Means of Grace, Hope of Glory

Friday
Jun082018

Q & A: Take Counsel – Stop Grumbling

Q – What can I do with myself? At times I feel as though I’m choking on old resentments. Things that happened years ago and I’m still dwelling in them. It’s like living in a house that filled up with old newspapers and has cobwebs and spiders in all the corners.

Fifteen years ago, George was parish treasurer. He stole some money from the offering and was caught. The parish didn’t press criminal charges and George apologized and fessed up to having done it before. He repaid the money he had taken. George was allowed to stay in the parish. I’ve never been okay with that. But now he’s been elected to the vestry. There’s a group of us that have been talking about this at coffee hour. I’m having a resentment flare-up.

A – First you might notice how split you are within yourself. You’re disturbed by the resentment you’re carrying and at the same time nurturing that resentment with the old story. Second, you’re grumbling – in your heart and at coffee hour.

Let me focus on your soul. My opinion of George staying in the parish and now getting elected to the vestry has no value.

Four actions you might consider:

Spend some time reflecting on the wisdom of Holy Scripture

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt 5: 23 -24)

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26)

Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. (1 John 4:20)

Get out your Prayer Book and turn to page 447. You need to make your confession. Just remember that you are confessing your sin not George’s.

Stop participating in the grumbling corner at coffee hour. You are feeding the worst part of yourself. You are also helping to create a parish climate of resentment, holding grudges, and self-righteousness.

Make use of “The Invitation 2018: Take Counsel – Stop Grumbling.” Consider reading a section each day. Allow yourself to be healed. You might begin with “Everyone has a need to be forgiven.”   

There’s much more of course but those four acts might be a good beginning.

 

Q – Parish life seems rushed and busy. Even Sunday morning is crowded with activities. The Eucharist has to be done in no more than one hour. People have little chance to catch up with one another because there’s an adult forum in place of the coffee hour. Frequently there are committee meetings after that. What can I do?

A – Saint Benedict begins his Rule for living in community with “Listen carefully …with the ear of your heart.” Our ability to be obedient to God and live in mutual obedience in community is directly related to our willingness to listen and competence in listening.

It sounds as though your parish has shaped its life in a way that makes listening difficult even if you are willing and able to listen.

Let’s focus on your soul.

Things you might consider doing:

Speak with the rector about what you are experiencing. Don’t be argumentative. Just share the effect it’s having on you. That’s being a responsible participant in the Body of Christ. Once you’ve done that – let it go.

Reflect on Bishop Scott Benhase’s comments on “Holy Obedience.” 

The threefold process of holy obedience – is listening to God in the Scriptures, and the prayers of the church, and in the voices of those around us.

 

You may not be able to slow down the pace of Sunday morning but you can slow down your pace and take time to listen in those three ways.

Do you know how to use the Lectio Divina method of praying the scriptures? Try to learn it and then arrive a few minutes early on Sunday and look at the readings for that day. Here’s the lectionary.

You can expand your listening to God in the prayers of the church by saying the Daily office each day. Some on-line ways of saying it

Mission Saint Clare   

There's a Virtual Morning Prayer in the Diocese of Georgia. Mondays through Fridays, 9 am Georgia time,  you can turn on your computer or smart phone, log onto Facebook and join a live Morning Prayer service. It's easy to join the group, just click on this link Morning Prayer in GA and ask to join. 

From the Gregorians   

 

Take someone to breakfast or lunch on Sunday before or after the Eucharist. Talk, listen.

 

 You may want to participate in The Invitation 2018: Take Counsel – Stop Grumbling.

If you’re one of the baptized seeking to deepen your spiritual life – use the web page for your reflections for a month.  If you’re a priest or lay leader – you may find help on the web page to improve the climate of the parish.

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Tuesday
May292018

Religious Communities in the Parish

In the e-newsletter of Saint Mary the Virgin, Times Square on April 29 were these announcements.

Let me begin with the very happy news that on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, Sister Monica Clare, C.S.J.B., was elected by her community to make her vow of final profession as a sister of the Community of St. John Baptist. Her commitment to the religious life is a witness of God's continuing work through the church. ... Now, some sad news: Sister Eleanor Francis, C.S.J.B, superior of the Community of St. John Baptist, has decided to close the community's branch house here at Saint Mary's. Sometime this summer, Sister Laura Katharine, C.S.J.B., and Sister Monica Clare, C.S.J.B., will return to the convent in Mendham. It is, of course, Sister Eleanor Francis's duty to think about the community as a whole and to assign sisters where they are most needed for the community's ministry, and that is what she is doing. I speak on behalf of all of our clergy, the parish's trustees, and many others that we are unanimous in our regret, indeed our sadness, that this decision has had to be made. The sisters have become an important part of our common life, and it will take time for us to come to terms with their departure.

Since the restoration of the religious life in Anglicanism in the nineteenth century these communities have often found a special place in the heart of our parish churches. They have served as teachers, community workers, sacristans, and officiants at the Daily Office. They have visited to lead retreats and quiet days and offer spiritual guidance. Possibly most importantly they have stood and knelt with all the faithful in the Holy Eucharist.

Over the decades they have been received in many types of parishes outside the Anglo Catholic tradition from which they emerged.

There are also parishes that have had a special relationship with religious communities. Sometimes formal arrangements, often by coincidence.

The parish I attend, Saint Paul's, Seattle has among us four Professed Members, a couple in process toward Profession, three superiors of Orders, and two who have founded Orders. They are all part of disbursed communities that have become more visible in the church over the past 50 years.  Mostly Benedictine in flavor with one Franciscan.

I’m not sure what to make of the coincidence. Except that I doubt it’s a coincidence.

C.S. Lewis wrote this about friendships; I think it applies to much of our life.

“But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ “ There are no coincidences.

It’s part of the mystery of religion 

Of course, some people still make the mistake of assuming there is a special holiness among religious. So, if you’re going to teach on the religious life this quote from Evelyn Underhill might be useful.

But after all a Religious Order isn’t (yet) a community of saints. It’s a collection of people who have been given the grace to offer their lives to God – but alongside that grace, nature persists and his apt to show itself in all sorts of shabby disconcerting little ways. Still, it’s part of the mystery of religion isn’t it that God does work in the world through imperfect instruments. The apostles themselves were in many ways a second-rate lot in yet they were the founders of the Church.

If you see the potential value in lifting up the life of Anglican religious communities in your parish you might want to look for ways to express that. Consider doing a few small things to make the connection. For example,

  1. Make available information on becoming an associate of a religious community

 Here are a few examples.

 Order of the AscensionOrder of the Holy CrossOrder of Julian of NorwichCompanions of Saint LukeSociety of Saint John the EvangelistCommunity of Saint John BaptistSociety of St MargaretSaint Gregory's Abbey

 2. Participate in “Take Counsel – Stop Grumbling”

 It’s a spiritual dynamic in all parishes and the Benedictine tradition may be a help in our way to holiness.

3. For a month each year use your e-newsletter to highlight the life of a few of the church’s religious communities and/or sisters and brothers from our history.

June 15 is the Feast of Evelyn Underhill. I hope you’ll observe the feast in some fashion. For me I’ll say the Office as usual, with Brother Basil and others in the evening. It falls on a Friday this year and my Friday “special devotion” includes reading a bit of Blessed Evelyn.

Considerations & Cautions

A parish is blessed by the presence of a religious community in its life. In a few places you have a long -standing practice of sisters or brothers from traditional orders serving as part of the parish’s staff.  For example, at Saint Mary the Virgin, Times Square there are now two Franciscan Friars in residence and before that two sisters from the Community of Saint John Baptist. More commonly in recent years is the presence of newer forms of the religious life. In the parish Michelle and I attend you have brothers and sisters, under vows, from four communities – The Community of Mary: Mother of the Redeemer, The Order of St. Francis, the Companions of St. Luke-OSB, and the Order of the Ascension.; there are also a variety of associates, oblates, and members of religious societies.

These people tend to add to a parish’s life by their service in one role or another. More importantly they add a dimension and perspective about living the Christian Life. An internal dialogue can be set off in parishioners about how deeply and completely the Life if to be lived.

There are two cautions. The first needs to be mentioned but is not usually not a significant matter – vowed sisters and brothers have an accountability to a Rule and religious superiors outside the parish system. Rectors and bishops with high control needs can get anxious. There’s no answer in more rules and centralized authority; systems are healthier when there are various and even contending sources of authority. Increased emotional intelligence and humility all round does help.

The second, is “creeping monasticism.” Practices appropriate to a religious order start creeping into parish life. It may be an unconscious energy but there is a noticeable drift toward little “monasticisms” – uses of a monastic breviary, more antiphons, and referring to the parish as a “house.” None of these things are very important in themselves.

What can become problematic is when server, officiant, and lector roles are disproportionally filled by the Religious. The wrong solution to this is to limit the Religious; the healthy solution is to pay attention to the routine recruitment of others into those roles. For a busy rector it’s easy to miss. The Office is being said and celebrations of the Eucharist offered. Those in the Religious Life will happily and spontaneously serve. But after a year or two of not actively recruiting other parishioners the parish finds itself slightly misshapen. Over time the parish could find itself with sustainability problems especially around weekday Offices and Eucharists.

 

The church’s spiritual vitality and authenticity 

According to A.M. Allchin, Underhill saw the restoration of the religious life as a sign of the church’s “spiritual vitality and authenticity.” She wrote that, ”the religious life sums up, and expresses in a living symbolism, the ideal consummation of all worship; the total oblation of the creature to the purposes of God.”

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The icon is from my collection - "The Anglo Catholics." This one was written by Christine Simoneau Hales 

It's called "The Restoration of the Religious Life.' The images are of Mother Harriet Monsell, CSJB, Richard Meux Benson, SSJE,  James Otis Sargent Huntington, OHC, and Priscilla Lydia Sellon.

Monday
May212018

The Transformation Model

There's an old model used in organization development that may help as you look at ways to improve elements of parish life. It's been used in training and education, pledging campaigns, the development of a stronger liturgical presence for those serving at the altar, the deepening of parish spiritual practice, on-and-on

It can be seen in the Holy Eucharist. We gather from homes and workplaces. We arrive calm and stressed, happy and sad, scattered and centered, bitter and content. We engage the Mystery, or maybe truer to say the Mystery engages us. Sometimes we are barely present; sometimes we participate with mind, heart and body; and at times we fully engage. God will make good use even if we are barely present. So we are offered upon the altar. Augustine of Hippo, "It is you who lie upon the altar; it is you, your very life, within the cup."  And we are blessed - "Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace; and at the last day bring us with all your saints into the joy of your eternal kingdom."


I was introduced to the model in the early 70's in a year-long organization development training program. It was in my first OD text book by French and Bell. I think the current title is, Organization Development: Behavioral Science Interventions for Organizational Improvement. I've seen in used in non-profits, schools, businesses, and churches. It's one of the models that is foundational if we are to understand how systems work.

Here's a basic image of the model.

If you do a search on the web you'll find a wide variety of images for the model (try "input  transformation  output").

The idea is to pay attention to each phase of the model.  For example, in the "learn to say the daily office" program Michelle Heyne has offered in a number of parishes you can see each of the elements.

Input - Attractive advertising to draw interest. Usually quotes from the saints and Anglican spiritual writers. Clarity in the advertising about the process they are being invited into -- a session on learning ways to say the office; say it during that week; return for a second session to reflect on how it went. You want people to come having the information they need and from free choice. You don't want people coming to the session who want to debate the value of the Office or because they have nothing to do that evening. It helps if they enter into it with some desire to learn the practice.

Transformation Process - All three phases are part of the transformation process. You help the participants share what they do now. You offer alternative ways of doing the Office. You ask them to use a worksheet to decide what they will do in the coming week. When they return the following week you help them reflect on what they did and what they might want to do it differently going forward. The climate is to be accepting and exploratory. Stress Martin Thornton's idea that we must experiment with spiritual practices to find what fits us.

Output - Those going through that "transformation process" usually report that it helped them acquire the basic knowledge and skill they need to continue using the Daily Office and the stance needed to feel free to adapt that use to their temperament, circumstances and spiritual need.

The model offers a way to plan the phases of an intervention. The failure of many programs in the parish has to do with our failure to have considered what we are doing in each phase. And you seek ways to get feedback on what happens in each phase.

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Wednesday
May162018

Grumbling & Conflict

Grumbling can fester and grow into conflict in the parish community. The small irritations can be indulged and become a fight.

What wisdom can we find from Saint Benedict?

If we are a bit literalistic in our thinking Benedict can be a danger. Corporal punishment is his last step in conflict management. Probably something we shouldn’t do in our parishes!

There is however, something we can draw on from the good saint once we engage our common sense and moral judgment. Benedict does the same thing the scriptures do – provides a step-by-step process. First do this. And if that doesn’t work, do this. And if that also fails, try this.

Benedict wants to deal with disobedience, stubbornness, and the grumbling that disrupts the community’s harmony patiently and with care. First, we are to warn the brother privately. And if that fails, there is a public rebuke. And if must be there is the possibility of excommunication. After that he gets very 6th century with corporal punishment. (Chapter 23 of the Rule of Saint Benedict)

 

We see the same approach in the Disciplinary Rubrics of the Prayer Book. The paragraph that comes closest to our concern about conflict says this --

When the priest sees that there is hatred between members of the 
congregation, he shall speak privately to them, telling them that they 
may not receive Communion until they have forgiven each other. 
And if the person or persons on one side truly forgive the others and 
desire and promise to make up for their faults, but those on the other side 
refuse to forgive, the priest shall allow those who are penitent to come to 
Communion, but not those who are stubborn
.

Again, a step-by-step process.

 

What’s the step-by-step process in the Scriptures? I see four phases.

  1. Timely and quickly
  2. Face-to-face and one-on-one
  3. Involve others
  4. Forgive

 

1. Timely and quickly 

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. (Matthew 5:23-25)

             And

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26)

           And

Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. (1 John 4:20)

Engage the person at an appropriate time (but beware of rationalizing avoidance); seek a time that is mutually convenient; and a time that fits the circumstances. Engage these steps in love -- be gentle and patient. Be kind and forbearing.

2. Face-to-face and One-on-one

 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. (Matthew 18:15)

Face-to face! Not twitter or e-mail or Facebook.

This face-to-face meeting requires as open a heart as we can muster. It’s an act of humility and courage. We may have our facts wrong. We may be making assumptions that are unfounded. If we haven’t spoken directly with the person and listened with an open heart we may have a false perception of the situation and made a false judgment. That can be very distressing because then we are the ones who need to repent and ask for forgiveness.

3. Involve others

But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. (Matthew 18:16-17)

Who to involve will depend on the details of the situation – conflict management consultants, spiritual guides, people to observe and record, someone to add perspective.

4. Forgive

Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. (Luke 17:3)


Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:13)

and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Note the assumption in Luke – You must be prepared to forgive. You must also have completed the other phases – meet with the person, share your concern, act in love, involve others if necessary. You can’t expect the person to change direction if you haven’t done these things.

Sometimes we are unwilling to forgive. We seek the fight. We desire conquest. We don’t know how to put down the sword and move on. We are trapped in our resentment and self-righteousness. Not open to the possibility we may have things wrong. Not open to forgiving the person we have hated for so long.

 

What’s going on when the norms are not followed?

Human limitation and sin. In almost all cases what you’ll find when the norms are not followed is human limitation or sin or a mix of the two.

The human limitation factor is usually related to the fact that all of us have a blindside that distorts our sight or it may be that we lack the emotional intelligence needed in the situation or it’s an absence of training in conflict management.

Sin is that twist in each of us, in all of us, that sees the world with ourselves at the center. We, of course, see things correctly and truly. We, of course, are respecting human dignity and seeking justice. The sin we see when these norms aren’t followed are – pride, envy, avarice, anger, lust, gluttony and sloth (Seven Deadly Sins)

Of course, there are the exceptions. But they are rare and require more justification than offering a self-serving rationalization.  

An example: There is an exception to the face-to-face norm (the Scriptures are providing a broad map of guidance not attempting to address every circumstance) – when it’s a high-level conflict, when there’s been a serious blow-up or a series of little blow-ups– Level 4 or 5 in Speed Leas model face-to-face may only make managing things more difficult. It’s important for you to know one or two models of useful in assessing conflict situations. For example, Leas, “Levels of Conflict” and Gallagher’s “Relationship Cycle.”

At this level of conflict the parties involved know there is a conflict. This isn’t about when one person is holding onto resentment but will not bring it forward to the other party. In that case the other party may not realize there is anything to address. Nor is it the same as a situation in which you may know someone is bearing hatred toward you, but it is coming to you through a third party and that person will not reveal the name(s) of those wishing you harm.

The norm remains however, even at a high level of conflict, in fact, especially at such a level --  not email or text or Facebook. A skilled third party can be used to sort out the issues and seek a path forward.

 

Odds & Ends

What if you’re too late for “timely and quickly?”

The person has died. You no longer know where the person is? Or you’ve been holding onto your resentments for years.

Consider letting it go, moving on, cancelling the debt, dismissing the trespass.

 

How about threats?

What is the vicar to do if Mary Smith says, “I can no longer come to mass if John Hobgood is permitted to be in this parish.”  What is the rector to do if John Hobgood says “I can no longer come to the Eucharist if the new curate continues to serve at the altar.”

Consider saying, “I feel very sad about this. I will miss being in communion with you. Can I help you look at another way of handling this? I so much want us to stay connected”

 

What is the most common mistake made that gets in the way of doing the phases well?

Making something confidential that shouldn’t be confidential. You’re on the vestry. Harry comes up to you at coffee hour and says,

“I can’t stand the rector. His sermons are shallow. I want more substance. And twice in the past month he has offended me. First, he turned away from me in the middle of a conversation to talk with an older member of the parish. It was just rude. And then I overheard him making a nasty remark about by brother. And my brother has given a lot of money to this parish even if he rarely attends.”

Harry continues with this,

“I want you to say something to the rector about this. But don’t say where it came from. Okay?

And fool you are, you agree.

When you go to the rector, he says, “Who feels that way? I’d like to talk with them.” And you say, “I’m sorry, I promised I would keep that confidential.”

 

We see this in parish life all the time. There’s some grumbling going on. A person carries that grumbling to the rector. The person bringing the message may have caught the disease, the angry feelings, from the first grumbler or not. When the rector asks who is it you’re talking about? The person says, “I can’t share that.” That is almost always immoral and destructive behavior.  It enables hatred and stubbornness. It makes it impossible to resolve things. 

 

What happens when the vicar or rector doesn’t follow the norms?

There was a middle size parish in a small southern city. The rector had been making changes in the liturgical style and the hours of Sunday services. He was certain these changes would make for better worship and attract new members. He didn’t do much “taking counsel” along the way. After all, he’s the rector and it’s his decision. Though to be fair, he had informally discussed the ideas with several people he thought would understand what he was trying to accomplish.

A few people went to him and expressed concerns about what he was doing and how he was doing it. He explained calmly and reasonable why these changes were a good idea. The people who had come to speak with him felt cut off and discounted. They shared their feelings with others – grumbling.

The rector learned about the “resistance” and felt hurt and angry. He sent an e-mail to two older women telling them that they would no longer be permitted to serve as chalice bearers during the Eucharist. It was something they had been doing for 15 years. He explained that these liturgical matters were his right to decide as rector. He is, of course, correct in that assertion.

The women told people with whom they were close. Their friends were furious about how they were being treated. Others in the parish picked up on, or were told by the rector, about the decision. There was now an elephant in the room. The normal exchanges of parish life were now made strange, tense, and awkward. Some assumed the two women had done something awful to merit such treatment. The more conflict adverse tried to avoid thinking about it. People speculated. The two women felt humiliated.

 

Another story -- the unwillingness of clergy to ask people to act like Christians.

The vicar has told Mary that there are people displeased with her role in the parish as a lay associate for spiritual formation. They think Mary is a know-it-all. They feel upset about Mary’s teaching. After all, their opinions are just as valid as Mary’s! They share their resentment with other frequently.

When Mary askes, the vicar won’t say who those people are. Mary feels isolated and fearful. She’s now wondering if the vicar will remove her from the position.

The vicar is shaping a culture of resentment and hate. His unwillingness to insist that those unhappy with Mary be willing to move toward reconciliation leaves the parish with a kind of half life.

 

When the priest-in-charge of a parish doesn’t follow the norms, a climate develops. Trust is lowered. Fear is increased. Relationships become anxious. The unity of the parish is fractured. And almost no one talks about it. In fact, many know something is wrong, but they can’t put their figure on it.

 

What’s the moral obligation we have?

The moral obligation of the lay person is to not collude with another’s grumbling. It may be perfectly acceptable, and even useful, to listen to someone vent. Once! Maybe even twice. But then it might be appropriate to say to that person, “you really need to go talk to X. You need to let this go. If they keep coming back to you it’s time for you to say “no, no, no. I’m not going to do this. I will go with you to X if that would help you.”

If you’re a priest, you have the same obligation as the layperson. And because you are in holy orders you also have an obligation to bring people together to try to resolve differences and to reconcile. You are to use the four steps and norms. You are to make use of the Disciplinary Rubrics by refusing to accept and enable the stubbornness and alienation of some members; it is your task to insist upon movement toward reconciliation.

 

What stops the abuse?

Usually it begins with one or two people who say no. They refuse to collude. For this moment their moral compass is clear and their character with its courage, perseverance and prudence is accessible – and they say no. They insist on the norms.

Maybe a warden goes to the vicar and says, “This needs to change. Your fear or stubbornness or whatever it is – is hearting some people and hurting this parish. Can we get you some help?”

 

What enables these abuses?   

Different reasons in different situations.

Religion and politics can be fields of service, integrity and courage. They are also, at times, fields of self-righteousness, hatred, and witch-hunts. The temptation to excess and fantasies of utopias can legitimate the worst abuses. There are some people temperamentally oriented to such extremism. There are others, good people, real patriots or faithful followers, who are swept along as the nation or church tries to address some threat or great cause.

There are others driven by a lust for money, power, or sex. I recall a parishioner in a growing parish with a generally well-loved priest reading about Benedict’s “no grumbling” norm. She was horrified. She saw the priest as a bully and manipulator. Someone who offered wise words about the negative effects of grumbling in a Christian community as a way of protecting himself from criticism.

There are those of the mob. Their identification with their own group gives them a sense of worth and unity. But without strong values and behavioral norms they can get caught up in evil and atrocities.

The naive or what Lenin called "useful idiots." These are people who allow themselves to be used by others for some cause that they don’t fully understand. They want the priest's approval. Or they want to have influence in the parish. Maybe they want to get ordained. So, they get used.

 

Consequences

Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. (Matthew 5:25)

Jesus doesn’t hesitate to point to the consequences of our bitterness and stubbornness –prison.  We create our own prison of resentment and anger, willfulness and intractability.

We are able to step into freedom and fullness of life but we cannot let go of the anger and grudges we have so long nurtured and been fed by.

If your soul’s health doesn’t move you, there’s another possibility. It’s the possibility of another court we’ll face. Laity and clergy can find themselves in court facing charges of slander. Clergy can be required to endure the church’s disciplinary process.

Even more painful for some is the storm set loose as individuals tweet and Facebook and articles appear in the church and local press. In our times Jesus might have said, "Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you still can, or your accuser may hand you over to the mob of Facebook and Twitter, and the "Living Church" may tell your story. 

 

Reconciliation

I want to turn our attention to ... what might be called a spirituality of reconciliation. ...  first to the rule of Saint Benedict, and as a corollary to the Book of Common Prayer ...  The opening word of the rule is “Listen” - Obsculta! ... This sets the tone for the whole Rule and its approach to the Christian life. At the heart of reconciliation lies a commitment to listening. From this we need to learn silence, to cultivate attentiveness so that we become capable of receiving what we are not and what we do not have. Silence counteracts a rush to angry judgment and destructive words.  Philip Sheldrake 

There is no doubt that a climate of faith and prayer is the first impetus to reconciliation. I have just said that community is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We must, then, believe in the power of this Spirit which comes into play through our weakness, our difficulty in forgiving, our animosity, in order to achieve the marvels of reconciliation. So it is in reliance on the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to get over lasting conflicts and patiently wait for some knot to untie itself.   Mother Marie-Caroline Lecouffe OSB, Monastery of Bouzy La Forêt  (France)

 

Reconciliation is our end. It is God’s holy work. The Paraclete, standing alongside us, supports us in our efforts – to be quick, face-to-face, open ourselves to the wisdom and help of others, and to forgive.

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 In a few weeks you'll receive an invitation from the Order of the Ascension to "Take Counsel - Stop Grumbling"

This posting is part of that invitation into holiness of life.

 

A PDF of this posting for your use 

Thursday
May102018

An Ascension story

I will tell you an Ascension story.

In those days, he was the Deputy Attorney General of the United States. The stories of Amercian forces abusing Prisoners of War was coming out. He later wrote this --

“One evening after work in spring 2004, Patrice looked at me. She obviously knew I was involved in something that was wearing me down. She had seen all the media coverage of the treatment of captives. She simply said to me, “Torture is wrong. Don’t be the torture guy.” “What?” I protested. “You know I can’t talk about that stuff.” “I don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “Just don’t be the torture guy.” She would periodically repeat that admonition over the next year. 

The prospect of being the “torture guy” disturbed my sleep for many nights. I couldn’t get away from the mental pictures of naked men chained to the ceiling in a cold, blazingly lit cell for endless days, defecating in their diapers, unchained only to be further abused and convinced they were drowning, before being rechained.” (A Higher Loyalty, James Comey, 2018)

For me the Ascension says two things. First, Jesus Christ has ascended to the right hand of the Father. We ascend with him. His glory is our glory. We get to participate in the very life of God. God became human so that we might become God. As the third ancient creed put it – We are united to God “not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh but by taking of the Manhood into God.”

Two weeks ago at Evening prayer we said psalm 115. 

The heaven of heavens is the LORD'S, * but he entrusted the earth to its peoples. (Psalm 115:16)

That’s the second message of the Ascension – “he entrusted the earth to its peoples.” We are responsible. Stewardship isn’t about giving money to the parish – that’s called “giving money to the parish.” Stewardship is our responsibility for our life together – in our citizenship, with our family and friends, at work.  To live responsibly is to live in humility with a longing for holiness.

Jesus has Ascended, and we are left here -- We can respond with Blessed Evelyn,

         I am to glorify God in and through all the demands on my love, courage, and patience

In my Ascension story did you notice who is taking responsibility? We know that Jim Comey was struggling to be responsible in regard to the torture of prisoners. But in the story it is Patrice, his wife, who is the steward of her husband’s soul -- “Torture is wrong. Don’t be the torture guy.”

So, with good reason in the marriage liturgy we pray - Give them wisdom and devotion in the ordering of their common life, that each may be to the other a strength in need, a counselor in perplexity, a comfort in sorrow, and a companion in joy.  

Then there was what Jim Comey experienced.

“The prospect of being the “torture guy” disturbed my sleep for many nights. I couldn’t get away from the mental pictures of naked men chained to the ceiling …”

Sound familiar? 

“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; … and (he) began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.’ And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed.  (Matt 26)

Last week at Evening Prayer we prayed in the same vein-

I think of God, I am restless, *
I ponder, and my spirit faints.

You will not let my eyelids close; *
I am troubled and I cannot speak. …

I commune with my heart in the night; *  (Ps 77)

Most of us know that experience.  It’s not insomnia or simple restlessness or illness. It’s the faithful person seeking to do what is right. Sometimes we can’t sleep.

It’s a type of prayer – A form of reflection.  See the handout – the very bottom “Compassionate and responsible reflection.” 

In the prayer of reflection we will probably not realize we are praying. These times of pondering and contemplation just happen. The Spirit pays within us.  We are engaged by the Holy Spirit - the Paraclete, the Advocate. It may be weeks or even years later that we put the name to it – “prayer.”

                                  -----------------------------

How is it in such prayer that we guard against it being simply a manifestation of our bias and default mental models?  

In our tradition the guard is not magic (God will save me) but it is us putting ourselves in the pathways of grace

John Milton called us do all that we can to

    keep in tune with Heav’n, till God ere long /

   To His celestial concert us unite, /

   To live with Him, and sing in endless morn of light.

We keep in tune with Heaven – by the pattern of Eucharist, Office, self-examination, spiritual reading – we soak ourselves in grace. And so, we orient ourselves toward the ways of heaven.

The beginning of responsible action in life is prayer. The first step after Our Lord’s Ascension isn’t a church growth or social justice movement – it is prayer

And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 
and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
(Lk 24)

And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’
And the elders fell down and worshipped.
(Rev 5)

 

rag+

Related

Becoming an Associate of the Order of the Ascension

Becoming a Professed Member of the Order of the Ascension 

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