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Fr. Mark and Kathy are…

Greetings brothers and sisters in the Spirit.

It’s been a little over a week now since we’ve been creating holy space between C-19 and ourselves.(I am tired of writing “COVID”).  One of the spiritual mysteries is that we can be connected to one another even though we’re not physically visible to one another.  Spend a moment and close your eyes and recall a special time with a special person.  In the world of the Spirit we are not time-space bound.  Relive the memories and allow them to nourish you.
Kathy and I spend time discussing C-19 from the research (not the news) we read.  We may discuss it 3 or four times a day for a few minutes but limit it to this.  We try to focus on what we want instead of what we don’t want.  So what else are we doing?
Work wise, I have been researching the C-19 and our response to it.  I have been working with our new technology committee ( Vanese Blackmar, Kelly Allen, Paige Johnson and Lindsey Wallace) who are coming up with ways to offer spiritual food and maintain connections over the internet.  I know enough tech to get by and so I’m learning new skills at something that does not come natural to me.  I am also making phone call contacts and will continue to do so.
As far as family life, this is what Kathy and I are doing, realizing that these areas can overlap:
Spiritually
Kathy is off work this month and this gives her more time for spiritual reading and meditation.  I have been taking advantage of the silence to practice the stillness of contemplative prayer and have been reading Biblical word studies to enrich my understanding of the scriptures.   Sometimes I sit still, scan my body for tension and then let it go.
Mentally
Kathy and I have had more time to visit with each other over the last week than since our last vacation.  We speak of memories, people, spiritual experiences,, what we’re learning and sharing moments when we become restless.  We spend some time apart in different rooms for personal space is important to both of us (I recommend it to you and this is a time to teach your children and grandchildren about learning to spend time alone).  We experience time alone not as isolation but as solitude, which is a positive experience.  I am reading more spiritual and mental health articles and books along with some history. which I never get enough time to read.  I am calling my children and my brother and have reached out to a few old friends. .
Physically
Kathy and I have a little more time to think creatively about what we want to cook rather than the usual of hurriedly throwing something together.  We’re savoring what we eat and its goodness, especially since we have more time to prepare it.
Exercise is a challenge for me because I was dependent on the gym.  Kathy and I walk in Patton Park and I am trying to figure out how to transfer exercise from free weights and machines to other methods.  Kathy has had more time for her yoga, exercising and stationary bicycle riding.  If the weather changes, I plan to ride around and photograph a few wildflowers.  I enjoy sitting and resting with no TV or radio and we’re watching a few old movies we like on DVD.
We’re looking into expanding our time into other ventures.  What are y’all doing during this time of what I see as a prolonged retreat?  Let us here from you!
To everything there is a time and season under heaven, (Ecclesiastes),
Fr. Mark and Kathy
COVID-19 Update
Events, News, Wednesday Supper

Changes – online services eff. Mar 21, 2020

Members of Annunciation,

Bishop Reed in conjunction with the latest medical and government information has given us guidance that we should not have any group activity worship and otherwise until April 1 at the earliest.  This date is subject to extension depending on the outcome of how the virus is being contained.  I am behind Bishop Reed’s advisement and believe his guidance is based in wisdom and sound medical information.

Your vestry will meet by internet Sunday to discuss ways of moving forward as creatively as possible.  God has given us his Spirit, a Spirit of Wisdom, the saints would say and can imagine an infinite number of ways how his Will can be created in the midst of this challenge.

In the meantime, Morning Prayer will be held live on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube at 10:30 on Sundays.  I am learning how to imagine that I am conversing with you through a tablet screen so please be patient with me.  Our technical committee is working to find ways to increase our communication and you will be informed as things progress.  We will also read the Office of Compline at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesdays.  I am looking at on online format for Bible Study that I have used before on another diocesan ministry committee.  I’m sure we can work the bugs out quickly and find ways to nurture ourselves in the Presence of the Lord and one another.

We will be in touch with you again soon.  Please contact me via my cell phone at 423-509-2674 with questions, concerns, needs or reports of anyone who might need of pastoral care.

Peace be with you,
FR. Mark

Father Mark, News, Reflections

Harmony

How’s your harmony?  I mean how are all the different parts of you harmonizing together?  It’s been three weeks and much of our lives have been put on hold, suspended, changed—not the same.  We are being challenged to realize that we are not in charge of the Universe and that the power we have to choose revolves around the circumstances we can create in the context of the restrictions that life places on us.  For some of us, this acknowledgment is painful and difficult.  So maybe the question is found in not in “What do I want to create?”  But in “What does God want to create in me?”

David realized this while Saul was chasing him around the country trying to kill him when David had done nothing wrong.  It’s difficult to give thanks when being on the short end of injustice.  But give thanks David did:  “Hallelujah, O Give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good.” (Psalm 106).

It’s hard to give thanks when things aren’t going our way and I am sorry to say that much of our culture is as wayward as the Israelite’s who gave thanks for their delivery from slavery while the next day complaining about not having the menu they were accustomed to while being slaves in Egypt.  God is not a waiter who takes our order of what we want from a menu.  But this is how many view God, as a celestial bell hop.

So why and what do we give thanks to God for, when life becomes difficult?  Does an umpire lose his rightness if players fail to play by the rules?  Does God lose goodness when people make choices outside the boundaries of created Reality?   It by God’s Nature of Goodness that God deserves our thanks.  David’s shares a secret of his spiritual experience.  It is by thanking God we focus upon Him and receive God’s presence.  Faith isn’t mimicking the mantra of The Little Engine that Could: “I think I can, I think I can.”  Paul experienced the very same phenomena: “In everything give thanks….” (I Thess. 5).

The root word of thanksgiving in Hebrew means “to enter the door of his presence.”  The word, good means that which is in perfect harmony with God.  I remember the song Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys.  Little did they know that this is exactly what harmony with God is.  The scholar Chaim Bentorah writes: When in tune with God you feel his vibrations, you vibrate with Him and that is His presence.  This is true power—to vibrate with the presence of God even when things around us seem to be going to hell in a handbasket.  Remember this as we enter the gauntlet of Holy Week with Jesus.

This harmony of God dynamic Life is where the rubber meets the road.  I have to be willing to give up my way (or the highway) as my priority to desire the presence of God more.   Our relationship with God is like a marriage.  I remember learning in a marriage counseling class that “Marriages aren’t made it heaven.  They are forged by hammer and heat.”   The fairy tale version of life is like the grass that fades away during the summer heat.  God’s love is so powerful that he transforms suffering into life—Eternal Life.

If you think about it, sometimes we get what we want.  So what’s smart here?  We can have the presence of God both when we get what we want and when we get what we don’t want–something like this COVID-19 pandemic that seems to be playing with our lives.  The virus may play with our schedules and activities but it doesn’t have the power to compromise our souls unless we give it that power.

Forge us into the souls you have created us to be, O God.  And just in case I forgot, “thanks.”

Peace and Harmony,

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Reflections

Spiritual Wellness

Beliefs and Practices                                                                                                                    (Part 4 of a 12 part series from Spiritual Assessments by L. Austin) 

Domains:  Hope, Sense of the Holy, Actions of God, Beliefs and Practices, Affective Responses, Personal Responsibility, Community, Meaning, Vocation, Humor, Forgiveness, Beauty/Virtue, Courage and Grief. 

Continuing with the various pastures where we discover spiritual wellness we come to Beliefs and Practices.  Beliefs and practices are those rituals, behaviors and habits we enact in order to establish a positive relationship with our sense of the Ultimate, in our case, God, and what is important to us.

During this period of the COVID-19 many of our spiritual rituals have been altered along with other habits and practices which create meaning and order in our lives.  Our first reaction to these changes can leave us in a series of phases of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, and depression before we come to some acceptance.  Many times, we do not at first realize the losses involved with the changes in our spiritual practices and other practices that strengthen us.  Even physical exercise routines that are changed can affect our spiritual balance.  The inability to participate in activities important to us can leave us feeling out of sorts.

What practices can we maintain that will deepen our spiritual experience and beliefs?  What might we attempt to experiment with that might deepen our experience with God, self and one another?   We lean towards those activities and practices that seem natural to us—that fit with our personality.  What we usually shun are those practices that seem awkward or difficult.  Women tend to be more verbally communicative than men and so more women will be likely to read spiritual books and maintain a spiritual journal recording their experiences and prayers.  Men tend to prefer more physical activities such as creating a project.   Sometimes it can be good to try something that we’re not naturally good at for a time to see if we can develop a greater insight or inner strength from something that we’ve not been good at in the past.  For me, who is anything but tech savvy, social networking on which this COVID-19 has caused me to use, is very difficult, unnatural and fatiguing for me.  Being in a sense forced to use this unnatural means to communicate my beliefs and practices is creating new resources within me even though I may not know what they are yet (and may not want to admit them).   In any case, my spirit is being stretched and that’s a good thing (even if I don’t like the stretching).   It’s like training for athletics or music.  The practicing can be arduous but the outcome can be wondrous.

Since we’re spending an extra amount of time at home, one practice we can always do is to read the Scriptures, devotional books and the like.  If we tend to be active, we might try a more active approach.  For example, with children, we can either use figures to act out stories, or use a technique called enactment whereby we act out the story ourselves.  Enactment is a powerful way to experience the Scripture moving in us.

Whatever we decide, it is important to have at least a few rituals with which to connect to the Divine who waits for us–to help feed our spirits so that we don’t feel like a car in need of a tune up.  Like an engine, there’s nothing like a spirit that purrs.

Happy practicing.

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Reflections

No Fooling: Slow is good, unless you’re in a race.

Years ago I recall reading about the experience of an American POW in Vietnam.  He wrote about how he survived the deprivations and suffering he experienced.  He managed to sneak in a pocket sized New Testament and read it when the Viet Cong  weren’t watching him.  He discovered a new approach to Bible reading that helped him survive.

I have noticed when in groups or at meetings, when we say the Lord’s Prayer, there is a tendency for individuals to say it faster as the prayer progresses, like they were trying to get through it because they were thinking about the next task on their schedule.

The POW on the other hand created a technique he called, “Super Slow Reading.”  He would pause after each word in the passage for quite some time saying the word to himself, whispering it ever so quietly over and over again so as not to be overheard by the guard; reflecting on the word, the word becoming a doorway into the ineffable Presence of God.   He realized that he hadn’t truly read the Bible before.   A similar practice called Lectio Divina, or Holy Reading, which is a contemplative praying the Scriptures was developed in the early centuries.  The POW wrote that the Super Slow Reading had transformed him within so that he could cope with what was without.   This reminds me of the collect in the Book of Common Prayer:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:  Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

One of my favorite phrases of Scripture comes from John 10 when Jesus is attempting to teach the thick-headed Pharisees who are stuck in their own self-constructed illusion.  Jesus told them plainly:  The Father and I are One. To apply Super Slow Reading in this Passage could take a half hour.  Taking each word, inhaling and then whispering it on the out breath helps us to receive the Living Spirit of the Word that lives behind the word.   Then after repeating each word.  Putting the sentence together and then on the exhale saying, The Father and I are One. 

Of course, we might be a bit uncomfortable saying this.  After all, how can we say what Jesus said?  Wouldn’t that be disrespectful or worse?    Let me correct any misconception here.  Being One with God doesn’t mean we are God. Were we not baptized into the One Spirit of God to be One with Him?  This is our birth rite.  Or birth right, if you want to play with words.   Practice this a few times a day for ten minutes or more at a time and you’ll forget that you had anxiety.   When we forget and the anxiety returns, go back to step one.

After all, what’s your hurry?

Fr. Mark

News

Distractions: Approach or Avoidance?

I recall travelling before my graduation from high school with a friend to Mackinaw, Michigan.  Being history buffs we visited Fort Michlimackinaw on the northern tip of the state’s Lower Peninsula: a French later occupied British fort established before the French and Indian War.   The area had extensive archaeological digs which intrigued us and the museum recreated the digs showing some of the artifacts that were discovered at different depths.   What surprised me was one faded card discovered from a lost deck of playing cards.   The signs read that life on the fort was extremely boring and soldiers were always about attempting to find distractions to ameliorate it.

When is the last time you felt bored?  Boredom is a restlessness in the mind and soul and has been described by mental and spiritual health professionals as when a person’s “center is not holding.”  What does one do when they’re bored?   Most people attempt to stay busy.  We can be extremely busy and still be bored–the busyness distracting us from our boredom.

I often ask myself if my activities are more of an approach to that which is meaningful or a distraction which will push away boredom a little while longer.  There is nothing wrong with distractions.  I enjoy a good game of cards like anyone else does.  The question I ask myself is, “Do I keep seeking stuff on the outside of me to attempt to quell the boredom that comes from the inner part of me?”

I often tell parents when it comes to raising children, to focus more on what they want to approach, say “yes” to, than avoid, say “no” to.   Sometimes “no” is very appropriate such as “don’t touch that hot stove!”  More often than not we can reframe situations for what choices children can approach for a positive outcome than to focus on what to avoid for a negative one.   We can never really learn what to do when we’re focusing on what not to do.

I have found it helpful to listen to the restlessness or the boredom within to hear what the Spirit might be telling me (but it’s not always easy).  One factor in being more restricted in how we’re spending our time during the COVID-19 event is that we will have more time for boredom and restlessness to arise.  Many things we enjoy have been suspended for awhile which can contribute to boredom.  Listening to our restlessness well enough to enter it in all its unpleasantness is a way we can approach the Spirit rather than to avoid what we might really need to hear and know.   Approaching the unrest can be the Voice of the Spirit calling us to Himself, to approach God at the same time to quench the spiritual thirst that lies at the core of our boredom.   Resting in God is never boring.  Resting in God is the place where we receive new direction to leave the enclaves of the fort in which we now find ourselves, know as the “four walls” or “cabin fever” in new ways.

Restlessness and boredom are gifts.  They are the Spirit’s message that calls us to a mutual  Zoom meeting–but the meeting won’t be virtual.  God isn’t limited by a six foot rule.

Give thanks for your restlessness and boredom: they are a path on our way home to God.

Peace,

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Reflections

Perseverance

I remember playing pinball in college.  It was a great distraction from studying.  Standing tall with both hands on the flippers, close enough to the machine to “nudge” it if necessary gave me a real sense of physical power and control that you don’t get with virtual/video games.  One would have to watch the spin on the ball to know how to time the hit with the flipper.  An eighth of an inch would mean the difference between bonus points and losing the ball as we called it “down the tubes.”  In the background we heard the tune “Tommy” by the Who with the words, “…sure plays a mean pin ball.”

This may sound a bit strange but once I wondered what it was like to be the ball in the machine instead of the player—being pushed and shot from place to place at a dizzying pace, without any say in what was happening to it.  This is an exaggeration of course for how we might feel some of the time now as the COVID-19 is in its natural expansion phase that was initiated before the social distancing began.  We, unlike the pin ball, have choices.

The sense of isolation whether it is chosen or enforced challenges three dynamics of our lives besides economic.   Our personal sense of self-determination, connection with others and feeling competent to create can have all most likely been compromised by now.  These three major losses can affect our mental and spiritual health, leaving us moody, irritable, withdrawn, disconnected, anxious or depressed.

Our thinking can become foggy because our sense of rhythm is out of sync.  Our minds keep looking for ways to undo this, as I read the news people are grasping for the miracle cure “out there” somewhere before enough research can verify the pharmaceutical’s effectiveness.  Resisting “what is” instead of learning to adjust to it, by cultivating our inner resources of being spiritually grounded and choosing to find ways to adapt is normal, at least in the beginning.  We don’t like change—especially change that has been imposed on us.   Grief is a good word to explain what is going on with us.

What are some of your spiritual resources and activities that you use to maintain your spiritual and mental stability at this time?  I will be speaking about more tools in the days to come.

One question I reflect on is, “How did my parents manage to make it through The Great Depression and World War II?  How did my grandparents get through the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1917-1918 and World War I?   These events were far more intense and enduring that what we are going through now.  How did our veterans get through        Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan?   What might they have to teach us?   Of course the ultimate question is: “How did Jesus manage to get through the last three days of his life on earth?”

More reflections will follow.

Peace,

Fr. Mark