Fear? Or faith?

popefrancis-fear-tyrannyOn Saturday I walked to church and listened to a podcast. The thing in the podcast that struck me the most was just how powerful a motivator fear can be. Having already read the mass readings, which address fear and other things, and I began to think about fear in our time. It is not all that different than fear in any other time; it just seems worse because we are bombarded with so much information.

So what are we afraid of? Continue reading

This, not that

Burnout.Quote.TwitterIf you are a regular reader, you know that I am a person of faith, blogging about the intersection of faith, spirituality, and everyday life. You also know that I am a Roman Catholic who also works for the Catholic church both in her day job, and as a freelance writer, and more. While church is alive and vibrant for me and many others, for some church means boring, routine, rigid, rejection and more – even when the call to something greater than oneself exists.

In 1990 I returned to the Church after an 18 year very conscious absence!  When I left church I was DONE and overdone with formal religious practice. To say that my return was reluctant would be understatement. All those years that I was away I frequently felt the pull of church, but I felt the planting of being fine with where I was as a non-belonging member of anything even more strongly. My desire for sacredness and spirituality never left me in those years, but I did not want to be part of any formal practice.

RAp3eT0Many seekers or would be seekers think – I want this, not that – meaning, sacred and spiritual are indeed part of your landscape. Maybe your desire for such things helps to see and understand the world, but there is no context for such things in your life. While I have many arguments about why faith in community is vitally important, I also know that words telling me that would have never sent me back to church. In fact, such words would have had me fleeing at high speeds. Buh-bye! What’s a seeker to do?

DSS.489x750In my day there were few books or resources – maybe zero resources – to help direct anyone not only to spirituality, but to an exploration of spiritual practices. That’s why I was thrilled when Meredith Gould told me about her current writing project, Desperately Seeking Spirituality.(Full disclosure, she’s my dear friend, we are mishpocha. And yes, I offered an editorial review of the book found inside of its cover.)

Next week I will share my review of this book on the blog, along with an interview with Meredith. I hope you will check out my posts, because I really would like to see this book widely read. Not unlike The Nones are Alright by Kaya Oakes, these are important volumes for our times, for the churched, the unchurched, the seekers, searchers, and others. (See my review of that book here.)

Desperately Seeking Spirituality is an important book that I would like to tell you more about, and Meredith is someone I’m pretty sure you will want to get to know.  See you on Monday!

 

Disappointed? Stick around!

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber

“I’m not idealistic about any kind of human project. I try and always keep that in check. I’m completely idealistic about God’s ability to redeem our stuff and our mistakes, but I think if we aren’t open about the fact that we’ve made them, that can be a barrier to experiencing that forgiveness and that redemption and that grace.

So I think in a way what might sound sort of cynical about, you know, don’t trust us, don’t be idealistic about this community or about me, to me that just opens a door for grace in a sense. Because what I say to people, I mean, I literally say that as our welcome to house brunches — like, I’m glad you love it here, but like at some point, I will disappoint you or the church will let you down. Please decide on this side of that happening if, after it happens, you will still stick around. Because if you leave, you will miss the way that God’s grace comes in and fills in the cracks of our brokenness. And it’s too beautiful to miss. Don’t miss it.” –Nadia Bolz-Weber, from On Being with Krista Tippett 10/24/14

If you are not familiar with Nadia Bolz-Weber is, this is a good time to go find out. A quick check of your google machine will Continue reading

The Gift of Faith

i-have-learned-that-faith-means-trusting-in-advanceToday’s Gospel from Matthew, chapter 9, verses 18-26, although short, is full of action, and a real economy of language. We hear three things that we have heard in other places at other times, but they are compacted for us here.

In the space of 8 verses we hear about an official asking for Jesus’ help with his ailing daughter, a woman suffering from hemorrhages touching Jesus and being cured, and then Jesus gets to the official’s house where he encounters a crowd acting as if the girl is dead. He dispels that notion, and they mock him. That did not deter Jesus, and he entered the house, curing the girl.

Got FaithThe undercurrent of the entire matter is faith, which is coincidentally the essence of the new papal encyclical, Lumen Fidei. Faith – the essence of what we need, and yet, not something that we can understand with our intellect or with reason.

Which brings me back to today’s Gospel – full of action, and not so many words. Yet, we read, we ponder, we pray, we study. I started the encyclical, but I’m going slowly. In the meantime, how do we have faith? There is a question for the ages. Yet, some of us do. I think of mine as a gift, for which I am grateful.

What is faith to you?

My Own View From Om to Amen – Yoga, the Catholic Church, Mary DeTurris Poust and Me

Albany area resident and Catholic writer par excellence, Mary DeTurris Poust has written about her Catholicism and her yoga practice.  (The first link is to Patheos, but you can also read it at Mary’s own blog or at OSV Daily Take.) This is always a controversial pairing with many saying that yoga is antithetical to Catholic teachings; some even call it outright dangerous. In both response and support, I am writing my own yoga story, from my very Catholic perspective.

I will be completely honest by saying that I had many physical and mental issues that stem from childhood sexual abuse. God has blessed me richly with healing and grace. That said, I suffered from many physical issues and stress for many years.

As it happened, extremely overweight and unhappy at the time, 9/11 struck and I was in NYC. While 5 miles north of the imminent danger, I suffered a resurgence of PTSD. God knows I prayed and prayed and cried out for healing. I was in therapy at the time, but somehow yoga kept calling to me, but I was afraid to go. Then one day, I mustered up the courage and went to a local studio.

My life was never the same after that.

It never occurred to me that yoga was antithetical to my Catholic faith. In fact, if anything, it reminded me what is important about organized religion and my own faith practice. Take Mass for example – I attend weekly, daily when I can. People ask me if I go because I am afraid of hell! Hardly! Liturgy is essential because my faith is not enlivened and practiced alone!

Yoga is similar – I can watch all the yoga DVDs in the world, but nothing takes the place of a class in a studio. It is about community, presence and service as I came to understand it.

Yoga helped to heal me deeply and in many ways and I experienced in and through the context of my Catholicism, not separate from it. Idol worship? Evil? Hardly – all is seen and experienced through Christ for me.

Allow me to relay two anecdotes about my old yoga practice, most of which happened at The Birchwood Center in Nyack, NY. One took place on the 1st anniversary of 9/11. As I sat in the studio, looking out over the Hudson, the same Hudson that the WTC apparently used as a navigational tool, I made some transition from fear and rage and pain into some peace. The blue of the sky, the peace of the clouds could not be taken from me. I was transformed. Was it some false God? Or was it the presence of Christ as I was in a place where grace flooded in?

The second took place some years later, probably 2007. My life had experienced numerous changes and transitions and healing. That said, I still had (and have) my moments. One day I just couldn’t sink into my yoga; it was a hard class for me to surrender to. At the end of class, we were in savasana, or corpse pose, that pose of rest and repose.

My favorite yoga instructor was Charlene Bradin.  I’ve taken so many yoga classes, so many from great teachers, but Charlene stands alone in my mind; she is remarkable. In any case, as we were quiet, Charlene would bring bolsters to anyone who wanted to place them under their knees. As she placed mine, she touched my leg to adjust it ever-so-slightly. It was at that moment I began to weep. Her touch was so healing and helped me to release a wave of something that I needed to let go of. Let go, Let God as the saying goes. That small touch was grace unleashed for me that day.

For me the ultimate thing is that our catholicity invites us to be fully in the world with our faith. Most things can be integrated. No I am not talking about relativism, but I am talking about how to be and remain fully rooted in the incarnate world as a Roman Catholic. Which also means I can take a yoga class and not be a party to evil or idol worship! Yoga is about surrender, community, service and love. None of these things go against my faith and in fact support it.

Yoga has healed me and my faith is the most healing balm, the love of Christ. The two are not incompatible for me.

What say you?

Blogger Meet Up – Albany Style, All the Way from New Zealand

If there is one thing I love, it is blogger meet up time. I have been very blessed to have met numerous blog friends over these past 3+ years. To see but a small bit of this chronicled, you can refer to this post from August.

When I first started blogging in May of 2007 I would write about my faith, but that was not really the focus of the blog. Mostly I blogged about politics back then, but I did find myself soon thrust into the midst of a wonderful world of Episcopalian/Anglican bloggers. So much of who I am and what I do out here is because of this diverse group of people. If you did check out that link from August, you will see me with a few of my Episcopal friends.

Yesterday I had the chance to meet yet another one of them, Brian Ralph, who authors the blog Noble Wolf. For those of you who do not know Brian, he is a retired teacher. He was living in the Blue Mountains, outside of Sydney, Australia, who recently moved to Dunedin, New Zealand. He is in the midst of a pretty significant around the world trip and his travels brought him through Albany for a day. Speaking of all of this, I do urge a visit to Brian’s blog to read about his amazing trip through Europe, including Germany, the UK and Scandinavia.

Brian in Starbucks in downtown Albany, NY

It was a great delight to meet this lovely man!  After picking him up from the train station, we went to his hotel in Albany so that he could drop his bags and off we went on a sunny afternoon. I got to see parts of this city that I never see!

As with so many blogger meet ups, it was an easy connection to just start talking. We already knew a fair amount about each others lives, including faith, family and travel history! Brian has the most engaging smile and a very warm heart.

Our first stop (but of course!) was a church, St. Peter’s Episcopal. We walked all around the Capital, Empire State Plaza and in and around some of the city streets. This is The Egg, a famous Albany performing arts venue and visual landmark. We tried to see the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, but it is still undergoing renovations and was not open.

Honestly, I have spent almost no time in Albany – seriously. How sad is that!? I have not been to The Egg and I had never (hangs head in shame) walked around Empire State Plaza before. For the record, I have also never been to the Cathedral before either – I know, go figure!

So it took a visit from a gentleman from halfway around the world to get me there!

It was so easy to talk with Brian. We talked about many things – his trip, our blogging roots and connections, his recent move from Australia to New Zealand. We spoke of many common blogging friends like Grandmere Mimi, Fr. Bosco Peters, Doxy, Paul, Jack and Mad Priest.  We talked about people who don’t really blog any more but who we think so highly of, such as Alcibiades and Dan. (Dan’s blog  is not there anymore!)

Brian and I spent a lot of time talking about how important our faith is to each of us and how there are many challenges to our faith practices. I expressed how grateful I was to be here in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and how my current job and grad school pursuits are truly the work of grace. Brian talked about the hypocrisy he encountered and his experiences among the Sydney Anglicans and how different it is to be in Dunedin.  He also spoke at length about his work and how accepted he was among Catholics when he taught at a Catholic school in Sydney.

What a strange and wonderful thing this all is and I am very grateful for all the people that I have met via blogging and Facebook. The irony of all this is that I was supposed to have coffee yesterday with another person I met online and who lives in Albany, Maureen. I had to postpone that because of Brian’s visit. And I consider that I am still figuring out how to have a meet up (although we did meet briefly) with Mary DeTurris Poust who lives locally. And how that even though we have tried, Dan Sloan and I have yet to have a proper meet up… He lives 3 hours away, Brian lives almost 9000 miles away! Brian did not realize that Dan was in NYC or he would have tried to connect with him too.

Well I have rambled on and on here. In summation, a fine time was had and I continue to consider social media my mission field. I’m not here to convert you, but I will say, you – all of you – pretty much always convert me.

What a gift! Happy and safe travels Brian!

The Realization of What is Hoped For, Evidence of Things Not Seen – the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

And Isaac brought her [Rebecca] to the tent of Sarah, his mother. All the days in which Sarah lived, there was a cloud attached to the entrance of her tent. Since she died, the cloud ceased; and when Rebecca came, the cloud returned. All the days in which Sarah lived, the doors of the entrance [to her tent] were open to the wind (ruah)….  And all the days in which Sarah lived, there was a blessing sent through the dough [with which she baked]…. All the days in which Sarah lived, there was a light burning from one Shabbat evening to the next Shabbat evening….” (Genesis Rabbah 80:16 on Genesis 24:67).- From Stories of our Ancestors at MyJewishLearning.com

The idea of a cloud at the entrance to Sarah’s tent intrigues me. Are you reminded of the mystery of God and the power of the unseen and transcendent when you consider this? I know that I am. 

We are celebrating the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time this weekend – with themes of ancestors and of faith in the readings. And we do specifically hear about our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah!

In the First Reading from Wisdom we are given a short reminder of the faith of our ancestors. Each generation, from one to the next, is connected and interdependent. We stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us. Someday we may be giants or at least regular sized ones, whose shoulders are the standing ground of the future. It is communion – we are all connected and it matters.

In the Hebrews reading from St. Paul gets straight to the point:

Brothers and sisters:
Faith is the realization of what is hoped for
and evidence of things not seen.
Because of it the ancients were well attested.

Faith and our ancestors… always intertwined, connected. This reading is pretty long but the point is clear if we pay attention. Abraham and Sarah were called out to places that they had no information about. And what did they do?

Off they went! Paul says: “By faith Abraham obeyed…” I am always on about the etymology of obedience, which tells us that obedience is rooted in listening.  As I understand faith and the journey of Abraham and Sarah, listening would have been required. Yet it is something that it is hard for us to do as humans, isn’t it?

The focus is on Abraham but it is Sarah that captivates me today. It was one thing for Abraham to listen but clearly they were in this together and she had to have her own faith. I love the imagery of the cloud before her tent. It reminds me that we have to enter into the mystery with faith in order to gain the wisdom.

The midrash in the first paragraph reference reminds us of ruah – or wind. Wind and wisdom are often symbolically connected in Scripture, think Pentecost! See this, from that first source:

These characteristics of Sarah’s (and later Rebecca’s) tent are parallel to characteristics of the Tabernacle and Temple. Sarah’s bread is like the shewbread, the light prefigures the Menorah, and the wind resembles the Holy Spirit, ruah hakodesh. In particular, the cloud mentioned in the midrash alludes to the cloud of the Shekhinah, the personified aspect of God that is imminent. The Shekhinah is an aspect of God specifically associated with the Tabernacle and Temple. The book of Exodus ends with the completion of the Mishkan and the Israelites witnessing a cloud descending upon the tent (Exodus 40:34-38). Linguistically, the word Mishkan (literally, a dwelling place) has the same root as Shekhinah, and both of these terms draw on the idea that God can be experienced as close-by, not only as transcendent

Our faith invites us into the cloud and we, like our ancestors, can experience God as close-by… with that very faith and promise that has been offered to us over the ages.

The very long and powerful Gospel from Luke offers us many things to consider.  First of all – following our theme of faith – real faith, Jesus says what he so often says… “Do not be afraid…”

Do. Not. Be. Afraid.  Sit with that, listen with obedience.

We are told using many metaphors, to be ready, be prepared, have faith. And we are also told this:

“…Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

This is a reminder for us all- we have been entrusted with much by the virtue of being Christians. It has been given to us and much will be required. This does not mean constant suffering, it means many things, not the least of which is the obedience and faith that is demanded of us who have enjoyed every fruit of grace.

So where does this leave us?  What is required? Perhaps it is as simple as it is complicated. We need to listen, we need to be obedient, we need to have faith, we need to go where we are called – which puts our obedience, faith and listening into action. And we must know that the cloud of mystery and wisdom will guide us to where we are called and that we must not be afraid.

As with most things we are invited to by God, it is easier said than done. With faith in that which is unseen but yet most evident, let us go forth.