Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Contemplative Living and Corporate Liturgy

I have mentioned before Martin Laird's, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation. I re-read this portion the other day and it seemed to fit in with some significant thoughts and discussions I have had recently:

"With so much focus on contemplative practice and interior stillness, what about other forms of prayer? Do they simply disappear? This does happen. But it is simply because a deeper discovery has been made. By the sheer grace of God our very being itself is prayer. . . Community prayer remains important, but how you participate in it changes. Liturgical prayer has a way of becoming a fountain of grace. The flow of this sourceless source is nothing other than the visible form of the great self-emptying sacramental flow of the ground of being. In former times it was common to speak of the liturgy on earth as a reflection of the liturgy in heaven. We don't speak of liturgy this way anymore, but this point of view makes more and more sense. For when we enter these doorways of silence the simplest truths of the liturgy are unveiled: liturgy, like creation itself, is the shimmering of eternity in time. Even in the most dismal of liturgies (and these are in no short supply) Christ is and has always been the only presider.

"However, just because we come to intuit this as the simplest truth about liturgical prayer, this does not necessarily mean that it is easy to cope with large doses of liturgy. The Benedictine monk John Chapman, has something rather sobering to say about this. In his classic Spiritual Letters he says, 'It is common enough for those who have any touch "mysticism" . . . to be absolutely unable to find any meaning in vocal prayers.' Chapman is not devaluing prayers we say privately or in common. He is putting his finger on a problem many contemplatives face. We find it difficult to pray with words. Communal prayer itself is not the issue. Contemplative prayer is the prayer of just being. Sadly much liturgical prayer is often hopelessly cerebral, self-conscious, verbose, and distracted (to say nothing of all those bits of paper waved in your face). This is no environment in which simplicity can easily flower. Each will have to negotiate these tensions for oneself."

As one who has always desired to grow ever more into a deeper contemplative space in the heart, but one who was called to a life-time as a liturgical leader, I have lived with and have sought to negotiate these tensions over the years. Increasingly, however, I find I am more and more desirous of the wordless silence and solitude of contemplative prayer. All the while, I remain convinced of the importance of liturgy (and the hope that it is "done" well) as the manner in which the community of faith can touch into the power, grace, and reality of the presence of the Holy One in the midst of our corporate life -- that sacred place where heaven and earth (the sacred and the secular) touch and we are placed in joyous harmony with God and one another.

I am convinced that it is in this way that the shell of this body, whether my body or the body of the church, is filled with the inner substance of that which is Holy and this inner substance is the very stuff of life that makes any sense out of our lives and the life of this strange and mysterious beast we call the institutional church.

NOTE: There is a new work by Martin Laird, A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation which I have purchased and I am looking forward to reading.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

17 Pentecost - Proper 23 A

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 9, 2011
(Proper 23 -- Year A) 

The Very Reverend Donald W. Krickbaum

Exodus 32:1-14 – Psalm 106 – Philippians 4:1-9 – Matthew 22:1-14

“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son” and those invited did not come . . .  Then the folks off the street – everyone – were all invited, but still some just did not get it.  Sometimes, we just do not get it.  We either do not show up, or even if we do we simply don’t get the point, and just mush on with our grim little lives having missed the wonderful opportunity the King has offered us.  Just too sad!

There is a story of a poor family in Europe about a century ago who planned to emigrate to the United States.  They spent their entire savings to purchase the passage for all of them on the ship to the new world.  The night before their departure from their small village their friends and neighbors brought them gifts of bread and cheese so that they would have something to eat during the long voyage.  They got to the ship the next day and found their small cabin, being the cheapest available, on the lowest deck.  For days they remained in their quarters, having only their bread and cheese to eat.  The teenage son had finally had about all of the dry bread and cheese he could stand and begged his father to do something.  He gave his son a quarter and told him he could go above to try to find an apple to buy to have something fresh to eat.  The boy was gone for such a long time the father got worried and went looking for him everywhere on the ship.  Finally, he came to the ship’s huge dining room and much to his surprise and horror there was his son in the middle of this beautiful dining room, sitting at a table with piles of fabulous food in front of him.  He rushed over to the boy admonishing him sternly, saying that they could never afford that lavish dinner and they now they would all be in deep trouble.  The boy looked at him and said, “Oh, no, Father, it is okay.  You see, this entire banquet, all of this food, is all included in the price of the ticket!”

So many Christians tend to be like that family – we just do not get it.  We struggle along trying to be good church folk, but we find it all to be a bit difficult and, at times, sort of grim, like trying to exist on dry, stale cheese sandwiches, when all the while there is laid out for us a wonderful feast which is all included in the cost of discipleship – the price of the ticket.  I am often reminded of the very severe young evangelist who stood up and declared with the most sad face, “I have been so happy since I found Jesus!”  

Jesus has called us to take up the cross and follow him, but this journey takes us always toward God and God’s great banquet.  We are invited to feast with Christ now, the Kingdom is already begun, and we are guests at this great banquet where we, along with each other, are nourished by the extravagant grace of God.  We can so easily get focused only on the price we think we must pay, the sacrifices that we have to make, the struggles we have with our own inadequacies, and the sense that we are all alone on this difficult journey of faith, that we fail to see and delight in the marvelous grace of God and the joy of being a member of this great fellowship of faith.  We are not called to be some poor band of brothers and sisters who have to earn our way into heaven, but, rather, we are a community of the faithful and redeemed sinners who have accepted the power and grace of God in our lives and now want to share that joy with the world around us.

God’s grace – God’s love – is really amazing!  David Hope, the former Archbishop of York, wrote:

"I dare to venture that in spite of all we may say, teach, or preach, all of us are to a very large extent caught up in “self-justifying works,” so that “amazing grace” is almost a stranger to us.  Yet it is in and through “amazing grace” that the Lord has laid his hands upon us, to call us out and into a ministry in his church . . . and it is only in and through amazing grace that our ministry is nurtured, encouraged and enabled, and ourselves built into a holy temple to the Lord."

Yet, we so often plow our way through the business of the church, through the struggle to do the right thing, trying to get it right, that we miss the joy and, yes, the outright fun and delight, of being a part of this fellowship, the church.  I remember going to a clergy conference some years ago put on by the Church Insurance Corporation about all the dangers of being sued and the limitations the Church Insurance wanted to put on us about counseling and spiritual direction because of the monetary liabilities.  One of our number declared, “This just isn’t much fun anymore!”  How terribly sad – more than sad, it is tragic!  When the joy and wonder of ministry and worship are gone from the church, the joy and wonder of serving God and one another soon disappears from among the faithful.  When the church is joyless and hope is gone, then we are no longer the true Body of Christ, but only an empty shell of who God intends us to be.  Archbishop Hope went on to say:

        "There is, therefore, an urgent need in our church for the renewal of all of our lives in the power  of the Holy Spirit . . . to allow the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to be at work in every part of us . . . so that we may prove what the will of God is, what is good, acceptable and perfect."

What does this spirit of renewal require of us today?  I firmly believe that it means that we are prepared to accept the gracious invitation of our Lord to joyfully participate in the celebration of our life together.  It means that we vigorously seek a change of heart and a new direction in our lives and the life of the church.  This spirit of renewal says something of the kind of priorities we set for ourselves and our congregation.  It says that we not only accept the invitation to this banquet, but that we come prepared to celebrate with joy all that is given to us and to offer that abundance to everyone around us.  Unlike the king in today’s story, Jesus is not concerned with the actual clothes we wear, but rather with what attitude and spirit we clothe ourselves when we come together.  If we are going to try to be a part of the Kingdom without a genuine willingness to enter fully into the spirit of the community and be open to accept the power, grace, beauty, joy, and love of God in our midst, then Jesus is saying we have no business in the banquet hall.

We are all called to clothe ourselves with the Holy Spirit, seeking first the renewal of our own lives by turning to God in repentance and prayer and with open hands and hearts be filled with a sense of joy and peace that comes only by God’s grace.  We “frozen chosen” (as Episcopalians have sometimes been called) can be critical of some of the excesses of our more charismatic brothers and sisters, but folks, say what you will about the hand-raising, happy clappy, praise-shouting atmosphere of their worship, they certainly sound like they are having more fun that we are.  (I fear that sometimes the church may have come down with terminal boredom!)  I am not necessarily suggesting that we get into anything wild, but I am suggesting that we open ourselves sufficiently to the presence of the Holy Spirit that our hearts can be set afire with the power of God and that our life together will be a living celebration of God’s love for us and all those who are a part of our fellowship.

Out of our life together, I pray that our joy will be so energized that our ministry will be one of love and hope for all the seekers of a better and more meaningful, godly, and happy life.  It is in that spirit that we then care for the hungry and the homeless, the poor and the dispossessed, the sick and lonely, the fearful and fainthearted; to teach the children, tend to the elderly, and seek the gracious presence of God in our hearts and the heart of our church, and discover the heart of God in every person – no exceptions.  This is what is all included in the price of this ticket we have been given to the heavenly banquet.

Saint Paul reminded us, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. . .  The Lord is near.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

From Father Paul Bresnahan

I have lifted this good prayer directly from my friend Paul's blog.  It is worth sharing:

A Prayer of Self Dedication

by Paul Bresnahan

St. Francis Day 2011

Now in the quiet of the day, I beckon to my soul and listen.

There is only silence

It is a silence I love to return to.

Because I am not alone there.

In that silence I come to my heart of hearts.

The silence becomes a Presence.

And comes to life in a way that invites me to love.

The Presence wants to love me.

I resist that.

But the silent Presence insists.

I look again into the mirror of my soul and see the mystery

It wells up within me to gratitude.

I search for a name for the mystery.

And then do I remember God.

I discover that God is there within my heart.

And God’s heart beats within me and among us.

There is a love that speaks to me.

And extends its Heart toward me and fills me.

I find myself aware and awake.

To the joy of life and sorrow of suffering; the ugliness of hateful violence.

The noble beauty of creative art,

The sin that destroys the self and seeks to destroy others.

God's heart moves in mine and dispels the fear.

Hear the Word of God and listen

God requires justice, love, mercy and compassion

And Jesus reaches out his arms to the farthest ends of every human heart.

Here and now I dedicate myself to Jesus.

In the poor and the homeless, the hungry and those who suffer.

The heart of Jesus moves in me, and the love of God

Knows no bounds.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Blessing of the Animals

The Blessing of the Animals -- This blessing is from an order of service put together by Bill Hopper for the use of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Miami.  Bill was at the time, the organist and choir master at Trinity, and, as you can tell, a lover of animals.  During the service of the Blessing of the Animals, I would go to each animal present and give this blessing.  It always filled me with emotion and joy.  (If any would like a copy of the entire service, let me know by email and I will send you a copy.)

Officiant: The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 

People: They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. 

The officiant will then bless the animals, saying 

May your days be full of sunshine and good things to eat. May your owners and companions treat you always with respect and kindness.  And may you continue to praise God, your Creator, each in your own way and kind, by simply being what you are. And the blessing of God: Father,+ Son,+ and Holy Spirit+ be always with you. Amen. 

After all have been blessed, the officiant continues:

Almighty God, who made everything good, teach us to love what You have made. Help us to see You in the stars and planets, in rocks and rivers, in trees and flowers, and especially in all our fellow animals which You have entrusted to our loving care. Amen.

Soul Friends

My heart is captured by the wonderful Siberian Huskies that have been in my life. Niska died this past July -- a very sad time. He was 13 which is a good long life for a Husky and he was doing very well up to the last few days.  Niska was a truly marvelous dog.

Nikki is doing very well and, while she is 11, she acts and moves like a three year old. I had two other Huskies in my life: Kree, when I was a teenager, and Grey Wolf, who was with us when our girls were small.  They were all wonderful companions and Nikki joyfully carries on her part as a faithful and dear friend. 

Matthew Fox referred to his Golden Retriever as his "spiritual director."  I do not claim that my Huskies have been my spiritual directors, but they are certainly my soul friends.  In them one can truly see the essence of the Holy.

I found this wonderful piece which seems fitting as we come to Saint Francis' Day and the blessing and thanksgiving for our animals and all creatures and creation:


The Husky is a beauty,
Magnificent and smart.
It wasn't long before I knew
That the dog had won my heart.

Powerful yet graceful,
With eyes that pierce your soul--
A gentle wolf-like spirit,
And a heart of purest gold.

Affectionate and loving,
Devoted to the end--
I can't imagine life without
My Husky--my best friend.

Saint Francis Day -- October 4

Richard Rohr on Saith Francis:
"Francis’ first sermon was not to humans, but to birds. At the end of the sermon, he told the birds, “Now, go off, because I’ve told you who you are.” And he was addressing them as equals in creation, calling them “brother” and “sister,” as no one recorded had ever done before!
"Throughout his life in his interactions with creatures—including a wolf, a lamb, worms, fish and bees—Francis is always telling them that by their very existence they are inherently giving glory to God. All things should be who they truly are, and that is enough. Every animal must simply “do itself.” Each creature has a unique thing to do in the circle of life, and in that simple performance it is giving glory to a unique aspect of God and making us happy besides—at least I hope so.
"I wonder if Francis preached to birds, to wolves, and to sheep because he knew they would believe him and act on their true identity more easily than we humans."