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On raising moral kids

This is a class from St. Mark’s entitled “It takes a village:  Moral development and the communities that shape us”.

On gratitude

A sermon on gratitude.

On stings and letting go

fulll-labyrinthAt the conference I am attending, today is a day of silence, quiet, and reflection.  This makes my soul very happy.  We began the day in our normal rhythm, with breakfast.  Quickly, though, the day shifted as we gathered in the chapel to begin a period of silence.  The introduction was wonderful, with a litany for the church and a poem from David Whyte, who is one of my soul’s anchors.  Our invitation to silence began as the words of the poem ended, and I went straightaway to the labyrinth on the property.

The labyrinth has a lovely invitation with it, to follow the ancient wisdom of purgation as I walked inward, illumination once I reached the center, and union as I retraced my steps in the stone bound spiral.  beckwith-labyrinthThis is my kind of thing – silence, listening, deep thought and reflection, an opening of the soul.  As I stepped with great intention and began to settle into the rhythm, my heart opened and I began to pour through the purgation, letting all that I was carrying slowing come up so I could release it as I journeyed inward.  Soon began to surface the weight of my cares, the unspoken and often unwanted conflicts and shortcomings and disappointments.

And then the sharp pain began.  A powerful sting – not one, but two, then a third began.  Pulled from the hypnotic rhythm of my walking, I looked at my hand that was now beginning to throb – two, no three mosquitoes were perfectly perched on the back of my hand, tapped into my veins and sucking with all their might.  Jerking my hand, I slapped at them, missing the mark on one and catching the other two squaring as they sat feasting on my blood.

I wasn’t yet at the center of the labyrinth and began to move back into the gently rhythm of the walking.  Trying to re-center my mind and spirit, I found my thoughts and entered into the exercise.  Walking, rocking along, deep in thought, then Whap!  I involuntarily swatted at the next two comers who had perched on the other hand.  These tiny creatures, able to pull me so quickly out of my thoughts and elicit a strong physical response.  And that sting!  So strong, my body’s defenses kicking in before my mind even knew what was happening.  I came to a full stop – they had my attention now – and I calculated how much longer I would be walking, if there was something proactive I could do to keep these bites from hurting, if there was a different way to walk so I could avoid the mosquitoes all together.  What was my strategy?  I didn’t want to end the exercise covered in welts from the stinging bites.  But I didn’t want to stop either, to let the stings keep me from completing the gentle circles I was making and all that was unwinding within as I went.

I soon realized that this was in fact exactly the spiritual exercise I needed – the recognition of the sting.  In my soul, as I walked, my own woundedness was the weight that I felt.  And it was an important moment to recognize the sting of the things I was carrying, the way those cares elicit an involuntary pull on my energy, my psyche, my spirit, my soul.  labyrinth-1What stings are bringing reaction in my life?  Am I swatting at them, my focus pulled away from by the constant buzzing things that seems to suck the very lifeblood from me?  How am I going to care for myself once a sting occurs?   How am I going to equip myself, be proactive and keep the sting from happening?

I walked with purpose to the center and laid down the stinging bites that I had been carrying.  Strangely, I was thankful for those mosquitoes, for the sting they gave me.  Through the physical reality of the bite, I entered into a new clarity of the condition of my soul at that moment.  I sought solace and illumination there at the heart of the stones, giving over the stings to the great Healer.  And as I turned to walk the same path, now facing a new direction, I began to know the healing of union with the Source, the healing Balm of the world, of my soul.


Where is God?

Where is God?

Each day, new details of the horror of the shootings in Orlando are revealed.  People across this country, really across the world, struggle to make sense of this senseless act.  We want desperately to find a reason – some cause to blame, some logic to what led to the actions of this one man on Sunday.  Yet we can’t find it.

And we are left asking God, why Why is this world a place where people shoot others out of hatred and fear?  Why do we as a society continue to live in violence?  Why are the differences we have with others so threatening to us?  We are surrounded by noise, by voices crying out, by our own questions, by a world that so often seems precarious and chaotic and far from God.  Where are you, God, in the midst of such terrible things?

Someone asked me yesterday, how can such anger and hatred exist in a person?  The truth is, we are all capable of great anger and great joy, and we live in a world where free will allows both.  Both extremes, when separated from God and God’s wisdom, can take us far from the heart of the message of the kingdom of God, of the peace and reconciliation that Jesus both lived and taught.  Still, we feel bereft of hope and help when such a tragedy occurs, and we search for God.

In the OT reading for the coming Sunday we find an insight about where God is in the midst of trouble.  Elijah has been contending with those who are at odds with God.  He has just taken on the prophets of Ba’al, and Jezebel has vowed to kill him.  Elijah is weary; he goes out into the wilderness and asks God to just go ahead and take his life.  He’s had enough.  But God has something else in mind and tells him,

“Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.  (I Kings 19)

Like Elijah, we are waiting for God, clinging to the promise that God will be present.  We look all around – in the noises and voices that surround us.  It seems as if the world is coming apart all around us – in the winds, the earthquakes, the fires that rip apart the peace we seek.  We want so badly to act, to do something.  Yet it’s in the sheer silence that we begin to hear God.

When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

In these days, let us be still for a moment, as Elijah was at the cave, and listen for the silence.  Silence does not mean God is absent.  We mistakenly try to find God in the noise, in the trouble, in the bad things that happen.  Yet it is first in the silence that we find God, in the silence that God is most present, in the silence where we can begin to truly hear.  Let us open our hearts and wait for a moment.

There will be a time for action.  God went on to lead Elijah to the next steps on behalf of God’s people; God will also lead us.  If we merely stop with offering our thoughts and prayers, it is not enough.  Yet this moment of silence, of hearing God, is the beginning of action.  Lest we step ahead without God, we must first listen to the silence, listen for God

Hello, Hello

Hello, hello!  I don’t know why you say good bye, I say hello…

Well, it’s a new year and I find myself reviewing the year that has past and looking ahead to the year just beginning.  The past several month were very full, overflowing, in fact, and in the midst of it all I stopped blogging.  So I return now to say Hello again.

I begin with a few sermons.  There are others; these are just some from the Advent and Christmas season.

I preached the first and last Sundays of Advent, so these two sermons bookmark that time of joyful, hopeful waiting.   I also preached Christmas Day and the First Sunday of Christmas.

First Sunday of Advent: The Call of Expectant Hope

Fourth Sunday of Advent: The Wait Is Over…Almost  (This one included Star Wars but no spoilers were given!)

Christmas Day: What Child Is This? Living the Incarnation

The First Sunday After Christmas: Pictures of God

I think I have a lot to say this year.  I’m looking forward to blogging in 2016, and I invite you to check back regularly as we begin again.

Happy New Year!



From death to life:  Reflections on Good Friday and the Great Vigil

It’s been more than a month now, and I am still realizing just how much this year’s Holy Week was especially powerful for me personally, as I reflected on death and dying, on what it means to dwell in darkness, of unexpected joy that comes with the new fire and the light of day.  During Lent, as I walked along with Christ toward Jerusalem, the untimely and tragic death of a friend, along with diagnoses of cancer in the lives of two dear friends as well as of the children of three friends and co-workers — all people I love and hold dear —  all hit hard and taken a toll.  So my homilies came from that place of deep reflection, of yearning, of not understanding yet reaching out in faith, in need.

It fell to me to preach about the quiet dark of the cross on Good Friday and the renewed hope of light in the midst of death, of rebirth, in The Great Vigil.  Here are audio recordings those sermons.

May you know the presence of God in the midst of death and the hope of Christ and resurrection, both now and for ever more.

Good Friday sermon, titled, Today is a Hard Day:

The Great Vigilof Easter sermon, titled The Myhrrbearers

Freedom from or Freedom to…

Here is a link to last Sunday’s sermon, titled “Freedom From or Freedom To”, which looks at the 10 commandments, Jesus’ clearing of the Temple, and our tendency to push against being told what to do.

One thing I have asked of the Lord

I’m not always good with habits, or so my friends remind me.  It’s true, I am often at my best when I am spontaneous; it’s my natural way.  Of course, true spontaneity is undergirded with a routine. My friends may not realize that I do have a good bit of structure in my day to day life – habits that form me and keep me centered.  One of these daily things I do, a habit every morning, is say my prayers.  Now, being a good Episcopalian, I usually say the Daily Office early, while I’m just waking up around 4:30 or 5:00am.  By the time I get to work, I usually need another round. When I started working at St. Mark’s, I was intentional about creating the habit of beginning each day by first going into the church and saying prayers.  I decided to pray a simple Morning Prayer from the Northumbrian Community.  Most days I arrive at the church early, around 7am.  First thing, I go through the sacristy into the church proper, where it is quiet.  In the summer, as I sit in the choir, the light of the early morning sun filters through the stained glass of the chancel windows.  In the shorter days of winter, the morning is still dim, and the light of my iPhone seems out of place. Over time, just as any habit does, these prayers have slowly seeped into my bones  The opening lines from the psalter flow from memory, so I often sit in the quiet dark as the words tumble from my lips.IMG_1476

One thing I have asked of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life;
to behold the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in His temple.

Everyday, it never gets old, sitting in the beautiful space of the church where I am fortunate enough to work and serve and worship.  And so I pray these words from my heart.  How amazing, that this one thing, answering the deep call of ordained ministry, has led me to a place of true beauty, a place with an amazing sense of the Holy, a thin place where Heaven and Earth seem to mingle together.  Truly, I seek God in such beautiful space, a temple of the Lord filled with beauty, with a rich history of so many people who have gone before to make St. Mark’s such a wonderful community of faith, blessed with an inspiring space in the middle of a bustling, growing city.  What a gift.  I often feel like I have to pinch myself to be sure it’s real.

During Advent, the trees in the park across from the church were draped with twinkling white lights, and a power grid from street lamp to street lamp enveloped the whole space from dusk to dawn with a kind of wonder.  More often than not, I would arrive in the morning before the lights shut off and leave in the evening after they came on.  The beauty of the sight led me to begin to sit in my car in the predawn morning and say my prayers there rather than go into the church.


And the strangest, most wonderful realization came to me as I prayed those words from Psalm 27.   In the early morning, the people moving around in this area of San Antonio are not, in general, the people of the middle and upper classes.  Usually, the people I see are working people — workers in trucks going to work in the trades, restaurant cooks and diswashers, court clerks and doormen — and also the people without a home, the people who have toughed out a long and often cold night outside with what blankets or coat they might be fortunately enough to have.  As I sat in my car, watching these early morning compatriots moving through their daily routine, I could see clearly that I had missed something important all those mornings in the protected beauty of the church: the beauty of God’s wider temple of the whole world.  The very place that so often inspires me, so often comforts me, so often challenges me, was in fact also blinding me to the broader temple I am called to serve:  this beautiful, broken, wounded, and complicated world where we really live and move and have our being.

Now, I know this is an oversimplification.  Praying in the church didn’t necessarily blind me; there’s nothing wrong with our buildings which glorify God and so often serve as holy, sacred space.   And it’s my own perspective that needed a subtle shift, a reminder of the truest temple of God, the whole creation which we are called to protect and steward and bless with the works of our hands and with wise and careful awareness of our actions and their impact on creation, and of ourselves as part of that creation, our bodies as God’s temple.

Still, I needed to look again at where God has placed me, has placed this lovely and wonderful church — in the midst of the city, where the deep complexity of life is all around us, every day, every night.  I needed to not get lost in the beauty each morning, behind the quiet locked doors of the sanctuary.  Instead, I needed to see the connection of the two — the world inside and the world outside, that they are in fact one world, one temple where God is present and very close, drawing together those things which seem so very far apart at times.  The church building, the Church universal, are here to serve God’s creation, to minister to the world in need, to share the glory of God, to feel and experience and know the connection of all life.

I’m so thankful for this place, this corner of God’s creation where I am called to be.  I’m thankful for the beauty of St. Mark’s and for the place we have in the heart of the city.  I’m thankful that I am reminded again that there is little difference between the sacred and the profane, because God is present in all this and so much more than I can know or feel or see or experience.

So now I pray these words in my car, and when I walk along the path, and when I kneel in the chancel.  They remind me that my job is to will one thing with a pure heart (as Kierkegaard first taught me), to ask God to give me eyes to see and ears to hear the beauty of the Lord, every day, in every face and every place I find myself on this journey.

What do we do when we encounter God?

For today’s post, a link to my sermon from this past Sunday, February 15, the Last Sunday of the Epiphany, looking at how we respond when we encounter God.  Are we like Peter?  Do we try to capture our experience of the Divine in those thin places?  Is that a bad thing?  What are we, like Peter, missing?

It’s all here — poetry, song, literature, and the deep call of the gospel to be transformed.


A Holy Lent

I write all the time.  I sometimes share my writing with others.  I’ve noticed that I am writing less and less on this blog, so for Lent, I’m committing to posting more of my writing, sermons, classes, poetry — whatever I am creating and thinking.  If I’m not careful, I will turn my Lenten disciplines into New Year’s Resolutions (which I despise!).  I’m not being nearly so concrete about my intentions.  Rather, I am working to live into the call of living a holy Lent:  self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, meditating on God’s Word.  So in the next 40 days, I will be posting things which relate to this calling as I once again ask God to make in me a new and contrite heart as I walk through these days.

Today is Ash Wednesday.  As I have gone through the day, images and moments have struck me, and these are snapshots that linger.

4:35am – I’m wide awake, a sure sign for me to begin my daily rhythm.  I say the Daily Office and ponder the psalms, how nothing seems off limits within them.  My throat is sore; I’m trying hard to fend off the inevitable, in which my voice deepens and then gradually gives up all together.  I’ve been using Zicam, feeling hopeful.  I let the dogs out, consider going back to bed, but instead head toward the laundry to start the dryer.  Ashes.  Dust.  I think on these things as I move through my morning routine.

6:20am – I drop off my youngest son at my middle son’s apartment so that I can make it to the church in time for the 7am Imposition of Ashes.  There’s something about Ash Wednesday and starting the day with this service which is important to me.  Maybe it’s knowing that I will be doing the Imposition of Ashes 5 times today.  And maybe knowing that I will be a part of those services, along with Beth (the rector here), I need to kneel and confess and receive a reminder of my humanity, my frailty, my tendency to wander from God and from others.  Not that I ever forgot my faults, because I don’t.  Perhaps it is important because it reminds me of God’s love, of why it matters, what I do every day, what we are all called to do.  Still, it’s hard to drive away from those two boys, who with their older brother hold my heart in ways no others do.  My call so often takes a toll on them.  Of this, perhaps most of all, I need to kneel before God and confess.

8:13am – I have a message to call a parishioner who is reaching out with a need.  I call, and we talk — what an honor to be let inside the life of another person in such intimate ways.  No matter what it is — sickness, brokenness, anxiety, joy, conviction of shortcomings, a new insight — every time, usually throughout the day, I’m grounded in this sharing we have in the community of faith.

10:29am – 40 people, mostly little children from our Parent’s Day Out program, are gathered in the Chapel to receive ashes.  There’s a lovely woman from Birmingham who is in town for business, and she has a conflict at the other service times.  She smiles and seems to understand the simple service we have, with the occasional crying child, and the little boy fearful of the black which I offer to smear across his little forehead.  I remind the kids that they already have an invisible cross on their foreheads, from their baptism.  This cross just helps remind them how much God loves them and all of the creation, from birth to death and beyond.  Their earnest faces shine, even as they are mostly bewildered by what we are doing.  Yet somehow, I think some of them get it, probably more than me.

12:15pm – I’m saying the words, over and over – Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return – as I move along from one end of the altar rail to the other.  Most of the faces are familiar, with a generous sprinkling of new folks scattered into the mix.  I try to be neutral and compassionate, because I want to be God’s conduit and not be in the way.  I look at the faces, feel love for them, see in their eyes their own journey this Lent.  I come to someone I hold dear, a spiritual amma who has been and continues to be a mentor and friend.  I see her, begin to say the words, Remember you are dust,…and tears well up in my eyes as I remember the many years she said those words to me when our positions were switched for so long.  My voice breaks as I finish the words…and to dust you shall return.  She sees the tears, hears the catch in my words.  I move on to the next person, reigning in my emotions, thankful for the little moments that keep me so aware of my humanity.

1:35pm – I meet a man who needs some help with a bus ticket.  He tells me the story of needing a job, praying about it, and running into someone who offers him a position at a local restaurant.  He says he struggles with old habits and tries not to fall in with the old crowd.  He only needs a $10 dollar ticket, and he is so joyful when I get online and buy it for him.  He reminds me to believe more in possibilities that seem unlikely.  And to be joyful in all things.

2:10pm – I talk with a coworker about the office and how to organize things.  He shares a story about his dad, who died when my friend was in his 20’s.  I think of the things his dad never got to see, and of the things my mom never saw, like me in this office, a priest in God’s church.

4:00pm – A beautiful young mom is expecting baby#2.  We hug, and she is beaming.  I rejoice with her!

4:35pm – After the Imposition of Ashes to a wonderful group of women with comfortable lives filled with rich blessings, the leader of the group reminds us to pray especially for Coptic Christians and the persecution they are facing in some places.  I’m once again surprised by her keen awareness of the world as well as the depth of her faith in the power of prayer.  She continually amazes me by her deep faith and generous spirit, which she uses to make so many people’s lives better.

5:45pm – I grab a bowl of soup and a salad from our wonderful Cafe Kairos and take it to my office to eat in silence and center myself before the 7pm service.  Just as I sit down, a knock at the door and a parishioner with a tray, asking if I wouldn’t mind company to eat.  Sure, I say, coming around my desk and raising the leaf in the table so we can set our trays on it.  My weariness is replaced with a lively conversation about her life and recent transitions, and I’m glad she came up.

7:30pm – The last service of the day is more than half over.  I’m celebrating, and I’m behind the altar about to sing the sursum corda.  Joe gives me a note, I open my mouth, a some strange sound creaks out.  I’ve been fighting a sore throat, and my voice has finally given out.  I squeak through the next two lines, then switch to speaking.  Afterward, the good people at the service joke and offer warm words of acceptance and understanding.  I’m reminded of my own limits, heart and soul and tonight, most definitely voice.

10:18 – Finally home, my son and the dogs are fed and settling in for the night.  My voice is now completely gone as I whisper good night to my son, who so often waits for me at home while I listen to other people talk about their kids, while I lead and talk and pray and do things that leave him too often alone.  I think of people who I did not see today, people from the church or friends or loved ones, some near and some far away.  I wonder how they are, if they realize it’s Ash Wednesday, if they know how I love them, that they make my life better, even when I don’t see them nearly as much as I would have it.  I finish these words and am reminded again of how blessed I am to serve God, to be loved and to love.