Saturday, January 25, 2014

On the imprint of God

 A reflection on the readings for Epiphany 3A: Isaiah 9:1-4, 1 Cor 1:10-18, Matthew 4:12-23

Hannah Mills, my great grandmother, five generations back, was born in 1839 in Lancashire, England. Her father, Isaac, worked as a dyer at a local cotton mill.

My great grandfather, five generations back, came to live with Hannah’s family following the death of his parents when he was a small child. Not being blood relatives, Jonathon and Hannah were married when she was nineteen and he was twenty-three.

In the late 1850’s Hannah and Jonathon converted to Mormonism. From family genealogy it appears that the rest of Hannah’s family remained members of the Church of England. This assumption is based in part on the fact that Hannah and Jonathon were married in the Manchester Cathedral December 20, 1857. The Manchester Cathedral, part of the Church of England, dates back to the 1600’s, and perhaps as early as the 700’s. The Mormon Church excommunicated Hannah and Jonathon for having their wedding in the Cathedral and it took them several years to earn their way back into the good graces of the Mormon Church.

On May 23, 1863, Hannah, four months pregnant, sailed to the United States with two small children, three year old William and her infant daughter named Harriet. Jonathon stayed behind to work, earning money to support his family as they made the long journey.

Hannah and her children, along with 430 other Mormons, crossed the Atlantic on a ship called the Antarctic. It was an old, whitewashed sailing vessel covered in tar. The ship leaked badly and the sailors spent most of their day bailing water. A measles outbreak took the lives of several people. A number of people were married on this seven week trip and a few babies were born.  The water on the ship was contaminated and had to be boiled before it was consumed. Their meals consisted of hardtack and undercooked bacon. They arrived in New York on July 10th. The civil war was raging across the country. [i]

The Mormons travelled by ferry and train through Albany, Niagara, Detroit, and Chicago to St. Joseph, Missouri. From there they took a train to Florence, Nebraska, now a northern suburb of Omaha.  There they met up with other members for the ox led wagon train journey across Nebraska, through Wyoming and over the Rocky Mountains. The wagons carried their possessions, the people walked. Hannah was 8 months pregnant by the time they arrived, having walked thirteen hundred miles during her last trimester.  Somewhere along the way her baby Harriet died, one of the seven children and two adults who died on this journey. On October 9, a month after her arrival at her new home Hannah gave birth to a baby boy named Jacob. Jacob fathered Roland Parley Chatterton who fathered another son named Roland, who fathered my mother.

Hannah and Jonathon had thirteen children, nine of whom lived. Hannah died in childbirth on January 22, 1883 at the age of 43.

I often think of Hannah, the choices she made for her faith and the challenges she faced in her life.  She stands for me as a powerful witness of one who undertook extraordinary measures to follow where she believed God was calling her.

Following where God calls is one of the themes in our scripture readings this morning. Jesus calls out to four men, well established as fishermen, and touches a restless cord within them. There was nothing else they could do but drop their nets and follow Jesus.  Perhaps, as is often the case when one responds to a call from God, they were finally doing what was in their hearts all along.

Some suggest that we are born with God imprinted on our souls. This imprint of God, like the vibration of a musical note, resonates within us when we hear God’s voice. The imprint of God within us is potent enough to cause us to drop what we are doing and follow. [ii]

Augustine, a prominent and influential church leader who lived in the 4th century wrote “our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” The imprint of God on our being leaves us restless until we find our way to God and understand how we are to follow. That is how it is with God, imprinted as we are with the memory of God on our souls from before our birth; we yearn to reconnect with God, a process that may take a life time.

Some suggest that those who have no language to articulate the longing inside,  this imprinted memory of God, are people who are perpetually lost, for they have no idea what will finally quench the yearning within them.

Isaiah, the great prophet, speaks of this. The people who have lived in darkness have seen a great light, the Messiah, the one who will lead the people back to God. Returning to God is a process Christians have called Repentance, or in Greek, Metanoia.[iii] Repentance is a process of turning and returning to God.

Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians speaks to a church collapsing under the weight of dissention as they argue over the right way to live as Christians in community. By the time Paul writes his second letter to the Corinthians, having instructed them on the problems they are facing, specifically regarding proper baptism,[iv] Paul says simply, the only thing we need to do is recognize who we are following – Jesus. To follow Jesus means we love one another. If we see one another through a lens of love, first, then all other problems can be reconciled. Paul is not arguing for a na├»ve, romantic love. In many of his letters, Paul describes love as acting with integrity and compassion, honesty. This love manifests as a willingness to work through misunderstandings. This love creates the ability to be humble and support one another rather than insist on having one’s own way. This kind of love happens when people settle disagreements by speaking to one another directly instead of grumbling on the sidelines. Jesus too describes love this way – as speaking to one another directly, being humble in one’s opinion of one’s self, refraining from self-righteousness. This kind of love is not about pointing fingers and laying blame. This kind of love recognizes that we are to examine first our own behavior, take the log out of our own eye, and work on our own behavior, rather than criticize others.  Love is responding from a position of compassion, listening, and forgiving seven times seventy times. Love builds community and sustains relationships. Love is what it feels like when our souls recognize God and we respond accordingly.

A friend of mine asked a confirmation class - "What is community?" One twelve year old responded - "We hold each other up. We support one another. We speak quietly to one another of God.”

Recently the Henry Nouwen Society on-line meditation offered this: “community….is first of all a quality of the heart. It grows from the spiritual knowledge that we are alive not for ourselves but for one another. Community is the fruit of our capacity to make the interests of others more important than our own… (see Philippians 2:4).

Today we celebrate our life and ministry at our annual meeting. We will review our effort in 2013 to build community and to invest in the wellbeing of others. We will reflect on the ways in which we responded to God’s call within us – in quite remarkable ways! We’ll review the budget for 2014 and elect new members to the Vestry. We will honor the many ministries here. We will celebrate the gift each one of us is to the body of Christ. We will give thanks to Jan Timpko, who has officially retired, and honor her many years as our Parish Administrator. We will celebrate the love of God that resonates within this place now, as it has for nearly 150 years, as we strive to follow Jesus.


[ii] Feasting on the Word, Year A Third Sunday after the Epiphany

[iii] Process and Faith blog:

[iv] ibid

Saturday, January 11, 2014

On God and earworms....

A reflection on the readings for Epiphany 1A: Isaiah 42:1-9, Psalm 29, Matthew 3:13-17

I don’t know why this happens to me, but often I wake up in the morning with an earworm, the words from some piece of music, usually a hymn, playing round and round in my head. Most recently my earworm was, “In the bleak midwinter.” I think it floated around in my consciousness the entire week between Christmas and New Year’s. Now, the last couple of days it has been, “Come thou long expected Jesus.” Of course I can only remember a couple of words and a sliver of the tune, but that doesn’t stop my brain from tossing it around during yoga class, while drinking a cup of coffee or doing dishes, or even, as I fell while walking outside.

Come thou long expected Jesus, come to set thy people free, from our”….and then I can’t remember exactly how the rest of the phrase goes.

Our mind, our consciousness, is fascinating. Just what is it that makes us tick?

Dr. Robert Lanza is a stem-cell researcher. He is currently the Chief Scientific Officer at Advanced Cell Technology, and Adjunct Professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. He has hundreds of publications and inventions, and has written over 30 scientific books. His controversial book BIOCENTRISM, talks about “How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe.” The book has caused a stir because Lanza states that consciousness does not die when the physical body dies. Instead he surmises, consciousness exists before the body and continues to exist after the body dies. [i]

The website “Spirit Science and Metaphysics’ describes Lanza’s theory this way:[ii]

“Lanza points to the structure of the universe itself, and that the laws, forces, and constants of the universe appear to be fine-tuned for life, implying intelligence existed prior to matter.  He also claims that space and time are not objects or things, but rather tools of our animal understanding.  Lanza says that we carry space and time around with us “like turtles with shells.” meaning that when the shell (of space and time), comes off we still exist.

The theory implies that death of consciousness simply does not exist.   It only exists as a thought because people identify themselves with their body...thus,  if the body generates consciousness, then consciousness dies when the body dies.  But if the body receives consciousness in the same way that a cable box receives satellite signals, then…consciousness does not end at the death of the physical vehicle.….

Consciousness, or at least proto-consciousness, is theorized to be a fundamental property of the universe, present even at the first moment of the Big Bang….

(According to this theory) Our souls are in fact constructed from the very fabric of the universe – and may have existed since the beginning of time.  Our brains are just receivers and amplifiers for the proto-consciousness that is intrinsic to the fabric of space-time.”

We hear much the same idea in several places in the Bible. Genesis, Isaiah, and the Prologue to the Gospel of John, for example, all speak of a consciousness that existed before creation.  Genesis describes it as God meets the formless void and through God’s imagination structures the void into order:  night and day, animals and humans. Isaiah calls this idea,  “the servant.”  The servant of God is a concept of justice that God reveals to humankind as a calling. Servant is a call to be the one who enables God’s justice to manifest in this time and place. Servant, as Isaiah uses the term, is often understood as both singular and plural. Christians interpret the servant in Isaiah as Jesus and then continue the interpretation to include the body of Christ, the Christian church, called to acts of justice.[iii] John calls this consciousness “the word.” All of these examples convey the idea that God has for creation - that all have equal access to that which enables life to be good – justice- that all will have equal access to adequate food, clothing, shelter, education, and employment – because having these in a sufficient amount is what constitutes the kind of healthy life God desires for all creation. This idea comes from the imagination of God and is planted in the souls of human beings. [iv]Jesus provides Christians with the creative Word of God embodied as a human being who reveals to us that this is what God’s imagination intends for the justice of all creation. Jesus leans into the teachings of the prophet Isaiah to affirm what he already knows within himself.  No doubt this is a lofty vision, but we hear over and over in scripture that God is with us as we strive to bring forth God’s desire.[v]

Even our psalm this morning weighs in on this idea. To hear this Psalm on the same Sunday that we honor Jesus’ baptism is to be reminded that the word made flesh and gifted to us in baptism, as it was to Jesus, is an awesome task. The voice of God speaks into our beings at our baptism and then resonates throughout our life time, calling us to listen and act. Who we are as Christians is life a long journey of growing ever more aware of what God asks of us. Our formation as Christians does not end at baptism. It does not end at confirmation. These rituals of the church merely mark the beginning.

Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany. We considered how God speaks into our lives and into our world with signs, like the star that led the wise ones to Jesus, and also with words. I mentioned a colleague of mine, who is the pastor of a church in Idaho, and a discipline that her congregation practices on the Feast of the Epiphany called “starwords.” On Epiphany, every member of the congregation, including the clergy, are invited to take a star with a word on it. The word is their word for the year. It is a word that is meant to open up one’s prayer life and help one see new ways in which God may be at work in one’s life, revealed through reflection with the starword and the action that produces.

I think this is an interesting experiment for us to engage in as our discipline and prayer practice. So last week a number of us took a starword of our own.  Those of you who missed that opportunity can take a word today. The ushers will come around in a minute with baskets with starwords.

I suggest you put your starword where you can see it and remember it. Ponder it over the next year. Let the word form your prayer life however it may do so. Let the word bring new insights into who you are or how you are in relationship with God and other people. Let the starword reveal to you how God is calling you to participate in the revelation of God’s desire in the world today. Let the starword resonate inside of you like an earworm.  If you don’t like the starword you draw, and think it will be one of those really annoying earworms, like the jingle of a commercial, maybe that is an important place to begin. Why don’t you like it? But, also will you still dislike it after a year of living with it and letting it pray through you?

A star led the wise ones to Jesus.  The incarnate Word, that existed before all creation, is made flesh. God speaks into our lives at baptism and then, over and over, during our lifetimes. May your star word lead you to new insights on how God is working in and through you this year. May your starword help you see just what makes you tick. May your starword be like an earmworm from God.


[iii] Feasting on the Word year C, First Sunday after the Epiphany

[iv] ibid

[v] ibid

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Connecting Stars

About a year ago the History channel premiered a story with geologist Scott Wolter regarding a theory on the connection between the famous Stonehenge in England, a Stonehenge like construction in Salem, New Hampshire, and the ancient sea mariners known as the Phoenicians.

Both the Stonehenge in England and the Stonehenge like structure in New Hampshire are accurate astronomical constructions aligning with the sun at the spring and autumn equinoxes and summer and winter solstices. Both stonehenges are perfectly aligned to one another and during the summer solstice they form a direct line of connection to each other and then to Beirut, Lebanon, which was the ancient home of the Phoenician people. It’s as if someone built them this way on purpose.

The Stonehenge structure in America is thought to be about 2400 years old and contains inscriptions to Baal, the God of the Phoenicians, which reads: “To Baal on behalf of the Canaanites this is dedicated.” Baal worship is referenced throughout the books of the Old Testament. The Hebrew people were constantly conflicted in their worship life between the God of Abraham, Yahweh, and the pagan god of the region, Baal. The Phoenicians may have called themselves “Canaanites.”

The Phoenicians were a mixed cultural group of people who lived along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Their culture thrived for about twelve hundred years, from 1500BCE to about 300BCE. Perhaps the most significant contribution of the Phoenicians was an alphabetic writing system that became the root of the Western alphabets when the Greeks adopted it.

In the episode Wolter interviewed another scientist who speculated that the Phoenicians were such expert ship builders that they could easily have built a ship that would transport them to America. He shows images on carvings found at the stonehenges and in excavation sites of ancient Phoenician cities that depict a flat map of the world with the continents of Africa, Europe, and America in accurate detail.

The Phoenicians were expert sea farers because they knew how to read the stars and understood the significance of the north star for navigation.

Today we celebrate the second Sunday after Christmas and the feast of the Epiphany, which is technically tomorrow, Jan. 6, the twelfth day of Christmas.

On the feast of the Epiphany we are invited to be open to the spirit. The spirit invites us to spend time listening to where the spirit is calling us. The spirit invites to wonder where God is calling us this year, as individuals, and as a faith community.  Discerning God’s desire for us involves an active process of prayer and listening. Discernment is a discipline that takes practice.

I don’t know about you, but, I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps this is because I don’t like to set goals for myself that I know I won’t live into. I know, even before I begin, that if I say I am going to exercise every day for thirty minutes that I will fail. Sure, I’ll be really good and dedicated and disciplined for a while. But eventually something will happen, I’ll be too busy or I’ll get sick, and before I know it a week or a month will go by and I will not have lived into my goal. Then I’ll just tell myself I’ll start again next week, and maybe I will. But, most likely I won’t. So I’ll spend the rest of the year feeling guilty. I’ll make a few meager attempts to reinvigorate the workout routine but I will always, eventually, find a stretch of time when I won’t be able to live into it and once again I’ll give up.

No, I spare myself the guilt and anxiety and demoralization by simply avoiding making resolutions in the first place.

I am, however, a highly disciplined person who lives by a couple of guiding principles. One principle I live by is the desire to be as healthy as I can. This means that everything I do is structured around how it will enable me to be healthy. Aiming to live a healthy life determines how I take care of my body, my mind, and my spirit. This is a very different discipline than setting goals and making resolutions. Living a life structured on certain principles enables me to be adaptive and yet focused, to listen and respond, to be attentive to the Spirit’s presence. Another principle by which I live my life is prayer. Now my prayer life is not the traditional down on my knees kind of prayer in which I engage God with words. That kind of prayer works for many people, but not for me. I pray silently, no words. Just me, and the ever silent presence of God.  Occasionally God makes God’s presence known, usually later, through other people or something I read or hear. I also pray through movement. When I need to clear my head and open myself up to God I take a walk or go to a yoga class. Prayer in action is Biblical – Tobit, a character in the Apocrypha, is portrayed talking to God while walking his dog. A third way I pray is with scripture; reading and reflecting on the words of the Bible as I prepare a sermon is a prayer activity for me. Perhaps prayer is the primary principle that keeps me healthy in mind, body, and spirit.

A colleague of mine, who is the pastor of a church in Idaho, has a discipline that her congregation practices on the Feast of the Epiphany called “starwords.” On Epiphany, every member of the congregation, including the clergy, are invited to take a star with a word on it. The word is their word for the year. It is a word that is meant to open up one’s prayer life and help one see new ways in which God may be at work in one’s life, revealed through reflection and time spent with the starword.

I think this is an interesting experiment for us to engage in as our discipline and prayer practice. So take a starword of your own. Put it where you can see it and remember it. Ponder it over the next year. Let the word form your prayer life however it may do so. Let the word bring you new insights into who you are or how you are in relationship with God and other people. Like the Stonehenge connections that are based on the stars and cross over continents and seas, let the word help you build your own connections with God, yourself, and others.  If you don’t like the starword you draw, maybe that is an important place to begin. Why don’t you like it? But, also will you still dislike it after a year of living with it and letting it pray through you?

A star led the wise ones to Jesus, the incarnate word made flesh, and they found the living presence of God. May your star word lead you to new insights on how God is working in and through you this year.

 inside each star I added a text box and a word like "trust," "vision," "mission" and so forth.

Homily for the Festive Eucharist at the closing of the Episcopal Women's Caucus

The readings that we chose for the service tonight were all picked specifically for this service because they lift up the role of women ...