News

Body Language in Prayer

Resting in the Heart of God

OK.  I need a favor from you and allow me one of my idiosyncrasies to explore something with you.  So please bear with me and feel free to offer your thoughts.  I am wondering if any of you have pondered this before. 

Scripture reveals the history of God both being transcendent (universally present and “out there”) and imminent (very close, within).  I have a hypothesis that our body language in prayer reflects the way in which we perceive God in the present moment of our prayer.   Neither is “right” or “wrong” so let’s leave this dualistic thinking in the trash bin. 

I notice that when I “look up” or heavenward as the Good Books says, that I am acknowledging God’s transcendence and universality “out there.”   My eyes, usually being closed, still gaze heavenward.  Of course I want to make sure that we don’t get the mistaken idea that heaven is “up there” somewhere because Jesus teaches us that the Kingdom of God is in our midst or within us (Luke 17).  When we are under stress or somehow feel distant from God, my prayers tend to be “looking” for the Divine Presence as I feel out of touch.   So my eyes usually follow an upward path, looking for God. 

However, when the Presence of God feels near, my eyes usually maintain a forward glance or look downward to connect more deeply within my body where the Spirit dwells.  Breathing to relax, I rest more into the presence within me.  The Kingdom of God is indeed, incarnated in our flesh within us. 

The Mystics, those who spend a majority of their day in prayer and solitude, have often encouraged us to pray in the heart of God.  Well, where exactly is the heart of God?   If we trust that God is immanent, living and present where we are, then it would make sense that the heart of God lies within our own heart (along with everyone else’s).   If we want to pray out of the heart of God then, why not focus our attention and eyes (half open or closed depending on what works for you) on our heart while we pray and pray to the One living within our heart, thus being invited and welcomed into the heart of God ourselves. 

Try this.  I have and the experience of the Divine Presence moves deeply within the heart.  Sometimes the Presence rubs up against some conflict lodged there but it’s good because whatever is there, God will release it from our hearts so our heart space is filled totally by the Spirit. 

Looking up or down no matter.  Looking for God is always good.  But let us remember that God is already here.   Once looking upward to find God when feeling distant can transition to the descent into the heart where we meet in the heart of God face to face.  There’s no words for this. 

Look into your own heart for the heart of God.  Therein lies our eternal home available to us right now.

Blessed be your heart,

Fr. Mark

News

Once Upon a Time …

What narrative would you write about yourself?

Once upon a time…we were born. Much has happened in our lives since then. so much in fact that we’re rarely aware of all that has happened and how it has affected us. We all have a “story” (life history) made up of many stories or narratives. Throughout life we create narratives out of the events that happen to us or the events that we observe. We learn the components of a story either in direct contact with people, places and situations or by observing others. We then interpret the events that happen to us or that we observe with the information, intelligence and insight that we have at the time. Sometimes when we were young, we believed what others told us because we were unable to verify the validity of the narrative given to us.

The longer we believe in a narrative, the more they define us: our identity, thinking and behavior. Narratives can be either helpful and life giving or destructive and life disabling. We make our life choices by the narratives we believe and which modulate our behavior, thus often reinforcing the narrative.

Narratives exist everywhere: in our families, schools, occupations, places of businesses, social clubs and organizations, churches, communities, states, countries. We are often driven by our internalized narratives without even knowing it. We just “do what we do” because it’s a part of who we’ve been and who we think we are.

Difficulties sometimes occur when our narratives become challenged. Changing part of or all of a narrative can be extremely disturbing when we’ve lived our lives by them for extended periods of time. This is why adolescence is so difficult. The narratives believed in childhood make way for a life that is more complex than we once thought. Education after high school can also be even more challenging as all are narratives can be challenged by other narratives and information. The key here however is discerning if the information challenging our narratives is reliable and valid. Much suffering is created (look around you) by narratives grounded in unreliable and invalid, incomplete information. Trouble can come when we cling to our narrative out of fear without examining it.

As a priest, one of my responsibilities is to support people whose narratives have been shaped by teachings or events that have been interpreted with a lack of valid and reliable information. If someone shamed us when we were younger, do we accept their perceptions as the authority to determine that our worth is compromised? On what authority does this narrative stand? As I said above, there are many narratives from which to choose. Are the authorities behind the narratives valid and reliable? In this case, no. By what authority does this person have the power to judge and condemn? By his or her say so? Unfortunately there is a phenomenon called religious abuse. One of our tasks as people of faith is to challenge this and support their healing.

What narratives are worth believing in–worth betting our life on? Which narratives are most grounded in reality–that are reliable and verifiable? There is one narrative for me that rises above all narratives and which is subject to none. This is the narrative of “I am the resurrection and the life,” says the Lord. This narrative permeates and transforms every nook and cranny of my life. The resurrection is a living, breathing, heart-beating moment to moment reality breathing on all of us, all of the time. This resurrection peels of the false narrative of shame and enables us to love more as God loves. Resurrection manifests into the narrative of Jesus’ “way” of life in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.

What are the narratives of your life? Where did they come from? Are they reliable and valid in the light of the Resurrection? The process of allowing our narratives to be transformed by the Resurrection narrative is called, sanctification. God’s love transforms us to love as God loves. There’s freedom in this.

The Resurrection Narrative is not just a happy ending, but a real life in the here and now.

Peace,

Fr. Mark

News

What’s in a Word?

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.    Psalm 19:14

Sometimes I don’t think we give thoughts to what words really mean and the power behind them.   Preachers tend to “play” with words, attempting to understand their origin and deeper meaning.  I know that people, whether they’re married, live across the street or from a varied level of education, struggle with communication because words mean different things to different people.   I often find myself between attempting to understand other’s meaning found in words while attempting to understand the roots of the meanings where the words originated.

The old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me,” is a bit of a ruse.   Words can hurt…and deeply so.   There have been times in my life when a word slips out and I wish I could grab it and put it back in my mouth because the damage control from the confusion or hurt they can cause can be exhaustive. 

David, if he wrote Psalm 19, was wise beyond his years.   He doesn’t just look at the words, he connects them to his heart from whence they were launched.   Our hearts and minds choose the words we speak so really the issue at hand is what within my heart and mind is motivating our word choice?   What’s inside pushing my buttons or running the show?   As Jesus said, “it’s what comes out of a person that defiles them” because the words reflect the content of the mind and heart. 

No doubt, though, words create.  What comes out of our mouths creates whatever it is that is within us, for good or not so good. 

This is why silence, is sometimes far better.  When anxious, our minds and hearts are conflicted and attempt to blurt out something to respond to wherever we find ourselves or with whatever situation we have created.   We all have felt when words from another are sincere, having weight and life behind them, and when words are feeble and empty, sometimes deceiving.

If one is careful to be sensitive within, it is possible to feel one’s body receive words, or to resist them by the level of tension we experience.   This is why people who are living a lie tend to become defensive, sometimes violently so, when a word contradicts what is in their heart and mind.   Screaming matches generally have no veritas.   I’ve seen a lot of screaming matches lately when one person tries to communicate and another screams back at them.   So as the psalm goes, what’s going on in the heart and mind that yield such a vociferous reaction?  What are they hiding from? 

Words create, but they don’t always create reality.  They do create that which is in our hearts and minds.  And if our words are fraught with emotion, it might be good to put the horse in the stable to cool down and find out what kind of stone is stuck in the hoof causing so much consternation.   It’s good to examine ourselves from time to time as to what’s lurking in our minds and hearts to discern what’s driving our bus.  Else we mind end up running someone over or find ourselves in a tight spot because we could drive right off the cliff. 

Holding up our heart and mind thoughts to God can leave us running like a purring cat on the inside.   I allow my mechanic to tune up my truck because I don’t have the equipment to do so.  This is why it’s good to give God a chance to look under the hood of our hearts and minds.  Our words will come out better because of it—and so will the quality of our days and relationships.

What’s in a word?   We are. 

Peace,

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Sermons

Tests

The author facing his test of his fear of heights

Proper 8C; Pentecost 5; Genesis 22; 6/28/2020

How many of you have never ever experienced test anxiety?   Life is full of tests from the time we learn to walk,

maintaining our balance, learning how to tie our shoes; learning not to sneak the cookies from the cookie jar,

school tests, achievement tests, tests to certify licenses and certifications for our vocations.

Remember your driver’s test?   Athletic and musician tests of skill and endurance.

Then there are those tests we experience in relationships which involve a dual focus.   We are tested in being a means of grace for living with other’s faults while at the same time attempting to reduce the number of our own faults so that the relationship can grow. 

We are in the midst of numerous tests to our lives such as how we face the COVID pandemic.

So when people ask me does God test people, the first thing that comes to mind that is that life itself is a series of tests or if you’d rather, challenges.   Forks in the road are a common occurrence.  Every choice we make is in some way a test.   Tests are a part of our spiritual, mental and social development.

Our choices in response to life’s tests questions come from the authority on which we choose to base our lives. 

The authority we choose determines the guidance we receive and values inherent in that authority by which we make our decisions.  The God or gods that we choose determine our response to the tests we take in life. 

There are courses in test taking—how to take tests—that I have attended.  Sometimes it can be helpful to learn how others take tests.  The story of Abraham is one example.

Abraham discerns God’s calling him in a dream to walk a three day journey to a land called Moriah, which 1000 years later would be the location of Jerusalem and the Temple.  He hears the words, take your son.  The words in Hebrew do not indicate a command but more of an appeal to sacrifice Isaac.  This request gives Abraham a choice without the fear of guilt for not doing so.  This must have been mind boggling and agonizing for him. 

Abraham left and lost his home and extended family in Haran for the promise of a new land and extended family and nation that would become as numerous as the stars. Sacrificing Isaac, would nullify everything that God had promised.   It didn’t make any sense.  Since guilt had been removed from the equation, Abraham faced a free choice to walk away or sacrifice Isaac.  Abraham’s response indicated the depth of his faith.  The angel’s intervention, and the provision of a ram indicates God’s distaste for child sacrifice which was a common practice during those times.  

The story may also reveal how difficult discernment can be.  Understanding God’s movement in our lives can be difficult to ascertain.  Cultural influences can contaminate our receptivity.  In Abraham’s case, child sacrifice was not uncommon in those times.  Could the child sacrifice in the culture have influenced Abraham’s dream?

God’s loving corrective nature adjusts our vision and behavior as we move along.    Discerning unexpected changes in direction is not out of the ordinary.  Often times when God calls us to move we aren’t given the total blueprint in how everything fits together and how the finished product will look. 

Following the trail for the Holy Grail takes time—the Grail meaning Christ himself.  The Grail is the vessel that contains the presence of God.  We are now that vessel.   

The three days in the story did not represent a specific 72 hours but signified a long period of time.  

How difficult it is for us to take “three days” to sit in prayer and to listen for the voice of God moving in us and to move out in the direction we are being led?  

I believe we’re in a similar situation to Abraham in that we are being tested during this COVID pandemic.

Our “three days” are faced with the limitations it places on us and how we are to respond to those limitations. 

How do these limitations, and the impact they have on us, affect our physical, mental and spiritual lives?  

What message might an angel of the Lord bring to us in the midst of all this as the virus drags on and on and on and on?   As the psalmist (137) said, “how do we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” when the people of Israel had been exiled to a different country. 

Our “exile” is of a different nature.    Where in our lives do we experience a sense of exile?    Where do we experience a sense of exile within? 

We as Abraham can respond to God, by saying, “Here I am.”  We’re in this situation we really don’t like. 

What path do you want us to take in our minds, hearts, and spirits?   Help us to listen.  Help us to hear.  Help us to follow. 

Amen.

News

Acceptance

Acceptance is living with open hands…

With the spike in COVID cases in our county and Texas after Memorial Day, the wishful thinking of many of us is in the process of or has finally been extinguished.   It looks as if it’s going to be with us for a long time.  There was always this little place in the back of my and many of our minds that just maybe, hoped that things would lighten up a bit.   The human mind is a mysterious entity.  We tend to hope sometimes beyond hope and skirt the boundaries of reality.  

The mind is often terrified of suffering, fearing at a subconscious level that we will in some way cease to be, called the fear of non-being.   If we come to a real perspective, which the spiritual life gives, that suffering is a part of life, then we can develop the interiority to cope with it.   The presence of God, as Jesus found, transcends suffering and death.  But this has to be more than a theory.  This Presence has to be known before we are able place suffering in its proper place as a part of life while God remains in the center of our awareness.  Without this spiritual awareness our fearful minds reach for false Utopias that are nothing but a mirage.   This is especially evident during times as now as messianic politicians begin to promise far more than they will ever be able to give, denying the reality that they don’t have the control of the universe that some of us wish they had.  In our fear of suffering, some clamor for someone who will make us safe.  How can a politician living in Austin or Washington D.C. keep us safe?  Even local officials and police cannot guarantee our safety.  This sought panacea to avoid suffering usually turns out creating more suffering than it alleviates.  As with suffering, our safety is our personal responsibility and making choices in the guidance of the Spirit more often leads to peace and joy rather than increased suffering. 

Having worked with alcoholics and their families in the past, many years ago I read a recovery story called, “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict” in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.   There was one sentence his story that had a profound affect in my spiritual life.  The sentence:  “Acceptance is the key to all my problems.”   He didn’t say that acceptance means that one does nothing or that life is hopeless, but that we cannot magically undowhat is” as our mind attempts to escape the situation’s suffering.  Acceptance is merely accepting “what is,” and moving from that point forward under the guidance of his Higher Power, for us the Eternal Life Giving Trinity.   Acceptance is the core of the Serenity Prayer of Richard Niebuhr:   God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. 

So if we’re having an especially difficult day, we accept and begin from where we are, as David did in Psalm 69:2:  I have sunk into the miry depths, where there is no footing; I have drifted into deep waters, where the flood engulfs me.   Acceptance doesn’t mean that we have to like where we are but that we’re willing to begin where we are as we learn to rest in God and then discern where to go from here.  Sooner or later, we’ll experience David on the “other side” of the mess in Psalm 40:2: He brought me up from a desolate pit, out of the muddy clay, and set my feet on a rock, making my steps secure.  Here we experience a sense of being secure in the midst of our difficulties.  We’re in spiritual school right now as those who we carried away in the Babylonian Captivity were: “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4).   We’re not suffering to the depths they did but metaphorically, we are in a “strange land” in our situation.   

So here we are.  Where do we go from here?  Physically, probably not very far and not with many others.  Spiritually, where do we go from here?   Stay put until you get a message from above.   Or at least while you’re about your COVID adjusted day, listen intently, for the presence that maintains your stillness within.  The Spirit leads us into all Truth who is God, himself, and beginning there is enough. 

For example, having not being able to exercise like I used in the gym to left me in a conundrum.  Using free weights/dumbbells was a huge core of my exercise routine as was the treadmill.  Walking at Patton Park turned out to be too risky with the large amount of people there and the new track locked out to the community.  I tried to buy weights for two months and there were none to be had online or at stores.  

I was led to pick up a book of my shelf on the Jesus Prayer by our beloved late Bishop, Bob Hibbs, (An Altar in Your Heart) which I have been reading to those who participate in our online Compline services on Wednesday.   Using other prayer disciplines, I hadn’t really used this.  But then the other day the strange idea came to me to use the Jesus Prayer and combine it with riding Kathy’s stationary bicycle.   I detest stationary bicycles as they are so B-O-R-I-N-G!!!   But closing my eyes and repeating the Jesus prayer to avoid the distractions of the living room enabled me to ride the stationary bike and develop a rhythm, similar to the one I had when I mountain biked during our time living in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming and Colorado.   The stationary bike allows me to close my eyes without the danger of running into something so I am able to blend exercise with prayer, something I’ve never thought of before.

Out of difficulty, or chaos as in the creation story in Genesis, God can create anew.   The timeless of eternity is the destination to which prayer takes us.  I was on the stationary bike a half hour before I realized it.   Acceptance allowed me to offer God the fragmented pieces of my life and he delivered to me a new way of life in the midst of our present pandemic. 

Acceptance is the key to all our problems.   Acceptance requires our acceptance of God.  God is always ready and waiting to act in the here and now.

Let Him.

Peace,

Fr. Mark