This past Tuesday I was at the red light next to St. Mary’s, and all of a sudden the car in front of me started backing up. There was someone behind me, so I didn’t have anywhere to go. I watched as the SUV in front of me kept backing up, and crushing my hood.
As if flood recovery wasn’t enough to deal with right now.
I’m safe, the car is drivable (which is good, because there are no available rental cars in Houston right now), and I now have a new friend.
Prayer — the heart of Christian practice — can embody the continuation of the movement of reconciliation, and can be an integral element of social and systemic change. In Ineffable Grace, Piero Ferrucci recalls the power of what prayer might do:
Prayer is not a request for God’s favors. True, it has been used to obtain the satisfaction of personal desires. It has even been adopted to reinforce prejudices, justify violence, and create barriers between people and between countries. But genuine prayer is based on recognizing the Origin of all that exists, and opening ourselves to it. . . . One can then communicate with this Source, worship it, and ultimately place one’s very center in it.
On July 4, 1992, my husband and I boarded a train in East Berlin, heading for Warsaw, Poland. We struck up a conversation with a young Polish woman passenger, who, immediately upon learning we were Americans solemnly said, "Today is the anniversary of your freedom." It was the sweetest declaration of our independence I could have heard, full of yearning and understanding.
How we take it for granted. And not just the politics of it, but the faith of it. Many American Revolutionary leaders held a deep faith in God. They boldly believed they were acting in accordance with their faith, guided by God to fight for freedom. They prayed for America to be guided by God too.
We Episcopalians love our liturgy and our “color coded” church year (as comedian Robin Williams so cleverly coined it). The liturgical calendar keeps us moving through the Bible, celebrates the major milestones and miracles of our faith, highlights examples of saints we might emulate, and so much more.
Better understanding of the “so much more” is found in The Liturgical Year – The Spiraling Adventures of the Spiritual Life, authored by Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister. The book is great reading for anyone desiring a deeper experience of each season and celebration. In plain terms, Chittister wakes us up to what’s going on each Sunday, explain that, “Each church year moves with measured rhythm in order to knit Jesus’ life and vision into our own personal journeys through time.”
The day after my grandmother died, my family gathered in from near and far. Late afternoon, into the evening, sitting in her kitchen and living room, we talked. Coffee was plenteous, a bottle of wine, one platter overflowing with cold cuts, and another with Entenmanns coffee cake. We planned for the funeral, started thinking about distribution of her worldly possessions. Mostly, we shared memories and stories. We laughed about her personality quirks, we sighed about our experiences of her support and care, and we reminded ourselves of the wisdom she had given us. The body of the deceased wasn’t with us in the house, but her spirit sure was there.
Decades later, I was priest of the Advocate when a beloved parishioner died on a Thursday afternoon. A meeting was scheduled at the Church that night. But we knew that our sorrow would prevail, so we announced that we would gather in the Chapel and hold vigil instead. We used Evening Prayer as our guide, read scripture, prayed the Litany at the Time of Death, and shared memories and stories of our friend who had died. We laughed at turns of phrase he had used, reminded ourselves of the ways he had inspired us. We mourned together, and were comforted by our shared memories and shared loss.
Nearly every morning, I enjoy morning prayer time with a group of friends. I think most of us are Episcopalians, but I don’t know for sure. We come from all over the United States, the Caribbean, and beyond. We read a meditation on the appointed scriptures for the day. We share our thoughts about it, enjoying the rich diversity of our experiences and vantage points. Sometimes we share memories or words to songs that speak meaning into the day’s subject.
We’ve done this so long now, we call each other family. Sometimes people share their worries, ask for prayer, or admit struggles and questions. In response, many prayers and words of encouragement offered. New people easily come into the mix and are welcomed. Anyone can participate.
In the last three months I've had the opportunity to attend three retreats. The first was a two-day spiritual retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in upstate New York. This was a time for prayer, worship, guided reflections and, most important, silence. All the participants relished the time together to unplug.
The second retreat was a board and conference planning meeting for two groups that meet primarily by conference call. We met at the Maritime Institute in Baltimore, Maryland from noon on Friday to noon on Saturday.
I don’t know all of the particulars about who and how the lessons of the lectionary were chosen, but it seems to me they must have been thinking about Annual Meetings when they chose the ones for Sunday, January 29, this year.
From Micah: “O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
From Psalm 15: “Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from his heart. There is no guile upon his tongue; he does no evil to his friend;”
What are you doing on Friday during the inauguration?
More importantly, what will your church do?
Many of us have probably read about the debates within the Episcopal Church: Should we pray for the president-elect by name? Should Washington National Cathedral host the inaugural prayer service? Should the cathedral choir sing?
People of deep faith and strongly held convictions have expressed a variety of answers to these questions. I am not going to offer my opinion here. It isn’t the place.
Instead, I’ll repeat the question: On Inauguration Day, what will your church do?
Teams that work well together understand that each member must respect the others’ opinions and priorities. Together, they find and honor what they value in common.
As you plan the first meeting with a “new” vestry, consider this exercise that helps identify shared values. It also serves as an ice-breaker that goes much deeper than, “Please state your name, how long you’ve been attending St. Swithens, and your favorite liturgical color.”
My church didn’t have the usual children’s Christmas pageant this year, but we certainly did rejoice in evidence of God with us. The third Sunday of Advent included 5 Baptisms and 11 Confirmations, Receptions, or Reaffirmations! It was a bittersweet day, however, for while our new Bishop came to help us celebrate, we also bid a formal farewell to our Rector who is retiring after ten years of faithful, fruitful ministry. Whew! There was a lot going on.
Today, we vote. And hopefully, we pray.
I have heard time and again from people that they’re so frustrated with this election season, with the vitriol and mud slinging, that the only thing that’s left to do is pray. And I agree. Except on one important point: Prayer is not the last resort in an untenable situation. It’s not what’s left when we’ve mustered all of our own strength to muscle a problem. It’s not scraping the leavings off the turkey tray.
God doesn’t say to work really hard, implement all of our own solutions, then try a few suggested by others. And when all else fails, pray.
On October 11, 2016, Christian author and pastor Max Lucado posted his prediction for November 9 on his website. Lucado acknowledged that folks are “ready for this presidential election to be over,” adding, “There is a visceral fear, an angst about the result.”
More about Lucado’s prediction in a minute. For now, the election isn’t over yet. A couple of weeks ago I was asked to pray an invocation at a community meeting. I went to my go-to source and found a prayer that has been in print since at least 1928. Please join me in this prayer “For our Country” today and long after November 8:
"Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." Many Episcopalians strive to accomplish that with each use of our beloved liturgy. We enliven the treasured words with beautiful music that inspires us to, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!"
In between our soaring Sunday worship services, how is your congregation helping people become familiar with Individual spiritual practices designed to draw us closer in relationship to our triune God? The power of these practices was discovered hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years ago.
The day moves along. I’m editing and answering emails, troubleshooting a print delay and catching up with coworkers, when a Post-it note jolts me back. Michael, it says, in purple ink. Check on status of the Advent app.
Without warning, I’m thrust back into grief, remembering that Michael can’t check on the status of anything anymore. He died suddenly about a month ago. He was 46. And it wasn’t fair. Isn’t fair.
Of course, death doesn’t play by the rules and only take the old, those who have lived long and fulsome lives. Sometimes it snatches a father and husband, a talented graphic designer who after a lifetime of searching found a place where his work was his ministry, his gifts an offering.
When Facebook feeds are filled with political vitriol, when newscasts are rated NC-17, when loved ones who espouse a different opinion want to convert you, pray.
This election season, perhaps like no other in recent memory, has left many speechless. Whether you back Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, we can find common ground on the lament that the campaigns have been ugly and the hate on both sides deep-seated and frightening.
For most of my ministry, people have been wringing their hands about the decline of mainline churches. From my first days of service as a priest, I heard people say that we’re just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The image prompted a cartoon in six frames: As the ship disappears into icy waters, one could hear words from the top deck, one word per frame: We’ve… never… done…it… that…way.
I’ve wondered about the decline. Does it have to do with style of music or liturgy? Is it due to a lousy spirit of welcome? Is it about formality among the frozen chosen? Does it have to do with divisions on social or political issues? Or with indisputable hypocrisy, with shortcomings and abuses by church leaders, too many to number.
The fall equinox is here. Days are growing shorter, and even drought-scorched Los Angeles is showing signs of cooling down.
It’s been an overwhelming summer. The unrelenting violence around the nation and the world has gotten to me. Police shooting people. People shooting police. People on trains, in airports and hospitals, celebrating at weddings, seeing their lives turned suddenly to carnage. Earlier this summer, a mom and her 4-year-old daughter shot to death on the way home from the grocery store two blocks from a church I served. Today, news of four people shot, two killed, a block from another church I served. Trouble here, there, everywhere.
Amid the various back-to-school traditions of churches, one congregation has struck gold. They tap into the community’s strong support for the schools – and particularly for its athletics – by offering yard signs: Pray for a Pirate. Pray for a Titan. Pray for a Panther.
In the week before the special school kick-off Sunday service, the church’s front lawn is full of these signs – a powerful testament for passersby of the church’s connection to the community. Who doesn’t want to pray for young people as they return to school?
The church also invites a few student-athletes to speak during worship about the role that faith plays in their lives.
Maybe it comes with the job. I couldn’t help but notice the ways people prayed at both political conventions. There was a good deal of what I call horizontal praying going on. What do I mean by horizontal praying? Though the message is bracketed with a “Dear God” and an “Amen,” it’s really meant to make a point with those hearing the prayer, for example, the prayer at the dinner table: “Dear God, help my sibling, spouse, parent, child to stop being such a jerk. Amen.”
In the past two weeks at the conventions, I heard some beautiful prayers. I also heard some prayers I thought were really political speeches. Some seemed manipulative. A few seemed heretical. After a long time of trying to sort through the nexus of faith and politics, I am finding this election cycle distinctively vexing and perplexing. How about you?