A Word for These Times

Slow. Steady. Persistent in faith hope and love.

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston (October 19, 2020)

Slow and steady wins the race. Those old words have new meaning in our present moment. We face at least three historic contests: a political race, a public health race, and an economic race. And we must run all three at once. Therefore, we are wired by circumstances to feel like we need to run. But as the old saying reminds us, running is not always the best way to cross the finish line. The Spirit works slowly most often, not in a cosmic snap of the fingers. Change is process, not magic. Being steady, staying in balance, having a sense of direction and equilibrium: those calm and centered responses are the way to run a marathon, not a sprint. Their slow and steady pace make the changes peaceful as well as permanent.


The New York Times had a beautiful photo essay about midwifery Los Angeles, and child-bearing in covid-tide. 

As I read about each unique experience and the persistent abiding hopefulness, I remembered.

 

I remembered that God said, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.”

I remembered that God is always doing a new thing.

Always.

 

Even when there’s chaos and uncertainty.

God is doing a new thing.

Even when there is fear and trembling.

God is doing a new thing.

Even when everything is turned upside down and inside out.

God is doing a new thing.

Even when every single one of us has lost our last nerve (at least for a minute).

God is doing a new thing.

When you are weary, when you think (again) of what has been lost, when you mourn for what never happened, and fear what might happen, remember this, my friends. God is doing a new thing. Where God is, love is. All will be well. Absolutely.

But in the meantime.

There are birth pangs.

There is loss.

There is the shadow of death - and sometimes even death itself.

Even from the grave, we sing “Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!”

God is doing a new thing.

I shall rejoice.

I shall trust.

I shall sing “Alleluia”.

And I shall work hard.

Show up.

Be present to the pain and the grief so that I may also be present to the joy and the celebration.

 

“I am doing a new thing.” God.

 

Jan Smith Wood

October 16, 2020


What has been planted? What shall be harvested? How shall we give thanks?

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston (October 8, 2020)

"With all of the distractions we face on an almost daily basis, it is not surprising that we may have overlooked the advent of an ancient occasion: we are entering the time of harvest. We are in the season for gathering in, preparing for what is to come, and making sure we have enough to get everyone through the winter. In all of our spiritual traditions, for the whole global tribe of the human beings, harvest has a deep spiritual resonance. Its importance echoes through the centuries. It calls us with a familiar voice to return to hearth and home, to see what we have planted and to see what we have grown. As the days grow shorter, our contract with the Earth becomes ever more visible. We discover what we have produced in the fields of hope. Even in the clamor of the moment, let us not forget the meaning of the harvest, the oldest prayer we know."


Rejoice! Who me? NOW?!?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Paul knew something about suffering,

and powers and principalities,

and being caught in the crossfire,

and the wide divide between what is and what could be.

He didn’t even have to contend with a global pandemic.

Just daily life.

Just traveling the world telling the Good News (and refereeing more than one difference of opinion)

Just making way for good news and deep relationships along the Way - wherever it took him.

He suffered in many ways.

Endured many hardships.

Traveled until footsore and shipwrecked.

And he still could rejoice.

He still could rejoice and be glad - and invite others to do likewise.

How might we rejoice today?

What makes your heart sing?

Yes, even today.

Even in covid-tide.

What is the silver lining you fear to name?

Rejoice!

For only when we are able to rejoice, can we begin to see our way out of hardship and trouble - into lightness of being and hope for a future that needs our advocacy, our action, our engagement - here and now - if it is to be a reality.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Philippians 4:4-7

(Having trouble finding cause to rejoice? Maybe this frivolous and inspiring - not an oxymoron - version of “Jesus I Have Promised” will give you a jumpstart. Just for fun.)

 

Jan Smith Wood

October 9, 2020


Curiosity Killed the Cat.

…but just might be the spiritual gift we need right about now.

As I read about each new inkling of understanding the novel corona virus that has us flummoxed, isolated, discouraged, arguing, ill, and dying, I find myself grateful to those who remain curious. Curious about what causes it to flourish, what blocks it, who gets it, who survives, who has lingering ill health…

There have been so many questions and so many possibilities, so many wrong turns and so many false starts. All of these are so hard for us with our expectations of certainty, comfort, and clarity (almost as if all three were a God-given right). Maybe we, too, need a dose of curiosity? Maybe it’s time to get curious about our own lives, our values, our choices in these times? Maybe curiosity and gratitude are twin gifts that will see us through to the other side - better than we were before, collectively and individually?

I do believe these are spiritual gifts. Curiosity led Moses to approach the burning bush - and experience the Living God, up close and personal. Curiosity led Mary to pay attention to the luminous disruption to her daily routine - and accept the prophetic invitation to a gloriously impossible calling: God-Bearer. Curiosity led the adolescent Jesus to the Temple where he discovered a depth of conversation and inquiry that helped him to know - really know - his calling and his purpose. Curiosity led Mary of Magdala to ask the Gardener where in the world he took the body - and come face to face with the Risen Lord, Redeemer of the World.

What if you got curious about your life’s purpose? In particular, your life’s purpose now that everything is different? What if we got curious about what it means to be a thriving community? What if we got curious about how we can meet the challenges of this era? What if we got curious about what might have brought us to this point? What if we got curious about the very circumstances that are irritating and discouraging us?

Curiosity approaches the unknown with eyes and heart wide-open, shoes and arrogance cast off, seeking to understand, hoping to be inspired, certain of one thing: there is Mystery in our midst. Thanks be to God. (Which then sends us directly into gratitude, doesn’t it?)

Jan Smith Wood

October 6, 2020


Are You Weary?

Feeling like you can’t do this One More Day? Telling yourself, “I am SO OVER covid-19.”? Weary of all the turmoil that has entered our lives, our community, our world, with that itty-bitty powerhouse of a virus?

Me, too.

Unfortunately, it is as though we were told to run and catch the bus, “It’s only half-a-block away - you can make it. Easy-peasy.” only to discover that we are in an ultra-marathon. Thinking we had a quick sprint, we sucked it up and gave it our all. Suddenly, that bus disappeared and the horizon hides the finish line. We are not equipped for this. We did not train for this. We simply can not go another step.

Of course, we can.

Because we must.

Because denial is not an option.

Pretending there’s no such thing as a novel corona virus will only get us killed. (Even if you and I don’t die in our bodies, our life together, our community, our nation, people we know and people we love, will die if denial reigns. Fact.)

But how shall we do this?

“I can do all things through the One who strengthens me.”

This is not the victory march refrain that some would have it. It is an affirmation and an encouraging word from Paul to the Christians at Philippi to persevere, to hope, to know that God is with us (all of us) working in us more than we can ask or imagine. Paul affirms that he can do all things, but “all things” means ALL things: the good and the bad, the destructive and the creative, the beautiful and the horrific. “I know now how to live when things are difficult and I know how to live when things are prosperous. In general and in particular I have learned the secret of facing either poverty or plenty. I am ready for anything through the strength of the one who lives within me.”

We can do whatever it takes to persevere through this pandemic when we are focused on two things: God and neighbor. I know that focus makes all the difference. I despair when my line of sight is limited to myself, my own comfort, and what I have lost (my old familiar life, to be sure, but also the future plans we made which are no longer an option). We can do this when we remove the blinders that keep us self-centered and preoccupied, and focus on what can be done this day to make a positive contribution to our commonwealth. I find hope when I am intent on figuring out how I can love God today, just for today, with every fiber of my being and love my neighbor wholeheartedly.

We cannot run this ultra-marathon alone. We are not equipped to go the distance without one another and without God’s help. But we can and we must and we shall.

“I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.”

 

Eternal Spirit, living God,

in whom we live and move and have our being,

all that we are, have been,

and shall be is known to you,

to the very secret of our hearts

and all that rises to trouble us.

Living flame burn into us,

cleansing wind, blow through us,

fountain of water, well up within us,

that we may love and praise in deed and in truth.

Amen.

New Zealand Book of Common Prayer

 

Jan Smith Wood

September 26, 2020


Several folks have recently wondered whether these are the end times - Armageddon or the Apocalypse. Nope. They’re not. That vision in Revelation? It has been distorted, thanks to a 19th century Scottish preacher who invented the Rapture for reasons known to him and lost to us.

It is actually a beautiful vision of reconciliation and redemption; a poetic gift of inspiration and consolation to a holy mystic on the island of Patmos. I encourage you to read it all the way through, out loud, in one sitting - and see what happens.

Are these times of reckoning? Yes.

I believe they are.

Our Eucharistic Prayer gives thanks that God is made known to us in creation. A creation under extreme duress and devastation right now - precisely because we have refused to treat it as sacred revelation of the glory of God. As I prayed these words aloud on Sunday morning, I was viscerally aware of the disconnection between our professed and confident belief that God is made known to us in creation, and the wild raging fires of the west and inundating relentless storms of the south.

This has been a long time coming. We have been a long time in denial. We have not been respectful of creation. We have treated natural resources as merely that: resources for us to use, deplete, and exploit. We have not treated creation as gift and mystery - nor have we realized our utter dependence for our very lives upon a healthy and thriving creation. Much like the way we have grown to imagine God, truth be told. God is useful when we are in need, but not when we are feeling strong (or desiring to do what we please, thank you very much). Creation is ignored and exploited until we realize we are at risk of death, disease, and devastation. Then we get serious. Then we get praying.

Creation has power to destroy and power to give life. Just like God.

Creation has beauty and holds mystery. Just like God.

Creation will not - ultimately - be controlled by our weak-willed selfishness. Just like God.

These times are times of reckoning, to be sure.

They are a reckoning of our own recklessness.

They are a reckoning of our own profligate wastefulness.

They are a reckoning of our own quick fixes.

We may name these reckonings as God’s wrath, God’s judgment, or God’s intention. They are first, and absolutely, the natural consequence of human exploitation of creation which has reduced mystery to usefulness, beauty to commodity, and awe to exploitation.

What might happen differently in your own life this very week if you were to take seriously our professed Christian belief that God is made known to us in creation? What would you see? How would you live? What choices would you make? I am eager to experience this perspective-taking and vision-investigating in my own life, will you join me?

Jan Smith Wood

September 21, 2020


“You have to leave home to understand home.”

Christina Koch, NASA Astronaut who was on a space mission from March 2019 to February 2020 - and should know...

In some profound ways, we left home when the corona virus hit home, didn’t we?

In America, the home that many of us left is different from the home that others of us left. In our geographical vastness, our socio-economic differences, and cultural variations, we inhabit many different homes. I find hope in the possibility that we are coming to understand our shared home in new and profound ways that might lead us to becoming more fully what we’d all like to believe ourselves to be. (Granted, we are fighting against that awareness, erupting in disruption, sometimes violent, always intense. I am quite sure that, fundamentally, this is because we are understanding home - that which was - as we could never have understood it without the disruption of covid-19.)

Jesus had something to say about leaving home, didn’t he? He invited his disciples to “come and follow me.” That following always included leaving home, leaving the familiar, leaving the dependable. In many and various ways, he asked people to cut ties with home and enter into an entirely new life and practice. “Come and follow me” included leaving the dead to bury the dead, giving away material riches, taking up one’s unique cross…

Perhaps that is what happens when we understand home and know that there is no going back (“You can’t go home again” is not a physical experience as much as a psychological and emotional reality). However, there is going forward - always going forward. Our faith, our tradition, and our salvation history tell us that we will go into the unknown and find ourselves at home. Always at home. Always a home that we’d never have imagined, never experienced, if we weren’t brave enough to leave the confines of our old home.

Covid-19 has kicked us out of our home.

Let us encourage one another to understand the home that we left and

let us work to build a new home with courage, generosity, and hope.

It can be done.

But not by going backward.

Never by going backward.

“Come and follow me.”

 

Jan Smith Wood

September 18, 2020


I don’t watch very many movies and, when I do, they must end well (’twas ever thus, but especially so in covid-tide). In the ending scene of “Christopher Robin”, Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin are sitting side by side on an old log and Pooh asks, “What day is it?” Christopher Robin says, “Today.” “My favorite day of the week” says Pooh as he leans his head on Christopher Robin’s shoulder.

I was captivated by the poignancy and sweetness of it.

Imagine if Today were your favorite day of the week…

Each day would be welcomed on its own merit - just because it is Today. My favorite.

Today-my-favorite-day would gain a shiny bright aura (the brilliance that imbues any “favorite”) which just might make all the difference in the living of this day.

Favorites are savored. Honored. Welcomed. Attended.

When we are in the company of our favorite anything, we are not looking for something (or someone ) better. We are focused and appreciative.

In the company of a favorite, gratitude and pleasure abound - even in the simplest of activities.

These are times when gratitude gets edged out by anxiety.

Pleasure is trampled upon by stress and uncertainty.

We are hyper-vigilant, constantly scanning the horizon for the next Bad Thing. Chaos and turmoil seem to feed on themselves and grow exponentially - much like the fires in the West, hurricanes in the Southeast, disappearing glaciers in the North (or whatever seems out of control in your life these days).

Our souls can waste away so very easily in such times.

Our hope wither.

Our spirits sag.

Maybe Today-my-favorite-day will feed our souls, and strengthen us to meet the challenges Today brings with hope and courage.

What day is it?

Today.

My Favorite.

 

Jan Smith Wood

September 16, 2020


A number of folks have shared with me their deepening awareness of anger in our midst. Anger that is persistent, even relentless, and definitely free-floating. Anger that attaches itself to the most inane targets, and anger that breeds deadly violence and destruction.

It may be understandable. Some of the anger is righteous. Some is an appropriate and natural consequence of our shared past meeting new insight in a time of disequilibrium. That’s how significant change happens, isn’t it? Past meets insight in a time when habit is disrupted: change begins, hopefully constructive and life-giving (but that’s a different reflection).

We’re already off-kilter and now collectively we see truths that have been obscured. Some of us get depressed or melancholy. Others get annoyed or frightened. Some are shocked and others get busy. Some of us just get mad and take it out wherever and whenever possible. Every encounter becomes a battle. Every person becomes a target.

If the anger just stayed with that one person, it would be bad-enough. But anger, meanness, and aggression all seem to spread like wildfire, don’t they? Quickly. Explosively. A contagion to put covid-19 to shame. In comparison, Love seems so slow, subtle, and sometimes even ineffective. Woe is me. What shall we do? How shall we live?

Our sacred story has a LOT to say about this: the slowness of Love. The explosiveness of Anger. We are called to love, not hate. To create, not destroy. To embrace, not reject. (No one ever said it would be easy.) None of this - love, creativity, hospitality - means we simply accept whatever meanness or hate comes our way. It does mean that we do not lose hope. It does mean we refuse to escalate the anger by responding with anger. It does mean we get engaged and active and do our part to build another reality. It does mean that we turn on the porch light, in the sure and certain knowledge that it alone cannot light up the city - and in the confidence that one porch light will be enough.

 

It’s what we can do.

It’s all we can do.

It’s who we are.

 

Jan Smith Wood

September 11, 2020


September 10th is the Feast Day of the Rev. Alexander Crummell.

Check out what Good Word has been provided for us all by UBE (Union of Black Episcopalians)

and give thanks. https://www.ube.org/dfc/newsdetail_2/3204479


We have not built the capacity to sustain discomfort.

This observation struck me as being more significant, perhaps, than the original writer might have imagined. I wonder if this could be at the heart of our dis-ease with how long this covid-19 quietude is lasting. Like the psalmist, we cry, “How long, O Lord? How long?” Unlike the psalmist, and many who have gone before us, we seem to be short on an ability to sustain discomfort.

There is, of course, significant discomfort in our days. Discomfort because we don’t know how long this will continue. Discomfort because we are not accustomed to remembering a mask when we go out - we had enough to do to remember our keys and wallet, and to turn off the oven. Discomfort with breathing through fabric and listening without seeing lips move. Discomfort with our inability to do the things we’ve always done. Discomfort with knowing there is mortal risk in daily life.

We are absolutely in discomfort. And we have not had to practice in a long time, perhaps never. To think about sustaining discomfort puts me in a new frame of mind. I become the actor, not the acted-upon, when I begin to wonder how I can build the capacity to SUSTAIN discomfort. Discomfort happens. Willy-nilly, it comes to us and we are not in control. Until I begin to think that I can choose to sustain the discomfort.

Sustain discomfort? Get familiar with it. Ask questions of it. Be curious. Practice discomfort. Consider how others are doing. Experiment with sitting inside the discomfort. Invite discomfort as an opportunity to grow, to mature, to be strengthened.

Build your capacity to sustain discomfort. That’s a silver lining in covid-tide, isn’t it? As we can sustain discomfort, befriend it even, we will learn new things. We will be strengthened for the journey of this life. We will know truth we haven’t known before.

How long, O God? How long?

Long enough, my beloveds.

 

Jan Smith Wood

August 26, 2020

Robin DiAngelo wrote that thought in White Fragility. The Psalm is 13.

 

The text of Psalm 13?

How long, O God? Will you forget me for ever;
how long will you hide your face from me?

How long shall I have perplexity in my mind,
and grief in my heart, day after day;
how long shall my enemy triumph over me?

Look upon me and answer me, O God;
give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;

Lest my enemies say they have prevailed over me,
and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.

But I put my trust in your mercy;
my heart is joyful because of your saving help.

I will sing to the Holy One, who has dealt with me richly;
I will praise the Name of God Most High.


I was invited to offer prayers for the students, teachers, and families of Sandusky Primary School at the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony on Tuesday. Fortunately, the invitation came early so that I could pray about how to pray and what to pray for.

Like many of us, I watched the transformation from Ontario-School-that-was to razed ground, to beginning footprint of a massive new building, to the coming together in a shape that everyone can understand (not merely architects, bricklayers, and electricians): a building that bids curiosity welcome.

Just in time for distance learning. And masks. And uncertainty. And learning in a formerly unimaginable context.

Lord, hear our prayer.
Not only that, but please God show us how to pray.
Show us how to live.
Show us how to embrace this reality.

Sometimes, when our words fail and we haven’t a clue, the best prayer we can offer is “Holy God, pray yourself in us.”

Maybe that’s all the prayer we need - especially if we find ourselves out of practice. When times are smooth, and our lives predictable, our prayer can become routine or even neglected (except on Sundays, of course). When times are out of control, and other people’s need is too great for our help, we fall back on, “I’ll pray for you.” When we want to stop a conversation, perhaps our prayer is “Bless her heart.” When we have neglected many things, and know we have to begin somewhere to get somewhat back on track somehow, perhaps we begin “Our Father who art in heaven…” When we have a need to pray from the depths of our being, maybe a psalm gives us voice (“My God, my God…”)

Sometimes, we simply begin in silence. In hope that God will pray for us and in us.

I know prayer matters.
I know that prayer is the most important, and most vital, action we can take.
Let it not be our last resort. Let it not be when we don’t know what else to say. 
Let it be our beginning. And our ending.
It will make all the difference.
I know it.

 

Jan Smith Wood

August 21, 2020


March 15th.

The last time we worshipped together, innocent of the ‘rona ramifications.
Today is precisely five months later.

Most of us have cleaned out every closet, gotten rid of every piece of clothing we haven’t worn for 25 years (and never liked much to begin with), alphabetized our spice drawer (twice). We have become proficient at zooming - or sworn off social media forever (at least until tomorrow). We have learned new things, and mourned old ways. We are so over this. We’ve done everything we know to pass the time, mark the days, make the most of it, learn what we can.

But there’s more, isn’t there?There’s more being asked of us. More masks. More physical distancing. More stillness. More waiting. More learning.

Tomorrow’s lessons are stiff and difficult. Isaiah calls us to “maintain justice and do what is right” and then reminds us that God has room for everyone - even the foreigners - in God’s community. How are we supposed to “maintain justice and do what is right” if we’re isolated and shut down and distanced? There are plenty of ways (and no excuses, I’m sorry to say). Each of us can figure out what is ours to do.

As we help one another along this path of doing justice and loving mercy in our many places and different ways, something might be needed of us all.
Curiosity.
Inquiry.
Willingness to learn.

Here’s a good beginning: “21-day racial equity habit building challenge”. It’s put together by the San Francisco Bar Association and has a wide range of resources. All of them easily accessed, and understood. I’m excited that hte wonders of social media allow us to do this together and give us access to some very important perspectives.

Let us begin!

Holy God, to every generation,
your prophets proclaim your call to do justice and love mercy;
and your Son, our Savior, shows us the fullness of such a life:
Send your Holy Spirit upon us that we, too, may maintain justice and do what is right
without regard to our petty differences and arbitrary preferences.
In Jesus’ Name we pray.

 

Jan Smith Wood

August 15, 2020


Affirmation: God is bigger than covid-19*.
Affirmation: I am not God.

Somewhere along the line, our pandemic-wrestling came to be about personal courage, or gullibility, or fear. Our responses to these novel times of a novel coronavirus have come to be about character and values, about rights and freedoms, about faith and doubt. Say what?

If affirming that God is bigger than covid-19 means that I can do what I want because, after all, God’s got my back, count me out.

If affirming that God is bigger than covid-19 means that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God and, even in ICU isolation, God is present, count me in.

Of course, God is bigger than covid-19. God is bigger than all the universe.
The Creator of the universe, the Ground of all Being, the Divine Mystery is absolutely bigger than covid-19. Bigger than human understanding. Bigger than our greatest and most sacred imaginings. Bigger than it all.

We are not God.
We are not bigger than covid-19.
We are vulnerable, fragile creations and many of us are not stronger than this virus. (Nor are we stronger than cancer. We’re not stronger than train wrecks and plane crashes. We’re not stronger than our addictions. We’re not stronger than our own mortal nature.)

We are finite.
We are fragile.
Every one a miracle, beautiful and precious.
�This pandemic is bigger than me, bigger than you, bigger than any one of us. It need not be bigger than all of us - and I mean all. It is a truism that whatever happens to the least happens to all. Covid-19 is giving us a real-time, real-life lesson in what that means. How shall we make decisions based on what is good for the last and the least, first and foremost? How will our actions, personal and collective, reflect a dedication to the well-being of all God’s children?

Let God be God - in the meantime, let us work together with mutual respect and compassion to find a way through to life in abundance and health for every single child of God.

We can, with God’s help.

 

Jan Smith Wood

August 14, 2020


Store up - so that we can share!

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston (August 14, 2020)

I remember watching my great grandmother canning for the winter. Beets, green beans, peas, peaches, corn: it was as if she had a small factory in our little kitchen, a production line to store up food for the cold months ahead. Dozens of glass jars, the old Mason jars, would be lined up like art work, set up on shelves in the pantry, ready to be used or given away to others in need. From what I hear, we ought to be doing some spiritual canning ourselves. They say it could be a bad few months to come as the virus hits hard and the schools struggle to reopen. If that is true we are going to need some extra supplies: patience, kindness, humor, faith, compassion. Time to store them up. Time to get ready, so we will have plenty of hope for the hard days to come, and plenty to give away to those in need.


Somewhere along the line, our pandemic-wrestling came to be about personal courage, or gullibility, or fear. Our responses to these novel times of a novel coronavirus have come to be about character and values, about rights and freedoms, about faith and doubt. Say what?

If affirming that God is bigger than covid-19 means that I can do what I want because, after all, God’s got my back, count me out.

If affirming that God is bigger than covid-19 means that nothing will ever separate us from the love of God and, even in ICU isolation, God is present, count me in.

Of course, God is bigger than covid-19. God is bigger than all the universe. The Creator of the universe, the Ground of all Being, the Divine Mystery is absolutely bigger than covid-19. Bigger than human understanding. Bigger than our greatest and most sacred imaginings. Bigger than it all.

We are not God.

We are not bigger than covid-19.

We are vulnerable, fragile creations and many of us are not stronger than this virus. (Nor are we stronger than cancer. We’re not stronger than train wrecks and plane crashes. We’re not stronger than our addictions. We’re not stronger than our own mortal nature.)

We are finite.

We are fragile.

Every one a miracle, beautiful and precious.

This pandemic is bigger than me, bigger than you, bigger than any one of us. It need not be bigger than all of us - and I mean all. It is a truism that whatever happens to the least happens to all. Covid-19 is giving us a real-time, real-life lesson in what that means. How shall we make decisions based on what is good for the last and the least, first and foremost? How will our actions, personal and collective, reflect a dedication to the well-being of all God’s children?

Let God be God - in the meantime, let us work together with mutual respect and compassion to find a way through to life in abundance and health for every single child of God.

We can, with God’s help.

 

Jan Smith Wood

August 12, 2020


Putting anger to good use...

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston (August 9, 2020)

Anyone else got some excess anger they need to cope with? My guess is that this is true for a lot of us. I know I certainly seem to get a daily dose of frustration. I get mad at the government. I get mad at images on the media. I get upset with those in my neighborhood who refuse to wear a mask. So, yes, I have a surplus of anger these days. Which means I need to do something about it since anger left unresolved is spiritually unhealthy. Anger is energy. It is a motivational force within us that can be positive or negative, depending on where it is directed. I am intentionally focusing that energy toward causes that bring positive change. Every time I get angry, I see it as a reminder not to pile up more rage, but to get busy doing something constructive to make a difference. Don’t hold on to anger but put it to use.


August 8, 2020

Tomorrow, Peter walks on water.

Or at least he tries.

We’re doing some water-walking, too, aren’t we?

Or more to the point, panic-sinking?

Here’s the prayer we will pray together after hearing tomorrow’s Gospel. May it be so in your life.

Always.

 

Let us pray.

Holy God, the storm is fierce and our boat small:

Give us courage to see your Son in the storm;

Give us trust to follow when he calls us out onto the water;

Give us hope that he will catch us when we fall,

Jesus, your Son, the One who calms the storm and shows us eternity.

Amen.


Remember the prophet Elijah?

How he fled from conflict and devastation into the wilderness?

And waited for God?

There was a great wind - more like a hurricane.

Or tornado.

Mountains split. Rocks broke into pieces. Then there was an earthquake - more rocks breaking, more noise and upheaval. Then there was a great fire. If you’ve ever heard a great forest fire, you know they are noisy and frightening and unpredictable. All of these great upheavals came and went. Powerful. Destructive. Majestic. God was not in any of them.

Then came stillness. “A sound of sheer silence”. It was in this vast silence - as overwhelming in its own way as all the chaos and destruction that preceded it - that Elijah heard God. Found himself in the presence of the divine creative life-giving force. In the sheer silence.

We have been living with a great deal of noise, haven’t we? Since the novel coronavirus first came to our awareness, there’s been drama - of operatic proportions. There’s been shouting and dismissing, blaming and shaming - all very very loud. There’s been a whirlwind of possibilities and errors, insights and misinformation, confusion and conflict. We’ve been living through a communal seismic cataclysm, firestorm, and hurricane, with an occasional tornado to liven things up. We’ve been overcome by noise. Fear and anxiety have been amplified. But there has been very little silence. Certainly no sacred silence that I can discern.

Our souls are restless. Our bodies moreso.

Our hearts are broken. Our psyches moreso.

Maybe it’s time for some silence.

The kind of meditative, open, sheer stillness

that grows into holiness, wisdom, peace.

The kind of human silence that is daunting

because it takes us beyond our puny self-importance

into the majestic Presence.

Maybe.

 

Jan Smith Wood

August 6, 2020

 


What if these are the good old days?

What will we remember a decade from now when we remember-when?

Real question.

When I was growing up, the elders in my family would talk of the Great Depression. They remembered resourcefulness. Mutual aid. Good things that came out of those trying times. This was not simply because they were instructing their young with morality-building object lessons. It was what they remembered and what they treasured.

What will we remember? And treasure?

I hear-tell that those who still have the means to do so can’t buy a bicycle. Or a kayak. Or a new dog. Sold out. Wait-listed. Could that be a hint about how these might be our Good Old Days? We have been forced to take a breather. And we want to go outside. Move under our own power. Love a new life. Do some of the things that we’d put on hold because we had no time.

I hear-tell of communities of privilege trying to understand, without being defensive, what Black Lives Matter means to those who coined the phrase and continue to raise prophetic voices. I see growing energy around matters of responsible citizenship and cherishing our right to vote (after decades of abysmal voter turn-out). I glimpse moments of creativity and community in new ways - ways that we’d never have given a second thought to, back in the day.

These are the building blocks of the Good Old Days. Let’s pay attention, here and now. Let’s get involved, here and now. Let’s recognize what we have - while we can be strengthened by the new energy and possibility to embrace today as a genuine, really-truly Good Day.

Stranger things have happened.

 

Jan Smith Wood

August 4, 2020


Words matter.

Always.

 

The words we use create the world we live in.

How we describe a situation shapes our experience.

 

The way we frame the questions leads us to the answers we’ll get (and the places we’ll look for those answers.)

The prayers we pray become the reality we live.

Which is why our Morning Prayer liturgy for August is different from Morning Prayer in July. The basic structure and sequence remain - straight outta the BCP. The choices are a little different, but not random, never random.

We begin, as we have, with the Confession. Taking stock of what is and what is-not is always a most-excellent starting point, isn’t it? However, this invitation to Confession is longer, the older version, and purposely so. It starts out “We have come together, in the presence of Almighty God…”

How can this be? We are not together. We are scattered. We are zooming in. Or phoning in. Or sitting in. Hardly “come together”. (And when the connection goes wonky, or the sound is scratchy, it becomes an in-your-face reminder that we are not together like we used to be.)

But, my friends, we are together.

We are together in God’s love.

We are together in our attempts to be connected - however unsatisfying the experiment may be.

We are together because we are a community of care.

We are together because we have shared “one bread, one body” - and we are now dependent upon those years of real presence with one another to see us through these days of virtual presence.

We are together in our loss, and together in our hope.

We are together behind our masks, and together at a distance.

We are together in the presence of Almighty God.

We are always in the presence of Almighty God.

No matter where we go or how far from home we find ourselves.

That divine presence unites us. Shelters us. Welcomes us.

We are together. God is present. Let all our words take us more deeply into that reality.

Let us pray…

 

Jan Smith Wood

August 1, 2020


The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston (July 31, 2020)

Maybe I am just irrepressible but I will not let the grim news of our current reality turn me into a complainer. Every time the virus or the financial disasters of our age start to weigh me down I begin looking for the flip side. And I always find it because it is always there. If the virus says I cannot go out as I once did, then that is when I decide to take an online course in something I have always wanted to know. If I can't take a trip to see the sights then I take up painting and create a few sights of my own. If I am short of cash I try to be long on imagination. There is always a way to discover simple joys in life. You just have to look for them and you can’t do that with your head bent down. So perk up, come over to the flip side, and have fun finding out just how surprisingly happy you can be in spite of it all.


What wall, what brick, is yours to remove?

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston (July 30, 2020)

One day the last wall will be taken down. I have been thinking about that as I see so many stories in the news that are rooted in issues of racism. This fear of other human beings is a learned behavior. It is a wall constructed one brick at a time. Walls in our legal system, in education and housing, walls in employment and health care. And just as some people continue to try to build these walls of difference between us, others are about the task of taking them down. Deconstructing the walls of racism is deconstructing the myths of racism. That is something we can all work on because wherever we live, whatever we do, there is a wall somewhere in sight. Look around and I bet you can spot one. So our spiritual place of work in tearing down walls of prejudice and privilege is near at hand. We can work at it each day, one fear after another, until the good work is finally done and the last wall is taken down.


Feeling overwhelmed?

Exhausted by the unknowing nature of these days?

Way back in March - March 15th to be precise - we went home, closed our doors, hunkered down, and waited for the Angel of Death called covid-19 to pass by. Instead, it seems to have set up house in our midst - moved into the neighborhood and settled down for a nice long visit.

How shall we ever cope? If that weren't enough, the trauma of pandemic has raked open our eyes - the eyes of our hearts, some would say - to see what many of us have avoided seeing for generations. Injustice. Inequity. Ruptured community. Deep generational transgressions. Gratuitous violence. Shame and blame. Hatred. Delusions of supremacy and arrogant posturing.

What can we do?

How can we abide this endless uncertainty that keeps us in limbo (if not purgatory)? As I think about all the ways that people are living into whatever each day brings, it seems to me that curiosity is a good place to dwell.

Could we get curious?

Yep. Curiosity.

I’m curious about who benefits if we are hating each other.

I’m curious about how my day unfolds if I begin it with contemplation. What if I end with intentional silence?

I’m curious about what real people, people I know and love, mean when they say they want us to “defund” the police.

I’m curious about what happens on the other side of boredom.

I’m curious about what is good in this pandemic life.

I’m curious about what happens if I stop wanting my old life back, and give it a good burial.

I’m curious about balance: to know enough to be a responsible citizen-neighbor without fixating on the bleeding that leads every news feed.

I’m curious about what I can do today to mend and tend, love and create.

My list could go on and on…

What are you curious about?

Shall we get curious together?

 

Jan Smith Wood

July 29, 2020


The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston (July 28, 2020)

What is the opposite of a riot? If a riot is an outpouring of anger and frustration, then its opposite must be an outpouring of calm and hopefulness. And that is what we need: that tipping point of peace that floods our streets with an assurance that justice will be done, truth will be told, and healing will occur, so people may rest easy in the knowledge that their voices have been heard and their wishes understood. That is what I pray for: that tipping point where love breaks out and runs riot around us, where mercy flows like a river and reconciliation reaches to the farthest point of our moral compass. If what divides us is so great to bring riot to our dreams, then let the healing be just as powerful, an outpouring of grace to restore our balance and reveal our unity. And let that moment come quickly, Spirit of life, let it come now.


The past week was a week in which words failed. I experienced so much anger (anger in our nation, anger directed at me, and, more importantly, anger in my own spirit) that I could not imagine a word that might be shared - not hopeful, not holy, not helpful. Nothing.

Then came Evening Prayer on Friday and these words:

God be in my head, and in my understanding;

God be in my eyes, and in my looking;

God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;

God be in my heart, and in my thinking;

God be at my end, and at my departing.

 

And I found a place of peace beyond anger. Beyond woundedness. Beyond fear. A place where the Spirit of God can infuse everything - even my pitiful hailstorm of anger.

Funny thing about anger. It is just about the only emotion we will allow ourselves. We call it righteous. Or justified. Or honest. Granted, there are times - but not many - when anger is absolutely the appropriate emotion and serves a purpose. I can think of once when Jesus was outrageously angry: in the face of temple exploitation. Just that once.

We, on the other hand, seem to be living, breathing, and sleeping anger these days. I don’t think it’s serving us very well. It fractures. It fragments. It incapacitates. It makes us less human and it dehumanizes our neighbor. It erases our connection to one another. It dims the bright and holy light of God that dwells within each of us. We may think it makes us strong, but it really weakens us. Anger like we are seeing now only brings destruction and devastation. Nothing - nothing - good ever comes from the kind of anger we are becoming.

I have been debilitated by anger. Taken out. Silenced. In the grace of daily prayer in zoom-communion, I was shown a way past incapacitation. The Way has everything to do with the assurance that God is present. In all of this. In all that we are. God is making a new thing. Even as we rant and destroy, demean and diminish, Love is working like leaven in a heap of flour. Love is working like the flicker of a match in a dark and dank prison. Love is working in our actions when truth is spoken to power. Love is working when aid is given to the broken in body or in spirit. Love is working when we refuse to let hate make us hate, and refuse to let anger make us angry. Love is working to bring us beyond anger to action. Love is working.

 

Jan Smith Wood

July 25, 2020


The stubborn Holy Spirit - moving in our lives - making all things new.

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston (July 24, 2020)

Full Disclosure: I have tested positive for stubbornness. It is a common trait among many spiritually minded people of all faith traditions. And right now I have a very bad case of it. I am not going to lay down and try to ignore Covid-19 just because I am tired of fighting it. I am not going to give up on my country even if I think it desperately needs to find itself again. I am not going to pretend that law and order means sending in the army against our own people. I am not going to quit pointing out the phony patriotism of not wearing a mask. I am not going to get out of the way of the rush to open schools if I think it will hurt our kids and their teachers. And I am not going to be distracted from naming racism for what it is or for pointing out prejudice when I see it. So attention world: this grain of sand is not going to turn into a pearl any time soon.


Holy and loving God, you are our Rock and our Redeemer.

You are our beginning and our ending.

You are the first and the last.

You are all that is and ever shall be.

Everything that is exists in you.

We give you thanks for all that comes from you,

dwells in you, and returns to you;

and we pray you bring us back to our senses

when we are tempted to follow other gods.

This we ask in the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Sometimes, there is nothing left but prayer.

All the time, there is nothing more important than prayer.

How are you praying these days? God knows, we have time for prayer. And need of prayer. But desire to pray? Willingness to pray? Open to the vulnerability of prayer? That’s another matter altogether, isn’t it?

Sometimes, prayer comes easily and fluently from my heart and lips.

Other times, I feel absolutely incapable of uttering a single word out into the abyss.

All the time, that is enough.

 

It is enough to pray with words when they come. It is enough to sit in silent contemplation when that envelops me. It is enough to admit my sense of abyss, desolation, abandonment, or hopelessness when they descend. In the act of admitting, the light leaks in through the cracks in my self-composure and ego.

I am not alone. The Holy Presence still is present now - even if still and silent.

I don’t need other gods.

Only God.

Only now.

Only always.

 

Jan Smith Wood

July 18, 2020


What are we waiting for?

When all our usual ways of engaging the world: spending our days, constructing a life, using our time, are at a standstill, what do we do? When we can no longer do what we’ve always done, who are we? When “make-do” time becomes “real” time, how do we live?

Granted, many of us are figuring this out.

People are working digitally. Others are building up an incredible tolerance for the masks they wear everyday in order to do their everyday work. Some are inventing new work, and creating new engagements. Others are taking up a more vigorous and intentional life of prayer and presence. Some are reviewing assumptions and recognizing that this different way might actually be a better way. Others are using this time to figure out what really matters and who they want to be in this Pandemic Age. Some are realizing that we can help shape the emerging world and communities, and working to do precisely that.

A whole lot of us, however, are floundering.

We are mired in the loss of what we’d envisioned for July 2020. We are stuck in the annoyance of not getting to do what we thought we’d be doing today. We are holding our breath for that vaccine. We are seduced by the siren song of freedom that whispers of mask-free pub-crawls and pool parties. It’s summer, for crying out loud.

I guess what we’re waiting for depends on where we’re looking.

Are we looking to the future - mystery that it is? Are we looking to the past - with its comfortable familiarity? For me, looking to the past is not an option. The past has brought us to this moment. Nostalgia keeps us stuck. And sad. The past is closed to us - always. We cannot go back. What’s done is done. What’s gone is gone. What was is no longer. Now what? What shall we build together? What shall we imagine of a common life in which goodness prevails, inequities are addressed, injustices are corrected, and there is enough. We have time now for such deep work. Maybe what we are waiting for is our own courageous imagination to catch fire.

I am hopeful.

 

Jan Smith Wood

July 16, 2020


Wise words from a bishop in our communion...

Bishop Guli: Some Reflections on Wellbeing


The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston (July 16, 2020)

Do you believe in telekinesis? I do because I have seen it work. Telekinesis is the psychic ability to move objects from a distance without touching them. Magicians often do it as a trick to make things seem to float in the air. But I think it can happen spiritually when enough people believe in something together so they actually have an impact on the world around them. One person trying to bend a spoon by staring at it may be a joke, but one person trying to inspire a community to action may be the beginning of a movement. The power of every person to affect change is real. It is within all of us. We can move mountains because faith makes things happen. The only difference is that in spirituality we don't call it telekinesis. We call it love.


“Don’t worry. Be happy.”

Not quite what Jesus said,

but “hakuna matata” happens

when our lives are not consumed by worry.

It is no accident that Jesus invites his followers to think about the birds and the flowers - their beauty, their very existence.

They have “Enough”, and if God tends the flora and the fauna with such love, can we human beings be cared for any less? On the flip side, does our worrying make any difference to the outcomes? Does worry bring sufficiency? Or safety? Or security? (Spoiler alert: the answer is no.)

Worry does:

Distract us from the work at hand;

Drain our concentration and focus;

Put us in the never-land of never-enough;

Bring us into despair;

Stop creativity before it can even begin to make itself known.

Every one of us can name something else that worry steals from our own lives. Some of that which is stolen will be universal - other losses will be peculiarly personal.

I confess to the extreme difficulty of stopping the worrying. Most of the time, when I specifically try to diligently Stop Worrying, all that happens is more worry. I worry that I’m worrying. I worry that the worrying will never cease.

Which brings me back to Jesus’ invitation to “consider the lilies of the field”. Look around you. Look elsewhere than inside your own worrying head. Be present to what is here and now. Pay attention to the GIFT of Today. That’s real. That’s worth our focus. That’s worth giving our lives to: today. Today’s work. Today’s gifts. Today’s challenges. Today’s delights.

Just for today. I will be focused. I will be compassionate. I will do the work given to me to do: personal, societal, economic, relational. Just for today. I will pay attention to now. To this step (the next step will be clear when it becomes this step.)

It is enough.

 

Jan Smith Wood

July 14, 2020


It has happened.

Someone I know and appreciate tested positive for covid-19. Before this, I only knew someone who knew someone who was infected with the novel coronavirus.

There’s something that happens when statistics, as unnerving as they are, or other people’s stories, no matter how they lead us to prayer and concern, become real people whose faces we know and whose lives we cherish. The statistics might keep me up late into the night with free-floating anxiety. My prayer list might be longer every morning, filled with names of people better known to God than to me. The reality of this person, this life, makes my knees wobble, my heart break, and my tears spill over.

Maybe that’s why the story of George Floyd grabbed us when so many other deaths didn’t? Because our collective busy-ness was stilled, we could see him as if we knew him? He wasn’t a statistic or an occasion for prayer, but really real to more of us than all the others had been? Because we heard him call for his mama? And knew that we, too, want that shelter in our moments of fear and knowledge of death?

Maybe that’s why Jesus said the second great commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Not “love everybody.” Not love “all God’s children.” Not love “people in general.” Love your NEIGHBOR. The one next door to you. The one whose life and circumstances, whose loves and actions, are familiar to you. The one who is close by and real to you.

Perhaps in our human frailty and incompleteness, we are unable to love in the abstract. When we love in particular we access the courage, selflessness, and generosity that abide deep within but are frequently covered over and shut down.  Love your neighbor. That’s all. Love the one next door. Take their interests to heart as much as your own. Make all your decisions based upon what is good for them, too.  (Now, imagine every single person on earth is doing the same.)

Caveat: Does your neighbor look exactly like you? Is your neighbor a mini-me? Perhaps it’s time to find new neighbors, to look just a little farther afield (sometimes just across the street) and find a neighbor in one who has been a statistic, a stereotype, and object of scorn. In this, we can hope to fulfill the second and great commandment, real time real life: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Jan Smith Wood

July 11, 2020


The Thursday night book discussion group has been reading books for more than four years. We’ve ranged widely in our reading and authors: James Cone, Stephanie Spellers, Rowan Williams, Julian of Norwich, Marcus Borg, Rachel Held Evans, Rob Bell, Barbara Brown Taylor…

We used to meet once a month, whoever had read the book, for whatever conversation might emerge from our reading. In these covid-times, we have been meeting weekly on Thursday evenings for smaller discussions of a few chapters at a time.

One of the things that has come to the fore with all three recent authors (CK Robertson, Brene Brown, and Anita Amstutz) is the importance of community to a faithful, wholehearted, fulfilling life.

Our experience of community is being challenged in this Pandemic Age, isn’t it? We rely on technology to stay connected to a degree unimaginable in December. There are obstacles to overcome and new pathways to learn. Disconnections are more obvious when we zoom than when we sit together. Virtual train-wrecks and online melt-downs happen.

And yet.

There are moments of amazing connection.
Experiences when we know Holy Spirit is binding us together, even over a spotty internet.
Insights are shared that help us to show up for this life “one more time”.

Every time human technologies or catastrophes threaten to undo the warp and woof of human society, Holy Spirit finds a way. And the next generation can hardly imagine how it was ever otherwise.
Think of the printing press…
Or the fall of the Roman Empire…
Or the emergence of monasteries…
Or bubonic plague repeatedly wreaking havoc and destruction…
Or diaspora…

We are fortunate to live in such a transitional time - although we may not feel “fortunate”. We have a front row seat, a first-hand experience of how God continues to be made known to human beings in changing societies for healing, for reconciliation, for new life.

Even when it’s hard to see.

 

Jan Smith Wood

July 10, 2020


“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Um. Yep.

I woke up this morning to the news that 50,304 Americans were diagnosed with covid-19 in one day: July 8th.

We’ve almost reached 3,000,000 diagnosed cases.

And still, people refuse to wear masks.

Contrary to some popular rhetoric, our faith teaches us that we are, indeed, responsible for the last and the least.

Like Cain, we are responsible for our brothers’ and sisters’ well-being, even their very lives. What happens to you, also happens to me. We are connected. More than that, as followers of Jesus Christ and students of his teaching, we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, to serve the poor, tend the sick, feed the hungry. Wear the mask.

It’s such a simple thing. Wear a mask: beat back covid-19. Why are we finding that so difficult? Perhaps we are more like Naaman (2 Kings 5) whom Elisha healed of his leprosy by the simple expedient of washing in the River Jordan. The great prophet didn’t even come out of his house to work the healing - just sent a message: “Go and wash”. Naaman was irate and insulted. Then his servants reminded him that he would do something heroic and difficult, why not this easy thing? At least give it a try.

When will we, all of us together, realize that many of the repairs to what has been broken are very simple. Straightforward. Not glitzy or showy. But small actions taken by us. We ourselves are change agents, healers, repairers by our acts of love and compassion. As simple as wearing a mask in public.

Love in action.

Visible reminder that most great acts of love and compassion are in fact small, easily-overlooked, everyday actions done by ordinary people whose only claim to greatness is that they loved their neighbor.

Beloved, let us love one another as Christ has loved us.

Jan Smith Wood

July 9, 2020


July 8, 2020

An inspiring word from our Presiding Bishop for this week. "Habits of Grace"


“Only lingering shadows”... thank you, Bishop.

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston (July 7, 2020)

At other times in our lives we might have been tempted to see those spirits as quaint superstitions, but now I believe we see them for what they are: the forces within us that can distort the reality around us. Take fear and anger as an example. Fear and anger are at the core of so much of what we see happening around us. They feed off one another and grow stronger. They distract us from working together and isolate us even more. Therefore, we need to deny them the power they seek to have over us and confront them directly in our lives. When fear arises, help others find the calm center of hope and common sense. When anger boils up turn off its fire with words of compassion, kindness and healing. What we call evil spirits are very real, but not supernatural or beyond our control. They are only the lingering shadows of what we once saw in the dark before we found the light of love to guide us.


The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston (July 5, 2020)

Now is our chance. That may be the positive message in the midst of the chaos we feel around us. Even as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to claim more lives and even as the demonstrations topple more images of historic oppression: we have the chance to turn something bad into something good. We can not only defeat the virus, but use it as the starting place to finally establish meaningful health care for all of our citizens. We can not only stop allowing racism to enjoy public protection in our society, but renew our shared commitment to make our nation the land of the free. Both of those goals are within our grasp if we are willing to look honestly at the root causes for the rising numbers of illness and at the source of the racism that has haunted us for years. Yes, it is a difficult and scary time, but it is also a time of enormous possibility. History may be a hard teacher, but now is our chance to learn the lessons it teaches and become the nation we have always claimed to be.


Almighty God, giver of all good things: We thank you for the natural majesty and beauty of this land. They restore us, 
though we often destroy them.
Heal us. 

We thank you for the great resources of this nation. They make us rich, though we often exploit them.
Forgive us. 

We thank you for the men and women who have made this country strong. They are models for us, though we often fall short of them.
Inspire us. 

We thank you for the torch of liberty which has been lit in this land. It has drawn people from every nation, though we have often hidden from its light.
Enlighten us. 

We thank you for the faith we have inherited in all its rich variety. It sustains our life, though we have been faithless again and again.
Renew us. 

Help us, O Lord, to finish the good work here begun. Strengthen our efforts to blot out ignorance and prejudice, and to abolish poverty and crime. And hasten the day when all our people, with many voices in one united chorus, will glorify your holy Name. Amen. 

Thanksgiving for National Life, Book of Common Prayer p 838


"Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)


As the days pass, there is a growing awareness that this pandemic is not over. The novel coronavirus is alive and well in our midst. We are not getting back to business as usual, no matter how we act otherwise. 

In all of this mess, I am noticing something that just might be gift, grace, and blessing: slow and deliberate. Slow and deliberate in the doctor’s office: have to stay our distance, take our temps, wait patiently for our turn. Slow and deliberate in the Thrift Shop: shoppers in the store limited to eight, precautions like checking in and hand-sanitizing, requiring masks. Masks themselves require slow and deliberate. Don’t rush out of the house without one. Remember to wear it. Having a hard time breathing? Breathe more slowly. Through your nose. Still your heart. You got this. 

Slow and deliberate puts us in another time frame: God’s time. Time that requires and invites stillness, contemplation, observance. Our time and God’s time rarely converge. We flutter and bluster. Flit from thing to thing in an attempt to know our own importance. We fill our calendars with appointments and must-dos, and tasks, and engagements - and think we’re living. We rush from activity to event to project and believe it all matters. (Sometimes it does.) Now, we can’t.  

On the other hand, God’s time is long and slow, measured in eons not hours. Cosmic and deep. Still and profound. Easily dismissed or ignored: until and unless we enter into stillness. Stillness that is the doorway to wisdom, faith, and mystery. Stillness that just might bring us to a holy life.

Today, just today, let us be still and know that God is God. And we are not. In everything we do, let slow and deliberate be our guide. Don’t chafe at the restraint but enter in and be transformed. The work will be done - all of it, including the soul work, heart work, and healing work.

That psalm? Look it up and meditate on the whole thing: the words ring absolutely true for us in our time. As if they were written for us now.

Jan Smith Wood (July 3, 2020)


Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:4-7 CEB)

Seems like each time that I get a bit wearied by the “changes and chances of this life” - particularly in all the uncertainties of our times with the innumerable changes and chances we face - something comes to mind and heart to help me keep on keeping on.

Today, what came to mind is this passage from Philippians. No matter what happens today: I shall rejoice. Trusting that there will be something to rejoice in - even if it’s merely the amazing delightful twinkly fireflies at dusk who visit every evening.  I shall rejoice even in the middle of the night - when a few words of God’s presence sneak in under the cacophony of worries and anxieties that seem so loud at 2am. 

I will remember that I am asked to show gentleness to all people (and that masks are a way I can do that: even if they do steam up my glasses). I will pray confidence that God is, indeed, near - I know this but sometimes I forget for a little while.

I will open my life, my heart, my mind, my self to God’s peace: the kind of peace that I can’t understand and sometimes overlook. The peace that abides and is always, always, always a real presence.  Thanks be to God.

And those changes and chances of this life? 
This prayer from Compline (our church’s night prayers) helps and heals: Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours fo this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Jan Smith Wood (July 2, 2020)


The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston (July 2, 2020)

My doctor will tell you that I am more of the give it to me straight kind of patient. I would rather have the facts than the denial. So here are the facts: the virus will take a long time to overcome and it will get worse before it gets better. We need to accept that reality. The good news is that we can confront Covid-19 with a few simple actions: wear a mask, stay apart, wash your hands. Learn to live in a public health culture. We have done it before. Some of us are old enough to remember polio and not drinking from water fountains in the summer. We remember the March of Dimes and Easter Seals. As a society we have embraced public health concerns and lived with them until science moved us forward. We can and will do it again. So here is the straight talk: no matter what your politics, privilege or age do your part. It is that simple. Don't wait for permission or orders from above. Just do the right thing. Wear a Mask/Save a Life.


Absolutely this. Thank you, Bishop Charleston.

I am not a psychologist but I think I would be close to right when I say most of us are experiencing a rapid cycle through three emotions as we see the daily news about Covid-19: fear, anger and worry. Those emotions become the psychological climate in which we try to makes sense out of our lives these days. They are exhausting and repetitive. So what do we do? Here is one spiritual approach that may help. When you are afraid the best advice is to remain calm, so use that feeling as a trigger to practice meditation. When you are angry turn that negative energy into positive action by getting busy on a constructive project. When you are worried don't sink into anxiety but rise above it through intentional prayer for others. Respond to fear, anger and worry with your own sacred trinity: meditation, action and prayer. They are homespun spiritual remedies that are immediate and healing responses to what we face each day.


July 1, 2020

“…a self-described ‘rebel, instigator, and survivor, at times a nettle in the body politic, an opener-of-doors, and always a devout child of God and friend of mankind.’”

Almighty God, whose prophets taught us righteousness in the care of your poor: By the guidance of your Holy Spirit, grant that we may do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in your sight; through Jesus Christ, our Judge and Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the same Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

This is our final post of Pride reflections through the lens of the life of the Rev. Pauli Murray of blessed memory. We hope that your heart has been filled, your understanding expanded, and your relationships enriched by these writings. Peace be with you.


“I honor her own self-naming as a black feminist who refused to allow others to label her, restrain her or restrict her. Her life's journey was a roller coaster ride of highs and lows, great achievement and shattering disappointments, but through it all she maintained her faith in a God of love, justice, mercy and reconciliation — a God who fought alongside her to remedy the many wrongs of the world in which she lived, wrongs that still persist today.” Diana L Hayes
 

Where do you find your courage to remedy the wrongs of the world in which you live? (Wrongs of the world are always, perhaps only, begun in the particularity of our small, immediate, intimate community lives. That’s where they will also be remedied.


"The Black Queer Feminist Civil Rights Lawyer Priest who co-founded NOW, but that History Nearly Forgot” How many labels can one person live with? All that Murray accomplished and the amazing legacy of a life that could have been “disappeared” under the weight of all the limits are awesome inspiration.

Are there labels that you find oppressive? Are there people who can help you change them from roadblocks to stepping stones to the work that you can do to make our world a better place for everyone?


To be the people we are called to be, we need each other. Pauli Murray knew this. Pauli Murray was this: a connector and a trailblazer.  Here is a link to LGBTQ organizations and resources. May you find what you seek. And may you be the answer to another’s prayer. (https://episcopalchurch.org/lgbtq/organizations


I just want my old life back. I miss my friends. I had plans - and this ain’t it. I am tired of physical distancing. Masks are annoying. I’ve had enough. I’m afraid. I’m sad. I. Hate. This.
Maybe these thoughts have crossed your mind, too? From time to time? 

When they come to mind for me, they drown me. I am overcome by the death of a great many plans, expectations, possibilities - and people, so many many people. I am awash in sorrow - sorrow that can quickly morph into anger. All of which is absolutely pointless. Disappearing under a pile of shoulda/woulda/ coulda is no way to live.  Worse yet, we are robbed of the life we have been given.

It is still possible to say “Life is good.” The choice is ours.
We can choose hope - even when we’re not optimistic.
We can choose gratitude - even when anger lurks close by.
We can choose contentment - even when we’re ill at ease.
We can choose confidence - even when we feel lost.

Today is the life we have been given.
Today is the moment we have been waiting for.
Today is the day we will be courageous, compassionate, creative, and constructive.
Today or never.
Mask and distance, sadness and hope, and all.

Jan Smith Wood (June 27, 2020)


The only way to our wholeness is through our brokenness. 

This understanding entered into my heart while I wrestled with the Sunday lessons for June 21st. It has stayed with me in very powerful ways and I am hard-pressed to know why it never occurred to me quite so succinctly before.

The only way to our wholeness is through our brokenness.�The only way to our salvation is through our sin.

I know this to be true for individuals and for communities. I believe it to be true to the times we are living. There is no work-around, my friends. There is no way to “hack” this work. We have to do it. Together.��

This means that we have to sit still and listen.�We must receive the stories of other people’slives and honor them with our full attention.�It is time to investigate the aspects of our shared history that have been silenced and then seek to understand.

If we are like every other human being ever created in God’s own image, we can only come to the fullness of life that God intends by paying courageous attention to that which is broken and wounded in our lives and in our communities.

We, of all people, should be able to do this.�
After all, do we not embrace a sacred story that promises forgiveness (and wholeness) to all who repent and return to God?�
Repentance (turning away from brokenness and toward wholeness) requires an honest understanding of our brokenness.�
We cannot change that which we will not admit or do not know.�

Now is the time of knowing.�
Let us be brave and unafraid.

Wholeness awaits.

Jan Smith Wood (June 25, 2020)


From the Poetry of Pauli Murray…
“When her throat grew weary,
Her heart pulsed a song 
Of hope, of justice, of 
equality,
Unconstrained by the 
binaries
That bind,
Authentically free…”

Murray reminds us of the power of intersectionality, and emboldens us to stand for justice in the face of tremendous challenge.


"Prophecy" (A poem by the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray)
I sing of a new American
Separate form all others,
Yet enlarged and
Diminished by all others.
I am the child of kings and serfs, freemen and slaves,
Having neither superiors 
nor inferiors,
Progeny of all colors, all
cultures, all systems, all
beliefs.
I have been enslaved, yet
my spirit is unbound.
I have been cast aside,
but I sparkle in the 
darkness.
I have been slain but live
on in the river of history.
I seek no conquest, no
wealth, no power, no
revenge:
I seek only discover
Of the illimitable heights
 and depths of my own being.


Gratitude is an absolutely necessity. For our hearts. For our ability to show up this day. For survival. For joy. For wholeheartedness. It is a gift that deserves our daily practice. (and only emerges slowly - rather like this milkweed blossom - it takes time.)

Try this for a week: at the same time each day (When you wake up? Before you go to bed?) write your gratitudes. Don’t stop until you’ve filled the page (even if you start with a small piece of paper, I promise you will need a larger piece of paper, soon and very soon).

Jan Smith Wood (June 24, 2020)


True community is based upon equality, mutuality and reciprocity. It affirms the richness of individual diversity as well as the common human ties that bind us together.” Pauli Murray

As we continue to reflect on the life, works, and words of the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray during Pride month, consider this quote that is as important today as it was during her life time. Murray worked throughout her life to address injustice, give voice to the unheard, and to educate: promoting reconciliation and change between races and all people.

We invite you to listen to the podcast dated 5/5/20 from CAC.org “The Foundation of Community” Fr. Richard Rohr
https://cac.org/the-foundation-of-community-2020-05-05/...

What does community mean to you?
How does Pauli Murray’s quote resonate with your experience of current events and your understanding of diversity?

Jan Smith Wood (June 23, 2020)


As we approach what would have been Pride Week in Sandusky, Grace is hosting our virtual Pride booth here. We will enter into these reflections through the life and words of the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, activist, attorney, educator, poet, Episcopal priest, non-binary, African American, Pauli Murray’s life and witness give us a path into wholeness and inclusion that is life-giving and Gospel-bearing - exuberant integrity that Pride Week celebrates.

(Jan Smith Wood, June 22, 2020)


I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert. Good News! (Isaiah 43:19)

God is always doing a new thing in our midst - when we miss the signs, we miss out. There are many reasons we may miss the signs. We’re not expecting anything quite so different, so new, so “other” and we can’t perceive the New Thing. We are too wrapped up in our own egos to notice anything beyond our nose. The bright lights of Nostalgia blind us to the wonders of Now. We are wounded by grief and loss: our tears blur our vision. 

There are probably as many reasons for not perceiving the new thing that God is doing as there are people that God yearns to welcome into God’s own love and time. In Isaiah’s words, God keeps laying down a way for us. God continues to create rivers in the dry desert. Sometimes we only realize God’s handiwork of care and creative new life when we realize we are no longer thirsty, or our feet no longer stumble. 

God is doing a new thing. Always.
Deserts hold rivers. Trails traverse wildernesses. 
We are alive. We are learning. We are becoming. 
God willing, God is doing a new thing in our hearts, too. In our communities. In our lives.  

Still wilderness. Still desert. Still God’s new thing. There are signs. There are glimmers. May we have eyes to see and ears to hear. May we have courage to join in bringing about God’s new thing. Even in the wilderness and especially in the desert.

(Jan Smith Wood, June 18, 2020)


So many things weighing on my heart these days. So much to ponder. Faith seeking understanding - even while I sleep.
�When I awoke this morning, my heart recalled the words “By the rivers of Babylon, we lay down and wept”.  The great Babylonian Exile gave rise to this song of lament - asking how can we ever, ever, sing God’s praise so far from home? How can we know anything of grace and beauty and blessing in this forced exile from all that we have loved - and from all that we knew to be a sign of God’s presence?

We, too, live in a time when the song has faded and we cannot remember how to praise God and how to be thankful. We are detached from much of life’s sweetness and significance. We want to return to the place where we were content, where we knew what was what and life was good (or so we thought). 

In fact, this is a plight far more common to the human condition than many of us may have realized before we shared it. Alienated from all that we knew, it is tempting to lament, “This is not the life I signed up for.” It rarely is, is it? Things happen. Tragedy strikes. Sorrow surrounds us. How will we ever rejoice again?

The beauty of the psalms of lament is that they are raw, outrageously honest - and end in praise. True: we can’t sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land. At least not the way we used to sing. And definitely not the same song. But we can sing. We shall sing. Our song will begin with lament and mourning. It will flow (gradually) into consolation and then into praise. Eventually. For today, let us lift wobbly voices, tearful notes, and halting tunes, and sing of what is.

From Psalm 137:1-4 
By the rivers of Babylon—
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
    we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
    asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land?

 

(Jan Smith Wood, June 17, 2020)


What is on your list?

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston (June 15, 2020)

To Do List: (1) Spend more time outside so I can see that reality still exists, (2) Call someone I know who would be glad to hear a friendly voice, (3) Stop yelling at the television screen when certain politicians appear, (4) Keep washing my hands, (5) Donate to the local food bank, (6) When I feel like complaining count my blessings, (7) Get dressed instead of wearing what I sleep in all day, (8) Pray for everyone and everything on my prayer list, (9) Laugh more, (10) Think of one more thing I could do to make this world a better place.


The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston (June 14, 2020)

It is going to be alright. It is not going to be quick or easy or painless, but it is going to be alright. The turmoil through which we are living will one day be the story we tell and tell again as proud veterans of a great struggle. The virus will release its grip on our people and live only beyond the secure walls of our science. The streets will be busy once more in a new community which we will all share equally, living with a common memory, moving forward with a common purpose. It is going to be alright. I know that in my heart. And I think you do too. So let us hurry the day by offering our good news: be faithful, be hopeful, be merciful, for the Spirit is at work around us, shaping the change we need within us, to restore peace and health between us. It is going to be alright.


The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

My ancestors were river people which means they were familiar with floods. When storms came, whipped by violent winds, the waters would rise until they breached their banks, washing away fields and houses before them. Water covered the land until slowly, as the storm subsided, the river returned to its timeless course. The flood was hard to get through, but it left behind the rich earth from which our crops grew in even more abundance. This memory of my culture is not a perfect analogy for what has been happening over the last many days, but I believe it offers us a sense of the cycles of hope. Our streets are rivers. Our people are living water. Our fields are where justice grows and where community takes root in the new earth.


“If not us, who? If not now, when?”

 

Brene Brown (May 31, 2020)

From the dehumanizing language and policy of this administration, to the history of white women using the performative “quiver of fear” when calling the police on black men, to police brutality, the system is working exactly how it was designed. 

The system is not broken. This is the expansive and intricate system of dehumanization that was constructed to support white supremacy and slavery. Like every genocide in recorded history, racism started with dehumanization.   

The system is more complex now and supported by policy. One thing remains at the center: We, the white folks, are the conduit for the system. It was built to serve us. When we do nothing it surges through us. To end racism, we have to break the system. We have to see it and fight against it - we have to be anti-racist. There are many ways to break and rebuild. But here’s what I know for sure:  

The most important anti-racism work I’ve done over the past 20 years and that I’m still doing (every single day) is taught and led by people with the lived experience of racial oppression - NOT white people. This includes my professors, writers, activists, bosses, and mentors. For me, it’s also about seeing, sharing, and honoring the lived experiences of my friends whose realities are/were clearly different than mine. 

Our job is to seek out the teaching, value it, submit to the pain of learning without asking our teachers to absolve us or add our emotions to their load, and know that being held accountable is hard and painful. And we have to act. 

There are many teachers who are leading the way. Here are some teachers that I follow and who are doing critical work right now. 

Austin Channing Brown (the The Next Question)

Dr. Bernice King (on MSNBC today at 1:45EST and has an important series on FB)

Dr. Clint Smith (June 3 event)

Prof. Ibram Kendi (on Unlocking Us this week)

Rachel Cargle (Public address on revolution available now)

If you know of other teachers - please leave them in the comments and we'll put together a list. 

Amplify their voices and their work. Buy their books. Take their classes. Break the system.


Not an ending - a beginning

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

It's a generational thing. If you look carefully at the protesters you will see that most are young women and men from many different ethnic backgrounds. They are from a generation where sexual orientation is no big deal, women can be fighter pilots, and being vegan is nothing unusual. They care about sustainability and they are spiritually omnivorous. These are young people who have filled our streets and risked their bodies because they care about justice and equality. They embody in themselves a vision of the future now taking shape before us. It is not a bad vision. It is a hopeful future of instinctive diversity. This is not an ending but a new beginning. It is a generational thing. It is called change.


The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

Like many of you I watched yesterday’s events in front of the White House unfold in real time. It was a stage managed show of force, using law abiding citizens as expendable extras in a macho movie and the Bible as a prop for a macabre photo-op, as awkward and isolated an image as history has ever recorded. Every element was choreographed. The Attorney General coming out to review his troops. The timing of the charge into the crowd. The sound of explosions in the background of the get tough speech. The triumphant stroll with the dominator attended by his entourage. The pantomime at the church. I watched it all. As some people used the death of George Floyd as an excuse to smash windows and burn cars, so some of our leaders used it as an excuse to distract our attention from the cause and meaning of his death for political expediency. For me, both are criminal acts. The right of free speech and assembly has been as violated as the right to humane treatment while in custody of the law. It will now be up to each of us to declare what we have seen and what we intend to do as a consequence. I cannot speak for you. I can only speak for myself. I know what I saw and I know what I believe. Therefore I will remain steadfast in my witness: the murder of George Floyd in public as a blatant act of the racism that infects this nation is the issue. We have to face that reality and deal with it through truth telling and constructive change. Criminals who try to steal televisions or politicians who try to steal elections are looters. We have to confront them in court or at the ballot box.


The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

Do you believe something good can come from something bad? Most of us do because our own life experience verifies that it can happen. Disaster, loss, grief, conflict: they are all frightening and painful, but each one can also be a catalyst for deep change in our lives, positive change, healing change. I can tell a story about that in my life history and I bet you can too. And there, in our own experience, is the common thread of hope that can unite us in this historic moment. We can see something good arise from the ashes if we are open to the lessons it teaches and if we are willing to change. We know that is true. We have seen it ourselves. In the midst of chaos the Spirit offers us the way forward: transformation.


The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

Now is the moment for which a lifetime of faith has prepared you. All of those years of prayer and study, all of the worship services, all of the time devoted to a community of faith: it all comes down to this, this sorrowful moment when life seems chaotic and the anarchy of fear haunts the thin borders of reason. Your faith has prepared you for this. It has given you the tools you need to respond: to proclaim justice while standing for peace. Long ago the Spirit called you to commit your life to faith. Now you know why. You are a source of strength for those who have lost hope. You are a voice of calm in the midst of chaos. You are a steady light in days of darkness. The time has come to be what you believe.


Presiding Bishop Curry’s Word to the Church: When the Cameras are Gone, We Will Still Be Here

May 30, 2020

A word to the Church from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry:

“Our long-term commitment to racial justice and reconciliation is embedded in our identity as baptized followers of Jesus. We will still be doing it when the news cameras are long gone.”
 

In the midst of COVID-19 and the pressure cooker of a society in turmoil, a Minnesota man named George Floyd was brutally killed. His basic human dignity was stripped by someone charged to protect our common humanity. 

Perhaps the deeper pain is the fact that this was not an isolated incident. It happened to Breonna Taylor on March 13 in Kentucky. It happened to Ahmaud Arbery on February 23 in Georgia. Racial terror in this form occurred when I was a teenager growing up black in Buffalo, New York. It extends back to the lynching of Emmett Till in 1955 and well before that. It’s not just our present or our history. It is part of the fabric of American life. 

But we need not be paralyzed by our past or our present. We are not slaves to fate but people of faith. Our long-term commitment to racial justice and reconciliation is embedded in our identity as baptized followers of Jesus. We will still be doing it when the news cameras are long gone.

That work of racial reconciliation and justice – what we know as Becoming Beloved Community – is happening across our Episcopal Church. It is happening in Minnesota and in the Dioceses of Kentucky, Georgia and Atlanta, across America and around the world. That mission matters now more than ever, and it is work that belongs to all of us.

It must go on when racist violence and police brutality are no longer front-page news. It must go on when the work is not fashionable, and the way seems hard, and we feel utterly alone. It is the difficult labor of picking up the cross of Jesus like Simon of Cyrene, and carrying it until no one – no matter their color, no matter their class, no matter their caste – until no child of God is degraded and disrespected by anybody. That is God's dream, this is our work, and we shall not cease until God's dream is realized. 

Is this hopelessly naïve? No, the vision of God’s dream is no idealistic utopia. It is our only real hope. And, St. Paul says, “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Real love is the dogged commitment to live my life in the most unselfish, even sacrificial ways; to love God, love my neighbor, love the earth and truly love myself. Perhaps most difficult in times like this, it is even love for my enemy. That is why we cannot condone violence. Violence against any person – conducted by some police officers or by some protesters – is violence against a child of God created in God’s image. No, as followers of Christ, we do not condone violence.

Neither do we condone our nation’s collective, complicit silence in the face of injustice and violent death. The anger of so many on our streets is born out  of the accumulated frustration that so few seem to care when another black, brown or native life is snuffed out. 

But there is another way. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a broken man lay on the side of the road. The religious leaders who passed were largely indifferent. Only the Samaritan saw the wounded stranger and acted. He provided medical care and housing. He made provision for this stranger’s well-being. He helped and healed a fellow child of God.

Love, as Jesus teaches, is action like this as well as attitude. It seeks the good, the well-being, and the welfare of others as well as one’s self. That way of real love is the only way there is. 

Opening and changing hearts does not happen overnight. The Christian race is not a sprint; it is a marathon. Our prayers and our work for justice, healing and truth-telling must be unceasing. Let us recommit ourselves to following in the footsteps of Jesus, the way that leads to healing, justice and love.


Grief.
Anger.
Fear.
Isolation.
Pentecost.
Perhaps, in God’s economy, it is no trivial matter that the day a mighty wind, Holy Spirit wind, blew through that little room and disrupted everything, is also the day that we see without blinders, without excuses, without conditions, the depth of injustice in our nation’s structures. Perhaps now (like then), we (like them) will allow our hearts to be transformed, our spirits to be strengthened, our voices to be released. For justice, for truth, for repentance, for a new day that is genuinely aligned with God’s love, and Jesus’ message. 

George Floyd is dead. Ahmaud Arbery is dead. Breonna Taylor is dead. For the color of their skin. We stand at the edge of a new day, God willing. For such a day as this, we have received the Body and Blood of Christ, freely given, for years and years. We have been practicing beloved community, crossing self-imposed boundaries and imaginary borders, from time to time. We have been formed in the stillness of pandemic. A mighty wind is blowing. Tomorrow, we shall gather to pray, to hear God’s word, to continue walking the Way of Christ: into God’s future.

 

(Jan Smith Wood, 


 

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston 

One man dies in the street, pleading for his life, and overnight those streets erupt in anger at the injustice, not only for that dreadful moment, but for a lifetime of oppression. One hundred thousand die from a virus, all innocent victims of a heartless disease, but a balance of color shows more die from one community than others. Racism breeds death, either visibly for all the world to see, or silently, hidden beneath the statistics and the excuses. May the Spirit empower us to face this reality and not turn away: racism is as virulent as covid-19, infecting people who seem to have no outward symptoms, until behavior reveals their disease. The vaccine for racism is justice, the cure is equality, and the prevention is love.


Powerful true insight to ponder. Thank you, Callie Swanlund !

In Brené Brown's research, she found a group of individuals who displayed traits of vulnerability, courage, and engaged in their lives from a place of worthiness. She was puzzling over what to call this group of people who exhibited these attributes, until she was sitting in church one Sunday. In The Episcopal Church, we pray a weekly prayer of confession, acknowledging our communal sins—those things done and left undone—before God.

We have not loved you with our whole heart
We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent

We have not loved you with our whole heart. To be wholehearted means not watching out only for ourselves and our own best interests, but weeping with Rachel for her dead children in Ramah, overturning the tables of injustice, and standing alongside the widow and orphan, outcast and stranger.

We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. To be wholehearted means when one of us is broken, none of us is whole. We are broken, dear ones. The sins of privilege and racism are literally killing our Black and Brown siblings. The lynching of Ahmaud, the murder of George, the unjust treatment of Christian.

We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. To be wholehearted means to name the ways in which we’ve hurt one another or remained complicit. To repent means to turn. We must turn our attention to God’s children whose world is on fire and declare with our words and actions that Black Lives Matter.

Wholehearted Beloveds, how can we better love our neighbors as ourselves? In what ways can we truly repent for the evil we have done or the evil done on our behalf?

God has created each and every one of us in God’s own image. Let us love God with our whole heart by bravely and boldly letting that principle guide our lives.

#WholeheartedWednesday

(Thanks to the Rev. Callie Swanlund)


We’re rounding the corner into summer. Some of us have ventured out. Others are staying put. There’s an increasing divergence of opinion as to the way forward. Perhaps the one thing upon which we can all agree is that this is no temporary hiccup after which we’ll go back to the lives we were living in January.

What is sure and certain is that we will never again live without pandemic. The losses that we have experienced will abide, accompanying us all the days of our lives. This is our new reality. The stories we tell matter now more than ever as we live into these extraordinary times.

Here is the story I’m telling.

Without a doubt, God is with us. God is doing a new thing. God has always been doing a new thing in human lives and communities. It’s just that, sometimes, our eyes and our hearts are open to that possibility and we see, we love, we imagine, we create. Now is a great opening into divine possibility.

This is the narrative that sustains me.

Death (and loss) do not have the final word. Life awaits us on the other side of death - including the little everyday deaths that we experience when expectations are not met, or we realize we were wrong. Enlightenment comes on the other side of disillusionment. Jesus was absolutely right when he said that we have to lose our life to gain our life - and the life we gain is everything. We have to let go and be emptied before we can be filled.

God willing, we will come one day to a new day and wonder what we were afraid of and why we dragged our feet. But, in the meantime, let us live in the beauty of the moment. Let us find a gratitude, no matter how very small it may be, to savor. Let us be still and trust that we are finding the way - that God is making a way out of no way. We will come through this. That which is broken will be made whole; those who are lost will be found; that which has died will live.

Thanks be to God.

 

(Jan Smith Wood)


The God Article is with Verna Wood.


The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

What can restore our economy? That is a question we frequently hear and I must admit I am not qualified to answer it. I am not very good with numbers and Dow Jones is someone I thought I went to school with. But wiser people tell me it is all about confidence. Trust and confidence are the foundation of a strong economy. Now that is something I can understand. So what can restore confidence? In a word: honesty. We believe and act on what we trust as being honest. Tell the truth. Tell it without the embellishments of spin or blame or denial. Build a culture of honesty and I believe people will take care of the economy themselves.


"Walk toward what you dream." Amen!

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

The great migration has begun. Long ago my ancestors walked across this continent on just such a journey. They walked as a people in search of a promised land. They made a holy covenant with the Spirit and chose a direction: to the east and a new beginning. Today all of us are on a migration as well. We did not choose it. It chose us. A transformation is happening that will shape us for generations to come. But which direction will we take? What is the vision of our promised land? My ancestors were blessed by their decision to walk toward light, toward a free and loving future. May we be blessed with that same sacred promise. The great migration has begun. Walk toward what you dream.


As this time of un-knowing and physical distancing elongates itself, many of us are getting antsy, anxious, stir-crazy, impatient…. We don’t know if this is sustainable, and cannot envision an alternative. 

Our sense of reality yo-yos worse than our weight. One moment it seems that a new day might be emerging which will bring about much-needed changes that bend our communities and economies toward justice. Then some bit of information flits across our screen and we are filled with dread that the haters will win, and only mayhem and devastation await us.

Grief wrestles with gratitude. Gratitude gives way to dread. Dread is quieted by hope. Hope yields to sorrow. Sorrow stills my heart and I hear the birds sing. And that was before I finished this morning cup of coffee (which, today, is delicious - best ever).

Then I remember what we read in our daily evening prayer last week. Every day, there is something in Scripture that is spot-on and helps us continue to step into God’s future. But this one is standing by me, holding me up, easing my heart for the work that we’ve all been given to do, real-time, here-and-now. 

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Matthew 6:34, The Message)

Funny, how often a Scripture passage appointed for the day is precisely what we need to be hearing, isn’t it? 
Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now.
Give your entire attention to what you are doing right now.
Give your entire attention to the living of this day. �
Give your entire attention.
Here and now.
God is present.

It is in giving our entire attention to right now, that we will have the courage, strength, creativity, energy, and imagination to do what needs doing when the time comes (when that “here-and-now” arrives).

In this here-and-now may you find peace.


The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

I think you are using good judgment. That is one of my mother's most important benedictions. She is ninety two years old now. Whenever you ask her for advice, she listens carefully, asks her questions, then gives you her verdict. It is not important that you have a good idea or a good plan or a good chance. All of that is hopeful, but not necessarily grounded in the careful process of discernment. My mother wants to know if you have done your homework before making a decision. Good judgment to her is not a leap of faith, but a bridge of faith. It means you have understood that belief is not a guess, but an answer. How you arrive at that answer is the question.


The things we wear remind us who we are (nuns and monks have known this for centuries).
Police officers. Delivery truck drivers. Nurses. 
Muslim women who wear hijab.
Jewish men in their kippah.
Me in my mask.

The first time I ventured into public space after we began physical distancing, I wore a mask. The only thing that kept me from feeling ridiculous was my sense that this is sacramental: an outward and visible sign of my internal commitment to love as God loves. Wearing a mask reminds me that I am - or desire to be - a person who loves extravagantly and without boundaries.

Until I see someone who is not wearing a mask. It’s hard to love the ones who won’t. I am brought up short by my own judging nature. I am pushed back into the hard work that is love. 

I try to see them with compassion and curiosity. Why won’t they wear a mask?  There are many stories that I can imagine might be their story.

Perhaps they cannot. Claustrophobia is a real thing, so are other health issues that make mask-wearing untenable. I wear a mask for them. 

Perhaps they don’t have the means to get a mask. I commit to working for a more just society for them. 

Pretty sure some are straight-up selfish and self-centered.  I feel sorry for them, and love sneaks in under the radar of my indignation. 

I suspect that many of the most recalcitrant won’t wear a mask because they are afraid and in grief - and dare not admit it. So they lash out and shout about their personal freedoms. Really hard to love them. Perhaps because I share the fear and grief and wishing we could just have a do-over. But we can’t. We can only go forward into this day, always this day. Knowing that God is working in us more than we can ever ask or imagine.

So I wear my mask in public. And pray that it will help me love the least lovable. Like God does.

(Jan Smith Wood)


The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston 

I have good reason to believe that at the end of the day we are going to be alright. I do not feel this way because I am overly optimistic or in denial about the depth or complexity of the problems we confront. I feel positive for one very simple reason: this is not the first challenge we have faced. Ever member of this community could stand and give witness to the number of crises they have weathered over the years. Each of us is a veteran of many conflicts. We have our scars and we have our medals. We have come out on the other side shaken, but stronger. I am believing we will do it again. I am believing in you. Experience and faith will see us through.


The Psalm appointed for Sunday, May 17th, recalls the Exodus. Remembers the hard and frightening times. The treacherous journey through the Red Sea. The paralyzing fear of standing between two sure and certain destructions: at their backs - a mighty army bent on returning whoever lived to slavery and death; ahead of them - deep waters, drowning waters. And beyond those two immediate threats in both directions: Death. Death by starvation and oppression. Death by starvation and alienation. Faced with the certain misery of going back or the imagined misery of going forward, they chose to go forward.

Through the deep sea waters. Into the wilderness. A wandering life with their only guideposts being holy pillars of cloud and fire. (Could they see those pillars, or did they have to blindly trust Moses, Miriam, and Aaron?) They would get lost. They would quarrel. They would hunger and thirst.

AND they would find themselves, there in the wilderness. They would know glory and truth. They would eat manna from heaven, Bread of Angels. They would know God and know themselves. They would live their Salvation Story. And ours.

Perhaps we, too, stand at the shores of our own Red Sea? What direction shall we choose? Who will we become? 

(Jan Smith Wood)


It's a bit long, but let us pray...
God of grace and love, we pray your richest blessing upon all mothers in this and every land.  Bless those expectant mothers who eagerly await the birth of their baby; guard those whose pregnancy puts them at risk; console those who are troubled by the prospect of another baby.  Nurture and uphold single mothers; inspire mothers everywhere for the vital soul work they undertake with their own children and, thus, for the good of all humankind.
We pray to you, Blessing God.

Loving God, we give you thanks that Jesus knew a mother’s love and ask your blessing upon all children, young and old: those who had the mothering they needed and those who never knew a mother’s love;  make us mindful of the ways in which every one of us, male and female, can offer nurturing, guiding love to those in need.
We pray to you, Holy God.

God of peace and justice, guide those in authority in the nations of the world, these United States of America, and every  community: that they may make wise decisions for the welfare of all, remembering their responsibility and obligation to exercise power as if they, too, were mothers.
We pray to you, Mighty God.

God of mercy and consolation, we pray your peace upon those who grieve and mourn: those who grieve the loss of a child; those who mourn the absence of children in their life; those who have been devastated by broken bonds of affection between parent and child. Console all who are in need, trouble, or despair.
We pray to you, Merciful God. 

God of abundant love, we give you thanks for all the blessings of life: particularly for relationships that restore and heal us; for our own mothers, stepmothers, grandmothers, godmothers, foster mothers, and mothers of the heart. 
We give you thanks, Loving God.

Concluding Collect
Nurturing God, your love is free, your compassion unconditional, and your mercy infinite. You shower upon us abundant grace. Grant that we may know and trust you, that we may discover the joy of life in Christ, and inspire us to love and to serve out of that joy. In the name of the Risen Christ we pray. Amen.

(Thanks to Fred Mathews for the beautiful art.)


As we move toward “opening up” and “returning” to business, many voices clamor for our attention. Conflicting information. Twists and turns in the plot. I am confused, confounded, and torn. I yearn for clarity, compassion, and certainty. I would dearly love to go back to the (naive?) life we were living in the Before. Not happening, is it? 

In the story of Deacon Stephen, (appointed Scripture reading for the 5th Sunday of Easter) the only still point is his clarity of vision. Grounded in the knowledge and love of God in Jesus Christ, he could do what was necessary. He could follow his calling and live with integrity.  Perhaps we can do the same in these tumultuous times?

What does Love require of us - and of you, yourself - today?


So much hatred.
Leaking into our lives, our homes, our Facebook feeds…
Why?

Fear.
I am quite sure that, at the root of all the hatred, hating, and hateful acts of violence, lurks a deep and overwhelming fear that the haters are afraid to name. After all, it is ever so much more invigorating to be aggressive and violent than to reckon with the fact that we fear and tremble for our own safety and our own lives. These haters who loom so large and do so much damage are the biggest fraidy-cats of us all. Pity them.

Pity them for the smallness of their imaginations. Pity them for the weakness of their souls. Pity them because they have - finally - realized their insignificance.

Let us not be overcome by their hatred and violence, but let our pity move us to compassion and from compassion to strength and from strength to action.

Take action for justice.
Take action to right the wrongs that have been done, with impunity and aided by our silence.
Take action to create a new world out of the debris - a world more closely aligned with the Way of the one who said, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.

(Remember this always: When we forgive, we do not condone. We take back our power. Power that is needed to do the justice that awaits our action.)


Let’s wear a mask. Always.

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

An Appeal To Friends Who Don't Wear A Mask. If you are a person who does not wear a protective mask in public please give me just a moment to try to convince you to do so. I wear a mask when I go out to the drugstore or grocery store. Wearing a mask is not a political statement. I do it for only one reason: to protect you and your family. I may have covid-19 and not even know it. I may have no symptoms at all but be highly contagious. The last thing on earth I want to do is give that dreadful disease to you. I am counting on the fact that you feel the same way about me and the countless people you pass by on a daily basis. The mask is how we show that we care for one another. So please help keep America healthy: wear a mask.


We pray Psalm 31 this Sunday. It begins, “In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge…” As many of us are staying in one place (for the seventh week in a row), a different narrative is emerging “out there”.  An unnerving number of people are acting out in ways that suggest they are framing this experience as one of being forced, required, coerced, mandated, constricted, imprisoned to stay in place. And they resent it. Perhaps you do, too?

Just as my anxiety is ramping up and I feel utterly incapable of making sense of this day and the fierce hatred that leaks into my home through the daily news, here comes Psalm 31 with its opening line: “In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge”. 

That works for me.
I will take refuge in God. I will find security and rest, quiet and confidence, in the Holy One who yearned so much for our company (for my company, even) to become one of us and dwell with us. Live with us. Stay awhile in our company. 

In you, alone, O Lord, have I taken refuge.


"Death tried to take my breath, but the Spirit breathed it back within me..."  Holy wisdom from Bishop Charleston.

The new numbers took my breath away. I was stunned, but not surprised. Now the long haul continues, I thought. Now the walk turns uphill and it will get harder still. Now the call to faith becomes all the more important, to comfort those bereaved, to support those giving care, to hope in those searching for answers. This is not the moment for me to flinch, even before a wave of numbers, but to keep going in compassion and common sense, to keep sharing every ounce of love I can, to be always praying in these times of tears and unknowing. Death tried to take my breath, but the Spirit breathed it back within me, and within you, and within all of us who will not bend before the bell that tolls our sorrow. Those who have died or will die deserve a better response than resignation. They deserve our courage and our hope never ending.


As we are seeing a push to "go back to business as usual", this is an important read by Jim Wallis. It is all verifiable and accurate. We can and MUST see what intrinsic inequities and injustices are embedded in our business-as-usual, and use this time to do better, change our ways, be the kind of country we think we are. Faithful people of all religions are calling for this kind of sea-change. (PS there's no going back, never was, never will be - only forward: how shall we go forward? What how does your thinking change if you imagine yourself walking into God's intended future for humanity?)

Unequal suffering: Here's how Congress should help


“Hope is slow and steady"

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

Let me paraphrase a well-known quote from the Good Book: "you will hear of cures and rumors of cures." Already there is word of a possible breakthrough in the search for a vaccine. As the excitement builds, there will likely be other discoveries and other possibilities. All of this is very hopeful, but the important thing to remember about hope is that it is not a racehorse. It is slow and steady. We trust in it precisely because it moves forward deliberately, just like scientific research. Hope arises from reality. We may hope for what we do not see but become disappointed if what we see is not what we hoped. One step at a time lets us walk beside hope, not ahead of it.

Let me paraphrase a well-known quote from the Good Book: "you will hear of cures and rumors of cures." Already there is word of a possible breakthrough in the search for a vaccine. As the excitement builds, there will likely be other discoveries and other possibilities. All of this is very hopeful, but the important thing to remember about hope is that it is not a racehorse. It is slow and steady. We trust in it precisely because it moves forward deliberately, just like scientific research. Hope arises from reality. We may hope for what we do not see but become disappointed if what we see is not what we hoped. One step at a time lets us walk beside hope, not ahead of it.


We always pray Psalm 22 on Good Friday. It is the Psalm that gave holy truth to Jesus’ excruciating desolation on the cross.  Remember when he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”? That is straight out of the 22nd Psalm. Written on his heart. Spoken from the depths of his grief. True word spoken by the True Word.

This morning, as I pour over the service and prepare to adapt it for our evening worship tonight, I am particularly struck by this from that same psalm:

I am poured out like water, all my bones are out of joint; 
my heart within my breast is melting wax.

I’ve known this kind of grief. I’ve felt this kind of fatigue. Have you?
For some, these days of forced isolation cause this feeling.
Others are offering their bodies and hearts in the relentless tasks of “essential labor” that utterly exhaust the body and deplete the soul. 
Too many grieve the passing of loved ones taken by covid-19 or other traumas - with a grief that pours from the heart like water from an overturned pitcher.

When my heart resonates with such words, ancient words, prayed by innumerable unknown children of God, I know that I am not alone. I know that my grief, my loneliness, my exhaustion, are experienced in the company of others who “get it” - and perhaps most importantly of all: are known to God. Held in the heart of God. 

Let it be. 
Feel the feelings. 
Know you are not alone. 
Never alone.


Stay the course. Hold steady and focused. Thank you, Bishop.

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

Slow and steady wins the race. That phrase keeps coming to mind and for good reason. It describes what is happening. Gradually, person by person, as we are being mindful of all that we do to keep the virus in its own quarantine, we are winning the race to save as many lives as we can. But we have to stay with it. We have to stay in the race for the long haul and pace ourselves for the marathon before us. We can run this illness into a full stop one day, but only if we keep doing what we're doing. Remember, at this stage of the race your mindfulness is more than a simple act of patience: it is the gift of life to those around you. We run that they may live.


This is incredibly beautiful. May this prayer bring healing into your heart, your life, your spirit. Peace be with you.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=zCYoikGaI6U&index=2&list=PLCROriwpUvh9VJJx1MckD2MKj_xaK8_27


This is an important message from our companions along the Way in the AME Church. Dr. Fauci said something very similar about the systemic inequities (some of which are intentional and others stem from ignorance or inertia) in our nation's health care universe. 

There will be an end to this moment. We will emerge into community and connection. The question that we must contemplate (and we certainly have time right now for contemplation, don't we?) is: What kind of people will we be? What kind of world will we choose? Which direction shall we look: backwards to "the way it was" or forward to "what could be"? 

There are choices to be made. This global "reboot" gives us a unique opportunity. Will we be courageous and visionary? or cautious and reactionary?

Good thing we have some time - will we use it wisely?

https://religionnews.com/2020/04/08/statement-from-the-ame-church-regarding-the-racial-impacts-of-the-covid-19-pandemic/


The storm was fierce last night. The wind blew noisily and the thunder sounded like an earthquake. Even snug abed, it was a little scary.

When I awoke this morning, and opened the shades, the cherry tree had blossomed. Little, very tiny, white blossoms barely emerging from their cocoons. But blooming. Beautiful. Still, silent offering of grace and consolation. All will be well.  

I am grateful for this message of hope and reminder of a bigger life. That’s today’s GRATITUDE CHALLENGE: What small sign are you grateful for?


It’s Tuesday in Holy Week. 
Jesus tells his followers that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:20-36) 

Like so many of his teachings, Jesus speaks a world of truth with a handful of words. Transformation and growth frequently (always?) look like death and disappearance. 

Sometimes, we know in advance that we are planting seeds:  that which is being buried is fecund and will give rise to great fruit and good life. We just have to wait for it. 

There are other times when all we can see is the loss, the burying, the death. In those times, may we reclaim hope and confidence that God is doing a new thing. 

Today’s GRATITUDE CHALLENGE: What goodness do you know today that was hidden before?


An important read from our Anglican cousins "down under".   These times demand courage and honesty, as well as radical change (which might feel like death, but is very much more likely to be resurrection)

What cancer, coronavirus and climate change have in common.

https://www.abc.net.au/religion/byron-smith-what-cancer-coronavirus-and-climate-change-have-in/12117926


It’s Monday. It’s Holy Week.

We begin to remember (literally re-member: bring back into ourselves) the story at the center of Christian faith and practice. It begins with an extravagant gift. Mary anoints her friend, Jesus, with fragrant, priceless, and rare oil. She sees him. She knows what is coming. Hers is an enormous gift of compassion and love. A tangible sign of her own outpouring love for this great friend who has been family to her, her sister Martha, and brother Lazarus.

What compelled her? Did she know what was coming? Could she read the signs? See his fatigue or sorrow? Was she simply grateful for him and all that he was and gave what she could?

Today’s GRATITUDE CHALLENGE: Who are you most grateful for and why?


April 4

The palms are out. It’s a glorious day. May you always see Jesus on the road and be glad.


Each night, we zoom in to pray together at 7pm. Tonight, we were able to record the prayers so that you may join in "later".  This links you to Prayers for the Evening of April 3rd. Peace be with you.

https://www.facebook.com/172227972918805/posts/1735183746623212/?sfnsn=mo


In the middle of an earthquake, it is very hard to stand still. It’s impossible to maintain equilibrium, stay centered and balanced. Our inability to move is made worse by our flight-or-fight response on overdrive. Fear. Amazement. Horror. Surprise. Worry for those whom we love. Concern about our stuff. And our mortality. 

Is this it? Will the walls collapse and close me in? Will anyone come to my rescue? Who needs my help? Am I up to the task? 

Then there are the aftershocks. Sometimes bigger than the initial unsettling. Always unpredictable. Sometimes never happening. 

Earthquakes have a way of putting us in our place.
So do pandemics.

How are you being relocated within the givens of your life? 
What have you learned about what you hold most dear?

Which is today’s GRATITUDE CHALLENGE: What is at the center of your life? What is the most precious and beloved core of your existence? Give thanks.


A good word for this night...

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston 

This is the hard part, this long, lonely walk through the valley of shadows. We know we are not walking alone, but it is hard to see the others. The Earth seems to have grown silent. The clouded sun offers a pale light and the stars are only small beads on the shawl of night. Then, in the darkest hours, a single voice begins to sing. We do not know who it is, but her voice fills the darkness and guides us forward. Her song comforts us, strengthens us, keeps us going. One after another, we all join in her song, until the valley echoes our voices to all four directions. Listen. Can't you hear her? The Spirit is singing for us all.


Sometimes, I just need someone to listen. 
How about you?
Especially these days.

Then, I think to myself “stop complaining” or “just be grateful” or “at least you’re not sick. Or dead” 
(Yep. I can go pretty deep down into self-pity…)
Which is not helpful. Or kind. Or true.
Because the sorrow is still there. I still worry. I still am who I am. These times are still what they are. 
And the oh-so-very-vocal ear-worms of “what if” seem to never cease. 

Then, from somewhere sacred and deep-seated, I hear another little voice. A voice of compassion. Of reassurance. Of Presence.

Out of the depths have I called to you; O God, hear my voice.

For thousands (!) of years, other people have felt the way I do. Other people have called upon God, the Creator of All that Is, the Lover of our Souls.  and they know that God hears.

Then.
Today.
Always.

So… today’s GRATITUDE CHALLENGE: What words (Biblical or otherwise) are seeing you through these days?


"Weeping may spend the night; but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
This I know to be absolutely true.

There is both weeping and joy in our lives - even in the lives we are living now.

No matter how many worry-monkeys are jumping on the bed all night long, joy comes in the morning.

No matter how many nights Sorrow stays for a sleep-over,
there will be delight again.

No matter how bleak and desolate night’s grief may be, there will be laughter in the dawn’s early light.

We live in a both/and world, not either/or. 
There is both weeping and there is joy. 
There is both fear and delight. 
There is both sorrow and gladness.

They are inescapable. 
They have their place. 
They make our lives sweet. 

Weeping and joy are so intertwined that whenever I try to silence the weeping, I discover that I’ve muted the joy as well. 
When I allow myself to feel moments of joy, I am also able to weep.

Both. And.

Which brings us to our GRATITUDE CHALLENGE: As we practice sheltering in place, when have you experienced joy?


Shall we be heroes?
I was reading a post about books to read in this season. 
The recommendations are not books I would choose, but they got me thinking.
About heroes, and heroism, and being present.

What about the heroes in your life? 
What can they show you about living a heroic life, even in the midst of the daily minutiae of “just getting through” today?

Which brings us to today’s GRATITUDE CHALLENGE: What people are you grateful to know? 


Another word of Truth from this faithful and wise bishop.

The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston 

It is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. These are words we would rather not hear, but they are the words we need to hear if we are to face tomorrow. We have seen the cost of pretending and have no need of that for false hope only prolongs the reality of sorrow. No, it is better to speak the truth, accept the truth, and know where we stand. We are living through an historic moment, a time unlike any other, one that will be remembered by generations to come. We did not ask for this or want this, but here we are. And even if we do not know the outcome in all of its details, we know this much: we want those future generations to know that we lived through this epic time with grace and courage, that we faced our reality together and cared for one another with a fierce love and a relentless hope, that we practiced what we preached and lived what we believed until we got through it and made sure others got through it with us. Look through the eyes of faith, not fear, and see this truth revealed: yes, it will get worse, but we will get stronger. The predictions of things getting worse are grounded in the exponential growth of the virus. But remember, that only triggers the exponential growth of our resolve to overcome it. In the end the virus will do its worst, but we will have done our best.


Have you found your stride yet? 
Do your days have a bit more shape to them than when we first began? 
Or is it still all a mishmash of “whatever”?

Many have compared this era “flying the plane while we’re building it” It is true that we are ill-equipped for this experience and our learning curve is very steep.

Nevertheless, we have stories to guide us. Stories of compassion and perseverance. Stories of tending and mending. Stories of sacrifice and love. These are the stories we need to live by now. These are the narratives that will connect our neighborhoods, tend our cities, mend our country, heal our global village. These are the narratives that will unite us in heart and mind and spirit as we find wholeness and healing, whatever may come.

Which brings us to today’s GRATITUDE CHALLENGE: What is your favorite quote and why?


Let us pray...
Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgments, and all just works: Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will, and that we, being delivered from the fear of all enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen.


Let us pray...
Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

(From the Book of Common Prayer, a Prayer for Those who Influence Public Opinion)


I think this new routine is most difficult when the thought comes unbidden: “I just want my old life back.” 

Perhaps, from time to time, most of us yearn for that which has been lost to us, for the “good old days”, for our old normal. Then, the illusion passes and I remember that others have lost something much dearer than their daily routines. I remember that the “good old days” had their own problems and are merely “old” now, perhaps never were all that “good”. I remember that the old normal had more than its share of difficulty, chaos, and hardship. I come back to Now and know I can do this. However long it takes. I am renewed in my openness to seeing what is good about this new day.  

Which brings us to today’s GRATITUDE CHALLENGE: What is good about how we are living now?


Have you heard about the global invitation to pray at noon, wherever we are?
Christian leaders are encouraging us to pray as Jesus taught us:
Our Father in Heaven.
Hallowed be your Name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial, 
And deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours,
Now and for ever. �Amen.

Say it out loud. Say it slow. Say it with intention and purpose. Think about what we are asking. Imagine if love, selflessness, mutuality, and compassion were to spread across the globe as quickly and extravagantly as covid-19 and fear have done. 

And… Here’s today’s GRATITUDE CHALLENGE:
What prayer have you seen answered recently?

Peace be with you.


Let us pray…
O God, the life of all who live, 
the light of the faithful, 
the strength of those who labor, 
and the repose of the dead: 
We thank you for the blessings of the day that is past, and humbly ask for your protection through the coming night. Bring us in safety to the morning hours; through him who died and rose again fours, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. 
Amen.


Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: 
Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. 
Amen.

This is the Collect appointed for Sunday, March 29th. We will pray it together when we zoom Morning Prayer. Seems like a very good prayer to be praying each day this week. Perhaps every day of our lives. When we wake up. When we sit still. When the “what if” goblins begin to wreak havoc with our hearts and trample our hope.  

Sometimes, even more powerful than the words of a powerful prayer, is the realization that it was not written for this day in particular. This prayer has been passed along from generation to generation - each one finding themselves in the maelstrom of their own peculiar covid-19 pandemic.  

Which brings us to today’s GRATITUDE CHALLENGE:
What are you learning about yourself?


When we run out of closets to clean and chocolates to eat, what shall we do?
Without meetings and errands, work schedules and family get-togethers to tether us to our daily lives, how shall we mark our days? 
Where is the rhythm in this unfamiliar time?

(Spoiler alert: “Beats me” is pretty much my go-to response these days)

Perhaps this is the rhythm? 
Perhaps we are being invited, even in our separate-ness, to seek out that which unites us in this moment, and to learn how to live abundantly when we are not in charge. When we have Nothing to Do - when that which has given us status and place, purpose and significance, is no longer easily accessible (perhaps even denied to us) - who are we? When we are alone and apart, who will keep us company? When we can’t even hold onto our familiar illusion of knowing what tomorrow will bring, where are we?

Still in God’s heart.
Still in community with those who know us and miss us, love us and pray for us.
Still in this life, this body, this moment.
Still in sacred time and holy life.

… which brings us to today’s GRATITUDE CHALLENGE:
Where did you see God in your life today?


Let us pray...
Be our light in the darkness, O Lord, and in your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. 
Amen.


The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston

Where do we begin in prayer, great Spirit, where do we turn first? There are so many for us to remember: the isolated elder, the over-extended health care worker, the frustrated nurse or doctor, the small factory trying to make enough masks? In every direction we look there is need for care and support. Even for our own family and friends. Even for ourselves. No, we cannot name them all. We can only trust that you know already who needs your help the most. Safety, strength, and mercy to all who are fighting this disease, holy Spirit, here and around the world. Drive back the illness and save your people, in every direction we look.


We enter Week Two.
At least many of us enter our second week of pandemic life. Some among us have been dealing with this pandemic for far longer: a shout-out of deep gratitude to Dr. Fauci and others who have toiled and learned and explored quietly, heroically, without notice for years: for days such as these. Thank you.

For the rest of us…
Now we begin to figure out how to live as if this is our new normal. For most of us, this is neither the bubonic plague nor a free spring break. It is “how we live”. It doesn’t really matter how long this will last. It matters tremendously how we live today. What practices await you? What old habits have served you well? What will make today a life-worth-living. Do that.

Perhaps it will be useful to build upon today’s GRATITUDE CHALLENGE:
Name a highlight of your day?


It's amazing - how we find ways to care and to connect even when it's important that we keep our distance. Our Community Free Meal tonight gave people delicious take-out meals. We had plenty for all. Feasts happened.

We are also trying Zoom Morning Prayer tomorrow. At 9:30 eastern time. Meeting ID is 988739700. ("Zoom.us" will get you there)

Others are wending their way toward sewing face masks and gowns for health care providers who need them.

The Holy Spirit connects us, even when we are apart. As we bring ourselves into silence, and hopefully sweet rest, let us pray:

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work or watch or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ: give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.


Have you noticed this in your life?
Frequently the struggle I face today seems like (choose one or add your own)
a. The worst thing that ever happened to me
b. A battle that will never end
c. A hardship that fills my entire field of vision
d. A point of no-return on the timeline of my life
e. A riptide of anxiety and fear
f. An unrelenting pain in my backside
g. All that is and ever shall be

More often than not, today’s struggle builds tomorrow’s strength.
Which leads us to today’s GRATITUDE CHALLENGE:
What is a challenge you have struggled with in the past that you are now grateful for?


Let us pray.
Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


When times are tough, Mr. Rogers encouraged us to look for the helpers. Similarly, in these times, when things get hard, look for the gratitude.

Just as the helpers are not “just in our imagination” or “wishful thinking”, neither is gratitude in a time of deprivation.

Gratitude is real.
Gratitude is subtle.
Gratitude waits to be invited.

Unlike disaster which bursts through the doors and chaotically enters our homes, gratitude gently awaits our attention. Gratitude is always possible. Sometimes, we need to invite her in.

Today’s GRATITUDE CHALLENGE:
Where did gratitude knock on your door yesterday?


There might have been grief in your day. Uncertainty. Loss. The kind of melancholic sadness that throws itself around our drooping shoulders like cobweb. Barely there, very hard to catch hold of, let alone remove. If so, perhaps this prayer speaks for you? For those whom you love? For those who grieve and we will never know their names or their sorrows?

Almighty God, look with pity upon the sorrows of your servants for whom we pray. Remember them, Lord, in mercy; nourish them with patience; comfort them with a sense of your goodness; lift up your countenance upon them; and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

And us, too, good Lord. Remember us, too. Nourish us with patience. Comfort us with a sense of your goodness. Lift up your countenance upon us. Give us peace, too. Just for tonight. Amen.


A message of faith, hope, and love, from our Presiding Bishop.

https://fast.wistia.net/embed/iframe/3xwpiyyh1j?fbclid=IwAR0qo1GFIN00V362_klr1tPNi8QiCZ936aCmPTG3qg-JRM1Gj0-t6d049ec


The names we use matter. The stories we tell shape our world.

We can hear this in our world now.
“Chinese virus”? Covid-19.
“Social isolation”? Community solidarity.
“Protecting myself”? Watching out for my vulnerable neighbor.

In our tradition - particularly in this season of Lent - fasting is an honored and valuable practice.
Fasting releases us from behaviors and ideas that hold us captive and separate us from God and from one another.

Fasting opens up time for different spiritual practices: practices that are life-giving and restorative
Fasting clears our vision, unclutters our days, and opens our minds.

This is a time of fasting.
Fasting from hustle and bustle.
Fasting from retail therapy (which is only therapeutic in the adrenaline rush of a new shiny thing).
Fasting from the busy-ness which hides our wounds and obscures our pain.

Let us also fast from the angst of “what if” (What-if this goes on for months, not weeks? What-if I get sick? What-if the stock market continues to tank? What-if I run out of toilet paper?)

Let us also fast from tracking every “news flash”, Twitter storm, and Facebook flurry.

In that fasting, may we find our way into a new rhythm of life. One that is more attuned to the rising and setting of the sun. One that embraces the healing balm of enough sleep. One that offers time to write a letter and make a phone call. A rhythm of life that notices the healing of the earth while we are still. A rhythm of life that knows there is enough time for important human work: love, prayer, self-awareness, connection…

And time to clean a cupboard.
 


As evening comes, let us be people of prayer (with gratitude to our Companions of the Way in New Zealand for this prayer in particular)

Holy One, be present to us this night.
As you were present at creation, be present in us now.

We stumble in the darkness.
Light of the world transfigure us.

We have wounded your love.
O God, heal us.

We forget that we are your home.
Spirit of God, dwell in us.

Lord, it is night.
The night is for stillness.

It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done; 
what has not been done, has not been done. 
Let it be.

The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness 
- of the world and in our own lives - rest in you.

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us, all dear to us, and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day, new joys, new possibilities.

Let us rejoice in God who forgives all our sins and transforms our lives.
Amen.


“Be not afraid.”
If we judged by frequency, this might be the first and great commandment. It is repeated all through Scripture, from beginning to end. Spoken to Noah and to Mary. Repeated to the slaves escaping Egypt and to the shepherds abiding in the fields. Over and over. 

Do. Not. Be. Afraid.

Must be important.

When you think about it, it is. 
When we’re afraid, we fall flat on our faces. 
When we’re afraid, our lizard brains kick in and we make really bad decisions. 
When we’re afraid, we are like deer in the headlights, blinded and immobilized. 
When we’re afraid, we buy up all the toilet paper and stand in long lines to buy ammo.
We lash out. We can’t think. We can’t see. We are lost.

Be not afraid. Not then. Not now.
We can do this. We can take each day as it comes, fully alive to whatever is good and life-giving about this new reality. 

Let go of fear and you just might see shimmers of grace all around.

Panicking About Coronavirus? Here’s What You Can Do


The day draws in and the light shines through my windows (in my Sandusky neighborhood, at this time of year, sun-shininess is a rare thing, so it is a particularly beautiful gift). Reminds me of the beautiful words that begin our Evening Prayers:

“Now, as we come to the setting of the sun,
And our eyes behold the vesper light,
We sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

As your day draws to a close, and the light changes, where have you been blessed today? 
How has God’s light flickered in the long hours of this day?
What gives you a glad heart to remember?
When you lie down to rest, what praise, specifically, will you sing to God?


Let us pray:
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.

This prayer in our Book of Common Prayer (p.461) is "For use by a sick person" in the morning. Seems to me that it suits all of us this morning. All of us. From our lips to God's ears, may this be a day when we live with integrity and presence, no matter what our work may be.

Blessing upon you.


We are being asked to do something most of us don’t know how to do. Here is some guidance from one who does.


 

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