Holy Asides
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November 25, 2014, 4:00 PM

Journaling--Writing to Listen

I must say one of the biggest surprises of the fall is how much I am enjoying the Spiritual Discipline classes, not only the researching, teaching and discussion that takes place in the class itself, but in this space where I reflect upon my own experience in undertaking the discipline. 


This month’s discipline is journaling. I have stated on more than one occasion that journaling is something I find incredibly helpful and is also something which I deeply despise. However, what I have discovered is that the parts of journaling that I have despised came from my own self-imposed rules and regulations about what defined “journaling.” I discovered the helpfulness of journaling over a decade ago but the freedom of journaling only since the Crafting a Rule of Life class. 


For me, journaling meant writing my prayers and Bible study thoughts every day. This would provide a record of my spiritual growth, insights, and answered prayers. While this is certainly one aspect of what journaling could be, it quickly devolved into a chore that I sought to avoid. However, over time, I began to gain a more liberal understanding of what journaling could be. In very simple terms, journaling could be praying/meditating/reflecting in any sort of written medium, including drawing or poetry. I also did not have to journal every day.


What I have discovered is that I write in order to listen. I do not write in order to go back later and read what I have written. Rather, I write and write and write whatever is on my heart and mind, until something emerges that is clearly from God. This is exactly what happened with ‘My Big Dream” that I wrote about last time. In reflecting upon the various ways that I could start spiritually preparing now for some distant dream, God very clearly spoke and I wrote down “You have a Big Dream… be my Church.” At the moment I stopped writing, there was no need to write anything else because I heard clearly. From then on I began to pray and to listen. I journal this way nearly every week... not every day, but once a week. I have found this to be immensely helpful and freeing. 


There are a variety of ways to practice journaling, but I wanted to share one more exercise that I found both helpful and challenging. In her book, Self-Compassion, Kristen Neff encourages people to write themselves a letter as if they were writing to a friend. It was amazing how much more caring I am to my friends and loved ones than to myself. So if you are like me and tend to be harder on yourself than those around you, write yourself a letter. Pretend you are writing to a close friend who is struggling or needs encouragement or blessing. Take a few moments and then read what you have written to yourself. Hear those words of love and care. They are words from God to you. 


In short, I encourage the discipline of journaling in whatever form, or whichever way, it blesses you. There is no right way, or amount of time, or frequency that must be devoted to it. Experiment. Write. Draw. Pray.

November 19, 2014, 11:00 AM

(Mi) Gran Sueno

Many of you know that I recently returned from an eight-day clergy-wellness program called CREDO. The purpose of CREDO is to promote healthy living: financially, physically, spiritually, relationally, and vocationally. The specific purpose of this particular CREDO was to encourage the clergy to develop a “Rule of Life,” but the underlying purpose was also to carve out enough time for people to truly unwind, unplug, and hear God. 


There were a variety of lectures, break-out sessions, and exercises (as I am sure you can imagine) that went into helping the 29 priests in attendance discern where God was leading them. There were several small nuggets that came out of these sessions that I will be pondering over for the next several months. The two sessions that I found most helpful were the Core Values exercise and the Mi Gran Sueño (or “My Big Dream”.) While there are many aspects both spiritually and relationally that I hold dear, I was surprised to learn that my greatest core value is to be a “healing vessel of God’s love and grace.” This was helpful in thinking about My Big Dream—to give back to the Church. I will have been ordained for thirty years when I am only 56, and while I have no idea what the future holds, the question was presented: “In what ways will I be able to be a healing vessel of God’s grace and love, post-retirement?” I could serve as a missionary; or teach in a seminary; or serve in inner-city missions; or lead CREDO type seminars to the working-poor; or cycle around the country visiting and praying for Episcopal clergy and churches. The possibilities are endless.


CREDO ended last Monday. 


On Thursday, while I was praying during Holy Hour—God spoke clearly. You have a Gran Sueño, it is for St. Joseph’s to be “the Church.” I can’t describe the intense feeling I had at that moment. It was an overwhelming burning within me, and I was moved nearly to tears. Yes, this is my dream: that St. Joseph’s will be a church where lives are changed and people are transformed. St. Joseph’s will be a vessel of God’s healing grace and love. We will be a people, who look outside of ourselves to encourage, love and bless. We will bless each other. We will bless our community. We will be an instrument of healing in a broken and hurting world. Of course, unlike many other “dreams” that I might have, the fulfillment of this dream cannot be accomplished solely through my own efforts. It will take all of us working together. It will take each of us embracing the call to love one another as Christ loved us. It will take all of us investing in the life of St. Joseph’s—for in reality, “Mi Gran Sueño” is that St. Joseph’s becoming a church of God’s healing power and love, shifts from “My Big Dream” to “OUR Big Dream.”

October 22, 2014, 9:58 AM

Offering Our Isaac

The Spiritual Discipline for this month has been Worship. The most interesting aspect of this discipline has been the merging between the individual and the corporate aspects that take place. Unlike Contemplative Prayer, which is primarily being still before God in a private devotion (even if done within a group setting), the purpose of Worship is having a “holy expectancy” of entering into the Glory of God as a Church body. This begins with offering ourselves as a living sacrifice day-by-day to God. This preparation of being present with God each day, hopefully culminates into a richness of devotion and praise when we gather together each week. 


In Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, he offers several steps to help one enter into worship, but over and over I have come back to one that has been most helpful. It is not actually an official step, but a combination of the steps of submission, sacrifice, dependency, and preparation.  These steps are incorporated into a song that was introduced during the Spiritual Discipline class and Holy Hour Service that followed.


    “I Offer My Isaac” by Stacey Regan


    I offer my Isaac, here on your altar,

    Removed from my shoulders, bound for the slaughter.

    I surrender my Isaac, here on your altar.

    Freely I offer the love of my heart.


    My hands are free to praise you wholly now,

    To receive what you have for me.

    And should you take or return my Isaac, oh Lord,

    On your altar my heart will still be.

    On your altar my heart will still be.


This song draws upon the imagery of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice to the Lord the most important thing in the world to him, the son that he had been waiting decades for. Of course, that act of pure obedience and dependency was received by God, Isaac was spared, and a ram was provided for the sacrifice. This whole story (and song) addresses the bitter reality of the people, positions, or things that we value above God, as well as the necessity of laying them on the altar of God, giving them to God, and sacrificing them (and ourselves by association) to God. Maybe God will take them from us, maybe he will return them—but either way our hands are free to worship God.


For me this song has a way of putting things, or returning them, to proper order. What am I worshiping before God? What have I been obsessing about that is keeping me from God? What things am I seeking to control and not letting God even be a part of? When I lay those things on the altar of God, I am submitting to God’s will, sacrificing my control, and being dependent upon him. This is worship; drawing near to God’s love and grace and glory. But it’s only the first aspect of worship because this preparation of sacrifice for worship, hopefully, then overflows into our worship together, where we come with free hands, and unburdened hearts, to receive what God has in store for us as individuals, but more importantly, as a family in Christ Jesus.

October 2, 2014, 12:00 PM

Reflections on Being the Church

I returned yesterday from the Priests’ Conference at Camp Mikell. This was the first real opportunity that I had to meet most of the clergy in our diocese. I had a wonderful time getting to know many new people, worshiping with them, and learning more about the Diocese of Atlanta as a whole. In fact, I have three thoughts/observations that I want to share that were realized or reinforced during these past few days. (I know, it’s almost always three things.)


We began the conference with the question “why?” Why does the Diocese of Atlanta exist? What is its role and purpose? Not “what programs should we run?” Or “what issues must we face?” But “why are we here?” This opened up a great conversation, as one can imagine, with many answers concerning restoring broken people to unity with God in Jesus, partnership with one another in proclaiming the Gospel, and living as the community of the New Covenant. It is an important place to begin, and it is an important place to continue to revisit. It’s easy to get caught up in the who, how, or what questions of mission and ministry. What programs will appeal to youth? How will we pay for this ministry? Who is our target demographic? We need often to come back to the “why?” Why are we expending this energy and these resources? Why am I giving up my Sunday mornings? Why are we concerned about these issues and people? Because, we are the Church—the community of Jesus Christ, who actively work to proclaim God’s love and grace to the world that they might be restored to unity with God and one another. This is why the Covenant that we are undertaking is so important. We are “a community that strives to live out Jesus’ Great Commandment of loving God with our whole heart, mind, and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves.” This is our purpose.


This leads to my second observation. Bishop Wright took some time and invited the clergy to speak of the “unspeakable” issues that we generally choose to ignore. For about an hour, the clergy had an opportunity to address the issues that are generally only discussed (or gossiped about) privately. With “kindness and candor,” several people talked about ways in which they felt the diocese was marginalizing certain people, programs, and structures. In all honesty, there was little that I found revelatory, but the very act took risk (both for those who spoke and for the Bishop). Generally, we are hesitant to become vulnerable, to allow critique or criticism. We want everyone to smile, get along, and play nice. But that leads to shallow relationships, with very little depth or trust. In other words, it is not acting like the Church. This was an example of what it is to “be the Church”: to listen, to risk, to love, to accept through the grace and love of Jesus.


This leads to my final observation (in this post anyway) which is that, as the Church, we are called first and foremost to faithfulness. Looking around at the variety of priests, serving in a variety of ministry settings, it’s easy to remember how we can get sidetracked with metrics above faithfulness. How many people do you serve? What’s your budget? How many clergy are on staff? And while metrics are important over time in measuring fruitfulness, the reality is that faithfulness to God alone is what is important. We cannot judge the success of a program based on numbers alone, or place a value on ministry through the size of the revenue streams. We are called to be faithful and obedient to Jesus. Jesus himself reminded the disciples that the fruit they were reaping came from the labors of others. There are times when the Church is called to dig, other times to plant, and still other times to harvest. As the Church we can only be faithful to what Jesus calls us into. And as St. Joseph’s, we must first embrace our purpose in being that community of the New Covenant, and second find contentment, joy, and strength in being faithful to Christ in whatever he calls us into.


September 18, 2014, 9:52 AM

Spiritual Disciplines: Tools of the Trade

As I have been practicing the first of our presented spiritual disciplines, Contemplative Prayer, I have a few reflections that I wanted to share. The first is that I never thought I would truly appreciate, let alone enjoy, Contemplative Prayer. In this type of prayer, we are simply silent and receptive before God. Some have even described this practice as “wasting time with God.” And that is how I often felt about it. There were so many other things I could be doing. (Not just in recreation or chores, but real “spiritual” work.) I could be working on sermons, visiting parishioners, or writing “blogs.” I could do something tangible. And I think that this is the difficulty, especially for me. So much of the work of a priest is not quantifiable. Are people growing spiritually? How much? Are we living fully into God’s vision? Where is the fruit? Is this a time of sowing or reaping? Prayer through the Daily Office, or Intercession Lists, or Journaling is active. More than that, it is controlled by me. I am finished when I say, “Let us bless the Lord,” or read the last name, or set down my pen. In Contemplative Prayer, God sets the agenda. And there have been times when He speaks immediately, and others when it takes quite a bit of time, and still others where I hear nothing. (When I say “hear”, I don’t mean audibly—rather there is an inner sense within the silence.) Yet regardless of what happens, I always leave that time revived and refreshed.


The second reflection is that being still is hard work. It takes practice. It takes time and effort to clear your mind, relax your body, and be still. And while I have gotten better at reducing the time that it takes to enter into prayer, my mind still is very active throughout these times. One very helpful suggestion is to imagine a stream flowing and let any thoughts and distractions float to the surface of that stream and be carried away. I am typically not a visual person in prayer, but this has served as a very helpful exercise.


My final reflection came out of a time of Contemplative Prayer, but is not a reflection about it, per se. That is, these “disciplines” are actually tools. Just as we have a variety of tools in our tool kit to serve different purposes, the same is true with spiritual disciplines. We utilize them in different times and seasons of our spiritual journey. There are times God calls us to be still; times when we need to confess; others when we need to fast. Because, while scissors can serve as a flat-headed screwdriver in a pinch, it is far more effective to have the screwdriver. I pray that over these coming months (or years) that we might add to our toolboxes as we grow in our spiritual life and depth with the Lord.

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