Father Mark, Reflections

An Invitation

The following what I consider to be a profound reflection of Spiritual Truth comes from Fr. Richard Rohr’s text, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Pp. 65-68.       Fr. Rohr offers daily meditations from his website: Center for Action and Contemplation at cac.org. 

Fr. Rohr explains that we often meet God in a pattern of “Order, Disorder, Reorder,” and that this “must happen to us.”  It points to the Way of the Cross which Jesus says awaits us all when we follow him.  I believe that in some way, we could consider the COVID pandemic as a way of putting us face to face with our cross.  By facing our suffering, instead of attempting to escape or blame someone else for it, we are raised through it in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

Blessings,

Fr. Mark

“Sooner or later, if we are on any classic “spiritual schedule,” some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter our lives that we simply cannot deal with using our present skill set, our acquired knowledge, or our strong willpower. It will probably have to do with one of what I call the Big Six: love, death, suffering, sexuality, infinity, and God.  Spiritually speaking, we will be led to the edge of our own private resources. At that point we will stumble over a necessary stumbling stone, as Isaiah calls it (8:14). We will and must “lose” at something. This is the only way that Life–Fate–God–Grace–Mystery can get us to change, let go of our egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey.

There is no practical or compelling reason to leave one’s present comfort zone in life. If it’s working for us, why would we? Nor can we force ourselves into the second stage of disorder (though we must certainly be open to it). Any conscious attempt to engineer or plan our own enlightenment is doomed to failure because it will be ego driven. We will try to “succeed” in the midst of our failure and “order” our time in disorder! But unexpected weaknesses, failure, and humiliation force us to go where we never would otherwise. We must stumble and be brought to our knees by reality. “God comes to you disguised as your life,” as my friend Paula D’Arcy wisely says. We must actually be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide. It is the necessary pattern.

There must be, and if we are honest, there always will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot fix, control, explain, change, or even understand. Normally a job, a fortune, or a reputation has to be lost, a house has to be flooded, an illness has to be endured. Some kind of falling, what I call “necessary suffering,” is programmed into the journey. By denying our pain or avoiding our necessary falling, many of us have kept ourselves from our own spiritual depths. We still want some kind of order and reason, instead of suffering life’s inherent disorder and tragedy.” 

Father Mark, Reflections

The Blessings Mothers Give Us

Markus

I took a few days’ vacation to venture to Arlington to play “Mr. Mom” to help out, see my new grandson, Markus and help oversee/play with Bradley (7) and Buddy (4 ½).  Cooking 7 meals in three days, washing up, etc. etc. renewed my awareness of the challenges of motherhood that had slipped my mind since the 80’s when my daughters were young.  

Mr. Mom (me) had his “list” that he attempted to maintain while regular “interruptions” from the boys, the baby, etc. would regularly place themselves before me and the tasks I was attempting to complete such as meals, oversight of dressing, bathroom duty and so on.   

The time together renewed my appreciation for mothers and what they do on the home front and the spirit in which they attempt to do it.  The days were so full that I wondered when mothers actually found time to pray.   I’m sure mothers pray “on the run” via thoughts and brief sentences but I wonder if they are able or aren’t too busy to remember to carve out 10 minutes of their day to be able to be still so that following their prayers of thoughts and words, they might actually to find their still point to be able to hear and feel the Spirit moving within them without being interrupted or with their “list” intruding into their minds. 

I would call attention to husbands, parents, brothers and sisters of mothers to be intentional about intervening to be able to break the state of the “rat race” within which mother’s find themselves, even if it’s just for an hour for mom to vacate the premises, change the routine, find a quiet place, nap, call a friends, pray, read a few pages and come back to center.  Moms are generally too encumbered to think of this for themselves so it behooves those of us who are closest to them to initiate these gifts of time and space that can breathe new life into them which is returned to the family in the form of a more peaceful demeanor.  And moms, it’s OK to ask for this from time to time if no one is aware of it. 

I am grateful for my mom and all she did for my brother and myself.   I am grateful for the mothering given to my daughters.  I am grateful for the mothering my daughters provide to my grandsons. 

I am grateful for the mothering you provide for your children.  Jesus thought children were very important as he spent time with them, blessing them (Mark 10).  When I worked as a therapist, I could tell when children received faithful mothering (and fathering) and when they did not. 

When we bless children, we bless the world.

Thanks moms for fulfilling your Divine Mission of motherhood. 

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Reflections

Deliver Us From Evil

Evil leads to isolation….

Is there evil in the world?  Just turn on your TV.  Better yet, don’t.  I haven’t had a television cable connection for almost 15 years and am the happier for it.  I get enough news from various non mainstream sources to get an awareness of what’s going on and then refocus my life on other more prudent pursuits.   Research reveals that we are indeed affected by what we watch.   If I am watching too long, not only does my mood change but so does my physiology.  This isn’t ignoring evil but refraining from allowing its negative energy to affect my spirit. 

Evil can be defined as the adversarial force that obscures God’s omnipresence in creation, manifesting chaos and suffering in humankind and nature.  Evil is contrary to Divine Law that causes us to lose our awareness of our natural nature of being in unity with God.   Evil is subversive to our communion with God and the soulful qualities that he manifests through us.  For those who do not believe that God exists, the ego, or false self, replaces the image of God and attempts to create the self, others and the world in their own image.   All one needs to do is study history to discover that this doesn’t work out well at all.   It’s too bad that history has been neglected in our schools and even more sadly, revised to meet political narratives. 

Evil can be compared to a disease.  A disease is progressive in that it readily spreads. The more evil continues the more chronic it becomes, and like a cancer consumes what is healthy both destroying the self, and that which is around the self.   Evil, like the eastern proverb says:  the man does evil, the evil does evil and then the evil takes the man.   As it progresses, evil become consuming, distorting the being whom it infects with what is known in the mental health field as Anti-Social Personality Disorder.  In spiritual circles the term, “demonic,” is used. 

Evil also is deceptive—much like COVID-19.  We often don’t know it has us in its grip.  The mind is clouded from reality and easily avoids indicators that we are not being who we really are.  When one believes that reality is subjective, also known as moral relativism, one becomes his or her own god.   A great awakening is usually required in the form of a miracle or enough painful consequences to jolt us back to reality.  By reality, I mean, God.    A difficult challenge with evil is to realize that we cannot cure the evil in others.  We can confront people which doesn’t work most of the time because they aren’t able or willing to hear it because they are too entrenched in their defense mechanisms which keep them from realizing the evil that is really there.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, Deliver us from evil, he wasn’t giving them a nice pithy saying but a directive for them to use.  We often suffer from distorted thinking after straying off the spiritual path that perhaps God isn’t too pleased with us, that we might be fearful of some punishment God has in store for us or somehow we don’t deserve forgiveness.  All of this is distorted thinking.  As Jesus demonstrated time and again, God is more willing to forgive that we are to ask for forgiveness.   This doesn’t mean we get let off the hook for consequences of our actions, but that God has been available to us all the time and it is only in his presence can the dark energy of evil be dissolved.  

Jesus knew that temptation is a 365 day a year phenomenon.   The whole focus is not to waste time and energy obsessing with temptations or pondering the evil we have done but to first and upmost, to allow God to realign our spirit in His Spirit.   One prayer use when I experience a loss of connection with the presence of God is the promise of Jesus to us.  When Jesus said, “The Father and I are one,” he also meant this as a promise for us.   Evil creates a fear of intimacy in us—where we fear intimacy with God.  The best thing to do about this is be straight up and honest about this—as God already knows and that all of us are on a level playing field because I’ve never known a person who has never once felt a fear of “falling into the hands of a loving God” (Hebrews).   Praying, “The Father and I are one,” immediately begins the process of reunification with the Spirit who will dismantle the evil that has harangued us and harmed others.  This is why daily devotions, study and community worship help us to be aware of our temptations before we cross over the line into evil territory.

If all of this is too difficult, just say “Help.”  It will be enough to get God rolling into your life again.  Life is too short to live in alienation. 

Peace be with you,

Fr. Mark Bigley

Church of Annunciation, Episcopal

Father Mark, Reflections

Sound

We’ve all heard and experienced the saying:  “Sometimes it’s the stupid little stuff that causes us the most problems.”   The corollary to this is that sometimes it’s the small stuff that can help the most.      As much as smart phones bother me due to the decrease of face to face communications over the years sometimes they come in handy.  I remember an app (it’s free!) that I added not long after I obtained my first cell phone:  The Mindfulness Bell.   It’s the sound of a brass bowl being struck and the chime continues for several seconds before becoming faint enough that the sound is no longer within the range of our hearing.

I got the app because when I learned contemplative prayer, the monk who taught it used a bowl or a small chime or bell as a way of refocusing our attention from our thoughts to the empty space in our minds where the Presence of God lives.  The sound breaks into our attention pulling us into itself as the sound decreases and our mind follows into silence—the place where spiritual union and healing happens.  Over the years it has become a very powerful tool for me.  I go through periods of forgetting it until I hear the chime once more and my attention is interrupted and my mind instinctively over all these years attunes to the sound and follows it into silence where my emotions and mind are made still, being transported into the Peace of the Holy One.  The origin of church bells was for the same purpose, to stop the people form what they were doing to focus on God until somewhere along the line they became a signal telling us when church was going to begin.

There is a timer on the app and I usually like to set it for one chime every ten minutes.  One minute out of ten I attempt to stop what I am doing and then listen to the sound as it fades into silence—the place where we can hear God speak.   I allow myself to be interrupted—it’s not always easy to break through the inertia of where my mind is and what’s its doing to follow the sound.  But it is good training to be able to practice “letting go” of what my mind wants to hold on to in order to give priority to God. 

Sometimes my mind tugs at holding on to the thought or activity not wanting to let it go.  With continued practice I win and the restlessness loses. 

We talk about time, talent and treasure in stewardship.   This tithing of my time for an hour, every tenth minute brings me back to what’s most important.   The presence I receive from doing so is so deep I cannot explain it to you. 

Of course a real chime or bowl would be better than the phone.  But the phone I can set on a timer every 10 minutes which is very convenient as it always breaks into the state of where my mind is at the time.   At first it will be irritating.  Our minds don’t like being interrupted.  This tells us something right there.  Of course in the long run we want to get to the place where we allow that peace that passes all understanding for the full ten minutes before the bell goes off again.   But we only get there by being here.  It reminds me of an old Virginia saying I learned the first week I was in seminary:  “You cain’t get they-uh from here-uh.”   But indeed, by being “here-uh” God takes us “they-uh.”  And “they-uh” becomes “here-uh.”  Eternal life in the moment. 

May the Holy Spirit ring your chimes.

Fr. M

Father Mark, Reflections

Accessing God

The Unfailing Chalice–Russian Orthodox Icon

Besides spiritual revelation, we all “access” God in different ways, using sensory experience.  For example, some of us access God through “hearing” either internally or through music, others of us contact God through touch or feeling.  Others primarily access the Spirit visually.   Each of us usually leads with one sense as being more of an alert passage way than the others.  Others may use thoughts more than they will their senses.   All are viable ways for God to communicate with us. 

I tend to go back and forth between visual images and kinesthetic experience.  When I feel the coolness of a gentle breeze touch my face while walking in the wild especially when in the summer heat, my thoughts stop and I feel a sense of being held by One who is greater than I.   Visually, I am fed through symbolized images of stained glass windows and can be held by the Presence coming through them for minutes at a time without my mind interrupting me. 

Years ago, I read a short book by the late Henri Nouwen, a Jesuit priest entitled, Praying with Icons.   Icons are images of Jesus, Mary and the saints through their experience painted on wood or stone.   Some are very simple, others more ornate.  Occasionally, I discover one that is quite unusual and unexpected in its images and I find myself being caught up by them with a sense of awe and wonder.  I don’t know if I am receiving the same experience as the monk who painted them, but again, I am held up, much like being held in a force field, speechless and still as the images carry me deep into the mystery of God where there are no words where I am revived and often healed. 

One of these “unusual” visual gifts I discovered just a few minutes ago in a Russian Otthodox icon entitled, “The Unfailing (or Inexhaustible) Chalice.”   To see the young Christ emerge from the Holy Chalice/Grail leaves me spellbound.  As a priest, I am familiar with the Blood of Christ in the chalice and the contrast between this and the image of Jesus himself rising out of the chalice vividly pierces my mind, heart and soul.  The piercing is painless yet awe inspiring and blissful.  Mary stands with her hands orans (the term for hands raised, open to heaven). When gazing at this Holy Story I know that I am being held by God.  We don’t pray to icons.  We gaze upon them and remain open.

If this icon is helpful to you, I give thanks. If not, I want to ask you, what do you see, hear, feel, taste or touch, or what thoughts that carries you into the Divine? Ponder this awhile and place yourself in the Presence of the Holy One to permeate you with Divine Light and Love.

Let God take your breath away and give you His.

In His Holy Peace,

Fr. Mark