As We Are

Every Sunday, the liturgy of the Episcopal Church begins with “The Collect for Purity,” – which means a prayer that “collects together” certain themes for reflection by the gathered community:

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

This prayer, which Thomas Cranmer prepared for the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, acknowledges the anxiety and stress of being human.  We often enter the liturgy preoccupied with the weight of our own concerns and with the unique struggles of others we care about.  We may be thinking about the challenges of work in the coming week, a relationship that has been strained, or we worry about our health or feel anxious about a family member.  God knows.  All our desires are known.  No secrets are hid.

In this collect we ask God to receive us as we are and grant us perspective to see our lives unfolding against the background of a larger design.  The Creator of all life and well-being needs some space if we are to lead healthy and authentic lives.  This prayer is our way of showing up, as we are, not as we think we should be—a small but essential requirement.

Sufficiency vs. Scarcity

Bernard L. Madoff was sent to jail Thursday after confessing to one of the largest financial frauds in history, telling a courtroom filled with people he cheated that he was “sorry and ashamed” for bilking so many out of their life savings. One can only imagine the betrayal of trust and the agony felt by Madoff’s victims.

In my conversations around Holy Comforter, I hear the anxiety, anger, and betrayal that many are feeling over the sheer greed and irresponsibility that lies at the root of our current economic crisis. Warren Buffett expressed it well in a recent interview, “The people who behave well, are no doubt going to find themselves taking care of the people who didn’t behave so well.”

Without trust, not much in the human journey can survive. It is trust that allows us to grow, to face challenges, to become our deepest and truest selves. So how do we live when when trust is violated?  Where do we turn when confidence is shaken?

The Christian faith is rooted in a fundamental trust, a placing of confidence in the love, faithfulness, and abundance of the God who has given us our unique lives in this world. The economic downturn offers each of us a renewed choice to step back from the mind-set of fear and scarcity and recover the truth of sufficiency.  Sufficiency isn’t a measure of enough or not enough – in fact it is not an amount at all. It is a mindset based on prior experience, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough. St. Paul captures the truth of sufficiency in his Letter to the Philippians:

I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Phil. 4:11-13).

Paul suggests that his confidence in God has generated for him a completely new relationship with life and with everything money can buy. When we let go of the mindset of scarcity, of chasing after what we have lost, we are free to take that energy and attention and invest it in what we do have. Such a gentle and persistent effort (and I am not implying this is easy) may help us discover unimagined treasures of a kind, “where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20).

When trust is violated, we keep going forward with life. God’s grace inspires us to do so. The truth of sufficiency is a place to begin.

P.S. A helpful book I’m reading that has inspired new thoughts about sufficiency and rethinking our relationship with money is Lynne Twist’s, “The Soul of Money – Reclaiming the Wealth of our Inner Resources.”  While not written from an explicitly Christian perspective, it echoes the teachings of Jesus in relevant and contemporary ways.  He is the master on this subject!

Iona – Acoustic Guitar/Vocal

picture11The high point of a sabbatical pilgrimage to Scotland in the summer of 2002, was my stay on the remote and beautiful Hebridean Island, Iona, just off the Western tip of the Ross of Mull. The community St. Columba founded on Iona in AD 563 became the center for an early, northern renaissance in which books, art, music and culture were preserved in the face of the encroaching “dark age.” Columba and his monks were vigorous and tireless missionaries who did much to keep Christianity alive in Europe.

There is something unique about the atmosphere of Iona. You can’t help but recognize it as a sacred place permeated with the prayers and hopes of countless pilgrims over the centuries. With its ancient grey rocks, fertile fields, white sands, grazing sheep, high crosses and Abbey bell ringing in the distance—Iona is a place of holiness, solitude and incomparable beauty. If you’ve been there, I’m sure these words resonate with you.

I captured my memories of Iona in a song I wrote when I returned home. It was my first attempt using an altered tuning for the guitar, (DADGAD) especially after I stumbled on to the excellent playing of Tony McManus from Scotland who, in my opinion, has the corner on Celtic Guitar. Using my Logic Pro set up, I was able to incorporate sounds of seagulls, rolling waves, and even an abbey bell in the mix. I’m hoping my brother, Rob, an excellent drummer, can eventually supply a better rhythm track than the basic beat I used here. Still, I was pleased with the overall shape of the song and the memories of Iona it continues to evoke within me.

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Practicing hopefulness by living “as if”

Margaret M. Treadwell, M.S.W. has written a wonderful piece on Daily Episcopalian about hope and self-differentiation.  Here’s an excerpt:

As the days have unfolded since my peak experience on January 20th [Obama’s Innauguration], I’ve been wondering what we really mean by hope and how to keep it alive with the worsening world news from the media and our new president who based his campaign on “The Audacity of Hope.” Certainly we seem to be living the cliché “ hoping against hope.”

Webster’s dictionary defines hope as 1) the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. 2) to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence. 3) To believe, desire or trust. 4) A person or thing in which expectations are centered.

These definitions suggest that the focus of hope is outside of us – on events in the future, another person or thing. Much easier to seek there for salvation, yet here is President Obama insisting that our hope lies in all of us forming a community to work with him and each other, a familiar refrain from clergy in dying churches and other leaders in stuck organizations. Even though we know that no leader can be the Messiah, we human beings continue to behave like Jesus’ disciples, who expect Him to fix things while they refuse to look at themselves or draw on their inner resources where real hope for change and a new life lies.

Hope begins at home in our families. Almost everyone who calls my office for the first time hopes to improve a relationship with a loved one. Usually they want to change another person to achieve their desires. One of the first steps in an assessment plan is to examine expectations of others and ourselves. Are expectations realistic or merely distractions from more important questions? Do we want to change in someone else a characteristic or habit we don’t like in ourselves? Often if we work on the very thing we want our spouse, partner, child, parent, friend to change – voila! His or her change occurs while we looked away to work on changing ourselves. A person cannot stay the same if a motivated leader shifts his or her position in the family (or church or any institution.)

I refer to this as the “as if theory,” in which I coach clients to practice living as if hope for another is possible while refocusing on better defining themselves, as if their heart’s desire were attainable.

Treadwell concludes with this apt quote from Barbara Johnson:“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

Read the entire piece here.