Thursday, March 31, 2011

Service: Wrestle with Angels

All of us, even those confined to a bed, work.  Our work may involve managing a huge company, a Sunday School class, a family, or even just our own healthcare.  An old Russian singer-songwriter Bulat Okudzhava wrote, "Work is work, there's always work." 

Sometimes our work is easy, and wonderfully fulfilling.  Especially when it involves making life better for others in some way, our work can seem like holy service.  For which we can be most grateful.

But what about the times when work is drudgery?  When it is hard and slow, and requires vast attention to detail?  What about the times when we do not see our work as valuable, maybe because others don't see it as valuable?  Then it's difficult to be grateful for work.   And it might cross our minds that it is punishment.  Could it be that the toil spoken of in Genesis 3 is our lot?  When work feels a lot like the exhausting wrestling with angels much stronger than we are, what to do?

The truth is that none of us know completely how our efforts affect others.  It's lovely to feel good about our work, and to receive lots of good response to it.  Sometimes, though, it's only long after that we discover the impact we have had on other people.  As we wrestle with the angels at work, maybe the best thing is to pray that our work, whatever it is, will be of service to God and to God's people.  After that, it's God's responsibility to use it in the best way.

Returning over and over throughout the work time to this attitude requires discipline--more wrestling with angels.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Prayer- Plant Seeds

This is the prefect time of year to start seedlings in preparation for our gardens. This year, in my family, we have labeled each seed with a prayer intention for ourselves and others. As each seed grows, we have asked God to nurture both the seed and what/who it represents. In this way, God is planted in our yard and in our hearts.

Prayer: Mothers and Fathers

In the past week, three parents of staff or volunteers have died.  And my mother is ill, so parents are on my mind. 

All of us, whether we know them or not, like them or not, adore them or not, have a mother and a father.  At least some of what we are comes from them.  Let's pray a blessing on our own parents.  And pray for all of us who are parents.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Worship: Going to the Hospital

I spent the weekend in the hospital with various folks from the parish.  This prompted me to ponder the saying from (I think) Mike Yaconelli who wrote in Messy Spirituality, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” I've encountered the analogy of the church to a hospital many times over the years.  Certainly Jesus as the Great Physician, the Great Healer,works here.  What intrigues me today is the thought that all of us present at our services need healing, and many of us have received healing--some of us over and over (what else is confession and absolution, after all?). 

It is Good News that we have this spiritual hospital available to us.  And another piece of Good News that we are welcomed into the company of others who are being healed. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Worship: In This Together

As I look out over the Sunday congregation, I know for a fact that someone has just discovered she is pregnant, another couple just got engaged, someone is fighting a deadly disease, someone's parent just died, someone is pondering ordination, someone is thoroughly engrossed in the process of spring gardening, someone is struggling with addiction, someone is joyfully celebrating years of sobriety, someone is having problems with their kids, someone has the BEST child, and so on.  The list of who we are is endless.  And sometimes it seems we are more different than we are alike.  Some of our ancestors even fought each other!  We're not even all here for the same reasons.  (All those who are here for the Mystical Feast raise your hands?  All those who are here for coffee hour raise your hands?)

But we all find ourselves in this place at the same time.  There is great benefit in having a limited foretaste of the wonderfully varied congregation which will gather to praise the Holy One at the end of time.  Truly we can sing, even today, "All Creatures of Our God and King...O, praise God!"

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Prayer: Smoke and Flame

This bit of wisdom arrived in the quarterly newsletter of Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE): 

Amma Syncletica (4th century) said, "In the beginning there are a great many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God, and afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke and cry, and by this means obtain what they seek. So we also must kindle the divine fire in ourselves." 

Do not, then, let the smoke or the tears blind you to the kindled flame in your heart but, rather, draw near to the warmth of the love of God.

--Many thanks to Fr. Cliff Carr for this post.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Prayer: Write the Scriptures

The ancient practice of lectio divina (sacred reading) invites us to interact with the Holy Scriptures, to appreciate them literally as the Word of God addressed to us.  Many times we read quickly, sometimes superficially, to gain information, to be entertained, to find out the end of the story.  Sacred reading is not like that.  We are invited to linger with God over God's word, to let it soak into our spirits, engage our minds.

One of the ways to slow down and take the holy words into myself, is to write them.  My eyes read the scriptures, my heart waits for God to make them alive in me, and my body also participates as my hand moves across the paper, forming the inspired words.  For those of us who learn kinesthetically, this is a particularly powerful practice.  

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Prayer: Turn Worries to Wonders

So many of us are running around carrying our worries and our burdens. Today, when you feel yourself worrying about the little things of life, offer them up to God and then give thanks for something else which is a joy to you. You will find that this will help shift your attitude from one which is burdened to one which sees wonders and blessing everywhere.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Prayer: Watch with Christ

We all have sleepless nights from time to time.  Instead of lying there fretting, or listing everything we need to do that we will be too tired to do sensibly, consider spending that time with Jesus.  He knows all about watching and waiting.  Pray for those who are sleeping peacefully.  Pray for those who are awake, also.  Pray for the sick.  Pray for the poor.  Pray for the troubled places in the world.  And pray that God's rest will enfold you.

One of the most lovely prayers in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer understands:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Service: World Water Day

Today is World Water Day and to celebrate, try doing one small thing to help cut back your water consumption. For example, put a plastic bottle filled with water into the cistern to reduce the volume per flush. This can save gallons and gallons of water ever year.It may not take a full day, but it is certainly a good way to serve God and honor his creation.

Prayer: For World Water Day

Today in your prayers, give thanks for the gift of water and pray for those who have no access to clean water. Try using this prayer:

Holy God, our Living Water and our merciful Guide, together with the rivers and seas, wells and springs, we bless and magnify you. You led your people by the pillar of cloud and fire through the sea, and provided them water from the rock. We thank you for the gift of water. The Holy Spirit moved over water in the beginning of creation. In water, your Son Jesus received the gift of baptism and was anointed by the Holy Spirit to lead us into the way of everlasting life through his life, death, and resurrection. Gracious God, you have called us into a community of faith. We are called to life by you and to sustain life with you, the source of life and creator of every being. We pray for those who struggle every day for their daily supply of water: in the slums of Brazilian cities, in the deserts of Africa, in the townships where clean water does not flow. We pray for those who experience floods and for others in desperate need of water. We pray that those who are fortunate to have an abundance of water do not take your gift for granted, or fail to heed and understand the cries of people who need water for life. Amen

Used by permission of the Lutheran World Federation.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Prayer: Pondering Lent

St. Benedict said in his Rule: "A monastic's life should be a perpetual Lent." (Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 49)  What would that be like?  I suppose it depends on what you think Lent is *for*.  A Carthusian monk wrote:
"Our 'fast'…consists only in removing the obstacles to our profound conformation to Christ." (From Advent to Pentecost: Carthusian Novice Comferences)  Pray today for God to remove those obstacles.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Worship: Walking around in Circles

Being in the pew is a wonderful way to worship--time to sing, pray, read, hear a reflection on the Scripture or topic of the day.  But it's not the only way.  Take, for example, the Labyrinth, an ancient form of walking around in circles.  There is no one right way to walk the Labyrinth.  Some people walk in solemn silence; some dance joyfully.  Kids especially "get" the Labyrinth.  We see them dashing in, only to slow as they near the center, and often pause for a moment of rest, before returning to the beginning.  While each of us walks the Labyrinth on our own, we also journey together with others who are walking.  Sometimes people pass us, sometimes we slow down to a crawl behind a walker moving more slowly than we do.  Just like life.  We walk prayerfully, worshipfully together in God's presence, traveling toward the Holy.

More information about the Labyrinth can be found at Grace Cathedral's Grace Cathedral's Labyrinth site.

There will be a Labyrinth walk at Trinity, today  (March 20) at 5:00.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Prayer: For Families

Spend some time thinking about your family.  Pray for each of them by name, asking that God will bless them in the way that is most wonderful for them.  And pray that each will be open to the rich blessings God wishes to pour out on them.

Remember those who have died and pray that they will continue in God's peace. 

Pray for yourself, as part of this family.

Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Pray for the whole human family, united in relationship with our Good God.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Service: Bring the world in

This evening, we will host a local music club's annual membership concert.  They need three times the space they have in their small venue, and we need to bring the world within the church walls, rather than keep it outside.  Filling our building to capacity with people who are not familiar with us is no joke, and will require many volunteer hours, demand extra of the staff, and patience from everyone--concert-goers and volunteers alike.  Consider how you can volunteer to help your faith community bring the world inside.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Prayer and Service: Be extra kind

"Be kinder than necessary, because everyone you meet is fighting some battle."  This wonderful quote was attributed to St. John Chrysostom. If you talk with even one person today and give room for listening, you will certainly hear about their battles.

Or to put it another way, as a very ancient and holy woman said to me, when I served her as a chaplain: "If you expect to go 75% of the way in any relationship, and the other person goes 75% of the way, maybe just maybe you'll each end up going 50/50."

Words to live by in the hurly-burly.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Praying in the Rain

I woke up to the sound of rain on the eaves this morning.  It's a "soft day", as we used to say, of mist and drizzle.  Perfect spring weather to wash away the grit of end-of-winter, and to encourage the crocuses, snowdrops and other early flowers.

Give thanks for this gentle rain and pray for those for whom it is a hardship.  Give thanks for God's mercy "which droppeth like the gentle rain", to quote Mr. Shakespeare.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Prayer and Worship: The Daily Office

Especially during Lent, many churches offer morning or evening prayer.  It is wonderful to read the psalms, hear the scriptures and pray with brothers and sisters, in the same way the church has been doing for centuries.  And it is comforting to think that as we pray or sing the psalms, we are using Jesus' prayerbook.

When you can't get to church, or if there are no services near you, pray the office on your own.  Many denominations have a form for it.  Here is a helpful online site in English y en espanol: Mission St. Clare.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Message from the Mother Ship

Fr. Scott Barker, from Christ Church, Warwick, NY, gave us the idea for this blog and for the 20 + 1 +1 program.  Christ Church's website has a whole section on this, which you can find at .  They have a lovely Lenten meditation that changes each day.  Please consider visiting for a moving graphic message.

Prayer: The Names of God

Write down all of the names for God that you can think of. Next, do an internet search to find out how many more there actually are. Finally, spend some time with your list to see which names are important to you and why.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Worship: Safety in Numbers

St. John Chrysostom taught that the evil one tempts us when we are alone (as Jesus was alone in the wilderness).  When we are surrounded by the community of the faithful, we are much less like to succumb.  As he says, "flock together continually, that we may not be open to the devil’s attacks.” *

A great reason to flock to church on the first Sunday of Lent.

*St. John Chrysostom's Sermon 13, on Matthew 4:1.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Service: Making a more beautiful season

Walk around your neighborhood, picking up trash.  Walk around **anyone's** neighborhood.  Make the new season's coming more lovely.  And remember, as we move into Lent, to pick up the trash in our hearts.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Prayer and Service: For Japan

Pray for the people of Japan, and for everyone affected by the earthquake and tsunamis.  Pray for those who are aiding them in every way they can.  Pray for those of us whose only way to assist is to pray.

And while you are praying, keep praying for ChristChurch, New Zealand, and Haiti.

Service: Donate to Episcopal Relief and Development for disaster relief.

Worship: Attend a Taize Service

Taize chant is a wonderful opportunity to experience both sung and body prayer (since chanting involves your breath, your lungs, your diaphragm, your voice, your mouth, your eyes, your ears).  Brief prayers or verses of Scripture are set to simple melodies, designed particularly for those of us who are not trained singers.  If you ARE a trained singer, even more wonderful.  The quiet, repetition of the chanted prayer allows the meaning to sink deeply into our minds and spirits.  Replace those annoying commercials playing over and over in our heads with a sacred phrase!

Taize prayer is particularly moving when done with others--we hear both ourselves at prayer, and our praying community with us.

For more about Taize, visit the Taize Community's website and listen to some samples.

There will be Taize chant around the labyrinth on Sunday, March 20, at 5:00, at Trinity Episcopal Church in Bethlehem.  It is co-sponsored by Trinity and a spiritual director from College Hill Moravian Church.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Prayer: for "Enemies"

Spend 20 minutes today listing the people who get your goat.  Ask God to bless each of them by name.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

An Ash Wednesday State of Mind

Meditation for Ash Wednesday

On Sunday, as I listened to the prayer for the burning of the palms, I had a strong sense of being moved slowly, but inexorably, out of Epiphany and into Lent. I am grateful that the church in her wisdom knows that like the apostles on the mountain of Transfiguration, we need to be encouraged to move on to the next thing God wants us to experience.

The obvious thing that we learn on Ash Wednesday, and continue to contemplate throughout Lent is what we hear a dozen times as we kneel and the clergy go down the line, imposing ashes: Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  We tend to forget we are dust, until something happens to pull us up short--like an illness, or an unexpected event that shakes us out of every-day-ness. 

This reminder that we are mortal can seem ominous.  I remember walking in the colonial cemetery near the house where I grew up.  There were sayings on the gravestones: like “Together for Eternity” on a married couple’s stone.  Or the oddest: “Behold me now as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I, as I am now, so you shall be.  Prepare your life and follow me.”  YIKES!  Did this come from one of those Victorian gothic novels? 

But in fact, the cemetery was a peaceful and serene place, and very beautiful.  It was deeply carpeted with creeping thyme that had escaped from the Shaker gardens nearby.  Walking on it through the rows of stones gave comfort to tired feet, spicy fragrance to the nose, and the glory of an acre of tiny purple-red flowers, above the glittering green leaflets.

Surely, if God wanted to walk in a garden on a still summer afternoon, it would be in this garden, filled with honeybees.  I am certain that the Holy One is very fond of it, and I often felt the Divine Presence there as a child.

Like Ash Wednesday does, it gives me pause to think of a place dedicated to mortality as a place of beauty and comfort.  Every year, I am tripped up by the Episcopal Church’s collect for Ash Wednesday.  It begins: “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made.”  HATE?????  God hates or does not hate????  What a relief to know that God does not hate our mortal selves.  God does not hate the plants that grow strong and then fade away only to spring back after the winter is done.  God does not hate the dry and barren desert that explodes into bloom after a rain.  God does not hate the rocks that crumble into sand and create lovely soft beaches.  “You hate nothing you have made.”

God MUST be English.  What an unbelievable understatement!  Not only does God not hate what God has made, God apparently loves it so much that God decided to become part of it!  God chose to put on a body like ours, created of dust, and subject to all the infirmities of that dust, including even temptation.  And sorrow.  And pain.  When Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop, he was wearing that body of dust.  When at his baptism, the heavens opened and the voice of God called him the Beloved Son, he was wearing that body of dust.  How wonderful and how awe-inspiring that God loved us in our mortality enough to allow the Son to assume mortal flesh.  What a miracle!  In some ways, the Incarnation is more miraculous to me than the Resurrection.  I can understand God resurrecting the Son.  I find it harder to fathom God wanting to become mortal human.

Part of what Ash Wednesday is about is recognizing who we are and who we are not.  There’s an old joke about a parson who is constantly complaining to God about the state of the world, and informing God about how to fix it.  Eventually the Almighty gets tired of hearing him.  In the middle of one of the parson’s rants, a huge booming voice rings out: “John.”  “Yes, Lord,” says the man, feeling satisfied that finally God is here to talk to him in person.  “John,” roars the Voice again.  “Just one thing.  I am God, and you…are not.”  

 The Ash Wednesday Prayer over the People says, “Grant, most merciful Lord, to your faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve you with a quiet mind."  What gives us a quiet mind?  It is achieving an Ash Wednesday state: awareness and acceptance of the reality that we are indeed wonderfully and fearfully made, but that we are fallible humans and we are not God.  This is also a definition of true humility, knowing and accepting that reality.  We become unquiet when we are dissatisfied with who and what we are, and begin reaching and grasping for something else.  Even more, we become unquiet when we won’t recognize that we sin, and need forgiveness over and over. 

As we begin Lent by confessing our sins, receiving absolution, and being reminded that we are dust, let us find comfort in the knowledge that that is all we need to be.  We don’t have to be God.  God made this beautiful dust, and rejoices in it.  God longs for us to find peace in what we have been created to be: beloved children and heirs.  St. Seraphim once said, “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.”  May that peace reign in us and spread throughout the world.

Ash Wednesday

Today, as we begin, here are some suggestions for Prayer, Worship and Service.

PRAYER: Remember we are dust.  But dust that God loved enough to inhabit.

WORSHIP: Attend an Ash Wednesday service.

SERVICE: Volunteer in a health care facility, or make a call to someone who is ill.  Be a loving voice to someone who knows how much they are dust.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

20 + 1 + 1 = RENEWAL

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, we will challenge ourselves to pray for 20 minutes each day, to spend one hour a week in worship, and to serve others for one day each month.

Prayer can take whatever form you prefer.  What is important is not HOW you pray, but THAT you pray.  While we hope that you will worship at your home parish, if you are traveling, experiment by visiting another faith community.   Service can be done one whole day a month, or a few hours at a time.  There are always people and organizations who need our assistance--we only have to let ourselves be aware of them.

Anyone, young or old, can participate.  As a way to get started, during the season of Lent, we will post one way to pray or to worship or to serve each day.  Let us know how you are practicing 20 + 1 + 1.