Sunday, December 13, 2015

Third Sunday in Advent

At St. Marys's this past week, our Advent theme was peace will stamp out war. I am mindful of the many kinds of wars we experience, beginning with the wars within ourselves and in our relationships. These are a very good place to begin our stamping out.With Jesus' help. 

I am reminded today of the variety of weapons we use in our individual wars.   Words.  Apathy. Selfishness. Self-centerness. Greed. Fear. 

Then there are actual physical weapons. 

I have never owned a gun, fired a gun, or even held a gun except a water pistol, which I expect doesn't count.  The only knives I have are in my kitchen. I have used my hands to injure, I am sorry to say. I am not without sin to be forgiven, that's for sure 

Because I am not personally a gun owner, I've been intentional to listen to parishioners who own and collect guns to help me understand the passion for gun ownership. I do live in Texas, after all. 

In all of our conversations, we have been united in our concern for gun safety although I wouldn't say we have come to consensus on what that looks like and how to achieve it. Of course, in my experience, if challenges were easy to solve, we'd have already done it. 

I hope we can agree to pray about the violence that leads to all sorts of war.  Then to listen for the answer God invites us to be to that prayer.  

Today is Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath and many parishes will use this litany for the Prayers of the People.   Will you pray with us?


Giver of Life and Love, you created all people as one family and called us to live together in harmony and peace. Surround us with your love as we face the challenges and tragedies of gun violence.
For our dear ones, for our neighbors, for strangers and aliens, and those known to you alone, Loving God 
Make us instruments of your peace. 
God of Righteousness, you have given our leaders, especially Barack, our President, our Governor, the members of Congress, the judges of our courts and members of our legislatures, power and responsibility to protect us and to uphold our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
For all who bear such responsibility, for all who struggle to discern what is right in the face of powerful political forces, Loving God 
Make us instruments of your peace. 
God of Compassion, we give you thanks for first responders, for police officers, firefighters and EMTs, and all those whose duties bring them to the streets, the lobbies, the malls and the homes where the carnage of gun violence takes place day after day. Give them courage and sound judgment in the heat of the moment and grant them compassion for the victims.
For our brothers and sisters who risk their lives and their serenity as they rush to our aid, Loving God 
Make us instruments of your peace. 
Merciful God, bind up the wounds of all who suffer from gun violence, those maimed and disfigured, those left alone and grieving, and those who struggle to get through one more day. Bless them with your presence and help them find hope.
For all whose lives are forever marked by the scourge of gun violence, Loving God 
Make us instruments of your peace. 
God Who Remembers, may we not forget those who have died, more than 30,000 this year, in the gun violence that we have allowed to become routine. Receive them into your heart and comfort us with your promise of eternal love and care. 
For all who have died, those who die today, and those who will die tomorrow, Loving God 
Make us instruments of your peace. 
God of Justice, help us, your church, find our voice. Empower us to change this broken world and to protest the needless deaths caused by gun violence. Give us power to rise above our fear that nothing can be done and grant us the conviction to advocate for change. 
For your dream of love and harmony, Loving God 
Make us instruments of your peace.
All this we pray in the name of the One who offered his life so that we might live, Jesus the Christ. Amen

A Litany for the Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath 
written by the Rt. Rev. Stephen T. Lane, Episcopal Bishop of Maine

A final note:  if you've gotten this far, it means you've likely prayed this prayer. I received word that someone in the parish I serve had been offended by this prayer and felt that it was part of a larger political agenda.  Please know. This is a prayer.  I'm still personally figuring out what it means to serve and follow the Prince of Peace and need all of you to help me find my way. I wonder if you do, too. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Second Monday in Advent: Be

The Society of St. John the Evangelist word today is. BE. 

A good word as I leave from retreat mode, travel on planes from Santa Fe to Denver, stop awhile, then travel from Denver to Redmond, Oregon, hoping to be in Bend for Jonas' 3rd birthday hug in the morning. 

My retreat Sunday was a glorious day in God's beauty hiking, drawing, picnicking, labyrinth walking, and celebrating Holy Eucharist with a mountain view. 

Packed up, I'm enjoying a final scone and coffee at Iconik in Santa Fe. Last minutes of retreat and quiet being before the delightful grandma shuffle being begins.  

Be:      Contentment is more about being than about doing, or acquiring, or mastering, or craving, or searching. Contentment is about being satisfied given the limitations of our present life.

-Br. Curtis Almquist

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Second Sunday in Advent: A priest on retreat

These annual Advent trips to New Mexico began as vacations. They have transformed into retreats.  They are a rhythm to begin the new liturgical year--full of possibilities and surprises. 

I've been to retreats in monasteries, in people's homes, churches, camp sites. I've attended as a retreat leader and facilitator and as a participant. I've been on silent retreats and retreats that involved praying through community art. I've been on business planning meetings that were called retreats that were really work. 

These Advent retreats in New Mexico have a Benedictine flavor. They are an opportunity for a mindful balance of prayer, reading, walking, conversation and listening, friendship, play, eating, and, always, possibilities and surprises. 

There are fires and hot coffee and tea. There are skies that offer a variety of ever-changing messages throughout today. 

This is the Sunday of my retreat. A rare day to cease to work and to be. Having been able to stay out late on Saturday night enjoying a four hour dinner with friends, I allowed the sun to wake me up this morning.  

Now I am off to the Wild Rivers wilderness to hike and pray and have Communion. 

Possibilities and surprises. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

First Saturday in Advent: Healing

The day before Thanksgiving, I woke up with a cold. I started taking zinc and echinacea and drinking lots of water, and tried to not share the cold. 

I never felt terrible, but as is the case with colds, I was slowed down. A week later, now in New Mexico, I still had symptoms and the high altitude and dry air didn't help. 

I always seem to be seeking some sort of healing, if not body, then mind and/or spirit, during my Advent retreat.  I was right on task. 

I've been mindful of the slow healing process of this cold--a small bit better everyday. I've been mindful of all the pieces of this healing process 

People have prayed and I am so grateful for those kind prayers.  Healing. 
I've had times of silence and rest. Healing. 
I had a wonderful massage, and Bonnie did all sorts of healing touch that did wonders with my breathing. Healing. 

Yesterday I took one of my favorite hikes that leads to a spacious overlook of the Rio Grande Gorge. Though I found myself feeling a bit winded from time to time, the beauty was worth every step. 

Afterwards, as I sat with a cappuccino and pumpkin shortbread in front of a fire in a gallery that housed a local weaving exhibit, I realized how much better I felt after taking those sometimes challenging steps.  They, too, had also been part of the healing process. 

I'm still getting the last symptoms expunged. Step by step. Prayer by prayer. Resting and waiting. Sometimes challenging. 

I pray the same for all seeking healing. Step by step. Prayer by prayer. Resting and waiting. Sometimes challenging. AMEN

Friday, December 4, 2015

First Friday in Advent: Worship

As a person paid to lead worship, I've thought an awful lot about what worship means. At the heart of worship, for me, is that it's all about God. Worship has a sense of intentionality and presence. 

Every morning of the Advent retreat begins with enjoying the wonder of the day's unique gift of sunrise.
A moment to give thanks to God. Worship. 

My friend builds a fire, and on the couch before the hearth, we sit mainly in silence with our coffee, reading, writing, photographing, pondering, praying. Worship. 

One of the biggest decisions to be made on the Advent retreat is where worship in community will occur. It should be a given: whatever Episcopal Church is closest, but for some reason, having this rare opportunity for choice makes it a place for me to reflect on what worship is, and not being alone, my friend's thoughts are part of the conversation, too.   

Being intimately involved in all the twists and turns of the Church, I am aware what an imperfect vessel we the Church are. It, frankly, can be a distraction. I am thankful to be reminded this cold Advent morning that worship is not about me, ever, but always about God. 

For today, I will think on Psalm 96. I will worship God in the beauty of holiness and, for now, that is enough. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

First Thursday in Advent: Repent

After lunch in Chimayo yesterday, I went to the Santuario de Chimayo to pray for the ever so many people I carry in my heart. It's a strange place full of images of dying, bloodied Jesuses. I wonder what spirituality finds consolation in that?  Yet, amidst, for me, the visually uncomfortable space, the air is thick with prayer. I was still and with God. 

The drive up the High Road to Taos was as stunning as always, with drifts of leftover snow along the way.  Having sat with God, I was keenly aware of a couple of important matters that I had left undone, not because I was too busy but clearly because of sloth. I wanted to talk to my friend about this, but was hesitant. I'm not sure why. Finding the small courage to confess, I was able to be energized to do those things I'd left undone. 

This morning, as I received some lovely responses to doing those things that had been left undone, I was struck by the Society of St. John the Evangelist word of the day:  repent.   

Repentance:The power God offers of turning a corner, changing direction, to walk with God, rather than in disharmony. 

It's like cinnamon toast and coffee enjoyed in front of a roaring fire. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Advent. New Mexico

For twenty years, my best friend, who lives in Georgia, and I meet in New Mexico for an Advent retreat. Over the years it has evolved into a lovely rest with a base of play, quiet, hikes, coffee and food, and visits with friends. Then there are the yearly surprises. 

I flew after work yesterday so I arrived in the dark. A quick dinner in Albuquerque fortified us for the hour drive in the dark to Santa Fe for the night. 

One of my favorite  Advent sights are the lights of the Plaza in Santa Fe and the farolitas. These lights always fill me with joy--a reminder of the joy-filled Light of Christ. 

Today I'm up early to blue sky and twenty degree cold. Filled with local roast coffee and green chile white cheddar bagel, I'm off soon to Chimayo to meet a friend for lunch and then prayers at the Santuario de Chimayo.  I'll have my eyes open for the Light. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Prayers for a marriage

Today is the feast day of St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist. I am reminded that before Matthew was an evangelist and an apostle, he was a tax collector, and as such, an agent of the occupying enemy government with the legal authority to cheat his neighbors. And Jesus called him to be a disciple. 

I am mindful this feast day of all of the folks that Jesus surrounded himself with on a day by day basis. As best as I can figure, two brothers were blue collar workers (Peter and Andrew); two were sons of a prominent business owner (James and John); one was a religious radical to whom Jesus stayed faithful even when he betrayed him (Judas); one was a man who asked endless questions (Thomas); one was a man who brought people outside the faith to meet Jesus (Philip); there were other men whose names can't be gotten straight across the Gospels; and then there were the women and children.  Who but Jesus would gather this unlikely group of souls to be his first Church?

I suspect that they seldom all agreed. Which is why I imagine Jesus gave them a prayer to pray, on which they could agree--the one we call the Lord's Prayer.  I also imagine that because Jesus knew that conflicts within his community were surely ahead that his last act in the Gospel of John, before his betrayal, was to pray that we would all be one as Jesus and God are one. 

I've been called by God, I believe, as Rector of St. Mary's, to help us to be a yes to Jesus' prayer. How can we be united in mission when we have disagreements?  We've been practicing doing this as we've been revisioning our master plan for what we call our sacred space. 

We've begun another conversation about marriage. As Rector, it may be the most challenging yet for me. For the dear people with whom I've walked for years and love dearly, each has an often very deeply held conviction about what marriage is and isn't. Marriage between man and woman. Between two men. Between two women. Remarriage. Blessing and marriage. Civil union and Sacrament. 

If Jesus could choose to walk daily with an enemy of his people, a man who would betray him, rich men, ordinary men, a person whose questions never seemed to get answered, another who kept bringing "those people" to meet Jesus, can't we figure out how to be a "yes" to Jesus's prayer to somehow live together with the more which unites us than the smaller bits that don't?  I know it's not that simple.........but maybe, it is. 

There's is prayer that we shared yesterday in Adult Christian Formation. It was written by The Right Rev. Charles Slattery (1867--1930), Bishop of Massachusetts.  Called A Prayer for a Married Couple, he wrote it to be used for daily devotions in his family.  Knowing that the image often used in Scripture about the relationship between Christ and his Church is that of marriage, it seems to me that it is a prayer that could also prayed as a Church family.

O God, our Heavenly Father, protect and bless us.
Deepen and strengthen our love for each other day by day.
Grant that by thy mercy neither of us ever say one unkind word to the other.
Forgive and correct our faults, and make us instantly to forgive one another should one of us unconsciously hurt the other.
Make us and keep us sound and well in body, alert in mind, tender in heart, and devout in spirit.
O Lord, grant us each to rise to the other's best.  [my favorite line]
Then we pray thee, add to our common life such virtues as only thou canst give.
And so, O Father, consecrate our life and our love completely to thy worship, 
and to the service of all about us, 
especially those whom thou hast appointed us to serve, 
that we may always stand before thee in happiness and peace; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Making the day by walking

I'm spending my Sabbath this week at my mom's place in the country outside McKinney, Texas.  I came up after work yesterday, and because Siri gave me a most circuitous route around Dallas to avoid rush hour traffic, I was able to get to McKinney in time to meet my mother and my brother for dinner at an amazing barbecue restaurant, Hutchins. Such a gift. 

I've had a lot of extra intense things going on at work. I know that sleep, good food, quiet with God, a day each week to cease to work, and walking keep me centered. It's been hot and muggy in Houson, and so I've made it a spiritual practice to take a very early morning walk right as the sun rises most days. It's very hard to get out the door and take those first steps, but it makes all the difference to my day. 

When I'm at my mom's, I like to wake up before she does and make her fresh ground coffee and clean out the dishwasher. It gives her a good start to the day. After I'd done those two tasks this morning, I decided to steal into the room where my brother was still sleeping and get my walking shoes that permanently live at my mom's. 

I was tired and feeling a little blue, if I'm honest. There's a lot weighing on my shoulders now. I knew I needed to go outdoors and walk. I put one foot in front of the other, a prayer line humming in my head:  we make the way by walking. 

I took my phone along in case I saw anything picture worthy. Everywhere I looked I saw plants withering from the August heat. Power lines marred the view. Nothing I wanted to remember. 

I continued to walk. The smell of lavender gently surrounded me. My mother's neighbors have a lavender garden, and though the blooms were past, the perfume remained.  

I walked up a hill as early morning colors began to transform. I saw the little Methodist church at the end of road, and I pondered God leading me on my daily path. 

I passed the tiny cemetery where some of my ancestors are buried. Turning to retrace my steps, I passed the land where my great-greats had built a house over a hundred years ago. I was surrounded by the love of family. 

As I walked back to have coffee and breakfast with my mom, there was a stand of my favorite flower, sunflowers. 

I'd made the way by walking. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Prayer Walking with the Grandboys

The gift of having my son and his wife both able to take some time off from work today!

We started with a feast of Sue's eggs and chocolate chip coconut scones followed by the bonus of FaceTime with my NYC daughter. The family together!

Then we were off for for a ten minute drive to Newberry National Forest to hike the Lava River Cave, a lava-formed cave that's a two mile hike in and out; down 150 steps, and over a combination of flattish sandy path, uneven rocks, and stairs. Pitch black and 42 degrees cold!

I do like to hike, but this trip I came prepared for summer and neighborhood strolls. No hiking stick, no proper footwear, and certainly no cold weather garments.  Remembering that pilgrimage is about surrender with joy, particularly to the unexpected, I was willing to go. What was at hand would have to be enough. 

Which is where the prayer walking began.  Being underground is not my favorite place to be. It's unsettling to be beneath the earth. After prayers for safety for the five us, prayers for peace and, yes, courage for me were next. We did have a two and five year old with us!  With flashlight in one hand to light our path, and a five year old hand in the other, the adventure began. 

I could not let my attention wander. Slippery spots and holes abounded, and I had a precious traveling companion. As I walked, I was reminded again and again and again that this was very truly mindful walking.  No moments to take photos during this mindful hike.  

Half way in, Austin realized he needed to go to the bathroom, so the trip back to earth was a most mindful hurry. I only fell once. 

Outside we enjoyed the sun and snacks and chipmunks frolicking all around. Austin and Jonas learned that if they were very still, the chipmunks would come near. 

I've had such a good visit with my dear family. It's taco Tuesday, and it's cooled off some, and so it's dinner outdoors for the third night in a row. There are chocolate chip cookies still to bake and one more morning to play. 

It so very enough. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sunday at New Hope

On the fourth day with my family in Oregon, after a little Paddington Bear Movie, bacon and eggs for breakfast, and some playing with new birthday toys, I went my son and his family to church. 

After depositing the boys in Sunday School, and stopping by the coffee bar for beverages, we went to adult worship. The liturgy was reminiscent of the structure of Sunday School in my Baptist growing up days--though definitely more upscale. A prayer, contemporary praise music led by band and song leaders, announcements, more music, a long Bible teaching with practical application, another brief prayer, a final song while a collection was passed, and we were good for the week.  Everything was very well thought out beforehand (from this professional point of view). I like worshipping in places away from home, and I especially love worshipping with my family. 

The boys are napping. We're off to a water venue later.  It's been in the high 90's, and with no air conditioning, I'm reminded of trips to my grandmas' farms in the summer and all we did to stay cool. Fans blowing and blinds drawn during the day, walks to the park taken early before the heat hits, food preparation done without using an oven, sleeping at night with windows open to breezes and cooling air and outside sounds.  It's summer and this is what it's supposed to be like. Thankfully, there aren't the bugs or humidity of Houston. 

My heart is full of gratitude. It is enough. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Grandma Texas in the air again

 The Value of Things. 

When things are valued too much, they lose their value because they nourish a never-satisfied craving for more. Conversely, when things are received as gifts from God and used obediently in service to God, they are enriched with gratitude. As sages have said, contentment lies not in obtaining things you want, but in giving thanks for what you have.  (Arthur Simon)

This is my fourth trip this month--Chambersville, Georgia, North Carolina, Indiana, and now California  on my way to Oregon for Austin's #5. 

Traveling is a spiritual discipline for me. We can plan all we like, but there are always surprises. That's why I seek to look at these travels as pilgrimage--a place to find God in new ways. 

That being said, I love the little luxuries that can be present during travel. On this first long leg to San Francisco, I used travel miles to upgrade to first class. And I struggle. Is it being Christ-centered to place myself in such a place of privilege?  

As I was easing through security and then boarding with my premier status, I wondered about the ever so many others who are grateful simply to have a seat. To make it through security with time to spare. I pondered: what if I chose to board last (certainly a modern hair shirt)?What if I offered my good seat to someone seated in a middle seat near the back (a hair shirt indeed). 

I didn't. I haven't. My so-called servant heart hasn't surrendered my aisle seat in first class. I'm enjoying my glass of sparkling water as others board. Having not to fret about breakfast has been sweet. And then there's the hot towel.  

I know that some folks would say to me:  You deserve it. Or you earned it. Or even, well, you paid for it. 

Truth is, I don't deserve it and I didn't earn it. I didn't do anything special to have the resources to upgrade.  It just is. 

The best I can do is be supremely grateful for my privilege. I can search for how I can serve those who have so much less privilege than I. 

Still.  I am a pilgrim, so I pray. I give thanks for all that I have. It is so very much more than enough. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Enough: Dream


The vision is here, the dream is here, the unseen presence is here. What we are to become is dancing along with us even now, just out of sight. If we listen, if we are attentive, if we are obedient to this new, true self in Christ, it will lift us overhead and help us fly.

-Br. Mark Brown

Up early to walk the labyrinth as my prayer this morning. The labyrinth was created when the sisters transformed their tennis court in celebration of their fiftieth anniversary.  A dream prayed and lived and now shared with the world. 

My prayer walk continued over to the peace garden. Rain last night had left large pools of water. 

The sister who walked with me yesterday evening took great delight in one particular flower called the cardinal flower. It has a large red spiked bloom, and the plants once covered the Indiana prairies.  

When the peace garden was created this past year, the gardeners had planted a few starter plants.  Sister Jeanne's dream was to harvest the seeds, germinate, and transplant the seedlings with abandon. 

She proudly showed me her tiny seedlings for the cardinal plant. The seeds themselves are smaller than a grain of salt, so the fact the flowers grow wild is quite a work of God. She told me of the challenges and trials of getting the seeds to grow and the many that had not made it though too much water or too much sun. 

As we walked together, what delight she exuded whenever she spotted one of these red spikes, walking purposefully to one after another, and admiring each that she found like a long lost friend. 

There are so many dreams in the peace garden.  As I walked back to the monastery, a dove landed in front of me. She wandered through the flowers as if there were beauty enough for her, too. 

Friday, July 10, 2015


The opposite of scarcity is not abundance. It is enough. Katie+ preached about enough on Sunday, and enough has been my prayer word here at Our Lady of Grace. 

One of the things I've learned in the twelve years that I've been praying with this Benedictine community is about true hospitality. When i am here with the sisters, My spiritual practice is to receive whatever I'm given as a gift, and to know that it will be enough. 

Today we worked hard visioning how to grow and fund Women Touched by Grace, a time apart for women pastors where they live in Benedictine Community, and through a rhythm of prayer, rest, study, and play are refreshed in order to transform the churches they lead. I am passionate about supporting women clergy in their ministries and so this has been good work. 

Tonight after Eucharist, Evening Praise, and supper with the sisters, I took a walk to the newly created peace garden. The sisters, with generous help from the community, are returning three acres of the monastery grounds back to the prairie. They've planted native plants, and welcome the insects, birds, and animals that are thriving in what is their natural habitat.  

One of the sisters joined me in my walk around the peace garden and told me stories about the variety of plants that are beginning to return home. 

One plant was called, I believe, a cup plant, because the leaves form a kind of cup that catches water that can supply drink for birds and insects. Enough. 

I sat and prayed for the people I carry in my heart. A bench. A breeze. Beauty. Stillness. Enough. 

Amidst home and work, prayer and beauty. Enough.