“Neurosis is suffering that has not found its meaning.” Carl Jung
“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 on the essential task at hand. The institution of the church no doubt needs maintaining but only when that maintenance supports the Cure of Souls, as the ministry of the Church. So long as Church leaders, lay and clergy, keep that in mind the institution thrives and souls are augmented.
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.” (KJV)
Even as your soul prospers, 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 can make a difference in 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.
John Sewell 2010©
The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple is not one we know well. So, let’s talk Theology: The Presentation marked on February 2nd is the other half of the Annunciation marked on March 25th (9 months from Christmas
Gabriel – Annunciation of great joy – He is Messiah & Virgin born
Anna & Simeon – Presentation of great suffering – He will redeem his people at great cost.
The reading from Hebrew Scripture is from Malachi, the last of the prophets. He writes, “. . . and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”
The prophet tells the House of Israel and us two things: 1. The Lord is coming and 2. He is coming to the temple.
In the 1st Century the longing for Messiah was keenly felt in the era of Roman occupation. The temple of that period, the third temple was built by King Herod, the Roman puppet king. In 19 BC he began work on a new temple at Jerusalem. He did this to win favour with his subjects and to impress the Roman world with his splendid building. The main building was finished in ten years but work continued for the next fifty.
The temple itself was covered with so much gold that it was a blinding sight in the bright sun. The temple platform was extended beyond the hill to enclose an area of 35 acres. I have read that 24 or so football fields would fit on that vast platform. It could be seen from outer space. At its southern end, it stood 100-150 feet above ground level. A covered cloister ran right around the outer courtyards.
The Temple was laid out in concentric courtyards.
- The main entrance was from the south, and led to the Court of the Gentiles. Anyone could enter this part of the temple. [Notices in Greek and Latin forbade non-Jews to enter the inner court of the temple.]
- The next court was the Court of the Women. This was as far women were allowed to go into the temple itself. It was here where Mary and Joseph stopped.
- Men could go further, into the court of Israel.
- The inner court was limited to priests only.
- In the center of the complex was the Holy of Holies where only the High priest went once a year on the Day of Atonement.
The point I want to make here about Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple, is that it is nothing like anything we have ever seen. You may think this is sort of like a baptism since we tend to view the Scriptural setting as identical to our own.
Not so, put that right out of your head.
Going to the Temple was less like going to Church than going to the Fair!
The centerpiece of temple worship was the ritual slaughter of animals: sheep, goats, bulls, and if you couldn’t afford four-legged animals a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. By this time the Jews were no longer a nomadic people, each family with their own flocks. But you still needed animals for sacrifice. A thriving business grew up supplying animals for sacrifice. [You recall that Jesus did something about that but that is 33 years in the future.] So:
- You bought your animal, got in line and when your time came you presented your beast to the priests.
- They killed the animal and it’s blood poured down a special drainage system designed to drain away the vast amounts of blood spilled every day.
- The outdoors altar was a slaughter assembly line with the Sun shining and the animals bellowing.
- Some of the meat went to the priests;
- Some of it was used for your family ritual meal, while the remaining parts were burned.
- It was a bloody, smoky, smelly place.
- At the same time worshipers were praying out loud,
- Choirs were singing psalms
- Religious scholars were holding forth to their students in the porches around the courtyards.
Going to the temple and going to church have little in common unless we open a stock yard at the Cathedral and hold graduate classes in theology and choir rehearsal at a continuous Pentecostal revival and barbecue!
“ . . . And the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple!” Certainly Simeon knew the words of the Malachi. And then it happened one day, not perhaps the way he had imagined but nevertheless it happened. A couple came into the temple to make sacrifice, as required by the law, for their first-born son. Most families sacrificed a sheep or a calf. The law made provision for people of less means. They could get by with a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
The irony is that all the crowds that thronged the temple that day did not discern the presence of Messiah, the very one that they desired. They were so busy doing what was required that they missed the great day, when the Son of God had his coming out, presented to all the world and only two eccentrics whose eyes were fixed, looking for God, saw him.
The Spirit gave Simeon the gift of recognition. So Simeon spied them and his heart, long trained to look for Messiah, discerned in the face of the little one, the face he had longed to see: the face of the holy one. Taking the babe in his arms, he blessed God in the words we sing at evening prayer or often at the burial of a Christian, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”
Anna, eighty-four years old, who lived in the temple and worshiping there fasting and praying day and night came in. She too recognized the child as the promised one, and began to tell the news to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.
This Day is also called Pro Orantibus [For those who pray] These two old people, Simeon who prayed and dreamed, Anna who prayed and fasted may have been half blind with age but the eyes of their imagination were clearly and sharply focused.
Mark Twain once said, “
“You cannot trust your eyes, if your IMAGINATION is out of focus.”
If Renewal Works has taught us anything it is that while everyone owes God One soul, the care and feeding of your soul cannot be delegated, hired out or left to force feeding by the clergy. It can however be neglected, starved and abused.
RenewalWorks is a process we are using to get our imaginations in focus! How?
- We are reading some scripture from day to day or at least regularly; not enough we believe but more scripture than we have in the past. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly! It doesn’t take much Bible to affect us! Embedding our lives in Scripture focuses our imagination!
- In the breaking of bread: To discern the presence of our Lord in the bread and wine. We believe that in this place we encounter the risen Jesus in bread and wine just as he promised. If this is true do you see it is the most important thing we do all week!
- In our own inner life I believe that God is speaking to us constantly in our prayers, dreams, visions, and hunches. But we are to busy doing our daily sacrifices of time, talent and ambition to even notice. It is only when we are willing to slow down and focus our imaginations that we can trust our eyes.
- In each other: God often seems to speak to me through the people in my life. Parker Palmer once wrote that, “Community is that place where the person you cannot stand always live.” It takes a work of imagination to see that we are all gifts of God to each other, especially those who irritate and scare us the most.
- In the faces of the poor and stranger: The Blessed Teresa of Calcutta spoke of Jesus in his disturbing disguises. She said that when she encountered him in the breaking of bread that she could encounter him in his most distressing disguises. Eyes with focused imagination see him and hear him, “If you have done to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters you have done it unto me.”
I ask you to take better care of your souls. Please call on us. The clergy are not paid to be Christians for you. The clergy are here as player-coaches. We are in ministry of equipped and coaches ministers. Please, Please, by the mercies of God come and join in this movement.
In our baptism we are given the gift of the Spirit, who penetrates history and existence in order to focus our imaginations will come into focus. With clear eyes it is easy to discern the Holy One in us, between us and to holy hands for the care those in need.
I see you. I see him in you. Look around you will see him too. To him be glory now and forever. Amen
Note: I am adding posts of documents I have written or found helpful in my search for a way to communicate the Gospel that makes a difference in people’s lives that is observable in time. I welcome comment. JWS
Over the past four years I have mentored an Education for Ministry group. As an experiment I formed an all men’s group. There are now thirteen men in all four years studying Old and New Testaments, Church History and Theology. Relationships have formed and deepened as the groups met weekly for thirty-five weeks per year in three-hour seminars. I have observed that several of these men have developed into evangelists. They “rush”, as they call it, people inviting them to church but also into conversation about faith. Often the invitation comes because people notice how much these guys care about one another and enjoy each other’s company. The question is asked, “How do you all know each other?” When the answer comes, “we are in a church group together,” people are intrigued.
Being in relationship outside the group is powerful but the consistent gathering as community for fellowship, worship, reflection and study has a powerful impact on the maturing of each member. One of the group in Year One said, “I’ve been in the group six months and already I feel more comfortable suggesting grace before meals and leading it myself. I would not have done that before.” The work of evangelism has become a conscious part of these men’s life as they interact with friends and co-workers. Recently I inquired as to how this had happened. The consensus was that being together regularly and studying the Christian tradition gave them growing confidence in where they stood and in speaking a good word about the good news of God in Christ.
Marks of Evangelism:
- Evangelism will arise out of the community, which out the message of God’s grace. “The church does not aim at solving all the world’s problems, it is not the community of those who are perfect. It does need to exist as a community of people who have found a key to a wholeness the world does not have. It lives as a community of people who are a unifying force in the world.”
- Evangelism involves proclamation and celebration. Evangelism means communicating the gospel in act and also in word. The first task of all the baptized: lay, bishop, deacons and priests is to “re-present” Christ in the world.”
The story is told of the man who wanted to witness by his actions rather than his words to his next-door neighbor. He did just that and one day the man and his neighbor were talking. The neighbor said he had observed that there was something in the man’s life that made him happier and healthier than the neighbor and would it be all right if he as him a personal question? The man was thrilled thinking to himself, “here it comes the pay-off for my witness.” “Yes,” he said, “ask away.” “Well, here goes,” said the neighbor. “Tell me, are you a vegetarian?” Evangelism requires both act and word!
- Evangelism is specific, not general.
“It is impossible either to love or to educate anyone whom one has not taken the trouble to know and understand.” Evangelism is concretely related to the needs of those to whom it is addressed. The matrix of evangelism is relationship. Elton Trueblood once said to me that he believed in what he called the “principle of inequality” – the further in the Gospels one reads the more time Jesus spent with the twelve and less time he spent with the multitude. The work of evangelism has always been done one at a time.
Evangelism is oriented toward the kingdom of God.
“Evangelism is oriented not toward the past or toward some golden age of religion that once was. It is oriented toward the future. It is the encounter with the grace of God NOW that points us to the unfolding lordship of Christ over all of life. Evangelism is good news, not of the soul retreating from the world, but of the transformation of this world.” Fundamentalism is looking for a past that never existed except in the wishful thinking of those who long for life to be simple without contradiction or mystery. Such thinking makes those who think differently intolerable. “Contrary to the dominant asceticism of the past few thousand years, Christianity is a world-loving religion, and not one based on dismissing, fleeing, or distancing itself from the world. A church which claims to be opposed to the world is fundamentally alienating itself from God’s prodigious creativity at the heart of creation. Little wonder that many people today are abandoning the church.”
People are interested in knowing that there is a God and that God cares about them.
“One striking trait, found in a number of different Gospel sources, is that Jesus seizes the initiative in calling people to follow him. Three clear examples are given by the Marcan tradition: the call of the first four disciples (Peter, Andrew, James, and John) in Mark 1:16-20; the call of Levi the Toll collector in 2:14; and the (unsuccessful) call of the rich man in Mark 1-: 17-22. In each case, Jesus issues a peremptory call to follow him, a call addressed to people who have not taken the imitative of asking to follow him.”
Following the spirit of Jesus we invite people not to follow us but to join us in following him. My suspicion is that we are sitting comfortably (more or less) in our pews waiting for people to come to us when they are waiting for a call that in many cases never comes.
“Every child, and the child in every one of us, is ready to plead: Tell me a story. For the role of stories is to explain life, and the good stories, in their very substance and in the structure of their language, become revelation.” — Andrew M. Greeley
Being and Doing
The EfM group spends time together in study, fellowship, reflection and worship but they also spend time doing. Most of the group serves as ushers. Four of the groups are vergers. Five are lay Eucharistic ministers. They also serve on the also unique parish organization the gravediggers guild.
The Chapel of the Cross has an ongoing churchyard where members can be buried. Almost a decade ago I began the practice of digging the graves by hand. This has grown into a powerful “formational tool; no one could hire these men to dig a hole in the ground. But what they could not be paid to do they choose to give as a gift. It is a formational tool because it cuts through much of the cultural denial about death. It is difficult to be in denial about your mortality standing knee deep in someone’s grave. It is always good when the work of the church points people toward the eternal issues of life and existence.
 A theological education for laity administered by the Program of the St. Luke’s Seminary,
 Evangelizing Neopagan North American, Alfred C. Krass
 Can Christians Be Educated Morton Kelsey, ed. Harold Burgess p. 12
 Evangelizing Neopagan North American, Alfred C. Krass
Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics
By Diarmuid O’Murchu [p. 75]
 A Marginal Jew Vol. III: Companions and Competitors by John P. Meier, p. 50