Wednesday, September 8, 2010

ROBERT : I have been listening to . . . .

I have been listening to the Propers these days.

The Propers are the prayers, the Collects, appointed for each of the Sundays during the season after Pentecost, the season that many of us call Ordinary Time.

In the liturgical tradition, the Collect for the Day is the second collect said by the officiant at worship on Sunday. It is then said at Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer and also at the Daily Eucharist each day during the week that follows. In the tradition, one keeps saying this particular prayer for seven days, over and over. Sometimes I think that perhaps we say it over and over in the hopes that the prayer will finally rise as incense to our Holy Maker, or that it will finally sink as wisdom into the heart of the not-so-holy offerer.

Either result seems a fine one to me. Either of them is more than I deserve.

This past Lord’s Day, we prayed Proper 18.

Proper 18 is not the most stirring of names for a prayer, I admit, but even so.

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength . . . .

I was not able to listen any farther to anything else this Sunday past. I was not able to listen to the Scripture as it was read, to the Word as it was proclaimed, not to the prayers of the people or even the words of the prayer I love the most, the prayer of the Eucharist.

Four minutes into a 68 minute service, in the course of listening to a prayer that is often ignored, I was held up into the Light and saw something about myself, something with which I am now struggling through the darkness of. In the space of that 240 seconds, I caught a glimpse of something that cripples the life I am trying to live, a life in search of communion with the Light of the world. In the saying of less than thirty words in a service that would release thousands of them into the air, I came face to face with something I had not admitted before, something unacknowledged in all of the decades I have spent in search of such communion.

I am now a few days past the moment when that Collect burst in on me and my pride, but I have yet to recover from the hearing of it. My pulse has begun to slow now, and I can breathe more deeply and I am sleeping better but I am not over it. I do not yet know what to do with what I saw about myself in the light of Proper 18.

But I do know this —

The season when we say such Propers may be called Ordinary. But the prayer is not ordinary at all.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ have mercy.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

BEN : It still strikes me as odd . . . .

It still strikes me as odd that Ordinary is the title of the sacred time during the calendar by which we mark the intermediate period between the Ascension and the Advent. After so many months of monumental celebrations and observances, Ordinary seems so void of anything spectacular, anything that might closely resemble The One who will come again in all glory.
Ordinary, for me at least, is much less sacred than you make it sound. It is a constant tug-of-war between action and contemplation. Ordinary life comes with demands and expectations from all different directions. It’s a crazy labyrinth to navigate: being a parent, husband, son, brother, friend, Christ-follower, and professional.
What if I don’t like Ordinary at all?
I’m liking less and less the need to get on a plane and miss yet another pillow fight with my three year old who just loves it when I gently knock him down with a sofa cushion, only to spend a few minutes on the floor laughing and then finding the endless energy to get up and challenge me all over again.
It’s strange that the mass adoption of technology like Skype and FaceTime is supposed to make me feel better about not being physically present with those I love. And yet I rely on all these tools in the name of love. Is that Ordinary or my ordinary?
I’m less and less impressed with the rapid accumulation of rewards points I have with airlines, and hotels. I fear these people may know more about me than some members of my extended family. And what about my online florist? Often, companies like that become the ones who deliver sentiments of love in my absence.
I struggle to maintain my habit of daily prayers and wonder if this is the Ordinary you describe or just my ordinary. What would St. Benedict write today if he were still writing his Rule?
Ordinary, in its larger sense, is blah. It’s boring. Some might even say it’s not worth noting. Perhaps those who crafted this calendar ran out of ideas and Ordinary is nothing more than an ancient “miscellaneous” category. Life is supposed to be about sensation and the thrill of the hunt, right?
I certainly don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but I just don’t “get” Ordinary.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

ROBERT : According to one Divine Metronome . . . .

According to one Divine Metronome — the one known as the Calendar of the Church — the Ascension of Our Lord has now been observed and so we await our Brother’s return some day to judge the living and the dead. The Day of Pentecost has been celebrated and the Spirit has been given to us. And now we have entered the season of unbounding festivity known by the heart-stirring name Ordinary Time. Oh, ring the bells of joy, I say.
Ordinary Time is the name settled upon to refer to the twenty four to twenty nine weeks of the year for which the Church could not come up with any great celebrations for you and I to participate in.
The word ordinary and its derivatives occupy fourteen columns in the Oxford English Dictionary, a space larger than all of the words for all the other seasons of the Church year combined. ‘Let this be a sign unto you,’ I think to myself. Words like common, usual, unremarkable, settled, regular, simplest appear often in the fourteen columns. Ordinary Time, to use the words of one of the definitions in the OED, is ‘our customary fare.’
Of the 365 days given to us each year, the church has designated on average 55.6% of them as something less than festive, and not even suitable for something uplifting like putting ashes on our foreheads and remembering that we are but dust. Add together all of the days of the great seasonal celebrations of the church year, and there are still more ordinary days than festive ones.
‘Give us this day our daily bread — our customary fare,’ if you will. If we are to celebrate anything during Ordinary Time, we are largely on our own. The Church is happy to lead the celebratory charge from December until the end of April or so, and sometimes go as far as the end of May. ( Dependent, oddly enough, on the phases of the moon. ) After Pentecost, it is up to us.
The Church leads the parade for Christmas and the manifestation of Christ among us and spring and Easter and the coming of the Holy Spirit and we are assigned the dog days of summer, the back to school sales, and Labor Day. This year we also get an oil spill, floods that keep killing people, new rounds of ethnic cleansing on two continents, the noise of midterm elections, unemployment that is heartbreaking and the truth that not a single one of us has grown younger since this time last year.
According to the metronome of the calendar, our search for the balance between the borders and the margins of our lives, between the struggles with the bustle and the meaning of our daily rounds, between a way of marking time that will lead us to the Divine amid the clamor of the marching orders that would lead us somewhere else — all of that work is now up to us.
I never miss the festal parade at Easter, and I shall be beside you as always in the dark with my candles come Advent.
But just now, whether or not the deep rhythms of the Story are alive and ticking in me in late June is the real question, I am afraid. And I must answer it myself.
Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

BEN : Stealing my words . . . .

Stealing my words is much less an offense than my being haunted by the words you wrote — returning, rest, salvation, sabbath, letting go. I am terrified I will never be able to receive the gift hidden within the practice of such things.
Margin is not simply the difference between retail price and product cost these days. Margin is what’s missing in my life. At each corner, the complexity of responsibility and scheduling seem to push against any hope I might have of finding some sense of margin beyond that of a break-even or profit analysis spreadsheet.
My attempt to find margin has become an empty promise to myself and seems accompanied by a blatant disregard for the limited capacity of my human self itself. I push myself to the what seem to be my limits and dance on the edge of what seems to be an insanity. This is the life I have chosen and yet I worry it may consume me.
I have a burning need to find the News somewhere between our words and my attempts to find a kind of Divine metronome to help me pace myself at the speed of God, rather than keep dancing to a drumbeat of expectation.

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I pray you are right that we may be closing in on the News. I need such a thing to be true.

Monday, May 10, 2010

ROBERT : I am stealing your words . . . .

I am stealing your words, fine ones that they are —
There is enough tension between the confidence of life and the chaos of dying and the misery of returning to dust and the mystery of rising again to keep us clinging to our prayer . . . .

Confidence, chaos, misery, mystery — clinging.
These may not be all the words that I am willing use to describe my journey of faith, but I will take them as a start, and a fine one at that. ( In fact, the race is on, dear friend; if you do not manage to publish these words that I am stealing from you before I do, then the fault is yours. They are well-written ones, and certainly worthy of theft. )

The only words I would add to your list of confidence, chaos, misery, mystery — clinging — might be these : returning, rest, salvation, sabbath — letting go. And I should not have noticed my own poor ones without your fine ones.
I am thinking these days that somewhere in the midst of your words and mine may well lie the News.

Almighty God ; You have taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, that in quiet and confidence shall be our strength : By the might of your Spirit lift us to your presence, we pray, that we may be still and know that you are God . . . . . Amen.
Thanks, pal.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

BEN :Easter Sunday, a feast day more accurately entitled . . . .

Easter Sunday, a feast day more accurately entitled, The Sunday of the Resurrection, has marked the beginning of our Great 50 Days — the days between the empty tomb and the almost indescribable experience of Pentecost and of the institution of the Church itself.

The Great 50 Days sounds more like an invitation-only golf tournament to me. A game where only a select number of the greatest men and women who have ever held a metal stick in hopes of swinging it at just the right angle to hit a ridiculously small, pitted ball sitting atop an overgrown toothpick toward an impossibly small hole far away, a hole in the ground that offers nothing more than a chance to advance to the next hole only to do it all over again. ( Perhaps one day I will understand the depth and breadth of this activity some call a sport. We who run miles every day, for no apparent reason have something to say on such matters. )

Nevertheless, the Great 50 Days is one of the things I love most about the Easter season. While American Evangelical Protestant Christianity seals this season into a one day segment, easy for storage until the following year, those who have cared for and participated in the path of the ancients know that the Easter we have just observed is only the beginning of some seven weeks of reflection on the life and death and life of Jesus — a reflection that can now be seen through the lens of the resurrected Christ.

Whatever happened during Lent seems inconsequential next to the what was given to us when the empty tomb became the center of Christianity and Jesus became the Christ. This miracle of all miracles sets the tone for a life that does not end, in the same way that the rising and setting of the sun sets the frame for a life into which we have been given.

Life becomes death, only to become life again.

There is enough tension between the confidence of life and the chaos of dying and the misery of returning to dust and the mystery of rising again to keep us clinging to our prayer, clinging in the hope that we might make our way through this life even as we wait for our own resurrection, the miracle that will take us to the life that does not end.

Alleluia — Christ is Risen.
The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

ROBERT I think the only fair answer is, um . . . .

I think the only fair answer is, um, Yes and, um, No. An answer you will like and another you will like even better.
The long term answer is No, you cannot start Lent over again, or at least not this year. Whatever promises you could not keep or time you did not make sacred with your attentiveness, whatever offerings you did not give or oblations you could not make — the time has come and gone for those special Lenten devotions, as the Church calls such things. At least for this Lent.
‘There is only now,’ Thomas Merton writes.
The good news is that the Story will be told again, and you and I and all the rest of the communion of saints — those who have become saints already and those of us who are merely saints in the making, like the two of us and everyone still here in the kingdom that has already come — all of us will have a chance, God willing, to make a Lenten journey again next year.
Be not afraid of your failures in this season just past. Make your confession, go to sleep, and ‘rise again in the morning to serve the Lord,’ is what the old prayerbooks advise.
Remember, the life we live is not a contest to see if we can qualify to be with God some fine day, it is a gift we are given so that we might come to know God on this day we have been given.

The short term answer, — the Yes — is that the most significant starting over moment in the history of the universe, for all time past and all time to come, will be celebrated at Easter. God willing, you and I will be among the celebrants.
If it helps you to call it a reset, feel free to do so.
I prefer to think of it as time, long past time really, as Merton writes, to set aside our ‘awful solemnity and join in the general dance.’
Thanks be to God, either way — Thanks be to God.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

BEN : Is it possible to hit the rewind button . . . .

Is it possible to hit the rewind button and start Lent again?
It sounds like a strange question, I know. But in a day and time when everything seems to be on-demand, being forced into an ancient rhythm that doesn’t allow for play, stop, pause, or rewind is strangely unfamiliar.
I should know better and be more disciplined. I feel very scattered and stretched as I attempt the daily feat of meeting the pace of the life that I’ve been given. While I long to find spans of silence, I eagerly await moments of intense awareness of a Creator and a dimension that exists beyond my own world.
The difficult balance of being made in the image of God is not allowing ourselves to believe we are “little gods” and, thus, the center of all existence. The Lenten experience refreshes our practice in the reality we are not god at all. In fact, there isn’t a time when that difference is more present than during this season.

So how do I interpret an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-present God in an on-demand world? I certainly can’t escape God. That’s that story of Jonah. He ran as far and as fast from God as he thought possible but ended up running right into Him. Perhaps in my attempt to press play, stop, pause, or rewind throughout this season, I, too, will find God waiting for me.

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent,
for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

ROBERT : An epiphany on the road to Lent . . .

An epiphany on the road to Lent, the Epiphany Highway, I believe it is called.
It came when I read something a friend of mine wrote about how dense the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the Why-Could-They-Not-Sees must have been to have had three or four twenty minute conversations with the Word made Flesh over three years and not have caught on that Jesus was the Messiah.
It brought to mind how many years I self-righteously wondered how the Pharisees could be so lame as to not get it in the beginning. Now that I think of it, the disciples were not exactly the brightest bulbs in the packet themselves.
On further reflection, I began to come face to face with the fact that after two thousand years of telling the Story to each other, studying the Bible until we are blue in the face, spending our Sabbaths in places where people argue whether Latin or tongues or praise choruses or the 1928 prayer book are the most proper vehicles for worshipping the One Who made us and the One Who came among us, staking out positions theological and political that cover everything from slavery to witch-burning to the Inquisition to the Crusades to celibacy for some and not for others — after two thousand years of such carrying on in the name of righteousness, we are likely to be just as confused, just as afraid, just as uncertain, just as mystified by the Presence of the Christ as were those devout Jewish folks so long ago.
I for one, to quote a character from a parable actually, am not worthy even to lift my hands to heaven. A parable, of course, being a story the One Who came made up to tell folks something about their real selves since they could not bear to hear straight talk about their real selves. I think I may well be, along with some other folks, in a new category of modern religious, the folks known as the Do-Not-Want-To-Sees.

At the very least, it means that I for one am not worthy to pat myself on the back as though I understand this Mystery when another could not.
I am not even worthy to lift my hands toward heaven.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

BEN : It is a good thing . . .

It is a good thing when our life is so full that we must tell others, even when we don’t fully understand it. Much like when we announce that we are getting married, become parents, taking a new job, or starting retirement. Our perspective going into these major life events is grounded mostly speculation.
I suspect that it was much the same for Jesus. He had to know that each person who would talk, see, or walk for the first time as a result of their interaction with him would naturally become evangelists on His behalf. It was only a matter of time before the secret would become known.
The secret was no longer that Jesus was the Son of God or that God had come to live among us. We uncovered this one weeks ago. The secret yet to be uncovered is that there was no room for Jesus to continue His ministry uninhibited by those who would be threatened by His miracles and would conspire to end this nuisance forever.
Perhaps Jesus wanted to spend time with his friends and family and lead a normal life as long as possible. Once the secret was out, his life would be anything but normal. It was only a matter of time before the echo of the ONE he called Father would would pierce through the chaos in the last sentence uttered by the god-man this side of the Great Story: It is finished.
For now, normal is good. And the innocence of speculation shelters the pain yet to come.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

ROBERT : It does not take many . . . .

It does not take many Epiphany days in the lectionary scriptures to get to the first of the stories in which Jesus appears to someone, heals them and then admonishes them : Do not make me known to anyone. Odd suggestion from the One Who came to seek and to save all of that which was lost, methinks.
A fair amount of the stories of Epiphany are full of ordinary things : Jesus staying overnight out in the country; Jesus walking through a grain field; Jesus having his supper interrupted yet again by yet another crowd of people asking questions; people begging Jesus to leave their neighborhood; Jesus being rejected in his hometown; Jesus and his friends with nothing to eat at the end of a long day; Jesus taking another boat ride; Jesus on a visit to a synagogue; Jesus refereeing an argument over when to wash your hands and an argument about divorce and then another one about who gets to go first; Jesus taking more than a few long, dusty walks to Jericho and Bethlehem and Bethany and other really exciting travel destinations. And there is more than one story of Jesus telling yet another crowd of folks not to tell what they saw and who, of course, went and did just the opposite. These are the stories of the first Epiphany, Epiphany Past shall we say, the stories Jesus did not want told, oddly enough.
We followers of the One Who came have turned out a glorious Church indeed, a church without spot or wrinkle as someone once said — someone who had not been to church in a while perhaps.
But it is plain to me that the Church does have some difficulty doing what Jesus told us to do from time to time. And one of those times comes when those who have seen the Messiah in action cannot seem to keep quiet about it. And I say, thanks be to God.

Here is an assignment for Epiphany Present :
Go on out there, just go on out there in the world and try not see the One Who came among us.
And when you see Him, and you will, unless you have your head in the sand, then try and keep quiet about it.
You cannot do either one — you cannot miss Him or keep your mouth shut about it either.
Thanks be to God for that as well.

Monday, January 11, 2010

BEN : It is early morning. . . .

It is early morning of the Epiphany of our Lord. Christmas, as you suggest, has past for another year and all time once again. In Tennessee, the strange part is that the cold and snow often come closer to Epiphany than Christmas. Which doesn’t match any Rockwellian ideas of the season, but sure does make it easier for those of us who have young children to make multiple trips to and from the car to unload all those wonderful toys they get from their grandparents, toys that seem to come in a thousand pieces first to be assembled and then lost, stepped on, and broken in the coming days.

If it was as cold that Holy Night as it is this morning, I can’t imagine much about it was holy. Perhaps gathering together to view the new Messiah was as practical as it was divine. Surely it was warmer in the barn than in the field. And Joseph probably built a fire for his new family so they might keep warm. If we are to suggest to ourselves that we have a chance to find the divine hidden with the fabric of our ordinary days, then it must have been so from the very beginning.

It is on this day that we celebrate those who came to see the One Who created the world, talked to Moses on the mountain, and inspired prophets. These were the first people — outside of His parents — to greet the Word of God after so many years of not hearing a word from God. So Silent Night may be more historically accurate than intended. If God had not spoken in hundreds of year and then decides to appear and you realize you are one of the first people to see this with your own eyes, I would not have had much to say either.

I wonder what was on the shepherds’ minds. And what did the Magi think about as they intuitively knew the location was just around the corner? Did their steps slow wondering what they would say? Did their minds wonder what they were about to experience? Did a sense of fear grip them as it often does right before we decide to do something that we know will change our lives forever?

I think the shepherds and the Magi were probably more like you, my still-in-Advent friend — moving forward while wanting to wait. Called to follow but leaving room to observe. The Good News was that the Messiah was there when they arrived. The same will be true for you, too.

This is my prayer as this season of Epiphany begins: O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, January 4, 2010

ROBERT : Evidently, I still am in Advent. . . .

Evidently, I still am in Advent.

At my house, I am known as the one who needs some time to process things before I know what I think about something.
If we are having an issue at my house, as the Oprah puts it, the modus operandi is this : You state your case, give Robert an hour or two, or a day or two, or a week or two to think it over — the time varies according to the intensity or depth or importance of the matter. He will get back to you as soon as he knows what he thinks. Even if the issue has been, shall we say, energetically discussed several times before, he will need some time to consider his position in this new case.
If you try and get him to go faster, you will only get frustrated. He came equipped with the bare minimum two forward gears — S is for Stroll, Z is for Zen. The R on the gearbox, not surprisingly, stands for Reflective.
Which is a major part of the reason I find myself frozen here this frozen morning in early January. Apt weather, I suppose.
It is the day before Twelfth Night, the night that will make this season a Christmas Past for all time, and usher in the coming season of the annual Epiphany of our Lord, if we can, in fact, learn to see Him in his various and sundry guises any better than we did last year.
I am still stuck, as one might expect, in the early Advent readings from Isaiah — Behold, I am about to do something new, can you not yet perceive it?
I am stuck here partly because I am always slow to know what I perceive, no matter how new or old the thing in front of me happens to be. Five or six weeks of consideration does not seem untoward in the face of such a question, if you ask me.
The other reason I am frozen here is that I am still trying to come to grips with the new things The One Who made us had in store for me last year about this time, the things I could not perceive then and still do not completely understand. I believe the One Who made us can be trusted but, as my best friend says, you are wise not to turn your back.
You guys go on ahead. I will try to catch up by Ash Wednesday. I love a celebration.