Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

More on public prayer

On each of the past two weekends, here, in Spartanburg, South Carolina, at Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens, Pontheolla and I have had the pleasure of hosting and housing a bride, her maid of honor and her bridesmaids.

On both occasions, on Saturday morning, in the serving of breakfast, whilst expeditiously ushering hot plates of freshly and lovingly (that is, Pontheolla-) prepared culinary fare to the table, I was brought to an abrupt and dutiful halt by the voice of prayer – the bride and her entourage, with hands joined and heads bowed, sharing in supplications to God…

On each occasion, though different the groups in nearly every ostensible social category, in their eloquent prayers, I found, I heard a striking similitude – if I had to (and I will!) characterize – of praise to God for being God, of thanksgiving to God, the Giver of all gifts, especially life and love, and of oblation to God in the offering of themselves in service to glorify God and to edify all whose lives they touched.

As both groups were 20-and-30-somethings, I offered to God a silent prayer of gratitude for the gift of renewed hope for the next generation, which these women, to a person, embodied.

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a-Lenten-prayer-a-day, day 28, Saturday, April 1, 2017

my-hands-2-27-17Note: As a personal, spiritual discipline, I write a prayer for each of the forty days of Lent; each petition focusing on a theme, truly, relating to a care or concern weighing on my mind and heart, at times, vexing my soul and spirit…

On beholding the Image of God’s new creation: O Lord, all that is, yea, too, humankind is fashioned in Your Image, even more, redeemed by Your Son, still more, through Your Spirit, made a new creation.[1]

Yet, for the longest time, at least for me and at least much of the time, I found it hard to see Your Countenance in the faces of others, verily, too, in the face I beheld in my mirror…

confess - regret

For, despite Your creating, saving, sanctifying work, I, oft trusting more (most? only?) in my observation and opinion, continued to regard others and myself from a human point of view of judgment as alway failing, falling short of Your will.[2]

Today, I, in my being entire – my mind and heart, soul and spirit – am convicted of my sin of denying Your goodness and grace.

In my repentance, I give You thanks for being granted new eyes to see others and myself as You see us.

In this, I also need praise You for Your merciful, infinite patience with me. Amen.

Footnotes:

[1] See 2 Corinthians 5.17-18a: (The Apostle Paul writes) So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ.

[2] See 2 Corinthians 5.14-16a (my emphasis): For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view. Note: The Greek, kata sarka, here, translated “human point of view”, literally means “according to flesh”, which, in light of the Apostle Paul’s theology, as I interpret it, connotes more than human perception, but rather the inherent opposition of sinful flesh to God’s work in and through the Spirit. Thus, to view others, indeed, myself, as I write in my prayer “from a human point of view of judgment” is to perceive all things and everyone “as alway failing, falling short of (God’s) will.” So, again, I thank God for being given new eyes to see life and creation, others and myself no longer (not only) from “a human point of view” of judgment, but rather, as God sees, with mercy and grace!

remembering Wayne – a Thanksgiving Day reflection in recognition of World AIDS Day, December 1, 2014

The evening of that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples met were locked, Jesus came and stood among them, saying, “Peace be with you” (John 20.19).

Jesus was crucified. His disciples, loving him greatly, missing him terribly, grieve. Then Jesus, raised from the dead, appears. The disciples, initially stunned, rejoice. Their leader, teacher, and friend is back from the dead and with them. I imagine them saying, perhaps not aloud, for fear they may be dreaming, but with the silent, yet no less joyous words of their hearts: “If Jesus is back from the dead, then he won’t, can’t leave us again! He’s with us forever!”

But it’s not to be. Jesus appears, speaks a word of peace, and departs.

What peace is this? It’s not fair! It makes no sense! Yet, as another scripture counsels, this is peace “that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4.7).

What the disciples, at that moment, didn’t understand and perhaps couldn’t understand is that Jesus would be with them. Not as before, in flesh and blood. But in a different, more profoundly present way. No longer with them, face-to-face, side-by-side, but rather, by and through Spirit, in them. As close as a heartbeat. As near as breath. As spontaneous as thought and memory. As immediate as feeling and impulse. The disciples would experience hitherto unknown fellowship, oneness, peace with Jesus. A peace surpassing understanding; beyond human intellect to comprehend or human ingenuity to create.

Wayne & meTwenty years ago, next March, my brother Wayne died. I so loved and have missed him. I love and miss him still. O, how I wish he was back from the dead and with me.

That cannot be. But Wayne is with me. Not as before, in flesh and blood. But in a different, more profoundly present way. Wayne no longer talks with me in audible words. I do not see him face-to-face. We cannot walk side-by-side. But he is alive and lives within me. He comes to me as close as breathing. In the immediacy of thought. In the spontaneity of feeling. In the vivid imagery of memory.

I remember his impossibly broad smile. His riotous laughter. His beautiful music on piano and organ. His early Saturday morning wake up calls from St. Louis to Pontheolla and me in Washington, DC, gleefully shouting: “Get up and be productive! The day is wasting away!”

More than this, in my lively memories of Wayne, I have a living image of a genuine human being. One who dared to be true to himself and honest with others. A living image of authenticity upon which to model my life; a living image, an almost corporeal aura beyond my reason to comprehend or my ingenuity to create.

I remember Wayne’s generosity; giving himself and his substance to family and friends sometimes beyond prudent self-interest. His liberality guides me when my selfishness would suffocate the spirit of charity within me.

I remember Wayne’s kindness; speaking little evil of others, even those who hurt him, often holding his counsel, when to speak, however truthfully, would have been unkind and, hence, unhelpful. His compassion constrains me when my anger, even for the sake of righteousness about injustice, would burst into flames of vengeful speech.

I remember Wayne’s honesty; telling our parents, with candor and care, that he was gay and refusing to deny his anguish when our parents, perhaps predictably, did not accept him, and then laboring to live into healthy, unapologetic self-acceptance. His integrity helps me remain true to myself and with others when I, hungering for acceptance, am tempted, like a chameleon blending with my surroundings, to conceal what I think and feel.

I remember Wayne’s courage; living valiantly his final days and hours with AIDS. He didn’t want to die, but he seemed to accept his approaching end blessedly without shame, victoriously without alarm. His bravery encourages me when my fears would engulf me.

It’s odd, but I think that I think of Wayne more since his death than when he was alive in the flesh. Perhaps in my awareness that I don’t have the luxury, the possibility of being in touch, seeing him that he comes more to mind. More truly it is because of love. I so loved and have missed him. I love and miss him still. O, how I wish that he was back from the dead and with me.

Although this cannot be, Wayne is with me. Not as before, in flesh and blood. But in a different, more profoundly present way. He is alive and lives within me; the very memory of him helping me to connect to a spiritual strength beyond my power. I now know a fellowship with Wayne – yea, verily, with God – hitherto unknown.