The Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 24, 2017

the-annunciation-by-henry-ossawa-tanner-philadelphia-1898

 

With the arrival of Mary Sunday we have reached the third trimester of Advent. We began Advent looking to the Second Coming of our Lord.  On the two middle Sundays we heard the words of John the Baptizer proclaiming the coming Messiah.  Last week we heard John say that he must decrease that the Messiah may increase.  Today we hear again the story of the Annunciation.  It is the story that is read on March 25 at the Feast of the Annunciation, which liturgically is set nine months to the day from Christmas.  It happened like this.

In the sixth month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy with John the Baptizer, The archangel Gabriel was sent by God to Galilee to visit Mary, the fiancée of Joseph.  Tradition has it that Mary was at the well drawing water when he (Gabriel) first appeared to her.  She was so disturbed by his appearance that, abandoning her water jar, she went home.   Later he appeared to here again.  Most artists have depicted her in her home reading.

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Ave, Hail, or as we would say, Hello.” Greetings favored one!  The Lord is with you.”

She is troubled by his words and pondered what this might mean.  Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary said, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Let me say a few things about this passage.

  1. Angels are sometimes called God’s thoughts. They are everywhere but easy to overlook.  One must be sensitive to the greetings of angels. Tradition praises Mary as a model for dealing with angels, for her readiness to acknowledge the angel’s greeting, and of course for her willingness to embrace the fate announced by the angel.  Paintings show her in a contemplative mood, in her room, reading.  It would seem to take a degree of expectancy and intellectual preparedness to glimpse the angel when he appears.
  2. Mary is a model for dealing with angels because of her humility. “Humility is an important virtue of psychological life that allows things to happen, allows a world to exist beyond the one we know and understand. It is one of the most important psychological attitudes, required if we are to return to a life graced by angels.”  [Thomas Moore, The Angels]
  3. Word: St Bernard of Clairvaux speaks to the importance of words: “For God, word is the same as deed.  For God alone it is the same thing to do as to say.”  In Annunciation word is efficacious.
  4. “Overshadowed” This is a word full of Old Testament imagery. “The Spirit that comes upon Mary is closer to the Spirit of God that hovered over the waters before creation in Genesis 1:2.  The earth was void and without form when that Spirit appeared; just so Mary’s womb was a void until through the Spirit God filled with it with a child; but since Mary is a virgin who has not yet lived with her husband, there is no yearning for or human expectation of a child — it is the surprise of creation.  No longer are we dealing with human request and God’s generous fulfillment; this is God’s initiative going beyond anything man or woman has dreamed of.”  p. 314 Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah

The angel comes with a new idea.  Someone has said that God’s favorite practical joke in the Old Testament is old women getting pregnant.  Elizabeth, now pregnant with John the Baptizer, is the latest in a long line of Matriarchs, beginning with Sarah, who give birth after such conceiving should be impossible.

In western art we often see Mary wearing a red dress under a blue cloak.  The red symbolizes earth/humanity overshadowed symbolically by the blue of heaven/divinity.  Here God is doing a new thing.

 In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass, The White Queen advises Alice to practice believing six impossible things every morning before breakfast.

Here God is doing an impossible new thing before breakfast.

What is that to us, we ask?

In his essay in the anthology, The Angels, [edited by Robert Sardello] Thomas Moore writes, “Annunciations happen every day in the plainest circumstances.  Religious festivals like the Annunciation always call to mind eternal happenings, forms and images that give structure and value to every life.  The Angel and the Virgin are always engaging in dialogue: the angel announcing some impossibility, the virgin taken aback, questioning, agreeing.  In this particular event the soul – virginal, patient, expectant, prepared, receptive, modest – begins to carry new life and personality, a child, as the paintings often show, miraculously fully formed from conception.  (Every time we use the word “concept,” an annunciation, probably hidden and forgotten, lies in its history.)

Here in the third trimester of Advent the angel announces the conception — pregnant moment of new life.

  • Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Poustinia “Wherever you go you must be pregnant with Christ. When a woman is with child, people recognize the life that is within her . . .. She is a witness to life.  She carries life around with her.”
  • Advent is about slowing down.
  • Advent is about watching
  • Advent is about waiting
  • Advent is about taking a wheel off
  • Advent is about decreasing, making room
  • Advent is about listening to the hello of the angel.
  • Advent is about accepting the new life announced by the angel
  • Advent is about preparing for new life.

As St. Basil the Great once said, “Annunciations are frequent; incarnations rare.”   Let us with Mary listen to the hellos of angels. For an angelic hello is a sign of grace now and always, that the Word will be born in us as well.

Amen.

 

Two Kinds of Ego Response

fritz_kunkel1

Fritz Kunkel

Fritz Kunkel believed there were two kinds of ego responses. The first, the response the ego makes out of its egocentricity, is “characterized by inflexibility, panic, defensiveness, rage, and sterility.” In contrast, the creative ego response is a response “that is exactly appropriate to the kind of situation with which the person is faced. It cannot be stylized or characterized because the creative Ego response is always unique and one-of-a-kind.”

John Sanford, Fritz Kunkel: Selected Writings.

PENTECOST

May 24, 2015
Saint John’s
Memphis, Tennessee
John W. Sewell

 

Today we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit fifty days after the Resurrection. The reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the day of Pentecost and the indwelling of God’s Spirit in a new way, more continuous and more manifest than had been experienced before. The ancient Aramaic translation of the Pentecost story puts it this way, “And as the days of Pentecost were fulfilled, they gathered together as one. And there was from the stillness of heaven a sound like the stirring of Spirit, and the whole house was filled with it, where they were staying.” The spirit then fell upon them as tongues of fire. After Pentecost the word, God, as they had defined it, was no longer adequate to describe what the Christians were experiencing.

As John Polkinghorne puts it, [The Faith of a Physicist, pg. 146] “The early Church felt that it experienced divine power present within it with a peculiar intensity and personality.”

HOLY SPIRIT – BREATH, SPIRIT OR WIND
They looked into the Hebrew Scriptures for ways to explain what had happened. The language of spirit (ruah) was used in the Old Testament in relation to creation (Genesis 1: 2f.) The Spirit brooded over the waters of chaos in creation.

jesus_breathes_on_the_disciplesIn both Greek and Hebrew the word for spirit means also ‘breath’ or ‘wind.’ This is the sense of today’s Gospel reading. On Easter afternoon, the disciples were huddled behind closed doors for fear of the authorities. Jesus came and stood among them and showed his wounds. And as the disciples rejoiced he said twice “Peace be with you!” Then he said, “As the Father has sent Me, so I also send you.” Then, when He had said this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This verse can be translated, “Receive the holy breath.” He then says, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven him, but if you do not forgive someone, his sins are retained.”

Jesus breathed on them giving the Holy Spirit to the disciples. They had been behind closed doors for fear of the Jews. He tells them that they may forgive sins and retain them. I have been wondering? Is Jesus telling the church to be the moral police as has so often been the interpretation of this passage? Or is he saying in another way what he said in so many other places, namely, that we are to forgive everyone. If we retain sins is it because we can choose whether or not to forgive OR because we are unwilling or unable to forgive? Did our Lord not tell Peter to forgive infinitely? If we do not forgive is it because we unable to inhale the holy breath?

I am learning that deep breathing and fear are not compatible. Years ago and far far away I studied Yoga. The word comes from the Sanskrit and means union, from the words “to join”. Yoga is a technique for promoting “mindfulness.” — to become still and in that stillness to awaken and become conscious. To breathe and stretch promotes consciousness of one’s body one is present in one’s body. The yoga tradition says that each human being has a certain number of breaths to breathe in their lifetime. To breathe rapidly and shallowly is to wasting our very life. Although I doubt there are a set number of breaths per life, shallow rapid breathing does not promote health. Is the same true in the life of faith?

It is difficult to panic when breathing from the diaphragm. When people panic they breathe faster and more often, which in turn promotes more fear and less thinking. When we are afraid we have more trouble forgiving than when we are centered. The gospel tells us that perfect or mature love casts out fear. When we are centered we can choose to love rather than become our fear. After Jesus breathed on the apostles they were no longer afraid. They went into the streets proclaiming the good news of God in Christ to the very people from whom they had earlier hidden.

pentecostLike deep breathing, the presence of the Holy Spirit is incompatible with paralyzing fear. So it stands to reason to me that where we are afraid is the very place the Spirit is likely to be manifested. To be alive is to risk. Yet we are so afraid of risking. We run the numbers, buy insurance, take polls as if by some incantation or marshaling of force we shall at last be secure. But it is an illusion.

As Helen Keller, a woman who knew a good bit about challenge once wrote, “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.”

The promise of our Lord is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the heavenly dove, the bird of open spaces, of the unpredictable, the risky and uncontrollable. Our part is to become quiet and be still, facing our fear that the love of God will be manifest in us. Fear prevents the breathing THAT PRODUCES SONG.

THE HOLY SPIRIT CREATIVE, SPONTANEOUS & PLAYFUL.
For example check out the Psalm for today –
PSALM 104
26 Yonder is the great and wide sea
With its living things too many
to number, creatures both
small and great.

whale3
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. As an old friend of mine, Fr. Craig Bustrin, used to say, “The Whale is God’s Rubber Ducky.”

THE HOLY SPIRIT AS ADVOCATUS

Advocatus: is a Lawyer, defender, in John 15, a defense attorney. Interestingly, the word, Satan is not a proper name, but a title, literally meaning, “The other side” or prosecuting attorney. The “Court of Heaven” is clearly displayed in the opening chapter of Job. Here the title, Satan, is used; in others accuser.

JOB 1:6-12 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro

on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”

Satan_Before_the_Lord_Giaquinto_17501

The scene, as the curtain rises is a court room. Each one, you and I, are seated in the chair reserved for the defendant. We are in a world of trouble, facing the death penalty; if the truth be told, we, every last one of us is guilty It’s an open and shut case without wiggle room. Not only are we addicted to sin, we are pushing it as well.

Now, the good news, beloved. Jesus served as our advocate so long as he lived in his incarnation (Christmas t0 Ascension). He is gone. Panic not. Jesus promised another Advocatus, one like him. Who is this defense attorney? It’s a senior partner in the old-line law firm in Heaven! Actually, it’s better than that. One of the masthead names of the firm, Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Attorneys & Counselors, founded before the foundation of the world is on his way.

The Holy Spirit is opening an office here just so we have immediate and continual defense! He is on retainer paid for by the cross and passion of the second person of the Trinity. Do you see what amazing news this is? What have we done to deserve this? Nothing, absolutely nothing. This, sisters and brothers for God is pro bono work! We call it GRACE!. .

In the Name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit!

“Healing”

D H Lawrence

I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.
And is not because the mechanism is working
wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep
emotional self
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time.
only time can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance
long difficult repentance, realization of life’s
mistake, and the freeing oneself
from the endless repetition of the mistake
which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.”
– D. H. Lawrence

The True Believer

Those with a death wish have an advantage over those who have a life.

The term “True Believer” is a common expression in American speech.  What most people do not reaize is that the turm comes from a book of that titile.  Eric Hoffer published this study of the nature of mass movements in 1951 (the year of my birth).

t b 2Given the rise of increasingly violent groups fueled by pathological ideology, Hoffer tells us that the content of the ideology is less important than the process of fanaticism.  This is a distinction that we really must learn.  It is not really about Islam, though the ideology in this case is Islamic. ISIS’s fighters, having sucumbed to ideology do not fear death. Actually dying is martyrdom for these young men.  Their opponents fight to protect their families.  Those with a death wish have an advantage over those who have a life. Thus in the short run evil has an edge.  In time, God willing, the rest of us will rise up and put an end to this most recent eruption of a chronic infection of a will to power.

Fundamentalism longs for a golden age that in fact never existed. Deep belief in fantasy promotes delusian. Delusion demands not faith, but rather a kind of “sccumbing” that produces fanatics.  I also recommend Carl Jung’s insights in the last chapter of his book,  Memories, Dreams and Reflections, where he lays out the dangers of succumbing to or being addicted to anything.

I highly recomend Eric Hoffer’s classic and  the insights of Carl Jung on fanaticsim.

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

In these early years of the third millennium of the Christian experience there is deep unease. Terrorism, war, crime, shootings and murders, disregard for life, fear, greed, hatred, natural disasters, and plagues, raise the question: “We are afraid and where is God?” The Apostle John, looking back half a century after the resurrection, records these words of Jesus. Jesus spoke these words before his death and resurrection and they are directed toward the future. So in a real sense these comforting, powerful, and disturbing words are for us.

jesus_4Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself so that where I am, there you may be also.”

We are afraid. Many are afraid some of the time. Others are afraid all the time. I knew a woman once who was paralyzed by fear. Every morning when her husband and children left the house she began to run horror movies through her mind all day long of them being injured and harmed in a variety of horrible ways. This would go on until she saw them at the end of the day.

Jesus: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” The word here is the same used to describe the experience of Jesus in the Garden. The sense of the word is to shudder. It is a deep apprehension.

Parker Palmer

Parker Palmer

Parker Palmer in an interview said, “Faith is the willingness to take the experiential journey without being crippled by your fears. It is the willingness to keep walking, putting one foot in front of the other, even when we don’t know exactly where we are going. There are three words which sum up all the spiritual traditions which are familiar to Christians. They are ‘BE NOT AFRAID’. Notice it doesn’t say we shouldn’t have fears BUT, we don’t have to BE our fears.”

Many of us become our fears. There is an urban myth going around about an elderly woman who was terrified that she would become the victim of violent crime. So she bought a little gun which she carried in her purse.

One day she came out of the local mall, arms loaded with packages. When she got to her car to her shock there were two young men sitting in it. She was horrified but she had her gun. So she pulled it out and bore down on those young man and ordered them out of her car.

They went.

Trembling she got into the car, fished her keys out of purse, put them in the ignition. The key wouldn’t turn. It wasn’t her car!!!! She got and there one row over was her car. She got in and drove away in a hurry with two young men yelling, “That old woman stole our car!!”

It is human to have fears.

But the Gospel of Jesus the Christ proclaims, that  we do not have to BECOME our fears.

Jesus also says, “Believe in God, believe also in me.”

This believing is not simply a matter of believing with the head; the sort of believing that affirms that Jesus lived 2000 years ago. It is not simply a matter of intellectual affirmation that Christ lived. If it is only that, then it is not any different from believing in George Washington

george-washington-picture

  • I believe in George Washington.
  • I believe that George Washington lived from 1732-1799.
  • I believe that George was a pretty good man.
  • I believe that George was the “Father of his country.”

BUT, that doesn’t have too much to do with how I live my life in 2014.

  • I may take George’s name in vain and say “By George” in conversation but then such talk is cheap.
  • If I am in Virginia, I might go to Mt. Vernon and see where he lived and is buried.
  • I might go to the Washington Monument in Washington DC .
  • I even carry a few copies of his picture around in my wallet. And while, they are not holy cards they are of untimate concern to many.

My point is that I can be culturally Christian in much the same way. I can believe all sorts of things about Jesus without being transformed, without living in the Resurrection.

Believing = as Jesus describes it is a radical belonging to the truth. Truth here involves the ideas of reliability or faithfulness: what is real compared to mere appearance.

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself so that signwhere I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus said, “And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas speaks for himself and multitudes of others when he contends that he doesn’t know the way. Jesus is more clear.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.” The way is not a road map, BUT A PERSON!

1. Jesus is the way because he is the truth or revelation of the Father.
2. Jesus is the way because he is the life. Since he lives in the Father and the Father lives in him, he is the channel through which the Father’s life comes to people.

This passage is used often at the burial of the dead. These words of Jesus are not intended just to give us comfort at funerals. They speak to the power of the resurrection working now, here, in us, and between us, in the world. And that power will not end here but will go on forever.

We are called by our baptism, to live into this resurrection now, not waiting until we are dead. This is not fire insurance. This is the power of God to authentically alive NOW.

We ask where is God? One answer is that God is here. We believe, as Christians have believed since that first Easter, that whenever we gather together and break the bread, Jesus is present. Therefore, this Eucharist which we are about to eat and drink is for a sure and predictable way of encountering the risen Christ.

doubting_thomas

I invite you and me this morning to bring your fears to this table. We all have fears. But we do not have to BE our fears! Let us eat and drink, healing, and confidence, and joy, believing as he has taught us that regardless of what we face, He will be with us and will come for us that where he is we will be also. Let us take comfort and courage from these words and this feeding.

 Amen.

WHAT WE DO AFTER WE SAY WE BELIEVE.

twitter_jesus

What does the life of a mature Christian look like to an observer? We ask people to grow in Christ. Actually this is exactly what we tell them when they are welcomed as newly baptized Christian, “We receive you into the household of God, Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” [BCP 308]   That is lovely, but now what? So the next Sunday what would the newly baptized do? In service of clarity, let’s name our brother Arthur.

The first thing Arthur does the next Sunday is that he rolls out of bed and gets ready for Church. This is the day when the largest number of his new community gathers. They do what Christians have done since that first day of the week, when Mary told Peter the Lord is Risen!

July 17, 2013 009

The Holy Thanksgiving is word, read & expounded and the sacred meal feeds the soul and equips Arthur to be a sign for others of what he received. If indeed he encounters the risen Jesus in the breaking of the bread, it is the single most important act of Arthur’s week.

Fed and equipped, now Arthur sets off into the marketplace on Monday morning. He is not a morning person, so he eats a bagel as he drives. He thinks about a report due that afternoon while listening to talk radio. Arthur arrives at his workplace having left parts of his psyche over half of East Memphis.

Having lost his center, he now is off and running; the day is a blur of emails, phone calls and demanding customers on every side. After a late consultation with his boss about a matter, he is on his way home by half past seven. He rushes to the drug store to pick up a prescription before it closes. By eight o’clock Arthur is home, settled into his chair eating a burger he snagged just past the drug store. He is exhausted, so much so that he does not sleep well.

Tuesday is another day, so what might Arthur do differently this morning? He rises earlier this morning, and while he has to get moving he is not as rushed. On the drive to work, the radio off, he thinks, actually he is praying, but he thinks he’s just thinking. He considers the challenges of the day and where the troubles may rise. Asking God to give him grace for the doing, he arrives at his office with almost all his psyche intact.

mission st clare daily offices

Mission Saint Clare

After greeting his co-workers, he goes into his office, shuts the door and fires up his computer. Getting online he surfs to the Mission of Saint Clare. On this site, the good Franciscans (Episcopal, by the way) make praying Morning and Evening Prayer ridiculously easy. Arthur follows the order for Morning Prayer from the prayer book, and all he need do is find the screen and add prayer. Having now centered in only 7 or so minutes, he is off and running. Tuesday goes better than Monday.

On Wednesday he meets with a few men from Saint John’s who meet weekly for lunch and Bible study. Though he is new to the group they are welcoming and clearly care for each other and there is a sense of trust in the room. He decides he will make this group a regular part of his week.

On Thursday he is out of the office on the road all day but arrives back in Memphis in time to make his appointment with one of the priests in their office. Arthur is not sure exactly what this is about but is interested in learning more. The priest explains that he wanted to sit together and see what questions Arthur had since his baptism. Arthur tells about his week and laughs when he tells how silly he felt at first praying in front of a computer screen. The priest tells him that the ancient practice is called constant prayer and quickly adds that all our thoughts are prayers.

“Well, God must have blushed after that driver cut me off in traffic on the Interstate this afternoon at Senatobia.” “I think we believe that God knows everything,” the priest says with a twinkle in his eye. “We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can somehow protect God from our meltdowns and outbursts. Just experiment by accepting that all your stream of consciousness is prayer. That way we can actually pray constantly.” Arthur is not sure about this but is willing to entertain the notion. He and the priest agree to meet one on one every other week on Thursday afternoon. In fact Arthur finds he is feeling a lot more relaxed on his drive home. The priest warned him that it takes more energy to keep the “rocks in the sack,” than to take them out. Maybe he’s right.

Friday is a catch-up day at work. There is a lot to do but Arthur takes time for the Clares. Even 5 minutes is better than nothing. In the afternoon he receives a call from his confirmation sponsor checking on him and inviting him to join him on Saturday morning to gather food for distribution. Arthur cannot do it but promises to help next time.

Saturday is taken up with errands, chores and preparing for the coming week. Arthur meets some of his buddies to watch the game, and even though they razz him for leaving early on a Saturday night, he goes on home, sober. It is much easier to rise on Sunday if you have no hangover.

Arthur particularly enjoys the music at the 10:30 Eucharist, and when the rector finished the announcements and before the peace, he asks if there is anything else. A man gets up, comes to the front and explains that a woman in the neighborhood near the church has broken her hip and needs a ramp built so she can come home from the hospital in a wheel chair. He needs help and it needs to happen immediately. “If anyone can help, I’ll be down by the pulpit after church,” the man said. While he is not all that handy, Arthur can hammer nails so he walked down, introduced himself and offered to work that afternoon to get the ramp ready for Monday.

When he finds the address and walks up to the house, three men are already there getting things together. Before they began to work, they stop and pray for the woman who lives in the house and that the ramp will not be needed for long. They end by offering this work to the glory of God and his work. By the end of the afternoon, the house has a sturdy ramp and Arthur, three new friends. We followed Arthur through a week of his new life as a Christian. This is of course fiction. That is a shame as I would welcome this man with open arms.

WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM SHADOWING ARTHUR?

SHOWING UP IS ALL THERE IS! Arthur has vowed to take maximum responsibility for his own soul. Everything follows from “showing up.” No one besides Arthur can make this happen. Clergy can will people to show up (making ourselves crazy in the process) but willfulness produces the opposite reaction, since protoplasm is perverse that way.

ANCIENT PRACTICES Early in the Christian experience believers discovered that certain practices nourished their vital union with the Risen Christ. One of the promises Arthur made at his baptism came directly from the practices described in The Acts of the Apostles.

Will you continue in the Apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? Book of Common Prayer [304]

These practices serve as a check list of sorts. When Christians put a behavior in each of these categories they grow and mature.

READ THE SCRIPTURES DAILY The literature on spiritual growth stresses the essential nature that reading the sacred texts has for maturing faith. At Saint John’s we are embedding scripture in everything we do.

On the parish website http://www.stjohnsmemphis.org, on the Saint John’s Reads page are Bible reading resources.

  • Also on the website in the archive of sermons.
  • The Libravox Project (free app on ITunes) has free audio Bibles.
  •  www.Amazon.com has free texts of Scripture for free download to your iPad or PC.

The important thing is to get some scripture into your inner life. Just a few verses and the Holy Spirit will begin to enlighten your soul.

CONSTANT PRAYER

Saint Paul tells us to 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

While this seems impossible, it is holy multitasking. It is possible to ask a part of our psyche to take up constant prayer to pray while we are working and tending to business.

The Jesus Prayer is one way to enter constant prayer.

  •  Mysteries of Jesus Prayer – Norris J. Chumley (iTunes).
  •  The Pilgrim (classic work on the Jesus Prayer) – unknown.

The Daily Offices of Morning & Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer has nourished Anglicans for centuries.

The Anglican Rosary

Anglican rosary

Anglican Rosary

Praying constantly requires a shift in consciousness. While it is wonderful to have a period of quiet in the morning before the demands of the day grab us, my suggestion is simple and requires a shift in consciousness. When we realize that our stream of consciousness is a conversation with God, then everything changes. As you go along, you will learn to recognize the different textures of thought and from time to time sense the presence of the Triune God.

SPIRITUAL COMMUNITY (INTENTIONAL GROUP) Find a place where you can be yourself and tell your story with the expectation that it will stay in the group. There are several groups at Saint John’s, and they welcome newcomers. If you can’t find one that suits you, then start one! The clergy can help you do that very thing.

ATTEND EUCHARIST WEEKLY Christians are malnourished. It is a common malady. While carefully planned liturgies are always to be the norm, entertainment is not the point on Sunday. None of us are there to passively watch anyway. The folk up front in Third Century street clothes are not performing for our entertainment; they are not the players and we the audience. In fact all of us are the players and God is the audience, as Soren Kierkegaard once said. Liturgy is literally the work (of the) people, and no one can do your work for you. If you are out of town, go to Eucharist. You can almost always find a parish, and they will be glad to see you.

SPIRITUAL MENTOR It is important to have someone trustworthy to share the thoughts of your heart. Begin by reading about this practice. Thomas Merton wrote a wonderful little book called Spiritual Direction and Meditation. That is a good place to start.

The director is one who knows and sympathizes who makes allowances, who understands circumstances, who is not in a hurry, who is patiently and humbling writing for indications of God’s action in the soul… In a word, the director is interested in our very self, in all its uniqueness, its pitiable misery and its breathtaking greatness {27] – Thomas Merton – Spiritual Direction and Meditation

• Choose carefully. The counsel of one who honors confidences and gives kindly and sensible advice is a rare gift. • Call your priest. Even if mentoring is not his/her charism they can point you in the right direction. • They need not be ordained,

 
Christ of the Homeless  - Fritz Eichenberg

Christ of the Homeless – Fritz Eichenberg

SERVE THE POOR

Ministry to those who cannot repay us is good for our souls. It may or may not feel good and even if does that will not last. I assure you of that. We are not going out to fix the poor. That is not to say that they have spiritual and physical needs that need meeting. We are to meet the poor as we would meet Christ, as he told us we could find him there. There are many opportunities in Memphis (and where you live). • Manna House – radical hospitality for the homeless • MIFA – Memphis Inter-Faith • Emmanuel Center • Hospitality Hub Call the office. Deacon Emma will be happy to help you find the ministry suited for you. I believe that getting our hands into the mire is as important for our souls as anything we accomplish for others. Money is needed. Hands are needed also.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens - The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, 1626

Sir Peter Paul Rubens – The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, 1626

TITHE The Tithe (10%) is the Biblical standard for giving. Do you give 10% before or after taxes? That is up to you. Most people cannot give 10% at once so how to get there? The way forward here is to begin to give proportionally. If you are giving to the church already, take the dollar amount you gave last year and turn it into a percentage of your income. Whatever that is, you can move toward a tithe in stages. If you have never given before, decide on the percentage you can give and then move toward the tithe.

It is interesting that our Lord didn’t say, “You can’t serve God and the evil one.” He said, “You cannot serve God and money!” Our Lord knew money was his chief competitor. It is good for our soul to give money a black eye by giving up control of ten percent. It can also do a lot of good.

Bernard preachingSHARE THE GOOD NEWS YOU ARE DISCOVERING There is no necessity for Arthur to set off and assault the unsuspecting passersby in the streets of Memphis with the Gospel. This approach is not generally received as good news.   What will happen is that Arthur will not be able to contain his excitement at seeing his life change for the better. As he feeds his soul, people will notice, and he will share his source of bread with his friends. The Right Reverend John Finney, Suffragan Bishop of Pontefract (retired) in his book, RECOVERING THE PAST: CELTIC AND ROMAN MISSION, warns us to get out of our heads and abandon our conflicts over doctrine. Few outside the church understand the arcane sensibility of doctrinal debate. It is foolish to fight about the hardware of the front door when the house is on fire. Here experience trumps doctrinal “facts”.

“Christians should be more prepared to explain the spiritual life they have already begun to enjoy than to seek to persuade others of doctrinal truth [43]”

GET MOVING It is easier to steer a moving than a stalled car. Walk to edge of the light/understanding you have, trusting that when you reach the edge of the dark there will be more light and further understanding. You will not know this until you move. I know it is true because I experience it almost daily.

John W. Sewell June 26, 2014 – Memphis, Tennessee

 

Deeper Wells Are Ours

“The unconscious comes to the aid of the conscious ego when it is grappling with a task that is beyond its capacity.”Anthony Stevens from Private Myths

What help could come our way if we were willing to pay attention to our dreams and visions. The resolute determination to avoid a meaningful connection between the inside and outside of our being almost rises to the level of what the Roman Church calls “Invincible ignorance” — the ultimately fatal decision to not accept the truth.

However, in the past year I have been in sustained conversations with men who are working with their dreams and I observe the amazing change in them as them as they take seriously this communication. I have observed one fellow getting “unstuck” in his career as he listened to the coaching of his sleeping dreams. He had never considered such work, but now calls me with reports of his nocturnal adventures.

I am more convinced than ever that soul work is the principal task of priests & deacons in parishes. It requires vigilance not to succumb to the tyranny of the immediate, losing focus of what is essential. The institution of the church no doubt needs maintaining but only if that maintenance supports the primary ministry of the Church the cure of souls. So long as Church leaders, lay and clergy, keep that in mind the institution thrives and souls thrive. As Saint John writes in Third John chapter one verse two, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” King James Bible

What if our life reflected the health of our soul? Would it look like Dorian Gray’s portrait?

Dorian Gray - Moniquil

Dorian Gray – Moniquil

Some of the problems of life do not depend on our personal functioning. Other people’s choices make a difference to the prosperity or famine of one’s life. However much of our dis-ease comes from within and Jesus warned when he said that what defines comes from within not what sort of food that is eaten.

 

 

RELIGION IS HARD-WIRED IN HUMANITY

Gertrud Mueller Nelson

Gertrud Mueller Nelson

There are practices that appear to cross all religious systems and are near universal means for spiritual formation. Prayer is a human enterprise limited to no one religious tradition. Prayer is universal and even how one prays is widely similar. Now in these days a curious phenomenon has appeared. the secular rationalist and dismissive secular American. has begun to unconsciously fashion faux ancient practices. I got my first cue from Gertrude Muller Nelson in her book, TO DANCE WITH GOD..

SHE WROTE “WHEN THE CHURCH GAVE UP FASTING THE CULTURE TOOK UP DIETING.”

1. What is a diet, but a soulless fast? Now, consider the ancient practices with a corresponding secular invention.

2. What is a vacation but a soulless pilgrimage without purpose or focus. It is small wonder that people return home more exhausted than before. A pilgrimage is a journey to the holy, while a vacation is avoidance of the self.

To Dance with God - Gertrud Muller Nelson3. What the Liturgical Year is the practice of faith, Civil Religion is to the culture. In the eyes of the ignorant they are the same, sharing Christian holy days. Think of it this way. Music in the West uses the same notes for all compositions. The notes sound the same even though as they are played in different keys. The culture rather likes the Baby Jesus (so long as he never grows up enough to meddle) and Easter is there but the focus is on bunnies and Spring rites. July 4th and President’s Day pass for saint’s days, and the flag, that civil totem is equated, even in the minds of some Christians, with the Cross. I love my country and I keep the flag as far from the altar as possible.

4. While constant prayer is a posture of faith, the call to continual communion with the Holy, the culture constructed a continual litter of stimulus important to nobody but forwarded by somebody to everybody with red-flagged emails, all caps, demanding instant access.

5. Tithing, the re-gifting of some of the abundance we have received from God is an act of faithful gratitude. April 15th and taxes are the shadow of the economy of heaven. If tithing were not tax-deductible would it long endure?

6. The Sacred Meal of the Eucharist has as its counterpoint Thanksgiving, that yearly Festival of Civil Religion. It is wonderful in its way, has vague Christian trappings but is firmly civil Religion.

7. Sabbath is a time but more an attitude of getting quiet before God has as its opposite: the weekend. I don’t think I need say more. One is holy and the other runs us ragged.

Only when the church discovers it own ancient practices will we have anything to offer the culture.  Until then the culture will go on making up unreasonable facsimiles of soulful practice. JWS