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!

Living the Last Words

by Demi Prentiss

We’re about to enter Holy Week, an opportunity to feel the power and the poignancy of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. We can choose to walk through those eight days as a memorial, a tradition, a liturgical banquet, a personal sacrifice. For me, this Lent, I’m drawn to reflect deeply on how each day’s drama is challenging me to live differently, starting now. How might my daily life be transformed?

My prayer is for God to change my heart. This song, “Last Words” by Karl Kohlhase has offered me a framework to press into opening my heart more fully. It calls me to see the habits I must let go to allow my heart to be – every day – more tender, trusting, thankful, holy, loving, perfect, and faithful.

May you listen and be challenged as I have been:

"Father, forgive them, they know not what they do,”
I hear you pray for those who torture you.
These are the words that tear my grudges all apart.
Create in me a tender heart.
 
You turn your head to address a dying thief.
“Today you’ll be in paradise with me.”
These are the words where every hopeless soul must start.
Create in me a trusting heart.
 
Your darkest hour you cried out from the tree,
“My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?”
These words of anguish pierce me through just like a dart.
Create in me a thankful heart.
 
Then unto Mary, “Woman behold your son,
Behold your mother,” your dying words to John.
These words begin a family of which I’m part.
Create in me a holy heart.
 
You said, “I thirst,” yet it was not for wine.
You thirst for love from desert souls like mine.
And with these words a flowing river you impart.
Create in me a loving heart.
 
Then “It is finished!” Your work on earth was done.
For in three days your battle would be won.
These are the words with which you crown your works of art.
Create in me a perfect heart.
 
“Into your hands, Father, I commend my breath.”
Your final prayer as you close your eyes in death.
And with these words one day I’ll fly to where you are.
Create in me, create in me, create in me a faithful heart.
                                                   “Last Words” by Karl Kohlhase

Blessing the work

by Demi Prentiss

The Rev. Thomas B. Curran, S.J., president of Rockhurst University, blessing workers at a campus construction site. (Photo by Rockhurst University)

John O’Donohue was an Irishman – a poet, a philosopher, and a former Roman Catholic priest. He died in his sleep just days after his 52nd birthday in 2008.

His book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace carries the subtitle Rediscovering the True Sources of Compassion, Serenity, and Hope. He explores our intimate human relationship with beauty, calling it “a homecoming of the human spirit.”

In the midst of pandemic and war, our souls are parched for the strength, integrity, and imaginative connections that beauty calls forth. O’Donohue summons us to open ourselves to the beauty we can discover in the dailiness of our lives. As we do that, we find ourselves strengthened by the blessings of our daily work.

Blessing of your work

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work
you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of your own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light and renewal to those
who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden you.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams,
possibilities, and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered and protected.
May your soul calm, console, and renew you.

 – by John O’Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

Who’s your hidden hero?

by Pam Tinsley

WelcomeChange, CC BY-SA 4.0

“Be Kind” were the words written on our 2½ year-old granddaughter’s shirt on the same day that a new book arrived. The cover of the book, 10 Hidden Heroes, shows children and adults helping others as they go about their everyday lives. Because I believe strongly in making our world more loving by living out our baptismal promises in daily life, I was eager to share this book with our little granddaughter.

She and I sat down together and searched through the pictures on each two-page spread. One set of pictures features hidden heroes nursing others back to health. Although one setting was in a hospital with nurses and doctors caring for patients, there was also a child tending to another child’s scraped knee and a girl caring for her injured cat. Another set of pictures highlights hidden heroes striving to protect the environment by planting trees, recycling, composting, and riding bikes. A boy stocking shelves in a food bank shows young readers how to serve those less fortunate. There are even hidden heroes who invent and do research to develop medicines and “treasures for humankind.”   

Hidden Heroes author, Mark K. Shriver, is the president of Save the Children Action Network, and hopes that it can help children and their parents make the world a better place. When I read the book with our granddaughter, not only is she learning to count as she searches for the hidden heroes in the pictures, together we’re also making connections as we look to her family, friends, preschool, and community for examples of kindness and compassion. And this is a time for talking, too, about how she herself can be kinder and more compassionate.

Who are the hidden heroes in your life, and how might they inspire you – us – to make our world more loving and just?

‘The work of Christmas is begun…'[1]

by Demi Prentiss

image by freeimageslive.co.uk – christmashat

When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart
.

— Howard Thurman

A few days ago Christians celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, remembering the long-ago visit of kings from the East to a Jewish newborn. For Christians, the day marks the end of the twelve days of Christmas, and the beginning of an “ordinary time” season of the Christian year notable for its focus on Jesus’ healing and teaching ministry in first-century Palestine. In the here and now, Christians are busily packing away the candles and tinsel, the nativity scene and the Christmas decorations for another year.

It’s significant that only a few days after Epiphany, as we mark the Baptism of Our Lord, Jesus has zoomed forward in time from infancy to the beginning of his active ministry. On that day in many churches, congregations gather for baptisms of new members and the renewal of baptismal vows. Christians echo the Gospel reading for the day, proclaiming to one another God’s message of love heard from heaven at Jesus’ baptism: “You are my Beloved. In you I am well pleased.”

Standing with Jesus in the waters of baptism, we are equipped to begin what Howard Thurman called “the work of Christmas,” the work of all the baptized. For those of us who feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of that work, Br. Todd Blackham of the Society of St. John the Evangelist offers a reminder:

The Christ who was born in Mary is the Christ who was born in you at your baptism.  The treasures and the promises of Mary are yours to ponder in your heart.  Like Mary, they will carry us through the years when things just seem ordinary, when drudgery and monotony set in, when we are led, like Mary to the foot of the cross in our agony, our grief, and our longing.  Even in the dark days of the tomb, the promises of Christ are waiting to be revealed in his resurrection.

For those of us at the beginning of a new calendar year, perhaps it’s appropriate that this week reminds us of baptism and the need to continue the work of Christmas. Our Christmas candles lit to push back the darkness of long winter nights need to burn longer than a mere twelve days.  Our baptism calls us to light, in the word of Howard Thurman, “candles that will burn all year long.”

I will light candles this Christmas,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.

— Howard Thurman


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7n8n6IFHisw&t=23s –  Jim and Jean Strathdee performing his song “I Am the Light of the World,” an adaptation of Howard Thurman’s words.

Living everydayness

by Edward L. Lee, Jr.

Thomas Mousin, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Maine, has created daily Keeping Advent reflections for many years. Using scriptural passages he finds Advent themes and elaborates on them with apt insight and relevance. As a subscriber I have found them consistently evocative and pertinent in my baptismal journey to Christmas.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 

Luke 10:25-28

Be strong.

We can spend a lot of time thinking about the life to come. Such was the question asked by the lawyer who was testing Jesus. In one sense, Jesus answered clearly, saying these are the things you need to do. He also knew that the lawyer, having asked the question, already knew the answer.

But the truth of that answer has not to do with what ensures our eternal fate, but what it means to live each moment of each day. What does it mean to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, and all our mind? And what does it mean to love our neighbor as ourselves?  These are the questions we work out in the everydayness of our lives.

When Jesus commended the lawyer on his response, he did not say, “You have given the right answer; you will do this and you will have eternal life.” Instead, he said, “You have given the right answer; you will do this and you will live.” We are meant to live, today in this moment and every moment, as we love God and our neighbor as ourselves for the life we are given today.

‘Whisper words of wisdom…’

Advent, week 3

by Demi Prentiss

This week, the third week in Advent, began with Gaudete Sunday, the customary day for lighting the pink candle on the Advent wreath. Often thought of as honoring Mary the mother of Jesus, the pink candle signals a “breather” at the halfway point in Advent – an opportunity to “lighten up” the intensity of our Advent observances on our way to Christmas. A time to “let it be.” That same Sunday, Dec. 12, was the traditional day for celebrating the feast of the Virgen de Guadalupe, patron saint of the Americas. La Virgen appeared to Juan Diego as a pregnant indigenous woman and spoke to him in Nahuatl, his native language.

This past Saturday, the Center for Action and Contemplation featured a meditation and practice outlined by Brian McLaren, centering around the dimension that Mary brings to Christianity.

In Luke’s telling of the birth of Jesus, God aligns with the creative feminine power of womanhood rather than the violent masculine power of statehood. The doctrine of the virgin birth, it turns out, isn’t about bypassing sex but about subverting violence. The violent power of top-down patriarchy is subverted not by counterviolence but by the creative power of pregnancy. It is through what proud men have considered “the weaker sex” that God’s true power enters and changes the world. That, it turns out, is exactly what Mary understood the messenger to be saying: [read her Magnificat, especially Luke 1:48, 51, 52, 53]. . . .

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:, Mt 9:13 and 12:17). Again and again, through scripture and witness, God calls us to practice generativity, not violence. In our daily lives, when our work springs from our gifts and our calling, we access God’s power as co-creators.  We are empowered to change the world through love.

Driving the ministry bus

By Pam Tinsley

Flickr – United Way of the Lower Mainland

For years I commuted to Seattle, often by bus. I found the bus drivers to be courteous and helpful – some friendly, and others, business-like. And, like anyone who faces the public daily, they encounter gracious passengers and rude, even unruly, passengers while trying to treat them respectfully.

Linda Wilson-Allen takes her role as a bus driver to a whole new level. A 2013 article in the San Francisco Chronicle describes Linda as someone who “loves the people on the bus, knows the regulars, learns their names. She will wait for them if they are late, and then make up the time on her route. She would get out of the driver’s seat of her bus to help seniors.” One day, Linda even reached out to a passenger who was lost and afraid and then invited her to join her family for Thanksgiving dinner. Her kindness has touched people so powerfully that some passengers will let another bus pass by just so they can ride with Linda.

Linda’s story inspired the pastors of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church (MPPC). Because her job can be thankless and filled with frustrations from cranky passengers to traffic jams and breakdowns, they invited her to share with the congregation how she keeps such a positive attitude.  Linda told them that her work is to minister to God’s people. She begins her day with prayer – at the crack of dawn. She asks God for guidance and how God might help her bless the people she encounters on her route. She asks God to help her shine light into dark places.

After she shared her story at MPPC, senior pastor John Ortberg reminded his congregation of the wider lesson we all can learn from Linda about ministry. He said, “My patients are my ministry. My clients are my ministry. My neighborhood is my ministry. My store is my ministry. I’m just going to go through every day and reach up to Jesus so that the power of the Holy Spirit is in me all the time, and then be a part of a little community here where I have people I can know and love and care about and serve for and who can help me grow, and then I’m going out. I will go out and bless.”

How will you go out and bless today?