Friday, January 20, 2017

I've been away

Sunrise, Thursday, at Rosyln Center, Richmond, VA

I've spent this week with my bishop classmates in the classes of 2016 and 2017 (even though I was elected in 2015, I am considered to be in the class of 2016 because that was our first meeting as a small group of peer-bishops).  We've been at the Rosyln center in Richmond, VA, and it has been a rich time of learning, conversation and building relationships that will last a lifetime.

We've been at it early in the morning until late in the evening leaving me little time to work on a blog.
Responding to the steady stream of emails from the people of Central PA (who are as active and engaged as ever)  has been my first priority in the few moments of free time that we've had.

So-  no blog today.

I'll be on the road, actually, headed home today and look forward to a full weekend spent with the Commission on Ministry and our postulants and candidates;  and two of our parishes as we worship-  one on Saturday evening and one on Sunday morning.

I'm praying, today, for those gathering in Washington-  for today's ceremony of Inauguration and prayer service and for tomorrow's marches.  And for all those who gather, this weekend, around our country speaking out in the name of hope, peace and justice.

Until next week,
blessings and love.

These are the members of my class.  From L to R, George Sumner (Dallas), Russell Kendrick (Central Gulf Coast), moi, Michael Curry (Presiding Bishop), Peter Eaton (SE Florida), Moises Quezada Mota (Dominican Republic, Co-adjutor) and  Mark Van Koevering (Mark served 13 years as diocesan bishop in Mozambique- Diocese of Niassa- and is now Assistant Bishop in W VA)

Friday, January 13, 2017


I get asked to pray for people all the time.

I am asked to pray for upcoming surgeries, for those about to interview for a new job, for those headed to the doctor for a diagnosis, for the improvement of a parent’s health or the sobriety of one’s spouse.

I am asked to pray for people in our churches; those whom I know only through the internet; for people in far-away places and for people who spot my purple shirt, big cross and collar and come up to me on the street, in the grocery store and in restaurants. 
I gladly add these names to a running list that I keep in my binder and remember these people at least once, daily, in my morning prayers but usually, again and again during the day, as I go about from meeting to meeting, from place to place.

Praying for others is part of my Christian life-  the life that is outlined so succinctly in the Baptismal Covenant and in which I have vowed to continue praying and to work at loving my neighbor (among other things), with God’s help.  Praying is an act of love and so, when I get a request, I gladly receive it and strive to honor it to the best of my praying ability.

There’s been a lot of hubbub this week about the prayer service for the President-elect that will be held at the National Cathedral, as is the custom, on the day after the Inauguration.  There are those who are vehemently opposed to opening the doors of this (Episcopal) Cathedral to the in-coming President who, in many ways and on many occasions, has spoken with vitriol and violence and who has demonstrated his ability to demean and take advantage of those who are weak and vulnerable.  There has been a rally cry for the Cathedral, its Dean, the Bishop and the Presiding Bishop to say “no” to the service and to keep the doors of the cathedral locked tight against the new President.

There’s been a parallel story about including the name of the President in the Prayers of the People during our (Episcopal) Sunday celebrations of Holy Eucharist. (Rite One Prayers of the People offers an option to include the names of “those who bear the authority of government in this and every land…” (BCP 329). In Rite Two, Form I invites Prayers for “the President,” Form III includes prayers for “those who govern and hold authority…” and  Form IV has an  option to name persons who are “in positions of public trust.”   Forms II and VI are silent on naming the president or civic leaders specifically, but invite prayers for “goodwill among nations…” and “for all who work for justice, freedom and peace.” (BCP 383-393) There are those who, opposed to the election of the new President, recoil at the thought of hearing his name uttered in church and have asked that these petitions be withdrawn from our services during the next four years. In our diocese, I have had more than one conversation about this.

There is a call for the prophetic voice to bring change.  Do away with the custom of the Inaugural Prayer Service on this occasion, drawing a line in the sand about what the Church will or will not tolerate in the arena of civility, respectable conduct and the use of power.

There has also been a call for praying even harder- on Jan 21st as well as throughout the next four years in our churches- and pouring the anger, fear, anxiety and discontent that some feel into the stream of Christian prayer that has been offered to God for millennia, knowing that God will accept these prayers- and all others- with graciousness and love. There have been comments that when we name our fears and the sources of our anxiety – out loud, in prayer-  that we claim some power over them and become less vulnerable. 

 I do not pray because I believe that my tiny voice can turn God’s heart.
And I do not pray (or withhold my prayers) as an act of conscience.

I pray, because it is how I am in relationship with God.  As a God-lover, follower of Jesus, it is what I know to do, a profound means by which my relationship with the Holy is lived-out, in the quiet corner of my living room as I pray each morning, swaddled in a blanket, a single candle glowing on the table nearby.  It is an important meeting-place for me as I begin my day and come to terms again- with the understanding that the One in Heaven is the one in whom I put my trust, who orders the Universe, in whom I find my Way, my Truth and my Life and in whom I live and move and have my being.    

The prayers that I offer for others?  I do not offer them to God expecting that the weight of my purple-prayers will reach the healing-power-of-God faster or deeper than others, but because by them, I live out an important part of our Christian tradition which is to honor the Incarnation, and to know that in offering the prayers of others, I am drawn closer, ever, to the Christ in our midst; the Christ who suffered on the cross and whom I see in the suffering hearts of those who bid my pleas for their improved health or welfare.   By praying with them, I am brought more deeply into relationship with them, with God and with Jesus and, I believe that it is in the dark folds of these relationships that holy strength is kindled and healing is forged.

So, my dear friends, I am praying for Donald Trump.  Because I believe that it can effect the healing of him (for we are all sinners and have fallen short of the Glory of God); because from prayer, I believe we can derive the strength that we,and our world, so sorely need; and because it is the way in which I gather my own fragile needs and make them real, offering them to God. And, honestly, I pray- for Donald and for others-  because I cannot imagine any other way.

My prayer is the way that I live my life with God and the soil in which all of my relationships are planted and grow.

I pray for you, too.  Every day.  For our diocese and the work that we do as people on God’s mission, for our dear congregations who support each other with Christ-like acts of love and service, for those in our communities who receive the outreach of our parishes, and for those who linger, yet, on the sidewalk, who need God’s love and our invitation to Come, Taste and See.

Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, has offered a word on this subject of prayer, as well.

Friday, January 6, 2017

light. chalk. blessing.

One of the books in the reference section of my home library sits with a broken spine and a bulge in the center of the book from something that’s been stuck in-between the pages and left for sometime.

I use this book infrequently, as its title may suggest:

The book is The Book of Occasional Services and the lump in my copy is a piece of chalk, stuck in the leaves at page 47.

The service that I’ve been following in this book since the early ‘90s is the "Blessing in Homes at Epiphany” and the chalk, in our house, is an integral part of the rite as we perform it.

At our house, we've combined the Episcopal rite of the Epiphany house blessing with the ritual of Chalking the Door in which the horizontal frame above the door is inscribed with the letters C+ M+ B with  the date of the year surrounding the letters. This year it will look like this:  20 C+ M+ B 17.   The letters C, M, and B come from the traditional (9th century) names for the three kings, or Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar. Another idea is that the letters also signify Christus Mansionem Benedicat, which means "May Christ bless this dwelling."

Years ago, when we first started this, I gathered our children around me on the day of Epiphany (that's today, by the way, January 6)  and had them read, as best they could, the Collects and the Magnificat (the assigned canticle for this rite.)  And then they grew… and became less interested in wading through a bunch of prayers before getting to the good part of defiling the house with chalk. (This, from a mother who refused to let them crayon on the walls or put stickers on the wallpaper!)

There were a few years when we breezed through the Lord’s Prayer and got to the fun stuff.

And then there was the year when I stood alone on a dreary January afternoon and chalked it on my own, praying not just a blessing on the house but on all those who lived within who, at the moment, were scattered and chasing their own Epiphany dreams.

Any ritual that brings our faith traditions alive in the home is special to me.

I remember the twinge of jealousy that I felt when our youngest returned on Saturday morning after a Friday night sleepover- she came through the door murmuring the Shabbat blessing that they had said the night before at her friend Emma’s house:

 Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melekh ha'olam…
(Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe)
asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu
(Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us)
l'had'lik neir shel Shabbat. Amein
(to light the lights of Shabbat. Amen)

I wished for that kind of home-faith-tradition… but even in a religiously oriented house like ours, the best that we could do was a grace at dinner time and an occasional verse of “Away in the Manger” during tucking-in-time, a tradition started by my mother when I was the one being tucked in.

I love Epiphany.

It is one of the principal feast days of the year but, for a festival that is all about light, it tends to stand in the shadow of its Merry cousin, Christmas.

By the time Epiphany rolls around, most folks have taken their trees down (we often left ours up until the 9th so as to celebrate my stepfather’s birthday on the 8th with holiday decorations still in place) and, even for those hearty folks who keep the party going for the whole 12 Days of Christmas, by Epiphany, there is often a collective sigh and an attitude of “let’s get back to it.”  Back to work. Back to school. Back to the treadmill.

Not I.

I like to imagine the steady shining of the star that brought the Magi, persistently, on their long trek to the house of Mary, Joseph and (by then) the toddler Jesus.  I like to imagine the sustained excitement and curiosity that kept them going on their long journey until, at last, they saw “it”-  The Savior- for themselves and were brought to their knees.

I like to think about Jesus, later in his life, standing knee-deep in the Jordan, submitting to the ritual of his cousin John, accepting the Baptism of Repentance, and the sudden, shining light streaming through the parted clouds …and the Dove… and the Voice.  Scripture Scholar John Dominic Crossan, says that the Early Church found Jesus’ baptism to be an “acute embarrassment” for its homeliness (mud, water, the humility of the Son of God)… but I like to wrest my gaze from the muddy water and look, instead, towards the  sanctifying light breaking through the clouds. It is a moment of manifested glory.

And the third story that we connect to Epiphany is the changing of Water into Wine at the Feast of Cana.  This, Jesus’ “first miracle, ” is a good one, alright,  and as the water blushes into wine, we can see Jesus’ ministry beginning to open up and ripen and make his holiness manifest to all those around him.

Epiphany-  it’s about light.  And, as I see it, it is about light dawning.  About our realization of who Jesus is, dawning, developing, becoming brighter and brighter, as the season wears on and as we become closer and closer to this God-become-Man, Jesus.

So, get out the chalk.
Read some of the prayers-  or none of the prayers-  but mark up the door good.
Tell God that “this house (and all in it) be blessed for this year.”
Bless us enough, God,  to see the light of Christ in all that enter our doors.
Bless us enough, God,  to find Jesus when we pass through the door and enter the big, busy world.
Keep us focused on the light and the message of peace and justice and love that extends to us in its heavenly rays.


 P.S. There are lots of good house blessing ceremonies and rituals for Epiphany that you can perform in your own home, asking God’s blessing on the place where you dwell.

Here’s a web address for a Chalking of the Doors rite that I like from Bishop Kirk Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona: