Prayer for Light in the Dark Woods

The story of the Vatican’s investigation and highly critical report on the activities of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has captured my heart. A big reason is because of the role that Catholic sisters have played in my own spiritual and theological formation. I grew up Roman Catholic and they were my first teachers and role models. As a teenager, they listened without judgment as I brought my existential questions and doubts to them, and in my seminary studies some of the best thinking in theology and spirituality that I was introduced to came from catholic women religious. Joan Chittister was among them.  In addition to being a prolific writer, Joan Chittister has also served as past president of the LCWR. Upon receiving an award for outstanding leadership in 2007 she retold this Hassidic tale: 

“Master,” the disciple confessed, “when I study or join others in great feasts, I feel a strong sense of light and life. But when it’s over, it’s all gone. Everything dies in me.” And the old rabbi replied, “Ah, yes, of course. It is just this feeling that happens when a person walks through the woods alone at night. If another joins the traveler with a lantern, they can walk safely and joyfully together. But if they come to a crossroads and the one with the lantern departs, then the other must grope her way along — unless she carries her own light within her.”

In words that ring eerily prophetic in light of the events of this past week, Chittister went on to say that: 

There are two churches in the woods, it seems: the church of Vatican I and the church of Vatican II. The question now is, will the two become one again — preserving the best of the past but bringing the light of the new? Or will they struggle so much for ascendancy that the Gospel gets lost in a morass of institutionalism, as it did after Trent?

And religious life is at a crossroads, too. Has it died or is it simply being born anew? The problem is that the answers to all those questions depend on you and me. They depend as never before on the fresh, new, creative leadership we bring to the crossroads. And it all comes down to the quality and the strength of the light within us. Most of all, it depends on whose light we ourselves are following and what lights we ourselves seek to ignite and leave behind.

(you can find a link to the full text of Joan Chittister’s remarks here)

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I  continue to be grateful for the light of faith ignited in my heart by the witness of Roman Catholic sisters. With countless others, I had hoped that the reforms initiated by Vatican II would continue to propel the Church towards an ever deepening commitment to make the gospel and God’s liberating love concrete for our times. Sadly, when I came to my own spiritual crossroads I discovered that I no longer belonged in an intransigent church steeped in patriarchy whose male hierarchy claims divine authority exclusively for itself.  

As Margaret Swedish observed in her reply to a post by New Ways Ministry, this is indeed an extraordinary moment for LCWR, women religious and the US church. Together with all for whom Catholic sisters’ unstinting commitment to work for social justice serves to deepen their own faith or strengthen them in their own vocation I, too light my candle and pray for courage, deep wisdom and continued faithfulness to the gospel of Christ rather than the edicts of men. 

         

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People of Hope – The Young Citizens of #OccupyTogether

Occupyvancouver_oct15_2011

With OccupyVancouver friend Kerri-Ann, who gave me  permission to share this photo.

When I arrived at Occupy Vancouver, well after 11:00 AM yesterday, it seemed the General Assembly had been struggling all morning to arrive at a consensus about process. As painful and clumsy as the consensual decision-making process itself seemed to be, what I witnessed moved me –a grassroots effort and commitment to have “government of the people, by the people, and for the  people.” It was a large crowd, and many–unfamiliar with this entirely new way of thinking were growing impatient with the lengthy “process about process.” But as someone said in this  video from OccupyNYC about the consensus process, “even though it is messy and complicated and slow…it is in the hashing out of things that we can actually change the system.”

Journalists and academics have recently raised the alarm about the decline in voter turnout. This morning while checking my twitter feed, I came across the following column at iPolitics.ca by Robert Asselin, Democracy at Risk, as Cynicism and Disengagement Grows. Here is my response:

The young citizens behind the Occupy protests are neither complacent nor have they stopped caring. They are outraged at a political and economic system which marginalizes them and leaves them with a sense of powerlessness to effect change. As you point out in your article, their representatives in Ottawa and provincial capitals have betrayed their trust by deciding “to go with the nasty rhetoric and low blows” instead of engaging in “substantive debates on climate change or economic policies.” However, instead of tuning out as you assert, they are in fact trying out the remedies within their means to fix our democratic malaise. Through embracing a consensual model of decision-making in their general assemblies and experimenting with direct democracy they are committed to honoring every voice—not only those who agree with the moderators’ proposals. They’re hope is that when decisions are made, those with dissenting points of view will nevertheless be able to live with the decisions being made because of the integrity of the process, something which they see sorely lacking in Ottawa.

The young people at the forefront of the Occupy protests not only love their country, they have a planetary consciousness and are pursuing ideals that point the way—however imperfectly—out of a system of “haves and have nots” to a world in which all are welcome at the table.

The young people that I met and spoke with at Occupy Vancouver, do spend thousands of hours on Facebook and Twitter. But they also understand that for democracy to work it will take more than showing up at a polling booth every four years to cast a vote. As Chris Hedges puts so eloquently,

They know that hope has a cost, that it is not easy or comfortable, that it requires self-sacrifice and discomfort and finally faith. They sleep on concrete every night. Their clothes are soiled. They have eaten more bagels and peanut butter than they ever thought possible. They have tasted fear, been beaten, gone to jail, been blinded by pepper spray, cried, hugged each other, laughed, sung, talked too long in general assemblies, seen their chants drift upward to the office towers above them, wondered if it is worth it, if anyone cares, if they will win. But as long as they remain steadfast they point the way out of the corporate labyrinth. This is what it means to be alive. They are the best among us. Read the full article, The Best Among Us at Truthdig.org

 

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Saying Good-bye to a Full Contact Believer

 

Earlier today at Jack Layton’s funeral, the Rev. Brent Hawkes shared his parishioner’s take on genuine faith,

 I believe that how I live my life everyday, is an act of worship.

                                                       –Jack Layton 

 

I often read the commentary by David Lose as part of my sermon preparation. As I read the following words from his commentary for tomorrow’s  gospel reading, I couldn’t help thinking about the late Rt. Hon. Jack Layton.

To know God, you have to go with God.

Faith is a full contact, participation sport.

You just can’t sit back and expect to really know God,

you have to get up off the couch and get in the game,

take a risk, try something marvelous,

reach for something  you thought unachievable,

step out onto the winding road the end of which you can’t see from your doorstep.

                                                          –David Lose

 

Thank-you Jack, for keeping faith and for showing us by the example of your life the essence of true religion.

RIP+

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On Being a Religious Person

This morning on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition Michael Enright asked author Joyce Carol Oates if she turned to religion to help her through her grief following her husband’s sudden death.You can listen to the interview here.

She replied that she wasn’t a religious person, that she was a humanist saying, “I believe that we have a human agenda, but I do not believe in a supernatural intervention.”

Her reply made me wonder how prevalent is the association of being religious with, “belief in a supernatural intervention”?

I consider myself a religious person, not because I believe in a God who intervenes in the laws of nature, but because I choose to believe that life ultimately has purpose and meaning. My faith is my “YES!” to something greater, to a reality which we catch only glimpses of here and there, but that nevertheless grounds the material conditions of our existence to a profundity we can never measure.  I do not know if God exists, but for the time being, I side with the philosophers who believe it simply makes more sense to live life as if there is a God rather than not.

What about you, dear reader? What is your understanding of being a “religious person”? Do you have to believe in miracles to be a religious person, or is there a more basic premise?

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Thank-you Bob Rae

Introductory paragraph of my sermon for tomorrow

“Sometimes the world just breaks your heart,” These words were spoken or more accurately tweeted by Bob Rae on his twitter stream in response to the tragic bombing and shooting in Norway’s capital and a summer youth camp outside of  Oslo. I quote Bob Rae not because I’m weaving politics into my sermon but because his seven simple words were honest and humble…more humble that the dozens of self-described experts—pundits, bloggers and journalists???who rushed to pronounce that the attacks were the work of Al Qaeda or some other Islamist extremists. Sometimes, it’s better to season our comments with a little humility, or better yet, to refrain from saying anything at all until all the facts are in. Sometimes when the world is breaking your heart it’s better to just spread your arms in love and bow your head in sorrow.

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We are Joined with the Trials and Sufferings of All

Prayer for the people of Japan, from the Evanglelical Lutheran Church in America Disaster Response page here

Loving God,

In the communion of Christ,

We are joined with the trials and sufferings of all.

Be with those who endure the effects of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Protect those in the path of danger.

Open the pathway of evacuations.

Help loved ones find one another in the chaos.

Provide assistance to those who need help.

Ease the fears of all and make your presence known in the stillness of your peace,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

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In Solidarity

The following is excerpted and adapted from my Pastor’s Message published in the March 2011 edition of our congregation’s newsletter.

As a hospital chaplain, I often prayed the Our Father with Christians of various denominations. I was grateful for its capacity to unite strangers and family members gathered around a hospital bed and help give words to our deepest longings. 

Our Father–a fellow pastor remarked that the first words immediately put us into relationship. Jesus could have said, My Father, but he recognized that God the Father belongs to all of us and that we belong to the Father. We are not orphans. We have a heavenly Father who cares for us. We are not alone. When we name God Our Father, we are acknowledging that there is One who is over us, the Creator God who made us—all of us. When we say, Our Father we acknowledge that God cares not only for us who bear the name of Christ, but that he loves and cares about all members of the human race. When we say, Our Father we recognize “that other hearts in other lands are beating, with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine” (Jean Sibelius, Finlandia). When we say Our Father, we pray to the God of all the nations, standing in solidarity with people of good faith everywhere, and pray on their behalf as well as our own needs.

We have all witnessed the tumultuous events in North Africa and the Middle East—what has been popularly named “the Arab Revolution”. It is of course too early to tell whether the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other countries will result in the flowering of democracy and greater human rights, or whether dictatorships will simply be replaced by military juntas or theocracies led by religious extremists. Nevertheless, in spite of the uncertainty, what is clear is that driving the change sweeping across the Arab world is the most basic human desire for freedom and justice. As one Libyan said, “We just want to be able to live like human beings.” I therefore invite you, as you pray the Our Father in your private devotions as well as when we gather together as a community, to lift up the people of all nations, remembering especially the Arab people, who are descendants of Abraham, our spiritual ancestor. Pray that those who have died for human dignity would not have died in vain. Pray that freedom, justice and respect for human rights would come to their lands so that they are able to live their lives not under a repressive stability but in a true peace that honors human dignity and freedom.

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