Friday, October 31, 2008

All Hallows Eve

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

-- Traditional Scottish Prayer

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity in the habitations of thy glory and dominion world without end. Amen.

-- John Donne

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Something about Centering Prayer

Have you tried Centering Prayer yet? It is a meditative process in which you silently repeat a sacred word and, whenever you're distracted, gently come back to that word. Here's something quite wonderful about this prayer method:

A nun, after her first try at centering prayer during a workshop led by Thomas Keating, came up to him in great frustration. "I’m such a failure at this prayer," she said. "In twenty minutes of sitting I've had ten thousand thoughts."

"How lovely," Fr. Keating responded, without so much as batting an eye. "Ten thousand opportunities to return to God!"

-- Cynthia Bourgeault

You might like to read Cynthia Bourgeault's article entitled Silence is God's First Language. It's actually an excerpt from her book entitled Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

James Hannington and his Companions

"The Veil: Uganda"

The following excerpt is from this biographical sketch:

Among the new nations of Africa, Uganda is the most predominantly Christian. Mission work began there in the 1870's with the favor of King Mutesa, who died in 1884. However, his son and successor, King Mwanga, opposed all foreign presence, including the missions.

James Hannington, born 1847, was sent out from England in 1884 by the Anglican Church as missionary Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa. As he was travelling toward Uganda, he was apprehended by emissaries of King Mwanga. He and his companions were brutally treated and, a week later, 29 October 1885, most of them were put to death. Hannington's last words were: "Go tell your master that I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood."

The first native martyr was the Roman Catholic Joseph Mkasa Balikuddembe, who was beheaded after having rebuked the king for his debauchery and for the murder of Bishop Hannington.
Here's today's collect:

Precious in your sight, O Lord, is the death of your saints, Whose faithful witness, by your providence, has its great reward: We give you thanks for your martyrs James Hannington and his companions, who purchased with their blood a road unto Uganda for the proclamation of the Gospel; and we pray that with them we also may obtain the crown of righteousness which is laid up for all who love the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Saint Simon and Saint Jude

Years ago, I was a parishioner of Grace Church in Alexandria, Virginia. On the back wall of the nave there is a niche - fairly high up - and in it is a statue of St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless or desperate causes.

I developed the habit of saying a quick prayer to him as I returned to my pew after communion. I remembered whatever seemingly hopeless cause had come to my attention during the past week. Sometimes it was about an item in the news. Sometimes it was about one of my students. Sometimes it was about my own life. The practice became one I valued even to this day (although now my parish church has, sadly, no such statue!)

Here is today's collect:
O God, we thank you for the glorious company of the apostles, And especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we pray that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The problem with riches

This is very interesting. I had not come across this quotation of Wesley's before today. I would be interested in what other people think about it:

Wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore I do not see how it is possible in the nature of things for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.

-- John Wesley

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The soul of Christian existence

"Love Your Neighbor"
This morning in church the lessons reminded us of the "Summary of the Law": Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Perhaps it's a good idea to think about what is actually meant by love. Here's something I found today:

If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example, justice without love is legalism; faith without love is ideology; hope without love is self-centeredness; forgiveness without love is self-abasement; fortitude without love is recklessness; generosity without love is extravagance; care without love is mere duty; fidelity without love is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated, or informed, by love (1 Corinthians 13).

--- Fr. Richard P. McBrien

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Answering to "a higher judge"

For some reason I have had Elizabeth the First on my mind today. And so I offer the following:
Christ was the word that spake it.
He took the bread and break it;
And what his words did make it
That I believe and take it.
-- On the Eucharist (possibly apocryphal)

My lords, the past cannot be cured.
-- Statement to Parliament

There is but one Lord, Jesus Christ. One faith. All else is a dispute over trifles.
-- On the Protestant/Catholic divide

I have ever used to set the last Judgement Day before mine eyes, and so to rule as I shall be judged to answer before a higher judge.
--- From "The Golden Speech"

I have no desire to make windows into men's souls.
--- About the Catholic/Protestant issue
Ah, Elizabeth! We have need of you in these latter days!

Friday, October 24, 2008

The reality of God and the world

This has been one of my favorite Bonhoeffer quotes for years - decades, really. True spirituality is not about escapism:

In Christ we are offered the possibility of partaking in the reality of God and in the reality of the world, but not in the one without the other. The reality of God discloses itself only by setting me entirely in the reality of the world, and when I encounter the reality of the world it is always already sustained, accepted and reconciled in the reality of God.

-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Thursday, October 23, 2008


"Apostle St James the Less"
Artist: El Greco

Here's today's collect:
Grant, O God, that following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever.
This apostle is known traditionally as "James the Less" because James, son of Zebedee - also known as James the Greater - was called to the apostolate earlier.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Viewing God as a commodity

I really think that idolatry is not about venerating a statue or some other image but rather the determination to use God as a commodity and then the justification of that effort:

Some people want to see God with their eyes as they see a cow, and to love Him as they love their cow -- for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them. This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth or inward comfort. They do not rightly love God, when they love Him for their own advantage. Indeed, I tell you the truth, any object you have in your mind, however good, will be a barrier between you and the inmost Truth.

-- Meister Eckhart

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Stop and gaze

The contemplative worldview is one in which we see everything as God-drenched:

Windows to the holy are all around us if we will stop and gaze. You need not go to the mountains or the seashore to find a piece of creation with which to pray. A houseplant will do, a single flower, or a fallen leaf. If a park is available, you might stroll slowly, gazing at the colors, shapes, and movement around you. You might prefer to find a bench and sit to gaze at the wonder of the world passing by.

-- Jane Vennard from The Way of Prayer

Monday, October 20, 2008

To be in prayer

"Old Woman Praying"

I really like the comprehensiveness of this description:

To pray is to live fully, and to live fully is to be in prayer — in motion and in stillness, in words and in gestures, in sound and in silence, in asking and listening, in solitude and in community. Through prayer, we align ourselves with the sacred.

-- Nancy Corceran

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"Render Unto Caesar"

"The Tribute Money"

Ah, there are so many ways to interpret this morning's gospel reading. It is, in fact, quite vexing. Much controversy, many books have emerged from this saying of Jesus. People have gone to prison, people have sent others to prison, according to their interpretation of this gospel passage. Personally, I think it's more about idolatry than about taxes as such.

Here's a point being made in a sermon that bears remembering no matter what our interpretation:
Do we compartmentalize our lives into sacred and secular or do we make an effort to integrate the two? Otherwise put, is there a relationship in our lives between Sunday morning and Monday morning?
Caesar's head may have been stamped on the coin, but for us who profess and call ourselves Christians we have been stamped, we have been indelibly sealed, in our Baptism, with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter we shall not be ashamed to confess Christ crucified and to fight under his banner against the world, the flesh and the devil until our lives' end.
The above is from a sermon by The Rev. Dr. Harold T. Lewis and I found it here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist

I knew, of course, that St. Luke is supposed to have been a physician. I didn't know this bit about the medical vocabulary:

Luke was a physician. He used a medical vocabulary instinctively. In the incident where the boy is said to be "thrown down" (English text) by his affliction, the Greek word Luke uses was the current medical term for convulsions. In the incident where the distraught father cries to Jesus, "Look upon my son!", the word Luke uses for "look upon" is the current medical term used of a physician seeing a patient. Like most physicians Luke was understandably defensive of the medical profession. When the menorrhagic woman approaches Jesus, Matthew and Mark tell us she had exhausted all her savings on physicians but was no better. Dr. Luke tells us the same story, but chooses to omit the part about costly medical treatment that has proved ineffective.
Also important to Luke, because important first to his Lord, were women. Luke mentions thirteen women mentioned nowhere else in the gospels. All of the gospel writers recognized that Jesus elevated women and gave them a status and honour they had received nowhere else. Oddly enough, Mark momentarily slipped back into the old way of thinking. Mark tells us that Jesus had four brothers, and Mark names them. Then Mark adds that Jesus also had sisters -- without stating how many or what their names were! But Luke tells us that the first European convert to the Christian faith was a woman, Lydia by name. Luke tells us that it was wealthy women who financed the band of disciples when those men had renounced gainful employment. Luke knew much of the degradation of women, and he was determined to overturn it.

-- Victor Shepherd

It's from a sermon I found right here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tired of disbelief

Abraham and the Three Angels

I heard this on Writers' Almanac today and thought it was wonderful:

Welcoming Angels

Between the last war
and the next one,
waiting for the northbound train
that travels by the river,
I sit alone in the middle of the night
and welcome angels.
Welcome back old hymns, old songs,
all the music, the rhyme and rhythm,
welcome angels, archangels,
welcome early guesses
at the names of things, welcome wings.

I have grown tired of disbelief.
What once was brave is boring.
Welcome back to my embrace stranger,
visitor beside the Jabbok.
Welcome wrestling until dawn,
until it is my hip thrown out of joint,
my pillow stone, my ladder
of antique assumptions.
Welcome what is not my own:
glory on the top rung, coming down.

-- Pat Schneider

I rather like the idea of disbelief being boring. :-)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer

Today is the day we commemorate Bishop Hugh Latimer, Bishop Nicholas Ridley, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, reformers and martyrs of the English Church.

Some years ago I had the enormous privilege of studying in Oxford for a brief period of time and I lived not far from the landmark you see above. It marks the location where Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer were burned at the stake. I spent a lot of time, actually, standing on the sidewalk and gazing toward this cross in meditation. It was powerful to tune in to what had happened at this spot. It grieves me that we Christians have such a violent and bloody history - that we justify killing other people of faith in the name of faith. Yes, I know. It was really treason. Still.

Here's a quotation from a sermon by The Rev. Tobias Stanislas Haller for this day:
For whoever was right or wrong in their theology -- and how many of the questions so hotly debated in those days, and capable of bringing one to the stake, are of much importance either in the light of history or of the Gospel? -- surely it was the church that suffered in this. This was no watering with the blood of martyrs, witnessing to the faith in and of Christ. No, this was theological intransigence armed with the power of the state.

And isn't that why and how Christ himself died? As he told the disciples, "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." The tragedy is that "they" were true believers too. The pious and righteous religious leaders thought they had cause to bring Jesus to trial, but they were wrong -- as religious leaders so often seem to be. The lesson in all of this is that tolerance itself may be the ultimate touchstone of religious truth: and the willingness to persecute or kill others because their religious belief differs from one's own may be the surest sign of error. For hatred is not the sign of God's presence. Above all, to see and yet reject the signs of grace in those with whom one disagrees is to reject the source of that grace.
Just look at this again: "...tolerance itself may be the ultimate touchstone of religious truth: and the willingness to persecute or kill others because their religious belief differs from one's own may be the surest sign of error."

Let us ponder these words. Let us ponder them deeply.

Let me be very clear about this: I am not posting today as an Anglican grieving that Anglicans were martyred by Roman Catholics because the situation was reversed many times during that violent period of our history. I'm rather posting as a Christian grieving that Christians were martyred by Christians. It's never "us and them" dear people. It's all "us". It's all, always, us.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Teresa of Avila

Today is her day - the day of the great mystic who never faltered in her commitment to the practical. It was said that she could go into an ecstasy while frying an egg and not break the yolk.

Here's something she said:
The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too.

So, it seems she may have been an early process theologian. Think of that!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Visibility and absence of secrecy

Mount Baker

The internet is an amazing thing, really. What I love about it is that you can discover something you never set out to find and then it seems as if the discovery was somehow "meant". Today I decided I wanted to post a Mary Oliver poem on my meditation blog and I went looking for a fresh biographical statement about her. That led me to a website called EarthLight Library and there I found a page on Annie Dillard with some selections from her writings.

I don't think I'll ever see a mountain again without thinking of the elevation at Eucharist:

I came here to study hard things - rock mountain and salt sea - and to temper my spirit on their edges. "Teach me thy ways, O Lord" is, like all prayers, a rash one, and one I cannot but recommend. These mountains -- Mount Baker and the Sisters and Shuksan, the Canadian Coastal Range and the Olympics on the peninsula -- are surely the edge of the known and comprehended world.... That they bear their own unimaginable masses and weathers aloft, holding them up in the sky for anyone to see plain, makes them, as Chesterton said of the Eucharist, only the more mysterious by their very visibility and absence of secrecy.

-- Annie Dillard

Monday, October 13, 2008

The importance of going within

Johannes Tauler was a fourteenth century Dominican friar who was committed to the contemplative life. He was also considered one of the greatest preachers of the medieval period. Here's a sample of the sort of thing he said:

In prayerful silence you must look into your own heart. No one can tell you better than yourself what comes between you and God. Ask yourself. Then listen!
In the most intimate, hidden and innermost ground of the soul, God is always essentially, actively, and substantially present. Here the soul possesses everything by grace which God possesses by nature.

--Johannes Tauler

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A story about grace

The Wedding Banquet

Well, if you were in church this morning, you heard the parable of the wedding banquet according to Matthew. It ends, of course, with that very troubling saying, "Many are called but few are chosen." Here's something I just found out about the parable as a whole:
This parable is a huge joke, which does not translate well in a 21st Century world where the Roman patronage system no longer is in force. According to John Dominic Crossan, in First Century Rome, everyone participated in the patronage system, from God to the Emperor, to the noble classes, to the merchants, the traders, the military, servants, slaves, and the totally disenfranchised. Everyone was either a patron or a client, and everyone had both patrons and clients, people to whom and from whom favors or commercial debt was owed. The way to repay the debt among the upper classes was to hold a banquet, usually a sacrificial banquet, in which an animal (or several) were slaughtered in the temple, the blood poured out for the gods, and the meat shared among the guests – all of whom were clients of the one giving the feast. For a guest to refuse to attend would be social, political, and commercial suicide, regardless of where one was in the social strata. For a host to then fill the banquet hall with people with whom one did not and would never do business would be ludicrous. There would be no possibility of ever receiving an invitation or favor in return.But of such is the Kingdom of God.

This story is about grace, not apocalyptic judgment.
Now regarding the "many are called..." saying:

Our priest this morning said that implied in the Aramaic way of saying this is that the mighty are called and the weak are chosen. I'd never heard an interpretation like that before. It makes sense, though.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Our culture, sadly, promotes a "me and other" as well as an "us and them" mentality so it's very understandable if we feel disconnected, separate, from others and from all of reality. We don't have to view matters that way at all, however:

Everything that is in the heavens, on earth, and under the earth is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.

Hildegard of Bingen

Friday, October 10, 2008

The importance of ceremony

There are all sorts of reasons why ceremony and ritual are important. But one central one is that they give the individual ego permission to relax and take the back seat. And this is all to the good:

When humans participate in ceremony, they enter a sacred space. Everything outside of that space shrivels in importance. Time takes on a different dimension. Emotions flow more freely. The bodies of participants become filled with the energy of life, and this energy reaches out and blesses the creation around them. All is made new; everything becomes sacred.

-- Sun Bear

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Grace and gratitude

The Charity of Elizabeth of Hungary

It's a simple sentence. Brief but profound:

In the New Testament, religion is grace and ethics is gratitude.

--Thomas Erskine

I did not know anything about Thomas Erskine before coming across this quotation. I do recommend that you click through and read up on him. Very interesting person, indeed.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Yes, I am my brother's keeper


Today a friend of mine sent me a quotation by the Sioux writer and actor, Luther Standing Bear. I wanted to learn more about him so I did a search and, in the process, came upon a site called First People. There's a section called "Poems and Prayers" and, in it, I found this:

Cherokee Traveler's Greeting

I will draw thorns from your feet.
We will walk the White Path of Life together.
Like a brother of my own blood,
I will love you.
I will wipe tears from your eyes.
When you are sad,
I will put your aching heart to rest.
St. Paul, in the book of Galatians, says this: "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ." I think the "Cherokee Tranveler's Greeting" is a beautiful description of what that can look like.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Time like an ever-rolling stream..."

Today I stumbled, quite by accident, on a page of sundial mottoes. Contemplating the passage of time can be a valuable spiritual exercise. And the motto makers knew this. Here are a few samples:

Time is Too Slow for those who Wait, Too Swift for those who Fear, Too Long for those who Grieve, Too Short for those who Rejoice; But for those who Love, Time is not.

True as the dial to the sun, Although it be not shin'd upon.

Amende to-day and slack not, Deythe cometh and warneth not, Tyme passeth and speketh not.
You can find the rest right here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

William Tyndale

Today is the feast day of the man who first translated the Bible into English from the Greek and Hebrew. All English speakers - religious or not - owe him a lot:
In translating the Bible, Tyndale introduced new words into the English language:

*Jehovah (from a transliterated Hebrew construction in the Old Testament; composed from the tetragrammaton YHWH and the vowels of adonai: YaHoWaH)
*Passover (as the name for the Jewish holiday, Pesach or Pesah),
*Atonement (= at + onement), which goes beyond mere "reconciliation" to mean "to unite" or "to cover", which springs from the Hebrew kippur, the Old Testament version of kippur being the covering of doorposts with blood, or "Day of Atonement".
*scapegoat (the goat that bears the sins and iniquities of the people in Leviticus Chapter 16)

He also coined such familiar phrases as:

*let there be light
*the powers that be
*my brother's keeper
*the salt of the earth
*a law unto themselves
*filthy lucre
*it came to pass
*gave up the ghost
Ah, can you imagine the English language without being able to refer to "the powers that be" or "the salt of the earth"?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Learning to let go

"Interior at L'Etang'la Ville"

Losing things is annoying. Forgetting things is also annoying. What if these occurances represent God's way of teaching us to let go? What if we reminded ourselves of this whenever we catch ourselves being annoyed about some little loss?

When I trouble myself over a trifle, even a trifle confessed -- the loss of some little article, say -- spurring my memory, and hunting the house, not from immediate need, but from dislike of loss; when a book has been borrowed of me and is not returned, and I have forgotten the borrower; and fret over the missing volume, ... is it not time that I lost a few things, when I care for them so unreasonably? This losing of things is the mercy of God: it comes to teach us to let them go. Or have I forgotten a thought that came to me, which seemed of the truth? I keep trying and trying to call it back, feeling a poor man until that thought be recovered -- to be far more lost, perhaps, in a notebook into which I shall never look again to find it! I forget that it is live things that God cares about.

-- George MacDonald

Saturday, October 4, 2008

St. Francis of Assisi

Someone gave me the above icon a number of years ago. I have affixed it to the wall just beside my front door so that I see it whenever I leave the house that way. It is both an inspiration and a reminder that Lady Poverty is to be embraced and not feared.

Here is something St. Francis said:
Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance. Where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor vexation. Where there is poverty and joy, there is neither greed nor avarice. Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.
And here's something I found about Francis that I think is quite beautiful:

St. Francis of Assisi fully understood this mysterious relationship between the world and the person seized by God's love. At times, Francis could perhaps seem to us to be too simple, too naive, to content our complicated modern minds. We pass far too quickly over his suffering, his hard and penitential life, his long hours of contemplation, his courage in face of the challenges of his time. What was the fruit of this life entirely given to God? A man that the animals considered their friend; a man who considered the sun and the moon as members of his family; a mendicant monk who gave all to the poor and who called death his sister. Francis dared to plumb the depths of the mystery of creation: everything was created for the glory of God; everything should render God this glory.

--Sister Marjorie Keenan, RSHM

Friday, October 3, 2008

A spacious environment

It has grieved me for some time now that the fundamentalist expression of Christianity has held sway in the public imagination and has conditioned many people in our society to believe that Christianity is all about condemning others and controlling its own. And so I really loved this quotation when I stumbled upon it - particularly the last sentence:

There are a number of Hebrew words about salvation which also mean "to bring into a spacious environment", "to be at one's ease", "to be free to develop". "Salvation" can be seen then as the new life in Christ, in which we are to be "free to develop" into Christ-like people. For this maturing to take place, there needs to be a breaking down of barriers, a breaking up of the soil of our personalities, and a healing of inner wounds and hurts. The soil is softened, the clay becomes malleable through the experience of the tender love of God and the accepting, non-judgmental love of Christians. We cannot be beaten into shape.

--Michael Harper

Thursday, October 2, 2008

"You can furnish one Christian life."

A lot of us are disappointed, even depressed at times, by the failures of the Church. Here is an inspiring response to that repeated complaint/excuse that we hear: "I'm only one person. There's really nothing I can do":

It is for us, in whom the Christian Church is at this moment partially embodied, to declare that Christianity, that the Christian faith can do that for the world which the world needs. You say, "What can I do?" You can furnish one Christian life. You can furnish a life so faithful to every duty, so ready for every service, so determined not to commit every sin, that the great Christian Church shall be the stronger for your living in it, and the problem of the world be answered, and a certain great peace come into this poor, perplexed phase of our humanity as it sees that new revelation of what Christianity is.

-- Phillip Brooks

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Little Flower

Many thanks to regular commenter, Roberta, for reminding us yesterday that today is the feast day of St. Thérèse Of Lisieux - also known as The Little Flower.

I have admired Thérèse and her "little way" for many years now. It was when I was still in the convent that I remember reading about how difficult it was for her to pray when she was ill with tuberculosis and that she would simply walk for the intention of the missionaries. That kind of dedication and effort was very inspiring to me even then. But it was only after I had tuberculosis myself while I was in South Africa that I truly comprehended what that practice was like for her. The disease makes one unbelievably weak and fatigued. I remember just the effort of lifting my hand almost bringing tears to my eyes. And it was excruciatingly difficult to walk - even a few yards across a room. This was the little saint's prayer - an exertion of great love and commitment. I always think of her now when I teach walking meditation.

She also said, "I will spend my heaven doing good upon the earth." So do remember, whenever you need intercession, that you can call upon Thérèse, a prayer warrior if there ever was one!