Sunday, July 28, 2013

Father, Hallowed Be Your Name

One of the first prayers most Christian children learn is what is called, "The Lord's Prayer."  And it doesn't matter who you are, Catholic or Protestant, these words that so often begin with, "Our Father who art in Heaven..." are among the most ingrained that you don't need a book or piece of paper to prompt you into the familiar rhythmic prayer.

Today's gospel lesson, we get from Luke where this prayer originated.  Jesus is busy praying, and the disciples are eager to learn, "How Do You Do That Thing That You Do."  Jesus gives his devoted followers a lesson in the basics, telling them that when they pray they should say:

Father, hallowed be your name. 

Your kingdom come. 

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins, 

for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. 

And do not bring us to the time of trial. 

This is the stripped down version of the prayer.  Matthew's Gospel brings in the familiar phrase, "on earth as it is in heaven," and asks not just to be saved from the time of trial but to be delivered "from the Evil One."   But the very basic structure of the prayer is a simple one that follows Jesus' great commandment to all of us: "Love God and Love Each Other."   The Church institutionalized this prayer, and made it into the staple of Christian prayer practice.  That's not a bad thing, necessarily.  It is probably the simplest way to give the people one, basic, all-around good set of words to work with when they wonder, "How am I suppose to pray?"  The only problem I see is that we've come to rely on words, these words, said in this exact way, to the point where... as I said... you don't even need to get prompted to know to fall into its rhythm.  And at what point do we, being so familiar with this prayer, forget what it is that's being said?

In "Son of Man," Andrew Harvery, a modern mystic, includes a section on prayer and various prayer practices.  One of the ones that interested me was to set aside roughly 30-minutes where you meditate, slowly and intentionally, on the words of "The Lord's Prayer."  So slowly, in fact, that just the phrase, "Our Father..." requires some time to consider.  As Harvey notes, this isn't just "a" Father, or "my" Father: it is the inclusive word of "Our" meaning the entire human creation... be they friend or foe...who all have the same Father.  Luke's version of this prayer doesn't include a possessive pronoun.  He simply starts, "Father."  And then, to establish the respect and the right regard in this relationship, Jesus says, "hallowed be your name."   The way this prayer begins is the start of Psalm 103, "Bless The Lord all my soul and all that is within me bless His holy name."  Jesus' prayer begins with establishing what to me seems like an arrow pointing upward, setting God as the pinnacle.   Place God as the head, God as the first, God as the ultimate of all desire.  When we do this, as Jesus would later note in his teaching to the disciples, when we ask, there will be an answer.  It may not be exactly the answer we want;  it will be the answer we need.

This past week, there was yet another report out of Africa about anti-gay ugliness.  The president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, at a political rally suggested that gays should be beheaded because they are unable to reproduce in "the natural way."  It was a horrific story, and such words, spoken by anyone in a position of power, is exactly the kind of cover that the evil that resides in the heart of a homophobe needs to justify taking action to beat and kill LGBT Africans.  As I sat in front of the computer looking at this story, I was incensed and I was sad.  I had posted the story to my Facebook wall, and denounced Mugabe, again, for his virulent hatred of my kind.  Then one of my friends made a comment about how it is difficult to pray for a man like Mugabe.  I agree; it is difficult to pray for someone who hates me so much and wants me dead.  And yet, this is the very person who needs prayer the most.  Thankfully, like the Lord's Prayer, the Episcopal Church has provided us with words of prayer in this situation.  It can be found in the back of the Book of Common Prayer on page 816, and it is a prayer that I regularly use... or paraphrase...

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

When I pray these words, I know that I cannot expect there to be a change in the other person, the perceived enemy.  But when I pray these words, I know that my head and my heart are shifting away from "cruelty, hatred and revenge."   And, just like in the Lord's Prayer, the direction of the prayer is upward, to God, to "ask and it will be received," to "knock and the door will be opened."  In making this prayer, I'm not looking for anything more than for God to hear me in my distress and deliver me from that place of wanting to seek revenge.  And it works.  I have privately repeated this prayer in moments of intense, heated exchanges during public debates, and I have made it part of my daily office practice.  It helps to keep me grounded in the Source of Love that runs wild all around us all the time.  It has helped me be heard in places where I could have easily been ignored.

Through prayer, and making supplications to God, what we really are doing is realigning our selves to remain in touch with God, so that we may become more open to others... here on earth, as it is in heaven.  When we do that, and we encounter the world in this state of openess to Love, we have the potential to shift a dialogue or remove the stumbling block from getting something done for the common good.  Ask. Search. Knock. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mary and Martha

I think, for me, one of the biggest hallmarks of Luke's Gospel stories is not just the prominence of women; it's the prominence of dichotomy.  There are those who are cast as good guys, and those who are cast as bad guys, and it is clear (at least we hope it is clear!) to the reader which is which.

In today's Gospel lesson, you have Jesus on foot--again--and arriving at the home of Martha and Mary.  Martha is dutifully doing all the things a good hostess is supposed to do.  Meanwhile, Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus.  Fed up, Martha asks Jesus to please tell Mary to get up off the floor and help her out in the kitchen.  Instead, Jesus gently rebukes Martha:

 "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;  there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

This story has been used, and I think this is a correct way to use it, to say that we (the people) are worried and distracted as well.  There aren't a whole of "Marys" in the world who are OK with just 'being' as opposed to always 'doing.'   I certainly fall into the Martha camp: just ask anyone who has ever been my spiritual mentor or director!  I can come up with more things "to do" to keep me from "being" than just about anyone.

When I recently read, "The Cloud of Unknowing," one of the things that struck me was that our anonymous author who held up the virtues of "being" used this story as analogy for the Church at that time in the 13th-14th century.   The struggle that existed between those who insisted on a more learned, concrete, scholastic and methodical approach to theology were butting heads with those who appreciated the stillness, the meditative, more experiental practices that informed their theology.  "Doing" was becoming more valued than "being" and I believe this is STILL true today in the post-modern church.  I also think the commitment to so much "doing" has led to an unfortunate divorce between the reasons why we do what we do.  We are no longer taking the moments to pause and absorb how present and real God is in and among us every day.   As a result, to borrow from another Gospel, a lot of what the church "does" has lost its flavor.   Time to get back to the spice rack.

At the same time, we shouldn't diss the doers.  They have a function.  Sitting back and listening to Jesus is great, but if that's all it's going to be, then the "being" has not spread anywhere.   One must "be" and "do" which is why the break down is so unfortunate, and the casting of good guys and bad guys in this particular Gospel story is not helpful.

I have been reading, "My Stroke of Insight," by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor.  In the book, she talks about the brain, and how our brains two hemispheres, left and right, function very much like an anatomical Martha and Mary.  The left hemisphere has all the "book-learning" power and linear thinking; the right hemisphere processes bits and pixels and is much more at one with all things.   We aren't aware of it, but we depend on BOTH hemispheres.  What Dr. Taylor argues is that we have given too much credit to our left, and we need to develop a better relationship with our right.  I agree.  And this gets to the value of practices of stillness, and centering.

I somehow doubt anyone will be preaching a sermon on those concepts today.  But if I were in a pulpit, that is what I would be encouraging: more reflection, more slowing down, more taking in God through other senses and at other times in the day and the week.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Too Late for Trayvon; We Must Do Better

Not guilty.

That was the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, accused of shooting and killing Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL, in February, 2012.  Martin was an African-American teenager, wearing a hoodie and carrying a fountain drink and a bag of Skittles, and walking at night in a gated community.  Zimmerman was an Hispanic self-appointed neighborhood watchman, driving in his car with a gun in a holster.  He saw Martin and called the police to alert them to this "suspicious" character in the neighborhood.  The police told him to stay put, don't confront him, etc. etc.  But Zimmerman didn't listen.  And there was an altercation.  And screams for help.  And, in the end, Trayvon Martin lay dead on the sidewalk, shot at close range.

Not guilty?

The jury of six women, only one of whom was a minority, spent over sixteen hours deliberating over their verdict.  The judge had allowed them to consider manslaughter instead of the requested second-degree murder.  Many of us on the outside of this case, especially those of us who live in Florida and have been treated to LOTS of media reports on all of this, thought, for sure, a jury could see that a dead teenager armed with Skittles should warrant at least manslaughter.

Not guilty?

You might imagine, Facebook lit up with commentary from all sides.  OK, my Facebook wall actually didn't show all sides.  Most of my friends join with me in being horrified by the verdict, deeply saddened for the Martin family, and even more disturbed by the idea that the message is now out there to anyone seeking vigilante justice: if your target is a black male teenager in a hoodie with a bag of Skittles, by golly, stand your ground!  There was one woman, on another friend's wall, who urged for everyone to consider that we weren't in the courtroom and listening to the testimony.  And we weren't in the jury room, either.  And we most certainly weren't one of the two people involved in this crime on a sidewalk in Sanford, Florida, on a rainy February night in 2012.  Therefore, we need to not jump to conclusions about the verdict, and whether it was a miscarriage of justice.

She's white.  Bless her heart.

I am not going to pass judgment on the jurors as people.  Jury duty, especially in a case such as this one, is enormously stressful and difficult.  They did want to know more about manslaughter, but I gather their question wasn't specific enough.  Or at least that's what one legal commentator said.  With all that in mind, I will not call these women names.  But I do know, from years of reporting experience on court cases and talking to lawyers and legal researchers, that there is a very real phenomenon with jurors: if they can put themselves in the shoes of the victim, they are more likely to have sympathy and more likely to find the accused guilty.  If they can not personally identify in that way, they will remain remote, and may decide the victim brought on the assault or their own death.  

This jury was all-female... and all but one was white.  Do you see what I'm seeing?

There are those who say this case is not about race, pointing out that Zimmerman is Hispanic.  But, I'm sorry: in this state, and in this nation, it IS about race when an almost all-white jury is incapable of finding a man who was told to stay out of it with the "suspicious" Trayvon Martin, can not find him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.  That is shocking.  And it saddens me.  And I guarantee that if the races had been reversed, and Zimmerman was an adult black male shooting a white-looking Hispanic teen-aged boy in Sanford, the verdict out of Seminole County tonight would be different.  That's the way things roll in this state.

My only answer for any of this is for those of us who are in the power majority--white America--to come to terms with how disparate the system is and how we are culpable in that.  And we must be willing partners to work to change that system.  My way of starting, and this is just my way, is to recognize that we, all of us human beings, are one.  The things that separate us (race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and on and on) are borderlines that do not reflect the real truth: we are one, together, on this planet, and what happens to the least of us is going to affect us all.  We must see the humanity, the brotherhood and sisterhood of us all, in each other and commit to lifting up those who are being beaten down by the economics and politics in our country.  What will we surrender to bring about justice and freedom for all?  How will we bring real justice to the family of Trayvon Martin?  

O God, make speed to help us...


Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Gifts of God For the People of God

I'm cross-posting the entry I just put up at my mom's CaringBridge site.   The "Anonymous Peggins" is continuing to heal from her stroke.  Things come in fits and starts.  But this major event, on what would have been her 59th wedding anniversary with my father, was truly something to celebrate and well worth the cross-posting!

Yesterday would have been my parents 59th wedding anniversary. Mom told me that the ritual she had with dad on that day was pretty basic: they'd look at each other and ask if they were willing to extend the contract for another year. Obviously, that is all it took. My dad was not a romantic, but as many of my friends noted, who saw him during his final years, they could tell by the way he looked at my mom and how his eyes would follow her that he loved her deeply. 

So, July 10th is a special day in the life of Hurricane Peg. In her current condition, I imagine that mom would have rather been somewhere else besides her room at Colonial Poplin. And then a thing of true grace happened. 

While I was home, I had noticed that my childhood parish, Christ Church, has a new thing during the Eucharist. Not only can you receive the Body and Blood of Christ: those who so choose may go to a corner where the choir pews used to be and receive a laying on of hands for healing from "the Healing Team." These are lay ministers with a special call to do this work. I inquired with my brother Edward, who attends Christ Church, about these ministers and whether they do this same anointing and prayer work outside the church building. He wasn't sure. But I was sure that I was going to ask. I was introduced to some of the people on the team at the reception for their new rector. 

"Do you ever take your healing show on the road?" (Sorry; it's not that I'm irreverent about the power of healing; it's just the way I talk.) 

"Yes," they responded. Edward, who was standing over my shoulder, seemed greatly relieved to hear this, and he and I both proceeded to explain that we would like to have someone visit our mother. After much going around and around about exactly where Colonial Poplin is, the team said they'd be happy to include her in their rounds. Edward gave the address to the church office. I also asked mom's speech therapist if she felt my mom would be able to handle receiving communion. 

"One of the things that has been important to my mom has been the church," I explained. And it is true. Even though religion wasn't a big deal in our house during the week, the church and the choir, in particular, were important to my mom. When my dad was at Alterra Clare Bridge here in Tallahassee, mom would make arrangements to have a Eucharistic Visitor come to see him every few weeks. She'd also try to arrange for me to be there when that was happening. Sometimes I would be; most of the time, I, who was still in my feral cat mode with all things church, would be conveniently absent when anyone from St. John's, lay or ordained, was making a visit to see my father. However, for my parents, this connection to God, and to a church community, was of vital importance. 

Knowing this, I wanted to see if my mom's swallowing was such that she could handle something like a wafer dipped in wine. The speech therapist, who shared that she was an ex-Catholic turned Lutheran, was going to give it some thought. Mom was about to go to three meals a day, sans feeding tube. If all went well, perhaps then this would be OK, too. 

Yesterday, on her 59th wedding anniversary, it apparently happened. 

I got a text message from Edward: "Just go an email from (Fr.)David Holroyd telling me that two women with the healing team at Christ Church- Patti Buck and Judy Hinds- visited with mom today and had a great time. They did the dysphagia specific communion with her and all went well. I know mom was overjoyed with all of it and seeing new faces made (her) the happiest girl in Fremont. Oh yeah, did me a world of good, too. I love having Patti do this since she is a PT (physical therapist) herself. This is a great and golden night." 

And so my mom was able to receive "the gift of God for the people of God." And I agree with Edward: I believe that for her to receive such a gift into her own body probably gave my mom the greatest spiritual boost in the world. 

Another contract renewed! 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Who's In Charge Anyway?

My apologies, blog readers, for the rather spotty updates here.  At this time last week, I was with my mother, the Anonymous Peggins, and other members of my family in New Hampshire.  Some of that time was spent in quiet contemplation (something I hope to write about soon).  But much of that time, I would characterize as having been spent in ministry to my mom and my brothers.  And I do mean, "ministry."   Some tough conversations, marked with tears.  I even anointed my mom with massage oil when a Roman Catholic priest or lay visitor refused to give her a blessing of healing oil because she was an Episcopalian. 

I have spent most of this past week in what seems like a combination of prayer and perpetual wrestling match with myself.  I am facing a number of questions about the direction in which my life is moving.  And this week's Gospel lesson from Luke seems to be pushing me more with it's sending people out in pairs like sheep among wolves to bring God's peace into other places.  I once had a dream in which I was standing at the altar of a church, facing out to the congregation.  The folks in the pews were all people with tattoos, multiple piercings, and a few colorful mohawks.  And I thought, "Really?  Is this what I'm supposed to do?"

See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."--Luke 10:19-20 

This last line of today's Gospel probably offers the most hope to me.  It is the reminder that whatever I do to bring Love to places where there is fear, or hope to those who are in despair, it isn't just me doing it.  I have had this discussion with my mentor as well as my spiritual director, neither of whom ever take personal credit for anything they have said or done to help me.  Because, they are correct: it isn't just them, but it is the power of the Spirit at work through them.  Just as Jesus is saying to his disciples who are ecstatic that they were successful in driving the demons out of people (which I don't take as a Linda Blair-like exorcism, but rather removing the impediments to feeling Loved), he reminds them not to get puffed up about that.  The fact that they brought people to Love wasn't because they were so wonderful; it's that they were wonderful enough to submit to the Spirit, so that the Spirit had the power to show through them and work through them to touch another.  

I have had more and more experiences like that in recent months.  After a particularly difficult and heartwrenching conversation with one of my brothers last week, a day in which I definitely felt that my job was to minister to him, I found myself breaking into song as I walked away to get in my car.  And the tune was one very familiar to us of Anglican land:   Praise God from whom all blessings flow/Praise God all creatures here below/Praise God above ye heavenly hosts/ Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.   Even though it was me who had sat with him, talked with him, hugged him, it wasn't me only: it was the Spirit of Love who basically became something of a body snatcher to do the work of Love through me.  I knew that.

If my name is being written in heavenly ink, why do I balk at taking further steps to follow?