Episcopal Diocese of Washington

To draw people to Jesus and embody his love
for the world by equipping faith communities,
promoting spiritual growth, and striving for justice

Bishop's Writings

Precauciones por el COVID-19 y Protocolos para la Diócesis Episcopal de Washington

August 25, 2021

Esta carta fue enviada por correo electrónico a los líderes diocesanos el 25 de agosto.

Siempre damos gracias a Dios por todos ustedes, y los recordamos en nuestras oraciones.Continuamente recordamos qué activa ha sido su fe, qué servicial su amor, y qué fuerte en los sufrimientos su esperanza en nuestro Señor Jesucristo, delante de nuestro Dios y Padre.
1 Tesalonicenses 1:2-3

Queridos colegas y amigos de EDOW, 

Mientras nos finalizamos la preparación para esta nueva etapa en el ministerio, les escribo para agradecerles por su continuo compromiso con la salud y la seguridad de aquellos en sus congregaciones, escuelas, lugares de ministerio y las comunidades que sirven en nombre de Cristo. Debido al aumento de las infecciones y hospitalizaciones en nuestra región, y a las preocupaciones de variantes altamente contagiosas del virus, es imperativo que prestemos cercana atención a las instrucciones y obligatoriedades de parte de los líderes civiles y de salud pública en sus localidades.  

Varios miembros del clero y laicos me han preguntado si los protocolos diocesanos serán cambiados en este otoño. La respuesta más breve es no. Todos estamos obligados a seguir las directrices y mandatos de nuestras comunidades locales. Cuando esas políticas cambien en tu región, podrás relajar tus propias prácticas como lo estimes conveniente. 

En este momento, hay cierta uniformidad en las políticas en los cuatro condados de Maryland y el Distrito de Columbia, con mandatos en el uso de máscaras en lugares interiores y un énfasis renovado en la distancia social, así como la invitación a reunirse en lugares al aire libre cuando sea posible. Las iglesias no son una excepción. Hay preocupaciones particulares con niños no vacunados, pero las escuelas están reabriendo con medidas de seguridad. Les invito a hacer lo mismo a quienes reúnen a niños de manera segura en la iglesia.  

Con relación a la adoración en persona, estoy impresionada con la creatividad de las prácticas eucarísticas en la diócesis. Algunos me han preguntado cuándo podremos comenzar a compartir el vino a través de la copa común durante la Eucaristía. Yo he preguntado a epidemiólogos en nuestra diócesis y en el Hospital Johns Hopkins. El consenso entre ellos es que este no es el momento de hacerlo, así que la restricción para su uso continúa. La alternativa más simple es distribuir ostias solamente. Algunas congregaciones ofrecen vasitos individuales de papel y otros han comprado sets de comunión individuales. 

Estoy maravillada de que el canto en la iglesia, siempre que todos usen máscaras, no está restringido por los oficiales de salud. He disfrutado cantar otra vez durante mis visitas, así como oír la belleza de la música coral. 

Si aún tu iglesia no ha abierto para la adoración en persona, te animo a considerarlo en los próximos meses. Aunque mantener la presencia en internet en adelante es una gran prioridad, también lo es estar juntos, seguros, en comunidad cristiana. Por favor, acércate a tus colegas o a aquellos en nuestro equipo diocesano en busca de ayuda y sugerencias. 

Finalmente, quiero decirles algo sobre la vacunación. Esta semana la FDA autorizó completamente la vacuna Pfizer, y otras vacunas recibirán muy pronto la misma aprobación. Como ustedes bien saben, un número creciente de negocios y organismos gubernamentales, incluyendo los distritos militares y escolares, están exigiendo la vacunación de sus empleados y personal. Después de hablar con el canciller diocesano, el Sr. John Van De Weert, estoy segura de que como obispa no tengo la autoridad para exigir la vacunación de los empleados de nuestras congregaciones y escuelas. Pero las Juntas Parroquiales, Juntas de Directores y Rectores sí tienen esa autoridad y les animo a considerar ejercer esa autoridad si no lo han hecho ya. Reconozco las preocupaciones que tienen algunos con relación a las vacunas, pero el riesgo de no ser vacunado y el costo para la comunidad en su totalidad, hace la vacunación, en mi opinión, una muestra tanto del discipulado cristiano como una responsabilidad civil. 

Si tienen preguntas o preocupaciones específicas, por favor, no duden en contactarnos en la oficina diocesana. Aunque puedes preguntarle a cualquiera de nosotros, el Canónigo del Ordinario, Andrew Walter es quien coordina los esfuerzos en respuesta al COVID.

Gracias, otra vez, por tu liderazgo, tu fe y tus oraciones por aquellos que han sido afectados por el COVID-19. Que Dios les bendiga y proteja a aquellos que trabajan incansablemente por nosotros. 

Fielmente,

La Reverendísima Mariann Edgar Budde
Obispa de la Diócesis Episcopal de Washington


The Story of Your Life

August 08, 2021

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Then the religious authorities began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
John 6:35, 41-41

Good morning, friends of St. Thomas’ Church. It’s wonderful to be with you. Special thanks to your good rector, the Rev. Lisa Ahuja, and members of the vestry for inviting me to preach. 

The working title of this sermon is “The Story of Your Life,” an exploration of recurring themes and patterns that you might come to recognize over time, and how you can discover, to your amazement, “The Gospel of your Life,” that is to say, the ways that God, through the loving presence of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, shows up for you, and the ways you are uniquely wired to experience God and to be a witness for Christ simply by living your one, unique life. 

Let me begin by asking you to think of times when you’ve heard either yourself or someone else say, “Well, that’s the story of my life.” 

Casually, it’s a way we describe how luck seems to fall for us; in my case, for example, why it is that whenever I choose a check-out line in a grocery store, I always seem to wind up in the slowest line. I don’t know why, but it’s the story of my life. A friend once told me of her husband’s “parking karma,” because he always seems to be able to find a parking spot in the most crowded part of the city. It’s the story of his life.

In these arguably superficial yet uncannily true ways, we experience a significant part of who we are. “I never win at anything.” Or “I always seem to win.” “I’m a glass half-empty kind of person.” “I’m a glass half full.” 

Our younger son, Patrick, was rather accident prone as a kid, to put it mildly. By the time he reached high school, his friends began to refer to what they called PRIs, or Patrick Related Incidents. In his case, it was more than simply bad luck, although he had plenty, it was also reflective of the fact that he had so much going on in his head at one time that his situational awareness suffered. Accidents became a big part of the story of his life. 

These stories we tell about ourselves, or others tell about us, are powerful. They help account for recurring patterns--the things that just seem to happen, time and again, for good or for ill. Once a pattern is ingrained and the story is set in our minds, it takes real effort to change it, even if the data supporting them is suspect, or when what was once true about us is true no longer. One of the liberating aspects of moving to a new place or a new job, actually, is that we get to start over with the story of our life. While some of these patterns and stories are harmless and tend to be exaggerated, others are highly influential, with real implications for how others relate to us. 

As I’ve been talking, I wonder if you’ve thought of an example from your life or someone close to you that is akin to what I’ve been describing? Are there any narratives that you’d like to change or you feel are changing? We’ve all been watching the fascinating storyline shift at the Olympics this year, with the highly unusual decision for world star gymnast Simon Biles to withdraw from competition at the final hour, citing concerns for her mental health. She and others like her are insisting now on a new narrative, one that takes into account for sportsmen and women the entirety of their lives, not simply the moments when all eyes are on their performance.  

Let’s go deeper now to consider that part of your story that encapsulates, attempts to describe what you love best about you--what you love to do, the things that cause you to lose track of time because you’re so engaged in them, the people who make your hearts sing, the places that speak to you of home, or adventure, or joy. Another way to identify this part of your life is the deep sense of purpose you feel when what you’re doing matters to you, the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction you feel whenever you sense that the gifts God has given you are being put to their use, even when, or perhaps especially when, the effort involved requires real sacrifice on your part. Your dreams are also a big part of this storyline--what you hope for, what you really want for yourself and for others, so much so that you’d give up a lot of other things for that one pearl of great price. 

Now that part of yourself--whatever it is--is sacred. It’s your personal connection to the creative, life-giving spirit of God. I would say that God really cares about that part of you. More about that in a moment. 

But first I’d like to briefly consider the story of Jesus’ life, not the overarching narrative from birth to death, but rather the animating energy that drove him, the things that people knew about him---the Jesus Related Incidents, if you will. There are several to choose from, but one story about Jesus always rises to the fore--his passion for food. 

Jesus loved food, and most especially, to share meals with other people. He’d eat with anyone--tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees--he didn’t care. He loved parties, and at one of them, he personally made sure that more wine flowed freely (and really good wine) after the host’s supply ran out. 

It mattered to Jesus that people had enough food, which helped explain why so many were drawn to him. For Jesus walked among people who were almost always hungry--subsistence farmers, fishermen whose livelihoods and often next meals depended upon their night catch. Famine was common in Jesus’ day, as it is now in drought-stricken or war-torn parts of our world. 

One of the most cherished memories about Jesus' ministry was the time (and perhaps it was more than once) when he made sure that a hungry multitude did not leave his presence without being fed. As you may recall, he worked with what he had, what people gave him--a few loaves and some fish--to create a banquet enough for many to eat their fill, with food to spare. It’s one of the few stories about Jesus that shows up in all four written accounts of his life, which biblical scholars agree makes it a really big deal. 

The other meal recorded in all four accounts was the most intimate one, the one we reenact every Sunday when we gather around this sacramental table--the last supper he shared with his closest friends on the night before he died. It was a time of final words and of reassurance that after he was physically gone, whenever they gathered together to break bread, his spirit would be with them. 

What all this focus on food tells us about Jesus is that he really cares about human beings. He knows that we need food--good nourishment for our bodies--to be fully alive. He also cares about feeding souls. For all his love of actual food, he would also remind people that we do not live by bread alone, that there are other kinds of hunger. It mattered to Jesus, and it matters still, that souls are fed. Because we cannot realize the best, most true story that is our life without soul food, that which feeds and sustains the part of us that animates, our spirit and energy, passion and purpose. We can’t run on empty and live that part of your life. 

So the first thing I hope you take with you from this sermon is the non-negotiable commitment Jesus has to your physical and spiritual well-being, and not just you, but every child of God on this planet. Anyone called to be a follower of Jesus will be invited into a life of first receiving the food that nourishes body and soul, and then ensuring that others are equally fed, no matter who they are. 

You may remember a story about the time Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection while they were fishing on the sea of Galilee. They saw him from the boat and made their way to him. And the first thing he did was invite them to eat the breakfast he had prepared for them. Then he took Simon Peter aside for a private conversation to help Simon Peter to get past the guilt he felt for having denied him three times on the night of his arrest. You remember how he asked him three times, “Simon Peter, do you love me?” and Simon Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Each time, Jesus gave him this exhortation, “Feed my sheep.” Feed people. Give them food--nourishing food, for body and soul--in my name. 

The second message of this sermon is a bit harder, although equally, if not more important. For it has to do with how Jesus can show up for us in those times when, in the story of our life, a part of us--a really important part--is going hungry. I’m not speaking about physical hunger now, but rather the other ways that we feel the ache of emptiness and lack. He knew it would happen to us; it happens to everyone; it happened to all him: disappointments and failures; dreams lost and roads not taken. 

You heard and have printed in your bulletins a reading from the reading from the Gospel of John in which Jesus speaks of himself as the bread of life, even going so far as to say that whoever comes to him will not go hungry and whoever believes in him will never thirst. He’s clearly not talking here about physical hunger because any human being alive will experience physical hunger and thirst. It’s the way our bodies work. So what is he talking about? 

First we have to consider the text itself. You may know that there is a radical shift in tone in the Gospel of John as compared to the other three accounts of Jesus’ life--in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. In the other three, Jesus almost never speaks of himself in the first person. He’s always talking about what the Kingdom of God is like, calling people to follow him in a life of radical service to others. 

In John, by stunning contrast, written at least a generation after the other three, Jesus can’t stop talking about himself. He talks about himself all the time. “I am,” he says, “the light of the world.” “I am the Way, the truth, and the life.” “I am the bread of life.” In fact, John devotes two chapters to this one idea of him being bread, Jesus being our bread, our soul’s food. This is an extended reflection on the very story of Jesus feeding the multitudes with a few loaves and some fish, as if to say, “Don’t just pay attention to your bodies here. Let Jesus, let me be food for your souls, and food for your souls in the very places where you may not be getting what you want or what you need.” 

Do you hear that? Jesus is meeting you in that place of want or need, and recognizing that what you want or need may not come to you in the ways that you desperately pray for. And this, as you know, is a significant shift in the life of faith. Historically, it’s the result of the passage of time, and the realization among Jesus followers a couple generations after the resurrection that whatever it meant for Jesus to return in glory, it wasn’t going to bring about a change in their life circumstances anytime soon. At the same time, they had the sense, a growing  sense, of Jesus’ presence with them. It hadn’t gone away; in fact, it had grown stronger with time, albeit in a more mysterious, mystical way. It was as if they didn’t have to wait for Jesus to come back. Maybe he was already here, with them already in spirit and in truth. Whatever that meant for them, it had something to do with Jesus’ presence, in itself, being food for their souls--less focused on what changed externally and more centered on their inner life. 

That’s the kind of food Jesus offers still. It’s not that he doesn’t care about the things that we want and need. But he also offers, where we need it most, sources of strength, resilience, forgiveness and grace that can sustain us even when, or especially when, we are experiencing emptiness and hunger in parts of our lives where our needs aren’t being met in the ways that we hope or want. 

It’s a challenging shift. I wish it wasn’t necessary, that we could always have our needs met, but it is. The shift involves acceptance and letting things go, experiencing the emptiness inside, and allowing Jesus to meet us there and fill that space. It’s a different kind of food, and we may not want it, at first. We may want to hold out for the fulfillment of our desire. There’s nothing wrong with that. I hold out for as long as I can. But what Jesus says to me and to you, when we’ve run that course is, “Let me feed you in other ways.”

Here is a concrete example of this kind of food. Dear friends of ours, now in their 70s, married young and, as most young couples do, they wanted to have children. It was not to be. Their grief was real and long lasting, but by grace and with time, they found a path as a couple that has filled their lives with children for whom they are a blessing, including our two sons who love them fiercely. One of the couple told me years ago that in conversation with other childless couples, their story isn't always well received. “They don’t want to hear that it’s possible to live a fulfilling life without children, because they still want children,” my friend told me. “How well we understand that.” As people of faith, they never minimized their grief, or pretended that their longing for children wasn’t real. But God gave them another path, another way to live fully. That’s the kind of food we hear Jesus offer us when we need to find another path and experience fulfillment in a different way than what we had hoped, and even when a part of us remains empty. 

The African American theologian Howard Thurman writes powerfully of this kind of spiritual food in his book, Jesus and the Disinherited. Writing as a black man in a deeply segregated, unjust America, in 1949, he asked the haunting question, “What on earth does Jesus have to say to the people whose backs are against the wall--to the poor, the disinherited, and the dispossessed?”1 He was far less interested in what Jesus had to say to those with power and privilege about sharing their resources and helping those in need. He wanted to know what Jesus had to say to them. He wanted answers for the people for whom this world is constant struggle, perpetual hunger, and stolen dreams. In Jesus, Thurman finds his answers--not in Christianity, but in Jesus, and his promise of inner strength, inner clarity, inner conviction of worthiness and power that enables those oppressed by others to live according to a different narrative, a different life story, born of the unshakeable conviction that they are beloved of God. With that  story, they stand up to those who would tell them otherwise and work toward the fulfillment of God’s dream for all. Their immediate hunger for equity and justice may, as yet, go unfulfilled, yet a deep knowledge of their belovedness in God’s eyes, that Jesus is there for them, is food enough to see them through and, to quote Ghandi, a man Thurman deeply admired, “to be the change they wanted to see in the world.” 

I  leave you with the invitation with which I began: to consider the story of your life. Smile at the more quirky aspects, consider the narratives you are ready to change, and most especially, cherish the deeper story that speaks to the animating energy that is you. It is your gift to all of us, your sacred, God-given, God-inspired life. Jesus longs for you to have all the food you need to live your dreams and gifts into the world. But when they can’t be fully realized in the ways that you hoped, there he will meet you with the Gospel of your Life, the way he meets you in your empty place, holds it with you, and gives you, if you let him, the food of  love and mercy, strength and deep assurance that you are beloved child of God. And that my friends, is enough food to live the life that is yours alone, and to live it well.  

May it so for you, and for us all. Amen. 

~~~
1 Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited (First published by Abingdon President, 1949).


Calming the Storms Within

June 17, 2021

A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion . . .
Mark 4:37-39 

If you attend an Episcopal church this Sunday, you’ll hear the story of how Jesus calmed a tumultuous sea with his words. “Who is this,” the disciples ask one another in awe, “that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Reflecting on this story at our diocesan staff meeting, several of us were just as impressed by Jesus’ ability to take a nap in the midst of the storm. What a necessary skill to cultivate, we realized, in a world in which storms keep coming.

Hazel Monae, EDOW’s Missioner for Equity and Justice, then told us of a book she planned to use in her devotions this summer, which I immediately added to my own reading list: Just Because You're in a Storm Doesn't Mean the Storm has to be in You by Pastor Kirk Byron Jones. 

He writes: 

Before Jesus quieted the storm, he quieted himself. This placed him in a position to bring peace to the storm. Through stillness, deliberately resting our souls in God’s grace, we may bring peace to our storms, hushing their turbulent impact on us, and blessing on blessing, perhaps even causing them to offer up surprise wisdom through their contrary winds.1

The image of resting, seeking stillness, even sleeping in a storm is a good one to meditate on this summer, not as an excuse for escapism or complacency, but as God’s promise that we can live with peace at the center of our being even as we are called to purposefully engage the turbulence around us. 

We also need the grace to rest in a storm whenever we’re faced with important decisions and we feel pulled in many directions at once. 

For example, in our congregations we’re discovering that it’s actually harder to re-emerge from pandemic imposed restrictions than it was to impose them. Church consultant Susan Beaumont writes: 

The beginning of the pandemic was overwhelming, but our focus was clear. The boundaries marking what we could not do provided clarity. Now, in-person engagement is returning, and we face another kind of overwhelm--too many options. How do we make choices when some boundaries have been removed, but not everything is possible?2

Beaumont suggests that we need to shift from a decision making mindset to one of discernment, so that we might intentionally engage the Holy Spirit for wisdom. “What needs to happen next,” she writes, “may be larger than the limits of human understanding. We need to be led by the future itself.”  

Beaumont’s entire article is worth reading, yet one piece of her wisdom particularly caught my attention. At the end of whatever discernment/decision-making process we engage in, she suggests that we test our decisions with rest. “Before your choice is shared, sit with your choice in stillness and prayer...Ask yourselves if the decision reflects Holy Spirit wisdom.” 

In all realms of life, testing our decisions with rest is incredibly helpful. For good reason, we often hear ourselves say that we need to sleep on a decision before acting on it. Not only does rest give the intuitive sides of our brains time to do their work, it affords the Holy Spirit space to speak to us in stillness. Rested, we can face what lies before us with greater strength and less exhaustion.

Again, think of Jesus sleeping in the storm. When he awoke, he was ready and had all of his faculties--human and divine--at full strength. In that moment, he may well have needed more rest than his short nap afforded, as if often the case for us. But as Byron Jones points out, Jesus made a practice of intentionally stepping away from the demands of his life in order to rest and pray. “Without question, Jesus was a mighty engager,” he writes. “He willingly faced life with all of its needs, challenges, and complexities. But the fact of the matter is that Jesus, the mighty engager, was also a master of retreat.”3

In order to live well and do good in a world of constant storms, we, too, need our times of rest and renewal. In some seasons of life, such rest will come only in small bits on the edges of our days; while in others, we are blessed with longer stretches of time. Paradoxically, it takes practice to rest well, especially when we have acclimated to a life rhythm of constant action and crisis response. 

After all we’ve been through, this is a summer to practice rest, in whatever forms our lives allow. The storms will keep coming and the important work before us will always demand our best efforts and wisest decisions. Jesus shows us that sometimes the best way to prepare and to respond is by first taking a nap. 

~~~
1 Jones, Kirk Byron. Just Because You're in a Storm Doesn't Mean the Storm has to be in You: A Meditation for Trying Times (pp. 24-25). Soaring Spirit Press. Kindle Edition. 
2 https://susanbeaumont.com/2021/06/11/from-decision-making-to-discernment/
3 Jones, p. 13.


Calmando la tormenta en nuestro interior

June 17, 2021

En esto se desató una tormenta, con un viento tan fuerte que las olas caían sobre la barca, de modo que se llenaba de agua. Pero Jesús se había quedado dormido… apoyado sobre una almohada... 
Marcos 4:37-39 

Si vas a una iglesia episcopal este domingo, escucharás la historia de cómo Jesús calmó el mar tempestuoso con sus palabras. “¿Quién es este que incluso el viento y el mar le obedecen?”, preguntan los discípulos entre ellos con asombro. Mientras reflexionábamos sobre esta historia en nuestra reunión del personal diocesano, muchos de nosotros también nos impresionamos de la habilidad de Jesús de tomar la siesta en medio de la tormenta. Qué habilidad necesaria para cultivar, pensamos, en un mundo en el que las tormentas continúan apareciendo. 

Hazel Monae, la Misionera para la Equidad y la Justicia de nuestra diócesis nos contó sobre un libro que ella está pensando usar en sus devocionales durante este verano; y yo inmediatamente agregué el título a mi lista de lectura: Que estés en una tormenta no significa que la tormenta esté en ti por el Pastor Kirk Byron Jones. 

El autor escribe: 

Antes de que Jesús calmara la tormenta, él se calmó él mismo. Esto le posibilitó traer paz a la tormenta. A través de la tranquilidad y del descanso intencional de nuestras almas en la gracia de Dios, podemos traer paz a nuestras tormentas, acallando su turbulento impacto en nosotros, y bendición tras bendición, quizás incluso logrando sacar sabiduría de ellas a través de los vientos en contra.1

La imagen del descanso, de buscar la tranquilidad, incluso de dormir en medio de la tormenta es una buena imagen para meditar durante este verano, no como una excusa para el escapismo o la complacencia, sino como una promesa de Dios de que podemos vivir en paz en nuestro ser, incluso aunque somos llamados a conectarnos intencionalmente con la turbulencia a nuestra alrededor. 

También necesitamos la gracia de descansar en medio de una tormenta, cada vez que debemos tomar decisiones importantes que sentimos nos empujan en diferentes direcciones. 

Por ejemplo, estamos descubriendo en nuestras congregaciones que es realmente más difícil salir de las restricciones impuestas por la pandemia que decidir tomarlas. La consultante eclesial Susan Beaumont escribe: 

El inicio de la pandemia fue abrumador, pero nuestro enfoque estaba claro. Los límites que marcaban lo que no podíamos hacer nos ofrecían claridad. Ahora, vuelve la interacción en persona y enfrentamos otro tipo de preocupación - hay muchas opciones. ¿Cómo tomamos decisiones cuando algunos límites no han sido levantados, pero todo es posible?2

Beaumont sugiere que necesitamos hacer un cambio de una mentalidad basada en la toma de decisiones a una de discernimiento, para que podamos conectarnos intencionalmente con la sabiduría del Espíritu Santo. Ella escribe: “Lo que necesitamos que suceda puede que sea más grande que los límites de nuestra comprensión humana. Necesitamos ser guiados por el futuro mismo.”

Vale la pena leer el artículo completo de Beaumont, pero una parte de su sabiduría atrapó mi atención. Al final de cualquier proceso de discernimiento/toma de decisión en que estamos, ella sugiere que debemos poner a descansar nuestras decisiones. “Antes de compartir tu decisión, siéntate con ella en calma y ora… Pregúntate a ti mismo/a si la decisión refleja la sabiduría del Espíritu Santo.”  

En todas las áreas de la vida, es muy útil probar nuestras decisiones en calma. Por una buena razón, frecuentemente nos escuchamos a nosotros mismos decir que necesitamos dormir primero y tomar una decisión después. No es solo que el descanso da a la parte intuitiva de nuestros cerebros tiempo para hacer su trabajo. Es también que le da espacio al Espíritu Santo para hablarnos en la calma. Descansados, podemos enfrentar lo que está frente a nosotros con más fuerza y menos cansancio. 

Otra vez, piensa en Jesús durmiendo durante la tormenta. Cuando se despertó, él estaba listo y tenía todas las facultades - humanas y divinas - en plena fortaleza. En ese momento, quizás él necesitaba más descanso que esta breve siesta, como también sucede con nosotros. Pero como Byron Jones dice, Jesús intencionalmente se alejó de las demandas de su vida para descansar y orar. Él escribe: “Sin lugar a dudas, Jesús fue alguien que se conectaba con la realidad poderosamente. Él enfrentó la vida a voluntad con todas sus necesidades, retos y complejidades. Pero de hecho, Jesús fue incluso un maestro del retiro”.3

Para vivir bien y hacer el bien en un mundo de constantes tormentas, nosotros también necesitamos nuestro tiempo para descansar y renovarnos. En algunas estaciones de nuestra vida, ese descanso vendrá en pequeñas dosis al terminar el día; mientras que en otras seremos bendecidos con tiempos más largos de descanso. Paradójicamente, lleva mucha práctica descansar bien, especialmente cuando nos hemos acostumbrado a un ritmo de vida de constante acción y respuesta a las crisis que nos rodean.   

Después de todo lo que hemos pasado, este es un verano para descansar bien, de cualquier forma que tu vida lo permita. Las tormentas continuarán apareciendo y el trabajo importante que debemos hacer siempre demandará nuestros mejores esfuerzos y las más sabias decisiones. Jesús nos muestra que a veces la mejor manera de prepararnos y de responder es tomando una siesta. 

~~~
1 Jones, Kirk Byron. Que estés en una tormenta no significa que la tormenta esté en ti: Una meditación para tiempos de pruebas (pp. 24-25). Soaring Spirit Press. Kindle Edition. 
2 https://susanbeaumont.com/2021/06/11/from-decision-making-to-discernment/
3 Jones, p. 13.

Life Doesn't Always Have to Be Hard

June 13, 2021

So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight.
2 Corinthians 5:6

Jesus also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’ He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’
Mark 4:26-30

Let me begin by saying how grateful I am to be in worship with you! It’s thrilling to be worshipping in person with other Christians, and yet it’s good that, as a result of the pandemic, we have developed skills and acquired tools that allow us to gather in other ways. With you, I am praying for your good rector, Cricket, giving thanks to God for the resources of our diocese and your generous spirits that allow her to take this time away for needed rest and healing. It’s been a challenging time for her and for all. Yet there is such hope in the air and in this gathering. A word of special thanks to your vestry leaders and faithful staff for all that you have done and are doing to care for the congregation.  

As we emerge from this long season of trial and hardship, reclaiming parts of our lives that we had lost, learning how to integrate challenging truths that have surfaced in this time, we face the future with both uncertainty and hope, cumulative grief and gratitude, exhaustion and the release of pent-up energy. In the words of the Apostle Paul, we are still walking more by faith than by sight. Perhaps it has always been so, but it seems especially true now. 

Thus it's important, in the midst of all that we are called upon to accomplish this summer, to take whatever time we can to catch our breath and take stock of our lives. For those of us who feel called to follow Jesus, this is a time to ask ourselves what he might be saying to us. 

Today I ask you to consider not only what Jesus asks from us but also what He wants for us. 

I realize that it’s risky to generalize about what we’ve been and are still going through, given the particularities of our experiences. Yet as people of faith, surely there are spiritual wells from which we all can draw refreshment and inspired words that can serve as channels for God’s grace and healing. We are blessed with such words this morning. 

But before I turn to the Scripture text, I’d like to share a story that illustrates what is on my heart to say. 

The American writer Annie Proulx wrote a novel in the early 90s entitled The Shipping News. The book’s main character is a thirty-six year old newspaper reporter from New York state whose name is Quoyle. In the early chapters, Quoyle's parents, who had never cared for him well, commit suicide. Then Quoyle’s wife, whom he desperately loved despite her infidelity and cruelty, dies in a car accident on her way to Florida with another man. Utterly bereft, Quoyle decides to accept his aunt’s invitation to move with her to Newfoundland, their ancestral home. There she and Quoyle and his two daughters establish a home together. 

In a place known for not much happening, a lot happens to Quoyle in Newfoundland, which makes for a long and complex novel. Most significantly, Quoyle establishes a relationship with a woman named Wavey Prose, whose son, Harry, has Down's Syndrome. They are friends for a long time before Quoyle realizes that he's fallen in love with Wavey. You see--and here’s the point of my telling you this story--it doesn't feel like love to him, because it doesn't hurt. Love in his experience had always been painful, and this relationship was astonishingly comfortable and supportive. “It may be,” Proulx writes, “that love sometimes occurs without pain or misery.”1

Sometimes, after a stretch when life is really hard, we can forget what it feels like when life is easy, or like Quoyle, perhaps we’ve never even allowed ourselves to consider that we needn’t struggle all the time. For people of faith, when our primary or most dramatic experiences of God are of the grace that gets us through times of sorrow, struggle, and grief, we forget, or never learn, that God also comes to us in joy, and serendipity, ease. The same Jesus who said, “Those who want to be my follower must take up their own cross,” also said, “Come unto me, you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”    

I don’t mean to minimize for a moment the grace that gets us through hard times, when we are not spared and we have no choice but to go through the storms that come. I simply want to hold up, as Jesus does for us today in his teaching, another dimension of what God is like, another way that grace and love come to us that actually make our lives easier and lighter. With this grace we learn, ever so slowly, to trust that life doesn’t have to be hard all the time.  

Now to the biblical texts: From the Gospel of Mark, we’re given two of Jesus’ Kingdom of God parables. Here’s a tip: Whenever you hear or read Jesus say, “The Kingdom of God is like,” you can substitute, “This is what God is like,” or “This is what the presence of God in your life feels like.” 

The first parable, one of my favorites, focuses on the miracle of how seeds that are scattered on the ground sprout and grow. The one who scatters the seeds has no idea how the growth occurs, only that it does. And no matter how much you may actually know about how a seed becomes a plant, the fact that it does so, seemingly on its own, is nothing short of miraculous. That’s what the Kingdom of God is like, Jesus says. That’s what the presence of God is like within you. 

Think about it: How many times in your life has something wonderful happened that you cannot fully explain or account for by your own careful planning or brilliant endeavors? It was far beyond what you could make happen on your own and yet it happened for you, as miraculously as seeds coming up from the ground. 

As a parish priest I did my share of preparing couples for marriage, and when I would ask them to tell me how they met, more often than not there was wonder in their voices as they spoke. No matter the details, how any love relationship begins feels like a gift that often catches us by surprise.  

It’s a similar experience when I talk to people who describe how they discovered their life’s work, be it their profession, an artistic expression, or fabric of relationships for which they feel particularly called. For many--perhaps for you--there is an element of wonder: how on earth to account for the gift of being able to do what we do? Yes, whatever our vocation, there is hard work involved, but in truth, it often doesn’t feel like work and it doesn’t feel hard in the sense that there’s nothing else we’d rather do. 

My point is this: Sometimes grace simply shows up and carries us. Sometimes love surrounds us on every side. Sometimes things happen for good that we didn’t make happen. 

And sometimes, when we’ve been through a really hard ordeal, we can forget what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such blessings, or that we can’t bring ourselves to embrace them, for it feels like we’re negating the pain we and others have endured. 

This isn’t a question of either/or, but of both/and. Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be. 

I had a foundational spiritual experience in my mid-20s, when I was living and working in Central America. Simply being there was the hardest thing I had ever done up to that point in my life. One day, after I had been there a few months, I remember taking a walk with tears of frustration streaming down my face. I looked up to the sky and cried out, “Is it always going to be this hard?” In my heart, the answer came to me, almost immediately--yes. It made me laugh out loud, because it was so clear and unequivocal. But then I heard “But I will be with you.” A settled feeling came over me, as I felt the companionship of God. With that, I knew that I could go on.  

To be honest, I’ve spent most of my life accepting that hardship was mine to accept. I expect most things in life to be hard, and that God’s grace, when it comes, doesn’t spare me from hardship, but is there to see me through. I believe that to be true and I thank God for sustaining grace. But it’s not the only truth. 

Fast forward about 20 years from that day in Central America. I’m now serving as a parish priest. I’ve been married for those 20 years, and we have two adolescent sons. I’ve hit a wall in my vocation. Truth be told, I feel stuck and even trapped. Life is really hard. 

One day I was sitting around with a few clergy colleagues, all of whom were struggling in some way. I shared the story of my spiritual experience in Central America, how God told me in no uncertain terms that life would always be hard, but that God would be with me to see me through. 

A bit later, one of my colleagues around that table, who was also a mentor, took me aside and said, “Mariann, I heard what you said about life always being hard. And I want you to know that life doesn’t always have to be hard. I think you need help. Please ask for help. Things can be easier for you with help.” 

Her words were a revelation to me. Listening to her, I felt that same settledness that I experienced in Central America and I resolved to seek help. When I did, my life got easier. Through my colleague and friend, it was as if God were saying to me that I didn’t have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders and make everything happen on my own. Neither do you. 

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  

Now let’s consider Jesus’ second parable, which also involves seeds, this time the smallest of seeds that when planted produces the largest shrub in which birds can come and build their nests. This parable is a clear invitation to consider the grace and goodness of small things, tiny blessings that we can easily overlook or underestimate. 

The late Henri Nouwen, author of many uplifting spiritual books, has this to say about small blessings in his book Gracias! 

Our salvation comes from tender and vulnerable beginnings, hardly noticeable. . . Somehow, I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me of God’s saving power, but over and over again, I am reminded that spectacles, power plays, and big events are the ways of the world. Our temptation is to be distracted by them. . . 

When I have no eyes for the small signs of God’s presence--the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends--I will always remain tempted to despair.2

The temptation to despair, which we would be made of stone if we didn’t succumb to from time to time, is eased by the small blessings that come to us. Jesus invites us to pay attention to the bits of goodness scattered in the soil of our lives. Nurture them, he says to us, so that they might take root in you and grow. 

Jesus, of all people, is not suggesting that we ignore the hard truths and the big issues before us, or that we minimize the grief and loss we’ve endured. But he wants us to trust the mystery of goodness and the persistent God-created life force that is at work in the world even when we can’t see or feel it. He wants us not only to believe, but to know in our being, that goodness and love will prevail in the end. 

In the coming weeks, I invite you to be on the lookout for small blessings. Watch for them, and take time to savor each one. Consider keeping a blessing journal by your bed and each night before you fall asleep make note of the day’s gifts to you--those mustard seed size gifts that came your way. By the summer’s end, who knows what they will grow into?

Pay attention as well to the goodness and grace that seems to carry you forward, or open doors, or ease tensions, or work things out without you needing to do very much at all. 

I’m reminded here of a line from the movie Shakespeare in Love in which the manager of the Globe theatre says something about life in the theatre, which is also true of life in general: 

“The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.” 
Someone then asks him, “So what do we do?” 
“Nothing,” he replies, “Strangely enough, it all turns out well.” 
“How?” 
“I don’t know. It’s a mystery.”3

Grace is a mystery. From time to time, by grace, things work out without our doing much of anything at all. 

May this summer be a time walking by faith, of small blessings, heart healing and moments when you feel carried by grace, and restored by goodness.  

Remember that what Jesus, your Savior and friend, wants from you pales in comparison to what He wants for you. Amen. 

~~~
1 Annie Proulx, The Shipping News (New York: Scribner Books, 1993).
2 Henri Nouwen, Gracias! A Latin American Journal (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993), p.62
3 https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0138097/characters/nm0001691


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