Even in the darkest of nights
and the deepest of shadows
when the heart stops
and the rigor mortis reaches in
the light… the Light
Is our Hope.
Even in the darkest of nights
and the deepest of shadows
when the heart stops
and the rigor mortis reaches in
the light… the Light
Is our Hope.
From our Saints’ Book Club this evening…
We’ve been reading the second book of The Hawk and the Dove Trilogy by Penelope Wilcock and tonight we discussed book two, The Wounds of God. Father Peregrine writes a poem that scandalizes a fellow monk but it is a poem that speaks and elicits the passion of God’s love.
This vigil is long.
What time I have sat here,
Watching the candle flame’s
Slow, passionate exploration kiss the night.
The blind and gentle thrusting tongue of light
Finds out the secrets of the dumb receptive dark.
Her sensuous silence trembles with delight.
May you know this delight.
Had this crazy idea this morning: what if we created a Place where we didn’t add labels to one another but had true fellowship, where we could come together and break bread and support each other? What if in that Place we didn’t seek to point out the sins of others but looked to ourselves and identified those errors in our own lives and then sought to turn from those errors? What if this Place was where we could grow and learn and demonstrate to others that there is another Way? What if in this Place we chose to love one another instead of hating and degrading everyone we disagree with? And what if in this Place we worked for true justice and peace and respected the dignity of every person regardless of any and all differences?
Can we create such a Place?
We can, with God’s help.
I will set a Table in this Place and prepare the meal.
I identify as sinner/Son. All sinners/Daughters and Sons are invited.
Place = God’s House & God’s Rule.
God’s Rule = Love one another as I have loved you.
Darkness breeds heroes and light follows.
Light breeds complacency and boredom follows.
Boredom breeds contempt and folly follows.
Folly breeds death and darkness follows.
You will likely be offended…
What if we decided that a person’s right to oxygen was more important than a ten minute joy ride in space?
What if we decided that children should not be soldiers instead of being offended that someone might use our preferred pronoun when speaking to/of us?
What if we decided that raising people out of poverty where they live in garbage was more important than a film festival?
What if lives in India mattered as much as lives anywhere else?
What if a drink of water meant more than you getting to work faster?
You can call me a communist or something worse for thinking these “what ifs”, but I think of it as being a Christian. St. Paul would not rest until the sisters and brothers cared for those around them. Why do we?
Oxygen is a basic human right. What if we worked on solving this and then work our way up to the joy rides of our own egos and offenses. I am offended that we are not.
That is all.
Arrived at the airport in Helena, Montana around 6 p.m…. yesterday! Flight left an hour or so later. Arrived in Salt Lake City and hung about for an hour or so, then at 11 p.m. caught the red eye to Atlanta. Why Atlanta, you ask: because I’m headed to Oklahoma City. Oh, wait… we just passed it and I’ve got to turn around and fly another couple of hours to get back to it. Well, such is the life of one on vacation: you occasionally have to pay for it.
To the confession: I’ve been wearing a mask the entire time. I am tired of the mask. I get the mask, but… so, as I’m walking the never ending concourses of the Atlanta airport, I see a fella has just finished cleaning the “Men’s”. No one else is around and I’m a rebel. I find myself a nice clean smelling stall, lock the door, rip off my mask, and just sit there for about ten minutes breathing eye-watering disinfected air free of my mask. It was brilliant! Please! No one tell the CDC.
It is now 5:52 a.m., “Dirty Laundry” is playing loudly in some closed up bar, and I’m in search of coffee, because I’ve also learned that as long as you are holding something to eat or drink, you can legally keep the mask off. My coffee may be as cold as a divorce lawyer, but I won’t be setting that cup down until it’s time to board.
Here’s hoping you have a mask free day from one living on the edge in toilet stalls across America.
A piece I wrote for October 2020 Connections, the newsletter of St. Matthew’s.
When I was nine or ten, I remember coming home from school and wanting to watch cartoons and Star Trek, but every day and every channel was the same boring show. All these people talking. And talking. Sometimes they would become very animated in their talking, but it was always the same. Even though I had no idea what was going on, I would sit and wait, hoping they would get tired of all that talking so that I could see what Captain Kirk was up to (I always hoped for the Klingons to arrive. Very exciting.) What were these folks talking about? At the time, all I knew was that somebody had broken in and stolen a gate from a water building. Who knew they had such valuable things at the waterworks. Months later, we had a new president, the former resigning in shame.
I’ve shared with you in the past: I don’t preach politics. Never have. Never will. Instead, I choose to preach the Gospel, because as I’ve also shared with you, I believe that the Gospel Message is the most radical and revolutionary message every spoken. Politicians come and go and nations do the same, “‘but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:25)
In such heated political times as this, you may be wondering if I’m going to change my “policy” on preaching politics. The answer is: absolutely not, but I would be a poor priest if I did not provide some guidance through it, and the question that keeps running through my mind is: How should we as a Christian people respond? Scream a little louder? Sign another petition? Join a protest? Make nasty comments on social media (the equivalent of doing nothing)? Vote (always a good idea)? Not to be the pessimist in the group, but all of these have been tried and all they’ve really produced are people shouting even more loudly, paper wasted, more violence, a disintegration of tolerance and respect, and politicians who, once in office, end up being no better than their predecessors.
Thank you for the commentary, Fr. John, but you still haven’t answered the question: what should the Christian response look like?
I’m glad you asked!
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) What are we to do? We are to be the royal priesthood, proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Not as our earthly leaders do, but as our Lord and Savior has taught us. We are to be a nation, a Christian race that is set apart, not indulging in the sins of the world, but demonstrating the path of righteousness. We are to be the Lord’s possession, not giving our allegiance to things that are passing away, but to Him who was, who is, and who will come again. We are to be all these things, witnessing not to a campaign slogan, but to the eternal Love of God. Unlike everything else that makes the news these days, what we do for the Kingdom won’t make good TV, it won’t draw large crowds, and it will likely only change the lives of a very few, but… You’ve all heard the story before:
A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.
She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference for that one!”
That is the ending I’ve always heard, but recently I came across another:
The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.*
Perhaps that’s just a bit too naïve, too optimistic, but I’m really not a pessimist.
Make a difference… be the light for one person. This is our politics. Be the leader, the royal priest to one person, pointing them to the path of eternal life, so that they may do the same for another. It is through this great work of the Gospel that we will affect eternal change in the lives of many and that we may affect change in our society.
*“The Starfish Story” is adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley
And then it was just time to come home…
A brief story of a priest looking for the Way
I’m not one to finish a book that I don’t like. I can be in it a couple hundred pages and think to myself, “This just isn’t any good,” and put it on the shelf, never to be considered again. (I’ve even done that with a Stephen King book, but I may try that one again.) Last night, as I sat in my room at the monastery, I didn’t think it wasn’t good, I just thought I had done all I could do and I was ready for home, so I packed up and headed west.
I love serving God, His people, and His Church. I actually don’t know what I would be doing with my life if I was not a priest, but in the midst of all this COVID-19 business, I didn’t feel like I was being much of a priest. IT guy, audio and video guy, social media guy, hold down the fort guy… yes. At first, all this was new and fun to learn. It was a huge diversion from the things that I have been doing for the last fifteen years as a priest, but was I being a priest? I thought, no. Those aren’t priest things. Not only that, but the priest things were also taken away: no visiting, no services, no last rites, no anointing, no…. It felt like I was no longer a priest, so I thought I would head off somewhere that I believed would at least allow me the opportunity to feel priestly. Instead, I felt humiliated, defeated, stupid, wicked, and so far from God-when I compared myself to the monks-that I was unworthy.
To try and work through these things, I attempted to pray with the brothers. Y’all remember how I told you about taking French in high school and failing it? Yeah, well let’s just say my Latin is even worse. I spent all my time just trying to figure out where we were and little to no time actually praying, which only made me feel all the more ignorant and frustrated. (If you see someone new in our church, struggling to find the right page in the right book, do not hesitate… you go to them and you help them, even if you have to sit with them the entire service!) In addition (and I will not criticize the monastery), but when you do not feel welcome in a place (this probably has more to do with the nature of the monastery and not the heart of the monks), it makes it all the more difficult.
When I was in high school, I think maybe my senior year, I attended Christmas Eve Mass. It’s too long of a story to get into here, but before that service ever began, I walked out of the church and did not return for over a decade. Sitting through the morning offices on Monday, I encountered those same emotions, but I did not and do not want to walk away-never have!-but instead of wallowing in it, I sat through those services, just listening, and then that afternoon I went and prayed in the only way I really know how and it was there that I got to truly speak with Mary and then to my King, Lord, and Savior. He heard my cry… and he answered me.
IT guy, audio and video guy, social media guy, hold down the fort guy… yes. Priest… no.
No? “…who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14b)
Priest? Yes… for such a time as this.
Clear Creek Monastery was only a geographic location. For me, it was not very holy, welcoming, or special. However, along the Way, I encountered Jesus and we sat together in a green pasture during the cool of the day….
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
When I knew these things, I closed the book before it was done, put it on the shelf, and drove home.
You are loved by God.
You are loved.
John+ A Priest.
There are eight daily offices that the brothers pray here at the monastery: Mattins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. In 1549/1552, the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer were released and it was through the edits of Thomas Cranmer that these offices were combined and simplified, with Mattins, Lauds, and Prime becoming what we know as Morning Prayer. All that to say—“When in Rome…” I am a happy heretic!, but I knew exactly what I was doing this morning.
The combining and shortening of the services may seem like cheating or even laziness to some, but I can see a great deal of wisdom in it as well. To pray the eight services as the monks do takes between five and six hours a day. That may work for those who have dedicated their lives to the work of prayer, but for those that must plant the fields, build the houses, work in hospitals… those things that all the rest of the world does in order to keep the world going… five to six hours a day in church just wouldn’t work. I suppose the hope is that everyone would simply say, “Prayer is more important and to heck with work,” but that’s not the way we roll. (I am reminded of 2 Thessalonians 3:10b) Instead, we would skip the prayer all together and do the other, which points to the wisdom of the combining and shortening of the services. Even as a priest, I don’t know that I could pull off five to six hours of prayer a day (maybe I should be), but I can give one to two hours a day with Morning, Noonday, Evening, and Compline. And, as I mentioned the other day, I may not be able to pray a fifteen decade Rosary everyday, but I can pray one that is five decades. Are we saying that prayer is not important or even less important than it should be? I don’t think so. The Book of Common Prayer has been around for five centuries and our Anglican tradition has produced some remarkable saints. A retreat like this is VERY good for the soul. It allows freedom to simply be with God without the external pressures of the world, but I believe God wants most of us out in the mix, not only doing the work of prayer, but doing the works of mercy, charity, and fulfilling the other duties of state. The Apostle Paul tells us that we are one body and that there are many gifts: the brothers here exercise those gifts in one way and we—outside the walls and the cloisters—exercise the gifts God has blessed us with. It is together that we form the Body of Christ.
As best I can tell, I am the only person here from Oklahoma. Some of the brothers are from France, California, and other foreign countries and the other nine guests are from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Iowa, etc. The closest is one fella from Frisco, TX. I was not aware of this, but apparently it is a ‘thing’ to go to all the different monasteries. Many conversations along the lines of, “Have you been to ___ monastery in ___?” “The food in ___ monastery is really good, but they have a full time cook.” I don’t know that I would call them monk groupies, but they do know all the lingo, have the necessary books, and don’t appear to get lost in the services. Perhaps some are shopping around for one they would like to join, but I encountered one who goes from one to the next, working for awhile, then moving onto the next. He has actually travelled the world doing this. Also, the number of visitors at this monastery has increased considerably because of COVID-19. Many of the others have had to close, but Clear Creek has been fortunate so far. With guests coming from so far, I pray that they remain safe.
Apparently me going forward at communion has been a point of contention with some of the other guests (they’ve all figured out that I’m the odd one of the group.) What they did not realize until yesterday is that I have not been receiving (I know the rules), I just go forward for a blessing. Some folks get twisted up in their knickers knowing that they can’t receive in an RC church, but it has never bothered me. It is their house, but I am thankful that we offer the bread and the wine, the Body and and the Blood to any who are baptized (being baptized before receiving is a rule I stick with… we’ve all got our limits.)
In the image below, can anyone else hear Madonna singing Vogue? “Strike the pose…”
Next week she is not likely to speak to me. In addition to being left at the Cat Resort for ten days, on Friday she will be neutered, declawed, and chipped. If you see me with scratch marks all over my face, you’ll know that payback is an unhappy Queen. Perhaps I should get her that emerald tiara she’s been pestering me about (would make for a better peace offering than my arm.)
I pray you have joy. I pray you witness the miracles. Blessings.