Devotional Thoughts

In Our Time of Waiting, COVID-19 Response

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IMG_1594As the saints of my Diocese all surely know by now, Bishop Mariann has called a two-week suspension of worship services and public gatherings at our parishes all across our Diocese of Washington. The Diocese of Virginia has taken a similar step. Bishop Mariann’s letter to the Diocese is found here, and let me simply affirm that this is not a move made from fear or panic, but a thoughtful service to our people and our communities. Our Bishops are showing wisdom, care and courage in calling for these suspensions.

In the meantime, we Christians formed in the Anglican tradition feel a loss, a real and authentic loss. We value our common prayer and worship, the prayer and worship which is shared among us as a faith community. This time of suspension is a time without that common prayer and celebration. In response to this loss we have many superb clergy across our Diocese and beyond sharing their wisdom and insight for online services and remote sharing, and the Diocese is compiling those resources on EDOW.org. Our Bishop is even popping up on Facebook Live!

To all these efforts I would add only this complimentary addition; as we work to meet virtually and continue our common prayer, let’s not forget that our life of common prayer was never meant to remove or negate our life of personal prayer. This just might be a fantastic opportunity for many of us to reengage our personal prayer lives in dynamic and meaningful ways. There is another important perspective to keep in mind: personal prayer is not really praying alone… we’re engaging with God and all those who similarly pray. Physical proximity with our community is warm, life-giving and central to who we are as Christians. Our connection goes much deeper than just our physical proximity. We are truly surrounded by and connected to a great cloud of witnesses.

There are a couple of resources I’d like to highlight…

There’s good stuff in the Book of Common Prayer! Morning, Noonday and Evening prayers are found beginning on page 37 for Rite I, and page 75 for Rite II. If you didn’t know, Rite I uses older expressions while Rite II uses more contemporary language. Much simpler devotions are found for morning, noon and evening beginning on page 137! There’s no shame in going simple, so maybe start with those devotions. Knowing what Lessons (scripture readings) to use in the daily prayers when prompted can be a struggle. I go online for any day’s readings at The Lectionary Page, or to an app on my iPhone, Electronic Common Prayer. There’s a nice online compilation of the prayers and readings here from our family in Province VIII! We also have a variety of prayers beginning on page 810 and one of my favorite prayers of thanksgiving on page 836. The entire Book of Common Prayer is available online.

Hour by Hour! This is a fantastic little book which simplifies the Daily Prayer Offices of the Book of Common Prayer into a week’s worth of daily Morning, Noon, Evening and Compline prayers. Compline is the late night prayer before bed. The beauty of Hour by Hour is that all the readings and prayers are right there, no page flipping or calendars required. It’s available in print or as an electronic book. It’s even a Nook book.

pray with youFinally, just a reminder that though we may suspend gatherings, we never suspend faith, mutual love and concern, or our deep connections to one another. Does your parish record worship services to post on YouTube or Vimeo for those who miss a Sunday? Go back and relive some of that worship when you need a lift. Go back and relive our amazing revival in January! If you need a moment of prayer and blessing with your Priest, contact your parish clergy to set up a phone call. I’d love to pray with you and bless you! Send me a note and I’ll call you. Of course, you don’t need a collar to pray with one another. Reach out to folks in your church you know would be encouraged to hear from you and pray with you.

AMDG, Todd

Feast of St. Ignatius 2019

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One of the great blessings of my spiritual life was journeying for a time with my dear and departed friend, Father Leo Murray SJ. He was my spiritual director for many years, though he preferred the term spiritual friend, and he lead me through several different shortened adaptations of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He even once took me through the complete Exercises. The adaptations of the Exercises are made for those of us who cannot take a month off of life’s responsibilities to go into retreat… instead, we make time in our busy daily lives for the prayers, readings, meditations and journaling.

Tomorrow, July 31st, is the Feast of St. Ignatius, and I always stop and say a grateful prayer for my friend Fr Murray as well as the work of St. Ignatius to orient us to the voice and movement of God in our lives. That’s what the Exercises are all about, hearing God.

I myself have written short one-week or one-month daily life adaptations, but more in the style of the Exercises, not following their content or flow. This summer I decided to engage the task of adapting the actual Exercises from St. Ignatius into something I could do myself in the course of a month alongside all my many responsibilities in daily life. This is audacious and maybe even a bit offensive to someone who is a Jesuit or who has spent decades devoted to the Exercises in their vocation, so let me briefly give a few caveats… I’m not a Jesuit, an authority on the Exercises, or the most experienced person you’ll meet with Ignatian Spirituality. But adapting spiritual wisdom into daily life is a passion for me. This is a humble effort is truly a labor of love, and a work in progress.

I’ve almost finished Week 1 of the four weeks in the Exercises and hope to be done with all four sometime in August. The Exercises are not intended to be a solo journey, but something shared between spiritual friends, and that brings me to a question: Would you be interested in sharing this journey with me?

I’m wondering if I have a few friends who would like to experience the Exercises in daily life, and check in with each other once a week to share the journey. We are each expected to be giving about a total of 30 minutes a day (15 in the morning and 15 in the evening) to this effort, Monday through Saturday, each week. It’s a commitment. Let me know if you’re curious!

AMDG, Todd

P.S. Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown has made Father Murray’s homilies available online! I never heard him preach in the life, we just had conversations together.

Ordination is Cool, But Not The Point

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Ordination of Deacons and Priests

Let’s get a little geeky on ecclesiology for a minute, hmmmm? I was recently ordained as a Transitional Deacon the Episcopal Church. Huh? By our Cannon Law (rules of the church) one must be a Deacon for six months before being ordained a Priest. Not all Deacons are on the way to be Priests, many are answering the call to serve the church in that unique and valuable vocation. God willing, I will move on with priestly vows in December of this year.

My ordination as a Deacon was pretty cool. It was at the Washington National Cathedral and several other amazing individuals were ordained Priests and one other as a Deacon at the same time. So, fresh from my vows as a Deacon and this past Sunday preaching in a shiny white collar and stole, I was intrigued by an article about some Capuchin monks electing a leader from among themselves who is not ordained. Their new leader is a lay brother, someone who has not taken Holy Orders, as it were.

The article linked above makes a great point that although this election breaks with their Canon Law, it is right in line with the spirit and founding of the Capuchin Order and it’s Franciscan roots, especially in St. Francis who was not a Priest and possibly not even a Deacon himself.

Does all this matter? Well, by Canon Law it does. And I would not like to be heard saying that Holy Orders and the vows we make at our ordination are without meaning or significance. Being ordained a Deacon enables me to do certain things in Episcopal worship in service to the Priest and the whole congregation. God willing, should I be ordained a Priest in December as planned, then I’ll have more responsibilities in worship and the daily life of the church. Our Capuchin brothers have given a perfect reminder though that the whole church is a priestly nation (1 Peter 2:1-10), a gathered holy people, all in and all called to the work of Christ and the Gospel in the world. In our own tradition we affirm this in our Baptismal Covenant to continue in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, prayers, repentance, proclaiming the gospel by word and deed, and seeking and serving Christ in all our neighbors by striving for their justice, peace and dignity. (Book of Common Prayer, pg. 417)

When I say that ordination is cool, but not the point, I mean exactly that… ordination is important, necessary in some respects and amazing to experience, but the church does not exist to ordain. The whole church exists to serve the world and to create a community of mutuality in care and concern for one another under God’s immense divine rush of love.

I’m grateful today for some courageous monks who have got me all reflective and thoughtful about our shared ministry across the whole church. Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit! Thanks be to God!

AMDG, Todd

Juneteenth 2019

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C6E077A0-7C27-4CE1-B09E-0BC972192E37Today is Juneteenth, and I urge you to stop for a moment and celebrate the end of legal slavery in the United States, the emancipation of our neighbors, and the victory of our country over the rebellious forces which threatened to tear it apart. Through great leadership, at great price and with tenacious hearts we kept our nation together and began the end of a terrible historical atrocity.

This is also a chance to recognize and repent that we so often move too slowly, resist the changes we need to make as a people and a society, and that we still have so far to go in realizing the full humanity and dignity of all people. If Juneteenth is new to you, it’s a celebration of the emancipation of the slaves, and a remembrance that freedom was ignored and resisted for years by some civil and State authorities after the Emancipation Proclamation. More can be found here Juneteenth.com, and across the internet with a simple search.

This year’s marking of Juneteenth is more meaningful for me as I was able on Monday to attend a screening of Emmanuel, a documentary movie about the nine lives ended in the hateful and racially motivated shooting at the Emmanuel AME Church four years ago to the day, in Charleston, SC. That was a difficult movie to watch, as the legacy of white supremacy and racial hatred was so clearly illustrated in the senseless murders and the face of a young man of our time, not any ancient past or even recent history. Our time.

The hatred, ignorance and racism which fueled the Emmanuel shootings should be a reminder to us that all too often words become wounds. The racism and white supremacist rhetoric we hear today across our country, online and sometimes from the highest levels of government must be unequivocally, vehemently and with all our strength rejected and repudiated. Until our courts are equitable in applying the law to all people, policing is no longer far more lethal and brutal towards our brown and black neighbors, and all people of our nation are free to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, let Juneteenth be a reminder that our work is not done.

1058FF77-4FB2-4AED-A9C2-044667A1BEA7And we can vote. The image to the right is of a button I made earlier this year as an exercise of empathy and reflection on privilege. It’s time to vote with our neighbor’s best interest in mind. We need to vote with empathy and a realization that political wins achieved at the expense of another’s civil liberties or freedoms is no win at all, but a loss for all. Let Juneteenth become part of your annual remembrance that we have begun the difficult work of equality, but still have so far to go. We can do this. We’ve shown what we are capable of, both good and evil. May we forge a future of greater hope and liberty for all.

AMDG, Todd

Good Friday Gratefulness

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biblical way fo the cross

It’s Holy Saturday and I’m supposed to be quietly waiting for Easter, focused specifically on the darkness of the tomb and the cost off the cross. Instead, I’m thinking about how grateful I am for the services yesterday, especially the long vigil we held from noon to 3pm.

The clergy and good folks at St James Episcopal Church in Potomac opened their hearts and minds to a new vigil exercise, different from previous years. Together as a community we followed the readings of the fourteen stations of the Biblical Way of the Cross as designed by the late Pope John Paul II. These fourteen stations are all built upon scripture instead of upon a mix of scripture and tradition. They are also accompanied by some amazing prayers!

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Carrying Christ’s heavy cross to the altar.

As we read, prayed and sang through the stations many volunteers placed pieces of a tableau at the altar for each one. At the end we had an installation of greenery, signs and elements of the crucifixion, each related to the passages we read. In the final station we placed a corpus upon the altar, a representation of the wrapped and buried body of Christ. 

Let me say honestly, a three hour vigil is a long time, wearying and taxing. I have such respect for my clergy colleagues (Meredith and Mary Margaret) who stood, vested and focused, for the lion’s share of three hours of liturgy and stations, just to uncomfortably kneel the rest of the time. I was on my feet as well, but I was at the back of the sanctuary directing the placement of the tableau pieces. I had a chair handy, but stood in solidarity with those on stage. 

I have heard good things from some who haven’t worked together to make such a tableau before, and I’m so happy that the images and art spoke to them. I am most moved by what we did for the stations in which Peter betrays Jesus and then later when Jesus forgives the criminal on the cross… we had a familiar image, a Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was made to be broken in two at Peter’s denial and then put back together at the moment Jesus forgives the dying criminal: a broken heart, and a healthy active heart.

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What a blessing. I am so grateful to have shared the time with the amazing souls at St James, grateful for the legacy of selfless love and devotion we find in Christ.  I am so blessed by God’s church. Easter will be that much sweeter in joy and celebration after such a rich Good Friday.

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Have a great Easter Sunday, beloved! 

AMDG, Todd

Beginning Lent 2019

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Sitting behind the altar yesterday, having received the ashes and having imposed the ashes for others, I found a quiet moment to flip over to a prayer in our Book of Common Prayer…

Prayers for the Church
7. For the Church

Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it
with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt,
purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is
amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in
want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake
of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer pg. 816

This prayer touched me, on the first day of Lent, in the wake of the recent divisive decisions and news from the United Methodist Church, in the context of the Church of Rome and many others finally facing up to sexual sins they have worked so hard to hide for so long… and I prayed it sincerely.

In case you don’t know, when Episcopalians pray or speak of the Catholic Church we mean the whole of the Church in all places and times, not just the Church of Rome. The word Catholic comes to us from the Greek katholikos which is a combination of kath and holo, throughout and whole.

The prayer resonated with me as a needed reminder that we must resist the mistake of equating the church with God, just as we must always remember that our beloved scriptures are not God. When the church fails, God has not. When scriptures fail, God has not. But it still hurts. In daily life it’s too easy to look to what can be seen or touched for our compass and foundation. And when those foundations shake, we fall apart. When our compass fails to point a way from pain to healing, we despair.

As I begin this year’s Lenten journey I’m feeling called to pray for more than my own transformation, but also for a transforming of the church, all of us, throughout the whole. We have fumbled with truths that should have been held tightly. We’ve too often  exchanged peace for power. We’ve ignored our neighborly responsibility to this world and its people. Reform us, God! Please, heal the hurting!

Version 2This morning I pray that our Mothering God would teach us to have broken and pliable hearts. I pray that the Holy Spirit, the spiritual presence of God living within each of us, would give us her wisdom and a deeper joy. I pray that Christ would truly be our spiritual food and daily sustenance, the One who animates us as we speak and act. I pray that the whole church throughout all of humanity will be courageous in its love and humble its following of the God who breaks down the barriers between us and frees us to love and serve one another. This is my Lenten prayer.

AMDG, Todd

 

Beginning With Gratitude

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prayer candlesA week ago I was blessed to preach again at St John’s Norwood Episcopal Church and I invited everyone to join me on an exercise, to begin each day with gratitude praying with the Book of Common Prayer on pg. 836… A General Thanksgiving. In case you don’t have a BCP, I’ll include the prayer here, and I invite you to read it aloud. It’s also available in the online version of the BCP…

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

My hope was that intentionally beginning each day with gratitude would help orient me toward seeing things each day in which I could give more thanks, and I would be better able to fend off the things which would move me toward ingratitude, spite or anger.

My reflections on the week include my joy and deep gratitude for my wife, with whom I often shared this prayer in the morning. I also reflected how she is in a season of accomplishment at her work, and we are constantly delighted by her reaching new goals and heights in her efforts at work and school. And I think I felt a deep connection to the community of Christ, not only in the Episcopal tradition, but in a broader sense, to the community of souls who see God’s love and touch in both the ups and downs of daily life.

I’ve decided to keep this up for another week. Want to go along? I lack the discipline to be doing this at the same time each morning, but at some point in each morning I make time to read and center myself in all of God’s goodness in my life. I’d love to hear of your practice and any reflections after the week!

AMDG, Todd