Feed the Hungry, God Directly. or Feed the Hungry God directly?


Non-duality Marshall

My life as a Christian pastor has convinced me that most religious people hunger for first-hand experience of the Divine. They are not very interested in religion with its doctrines, rituals, commandments and bureaucracies. They will not settle for church programs, self-help workshops or spiritual novelties. They do not need more spiritual books on their bookshelves or more spiritual insights in their minds. They may put up with organized religion and spiritual teachers, but only if they might lead to a genuine spiritual encounter.

Davis, Marshall. Experiencing God Directly: The Way of Christian Nonduality (Kindle Locations 53-57). Marshall Davis. Kindle Edition.


July 24, 2016

Lately, I have been listening to an audible book by Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy 

Ryan became breathtakingly successful in 2006, when at the age of 19, he became the youngest executive among Hollywood Talent Agents.  By 25 he wrote a bestselling book, and a TV show was optioned, based on his story.  He began to believe his own script, believing that he had produced all this in the power of his ego carefully editing out his own failures and mistakes. Then in 2014 his 3 mentors who meant everything to him each crashed and burned.

Ryan Holiday

These were the people I had shaped my life around. The people I looked up to and trained under. Their stability— financially, emotionally, psychologically— was not just something I took for granted, it was central to my existence and self-worth. And yet, there they were, imploding right in front of me, one after another. The wheels were coming off, or so it felt. To go from wanting to be like someone your whole life to realizing you never want to be like him is a kind of whiplash that you can’t prepare for.

How did this come to pass?  Ryan continues.

The ego we see most commonly goes by a more casual definition: an unhealthy belief in our own importance. Arrogance. Self-centered ambition. That’s the definition this book will use. It’s that petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility— that’s ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent. It’s when the notion of ourselves and the world grows so inflated that it begins to distort the reality that surrounds us. When, as the football coach Bill Walsh explained, “self-confidence becomes arrogance, assertiveness becomes obstinacy, and self-assurance becomes reckless abandon.”

In this way, ego is the enemy of what you want and of what you have: Of mastering a craft. Of real creative insight. Of working well with others. Of building loyalty and support. Of longevity. Most of us aren’t “egomaniacs,” but ego is there at the root of almost every conceivable problem and obstacle, from why we can’t win to why we need to win all the time and at the expense of others. From why we don’t have what we want to why having what we want doesn’t seem to make us feel any better.

We think something else is to blame for our problems (most often, other people). Especially for successful people who can’t see what ego prevents them from doing because all they can see is what they’ve already done. With every ambition and goal we have— big or small— ego is there undermining us on the very journey we’ve put everything into pursuing.

Hang on to your egos, I’ll circle back in a few minutes.

Following Jesus must have been a heady experience.  Most of the disciples were working class folk with a couple of exceptions, but even then there were no blue-bloods.  Imagine how it was the first time Jesus sent them and others out in pairs and told him to get busy doing what they had seen him do all over Galilee.  They proclaimed the Kingdom of God, they taught, they healed and they cast out evil spirits.  Everybody thought they were pretty important (and so did they).

The wanted to be like Jesus for all the wrong reasons.

So his disciples watching this asked him to teach them to pray and. he taught them what is called the Lord’s Prayer.



 Robert Farrar Capon, “Parables of Grace” – “It begins, simply, “Father” a term of relationship which is natural rather than earned.  Then Jesus tells the disciples and us to pray for the food they need for each day.  Notice that nothing in the way of human achievement is requested. The heart of the prayer is, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone indebted to us.”  We receive forgiveness because Jesus died for our sins.

And lead us not into trial (insert your most recent one here). Life is a web of trails and temptations, but only one of them can ever be fatal, and that is the temptation to think that by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can have life.  But that will never work.  If the world could have lived its way to salvation, it would have, long ago. The fact is that it can only die its way there, lose its way there.  The precise temptation, therefore, into which we pray we will not be led, is the temptation to reject our saving death and try to proceed on our own living.  Like the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, that is the one thing that cannot be forgiven, precisely because it is the refusal of the only box which forgiveness is ever delivered.”


friend at midnight

 To make his point about praying clearer, Jesus then tells a story: ”It’s like,” he said, “you are sound asleep in bed when the doorbell rings. You look at the clock and see that it is nearly 2:30 AM.  Peeping through the curtain you see your college buddy, whom you have not seen in years standing at the door.  He needs to spend the night and has not had a thing to eat all day.  You’re glad to see him, but you have not gone to the grocer all week and all that is in the fridge is a head of dead lettuce and a bottle of good champagne.

What to do?  “Well,” you think, “I could go next door to the neighbor.”  So in your robe and bare feet you paddle over next-door and ring the bell. Your neighbor first doesn’t answer the door, no doubt hoping that you will go away.

So you lean into the doorbell and your neighbor’s sleepy and irritated voice comes on the intercom by the door.  “What on earth do you want at this hour?”  You explain your unexpected company.  He says that this is not his problem, and furthermore his baby with the colic has just gone off to sleep in his bed and he doesn’t want to get up and wake the kid.  Off goes the intercom.  You STAND on the doorbell!  If your neighbor will not get up because you and he are golfing buddies, he will get up and get you what you need because of, as the scripture puts it, your PERSISTENCE.


The word persistence is not really the best translation.  The better translation would be shamelessness or lack of shame.

Capon says, “What is this shamelessness but death to self?  People who lead reasonable, respectable lives, who are preoccupied first and foremost with the endless struggle to think well of themselves – do not intrude upon their friend’s privacy at midnight.  And why don’t they, because that would make them look bad.  But if someone were dead to all that – if he could come to his friend’s house with nothing more than the confession that he was a total loss as a host (or anything else) – then precisely because of his shamelessness, his total lack of a self-regarding life, he would be raised out of that death by his rising friend.”


 In the reading from Genesis for today God tells Abraham that he is going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness.  This is a problem for Abraham because his nephew, Lot, lived there.  “I’m going to nuke’em,” says God.  Abraham said, “Suppose there were 50 righteous men in the twin cities? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be it from you!  Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?” [Jews talk to God with an intimacy that few Christians ever muster].  God said, “If I find at Sodom 50 righteous, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”

3 angels of God

Abraham knew the twin cities so he thought to himself, “I’m not sure there are 50 righteous men in the city limits.”  So he begins a shameless negotiation: “What if there are only 45 righteous?”  God agrees; 40 – God agrees; 30 – God agrees; 20 – God agrees.  “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more,” said Abraham peeping through his fingers, “If there are only 10 righteous men, will you not destroy it?”  God agreed and went his way.  (I wonder if God got out there before he gave away the farm.)

Just like the man caught at midnight without a thing to serve his buddy, Abraham is shameless.  Why did Abraham risk such shameless behavior?  Because he knew his God.  As the Prayer Book puts it in the Rite One Eucharistic prayer, “You whose property is always to have mercy.”  This merciful God is our Abba/Father.


 We can define prayer as an endeavor to behold what is real.

That brothers and sisters is the only antidote to the Ego-centeredness we call sin.

What is real then to those who accept the good news of God in Christ? What is real is that Abraham and the man with the empty larder and, yes, we also are invited into a shameless and bold relationship with the Holy One of Israel.

Paul, writing the Christians at Colossae, spells out the invitation, “When you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him though faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.  And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.  He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.”

 We cannot make it on our own; therefore we are invited into a life of shameless reliance on God.  God desires that we pray not to pester him into doing what he would not do unless we whine long enough. Our shameless – boldness rises from our being dead in ourselves and alive in the power of Jesus and his resurrection.  It is a case of, as the Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous puts it, surrendering to win.  It is a matter of life and death that we learn that God really loves us.  He promised that He would never abandon us or leave us.

Let’s live like it, maybe?

To him be glory, now and forever. Amen


Prayer & Fasting: the Least & Most We Can Do!


Note:  This is the text of a letter read at services today.  This same letter went out to parish via email went this afternoon.  Join us, please.  John+


July 10, 2016


Beloved in Christ Jesus,

These past two weeks have displayed the depth of anxiety in the very ground of our nation. Chronic anxiety promotes polarity, such as seldom seen in the history of this republic. We are tempted to the sin of despair. The shootings and deaths in recent days reveal the terrible wound in the body politic.  The body of Christ has a vocation to pray, fast and proclaim healing for racism, tribalism, and all “isms” that would prey on souls in our nation.

As Rector of Saint John’s, I call on the brothers and sisters of this household of faith to spend Monday, July 11, 2016, in fasting and prayer. If possible, please fast from dawn until sundown. If not that, please fast the noon meal. Your clergy will join you in fasting and prayer for Memphis and West Tennessee. The church will be open for prayer during the day on Monday.

Your clergy will join Memphis clergy brothers and sisters at Hope Church for prayer from 6:30 – 8:30 Monday night. Please invite any who will to join in this day of prayer and fasting for the good of our souls and the healing of our country.


John Sewell,

Rector of Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee 38111

The Wisdom of Meister Eckhart


Eckhart 2

The Generosity of Infinite love in an act of love, creates us in the image and likeness of love for love sake alone, moment by moment, moment by moment. The generosity of God is poured out into our life such that we are the generosity of God. Apart from and other than the generosity of God we are nothing, we are nothing, we are nothing at all.

– James Findley – Mesiter Eckhart’s Living Wisdom : Indestructable Joy and the Path of Letting Go.

Second Sunday of Christmas

Jan 3, 2016 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee

©John W. Sewell

At the end of the day they discovered Jesus missing

Today, we read the only story  in the canonical Gospels of Jesus between Christmas Eve and His baptism.Jesus stayed behind. Discovered he was not with Uncle Cleopas & Aunt Mary. (It takes a Village). Mary & Joseph turned in haste to find their son.

Meanwhile, Jesus was drawn to his home place, the Temple of the Living God, he learned to call Abba, Father. There he found the Elders of Israel debating like a meeting of the Supreme Court.

Jesus in Temple

James Tissot

Suppose this kid finds his way into the inner sanctum of the Court and asked the Justices a question that went to the very root of the question they were debating. They would begin to ask him questions, the matter at hand forgotten, as they marveled and whisper among themselves, “Chief Justice matter,” there. Jesus asked questions, endless penetrating, perceptive and prescient, such that the scholars of Israel may have never asked.

Three days his parents looked.  Note three prophetic days here at the beginning in Jerusalem. In twenty-one years falls three days, mysterious days of resurrection will occur. But not yet.

Meanwhile Mary and Joseph have looked high and low for Jesus and just when his mother was afraid she would see his picture on a milk carton, there he was in the Temple carrying on with the fathers of Israel and holding own, mind you.


Jesus in the Temple – William Holman Hunt

How could you scare us like this? “I had to be about my father’s business,” Joe! What can you say to that? They went on home.

About this story, Saint Jerome wrote, “Jesus advanced in wisdom and grace, as his humanity was taught by his divinity.” Even Jesus had to learn the language of his Soul!

That being so, how can we not do the same? Morton Kelsey, in his book, Encounter With God, gives us some hints. He says:


Is there a supernatural that exists beyond our four senses? Most Christians in the country live functionally denying that such exists.

Question; “How many of you had a supernatural experience since Christmas?

Not sure? Afraid to say? Not sure you would know one if you had it? All over town in every church, if I asked that question, people would look at me like I’m crazy, even though the scripture readings for these Twelve Days of Christmas assume the spiritual realm exists!

Studies show that people outside the Church desperately want to experience God. They don’t come looking in the Church because they’ll not meet God there. People are leaving because they have not experienced God.


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. [63] Behold the Spirit – Alan Watts


A parish suddenly found itself with an infestation of mice. They were everywhere. One day the altar guild opened the drawer in the sacristy where the fair (translated: beautiful and very expensive) linen was stored finding that not only had mice invaded the holy place, but they had eaten holes all over the formerly fair linen, contaminated the drawer by their very presence.

The last violation was that about a half-dozen were still in the drawer finishing the job, because “muridae mus musculus” is nothing if not through. The startled mice leapt from the drawer scattering handmaidens of the Lord in every direction.

What had been annoying was now war! They looked for anything short of the nuclear option to get rid of them? After many suggestions, they asked the rector. He was then 40 years in service, “Oh that’s easy enough.

We’ll confirm them and we’ll never see them again.”

You got to show up, and keep on showing up.


We must be honest before we are able to face and grow through many things. Honesty in our affairs is hard enough, but honesty to ourselves in ourselves is rare as well as hard as we prefer to trust ourselves and suspect others. We must be right.


a. Keep a journal – 3 pages before we get honest.
b. Keep records of dreams. God still speaks to us from our unconscious.
c. Read and study the spiritual life.
d. Pray, experiment with prayer. Impression – speak to that one. Go another way.
e. Find a spiritual mentor.


“A spiritual mentor wants to know our inmost self, our real self. He wants to know us not as we are in the eyes 0f men, or even as we are in our own eyes, but as we are in the eyes of God. He wants to know the inmost truth of our vocation, the action of grace in our souls. His mentorship is nothing more than a way of leading us to see and obey our real mentor – the Holy Spirit that is hidden in the depths of our soul.” Thomas Merton – Spiritual Direction & Meditation


It is important to become as open to God as we know how and then expect him to meet us. As Scripture states if we draw near to God, will draw near to us!!”


The Youth of Our Lord – John Herbert

“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” Luke 2 : 5 2

2016 is our year to grow up and calm down in the power of the Spirit. We too must increase in wisdom and in years: in Divine and human favor. God by the Holy Spirit will make it so. Amen.

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.




four dimensions of Christian Spirituality
An outline of the concept of “monasterium”

By Douglas Brown (Reader)

 “Stand at the cross-roads and look :  ask for the ancient paths;  ask where the good way is; and walk in it.”    Jeremiah 6 :16

 “Renewal is often in the simple recovery of the eternally true”

  [This is not a definitive study.  It is only an outline, warts ’n’ all!  It will not say the last word!]

“Monasterium” emerges from a study of the Celtic Church. It does so largely unaffected by the shadow of the current “nostalgia” for Celtic times. It is arguably a “distinctive” of that Church, but may not be wholly unique to that era [the writer believes the idea reverberates down history in various ways – if only as echoes – while it is not exclusive to any one tradition].  However, because Celtic times are presently  “in favour” and able to avoid the “noise” of disputes concerning other periods of history, it does allow the concept of monasterium to stand clear.

Colonies of Heaven is not a Biblical phrase, though it sounds like it. Yet it is probably the best phrase to convey the idea of monasterium.

 Firstly, our “citizenship is in Heaven”, and there is no doubt that the Celtic view of life was rooted in the awareness of the heavenly as pervading the whole of life. We know this to be a “sacramental” view of reality. The Celts would say that heaven began about “one foot six inches above our heads”, but this did not necessarily mean a dual view as such, earth here, heaven there. There was as well a heaven/earth unity – especially as earth was increasingly affected by redemption and its transforming power: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Heaven wove its way into all earthly things and activity : yet as the sky is above our heads in a day to day sense, so heaven was “one foot six inches” above us. Our deistic temptations perhaps place heaven at a greater distance!


 Secondly, to lose sight of the awareness that the Celts had of heaven, is to lose sight of the dynamic context of their faith as it translated into works.  Our day and age places a kind of “taboo” on things heavenly, and hence there is a danger of decoupling what we see of the Celtic Church’s works from their faith. Equally, Heaven is best experienced in Worship, and worship was central to the life of the monasterium within and without. Even now one hears of guides at monastic sites dismissing ancient worship as though it were something peripheral at the best and something wholly cloistered, remote, isolated and irrelevant at the worst. But for the Celtic Church, worship that did not engage with the world outside was not worship. Earth was His footstool and that was the Altar – so they took their instructions from the Throne of God before whom they stood in worship.

 If worship was key, then so was Prayer. That also follows from prioritizing Heaven. Prayer, it can be said was nearly “without ceasing” – in the good times of the whole monastic movement.  Some argue that it was this constant prayer that first created Europe and then preserved it more intact than not from tendencies to destruction from within as from without. Hence Prayer was fundamental and critical and put beyond any possibility of mere lip-service.

celtic icon 2 Thirdly, “it is a model of the Church that looks outwards”.  It is true that the Celtic Church did not need to articulate mission statements :mission was simply assumed and implemented as part and parcel of their strategy. It was expected. [Many were not allowed to serve in the place where they were trained. Others had what seemed to be a kind of “wanderlust”]. It was the Celts who, by taking the Gospel to Russia, were one of the foundational influences in that territory. And their tactic was the same whether near or far. Send people, use “presence” and engage the surrounding districts by the “ripple” effect.

 Finally, to be aware of heaven, and God revealed in all things, was not to deny the position of Christ. The Celts would have resonated with Benedict : “our goal is Christ”.

The idea of Colonies of Heaven works out if we think, not so much of monasterium, but of “Minster”. The latter translates the former, in any case. But Minster Churches were Mother Churches, spawning offspring Churches. They were the core resource. One centre, one strategy, many tactics and many localities. [cf the Trinitarian resolution of the “One and the Many”]. Various kinds [as we would say] of outreach, by multi-talented, multi-task Teams [as we would call them], effectively assured the development of daughter churches as gifts were discerned amongst those new Christians at the new localities. [There is some overlap between Monastic cores and the later Parish cores – but we can leave that discussion on one side for now].

cross 3

Teams [usually at least three to begin with] were ordained and lay folk.

 The focus was LIFE, and the Celtic Church for all its austerity was renowned for its cheerful people. Also as Gregory wrote of Benedict, “for that holy man could not have taught anything but what he had first LIVED”.

After that the tools used to grow were : a ministry of presence and welcome, pastoral work, generous and constant hospitality [whereby some have entertained angels unawares], and generous works of relief, including healing. These were the “cutting edge” tools [though we might not think so, sometimes believing them to be more like blunt instruments] – at the “coal face”.

 The later phrase also points up that People came first. There was much interest in the discernment of gifts, because that decided the fit with the tasks to be done – and the fit with the Team. And because time constraints may be less critical, we can say that for today, the retired and aged have a distinct place and contribution!

cuthbert It was “collegiate”, a Family-like effort [cf, “muintir” the Irish word for Minster and meaning “family”, too], a Team in Community, a “collaborative” [chaplain-like] ministry. It was not individualistic. In fact, monasticism from the outset of the cenobitic movement was much like dealing with an extended family.

 The concept of monasterium  helps deal with both the fragmentation of society and the increasing differences and dispersion  that fragmentation creates. Some argue that we – as a society – are today moving into a post-modern tribal phase. Monasterium deals with that by a “sector” approach [handling the intense localisation inherent in tribalism]. It is wheel-like. From the hub activity radiates out by means of Teams and by the creation of cells [in homes at the outset] developing at their own speed and level. The spokes of the wheel need not be uniformly alike; variety and diversity are expressed but contained within an ultimate integrative and unifying ecclesiology [the Church of all Ages]. An over-riding collegiality and common commitment maintains flexibility. It is open door in approach – people to people.  It is all something like [the best in] Group Medical Practice!

Saint Hild

Saint Hild

Taking the Celtic “sacramental” view of reality, and linking that with their insistence that the Word of God is of greater “immediacy” [cf “lectio divina”] than we accord to it, then we can see what they meant by a “ministry of presence”. God present to us and presented to others!  And where we have a sense of being “driven” – and kept close to burn-out, the Celtic way was “stability, rhythm and balance”.

  Some questions arising:

  • How do we prioritize “collegiate” Prayer
  • What is our analysis of the situation confronting  the Church in our locality?
  • What is “our” locality?
  • Where boundaries on a denominational/sectarian models are likely to clash, can we network/work alongside other Christian Churches/institutions, without requiring months and years of negotiation?
  • Are we a “hinge” people, standing at the cross-roads and responsible for handing on to the next generation?
  • Can we do so – or at least start – on the monasterium model, and as a collegiate of largely U3A folk?
  • What might Team/s mean – for us?
  • Can we put together a strategy with tactics?
  • Can we proceed step by step, walking before we run?
  • What are the practicalities, and what might the timetable be?

Monasterium as Minster lasted until the Parish system took over. Yet the “idea” of monasterium arguably did not disappear entirely. After all, monasteries co-existed with parishes and the influence of monasterium as a modus operandi, while it maybe was not thought of in quite the original terms, continued to inform outlooks.

The concept of Parish tends to lay claim to “people-in-a-place”, and then it is claimed that Parish negated the effects of monasterium because the latter was less static and a more “central-core-and-outlying-cluster-of-cells idea”. Yet this aspect of the whole idea may be simply be expressed as “parish is monasterium geographically re-ordered”.  This is because the value of “place” is not in the sole purview of either monasterium or parish.

crossAlexander Pope asked us to consult the “genius of place”.  It is quite a universal subject. Humans particularly need“ place” whether religious or secular – let alone whether monasterium or parish. “We are inveterate place-makers, and the way we are placed shapes the people we become. “…Life is inherently local, plotted in space and time”. We are all within the GPS orbit…for Christians the “God Positioning System”! It’s an “inescapable concept” !

The way the Church handles “place” conveys a silent message. If community and locality are ignored, then the Church can unconsciously promote that sense of displacement that, in a secular context, she criticises. Common Prayer has always meant the Community of the People of God – in a locality [before being universal]. It’s a question of feeling “at Home” and “of having a Home to go to”. Identity is spatial and local. “Global village” is still subject to the need for local erstwhile village-type village!

Saint Gregory's MinsterNeither monasterium nor parish permit an “eclectic congregational ecclesiology”. The latter works against “being at home in a locality, and even, because of commuting to Church, being at home in a community of believers”.

Although the monasterium expansion is by what we can term cells, it’s not simply a Policy of “the more the merrier” – or “the greater the number of check-outs, the greater number of people processed” Lesley Newbigin has the last word – “ the multiplication of cells UNRELATED TO THE PURPOSE OF THE BODY, is what we call “cancer” – Monasterium relates cell development precisely to the purpose of the body.

Douglas Brown/28.09.02