Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Modern Day Pharisees

To be honest, I just can't imagine that the issue of homosexuality exercised the minds of the apostles as much as it exercises the minds of certain people in the Episcopal Church. To be honest, I believe that the apostles and disciples were exercised with spreading the Good News and inviting as many as possible to share in it. I don't see them limiting the Kingdom to those who passed a certain litmus test any more than Jesus did when He walked the earth.

All this talk of who can or who cannot be a part of the Kingdom of God reminds me of the Pharisees and their endless hedging around the law and their endless exclusions of others from the love of God.

Was it the Pharisees that Jesus hung out with? Did He spend a lot of time with the excluders? Nope. He sought out the sinners, the rejects etc. I can only be grateful that He did, because I am certainly a sinner and have been rejected by many modern day Pharisees intimidated by mental illness.

Who was it who spread the Good News after Pentecost? It wasn't the Pharisees. It was the sinners and the rejects. I give thanks every day for the sinners and rejects who carry on the work of the Kingdom.

All Christians leave something to be desired. We are none of us better than anyone else and were we to come out of denial about ourselves, we might be chided for thinking ourselves the worst of sinners. Were we to take our own sin seriously, we might echo Paul's words. Because he certainly took his own sin seriously.

The miracle that is God's grace allows us to do some good, transforms our sins into vehicles of grace where God can work on human hearts and turn them to Him.

Thanks be to the Most High that He continues to send His Holy Spirit where He wants. Thanks be to the Lord that the Holy Spirit is like a wind that is felt everywhere. Thanks be to God that we can see the modern day Pharisees for what they are. Which is exactly what Jesus says they are.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Martha and Mary

I have often thought that Martha and the everyday tasks of homemaking don't come off well in this story in the way I have always heard it interpreted. Which is the idea that Martha is annoyed that she is doing all the housework while Mary lounges around learning. As if learning isn't hard work. I have always been uncomfortable that Jesus' words would be interpreted to devalue the women's work of that day. Indeed that work has been viewed almost solely as women's work until the last 20 or 30 years.

I wonder if the point of the story has nothing to do with one sister doing the chores and the other sitting at the feet of Jesus. I wonder if the point is that Mary had chosen to follow Jesus as a disciple and Martha had not yet done so? And that following Jesus is "the better part"?

Monday, October 09, 2006

"The Faith Once Delivered To The Saints"

I have problems with the phrase "the faith once delivered to the
saints". My academic training is in church history and I received
this training at an evangelical college and an evangelical seminary:
Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I mention
that so no one will think I have a flaky liberal background. :->

Something that was stressed over and over and over and over again in
my education is that many Christians have a fallacy about orthodoxy,
imagining it as a straight road with no twists or turns straight out
of the mouth of Jesus to our present day and that nothing could be
further from the truth.

Obviously, Jesus spoke truth. The Apostles were pretty darned clear
on what was truth also. And we all know about the reasons for
Apostolic Succession. Yet reading the primary sources, such as the
epistles, the Didache, and just about any other primary source for the
study of the early church reveals that figuring out what was the
content of "the faith once delivered to the saints"..

The Church has met in Council since the days of Acts to figure out
exactly what is "the faith once delivered to the saints". There were
no less than seven ecumenical councils addressing Christology alone.
"The faith once delivered to the saints" was never a neat and tidy
package. The closest the Church ever came to neat and tidy packages
are the Apostles and Nicene Creed. Except for the pesky filoque
clause ( which IMO, the west got wrong and the east got right but
that's neither here nor there) practically all Christians agree on
these tenets as crucial.

Personally, I place great dependence on the Creeds. There is no
sentence in there for which I would not die were that asked of me and
I hope it never is. Unlike Origen, I am in no hurry to be martyred.
If anything is

At the same time, I become very uncomfortable with any debate over
issues not addressed in the Creeds because my study of church history
teaches me that there are some things over which Christians have never
agreed and I doubt they never will. Infant vs adult baptism? Dunked
or sprinkled? I don't care. Jesus commanded us to baptize. He
didn't tell us how to do it. The baptism issue for me devolves to this
question: is a believer baptized or not.

Same thing with Eucharist. How unseemly have been the centuries of
debate of Real Presence or the other Eucharistic concept. Jesus said
"Eat. Drink." The Eucharist question devolves to me to this
question: is a believer eating and drinking or not.

These are just examples of 2 of the many debates that have raged
through Christendom. I daresay they always will. Along the way in our
2000 years, new debates have begun, old ones have quieted down only to
be re-visited.

Yet the Creeds remain. My own feeling is this: if we Christians
concentrate on the Creeds we will have much more in common than
otherwise. My own feeling is that any conversation which invests time
money and energy in anything except feeding the hungry, clothing the
naked, caring for the sick, providing for those unable to provide for
themselves, visiting the prisoners so they do not despair, making
disciples of all nations is a product of too much leisure time which
we would not have if we were out there loving our neighbors as

If anything is "the faith once delivered to the saints" it is the
Creeds. Now can we get on with feeding the hungry, clothing the naked,
caring for the sick, providing for those unable to provide for
themselves, visiting the prisoners so they do not despair, making
disciples of all nations instead of sitting around talking about the
divisive issues?

An early meditation on chastity

I wote this in February sometime. Not all of this is my original thoughts... some of it came from a book I was reading and I am ashamed to say that I didn't note the reference infor.

Chastity is not only about sex. Sure one aspect of chastity
is faithfulness to one's status. What's chaste behavior for a married
couple is not the same as chaste behavior for me as a single woman.
There is more to chastity than being faithful to one's partner or
abstaining from sex outside of a committed relationship.

I have been chaste in this manner for almost 30 years now. Over those
years I have come to understand that the primary relationship of love
in my life is with the Lord and not with a man. I am frequently
reminded of something Evelyn Underhill wrote about the vertical and
horizontal directions of love. She said that if a person truly loves
God, than that love which God and the person shared must be so great
as to overflow the containment of human skin and come out the very
pores to all of humanity and show itself in very specific acts of
love. I am paraphrasing badly. But this is a theme in any number of
her retreat addresses. So it seems to me that chastity includes loving
service to my fellow human beings.

Of course, this service can take a number of forms: intercessory or
contemplative prayer as well as getting out there among the senior
citizens as does Sr. Molly. In this service, one's attention is
redirected from self to God and other people where we can often find
the face of God.

Love is, of course, a verb and I believe it is a deliberate act of our
mind and will, of good will toward others and I don't think until I
grasped this that I ever really loved anyone because to some degree my
love for them was predicated by what they could do for me. A very
self-centered way of loving and chastity teaches me that love is

Love looks like generosity. And not just generosity of money, but of
the giving of ourselves, from our hearts. Giving someone our full
attention to their issues, needs, desires, hopes, gifts. Love is
inclusive, giving freely to others on basis of need, without

Love looks like gratitude. In loving, we also, I think, have to learn
how to receive the love of others graciously, without embarrassment,
discomfort, false modesty or false humility because loving means
always receiving. A loving person, it seems to me, is one who is not
so presumptuous as to think one could do without the love of others.
We need i think to be attentive to even the smallest expressions of
concern from another. Love gives and received freely, without
expectation or demand. Love shows appreciation.

Love looks like friendliness. I believe this means giving the benefit
of the doubt in favor of goodness, rather than suspiciously assuming
hidden agendas. Maybe that's naive of me, but I believe love inspires
others to do the same.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ember Day, 2006

Reading over previous Ember day letters, a serious omission struck me: failure to tell you how much I love this life. Or how deeply I feel that I have come home, that I am finally where I am supposed to be. The Lord loves me, I am free from many other considerations to embrace Him in return. With narrower options come immeasurable freedom to listen and hear, seek and find.

I had forgotten that a desire for accountability should include the positives as well as the negatives. One consideration that stopped me is that I have history of keeping what is most important to me a secret so that others don’t trample all over it. However, my mentors certainly need to know that contentment and joy establish residences within me.

Perhaps the most significant change during this novitiate is that somewhere along the way I have ceased to think of myself as a depressed person but a happy one. I’ve never said such a thing about myself before. Sometimes I feel as if God is saying to me “See? Now if you had just listened to Me earlier...”

The illness is still there, the symptoms must still be managed. But for the first time in so long that I cannot remember when, my daily thoughts are not consumed with where I am on the continuum of depression but with yielding all of myself into the hands of God. The Magnificat bursts into my mind and out of my mouth just thinking about what the Lord has wrought. Given what medical professionals have said to me over the years, I can perhaps be forgiven for thinking that the day would never dawn when I would claim to be healed of depression. I may not be cured, but certainly God has healed me.

By no means are you to understand that I am saying this life which God has chosen for me is easy. It is not. While it is true that in outward appearance, very little has changed, i.e. I pray the Offices, devote time to lectio divina, study, work, read and meditate on the Rule of St. Benedict as I have every day for over 20 years, within me there are large differences. It may seem arrogant to say this, but an ontological change began within me as a result of making the promises and the laying on of hands. More pieces of my life have fallen into place these past several months than ever before. The rightness of this way to live takes me over more and more and settles inside me as if it should have been there all along.

It would be naive to claim that this might not be a lonely vocation. Or that I don’t long to discuss with the like-minded those daily issues which cause me to stumble in holy living. Hence, I believe the interest in the Franciscans and the Fellowship Charitos. Then, as I said to Fr. Mike one day this summer, I remembered one of the first things Benedict addresses in his Rule: stability. It is true that Benedict meant staying put in one monastery with one community. But it occurred to me that one could be just as much of a gyrovague, flitting hither and yon, via the internet as one could be wandering from place to place geographically. (RB 1.10 & 11)
With the exquisite timing of the Holy Spirit, these same thoughts occurred at the same time to my spiritual director and Fr. Mike and Rev. Gwynn. At the same time I was coming to the conclusion that I needed to cut back and redirect any Internet involvement, they were also coming to that conclusion. Julia Cameron, _The Artist’s Way_ calls such timing “synchronicity”. I call it the Holy Spirit. Thus my Internet involvement is now limited to no more than 1 hour a day, if that, for a couple of lists which do discuss the nitty gritty of holy living and maybe 2 hours a week for our new All Soul’s On Line Christian Formation Forum. Fr. Mike and Rev Gwynn have invited me to be one of the moderators or shepherds for this experiment.

In the area of study, I felt constrained to polish up my various notes and thoughts on the subject of vocation. In the past few years, I invested a good bit of time in the study of vocation, its nature, what the Scriptures have to say about it, etc. I hope that at some occasion, it might be possible for me to present this material to others as I have long thought that the Episcopal Church lacks emphasis on the vocation of all Episcopalians. We tend to think, or so it seems to me, of vocation solely in terms of the diaconate or the priesthood, rather than as something that involves all Christians.

Having had a great deal of down time due to an injured knee and resulting surgery, some other things I have read since my last Ember Day Report include:

Maffin, June, Disturbed by God: A Journal of Spiritual Discovery (Toronto, Canada, Anglican Book Centre, 1996) The author lived traumatic events and turned them into a reflection/workbook. which I would recommend for personal or group work.

Foley, Mark, The Love that Keeps Us Sane: Living the Little way of St. Therese of Lisieux. A very short book that has kept me thinking now for months and challenging me on all sorts of aspects of everyday life in these United States I have taken for granted from TV to talking to people. Clearly there was more to the Little Flower than her flowery language. I shall have to reread her work as a result of this short book.

Pitchford, Susan, Following Francis: The Franciscan Way for Everyone (New York, NY: Morehouse Publishing, 2006) Ms. Pitchford writes that one of her goals with this book was to do for the Anglican Third Order of St. Francis what Kathleen Norris did for the Rule of St. Benedict ( Dakota: A Spiritual Journey and Cloister Walk). Each chapter addresses the author’s experience with one of the Principles of the Third Order. Reflection questions and ideas for implementing the principle. Meditating on the material gave me new insight into living out the Gospel. Another book I would recommend for group or personal study.

Schoemperlen, Diane, Our lady of the Lost and Found (New York, NY: Penguin:Putnam Books, 2001) The author describes this as a novel of Mary, faith and friendship. A middle-aged writer entertains Our Lady as a house guest for a week and explores many of Mary’s visitations over the centuries, contrasting those events with the simple gracious woman occupying her guest room. The writer is compelled to rethink life’s big questions and her own capacity for faith. This novel is worth a second reading.

Barry, Colman J., Worship and Work: St. John’s Abbey and University, 1856-1980 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press) A history of a Benedictine abbey from the days when Minnesota was an unknown frontier.

Goscelin of St. Bertin, The Book of Encouragement and Consolation (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2004) Goscelin wrote these letters to the Recluse, Eva, whom he had known from childhood and served as her spiritual advisor. Eva left England for France, possibly to get away from Goscelin. The text is interesting to me as an early anchoritic text which in turn anticipates better known documents such as the Ancrene Wisse or Aelred of Rievaulx. What I found useful was overcome by Goscelin’s passion for Eva which I found disturbing. It may be that I read it through the prurient, voyeuristic eyes of the 21st century but I wish I hadn’t read it. I’ve read other medieval documents, as passionate, such as Spiritual Friendship, but there is something about Goscelin that gives me the creeps in a dirty old man sort of feeling.

Burton-Christie, Douglas, The Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism ( New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) I can’t believe this book hasn't;t found me earlier. I fell in love withthe Sayings of the Desert Christians around the same time I discovered the Rule of St. Benedict. The chapter on Words and Praxis combined with Foley and Pitchford to provoke some serious questions about the way I speak to others. One area is where I bought into the smart alecky zippy one liners.

Stewart, Columba, Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition (Mary Knoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998) Although this book is less than ten years old, it has found its way onto every Benedictine bibliography have found and I agree it belongs on them all. In barely 122 pages, the author traces Benedict’s teachings on prayer, both personal and corporate. He underscores over and over the centrality of prayer and lectio as the foundation for Benedictine monarchism. Br. Columba also discusses how various communities of Benedictines have adapted the Rule. I was particularly interested in what he had to say of modern American experience.

Kardong, Terence Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996) I may have mentioned this book before and I’ll likely mention this again. This is the first commentary written in English on the RB and represents the life’s work of the author. In addition to the Latin text and the author’s translation, the book contains detailed philological notes or word studies as well as summaries of scholarly thinking. This latter is of particular value as the major studies on the RB are written in French, German and Italian.

Praying the Divine Office has been enhanced and simplified by the gift of the Breviary used in the Order of St. Helena. It is a very user friendly and has replaced the Monastic Diurnal Revised. The MDR requires a a lot of flippin’ and a floppin’ from page to page, section to section and back again which drove me nuts. I always felt I was praying the office wrong. While I doubt that God cares if I was on the right page or not, it was a distraction that is now eliminated. I turn to the St. Helena’s Breviary with joy rather than frustration.

Consideration is being given to the possibility that I might go to Kenya with Fr. Mike and other parishioners in March. I suggested to Fr. Mike and Hardisons that I teach in the seminary there. The Hardisons have responded favorably to the suggested courses: A Theology of Vocation and an Introduction to the Rule of St. Benedict. Were this to work out yet another major piece of my life would fall into place.

Some thirty years ago, following what I believed to be the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I embarked on an education that was aimed to equip me to teach in seminary. I have never wavered in my belief that it was God’s will for me to get that education and it has certainly enriched my life more ways than I could count. But I have been always curious about the seminary bit and what happened. Perhaps it was my assumption that I was to teach in the USA that was the problem.

God’s pull on me remains strong. This has been a difficult year what with prolonged illness and injured knee. At the same time it was fruitful. An example I haven’t mentioned is that the All Soul’s Prayer Shawl Ministry now has more shawls than it needs, thanks to all that down time. There will be some hand knit Christmas stockings fro sale at Christmas Arts as well as some hand knit glamorous evening bags.

God wants me in this life. I want Him in whatever way He wants me. I ask permission to take the next step of making temporary vows.