Monday, September 27, 2021

Godspell Resumes

 Godspell: A Weekly Time to Spell it out

Who is God and how is God involved in our lives? The mission of this online gathering of folks from around the United States is to explore questions of Spirituality with honesty and candor. Every week (more or less) at 4pm Eastern time (US & Canada) we take a few minutes to look at a Psalm and a Gospel passage and reflect on the connection between ancient text and present life. 

On the last few Sundays we have resumed our weekly "meetings" and take time and catch up with each other to share what is important to us. Feel free to watch on Facebook Live or watch the You Tube recordings (see links below). 

Yesterday we observed Michaelmas, the Feast Day of St Michael and All Angels. The fact is that there is always a battle going on between Good and Evil and we also seem to have "guardian angels" about us. We enjoy our conversations and are always delighted to welcome those interested in exploring things of the Spirit. Here is the link to yesterday's episode of Godspell

The week before we took time to think and pray about the Feast Day of the Holy Cross. The link to that episode of Godspell is here

One more thing for those of you interested in contemporary Christian Art. I am fascinated by the work of He Qi and his exploration of Christian themes from the point of view. He opens up a whole new way of exploring a non traditional way of looking at the Christ experience and other Biblical materials. You may read more about his work here

So welcome back to Godspell one and all. May God prosper the ongoing conversation. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A Meditation

Meditation from Celtic Daily Prayer

We are candles,
burning between
hope and despair,
faith and doubt,
life and death,
all the opposites.
That is the disquieting place
where we find ourselves.

And if our lives mean anything,
if what we are goes beyond ourselves to
do some good,
it is that somehow,
by being here,
at peace,
we help the world cope
with what it cannot understand.

   ~William Brodrick

Image above, "Candlelight" a painting by Timothy C Tyler

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Psalm 95 A Meditation

Psalm 95

  1. 1  Come, let us sing to the Holy One; *
    let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation.

  2. 2  Let us come before God’s presence with thanksgiving, * and raise a loud shout with psalms.

  3. 3  For you, O God, are a great God; * you are great above all gods.

  4. 4  In your hand are the caverns of the earth, * and the heights of the hills are yours also.

  5. 5  The sea is yours, for you made it, *
    and your hands have molded the dry land.

  6. 6  Come, let us bow down and bend the knee, * and kneel before God, our Maker,

  7. 7  For you are our God,
    and we are the people of your pasture and the sheep of your hand. *

    Oh, that today we would hearken to your voice!


About the image above: artist Eloise Schneider Mote

"Eloise paints fine art pieces that encompass gorgeous landscapes, flowers, cotton fields, floral arrangements, and other delicate and detailed works. Her playful side lends a hand in her creation of fun art - striped cats, fat pigs, big lipped fish, and curious cows. Eloise's art also includes images of Italy, Germany, France, Spain, and Mexico - down by the water, in a village, or near a field in the sunlight of the dawn. She also paints ships and beaches, trees and forests, and the beautiful landscapes of the United States.

Faith is important to Eloise as an artist and she develops that belief system into many of her paintings: three crosses at Calvary, the cross on Pensacola Beach that overlooks the bay, children in the hands of God, the birth of Jesus Christ, and others.

Perhaps the most unusual of Eloise's artwork are her watercolor and digital renditions of American Sign Language. As a teacher of the deaf and other children with special needs, Eloise has a heart for the art that reflects her love for those children. Her painting of the ASL "I Love You" sign is bright and bold, a wonderful piece for a hearing or deaf person to enjoy. The world is grand and love can be too. Eloise's work is just that: full of love and life. Her paintings of animals take on a "pop art" style: bright and colorful! These are quite popular."

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

What is It?

 The following is a copy of a sermon from the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, which I preached at St. Paul’s, North Andover, MA on August 1, 2021 at the 10:00am Eucharist.

What is it?

By Fr Paul Bresnahan

My grandmother was from Down to Maine and she spoke kinda funny. When I started in to complaining which I often done, she’d shake her wooden spoon at me and say; “Buddy Bresnahan quitch-yaw-bellyaching!”

Which reminds me of one of those old Burt and I stories. One time Willy and me was takin a load of lumber down off Tenant’s Harbah up to Rockland when a fog come up so thick you could hardly see nawthin’. Willy stahted in ta complaining; “Burt I can’t see.” “Neither can I Willy”. “But what we goin’ to do, Burt”. “Willy we’re going to drop anchah and set here-a-spell is what we’re going to do.” All the while Willy worried and Willy complained and finally I piped up “Willy quitch-yaw-bellyaching!”. Just then the fog lifted just a mite and I told Willy to go below and fetch up my Old Coaster’s Pilot. He done that. It was all worn and tattid and the bindin’ wuz busted and when I opened that Pilot to whar I figured we wuz, a puff of wind come up and blowed that page plum overboard. Willy ‘course piped up and said “O Burt, now what we goin to do!” After I thunk a bit I sed; “I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. We’re goin to get a sailing and head right into this next page heah and then by Thunder, we’ll know whar we be!”

Scripture tells us that the whole congregation of the Israelites complained in the wilderness. They were tired and hungry. They weren’t the least bit sure that this Moses knew where they were or where they were going. They had second thoughts about being free from slavery. At least in Egypt they sat by the fleshpots and ate their fill of bread, fruit and vegetables. But now they faced death in the wilderness. The ancient human constant kicked in; they complained. 

God heard their complaints and rained down manna from heaven. As they gathered it, they said to one another  “manna” which is the Hebrew word for “what it it”. So much of our relationship with God is a mystery. As we gather what the Grace of God provides we find ourselves in awe and wonder and say “what it it?”

There is something deeply human in this story. Presently we find ourselves in this wilderness. The pandemic is but one dimension of our heartache. We also face a racial reckoning, political deadlock, urban upheaval and street violence. The catastrophe of climate change brings fire, flood, and rising sea levels. The very democracy we once took for granted is now very much in question. As a people of faith we take all this to heart and offer it all to God. Our hunger is for some kind of Peace with Justice. And we complain.

God’s response to the human condition is yet more manna from heaven. It comes to us in the form of a child born in a manger who is in every way as vulnerable as we are. He was driven into his wilderness, so we are told, and was tempted sorely just like we are. He emerged from the desert transfigured. He healed the sick, the blind and the lame. He taught us a way to live like no other teacher ever has. 

We take his words to heart and memorize them. We love his stories. We are drawn to and challenged by his willingness to embrace the outcast; the leper, the prostitute, and the poor. In his final conflict with the Temple authorities he is tried and convicted of blasphemy. He is crucified, dead and buried. 

What emerges from this experience is the core of our faith:

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again. 

Our Gospel encounter with Jesus raises many questions. How do we face the challenges that come our way? How do we deal with our sorrow and the sorrow of those we love? How do we face into hateful hearts when they become violent? How do we face our own frustrations and disappointments?

Jesus’ answer in today’s Gospel; “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Here is God’s answer to the “what is it” in our wilderness. 

I love the “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. There are seven, a common biblical number.

I am the bread of life

I am the light of the world

I am the door of the sheep

I am the Good Shepherd

I am the resurrection and the life

I am the way the truth and the life

I am the true vine

In effect, when we say we believe in the Name of Jesus we do far more than give intellectual credence to a two syllable name. We are committing ourselves to a way of life. The name Jesus is shorthand for the love of God made flesh and blood. It means that when there is discouragement and defeat we proclaim hope and victory. When hatred and violence infect the human heart, with courage and resolve we stake our lives on love and justice. When greed and exploitation defaces the beauty of God’s creation, we dedicate ourselves to its conservation.

When sickness and death overcome us and we are bewildered by the enormity of it all, remember  Jesus. Jesus shows us to the Gate of Heaven. The Eucharist is a vivid reminder of the Holy Presence and Jesus is the Door! 

This is but the beginning of who Jesus is for us. Day in and day out, he changes our lives. He transfigures us. 

The Prayer of St. Francis is a “go to” prayer for people of faith the whole world over.  

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is

hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where

there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where

there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where

there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to

be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is

in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we

are born to eternal life. Amen.

What begins in the wilderness as bewilderment and complaint is now transformed by Jesus into faith. He is the way and the truth and the life. In our Baptism our focus is taken off self absorption and we become one with him in faith. Look at Paul for instance. Even in his imprisonment he did not complain but urged us on in ministry. He reminds us to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

If I ask “what is it”, what might I say? When I think of Jesus, simple, ancient instincts kick in. I care for those who are sick and dying, the sin sick and the sorrowful. Those who make a total shipwreck out of life, myself included. There is forgiveness for us all. There is redemption for us in Jesus. He pays the price gladly in order that there may be life in all of its abundance for everyone. What a Joy it is to know Jesus. 

Jesus shows the way through the wilderness. When we see the hungry we feed them; the homeless and the naked we provide for them. When there are outcasts, Jesus unfurls the full rainbow banner of his loving heart. There is compassion unlike any other on earth. He reaches out his loving arms on the hard wood of the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of his saving embrace. 

Jesus is the “what is it” of my life. He is my manna from Heaven. He is the incarnate love of God; that rains down from heaven and fills our hearts to overflowing with of love and compassion. This is what our tired old world needs now. It needs those who will love with courage in the Way of Jesus.  The only thing I know that can clean up the messes that mortals make is the love of God made flesh and blood in Jesus.

And that my friends is what it is. Amen.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Wakey! Wakey!

 Wakey Wakey!

Houghton Robinson was my grade 8 teacher in the suburban Toronto district of Etobicoke. What a character! He made us work hard. We had memory work to do every single night. There were sentences to parse with every part of speech and all subordinate clauses to identify and with their relationship one to another. He introduced us to Canadian humorists like Stephen Leacock and raconteurs like Robert Service. He worked us and drilled us and because of him we developed confidence in our work as young scholars. 

If he caught us daydreaming or not applying ourselves to the task at hand, he would say; “Wakey, wakey,” with a playful twinkle in his eye. We loved that man and he loved us. 

So what Mr. Robinson said to us, I say to you; “Wakey, wakey!” 

Advent is here and Jesus is coming to be born anew in our hearts. Our waiting for him is not passive but fully engaged with every fibre of our being like someone preparing for a new baby.  The woman who carries the Holy Child is as sacred to us as if she were betrothed to us. The journey is long, the nights are dark and the way before us is full of peril, but we hasten even unto Bethlehem.

Our waiting is like preparing for the arrival of a new vaccine in the midst of a pandemic. Wakey! Wakey! Wear your masks, maintain social distance, and no matter what the sacrifice resist the temptation to gather this Thanksgiving and Christmas if you wish to gather next year at Thanksgiving and Christmas with those you love.

Wakey! Wakey! The Gospel tells us “Keep awake, you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, at midnight, at cockcrow or at dawn, lest he find you sleeping. Keep awake!” 

We stand together on Sacred Ground and like my namesake says in today’s Epistle; “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus for in every way you have been enriched in him.”

I give thanks because you welcomed me into your life here at St. Paul’s and at St James where we share today’s worship experience. And I thank God that now with Sarah Mato and Kit Lonergan you continue your courageous conversations on Sacred Ground. Your ministry continues to strengthen and grow among you. You serve faithfully in the places God has placed you.

You walk “Sacred Ground” which is also the name given to a curriculum you are using to build relationships and conversation on the subject of race; perhaps the thorniest of all subjects in our common life. To quote from the material you are studying; “Sacred Ground is a...curriculum using film and readings to create room for dialogue and discovery about America’s history of race and racism. Sacred Ground is part of the Episcopal Church’s call towards ‘Becoming Beloved Community’ with one another. Written and crafted by the author of ‘Traces of the Trade’, this is meant to be a way of processing through some of the ways race, ethnicity, nationalism and economics have played into the ways we view race and its impact today.”

Talk about courageous conversation! At a time when much of America stands divided into silos of conflicted confrontation, you on the other hand, read, reflect and share in honest exchange of heart and soul what it means to be an American now and in the context of this moment in our history. 

My pilgrimage in self awareness on issues of race and ethnicity has a long history. While in seminary I spent a two year internship in Harlem, in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination, to study the matter of race. I wondered what was the matter with the country I loved. I watched our cities burn in those dreadful days; the long hot summers of 1967 and 1968. I was bewildered by it all. And here we are again all these many years later.

In 1975 at the height of the Integration Crisis in Boston, I became the rector of Christ Church in Hyde Park. On the eve of my first service there, I received a phone call, not about the time of services but a death threat; “You say one word about integration while you are here we will kill you.” I stood dumbfounded, but only for a while. You know me well enough to know that such a threat did not silence me. But it did alert me to the danger that lurked around me; 

“Wakey! Wakey!” Mr Robinson seemed to say. 

When I went to Euclid, Ohio, on Cleveland’s East Side it was the same thing all over, but at least no death threat this time. It was necessary to integrate the schools once more, and this time it took a Black Baptist preacher, a Rabbi and yours truly to provide the leadership because the clergy association did want to get involved in controversy.

Finally in St. Albans, West Virginia as recently as 2006 there was a cross burning, and the Black Baptist preacher from St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church and I from St. Mark’s Episcopal Church led a march between our two churches with the Governor, the Mayor and a host of religious and political leaders showing the way toward a repudiation of such expressions of hatred. 

The fact of racism is never far from the surface in America. 

And today, here I am in your midst. What shall I say? Some of you are studying the Sacred Ground curriculum and among the many things you are asked to consider is the matter of White Privilege. 

Frankly, I hadn’t really considered myself a child of White Privilege. My family came from very modest means. My grandmother was left with two children when her husband divorced her. After the closing of the sardine factory in Rockport, ME her family sought refuge in the Brickbottom section of East Somerville during the Depression. There was some work and they managed to eke out a living. But there were hard times. 

Eventually we made our way to the Davis Square section of Somerville, but this time my mom found herself alone again. My dad was not much for bringing home a paycheck. He gambled on the horses. My mom and my uncle both got jobs and my grandmother collected Social Security. It took the three incomes to make a household. For most of my life, I played catch up just to pay my bills. 

How then can I consider myself a child of White Privilege?

Many times I prayed about that. Then I remembered what a Black Educator told me during my Harlem internship. “If you are looking for the source of Racism you won’t find it here. You must look into your own soul and into the heart of the people you live with. Because Racism comes to America from the White community. Go home and deal with it there.” 

“Wakey! Wakey!”

I’ve prayed many years about these words. I’ve had the privilege of sitting in conversation with many black folks through the years and standing on Holy Ground together and learning from sacred conversation.

My answer? First I always had a home. It was warm in our kitchen and my grandmother always had the oven going in the winter. After throwing on the slipper socks she knitted for me I could scurry downstairs where her pipin’ hot blueberry muffins were waiting. 

As modest as it was, my family was at least able to find work. We were able to take vacations at Old Orchard Beach and Lake Winnipesaukee. 

When I got to school, we were expected to excel. We were of various ethnicities and diversities but we were all white in Somerville in those days.

Our police looked like us and had Irish names. Our neighborhood cop was Jimmie and he watched us like a hawk and if we stepped out of line he’d grab us by the scruff of the neck and bring us home where Ma would mete our justice swiftly and certainly. He never brandished a weapon. It was not until 1974 when Somerville hired its first black police officer.

I had no idea the extent to which all of this was privilege. It took many years of soul searching to realize that what I had as a child, modest and meager though it might be was a wealth of privilege. I had a home, I had a secure community. Much of what I took for granted by way of housing, jobs, education, policing, and education was denied systemically to many in the Black community. And sadly the use of racial epithets was common in our household and in the neighborhood.

When my mom remarried and we moved to Toronto, I found myself jarred out of Blue Collar Somerville into the upward mobility of solid white Middle Class suburban Toronto. I found the adjustment difficult. We could no longer play in the streets. We had to go to parks. There were no tenement stoops where the neighborhood gathered. Our schools were even more demanding. Thank God, at least we had the Church.

Suddenly I found myself College bound. It was expected of all of us. We had to master English, Latin and French, Algebra and Trigonometry, Canadian and British history. We had to memorize Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth and more. 

College was expected of all of us and it was almost free. The Ontario Health Insurance Plan became the law of the land in 1966. Because of my Step-father’s job we had the privilege of vacations every year and we could go home to Somerville every Christmas and Summer for as long as my beloved grandmother lived. My mother and step father retired very comfortably to St. Petersburg, FL upon retirement. 

You can see a pattern emerging. When I returned to Cambridge to attend seminary I could work summers and pay for most of my room and board. What I had to borrow was manageable. 

Such privilege. So many blessings. But I must tell you, the fact that I am so blessed and so many others are not, is of little comfort to me. To be a nation of “haves” and “have-nots” is little comfort any of us. To be the wealthiest nation on earth and manage to disenfranchise so many is not a blessing at all but frankly a matter of injustice and often systemic racism. 

We have become two nations divided by race and by ideology and more recently a whole new posture of political confrontation has introduced us to the very real potential for violence. 

Into our history and all history the Scripture speaks to us of wakefulness and the Advent of God. Speak to us O God. Come Lord Jesus! “We are the clay and you are the potter”. Form us in your likeness we pray. This Advent, be born anew in us, a Child in a Manger and warm the stone cold hearts of all once more . 

Today what I have attempted to do is describe in some small measure how one human heart has listened to God in the context of our American Experience and in my lifetime. I do admire you for your continued conversations and your journey on Sacred Ground. It will be this kind of wakefulness that will build new Hope in our common life.

The First Candle of this Sacred Advent Wreath is the candle of Hope. May we all light the way to Hope as we walk God’s Sacred Ground together. And let the Psalmist sing; “Restore us, O God of hosts; *
       show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

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

Monday, August 31, 2020

Godspell: Celtic Spirituality; A Brief History


Celtic Spirituality 

A Brief History

Aug 31 - St Aidan of Lindisfarne (7th century) monk and missionary -

Happy St. Aidan’s Day!

What could be a better way to share the joy of this day for Anglo-Celts like me than to share some of what I’ve learned about the development of Spirituality in the land of my ancestors. 

Here for the record is yesterday’s (August 30, 2020) presentation of Godspell. 

My Keynote/Power Point presentation you can see by clicking this link.

And the video podcast is available at this link. 

God Bless us everyone on this glorious St. Aidan’s Day. 

Fr Paul

Monday, July 27, 2020

A Time to Pray

A Time to Pray

Good morning all. Yesterday on Godspell we tried something completely different.
I used a combination of Zoom and Facebook Live to present to you a basic review of the principal kinds of prayer. 
Here is a link to that event which I recorded to the cloud. (I think I"m doing this correctly)
Check this link to see if you can watch the recording here Password 5kL=7&gV
Here too is a You Tube video of the slide presentation.

I"m still trying to figure out how to download yesterday's Zoom meeting to my YouTube accounct.
Rome wasn't built in a patient with me.
God bless us everyone.

Fr Paul