Journey

This is about my spiritual journey and trying to find what God is calling me to next.

Late Night Spiritual Wrestlemania

It's the middle of the night
Near the Indiana line
I'm pulling in a Christian station

The words of Richard Shindell’s song Next Best Western come to mind as I try to pull together some of my thoughts. Yesterday, I spent time going over some of my school work. I’ve been reading commentaries on the Gospel of John and about Christianity in the United States between the Revolution and the Civil war.

I received an email from a friend in the Episcopal Church about The Executive Council Committee on Anti-Racism seeking feedback on anti-racism and racial reconciliation training document. I shared it with my classmates. The email reminded me of my many struggles with the Episcopal Church.

In the evening, I went to Vespers at the Orthodox Church. I love the Orthodox Church and the services have been very meaningful. It feels like some would like me to join the Orthodox Church. Others want me to remain in the Episcopal Church, and others just want me out of their hair.

In Christian History, we’ve been talking about the period in the United States between the Revolution and the Civil War. This has included how various churches dealt with slavery which is one of the reasons the racial reconciliation document was so pertinent right now. We also have been talking about how religious plurality helped shape American Christianity.

This led to a discussion of “Church Hopping”. People talked about the importance of making newcomers feel welcome. I am very aware of this as I look at my own experiences with different churches and ecclesiastical organizations. It also relates to a topic in New Testament, but I’ll save that for another time.

On Church Hopping, I wrote

It seems like the phrase ‘church shopping’ has a negative connotation, to use [one of my classmate’s] phrase, something that happens at the ‘surface level’. We talk about the importance of welcoming new comers, without being too aggressive.

Yet I wonder what it would be like if we thought of our visitors not as people ‘church shopping’ but people in a spiritual discernment process, for in truth that is an important part of what is going on beneath the surface when someone church shops.

In the middle of the night, I woke up from a strange dream which involved various employees of the Episcopal Church. It was unsettling and when sleep would not return, I got up and started writing. I wrote down my dream. I wrote some responses to the discussion forums for class. I wrote part of an email to a priest in the Orthodox Church about some of my struggles and I checked Facebook.

In a group of people struggling with their discernment journeys, a member posted about a challenging thing that recently happened in her life. She posted it in the middle of the night as well. In a group of Episcopalians another person posted about struggles with their discernment journey.

My mind drifted to Jacob wrestling with an angel. It feels a little bit like Wrestlemania this evening on Facebook for those of us on spiritual journeys.

In a different group, a member has been posting short videos as she starts her second Camino. She has large blisters. Jacob has an out of joint hip. As I head back to bed and see if sleep will return, Richard Shindell’s words come back to me.

At four a.m. on 80 East
It's in the nature of the beast
To wonder if there's something missing
I am wretched, I am tired
But the preacher is on fire
And I wish I could believe

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Who’s in your mystical prayer group?

Years ago, I lived in New York City and went to a church where prayer groups met every Wednesday evening. We would have Eucharist together, then eat our brown bag dinners together, and then head off into small prayer groups of about half a dozen people each. They were a very important time for me as I tried to figure out how to live out my faith in a large city in my twenties. Today, I still seek out people to pray with this way.

Recently, I went on a silent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in New York. One of the retreat leaders share an idea from her seminary days during one of the reflections. She spoke about how one of her professors had encouraged her to find her companions on her journey; not only fellow seminarians but also important religious leaders and thinkers from throughout the ages.

It was an idea that echoes in a place like Holy Cross Monastery, where you can a sense of the great cloud of witnesses that transcend time and space. It is a similar feeling you might get sitting in an Eastern Orthodox Church or kneeling at the communion rail in an Episcopal Church.

In a formation group of seminarians I’m part of, which has a bit of the same feeling as the prayer groups of years ago, we recently talked a little bit about that sense of the great cloud of witnesses, and it seems like all of this leads to in an interesting spiritual exercise.

Who is in your mystical prayer group, drawing in people from the cloud of witnesses across time and place?

Right now, I would chose Mary, mother of Jesus, Aelred of Rievaulx, Frances of Assisi, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, and Brother Lawrence. An interesting variation on this might be the unrecognized acquaintances of these people, one of the monks who learned about Spiritual Friendship from Aelred, one of the nuns that prayed over St. Frances, or a woman who came to Julian for advice.

Who’s in your mystical prayer group?

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Divine Urban Renewal: Rebuilding the Community of Priests of the Torn Curtain and Broken Chalice

I woke up this morning from a disturbing dream. I was at some large conference and I was supposed to be recognized for something I had done; it was related to investigative reporting, or something like that. Yet I had a ground-hog day like foreshadowing of what was going to occur. It was a setup. The people who were scheduled to acknowledge me were actually agents of some evil regime I had exposed. Instead, they were going to assassinate me. I managed to slip out the back and drive out of town, ending up hiding in a hotel a hundred miles away.

I’m not sure what underlies that dream. As I tried to shake off the sleep and fear I checked in on Facebook. A friend had posted a link to an article in the New York Times, A Quiet Exodus: Why Black Worshipers Are Leaving White Evangelical Churches. I read the article and thought of a couple other articles I’ve recently read: White Christians are now a minority of the U.S. population, survey says and Gay United Methodist pastor in Clifton on trial – again.

Yesterday, a friend of mine livestreamed The Rev. David Meredith celebrating communion with his supporters after the trial yesterday. During the communion, Rev. Meredith spoke about the broken communion chalice of the United Methodist Church as it struggles how to be in communion with the LGBTQIA community.

As I thought about the broken communion chalice, I thought of Holy Week and Jesus’ confrontations with the religious leaders of the day which led to the crucifixion. The verse from Matthew 27:51 came to mind, “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”.

Recently, in spiritual direction, I identified as a priest of the torn curtain. Perhaps it can better be said as a priest of the torn curtain and broken chalice.

On the surface, this may sound pretty bleak, but underneath all of this is hope. Some of this hope was reflected in a bible study with my friends from Andover Newton last Thursday. We were discussing Isaiah 58, those wonderful verses that start,

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

and continue on to

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

We were reminded that this was a text written after the Jewish people returned from the Babylonian captivity to the destroyed city of Jerusalem, to start repairing those broken walls and damaged streets. One person asked if it were possible that we could be those doing urban renewal in the city of God today. I hope so. I think of the articles I’ve shared, and how desperately we need this divine urban renewal. Hopefully, more soon...

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A Great Cloud of Witnesses

During my recent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery, I would arrive for the services early and sit all the way in, so I could lean against the wall. These walls have absorbed decades of prayers and I could almost feel others who have worshiped there and leaned against the wall leaning against me. I was leaning on them for support, just as they may have leaned against the wall and others in this great crowd for support as well. Whom am I leaning against? Who is leaning against me?

I have similar feelings at the Orthodox Church. Who has looked at this icon with me? Whom am I looking at? Whose prayers are mingled with mine, as we offer up praise and thanksgiving and as we pray for forgiveness, mercy, and justice?

In the Eucharist, it is the same, no matter how and where I participate. I know different people have different approaches to the Eucharist. With some people, I remember Christ’s death and resurrection as I have a small piece of bread and sip some grape juice. With others, I sense the holy presence in the mysterious gifts. I don’t have to be exclusive with one of another, just as I can enjoy New Haven pizza as well as Chicago pizza.

Yet most of my interactions with others in this great cloud of witnesses seems to be with people brought up as European Protestants, Roman Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox. I hope, through my studies, to get a better sense of people brought up in indigenous variants of Christianity.

What does this great cloud of witnesses look like where you stand?

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Retreat Reflections: Powdered Trees

I remember a week and a half ago, the trees covered by ice after an ice storm. Last night it snowed. I went out early during the snow to watch the woods fill up with snow. I noticed that at certain times, a snowflake would land at just the right angle so that it reflected the light from the guest house, like a sparkling diamond, a firefly, or a star. Sooner or later, another snowflake would land, covering that snowflake and extinguishing the fire but other snowflakes would land at similar angles and the ground was a slowly shifting constellation of snowflake starts.

This morning, as I ate breakfast, I noticed the snow falling from trees like confectionary sugar off of a pastry.

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