Means of Grace, Hope of Glory

Monday
Sep242018

Compassion fatigue

The talk about compassion fatigue has always seemed a bit strange to me.

Take homelessness and “dealing with homelessness”

A few weeks ago a priest friend asked me how I deal with “the homeless.” He was visiting Seattle. We have a lot of homeless people. The priest had a number of them ask him for money. I told him what I did. Also, that I’ve changed what I do several times over the years.

Can’t say that I’ve experienced compassion fatigue. I can say that I have been confused, sad, angry, touched, amused, joyful, afraid, thoughtful, and a dozen other feelings. As friends know, from time to time I proclaim my latest solution. At other times I talk about how it used to be different.

A few days ago, there was an article in the Seattle Times, “San Francisco is cracking down on tent camps. Will Seattle do the same?”

The word “compassion” was used three times in the article. Once followed by “fatigue.”

 

An inner core of silence

I recently heard from a priest I respect. At times he’s struggled with a shoot-from-the hip reactivity. Easily offended. Easily hurt. I know he has striven for more grace in coping with the demands and complexities of life.

In recent years he’s given himself with more intensity to the inner life; especially to daily practices of Office, lectio, and silence. He seems humbler and more accessible as a person. I’ve always seen that capacity in him, but I sense growth.  It has called to mind Ken Leech’s thinking about how authenticity in priesthood is connected with “an inner core of silence.”

How I “deal with homelessness” – Office, spiritual reading, silence, what John Macquarrie called the prayer of responsible thinking, and as best as I can see the way, taking some action that seems responsible. What I’ve noticed is that over the years I’ve changed the action but not the spiritual practices. It’s my way of staying grounded in a God that doesn’t have compassion fatigue.

Of course, God doesn’t have judgment fatigue either.

 

Grace & Judgment 

Responsible action is grace and judgment, acceptance and challenge. Maybe, we need to have both if we are to grow in holiness and wholeness.

The mayor of San Francisco said, “Because someone refuses services doesn’t mean that we leave things the way they are, ….  Yes, we’re going to be compassionate and we’re going to offer support and help. But no, we’re not going to let you erect a tent on the sidewalk and keep it there. We’re going to ask you to take it down and, if you refuse, then we’re going to take it down.”

I find that in my preaching and teaching I want to offer less moral exhortation and more spiritual guidance. Most of the people I work with in the church have a generally decent, if vague, sense of ethical and moral direction. What they seem to long for are ways to better ground their life in the pathways of grace.

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Tuesday
Sep182018

Spiritual Practice Training & Coaching: Four Books and an Educational Design

One of the central needs in shaping a healthy, faithful parish is equipping members of the Body for a competent Christian prayer life.

I want to suggest four books and an educational design for your use in that work. The books are compatible with one another. They come at many of the same concerns and spiritual practices with somewhat different emphases and ways of serving the parish. Yet they will easily harmonize and offer the parish a balanced and rooted set of resources. 

 

In Your Holy Spirit: Traditional Spiritual Practices for Today’s Christian Life, Michelle Heyne, OA 

Web page 

Contents – Our Key Assumptions & How to use this Book * The Weekly Practice: Holy Eucharist * The Daily Practice: Daily Prayers of the Church * Reflection * Participating in Community * Service * The Process of Spiritual Growth

The most common way parishes use this book is by offering a five-session class that is a mix of teaching and experiential learning. Michelle Heyne has provided an educational design for the sessions – “Teaching Spiritual Practice: An Experiential Approach to Christian Formation and Parish Development; Education Designs in the Anglican Tradition.”

The Diocese of Georgia has used the book as its selection for reading in Advent and Lent. Many parishes have copies available for sale to individuals as well as using it in the training classes.

The book along with the educational design offers a parish a way into developing Christian proficiency among a larger number of the baptized. Recently, a young woman reading the book said how much she liked it. “Especially the way Michelle adds in snarky comments.”

Recommendation: For broad use in the parish. Have copies for sale , along with the Prayer Book, on a table where you do coffee hour.

 

Life in Christ: Practicing Christian Spirituality, Julia Gatta

Web page

Contents – Introduction: The Heart’s Longing * Reliving Christ’s Death and Resurrection * Communion with Christ * Sanctifying Time through the Liturgical Round * Prayer in Solitude * Practices for the Journey

Mother Julia has been teaching this for most of her adult life. As parish priest, spiritual director and seminary professor she has served as an instrument of the Divine Compassion as regular parishioners begin to see Christian life in a fuller way.

Even with seminarians preparing for ordination she finds they frequently have had no serious training in the spiritual life. She writes, “Inevitably, within the first few weeks of teaching, a student will ask with some indignation, ‘Why didn’t anyone ever tell us this before?”

Recommendation: For a book reading group in the parish that wants to learn more. Best offered after having completed Michelle Heyne’s five session course.

 

Christian Proficiency, Martin Thornton

Web page

Contents – “Proficiency in Christian Tradition * “Proficiency and Doctrine * The Christian Framework * Spiritual Direction * Rule * Recollection * Mental Prayer * Colloquy * Self-Examination and Confession * Some Aids and Advantages * Some Difficulties and Dangers * Contingency in Modern Life * Christian Maturity in the World * The Progress to Maturity: Conclusion

The book is written for “the faithful laity.” Clergy need to read it so they have something intelligent to say when asked “how should I pray?” This is for those who are not just beginning the journey. For those ready for an adult relationship with God and accepting responsibility for their own spiritual life and responsibilities in daily life.

Thornton’s book is the third reading on Thursday at Evening Prayer in the parish I attend.  His sense of humor occasionally catches the congregation by surprise and laughter erupts.

Recommendation: For a more advanced reading group; after making use of the other books. A resource for those preaching and coaching people in spiritual practices. A possible spiritual life reading at the Daily Office.

 

Practicing Prayer: A Handbook, Lowell Grisham, OA

Web page

Contents - Kinds of Prayer * Personal Use of Corporate Prayer * The Daily Office * Personal Devotions * Preparation for Prayer * Meditating with Scripture  (Lectio Divina, Ignatian Method of Prayer, The Sulpician Method of Prayer *  Other Forms of Kataphatic Prayer (A.C.T.S. Method of Prayer,  Conversational Prayer, Praying with Nature) * Toward Apophatic Prayer (Breath Prayer, Mantra, Centering Prayer) * The Four Rs (Living and Praying in the Present Moment,  Faith Not Works) * Conclusion

Fr. Lowell offers this thought, “Many Christians desire to pray and may have a gift for praying, but need instruction, support, and direction. That is the purpose of this booklet.”

Recommendation: In a class on personal devotions. Make available for sale to anyone in the parish for personal reading.

 

Supporting books – useful for spiritual guidance and training; adding material to the above books.

 Paths in Spirituality, 2nd edition,  John Macquarrie

In Your Holy Spirit, Shaping the Parish Through Spiritual Practice, Robert Gallagher, OA

 

A few thoughts

If you are a parish priest you may want to engage the question put to Julia Gatta by her students, “Why didn’t anyone ever tell us this before?” 

Do two things.

 

  1. Interview every parishioner, willing to be interviewed, about their spiritual life. Use an ascetical model such as the Renewal-Apostolate Cycle or the Benedictine Promise to give order to your questions and the conversation. Make it a personal goal that people will know you as a priest that is interested in their life, especially their prayer life. A priest who is open, curious, and non-judgmental about all the sentimental, inadequate stuff of our lives.
  2. Study and inwardly digest these books. Offer training and coaching in the parish for those who would like to be more competent in Christian spiritual practices. Make no judgements about those who are not interested.

 

If you are a lay person – ask your priest to do the above.

Finally, I want to share an idea for those within the monastic tradition.

Ask your sisters and brothers about the times people approach them seeking advice about the spiritual life. It’s natural enough. Many assume that the brothers and sisters who have given themselves to a more contemplative path, will have something to offer.

The brothers and sisters may find others attracted to them. Assuming that by vocation and formation they may have a word that address our own spiritual growth. 

My guess is that many of your companions feel inadequate when this happens. Maybe they share how it’s done in their own life and how their religious order handles such things.

They may need help in approaching the need from the perspective of the person asking the question.  It may be useful to think and understand spiritual practices as lived by a proficient parishioner. One not called to a monastic vocation. 

These four books may be a starting place for them.

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Sunday
Sep162018

Saint Paul’s, Seattle – a future

Over the years “Means of Grace, Hope of Glory” has posted a number of articles about Saint Paul’s (see below this piece).  

Today’s is a thought about the future. Really a slice of the future. We’ve had this notion floating within us for about a year now. It was set off by two needs. First, was the reality that the labyrinth is rarely used as a place of spiritual practice anymore. Second, was hearing a member of a religious community wonder aloud about having a house in Seattle.

The sermon this morning about bearing the cross – “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” – caused us to return to last year’s thinking. The preacher wondered about the reality of the labyrinth, with the syringes and human waste, with those who most frequently sit and sleep there, and the call of the cross. It was just “wondering.”  Maybe dropping a thought that might be picked up and moved someplace.

Here’s our thought.

Take all the property of the parish -- except the liturgical space, parish hall, and garden with its ashes of the departed – take the existing labyrinth, the parking lot and the parish house and build a new complex upon that land.

1.    A floor or two with pod housing for those struggling with homelessness. Maybe a focus on families. Contract with a social service agency to run it.

2.    A floor for an Episcopal religious community. The community would pay rent and care for the space.

3.    A chapel on the ground floor. The current chapel, by the parish office, isn’t accessible for those with mobility problems.

4.    Two or three floors of market rate housing. That would help offset costs.

5.    A garden on the roof for leisure, reflection and growing food.

6.    Parish office, meeting rooms, sacristy.

7.    Underground parking.

 

We don’t really want to sell the idea. Our hope is that others might come up with even better futures for the parish’s land use.

How is your parish using its land? How does it offer awe, adoration and service?

 

Michelle Heyne , OA & Bob Gallagher, OA


 

Friday
Sep072018

The Sunday bulletin

Recently Sister Michelle, OA was asked to offer her thoughts about possible changes to the parish’s Sunday bulletin.

The concept is pretty simple - you print only BCP and Hymnal page numbers, along with the order of service. Specific responses of the people, such as the psalm, are printed. Basically, if you print a bunch of text, people will read it. They won't look to the liturgical action - they will read. It’s just natural.

I personally wouldn’t recommend just changing the bulletin. I think you have a lot going on and, as you’ve mentioned, there may well be some change fatigue. 

There are multiple issues. You want to increase the competence and confidence of the regulars, and you want to provide orientation to newcomers, as well as permission to learn. No one is comfortable with the liturgy when they first show up - getting comfortable requires familiarity and it’s part of the inclusion process.

I suggest you have some signage, along the lines of, “If you are unfamiliar with Episcopal worship please relax with the liturgy and let the rest of the congregation carry you in prayer.”

Then start building greater competence for participation by offering an experiential Eucharistic Practices class several times a year, and avoiding giving instructions yourself during the Liturgy, such as announcing page numbers or telling people when to sit and stand.

Part of the Eucharistic Practices class can be having participants experience the difference between reading and listening - do a mini Gospel procession once with people reading along and once looking at the reader. Have them talk about the differences. Explain the role of readings in liturgy and the important liturgical principle of looking toward the liturgical action. 

Doing that regularly lays the groundwork for then making some changes down the road, depending on readiness of congregation.  You could do some simple testing to get a read on how committed folks are to the fully-printed leaflet.  In some places it could be very easy to change the whole thing; in others, you could maybe stop printing the Gospel since it’s so obviously silly to have this big procession and then have everyone staring at their leaflet - like reading the lines of a play while attending the theatre.

Michelle Heyne, OA

 

Wednesday
Sep052018

Justice

In the few minutes before Morning Prayer today there was a conversation about Fr. Rob’s formation program this evening “The Theological Roots to the Practice of Justice.” That set off, in me, a web of reflection that carried through the morning office, while walking up the hill toward home and breakfast, and into this piece.

So, a few thoughts

Begin where you are

All Christian action has something of an organic quality to it. Action rises naturally from the relationships and routines of daily life. I have friends and a family. I work. I am a citizen of a nation and city. Each of those settings are opportunities for Christian action – for mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and, yes, for justice.

In the earlier conversation one person spoke of how she hears others looking for places in which to do justice. Such holy seeking is often the starting place. Some step aside from the journey because they need to bury their father, or they fear the cross. There is a cost and you can’t know in advance what that cost will be.

Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Matthew 19:21 - 

Begin where you are. Our efforts for justice will be purer as we accept the humility of that.

 

There may be an invitation

There may be an invitation to do something more, something specific. For me it was 1963 or early in 64. Father John Black asked if I wanted to join him in the demonstrations going on in Chester, PA. The Committee for Freedom Now (CFFN) had demanded that the city’s Board of Education end de-facto segregation in the public schools and improve the conditions in the schools.

I agreed to go with John and my life changed. I joined the Congress of Racial Equality, lead their Penn State campus chapter, participated in many picket lines, and as the movement changed course, became involved in community organizing and anti-racism efforts.

Over time, that lead me into industrial mission work, and when a parish priest, supporting community organizing in South Philadelphia at a time when there were no community groups independent of the political parties.

Years later when I was earning my living by Organization Development consulting I realized that all my clients at the time were staffed by and served women and their families, people of color, or the LGBT community. I can’t recall ever deciding to arrange my life in that way. But it was now my life. And it started with Fr. John’s invitation. And that invitation came because I had been baptized. In 1944 being signed with the cross went with this prayer –

We receive this child into the congregation of Christ’s flock: and do sign him with the sign of the cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and to fight manfully under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto life’s end.

I’m much too PC to not feel a bit uncomfortable with the male and military images. And yet, I wonder if the tone of that prayer was God’s invitation into the struggle for justice.

 

Justice and parish development 

After this morning’s office the conversation picked up again. One person noted how you could get a much larger group together to talk about justice than you could to participate in the parish’s public office. It wasn’t a judgement, just an observation.

As I walked home I thought of John Macquarrie’s way of relating the two, for him the Daily office was -

...a way by which we keep ourselves in constant awareness of the divine order; an order of love and justice which embraces and underlies all order ... 

The Order of the Ascension has a page on its web site “The Parish & Justice.”  It’s worth a look. The Order’s roots are in inner city parish ministry. Justice was an everyday concern for all the Order’s priests of that time.

 

Through prayer

There are two quotes I find myself returning to as I engage justice. One from Martin Thornton, the other from Evelyn Underhill.

Moral action only flows from doctrinal truth by grace and faith, that is through prayer. Martin Thornton

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. Evelyn Underhill

When I was younger I understood my baptism into Christ, and the work of the Spirit in the church, as the source of my concern for justice. In practice, I sought out the words of scripture and the saints to justify and explain my involvement. A necessary search. As I aged I seem to have shifted that search from justification and support to mystery and prayer.

I am very grateful for the brief conversation of that small congregation at Morning Prayer.

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The icons are from a series "The Anglo Catholics" -- Jonathan Daniels, Allan Rohan Crite, Frances Perkins

 

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