Archive for August, 2017

This Is The Gate of Heaven!

August 24, 2017

I did part of a sabbatical years ago at our Anglican College of St. George in Jerusalem. One of the courses I took was called “the Desert Course” and it entailed spending time in the Sinai tracing ancient pilgrim routes to St. Catherine’s monastery at the foot of the supposed site of the biblical Mt. Sinai. We took three jeeps with Bedouin drivers and an Egyptian guide, alternating nights spent in monasteries with camping on the desert floor.

One evening, as we sat around the camp fire on a crystal clear night, our guide pointed up to the endless night sky and said, “Welcome to the Sinai. One moon…ten million stars!” I believe that I could have counted each one. Later, as I unrolled my sleeping bag, I found a smooth stone to serve as a pillow and had very much the same experience as Jacob in this morning’s reading for St. Bartholomew’s day:

“Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending upon it…(When) Jacob woke from his sleep (he) said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place…How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.'” (Genesis 28:10 ff passim)

I cannot sing the hymn “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place” without remembering that experience and giving thanks to God for the privilege of spending those weeks in the “Land of the Holy One” as the Anglicans in that part of the world call it, reminding us that the land is holy only because it is a gift from the Holy One. I doubt that it is possible for that same course to be offered in the Sinai today because of the troubled politics of the region.

When we pray for the “peace of Jerusalem,” let us remember all the people of God in Israel/Palestine and throughout the Middle East and hope that one day that part of the world will find the promised peace and become an international meeting ground for all of us who await that Day when “all nations and races may serve (God) in harmony…” (Book of Common Prayer, page 815)

May it one day be so!

The Kingdom, The Power,and The Glory Are Yours

August 18, 2017

New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan has written a book on The Lord’s Prayer entitled The Greatest Prayer.  And I have often thought how true that sentiment is. This ancient prayer (whether or not it goes back to the historical Jesus) seems appropriate for almost any occasion or situation one may be facing. In these troubled times:

Our Father in heaven — acknowledging what some may hear as patriarchal language in a three-story universe — this opening phrase can remind us that we are all sisters and brothers of the one Parent/Creator whose vision and reach far exceeds our little blue planet floating in space.

Hallowed be your name — reminds us that the very name of God is holy and unspeakable really, that no words can adequately described this Ground of our Being, this “Yahweh,” this One who is Being and Existence itself. “Holiness,” wholeness itself.

Your kingdom come — while we live in the midst of various empires, systems, governments and indeed owe a certain allegiance to them as long as they proved order and stability in society, we yearn for a day when they will all pass away and when all the peoples of the earth will be united in the one God whose Commonwealth will be for ever, and for all.

Your will be done on earth as in heaven — the very universe(s) in which we dwell seem marked by cosmic cycles of birth and death, of advancement and retreat, of contraction and expansion. Yet all seem “held together” by some unitive force which some of us can only call “love.” Our prayer is that the very yearning of our Creator for harmony and reconciliation, for balance and justice will one day be found on earth as we see it mirrored in the cosmos.

Give us today our daily bread — That really is all we need. Our bread for today. We do not need to hoard wealth and possessions, the very fact of which widens the gap between rich and poor and will always lead to the “haves” and the “have nots” which is the source of most of the violence and war all around us. We need only food for today.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us — there is a connection here. We can only expect to be forgiven by others if we forgive them. It is the very height of arrogance to expect forgiveness and yet fail to be forgiving ourselves.

Save us from the time of trial — perhaps originally intended as a prayer not to cave in during the early days of the persecution of Christians, this plea today is that we may be spared the greatest of all difficulties but, if we have to experience the worst, to stand strong and courageously.

And deliver us from evil — poverty, war, terrorism, racism, sexism, misogyny, anti- Semitism, environmental degradation, and so much more. This is our cry for “Help” from that power which is greater than ourselves for deliverance.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever — God is sovereign and we are not; all power in the universe(s) ultimately come from that one Source; and the splendor of this Reality fairly shines in the darkness of our world and of our minds. And it will do so for all eternity…to the ages of ages.

Amen – So be it!

Celebrate The Whole Of It!

August 16, 2017

I spent several days last week visiting the Community of Celebration in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania (See  I serve as Bishop Visitor (a kind of official adviser) to the Community and have for many years. My relationship with them actually goes back decades.

When charismatic renewal swept the mainline churches back in the 1970s, my home Diocese of Central Florida was deeply affected. Our bishop, William H. Folwell, was quite supportive of the movement which he saw as opening some doors and windows in what had been a basically conservative and pretty Anglo Catholic diocese.

Many of us were part of prayer groups and Bible study groups, explored the ministry of healing and deliverance, and prayed in tongues (often privately due to the lack of an “interpreter!”). Mostly we became comfortable sharing our faith, praying easily and extemporaneously (no small feat for Episcopalians!), and singing “renewal music” some examples of which was better than others it must be said.

Some of the best came from the Celebration Community and their traveling music group, The Fisherfolk, out of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Houston. This community was led by Graham and Betty Pulkingham and consisted of extended “household” made up of single folks and married people with children who, in early church fashion, shared all things in common and celebrated all of their Christian lives lived in community.

As things developed the Community grew and spent some time in the south of England as well as later on in Scotland. They wrote music, sold tapes and later CDs, traveled and led worship in countless venues across the church. Eventually, they were invited by the Bishop of Pittsburgh to move to Aliquippa which was a devastated, rust-belt community ravaged by the collapse of the steel industry and filled with racial and economic tensions.

One of the things that characterized their musical offerings and set them apart from so many of those in the renewal movement was that most of it was designed for worship, and Eucharistic worship at that! There are songs and hymns, yes, but also Mass settings, psalm antiphons and chants, seasonal music to enhance the church years from Advent to Pentecost. Almost no one else did this…or did it as beautifully.

The Community of Celebration’s vocation in Pittsburgh was to “incarnate” themselves into this urban neighborhood and become a praying and singing and witnessing presence seeking to bring the love of Christ to people who desperately needed to experience it. They purchased a bank of row houses both to live in themselves and to provide affordable housing to others.

When they were told that they shouldn’t put potted plants on the porches because they would be stolen, they lavished such beauty on their porches, planted beautiful gardens on their property, and rejoiced as plants appeared on other porches and the neighborhood slowly began to take pride in itself again.

Over the years, they have joined community organizations for the improvement of the area and supported the Common Grounds Cafe which has become a safe haven for poor and young people of all races and backgrounds. Priests of the Community have also served as chaplains to the police and fire departments, Civil Air Patrol, and even the F.B.I. !  Most importantly, they built a beautiful chapel in which Morning, Noonday, and Evening Prayers are offered everyday and a Vigil Mass on Saturday nights followed by a common meal to which all are invited.

Like so many intentional religious communities and the charismatic movement itself (at least in this country), Celebration has declined in membership from scores to only five professed members, but they are strengthened by many official Companions and unofficial friends of the Community throughout the U.S. and the U.K.  And they continue to make solid contributions to Aliquippa and are clear-eyed in their determination to make plans for the ministry to continue even after they are no longer able to carry it out.

I am proud of my association with this faithful band of brothers and sisters and rejoice to sing with them their “Celebration Song:”

For our life together, we celebrate/ Life that lasts forever, we celebrate/ For the joy and for the sorrow,/ yesterday, today tomorrow, we celebrate/. For your great creation, we celebrate/ for our own salvation, we celebrate/. For the sun and for the rain/ through the joy and through the pain, we celebrate/. Ah! There’s the celebration/ Ah! There’s the celebration!/ Celebrate the whole of it!!! (C-213, Come Celebrate! songbook)





August 6, 2017

I’m always surprised when I discover how many Episcopalians don’t know that we have communities of monks and nuns in our church! Everyone knows of Religious Orders in the Roman Catholic Church, many are aware of Eastern Orthodox monastics, but it seems few realize that there are similar Anglican communities.

I was fortunate in that, growing up, a Franciscan brother made regular visits to my home parish. I still remember his brown toes peeking out from his sandals and rough habit as I knelt at the rail to receive communion from him!  Those same Franciscans made regular appearances at Seabury-Western where I went to seminary and helped me develop my very first Rule of Life, a pattern of spiritual disciplines and practices…most of which I still observe to this day.

I made annual retreats in monasteries over the years and actually became an Associate of the men’s Order of the Holy Cross, based in West Park, New York.  But my deepest connection with such communities came when I was asked to become the Bishop Visitor (a kind of official advisor) to the Sisters of the Transfiguration in Cincinnati.

I had been scheduled to lead their long retreat one year when, as it happened, they were looking for a new Bishop Visitor. My name was added to the pool and I ended up being selected and serving in that capacity for some 25 years!  The Diocese of Iowa even added to their number as Diana Doncaster (whom some of you know), a professor of communications at Loras College in Dubuque, tested her vocation there and took life vows maybe fifteen years ago.

Over the years, this Community of around thirty sisters have had teaching ministries in China, founded and continue to run Bethany School in Glendale, Ohio, oversee a recreational center in Lincoln Heights (a predominantly African American community near their Mother House), and provided a small nursing home for older sisters and their families as well as a medical clinic and school in the Dominican Republic. Recently, they converted the nursing home into a first-class retreat and conference facility called the Transfiguration Spirituality Center.

The Community of the Transfiguration takes its name and primary vocation from the experience of Jesus we heard about in the Gospel this morning and which we celebrate on August 6 each year.  Some New Testament scholars believe this is a “misplaced” Resurrection appearance like perhaps the accounts of Jesus “walking on water.”

But I’m convinced that this was likely an historical recollection of an experience in the earthly life of Jesus. An intense mystical experience he had while wrapped in prayer on the top of Mount Tabor.  It was an experience which changed him, and his disciples’ perception of him, forever.  It’s described well in the traditional Prayer Book Collect appointed for this day which reads like this:

”O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty…”

The Sisters pray this collect every evening at Compline and it sums up their vocation. Quite apart from their many good works and amazing ministries (in fact, the source of those ministries) is their choice to be delivered from the “disquietude” of this world by living in a community of poverty, chastity, and obedience in order to “behold (Christ) …in his beauty.”

One way they monitor their progress on this journey is by keeping the three words of their community motto ever before them. The three Latin words are: Benignitas…Simplicitas…and Hilaritas – Kindness…Simplicity…and Joy!

The Sisters seek, first of all, to be “kind”… to treat one another and everyone with whom they interact as “kin,” as members of the family – “kin-dness!” Next, they seek to live in simplicity, as free as possible from worldly attachments, the “stuff” we so easily surround ourselves with and which can equally easily distract us from the truly important things in life. Finally – and I love this! – they seek to live with Hilaritas…with hilarity…with joy! (You only have to listen to them kid each other and banter back and forth in their brief chapter meetings after dinner to know that these women live together, not only mostly happily…but more importantly with real joy!)

We don’t know exactly what happened to Jesus on that mount of transfiguration; as I say it was likely a mystical union so intense that his friends noticed it.  It transfigured him…and them! My 25 years as Bishop Visitor for the Community of Transfiguration allowed me the privilege of watching them undergo something of that same Transfiguration as they have grown in kindness, and in simplicity, and in joy.

Of course, such transfiguration experiences are not limited to monastics! All of us are called to be gradually transfigured into the image and likeness of Christ. And it happens to us in much the same way as it has happened to those beloved Sisters – by experiencing Christian community (much as we strive to be here at New Song), by a disciplined life of prayer and study, and by living that spirituality out in lives of service and commitment to the wider world.

Are we on that journey of transfiguration, my friends? Well, we could do worse than measure our progress by the motto of those Sisters –

Benignatas…Simplicitas…Hilaritas. Are you kinder this year than you were last? Do you live more simply? Are you more joyful? If so, you’re probably headed in the right direction.

If not…maybe  it’s time to find ways to spend a little more time on that mountaintop with Jesus — by recommitting yourself to this community,  in prayer and study, and in corporate worship.


And then, get ready to follow Jesus back down the mountain into the valley of this broken world. Where the real work waits to be done…

The Prosperity Of The Wicked

August 4, 2017

What family comes to mind when you read these words? Be honest now…

“Because I envied the proud, and saw the prosperity of the wicked:

For they suffer no pain, and their bodies are sleek and sound;

In the misfortunes of others, they have no share; they are not afflicted as others are;

Therefore they wear their pride like a necklace, and wrap their violence about them like a cloak.

Their iniquity comes from gross minds, and their hearts overflow with wicked thoughts.

They scoff and speak maliciously; out of their haughtiness they plan oppression.

They set their mouths against the heavens, and their evil speech runs through the world.

And so people turn to them and find in them no fault.

They say, “How should God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”

So then, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase their wealth.”

(Psalm 73: 3-12)

And what is their future? Well…

“When I tried to understand these things, it was too hard for me;

Until I entered the sanctuary of God and discerned the end of the wicked.

Surely you set them in slippery places; and cast them down in ruin.

Oh, how suddenly do they come to destruction, come to an end, and perish from terror!

Like a dream when one awakens, O Lord, when you arise you will make their image vanish”

(Psalm 73: 16-20)

May it be so. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus!