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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Still, She Rings

My latest creation for Hampden-Sydney College.  I wrote the script which was narrated by Lt. Gen. Samuel V. Wilson (US Army-Ret), the 23rd President of Hampden-Sydney.  Shaun Irving '97 of Orrio in Richmond did the filming, editing, and production.

Still, She Rings
by Chad M. Krouse '02

Bounding pass these gates,
generations of boys have entered;
Hailing from the world over
to learn the secrets in store.
To the pride of Garnet and Gray,
legions of men have left,
off to change the world.

Upon these hallowed grounds, the bell rings
bouncing from the greats of old:

All roads lead to her,
guarded by the benefactors of past and present.
Her voice carries over the slate rooftops:
“To class, to class!”
To her loyal sons she bids warmly:
“Come home, come home.”

Through every season tolling,
rain or snow you can bet,
Her pledge is true,
set the professor’s standard and the bane of other’s alarms--
Ne’er to be missed,
in haste most go.
Her song is simple,
Her cry is heeded.
And still,
she rings.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Singing Yes

Mary said "yes."

She sings the nature of this upside-down Kingdom:  
casting down the mighty from their thrones 
as the lowest of society is lifted high.  Yes

The hungry are filled with good things, 
but those who are rich will be sent away empty-handed.  Yes.

Those on the margins of the world will now be brought in 
to celebrate at the great banquet of the Lamb.  Yes.

The cycles of poverty, social injustice, 
and hatred will be destroyed forever.  Yes.

The peaceable Kingdom will triumph 
for eternity as Christ fulfills all in all.  Yes.

Today I say, let it be so.  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hugh's Day: A Sermon

Hugh of Lincoln November 17, 2010
Luke 12:35-44
Titus 2:7-14

In the early summer of 2009, I managed to make two pilgrimages while living and studying in England. One was to the famed appearance of Our Lady in Walsingham in the Norfolk region; the other was to the shrine of Saint Hugh of Lincoln inside the massive Lincolnshire cathedral. Both hold a special place in my spiritual formation that shall never be forgotten.

The flat midlands of Lincolnshire afford the eye great, distant vistas of Britain. From the train down from Mirfield, I could see far in the distance the towering cathedral of Lincoln floating above the town as it sat quietly atop a massive hill. Consecrated in 1092, the existing cathedral as we know it today was restored and enlarged in 1192 under Hugh’s episcopacy. The western front is a rather interesting blend of Norman and Roman architecture that reflects the long history of the faithful of Lincolnshire, one of the largest dioceses in England. With the double-stroller off and kids in tow, we headed into the town of Lincoln like bewildered pilgrims worn down by two very spirited children. Like good Episcopalians, we found a nice pub for lunch. Fortified and feed, we climbed the massive hill towards the cathedral. All along the way, I responded to numerous objections from the family: “if you’ve seen one cathedral Chad, you’ve seen them all.” But after spotting a confectionary shop, I knew I could buy back their loyalty during this forced uphill march. After all that it took to get here, I found myself asking the question: what is it about Hugh?

Born around 1140 into a noble family in the Burgundy region of France, Hugh was the youngest of three sons. His mother, Anne, who died relatively young, was known for her particular care of the poor and sick. The sight of seeing his mother wash the sores of local lepers seared young Hugh. Following his mother’s death, Hugh’s father William enrolled Hugh at a local Austin Canons’ monastery for his education—a common practice amongst the nobility at the time. Hugh’s devout and highly restrictive education formed him at young age. At fifteen, he made his profession as a canon and was later ordained deacon at nineteen. Soon afterwards, Hugh was given charge over a parish where he tasted pastoral strife. But something else was stirring deep within him.

Not far from Hugh’s parish rose the Chartreuse mountains, often snow-capped and vivid with color. High in the Chartreuse range bore a monastery and order of the same name, the Carthusians. This highly austere and secluded monastic order was founded by Bruno who followed the reforming spirit of Cluny. Known for their great silence, the Carthusian order is a community who blends the eremitical way of life with that of enclosed brotherhood. Few Carthusians were ever elevated to the episcopacy and few managed canonization by the Church, something that is a point of pride for them because theirs is a life hidden in Christ through prayer, silence, study, and liturgy. All of these drew Hugh to the mountains to see the great charterhouse known still as Le Grande Chartreuse. At twenty-three, Hugh joined the order and was destined for a life of contemplation and silence in the alpine mountains of France. Or so he thought.

Ten years into his life of solitude and prayer, the missionary spirit rose up in the Order as King Henry II of England sought to pay penance for his unfortunate role in the death of his archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Beckett. Henry sought to found three houses in England and the Carthusians were chosen to be one of the three. Hugh was appointed prior of the new house and sent off to England. Hugh’s reputation was quickly spreading on the island. When he secured a land grant from the King of England for the new monastery, he bought the existing huts and houses from the peasants and then in turn gave them their dwellings back which were carted off and sold again by the peasants. Hugh was not going to go the way of the Benedictines and Cistercians who were well known across the land for their often unscrupulous entrepreneurial zeal. Not long into his priorate at Witham, Hugh was elected Bishop of Lincoln and later ordained to the episcopate in Westminster Abbey.

Again I ask the question: what is it about Hugh? Or still, what does Hugh have to say to us today? Here you have a monk who is bishop. He refused to indulge the lavish lifestyle prominent amongst his brother bishops at the time. He lived under the strict discipline of his order, much to the annoyance of many secular clergy around him. He was unrelenting in his care for the poor and even washed the sores of lepers in his Episcopal mansion—something his momma would have been proud to see. Above all, Hugh’s humility and tact is something that many politicians today should heed; for his cheerfulness and love of God’s people made it difficult for the ruling powers to oppose him. In our age of divisive, hate-filled rhetoric which alienates and polarizes the citizenry, Hugh would not hesitate to direct our eyes to the millions of children who have no health insurance, those who are homeless and jobless. Hugh would tend our sores and wash our feet, and that is something worth celebrating today. Hugh, quite simply, had a way with people that drew them closer to the love of God in Christ. His example and witness to us echoes our readings from Luke and Paul’s epistle—where striving for the Kingdom of God begins with how we conduct our own lives in accordance with Christ. Hugh was Christ’s hands, voice, and love made present to all who came near.

Back at the cathedral, I managed to squeeze our large American stroller through the tiny doors of the western porch. Once inside, I was awestruck by the grandeur and simplicity of one of Hugh’s lasting memorials. While he never saw the cathedral completed, its foundation serves as just one of many of the saint’s legacies for the Kingdom. As I moved to the far east-end, back behind the great choir and high altar, I saw what I had longed to see—the shrine of Hugh. I dropped to my knees, touched the shrine, and made the sign of the cross. Hugh’s spirit was palpable, and my prayer to Christ was that I may follow the good example of such a humble servant to draw others to God.

Click here to see my post from last year with photos from the pilgrimage. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Here, I Cry

I stood proudly once,
twenty odd feet towering above
where the wind pushed me higher.

Towers of steel forged by experience
could withstand the idle assaults
that came.

Nearby glances were thought
empowering, nay
sweetly on my heart.

And the fall came.
All at once.

Those memories seem vain nowadays;
twisting the ego tightly round a
hellish nail.

Chill'd nights,
sleepless nights,
cast the daze upon my face.

Nothing escapes.
Nothing holds.

And my cries go unheard.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Barb of the Nazarene

Hooks of love caught the world (i am)

from the heights above (breaks barriers of hate),

while feeding the fishy souls (and men);

catches and releases (drawn to his wounds)

from the barb of the Nazarene (live again).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise: the Liturgy of the Lamb

The Church of the Advent, Photo by Br. Ciaran Anthony DellaFera, BSG

Turning the corner past Boston's famous bar, Cheer's, I could hear the English Change Ringing bells tolling down the avenue.  In a methodical count, the peal sang out into the crisp air, bouncing off the otherwise silent brahmin neighborhood.  The day could not have better, clear skies with a light breeze.  Boston Common was already spilling over with tourists, runners, and the like.  Sunday was prime time for Bostonians to be out and about.

The spire from one of the gem's of The Episcopal Church began to come in focus, and my pilgrimage was nearing its climax.  And there it was, on the corner of Brimmer Street in the posh company of Beacon Hill, sits The Church of the Advent.  I arrived with ample time for exploration before Solemn High Mass was to commence at 11:15 a.m.  My heart was racing.

Now it goes without saying that every pilgrim erects a construct of expectations--whether spoken or not--of how the people and place will receive the hungry.  I must admit that I had a few in mind that Sunday morning, and upon my own discovery, were proven to be unfounded.  The prevalent stereotype of "spikery" in Anglo-Catholicism was at the forefront of my mind en route to mass that morning.  

Opening the door to the sanctuary was a bit otherworldly--the incense from the previous mass was thick in the air and I had an immediate, striking sense of the Divine.  I could smell it.  The twenty-five or so choristers were practicing a beautiful setting of the Kyrie, and the mixture of male and female voices struck a deep impression right at the threshold.  Inside, I grabbed a choice seat with a good view of the altar so that I could soak up all that I was about to encounter.  I sat and surveyed the interior beauty of this gem.  The sunlight that morning was piercing the clerestory windows, amplifying the smokey vaults of the ceiling.  This was going to be something unlike any ordinary Rite II liturgy.

I discovered a pleasant, harmonious blending of Rite I from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer along with what could only be described as Sarum additions.  I got a kick from seeing pasted inserts on the inside back cover of the Book of Common Prayer revealing several of the additional texts.  Underneath the Hymnal was a card with the Angelus and antiphons to the Blessed Virgin Mary printed on both sides.   The hymnody came from The Hymnal, 1982 and was juxtaposed with mass settings in Latin and Greek--the Kyrie, Gloria, etc.  The Gospel was chanted, we genuflected at the appropriate place in the Nicene Creed, and we all said the Angelus following the liturgy complete with the ringing of the Angelus bell.

Ceremonial aside, what I feeling inside was simply exciting.  The power of liturgy to transport you both out-of-time and in-time was not only made possible during the mass but was actually experienced, as evidenced by my goose-bumps.  This was a feeling I have not felt for some time.  One of the unintended consequences of liturgical training in seminary is that you tend to have a harder time worshipping in the broader church--one has to work extra hard to suppress feelings about liturgical mishaps and the like.

Following mass, I wondered about the sanctuary still reeling from the heavenly banquet but wanting somehow to capture that same feeling through photographs.  There were several shrines about the place, but one in particular just sang out, Christ the Great High Priest.

There he was, crowned and adorned in the priestly chasuable with hands outstretched to me.  "I love you," he says, "come to me and I will refresh you."  The hands beckoned a hungry, hurting world to take Christ's burden of love and justice, of true freedom in eternal life.  The eyes were piercing the holiness around me, drawing me into an intimate space of Christ's presence transcending the temporal.  Never before have I felt that way before a shrine, not even Walsingham herself I dare say.

Reentering the atmosphere, I climbed down the stairs for coffee hour and found myself making new friends over a glass of sherry in the garden.  Ah.  This was my kind of parish.  I say that I was lost, off in wonder, love, and praise;  its more likely that I discovered that I was found to be in a place where the liturgy of the Lamb draws both the familiar and the odd together, making new creation.  What a treat for a Sunday.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On the Mission of the Church

"Mission is putting love where love is not."
St. John of the Cross

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Documentary: The Saint of 9/11

Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM (1933-2001)

The Order of Saint Anthony the Great is exploring the life and witness of Mychal Judge, the New York Fire Department Chaplain who died at the World Trade Center on September 11th.  A Franciscan and a priest, Mychal's life was filled with joy, pain, love, and self-giving. 

One of Father Mychal's favorite prayer's sums up his theology:

Lord, take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who you want me to meet;
Tell me what you want me to say
And keep me out of your way.

The documentary film, The Saint of 9/11, captures both the eternal joy and love of the friar along with inner turmoil that so often accompanies holy people.  Click on the title of the film to watch it, it's worth your time. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The American Inquisition

If asked, my parents could tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing the day JFK was shot.  Likewise, I can tell you exactly where I was on the morning of September 11, 2001.  It's something that never leaves me. At the time, I was a senior at Hampden-Sydney College, and like most college students, managed to roll out of bed late and head to The Commons for breakfast, half alert to the comings and goings of the wider world.

I didn't even make it upstairs to the dinning hall that morning.  Walking inside the Tiger Inn, the campus watering hole, I saw scores of other students surrounding the televisions inside.  And there it was on the tube, the smoking twin towers of the Big Apple red hot with tragedy billowing from within.  Shocking does not even begin to describe the feelings going through my body.  The live video feed had a numbing, disorienting affect on me.  The eerie silence of the usual bustling restaurant hit each student as they opened the doors on that crisp September morning.  Something was horribly and unusually wrong.  It was palpable.

Later that day, the Dean of Students called and asked me to accompany him on a visit to a mutual friend and administrator who had just learned of his beloved aunt's death in the World Trade Center attacks.  As we sat with Ryan, it was clear to us that no words could bring back his aunt;  our presence was simply that of loving compassion.  The usually large former football player sat quietly smaller on the edge of the sofa.  Nothing made sense anymore.  

While I was safe in central Virginia that day, the events of our national tragedy are forever burned into my conscience and it still haunts me.

Hope, however, did find a way.  By sunset, students from Hampden-Sydney organized a massive prayer rally on the football field for those who needed to begin their own process of understanding.  It started first with prayer.  Standing hand-in-hand, the college community surrounded the entire field in a unified prayer for peace, reconciliation, and healing.  I was proud to be apart of a community that was willing to struggle in corporate unity for Christ amidst the day's horrific events.

More recently, the news surrounding a proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero in Manhattan reveals that the Nation's wounds have not healed. Pogroms, of sorts, erupted across the country in sacrilegious protest.  How bold of them, some opined, it's the enemy right in our back yard! The hysteria and media hype that ensued for weeks was akin to ripping the band-aid off fresh wounds still deeply felt by millions of Americans.  Christian extremists were quick to charge that God had demanded Islam's holy book, The Qur'an, be burned in protest.  Pundits spun the stories and debate on every possible side grew to an alarming pitch.

It also reveals that the soul of America is too cramped.  Too narrow and claustrophobic, America's capacity for healing and reconciliation needs to be widened, stretched out.  The western mind categorically rejects weakness and vulnerability in order to champion a form of social Darwinism that inevitably does great harm to the soul.  Christ said as much.

In the post-resurrection narratives of Jesus found in the Gospels, he disarms and assuages his scared disciples with the words, "Peace."  Retributive justice is not on Christ's mind.  Visibly bearing the wounds of the crucifixion, Jesus' glorified body does not erase the painful lacerations inflicted by his death sentence.  They are there, unambiguous to the human eye.  Why?  Because God does not erase the course of human history--it's too incarnational.  Even Francis of Assisi prayed to receive the blessing of Christ's wounds because they were to serve him as the sovereign reminder of God's power to heal through brokenness.

I fear, though, that history is beginning to repeat again in the twenty-first century.  The Spanish Inquisition of the fifteenth century sought to control and maintain Christian orthodoxy under the sentence of death.  Conversion by the sword is fleeting and fickle, history proves that this is not how we celebrate progress.  And now in 2010, the orthodox standards are being drawn from a clouded state of mind tantamount to an inquistion on American soil.

A narrow and cramped soul disavows anything contrary to what a pollster statistically proves.  American ingenuity has all but disappeared, and the financial markets are reeling for the time being.  "In God We Trust," is the motto found comically on our currency.  More Americans, I suspect, place trust in the almighty dollar than they do with The Almighty One. We blame politicians and political parties for not fixing our problems.  Changing the parties in charge of either the White House or Congress since 9-11, so it seems, has not solved much of anything.

Still, I don't lose heart.

Simply put, we should not put our faith in this or any government for salvific results; we should look to our faith communities to process through the hurt and anger of our woundedness to find answers for our way forward.  We have to reconcile ourselves to ourselves and to others.  Healing takes time.  It is clear that in the space of the past nine years, very little healing has occurred.  This can change and we can serve as instruments of that process.

Wounds, thank God, can and do heal.  They can serve as painful reminders of the past, or they can transform us into blessings for the future.  That decision, for now, is ours to make.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Fisherman's Tale

Funeral Liturgy for Charles G. Michael
Friday, September 24, 2010
St. Peter's Episcopal Church
Isaiah 25:6-9, Psalm 121, Romans 8:31-39, John 11:21-27

"Martha said to Jesus, 'I know that he will rise again in the resurrection 
on the last day.'  And Jesus said to her, 'I am resurrection, and the life.  
Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.'" (John 11:24-25)

On September 3, 1925, the world was forever changed.  That day is a special day for so many of us, it is the day Charles Granville Michael came into the world.  He would grow up to change the world in only the way that he could--quietly, patiently, with love and gentleness. 

Early in his life, he came to know words like sacrifice and offering, words that my generation is only now beginning to understand.  Charlie was determined to join the war effort and secured a phony birth certificate in order to reach the legal age to join the US Navy.  At the tender age of 16, he left the comfort of home in Grayson, Kentucky, said goodbye to his mom and dad, and set out for a world adventure.  He would tell you that he was too young, too naive, and too green.  But he heard the call of service and deep in his bones he had to answer it.  Following the bombing in Pearl Harbor, Charlie was sent to the Pacific theater where he served faithfully for 8 years rising to be a bombardier flight pilot.  If you never saw the anchor tattoos on his forearms, you would never know of his daring journey in the Navy.  He never, ever talked about it. 

This past June, when the cancer was visibly taking over, I was able to spend a lot of time with him. I prodded him for information and stories about the war.  I even asked him if he ever had any regrets, to which he broke down and said that he knew so many men who died and could not let it go.  We never spoke about it again.

Following the war, Charlie returned to the tri-state area to build a life for himself.  The beautiful Nancy Mary Philip caught his eye and they married.  For 52 years, Charlie and Nancy would tear up the square dance circuit in a beautiful dance of true love and companionship. Because of whatever happened during the war, Charlie refused to take the Government's GI Bill.  He was determined to earn his own way in the world, again on his terms.  He found work at a local steel shop, Steel Products, and began as the low man on the totem pole, welding and fabricating steel out in the hot, hellish heat on the shop floor.  

He dabbled in television and small electronic repairs, as it feed his fascination with circuitry and engineering.  This would later serve him well as he invented train engine testers that were quickly purchased by CSX.  He had no formal training in any of this, for he had an insatiable hunger for knowledge--he wanted to know intimately why and how things worked.  It fed his scientific mind.  Charlie was smart and his inquisitive mind was going to serve him well.  Yes he would make mistakes, but he would mull them over and learn from what they had to teach him.

Eventually he was able to buy ownership of Steel Products and expanded the business.  His success model was simple:  he lived the 'golden rule.'  He was quite proud of the fact that his men never unionized--he knew exactly what it was like to work in the shop and prided himself on knowing from bottom to top what each man was required to know and do.  He cared deeply for his men and treated them like extended members of his family. 

Charlie's family was growing too.  With a son, Peter, and daughter Pam, the Michael family, I imagine, was the American family of the 50's and 60's.  When he could keep Nancy from secretly re-carpeting the house or control his emotions when he'd discover a house filled with new furniture, he managed to build a family and a business, grounded on his life of faith.

Charlie was a fisherman.  He loved to fish.  It didn't matter to him what he'd be catching, so long as the fish were biting.  Fishing, he believed, was the reward of patience.  Sure it was time away from the demands of work, but it was his way of putting the world in perspective--focusing on learning what Mother Nature had to teach about creation.   

A son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a great-grandfather, Charlie cast his net wide into the world and all the while helping to shape a small part of it in the process.  His was a life of seeing Christ in every person he met.  No one ever felt like a stranger to him.  I doubt there is anyone here today that did not get a hug, a friendly kiss, or his incredible smile greeting them every time you met him.  From bishops to star football coaches to the local wait staff at Bob Evans, Charlie treated every one, every one as a sacred, special human being without exception.  Life, for Charlie, was about living and loving, giving of himself to others because this was all he knew.  Even in death, Charlie has given his body for medical research; those lessons learned at such a young age stuck with him all his life.   
Jesus was a fisherman too.  He cast his nets and caught the whole world.  Time and again when the disciples failed to understand Jesus, he implored them to cast their nets to other side, only to pull in a tremendous catch.  Jesus was no stranger to death either.  The story of Lazarus is, I believe, one of the more intimate stories of Jesus in the Gospel accounts that has something to say to us today about life and death about living and loving.  Jesus wept at the tomb of his dear friend, grief and suffering--something so profoundly human--overcame Our Lord.  But, something even more deeply powerful was in store for Lazarus:  resurrection.  After four days of lying in the tomb, Lazarus was called forth to leave behind the sealed tomb thereby showing the glory and power of God. 

Death, we know, is not our end.  If the Easter story ended on Good Friday then the whole Christian narrative would be radically different.  But it does not end at the cross.  Death is forever swallowed up by life.  The Easter proclamation forever marks us as people of life and light.  When we dip our toes into the waters of Baptism, Christ makes an eternal claim on our lives.  That claim does not end in death.  Death is but a means, it is not our ultimate destination. 

Paul, in his letter to the Romans makes clear to the Christian community that
God's love for us is manifest in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  Nothing, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  No matter how hard we try, no matter what challenges we face, God's love abides. 

We live to see the beatific vision, to be face-to-face with the risen Christ,  raised by Him as citizens of the Kingdom of God.  To delight in the heavenly banquet that Isaiah so eloquently describes, is the feast of our lives brought to fulfillment in the heavenly Jerusalem.  And our invitation is wide open to all of God's children.  Life conquers death.  The light of Christ overcomes the darkness.  And especially now, we struggle to live into that reality each and every day of our lives. 

But the Good News is quite simply this:  "Even at the grave we make our song Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia."  What Christ has accomplished for us is eternal life, it's worth singing about today and everyday.  Yes the Easter life can be a struggle at times, but we don't have to go it alone.  We have Christ, the Lord and Author of Life who binds us together in the earthly Church.  When we break bread and join in fellowship with one another, we find the source and summit of our lives made whole in Christ.   

Charlie's theology was very simple and yet powerful.  He always told me to live my life by giving others their flowers now, and not at their graves.  Let people know that you love them, he said, and show it.  This is how he lived his life.  This is his powerful story, told to us by his many, many deeds. 

My sisters and brothers, today we are those seedlings, little flowers nourished by Christ through Charlie's witness.  May we live to be the sweet perfume of the Holy Spirit, radiating life, beaming love to every one, everywhere.  Amen.               

Monday, September 20, 2010

Poem: A Travel Advisory for Pilgrims

A Travel Advisory for Pilgrims of Love in a Time of Terror
By Heather Murray Elkins

Pack only what you need and are willing to share.
Leave every weapon except Truth at the border.
When it comes to currency be wise.
Avoid gold
Carry copper instead
The guard dogs of Ceasar can't track its trace until it's too late.
Any penny is a common wealth, and two cents builds trust.
Every true sense of liberty (hammered by wisdom and wired with the Gospel)
Conducts electric vision
With malice toward none, charity toward all...
The hidden assets of the widow's might.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pope pays tribute to Newman's contributions

Monday, August 23, 2010

Farewell Good and Faithful Servant

Easter 2008, Pappaw, Chad, and Tucker

His name is Charlie.  He's my Pappaw.  He's dying of cancer, it has spread to the bone and has now left him in a morphine-induced state of life.  Hospice is 'on-call' and we are ready.  A veteran of the Pacific theatre of World War II, he fibbed about his age in order to join the war effort--he was a Naval bomber pilot.  He never speaks much about his military service, in fact if it weren't for the poorly inscribed anchor tattoos on his forearms, you would never know about it.

Charlie is an extraordinary gift to the world, a child of God whose faith in people and in Our Lord was unswerving.  His wife Nancy, married for 51 years, was the love of his life.  He had everything and worked to build it with honest, hard work.  Steel Products, a small custom steel fabrication company, was the fruit of that labor.  Following the war, he did not accept the government's handout with the G.I. Bill.  He did not want any payment for his service in the Navy.  He claimed that he knew others that needed the money more than he did (which was also a fib).

So he saved and built his own first house along with a family in Huntington, West Virginia.  He saved some more and eventually bought his ownership in the steel business.  He saved even more and expanded the business while growing a reputation for quality service 'after the sale.'  A devout Episcopalian, he spent the better part of his entire life in faithful service to St. Peter's Episcopal Church in the west end of Huntington--giving money, time, and dedication to seeing the mission of Christ happen in an otherwise impoverished part of town.  Charlie was the sort who preferred to stay behind the scenes, he didn't care much for lavish attention or even who got credit for anything.  He just liked to do it.  And he did an awful lot of doing.

I cannot recall a single momentous occasion in my own life where he was not present.  Pappaw was seemingly always there.  Family was a top priority for Charlie.  Another priority was Marshall University athletics, football in particular.  He was quick with a joke to lighten the mood and was ready to lend his listening ears too.  He simply loved people and he loved to learn.  Everyday presented Charlie with something new, something to learn, and something to praise God for His handiwork in everything.

His life leaves me gasping.  Is he a modern-day prophet, the quiet example-setting sort?  How could such an ordinary person have such a profound, extraordinary impact on so many lives?  I don't know the answer just yet.

Each day he dies a little more.  My prayer for Pappaw is for a holy death.  He said to me back in June that he was ready to die--he recalled his full life of blessings and with few (if any really) regrets.  I cherish that month spent at home near him.  He knows my love for him, my admiration for who he is and who he came to be.  It makes saying good-bye seem irrelevant, at least to me.  I carry him with me everywhere, everyday.

Farewell, good and faithful servant.  Truly, he was apart of the 'Greatest Generation.'

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Benedictine Abbey of Fontgombault

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dew Dreams

'tis the soul's August,
whose roots are tightly compact'd--
water stagnates and rots the soil.
Nothing seems to pass through it.

In dreamy night air does
it imagine,
a haze of soft rain,
to refresh the hell
of the hot day.

Autumnal glimpses
are found deep within,
deadening the murmuring

And nothing sticks to it,
vanishing up like
morning dew.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Dirty Faith

Faith without dirty hands is meaningless.
Dig just a little and feel the creed of life,
buried in the sand.
Rub it between your fingers,
play with it some,
smell its sweet rawness.
There's life there,
for sure.
Burrow down.
Persevere till you find the roots.
Harvest the bounty, it's there for a reason.
Fear not,
water will wash your hands clean.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Gone Fishing

I must apologize for neglecting my blog and explain.

Following seminary, I've moved twice, landing back at my first alma mater, Hampden-Sydney College where I am hard at work reconstructing the College's annual giving program.  I am serving in an interim capacity.  My life is still packed in boxes, spread out between my apartment and storage.

Bear with me, please.  Pray for me, please!  Transitions in life, as you probably know, are often fraught with multiple challenges.  Maintaining one's sanity and sense of rootedness is chief among them.

I pray for you and I hope your summer is spirit-filled.  God's blessings to you.  I'm off to the lake for now.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Flies and Lies

The only fisherman who will tell the truth about where the fish are biting is your father.  And if your really lucky, which fly to tie on.  Don't bother asking anyone else, you'll get a fish story.

The annual father-and-sons fishing adventure saw another season in 2010 on the remote rivers in southwest Virginia.  Knee-deep in the summer stream with cowpies about and copperheads sunning on nearby rocks, I ask what more could any fisherman ask for?  Well, fish, of course.  Trout to be exact.  

Fly fishing is like learning to drive a standard--it requires both hands, some coordination, and a lot of finesse.  It's easy to get hooked (yes, I know--last pun) on what feels like a more artful way to fish.  Rhythm is essential in casting your line, soaring over the water with grace and precision.  My first fly fishing expedition took place in 1994, chest deep in the freezing waters of the Eagle River near Vail, Colorado.  Amid the falling snow, my guide helped me land a large, trophy Rainbow trout which afforded me familial bragging rights for eternity.  Ever since that audacious beginning, I managed to lose my way back to the streams--life and all the familiar distractions got in the way.                                                                

I admit there were times when I begrudgingly went along on those fishing trips with my dad and brother.  It seems my older brother was always eager and I was always looking for excuses.  I could not for the life of me understand why my dad was insistent upon this annual venture.  What is it about taking your sons out into the wilderness in search of these slimy, cold water fish?  Understandably, no teenager could solve that riddle, it took becoming a father myself to grasp an answer.  It goes without saying that fatherhood changes the game of life completely--it's no longer about YOU but about THEM. Sharing your passions with those you love is a profound exercise of trust and fidelity, especially when you reveal the choicest fishing holes or that a copperjohn fly is the best for this stream.   

So the answer of course is priceless.  A bad day fishing is always better than any good day at work.  Adding your son or daughter (or both in my case) only sweetens the deal.  It's not about catching fish, even though that's always the stated premise.  It's about doing something timeless together without distraction and without the pressures of everyday life.  And yes it's true, time manages to stop temporarily as you wade deep into the streams.    

Time, flies, and lies make up the passion of fly fishing.  It's magic worked on me, I no longer drag my feet at an invitation.  I get it now and it makes sense.  Something tells me that my own children will probably act just as I did.           

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer Work

Following the hectic move from seminary, I've been enjoying a few weeks of rest while visiting my family in West Virginia.  I'm determined to start a vegetable container garden in an effort to eat better and live, as Saint Benedict urges, "by the sweat of your brow."  I've grown from seed green beans, arugula, green onions, and hopefully some of my baby spinach seeds will pop.  I've added an established tomato plant as well as a jalapeno pepper plant.  Maybe by late July or early August I'll have some food to show for my labor.

I found a pile of old wood from a clapboard fence that was ripped out at my parent's house.  I decided that I wanted to try my hand at some more woodwork by recycling and repurposing old wood.  So far, I've built a potting table, a bench, and two plant stands.  


The potting bench was really fun to build and I did not make any drawings as such, just went forward with what I had envisioned in my mind.

The bench and plant stands are for my parent's house, they were built for a side porch that needed some pizazz.  I'm going to paint these in a milky-green antique color to give some curb appeal and pop.

All in all, I'm managing to stay pretty busy and the work is relaxing.  Having free labor around the house is not going to waste, for sure.  I find that I rather enjoy the challenge of repurposing old wood in order to create new and useful things.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Warning: Be Careful What You Pray For

Saint Francis of Assisi knew something of the power of prayer.  Recorded in the biographical work on the saint, The Little Flowers of Saint Francis, we learn of Francis' prayer before receiving the wounds of Christ.
The next day came, to wit the day of the most Holy Cross, and St. Francis, betimes in the morning, or ever it was day, betook himself to prayer before the entrance of his cell, and turning his face towards the East, prayed after this manner: "O my Lord Jesus Christ, two graces do I beseech Thee to grant me before I die: the first, that, during my lifetime, I may feel in my soul and in my body, so far as may be possible, that pain which Thou, sweet Lord, didst suffer in the hour of Thy most bitter passion; the second is that I may feel in my heart, so far as may be possible, that exceeding love, whereby Thou, Son of God, wast enkindled to willingly bear such passion for us sinners"
It's a beautiful prayer for broken people; broken people like me find these words searing.  I learned about this prayer my first year in seminary.  On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross (September 14), The Rev. Dr. Bob Hughes spoke of Francis' prayer and its efficacy during his sermon in our seminary chapel, Chapel of the Apostles.  It was a favorite of the late Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM of blessed memory who died ministering to NYC firefighters during the 9-11 attacks.  It is also a favorite of mine and helped me greatly during those early seminary days.  In fact, I used to pray it nightly.  There was something so powerful that struck me about Francis' cry of the heart: let me know that pain that delivered the world by your death, but even more fill my heart with the love that brought you to the cross.  I distinctly recall leaving chapel that day and having those words running through my mind.  I could not let them go.  I don't think I wanted to.

It turns out that you have to be careful for what you pray for, if in God's providence it is deemed necessary, it could come true.  I don't boast the stigmata, I am too unworthy of that mark but at least in metaphor I think I have come to know something of this prayer.

Death and resurrection, love and pain, wounds and healing, separation and reunion all encircle those provocative words from Francis.  To be so bold to proclaim Christ crucified and resurrected is to share in that tension where we find our own lives struggling each and every day to be wholly loved.  The marks of the crucified Lord are brought to bear in the lives of the least, the last, and the lost even now.  Some bear those marks deep within.  The Kingdom of God has indeed come near, but it has not yet been consummated in the dance of creation moving ever so closely to fulfilling God's destiny.  And so those scars remain, present reminders of infinite love mingled with mortifying pain.

I prayed those words because I believed that I needed to know that pain of being stuck out on a limb to die, to give up one's own life so that others may have life and have it abundantly.  And yet even hanging out there, God's love is poured into the heart to fill up those leaky cracks--wounds and all. You get both, and both you shall have.  There is no warning label on the baptismal font and perhaps there should be one.  This life in Christ is not all fun and games, it's real and it's really life-saving.  But.  But the cost is death and the return is resurrection.  No one said it would be easy or even remotely pleasant for that matter. The tears somehow turn to joy bringing the cross to bear under the weight of true and lasting freedom in the Redeemer.  Since praying that prayer in seminary, I have known days of extreme and total agony, crying out in dereliction with Christ.  Still there are days which swell my heart with profound, speechless grace.  Today, at least, I sense both at work.  I know them to be inextricably bound together.  Today, at least, I get those words in all their fullness and I'll take it.  Both.

Lord Christ, may I feel in my body as much as possible the pain you endured on the cross, but even more may I know in my heart the love that brought you there.  Amen.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Monk Runner

I decided that I needed an additional motivational tool for me to help prepare for the 2010 ING New York City Marathon, so I've created a running blog simply called The Monk Runner.  Check it out, though it's still very much a work in progress.

Anglican Church of Canada: General Synod 2010

On June 3, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada opened its triennial meeting in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  You can follow the events of the General Synod 2010 online through the Synod's website.  The communications that come out of the Synod are great.  I followed the 2007 Synod with great interest and I believe it is important to pray for and support our Canadian brothers and sisters while they are meeting in their major legislative body.

Click here for the daily video files.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

New Liturgical Movement: Reforming the Reform

Reforming the reform?  Huh?  Well, if you believe that the Second Vatican Council went too far in its *cough* liturgical reform, than the New Liturgical Movement (NLM) blog may be for you.  Actually, I rather like the information, its attention to detail, and of course all the lovely pictures and videos of all things liturgical throughout the church catholic.  If you can stomach it's decided slant towards all things "Benedictine," then you will treasure the wealth of resources compiled together at NLM.  It took this old-hearted Anglo-Catholic some time to discern that Benedictine was not in fact monastic, but referring to Pope Benedict XVI's zeal for the ancient liturgical tradition of the church.  

There has been, for instance, an interesting thread going through the blog considering what liturgical tradition the new Anglican ordinariates will follow and as such examining the Sarum use along with many other English forms.  The trailer above for the Solemn Requiem in the Dominican Rite (which is a religious order!) is an example of the rigor with which this spirit for "reforming the reform" has and continues to build.

Regardless of your position, and take heart, I am an ardent 1979 BCP man myself (with a high ceremonial), NLM is a rather interesting blog to check out from time to time.  

Me, Age 6

My parents are to thank for this photograph, taken in May 1986.  I used to stand on the dinning room chair and pretend it was my pulpit.  I would make my parents sit in the living room and listen to me preach!  I even passed around a bowl asking for a collection, though I padded it with pennies to pretend that money was in there.  I thought of everything, down to the grape juice and saltine crackers for the Eucharist.

In Sunday school class at St. Peter's Episcopal Church (Huntington, WV) where I grew up, we made these felt stoles which all the children wore in a grand Palm Sunday procession.  We even had a wooden donkey on wheels that some lucky child got to ride!  While I don't think that I would do this now, liturgically speaking, it was something to behold as a child.

The lesson, I suppose, is that you never know what can really speak to a child about holy things.

Monday, May 24, 2010

New York or Bust: Preparing for the 2010 NYC Marathon

It begins today.  On Sunday, November 7th, me and 40,000 of my closest running buddies will be zigzagging through all five boroughs of New York City in the 40th running of the New York City Marathon.  How many miles is a marathon, you ask:  26.2 glorious, painful miles!  Founded in 1970, the NYC Marathon is considered one of the "majors" in the marathon world.

I started running--seriously--during my first year of seminary.  I ran a 5K during sunset in Key West in 2008, I've run Central Park, and added cycling to the mix of activities.  Last year, I ran five half-marathons (13.1 mi.) across Tennessee and Alabama.  I over did it, you could say, and got burned out. Logging over 500 miles was sometimes fun, sometimes painful, but always exhilarating.  I took much of this past year off from running and the weight crept back on. Running quickly became more than just a physical release from stress--it became an important part of my prayer life.

I won the lottery in order to secure my spot in 2009.  Because of burnout, I was able to delay my acceptance until 2010.  Last year, I was asked to serve as one of the Chaplains for the ecumenical service prior to the start of the race.

In just 116 days, I'll have completed my first full marathon.  NYC, the Big Apple, will be mine!  The race begins on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Staten Island and finishes in Central Park.  I am excited, a bit nervous, and looking forward to commencing the long training schedule to get ready.  No more sweets, extra nibbles here and there, no more good beer.  Nope, it all starts today.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Praying Our Goodbyes

Following Commencement with the Chancellor of the University of the South, 
Bishop J. Neil Alexander (Bishop of Atlanta).

The day came and went as fast as you could imagine.  Graduation day, family, and all the goodbyes.  A day that seemed as though it would never happen, finally did.  And it happened quickly.  How did three years disappear so fast?  Can I get that time back?  Just one more hour in the theology library?  Well, no. Time's up.  

Attending The School of Theology at the University of the South was both an honor and a privilege.  I was stretched in so many ways, taught to expand my own theological and spiritual dimensions while complimenting a formation for priestly ministry in the church.  It hurt at times, the stretching and letting go of all those views that I felt important, and then there were those profound moments of clarity.  Seminary did not "take away" anything of mine, but rather challenged me to go deeper and deeper into Christ's ministry.  Formation, I used to believe, was a bad word; feeling as though I was an empty mass of clay that needed to be shaped into some pre-determined earthen vessel.  What I discovered was that the faculty and curriculum was in fact meeting me where God had begun the work, and the formation naturally takes off. 

While the degree title can be misleading, "Masters of Divinity," I leave Sewanee probably with more questions than answers, deeper questions probing the Christian life and witness.  And yet, I have gained a clearer sense of my own call towards ordained ministry along with a deeper faith in Christ.  I could not even begin to summarize all the experiences, encounters in ministry, and relationships in community that evolved over these three short years.  But I have learned something about death and resurrection, love and betrayal, and what the risks entail for living a life of faith in Christ.  "Comfort the afflicted," you hear often in the seminary halls, "and afflict the comfortable."  There is nothing glamorous about ministry, as you know:  the pay is lousy and the hours are consuming.  But, there is profound joy and wholeness that fills those earthen vessels with overflowing life--however cracked though they may be.

One step that I took this year towards my formation was professing vows in a new, emerging monastic community based in the Diocese of Atlanta--the Order of St. Anthony the Great, OPC.  The order was formed in 2006 and I liked the idea of being apart of an order whose history has not yet been written.  We shall soon have 11 brothers and will be petitioning General Convention in 2012 for formal recognition in the wider body.  I wanted to adapt my life to a written "rule" and live under vows of simplicity, obedience, and chastity (celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage).  There is a great freedom, believe it or not, in this life.  Free to love chastely, to obey the rule and the authority over me, and live simply is really life-giving.  I began my discernment with the community in Lent 2009 and my vows are annual.  The monastic "me" compliments my calling to be a priest.  And yes, we do have monk-priests in the Episcopal Church! 

Praying my own goodbye has been hard but ultimately proved fulfilling, a way in which I am reminded to let go and put trust in God's hands again.  The idea is not mine, it comes from a remarkable little book that I discovered this past semester on loss and goodbye written by Sister Joyce Rupp, simply called Praying Our Goodbyes (Ave Maria Press, reprinted in 2009).  Just remember, there is always a "hello" to be heard if your ears are opened to the Spirit.  I feel as though I am able to listen now and sense those hellos echoing daily.   

What an incredible, holy, and life-giving three years seminary proved to be. Formation, as it turned out, wasn't so bad after all.  Of course, it's still ongoing, though you must be willing to trust God and be open to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit--she'll work hard on you and trust that!  

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On the Baptismal Covenant

Brother Karekin Yarian, BSG is a member of the Brotherhood of St. Gregory the Great (BSG).  He's an avid blogger and you can find him over at Sandals at the Gate. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Latest Projects

Before I pack up my tools and leave Sewanee, I had several wood projects that needed to be finished for some friends.  I wish my high school taught "shop class."  This new prayer discipline really took off this year and it seems with each project, I see a marked improvement in my technique.  Still, I know I have a lot to learn about woodwork.  

I created a simple, working pattern for what I call "book desks."  These are great for writing papers, sermons, etc.  They are made from pine which is very easy to work with, though the staining is somewhat tricky.  For seminarians, I have been burning the Saint Luke's cross into the wood as a center piece.

I have now built a few of these "prayer benches" which are modeled after the pattern found in Martin Smith's (former SSJE) seminal work, The Word is Very Near You: A Guide to Praying with Scripture. (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1989).  These are great for contemplative prayer.  I've also burned the Saint Luke's cross in the center.  I've used poplar since these require support.

The "Saint Luke's Cross" is the official cross of the School of Theology, Luke being the patron of our community.  Why it's Celtic, I have no idea.  A metal, pectoral version is presented to all graduates during Commencement.  I'll have mine in two days!  These are wall crosses done in pine.

Finally, I am excited to begin work on my summer project, an icon crucifix.  This is a Western-style San Damiano but written in the Byzantine tradition--I really like blending the two.  I went ahead and cut the wood and prepared the icon board so that I don't have to fiddle with it once moved.  This will be my first crucifixion scene.  I wanted to make this large so as to inhabit a chapel one day.

This is what I'm after here.  This icon cross is found in the lower church of the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield, West Yorkshire.  When I first saw it there I knew that I wanted the challenge in trying my hand at writing one.  We'll see...

I guess you really can do anything with an Masters of Divinity degree!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

May is for Mary

Lady Month, or the month of May is especially marked by catholics with devotion to the God-Bearer (Theotokos).  May 31st, after all, is the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin to her cousin Elizabeth whereby Luke recalls that famous ave and the glorious Magnificat (Luke 1:39-57).  Later this month in Walsingham, the National Pilgrimage will be held.  May is the month of Mary.

There is an old catholic tradition of building and maintaining a "May altar" dedicated to Our Lady throughout the month of May.  The photographs of these May Altars come from the home of my brother, Fr. Robert-James, OPC.  The following excerpt comes from the webpages of The Marian Library/The International Marian Research Institute in Dayton, OH.
To the specific characteristics of the May devotion is to be counted the specially set up May altar - be it as an addition to or specially decorated altar in the church or as a "house altar" in the family circle. Like the May devotions themselves, the custom to highlight this type of May altar stems from southern European countries. A report from France in 1842 speaks of Our Lady's altar in May showing off in rich splendor, while the families also erected and decorated small home altars. 
All of nature awakened to new life in springtime is presented to honor Mary, who is herself "a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys" (Song of Songs 2,1). This form of devotion was influence and furthered, for example, in Treatise on True Devotion to Mary by Louis de Montfort, who, among other things, counted the decoration of Marian altars a chief exercise of Marian devotion.
The development of "home altars" seems to have naturally grown from churches specially dedicating altars within the worship space to Our Lady.  The above citation continues:

When erecting a May altar in a church, one distinguishes between the special decoration of an existing Marian altar, the erection of an altar set up specifically to serve this May devotion, or the transformation of the main altar into a May altar. The Handbook of Church Rituals (Regensburg 1846) notes under May altar that these devotions be held at an altar dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and decorated "to the full." If there isn't any [altar dedicated to Mary], another  altar is to be set up and furnished with a picture or a statue of Mary.  In Strasbourg, in 1855 for the first time, a special "Mother of God altar" was set up before the chancel.
With the development of May altars in churches, the custom spread to set up this type of "altar" also  in the home. The authors of both private publications and of official publications refer to this practice, encourage them, or assume that there are such.  While some devotional books encourage the user to decorate an image of Mary found there and to pray there--a custom "that belongs anyway in every good Catholic home"--others depict the "prayer room" as "a shrine dedicated to Mary." 
A side altar of this type was drawn into the celebration in that the blessing frequently was given from this altar. By carrying the Blessed Sacrament from the main altar, the precedence of the main altar was clearly visible. 
Pick some flowers, find an icon or statue, and light a candle.  Place Mary as the "spiritual fireplace" of your home this month.  Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us all!   

Monday, May 10, 2010

Leaven For the World: Monastic Profession Research

Ever wonder the origins of monastic profession?  What's this about a "mystical burial?"  What did Benedict really think about monastic profession?  Learn all of this (hopefully) and more in my recent article, "Leaven For the World: Monastic Profession Rites from the Desert to Saint Benedict."  Leaven for the World: Monastic Profession Rites from the Desert to Saint Benedict

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A New Walsingham Icon

Today I received my new icon of Our Lady of Walsingham.  I had commissioned this through an iconographer that I discovered in Bulgaria via the internet.  Not only was the price reasonable, but the quality is simply amazing.  I have much to aspire to in my own iconography.  The iconographer, Krasimir Kostov, does excellent work and I commend him to you.  If you would like his email address, drop me a line.

In this icon, I wanted to blend together two of my favorite icon depictions of Our Lady--namely the checkered floor which struck me as both odd and out of place.  But it grew on me over time!  The size is large, 12in. x 15in. and the colors are brilliant.  I hope to have the icon properly blessed soon.

A Newman Prayer

O Jesus,
flood my soul with Your Spirit and Life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly
that my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me and be so in me
that every soul I come in contact with may
feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me 
but only thee, Jesus.  Amen.

This is an abbreviated version of Cardinal Newman's prayer that he used following the Eucharist.  I learned about this prayer while in the sacristy at the seminary, it was fancied by one of our more Anglo-Catholic professors.

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Home We Build Together

Members of the Class of 2010 from The School of Theology 
with Br. Ron Fender, BSG.

What do graduating senior seminarians from the School of Theology, a Gregorian monk, and a house for homeless men have in common?  The answer, the Body of Christ.  Members of the Class of 2010 from The School of Theology, The University of the South partnered with Br. Ron Fender, a monk in the Brotherhood of Gregory the Great, to help furnish the new Brandenburg Chapel at the House of All Souls in Chattanooga.  The seminarians designed and constructed an altar and furnished all the necessary items for worship in the new space.  Senior Chris Caddell (Diocese of West Texas) was the designer and carpenter for the project.  "Building this altar was a gift of love to help this new community become a family."  Caddell notes, "I am so honored that our class was able to help in a very meaningful way." 

Brother Ron has been tending and washing the feet of the homeless in Chattanooga for the past seven years as his ministry.  He serves as a case manager at the Community Kitchen, a Chattanooga refuge for the hungry and homeless.  He has been featured on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition, which was chronicling the stories from main street USA. Inspired by such projects as the Brother Bernard Fessenden House in Yonkers as well as Common Ground in New York City, Brother Ron sought to build an intentional community to house homeless men using a monastic model to instill community.  Brother Ron discovered in his time at the Community Kitchen that many who completed recovery programs and who were eventually placed into apartments as a way to rebuild their lives, quickly fell back to street life.  Fender notes that, “putting a homeless person in an isolated room or apartment without supportive services, or even furniture or household goods makes no sense whatsoever… the most successful model for ending homelessness is to create community for the homeless.”  Brother Ron is doing just that.

With a grant from The Rosewood Foundation, a new house in Chattanooga was constructed and named the House of All Souls, a clear statement that this house that has brought together eight homeless men along with Brother Ron is a home for all.  The Brandenburg Chapel is named in memory of Edward Brandenburg, a homeless resident of Chattanooga who inspired Brother Ron to begin the whole project.  Brandenburg died in 2008 and so All Souls is a living tribute to his vision and ideal of what a home should look like.  At the foot of the altar rests Brandenburg's brick memorial.  The new residents were screened and agreed to live in this intentional community and continue in their recovery programs.  This new family offers mutual support and love centered on Jesus Christ. 

"All it takes is to spend five minutes with Brother Ron," notes seminarian Br. Chad Krouse, OPC (Diocese of Southern Virginia), "and you will feel the presence of the living Christ through his work and ministry in Chattanooga."  For the seminarians, it was important that their senior class gift go out into the world for mission.  Reactions from Br. Ron and the men of All Souls were powerful and inspiring for this future class of ordained ministers.    

P.S.  I made the candlesticks and altar missal stand.  And yes, there is an icon of Our Lady of Walsingham in the new chapel.  ;)   

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Desert Spirituality, A Lenten Class

Today at Saint Paul's Episcopal Church in Chattanooga, TN, I led an Adult Education class on desert spirituality.  Originally the class was to take place at the start of Lent, but scheduling conflicts caused me to move towards the end. Knowing that it was a big topic and time a significant factor, I plowed ahead to do the best that I could do.  

For a long time, I have wanted to teach spirituality and contemplative prayer in the Episcopal Church.  I have long felt impoverished in my own upbringing in the faith by a serious lack of Christian education in this important area for discipleship.  Needless to say, one class on a Sunday morning only begins to scratch the surface.  Alas, I was grateful for the opportunity to broach the subject.    

The basis for the class was a reading of Henri Nouwen's The Way of the Heart, a primer for contemplative prayer by gleaning from the life of the fourth century desert mothers and fathers.  Here are some of my notes.  The page numbers refer to my copy of Nouwen's book (New York: Seabury Press, 1981).    


A Brief Overview of Desert Spirituality
The Christian life has its many trials and temptations.  We struggle in our daily lives with the temptations for better jobs, material possessions and wealth, and the ultimate pursuit of happiness.  The culture today shares this with the late Roman world of the fourth century.

With the toleration of Christianity under the Edict of Milan in 313, the narrow door that Jesus spoke of was flung far and wide, opening the gates to thousands of new Christians.  The Church no longer faced bloody persecution from Rome.  With this peace and growth came a prevailing sense that the Christian standard was deteriorating, the faith was becoming too common and lapsed, so it seemed.

Monasticism appears on the scene in the fourth century as an impulse to reform the church from the relaxed standards of the Christian life.  Subversive to the culture of material wealth and power, life for the desert fathers and mothers was a search for solitude in the wilderness of Egypt to find a deep, abiding union with God in Christ.  Their testing was to renounce the world's priorities in search of the richness of Christ founded upon a strict dedication or rule of life. 

Nouwen's The Way of the Heart  
In classic Nouwen form, The Way of the Heart presents five short chapters with straight-forward reflective insights into the spiritual tradition that grew out of the desert in the fourth century.  It is a misreading of Nouwen, here, to see the interior life and growth through silence apart from ministry within the Kingdom of God.  Nor, however, is this implying or espousing the Platonic ideals of mind/body dualism, or the Manichaeism heresy. 

Desert spirituality is quite clearly a primer for discipleship which Our Lord calls and invites us all to live.  The result of desert spirituality in practice is a well-spring of compassion, a capacity so widened by transforming silence that we are able to bear one another's crosses in solidarity with Jesus Christ. 

Class Outline

I.  Opening Silence and Prayer

II. Overview of Desert Spirituality
·       flee, be silent, and pray, the three main ideas of desert spirituality.

III. Prologue
·      What is required of us as ministers of the Gospel in our day (pg. 12)
·      Subversive Prayer, the actions of the desert fathers and mothers subverted the established culture
·      Romans 12:1-2 "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect."
·      New kinds of martyrs, witnesses against the destructive powers of evil and witnesses for the transforming power of Christ.

IV. Solitude
·      Thomas Merton (p.21)
·      Society as molding us for seductive powers
·      Take a look at our own weekly routine in order to see our priorities
·      Two main enemies of the Spiritual life: anger and greed
·      The Furnace of Transformation
·      "My soul 'too cramped for you to enter it--widen it out." St. Augustine's Confessions
·      Jesus' Temptations in the desert
·      Matthew 9:9-13   "As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax-collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’"
·      Dying to the false self
·      Spirituality and Ministry meet in compassion

V.  Silence
·      Have words lost their power?  Is language our only ability to communicate with God?
·      What value does our culture place on silence?
·      What value does our worshipping community place on silence?
·      What would our lives look like without distractions?  What would our ministry look like?
·      "Silence is the home of the word."  Nouwen
·      "God's first language is silence, everything else is translation" Thomas Keating  
·      John 1:1-5   "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
·      Vincent van Gogh (p.55)

VI. Prayer
·      How does silence manifest itself in prayer?
·      How does this square with community prayer and worship?
·      "Arrow Prayers" (p.80)
·      Via Negativa or the Apophatic tradition