Thursday, September 29, 2011


I am writing these words on the new laptop I was given by the people of St. Stephen’s. It is very user-friendly and I couldn’t be more pleased with it. Thank you St. Stephen’s! I will endeavor to use it in a fashion that will make you glad you gave it to me, and gives glory to God, or at least avoids causing too much damage.

For those who don’t know it, I will begin serving October 1st as 1/3 time associate at Christ Church Cranbrook, St. Stephen’s neighbor to the west. The Rector there, The Rev. Gary Hall, is still relatively new in that position, and his vision of the church and approach to ministry resonate with my own. When he asked me to join their staff as Associate priest for Spiritual Formation it struck me as an authentic calling from God, and I look forward to serving with him and others whom I know at Christ Church. My particular role will be to assist in programming for adult faith development and weekday worship.

I will also am working with my good friend Fred Cavaiani on the development of retreats and workshops to be held at the Capuchin Retreat House in Washington Township. I am looking for other ministry opportunities, including some Sunday supply work. If you hear of anything that might be appropriate for me, let me know!

Before becoming Rector of a parish in 1981 I worked four or five part-time jobs at the same time. I enjoyed the variety, and expect to do so again.

Nothing could replace the privilege of serving for twenty years among the people of St. Stephen’s, Troy. But God is not finished with us yet, and I am inclined to trust a future inhabited by the same God who has blessed us so lavishly in the past.

“I remember the time past; I muse upon all your deeds; * I consider the works of your hands.

Let me hear of your loving-kindness in the morning, for I put my trust in you;* show me the path that I must walk, for I lift up my soul to you.” Psalm 143: 5 & 8.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Night Was Afraid to Fall


I knew Father Orlando, and admired his poetry, while he was in the Diocese of Michigan. He is now in the Miami area, and parish priest to our dear friend Joy James Williams. It was Joy who sent me a copy of Father Orlando’s newly-published book, Night Was Afraid to Fall: Bilingual Poems. (English translations by M. Jane Roberts)

Although I do not speak or read Spanish, I have been exposed to it in liturgical settings often enough to appreciate its capacity to evoke strong emotion, even when the precise meaning is unclear. For about a year I have made a practice of reciting the Venite canticle in Spanish at Morning Prayer, because phrases like “en su mano estan las profundidades de la tierra” call me into the “deep places” in myself, which is where we ought to be when praying, right?

Father Orlando seems to share my fascination for the image of the sun setting over water. In the poem Aniquilamiento (ie.e “Extinction”) he writes:

Poco antes de enmudecerse el orbe

El sol retoca su cara en el mar

antes de besar los labios de la muerte.

Just before the earth grows silent

the sun freshens its face in the sea,

preparing to kiss the lips of death.

And, in Eternity, he writes:

When the day exhausts itself,

the Sun rests its body

in the sea.

It rests from the ardor of its cycle

after having scorched the grass,

after having chiseled its tracks

on the backs of laborers.

Eternity continued marching on

with envy burning in its breast

for not having, like the Sun,

rested in the water of the Bay.

I have no such melodious words to share at the moment, but the photo above, taken on Ontario’s Walpole Island, speaks from the profundidades of my own heart.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

September 17, 2011 Notes on "Tending to the Holy"


Presented by Bruce Epperly, formerly of Lancaster Theological Seminary and author of Tending to the Holy and numerous other books

September 16, 2011

Central Woodward Christian Church, Troy, MI

This event was attended by about 25 Presbyterian, UCC, and Disciples of Christ ministers, plus me. It was the first of what is expected to become an annual event.

“Anything one says theologically should be capable of being experienced in one way or another.” Bruce Epperly (Same idea expressed by the preacher I wrote about earlier this year in “Pentecost at the Church of the Atonement”).

(*I am intrigued that when we say “that’s incredible,” we are not saying that a given event is “not credible,” but rather that “It seems too good to be true, but I’m prepared to believe it anyway.” For this reason, it would make sense to change the “Nicene Creed” to “The Nicene INcred.” But I’m not holding my breath).

Lectio Divina seeks to relieve the conscious mind of the effort to control what scripture has to say to us. (Reminds me of something I heard Harvey Guthrie, former Dean of Episcopal Divinity School, say about 15 years ago… his version was, “theological liberals and conservatives alike need to learn to let scripture interrogate us, instead of the other way around.”) Epperly urges us to listen rather than read (or, read out loud to oneself, I presume), and let the mind wander with whatever it will. He commends the practice of salvator abulanto*, that is, pondering the lectio while strolling about in a deliberate fashion. Solitary, of course. (This reminds me of the “Zen Walking” we were taught at an Alban Institute event long ago.)

*ascribed, like so many other things, to St. Augustine.

In the passage about Jacob’s Ladder God tells Jacob that “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go,”(Genesis 28:15). Yet Jacob wakes from his dream to exclaim, “Surely the LORD is in THIS place- and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:16). So the God of Israel is both local and universal, concentrated in one particular place and completely portable at the same time. So where is the “gate of heaven”? It is always right under our noses, “and we did not know it.” (Yet its absence is everywhere also, I would say, except that “absence” cannot, by definition, be anywhere at all, else it would be “presence.” Neither, properly speaking, can “absence” be an “it.” Hence my conviction grows that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is as much an absence as a presence, albeit an absence that is as sacred as “it” is real.)

Epperly: “when we say that God is omnipresent, we are saying that wherever we go, God is already there.” Most clergy seem to find this observation comforting, but I cannot help feeling outflanked, outmaneuvered, and outwitted. I am like Jonah, trying to stay out of God’s way. My version; “We are stuck with an omnipresent God: might as well make the best of it.”

Epperly asks us: “what do cherish the most about your practice of ministry?” I confess to him that, as I proceed further into retirement, I may find myself missing the weekly experience of being the center of attention. He makes the common observation that all clergy are at least somewhat narcissistic, and that this tendency can be fatal to the practice of authentic ministry, or to any healthy relationship. Will I begin to suffer withdrawl symptoms as time goes on? Not so far… but I have been reveling in the attention of old friends. Time will tell, but Epperly comments that “the margins of society can be a positive place.” He was referring to the decline of influence on the part of mainline churches and clergy, but it can apply to individuals also. Indeed, the margin, the liminal, and the “outer darkness” are the places where Christ becomes most conspicuous, right?

Epperly says that “The Center is everywhere.” This is also the title of his book, subtitled “Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age.” I bought one.

Epperly observes that “clergy have more discretionary time than almost any other profession.” Yet far fewer clergy are slackers than are workaholics. This is encouraging to me as I contemplate my future in retirement: for the vast majority of my professional life I have been accorded opportunity to allocate my own use of time. This has not changed. I seem to be just as busy now as I was before retirement… time divided between writing, thinking, praying, various tasks and errands, and relationship-tending. Fewer relationships to tend? Maybe not, the way things are going. THIS CONFERENCE HELPED ME SEE HOW MY MINISTRY HAS SHIFTED FROM PAROCHIAL TO SEMI-BENEDICTINE (if Nancy reads this, she will laugh).

Finally… what would “abundance” look like in my life as it has become? I need to reflect more on that , but I will remember Bruce Epperly’s words (which may have been a quote from someone else): “You lose your compassion and your imagination at the same time.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Far North Wedding

FAR NORTH WEDDING: David Gaston & Kasey Leffler, married September 10, 2011

Thanks for the wedding.

Thanks for the vows, the blessings, and the rings.

Thanks for the chance to stay at Ginny & Larry’s farm once again.

Thanks for the mild, cool evenings with Jupiter rising brilliant in the east.

Thanks for the wild turkeys calling to each other in the cedar swamp.

Thanks for the rollicking of the seven dogs and the young cousins’ play.

Thanks for the late summer’s garden bounty, especially the corn.

Thanks for the kitchen talk, tales recited and new wisdom from old friends.

Thanks for the long laughter and the opportunity for tears.

Thanks for 33.75 Mile Road that dead ends at a place that was sacred before we got there,

And will remain so long after all of us have gone.