March 28, 2017 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: Musings on Lent
I was brought up as a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and became an Episcopalian in college. The season of Lent was therefore not something that was ingrained in me from childhood. I hope the reader can forgive any theological mistakes I make in this note.
It appears to me that there are traditionally two ways to approach Lent, penitence and atonement. Penitence is feeling sorry for what one has done. Atonement is taking actions to repair for what one has done. Penitence as manifested in action is usually expressed as giving up something: ice cream! Atonement is usually expressed in action as doing something more, attending more services, doing more charity work, etc.
I find I’m not very good at or interested in penitence. As it is, I question my actions too much already! And in my Quaker background I saw a lot of people who were so involved in a “simple” life, that they appeared to be the most “prideful” folks I knew. Giving up so they were purer than others. I just am not constitutionally fit to be penitential.
I’m a better fit for acts of atonement. I am now carrying around boxes of raisins (when I remember) to give when asked for a handout. If I don’t have a box I will give a dollar. In short, I’m trying to recognize the humanity in others. I am also trying to live more in the moment. I have a lot of changes in my life and my natural instinct is to worry about the future. I think we can look at the temptations of Jesus as a way the Devil offered Jesus control: over death and over others. I am trying through prayer amongst other things to give up that need for control. I can’t control the future. I can try in this moment to do the best I can.
I asked Doug Blanchard to paint three paintings for me to try and capture this. It is of a quote from Micah:
What does the Lord God require of you but to do Justice, to love Mercy and to walk humbly with your God?”
Maybe that means Lent is every day of the year.
– Bruce Goerlich
March 21, 2017 § 1 Comment
Dear People of God … I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
The Book of Common Prayer, Proper Liturgies for Special Days, Ash Wednesday, page 265
The habit of consistently eating healthfully and making correct and positive choices for what goes in our body is good for us. Making sure that on certain days we come home from work and we, instead of flopping on the couch, put on some music and shake our booty, which provides us with consistent opportunities to achieve an invigorated circulatory system. Establishing and sinking in to some patterns and habits, though, can become anesthetizing, often to our detriment. Sometimes when we’re not in a positive space spiritually or psychicly, we can find ourselves taking comfort among the company of murmurers, people who just want to gnaw on bones, because it makes us feel less alone, and it sure does feel good to whine and wallow and really sink ourselves deep down in our misery, doesn’t it? A more appropriate and life-giving choice, however, is seeking wiser counsel among people who are dedicated to “whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, [topics of] excellence and / worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). Sometimes, however, it’s only easy to see that we’re in a rut in hindsight. Sometimes in counseling friends who act like this, it takes a while to realize that they don’t want to be helped out of their muddle, they just want company in it.
We read in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews that we are to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,” to “provoke one another to love and good deeds,” and make sure “not to neglect meeting together.” That sounds encouraging, but it’s not such an easy practice, this meeting together. Following the teachings of Jesus as Christ is challenging enough, but putting together a service which will rejuvenate and elevate our bodies, minds, and spirits on a weekly basis has provided us with the state of the Christian church today: everyone has their own flavor. Some like laser shows and body stirring anthems, jumping up and down and spirited sermons; some like to sit quietly in a room in silent prayer; some like to hear an encouraging pep talk with poems but little Scripture; and some, like us, follow the structure and liturgy of the ancient rites.
The practice of following The Book of Common Prayer is not an easy row to hoe (so much flipping !) and it is my humble opinion we’ve strayed far from even knowing what’s inside it (#LetsMeetInThePrayerBook). We’ve really got to dig deep, ‘cause it may look like there’s not much there, but the simplicity of what’s recorded is powerful and life-changing and I don’t think we pay enough attention to it (and it’s pretty much the document which guides our journey as members of the Episcopal Church).
Thing is, you can come and sit and hear the pretty music and sing (or not sing) and stand and sit and stand and cross yourself and shake a hand or two and sit and stand and kneel (or not kneel) and have “your little cracker” and “your juice” and go on your way, probably rejuvenated, I’m not knocking it, but The Book of Common Prayer asks us to live a life in a consistent rhythm, to pray several times a day, to meet at least once a week, to observe the traditions of a cyclical calendar, and, most importantly, to delve into God’s Word and explore the Sacred Mysteries of the Good News that Jesus sacrificed himself as propitiation, once, for all, and the hardships are over and done, the Law has been fulfilled. We’re to come together to remember that, yes, but also to live in the joy of that Good News.
The bidding I led with is one of the two times in the church year that the priest comes down to the lip of the altar and addresses us personally, in the name of the Church. “~Do this. Observe a Holy Lent. Examine yourself. Turn from your inappropriate habits…and meditate on the holy writings.~”
Often people rush past the “self examination” part and go straight to the “self denial” part … “What are you giving up for Lent ?!” “Oh, I’m not giving up anything, I’m taking ON something!” … The choices people make for Lenten “self denial” has always just slayed me (#NoJudge). All I can ever think of is “reindeer games,” which refers to the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated Christmas television special “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (which to me is a painful and personal documentary of school yard shaming and bullying, but that’s stuff I’m still trying to work through). The Urban Dictionary defines them as, “any fun activities which are enjoyed only by members of a clique, the fact of which is often purposefully made obvious to anyone existing outside of said clique in order to make them feel inadequate and left-out.”
I feel like the whole “giving up” and/or “taking on” aspect of the practice of Lent is such an enormous distraction from the first bidding, the deep “self-examination and repentance” we’re called to. If we “give up” chocolate, is that truly a soul-changing revelation and will we truly repent from ingesting it? I’ve heard of some people, and the lack of their understanding of cause-and-effect astounds me having worked in the service industry all of my 20s, who are going to forego dining in restaurants, and squirrel all that money away to donate it at the end of Lent. Meanwhile, there is some poor woman who works a second job as a waitress so that she can afford to get her kids new Easter outfits who is going without that tip. Wouldn’t it be more of a sacrifice, more of a gift, more in the vein of walking with Jesus, to go to that restaurant, have a cup of tea, and leave a crisp twenty dollar bill, just for satisfaction of giving and the benefit of a person working in service depending on those daily tips?
Self-examination is the first thing asked of us. In an age (or because of our chronologic age) where it seems as though we have no accountability to any presiding authority, it’s often difficult to know if we’re inside or outside appropriate boundaries. Here’s a boundary for self-examination: Why do we show up at church? What are we doing there? What are we contributing?
When we show up at church, do we swoop in with tales of woe, asking everyone to notice us, participate in the calamity of our day? “Oh, I’m so sorry I’m late! Oh, what happened to me! The horrors of my commute! Me, me, me!” Do we bring in troubles from the Outside? Or do we wipe Outside off our feet at the doors and come inside to settle in to the peace of the preparation of worship. I’m not talking about a fake smile and a, “Oh, praise Jesus, sister, I’m OK and I’m on my way!” but many of us want to spread our troubles around instead of being bearers of a Good Report. I gotta tell you, as a member of the Altar Guild? In the past? I’ve seen people treat the Sacristy like a Green Room backstage at a high school production of GODSPELL and I would just want to scream, “WHAT ! are you DOING ! here! This is a HOLY SPACE where people are preparing themselves to proclaim the eternal mysteries of GOD ! Why are you here ?! and WHAT are you contributing !” I’ve talked to people in the pews who only come on Sundays sporadically because they just need a “little church,” because “it’s always the same anyway.” Really?? Because the experience is not what’s being presented to us, it’s what we’re pouring in to it, it’s our collective concentration that turns this from a performance in to a Cosmic Mystery. We’re there to lay our lives down on that altar as a sacrifice, in tandem with Jesus’ sacrifice for us and for all, as we recall the preparation of Passover before the ultimate redemptive sacrifice.
Lent starts out demanding we contemplate our own mortality, too. Lent isn’t easy, Lent is a journey in a wilderness. As The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth M.C. Kaeton posts on her blog telling-secrets, <Not The Wilderness. A wilderness. A place we haven’t yet explored A place as yet unknown to us. A place where we may confront things we have not yet encountered. A place where we can explore our own vulnerability. A space where we might discover the limits of our spiritual endurance. / Indeed, how does this ‘sacrifice’ which leads us to ‘charity’ actually underscore our privileged status and emphasize – but not bridge –the chasm between rich and poor. What if we came to our eight-week Lenten journey with a real sense of ‘poverty’, with a full sense of our powerlessness and vulnerability and no measurable goals?>
We’re almost halfway through. It’s not too late to take stock and really change our hearts, minds, and behaviours if we came at this year casually or carelessly. It’s also just Spring, a time to pray that God’s Holy Spirit will “Create in us a clean heart and renew within us a joyous spirit” (Psalm 51). A time to shake off what once was, and to make room for a new “me”. To make sure that, when we enter a room, we can give thanks to God, “who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us spreads and makes evident everywhere the sweet fragrance of the knowledge of God. For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ which ascends to God, among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing … an aroma from life to life, a vital fragrance, living and fresh.” (2 Corinthians 2). Let’s take up the practice of being a sweet fragrance, vital, living, and fresh, where ever God leads us, shall we?
– your pal, dasch
March 14, 2017 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: Letter and Spirit
Bless all those whose lives are closely linked with ours, and grant that we may serve Christ in them, and love one another as he loves us.
The above are two of prayers of the people on the last Sunday after the Epiphany. These are two petitions I find not only to be dear but linked. I have a short story to tell that points toward the linkage. Roughly twenty years ago, I spent Thanksgiving with my friends, Jay and Warren, in Massachusetts. At the dinner table I sat next to Warren’s cousins. They were a lovely young couple who owned a dairy farm. Since cows never take a holiday, they needed to leave the festivities early. I was thrilled when they invited my hosts and me to visit the farm on the next day. I had another friend, Harry, who always said that if he was ever reincarnated he wanted to come back as a cow. He loved their sweetness and their calm demeanor. Touring the farm, I understood what Harry meant. I had never been so up close and personal with cows; it was a treat.
My friends led me to a part of the farm that looked like a quaint miniature village. A series of individual plastic huts housed the calves. Talk about up close and personal, the calves came right up to me and began to chew my knees. Because it didn’t hurt, I found It sweet and a little bit icky. In my naivety I took their approach to be a friendly, puppy dog kind of greeting.
In the sermon on the last Sunday after the Epiphany, Fr. William told his own story about living in a charming cottage with one major drawback: a dark, dank cellar. He confessed to going down to the cellar as infrequently as possible. But, since the Christmas decorations were stored there, come December it was necessary to take the plunge. He prefaced the next part of the story by telling us how much he hates spiders. When he turned on the light to the cellar, he caught sight of an unwelcome, very spidery guest.
Fr. William connected his experience to Lent. When the light shines on our own dark cellars, we often see the things we need to work on, things we would rather not see. Lent is the season we set aside for letting in God’s light and praying for understanding of what we see.
It took many years before the light shone on what I thought was my playful introduction to the calves. The truth is, on a dairy farm calves are separated from their mothers at birth. They are deprived of their mother’s milk and given a substitute (most likely corn based and grown in a monoculture). The calves were not greeting me, they were trying to use my knobby knees as a pacifier. It didn’t work out well on either side.
In Genesis 1:26, God says that humans are made in her image, and that we have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, cattle and wild animals, and everything that creeps upon the earth. Dominion implies stewardship. As Mother Stacey said in her sermon on Ash Wednesday, humans have proven to be very bad at reverencing the earth and using its resources rightly. In fact, we are so bad at it that we make continued human existence on the planet look like a very short term affair.
Part of the problem, I believe, is the notion established in Genesis, and continued throughout the Bible, that we are at the pinnacle of life’s hierarchy. It causes us to ignore animal life when we are blessing lives connected to our own and serving Christ in them. I don’t think I need to tell you that the cruelty I witnessed when I met the calves is mild compared to what else happens on factory farms (chicks ground up live, animals raised in their own waste, animals kept in spaces that prohibit movement, etc.).
I love the parts of the New Testament where Jesus goes against what is proscribed to establish what is compassionate. He flouted the Sabbath laws in order to heal and feed the hungry. Maybe it is time to rethink the hierarchy to arrive at a model that incorporates compassion. Since all creatures are created by God, maybe we can view ourselves as part of a connected community, part of an ecosystem instead of lords of the pyramid.
Animal production is the largest human made cause of greenhouse gases, and takes up roughly a third of the planet’s land. It is a major cause of deforestation, and therefore a major factor in pollution and climate change. A larger amount of land is needed to produce a meat-based diet. Therefore, population growth renders a meat-based diet unsustainable.
So, I’m wondering if in this time of the gift of Lent, we might let a little of God’s illuminating light fall onto our plate?
– Suzanne Pyrch
March 22, 2016 Comments Off on Dear People of God:
I hope everyone is having a meaningful Lent. It’s Holy Week and it’s time to hunker down, to press in, and to show up.
We hear echoes of tales Jesus told, and one of the themes which strikes me most at this time of year is the one where Jesus implores us to reinvent our relationship with God, and encourages us to talk to God like a friend, like a lover, sharing secrets, dreams, and cares. Henri Nouwen writes:
[He] came to us to help us overcome our fear of God. As long as we are afraid of God, we cannot [wholeheartedly] love God. Love means intimacy, closeness, mutual vulnerability, and a deep sense of safety. But all of those are impossible as long as there is fear. Fear creates suspicion, distance, defensiveness, and insecurity. The greatest block in the spiritual life is fear. Prayer, meditation, and education cannot come forth out of fear. God is perfect love, and as John the Evangelist writes, “Perfect love drives out fear.” Jesus’ central message is that God loves us with an unconditional love and desires our love, free from all fear, in return.
It’s interesting to me, there are a couple of times in the Church Year when we are directly addressed from the altar: For Lessons and Carols, whether at Advent or Christmastide:
“Beloved in Christ, in this season of [Advent], let it be our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the Angels, and in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem, to see the Babe lying in a manger…”;
then the biggie, on Ash Wednesday:
“Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting…I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word…”
Other than private devotions or going to a daily Eucharist or communal Daily Office, it’s odd to me that in the Western tradition we have this empty space between the emotional high of The Sunday of the Passion (TWO services in ONE! Props! Anthems! Hymns! Collects! Sprinkling! Salutation! Procession! “Let us go forth in peace,” but don’t go ANYWHERE ! ‘cause we got a Eucharist ! WHEE ! “Ride on, ride on, in majesty! The angel armies of the sky look down with sad and wondering eyes to see the approaching Sacrifice”), and then nothing until Tenebrae (Latin for “shadows” or “darkness”), if that service is offered, or Maundy Thursday, and there are no further instructions, no additional bidding from the altar for services which are crucial, not only to our faith and our tradition but to our very spiritual survival, and nobody says a thing, it’s just listed in the service leaflet.
Anyway … it’s odd, to me, as we’re hanging here between Palm Sunday and the Easter-Holy-Paschal Triduum (Latin for “three days”) which begins with the liturgy on the evening of Maundy Thursday (the vigil of Good Friday) with the Foot Washing, the Reserving of the Sacrament, the Agapé Supper, the Stripping of the Altar, and the Vigil at the Altar of Repose; then the silence and contemplation, with the Solemn Collects, of Good Friday; then another sort of empty day with Holy Saturday prayers; and then the The Great Vigil of Easter which, seriously, how beautifully do we do that service, huh? and how GLORIOUS ! when we get to ring them bells, that there are no supplemental instructions. Until now …
On Sunday, March 20, 2016, in this silence with no official bidding from the altar, there came such a roar from the pulpit with preaching “so good that it knocked my socks off and right in to the washin’ machine down the hall,” as they say where I’m from, our very own Mother Posey Krakowsky issued some instructions. It took everything in me not to stamp my feet and scream when she finished. It put me in mind of something our Presiding Bishop, The Most Rev. Michael Curry, says in A Call to Follow Jesus:
“…being a Christian is not essentially about joining a church or being a nice person, but about following in the footsteps of Jesus, taking his teachings seriously, letting his Spirit take the lead in our lives, and in so doing, helping to change the world from our nightmare into God’s dream.”
Here is part of Mother Posey’s bidding:
“…We are … complicit in the Christian Hope. We are called to bear witness to God’s choice to share our human nature – to be deeply embedded in all of it – the joy and the grief of human life … what we will be doing this week is not performance art. It is not a theater event. It is not an historical re-enactment. We are not an audience watching a show. We are participants. We are involved. What this week IS is a chance for us … to intentionally encounter God’s loving embrace of the world. It is a call to no longer accept our systems as “how things are.” A call that offers us different ways to imagine how things can be. Join in the three-day liturgy of the Triduum as fully as you can. Make the choice to intentionally explore how Jesus is active in our lives right now, at this moment … Please, this week…Dive in. See where it takes you. Allow yourself to experience how Christ is present and working in your life – right here, right now.” (note: the entire sermon will eventually appear here: http://www.stlukeinthefields.org/sermons)
I will, with God’s help. Will you join me?
your pal dasch
March 15, 2016 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: Stepping on to Holy Ground
It’s a pattern that I’ve come to expect each Lent. I have to wait for the insight that will take hold of me. I wait and listen, never really knowing when it will come to me or from what source. But, as part of the pattern, it seems to come as a surprise and usually when my attention is occupied with something else.
This year, it came embedded in the Old Testament reading where Moses encounters God’s presence and voice in the burning bush. As the reading was happening, my mind was wandering, and I was vaguely studying the shapes of the organ pipes and trying to figure out what to make for dinner. And then a phrase caught my ear, the voice of the reader and the surrounding church faded into the background, and I began to imagine being this man standing in front of this extraordinary sight—a seeming hallucination, something outside natural law, something wonderful and frightening. A voice comes, more felt than heard, calling me by name and telling me to remove my shoes, because I am on holy ground. This was the opening, unexpected and surprising. The rest of the day, I was left wondering why God had asked me to remove my shoes.
I’m aware of the tradition of various religions, especially in the ancient world, of removing shoes when entering a sanctuary, and the reasons why, but all of those reasons feel like traditions devised by man. This was a direct command from God in a particular situation. So, why did God demand this? I can’t think of any instance where God makes a command without purpose. What could His purpose in this situation be?
Once again, going back into the experience, transfixed by the sight before me, short of breath and with my hands shaking, I remove my shoes and feel the earth, the holy ground, through the soles of my feet. I am in direct contact with the presence of God in that holy ground, open and vulnerable to whatever is to happen next, to whatever God wills.
Shoes are, of course, inventions of man. They provide protection for our feet, and in the ways of mankind, also become signifiers of status and part of a repertoire of devices we use to create an identity for ourselves, to create ourselves in our own image. This image we create becomes a mask that combines the features of a fortress and a disguise that we use to protect us from what we perceive will injure us, as well as a means to get what we think we need and desire. But, it begs the question, when we create this image out of our own limited and fearful self-knowledge, how far are we from our true, created nature? What have we done that is going to prevent us from being in contact with holy ground?
In the time of Moses, God dwelt in his holy temple. Part of God’s gift to us in Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit is the assurance that God is with us always and in everything. Doesn’t that make all of His creation, holy ground? The holy ground of this world and those beyond. The holy ground of each other and all living things. And, the holy ground of our own precious lives, the glory of which we disguise, abuse, and deny. We cut ourselves off from the very source of our joy of living and the miracle of being alive.
I see now that this Lent is a time for removing that mask, to put myself in the hands of God, with fear and trembling, and with love. To remove the curtain I’ve created that separates me from others and that allows God’s given compassion to flow. To step onto holy ground and be the person I am, as I was created, to love and come into the presence of the great, I Am.
– Thomas Wharton
March 8, 2016 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: Season of Love
Think back to the first Sunday in Lent. Do you remember hold cold it was? It was maybe the coldest day of this winter, with morning temperatures below zero when the wind chill factor was taken into account. It was also, by coincidence, Valentine’s Day. On that cold morning, Father Mark Bozzuti-Jones at Trinity began his sermon by stating that it was appropriate that Lent 1 fell on Valentine’s day this year, because the “whole season of Lent is all about love.” I was stopped in my tracks! I didn’t really hear the rest of the sermon. Fortunately, I could go back later and listen to the podcast, but this reflection is not about the rest of the sermon. It is about that startling, jarring opening line. When I heard it, I started to practically vibrate with rushing thoughts. No, I thought, that can’t be right. Lent is about penance, giving up, sacrifice, discipline, gloominess, somber reflection, isn’t it? That’s how I’ve always thought of Lent. I confess it is not my favorite liturgical season. Growing up Roman Catholic, it was all about what to give up, seemingly to make oneself sufficiently unhappy to deserve to be redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice. Later on, Lent became for me more about taking something on, doing more spiritual reading and reflection, but still doing it as a form of penance, but one that might teach me something, and not always liking the doing very much, struggling to find the right time to fit extra readings into my schedule. Still later in life, I came to appreciate the quiet time of reflection, but maybe not enough to continue it year-round despite my best intentions.
However, as I pondered Father Mark’s words, they began to resonate with me. What if we begin to think of the season of Lent as a season of love? After all, John 3:16 tells us: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” If Jesus was sent out of love, God’s unconditional love for us, what happens if we focus on love during Lent? For me, that focus this Lent has given new meaning to my spiritual practices, and new meaning to the few small sacrificial practices. With the emphasis on love, not punishment, I see things a new way. Repentance can come from love; sacrifice can come from love. Making love the focus leads me to use different scriptural passages for contemplation and reflection. Think 1 Corinthians 13:13 (But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.) Or, as was one of the morning prayer reading recently, Mark 12:28-34, in which Jesus gives the two “great commandments.”
Thinking about God’s unconditional love for creation, and thinking about God in us, how can we not treat all of creation with love and respect? It’s a challenge, and one that we won’t always get right. I know I won’t, but I can try, and when I fail, I can try again, and again. The process will teach me. May you all have a love-focused second half of Lent.
– Julia Alberino
February 23, 2016 § 1 Comment
Grace Miner, 14 years old, was interviewed about her comic and this is what she had to say about Lent, chocolate, Jesus, and more.
St. Luke in the Fields Blog: How do you see Jesus?
Grace Miner: I like the idea of Jesus being sarcastic.
St. Luke in the Fields Blog: What would you say to someone who has just viewed your comic and who has also given up chocolate for Lent?
Grace: You don’t even have to take this comic so seriously because it’s not just about giving up chocolate. It doesn’t really matter that much. It’s not like it’s bad. I just found it kind of funny with Jesus giving up his whole life versus us finding something not even like that to give up. But do not give up your life for Lent, please.
St. Luke in the Fields Blog: What is so wrong with giving up chocolate anyway?
Grace: The thing is about chocolate is that it’s just an example. Maybe chocolate really matters to you, and maybe something else really matters to you. I can’t decide what really matters to you, but I would ask, how much does it really matter?
St. Luke in the Fields Blog: What would you advise people to do in Lent?
Grace: Sometimes it feels like people just give up stuff for Lent just to give stuff up. But giving up stuff that blocks you from something or doing something that changes you is OK. Say you’re giving up alcohol because you have alcohol problems or you use it to deal with your issues, then that would make sense to give it up. Maybe you’re giving up chocolate because you spend a lot of money on it then that would make sense to give it up. Maybe you spend too much time on social media and you think maybe you would like to spend more time with your family, with praying, with God, or reflecting on yourself then that’s a good thing to give up.
St. Luke in the Fields Blog: What do you think Jesus would think?
Grace: I don’t know. I can’t really say what Jesus would think! It’s Jesus. It’s a lot to live up to!