Receiving and being

Pexels.com – Hassan Ouajbir

by Demi Prentiss

For those of us who choose to be partners in baptismal living, we aim to live our lives following Jesus, walking the road he described as The Way. One frame for that style of living is to understand the life we live as abiding in sacrament. I’m not talking about The Sacrament: the Body and Blood of Christ.  Instead, I mean sacrament as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.”

When I examine my life through that lens, I notice that I often move between receiving sacrament and being sacrament.  In life, I’m frequently receiving those signs of grace, those signs of God at work:  a smile, a life-giving word, a gift of time, a token of encouragement, a flood of forgiveness.   What I notice less often – and usually only in after-the-fact reflection – are the times God’s grace allows me to BE sacrament: being the cup of water for a thirsty soul, laying down time or money as a life-giving sacrifice, allowing God to transform my poor offering to anoint another with healing and support. Most of those occasions are less the fruit of my own work, and more of God making the most of my offerings. And I notice that often, the catalyst for moving me from receiving to being is heartfelt gratitude. That seed produces the fruit of generosity.

Our faith communities move along that same continuum between receiving and being. We who gather with our siblings in Christ often come together to receive: washing, feeding, anointing, blessing, and fellowship.  Gratitude and the power of God enable us to become water, food, healing, and forgiveness – blossoming into God’s justice, peace, love, and resurrection in a hurting world. It takes faith to open our eyes to perceive God at work, in and through us, and our communities. Commissioned by our baptism to be co-creators with God, we can learn to recognize that we are receivers of God’s grace, and that we can be bearers of that grace to those around us. That work – observing God at work in the world and joining as God’s partner – is the essence of baptismal living.

Letting go

by Demi Prentiss

Odds are you’ve committed to memory – if not intentionally, then by massive culture-wide exposure – Disney’s anthem “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen.  The song captures the emotional turmoil of a young queen, afraid and in hiding, as she struggles to accept her distinctive gifts and overcome her shame.

Let it go, let it go –

I’m one with the wind and sky.

Let it go, let it go –

You’ll never see me cry.

Here I stand and here I stay.

Let the storm rage on.

The song’s message of determined independence and courageous authenticity speaks to the hearts of many women and girls. The song has been claimed as an anthem by marginalized groups across the spectrum – people who identify as LGBTQ+, people with eating disorders and chemical addictions, people in prison, people with a variety of disabilities, and many others. The song’s authors say they created the lyrics to speak especially to those under constant pressure to be perfect.

In some conservative Christian circles, the song is criticized for what some perceive as a purely permissive message of “anything goes.” In this autumn season of letting go and loss, thanks to a post by Br. Geoffrey Tristram, SSJE, I’m seeing a different side of that “Let it go” message:

Let Go

When Jesus looks at you and me, and longs to fill us with his life, what does he see? Does he see someone too full already? It could be too much stuff; we may be overwhelmed by busy-ness; maybe you are filled with anger, or an inability to forgive. Imagine Jesus looking at you and saying gently, “let it go, let it go.” Let it fall away like the autumn leaves.

TheDomesticCurator.com

What might be filling us, consuming all the free space within us – the space that would enable us to be more open, more creative, more generous, more loving? More free to be genuinely who we are created to be?  More free to let God set our agenda?

With God’s help, may we learn to let it go, whatever may be blocking our best, Christ-connected, co-creative selves. May we be liberated to see Christ at work, in ourselves and in others.

Our pets – key to creation

by Pam Tinsley

Blessing the family gerbils – Photo courtesy of Epiphany Parish, Seattle, WA

October 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, and many churches celebrate by blessing pets. In the spirit of St. Francis, we offer God thanks for the animals that share our homes. Our pets teach us to love other creatures through their love for us.

We also offer our prayers for those whose vocations involve caring for our animals. With their gifts of gentleness, wisdom, and healing, veterinarians and veterinarian techs minister to our injured and ill pets. Certainly, too, they help our animals remain healthy. We offer thanksgiving, too, for dogwalkers and pet sitters who care for our pets, while we are at work or away.

Yet, today, the Feast of St. Francis points beyond the love we have for our pets and how that love helps us to learn to better love one another. Our love for God’s creatures also reminds us of the importance of caring for all of God’s creation on “this fragile earth, our island home” (BCP, p. 370). Unprecedented temperatures along with the proliferation of raging wildfires and violent hurricanes with their impact on human life and wildlife underscore how imperative it is for us to heal our relationship to creation.

When we promise at baptism to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being, we must consider all the created world, as well. As baptized Christians, we are called to be faithful stewards of our planet – to strive to heal the damage that we have done to all of God’s sacred creation.

So, on this year’s Feast of St. Francis, I invite you to consider what you might do to honor, protect, and restore the beauty and integrity of God’s creation – with God’s help?

Cycling toward Beloved Community

by Demi Prentiss

Generosity. Thankfulness. Faithfulness. Forgiveness.

Each is an expression of the heart of God. When we choose to embody these words, we re-member God. Not simply recalling who God is and how God has touched us. We also re-present God to the people and places around us. We offer a spark of the Light within us to a broken and hurting world.

At first glance, these actions seem pretty straightforward:

http://www.pexels.com – Photo by Blanca Gasparoto
  • Generosity means giving.
  • Thankfulness flows from receiving.
  • Faithfulness calls for being steadfast.
  • Forgiveness involves opening – mind, hands, and heart.

Looking deeper, as we commit to practicing each of these God-expressions we cycle through all four:

  • Generosity prompts us to go beyond giving, to receiving the relationship that giving creates, being steadfast in our engagement, and opening ourselves to what comes to life through our generosity – sometimes in the most unexpected places.
  • When we operate out of thankfulness, our gratitude in turn becomes a gift. We’re invited to persevere in an attitude of gratitude, and we’re encouraged to open ourselves to perceive how much we can be thankful for.
  • Our steadfast faithfulness reminds us that we are forgiven as we forgive, that in giving we imitate God’s relentless generosity, and that our very lives represent a hymn of thanks to God the giver of all.
  • As we take the risk of forgiveness, being open and vulnerable, we offer a gift not only to “those who trespass against us”; we liberate ourselves, allowing thankfulness and faithfulness to shape our response to God’s love and grace.

We can enter this virtuous cycle at any point.  We can bring any of these gifts – and all of them, if we choose – to any context we encounter. Our expression of these gifts ripples out from our context to touch others.  And allowing this cycle to shape our lives offers us opportunities to express God’s goodness and participate in God’s Beloved Community.

Practice the presence of God, by joining the cycling adventure!

Vocation: God’s relentless invitation

by Demi Prentiss

“We are all one in mission; we are all one in call….”

Yellow and Black Butterfly – Photo by Miriam Fischer from Pexels

Rusty Edwards’ lyrics remind us that, at bottom, all vocations are essentially the same – to be Christ’s ambassadors in, to, and for the world. For many, discerning how to enact that call in their own life can become a challenging, confusing puzzle.

As one way to engage with that puzzle, SSJE brother Geoffrey Tristram extends an invitation to every Christian to “Choose life!” by paying attention to what lies “at the very core of [our] identity”:

If you have been baptized, then you have a vocation!  So what is a vocation?  Some people think it must be something that you suddenly get.  You’re walking along quite happily one day, and God suddenly “zaps” you with a vocation!  I don’t think that’s quite right.  I believe that your vocation is that which lies at the very heart, the very core of your identity.   It is discovering who it is that you most truly are…..

You can say “no” to your vocation. You can choose a life more in keeping with your parents’ wishes, social convention, or simply greater security and wealth. God never forces us to say “yes.” But God, who knows the secrets of our hearts, will never stop calling us, inviting us, enticing us, to live the life for which we have been made.

Such relentless invitation may cause us to tremble. God invites us to lay down our fear and step into engagement. The Lord of Life is here – within us and without us, in every particle of the universe. God invites us to fully become all that we truly are. And accepting that invitation is experienced more as a loving embrace than a command performance, more as a companioned journey than a desperate solo marathon.  More like an invitation to the Eucharist: “Behold who you are.  Become what you receive.”

And the end of all our exploring. Will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.” T.S.Eliot, “Little Gidding”

A pilgrim’s guide

Photo courtesy of Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Palestine Israel Network

by Pam Tinsley

Ghassan is a minister. Ghassan’s ministry is as a travel guide. I met Ghassan in June on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. And, although it might seem fascinating – even exciting – for one’s vocation to be a travel guide in the Holy Land, Ghassan faces innumerable challenges as he lives into his ministry and faith.

You see, Ghassan is an Israeli citizen who lives in Jerusalem. First and foremost, however, Ghassan is a Christian living – and ministering – in a country where Christians make up only 2% of the population. In Israel 74% of the population is Jewish, and almost 18% is Muslim.

Despite prejudice from colleagues and acquaintances because of his faith, Ghassan doesn’t hesitate to profess his belief in Jesus and to model the Good News. As Ghassan guides pilgrims through the Holy Land, his deep love of Christ radiates from his words and actions.

While Ghassan offered historical and political background information throughout the pilgrimage, his true passion – for seeking and serving Christ – was evident as he pointed out the oppression that his neighbor – the Palestinian – lives under. As our bus entered an Israeli settlement outside of Hebron, he pointed out the lush parks, playgrounds, pristine streets, shops, and public transit that the Jewish settlers enjoy. Moments later, he let the stark contrast speak for itself as the bus exited the settlement through the military checkpoint. Refuse was piled along the streets, and the Palestinians’ only source of water is from large plastic barrels atop the buildings, which are filled only weekly. Small boys sought to help support their families by selling trinkets to pilgrims. The sorrow in Ghassan’s voice and in his eyes communicated his respect for the dignity of every human being.

As baptized pilgrims and ministers in the world, we are invited by Jesus to be like Ghassan – to be transformed into Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. Our baptismal promises remind us that we are to open our hearts to the needs of our broken world and then to love and to serve others as Jesus would. And as we walk the path of love that Jesus walked, we show others the ways that we can transform our world into one of hope, healing, and peace.

Editor’s Note: The Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Palestine Israel Network (PIN) offers summaries of 2022 General Convention action regarding Palestine. PIN’s motto is “Justice is Love in Action.”

Photo courtesy of Episcopal Peace Fellowship, Palestine Israel Network

Remember your baptism

by Demi Prentiss

Photo by Jose Vasquez from Pexels

Originally posted in the July 10, 2022 edition of ISSUES, the daily newsletter of The Consultation published during General Convention of The Episcopal Church in Baltimore, July 8-11, 2022

The Diocese of Northern California offered a resolution (C028) to this year’s General Convention which proposed to open communion to unbaptized persons, by repealing Canon I.17.7: “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.”  The proposal generated much conversation, but will not result in any legislative action, at least this year. The resolution did not emerge from committee.

Just a few weeks ago, an experimental, unofficial, and informal survey  (Survey 19: Open Communion) of a test group assembled by FaithX and TryTank indicates that nearly two-thirds (65%) of the Episcopalians polled answered “yes” to the question, “Does your congregation practice open communion?”  In many places, apparently, the canons and local practice don’t align.

As a denomination, we’ve spent nearly 50 years proclaiming the empowerment of all the baptized through the Baptismal Covenant. During those same 50 years, we’ve labored mightily to open “all the sacraments for all the people.”  And while our hearts seem to be generally in the right place, we still fail to embody those aspirations in our lives together as communities of faith.  Incorporating God’s people well and lovingly into the Body of Christ is hard.  Where we gather around an open table, can the Baptismal Covenant continue to be our touchstone? Why, really, is baptism important?

Liturgy forms us, because we are “people of the book” (the BCP) and our practices are shaped by the words we pray. (Lex orandi, lex credendi.) We Partners for Baptismal Living want to see us Episcopalians, in all our liturgies, give voice to our commitment to the centrality and solemnity of baptism.  We believe that the congregation’s proclamation of baptism’s role in our lives – throughout the BCP, not only in the Baptismal Covenant – can more deeply ingrain that covenant in us and help us claim the meaning of baptism.

What might happen if, instead of “I do” or “I will,” those being baptized (or renewing their vows) actually voiced what they were promising to do:

  • “How will you continue to build your faith?” People: “I will continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”
  • What will you proclaim?”  People: “With God’s help, I will proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”

What might happen if, in other liturgical moments – the Dismissal, the Prayers of the People, marriage vows, ordination rites – we actually mentioned “baptism” and “the baptized”:

  • At the Dismissal: “As the baptized, let us go forth into our worlds of home and community and work, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”
  • At the marriage of two Christians: “May you, reborn in the waters of Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever, receive grace to keep the vows you have made.”
  • In Prayers of the People Form 1: “For all the Baptized in their daily life and ministries.”
  • At an ordination: “As a Baptized Child of God, I believe that I am truly called by God and this Church to this priesthood.”

As we work to give life to the work of General Convention in our congregations and dioceses, Partners for Baptismal Living calls on Episcopalians to be intentional about expressing the ongoing role our baptisms play in our everyday life of faith.

Living in liminal time

In Memoriam: A Wayne Schwab, 1928-2022

by Demi Prentiss

Here we are, caught in the liminal time between Ascension Day and Pentecost. Suspended in the “not yet,” unclear and unaware of the power in the “already.”  Jesus’ departure from the disciples opens the door for the work of the Spirit, already living and active among them.

We’ve moved to our new town, and haven’t yet made new friends. We have the diploma, and have not yet landed the job. We know we’re pregnant, and have not yet become a parent. We have the diagnosis, and have not yet heard a plan of treatment. We have the facts, and we don’t yet know what to do with them. As Rachel Hosmer and Alan Jones remind us in Living in the Spirit,  “God, the Holy Spirit, is always beyond us, on the move, creating and sustaining all things. The Holy Spirit is the Go-Between-God, a God who works anonymously and on the inside, as the beyond in our midst.”

The Rev. Anthony Wayne Schwab

In many ways, my friend Wayne Schwab lived his ministry standing on the threshold of “already” and “not yet.” Passionate about evangelism and passionate about the power from on high bestowed in baptism, Wayne worked to liberate the people of God to accept the “already” – the gift of “God with us.” And at the same time, he labored to persuade God’s people to live intentionally into the “not yet” – the fullness of God’s reign, being born in the world about us.

“The members are the missionaries,” he declared, inviting all to embark on the mission of living God’s Good News in every aspect of daily life. He sometimes seemed bewildered that good Episcopalians often seemed unable to grasp the idea, that we are all participating in God’s plan – and there is no Plan B. No matter where we find ourselves, we are salt and light and leaven – even if we’re unaware of our power.

My friend Wayne died May 19, having served nearly 67 years as an Episcopal priest. His passion for peace and justice, especially as realized through the ministry of all the baptized, was the unifying cord that wove through his entire life. Just this year his beloved Virginia Theological Seminary published his latest book How to Live Your Faith – Missional Members Work for a More Loving and More Just World With God’s Help. His many accomplishments are hinted at in his online obituary. His family will celebrate his life and remember his legacy on Aug. 13, 2022 in Hinesburg, VT. Partners for Baptismal Living (PBL) – the source of this ongoing blog – is one of Wayne’s contributions to the church. As we stand in this liminal, uncertain time – in the church and in the wider world – may we live into the role Wayne urged us all to play – bearers of God’s Good News, committed to increase love and justice in the world.

Where can you see Christ Risen?

by Demi Prentiss

Pexels – Anton Antonasov

Lent, Holy Week, Easter Day – the journey through the Resurrection cycle of the Christian year has brought us to the Great 50 Days. We walk through the time between Easter and Pentecost remembering the stories of the Risen Christ appearing to disciples who were shocked and amazed by his presence.

Nearly 2000 years after those appearances, many of us are still shocked and amazed to recognize the Christ present in our world. Just like the disciples on the Emmaus road, just like Peter and his friends eating breakfast on the beach, we can miss the true identity of that compelling presence, until we suddenly see it. The moments when we become aware that Christ is among us point us directly to the calling Christ has placed on our lives.

Aaric Eisenstein, who calls himself “The Avian Rebbe,” describes his work as “teach[ing] Jewish wisdom seen in the beauty of birds.” Recognizing that the value of everyday work is not always immediately apparent, the Rebbe commented:

The Hebrew word Avodah is an enormously rich tool with multiple meanings. This word is used in the Bible to describe the Hebrew slaves toiling in Egypt. Avodah can mean prayer or worship. Its meaning can be as simple as “work” or “vocation.” And there is a sublime interpretation, which reclaims the “servitude” in Egypt and instead speaks of devotion to HaShem and our community. All of these are valid interpretations, each one – though wildly different in detail – sharing the commonality of “service.” Avodah means to labor on behalf of another, sometimes horrifically – think the slaves in Egypt – sometimes beautifully – think the joyful way we serve God and those around us.

Evaluating work, our own or others’, how do we think of it? …. Avodah, a single word which incorporates meanings from slavery to most worshipful service, is no coincidence. The work we do – the service we offer – is defined by us, not others. It is ennobled by the way we do it and the underlying intention.

Living into our calling often begins with the surprising awareness of what God is up to, and then contributing our own avodah. The work of living into the fullness of a life patterned after Christ may begin with the surprise of Easter; as we learn to perceive Christ’s immediate presence, it can become a lifelong path of daily steps along the Way of Love

Remember your baptism!

by Pam Tinsley

After over two empty years – thanks to the pandemic – at Saturday’s Great Vigil of Easter we had the joy of gathering around the baptismal font as it was filled with water! By the Paschal candle’s light, we prayed with keen anticipation as the waters of new life in Christ flowed and were blessed. And although we’ve renewed our baptismal promises several other times since the pandemic’s inception, this renewal was clearly different. We renewed our baptismal vows with fervor, kindled by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Flickr – Lars Hammar – Baptismal Font

With God’s help, we proclaimed our promises to

  • continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers;
  • persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord;
  • proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ;
  • seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself; and
  • strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human
    being.

Then, as the priest showered us with holy water from the font, we were reminded: “Remember your baptism! Remember your baptism!”

We might think, for a moment, that the renewal of baptismal vows ends there. However, this renewal offers us a new beginning. After being fed and strengthened at the Lord’s table, our renewed baptismal promises prepare us to go forth into the world, dripping wet, as bearers of Christ’s light and love, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Remember YOUR baptism!