Monthly Archives: May 2015

Trinity Sunday | Eve of the Visitation

Who is like the LORD our God, who sits enthroned on high, *
but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth?
He takes up the weak out of the dust *
and lifts up the poor from the ashes.
He sets them with the princes, *
with the princes of his people.
He makes the woman of a childless house *
to be a joyful mother of children. (Psalm 113:5-8)

This evening one of the Episcopal Church’s seven Principal Feasts (Trinity Sunday) overlaps one of our many Holy Days (the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

In this happy juxtaposition, we ponder this evening the universal mystery of the triune God, “who sits enthroned on high,” and who is made known to us in a specific man, Jesus, born to a specific woman, Mary, whose visit to her relative Elizabeth we honor tomorrow.

“No one has ever seen God,” John reminds us in the prologue to his gospel. “It is God the only Son, who is close to the father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18).

The Trinity whom we adore

John’s gospel opens with a hymn of creation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5).

John purposely reminds us of the opening of the Hebrew Bible, when in the beginning the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:1-2). He goes on to equate the Word — who was with God in the beginning — with Jesus, “a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

In the mystery that Christians call the Incarnation, we see “the Lord our God, who sits enthroned on high, but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth.”

Who is like our God, indeed?

Born of the Virgin Mary

“Hail, Mary, full of grace,” many Christians pray as they say the prayers of the rosary. “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” Mary herself cries out in the prayer we call the Magnificat, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (BCP 119).

Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth - Tapesetry

In this morning’s Gospel for Trinity Sunday, Nicodemus puzzles over Jesus’ words about being born again. “Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus responds with a wry twist. “Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).

Mary herself had asked the angel, “How can this be, since I am still a virgin?” to which she got the equally unsettling reply that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35-36).

The Spirit of Love

That same Spirit, Luke goes on to recount in his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, fell on the early church and inspired them to go out into the world proclaiming that “Jesus is Lord.”

In Jesus, the apostles saw God, “the Lord who sits enthroned on high,” stooping down and joining his creatures. Before he left his disciples, Jesus promised that they would share in his spirit, the spirit of love.

At evening prayer tonight, we prayed for that same Spirit of love.

O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the Spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 125)

O God, send us your Spirit through Jesus our Lord.

In companionship with one another …

Abounding grace …

“Hail Mary, full of grace …”

… full of grace and truth.

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Longing to be clothed

You have turned my wailing into dancing;
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy. (Psalm 30:12)

I carry on my person everywhere I go two talismans of my recovery. 

The first is a medallion celebrating my first year of sobriety. 

  
The second is a bracelet — the last thing I bought without telling my wife — that helps me remember I don’t need to spend money when I am feeling “restless, irritable, and discontented.”

  
But what recovery really looks like for me is the Pendleton shirt I’m wearing in this picture with my grandson. 

  
After I lost my job, I was at home a lot more often. I would usually wear jeans and a turtleneck and my favorite plaid shirt. 

I remember sitting on the couch one evening thinking, “I really like this shirt; I should buy another one.”

It took only a few seconds for my new inner voice to respond. “Don’t be an idiot. This is a Pendleton shirt, and it will last forever. You won’t outlive this shirt; you don’t need to buy another one.”

Paul writes that:

We do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day …. in this tent we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed” (2 Cor. 4:16, 5:4). 

Even though God is working in us to renew our inner nature, we may need reminders of that hidden process from time to time. 

How often? 

“One day at a time,” says AA. “Daily we begin again,” say the Benedictines. 

Even though we “wish not to be unclothed,” we may have to spend time being uncomfortably open and vulnerable — honestly sitting with our restlessness and our “stinking thinking” — before we can experience a new kind of peace and serenity.

Being content, being at peace, being calm — these are what it means to be “clothed with joy.”

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen. (BCP 102)

Birds on a wire

Birds on a wire

It’s been a regular bird convention in our backyard today.

I just started reading Aldo Leopold’s book A Sand County Almanac, and one of the early chapters (July) makes me wonder what to expect this summer.

At 3:30 am, with as much dignity as I can muster of a July morning, I step from my cabin door bearing in either hand the emblems of my sovereignty, a coffee pot and notebook … I get out my watch, pour coffee, and lay notebook on knee. This is the cue for the proclamations to begin.

At 3:35 the nearest field sparrow avows, in a clear tenor chant, that he holds the jackpine copse north to the riverbank, and south to the old wagon track … the robin’s insistent caroling awakens the oriole … next the wren — the one who discovered the knot-hole in the eave of the cabin, explodes into song. Half a dozen other wrens give voice, and now all is bedlam. Grosbeaks, thrashers, yellow warblers, bluebirds, vireos, towhees, cardinals — all are at it … my ear can no longer filter out priorities. Besides, the pot is empty and the sun is about to rise.

My Nana was an avid birdwatcher, and my mother also feeds the birds so they congregate near her windows.

I’m much more familiar with the birds in the Zoology collection at the Field Museum in Chicago, where I worked for nearly a decade. I used to lead behind-the-scenes tours for donors, and the collections managers would simply leave specimens out for me to talk about if they couldn’t be there.

tour of field museum bird collection

As fascinating a story as the birds in their mothballed drawers could tell, I’m coming late to realize that there’s a story coming down the wires live right now.

One-liners, limits, and leaders

Lines

In these Instagram days, we love one-liners about important topics.

But even more, we like cool pictures tagged #goals or #vision or #leadership.

2015-05-28 19.37.30

“Vision is about a shared energy, a sense of awe, a sense of possibility.”

That sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?

And the quote comes from the conductor of a symphony, so it’s a little artsy, too. Even better.

Maybe a picture of a #sunset would make it more powerful?

Limits

The real power of a vision comes when it is used, put into practice in specific ways in a particular organization by a certain group of people.

Lofty visions and limited scope actually go hand in hand.

Listen to entrepreneurs number 4 and 3 in this short video from GoToMeeting.

Be precise … concentrate on your goals, what you want to achieve, and only on them.

Prioritize your manpower appropriately. Don’t chase every single possible thing for your startup to do.

Visions take form when we apply limits in order to clarify our focus, when we make choices about staffing and budgeting based on that vision, when we test and measure our success by the standard that our vision sets.

Leaders

Visionary leaders are standard-bearers, constantly reminding their people not only of the lofty purpose but also of the limited scope and choices that entails.

I think of Gary Mecklenburg, who began every speech (internal or external) by saying, “I am CEO of Northwestern Memorial Hospital, an academic medical center where the patient comes first.”

He might go on to add that we focused on Best Patient Care and Best People.

Two sentences, two key concepts. Repeated every single time he spoke to anyone.

It got so we could all repeat it, even if we had forgotten to wear our “Patients First” lapel pin to work that day.

Visionary leaders are not only shaped by their learning (much of it coming from unglamorous, repetitious work) but are also creative in their practice.

Bearing Fruit

The creative fruit of leadership grows from seeds planted and watered, branches pruned and shaped steadily over time.

So let the one-liners and the cool pictures lead you to wonder how you might put a lofty vision into practice.

But learn from other visionary leaders about the concentration, discipline, and repetition that eventually bears fruit.

 

 

You know all the prayers. You are God.

Neil Gaiman recounts this small scene in his stunning story titled, “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury.”

A poor man found himself in a forest as night fell, and he had no prayer-book to say his evening prayers.

So he said, “God, who knows all things, I have no prayer-book, and I do not know any prayers by heart. But you know all the prayers. You are God. So this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to say the alphabet, and I will let you put the words together.”

In the “Sunday’s Readings” article in this week’s issue of The Living Church, the authors speak of the glory of God who is beyond all our words:

The consistent theme of [Trinity Sunday]’s readings is the glory of God: a glory so deep and so rich that even the exalted poetry of Psalm 29 only scratches the surface. Wise theologians have said before that we will spend the rest of eternity learning about God and never exhausting the topic, because God is infinite and we are not.

Perhaps, like Gaiman’s narrator, we find ourselves grasping only the “dictionary-shaped hole on the shelf” rather than the words.

Perhaps, at the end, that is enough.

As Trinity Sunday approaches, I urge you to listen to Gaiman’s lovely story and join him in saying:

“Dear God, hear my prayer …

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

…”

The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for ever and ever. (Rev. 22:1-5)

Bible as Canon

The Bible as canon, according to John Dally of Bexley Seabury, provides a narrative arc offering salvation by helping us understand our place in the universe.

My notes from the first of three sessions of Fr. Dally’s “This Dangerous Book: Strategies for Teaching the Bible” are reproduced below.

The canonical story is organized into four parts: the creation of the world, the creation of Israel, the creation of the Church, and the end of the world.

The story begins in perfection, moves through imperfection, and ends in perfection.

Creation of the World

The creation of the world is characterized by intimacy, purpose, and naming.

The Lord God formed human beings and breathed life into us, invited us to name every other living creature, and walked in the garden with us at the time of the evening breeze (Gen. 3:8).

However, sin enters the story when Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We were under the illusion of need, the illusion that the garden and the intimacy and the purpose were not enough.

Humankind is “cursed” by having to leave the garden and earn the knowledge that we stole.

Creation of Israel

Following the catastrophe of the Exile into Babylon, the people of Israel looked back over their history and came to understand their origins in the Exodus from Egypt.

During the Exodus, God freed the Hebrews from slavery and made them a chosen people in special relationship with him. God gave them the Law to guide them in that relationship.

Over time, the people of Israel came to desire a kingdom and anointed first Saul, then David, then Solomon as their kings.

The Temple — built eventually by King Solomon — grew in importance as evidence of God’s presence and as the focus of religious practice.

The simple relationship of covenant with God was not enough. Israel labored under the illusion of need and created a Kingdom and a Temple.

Creation of the Church

Jesus came in opposition to both the Temple and the Kingdom, and the catastrophe of the Cross revealed the depth of their violence.

Jesus spoke of living in direct relationship with God, praying in secret (intimacy with God), and giving away the knowledge that the kingdom of God is at hand.

The Temple fails to bring knowledge of God, and its hierarchy exploits the poor. Likewise, the Kingdom of the world (in Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire) rules through military might and exploitative power.

As the Church becomes linked with the Roman Empire under Constantine, Temple and Kingdom become one. The Church continues to obscure the believer’s direct relationship with God and to exploit the poor.

End of the World

The story begins in a garden, but it ends in a city.

The Kingdom and the Temple (which were never God’s idea) are taken up into “the holy city, the new Jerusalem,” but John says that “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:22).

In the center of the city are the river and the tree of life, just like in the garden … only this time, “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

The perfect creation of the Garden is restored to perfection in the City, and humans are reconciled to God.

“The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”

2013-10-12 16.14.55-2

Enough, and more than enough

Today is, so to speak, a “patronal feast” of this blog, since this is one of three times in the two-year Daily Office lectionary that Hebrews 6:19 is read.

We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.

That verse, however, is only one part of the origin story of the “Daily Office Anchor Society.”

The name was first used as a tongue-in-cheek description following a retreat for newly-ordained GenX clergy held at the DeKoven Center in Racine, Wisconsin many (increasingly many) years ago.

At one point in the weekend we all realized that each of us had received at our ordinations a copy of the leather-bound, slipcased Daily Office Book along with the well-meaning expectation that of course “you’ll be saying the Offices every day now.”

Dave Walker’s “Cartoon Church” from the Church Times paints a pretty good picture of what we were up against.

That expectation of piety, coupled with virtually no exposure to the Offices (how often does *your* church have Evensong, huh?), we all experienced as an anchor dragging us down.

Being a card-carrying member of the “Daily Office Anchor Society” was not really a good thing.

The leather-bound, slipcased Daily Office Book, displayed on our shelves but rarely used, became a visible symbol of our failure to meet expectations — other people’s expectations, the Church’s expectations, and our own.

Daily Office Book

These days, nearly 20 years later, I no longer feel that the Daily Office represents a weight of expectation, a letter of law or institutional requirement against which I am judged.

Praying the Daily Office is instead a portable practice (I use a leather-bound BCP and Bible, but you could use the Forward Day by Day app on your iPhone) that allows me to participate in the Church’s ceaseless prayer and to “travel light” like the seventy disciples that Jesus sent out in today’s Gospel passage.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. (Luke 10:1-6)

There is a sense of lightness, I think, that is the fruit of time spent in Jesus’ presence.

The seventy found, even though they had no supplies (no buildings, no tools, none of the stuff we usually haul around with us), that their relationship with Jesus was enough — and more than enough.

It’s this sense of lightness, I think, that the recent Memorial to the Church seeks to recall us to.

The Episcopal Church has enough, and more than enough, if it accepts the call:

To recommit itself to the spiritual disciplines [Daily Office, Eucharist, etc.] at the core of our common life, to go into our neighborhoods boldly with church planters and church revitalizers, and to restructure our church for the mission God is laying before us today.

The seventy returned to Jesus with joy, exclaiming over the power they had been able to tap into. “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”

I have found in my own life, through experiences of loss and grace and through practices of recovery that build hope — what Richard Rohr calls the “coded Gospel” — that my relationship with Jesus is enough.

The Daily Office, for me, is the way I spend time in Jesus’ presence most mornings so that for the rest of the day I can travel lightly into my neighborhood and hold lightly my expectations about what success looks like.

In this way, the Office serves me as a “sure and steadfast anchor” connecting me to Jesus, who is my hope.

How do you stay connected to Jesus? What builds hope in your life? What helps you to set aside expectations and find that you have enough, and more than enough?