Archives for the month of: July, 2013

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Photo by C Jill Reed at Flickr.com
July 27, 2013
Sts. Clare & Francis ECC
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Genesis 18:20-32
Colossians 2:12-14
Luke 11:1-13
Homily by Frank Krebs

Tonight the gospel talks about prayer.  Luke’s gospel puts a lot of emphasis on prayer and about followers of Jesus learning new skills.  Jesus’ disciples ask, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  What is the skill of prayer?  Why did they want to learn to pray?  They wanted to learn perhaps because they saw Jesus engaged in it and they liked what they saw.  And it’s doubtful that Jesus was simply just saying the “Lord’s Prayer.”  The Lord’s Prayer or the “Our Father” is a kind of summary of how to pray. 

This is not to say that the prayer as we know it is not a good prayer in itself.  Of course it is.  It is perhaps the best known Christian prayer and has been included in the Eucharist apparently since the first century[i].  Rote prayers have their place in our spiritual lives.  Sometimes we’re not sure what to say and we can fall back on these words knowing that we are using very precious words, apparently shaped by the unique spirituality of Jesus himself.  I have experienced many people when they are nearly unconscious still able to say these words which they learned as a child.  There is a deep beauty in that. 

However the prayer itself is a kind of summary prayer that points to what the Master would teach his pupils:

The Intimacy of Prayer (Abba)

Time spent consciously with God is so intimate for Jesus that he calls his God by the tender, childlike term “abba” or Daddy.  Words spoken here are spoken in total security and trust.  I can say anything and fear nothing.  Often the audience affects how we say certain things; with God we learn a certain authenticity that comes from being totally known and loved at the same time.

The Otherness of God (Your Name is holy.)

The most special moment of prayer for me is when there is a kind of in-breaking, where I sense a kind of moving presence of the Other.  This is the goal of prayer.  It is time to stop and rest in timelessness.  It is the embrace of God.  Here we learn to respect the other as truly the other, the one who comes to us on God’s own terms.  Respect and awe grow from this experience.

The Importance Of Hope (Your Kingdom Come)

We live in hope.  This is a palpable experience, no?  Have you ever been discouraged and witnessed hope rising up within you?  It is an awesome gift.  Traditionally it is refered to as a “theological virtue” because it has always been recognized as something divine that is operating within us when it happens.  To be in communion with God (i.e., consciously conversing and/or being mutually present to each other as in an embrace) is to open the door to hope.  It arises.  It’s like a wind against our sail.  Hope is a kind of energy food that strengthens us to keep moving forward and to want to keep moving.

The Dependency We Experience (Give us, Forgive us, Lead us)

The most basic experience of God is as our source.  Perhaps an analogy would be this.  Imagine an electric fan plugged into the wall and functioning with a flow of electricity.  Now imagine the fan being conscious that it was operating because it was plugged into an electrical source.  It’s something like that.  However of course it’s deeper.  Unfortunately our own privileged lives make it difficult to imagine our dependence on God without effort.  The underprivileged, the marginalized, the sick, etc. have “Lord, have mercy” on their lips all day long.  To feel desperate can be a gift if it unmasks our privilege so that our true dependence can be appreciated; and this unmasking can open us up to those around us who are desperate.  In this wordless lecture of the embrace of God, God teaches us to trust in all circumstances and to see in every creature the sign of God’s presence and to see those who suffer through God’s own eyes.

So it may be that Jesus is teaching us, his students, to pray; but our experience of prayer is teaching us how to live: to be intimate and respectful and hopeful and consciously plugged into the Giver of all life. 

 


[i] It is found in an ancient Christian text, which includes the Eucharist, called the Didache.  And by the way that is where we get the ending so familiar to Protestants but not restored to the Catholic Eucharist until Vatican II: “For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory, now and forever.”  Funny how that became something to fight over for centuries!

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Martha and the dragon

Martha Und Drache, Chruch of St. Lorenz, Nuremburg

I have, in the past, considered myself a less than adequate hostess.  For most of my life I have not had a guest room for people to sleep.  I don’t own pretty little scented soaps.  My guest towels are the ones that happen to be clean (folded only if you’re lucky).  Cooking has never been a forte.  Receiving guests for me used to be an extended period of scurrying around, shoving unsightly dust bunnies under rugs and apologizing for all that I lacked.  Appearing busy was the best I could do to make it seem like I was dedicated to being a good hostess.

When I was in seminary my college roommate came to visit with her boyfriend.  He was a poet, a beautiful man, the starving artist type.  He owned little and said relatively little for being such a master with words.  When he came to stay in our little two room seminary apartment I sank into that familiar scurrying anxiety.  He said to me at some point, “I am so glad to be here!  Angie has told me so much about you.  I can find the towels.  Sit down.  I want to know about you.”  I could feel something inside of me revolt!  Sit!  Hostesses don’t sit!  Does he see that sink full of dishes?!  But his presence was so inviting.  My guest taught me hospitality that weekend.

Hospitality is here at SCF, embodied in you.  Frank and I often marvel at the gifts that walk into our midst.  We were once talking about a new member and Frank described him as having a “guest room” in his presence.  When talking with this person you feel welcome, not hurried.

Hospitality of the heart exists here in among us, but Martha’s story also rings true.  Who among us hasn’t known the familiar rising of anxiety – a stirring in your gut or a palpitation in the heart?  Even in our works of ministry and service (sometimes especially there) we scurry around, well-meaning, looking for the clean towels that will be evidence that we’re doing something right.  Thomas Merton, 50 years ago, wrote this to folks like us:

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork.  The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.  To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times.[i]

This was written 50 years ago, and if anything the world has only sped up since then.  Contrary to cultivating a guest room in our presence, anxiety and busyness takes our good intentions and build walls of resistance, barricade our hearts from things we perceive to be nuisances, make enemies with the very people we seek to work with.

Today, the great enemies of any such universal hospitality are busyness, fear, and professionalism. If I don’t have time to talk to the person calling for help, hospitality is out of the question. The advent of a guest, like the unanticipated needs of fellow monks [or family member or co-worker], is a gauge of our use of time. If we have no time for the guest, our day is too full. [ii]

Jesus does not chide Martha for her intention to serve and offer hospitality, but calls her attention to the monster of anxiety that robs her of the very thing she seeks to be and give.  Suddenly, this issue of domestic dispute can be seen for the large insidious beast that it is.  Anxiety even on a small scale can disrupt our sleep, give us gas – but more than that, it alienates us from the person we seek to be, and alienates us from one another.

Is there hope for Martha and for us.  Does she face her anxiety?  Does she put her wash rag down?  Does she make up a guest room in her heart for both Jesus and Mary?  According to legend she does what we all must do… face the beast.

The Golden Legend[iii] tells about Lazarus, Mary, and Martha and their friend Maximillus escaping persecution in the early days of the church by sailing to Gaul. Mary preaches and eventually retires to a cave to live the ascetic life in a cave within a cliff, where angels lift her seven times a day to sing the Opus Dei in heaven. Meanwhile, a monster terrorizes the countryside. The destructive human-eating Tarasque has six bear’s legs growing out of an ox’s body, a lion’s head, a back like a turtle shell with spikes, and a tail ending with a scorpion’s stinger. Martha faces the ancient monster alone and charms it, armed only with holy water, a cross, and her own sweet character. Good thing Jesus clipped her over her anxiety all those years ago! Tamed, the she-monster comes back to civilization leashed by Martha’s girdle. But a sad ending awaits the Tarasque. The frightened people destroy Martha’s pet. Sadly, ubiquitous holy cards portray a willowy white-skinned Martha and a small, lovely nonthreatening dragon curled round her feet. Neither look like they’ve conquered anything, especially a monster like anxiety. [iv]

We can deny the power of anxiety or we can “cope” in various ways to protect ourselves from fright, but it is our dreams that reveal the truth of the violence of anxiety.  Have you ever had an anxiety dream where something is chasing you?  You wake up and your heart is racing.  The monster of anxiety is real.  I learned in a dreams workshop that the monsters of our dreams need not terrorize us forever.  When we, in meditative time during waking hours or in our sleep, choose to confront the monster it has the potential to become our ally, a wisdom figure.  We can ask it… why do you chase me?  What message do you have for me?  Our own anxiety can become the guide that helps us to see where our lives are too full, the monster can help us to clear a space for a “guest room” in our hearts.  The growling in our gut, our racing heart give us signs that we need to pay attention.  The Tarasque is on the move ready to consume our life and energy unless we learn to tame it.

In a little while we will celebrate the Eucharist, remembering the night before Jesus died.  A man familiar with the stalking of beasts and demons, he faces the reality of his situation, evidenced by the hospitality of heart he shows to his friends.  We in our daily lives might see the unexpected interruption of a coworker or a common domestic dispute as small or petty, but be on guard.  You may be called on to face a monster… so have courage and take heart.  If Martha can do it, so can you!

Rev. Jessica Rowley
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 20, 2013
Focus text: Luke 10: 38-42 (Martha and Mary)


[i] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.

[ii] Hugh Feiss OSB, Essential Monastic Wisdom: Writings on the Contemplative Life.

[iii] The Golden Legend was a popular medieval book of hagiographies, lives of the saints.

[iv] Summary and reflection by Suzanne Guthrie from “Soulwork to Sunday: A Self-guided Retreat” edgeofenclosure.org.

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God’s Word is something very near to you,
already in your mouths and in your hearts;
you have only to carry it out.
  Dt 30: 14

“Spiritual journey” can imply there’s a destination, a holy grail that once attained will reveal Life’s secrets and transform our lives.  Like walking a labyrinth the destination sometimes feels close and sometimes very far away as we wind through our lives.  My experience of labyrinth walking at Mercy Center has provided a unique mirror.  When I first began I would frequently feel anxious about the amount of time it took to get to the center, pressured by other walkers to go faster, startled (and a bit relieved) when I suddenly found myself in the center.  After a while I thought I had the labyrinth “figured out.”  I knew that it seemed like I was far, but just a few more bends and I’d get there.  Then one day I suddenly noticed some lavender planted at a bend in the path.  “Huh, when was that planted?”  I discovered there were pebbles and rocks with words etched in them all along the way.  “Were they always here?”  I moved my gaze up from my feet for a moment and caught the flight of a bright cardinal.  Suddenly the path was alive.  God’s Word is something very near.

Karen Armstorng writes in The Spiral Staircase, “In the course of my studies, I have discovered that the religious quest is not about discovering ‘the truth’ or ‘the meaning of life,’ but about living as intensely as possible here and now…” Concern for our goals or ultimate purpose can distract us from seeing the work of God unfolding in this moment.  Moment by moment, decision by decision God’s word comes to us, already in our mouths and in our hearts.

We are pulled away from the moment though. It’s so automatic.  Suddenly we find ourselves in our driveway at home after a day at work and wonder how we got there.  Where was our attention?  On the future – preoccupied with what may be coming next, anxiety about something that hasn’t yet come to pass?  On the past – replaying memories from the day or from months or years ago?

A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side.

The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman.

Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on his 
journey.

The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them.

Two more hours passed, then three, finally the younger monk could contain himself any longer, and blurted out “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”

The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”

Living God’s “command” is less about doing the “right” thing and not the “wrong,” but living in dynamic relationship to the preset: How do I respond to the needs of this situation, of this moment?  Now this moment? And this one?  Setting down the burden of the past and the future.  True compassion comes from a place not motivated by what our mother told us what the “right” thing to do.  True compassion is without concern for who’s watching or how this is going to affect my reputation.  True compassion doesn’t need to check off a to-do list.  When we meet in the moment some form of suffering – our own or that of another – we need only to be present, becoming part of the moment without changing it.  It is in this sacred, spacious place that a creative response can emerge, a response of true compassion.  God’s word is very near – already in our mouths and our hearts.

Our relationship to the present is key to a compassionate response.  Read this New York Times article on the “Morality of Meditation.”  This study of meditation’s effects on our empathetic response is telling:

recent findings by the neuroscientists Helen Weng, Richard Davidson and colleagues confirm that even relatively brief training in meditative techniques can alter neural functioning in brain areas associated with empathic understanding of others’ distress — areas whose responsiveness is also modulated by a person’s degree of felt associations with others.

So take heart. The next time you meditate, know that you’re not just benefiting yourself, you’re also benefiting your neighbors, community members and as-yet-unknown strangers by increasing the odds that you’ll feel their pain when the time comes, and act to lessen it as well.

No one is good at this.  By grace, we may find ourselves dropped into the Now – suddenly finding an incredible spaciousness and Presence, but it can be fleeting. But every time we ask ourselves, “What is my relationship to this moment?” every time we catch ourselves preoccupied, every time we make a choice to draw near to the present moment, it softens us, little by little.  And we come to know God’s word is very near – already in our mouths and our hearts.

Rev. Jessica Rowley
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 13, 2013
Focus text: Deuteronomy 30:10-14, Luke 10:25-37 (the Compassionate Samaritan)

photo by h.koppdelaney on flickr.com

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photo by Valerie Everett on flickr.com

            Is anyone here a pilot? When I ask commercial pilots about their jobs I am always impressed how much practice goes into flying. These pilots report that flying the modern commercial jet actually is not all that difficult when all systems work right and the weather is perfect. All the endless practice focuses on things going wrong or the weather turning bad. When Tiger Woods was young, his father would make him practice shots from all sorts of difficult positions and when Tiger was practicing from a flat, perfect position, he would create noise or other distractions to disrupt his shot. In many contexts of life we practice and practice to better respond to what is outside our control.

            Our egos, like pilots and golfers, hate uncontrolled space. Our egos want to control things to protect us. In today’s gospel, Jesus sets up a spiritual practice session for his disciples that is intended to create uncontrolled space. If you are like me and like the safety of agendas, concepts and opinions, the message to practice uncontrolled space beckons me to a deeper, more sacred place in my life.

The Disciples’ Service Project

            In Chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel Jesus and the disciples have been together for awhile and Jesus calls for a service committee meeting – it is time to put all this good information Jesus has been sharing into practice. You can imagine the disciples at a preparation meeting to be thinking through what it will take to have a successful service experience. We can imagine someone saying they need a website to refer people to, but Jesus says no website. “How about a power point about the Kingdom?” another asks. No power point for this project says Jesus. Another raises her hand and asks when the iPhones will be distributed so they can check in with Jesus. No phones this time, says Jesus. One anxious disciple asks, “well at least we get credit cards, right?” No money says Jesus.

            You see, the disciples were sent to “be with” people and forced to accept hospitality. They did not have a preconceived idea about what their work would be. They were not professional healers but they would heal if that was needed. They were not in the exorcist business but they would deal with a demon on occasion. Some folks they are with might need a meal or a hand around the house. In effect, Jesus said go be with people and see what happens! The Kingdom is at hand and abundant.

Finding Sacred Space

            The mystics tell us to seek out uncontrolled space because this is where conversion tends to happen. Who felt “in control” when they fell in love or held a new born? Most of the time we are thrust into this space involuntarily – sometimes through grace and others through a type of loss, an accident or an illness. We sometimes come out different on the other side. Years ago I was on a business trip to New York and I was having a drink with a local lawyer at the airport. I must have said something that indicated I was open to spiritual things, because he told me a story about a heart attack he suffered a year earlier. He was not particularly spiritual at the time but while in the hospital with an uncertain diagnosis, fearing that he was about to lose everything, he felt what he called an embrace from God, and he heard “I love you” from a place deep inside that he swears was almost audible. His uncontrolled moment led to a gifted awareness and conversion.

            But who wants to wait for life to bring us uncontrolled space? Let’s be intentional about it! The “three legged stool” of spiritual practice (spirituality, community, service) we talk about a lot around here is all about accessing uncontrolled or sacred space. At our best we practice the leg of prayer and liturgy not to check a box of accomplishment or obligation, but to find a posture receptive to someone who cannot be controlled. At our best we know that community is created not by saying a creed together, but by going through sacred space together. We know we need to practice and practice skills of being in a safe place for folks to tell the sacred truth about their experience. At our best we understand service and ministry to first be about “being with” another, never sure what will happen.

            There are dozens of ways to access sacred space. Today’s text gives us a great lesson about what most of these practices have in common – go empty handed. Let’s practice going to prayer without agenda or a need to accomplish something. Let’s go to our small groups without our concepts, opinions and solutions and listen to stories of conversion and encounter. Let’s go to service without a need to perform or persuade and simply “be with” another who may be very different than we are.

            If you are like me, the awareness of sacred space is fleeting. I still need lots of practice. May this liturgy be such a practice for us. Let’s all pray together tonight to rekindle that specific practice in our lives that prepares us for sacred space.

Amen

George von Stamwitz
Sts. Clare & Francis Ecumenical Catholic Community
Liturgy for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Saturday Evening, July 6, 2013
Focus text: Luke 10:1-9 (the disciples practice ministry)

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Photo collage by Jhaan at Flickr.com

Saturday Evening, June 29, 2013
Sts. Clare & Francis ECC
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19:16-21
Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Luke 9:51-62
Homily by Frank Krebs

When Luke paints his picture for us tonight, he has in mind a long and marvelous story in the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, part of which we read tonight.  The story tells of the “passing on of the mantel”[i] from one prophet to another.  Elijah is about to be taken up to heaven, quite dramatically by “chariots of fire.”  He has been training Elisha to be his successor.  Elisha had asked Elijah for a “double-portion” of God’s spirit, which Elisha receives as Elijah ascends.

Luke tells us that Jesus is about to be “taken up” just like Elijah was.  Luke will later paint a picture of Jesus being taken up into heaven, with his Spirit soon to follow, like the spirit of Elijah falling on Elisha.

Also Luke borrows the theme of determination and focus and concentration on “the most important thing” from the Elijah story as well.  He pictures Jesus tonight with a kind of determined face.  He “set his face to Jerusalem,” we are told.  Like a compass needle his whole being was pointed.  There was direction in his soul.  This was a calling, a mission.  He was consumed by it.  Elijah was like that as well.

However in the Elijah story and in Luke’s story, there is hesitancy on the part of the disciple, the learner, the one who would walk in the prophet or Jesus’ footsteps.  Let’s look at the Elijah story first.

Elisha’s (the student of Elijah) response is basically, “Excuse me; I have a few things I have to do.”  These were not hard things to imagine excusing one for, i.e., family obligations.  Elijah had no patience with this.  When you get a call from God, he would be thinking, that is the most important thing in your life.  That is your life.  Everything else comes second.  Elisha got the point.

And so while Elisha was in the middle of plowing his field, he slaughtered the oxen, broke up the plow to cook the oxen, gave the cooked meat to the poor, and left to follow Elijah.  He could not go back; he could have no livelihood as a farmer anymore.  He had “set his hand to,” or destroyed, his plow.  The only way now was forward with Elijah.

So Jesus similarly says to his would be followers, “You can follow me, but the mission must be first; everything else is second.”  That is what the Word is challenging us with this evening.

Nelson Mandella lies dying in South Africa tonight.  The chariots of fire are coming to pick him up.  Who will his mantel fall on?  Who will receive his spirit?

Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai braved death at the hands of powerful forces in Kenya as she sought to stop the deforestation that was ruining the earth and thus the life of her people.  She braved death as if she were doing the most important thing in the world—as she simply planted trees one at a time.  She started a movement of many, many women doing the same thing.  They have picked up her mantel.

Our communal works of service, which will allow each of us to be as involved as we are able to be, have this element of mission about them.  We are not just wandering around with no sense of where we are going.  We are working for justice.  The Spirit of Jesus has fallen on us; his mantel has been passed on.  Amen?


[i] Quite literally.  Presumably this is where this famous phrase comes from.