under a threatening cloud of nuclear annihilation, a Christian prayer

nuclear cloud

O God, Your Apostle Paul hath testified that all authority, e’en that of the agents of governance of worldly principalities, flows from the Font of Your Power.[1]

With fervent faith, I pray, too, that Your Wisdom wend its way into the minds and hearts, souls and spirits of all leaders that they can and will build bridges of common care, paving paths of peace that all Your children of Your creation may dwell in safety.

For, today, on “this fragile earth, our island home”,[2] men – the “Leader of the Free World” and the “Supreme Leader” (though You both are alway and in all ways), with the ad hominem bombast of “Rocket Man”[3] and “dotard”[4] – wield weapons of hostile intent threatening decimation, each of the other, and of Your world.

Into this cauldron of roiling vanities, this hubris-stirred maelstrom of wounded honor-shame, pour Your balm of Gilead, the sweetness of Your solace;[5] that we may walk back from the dread precipice of war to face a future, though, yea, uncertain, that bears the possibility of continued existence and, dare I hope, armistice.

Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares (1959), Evgeniy Viktorovich Vuchetich (1908-1974), United Nations Art Collection

And, O God, I pray, in the words of Your Prophet Isaiah, that You ceaselessly call us to come unto the mountain, the holy hill of Your Presence that we may learn of You, walking in Your paths, beating our swords into plowshares, our spears into pruning hooks, lifting no weapon against another, and learning war no more.[6]

All this, by the breath of the Holy Spirit in the Name of Jesus, I beseech You. Amen.

 

 

Illustration: Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares (1959), Evgeniy Viktorovich Vuchetich (1908-1974), United Nations Art Collection

Footnotes:

[1] See Romans 13.1

[2] From The Holy Eucharist, Eucharistic Prayer C, The Book of Common Prayer, page 370

[3] Donald Trump’s derisive reference to Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or North Korea

[4] Kim Jong Un’s derisive reference, meaning a senile old person, to Donald Trump

[5] See Jeremiah 8.22, 46.11, 51.8

[6] A reference to Isaiah 2.3a, 4bc

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still more on God waiting…

Hosea is one of my favorite Hebrew scripture prophets. Courageously, faithfully, he went into the dire circumstance into which God called him.

The kingdom of Israel, also known as Ephraim, of the 8th century Before the Common Era, was in gravest tumult. Many of the people had turned away from the worship of God, threatening domestic solidarity. Royal politics were in upheaval; the secure succession from king to king violently disrupted by a series of internecine assassinations and usurpations. At the borders, foreign armies were poised to strike.

The Prophet Hosea (1309-1311), Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319), Cattedrale Metropolitana di Santa Maria Assunta, Siena, Italy

In one particular passage, Hosea speaks of an aggrieved God withdrawing from the people “until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face.”[1] The people, in desperation in their rapidly deteriorating national situation, seek divine deliverance, crying, “Come, let us return to the Lord!”[2] and bringing to God the proper and prescribed ritual observances. But God requires something more than perfunctory sacrifice prompted by suffering: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early.”[3] God wants, God waits for the people to bear in their living “steadfast love, not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, not burnt-offerings.”[4]

Though this prophetic word was uttered nearly 3000 years ago, it remains for me singularly compelling. Every day, every moment of the day, God wants, God waits for me, to use an image of my namesake, the Apostle Paul, to offer the living sacrifice[5] of steadfast love, constant devotion to God and benevolence toward all people, and the knowledge of God, active, unassailable faith in God’s presence and power.

As I cannot attempt this on my own (verily, even my awareness of what God wants of me and waits for me to bear is a revelation to me of the work of the Holy Spirit on my consciousness), in the words of the spiritual, every day, every moment of the day, may I learn to sing, to pray:

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me,

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.[6]

 

Illustration: The Prophet Hosea (1309-1311), Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319), Cattedrale Metropolitana di Santa Maria Assunta, Siena, Italy

Footnotes:

[1] Hosea 5.15

[2] Hosea 6.1

[3] Hosea 6.4

[4] Hosea 6.6

[5] I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12.1-2, my emphasis). Note: Paul uses the Greek sómata (translated into English as “bodies”), which means the whole of one’s being or self – mind and heart, soul and spirit.

[6] Words (1926) by Daniel Iverson (1890-1977)

the debt and duty of Love

Epiphany 1-22-17a sermon, based principally on Romans 13.8-14 and secondarily on Matthew 18.15-20, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, September 10, 2017

Owe no one anything, except to love one another…put on the Lord Jesus Christ.

LOVE

According to the Apostle Paul, the life and ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus were…are about self-sacrificial, unconditional love. By “love”, it is alway important to remind ourselves, we are not talking about our affections or our emotions, which, at best, are ephemeral, but rather active benevolence that seeks not only to do no harm, but also to do good for others. And Jesus demonstrated his love for us in dying on a cross for the sake of our everlasting redemption. And we, being redeemed, are called to embrace, to embody this same love.

But let’s be honest. There’s a mighty difference, distance between this declaration of the Christian ethic – owe no one anything except love – and our doing it. For we, in this life in this world, have manifold obligations. In a word, we owe lots of things. To our chiefest relationships, we owe our fidelity. To America, our loyalty. To the letter and spirit of the law, our conformity. To our word as our bond, our reliability. To our creditors, money. And, yes, to others and to ourselves, we owe our integrity.

Yet Paul, though exceedingly aware of the ultra-hierarchical-and-patriarchal first century Roman culture where all owed honor to the emperor, debtors owed service to their benefactors, wives and children, submission to their husbands and fathers, and slaves, their lives to their masters, does not say, “In addition to your attention to these obligations, love one another.” No! Owe no one anything except love.

And we Christians in whatever era are called to take this seriously. Though impractical, as it always is, in a world of unavoidable, indispensable obligations set on the real-life terra firma of our relationships, roles and responsibilities, it is not impossible. For if it is, then Christianity is a story to be told and not a life to be lived. Yet I don’t believe that Jesus lived and died and was raised from the dead simply to tell a tale that might be considered in some circles “fake news.”

And to take this seriously, I believe, is to believe that the debt and duty of love are supreme, superseding all else. In everything, we are to love. With everyone, we are to love. We are to see in every face of everyone – whatever their age, color or culture, race or religion, status or stations of life, philosophies or theologies, perspectives or prejudices, and whether they sin not or sin against us[1] – those whom God created, those for whom Jesus died, and those whom the Holy Spirit sends our way to love.

And neither Paul nor Jesus tell us how, in the daily, concrete circumstances of our lives, we are to embrace, embody unconditional love in our thinking and feeling, intending and acting, and “binding and loosing”,[2] which is another way to describe establishing and maintaining our personal, relational boundaries. That’s for each of us to discern and decide. Nevertheless (and, with judicious restraint, rarely do I employ what I consider to be the sacred trinity of heavily morally weighted and freighted words, however as we are talking about the Christian ethic, I will), we must, ought, should discern and decide how to do love, indeed, how to be love.

Why?

Foremost because scripture tells us that love is God,[3] love is the gospel of Jesus,[4] love is the principal fruit of the Holy Spirit.[5] God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, thus, we are all about love! And, in existential terms, because we live in a polarized America. The conflagrations of culture and race that raged through the founding of our nation, through the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction eras, through the Civil Rights Era, I had hoped and prayed, if not wholly resolved, had abated. Yet now we see the public and palpable, alway divisive and destructive resurgence of cultural and racial hatred. As there is no other time than the present of now, now is the time to owe no one anything except love.

 

Footnotes:

[1] A reference to Matthew 18.15-20, the day’s appointed gospel passage.

[2] Another reference to Matthew 18.15-20.

[3] Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love (1 John 4.8, my emphasis).

[4] Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you (John 15.12, my emphasis).

[5] The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5.22-23a, my emphasis).

three thoughts for today’s troubled times

 

Note: The unrest in Charlottesville two weekends ago involving clashes between white supremacists and counter protestors remains for me a disturbing symbol of societal turbulence. Something unresolved (irreparable?) – a misanthropy with cultural, ethnic, genderal, racial, and religious overtones – has broken loose in the bowels of America and now freely, insidiously courses throughout the bloodstream of the nation. Something, too – a distress, a dis-ease – has erupted in my soul. Daily, I wrestle and, from time to time, write, seeking some semblance, if not of peace with the ills of the world (for how could that…I be?), then for a way to abide in the equanimity of personal integrity. Out of my ongoing inner quest, these three thoughts…

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In the midst of turmoil, without and within, may I, by the grace of the Spirit, remember what a mighty God I serve. A God, my God who can deliver me, deliver all from whate’er befalls. And if, when God, who can, does not – for I recall the words of the psalmist, which Jesus prayed, cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?…O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer; and by night, but find no rest”[1] – then I believe God must be doing a greater thing than I can conceive. It is this faith that inspired Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, under the threat of death, to answer, “O Nebuchadnezzar…if our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. If not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods.”[2] It is this faith that inspired the Apostle Paul, to exclaim, “Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”[3]

It would be…is easy for me to blame Donald Trump – and what I consider to be his egotistic, opportunistic populist rhetoric that, through his presidential campaign, animated and, now, during his presidency, has continued to galvanize the forces of misanthropy – for Charlottesville, both in its immediate historical moment of two weekends ago and as representative of a larger societal ill. However, I follow Jesus who calls me to do (embrace) and to be (embody) the unconditional love that strives not merely not to inflict harm, but more to enact good for the sake of “the other” (all who differ from me) that he demonstrated on the cross of his crucifixion and death, praying that God forgive those who were killing him. Therefore, in the face of the temptation to judge, indeed, to condemn, I must look first and most within. And my confession of my sins leads me to a blessed state of compassion for others, turning me away from a bitter spirit of condemnation of others.

Having compassion for (and not condemnation of) another, nevertheless, should I discern that another’s words or deeds reflect an unsavory aspect of character or intention, and, given the status of authority, resurrect objectionable elements within the body politic, I, refusing to be silent, can and will commit myself to respond with the free speech of protest.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Psalm 22.1a, 2; Mark 15.34

[2] Daniel 3.16b, 17-18a

[3] Ephesians 3.20

a restless prayer in perilous times

my-hands-2-27-17O Lord, our God, our times are perilous; our days o’ershadowed by threat of war, our nights, enshrouded by fear of what sorrow, whether on this land or half a world away, may befall before next light. Rocketry’s spears aim skyward, targets in sight, tipped with bombs; the only purpose of launch to rain doom and death. Leaders, comme des enfants terribles, trumpeting infantile bellicose threats of annihilation, disfigure the face of diplomacy and threaten to make nonviolent, even if uneasy resolution less an imagined ideal and more an impossibility.

O Lord, our God, though You ne’er herald our liberty from all trial and tribulation nor that our hearts ne’er will be made anxious by what transpires in time and space at the hands of despotic human wills, You alway assure, come what may, come whene’er, as Your Apostle saith, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from (Your) love in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[1] By Your Spirit, O Lord, our God, speaking, breathing through us “with sighs too deep for words,”[2] let us pray for Your presence and power to cleave to the impregnable peace of this Your eternal promise.

Amen.

 

Footnotes:

[1] Romans 8.38-39

[2] Romans 8.26

an epistemological epiphany about life and legacy

My mother named me after St. Paul. (Perhaps she knew something!) I’ve always had a kinship with the Apostle; one of his words long being a touchstone for me: Now we see in a mirror dimly…Now I know only in part.[1]

It never ceases to amaze me how much I don’t know. About anything. God. The creation. Others. Myself. In this daily state of conscious ignorance, I also always am amazed when an epiphany, especially about myself (which, of the four aforementioned things, I think I should know most well, but oft do not!) dawns. It usually happens in a moment of sheer serendipity, verily, from that proverbial realm “out of nowhere.”

It happened today. I was in conversation with a friend, Carolyn. Our subjects of interest, covering a wide range – meditation, prayer, God, eternal life, reincarnation – had a common core of spiritual beliefs and practices and, even more, epistemology, and that, still more, in its most basic sense concerning how we know what we know.

I spoke of my life as a writer, mostly sermons, but also poetry, novellas, and my blog. I told Carolyn that usually I never know where the words will take me until I arrive at an “Aha!” moment of deepened self-awareness.

William John Abernathy

As an aside, I referenced my blog post of yesterday – at some point (thinking ahead, thinking back)… – a personal reflection about my father, which Carolyn had read.

And then, it happened. “Aha!”

For years, truly, so long ago that I cannot recall my first awareness, I’ve loved history; the chronicle of human life in time and space is a principle lens through which I perceive reality. And as a philosophical and theological existentialist, I long have been enamored by the questions of identity and destiny; constantly asking myself who am I and who am I becoming as a person, as a creation of God?

PRA 6-19-16

In yesterday’s blog post, I wrote of my father’s largely vain pursuit of his history and identity. And it wasn’t until today as Carolyn and I talked that I realized that I bear in my blood and in my bones my father’s legacy. I now know that I, on my father’s behalf and for myself, live to fulfill his quest.

 

 

Footnote:

[1] 1 Corinthians 13.12

reputation

Trinity Episcopal Church, Washington, DC

On January 10, 1989, I was installed as rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Washington, DC. The presider at that grand occasion was the then Bishop of Washington, the late, great John Thomas Walker.[1]

John Thomas Walker

John, a man of abiding faith and unassailable courage, was an institutional and social reformer of the first order; waging the good fight of inclusion in a church and a world that then wrestled, and sadly still grapples, at times, unrepentantly, with the issues, the realities of discrimination of all sorts. Though having risen to a lofty position, John, genuinely humble, did not think of himself, in the words of the Apostle, more highly than he ought.[2] He also was exceedingly insightful and gracious; able to make his point with a subtle turn of phrase and an earnest smile and without bludgeoning the hearts and minds of those with whom he disagreed (a characteristic mournfully missing from today’s American public political and ecclesial arenas).

This last noble trait comes to mind. During my installation, John, discerning (and keen to temper) my then overweening sense of self, whispered in my ear, “Remember, Paul, one’s good reputation in the eyes of the world is oft maintained by the silence of family and friends.” I recall being taken aback, not sure entirely what he meant, yet sensing an inner resonance of truth. O’er the years, many times, I’ve reflected on John’s good counsel. Indeed, those who know, for better and for worse, one’s behind-the-scenes persona, by their reticence, serve to uphold one’s best-foot-forward public image. And, a long time ago, I added “the silence of one’s enemies”, who, I believe, view us sometimes with a less than charitable clear-eyed honesty than our families and friends.

A friend and fellow priest, Rob Brown, recently shared a perception he had received from another, which I, in pondering, consider searingly, starkly spot-on: “Everyone has three selves. A public self known to the world, a private self known by kith and kin, and a secret self known only to one’s self.”

Speaking always and only for myself, this is true for me. I have a public face, which, though I’d like to believe in major part is sincere, is an outward expression of how I’d like to be viewed by others. I have a private face, which exposes more of my shadow-world, my ignoble traits, chiefly selfishness. And, yes, I have a secret self of thoughts and feelings, reflections and reminiscences to which I dare not give air and, deeper, those that are beyond the reach of my daily consciousness, appearing in the startling, scarifying images of dreams, nightmares. In this, how well I know, how oft I pray the words of the psalmist: Who can detect their errors? Cleanse me from my hidden faults.[3]

I wonder, too, as I look at myself in the mirror, knowing all that I know about me, including my awareness of what may lurk unseen and unknown within, how do I, who can maintain no silence from myself, preserve my good reputation with myself? In this, how well I know, how oft I pray the words of my namesake Apostle: I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?[4] And, in this, believing, knowing I cannot maintain my good reputation, for I have none, I, throwing myself afresh on the grace and mercy of a loving God, sing with Paul: Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord![5]

 

Footnotes:

[1] The Right Reverend John Thomas Walker (1925-1989), Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (1977-1989) and Dean of the Washington National Cathedral (1978-1989).

[2] Romans 12.3

[3] Psalm 19.12

[4] Romans 7.21-24

[5] Romans 7.25