In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Sunday, August 29, 2010

For Proper 17C

This weeks offering comes from The Rev. Karla Jean Miller:

This is not what I am preaching on, but I love this parable by the Sufi poet, Rumi. A colleague, who is going through some really horrible chemotherapy, shared it on her blog. Like a parable of Jesus, every time I read it, there is something different to learn. So, in the spirit of the parable in today’s lectionary, I share this parable.

Jesus on the Lean Donkey by Rumi

Jesus on the lean donkey
This is an emblem of how the rational intellect
Should control the animal-soul.

Let your spirit
Be strong like Jesus.
If that part becomes weak,
Then the worn-out donkey grows to a dragon.

Be grateful when what seems unkind
Comes from a wise person.

Once, a holy man,
Riding his donkey, saw a snake crawling into
A sleeping man’s mouth! He hurried, but he couldn’t
Prevent it. He hit the man several blows with his club.

The man woke terrified and ran beneath and apple tree
With many rotten apples on the ground.
You miserable wretch. Eat.”
“Why are you doing this to me?”
“Eat more, you fool.”
“I’ve never seen you before!
Who are you? Do you have some inner quarrel with my soul?”

The wise man kept forcing him to eat, and then he ran him.
For hours he whipped the poor man and made him run.
Finally, at nightfall, full of rotten apples,
Fatigued, bleeding, he fell
And vomited everything,
The good and the bad, the apples and the snake.

When he saw that ugly snake
Come out of himself, he fell on his knees
Before his assailant.
“Are you Gabriel? Are you God?”
I bless the moment you first noticed me. I was dead
And didn’t know it. You’ve given me a new life.
Everything I’ve said to you was stupid!
I didn’t know.”
“If I had explained what I was doing,
you might have panicked and died of fear.
Muhammed said,
‘If I described the enemy that lives
inside men, even the most courageous would be paralyzed. No one
would go out, or do any work. No one would pray or fast,
and power to change would fade from human beings,’

so I kept quiet
while I was beating you, that like David
I might shape iron, so that, impossibly,
I might put feathers back into a bird’s wing.

God’s silence is necessary, because of humankind’s
Faintheartedness. If I had told you about the snake,
You wouldn’t have been able to eat, and if
You hadn’t eaten, you wouldn’t have vomited.

I saw your condition and drove my donkey hard
Into the middle of it, saying always under my breath,
‘Lord, make it easy on him.’ I wasn’t permitted to
Tell you, and I wasn’t permitted to stop beating you!”

The healed man, still kneeling,
“I have no way to thank you for the quickness
of your wisdom and the strength
of your guidance.”
God will thank you.”

Saturday, August 21, 2010

That Which Limits Us Is....

A reflection on the readings for Proper 16C: Hebrews 12:18-29 and Luke 13:10-17 by The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski

Perhaps you heard the story on the news this week about Jane Lang, who with her Seeing Eye dog Clipper leading the way, walked to the Morris Plains, NJ train station Tuesday to travel to the Bronx for a Yankees game. Although she’s taken this route before, Tuesday was different, because members of the Yankees baseball team joined her.

Manager Joe Girardi, pitchers Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson, Chad Gaudin and former Yankee Tino Martinez met the 67-year-old Lang at her home as part of the team's HOPE Week. HOPE Week (Helping Others Persevere & Excel) is a unique week-long community program aimed at bringing to light five remarkable stories intended to inspire individuals into action in their own communities. Initiated in 2009, HOPE Week is rooted in the fundamental belief that acts of goodwill provide hope and encouragement to more than just the recipient of the gesture. (

Lang has been blind since she was 22, but that hasn’t prevented her from going to games where she listens to radio broadcasts in the stands so she can react to the action. The Yankees have an Americans with Disablities Act director who knew of Lang and nominated her for the honor. "She's obviously a person who's very humble," Girardi said while waiting for the train. "She was saying she didn't think Hope Week was for someone like her." Gaudin, too, was impressed by Lang's approach to life. "She's excited about being alive ... That's the inspiration she gives everybody. "Lang said she did not let blindness negatively impact her life." You have to live in the world the way it is, not the way you wish it was," said Lang, who began regularly attending Yankees games, after learning the route via subway. She said she goes to about 30 games a year. (From the

Each of us here could probably share a story of someone we know who is struggling and has become a source of inspiration. Each of us here probably is or has at one time struggled as well with some sorrow or tragedy or unexpected misfortune. Life is unpredictable, things happen, we are all scarred in some way.

I’ve been thinking lately about a book I read many years ago by Joan Chittister called, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope: the Nine Gifts of Suffering. It’s not a book that everyone will like because she walks through this dark place of suffering with a keen eye to how our pain can also become a place of transformation and hope. Frankly, I think most of us would gladly give up the process of transformation in order to avoid the pain and suffering. But life is not like that. Suffering happens. Chittister says suffering usually comes when we least expect it and startles us out of a place of comfort and security. An illness, a death, a job loss, a car accident, some tragedy befalls us in such a way that we know that life will never be the same again.

Our Gospel reading this morning describes a woman with a spirit that has crippled her. She spent eighteen years in a place of deep pain, so much pain that she is literally bent over. Somehow she has found her way to Jesus and seeing her Jesus heals her. But that’s not the end of the story. Because .Jesus has healed this woman on the Sabbath and that upsets some people. Not because he healed but because he healed on the Sabbath. Jesus and these people each hold a different view of what should be done on the Sabbath. A different view of what can and cannot be done.

Likewise when it comes to our perceptions of who is able-bodied and who is disabled, of what can and what cannot be done, and what attributes constitute health and wellbeing we are confronted with different understandings. I recently spent some time with a woman who is blind. And I admit I was somewhat startled when this person said that being blind was her “most precious gift.”

Suddenly I realized that a person that I would call disabled because she or he is blind or sits in a wheel chair might be just as inclined to call me disabled because I don’t see or move the way they do.
If what my friend says is true, that being blind is her most precious gift, and if what Jane Lang says is true, that we must learn to live life as it is and not as we would wish, then what I call blind is really just another way of seeing the world. Being hunched over is just another way of living in and moving in the world. Seeing as I do and moving as I do is just another way of being in the world.

The woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years was bent over. We might think that her vision was limited, looking as she must have at the ground, at feet and knees and hemlines of clothing. But her vision led her to Jesus and he healed her of that spirit, and for that she gave thanks and praise to God.

Not long ago I had a conversation with another friend of mine, one who is suffering from a deep loss, which has changed her life forever. Though her pain is still deep and the loss still profound she feels something stirring inside, something else is coming to life, in addition to pain and suffering. She said something like, “God has a hold on me and won’t let go.” I get that, I’ve my own share of burdens and suffering. I think God has a hold on me too. I’m willing to bet God has hold on you as well. In the words we hear from Hebrews, “we will not be shaken;” because no matter what happens God has a hold on us.

So, on the one hand we live in bondage from the limitations of our perceptions. Those perceptions may be the result of some kind of pain or suffering. They may be how we think someone else ought to feel, given what we think is their life circumstance. On the other hand we live in the grip of a God who won’t let go of us. One limits our view of God’s love, healing, and grace, and the other opens us up to experience God’s love, healing, and grace in ever deepening ways. One is a human construct and one is a construct of God.

How we see and know God in our lives and in the lives of others is always limited by our own perception and vision and movement. But regardless of these limitations each of us is held in the grip of God. A grip that leads us to the feet of Jesus, where it becomes a grip of love that heals from the inside out and sets us free. From this grip, that which we think will limit us or others becomes our most precious gift, because its God who holds us, God who won’t let go, and even in that grip, God who sets us free.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Proper 15C

A reflection on the readings for Proper 15C by The Rev. Margaret Rose

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

All around me people are dying. Some tragically, like the 30 year old daughter of a colleague who took her own life or the healthy six year old who had a brain aneurysm. Some after long lives and short illnesses, like 104 year old Lottie, or the mothers of two other colleagues who died in their 90’s or Deputy to General Convention Charles Crump. And then last week were Ted Stevens and Dan Rostenkowski whose deaths played no personal role but whose passing mark the end of some political era.

There are those who are on their way—like my friend Emmett, who is now in advanced stages of cancer. He is a priest in New London and godfather to my daughter.

Mourning these losses brings to mind so many I have known and loved and offers the opportunity not only to reflect on what is really important in life, but also on the knowledge that death is where we will all find ourselves at the last day.

Awareness of these deaths returns me to that childhood and never answered question: So what happens when we die? Not physically of course but spiritually. None of us really knows for sure though some may claim so.

Most of us have our understanding of afterlife from some place deep in our childhoods---even if our highly educated selves have taught us something different. In times of grief and stress we often go back to that place if it was good or avoid and deny it at all costs if it was bad.

For my part, I grew up in the Episcopal Church, my North Carolina mother having come from a long line of Episcopalians. My father, however, had been a life long Baptist, and joined the Episcopal Church because my maternal grandmother would not allow what she at the time called “intermarriage”! On the side of the family, my paternal grandmother who lived next door, though disappointed at my father’s “conversion”, held to the hope that he might one day return. She kept close watch on us four children fervently hoping that she could bring some good and strict moral influences into our lives. (She would sit at our kitchen table and say, “Thought I would come over and see what the plutocrats were doing today,” thus clearly indicating that there was some debauchery going on in our household.) But I am ever grateful to her for those strict influences and for her theology regarding issues such as salvation and the afterlife.

There was no doubt in her mind, for example, that there was an after life. How you lived your life here on earth determined the benefits received either in heaven or, as she would say, “in that other place”. My mother, just as staunch on the Episcopal side of things was also clear about the after life, but without the heaven and hell theology. Being good now was an end in itself for her and we all knew it. For my mother, those who had gone before were now the saints and angels in heaven. Their power in heaven while not determinative of our future was nevertheless all seeing. The angels could see all that occurred with those of us on earth. They could be useful as comforters or sometimes guilt producing companions in daily life.

This theology served me well, not just in the daily life of my childhood years, but most particularly after the sudden death of my father when I was fifteen. After the grief and pain that accompanies the loss of a parent, this knowledge of the afterlife was both a comfort and a regular thorn in my adolescent side---or might I say hormones. There was no doubt in my mind that far more than in life, in death my father was aware of my every move. I pretty much give him the credit for keeping me on the straight and narrow at least until I was 21. (My father seemed to be sitting in the middle seat of the car whenever I went on a date!)

Later on, of course as I studied theology and scripture, I began to see this presence of my father in a different light. Less big brother (or in this case big daddy) is watching you , and more a sense of continued guardianship, the guiding presence of one who had once been responsible for my very existence continuing that care in a more spiritual way. With the passing of years and the passing away of too many of those I have known and loved, including my mother and 2 siblings, I have often thought of these well beloved friends and relatives as “my dead people” helping me through one difficult time or another or simply being present in the midst of the endurance that is required of daily life.

The memory of the lives they lived was a witness to their own courage. Their watching over was a witness to my own life. Perhaps this sounds more like an All Saints sermon than one for the middle of August. But this is in large part exactly what the writer to the Hebrews implies in the text for today. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witness, let us lay aside every weight and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus…” My father, mother, sister, brother, well beloved friends are as the epistle writer says, my cloud of witnesses, those who add to community and family God’s own self—surrounding me and us on every side in the sometimes perilous journey of life and faith.

This isn’t of course just Grandma Theology. It is Biblical. Throughout the Epistle to the Hebrews, the faithful are reminded that witnesses have been there in the hard times of God’s people. Remember the days of slavery; remember the days in the wilderness, the wars, the famines. And then remember Moses and Aaron and Miriam, Abram and Sarah and Hagar, remember Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah, Rachel. These leaders who endured are still present, as witnesses of faith in the hearts and minds of the people. These are the great cloud of witnesses even now encouraging us, God’s people, not to give up hope, in spite of Afghanistan or murder in Manchester.

I am reminded again and again as we pray the Eucharist—we remember the Saints and angels even as we ask God’s continued presence in our lives asking that we come to God’s table not for solace only but for strength and renewal.

And it isn’t just those Old Testament witnesses I mentioned earlier or the ones we know in our own lives, but a host who have been proclaimed and remembered by the church and elsewhere... The newest edition of what used to be called Lesser Feasts and Fasts, now Holy Women; Holy Men offers us stories of discipleship and witness to faith of a host of women and men. The new ones are from every age, biblical, like Lydia, Dorcas and Phoebe, or the 18th Century Molly Brant, a witness among the Mohawks, poet Christina Rosetti (1894) or more contemporary witnesses like Frances Perkins and Anna Julia Cooper who died in the 1960’s.

The Hebrews writer is letting us know that we do not go at discipleship alone. We are a community of biblical memory who even as we move out into new directions we stand on a foundation which promises to hold us up and a cloud of witnesses who surround us on every side.

Who are your witnesses? Aside from the ones we all have. But who are the ones in your own life in your own story. Call on them. Allow them to speak in these times. Allow their lives of courage or the choices they made to teach you, to claim you to offer you strength and joy for this day and in the days to come.

Maybe Charles Wesley says it best:
Let Saints on earth in concert sing with those whose work is done;
For all the servants of our King (remember it is 18th century) in
Heaven and earth are one. AMEN

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Proper 14C

a reflection Proper 14C by The Rev. Camille Hegg

Throughout the Bible the words, ‘fear not,” appear, encouraging us to trust rather than be anxious. “Fear not, little flock….” begins the gospel reading for this week.He also tells them to love one another. A new commandment
I grew up in a family that was very puzzling to me. They were all decent, kind, nice people, but there was an underlying suspicion that I detected and which confused me. I somehow decided that was no way to live and as I began to think theologically and reflect on my upbringing, I figured out it was fear and lack of confidence that I was trying to overcome. It is difficult to live in fear.
Certainly there are things to be ‘feared’, if and when they happen: rough water in the ocean if one is caught in them; icy roads, someone breaking into your house, more.
The key is not to be crippled by these but to use discernment to deal with them. I realize there are complex dynamics but if fear is our default position, our disposition becomes fearful and suspicious. We miss so much of the joy in life and the wonders of creation.
This week we marked the Transfiguration of Our Lord, August 6, in which Jesus shone with the brightness of the Spirit and gave his followers an insight into the power that would enable them, and us, to do his works.
Also on August 6 we marked the dropping of the atom bomb on Japan, and America became the only country to use nuclear weapons to kill in a war. I heard on public radio that there was a marking of that event in Japan this week and I understood the announcer to say that we sent no one to participate in that. I wondered: what would we say? “Sorry”?
Next week there is another feast day which has been added to our calendar. August 15 is the Feast of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian who was killed by a white segregationist who had a rifle. Daniels stepped in front of the shooter who was aiming at a young black girl. This was in Hayneville, AL, a small town south of Montgomery. I grew up in Alabama and remember when that happened forty-five years ago.
While I was a priest in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, people of the diocese, with the Dioceses of Alabama. Atlanta and others began a yearly pilgrimage to the site where he was killed. Imagine an August day in Alabama a group walking a good distance, from the church to the store, stopping along the way for prayer, to remember this young man. We are still dealing with racism today. I think it is a product of fear of ‘the other.”
There is a part of me that believes that the terrorists won on the beautiful day in September when planes and buildings were used as weapons. Many in America seem to live in fear and will engage in war so long as we are not attacked.
I sense fear at work in the way war has been discussed, assumed, as the solution. We lost 3000 people that day but now we have lost many more in these wars. And we never hear about deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq, military and civilian.

I see fear reflected in the mean-spirited attitude toward undocumented residents and their children and the uncharitable attitude of those who think a mosque should not be built near Ground Zero.
At a local and much less violent level, I have experienced people in churches unwilling to make the changes necessary to accommodate and welcome “the other” (visitors and new members) as a kind of fear.
I’m not equating these examples except to say that fear is at work in them. I’m saying that fear is operating and is insidious and we need to watch for it and then to try to discern in what it is based. Fear can transfigure us in unfruitful ways.
Let us evaluate our actions looking to discern fear and let us do so in the name of Christ. Let that discernment process transfigure us and so enable us to walk as Christ did and follow his commandment to love one another.