Friday, March 31, 2017

prayer

Originally Published in the South Jetty

I recently taught a class on meditation. This was not guided meditation, or a walking meditation (like the labyrinth), this was just an opportunity to learn the simple and challenging practice of sitting still in God's presence.

There are a thousand ways to pray, and I count among my prayer practices surfing and running; they are just as sacred to me as playing music and painting; just as sacred as our Sunday worship with the whole Body of Christ gathered around the altar or working the beads of a rosary.

Meditation is not conversational, it is not words-based. It is a practice of stopping. Sitting, and most of all listening to the silent presence of God. Our prayer book describes the prayer of adoration as "the lifting up of the heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God's presence." Simple and challenging.

Culturally, we don't receive a lot of support, nor training in being still and sitting quietly. The world expects us to be busy, to be active. If possible, we are asked to do several things at once to show how important we are. Meditation is counter-cultural. It places value not on what we do, but on marking time spent intentionally in God's presence.

The World Community of Christian Meditation suggests finding a quiet spot, sitting up straight, and following the rhythm of our breathings to repeat the word Maranatha in four parts: Mar-a-na-tha. It means Come Lord Jesus. They recommend sitting for 20 minutes (morning and evening.) I am working on once a week right now; there was a time in my life when I meditated each morning, and I miss the centered, grounding experience. Setting a timer, or having someone else keep time is essential, so you can let go of keeping track of time.

The practice of meditation makes a qualitative difference in the rest of my life. It slows me down, and creates a more spacious, aware way of being in the world. It makes me more present to conversations and to my work. It makes me more aware of God's presence in the midst of everyday life. As close as my breath. Teaching the class brought me back in touch with that, and makes me look forward to the next time I accept the gift of God's presence, and stop for 20 minutes to enjoy it.

Friday, March 24, 2017

facebook

For Lent, one of my disciplines was to take a FaceBook break. I'm back on it, and we have a little less than a month of Lent to go.

The reason I got off facebook was to see how it changed the way I spend my time. When I think I have some spare time, I tend to check FaceBook. My thinking is: "Someone may have liked something I posted; Someone may have a question about an event; Someone may have posted a really insightful video; Someone may have figured out a harmonious way to move forward in our political arena." So then, I open the app on my phone and time slips away. Sometimes it's a quick check, sometimes it's longer than I'd like. It might give me a sense of gratification. For example, when we posted pictures from Trinity's becoming a parish. It was great to see the comments and likes for that wonderful occasion. Or, I go down rabbit trails and end up watching the "Top 20 Action Stunt Fails" or "Dogs that Climb Trees" video (I just made those up, but I'm sure they are out there.)

The lenten break has been beneficial. I have not had that time-filler since Ash Wednesday (March 1) and when I felt the impulse to check FaceBook, it reminded me to do something meaningful: pay attention to Eli; read a chapter on Meditation; Meditate; go surf; fold laundry; look up a new recipe to try for dinner (I just made that last one up...but it could happen.)

Then yesterday, my friend Joanne Chu led John Price and I in a Problem Solving Template (PST) for
something we were working on for the Inner Journey Retreat. The PST is a process that gets to the heart of the problem, and helps bring explicit clarity to the purpose for making decisions. Again and again, she asked us, "Why is that a problem?" And we would dig deep and then again: "What causes that to be a problem?" Finally, we got down to the purpose, as we saw it then, of the Inner Journey Retreat. I won't quote us here verbatim, but we are doing this retreat because it creates a container for people to be transformed and grow in the midst of a society where those containers are often lacking or inaccessible. 

That purpose is worth getting back on FaceBook to promote the upcoming retreat. It is less than a month away, April 17-21, and I want to help people learn about it between now and then. (Easter is April 16, and that's not much time to promote the retreat.)

I'll continue to pay attention to how I use FaceBook, but this has become clear: It is a good tool to share good things, and this is a good thing.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

water

I'm in Denver for Bob Burns's funeral and while here, I got word that Dee Tomaszewski died this morning. Both of them were older adults, and either of them could have possibly lived longer under different circumstances, but as it is, their earthly pilgrimage is complete.

In our funeral liturgy, we pray "You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return..." In this regard, life is finite. We are born, and we die. We are set on a course, and we know the final destination.

At Christ's Eucharistic table, in the same liturgy, we pray: "For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is  prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens." That's the spiritual reality of life: that while we are mortally limited, we are also connected to something much greater than the limited existence we call "I." We come from, and return to God. God dwells in us, so "even at the grave we make our song, 'Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.'"

To teach about this, Tich Nhat Hahn uses the metaphor of a wave and water. From a wave's perspective there is a beginning and end; it goes up and then goes down. But if the wave realizes it is water, it will become aware that it is always there. It is actually something much greater than just the occasion of the wave.

Remember that we are water; remember that while we experience a beginning and end, we also have an indwelling spirit that is part of something much larger. When I pray for Dee and for Bob I will remember both realities: I can't help but mourn their death, and they are still right here with us. They now know something much larger, that I can only catch glimpses of now.

Alleluia!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

confession

I have a confession: I'm judgemental.  I know, "...judge not, lest ye be judged," right? That's why it's a confession; not something I'm proud to know about myself, I just know it. I've fought against being judgemental as long as I can remember. I even judge other people for being judgemental. (Let's add hypocrite to the list...it's easier for me to see my problem in others.) Here's how I tend to judge people; here's how I might judge you: I see your car in the parking lot taking up two spaces, and there are no more spaces. In my mind I begin weaving stories about what a selfish person you must be. OR I see a bumper sticker on the back of your car that expresses some hateful worldview, and I make up a story about how you are hateful. OR I may even see you frowning your way through the grocery store, never making eye contact with anyone and (again) I make up a story about how you are so bitter at the world, and you resist showing love to others. 

Then I see someone I know coming down the aisle and the critical, judging monologue is in my head defeated. My silent judgemental perspective on the world cannot stand up to the real live human beings whom I actually know. My judgemental attitude does not survive the piercing, transformative energy of love that grows in relationships. As long as I don't know someone, I can fall into the temptation of judging (and making up a whole story about that person's life.) When I take the vulnerable risk of relationship, judgement is replaced by something much greater. 

I know this because I've experienced and witnessed that transformation again and again. I'm in the relationship business. My work is about putting people in relationship with one another and with God. The central action (and what informs the life of our community) is the act of Communion. We eat together with God. We become community through a shared meal. That leads to lots of other great things like sharing a cup of coffee and a story; discovering a relationship with God; teaching spiritual practices and why they are difficult; our day school has a lot to do with building relationships between among the children and teachers. 

When we remember the complexity of humans, and risk getting to know one another as fellow human beings, the survivalist instinct to judge thaws and melts away. When we actually meet and discover how God is at work in one another's lives, we can no longer depend on the weak labels we may try to apply to one another. So for now, until we can actually get to know one another, when that judgemental voice comes up in my mind I will try to remember that I shouldn't trust it. I will try to remember that even if you take up two spaces in a crowded parking lot. You are still a human being, and God dwells in your heart. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

seeking to pay attention

Most days, if I slow down enough, I remember to be grateful for the simple miracles of life. They almost feel like jokes at times, like when I pick up my phone to call John Price and he is calling me right then, too. (It has happened twice this week.)

Then there are the greater things like a few years back, when my soul got so stirred up, and situations in my life became disturbed enough that I started looking for a new ministry opportunity on the coast, and then when I made a phone call to a diocese I once lived in, there was this recent opening at Trinity by the Sea, Port Aransas. (And four years later, I am falling ever more in love with this place and it's people.) I wouldn't dare try to explain how those things happen, I just marvel that they do. Looking back at journals through my life, going way back to High School, I describe the subtle urges as Spirit-nudges. When there is something alogical, a tug in the direction of a decision, or just having a gut feeling that what was planned should be abandoned. I try to listen to those Spirit nudges. Sometimes I stubornly ignore them (and when I do, life often becomes more difficult than it seems it needs to be.)

I like to compare that experience of going-with-the-Spirit's-flow to swimming in the San Marcos River. When I lived in San Marcos, a swim at the falls was a regular occurance, and I learned to respect the power of the flow of water. I learned to pay attention, and to work with the current rather than against it; always aware that things could change.

I should say that this is not the only way I make all my decisions; I engage logic plenty, and make reasoned plans, and weigh tangible factors. I want to share the Spirit nudge aspect because we are often taught to ONLY use the logical way. There is a deeper mystery to things, dwelling below or behind, and it is such a blessing to seek to pay attention to that reality.

The Inner Journey Retreat has been an important part of my learning to listen to the Spiritual dimensions of life. Going to my first Inner Journey came from one of those nudges (with help from the admonition from a friend to "Get my ass to the Inner Journey Retreat.") There I learned the dynamics of my psyche, how to pay attention to complexes, how to work with my dreams, and how to live a fuller life, more aware of how I serve something much greater than me. I am so grateful for my Inner Journey Community, too. They help me continue to pay attention to the invisible, spiritual reality of life. It has made me a better priest and person.

This is only half an ad for the upcoming (April 17-21)  Inner Journey Retreat, the other half of my intention in this reflection is for Lent, when we seek to adhere to practices that draw us closer to God; that help us prepare to experience the death and resurrection of Jesus in Holy Week and Easter.

Whatever this reflection may stir up in you when you read it, I encourage you to pay attention to your soul's needs. It will not lead you astray (though the journey may be winding!) It will lead you to wholeness and connection.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Becoming a Parish

At the Diocese of West Texas's 113th Diocesan Council Trinity by the Sea became a Parish! That link will take you to a video of our resolution and procession into council as a parish.

We were well represented with Ukulele's strumming, banners waving, and songs lifted up in thanksgiving to God for this historic moment. I wanted to share my address to Council and what Suzanna Reeder said to Bishop Lillibridge when she presented him with his surf board. Both are below. Blessings to all, and thanks to Johnie Swenson and Mark Admire for coordinating the party Sunday--what a weekend!

Thank you to our Bishops and to Joann Saylors for walking us through this process in the
final stages; to Johnie Swenson who stewarded the process, and to Walt Kleine our treasurer, Sarah Jane Wise our archivist, and our Bishop’s Committee and congregation for going through this Mission to Parish process through which we reflected on where we are in our life as a congregation and discerned that it really is the right time to take this step. And thanks to Nancy Stinson for...all of this...
It has been a journey which began years before I arrived in Port Aransas, and we’ve been the beneficiaries of the work of generations of Episcopalians in Port Aransas, North Padre, and really all around the diocese going all the way back to our genesis in 1958 when The Rev. David Rose (later the Rt. Rev. Rose) celebrated the first Holy Communion at the Carter Chapel in the Dunes. From then we met at the Tarpon Inn and in homes, we were supported by vacationing priests. Then after the church was built and dedicated in 1964 we depended on clergy from our council hosts, the Church of the Good Shepherd, toward whom we still feel gratitude. Thank to this mission minded diocese for being courageous enough to start and support that church plant in a little island town so many years ago.


Since those early days we have always enjoyed a mixed community of locals, part-timers like our Winter-Texans, and vacationers; we welcome people in and bless them on their way like the ebb and flow of the tide. Today we are known in and around Port Aransas as the church you can to go to if you don’t have a church. We are known as a welcoming community involved in the life of our island communities, and we welcome home any stranger or familiar face that wanders in our doors.


My wife Laura, our son Eli, and I received that warm welcome over four years ago, when we arrived to this amazing community, and I am thrilled to have been called as their first rector...thanks be to God.  The longer we are in Port Aransas, the more we love it. We’re all a bunch of characters thrown together on that island, and as a church family, we are on a mission to spread God’s love by being a spiritual and charitable resource in our community; through our resale shop, through our day school, by hosting community groups, and by learning to be disciples and apostles of Jesus, we are fulfilling our mission. After this milestone, we are going to regroup for Lent, but then we are planning to start a capital campaign so our facilities can keep up with our mission.


I’m so proud of this church, and so grateful to be part of it that I could go on, but I won’t, not right now. For now we just want to say thank you and celebrate this big step in our nearly 60 year history as a mission of this diocese, and we will continue in our mission as a parish church of this great Diocese of West Texas….and now I’d like to introduce our first Sr. Warden, Suzanna Reeder has a special presentation to make.


Upon presenting the Bishop's Board, Suzanna said, "Bishop Lillibridge, we are grateful for all the support and leadership you’ve given to our diocese and especially to Trinity by the Sea as we completed our journey to become a parish. In honor of your ministry and on the occasion of our becoming a parish, we have commissioned this surf board, painted by Wade Koniakowski. ...We would like to offer to keep it for you at Trinity by the Sea in our parish hall for you to visit whenever you come to the beach...."

We had such a wonderful celebration Sunday. I'll be posting photos and videos in the near future!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

new call

Photo by Sarah Searight
So, just to be clear, I'm not going anywhere. I'm very excited to have been called as the first rector of Trinity by the Sea, Port Aransas! (God willing, and effective at Diocesan Council when Trinity becomes a Parish) If that barrage of Episco-speak is completely unhelpful, let me try to decode.

Trinity by the Sea is an Episcopal Church, and in the Episcopal Church, the Diocese is the basic unit. All the individual churches you see in cities are, as Bishop Payne put it "missionary outposts." When a new church is started, the Diocese supports it as a mission. Then at some point in it's journey, when it becomes a sustainable community, it graduates to being a parish. The head priest (pastor) of a mission is called a vicar, and the governing board is called a Bishop's Committee (both assigned by the Bishop of that Diocese) and as a parish, we elect our governing board, called a Vestry, and they call the head priest, called a Rector. And that's exactly where Trinity is. Becoming a parish, having elected it's board, the first Vestry, and last night, they called me (thanks be to God) as the first Rector.

I was excited about it, but I was surprised by sense of joy I felt when it was official. I really love this church and community, and I feel more deeply connected here because of these steps we are taking together. If by chance, you can come party with us either at Diocesan Council (Feb 23, we process in at 1:00!) or in Port Aransas on Sunday Feb 26, please do. We will have one service at 10 a.m. (with Baptism!) and then a lunch with live music following (around noon.)

I'm very proud of what the Holy Spirit is up to through this church. I'm proud of the dedication, perseverance, and joy of this community, and I'm so grateful to have this new call to be the rector of Trinity by the Sea, Port Aransas!
Photo by Joe Gant