From the Dean's Desk
Saint Mark's Episcopal Cathedral
The Very Rev. Paul J. Lebens-Englund
Friday, August 28, 2020
We as Christians have an obligation to carry forth the fight for all who are outcast, and doubly so if we occupy positions of wealth and power. If we rest our hope on winning the fight, we will be often disappointed, and may lose hope ourselves. But if we take prayer to heart, we can root our efforts, private and public, in the eternal victory of God and his kingdom. And we can carry on the fight, in ourselves and in the world, knowing that our prayer is not cast before dead idols, but is offered to the living God.
Brother Lucas Hall, SSJE
Dear Saint Markans,
It's a common refrain this time of year: 'Oh, well. Vacation is over. Time to get back to reality,' as if the places we go for rest and restoration are somehow 'less real' than the places we spend most of our time and energy. Nothing new here, but worth reflecting on, again, in our present moment in which 'reality' is, increasingly, up for debate. In what 'reality' to do you spend your time and energy? In what 'reality' do you rest and restore?
If you were able to endure the past two weeks of party conventions, then you're doubtless aware of the degree to which our nation is debating what's 'real.' It would be one thing if the debate was grounded in empirical 'fact,' but because facts are also up for debate, we come to recognize how deeply our perceptions of 'reality' are colored and driven by something much deeper, often hidden in the recesses of our own shadow and, from there, projected outwardly and taken for granted as 'true.'
As our discourse has hardened and the lines of dialogue have been severed, our perceptions of what is 'real' and what is 'true' have become increasingly crystallized and, like crystal, have become fragile in the absence of nuance, mutual understanding, and a shared vision for the Common Good. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last time, our nation faces this existential challenge - the reality of widely divergent belief systems and wildly incompatible policy platforms. It's disorienting and disheartening - not to mention scary and enraging and exhausting - to feel 'stuck' in this escalating 'fight for the soul of America.'
So, in a time like this, what are people of faith to do?
We pray in order to set ourselves in the presence of God - to hear, again, the universal heartbeat of Life behind the racing heartbeat of our own lives - to remind ourselves that we are not the center, we are not the main thing, that we are participants and would-be partners in God's abiding commitment to the flourishing of Life and all lives within it. We pray in order to increase our receptivity and responsiveness to God's often-hidden influence in our lives - to soften our own wills and bend them, over a lifetime, toward the Will of God, as spring flowers chase the sun across the daytime sky. We pray in order to re-situate ourselves in God's creative order, to discern our life's deepest, truest identity and purpose. Prayer, therefore, helps us to become more of what we are.
We study in order to better understand ourselves, others, and the world around us - to ground ourselves - our thoughts, our words, our deeds - in the highest approximation of empirical 'Truth,' so far as the limits of our human knowing can achieve - trusting our 'reason' to be a gift from God, given toward the pursuit and discernment of God's 'mind' - and believing no line of inquiry or critique to be off-limits, to the degree they contribute to a fuller, truer grasp of God's designs and direction in the Life of the world. While it is the expansiveness of our 'knowing' that forms the basis of our agency on God's behalf, it is the limits of our 'knowing' that form the basis of our trust in God on our behalf. We study in order to shape the whole mind, both the intellect and the imagination - to more faithfully grasp 'the now' and stretch for the 'not yet.' Study, therefore, helps us become more of what we are.
We serve in order to participate in God's loving, liberating, life-giving mission to heal a broken world, sharing our God-given gifts and passions to address both the acute and chronic needs of the world around us - walking closely with those who are lonely or afraid, encouraging those who are weary or faint-hearted, finding and re-gathering those who have lost their way, resourcing those who have real material need, healing those who are truly broken in body, mind, or spirit, opening the eyes of the blind, strengthening the stride of those who have fallen, pulling those from the grave who've succumb to the powers of death. We serve in order to call forth our better angels - to witness and work toward the further unfolding of God's just and peaceable kingdom among us - reminding each person not only of the dignity guaranteed to them as Imago Dei, but of the responsibilities demanded of them as 'disciples.' Serving, therefore, helps us become more of what we are.
For people of faith, each of these three disciplines, or 'practices,' help to ground us in what is 'real' - and, for Christians, what's eternally 'real' is 'the Kingdom' Jesus preached - the 'total reality' indelibly stamped with the memory of 'Eden,' in which each creature has space, place, and purpose to exercise their will in alignment with God's Will. Though we find ourselves 'east of Eden,' wrestling with the reality of 'sin' and our 'turning away' from God, we nonetheless carry within us and among us the latent memory and deep longing for our return to that just and lasting 'peace.' It may often be hidden from our eyes, but its reality remains embedded deep within our spiritual dna - perceptible to those 'with eyes to see and ears to hear' - 'real' to those who fervently pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name;
Thy kingdom come, thy Will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.
At Saint Mark's Cathedral, our primary purpose is to help each of you to ground yourselves in God's eternal 'reality' - connecting you in heart, mind, and body to the living presence of God in, among, and around us - particularly during times of challenge and change. For us, 'discipleship' is not an impersonal playbook that demands uniformity of thought, word, and deed, but is a set of shared practices that nurture in each of us a faithful 'lifestyle' through which we give our whole selves to God's Life and Love. We are not asked to be 'less human,' but 'more human' - not 'less ourselves,' but 'more ourselves' - so that through the reality of our own complicated lives, we better witness the triumphs and challenges, the joys and heartaches of God's work within us - better assuring that our 'faith, hope, and love' is authentic, heartfelt, and sustainable, if also messy and incomplete.
In order to gauge how Saint Mark's can best support you and your life of faith, we, from time to time, invite you into a brief assessment exercise. Our hope is that this exercise not only provides helpful information to Saint Mark's about how our folks are doing and how we might better organize ourselves to support you, but we hope, too, that the exercise, in and of itself, will help you better identify and celebrate what's working for you and better identify and address what isn't.
This is a spiritual partnership - each becoming ourselves, together - and we are both honored and privileged to play our small part in God's larger work in, among, and around you.
With gratitude & joy,
Please follow go here to the survey, which should take you about 10 minutes to complete.