Means of Grace, Hope of Glory

Saturday
Jun012019

Solid food

You need milk, not solid food … solid food is for the mature (Hebrews 5)

This morning I read the Office and heard of milk and solid food. I also read “These Millennials Got New Roommates. They’re Nuns.” (NYT 5/31/19)  [The article]

The article begins this way,

Sarah Jane Bradley was an unmarried, “spiritual but not religious” professional in her early 30s, with a rowdy group of friends and a start-up when she moved out of her communal house and into a convent.

A bunch of friends went with her. 

They called the project Nuns and Nones, and they were the “nones” — progressive millennials, none of whom were practicing Catholics. Intended to be a pilot project, the unusual roommate situation with the Sisters of Mercy would last for six months.

The idea was spearheaded by Adam Horowitz, a 32-year-old Jewish man, and the pilot program was guided by Judy Carle, a 79-year-old Catholic Sister of Mercy in the Bay Area. Mr. Horowitz and his friends heard the call after a road trip to visit intentional communities. They were brainstorming ways they could live radical activist lives, lives of total devotion to their causes. They were trying to figure out who was already doing this, and when Mr. Horowitz talked to a minister, it came to him. The answer was nuns.

The nuns had been nurtured with solid food. The “nones” with milk. Yes, I know it’s judgmental. Also, true. Also, the basis of solid ascetical training and coaching. You start with what’s true. Then you offer what nurtures people where they are and offers them more. Pastoral models such as Thornton’s Remnant Theory and my own Shape of the Parish can be helpful. Most people in every parish need their milk. And they need to have solid food readily available.

There’s also the dynamic by which people living in the climate and practices of a broader, deeper pathway, may find themselves drawn. You can see some of that in the article. We’ve seen it in our parishes.

Liturgy that tugs at the heart and enchants the soul. Preaching that speaks to the person’s life as it is and offers more – “Thou hast raised our human nature.” Training and coaching in the ancient ways of spiritual practice. Parishes that offer such things are offering milk and a pathway into solid food.

The avoidance of commitment - the defense of autonomy

Toward the end of the article is this, “When the millennials moved out in mid-May, they scattered back around the country. The Sisters of Mercy, of course, remain at the convent.”

It does little good to moan about a generation’s blind spots and confusions. Each generation is made up of people who strongly fit the dominate profile of that cohort and of those who seem to belong to another age entirely. And every generation with have its blind spots and confusions.

I’m of an earlier generation of social justice warriors – civil rights, anti-war, anti-racism, community organizing. In seminary I did two courses of private study with Dick Norris on revolution. It was a time when the impulse toward autonomy and temporary commitments was coming into its own. Philip Turner touched on the drift in “Sex, Money and Power.” He wrote about how the moral use of power was based on widely shared beliefs, values and intentions and how “secularism and pluralism have removed any possibility of our having a sufficient number of shared beliefs.” The dilemma was rooted in our fear “They feel the need for a moral community but fear its repressive possibilities; they fear they will purchase unity at the price of their own liberty and distinctiveness.” (pages 101 – 105).

The civil rights foot soldiers of those days were a mix of the last years of the Silent Generation (Movement’s leadership) and the Boomers. You can get the difference by thinking of how I responded to the Watergate Drama vs. those a few years younger than me. On the whole, for the Boomers it reaffirmed their suspicion of institutions and those in power. For me, it reaffirmed my patriotism and belief that the system worked. And yet, all of us were caught in the dilemma Turner wrote of. In our time many avoid commitment and defend their autonomy. [About Generational Cohorts]

Remember Jesus Christ

The task of evangelization and ascetical formation is to acknowledge, understand and effectively address each generation. So, yes, we take notice of the blindness and muddles. Then we say to them “Remember Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:8). It’s a small commitment. It’s letting go of the desperate autonomy, just a bit. Invite them, “Remember Jesus Christ.”  Offer the invitation gently, with kindness; yet also with what may seem to the hearer unsettling certainly.

Fr. Norris patiently helped me engage the historical and theological issues of revolution. He was demanding and brilliant. I didn’t get to reinforce my bias. He drew me into a larger world. It was all summed up at a Thursday Evensong, I think it was 1970, in which Dick was the preacher. He said this,

But, my brother, all of this – this hope, this muddling after better things, this striking out for the new - all of this is neither more nor less than the remembering of Jesus Christ: an acceptance for oneself and for others of the identity which belongs to mankind in him. You have no promise to give, no good to do, no help to offer, no revolution to make, which does not stem from this one thing: the knowledge and faith of what men are and will be in Christ. That is where you stand; and in every situation, by such actions or words or gestures as seem appropriate, you have one thing – and only one thing – to say: remember Jesus Christ. But if that is said, and if it is meant when it is said, and if it is heard as it is meant – then what will take place is God’s revolution, which may turn out to astonish even you and me, who like to think we know what it is all about.

He could preach the same words now to the Nuns and "nones" at the Sisters of Mercy convent.

Remain

We don’t get to resolve the tensions and polarities of our age. We don’t have that kind of influence. We do get to live in the blind spots and confusions along with everyone else. We do get to decide to remain. We can decide to eat solid food.

I’m thankful for God’s love and grace. God has given me the Eucharist and the Office; friends, family, and the Order of the Ascension to journey with. In that I remain. And, God has been with me in all my sin and human limitation, in all ambivalent and confused relationships and commitments.

Maybe my task, maybe our task, is to remain – in Eucharist and Office, in community and reflection. In all the sin and limitation, in all the blindness and confusion – remain.

The Sisters of Mercy remain at the convent.

rag+

Saturday
Mar092019

The Christmas card came down today

On Christmas Eve I handed David a Christmas card.

It was a copy of a card I have had for 55 years. It was done by the African American artist Allan Rohan Crite. In 1963 I received it from the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia I had served on the summer staff working in the parish’s summer day camp.

David is one of the employees at Café Ladro. I’m there each morning around 7:30 am reading the news on my Kindle. I return later in the day for a second cup and either more news or a bit of work-related reading.

After Christmas I noticed that the card had been taped to the side of the pastry case. I was surprised. Maybe it held some meaning for one of the employees.

The Christmas season passed, and the card remained. More than two months. Maybe it had faded into the background and was now a silent witness.

Today it was there in the morning and gone by the evening.  Three days after Ash Wednesday. It was time. It had been getting a bit beat up in that busy work station.

 

The dignity of work

Bishop Benhase, OA posted a piece the other day, “A Benedictine Garbage Man.” He began with this,

Awhile ago one Thursday as I was home writing, I heard the garbage truck pulling into the lane behind our house. I knew our trash containers indoors were overflowing, so I went downstairs, grabbed them, and raced outside to get the bags to the workers before they headed down the lane. I got there just in time. I don't know what prompted me, but after a small-talk exchange about the weather, I asked one of the workers: "Do you like your job?" He smiled, and as I recall, said something like: "Well, it stinks (literally) most of the time. It's hard and hot in summer. But I do an important service for people in this city (he's right, imagine what uncollected garbage for weeks would be like) and I like the people I work with. The money's enough for me and my family to live on." I thanked him as he and his co-workers headed down the lane.

And closed with this,

 He doesn't expect his work to "save" him, prove him worthy of anything, or give him some deep sense of identity. His job helps others by providing a needed service. He enjoys the people with whom he works. His job supports his family's needs.

In the training of novices in the Order of the Ascension one of the developmental issues we place before members is this – “Shape a parish in which the daily life and ministry of the baptized is at the center of parish energies. Respect for the vocation and life of the laity.”

An expansion on that is offered in “the marks of parish development” –

The daily life and ministry of the baptized is at the center of parish energies

The central rhythm of all parish churches is the movement of members from renewal in their baptismal identity and purpose to life and ministry in their workplace, civic involvements, and with families and friends. The parish church is called to support people as instruments of God’s love and light in all of life.  It’s really about us learning to better cooperate with the organic processes of the parish—people become salt and light in Eucharist, prayer, learning and community so they might be salt and light in daily life.

For many parishes this involves a shift from asking lay members to focus on the institutional needs of the parish to a focus on the daily life of its members in the world. This calls for leadership that attends to the parish’s institutional needs in an effective and efficient manner while giving more attention to and respect for the baptized person’s daily life.

 

The Card

The Christmas card was a small way of saying thank you and at the same time to affirm the service these young women and men provide. They are polite. They say hello and goodbye. They use your name. They treat people with dignity – young and old, homeless and housed. You can see they enjoy working with each other. And they strive to get the order right and done with care.

I don’t know if any of the employees are Christians or hold to any religion. This is Seattle! When Michelle Heyne, OA, and I broke our fast on Wednesday the server asked what was on our heads. “Ashes.”  He looked confused. We explained, “it’s a Christian religious practice.” He said, “Oh. My mother’s a Christian. She probably knows about it.” Then he went on to serve us.

The Christian understanding of the dignity of work is not something that we own. It is an expression of God’s life among all people.

And one was a doctor, and one was a queen ... one was a soldier, and one was a priest ... one was a server and one was a barista.

rag+

 

A PDF – Apostolate in the Workplace

Saturday
Mar022019

Brother Basil

Brother Basil, OSB, died this morning at 5:00 am. He was filled with joy as he entered into a new life. He was a friend, a companion in the parish’s prayer life, and along with Michelle Heyne, OA, and I, a professed religious.

Michelle visited with him four times and I did that twice. We'd prayer the Office with him. He cried each time. He spoke about how it was so important to him to pray with others who understood and he'd note the presence of all those unseen others in the room with us.

On my last visit I left a card with him that included a picture of him at Evening Prayer (see bottom of page) and this from one of the early sisters in the Restoration of the Religious Life in Anglicanism.

We always had the example of the saints and martyrs put before us: the Gates of Gold and the City of the Lamb were always glittering before our eyes... There was a consciousness of God’s Saints actually around and about us, which moved and inspired us to do and to dare anything and everything. Mother Kate, SSM

At Morning Prayer today, I read 2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:10, as appointed. I hadn’t looked at it in advance of going to the lectern. So, I hadn’t anticipated God’s tug upon my heart – “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

After Morning Prayer I thought, “I want to post something about Basil.” That was met with, “The blog is about parish development – obey your own rules!” Then I knew.

Basil didn’t really have all that much interest in the knowledge and skills of parish development. Not his thing – or as we religious say, “Not his vocation or gift.”  He did read “Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church” when it was going through its final review. He was one of the smartest people I have known. His comments were insightful and useful.

Brother Basil had served on the vestry, sat on various parish committees, sung in the choir and served at the altar. A faithful parishioner. 

Love & Prayer 

Here’s what he brought to our parish’s development – love and prayer.

He loved his parish. It was home, his “house.” He prayed for it daily at the Office. He served it. He would even break his normal hesitation about entering into arenas of controversy and act to nudge people toward reconciliation. And his love for the parish and its people was returned. That was apparent this morning in the chapel.

Over the years he had provided much of the stability in the parish’s ability to have a public daily office. It was frequently just the two of us at Evening Prayer, especially on the bookend days. On Monday he’d officiate and I’d be the congregation. On Friday we’d reverse. 

Last month I sent him the e-newsletter from All Saints, Margaret Street. Fr. Alan Moses, the Vicar, had captured Basil’s stance perfectly –

When people come to a church like All Saints they may be impressed by architecture and iconography. These things may give them pause for thought: “What does all this mean?”  Just as important can be the impression they receive from the living icons; people using the building for its true purpose, as a place of prayer. People who through its life of worship are being built into a living temple. If we consider ourselves useless at evangelism, we should think again and recognize the power of that witness to Christ given by a community and individuals who pray.

rag+

 

Also see –

The Companions of Saint Luke’s

On Brother Basil – from the Order of the Ascension

Requiem Mass March 12, 2019

Sunday
Feb242019

Coerced vestry spiritual development 

In general, we think it’s best to avoid having spiritual formation as an agenda item for the vestry - whether explicit or implied. It’s more fruitful to offer formation opportunities to any parishioners who want that, and over time they’ll maybe join the vestry. Such an increase in spiritual maturity will take place over the years, be more organic, and be grounded in the overall maturity of the parish. 

You want people to make free choices based on valid and useful information. 

So, to the extent participation in formation is voluntary and chosen, parishioners are more likely to own what comes out if it. That means the vestry is not the best starting place, since people are likely to feel coerced. They signed up for the vestry, not spiritual formation. 

And if you think vestry members should want spiritual formation and should believe it to be an important part of their service to the parish, we agree that’s ideal, but wishing it were so doesn’t make it so.  What we know is that coercion or pressure around spiritual life is something to avoid. If you catch yourself using “should,” it’s a good bet whatever you’re trying to accomplish won’t be voluntary and chosen.

It is certainly appropriate to do some work with the vestry that helps build the group’s capacity to work together. For example, you can make it a rule of thumb (in your mind, not the vestry’s) to have one occasion during each meeting when they make use of some simple process to make it easy for everyone to participate and thereby generate a bit of energy along with a mix of ideas. For example, go around the circle to respond to some issue or report. As in, “let’s go around the room, beginning with Martha, and hear a brief response to the possibility of repaving the parking lot.” The parish priest is responsible for vestry development in areas such as team work and competently dealing with financial and property matters. And such development is usually best done by introducing simple methods for better accomplishing the group’s work.

It’s also appropriate for the vestry to say Compline together at the end of its meeting. Any gathering of the baptized for operational or social purpose might do that.

However, we hear more and more stories of rectors trapping vestry members in spiritual growth activities during vestry meetings.  While we appreciate the impulse, we also think it’s inappropriate and counter-productive. Here’s more on why.

The work of Chris Argyris, a behavioral scientist, suggests that if we are to achieve a high level of internal commitment in any sphere certain conditions are necessary. We’re applying his work to the matter of spiritual formation. 

We want the baptized ready for a more apostolic way to develop a pattern of spiritual life that is sustainable, owned, and open to change based on new conditions. A Rule that will serve them over time and under stress. We seek what Argyris calls “internal commitment.”

He proposes that a significant level of internal commitment rests on two building blocks.

The bottom block is “valid and useful information.”  So, if we were trying to assist people in being able to use Lectio Divina as part of how the live the Rule of the church, how would we help them get such valid and useful information?

The best way to do that is for them to use the method a couple of times. First being coached in it, probably being walked through it step by step. The coaching-priest might then invite them to try using it for a period of time. They might use it daily for a week. Or before the Sunday Eucharist for a month. Then the people being coached would gather again and reflect on its use now having experienced it. The priest would ask them to share, if they wished, what they’d like to do in the coming months. 

The process would provide them with the valid and useful information needed for them to make a free choice. That it would be a free choice would be encouraged by having been offered several ways in which they might experiment with the practice and by the coach-priest’s tone. 

In assessing free choice Argyris looks for an exploration of options, that what is being done is voluntary and not from habit or coercion. 

And, it would be free choice because those participating had made a free choice to attend for the purpose of developing a spiritual practice competency.

 

Michelle Heyne, OA & Robert Gallagher, OA

Saturday
Feb232019

They go right down into the mess

One’s first duty is adoration, and one’s second duty is awe and only one’s third duty is service. And that for those three things and nothing else, addressed to God and no one else, you and I and all other countless human creatures evolved upon the surface of this planet were created. We observe then that two of the three things for which our souls were made are matters of attitude, of relation: adoration and awe. Unless these two are right, the last of the triad, service, won’t be right. Unless the whole of your...life is a movement of praise and adoration, unless it is instinct with awe, the work which the life produces won’t be much good.

For the real saint is neither a special creation nor a spiritual freak. He is just a human being in whom has been fulfilled the great aspiration of St. Augustine – “My life shall be a real life, being wholly full of Thee.” And as that real life, the interior union with God grows, so too does the saints’ self­identification with humanity grow. They do not stand aside wrapped in delightful prayers and feeling pure and agreeable to God. They go right down into the mess; and there, right down in the mess, they are able to radiate God because they possess Him.   Evelyn Underhill, “Concerning the Inner Life”, pages 22 and 96

 

Two workshops grounded in Underhill’s insights on adoration, awe and service

Adoration, Awe and Service                                                                                                                       - a Pathways of Grace workshop – June 2019

Shaping the Parish Through Spiritual Practice                                                                                           - a Parish Development Clinic – September 2019

Conducted by the Order of the Ascension