Friday, August 28, 2015

silent companions

In the morning, I lace up my sneakers and head out to get some air in my lungs and begin the day outside, in the beauty of creation.  It is an instinct that I have had all my life- to breathe in the morning air, out-of-doors- instead of stumbling from bed to shower or from bed to study or from bed to coffee pot.  In some places where I have lived, this yearning has been easy to satisfy and in other places, it's called for some creativity:  in our house on Dyer Avenue I spent many mornings  perched on our cement back steps watching the bunnies in the backyard; in one apartment where we lived in Hartford, I was left to crawl out of our 3rd floor the living room window and onto the astro-turfed roof in order to get a breath of  the morning's fresh air; and in recent years, I have taken the opportunity to make this "morning breath" an occasion for exercise, turning it into a walk or run.

These days, in our condo in Linglestown, there's an easy slip out the back sliding door to our 10X10 cement slab patio where I can sit at my little K-Mart "cafe set" table and chair and wait for the coffee to drip.    It's dark, now, as I rise in the morning at the end of summer, and there is the added joy of watching the sky shift from black to navy to various shades of electric orange, salmon and milky white, as the sun takes its place on high. This "patio-sitting"  becomes the "bullpen" for whatever walk or run I'm going to take once the caffeine kicks in.

Most mornings, I can hear the neighbor's rooster.  There are birds, too- chickadees, robins, blue jays, sparrows and crows- but the rooster is the unmistakable harbinger of the new day. This particular rooster who takes up residence on the farm  at the bottom of our driveway is lusty and loud and relentless.  "We get it, already," I tell him, "It's time to get up and get on with the day. We get it.  Thank you."

Besides the rooster, there are other companions who join me on my outing.  These companions are silent.  I find them at the edge of the woods, in the meadow that is mostly clover, and in the field the lies beyond the hedge of bamboo.  They are deer.  There is a herd of them that, depending on the morning, ranges in number from 2 or 3 to 11 or 12.  They are does, and there are two spotted fawns among them.  I had been looking to find a buck in the herd, but learned, recently,  that during the summer months while bucks are busy growing their antlers, they separate themselves from the larger group and don't move around very much.  One source that I have consulted says that the bucks gather in  "reclusive bachelor groups."

So it's just me, that noisy rooster, and the lady deer.  

As I make my way up the ridge, the deer are wary of me.  My sneakers announce my position:  they have an annoying squeak that, no matter how I lace them up, they "talk."  The deer are usually grazing when I come upon them, and when they first spot me, they lift their heads up and freeze.  The fawns are less alert. Their radar is not yet so finely tuned, and, many times, they keep at it, pushing the ground with their noses, while their moms and aunts play a game of "statue" as I squeak my way up the hill.  

These are big animals.  The does probably measure 4 feet from the ground to the top of their backs, and maybe 5 or more feet tall, all told.  My guess is that they weigh well over 100 lbs; my research source tells me northern does range between 105-120 lbs.

Here's what I love about them:  they are solid and silent.  

They don't run away in a panic when I show up, but move with me-  up the hill, along the ridge, down into the little pocket of coolness where the road dips down to meet a tiny creek.

They are watchful, careful and present.

They are a force.

They make me think about my relationship with the One who made me, and whose presence I seek- for guidance, grounding and courage.

If I were a bad cinematographer, I could make a movie about a late middle-aged woman's quest for spiritual connection and how each morning as she prays her way through her run asking for a sign of God's presence, she  misses it completely, in the herd of deer moving slowly and carefully at her side.

It would be corny.  But true.

Friday, August 21, 2015

up lewisburg way

Liverpool PA

In the past three weeks I have traveled up Lewisburg way four or five times.  It seems to be a good middle-point meeting place in our diocese and getting there from Harrisburg is an easy- and scenic- drive up Rts 322 and 11/15.

I’m beginning to learn the names of the towns that are along this route, strung like pearls on a necklace, or beads on a rosary. I count them off and name them as I drive east and north:  Fishing Creek, Halifax, Duncannon, Buffalo, Liverpool, Selinsgrove…  Multiple route signs announce each of these villages (or are they towns, or boroughs?  I’m still trying to understand Commonwealth terminology). Every five miles or so there is a sign that announces “Harrisburg” with a simple arrow pointing to recommend a turn-around, just in case we have changed our minds, or something.

My favorite of these little towns is Liverpool.  I love it for its name, of course, and can’t help but think of the Fab Four everytime I pass though, but what I really love is the way that the houses on Front Street all stand shoulder to shoulder, as though on attention, as I drive by.  Now, I know that it’s not for me that they stand proudly and present themselves- they’ve been there for more than 200 years (Liverpool was founded in 1808)- they stand there together and face the canal and the river. In the pre-railroad days, the Main Line Canal was a thoroughfare of industry stretching from Duncannon to Northumberland- 39 miles- and Liverpool was one of the busiest towns on the canal.  There is a long strip of houses- maybe 30 in all- perched on a broad street with parking in front of each stoop.  This residential Front Street is divided from Route 11/15 so as you pass through there is a feeling like you are watching a movie or riding an amusement park ride- like the one through the Hershey factory where they show you how chocolate is made.

As I drive by I wonder about the lives of the people in those houses. What do they do with their days?  Where do they work?  Do they have children? Do they go to church?  What do they think about us, the travelers who whizz by, exceeding the modest 45 mph limit by a healthy, guilty margin?   As I do my wondering, I offer a prayer for the people in this town, for their health, contentment and strength and then, in just a few minutes, I am at Weaver’s (Amish Farm Stand and Bakery) and all my thoughts turn to cantaloupe, tomatoes and sticky buns.

My drive past Liverpool – and my wondering about her people- is not too different from the “pajama rides” that we used to go on when I was a kid.  After our supper and our bath, my mom would pile my brothers and me into the way-back of our Country Squire (no seatbelts in the 1950s and early 60s!) and drive around the neighborhood for a little while.  I now understand that my mom was trying to get us to settle down before bed… but I sat up straight, looking into windows, trying to climb inside the lives of the people in those houses.

The Missional Church movement invites us to do more than peer into the windows of houses as we drive by. The Missional Church movement asks us to fully explore our neighborhoods and the places in which we live and to see the hand of God already at work in these places.  We are called to join this work- God’s work- as participants in God’s mission, locally.  This kind of work requires that we know each other, deeply.

In the days when I was being driven about in the back of that old station wagon, church was a cultural institution that gathered us together.  The norms of our society included our participation in a faith community and regular gatherings for worship, education and fellowship.  Those days have past.  Today, the church serves as the same gathering space for those who are old enough to remember its “good old days” but the call to community is different.  God is now asking us to step out of our red doors and seek God’s presence and participation in our neighborhoods and civic communities.  To build community on Front Street. 

The erasing of boundaries between Church and Town is a little scary.  In church, we feel safe talking about God, singing about God, and sharing the rituals of our ancient tradition.  In the Missional Church, we see that sharing God’s love and God’s Word is  right and meet so to do in parks, in our friends’ homes or in the barber shop. Not, maybe, in a Bible-thumping way, but in a way that begins with knowing each other and sharing our stories.  Of listening to each other, building relationships and seeing how God is a dynamic force in our lives- everywhere.  We begin to distinguish less between Church and Society, between Church-life and “Outreach” and become more integrated in our minds and our spirits.  The cartography of our souls finds that God’s love is present within us all the time… and present in our neighbors, known and not yet known.

While we begin to chart how it is that we will find our Way, together, we need also to honor and pay attention to the place in which God has put us today.  While the Christian Journey includes movement, transformation and growth, we need, also, to look for Christ as close to us as our neighbor’s kitchen table, in the hardware store down the street or on the river trail.  The Missional Church movement invites us to draw a circle around the spot where we are right now, and look for God.

More on all of this, coming up.  For now, spend today noticing. Look for God where you are today-  at school, at work, at home- puttering around the garden or in the kitchen.  For, as God reminds us in Jeremiah, “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.”  (Jeremiah 29:13)

Friday, August 14, 2015


This week (and its not over yet,) I have logged more than 400 miles on my odometer making my way around Central PA for various meetings and gatherings.

 Six different folks have made their way to Pine St. to meet with me, racking up an additional 528 miles on the road, and, as I’ve been able to keep track, the diocesan staff has logged more than 700 miles on the road visiting congregations, clergy and lay leaders this week- and that’s a conservative estimate that doesn't include the normal miles of commuting to work.

For those keeping track, that’s about 1,628 miles of travel for the sake of the Kingdom… and… it’s only Friday morning. (I’ve got a few appointments today, a wonderful Meet & Greet on Sunday with the Lancaster Convocation, and I know that the staff is busy this weekend, too.)

I knew when I signed on for this job that I’d be behind the wheel. A lot.  I’ve been given the use of our “company car-“ a wonderful, safe, economical Subaru Forrester. And I like to drive.  It gives me time to think, to pray, and to roll around ideas in my head in a more relaxed and creative way than when I am sitting down at a computer or with pen in hand to “work.”  The use of fossil fuel and paying close attention to our carbon footprint is vital in all of this, and it gets at the point that I’m wanting to make:  sometimes, we need real-time, face-to-face gatherings.  We can talk on the phone, burn up cyberspace with voluminous emails and use more modern technologies like Skype, Go-To-Meeting and other tele-conferencing mediums, but sometimes, in this biz we call “Church,” we just need to gather…. to be in the same room… to hear the subtle raising of a voice in tentative questioning at the end of a sentence, to see the shifting of bodies in chairs that signals that it’s time to move on, to catch the sparkle of an eye in affirmation and to pay attention to the furrowing of a brow in disagreement or wonder.  

There is something about praying together in a group that is different, too. The silence that wraps itself like a mantle around a quiet group is a comfort. The timbre of voices joined in prayer speaks at once to our diversity and our unity. The touching of hands while praying in a circle invites a spiritual connection that cannot happen from a distance.  Have you ever prayed with someone over the phone?  On the few occasions in which I have (both as the one offering and the one receiving the prayer,) it has felt awkward and stilted, as best.

And so, we gather.

The gospel lessons in our lectionary in the past few weeks have focused on the eternal life that we receive when we enter into relationship with Jesus.   The  evangelist John and the creators of our lectionary back us into the idea of eternal life by beginning with a feeding story- the Feeding of the 5,000. (John 6: 1-24)  Jesus physically – and miraculously- feeds the masses on a few fishes and loaves.  The next few weeks of readings develop this idea of feeding and sustenance with Jesus telling us that he is the bread… the Bread of Life…  and the theme reaches its climax this week with Jesus’ pronouncement: 

"Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them." (6: 54-56)

There is, in this, an unmistakeable intimacy that some might say borders on cannibalism … but that, in its symbolic sense, underscores a profound connection between two individuals- in this case, Jesus and… us.   

In the Anglican tradition, we talk about something called “real presence.”  In the eucharist when we gather to pray-  to offer thanks for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ and to bid his presence among us at the table - we believe that he is with us, as we share that holy meal.  The fraction anthem: “Be known to us, Lord Jesus, in the breaking of the bread,” sets the aspiration of our hearts to song, and, as we pass the bread and tip the cup, he is there, at the center of our circle.  “Whenever two or three are gathered, I will be among you,” Jesus promises, in Matthew (18:20)  I know that I have felt this mystical presence at the altar, and it is my priviledge as a priest to share this moment as I make my way down the altar rail, dispensing Jesus to the gathered faithful, in bits of a crusty loaf.

Ours is a tradition that places a premium on the incarnation.  On the fleshiness and presence of God-with-us. Emmanuel. We live it out by gathering for  worship and, as we build the Church, we live it out by jumping in our cars and coming together.  Because we need to.

Here’s an invitation:  In your gatherings this week- both in the pews and elsewhere, with your friends and neighbors- pay close attention to the idea of “presence.”  Notice the subtle gestures of those with whom you gather. Pay attention to the fluid movement of the group. And look, in the center of the circle, for Jesus.  He’s promised to show up.

This morning, I am lucky to have my first meeting at  St. Thomas Coffee Roasters just a mile from our house. I’m going to ride my bike.

Friday, August 7, 2015

the way of the cross

There’s a collect, a prayer, that comes up in the Morning Prayer rotation on Fridays that, on most occasions, I make my way through with little trouble.  It is called, simply, A Collect For Fridays.

It goes like this:

Almighty God, whose most dear
Son went not up to joy but first he
suffered pain, and entered not into
glory before he was crucified:
Mercifully grant that we, walking in
the way of the cross, may find it
none other than the way of life and
peace; through Jesus Christ your
Son our Lord. Amen.

Now, if I had my Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer, I might be able to share some historical information about this collect.  I could tell you about its author, the era in which it was written and, maybe even, offer a bon mot or two about the choice of this collect for our prayer book.  But, I can’t.  Alas, my books are still in storage, in a trailer in Camp Hill, waiting for us to buy a house. So, never mind.

And really, what I want to reflect on is not anything that can be answered with scholarly research or quaint facts, because it’s much more visceral than that.  What I want to reflect on is that phrase that called me up short this morning and that has taken me down the rabbit hole of wonder:

Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.”

I have spent time on other occasions praying with the phrase “the way of the cross,” but today it has caught me up. Stopped me.  And, my experience tells me that usually, God has something to say to me when I am stopped in my tracks.
 What has struck me this morning is that the Christian call to service – “walking in the way of the cross”- includes intentionally putting ourselves into places that are not particularly comfortable.  The progression of the collect lays out for us a model in Christ’s suffering  and assumes that, we, too, will embrace a similar stance in our own walk with Jesus.

I used to read this prayer with a different slant:  I used to think that this prayer asked us to find hope and peace in the “normal,” “everyday” occasions of suffering that we encountered-  illness, grief, loss, shame- and that by aligning ourselves with the One who suffered, first, we might find solace and hope… (and that’s a fine thing)… but now I read it differently.  Now, I understand this prayer as outlining a willingly uncomfortable walk for us as Christians. 

Carrying the cross, “walking in the way of the cross” is not easy.

“Suffering” to me suggests the painful result of something that we have not elected for ourselves.  But “intentional discomfort, or “being uncomfortable” feels like a more attainable goal for the modern Christian- and not too difficult in our culture of relative wealth and comfort.

Imagine the things that make you feel uncomfortable.  Here are some of mine:

·      Being in a strange place, disoriented.

·      Not having sufficient base material goods (food, water, shelter)

·      Uncertainty

·      Situations of protracted engagement with no defined end (the endless meeting, with no agenda… the bike ride up hill with no sign of the horizon)

As I think about it, when I have been in situations like the ones described above, I have had my holiest of moments… my most sacred encounters.

There’s a reason, it seems, that Fridays are noted in our faith tradition as to be observed by “special acts of discipline and self-denial.” (BCP p. 17)   On the day in which we commemorate, again, Jesus’ crucifixion, we, too, are asked to focus on walking in the way of the cross and joining Jesus in the place of desolation and discomfort.

Today, we do not wear hairshirts. (Well, according to my research, some belonging to the monastic orders of Carthusians and Carmelites still hold to this tradition, but generally, in this modern age hairshirts are ancient relics.)   I wonder, though, what we might do to put ourselves into a place that is personally challenging- for the sake of holiness, in the name of Christian service, and with the desire to grow closer to God.

What might you do, on this day, to pick up the cross and carry it with you for a while?

Play around with creating your own list of modern methods for walking in the way of the cross.  And then if you try one – see if, maybe, you won’t meet Jesus along the way.