The Rector's Blog
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June 9, 2016, 12:00 AM

Praying the Psalms

I don’t know how much time you have spent with the Psalms – they are an amazing collection of prayers and songs expressing the full range of human emotions, from soaring joy to abject misery. Fears of abandonment by God, appeals for justice, and 
deep repentance – all can be found in the psalms. Anytime we have a concern, we can find its reflection there. 

One of my favorite verses comes from Psalm 118: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”  I “adopted” this verse some years ago, to get me through hard times.

Another strong verse is 61:4: “I will dwell in your house forever; I will take refuge under the cover of your wings.”

In fact, I frequently recommend to those who seek counsel, that they spend time in the Psalms, and find a verse, or phrase, or prayer, that speaks to them in their current situation, and to write it down and carry the text with them as they go through their day. 

In addition to being prayers and songs, some of the psalms even talk about Israel’s history and provide imagery about creation not included in the Book of Genesis.  One example is found in Psalm 104:27: “and there is that Leviathan, which you made for the sport of it.”

In fact Psalm 104 offers several ideas that either expand on or even contradict the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2.  We can look at vs 22: “The lions roar after their prey and seek their food from God.”  Yet in Genesis, we read: “God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps upon the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” (Gen 1:29-30).

Someone has suggested that whereas Genesis describes the “how” of creation, Psalm 104 describes the “why.”  The cedars of Lebanon are for the birds to make nests (vss 17-19), the moon marks the seasons (vs 20); darkness makes night (vs 21); and day time is for human labor (vs 24). 

Spend a little time with this Psalm and you will find that everything in creation has a divine purpose – and knowing this, we should perhaps ask ourselves, do we respect the divine purposes of everything around us? 

What might we do to heighten our appreciation for the regard in which God holds creation?




May 13, 2016, 5:47 PM

Five Questions of Visitors

 

The Rector’s Column

by The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler

FIVE QUESTIONS VISITORS WON’T ASK

I went to a presentation on visitors’ questions, offered by the Center for Congregations – and maybe you can tell me if our speaker was right, in remembering if any of these were your questions when you first came to Christ Church!

The first question was: “Where am I supposed to go?”  Although initially I thought of this in terms of “Which door do I use?” – and the presenter did talk about that, the first “door”, he said, is our website or Facebook page.  Worship times and descriptions of our worship forms should be immediately obvious on the site.  (I can see we have a little work to do on that score!)  Directions to the church are also important, as are pictures of the church staff, and a personal mission statement by the staff members (why I do this and what we strive to accomplish).  These web resources need to be accurate and up-to-date!  (If we were still advertising for last fall’s St Cecilia Festival, it would be a problem.)

The next portion of “where do I go” has to do with signage at the church. Which is the door to go in?  Where are the restrooms?  Where is the nursery (if any)?  Greeters should be present at all doors to guide the perplexed!

Question Two: Who are all these people?  In this instance, “these people” are those who are conducting the service: their names and functions should be listed.  Again, greeters can be helpful here; they should introduce themselves to any visitors and determine if the visitors will perhaps need assistance in following the liturgy.

Question Three: “When do we actually start?”  With stories of churches that advertise a given start time for worship but never seem to start on time, our presenter warned this could be a turn-off.  Many visitors, he said, prefer to come just before things get going, because they don’t want to be all alone and uncomfortable because they don’t know anyone in the place.

Question Four:  “What’s been happening up till now?”  If there is a “sermon series” it’s important to recap – not just for strangers but for regulars who may have missed one or more installments.

Question Five: “I’m supposed to do what?”  If we use specialized terminology, we can sow confusion, rather than grace.  Use common language, and don’t expect visitors to intuit what behavior is normal, and never put them on the spot!

How do you think we do?




April 28, 2016, 12:00 AM

When we have to say "good bye."


This week, I had to say goodbye to my cat Smudge.  He had been my mother’s cat and when she died seven years ago, I took him in.  Like most cats, his primary interests seemed to lie in personal comfort, but he was sweet and friendly as well, and I loved him.  I hated to say goodbye.

The thing is, of course, that we are constantly having to say goodbye to the way things were and hello to the way things are becoming, and it’s not always easy to do that. 

Everyone knows how quickly society, technology, and world events are changing.  We human beings are wonderfully adaptive and inventive and creative – which is a good thing, because we need every ounce of those abilities and skills to survive and thrive.

But sometimes, wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to adapt all the time to everything?

We hear echoes of that in political slogans – for example, let’s “make America great again” is an idea that carries a lot of appeal, even if we can’t agree on what makes America great, or when it was great before. 

And we hear echoes of that in the Psalms:
My times are in your hand;
   rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
   and from those who persecute me
.
Make your face to shine upon your servant,
   and in your loving-kindness save me.

                 (Psalm 31: 15-16, BCP)

What do we do, then, when change, especially unwelcome change, is forced upon us?

If you’re like me, the first thing you do is try to hide from it!  I’m great at ignoring things I can’t deal with right now.  I also might rant about whatever it is – and I certainly did some ranting when I found out how sick Smudge was, and then I cried.

It surprises me, a bit, that it can take so long for me to turn to God in prayer, and seek guidance from the Light of the World – I mean, after all, I am a priest; shouldn't that be the first place I go? 

Because I know that God offers consolation, and maybe I’d rather be mad. And I know that God offers strength, but I’d rather be tired. Maybe I’d rather not be the one who is always counted upon.

Do you hear God laughing?

Behold, God is my helper;
   it is the Lord who sustains my life.

                         (Psalm 54:4, BCP




April 17, 2016, 11:51 AM

The Empty Tomb

Empty Tomb

For Jesus to stand to his full height, he had to leave the small, dark place of the tomb. For us to rise up to our full stature, we must leave the small, dark places of life. We must leave the many and various tombs of this earthly life, and find our way to the broad, open and light-filled places.

-Br. Mark Brown
Society of Saint John the Evangelist
.

For those of us who mourn, this meditative passage may seem hard to hear. One of the things I have wrestled with over the years as family members and friends have died is my desire to remember and honor them – and walking away from the tomb, as Br. Mark puts it, could seem to dishonor their memory.

But that’s not what his statement is actually saying.  Rather, he is talking about leaving behind that which holds us back – negative emotions such as anger, which keep us from acknowledging that we have the choice of how to respond to hurts and injuries, or negative perceptions of other people, which might encourage  us to blame others for the problems we experience in life.  That sort of thing.

It’s not about forgetting those we love and miss at all; rather, it’s about our tendency to forget who we are in Christ.

We are the beloved children of a loving Creator, not the spawn of Satan.  Saul, the persecutor of early Christians, was moved to let go of his sense of mission and righteous zealotry that fed his impulse to punish those who did not conform to the religious authorities in Judea and beyond.  Peter, the man who three times denied any relationship with the man Jesus, was moved to stand on street corners, in defiance of those same religious authority figures, and speak of God’s love for all humanity as shown by Jesus in his life and death.

What moved them was not a message of condemnation, but one of forgiveness and opportunity.

It was the LOVE of God that opened the doors of their tombs of fear and anger and led them to share the love of God with everyone they met. That love is offered to all of us even now.




March 31, 2016, 3:29 PM

Let it Flow!

  Since my fall back in January, my life has been disrupted. In the early days of my recuperation, I realized I was going to have to learn to walk all over again – and that meant I needed to keep my focus on one thing at a time.  Something that most of us picked up by the time we were two was no longer as easy as it used to seem!  Which muscles make the leg stand firm? Which muscles make the leg move forward or backward?  Which muscles move the leg up or down?  All these questions required thought and reflection, and, in the beginning, sheer will power to make the right muscle do the right thing.

  I also found myself tiring at alarming rates – a simple transfer from bed to wheelchair would have me puffing for air. Short ventures – ten feet or so – would make me light-headed.

  It all comes down to what I have taken to calling “flow.”  I have to get my “flow” back.  If I walk, I have to walk for a while to get settled in my pace, and comfortable in my moving. As I do my exercises, I need to make sure that my stance is stable.

  As it happens, the religious life, in fact, pretty much all of life, calls for the same kind of attention if we want to make any progress at all!

  I’m very prone to distractions. I might be working on something (such as writing this column), and a thought flits through my brain (I need to call so-and-so), and … I lose my flow. The problem seems to be finding those islands of time for focused attention when the world around me is spinning along outside of my control – and worse, the world inside me seems to do the same!

  I wish I had some good advice to offer on ways to create and maintain flow!  I could use it.  And I could share it with you, because I suspect that many of you are in a similar situation.  I don’t mean that you are learning to walk again, but that you may be pulled in some many different directions, you don’t even know you are walking at all.

  I can assure you, that way danger lies! Because something might trip you up that is totally unexpected. All I can counsel is that you work hard to pay attention to the thing in front of you, because it is worth your full mind. Let it flow!


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