clock went off at 6 am, and I heard the NPR commentator talking about an airplane hitting a building at the World Trade Center in New York. Startled, I got up, turned on the television and watched as a second airplane, live on television, hit the next building.

Within minutes, Don Brown, the Dean of the Cathedral, called me. He told me to get down to the Cathedral – I lived closer – and to open the doors. He said people would want to come to pray.

He was so right.

Over the next few hours, thousands of Sacramentans came. We held a prayer service that evening, and every night that week. Life had been knocked out of kilter, and somehow everyone seemed to know it would not be the same again.

As the day wore on, I found myself emailing with a high school friend who worked in Lower Manhattan and could not get out of his building. He wouldn’t get out for another 24 hours. The strangeness of that conversation by email still lives vividly in my memory.

A few months later, we went to New York and to St. Paul's Chapel, which is at Ground Zero, and was being used as a relief station for those cleaning up the devastation (the photos here are of St. Paul's Chapel). It was a sobering experience to be there.

So much has changed in the last ten years. We are now engaged in three wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya). We’ve been fighting terrorism globally and spent a trillion dollars on the effort. We’ve seen great sacrifice and determination, especially by our young people in uniform, and we’ve seen tremendous loss. Every Sunday in our parish, we read the list of the soldiers, sailors and Marines who have died in the last week. This Sunday there were 25 names on the list.

As a nation, we’ve become more partisan, more sharply divided. Our politics is more course, accusatory; less about public policy and more about personality attack. Polls show we are more fearful and less confident about our future. We have become, in some quarters, more hateful toward the world and more hateful toward each other. All of those trends were brewing before September 11, 2001, but it is hard to escape the conclusion that the violence of that day unleashed something terrible and ugly and out of control, and not just in our enemies, but in ourselves.

On Sunday night came the news that an elite unit of Navy Seals had found and killed Osama bin Laden. I must admit to a feeling of relief and even triumph that bin Laden had, at last, been found and eliminated. I prayed that the families who lost loved-ones on September 11, 2001 would find some measure that justice had been served. President Obama said that the world is a better place without Osama bin Laden in it, and that is doubtlessly true. I am proud of our president, proud of military and intelligence services who carried out this operation with skill and courage. I am proud of the Navy, and I come from a Navy family.

Yet I am deeply uneasy with the gloating and the cheering outside the White House, and elsewhere, as if this was a Super Bowl victory. I am deeply skeptical of the idea that somehow the elimination of Osama bin Laden will change all that has plagued us these last ten years. I doubt this will bring anything like closure. Whether the world is a safer place, or a less hateful place, remains to be seen. We do well -- very well – to pray for those who would do us harm, pray for enemies, and pray for our own souls.
“Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble, or else the Lord will see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from them.”
– Proverbs 24:17-18

“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways…”
– Ezekiel 33:11

“O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
– Book of Common Prayer, page 816

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Monday Funnies

Easter is here, the trees are filling out, and Holy Week is definitely behind us. Time for a few grins, at the expense of religion, of course. Thanks to Pat Hill, chief of our comedy department, for these jokes and Dave Walker for the cartoon. Welcome to the Monday funnies . . .

+ + +


2000 B.C. - Here, eat this root

1000 A.D. - That root is heathen. Here, say this prayer.

1850 A.D. - That prayer is superstition. Here, drink this potion.

1940 A.D. - That potion is snake oil. Here, swallow this pill.

1985 A.D. - That pill is ineffective. Here, take this antibiotic.

2000 A.D. - That antibiotic doesn't work anymore. Here, eat this root.

* * * 
On the Upper West Side of NYC lived an assimilated Jewish man who was now a very militant atheist. But he sent his son Morris to Trinity School because, despite its denominational roots, it was a great school and completely secular.

After a month, the boy came home and said casually, "By the way, Dad, I learned what Trinity means! It means 'The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.'"

The father could barely control his rage. He seized his son by the shoulders and declared, "Morris, I'm going to tell you something now and I want you never to forget it. Forget this Trinity business. There is only one God... and we don't believe in him!"