2014 Lenten Meditation #40

Saturday, April 20th, 2014 – Holy Saturday, followed by the great celebration of Easter

Holy Saturday

 
Today marks the last day of Lent, the last day of fasting before we celebrate Easter Resurrection for fifty days.

I’m curious about how Lent has been for you. How are you different than you were on Ash Wednesday? How are you the same? What fruits did your Lenten examination and practice yield in you? Have there been disappointments? Signs of hope? How do you measure your progress in your Life with God? Do you attempt to measure it at all?

It’s important to me to measure my growth in God just like I measure other important things in life because what gets measured gets attention. If my goal is to become more like Jesus, what benchmarks do I think essential? What habits, practices, and customs do I think valuable enough to undertake regularly?

Whatever yardstick I use, it seems unlikely I will be able to render an accurate assessment on my own. Reflecting personally on these questions is helpful but only a start. If I really want to know how I’m doing, I need people in my life close enough to me to share honestly what they experience of my progress or its lack.

There are all sorts of people who can do that professionally. I am in a job that encourages those encounters. For that I’m grateful (at least until I hear something I don’t want to hear!).

Mostly, I have friends who help me do this, friends over decades and some newer ones who can help me sort out the wheat from the chaff as I try to move forward. These days, I am aware that those friends mean more and more to me.

I hope you have such friends. I hope you have conversations with them about the questions above. If you don’t, or if you don’t have as many as you would like, I hope Christ Church is a place where you can meet more. I hope that what we are doing together in our Life in God is encouraging those conversations and friendships. I hope your Lenten experience has moved you closer to those conversations with yourself and others and with God.

May Jesus who lies in the tomb today and the Father who raises Him fill you with their Spirit this day and always. Thank you for reading during these forty days and walking with me to Easter at Christ Church.

 

– Christopher Powell

 

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #39

Friday, April 18th, 2014 – Good Friday

Good Friday

 

I first read the poem below when I was fifteen. It has haunted me for forty years. While Merwin is writing, as a writer, on the subject of his craft, one he practiced at the highest levels of American letters, his sentiments as he faces his work mirror my reaction to the events of this day, the day the Son of God is put to death. In this poem, he pinballs between what he knows to be true and what he can’t bear to be true; what is true in his own mind, for him subjectively, and how that consciousness intersects reality.

I imagine this poem being written from the perspective of the Beloved Disciple. I imagine him with Jesus at the foot of the cross, trying to express years later the experience of that event. He starts by telling the Father that he does not understand the world, the world that would do this to the Lord who is his beloved Friend. He imagines Jesus listening for the reason He is placed on that unholy tree; Jesus is listening for a sound that is not there, that never comes. It must be there somewhere; Jesus did not put himself on the tree. There is, somewhere in creation, a wheel of a reason why this has happened. But there is no wheel. It is unequal that there is nothing: no sound, no rationale, no wheel. There is only a holy man on an unholy tree and the Disciple whom he loved to write about it years later.

 

On the Subject of Poetry
by W. S. Merwin

I do not understand the world, Father.
By the millpond at the end of the garden
There is a man who slouches listening
To the wheel revolving in the stream, only
There is no wheel there to revolve.

He sits in the end of March, but he sits also
In the end of the garden; his hands are in
His pockets. It is not expectation
On which he is intent, nor yesterday
To which he listens. It is a wheel turning.

When I speak, Father, it is the world
That I must mention. He does not move
His feet nor so much as raise his head
For fear he should disturb the sound he hears
Like a pain without a cry, where he listens.

I do not think I am fond, Father,
Of the way in which always before he listens
He prepares himself by listening. It is
Unequal, Father, like the reason
For which the wheel turns, though there is no wheel.

I speak of him, Father, because he is
There with his hands in his pockets, in the end
Of the garden listening to the turning
Wheel that is not there, but it is the world,
Father, that I do not understand.

 

– Christopher Powell

 

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #38

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 – Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday

 

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” John 13:34

The word maundy comes from the Latin mandatum, meaning commandment. On this day in the evening, in the Upper Room, Jesus commands those in His presence to love this way. Surrounded by His closest followers, both men and women, Jesus calls them friends, washes their feet, shares a meal with them which will become the Eucharist, and lets them know again what will befall Him in the hours ahead. We wash each other’s feet this night in commemoration of his mandatum as we gather around the Holy Table that is the altar. Tonight we share in Him, in His physical presence found in Bread and Wine, made holy by the Spirit and His offering.

When we think of loving more deeply, more completely, like Jesus did, we often think of additional things we should say yes to in His Name. We think of being more patient or long-suffering with difficult people; we think of enduring things with more grace or letting others have their way. Sometimes we think of starting that thing we have long felt we should be doing, that thing which makes us feel small and shellacked in guilt because we have let it slide. For so long.

Maybe even, if we are thinking Biblically about this night, we think of the line by John the Baptist when he says about Jesus, “He must increase and I must decrease.”

In short, when we think of loving more deeply, we think of more things to which we should say yes. That may well be. Each of us gets to decide that. While I have little doubt about the truth of that for me, I cannot help but think this night of the things to which Jesus says no.

He says no to the easier way.
He says no to the power of the sword which cuts off the ear of Malchus.
He says no to judgment as His friends fall asleep when He needs them.
He says no to placing His own will ahead of God’s.
He says no to the gambit of proving He is God by coming down from the cross.
He says no to Pilate’s idea of dominion and power.
He says no to hating the sinners responsible for His death.
He says no to those who think that death can undo the work of God.
He says no to His own life so that the Glory of God may be made full in the raising of that life to a place of everlasting beauty and joy.
Maybe the new commandment has as much to do with saying no as it does with saying yes.

 

Question of the day: Can I ever really say yes if saying no is not an option?

 

– Christopher Powell

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #37

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 – The Seventh Wednesday in Lent

Finding A Way Home Through the Fog

 

Every year during Holy Week we relive the story of Jesus’ last days with familiar apprehension and dread, as He moves relentlessly toward the cross. We travel his path as He enters Jerusalem peacefully, riding a gentle donkey, surrounded by a cheering, elated crowd in a parade of nonviolence. In contrast, we learn how Pilate orchestrates his entrance on the other side of the city, riding a mighty warhorse, accompanied by armed Roman soldiers, in a parade of implied threat. Jesus spends this last week confronting the combined powers of the political and religious hierarchies of the day through his ministry of love, healing, justice and righteousness. The Roman rulers and the Jewish high priests perceive Jesus as a threat. They collaborate to trap Him. Despite His courage, His persuasive arguments, and His words of truth, Jesus makes decisions that lead to the cross. Knowing the results of these events through Scripture, we want to intrude into the story and find a way to change the outcome. Instead, we participate in the thick fog of confusion, fear, and cowardice experienced by Jesus’ friends and enemies. We see the horror of the Crucifixion, but not the surprise of the Resurrection.

Since I am always seeking a metaphor for descriptive purposes, I often compare my yearly journey through the fear and frustration of Holy Week with a boat ride through a dense fog in Maine. I was invited by a friend to explore a remote, heavily wooded, uninhabited island. As we traveled in his small motorboat, we enjoyed an offshore breeze, giving us sunshine and a horizon so sharp that it looked chiseled against the sky. After securing our boat in the island’s sheltered cove, we hiked through the woods in strangely diminishing light to the cliffs on the eastern side of the island. When we reached the cliffs, we discovered that the offshore wind had shifted to an onshore breeze. That other wind had brought a dark, cold fog bank so thick that we could barely see each other. We rushed back to his boat. Since my friend never carried a channel chart, a compass, or a horn on his boat, we had no survival tools to help us. Consequently, we devised a sketchy plan to find our way home.

After deciding to search for specific landmarks at sea to direct us, we set out in the fog. Our first destination was a treacherous series of ledges called The Hypocrites. The Hypocrites look like sharply pointed stalagmites reaching up to find imaginary stalactites. They are noted for their ability to tear apart ships that inadvertently strike them. I stretched out on the bow of the boat with my face close to the water in an effort to find The Hypocrites before they found us. In spite of our tight, tiny circle of visibility, I saw the first rocky spire before we hit it. We used these ledges to aim ourselves toward another island. If we misjudged its location, we would get lost at sea without any reference point. We found the island’s shoreline and followed it to an unseen lighthouse on an adjacent island. Its foghorn was excruciatingly loud, reminding us needlessly that the fog was impenetrable and the waters dangerous.

The most ominous part of our trip awaited us. To get home, we had to cross a busy water route that merchants and pleasure boats choose because it offers a sheltered passage. We also had to avoid the rocks and ledges off of a peninsula, marked at the moment by invisible channel markers. We could neither see nor hear anything beyond the shrieking foghorn. As we gingerly crossed this busy passage, we expected to be broadsided by some large ship. Nothing hit us. We looked for the expected rocks and ledges. None appeared. By this time, the fog had drenched our hair and clothes, leaving us shivering and afraid. Our sense of direction had failed us. We were lost. Even though we believed we were progressing toward the open ocean, we had to keep moving.

Suddenly, brilliant sunshine blinded us. We had unwittingly motored out of the fog bank into the clear visibility of the bay. With joy and gratitude, we embraced the glorious light, the sun’s warmth, and the gift of preserved life. We observed the same chiseled outline of trees and homes that we had noticed in the morning wind, but in this light the whole world looked new. Glancing behind us, we saw, crouched at the mouth of the bay, the mountainous, dark fog bank that we had escaped. The soft, off shore breeze was blocking the fog’s access to the bay. Despite our mistakes, we had been blessed with a way home in the fog.

I compare the struggle through the fog in a small boat to our difficult journey through the events of Holy Week. After retracing the Holy Week stories, we face Good Friday with dread. We see nothing ahead but a fogbound future of grief. Then on Sunday, we, like Jesus’ frightened followers, receive the unexpected gift, the blinding light of love at the Resurrection. During the Easter Vigil, we demonstrate this shocking shift in our faith history. While I watch the glorious transformation of the church at the end of the Easter Vigil, I remember that sudden burst of redeeming light beyond the fog bank. Out of the darkness of the church, light floods our holy space, revealing flowers and joyful worshipers. The choir begins to sing “The strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory of life is won: the song of triumph has begun. Alleluia!” I am once again surprised by Easter.

 

– Susie Sprowl, Christ Church Parishioner

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #36

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 – The Sixth Tuesday in Lent

I Don’t Know

 

I read the New York Times, digitally and thoroughly, every day. Admittedly, I need to morph over to the Tribune, but a lifetime of habits, starting in high school, die hard.

It’s odd that I’ve done that, really, because I’ve never taken any steps to live in New York City. New York is a hard city to raise children. I didn’t want my spirit of adventure to be lived out at the expense of my family. In addition, I never thought of wanting to move to a place. As a parish priest, I filtered my options based on parishes, not cities or regions or even bishops. (Until now.)

My interest in the Times has had more to do with my intellectual curiosity and the way my brain works. As a priest in a parish, I am naturally a generalist. I need to know a little about a lot as opposed to knowing a lot about a little. Reading the Times’ Top Stories each day gives me just enough information to ask pertinent questions to people who actually know what they’re talking about. I find both stimulating–the reading and the asking.

There is a rub, of course. Part of what is at work here is my aversion to saying, “I don’t know.” If you read your news source more thoroughly than I do and if you write a long comment in reply to what you’re reading, you and I are on the same team: we don’t like admitting ignorance.

That’s probably a minor sort of sin, born of vanity and wanting to fit in with intelligent people. The darker side of that is thinking that most things are knowable. We judge ourselves and each other for not knowing. My brain hurts this week, this Holy Week, thinking of all that I have read about: what role politics plays in the recovery of information about flight 370; whether or not we should help our kids with homework; what spending habits the retired should adopt; whether Donald Rumsfeld, a New Trier classmate of my late mother, is a hero or a villain. Underlying these, and most other articles, is the idea that you and I should know.

And what we should know is the right answer. Judas had all the right answers, and he ended up a cautionary tale.

Our faith is much more about the Right Person than the right answers. If our goal is to be in authentic relationship, we have to give up our territorial claims to the land of Always Knowing, which always leads to the land of Crushed Spirits.

When the world was most needful, God’s right answer was to send a person. It’s as if God was saying find the Right Person first and then figure out the proper place for the right answers.

 

Question for the day: Do I think of it as knowledge vs. faith or knowledge and faith?

 

–Christopher Powell

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2014 Lenten Meditation #35

Monday, April 14th, 2014 – The Sixth Monday in Lent

Egeria

 

And so it begins. Holy Week: the week where we remember the last days of the earthly life of Jesus. Most of what we know about the observances of Holy Week comes from a fragment of the diary of Egeria, a fourth century pilgrim who traveled to the Holy Land to discover the religious practices of those who were living there. What she found were churches built on sites where Jesus performed miracles. She also found people who re-traced the last few days of His life by making a similar pilgrimage up to Jerusalem each year before Easter.

Little is known about her origins or her motivations. She was apparently gone for almost three years and wrote about what she found. Was she a nun? Was she wealthy? Simply a follower of The Christ or a fourth century journalist?

Most of what we surmise about her circumstances is speculation. We do, however, know this: She wanted to discover Jesus and wouldn’t stop until she found Him.

Egeria decided that the best way to do that was to visit the places He visited and to meet the descendants of the people He left behind. She wanted to know the words they said and the things they did to help them continue to feel His presence. What she wrote formed the basis of the liturgical year, which is the way the church marks time as it remembers the work of God in the world.

Then she returned home. Why?

If she was looking for God and found these remarkable churches and rituals and ways of remembering in the physical locations of Jesus Himself, why did she go home? I like to think it’s because she knew that the Spirit had taken over the work of Jesus by this time and that it was as present in her hometown as it was anywhere.

What we have in common with Egeria and the pilgrims of any age is desire. We have as much access to the Spirit of God here, in our parish church, as anyone has ever had, anywhere. By presenting ourselves to God this week in the liturgical observances of Holy Week, we join countless others from every age who wanted to know more about Jesus. More about how to follow. More about how to worship and seek and serve and give. More about Life in God. More about turning toward everything that matters and away from everything that doesn’t.

Come with me to Christ Church this week and help me learn, too.

 

Questions for the day: What practices do I keep that make me feel closer to God? How often and when do I engage them?

 

–Christopher Powell

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #34

Saturday, April 12th, 2014 – The Sixth Saturday in Lent

God is…

 
(Our Youth Minister, Leah Romanelli, led a Lenten program for our youth entitled, “Who do you say that I am?” These are their responses below, written in the form of a poem. Be sure to read all the way down. Among a number of wise insights, there is good news for sisters. )
 
God is a white bearded man, looking down on us from the clouds.
God is an interpretation of your belief.
God is kind of like another person to talk to, but a lot more powerful, influential, and good.
God is careful and helpful.
God is love.  
 
God is kind.
God is someone who tries to make you happy.
God is great and helps you when you need him.
God is a person that loves you. No matter what you do, he will be in your heart.
God is love.
God is lovable.
God is someone that you can love no matter who you are.
God is here for everyone–not just the best of the best.
God is the man who will never love you less.
God is good, even if we don’t show other people that he is.
God is love.  
God is GREAT!  🙂
God is everywhere and in everything and everyone. Even my sister.
God is the song running through us all.
God is love around us.
God is my rabbi.
God is with me when I’m hiding from something I did wrong.
God is the person that takes the sheets off me when I am hiding and tells me he loves me.
God is forgiving, even when I don’t think I should be forgiven.
God is LOVE.
God has faith in me.
God is the dust on me.
God is the one who believes in me.
God is, was, will always be
Love.

 

 

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #33

Friday, April 11th, 2014 – The Sixth Friday in Lent

Presence

 

Knock on wood…this long, cold, snowy winter is coming to an end! What a delight it was on Sunday morning to see flowers peeking out of the ground in front of the Church House. As I look back over this winter, I am reminded of a snowy morning one winter several years back. That winter was not the endurance event this winter has been, but there was one snowy morning which I remember well.

My son Brad was taking the train to Lake Forest to go to school that day. Not long into the commute, he and a fellow student on the train learned that classes had been cancelled. When they called me, I decided, based on the train schedule, the best answer was for me to drive to Glencoe to pick them up. So they got off the train in Glencoe and waited for me. Driving to the train station, I realized we were in the midst of one of those slippery, slow-going, snowy morning commutes. The streets were only getting more treacherous on the return to Wilmette. After dropping Brad’s friend off, we waited at the corner of her street for the traffic to clear before turning back onto the main street to return home, and there we were, wheels spinning, stuck in the snow. I sat there for a minute or two trying to decide what to do next when four men appeared like apparitions to push my car out of the rut. They didn’t have winter coats on–they were all wearing white coveralls. And as quickly as they appeared they disappeared. Honestly. Perhaps they were painters working in a nearby house, saw my predicament, and came out to help. I don’t know. What I do know is that Jesus was very present to me that morning.

The event is memorable to me because it seemed so surreal–four men appearing out of nowhere, wearing white coveralls outside on a cold, snowy winter morning, and then disappearing. And, because it is a memorable experience, I eventually reflect on Jesus being present in our lives through one another. Yet how often during my day do people help me out in one way or another and I chalk it up to good luck or sheer coincidence? How often does someone share a thought or idea with me in a conversation unrelated to an issue going on in my life and yet they are the exact words I need to hear for comfort in or resolution of the issue I am facing? Opening myself to the possibility of Jesus being present in every interaction would allow me to live with Christ, to be guided, comforted and loved through all of life.

 

Question for the day: Will I know Jesus in my interactions with others today?

 

– Jeanne Stewart

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #32

Thursday, April 10th, 2014 – The Sixth Thursday in Lent

Why?

 

I have two sons, Nicholas and Martin.

Nicholas is completing his first two-year tour of duty as a Lieutenant Junior Grade in Kodiak, Alaska on the Cutter Alex Haley as an engineer. His mechanical engineering degree from the Coast Guard Academy was not a surprise: he has been fixing things and ‘doing work’ since he was three. His first costume request at Halloween was to appear as a backhoe. He is twenty-four and headed later this summer to a land-based posting in Miami, Florida for the next three years to keep a series of cutters seaworthy.

Martin graduates from the University of Mississippi in 30 days. He is a marketing major who wants to move into the alternative music world and find employment, preferably in Los Angeles. He, like Nick, was destined for this kind of work from an early age. His degree and his musical creativity will give him some needed skills (and flexibility) in an industry whose business plan changes seasonally. He is twenty-one.

Nick had some liberty last week so he took the time to go and visit his girlfriend, also a graduating senior at Ole Miss. I was able to go down for a quick visit and see them both simultaneously. That hasn’t happened recently with Nick at sea seven months a year.

What followed, during a sumptuous barbecue dinner located inside a gas station (I know,

I know), was a discussion about how Martin will fare after graduation. Under review were the logistical plans Martin has in place to get himself to LA and to get established with housing, job, contacts, etc. The resident engineer had appropriate concerns about funding streams, realistic time horizons, people who could help, housing options, and expense parameters. Martin had those covered to his own satisfaction. He was sure that Lieutenant Buzzkill wasn’t giving him enough love.

It was a rich parental moment. Neither was wrong. Then I saw it. Martin is an artist, true. But artist or not, he had the paramount question answered before we started: Why?

This desire to work in this industry is all he’s ever wanted to do. He has been on his Apple computer, guitar, and keyboards every day since middle school making some kind of music. He cannot not do this. The rest is logistics: critical, yes, but those logistics relate to who, what, where, when, and how. Though vital, in his mind they are just details. He’ll figure it out, is his take on it. Nick’s why has had to do with acquiring the experience, knowledge, and skills he has; what he will do after military service is still to be determined.

Why we are doing what we do is always the central question. Sometimes we learn that with experience; sometimes by intuition. Either way works. We just need to know.

 

Question for the day: Why are you doing what you’re doing?

 

– Christopher Powell

 

 

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #31

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014 – The Sixth Wednesday in Lent

Waiting

 

I was off yesterday, as I am on most Tuesdays. I pick that day because Monday, the staff at church needs to visit with each other and debrief the previous day’s events at church. What needs planning? What needs following up? What, or who, needs tending? From all the logistics that take place, we try to extract the kingdom moments from Sunday at church. We talk about our conversations, our moments when the divine presence was transparent, how our plans for the day helped people (or didn’t). We laugh a bit with each other, try to cover what we need to, and begin to move on with our week. By the end of the day, it feels like Tuesday could be a day of quiet and rest.

Sometimes, it is. Sometimes, I am not quiet and the day just bleeds from Monday to Wednesday. Sometimes, things come up that need attention and the peace of the day comes from tending to them. Yesterday, I spent the day waiting.

I was waiting for a phone call from an old friend. We had been in touch recently and I had a notion, a feeling really, that my friend might call. I had a number of ‘day off’ things to do, normal, keep-your-life-moving-forward things that involved writing and cleaning and organizing and scheduling. I went about them all at a delightful half-speed. As I moved through the day, I was aware, though, that I was waiting for that call.

As the sun moved east to west, I began to think of the nature of waiting. There are so many different kinds: waiting in line, waiting for the light to change, waiting for the long desired outcome to finally arrive. There is waiting for the new thing: the baby, the chance, the good news. There is the waiting for the undesired outcome and the dread and fear that often tether themselves to that wait. Whatever kind, waiting means being in one place knowing that life will be different when things resolve. The thing–dreaded or welcomed–will be here and then momentum will resume and then things will be ‘normal’ again. I tend to think of the waiting time as wasted or at least less important.

Maybe it’s the most important. Maybe that time in between everything else is when we are most ourselves, not defined by anything else except our own existence and the feeling that comes to us when we realize that. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to wait.

My friend and I will talk soon. When I talk about yesterday, how I had a feeling that we would talk and we didn’t, I’ll be asked what I was hoping would happen in the conversation. I will say that what I wanted to do yesterday was to wait together.

 

Questions for the day: Do I know what I am waiting for? How would I describe my thoughts and feelings while I wait?

 

– Christopher Powell

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #30

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 – The Fifth Tuesday in Lent

Giving

 

During Lent, we often focus on taking away a habit or adding a discipline; another alternative during Lent is to emphasize giving. I did not originally set out to concentrate on giving this Lent. The practice has grown, organically, but it seemed to fit so well that it became a conscious effort. Thinking of giving as a spiritual calling during Lent has filled it with even greater meaning.

The kickoff to this endeavor was reading Give and Take by Wharton professor Adam Grant; you may have read it or seen it on the New York Times Best Seller list. We had never met before he spoke to my firm earlier this year, but we chatted at length, exchanged e-mail addresses, and he has become a good friend. We have never discussed religion, so it’s not clear whether he is a Christian or not, but his ideas conform as closely to Christian teachings as any you will ever hear.

Grant’s hallmark assertion in the book is iconoclastic in business circles: personal success often depends on treating other people well. He asserts that highly successful business people generally have a “combination of hard work, talent, and luck,” but argues that there is a critical fourth element: how a person interacts with others. As partially foretold by the book’s name, Grant describes three common types of people: takers, who like to get more than give; givers, who do the inverse; and matchers, who prefer to give as much as they get.

The prevailing world view on these types is a cynical one: the most successful people in the secular world are takers. Enlightened pragmatists might suggest that matchers have a better mix and end up on top. Grant, however, shows that, counterintuitively, givers prove the most successful. To be clear, certain givers also occupy the very bottom of the pile. Grant extensively demonstrates that selfless givers, who give without much concern for their own needs and ambitions, often struggle; “otherish” givers, who value their own success as well as others’ success, tend to thrive in life.

One example among many: when you help others consciously, “it benefits you by improving your mood. Economists call it the warm glow of giving, and psychologists call it the helper’s high.” When you choose to give, as a deliberate act of seeking to help another person, you don’t feel like a doormat–you receive a true, deep, emotional and even spiritual boost. Surely those of you who go to the soup kitchen, bring a stuffed animal on Teddy Bear Sunday, donate to Rummage, or travel on missions know this feeling.

For my part, it’s not that I took giving further this Lent, it’s that I took it elsewhere. As it happens, this Lent has been a time of significant change, even turmoil, at my workplace. For the past few weeks instead of merely listening to the young professionals that drop by for advice, counsel, or assistance, I have encouraged a deeper conversation. Chats that might have taken ten minutes have stretched to thirty or more. As an extra step, I’ve made a point of following up with the offer to help more if they wish. I hope they have benefitted from the experience; I know that I have. Most importantly for me, it has somehow transformed a period of heightened anxiety into one of deep and abiding peace.

It might seem an impossible feat to give like Christ, with absolute selflessness and a complete lack of fear or concern. It doesn’t seem we have to do so, however. To simply consciously give, to strive to give more to others than we expect in return, creates a wonderful spiritual benefit both for ourselves and those we help.

 

Questions for the day: What are my motivations for giving? For taking?

 

– Todd Trubey, Christ Church Parishioner

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #29

Monday, April 7th, 2014 – The Fifth Monday in Lent

A Reluctant Hero

 

W.C Fields once said, “A woman led me to drink, and I never even thanked her for it.” He was funny that way, starting off his schtick with a clause you thought was going one direction and then zig-zagging somewhere else. To make us laugh. To make us think.

He played off our assumptions. His quotes would frequently begin with the idea that we all agree on things, that we’re starting from the same place. Then Fields would deliver his punch line to expose the assumptions we have about which direction things in life should move. He served as a reminder that we have assumptions about the way things ought to be, even if we can’t see them. Or won’t see them. More often than not, we walk through our day with a pocket full of ought to’s. Which is why God had me meet Petra.

My former parish gathered so often and in such numbers that we required a full time cook. We looked for awhile, unsuccessfully, and then I heard about Petra.

Five foot nothing. Bossy. Loud. Funny. Chain smoker. Pound for pound the hardest worker I, or anyone else, would ever meet, said her references. (They understated it.) An eighth grade education. Grew up picking cotton in the ’70’s in Carthage, Mississippi.

We provided her the best, most stable and lucrative job she ever held. Her report card as an employee and teammate was stunning across the board: early to work; late until it was done; smiling while she did it. In the pass/fail world of food service, she still got straight A’s. We got fatter and we still applauded.

Then came the staff retreat. The exercise about how you grew up and what it was like now. There was Petra, waiting like a poker champ, not fidgeting, not squirming, ‘not nothing’ as she might say. Her turn. A happy enough childhood. Until her father, on the way home from Sunday night church, killed his wife, her mother, in front of the family, and all six children became orphans in an instant.

What followed for her was work, a couple marriages and then not, and sons with various needs, needs whose only chance of being met were by a single mother. One of those sons was a paranoid schizophrenic. The cycle of having him committed, watching him get out, reject his meds, and then need to be committed again, always involuntarily, was as excruciating as it was inevitable. In the worst moments of his illness, he wasn’t just scary, he was violent. And didn’t know it.

How did she get out of bed in the morning? Why would she?

She showed me more about God, about resilience, about the difference between earthly success and kingdom success, than anyone I had met to that point. She was my employee; she was my mentor. She was the wisest person I’ve met; she was the least educated. She was the strongest human being I know; she is weak and will die too early because her lungs will hit ‘pause’ long before her will does.

If you ever want to know what Paul meant when he talked about being strong while we are weak, about the power of God working in us to do more than we can ask or imagine, think of Petra. St. Peter is proud to share her name.

– Christopher Powell

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #28

Saturday, April 5th, 2014 – The Fifth Saturday in Lent

The Lessons Taught by Forgiveness

 

Yesterday, Ijya Tulloss shared an experience with a five year old Montessori student in her class who had acted poorly and needed to ask for forgiveness. Here is what Ijya learned as she watched the little girl repair the relationship that had been temporarily broken:

1. It is more important to restore our positive relationship than to harbor ill feelings due to a misunderstanding or a misheard word or misinterpreted action or our need to be right. Our friendship or our relationship as family members is more important than maintaining a strained relationship.

2. What caused the misunderstanding only took a minute; to rebuild the relationship will take much longer.

3. What caused the strained relationship was an unfortunate event. It takes humility to acknowledge that we played a role in it although we feel like blaming the other party for everything.

4. It takes courage to take action to make things whole again. It takes more energy to maintain bitterness than to let go of the memory of past events.

5. Sometimes “I’m sorry” is hard to say, so bringing flowers as a token of our apology comes in handy.

6. With a contrite heart, we resolve not to do the same hurtful action again.

7. Once things are restored to the state before the misunderstanding, energy that has been spent in anger, hatred, and blaming can now be utilized for helping others and caring for the environment. Channels for receiving and sharing blessings formerly blocked will be reopened. Once again the river of peace flows where once stood a stagnant pond.

 

Forgive your enemies, forgive others, forgive yourself. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.” Trust your cares to God because God’s wheel is slow but sure. Perfect justice rules the world.

– Ijya C. Tulloss, Montessori Educator and Christ Church Parishioner

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #27

Friday, April 4th, 2014 – The Fifth Friday in Lent

Forgiveness

 

To forgive – to let things go, to harbor no resentment, to hold no bitterness, to be willing to heal the past and start all over again – these are all easier said than done. We maintain a grudge towards somebody because it is difficult for us to forgive. We replay the event, what one said, what one did, to fan our flame of hatred alive. However, once we find it in our heart to forgive, we feel a sense of relief as though we emptied the sack of rocks we have been carrying on our backs.

To a child, asking for forgiveness comes easy. Forgiving us for our faults even comes easier. Let me tell the story of forgiveness shown by a five year old. Vanessa, 5 years old, was disturbing the lesson and encouraged her classmates not to listen to me while I was conducting a group activity prior to recess. Vanessa and I had enjoyed a good working relationship. I saw her behavior as doubly hurtful because not only was she not listening, she also tried to convince others to do the same. I stopped the lesson and firmly told her that I did not like what she was doing. I asked her, “How would you feel if I told your friends not to listen to you while you are talking to them?”

She was silent. I could see from her face that she got the message. She knew that she displeased her teacher. I continued the group activity then led the group to the playground for their outdoor play period. Vanessa came to me with three found things in her hands: a rock, a bent plastic nail and two broken pieces of a seashell. She gave them to me one by one. She showed how the two pieces of seashell can be held together to form the original whole shell. She did not say a word. I accepted her gifts and hugged her. That was enough for her. With a smile she skipped to the swing and played with her classmates.

Although Vanessa picked these things off the ground with no special thought as to their significance or symbolism, I was touched by her peace offering. To take action soon after the event meant that she really cared. She did not want bad blood between us to linger on after sundown. I did not expect her to do anything to patch things up, but she felt it was necessary to do something. She did something concrete. Her wordless apology said more than if she merely said, “I’m sorry.”

I laid the objects on my desk. When the children left for the day I looked at them and somehow found the objects held a deeper significance for me. Together, the objects made this statement: “Although my actions bent our relationship out of shape (the bent plastic nail), it can be put back together (two broken pieces of a seashell) because our relationship stands firm and solid as a rock (rock).”

Indeed, the nail can be straightened out and the shell pieces can be glued back together to make a whole. The rock stands firm undisturbed. If a child can forgive us as she asks forgiveness, so can we. I learned a few lessons from this incident….

Tomorrow: The Lessons Learned….

 

Ijya C. Tulloss, Montessori Educator and Christ Church Parishioner

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #26

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 – The Fifth Thursday in Lent

What If…?

 

What are the biggest What if’s? you have inside you? Do you ever think this way, by looking at a known problem or situation and asking the question?

“What if she didn’t mean it that way? What if it doesn’t turn out the way I had imagined? What if he doesn’t get better? What if my efforts go unnoticed or unrewarded or both? What if nothing different happens? What if I don’t get in? What if…?” Finish that sentence in whatever way applies to you.

I have my own list of What if’s? They tend to stay buried pretty far down. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to know them. Or face them. Maybe it’s because I am scared or lazy or overthink or lack the wisdom to play things out in my head because I don’t like not knowing where things will end. Or maybe I recognize that there is nothing I can do about them anyway and I need to let go of what might happen. Just. Let. Go.

Mostly though, my What if’s? are not a daily thought because I believe that God’s Will, in the end, shall be done. I come daily to the realization that all of this going on around me will go on, in some form, without me. I know that things would be different in some way important to God (and to me!) if I were not here to play my part, but I have no illusions. My part is small and, on my best days, I am a happy and willing instrument of a Divine purpose.

In short, I do think that things ‘are gonna be alright.’ Ultimately, that is. In a way that I cannot now see. In the same way we walk by faith, not by sight. The best things, we’re taught by Scripture, we cannot see with our eyes. We can only see them through the ‘eyes’ of our heart, by feeling them in our bones, by ‘knowing’ when we cannot explain or define the knowing.

Occasionally, relying on what I describe above seems a little irresponsible, like I’ve misplaced my critical thinking skills. Most days, it feels like I am putting my life and every outcome into God’s hands. I often think of the Biblical character Joseph, he of Technicolor Dreamcoat fame. After his brothers have been jealous, self-centered, and duplicitous and their father, Jacob, has died, the brothers are sure that Joseph, who certainly has the power, is going to order their deaths. Joseph’s reply is that what they intended for evil, God intended for good. In that moment, God is speaking directly through Joseph, announcing at the end of the Genesis cycle that God will make everything all right and invite anyone to join and experience God doing what only God can do.

I don’t think What if? is a bad question or a waste of time. I just need to remember to put that question, and all questions, in the context of a God who will do what is best. For people. For creation. Forever.

The waiting is where my trust, my faith, comes in. Some days, that needs shoring up. I’m convinced God can handle that task, too. Even if I forget to ask.

 

All shall be well,
And all shall be well,
And all manner of thing shall be well.

– Julian of Norwich

 

Questions for the day: What is underneath my What if’s? If I don’t know, what would it look like if I did?

 

– Christopher Powell

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #25

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 – The Fifth Wednesday in Lent

A Poem

 

Calm Soul of All Things
From “Lines Written in Kensington Gardens”

Calm soul of all things! make it mine
To feel, amid the city’s jar,
That there abides a peace of thine,
Man did not make, and cannot mar!

The will to neither strive nor cry,
The power to feel with others give!
Calm, calm me more! nor let me die
Before I have begun to live.

– Matthew Arnold

 

Matthew Arnold was a mid 19th century poet and writer. He was a peer of Wordsworth and after an classical English education, held a day job travelling the country inspecting public schools, recommending educational improvements. When free, Arnold wrote in many forms, but soon became a well known poet in his day. His many travels afforded him a perspective of his fellow citizens which encouraged him to write for the masses with a feeling for their needs.

In this portion of a much longer poem, Arnold cries out to God to grant him the unshakable peace from above. This sentiment is reminiscent of Jesus saying, “I give you peace, not as the world gives…” He asks to be granted what he imagines others have been given and to receive it so that he may experience life more deeply and honor God more truly.

Arnold has historical significance as a man of letters. This poem has significance for Christ Church as it was set to music by our own Richard Clemmit and was debuted last Sunday night at Compline. We will let the parish know when it is to be performed again. The music enhances the prayer which the poem utters.

 

Question for the day: What do I know about the peace which comes from above?

 

– Christopher Powell

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #24

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 – The Fourth Tuesday in Lent

While Jesus Was in the Desert, Did He Ever Laugh?

 

Laughter, so the pundits say, is the best medicine. To be able to laugh in the face of grave difficulty is an art form and a balm that makes Gilead blush. In order to laugh, we have to be free: free from day-to day concerns, free from non-localized anxiety, free from dreaded outcomes. When we laugh, God is close. Dorothy Sayers, the English mystery writer and mystic, said, “Where Christ is, cheerfulness is breaking in.” Yes. Joy is the quality ever present inside the Trinity. Laughter signals the presence of joy as smoke signals fire.

I honestly don’t know if Jesus laughed in the desert. I like to think he did. I like to think of Him watching a scorpion in his natural habitat trying to undo the Son of Man with a bravado reserved for the deluded or truly brave. I imagine that scorpion squaring off against the Author of Life and doing his level best to intimidate and threaten. After watching awhile, I see Jesus picking up the scorpion and holding him in a way that renders his tail impotent. Then He chuckles, initially just enjoying the scene, but gradually taking in all of the irony. I see Jesus leaning, careless and spontaneous, as He involuntarily raises His arm while His face arches skyward. He is mocking the Enemy who thought that physical injury, or worse death, could undo Him. His chuckle gets wings and then His laughter is on the air in a way that makes the birds fly in circles to see it. He is prefiguring St. Francis, at one with creation and the animal kingdom, and He lets the scorpion down gently, not judging him for trying to do his job, but amused that the Enemy’s agent thought he had enough to undo the Works of God.

C.S. Lewis has said the two things which the Devil cannot bear is to have Scripture quoted to him and to be laughed at. The power of true knowledge is strong; the power of laughter is decisive. The business of God is so important that it demands laughter. How ironic that we think His business is so important that we rarely laugh about it at all.

Comedy Central, a television channel which enjoys huge appreciation from the coveted (and less than ardently church-going) 18-29 year old crowd, is a predictable enough phenomenon. Many at Christ Church grew up on Johnny Carson, who was antiseptic by today’s comedy standards. The trajectory from him to Howard Stern is more organic than we admit; the roots in both can be found in Groucho Marx. In all timelessly funny comedians, there is joy, irony, and an obsession with exposing hypocrisy. We all want hypocrisy exposed, but we want it exposed in the manner of good cough syrup: we want the flavor to mask the true medicine. The reason that people are laughing so raucously in the theaters these comedians are filling is that they want to hear the truth, but in terms they can talk about in polite company.

Honestly, we can’t imagine Jesus laughing in the desert, or anywhere else. Why? Because Jesus was rarely polite.

I’m not willing to concede the delivery of truth in our day to comedians, our modern version of the court jesters who could speak the truth so long as it left people laughing. I’m hoping that we can speak the truth, our truth, just as distinctly. How? By letting our irony include ourselves.

Jesus laughed, alright. Just not in a Comedy Central way. He laughed in the way that all people do when they know that Truth is trumping Reality and they’re the first ones to get the joke.

 

Questions of the day: What makes me laugh? What is the truth I feel underneath my laughter?

 

– Christopher Powell

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #23

Monday, March 31st, 2014 – The Fourth Monday in Lent

True Wins and Losses

 

In the fall of 2008, my sons Nicholas and Martin both played football for St. Andrew’s Episcopal High School just north of Jackson, Mississippi. Nick was a senior; Martin a sophomore. The school, then sixty-one years old, always emphasized the quality of its academic education and the breadth of the overall St. Andrew’s experience, which included participation in extracurricular activities. We won more than our fair share of tennis matches and cross country events, but not football games. ‘Participating’ on the football team meant learning to lose, often and gracefully. Until that fall.

We found ourselves in the state semi-finals for the first time ever, playing a team from Walter Payton’s hometown, Columbia, Mississippi. It is hard to overemphasize the energy in the air that night. While most of the state is evangelical Christian, all of the state worships at the altar of high school football on Friday nights.

And we almost won.

When the clock hit zero and we were mere yards from victory, there were tears everywhere: players, coaches, parents, fellow students. Might have been a stray dog or two in the mix, sniffling. Spirits were crushed. And then, the coach brought the players around on one knee, helmets off, and began to speak.

After some preliminary remarks, the coach, a remarkable man of intelligence and perspective, apologized to the team. Apologized. Not is some general way to assuage the disappointment, but by saying this: “Boys, I apologize to you for letting you down in the last minute. I called the wrong plays. I guess I just got overwhelmed in the moment and didn’t use good judgment. You played too hard for me to have done that. I’m sorry. I should have done better.”

The coach was telling the truth. He seemed to have lost all football consciousness those last four plays. For all the countless things he did right all year, it was as if he decided to forget everything he knew about the game for four plays. Turns out, his play calling gaffes weren’t nearly the most important part of the night.

I like to win as much as the next person, but winning is not what I love about sports. What I love is that in a moment, the game, any game, can instantly shift from an ultimately meaningless win to a meaningful moment. Those players will always be wistful about losing. That’s natural. What is more memorable about that night is learning that now is always the right time to be vulnerable, honest, and accountable to the people you’re leading. Even when now is awkward and painful.

Especially then.

I knew that football coach well. I know his background and a good bit about his personal habits. I know that he learned that principle from Our Lord. I know that by immersing ourselves in the Lenten and Easter story, we can too.

Question for the day: Among the people we lead, including our families, what prevents us from being ourselves, being vulnerable?

 

– Christopher Powell

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #22

Saturday, March 29th, 2014 – The Fourth Saturday in Lent

Trusting God

 

When you’re going into a situation that arouses fear in you, might you trust God to guide you through it?

Even when we well know ‘the right thing’to do in a situation, if it is scary, we need to find some courage to take the action we know to be in alignment with what is right.

Here’s what so often gets in the way of doing the right thing. Rather than trusting we’ll be guided by God, as we navigate a tricky and possible dangerous situation, we might try to go it alone, and try to impose control on an evolving situation. Once we’ve gone to power and control, we’ve totally lost the open and receptive frame of mind, wherein God might be able to steer us through.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brave man if ever there was one, knew the right thing to do in 1939 was not to stay safe in America, where he was teaching, but to return to Germany and to oppose the Nazis. Martin Luther King Jr. knew his life was at risk, yet he persevered in doing the right thing, working towards equal rights for all people.

Where in our own lives might we face some tough choices, between staying ‘safe’ and doing the right thing? If you sense your teenager might be taking drugs, do you stay in denial, and say ‘this cannot be”, or do you take action to get your beloved child into treatment? If you see illegal behavior at work, do you put your head down and stay safe, or do you become a whistle blower, with all the risks?

When you look back over your life, think about the very tough times, when you were navigating a rugged situation, perhaps a health crisis with a parent, or dealing with a loved one’s psychiatric disorder. You felt out of control, unable to solve the problem, and that’s exactly when crying uncle and allowing God to companion you, to direct you, and to comfort you is the healthiest and, surprisingly, the easiest way forward.

Radical trust in God is allowing yourself to be guided through life’s rough spots. You may be unaware that the angels are around you, keeping you safe, as you go forward, handling the scary situation with a calm and an inner knowing you’d not have believed possible.

You may not notice God is there, until long afterwards. It is never too late to say Thank You. As Meister Eckhart, a famous 13th century mystic, wisely said, ‘If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”

 

– Heath Missner

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #21

Friday, March 28th, 2014 – The Fourth Friday in Lent

Spiritual Flow

 

Lent is the time and way for Christians to find their spiritual flow.

In 2014 I read two very helpful and related books, Drive by Daniel Pink and Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced “chick sent me high”). Both explore the notion that extrinsic rewards (money, fame, power) are far less substantial motivators than we think they are. Intrinsic rewards, such as the satisfaction in a job well done, are far more powerful than we imagine. Both books come highly recommended-Drive is the easier read, and if you like that, then you might pick up Flow.

Csikszentmihalyi, a University of Chicago professor, studies “autotelic experiences,” a technical term describing a pursuit that is “self-fulfilling; the activity is its own reward.” Solving crossword puzzles and reading novels come to mind. His simple and elegant word for the feeling they inspire when they work perfectly is “flow.” It is what you experience when time slips away, when the external world recedes, when nothing matters besides what you are doing at that particular moment. Achieving flow is fairly easy to describe but hard to engineer: “in flow, the relationship between what a person had to do and what he could do was perfect. The challenge wasn’t too easy, nor was it too difficult.” A personal example follows.

One of my favorite activities is jogging. Still, all too often it used to be dull-it was the feeling after stopping that I enjoyed the most. While reading Flow, however, it became clear that my pace was likely a part of the issue. My measured pace never changed. Running 6 miles per hour minute miles was easy-and therefore boring. Trying to 8 miles an hour was intimidating and probably impossible. Running 7 miles per hour was a bit painful and frustrating. It had never occurred to me that stretching to go just a bit faster would be better than the easy, organic pace. While jogging a bit faster was tough at first, it has made the endeavor far more enjoyable, not less so.

Our wise Church Fathers knew all this intuitively. Worshiping the same way every day, or every week, becomes easy. It becomes comfortable, but it does not produce flow, the joy we can experience when we push. We don’t give things up for Lent in order to deprive ourselves, we do it in order to stretch a bit spiritually, to remind ourselves that our Faith can be more present. We don’t add things during Lent so that they will burden us or to prove we can do it. We do so in order to make it just difficult enough to deepen and strengthen our Faith. It seems that, Biblical rationales notwithstanding, the 40 day period is designed to be long enough to challenge us, but not so long that we will fail to follow our disciplines. And so, with that, we return to the beginning: Lent is the time and way for Christians to find their spiritual flow.

 

– Todd Trubey, Christ Church Parishioner

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #20

Thursday, March 27th, 2014 – The Third Thursday in Lent

Loss: The Blessing and the Wound

 

The arc of the Lenten season is severe when considered from the point of view of Jesus. Just before His forty day sojourn into the land of the unknown, He is celebrated by the heavens and people alike. He has a baptismal moment of glory at the Jordan River, the follow-up being desert time that undoubtedly passes like spiritual dog years: one day feels like seven. On our calendar, He comes out of that time and goes directly to the Triumphal entry on Sunday and Calvary on Friday. According to the Gospel stories, in actual time He has something like two more years before all that happens. The majority of His public ministry takes place between the desert and the cross. Not so according to our liturgical calendar.

It’s odd. We have Him doing various things each Sunday during Lent by way of the lectionary, that three-year cycle of Sunday readings we use for worship. Mostly though, whatever the appointed readings, I think of Him during this season wandering, sweating, fasting, preparing, praying, wondering, surviving, all in an environment that is inhospitable to every living thing except fear.

The desert is a Petri dish of fear.

Jesus largely avoids that because He isn’t afraid in the way we often are. He’s not worried about his children; not (apparently) worried about his parents. He’s not ‘linked in’ or ‘connected’ or thinking about the next business trend or keeping his job. Neither is he working on a five-year plan, maximizing his tax advantages, using the time to rejoice about being ‘unplugged’ or thinking about the inevitable book deal this kind of experience will engender.

He is, however, thinking about loss. Loss is fear’s apparent doppelganger: it looks and feels so much like it, and arrives so often in fear’s company, it is often mistaken for fear. But fear is a liar. Loss is real, only crueler and more deceptive.

Fear, we know. When we are rigorously honest, we can determine what we are afraid of. We account for fear by the dark future we imagine lurking out there.

Loss is accounted for by what is absent, by what is missing, by what was once reliable. Loss is focused on what we hoped for, what we once had, what is or will be (in earthly terms) permanently irretrievable. Fear is about persistent, maniacal noise. Loss is about silence.

Jesus is preparing for the silence accompanying what He will lose: the loss of His life and the loss of His immediate, earthly hope for God’s people. He will wrestle with loss in Gethsemane like Jacob wrestled with God at the River Jabbock. And He will learn. He will learn that the blessing of God comes through the wound, just as Jacob did. Like Jacob, He will find His true identity in His struggle with God, the same place we will find ours.

 

Questions for the day: What am I learning in my struggles with God? How is that struggle shaping who I am in God?

 

– Christopher Powell

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #19

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014 – The Fourth Wednesday in Lent

With God, It’s Always Something

 

“Everything that is, is good.” – Richard Hooker, 16th century Anglican priest and author

“It’s always something.” – Roseanne Roseannadanna, 70’s Saturday Night Live commentator played by Gilda Radner

 

Richard Hooker was a devout member of the Church of England (the English precursor to the Episcopal Church). Roseanne Roseannadanna was likely an agnostic, though we never got to see her explore that with Father Guido Sarducci.

Roseanne would comment on an item on the news, digress wildly (and hilariously), drop a few names of celebrities she knew, and pronounce a pox on them all. No one crossing her path escaped her disapproval. Richard Hooker was a faithful priest and writer, father of four, and the architect of our basic understanding of Divine authority: we experience God through Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.

Roseanne saw everything as worthy of correction, according to her standards. Hooker saw creation as good, our access to that goodness made possible by the grace and graciousness of our Creator.

Had they had the chance to see the same event simultaneously, they would have no doubt concluded very different things about what had taken place. Notwithstanding the fact that Roseanne was fictional and Hooker real and that they were separated by almost 400 years, the principle is still true: Our opinions matter more to us than to God. We put a much higher premium on being right than God does. God can work with us regardless of whether or not we are right in a given situation.

If that’s true, why should Christians worry about being right at all?

Because right actions and thoughts are all reflections of the Good. Because the Good originates with God and is an aspect of God like wetness is an aspect of water. Because our job, our mission, is to show the world what God is like…and to remind each other that the world is more good than right.

Hooker’s point is that everything in creation bears some aspect of Divine DNA: every rock, every atom, every plant, every person. If it is alive, if it has a beginning, then God’s stamp is on it. The smallest sighting by us of God’s presence in anything is significant because no matter how small that thing is, it can lead us back to (or deeper into) the Source of All Things.

Maybe Father Hooker and Miss Roseannadanna are having tea somewhere in Heaven this morning, having recognized that they were saying the same thing all along. Maybe when Hooker says that the tea is just the right temperature for a proper Englishman and therefore another evidence of grace, she will simply nod and say, “With God, it’s always something.”

 

Question for the day: When I insist on being right, am I just as intent about being good?

 

– Christopher Powell

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #18

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014 – The Third Tuesday in Lent

Hands

 

Christ Church parishioners have long had a relationship with Holy Family School in North Lawndale.  That relationship deepened when the former St. Gregory’s Episcopal School merged with Holy Family in 2010.  The school seeks to give children an excellent K-8 education in an award winning, state of the art building.

This poem was read by the author to begin our service last Sunday, March 23rd.

 

Hands

Once upon a time, I looked down at my hands, and wondered how they would make this boy a man.

I started with works and, yes, work was tough, and though I worked hard, it just wasn’t enough.

See, my hands became tired and my body was drained, because works without faith is like working in vain.

So I tried something different: I learned just to trust, and I mean what I said when I used the word just, cause…

That’s all I did, I prayed and sat back. I folded my hands and chose not to act.

That got me nothing; my progress was small, because faith without action is not faith at all.

So I cried out to God, “Please show me the way.” And God simply told me, “Trust and Obey.”

Now trust meaning believe; obey meaning do, together they’re faith in how I work My Will through you.

And that was how it started. I finally got it right. It’s all in how you walk with God, by faith and not by sight.

And when I walk by faith, with nothing else to prove, it’s almost automatic how my hands began to move.

They shook another hand, they hugged and made a friend, they reached into my pockets and they fed a hungry man.

They wrote someone a letter, they made them feel much better, and they held a little girl so the boogey-man couldn’t get her.

They reached and grabbed a toy and gave it to a boy, tickled my children and made them laugh with joy.

They painted, folded clothes, mopped some floors and cooked some meals, and when they touched a wounded heart, God used my hands to heal.

And heal is what we’re called to do, through us God heals the hurt, and with true faith inside of us, our hands can’t help but work.

Begin with faith, it leads to works, and trust with all your heart, your hands will follow, but lead with your feet, and walk by faith with God.

 

– Leslie Hunter, Chaplain, Holy Family School

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #17

Monday, March 24th, 2014 – The Third Monday in Lent

“Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” – John 4:38

 

Sometimes, biblical lines like this one by Jesus seem, well…biblical…but not very applicable to our ordinary lives. Other times, like this weekend, they seem prescient. Like He is a sage on top of everything else.

On Friday night, I attended a Confirmation retreat for our eighteen 8th grade confirmands. Saturday morning, close to twenty folks from the parish attended the Kids against Hunger event at the Winnetka Community House where the entire group of volunteers, well over a hundred in total, packaged 110,000 meals for starving children in Central America. That afternoon, I drove down to A Just Harvest where our team of more than a dozen parishioners helped serve our friends in Evanston a hot meal which we had helped prepare. I came back for a choir dinner for our thirty-five guests from St. Alban’s/National Cathedral schools. They were housed by choir families for the night, coming back in the morning to make nightingales blush as they sang with and for us. Yesterday at church, our parents and younger kids unveiled the Bible Village they had been working on for weeks, where the children assumed the identities of first century characters who would have interacted with Jesus and his followers. This was all in addition to hearing Leslie Hunter, the chaplain at Holy Family School in Lawndale, deliver a prayer/poem of remarkable power and inspiration as our service began. He was greeted by a table of baked goods being sold as a fundraiser for Holy Family by one of our Confirmand Mentor groups, a collection of young women and their adult Mentors. They made $260 in their effort.

I, and many of you, were able to enter into the labor of dozens and dozens of people of all ages who made their offerings to God this weekend through the ministry of Christ Church…and I’m sure I am missing some. Remember, I’m only going back 48 hours and these were just the things I was personally acquainted with. Some of you talked with your children or aging parents; some of you were praying for people close to you; some of you were coming simply to worship and to be fed by the presence of Jesus in word and sacrament; others of our fellowship were elsewhere worshipping God “in spirit and in truth,” as Jesus said in the Gospel reading yesterday.

There was a palpable sense of our community at work this weekend, growing in service to God, our neighbors, and each other. No one person made this all happen; we all had the experience of entering into someone else’s labor. Just as Jesus promised.

 

Questions for the day: Can I be just as grateful for someone else’s offering as I am my own? When I am successful, do I look for others with whom to share the credit?

 

Christopher Powell

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #16

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014 – The Third Saturday in Lent

Christ Church Vestry Meetings

 

A vestry in an Episcopal Church acts, in almost every instance, as the legal corporation for the Church. It is akin to a board of directors. People in the parish are elected to three year terms while two people are elected additionally for separate two year terms to serve as Wardens of the Vestry, in effect the President and Vice-President. People serve out of a love for God and a love for the congregation. Many people serve out of a sense of obligation.

If you were to take a poll of people nationally who serve on Vestries, including clergy, most would not rank vestry service as the most fun they have in a given month. I have one clergy friend who, with ten years left before retirement, started a calendar with all future vestry meetings on it. Every month he would put an X through the month, counting them down like a reverse Advent calendar. He would call me to tell me how many he had left.

Early in my ministry as a priest, I suppose I felt a bit like that. I would listen to the jokes about how difficult or how boring or how long the meetings were and how people would grudgingly arrive to ‘get it over with.’ I didn’t like that way that felt.

Over time, I began to realize the difference between ‘church work’ and ‘kingdom work’ in a way that directly affected how people experience vestry meetings. Church work is important; kingdom work is decisive. The church work of the parish needs to be done and done well. If it isn’t being attended to in a timely, efficient, and transparent manner, the anxiety level of the parish rises, sometimes to a level that is paralyzing. However, no matter how well the church work is handled, it can only relieve dissatisfaction. Only kingdom work can add satisfaction.

In other words the people-to-people contact, the relational aspect of life in parish, is what makes people feel satisfied with life in their church. Which is why we end our meetings now the way we do.

The last 30-40 minutes of our meetings we now reserve for kingdom work. Often, we respond to a question or statement designed to elicit personal information. At March’s meeting, people responded to this: “Talk about someone who has helped you in a way that has made a difference in your life.”

O my goodness. In minutes, people were sharing important stories from their lives, stories that have materially and positively influenced who they have become. Some of the stories were humorous; some dampened our cheeks. The stories, though, put the church work we had covered in context. We came to do the church work; we’ll remember the kingdom work.

Questions for the day: As I move through my life, can I distinguish between the ‘church work’ and ‘kingdom work?’ What merely relieves dissatisfaction and what adds satisfaction?

 

– Christopher Powell

 

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Click here to see all the 2014 Lenten meditations.

2014 Lenten Meditation #15

Friday, March 21st, 2014 – The Third Friday in Lent

Nurturing Faith

 

I’m going to share with you one of my not-so-very-proud parenting moments. You know the ones. When you hear yourself saying things you can’t believe. In a voice you don’t recognize.

My teenage son was acting like, well, a teenager. Sullen. Uncooperative. Not doing what I asked him to do right when I asked him to do it. I can’t even remember now what the trigger was. But I knew I had had it. THAT’S IT, a voice screamed inside my head.

First came the lecturing voice. No reaction. Then came three words, like barbs. Meant to hurt. Meant to get a reaction. Spoiled. Rotten. Jerk.

My son didn’t say anything. He just walked upstairs to his room. As he turned, the regret had already started to kick in. How could I have reacted like that? How could I have been so…mean?

I lectured myself for a little while before following him upstairs to apologize. I had read enough parenting books. I knew losing my cool was counter-productive. And I did it anyway. This was one of those moments when knowing the right thing and doing the right thing were, well, two very different things. In the moment, there was a gulf, a chasm, a deep divide separating them. And I couldn’t take it back.

Ashamed and regretful, I entered his room. He was lying on his bed staring at the ceiling. In one corner of the room, he had piled nearly every earthly possession. His Lego architecture sets, his rock collection, his books, even his blanket and pillow. I asked him why, and he told me I could take it all and give it away. He didn’t need any of it.

Then I noticed a few items left on his nightstand. His lamp was gone, somewhere in the pile. But there on the nightstand was his Bible. He said he wanted to keep it.

Keep it? Of course you can keep it. My heart swelled.

The faith we had lovingly nurtured was the eye at the center of this storm. We can do without all of the other clutter, the noise, the stuff that gets in the way of our seeing what’s really important.

Faith, for me, is a decision. I don’t have faith like I have blond hair. Something I was born with. I don’t have faith like I have an iPhone. Something I can trade in as soon as a newer, better model comes out. I have faith like I have a family. Something I helped create. Something I work at. Something I make time for. Something I sometimes get wrong — and I care enough about to try to get right.

 

– Lisa Kerpan, Wife, Mother, Work-in-Progress

 

See yesterday’s Lenten meditation.
See more meditations from the 2014 Lenten season.

2014 Lenten Meditation #14

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 – The Third Thursday in Lent

Lord, It Is Night

 

This prayer comes from the New Zealand Prayer Book and has ‘made the rounds’ as an excellent final prayer of the day. It is one of the options in their Compline service, which we offer in its sung version most Sunday nights during the school year at the Church on the Hill.

When I started these Lenten meditations on Ash Wednesday, I used a quote from T.S. Eliot which said that in our end is our beginning. Poetically, simply, and with the wisdom of Life Lived with God, this prayer expresses the truth of Eliot’s quote in the context of the daily end of an ‘ordinary’ life.

This prayer also echoes the sentiment given to us by Paul that we are the Lord’s possession, that we belong to God:

 

Lord, it is night.

The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done; let it be.

The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.

The night is quiet. Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn. Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities.

In your name we pray.

 

 

– Christopher Powell

 

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2014 Lenten Meditation #13

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014 – The Third Wednesday in Lent

False Prophets

 

According to the late theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, there are three signs of a False Prophet. A false prophet:

  1. Tells us only what we want to hear.
  2. Tells us no one has to change.
  3. Is not included in the prophecy.

 

Niebuhr was insightful, all right. In the same way that C.S. Lewis turns the tables in the Screwtape Letters and describes God from the enemy’s point of view, Niebuhr describes the authenticity of Jesus by describing His opposite. Many historical figures, large and small, are described by the characteristics above. They are now the detritus of history. Jesus, on the other hand, we are still talking about. Still trying to understand. Still trying to follow.

What is so stunning is that Jesus is uniquely authentic, so completely an incarnation of the Mystery from before time. Over and over in the Gospel of John, Jesus is found saying that everything He does and says comes from His Heavenly Father. None of this is His idea. He is merely faithful to the power that gave Him life and will give it back to Him when his earthly course is done. He will not settle for short term gains. Jesus always has His eyes on the prize, the prize being communion with God…and communion with those who will yield to Divine love.

Part of what Jesus accomplishes during His earthly ministry is to redefine winning. If we are winning with God, what else could there be worth trying to win? He asks, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) While we are busy trying to do at the moment whatever we feel is most needful, that question hangs above us all.

What are our priorities? Who influenced us to set them? What will they get us? If we have to bend things along the way, does that matter and to whom? What will it mean to me if I ‘win’ this thing I am striving for? If I don’t? Was the famous dirt-kicking Cubs manager, Leo Durocher, right when he said, “Good guys finish last?”

My answer to Leo is that it depends on the game you’re playing.

By any earthly measure, Jesus lost. He had plenty of people around Him who concurred with that assessment including, sadly, some of his best friends. And yet we think of Him as the biggest winner of all.

May our life at Christ Church give us the courage to ‘lose’ in the same manner.

 

Questions for the day: What am I playing for in my life? Are my ‘gains’ drawing me closer to God or moving me further away?

 

– Christopher Powell

 

Did you miss yesterday’s meditation? Click here.
Click here to see all the 2014 Lenten meditations.

 

 

2014 Lenten Meditation #12

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 – The Second Tuesday in Lent

A Poem by Thomas Merton

 

Today, a prayer by Thomas Merton. Merton was a Trappist monk in Gethsemani, Kentucky, a mystic, and a Catholic priest ordained in 1949. He wrote over seventy books about Life with God. This poem has inspired countless Christians over time and speaks to the ways of God, both gentle and faithful, to mold us toward what it is that He would have us do.

 

MY LORD GOD,

I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that my desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

 

What I love about this poem is that so much of it is about putting ourselves in God’s care, trusting that doing so will be ‘enough’. It speaks of our need to surrender, of our failure to know ourselves or much else, of our utter dependence on God to lead us to a land of promise and hope.

Our parishioner, Kathy Hufton, is the latest in a long line of people to share with me how powerful this prayer has been for her. Me too, Kathy.

Questions for the day: When I cannot see what is ahead of me, do I search out God’s presence, God’s direction? Do I think that ‘not knowing’ things about myself or others or even God disqualifies me from Grace?

 

– Christopher Powell

 

Did you miss yesterday’s meditation? Click here.
Click here to see all the 2014 Lenten meditations.

 

 

2014 Lenten Meditation #11

Monday, March 17th, 2014 – The Second Monday in Lent

Resuscitation vs. Resurrection

 

Lent is a time in which we prepare ourselves for the resurrection. Many prepare by following a fast of some kind, giving up a behavior or favorite item for 40 days. Others add something to their lives such as active prayer and meditation, volunteering, saving money for donation, being especially cheerful with others or spotting extra opportunities to help others anonymously [I’m told three acts of humble/anonymous giving a day is the norm]. Still others use this time to take inventory of their strengths and weaknesses, seeking feedback and suggestions from those who know them well and who can offer guidance. Everyone has their own practice set aside for Lent.

I admit that most years I have chosen a practice that was meaningful for me, gritty, a practice that made me more aware of how often I can live on automatic pilot without taking the gifts of my life for granted; taking God for granted. Other years I have been at a loss to find something meaningful so I cut back on coffee consumption [which may have increased my Diet Coke consumption, thus diluting the practice]. One very difficult year filled with failure, loss and profound grief, I was advised to add a luxury to my life as a Lenten practice. Acclimated to living a hairshirt existence, adding the luxury was an agonizing act of surrender.

Our tradition tells us to enact these things. The spoken reason is preparation for resurrection through small deaths and experiencing our lives through the lens of 40 days of fasting from something. What about intention? Our approach matters a great deal. Do I approach my Lenten action thinking: “It’s only forty days. I can do this for forty days. Besides, I heard that I can take Sundays off for good behavior!” Or do I approach my Lenten action with meditation and attention to how I am affected, changed, challenged by my choice? Do I miss what I have given up? Do I avoid discomfort or do I lean into it?

There is a difference between Resuscitation and Resurrection.

We view these Lenten practices as small deaths with the hope of experiencing resurrection, joining Jesus in his journey. Change, a small death, without growth and learning is resuscitation. On Easter Monday we get back to normal, we resume the standard we lived by before Ash Wednesday.

Change with awareness, ripeness and emergence another layer of consciousness is Resurrection.

 

Questions for today: How am I attending to my Lenten practice? How does my Lenten practice bring me closer to God? To others? Does it separate me? What do I notice?

 

– Melissa Perrin, Area psychologist and Episcopalian

 

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Click here to see all the 2014 Lenten meditations.