Calvary is a special place with great preaching, wonderful music, an active laity, and a friendly and mission-focused congregation …
“As a place of tolerance and acceptance of others; the friendliness, love and support of our congregation ensures we will continue to remain an open and affirming place for everyone.”Vision 2020 excerpt
– The Rev. Deborah W. Rutter
Rector, Calvary Episcopal Church
[This posting originally appeared as The Weekly Pulpit on the Religion page of The Warren Sentinel of May 28, 2014].
I know that I am not alone in my feeling that we are living in exceptionally stressful and worrying times. Endless wars drag on while new ones threaten. Terrorism – the reality and the growing threat – is going from bad to worse the world over. Economic vulnerabilities raise anxieties for the shrinking middle class and pose enormous questions about the plight of the poor. The Ebola virus threatens millions. Political gridlock has produced severely dysfunctional government in our nation. Our public education system is failing in far too many communities. Healthcare costs are overwhelming, and the related debates over medical insurance are bitterly divisive. Ferguson, Mo., has exposed continuing realities of racism, both personal and structural, that are alarming and literally deadly. And each new day seems to bring us “breaking news” that is bad news.
Of course, such global and national issues affect us all personally, albeit in different ways and to different degrees. While some of us try to put as much as possible out of our minds and simply continue on with daily life, others become activists seeking to make a difference, and still others are charged with the responsibility of leading and making the tough decisions. It seems to me that the key is learning how to face the realities before us and then to keep a proper perspective.
I also believe that every one of us has something to contribute in how we as a people together understand issues and solve problems. For you as a Christian, this begins with your faith in the loving presence and redeeming grace of God through the Lord Jesus Christ. The way you actually live that faith is rooted in the life and ministry of the Church. None of this makes us somehow immune to the distress we naturally feel in troubled times, nor are the complexities of the issues at hand sorted out any easier. But it is this personal faith lived communally that strengthens you through it all and allows you to form the kind of perspective on life in this world that will sustain you. The Christian worldview is not naive, but is essentially optimistic because we are a people of profound hope. What that hope looks like in daily life is the conviction that every person can in fact be part of the solution rather than be stuck in the anxiety or problem.
A towering example for us is Thomas Merton (1915-1968), widely recognized as one of the very greatest spiritual figures of the 20th century. He was a Trappist monk and hermit of the Abbey at Gethsemani, Ky., and was a very prolific writer. But he broke the stereotypes of monastic life in many ways. For all of the Trappists’ cloistered and contemplative tradition, Merton was also a very public, vocal and optimistic visionary. During the 1950s and 1960s, he was a civil rights activist and a leading personality in the “Peace Movement” focusing on the threat of nuclear war. The last years of his life were marked by his groundbreaking work developing interfaith ties, especially with Buddhist monasticism. His many books cover the range of his experiences. His best known work is certainly his autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, which has been acclaimed as the greatest spiritual testament since the Confessions of St. Augustine (late fourth century). In my view, Merton’s public popularity, both during his life and after, tended to oversimplify him. He was actually a very complex – many say even contradictory – man, but rather than confusing or diluting his witness, these qualities only served to enrich what he could bring to virtually any given topic or situation.
I first encountered Merton when I was in college, and ever since then he has been one of my favorite writers and exemplars in the spiritual life. I revere the simple and yet mighty straightforwardness of Merton’s faith and personal devotion, even through the evident struggles. I can identify with his complexity and contradictions, since I am deeply aware that such are often true in my own heart and mind. I can only pray that this will allow me to bring more to the proverbial table, to hear and understand more clearly the whole breadth of what is being said.
Below is a very illustrative and telling prayer that Merton wrote. It may surprise you, coming from such a spiritual giant and iconic leader, but I find a certain comfort in Merton’s bare honesty and in the fact that both his faith and his questions could be so close to the ground. I offer this in hopes that it will be useful to you when troubles and distress in your experience of life move you to return to the foundations of your relationship with God.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire
in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything
apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear,
for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.
– The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, Bishop of Virginia
[This column originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of The Virginia Episcopalian].
First Sunday after Pentecost – Trinity Sunday
Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Day of Pentecost – Whitsunday
Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of your Holy Spirit: Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Psalm 104: 25-35,37
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Seventh Sunday of Easter
O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13