Monday, March 19, 2012

Prayer in action

Lenten Meditation 19 March 2012

            “The entire biblical text would emphasize ‘right relationship’ much more than being intellectually ‘right.’ Some call it orthopraxy or ‘right practice.’  Jesus consistently declares people to be saved or healed who are in right relationship with him, and never grills them on their belief or belonging systems.”  (Page 110)

  •  Saint Francis Sermon to the Birds in the Upper Basilica in Assisi
  •  Giotto di Bondone
  •             I spoke in an earlier essay about being a clerk in a battalion chaplain’s office when I was in the Marine Corps in the mid-1960’s.  One of the Chaplains for whom I worked was an Orthodox Chaplain, specifically a member of the Carpatho-Russian Greek Catholic Orthodox Church of North and South America, although he normally introduced himself as Russian Orthodox.  I learned a great deal from Chaplain Radasky about the Orthodox Church, including iconography, positive and negative understandings (cataphatic and apophatic theology to be exact), liturgical practice, vestments, and the various cultural understandings of Eastern Orthodoxy.  When I hear Episcopalians/Anglicans—and others belonging to Protestant groups—talking about being orthodox, I often get more than a little annoyed.  I have even asked on occasion to which of the Eastern Orthodox Churches they have changed their membership.  Now I understand that I am being a bit exclusivist with my own understanding—dare I say orthodox—but orthodox has become one of the contemporary purity codes against which Father Rohr warns. (p. 105) Modern use of the term orthodoxy generally implies a particular way of interpreting Scripture to separate out those who understand such issues as human sexuality, women’s ordination, atonement, and salvation in what is often termed a “liberal” understanding.  If one can claim orthodoxy for oneself, then anyone who disagrees with any position is obviously “heterodox” or heretic or apostate or any other term that can divide or set them apart as unworthy of relationship.

                My reading of Scripture, both the Hebrew and the Christian Scripture, draws me into relationship with God who is willing to come into my life, not once but repeatedly—dare I say constantly—to draw me into God’s nearer presence and life.  It doesn’t seem to matter what I believe or how I exercise my belief patterns, God continues to call me into a way of living that proclaims to the world the life of Jesus the Christ.  Looking at the Baptismal Covenant, (Book of Common Prayer pages 304-305) our belief system is articulated in the first three questions of belief contained in the Apostles’ Creed (orthodoxy) which is followed with five questions concerning the living out of our beliefs (orthopraxy).  They make up a unity that cannot be separated, even though we sometimes try to emphasize one aspect/question over all the others.  Episcopalians are experts at ignoring the command to “go out into all the world, making disciples…” (Matthew 28:19) and being witnesses “to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)  We are happy being good examples, but please don’t anyone expect me to talk about my faith or how God has worked in my life.  We are more than delighted to tell our friends about a wonderful new restaurant we have found, but we are resistant in speaking to them of the food of Life.  We gush with enthusiasm to friends over a book that has changed a perspective on family life, but will not say a word about how Scripture draws me into deep relationship with God.  We speak readily of how the music on a CD moves me emotionally, but we won’t utter a word about God’s miraculous presence in our lives that sings with life and love.

                For some months, the members of the Standing Committee and the Executive Council have begun their meetings with what is widely known as African Bible Study.  We also as a diocese experienced this method at our diocesan convention in November 2011. For those who are not familiar with this method, it proceeds like this:  if the group is larger than 8-10 the larger group is divided into small groups of 3-4. A chosen portion of Scripture is read by one of the group with discussion answering the question, “What word or phrase stood out for you today?”  After a few minutes the same passage is read again by another member of the small group and the discussion focuses this time on the question, “Where is the Good News?”  Again after a few minutes of discussion, the passage is read a third time by yet another person and the conversation focuses on “What is this passage calling me to do?”  We set the stage for our conversation and deliberation as leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth by centering our gathering time on Scripture, knowing that we are being called by any passage—every passage—to action and not just belief. 

                On Saturday past, at the beginning of the Executive Council meeting in Wichita Falls our passage was the Epistle lesson for Sunday, Ephesians 2:1-10.  There was a phrase that grabbed me that I had never noticed before: “children of wrath”.  (I argued that it had been inserted overnight into Ephesians because it had never registered on my brain.)  I meditated on that phrase for more than just the few minutes of Bible Study on Saturday.  At the discussion of the third question, my action focus was on letting go of my anger, but in the ensuing days I have kept coming back to that phrase.  Yes I need to let go of my own personal anger, but perhaps more importantly, when  I see the wrath exhibited around me I believe now I am challenged to step into the path of wrath and absorb it with God’s love, not following my instincts to react in kind, but praying through the anger until it is defused.

                Rohr’s book carries the title Things Hidden, Scripture as Spirituality.  His understanding of spirituality is not just pious prayer but prayer in action, not surprisingly a thoroughly Franciscan way of living.  It is also the path of Jesus.  He never allows His disciples to remain simply students sitting at His feet; Jesus calls us all into apostolic action, carrying the Good News with us always and proclaiming it constantly.  Or as St. Francis is reputed to have said, “Preach always; use words when necessary.”

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