Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Rabbits and Paradigm Shifts

My heart and my mind are in funny places right now. Peacefully close to each other but more on parallel courses than matched and joined in one location. I have been writing a bunch about the interface between Sundays and Sabbaths and Silence and Sleep and I have found myself moved by these considerations toward an ease and comfort with the new life I’m imagining with the people of Advent, Madison.

As I have had conversations in following up or correcting the things I’ve written I have been assured at just about every turn that we are growing and changing and we are OK with that. Growth and change are parts of why Episcopalians “do Lent,” important parts.

The lengthening of Lent is described by a symbolic frame, 40 days. It is kin to the 40 days and nights of rain that renewed the world for God and Noah’s family, the 40 years of wilderness education that formed a nation, the 40 days of Jesus’ formation before his first sermon. There are other biblical 40 day periods that we mostly miss. Here’s a quick list:

  • Isaac’s Egyptian burial took 40 days of embalming (Gen. 50:3)
  • Moses is on the mountain for 40 days (Ex. 24:18, 34:28, De. 9:9, 9:11, 9:25, 10:10)
  • Joshua and Caleb spy on the land of Canaan for 40 days (Nu. 13.25 and 14:34)
  • 40 day-long Philistine attack of Jesse’s stand begins the ascendency of David (1Sa. 17:16)
  • Elijah’s 40 day strength plan helps redirect his ministry (1 Kings 19:8)
  • Ezekial’s 40 day preparation for his siege of Jerusalem (Ez. 4:6)
  • Finally, the 40 days of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances (Ac. 1:3)

For sure there are purification practices caught in several of these 40 day periods. More than one looks like a weight loss plan. But every one of these 40’s helps change to happen. Simply, there is a difference between who or what goes in and who or what comes out.

When Thomas Kuhn first wrote about paradigm shifts in 1962 his examples were less intentional than these biblical periods. More like the way an epiphany leaves you changed. Once you’ve seen the duck you can’t just see the rabbit or vice versa.
But these biblical examples all point to intention, purposefulness, shriving and even more so toward God’s purposefulness. So I’m thinking AND I’m feeling a change. It is both an intentional product and a happy by-product. Little of it is the result of my efforts but I’m sensing that most of my shifting is the result of God’s efforts using my shriving, my praying, my imagination to take me to a place where I have never been. My heart and my head are moving and I can’t wait to come out on the other side of this forty days.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lent is for Learning

            I was not raised in a Christian tradition that observed Lent as the best way to prepare for Easter.  Mostly what we did was dye eggs.  My mom would hide chocolate and plan the menu around ham.  There were Easter baskets and we hunted eggs on what I have now learned to call Holy Saturday.  We shopped for our new spring and summer outfits and were allowed to wear them first on Easter Sunday.  My sisters got two dresses. I got slacks and a jacket or a two-piece suit.

            In that brand of Christianity we did more to diminish Easter than the 5&10s and grocery stores.  Add Walmart and his retail cousins to the public’s current practices and how we teach and learn our Episcopal version of Lent, Holy Week and Easter starts to feel like mobilizing a rebel army.
            I’m learning that there is so much Christian history embedded in the 40 days that our puny disciplines – so many of them born of our unhealthy cravings for what a friend has called the Lenten Episcopal trinity of “chocolate, caffeine and vodka” – miss the connections to the saints who have walked before us AND the world saved in Christ’s resurrection. 

            So we have chosen to name our practice during these 40 days, Lent is for Learning. With packets and brackets and pamphlets and booklets we will do some of that learning about who has walked the path before us and how that path can lead us into witness to the whole world. 

            But a better part of our learning will have to be right here at 338 Academy St.  Our gatherings on Sunday mornings will include our praying prayers of sorts mostly penitential before we do anything else.  We'll do a different entrance rite each week.
Lent 1 -- The Great Litany (chanted)
Lent 2 -- The Supplications, Exhortation and confession
Lent 3 -- Penitential Order with Decalogue
Lent 4 -- Suffrages B, Exhortation and Confession
Lent 5 -- The Great Litany from Enriching Our Worship.

            All are prayers, some ancient some modern and meant to join us, embed us in the very same history as our saints, the very same world as those in need or in harm’s way.

            Our addition to each week’s prayers by walking our way through the Stations of the Cross every Friday at noon is yet another joining to that same history and world in need. 

            Lent is for Learning will also provide us a chance to focus on the world’s needs for outreach and ministry,  both the world immediately around us and the world reached through agencies like Episcopal Relief and Development.  Wednesday Nights at 7pm from March 4 to 18 and Sunday mornings at 9:15 from February 22 to March 8 we’ll show the 3 episodes of A Path Appears, the PBS documentary telling the stories of efforts at home and abroad to walk with and learn from those most in need.  We’ll hear the stories of abused women and children, families imprisoned by poverty, government and non-government agents as they have made a road or have made it so “a path appears” just by the constancy of their efforts that others can also walk to a better life, to a world resurrected. 

            Lent is for Learning and we have so much to learn.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lent is Nearly Sabbath

Lent is fast upon us and we will be learning as much as we can during this season but least we forget, Lent is what it is because Easter is what it is first.  New Zealand priest, Rev. Bosco Peters says it this way about Easter:

Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost do not form three seasons. The Easter season celebrates the three dimensions of the resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Spirit. Ascension material is appropriately used as Ascension Day approaches. Pentecost material is appropriate from Ascension Day to the Day of Pentecost. Easter threads, of course, remain suitable up to and including the Day of Pentecost.
These fifty days, a seventh of the year, form our great “Sunday” of the year. “Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!” forms the greeting in every service during Eastertide. Similarly “Alleluia! Alleluia!” is added to the Dismissal and the people’s response (these are equivalent to the “Alleluia” added at the beginning and end of the Daily Services). These help to give these celebrations a distinctive festal feel.

So if Easter is Sunday then Lent is by analogy Friday for some and/or Saturday for others: a time to get things done and to settle into one's rest and prayers so as to greet the next day’s “alleluias” full-throated and exuberant. 

“to get things done” could mean that we use this season of Lent to add something to our spiritual practice, long walks instead of the simplistic deprivations that leave us craving chocolate or caffeine or alcohol all the more come Easter Day. 

“to settle into one’s rest”  could mean learning a new way to pray.  Chatting with a friend about her Episcopal roots caused me to remember my first time ever praying by Episcopal order:  “my first exposure to the Episcopal Church was '28 BCP Evening Prayer in Tappahannock, VA in 1970.  I remember feeling like I was going back in time. I remember the pace and flow of the service was so different from my Baptist ‘prayer meetings.’"    There was a space between the prayers and gestures that begged rest and settling. 

“to greet the next day’s ‘alleluia’” could mean not only a joyous occasion of worship on Easter day but a thorough examination of our own lives so as to anchor our alleluias to those places we see God’s hand at work.  Imagine our Easter alleluias like welcoming an old and well traveled friend into our homes.

“full-throated and exuberant” could mean that we have not only rested but have developed a practice of training and preparation like voice lessons and singing scales.  The same reason that athletes train to jump farther and run faster.  Our exuberance grows because of how we prepare and practice. 

We need not deprive ourselves of much at all as long as we are learning.  And we can stay focused, indeed we can enhance our focus, on the celebration that is to come in that day of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Lent is nearly Sabbath because Sunday is clearly Easter, alleluia!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


I’m relying on other contributors for much of what I am offering in this second round of writing on Sundays and Sabbaths.  Today I want to thank my friend Kyle Oliver of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching in Alexandria, VA. For his reflection on the keynote address given by Brene Brown at the Forma Annual Conference which I attended in Houston last week. 

Reading through Kyle’s comments to Dr. Brown’s insights exposes an ethical demand for Sabbath as well as a therapeutic demand.  Here’s some of what Kyle said about what Dr. Brown presented:
So Brown’s message was good news in my life because I can believe in enough, trust in enough, hope in enough, take courage in enough. Enough will preach, I think. It did for me.

There’s plenty of biblical warrant for a theology of enough. Sure, we have countless biblical images of God’s abundance, from the multiplication of loaves and fishes to Amos’s ever-flowing stream of righteousness and justice. 

But the characters in scripture also know plenty about enough.I’m thinking about the Hebrews in the desert, gathering just enough manna for the day to come. Or the widow of Zarephath, who found that she had just enough meal and oil to make bread for herself, her son, and Elijah until the rains came. Or Jesus sending out disciples with no extra cloak, and no guarantee of welcome in the towns they would visit.

Enough is not the only biblical perspective on God’s providence in scripture. But it is a significant one. There are places and times when we should expect abundance. But most of us are too scared or too scarred. Brown gave us permission to admit that.

She’s not  asking us to transform our lives overnight. She knows that’s not the way most people change. She’s not asking us to pretend we’re not afraid. Quite the opposite, in fact. I believe she’s assuring us that when a leap of faith seems utterly beyond us, a step or two will get us through the day. And probably the next day too, but that’s tomorrow’s problem.

Read everything Kyle said here.  What is in this for our consideration of Sundays and Sabbaths  – other than our previous attention to Lauren Winner’s question “who can afford a Sabbath?” -- is how our living while admitting the fears and anxieties surrounding us in our American culture has yet to embrace the understanding that “enough is enough.”

Adopting Sundays and Sabbaths and silence and sleep as our part in God’s blessing of creation can be our introduction into this theology of enough.  In time we can rest assured that what God has provided and is still providing in six days is more than enough for our seven. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Most of what you'll read here is from my good friend Tom Sullivan.  He is doing good work for the people of Western North Carolina and more specifically for Asheville through his leadership and service in the Democratic Party in Buncombe County.

Tom was part of that "house church" group I wrote about a couple of months ago.  He and I also were housemates in those days in the late '80s when I was becoming an Episcopalian.  He loves me and I love him.  Our callings have varied -- Tom is an engineer -- but our hearts are often right in line with each other.

Tom wrote an interesting article that gets to the matter of our culture's struggles with work, sabbaths, Sundays and rest.  Here's the link and I've quoted most of it below:

Are we not Ubermen?
. . . In its obsession with turning everything on this planet into the Precious [think Hobbit] (other planets will come later), the Midas cult has turned its sights on sleep because “sleep is the enemy of capital.” Thus, sleep must be abolished. From caffeine-laced Red Bull to topical sprays to marshmallows, “perky jerky,” and military experiments with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), Newsweek  looks at how we are waging the war on sleep:
For those looking to sleep less without drugs or military tech, there’s the “Uberman” sleep schedule: 20 minute naps taken every four hours. That’s just two hours of sleep in every 24 hours. Uberman is based on the theory that while humans experience two types of sleep, we only need one of those to stay alive. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep is the stage in which we dream, and it also has been shown in lab tests to be critical to survival: Rodents deprived of REM sleep die after just five weeks. Then there is non-REM sleep, which itself is broken down into four separate stages. One of those is short wave sleep (or SWS). Scientists aren’t really sure what function SWS serves, and Uberman advocates argue that it may not be critical to survival at all.
We spend only 20 percent of our sleeping time in REM sleep, and, usually, we need to work our way up to it, going through non-REM sleep first. But according to the Polyphasic Society, a segmented-sleep advocacy group, that’s a waste. They say the Uberman and sleep schedules like it can force the brain to reconfigure its sleep cycle to avoid the non-REM sleep and jump straight into REM, saving a handful of precious, precious hours every day. The disadvantage? Physical stress, even to the point of lifting heavy objects, can cause Uberman sleepers to unexpectedly “black out.”
That's nice.

Before you think I'm screaming conspiracy theories or fashioning tin foil hats know this:  I believe it was and is meant for the whole planet when God commands those words that help to form a nation: "Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy."  I believe that was and is for the whole planet that on the seventh day God rested -- read slept -- and as a creator was silent.

There is a holiness intended by God in our Sundays, our sabbaths, our silence, and our sleep.  It is a holiness meant for the whole world.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Silent Places - Silence Appreciation 101b

Silence and sabbaths and Sundays have a bunch in common, in particular their intention to holiness. Each in it's own way helps the practitioner find a moment or sense of being set apart.  The quintessential state of each of these practices is rest, just like God's on the seventh day of creation.
Sometimes we need to get away physically, geographically, actively in order for the moment to have its . . . moment.  There always has been and always will be some places better than others, just like there are times better than others.  Below is a list of places that are ready for you to find a moment of silence and in most cases an extended moment so that you can develop a practice of stillness, centeredness and rest.
This list is just below the tip of the iceberg.  There are many, many more options.  The tip is how we enter and on many occasions exit our worship on Sundays right here in Madison.  Episcopalians are known for the quiet way we begin our Sundays in the church.  Many or most of us kneel in silent prayer, settling, centering, and readying ourselves to join all those other acts and moments to which we are called in corporate worship.
Granted silent prayer is hard for those of us who are just happy to see our friends and almost too ready to catch-up with whatever news or questions we have.  For the most part though we are still the quiet ones -- didn't someone famously call us the "frozen chosen?" -- when we pray and especially when we enter with our hearts yearning for God's presence.
I suppose I could list Church of the Advent seeing as that we are a destination for so many and so many others who are often not with us on Sunday morning.  We'll spend more time on that consideration in a later installment.

Retreat Centers

Episcopal Convent of St. Helena - Augusta, Georgia

Green Bough House of Prayer - Scott, Georgia

478-668-4758, Rt. 1, Box 65A, Adrian, GA 31002
East of Dublin in Middle Georgia, this ecumenical retreat house offers scripture-centered silent and guided retreats as well as Centering Prayer workshops and sabbatical space.

Ingrid's Oasis - Stone Mountain, Georgia

404-296-7814  iwieshofer@agnesscott.edu
Offers a space and time to explore, reflect upon and deepen one's relationship with God. Personal silent retreats, quiet days for individuals or for small groups, and spiritual guidance by a certified spiritual director.

St. Mary's Sewanee Center for Spiritual Development- Sewanee, Tennessee

http://www.stmaryssewanee.org/   800-728-1659    stmaryscc@sewanee.edu
Near the University of the South and the School of Theology, this center offers many quality retreats throughout the year, with space for group retreats, individual guided retreats, and silent retreats, and Contemplative Outreach Centering Prayer workshops and retreats.

Monastery of the Holy Spirit - Conyers, Georgia

770-483-8705    http://www.trappist.net/   2625 Highway 212 SW, Conyers, GA 30094-4044
Monday-Saturday 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Ignatius House Retreat Center

404-255-0503  http://www.ignatiushouse.org/  6700 Riverside Drive Northwest, Atlanta, GA 30328
We offer to all, group and individually directed retreats, spiritual direction, companionship and spiritual counseling. Our ministry is based on Ignatian Spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola;a journey in meditation, praying the scriptures and finding God in all things.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Silence Appreciation 101

Last week we "sat in on" an interview with Leonard Cohen.  His appreciation for the richness of silence was instructive.  But it is not easy to get to that point of appreciation.  The few who join me in Night Prayer on Sunday nights are still learning how to finish the 20 minutes we take to sit in silence.  We have worked our way up to it.  Even Remy handles it pretty well.

I can't say what happens during the silence.  I just know that the mix of well measured speech a la the NZ BCP, candle light and the ambience of our historic church make for a very rich silence.

Now that we are up to twenty minutes of silence each Sunday night it makes for some difficulty for the first time participant, unless they have already practiced this sort of prayer in other settings.  The outline below is a good start to your own practice.  Take a deep breath, relax into your exhalation begin your own practice of silence.

How to Practice Silence Every Day *
  1. Schedule your period of silence at a particular time every day.
  2. During that hour, turn off the phone, TV, radio, computer, and all other appliances and communication devices. Put down all books and other reading material.
  3. Light a candle to be a witness to your silence.
  4. Sit quietly and rest—or look carefully at a natural object—or engage in work that does not require you to hear, see, or express words. Gentle housekeeping or gardening are excellent activities of silence, or a long walk in nature.
  5. Listen to the silence, all the time enjoying this respite from thinking, reviewing, planning, and imagining. Stay in the present moment.
  6. Breathe deeply and mindfully, bringing in the silence and expelling mental “noise.”
  7. At the end of your silence, let your first word be an expression of gratitude or love; then put out the candle and go about your business.

* See more at: http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/splendid-spiritual-practice-silence/page/0/2#sthash.nulSGMWT.dpuf