Thursday, June 25, 2009


Here on Iona, I've discovered both the Iona Community, an ecumenical Christian community, and its founder, the Rev. George MacLeod, now gone on to join the Communion of Saints in Heaven.

I've read about MacLeod's conversion in a biographical note by Ron Ferguson in his collection, Daily Readings with George MacLeod. While returning by train to the Front in France, MacLeod, an Oxford-educated British officer, had a profound experience of God's loving presence.

He realized that he was heading to "to hell in a hurry," according to Ferguson, and knelt and yielded his life to Christ, which changed his course.

Instead of becoming a barrister or solicitor--he had read law at Oxford--MacLeod trained for the ministry in the Church of Scotland after the war and was ordained. During the Depression, he left a large, important congregation in Glasgow and eventually settled on Iona, off the west coast of Scotland; Iona had been the home of St. Columba, the Christian missionary to Scotland and England during the 6th century.

MacLeod and his followers rebuilt the abbey church on Iona, and he founded the Iona Community, which still works for the spread of the Good News of the God of Love through words and deeds, the deeds being work for justice, peace, reconciliation, and more.

MacLeod, who won the Military Cross for bravery during WW I, became a pacifist after the war and maintained his pacifism throughout his life, including during WW II.

George MacLeod's life could have turned out differently. But he gave up his life and plans to God, and God's will was fulfilled in him. He lived the life that God created him to live. He was converted to Christ.

And through his preaching, teaching, writing, and the work of the Iona Community, he devoted himself to doing God's work--the conversion of others through Christ and the transformation of the world through the Gospel.

I am drawn to George MacLeod and people like him, seeing in their stories the power of conversion.

I sometimes wonder where would my life would be were I not converted to Christ. Had I not one cold January night, as a senior in university, prayed and surrendered my life to Christ, feeling the outpouring of God's palpable love upon me.

I don't know for sure what I'd done or where I'd be, but I'd have likely gone to law school, gone into politics, become a person more interested in power than in service to others and for a better world.

But thanks be to God, I was converted. God finally overtook me by His love, and since that first experience of His love, I've wanted to know His love more and more. I've wanted to be one with Him in love.

This moving toward God in desire for Him is what Thomas Merton--whose conversion has also been a source of inspiration to me--calls continuing conversion to Christ, which is the Christian's everyday calling.

Have you knelt in prayer, surrendered your life to Christ, and begun to live the life not that you intend, but the life that God intends for you to live? May your prayer be this line from the 1982 Hymnal, "Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee."

And live your life as God intends.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Those high places

My dear mother-in-law Norma phoned me a few days ago with a query. She said she had been reading First or Second Samuel--I forget which--when she ran across a reference to "high places" and wondered where the high places of today would be.

Norma, we're visiting one today. It's called Iona, a small island off the coast of western Scotland, where St. Columba, in 563 A.D. along with 12 followers of his, created a monastic community. From here, Columba and his monks ventured forth to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to England and Scotland.

Columba's monastery is gone now, along with his bones, which were collected as relics and eventually resettled in Downpatrick in his homeland of Ireland; that's where you'll find them today. But near his monastery on Iona, Benedictine monks built a new monastery and abbey church, tall and grand, made of native stone in the Gothic fashion, which became a house of prayer for the praise of God.

Norsemen plundered and ruined the monastery and murdered the monks, and over time, the buildings became little more than ruins, until the late 1930s when an Oxford-educated Church of Scotland minister named George MacLeod founded a new Christian community at Iona, the eponymous Iona Community, which still exists as a vital force for renewing the Church.

The Benedictine abbey church is fully restored--thanks to MacLeod and a group of volunteers--and the Iona Community continues God's work according to MacLeod's vision of deep prayer, cooperation among Christians, inner communion, and social and political action and pacifism (MacLeod won the British Military Cross for extreme bravery during his service in WW I and thereafter became a committed pacifist, even during WWII.)

Last night, Penny and I joined fellow pilgrims and members of the Iona Community for prayer in the abbey church. The church was full of people of all ages, including many, many young people from all Christian denominations. Young people regularly come to Iona for periods of learning about Christ and Christian community.

The service we attended was a healing service; dozens of people went forward and knelt in circles and received the laying on of hands and prayers for healing of body, mind, spirit. Penny and I went forward and prayed for healing for family members. From experience, I know God really does hear our prayers for healing and answers them in ways that are surprising.

Iona is one of those high places, or "thin spaces" in the language of Celtic Christianity, where heaven and earth merge, where God is present in a remarkable and translucent way.

I know God's presence in the gathering of that multitude of Christian pilgrims from so many denominations, in the prayer-saturated walls of the ancient abbey church, in the stunning beauty of this place, with the crystal blue/green sea that surrounds it, the rocky outcroppings trimmed in green moss, the simple, slow, peaceful pace of the island and its people.

I need high places,these thin spaces--be they here on Iona or in my study as I read the Daily Office and meditate in the mornings or in a church. In such a place, I know I am not alone, not without resources for the challenges of life; God is with me. Always,

The high places make it possible for me to live through the low places.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A psalm a day for spiritual health

Yesterday, I met with our Men's Fellowship at 6.30 am at a local restaurant. We gather on the third Wednesday every month at the same time and place.

We order breakfast, and then I read a short passage from the Holy Scriptures, usually the gospel appointed for the Prayer Book Daily Office, and comment on it, and we pray.

Yesterday, however, I did something different.

Rather that reading from Luke's gospel, I read a portion of Psalm 119. I had read it earlier when I prayed Morning Prayer and found that it spoke to me, especially these verses:

"You are my refuge and shield; my hope is in your word.... Hold me up, and I shall be safe...."

I love the psalms because they spring from the Psalmist's heart. They express where he is on his spiritual journey, along with his faith in the power of God to save, even when besieged by troubles.

The psalms speak to me, help me, and often heal me in my journey with God.

When I'm scared or anxious, the Psalmist understands my feelings and assures me of his confidence in God. When I am beleaguered, the psalmist reminds me that God is my defender. When I'm confused, he tells me I can count on God to direct me.

When I feel God has abandoned me--this is feeling, not fact--the Psalmist cries to God for me, as in Psalm 22 in the words that Jesus Himself prays from the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me."

In faith, the Psalmist offers up his experiences in prayer to God, and is strengthened and nourished as a consequence, as I am in reading and praying the psalms every day.

Someone wrote that the psalms were Jesus' Prayer Book, and with good reason: the psalms communicated the deepest needs of Jesus' heart and aided His prayer to His Father in Heaven.

When we pray the psalms daily--be they from the Prayer Book Daily Office or ones of our own choosing--we pray with the Psalmist (or more accurately, with the many people of faith whose prayers were collected over time into our Psalter).

And we're praying with Jesus Himself, which is always good for the soul.

Yesterday, in speaking to the Men's Fellowship about the Psalmist's belief in God as his "refuge and shield," I could tell these men knew the battles of daily living and were encouraged by God's word to us.

With a hearty breakfast and God's word, we were ready for the day, whatever might come, for we knew that God was our strong defender. And always will be.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I remember

I often meet with a group of clergy friends at a local coffeehouse on Wednesday mornings.

Ostensibly, we're there to review the Scripture lessons for the upcoming Sunday and talk about what we hear God the Holy Spirit calling us to preach in a few days.

We spend an hour or so together, talking about books, politics, our lives and ministries and sometimes, our sermons.

Today, one of my friends told of teaching an adult class at his church. The question for discussion was: Who first told you about Jesus?

Most of the class members, he said, were reluctant to speak up. At first, he thought they'd never considered the question, or couldn't remember.

But then after class, many of the class members spoke to him privately, telling him about that person who'd first told them about Jesus--a parent, grandparent, Sunday School teacher.

Perhaps for the first time in 60, 70 or 80 years, these class members were remembering that person and the life-giving difference he or she had made by sharing with them the Good News of God's love in Jesus Christ.

In that moment, Jesus Christ became real and over time, many decades, the reality of God's love for them in Jesus has grown, greatly aided by their membership in their church and in that class.

Who first told you about Jesus?

Whom have you told about God's love in Jesus?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Passion for what we do

My first job after high school was at First National Bank in Louisville.

I started in the mail room and worked my way up and into the computer room as an operator on an IBM mainframe, then into the transit department (the place where checks you write are processed so that your account can be debited), and finally into the branch system, first as a teller and then, after earning my undergraduate degree in history, as a management trainee.

In five years of full and part time work, I learned a lot about banking and business, and I'm grateful for that experience and knowledge. The lessons I learned at the bank helped me in other work I've done, including as a manager at a large public relations agency.

But banking and PR were not my calling, and by calling, I mean something that fires one up with passion (I've known plenty of people for whom business is their calling, which is great. But that wasn't the case for me.).

For me, I needed work in which I felt I could make a difference for the good in people's lives, given my particular gifts, sensibilities, and faith in Christ. I wanted to be one through whom God the Holy Spirit could work for transformation.

I don't mean to sound grandiose, but unless we're working in something that offers us and others that possibility for transformation, then perhaps we should seek other work.

And, God knows, that work might be in banking or PR or at a school or hospital or factory or in the home--but wherever it is, that's where one believes that one is making a contribution to a better world.

This afternoon, I had coffee with a church member who's a wellness coach. This is something that she trained a long time to do. She earned a master's degree in wellness and went through a lengthy certification program to become a licensed coach.

As she spoke with me about her work, she gestured; her voice rose; her eyes brightened; she smiled. She had the enthusiasm of an evangelist who shares with others the Good News of the life-changing love of Jesus Christ.

Chris has found her passion--her Christian vocation--and helping people achieve a greater state of wellness or wholeness, what the Hebrew Bible calls "shalom," is what God intends her to do with her life.

That's what I was missing when I was a banker and PR person, but what I now find in my vocation as a priest: work about which I feel enthusiastic and energetic, work to which I'm devoting my life and which is, at the same time, giving me life, even on those inevitably frustrating days.

Here's to work that fires people up and that transforms lives and the world, even if it's only in some small, even hidden way.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

More beauty

I can't get enough beauty.

Yesterday, wife Penny, daughter Clare, and graddaughters June Elizabeth and Christa Marie and I spent a few joyful hours at the Close Memorial Gardens at Nathanael Greene Park here in Springfield. I've written glowlingly about the gardens before. And here I am doing it again.

Visit and be sure to take in the new Butterfly Garden. And of course the English Garden is always a delight.

June Elizabeth and her mama had fun feeding Sun Chips to the ducks. June Elizabeth added to her vocabulary: Quack and Duck are among her newest words, along with No and Bye, Bye. See-ya. She's nearly two, I should tell you.

Take time for beauty. Today.


The Friends of the Gardens has a blog of its own, which I commend to you. In fact, here's a post sent to me by the chair of the FOG board.

Rev Chumbley:

Peter Longley shared this with me today.

I just read your descriptive blog posting A Beauty Break. Your writing is a special presentation about a local garden paradise structured by man, using Gods creations and directed by Gods hand.

I am George Deatz, President of Friends of the Garden, the suport group developing the gardens at Close Memorial Gardens & Park. After reading your posting, I would very much like to post your posting to our blog

Thank you for your consideration.

Best regards,

George Deatz

Friday, June 12, 2009

Seeking stillness

Many times, I'm rushing and don't even know it. But my shoulder and neck muscles do. They register the pace of my life. My muscles are in knots because I'm too busy. In too much of a mad rush.

But there's hope for me--and for you, if your days are crowded and frantic.

Yesterday in our early morning Pilates class, our instructor Colleen wore a shirt with a labyrinth imprinted on the back. A labyrinth is patterned on a medieval design from Chartres Cathederal in France. It's a kind of maze that one follows to the center.

In following the labyrinth, be it the kind printed on paper that one traces with one's finger, or a labyrinth made of stones that one walks, one is drawn into a deep state of concentration, and one begins to center, ultimately in the presence and stillness of Christ.

When I walked a labyrinth for the first time, this was my experience. (If you want to walk a labyrinth, you can do so, I'm told, at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church here in Springfield.)

At the center of the labyrinth on Colleen's shirt were the words, "Seek Stillness."

Busyness always finds us, or we find it and surrender to it, for fear of what we might discover about our lives if we slowed down long enough to pay attention.

In contrast to busyness, stillness won't just happen. It won't suddenly find us. We have to seek it if we are to find it. What did Jesus say in the gospels? Seek and you shall find.

How can we seek stillness and find stillness in Christ? We can walk or trace with our fingers the path of a labyrinth.

Or an even simpler way is one described by a friend the other day. In the midst of his busyness as an investment officer, he occasionally stops working and closes his eyes.

As he breathes in, he prays, "God," and as he breathes out, he prays, "Thank you."

"I'm at peace," he says.

He's found stillness in Christ. May you also find it and Christ this day.

Monday, June 8, 2009


We're fighting swarms of ants at home. They've invaded the bathrooms, the kitchen, just about everywhere. The problem is so bad that I feel as if ants are crawling on my legs and feet, even when they aren't.

Yes, I know it sounds creepy, perhaps even a little paranoid.

I've called the exterminator to come and treat our rooms a second time. He told me today that our infestation is so severe that he might have to treat our house several times, at no extra charge.

The first time the exterminator visited, he put out little dollops of clear jell, which apparently tastes sweet to our particular ant invaders. They must be able to smell it.

The ants race out from the walls and floorboards and scoop up the food, like hungry diners at an all-you-can-eat buffet. They then transport the food--this is carry-out--to their colonies, where they share it; eventually, they all die.

(I'm sorry I'm not more ant-friendly, but see how you like it when they crawl out of the bristles of your tooth brush in the morning.)

As I watched the ants feasting one day on the poison, I thought about how some people are like ants. They taste the sweetness of a new theological concept or insight or learn about the discovery of another lost gospel from the early church and swallow it down.

But rather than being the food of truth, that concept, insight, or discovery is the poison of falsehood.

Historically, the church has been concerned about discerning the truth, preferring that which comports with the revelation of God to Israel and fully in Jesus and in His church to that which does not, that which is false.

In the early church of the first five centuries, for instance, Christians fought, sometimes literally, about the nature of Jesus being fully God and fully human; and eventually, the church at the Council of Nicea formulated the Nicene Creed, which articulates the biblical truth about God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I've learned to be careful about what I'm eating, especially if it happens to be sweet. And I've learned to be especially careful about what I'm taking in as truth.

Some authority or expert might say, "This is the truth," but I, a believing skeptic at heart, will test that truth claim against the classic Anglican measure of Holy Scripture, Reason, and Tradition (which includes the Apostles and Nicene Creeds).

If a particular truth claim passes the test, then I'll take a big bite of it, confident that it will give me life in Christ, not diminish or take away my life in Him.

And I'll keep trying to get rid of the ants in my house.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A beauty break

Today, I cycled the South Creek Trail here in Springfield. It was a perfect day: bright sunshine, a few puffs of cloud in the blue sky, a cool breeze. There were moments of joy; I was living in the present: smelling the honeysuckle, listening to the trilling of the meadowlarks in the thistle along the creek bank, feeling good about riding.

The world looked equisitely beautiful to me, at least this little slice of it. And it looked even more beautiful when I stopped at Nathaniel Greene Park and walked my bike along the gravel footpaths of Close Memorial Park, taking in the sights of the English Garden, the work of a garden designer transplanted from England named Peter Longley, the Asiatic Garden, the new Butterfly Garden, which is enclosed in a screened quonset-shaped hut, and which features hundreds, perhaps thousands, of butterflies, settling on flowers for a time, then lifting off, and cork-screwing upwards in the breeze.

Ah, bliss.

God reveals Himself in many ways, including in the natural world. I see Him in the beauty of parks, streams, mountains, gardens--the canvass upon which God, the artist, paints his picture of Himself before presenting it to us to enjoy, as I did today at the park. I see the flowers of Peter's English Garden and in them, the face of God. I hear the songs of the meadowlarks and hear the voice of the Creator.

In the beauty of creation, God is showing Himself to me. Today, the gardens are my burning bush. Remember how God reveals Himself to Moses in the burning bush?

As I stop today and take in the beauty, I am taking in God, in a kind of sacrament. And His Real Presence is food for my soul. God is renewing me through sights, sounds, and smells. I feel alive, as I do when I take in the bread and wine, the consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus in the Holy Communion. Fully alive in Christ's Presence.

Every day, I want to take a break for beauty, this particular way in which my Loving Creator is communicating Himself to me. In doing so, I realize that I, too, am part of God's creation and am beautiful. The Psalmist says, we are beautifully made. You are beautifully made. Rejoice. Make time for beauty. In doing so, you'll make time for God Himself.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Exciting things are happening

I once made my living as a writer for the University of Louisville Health Sciences Center. I loved my job, because every day, I learned about a world that was new to me, that of science; I have an undergraduate degree in history, not biology or chemistry or physics. And I loved my job because I had to write clearly, engagingly, and quickly about difficult subject matter.

This Tuesday, I felt as if I were back at my old job.

I sat in on a press conference at the Jordan Valley Innovation Center in downtown Springfield, taking notes the whole time. I heard the center's director, along with President Michael Nietzel of Missouri State University, a major partner in the center, describe Jordan Valley's highly technical, sophisticated, and even secretive work.

After a luncheon, I, together with others toured the $20-plus-million facility, which is financed by public and private money.

We looked in on a defense contractor's lab and saw technicians in space-like suits, working in clean rooms, making....well, that was super secret. But whatever it was, it involved thin silicon chips about the size of one of those old 45 rpm records.

A Christian with a pacific inclination, I am uneasy about the military research being done at the center, but if it protects people and saves lives, especially civilian lives, ultimately, then I think it's a good thing, or at least not so bad a thing.

In contrast, I am utterly enthusiastic about Jordan Valley's other work. For instance, a hospital lab at the center has developed a special operating room table attachment upon which a child or infant can be positioned, supine, for cranial surgery.

This attachment is the invention of a local surgeon who was tired of improvising with pillows and sheets and decided to create just what he needed, with the help of the lab technicians. And now the attachment is being produced, marketed, and used in operating rooms.

Another physician developed a special contact lens that will make it possible for patients to see and, at the same time, receive medication administered through the lens itself.

As I toured the Jordan Valley Innovtion Center, I felt increasingly excited, for the center demonstrates what human beings can do when we think creatively and act collaboratively. We can do the impossible, or at least the improbable, when we put our intelligence, creativity, ingenuity, and will to it.

According to the speakers at the press conference, this center will position Springfield to become a major research hub in Missouri and in the midwest, spurring innovation and product development, manufacturing and marketing, and creativty in arts and design, which is also a component of the center.

And Jordan Valley will be a powerful stimulus to the growth of downtown as a center for highly educated, well-paid people to work, live, shop, relax and recreate, and, yes, worship God.

Those engineers and technicians at the center are not only physical beings, but also spiritual beings who hunger for God, who need to worship Him and who want to find their meaning and purpose in Him, although some of them may not yet realize that they are seeking God.

There are churches downtown, including my own Christ Episcopal Church, that understand that science and religion are partners in promoting the flourishing of the human family and that will eagerly welcome the people of Jordan Valley Innovation Center.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Heretofore, the only opossums I had ever seen were on highways or roads. Flat and still. But this one was moving. I was amazed.

Yesterday afternoon, I'd just visited a church member in the nursing home and was sitting in my car, ready to drive on to the hospitals for visits when I spotted an opossum exploring the vegetation: sniffing, scratching, searching.

Alive, opossums are fascinating to watch.

One of the lessons I'm learning as I study and write fiction is to pay attention and to take in as much as I can, and I'm discovering an amazing amount of richness in my life and in God's creation.

I'm like my 19-month-old granddaughter June Elizabeth for whom everything is endlessly fascinating. Nothing escapes her attention, especially an open drawer or cabinet I forgot to close.

Are you taking in everything in your life like a toddler? Are you listening to what people say to you, how they say it, the feelings behind their words? Do you smell the honeysuckle while you're on a walk? Do you notice the roses in your garden? (Do you have a garden?)

Are you living now, not yesterday or tomorrow? If you're not, you're missing life. I've missed too much life for lots of reasons, but no more.

Frederick Buechner, a novelist and Christian theologian, writes in his autobiographical work, The Sacred Story: "listen to your life...."

I want to listen to my life, yes, but also to watch my life and what's happening every second, for this is the only life I'll ever have in this world. I want to make it count. It's a gift from God to be enjoyed, celebrated.

I want to see that next opossum wandering through the grass.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hold onto hope

A word caught my attention yesterday, Pentecost Sunday, in the reading from Romans.

St. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome: "For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8. 24,25)."

In Dante's medieval work, The Inferno, the words, "Abandon all hope you who enter here," are posted above the entrance to Hell. Without hope, to be sure, we're plunged into Hell.

But hope enables us to carry on despite the odds, the evidence, the grim realities and forecasts of even grimer things to come--be it the economy, our health and well-being or that of our family members, the future of our country and the world.

To hopelessness, God says hope. (God also says, you don't know enough to despair. )

Hope that God is in charge, even when it looks as if chaos is. Hope that God provides, even when you're down to your last $10 in the bank. Hope that a light will be left on in the darkness of this world. Hope that the grave is not the end, but only the beginning of new life.

I'm hanging onto hope and onto God and by my hope in God, the Source of all hope, God's hanging onto me.