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Wednesday, January 20, 2016 – 2:32am
Photo by Kent Miller

Notes from a Week in the Winter Woods

I’ve been on retreat at a cabin in the woods since last Monday — a silent, solitary retreat. As my time here got underway, I took a few notes each day — a sort of mini-journal — and got the idea of stringing them together.

Monday, Jan. 11, 2016
Arrived in mid-afternoon at my rented cabin in the snow-covered Wisconsin countryside. Went inside, lit a fire, and unpacked the car, quickly, motivated by the sub-zero wind chill. Outside, acres of bright fields and dark woods. Inside, just me. Plus enough clothing, food, and books for a week of silence and solitude.

Last night, someone asked if I liked being alone. “It depends,” I said. “Sometimes I’m my best friend. Sometimes I’m my worst enemy. We’ll see who shows up.”

It’s 9:00 p.m., an hour before Quaker midnight, but I’m going to turn in anyway. I’m drowsy and at peace. The fire I’ve been staring into seems to have burned away the worries that tagged along with me.

Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016

Woke up about 5:00 a.m. and lay awake for another hour in the dark, watching my worries rise phoenix-like from the ashes and flap around to get my attention.

“Welcome and entertain them all!” says Rumi in The Guest House.

“Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.”

Guess I need to have a chat with the “beyond.” Looks like he/she/it didn’t get the memo that I came here for some peace.

Now, a few hours later, I’m feeling that peace again. It came from a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast, all ready simultaneously despite the fact that I’m a certified kitchen klutz. It came as well from looking out on the snowfields, brilliant under the rising sun — but beautifully etched with the shadows of trees and stubble poking up through the snow.

The “beyond” was right: peace comes from embracing the interplay of shadow and light (and a good breakfast doesn’t hurt). After breakfast, I read the January 12 entry in A Year With Thomas Merton, a collection of daily meditations:

“It seems to me that I have greater peace… when I am not ‘trying to be contemplative,’ or trying to be anything special, but simply orienting my life fully and completely towards what seems to be required of a man like me at a time like this.”

Simple and true, but so easily lost in Type-A spiritual striving! What was required of me this morning was simply to make breakfast despite my well-documented ineptitude. The deal is to do whatever is needful and within reach, no matter how ordinary it is or whether I’m likely to do it well.

This afternoon, what I needed was a hike, though the wind chill was six below. I’m no Ernest Shackleton, but I learned long ago that winter will drive you crazy until you get out into it — and I mean “winter” both literally and metaphorically. “In the middle of winter,” said Camus, “I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.”

I didn’t discover summer on my hike. But the sun blazed bright on the frozen prairie, warming my face. And high in the cobalt blue sky, a hawk made lazy circles as I’ve seem them do in July. For January, that’s close enough to summer for me!

Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016

I slept poorly last night, and I know why. An hour before bedtime, I binge-ate a box of Jujyfruits while reading a book about spiritual discipline. The book made a few good points but was not well written, and I scarfed down the Jujyfruits as a stimulus to stick with it. My bad. But clear evidence that I could use some discipline!

I feel better now because the oatmeal I made for breakfast — on my second try — was healing. Pure comfort food. On the first try, I got the ratio of oatmeal to water wrong and left it on the burner too long. The pan looks like a grotesque avant garde sculpture of metal and grain: “Agrarian Culture Defeated by Machine.” Again, my bad. But my kitchen klutz credentials have been reinstated.

I guess my theme today is “Screw-ups in Solitude.” In solitude, my bads make me grin. If I committed them in front of others, I’d be embarrassed or angry with myself. Self-acceptance is easier when no one is around.

The Taoist master Chuang Tzu tells about a man crossing a river when an empty skiff slams into his. The man does not become angry, as he would if there was a boatman in the other skiff. So, says Chuang Tzu:

“Empty your own boat as you cross the river of the world.”

In solitude, I can empty my boat. Can I do it when I’m not alone? Maybe.

“Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from one’s self. It is not about the absence of other people — it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.”

That quote comes from a book I wrote, so I should probably give it a try!

Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016

Woke up at 2:00 a.m. and found myself regretting some things I got wrong over the past 77 years. Wished I had been kinder, or braver, or less self-centered than I was, and had a hard time remembering the things I got right.

Knowing that the 2:00 a.m. mind is almost always deranged, I got up at 4:00 a.m., dressed, made some coffee, stood out in the dark and cold for a bit, and saw Venus gleaming low in the southeast. The goddess of love: that helped!

Then I read the January 14th entry in A Year With Thomas Merton. Once again,my old friend had a word I need to hear, as he reflected on the complex mix of rights and wrongs in his own life:

I am thrown into contradiction: to realize it is mercy, to accept it is love, and to help others do the same is compassion.

Merton goes on to say that the contradictions in our lives are engines of creativity. It’s true. If we got everything right or everything wrong, there’d be none of the divine discontent or the sense of possibility that drives us to grow. What we get wrong makes us reach for something better. What we get right gives us hope that the “better” might be within reach.

Now I feel ready to step into the day animated by the counsel of Florida Scott-Maxwell:

“You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done… you are fierce with reality.”

I fully intend to get fierce and real today. But before I do that, I’m going to take a nap!

Friday, Jan. 15, 2016

This morning, for no apparent reason, I woke up with a grin, another one of those “guests” Rumi spoke about, “sent as a guide from beyond.” But this time the guest is a welcome lightness, a sense of impending laughter.

Most of my heroes are folks who are no strangers to laughter. Grandpa Palmer comes to mind. The man was proof-positive of William James’s claim that “common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds.” Grandpa taught me to drive when I was 14. First time out, I made a dumb, dangerous move on a back-country Iowa road. When we came to a safe stop, Grandpa was ominously silent for a moment. Then he said, laconically, “If I’d of knowed you was gonna do that, I don’t believe I’d of asked you to drive.” He never said another word about my near-disaster, and for the past 60 years I’ve driven accident-free!

Merton was well known for his sense of humor, a quality not uncommon among monks. In The Sign of Jonas, a deeply moving journal of his early years in the monastery, there’s a line on page 37 that always makes me smile:

“I had a pious thought, but I am not going to write it down.”

And I love this claim, found in a Hindu epic called The Ramayana, as told by Aubrey Menen:

There are three things which are real: God, human folly, and laughter. The first two are beyond our comprehension, so we must do what we can with the third.

I’m sure I’ll experience all three today. The first is ever-available, if my heart is open. The second is guaranteed, since wherever I go, there I am. As for the third, I’ll do what I can with it. As Chesterton quipped:

“Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”

Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016

A cardinal in winter(Parker Palmer)

Today’s opening line in A Year With Thomas Merton, “You can make your life what you want” if you don’t “drive [yourself] on with illusory demands.” I don’t think it’s entirely true that I can make my life what I want. But it would help if I stopped making demands on myself that distort who I really am and what I’m really called to do.

After five days of silence and solitude, many of the demands that hung over me when I came out here have lightened or lifted. Since I’ve done little this week to meet those demands, the lesson seems clear: they were mostly the inventions of an agitated mind. Now that my mind has quieted, its “illusory demands” have vaporized, and I feel a deeper peace.

I remember a story my businessman dad told me about how he dealt with pressure. In his office, he had a desk with five drawers. He’d put today’s mail in the bottom drawer, after moving yesterday’s mail up to the next drawer, and so on. He’d open letters only after they had made it to the top drawer. By that time, he said, half the problems people wrote him about had taken care of themselves, and the other half were less demanding than if he’d read the letters the moment they arrived! As Black Elk said to the children in his tribe when he told a teaching story:

“Whether it happened that way, I do not know. But if you think about it, you will see that it is true.”

Of course, the curse called email did not exist in Dad’s day. Still, his story points the way: make five folders for my email, and use them as Dad said he used his desk drawers. In certain respects, you can make the life you want!

Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016

Sunset in winter(Parker Palmer)

On this last full day of my retreat, I’m still meditating on the opening line of the January 13 entry in A Year With Thomas Merton:

“There is one thing I must do here at my woodshed hermitage… and that is to prepare for my death. But that means a preparation in gentleness…”

What a great leap — from death to gentleness! So different from Dylan Thomas’s famous advice:

“Do not go gentle into that good night…
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

When I was 35, raging seemed right. But at 77, it’s Thomas Merton, not Dylan Thomas, who speaks to me.

The prospect of death — heightened by winter’s dark and cold, by solitude, silence, and age — makes it clear that my calling is to be gentle with the many expressions of life, old and new, that must be handled with care if they are to survive and thrive.

Sometimes, of course, that means becoming fierce in confronting the enemies of gentleness. If that’s a contradiction, so be it! As Merton said in The Sign of Jonas:

“I find myself traveling toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox.”

My Weekend at St. Meinrad’s 

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I was turning 50 and in a spiritual rut. Until I got the strangest birthday present ever…

Happy Birthday!” said my friend Lurlene, handing me a neatly wrapped present.

“Thanks,” I said. I could tell it was a book. A new devotional or an inspiring novel, maybe? I held it up to my ear and shook it. Lurlene giggled. It was my fiftieth birthday and Lurlene knew I’d been feeling restless lately.

My morning prayers and Bible reading felt stale. And no matter how involved I got in church—giving the children’s sermons, serving as a deacon—the activities didn’t fill my soul the way they used to. Spiritually I was in a rut.

Finally I unwrapped the present. It was a book all right, but a surprise, a travel guide, listing monasteries across the U.S. that took overnight guests. “Pick a place,” Lurlene said, “and I’ll treat you to a weekend.  You need to get away, Mary Lou.”

But to a monastery?  I wasn’t Catholic.  I’d never met a monk and wasn’t even sure what they did all day.  Still, I couldn’t turn down a gift.

There were several monasteries right here in Indiana. One in particular intrigued me, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, a five-hour drive away.  The monastery was over 150 years old, founded by a group of Swiss monks who followed the ancient rule of St. Benedict.  All guests were to be greeted like Christ himself.  I wasn’t sure what that meant, but the rule stressed two virtues that did sound familiar: work and prayer.  Just like life on the farm where I grew up.

I signed up for a three-day retreat called “Lectio Divina—Praying with Scripture.” The monks would be my teachers.

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On a bright spring day I found myself standing outside the biggest church I’d ever seen. Its spires seemed to poke the sky itself.

stmeinradbymarianneg2007

I checked in at the guesthouse. The monk behind the counter rolled up the sleeves of his robe to type my information into his computer. “Peace,” he said. “Dinner is at 5:30, right after evening prayer. Have a blessed stay.” He handed me my key.

The room was lovely—simple and comfortable. I looked out the window at rolling hills, paths winding through trees, and the huge chapel, like a piece of old Europe dropped on the Indiana soil.

Listening to the bells toll, I felt like I was in another world.

In class, I met some other guests. I needn’t have worried about feeling out of place. There were Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists and, yes, Catholics. But our teacher, Brother Brendan, gave us another name. He called us pilgrims.

“You’re travelers on an inner journey,” he said. He bounded around the room in his robe and workout shoes—workout shoes!—and explained lectio divina. The phrase meant “holy reading,” an ancient way of reading the Scriptures. He started by lighting a candle and calling forth the Holy Spirit.

“Create a ritual that sets your study time apart,” he said. He smiled impishly and added, “This is your homework, so take notes!”

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We were to choose a Bible passage and read it aloud three times. The first go-around was to understand the facts—who, what, when and where. The second time we should picture ourselves as both storyteller and audience. The third time we were supposed to stop and rest with the words that appealed to us.

“Be alert to whatever calls to you,” Brother Brendan said. “Ask yourself why it’s important. How is it inviting you to practice your faith?”

This was what he called the meditatio, a time to meditate on the words. Then came contemplatio, sitting in silence and listening for the voice of God.

“Visualize a white expanse,” he said, “where you can erase every distraction.” This was going to be hard.

The last phase, the oratio, was for expressing our thanks to God for whatever we’d discovered.

Class was dismissed. I went for a walk around the grounds. The monks attended service five times a day. In between they taught classes and worked for St. Meinrad’s publishing business. Some even worked in a carpentry shop producing poplar caskets, the abbey’s newest business, a brochure explained.

I slipped into the church for noontime prayers. Outside it seemed massive and heavy, but inside the space was filled with light and was surprisingly intimate. The marble floors had an intricate design of buttercream and garnet tiles that created a huge star of David under the four arches. As I took a seat in the back row I noticed something I’d never seen in a church before. The rows of chairs faced each other, the monks in front and us guests in back.

A monk rose to read the Scripture, his voice resonating in the cavernous space. When he finished there was a pause. What was next? The silence lengthened. I looked to see if anyone else was standing up. Had someone forgotten his part?

Then I realized: No one was in a hurry. This was a holy time to be savored.

We sang from a small leaflet then prayed the psalms. It was wonderful, really, to lift my eyes from the printed sheet and see my fellow pilgrims speaking the ancient prayers to me.

I looked toward the monks and imagined them doing this five times a day for years. It put a whole new perspective on time. Not always rushing to do the next thing, but waiting, listening, making time for what was important.

That night I tried lectio divina. I did all right on the first part, reading the passage three times, but my mind wandered at the contemplation stage. “The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil,” I read, and caught myself thinking of fresh strawberry preserves we made on the farm. I couldn’t visualize the white expanse Brother Brendan talked about.

“The closest I got was a pale blue,” I told him the next day.

He chuckled. “Keep practicing!”

I kept at it, alternating my reading with long walks, services, meal times and talking to the monks. There was something thrilling about waking before dawn to begin my day the same way monks have for centuries.

On the last day I was determined to try lectio divina once more, this time in the church. It was after the evening service and I was all alone, the smell of incense lingering in the cool shadows.

Recalling Brother Brendan’s admonitions, I sang softly into the stillness, “Come, Holy Spirit, I need you.” Then I turned to the passage I’d picked out.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…a time to search and a time to give up,” I read aloud. Once, twice, three times. The words that seemed to glow, that drew me to them, were “season” and “search.” I closed my eyes and asked what those words said to me. Was this a new season for me? What was I to search for?

Instead of trying to come up with answers, I sat back in my chair. I let my mind, my whole self, settle into quiet. And I listened. In the silence, in the sacred space, the word that came to me was strong and clear. Me, God seemed to say. Search for me.

I didn’t have to think up new projects or volunteer for more assignments at church. I wasn’t supposed to do anything. What God wanted was for me to be with him. To rest in his love. That was what I’d been yearning for.

Just as my friend Lurlene hoped, I returned home spiritually reinvigorated, with a new way of reading Scripture and growing closer to God, and, yes, being a pilgrim in the silence.

To find more inspired places to renew, restore and recharge!

More pictures of the retreat here.

river rock collection spot near harrisonburg

river rock collection spot near harrisonburg

This report, which read in context seems more like a testament of devotion, is one of the best writings I have read regarding life within the Episcopal Church. It also bears reflective resemblance to the state of our larger society, especially since 9/11.

In our current home we have an assortment of stones around and among our flower beds. We began to collect these stones over twenty years ago and they include some that come from as far away as Syracuse, New York to the North, Southern Virginia to the South and Ohio to the West of us here in Maryland. They are territorial reminders of our travels and they convey through their various forms the diversity of earth formation in this region of North America.

For my husband and I they serve as a grounding element of our lives and years together in our home. They represent visits to children, to extended family, to our home places, to the streams we love and especially to one of our favorite getaway locations in a mountain valley near Orkney Springs, Virginia. Some are large and some are quite small, no more than the size of the palm of one’s hand.  Each one is carefully placed in relationship to one another and add beauty and stability to our home environment.

I would encourage you to read the following report, think about its broader applications and implications for our mutual planetary journey, and see if it brings meaning to you in your own life situation.

Seeking Spirit

State Of The Diocese Report – The Rev. Dr. James B. Simons

State of the Diocese Report
Special Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh
December 13, 2008

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”

These familiar words, from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, are often read at funerals and were turned into a popular song in the 1960’s. The preacher, Koheloth, begins to pair opposites such as in “a time to be born and time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh.” Of the fourteen pairings, one has always troubled me, or, I should say, didn’t make a lot of sense to me and seemed to be out of place with the others. It occurs in the fifth verse: ” A time to cast stones and a time to gather stones together”.

As I reflect on the events of the past several years, and more specifically in the Diocese of Pittsburgh over the past several months, I now think I understand this verse, and in many ways it has become the most poignant of them all.

As we move forward as the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, we need to make a decision about which season we are in: the season where we cast stones or the season where we gather them. I would like to suggest that we end the season of stone throwing and enter into a new season — one in which stones are gathered, gathered so that we might rebuild what has been torn down.

Casting stones:

As we seek to rebuild the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, we are not starting with a clean slate. As we move forward we carry the burden and scars of our recent past history. In short, we have developed a culture over the past several years that has not been one of grace and charity. We bring with us patterns of behavior which sought to categorize and judge others by what were in many cases arbitrary measures. We have not thought the best of each other and we have assigned motives for others’ actions, often without speaking to that person or seeking to obtain accurate information. It was a culture of fear and control, and many in this room, including myself, cooperated in the creation of that culture. It was a culture of throwing stones, and I stand before you now to say, “Today that culture ends.”

In the eighth chapter of The Gospel According to St. John, Jesus is confronted by a group of religious leaders who bring to him, as John describes it, “a woman who had been caught in adultery.” It is quite possible that this woman had been dragged from her bed, disheveled and partially clothed and forcibly driven through the streets of Jerusalem to the temple itself where Jesus was teaching. A woman found to be in grievous sin dragged to the holiest site of her faith. She is to be an object lesson, and Jesus is asked if she should be stoned, as the law permits. You all know his response, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” And John tells us that one by one, starting with the eldest, the religious leaders turned and walked away. At the clergy renewal of vows two years ago, the preacher recalled this story and asked us to imagine something I am going to ask you to imagine also, namely, that as each man turned to leave he dropped the stone he was holding so the departure was not silent but rather punctuated by the staccato dropping of perhaps hundreds of stones on the pavement of the temple court.

It is time to stop casting stones: it is time to realize with humility that we are all sinners saved by the grace of God, that judgment is not ours to render, and that we would do well to drop the stones we now hold and instead open our hands to each other.

This will be no easy task. The hurts and wounds are very real, and healing will come only when we are willing to let go of the pain. We need to ask for forgiveness and we need to forgive as we have been forgiven by God, and move forward in grace.

Patterns of behavior have been established, many unconsciously, and we need to give each other permission to stop and say, “No, that’s they way we used to treat each other. We’re not doing that anymore.” We’ll need to re-evaluate every aspect of our lives and ask the question, “Is this the way that Jesus would have us behave and treat each other?” We will make mistakes, and there will be false starts. There will be more hurt, but if are willing to be vulnerable to one another and believe the best of each other, the old patterns will begin to melt away and we can move ahead with grace and charity.

Picking up Stones:

But it will not be enough simply to let go of the stones, the old patterns of behavior, and the hurts we have accumulated. We need to start gathering a different kind of stones. Stones that will enable us to rebuild what is in disrepair.

Nehemiah served in perhaps the most trusted position in the Persian Empire. He was cupbearer to King Artaxerxes. It was his job, among other things, to taste the King’s food before the king ate it, so as to insure the king’s safety. Over a hundred years beforehand, the first wave of exiles had returned to Jerusalem, among them Ezra whose task was to begin the rebuilding of the temple itself. Nehemiah, having never been to Jerusalem, receives word that the city is in tatters, that the walls which protect the great city have fallen, and that people are vulnerable to outside attacks. After a long period of prayer, Nehemiah petitions the king for leave to go and rebuild the walls. Permission is grated. Nehemiah makes the journey and completes the task in record time.

I have often described the task before us as “Herculean,” an adjective which evokes the Roman myth of Hercules and his twelve labors. But our task here is not Herculean, achieved by virtue of our own strength. Rather, our task is “Nehemian” – to be accomplished in faith, with prayer, and through obedience to the Lord.

The people of Nehemiah’s time gathered stones in order to build, knowing that their faithfulness would be blessed by God. These are the stone we need to gather, stones of rebuilding, stones of construction, stones that allow us to create, and in that creation to rejoice with the Creator. It is time to gather stones. It is time to rebuild. It is time for us to focus on what unites us, not what divides us. For what unites us is far deeper and more powerful than that which separates.

“What does this look like?” you may ask. I would like to suggest that there are at least three aspects to this rebuilding.

First and foremost, we acknowledge that the foundation stone on which we build is the person of Jesus Christ. We are, and continue to be, a Diocese which upholds the classic formularies of the church — the Nicene and Apostle Creeds — affirming the Deity of Christ, his sonship with the father, his redeeming work on the cross, and his offer of salvation to the world. We believe scripture to be the Word of God and that it contains all things necessary for salvation. It is from this that all else flows, it is on this foundation that we build. All of our outreach, all of our social service, all of our mission work is predicated on these facts and driven by the sure and certain knowledge that we are redeemed people who wish to make Christ’s redemption known to the world. Everything begins from here.

Second is incarnational ministry. In his book The Rise of Christianity, University of Washington sociologist Rodney Stark set out to test the commonly held story that the church, during its first three hundred years, grew exponentially in the Roman Empire. He was asking the question, “Is it really possible that such a movement could grow so much so fast?” His conclusion was “yes” but the reasons were a bit surprising.

What led to the rapid growth of the early church was not a commitment to purity of doctrine. In fact, there were huge theological debates (which make much of what we struggle with today seem paltry), and the first Council of Nicea, which began to bring some uniformity of belief, wouldn’t occur until 325. What Stark discovered was that the church grew because of what I would call “incarnational” ministry. That is, the early Christians “became Christ” to the world.

In the mid third century the plague came to Alexandria, Egypt, and in the course of several months two-thirds of the city’s population died. Those of means abandoned the city, often leaving sick family and friends behind to die. But the Christians stayed. They stayed and ministered not only to their own but also to everyone regardless of their religion. The testimony of this incarnated love was what caused people to be attracted from paganism to a faith in Jesus Christ.

All around the empire this sort of behavior was seen. Christians visited the garbage dumps and collected the infants left to die, they took in the widowed and orphaned, they treated women better than even the official law of Rome would have them treated. They engaged the world with a self-sacrificing love which, like the plague itself, became infectious. It changed the world.

This is the way we need to be. We will build this diocese with the stones of the incarnation. We will show the world what it means to love one another and what it means to love a world which is broken and hostile. To lay down our very lives because of the life which was laid down for us and for the world. The world cannot help but be attracted to that.

Lastly, and I hesitate to use this word because it is so misused, diversity needs to be a hallmark of our common life together. But this is not easy to achieve and will not be brought to fruition simply by our trying to be more diverse.

My undergraduate degree is in stream and lake ecology. My thesis was developing a baseline study establishing the water quality of a large stream in Allegheny County. There is an inherent problem with assessing the water quality of a stream: the water is always moving. If someone is emitting an effluent at intervals, that substance may or not be present when chemical testing is done. What environmentalists have discovered is that the quality of the water can be established by assessing the diversity of the biological life forms found in it. In other words, the better the water quality, the more diverse the community.

The healthier the environment, the more diverse the community is. One does not improve the quality of the water by introducing diversity; one increases the diversity of the community by improving the quality of the environment.

I believe the same is true of every community, including the church. If we want to enjoy the diversity which has been one of the characteristics of the Episcopal Church, we must work to create an environment that fosters such a community.

This brings me back to where I started: we can only do this when we abandon the patterns of behavior to which have become accustomed. We must be in conversation, seeking to understand each other and when possible to rejoice and embrace the diversity God has blessed us with.

This is not to say that there are no boundaries and that everything is necessarily acceptable. But the church is broader than we have allowed it to be here and we need to work at creating a healthy environment that fosters appropriate diversity.

And now we come to the first test in seeing if we can lay aside the old patterns of behavior and move forward, trusting that the leadership which has been raised up is prayerfully seeking what is best for the Diocese and every member in it.

Your Standing Committee has been meeting with representatives of the Presiding Bishop’s office in order to ascertain the best way forward in establishing an Episcopal presence in the diocese at this time, that is to say the presence of a bishop.

There were two possible ways to do this. The first is termed a “Provisional Bishop”. This individual would be elected by the convention and would assume full ecclesiastical authority in the diocese.

The second option is termed an “Assisting Bishop”. This individual would be selected by the Standing Committee to assist the Diocese, while the Standing Committee would continue to be the ecclesiastical authority. However, certain aspects of that ecclesiastical authority would be delegated to the assisting bishop by agreement of the Standing Committee. This is the route we have chosen to take. We believe that it gives the diocese more autonomy in making decisions as we move forward in what is certainly a time of fragility. There is also the reality that the universe of candidates available to be Assisting Bishop is larger, as the role is part-time and would not be for the entire time between now and the election of a diocesan Bishop.

I am pleased to announce that, subject to a letter of agreement being signed, your Standing Committee has asked Bishop Robert H. Johnson, retired bishop of Western North Carolina, to act as Assisting Bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. I need to make sure that there is no confusion here. The State of North Carolina has several dioceses and at one time there were two Bishop Robert Johnsons in the state. The Standing Committee has chosen Robert H. Johnson of Western North Carolina, who currently resides in Ashville.

Bishop Johnson is a Jacksonville, Florida native and was ordained in 1963. He served parishes in Jacksonville and Atlanta before being elected Bishop in 1988. He has been active in CREDO and serves on the board of the Church Pension Fund. He has been married for 46 years and has two grown children. Bishop Johnson most recently served in a similar capacity to what we are asking in The Diocese of Southern Virginia and did a wonderful job. We are thrilled that Bishop Johnson will join us in this capacity. He will be with us approximately two weeks a month and his commitment is until the end of July 2009.

Bishop Johnson’s task will be threefold. First, he will help us to rebuild the infrastructure of the Diocese and be responsible for the day-to-day administrative tasks. Second, he will be available for parish visitations to do confirmations and other sacramental ministries. Third, and most importantly, he will be a pastor to us. Bishop Johnson will help us begin the healing we so badly need. He is, we believe, the right person at the right time.

Our old culture would now start to throw stones. It would “Google” the Bishop’s name and begin to collect writings and voting records, it would be mistrustful and suspicious. It would dwell on the deficits and not the benefits. Perhaps some from whom we are separated will do this.

We need to not do that. Rather, we need to trust that those who have been raised up to leadership have everyone’s best interest in mind and that this is not just a human answer to a situation but a godly one as well. We need to see this appointment as God’s way of moving us forward, to recognize it as another stone we gather in the rebuilding of our common life.

At the end of the book that bears his name, Joshua confronts the people of Israel and asks them to choose this day who they will serve. He is honest with them about the difficulties this choice will bring, that serving YHWH is not an easy task. It is in this context that he utters perhaps his most well-known line, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

And so a similar choice lies before us today. Will we choose the old way, the way of throwing stones and serving the past, or will we choose to serve the Lord, to serve him by picking up stones to rebuild for the future? Serving the Lord by gathering the stones of creating will not be easy, but I believe that we are equal to the task. That to which God has called us He will empower us to complete.

I want to close by making a personal declaration to all you here today. It is simply this: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

excerpted from post, click title below to read in full….

I do not know how or where I learned it, but I had learned not to say what I really thought or truly believed or most desired. I internalized Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina: women who express their deepest passions get run over by trains. The way of safety is to say what others want you to say, to repeat the words of those who hold power. And if you do that well enough you might gain a modicum of control over your own life.

* * * *

Throughout church history, however, the words of women and children, of the poor, the sick, and enslaved, have often been silenced by words of the wealthy, learned, and powerful. And if no one listens, you learn not to speak. When such voices are lost, the Word is diminished. I could express few genuine words. I needed to find my voice. Poet Marge Piercy writes in “Unlearning Not to Speak”:

She must learn again to speak
starting with I
starting with We
starting as an infant does
with her own true hunger
and pleasure
and rage.

From Strength for the Journey: A Pilgrimage of Faith in Community by Diana Butler Bass (Jossey-Bass, 2002) (From “Unlearning not to speak” at Speaking to the Soul.)

These words seem to cry out what the dignity of every human being requires, the “I” that will not be thrown to the rubbish, will not be dismissed and devalued as something less than the “I”‘s or “We” in power. The problem is how to speak with dignity and pride, not in one’s self but in one’s humanity, created and loved by God, with the spark of his divine image, without inflating one’s self into a monstrous, fiery, steam-driven engine of power that seeks to dash others beneath the rails.

I have no parents

I make the heavens and earth my parents

I have no home

I make awareness my home

I have no life or death

I make honesty my divine power

I have no friends

I make my mind my friend

I have no enemy

I make carelessness my enemy

I have no armor

I make benevolence my armor

I have no castle

I make immovable-mind my castle

I have no sword

I make absence of self my sword.

14th c. Japanese samurai (quoted by Joseph Goldstein in Insight Meditation: The Practice of Freedom at p. 13, Shambhala, Boston 2003).

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Joan of Arc

I know this now. Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing yet they give their lives to that little or nothing. One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. And then it is gone. But to sacrifice what you are and live without belief, that's more terrible than dying.--

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Beannacht

On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

John O'Donohue, Echoes of Memory