Thursday, September 26, 2013

Seeing Christ - where goodness is conspicuous only for need of it.

It is a great gift to be able to see Christ in another human being. In some, he is clearly visible to us. In other, his image is faint - the scars they bear otherwise obscure him from our sight. But the gospel teaches us clearly, he is there.
Christ himself said though, that is it precisely in these latter folk that we should most diligently search for his presence. Jesus is Lord not only of the good and the beautiful, but also of those whom we might not expect to communicate his presence. The One who allowed himself to be betrayed and abandoned by people who called themselves his friends is not surprised by our sins and unloveliness. In the end, it is clear that he proved stronger that the worst they could do. Sin and betrayal are not match for Christ.
So just how am I supposed to see Christ in those less than lovely in my sight? I think this is made possible by becoming familiar with him in the expected places: church, prayer, chatting with other disciples. By remaining fervent in intercessory prayer, that prayer helps me to remember those in any need or trouble and helps me to make common cause with them. I learned a while back that it is near impossible genuinely to pray for someone and retain a feeling of distance from them for very long. The more familiar we become with the image of Christ, we will recognize him even in places where goodness is conspicuous only for the need of it.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Need for Advice in the Spiritual Life

In our daily life we often realize the need to consult someone when we feel we are not equipped or capable of solving a certain problem or situation.
For example,
  • When we are sick, we seek a good physician or a specialist in the medical field to help us heal and we follow his/her advice.
  • When our car breaks down, we seek the help of an auto mechanic and we follow his advice on how to take care of the car.
  • When a court case is looming large ahead of us, we seek the advice of a lawyer and follow it meticulously.

These are a few examples of when we seek the advice of others. In cases like these, we readily accept that we are not experts in the field and are even willing to pay large amounts of money to an expert that can assist us.
Yet when it comes to spirituality and our spiritual life & growth, which is the main reason why we are born & baptized, we more often than not think that we know what is spiritually best for us. We often fail to seek out expert advice on specific spiritual matters, especially in the arena of spiritual practices.
So why do we so often resist taking guidance on our spiritual practice?
Some of the reasons may include:
  • We feel that Spirituality is deeply personal and others will not be able to guide us.
  • We do not know for sure who we should listen to.
  • We simply think that only we know what is best for us.

In order to overcome these obstacles in developing our spiritual lives we should probably keep the following points in mind.
  • Just like any other field where we require an expert, in our spiritual journey too we need guidance else we can waste a lifetime walking down a wrong spiritual path. As a result we can stagnate or even deteriorate in our spiritual practice.
  • Spirituality is deeply personal and each of us needs to find our individual way to God. However we still need an understanding of spiritual principles and frameworks in guiding our decision-making choices in spiritual practice. To learn this we need to listen to others who have already walked a spiritual path that knowingly or unknowingly conforms to the basic principles of spiritual practice.

If our desire to progress spiritually is strong, genuine and unbiased, this itself will attract the appropriate person in our life who will be able to help us progress spiritually irrespective of where we are in the world. This is according to the old adage that ‘one should not look for a teacher; the teacher will appear when the student is ready’. In the meantime, one easy avenue for guidance can be private confession, a confidential, non-judgmental time when God's grace is available to all who seek it.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How long, O Lord, how long?

It's happened again. An act of unspeakable violence perpetrated at the very heart of our national government. But where is the outrage? Where is the anger? Had this been done by a group stereotyped as terroristic, their would be calls for retaliation and for war - punitive strikes and the like. Alas, because   12 innocent people were executed at the whim of what increasingly seems to be a deranged citizen, we look the other way. In the newspaper this morning, an article noted that the alleged perpetrator was under the radar because the warning signs, so clear in hindsight, rose just short of the standard that would keep him away from firearms that amounted to a weapon of not so mass destruction. Before you get all up in arms, I am a firm supporter of the Constitution and all its amendments. However, as a student of individual rights and their regulation (the topic of my doctoral dissertation), I also am very aware that with each and every right we have there is an equal and opposite responsibility and obligation to be exercised by those who seek to exercise that right. Rights do not exist in a vacuum. They are exercised within a free society. When those rights begin to present a clear and present danger to that society, especially its innocents, then regulation by governing authorities is called for. In short, no right is absolute.

Could the massacre at the Navy Yard have been avoided. I am not so sure. BUT I can say affirmatively that it is high time we had a rational and honest discussion about the prevalence of guns in our culture, the nature of the arms we bear, the threat they present to society at large, and how we can get a handle on a culture that sees violence as a form of strength and peace-making as weakness. The fact that a mere technicality (the prohibition of sales of assault rifles to non-state residents in Virginia) kept this soul from obtaining even more lethal weapons makes the point. One mass shooting per month is too many (one is too many). Regulation CAN and WILL decrease gun violence. It's time, Lord, it's time.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Step 4: A searching and fearless moral inventory.

This year, the Feast of the Holy Cross occurred on a Saturday, which led me (I am ashamed to say) to put off my reflections for another day. But when I finally got round to it, something came to mind while reading the Gospel lesson assigned for the day, which, in part says: "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12: 32). This passage is related to an earlier passage in John (3:13-17) when Jesus referenced Numbers 21:4-9. Here God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and raise it up on a pole so that those who looked on it would be healed. At first, this action seems to have yielded to bald superstition. How can the people be healed merely by looking upon a bronze image? 

The incident in Numbers begins, typical of what was happening among the Israelites in the wilderness. Only three days journey after God led them through the Red Sea, they were grumbling about the foul tasting water.  It seems that grumbling plays a major role in the story of the Exodus. Against he backdrop of the people's grumbling, we see the revelation of many important themes: waiting on the Lord, patience, faith, forgiveness, hope, and self-discipline. 

These themes, however, commonly rest upon the bedrock of honesty and compassion. If we are not honest with ourselves, we begin to manufacture false hopes, to make selfish demands, and to live in a fantasy world devoid of reality. In the story outlined in Numbers, Moses gets to the bottom of Israel's distress and demands utter honesty from them. "Look," he seems to say, "look at what you are and what you are doing. Look the evil straight in the face."  Thus, he made an image of their sin and their punishment and mounted it on the pole. 

The Step 4 in any 12-Step Program requires those seeking healing to make "a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." That's exactly what Moses was calling Israel to do. And it is exactly what Jesus requires us to do each time we look at the cross, especially a crucifix. "Look at your sin and the punishment you have wrought," it seems to say. The cross in its less exalted and triumphal forms, reminds us that to continue growth in the Christian life, we need to make a a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. If upon the cross we find our brutally honest self, sinful and ungrateful, we also find ourselves closely united with Jesus and Jesus with ourselves. If we look upon the cross with this kind of faith, we are healed and saved. By accepting this union of our sinful self with Jesus sinless self, to perceive such love on Jesus' part that he looks like ourselves and takes our burdens upon himself -- all this requires deep faith.  Strangely enough, this kind of faith is less about our belief in Jesus' total divinity and it is about our faith in Jesus' total humanity. We arrive at our salvation by our intimate union with Jesus, by recognizing ourselves for who we truly are and then by being drawn to gazing upon the Crucified One and recognizing ourselves there with Him.  

Friday, September 13, 2013

The beginnings of servant ministry

In Jesus' day, the role of servant had as its central feature the setting aside of autonomy. In most cases the loss of personal autonomy was not a voluntary thing - a person was born into it or forced into it. Regardless of how the servant became a servant, the servant's first duty and the first thought of the day was about himself but about her master. The servant's well-being did not exist apart from that of his master. This situation differs greatly from our dominant cultural understanding where individualism is the norm. 
On the other hand, we often enter relationships in which we yield out individualistic desires. Marriage is one; and so is parenthood. In these relationships, we perform many tasks and live out attitudes we would do for many others we encounter. We do them out of love. When individualism infects these relationships (selfishness, self-centeredness) they begin to disintegrate. In short, love makes us servants of those we love. Almost everyone experiences this kind of living in a spirit of joy. 
There is something in most people that wants the barriers involved with self-interest to fall away-at least in limited form. If this kind of love leads to a form of servanthood rooted in Christ, how joyful we might become as we extend ourselves not only to our immediate family, but the members of our faith family and eventually to the world!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

You called on me in trouble, and I saved you . . . (Psalm 81:7)

The 30+ years I have served in the Church have seen a great deal of change. Change, whether for good or ill, always equals stress. The issues we confront are more often than not the same ones that confront the society in which we live. Sometimes they generate high emotion, and this can make the the stress even worse. Confronting these issues can place well meaning people on opposite sides or lead to a perceived (or real) betrayal of trust. 
I know that one of the things that happens when trust has been betrayed (or even the perception of same) people can harden their spirits. We become suspicious and fearful as we work through that betrayal.  That's a natural reaction - we simply want (and often need) to protect ourselves. In our Church, in our nation, or, indeed, in any human society, however, we tend to turn upon the weak, the poor, the stranger, when we ourselves feel insecure. 
I pray that I am one of those that continues to trust in God, even when human beings let me down. I want to be someone who can encourage that trust in those committed to my care. 
I know that I can not control the behavior of other human beings, but I want always to be someone who is willing to move beyond disappointment and fear to embrace the hope that Jesus continuously offers us. Rather than "circle the wagons" in a spasm of self-protective fear when confronted with unexpected change, I pray that I, that we, can open our hearts to new possibilities with every change that comes are way.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Back to normal?

Now that we have all celebrated the 30th Anniversary of Jubilee Ministry in the church with our Presiding Bishop, the parish talks an opportunity to catch its collective breath so that things can get "back to normal." But thinking about that, I wonder just what that means for us? More often than not, we see normal as merely, more of same, without much change. While that may be desirable at some level, it is not the call of the Gospel. In that sense, getting to "normal" is to be in a continual flow of action and change. God does not sit still. God is always about the business of creating, redeeming, enlivening. We cannot afford to do less. Must we be as active as God? I hope not. I think we are given a reprieve in that God recognizes us a mere creatures - creatures that need a break from time to time. God does not imagine that such a state is the normal course of affairs, however. Thus, if we want to get back to normal, we can take a break from all the hustle and bustle of a special event, but we can't forget that the work of the Kingdom is an "ever flowing stream." AS St. Francis is to have said to his followers, "All the work we have done till now is but nothing. Let us begin yet again!"