Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

The Souls Of The Righteous Are In The Hands Of God

November 3, 2017

All Souls’ Day 2017 Just a few words to remind us of the context in which we gather for this glorious Victoria Requiem: We’re in the middle of what I like to call the “All Saints’ Season.” Yesterday was All Saints’ Day when the church remembers the great heroes and heroines of the Christian faith – the Marys and Marthas, the Peters and Pauls, the Clares and the Benedicts who have left major impressions and great impacts on the faith we profess.

Today is All Souls’ Day, or the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed, when we remember “Grandma and Grandpa,” our Great Aunts and Uncles, and all those other relatives and friends who have gone before us and who now rest in eternity. Those are likely the ones for whom we have lighted candles and will remember in our prayers tonight.

And, this coming Sunday is sometimes known as All Saints’ Sunday when we gather up both categories of “saints,” likely being more faithful to the New Testament understanding of “saints” as all the baptized – those saints Paul writes to in Corinth or Rome or Galatia who were Christians, but who may have not have acted anything like the saints we find in stained glass windows or read about in the various hagiographies, lives of the saints!

Christians began making pilgrimages to the tombs of the martyrs and commemorating the anniversary of their deaths very early in the history of the church. By the 8th century All Saints’ Day was being observed regularly in England, our Celtic ancestors having perhaps chosen November 1st because that was the festival of Samhain in the British Isles, the day of the dead, when ancestors were remembered.

We don’t of course know exactly what is going to happen to us when we die. Anglican theology has tended to agree with the author of the Wisdom of Solomon tonight who says that “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them” (3:1) while we all await that Last Great Day about which St. Paul writes so vividly in tonight’s Epistle. (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)

We believe that our loved ones are with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven “because grace and mercy are upon (the) holy ones and (God) watches over (the) elect.” (3:9) But, one day, in the fullness of time, when things are set right again, once and for all, “those who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died…so we will (all) be with the Lord forever.” (4:17)

Jesus seems to agree with this scenario as he is quoted in John’s Gospel this evening as saying, “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25) There seems to be both a future and a present dimension to resurrection, and to our eternal salvation.

Most of us have experienced a sense of the presence of a departed loved one at some point. Indigenous people live with a conscious sense of being surrounded by the spirits of their ancestors. The Pueblo Indians call their mystical forebears “the kachmas. We call the same reality the “communion of saints”.

An image I sometimes used at funerals in my last parish was to suggest visualizing the communion rail as extending to eternity on either side. And, as folks come forward for Holy Communion to experience those departed loved ones kneeling alongside them. For, as we draw close to Jesus in the Eucharist, so we draw close to those who now rest more fully in Jesus.

Not sure exactly what image to suggest here at New Song since we come forward to receive our communion in stations. Perhaps to sense those faithful departed in line before us, making the sign of the cross upon our foreheads with the water of our baptism. Or, perhaps surrounding us all in a great circle, inviting us forward to receive the Lord in whom they rest.

However we may wish to think about it, surely it is good to observe a day on which we commemorate all the faithful departed. We have not been alone in this world. Those who have gone before us have prepared the way.

We will not be alone in eternity. For “the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seem to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace…their hope is full of immortality…because grace and mercy are  upon (the) holy ones, and (God) watches over (the) elect.”  (Wisdom 3:1-9 passim)

My Seminary On All Souls’ Day: A Reflection

November 2, 2017

As I continue my work as a life-long learner, I continue to be grateful for what was a really remarkable theological education I received at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois in the late 1960s into the 1970s. Never considered one of the Episcopal Church’s top academic seminaries, Seabury nonetheless had a solid history of preparing well trained and faithful parish priests. However, I have never believed that I received anything less than a top flight academic preparation as well.

I have been dipping back into Teilhard de Chardin who is experiencing something of a renaissance these days and I remember Professor Julian Victor Langmead Casserly waxing eloquently about the “Omega Point” and the “noosphere” as we read Teilhard’s The Divine Milieu and The Phenomenon of Man in his philosophical theology class.

In my work, many years later with the Lutherans, I was greatly helped by remembering and reflecting on the best course I ever had on The Epistle to the Romans taught by Professor Jules Moreau who made the theological concept of “salvation by grace through faith” fairly sing in his presentations, usually delivered without notes perched upon the corner of his desk. I believe we used Anders Nygren’s commentary as well as the classic by Karl Barth.

This week I opened my new edition of The Anglican Theological Review and began to read several articles on something called “The Theological Interpretation of Scripture” which is apparently gaining some ascendancy in the world of biblical scholarship today. And I remember an elective offered by Old Testament Professor Jack Van Hooser and New Testament Professor Fred Borsch entitled “Biblical Theology.” As I recall it was offered over pizza and beer at Fred’s house and explored a thematic approach to the whole Bible treating common themes like covenant and salvation and justice, looking for continuity across the centuries without for a moment neglecting the very specific contextual and historical contexts in which each of the authors worked. Back to the future?

I could go on and on including Professor David Babin’s enthusiastic introduction of the work then underway for a “new” Prayer Book and preparing us to use it pastorally in every situation as well as on Sunday mornings. David was also the best preacher on the faculty, delivering powerful but very brief “postils” as tightly constructed as a sonnet at every Friday morning Eucharist. He was, of course, homiletics as well as liturgics instructor and I have always been grateful for his encouragement and wisdom on the preaching life.

We were always counseled that the seminary task was not to impart a body of knowledge which would carry us once and for all through the years of our active ordained ministry. But rather, that they were providing us tools to become lifelong learners. I have tried to rise to that challenge and, on this All Souls’ Day, to give thanks for those giants who gave me those tools.

Laus Deo!

 

Because We Are Already One!

October 30, 2017

Since this little blog is called “That We All May Be One,” I had to share these wonderful thoughts from Ilia Delio, a Franciscan sister and scientist, from her book The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love.

I got this courtesy of Richard Rohr’s daily e-mail meditations which a number of you likely already receive. But, I just wanted to make sure you saw it!

Every human person desires to love and to be loved, to belong to another, because we come from another. We are born social and relational. We yearn to belong, to be part of a larger whole that includes not only friends and family but neighbors, community, trees, flowers, sun, Earth, stars. We are born of nature and are part of nature; that is, we are born into a web of life and are part of a web of life.

We cannot know what this means, however, without seeing ourselves within the story of the Big Bang universe. Human life must be traced back to the time when life was deeply one, a Singularity, whereby the intensity of mass-energy exploded into consciousness. Deep in our DNA we belong to the stars, the trees, and the galaxies.

Deep within we long for unity because, at the most fundamental level, we are already one. We belong to one another because we have the same source of love; the love that flows through the trees is the same love that flows through my being. . . . We are deeply connected in this flow of love, beginning on the level of nature where we are the closest of kin because the Earth is our mother.”

Isn’t that great?

Summarizing The Law

October 29, 2017

Jesus loved to play theological word games with Pharisees! Often this would happen as a result of the Pharisees asking Jesus a question (usually intended to trip him up, like when they asked him – in last week’s  Gospel — whether they should pay taxes to Caesar or not!). But in this morning’s Gospel, Jesus actually bates them with a question!

So, he asks, “Who is this Messiah you say you’re waiting for? Whose son will he be?”

“The son of David” (of course, you simpleton!) they seem to reply.

“But how then can David in Psalm 110 say, ‘The LORD said to my Lord (the coming Messiah), Sit at my right hand…’ The writer, David, wouldn’t call one of his sons ‘Lord’, would he? That would be against all the customs of our people! Better think again on that!”

And I love the way Matthew closes this little clashing of foils: “No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” No, I guess not!

Now Jesus knew that the Messiah was to be a descendent of King David. At least that was one of the views of the coming Messiah. But he was also sick unto death of the Pharisees’ obsession with purity laws and cleanliness and having the right family tree:  Respecting people because of their lineage, not because of their being created in the image of God.

The Pharisees loved to parse the Scriptures and prove to everybody that they, and only they, knew the correct interpretation; that is, what God really intended. So Jesus shows them the truth of what many of us know today: You can prove anything you want out of Scripture, provided you pick and choose the proof texts which will buttress your own position!

Jesus wanted to show the Pharisees (and us!) that you can get so lost in dogmatic and doctrinal niceties that you lose the very simple and basic message of the Scriptures themselves. Instead of getting sucked into an argument about taxation and just who ought to pay what to whom, Jesus just says “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s!” And then he lets us decide what the implications of that might be.

And today, when they ask him (in the first part of our Gospel reading) which commandment is the greatest, he astounds them all by saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment, and a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets!”

First of all, like many of the prophets before him, Jesus pretty well ignores the vast majority of the 613 laws and commandments scholars have identified in the Hebrew Bible in favor of the 10 Commandments, Decalogue, the Ten Words…. And then he even “simplifies” them into two – love God, love your neighbor. That’s a perfect “summary of the law” because the first four of the 10 Commandments have to do with loving God, and the last six have to do with loving one’s neighbor. If you love God, you’ll keep the first four; if you love your neighbor, you’ll keep the last six!

So Jesus draws from the rich tradition of the Hebrew Bible, but he does it in such a way that the few simple verses he cobbles together truly and accurately summarize what the whole Bible is trying to say! The whole history of Israel tells the story of a people struggling to love their God… and gradually realizing, over many centuries, that that also meant loving their neighbor. The first part of the Old Testament describes their up-and-down attempts to be loving and faithful to God; the later Prophets begin to challenge them to show that love by loving their neighbors (which turns out to be — all people!)

The Summary of the Law – so familiar to us Anglicans from the Prayer Book liturgy – is, of course, simple to remember; not so easy to carry out! So many things compete with our loving God and therefore putting God first in our lives these days. But, loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind means that God has to be considered, indeed put first, in everything we do.

We need to think about God in our business dealings. We need to think about God in our relationships and family life. We need to think about God in our politics! We have separation of church and state in this country, but there really is no separation between religion and politics, between our faith and how we live our public lives together. And that leads us to consider just how we might love our neighbor as ourselves.

Here we have to distinguish between what we might call “goals” and “strategies.” Christians may disagree about how to do tax reform, for example, but we should not disagree that everyone should pay their fair share for the common good. Christians may disagree about how much humankind is to blame for climate change, but we should not disagree that we should all do what we can to protect the planet, God’s good creation.

Christians may disagree about the scope of the Second Amendment to our Constitution, but surely we can agree that something must be done to curb the scourge of gun violence in our land. Christians may disagree about how to fix a broken immigration system, but we should not disagree that we are called to welcome the stranger and the sojourner and to protect refugees fleeing violence and death in the lands of their birth. We can disagree on the strategies. But not on the goals!

The goals are to love God…and our neighbors as ourselves. We can thank Jesus for “simplifying” the law and the prophets for us. But we will still spend our lifetimes learning specific ways to love our God and love our neighbor. It’s simple… but not easy. After all, it’s much easier to argue about who is “orthodox” or “politically correct” and who is not, than truly to get on with the business of loving our neighbors as ourselves!

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!