Monday, October 28, 2013

Until we meet again, know you are loved

Until we meet again, know you are loved.  

That's a line from the blessing song that the Sisters of Our Lady of Grace always sang to the Women Touched by Grace at our final worship together.  The Sisters' arms outstretched to the 30 women clergy who had finished yet another ten glorious day retreat, it's a tune that is often in my head whenever I say goodbye.

In less than two hours I begin the airport shuffle back to Houston.  I've sung Noonday Praise with the Sisters one last time, I've had my last meal, I'm nearly packed up, and I've done a final walk around the Monastery which included my final labyrinth walk.

I've walked the labyrinth each day--in cold and colder; wind, snow, and rain; sun and overcast.  Today was the first day that I didn't need a coat, and the sky was bright clear blue and the leaves were even more technicolor.  As I prayed while I walked I became aware why this retreat was especially sweet.

I came here from another retreat, the Episcopal Diocese of Texas Clergy Conference at Camp Allen, and I'd had good worship and food and fellowship and intellectual stimulation and affirmations and rest.  I left there full of joy and came to this retreat already in a very good place.

While I was here in Beech Grove, I started the six week Well to Serve program, and it's always a surprise how good walking 10,000 steps each day and eating healthy, especially giving up sugar, makes me feel.  But I think that it was the openness of my time that gave me true rest.

My ordinary daily life is very full and scheduled, and here there was very little required these past five days, and much free time in between those very few events that I felt like I was floating in a large, warm lake. Because I wasn't running to the next thing, I was able to accept invitations to stop and chat or share a meal. On Saturday night I went to the Knights of Columbus with three sisters, where nuns eat free (I got to as well!).  It was the best gift not to hurry.

My heart continues to be very full of gratitude.  I have another song in my head, a hymn we sang yesterday during the Eucharist:

Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers' arms
has blessed us on our way

with countless gifts of love,

and still is ours today.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mary all around the monastery

For most of my life, Mary was pretty much a prop for good stories about Jesus.  It wasn't until after I was ordained, and began to face more deeply what it meant to be a woman called to serve God, that I began to search Scripture for tips, and ended up doing quite a bit of study about Mary.  When my son went through some hard times in his teens and early twenties, Mary became a companion for me, one mom with another.  I believe that all those who have gone before us intercede, in some mysterious way, for and with us in heaven, and I expect that Mary has a special affinity for moms with challenging sons.

It's no real surprise that I became rector of a parish named for Mary, and that when I became a Benedictine oblate, that I made vows with the sisters of Our Lady of Grace (one of many, many names for Mary) Monastery.

On Saturday evenings, it is the practice of the sisters to end Evening Praise with a hymn to Mary, the Salve Regina, whose ancient words are sung in Latin. Most Roman Catholics are very familiar with it, and high Episcopal churches may add it to their liturgy.  I don't think I'd ever sung it until I started coming to the monastery eleven years ago.

Queen, mother of mercy:
our life, sweetness, and hope, hail.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve.
To you we sigh, mourning and weepingin this valley of tears.
Turn then, our advocate,those merciful eyes toward us.
And Jesus, the blessed fruit of thy womb, after our exile, show us.
O clement, O loving, O sweet
Virgin Mary.


There are images of Mary all about the monastery.  It makes me wonder what inspired someone to place each particular image of Mary in each particular space.

Tree Stump Mary standing guard on top of the last bit of a chopped down tree next to the monastery.

Mosaic Mary in the midst of a garden.

Near Her Son Mary as one of the Stations of the Cross that surrounds the Sister's cemetery, 

and On Her Lap Mary as another Station.

At the Foot of the Cross Mary next to John the Beloved Disciple is in the very center of the Sister's cemetery and the surrounding Stations of the Cross.

Our Lady of Grace with welcoming arms to all at the entrance to the monastery.

Stained Glass Mary at the entrance to the chapel of the Benedict Inn, the guest house of the monastery.

Stairwell Mary watching over our going ups and coming downs.

And Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner Mary who is there to bless our meals.

Blue being the preferred color of Mary, perhaps the Mary I've been most grateful to see this retreat Full of Grace is Blue Sky Mary; it makes Mary's words sing in my heart:

My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Full of gratefulness

As much as I love visiting family, as much as I love traveling with friends, as much as I love my job, there is nothing as sweet as a retreat at Our Lady of Grace. The thing that is especially filling my heart with gratitude on this beautiful fall day is the sense of Sabbath that fills these few days at the Monastery.

My mind is nearly completely away from responsibilities ( they'll all still be around when I return), and my soul is filled with worship, good study, table fellowship, laughter, and sweet rest. 

As I walked the labyrinth this afternoon after learning yet another way to pray using zentangles, the sky was bluer than blue, the air was fall crisp, and the trees were clapping their hands with autumn joy. I felt close to tears as my heart overflowed with thanks each step of that prayer walk. 

When I was here on my last oblate retreat two years ago, I accepted God's invitation to be a candidate for bishop literally as I walked the labyrinth on the same kind of gorgeous fall day and received a phone call asking me to put my name forth. Which I did and for which I was not elected. 

After walking through the post- election grief last year, such a gift it is to be so very thankful for the abundant, abundant gifts God has poured on me like the snow and the rain that covered me on the labyrinth walk yesterday. 

The other oblates leave in the morning, but I'll have nearly three more days to reflect on St. Benedict's Chapter 7 on Humility. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cold, Drizzle, Snow, Rain

I did get to walk the labyrinth this afternoon. It was coat, hat, wool scarf, and gloves weather.

A short way in, a light drizzle began.  A way further and the drizzle turned into snow. I laughed with delight. 

My laughter turned all too quickly into the fastest labyrinth walk ever as the snow became a downpour of cold, cold rain. 

A few moments later, never had a cup of chai tea tasted better!

I've also learned a new prayer style using an iPhone app called Word Collage. I'll end with a meditation based on the words of Julian of Norwich:

(Here are the actual words:  

Thanking is a true understanding of who we really are. 
With reverence and awe we turn ourselves around toward the working  that our Good Lord incites us to do, enjoying and thanking with our real selves. 
True thanking is to enjoy God.)

Humility at Our Lady of Grace

Oversleeping the first morning of my oblate retreat at Our Lady of Grace Monastery having set my alarm for tomorrow and forgetting today.

But God got me up just in time. Quickly putting on a pair of jeans and quickly brushing my teeth, I walked showerless, coffeeless, and break--fasting to Morning Praise. My first meal of the day therefore being the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation and my first words, Lord open our lips and our mouth shall declare your praise. 

The time following worship on our schedule was set aside for "reading and reflection". My reading and reflection was doing mindful getting ready for the day. Finding food for a silent meal, and then finding even more food when I went to our first session.  Rather than no food at all, I found a feast. 

It's very cold and rainy, but my phone predicts dry weather before the next session. There's a labyrinth still to walk and the beginning of fall colors to enjoy. 

And our chapter in the Rule of St.Benedifct that is our study this week? Chapter Seven:  Humility. A very good place to stop and pray. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A sermon: The neighbor at our gate (Luke 16. 19--31)

I am delighted to report that it was the very most successful Fall Gift Market we’ve ever had! Thanks to all of you for your very, very hard work and your many, many prayers.  People always want to hear how successful we were, so I have the figures for you today.

1990 men, women, and children came to St. Mary’s yesterday and the day before. By my estimation, they had at least five words of welcome from the shuttle drivers, the parking lot attendants, and the greeters both inside and outside the doors of the Holy Family Center.

We offered every guest a handmade candle, and they couldn’t believed that we were giving something away.  Ask Cindy Angle to tell you about her experience handing out candles.

We invited people to join us for prayer at the beginning and ending of each day, and Katie+ and I visited with all sorts of folks, offering prayers, prayer blankets and prayer shawls.  I’m sure others of you did, too.  Please share your stories.

I was told again and again and again that this was like no other festival; we’re the only ones that give the vendors free lunch.  We feed our guests well. I was told that there was a sweetness, a peace to this place like no other festival.
That’s how successful it was.

I have no idea how much money we made, because as far as I’m concerned, any money is only a bonus. The true value of this Fall Gift Market is the relationships that we formed with one another and, most importantly, the strangers, that is the neighbors, at our gate.  2000 or so folks got a gift of being loved like a neighbor these past two days.  God was well pleased.

Which is what the parable we heard today

is about. It’s not so much a parable about money and how we spend, or don’t spend it.  It’s a parable about how we form relationships with one another. Especially the neighbor at our gate.

In the parable we heard Deacon Russ read, what was the name of the man covered in sores starving at the gate of the house of the man dressed in purple and linen?

And what was the name of the rich man who feasted sumptuously every day?
We’re not told. 

And that’s when Jesus’ listeners would have particularly picked up their ears. The man with power and wealth?  We’re never told his name. But the man without worldly value, who could be walked by without a second glance, he’s given a name. In fact, this is the only time that a character in a parable by Jesus is named.

And what does the name Lazarus mean?  God has helped.

There is another Lazarus, a friend of Jesus’ who he raises from the dead, but there’s no reason to make a connection. Only in John’s gospel is that Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, part of Jesus’ story. No doubt there were many Lazaruses in Jesus’ day as there are many Bills and Mikes and Bobs today.

Jesus’ listeners would have known that Jesus was especially saying something important when he named the man who most would think had no particular value, and the one who would have been highly regarded was nameless. Though one author I read did give him this name:

The Indifferent-Man-Who-Could-Have-Listened-to-Moses-and-the-Prophets-and-Followed-God's-Way-of-Life-and-Been-Welcomed-Into-Paradise-by-Father-Abraham-But-Chose-Not-To.

What did the man who dressed in linen and purple do wrong? What was his sin? What the man did was that he ignored the man in need at his gate.  His neighbor.

He walked right past the man with a name, Lazarus  and it was if Lazarus, covered in sores, suffering terribly--Jesus uses hyperbole so that we’ll not miss how bad it was; how hard it would have been to ignore Lazarus’ wounds being licked by dogs-- it was as if Lazarus was invisible to the man in linen and purple.

What the man in linen and purple did not do was do the very most essential thing Jesus said to do--he did not form a relationship with the man he passed daily. He did not love his neighbor.

Do we form relationships with those we pass each day? Or are they invisible to us?  That being the problem--they may be so invisible that we don’t even notice that we missed them. Do we pay attention to the people that God places at our gate everyday? Or are we too preoccupied to notice?

There’s a ministry that we’re praying about becoming a part. It’s called 249 and Hope.  Google it.

Deacon Russ, Celeste Booker, and John Albright have been taking part for a couple of Saturdays and I urge you to talk to them. 

249 and Hope is a ministry of two neighboring churches.  A small group of men and women go out every Saturday morning and take a fresh cooked meal to serve to the homeless who live in our area, particularly in the woods that are all along 249. They are the men we may not see at the intersections along 249 selling Houston Chronicles or holding up signs. But every Saturday morning, a group of eight or so lovers of Jesus, make seven or so stops off 249 between the Beltway and Spring Cypress and folks may gather, or not, for a meal.

I understand yesterday that our neighbors were served Jim’s beef stroganoff and John's Mississippi mud cake. 

These missioners offer a genuine smile, a handshake, a prayer, good food, and an offer to help.  And they call the neighbors by name.

Kirk.  Jesse.  Jack.  Tom.  Troy.  Gerald. Calvin.  James.  Roy.  Malcolm.  Frank. Darnell.  Mark.  Cody. Ronald. Lester.  Chuck.  Ferrel.  Ronnie.  David.  Mike.  Mr. Cantu.

Apparently two of our neighbors were invited to worship with us at St. Mary’s. I was asked what we would do if they actually showed up.
I answered that I hoped that the greeters would welcome them in. That they would be offered a name tag and invited to fill out a card giving us more information about them.
That the ushers would give them a word of welcome along with their books and leaflets and that those in the pews would smile at them when they entered.
That when the Peace was exchanged, that those around them would offer them God’s peace with a hug or a handshake.
That if they got lost in the service, that a neighbor in a pew would help them find their way.
That after worship someone would invite them to stay for coffee and a treat.
That they would be invited to Adult Christian Formation.
That’s what I hope.
Because that’s what I hope that every stranger at our gate, every neighbor, on Sunday morning receives.

I would hope that if we saw them on a corner we’d smile at them and wave. That we’d remember to pray for them. That maybe we’d have a bag of grace in our car to offer.

Because here’s what I think. That when we form relationships with others, when we love whatever neighbor God gives us, that we can’t help but provide for them. That we give a little less to ourself and a lot more to someone that needs it more than we do.

What about other neighbors at our gate? I’m not only talking about physical needs.  
I’m talking about a listening ear. A cordial word. A smile.  Kindness.  Respect.
I’m talking about compassion.
I saw so many of you give hospitality and compassion freely yesterday and the day before.
The truth is, as far as I’m concerned, our Fall Gift Market can only be considered successful if that hospitality and compassion continues tomorrow and everyday.  AMEN