Archive for the ‘Ecumenical’ Category

No Hate, No Fear; Immigrants Are Welcome Here!

October 20, 2017

Yesterday afternoon I joined a couple of dozen others for a demonstration at the offices of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unit in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The rally was to “Free Asucena” and the details follow:

Asucena came to the United States for refuge, fleeing severe personal abuse in Guatemala. She turned herself in at the border, and the U.S. government granted her permission to enter and to seek asylum status.

She has cooperated with ICE and is pursuing her asylum case in Iowa. But, at one of her scheduled check-ins, ICE unexpectedly detained her and refused to set bond for release. What shocking and heartless treatment for an abuse survivor seeking asylum, with a clean record and cooperating with the government!

When we arrived for the demonstration (which had been requested by Asucena’s young lawyer) we were delighted to hear that, due to public outcry such as ours, ICE had changed its position and approved her release (after a terrifying night in jail) on a $5,000 bond which she was, fortunately, able to raise. I am sure that it was no easy task putting together even that amount of money from friends and supporters. But she is safely at home this morning.

We marched around the block behind banners and with chants such as the one above, positioned ourselves in front of the ICE office building where we heard an update on her case from the lawyer. Next steps are for her to await a court date (which could be as late as next August!). Can you imagine the anxiety she will experience over those many days, weeks, and months?

Several brief addresses followed. I said something like, “My name is Christopher Epting. I am the retired Bishop of Iowa and I’m here because our faith tradition is sensitive to the plight of the strangers and sojourners in the land and therefore we will always stand with immigrants and refugees such a Asucena. We are sometimes called ‘witnesses of Christ.’ We are also ‘witnesses for Christ’. We are his eyes and ears and we are watching for and with him. ICE, we are watching!”

We must hold our government, and in this case the Immigration and Customs Enforcement arm, accountable to basic values of dignity and fairness. Join us as you can, wherever you are.

WHY ARE WE KILLING EACH OTHER?

October 3, 2017

That was the title of an NPR sequence this morning after the horrendous massacre in Las Vegas. It is an important question which set me thinking. Why are we?

It’s not all about racism (even though, God knows, America’s “original sin” is racism) because lots of the shooters, over the years, have been white and their targets have not necessarily been people of color. It’s not all about poverty (even though income disparity in this country has never been wider) because mass murderers are rarely at the bottom of the income ladder.

It’s not all about mental illness (even though much more could be done in this area — another casualty of our broken health care system) because there is no evidence that Americans have a higher percentage of folks under emotional and mental distress than any other nation on earth.

No, the only unique factor that I can discern leading to the incredibly high number of mass shootings and rampant gun violence in general is the easy availability of firearms and particularly those assault-style weapons only designed to be used in wartime by the military or perhaps in extreme circumstances by a Special Weapons and Tactics unit of local police departments.

Please do not jump to the tired cliche about people killing people, not guns; or the fact that if a nut wants to kill someone, he (and it is almost invariably a “he”) can just drive a vehicle at high speed onto a crowded sidewalk. As true as that is, you cannot kill 60 people with a truck. Nor am I interested in the plea not to become “political” on the day after a tragedy such as this one because our attention should be focused on the victims and their grieving families.

As I stated in yesterday’s Facebook post, “It is possible both to pray for, grieve with, and mourn the victims of the Las Vegas shooting AND, AT ONE AND THE SAME TIME, call for a complete ban on assault-style weapons except for the military and, perhaps SWAT teams on police departments. Prayer and action are not mutually exclusive and this has NOTHING to do with partisan politics unless someone chooses to make it so.”

Chief among those who “choose to make it so” are members of the National Rifle Association (NRA). My wife posted today the amounts of campaign contributions the NRA has given just to Iowa politicians.

  1. Senator Chuck Grassley (R) $27,000
  2. Rep. Steven King (R) $20,403
  3. Sen. Joni Ernst (R) $9,9004
  4. Rep. David Young (R) $9,905
  5. Rep. Rod Blum (R) $8,450

Total  approximately $76,000. And you wonder why we cannot pass common sense gun control in this country? And it is not just the money. Each one of those 76,000 dollars represents a number of vote in Iowa elections, people who support the NRA and its insane p0licies. Our politicians, who desire nothing more than to be re-elected and retain their hold on power are terrified to buck these constituents.

I have spent my entire life trying to win the hearts of men and women to accept the love and grace of the God who created them and to respond to that awareness by loving their neighbors. I have obviously failed in that task as have my sisters and brothers who join me in calling themselves Christians.

Until we can get our act together and find a way to convey the good news of God’s love in such a way that people can actually hear it, can you just help me do something that would at least lessen the impact of our failure?

Get The Guns Off Our Streets, For God’s sake!

 

 

Non-Violence In The Age Of Trump

September 23, 2017

In the age of Donald Trump, when violent, bullying and abusive language and behavior seems increasingly encouraged and accepted across our nation, I invite you to join me in embracing Franciscan Richard Rohr’s “Center for Action and Contemplation” in making these vows of non-violence…come what may!

Practice: Vow of Nonviolence

Years ago, the Center for Action and Contemplation staff, volunteers, and friends were invited to say this vow together at an outdoor mass on the Feast of John the Baptist. Today I renew my commitment to nonviolence and invite you to make this vow your own as well.

Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. . . . You have learned how it was said, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy”; but I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven. (Matthew 5:9, 43-45)

Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus

  • by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;
  • by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;
  • by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;
  • by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;
  • by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;
  • by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.

God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it. [1]

These vows start very helpfully by acknowledging the violence in our own hearts. As our own frustration builds, on a seemingly daily basis, it is easy to begin returning evil for evil, snarky comment for snarky comment, half truths for fake news. We must look within, find that peace which passes all understanding, and let our words and actions flow from that place.

It may then be possible to accept suffering without inflicting it upon others, practice non- violence in word and deed, live simply and centered, while at the same time taking bold action to resist evil whenever and wherever we find it.

I make these promises today.

Will you join me?

 

Celebrate The Whole of It, Part Two

September 16, 2017

Since returning from my visit to the Community of Celebration which I wrote about in this blog on August 16 (“Celebrate The Whole of It!”), I have spent some time re-reading some of the literature covering the birth, growth, and development of this modern-day religious community. That would include two books by the founder, The Rev. Graham Pulkingham, Gathered For Power and They Left Their Nets which describe the early days of charismatic renewal at the Church of the Redeemer in Houston and the community which began to develop out of that movement.

The third book was This Is My Story, This Is My Song by Graham’s wife, composer and musician Betty Pulkingham, providing her perspective on those years as did community member Maggue Durran in her The Wind At the Door documenting their time in England and Scotland. The final book I read was a fine summary of their whole history up to the present day. It is called Following The Spirit by an English priest, Philip Bradshaw. He and his wife Margaret are still members of the Community of Celebration and live in London, keeping the community’s witness alive in the U.K.

This history, covering nearly half a century, reminds me of some my own, being introduced to the charismatic movement in the late 1960s and early ’70s, continuing to grow spiritually and thereby shedding some of the more fundamentalist tendencies which accrued to the movement (though not so much the Community of Celebration) but always appreciating the renewed worship, disciplined prayer life, and the family and community-centered emphasis of this band of pilgrims.

I experienced their music first in the Diocese of Central Florida and later invited them to lead the worship at a diocesan convention and conduct missions in the Diocese of Iowa while I was bishop here. I kept up with them over the years and some fifteen years ago was asked to serve as their Bishop Visitor now that the community was based in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania being a praying, witnessing, and prophetic community in the heart of this rust-belt former steel town and assisting in its restoration and re-birth.

Like many monastic and religious communities, Celebration has seen declining numbers in recent years. They no longer expect a restoration of their community life as it once was, but have begun making plans to transfer the work to others in Aliquippa after they are no longer able to keep things going. For the present, they still work hard, worship together three times day and in a joyous Saturday evening Eucharist in their beautiful little chapel. They continue a ministry of hospitality and are involved in the neighborhood, the diocese, and even the national Episcopal Church.

I believe their contribution to the liturgical life of the Episcopal Church is often under-appreciated or even unknown. They were ahead of the times in liturgical renewal, involving lay persons as well as clergy in worship leadership, experimenting with contemporary language and music but always within the structure of the Eucharistic liturgies and the Daily Offices. Without groups like The Fisherfolk (their traveling music  group’s name) I do not believe there would be musical resources like Wonder, Love, and Praise, Lift Every Voice or even supplemental liturgical texts such as Enriching Our Worship in the Episcopal Church.

One need only look at the 1982 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church to see music (“Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord” and “I Am The Bread Of Life”) and even service music like S-247, a setting for the Magnificat) written or arranged by Betty Pulkingham. There are beautiful ballads by Wiley Beveridge and Psalm tones by Kevin Hackett still being used Sunday by Sunday in the U.K. and here.

They were on the cutting edge, but always occupied a position Richard Rohr calls today  being “on the outside of the inside,” fully recognized as congregations or communities in the Anglican Communion, but pushing the boundaries in helpful and challenging ways.

I am grateful this day for the Community of Celebration’s witness in my own life and in the life of the wider Church.

Be My Guide To Know Your Path

September 4, 2017

When I was elected Bishop of the Diocese of Iowa in 1988, I knew that my world was about to change in more ways than one. I was moving from a growing diocese in Central Florida to a demographically challenged one in the Midwest. I was coming into a totally different ministry than anything I had ever experienced before (contrary to what some believe, being bishop is not like being rector of an even larger parish; it is much more complicated than that). And, I was leaving a wonderful support system of friends and colleagues and, most of all, a trusted spiritual director.

Among the first things I did was to contract for monthly sessions with a young clinical psychologist whom I had met while he interviewed me as part of the screening process and medical/psychological exams required of bishop candidates. I liked him very much and he agreed to let me check in with him regularly to see if being a bishop had made me any crazier than I already was! The next search was for a spiritual director.

One of the priests in the Diocese of Iowa suggested Sister Mary Dingman who was then about seventy years old and a sister of the School Sisters of St. Francis out of Milwaukee. For a number of years then, she and a series of Jesuit colleagues ran something called “Emmaus House” in a struggling urban neighborhood in Des Moines. Mary and her colleague opened the house for retreats and quiet days, offered a daily mass, and often provided a simple lunch for their guests. They also engaged in spiritual direction and led retreats and conferences all over the Midwest.

I made an appointment to see Mary and we hit it off immediately. She was one of those deeply-grounded, gentle, progressive spirits which one can find in so many Roman Catholic women’s Orders. For the next twelve years, I made almost monthly “days of recollection” at Emmaus House. I would arrive early in the morning, be assigned a simple room, and spend the rest of the day reading, sleeping, praying, journaling or whatever else I needed to do to refresh my body and soul. In the afternoon, I would meet one-on-one with Sister Mary and she would gently listen, guide, encourage, and sometime challenge me to take the next steps on my spiritual journey.

Mary walked with me through diocesan crises, dealing with clergy sexual misconduct and putting in place procedures to handle such tragedies, wrestling with whether or not I should let my name be submitted as a candidate for Presiding Bishop (I had been asked by several as Ed Browning’s tenure came to an end), and finally — most significantly — the sudden death of my wife of thirty-two years, the grieving period that followed, and the putting back together of my life in a variety of ways in the following years.

I lost touch with Sister Mary a bit during the nine years that my new wife Susanne and I lived in New York, but got back in contact with her (now officially “retired”) when we moved back to Iowa as part of the “regional-ization” of some staff positions at the Church Center in 2009. We did not resume the same spiritual direction relationship, but simply met together, as dear friends, every so often when I would drive down to the little town of St. Paul, Iowa for coffee and conversation.

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by a niece of Mary’s and told that she was very weak and might not have long to live. The next morning I drove to St. Paul and found her sitting up in her recliner with a nasal oxygen catheter, but strong enough to have a brief conversation, a prayer together, and a gently kiss as I departed. On August 26 at 1:15 in the morning Mary’s spirit-filled heart gave out and she died.

Again, I was notified immediately by the family and was able to attend a Memorial Mass for her at St. James Catholic Church in St. Paul on Saturday September 2. Her funeral and burial the day before had been in Milwaukee at the Mother House of her Order. In St. Paul, I was welcomed warmly by the family who seemed almost as glad as I was that I had been able to see her and tell her how much I loved her and valued our friendship in those last days. The priest who presided at her Memorial Mass was kind enough to mention that “the retired Episcopal Bishop of Iowa” was among the many ecumenical guests and colleagues in the congregation.

I quite literally do not know what I would have done without the ministry of this devoted sister. Perhaps this prayer from the School Sisters of St. Francis which graced her service bulletin says it best:

Be my guide, God of love/ Lead me daily to search my heart.

Be my guide to know Your path./ That I may follow You each step of the way.

Grant me courage to trust and risk/ That I may have peace on my path to You.

Amen.

 

 

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 http://www.communityofcelebration.com).  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)

Indeed!

 

 

TRANSFIGURATION DAY

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!