Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Preparing for Lent

We are officially one week away from Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of Lent, a season of penitential practices and fasting. This is the 40 days we mark as Christians to take the time and space to honor Christ’s own penitential journey in the desert, where he fasted for 40 days and nights. The early Christians used the season of Lent as a time of preparation for those who were to be baptized at the Easter Vigil, or for those who were seeking to rejoin the church. This time was set aside for creating intentional discipleship through fasting, learning, and worship. As we seek to renew our own Baptismal vows (BCP 292) centered around our call to be disciples of Christ in the world, think about what practice or fast will most serve you in this quest.

Every year many of us come to Ash Wednesday wondering what we will give up or take on as our Lenten discipline. As you discern how you will enter into this season of penitence and fasting I encourage you to consider taking something on or giving something up that feeds your soul and draws you closer to the Divine presence in your life. I have collected a few online resources that can be used to guide you in your Lenten journey. Check them out, see how these might assist you or your family as you seek to use this season of penitence and fasting to ignite the light of Christ in your life.

5 Marks of Love - Society of Saint John the Evangel
“This six-week series (beginning Sunday, February 26) provides the opportunity to observe and to reflect on the ways in which the Divine Life expresses itself in and through us; individually and in our faith communities, as well as in the world around us.  Each week we will explore the Anglican Marks of Mission (Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform and Treasure) through videos, questions and exercises so we can speak more clearly and act truthfully, motivated always by hearts marked by God’s love.
The Brothers of SSJE will draw on their own monastic spirituality to help us balance action with contemplation, so that our words and deeds proceed from the deepest places of our hearts, where God dwells.  The resource encourages us to reflect on how we should live, not what we should do.”

Join here:

A Season of Prayer: 40 Days in the Desert - Forward Movement
“Exile, hospitality, and migration are recurrent themes in the Bible and throughout the history of the church. Starting on Ash Wednesday, and continuing through Lent, Forward Movement invites you to a season of prayer. Each day we will offer you a prayer from The Book of Common Prayer or a passage from the Bible. As we grapple with these issues as Christians, we invite you to make these prayers and scriptural passages part of your Lenten devotions. May they help guide your Lenten journey and help us find in Christ our Promised Land.”

Join by following Forward Movement on Facebook:

Lent Madness - The Rev. Tim Schenck & The Rev. Canon Scott Gunn

“A fun and engaging way for people to learn about the men and women comprising the Church’s Calendar of Saints. The format is straightforward: 32 saints are placed into a tournament-like single elimination bracket… The first round consists of basic biographical information about each of the 32 saints. Things get a bit more interesting in the subsequent rounds as we offer quotes and quirks, explore legends, and even move into the area of saintly kitsch.” This is a great Lenten practice that involves fun, competition, and learning about the mystics who helped found many of our contemplative traditions.

Join by following Lent Madness on Facebook or on their website:

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Pausing to Remember in Whose Image I am Created

" Then God walked around, and God looked around
   On all the he had made.
   He looked at His sun, and he looked at his moon.
   And he looked at his little stars; 
   He looked on his world, with all of its living things, 
   And God said: I'm lonely still.

   Then God sat down- 
   On the side of the hill where he could think;
   By a deep, wide river he sat down;
   With his head in his hands, God thought and thought, 
   Till he thought: I'll make me a man!

   Up from the bed of  the river
   God scooped up the clay; 
   Any be the bank of the river
   He kneeled him down;
   And there the great God Almighty
   Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky, 
   Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night, 
   Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
   This Great God, 
   Like a mammy bending over her baby, 
   Kneeled down in the dust
   Toiling over a lump of clay
   Till he shaped it in his own image;

   The into it he blew the breath of life, 
   And man became a living soul.
   Amen. Amen."
                         - James Weldon Johnson from God's Trombones Seven Negro Sermons in Verse

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Psalm 8

Psalm 8 speaks of God's creation and, through creation, God has shone his light, his glory into the world. At Evensong this past Sunday, the Cathedral Choir sang an arrangement of Psalm 8 by Gerre Hancock. Gerre was Organist and Master of Choristers at St. Thomas Church in New York City, who passed away five years ago on January 21. He was a light to the music world and to all who knew him. Below is a link of the Cathedral Choir singing Psalm 8 for you to listen to and meditate on. May your light shine into the world.

Psalm 8 
O Lord our Governor, how excellent is thy name in all the world;
Thou that hast set thy glory above the heavens!
Out of the mouths of very babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength, because of thine enemies,
That thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider thy heavens, even the work of thy fingers; 
the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained.
What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man that thou visitest him?
Thou madest him lower than the angels, to crown him with glory and worship.
Thou makest him to have dominion of the works of thy hands;
and thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet.
All sheep and oxen; yea and the beasts of the field.
The fowls of the air and the fishes of the sea; and whatsoever walketh through the paths of the seas.
O Lord our Governor, how excellent is thy name in all the world!

Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, World without end. Amen.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What Do We Do?

St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), the Spanish priest, theologian, and founder of the Jesuit order (Society of Jesus), believed that through imagination we could draw closer to God. His Spiritual Exercises teach a practice of imaginative contemplation that draws one into a deeper relationship with God through scripture.

In one of the work’s early exercises, Ignatius invites the reader to meditate on the birth of Jesus: to imagine Mary’s home - its size, how many rooms there were; to imagine the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem; to imagine the place of the Nativity - Mary in labor, Joseph at her side, and the birth of the Christ child. When I took a moment to try this exercise for myself, it nearly took my breath away. The dirt, the smell, the sweat, the fear, the hope, the cry of the newborn child. The world-altering, boundary-crossing incarnation of Love left a lingering scent of dung and moldy straw.

I often wonder how it is that we celebrate Christmas with such pomp, when the reality of the event we commemorate was one of danger and fear, devastation and sorrow, difficulty and pain. In little more than a week’s time, we’ll celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of God in Jesus as revealed to the Gentiles in the persons of the Three Magi, or Wise Men. It is another event of celebration and joy, of a special wonder in children’s eyes as camels process through our beautiful Cathedral.

But what of the reality of the event?

I invite you to take a moment to try St. Ignatius’ exercise of imaginative contemplation on the Gospel Reading appointed for the Feast of the Epiphany: Matthew 2:1-12. Imagine yourself in the home of an anonymous young couple and their toddler son as Herod’s murderous campaign descends on Bethlehem. What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you see? What do you feel? What do you do?

What do we do?

That’s the question that startles me every Epiphany - what do we do? What do we do with the voices that the text has neglected or silenced - the hundreds of families whose children were murdered? What do we do with the voices with us today that are repressed, oppressed, and that no one seems to hear?

I can only wonder how popular opinion and public policy towards refugees might shift were we all to engage in St. Ignatius’ spiritual exercises.

Who are the Holy Innocents, today? And what do we do? 

Allison Duvall

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Advent Meditation Series: Salvation - Not for Sale

Matthew 11:2–11
Salvation—Not for Sale

Open our eyes, O Gracious God, and bless our Advent journey.
Enable us to look beyond the familiar and observe instead your
presence before us and around us. Remove the blinders of
resentment and fear, and by your Spirit help us to see Jesus
in the face of both friend and stranger, for your love’s sake.

What do you see? In mysteries, whether on the pages of books or on the screen, the detective is not necessarily more suave, more sophisticated, more impressive than the other people in the room. Far from it, sometimes. But the detective—at least, the successful detective—is the one who notices what others miss, who observes what others gloss over. To those who do not truly see, a half-empty glass or a torn piece of paper is simply that, but to the observant one, it can be an important clue that unlocks the puzzle.

When John the Baptist sends messengers to inquire whether Jesus might be the Messiah, Jesus tells them to go back to John and report what they have seen: remarkable healings, changed lives, unimagined possibilities. As the messengers depart, Jesus goes on to ask those around him what they expected to see when they first encountered John in the desert. Perhaps they thought they would see someone dressed to impress, someone living the easy life. But what did they see? A true prophet, someone who challenged all their expectations.

Elsewhere in Matthew’s Gospel, we find the story of Jesus looking in vain for figs on a barren fig tree, cursing it when he found none. His disciples were surprised since they themselves could see that the tree would not bear any fruit. Why was he so upset? What did he expect? That is the question, isn’t it? The disciples saw what they expected to see. Jesus always sees beyond the expected. Jesus sees more.

As twenty-first century followers of Christ, it is all too easy to take up with those earliest followers and only see the expected. If so, we will miss so much. Sure, we can pray and go to church and move forward knowing that God loves us…and all this is good. All this is of God. But God wants more for us. God wants us to do more than just settle in our faith. If we just settle in our spiritual rocking chairs, we will miss out on all the miracles, we will miss out on all the divine opportunities, we will miss out on all the unexpected possibilities that God wants us to experience. If we dare to open our hearts to God’s grace, if we dare to open the eyes of our spirits, then we will discover what the beloved old hymn says, “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

As Christ’s followers today, as members of the Jesus Movement, we need to throw off the blinders that prevent us from experiencing the abundant life and remarkable ministry to which God calls each one of us. Let us follow not simply in the footsteps of those early disciples, but let us follow in the footsteps of Jesus himself who offered salvation freely. There are still people to be touched, lives to be changed. But will we dare to open our eyes and see what God may be trying to show us?

Will we dare to open our eyes and be evangelists, messengers of hope to those around us who may not even realize they desperately need that hope? When the earliest disciples were afraid to accept Saul of Tarsus into their community—because all they could see was an angry, dangerous person—it took Barnabas to look at Saul/Paul through a different lens and to see…not just what was…but what could be.

Will we dare to open our eyes and be reconcilers, building bridges where chasms of hurt and resentment exist between people? When thirteenth-century crusaders looked at those who were different from them and saw only enemies, it took Francis of Assisi to view the situation in a different way, crossing through battle lines with courage and humility, and opening up crucial lines of communication with the Sultan himself.

Will we dare to open our eyes and be true stewards of God’s creation? When countless people…both those who call themselves Christians and those who don’t…continue to take this planet for granted, it takes those with eyes to see to look around, step forward, and do what is needed to preserve “this fragile earth, our island home.”

As those who would indeed follow Christ, let us open our eyes to see what we have all too often missed. Let us, by the power of the Spirit, become the evangelists, reconcilers, and stewards of creation, that God calls us to be, because salvation is not for sale. ✦

Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (United States)

Borrowed from a series of Advent devotions prepared by the leaders of Anglican and Lutheran churches in full communion. Click here for the full booklet.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Advent Meditation Series: Creation - Not for Sale

Matthew 3:1-12
Creation - Not for Sale

Gracious God, this day you call us to actions
which speak at least as loudly as our words and to words
which indicate a change of heart and growing regard
for your creation. Bless us in our Advent journey as we seek
your incarnate presence in every aspect of our lives.

In today’s Gospel reading we hear John the Baptist calling the crowds to repentance, to a turning around of their lives, to a turning to God. This turning must not be shallow, flaky, or fickle, but rather, deep, whole-hearted and unwavering. “Bear fruit” he cries out, “worthy of repentance” (v8). Let it be seen that your life indeed has turned around, that your focus is re-framed, and your priorities are re-set. Let it be seen that your actions line up with your expression of repentance.

This is an important message as we consider the theme Creation—Not for Sale, one of four themes adopted by our sisters and brothers in the global Lutheran community as they mark the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. (The over-arching theme is Liberated by God’s Grace. The other themes are Creation—Not for Sale, Salvation—Not for Sale and Human Beings—Not for Sale.) As we consider God’s creation, there is an urgency of concern about the global environmental crisis. We can no longer deny the harsh realities of islands drowning as sea levels rise; of deserts expanding in the face of unchecked deforestation; of weather patterns changing and growing violent as global warming continues; of lifestyles and livelihoods disappearing as the Arctic ice cap melts.

Really coming to terms with these realities was very much the focus of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference—COP21— held in Paris. “COP21” refers to the ”Conference of Parties” and to those countries which have adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In the midst of that great gathering of political and religious world leaders, and among thousands of ordinary citizens from every corner of the globe, a huge ecumenical service was held in Notre Dame Basilica. I had the great privilege of being there.

A message from the Council of Christian Churches in France included the following:

“Aware of the impact of the lifestyle of most of the developed countries, we need to call into question the logic of our consumption and to allow our attitude and witness to experience conversion— practising restraint and simplicity, not as a form of heroic renunciation, but as a form of joyful sharing. Our hope as Christians rests in our belief that our world is not destined to despair, but to transformation, and that human beings capable of self-destruction are also capable of uniting and choosing what is good.”

This “conversion” is the very thing that renowned environmentalist David Suzuki calls “the necessity for a massive change of spirit” on the part of leaders in government and industry and on the part of consumers in society…which includes us all. Suzuki has said he looks to both business communities and faith communities to provide leadership in calling for this “change of spirit”.

The liturgy in that great basilica concluded with a litany of repentance and of pledges to have us think and act differently. Here is an excerpt:

“Creation is suffering because of us.
The land has deteriorated.
Jesus Christ calls us to vigilance and commitment.

Our common home is damaged.
The poorest are excluded.
Jesus Christ calls us to solidarity and sharing.

Before you Creator God,
we pledge to take specific actions and to change our practices.
Jesus Christ calls us to conversion.”

We pray that by our decisions, and by our actions upon them, we may “bear fruit worthy of our repentance.” ✦

Fred Hiltz, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada

Borrowed from a series of Advent devotions prepared by the leaders of Anglican and Lutheran churches in full communion. Click here for the full booklet.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Advent Meditation Series: Liberated by God's Grace

Matthew 24:36-44
Liberated by God's Grace

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.
Come to us in all the moments of our lives.
Help us to watch so that we are amazed by
your love. Bless us in our Advent journey.

But of that day and hour no one knows…and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man…two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left…you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Welcome to Advent.

This warning from Jesus comes after Jesus’ words about the end of the world. The apocalypse is upon us, there will be tribulation and the world will see the day of God’s vengeance on human sin. This doesn’t seem to quite fit with the Christmas decorations, lovely carols, and relentless merriness that has been in stores, in advertisement, and in the media since Labor/Labour Day. It is jarring to hear about judgement and the Second Coming whilst shopping for that perfect Christmas sweater or sampling figgy pudding. And what about our Lord’s admonition to be awake, be aware, be ever-vigilant? We won’t know the hour. We might be left behind. At the very least it is exhausting to be on watch all day every day.

How is this passage from Matthew good news, and how is it good news at this time of the year? Where is the grace and how do these verses help us to know that we are liberated by God’s grace? It sounds like the law to me. It seems to be about what we need to do to be ready on that great and terrible day, what action we must take so that we will be taken and not left behind. Blessed Advent? Bah humbug!

There is a secular counterpart to this apocalypse. Young children are taught that Santa Claus is keeping track of who is “naughty or nice,” meting out consequences and rewards accordingly. Popular Christmas song lyrics, while upbeat in cadence, deliver messages that instill dread. The message is clear: Be awake, be aware, be ever vigilant. The day is drawing nigh.

It is interesting that pop culture can give voice to the prevailing theology of many in our churches. We don’t trust that God’s promised grace is real and for us and so we come to believe and act that the word of God is not gracious, but vengeful and punishing. Through that lens there is no way that we can see the gospel for the first Sunday in Advent as the announcement that we are liberated by
God’s grace.

But hear the Good News. Jesus was announcing the end of the world. It is the day of God’s vengeance on human sin. And this is what God’s vengeance looks like: a helpless baby in a stable in Bethlehem, a helpless man on a cross outside of Jerusalem. The end of the old world of sin and death has come exclusively through God’s reconciling mercy.

Matthew 24: 36–44 is God’s word of promise, a gift to us that we might open ourselves, our eyes, our lives to the incredible, surprising, immeasurable and intimate love of God. It’s right there in front of us—two men working in a field, two women grinding meal—in the ordinary, in the everyday. God doesn’t want us to miss it. God wants us to watch. ✦

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Borrowed from a series of Advent devotions prepared by the leaders of Anglican and Lutheran churches in full communion. Click here for the full booklet.