I talked to Angela this week. (For those of you who don’t know, Angela and her husband, Rico, came to Grace a number of years ago when Angela served as a ministry intern. Subsequently both joined the Episcopal Church, were active and beloved members of the community, and have since moved to California, serving their diocese.) “We just don’t have a good Christian theology,” she said, “for faith separate from community”. She, like many of us, has found deep meaning in the experience of Christian community that loves and affirms members while calling them beyond their comfort and understanding to ministry with people not like them. She understands herself as part of the “body of Christ”. This is both the bread and wine of Holy Eucharist and the community gathered with her at the table as well as those she, in turn, is called to nurture and love. It is in this context that she finds meaning, that she has come to know who she is and how to relate to God. And now, that context is radically changed and she rightly wonders, “Who am I and how can I be faithful to Christ in this alien place?”
What a good question! What does Christianity say about faith and solitude? It seems to me that the best place to look is the ancient tradition of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. These were people of the 4th century A.D. who left the mostly peaceful and prospering cities to live a life of solitude in the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, and Persia. They were the first Christian hermits and they left because they feared that life after persecution, when Christianity was becoming the religion of the state, had become too easy. They were clear that the call to conform to the conventions and expectations of the society around them would distract and deter them from deep relationship with Christ. They didn’t reject the Christian call to community, but they did understand salvation as an individual endeavor. So, they consciously stepped away from all that might cloud their vision and impede their journey. They wanted to be people of profound spiritual clarity and in order to do this they let go, not only of almost all material security, but also of all societal structures and expectations. They strove to let nothing stand between them and that perfect freedom that clears the way for deep relationship with Christ.
We human beings are slow! And so predictable! So when the world radically changed around us our response has been to try and recreate what we had. We went “on-line”. Virtual school, meetings, concerts, happy-hour. . .anything so we can tell ourselves that nothing has changed, not really! And since this isn’t very satisfying, some of us are just fiercely waiting for things to get back to “normal”. We want to rush out and “get our life back” no matter the cost. And it all feels bad because we are trying not to be in the place where we are!
DRAFTJS_BLOCK_KEY:1m0tqI talked to Angela this week.
But you see, that’s the thing about being alone in a cave in the desert. You are where you are. And you have to learn to be there, to truly be present in that moment in that place—no distractions, no expectations, no worries, no hopes. You learn to simply be; to simply wait and listen and see. And pray.
So it is from these people, in the place where they were, that we received the Jesus Prayer. It is short and simple. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” It is a prayer to be prayed and prayed and prayed until one prays as one breathes. It is said, by the generations of those who used it, to open a way to the heart, to clear a path to the soul for the healing and wholeness of unity with Christ.
“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Have mercy on my impatience, on my blindness, on my anger. Have mercy on all that I cling to that gets in the way. Have mercy on my hardness of heart, on my lack of faith. Have mercy on my lostness, my confusion, my insecurity. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”
I think that when all the doors shut, when the stores were shuttered and the roads closed, we forgot. We forgot that God had surely opened a door, that there was, right here, right now, a new path, a new life waiting for us. It’s not our old life shined up or pared down. It’s something new! It is Easter, after all! So let’s try not to sit in the dark lamenting what we had. Let’s ask for grace to see the new way forward and courage to step through those portals Christ has prepared for each of us. And I suspect, that in this new place we will find not only community, but the communion of saints welcoming us and guiding us to heights and depths we can only now, imagine!
*If you want to learn more about this part of our Christian wisdom and tradition, read "The Wisdom of the Desert" , by Thomas Merton. You can purchase it on-line for $4.95. If you find other helpful books, let us know!
First, let me remind you about Idaho Gives, the on-line donation platform for non-profits in Idaho. Please consider donating to The House Next Door, Learning Peace, and The Idaho Diaper Bank. All of these are partner ministries of Grace and all can use your support. Go to www.idahogives.org and type in the organizations name on the top search bar. Click search and you are right there on the donate page!
Second, the bishop has informed me that Angela Lerena is officially approved for ordination to the priesthood whenever that can be arranged.
Third, check out the new website www.gracechurchnampa.com. It isn't totally finished, but Mia has been working hard on it. If you have ideas or suggestions, please let us know. You can download the worship bulletin for services there.
Fourth, we should know in the next week or so how and when we may be worshipping together again. We have sent a proposed protocol to the bishop and he is leading a discussion on how we might go forward this Sunday evening.
In the meantime, let's make the most of this time to think and be. Let's take the time we might not think we had before to pay attention to the world around us, to write letters, read scripture and pray a little more often and perhaps, more deeply. Let's get in touch with ourselves so we can be, even more authentically, the people we are called to be.
Karen+ ****The vestry will meet this week on Zoom. Watch your email for date and time and zoom
number! ****We are having unwanted visitors in the ark, so we will be changing its structure, if that is possible, or removing it if we can't make it more open and structurally safe. ****Thank you for all who sent in your pledge. If you let it slip, please remember that you can mail a check to Grace or use direct deposit at your bank.