Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Happy Anniversary!

Today is five years since Elizabeth and I made our initial declarations of intent to live as community.  You might think of it as our postulancy reception, except no one was receiving us - we were stepping into a space we were creating as we went.  We made our declaration at Vespers at Holy Cross Monastery.  We said:

I desire to know God and serve God with my whole being.  I desire to walk with others on the road of discipleship, and to learn about life as a Companion of Mary the Apostle.

The next month someone came to us asking us to start a women's group.  Since then we have been growing and evolving and learning, struggling and rejoicing.

We are still only two in residence, but we see the community developing around us.  We are welcoming three new candidates for Covenant Companionship, and beginning a new Covenant Group for people who are exploring their vocation with us.  We are surrounded by gifted and loving advisors and counselors.  Something is happening.  God is with us.

Please join us in giving thanks this day for all those who follow their hearts in seeking God.  Give thanks for those who help others on this path.  We give thanks for you, and for one another.  God is awesome.  Hallelujah!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Saint John, Evangelist

Today we celebrate John of many names: "The Divine," "The Beloved," "Evangelist."  I'm disappointed that the readings today don't include the prologue to his Gospel; the selections from the Gospel focus on him, John, rather than on his distinctive view of Jesus.  But we hear echoes in the first office reading, Proverbs 8:22-30, where Wisdom tells of her close relationship with the Creator.  This Wisdom is, for John, the Word that "came down" and met us in the flesh.  In the Incarnation, Jesus' light shows each of us who we are and who we might become.  "He became human that we might become divine," as Irenaeus said.  But the road to divinity goes through our sin and our ignorance.  We are enabled to see ourselves through Jesus' eyes, and to choose life - or not.

Today, as the U.S. government continues to dismantle structures of collective responsibility and concern, we are each going to be challenged to decide what our values and priorities are.  Do we make contributions to charities, or tithe, in order to get a tax break?  Will we give when we can't get that benefit?  Will we share what we have with those who will no longer have access to even minimal food resources or housing?  Will we help our loved ones, and others, who will no longer have jobs, or Social Security or Medicare?  What do we stand for?

It's not enough to be nice.  At the end of the movie "Downsizing," I was struck by a scene when someone tells the protagonist that their journey on foot will be eleven hours long.  He is not prepared, and he's the last one coming.  After telling him this, the first person blithely says, "Stay hydrated," and he strides ahead, leaving him alone and with nothing.  What looks like a group of concerned, loving people reveals itself to be a nicer, eco-conscious version of the same old individualism.

Jesus wasn't nice.  He didn't teach us to be nice.  He became human, he went to the depths, he endured our worst, out of love.  Along the way he stripped bare the niceness of those who give out of their comfortable excess, or who give to pat themselves on the back or feel virtuous.  He kept choosing the path of possibility, a path that leads through uncertainty and failure.

The Word became flesh and tented among us.  And we too, in this flesh, are children of God.  May you see and honor that child in yourself, and in all you meet.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Saint Stephen, Deacon

Today we remember Stephen, the first deacon.  He's also the first martyr, and that tends to get more attention, but today I want to think about his crucial role in getting the Church moving toward a sustainable community.

The morning office reading (Acts 6:1-7) tells of the moment when the apostles got the need for deacons.  Fights were springing up (apparently all was not as happy as Luke sometimes wants us to think!).  The contesting parties came to the apostles, as the only authorities in the community.  But the apostles said, "This isn't really our job, and focusing on it will cause us to neglect the thing that is our job.  Let's appoint some people to do this job.  You all choose the ones you trust.  We will do what we are called to do, and they will do what they are called to, all for the good of the community."

Now, the translations can make it sound like the twelve are dismissive of this "mundane" task, but I don't think we have to go there.  They're just clear that it's not their task, their ministry, their gift.  But they're just as clear that it is needed, and that the people should choose those who will carry it out.

We've talked among the Companions about how to understand our different threads of membership.  Are we like monks/nuns, oblates, tertiaries, associates?  Last summer Dario said maybe it's more like the vowed members are like priests and the covenant Companions are like deacons; some tending the charism, focused on prayer and welcoming those who come, and others going out and bringing needs and resources back and forth.  We aren't settled on these analogies; there's always a danger that we will read too much into them and try to fit inside those categories.  We hope to have residential vowed members who serve the world by "waiting at tables" as well as attending to "the word of God."  But it is useful to have that lens.

I, Shane, have struggled for years with the sense that I'm supposed to serve with my hands more, to be "out" more, to be "relevant."  But today's lesson reminds me that some of us are called to prayer, to listening, to bringing words rather than deeds as such.  God's realm needs all of us.  So I'm tending the fire, hoping to bring something to others who go out and do what I'm not able or called to.  I give thanks for deacons, ordained and incognito.  Blessed Stephen, pray for us!

P.S.  Last night (yes, Christmas night) we went to see "Downsizing."  I think the lead character actually shows us diaconal ministry incognito.  It is a powerful movie, with a lot of commentary about our choices in the world.  See it if you can.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Almost . . .

We returned home on December 21.  We spend 2/3 of Advent away from home, ironically teaching about "exodus and advent."  The wilderness was a big theme, and we got to be there!

There was something about being away from home that really deepened my sense of Advent and the approaching birth of Christ.  I don't know just what it was, but there was a connection.  Coming home just in time for the final days evoked the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem (although for them it was a journey away from home, an exodus).

We had decided before we left that Christmas would be simple - we came home tired, with things to catch up on.  We don't need gifts or fancy foods or big events.  Christmas this year is unadulterated, about Christ.  Maybe that's why it's so pressing for me.

I feel like I'm about to give birth.  I can't wait.  Something big is happening.  It won't look big from the outside, no one else may know, but God is entering into my life in a new and deeper way right now.  I don't have any other words for it.  Something is coming.

Jesus came into a world of oppression and injustice.  Our world, too, is awash in anger and violence and domination and exploitation.  The light is shining in the darkness; it will shine.  The darkness cannot overcome it, do what it may.

I can't wait.  The world can't wait.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Advent 3 B Reflection

I don't know if you'll be able to read this, since i'm pasting it from another application.  If it appears white, hold your cursor over the line and see if that helps.

I’ve been preparing to preach tomorrow, and there’s more to say than I can fit in one sermon, so here’s another line of thought that’s been occupying me.
Readings are Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8,19-28

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
This sounds like such a bold, grand statement.  It might sound arrogant or pushy.  Who are you, who am I, to say such a thing?  

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”
The one speaking in Isaiah has a mighty commission; to heal the sick, to free the prisoners, to restore sight, to proclaim justice and jubilee.  It sounds like a lot of power.  
But as we look at those on whom the Spirit rests, we see a different picture.  
During Advent we meet two people who receive the Spirit of the Lord: John the Baptist, and Mary.  For both of them, the coming of the Spirit brings not privilege, but hardship, misunderstanding, and suffering.  And it brings peace and joy, of a sort that’s hard to take in.

John was born to a priestly family.  He would normally have grown up to serve in the Temple like his father.  But something happened to take him away from the center of power and push him to the desert, to the Jordan, to a life that few would choose or understand.  Eventually it led him to die in prison for speaking out.  The Spirit of the Lord rested on him, but he was not celebrated or privileged for that.  He, John, had to decrease in order to let the Spirit work.  He had to let go of his plans and dreams, his ego, and make room for the Messiah.

When the authorities came to question him, they basically asked him: who do you think you are, baptizing and preaching without a license?  He answers, “I’m nothing.  Who I am doesn’t matter.  What matters is the One who is to come.”  

In fact, John’s message is about the power of humility.

John can stand up to the questioners because he has nothing to defend.  He can stand up to Herod and tell the truth because he is not attached to his status or his wealth or even his life.  He knows he is not the center of his own life.  The center of his life is Christ, the Messiah, the one who is coming.

What a message!  In a culture of iPads and iPods and Me, where the ads for everything from hamburgers to health insurance tell us they’re designed for us and we deserve the best, John says: 
It’s not about me.

It’s about God, and what God is up to.
Paul tells us that we can rejoice and give thanks “in all circumstances” because God is faithful.  Not because I’m so smart or strong or faithful; it’s not about me.

Since it’s not about me, I don’t have to waste time looking good or speaking anything other than truth.  I don’t have to worry about whether I’m popular, or successful.  I can focus on being faithful, as God is faithful.

God is faithful.  God is the point.
It’s about God.

Where is God at work in you, among you, today?

Give thanks.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Comfort, Comfort

We are in Cincinnati OH for two weeks.  Tomorrow Elizabeth is preaching at Christ Church Cathedral.  I'm struck that the season that opened last week with "Comfort, comfort my people" now moves to John the Baptist's call to repent.  For many of us, these might seem like contrary messages.  But I think they are part of a whole that's true and life-giving.

When we hear "comfort" these days we think of relaxing, of letting go and getting what we want - a soft bed, a fluffy bathrobe.  Repentance seems hard, maybe even punishing.  But in fact these two ideas belong together.

God longs for us, longs for our return.  When we have turned away, life is hard: hard for us, and hard for God.  We may anesthetize ourselves and deny the pain, but anesthesia is not real comfort.  It is not renewal or recreation.  It's suspended animation, neither life nor death.

Real comfort enables us to turn back, to dare to ask forgiveness, to admit our faults and try again.  Real comfort takes courage and resolve.  Its reward is real, and deep, and enduring.  Repentance, turning back, leads to comfort.

When Isaiah is called to "comfort" the people it is not a call to tell them what they want to hear.  John the Baptist comforts the people by reminding them they have a choice and a chance.  Repentance is the path of life.  If you've ever cried your heart out, you know that tears cleanse and renew us.

Like Luke's prodigal father, God is waiting with open arms.  The only way to comfort is to admit our failings and let ourselves be received.  Then we see the one we have waited for coming to us, in everyone and everything.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Covenant Groups

Dear Friends,

Blessed Advent to you!

We are forming a new covenant group to begin in March 2018.  If you are interested in a more intentional relationship with the Companions and a shared community of spiritual practice, take a look at this link and see whether you think God is calling you to this.  We'd love to hear from you, wherever you are!