Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Case of the Missing Prayer

The Case of the Missing Prayer

There are many pathways to God. As in Thomas Merton’s spiritual classic; the “Seven Storey Mountain”, we wander the vast circumference of our life’s Pilgrimage, until, at last, we come to the Summit. But, is there something missing in our modern spirituality? I love a good mystery, so let me set the stage for the Case of the Missing Prayer!

Toronto was growing like topsy in the 1950’s. When my mom remarried, off we went to Canada. My stepfather had just become the Chief Engineer of the Weston Biscuit Company, Canada’s version of Nabisco. 

The Diocese of Toronto placed a small portable on a plot of ground in our neighborhood, and assigned a young priest to the cure. He canvased the development in which we lived. He dropped by our house and invited us to church. I began to  attend services. 

In the fall of 1960, it came time for me to attend Confirmation classes. Fr Hall was fresh out of seminary, and Honest to God his classes seemed to me like post graduate study. They were rigorous and demanding, with memory work, written essays, and exams.

He used the Socratic method in teaching. One day he asked us what we knew of the seven principal kinds of Christian Prayer. He waited for us to respond. Class?

We ventured to answer; 
Penitence (asking for forgiveness)
Those were the obvious ones. What’s missing? I remember squirming, telling myself I should know this stuff, I prayed often. But then I asked myself, was my prayer complete?
“Go on”; he said.
Alas we were stuck.
With a twinkling eye he tapped his foot waiting.
Finally he said; “What about Adoration?”
We replied, “what’s the difference between that and Praise?”
“Aha!” Said he, “what does the Catechism say?”
We were supposed to read the Catechism the night before, but  perhaps we were not so diligent about doing so.
“Adoration” he said, reading from the Prayer Book, “is the lifting up of the heart and mind to God asking nothing more but to enjoy God’s presence.”
Interesting! That made perfect sense to me. Just being in church in the presence of the holy, listening to the Silence and the beauty of an organ prelude, or as a child lying down on my back and watching the passing clouds with a friend assigning faces to the wind swept shapes, “perhaps that’s Lincoln”. Yes, many’s the time I asked nothing more but to be in the presence of God. 
Question; “What the difference between that and Praise?”
Fr Hall referenced the Catechism again; “we Praise God not to ask for anything but because God’s Being draws Praise from us.”
That made sense too. Praise seems more active than Adoration. We often use the word “Praise” in Church as an act of devotion, most notably at the presentation of the Gifts of the People of God at the Offertory. 
“Go on, Fr Hall, what else did we miss?” 
We provided a blank silence.
“Petition,” he said. “You got Intercession, that’s a prayer for someone else. Petition is a prayer to God for yourself.”
That made sense too!
“So, to review,” the kindly priest said, “we have six kinds of prayer so far; Adoration, Praise, Thanksgiving, Petition, Intercession, and Penitence”
“What’s the missing Prayer?” 
For the life of me, I could not think of it. Neither could my classmates. 

“Think!” Fr Hall pressed firmly upon our hearts and minds. 
Nothing! We were baffled. 
Finally I said with a chuckle; “What pray tell, is the missing prayer?” 
“Not so fast,” the young priest said. “Think of Jesus. What was his prayer to God?”
It took a while, but finally he got it out of us. 
The hint had to do with the prayer on the night before he died for us.
Remember, at Gethsemani Jesus prayed; “Let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” ~Matthew 26:39.   
The mysterious word Oblation entered my vocabulary that day. The Catechism teaches; “Oblation is an offering of ourselves, our lives and labors, in union with Christ, for the purposes of God.” 
In other words, this is a prayer that reverses the order of subject and predicate. In the intimacy of the I-Thou relationship between us, the Prayer of Oblation turns now to to God who looks to us for the answer.
Now we say not what we want of God, but wonder what God wants of us? This is a prayer critical to the development of a mature spiritually.
Or to put that in a way that I finally came to understand, in my own words; “Jesus, you can count on me to do whatever it takes, whatever it is you need me to do for you and for your people.” 
Comes now the Gospel reply;
“Feed my sheep.
Serve my poor.
Visit the sick and those in prison.
Give the outcast a safe place to call home.
Be my Body in and for the sake of the world.
Go, love the world as much as I do and change it and make it look like me.
Do not be afraid, little flock.
I give my life for you. Go, give your lives for others.”

Aha! The Case of the Missing Prayer! 
Answer: Oblation!
It is akin to the stirring declaration of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in his inaugural address; “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” 
The Prayer of Oblation declares likewise; “Ask not what God can do for you, ask what you can do for God.”
The tendency of a Consumer Society is to set before God the things we need and want, forgetting what God requires of us; namely, “to do justice,  to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God”. ~Micah 6:8
Hence the “Missing Prayer”: Oblation. 

Today’s lessons include Solomon’s prayer of Petition to God for the Gift of Wisdom. The Psalmist is full of Thanksgiving as the Psalmist often is. Paul reminds us to Praise God in melody and song. And in the continuing theme of these past few weeks, Jesus is Bread of Heaven, making an offering of himself in union with God for the purposes of God. 

I needn’t remind you of what you do here at Trinity for ACAT, Dinah’s House, The Lower Merrimack Collaborative, the Worship of God and the Service of God’s people. You are an Oblation indeed to God and God’s people. 

And so, class, as Fr Hall would say;  let’s review the Seven Principal Kinds of Prayer 
And the missing prayer missing no more;

Mystery solved!

Here we are. Trinity Church in a period of Transition. Praying God send us someone who will join us in this Pilgrimage and offer himself/herself along with each and every one of you as an Oblation, an offering of ourselves, our lives and labors, in union with Christ, for the purposes of God.

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul

Friday, August 17, 2018

Celtic Wanderlust!

Spiritual Wanderlust!

There is within the Celtic Spirit
A need to wander and explore 
In far away lands.
While also longing for hearth and home.

We are betimes a sorrowful lot.
Lamenting life's little losses 
And large ones too.
Then sing and dance and play a tune
Raise the spirits within, without.

What a Spirituality are we!
We wander far sailing the tastes
Of all the world's religions
So drawn to God are we of any stripe and all.

Within the same heart there beats
The strict adherence to our Faith
Once given,
Signed, sealed, delivered.

One within the same are we
Demanding orthodoxy
Bordering on heresy.

And I delight in the inconsistency
The hobgoblin of my heart1

Fr Paul

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Spirituality You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

A Spirituality You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

When we think of things of the Spirit we may think of things ethereal, things we cannot see or touch. We may think of things other worldly. But when we think of Jesus, we can see him in a manger, feeding 5000, on a cross. We see him in vivid detail. He is someone we can see and touch. Jesus is flesh and blood. And he said he is the Bread of our Life.

What did he mean by that? I think he means that he is someone we can sink our teeth into. As jarring as that may sound to us now, so it was when he first said it. 

Years ago as part of our Pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a bus load of high school students we travelled along the tense border between Israel and Lebanon in the Golan Heights. 
We stopped by a roadside gathering of Druze. We were hungry and the Druze were cooking sandwiches made of a kind of pita bread that was cooked over a convex metal surface and a charcoal flame. I don’t know what was in those wraps but they were delicious. There was an oily substance with tomato and zucchini and fresh, fresh bread. It was something you could sink your teeth into. It was so satisfying! 

The Druze are a very close knit folk and prefer not to get into theological discussions. They have been persecuted by every major religion in their region although they contain elements all; Islam, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Gnostic etc. They are an Abrahamic Unitarian kind of faith. But they’d rather not be pinned down into one set of dogma or another. History has not been kind to the Druze.  

It is tragic that in the history of our search for God, humankind has been hasty to inflict judgment and violent punishment on those who differ in point of view one from another. 

Today’s First Reading is a case in point. Another tiresome battle and another tiresome war. David against Israel, and his own son Absalom leading the enemy there in the Forest of Ephraim. In the heat of battle Absalom is mortally wounded. He is caught up in the thicket between Heaven and Earth. Armor bearers put the young man out of his misery. When David hears the news, of course, he laments the loss. Those who have lost a child will know the searing pain; “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!”

The Psalmist says; “Out of the depths have I cried out to you,”.

Our search for God, our quest for land, our raging violence, our feuding family pettiness, all our inner demons, lead us into unintended consequences that cost us very dearly.

But here’s a thought. What enemies offer one another by way of cuisine is flavorful and satisfying. Interesting that Jesus taught us about the Bread of Life. I love Italian, Greek, Palestinian, Jewish, French and German cuisine. Cindy and I were both pleasantly surprised to discover that British and Irish cuisine is delightful in its own way. And when the prospect of yet another routine supper looms near, we might look at one another and say; “Let’s send out for Chinese!”

Why then, why then, do we hasten to judge one another so hastily? Religion and Politics! Politics and Religion. We should know better. We’ve already had one Civil War. Why in the Name of God would we need another! God help us. It has been a year now since Charlottesville. Why the hate!

This is why Jesus becomes someone I can sink my teeth into. 
Jesus is for me like fresh bread out of the oven. I love to make fresh homemade bread. I like to get my hands right into the mix of things. I sometimes think of someone I may be out of synch with as I knead that dough mercilessly. That’s a more fruitful way of taking out frustration than in resorting to foolish name calling or fisticuffs. I use a cement baking stone to make a good crust. I preheat that oven to 425 to sear the loaf! Then back down the heat to bake. Ah, and then the aroma of that bread when it comes out fresh from the oven fills the house and the human lungs with something exquisite and delightful!

Jesus said; “I am the Bread of Life!” 
In detail he describes what he means by that.
He invites us into Discipleship.
He gathers us on the hillsides to tell us that even when the poor, mournful, meek, those seeking justice, the pure in heart, peacemakers, or persecuted, we are the blessed of God. 
Rejoice, he declares, for great is your reward in God’s good heaven!
He heals us of all our soul’s diseases.
He visits us when sick or in prison. 
He seeks us out when others reject us.

He brings us into his confidence and lets us in on the “Keys to the Kingdom.” 
Love one another.
Forgive one another.
Be reconciled to one another.

And then he breaks the news to us. 
Yes he will suffer, yes he will die, and yes, he will rise again from the dead.

And so will we! 

Jesus is the Bread of Heaven. 
He makes it vivid and clear to us what he means by that.
He wants to become a spirituality for us we can sink our teeth into just like a fresh loaf of bread out of the oven. 
Jesus is the Way! The Way of the Love of God!

Its either that or you go your own way. 
Try the hateful way…the way of prejudice, violence and warfare…or self recrimination. 
But what does that satisfy?

You may choose the Way that leads to Life or the Way that leads to Death.

Which is it? 

By the way, you can take drugs if you wish. But the evidence seems to show that leads to Death too! Duh!

Why not take life at its own speed, enjoy it for all the richness that it gives you; with all its joys and sorrows. 

The only Way is to be filled with Jesus!
Jesus is not a drug.
Jesus is the Bread of Life!

I love the stories, the history, the theology…but above all I love Jesus. He is someone I can sink my teeth into!

He teaches me how to love. Mind you some folks can make that difficult, especially those who mean us harm…but Jesus said; “Love your enemies!”  

That’s the part I struggle with. But then Paul also gives us something to sink our teeth into; “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

Yes. A Spirituality I can sink my teeth into.
As the French philosopher/theologianTeilhard de Chardin once wrote.
"Plunge into matter. Plunge into God. By means of all created things, without exception, the divine assails us, penetrates us and molds us. We imagine it as distant and inaccessible, whereas in fact, we live steeped in its...layers."
   ~Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


Fr Paul