Retreat Reflections: Just Paint

This is a brief story that came to me while I was praying during a recent silent retreat.

There was once a group of painters whose works of art were so beautiful that everyone wanted to come see and buy their paintings. They decided they should work together to share ideas and help each other out and they became more and more successful. The started setting up committees and filing reports about which painters sold how many paintings.

Then, they started arguing amongst themselves about what the right way of painting should be and who should be painters and who shouldn’t be. They split into different factions. New people came along and wanted to join their ranks, and they were told no.

Their paintings all started to look the same with less and less vibrancy. Slowly, people stopped coming to see and buy the paintings. So the painters decided they needed more committees to work on making sure that everyone painted up to the groups standards and to reach out to people who no longer bought paintings.

As the painters spent more time dealing with conventions, convocations, and meetings, and writing reports and resolutions to address the decrease in sales, they became more and more dispirited. Their painting suffered, and more and more people stopped coming to see and buy their paintings.

Some outsiders suggested that maybe they needed to simply spend more time painting, explore new ways of painting, and encourage others to become painters. Some scoffed at these ideas. Others thought there might be some merit to them and suggested new committees to explore these ideas. Unfortunately, very few painters actually acted on the suggestions and painted more or in new ways.

Coming out as a Queer Multivocational Unordained Priest

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ whose journeys are somehow intertwined with mine, the peace of Jesus, the Christ be with you. It is a tradition within parts of the church for postulants to write to their bishops four times a year about their journeys. I am not a postulant and I have no bishops, but still I feel compelled to write.

I am starting my second term as a seminarian at Church Divinity School of the Pacific. I am currently in the online Certificate of Theological Studies program, but God willing will change programs to the lo-res M.Div program in the near future. This term I am taking Introduction to New Testament and Church History II. I am particularly interested in both of these classes in thinking about how our understanding of God and God’s Church changes over time. I have also recently joined a formation group and I’m looking forward growing with members of this group.

The resolutions of the 233rd Convention of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut provided an interesting glimpse into some of these changes in our day as it looks at what it means to be a member of the clergy in good standing, including, “a future with even more novel forms of ordained ministry“.

I have been thinking a lot about what it means to be a priest. In my previous ember letter, I wrote about reading Carter Heyward’s book, “A Priest Forever” and finding that her description of an Ontological Priest fits nicely with parts of my journey.

Recently, I participated in the Trinity Institute and this has further shaped some of my thinking. Jose Antonio Vargas talked about what it is like to be undocumented in America. He is here without the necessary papers because of what seems to be broken policies and bureaucracy. It limits what he can do. In light of Heyward’s book and my own journey, I feel like I, and others I’ve met during my journey are Unordained Priests, in a manner not unlike how Vargas is an undocumented America.

Another speaker at Trinity Institute was the Rev. Elizabeth Edman who spoke about queer theory and the idea of disrupting binaries. My eldest daughter is just completing her Master’s Degree and about to start her PhD in gender studies in Japan. We have many interesting discussions about queer theory and while I won’t claim to be any expert, I’m very interested in disrupting binaries. In particularly, there is the queer/heterosexual binary, and there is the clergy/laity binary.

The Episcopal Church in Connecticut uses “Guidelines for Mutuality” that seem to me to encourage this disrupting of binaries by urging participants to avoid either/or thinking. Yet I wonder, how much are we using either/or thinking and maintaining binaries as we think about the roles of priests and laity and who can become a priest? Can we try on (to use another one of the guidelines) new ways of thinking about the priesthood. Here, I return to some of my studies where the early church and the reformation church explored ideas of what the priesthood is.

In part of our journeys we may talk about bi-vocational priests. Yet I wonder if that is at best a half-hearted attempt to disrupt the clergy/laity binary. I have thought of myself as a bi-vocational seminarian as I work full time and attend seminary online. Yet perhaps, we need to recognize that many of us are called to many things in our lives. As the Great Litany says,

That it may please thee to inspire us, in our several callings, to do the work which thou givest us to do with singleness of heart as thy servants, and for the common good

Perhaps we should be talking about being multi-vocational.

So, perhaps this ember letter is coming out as a queer multivocational unordained priest.

I wrote the beginning of this while I was on a silent retreat at Holy Cross Monastery in New York. At matins the light shining on one section of the choir caught my attention, perhaps similarly to how the unconsumed burning bush caught Moses attention. I sought the source and found that it was from sunlight streaming in through a stained glass window over a statute of Mary.

While the image in the stained glass window was most likely the annunciation, it seemed for me at that moment that the image was of the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth when they were both pregnant. I stopped to ponder this.

In what ways am I Mary? What will I be giving birth to? In what way am I Elizabeth and who are the Marys in my life? How do we honor this in those around us? Perhaps some of us should hold a baby shower for Mary during the feast of the visitation, where everyone is invited to bring gifts symbolizing the ministries they are struggling to give birth to or nurture.

With this in mind, Bishop Glasspool’s article in The Episcopal New York entitled “Call the Midwife!” caught my attention. It echoed some of the same things I was thinking about.

Another part of my journey includes the Eastern Orthodox Church. I have been trying to make it to vespers Saturday evenings at local Orthodox Church. My youngest daughter has developed a strong interest in the Orthodox Church and is hoping to be baptized into it this year. Likewise, I continue to regularly worship with seminarians from Andover Newton at Yale stirring my childhood Congregational tendencies.

So where does all of this leave me? Perhaps all the more like Mary; a little confused, frightened, unsure, and yet willing and excited about what the miraculous annunciation meant. As who I am changes with whatever is growing inside of me, planted by God, I am seeking out the midwives and relatives. Will you be an Elizabeth, Ann, or Brigid to me? How can I be an Elizabeth, Ann, or Brigid to you?

Retreat Reflections: Matins

When Matins had ended I sat as other departed. I noticed that an end piece of the railing of one of the kneelers in the choir was strangle illuminated. It almost looked as if someone had left a cellphone there that was glowing brightly. I looked for the source of the light, guessing it was sunlight coming in from an unexpected angle.

As I left, I found the source. Over the statue of the Virgin Mary, holding the baby Jesus, and stepping on a serpent, there was a small stained glass window that the sun was pouring in through. The window at that moment appeared to depict Elizabeth talking with Mary about Mary’s pregnancy during the visitation, although I realize it was more likely an image of the annunciation.

It was striking, and I wondered what sort of message there might be for me in this? Am I like Mary, carrying something inside of me that I do not yet understand, something waiting to be born and change the world? Perhaps I need to speak with my spiritual midwife about this. Am I like Elizabeth? Is there a Mary in my life who is carrying something too wonderful to understand, who needs encouragement and words of wisdom?

I stood in silence and absorbed as much as I could.

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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.

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