Walking the Road of Lent – Step 5

   Mindfulness

St. Benedict teaches: mindfulness helps us live in the “Now”. 

Sister Joan Chittister teaches:  *

Our society drains our energies – but we can learn to be mindful. We practice mindfulness whenever

  • we become aware of what is around us,
  • we become conscious of little things and their beauty,
  • we are touched by quiet things and their power.

When we practice living in the “now” we can gain a new perspective on life: yesterday loses its hold on us, and tomorrow loses its allure.

Mindfulness not only calms the storms of life, it gives us back the energy that endless worry and constant calculation drain away.   Mindfulness concentrates what has become scattered and brings us home to ourselves.

 

What helps you live in the “Now”?


On to step 6:
Balance and Simplicity…

 

 *   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 6

  Balance and Simplicity

St. Benedict teaches: simplicity brings balance in a non-stop world.

Sister Joan Chittister teaches: *

As we live with 24-hour workdays, an unending flow of information, and nonstop busy-ness, the Rule of Benedict mandates the measured life.

Our society is complex and confusing – but we can learn to be simple:

  • we can refuse to have one thing more than we need…
  • we can refuse to keep anything we are not using…
  • we can give one thing away for every one thing we receive…
  • we can reverence creation.

We can learn to balance our days, weeks, months, and years:

  • through prayer and lectio…
  • through work and leisure…
  • through solitude and community.

Balance and simplicity can bring us back into the presence and peace of God.

 

 

What do you need to let go of to bring more balance to your life?

On to Step 7:
Obedient Listening….

 *   For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister OSB
(Harper San Francisco, 1990).

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 7

Obedient Listening

St. Benedict teaches: listening leads to critical discernment.

Sister Joan Chittister teaches:

Whenever we are overwhelmed by the messages our culture sends, obedient listening helps us filter those messages through Gospel channels and the voice of Jesus.

Obedient listening evaluates everything , not in the light of what is good for me, but in the light of what is good for all of us.

Obedient listening brings the standards of the Gospel to the issues of our times.

 

 

What are the “standards of the Gospel” for you? 

 How can you filter the media through those Gospel standards?

 


On to Step 8:
Stewardship of the Earth…

 

For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister, OSB.
Harper San Francisco, 1990

 

 

 

Walking the Road of Lent – Step 8

  Stewardship of the earth

St. Benedict teaches: every thing and every one is holy. 

Sister Joan Chittister teaches:

Benedict’s Rule teaches us that every thing and every creature on earth is holy:

  • we are called to treat every thing reverently,
  • and to hold every one in loving hands.

Stewardship is the call to keep what is usable, to care for what is vulnerable,  to safeguard what is fragile on this planet.  It is the call to save the earth for  our children.

Our society exploits many people, and even the earth itself – but we can learn to care for every thing and every one.  In a society that destroys farm workers, discards the middle-aged and forgets the elderly, we can minister to the world by working for justice.

What is your next step in stewardship?

Practicing…

prayer…
lectio…
humility…
mindfulness…
balance and simplicity…
obedient listening…
stewardship of the earth…

Benedict’s stepping stones still lead the way. 

For more, see Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittister, OSB.
Harper San Francisco, 1990.

 

The Music of the Heart

heart-music

The New Year is here.  

We’re facing a year of great struggles, in our nation and in the world, in our communities and even within our own families.  Most of us are already weary, and it’s only Day One.  Can we trust that God is speaking to us in the midst of this chaos, inviting us to be co-creators of a better future?   And how can we hear God speaking in the midst of the chaos, so we can work for the future God has for us?

Luke’s Gospel tells us:

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:15f)

Imagine being Mary and Joseph.

We all remember the story of this baby’s birth – a homeless family in Bethlehem, where so many desperate people still live today.  We are told that they named their baby Jesus, and that they took him home to Galilee.  But we are told nothing about the next few years of Jesus’ life.   This is all Luke has to say about the years of Jesus’ growing up: “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

Yet, unlike so many refugees over the centuries, we still remember Jesus’ name.  We know he grew up to be called Jesus of Nazareth, and we know his teaching and healing brought hope to many despairing people.  And we know he died, not by bombs falling on a Syrian city, not by drowning in the stormy Mediterranean, not of old age in an African refugee camp, but on a cross in Jerusalem.  He died on a cross, crucified by people who feared the changes he was bringing into the world.

Throughout his life the poor, the homeless, the hungry gathered around him and learned from him.  After he was killed, they saw him in his Risen Life, and they came to believe he had lived, died and risen again to bring God’s love into the world.  And so they gave him another name  – Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Anointed One; and they called themselves followers of the Way, because they knew he was still calling them to walk his Way of Love.

The Way of Love is hard.

Christians over the centuries have honored Jesus for his life, and death, and resurrection – but most of us didn’t listen deeply enough to his story.  We forgot that Jesus came to show us the Way of God in this world, not merely to show us how to get to the next world. We forgot that Jesus did not come to do all the work of salvation for us.  We forgot that he told his disciples he would continue to walk the Way, alongside them – and us.

The first followers of Jesus had to learn this hard lesson.  They expected Jesus to come back very soon, in clouds of glory, to remake the world into the Kingdom of Heaven.  But as their lives moved on, as their loved ones died, they began to wonder: When will he return?  And they began to ask: How long will we have to wait?

But tradition says that Mary, to the end of her long life, treasured all God’s words, and pondered them in her heart.

How can we hear what God is teaching us? 

Here’s the story of another Mary – Mary Poole.

In the fall of 2015, thousands of Syrian refugees began pouring out of Turkey into the Mediterranean Sea, hoping to find shelter and safety in Europe.  One of those refugees was a little boy named Alan Kurdi, who was drowned when the waves swamped his family’s sinking boat.  The next morning, news around the world was full of heart-breaking pictures of Alan’s body, lying on the sand.

Mary Poole, a longtime resident of Missoula, Montana, was one of the people who saw Alan’s photo. Mary found herself talking to her friends about the photo; she could not get it out of her mind. “I didn’t even know what a refugee was,” she remembers, “but the feeling that I needed to do something did not go away.”  

Mary Poole did something – and it all began with listening to her heart.  

Mary was a new mother, and she couldn’t stop thinking about this other small child, dead on the shore of a Mediterranean island.  The picture, the pain, the compassion in her heart, wouldn’t go away.  So she started calling around to American organizations that help to resettle refugees, and eventually she founded a new organization, Soft Landing Missoula, to help welcome immigrants to Montana.

Soft Landing quickly became controversial.  One candidate for governor even sent out a mailer showing a man in a turban carrying a Kalashnikov rifle.  The text promised that the candidate would “stand up to dangerous refugee programs.”

The candidate with the Kalashnikov lost narrowly last month, but it’s clear that many people in Montana and nationally resonated with his message. Right after Missoula’s City Council signed a letter of support for Soft Landing, a councilman started to receive letters, calls, and emails against the proposal to bring refugees to the area.  “It’s just fear,” he said.  “People are afraid of what they don’t understand.”

That councilman has concluded that  people seem to have two opposite understandings of what it is to be an American.  Some view all immigrants with suspicion, and are especially worried about Muslims.  Others think of America as a place of abundant resources, with hospitable people who are willing to share what they have.

As for Mary Poole, everywhere she looks she finds resources and ready volunteers.  “Yes, we’ve received death threats,” she said, “but for every one of those there are 30 volunteers.”   Soft Landing has organized teams of five volunteers to coordinate help for each refugee family.  It has over 400 people ready to serve on those teams, and more than 1,000 on the mailing list of people willing to help with supplies, donations, and other forms of support.  Mary Poole envisions creating a community center where refugees and Missoulans can cook together, celebrate holidays together, and teach each other languages and traditions.  (You can learn more of the story from The Christian Century for December 21, 2016.)

This is just one of the many stories the New Year has for us, stories that point us toward hope in the midst of chaos.

So here’s a spiritual practice for the New Year: holy listening. 

What should we listen to?

Listen to the wise among us – the famous people who write great books and compelling songs, and ordinary wise people who are members of our own congregations….

Paula D’Arcy, one of those famous writers, says  “God always comes to you disguised as your life.”   So don’t look for angels descending from the sky – look at the life that comes at you every day.

How should we listen?

Look to Scripture and other holy writings for examples of how to listen. In today’s Gospel Luke tells us, “Mary pondered all these things in her heart.”   In today’s story from The Christian Century,  Mary Poole pondered that photo of Alan Kurdi in her heart.

Here’s what it looks like to ponder: imagine you are walking on a beach, with the tide coming in, wave after wave crashing on the shore.  But in the midst of the ocean’s roar you are looking at the rocks on the beach, hunting for the rock that speaks your name.  When you find your rock, you’ll pick it up and carry it with you.  You’ll turn it over and over again in your hand, and then feel it again and again in your pocket, until it becomes deeply familiar to you, and until it speaks to you.  That’s pondering.

Listen for your own melody.

Our last hymn today is the Christmas carol, “It came upon a midnight clear…”

Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long;
beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled two thousand years of wrong;
and warring humankind hears not the tidings which they bring;
O hush the noise and cease your strife and hear the angels sing
.

Your melody will be a harmony that comes from at least three strings.

There are the songs sung by the world – songs of cruelty and despair, songs of compassion and hope.

There are the songs sung by the voice of Jesus – songs of compassion, courage, hope, and faith.

And there are the songs that sing in our own hearts – the songs that resonate within our souls.

You can’t sing every single song; you’ll need to find the song that is yours to sing.

Singing your own song will require three faithful practices – holy listening, holy reading, and holy pondering.

Holy listening is a process.  The process begins with what Joan Chittister calls obedient listening : “Holy listening helps us filter messages from the world through the voice of Jesus.”

Holy reading: lectio divina.  If we prayerfully listen to Scripture, whether we’re gathered together in church or at home alone, lectio divina will teach us to know the voice of Jesus when we hear it.

Holy pondering. If we listen to the voice of Jesus; if we listen to the world around us; if we listen to our own hearts – then we will eventually hear our own song, planted there by the Holy Spirit of Jesus.

Our inner responses to the voice of Jesus – and to our own song that sings in harmony with Jesus’ voice – will point us in the right direction, and then give us the courage to go where Jesus leads us.

And then we can continue Jesus’ work in this New Year:  

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

(Howard Thurman, The Work of Christmas)

A sermon preached at St. Benedict’s Church, Los Osos, on January 1, 2017. 

 

A Soft Landing in Montana *

In the fall of 2015, newspapers, computers, and TV screens were showing the heartbreaking image of a drowned three-year-old Syrian refugee, Alan Kurdi, who lost his life trying to reach Turkey along with his family.  One of those who saw the photo was Mary Poole, a longtime resident of Missoula, Montana.  She and her friends found themselves discussing the photo.  “I didn’t even know what a refugee was,” Poole recalled.  “But the feeling that I needed to do something did not go away.”

Poole had recently become a new mother, and the photo of Kurdi haunted her. She started making phone calls to organizations that resettle refugees, learning far more than she ever knew there was to learn about the process of resettlement.  One agency she called was the International Rescue Committee in Seattle, which ran an office in Missoula until 2008.  The man who answered the phone was Bob Johnson, who had opened the IRC’s Missoula office in 1979.   Just four days from retirement, Johnson agreed to help Poole reopen the office in Missoula.

Missoula is the only community that has ever requested the opening of an IRC office on its own.  In conjunction, Poole founded the organization Soft Landing Missoula to help welcome immigrants.

The work of the IRC and Soft Landing Missoula quickly became controversial.  A candidate for governor – who lost narrowly in November – sent out a mailer showing a man in a turban carrying a Kalashnikov rifle.  The text promised that the candidate would “stand up to dangerous refugee programs” and refuse entry to “unvetted refugees.”

After the election, it is not clear what effect this kind of anti-refugee rhetoric will have, but it is clear that many people in Montana and nationally resonated with it.   Right after Missoula’s City Council signed a letter of support for Soft Landing and the IRC, councilman Jon Wilkins started to receive letters, calls, and emails against the proposal to bring refugees to the area.  “It’s just fear,” he said.  “People are afraid of what they don’t understand.”

People seem to have two opposite understandings of what it is to be an American.  Some view all immigrants with suspicion but are especially worried about Muslims.  Others see America as a place of abundant resources and hospitable people who are willing to share what they have. .

Everywhere Mary Poole looks, she finds resources and ready volunteers.  “Yes, we’ve received death threats,” she said, “but for every one of those there are 30 volunteers.”   Soft Landing has organized teams of five volunteers to coordinate help for each refugee family.  It has over 400 people ready to serve on those teams, and more than 1,000 on the mailing list of people willing to help with supplies, donations, and other forms of support.  Mary Poole envisions creating a community center where refugees and Missoulans can cook together, celebrate holidays together, and teach each other languages and traditions.

Shaun Casey, special representative of the Office of Religion and Global Affairs at the U.S. State Department, sees Poole’s work being replicated nationwide.  He said that even in a political environment that has turned negative, people at the grass roots have responded to refugee resettlement with an “amazing” level of innovation and collaboration.

Casey is struck by how much of the collaboration is interreligious.   He recalled going into the office of a resettlement center in New Jersey.  “This is going to sound like a bad joke,” Casey said, “but sitting at the table were an imam, a pastor, and a rabbi.”  The three had met each other through the relief agency Church World Service.   “Something is afoot at the grassroots level,” he said.  Part of it is the desire to increase the amount of aid to refugees, “but there is also the ancillary benefit of a new form of interreligious interaction.”   In the refugee resettlement communities that he visited last year, Casey said, reports of political vitriol would lead to an increased number of calls to refugee centers saying, “How can we help?”

*  from Resettling Refugees in a Time of Fear: Welcome to Missoula 
The Christian Century, December 21, 2016

A Meditation on Luke 14: 1, 7-14

Gregory Porter
by Gregory Porter, May 2016

“Take Me To The Alley”

Well, they gild their houses
In preparation for the King
And they line the sidewalks
With every sort of shiny thing
They will be surprised
When they hear him say

Take me to the alley
Take me to the afflicted ones
Take me to the lonely ones
That somehow lost their ways

Let them hear me say,
I am your friend
Come to my table,
Rest here in my garden,
You will have a pardon
You will have a pardon

Take me to the alley
Take me to the afflicted ones
Take me to the lonely ones
That somehow lost their ways

Let them hear me say
I am your friend
Come to my table
Rest here in my garden
You will have a pardon
You will have a pardon

Take me to the alley
Take me to the afflicted ones
Take me, take me, take me

To hear the music, go to
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qj5z4SbrH20

Thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer

Lord's prayer

Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  He said to them, “When you pray, say:  Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”                                                       (Luke 11:1-4)

For many Christians, the Lord’s Prayer is our first and last prayer.

It’s the first prayer we memorize as little children, preparing for bed at night.
It’s the prayer we always say in church, every time we come.
And it’s often the last prayer we will remember on our deathbed.

(I have been with people in the hospital, in nursing homes, in their own homes as they lay dying –  someone who has had  a stroke, someone who hasn’t been able to speak for weeks – and yet they will open their lips and join the people around their bed as they begin to say the Lord’s Prayer. )

Throughout our lives, this prayer connects us to the heart of Jesus’ teaching:

It answers our questions:  Who is God? and What is God’s kingdom like?

In this prayer Jesus gives us a picture of God as the Motherly Father, whose kingdom is a home, a place of love and belonging for all. God’s Home is not just for our blood family – or our own people – God’s Home has room, and makes a place, for the whole world.

        And what does Jesus tell us to pray for in this prayer? We just sung this hymn:

Seek ye first the kingdom of God and its righteousness,
and all these things shall be added unto you… (Matt 6:33)
Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and ye shall find,
knock and the door shall be added unto you… (Luke 11:9f)

The Lord’s Prayer tells us to ask for what we need.

So what concerns do we bring with us to church this morning?

Our health, our loved ones’ health; our children’s troubles, the needs of our communities, of our nation, of our world – whatever troubles us, Jesus tells us that we can bring it to God.  He also tells us that when we begin to pray for anyone, for anything,  we should look first for God’s kingdom, God’s Home,  and then everything else will fall into place – we will know how to pray.

And thus Jesus’ prayer becomes a guideline for our own prayers; for instance –

The Lord’s Prayer in Time of War *

Our Father, who art in heaven…

Help us remember that You are slow to anger, and of great mercy,
lover of all peoples of the earth…

What kind of God is Jesus’ God?
God is our Motherly Father,  whose Home is a place for all people.

Hallowed be thy Name…

Remind us that “all the nations are as nothing before You,”
their governments but a shadow of passing age…

Who is really in charge of the world?
At the end of time, God will be here, and God’s Home will remain.

Thy kingdom come on earth…

Grant to your children throughout the world,
and especially to the leaders of the nations,
the gift of prayerful thought and thoughtful prayer;
that following the example of our Lord,
we may discern what is right, and do it…

In all times, even these times of great stress, God’s Spirit can help us see what we need to pray for, see what we need to do.

God looks at the world, God looks at us, with eyes of love.

Yes, God sees us as we are now, with all our faults and imperfections – but God also sees us as we are meant to be, the people we are meant to become.

And so we ask God to help us see under the surface, with God’s eyes of love.

Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven…

Help us to protect and to provide for all who are hungry and homeless, especially those who are deprived of food and shelter, family and friends,
by the tragedy of war

What would this world look like, if God’s will were followed here? We need to see this world with God’s eyes, so we can bring our world closer to God’s world.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Forgive us for neglecting to “seek peace and pursue it,” and finding ourselves in each new crisis, more ready to make war than to make peace.  “We have not loved thee with our whole heart;  we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves”…

What do we really need today and every day? We need the Holy Spirit, and as Jesus tells us, God will give us the Spirit when we ask.  (Luke 11:13)

Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…

Let us not seek revenge, but reconciliation; let us not delight in victory, but in justice; let us not give ourselves up to pride, but to prayer…

What is necessary for God’s rule of love to prevail? Forgiveness and reconciliation are always the path to justice and peace.

 Lead us not into temptation…

Be present to all thy children ravaged by war: be present to those who are killing and to those who are being killed; be present to the loved ones of those who are killing  and to the loved ones of those who are being killed…

Help us remember everyone…  not just ourselves, our loved ones, our needs… but everyone, every thing, on earth.

Deliver us from evil….

Subdue our selfish desires to possess and to dominate,
and forbid us arrogance in victory…

Protect us from our own egos, our desires, our fears,
and protect us from others’ egos, their desires, their fears.

For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever….

We surrender ourselves to you.
We come home to you, our God, our Motherly Father,
because you always make room for us,
and we long to live in your Home forever.

Amen. 

*adapted from a prayer by Wendy Lyons
(inspired by Matthew 6: 9-13, Luke 11: 2-4)

 

WHAT needs to be healed?

Gerasene demoniacJesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes… As Jesus stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time the man had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me” – for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.  Luke 8:26-39

This summer we are reading through the Gospel of Luke; Sunday by Sunday we’ve heard about all the people who came to Jesus for healing. Some of those healed were Jews, and others were Gentiles; some followed the Jewish law, other Jews were called ‘sinners’ because they didn’t follow the law perfectly.  Everyone who came to Jesus, each person who was healed, was different – and Jesus responded to each one as a unique individual.

But there is one thread that unites all the stories, and that is the compassion of Jesus.  Jesus didn’t seem to care if someone was Jewish or Gentile, male or female, rich or homeless, law-abiding or lawbreaker.  Sometimes breaking the law himself, Jesus reached out and touched them, and they were healed.

The man Jesus meets in today’s Gospel was a Gentile.  He was not only mentally tormented by his ‘demons’, but he had been cast out by his village because his people couldn’t deal with those demons either. And so he was homeless, wandering the hills in the daytime and sleeping in the caves at night.

(Today we might have a name for the man’s illness – schizophrenia – and even some medications to control it; but – let’s be honest – a person with mental illness is still likely to be homeless and cast away by our society.  We still have little tolerance for people who disrupt our lives, and too often we lose compassion for people who need unending help, people we don’t know how to help, people who are just too different from the rest of us.)

So it’s not just sick people who need to be healed; sick communities need to be healed – families, communities, schools, churches, and societies – all groups that exile, exclude, push away, treat violently, or simply refuse to deal with troublesome people.

Beyond noticing Jesus’ compassion, we should also pay attention to what he said to this man: “What is your name?”  And the man answered, “Legion” – because he felt so many troubling spirits warring within him.

Before he could heal this man, Jesus wanted the man to identify his illness, to give a name to what was hurting.

This week, once again, we have been reminded that we live in a society with many sick people – and we’ve been reminded again that our society itself is sick.

This week, once again, pundits and politicians have tried to give the sickness a name – it’s mental illness, it’s guns, it’s radical religion, it’s sexual orientation.   So perhaps Americans can identify with this homeless man screaming from the tombs.  Our problems – like his – are “legion”.

Like the man who lived so long ago in the country of the Gerasenes, our country doesn’t just have one problem, but too many problems to count.

What in each of us needs to be healed?  And what in our society needs to be healed?

In response to the shootings in Orlando last weekend, our Bishop, Mary Gray Reeves, wrote to the Diocese of El Camino Real on Friday,

I have asked the question a lot lately, “How do our values translate into action?” It is a question that arises during the defining moments that inevitably come our way in life; those events that are transforming to the point where we are confronted with who we are, what we believe, and how we live out our values in the world.  Our values can be clarified, strengthened and empowered as a result of having to wrestle with ourselves.
 
I was ticketed for speeding a few months ago. I clearly had decided that my right to drive beyond the speed limit on an unpopulated road was more important than the reason the speed limit in that location was determined in the first place. I slogged through traffic school and repeatedly, the obvious was stated: laws were in place to keep us from harming ourselves and others. 

It puzzles me – it terrifies me – that we can place limits on how we use a cell phone in a car to save lives, but cannot freely and willingly work toward boundaries to lessen the capacity of another to exercise deadly rage.

How will our values be clarified, strengthened and empowered because of Orlando? Because of God’s beloved listed [in today’s prayers]?  We don’t know all the details yet of the shooter’s disposition. He could have been an Islamist terrorist or a GLBTQ terrorist.  He was plagued in some way and disposed toward raging violence. It is our reality that people are in our midst who will do such things.
 
Such events call us to consider our responsibility to one another. For me, questions arise. Is my right to bear certain weapons of more value than those who died?  Is the lack of social responsibility taken in this country for the mentally ill of more value than those who died?  None of us are free from guilt in these events. As citizens and residents in these United States, as Christians, each mass shooting says something about who we are. What are the words we would use to describe ourselves in these days?
 
In our gospel for [today], the story of the Geresene Demoniac, I have wondered how long the conversation goes on between Jesus and the demons who inhabit the man.  He was plagued for so many years. This one is complex. They aren’t leaving without a fight. A strategy must be organized. Where will the demons go? Where will the man go?  This was not a quick, “drive-by” healing. It would take some time.

I was struck that at the end of the story Jesus tells the man to thank GOD for what God has done for him, but instead, he proclaims what Jesus has done for him.  I think the distinction speaks of the power of the incarnation; that God was known in who Jesus was and what he did.  For we who follow Jesus, it reminds us that God is known in who WE are and what we do.

I wonder if perhaps the man was so grateful that Jesus did not leave when it became apparent that the conversation would be complex and take time.  There was nothing more important to Jesus in this moment than this “demoniac.” Perhaps this gentle, healed soul was so deeply thankful that Jesus stayed and kept working at it until the work was done.  Jesus stays through his terror. 

How might we walk alongside our bereaved families and our traumatized nation? Can we stay in these long conversations as we sort through polarized viewpoints? Can we find common ground for our values that can translate into life and goodness for us all?
 
Several weeks ago we held a diocesan conference on Living Room Conversations: how to have constructive conversation to find common ground on difficult issues. Gun Control, Racism, Homophobia, Sexism, Misogyny and Health Care are a few matters on which we disagree in this nation, reflected in the Orlando terror.  I strongly encourage our congregations to use the Living Room Conversation process to engage in the Christian stewardship of relationship and conversation. 

Mass shootings offer us an opportunity not only for more arguing, but for reconciliation and grace. Which will we choose? We struggle with our differences, and yet it is precisely in our differences that we can find creative solutions. 
 
Please know that I am aware of my own bias and values in these and other pieces I have written following mass shootings. Part of my call as a bishop is to share what I think, and also to teach. However, my role as a gatherer is equally important.  I hope that the Living Room Conversation process can provide us space to talk about difficult topics together as the Body of Christ despite disagreement. [Please take one of the blue sheets in the back of the church….]

Confident in the grace of God, may we consider one another’s views and discern our role in creating solutions that value the dignity of all human life.

O  God, as the Body of Christ, may we remain with one another and with the angry, traumatized and broken heart of our nation.  As we seek justice and change that reflects your will, may we trust one another as we responsibly speak our values,so that in faith, the ground from which we act in the world, we may take our placein your powerful and healing presence intended for all. It is in the power of the Spirit we humbly pray.  Amen.

For more information, visit www.livingroomconversations.org.  You can also support the OneOrlando Fund, announced by the city’s mayor to respond to the Pulse tragedy, at https://www.oneorlando.org/

 

 

The God Who Heals

Let go and let God
Luke 8:26-39

This summer we are reading through Luke’s gospel – Luke’s story of Jesus.

This gospel tells us that wherever he went, Jesus found people desperate for healing, and time after time they were healed through his compassionate touch.

This month we’ll be hearing one story of healing after another: the Centurion’s servant last week; the widow’s son this week; later in June we’ll meet a man afflicted with mental illness, excluded from society; and we’ll meet women in need of forgiveness and spiritual healing.

You can’t read Luke’s Gospel without wrestling with stories of healing. Every time someone met Jesus, they were astonished by the power of God working in him – they came for help, and they were healed.

But how were they healed?

In the 1960s, for weeks at a time, I was stuck in bed with back pain, praying for my own healing. One day during those months someone gave me a paperback copy of Catherine Marshall’s book, Beyond OurselvesMarshall had also been stuck in bed, with tuberculosis.  As she prayed for healing she searched the Bible, looking for a pattern in Jesus’ healings. She wanted to know how to pray for healing.  But she discovered there was no pattern – some people healed by Jesus had faith in him; others had no faith at all.

But Catherine Marshall kept asking the question, How must I pray to be healed? She found no answers except these:

We are completely dependent on God’s grace.

God always heals – but not always in the ways we want.

But those were not the answers I wanted to hear.  I wanted my life back!

Since the time of Jesus, Christians have been led to the ministry of healing. 

For many centuries, they had no medicines to give, except love.  But even in their ignorance – and often in desperation –  they still sought to heal the sick.   For many centuries, they had little understanding of how the human body works, or what makes us sick. Their motive was love and compassion; their only methods were prayer and tender care.

But by the 20th century the art of healing finally began to improve.  New scientific discoveries led to new medicines and new therapies. All over the world, people began to live longer. We are living more comfortably than ever before, and new methods and medicines are treating our minds as well as our bodies.

Also in the 20th century, Alcoholics Anonymous was born, with its understanding of how the thirsty soul works.  Richard Rohr calls AA one of the great healing movements of the 20th centuryFor all 12-step programs, the answer to our deep needs is the grace of a Higher Power, which heals us by releasing us from our addictions.  Rohr writes,

With practice over time, our grip on our attachments may loosen.  But even after many years, for the first several minutes of silent prayer,  I still find myself thinking the same old thoughts. And each time I encounter my own powerlessness, I realize again my dependence on my Higher Power.

Many today do not know that AA’s roots are profoundly Christian.  AA and Al-Anon teach us that we are completely dependent on God’s grace.  The first three steps show us the path to healing:

(1)  I came to realize my life was unmanageable; I had no power to help myself.

(2) I came to believe in a power greater than myself, that could heal me.

(3) I found the strength to turn my life over to God (as I myself understand God).

AA has removed the language of the church, but the message of Jesus has been retained: Give your life to God, and you will find God waiting for you.

The Easter Vigil and the AA meeting

The first year I was a priest, our church held the most glorious Easter Vigil – with lessons from Scripture read in the darkness of the church, members of the congregation holding their candles, and all through the service the choir singing its heart out.  The Easter Vigil has always been my favorite liturgy, and that Vigil was the best ever.

But after the Vigil, when the congregation was gone and the church was picked up, I couldn’t get into my car.  I had arrived at 4 in the afternoon, when the tiny parking lot was empty. Now it was filled with cars, lining the driveway all the way to the street.  There was no way to get my car out.

Then I remembered that there was an AA meeting in the church basement, and I knew that was where all the cars came from. So I went down the stairs into the basement, and into the meeting room, hoping to quietly ask the group to move a few cars.   But when I opened the door I saw almost 200 people in the room, listening to a speaker giving a powerful message.

So many people!  And we had been so happy to have 50 at the Vigil! But more than the number of people,  I was astonished by the presence and power of God in that room – and I wished the Church could have such power to heal.

In the years after that, I discovered that in 12-step groups, the power of God works within the individual soul – but it also through the community.  Each person works the steps of the program,  but no one in the group is on their own.

Like Christians coming to Baptism, each person in AA has a sponsor – who is usually far more available that most Godparents are.  Coming to a meeting, people sit in a circle, sharing their lives, revealing their struggles and triumphs and failures. If you miss a meeting, someone will notice you’re gone.  Someone will call you, ask you for coffee, listen to your life. When you fall, all you have to do is ask for help – just like all those people coming to Jesus in the gospels.

Each and every one of us is in need of healing. 

Whether your own life has been wounded, or the life or someone you love, we are all in need of healing and powerless over our addictions – whether they are for alcohol, or drugs, or money, or success.  All of us need God’s grace; not one of us can be healed by our own power.

And so Jesus tells us, Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest  (Matthew 11:28).  

And  12-step groups tell us, Let go and let God – and in God’s time and in God’s way, we will be healed.

And what about the healing I wanted?  Did God answer my prayers?  I am not an alcoholic, but both my parents were – and I have other addictions.

I am a perfectionist. This morning, I want to preach the perfect sermon; yesterday I wanted a perfectly clean house.  In the 1960s I wanted to be a perfect mother, and I needed a healthy body just to be an adequate mother. With the help of surgery, my back got better…. but I never became a perfect mother… or wife… or friend… or priest.  I never became perfect in anything at all.

Instead, I was partially healed: I came to understand that only God is perfect, so if I let go and let God, that will be enough.  And most of all, I came to understand that God loves me even with all my imperfections – and this is the healing I need.

A church is meant to be a healing communitynot a community of people who think they are healthy, but a community of people who are seeking healing.

I believe that St. Ben’s is a healing community, a place where people can support each other and encourage each other, a place where each of us can learn how to depend on God.  Look at us this morning.  Here we are, sitting in a circle, facing each other.  We look across the room with compassionate faces and often, during the sermon, we even take time to listen to each other’s stories.

We are already a healing community, and we can continue to heal as God’s grace flows to us and through us. How can that happen?

We can continue learning how to let go and let God.

We can teach each other how to let go and let God.

We can continue to welcome every thirsty person who comes to St. Ben’s.

And then everyone who comes to St. Ben’s, seeking healing and hope,
will find the love and grace they need to…….

Let go small
let go and let God.

Preached at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church, Los Osos  – June 5, 2016

Counting Sheep

Counting sheep
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…

The 23rd Psalm

When I was about 10 years old, I had great trouble getting to sleep.  As the sleepless nights went on, I became more and more anxious – especially after I learned that I shouldn’t wake up my mother or father.

However, it was always OK to wake up my grandmother.  Granny would take me by the hand and lead me down the stairs to the kitchen, where she would heat up milk (her favorite medicine for sleeplessness) and then read me stories.

There were just two books Granny would read from – the first was a pictorial history of Scottish heroes (her ancestors), and the second was an illustrated Bible.  The Scottish heroes in my grandmother’s book were dashing and brave. The great hero of Granny’s Bible was David, who was a shepherd, and – according to Granny – sang to his sheep.

King David, Granny said, wrote the 23rd psalm for his sheep and for us. So with her help I began to memorize the psalm – and to learn the story it tells – because on those nights long ago, Granny was teaching me a deeper story, a story I learned by heart:  There is a Love that will not let you go.

Andy’s Confirmation

Years later, when our son Andy was 13, he was preparing for Confirmation.  The Rector had told the class they had to memorize the 23rd psalm – and he also told them they would have to pass a test on it before they could be confirmed.  Now Andy had a learning disability and also found it almost impossible to focus on anything for longer than a minute.  He began to panic about his inability to learn the psalm (he was sent home with the King James Version), and so I searched for a simpler translation that he could learn.

And Andy did learn it!  But unfortunately, according to the Rector, he had learned the ‘wrong’ psalm, and Andy failed the test.  (The Rector actually posted the scores on the parish bulletin board, and there was Andy’s failing score, at the very bottom of the list.)

So Andy went back to work until he finally learned the ‘real’ psalm, and he was able to be confirmed when the Bishop came.  But the deeper story that Andy learned from all this was that God is the One who judges us, that God always finds us wanting.

This was the picture of God that Andy carried for most of the rest of his life.

Learning the story by heart

Of course it’s important to memorize some poems, some songs, and some verses of Scripture as we grow up. I think of the first Christians, most of whom couldn’t read, but who all learned the 23rd psalm.  Those early Christians painted frescoes of Jesus on the walls of the Roman Catacombs because hey pictured him as the Good Shepherd, the image of the Love that will not let you go.

And I also think of a man taken hostage by terrorists in Beirut in the 1980’s.  When he was finally released, reporters asked him, “How did you survive?“  He told them that he had remembered and then prayed the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd psalm – both memorized in childhood.  Those verses, those prayers, helped him stay centered through the darkest hours.

The Good Shepherd

When Andy died two years ago, I had great trouble sleeping once again.  So one night, lying in the darkness and not wanting to wake up my husband, I began to practice ‘counting sheep’.   But I was not picturing sheep, jumping one by one over a fence, but trying to remember the 23rd psalm, verse by verse.

Each verse of this psalm is worthy of a sermon – or much more important, a night of contemplative prayer:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…

This first verse takes me back to the time when Andy was a very little boy, when we lived in the Middle East.  I remembered the huge flocks of sheep crossing the roads, even in downtown Beirut.  (Did you know that a shepherd always walks in the middle of his flock, not in front of them, keeping them together and guiding them – slowly, very slowly! – while all the taxis wait and honk?)

He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters…

When I got to this verse, in the dark of that first night, I couldn’t remember which line comes first – is it the green pastures or is it the still waters?  Finally I thought, Does it really matter? Both green pastures and still waters are always found in that peaceful place where God waits for us.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me…

The other night, I was in a small group at St. Paul’s Church in Cambria, reading the 23rd psalm together.  One man in the group began to remember his childhood fear of the dark.  As a little boy this man (now in his 80s with a deep voice and one of the patriarchs of the parish) was so afraid of the dark he could not go to sleep.  So one day his father took him out into the woods near their house.  Together, hand in hand, they walked under the dark trees, day after day, until he was able to let go of his father’s hand and explore a little bit…. and until he was finally able to go to sleep in his own bed.

Father and son dark woods
This is the One who holds our hand and will not let us go

The 23rd psalm as a prayer

Notice that this is no longer a poem about God; when we call God ‘You’, we have entered into a conversation with God.

Try this prayer when you can’t get to sleep….  Try these verses when you can’t get the judgmental God out of your mind….  Try this psalm whenever you need to remember that our God is the Love that will not let us go:

You, LORD, are my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.      

You make me lie down in green pastures,
You lead me beside still waters.           

You revive my soul,
and guide me along right pathways
for Your Name’s sake.

Though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You spread a table before me
in the presence of those who trouble me;      

You have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.

Surely Your goodness and mercy
shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in Your house for ever.

Preached at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church, Los Osos
April 17, 2016