Tag Archives: Richard Rohr

These trees are prayers

In this morning’s email, Richard Rohr shares a poem by Rabindranath Tagore:

Silence my soul, these trees are prayers.
I asked the tree, “Tell me about God”;
then it blossomed.

Rohr continues: “Now look around you, wherever you are, and find something of beauty. Sit in spacious silence, observing without words or judgment. Let this beauty teach you the mystery of Incarnation, of God’s indwelling presence in all creation.”

St. Mary the Virgin

Today is one of the feasts on the church calendar centering on the “mystery of Incarnation,” on God becoming human and sharing our lives in the person of Jesus.

His mother, Mary, plays a central role in this mystery. Her “yes” to God makes room for all sorts of blossoming.
2015-08-15 08.17.13Like Hannah, who sings that “the barren has borne seven” and the needy are raised up from the ash heap (1 Samuel 2:5-8), Mary sings of God lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things (Luke 1:52-53).

Something new is bearing fruit in the world just as it is in her womb.

And in Jesus’ first sign, the miracle at the wedding in Cana, it’s Mary who puts the fruit of her womb on the spot and urges him to provide the fruit of the vine, overflowing amounts of wine for the feast, good wine that gladdens the heart.

Blossoming in place

Like many who pray the Daily Office, I have a favorite place to pray, a place that gladdens my heart.

From my chair on our porch I look out on our backyard, a Japanese garden with a screen of trees in the ravine behind it.

2015-08-15 06.37.59Looking at the trees in my garden, I “ponder these things in my heart” like Mary.

What trees bear witness to your prayers?

What place helps your heart to blossom? How does the place where you pray help bring Jesus to life again in you?

Transformed by the renewing of our minds | Sermon for June 28, 2015

I subscribe to the daily emails sent by the Franciscan priest and teacher Richard Rohr, who said once at a lecture at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena that:

Religion distinguishes between education and transformation. They’re not the same thing! You can be educated and not transformed, and you can be uneducated and profoundly transformed.

But the apostle Paul blends the two in his letter to the Romans, where he writes:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).

Education and transformation go together in the program called Education for Ministry, or EfM, which Joanne and Barb invited me to talk about today here at St. Luke’s.

EFM as education

Students in EfM really are students. They read textbooks chosen by staff at the Beecken Center of the School of Theology of the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee (one of the 11 historic Episcopal seminaries).

EfM was created 40 years ago as a “four-year distance learning certificate program of theological education,” and students will testify that they learn a lot.

EfM students in Year One listening to today’s Gospel might be thinking about the Old Testament’s (excuse me, the Hebrew Bible’s) ritual purity laws.

John Petty of ProgressiveInvolvement.com writes that:

Mark does not explicitly mention violations of the ‘purity code,’ but there are two of them in this reading. First, the woman with the hemorrhage touched Jesus, rendering him unclean. Second, Jesus touched the dead young woman, which also would have rendered him unclean.

EfM students in Year Two might be thinking about the New Testament and how to interpret documents written in Greek nearly 2,000 years ago.

Mark Davis, on his blog Left Behind and Loving It, translates the Greek of each week’s Gospel reading directly and comments on the problems or insights he discovers.

Mark the Gospel writer’s prose is urgent and breathless anyway, but this passage takes the cake:

And a woman being in a flow of blood for 12 years and having suffered much by many physicians and having spent all that she had and not having benefitted but having gone from bad to the worse having heard about Jesus having gone into the crowd she grabbed his garment from behind.

Davis goes on to say, “She is as defined by her determination as by her suffering. That is the value of respecting Mark’s string of participles and being patient for the main verb. After all that she suffered and did, she grabbed his garment.”

EfM students in Year Three might be thinking about how the political maneuverings and bloody wars of 3,000 years of church history are seemingly unrelated to today’s Gospel.

As one student in my group observes nearly every week, “The church history author hardly mentions Jesus at all!”

The church history we read is really the history of 3,000 years of religious change.

The last couple of weeks have seen momentous changes, with the events in Charleston and the Supreme Court’s rulings on the ACA and marriage equality, with President Obama’s eulogy at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the Episcopal Church’s election of the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, another African-American preacher, as our 27th Presiding Bishop.

And yet we realize that the past is prologue, that history repeats itself, that even today girls in Zimbabwe, Kenya, or Haiti who have reached the age of menstruation often have to miss school because their period is seen as shameful. Girls in Bangladesh and India suffer infections for lack of clean supplies.

As for their hopes of an education or independence, they might as well be dead — like the synagogue leader’s unnamed daughter.

And EfM students in Year Four will have been reading stories and academic analyses about how people in different cultures read the Gospel differently, about how men and women read the Gospel differently, about how the powerful and powerless read the Gospel differently.

Deborah Blanks, associate dean of religious life at Princeton University, writes for the African-American Lectionary.org:

[Jesus’] message is clear – that the unnamed woman is of no less importance than the ill daughter of a person of power. She becomes a perpetual reminder that the socially marginal have a conspicuous place in the realization of God’s reign.

EfM might help us learn a lot that enriches our appreciation of the Gospel, but it doesn’t stop there.

EFM as reflection

We don’t simply gaze in admiration at all of the pictures our teachers have painted.

Instead, we deliberately – in a process called theological reflection – look more closely at the pictures, entering into the emotions and dilemmas and questions they depict.

In our “TRs” (as we call them) we seek a glimpse of how God is acting in our lives and share with each other our transformed understanding.

If we were doing a theological reflection on efficiency, for example, we might picture Jesus as a paramedic and look closely at his presence in this chaotic and emotional scene.

Peter Woods, on his blog The Listening Hermit, writes an entry called “Jesus has no time for triage”.

With all the drama of a novel rushing to its climax, Mark inserts the older hopeless woman into the story of Jesus’ mission to heal the just girl. The old bleeding woman is an interruption and an energy thief to boot! Yet, as the story unfolds both are healed. The young and the old, the hopeful and the hopeless. There is enough time, power, compassion, and grace to go round so that no one needs be written off.

Or, if we were doing a theological reflection on vulnerability, we might remember that the woman is ritually impure, shunned because of her bleeding; the child is unclean (and her father prostrate with grief) because she is dead. We might see ourselves in the portrait before us.

David Lose of Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia writes on the blog Dear Working Preacher:

We tend in our culture to avoid vulnerability – to avoid admitting that we don’t have it all together – because of the way it can leave you feeling exposed, desperate and, well, vulnerable. And there is something of that in these stories. But we’ve also seen that only in admitting our vulnerability are we able to receive help, and only by owning our moments of desperation are we willing to try something out of the ordinary, discover the courage to be and act differently.

Being transformed for ministry

Jesus’ presence in the whirlwind encounters with the woman and the child transformed them. The child was brought back to life, and the woman was brought back into life.

Jesus transformed and encouraged them both.

He encouraged Mark and the other disciples to “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), and the world keeps turning upside down.

Having “the courage to be and to act differently” – that’s what it means to be transformed by Jesus.

Admitting our vulnerability – admitting that we don’t have it all together – and receiving help, that’s the renewing of our minds in Jesus that helps us to “discern what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Transformation is for all of us. Reflection is for all of us. Education is for all of us.

Shameless plug: Education for Ministry is for all of us.

Being transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect – that’s for all of us.

Amen.

[Sermon preached at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Sister Bay, Wisconsin.]

By your endurance you will gain your souls | The martyrs of Charleston

My sight has failed me because of trouble; *
LORD, I have called upon you daily; I have stretched out my hands to you.
Do you work wonders for the dead? *
will those who have died stand up and give you thanks?
Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave? *
your faithfulness in the land of destruction?
Will your wonders be known in the dark? *
or your righteousness in the country where all is forgotten?
But as for me, O LORD, I cry to you for help; *
in the morning my prayer comes before you. (Psalm 88:10-14)

The Rev. Dr. Eric H.F. Law of the Kaleidoscope Institute, in his book The Wolf Shall Dwell With the Lamb, describes the “Cycle of Gospel Living.”

This cycle is also used in the Education for Ministry program in which mentors and our students reflect on “Living Faithfully in a Multicultural World.”

The psalmist and the martyrs of Charleston — along with the African-American community more generally — have entered the cycle of Gospel living from the point of powerlessness.

How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me for ever?
how long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)

Their endurance has united them with the suffering of Jesus on the cross, whose suffering is not the end of the story. The cross leads to the empty tomb, to resurrection, and to the power of life in Christ.

After an event like the shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, social media is justifiably full of anger directed toward well-meaning (mostly white) Christians who “have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14).

In his 1963 Letter From a Birmingham Jail, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of his disappointment with the “white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice”:

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

The problem now (as then) is that we are all speaking about the Gospel, but we are talking past each other.

What we “well-meaning Christians” must understand is that we enter the cycle of Gospel living from a completely different position than many (most?) Christians do.

We participate in the cycle when we give up our power, “just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).

We participate by falling and failing, by giving up our power and privilege, which no one is taking away from us.

Richard Rohr writes in his daily reflection that:

This is why Christianity has as its central symbol of transformation a naked, bleeding man who is the picture of failing, losing, and dying … and who is really winning — and revealing the secret pattern to those who will join him there.

All of us who are Christians participate in the cycle of Gospel living. All of us center our lives on the crucified and risen Jesus.

But we experience the cycle of Gospel living differently from each other, we come to the saving knowledge of Christ’s death and resurrection from different directions, and we must be tender with one another for Jesus’ sake.

A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

A Prayer for Mission

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen. (BCP 101)

Sermon for 2 Lent | Abraham, Peter, and a mustard seed

Then Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:31-33)

I don’t know if Paul had this story in mind when he wrote today’s chapter of the letter to the Romans, but his rivalry with Peter might have colored the way he painted the story of Abraham’s faith.

Abraham

Before the portion of Genesis that we read this morning (Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16), Abram:

  • had already followed God to the land he showed him, “along with his wife Sarai, his brother’s son Lot, and all their possessions, and all the persons they had acquired”
  • had already gone down to Egypt because of a famine
  • had already separated from Lot so they wouldn’t get in each other’s way, then come back to rescue him
  • had already been blessed by Melchizedek
  • had already made a covenant with God, and “it was reckoned to him as righteousness”
  • and had already had a son, Ishmael, with Sarai’s servant girl Hagar, who went into exile with the boy

Today, God gives Abraham a new name, and God says Sarah will give birth to a son.

Here’s how Abraham responds, at least according to Paul:

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:19-22)

Peter

Now before Jesus started talking about suffering and dying, Simon

  • had already left his nets and followed him
  • had already seen a man with an unclean spirit healed
  • had already seen his mother-in-law healed, for goodness’ sake
  • had already seen a leper healed
  • had already seen a paralyzed man get up and walk
  • had already seen a tax collector leave the money follow Jesus
  • had already been appointed one of the Twelve and given a new name, Peter
  • had already heard Jesus teach in parables, calm a storm, heal a demoniac, raise a girl to life and heal a suffering woman

And Peter had already gone out on a mission with the rest of the apostles and done all of these impossible things himself!

And then …. Jesus fed 5,000 people, walked on water, cured a deaf man, and fed 4,000 more people.

And then Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”

Today, Jesus talks about yet another impossible thing: “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Peter starts to argue with Jesus, saying that’s not how it’s going to be! We’re on a roll here – look at everything we’ve accomplished – and it’s just going to keep getting better from now on!

Jesus is sharp in his rebuke, calling Peter on the carpet in front of everyone. “Get behind me, you adversary, you tempter! (That’s what “Satan” means.) You’re focused on human things, not divine.”

I can just imagine Peter’s face burning red with shame.

In his book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr writes “Jesus praised faith and trust – even more than love. It takes a foundational trust to fall, or to fail, and not to fall apart.”

How Peter must be humbled by Jesus’ rebuke, though he still has to fall, and fail, a couple more times before he finally falls upward into the identity his name points to: Peter the Rock.

The Mustard Seed

But today I want to turn from rocks, and from the mountain-top where the tempter lives, and focus down on a little mustard seed.

Jesus said, according to Matthew, that “if you have faith the size a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Both Abraham and Peter had trust.

Both of them had seen God acting and had followed God in trust.

Abraham also had just enough faith to be “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

That little faith, small as a mustard seed, was “reckoned to him as righteousness.”

However, Peter is most like us – that’s probably why he’s first among the Twelve apostles.

Like Peter, we have already seen Jesus and his Spirit acting in our lives:

  • In two powerful Faith Alive weekends that have revitalized the congregation
  • In vibrant healing ministries that we offer each other every week
  • In so many Bible studies, EfM groups, and reading groups every week
  • Through our mission partners and mission prayer links
  • Through our children and young people
  • In our retired clergy, so generous with their wisdom and time
  • In the 85 people who came out on Wednesday night to gather with our bishop for a Lenten study

But like Peter we have a hard time hearing Jesus when the talk turns serious, when he sets his face toward Jerusalem and the cross.

The transformative dying that Jesus describes, what we now call the Way of the Cross, demands of us not just trust that Jesus is leading us where we need to go, but faith that our falling and failing actually moves us upward toward the share in the kingdom that he promises.

That kingdom, Jesus says, is within us (Luke 17:21).

That kingdom, he says, “is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade” (Mark 4:31-32).

Jesus says elsewhere that unless a grain of wheat is planted and dies, it cannot rise into new growth (John 12:24).

We are so like Peter in our falling and our failing — afraid to let go of our success, afraid to risk even a tiny mustard seed of faith.

Today, may we be like Abraham, fully convinced that God, in Christ, can do what he has promised.

“For those who want to save their life,” Jesus says, “will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Our little faith is enough. Our little mustard seed of faith, if we are willing to lay it down for Jesus’ sake, and for the sake of the good news, is enough.

And that little mustard seed of faith will “be reckoned to us as righteousness,” just as Paul said it would be.

He also said, “The promise rests on grace … “

And the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and for ever. Amen.

Bearing and being changed

In one of the talks in the online course related to his book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, Richard Rohr describes the process of recovery in the words of Thérèse of Lisieux:

Serenely bearing the trial of being displeasing to myself.

And listen to Joan Chittister on the centenary of Thomas Merton’s birth:

What Merton calls us to do as part of this slow but fulfilling process [of spiritual development] depends on the raw and ruthless debunking of the self to the self that is the ground of humility.

In these last days of Epiphany, we approach the season of Lent, a season that the Church invites us to observe “by special acts of discipline and self-denial,” and we pray:

That we, beholding by faith the light of [Jesus’] countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory (BCP 217).

Being displeasing to ourselves is not the point; being raw and ruthless in our debunking of ourselves is not the point.

Being changed into Jesus’ likeness is. Being changed from glory to glory is.

Lent is the season where we deliberately turn our gaze toward the crucified and risen Christ of Easter, the one to whom John the Baptist points us in this morning’s Gospel reading (John 1:19-28). But in Lent we are also made more keenly aware of “every weight and the sin that clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1).

We commit ourselves once more in Lent to the helpful practices of the faith, knowing with the ancient Israelites that “if we diligently observe this entire commandment before the Lord our God, we will be in the right (Deut. 6:25). But on Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent we are also reminded of “our self-indulgent appetites and ways” (BCP 268).

Thérèse of Lisieux offers powerful wisdom in this situation, for we find our serenity in bearing our trials and continually returning to God’s pleasure in us. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,” we pray.

Merton’s words ring true, too, for desiring abundant life in God, we can be ruthless in ridding ourselves of everything that holds us back. “Grant me the courage to change the things I can,” we pray.

And finally, it is only with our gaze on “God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart” (John 1:18) that we have a prayer of receiving “the wisdom to know the difference.”

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Why do we call this Friday “Good”?

Just as every Sunday is for Christians a reminder of Easter and the resurrection, every Friday is a reminder of Good Friday and the crucifixion.

At Morning Prayer every Friday, we pray:

Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)

Just as we live in the light of the Resurrection, we walk in the way of the cross.

Fr. Richard Rohr says:

I believe that the Mystery of the Cross is saying that the pattern of transformation unto God, the pattern that connects, the life that God offers us is always death transformed. The only pattern is the pattern of death and resurrection. We submit to it with trust because Jesus did.

Rohr calls this One Big Pattern “transformative dying.”

On the other side of that dying, whether it is physical illness and death, or the “daily dying to self” of the prayer book, or admitting our powerlessness over our sin, on the other side of that dying we find the truth.

The American author Reynolds Price says that the Gospel of John can be compressed down to a single sentence, “the sentence mankind craves from stories”:

The Maker of all things loves and wants me.

The Maker of all things loves and wants me — loves and wants every single one of us, loves and wants all of us so much that God was willing not only to endure the limitations of becoming human, but also to endure the suffering and death that is our lot in life.

Because he died and rose again, we too can experience “transformative dying,” can claim our small part of the one big pattern.

That’s why we call this Friday “Good.”

Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen. (BCP 99)