Monday, December 31, 2007

Washington's National Cathedral

Here are some excerpts from a New Year's Eve sermon by Desmond Tutu :
And so God brings us to the beginning of a new year... Clean, clean, unspoiled time!

God says, "Get up." He dusts us off and says, "Try again." For God is giving us the opportunity of a new beginning, that we should start again. For God says: "You know, I created you for goodness. I created you for love, for peace, for laughter, for caring, for sharing, for compassion, for family."

And God has a dream--a dream that we will realize that we are members of one family...

But that's the one lesson God wants us to learn: You are family. Not as a figure of speech, but as the most real thing about us. That we're members one with another. In this family there are no outsiders. All are insiders. There are no aliens.

All, all, all belong: black, white, yellow, gray, rich, poor, educated, not educated, beautiful, not-so-beautiful, lesbian, gay, straight. "Hey," God says, "all, all." Even those we call extremists, they belong, they belong. That's why it's so radical. That's why if we were able to accept this truth, then we wouldn't--we couldn't--spend those amounts on budgets of death and destruction, when we know just a small, small fraction of that would enable God's children everywhere to have clean water, enough to eat, adequate education, accessible health care, safe home environment.

If we believed we are family, we would not be discussing what we do with budget surpluses. We'd say: "The ethic of family applies. From each according to their ability, to each according to their need." And so we'd say, "Where are they hungry?" For you see, we are God's stewards. All of this belongs to God. And God says, "I have faith in you. Heaven, let go."

We ring out the old and ring in the new on a high note of hope, because God believes in us. This God who is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. This God who is always there.
This was preached on New Year's Eve, 1999 at the National Cathedral. I suppose we had reached a higher note of hope then. And, yet, it is our duty to proclaim such hope even now.

So let us begin anew. May the coming year bring each of you true blessings.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Byzantine Hymn of the Nativity

This singing is absolutely stunning. It conveys both holiness and mystery in an indescribably powerful way.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

An immigrant family

Artist: James Lesesne Wells
Now after [the wise men] had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. (From Matthew's Gospel)
What would we not do to protect our children? If we could not feed our children on what we were able to earn, would we not flee to a place with the promise or even just the possibility of adequate wages?

Let us remember that Mary and Joseph and the Babe were immigrants. Suppose the Egyptians had said, "Nope, you can't live here. Go home." Suppose they had had vigilantes at the border shooting people who tried to cross. Just suppose.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Beautiful Finnish carol

It's by Jean Sebelius and it starts off "I do not seek power or glory but peace on earth."

And what a wonderful vocal ensemble!

The Feast of the Holy Innocents

I want to share with you something Simon Kershaw said today on the Thinking Anglicans site:

The young boys in the story [of Herod slaughering the innocents] know nothing of Jesus, nor indeed of the politics and powers of this world. They cannot by any stretch of historical or theological imagination be described as Christians. Just babies or toddlers with a few words, they are the epitome of powerlessness and vulnerability, still dependent on others for all their needs. Primarily they depend upon their parents, but secondarily they depend on their neighbours, and on the earthly powers-that-be for protection from the evils and disasters that can strike at any time.

And despite their ignorance of Jesus, the Church has from ancient times commemorated them: a reminder that God’s love is for all; a reminder of the sufferings endured by so many; and a reminder of our responsibilities towards those who depend upon us, and those who are weaker than we are. And a reminder too of the need to hold the powerful to account, and to ensure, so far as we are able, that they too remember their responsibilities to the weak and powerless, and not abuse their power for their own ends.

There are many ways we can look at how the slaughter of the innocents we observe today continues to be carrried out in our world but I want to focus on child labor. Do we realize how many of the cheap goods we buy (almost all of which are made overseas) are actually produced by children - sometimes under horrific conditions? Take a look at a summary of the problem:

About 246 million children ages 5 to 17 worldwide are involved in child labour - about 1 out of every 6 children in the world. Nearly three-quarters of the world's child labourers, about 180 million children, are exposed to the worst forms of child labour - that is, work that is hazardous for children. Some 110 million children in hazardous work are under age 15. Some estimated 8.4 million children are trapped in the most abhorrent forms of child labour - slavery, trafficking, debt bondage, prostitution, pornography and other such activities.

Let us pray for these little ones and do what we can to support those organizations working to alleviate the suffering of children world-wide. Whatever we do or don't do, let us at least not be ignorant.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

St. John's Day

St. John the Evangelist

I found a rather marvelous sermon for the Feast of St. John the Evangelist on the web. An author is not explicitly mentioned but other sermons on the same page are by Ruth Eller. Here is an excerpt I found to be truly inspiring:
In a sense, the whole Gospel according to John is really an interpretation of the meaning and identity of Christ, rather than an account of the events of his life.

What was going on around him that John felt this need? Judging from the evidence in his Gospel, as well as what we know of the history of that time, it seems that some people were starting to say that Jesus wasn’t really human–not flesh and blood, like us, but some other kind of divine being who just looked human. Other people were saying that Jesus was only human, nothing special about him, and if you believed otherwise you were evil, and must be shunned.

John and his community had come to believe something different from both of those ideas. For them, Christ was an expression of God’s own self. He was the Logos–the Word which had existed from before time itself. The Word is the creative power of God. But in order to be expressed in the human language, the Word had to become fully human. Exactly like us in every way. Otherwise, how would we ever understand the nature of God in our own terms?

So what we have here is the beginning of Christian theology. To John, Christ is both human and divine. He doesn’t seem to care about the birth or childhood of Jesus. Instead, he goes back to the beginning–the beginning of everything: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

John is consciously echoing the first chapter of the Hebrew Bible: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. . . . That chapter, like the first chapter of John’s Gospel, lays the foundation of all that follows. The origin of everything–everything–is God. God created it all, including human beings, male and female made equally in the divine image. All of the stories that come after that must be interpreted in the light of that first chapter.

So it is with John’s Gospel. Bits of his book have often been used to make the case that only certain people are included in God’s kingdom. The obvious example is John 3:16–you know, For God so loved the world.. . . That verse can be interpreted to mean that if you don’t accept Jesus in a certain way, you are damned. But does that notion hold up to the testimony of the first chapter? What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people... All people.
All people. All people. What unutterable consolation is to be found in those two marvelous words. This is the witness of the John we honor today.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Our first martyr

Well, I don't think the day is going to pass without a posting about St. Stephen after all. Here is an excerpt from a St. Stephen's Day sermon dating from around the year 500:

And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven. In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition.

Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exalts, with Stephen he reigns. Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen. This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.

Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defense,- and the way that leads to heaven.

-- Saint Fulgentius

Could I pray for those who were in the process of stoning me? I don't know. I really don't. But I hope I could. That would be true freedom.

A true Christmas story to ponder

Dear friends,

Happy St. Stephen's Day! I had intended to post something about Stephen, the first Christian martyr but I came across a Christmas story that I simply must share with you. This was part of Father Jake's Christmas sermon and he was quoting preacher Donald J. Shelby:

A soldier was concluding sentry duty on Christmas morning. It had been his custom in other years to attend worship in his home church on Christmas Day, but here in the outlying areas of London, it was not possible. And so, with some of his buddies, the soldier walked down the road that led into the city just as dawn was breaking. Soon the soldiers came upon an old graystone building over whose main entrance were carved the words, "Queen Anne's Orphanage." They decided to knock and see what kind of celebration was taking place inside. In response to their knock, a matron came and explained that the children were war orphans whose parents had been killed in the bombings.

The soldiers went inside just as the children were tumbling out of their beds. There was no Christmas tree in the corner and no presents. The soldiers moved around the room, wishing the children a Merry Christmas and giving as gifts whatever they had in their pockets: a stick of chewing gum, a Life Saver, a nickel or a dime, a pencil, a knife, a good luck charm. The soldier noticed a little fellow standing alone in the corner. He looked a lot like his own nephew back home, so he approached and asked, "And you, little guy, what do you want for Christmas?" The lad replied, "Will you hold me?" The soldier, with tears brimming his eyes, picked up the boy, nestled him in his arms, and held him close.
War is terrible. Terrible, terrible, terrible. Let us do whatever we can to work for peace. And then hold someone who needs to be held. This season and always.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Nativity of Our Lord

God loves the company of those who know their need, and that is why he comes at Christmas to stand with them, to live with them and to die and rise for them. He is the God who blesses the poor – not only those who are materially poor, but those who are without the ‘riches’ of self-satisfaction and complacency, those who know all too well how far they fall short of real and full humanity. And so we are to pass on that blessing to the poor of every sort, those who are without material resources and those who are ‘poor in spirit’ because they know their hunger and need. Let us ask ourselves honestly whose company we are ashamed to be seen in – and then ask where God would be. If he has embraced the failing and fragile world of human beings who know their needs, then we must be there with him.

-- Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

May we all have a blessed Christmastide and "pass on", indeed, "that blessing to the poor of every sort.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A genuine Christmas

No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God–for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.

~ Oscar Romero

Sunday, December 23, 2007

God has a better plan

There's a blog I frequent called Father Jake Stops the World. Usually Father Jake doesn't post his sermons but he did today and I'm very glad he did. Here's how it gets started:
It’s almost Christmas, but not quite yet. On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we have to set aside our knowledge of how the story turns out, if we are to appreciate the situation in which Mary and Joseph find themselves in this morning’s Gospel.

This young couple have just become engaged, when they discover that Mary is with child. Uh-oh. Joseph decides to call off the wedding, in an attempt to limit the public disgrace. But then an angel appears to him in a dream, and tells him it’s ok…that the child to be born will be a Savior.

You have to give Joseph some credit here. Angel or no angel, I’m not so sure I would have stayed by Mary’s side in that situation. But Joseph does. Their lives, of course, are turned upside down. Their dreams of a quiet life in Nazareth just flew out the window. Why? Because God had a better plan. And by being faithful to God’s leading, they were deeply blessed.

Sometimes I think that we are all inclined to give up a little too quickly. We think we are following God’s will, but things don’t go as we thought they would, and so we decide the whole idea was a mistake. Maybe we heard God wrong. And sometimes, I think we give up just before the miracle. Because it just might be that it isn’t a case of miscommunication with God, but more a matter of God’s vision being bigger than ours. Sometimes, even when we don’t understand why things seem to be falling apart all around us, we have to place our faith in God. Because maybe God has a better plan.

If you want to read the rest of it (and I urge you to do so), you can find it right here. If you ever get discouraged because of the current unpleasantness within the Episcopal Church, please read this sermon. It will gladden your heart.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

Actions of the inner life

St. Jospeph

This morning I found a very interesting blog called "Holy Ordinary: Quaker Thoughts on Life". The blog author posted a very moving Advent reflection on Joseph, the spouse of Blessed Mary. Here's part of what it says:
I would further suggest that the example of Joseph shows us that believing and being silent and still are actions of the inner life. They do not prohibit outward action. Joseph does not lock himself away in his carpenter’s shop. Instead he is a man of action – even if he is still in his soul. He marries the maid, they travel to Bethlehem, he leads Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safekeeping, and brings them home again when Herod’s threat is passed. There are no records of Joseph speaking anywhere in Scripture. He is a man of action, not words.

That is one of the lessons for us from the characters of Christmas – that our “yes” to God can be modeled on Joseph as well as any other Christmas character. He believes and acts, even when he’d rather have answers to his questions. He is silent and still in his soul.

May we be, at the season and through all of our lives, silent and still, even while we are busy living. May we be free to ask the questions that trouble our souls. May we be confident that God looks upon us with Love. May we be like Joseph – people of soulful action.
I am amazed by the number of people who suggest to me that becoming a meditator also means becoming passive. I think that is due to the black and white thinking so prevalent in our American society. Nothing could be further from the truth. Meditation, rather, gives us the clarity and discernment that make skillful action possible.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Swords into plowshares

If you look at this passage and really ponder it, you will see the deep longing of humanity for peace. Sometimes I find myself weeping at the words, "swords into plowshares":
Isaiah 2:1–5

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD!
Now take a look at something The Rev. Canon Carol L. Wade of the National Cathedral has to say:
Advent takes us on a journey where darkness unfurls into light. It offers the opportunity to discover God’s light and God’s work in our lives and encourages us to bring that to others. Isaiah says that we are to study. Even in Christ’s school of prayer, studying comes with homework. So this is your assignment. Prayerfully read Isaiah 2:1-5 each day this week. You will be hard pressed to find a more magnificent work of poetry and compelling vision of peace. And watch; keep alert to how our angers, hostilities and petty meannesses are bent into God’s peace.
The school of prayer has homework! How true. How can I expect nation not to lift sword against nation if I cannot tame my own tendency toward "angers, hostilities and petty meannesses"? This is good homework, this self-examination.

Let us cultivate an aspiration for peace, indeed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Space for the Child of Mary

Here's something really lovely from an Advent homily by a Lutheran pastor whose blog I just discovered:

You can’t go wrong if you follow her example, you people who live in the time of the great fulfillment. You can’t go wrong if you also learn to say to God: “Let it be to me according to your Word” and if you learn to trust every promise God makes you, no matter how impossible, how shocking, how unreasonable. You can’t go wrong if you open up your heart and your life and give space for the Child of Mary to come and live in you, bringing you the joy of presence. It won’t mean an easy time in this world - how she found that out! - but it will mean the joy of a life that death cannot bring to an end. For it will be God’s life, the life He reaches us all in His Son, the Child of Mary, the Mother of God. Blessed be He! Blessed be He forever! Amen.

-- William Weedon

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Oh my! I just found an excerpt from Death by Suburb by Dave Goetz and it really speaks to me. Take a look:

I am annoyed by most Advent sermons, which can be summarized as “Find some time to be quiet amid the hubbub to find Jesus.”

Yeah, right. I can’t seem to discipline my life for solitude the other 11 months, yet somehow during one of the most religiously programmatic and economically crazy times of the year, I’m suppose to find time to be still. To wait on the Lord. To say no to the self and say yes to God.

Not going to happen. No matter my good intentions after leaving the 11 o’clock service. My disciplines go on vacation, perhaps Cancun, in December; I never start new ones. Or, should I say, it hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps another 44 seasons of Advent sermons will change me.

I think the real Advent message is this: Don’t try to swim against the consumeristic current this Advent Season.

Let the riptide carry you out into the deep, where you can drown in personal debt, a fuller loneliness, and a complete immersion into your self. Give until you're physically sick. Push yourself to the limits. Give your kids everything they ask for, and then feel guilty that you didn’t do quite enough. Never say no to any invitation to a party. And always, always - give a gift to everyone, especially to your dog groomer and the assistant substitute Sunday School teacher. Do everything with excellence this Christmas season!

January may be the month when I’m most open to the message of silence, when my distended, bloated sense of self is near the end of itself, like a carnival grinding to a halt before it moves to the next city. January’s spirituality question is, actually, the old Dr. Phil question: “So how did that work for you?”

The hope of Advent may actually be the promise of grace in January.

There's a lot to be said for this. Especially Dr. Phil's question!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

From Bach's Magnificat

"For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Waiting transformed

Oh my. I found an article called My Greatest Advent Discovery Revisited and Retooled by The Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts who is clearly a man after my own heart! I love what he says about waiting:

A few years ago I was waiting in a long line at Costco. In spite of my best efforts to find the shortest line, of course I ended up in the slowest moving line of all. As I stood there, I could feel my blood pressure rising. The more I waited, the more frustrated I became. Words I never say (well, almost never) filled my mind, and I'm not referring to "Happy Holidays." "Why do I always get in the slowest line?" I asked myself. "And why is this taking so long?" I grumbled under my breath.

Then, all of a sudden, it dawned on me. I had one of those moments of grace, in which God managed to slip a word into my consciousness. As I stood in line at Costco, I was waiting. Waiting! I was doing exactly what Advent is all about. Of course I wasn't waiting for God to save me or anything momentous like that. I was simply waiting to get out of that store so I could go home. But, nevertheless, I was waiting. I was forced to experience something that's at the very heart of Advent.

So I decided, right then and there in the line at Costco, that I was going to use the experience of waiting in line as an Advent reminder. In that moment, and in similar moments yet to come, I was going to remember what Advent is all about. I was going to put myself back into the shoes of the Jews who were waiting for the Messiah. And I was going to remember that I too am waiting for Christ to return.

As I decided to let the experience of forced waiting be a moment of Advent reflection rather than a cause for getting an ulcer, I found my anger quickly drain away. Waiting in line at Costco became, not a trial to be endured, but a moment of grace. And get this: I even found myself thanking God for the chance to slow down a bit and wait. This was, indeed, a miracle.

By the time I got to check out, my heart was peaceful, even joyous. I felt as if I had discovered a treasure. The next Sunday I shared my discovery with my congregation at Irvine Presbyterian Church. In the days that followed, many of my flock told me how much their Advent had been improved by thinking of waiting in line, not as a curse, but as a potential blessing.

I well remember when I decided to consider waiting in line as "free meditation". I heartily recommend it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Have you not heard?

It was many years ago that I made my first retreat at All Saints Convent in Catonsville, Maryland. While there, I came across a holy card that quoted Rabindranath Tagore. It was my first introduction to the luminous works of this mystical poet. Here's a sample that is perfect for Advent:

Have you not heard his silent steps?
He comes, comes, ever comes.
Every moment and every age,
every day and every night
he comes, comes, ever comes.
Many a song have I sung in many a mood of mind,
but all their notes have always proclaimed,
"He comes, comes, ever comes."

-- Rabindranath Tagore

Thursday, December 13, 2007


When I was a little girl, my Sunday School teachers and church choir director made it very plain that Advent was only partly about the coming of Christmas. It was really more about Christ's second coming in glory.

Today I found a blog with a posting that talks about that by referring to the Book of Revelation - also known as the Apocalypse:

Spoiler alert: if you want to know what the Apocalypse is about, I will happily summarize it for you in two words: God wins. The longer version is that no matter how mighty and oppressive earthly powers may be and no matter how dire the plight of the faithful may be, the victory is ultimately God's and those who hold fast to God and remain faithful will share in God's victory. All the rest, as they say, is commentary.

This is a book written from a pastoral perspective to people in times of persecution and affliction, a book designed to strengthen faith and give hope, a book that calls us all to repent and turn from the ways and values of the world and hold fast to God.

-- Paul

God wins. With the world (and the earth) facing such horrible calamities today, that's a good thing to know.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More on waiting

Waiting is an important guest to honor in the guest house of our humanity. If we consciously allow waiting to be our teacher, we can accommodate waiting more peacefully. If we welcome waiting as a spiritual discipline, waiting will present its spiritual gifts. Waiting contains some of our richest spiritual opportunities if we are conscious enough and courageous enough to name them and live into them.

-- Holly W. Whitcomb

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why are we addicted to hurry?

Now here's a question: When we have to slow down, can we do so easily or does it make us frustrated and nervous?

Here in Tulsa we are recovering from a severe ice storm right now and over 200,000 people are without power. And I'm one of them - no power either at home or at my office. So I'm hanging out at a coffee shop that's open (and has wi-fi!) and managing to stay warm. I could wish the place didn't have pop Christmas music blaring forth but, heck, beggars can't be choosers! A lot of people in this town are having to stop their busyness whether they want to or not. Here's another comment on that state of affairs from the same priest I quoted yesterday:

The poet David Whyte says that we move at a great velocity in this society, and that one of the laws of physics is that we can only see what is traveling at the same speed as we are. If we stop, stand, raise our heads, we will behold people we have not seen. We will notice the night sky laced with stars. We will see the faces of those we hold dear. We will be confronted by that Christ in his many different disguises. We will find ourselves noticing, awakening, stirring. And without a doubt, we will find ourselves feeling uncomfortable. When we stop, we might discover our own meanness, our own latent cruelty, our own stinginess, our own hard hearts, our own rigid insistence that we have to be right. Advent gives us space and time to know anew that there is time to prepare, time to allow our flinty hearts to soften, time to slow enough that we might see the living Christ in our midst, bringing redemption near, near as our breath, near as a heartbeat.

--Mary C. Earle

How can we repent when we don't know ourselves well enough to do so? And how can we know ourselves if we don't stop for a while and pay attention to what's within?

Monday, December 10, 2007



It's hard to wait. This morning I had an appointment to get my teeth cleaned. Now I really dislike being trapped in the dentist's chair! But it was good practice for me in my aspiration to learn to wait with patience and acceptance. Here is part of an Advent meditation on waiting by an Episcopal priest with a ministry of spiritual direction:

We have waited in silence on your loving-kindness, O God. —Psalms 48:8

Most of the time, we don’t wait. And we certainly don’t wait in silence. Most of the time, we hurry and we push. We split time into tenths of seconds. We fret when a traffic light turns red and holds us up for a bit. The press of hurrying creates harried and hassled souls, disconnected from life and from kindness itself.

By contrast, in Spanish, the verb esperar means both “to hope” and “to wait.” I have a native plant called esperanza in my gardens. It grows and blooms in the driest conditions, offering copious blossoms in gold or orange. When the blooms come, I am reminded of waiting in silence on loving-kindness. I am reminded of something that my usual pace all but obliterates: there is a way of being and knowing that is grounded in timing I did not create. There is a way of being and knowing that dimly remembers that waiting in hope is an attitude of faith.

-- Mary C. Earle

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Advent 2

Today we focus on the role of John the Baptist, the great forerunner who urged us to repent. The word "repent" does not mean "feel very, very guilty and sorry about your sins." It means "turn around; change direction."

Here's an excerpt from an Advent 2 sermon I found on line:

I believe that the strength of any community does not lie in how much they have or how advanced they are, but in the kindness and compassion shown to its weakest and most vulnerable members. The church, above all other organizations, must show leadership in this issue. We must participate, with others in the calls for repentance, in the call to prepare for the Prince of Peace, the Christ of God.

The One Who Is to Come proclaimed by John the Baptizer came and preached a new way. Where the world advocated the solving of disputes through war, he proclaimed peace. Where the world proclaimed success through acquisition, he proclaimed success through sharing. Where the world proclaimed success through power, he proclaimed the power of vulnerability. Where the world proclaimed winning, he proclaimed and lived the power of the cross.

We await the Messiah - the one who proclaimed the power of a God who can bring light from darkness, hope from despair, love from hatred, life from death and community from division.

-- Beth W. Johnston

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Silent, helpless, utterly dependent

Sketch by Da Vinci

In Advent Christ rested in Mary – still, silent, helpless, utterly dependent. The Creator trusted Himself to His creature….This was a foreshadowing of what the Incarnation would mean for us; for in us too, Christ rests as He rested in Mary. From the moment when the Christ life is conceived in us, our life is intended for one thing, the expression of His love, His love for God and for the world….We must allow the Christ life to grow in us in rest. Our whole being must fold upon Christ’s rest in us, as the earth folds upon the seed.

Friday, December 7, 2007

"You are the new day"

While this is not explicity religious, I think you can see why I think of it as an Advent piece:

I will love you more than me and more than yesterday,
if you can but prove to me you are the new day.
Send the sun in time for dawn,
let the birds all hail the morning;
love of life will urge me say,
"You are the new day."
When I lay me down at night knowing we must pay,
thoughts occur that this night might stay yesterday.
Thoughts that we, as humans small,
could slow worlds and end it all
lie around me where they fall, before the new day.
One more day when time is running out for everyone;
like a breath I knew would come
I reach for the new day.
Hope is my philosophy,
just needs days in which to be,
love of life means hope for me
borne on a new day.

- John David

Thursday, December 6, 2007

St. Nicholas Day

Saint Nicholas Saving Seafarers
The Limbourg Brothers
The Metropolitan Museum of Art - New York

Today we remember St. Nicholas who died December 6, in the year 343, and, through the developing legend, became our modern-day Santa Claus. Traditionally, the church blesses candy canes on this day. (They look like a bishop's crook!)

Here's a little something about Nicholas:

Saint Nicholas was renowned for his great kindness and his generous aid to those in distress. Among the kind and miraculous acts attributed to him are saving three young girls from prostitution by secretly providing them with dowries, raising three murdered boys from the dead, and saving sailors caught in stormy seas. For these reasons, he is considered the patron saint of children, unmarried girls, and sailors, among others.

Advent 1 Meditation

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sacred longing

Longing by John Pickle

Longing. It is an evocative word. And I would assert it is an Advent word. The world is longing, indeed, for the return of Christ. May we have strength enough to wait with godly hope.

When we were given the capacity to love, to speak, to decide, to dream, to hope and create and suffer, we were also given the longing to be known by the One who most wants to be completely known. It is a longing woven into the very fabric of the image in which we were made.

Robert Benson in Between the Dreaming and the Coming True

Monday, December 3, 2007


When I was fourteen years old and in the ninth grade, my English teacher handed me a copy of Death Be Not Proud one day and asked me to read it for the class. It was my first encounter with John Donne and I was hooked. Here's another of his Holy Sonnets that is focused on the Advent mystery:

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.

Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.

-- John Donne

Fire is a fitting sign

I came across the devotional works of Edward Hays some years ago and I have appreciated his writings ever since. Here's a sample:

Advent, like its cousin Lent, is a season for prayer and reformation of our hearts. Since it comes at winter time, fire is a fitting sign to help us celebrate Advent… If Christ is to come more fully into our lives this Christmas, if God is to become really incarnate for us, then fire will have to be present in our prayer. Our worship and devotion will have to stoke the kind of fire in our souls that can truly change our hearts. Ours is a great responsibility not to waste this Advent time.

-- Edward Hays in A Pilgrim’s Almanac

Someone once brought me a photograph of the altar of a church in France. Over the altar was a stained glass window depicting the burning bush. It was all flame. I used that photo as a support for my meditation for a long time.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our "God is a consuming fire."

-- Hebrews 12: 28, 29

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Come quickly, Lord Jesus

I've told you before how much I admire Henri Nouwen's works. Here's an Advent prayer that he wrote:
Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, "Come Lord Jesus!" Amen.
It can be hard to find quiet places during this season of busyness. Not long ago a sixteen year old told me that he sometimes sits in the car on the street outside his home in order to have the silence and solitude he needs for reflection. I was really impressed. We can find that time, that place, for meditation and contemplation if we're motivated. So, let us not neglect to spend this season of gestation in the silence of holy waiting.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

No greater gift

I'd like to introduce you to somebody known on the web as Real Live Preacher. His real name is Gordon Atkinson and he's the pastor of a very interesting Baptist Church in San Antonio. Here's something he said that I think is quite wonderful:

God, I don’t have great faith, but I can be faithful. My belief in you may be seasonal, but my faithfulness will not. I will follow in the way of Christ. I will act as though my life and the lives of others matter. I will love. I have no greater gift to offer than my life. Take it.
And this is from his church's website:

Covenant is a contemplative congregation - a thoughtful bunch of folks. We are an intimate group of friends who worship God together, play together, and support each other in good times and hard times. We are seeking to have our own lives changed by the Spirit of God. This is a place where you can ask questions and seek answers. We do not all believe the same things, but we do love each other.

Covenant is where children are cherished, people are patient, and everyone knows your name.
I'm not used to congregations describing themselves as contemplative and I'm impressed by it. Sounds like a place of real depth where a person can grow in a wonderfully authentic way. I'd love to visit it one day.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Our nurturing God

I want to share with you a few verses from Genesis, chapter 49:
22 Joseph is a fruitful vine,
a fruitful vine near a spring,
whose branches climb over a wall.

23 With bitterness archers attacked him;
they shot at him with hostility.

24 But his bow remained steady,
his strong arms stayed limber,
because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob,
because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,

25 because of your father's God, who helps you,
because of the Almighty, who blesses you
with blessings of the heavens above,
blessings of the deep that lies below,
blessings of the breast and womb.
Perhaps you have heard the Hebrew words "El Shaddai" before -- maybe because of the Amy Grant song by that title. The usual translation is "Almighty God" but "shaddai" also means "all sufficient" and it is from a root that means "breast". God nurtures us as a mother nurtures her newborn.

One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 131 which contains these words:
But I still my soul and make it quiet
Like a child on its mother's breast.
My soul is quieted within me.
Let us rest on the breast of God. Let us be nurtured by the breast of God

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Take this bread

Clyde Glandon sent me the following:

The latest installment of Religion and Ethics Newsweekly has a story on Sara Miles, who runs the food bank at St. Gregory Nyssen in San Francisco—a ministry that is more than full time. A couple of years ago she was a strident atheist and a journalist who first walked in the door because she was curious about what was going on inside. She found a community that feeds people, at the altar on Sundays and at a meal with sack of groceries on Fridays, no questions asked. She reports her first experience like this: “And then a woman put a piece of fresh bread in my hand and gave me a goblet of some rather nasty, sweet wine. And I ate the bread and was completely thunderstruck by what I felt happening to me. So I stood there crying, completely unsure of what was happening to me. Got out of the church as quickly as I could before some strange, creepy Christian would try to chat with me, and came back the next week because I was hungry, and kept coming back and kept coming back to take that bread.”

It was the lack of judgment that invited her into that community, where she continues to feed people herself. She goes on to say, “I think what I discovered in that moment when I put the bread in my mouth and was so blown away by the reality of Jesus was that the requirement for faith turned out not to be believing in a doctrine, or knowing how to behave in church, or being the right kind of person, or being raised correctly, or repeating the rituals. The requirement for faith seemed to be hunger. It was the hunger that I had always had and the willingness to be fed by something I didn’t understand.”

-- Katharine Jefferts Schori, Seabury Western Commencement, June 1, 2007

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Strength for the fight

This is one of my favorite stories from the Desert Fathers and Mothers:

Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care. He went and told an old man this; 'I find myself in peace, without an enemy,' he said. The old man said to him, 'Go beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.' So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said, 'Lord, give me strength for the fight.'

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Love: the real thing

Those of you who have been reading this blog from the beginning have by now discerned that I very much admire Thomas Merton. Here's something he said that I just found today:

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.
It's so easy to be narcissistic without knowing it. And that really is why we need each other.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A simple prayer

I found an interesting blog today authored by Brian and Emily Miller who are youth ministers at a church in Colorado. Here is a posting I liked very much:

We used this prayer for meditation during the first 30 minutes of youth group last week. Each line of the prayer was put on screen for a few minutes and students/leaders were encouraged to dwell on the words and on God, or ignore the words if needed and sit in silence. It benefitted us immensely, so we wanted to share it with anyone who might also enjoy it.

your grace
your love
your sacrifice
your faithfulness

your beauty
your mystery
your presence
your heart

my indifference
my pride
my rebellion
my infidelity
They also posted the following quote:

The day we are completely satisfied with what we have been doing; the day we have found the perfect, unchangeable system of work, the perfect answer, never in need of being corrected again, on that day we will know that we are wrong, that we have made the greatest mistake of all.

-- Vincent Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered

They sound like a very thoughtful and committed young couple. I'm glad I found their blog.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Christ the King Sunday

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A profound prayer

I well remember when I discovered the wonderful book, Markings, by Dag Hammarskjold. And it is this prayer that meant the most to me and that I've always remembered:
For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.

Friday, November 23, 2007

What prayer is

I was very fortunate and blessed to hear Henri Nouwen speak back in the 70s. He came across as utterly genuine, utterly authentic. Here's something he wrote that we would all do well to heed:

Many voices ask for our attention. There is a voice that says, "Prove that you are a good person." Another voice says, "You'd better be ashamed of yourself." There also is a voice that says, "Nobody really cares about you," and one that says, "Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful." But underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, "You are my Beloved, my favor rests on you." That's the voice we need most of all to hear. To hear that voice, however, requires special effort; it requires solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen. That's what prayer is. It is listening to the voice that calls us "my Beloved."

~Henri Nouwen (Bread for the Journey)

I'll fly away!

These young men are in Goshen College, Indianna. It is a Mennonite school.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thank You, thank You, thank You, generous God!

You have injected life with joy, thus we know laughter.

You have dabbed creation with color, thus we enjoy beauty.

You have whistled a divine tune into the rhythm of life, thus we hear music.

You have filled our minds with questions, thus we appreciate mystery.

You have entered our hearts with compassion, thus we experience faith.

Thank You, God, Thank You. Thank You!

- C. Welton Gaddy

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The ineffable

I've spent a lot of time with the works of Walt Whitman over the years - to my very great benefit. But only today did I come across these lovely lines:

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first; Be not discouraged-- keep on-- there are divine things, well envelop'd; I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.

~Walt Whitman, 'Song of The Open Road'

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Beyond the self

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

I lay on the bowsprit, facing astern, with the water foaming into spume under me, the masts with every sail white in the moonlight, towering high above me. I became drunk with the beauty and singing rhythm of it , and for a moment I lost myself - actually lost my life. I was set free! I dissolved in the sea, became white sails and flying spray, became beauty and rhythm, became moonlight and the ship and the high dim-starred sky! I belonged, without past or future, within peace and unity and a wild joy, within something greater than my own life, or the life of Man, to Life itself! To God, if you want to put it that way.

And several other times in my life, when I was swimming far out, or lying alone on a beach, I have had the same experience. Become the sun, the hot sand, green seaweed anchored to a rock, swaying in the tide. Like a saint's vision of beatitude. Like the veil of things as they seem drawn back by an unseen hand. For a second you see - and seeing the secret, are the secret. For a second there is meaning!

- from Long Days Journey into Night, Eugene O'Neill

O'Neill is attempting to give words to the mystical experience which is, of course, ineffable. But still there is this painting, as it were, this struggle to offer a picture of what it is like. And, to the very great blessing of humankind, many saints and artists have tried to show us - and not only to show us but to draw us in. Deo gratias!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Paradise on earth

Every now and then I really need to return to de Caussade - a truly great spiritual director of the 18th Century. Let's take a look at something he said about faith:

Faith transforms the earth into a paradise. By it our hearts are raised with the joy of our nearness to heaven. Every moment reveals God to us. Faith is our light in this life.

Jean Pierre de Caussade

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Some wonderful words on prayer

If ever we are tempted to neglect our prayers, we might do well to read these words:

Consider how august a privilege it is, when angels are present, and archangels throng around, when cherubim and seraphim encircle with their blaze the throne, that a mortal may approach with unrestrained confidence, and converse with heaven's dread Sovereign! O, what honor was ever conferred like this?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Grace and transformation

This gladdens my heart:

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace - only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.

-- Anne Lamott

We Praise Thee, St Petersburg Chamber Choir

The importance of knowing oneself

The 16th Century Spanish mystics, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, both taught the importance of knowing oneself. Here's something Teresa said:

Just as we cannot stop the movement of the heavens, revolving as they do with such speed, so we cannot restrain our thought. And then we send all the faculties of the soul after it, thinking we are lost, and have misused the time that we are spending in the presence of God. Yet the soul may perhaps be wholly united with Him in the Mansions very near His presence, while thought remains in the outskirts of the castle, suffering the assaults of a thousand wild and venomous creatures and from this suffering winning merit. So this must not upset us, and we must not abandon the struggle, as the devil tries to make us do. Most of these trials and times of unrest come from the fact that we do not understand ourselves.

-- from The Interior Castle

The mind thinks. That is what it does. In the same way, the eye sees and the ear hears. It is not necessary to suppress thoughts. It is, however, important to bring the mind back to the contemplation of Divine reality whenever we realize we have become distracted.

Friday, November 16, 2007


There's a wonderful wesite that you really should know about. It's called Spirituality and Practice and it's just full of resources for the kind of integrated devotional life that affects everything we do.

One of the practices we are urged to cultivate is reverence. Here's how the basic practice is described:

Reverence is the way of radical respect. It recognizes and honors the presence of the sacred in everything — our bodies, other people, animals, plants, rocks, the earth, and the waters. It is even an appropriate attitude to bring to our things, since they are the co-creations of humans and the Creator.

Nothing is too trivial or second class for reverence. But it has to be demonstrated with concrete actions. Don't abuse your body — eat right, exercise, get enough rest. Don't abuse the earth by being wasteful of its gifts. Protect the environment for your neighbors and future generations.

Reverence is also a kind of radical amazement, a deep feeling tinged with both mystery and wonder. Approaching the world with reverence, we are likely to experience its sister — awe. Allow yourself to be moved beyond words.
I like the words "radical amazement". Such an amazement is a powerful antidote to the pernicious ennui that has infected so many in our day. It is a way of being fully alive.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Something refreshing

I got this from my monk friend, Prior Aelred:
The voice of an African bishop on Biblical interpretation:

"In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it."

This shocking innovation brought to you by Augustine of Hippo!
We often forget that fundamentalism is quite a recent development in the history of Christian thought and that the ancients did not necessarily interpret Scripture literally. Rather they tended to use the allegorical or metaphorical approach.

A prayer for us all

Thomas Merton

Quite a number of years ago, someone gave me a prayer on a little card that seemed just right for me. I was deeply moved by it and taped it to a bookcase in my office so that I could see it often. Then on Monday, while I was preparing the first post of this blog, I came across it on line. Here's the prayer:
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
It is, of course, by Thomas Merton from his wonderful book, Thoughts in Solitude.

An editorial review on Amazon says this about the book:
What has made this book such an enduring and popular work is that it recognizes how important solitude is to our morality, integrity, and ability to love. One does not have to be a monk to find solitude, notes Merton; solitude can be found in the act of contemplation and silent reflection in everyday life. Also, this is not a pious book that assumes that a relationship with the divine can be obtained only by denying our humanity and striving for saintliness. Instead, Merton asserts that connection with God can most easily be made through "respect for temperament, character, and emotion and for everything that makes us human."
Sadly, a lot of common approaches to Christian formation do suggest that we need to deny our humanity in order to please God. Of course, paradoxically, that has the effect of making us more self-conscious rather than less. Making friends with ourselves is an important first step on the spiritual path. Think about it. Why would we give a self that we hate as an offering to God? I actually like that old T-shirt that says, "God doesn't make junk". So do remember this wonderful saying of Irenaeus: "The glory of God is the human being fully alive!"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Meet Me in the Middle of the Air

Very moving. Just listen:

Why forgiveness is essential

Today I want to share with you an article called "Desmond Tutu Part Of Connecticut Celebration". The event took place at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Here are some excerpts:

During the forum, Tutu discussed how his nation was able to heal and forgive after years of apartheid.

“To forgive is not being altruistic. It's the best form of self-interest,” he said. “When I dehumanize you, I am, in the process, dehumanized.”

Tutu discussed the healing process in South Africa after apartheid and how things could have gone better, but how they could have been much worse. With an overwhelming sense of reason, he talked about the work of fellow South African and civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, and how Mandela's time in jail was necessary in South Africa's healing process.

“In 27 years in jail, Nelson Mandela evolved from an angry young man to (gain) an understanding of the point of view of the other,” he said, calling those 27 years “crucial.”
But what many were taking away from the day's celebration and were discussing once the day's events concluded were Tutu's words before the service.

“In our African culture, there is ... the essence of being human: a person is a person through other persons,” he said. “I need you to be all you can be, so I can be all I can be.”

Because of my years in South Africa, I know the African word for what Archbishop Tutu is saying here. It is ubuntu. I love this word. It basically says that we're all in it together.

And we are.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Welcome all spouses of clergy!

Photo by Cynthia Burgess

Hello, everyone.

This new blog is specifically for the spouses of clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma but all others are welcome as well.

Mostly I will be bringing you quotations and excerpts from books on spiritual practice that are intended to be springboards for your own meditation and reflection.

Feel free to comment or ask a question about anything you see or read.

Let's get started:

The first step toward finding God, Who is Truth, is to discover the truth about myself: and if I have been in error, this first step to truth is the discovery of my error.

-- Thomas Merton

Of course, it was also Thomas Merton who said, "The only thing to remember about prayer is to begin where you are." So, wherever you are, begin right now. Remembering to begin anew every day is the key to the kind of spiritual practice that will sustain us throughout our lives - no matter what happens.

Peace be with you.