Meister Eckhart asked why people are so reluctant to seek God in earnest. Then he made this comment: When one is looking for something and sees no sign that it is where he is searching, he will keep on looking there only with painful reluctance. If, however, he begins to find traces of it, then he will hunt gladly, gaily, and in earnest. The man who wants fire is cheered by feeling warmth and then joyously looks for the blaze. It is like that with people who ought to be seeking God: if they get no taste of the divine sweetness, they drag; but if a man lies in wait until he does catch the taste of the divine, ever afterward he is a glad seeker of God.
20 Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:20-21
Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire, and to know what he ought to do
– Saint Thomas Aquinas
This past weekend we held SOULWorks 4 weekend, based on Cursillo but done in house. Piety, Study, and Action are the three movement rhythm of faith, animated by a mysterious, ubiquitous grace. I was stuck today how the Angelic Doctor’s remarks correlate this teaching. JWS
A Christianity which is not basically mystical must become either a political ideology or a mindless fundamentalism.
Alan Watts – Behold the Spirit: A Study in the Necessity of Mystical Religion.
I became an Anglican almost four decades ago because of the tradition’s high tolerance for ambiguity. To my dismay, even Anglicans, when confronted with the paralyzing anxiety of our time, have polarized.
The left has become political ideology. The siren of our present time, whispers that all boundaries are evil. Openness is the cry of our time. What my progressive relatives fail to see is the distinction between barrier and boundary. It is the difference between a castle wall and the membrane of a single cell. The cell wall, if I remember from ancient junior high science, is a semi-permeable membrane. Substance flow in and out as may be. The cell wall is there not to keep “stuff” out so much as to promote the integrity of the organism!
The family on the right have descended into mindless fundamentalism. Now mind you, it is more sophisticated than your garden variety, but it is mindless nevertheless. Rabbi Friedman used to warn us not mistake mental activity for thinking. There is a longing for the golden age of purity (a time that likely never existed). In this Episcopal Church my right wing brethren have withdrawn into sanctuaries of purity in the geography of certainty. The castle wall around the body ecclesiastical is a barrier to further contamination and thinking.
Both extremes have something to say. Both extremes say it. Nobody hears the useful ideas because the noise is too great. Closing our eyes, while sticking our fingers in our ears and singing “our old familiar fight song” may take us to our happy place; there is, unfortunately, no joy in the morning when we awaken from our hang over after a night drinking from the fire hose of pernicious rhetoric
I refuse to give up tolerance for ambiguity. The truth is discovered by pulling the extremes toward the middle and living in the tension of the competing forces. Fr. Hubbell, Chaplain at University of Kentucky in the 1970s said,
Trying to stand in the middle of the road is a good place to be run over.
I admit looking in the mirror at the tire prints on my soul from time to time. But in all truth, I do not know where else to stand.
In hope, in spite of the facts.
©John W. Sewell
Wordsmith Anu Garg, in A Word a Day: “Why is it that to ‘doctor’ a document is to falsify it, but to ‘vet’ it is to check it for its accuracy?” The range and use of language is rich with possibility and precise in communication. The words we choose say a great deal about us.
For several years now I have been death on the poor little word, “try.” Granted there are several definitions before the 5th one that I am after, however, “to make an attempt at” is the culprit. I am asked most years what I have given up for Lent. The truth is nothing in particular, but this year I gave up using the word, “try.” Actually I have proclaimed my office a “try-free” zone.
If asked to do something I can answer, “I will try” which means I am not going to do that but I don’t want to tell you that right out. So to try is not to try at all. To try is leave a loophole, while saying it is my intention to get this done says a lot more about my resolve than “trying” ever will.
I can’t imagine that Jesus, if he were interviewed by a Jerusalem Post reporter on Palm Sunday about his date with a cross on Friday, when asked if he really intended to go through with this would have said, “I’m going to try to make it.” No he set his face to Jerusalem to face his passion. Jesus didn’t “try” to do anything, he either did it or not but he left himself no loopholes.
When Jesus said to his disciples (including us) that if we wanted follow him we should deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. He didn’t say, “It would be nice if you would try to follow me.” Nor will he accept, “Lord, we will try to show up but a cross seems a bit extreme!” No we either follow or we do not. There is no try.
In a culture infected with trying at least in our faith let our yes be yes and our no be no for our souls sake and the sake of the Kingdom.
© John W. Sewell
Christendom is dead. Even in the provinces, yea verily, even in Memphis on the Mississippi it is so. Reciprocity between Western Culture and the Church is over.
The arguments between Calvinists and Arminians [as a prime example] must cease. It is not that such distinctions have no meaning because they do. I hold opinions about these matters and that is unlikely to change. The difference is that the people in the street neither, understand these distinctions nor do they care.
That being the case we have better things to do. Preoccupation with these contentions is like arguing about what hardware should be holding up the front door of a house that is on fire! Alan Watts writing in 1947 gets to the point.
At least we can cease from the interminable sermonizing … and tell the people in human speech as distinct from theological algebra, that the Church is where one comes to find union with God.  BEHOLD THE SPIRIT – ALAN WATTS
First of all, just because you can’t do everything, it doesn’t mean you should do nothing at all. There’s a sort of a sense (that says), “I can’t solve the problem of world poverty and inequality, so I won’t do anything.” Do what you can. Not what you can’t. That comes out of prayer. So for a local church community, pray. Start with prayer about your local community. Contemplate, listen in silence. Allow the spirit of God to speak, and look and see what happens.
Secondly, be outward looking and engaged and take risks. Take risks, but risks that are based out of a life of prayer in your community. We are based in a relationship of love for Jesus Christ, so start with what we know and see what he calls us to do.
Excerpt from an interview with The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury – Trinity News, Trinity Wall Street
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone. John 12:24 KJV
THE PART OF US THAT CALLS US – “I” VALUES SAFETY ABOVE ALL THINGS.
As a child it is a shock to learn that things end. For example a pet dies and we learn a couple of things:
• One is that parents are not as omnipotent as we had thought they were AND
• Some things can’t be fixed!
No amount of yelling, weeping, begging, threatening, hoping or screaming at the heavens with our fist shaking with rage phases the smooth impenetrable walk of reality.
Having bounced off that wall, we propose not to let that happen again. You want to know from whence control- freaks come? Right then, right there, reality shall not come nigh me again, thank you very much.
Through careful planning and enough money; you do realize that is really why money is so important. Money will keep many wolves away from the door and keep them at bay for a long long time. But the longer we live and the safer we become — shielded by the investment of the CORPUS (interesting expression that) of our assets we find ourselves strangely alone.How we get out of this solitary confinement of ego safety?
David Richio says that there are five universal truths we must KNOW AND EMBRACE in order to live healthy and productive lives.
1. THINGS CHANGE AND END.
This is not fun. My hair is a victim of change and ending. You may not know it but today is international RedHead Day. My hair was copper red as a child. Do you think anyone will wish me a happy Redhead Day? No, my hair faded and then let go.
You our ego we can retreat into the past, the good ole days of our memory. Of course these days never existed except in our selective memory. Sam Keen calls selective memory, nostalgia. Nostalgia, he calls, “diseased memory.” Our beloved South has been trapped in that flytrap for pushing two centuries and you see what that has gotten us. As native Memphian, Alan Lichtman puts it, “IF YOU GET STUCK IN THE PAST YOU ARE STUCK ALONE.”
2. LIFE IS NOT FAIR
The most unfair that American parents teach their children is that Life IS far! You sign up for soccer and at the registration there is a fee for a trophy! What? You know that children aren’t stupid. When everybody gets a trophy it doesn’t mean anything! Life is not fair.
The Rain falls on the just and the unjust.
3. THINGS DO NOT GO ACCORDING TO PLAN.
If you want to make God laugh just tell him your plans. Expectations – it has to be just this way.
• Psychosis – 2 +2 = 6
• Neurosis is 2 + 2 = 4 But I won’t have it!
Psychosis will get you medicated
For Neurosis there is no cure.
4. PEOPLE WILL LOVE YOU BUT ALSO LET YOU DOWN.
People don’t have to want to let us down – it’s just inevitable – The Church is a laboratory of relationships. Here we learn the discipline of forgiving each other and ourselves. It’s messy but like democracy better than any alternative. This is why people get married, you know. Not, because you won’t get let down, cause you will. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” Marriage is a container for love.
5. GROWTH COMES THROUGH SUFFERING.
Suffering is the promise life always keeps. If you don’t know that yet you will. No one gets out of this life alive!
Today we celebrate the feast day of Constance and her companions the martyrs of Memphis. During the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, Constance, the other Episcopal sisters and priests remained in the stricken Tennessee city nursing the sick and burying the dead until one by one they too sickened and died. Charles Carroll Parsons is a good example of what I’m getting at.
- Things Change and End
He was in the West Point Class of 1861 – Those cadets studied together in the Fall Semester and tried to kill each other in the Spring.
- Life is not Fair: He watched friends, comrades die – He almost died himself. Battle of Perryville
- Things do not go according to plan
He left the army and became a priest, He embraced the vocation of peace only to become with the violence of plague.
- People will love you but will also let you down
His wife died.
- Growth comes through Suffering
Yellow Fever in 1878
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Charles. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringth forth much fruit. John 12:24
We do not die just once, you know, death comes to us many many times before the hour of our personal demise. Every time we bump up against things changing and ending. Whenever we realize yet again that life is not fair; When our plans go awry, when people let us down and when we suffer – When by grace we know and embrace these truths, the words of Jesus describes us “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” We get lots of practice laying down our lives IF we will embrace the truth of our Lord’s words.
That sounds like bad news doesn’t it. The good news is that if we embrace our many little deaths a different, new kind of life, sprouts in us. It is a kind of life based not on our merit or achievement. It’s a kind of life that is free of the competition that so rules our ordinary existence. It is a life of grace — where the energy for our being begins at the end of our striving. Our Lord promised us that if we believe in him he will not let us go.
Frederick Buechner said it best, I think, when he wrote, “The worst thing that ever happens to us will not be the last thing that happens to us.”
June 8, 2014 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Memphis Tennessee 38111
And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. Acts 2:1 NRSV
The Great 50 days are ended, the double alleluias are spent, and long months of Sundays stretch out toward Advent. However, the Great 50 days go out, not with a whimper but with a bang.
PENTECOST IS THE FIERCE FEAST OF FIREWORKS – A HOLY JULY 4TH
Forty days after his resurrection, Jesus left town, going out by Bethany, so as to go by one of his favorite places one more time. Jesus left town, not going to Galilee as he did through his life in the flesh, but going home, returning to God the Father. He blessed his disciples and as he did he was separated from them and ascended into heaven.
They stared, slack jawed, gaping at the sky until angels shooed them back to town reminding them that they were to wait until the Comforter came upon them – and for once they did as they were told.
Consciously waiting, hanging on to the promise of Jesus, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
This comforter is come. This comforter will lead us into all truth. This comforter, how shall we describe his work?
The Comforter, this Holy Spirit is
I quote Alan Jones, Sometime Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, “The Spirit is present in three open spaces in our lives. In the:
- place of risk
- areas over which we have no control.
The Spirit of Truth, this Holy Spirit works behind the scenes, promoting Jesus, pointing to his teaching but doing it behind the scenes. Notice what happens when I place the characteristics of the Holy Spirit into the Open Spaces in our lives?
IN THE UNPREDICTABLE = THE HOLY SPIRIT IS PLAYFUL
The unpredictable may prove dangerous, but it may also prove playful. The Holy Spirit is playful. For example check out the Psalm for today – [Pew Bible pg. 547 BCP – pg. 737]
26 Yonder is the great and wide sea
With its living things too many
to number, creatures both
small and great.
27 There move the ships, and there
is that Leviathan, which you
have made for the sport of it.
God made the whale just for fun.
Fr. Craig Bustrin, “The Whale is God’s Rubber Ducky.”
IN THE PLACE OF RISK = THE HOLY SPIRIT IS SPONTANEOUS
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. – Helen Keller
Let us, before this Day in 2015, strain to hear God’s spontaneous call, as the Spirit moves, broods in the risky places of life, of Memphis. Let this Day one year hence find us doing something we would never have dreamed possible. The Spirit moves in the risky places.
IN THOSE AREAS OVER WHICH WE HAVE NO CONTROL = THE HOLY SPIRIT IS CREATIVE
The Holy Spirit brooded over the waters of Chaos. For many years I have observed this in Alcoholics Anonymous = what can’t be controlled, or be willed into being true, CAN by surrendering to the Holy One most present in that very place, brings that very thing into being. It’s called recovery. The Holy Spirit is perhaps most creative in the places over which we have no control.
I want to tell you a story.
I want to speak to you this morning of a man I know.
He has doctorate in Music Composition
He is a single-minded Christian
He is faithful
He smokes too much
He is legally blind
I have known him for the better part of ten years. At the altar rail, he asked for prayers. He has the charism of servant, he is thoughtful, he is committed, he is prayerful, He walks a lot – He knows the people of these neighbors around Saint John’s. He knows us who are educated and live a reasonable facsimile of what passes for the post-modern American dream. He knows those who live below this level on less. He knows the community of the street, those whose place we pass through on the way to the rest of our lives.
Our way is their place.
Let me tell you what he means to me. He is single minded, A mostly-blind man is teaching me about life beyond my air-conditioned bubble with wheels that takes me through the streets and insulates me from them by isolating me from them and moving me quickly through them.
Let me tell you what I discern he means to this parish. If we went to hell it will because we were too busy to make other arrangements. He prays for the rest of us who do not have enough to pray for ourselves.
Mark has allowed none of his limitations to define him. What I call limitations, I suspect the Holy Spirit calls opportunities. These are the very places he has opened to God. These are the open places where the Holy Spirit is working in him and through him to do the Work of Christ in this place. To do the work of Christ is our task, Doing the work of Christ is Mark’s vocation. Why? Because he is baptized!
Sugar is made up of three molecules – oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. Where is the sweetness? The sweetness is in the relationship. It is not a quality in any element of sugar. It is an emergent quality that resides only in the system as a whole. The sweetness is not in any one of us. The sweetness is in the molecular cohesiveness of the Holy Spirit.
The Spontaneous, Creative & Playful nature of the Holy Spirit is busy in the open spaces in Mark’s life and ours to make the sweetness of Grace
The sweetness of this grace is why today I name Mark Bradshaw, Street Missioner from Saint John’s Parish Amen.
Monday of Lent I – March 10, 2014
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
The mischief began early. Eve and Adam, unlike many newlyweds, lived in a new planned neighborhood called Eden. (It was a family development). The rent was reasonable; all they had to do was look after the place which practically ran itself.
Naturally there were covenants; the prime one was a prohibition of picking the fruit on the specimen trees in the common land. Rumor had it that at least one of them was poisonous. They decided not to even touch it let alone eat the fruit.
Having put a fence around the God’s probation (He never said not to touch but that may have been wise). We must learn that good intentions are no guarantee of righteousness, temptation being what it is. But, I get ahead of myself.
Ed Friedman, my teacher, used to warn us by saying, “When things are going really well, look out!” Our language warns us of the danger, “leave well-enough alone”; pride goes before a fall (or in this case THE fall); know when to hold ‘em and when fold ‘em.
Lord, today remind me when I need to watch out. Amen. ©