Advent Hope

(Matthew Hanisian and I have made a one-time switch this week, since I have written a Thanksgiving Daily Cup since 2008 and couldn’t think of any new ways this year to express my immense gratitude for all of God’s gifts.  We’ll go back to our usual days next week. -Sonya Sutton)

Manger and Cross-Beate Heinen This painting by German artist Beate Heinen captures for me the dual nature of Advent, the liturgical season which begins on Sunday, during which we are called to joy and penance in equal measure. It is a season which reflects the darkness of the natural world and the candles of our inner light, beginnings and end times, the comfort of God’s word and the discomfort of the prophets’ words we’ll hear in the readings throughout the four Sundays of Advent. “Manger and the Cross” is the painting’s title, and both of those pivotal scenes reveal God’s love for us. I find beauty in its complete representation of the story we begin each Advent, and as I look at it now I am reminded of a poem I discovered as a text for a piece of music that I just never quite found the right time to program in a service. A poem by, of all people, Dorothy Parker.

Prayer for a New Mother

The things she knew, let her forget again-
The voices in the sky, the fear, the cold,
The gaping shepherds, and the queer old men
Piling their clumsy gifts of foreign gold.

Let her have laughter with her little one;
Teach her the endless, tuneless songs to sing,
Grant her the right to whisper to her son
The foolish names one dare not call a king.

Keep from her dreams the rumble of a crowd,
The smell of rough-cut wood, the trail of red,
The thick and chilly whiteness of the shroud
That wraps the strange new body of the dead.

Ah, let her go, kind Lord, where mothers go
And boast his pretty words and ways, and plan
The proud and happy years that they shall know
Together, when her son is grown a man.

May the coming Advent season be a time for comfort and discomfort, joy and penance, questions and answers, and  a time of moving towards light and rebirth. Above all, as Parker hopes for Mary, may it be a time of learning how to let laughter and dreams triumph over our knowledge of life’s dark places.

SonyaFirst004

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Black Friday, Cyber Monday? Thanks Today

“You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” 

–2 Corinthians 9:11-12

 

In our culture, having more–and obtaining more and more–is a sign of “success,” a sign of our status.  Witness events that now are commonplace surrounding this day which is set aside for our giving thanks:  Black Friday, Cyber Monday…and all of the pre-Black Friday days now that happen BEFORE Thanksgiving. (Christmas carols and decorations up in stores a week after HALLOWEEN!  Don’t even get me started…)   All of these “holidays” are designed to entice us with deals and bargains and door-buster sales to acquire only more…and more…and more.

 

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Yet, all of the “stuff” we have probably doesn’t hold a candle in our hearts to having someone we love, or a even a good friend stop to take a moment and explain why he or she is thankful for us.

 

Theologically, our thanks should be directed towards God, the one who created us, who sustains us now and will redeems us on the Last Day.  And our thankfulness, by its very nature requires a transaction–or at least the recognition of that transaction:  a gift is given; the gift is acknowledged; a sign of thanks is offered in return.

 

God is the one who has given us ALL of the gifts of our lives: relationships, our own skills and talents, our abilities, charisma, intellect, ALL of the attributes that make us who we are, all of the joys and loves and challenges we face–ALL of those are gifts God gives to us.

 

How do we show our thanks for all that God has so generously given to us?  How do we acknowledge those gifts and use them to not our own glory, but to God’s glory?  We give.  We give with joy-filled hearts.  We give as an example to the world, which so desperately needs to know God’s love, out of the abundance of love that we have received from God.  In short, we model the very behavior of the divine giver, and as a mark of thanksgiving we give to the world.

 

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At some point today, during the celebration of food and family, take a moment–30 seconds–to stop and try to name all of the things for which you might give thanks to God.  Name your family members and friends by name.  Be specific in your thankfulness to God for the generosity, the grace, the love that God has shared with you today.  Then find one person for whom you are thankful and tell that person.  Tell them why you are thankful for them in your life.  Doing so won’t take but a moment, but will mean the world to that person.  Find one small way today, on this national day of thankfulness, to give, showing your thankfulness to God for all that you have so abundantly received.  And here’s the best part:  you don’t need a special day with a special name to show your thankfulness to God and to the world.  Every day you are alive presents opportunities for you to show your thankfulness for all you have received from God, and to give that gift to the world.

 

With a thankful heart, and in Christ’s name,

Matthewfirst

 

 

 

P.S. For those of you expecting Sonya Sutton’s Daily Cup today, she and I switched days just this once.  So, look forward to Sonya’s Daily Cup tomorrow, and pass along your thankfulness to someone you know and love today.

 

 

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Aquinas and Francis

Father Quigley last Sunday told us that our good works, though essential, fall short.  Something about his sermon got me to thinking about people who have founded movements who later repudiated their own creations or were repudiated by them.  Two in particular came to mind: Thomas Aquinas and Francis of Assisi.  The writings of Aquinas, as you know, are the intellectual foundation of Roman Catholic doctrine and an inescapable influence on every other part of christianity.  Francis, as you also know, founded a religious order, and as you might not know, founded two more, the last being the Third Order, members of which are known as Franciscan Tertiaries, seeking minimalist structures that would  be most in keeping with his ideal of active engagement in addressing poverty.

This wikipedia entry will tell you much more than you would have guessed there was to be told about Franciscan Third Order communities.  There seem to be dozens of them, including several in the Anglican and Lutheran church. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Order_of_Saint_Francis

With respect to the Third Order, this wikipedia on St. Francis, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_of_Assisi says only “For those who could not leave their homes, he later formed the Third Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance. This was a fraternity composed of either laity or clergy whose members neither withdrew from the world nor took religious vows. Instead, they carried out the principles of Franciscan life in their daily lives.[1] Before long this Order grew beyond Italy.”  That isn’t quite the whole story though.  in other lives of Francis I’ve read, they say that he became disenchanted with his own First Order and that his efforts to reform it led to his own expulsion from it.  He had no better luck with a Second Order he founded, and he then founded the Third Order as something more closely in keeping with his ideal of christians actively involved in the world rather than cloistered away.

It has long been curious to me that modern day Franciscans, if they were to be faithful to their founder, wouldn’t close their monasteries and all become Third Order, since in his time he repudiated their way of life and they him.

For one man’s commentary of being an Anglican Franciscan Tertiary and why he left, see: http://www.cb1.com/~john/Religion/tertiary.html

Similarly,Thomas Aquinas breaks with his whole life’s work and, similar to Francis, his followers ignore it.  After completing the monumental work of recasting christian theology on a foundation of newly discovered Aristotelian philosophy, supplanting the previous Platonic foundation, he is said to have exclaimed late in life that he had had a vision which revealed to him that all he had written was just so much straw.  But his Summa Theologica remains the basis of Roman Catholic seminary education and the foundation of all their teaching. It does make a certain amount of sense though, for to throw it overboard with nothing in hand to replace it, would lead to too much chaos.

I’ve wondered if there are other examples of founders of a movement either becoming disenchanted with their own legacy or with how their followers were misinterpreting their legacy.  Lenin comes to mind.  Would he have repudiated what soviet communism became under Stalin?  I like to think so. Trotsky certainly did, and was duly murdered in Mexico by Stalin for it.

And Jesus.  What would he have made of the sale of indulgences?  Or the Inquisition? I think I know.  And today, what might he make of those who in his name embrace wilful ignorance of the findings of science and proclaim a world history in which the world was created just six thousand years ago? I think I know that too.  And might even we Anglicans be in for a rough go?  Church services in which the Word is read and preached in a setting of stately processions and uplifting and inspiring music might be a colossal waste of time and effort if we do not walk out the door each time with renewed resolve to do justice.  As Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) says in Apocolypse Now, we “cut ‘em in two with a 50 cal, and give ‘em a band-aid.”  Yes, we have to keep putting on the band-aids, but we’ve got to do more to change policies that cut people in two with unemployment, homelessness, hunger, and despair.

For Social Justice.

Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.   (BCP, pg 260)
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 25-November-2014.

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Keeping Grace

As the introduction to a sermon yesterday I read from Gerard Manley Hopkin’s As Kingfishers Catch Fire.  

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves – goes itself; myself it speak and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for thatI came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is -
Chríst – for Christ play in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

The title of the sermon on the text that I read from was: The Just Man Justices.  Hopkins invents a word here – my new favorite: Justices An infinitive verb form meaning that the just man does justice.  Makes one think of Micah: He hath shewed thee, O Man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God?

And I love the image that follows…the just man justices; keeps grace; that keeps all his goings graces.  Keep the image of God’s grace in your heart – God’s unmerited love for you – so that all your coming and goings are graces, acting in God’s eye what you are… Christ.  

Hopkins wrote Kinfishers in 1877 when he was 33 years old.  Some think that the poem was influenced by St. Patrick’s Breastplate:  

Christ be before me
Christ be behind me
Christ be beneath me
Christ be above;

Christ on my right hand
Christ on my left hand.

In an earlier version of the poem Hopkins rendered the last two lines differently:

Lives in limbs, and looks through eyes not his                                   With lovely yearning

Reading these earlier lines we get a glimpse of the process of creating the poem – we see the underpainting beneath the final image.

There are twenty verbs in the 14 lines that comprise Kingfishers: catch; draw; ring; tells; finds; fling; does; deals out; being; goes; speaks; spells; crying; say;  justices; keeps; keeps; acts; is; plays. The grace that keeps us is active.

In Luke’s Gospel, when asked when and where the Kingdom of God would be realized Jesus’ response echoes what Hopkins is imaging in Kingfishers:

“And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:

Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”

Finding the Kingdom of God within us is living a just life that keeps grace, keeps all our goings graces.  Humbling accepting God’s love for us in Christ, the incarnation.  Accepting God’s grace enables us to “act in God’s eye what we are, Christ, for Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his to the Father through the feature of men’s faces.”

Happy Monday… keep grace; that makes all your goings graces.

And Happy Thanksgiving.

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Jim+

 

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Discipline Thyself

Yesterday I went to the funeral service for a friend and mentor of mine.  Over the course of his life he was a Benedictine Monk, a Roman Catholic priest, an Episcopal deacon, priest and bishop.  He was also, to put it mildly, a very wise and holy man.

 

During the sermon at the funeral service the preacher reminded us of a spiritual practice that my mentor had undertaken every day of his adult life:  he got up before dawn and prayed.   Sometimes he prayed for hours at a time.  He had mentioned once that he prayed for each of his students by name every day and asking God’s guidance and blessing for each of us.  He said this spiritual discipline was a hold over from his monastic days, and one that he could never give up because he loved praying for us and simply spending time with God.

 

At first glance there may not seem to be many moments where we can “fit in” anything else into our busy lives, certainly not something as seemingly heavy duty as a spiritual discipline.  However busy we think we are though, finding a couple of minutes in our day to become more closely connected with God will become some of the most important and precious time we spend.  After you get into your discipline you’ll find how much you get back from those few moments you set aside to spend time with God as you nurture and grow your faith every day (which is an essential component of being a Christian–see BCP p. 304-5).

 

At Get Fed this past Wednesday the six-week class I’ve been teaching on “Living your Faith Monday through Saturday” wrapped up.  We discussed some of the electronic resources that are available to us that make DOING a spiritual discipline easier and even more enjoyable than one might expect.

 

Before beginning a spiritual discipline there are some basic concepts to consider:

 

1.  Baby Steps.  Undertaking something like a spiritual discipline takes a series of small steps.  Imagine you want to run a marathon.  Currently you do some walking, maybe run a day or so a week (much like you go to church and pray once a week)…you can’t go from running a half mile a week to a full 26+ mile marathon right off the bat.  You have to work at gaining stamina, strength, endurance.  The same thing goes for spiritual disciplines.  My friend who could pray uninterrupted for hours at a time didn’t just start off that way, he worked at praying over years of time.

 

2.  Find a time that works for you and stick to it.  For my friend, that time was before dawn.  For others the commute into work is a perfect time to think, pray, connect with God.  Wherever and whenever you decide is the right time for you to undertake your spiritual discipline stick to that time that place–you are creating holy time and space and that is important; important enough to have it’s own location and time.

 

3.  Start with a set amount of time.  Much like point one above, start with a period of time that you’ll try this discipline of connecting with God.  Advent is coming up and those four weeks before Christmas are a PERFECT time to try a new discipline.  There is a defined start and end time.  After Christmas take a look back and evaluate what you tried, how faithful you were to your discipline, where did things seem to “click” and where did you feel that things didn’t go as well as you’d have liked.

 

4.  Expect to encounter God.  The whole point of doing a spiritual discipline is that our relationship with God will become stronger, closer, more intimate.  The best news of all is that God wants the very same thing.  God is waiting for you and you have to expect that you will find God.

 

Here’s the good news:  there are dozens and dozens of applications, websites, email blasts that can help make undertaking a spiritual discipline fairly easy. Here are my favorite sites, apps, and email blasts.  Take a look and see which one speaks to you, or that you think would fit into your life, and go for it!  Also, if you know of others who might enjoy doing this with you–family, friends, co-workers, etc. please pass this along to them.  Often doing a spiritual discipline with someone else makes for a much richer and meaningful experience for both people.

 

d365:  The message is easy to digest yet invites us to go deeper with our faith; the app, website and email blasts are simple to navigate; and often they have seasonal versions (they’ll have one version especially for Advent).  The format and themes of the devotion are: Pause, Listen, Think, Pray, Go.  Here is the d365 for today.  You can download the app, sign up for the daily email or navigate through today’s devotional from this page.

 

eMeditations from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Alexandria, VA:  These meditations come from a partnership with Forward Movement and offer a daily reflection on a verse of scripture.  The reflections come from theologians, priests, lay people and span almost a century of thought about how Holy Scripture integrates and informs our lives as Christians.  Here’s the eMeditation from today.

 

Brother Give Us A Word:  The monks at the Society of St. John the Evangelist write a daily short, thought-provoking meditation.  You can subscribe to receive their email blast.  Often I’ve found that I come back to the question or observation the author makes at several times throughout the day.  Here is the one for today (you can subscribe from the link on this page).

 

Pray as You Go:  This spiritual discipline is a podcast that’s available as an app but is also online.  The format follows a set pattern that will guide you through mediation, music, scripture and questions to keep in mind throughout the day.  Each day’s recording is about 12 minutes long, perfect for a commute, a lunch hour, or start to the day.  Here is the link for today’s Pray as You Go (you can sign up or download the app as well).

 

I hope that these resources are helpful as you consider undertaking a spiritual discipline and nurture your relationship with God.  As I said above, they are only a the tip of a HUGE iceberg of such resources.  If you have one you love that I’ve not mentioned here that you think others would enjoy, by all means share it with us by making a comment to this post.

 

With God’s Peace and Blessing,

Matthewfirst

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Filled with Sorrow

I have made note of this before in these Daily Cups – November is a sorrowful month. All Saints Day moves to the remembrance of All Souls, Kristallnacht, Veteran’s Day. Colorful trees are replaced by a quiet grayness. The earth, in this land of four seasons at least, gently folds into itself for a rest and these feel like times for introspection and stillness. For me, November gives sorrow a valuable place in our lives.

In Alan Paton’s novel of mid-twentieth century South Africa, Cry, The Beloved Country, he writes: “My friend, your anxiety turned to fear, and your fear turned to sorrow. But sorrow is better than fear. For fear impoverishes always, while sorrow may enrich.” It is said at the point when the father, after searching for his long lost son, finds that he has been arrested for murder, and the father is counseled by a priest to see that “Sorrow is better than fear…fear is a journey, a terrible journey, but sorrow is at least an arriving.”

If you too feel the sorrow of November, than take heart in having arrived.

The New York Times recently carried an article titled “Wild Messengers” in which the author examined the sorrow she felt when her mother died. She found comfort and connection in the natural world, much as the author of the poem I wrote about last week, Do not stand at my grave and weep [Poem], does. I think God just wants us to stay connected to living, and when grief is that strong, perhaps the simplest connection is with nature and animals. Even in November, if we just open our eyes, there is an abundance of life all around us. New York Times, “Wild Messengers”

I’m aware that this and last week’s Daily Cup writings have been about sadness. They don’t come from any current personal sorrow, I assure you! Rather, the text of the choir’s communion anthem last week resonated with so many people who have taken the time to mention how much they loved it, and I wanted to share the beautiful article from the Times with you because it seems to have been directly born from that poem.

And finally, a soundtrack for this November day, with words of promise found in Psalm 145:16-17: The eyes of all wait upon thee, O Lord, and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand and satisfiest the desire of every living creature [thing].
The eyes of all – Jean Berger

SonyaFirst004

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Creative imagination

I recently acquired a subscription to Popular Mechanics. I haven’t read one in decades. It was good to get reacquainted with an old friend. The latest issue has a preview of forty-four good things to come in 2015 in the field of technology. It is a mixed bag. Some look really useful and could lead to even more useful things. At the really useful end of the spectrum is Toyota’s first fuel cell car, to appear in the U.S. this summer. It is said to have a range of 310 miles and, alternately, can power the average home for a week. Also coming, from two Australian inventors, are printable solar panels, which can be printed on any plastic surface, meaning that your cell phone case can be your phone’s solar powered charger. At the other end of the usefulness spectrum, at least to me, are play-tracking cameras and sensors that will be installed in all the major league baseball fields so that, even while our roads, bridges, atomic power plants and underground water and sewer pipes are deteriorating, there will be a whole new set of metrics about which sports fans can obsess, such as how fast someone swung a bat or how far someone ran to make a catch. But even this I suppose might have useful spinoffs in the field of forensics.

But all of these, the good, the bad and the ugly, set me to thinking about how much I benefit every minute of every day from the creative imagination and tenacity of inventors. They bring about things that revolutionize our lives for the better. Even though they have all come into being in my life time I can’t imagine living without 24 hour world news beamed right into my living room or without my cell phone.

And that set me to wondering why we don’t celebrate these men and women more in our religious life. In the panoply of saints, about the only ones that come close to being celebrated for scientific achievement are in the medical field. Far be if from me to write a Collect for the Book of Common Prayer, but I hope this idea eventually reaches someone who can. Until then, perhaps this will do.

Dear Lord, we thank you for the gift of creativity and for those on whom you bestow it abundantly. May they always apply their talents to the betterment of mankind. Help us to always be appreciative of the many ways in which the products of their minds and hands make our lives not only possible but productive and joyful. To God be the praise of it all. Amen.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 18-November-2014.

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