Five times a day…

I remember so clearly my first experience in the city of Istanbul — the sound of the call to prayer coming from the beautiful Blue Mosque as the day was done. Of course, my travel companion and I were sitting in a rooftop bar sipping from a glass of hot apple tea, having just arrived in the city and experiencing jet-lag beyond belief.  But each and every day, five times a day, we were drawn by that sound — a sound simultaneously foreign and comforting to us .  We laughed at the time, saying that we thought perhaps we should initiate a call to prayer from the bell tower at our church, the Calvary Baptist Church.

Maybe that was not a joke after all.  At least, this many years later, it does not seem like a joke to me, because, it turns out that fixed hour prayer is, well, a Christian thing too.

If you continue to study the history of your Christian faith and of the earthly church, eventually you will encounter (more than once) the story of the of the practice of fixed prayer. And perhaps if, like me, your faith has been nurtured in that rich vein of church traditions built upon the history  of the protestant dissent movement that was the Great Reformation, well, you might dismiss fixed prayer without consideration, you know, as something the Catholics do, in those silly and now historically irrelevant monasteries. Funny how seriously the property lust of one English king 500 years ago can continue to influence our theological understanding of worship.

But if you keep studying, maybe just maybe, that knee-jerk-learned-prejudice might just fall away. You might encounter Sr. Joan Chittister and learn more and more about the ways of St. Benedict and all that it has to say to our post modern culture. You might meet Dr. Roberta Bondi and hear first person testimony about work.5424991.1.flat,550x550,075,f.icon-of-st-benedict-and-scholasticathe importance of fixed hour prayer in the face of a life filled with gender discrimination in the academy. Or you might meet Brother David Vryhof of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (the monastic order of the Episcopal Church) or Brother Emmanuel of the ecumenical community at Taize…and you cannot help but begin to question those old prejudices.

And then, you find the work of Glenn Hinson.  Glenn Hinson, church historian and to some, a Baptist heretic (being part of the split in the Southern Baptist Convention that led to the formation of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship), produced an amazing book,  Baptist Spirituality: A Call for Renewed Attentiveness to God (2013) in which he recounts the Baptist journey away from the contemplative formation practices of their Puritan forbears towards a type of conversionist spirituality based in the transactional nature of 19th and 20th century American business practice. He calls for a return to our contemplative roots and a spirituality rooted in attentiveness to God in our lives and not the numbers in our pews. While he proposes no specific spiritual practice,  he too has been influenced by the teachings of St. Benedict and more directly, by the work of Thomas Merton, with whom he studied.

It was Phyllis Tickle who provided me with the final push towards the idea of fixed prayer as a possible practice. Tickle’s writing usually disrupts my theology (particularly my ecclesiology) so drastically that I find it difficult to complete whatever book of hers I am reading, so it was with some trepidation that I picked up one of the volumes in her Divine Hours series, a collection of books that contain reworked versions of the Benedictine prayer book.  You may or may not know that Ms. Tickle is walking through a very serious illness right now and doing so as the beloved public person of faith that she has been for many of us. This news caused me to thumb through my collection of her works only to pick up my copy of her Divine Offices and begin to skim through the introduction.

Skimming turned to deep reading as I encountered ideas like these…that the practice of fixed prayer comes to us not from the Catholic Church and early monasticism but from our Jewish faith ancestors and the life of the Temple now destroyed and comes to us through the pages of the Bible which we dissenters hold do dear. And the other mind blowing concept for this Protestant? FIXED PRAYER IS A FORM OF WORSHIP. How often do we think of prayer and worship as separate activities? In truth they are not. In truth there are private and public iterations of both.

And so, my friends, here I am.  Each day for a month, I have followed Ms. Tickle’s breviary, Prayers for Summertime:  A Manual for Prayer (Divine Hours).  No monastery, no habit, just me, my book, and a cup of tea.  Not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination, but new to me and my lived faith. I am still failing at achieving the five-times-a-day pattern each and every day, but even with my human failing of irregularity, I feel the value of the practice.  Instead of meaning less to silently recite the Gloria Patri or the Lord’s Prayer, it means more.   The prayers begin to live in your bones, not just in the words.  I guess that is the true meaning of practice.

Trees and Taize…

I’m into the third week of my program here at San Francisco Theological Seminary and I am thinking about many things…but most of all, trees and Taize.  Just indulge me, for a moment.

As a traveler, I always do the best I can to experience the place I am visiting, so of course I have devoted any spare moment to exploration.  I spent hours in the beautiful Sonoma Valley and the Russian River Valley and last weekend I visited the Sonoma coast;  but what touches my imagination and my spirit most is, well, the trees.

Redwoods, that is. The big trees.  I first visited Muir Woods 15 years ago and those trees have lived on in my memory as magnificent creations of God and guardians of a history that individual human beings simply cannot span.   So I visited Muir Woods again on this trip, on our mid-program Sabbath afternoon.  This last weekend, however, while touring the wine country’s outer reaches, I stopped at the Armstrong Woods Reserve Park.

The two experiences were polar opposites.  Muir Woods, beautiful, with beautiful easy paths and boardwalks, a cafe and a gift shop, was also full of tourists from all over the world — tourists who failed to read the sign requesting IMG_3716“quiet” as you enter the forest.  It is, for me, impossible to experience these redwood giants without a sense of reverence, even in the midst of French tourists jumping over the boundary line clearly marked with a “Stay on the Path” sign so that they could stand next to the tree for a better picture, so the experience was still a wonderful one.

Armstrong Woods, however, that much further from San Francisco and therefore not subjected to Grey Line tours advertising “Muir Woods and Sausalito,” provided a true experience of mystery.  In an early morning fog and mist, I approached the entrance to the park.  It was deserted — only two cars in the parking lot, no one at the ranger station. After studying the trail map, I decided that it was okay to continue into the park and began my walk along the Pioneer Trail.  And as I wandered deeper and deeper into the mist and the trees and the lichen-covered logs that form the forest floor, from deep inside me something began to take shape.

A song.  A song from chapel during these past weeks.  A song in the style of Taize; a song quoting from the wonderful text of Psalm 1:

Water our lives with ever-flowing streams of your grace
Bear in our lives, creating God, the living fruits of your love
(Text: Andrew Dreitcer, from Psalm 1:3, music Stephen Iverson)

And as I wandered the paths of the reserve, stopping to stand before trees that had lived in that place for more than 1400 years,  trees that had lived with the indigenous people and watched the change of power to those coming from European cultures, trees once threatened and now adored,  trees that had stood almost as long as the church that is the institution of our faith on this earth, the song grew inside me and raised in me that feeling of the mystery of all things that is, for me, the experience of the presence of my God.

That, my friends, I now know is the living power of the worship style known as Taize.  I have long known some of the music of Taize; I have read about the place and the ideas behind the worship.  I have never had the opportunity to worship in this method, twice daily, for an extended period of time.  And now I know that, just as I suspected, Taize uses the power of music as I have always believed it existed:

Singing is one of the most essential elements of worship. Short songs, repeated again and again, give it a meditative character. Using just a few words they express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind. As the words are sung over many times, this reality gradually penetrates the whole being. Meditative singing thus becomes a way of listening to God. It allows everyone to take part in a time of prayer together and to remain together in attentive waiting on God, without having to fix the length of time too exactly.

To open the gates of trust in God, nothing can replace the beauty of human voices united in song. This beauty can give us a glimpse of “heaven’s joy on earth,” as Eastern Christians put it. And an inner life begins to blossom within us.

These songs also sustain personal prayer. Through them, little by little, our being finds an inner unity in God. They can continue in the silence of our hearts when we are at work, speaking with others or resting. In this way prayer and daily life are united. They allow us to keep on praying even when we are unaware of it, in the silence of our hearts (Taize Community).

Most of all, worship in the style of Taize provides me with something that I have been crying out for:  it allows (and requires) my participation; it protects and demands my agency as a member of the community.  Lately, much worship has seemed dogmatic to me, a series of so-called professionals “telling” me how to worship, what to worship, what to do — what I have come to call the “God through the eye-dropper” affect.  I have become increasing unable to tolerate such worship; it is not an experience of God for me.  It is certainly not the “work of the people,”  that to-the-point translation of the word liturgy from the language of its origins.

Taize is indeed the work of the people; without the people it does not exist.  And that morning, among the tall trees, the song became a prayer and became part of me and the forest and all that was.  I was changed at a fundamental level by the act of singing, not there, but in chapel.   The song had, for me, become not a song but a practice, an experience of God.

Robert Wuthnow, in his book about religion in the United States from 1950 to the present (After Heaven), gives me clear language for this change that I have been going through, the change that came to life and became my own in the redwood forest.  He defines three models for American spirituality:  the spirituality of dwelling, which is all about habitation and is placed-dependent and leads to the idea that the community is all-important and provides the answer  to all questions of faith, serving up to its members a curated experience of God; the spirituality of seeking, which led to the expansion of the evangelical and Pentecostal movements as well as any other movement that encourages the individual to seek their own way to God without the aid of others; and finally, the spirituality of practice,  which combines many of the ways to God experienced by those who are seeking but combines it with a greater sense of discipline AND eliminates the idea that alone, in our room, without others, is the best way to encounter God.  In a spirituality of practice, the agency of the individual is retained; the importance of the individual experience of God is emphasized; and the simple fact that, as suggested in Matthew 18:20, we cannot experience any of this without the presence of others, is fundamental.

Taize is just such a practice. Spiritual direction is just such a practice.  For me, music is such a practice.  Study is such a practice.  Walking among the trees became such a practice on this trip.  I think, that in my life, it might be time to change that old musician’s joke about Carnegie Hall.  How about:

Q:  How does one experience the presence of God?

A:   Practice, practice, practice.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  Practice requires participation and at the same time it acknowledges that the answers are within and  that those answers are best revealed in the presence of others.  That sounds like worship to me.  That, and a long walk among the worlds tallest trees.

At the turning of the year…

Here we are.  New Year’s Eve (or soon to be, when the sun sinks from the sky), the year 2014 — a year that I will gratefully kiss on the cheek as it passes into the past.  If 2013 was the year of the unimaginable and unwanted, then 2014 will bear the label of the year of recovery and transition.  Only time (and the value of hindsight on next New Year’s eve) will reveal to us the defining characteristics of the year ahead.

This December 31st, though, I find myself as I often am…organizing, cleaning, cooking, and preparing…but more than anything, missing the many years when I was part of faith community that gathered on this night and prayed and sang our way through the turning of the year.  There were the burning bowl ceremonies and the occasional full-scale musical review (many of us who have watch_night_svcgone on to even marginal performing careers are mightily grateful that YouTube did NOT exist the year we wrote and presented that unknown New Year’s Eve classic, “It’s About Time”), and always, always the letters to God, carefully and thoughtfully written then filed away by the office staff and mailed to each of us in July as a kind of “God check-in”.

I find myself so in a place of yearning for a faith gathering on this night that, if it were not for the laryngitis which at the moment keeps me silent and at home (please, yes, I know the irony of me, silent, on any night but especially this one), I would be driving to Annapolis to participate in UMC Eastport’s New Year’s Eve Interfaith Service or hopping in the car to join the Watch Night gathering at the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria.  Watch Night services find their root in the practice of John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, who offered what he called “covenant renewal services” on New Year’s eve; the watch night service became an important statement of freedom in the African-American church after the Civil War.  Chances are I will not be able to do either this year, but I am making a promise to myself — next year, at the turning of the year, this will be different.

So, instead, I offer you all these words which I will be sharing with those close to me tonight (silently, but sharing nonetheless).  May beautiful words, crafted by Rev. Nancy C. Townley, give you reason to pause and reflect as we turn the page of another year and begin again to write a new tale on the page before us.

Lord of the opening way, we bring to you this night our past, with all that has happened in our lives, our hopes and our dreams, our successes and our failures, our gains and our losses.  We bring to you our present, lives filled with exhaustion, wonder, fear, concern.  We come to you with hearts open to receive your word for us, for the future.  We want to be a part of your new heaven and earth, to serve you by serving others.  Speak to us, heal us, teach us, lead us, for we ask these things in Jesus’ Name.  AMEN.

And, if you are so guided, maybe as midnight approaches, you will join me in this prayer of confession, because if we tell the truth, we all have much to confess each and every day:

Lord, you have asked us to feed and give drink to those who hunger, to clothe those who are naked, to welcome the stranger, to visit those who are sick and imprisoned.  When we look back on this year we might be able to say we did some of these things.  We remember the enthusiasm with which we started out this waning year, ready to do your work and witness to your love.  But you  know how things got in our way.  We allowed ourselves to be swallowed up by worries and fear.  We placed comfort of self before service to others.  We took the “easy way out” whenever we could.  And you wept for us.  Now we are on the brink of the new year.  We cannot change what we did not do, but we can make a covenant with you to be your witnesses in our words, thoughts and deeds to your people so that when you say, “Have you given food and drink to those you hunger and thirst, have you clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger, visited the sick and imprisoned?”  We can respond with a joyful “Yes! Lord, we have done these things with joy and love!”  Forgive us what we have not done.  Inspire us to do what you would have us do.  In Jesus’ Name, we pray.  Amen.

Last, but not least, I invite you to sit for a while with the prayer that John Wesley wrote for this night, for this time of turning, for this time of renewal:

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

We can ask no more of ourselves, we can ask no more of God.  May each of you have a wonderful New Year’s eve and may the year turn well for you and yours.

What I’ve Learned So Far….the Graduation Blog

The night we gathered as a graduating class to talk about the work of our Capstone projects and theses was a celebratory one.  Congratulations, hugs, tears…a chance to spend time with our faculty advisers (even though they were in the throws of the final grading needed to get us all to graduation).  And in the midst of that, a friend who had witnessed many times my opening introduction of “I’m not from a diocese, I’m a Baptist” whispered in my ear, “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.”   And the Episcopal church did welcome me.  It did not try to convert me, it did not try to change my theology.  Instead, it graciously shared with me its tools and its teachings and allowed me the space and the time to incorporate them into my own understanding of faith.  I was welcomed indeed and welcomed in such a way that in my very difference I found an incredible sense of community and belonging.

And now, some time has passed since the day of celebration, the smiles and the congratulations. Friends have gone their separate way and the adrenaline that propelled us all to the finish, at least for me, has begun to fade.  With time and rest, finally, I have had time to think and process, and graduation singlehave something to say again — something not part of a project or a paper that will move me one step closer to completing my studies.  The day of graduation, the culmination of all this change and growth, and the reaching of a goal that frankly, last year at this time I was not certain I would live to reach…these things deserve remembrance.

There are lots of things that I will remember about that final day, the day when all my studies were signed, sealed and delivered in the presence of friends and loved ones:  I could talk about what it felt like to sing in front of so many again, how I successfully climbed that hill from the Seminary to the Chapel several times in a hurry that day (running between events and rehearsals), how inspiring Barbara Brown Taylor was as a graduation speaker, how moved I was by the presence of good friends who had seen me through my call and the trials of this last year and held me in the light as I scrambled to finish.  All of those things will go in my memory box, along with the physical cards and the ad in the Washington Post and the pressed flowers and programs.

If I had to summarize for you, though, the powerful learning of two years study with the Episcopalians I would offer you this image.  In the midst of the chaos that is a large, grand worship/graduation ceremony (and it was grand, and meaningful, even for this Baptist…and, I might add, beautifully planned and executed), at the end of the procession as I looked up from the hymn page in front of me, I caught a glimpse of an unknown older man at the end of the procession.  I don’t know who he was — he might have been a retired faculty member, he might have been some other kind of honored guest — but on his face and in the movement of his body was the most ebullient sense of joy.  His joy at participating in the worship service and the ceremony sending out another group of disciples created a light that shone throughout the sanctuary.  I could not take my eyes from him, although he was in my sight for just a moment.

And that, my friends, is the greatest gift of learning I have received in these two years of worship and learning in the land of my fellow Christians who commune as Episcopalians.  That even in the dark days when we are worried about church and budgets and committees and all of the things of this world, we have immediate access to the simple light of joy that comes with the acceptance of grace in our lives.  We may argue about how to worship and what kind of music to sing and the meaning of this or that doctrine, but if we cannot put that all aside as things of a less-than-successful human attempt to interpret the divine being known as church, we miss the true reason that we do all of this.

That man knew the answer.  Many of my Episcopal colleagues know the answer and they were willing to share it with me so that I might share it with others, just as the Psalmist has tried to share that truth with believers down the ages:

For his anger is but for a moment,
    and his favor is for a lifetime.[c]
Weeping may tarry for the night,
    but joy comes with the morning. Psa 30:5

I have many changes ahead, I have much to do, but in those moments when I lose the thread of grace for just a moment, I will remember the joy in that chapel that morning and hear the voice of a friend saying in my ear, “The Episcopal Church welcomes you” and I will remember the warm feeling of that special welcome, the welcome of diversity in community, the welcome of joy and grace.  Thanks be to God.

Wherever two or more are gathered…

I read that quotation again this morning as I read Pastor Amy’s amazing article about the importance of community in the new book Gathering Together:  Baptists at Work in Worship, but the truth is, I have been thinking about it for weeks and in particular these last few days.  Because right now I am in a unique position to testify to the power of  a community of worship.

You see, on Sunday, as I attended what will be my last worship service for a while, people of my community gathered around me and sang songs and prayed over me and laid hands upon me and hugged me.  They cried with me, they smiled with me, they invited God into the events of our lives together.  The liturgy was short; the love was large.

And the love continues…with notes, with cards, with flowers, with Facebook posts, with unseen prayers.  And I am lucky enough to have two such communities in my life.  I am truly blessed in so many ways.

So we have completed all the tasks over which we have any control — we have redecorated, we have cleaned, we have prepared.  Our beloved fur child Gracie has gone to what we call the 20th susansnestStreet spa, where she will be comforted and cared for by someone we trust and love.  And now, we leave for Baltimore.

And so I want to take a moment and tell anyone who reads this, there is power in community.  I feel loved and cared for, I feel as safe and enfolded in possibility as a person facing the events of tomorrow can.  And that is all because of my community of faith, their love, and the standard of devotion to which we hold each other in times of crisis, and well, always.

I go forward to take the next step on this journey wrapped in the warmth of that community.  I go forward to do what I need to do to go on serving the God I hold dear, and, if all goes well, the people around me who love that God with their whole hearts, as do I.

So I’m including a picture of the nest that I have carefully built for my recovery.  When you think of me this week, yes, you can watch opera videos of me on Facebook, but I would prefer that you see me in this nest, next week, well on the road to a life that I cannot even imagine tonight as we begin the process of repair and recovery.

And I say to all of you, embrace the community around you.  Because wherever two or or more gathered…well, you know how the quote ends.  Just know that it is so true…

Something I noticed…

Last night we had our first meeting of a class I have been anticipating for months — The Teaching Church.  It is, for me, the beginning of my real education.   It was the work that I have begun to do as a teacher and the awareness of my call to teaching that has been slowly developing in me for the past couple of years that brought me to the doors of this seminary, and it was the one chance meeting with the particular educator who teaches this class that made VTS my school of choice over Andover Newton. And last night did not disappoint — there is nothing more invigorating than experiencing the teaching of a truly inspiring educator.

Much of life in the seminary involves talking to people about your faith story and listening to theirs. Each new class is an experience of getting to know new people who you might know by sight but with whom you have never had a chance to really talk, and last night was no exception.  And I have started to notice something.  I didn’t really notice it last noneoftheabovenight; I noticed it this morning when I picked up our text for tonight, John H. Westerhoff III’s book Will Our Children Have Faith?  and began to read the preface.  Westerhoff begins by telling us who he is, and where he came from, and how he recounts the genealogy of his faith life.  And I was immediately struck by the similarity of his story with my own and with the stories that I hear so frequently from my fellow students:  born into one denomination, drifting away from church altogether or attending another type of church, invited by a neighbor or a youth group or a college group to experience something different, and finally becoming a [fill in the blank].

It seems that many of us who finally decide to answer the call to service in the church have, well, experienced a lot of different church in the days of our pilgrimage to where we stand today.  And I wonder, maybe because we have sampled and experienced and considered and finally chosen, maybe we have something special to say to those so often referred to as “the Nones.”   I know that we do have something to say about the nature of denomination and community;  like those who are abandoned by their families of origin and create for themselves a family of choice, we have examined our options and specifically chosen our community of worship, sometimes against every past experience we have had as a group.  In my case, the idea that I would become a Baptist would have been totally absurd 10 years ago, but 10 years ago I did not understand that a Southern Baptist was not an American Baptist and I did not understand the Baptist distinctive of local church autonomy.  But as I look around me in my own community, I see that my experience of “being Baptist”, of choosing to be Baptist is very different than my friends who have been Baptist all their lives.

And I wonder if, in that difference of experience, lies an answer for those of the “the Nones” who call themselves — wait for it — “spiritual but not religious”.   I do not know; and I cannot yet articulate what that message might be.  And I am not here to advocate “faith shopping” or even casual, non-participatory church attendance (you know, coming and sitting in the pews and never talking to anyone and then disappearing when something happens that makes you uncomfortable), because I am all about actually choosing.   Maybe the message is this:  choosing is within your power, God did not intend for you to be alone (there were, after all, 12 disciples — not one, not just Jesus).  Maybe the message is that when you really know your own identity as a disciple, it is possible to find a community of people with whom you can share that identity and the path before you as you live out that call.  Maybe the message is that if you just open your hearts and listen, you will find a community (and it might even be called by some name that is totally anathema to you) that sees your most important identity, the one that no one can take from you, your identity as a beloved child of God.

A new observation, but one that deserves more thought.  I’ll be thinking about it and if you do to, I’d like to hear what you think.

 

What I’ve learned so far…

August term is almost over…today most of my classmates are in a workshop about Intercultural something (another requirement of the Episcopal Church for those training to be priests) and I am devoting the day to memorizing the Qal Perfect verbal endings for a quiz on Monday.  Since seminary is, after all, supposed to be about the act of exploring one’s own self and growing in one’s faith through study, I thought I would take a moment this Friday morning to summarize what this Baptist has learned about Anglican worship from these last few weeks of living in an Episcopal world.

Lesson No. 1:  I’ve really lived a very ecumenical life, so it hasn’t been so very difficult to be surrounded by people who worship differently, probably have a slightly different theology than I do, and most likely interpret their relationship with the Divine differently.  Having spent a lot of years in the Presbyterian church, even more with Unity School of Religious Science, some years singing in the Catholic Church and some with the Methodists and United Church of Christ (oh yes, and those few years when even I used the “spiritual but not religious” descriptor), I’ve had good opportunities to examine my beliefs and get really clear about my faith and the ways in which I relate to God.  I have also had a chance to learn that no one, no institution, no commentator — no human of any kind — has the answers, so we should all just allow people to ask the questions the way they need to ask them.

Lesson No. 2:  After a couple of weeks of participating in a fairly standard Morning Prayer service, I am happy to report that just as I suspected, I really like the practice of communal prayer to start the day.  While I do feel a little boxed-in by a set liturgical text, I do understand its value and its comfort.   More than once I have been moved to tears by the reading of the Apostle’s Creed in prayer service (although I prefer the more ecumenical and more simple version of the text).  It is  wonderful to read (or sing) the various Canticle texts as a community after we hear each of the Scripture readings (so far, only the Hebrew Bible and the Gospel) and to read the Psalms together as a community of worship.

Lesson No. 3:  What surprised me most about Morning Prayer?  That would be just how grounding it is to confess my sins each morning.  As progressives, given the mis-use of the terms sin, confession, and absolution that abound in the more fundamentalist view of faith, we tend to be squeamish about that.  In  my church community, we do include a confession of sins and a grant of absolution in the Communion service (in a most moderate, progressive way, of course), but I was so surprised  to find the tears welling up in my eyes as I read for the first time the Confession of Sin from the Book of Common Prayer:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

And finally, Lesson 4:  Well, Lesson 4 is really a lot of little lessons, but we’ll call Lesson 4 the lessons I’ve learned about myself.  I had a lot of fears about “not fitting in” etc. and so forth. But the truth is that I get a lot back from not being in the denominate group (being neither Episcopalian nor enrolled in the MDiv program).  That position forces me out of my automatic “good girl” responses and makes me take serious evaluation of why I am here and what I need to do.  And, most of all, it reminds me that I came to seminary for study.  The most common question I encounter, after I explain what a progressive Baptist is and why I would not have gone to a Baptist seminary,  is the question of what I plan to DO with my Masters degree.  I cannot tell you how many times I have had to say to an eager young student who is working his/her way through the checklist that is the ordination process in the Episcopal Church that I am working very hard in this moment to have no goals, no plans — just to be open to God’s call on my life.  But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  And every time I have to say it out loud, my only real goal — to deepen in my relationship with God and my ability to live into my faith — becomes stronger and more clear in my heart and my mind.

These things are certainly not the only things I have learned over these past weeks, but this is enough for today.  Since I didn’t have a chance to go to Morning Prayer this morning, let me share with you the Prayer of John Chrysostom that often closes that service.  Some of us might need it today:

Almighty God, you have given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplication to you; and you have promised through your well-beloved Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.

Amen.