a resource for this time of COVID-19 social distancing
By the Rev. Cathy Gray
Before Jesus began his ministry, before there was even a whiff of Lent, or Death, or Resurrection, or Easter, Jesus withdrew from what was familiar to him. He chose to re-locate himself for forty days to a wilderness place, a place that, in his day, was not so much a retreat space as it was a place to be avoided. Bandits hid there, and strange, gnarled branches that just might be alive.
He chose hunger. Jesus was no John the Baptist. He apparently didn’t have skills at scooping honey from the hive, or discerning locusts from ... well, from the even more unsavory insects he might stumble upon and hesitantly bite into.
Jesus chose hardship for this forty days. Stone pillows, branches and fallen leaves for cover from the cold. He chose to lie awake with the strange and haunting sounds of the night - not the simple bumps and creaks of walls settling as the air warms and chills, but the chirps and the shrill calls of night birds, the howling of wolves, and the snorts and snuffling and growling of whatever prowled or nested or hunted in darkness.
Wilderness in the first century AD was not a delight but a thing to fear - it was a certain danger, the people believed; it was a place of such mystery that to even travel along its edges - or to journey through it - took courage, strong heart. It was folly to choose to be there alone; one who would stay for forty days might be seen, on return, as occupying a space somewhere between absolute fool and stunning miracle. There is evidence that Jesus was seen as both.
Early on, in the beginning of the Christian order, this season in Jesus’ life became the model for a vital period in the lives of those who would follow him. The idea of putting aside those things that can lull us into a vague sense of comfort and those things that crowd our lives to the point of distracting us, came to be seen as a way of focusing minds and hearts on the true center of our life itself - specifically, God! And along with a clearer vision of God comes a renewal of our sense of what matters, a renewal of our commitment to those around us - those who struggle with the wilderness places of hunger, fear, injustice, uncertainty, marginalization. For those among us who are the hungry or the marginalized, Lent and the focus on God may lend a new sense of hope or courage, of a new, bold heart ready to demand justice and seek peace.
This year, though, Lent is winding its way through our global community in ways both mysterious and unwelcome. This is a Lent that doesn’t give us choices of whether or not we will refocus our lives. It has pushed us all into a wilderness we could not have predicted last time we celebrated the Resurrection. It has forced us to reconsider the meaning of community, the boundaries of togetherness, and the health implications of things as simple and as cherished as hugs and handshakes and kissing babies.
This year, Lent has quite literally gone viral. In 2020 Lent has taken on the code name of Covid 19. It doesn’t care what our usual early-spring traditions are, doesn’t care about our usual faith expressions or even whether we are people of faith at all. This year, we will all spend days, weeks, in the wilderness; many will spend it quite alone, many will face more than their fair share of frightening noises in the night, or of equally frightening silence in their days.
I don’t like some aspects of this Lent at all. I don’t like it when people are lonely or afraid - or angry about feeling a need to joust with mythical windmills (and confronting this virus can certainly feel that senseless). But I get it, I guess. If I had only a newscaster for a friend, day in and day out, I’d be angry. And I am angry, because I can’t fix this for anyone.
So, indeed, we find ourselves in an odd wilderness, a place that most of us alive today have never experienced. All around us those things we take for granted are being shuttered - schools, museums, libraries, in some places even parks and zoos. I have to say, this just isn’t normal! I’ve recently been wishing for a bit more free time; now I have it and I’m not thrilled. I’m not sure what to do or how to feel or how to interact with neighbors and with strangers in the market. I’ve rarely ever in my life been bored, but just yesterday I found myself standing still, staring at a wall, and wondering if boredom would strike about a week on; would I actually run out of things to do and ideas to explore, petty things to worry over? Probably not, but I could make myself crazy fretting over such possibility, so I gave it a name - Anticipatory Boredom - then boxed it up and moved on.
Only a matter of a few days ago I thought, surely, we would experience the comfort of emerging from this Lenten wilderness journey just on time to hold one another through the empty sadness of Holy Week. I thought we would stand together to witness the light’s return and the resounding joy of the first Eucharist of Easter. Now, we know that we are to have an extension in our Lenten journey; this Covid version of Lent will last for more than its allotted forty days.
I’m thinking it may be helpful this year if we can rethink wilderness just a bit, maybe bring it more in line with our more contemporary understanding of wilderness as a rich and lovely and generous place...ok, yes, and sometimes a scary place even still! In the forest the floor is soft, cushioning and quieting your step. In a good wilderness the air is cooler, scented with the wild and the mysterious - ready to gift us with sights and sounds we would miss if we didn’t take courage and venture into such places. We might find the paw prints of a bear, sight a fawn in a meadow, be surprised by a frog on the stream bank. In a wilderness time, if we can find a way to love it for what it is, we will emerge, when we emerge, graced with lungs renewed and filled with Ruach, God’s Spirit-Breath that blew across the waters of Creation. Maybe, even, our hearts will beat a bolder rhythm, signaling a readiness to indulge ourselves in some new, creative, and healing ministry our “old selves” could never have taken on. It’s possible, of course, that some of us may come to the end of this Covid Lent journey wounded in unthinkable ways. Those of us who are broken by this season of life might perhaps take courage and comfort in knowing that we are surrounded and loved by our companions (meaning “those who break bread with us”), those who will continue to care for us and pray for us and honor us in ways inspired by God.
Our common Easter celebration will necessarily arrive later than the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox (that’s how Easter is dated each year). But be assured that, whatever “hold” is placed on our liturgical lives, the moon will roll around to fullness and the sun will swing its high course as it does year by year. In fact, that Sunday will dawn with Resurrection in its bones - and one by one, by household, by family, by the bonds of friendship, we will see and feel and know that the miracle of New Life is possible even in the tangle of the deepest wilderness. However scattered we may be at the time of that dawning it will still be the dawning of Easter. That dawn will carry with it the same promise it carries every year - that Christ is Risen, that we are invited to rise with him, that in God all things rise up and are lovely and life-giving and a deep, deep joy to behold!
May your rest find you cradled in God’s arms
May your waking be greeted by God’s light
May all that you are and all that you do
Be drenched in God’s endless and unbounded love!
By the Rev. Cathy Scott
Learnin' and Discernin' the Word of God
This weekend’s Lenten discipline centers on reading and, taking to heart, Holy Scriptures. We hear the Scriptures every Sunday – four different scripture, usually linked around a common theme. But are we really listening? Meaning, we may cognitively pick up some of the ideas, words, and scenes from the scripture we hear, but that is just the beginning. We must also, as St. Benedict writes in his Holy Rule, listen with “the ear of our heart.” How can we do this? Here is an ancient monastic practice that is used by folks today to bring the wisdom of the Scriptures into our daily lives:
Lectio divina is a practice of reading and meditating on Scripture with “the ear of your heart.” It is an easy practice with profound results. Incorporate lectio divina into your life on a daily basis. Anyone that says they have no time for a 20 minute practice may need to reevaluate what is consuming their life. Here are the steps:
By the Rev. Cathy Scott
This has been an interesting time to “do church.” Services are canceled. Meetings and workshops postponed. Worship is online and prayers are texted. But, in the midst of the of these unusual times and fearful concerns, we have moved from going to church to Being the church. The liturgy, the “work of the people,” has truly become our work.
I feel deeply connected to Holy Family folk even in the midst of physical disconnection. God bless Ruth for hosting the diocesan Morning Prayer and Compline through her watch party on Facebook. When I see on screen hearts pop up, connected to a person I know, my heart sings. The people are the church.
In quiet times in the woods, I think of parishioners and pray for their well being and concerns. I know that others pray for me because I feel the peace that emanates from their prayers. The communion of saints in heaven is also the communion of saints on earth – all of us as we attempt to do our best to lives as disciples of our Lord. The people are the church.
Find God’s grace in the stillness after a rain and in the flickering of a candle's flame. God is present in your isolation and when we will gather again in community. Thank God for each other – literally. The people are the church. And the church says, “Amen!”
By the Rev. Bruce W. Gray
Among the best parts of my job when I was Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of Indianapolis was that I got to spend a major portion of my time on the road, visiting congregations and other ministries around the diocese. Consequently I got to see the seasons unfold in fast motion, as I drove from Indianapolis southward and saw spring unfold more and more as each mile rolled by. In the one week I saw daffodils blooming in sight of the Ohio River in Jeffersonville, fields of wild flowers showing their glory outside of Washington, and all sorts of trees and shrubs blooming in the old neighborhoods of Vincennes.
Driving northward the seasons would go a bit backward, as winter still held onto the barren fields and bare trees. Yet all of this brought a sense of joy to me, not just because for the last 18 years before returning to Indiana I experienced the confused plant life of Southern California, which never can know for sure by the weather whether it is time to bloom or bust, but also because it is such a vivid reminder of God's creative beauty in the world. As many people have said for centuries in different ways, I enjoy gardening, but God really knows how to do it spectacularly.
Seeing the change of seasons, whether backwards or forwards, in a matter of a couple hours, rather than in the deliberate time of nature, gives me perhaps a twentyfirst century nature experience, one that is condensed and ready for quick consumption. Maybe it would be like trying to do Lent using just one Sunday instead of the full forty days. It seems that quick journey would make Christ's resurrection on Easter not as significant to us, not as deeply felt.
I hope even on the days when all I do is take a walk around my neighborhood or drive no more than a handful of miles I will still pause and notice what God is doing all around me with the daffodils and budding trees. Then perhaps I will also remember to notice all that God is doing in that other part of nature that is all around me, the human species, and appreciate in my fellow children of God what God has been up to with them. Hopefully I will notice the various ways in which God has nurtured them to be as beautiful as spring flowers, even if their bloom is springing from some gnarled branches scared by life. Then truly I will be seeing the power of Christ's resurrection embodied, embodied by people at times desperately in need of new life and hope, and provided that by God through our own human nurturing efforts to help one another.
By the Rev. Bruce W. Gray
Individual prayer is hard to define, since putting it into words begins to limit what it can be, and since it is communicating with God, the possibilities of prayer forms are divinely infinite. If we are praying only to ourselves, sort of talking to ourselves, we can easily get off track. But if we are vulnerable to God’s responses, than the potential is endless.
Four everyday suggestions I have for jumpstarting daily prayer. First is to pray for whoever and whatever is in front of you. As I drive, I pray for anyone with a broken down car, whether they are in sight or not. I also pray when I enter a place for the first time that day, that God’s peace may be on all who are there. I pray when I hear a siren, that those needing and those giving will be blessed. Finally, there is the traditional one of praying, usually silently, in thanksgiving for meals.
These ideas just scratch the surface of course, but I want to emphasize that we don’t have to pray only for huge things like world peace, though I do, but also for the situations we see or experience in the present moment. The more we do embrace that sort of prayer practice, the closer we get to that way of life in which we pray without ceasing.
The Episcopal Church has an almost overwhelming amount of resources to aid people in having a full and rich prayer life. Such a list of resources can be expanded greatly by including helpful works from other Christians as well as other faith traditions. Below are some links that might be supportive of a deepening prayer life. Richard Rohr is a Roman Catholic monk, and the Poetry Foundation is not religious, but I have found both helpful. The rest of the links are to Episcopal ministries of various types.
Episcopal Relief and Development Daily Meditations
Signs of Life Daily Meditations by the Order of St. John the Evangelist
The Rev. Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations
The Poetry Foundation’s Poem of the Day
The Daily Offices by the Mission of St. Clare
Daily Prayer by The Forward Movement
The Daily Office Online with various media
By the Rev. Bruce W. Gray
In this week’s experience of Holy Family’s Lenten Challenge, the focus is on corporate prayer, that is worshiping together. Since the earliest days of God’s self revealing, as recorded in the Scriptures, there is a presumption that people’s spiritual lives are integrated into their public lives, rather than something hidden away. By the time of Jesus, common worship is a cornerstone of Jewish worship, and the format from synagogue worship at the time of Jesus continues to be the focus of Christian worship in the liturgical Christian traditions of today, such as the Episcopal Church.
The reasons and benefits of corporate worship have fascinated faithful people for so long that millions of works in virtually every written language on earth focus on the topic. So I will today just focus on a handful knowing that so much more could be said.
Corporate worship is the primary tool for Christians to support one another in their walks with God. Even if nothing personal is spoken, together praying, singing, receiving Communion, pondering the Bible, and so much more helps people get through their weeks and the many challenges life brings. Knowing we are not alone is a key human need and spiritual truth.
Being in church together helps put a face on God’s love for everyone. Many Sundays, a child’s smile or the hope filled face of an elder inspire all around them that God is real and full of love.
Coming to church each Sunday encourages people new to Christianity in their walks with God. Many times newcomers will ask where a person they met the week before is, since that was someone with whom a connection was made. If the newcomer cannot find that person, discouragement is common and the importance of Sunday worship undermined.
No matter how loudly we sing in the shower, there is something powerful about singing a beloved hymn, or reciting the Lord’s Prayer, that just is not accessible when we are alone. And that something is the Holy Spirit moving through the congregation. Sometimes the people gathered provide the energy needed to overcome despair or brokenness within an individual.
Receiving Holy Communion gives everyone an intimate experience of God that is not possible when we worship alone. God is really present in the bread and the wine (and we need only receive one of those), and saying yes to God being part of one’s life in this intimate act of consuming is too powerful to do alone.
Again, there is so much more that could be said that is at least as important as these words. So this week’s Adult Forum (March 8 9AM) will be talking more about Episcopalians’ ways of public worship together and the ways those worship forms can be meaningful.
Some links on Corporate Prayer…
Learning to Pray through Common Prayer
The Book of Common Prayer Online
The Eucharistically Shaped Life
by The Rev. Cathy Scott
James 2:14-26 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)Faith without Works Is Dead14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters,[a] if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
The Christian life is a life lived in loving service of others. The deacon stands at the sanctuary door for a reason. The dismissal words of the deacon, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord" are meant to invite parishioners to leave the comfort and peace of the sanctuary in order to serve God’s poor and forgotten and marginalized. The deacon ushers us out of our comfort and in to the kingdom – to find and serve Jesus in others.
How do you “love and serve the Lord" except through loving and serving others. Jesus is found in the tired grandmother who fries hamburgers at McDonald’s because she desperately needs the money for her rent. Jesus is in the prisoner who stole from the Dollar General store. Jesus cleans tables, cooks at a restaurant, walks the streets and alleys, and shivers in the cold because he has no home.
Walk from this sanctuary and be a living sanctuary for others this Lent. Talk with Deacon Cathy about putting your faith into action by serving others. God's Kingdom is a Kin-dom where we are truly all brothers and sisters. Your brother is homeless. Your sister doesn’t have enough food to feed her children. This Lent, fast from your own desires and feast in service to God’s children.
By the Rev. Cathy Scott, Holy Family Episcopal Church
Psalm 148: 1, 3-10Praise for God’s Universal Glory1 Praise the Lord!
3 Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
4 Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.
6 He established them forever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.[a]
7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
8 fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
9 Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
During these days of physical social isolation, we have another way to immerse ourselves in the sacred graciousness of God's community. As the ancients before us experienced, the Holy is hidden in plain sight in God’s creation – the woods, the singing and flight of the birds, the babbling waters of the stream, the quiet rustling of the leaves. In the depths of nature, God whispers to us.
The popularity of the Japanese art of forest bathing (walking contemplatively through the woods), has been a common practice for monks and nuns for centuries. But the woods are not the sole territory of the religious among us. Thoreau and John Muir beautifully wrote of their times in nature. It is safe to say that, being in the woods and disconnected (literally) from the frantic pace of society and our own expectations is healthy for us physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Take the time to take a path. The longer you walk among the trees, the quieter your mind becomes. A robin’s song displaces your inner critic. Anxiety dissolves and is replaced by a deep peace and an even deeper understanding that God is God of all Creation and your comings and goings are held within God’s embrace.
Although called forest bathing, I invite you to at least dip your toe into the woods. Go alone or take your family. But, stash your cell phone in your pocket. Ask Jesus to walk with you on the wilderness path (metaphorically if you are in Fishers :->). You know, if you invite Jesus to walk with you, Jesus will do so.
In fact, on a walk you can invite your ancestors to be with you. Perhaps a parent or grandparent or a good friend who has passed on. Another idea is to prepare a list of names of people you want to lift up in prayer and take that list with you and pray for each of those people as you walk in the woods.
Let the forest be your sanctuary and may we all be sanctuary for each other.
Shinrin yoku – The Japanese Art of Forest Bathing by Yoshifumi Miyazaki
Forest Bathing Retreat: Find Wholeness in the Company of Trees by Hannah Fries