Sunday, August 12, 2012

Practice and Preaching

In looking through the lessons for this Sunday, I was particularly drawn to the passage from Ephesians.  It's message seems clear enough:  to live and love as Christ commanded us to do requires us not to hang on to bitterness.  It's right there on the page.  Paul says,

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,  and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

This reading captured my attention because of the recent practice my spiritual director has put to me.  I have been in a bit of a thrashing position as of late because of what I will call the accident of geography.  I live in Florida, specifically Tallahassee.  Our fair city, therefore, is part of the diocese of Florida.  This in and of itself is not a bad thing.  But when you add the layer of information that I am an out-lesbian Episcopalian, there is a tension.  Ours is a diocese that voted against the resolution authorizing same-sex blessings.  We knew that was our bishop's position before he went to General Convention.  We also knew from the letter that he sent to the churches that he had already made up his mind about what effect the passage of A049 would have on our situation in the diocese of Florida:  none. We will not bless same-sex relationships.  We will not allow our clergy to be a participant in the blessing of a same-sex relationship.  And, it has been further stated, that our clergy can not counsel couples who are seeking a blessing of a same-sex relationship in another state.

End of discussion.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander...

It's been hard to put those things away in the face of such entrenched and unbending resistance to the direction the Episcopal Church is moving.  I told my spiritual director that it is maddening to be a sheep in a flock that can see the beautiful lush green fields that others are grazing in, only to be shepherded to the other side of the road where the fields are trampled and full of weeds and yet I'm told to eat of this field, and like it!

I am reminded of the line in Psalm 34:  Taste and see that the Lord is good, happy are they who trust in him.

Ultimately, this is where I go in my head as I contemplate the situation of this accident of geography.  I have to look beyond a bishop to find the real source of why I remain in any way affiliated with the church. The real field in which the sheep are called to go into is the one with green grass, not the one with the weeds.  

So what does this have to do with practice?  My spiritual director, after being a witness to my thrashing, asked me directly if I pray for my bishop.  And I had to admit that what prayers I do offer for the man are insincere at this point.  I am forced to pray for him out loud when I am serving as the intercessor, but what I am feeling in my heart in that moment is not affection but affliction.  

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander...

In order to do that in thinking about my bishop, I have introduced into my daily practice the collect in which we pray for our enemies.  I realize it may be strong language to call a bishop an "enemy" but it is what it is.  There is no prayer for our obstacles or stumbling blocks, and so I turn to the prayer for our enemies.  It reads:

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love
our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth:
deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in
your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Using this as a daily prayer has been enormously helpful in that it has reminded me of my place and that of the bishop's.  Both of us are operating under the umbrella of God in the time appointed by God that remains a total mystery.  And the deliverance that I am asking for is not just from the oppression of this accident of geography, but my own ability to let go of its power over me.  In the letting go, I am able to drop the bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling and slander.  To paraphrase another portion of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, it's OK to get angry and not give in to the prejudice, but don't let the anger become all-consuming and the thing you carry to the end of your day.  Recognize it.  Pray for it. Let it go and allow God to do the heavy-lifting.  This is the way to freedom.



phoebe McFarlin said...

You go girl. Every prayer changes both the prayed for and the pray-er.

Anonymous said...

I am so glad you have written this and thought it through. I think it will get you a little closer to where you will eventually decide what to do.