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It is Sunday morning. I am sitting at home watching the snow come down and the smoke from the incense ascend. I was supposed to still be at the silent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery but it was decided that for safety sake, with the coming storm, everyone would head home Saturday evening. Some people left in the afternoon. Others left right after dinner. I was the only member of the group that stayed for compline. The service had a different feel with it being mostly just the monks.
It was a wonderful retreat and although I was disappointed that it had to be cut short because of the weather, I am looking forward to another retreat there.
I drove up Friday morning, leaving myself lots of extra time. I found quiet roads along the Hudson to drive along and a park to stop and watch the birds and animals. I arrived early and settled in. Since it was my first time there, I was shown around and given a sense of the rhythm of the day.
Instead of room numbers, the rooms are named after saints. I was staying in St. Thomas. The accommodations were sparse and simple but comfortable and comforting. I sat at my desk, looked out over the Hudson River, and read. I had not yet received the book we were reading for the retreat, so I spent time reading God’s Lovers in an Age of Anxiety by Joan Nuth. It is for a class I’m taking on English Spirituality and Mysticism. It provided a good backdrop for the weekend.
The first official event of the retreat was Vespers. The monks sat in the front and the guests sat in the back. I thought about my trip to Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky many years ago, when I got to sit in the choir with the monks. If I had been Roman Catholic and better understood the monastic way, I could easily have become a Trappist. If I had a better understanding of monasticism and had visited Holy Cross Monastery those many years ago, I could easily have become a monk there. As I thought about the class I was taking and the setting of the monastery, I wondered about the role of the mystic, the monk, the hermit in contemporary society.
After Vespers came dinner. The food was also simple, good, and nourishing. After the meal we met briefly to talk about the agenda for the retreat. There would be meditations throughout the weekend based on Rowan Williams book, Being Disciples. We were encouraged to go to as many services as possible. We went to Compline and entered into silence.
I typically try to sleep from nine in the evening until five in the morning, but somehow, after compline and some reading, I managed to lose an hour and the clock on the bed stand said it was ten, so I went quickly off to bed.
In the middle of the night, I awoke to find the room filled with a bright light. Was the light some sort of message? Some sort of metaphor? I got up and looked out the window. There was a barge heading down the river shining a giant spotlight on the shore. I wrote in my journal about it. There are probably some good writing ideas somewhere in there.
Saturday morning, I rolled over and saw that the clock said s five thirty in the morning. I had slept later than I had planned, but it was okay since I had gone to bed later than I had planned. I got up and started preparing for the day. I showered and dressed, discovering that I had forgotten my deodorant.
I had put my phone in airplane mode. I turned it on to see if there were any important messages from the evening. There were none. I noticed that my phone said it was only five twenty, and hour earlier than the clock on the bed stand. I figured that something must have gone wrong with my phone and I set it to six twenty, but then the phone set itself back to five twenty. I’ve seen this happen before when I’ve been traveling in areas with poor cellphone coverage, so I assumed that this was the case.
I went down stairs to sit, read, and wait for Matins. It was quiet and dark. No one else seemed to be stirring. I walked over to the clock next to the refectory and found that it said it was now five forty. Twenty minutes had passed and it seemed my phone was agreeing with this clock, and not the clock in my room. It finally occurred to me that the clock in my room was an hour a head, perhaps it had never been set back when we moved to standard time.
After services and breakfast, during a time of silence in one of the rooms, the guest master and retreat leader came into the room and said they needed to break silence. I left the room and wondered what it was. We had agreed that there would be no politics discussed on the retreat and most people had decided to keep away from sources of news. I had figured that if anything really important happened, I would hear about it, and I wondered if that was what the guest master and retreat leader were talking about.
Later, I found out. Predictions of the coming ice storm had been revised. It would be worse than expected and the guests were encouraged to head home Saturday evening. Perhaps there was another metaphor or message there.
Now, I am home. I’ve lit some incense I brought home from the retreat. I have spoken with my wife and daughter a little bit about the retreat, and I have written these notes. There were plenty of important insights and conversations on the retreat, but I’ll save them for a different time and place. Now, I’ll post this respond to messages that have come in over the weekend, and prepare for the coming week.
Dear Senator Murphy:
I write to you today to express my sincere opposition to the confirmation of Jefferson B. Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens shout not be elevated to the office of U.S. Attorney General. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For his reprehensible conduct he should not be rewarded with the position as U.S. Attorney General.
I regret that I cannot come testify in person against this nominee. However, I ask that the statement by Coretta Scott King, whose letter of March 19, 1986 is the basis for this letter, be made part of the hearing record.
I do sincerely urge you to oppose the confirmation of Mr. Sessions and speak up against efforts to abridge the freedom of speech or the right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The recent Executive Order barring refugees from Syria and certain other Muslim countries has stirred up many reactions across the country, including two responses from the Episcopal Bishops in Connecticut. On January, 30 they shared a Bishops' Letter regarding Refugees which said, among other things, “We cannot be idle as this Executive Order threatens to undermine the values that we stand for as Americans, as Christians, as Episcopalians in Connecticut.”
A few days later, they wrote another letter, Follow-up on Bishops' Letter Regarding Refugees which included, “We have received a substantial amount of communication in response to our letter of January 30. In fact, we have received more reaction to this letter than to any other letter sent by us in the last five years.”
The response felt to me like a capitulation to those who put fear over faith but I suspect it was intended more as a response out of the Episcopal tradition of “via media” or “middle way”. It made me think of The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers Facebook post on inauguration day. I have repeatedly shared this post because I believe it is very important. In it she writes,
Remember that, every time we host or interact with President Trump or any other elected official, we do so first and foremost as representatives of our crucified, resurrected Lord.
As a communications professional, I really like this. When confronting thorny issues in communications it is always wise to return to the mission statement. Representing our crucified and resurrected Lord is a pretty good way of putting it. In the Book of Common Prayer, we describe the mission of the church saying, “The mission of the Church is to restore all people to
unity with God and each other in Christ.”
I believe the intention of the second bishop’s letter was along these lines, but was that really the fruition? I am less sure. Instead,it sounds a little like a letter from the Laodicea church, neither hot nor cold.
The second bishops’ letter goes on to say, “Many of the responses, both in favor and against our letter, noted that we neglected to mention the need for our country’s borders to be protected from international threats of terrorism.” This is an important point, but it falls very close to promoting dangerous misunderstandings about the nature of security. The bishops’ letter talks about the responses being almost evenly split. Yet we must remember, the via media is not a plebiscite, it is an attempt to discern God’s will for us by listening to all sides.
So, what can we say about our safety? First, I will refer to the STATEMENT BY SENATORS McCAIN & GRAHAM ON EXECUTIVE ORDER ON IMMIGRATION. They start off by acknowledging the safety issue: “Our government has a responsibility to defend our borders, but we must do so in a way that makes us safer and upholds all that is decent and exceptional about our nation.”
They then reject the premise that the Executive Order improves safety:
Ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism. At this very moment, American troops are fighting side-by-side with our Iraqi partners to defeat ISIL. But this executive order bans Iraqi pilots from coming to military bases in Arizona to fight our common enemies. Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.
Yet there is a deeper issue. Ultimately, our safety comes from the Lord. What makes us safe is doing God’s will, even if it requires us to do something as unpopular and perhaps even as unsafe as taking up our cross to love our neighbor, including those neighbors who are fleeing war in Syria.
Note: This is an assignment for the English Spirituality and Mysticism course I'm currently taking:
I was very excited to read this week’s assignment to write a Celtic prayer. Poetry is an important part of how I express myself, and I’ve really enjoyed reading the Celtic Poems and Prayers. I misread the assignment and ended up writing two different prayer poems which I am sharing here. As part of the exercise, I’m including the poems for everyone to read.
Blessed Father, pour us down upon the earth,
like the winter rains in times of darkness,
like the spring rains reawakening the fields,
like the summer rains nurturing the crops.
Blessed Jesus gather us together,
in small pools of community,
in streams of Peregrini,
in the mighty ocean bringing changes.
Blessed Spirit draw us back to you
like the dew rising up off of the fields
like the mists of the moors
like the blown spume of the ocean.
Some of the themes from Celtic Christianity I’m trying to incorporate: The importance of water. This poem uses water as a metaphor for our relationship with God. The Trinity. Following the example of other Celtic prayers, it is addressed to each member of the Trinity. Darkness. I only really touch on darkness in the first part of the poem, but the references to the ocean also meant to invoke thoughts about glas martyrs. Peregrini. I bring in the idea of being an exile for Christ, or the journey. Community. I also bring in references to community, which seems so important to me in Celtic Christianity.
Father, creator help me to see you
in everything you’ve created,
in the wolf of St Francis,
in straw of Brother Lawrence,
and in the mud puddle at my feet.
Jesus, savior remind me of how near
the kingdom of heaven has come
in the people around me
and all of us caught up in our daily tasks.
Spirit, sustainer guide us on our journeys
wherever they are leading.
Like my first prayer poem, this one also focuses on members of the Trinity. Another key focus on this is panentheism and God being present in the creatures and other things created around us. I step away from Celtic Christianity a little by invoking Saint Francis and Brother Lawrence, but both of them seem to me to be part of the same approach to spirituality. I also bring in the aspect of the journey, without a clear destination which seems so important to me. I break with the first two stanzas which each have three examples of what I’m talking about in the stanza when I get to the final stanza. It helps communicate in an additional way, the uncertainty and incompleteness of the journey.
For me, writing is a very contemplative experience. I mostly compose poems in my mind, mulling them over and over before I put them on paper. Then, I spend time revising what I’ve written. So the practice of writing and sharing these prayer poems has a nice combination of contemplation and action.
Celtic Christianity as I’m understanding it right now, feels very comfortable and familiar to me, giving me words and constructs that match how I approach life, prayer, and writing.
There have been a lot of discussions online recently about the Trump inauguration as well as the march the following day. Here are some of the things I’ve been seeing and saying:
One friend wrote about Trump saying he was giving the government back to the people and my friend hoped that the marches would be women taking him up on it.
Adapted from a friend: Trump said he was giving the government back to the people. Here's to the women marching today to take him up on that. Here's to the Muslims, and Mexicans, and people of every shade and color, every level of ability or disability who are also taking Trump up on this. Here's to the old white men, like myself who support those marching, believing in liberty and justice FOR ALL, believing in loving our neighbors, not matter how different they are from us.
Several people shared posts like this:
Posting this so it will come up in my facebook memories:
Inauguration Day: 1/20/2017
Copy and paste so we can see if "America will be great".
I responded to these posts in various ways, ultimately ending up with something like thisL
Is this how we measure greatness? The price of gas and the value of stocks? How about other measures? Infant mortality rate? Suicide rate among veterans? Number of people who are homeless? Number of people uninsured? These are the numbers I'll be looking at. They must all go down for American to be great.
Here are some statistics that I’ve gathered:
Infant Mortality rate: 5.8/1000
Veteran Suicides per day 20
Homeless on a given night: 564,708
Uninsured rate: 9.1%
Happiness Index 7.104 (13th world wide)
Here are some of the sources I used:
CIA World Fact Book 2016 estimate of U.S. Infant mortality rate: 5,8 deaths/1000 live births.
One person summed it up quite nicely:
America does seem great again today. Maybe it's just all those women in Washington.