Arriving on Easter morning, having bypassed Good Friday reduces the Day of Resurrection to a Rite of Spring consisting of plastic eggs and chocolate bunnies. – John Sewell
- Once you have reached the place of tears then you should understand that the mind has left the prison of this world and set its feet on the road towards the New World.
- It has begun to breathe the wonderful air which is there. It begins to shed tears.
- For now the birth-pangs of the spiritual infant grow strong, since grace, the common mother of us all, makes haste to give birth mystically to the soul, the image of God, into the light of the world to come. –Saint Isaac of Syria
I find that as the years pass, I have found tears. Much of my life, like most men, I suppose, a major tragedy was all that wet my eyes. It wasn’t that I was unwilling to cry, I simply couldn’t find tears. However, at this place in my pilgrimage to God, as I experience God, the more tears fill my eyes and grief my heart. Till we truly grieve our lives we cannot find joy, the joy that is ours in Christ. The burdens of others, hurt my soul. Weep with those who weep, we are told; I can hold another human being and as I feel as much as hear weeping, I weep.
I believe that I have heard another call, perhaps beyond the first. to weep with those who cannot weep. Weep for them until their tears, breaking the dam, fills the channels to their eyes. Water intrinsically flows through channels unseen until the day the flood rises and leaks out our eyes. On that day we become men and women for new growth always requires irrigation. JWS.
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
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
One of the best practices in RenewalWorks is to embed scripture in everything. The vesting room has a sign on the door about robing priests with righteousness, but the true embedding is in the heart. I find passages that I memorized back in Sunday School at The Anderson Baptist Church serve well and it comes back to from the recesses of my mind.
A passage that haunts my mind are the words of our Lord found in the…
Gospel of John 9:4,“I must work the works of him that sent me, whilst it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.”
Those words give my work a sense of urgency, not anxiety, but a focused energy. A year ago, I rose early to walk in my neighborhood. At four a.m. there are few folk around as I moved through the pools of light cast by the street lamps. I listened to the entire Church History and Martyrs of Palestine by Eusebius, some 35 hours or so. Several sections comprise long lists of Christians martyred via the most hideous tortures. One section lodged in my psyche. The authorities devised unique and awful punishments for belief in Jesus. For a time Christians suffered one eye gouged out, the foot opposite mangled, and a sentence to the copper mines. Soon a host of Christians was gathered there.
The presence of so many Christians, including several bishops, led to the growth of a Christian community with “houses for church assemblies,” 63 appointing its own bishop, 64 and, because they were denied written scriptures, listening to recitation by a blind Egyptian who knew them by heart. 65 It appears that those who became too old or infirm to work in the mines were allowed to live on, fasting and praying, in a separate settlement near the mines and this evidently became a special focus of the Christian community, led by the Bishop Silvanus and the blind “reader” John. 66 Despite a presumably high mortality rate, the community was periodically reinforced as new batches of Christians were sent there; in 306– 7, most arrivals appear to have been from Palestine and Gaza; in 308– 9 we hear of two groups from Egypt, one comprising 97 men, women, and children,,, —
Mattingly, David J. Imperialism, Power, and Identity:
Experiencing the Roman Empire – (Miriam S. Balmuth,
Lectures in Ancient History and Archaeology) (p. 189).
Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.
One story, a note in one of the ancient manuscripts has caught in my imagination,
“Many of them were Egyptians. The Greek adds in this place the account of one John, who had learned the Scriptures so thoroughly by heart, that Eusebius states, that when he saw him standing up and repeating portions of the Scripture to the congregation, he supposed he had been reading till he drew near, and discovered that he was quite blind.
Can you see it? A crowd of cripples, surrounding an old man with a ring of snow white hair round his bald head. Listening as if their very life depends on it, (cause it does) the company of the walking wounded hear the depths of the words”Let not your heart be trouble, believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms” or “Be not afraid, I have overcome the world.” Blind eyes shut he sees the Good News of God in Christ. Seeing eyes look beyond the damaged present to the world to come.
I join that gathering from time to time in my mind. At the edge I stand, unobserved, listening to the words of life from one who knows the price of faith. What if he had not embedded the Bible in his soul? What about me? If all I had was my memory how much scripture would I have?
“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.”
NOTE: I looked back through old posts today and found this one from 2007 and it speaks to 2014. As we press forward in the RenewalWorks process the discipline of holding the course and choosing passion keeps the fun going. Hang on for the ride.
I was going through my collection of periodicals this week and came across this quote in an article in the December 2001 issue of Fast Company a smart business magazine. Seth Godwin in the special issue on leadership after 9/11 said,
“If our faith in our system goes away, our passion disappears as well.”
That had resonance and my mind immediately applied it to the Church (as my mind does everything) and I realized that if I allow myself to get too caught up in the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’’ – to borrow a phrase – my passion disappears. Yep, that’s true and if it is true for me I suspect it is true for at least half of the Episcopal Church. That being said, I refuse to allow myself to be terminally distracted, choosing to continue in faith the way that I have begun. And so have the people of Saint John’s Parish.
“One canon, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of the Fathers in that period determine the boundaries of our faith.”
~ Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626)
- A more transformative encounter with God, especially in our common prayer, our worship, and our engagement with Scripture.
- A deeper life of discipleship, marked by personal spiritual practices that infuse all of life, not just time spent in a church building.
- A more compelling orientation toward putting faith into action, specifically in service to those in need for justice & peace, with clear articulation of opportunities to do that.
*Insert any denomination
From Lessons from Unlikely Sources: What a Market Research a Megachurch are teaching a few Episcopalians about Growing the Church – Jay Sidebotham The Anglican Digest 94.3 
“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?
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.
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.
3. 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