Journey

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

Retreat Reflections: Early Morning

Reflections while on a silent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery on the banks of the Hudson River; February 17, 2018. As is often the case when I am travelling, my sleep was fitful, waking up at various times throughout the night.

At around 5:30, a little after my normal rising time during the week, but a little before my normal rising time during the weekend, I arose and went to the bathroom at the end of the hall. Someone noticed me and said, “Good morning” which was followed by what sounded like an embarrassed silence as he quickly left the bathroom.

After my morning ablutions, and a brief check of news and social media online, I headed downstairs and noticed the sun rising over the Hudson River. I headed out into the little cloister and sat on a bench to watch the sunrise. I took a picture which I shared online.

How much should I be online during a silent retreat? I think it was useful to hear, to read, some of the zeitgeist of my friends; mourning the death of a relative and feeling hopeless about America with its divisiveness and violence. Posting a picture of a sunrise from a monastery seemed like an appropriate level of engagement for this morning.

I’ve been thinking a lot about social capital recently, especially in terms of George Soros’ comments about social media companies. See Winston Smith’s Facebook Page for some of my recent thoughts on this.

If we carry Soros’ comments forward, and perhaps add a Marxist interpretation on it, perhaps we need to be thinking about alienation of social capital. We use our social capital and expend emotional energy in our posts online. Social media companies try to monetize some of that capital and energy by selling advertisements. Divisiveness is helpful for social media companies to get a clearer sense of what will sell best to whom. We become alienated from the value of our social capital and emotional energy.

There are various things we could do. We could spend more of our time, social capital, and emotional energy off-line. We could seek workers collectives to share our social capital, like Diaspora. We could let it influence how we act online and offline, by becoming less eloquent, hopeless, or maybe even violent. Or, we could become wiser in how we use our social capital and energy online, making it more effective, and perhaps even less alienating.

I have been experimenting with this in various ways. I did 100 days of gratitude, encouraging my friends to post things they are thankful for. Thinking about the book Help, Thanks, Wow, I tried to do this with days of wonder as well, but societal despair quickly found its way in. I’m trying to think of other ways to approach this.

As I watched the sunrise over the Hudson River, I remember an old saying, “The miracle was not that the bush was not consumed. The miracle was that Moses noticed.” I stopped and noticed the sunrise. Perhaps this will be a retreat of noticing God’s miracles in our daily lives. Perhaps, this is a discussion to have on Facebook.

Perhaps there is also something in this about becoming like a child. Jesus said, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven unless you become like a little child. In what ways are we to be like little children? Is some of it looking with wonder and awe at the miracles of daily life, that too many of us as adults, find little opportunity for?

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. The Feast of St. Brigid.

O God, by whose grace your servant Brigid, kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.

Half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, we celebrate the Feast of St. Brigid today and Candlemas, Groundhog’s Day, and my sister’s birthday tomorrow. Today is also the first of the month, so I start off with the monthly childhood wish for good luck, “Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit”.

One old Celtic legend is that St. Brigid was the midwife to Mary when Jesus was born. Exactly how she went from Ireland to Israel is not usually explained in the legend. She is also known as the Patron Saint of Poets so perhaps we should think of her midwifery to Mary as metaphor.

It is a useful metaphor to think about. Who are you helping give birth to something and what are they giving birth to? Who is helping you in a similar manner and what are you giving birth to?

Recently, I got in to a discussion related to this and the idea of spiritual direction. It seems that for many of us, our discernment paths may feel more like we are in long painful labor with midwives assisting us than simply being told what we are supposed to do by a director.

I’m sure that people can spend a lot of time picking apart these metaphors, if that is what they choose, yet the questions remains, what are you giving birth to? Who is assisting you through this process? What are others around you giving birth to? How are you assisting them?

Happy St. Brigid’s Day.

Starting a New Semester

And so it begins, my second semester of seminary. I am filled with anticipatory excitement and mild trepidation. What will I learn this semester? How will it apply to my life and lives of the communities I’m part of? What opportunities will I have to participate and perhaps even help shape discussions around renewal in a post-establishment church? Or, will the classes be dry presentations of specific viewpoints preparing M.Div students for to take the General Ordination Examination?

I am currently in the Online Certificate of Theological Studies program at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. It is a program for “those people who are seeking spiritual enrichment or who might be thinking about coming to seminary, but want to try out a few classes first.” It is eight courses long, so at the end of this semester, I will be half way through and could finish next January.

As I get a feel for the commitments of the program, in terms of time, and money, I am leaning towards doing the low residency Masters of Divinity program. I could complete that program in the summer of 2021.

I have slowly been growing into my identity as a seminarian; perhaps more precisely described as an online bi-vocational seminarian; working full time while I go to seminary online.

It isn’t clear where this will lead. Will I end up being invited to take the GOEs? Is there an ecclesiastical organization that might consider me for ordination? I do not know. Instead, I’m trying to live in the moment of being a seminarian and sharing my experiences right now.

And right now, these experiences are drawing me closer to God, bringing me joy, and hopefully helping me better serve the communities I am part of.

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Postulant to an Unknown Tradition

It is a rainy Sunday morning. One of the cats has crawled into my lap and the dog sleeps on the couch next to me. It is supposed to rain hard here today. I check my messages on Facebook and plan my day: church, followed by choir and a meeting, and then home to study. Yet I know I must be gentle with myself today. Five years ago today was hurricane Sandy and the death of my mother.

Yesterday, my youngest daughter had a recital. She wore a necklace from my mother, and my mother would have been very happy. My mother loved to sing and would have heaped praise upon her granddaughter.

Yesterday was also the anniversary of being informed that my application to become a postulant to holy orders in my denomination had been rejected. It was a spiritual trauma on the level of losing a mother and I continue to struggle with it in many ways.

One of these ways is the frequent reminders I get when people referred to me a priest, reverend, or a member of the clergy. Usually, I just let it pass. I am part of the royal priesthood of all believers; a priest forever, echoing the title of a book by Carter Heyward that a friend recommended to me, that is still on my “to be read” list. In this sense, I am a priest in the Jesus Movement, to borrow Episcopal Presiding Bishop Curry’s language, even though a particular branch of the Jesus Movement has rejected my postulancy to ordination.

At the same time, I realize there are people for whom the word priest carries a special meaning. They often put a plus sign at the beginning or end of their name and are very concerned about whether someone wears a stole or a tippet. I don’t what such people to feel that I am misrepresenting myself and when one of them refers to me as a priest, I feel compelled to offer some sort of correction and amplification.

I ran into this today as I looked at my Facebook feed. A friend had added me to a closed ‘clergy support group’. The group is described as “a group of Pastors, Deacons, Priests and Bishops from Independent Catholic, Episcopal, Anglican, Orthodox, and other Christian traditions who are united in intra-faith efforts in order to further the spread of God's love to all people around the world”

Should I remain in this group?

As I try to discern whom God has called me to be a priest, I’ve been spending more time paying attention to Independent Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other Christian traditions. Perhaps, as a member of the Royal priesthood and a postulant to a yet to be determined tradition, this is where I am supposed to be right now. However, I don’t want people to have the wrong impressions.

Several months ago, I had sent an email to a friend who is an ordained priest in the denomination that rejected me expressing my uncertainty about whether I could remain in that denomination. The next day, I found she had added me to a clergy support network for ordained priests in that denomination. I believe she had done that in error and given the pain and confusion around my process, I quickly left the group.

The dog snores, the cat is meticulously grooming himself. The rain has paused. I will post this to the clergy support group and see what they have for feedback. I will head off to church and remember my mother and all those who grieve on anniversaries of the deaths of their loved ones.

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Camino du Jour

It is the first Saturday of Easter, and I am approaching….

The problem is, I’m not sure what I’m approaching nor what I am leaving. Unlike walking the Camino de Santiago, even with its different paths, unless you get completely lost, you still know what you are approaching, what you are leaving behind, and what the final goal is. The same applies even to walking a labyrinth. Yet often, in the journeys of our lives, we don’t know that. We wander, perhaps coming back to a place we’ve been to in the past and approaching it newly.

For the past few years, I’ve been interested in the idea of the rhizome from Deleuze and Guattari; the idea that learning and understanding is not a simple straight path with single entry point and a single exit point that can all be fit nicely into clear hierarchy.

Where does our journey to God lead, if the pot cannot understand the mind of the potter? Are we journeying with the mystics to some sort of unitive experience with the divine? Is that experience kataphatic? Apophatic? Affective? Speculative? Are we journeying to some sort of active response to God, doing all things for the love of God? Out of fear of God’s wrath? In some sort of effort to obtain salvation through works? Through fear and trembling?

Who are the pilgrims that walk alongside us during parts of our journey? What role does the established institutional church play? The structures and hierarchies of the church?

I’ve been watching various videos of people on the Camino de Santiago. For each peregrine, even though there is a common path and destination, the journeys are very different. Perhaps someday I will walk the Camino. Until then, I am trying to make the steps of my daily life steps of a pilgrim.

How do we make each step part of our journey to God? How aware are we of where we are going and what is around us? Yesterday, I walked down to the river near where I work at lunch time. There was a light rain. Our journeys, in our daily life and on the Camino aren’t always nice sunny days. Along the way I notice the periwinkle in bloom, the shell of a robin’s egg, an old Christmas tree, brown but still fragrant, and the comb of an old hornets’ nest brought down by winter storms.

Thursday, I went to noonday prayer at a local church. We talked about the reading for Wednesday, which was the story about meeting the risen Lord on the road to Emmaus. We are used to going straight from the grief of Good Friday to the joy of resurrection on Sunday. Yet for the disciples, that isn’t the way it was. The disciples walking to Emmaus were still in their grief, compounded by confusion after they had heard stories about the resurrection. When they met Jesus on the road, they did not recognize him. Does that sound odd to you? You’ve spent three years following this person who you think might be the Messiah, but then when you see him, you don’t recognize him. I wonder how often we don’t recognize Christ around us. For those of us that love the Eucharist, the idea of Christ being known to us in the breaking of the bread strongly resonates. Yet tomorrow, we think about doubting Thomas. Christ was made known to Thomas by his wounds. Christ showed his vulnerability. How willing are we to show our vulnerability?

I also wonder if some of what was going on with Thomas was a feeling of being left out. How would you feel or react if you close friends were all talking about something amazing they saw that you didn’t see? Would you say that you don’t really believe it was all that amazing, only to change your tune when that amazing experience came to you?

Tomorrow, I expect to go to church as a pilgrim. I’m not sure which church or denomination it will be. Will I go to the church I’ve been going to for the past several years, or is it time to move on? Will I go to the denomination I’ve been going to for the past forty years, or is it time to move on? Should I go to a church named after Thomas on the day we read his story? Should I go to a church named after Joseph of Arimathea as I look back at the empty tomb? Perhaps I should go to Congregational church, reconnecting to my childhood, to a Russian Orthodox church, connecting to my wife’s ancestry, to a Coptic Orthodox church in solidarity with Egyptian martyrs.

It is the first Saturday of Easter, and I am approaching….

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