Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.
1 Peter 5:8-9a (Compline Service, BCP pg.132)
What comes to mind when you think of prayer -- images of Church, memorized recitation, or the time it takes (and time you haven’t)? Do you wait until the end of the day, perhaps the first quiet moment, to have “prayer time”? Some prefer the start of the day as a time for reflection and devotion. No matter the time of day, we all have encountered spiritual “blocks” in our devotional habits and times of prayerless-ness. As one Church Father admitted: “I prayed for 30 minutes today. And it took three hours to get there.” And, as Martin Luther famously said, "If I fail to spend two hours in prayer each morning, the devil gets the victory through the day. I have so much business, I cannot go without spending three hours daily in prayer." Meaning…the busier we are the MORE we need to pray!
It happens to all of us. We are in a hurry, or distracted, running late and we forget to start off our day with prayer. We don’t connect breakfast to prayer, but the effect is actually the same; heading off into our day without a solid foundation of prayer is like skipping breakfast. Headlong into our day, we feel weak and distracted. It becomes increasingly difficult to focus on the challenges and as a result we make mistakes, get angry, and say things we regret. Oh, if only we had taken a few extra minutes to get tanked up for what lay ahead.
“My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”
“Spiritual Warfare” is a phrase you might hear some Christians use, but the truth is many people do not fully know what it is, or what to do about it. Like a physical war, Spiritual Warfare refers to the process of acquiring and holding territory. Jesus fought many spiritual battles during His earthly ministry and made them public for a good reason, to show us what we are up against. The “evil one,” Satan, is in the acquisition business. Jesus tells us that his goal is to occupy areas of our life we have left unprotected and taint our world from there. Perhaps you can relate? The worry, fear, isolation, anger and other emotions that focus us on self away from God during this pandemic is surely the work of Satan, who delights in separation. St Paul warns us that, “The god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 4:4). The danger, however, is not only to unbelievers, but to those who believe and surge forward unprepared.
Got a big meeting or a little gathering? Going to the club or sitting back at the park? There is no time when heading out on an empty stomach is a good idea. Not sure what to believe about Satan? OK, but while you’re growing in your “knowledge and love of the Lord,” why risk it? Jesus asked the Father to protect us for a reason and told us of the dangers we will encounter. Jesus even gave us the words to pray: “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” And when you’re done with that one we have 150 Psalms to praise, petition, adore and give thanks the Lord. As Episcopalians, we even have a handy “user’s manual” or prayers that have been offered for hundreds of years, based in worship much older and scriptures that are thousands of years old. The language is beautiful and the effect of reading them is, well, life-giving.
Start you day in prayer. Tank up for what does lie ahead. A few extra minutes will make all the difference.
Holy Lord God, I pray for Your protection as I begin this new day. You are my shield and my buckler, my hiding place, and under Your wings I find refuge. Protect me from trouble wherever I go, and keep the evil one far from me.
In the Holy name of Jesus I pray. Amen
For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. Ecclesiastes 3:1
Strange and unfamiliar as this season is, there are still some things that are very familiar, such as meetings. I have attended several Diocesan meetings and various other organizational meetings via ZOOM, concerned with our regathering and Holy Communion. Needless to say, our circumstances have not changed in the past thirty days.
We are permitted limited outdoor worship gatherings and no in-building worship. We may conduct small in-person meetings within reason, and outside organizations may use our facilities within certain guidelines. We are not allowed to sing when gathered, except for one soloist, and there shall be not Communion.
I have entered into discussion concerning the theological rationale for prohibiting or allowing Eucharist with very little satisfaction. The Diocese has a task force reviewing our current situation that is charged with making recommendations for what comes next. Whatever the recommendation of the task force, I am prayerful that the theological reasoning will be a solid reflection of our Sacramental beliefs. We are all hungry for spiritual food!
I have submitted a formal request to the Bishop to gather outside at Creator for worship as well as request for the Stew Sale. Our portico will work wonderfully to accommodate our congregation as the cooler weather comes and provides a safer alternative to indoor gatherings. Perhaps you have been attending outdoor activities for a while now and feeling reasonably comfortable you are adhering to best practices. After a discussion with the Diocesan representative for regathering, I am waiting for an updated “parish assessment” form to pre-request worship in our Church building. I am hopeful that I will receive that update this week.
In addition to these meetings and filings, I am busy ordering cleaning supplies, drafting guidelines for parish use and COVID cleaning protocols, and ZOOM dashboard instructions. Combine these important and necessary duties with church plant care, grounds maintenance, service planning, Spiritual Direction, Yard Sale items organization, marriage counseling, and office work, and this season doesn’t look very strange at all. The biggest missing piece is … you. Please keep up the prayers for our re-gathering in His name.
Peace in Christ,
In 2009, at a time of civil unrest and rising tensions, Bishop +Johnston wrote a letter to the clergy of the Diocese of Virginia in which he said, "In a world marked by division, inclusive faith communities can - and must - serve as models of a more just and compassionate society. We are called to restore all people to unity with God and one another in Christ." It seems what goes around comes around.
Bishop +Johnston was referring to issues of racial division which have been a part of our national life since our nation was formed. His letter, and subsequent letters, could easily have been written yesterday—and no one would bat an eye. It’s as if nothing has changed! The history of our corporate struggle with issues of race relations is as long lasting as it is bewildering.
I have tried over the past 20 years to work with various evolutions of the Diocesan Race Relations Committee to help chart a course through the “doldrums” we seem to be stuck in. In the past month I have had very thoughtful and candid conversations with Aisha Huertas, the Diocesan Minister for Missional Engagement, who oversees the current committee. Our conversations were thoughtful, respectful, positive and affirming, a refreshing change from my past experiences. These conversations were simply starters to identify concerns; not about race relations, but about talking about race relations. I believe this is where we are stuck, we are simply not able to talk.
Fear is a terrible thing. Fear can lead to panic and panic is simply evil. As scripture attests, The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I (Jesus) came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) Fear overwhelms us and steals our ability to think clearly; panic immobilizes and paralyzes us. Our defense in the face of this fear of the encounter is to never risk engaging.
The tricks and tools we use to avoid engaging become almost innate. So ingrained in our process that we rarely question our motives or opinions because to do so is to engage—if only with ourselves. The result of this insidious Mobius Strip of emotional reasoning is immobilization, the doldrums.
In the The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he describes in detail the oppression and hopelessness of the doldrums,
I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a prayer had gusht,
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.
I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay dead like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.
In the doldrums nothing happens and to make matters worse, the evil one preys on the little initiative there is. There is nowhere to turn because everything is the same and all that is there is the self and everything turns inward and inward is the same because it is a mirror. Nothing new can happen when we are stuck in the doldrums.
We will never be free of our racial divisions, none of us-red, green, black white, purple, it makes no difference, until we turn outward and free ourselves from “the painted sea.” “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22) It is only and first turning to God in prayer and supplication, admitting our defeat and asking for God’s love and compassion that we will be set free. It by allowing Jesus to “breath on us” and, being filled with the Holy Spirit, to start anew and to be free of fear.
“For the heart of this people has become dull, with their ears
they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise
they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and
understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them.”
I am committed to work towards freedom from the tyranny of self. That starting point is not our history or the protests or “when I was a kid”. The starting point is our acknowledgement that we are in the doldrums and wanting more than anything to get out, when we turn to God.
He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
I was recently asked exactly what a “Dominican” is and how I came to be a member of the Anglican Order of Preachers (The Dominican Order), to which I took vows 15 years ago. I offer this brief explanation, and I am happy to answer any questions you might have.
Known as: The Dominican Order, The Order of Preachers, “Black Friars”
Date of Foundation: 1216
Founder: St. Dominic de Guzman, Priest of the Diocese of Osma
Motto: Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare (To praise, to bless and to preach)
At the beginning of the 13th century, St. Dominic de Guzman, a Spanish priest following the Rule of St. Augustine as a Canon Regular (a Priest attached to a cathedral), saw the need for a new type of religious order. It would be a preaching order that embraced a life of simplicity and poverty, much like the Franciscans that were founded around the same time.
After the “Order of Preachers” was formed, based on the Rule of St. Augustine, St. Dominic sent out the members of his new order to preach. This was new, as all the existing orders were organized in monasteries to which the people had come. This new Order of Preaches took the Word of the Gospel to the countryside and preached of faith and hope, not in king and country, but in Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior.
The “Black Friars,” as they were called for the habits they wore, quickly grew and became known for their charisma in the preaching of the Gospel. Today, the purpose of Dominican Friars is to Preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Word and deed and to celebrate the Sacraments to the Glory of God. Dominicans are also dedicated to personal prayer, to a shared life in community, and to life-long study. Life service and study is directed toward the pursuit of Truth, which we recognize as no other than the person of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
So how did I become a Black Friar in the Anglican Order of Preachers? Aside from the technical information about applications, novice years and Life Profession, there is a deeper truth that led me down this path. Along with the gift of life, God empowers each of us with specific gifts through which we serve him and in which we grow spiritually. Though there may be near infinite combinations of gifts, it seems that all combinations of gifts fit into several categories of spiritual disciplines.
As we explore and develop our spiritual life and as we seek a deeper communion with Christ, we become aware of a discipline through which we experience joy. This discipline is nothing more than the practice of spiritual inquiry that comes naturally to us. In other words, once we start down the path of spiritual direction and enlightenment, we will discover that we are already an Augustinian, Benedictine, Franciscan, Basilian, Carthusian, Cistercian, or perhaps a Dominican! This truth has been formalized over the years by the founding of these monastic orders and societies which recognize spiritual elation through specific charisma.
As I searched for God, I found the Dominican Order. It was not that wanted to join a club and found one I liked; rather, I simply came across that which I already was. As I read the words of St. Dominic I had a strange sense of déjà vu and a feeling of exhilaration because I felt I was reading something that I, in fact, had written.
I am a Dominican Friar because spiritually, I have always been one; I have simply been blessed to find the earthly gathering by that name. You are also called by God to explore and exert your spiritual gifts. You are already a religious, you just don’t know it. Seek and you shall find, and in finding you will be found.