Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Of Holidays and Holy Days

Happy Victoria Day to those of you who celebrate today as a Holiday.  Holiday originally meant holy day but it has lost much of that meaning for many people.  There is not too much that is holy about the 2-4 weekend in today’s society except for those who worship beer at the cottage. Of course many of our holidays originally had a religious connotation being connected to Christmas and Boxing Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday and even Easter Monday.  But even those have taken on a secular connotation in modern culture.  I recently bemoaned that fact that the Easter Egg hunt in this part of my world is held on Good Friday morning.  I had a letter to the local paper publish those remarks to which I received some positive response.  There is also the new custom of wishing people happy holiday instead of Merry Christmas.  People obviously are oblivious to the fact they are wishing people a happy holy day.  However, the secularization of our Holy Days cannot be denied.
Perhaps this is why my thoughts this morning have turned to prayer even though Victoria Day is one of those holidays which does not have religious connotations.  I have been in a couple of discussions recently about why we pray.  I am reminded of the reflection I used for a Diocesan Council meeting some years ago which follows:

Dean Alan Jones of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco has noted that there are only two prayers: ‘Help’ and ‘Thank-you’.  Everything else is just a footnote or variation and expansion on the basic theme—whether it is praise, adoration, confession, supplication or thanksgiving.
I believe that the essence of those two prayers ‘Help’ and ‘Thank you’ can in turn be summed up by ‘O God’ depending on how you speak that phrase.  ‘O God!!!’ which could be followed by ‘what was I thinking’ or ‘what were they thinking’ or ‘what were you thinking God’.  Or ‘O God!!!’ which could be followed by ‘isn’t this wonderful’ or ‘aren’t you wonderful’.    These true prayers probably should always followed by exclamation marks. 
Whether it is ‘Help’ or ‘Thank you’, to pray is to strive to place ourselves more closely in right relationship with God and with God’s creation.  We need our God-given imagination to apprehend what that right relationship is or can be.  The poet Mary Oliver tells us that the world gives us an invitation to right relationship through our imagination every day: 
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
The world offers itself to your imagination,
Calls you like the wild geese,
Harsh and exciting,
Over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
In today’s meeting let us pray ‘Help’.
Gracious and loving God help us to open our imaginations to all that you are offering us.  Help us to imagine and see the path to our right place in the family of things—in God’s family—in our lives as God’s children, in our parishes and especially in our work today for the part of God’s kingdom that is the Diocese of Huron.   In silence let us open our hearts and minds and bodies and souls and imaginations to the help that God offers us.  Amen.

Afternoon Session

This morning I noted that there are two prayers ‘Help’ and ‘Thank you’.  We ended with the prayer ‘Help’ that God would enable us to open our imaginations to right relationship with God for ourselves, our parishes, and the Diocese.  Let us pause and reflect on where we have been this morning.  Let us reflect on where have we had difficulty in opening our imagination to see where that right relationship could be?   Let us reflect on where we have opened our imagination to what the right relationship with God is. Let us reflect on where we have seen but not followed the path of right relationship.   Let us reflect on where have we have moved to be more in right relationship with God and God’s creation.
Let us pray.  Gracious God we thank you for all that you have given us this morning. ‘Thank you’ for all that you will continue to give us this afternoon and when we return to our homes and parishes to continue to seek the right relationship that God intends for us as God’s Children and God’s Church.  Amen. 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Make a Joyful Noice Unto the Lord

Monday, 4 May 2015

Acedia and Me 2

A while ago I wrote about my reflections on the book, Acedia & Me by Kathleen Norris.  As I noted it is often thought of as depression.  It is rather hard to get a definitive handle on just what the condition—or vice—entails and how it differs from depression.  The simplest way of thinking about it appears to be a state of generally not caring about the world and others. 

One of the points in Norris’s exploration of this state is her connection with early Christian understanding of the state of being be pursued by the demon of acedia.  Indeed considering acedia in the realm of demons or evil spirits has some validity if we consider the world of the early monks who were very familiar with acedia as the demon of mid-day which brings lethargy.   The idea of demons and evil spirits are viewed as rather quaint concepts today and not worthy of consideration in our post Enlightenment, Post-Modern world.  Liberal theologians will dismiss or explain the biblical accounts of Jesus’s encounters and defeats of demons and evil spirits as psychological conditions with Jesus as the first century therapist at best and fabrications by fanatical followers at worst.  However, I have been reconsidering how we might consider demons in today’s world as a result of Norris’s book as well as a book by Morton Kelsey, Discernment, A Study in Ecstasy and Evil. 

Kelsey, who died in 2001 was a Professor of Theology at Notre Dame University as well as a Spiritual Director, describes discernment as the ability to, “value the importance of a person’s story and to listen to it and reveal to that person the implications that this story has for his or her life”.  I believe that this is true in discerning our own lives as well as the lives of others.  We need to listen to our inner dialogue and hear what we are saying to ourselves.  The dialogue that goes on, often below our conscious awareness, can reveal the negative aspects of our lives.  Whether we describe them as demons or evil spirits or sloth or put them in modern psychological terms they have a significant influence in our lives. 

Since reading Acedia & Me, I have been paying particular attention to the thoughts which could be described as the demon of Acedia.  The thoughts that tell me, “You don’t really want to do that do you?”  “That will take too much effort and doesn’t matter anyway.”  “You’ve done enough and have earned some mindless activity” (even when I haven’t).  And so on.  In this context these “demons” do indeed exist and can lead me to not caring and there being a lack of meaning in my life if I let the thoughts take over.  The effect is the same whether we think of them as demons or ennui or any depression or any other label in the latest version of the DSM.  In effect, they separate me from God and in that way are sinful – another term which has fallen out of favour but is still as much of a reality as when Jesus walked among us.  Fortunately through Jesus we have forgiveness and redemption.