Some weeks it’s tough to keep up spiritually and emotionally with all that swirls around us. In the last couple of days we’ve seen images of devastation coming out of Oklahoma. We continue to be pummeled with disheartening world news and violence in our communities, even as many of us are still trying to process the Boston Marathon bombings, the explosion at a fertilizer factory in West, Texas, and the collapse of a clothing factory in Bangladesh.
As people of faith, our first response is prayer. Upon hearing about the latest tragedy or disaster we get down on our knees and pray. Or at least close our eyes for a moment at the next stoplight or post a prayer on Facebook. Sometimes we pray because we know it’s what we’re “supposed” to do; sometimes we pray because we can’t thing of anything else to do; sometimes we pray because it’s part of our ongoing and life-long conversation with God; and sometimes we pray because we know it matters.
Yet it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed to the point of “prayer fatigue.” We’re bombarded on all sides by tragic news, horrific images, and interviews with the bereaved, all of which contribute to an overall feeling of helplessness. As many of us are discovering, there’s only so much capacity the human brain has to respond to grief, sadness, and traumatic events. We could become hermits and spend all our days in prayer and, still, it wouldn’t be enough. We’d just be scratching the surface of the world’s needs. As we seemingly face crisis after crisis it’s easy to feel that prayer doesn’t matter or that it doesn’t change anything.
My day was not off to a good start.
I had taken my car in for a routine oil change and tune-up. Something unrelated had gone wrong in the process and now it refused to let the mechanic make it happy. It was entirely possible that I would be shopping for a new car before the week was out.
I needed to clear my head and do something positive, so I jumped in my loaner car and headed for the gym. I checked in, headed for the locker room, started to change…there were no socks in my bag. Seriously? No socks.
I’ll walk the dog instead. That will be good for both of us.
By the time I got home it had started to rain.
Now I’m really feeling sorry for myself.
I’m feeling guilty about every stupid little thing that’s going wrong because this particular bad day happens to be Tuesday, the morning after the Boston Marathon.
In the midst of it a wise friend said, “The relatively small problems of our lives don’t pause when there are these big tragedies going on.”
Nunca olvido ni olvidaré la invitación casi alegre a pesar del dolor y la preocupación, ese “sí, entre no más” proveniente de hombres y mujeres, de jóvenes y de personas de edad avanzada a los que visité como visitante pastoral voluntaria en los pisos donde se recuperan pacientes latinos(as) con enfermedades y complicaciones del corazón, y que en algunos casos esperan ansiosamente la llegada y la posibilidad de un trasplante de ese órgano que podrá salvarles la vida.
Mi entrada a esas habitaciones de hospital siempre va acompañada de las miradas de los/las pacientes y a menudo de las de sus familiares o amigos/as. Miradas a veces tristes, a veces alegres, a veces esperanzadas o, las más preocupantes, las miradas de haber ya como haberse dados por vencidos en la lucha por la vida. En todas las situaciones en las que se encuentran estos/as pacientes, es evidente que el poder comunicarse en su lengua materna los/las lleva casi de inmediato a un espacio personal, muy suyo, donde sus espíritus siempre agradecidos pueden compartir sin esfuerzo su fe en Dios y en el poder sanador divino que guió las manos de sus médicos(as) y enfermeros(as) para devolverles a la vida.
... in pastoral visits to single elderly Latino women (Spanish
There are a great number of elderly Hispanic women living alone in the United States. Many are forced to fend for themselves. In traditional Latino familial environments we tend to grow up and live in close proximity to our grandparents and other elderly family members, often living in extended households, so the reality of growing old alone is foreign to us.
In our Latino culture, as well as in many other cultures, taking care of an elderly person in the family home continues to be a common part of life. Typically a son or daughter volunteers to take care of his or her elderly parents. In part, they do it knowing that the greatest beneficiaries will be their own children. For Latinos, grandparents are ideally seen as treasure troves of knowledge and kindness.
When I enter the homes of the single elderly ladies that I visit to offer pastoral support, I regard their spaces as sacred repositories for their memories, lovingly gathered and faithfully kept. Every single corner is adorned with something that delivers visual pleasure; something that manages to keeps each woman company in her daily life.
...En visitas pastorales a ancianas latinas que viven solas. (English
Sorprende mucho enterarse que en este país haya tantas ancianas latinas viviendo solas, y más aún, que valerse por sí mismas a una edad avanzada, sea su deseo y determinación propia. No entendemos claramente esa realidad en la vida de muchos ancianos y ancianas en este país porque la mayoría de nosotros crecimos junto a los abuelos o junto a familiares que vienen a envejecer a nuestros hogares. En nuestra cultura latina y en otras varias culturas, cuidar del anciano o la anciana en el hogar familiar ha sido y todavía es una de las reglas de la vida. Uno de los hijos o de las hijas se ofrece y se encarga de albergar a sus padres entrados en edad. Y, en parte, lo hacen sabiendo que los que más se benefician son los nietos, las nietas, los sobrinos o las sobrinas. Para nosotros los abuelos y las abuelas son un tesoro lleno de sabiduría y dulzura.
Al entrar en los hogares de las ancianas que visito con el fin de ofrecerles apoyo pastoral me encuentro ante verdaderos museos del recuerdo, colectados amorosa y fielmente por la reina y señora soberana de su espacio sagrado. No hay rincón que no se muestre adornado con algo que prodigue placer visual, algo que acompañe de alguna forma el diario vivir de su dueña.
From Luke’s Gospel:
Jesus said: “The fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.” Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” For they no longer dared to ask him another question.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Luke 20:37-40 (NRSV) – December 6, 2012.)
“When those blue snowflakes start falling, that’s when those blue memories start calling,” runs a line from Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas. While most of us are getting ready for happy family reunions during the holidays, and clergy and liturgical ministers of all sorts are preparing for one of the year’s biggest crowds, we may forget that Christmas can be a time of great sadness for many. Mental health professionals note that the Christmas season may be one when many people avoid church. Millions of Americans suffer from the “holiday blues.” I know this all too well because December 21st is the anniversary of my mother’s death.
I love the holidays. I enjoy Advent candles and the Christmas decorations, picking out a tree, the midnight service on Christmas Eve. And, I occasionally find them stressful. There’s always a lot to do. As an employee of the church I’ve had to print all the extra bulletins, make sure we had plenty of candles and other advent supplies, and prepare for Christmas, in addition to my own personal Christmas preparations. Most years I had a long to-do list.
It’s at times like these that we should strive to be conscious of the needs of the congregation. It’s easy to get caught up in the tasks that await us or to focus on our own families and neglect the church family. This may not be true of everyone, but I have found that, as a church employee, when I have a long to-do list, answering requests from parishioners goes down on my list of priorities. I’m more worried about checking all the immediate tasks off the list then attending to the less concrete needs of the congregation. I can become more concerned with the Christmas bulletins rather than considering whether parishioners have the support they need during what can be a difficult season for some people.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Then he goes on to say a bit later to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your father in heaven.”
With the ever-increasing polarization of our society today (think politics, religion, etc.), it’s vital that we, as Christians, understand what it means to be a peacemaker. Christians are drawing lines in the sand. Dioceses, parishes, and vestries are being torn apart. Many Christians find themselves on opposing sides from one another. But a wise friend of mine taught me that an effective peacemaker doesn’t draw a line in the sand, nor do they stand on one side or another; rather “they take their foot and erase the line altogether.”
The Episcopal Church has ALWAYS been a body of all sorts of believers, actively trying to live out their baptismal covenant to “respect the dignity of EVERY human being.” Lately, though, many of my fellow Episcopalians are feeling like they don’t belong, and that’s sad. The truth of the matter is that we all belong. There IS room at the table for YOU, regardless of your political or theological stance, your sexual identity, your race, gender, etc. How can we promote peace among nations if we can’t promote peace in our own backyards or even in our own sanctuaries?
A few years ago, I was putting the Advent schedule on the parish website and had the impetus to make some other improvements to the site, but I managed to crash most of the pages of our website and a 404 error was generated when you tried to view it. That is, anytime someone went to click on that link, they saw, “404 error, page not found”.
Yikes. Thankfully, it only took me the rest of the afternoon, albeit panicked, to figure out my mistakes in the page code and then once again, all was right in our little patch of cyberspace.
When I saw the video “404, the story of a page not found,” a TED Talk by Renny Gleeson, a light bulb went on in my head. Not only for how I might redesign my 404 page to make it less annoying, but also with other areas of my ministry.
In his talk (a short four minutes, I highly recommend), Mr. Gleeson shares his insight related to how experiences, such as reaching a broken link, make us feel and, the power we have to manage that feeling. His examples of companies intentionally using humor, inspiration, and other creative means within the design their 404 error page illustrate ways to transform the annoyance of reaching a broken link to an experience that could even be fun, or at least not such a disappointment. Those moments become opportunities to build better relationships, or as Mr. Gleeson put it, “A simple mistake can tell me what I’m not or remind me that I love you.”
In so many ways, this is a fundamentally Christian principle.
The headline reads “Churches respond in many ways to help storm-battered communities;” reading the article, it is very clear that people are the church.
In this time of declining church attendance and the pressing need for money to maintain our aging buildings, it is easy to think about church as institution, as someone else. “Why isn’t the church doing more to recruit new members?” is an oft heard refrain as if the clergy or the vestry or the diocese, or someone, anyone, other than the speaker is responsible for bringing things back to the way they were.
As after any devastating storm, fire, or other disaster, people step up in service to others. Today, it is happening in the areas affected by Hurricane Sandy as people – paid and volunteer – work together to bring relief to those for whom ‘normal life’ has ceased to exist.
I encourage you to read this article by Sharon Sheridan, a reporter for Episcopal News Service. The people of her parish, St. Peter’s in Morristown, NJ answered an early call to serve as a warming and recharging station for people who had lost power. Recognizing that many of the people who were coming were hungry, the parishioners organized and began serving meals.
I spend a lot of time consuming information and entertainment, from television to news, blogs and books, music and podcasts and NPR. I’ve been following the election and watching the debates, as well. There’s always new information and new culture to absorb. It’s good to keep abreast of what is happening in the world, but sometimes constantly trying to keep up with the latest developments means that I’m never quiet, never really listening to the still small voice within.
Yesterday, however, I spent about six hours on a bus. I was traveling to Connecticut for a church function. The function was quite lovely, but I may have enjoyed the bus trip even more. While we traveled out of Manhattan and then through the hills covered in the fall colors, I read a little and wrote in my notebook, but I refrained from spending much time on my phone or listening to music on my earphones. For the most part I watched the passing countryside outside my window.
Small things matter. This is something that I am occasionally reminded of during the busy times of the year. Many church staff and vestry members are busy in the fall as new programs start up, and it can be easy to forget how important it is to spell someone’s name correctly or to make sure a congregational meeting gets into the Sunday bulletin.
Church and emotions are inextricable. At work we can pretend that nothing is personal, but in the church separating our emotions and the administrative details can be difficult. It’s easy to misplace a letter or forget a name when you’re working in a small office on a particularly busy day. Unfortunately, the amount of attention you might pay to the spelling of someone’s name may be connected to how they perceive their importance in the community. If your name is spelled wrong, it can feel as if the staff of the church don’t know or care who you are.
For the first time in three weeks, I stood without clutching a wall or bracing myself on a nearby table or chair, pain roiling up and down my back.
Pain plays a time-twist trick: when you’re in the throes, it’s hard to remember pain-free, and I start to fret that I might not return to my normal.
I don’t know what triggered the muscles in lower back and legs to clinch. But even my kids could feel the ridges of knots.
I did bed rest and pain medicine, heating pads and stretches. I tried toughing it out, only to fight tears when I couldn’t turn over in bed without a push.
But I don’t think I prayed (at least not more than a few "Oh gods" that came not from the heart but from frustration). And, I’m ashamed to say, it never crossed my mind to go to one of the healing services at our church.
Facebook has made birthdays fun again…. I’ll confess: I was looking forward to opening my Facebook account this morning, with the expectation that it would be filled with birthday greetings. I wasn’t disappointed.
Being noticed – and acknowledged – makes me feel good. It tells me that I matter. And today, as I enjoy the good feelings that come from this affirmation, I’m thinking about how we, as people of faith, send affirmations to others, especially people who are alone or lonely, scared, hurt, or sad:
I want a village to help raise my PK’s (priest's kids) – as long as they’re not defined by their parents’ profession.
I’m sure this is an issue for families of a variety of occupations, but there are some peculiar expectations placed on priest kids. Let’s be honest: it’s complicated when Father Joe is also Daddy. When your foibles and quirky comments make the Sunday sermon. Or when people raise their eyebrows when the kids say their mom is the priest.
We’ve all heard the urban legend about the two kinds of priest kids: the super-devout and the wild child. My husband and I are trying to let our kids find their own way, without superimposing higher standards because of their father’s vocation.
But we need your help.
Most days, our Facebook pages are filled with good news: the amazing dinner our friend cooked last night or all the exciting things everyone did this weekend. There’s pressure in our lives, exacerbated by social media, to put only our best selves forward, though we all know that this picture is a false one. Especially when we are feeling lonely or depressed, hearing constantly about fantastic our friends’ lives are can make us feel more isolated.
I was at a meeting recently with a friend in which participants talked about issues they were struggling with. There was something moving about hearing others speak honestly and openly about their difficulties, and the way they affirmed and supported each other. I was reminded of the importance of creating space in our communities to talk about the loneliness, pain, or fear we experience in our lives.
Is our fast paced, change driven culture compatible with congregational spiritual tranquility?
As Episcopalians we pray each week "Sanctify us also...that we may serve you in unity, constancy, and peace." - Holy Eucharist II
We pray for what it is we desire and what we most need.
How do congregations make urgent vitality and viability decisions at the most spiritually ripe time? Simply, congregations must experience spiritual tranquility and constancy.
How do congregations decide the spiritually ripe time to make their most difficult decisions?
Many Episcopal congregations are facing urgent decisions on the ways they can grow their parish, increase their pledges, and bring in more young families. Some Episcopal congregations have the added concern of asking if they should try one more growth initiative or decide if it is time to close their church building due to a steady decline in attendance and extensive operating costs. These are hard decisions that leave many Episcopalians with a mixed sense of dread and urgency.
[Post #2 of 5 - "Do You Recognize the Signs of Your Congregation's Spiritual Crisis?"]
Spiritual desolation occurs when we cease to experience and or question the reality of God's love for us. Augustine's words bring us back to our spiritual center, "our hearts are restless, until they rest in you."
Congregations in desolation are restless and experience extended periods of disquiet, anxiety and fear. They struggle with all their energies to merely keep their churches open, maintain some communal fellowship, and administer the sacraments. These congregations may experience communal fragmentation, mutual distrust, anger, severe judgment of others, and manipulation of truth for their short-term gratification. Congregations such as these are not available for alternative ministerial paths nor are they open to hear the call to new missions.