Friday, November 29, 2013

This is the first of a series of Advent Sermons I preached in Year A, 1998.  I present it to you for critique and/or other comments.  I had just become Rector of a parish for the first time in 25 years; although I had been in charge of Missions or troubled parishes for about 15 of those years.  The Bible translation is The Revised English Bible.


Advent I, 1998, Series, Croom
In the beginning, God created. . .  (Genesis 1:1)

Being left-brained and literal – male in other words – I have always had trouble with subtlety in general, and poetry in particular.  I’m uncomfortable with ambiguity.  If I’m not “getting” what someone else is “getting,” is anybody “getting” anything?’  So begins an article in a magazine dedicated to success and power that came my way recently.  It occurred to me that this also applies in the field of religion, that is,  the field of living meaningfully.

We live in a nation, a society, a culture, which is perhaps the most left-brained, the most literal, the least subtle – or most unsubtle – nation, society or culture that ever existed.  According to the people who study these things, our brains are made up of two parts.  One, the left side, deals primarily with logic, math, precision, organization.  The right side deals primarily with art, colors, gestalt or intuition, subtlety poetry. Each of us is, in fact, a combination of the two parts: but still, the vast majority of us has the left side far more predominant in the way we understand and relate to the world around us.  And it is precisely this fact that has made us the nation, society and culture we are.

Now don’t misread me; I am not condemning this; I am not complaining about this; I am not wishing that things were different.  It is this left brain emphasis that has enabled us to produce all the wonderful things that we have to make our society so pleasant to live in: microwaves, TVs, radio, bumper food crops, tall buildings, space stations and all the rest.  

But I am absolutely convinced that religion is primarily a right brain function.  Yet, because we most often approach religion with a left-brain dominated mind, we miss much, if not most, of what religion has to offer us.  And that is unfortunate, because most of what religion has to offer us is what our nation, our society and our culture really needs.  We need to understand about power, about selfishness, about relationships with others and with the world in which we live.  Our left-brain orientation tells us we need something, but we are often mystified about where to begin.  That is why I have chosen to use the sermon time this Advent to speak about four absolute essentials: Creation; Sin; Judgement; Redemption.  If we do not have some insight into the meaning of these four things – Creation; Sin; Judgement; Redemption – we will miss the meaning of Christmass; we will not understand our Liturgy; we will find spirituality incomprehensible; we will relate to others and to the world around us on a basis of law and/or materialism.  Our religion will then become what left-brain orientation is best at: formalizing, stereotyping, standardizing, atomizing, studying, compartmentalizing.

The religion of the Book of Common Prayer, the religion of the Episcopal Church, the religion of the Bible: these do not conform to any left-brain concept.  True religion and undefiled (to quote the Epistle of James) begins with what is unknowable to the left-brain.  True religion tries to give us an understanding of those things that the left-brain finds unknowable: things we cannot see, hear, smell, touch, or taste.  Yet, the right-brain insists, these things are just as real, just as knowable, just as important as are left-brain perceptions. Indeed, since we each have both parts to our brain, if we are to be whole, healthy, realistic people; there must be a balance between the parts: the two parts must work together to provide us with a balanced life.  That is why, a week or so ago, we mentioned the four things that are distinctive of the Episcopal Church: Bible, Ministry, Creeds, Sacraments.  Bible and Sacraments are right brain functions;  Ministry and Creeds are left brain functions.  Together, they provide a balanced Christian.

The Bible provides us with the results of centuries of right brain contemplation of reality.  The Bible begins with these words: “In the beginning, God created. . . “ Reality, the world, the universe, clearly was not made by humans, even though humans seems to be the most intelligent or intellectual or creative beings in reality; nor was it made from anything; there must have been a time when it did not exist; who, or what ever made it, must exist separately from perceptible reality.  That Creative Being, or Energy, we call by the name “God.”  Who, or what God truly is we cannot comprehend.  It is no accident, however, that the Hebrews gave God the name “Yahweh”: it is a form of the verb “to be”, and can be translated as “Reality.”  But we can come to know and appreciate this God by the examination of “Reality”, the universe, the world,  in which we live.

Do we make God in our image?  Only if we see God from the left!  If we look from the right, we will see that our ability to create, develop and manufacture and rationalize, are all reflections from the Reality who made us.  We ‘image’ or ‘mirror’ the Creator.  As wonderful and marvelous as are the incredible accomplishments that have come to humans because of this examination of Reality, we still cannot make anything from nothing.   We are not origin/creative; we are only pro/creative.  All Reality exists to work together for the furthering of whatever prompted God to make it (directly or indirectly) in the first place; as such it has a good purpose; known to God.    Clearly that means we are caretakers, stewards, of Reality.  We are not owners; we are servants, slaves, stewards, employees.  We must start there: God, not we, made everything; God made it all good; for a purpose; our greatest fullilment comes from living in accord with this view, and saying “Thank you.”

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sermon for November 3, 2013 -- St. John the Baptist, Milton, Delaware

St.  John the Baptist, Milton, Proper 26, Pent 24 2013

Today is salvation day in this home!  Here he is, Zacchaeus, son of Abraham!  For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.”  Luke 19:9-10

When I first came here, in September, I spoke about our culture’s fascination with Christmass – that is, the parts that have to do with our culture’s equal fascination with money and getting things.  Many people, including me, think that this has come about through an incorrect interweaving of what we now call “government and religion.” When ever that has happened in history, religion becomes subservient to government.  And when that happens, God, who made it all, also becomes subservient to government.  This is not a new problem: Luke’s gospel – we have been listening to it for a whole year now – is absolutely opposed to that combination.  Luke’s absolute opposition makes this very point very clear at the time of the birth of Jesus.

You recall that the Gospel at the Midnight Mass begins “Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. . . . Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral home to be accounted for.  So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census.  As a descendant of David, he had to go there.  He went with Mary, his finacée, who was pregnant.”

The people who first heard Luke’s telling the story knew perfectly well that this was a highly charged political statement.  Caesar Augustus had just declared himself to be a god, the god to whom all his subjects were subservient.  He, Caesar Augustus, because he was a god, had absolute control over all the people in his empire.  If they did not obey the rules and regulations – laws, we call them – they were subject to imprisonment or death.  This is called “Pax Romana.” It sounds wonderful – it means simply law and order – maintained by violence of every sort.  Thus when the Emperor said, Go to your hometown for the first census, people did it – that way they remained alive.

So it is not in the least bit surprising that Joseph, even though he lives in Galilee, had to go back a suburb of Jerusalem, called “Bethlehem” – it means “house of bread” – because his ancestral family went back to David, who was accounted as the first (and perhaps only) Messiah-King of the Hebrews who was approved by the great creator God .  But Joseph was not alone; and this is no casual trip; hundreds of thousands of people were doing exactly the same thing as was Joseph – going back to their ancestral home.  They were doing it at the command of the Emperor/god Caesar Augustus.  You can imagine that this was bringing about lots of anger from the vast majority of the people.  But they did it!

Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus is his political comment on all this.  (Yes, this is not all there was in what Luke wrote; but this is the first thing that was heard by those who first heard this.)

There are two further important points in Luke’s story.  First, there are shepherds.  Shepherds at that time, were rather like our minds here in Milton tell us it’s like in Wilmington – where there are “wandering” gangs all over the place.  Shepherds were both the scum of society, and a great danger to everybody.  But somehow a messenger gets to them that contains a message that God has acted – the Messiah (the Savior) – had just been born!  BornS in that stupid little town called Bethlehem.  So all these wicked and evil people – the shepherds – run off to have a look.

I really want you to understand that the whole thing is rather like we’re here in the midst of our church service and whole gang of strange people comes in rushing and shouting and screaming –  perhaps they were even drunk – shouting political slogans against the Emperor!  That’s what the shepherds would be doing!  That’s the kind of presence they would have!

And then Luke throws in his bombshell against the Emperor.

A huge angelic choir was singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights!
Peace to all men and women on earth –
those who truly want to make God’s message
of equality, justice, freedom, and love, Reality.

You see, says Luke, Caesar Augustus has to pronounce it, and send soldiers and other officials all over to tell his subjects about his order. God, on the other hand, not only needs no force, but God shows his total love for all people by using shepherds to begin the spreading of the message.

Luke is writing his gospel probably 65 or more years after the resurrection.  The vast majority of the first Christians were Jews.  They saw in Jesus and his followers the fulfillment of the Creation, and the Covenant with Abraham, and the coming of the Messiah, the new David.

Now if you sit down and read Luke’s Gospel, and his second book, Acts of Apostles, and try to understand them the way the first readers did, then you will see what Luke’s purpose really is.  Really quite simple: the kingdom of God is not some “coming event.” The kingdom of God is, in fact, exactly, and fully, and completely – here!  Right now!

And the reason this is so is because those who truly believe in the Creator-God are busy living the life of equality, justice, freedom, and love.  It shines spectacularly in everything that the followers of Jesus did.  They lived lives of care, concern,
and love.  And they did it with no resort to violence.  And this continued for several hundred years after Luke.

What in fact did these first followers of Jesus do?  Well, they did two things.  The first thing they did was to live loving lives. The second thing they did was to refuse to allow the worship of any one or thing other than the great Creator-God.  For this to happen, sometimes they had to give up their very lives.

You see, the Resurrection of Jesus tells us many things.  I want to talk about just one of those things right now.

Luke places a different picture in front of us.  You remember that in Luke’s version of the Passion, Jesus is crucified between two criminals.  One of them makes fun of Jesus: “Some Messiah you are!  You save others --save us and yourself.” The other criminal sees the truth.  And so he says “We are getting what we deserve; he did nothing to deserve this treatment – his death!”

Two things in this little bit of dialogue.  First, Luke reminds us that there is nothing special about this execution – it’s the same kind of thing that happens to any criminal.  And everyone knows that when the dead bodies are taken down from the crosses, the Romans just throw them away.  But the second criminal notes that Jesus did nothing to deserve this treatment. And he says, “When your kingdom is fulfilled, please don’t forget me.” And that truth is why we are here today!

The second criminal believed!  He knew that when his body was thrown away and that of the other criminal, no one is going to be sorry – probably there is no one at all who might even mourn.  But that bright life, born in the cattle shed, hanging on the cross of death, will never be extinguished.  No matter how many are killed in the name of Jesus, the message of equality, justice, peace, and love can never be extinguished. It will live forever; the bodies of his followers will radiate the message in every thing they do.  The resurrected Jesus is alive!

And that is why the Roman Empire, with the most massive military the world had ever seen could not destroy the message of Jesus.  The Empire was brought to its knees; not by armies, not by condemnations, not by courts of law, not by persecution, not by any form of violence.

It was the faith of the first Christians and their utter trust in God that fundamentally changed the Roman Empire.

How did all this happen?  It really was very simple!  Our patron, John the Baptist, came into the world to show that each adult needs to make an absolute commitment to the one God who created all the world.  And they did that!

They were baptized!

And through that symbol – baptism – those who had faith that the world is a good place, that everything that God has made is in essence a good thing, and that human beings – you and me, my friends – we have the right to use everything God has provided in order to make the world a place without violence, and where equality, justice, peace, and love are the hallmarks of all interpersonal relationships.  And this is true whether we are speaking of individuals, of local communities, of cities and towns, of counties and states, of businesses and governments, and all international relationships.

You see, the other part of what the second criminal said is the truest part: “We get what we deserve.”

This, my friends, is the primary reason why the General Convention of the Episcopal Church authorized the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  This was intended to be a missionary document.  Its purpose was to fire-up all those baptized people who call themselves Episcopalians.  And we wanted them all to be fired up, because we who believe what the Gospels tell us, know without any doubt, that violence, and super large standing militaries is not the way to complete God’s creation and bring equality, justice, peace, and love to the entire planet.  It just will not work.

Therefore, as a sign of your commitment, four times per year we who are the baptized, stand and proclaim our commitment to the message of equality, justice, peace, and love that reigned from the cross, washed the blood of Jesus.

I have been told that in order to make your commitment powerful, you should be able to hear your own voice in your own ears to be as loud as you hear my voice in your own ears.  (I might add, the same goes for singing.)

Please take the form home with you and plan to read it every day between now and Christmas.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Spirituality for Now

This is old, but it is still useful.

A Spirituality for Now

A Spirituality for Now
#1 - How Prayer and Daily Life Coalesce

First, what to expect, and how we shall proceed.  I generally like to have questions asked when they arise.  So interrupt me at will.  If I am right in the middle of something, I may wait a moment, but please note the word, may. 
What to expect?  I’m not sure.  I have been asked many questions, been told many things;  somehow, I believe that I can make a small contribution to some of these things.  Yet, I certainly do not hold myself out as any great expert in prayer.  I do it, of course, and so, like anyone who does something, I have both some ideas and some practical experiences that have been helpful to me.  I also have enough ego (some may think I have way too much!) - tempered, to be sure, with temerity - to want to put forth my ideas with the intent of helping others.  Hence, I succumbed to pressures to do this presentation.  If, however, anything I say makes you want to make a radical change in your prayer life, please speak to me or some other spiritual director before making such a change.

I want to add one more thing.  Since 1971 I have lived in a situation  not in a parish Church.  There has been no office next to the Church with the blessed Sacrament reserved; there has been no schedule of daily announced services; there have been no conferences with parishioners who needed help with various things; there have been no meetings with other clergy; no conferences provided by the Diocese; nothing to keep me close to the prayer life; as there had been previously, when I worked full time in parish work.  Like most of you, I have to get up every day to do a job; I had a schedule of business activities and conferences and meetings to attend to;  sometimes I had employees to deal with; sometimes I had a superior to hold off.  In addition to this, my wife and I raised St. Bernard dogs professionally.  We seldom had fewer than five dogs, often as many as ten, and, once, for what seemed an interminable time, we had nearly 25!  Generally, I took care of feeding, cleaning and exercising the dogs.  With all of this, I still maintained my Rule with the Order of the Holy Cross, kept up my prayer life and, from 1971 until 1978, regular preaching, week by week in the little mission congregation I cared for.  When, in 1978 the Bishop wanted me to do more at the mission, I could not, and reluctantly resigned, became almost immediately an interim in a parish, remaining to assist there until I went to South Carolina in 1983, where my church work was much less.  Through it all, I persevered.  That series of experiences also makes me think that I might have a somewhat different spin on prayer in daily life.  We shall see if it is also helpful to you.

The Subject for today is, How Prayer and Daily life coalesce?  There are three things involved in this topic - at least, there are three I wish to talk about.  Each of these things needs to be defined, and in that process we shall discover the things I think might be useful to busy modern people.  The three subjects are  God, Prayer and Praying.

I was born into a family of practicing Episcopalians.  My mother and Father taught in Sunday School, and participated in other ways in the life of the parish to which we belonged.  We always said grace before meals - all meals.  Although we belonged to what some of you might call a Low Church or Protestant kind of Episcopal Church - there were five or six  others like it among the 187 parishes of  the Diocese of Albany - we also always ate fish on Friday.  At home in addition to  grace, once in a while my parents would read to us from the Bible: especially at Christmass (my brother and I could look down the stairs in our house on Christmass morning, but could not go down until we had heard the reading of the Christmass Story from St. Luke’s gospel.) When I entered the fourth grade, I also began to sing in the Boy’s Choir.  I will never forget my mother’s reaction when I came home one day and said “Mommy, when I grow up I want to be just like Mr. Findlay” who was the rector of the parish.   Her reaction was “Good God, no!” However, both my younger brother and I ended up in the priesthood.    Before World War 2, we were not permitted to play outside, nor inside on Sundays after Church.  When the Episcopal Young Churchmen - which also included girls and please note, it was the ONLY activity girls could take part in except to attend Sunday School - when the EYC met on Sunday evenings, someone brought a record player and some 78 rpm records:  and there was dancing.  I would not be eligible for EYC for one more year when this happened.  Many of the older people got very, very angry about this dancing, and when the Bishop came for Confirmation, they met with him and raised, if you will, Holy Hell.  Bishop Barry - who had just come to be Coadjutor Bishop from St. Luke’s Parish in Evanston Illinois (a parish much like St. Paul’s) - took the complainers out to the front door of the Church.  He pointed  diagonally across the street to a local bar and nightclub, and said, “Would rather have them dance there?”  That ended that issue.   

During all of this time, however, because of all these kinds of rules and ways of looking at things, one tended to get a very specific idea of God.  He was an old man with a long white beard, who sat on a high backed black throne, surrounded by people who looked somewhat like policemen.  God also had a table, on which was a large book, in which everybody’s name was paced when they were born.  There were two columns, one for faults or sins, and another for good things done.  If you were a protestant,  my protestant friends told me,  the two columns got added up and the larger number won.  For Catholics and Episcopalians, God did a kind of double entry bookkeeping that helped  wipe out some of the bad things by good things.  Also, Jesus and the saints sometimes stood in the way of the  bad column so you got more credit for good than you really deserved.
However, when all was said and done the relationship with God had more to do with accounting than anything else.

Many people today have much the same relationship with God.

Now.  If that is the way one sees God - and it isn’t, because I have deliberately caricatured it - but if it is somewhat vaguely like your idea of God - it tells us something about the way you see God.

The very first thing it does is to tell us that God is exactly like us.  Further, he is vengeful; he is inflexible; and he expects us to be perfect.  Further, if we do the right things and live the right way we will earn the right to enter heaven.  In addition, God’s major concern is with us human beings, and little or nothing else is of any great importance to him.  And he is not only concerned about us individually, but he is careful to provide us with his assistants, to keep us in line: parents, teachers, policemen, nuns and priests.  The most important part about all this is that God wants to keep us obedient and unquestioning; simply accepting what others tell us is the way to live:  (psychologically keeping us as 10 year olds) - the tradition of  the Church not only cannot change, but moral law cannot and never has changed.  All moral questions are always answered either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; or ‘yes’ or ‘no’; or ‘good’ or ‘bad’; or ‘black’ or ‘white.’

If your concept of God in any way touches this caricature - which for some people is not a caricature - then your prayer life (if you have one) is largely petition and penitence, individualistic and very self centered, even if you do not recognize it as such.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that it is relatively easy to get this kind of idea from the Bible.  This is especially true the way we teach the Bible in most of our Sunday Schools: which is very often the source of this caricature of God.  (I speak with authority: for 17 years I was part of the Department of Christian Education in the Diocese of New York at a time when we had a Suffragan Bishop whose primary work was the Department, and three professional staff members [two priests and a token woman DRE]; for 12 of those years I was part of the Executive Committee of the Department, and for 5 years I was Chairman of the Department: and we were involved in virtually every parish in the diocese.  Although my references and experts are now old fashioned, the principals we worked on are fundamental to the education process of the Church:- which, when all is said and done, is to teach people how to pray.)

To understand who God is, we need to read again  and again  and yet again the first chapter of Genesis.  And when we read it, we must try to put aside any previous ideas we may have had about it.  We need to see it as a poem to explain that which cannot be explained: How God acts and works.  As Christians, we must read it and see in this first chapter of Genesis the operation of the Holy Trinity;  and along with this we need to see the place of scientific examination of the universe that is poetically described in Genesis 1 and 2.  We need to see that it is impossible for us to be fully human without association with others.  We need to read Genesis 3 and see that pain and inequities and domination of one sex by another is the result of the fall; it is NOT the way God made or intends it.  If our minds bend that way, we need to read scientific writers, like Stephen Hawkings - BECAUSE THERE IS ONLY ONE TRUTH, AND THE NAME OF THAT TRUTH IS WHO/WHAT WE CALL GOD.  There is no such thing as truth of science and truth of religion in any sense that implies any conflict between them.  Read Isaiah, especially chapters 40 - 55

Above all else, God has made us moral beings.  He made us not only able to make decisions (again Genesis 2 and 3); he EXPECTS us to make decisions and judgements on everything that affects how we live and how we relate to others - indeed to the entire creation.  Read Amos:  see how the compilers of the book (as we now have it) wanted to be sure that the hearer (or reader) sees that Amos’s moral imperatives are part of the divine process; they are part of the very fabric of creation: Thus, He who made the Pleiades and Orion, etc in the middle of the book.  Read Hosea where Love comes into the picture along with the matter of  the decision process.

Now these were people who did not have the advantages we have. They didn’t know about gravity, and atoms and positrons, and viruses and computers, and interstellar space and all the rest of the vast body of knowledge that science has brought us.  And every bit of what science shows us, brings with it a bit more of a glimpse of who God really is.

It is important for us to realize that we cannot even begin to make the slightest dent in really understanding who God is.  The very concept of God is far, far beyond our most complete comprehenting capabilities.  Everything we say about God - and I am going out on a limb here - everything anybody says in any part of God’s creation, will teach us something about God: but we will never catch the true reality now.  Even the sacred doctrine of the Holy Trinity is merely an attempt (albeit the best attempt possible) to help us begin to understand who this God is whom we worship.  We need to expand our concept of God to the nth degree, recognizing that all concepts, images,  pictures, ideas, doctrines and so forth are imperfect, incomplete, and just guide posts to each of us as we pursue our quest to know God.  To some degree what I have just said is true of any theist, Christian or not.

However, we who are Christians have an additional aid in this matter of knowing God.  We have Jesus.  Jesus, we believe, is the incarnation of  God, the enfleshment of what we mean by God.  All of the above concepts and ideas, together with the incredible number I have not talked about, all of these ideas that give us some kind of idea about who God is. THIS God whom we cannot  fully know at this time, THIS GOD took our flesh of the Virgin Mary, and became fully and completely in every respect one of us - except he did not sin.  Yet he did indeed bear the burden of Sin, and receive its pain.  And our sin, yesterday and this morning, our sin is part of the pain he bore.  In order to show us that we are indeed moral beings, who are fit to make choices, Jesus, as the epistle to the Philippians tells us, Jesus is a human being.  And in perceiving him, we perceive him as a human being, BECAUSE he emptied himself of his divine nature, so that we would NOT know him as God, but, rather, know him as one of us.  The reason, we believe, is that God is Love.  If God is love (another word which we can only dimly comprehend), then we need to  know him in the only way we can: as a human being, a human being whom we recognize to be one of us, yet who is in his essential being Love.  By becoming one of us, he shows his essential Love, and he expects us to respond to him as he has shown himself to us, with that Love which is ALSO THE ESSENTIAL nature of each of us, even though it has been overlaid by sin.  We are, in fact, love recognizing love.  And, as we love Jesus the human being, we begin to see him in the others who also love Jesus the human being;  then we love them as Jesus.  From there we move on to love all that Love has created., and we will make our own personal moral choices based on this perception of Love, the Creator and Love, our associates, and Love, the created creation.  This does not mean that we will make lock-step choices as Christians; what it does mean is that we will try not to make choices based on self interest.  This is why it is impossible to be a single Christian.  Even the hermits cannot be alone.  Because Love became one of us, and we see Love in others and in Creation, the Love that we are, expresses itself in love of others, of creation, of God - all of which is summed up in our Worship at the Eucharist, which is a topic for another series.

I think that it is because of her perception of this, that my favorite Julian of Norwich tells us that “Because we are so ignorant and inexperienced in the ways of love that we spend so much of our time  on petition.”  (Remember that at the beginning of this I said we keep asking for self.)  She goes on “ IN HIS GOODNESS is included all that one can want, without exception.  To know the goodness of God is the highest prayer of all, and it is a prayer that accommodates itself to our most lowly needs.”  And she ends “He does not despise the work of his hands (recall, I said to read Genesis 1), nor does he disdain to serve us (he emptied himself)... He loves the soul he has made in his  own likeness.”

Basically, we need to expand our idea and concept of God.  And science has opened to us an incredible vista, all of which increases our knowledge of God, learned through the grandeur of that which He created.  Open your eyes; expand your mind; see new knowledge and new inventions not as threats, but as further examples of the splendor of God.  Even if some new idea or invention has come into being and there are no immediately obvious uses for what most of us would call good, remember that it came from the mind of a man/woman made in the image of God.  Therefore this new thing participates in the creative activity of God:- because evil has no essential reality.  We need therefore, prayerfully to seek to find out how this new thing fits into God’s work in this world.  This is not always going to be easy, and often makes us rethink other concepts we have had.  But - as we shall see- God is not beyond challenging our minds, which, after all, are in his image.  (I might add here, that one of the major, major differences between catholic theology and protestant theology over the centuries is on this matter.  For protestants, the Fall destroyed the image of God in us; for Catholics, however, the Fall marred, but did not destroy that image, and it is because of that image in us that we are able to recognize God when he acts to reveal himself to us.)

Thus, if we are to have a spirituality for NOW, we must begin with a meaningful concept of God.  For that vast majority of us, that means vastly expanding our ideas about God.

At the beginning of this, I said there are three things I want to cover today.  The other two, Prayer and Praying, now that we have done the bit about God, will not take too long.  But if you want, let’s take a brief  break now.

Prayer is the first of the two remaining topics for this morning.  

We have all heard of prayer described as talking with God, or some such language, and that’s a pretty good definition.  The real problem for most of us is that because of our funny idea of God, our prayer becomes both funny and even peculiar, if it doesn’t stop completely sometime between the time we enter puberty and the time we leave high school.

Let’s go back to the first part of Genesis.  It is stated there, in this incredibly beautiful poem trying to explain the inexplicable, that God made humanity  in his own image, in the image and likeness of God he made them (and then, as a parenthetical explanation of what is meant by image and likeness) , male and female he made them.  Two things come from this:  First, what we call sexuality, is in fact the essential nature of God: in one sense, God is neither male nor female: God is the creative power found in sexuality, all sexuality.  God himself is community (that is part of the meaning of the Trinity); thus human participation in creativity is expressed through sexuality.  This is true whether we are speaking of the sexual energy that brings forth children, or the sexual energy that creates music, poetry, painting, scientific research etc.  This is why sex is of such a crucial matter in the lives of all human beings; it is how we participate in the creative activity of God.  And when that is not clear in our minds, we rape, we  pillage, we wage war, we execute, we oppress, we hate, we kill unnecessarily (that is, we hunt for fun, not for food), we destroy, we upset the balance of nature, we mock, we do all kinds of things that are not loving.  (And in connection with this, when you each make your own individual response to the question of the ordination of women to the priesthood, remember two things: 1. God is everything that is meant by sex and sexuality 2. the rôle of women as child bearers and homemakers only,  is the punishment resulting from the fall. - There is more to be considered but remember this much at least.)  It is this participation in the creativity of God that allows us some sort of say over our own destiny.

But the image and likeness of God in us includes more than participation in the creative activity of God.  It also includes what we call intellect, or mind.  We are able to examine, explore, question, rationalize (in the good meaning of the word), observe, contemplate, investigate, inquire, deliberate, justify and many, many more words that combine to give an insight into what we might possibly mean when we say we think.  But to think (in all its meanings) is to participate in the nature of God himself; just as is sex.

Prayer then, in my opinion, is the utilizing of all of the image of God in us, sexuality (or creativity) and thinking, in our goal to communicate with God.  AND we are going to communicate with God in the same way in which he chose to communicate with us: through other human beings, most especially through Jesus, whom we know in the blessed sacrament, in the Word of God and above all, in  the persons whom we know and love.  And all of this is expressed in our worship of God.  It all boils down to remembering that whenever we are thinking or being creative or caring, we are communicating with God.  This is what we call prayer: using our entire being to communicate with God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Finally the topic is Praying.  In a very real sense, if prayer is defined as I just defined it, then in a very real sense, we pray whenever we do most of the things we do daily.  Eating, for example, is a holy  event.  It is taking a portion of God’s creation - a part of what God has given us as a sample of his care and concern for us - and using our minds to make a moral decision - choose this, prepare it that way, eat it as the sacrament of life that God has given to us - and caring for ourselves  as children of God.  When we do this, then we are recognizing that our Body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit as St. Paul tells us, and we are taking proper care of it.  We do not over indulge, we do not waste, we do not eat that which is harmful to the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Thus we are praying.  As conscious children of God, if we trust in the Goodness of God - as Julian tells us - whatever we do will be done trusting in his goodness.  As St. Benedict tells us, to work is to pray, to pray is to work.  However we are involved, it is all prayer.

So praying is simply another word for living: which means for most of us that sometimes we pray well and sometimes we pray not so well.  Thus we often set apart specific times when we can really concentrate on praying.  This is not time at worship, such as the Daily Office, or the Eucharist - which we fit into our lives as best we can,  considering the other kinds of prayer we are doing daily.  This is prayer when we sit or kneel or even lie down quietly and silently be with God; call him/her (I feel I have to say it that way) into our mind, and then relax.  We may pray petition, we may pray  intercession (which is simply petition for others) we may pray adoration, we may just be still and know God.  We may use words or pictures or music or anything that assists us to become open to the reality of God all around us, in creation, in other persons, in Jesus.

How do prayer and daily life coalesce?  For the Christian, whatever we do in daily life is prayer, and all of life is an oblation to the goodness of God.  Whether it be cleaning up the kennel in the morning, arguing with a customer, explaining a report to our superior, writing our congressperson, bringing food out on the Grate Patrol, serving at Solemn Mass, receiving communion at a quiet weekday mass, or going to confession, or, as Julian says in very graphic terms which I shall not use, even going to the john (Bathroom) - all human activity  is prayer.  We who are baptized into his very Body and live his very life, all life is prayer and, therefore, what we do in our life is praying.  All we need to do is see it that way, and, as St. Paul shows us so many times, live according to our belief.