Friday, November 05, 2010

West Virginia Institue for Spirituality

Sr. Molly Malloney from the West Virginia Institute for Spirituality asked me to write an article as one of the alumni for the Spiritual Director's Training Program. I wrote the following which is scheduled to appear in the December Newsletter of WVIS.

A Word from Massachusetts


Since my semi-retirement from my responsibilities in Saint Albans, WV, I moved back home to Massachusetts where I became a part-time priest in charge of a small historic congregation in Salem. This congregation has witnessed to the love and compassion of Christ for over 277 years and continues to do so now. We are witness to the love of God as we regard all of humanity as one in Christ; whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. Breaking the barriers of human classification that divides and enslaves us to sin is among the greatest driving forces of my life, and is a God given drive.


As I move into this portion of my life, I also must confront the realities of my own vulnerability. Prostate cancer struck me well over a year ago, and I have been living with Jesus as I always have and then journeyed through surgery and now radiation. God has given me the privilege of sharing my journey with others who gather with me in the waiting room at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. We share our joys and sorrows, our hopes and our fears, our aches and our pains.


We cheer one another along. Last week when I was called for a radiation treatment, I quipped; “My turn to shine”. My companion for the day told me that the entire waiting room erupted in laughter as I left the room. “Who is that man?” several asked. “He is my parish priest,” was the proud answer. And thus the witness to Jesus’ love and healing touch tickled those within the Cox Center for Cancer Treatment at one of the world’s great hospitals.


Inside the treatment facility, as I lay on the table with a giant metal fork rotating around me and beaming its rays within my body, I saw the hand of God and sensed a healing touch within me. I saw no vision other than the hand of science and medicine ministering to me out of the gifts God so generously bestows upon the care giving community in my home city. The beaming rays of radiation give me the gift of healing and of life, and I am brim full of gratitude.


There are still moments of irritation, difficulty and impatience. Alas that is the human condition. We journey together along life’s ways but there must be those who point to God even when are alone on treatment table.


I am very grateful for the West Virginia Institute for Spirituality and for Sr. Carole Riley and Sr. Molly and the many others who helped me sharpen my skills in seeing God in unlikely places. You did a wonderful job. I am witnessing to Jesus still and as long as I am able and will sing God’s praises in season and out of season. May God bless you all.

Fr. Fred's New Book~an Introduction

Fr. Fred Engdahl Jr. has been writing prayers for years and posting them on Facebook. I often comments on those prayers out of appreciation. A devoted parishioner of his is collecting those prayers and has arranged to have them published. She asked me to write the forward. Here is what I wrote:


A Collection of Prayers by Fr. Fred Engdahl Jr.

An Introduction by Fr. Paul Bresnahan


Day by day, Fr. Fred says his prayers. He posts them on Facebook, and those of us lucky enough to call him “friend” pray with him. He reminds us that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, just as Jesus said it was. (Luke 17:20-21)


We no longer look up to fluffy clouds for a bearded gentleman, ancient of days...we’ve grown way beyond that simplistic notion. God is no longer “up there” or “out there” but “in here”. When I say “in here” I point to the human heart where Fr. Fred’s prayers are firmly planted. Like seeds that are nurtured by the waters of godly and human love, they grow within us and reach out like a vine to connect all who love God and seek to love one another.


Our connection know no boundaries. We are all one in Christ just as Jesus taught. There are no outcasts. Whatever race, ethnicity, class, gender or orientation, the love of God is generous, lavish and extravagant for all. The sooner The Church learns this simple truth, the better for us all. Fr. Fred writes for us all. Fr. Fred prays with us all. Learn from these lovely and gracious prayers that they are meant for you. God loves you.


Facebook has become a gentle place to witness to the love of Jesus for many of us. It is a funny thing that many are growing closer to God through something as simple as a daily prayer posted on an electronic medium. This social network itself can be a place for God to dwell, and for Gospel moments to shine brightly in a dark world.


Fr. Fred’s creativity and faithfulness to the Prayer Book tradition are splendidly combined in this new book. For those of us with a hunger for God, and a longing for quiet streams of spiritual grace, these prayers are a wondrous contribution that satisfies the quiet seeker.


Come and search within. Look for the truth within you. Look into that mirror of the soul and see there the image of God in which you were created, redeemed and sanctified. Then look deeply into the eyes of your neighbor and you will see your own inverted image. These images are windows into the soul. There at the heart of things God lives deep within us all.


We stand as evidence that Jesus is living. Jesus is not just a two syllable word. Jesus is the personification of the love of God. Jesus is universal to the human condition as we all seek to delve into the mystery of human love. How can we love in such dangerous time? One at a time: that must be the answer. That’s how Jesus did it when he started out in such a conflicted time and in such a conflicted place. We can only love when we see ourselves and God reflected in one another’s lives. Even of our enemies, Jesus said love them. Thus to be created in the image of God means that we are constant in our prayer for the love of God and the love of our neighbor.


Did anybody ever say that this love would be easy? It was not easy for Jesus. The cost of such love and such discipleship can be costly indeed; but it can be nothing less than this; love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, and reconcile the irreconcilable.


Only through prayer are such things possible.


What makes me grateful for this collection of prayers, and for Fr. Fred’s posts on Facebook is the daily reminder that God touches our hearts one at a time, day by day, moment by moment. It is so easy to forget whose we are and to Whom we belong. We belong to God; we belong to one another. Thank you Fr. Fred. Your good and patient work is paying off!


I think you will enjoy reading this wonderful book.


Fr. Paul B. Bresnahan

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Faith Journey...Membership Moments

Here's an example with how it is with one of our new members, and why membership is important to so many...here you can have a sense of belonging...of love and of compassion. Here at St. Peter's, we're trying to be a "House of Prayer for ALL People"~

From Debbie...
I first came to St.Peter's back in 2009 for the Ham and Bean Supper. The first thing I noticed was that everyone had a smile on their face and they truly wanted to be there and welcome you. I got to meet a lot of great people there that night but one in particular was a real character. This gentleman came up to our table and wanted to know if I would be his "criminal" for the Sunday service.I didn't know who he was but I just got the sense that this was where I was suppose to be and this was the place I was looking for.

I was always brought up to respect your elders and that religion was the most important thing in your life. I went to church on Sunday and found relief in the sermons and songs. You see I was put up for adoption when I was 5 my mother I found out later in life made it very clear that I was to be put into a family that would raise me in a Catholic environment. So I guess you could say church was always in my DNA. I was always the "lost" child I never quite fit into school friends or even in the family. The only place I truly felt that I belonged was in church. I always felt alive when the songs started and when the priest started his sermon even when I thought he was long winded.
I found myself drifting away from the church for different reasons but the last straw was when I came to the realization that I was a lesbian and that the church didn't want me. I didn't understand why they didn't want me I was brought up with the belief that we were all made in God's image so what was wrong with me? I was a child of God but yet I wasn't welcomed in His house anymore because of who I loved.

So I went on a journey of discovering different outlets to re-connect with the church. I wasn't very successful at it. I always felt that something was missing this church had one thing but not another or it was not a comfortable feeling coming from the people there. I was beginning to think I was never going to find a church I would like. But then came the Ham and Bean Supper and who would have thought that would be the ticket to finding my way back to the church. And who would have thought that by saying "yes" to a Simple Parish Priest I would at long last find my church and a new family. My favorite saying here at St.Peter's is that ALL are welcomed here and it doesn't matter how long it's been since you walked into a church we will still welcome you and your family. Come take a leap of faith like me you'll be glad you did.

God Bless you Debbie...and all of you out there who are looking for the embrace of God in a sometimes chilly world.
Fr. Paul

Sunday, October 03, 2010

All I hear is Silence When I Pray

All I Hear is Silence When I Pray

It was that way in ancient times, when our ancestors in faith experienced a national catastrophe. Jerusalem had been destroyed, her people carried off into captivity, her Holy Places desecrated, and the Babylonians taunted them with an invitation; "Sing us now one of the songs of Zion". (Lamentations 1:1-6)

It was that way when Paul was in prison, the Temple was again to be destroyed, the apostles were to be martyred one by one and the early church faced extinction. And thus we knew was the deafening silence of God. (2 Timothy 1:1-14)

And even when the Apostles saw Jesus work his wonders, they asked him; "Lord increase our faith." Jesus told them that all you need is faith the size of a mustard seed, and you can tell a mulberry tree, go ahead and leap into the sea. (Luke 17:5-10)

Funny thing, this too is all I know; it is silence when I pray.

So, how do I know there is a God? I know it because when I step aside to pray in the wee small hours of the night, all I can hear is silence. There is nothing there. I listen, and ask for a sign, still nothing. I dream my dreams of nightmarish terror, and weirdness beyond telling…and still there is a deafening silence.

This silence I came to name as a Presence over time, because I continued to talk to it, and ask it questions too difficult for me to fathom. Then I heard your questions especially when you were beside yourselves with the grief of loss or the sorrows of sin.

I listened to the Silence as you spoke to me and the Presence of that very quiet Silence became God to me. It was like Moses at the burning bush for me. I turned aside to see what this marvel was in life: and the marvel of which I speak is love.

My mom’s love, my dad’s.

My grandma’s my uncle’s…how much I loved them.

They were characters all of them…not unlike you and I loved them like I love you.

And it was in the Silence of the Love I bore for them that I asked my questions long into the night. And that’s when the Presence came alive. It had a name. It was like Moses as the burning bush. Or like Samuel when he thought he could hear someone calling him long into the night.

I wondered if God could call me…and if it might be God that filled the Silence for me. I loved them all so much. And over time, they all died. None of them were perfect by any stretch.

And yet because I loved them so much, I sense that the Silence was becoming a Presence to me. It began to love me back, it became He. It became She. She/He loved me like they did and the Presence told me that She/He love all of them and all of you and even me too.

That same Presence/Silence called me to Priesthood in my church, and wonder of wonders, called me to churches in Boston, Malden, Quincy, Ohio, Methuen, West Virginia, and Salem, MA.

This Silence/Presence stayed with me all through my life and helped me build a Homeless Shelter, feed the poor, write a few books, find a wife, have three kids and on and on and on it went.

The Silence was with me in the happiest moments of my life, and wonder of wonders, there it was in times of terror even for my own life.

So how do I know there is a God? I listen very carefully. I have developed a very acute power of listening. And when I thought all I could hear was silence, I found that my heart would begin to pound with the love of my family, the love of my friends, and ultimately with the Love of God.

Then I discovered that it all begins with the question. Why? Why the destruction of the City and the Babylonian Captivity? How can we sing the songs of Zion in a foreign land?

How can the imprisoned Paul proclaim the Lordship of Christ when there seemed like the Church faced nothing but persecution and the martyrdom of all the Apostles one by one beginning with Jesus?

And for all of them as well as all of us there was the same Silence. But the Silence would not silence my questions. And as I poured out my heart to that dark night, the Light of God began to shine in my heart and the Silence became Present to me.

Thus the Burning Bush spake unto Moses. And the Silence spoke too in my heart and it said wonderful things about the Hope we have in God. That Silence invited me into the Priesthood many years ago, and I followed where it lead the way.

The Silence became very Present to me. It proclaimed the Joy of God in my heart. It told me of a little Baby in a Manger who grew to be a strong man with a heart full of love.

He too went out into to a wilderness of Silence where he became famished for food and for the knowledge of God. He was Transfigured on the Holy Mountain and that changed his whole life

He reached out to all, especially the outcast. He healed them, he forgave them their sins. He taught them how to love God and how to Love one another. And then he went to Jerusalem where he confronted the Temple Authorities. They put him to Death.

For three long days He lie in the Sepulcher. He rose from the Dead, and manifestly appeared to us all.

So how do I know there is a God? How do I know there is a Heaven and how do I know that’s where I’m headed?

It’s all because I have an extraordinary capacity for listening. I can hear the Silence speak to me with the Presence of God.

I can read of God’s Presence in the Holy Writings. I can see and hear of how all the Holy Ones heard God’s voice in the Silence many times before me.

Oh yes, I know there is a God. I know it because my heart knows it. I heard it with my own ears in the Silence, and night after night, day after day, the Silence continues its long and loving story of God’s love in the Person of Jesus.

Jesus is not as quiet as the Silence I hear at night. He speaks clearly and articulately to me in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. He is the Personification of God to me in flesh and blood. And when I wonder as we all often do, I look to Him for my salvation.

Jesus looks back to me with the eyes of perfect love and I always hear him now in prayer, especially when I am particularly quiet. His message is pure simplicity. Love God and love one another.

How do I know there is a God? The same way you do…listen!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Don't Believe in the Institutional Church!

I believe in God. I believe in being a good person. I try to act fairly, justly and ethically in what I do. I find myself finding God in quiet times, especially when I am in natural surroundings; the forest, at the ocean's edge, time away with my family. My family is first to me. I even pray and ask for help from time to time. It is the institutional church I have difficulty with. And to tell you the truth I just don't believe in it.
That's a funny thing to say for a fellow who has given his life to the church; 38 years and still counting. I fell in love with God when I was yet a child. It happened after my father died at Christmas when I was 8. The religious people said he could not go to heaven because he didn't go to church. I thought that was mean. It was bad enough to discover over time that I would never see my dad in this life, but to think I wouldn't see him in the next either, just because he didn't go to church...that was a hard thing for a child to take.
I went to church because my grandmother told me to. Actually I loved it. It was so beautiful in there, and I personally liked the time before church better than the service itself. I hasten to add that Easter was so much fun, I loved to get my Palms on Palm Sunday, and the Christmas Candlelight service was my favorite. I loved the carols then as I do now (except at WalMart).
One day, coming home from Church I sensed something in my heart that seemed to say; "Don't you know there's a special place in My Heart for your dad?" That was it! I ran home as fast as I could and asked my grandmother if there really is a God. She said; "Of course there is!" I asked her if there is a Heaven. She said; "Of course there is, why the questions?" I told her I needed to know if my daddy was there. She hesitated, I must say. After all she was English and my dad was Irish, and I knew what she thought of the Irish. They ruined Boston, after all. (The immigration stresses were no easier then than they are now, and hospitality was mixed then too as it is now).
But she did stoop down to me and put me on her knee. She held me close into the nape of her neck and she did say: "Of course he is". That's what did it. That's why I became a priest. If God is so good as to make room in his/her heart for my dad, then there's room in God's heart for all.
As it turned out, my family needed good news. My mom was divorced twice (at least as far as we know) and had an abortion. My uncle was gay. My dad didn't even go to church. Actually nobody did in my family at the time.
That's why I've spent my whole life proclaiming the goodness of God. Over time I came to realize that whatever race, ethnicity, class, gender or orientation, that we are all One in Christ. That's worth believing in. And I have a church that believes that. The Episcopal Church! We're paying dearly for that belief. All the Fundamentalists, Dave Beck among them, warn you not to go near a church like that. We are a church with a social conscience, and we believe that all humanity is one as God is One.
So much did I believe all this that I even went so far as to build a homeless shelter during my ministry. We managed transitional housing for battered women and children who became the victims of abuse. We fed the poor in church soup kitchens.
So how is it then that I can say I don't believe in the "institutional church".
Actually I do believe in it very much. But I often heard that said throughout my ministry. And for the longest time I held my tongue. I just had nothing to say and found it hard to defend the church for so much of its behavior. I've endured enough of the institution myself to have days when I can hardly wait until I draw my Social Security so I too can get the Sunday Globe, get a loaf of fresh baked bread, make myself a hot pot of coffee, and say; "The devil with the whole thing!"
My son Michael once said it well when he was much younger; "Dad, have you ever thought, 'What if this whole God thing is a crock?'" That's a good question. I merely said to him that for me I have to make a choice every day; to make the leap of faith. Some days, it is a crock. But when it comes down to it, when there is the suffering of a loved one in the hospital, when the plaintive eyes of the bereaved sigh with thoughts too deep for words; this is where my faith kicks in big time. And that is when I proclaim the Goodness of God with all my heart, mind and soul.
So then I thought this thought.
Suppose I say that I believe in Democracy; its just politics I don't like. And you and Guy Fawks can put a keg of dynamite under Congress for all I care! Does that make any sense? If we believe in Democracy, then politics is next, Congress is necessary. Yes, its messy, and the sausage that comes out of Congress can turn your stomach. But it is better than Anarchy or Dictatorship. As my old friend Winston Churchill was wont to say; "Democracy is the worst form of government in all the world except for all the others"
Suppose I say that I believe in Justice; its just lawyers I don't like and the courts are hopeless. Does that make any sense? How do you propose to have any kind of justice without those who practice the law to argue the cases pro and con, judges to rule, and juries to decide? Were it not for the institutions of justice and democracy we would all be much the sorrier lot by far.
And suppose I say that I believe in an honest day's work for an honest day's wage; its just Unions I don't like and Corporations who conspire with Unions to export all our jobs overseas.
It seems we need to think some more about our presuppositions.
Democracy is here to stay and so is politics, and the parliamentary form of government.
Justice is a given in our system of jurisprudence, and lawyers, judges and juries, are the bedrock of the Democracy we believe in.
And work and labor are the human condition. Some form of protection for the worker is necessary to hold exploitation and opression at bay. And enterprise will always be the bedrock of the economy and Corporations will likely be a necessary component of that whole mix.
So then, what of the church?
You say you believe in God.
You say you believe in Democracy.
You say you believe in Justice.
You say you believe in Labor.
Then the institution follows as the day follows the night. Like Democracy, Justice, or Labor, it will depend on each of us and all of us for our full vigorous participation. We can all try to cop out. But I am here to tell you God is not going to go away.
The church is not the sole cause of all the evils in the world, all the wars, all the bigotry, or ethnic and racial cleansing. It took a fair amount of Politics and Scientific know how to spill all the blood we've spilled over the millenia.
The church has many the blemish much like all human endeavor. But I'd hate to see God represented only by the Fundamentalists in the world in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism etc. Extremes in all quarters seem to excuse hatred and violence in the name of God. This to me is the greatest blasphemy of all. To use the Holy Name, whatever Name you use, as an excuse to kill, murder, hate or oppress is to curse God with the greatest curse there is: for humanity is God heart. Stilling a human heart is to still the heart of God. I somehow think we are to give an account of all the hearts we've stilled some day.
In its better moments, Christianity personifies love in Jesus.
In Judaism, Obedience is personified in Moses the Law Giver.
And mercy is the hallmark of the writings of God through the hand of Muhammad in the Holy Koran.
Extreme Christianity can be hateful and refuse to allow the people of another faith to build a place of worship sanctified by the blood of innocent victims on ground made holy by their loss.
Extreme Judaism can be disobedient to God's laws of justice and become inhospitable to her blood brothers and sisters.
Extreme Islam can believe that terror and the loss of innocent life is justifiable to right another wrong.
God will not go away. The institutional church, synagogue, and mosque will not go away. We need our holy places as we do our governments, our courts, and the dignity of human labor.
I believe in an institutions that promote peace with justice for all humanity. The fate of the world is at stake.
Perhaps we should take another look at the church, at government, at the courts, and at human labor.
Perhaps we had better give it our best effort. After all the church is at the heart of God and humankind. With God we live well. Without God, love dies.
I do believe in the institutional church. Pick one you can believe in and believe again!
Peace!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Market Price of Sheep

Copy of a sermon delivered on September 12, 2010

“The Market Price of Sheep”

By Fr. Paul Bresnahan

Sunday, September 12, 2010

According to the September issue of The Sheep Industry News, The East Coast carcass market was up 2 percent in January to $222.80/cwt. but wholesale cut values were down. The average weight of a full grown sheep is between 150-200 lbs. The margin between profit and loss in the competitive sheep market is such that the loss of one sheep can spell the difference between a good and a bad year.

Jesus had to speak in terms that his listeners could understand. (Today’s Gospel lesson Luke 15:5-15). This they could get; the price of sheep. How much more then, does God regard the value of his sheep. Then as now it was the market value of things that counted for more. For God the value of life runs much deeper.

The Golden Calf of the United States of America is the Almighty Dollar. Elsewhere, it is the Euro, the Yen, the Shekel, and for our friends in China, it is the Chinese yuan. For most of the world, this is our God: the GDP, the sum and total of all goods and services produced. This is our bottom line and it is what we truly believe in.

Our faith has been shaken by the current recession. Bank failures, and under-capitalized investment instruments have failed us. Mortgages have failed, and too many are unemployed. The future is uncertain. More of our goods are produced in China.

Yet even there the volume and up tick in economic activity has failed to hold its amazing forward and upward push.

God was full of wrath when the people turned away and forgot that it was God who brought them out of the land of slavery into the Promised Land. (Exodus 37:7-14) God’s anger burned hotly against them. God wanted to consume them and start all over and make a great nation of Moses alone.

So Moses reminded God about his honor. What will the nations think if Egypt says that God brought them forth with evil intent? Remember your promise to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, how you promised to make their descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky or as the grains of sand along the seashore.

Thus God’s wrath abated, and on the journey went, a wandering tribe of Arameans in a hot and arid land, a wilderness full of danger, and lacking in the barest of necessities. Thus, eventually they remembered to put their trust in God.

What is important to you in your life? Can you list the ten most important things to you? What might they be? Your parents, your spouse, your children each by name, your career, your home, your life savings, your investments, your dearest friends, fond memories of life when you were younger? What would your list be comprised of? Did you forget anything?

Lets say I have ten days, (ten months, ten years) to live and I have to give up something I love each day until I come to the end? Did I forget to put Jesus on my list? Or God?

Perhaps when I come to my last day, and all I have left and give up God, I have then not given up anything but won back all I lost and more beside.

Poor Paul; formerly a blasphemer, a man who persecuted the church of God and yes, even a man of violence we’re told. (I Timothy 12-17) He acted in ignorance, (Luke 15:1-10) and in disbelief, but Jesus knocked him of his high horse. Blinded was he by the brilliance of the Light of Christ, he regained his sight, as he came to understand the surpassing worth of knowing the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul knew what it was like to be a sinner, what it was like to be forgiven, to be lost and to be found.

And Jesus, how he loved those sinners; tax collectors and prostitutes, he wined and dined them and was the scandal of all the towns and villages he went about to visit. How he loved the ones who had been pushed aside from the Temple. Whatever race, ethnicity, class, gender, or orientation, to him they were one people.

And that’s what got him in trouble. That’s what earned him a place on the cross. It was his love for us, his pure unconditional love for the sinner, the outcast. Funny thing, how it is always the Pharisees and Sadducees who have difficulty with Jesus, or those who follow Jesus.

The ones who claim to follow, still don’t particularly care for the sinner. But it is the sinner that Jesus loves. It is the lost sheep to whom the shepherd is drawn. The lonely, lonesome, lost and wandering one, tired and panicked by utter despair, this is the one Jesus picks up and places on his shoulders, and carries home rejoicing to his flock, all the which the super-religious shaking their heads, aghast at the extravagance of the saviour’s love.

So what the do you want to do for the savior, given what he has done for you? Today, tomorrow and every day, what are you ready to do.

The Golden Calf is no God. There is but one God, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and he is the perfect offering for our sins and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world. (I John 2:1,2)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In Memoriam

He was my priest. Fred Hall was fresh out of seminary in 1958 when I came to St. Richard of Chichester on The Westway in Toronto. It was time for my confirmation and honest to God, the man taught us almost everything he learned in Seminary. It was among the toughest courses I had ever taken. Still, I loved theology then as I do now. And so I buckled down and did as I was told to do. Not that he would remember that. I'm sure he tapped his foot more than once; all of us teenagers, giggly, respectful but always snickering about something or another. He was faithful, he was always there. He loved us. And now he's gone.
So, of course, I had to come to his funeral. I drove yesterday from Lynn, MA to Brampton, Ontario and remembered so many things along the way. Funny how that goes...I found myself remembering the first moments I could remember in life...I was a little boy at my grandmother's apron strings, near the old cast iron stove in our kitchen in Somerville, Massachusetts, the most densely populated city per square mile in America at the time. It was an ideal place to live for a child then. We were on a very busy bus route that gave us access to the entire Boston Subway system from Lechmere Station. At night you could hear the trolley tacks screech from "Mass Ave" and the bells from old St. John's chimed the Westminster time away all through the night. But back to those apron strings...she was always at that stove, cooking baking, and when she wasn't doing that she was knitting, reading the paper, or chatting with the neighbors over a pipin' hot cup of tea. What I remember was the warmth of that stove, the warmth of her love, and the magnificent aromatics of her freshly baked blueberry muffins. I don't know why, but I had an appetite for God even then, although it may have been more of a subconscious appetite.
The first conscious memory of God I have, was of a bumble bee who circled around me while I was playing in the dirt in the shade of a tree on a pleasant summer's day with the smell of the sea nearby. I was alarmed by the bee and ran into the house to seek assurance from my grandmother. She was there, again by the stove, and I leaned against her and rolled up her apron string in my left hand and sucked my thumb with the right hand. And thus I knew something about God. Not much, just that there was God. Much later I learned that God and man walked together in the Garden in the cool of the day and kept each other company. That makes perfect sense, since today I am enjoying God's companionship as I do most days of my life. This I remembered as I drove along the New York State Thruway.
I remembered lots and lots of other things about my grandmother, my mother, my father, my step father and a hundred others who saw me through my formative years. The only God talk I got from my parents was of the sort that befitted the epithet. Still they loved me and I loved them.
My grandmother though, now there was a godly woman. A spitfire, tiny, wily, acerbic, and infectious with the kind of laughter that came from her toenails kind of woman. She was a storyteller from Maine, more of a spinner of yarns, a cracker barrel sort of Mainer, born of the sea, salted by the fresh and blustery breezes from the Down East Coast. She knew more of God than a church full of priests. God was in the story for her. Sure there were the stories of the sacred scriptures, and she read those stories with a twinkle of life that quickened the words onthe page and gave them vivid dramatics. She was an actress of that Betty Davis sort, wild, impetuous, penetrating and alive with passion. And so the stories of the Biblical narrative came to life for me, as did the stories of our family, a Dickensian story crammed with weal and woe that drew me in inexorably as did those magnificent sacred tales. It was more in the way she told the story than the stories themselves and somehow the story of the family and the bible intertwined much as a quilt is crocheted....stand by strand, needle bobbing about energetically, color upon color, and yet emerging with the most exquisite kaleidoscopic patterns you can possibly imagine.
So I drove on and on. I remembered Ma, as we called her, and I remembered Fred Hall, whose funeral I intend to witness this day. He too loved the sea. Born in Newfoundland, how could he not? In our last conversation, we spoke of the gulls, the boats bobbing in the "harbour" (I'm in Ontario for the day), the sound of the surf crashing on the everlasting rocks and the tides and the coming and going of time. Ah yes, the mark of the eternal seas, how often have my eyes and his gazed into those seas and seen something of the eternal, and wondered about God, or just sat there with God. How often have we dashed into the waves, chilled to the bone by the North Atlantic, laughing aloud lest we turn blue lobster like in colour (Ontario again). And thus there is God for us.
Not that God is "up there" for either of us. God is more "in here" than "out there" for us. In the heart I mean, in the now to be more precise. God in the I AM of being alive. Didn't Moses figure that out at the burning bush at the outset of this "story"? Moses begged to know God's name, and God made him wait and made him promise to keep the whole thing a secret, that is, a secret about his name. Then he let him in on it; I AM that's his name...God's name. So there you are, God is the eternal now of being. Simple, huh?
Makes sense to me. And so as I remember him and his Confirmation Class, his patience with me as I taught his son Mark to go on a Lion Hunt as a Sunday School teacher who insisted on using a suspect American curriculum from Seabury, his many sermons, his feeding me at the altar and at his home, our long, conversations about Plato and Socrates as well as of Jesus, I remembered him.
I drove the many miles between King's Beach in Lynn to Brampton and I gazed into the now of life and I treasured him, my grandmother, and all the others of family and friends who have been there along the way in that now of all our days and all the stories that can be told of the moments when now was. Now is another sacred day, a time to go to Christ Church in Brampton and feast at Christ's Table and receive just a tiny foretaste of the eternal NOW that is in store for us which Fred Hall is now feasting on with the Communion of Saints.
The seas then come and go as the tides sweep in and wash back to the eyes that see the stories that have been told through the years. Ma comes to life as does Fred, and they die away again in Peace. What they saw, I see, and what I see so shall you.
So we walk together in the cool of the day this God of mine, this I AM of Being. A shabby hotel in Brampton Ontario and a shabby back door to a typical Ontario mall stares at me in the now of this moment, but God is no less here than God is anywhere else.
But why the bumble bee, I wondered as I drove along? Why did God connect with me in the bee? Then it came to me in a moment of sheer silence: "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is in the law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ". (I Corinthians 15: 56,57. Aha! The bumble bee now reminds me of the sting in life. Death stings badly, as does suffering, as does sin. I am afraid of the sting of that bee...so I run to my grandmother, and grab her apron string and suck my thumb, and remember God. She who is the I AM for my life, the grand Storyteller, the Author, the Finisher of the I AM of my life.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Letter from a Mother to her Daughter

Here again I would like to cite a sermon written by Ema Rosaro-Nordalm, a deacon in training here at St. Peter's in Salem, Massachusetts. She writes with great skill and grace, much like a poet would write and reflect on some precious moments in life...here Ema recollects her life as a young woman setting out in life, and how her mother touched her heart. I was deeply moved by what she wrote.

In 1967, I left my home in Colombia to live abroad. I was 22 years old. In those days the only way to communicate with my family and friends was through writing letters. So, I often wrote and received letters especially from my mother. My mother’s letters were long epistles that came in a thin, silky, almost transparent paper; she used blue ink, her style was formal and her calligraphy that of a model teacher: It was perfect! I loved to be surprised and looked forward to the smell of her perfume that impregnated those beautifully written pages. My mother’s letters were such a gift and such an event in my life that I always waited for the perfect moment to read them and sometimes it took a couple of hours before I would have the opportunity sit in my favorite place and begin the ritual of reading and rereading her messages. “Mi muy querida y recordada hija” I was her dearest daughter, and I was always in her thoughts. Those introductory first sweet and loving words made my heart hurt with longing for what I had left behind. What came after those loving words could be anything from happy news, complaints about her hard work, her wishes, her dreams, for all of us her eight children. My mother would always offer me the same motherly advice: “Remember always to have faith and count on God for everything” or she would strongly advise me by saying “Your marriage is your cross to bear; learn to carry it like Christ did, to teach us about obedience and humbleness”. Her words and messages stayed with me for days, and for days, I was rapt in her energy, in her urgent, eloquent, and passionate expression of her love, her convictions, and her desire for me to become like her, a model of virtue and strength.

What we just heard today from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, speaks to me with the same love, the same urgency, and the passionate and profound desire committed to sustain my faith and the love of God I felt in my mother’s letters.

Paul had previously expressed to the gentiles in Galatia that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, Paul was arguing that it was not through strict adherence to the Jewish law of that time including dietary laws, circumcision, and observance of the Sabbath what determined inclusion in God’s covenant but through faith, faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In the reading we heard today, Paul explains that until Christ came to the world the Law of Moses was there to be our custodian, like a guardian keeping us under his watch in our exercise of our free will.

That it is through Christ, God the Son among us, that God the Father reconciles all of us to Him, liberating us from the bondage of sin, guaranteeing the fulfillment of God’s purpose for us since the beginning of the human race.

That through trusting and having faith in the faith revealed in Christ Jesus, we become God’s children, Abraham’s descendants, and justified as the inheritors of eternal life.

That when we are submerged in the baptismal waters, we come out clothed in Christ and become one in Him. We become the new community where differences of race, social class, and gender disappear; we become a new community formed from all the nations of this world, Abraham’s promise fulfilled. In Paul’s own words: “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise”.

And as it appears in Genesis 22:17: “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice”.

Reflecting on Paul’s message I realize that the way “I am one in Christ” is through my faith, a faith that moves me deeply and with passion, to constantly be in relationship to others in Christ. To believe that “we are one in Christ” has filled me with God’s Spirit, it has made me an instrument of His grace and with the Holy Spirit as my guide, and inspiration, I am a faithful servant with love and justice inviting women, and men, young and old regardless of their race, their ethnic origins, their sexual preference or gender to taste and see, as the song says, the goodness of the Lord. To invite them all to work in their spiritual discovery and empowerment, and to rejoice in seeing how, through the trust, and in the love of the resurrected Christ, we live in the joy of our growth, and of our own transformation as the people of God.

With deep faith, conviction, and the joy of knowing that we are one in Christ is how in Salem MA as the deacon in training within a multicultural community of Latinos from different Latin American countries and English speaking Episcopalians we have come together as one congregation. I dare to say, that we are Paul’s dream two thousand years later: a new community of faith with a variety of origins, different languages, diverse cultures, different religious backgrounds, many ways of praising God, old ways, new ways but nonetheless, all of us celebrating our oneness in Christ which transcends all differences. We are growing each day in the love of God and in the love to one another, a day at a time, learning to overcome mutual obstacles, transforming each other, while delighting in our different gifts and talents.

Tomorrow we will enter into the summer season. What a special moment to sit in our favorite places at home or wherever we find ourselves relaxed and connected to the Spirit, to reflect upon what the gift of “our oneness in Christ” has brought to our lives. I am sure that we all could write powerful epistles like my mother’s and Paul’s letters. Personally for me, the gift has been recognizing in me the gift of the joyful Spirit which resides in me, the Spirit with which I invite and make sure our brothers and sisters who live at the margins, those who are un-churched, or those rejected from their own communities of faith can find themselves embraced, nurtured and totally included. That same Spirit accompanies me in welcoming them beyond the mere doors of a church but deeply into our faith community. I invite them not only to be a part of the body of Christ, but also to discover their gifts and talents so that they can see the possibilities to become active members of the body of Christ.

I am sure that each one of you has your own testimony about the gift received. Let’s rejoice in our gifts, share them with others, invite all to join in that Spirit that is in each one of you, and let us praise the Lord for such a Grace. Amen.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The God of Enron, BP, and AIG

We live now in the post-Reagan Era when the deregulation of the multi-national corporation has become, as it were, the Supreme Being of our created order. In the traumatic age in which we live, our God has become Greed and the Almighty Dollar, Euro, and Yen etc. are the symbols of humanity's bottom line.
We have come to believe that the best governed is the least governed. We feed our own greed with he notion that all taxation is bad and we disparage the democratic process itself with a dismissive wave of the hand. "Politics!" we say with disgust. When we have the temerity to speak of a social program that might benefit the more vulnerable in the social order all that needs to be said is "Tax and Spend, Tax and Spend" and debate is deadened with a reflexive knee jerk twinge. There is silence. And the vulnerable in our midst continue to fall through what we once called a "safety net". The holes through which they fall are becoming significantly larger.
On September 11, 2001, not a single fighter jet scrambled to intercept a single pirated commercial airliner. The President of the United States sat reading to a kindergarten class with his eyes glazed over like a deer in the headlamps, while the nation was under attack. To his credit, he led the nation in mourning and for one brief shining moment united us as we have seldom been united before. He led us then into battle in Afghanistan...although I would have preferred a more covert operation to single out the culprits like bin Laden and his minions. He went after Hussien and declared war in Iraq...a blunder we'll be paying for years to come.
The collapse of Enron was another one of those corporate Terrorist attacks. Fortune Magazine named it the most innovative company in America for six consecutive years. It employed 22,000 people and claimed revenues of $101 billion in 2000. But the whole thing was a fraud. The entire Corporation collapsed, as Marx predicted Capitalism would, in another century. Jobs, pensions, and life savings were lost to tens of thousands, and that was a mere harbinger to what was afoot throughout Corporate life amongst the multi-nationals. Child's play compared to what was to come.
Then in the summer of 2005 we sat idly by watching people broil to death in the flood waters of New Orleans as the levies burst. We waited and accused them of looting and shooting at helicopters. And we let them die. Thousands of them died. And we tipped the wing of Air Force One and said; "Ain't that a shame!" We did nothing.
In the years since, college kids, Habitat for Humanity, and a host of churches did their part. But the money we spent there via the exquisite competence of FEMA went missing. "Helluva job Brownie!". At every level of government we proved ourselves inept and incompetent.
Then the real estate bubble popped and under capitalized financial institutions who had bundled mortgages and other financial instruments into credit default swaps, began to falter one by one. We saved the skins of the the giant investment bankers and AIG etc. and we rewarded corporate irresponsibility with our hard earned tax dollars, and allowed the victims of this pure and simple greed to loose their homes to foreclosure. We gave billions upon billions to corporate criminals, and let millions loose their homes, college kids build up debt that will take a lifetime to pay, and credit card balances to go out of sight...and gave them little to nothing. The one great opportunity we had to build up our financial institutions from the bottom up has been lost. We gave it to them instead from the top down and they kept the money and fleeced their pockets with bonuses that would make a decent human being blush. It begs the question as to how much decency their is in our corporate board rooms and corporate executives.
And now the Gulf of Mexico is rapidly filling up with oil and for more than 50 days the President of the United States again sits like a deer in the headlamps deferring to BP, Haliburton and the corporate blame game, incompetence, greed and criminal behavior and cover up continues unabated. Meanwhile our government again proves itself inept, incompetent and ineffectual. Where is our nerve? Why can't we just tell them to cease and desist from all business in the United States until they stop the leak and clean up the mess. Then we'll see whether we'll let them do business in this country. Our coastlines along the Gulf are fouled and Pelicans and other and sea life suffer and die a long and torturous death. How perfectly cruel!
Cruelty is not the sole province of multi-nationals; now we too as a nation and as a people turn a cold shoulder to those millions who seek refuge on these shores. Forgetting that we Irish fled famine in another century and faced "Irish Need Not Apply" signs in urban areas and found politics to be the vehicle for finding a place in the sun, now we turn our faces away from the suffering of those from Mexico, The Dominican Republic and Haiti. Rather we insist that their immigration is "illegal". Our talk show hosts collect our cultural amnesia and point our collective ire and resentment toward those who, like us, merely fled misery for hope.
Italian-Americans easily forget that it took a while to learn English. They huddled themselves into "Little Italy"'s across the country and if they could not find legitimate business, they might organize themselves into syndicates that horrified the nation with terrorist activities of their own.
It is hard to find any legal documentation for the immigration of slaves onto these shores unless you rely on the laws of property which is what we brought here in chains in fetid conditions aboard ship in an unholy triangle of trade in the Atlantic.
And of course, how can you call what the Anglos brought legal unless you rest your justification on the law of "The Divine Right of Kings"?
So now the Statue of Liberty stands noble and true in New York Harbor and still she says to the multitudes;
"The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus, 1883

The question is not so much do we mean that any more, but more to the point; do we deserve any more? Are we worthy of The Statue or should we consider returning to France until another nation comes onto the stage of history that will take up the torch of Liberty?

So many questions...so much venting of the spleen...sigh...like so many others in the times we live in, we tear away at the fabric that binds us together and we are merely further rent asunder. A sign of the times? A house divided? A harbinger of the fall of a civilization? Only time will tell.

For now we vent the spleen and I merely add to the darkness. My soul laments the dying of the Spirit that once made the nation great.

Of all the ills that infect the nation's health, the evil and wickedness of idolatry must stand head and shoulders above all else. It is our rapacious greed, that testifies against us, and our faith in the God of the Multi-National Corporation that has become the Graven Image that will in certainty be our undoing.

The Prophets of ages past called for repentance. They called the nation back to the God of Justice and Compassion. Typically their voices were ignored, and the nation fell to the enemy and they were carried off into exile.

Perhaps we face a similar time. What passes for Theology these days finds no happy home in my heart. It is a theology that finds safe harbor for bigotry and for greed; for anger and judgment. Gays, Liberals, Intellectuals are marginalized often with a dismissive wave of the hand, and we merely sit in silence unsure of what to say.

I believe it is a time to call for repentance.



Monday, June 07, 2010

Ecclesiastical Violence...

June 4, 2010

Pentecost greetings, Church.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori this week issued public statements on two serious matters that we want to make you aware of:

One is her response to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’s May 28 proposal that representatives from the Anglican provinces that have proceeded with same-gender blessings, cross-border incursions or ordination of gay and lesbian persons to the episcopate should resign from Anglican bodies involved in ecumenical dialogues.

The other is her letter to President Obama concerning the tragic results of the Israeli interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla earlier this week. She reiterates the Episcopal Church’s support for ending the Israeli blockade of Gaza. We share particular concern for and solidarity with Bishop Dawani and all in the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem affected by ongoing hardship and violence as they seek peace with justice.

We know and respect that there are differing, heartfelt views among us on these issues, but we do urge you and your sister and brother Episcopalians to read Bishop Katharine’s statements for her prayerful and thoughtful reflections. Please add your prayers to ours that Christ’s peace may dwell in our hearts and prevail through our words, witness and actions.

/s/ Bud Cederholm

/s/ Gayle Elizabeth Harris

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams's May 28 letter:

http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/2876

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's June 2 Pastoral Letter to the Episcopal Church:

http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79425_122615_ENG_HTM.htm

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's June 2 letter to President Obama re: Gaza

http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79425_122610_ENG_HTM.htm

Thursday, June 03, 2010

What we're doing with new arrivals to this shore

I like to speak of Emma who is preparing to be a Deacon in this church. She is a very wise woman. She has fought breast cancer, and works with women young and old, Anglo and Dominican and others in the Salem area. Not long ago she was invited to speak to folks in the deep south. Her courage, her wisdom and her quiet faith speaks volumes...here let me quote The Rev. Stephanie Spellers and let you know of her wonderful work.

My friend Ema just returned from a trip to the Deep South, where she was training undocumented Mexican and Guatemalan people so they can be even stronger leaders in their local church. She lit up as she spoke of the men, some of whom cannot write in Spanish or English, but who love the Bible and meet regularly to talk about it (yes, they make the time, though they work 7am-7pm at a local poultry processing plant). And the women! They are such healers, Ema said, that it seems they just hold out their hands and transformation happens. Some of them are afraid to believe God is acting in their lives and that their stories and ministries matter. Ema was there to help open their eyes. I feel sure that, when she left, they could see more of God in their midst, more of God in each other. Just hearing her stories had that impact on me.

As we move into this season of the Holy Spirit -- that is, the season of Pentecost -- I'm so grateful for Spirit people like Ema. Who has opened your eyes, helped you to see God's love more clearly, participate in God's life more fully? Be sure to thank them. And thank God.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Jim Lewis: A Prophet and A Priest

Jim Lewis: A Prophet and A Priest
Fr. Paul B. Bresnahan

Many of us were stunned to learn that Jim Lewis’ license to officiate has been revoked by the Bishop of West Virginia. I had learned of this action earlier and like many others, have wondered why it was necessary to take this action.

The matter has an unfortunate feel of “overkill” to it. While this is, on the surface, an internal matter between Bishop and Priest, there is another level that is of concern to a wider audience.

Jim Lewis has filled a prophetic role for years in the public arena, providing advocacy for the hungry, the homeless, the poor, and the disenfranchised. He has spoken with courage and resolve for peace and justice. And while many disagree with Jim’s politics, his methods and his rather direct and uncompromising style of confrontation, few have questioned Jim’s right to speak as forcefully as anyone else speaks in a nation where we treasure freedom of speech and vigorous exchange of ideas.

The prophets are like that in Biblical tradition. They were not soothsayers like Nostradamus, but voices crying out in the wilderness for justice. From Amos to Isaiah, from Jeremiah to John the Baptist, the prophet has spoken out with courage, and often to mixed reviews. In our own time, we have been blessed with folk like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Again they often played to mixed reviews. But nonetheless they spoke out often risking life and limb by the courageous use of their voices. By their nature, the prophets are supposed to make us squirm. But they have played a role throughout history in bringing glimpses of the Peaceable Kingdom to earth.

To be sure Jim’s voice has not been silenced. Nothing can do that! But Jim has a few years on him now, and it seems a bit over the top to revoke his license to be a priest for us. That’s what makes this matter so uncomfortable for so many. We hope that this is for a short time perhaps, and that his right to be in our midst as a prophet and a priest will be speedily reinstated. It seems desirable that the principals should come together and reach out for an accommodation as a necessary next step, and among reasonable adults should not be too difficult to arrange. Does the scripture not say; “Come let us reason together”? (Isaiah 1:18). We hope and pray that just such an accommodation will be reached with all deliberate speed.

Jim’s place in the life of the Diocese of West Virginia is of great value. Throughout the area, hearts await the news that this uncomfortable situation can be resolved. We hope these hearts will soon be gladdened with just such news.

Paul Bresnahan is an Episcopal Priest presently semi-retired in the Diocese of Massachusetts. He served for a time at St. Mark’s, St. Albans and was also involved in work with the homeless, the hungry, and vulnerable folk in our society.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Holy Week and Good Friday Liturgy

Ema Rosero Nordalm wrote movingly yesterday at our Good Friday service. She was moved to tears as she thought of the Seven Last Words of Jesus, many of us were. She spoke of the "Third Word"; "Woman, Behold your Son" with the meditation that follows. You may find these words searingly insightful, as I did during this Holy Week experience.

Woman, here is your son

These profoundly, intimate, sweet and caring words coming from Jesus, the dying son, are words addressed to all of us. They are a last gift of love granted to our humanity while from the cross Jesus looks into his mother infinite grief.
With these last words, Jesus invites us not only to witness a tender moment of surrender and offering of his mother to us, but also to be present in those sacred moments to accompany her, as a son would diligently do, in moments of unbearable loss.
I have not experience the loss of a son or the loss of a daughter, but I have met the eyes of another mother experiencing the worst of all grieves. My eyes met the eyes of a mother who lost the light of life of her sixteen years old son. Thinking about those moments and reflecting on Jesus words to his mother, the Spirit moved me to be with Mary our mother and with all mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters who are experiencing sorrow:

Your soul broken into raw pieces
My eyes you take through the deep confines of pain
My eyes the silent companions
In owe of such stark beauty
The owe of seeing the inconsolable soul

I can only be present. I can only weep
I can only be in silence to witness and bear your loss
I want to rush and put the pieces of your soul together
I want only to stay and be next to your anguish and mine
In desperate wish for a miraculous release

I can simply be present. I can only weep
To hold you safe and to hold you tight
To follow the light of your eyes
Your head resting in my arms
My hope dwelling in your love

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Meditation on Teresa of Avila

This Lent we have taken a journey into the "Interior Castle" of Teresa of Avila. It has been a wonderful journey. Last week Ema Rosero Nordalm shared this meditation on Teresa. I thought she did just a good job that I should share it with you. Enjoy...
Fr. Paul



THE INTERIOR CASTLE

The writings of Teresa de Avila as they appear in The Interior Castle or The Castle of the Soul or Las Moradas the title in Spanish, tell us that our “souls are the paradise in which God takes its delight”. Teresa sees the soul as “if it were a castle made of a single diamond or made of very clear crystal in which there are many rooms”. She calls those rooms, mansions, just the same as the mansions in heaven.
Tonight I am inviting you to use your holy imagination, to venture in the silence of our souls and to adventure in the spiritual journey that Teresa de Avila describes in her writings.
To begin, I would love for you to get into a relaxed position in your chair. I will guide you first on a short exercise to breathe, and to relax. First, by contracting your diaphragm expel as much air we have in our body, pressing your stomach muscles to your spinal column, out comes the air, pressing to expel the most, and then bringing the new air which comes with white light and makes a balloon in your stomach. The light fills every part of you body, your muscles, your bones, your veins and even your cells. Let's do it again: excel and inhale.
Relaxed, feeling safe, and embraced by the loving presence of the Holy Spirit, let's imagine our castle. Let's imagine it as one castle made up of many mansions, with a mansion at the center, the most important one, the mansion where we can come in divine union, the union of our soul with God, the lover of souls, our creator. The rest of the mansions we can arrange them as we desire, mansions upstairs, mansions downstairs, on one side and on the other. This is the castle of your soul, your morada, where we can dwell in God's infinite love.
Teresa de Avila tells us that first of all, and in silence we must pray the way we know best. She says that to enter into the castle of our souls meditated prayer is necessary. So, let’s listen to a prayer. (Read Psalm 139:1-11)
Our prayer has opened the door of our First mansions. God's presence accompanies us. In this mansion we are invited to stay as long as we need to, to exercise humility. The twelve steps of the Benedictine Rule can help us with humility:
Being humble is to recognize God's presence not only in our lives, but also in all that surrounds us.
It is to accept God's will.
It is to accept spiritual guidance.
It is to persevere.
It is to recognize our faults.
Being humble is to live simply.
We are honest to ourselves.
We are open to learn from others.
We listen to others.
We speak with kindness to others.
We accept others as they are.
We are centered and in harmony with all that surrounds us.

The Second mansions invite to practice our prayers. We can practice the prayers learned when we were going up:
Think of prayers of adoration in which the praise of God’s majesty and grandiosity leave us with a sense of owe, and admiration for his glory and the glory of its creation: (Read psalm 117)
Think of prayers of thanksgiving in which we acknowledge over and over again, how small, how helpless and how needy we are; we acknowledge our nothingness without God’s blessings: (Read psalm 111: 1-4)
The prayers of confession which we do in solitude, by which we come to know God’s profound, and abundant love for each one of us. (Read psalm 51: 1-2)
And the prayers of intercession through which we go in front of authority, we go in front of God on behalf of souls we know or do not know that are in need, suffering or in trouble: (Read psalm 28: 1-2)
And, to practice with prayers of petition our best model is Jesus prayer in the garden: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done”.
In the Third mansions called the mansions of the exemplary life, the mansions of the life of virtue, we work in our values, our values of gratitude, justice, forgiveness, generosity, courage, loyalty, wisdom, knowledge, humanity, hope, mercy, temperance, spirituality, humor, enthusiasm, curiosity, love of learning, perspective, open mindedness, integrity, originality, valor, kindness, perseverance, honesty, leadership, discretion humility, and we work on how best to live our lives, how we work on becoming prudent, discrete, organized. According to Teresa de Avila “love in this mansion needs to surrender from reason if we want to experience it completely in its inspiring force”.

“Prayer of the quiet” that takes to a state of quietude happens in the Fourth mansions. Our will is lost to God’s will. Our soul now is like a fountain that receives the water of life directly from the spring of life. We are free from fear and so free is our love. Teresa tells us that in this mansion “we move from ordinary prayer to infused prayer, where the feeling is of a pouring in of God’s love that gives new life, new vigor, new significance, and back again”. She also tells us that “As these Mansions are now getting near to the place where the King dwells, in the seventh mansion, there is great beauty and there are such exquisite things to be seen and appreciated in them that the understanding is incapable of describing them. It seems that, in order to reach these Mansions, one must have lived for a long time in the other mansions, but she says that “there is no infallible rule about it, as you must often have heard, for the Lord gives when He wills and as He wills and to whom He wills, and, because the gifts are His own”.

When we reach the Fifth, and the Sixth mansions Teresa tells us that our soul is completed possessed by God through the prayer of union, God the lover and our soul the beloved see each other for long periods of time.
The Seventh mansion found as we said in the middle of the castle, filled with a ‘magnificent light, warmth and delight is where our spiritual marriage takes place: our soul and God becomes one. A feeling of “ineffable and perfect peace” overcomes us. Maybe we experience the beatific vision, the ecstasy or rapture of the life to come.
Let’s spend a little time in any of the mansions you have discovered tonight. And let’s promise ourselves that we will visit them again and again to grow ever more in humility, in our prayers, in our prudence and discretion, and in those most joyful and desired mystical moments, the moments in which our soul will be in loving union with God our creator, who delights in that union, our God who is always expecting us in his most desirable paradise, the paradise of our souls.
Let’s say with Teresa de Avila:
Let nothing trouble you.
Let nothing scare you.
All is fleeting.
God alone is unchanging.
Patience
Everything obtains.
Who possesses God
Nothing wants.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

A New Hymn; "Fr Paul's Song"

I have subjected my congregation to the following song for the past few weeks. It made its debut on the First Wednesday in Lent following Ash Wednesday as part of our Lenten Discipline. While we explore the "Interior Castle", as Teresa of Avila instructs us to do, I thought it good to have a song to focus our thoughts and prayers as well. The song finds its focus on the Emmaus Story that comes to us from the 24th Chapter of Luke's Gospel. That Easter Day, several disciples found themselves on the road to Emmaus when a stranger came along and walked some distance with them as their "companion". At first they did not recognize him. But he opened their minds to the scriptures, and ultimately broke bread with them. It was then, in the breaking of the bread that he suddenly vanished, and it was then that they came to recognize him as the Christ. Thus in a biblicaly ordered life we find ourselves directed to recognize the Christ in many, friend and stranger alike and in greater humility within ourselves as well.
The second verse recognizes that love cannot be divided and is of course the greatest gift of all, much as Paul's Hymn to love suggests to be the case. (1 Corinthians 13)
The third verse hearkens to Matthew 25 verses 31 and following where Christ is recognized in the "least of these"; the homeless, the hungry etc. When we see the Christ in these we minister not just to the poor we minister to Jesus himself.
The fourth verse is based on a growing understanding in the church that when we are in Christ we are no longer divided by race, ethnicity, class, gender or orientation. Many of us base this on the mandate we see in Galatians 3:25 and the context that this verse arises out of. It is a powerful statement. I realize that a vast majority of the faith community world wide refuses to read this biblical material, but I have always lived my life in a biblically ordered way. I will continue to do so and cannot allow a few verses of Leviticus or a misunderstanding of Romans 1 cloud or deflect my obedience to scripture.
The Good Friday event is universal. Jesus stretched out his loving arms on the hard wood of the cross so that all might come within the reach of his saving embrace; after all, "he is the perfect offering for our sins but not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world". (1 John 2:2)
The final verse of the Hymn is really a bit personal, I must say but biblically ordered as well. Some of you know I recently had a bout with prostate cancer, and had surgery in a rather tender spot. My son Joshua and I had one of those long heart to heart conversations during my convalescence that struck a chord with me. He was puzzling over some of the many references to Job he had come across throughout literature. Given the nature of my own vulnerabilities, the subject of suffering seemed timely for both of us. So much human literature devotes itself to the mystery of suffering and simply hold it "out there" for us all to simply witness often without answer. But, said I to Josh, there is an answer; God speaks forcefully and decisively in Job, Chapter 38. It is a wonderful passage and is worthy of reading in its entirety (as is the whole Bible, by the way...the WHOLE Bible...not just the parts you like). In Job 38, God gets a bit put out with all the talk of suffering and who is to blame and why things are the way they are. Then with purely powerful rhetorical proclamation God tells Job to "gird up your loins and stand up like a man and TAKE IT". I must tell you, this spoke powerfully to Joshua and me both. It took Joshua's breath away on the spot and mine as I thought more and more of it.
It was in the wake of all this that I penned the following words. They are my song pure and simple. There is nothing complicated about it. It is just who I am and who I understand God to be. I picked a tune that is very un-Episcopalian. It is a very simple tune to go with the words. I like it a lot. Some others do too. Folks have encouraged me to share it, so here it is.

Fr. Paul’s Song

Come, Lord Jesus our Companion, awaken hope along the way

In Broken Bread and Holy Scripture, be known to us and with us stay.

Refrain,

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; walk with us Emmaus’ Way

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; speak within my heart I pray.

One in Christ we come to greet you, friend and stranger we’ll not hate

Love can never be divided: race, class, gender; gay or straight.

Refrain,

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; walk with us Emmaus’ Way

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; speak within my heart I pray.

In the homeless and the hungry, may we see your precious eyes;

Give us courage, house and feed them, Lest we miss your heavenly prize.

Refrain,

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; walk with us Emmaus’ Way

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; speak within my heart I pray.

Your sweet children and the orphan, all the refugees of war,

Women, gay folk and the outcast stand and knock at Christ’s own door.

Refrain,

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; walk with us Emmaus’ Way

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; speak within my heart I pray.

Jesus arms are true and constant, gathering in the wayward tossed

With a Mother’s true compassion not one soul shall ‘er be lost.

Refrain,

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; walk with us Emmaus’ Way

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; speak within my heart I pray.

At the end of life’s grand journey, Gird our loins with your good power;

Make us mindful of your goodness, in the trials of that hour.

Refrain,

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; walk with us Emmaus’ Way

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; speak within my heart I pray.

Words: “Fr. Paul” Bresnahan (1945- )

Music: William J. Kirkpatrick (1838-1921)