POETRY: Who Is God?, By Tamisha Tyler

At age 5,
He is the best answer
For Sunday school questions.
At age 8,
He is the person you give your life to
(Although the lady called him Jesus)
At age 13,
He is the only one
Who will listen to what you have to say
At age 16,
He is the last word
You use when cursing
And the first name
You call on when you’re about to get in trouble
At age 18,
He is the voice that consoles a broken heart
At age 20,
He is the grace that gives you room
To forgive yourself
From 22 to 25
He becomes the reason for your hatred
The basis on which you claim your judgment
And the source of your pride
But at 26,
You realize he was none of those things
And you wonder if you ever really knew him at all
At 28
You set out on a journey to find him
Like a child obsessed with capturing their parents’ shadow
And at 30,
You realize that the sun is East
The day is new
And he was right beside you all along
And his shadow; constantly propelling you forward into newness
He is the mystery of your life simply because he is the only thing that makes sense
He is your foundation
Whether recently rediscovered or newly found I cannot say
But he is the only support strong enough
For your ambitiously ignorant, insight-fully blinded steps that you carelessly choose to take
And although there will be many things that you will call him
In the many years that you continue to discover
He is
And always will be
God.

FORGIVENESS: Pre-Lent 2016 — A Matter of Dust

And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet. (Matthew 10:14)


I am planning to write one of these days my thoughts about the difference between spiritual growth and healing.  It’s pacing there in the back of my mind somewhere, but other matters seem to be more eager to be played with.

So it seems that my life is all about dust these days, and the kicking-off thereof.

It all began with some writing.  Two responses to the promptings of poetry.  Followed by a challenge thrown down: Now Write About This!  The challenge accepted.  Mulled over.

I have not found the process of writing in response to someone else’s words “fun.”  It’s more like becoming part of a delicate operation.  Fingering the foreign object lodged where it should never have gotten.  Watching the relief as it is lifted out of the body.  The blood flowing again where it once flowed.  The body’s repair mechanism stimulated and ready to do its job.

Fine.

Wonderful.

Except not.

The result of these two writings have forced me to turn and look at myself in a way that I never have before.

First there is the illusion that I’ve carried around with me that I want to protect others from “me,” or from getting too close to me, because I’m mighty weird.  And my weirdness has seriously affected the lives of some that I love dearly.

This is true.  Absolutely true.

Except not.

What is really, really, really true is that I want to protect myself.

From hatred.

That look that slides into someone’s eyes after they’ve stood next to me, or sat behind me, or watched me from front-on change the nature of the nature of the world around me.

Otherwise known as, Perform A Miracle.

It’s right there all spelled out in the Bible: How people responded to Jesus when he healed the sick, and whatnot.

See!  Look what I can do!

Let’s kill him!

Luckily it’s never gotten to the point of death threats for me.  Well, almost never.

But the hatred is there, nevertheless.

One of the writings mentioned above brought up an old and very buried memory.  The saving of our two lives.  Being sucked up into a bank, under a tree overhanging the river.  Caught in its roots and the rocks that had formed around those roots.  Under a canoe.  Under water.

Then a resolve.  Sweet and quiet.  But a resolve, nonetheless.

And the people who had come to witness or help or fuss watched the resolution.

And looked about afterward, wondering what they just saw.

But the one under the canoe with me: Hatred.

All the fight in him drained completely.

No words.  No resistance.  No looks.

The relationship was over.

Now let me tell you what this means to me today.

Lent is approaching.  So I have been having fun listening to suggestions about what to “do” for Lent.  And I enjoyed very much the priest who told a story about a woman who, for each day of Lent, sent someone a thank-you note, an expression of gratitude.  That charmed me.  And I wanted to do something like that.

Instead, though, I came up with something similar but different: For the 40 days of Lent, I would forgive someone.  I would make up a list of 40 people that I need to forgive, and “do” something towards that resolution.

That resolution.

And I thought about the looks of hatred that I have seen aimed at me over the years of my life, and I thought, Ah, ha.  There is a place to find a list of people to forgive.

At first I figured I could come up with at least a half-dozen people who fit that category.

Within hours, I wondered what I would do with the overspill.

All those people who left my side, my life, because of their being a witness to me.

When I began to work on organizing this, I blamed myself for having these people hidden away in my psyche, reducing them to being trolls packed away in the caves of my life.  I let the hatred remain.  I didn’t do anything to work things out between us.  Just let it resolve.

But then I remembered.  My training.

My Training.

When someone closes the door on you, walk on.  It is the path in life that is important.  A person closing a door on you is just life’s way of telling you where to go.

Kick the dust off your feet, in other words.

Do not pound on the door and ask to be readmitted.

Do not take it personally.

Do not go down the path, turn around, come back, and see if the door has reopened.

Just go.

Follow your feet.

So I have lived this way.

You don’t want me?  I’m gone.

Well, it turns out that while I may be gone from your life, you have not left mine.

I have carried you with me, like a pebble in my pocket.  Not really there.

But there, nonetheless.

Here is something I read during one of my prayer sessions today.  It’s about dirt and sandals:

The group [the church] is centered on Jesus – they are to carry his message to an unprepared world; they are being sent out on a mission.  They have to let go of their securities – a fixed abode, workplace, possessions, money.  They must trust that Jesus knows what he is doing; they also need the good will of those they visit.  In return Jesus shares with them his authority over evil and his power to heal.  Is that a fair exchange?

At first, I will admit, I got the answer very, very wrong.  I thought, No, it isn’t fair what happens to the people under these conditions.  No matter how much wisdom is being shared, how must exposure to God is being given.  These people are still going through what they are going through.

When I realized my error, I went, Oops. 

In a major way.

Of COURSE Jesus is the better deal.  Always.  No matter what we lose in the knowing.  

Better deal all around.

So why, faced with this list of people who I never hurt, never really argued with, but was rejected by because of who I am, am I not convinced?

Walking on – kicking off that dirt – is supposed to train my heart not to grieve.  To not be attached to people.

Except it did teach me not to be attached to any one person.

But not in the way God intended, I fear.

Instead of teaching me to walk into the world at all times with nothing in my hands, no resentment, no bitterness, I learned to carry each and every pebble.  I learned to shield myself from the hatred.  The screaming priests.  The shooings away.  The suddenly quiet telephone.

Now that I have come to care for someone, I have even gone to the trouble of pre-hating me.  On his behalf.

Knowing it is just a matter of time before the door is finally slammed.

But not being sure that because of who I am today that I could handle it.

Aware that I am no longer the person who can just walk away from someone.  Unable to focus on the path above everything else.  And not just sit outside the door and weep.

So the big question that faces me today is whether or not I put God on my list for the 40 days of Lenten forgiveness.

And, if I do, do I make him just one number, or all 40?

Do I try to find a way to forgive him for making me who I am?

For training me?

Well, I say, Welcome to Lent.

Almost.

Amen.

PRAYER: Eight Ways To Pray During Lent

From Loyola Press

What do we do when we’re facing an upcoming big event, celebration, or special occasion in our lives? We prepare for it. Holy Week and Easter are “big events” in the liturgical year of the church and in the spiritual life of a Christian. So, as Christians, we prepare spiritually for these through the forty days of Lent. This means that, during Lent, we rededicate ourselves to prayer.

There are as many ways to pray as there are pray-ers in this world, but a few prayer methods can help us in particular to spiritually prepare ourselves during Lent:

1. Make your abstinence a prayer-in-action.

As Catholics we are called to give up something for Lent. Chocolate, coffee, that extra helping of dinner, one less hour of video games or watching DVDs — whatever it is, you can make what you’re giving up for Lent a prayer as well: a prayer-in-action. Whenever you encounter the thing you are abstaining from or the time of day that you would normally enjoy it, take a moment to say a prayer in recognition of your wholeness in God even without the thing you have given up. Thank God for the freedom to be wholly yourself without this and, at the same time, acknowledge the gift of its existence in the world.

2. Renew yourself through personal reflective prayer.

Lent is a time of spiritual renewal. One easy step you can take is to use the many free online resources to jump-start or reinvigorate your prayer life. If you’re seeking more traditional support for your personal reflective prayer, consider a book specially designed to nourish you during Lent.

3. Pray the Stations of the Cross.

One of the most common traditions of Lent is to pray the Stations of the Cross. This prayer helps us reflect on the passion and death of Christ in preparation for Good Friday observance and the Easter celebration. Check your local parish website or bulletin for listings of when a Stations of the Cross prayer service is being offered, or try one of the many online resources available.

4. Meditate on Holy Scripture with Lectio Divina.

Perhaps the oldest method of scriptural prayer known to Christians is lectio divina or “holy reading.” This method of prayer is characterized by the slow reading and consideration of a text from scripture, with repetition and meditation on key words or phrases. Lectio divina is rooted in the belief that the scriptural word speaks in the human heart as the word of God and can reveal the thoughts of our hearts in response to God. In this way, lectio divina leads to a deeper communion with the Divine.

5. Reflect deeper on your liturgical prayer.

When you attend Mass during Lent, be conscious of and meditate on the words you pray in the liturgy. For example, the Eucharistic Prayer, the highlight of each Mass, has special significance during Lent. After receiving communion, you may want to sit and reflect more deeply on this great prayer of the church.

6. Join or start a prayer group.

There are many benefits to praying with others. In group prayer you’re able to offer and experience a positive example, needed support and encouragement, different perspectives, and the inspiration to grow in the Christian life. A simple way to get started is to invite your spouse, a family member, or close friend to pray with you on a regular basis throughout Lent. You can also contact your local parish and inquire about prayer groups or prayer circles being sponsored. Or start your own communal prayer group.

7. Pray with children or as a family.

Being a parent, guardian, or teacher is a holy ministry and a sacred promise. Share your faith with children by letting them see and hear you pray, and by praying together.  And don’t forget about family dinners. Dinnertime is a great opportunity to start or enliven a tradition of family prayer during Lent.

8. Start a practice of daily prayer that will last after Lent.

Perhaps the best prayer advice is to use Lent as a time to instill prayer habits that will last long after Lent has concluded. Resources such as yearly prayer guides can get you started and help you stay consistent.

So enjoy your Lenten prayer.  And don’t think you have to do all the above.  Perhaps choose one or two of these prayer methods to concentrate on — and then you can more fully experience the pilgrim journey toward Easter that is Lent.

POETRY: At Last, by Christina Rossetti

Many have sung of love a root of bane:
While to my mind a root of balm it is,
or love at length breeds love; sufficient bliss
For life and death and rising up again.
Surely when light of Heaven makes all things plain,
Love will grow plain with all its mysteries;
Nor shall we need to fetch from over seas
Wisdom or wealth or pleasure safe from pain.
Love in our borders, love within our heart,
Love all in all, we then shall bide at rest,
Ended for ever life’s unending quest,
Ended for ever effort, change and fear:
Love all in all; —no more that better part
Purchased, but at the cost of all things here.

POETRY: The Sower, by William Cowper

A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side;
and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.
And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away,
because it lacked moisture.
And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it.
And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold.
And when he had said these things, he cried, he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.
(Luke 8:5-8)


Ye sons of Earth prepare the plough,
Break up your fallow ground!
The Sower is gone forth to sow,
And scatter blessings round.

The seed that finds a stony soil,
Shoots forth a hasty blade;
But ill repays the sower’s toil,
Soon withered, scorched, and dead.

The thorny ground is sure to balk
All hopes of harvest there;
We find a tall and sickly stalk,
But not the fruitful ear.

The beaten path and high-way side
Receive the trust in vain;
The watchful birds the spoil divide,
And pick up all the grain.

But where the Lord of grace and power
Has blessed the happy field;
How plenteous is the golden store
The deep-wrought furrows yield!

Father of mercies we have need
Of thy preparing grace;
Let the same hand that gives the seed,
Provide a fruitful place.

CANDLEMAS: The Fulfillment Of Advent, by Philip H. Pfatteicher

From Journey Into The Heart of God

The celebration of Christmas may be understood to extend at its fullest length until February 2, the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple and the purification of Saint Mary the Virgin, often called Candlemas from the custom of blessing candles on that day, inspired by the Gospel, Luke 2:22-40, which includes the Song of Simeon that praises Christ as “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.”  The block of the liturgical year that began with the successive lighting of the candles of the Advent wreath finds its fulfillment in the blessing and procession with lighted candles in celebration of the arrival of the Lord in his Temple.  The antiphon of the Introit (Psalm 48:8-9) identifies our experience of waiting in the house of God with the expectant waiting of the aged Anna and Simeon and the old man’s vision of the enlightenment of the Gentiles:

We have waited in silence on your loving-kindness, O God, in the midst of your temple.  Your praise, like your name, O God, reaches to the world’s end; your right hand is full of justice. (Book of Occasional Services)

The responsory in the Liturgy of the Hours, derived from Ezekiel 43:5 and Luke 2:22 declares,

The glory of the Lord entered the temple by the eastward gate,
and the house of God was filled with his splendor.
His parents took the child Jesus into the Temple,
and the house of God was filled with his splendor.

Old texts take on new significance.  “Arise and shine, Jerusalem, for your light has come.” (Psalm antiphon in the Office of Readings)  Christ the light has come to his city.

Johann Franck, a lawyer and Burgomeister of Guben, translates the historical event of the presentation into the situation of worshipers gathered in the church awaiting the revelation of their Lord.

Light of the Gentile nations,
Thy people’s Joy and Love!
Drawn by thy Spirit hither,
We gladly come to prove
Thy presence in thy Temple,
And wait with earnest mind,
As Simeon had awaited
His Savior God to find.
. . .
Let us, O Lord, be faithful,
With Simeon to the end,
That so his dying song may
From all our hearts ascend:
“O Lord, let now thy servant
Depart in peace for aye,
Since I have seen my Savior,
Have here beheld his days.”

The hymn is set to the tune, Wie soll ich dich empfangen, echoing the tune of Paul Gerhardt’s Advent hymn, “O how shall I receive thee,” thus bringing to a satisfying close the extended celebration of Christmas.  Two mid-nineteenth-century hymns take their point from the Collect and ask that we be presented by Christ to the Father, celebrating in similar ways the Lord’s coming to his Temple.  Henry John Pye describes the scene and offers a prayer.

In his temple now behold him,
See the long-expected Lord;
Ancient prophets had foretold him,
God has now fulfilled his word.
Now to praise him, his redeemèd
Shall break forth with one accord.

In the arms of her who bore him,
Virgin pure, behold him lie,
While his agèd saints adore him,
Ere in perfect faith they die.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Lo, the incarnate God Most High!

Jesus, by thy Presentation,
Thou who didst for us endure,
Make us see thy great salvation,
Seal us with thy promise sure;
And present us, in thy glory,
To thy Father, cleansed and pure.

John Ellerton’s hymn retains lingering echoes of Christmas, with Joseph standing in silent adoration and the child called the Light of the world.

Hail to the Lord who comes, comes to his temple gate;
Not with his angel host, not in his kingly state;
No shouts proclaim him nigh, no crowds his coming wait;

But, borne upon the throne of Mary’s gentle breast,
Watched by her duteous love, in her fond arms at rest,
Thus to his Father’s house he comes, the Heavenly guest.

There Joseph at her side in reverent wonder stands;
And, filled with holy joy, old Simeon in his hands
Takes up the promised child, the glory of all lands.

O Light of all the Earth, thy children wait for thee!
Come to thy temples here, that we, from sin set free,
Before thy Father’s face may all presented be!

The antiphon to the Magnificat at first vespers on Candlemas is strikingly evocative:

The old man carried the child,
but the child guided 
[regebat] the old man.
The virgin gave birth to the child
Yet remained a virgin for ever.
She knelt in worship before her child.

 The first two lines of the antiphon, derived from Saint Augustine, are repeated in the Alleluia of the Mass for the Presentation: “Alleluia, alleluia.  The old man carried the child, but the child guided (or governed) the old man.  Alleluia.”  (The biblical text does not say explicitly that Simeon was an old man, but his association with the aged Anna, who was either eighty-four years of age or lived as a widow for eighty-four years, suggests that they were similar in age.)  The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple may be seen as the fulfillment of the Advent waiting.  We are one with Anna, the prophet, and with Simeon, who held the promised child in his arms, and Christmas is complete.

But yet there is more.  Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce her soul; the feast day looks ahead to the crucifixion and functions as a bridge between the Nativity and the Passion.  James Montgomery, in his hymn, “Angels from the realms of glory,” goes through the events of Christmas and Epiphany one by one.  First, the angels “who sang creation’s story” are now praised for proclaiming the birth of the Messiah.  Next, the “shepherds in the field abiding” are invited to “come and worship”; then the Magi are called upon to “seek the great desire of nations” and worship the one whose natal star they have seen.  Finally, the prophecy of Malachi 3:1 (the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple) is invoked in the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple as Anna and Simeon at last see the long-awaited Savior of his people.

Saints before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear,
Suddenly the Lord, descending,
In his temple shall appear:
Come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King.

The description of the Lord “descending” to appear in his Temple suggests that the appearance of the Lord in his Temple is not only as an infant held by Saint Simeon, but as the one who is yet to come as Lord of glory.  The event is understood as a declaration of the certainty of the second coming.  Christmas is a proclamation of the Parousia.

The blessing bestowed on this day is the blessing of all the candles to be used in the church in the year ahead (like the blessing of oils on Maundy Thursday), and so the custom extends the festival into the future in the ever-forward-looking way of the liturgical year.  The Roman Catholic prayer of blessing the candles has a similar forward thrust, asking that we may advance toward the light: “O God, true light and source of light eternal, pour into the hearts of your faithful people the clarity of perpetual light that all those in this your holy temple, enlightened by these candles may advance with joy toward the light of your glory.”  Christmas is complete, and yet there is more to come.

In the present calendar, the celebration of the Epiphany concludes with the Sunday of the baptism of Jesus.  On the following day, what the Roman calendar calls “ordinary time” begins, and the white color of Christmas-Epiphany is replaced with green.  Anglican and Lutheran use, however, continues in a muted way the former practice of an Epiphany season lasting through the Last Sunday after Epiphany (the Sunday before Ash Wednesday).  In the 1979 Prayer Book, “The Titles of the Seasons, Sundays, and Holy Days observed in this church throughout the year” explicitly identifies the “Epiphany Season”; the Lutheran Book of Worship and the Lutheran Service Book do likewise.  The Last Sunday after the Epiphany is called explicitly in Lutheran use, the Transfiguration, and in Anglican use has the Transfiguration theme in the appointed Propers, although not the title.  That event is understood as a final epiphany of the nature of Christ before Lent begins three days later.  These Sundays between the baptism and the Transfiguration are numbered, “after the Epiphany,” but are clothed in the color green.

POETRY: A Sonnet for Candlemas, by Malcolm Guite

Candlemas

They came, as called, according to the Law.

Though they were poor and had to keep things simple,

They moved in grace, in quietness, in awe,

For God was coming with them to His temple.

Amidst the outer court’s commercial bustle

They’d waited hours, enduring shouts and shoves,

Buyers and sellers, sensing one more hustle,

Had made a killing on the two young doves.

They come at last with us to Candlemas

And keep the day the prophecies came true

We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,

The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.

For Candlemas still keeps His kindled light,

Against the dark our Savior’s face is bright.

UNITY: The Spiritual House Of God, by Sharanya Tiwari

From The Catholic Register

(Sharanya Tiwari is a Grade 11 Catholic high school student of Hindu faith. Out of all the entries, it was her essay on Christians united in “their rich faith in Christ” that set her apart from the others in the annual Friars’ Student Writing Award held in conjunction with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.)


In a society where divisions exist within particular religions, even the strongest believers can have difficulty understanding their faith. They may even underestimate their spiritual worth.

Today, there are many denominations within Christianity. However, despite these many denominations, one indisputable similarity exists between all Christians — their faiths can be traced back to Jesus Christ. According to 1 Peter 2:1-10, those who entrust their faith in Jesus are the building blocks of God’s spiritual house.

For devoting their complete faith in Christ, Christians can be considered these building blocks. Thus, despite divisions within Christianity, Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants should all be considered a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s own people.

In the above verse, the apostle Peter compares the coming of Christ with the laying of a stone. Many neglected the message of Christ. They viewed the stone as an obstacle on their path. But others saw the stone as the foundation of the Kingdom of God on Earth. These people form the present day Christian denominations that, in spite of varying social classifications, have treasured the love of Christ in their heart.

This raises the following question: since the message of Christ is central in Christian denominations, are all Christians an integral part of the Christian faith? The answer is a resounding, yes. Each Christian represents a building block in the spiritual house of God.

Houses cannot be constructed with a few building blocks. Similarly, God’s spiritual house is not constructed with the faith of just a few Christians. It is constructed with the collective faith of the numerous Christian denominations. They are appointed to protect his house by acting in unity with one another. They are chosen to evangelize the foundational truth of the Gospels. This makes Christians a royal priesthood and a chosen race.

Furthermore, the apostle Peter mentions that God’s own people are called to proclaim his mighty acts. This is evident in Christian denominations since they strive to preserve their traditions and values through sacraments and prayer. This is an act of proclaiming that is performed by all Christians. For this reason, Christians foster a holy nation where the Word of God prevails.

Their rich faith in Christ entitles all Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s own people. It is imperative that Christians understand that regardless of which denomination they belong to, they play the vital role of shaping the spiritual house of God.

They are chosen to prevent his spiritual house from disintegrating in the present generation of ignorance and disbelief. They must not become preoccupied with comparisons concerning their denominations and that of others. By doing so they may fail to recognize, much less fulfill, God’s plan. Instead, they must continually act in unison and fulfill their ultimate goal as God’s people. Their goal involves cherishing God’s love and magnificence, now and always.

PRAYER: Prayers For The Peace And Unity Of The Church, by Arthur Judson Brown

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace, give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.  Take away all hatred and prejudice and whatsoever else may hinder us from Godly union and concord, that, as there is but one body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may henceforth be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you, through Jesus Christ, our Lord,

Amen.

O God of Peace, who through your son, Jesus Christ, did set forth one faith for the salvation of mankind, send your grace and Heavenly blessing upon all Christian people who are striving to draw nearer to you and to each other, in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace.  Give us penitence for our divisions, wisdom to know your truth, courage to do your will, love which will break down the barriers of pride and prejudice, and an unswerving loyalty to your holy name.  Suffer us not to shrink from any endeavor, which is in accordance with your will, for the peace and unity of your church.  Give us boldness to seek only your glory and the advancement of your kingdom.  Unite us all in you as you, O Father, with your son and the Holy Spirit, are one God, world without end,

Amen.

PRAYER: Devoutly I Adore You, Hidden Diety, by Thomas Aquinas

Devoutly I adore you, hidden Deity,
Under these appearances concealed.
To you my heart surrenders self
For, seeing you, all else must yield.

Sight and touch and taste here fail;
Hearing only can be believed.
I trust what God’s own Son has said.
Truth from truth is best received.

Divinity, on the cross, was hid;
Humanity here comes not to thought.
Believing and confessing both,
I seek out what the Good Thief sought.

I see no wounds, as Thomas did,
But I profess you God above.
Draw me deeply into faith,
Into your hope, into your love.

O memorial of the Lord’s sad death,
Show life to man, O living Bread.
Grant that my soul may live through you,
By your sweet savor ever fed.

Jesus Lord, my Pelican devout,
With your blood my sins dismiss.
One single drop could surely save
From sin this world’s dark edifice.

Jesus, whom now I see enveiled,
What I desire, when will it be?
Beholding your fair face revealed,
Your glory shall I be blessed to see.

Amen.

POETRY: Do You Honor God?, by Hippolytus of Rome

 For the kingdom of Heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.  And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, “You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.” So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You go into the vineyard too.” And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.” And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house,  saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But he replied to one of them,”Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” So the last will be first, and the first last. (Matthew 20:1-16)

 

Do you honor God? Do you love him
—here’s the very feast for your pleasure.
Are you his servant, knowing his wishes?
—be glad with your Master, share his rejoicing.
Are you worn down with the labor of fasting?
—now is the time of your payment.

Have you been working since early morning?
—now you will be paid what is fair.
Have you been here since the third hour?
—you can be thankful, you will be pleased.

If you came at the sixth hour,
you may approach without fearing:
you will suffer no loss.
Did you linger till the ninth hour?
—come forward without hesitation.
What though you came at the eleventh hour?
—have no fear; it was not too late.

God is a generous Sovereign,
treating the last to come as he treats the first arrival.
He allows all his workmen to rest—
those who began at the eleventh hour,
those who have worked from the first.
He is kind to the late-comer
and sees to the needs of the early,
gives to the one and gives to the other:
honors the deed and praises the motive.

Join, then, all of you, join in our Master’s rejoicing.
You who were the first to come, you who came after,
come and collect now your wages.
Rich men and poor men, sing and dance together.
You that are hard on yourselves, you that are easy,
honor this day.
You that have fasted and you that have not,
make merry today.

The meal is ready: come and enjoy it.
The calf is a fat one: you will not go hungry away.
There’s kindness for all to partake of and kindness to spare.

Away with pleading of poverty:
the kingdom belongs to us all.
Away with bewailing of failings:
forgiveness has come from the grave.
Away with your fears of dying:
the death of our Savior has freed us from fear.
Death played the master: he has mastered death.
The world below had scarcely known him in the flesh
when he rose and left it plunged in bitter mourning.

Isaias knew it would be so.
The world of shadows mourned, he cried, when it met you,
mourned at its bringing low, wept at its deluding.

The shadows seized a body and found it was God;
they reached for Earth and what they held was Heaven;
they took what they could see: it was what no one sees.
Where is death’s goad? Where is the shadows’ victory?

Christ is risen: the world below is in ruins.
Christ is risen: the spirits of evil are fallen.
Christ is risen: the angels of God are rejoicing.
Christ is risen: the tombs are void of their dead.
Christ has indeed arisen from the dead,
the first of the sleepers.

Glory and power are his for ever and ever. Amen.

POETRY: The Unity Of God, by Frederick W. Faber

One God. One Majesty.
There is no God but thee.
Unbounded, unextended unity.

Awful in unity,
O God, we worship thee
More simply one, because supremely three.

Dread, unbeginning one.
Single, yet not alone,
Creation hath not set thee on a higher throne.

Unfathomable Sea.
All life is out of thee,
And thy life is thy blissful unity.

All things that from thee run,
All works that thou hast done,
Thou didst in honor of thy being one.

And by thy being one,
Ever by that alone,
Couldst thou do, and doest, what thou hast done.

We from thy oneness come,
Beyond it cannot roam,
And in thy oneness find our one eternal home.

Blest be thy unity.
All joys are one to me,
The joy that there can be no other God than thee.

UNITY: Ecumenical Dialogue, by Pope Francis

From The Joy of the Gospel

Commitment to ecumenism responds to the prayer of the Lord Jesus that “they may all be one.”  The credibility of the Christian message would be much greater if Christians could overcome their divisions and the church could realize “the fullness of catholicity proper to her in those of her children who, though joined to her by baptism, are yet separated from full communion with her.”  We must never forget that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another.  This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face.  Trusting others is an art and peace is an art.  Jesus told us: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  In taking up this task, also among ourselves, we fulfill the ancient prophecy: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares.”

In this perspective, ecumenism can be seen as a contribution to the unity of the human family.  At the Synod, the presence of the Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomaios I, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, His Grace Rowan Williams, was a true gift from God and a precious Christian witness.

Given the seriousness of the counter-witness of division among Christians, particularly in Asia and Africa, the search for paths to unity becomes all the more urgent.  Missionaries on those continents often mention the criticisms, complaints, and ridicule to which the scandal of divided Christians gives rise.  If we concentrate on the convictions we share, and if we keep in mind the principle of the hierarchy of truths, we will be able to progress decidedly towards common expressions of proclamation, service, and witness.  The immense numbers of people who have not received the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot leave us indifferent.  Consequently, commitment to a unity which helps them to accept Jesus Christ can no longer be a matter of mere diplomacy or forced compliance, but rather an indispensable path to evangelization.  Signs of division between Christians in countries ravaged by violence add further causes of conflict on the part of those who should instead be a leaven of peace.  How many important things unite us!  If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another!  It is not just about being better informed about others, but rather about reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us.  To give but one example, in the dialogue with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, we Catholics have the opportunity to learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and their experience of synodality.  Through an exchange of gifts, the Spirit can lead us ever more fully into truth and goodness.

PRAYER: For The Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity 2016

Created by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland

Prayers for the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit,
gift of the Father through his Son, Jesus Christ,
dwell in us all, open our hearts
and help us to listen to your voice.

Holy Spirit, come upon us.

Holy Spirit, Divine Love,
source of unity and holiness,
show us the love of God.

Holy Spirit, come upon us.

Holy Spirit, Fire of Love,
purify us, removing all divisions
in our hearts, in our communities and in the world,
and so make us one in Jesus’s name.

Holy Spirit, come upon us.

Holy Spirit,
strengthen our faith in Jesus,
truly divine and truly human,
who carried our sins of division to the cross
and brought us to communion in his resurrection.

Holy Spirit, come upon us.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
dwell in us
that we may become a communion of love and holiness.
Make us one in you,
who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Amen.

Prayers of Reconciliation

God invites us to reconciliation and holiness. Let us turn our minds, hearts, and bodies to receive the grace of reconciliation on the way to holiness.

(silence)

Lord, you created us in your own image.
Forgive us when we do not honor your image in us
and the world that you gave us.

Kyrie eleison.

Jesus, you invite us to be perfect
as our Heavenly Father is perfect.
Forgive us when we fail to be holy,
to be people of integrity,
and to respect human rights and dignity.

Christe eleison.

Lord of life, not of death;
of peace, not of war;
of light, not of darkness,
forgive us when we become instruments of war, death, and injustice,
and fail to build a community of love.

Kyrie eleison.

Merciful God,
fill us with your grace and holiness.
Make us apostles of love wherever we go.
This we pray through Christ, our Lord.

Amen.

Prayers of Hope

As God’s adopted children,
aware of our call to mission,
let us raise our prayers
and affirm our desire to be a holy people of God.

(silence)

Gracious God,
transform our hearts,
our families,
our communities, and our society.

Make all your people holy and one in Christ.

Water of life,
quench the thirst that exists in our society,
the thirst for dignity, for love,
for communion, and holiness.

Make all your people holy and one in Christ.

Holy Spirit,
Spirit of joy and peace,
heal the divisions caused by our misuse of power and money,
and reconcile us across different cultures and languages.
Unite us as God’s children.

Make all your people holy and one in Christ.

Trinity of love,
lead us out of darkness into your marvelous light.

Make all your people holy and one in Christ.

Lord Jesus Christ,
we are made one with you in baptism
and therefore we unite our prayers to yours
in the words you taught us.

The Lord’s Prayer

Amen.

PRAYER: Salt Of The Earth, Day 8 — The Fellowship Of The Apostles

A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2016; created by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland

Starting Point

Reflections from Levi Ivars Graudins, the founder of the Gaizins House of Prayer.

Set in Gaizins, Latvia’s highest hill, this house of prayer regularly hosts the 40-hour fellowship of Christian leaders who, for the duration, are supported in prayer and worship by the faithful.  These encounters renew the leaders as fellow-workers in Christ, and help shape the visible expression of ecumenical life in Latvia.

Jesus’s commandment to love one another is not theoretical.  Our communion of love with one another becomes concrete when we gather together intentionally, in apostolic simplicity, as Christ’s disciples to share fellowship and prayer.

The more Christians, especially their leaders, encounter Christ together in humility and patience, the more prejudice diminishes, so we discover Christ in one another and become authentic witnesses to the kingdom of God.

Reflection

Fellowship

The Sermon was about healing,
wholeness,
the feast of rich food
and well-matured wines,
that is for all peoples.

Out in the street,
Christ’s body and blood
still sweet on your tongue,
you eye with disdain
strangers
drifting out of alien
churches.

Outcasts, you say.
Children of darkness.

Outcast yourself,
Christ’s body and blood
a noxious poison now
in your crabbed soul.

Prayer

Lord Jesus,
you commanded us to break bread
together
and to drink one cup in remembrance of you
—your imperative ignored.
Forgive us, Lord.
Open the hearts and minds of Christians worldwide,
especially those entrusted with leadership in your church,
to the joys and blessings of this fellowship.
Create in all of us a passion to realize the hope
to which you have called us:
one body and one Spirit,
one Lord, one baptism,
one God who is above and through and in all.

Amen.

SERMON: The Candle Of The Lord, by Phillips Brooks

The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord. (Proverbs 20:27)

The essential connection between the life of God and the life of man is the great truth of the world; and that is the truth which Solomon sets forth in the striking words which I have chosen for my text this morning. The picture which the words suggest is very simple. An unlighted candle is standing in the darkness and someone comes to light it. A blazing bit of paper holds the fire at first, but it is vague and fitful. It flares and wavers and at any moment may go out. But the vague, uncertain, flaring blaze touches the candle, and the candle catches fire and at once you have a steady flame. It burns straight and clear and constant. The candle gives the fire a manifestation-point for all the room which is illuminated by it. The candle is glorified by the fire and the fire is manifested by the candle. The two bear witness that they were made for one another by the way in which they fulfil each other’s life. That fulfilment comes by the way in which the inferior substance renders obedience to its superior. The candle obeys the fire. The docile wax acknowledges that the subtle flame is its master and it yields to his power; and so, like every faithful servant of a noble master, it at once gives its master’s nobility the chance to utter itself, and its own substance is clothed with a glory which is not its own. The disobedient granite, if you try to burn it, neither gives the fire a chance to show its brightness nor gathers any splendor to itself. It only glows with sullen resistance, and, as the heat increases, splits and breaks but will not yield. But the candle obeys, and so in it the scattered fire finds a point of permanent and clear expression.

Can we not see, with such a picture clear before us, what must be meant when it is said that one being is the candle of another being? There is in a community a man of large, rich character, whose influence runs everywhere. You cannot talk with any man in all the city but you get, shown in that man’s own way, the thought, the feeling of that central man who teaches all the community to think, to feel. The very boys catch something of his power, and have something about them that would not be there if he were not living in the town. What better description could you give of all that, than to say that that man’s life was fire and that all these men’s lives were candles which he lighted, which gave to the rich, warm, live, fertile nature that was in him multiplied points of steady exhibition, so that he lighted the town through them? Or, not to look so widely, I pity you if in the circle of your home there is not some warm and living nature which is your fire. Your cold, dark candle-nature, touched by that fire, burns bright and clear. Wherever you are carried, perhaps into regions where that nature cannot go, you carry its fire and set it up in some new place. Nay, the fire itself may have disappeared, the nature may have vanished from the Earth and gone to Heaven; and yet still your candle-life, which was lighted at it, keeps that fire still in the world, as the fire of the lightning lives in the tree that it has struck, long after the quick lightning itself has finished its short, hot life and died. So the man in the countingroom is the candle of the woman who stays at home, making her soft influence felt in the rough places of trade where her feet never go; and so a man who lives like an inspiration in the city for honesty and purity and charity may be only the candle in whose obedient life burns still the fire of another strong, true man who was his father, and who passed out of men’s sight a score of years ago. Men call the father dead, but he is no more dead than the torch has gone out which lighted the beacon that is blazing on the hill.

And now, regarding all this lighting of life from life, two things are evident, the same two which appeared in the story of the candle and its flame: First, there must be a correspondency of nature between the two; and second, there must be a cordial obedience of the less to the greater. The nature which cannot feel the other nature’s warmth, even if it is held close to it; and the nature which refuses to be held where the other nature’s flame can reach it, – both of these must go unlighted, no matter how hotly the fire of the higher life may burn.

I think that we are ready now to turn to Solomon and read his words again and understand them. “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord,” he says. God is the fire of this world, its vital principle, a warm pervading presence everywhere. What thing of outward nature can so picture to us the mysterious, the subtle, the quick, live, productive and destructive thought, which has always lifted men’s hearts and solemnized their faces when they have said the word God, as this strange thing, – so Heavenly, so unearthly, so terrible, and yet so gracious; so full of creativeness, and yet so quick and fierce to sweep whatever opposes it out of its path, – this marvel, this beauty and glory and mystery of fire? Men have always felt the fitness of the figure; and the fire has always crowded, closest of all Earthly elements, about the throne on which their conception of Deity was seated. And now of this fire the spirit of man is the candle. What does that mean? If, because man is of a nature which corresponds to the nature of God, and just so far as man is obedient to God, the life of God, which is spread throughout the universe, gathers itself into utterance; and men, aye, and all other beings, if such beings there are, capable of watching our humanity, see what God is, in gazing at the man whom He has kindled, – then is not the figure plain? It is a wondrous thought, but it is clear enough. Here is the universe, full of the diffused fire of divinity. Men feel it in the air, as they feel an intense heat which has not broken into a blaze. That is the meaning of a great deal of the unexplained, mysterious awfulness of life, of which they who are very much in its power are often only half aware. It is the sense of God, felt but unseen, like an atmosphere burdened with heat that does not burst out into fire. Now in the midst of this solemn, burdened world there stands up a man, pure, Godlike, and perfectly obedient to God. In an instant it is as if the heated room had found some sensitive, inflammable point where it could kindle to a blaze. The vague oppressiveness of God’s felt presence becomes clear and definite. The fitfulness of the impression of divinity is steadied into permanence. The mystery changes its character, and is a mystery of light and not of darkness. The fire of the Lord has found the candle of the Lord, and burns clear and steady, guiding and cheering instead of bewildering and frightening us, just so soon as a man who is obedient to God has begun to catch and manifest His nature.

I hope that we shall find that this truth comes very close to our personal, separate lives; but, before we come to that, let me remind you first with what a central dignity it clothes the life of man in the great world. Certain philosophies, which belong to our time, would depreciate the importance of man in the world, and rob him of his centralness. Man’s instinct and man’s pride rebel against them, but he is puzzled by their speciousness. Is it indeed true, as it seems, that the world is made for man, and that from man, standing in the center, all things besides which the world contains get their true value and receive the verdict of their destiny? That was the old story that the Bible told. The book of Genesis with its Garden of Eden, and its obedient beasts waiting until the man should tell them what they should be called, struck firmly, at the beginning of the anthem of the world’s history, the great note of the centralness of man. And the Garden of Eden, in this its first idea, repeats itself in every cabin of the western forests or the southern jungles, where a new Adam and a new Eve, a solitary settler and his wife, begin as it were the human history anew. There once again the note of Genesis is struck, and man asserts his centralness. The forest waits to catch the color of his life. The beasts hesitate in fear or anger till he shall tame them to his service or bid them depart. The Earth under his feet holds its fertility at his command, and answers the summons of his grain or flower-seeds. The very sky over his head regards him, and what he does upon the Earth is echoed in the changes of the climate and the haste or slowness of the storms. This is the great impression which all the simplest life of man is ever creating, and with which the philosophies, which would make little of the separateness and centralness of the life of man, must always have to fight. And this is the impression which is taken up and strengthened and made clear, and turned from a petty pride to a lofty dignity and a solemn responsibility, when there comes such a message as this of Solomon’s. He says that the true separateness and superiority and centralness of man is in that likeness of nature to God, and that capacity of spiritual obedience to Him, in virtue of which man may be the declaration and manifestation of God to all the world. So long as that truth stands, the centralness of man is sure. “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord.”

PRAYER: Salt Of The Earth, Day 7 — Hearts Burning For Unity

A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2016; created by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland

Starting Point

Reflections inspired by Latvians who have come to faith through the Alpha Course.

The disciples who leave Jerusalem for Emmaus have lost their hope that Jesus was the Messiah and walk away from their community.  It is a journey of separation and isolation.  By contrast, they return to Jerusalem full of hope with a Gospel message on their lips.  It is this resurrection message that drives them back into the heart of the community and into a communion of fellowship.  So often Christians try to evangelize with a competitive spirit, hoping to fill their own churches.  Ambition overrides the desire for others to hear the life-giving message of the Gospel.  True evangelism is a journey from Emmaus to Jerusalem, a journey from isolation to unity.

Reflection

The Road to Unity

You have withdrawn,
baffled and disillusioned,
from the communion
of fellowship,
and taken the lonely road
to your own Emmaus:

a journey of separation
and isolation.

When your eyes are opened
to recognize
him who comes near
and goes with you,

explains to you
the scriptures,
blesses
and breaks the bread,

you will return
at once,
your hearts burning within you,
to your companions, gathered
together
in Jerusalem.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, constant companion on the journey
you have made our hearts burn within us,
and have sent us back on the road
towards our brothers and sisters,
with the Gospel message on our lips.
Help us to see that hope and obedience to your commands
always lead to the greater unity of your people.

Amen.

PRAYER: Salt Of The Earth, Day 6 — Hospitality For Prayer

A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2016; created by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland

Starting Point

This reflection comes out of the experience of an ecumenical prayer chapel in the center of the small town, Madona.

The chapel grew out of the experience of praying through the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity together.  The group represents Lutheran, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions.  They continue to join in round the clock prayer.

As long as God’s people are divided and Christians are estranged from one another, we are like Jesus in Samaria, strangers in a foreign land, without safety, refreshment, or a place of rest.  Isaiah tells us of the Lord’s mighty act: he posted sentinels on the walls of Jerusalem so that his people could worship him in safety day and night.

In the Week of Prayer, our churches and chapels become places of safety, rest, and refreshment for people to join in prayer.  The challenge from this week is to create more places and protected times of prayer, because as we pray together, we become one people.

Reflection

Sentinels

This is the one week
when, as you encircle the church
with prayer
you become,
all too briefly,
one people.

Persist in this prayer.

Persevere,
watchful as the sentinels
upon the walls of Jerusalem.

Be not silent.
Take no rest.
Give the Lord no respite

until, at last, he binds you
together and to himself:
one people,
one mission,
one God,
that the world may believe.

Prayer

Lord Jesus,
You asked your apostles to stay awake and pray with you.
May we offer the world sacred space and holy time
in which to find refreshment and peace,
so that praying together we come to know you more deeply.

Amen.

MYSTICISM: Discourse On Abba Philimon

From The Philokalia

It is said that Abba Philimon, the anchorite, lived for a long time enclosed in a certain cave not far from the Lavra of the Romans.  There he engaged in the life of ascetic struggle, always asking himself the question which, it is reported, the great Arsenios used to put to himself: “Philimon, why did you come here?”  He used to plait ropes and make baskets, giving them to the steward of the Lavra in exchange for a small ration of bread.  He ate only bread and salt, and even that not every day.  In this way he took no thought for the flesh, but, initiated into ineffable mysteries through the pursuit of contemplation, he was enveloped by divine light and established in a state of joyfulness.  When he went to church on Saturdays and Sundays, he walked alone in deep thought, allowing no one to approach him lest his concentration should be interrupted.  In church he stood in a corner, keeping his face turned to the ground and shedding streams of tears.  For, like the holy fathers, and especially like his great model Arsenios, he was always full of contrition and kept the thought of death continually in his mind.

When a heresy arose in Alexandria and the surrounding area, Philimon left his cave and went to the Lavra near that of Nikanor.  There he was welcomed by the blessed Paulinos, who gave him his own retreat and enabled him to follow a life of complete stillness.  For a whole year Paulinos allowed absolutely no one to approach him, and he himself disturbed him only when he had to give him bread.

On the feast of the holy resurrection of Christ, Philimon and Paulinos were talking when the subject of the eremitical state came up.  Philimon knew that Paulinos, too, aspired to this state, and with this in mind he implanted in him teachings taken from scripture and the fathers that emphasized, as Moses had done, how impossible it is to conform to God without complete stillness; how stillness gives birth to ascetic effort, ascetic effort to tears, tears to awe, awe to humility, humility to foresight, foresight to love; and how love restores the soul to health and makes it dispassionate, so that one then knows that one is not far from God.

He used to say to Paulinos: “You must purify your intellect completely through stillness and engage it ceaselessly in spiritual work.  For just as the eye is attentive to sensible things and is fascinated by what is sees, so rapt by spiritual contemplation that it is hard to tear it away.  And the more the intellect is stripped of the passions and purified through stillness, the greater the spiritual knowledge it is found worthy to receive.  The intellect is perfect when it transcends knowledge of created things and is united with God: having then attained a royal dignity it no longer allows itself to be pauperized or aroused by lower desires, even if offered all the kingdoms of the world.  If, therefore, you want to acquire all these virtues, be detached from every man, flee the world, and sedulously follow the path of the saints.  Dress shabbily, behave simply, speak unaffectedly, do not be haughty in the way you walk, live in poverty and let yourself be despised by everyone.  Above all, guard the intellect and be watchful, patiently enduring indigence and hardship, and keeping intact and undisturbed the spiritual blessings that you have been granted.  Pay strict attention to yourself, not allowing any sensual pleasure to infiltrate.  For the soul’s passions are allayed by stillness; but when they are stimulated and aroused they grow more savage and force us into greater sin; and they become hard to cure, like the body’s wounds when they are scratched and chafed.  Even an idle word can make the intellect forget God, the demons enforcing this with the compliance of the senses.

“Great struggle and awe are needed to guard the soul.  You have to divorce yourself from the whole world and sunder your soul’s affection for the body.  You have to become cityless, homeless, possessionless, free from avarice, from worldly concerns and society, humble, compassionate, good, gentle, still, ready to receive in your heart the stamp of divine knowledge.  You cannot write on wax unless you have first expunged the letters written on it.  Basil the Great teaches us these things.

“The saints were people of this kind.  They were totally severed from the ways of the world, and by keeping the vision of Heaven unsullied in themselves they made its light shine by observing the divine laws.  And having mortified their Earthly aspects through self-control and through awe and love for God, they were radiant with holy words and actions.  For through unceasing prayer and the study of the divine scriptures the soul’s noetic eyes are opened, and they see the King of the celestial powers, and great joy and fierce longing burn intensely in the soul; and as the flesh, too, is taken up by the Spirit, man becomes wholly spiritual.  These are the things which those who in solitude practice blessed stillnesss and the strictest way of life, and who have separated themselves from all human solace, confess openly to the Lord in Heaven alone.”

When the good brother heard this, his soul was wounded by divine longing; and he and Abba Philimon went to live in Sketis where the greatest of the holy fathers had pursued the path of sanctity.  They settled in the Lavra of Saint John the Small, and asked the steward of the Lavra to see to their needs, as they wished to lead a life of stillness.  And by the grace of God they lived in complete stillness, unfailingly attending church on Saturdays and Sundays but on other days of the week staying in their cells, praying and fulfilling their rule.

The rule of the holy Elder was as follows.  During the night he quietly chanted the entire psalter and the biblical canticles, and recited part of the gospels.  Then he sat down and intently repeated, “Lord have mercy,” for as long as he could.  After that he slept, rising towards dawn to chant the First Hour.  Then he again sat down, facing eastward, and alternately chanted psalms and recited by heart sections of the epistles and gospels.  He spent the whole day in this manner, chanting and praying unceasingly, and being nourished by the contemplation of Heavenly things.  His intellect was often lifted up to contemplation, and he did not know if he was still on Earth.

His brother, seeing him devoted so unremittingly to this rule and completely transformed by divine thoughts, said to him: “Why, father, do you exhaust yourself so much at your age, disciplining your body and bringing it into subjection?”  And he replied: “Believe me, my son, God has placed such love for my rule in my soul that I lack the strength to satisfy the longing within me.  Yet longing for God and hope of the blessings held in store triumph over bodily weakness.”  Thus at all times, even when he was eating, he raised his intellect up to the heavens on the wings of his longing.

Once a certain brother who lived with him asked him: “What is the mystery of contemplation?”  Realizing that he was intent on learning, the Elder replied: “I tell you, my son, that when one’s intellect is completely pure, God reveals to him the visions that are granted to the ministering powers and angelic hosts.”  The same brother also asked: “Why, father, do you find more joy in the psalms than in any other part of divine scripture?  And why, when quietly chanting them, do you say the words as though were were speaking with someone?”  And Abba Philimon replied: “My son, God has impressed the power of the psalms on my poor soul as he did on the soul of the prophet David.  I cannot be separated from the sweetness of the visions about which they speak: they embrace all scripture.”  He confessed these things with great humility, after being much pressed, and then only for the benefit of the questioner.

A brother named John came from the coast to Father Philimon and, clasping his feet, said to him: “What shall I do to be saved?  For my intellect vacillates to and fro and strays after all the wrong things.”  After a pause, the father replied: “This is one of the outer passions and it stays with you because you still have not acquired a perfect longing for God.  The warmth of this longing and of the knowledge of God has not yet come to you.”  The brother said to him: “What shall I do, father?”  Abba Philimon replied: “Meditate inwardly for a while, deep in your heart, for this can cleanse your intellect of these things.”  The brother, not understanding what was said, asked the Elder: “What is inward meditation, father?”  The Elder replied: “Keep watch in your heart; and with watchfulness say in your mind with awe and trembling: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me.’  For this is the advice which the blessed Diadochos gave to beginners.”

The brother departed; and with the help of God and the Elder’s prayers he found stillness and for a while was filled with sweetness by this meditation.  But then it suddenly left him and he could not practice it or pray watchfully.  So he went again to the Elder and told him what had happened.  And the Elder said to him: “You have had a brief taste of stillness and inner word, and have experienced the sweetness that comes from them.  This is what you should always be doing in your heart: whether eating or drinking, in company or outside your cell, or on a journey, repeat that prayer with a watchful mind and an undeflected intellect; also chant, and meditate on prayers and psalms.  Even when carrying out needful tasks, do not let your intellect be idle but keep it meditating inwardly and praying.  For in this way you can grasp the depths of divine scripture and the power hidden in it, and give unceasing work to the intellect, thus fulfilling the apostolic command: ‘Pray without ceasing.’  Pay strict attention to your heart and watch over it, so that it does not give admittance to thoughts that are evil or in any way vain and useless.  Without interruption, whether asleep or awake, eating, drinking, or in company, let your heart inwardly and mentally at times be meditating on the psalms, at other times be repeating the prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.’  And when you chant, make sure that your mouth is not saying one thing while your mind is thinking about another.”

PRAYER: Salt Of The Earth, Day 5 — Listen To This Dream

A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2016; created by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland

Starting Point

Reflections from the editors of an ecumenical journal, Kas Mus Vieno? (What Unites Us?), founded in 2005 as a response to disunity.

Christian disunity hurts.  Churches suffer from their inability to be united as one family at the Lord’s Table.  They suffer from rivalry and from histories of combativeness.  When Joseph shares his dream with his brothers they react with anger and violence as the dream implies they must bow down before him.  In Egypt, when they ultimately do bow before him, they experience reconciliation and grace rather than the abasement and dishonor they feared.

Jesus, like Joseph’s story, unfolds a vision of unity to us.  But like Joseph’s brothers, we are fearful of the vision when it implies we submit to the will of another.  We fear what we might lose.  But the vision is about gain: regaining our once separated brothers and sisters.

Reflection

Joseph’s dream

A dream of abasement this,
turned into a tale
of reconciliation
with suffering brothers
in a moment of grace,

foreshadowing the dream:
“that they may become
completely one”;
estranged brothers and sisters
reconciled
in prayer and mission.

This, you know, must be right.
Disunity hurts,
strife cripples;

and there is even
in your debatable doctrines
nothing that speaks
of a schism in Heaven.

Prayer

Jesus, our suffering Lord,
our disunity as churches compounds your suffering
and causes pain to those who long
for your dream of unity to become reality.
Forgive us our part in continuing division;
grant us humility to hear your voice
ever urging reconciliation.
Inspire us to work tirelessly to be one
so that the world may believe in your name.

Amen.

SPIRITUALITY: Finding God Within vs. Finding God Without

It is very tempting to write that our age is one where streams of people seek to isolate themselves from others in terms of God, and in doing so, create a self-made spirituality.  But it doesn’t take much of a look at Christian history to see that our religion has been strongly shaped by people who have done just this.

We have the men and women who sought out the desert in order to eschew participation in corporate worship and acts of charity in the towns.

We have famous mystics, people like Marjery Kempe, who left her husband and children behind in order to go on extended pilgrimages on which she wept and wept and wept.

We know of the famous anchorite, Julian of Norwich, who walled herself away from the world and was declared dead in order to find her true spiritual life.

Even my favorite saint, Rita of Cassia, prayed to be freed from her family responsibilities, and thanked God when her two sons were struck down by illness so she could be free to enter a convent.

It’s all there behind us: the conviction that God is best experienced in solitude and quiet.  Other people around us are just distractions, annoyances, temptations.

That said, though, it strikes me that a lot of people today pride themselves with the thought that they have discovered this “way.”

Thinking spiritually outside the box.  A do-it-yourself course in God-room design.

The soul as something that belongs to the individual and so can be controlled and ruled by its person.

A pet, perhaps.  Or a belonging.

It’s mine.

Keep Out!

Churches are seen as buildings full of hypocrites and very difficult people

And charity is seen as, well, something other people should be doing.

What’s it got to do with me?

I’m good with God.

With my meditation cushion, and my candles and incense, and my books.

That’s all I need.

God in Heaven becomes our sole focus.  Our obsession.  Our partner.

And there we are, complete.

Happy.

Content.

And what happens to the world around us?  We seem to care only so far as it affects our lives: taxes, careers, ideology.

Then we become willing to raise our fists and shout.

We might even find our way to be willing to pray for some of this.

Maybe.

If we feel the matter is worthy enough.

And yet, today, pediatricians have added a question to their list of concerns for their patients.  They ask, Are you hungry?

Hunger in America is now a medical concern.

In spite of the fact that President Obama thinks this country is in the pink.

More and more children are hungry.  And live in homeless shelters.  And watch their parents being arrested.

So, is it really better to think outside the God box and find your own path in life, away from the concerns of the world?

Does church offer us anything tangible other than socialization with donuts?

This has everything to do with the concept of union.

Finding union with God in our prayer corner, or on walks, or at the seashore keeps our feet clean of the mud of everyday life.  It can lead to spiritual anorexia, an obsession with keeping our souls “clean” to the detriment of their growth.  Souls grow as a result of our experiences – our dirt.  In that dirt we plant our findings, our understandings, our beliefs.

Our spiritual lives are created from the intercrossing of our scraped knees and what we do to heal them.

Protecting ourselves from falling by keeping ourselves cozy is not the way.

Being cozy – being on our own with God and God alone – is a good place to be for healing.  For letting things settle.  For composing.

When we assume a belief that that is the only way to live, then we are taking God out of the people around us.  Man becomes our “other,” but not in a spiritual way.  They become the “other” in the way that evil handles the “other”: as those whose needs do not concern us.  Or, even worse, as those whose wounds we indifferently cause by our self-obsessions.

In this manner, we divide God’s household from the world’s household.  It’s like caste divisions, with God at the top, and deescalating spiritual importance coming all the way down to whoever it is that we think doesn’t deserve our respect.

In fact, our major fights these days is around who doesn’t deserve respect.  Is it Republicans?  Is it Muslims?  Is it gun owners or abortion doctors?

Which is not to say that everyone deserves respect.

Evil does not deserve respect, and those people who commit their lives to evil deserve as much respect as we can summon.  In fact perhaps the best way of showing evil respect is to do what it takes to keep it from harming the world and others.

I wonder at times how difficult it is to remind ourselves that the people around us, even the situations that we are in, are there for us.  They are there to teach us how to create union with them.  The people with souls so different from our own.  Black and white.  Young and old.  Gay and straight.  Male and female.  Rich and poor.

They are not there for us to become blind in seeing who they are.  But they are there for us to understand how best to build our own spirituality by learning, listening, and caring.

If it weren’t for certain people in my life, I would not know about parts of me.

The mother.

The warrior.

The lover.

To be sure, aspects of me – sometimes what feels like most of me – comes from those time that I am with God.  But then the new day comes and I must leave my coziness, go out into the sun, and tend the garden that I find there.

It is in the union of myself with the other – be it God or the person in front of me – that I discover my true self.

Without others in human form, we are left to define ourselves.

Amen.

PRAYER: Salt Of The Earth, Day 4 — A Priestly People Called To Proclaim The Gospel

A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2016; created by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland

Starting Point

Reflections inspired by the Producers of Vertikale, a Sunday morning Christian program on Latvian TV.

They have learnt “that only when we recognize other Christians as brothers and sisters can we dare to take God’s Word into the public space.”

Words flood our lives: in conversation; from television, radio, and social media.  These words have the power to build up and to knock down.  Much of this ocean of words can seem meaningless: diversion rather than nourishment.  This ocean could drown us, where there is little meaning to grasp.  But the saving Word we have heard has been thrown to us as a lifeline.  It calls us into communion, and draws us into unity with others who have heard it too.  Once we were not a people, but now we are God’s priestly people.

Reflection

Words

Priests of Babel, your words
are launched
like missiles
from your pulpits
to justify where you stand
and why you cannot
in conscience
but agree to disagree.

Words, words, words.
Subtle, serpentine,
their poisonous shells
stifling in the soil the seed
of the one
Word
of the Kingdom of God.

Prayer

Lord Jesus,
the Word made flesh and sent to live among us,
the Word of truth, of love, of joy,
the Word of compassion, of acceptance, of unity.
Forgive our negative, critical, wounding, and divisive thoughts and words.
Inspire us with your Spirit
and give us that unity which will empower us
to speak words of joy, acceptance, and of reconciliation.
Make us life-giving, priestly people in our communities,
to your glory. Amen.

POETRY: The One I Really See, by Barbara Sampson

If I opened my eyes and looked and saw
really saw
what would I see?
Not just a flash of tree as I rush past
but colors red and russet and gold
leaves lined and scarred
crushed and broken
not one of them perfect
yet every one perfect in its symmetry
its imperfection and beauty

If I opened my eyes and looked at you
really looked
what would I see?
Not just a rebel with tatts
a week’s stubble
teeth in need of a scrub
but a son loved by a mother
taken away
a father of children to different partners
taken away
a man with hopes and dreams
all taken away

I want you to know
that when the light shines in a certain way
and I look at you
really look
I see you my neighbour
my brother
I catch a glimpse of what your mother
your partners
your children
loved and lost

I see the fragile dream that still flickers
like a candlelight within you
your potential to become a man of influence
an oak tree going deep
growing tall and strong
with colors red and russet and gold
your life lined and scarred
crushed and broken
yet perfect in its symmetry
its imperfection and its beauty

POETRY: Prayer, by Nathan Parker

our Father I do love to walk
down to the shore at dawn
while the ground is cold
and there sprinkle my cells
to smashed ocean radios
I dream that I was born
with no tongue and that
I can neither ask nor
answer nor understand
questions about where
I come from that the waves
are my clapping sisters
so many dark swallowed
ships my deleted thoughts
cannon and coin pulp
my new body and that any
one of a million canyons
trembling with the psalms
of stones is my easily
remembered mother who
easily remembers me

PRAYER: Salt Of The Earth, Day 3 — The Witness Of Fellowship

A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2016; created by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland

Starting Point

This reflection is inspired by Chemin Neuf.

Chemin Neuf in an international Catholic community with an ecumenical vocation that has been present in Latvia since the early 2000s.  Catholic and Lutheran members experience the joy of the “common life” in Christ which is “to welcome, love, serve, pray, and witness with Christians from diverse traditions.”  They also experience the pain of disunity: “The world cannot believe that we are Jesus’s disciples when we cannot receive together the body and blood of Christ.”  As a sign of this division, they place an empty paten and chalice on the altar during evening prayer.

Reflection

“That they may become completely one”

You weep for your faith, for few
come to your festivals;
churches are desolate;
priests groan.

This, you say,
is a second exile.
“Our retrograde God
will restore his people,
as he restored Israel.”

Hear the word of the Lord,
as you sugar-coat doctrine,
water-down liturgy
in the futile pursuit
of a fractured mission:

“My people divided
and unrepentant
shall never rebuild Jerusalem.”

Prayer

Lord Jesus, Lord of wholeness,
your prayer for unity amongst your disciples
has fallen on closed ears and on hard hearts.

Forgive us our closed ears,
forgive us our hard hearts
which perpetuate suspicion,
prejudice and division:
forgive us our fractured mission.

Open our hearts, eyes, and minds
to your love and truth within all Christian people
and strengthen in us the resolve to work
to restore the unity of your church and your creation
to the glory of your name.

Amen.

JESUS: The Mystery Of Christ Unveiled, by Gregory Collins

From Meeting Christ in His Mysteries

The man Jesus has risen up to name above all names, he was crushed in the flesh of sin, bore the form of a servant, was obedient to death; he became Kyrios (Lord), pneuma (Spirit).  He is, then, the same Lord who walked unnoticed and persecuted through the fields of Palestine and at last ended his life like a criminal on the cross; now he rules the world as king and the church is his bride.  All his life, beginning in the Virgin’s womb, is the great mystery of salvation, hidden from eternity in God and now revealed in the ecclesia (church).  The deeds of his lowliness in that life on Earth, his miserable death on Calvary appear now in a different light: God’s own light; they are his acts, revealed, streaming with his light. (Odo Casel)

If one were asked to define what is meant by “Christianity” today, a variety of different responses might be forthcoming.  Evangelicals might describe it as a personal encounter with Jesus: being born again, an experience of spiritual breakthrough after a long period of searching or suffering.  Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and many Anglicans might speak about belonging to the church and emphasize things like authority, continuity with the past, and participation in complex communal worship.  Other Christians, more liberally inclined, might describe it as a moral code, seeing in the teaching of Jesus a God-given means to transform society and humanize the world.  Charismatics or Pentecostals would tend to stress conscious spiritual experience, particularly of the Holy Spirit.

Yet in the letters of Saint Paul (and those traditionally ascribed to him), Christianity is consistently described as a mystery, mysterion in Greek.  For Paul and the tradition he generated, this mystery concealed eternally in God has been revealed to us in time, for our salvation.  God made it known through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, whose followers had acclaimed him as the Lord’s anointed, the Christ or Messiah longed for by many in Israel.  According to Paul and the other writers of the New Testament, his death and resurrection brought us new and wonderful knowledge about who God is, along with an invitation to enter through faith into an intimate relationship with him in the community of Christ’s followers, his body the church.

Although this understanding of Christianity as the revelation of a hidden mystery was developed mainly in two letters nowadays generally attributed to Paul’s followers (the Letters to the Ephesians and Colossians), it is also present in those which were certainly written by the apostle himself.  For example, at the end of his longest and most influential work, the Letter to the Romans, Paul says, in a concluding doxology or prayer glorifying God:

Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever!  Amen. (Romans 16:25-27)

Paul was writing in Greek against the background of both his own Jewish faith and the complex religious situation of the Greco-Roman world.  This dense passage would have touched major chords in the understanding of those who heard and read him.  Yet the text is neither a theological treatise nor a statement of belief but a prayer at the end of a letter, praising God for what he had done for the world.  What, in Paul’s view, had God actually done?

For Paul, echoing the early Christian proclamation, God’s action was no less than his self-manifestation and the disclosure of his will to save the world.  It did not come completely out of the blue.  It was rather the culmination of an ancient dialogue God had begun with the people of Israel to whose prophets he had first revealed his will.  That dialogue had been destined to have immense consequences for the rest of the human race.  God had established his covenant with Israel, aiming to create a perfect partner to carry out his will in the world but fallen human beings were unable to accomplish that.  In Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, God himself stepped into the human scene and became that partner himself.  He brought his covenant-plan to completion and revealed it for our enlightenment.  God’s will to save became manifest in sending his son into the world, a son whom he appointed as its savior.

By perfect obedience to God’s will, shown in his acceptance of an unjust death imposed by human wickedness, Jesus took away sin, healing our rebellion and restoring friendship again between the world and God.  In raising Jesus from the dead by his own glory, the Father completed the reconciliation process ratified in his death and opened up a glorious future again for human beings.  Jesus is humanity’s liberator from sin and death who reconciled the world to its creator.

Paul never taught that God had to be reconciled to us: on the contrary it was we who had to be reconciled to him.  God is faithful, human beings so often unfaithful.  Jesus, the son of God, rejected by his own and crucified by the Gentiles, was revealed through his resurrection as the Christ, the mystery hidden from endless ages but revealed by God in history at the appointed time.  The mystery of Christ is the event through which God emerged from silence, unveiled himself and made himself known to us.  The mystery is God-becoming-present in the flesh, blood, life, death, and resurrection of his only son, Jesus the Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-us.

According to Paul this mystery made known to us in Christ was a secret kept from eternity hidden deep within the heart of God’s silence.  This hidden secret, nursed eternally in the divine heart, is the very thing God has chosen to reveal.  But now that it has been revealed it is meant to be proclaimed to the whole world as good news, a salvation reaching far beyond (though always including) the people of Israel.  Despite so much Christian misunderstanding of Judaism – and with such hideous consequences in history – there can be no question of God ever having broken his covenant with the Jews.  They remain his first chosen people, the elder brothers and sisters of Christ and of Christians.

Yet the revelation of the mystery is God’s invitation to the whole human race, Gentiles included, to enter into this covenant relationship, which before had been offered uniquely to the people of Israel.  Previously the Gentiles had not known God in this privileged way but in Christ, who gave up his life out of love for all, the covenant God first made with Israel was broken wide open, renewed and confirmed eternally, so that the blessings of God first conferred on Abraham might be extended to all peoples everywhere.  That is the core of the message proclaimed by Paul: in the person of his son, God was reconciling the world to himself, not holding our offences against us.

God has commanded this liberating message of reconciliation to be proclaimed so that his saving love might reach to the ends of the Earth.  All nations and peoples, the entire human race, are invited to accept this good news and enter into the obedience of faith which will reconnect them with God.  The Lord has made known his salvation, has unveiled himself and become present to us.  He invites us to turn to him, believe in him, and open ourselves to his light.  We are asked to respond by becoming present to God who renders himself present to us.  We are invited to end the hostilities, sue for peace, and surrender to God, recognizing that his will is not a ruthless or relentless power but one of limitless love, which we should allow to shape our lives and guide us as he wishes.

The essence of the mystery is that of mutual self-presencing: our becoming present to God who first makes himself present to us in Christ.  In Saint Luke’s Gospel, Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, declared that such would be the blessing conferred by the coming Messiah on those who would put their trust in him:

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we,
being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days. (Luke 1:72-75)

Letting go of fear and giving way to God, learning to walk before him in faith is entirely reasonable for, as Paul says, God is the only wise one (sophios), the overflowing fountain of wisdom (sophia) who calls the whole world into communion with himself through the revelation of his mystery.

For Paul, therefore, Christianity is a deeply “objective” thing.  It is not first and foremost a subjective personal experience; neither is it simple adherence to a set of moral regulations nor even sharing in a sacred tradition.  None of those answers is false in itself.  There is indeed a subjective spiritual experience of God that can be had in prayer.  There is a Christian ethics that has to be lived out.  There is also participation in ancient traditions of worship and adherence to bodies of doctrine.  But they are the consequences of Christianity rather than its essence as such.  Christianity as a living religious reality does not emerge in us by our own strength nor does it bubble up out of the depths of one’s own spirit.  It cannot be fixed in rigid formulae or definitions.  It is above all the gift of new, indestructible, divine life, life that comes to us from beyond ourselves as a pure gift from God in Christ: “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

God’s revelation of the mystery concealed eternally in him and revealed in time to us is like an explosion of light out of the dark depths of the infinitely mysterious God who far transcends all human imagining.  In the words of the second-century martyr bishop, Ignatius of Antioch, it is a word coming forth from the silence of God, an echo of the inner recesses of the Father’s Heavenly heart.  It is God’s Word which took flesh as Jesus of Nazareth and was acclaimed after his resurrection as the Christ, the Lord’s anointed and the Savior of humankind.

PRAYER: Salt Of The Earth, Day 2 — Called To Be Heralds Of Joy

A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2016; created by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland

Starting Point

Reflections from the creators of Christian programming at Latvian State Radio

In the Soviet era, a Christian presence through public media was impossible in Latvia.  Since independence, Latvian State Radio broadcasts Christian programs providing a forum for leaders from diverse churches to encounter one another.  This public witness of mutual respect, love, and joy contributed to the spirit of Latvian ecumenical life.

The joy of the Gospel calls Christians to live the prophecy of Isaiah: “to bring good news to the oppressed.”

When we are saddened by our own suffering, we may lack the vigor to proclaim the joy that comes from Jesus.  Even when we feel unable to give anything to anyone, by bearing witness to the little that we have, Jesus multiplies it in us and in those around us.  When we love one another as Jesus loves us, so we discover mutual love and joy at the heart of our prayer for unity.

Reflection

Good news

Good news indeed!

Such nice people,
in such a nice part of town:
no immigrants,
no offenders,
no prison.

A new vicar:
young, white, and thankfully male,
to match the new church roof
and the state of the art
kitchenette
that cost thousands.

The poor?
Ah, yes. The poor…

Isn’t something sent
to a place called the Third World?

And doesn’t someone collect tins and stuff
for a food bank somewhere?

But this is a good area.

The sleepy stillness
of its Sundays knows
no sigh of need,
no howl of pain,
no cry of despair.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, Lord of joy,
the world craves good news;
the world craves your love and joy.

Fill us with that love and joy.
Help us to see the plight of others,
to hear the sighs of need,
the howls of pain
the cries of despair,
and to respond, always,
in the love and joy of you,
our Savior and our Lord.

Amen.

PRAYER: Listening As We Pray, by Robert S. Turner

From Our Father Who Aren’t in Heaven

The Lord’s Prayer.  The Pater Noster.  The Our Father.  The Disciples’ Prayer.  It goes by many names, but it is perhaps the one thing Christians the world over have in common.  Nearly all Christians observe Communion, or the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, but in widely variant ways and with very different understandings of its significance.  Likewise, baptism takes a number of different forms and opens itself to different interpretations.  The Bible – well, don’t even get me started on the Bible.  Catholics, mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, and the Orthodox can’t even agree on which books belong in the Bible, and the interpretation of the books they do agree on produces some of the most virulent intra-religious conflict in the church today.  Many Christians recite the same creed, but others, including those of the Baptist tradition to which I belong, don’t accept the authority of the creeds.  I only ever say the words of the Nicene Creed when I worship in an Episcopal church with my wife’s family, and when I do I always feel furtive about it.  Even a little guilty.  Hymnody, liturgy, style of preaching, and the language we use for God all vary from denomination to denomination and from church to church, and are as likely to divide as to unite Christians.

But every Sunday the world over, Christians of every color, language, and hermeneutical leaning say the words of the Lord’s Prayer.  True, there are some differences – some say, “trespasses,” while others say, “debts”; some say, “forever and ever,” at the end of the prayer while others close with the more concise, “forever”; and Roman Catholics omit the concluding doxology.  But these variations do not throw up any major obstacles to Christian comity and unity the way the different expressions of the Eucharist do, for example.  The Lord’s Prayer seems to unite rather than divide Christians all around the world.  With the possible exception of the ancient confession, “Jesus is Lord,” nothing else in the Christian tradition can make such a sweeping claim.

Anything that can make a claim of binding together more than two billion Christians from mud huts to mansions, war zones to strip malls, First World to Two-Thirds World and all points in between, will also, by its very nature, claim remarkable familiarity.  Our circumstances, locations, and languages may differ, but at the heart of our shared faith lies a shared prayer that in its most familiar English version runs like this:

Our Father who art in Heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our debts (trespasses)
as we forgive our debtors (those who trespass against us).
And lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.

Most Protestants add this doxology:

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever (and ever).  Amen.

Of course, anything that becomes over familiar runs the risk of losing its power.  When we repeat the Lord’s Prayer for the umpteen thousandth time, we may fail to reflect deeply on the meaning of every phrase and clause.  It’s like saying the Pledge of Allegiance; at some point in childhood we stopped wondering what “indivisible” meant and just said it and got on with our lives.  I suspect we very often do the same with the Lord’s Prayer: “… for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, amen” – and now let’s move on.

As an example of how easy we find it to stop hearing what we’re saying, try this experiment: read the prayer above aloud, choosing your preferred version when it comes to debts and trespasses and the extra “and ever” at the end.  Did you notice anything odd about the prayer?  Anything incongruous?

Now, you may have been on the alert because I called it an experiment, and if so, you may have noticed that the most common form of the Lord’s Prayer in English uses antiquated language – words and sentence structures that we use very rarely if at all in modern English.  Words such as “thy” and “thine,” and clauses such as “hallowed be thy name,” and “thy kingdom come,” would have a strikingly unfamiliar ring if we heard them in any other context.  But because they appear in this most familiar prayer, we roll them off our tongues without a second thought.  Familiarity breeds… not contempt in this case, but at least a form of deafness.

I want to crack the hard shell of that familiarity and hear these old, old words in a new way.  Or rather, in a way that may seem new, but that actually represents an effort to get back to the context in which Jesus first taught his disciples the prayer and in which they first heard it.  I call my writing, subversive reflections on the Lord’s Prayer.  That’s because this most familiar, most seemingly tame of prayers could very well be the most radical and revolutionary manifesto to come to us from Jesus’s time or any time.  To take these words seriously might change our lives in profound and permanent ways, and to act on them might have the capacity to shake the foundations of the world.

Does that sound like an overstatement?  Have I set myself too ambitious a goal?  Maybe.  On the other hand, maybe we underestimate the power of the Lord’s Prayer because so many of us have long since stopped expecting anything of it.  We have long since stopped listening as we pray.  To unlock the tremendous potential waiting inside these words, we must act on them.  To act on them, we must first hear them.  And to really hear them, we have to listen.

I invite you to listen along with me.

PRAYER: Salt Of The Earth, Day 1 — Let The Stone Be Rolled Away

A Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2016; created by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland

Starting Point

Reflections from the Catholic Youth Centre of the Archdiocese of Riga [Latvia] (CYCAR)

From their experience of organizing an annual Ecumenical Way of the Cross, the CYCAR reflect on the meaning of the passion and resurrection in their context, and the Lord’s mighty acts that Christians are called to proclaim.

Latvia’s Soviet history continues to cast a shadow.  The grief and pain of wounds inflicted are difficult to forgive and, like the stone at Jesus’s tomb, they can imprison us in a spiritual grave.  Jesus’s resurrection is the earthshaking event that opens our graves, frees us from pain and bitterness, and re-unites us with our brothers and sisters who have been imprisoned and hurting, too.  And like Mary Magdalene, we must “go quickly” from this great moment of joy to tell others what the Lord as done.

Reflection

The Stone

You have drawn the stone
over the door of your fine
and private tomb.

A cozy death this.

Night embraces the broken
body of Christ,
shrouded in complacency
on its solid rock of dogma.

Shush!
Let no one roll away the stone
lest you must go forth, whole,
in his footsteps
to meet the day’s challenge.

Prayer

Risen Lord Jesus,
the stone was no barrier to you;
your resurrection brings love,
new life, new challenges.

Give us strength and courage
to allow ourselves to believe this
and so to roll back the stones
that imprison us,
embrace the glory of the
Easter morning,
and meet the believers from whom we
are separated.
In your name, O risen Lord,
we pray.

Amen.

SATURDAY READING: What Do You Want? The Place of Seeing God, by Ann Voskamp

From One Thousand Gifts

Every time you feel in God’s creatures something pleasing and attractive, do not let your attention be arrested by them alone, but, passing them by, transfer your thought to God and say: “O my God, if thy creations are so full of beauty, delight, and joy, how infinitely more full of beauty, delight, and joy art thou thyself, creator of all! (Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain)

“You will want to see this.”

He takes my shoulders in his hands, large and field-worn, and draws me close.  I fight the urge to writhe.

It’s not him.  Not his hands holding me, the whisper of his voice, his eyes inviting me now.  It’s just that I’m feeling time’s strangling grip, struggling to make a cathedral of the moment, to hallow it with the holy all here.  It’s late and I’ve got an even later dinner to dish onto eight empty plates.  A half dozen children noisily, happily, ring the table with their hardly washed hands and silly jokes replete with snorts and grunts and dirty feet still needing bathing.  And I haven’t served the diner yet, haven’t slice up the loaf of bread yet, haven’t put away the basil, oregano, parsley, the peelings of carrots, the skins of onions, the jars of tomatoes.  Still have to grate the cheese into circles in the soup bowls.  Still have to wash the dishes, sweep the floors, wash up kids, turn down beds, kneel for the prayers weary and long and needy.  My gratitude journal is buried under a mess of papers over the sink’s sill with yesterday’s snippets of the list that never ends:

Book pages turning
Child sobs ebbing
Boys humming hymns
Click of a seat belt
Fender rattling with stones of gravel roads
Wind rushing through open truck window
Horse hooves clopping down a side road
Laundry flapping
Buggy clattering
Squeak of old swing swaying
Laughter

– but nothing counted today.  And I know my camera is lying facedown in a cupboard and my windows are finger smudged and my head is right spun and when I carry the water pitcher to the table it leaves drops of clear on the counter, round rim of a circle, one large in the center, and it looks like an eye.

For a moment, I notice.

I stare back.

Then wipe it away.

The aping racket rises and I feel it mount and I almost yield to its vise, almost acquiesce, almost desecrate the space with words that snap.  “Can’t I just see whatever it is later?”

But he’s holding on to me gentle.  He’s smiling broadly.  He’s leaning his face into all my knotted angst, and his hands slide down my arms, bold, blind love, and his thick fingers twine mine.  “Come.”

“Right now?”  Can’t he see the kids, hear the kids, feel the crush of all these kids?

He’s grinning silly, man-boy with a secret he can hardly contain.

He leads me the impossible distance of a whole two steps to the windowsill.  I’m transfixed.  Wonder gapes the mouth open and spirits the words away.

His whisper brushes the curl of my ear, “When I saw it, I knew you’d want it too.”

Want it?  Who can breathe?  I am moon-eyed and moonstruck.  I turn to find his eyes to find words.  “Serve dinner?  So I can….” So I can what? What is it exactly that I want to do?

“… So I can run out there?”

He’s laughing at me all wide-eyes, but I don’t care and he’s used to it, he who made vows to a woman seeker and hunter and chaser.  No – he didn’t actually make vows to that woman.  But this is the woman I am becoming.  That eucharisteo is making me – fulfilling thanks vows to God.  I am starved and the feast makes me wild.  Because really, who gets to touch the moon?  Tonight, she’s close.  I might.

He grins, nods go, and I breathe relief and I remember to grab the camera off the shelf but forget to close the cupboard and I am gone, out the back door, across the back lawn, apron still on.

I take flight.  I feel foolish, like a woman taking photographs of cheese, but I feel four again, the spring after we buried Aimee, and my younger-by-only-twelve-months-and-thirteen-days brother John, he and I ran whole lengths of fields at twilight to touch the sun, an ember burning up the horizon.  I remember how the swallows had swooped, the flame light thick with bugs for their bills.  My mama had sat at field’s edge rocking my only five-month-old sister and watched us chase and she smiled, understanding the hoping.  We ran and ran.  My dad drove a tractor down the field, tilling up the earth.

I am old now.  Why am I after the moon tonight?  I have known all these years since that you can never run all the way to the end and lay your hand up against awe.  I have grieved this.  Are the staid Mennonite neighbors peering out their kitchen windows to see the farmer’s wife flapping across the wheat stubble?  I do have shoes on.  Are my own children nose-pressed to the window watching my race?

The moon rounds immense, incandescent globe grazing ours.  Her gravity pulls, pearl filling deepening sky, stringing me unto the universe.

If I race to field’s edge, Earth’s rim, can I stroke her lustrous curve, drink her lily-white skin?

I laugh.  I am still a child.

She is a harvest moon aching, swaying over the golden fields, womb swelling round with glory, and she’s rising away.  I gather my apron close, run faster through the wheat stubble.  Who am I to see glory with unveiled face?  Is that what the child seeks?

Is that why I escape motherhood at the dinner hour, because I can’t see the glory there, here, right in the moment?  Still?  And me slowing for the hunt, looking for even one thousand more gifts, sanctuaries in moments, seeking the fullest life that births out of the darkest emptiness, all the miracle of eucharisteo.  Yes – maybe that woman-child.  The one who lives her life in circles, discovering, entering into, forgetting and losing, finding her way round again, living her life in layers – deeper, round, further in.  I know eucharisteo and the miracle.  But I am not a woman who ever lives the full knowing.  I am a wandering Israelite who sees the flame in the sky above, the pillar, the smoke from the mountain, the earth open up and give way, and still I forget.  I am beset by chronic soul amnesia.  I empty of truth and need the refilling.  I need come again every day – bend, clutch, and remember – for who can gather the manna but once, hoarding, and store away sustenance in the mind for all of the living?

An arrow of geese catch the moon before I do, black silhouettes shooting her through.  I run harder.  The flock lifts her higher into night coming down, lonely cries heralding the coming autumn.  They pierce me through.  There at our fence line where our wheat field gives way to foreign land, I gasp to inhale, crumple to earth.  The moon on the geese wings climbs.

I am of terra; they are of heavens.  I’ve only come to witness.

Is this why I’ve come?

The weight of all this stark beauty crushes lungs.  Mine burn.

I had written it down after I had read it, that I might hope to remember it: the Hebrew word used throughout scripture to describe God’s glory, kabod, is described from the root word meaning “heaviness.”

Dusk and all the arching dome and the field and the great-bellied moon, it all heaves, heavy with the glory.  I heave to breathe: The whole Earth is full of his glory.  Sky, land, and sea, heavy and saturated with God – why do I always forget?  Yeah, I’m no different than Jacob, Jacob waking from sleep before full moon rising.  “Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!’  But he was also afraid and said, ‘What an awesome place this is!  It is none other than the house of God, the very gateway to Heaven!'”  This moment, this place, is none other than a gate into Heaven.  God’s glory rains down, weighs down Earth’s tented heights, and grace tears through, ripping sky canvas and me clear open.  Everywhere windows and gates, and I did not know it.  No.  I have known it and I have forgotten it and I remember it again.

The weight of God’s glory, not illusory or ephemeral, but daily and everywhere, punctures Earth’s lid and Heaven falls through the holes.  I kneel in wheat, moonstruck.

Bowed at the edge of the world, Jesus asks me spun in circles, me coming to, only to lapse and to forget again.  He asks soft of me, who is yet again lost what he asked of the man born blind: “What do you want me to do for you?”

Why have I run?

A mama with children, a wife with full house, a Father’s child living eucharisteo and even the hard – his eye is on me under the moon, penetrating my own shroud.  His breath falls warm.  He knows what I want, need.  Has he called me because he wants me to do my own plumbing of the soul?  What do you want?

Isn’t that the sole question we all need to circle back to, over and again?  And who knows the answer?

I feel in it my chest first, before any answer or layer of answer finds shape in image, words.  (For all real answers, don’t they come in strata, gradations of understanding?)  My body knows it, the way tension drains from shoulders and a heart unknots.  I loosen, breathe long.  I slow.  Moonlight cascades and a smile spreads in its wake.   What do you want?  Why have I run?  A summer of traveling to the city with Levi for follow-up visits with the surgeon.  A summer of physiotherapist appointments with daily bending exercises, trying to work his gnarled joint, stretch through the scar tissue stiff.  Yes, the whole of life, these exercises to break down the knotting scar tissue from the fall.  A summer of pain.  Always the running.  A summer of grace.  Always the revelation.  Pain is everywhere, and wherever the pain there can be everywhere grace, and yes, Jesus, I am struggling and I get turned around but I think I know, at least in part, what I want.  If I had never run, if I had never fallen, and here, I am not sure I would have known with blazing clarity.  I may not know all that it means, but this is what I want.

This kingdom laden with glory, this, the pearl of great price, the field I’d sell everything to possess.  This is the pearl that crams me with a happiness that throbs, serrated edge, pit open wide for more of his glory.

The only place we have to come before we die is the place of seeing God.

This is what I’m famished for: more of the God-glory.

I whisper with the blind beggar, “Lord, I want to see.”

That’s my moaning pulse: “See.  See.”

§