God’s peace

Entrance to the peace garden, Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center

True peace doesn’t begin with being right. It doesn’t happen because out of that certainty, we work so hard that our side wins. True peace must rather come out of healing. It begins with our understanding that we ourselves must be healed. Only when the healing of our own hearts has begun are we able to reach out to bring healing to others. Our hope should not be that the right side will win, but rather that all will be healed. Another word for this healing is reconciliation:

“God … reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:18)

No surprise; during these last days of reflection with sister and brother clergy at a Roman Catholic retreat house, I’ve been thinking much about Jesus as I am coming to know him: 

  • He didn’t sanction violence for any cause. When, in the garden across the Kidron valley that last night, Peter drew a sword to save him – and what cause could be more right – Jesus told him to put it away. He never confused any “kingdom” on earth with God’s kingdom.
  • He sought out those who were suffering, who were different, who were scorned by others, and met them with compassion. He knew each person as an individual, and he loved.
  • He healed people, physically and spiritually, everywhere he went.
  • He sent his followers out to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to heal. It’s that simple.

Fifty years ago, his eyes to the world opened by his life of contemplation in the monastery, Thomas Merton was writing incisively about the nuclear arms race and about race. I’m sad to realize how relevant his words still seem today – but then again, I trust that we work in God’s time, and live in hope:

“If we realize that we are each bound to the other members of the human race in the Mystical Body of Christ, that we must love the human race as a whole, and love all the groups which constitute it, then we can scarcely fail to realize the evil as well as the stupidity of hating any part of the Mystical Body of Christ [add here that this applies to those whose ugly speech we call out as hateful, as well as those they speak against] …. There are persons who feel quite acutely the duty of individual kindness to persons of other races, and yet who seem to be totally unconscious of the injustice of race relations as a whole…who are violently antagonistic to any effort to reform the political, economic, social, and even religious oppression of the colored race. Would this be possible to any one who really believed in the doctrine of the Mystical Body?”

And …

“It is doubtful whether for most Christians the real underlying religious issue is clearly visible. On the contrary, at least in America, the average priest and minister seems to react in much the same way as the average agnostic or atheist. The interests of the West, the NATO, and the Church are all confused with one another, and the possibility of defending the West with a nuclear first strike on Russia [substitute here North Korea] is accepted without too much hesitation as “necessary” and a “lesser evil.” We assume without question that Western society equals Christendom and Communism [substitute here “anyone who opposes us”] equals Antichrist. And we are ready to declare without hesitation that “no price is too high” to pay for our religious liberty. The cliché sounds noble, perhaps, to those who are not shocked by its all too evident meaninglessness. The fact is that genocide is too high a price, and no one, not even Christians, not even for the highest ideals, has the right to take measures that may destroy millions of innocent noncombatants and even whole defenseless populations of neutral nations or unwilling allies.”

Finding God in Creation

We’ve spent good time opening ourselves to God’s presence in Creation this week. In my photography, that usually takes the form of awareness of the divine in the beauty of this earth, but we’ve gone beyond that these past days, seeking to experience ourselves as one with all that is.

To know yourself as part of something larger: a profoundly spiritual experience, whether God is mentioned or not. Also the beginning of compassion, which I’ll be preaching on when I return.

I so enjoyed the remembering evoked through this free-writing exercise from today’s session on oneness with Creation:

[When I think of a time in my life when I knew that I was a child of Earth, in wonder and awe, that I was standing on holy ground, I remember when … ]

I spent my days roaming the woods behind the houses across the street, exploring, seeking to know the expanse of it and every detail. We were drawn to the street at the bottom. We brought shovels and tried to dam it up. A good dam might last a few minutes but eventually they all were breached, sending earth and foam cascading downstream again. In quiet pools we found newts and pulled them out to admire them. Once I brought one home in a jar, wanting to keep its strange beauty for myself, but of course I couldn’t, for it belonged to the woods and to itself, not to me, just as I belonged to the earth and to myself, not to anyone else. Once I found a newly dead creature – I think it was a mouse – and I brought it home, too, its belly slit, offering an unusual opportunity to study its innards. But it was found by my mother, usually sympathetic to science, and she was not pleased, so back it went. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as free as I did in those woods, a child of the earth, running back and forth like any other creature. We moved away one day, and I grew up, and I did not return for many years. I could not believe how small my woods seemed then, because I’d lost my connection. Those woods belong now to some other child, I presume, and I to some other place.

If you would change the world, look to yourself first

Butterfly: Emblem of transformation. Douglas V. Steere, the Quaker sage, wrote that that only “saints” can change the world, that all social transformation must begin with personal transformation, that resistance to evil must “begin from within.” Certainly the cause was urgent enough; he was writing in the spring of 1943. Friends, we had better get busy.

Everyday miracle at Marriottsville, MD

From our morning meditation:

Rejoice in the glorious and sacred Giver of Life,

     clothe yourself with joy!

Feel your heart expand in gratitude,

     and learn from the earth of humility.

(from Psalm 119 in Psalms for Praying, Nan C. Merrill)

Turning point

Today is the anniversary of one of those odd little events that feel nearly inconsequential at the time, but in retrospect seem to have changed everything. On this date in 2007, I clicked to submit an online form enrolling in a course titled “Reconciliation & Restorative Justice” at a school I’d never heard of until shortly before I signed up to attend.

I’d been an MA student in theology at a small college in New Jersey, but a large cohort had graduated out of the program at the end of the previous semester, and for those few who remained, just one course was being offered. I believe it was called “The Mystery of Christ.” In those days I was most interested in Christian ethics, and it didn’t much appeal to me (sorry, J.) so I looked around for something else, and this was what I found. I went ahead and submitted the form, and I think it it was just a few minutes later that I received an email from Jim Murphy welcoming me to the General Theological Seminary.

What that place has been to me in the time since could fill volumes.

So I wonder, would I still be where I am today if I’d gone ahead with “the mystery?” Or would everything be different – leaving a whole huge part of who I am unexplored, undeveloped?

What seemingly insignificant decision will you make today that you’ll look back on in years to come as the very beginning of something huge?

As Dag Hammarskjold put it: “For all that has been – thanks. To all that shall be – yes!”

–“Disco Jesus” – stained glass window, Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

Instructed Eucharist

OPENING REMARKS

We’re going to do something a little different this morning. Instead of having the usual kind of sermon, we’re going to do what’s called an Instructed Eucharist, where we’ll stop at several points during the service and briefly explain what’s happening. I hope each one of us will hear something new in this – or be reminded of something we haven’t thought about lately – and I hope that might open us to a deeper experience of worship, today and going forward.

Let’s start by giving the thing its proper name. Our principal service of worship in the Episcopal Church is called Holy Eucharist in the Book of Common Prayer. We sometimes use other names, including Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, and in some Episcopal Churches you’ll even hear it called the Mass, which comes from the Latin for the words of dismissal: Ite, missa est, or Go, the dismissal is made. Because what we do here doesn’t end at the door. It continues with our being sent forth from church into the world to live what we’ve just experienced.

Eucharist comes from the Greek word meaning thanksgiving. The entire service is an expression of gratitude, and it’s not something the priest does while the people just watch – it’s something we all do together. That’s the idea behind the prayers that are said by the whole assembly, the hymns we sing, and all the standing, sitting, and kneeling we do.

We’ll begin by looking at vestments, which help to set what we do here apart from the ordinary, and also connect us to other Christians through time.

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First-Day Thoughts

Of course we did some church touring on our vacation.

In calm and cool and silence, once again

I find my old accustomed place among

My brethren …

There, syllabled by silence, let me hear

The still small voice which reached the prophet’s ear.

“First-Day Thoughts,” John Greenleaf Whittier

Third Haven Friends Meeting, Easton, MD

 

Bucket list

This sign inspired an interesting dinner conversation. He said, do something to help another person every day. I said, make sure people know how much I love them. I’m living some of my dreams now, and I’m grateful; what’s left? I do look forward to having a conversation with my baby granddaughter, and I’d love to see the Northern Lights …You?

Safe haven

The very best place in the world to be is in his arms, or hers. Dad is the most amusing fellow, full of funny tricks; Mom is the ultimate source of love and sustenance. From this vantage point she’ll work at catching the eye of everyone she passes; she doesn’t doubt that they’d be pleased to receive her smile and return it. I’m so grateful to have raised my children in a time and place of peace and plenty; grateful, too, that my granddaughter can view the world as a fundamentally safe place. But I cry for all the children whose world isn’t safe: the children of Mosul and all the war-torn places of the world; the children of South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen who don’t have enough to eat; the children who don’t have access to education or health care; the children whose parents fear gun violence, overdose, and all the other threats. So pray for the children, but remember too that these are all things we can change if we have the will to do so.

Past, present, future

Past, present, future

Often as not these days, I look at the morning news and wonder how we got here. The whole world seems to have changed, and not for the better. There is so much hate. So much. The headlines are full of it; where did it come from? Was it always there, hidden and now unleashed, or is this something new? And where do we go from here? Where is the activism that can change the human heart? Where is our hope?

Walter Wink, who has a lot to say about the powers in this world, talks about hope and prayer: “Hope envisions its future and then acts as if that future is then irresistible, thus helping to create the reality for which it longs. … Even a small number of people, totally committed to the new inevitability on which they have fixed their imaginations, can decisively affect the shape the future takes. These shapers of the future are the intercessors, who call out of the future the longed-for new present; they believe the future into being. In the New Testament, the name and texture and aura of that future is the reign of God.”*

I’ve heard it said that as much as anything, prayer changes us who pray. Wink holds that it really can change the world. Perhaps both are true; in that case, let us pray.

*Walter Wink, “Prayer,” from Engaging the Powers