Monthly Archives: October 2015

Continual prayer and reconciliation

Today’s a busy day — heading out later for the wedding of my godson this weekend — so here’s a post about James of Jerusalem from two years ago.

I still find James to be a fascinating figure, and I think you will, too.

Daily Office Anchor Society

Icon of James of Jerusalem, found at http://sothl.com/2011/10/17/october-23-james-of-jerusalem/ Icon of James of Jerusalem, found at http://sothl.com/2011/10/17/october-23-james-of-jerusalem/

Seven times a day do I praise you, *
because of your righteous judgments. 
Great peace have they who love your law; *
for them there is no stumbling block. 
I have hoped for your salvation, O LORD, *
and have fulfilled your commandments. 
I have kept your decrees *
and I have loved them deeply. 
I have kept your commandments and decrees, *
for all my ways are before you.
(Psalm 119:164-168)

James of Jerusalem, the brother of Jesus, is called the Just because of his decision not to place restrictions on Gentile converts (Acts 15:19).

He was an early leader of the movement Jesus started, even though he wasn’t a believer until after his brother died. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter and the 12 apostles, then to about 500 followers, then to James, and then to all of…

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Through the Red Door | Clothed with joy

My post entitled “Clothed with joy” was featured yesterday on Through the Red Door, the blog of Recovery Ministries of the Episcopal Church.

Some of the material comes from reflections on this blog, but I appreciated the opportunity once again to draw a connection between common recovery practices like Steps 10 and 11 and the ancient wisdom of the Church in those areas.

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

I am grateful for the Daily Office as a framework for living each day, and for the recovery community which has revitalized my spiritual life.

Make every word count

Otherwise, if you say a blessing with the spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say the “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since the outsider does not know what you are saying? For you may give thanks well enough, but the other person is not built up. (1 Cor. 14:16-17)

In the Episcopal Church, today is the feast day of Samuel Isaac Joseph Scherechewsky, Bible translator and Bishop of Shanghai, who spent the last 25 years of his life, largely unable to speak, paralyzed and in a wheelchair, translating the Old Testament into Mandarin and the entire Bible into Easy Wen-Li.

He accomplished this monumental feat by typing with only two fingers.

These days, most of us type a lot, using our fingers (or thumbs) to send out a blizzard of emails, text messages, tweets, Facebook status updates, Instagram tags, Snapchat pics, and so on.

There is nothing wrong with staying connected by social media — I love it myself — but I can’t help wondering how much we are building one another up, how solid a contribution we’re making, how much we are writing or saying anything that will last beyond the moment.

There’s an astonishing (appalling) humility to the end of Bishop Scherechewsky’s life: one wheelchair, two fingers, one project that would endure.

What message might God be inviting you to deliver in order to build people up?

What else might need to fall away in your daily life and activities so you can focus on making every word count?

Collect of the Day

O God, in your providence you called Joseph Schereschewsky from his home in Eastern Europe to the ministry of this Church, and sent him as a missionary to China, upholding him in his infirmity, that he might translate the Holy Scriptures into languages of that land. Lead us, we pray, to commit our lives and talents to you, in the confidence that when you give your servants any work to do, you also supply the strength to do it; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Give it away entirely and come into the oasis

Many of you know that two years ago this week I acknowledged my addiction to alcohol and began living in recovery.

I carry a pocket medallion as a reminder of the grace I have received in recovery – grace far beyond my imagining. Most days, I have a sense of living in what a friend calls “the oasis” and AA refers to as “a daily reprieve … contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition” (Big Book 85).

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My prayer life, my practice of the Daily Office, the teaching I do and the conversations I have with colleagues and friends – all of it has been reinvigorated by what the Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr calls in Breathing Under Water the “coded Gospel” of the 12 Steps.

You may not realize, though, that stopping drinking was only a small part of the work that I have had to do in recovery. In addition to the medallion in my pocket, I also wear a bracelet around my wrist, one of the last things I bought without my wife’s knowledge before losing my job.

2015-07-24 18.21.20

My addiction to spending and to indulging myself has been much, much harder to deal with – it’s the same struggle alcoholics face when they can’t stop thinking about their next drink.

You lack one thing

I think I know a little bit about how the “rich young man” felt after he found Jesus.

A man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments …. “ He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. (Mark 10:17-22)

You lack one thing …. you have many possessions.

Here’s where I think the rich young man realizes what the living God asks of each one of us. The living God asks for all of us.

The young man is looking for inspiration, but Jesus, who loves him, points to the one thing that really keeps him from God – the wealth he cannot imagine doing without.

“When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving.”

What a state he must have found himself in:

If I go forward, he is not there;
or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me;
If only I could vanish in darkness,
and thick darkness would cover my face! (Job 23:8-9,16-17)

The Almighty has terrified me

In our Old Testament lesson, Job has lost everything, and he does not yet have the answer that will help him remain faithful to God. The Almighty has terrifed him, and Job doesn’t yet understand that God loves him.

In the meantime, his friends and his wife, as Fr. Ralph reminded us last week, are giving him conflicting (and bad) advice. They can’t help him discover either God’s love or the one thing he lacks.

Unlike Job’s companions, however, my wife and my friends have given me good advice and steady support.

Their willingness to share love and to confront me about the things I lack has helped me do the hard work of staying steady in recovery.

  • A dear friend made sure I was “fearless and thorough from the very start” in admitting my failings.
  • A fellow deacon in another diocese helped me admit I needed to go to AA meetings and – laughing at how upside-down I had it – helped me understand that sobriety was an oasis, not a burden.
  • The first boss I had after losing my job, who has been sober for several years, gave me his 3-month sobriety medallion when I reached that milestone myself.
  • The guys in the Thursday morning breakfast and Bible study group here at St. Thomas drew me into their circle of support.
  • And my wife has cheerfully accommodated my being home and underfoot after nearly 10 years on the road, encouraging my new habits and being patient with my stumbling.

church-circle-graphicMy recovery – my new faith in this “coded Gospel” – really is something I have to work at every day. But what I have to work at most is not to do with drinking, but with spending money.

It’s a Pendleton, you idiot!

Sitting on the sofa watching TV one night a few months ago, I was in jeans and my favorite flannel shirt, and I thought “I really like this shirt; I should buy another one.”

A couple beats later, after that thought went away, a new one came in. “You’re an idiot; that’s a Pendleton shirt. It’ll last for 100 years. You’ll be dead before it wears out. You don’t need another one.”

“Oh, cool.”

Contentment is weird.

People in recovery are more used to being “restless, irritable, and discontented” (Big Book xxviii).

But when you’re content, it’s like you can just be, and everything is all right. Perhaps eternal life is like that – just being with God, living in an oasis.

What must I do?

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” asks the rich young man, who probably had several shirts.

Jesus loves him, and says, “You lack one thing … get rid of the thing that’s keeping you from God, whatever it is. Give it away entirely, and you’ll have treasure in heaven.”

For me, giving away my desire for a drink and giving away my desire to buy more things have together led me back to Jesus and to “a faith that really works in daily living” (12and12, 43).

What is the one thing you lack?

What might Jesus, who loves you, point to in your life? What’s the one thing that keeps you from God?

Is it money?

Food? Anger? Gossip?

Is it drinking or drugs or politics or something equally addictive?

Is it approval or being right or getting your way?

What are you holding onto so tightly that you can’t receive the treasure of heaven?

Give it away entirely, and enter the oasis!

Speaking of oases

The story of the rich young man reminds me of another favorite story, this one not from an oasis but from the Desert Fathers of 3rd century Egypt:

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?”

 Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “Why not become totally flame?”

abbas lot and joseph - all flameWhat’s the one thing you lack? What’s holding you back from God?

Why not give it away in order to find a faith that works, in order to find contentment?

Why not become totally flame?

Why not give it away entirely, and live now in the oasis with God?

Tools of the trade

“Is that a Bible or a machinists’ manual?”

The man with a cast sitting near me at Starbucks pointed to the leather-bound book with ribbons next to my laptop. 

“Well, it’s a prayer book and a Bible, so I guess you could say it’s both.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a tool of the trade, so to speak. The prayer book is all about how to practice the Christian life.”

“Hm. Cool.”

And with that the conversation turned to other things: My father-in-law was a tool and die maker. Had we lived here long? What happened to his foot? I had foot surgery myself a few years ago. He was starting physical therapy this week. 

Seeds planted. Connections made. 

He gathered up his cane, but before he left he made a point of coming over and saying good-bye. 

“See you around.”

I hope so.