There is only now.

(Photographed in the “garden of hope” at Clara White Mission, Jacksonville, FL.)

This sermon was offered on Sunday, May 30, 2021 — Trinity Sunday
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, FL

Isaiah 6:1-8
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17
Psalm 29

In the name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“There is almost no such thing as ready.

There is only now.”

This quote popped up on my meditation app last week.

It has stayed with me. 

A good reminder for someone who can

fret about what is to come,

and who rarely feels ready.

“There is almost no such thing as ready.

There is only now.”

The quote is attributed to Hugh Laurie.

The star of the TV series “House.”

He plays a hospitalist.

A doctor called in to solve complex medical cases

that have stumped other physicians.

If you’ve ever watched the show,

Dr. House always discovers the answer in the now.

Lots of footwork and questions –

lots of actions are taken — but the answer surfaces

when the answer surfaces.

The “now” is where the eternal operates,

and makes itself known.

It can’t be forced.

And it is always a surprise.

In Isaiah, we encounter a prophet who is certain

that he is not ready.

“Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips,

and I live among people of unclean lips;

yet my eyes have seen the Lord.”

He is terrified.

He must have been frozen in shock as

the seraph flew to him, touching his lips

with a piece of hot coal.

Definitely not ready.

Yet, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, willing.

(pause)

I suspect that the teenage girl who

filmed George Floyd’s death was terrified.

I doubt that she felt an overwhelming sense

of being ready.

And yet by grace she was willing.

Her action was pivotal in the quest

            for truth and justice.

We are just like that young girl.

Just like the prophet Isaiah.

And probably on some level just like Hugh Laurie,

God is calling us out of our comfort zone.

If you don’t feel ready: Good.

Because that sense of feeling not adequately prepared,

of feeling vulnerable, is what opens us to depend

on God and God alone.

12-step literature says that the alcoholic who has hit bottom —

who is unable to save herself –

must find a power greater than herself

which will solve her problem.

The literature is blunt: “Either God is everything.

 Or God is nothing. What is our choice to be.”

On this Trinity Sunday, I can’t help but return to that

beautiful, strange vision of Julian of Norwich.

Lying on what was thought to be her deathbed,

she had a series of visions.

In this one, she simply saw an open hand, cradling

in its palm what appeared to be a hazelnut.

She asked God: “What is it?”

The answer: “Everything that is.”

The Trinity embodies all of creation.

Nothing is left out.

No one is less than.

Our theology of the Eucharist tells us that

Christ is present in the elements

of bread and wine. 

We can take that further and affirm that

the Holy Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit,

is embodied in that sacrament, for they are

in constant communion with one another and –

through Christ — with us.

The Gospel lesson from John speaks of how

this communion of Trinity moves in and

through us – of how it includes us –

during our earthly pilgrimage.

Nicodemus asks “How can anyone be born

after growing old? How can anyone enter into

the mother’s womb to be born again?”

He shows us the limit of a strictly literal

interpretation of the Word.

Jesus does not want us to reenter

our mother’s womb.

He wants us to be open to the

transforming power of the Holy Spirit!

We are called into the light of Christ

to be transformed into his likeness.

In this way, we become more fully a part

of the conversation – of the communion

of Trinity.

Jesus calls us children of God.

He calls us friend.

This is a God who is love,

who gives us eternal life in Christ.

In this ongoing process, we are called to be

co-creators with this Holy Trinity.

The world is saved not because enough

people declare that Jesus is Lord.

The world is saved through our actions.

Jesus tells us to do as he has done.

To speak the truth in love.

To embody the truth in love.

I read an article this week about a rural

farm community outside of Palm Beach.

The government set up a vaccination site

to make it easier for folks living in this area

to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

Free! No appointment needed!

The hope was that this largely African American,

impoverished community –

a population that has been getting vaccinated

at a much lower rate than people of means –

would be able to be protected.

Can you guess what happened?

Wealthy folks from Palm Beach drove in their

Mercedes Benz’s to take advantage of the convenience,

and, in the process, they depleted a supply

intended for the locals.

Sometimes our fears and anxiety cause us

to act without regard for our neighbors.

So how is the Holy Trinity to transform the world?

How is the world to be saved?

Through acts of love.

Our neighbors – especially those who feel

excluded or forgotten, who have been treated

their entire lives as less than –

will experience the healing love of Christ

through our actions, through our willingness

to insist on – to demand justice.

Last week we celebrated the Day of Pentecost –

widely regarded as the birthday of the Church.

It is a joyful occasion — and it should be.

Jesus has ascended to the Father and

given us the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This Holy Spirit is the Advocate, who prays

to the Father on our behalf.

But it is also the Advocate of the forgotten and

neglected, of the invisible and diminished.

It is the Advocate of anyone whom our world

regards as “other” or less than.

And it is the Advocate which empowers

those of us who can stand with them.

We are called to love not just in Spirit

and truth.

We are called to love through our actions.

To be co-creators with the Holy, Unknowable,

Trinity of love.

You are in good company if you do not feel ready.

“For there is almost no such thing as ready.

There is only now.” Amen.

Posted in 12-step spirituality, Christianity, community, compassion, Diocese of Florida, Episcopal church, faith, Grace, holy, love, reconciliation, Recovery, unity, urban ministry | Tagged | 1 Comment

The price of love.

This was offered as a Good Friday reflection on the Seventh Word of Christ, at St. John’s Cathedral, Jacksonville.

Luke 23:44-49 “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”

At the beginning of this week

we saw Jesus welcomed, hailed and celebrated

with cries of Hosana! as he entered Jerusalem. 

Jesus had become a well-known figure.

He was sought after and celebrated

by many as the coming King of Israel,

as the Messiah — the Savior of the world.

But then the mood shifted.

Many people – especially those in power —

became increasingly wary of Jesus.

No one knew quite what to make of him.

There was a growing consensus that he was dangerous.

A threat to the powers that be.

The cost of being his friend or his follower

rose sharply.

That last supper, which we remembered

yesterday, must have been wrought

with tension. 

The foreboding that filled the air surely

could have been cut with a knife.

One of those closest to Jesus

rose from the table, betraying him

in exchange for a small purse of coins.

By now Jesus’ closest friends have scattered.

As the horror of his execution

comes into focus, a few followers gaze

on the scene from a distance.

Terrified.

Confused.

Perhaps feeling betrayed

themselves.

Jesus is isolated and alone as

he hangs on a cross at Golgotha.

For him, the betrayal is complete.

All he has left is a Father who seems

      absent at best.

At worst, indifferent.

Excruciatingly cruel.

In the midst of unimaginable suffering,

at the point of death, Jesus finds the strength,

the courage – despite evidence to

the contrary — to trust.

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

We may have moments in our lives

when we are able and willing to trust,

even in the face of immeasurable hardship.

But to be so completely free of self-interest,

free of self-centered fear and worry that

we are able to surrender our wills,

to let go absolutely?

Our 12-step friends know that the courage to

surrender in the face of such pain and fear

is grace-filled. It is God-given.

A few weeks ago, we met with Catholic lay leaders

at the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary,

to see how they might join with us through

our Church Without Walls, to collaborate

in our ministry with the homeless and urban poor.

After our meeting — when we walked out

onto Duval Street —

I met a man named Antoine.

He had just walked past us, but then

spun around and lurched toward me.

“Can I talk to you?” he pleaded.

His face was contorted in anguish.

“I’m having such a hard day,” he explained.

“I’m homeless. Everywhere I turn, people

are being so mean.

Shouting at me, cursing me.”

In the course of that one day,

Antoine had been spat upon,

threatened and shamed.

Looking into the depths of those dark,

soulful eyes, I saw Christ.

The One who poured himself out for us all.

The One who chose to trust, when those

closest to him had pulled away.

When the Father who sent him was

seemingly absent.

In our brief exchange, Antoine somehow

chose to trust.

He asked for nothing but someone to listen.

He shared his heartache and exhaustion.

We prayed together. 

Then, as quickly as he’d approached me,

he turned on his heel to make his way

down the street.

My Catholic friends were perplexed.

“How did you know it was safe

to engage with him?

How did you know what to do?”

I assured them that there are incremental,

concrete steps that can be taken to educate

and equip those interested is learning

this ministry of presence.

There are trainings and supportive

conversations we can provide that can

help build a comfort level for

engaging in this transformative work.

No experience is necessary.

In fact, it is often better to come to it

empty-handed, with open hearts and minds.

For, when we are willing to bring only ourselves,

that is when the Spirit moves

most profoundly among us.

It takes courage to be present in the

face of another’s suffering.

It is human to resist it.

That’s why so many of us get anxious even at

the thought of visiting someone in hospital.

When we become willing to take the first step—

   to suit up and show up –

the Holy Spirit always fills in the gaps.

“We cannot serve at a distance,” writes

author Rachel Naomi Remen. 

“We can only serve that to which we are

profoundly connected,

that which we are willing to touch.”

The greatest gift the Church can offer

in the face of immeasurable suffering

is a compassionate presence.

It is counterintuitive – and very awkward at first —

for we are a society of people conditioned

to Act. To Fix.  To Measure. To Solve.

Antoine owned nothing but the clothes

on his back.

On the street that day, he did not seek

money or material things.

He sought something that proved nearly

impossible to attain.

He sought human connection.

He sought someone to listen.

Jesus has done the heavy lifting,

walking to his death, willingly.

Shedding the comfort of friends and community

as he found himself rejected, vilified,

forsaken.

“All of his acquaintances, including the women

who had followed him from Galilee,

stood at a distance, watching.”

In our own way, each of us suffers

during our earthly pilgrimage.

But it is hard to imagine that the One

who created everything that is —

that the One who is Love —

wants us to suffer alone,

utterly abandoned.

As followers of the Way of Jesus,

we are called to draw on the well of compassion

that is shaped and filled by our own suffering. 

We are called to be present to the suffering

in our hurting world.

Jesus does not call us to pay the price of sin.

He calls us to pay the price of love.

Amen.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Holy grit.

middlerretreat-1

We enter a New Year with a sense of caution but also with great hope. 

Recently someone asked me what title I might give the year 2020.  The first thing that came to mind was “holy grit.”  Many of us have learned in a new way what it means to dig deep to mine the dregs of our spiritual and emotional reserve.  It is messy, exhausting, and at times desperate. 

I have watched friends walk through painful events – things that, under more ordinary circumstances would be extremely trying: loss of loved ones to cancer, to COVID, to alcoholism and addiction. Loss of jobs, delay of opportunities that this time last year had been within reach. In June a man in our pantry line shared that he was next to be rehired at his company – just as soon as the pandemic is behind us.

The tragedies and challenges have at times seemed unjustly harsh and relentless, wreaking havoc, one after another.  In moments of utter exhaustion and emotional depletion, when it can seem that the universe is unnecessarily cruel, how do I explain to someone in the midst of their suffering that God loves them? That Christ is with them? 

At this writing I just learned of two friends who had to say goodbye to a cherished adult son, who was on life support following a sudden cardiac event.  Life can be so cruel.  Surrender is the only way through. To trust that somehow God will make a way for us.  Somehow there will be enough to sustain us.  An old friend long gone used to say “You always get what you need but never five minutes too soon. Never a nickel more.”

A stable with a manger: definitely not a nickel more for Mary, for Joseph.  Yet they surrendered though the circumstances were not ideal, were not what they imagined or dreamed.  When the angel Gabriel visited Mary, marking the beginning of a series of events that would forever change her life, forever change the world, she responded May it be with me according to your word.  Even as she agreed, Mary surely could not imagine how all that she was told would come to pass, how events would unfold over the years. If she could, she may not have said yes.

We will always have questions, many unanswered at least in the ways we’d like them answered, especially when the heat is on.  For me this requires daily – sometimes moment-by-moment – surrender.  It requires digging deep, leaning on prayer and an inner reserve of grit to keep going, to focus on what I can affect rather than being victim to those things outside my control.

We must dare to believe that the light shines most brightly in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.  Sometimes, as we peer into the night of our lives, all we can find is the faintest glimmer, and sometimes only after much waiting, much seeking.  But that glimmer is enough.

Posted in 12-step spirituality, Christianity, faith, Grace, holy, hunger, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Strength beyond our strength.

FallLeavesPhilly

(Photo taken in Philadelphia in October at a retreat for those engaged in street ministry)

 

The following sermon was offered at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, Fl, on the Day of Pentecost, Sunday, May 31, 2020, by The Rev. Canon Beth Tjoflat.

Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
John 20:19-23

+++++++++++

May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

We live in challenging times. Today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit,
A gift that is intended to equip us for times and circumstances such as these.

Just over a week ago I was
chatting over the fence with some of
the people lining our block, waiting their turn
to receive groceries from the pantry.

When someone asked, “What’s new, pastor?”
I mentioned that the Feast of Pentecost was coming up.
Someone else responded “Penta-what? What’s that?”
Before I could respond, a man a few squares ahead of him,
one of our Church Without Walls regulars,
announced with conviction, “the Comforter!”

He was right.
Only the Holy Spirit is more than that.
It empowers us, gives us courage,
strength and wisdom.
This spirit within us gives us the very
power and authority of Jesus.
This is good news.

Still, this can also be perplexing and quite
daunting to ponder.
Even so, it is Good News!

This past week the pain and brokenness
in our communities spilled over with
the senseless killing on Monday of George Floyd –
and African American man who died when
an arresting officer knelt on his neck.

Floyd said he couldn’t breathe but none of
the officers looked out for him.
Somehow their duty to serve and protect
in their minds didn’t apply to this man.
Floyd lay on the pavement, handcuffed,
cruelly pinned, until he was dead.

Some weeks before that, another senseless killing
of a black man Ahmaud Arbery – just up
the highway from here, near Brunswick –
left us stunned.

We were grieved and confused to hear about
Breonna Taylor who was shot 8 times by
officers who entered her home with a no-knock
search warrant.
The man they were looking for had already
been apprehended.

These tragic events seem to keep coming,
tearing at our collective souls – yet especially
they create a sense of fear and righteous anger
in people of color – people who suffer from
a breadth and depth of inequality
that seems to increase not decrease.

They suffer from the sin of racism that infects us all,
whether or not we are conscious of it,
whether or not we are willing to name it.

My friend Dee – a white woman and resident
of our Springfield neighborhood –
was interviewed at the protest yesterday
here in downtown Jacksonville.

She said she decided to participate after asking
some black friends what she could do to make
a small difference.

Dee’s advice to us: Be in the conversation.
Be willing to explore racism in our community.
Don’t let fear of saying the wrong thing
stop you from engaging in the dialogue.

These are wise words that deserve
our consideration and response as members
of the body of Christ.
They are a call to action.

We may feel powerless or unsure of what
we could possibly do.
The Holy Spirit is a gift given
for times such as these.
The power and authority of Jesus rests
upon each one of us.

These incidents — and the protests and unrest
manifesting in their wake — come to us as
we are reeling from a pandemic that
continues to unfold around us.

As followers of Jesus we are called to
make wise choices, to consider the vulnerable
and most at risk.
“Will I wear a mask?
Must I continue to practice social distancing?”
Until there is a vaccine widely available to all,
the answer for followers of Jesus  is a resounding “Yes!”

Yes, these are challenging times.
Most people I speak with report that they
are have been riding an emotional rollercoaster
since the onset of the pandemic.
I know I have.

These waves of emotion are unpredictable
– they just come.
Along with this, many of us are experiencing a sense
of exhaustion –and  wonder how this can be.

For some – especially those of us who still have jobs,
who have a roof over heads and food to eat –
there is a sense that we should just be grateful,
that we shouldn’t feel pain or fear.
And yet these are very human responses,
Responses for which we can make room.

As horrible as Covid-19 is, we know it is
not the only global pandemic we face.
A spirit of divisiveness continues to infect
our world and our country.

This is not unique to this moment in time
but it has been amplified of late.
It is amplified by so-called leaders,
by TV personalities on the left and the right
and by people who at the heart of it are
shot through with fear.

An internal fear that is not explored over time
will be covered over, only to be turned outward
as hate.

We must pray and work toward instilling
the spirit of unity that has made
our country great in past times of crisis.

The Pentecost was made for times such as these.
Jesus breathes his spirit upon us so that
we can do the very hard work of loving our
neighbors as ourselves.

We can do the hard work of standing with
those who are oppressed and marginalized.
The challenging work of calling out racism
and prejudice when it visits our communities,
our homes and our hearts.

In recent weeks, during Morning Prayer
worship on Zoom, we have been praying a
moving litany for the pandemic.
In a prayer for frontline workers, we ask God to
give them strength beyond their strength,
to give them courage beyond their courage.

These same words we can pray for one another,
for our families, friends and the wider community.

We live in challenging times.
But we belong to the One who
always has our back.
He asks us to stand with those most vulnerable.
To have the backs of all our brothers and sisters.

As we confront our sin and the sin within
our community, within long-standing institutions,
we will no longer be stuck.
We will be set free.

In these turbulent and uncertain times,
Jesus gives us his peace.
He gives us the power and grace to love Him
with all our strength and might.
He gives us the power and grace to love
all our neighbors – to love them as ourselves.

Amen.

+++++

If you would like to make a gift to support our outreach, you may do so online at: St. Mary’s.

Posted in Christianity, community, compassion, Grace, Interfaith, love, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The gate.

StMarysGateIn this week’s Gospel reading (John 10:1-10), we encounter Jesus, the good shepherd. And yet in this passage he does not refer to himself explicitly as the good shepherd. Instead he tells his followers, I am the gate.  I am the gate for the sheep.

In my last post, I made peace with the wall that separates St. Mary’s from the rest of the world. This week I find myself thinking about our gate. As we continue operating our food pantry, we do so without opening our campus as we did in more carefree days. Instead, people distance themselves safely from one another as they wait along our sidewalk in a quick-moving line that brings them ultimately to the wrought iron gate that stands in front of our sanctuary steps.

I pray for all who are facing food insecurity, but especially this day for those who never in a million years thought they’d find themselves in a food line. It is a foreign experience for them, jarring, humbling, maybe even embarrassing.  This kind of suffering may be new to them.  It is also equalizing.  We all are just “slobs on the bus, trying to find our way home.” Being forced to let go of the self-image we may have cherished, having the scaffolding of a life carefully constructed, suddenly damaged or ripped away — this is not something for which most of us would ever hope.  But still, when it happens, when we find ourselves in an untenable position, we can find hope there. We can find something so sure and true, something that maybe we never knew we had, something we secretly feared would not be there to carry us.

In his beautiful Sabbath poem, Wendell Berry asks,
Why must the gate be narrow?
Because you cannot pass beyond it burdened.
To come in among these trees you must leave behind
the six days’ world, all of it, all of its plans and hopes.
You must come without weapon or tool, alone,
expecting nothing, remembering nothing,
into the ease of sight, the brotherhood of eye and leaf.

At times I have used this poem as part of a graveside liturgy but find that it works for any kind of loss. It speaks so beautifully of the blessing of letting go, of the deep discovery that is possible only when we surrender everything we know and everything we are. Even then, we can’t know what the next step might look like. But if we can manage to let go – if we can at least loosen our grip — the gatekeeper will open the gate. And we will hear his voice. We will find our way.

If you are able to, please support food ministries in your community. If you would like to support St. Mary’s, you may do so here: Giving to St. Mary’s.

 

Posted in Christianity, community, compassion, Diocese of Florida, faith, Grace, hunger, Interfaith, love, Ministry, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wailing wall.

PrayerWallA decade ago I was blessed to visit the Holy Land.  One of the most moving experiences for me was visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem, an exposed section of a retaining wall built by Herod. 

Jews and other pilgrims visit this place, often spending considerable time pondering the many trials and ordeals faced by the Jewish people throughout their history. Remembering and attesting to the faithfulness of God, people often tuck prayers into the wall. 

As I waited and prayed, eventually a space opened. I moved forward, pressing my forehead and palm against the cool stone, my breath taken away by the holiness, by the vast history of this place. After a few moments, I tucked my paper into a tiny crevice, then backed away, bowing the knee of my heart, uncertain of my right to be there, to make such a request.

This week at our food pantry, more people than ever before came to us, seeking food for their bodies, but also longing for something more. Longing to hear a “yes.” To hear the words “I see you.” To hear that they belong, that in God’s perfect economy they still matter.

Several who came asked for prayer.  As they shared their stories, each came with tears. Each brought frustration and anxiety. “When will this virus end? When will I be able to rest?” One I’ve known for years through our “church without walls” street church. She raised her hands toward heaven even as she wept, letting the prayer wash over her.  Another woman was standing a few feet away, certain that God would touch her too, as she waited patiently nearby.

Later, shortly after the close of pantry, an elderly woman hobbled up to the fence, hoping to receive something. We paused our staff worship time, as a parcel of food was gathered quickly. When I stepped out of the sanctuary and into the light, wearing my white stole, our visitor called to me: “Mother! Mother, please.” When I approached, she knelt at the base of the fence, taking in my words and blessing like a desperately needed drink. When she looked up, she had the face of an angel. A small, pink azalea and the petals of a yellow-and-white iris were tucked under her cap, framing her face.

Shortly after she left, we reconvened to conclude our staff devotional.  A colleague observed rather astutely: “That was the best part of the day.”

A few weeks ago, when the coronavirus forced us to lock our gate, I was troubled by the brick and wrought iron fence that now separates us from those who come. It seemed so cold, and unwelcoming. More than once, I felt the urge to grab a sledgehammer and knock it down.

But now, when I look out of the corner of my eye down the expanse of fence, I see something altogether different.  I see prayers tucked carefully into place. Prayers covering basic unmet needs along with treasured hopes and dreams, ancient regrets nestled alongside deepest longings — all of it, suspended between the iron slats, resting there, waiting. All of it tended by Love, tended by the One who will never abandon us.

Posted in Christianity, community, compassion, Diocese of Florida, Episcopal church, faith, Grace, holy, hunger, love, peace, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We’re starving.”

GoodFridayThese words yesterday, coming from one of our “church without walls” congregants, chilled me to the bone. At great inconvenience and physical hardship for herself, she made her way from a camp site to our food pantry, located about one mile north of the heart of downtown.  Her tattoo-mottled body was sweaty and shaking from the effort as she parked her bicycle, precariously laden with as much nonperishable food and bakery items as she could hope to carry.

She wept as she told me, “I’m scared.  We’re all scared.” I told her how much I missed our community, now scattered. How heart-broken I feel to not be able to gather.  She said that she is afraid that she will lose her beloved partner, who has medical issues, who remains encamped as she is too weak to travel to our food pantry.

When she asked for prayer, I invited her to follow me several feet down the fence for privacy.  My heart ached that we weren’t able to embrace, that I wasn’t able to place a hand on her shoulder as we prayed.  We connected as best we could with a brick-and-iron fence between us.

The deepening sense of powerlessness and grief can be overwhelming as the divide widens, sending the poor farther and farther to the edge of society, to the edge of existence.

As a priest, I feel like a traitor even as I struggle to reimagine this particular ministry.  Some days, prayer is the best I can offer, though that prayer can feel hollow when what we crave is something incarnational, something “real.” A warm cup of coffee. A comforting meal shared among our gathered community.  A time to reflect, to give voice to our experiences, to have the cry of our hearts heard by our sisters and brothers.

For sound reason, we cannot gather at this time, and the tools we use to reach those more fortunate – computers and internet – fall woefully short in connecting with those less fortunate, especially when it comes to those who are unhoused. I post prayers and messages, knowing only a handful will be able to access them.  It is not a matter of not being tech savvy.  The libraries – a vital lifeline of daily life — are closed, cut off by a pandemic.

When this dear one cried to me, “We’re starving,” I flashed on Jesus on the cross, uttering the words “I thirst,” before declaring that “It is finished.”  My friend’s suffering – the suffering of this beloved community – is known intimately by Jesus. I know that he hangs with them in this trying time just as he remains with us all.  His presence may seem hidden or at times cruelly obscured, but he is with us.  I cannot solve my friend’s suffering. I am powerless to fix these urgent days we find ourselves in, powerless to prevent the many life adjustments that are sure to come.  I simply pray to find a way to be present with these precious ones, to be present with those in our midst. To find Christ not in some longed-for-yet-out-of-our-grasp future, but in the here and now. For it is in this present time that we must find the One who suffered and died for us. The One who promised never to leave.

The number of our neighbors facing food insecurity is growing rapidly in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. You can read more about that here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-next-threat-hunger-in-america/2020/04/02/cde04dfa-7525-11ea-a9bd-9f8b593300d0_story.html or here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/02/us-food-banks-coronavirus-demand-unemployment

You can make a gift to St. Mary’s food pantry here: St. Mary’s.

Posted in 12-step spirituality, community, compassion, Diocese of Florida, Grace, holy, hunger, Interfaith, love, Ministry, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Believe in the light.

ShaySunrise

(Photo taken by my good friend Bill Shay in Fernandina Beach, FL)

In today’s Gospel reading (John 12:20-36), Jesus told his disciples: “Believe in the light so that you may become children of light.” Jesus spoke these words at a time when his own soul was troubled. He understood what was to come – the suffering that was about to unfold, paving the way for the salvation of the world.

As we find a way to live in the midst of a global pandemic, we journey into a Holy Week unlike any other we have experienced in our lifetimes.  Jesus’ words and experience become more relevant, more palpable than ever before.  Wherever we may find ourselves — disrupted lives and obliterated routines — our expectations have been altered.  We must walk in new ways – sometimes with strength, sometimes with resistance and anger — and at moments stumbling gloriously as we strive to do the next right thing while accommodating grief and anxiety.

We must give ourselves and those around us a measure of grace.  We have no point of reference for what we are experiencing.  Beyond listening to sound medical advice and careful social practices that honor the welfare of the entire community, we are reinventing how to live our lives, one day at a time.

We must choose to walk in the light. We must choose to walk with the One who created us all and to trust in the light that casts out darkness.  He is with each one of us: the strong, the healthy, the resilient in our midst — and with those who are suffering, those who risk their lives to care for the sick, to put food on the table. And he is at the bedside of those who are dying.

We must choose to be children of light. For the light which came into the world – the one true Light – can never be extinguished and will never forsake us.

Posted in 12-step spirituality, Christianity, Grace, holy, love, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Compassion crucifies fear.

Palms

God makes that possible.

We begin our Palm Sunday, singing Hosanna, as Jesus rides into Jerusalem, bringing hope as a compassionate king, a merciful gracious leader who cares for all people, even and especially those who find themselves on the fringes of society: the poor, the disabled, the sick, the prisoner, the homeless, the vulnerable, the alien.

Quickly, though, our readings from Matthew usher us swiftly from a triumphant entry promising a new King to Jesus — suddenly vilified, unjustly criminalized — as he is swept toward his death, even as he is declared guilty of nothing. A colleague astutely observed these were a people hungry for new leadership, actively committed to the welfare of all people. They longed for Jesus – healer, truth-teller, gatherer of all — from those in positions of authority to those on the very edges of life, those who might be deemed “non-essential,” or even disposable. They longed for Jesus just as we do.

Finding ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic is jarring, terrifying, even as we wake each day to face much that is unknown, much that is uncertain.  We must find ways to not give ourselves over to the fear even as we honestly acknowledge it.

I have the privilege of working in a food ministry. Each day, when those who come (many seeking food assistance for the first time) respectfully line up according to colorful sidewalk tape that makes social distancing a little clearer, I am struck by the relief and gratitude of so many.  This is important work. It is Gospel work. But, even more, it is work that casts out that creeping sense of fear.  Our 12-steppers know that being of service is the secret to a happy life. It abates that very understandable fear: “What will become of me and my family as the days, weeks and months go by?”

Just for today, each of us can choose to practice compassion. One of the greatest acts of compassion is to stay home. And, if we must go out for essentials or because we work providing an essential service, let’s practice social distancing. Let’s make masks and wear them.  Let’s practice compassion by doing the next right thing for the good of our communities, for the good of all people.

Acts of compassion – no matter how slight – cast out fear.  Because they are rooted in God. Because they are rooted in love.

If you would like to make a gift to help our food pantry serve rapidly growing numbers of hungry people, you may do so here: St. Mary’s food pantry

Posted in 12-step spirituality, Christianity, community, compassion, Diocese of Florida, Grace, hunger, love, Recovery, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Come from the four winds, O breath.

seascapeThis morning the prophet Ezekiel reminds us that God is with us, that we can call on the One who created everything that is, even when it may seem, at moments at least, that we are left alone to face our peril.

The pressing needs of the world – of our physical reality – cause us to look for solutions all around us. We want to be able to forage and obtain what we need, whether in the form of household supplies found in the back corner of a cabinet or a perfectly timed visit to the grocery or by scouring to find a church food pantry that, by grace, has managed to remain stocked and open, at least for today.

When Jesus finally comes to Bethany – after the death and burial of Lazarus – his action is too late in eyes of Martha.  But it is for times such as these that he is able to enter into our lives most profoundly. He may not restore our circumstances, routines or bank accounts just as we’d like them to be, but he will guide us through this challenging time of uncertainly in a way that, as our 12-step friends say, is indeed miraculous.

Already we see kindness and welcome in a way that is inspiring. When nurses and doctors report for duty with limited protective gear, when patients seek out Covid-19 testing or care for other critical needs, no one is concerned about politics or religion or bank accounts.  The focus is on doing the best next right thing.

In today’s Gospel reading (John 11:1-45), after Lazarus’s death, some of the people said “‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man kept this man from dying?’”

The expectation that people of faith must or will be rendered invulnerable flies in the face of the stories of Holy Scripture.  Our naked vulnerability is the birth place of the divine gift of compassion.  Perhaps Christ is creating a space for a reign of true compassion in a country and world that often have been dominated by instincts in collision, by the visceral desire for more power, money or special privilege. “I’ll share mightily with my neighbor once I make sure I get mine, once I make sure I have enough.”  Those of us who have found ourselves caught up in this game at one time or another know that, left to our own devices, there is never enough.

God’s compassion is intended for all. In God’s perfect economy, no one gets left behind or brushed aside as expendable.

There is nothing wrong with reaching out and tending our own needs and sense of loss and pain. In fact, it is imperative. We must “place the oxygen masks on ourselves first.”  But as that sense of breath and flow is restored (just for today), let us set our sights on our neighbors (wisely defined as “everyone in the whole wide world,” by my 9-year old son), on the most good for the most people. Let us set our sights on love – the very heart of compassion. For it is the one thing that increases in our lives when we share it.

Our world as we know it is being changed. It may seem that “‘Our bones have dried up, and our hope is lost.’” But God will bring us back, not to our vision of the world, but to his. Already God is sharing his breath through the four winds, so that the best of humanity may rise up and walk together.

Posted in 12-step spirituality, Christianity, community, Diocese of Florida, faith, Grace, Interfaith, love, Recovery, Uncategorized, unity | Leave a comment