A Life In Faith and the Lorica of St. Fursa

(My faith is an important part of my life.  I do not set up my life or my beliefs as anything other than my understanding of the Divine.  If they shine some tiny light on your journey then I will be happy for us both. YMMV)

A few years ago, I was given the chance to take a sabbatical. If you’re not familiar with the term, it is time away from the job that is often associated with some course of study or self-improvement. It’s not a vacation, but a time to recharge batteries while you grow professionally. It was an amazing time for me.

My study was on some of the foundations for prayer in the Anglican tradition. This was new territory for me, as the churches I grew up in didn’t spend much time on things like this. As a youth minister, I was growing concerned about some of the gaps in the faith foundations of many of the young people in my ministries. Those same gaps were evident in a lot of adults as well. So, this was “removing the plank” in my own eye time.

Triquetra - Holy Cross Monastery

I discovered this triquetra while on the retreat at the end of my Sabbatical. Holy Cross Monastery on the Hudson River

I learned a lot during that sabbatical. I continue to be fascinated by the Rule of St. Benedict, a system of living designed for monastics. I expected it to be austere and perhaps a little grim. Instead, it was concise and even a bit funny. There’s a rule for what to do when your superior tells you to do an impossible task! Benedict knew real life.

Then there’s Julian of Norwich, one of the great English mystics. Her reminder that “All will be well” has become a touchstone in times of trouble.

But I particularly fell in love with a prayer, The Lorica of Saint Fursa. A lorica is a protective prayer. Probably the best known is “Saint Patrick’s Breastplate”.

We don’t know much about Fursa (also called Fursey). Legend tells us that he might have been an Irishman who came to England. The stories say that he was respected for his holiness.

What strikes me about this prayer is how it involves all the senses. This isn’t a prayer solely from the mind or heart. It is an all-encompassing sensory response to God’s presence. This is the immanent Divine, surrounding us in all things and at all times. That we can engage with the holy through any and all of our senses is a tradition of long standing. I think it’s one that the modern church seems to forget. We do sight and sound and don’t consider anything else. There is a richness that is lost along the way.

This prayer is a wonderful expression of my understanding of the Divine. No part of us is apart from the relationship. No part escapes God’s attention. That’s pretty cool, I think.

The Lorica of St. Fursa

The arms of God be around my shoulders,

the touch of the Holy Spirit upon my head,

the sign of Christ’s cross upon my forehead,

the sound of the Holy Spirit in my ears,

the fragrance of the Holy Spirit in my nostrils,

the vision of heaven’s company in my eyes,

the conversation of heaven’s company on my lips,

the work of God’s church in my hands,

the service of God and the neighbor in my feet,

a home for God in my heart,

and to God, the Father of all, my entire being.

Peace

J

 

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Faith – Why Do Church?

This past year, I was honored to be asked to sponsor a young friend for Confirmation. At the beginning of the process, I took him out to lunch so we could talk about what he needed from me. The question he was pondering was this:

“Why do we do church? Why do we need to gather together as part of our faith?”

I may have changed his words a little but I think I have the concept right. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

This is a quintessentially American theological question. I’m not sure any other national culture has placed individualism as much at the center of our identity. We want to believe, against all evidence, that we can “go it alone”. So, naturally, we pull against the idea that we need a group or organization.

It brings to mind another discussion from years ago. Are we “American Christians” or “Christian Americans?” While they may seem the same at the surface, the order of the words is of vital theological importance. The first word serves as a “modifier”, it changes our understanding of the word that follows it. So, is our “American-ness” modifying our faith, or is our faith modifying our “American-ness”? There’s an impulse to put our faith in the “center”, that we are Christians who are Americans. I think that’s backwards. The very essence of a life in faith is one that changes who we are, that “modifies” us. To allow our national culture to modify our faith places the importance in the wrong place.

So our call together will stand against our cultural individualism. And that’s a good thing. Overemphasis on the individual results in an inward, self-centered focus. The opposite of what a Christian life in faith does. (This is true for most religions of the world. But it’s not appropriate for me to speak for traditions other than my own.) Christianity does not call us to me, me, me. Over and over, it is clear that the call is to us, us, us.

If we are to take care of ourselves first and foremost, then the men who passed by the beaten man in the parable of “The Good Samaritan” did fine. The disciples who were going to send away the crowds during the feeding miracles were right to weigh their burden against the needs of the many. There is certainly no need for Stephen and the order of deacons in the Acts of the Apostles if it’s every person for themselves. Over and over we are shown examples of believers coming together.

So, there’s our first reason. Scripture clearly and repeatedly models a life together. A life that is outwardly directed and otherly directed.

That’s probably all the answer we should really need. Scripture clearly shows a model for life. A model of a body drawn together. But the American personality isn’t one to simply accept authority. The inevitable next question is “Why?”

Why does Scripture point us to this model? What advantage is there, what do we gain? If I might borrow a term from the business world, a faith community is a “force multiplier.”

A force multiplier allows you to get more results from the same or less effort. In simplest terms, “many hands make light work”.

A life in faith works the same way. The work of learning is easier when you are surrounded by other students. It means that every person doesn’t have to start at the beginning and discover everything from scratch. It means that we are not alone in doing the work that we are called to do as we try to improve the world. And it means that we are not alone in times of sorrow or times of joy. Our burdens can be shared. Our happiness can be magnified.

Perhaps most especially in worship can we see the effect of the amplification offered by a community. A single voice can be beautiful, but it can be drowned out or even swallowed by a larger silence. Our voices raised together can be heard above the noise around us. It is together that we create the power that brings the Gospel to life in our world.

Hope that helps my friend.

 

A Life In Faith and the Posture of Prayer

(My faith is an important part of my life.  I do not set up my life or my beliefs as anything other than my understanding of the Divine.  If they shine some tiny light on your journey then I will be happy for us both. YMMV)

(Before the notes come flocking in, I am well aware that kneeling is problematic for some folks.  They simply can’t do it.  Most of us can.  I ask only that, if you are able, you consider if you should.)

Sit. Stand. Kneel.

It is a dance during worship.  Assuming the posture that moves the worshipper toward the appropriate mindset for that moment in the service.  In the Episcopal church, we traditionally add a little juggling to make the dance more intricate.  Controlling a Book of Common Prayer (BCP), a hymnal and the bulletin is a skill that takes years to perfect.   It’s probably a good thing that we have begun to move away from that complication in our worship life.

I was not always conscious of that dance.  I simply went along with whatever was being done by the rest of the congregation.  When I began to think about my life in faith, and especially about prayer, the value of those positions began to crystallize for me.

Sitting is the base position for worship.  We sit while we hear the sermon and the lessons. It is a position of waiting and a position for hearing teaching.

Standing is a position for proclaiming our faith, and hearing the Gospel.   It’s also an old-school way of showing respect. We also stand when we sing.  Because that’s just good sense.

Kneeling is a position of humbleness and submission.

When I moved to Richmond, the one thing that surprised me the most about the worship in the Episcopal churches I visited was that almost no one kneels.  That varies a bit based on the congregation, but the amount of kneeling is very much lower than what I have been accustomed to over my life.

There are a variety of places where we are given the option to stand or kneel.  The default here seems to be always standing.  It strikes me as a loss to the worship.  Eliminating a whole category of the dance of worship feels wrong to me.

The one place that it really strikes me is at the Confession.  I was a bit surprised when I looked at the BCP and realized that there is no instruction (the technical term would be a “rubric”) concerning what position we should adopt for confessing.  It does note that after the confession the Bishop or Priest stands to offer the Absolution, so it seems to assume that at least they are in a position other than standing.

In the 1928 BCP and in the Rite 1 service the invitation to confession says, “Let us humbly confess…”  It strikes me that if we are “humbly confessing” the things we have done that fall short of the expectations of the Divine, then we ought to be on our knees.

It was awkward when I was on a congregational staff to be the only person in the congregation who went to their knees.  It was not a visual that I thought useful, especially as the “new guy” on the ministry team.  When my place of worship changed, I struggled for a while since almost no one knelt either.  It really shouldn’t matter whether I’m alone in this piety or not, I suppose, but it was nice to see a couple other folks who choose to kneel at that part of the service.

In the end, this is mostly a matter of tradition.  Just as Article XXVI of the Articles of Religion (an historic document from the beginning of our American version of the Anglican tradition) states that the unworthiness of the minister does not nullify the effect of the Eucharist, my bet is that the position of the worshipper doesn’t negate God’s ability to hear our prayers.  The rest of it falls under the category of “personal piety”.

At the same time, the dance of worship can offer a physical reminder and representation of what we are trying to do.  A reminder to humble ourselves strikes me as a valuable piece of a life in faith.  Spending a little time on our knees isn’t a bad practice for the whole church, I think.

Peace

J

 

A Life In Faith, The Journey

(My faith is an important part of my life.  I do not set up my life or my beliefs as anything other than my understanding of the Divine.  If they shine some tiny light on your journey then I will be happy for us both. YMMV)

Earlier this year, I had the chance to help build a labyrinth at my new home congregation.  Labyrinths have long history among spiritual folk.  They are well known features at places like the Cathedral at Chartres in France.  The one I helped create (in a very small way) is nothing quite so grand.  But it is beautiful, and I’m looking forward to my first chance to walk it.

If you’re not familiar with walking labyrinths, there is one thing you need to know about them.  They are different from a maze.  A maze is designed to be complicated and confusing.  The labyrinth that is used in the Christian tradition (I try to speak only for my own tribe in these posts), is simple in its complexity.  Yes, the path winds back and forth, but there is only a single way in and a single way out.  Follow the path and you will get to where you want to go.

One of the historic functions of these paths is to offer a chance to do a pilgrimage for folks without the time or financial means to travel to the holy places.  This is why you will sometimes here the center referred to as “Jerusalem”.

The first time I walked a labyrinth was at a training event.  A Presbyterian church in Buffalo had a seminar for people who were looking into using one as part of their personal faith practice or within their ministry.  I was decidedly the latter.  It was a tool that sounded interesting.  That was all my motivation as I walked through the door.

In this case, it was a canvas labyrinth.  Painted on an enormous piece of heavy canvas, it was portable.  We went through our background training session on the history and practice, then were invited to walk the labyrinth ourselves.  It was a large group, so we set off at intervals of several minutes.  The goal was that we would not catch the person in front of us.

A fine idea.  Unless the person behind, me, walked quickly, while the person in front, a very nice older lady if memory serves, chose to walk slowly.  There is no passing lane on a labyrinth.

So I was stuck.

And fuming.

Until the thought ocurred – maybe this was the point.

It’s not about racing to the goal.  The object of the exercise is in the exercise itself.  I slowed, focused on what I was hearing, feeling, smelling.  The experience of walking the labyrinth became my purpose.  When I reached the center, I was at a level of calmness that is sadly unusual in my life.  The center was large enough for four or five to stand comfortably for a moment before beginning the walk back out.

It was a profound moment for me.

Because it solidified a concept about the Life in Faith.  It is a JOURNEY.

I hear lots of folk who spend all their time talking about the goal, the reward, the end.  Over the years I have come to believe that without the journey, the end will mean nothing.  If it’s only about getting to the end, then we should be looking for shortcuts.  Let’s get there and it will all be well.

But like anything that isn’t earned, it won’t mean much.

I believe that I will only understand what is waiting after I finish my journey.  I believe that we are pointed to the journey by the fact that our faith is based on “the way”.  As I noted last month, for me it is about trying (and often failing) to live in the moment.  Not in the future, but now.  Ministry is done here and now.  Love is shared, here and now.  Now is the journey, one that will take every second of every minute of every hour of every day of my life.

Faith is a journey.  May our paths cross or parallel along the way.

Peace

J

A Life In Faith, Whatever the Hell That Is

(My faith is an important part of my life.  I do not set up my life or my beliefs as anything other than my understanding of the Divine.  If they shine some tiny light on your journey then I will be happy for us both. YMMV)

I do not wear religious jewelry except at worship times (and not always then).  I have no religious symbols or scripture tattooed on my body.  I have a small Episcopal Shield bumper sticker on my car.  I don’t pray in public.  I don’t use any of the common religious phrases in conversation (sometimes I will use “Amen” sarcastically). I almost never quote Scripture outside of my community of faith.   If you passed me on the street, you would see no obvious indication that I am a person of faith.

And I’m just fine with that.Triquetra symbol

My guides in living a life in faith begin with Matthew 6:5-6, which says:

 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

I’m also a big fan of Matthew 7:16-20, which says:

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

I want the world to figure out my faith by watching me live my life.  By the work that I do and the manner in which I deal with the people around me. I do not trust people who make a big show out of their faith.  I know there are many fine, faithful people who do all of the stuff listed above.  It’s not for me.  Judge me by the fruits of my faith, not the flash.  That’s just me.

I am unconvinced that I have anything to brag about spiritually and therefore it’s not my place to be telling anyone that I’m going to a final reward.  I’m suspicious of those who seem convinced that their heavenly ticket is punched.  I live in hope of redemption.  I am yearning for the gift of grace.  But if I’m honest, I’m not making any claims about my personal salvation.

I have no desire for crowns or harps or wings.  My goal is to come before God and saying “I know it wasn’t enough, but it was the best I could do.  I took the gifts you gave me and made as much out of them as I could.  I’m sure I didn’t get it all right.  But I did the best I could.”.  And being greeted with “Well done, thou good and faithful servant”. (Yeah, I kind of like the old fashioned language.)

A life in faith isn’t about fear of Hell.  It isn’t about certainty.  It isn’t about piety or purity or polity.  It’s about taking what is given us, good and bad, gifts and challenges, and doing as much as we can.  Knowing that it will be imperfect, knowing that our great mighty works in this world will be the least of our accomplishments in the next.  That it may be the tiniest moment, when we get that speck of creation time and space just right, that is the true jewel of our time on this planet.

Any moment may be the moment. So my goal is to live every moment as a moment of faith.  And to do the best I can.

Peace

J

September 11 Remembrance

This post originally appeared on a blog I no longer maintain. Today is a day to remember.

(I posted this originally in 2007.)

wtc-9-11I remember it clearly. There was a staff meeting that day so I’d driven up to Buffalo (an hour and a half drive)for the 9 AM meeting. In fact I had turned off the radio just a few minutes after the first plane hit at 8:46 AM. We had just gotten settled into the meeting with the sliding doors closed when there came a banging. Two members of the office staff came in, one in tears. The only TV in the building was with us and they needed to check the news. Something had happened at the twin towers in NYC and they had a friend who worked there. So we turned on the TV…

You know what we saw. And you know how we felt. It is a shared moment for our nation. I remember thinking in those first few moments “It’s not an accident, it’s a terrorist attack”. For several years after college I’d been fascinated by terrorism and how we respond to it. What I saw and what little we knew at that time just screamed terrorism.

And then the second plane(9:03AM)

and the report that a plane has crashed into the Pentagon (9:37AM)

and the FAA grounds all planes (9:45AM)

and then the south tower collapsed(9:59AM)

and then another plane crashes in western Pennsylvania (10:03AM)

and then the north tower collapsed (10:28AM)

Sometime shortly after that we were sent home. We prayed for everything and everyone and Divine protection and went home in a state of shock.

The diocesan offices are not too far from the airport so you see a fair number of planes if you look. I remember driving home thinking that there had never been a day in my life like this one. When virtually NOTHING man made was in the air above me. It is one of the strangest and most enduring feelings from that day.

When I saw the photo Lee was using I knew I was going to steal it. We need to remember how horrible that day was. We must never forget. But not as just as a goad to our fear and self interest. We must remember as a call to all that is good in our nature. It must serve as a call to make the world a better place rather than only a safer place. A better place WILL BE a safer place. A safer place is not always a better place.

Today is a day to remember.

Peace

The Mid-Year Review

Wherein, I rat myself out.

One of the great things about New Year’s resolutions is that, by this time of year, everyone has forgotten that you ever made any.

But I did make some (HERE), and the idea was to work towards them all.  So with half the year behind me, it’s time to see how I’m doing.

My goals for 2017 were:

Health Goals:

  • Lose the last 20 pounds (be The Guy)
  • Keep my blood glucose within ADA ranges and work toward the lower ranges
  • Maintain a minimum of 150 active minutes a week

UPDATE – I’m actually doing all right on these.  Weight continues down, blood glucose is going down and I’m averaging way above the active minutes.  WIN!

Creativity Goals:

  • Add six more songs to my guitar competence list
  • Finish a writing project
  • Create a minimum of one good photo a month

UPDATE – Ummm.  On the guitar front, I began the year with “frozen shoulder” which made holding the guitar painful.  I have begun to work my way back on that one.  Working on the writing projects.  The photo goal has been a bust.  NEEDS WORK

Activity Goals:

  • Bike the Cap2Cap from Richmond to Williamsburg
  • Explore the parks nearby
  • Log a minimum of 1000 miles on the bike

UPDATE – Some progress made on this one.  So for this point of the year – WIN

Fun Goals

  • Visit five more historical sites
  • Go to the beach at least twice
  • Visit 20 wineries

UPDATE –  No, no and no.  NEEDS WORK

Real Life Goals:

  • Find a new job
  • Find a new church home
  • Get involved with community group(s)

UPDATE – Not yet, YES!!!!, and not yet.  Call this one a PUSH

 

So it’s two wins, two needs works, and a push.  With lots of time to get things turned around.  Not where I had hoped to be, but I’m OK with it for the moment.  Where are you on yours for 2017?