The First Creed of the Christian Church

I’ve had a strong pull, or better, a push to look ahead and see what’s out there on the horizon. It is, after all, a new year. Even with this mental exercise I’m reminded that Jesus once warned that those who are to be his followers should not look back on the life they had, but to plow forward into a new life with him. He labeled this forward thinking and being and reality the kingdom of God (Lk 9:62). When Lot’s wife, so the story goes, longingly looked back on her cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, she became a pillar of salt, trapped in the nostalgia of two great cities now gone (Gen 19:26). When I say that I’ve had a strong push to look ahead, what I may mean is that I don’t necessarily care much for 2021, so why not look to 2022? But even looking ahead to 2022 gives me similar notions of despair that I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps I’m mourning an out-of-control culture with its wars and rumors of wars. Society, so it seems, has lost its footing with many saying there is no footing at all, so find your own! Ideologies such as these leave individuals and families isolated and confused having no common values in which to begin healthy conversations, much less – debate. Maybe I lament that everything (and I mean everything) has been and continues to be reduced down to politics. If I hold onto these anxieties for too long, I start to turn to salt. I end up clenching my fists, tightening my jaw, wanting to scream, “Is there anything sacred anymore?” Maybe I’m just getting older, and I’m finally to that mid-life question, “Am I the last of my kind?”

I believe God saw I was feeling sorry for myself so he sent me an article from the catholic journal, First Things, by one of my favorite journalists George Weigel, who had similar sentiments as me at year’s end. In his latest article, George tells how he called up a friend and simply said, “Give me some good news.” To which [his friend] immediately replied, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” After his encounter, George wrote, “It’s always good for the Church to make that basic confession of faith [Jesus Christ is Lord], but especially when the shadows are lengthening across the historical landscape.”[1] He shares how the ancient Church had a custom on the Solemnity of the Epiphany (which the Church celebrated last Thursday) to look ahead. They did this by giving a preview or an itinerary about holy days on the horizon. The ancient Church announced the date of Easter and the other moveable feasts throughout the whole of the Church Year. For example, Ash Wednesday falls on March 2nd this year. Palm Sunday’s April 10th, and the following Sunday, Easter Sunday, is on April 17th, but not before Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday a few days before, and on and on and on the calendar of God’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church goes. The point was (and is) to look ahead, and not to the chaos that most certainly lay on, but to the calm, the real, and the truth that is the kingdom of God. 

Weigel ends his piece with these words,

“No matter what the vicissitudes and trials of history, Christians live in a different time zone: the time zone of salvation history. That is the truth to which the solemn liturgical proclamation of those dates attests. And that is why, however shaky the grounds for optimism, there is every reason for hope.”[1]

~George Weigel

My friends, right now (today) is one of those days for hope. On Sunday, Jesus got baptized, and not for the sins of the past but for the solemnity of the present. Getting into those muddy waters showed everyone that God was willing (and is willing) to get dirty with us, walk alongside us, and even be broken and suffer with us. Jesus Christ is Lord, and I am not. Jesus Christ is Lord, not the powers and principalities of this world. Jesus Christ is Lord…Jesus Christ is Lord. 

Finally, it’s my hope and my prayer for you and me right now (today) that when you get stuck in your ruminating mind, when someone else pushes you to your limits, or when you feel all alone, recall that ancient creed of the Church which brings us back into the time zone of salvation and on and into God’s home of hope. It may be another rough year ahead, only God knows, but thanks be to God that Jesus Christ is Lord.

[1]                George Weigel, “No Optimism, Much Hope,” First Things, (https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2022/01/no-optimism-much-hope) accessed on 1/5/2022.

Pietà

During my time as a hospital chaplain I’ve had the privilege of interacting with a variety of foster parents. Many feel called to the compassionate task of caring for children with chronic illness and differing abilities. They spend a lot of time in doctor’s offices, appointments, and children’s hospitals. Sometimes the biological parents are involved. Sometimes not.

The other day I was called to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) by a patient’s nurse. She informed me that the biological mom was tearful while the foster mom was holding steady. Both were bedside. The little boy in the hospital bed was very sick, and the family (biological and foster) made the impossible decision to withdraw care in order to take away the suffering that this small patient had endured for far too long.

When I entered the room the biological mom was having a hard time, and after introductions she said she needed to step out of the room. I escorted her to the lobby and showed her where she could find the garden. She excused herself full of anticipatory grief. I went back upstairs into the patient’s room again to discover the patient out of bed with the foster mom cradling and rocking him in her arms. With tears now in her own eyes, she hugged him close and comforted him with her soft, soothing voice. For me, the scene was so intimate, I like the biological mother, had to excuse myself. I left them to be family one with another.

Pietà by Michelangelo

Mary, we might say, is both Jesus’ biological and foster mom. Biological because she gave birth to him. Foster because she knew that ultimately he came from someone else and belonged to everyone through love. Mary is also remembered as birthing the Church, and through holy baptism we become adopted children of God.

“God destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will…”

~Ephesians 1:5

As we make our way through these last fews days of Advent, meditate on the love your Heavenly Father has for you. Ponder, also, the great mystery of the Church, and how through it we meet Jesus who loves us like a Mother.

Friends of Jesus

On day I was praying the Rosary, reflecting on the Luminous Mysteries, two of which contemplate the Wedding in Cana (Jn 2:1-12) and the Institution of the Eucharist (Lk 22:14-20). It dawned on me that Jesus brought the words of his mother from Cana into his last supper with his disciples when he commanded, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Mary said something similar when she commanded the servants attending to the wedding, “Do whatever he tells you.” When we do the things Jesus tells us, we are no longer called his servants, but friends (Jn 15:15).

Contemplate what it means to be friends with Jesus. Listen for his voice. If that’s too hard, listen for his voice in others like Mary. Continue on in this season of Advent asking God to reveal his Son to you through luminous mysteries galore.

The Kingdom of God is Near

“For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”

~Hosea 8:7

Long ago, the prophet Hosea talked about Israel moving at a whirlwind pace manufacturing lies, and leading masses of people to break promises their ancestors made to God. Do we, here in our own time, live at such an exhausted, contrived, hurricane-like pace – culturally, economically, politically, etc. – that life in God’s eternal spirit, inside the eye of the hurricane, can now be our only home? Long ago, superstitions chained society’s minds. Today, superstitions have morphed into atheistic ideologies confusing the temporal with the eternal. Holding onto any ideology – unchecked – instead of discerning God’s Will will lead the whole world to death, faster than if a fabricated whirlwind passed through.

Advent is an opportunity to dust off the spiritual ear and gift of prophesy, and partnering with Jesus, name and describe the labor pains (Matt 24:8) that must be endured as we await the birth of something wonderfully new – again. 

Change

Have you noticed the leaves? 
They're changing color. Falling, softly. Making a winter's blanket for mother earth. 
Have you counted the colors, noticed how they mix and match? 
What about the wind? Like a band leader, he provides melody for dancing. 
Up. Up. Similar music transcends. Sun and clouds show off their latest riffs. 
The forest's canopy crescendos, then a decrescendo glistens. Soft. Light.
On the drive to school we counted the colors, looked for yard decorations, and wondered about seasons. 
It's too early for Christmas music, but the sentiment's there. 
It's too late for rum, but the taste lingers like a phantom limb. 
I stand outside. Still. While the world turns.

Pain & Prayer

I was rounding at the hospital a few nights ago, and came upon a man awaiting chemotherapy treatment. Before the procedure he would undergo a form of stem cell therapy that proved painful. He shared that at his last treatment, and at some point amidst all the pain he started praying, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”

He explained to me, “There was nothing else I could do so I decided to thank Jesus and to call upon his name.” I was dumbstruck by the faith of this patient. It was a prayer of great acceptance. Through his witness, I was reminded of St. Mary Magdalen de’Pazzi who bore much pain the last few years of her life. When asked how she could bear it all, she pointed to a crucifix and said,

“See what the infinite love of God has suffered for my salvation. That same love sees my weakness and gives me courage. Those who call to mind the sufferings of Christ and who offer up their own to God through his passion find their pains sweet and pleasant.”

~St. Mary Magdalen de’Pazzi

Lord, let me have an ounce of this type of faith. Thank you for the witness of this patient to me that night, and thank you for St. Mary Magdalen de’Pazzi. Amen.

Waiting

“I thought that continence arose from one’s own powers, which I did not recognize in myself. I was foolish enough not to know…that no one can be continent unless you [O Lord] grant it. For you would surely have granted it if my inner groaning had reached your ears and I with firm faith had cast my cares on you.” 

St. Augustine, Confessions

The 2nd lesson appointed for today is a reading from the book of HebrewsHebrews is a different sort of book than the rest of the Biblical canon. For one, it’s not a book but a sermon put in letter format. Placed in letter form, the ancient Christians would circulate the speech from church to church much like the pastoral letters of St. Paul. Sermons and letters that passed from community to community kept everyone on the same theological page, more or less. Two, it’s the only book in the Christian scriptures with a sustaining argument. From beginning to end, the author is concerned with the nature of Christ: What/Who was Christ like on earth? What is Christ like now? Put another way, “Who, exactly, was and is this God-man?” If you’ve never read The Letter to the Hebrews in one sitting, I encourage you to do so. You may find the author’s argument convincing. You may find it troubling in parts. Like a good sermon, it has all of this and more. This morning I want to take for our meditation Hebrews 9:28, which reads, 

“[Christ] will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

~Letter to the Hebrews

One image the Letter to the Hebrews elicits dates back to Temple Judaism, specifically on the high holy day of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. On this day, the high priest of the Temple, and only the high priest, would go into the part of the Temple designated as the Holy of Holies and make sacrifice for his own sins and for the sins of the people. Yom Kippur was and still is honored and celebrated by our Jewish siblings. Whereas the ancient Jews had the Temple to make sacrifices, today, contemporary Jews make sacrifices through prayer, repentance, fasting, and alms-giving, to name a few. The writer of Hebrews takes the imagery of the great high priest, which any ancient Jew could imagine, and puts Jesus in that role. We might imagine Jesus as the high priest offering the sacrifice for the world’s sins, and within the Christian faith, even offering up himself as that sacrifice. Jesus, we could claim, is both the sacrifice and the sacrifice-er. Mixing metaphors, when we look upon a crucifix, Jesus remains the great high priest who offered himself up as the ultimate sacrifice dealing with sin on the cross.

Thinking on Yom Kippur again, those who gathered at the Temple would see the high priest enter the holy of holies. While he was in the Temple, they would readily wait. When he finally returned after making sacrifices, there was a grand celebration. God, working through the high priest, absolved the people. Alleluias were appropriate. There was a spirit of gratefulness. God’s people stand redeemed another year. Christians believe that Christ will come again, and those who wait are part of Christ’s Body, the Church. So, we might ask, “It’s been 2,000 years. How does the Church continue to wait? Or personally, how do you wait?

“It has often been noted that those immersed in today’s culture find it difficult to wait. We also recognize that appeals for patience have too often been used in the past to protect the status quo. Contemporary psychologists and theologians are reaffirming what the spiritual tradition has known all along: that “passive purifications,” experiences of impasse and frustration, and apparently fallow periods in our intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual lives are often the seedbed for insights and breakthroughs that can only be received, not achieved.”

~Steven Payne, O.C.D.

Over the past two years, we have all experienced impasse and frustration on an individual, collective, and social plane. I know I have had one long fallow period intellectually, emotionally, socially, and spiritually for far too long. When I am reminded that those fallow periods in my life hold potential for insight and breakthroughs, it gets me excited. I’m happy to wait for these. Also, to acknowledge that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to achieve such great heights, but instead must receive them is undoubtedly a gift from God. It’s like a nurse saying, “the results are negative,” or a doctor acknowledging cancer in remission.” It’s a child screaming, “It’s Christmas morning,” or an alcoholic accepting sobriety. It’s the great high priest coming out of the Temple. It’s Christ died; Christ risen, and practicing how you and I wait for him to “come again.”

After the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D., Temple Judaism was lost. We might claim that this was a fallow period for our Jewish siblings. It was a period of waiting and watching. Whereas watching and waiting required the external function of sight, innovative rabbis challenged their flocks to look with the mind’s eye interiorly. Purification, they claimed, could now be done within the heart. They looked to the writings of the prophet Jeremiah who experienced the fall of the first Temple for inspiration, and to God, who would provide faith and hope – virtuous requirements for a new waiting period. Synagogues would increase, and Jews felt free to travel, live, and settle outside Israel. They learned new ways in which to wait.

The writer of Hebrews gives Christians a few ideas on how to wait on Christ. Starting in verse 24 of chapter 10 we hear, “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Here, “Day” refers to Christ coming again just as we await the sunrise each morning. Put simply, we are to love. Our deeds are to be virtuous and following God’s will. We are to meet together for prayer, worship, and accountability, encouraging one another while waiting. The writer goes on to speak about inviting love in all aspects of life. Bring the love of Christ into your life wherever you go. Invite God into your work, your family, and even into those places that are far-reaching for you. Put forth the effort while you wait. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,” he commands in chapter 13.

So I ask again, How do you wait? How do you spend your time? Do you believe that God can turn fallow periods into breakthroughs? What is God up to in your neighborhood, community, and into the far reaches of your heart? This week, I encourage you to notice how you wait. Don’t denounce boredom. It may lead to insight. Denounce busy-ness. Catch yourself when you’re not doing something with intentionality. Affirm silence. Pray. Take deep, cleansing breaths.

Wait on God

Wait on

Wait...

I Can’t Make My Family More Spiritual

For several years I’ve been vexed with the question, “How do I add more of a spiritual element into the day-to-day life of my family?” I’ve tried to implement holy habits. I do this myself. Why can’t I whip all of us into shape? I’ve bought family devotional books for inspiration. When I homeschooled our oldest, we prayed “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families,” out of The Book of Common Prayer before each morning lesson. We’ve prayed around the dinner table with fits and starts. Our night time routine may be the most consistent. All of these disciplines begin well enough, but they don’t last more than a day or two until I find the where-with-all to try it again. At night, I keep myself awake thinking unhelpful thoughts, I’m not doing a very good job of showing my kids how to pray or have a meaningful relationship with God. These thoughts manifest into extreme (spiritual) daddy guilt.

I’ve decided, or rather my kids have decided, (or better, God has decided) that enough is enough. I’ve been approaching the spiritual life of my family all wrong, and asking the wrong questions. My kids have shown me that I can’t add more to what’s eternal, and what’s eternal is the spiritual. The everyday is the lesson (if we can even call it a lesson). Perhaps recognizing the spiritual in the everyday is simply a lifestyle. It’s not my role to add anything. Instead, it’s my job to gracefully respond to life with intentionality, compassion, and love by myself, in my work, and in front of my kids.

Habits are built into the everyday, making them holy is finding gratitude within them. Last week, I wrote about our youngest son discovering and rediscovering the moon. That was a holy moment. After church on Sunday, our oldest shared the Bible story told in his Godly Play classroom. That was a holy moment. When we gathered around the table for Sunday lunch we each shared what we were grateful for, and our youngest said, “church.” Then our oldest shared what and how he prays each night. All I did was participate in my children’s God stories. They naturally recognized the Divine, and I simply gave them space in order for them to continue this life-long relationship.

A long time ago, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” He said this after the adults blocked their pathway to him. He then shared that it is the adults’ responsibility to get out of the children’s way because it is children who are naturally curious, and curiosity is a gift from God. Do not hinder them when they want to meet the gift-giver, he could have said. And that’s it. Children intuitively understand that life is a gift. Each day is a miracle in the making. From now on my prayer is to rediscover God in the everyday. It’s a prayer my kids taught me, not by doing anything extra, but by being.

Thank you, God, for the gift of children. Help me to love them more by releasing them to you one miracle at a time. Amen.

Holy Interruptions

Most people don’t like to be interrupted. I’m no exception, especially when I’m in the middle of speaking. Where I don’t mind it so much is when I’m busy with a project at work or at home. There’s a person I used to work with who like Cosmo Kramer would burst into Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment unannounced. I would be busy at my desk, lost in thought, writing, or making a phone call and in would come Kramer pontificating his story mid sentence like a steam of consciousness rapper. Because I shared an office, and knew that Kramer’s actions annoyed everyone but me, I let him have the spotlight, engaging him with clarifying questions or comments to the chagrin of everyone’s occupied selves.

Recently, I’ve noticed my son has a bit of Kramer within him. I’ll be reading a book or relaxing at the end of the day, and in he’ll come, iPad in hand to show me his latest Minecraft creations. Honestly, his obsession with Minecraft used to bother me. I’ve come to accept it as of late, and marvel in his creativity. His artistry and expressiveness have come a long way. Both of us have grown.

I work as a hospital chaplain. My job description should read, Comfortable interrupting patients, staff and guests of the hospital. I interrupt nurses when they’re charting a patient’s record. I interrupt doctors when they’re on rounds. I interrupt patient’s when they’re Facetiming a loved one. Perhaps I could simplify my job description to say that chaplains are holy interrupters. Brian Doyle describes us this way,

[Chaplains] are the ones who knock gently on the doors of patients who are dazed and afraid and in pain, and stick their heads in and ask gently if they can be of service, and many times endure the lash of rude and vulgar response, and have to accept that as the price of doing business; and they are the ones who sometimes walk softly into the room and lay hands on hands or heads and whisper prayers and ask for blessings and healing and restored strength if at all possible, and those are hard things to ask for when the being in the bed is so patiently broken and bruised and frightened and helpless no matter how hard you pray or how huge your empathetic heart; and [chaplains] are the ones who then knock on the next door and the next, day after day week after week, sometimes for many years…”

~A Book of Uncommon Prayer

I’ve been both interrupted and an interrupter. Like Kramer, God has burst into my life, gifts in hand with a story to tell. Like my son, the Divine keeps showing me [their] creative mind in the people I meet and the thin places I navigate. This week begins Spiritual Health Week. If you know or have known a chaplain or pastoral counselor whose made a difference in your, or a loved ones’ life, take time to say ‘thank you,’ or keep them in your prayers. You’ll never know when they may be by to knock on your door and give you a holy interruption.

I See the Moon

This morning, me and my two-year-old son walked his ten-year-old brother to school. Because the days are getting shorter, and thus the nights, longer, the dawn seemed to hover around us like a breath. After escorting his brother safely through the crosswalk we said our goodbyes and turned around to discover the moon still brilliantly lit. I pointed up, “Look at the moon.” It took a moment for him to find it, and once he did he repeated my words, “Look at the moon.” As we walked back home the moon was caught behind a copse. “Where’s the moon,” he worried? I comforted him. “It’s still there.” We played this eye-spy question and answer game all the way back home. “Where’s the moon,” was always answered with, “It’s still there.”

After dropping off my little one at preschool, I returned home and read a commentary by St. John of Karpathos. He wrote, “The moon as it waxes and wanes illustrates the condition of man: sometimes he does what is right, sometimes he sins and then through repentance returns to a holy life.” After reading his words, I remembered the moon and how it was always there yet blocked by those trees for a time.

Thank you, God, for always being there even when I can’t see you.