Thursday, August 2, 2018

Prayer and Community




This morning I was thinking about this coming Saturday, when Elizabeth and I will miss evening prayer to attend a movie (shocking!  scandalous!).  I need to let people know, since we stream our prayers via Zoom to our covenant group members and covenant companions.  And that made me think about the importance of community in prayer.

Before I entered religious life, I joined the Guild of St. Benedict.  The central practice was a four-fold daily office.  We never met in person, but I knew that people around the globe were praying - some when I was, others at other times.  It was a powerful mystical bond.

Later, when I lived in a convent, I got used to having people to pray with every day.  But there were times - rarely, but occasionally - when only 3 or 4 of us were there.  Once it was only me.  And those were powerful times too: I knew that I was praying not only for myself, but for my sisters who were called away.  I was doing my part to keep the community praying.  That not only strengthened my connection to God; it strengthened my awareness and connection to my sisters.

Now the people who join us online may think that we are praying, and they are praying with us.  But if we aren't there, if there's no computer, they may think they can't pray.  Au contraire, mes amies!  You have your turn to uphold the Companions in prayer.  And Elizabeth and I do pray when we're gone: if we're in the car we sing the Phos Hilaron and the Magnificat, say the Lord's Prayer, and close.  There is no wrong way to pray.

So I say, not only to our immediate community but to all of you: when you pray, you join the great stream of prayer flowing out of God and back to God.  You join sisters and brothers in joy and pain.  When you take your turn in prayer, you receive back the gift of connection to God and others.

Let us pray.  Amen.

Sermon July 29 2018, at Hopewell Junction NY

I’m glad to be with you today, but I have to be honest.  I wish our time together was beginning on a different note.  There’s good news in today’s readings, but there’s a lot of pain too.  It would be easy to avoid the pain and focus on the loaves and fishes.  Or we could enjoy the beautiful prayer of Ephesians.  But there’s no shortcut to that prayer, to that abundance.  We cannot buy our joy at the price of ignoring sin and horror.  There’s no resurrection without the cross.
Two weeks ago we heard the grim story of Herod’s beheading of John the Baptist.  Today we are confronted again with the abuse of power.  David, the Anointed One, the ancestor of Jesus, is guilty of rape and murder.
For many years we didn’t hear the word rape.  If people mentioned this story, they called it a seduction.  But the text says not a word about persuasion or seduction.  David saw her, he wanted her, he sent for her, he took her.  And he knew it was wrong.  He knew it needed to be hidden.  But rather than repent, he compounded his sin by having Bathsheba’s husband, David’s faithful servant, killed in battle.  He will repent later, but the damage has been done.
Now, I could preach a whole sermon about the dangers of absolute power.  And it’s true, Samuel warned the people when they called for a king: a king, he said, will take your daughters and sons.  He will take your land.  He will exploit and oppress you.  He didn’t say any particular king would do this; he said, this is what kings do.  And certainly the Scriptures give us plenty of examples of this abuse of royal power.  So when the people want to make Jesus king, he flees.  That is not the sort of authority he carries, or desires.  His vision for the people is greater than their own desire or imagination.  The reign of God is about community, not hierarchy; it’s about caring for the least of these, rather than indulging the whims of the rich.
But I don’t want to focus on David.  In this era of #MeToo, it’s time to listen to Bathsheba and her sisters.  What do we learn from Bathsheba?
First, we can learn simply to read more sides of a story.  I wonder, what was life like for Bathsheba after the rape?  She learns she’s pregnant.  When she tells David, her husband is killed in battle in a most conspicuous way.  She knows he’s been killed so that David can hide his crime and take her for himself.  The child born of that rape dies.  Later she will bear a son who becomes king in turn, and who in his turn will be known both for wisdom and for opulence.  He built the first Temple, and a palace, using the forced labor of thousands of men.  Bathsheba has a royal life indeed.  

Does that erase the scars?  We don’t know.  We’re left with more questions than answers.

One of the strengths of Judaism is the willingness to confront God, even knowing that we will not get the answers we seek.  It’s part of Jewish piety to question God, to express outrage, to lament.  The Psalms give us some of that picture.  We too can be outraged and still be faithful.  We can ask, “What are you thinking?  Where are you?” as part of an honest prayer life.  Praise and petition that doesn’t acknowledge hard feelings is just flattery.  God hungers for real relationship.
After this section of Scripture, we hear of Bathsheba once again.  Matthew’s Gospel opens with a genealogy of Jesus.  In the long line of male ancestors, four women are listed.  Bathsheba is there, though her name is missing: she is known only as “the wife of Uriah.”  She takes her place with Tamar, who was used by her father-in-law as a prostitute and bore Perez; with Rahab, a prostitute who helped the Hebrews conquer Canaan; and Ruth, a poor Moabite widow who offered herself as slave to Boaz.  She gave birth to Jesse, father of David.  These four women are the ones Matthew wants us to know about.
What does this tell us about God?  The Hebrew Scriptures make clear that being used or called by God does nor make anyone morally superior.  David is truly called by God, anointed, and that is not changed by his sin.  But neither does his call erase the sin or justify it.
God works by redeeming what has been broken and lost, but we must acknowledge the brokenness.  If we try to deny or justify, we cannot open to God’s grace.  We can’t ignore suffering on our way to glory.  God stands with the victims and the powerless.  We are called to stand there too.  

God’s power, working in us.

We are the ones through whom Bathsheba and her sisters will be redeemed.  We do that by welcoming those labelled unclean, those victimized by powerful and ruthless people - whether they be kings or other political officials, corporate titans, or simply the petty tyrants who keep others imprisoned through poverty or unjust incarceration or human trafficking.  Victims of domestic or political violence are part of Jesus’ family.
We also need to welcome those who have perpetrated these injustices.  The reign of God does not leave anyone out.  David is called to account by Nathan, and he does repent.  When we confront oppressors, when we name the truth and offer forgiveness, we make a space for them to return to God and to human community.  Jesus does this.  We can do this, with God’s grace.
This is a challenging way of life.  But we see it lived around us: in the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa, in the Amish community that forgave those who killed its children, in the movement for restorative justice that brings together criminals and victims to create a new future for them both.  This is the work of the Spirit, and the promise of Christian community.  


I pray that each of us, and all of us, may be strengthened in our inner being, that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith, that we may be rooted and grounded in love, and that we may know and be filled with all the fullness of God.  To God be the glory.Se

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Daily Prayer

Our normal daily pattern at the Companionary is to pray together at 7 a.m., 12 noon, 5 p.m., and 8 p.m., plus Eucharist at 8:30 a.m.  For five years we've used the St. Helena Breviary at Matins and Vespers, and adapted resources from other places at Compline.  We sit in meditation at noonday.

Lately we've been restless with the Breviary.  There's a lot to love there, but there's still some theology that's hard to take even in gender-neutral language.  We wanted to experiment but weren't sure how to go.  So God stepped in, in the form of Ernesto Medina.  Ernesto is a priest in Nebraska, who is part of our covenant group this year.  He shared in creating a prayer book for "busy people" that follows the pattern of the offices in a brief format.  It's called Daily Prayer for All Seasons (Church Publishing, 2014).  It's inclusive, not neutral.  It's inclusive across cultures as well as as genders.  It's beautiful.  And it's brief!

We are experimenting this summer by using this lovely book.  It's challenging to not say psalms, to not follow the daily lectionary.  (I'm reading the lectionary readings on my own each morning instead.). I'm sure I will miss the standard canticles.  But I really want to sink into the potential that is offered here.  Plus, since they have the office of None, I now have a 3 p.m. pause built into my day!

It's so easy to get restless with the same old routine, and so hard to let go and do something new.  I'm grateful to Ernesto for sending us this just when we were ready to try something.  I'm grateful to the committee who gathered and shaped the material, and to the Holy Spirit who inspired the writers.

Let me recommend this to you busy people who want to pray.  Ten minutes at a time, sometimes two, is enough.  Start with one office at each end of the day.  Carry the book with you and dip in during a coffee break.  It's better than checking your email - or reading this post!

Blessings on your journey.  Let us know what you find.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Trinity

Today is Trinity Sunday.  It's a cliche in the American churches that observe this Sunday that this is the only feast day devoted to a doctrine rather than a person.  This shows us what a bad job the churches have done in educating their people, including their clergy!

It's true, there's a lot of ink spilled over the Trinity.  It's true that it became a tenet of faith in a way different from believing in the historical reality of Jesus, or relating to God the Creator.  But at its heart, the Trinity is no less about "people" or "history" or "experience" than is any other aspect of our faith.  In the Trinity we experience three persons, three faces of God.  We encounter the love of God, not only as it relates to us but as it forms the very being of God.

This may be the problem.  We seem to be onlookers in discussion of the Trinity.  It's all about God, and not about us!  Or so it seems.  Except that God's love for the world animates God to come to us, messed up as we are.  Except that God's love lives among us and within us, healing and renewing us daily.  It is all about God.  And it's about God's relationship to us.

But let's say it is about God in Godself.  I don't know about you, but I can be curious about the being of a person or thing quite separately from how they impact me.  Scientists and inquirers of all sorts demonstrate that, as do those who serve others.  So why not be curious about God's inner dynamics?  Yes, it's abstract and hard to get a handle on, but so are many things worth thinking about - perhaps most things worth thinking about.

The problem isn't that the Trinity is a doctrine.  The problem is that we have learned about it only as a doctrine.  As some friends say, we eat the menu and wonder why the meal doesn't taste good.  The doctrine is only the menu.  To taste God's goodness, we need to move into and beyond doctrine.  Lectio divina is one way.  Get curious.  Why these texts today?  What can you find, beyond the words "Father," "Son," "Spirit"?  Where do you hear love?

I will be in church.  I'll bind myself to the Trinity, the reality and archetype of dynamic relationship.  I'll sing the hymns and pray the prayers, and listen for the love of God.  May you do likewise.

Happy Trinity Sunday!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Sobornost

"What if humanity came together in the light and spirit poured out at Pentecost? Would it not be possible to become of one heart and mind and to discover a unity in the language of the heart taught by the Spirit, to make that society without fragmentation of which the ancients of Babylon dreamed? In such a society all people would find their place, neither lost in the collective, not alienated and alone outside of it. This ideal acquires an urgency in the age of globalization. Can we live together and touch the Divine?"
- Bishop Seraphim Sigrist, A Life Together

Yes.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Love





The past several weeks we've been reading from First Corinthians at Matins.  I had felt guilty that I wasn't writing much, but so much has been going on!  Then we read Chapters 12 and 13.  Paul is describing the variety of gifts in the Church, stressing that all are needed.  Then he crowns that with his chapter on love.  No matter which gifts I bring, if I don't have love I'm nothing and my gifts are nothing.

This helped me.  The commitments that have kept me from writing, I realized, have come from my increasing capacity to love those near at hand.  I'm more involved with people in face-to-face work, doing more community formation, trying to live the balanced and sane life our Covenant calls us to.  So sometimes my writing takes a back seat.  I suddenly saw that rather than being a problem, there's an invitation to listen with love, to listen to love, and do what is needed.

Don't get me wrong.  I "love" to reflect and write, and I feel such fondness for those of you who write back or respond.  But lives shift, concerns and needs and context shift, and those shifts call us to let go as well as take up.   I'm still writing, though not often.  But I'm thrilled beyond measure that some other calls, calls that brought me into religious life 18 years ago, are finally manifesting.

When I left New Mexico for the convent in 2000, I told people I was ready for the advanced course on love.  Wrong!  I was a mere beginner.  But living in community taught me how far I have to go.  Continuing this life as a Companion of Mary the Apostle is working on me.  I'm still not ready for the advanced course, but I'm making progress.

As we head toward Holy Week and the supreme acts of God's love, I invite you to be looking for the love you give and the love you withhold, or don't know how to give yet.  God will teach us, if we ask. But, as Jesus knew, love is a risky and painful business.   Asking to love is asking for trouble.

May you be blessed with trouble this season, and rise to new life in Christ.



Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Inclusion?



Everyone is buzzing about the Episcopal Diocese of Washington's resolution to adopt gender-neutral language for God.  Curiously, most of the reporting about this is from conservative or reactionary sources: whatever.  Friends are celebrating.  I am too, mostly, but I have a caveat.

The resolution calls for "inclusive" language and images, but also, and more clearly, for "neutral" ones.  I've spent a long time praying in gender-neutral language, and it does indeed make God more accessible to me and many others.  I've also learned from that, however, how deeply the masculine abides within the neuter/neutral.

When I say "God" instead of "He" or "Father," people are mostly OK.  But if I say "She" or "Mother," I can hear the breath drawn in throughout a congregation.  This reaction isn't just from opponents; it's often a breath of delight, of daring to claim such an affiliation with God.  I have heard of parishioners who've said it's "disrespectful" to refer to God in the feminine.  Both sets of reaction tell me that "neutral" is often a license to avoid the fact that "God" is still masculine.

We learned this more deeply by reading the daily lessons as written, but substituting feminine pronouns for God.  So "She" goes to war, issues commandments, punishes, as well as nurturing and covenanting.  It sounds different.  It will bend not only your image of God, but your image of the feminine.  That's a good thing.

When the language is neutral, we don't have to notice.  It's like the Elizabethan compromise: you can believe what you want, just use these words when we pray together.  And that may be as good as it will get for a generation - or longer.  But it's not the goal.

My goal is that we can really celebrate God's excess of meaning, God's beyond-ness, not by silencing but by multiplying images.  Father and Mother.  Divine Daughers and Sons.  Fierce mothers and tender fathers.  Plus all the images from the Scriptures that don't have easy genders.  Plus all the gender-bending mothers and fathers and daughters and sons.

Julian of Norwich wrote that Jesus is our mother.  That's where I'm going.
God, Wondrous Mother.  Until we can say that without stumbling, we won't be an inclusive Church.

Onward!