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Sunday, November 6, 2016

Gratitude II: Blessed by Coincidence

All Souls’ Day

In our Education for Ministry seminar, we take turns preparing prayers to begin and end the session. The person whose turn it was today filled in a gap created by another student who is recovering from surgery (but--thanks to technology--able to participate via web conference!). However, she actually prepared them a few weeks ago for a session that ended up being cancelled.  Put that in your pocket for now.

Thomas Traherne Stained Glass WindowOne of the main activities of EfM are Theological Reflections, where the students pick an "object" (which can be anything from a scriptural passage, personal story, work of art, piece of music, opinion, dilemma, or an actual physical object) to examine from many perspectives, and then we see what insights and implications we can draw from the discussion.

This was our first TR for the year, and since we have three new students we picked an "old chestnut" for the experienced folks, the story of the prodigal son. One of the First Years, who has a background in theater, gave a wonderfully animated reading of it, skillfully inflecting the emotion of the various characters in the parable.

Because that was too big to focus on, we narrowed it down to the sentence "you are always with me, and everything I have is yours." Now divorcing ourselves (de-contextualizing it) from the rest of the story, we stared at that sentence and talked about what its "world" would look like through the "perspective questions" of creation, sin, judgment and redemption. I won't bore you further with the guts of the process, but sufficient to say we landed on a resolve to be more generous and grateful for all that we have.

Then we did the closing prayer service, which concluded with the following prayer. Now remember, this was prepared a month or more before, with no knowledge of what today's class would be about, let alone what conclusion the group discussion would organically reach:
“Is not sight a jewel? Is not hearing a treasure? Is not speech a glory? O my Lord, pardon my ingratitude and pity my dullness who am not sensible to these gifts. The freedom of your bounty had deceived me. These things were too near to be considered. You presented me with your blessings and I was not aware. But now, I give thanks and adore and praise you for your inestimable favors.”
- THOMAS TRAHERNE (1636-1674)

I was bowled over by that. I wasn't familiar with the author, I noted the brevity of his life even for the time period. But I loved the perspective, given the anxiety so many of us are feeling in the days running up to this election.  It's so easy to forget what we have, and if it takes a coincidence like this to bring the point home, so be it.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Gratitude I: Feeling Led to Standing Rock

Richard Hooker - Priest (1600)

The situation at Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota is heartbreaking. Much has been said about it, and I don't know enough to add anything useful to the conversation other than what it feels like to watch it from a safe and privileged distance. Knowing it was probably a hoax, I still participated in the "great check in" on Facebook of over a million people as an act of solidarity, and I was glad to hear it was appreciated by the tribe's leaders even if the real effect was negligible.

I have friends who visited the reservation this week, and heeded the call on Thursday from the Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, to pray for the situation at noon local time.

This was my prayer:

”Spirit of God, be for us joy.

I ask your blessing upon the people on both sides of the Standing Rock dispute, that they summon the wisdom and courage to forge an equitable and just solution to the pipeline standoff, respecting the gifts of earth, fuel and water that you made.

Be with (redacted) and all your faithful who heeded the call to stand witness, listen, and comfort the people of Standing Rock, as well as with (redacted) and all who did so from their pulpits, desks, beds and computers.

Make us, I pray, mindful of the impacts of our habits and appetites on all living things now and in the future. Give us insight to discover solutions that are kinder to these fragile systems and beings.

Bestow your blessing upon the Sioux people and all of the first nations of this land, that they know your love through the challenges of these days, and the wounds of our indifference and neglect, for which I repent.

All this I ask in the name of your son, whose love transcends division, assuages pain, comforts grief and shelters joy. Amen.”
Despite my present "statelessness" in the church, I am tremendously grateful for Bishop Curry's leadership and the way the Gospel is being taken where it needs to go and be heard. I hope the Standing Rock Sioux took comfort from the visit this week of hundreds of people of faith. Because of how social media connects us, the story has led people from around the world to go there, including members of over 200 native American tribes. People with no obvious motive to participate are nonetheless feeling compelled to do so. It is not practical for all of us to go there, however. It may not be safe, and it may not even be wanted or helpful.

We are not helpless in this situation, though, even from this distance. The President has said that the Army Corps of Engineers is exploring an alternative route for this pipeline which would (hopefully) avoid land sacred to the Sioux people and honor the treaty with them when so many have been broken before. You can add your voice, as I did, to ask him to do everything in his power to make sure that happens. You can also donate to the tribe if you feel willing or able to do so.

Standing Rock (14421247914)