Cleaning Our Spiritual Basements

Basements were standard in the houses of my youth.  The two flat where my grandparents lived on the South Side of Chicago had a basement – a real basement with dirt walls, piles of coal and coal dust, narrow stairs to walk down, a healthy musty smell, and two bare electric lights.  Our family homes on the South Side also had basements, as did both our homes in Hinsdale.  My Mom was an ardent cleaner of basements.  Whenever she was stressed, blew her top, or felt overwhelmed by life, (I see this now; didn’t see it then), she cleaned the basement.  If I was the cause or recipient of her unhappiness, her move to the basement was sweet relief.  There was no telling how much time she would spend down there.  My guess; it all depended on precipitating causes.  She certainly had many to balance.  The metaphor didn’t strike me until many years later in life.

Psychology and spirituality both refer to the house as a metaphor for the self.  If your “house” has a basement, then going down to clean the basement was going down into those recluse and hidden parts of herself where she could be alone and address them in her way.  You know why I think this?  Because, fundamentally, the basement didn’t change very much!  There might be the occasional bag of items for Goodwill or a slight reorganization, but the actual cleaning fell to me.  The basement was her place to sit within those places of herself where only she and her God would be.

Lent is time to have courage to sit in our spiritual basements, which only we know.  Perhaps it’s time to give away a few items that are no longer needed and gather dust?  Perhaps it’s time to clean up some old gifts and find a new expression for them?  Perhaps it’s time to wipe clean the slate of sin, guilt, shame and resentment and prepare for walking back upstairs on Easter Day?  I don’t know.  You’ve got your basement and I’ve got mine.  Our spiritual houses are built upon them.  Jesus tells us in scripture that God built them and lives in them also so we have nothing to fear.  Time to clean the basement!

Canon Al Johnson is the Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation for the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. 

The Personal Nature of Prayer Life

Your prayer life is like a fingerprint – no one has the same.  Our journey through life says it all.  I must admit though, “writing” about one’s prayer life comes close to asking about one’s sex life!  To me it has been a private matter, but when asked to share about prayer, I wanted to do the subject justice by telling how I arrived at this point of life at the tender age of 79.

I grew up in the church and received Christ into my life at 26 years of age through reading an old book, “Transforming Friendship” by Dr. Leslie Weatherhead.  I accepted Jesus as leader of my life and bridge to God, our Father, by His sacrifice on the cross. I had a conversion experience,  was confirmed in the Episcopal Church and several years later experienced the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” during the Charismatic renewal in Pittsburgh.  During this time I was in a prayer group of about 30 plus people for a period of five years.  This was an intense time of Bible study, personal growth and prayer.

The first reality I discovered after my conversion experience was that Jesus, God the Father and the Holy Spirit wanted a “relationship” with me.  It was an intimacy of mind and heart that was so overwhelming.  What developed then was a “trust” – that no matter what my thoughts were, I could speak to this Trinity with total honesty, provide an open mind and be assured that I would receive guidance, comfort, forgiveness and spiritual grace.

My family then moved to north central Pennsylvania and I became very active in my church, becoming LEM II, choir, altar guild, vestry and ECW leader.  I also attended several classes at the Diocesan School for Ministry and was appointed to the Diocesan ECW Board as the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer Representative.  I attended Cursillo and gave a couple talks at the Diocesan Mission Conference.  It was during this period that I wrote a prayer/poem, Special Friend.  All this activity occurred during 30 years.

Looking back I must confess – studying the Bible had been like reading a history book and just provided verification for my conversion and spiritual experiences.  The BCP (Book of Common Prayer) was not a book I turned to for “spiritual uplifting”.  Also, prayer came with difficulty – whether said out loud or in my mind.  I never seemed to have the “right words” and I didn’t feel comfortable praising God either – “why did He need praised?”

But, nevertheless, Our Lord had a Way – a niche and I never saw it coming.  I believe it began when I was preparing a talk and was searching the BCP when I came across the definition of prayer (page 856).  “Prayer is responding to God, by thoughts, by deeds with or without words.”   Now that put me into a Receiver position, i.e., I did not have to make up beautiful words to pray – instead I was to receive and respond.  God was the Initiator – but how was I to respond?

This quest led me into Contemplative Prayer.  I read Thomas Merton’s  “Open Mind, Open Heart” and listened to Thomas Keating’s lectures on “Centering Prayer.”  I did not have to “make up” anything – just be quiet!  I also learned that God did not need me to praise Him for His benefit or ego.   God wanted me to praise Him for my benefit.  My praise was to open my heart to Him.  Again, the BCP: ( page 857),  “……God’s Being draws praise from us.”  Now that was a very good reason to me!

The “speaking in tongues” gift that I had received over 50 years ago also served the purposes of praising God – in a prayer language. Occasionally, when I could no longer think of what to say, I could use my voice to express what my heart felt.  It was like expressing love using your voice and you knew that what you said was right and not orchestrated – you did not have to think about what to tell God how or what you wanted Him to do; you just provided the sacrifice of your time and voice.  This I could do out loud or silently.

Also, if ever I have the opportunity to participate in “laying-on-of-hands” for prayer ministry, I encourage it.  There is a special intensity which breaks through and creates community and sharing of one spirit.  It is like a marriage of our spiritual selves together for the common good.

I have now arrived on my prayer journey.  Now upon hearing Scripture and BCP prayers in church,  I know they have been written by others who have been inspired.  My approach to prayer now begins with honesty of mind and heart.  As I begin to be open in prayer, I usually like to “name” what I am thinking.  I try to find a word to best express what is bothering me or the reason I think this or that.   It is kind of like confession.   I then turn that thought to God’s will for healing, forgiveness or release.  I lift up names in petition knowing that God knows their needs.  I like to practice silence in the style of contemplative prayer – just basking in His presence. “For where all love is, the speaking is unnecessary. It is all. It is undying. And it is enough” (Claire, Outlander by D. Gabaldon, Chpt. 38). Occasionally, I use my prayer language – especially in times of joy.  I also delight in His blessings and gifts of ideas or humorous coincidences that could only come from God’s unique Grace and Blessings.  Prayer has become a very safe and loving place.  Amen.

Diane Pyle is a member of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Emporium, and the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer Representative on the Diocesan ECW board. 

Why Do We Pray?

We sometimes find ourselves – whether as an individual or part of a group – alone in the mission field. By alone, I mean the individual or group, though in the midst of hundreds or thousands around us, were alone as we jumped on an idea and did not bring God into the mix. I’ve had the experience of a group trying to engage God’s people in the field of the world in what WE determined was a useful way…but the small group missed the mark. We organized, we consulted, we analyzed, we came up with a plan and even had the “post event” ready to go…but all fell flat. Why…we didn’t understand – what did we do wrong? Come on… we did this for God, it was for His people, it was good, and it was a great plan. But why did it fall so flat, flub, not even a hint of some redeemable good for all the work and effort we put in?

Some might say that we could look under all the rocks and be alert to what God has in plan that we don’t see just now. Yet, there is something inside of us that knows that our efforts did not remotely come close to benefitting God. There seems to be no benefit for the work and we might have burned out a few good folks along the way or might have used a few favors from friends or colleagues as well.

This might have happened to many of us…we had this great plan. We had the best intentions…we truly wanted this for God…all the best goals were considered. But it reminded me of trying to buy a present for someone close to me at the last minute without the opportunity to ask, or consider what was best for that dear person, a person that counts on us and knows us and has been generous with us. What we did find and offer at the last minute wasn’t a gift that was needed…but a cover-up for not taking the time to really find out what the person wanted or needed.

workplace-1245776_640We do that to God some days…He can be short-changed based on our busy lives. In His or Christ’s and the Holy Spirit’s name we come up with some goofy things that we think are needed for us to do. We may spend a lot of time thinking about it, planning about it over multiple meetings. We may ask or include a lot of people and we may spend a lot of money on doing whatever we came up with that we should be doing, but it is just a cover-up for something we are lacking.

So, what are we lacking…maybe it is as simple as getting to know and spend some time with God? We know the best gifts are rarely the most expensive items, they are things that are just needed (generally not wanted). God needs us to understand Him as the people He created. We need to know who God is to us. We need to know who God wants us to be. How does He wish us to engage the world He has laid before us?  These may seem like difficult questions, but think about our best friend in the world. Would it be difficult to answer any of these questions? It probably would not take very long…because we know that person, we are close in all the positive ways and intuitively understand them. We can be close to God in the same way…through prayer.

We do embrace God for many things in prayer. He wants us to come to Him with our concerns, He wants us to lay our troubles at the foot of the cross, and He wants us to lift up our concerns for ourselves and others. Because He knows us…inside and out…just like the creator He is…there are no secrets. To Him, we are an open book with all chapters (past and present) highlighted, marked and read. The question of the day…can we say that we understand God as well as He understands us? Have we taken the time to know who He is? Sure – a good Bible study is great, important and helpful for many reasons, but have we taken time to listen? Listen for His words directly to us and not through anyone else, just from Him, in whatever way He chooses to communicate…but are we there to hear Him?

We live in a time that is a mixture of responses from the world. The world feeds us with information that seems very personal, because the world has invested time and money into understanding just who we are. The world does this most likely because they want something from us (probably our money). God invests in us as well for a very simple reason, He loves us.

Just simple time with Him…quiet time…praise time…study time…it is our time together. Listen and watch for Him in everything and everywhere. The easy part, there are no rules …just make the time, any time, any place. Clear our minds of our stuff, our wishes, our wants, our agenda…what is God saying to us? No analyzing, no judgement, no comparison to the past or present…just listen. Leave what we know, what we have done and just how smart we are…and just listen.

He does love us, He does know us, He is as present today as in the beginning. Just listen and you will then see and know.

The Rev. Randy Beck is Deacon at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, Greenville, PA. 

This is the fifth installment in our Prayer series that will run up to the Diocesan Prayer Vigil in March. Click here to view other stories in the series, and here for more information on the Vigil.

Invitation to the Diocesan Prayer Vigil – March 17 & 18

altar-boy-1190759_1920The conviction that praying shapes believing is part of our Anglican heritage.  Prayer is a core practice of our Christian faith and serves as both a foundation and covering for our common mission.

I invite you to join me in prayer for our diocese at St. John’s, Sharon, on March 17-18 from noon to noon.  We will set aside 24 hours to pray for each other, our common life and mission, and our communities.

Please join us as you are able.  I recognize that not everyone will be able to join us in Sharon, but I hope that you will offer prayer from wherever you are during that time.



The schedule for the prayer vigil is below.  As you can see on the schedule, we will be praying from noon to noon with services and events planned throughout the vigil.  All are welcome to join us for any portion of the vigil, whether that be attending a single service, coming just to pray on your own for a time, or being present for the full 24 hours.  There will be food provided throughout our time.

We will also have a form on the website for those who would like to submit prayer requests to be prayed over by our intercessors.  You are welcome to submit as many as you would like.

If you have any questions about this event or submitting a prayer request, please contact Vanessa.

Schedule for Prayer Vigil
March 17-18
St. John’s, Sharon
12:00 PM       Stations of the Cross
2:30 PM         Centering Prayer teaching and prayer time
5:30 PM         Evening Prayer
7:00 PM         Healing Service
10:00 PM      Compline
11:00 PM       Oral Reading of Book of Revelation
12:00 AM      Private Prayer/Intercession over submitted prayers
7:00 AM         Morning Prayer and Praise
9:00 AM        Prayerwalk & prayers for community
11:00 AM       Eucharist
12:00 PM      Lunch with St. John’s Family Kitchen (if you wish to stay)

Receive Advent As A Gift

advent-1812702_1280As we prepare to enter another season of Advent, we are given the gift of waiting.  So often, we focus on what we want, but Advent invites us to focus on what God might give us.  Instead of expending our effort on choosing what we would like and striving to get it, our energy goes into preparing our hearts to be open to what is coming.  This preparation is much harder work, but ultimately more fruitful.

One of the lies we tell ourselves is that if we work hard enough, what we think is best will come to us.  Really, though, however hard we work, we are always handed a jumble of broken leftovers from the pursuits and plans of others.  We can toil desperately to make that mess into the gift we have decided we deserve to be given.  But we cannot create what we truly need to satisfy us.

Advent provides the space for us to strip down our projections and put away our projects so that we can see where the divine gift for us is to be found in the midst of life’s pains and paradoxes.  We shut off the flashing lights and neon beacons so we can simply see the stars around us.  We step out of the buzzing cacophony and make space for silence where the still, small voice may beckon.  We close the Facebook feeds and the commercial messages to open the prophets and the psalms preparing us to recognize what we can’t yet imagine.  We stop jockeying for candles-141892_640position and simply sit beside our brothers and sisters until these erstwhile allies and enemies become nothing less to us than the true image and likeness of God.

Advent helps us hand over our wills, our imaginations, and our desires so that in the crucible of waiting they can be purified into hope.  We cannot learn hope until we have learned to stop and let go of everything except for God’s coming to us.  Then God’s coming will fill every nook and cranny of our being, occupying our every thought and hunger. We will be able to recognize the Messiah come into the world because we will have become nothing more than a Messiah-shaped outline waiting desperately for God to fill us.

The waiting of Advent allows us to recognize and receive the Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace amid shepherds and Latin-speaking IRS agents two thousand years ago.  That same waiting allows us to recognize and receive the body of Christ in the gifts placed on the altar and in those gathered around it, as well as in the least of our brothers and sisters for whom whatever we do we do also for Jesus.  Our Advent waiting will also allow us to recognize and be received by the Son of Man in his crucified glory at the last day.

Our souls are saturated with so much stress and striving that we cannot wait to wait.  Receive Advent as a gift and dive into it deeply.  Wait until we can’t imagine wanting anything but Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

The Rev. Adam Trambley is rector at St. John’s, Sharon. 


A Different Way to Pray: Prayer Arbor at the Cathedral

When you close your eyes and think of the word “prayer,” what do you see? People kneeling, their hands folded, silently sharing their concerns with God? A congregation saying The Lord’s Prayer together on Sunday morning?  What about… ribbons?

img_0685If you walk past the front of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Erie this week, your eyes are bound to stray to the wood arbor out front, covered with white ribbons that flap in the autumn breeze. If your curiosity gets the better of you and you step up for a closer look, you’ll see that each ribbon is inscribed with an individual’s prayer, hundreds of prayers, written down and tied carefully to the wire framework inside the arbor itself.

AJ Noyes, the Program Associate for the Cathedral, originally presented the idea of the Prayer Arbor to the Cathedral Chapter in the spring. She was inspired by another prayer installation called “Knotted Grotto” by Meg Saligman in Philadelphia, Prayer Trees, and her own artistic leanings (she has a Bachelor’s degree in art). “My position here at the Cathedral gives me the opportunity to be creative, but I’ve wanted to do an installation piece for years,” she says.

The Chapter was very receptive to the idea, and Dean Downey suggested that the arbor be focused on the city of Erie, given the current issues with homelessness, school closings and budget deficits, and other concerns.

img_0418After AJ worked out the initial concept for the installation, Cathedral sexton Terry Bishop took on the task of building the arbor and placing it on the Cathedral lawn. The Arbor was introduced on June 26, and, that Sunday morning, the congregation was asked to add requests to the arbor during the Prayers of the People.

Since then people in and outside the church have taken advantage of the Prayer Arbor to either add prayers, or to take time to pray for the concerns already listed. The Vine youth group and their parents have added prayers, and a contingent from the Cathedral took ribbons and information to the National Night Out at Gridley Park in early August.  AJ relayed that, “Many people – especially children – took the time to write out a prayer and then we hung their ribbons on the arbor the next day.”

img_0682The goal of the Arbor, besides being a vessel for prayer, is to reach out to the community. The Cathedral emphasizes that the Arbor is open to people of all ages, conditions, and faiths, and it has drawn people from the Erie community who may not otherwise have been aware of the Episcopal Church. Some of our diocesan clergy have noted the effect of the Arbor:

 “A student of mine stopped into my office earlier this fall to say that he was walking down West 6th street, and noticed the Prayer Arbor in front of the cathedral. While he said that he wouldn’t normally have noticed anything like that or taken the time to investigate, something about the way the ribbons caught the wind caught his interest. He stepped up the stairs to the arbor level, and stepped in. He found himself compelled to read the various intentions that were tied there, and even found himself praying for the individuals who wrote them and the hopes that they had. He was surprised to find that almost fifteen minutes had passed while he was engaged in the structure and its intention. This is just one wonderful example of how the Prayer Arbor had facilitated this moment of prayer in this rather unlikely pilgrim.” – the Rev. Shawn Clerkin

img_0689“A few months ago, I was visiting a patient, someone I’d never met before, in the hospital. He asked which church I was from. When I replied the Cathedral of St. Paul across from the Court House, he said “Oh, I live a few blocks from there and walk my dog past it every day! You have that ribbon sculpture out front; what’s that about?” “It’s a Prayer Arbor! As followers of Christ, we’re called to be people of prayer, reconciliation and hope in His redeeming love right here, where we’re planted.”  I watched his face fill with awe and excitement as he exclaimed, “You mean I could go in, get a ribbon, write my prayer for the community and put it on the Arbor?! What a wonderful idea, why aren’t we all doing this?” This gentleman is a member of another denomination and church in the downtown neighborhood. And, yes, his prayer really is fluttering in the breeze on the Prayer Arbor.

 “Riding hospital elevators as I visit patients, I frequently am asked what I do and where I serve as a clergy person. In the past few months when I say “St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, across from the Court House”, someone will usually ask about “that house thing” out in front of the church. Inevitably, there’s “wow”, “neat” & “you mean ANY one can write a prayer?” when I explain the Prayer Arbor. Sometimes, I even hear “Why aren’t we ALL doing that?” Indeed. I wonder how many of those fluttering prayers might be from someone in that elevator.”  – the Rev. Kathleen Ziegenhine

 The prayers will remain on the Prayer Arbor until November 6. There will be a Choral Evensong that evening at 5 pm at the Cathedral, at which time the ribbons will be removed and distributed to the attendees for the service, then archived. All are invited to attend.

There are many ways to pray, and many ways to share the love of God – even with something as simple as a piece of ribbon.

Megin Sewak is Communications Specialist for the Diocese of NWPA. 

Bumper Stickers – The Illusion Of Control

494268452_f5586a2695_zI have always loved the idea of control. The idea that I can somehow make things happen, or prevent things from happening. I used to love the idea of prayer as a manipulation of God, a tool to make sure my kids were safe, that my life wasn’t going to come crumbling down to the ground. It seemed to be working until one day in March of 2001, when my brother was hit by a car and killed. That was the beginning of a new kind of journey. A journey that recognized and embraced that I control only my reactions to all that life throws at me. This shapes much of what I think and how I react to life going on around me. Even to what I think when I look at bumper stickers. I’m not talking about magnets or vinyl decals that you can easily change, but those pesky stickers from days of yore, that just wouldn’t come off, even if you were ashamed that you stumped for Mondale/Ferraro in 1984.

It is interesting to look around a parking lot and read bumper stickers. “Proud parent of an honor student” “My student beat up your honor student” “Soccer mom” “Proud Pitt Parent” are just a few that I saw at WalMart today. What is interesting about bumper stickers is their permanence. It is as if we are trying to fix our place in an ever changing story. As if a permanent adhesive will make it true forever. While it is true that I will always be a mother, it is not true that I will always be the mother of an elementary school student, in fact, as of June, I will not be anymore. I have seen six kids through elementary school, and now that chapter of my life is closing. As a recent graduate from Gannon, that chapter of my life is closed as well. Both events are pieces of my story that have shaped me, but they have come to pass.

The danger of trying to make life events permanent is that there is a chance that we will stunt our growth when it is time for those events to end. My mother had six children, just like I do. Unlike me, my mother cooked and cleaned and made us the center of her universe. She was fantastic! But she never took time to know herself, and consequently, she fell into disarray when that piece of her life changed. She did not consider the day when there would be no one left to clean up after, no one to pick up from basketball practice, no one to fill the days. She saw life as static and unchanging, fixed in place like an old election candidate’s bumper sticker.

But the truth of life is, it is more like a post it note than a bumper sticker. It is impermanent, and eventually the things that shape us change shapes themselves. If we do not embrace that change, if we do not continue to grow, then we begin to die. Although this seems tragic, there is a certain beauty in this. You see, if things were static, we would not recognize the beauty that those things hold. If the sky was filled with rainbows constantly, we wouldn’t think of the rainbow as much of anything, it would be commonplace. But the rainbow is fleeting and elusive, and so we follow it, we look for the gold. It creates a sense of wonder within our hearts.

This impermanence is not an easy truth, it eats into the illusion of control that we humans tend to seek after. But perhaps in the end control is not what creates a life well lived, perhaps it is in embracing the fleeting nature and seeking growth as we acknowledge change. Daily post it notes reminding us we are becoming, not bumper stickers telling us who we think we are. These days my prayers are more about gratitude and admission of my lack of understanding as I speak to a universe that is bigger than I can imagine. Prayers that are more like conversations, rather than manipulations and my bumper stickers are vinyl decals that can be removed as life takes me to different places and new incarnations that I could never have foreseen.


Angela K.  Jeffery, St. Stephen’s, Fairview


I Am An Episcopalian Because…

Danielle Bane is a member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal church in Fairview, PA. She is a life long Episcopalian who grew up in the Diocese of West Virginia. Below are her thoughts on why she is an Episcopalian.

I am an Episcopalian because:

  • We value learning….about the Trinity and its work, about each other and about ourselves.
  • We are principle-driven with a healthy dose of context. We remain true to the fundamentals of the Bible and the Anglican doctrine upon which we are founded. Yet, we continue to adapt our practice and interpretation as the human existence evolves.
  • This is God’s table and all are welcome. Probably my favorite sentence of the service. We can get better at this—that’s true. But I love that we are a leader in the manifestation of this principle. I know a child who went to a Catholic school for a couple of years. At her first confession, she went up against the Priest about why she couldn’t take communion when they went to Mass. She was quite clear that “God welcomes everybody. Why can’t I eat the wafer?” If an 8-year-old child can grasp that, we are doing something right.
  • No topic is off the table. The best way for me to capture this for you is that where I went to church camp (Camp Peterkin, The Diocese of West Virginia’s church camp) as a child even the connection of sex and spirituality were addressed. We discussed, seriously, many related topics in appropriate degrees of detail.
  • I’m pretty sure the Episcopal Church saved my life. If it weren’t for the connections to the people at my local church and Camp Peterkin, the values my parents were trying to nurture might have evaporated to some degree. The many ripple effects that I was able to arrest would have won.
  • We like to smile. When there is an announcement that includes the words “ring the bell” and a few start dancing behind the last pew because all we can hear is the 2002 Anita Ward song, that’s okay. It’s okay to make a joke and let others join in. When the Prayers of the People includes the names Laverne and Shirley sequentially and half the people stifle laughter, we joke about it during coffee hour. When the organ comes unplugged on Christmas Eve, a parishioner crawls over to plug it back in and everyone is still on the right beat, smiles spread across everyone’s faces. And when my infant daughter cries out at just the right moment in the Baptismal service, the ahhh’s in the room rise as everyone smiles, knowing another soul is filled with the Spirit. We welcome joy in our service.
  • As a child I knew when church was almost over because our Liturgy is a mantra. After about age 10, if I sat in the pews, it was usually with someone else’s family. I typically was an acolyte. And I knew when everything would happen, when I had to sit still, when I needed to get the lavabo bowl and when we were going to sing the last hymn. Today I hear the rhythm in much more meaningful ways. But when I am having trouble concentrating for any reason, it’s nice to know how much longer we have….
  • I don’t know about you but I am wired to feel guilty about almost anything. Even if I didn’t do it. So I am most grateful that the Liturgy and the doctrine of our church does not call guilt one of its layers of foundation. We are all about sincere remorse and making things right when called for—don’t get me wrong. But the use of the Bible to invoke guilt wears me out. The reel in my head does that all by itself.
  • As a teenager, I dated a boy whose father was a very conservative Baptist preacher. I frequently went to church with him on Sunday nights. Most of my memories about those evenings include him yelling, how red his face got and wondering why slapping the Bible helped convey the message. Today I respect the huge variety of ways we can worship God. But for me, I appreciate that there is a balance between the sound of the service and quiet reflection during the Holy Eucharist (okay, okay, are you singing the Sound of Silence in your head, too?).
  • The music. Anyone who will listen has heard me talk about the music from Camp Peterkin. While my daughter heard Jimmy Buffett from her Dad at bedtime, I was singing In the Upper Room, The Irish Blessing, and Pass it On. Today during the Sanctus, I often hear all the versions I have learned as a Cradle Episcopalian. Music lifts people. It evokes meaning when it can otherwise not be reached. It’s a warm, welcome hug. It triggers change. It is an important common thread of history, worship and community whether you are at a campfire or the National Cathedral.
  • And finally, The Peace.

Danielle Bane

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Being A Priest Part 2: “Broken Open”

Read the first post in this series, “Being A Priest.”


“…people bond more deeply over shared brokenness than they do over shared beliefs.” Rachel Evans

“All ministry begins at the ragged edges of our own pain.” Ian Morgan Cron

structure-626872_1280Pain and Brokenness. In a class with Dr. Joyce Mercer at Virginia Theological Seminary we explored the cumulative effect of trauma on clergy. Each of us carries our own brokenness with us and we also experience the brokenness of those we serve. Add that up over time and the weight is cumulative and can break the strongest if you and I stay open to the pain and suffering of others, of ourselves and of the world. The first rector I worked for shut down on pain. First he stopped paying attention to his own and then he stopped paying attention to the pain of his people. He surrounded himself with people who protected him but he became a poor reflection of his former self. I always wondered why that was so? I think pain was at the source of his disconnect.

I don’t think for a minute that God inflicts us with experiences so we can learn what it means to hurt. God doesn’t need to. All we have to do is love and live and inevitably pain will come our way. Brokenness is different. James Allison writes in his book “Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay” that the experience of being broken began to be seen in such a way as to become restorative. Allison writes that the experience of being a gay man, a priest, and rejected by his Catholic community invited him to experience and explore the brokenness of his own life that had to do with more than his sexual orientation, policies of the Roman Catholic Church, and love; but not less than those either. This had to do with the complete dismantling of his understanding of himself and the values upon which he had based his existence. Whatever those had been proved to be false under the pressure of his life experiences. Realizing they needed to go became the moment he learned that to live was to experience his own broken-openedness. He was in pieces and at first tried to frantically hold all the pieces together like Humpty-Dumpty after the fall. But he was unable. So he pleaded with God and God began to help him construct a new existence based upon his brokenness.

The challenge of Alison’s book was to examine how we’ve also been a source of pain and brokenness for others. His argument, an argument held by many, is that when we are broken open we are just as likely to lash out towards others, as we are to be empathetic.   And as insensitive as the Roman Catholic Church could be, he wrote, is also as insensitive as he was capable of being. So when we are broken open we get to see the whole picture of ourselves; not only how we’ve been broken, but also how we’ve contributed to the brokenness of others. He would then say that our brokenness is complete and now ready for the process of being restored by God from the insight out as all good healing is meant to go. As priests and clergy it’s not our calling to lead with our brokenness. Perhaps it’s more we stay continuously aware of that space within each of us that periodically cries out for healing and wholeness. And through our pain invite others to healing.

A Fable

It was raining in the forest. It had been raining for days, and all the birds and animals were drenched. The eagle, too, was drenched, and his spirits dampened as well, for his mate lay with a chill, a victim of the constant rain. There was no way to keep her dry, and the eagle looked on with despair as her life slowly drained away. His tears mingled with the rain when she died.

It was raining in the forest. The eagle could not stand the rain. It brought back memories too painful for him to bear. He rose up from the trees, hoping, in flight to escape his thoughts. Higher and higher he climbed until finally he broke through the dark clouds into the dazzling sunlight that lay beyond. As the warm sun dried his wings, he suddenly realized that the healing sun had been there all the time his mate had needed it. The pain of knowledge learned too late was more than he could stand, and there were tears for the sun to dry.

eagle-1260079_1280It was raining in the forest. It had been raining for days, and all the birds and animals were drenched. The rabbit, too, was drenched, and her spirits dampened as well, for her child lay with a chill, a victim of the constant rain. She poured out her sad tale to all who would listen, but the other creatures, too, were victims of the rain, and none could help. An eagle happened by, and the rabbit began to tell her tale to him. But she had hardly started speaking when the eagle suddenly lifted the rabbit’s dying child onto his wings and began to circle quickly up into the dark and stormy clouds on an errand he did not take time to explain.

 *   *   *

Our pain may teach us how to heal. (Armstrong)

 Dedicated to Fr. Holy Joe (Roy Hendricks), that ramblin, Jamaican lovin, healin, man of God.

The Rev. Al Johnson, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation, Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

‘A Husky F. D. Maurice’ by Fr. Shawn Clerkin

tree-200795_1280I am a social media wonk. It’s not just a hobby for me; as a professor of communication, I am fascinated by the comings and goings of various social media fads and by the tidal wave of social media apps for my smart phone and tablet devices. My students are constantly telling me about new ways to share information, interests, and entertainment. And while they tell me that Facebook (what some in my generation call “The Facebooks”…good grief) is SO 2005, I still maintain my FB profile and presence, post and share information, and keep up with family, friends and alumni. Yes…I do have 5,000 “friends,” and frequently, when I post something controversial, I lose followers and can replace them with one of the many requests I have in cue.

Recently, there have been a plague of surveys that somehow are supposed to tell you something about yourself that you didn’t know, or reassure you of something that you’d like to believe is true about you. For example, I was engaged in a photo survey of my pictures on FB, and that my celebrity doppelganger is either a husky Russell Crowe or a thin John Goodman. I took both as complimentary. I also found through a questionnaire that my Anglican theologian heart is best represented by 19th century Anglican priest and university professor, F. D. Maurice. I had no idea who Maurice was until I looked him up.

1Our collect for Maurice in Lesser Feasts and Fasts asks God to “Keep alive in your Church, we pray, a passion for justice and truth; that, like your servant Frederick Denison Maurice, we may work and pray for the triumph of the kingdom of your Christ….” That resonated with me, so I looked further into his life and teachings.

Studied law? Not me. Refused his law degree because he would not subscribe to an oath of conformity. ME! Joined the Anglican Church because of personal responses to other traditions. ME! Came to theology after other studies. ME! Professor of humanities studies. ME! Formed the Christian Socialist Movement. (SHHHHH! I also have leanings in that direction…).

Maurice was a passionate ecumenist, which, after working decades at a diocesan Roman Catholic institution, I have sincere empathy. He wrote more commentaries on New Testament studies than Old, and I am drawn to the Gospels and Epistles as well. What hooked me more were some of his most quoted statements.

“We have been dosing our people with religion when what they want is not this but the living God.” My students at Gannon University frequently say that they are disillusioned with traditional Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant churches who insist that their particular Christianity is the ONLY way, truth, and life. The sad reality is that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and not the religious institutions that mediate the Gospel message. The reservations of young people are communicating to us very clearly that Christian territorialism weakens the message, especially when that message is one of Christ’s desire for radical forgiveness and unconditional love.

“Competition is put forth as the law of the universe. That is a lie. The time has come for us to declare that it is a lie, by word and deed.” We are not out to triumph over one another, but to see that God’s will triumphs over all. When we divide ourselves as winners and losers, when we strive to dominate, decimate, or destroy those who differ from us, then we are not living into Christ’s examples to broaden our understanding of all humanity as our neighbor and our care.

“I do not think we are to praise the liturgy but to use it. When we do not want it for our life, we may begin to talk of it as a beautiful composition.” Liturgy communicates faith only if the audience of liturgy understands what it is saying. Language, gestures, ceremonies without meaning and without function have no part in the liturgical life of the Church. We must be constantly creating, refining, and innovating our worship so that it is meaningful and relevant to the faithful. And we must also appreciate the nuances and delicacies with which we perform our rites and rituals. Liturgical aesthetics are important, as long as they are appreciated not as museum pieces but as living, breathing expressions of thanksgiving and oblation.

“Christian Socialism will commit us at once to the conflict we must engage in sooner or later with the unsocial Christians and the unchristian Socialists.” Those who do go to church on Sunday mornings and then flip the bird to their neighbor as they pull in the driveway are just as mistaken and dangerous as those who wish to impose economic equality without engaging forgiveness and repentance. If there is to be equity in society, then the equity is best grounded in Christian social teaching. Gannon University’s integration of Catholic Social Teaching in our coursework and service learning/volunteerism has enlivened in me the importance of working for justice and peace, not just as a humanist, but as a disciple of Jesus Christ. We cannot separate social justice from the Gospel message; and, in fact, when we integrate them faithfully, we also become doers of the word and not just preachers.

I still have much to learn from F. D. Maurice, and I will continue to read his works and glean strength from his example. The connection is a gift I never thought I’d get…from a silly survey on Facebook!

Shawn ClerkinThe Rev. Shawn Clerkin, AOJN. Vicar at St. Mary’s Church, Lawrence Park, PA and Associate Professor, School of Communication and the Arts / Director of Theatre Center for Communication and the Arts at Gannon University.