Saturday, January 28, 2012

Reflections from Morning Prayer: January 23-26

Our son David was in church recently and, during one of the less hectic moments, was leafing through the less-well-thumbed part of the Book of Common Prayer. “There’s a part in one of the psalms where it says

‘I destroy those who hate me…I beat them small like dust…I trample them like mud in the streets… ‘

Is that compatible with Christianity?” He wondered. “If not, why is it in the Prayer Book?”

Good question. As we read through the psalms and scriptures at Morning Prayer we encounter many such ruthless texts that offend against our notion of Christian ethics. What’s up with this?

ONE IDEA: The Bible is a work in process: our understanding of God has changed over the centuries, and is changing still. In the future, believers will look back on our times and say, “what were those people thinking?”

ANOTHER IDEA: Even when the psalms and scriptures seem off-base about religion, they are right-on about human nature. People who have been drastically abused are not likely to proofread their prayers carefully. But even when we can’t accept their ethics, we can identify with their feelings.

STILL ANOTHER: The Bible is NOT a PR document designed to meet our doctrinal or spiritual needs. Its production was a chaotic mishmash, more like a scrapbook than a history text. For it to truly become the Word of God for us it must be mulled over, prayed over, and critiqued within the community of faith. To become the Word of God it must move off the page and become flesh… our flesh, that is, our humanity that has, in baptism, been buried with Christ in his death, shares in his resurrection, and reborn by the Holy Spirit.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Reflections from Morning Prayer: January 17-19, 2012

On Thursday at Morning Prayer we heard another ancient story drawn from the primal depths of the Genesis narrative, this one pertaining to the foundation of the city of Babylon. It speaks of God in a simplistic, anthropomorphic way: “Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so they will not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:7) This seems like a dirty trick for God to play on the ancient tower-builders of Babel, as if God were (as contemporary atheists have charged) the enemy of human progress and solidarity.

Another way to look at it would be to understand linguistic and cultural diversity as one of God’s greatest gifts. Uniformity is the province of mighty empires and totalitarian states, not the modus operandi of Israel’s unruly ancestors. If, as Genesis 11:1 says, “the whole earth had one language and the same words,” the world might run more efficiently, but would also be less interesting.

Except for our ritual dialogue, we do not converse much at Morning Prayer, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t communication taking place. Often the voices blend together until it seems as if one collective voice is speaking: “Be still before the Lord “, the voice says, “and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7) Does not the ensuing silence speak as eloquently as the sacred words?

“Therefore my heart dances for joy, * and in my song will I praise him.” (Psalm 28:9)

Peace be with you.


Monday, January 16, 2012


1. 2 Cycles in the Church Calendar: A) Easter B) Epiphany.

A) Lent/Easter/Pentecost Cycle focusses upon sin and redemption, upon the way God acts to repair the broken relationship between God and creation.

B) Advent/Christmas/Epiphany focusses upon the way God becomes known. “Epiphany”= revelation, disclosure, manifestation, discovery, “aha”…

2. Last week= “Epiphanies of Pilgrimage”= recognizing the “epiphanic” quality of our own experiences and how they may/may not relate to those presented in the Epiphany scriptures and liturgy. Today

A) I Samuel= “I have heard you calling in the night”. With help from the old priest Eli, the boy Samuel discerns that God is speaking to him as he sleeps in the Temple. (It is significant that Eli encourages Samuel to trust what is revealed to him, even though, as it turns out, what Samuel hears is disastrous for Eli and his sons).

B) John= Jesus tells Nathaniel that “I saw you under the fig tree”, which (for some reason) comes as a huge epiphany to Nathaniel. The significance of figs?

C) Both stories begin with a dissonance, an offence, a blindness of some kind… (the abuse of priestly prerogatives by Eli’s sons & Nathaniel’s prejudice against the town of Nazareth).

3. Dissonance for me growing up: “the slums”. Contrast= the safety/civility of my own household and the apparent chaos/threat of the slums.

4. In my teens= at church I learned that “race and wealth are not supposed to matter.” As a college/seminary student in the early 60’s = Civil Rights Movement. As a newly ordained priest in 1966, I joined the Chicago Freedom Movement.

5. A “Prayer Vigil” in Marquette Park.

Dr. King struck by rock

Description: Dr. King struck by rock

6. An Epiphany of the kingdom of God. What had represented chaos/threat=safety and peace.

7. Limits… Stokely Carmichael.

8. How discern an “epiphany” from self-deception? A “prophet” from a “crackpot?”

Friday, January 13, 2012


We have been reading from the early chapters in the Book of Genesis, and the readers’ voices resound as if from some primeval cave, reciting stories like that of Cain and Abel. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) asks the murderer Cain, thus echoing humanity’s ancient, and very modern, attempt to exonerate itself from the claims of mutuality and community. The question strikes us as ironic, because, from Jesus, we have come to know the simple answer: yes.

Coincidentally, Christ Church played host last week to a community forum where visionary possibilities for the Detroit Metropolitan Area were presented. As we were once again confronted with awareness of the monumental obstacles faced by the City of Detroit, Cain’s anguished voice could be heard crying out from the past, “My punishment is greater than what I can bear!”(Genesis4:13)

The little semi-circular gathering in St. Paul’s Chapel can offer no grand solutions, only the measured psalm-phrases, emerging from the same primeval cave of collective memory and desperate hope: “Open my eyes, that I may see…” (Psalm 119:18)

Friday, January 6, 2012

EPIPHANIES: personal and otherwise

1. In church tradition, the word “epiphany” refers to…

A) A pronounced disinterest or lack of enthusiasm

B) A crude reference to the physiology of certain of Jesus’ disciples

C) A brand of acoustic guitar

D) None of the above

2) I always heard that “epiphany” meant…

A) “The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles”

B) “A sudden realization or comprehension of the essence or meaning of something”

C) A disclosure of truth that could not have been predicted or controlled

D) All of the above

3) Epiphaneia= revelation; disclosure; manifestation; discovery; “aha”…etc.

The “Epiphany Season” in the church year= readings/prayers/music that are particularly “epiphanic” , i.e. reveal the mission and identity of God in Christ.

4) 1st Sunday in Epiphany= Baptism of Christ. A paradigmatic event. The heavens “split open” (schizomai) and the spirit-world/real world dichotomy is shattered. Not a “public” event- seen only by Jesus? How could the Evangelist have known? When do the heavens split open for us?

5) “Thin Places”. In the Celtic spiritual tradition there are shrines, caves, springs of water, and groves of trees where people experienced a “thinning” of the “wall” between the sacred and the mundane. In 1931, Mahatma Gandhi wrote in A Spiritual Message to the World

“There is an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything. I feel it, though I do not see it. It is this unseen power that makes itself felt and defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.”

6) I knew “thin places” before I knew about God or the church, or about Celtic Spirituality. The spiritual path which I have followed, and which I can commend to others, is one that begins with this primal, “pre-religious” experience of The Sacred.

At Muir Woods in California…

we walked silently among the ancient trees …the day before, we had visited Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and walked the Labyrinth in silence…at Muir Woods, the silence walked tangibly with us, and the tourists lowered their voices in the same liturgical sort of way…the next day, among the tourist crowds at Fisherman’s Wharf, one of our group was moved to say, “sometimes it seems that everyplace is thin.”

“Thin places” do not appeal to everyone. Many people brush up against such experiences, and find them too unsettling. The most successful mega-churches devise their worship so as to seem familiar and not particularly “religious.” I believe that an experience that is not the least bit spooky or strange cannot be epiphanic.

“Easter occurs, again and again, in this opening-up of a void, the sense of absence which questions our egocentric aspirations and our longing for ‘tidy drama’; it occurs when we find in Jesus not a dead friend but a living stranger…(p.74) The risen Jesus is strange and yet deeply familiar, a question to what we have known, loved, and desired, and yet continuous with the friend we have known and loved. His strangeness and recognizability are both shocking, standing as they do in such inseparable connection.” (p. 84) Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel, Rowan Williams, Pilgrim press, 2002)

7) “Parable” and “Myth” (John Dominic Crossan, cited in Mighty Stories, Dangerous Rituals by Herbert Anderson & Edward Foley)

A) Myth= stories/ideas that reinforce our idea of what is normal and real.

B) Parable= stories/ideas that call into question our idea of reality.

To be epiphanic, there must be some element of parable, but how can there be parables when all the myths have been discredited or forgotten? The task of the church is to re-inflate the myths sufficiently so as to make the parables distinguishable.

8) If the above makes little or no sense to you, don’t let it bother you. If you pay attention to your own experiences, and allow them to be called into question, you are doing just fine. If all experiences seem the same, and that is just fine with you, it’s no wonder you think what I am talking about is nonsense.

9) What is the difference between an “epiphany” and a “stupid idea?”