St. Francis and the Mustard Seed

What follows is my meditation on the connection between the Prayer of St. Francis and this past Sunday’s gospel from Luke.

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The Prayer of St. Francis. The Peace Prayer. “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.” Luke’s gospel for today has the apostles asking Jesus to “increase our faith”…as if it is His responsibility to build them up, to do their work for them. He replies with “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’, and it would obey you.” If you had even the smallest amount of faith you could do great things regardless of how shrouded in doubt you may be. It is not the amount of faith that you have in yourself, it is the faith you have in Him.

Where there is hatred may I be able to sow that mustard seed of love. Where there is injury may I be able to sow that mustard seed of pardon. Where there is doubt may I be able to sow that mustard seed of faith. Where there is despair may I be able to sow that mustard seed of hope. Where there is darkness may I be able to sow that mustard seed of light. Where there is sadness may I be able to sow that mustard seed of joy.

I Will, With God’s Help

Today was Heritage Sunday at St. Matthew’s. With the service held at the beautiful old church at Humphrey Heritage Village using the service from the 1879 Book of Common Prayer, the old time hymns, the members of the congregation who take the time and effort to dress in period clothing, the potluck lunch on the grounds of the Village after the service, and the pie auction it’s always a fun time of fellowship and laughter while remembering our history in Enid and as a church. Today was made extra special with the baptism of the youngest member of the Humphrey family!

I always enjoy baptisms, especially those of children. You never know how the child is going to react to being sprinkled with water and given the sign of the cross. Some are comfortable because their parents are comfortable. Some squirm and wiggle and some cry no matter what the parents do or how comfortable they might be. There is that slight skip in the heartbeat when a young child is given a lighted candle (children playing with fire)! Most of all my heart and soul are refreshed and nourished by the repetition of our baptismal covenant.

Baptism is one of the two great sacraments given to us by Christ. One of the two, along with the Eucharist, that we all participate in. We are reminded during baptisms that we all play a part in bringing up the youth of the church, that we are all godparents to those being baptized. In the language of the 1879 service we were reminded that we are the sureties, those responsible, for this new member of the church. I have always known that as the body of the church we are responsible for each other but baptizing this young man in that 1879 language struck a chord with me today.

I was reminded of my own baptism nearly forty years ago. I was baptized when I was four at the nondenominational church we were attending at the time. It was one of those drown them in the water tank/swimming pool baptisms. For some reason we were expected to speak in tongues shortly after baptism. Is this how they knew it had taken? Other than feeling like I’d been put through a near drowning and feeling as though I needed to join in the speaking in tongues that was happening around me, I don’t remember much else from this momentous occasion. I have many memories from that age and before, but I couldn’t tell you whether the congregation attested to their responsibility to help me with my walk with Christ or not.

What I do know now is that whatever I do in my life I do have a responsibility to my fellow man, and I will do my very best to follow through with my baptismal covenant…

I WILL, WITH GOD’S HELP!

The Journey to Holy Joy

The Journey to Holy Joy

Kneeling at the communion rail at the late night Christmas Eve service I locked eyes with the baby Jesus reaching out while in the arms of his mother, Mary, and was immediately brought to tears. I knew then that I was about to go on a journey with my friend and teacher. Since then there have been many moments of tears, laughter and questions shared quietly between us. The season of Lent created space for these moments both in time and soul. This was much needed space in a hectic life, both internal and external.

Many years I give up some minor thing (screen time, some food or other, caffeine) and go through the motions of Lent. This year I chose to give up something I struggle with daily: my frustration at even the most minor thing. It was not a perfect experience. I failed and restarted frequently. Yet, it was the opening I needed to continue the journey of growth started at the communion rail. It opened me to listen for the whispers in the stillness, to continually let go of my frustrations, my self, and freely listen.

I am, in part, an auditory learner and the Lord knows this. I often retreat into the quiet solitude of my inner island where all other senses diminish and I can truly, earnestly and comfortably listen. To many an outside observer it looks like I’m asleep…admittedly I often slip away to this place while sleeping…and my soul continues listening and learning while the body rests. Many time I am fully aware of my surroundings, but focusing only on auditory stimulus: music, singing, the nuances of a lecture/sermon/or other talk, the still small voice speaking directly to my soul. These are the times I crawl up into my Father’s lap and rest.

Like Advent, Lent can be a time of anticipation; a time where we are seeking the next best thing. We spend our time walking with Jesus through his life and, as Fr. John discussed, asking “what’s next?” We rush headlong through the story without stopping to listen because we think we know and we want to rush on to the next stop. Taking this time to let go of my frustrations allowed me to slow down and not rush for the “what next.” This allowed me to journey through this Holy Week from the joy of Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to the humble service of the last supper and the washing of the disciples’ feet on Maundy Thursday to the betrayal, trial, torture and death of Good Friday to the emptiness (no, stillness) of Holy Saturday to the triumph over death that is the Easter resurrection with joy. The “madman in a world of sad ghosts” type of joy. The wake up smiling and laughing at the joyous joke’s on you moments at 3:30 am everyday from Maundy Thursday to Easter Monday. Alleluia, the Lord is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed!

Patterns

Patterns

Ever since I was a very little girl I’ve been drawn to patterns. From the colorful quilt and afghan squares that my mother and grandmother would lay out and sew together into fabulous and beautiful patterns to the wonderful shapes and colors that would come together into the intricate puzzles I’ve done for as long as I can remember. From the way numbers come together to form everything from the mundane telephone or Social Security number to the curiosity producing Fibonacci sequence or the irrational Pi. How we grow from babbling to speaking to reading to writing in what is a relatively short span of human time (or maybe within the infinite alwaysness of God’s time). How the seasons shift from winter to spring to summer to fall and back to winter again. How the human life is punctuated, like the story that it is, by dates and times and colors and shapes.

Today I am thinking about the patterns our lives take, how the span of a human life can be covered in one single winter season–Yes, I know the scientific/astronomical timing isn’t perfect (again, the infinite alwaysness of God’s time).

A short three months ago, the beginning of December we started the liturgical year with the joyous anticipation of the Advent of the Christ child, our hopes and dreams made flesh. We then moved into the bright lights and sounds of youthful Christmastide. All this as nature grew tired and slipped into the restful sleep that “knits up the raveled sleeve of care.” As nature sleeps Our Hope has been hard at work readying for Spring, which always comes. He has been tilling the soil of our hearts, sowing the seeds of faith, hope and love, showering us with the living waters, preparing us for the darkness of death, rebirth and resurrection. The death, rebirth and resurrection that is the start of spring; the fact that however cold and dead the winter of our lives may be Hope springs eternal! This readying, this tilling and sowing and showering, this piercing through of the darkness by the light is what I am seeking from the coming Lenten season.

On the Feast of Stephen

On the Feast of Stephen

We all know the opening stanza of the carol:

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel

The Good King sets out with his Page to find this poor man and give him alms to help him through the harsh winter. In this deed Wenceslas is following in the footsteps of today’s saint, Stephen.

Not all was going well during the early years of the church. Roman persecution was the norm, the Jewish leadership was angry and unsure (this Messiah business got in the way of their business). The Greek widows and orphans were complaining about not getting their share of the alms. The Apostles just didn’t have time to deal with all of this! Enter Stephen and the six other men the Apostles decide to entrust with the daily management of the almsgiving and care for the poor, the first deacons of the church, with Stephen first among them.

Our only knowledge of Stephen comes from the 6th and 7th chapters of the Acts of the Apostles where he is ordained a deacon, ministers to the Greek Jews, angers those in power, is tried and convicted in the Sanhedrin for blasphemy (by way of false witnesses) and subsequently stoned to death for his trouble. In Acts 6:5 and 6:8 he is described as “full of faith…the Holy Spirit…grace and fortitude.” I can only imagine that one must be full of all these things in order to endure what he knew was nothing more than a kangaroo court, not unlike that which Jesus endured not long before, and yet stand firm in that faith, Spirit, grace and fortitude to the point of forgiving those who were killing him. With his last breath he prayed: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Even Paul, who was there, later had to confess that “when the blood of Stephen thy witness was shed, I stood by and consented, and kept the garments of them that killed him”

It may seem odd in this joyous time of Christmastide, still basking in the warm glow of the birth of the Christ child, of hope, that we should step back into the cold of winter and remember the first of His martyrs, but as I was reminded this morning by a Facebook post by Fr. Tim Schenck, it is good to be reminded that the cold is still there. It means the work is never finished; that there is a price to be paid for warmth and hope and faith and fortitude.

Let us pray:

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Inspiration

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Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known,
and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our
hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may
perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen. (Pg. 355, Book of Common Prayer)

 
I have read and listened to this prayer at least once almost every Sunday for the last four years. I can almost recite it by heart. Tonight I actually heard it, felt it and “inspired” it.

 

I’m a word person. I eat, sleep and breathe words and language. Words can hurt, can break down people and relationships; words can literally kill. Words can also be a gift, can open doors, can broaden horizons, can inspire. Inspiration: that’s the word that struck me tonight. Generally when we think of inspiration we think of that divine influence, that stroke of genius, that lightbulb moment when everything comes together. We forget that inspiration also means to breathe in, to inhale.

 
“Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit”-this is more than a stroke of genius, this is the breath of life. We pray, I pray to breathe in, to inspire new life in and through Him as He breathes life into us/me. Lightbulb moment…and my breath caught!

 

Living is a Puzzle

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Living is a puzzle,
A struggle to fit in.
Each piece’s task is different,
But important to the whole.

Life is but a search
To find the perfect fit.
Each piece is never perfect,
But the picture is the goal.

The Master of the puzzle
Knows the pieces well
And keeps the picture in His mind
As He guides them and their will.

How sweet it is when completion comes
And the final picture’s done.
The Master and his pieces
Having come together as one.

Living is a puzzle
And understanding is the key.
Interlocking arms and thoughts
Giving perfect harmony.