Monday, November 30, 2009

November 30, 2009

Joan Chittister describes Benedictine spirituality as spirituality of the open heart. Simple, I suppose, but I have learned that it is not easy. I have often found my heart hidden or hardened -- hidden by everything that life throws at me; hardened from everything that life throws at me.

Open the heart, we are taught. Give from the heart. The heart, which is the wellspring of the Spirit, needs tending. Thomas Merton, perhaps the most influential Christian mystic of the 20th century, said that the challenge for Christians is to give from our heart. But he also said that this is an impossible task if our hearts are not in our possession.

Like most of us, I have a lifelong inventory of tasks, worries, disappointments and losses that have had the effect of taking my heart away from me for a time. But I also have learned that there are people -- who, with an abundance of heart, have helped to find and fill my own. And there are spiritual practices -- of community, worship, study, service, playfulness, physical activity -- that bring me back to my heart and open it up.

And there is prayer. In these first five chapters, Joan Chittister talks a lot about prayer as a practice that opens the heart and brings us into an awareness of the presence of God. The function of prayer, she says, is not the bribery of the infinite -- but is instead an activity that "provokes us to see the life around us in fresh new ways." (page 28)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

November 29, 2009

Most years, (and this is one of them) I experience a bit of psychic whiplash as we turn the corner from Thanksgiving and run right into Advent. But here it is – today is Advent I. A season of preparation for the Coming One. Lots to get done, we tell ourselves. Year end finances to figure out, shopping to do, SAD (seasonal affective disorder) to get through, greetings to give.

During these next four weeks -- on this blog, I invite you to join me in an exercise of soul preparation. Not to abandon the tasks of the season, but to approach Advent with a spiritual intention, which should (if the wisdom of our spiritual ancestors has any bearing) help to give the pre-Christmas tasks in a different perspective.

Joan Chittister’s book, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, will be one guide. She writes with eloquence and passion on the challenge to live with spiritual focus in a culture that sends us in several directions at once. I will refer her book in my reflections (and part of my Advent intention is to post to this blog several times a week). I invite you to refer to the book as well. If you don’t have the book, I still invite you to reflect on your spiritual intention for this Advent – on the blog, with a friend or in a group.

I have a deep desire for God. That desire is deepened, and spiritual discipline is heightened, when I am in conversation – and in communion, with others who have a similar desire. Thank you for considering this opportunity.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Advent Invitation to an Online Book Discussion

I would like to invite you to join with me in a shared discipline this Advent season, as together we engage in the deep mysteries of our faith as we prepare for the coming one. I've selected a book, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily by Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun who has written widely and with great wisdom about how to live the faith in a frantic world. What I will be doing is responding to her book on my blog on a regular basis and invite you to write your responses to Joan Chittister, to me, or to whatever God is writing on your soul. And that way we can deepen our community with one another, our relationship with God, and endeavor to create a community of practice with one another.

Wisdom Distilled from the Daily:
Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today
by Joan Chittister

Note: This book replaces the one originally announced at Clergy Conference, Joan Chittister's "The Rule of St. Benedict: Insights for the Ages," which is temporarily out of print.

The book will be divided among the four weeks of Advent as follows:
  1. November 29 - December 5: Chapters 1 - 4
  2. December 6 - 12: Chapters 5 - 8
  3. December 13 - 19: Chapters 9 - 12
  4. December 20 - 23: Chapter 13 to the end
I will post my responses to the book on this blog, and you are invited to post your own insights and reflections as well in the comments section at the end of each post.

While I am looking forward to reading everyone's reflections on the book, I regret that I won't be able to respond to individual comments.

A limited number of free copies of the book will be available from Episcopal House. For more information please contact Kitty Kawecki, Director of Resources & Training, at or 973-430-9902.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Marriage Equality and the Vatican’s Invitation

I am in support of marriage equality. Many of us in our diocese have been hard at work to help bring marriage equality to New Jersey, which will be taken up by the Legislature in this lame-duck session in Trenton (between now and when the new Governor takes office in early January). I pray that it passes – so that all couples who have relationships marked by fidelity and commitment can have their unions recognized. It is one thing to have the relationship blessed; it is quite another thing to have that relationship honored in emergency rooms or on insurance policies or in a courtroom. The introduction of the 2007 Civil Union law was intended to support these rights. It hasn’t. Instead, it has exposed a separate but equal mentality in the state, which is indeed separate yet anything but equal.

There is formidable opposition to this opportunity, which also needs to be honored. There are religious convictions that are deeply held and long-standing. People who are opposed to marriage equality often cite the tradition that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But a closer look shows that the historical tradition of marriage is that of a contract between two men: the groom and the father of the bride. When a woman was given in marriage, she was given by her father to her husband, and in this exchange the woman surrendered her name, her rights and her property. At the end of the ceremony, the couple was pronounced to be “man and wife”, and in that pronouncement was a community announcement as to who was in charge. Only in the last thirty years or so has this inequity been scaled back so that marriage is more of a partnership than a relationship of dominance (couples are now introduced as “husband and wife”).

But there is continued resistance in many quarters to this emerging equality between partners in a marriage. And I can’t help but think that some (but certainly not all) of the opposition to same-gender marriage is in part a rejection of equal partners in a life-long relationship (because it is not immediately clear who calls the shots).

Which brings me to the recent overture by the Vatican to invite disaffected Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church. A lot has been said and written about this development. I am not sure how it will be played out. Yet I can’t help but hear the beginnings of another contract between men – from men who have institutional power in one tradition offering a place to men in another tradition who have felt their institutional power undermined and don’t want to give it up. Women are no doubt included in the invitation from Rome, but I don’t think that disaffected women Anglican priests will be allowed to keep their clerical collars should they make the switch.

I take inspiration from Jesus who insisted on the equal value of every human being. I take great joy in the Episcopal Church and in the Diocese of Newark in its invitation to all people to be a part of the Christian community – and that whatever their gender or orientation, their gifts will be honored – and that their life-long relationships can be blessed.