Thursday, May 25, 2006

Reflections on the Beatitudes: The First Beatitude

The Beatitudes, and the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience which are derived from them, explain [Christ's] humility to us The Beatitudes are at the heart of our baptismal vows, which do not confer a result but commit us to our priesthood that is inextricable from our sacrifice. As priests we are committed to be caught in God's Gaze in solitude, to go, with Christ indwelling, to the heart of creation's pain, of suffering, of hell, to find new life, hope, and joy, to celebrate God's life in our own and convey it to the world.


"How blest are those who know their need of God; the kingdom of heaven is theirs."

In the first beatitude we find the source from which all else proceeds. How blest we are when we understand the ways in which we fall from being, from co-creation with God. How blest we are when we allow the technology of control to fall from our grasp. How blest we are when we can give up the need to control, to fix up, to compete, to seek status and put down others, to be self-reflective and have all other eyes on us. How blest we are when we can stop running from death and simply look at God. How blest we are, for we know the glory of our wounds in that Gaze of Love by which we and the creation around us are transfigured by Christ's indwelling.

[Pillars of Flame, p. 137]

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

True Priests

Exodus 19:3-8
Psalm 15
Matthew 16:24-27

[Given at EDS in Cambridge the week before Barbara Harris was consecrated]

The conditions for priesthood given us in today's readings are radical and written in code:

If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, says God, you shall be holy as I am holy, a kingdom of priests who mirror my self-outpouring life. That is to say, if you speak the truth from your heart, if you have no guile, if you do not heap contempt in scrambling for status, if you do not give merely in hope of gain

These conditions are summed up in the dreadful words, If you lose your life you will find it.

But the promises are radical, too.

There are some who will not taste death until they see God.

A lot of us come to the institution thinking it will crack this code for us. The institution temporizes, teaches us management and liturgical skills, or maybe tells us, there, there, don't let it worry you, it's an eschatological metaphor.

A lot of us go to seminary or to religious orders or to our pastors because we sense there is something in these words vital to life. Sadly, encounters with the churches' teachers mostly give us a foretaste of the kingdom of church politics.

Priesthood is not something you get as a prize for having survived three years of classes and pastoral training, GOE's, curacy and the diaconate. Whatever we do or mean these days by laying on of hands in ordination, it is certainly not recognition of the radical priesthood to which the radical conditions in today's readings point, the priesthood shown us in the humility of Christ, in the wounds of Christ, the priesthood that is bestowed only when we are willing to be transformed and transfigured by grace in our very being. No matter what our romantic or power-oriented theological fantasies tell us, fantasies that make claims on the past that scholarship no longer supports, becoming a member of the clergy club where concerns about status and control are too often uppermost may be the best way to lose authentic priesthood.

Let's look more closely at these scriptural conditions and their implications:

That there are conditions for priesthood at all means first that priesthood is contingent on covenant, contingent on hearing the voice who has heard our cries of despair, contingent on the willing openness that breaks through the closed system we have created from our own thoughts and ways in a desperate struggle for illusory security. Thus the first implication of these conditions is that we must be still and wait on God in the dark so that we may receive the divine wisdom that is given only in unknowing into which we enter when we have the humility to realize the limitations of our own resources, our perceptions and theologizing.

Listening and stillness are not for narcissistic and cosmetic fixing-up of our selves so that we may watch our selves being admired by others, but rather the willingness to be dismembered in prayer, in the silence of God, for the sake of creation, so that we know our wounds as those of the wounded God in resurrection, and that these same wounds are the wounds of those around us.

Thus we cannot speak of my priesthood but must rather speak of priesthood contingent on community, on right relationship between solitude and community, on creating space for the silence of God in community. From this deep listening comes the discernment of right action as opposed to the often heedless and hurtful action we undertake in the name of ministry in order to tell ourselves that we are doing good, and by which we create illusory self-image.

If we are to be priests we must speak the truth of these wounds. It is the priesthood of being we seek -- God does not say, you shall function as priests, but be priests, a reflection of I AM, or, better translated, I WILL BE FOR YOU, of which the function of ministry may or may not be the right action in a particular moment, a discernment we can make only in the silence of God. We must speak the truth of these wounds and never be ashamed of them as we fix our eyes ever more surely away from our selves towards the self-outpouring Love whose life we bear and hunger to manifest, the humble Love whose life pours through our wounds, transfiguring them.

As our gaze becomes focused on the wounded God, we are given self-forgetfulness, a self-forgetfulness that relinquishes all strategies, ignores contempt, gives without counting the cost, gives up life itself -- or what we mistook for life, the self-aggrandizing urges that whisper excitedly to us of the collar, the rep from Whippell's, the vestments, the personally designed liturgy, the people flocking to us in ever-greater numbers. Such fantasies, which all too often we force on others in order to give our lust for control and self-inflation a ghastly pseudo-reality, are not life, they are death, a death that is cursed, for they distract our gaze from the self-outpouring love of God and entice us to worship our own pitiful superegos, which confine us to our illusions and our nightmares.

If we are willing to lose this pseudo-life -- and who wants it? Certainly not the people who are the church, the nation of priests, ordained or not, who hungrily seek the gaze of God -- if we are willing to give up this shadow-world as we dwell in still-prayer, we will be so found in God that self-reflection becomes no longer desirable or even available. In still-prayer we discern the true and humble priesthood that is Christ's, whose life we seek to incarnate, which is the willingness to go to the heart of pain to find new life, hope, joy and love. This priesthood transfigures and anoints, and from it issues the true and humble ministry that enables the communion of all creation in the wounds of the God we continue to ask to be broken for us, so that we might be whole.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Divine Play

The work of God is both serious and merry; so it is intended we should be. God's kenotic acts are entirely gratuitous: there is no need for God to create; there is no need for God to redeem. It is for sheer love that God does both; and for no purpose. God is at play.

Thus it is too with the way of tears: the holding of two things in the heart is both knowledge of the human tragedy and our insecure, perilous freedom, and at the same time the lightness, delightedness of life lived in the security of the redeeming, playful love of God....

If we are to mirror this God, if we are to fulfill our vocation as co-creators, if Christ is to indwell and his kenotic love pour through us, then we must live out of the knowledge of this silence and this laughter even as we live and relate to one another. We must be intent in the silence, and ready to glimpse the incongruent reality that makes us laugh. We must be ready to see not only the beauty and glory of what God's gifts to us enable us to create, but also the absurdity, the ridiculousness, of taking our selves too seriously in the light of the divine perspective, or despairing when our hearts are in hell.

[The Fountain and the Furnace, p. 291...292]

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Holy Trinity Update

[The information in this update on the rebuilding of Holy Trinity Church, destroyed by a fire on March 12, was gleaned from the Trinity Times ( and from local news media and personal internet communications.]
It's a cold, wet spring in Juneau, Alaska; gales and driving rain make it feel more like October than May. The trees have not leafed out yet, which is late even for Southeast Alaska. But among the ashes and debris of Holy Trinity Church, white and lavender striped crocuses are spreading their translucent light.
The Juneau community and generous people and parishes across the nation have rallied around and with many gifts have helped the parish gather momentum towards its goal of a rebuilt church and McPhetres Hall, which will require raising more than a million dollars, even after the insurance money comes through.
In the month after the fire, fundraisers began, including a pie-eating contest sponsored by the youth group at which the rector distinguished himself. The Youth of Trinity donated $4,000. Perseverance Theatre held a benefit performance of "Hair", and fundraising events continue.
St Timothy Episcopal Parish of Yakima, Washington sent altar supplies, prayer books and hymnals formerly at St John's in Union Gap, Washington, and a check for nearly $2,500.
St Brendan's Episcopal Church, Resurrection Lutheran Church and Northern Light United Church, all in the Juneau Borough, have donated space and worship materials.
The first week in April was devoted to the annual Alaska Folk Festival, which saturates the town with joyous music for a week. But when the rector was paged on Saturday night from the main stage, a lot of people feared the worst. What happened was the best.
Victory Four Square Gospel Church, which has no building of its own, decided to give Holy Trinity Church every cent in its bank account, presenting the rector with a check for $7,000. Twenty-five members of the Victory congregation joined the Holy Trinity congregation for Palm Sunday. Mark Everett, pastor of Victory for only six weeks, said that he had been praying for direction for their church. "A transition is a very difficult thing to go through..." He believes he was prompted by God to make the gift: "'You have to give sacrificially, not in a way that's easy to give, because I gave sacrificially.'" There were few dry eyes after the announcement.
Other news:
            — Holy Trinity hopes to rebuild on the same site within two years and the city has promised that the necessary allowances will be made.
            —The congregation continues to enjoy the hospitality of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Nativity's parish hall. The two congregations have joint fellowship following their respective services and are conducting a joint Sunday School.
            —Arctic Corp, kindness of James Barrett, owner, has provided the parish with office space, meeting space, and storage. The new parish office address (right around the corner from the church site) is 416 Harris Street, Suite 205. The phone is 907-586-3532. The secretary is in Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 AM to 3 PM.
It is not possible in this limited space to mention each and every donor (and this blog is not privy to that information) but the parish is deeply grateful for all the many gifts it has received. On Palm Sunday morning, in response to the gift of Victory church, the rector said, "We should be shaped by humility and gratitude of receiving...and gain a conscious awareness of the sacred nature of every gift we have and the stewardship of these gifts."