Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A happy Anglican writes

I read in today's New York Times that the Bishop of Rome, also called Pope Benedict, is inviting disaffected Anglican and Episcopal clergy, churches, and even dioceses to come home to Rome.

The new Vatican policy allows Anglicans to continue worshiping in their own parish churches, using The Book of Common Prayer--no longer as Anglican Christians, but as Roman Catholic ones.

Why would some Anglicans convert from Canterbury, the geographic home of the Anglican Communion, to Rome?

According to news reports, Anglicans who oppose the ordination of women and a gay-friendly Episcopal Church and Church of England would be more at home in the Roman Catholic Church, because, officially, the church opposes the ordination of women and the affirmation of gay and lesbian Christians. (I know Roman priests, however, whose views on these and other matters differ from those of Benedict.)

For those who feel that God the Holy Spirit is calling them out of the Anglican Communion and into the Roman one, then may God be with them and bless them in their continuing spiritual journeys. Our unity as one body in Christ may come only in the world to come.

A former Roman Catholic, I have found my spiritual home in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. Of course, I give God thanks for the spiritual formation I received in my birth church. There, I first heard the gospel of God's love in Jesus and grew in that life-long love.

Now, as an Episcopalian, I am part of a community of faithful Christians who read the Bible and interpret it with the aid of reason and tradition. I worship according to a beautiful, living liturgy that connects me with God through word and sacrament.

I belong to a church that struggles, often awkwardly and publicly, to relate the faith to a changing world with deep spiritual hungers. I am a member of a church that welcomes the gifts of all people for ministry and whose governance is shared by clergy and laity.

Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once described Anglicanism as "catholicism with freedom."

The English Reformation blessed Anglicans with the gift of freedom from the concentration of power in person and one office. I am glad to be free, bound only to Christ, my Lord and Savior.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Up on a roof

One of my favorite James Taylor songs is "Up on the Roof." He sings about how the roof is his place to get away from everyone and everything, including his troubles.

I was full of troubles as I read Morning Prayer today. I found Psalm 18.1-20 helpful, reminding me that God was my " stronghold, my crag, and my haven...." God "rescued me because he delighted in me."

I was still brooding, though, even after my prayers. I had many cares--my gutters, among them. They were overflowing with leaves, sticks, gumballs. There were little trees growing out of them. When downpours came, the gutters looked like mini Niagara Falls. And inside the house, ominous brown spots were spreading on the bedroom ceiling, signaling a leaky roof.

Hearing nothing from the roofer or the gutter man I had called, I decided to go up on the roof. But I didn't have a ladder. So, I found a tree near the house and climbed it. I felt like a 10 year-old again.

On the roof, as I moved slowly above the gutters, I had to focus my mind on not falling, while scooping out the black oozy detritus from the gutters and throwing it to the ground. There was no room in my mind for any other thoughts.

An hour later, I climbed back down the tree. I had cleared my guttters of all that gunk, and my mind of all that funk. Distraction is good for the mind and soul.

Find your roof today.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Priests have doubts, too

I met doubt on Friday at the movie theatre.

It was my day off, and as I sometimes do, I went to the movies, seeing The Invention of Lying, a movie written and directed by Ricky Gervais, famous for the original British version of The Office.

In the movie, Gervais plays Mark, a screenwriter who lives in a world where everyone tells the truth, however hurtful and, at times, crude it might be.

Mark's mother is dying and is terrified of death. Mark, to console her, tells her not to be afraid of death, but to believe that she's going to a place we might recognize as heaven. The afterlife, Mark tells her, is perfect. Everyone is happy all the time. You're with all the people you've ever loved and lost. And it's eternal.

When the word gets out about this wonderful place beyond time and about"the big man in the sky," who supposedly represents God, Mark becomes a spiritual master to the multitudes. He ends up issuing the 10 spiritual teachings of the Big Man, delivering them not on the mount, but on the steps of his apartment building. Instead of stone tablets, the teachings are written on the backs of two pizza boxes.

The Invention of Lying is a humorous attack on religion, a kind of comic version of God Isn't Great or The God Delusion, popular atheistic works that caricature God and religious people. At times, I admit, I laughed.

But I also felt uneasy, doubtful. What if the whole notion of God, of heaven, of the Communion of Saints, and of all other truths of the faith is purely a human invention meant to lessen our pain or to scare us into being good?

I thought about that question most of the weekend. It's a serious question, if one raised by a silly movie.

I took my doubt to God early on Sunday morning. (On Sundays, I get up at 4.45 am or earlier and get ready for church, spending about an hour in prayer, Bible study, meditation, writing. ) In my journal, I wrote about my doubts. I offered them to God, and the thought occurred to me:

Although Mark makes up the Big Man and the afterlife--they arise from his imagination--does God not speak to us through our thoughts and imagination? What if Mark, who thought he was lying, was really telling his dying mother the truth about what awaited her when she passed from this life?

I ended my time with God, praying a phrase from the gospels: Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief.

I've had periods of doubt during my spiritual journey: when I was challenged by my seminary classes, when I was watching my father die of cancer and undergoing horrible suffering, when a family member was struggling with post traumatic stress syndrome.

In times of doubt, however, I have still had faith. Faith enough to tell God my doubts. Faith enough to pray about my doubts.

And God answered me, I believe, not always in words, but always in grace--that strong current of loving assurance that rose from the depths and saved me from drowning in doubt and despair.
I will go on having my doubts, sometimes elicited by serious events, sometimes silly ones like watching The Invention of Lying. But without doubt, there is no need for faith in God.

I'm learning not to deny doubt and to run from it, but to embrace it and to offer it to God for His use and my good.

Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief.