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eDevotions

Inspiration from our clergy

Practice Looking for the Miracle

April 10, 2024 • The Reverend Allen Pruitt

“This mornin’ a miracle happened as promised: the rising of the world’s closest star.” - Willi Carlisle     We always have a choice: embrace life as a gift, a miracle, a wondrous cacophony of things that could have gone differently but instead brought us to this moment – OR – start checking emails in the middle of an eclipse.   I went home Monday afternoon just in time to pass a pair of eclipse glasses back and forth with my wife. We didn’t make the trek a few hundred miles north and west to see the totality. Perhaps that will come in 20 years or maybe we’ll make our way to Australia in 2028. People tell me that being in the path of totality is a spiritual experience, but I’ve got to say that 82% was pretty remarkable.   It’s a strange thing to realize just how far the light of the sun reaches and the warmth it provides from such a distance. Looking up through those black shades, nothing is visible, only darkness, until your gaze turns to the sun. It’s then that I began to understand how light from our nearest star appears in shady glens, even when the sunset has taken it just below the horizon. That the underside of every leaf is visible sometime during the day because of a burning ball of gas some 93 million miles away. Miraculous.   We always have a choice: take all of that warmth and light for granted or soak it in and give thanks. Now is a particularly good time to give thanks for the light and the warmth. Not only has winter passed and the heat of summer not yet come, but we are also in the midst of the Easter season. It’s just a little more than a week since we proclaimed a man rising from the dead! How many times have I thought about that miracle since standing up in church and saying, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen!”???   Christ is risen, whether I think about it or not. Christ is risen and God goes on creating whether we celebrate it or not, whether we acknowledge it or not. We have new life because of who God is, not because of how keenly we keep watch. I don’t have to contemplate the miracle of new life to make it happen. The underside of every leaf is lit by our star whether I look at them or not, but I’m likely to miss it all unless I open my eyes.   Which brings me back to checking my emails during an eclipse. After passing the glasses to my wife, I reflexively pulled my phone out of my pocket. After all, it was 3:03 on a Monday afternoon – work needed doing. As I looked down to swipe open the Outlook app, I noticed the shadows from my favorite tree. I put my phone back in my pocket and I watched the dappled light dance across the grass I try to keep alive, and the oakleaf hydrangeas that we planted so the place would feel more like home and the chartreuse anise plants we put alongside them to keep the deer away. I saw a dozen familiar things, but I saw them all in a new light – literally a unique light – a light that will never come across that back yard again.   I eventually got to those emails. A few were timely, most were junk. Our work demands our attention, and I am grateful for meaningful work in a good place. What a shame it would have been if I’d spent even a few minutes of that particular afternoon miracle entranced by my email instead of entranced by the dappled light. We always have a choice. Practice looking for the miracle.   Now, if I can just start to remember that sending an instantaneous message across any distance and reading it on my phone is also a wonder, then my eyes will be open to every miracle! I’ll let you know if I get there.

Easter's Door Buster

April 3, 2024 • The Reverend Lisa Saunders

Fake news.   Or, “an idle tale,” as the disciples called it in Luke’s gospel (Luke 24:11) when the women came back from the empty tomb declaring that Christ had risen. Can’t happen. Never has.  But Easter is not about avoiding death and suffering, or even about making them easier. Easter proclaims that new beginnings are not an idle tale. Easter blows the doors off “can’t,” and “never.”   Easter wants us to see that life is unstoppable. There is always something fabulous or freeing around the bend. Easter bursts with the joy that something or someone wonderful or loving or kind or generous or healing, that we did not manufacture or merit, could be just around the corner.   And here is where it gets really interesting. You, yes, you. You might be what is loving and kind and generous and healing for someone you don’t yet see, someone you know well, or might not even know at all, but is about to round the corner and discover you there. You might be, or bear, or become, or begin new life for someone else. Even if you are but a seed, a crumb, a sliver of moonlight. Now you may scoff. Roll your eyes and consider that an idle tale told by this woman. Then you might also miss Easter not just happening to you but through you. Surprise and alleluia! Peace,  Lisa

A Poem for Holy Week

March 27, 2024 • The Reverend Connor Gwin

I’m not sure how interesting a poet’s process is to folks who are not writers.  Similarly, I am not sure that many people in the pews give much thought to how a preacher prepares a sermon or garners much gusto for the Greek roots of New Testament words.  At the risk of inducing boredom, a brief word on how some poems come to be.  There are times when Inspiration strikes and a poem flows from the tip of my pen to the legal pad as though it were already fully formed somewhere else (Somewhere Else?) and I am simply transcribing it for the record.  More often than not, I sit down to write without that jolt of inspiration and begin with a question or sentence that has been on repeat in my consciousness for a few days.  Sometimes the sentence is, “I do not have anything to write.”  Sometimes it is a question that has been circulating in the backrooms of my mind.  My poem for today’s eDevotion began in such a way. The first portion is made up of the questions I’ve been pondering in the Lenten lead-up to Holy Week.  In a world that has been flattened by technology, social media, anxiety, division, and a never-ending cycle of terrible news, how do we delineate Holy Week as something utterly different? What does the ancient and ever-present story of Christ’s death and resurrection have to say in our anxious and unprecedented moment in history?  This poem is a penny tossed into the well of those questions. May it serve as a signpost as we take the exit off the interstate of our high-speed, gridlocked lives toward a quiet hill outside of Jerusalem and the miracles of an extra-ordinary week two thousand years ago. May you have a transformative Holy Week and blessed Easter!     How can we rest when the world is aflame?   How do we parcel out peace or dare retreat?   What is a holy week in this forever swirl that is  filled with to-do’s too weak to be done,   too algorithmed to be left undone?   What is the invitation for us here below, caught  in the flow of nights and days, worries and ways that we are pulled along this tantrum trail?    To the One who speaks in flame and peace:   Give us the grace to follow You anew.   Calm our anxious timelines, replace our weak wills.  May we die to the small self little ego scarcity mind  that clenches fists around the myth of mine.   May we walk the way of the Cross in the middle  of our mundane muddling and minor Golgothas.   May we nail our grief and shame to Your tree   and watch new life blossom green with spring.   May we surrender our cynic hearts and find   the cathedral of our chest filled again with  the breath of Your Spirit, the drum beat of   Your Sacred Pulse echoing off the walls   of the cave that briefly became your grave.   May we rest at your Table, at your Cross,   at your Tomb, and in your Holy Week-end   Sabbath's new creation Sonic Boom.

Faith in Good and Bad Times

March 20, 2024 • The Reverend Chip Edens

This week at our staff meeting, Christ Church Business Manager, Jennifer Stewart, shared this devotion. It spoke deeply to us. I hope it will speak to you too.   ------   Some of you know that the past two years have been challenging for my family. It started with my dad being diagnosed with dementia, then my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and my husband lost his job and was unemployed for seven months. My mom had surgery at Duke to remove part of her lung, and then to top it off, she had to have surgery on her foot which kept her off her feet for six weeks. We made the decision to place my dad into memory care. Within two weeks he was diagnosed with Lewy Body, an aggressive form of dementia, and passed away two weeks later. And now, we have been told mom’s cancer is back and she has made the decision to not have chemo or radiation.   I’m not sharing this so you’ll feel bad for us. But it’s during times like this that a lot of people might ask God, “why me?” I won’t say I didn’t ask that, but my mom said, “Why not us? Having faith doesn’t mean we are free of hardship and pain. Have faith that God is in control." If there is a silver lining to these hard times, it is that they can drive you to your knees in prayer, which this has done. They make us more aware of our faith walk and dependency on God. Our faith has given us the peace we needed.   But what about when times are good? What is our faith walk like then? There is a tendency to stray in our faith walk and place less dependence on God during “good” times. I think it has taken the hard times for me to realize that is what I do. Did God allow all these good things in my life to test my faith? Will I be faithful in the good times and bad times? I am certainly going to try.   So, this takes me back to the past two years. They have been hard and continue to be hard at times, but they would have been harder without our faith. Maybe God is using these events for a bigger reason for me. My mom certainly thinks so. I don’t know, but God isn’t asking me to figure this all out. He is asking me to trust that he already has.   Faith doesn’t always take us out of the problem, faith takes us through the problem. Faith doesn’t always take away the pain, faith gives us the ability to handle the pain. Faith doesn’t always take us out of the storm, faith calms us in the midst of the storm.  Amen.

Understanding the Assignment

March 13, 2024 • The Reverend Emily Parker

I’m not sure where the time has gone, but on March 1 I celebrated my one-year anniversary as Director at Galilee Ministries of East Charlotte. What an incredibly rich, fulfilling, and challenging year it has been. I am thankful for every moment. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve experienced and witnessed at Galilee. A few things come to mind:   As with any organization, there are many practical and tactical matters to manage in the daily operations of Galilee. But beyond the day-to-day, so much of the work is to always hold space for – and sometimes get out of the way of – the Holy Spirit. Being intentional about stepping away from fast thinking to listening in the quiet is counter to what society considers productive. To hold this Spirit space requires prayer, relinquishing the illusion of control (yes, this can be difficult to practice), having patience, and giving doing a rest now and again.    I cannot tell you how many times in the past year that I’ve said to myself, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” I’m reminded of the synoptic Gospel story of Jesus, Jairus’ sick daughter, and the hemorrhaging woman. What resonates with me is that Jesus, while on the way to Jairus’ home to heal his child, has an encounter with a hemorrhaging woman. She needed healing too. After she touched his garment, Jesus stopped and took the time to connect with her in the most life-giving way, then continued on his journey. This kind of situation happens at Galilee: multiple people or families in need of assistance arrive simultaneously. Dedicated volunteers and staff emulate what Jesus did by meeting people where they are with patience and compassion.      Last year, at the annual MeckMIN awards breakfast, The Reverend Glencie Rhedrick won the Community Leader Award. During her acceptance speech, she strongly and clearly encouraged the audience to think about this question in the context of serving and being in community: “Do we understand the assignment?” This question lit up the room and definitely got my attention. So much so, that when I returned to Galilee, I wrote it on a sticky note that is on my monitor to this day.    In my heart and mind as an Episcopalian, the assignment is to uphold our Baptismal Covenant to seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is not an easy assignment, and it is our charge as Christians. These are not just nice words we say. They are an invitation to experience and be part of the love of Christ in action.    In service, Emily+

Making Room for Silence

March 6, 2024 • The Reverend Allen Pruitt

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind, and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake, and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire, and after the fire, a sound of sheer silence.   – 1 Kings 19: 11-12   How do we make room for silence? I’m asking for a friend. A friend who is the parent of two teenagers, husband to a wife, and has been a priest for (checks ordination certificate)… nearly seventeen years. It’s me. I’m asking for myself. How do I make room for silence?   Silence is the theme for The Well this week. Lent feels like a call to simplicity and to rest in God. But those are things I aspire to. I want simplicity in the midst of the complex world. I crave rest. I want peace and quiet. I do not want silence.   Silence is the gap between asking a question and getting an answer. Silence is the uncertainty of what will happen next. Silence is the three dots in the little gray bubble when you’re texting with someone who matters to you.   We enter a silence as one version of ourselves and we exit the other side as something new. We ask someone the question “Will you?” and whatever the answer, we are different. Making room for silence means making room for both the person we are when we ask the question and the person we will be after getting the answer.   We all want the new life of Easter. We’ve all been around long enough to see things fall apart in our lives, in the world. We have seen death, we long for resurrection. Lent is the silence between one thing and the next, between dying and resurrection. Lent is this season of silence, the time to practice for every moment of silence between one thing and the next.   How do I make room for silence? How do you? The first thing we have to do is take a risk. We have to ask a question, one to which we do not know the answer, one to which we cannot pretend to know the answer.   Quiet is peaceful and relaxing: the way your heart sits still, listening to the ocean waves or the rushing of a creek. Silence is something else entirely. I pray for you the blessing of peace, God’s peace that passes all understanding. These remaining weeks of Lent, I pray God’s peace that passes beyond the quiet and into every silence of your life. _______ Join us on Wednesday evenings during Lent, all are invited for a special Lenten worship experience at 6 pm in the Church which includes music, prayers for healing, and time for contemplation and reflection.

Step Aside and Simply Abide

February 28, 2024

"And on the seventh day God finished the work that God had done, and God rested on the seventh day from all the work that God had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that God had done in creation." – Genesis 2:2-3, NRSV   This past Saturday I attended a day-long retreat at a nearby farm led by my spiritual director. When I first signed up for it, I told my spiritual director that I viewed it as a “pre-sabbatical retreat,” only semi-joking. In truth, in all these nearly twenty-seven years of ministry, I’ve never had a full sabbatical. And I am very much aware that outside of the ministry and academia, most people never get a sabbatical in their working lives, so I am deeply grateful for this opportunity. For those of you who might not know, I will be on sabbatical from March 1 – May 31. However, I may be a bit unprepared for it.   How do you just suddenly put down all that you’ve been doing? How do you put your relationships with your co-workers and parishioners on hold? If, upon returning from vacation, you have ever encountered the mountain of emails and other ‘to-dos’ that have accumulated in your absence and wondered whether vacation was actually worth it, how do you avoid coming back to that after a much longer time? I think there’s a reason why the second and third verses of Genesis 2 are almost identical. If rest and sabbath are important to God, they should be important to us as well.   Two of the elements my spiritual director included in our retreat were the song “Slow Me Down,” by Emmy Rossum and the poem “Sweet Darkness,” by David Whyte. I encourage you to look them both up if they are not already familiar to you. Rossum’s song is an invitation to step out of the (sometimes manic) momentum of our lives and into mindfulness. Whyte’s poem likewise acknowledges our need to step aside and simply abide so that we can remind ourselves (or perhaps discover) who we really are and whose we really are. When I read this poem, I feel as if the darkness/night is God just holding and hugging me, like a mother cradling a child. This then leads me to think of one of my favorite prayers which is part of Night Prayer in the New Zealand Prayer Book. I think, with substituting the word “sabbatical” for “night,” it is perhaps my guide for this upcoming sabbath time:   Lord, It is night (sabbatical).   The night (sabbatical) is for stillness.            Let us be still in the presence of God.   It is night (sabbatical) after a long day.            What has been done has been done;            what has not been done has not been done;            let it be.   The night (sabbatical) is dark.            Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives            rest in you.   The night (sabbatical) is quiet.             Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,            all dear to us,            and all who have no peace.   The night (sabbatical) heralds the dawn.            Let us look expectantly to a new day,            new joys,            new possibilities.   In your name we pray. Amen.

The Speed of Love is Three Miles an Hour

February 21, 2024 • The Reverend Elizabeth Walker

Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama, author of Three Mile an Hour God, observed that the average speed that people walk is three miles per hour. Jesus traveled on foot at three miles an hour. Jesus ministered, taught, and loved at three miles an hour. God travels at three at miles an hour. The speed of love is tender, gentle, and slow. The speed of love is three miles an hour.     Our lives often move much faster than this. The world tells me I should be in a hurry. My email inbox pushes messages titled “Going, Going, Gone.” Parenting circles have me worrying that I am already late in signing my kids up for summer camps that begin six months from now. My to-do list grows, it seems, by the minute. Slowing the sprint of the world can seem impossible, but it is necessary for spiritual wellness and wholeness.      In this Lenten season, we are offered an invitation to shift the way we organize our time and to adjust our speed in the world. This is a season to return to practices of prayer. It is a season to listen to our bodies as we sleep, as we eat, as we move. It is a season to ask ourselves, “what am I adding that allows me to love more?” or “what am I taking away that allows me to love more?”   This season of Lent pushes back on the false notion of temporal scarcity, reminding us that our life on earth is bounded by birth and death and also wrapped in the abundance of an eternal God who is slow and loving. Beginning tonight at 6 pm, all are invited for The Well, a service on Wednesday evenings during Lent that includes music, prayers for healing, and time for contemplation and reflection. The Well is a break from the journey of hurry, an opportunity to lower down and settle in. This is the slow and steady work of love that waits for us if we will slow down enough to see it. 

A Place to Call Home

February 7, 2024

“And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  -       Luke 9:58, NRSV   Early last Thursday morning, I looked out my kitchen window. At first, I thought I saw a large cat disappearing into the rosemary at the edge of my deck. Then, I realized it wasn’t a cat at all. It was a gray fox! I had never seen a fox in my backyard before – lots of deer, hawks, owls, rabbits, possums, raccoons, a coyote, king and rat snakes, voles, and other creatures – but no fox. He or she was gorgeous with tawny, ginger-brown-and-white fur on delicate legs leading up to the chest. The thick, richly-gray coat on its face and back culminated in a splash of black at the end of the tail. What a magnificent, graceful creature! I was enthralled.   This fox proceeded to investigate the perimeter of my deck, and I was able to take a few pictures to try to capture the moment. Dark eyes, and a dark nose at the end of the long, slender muzzle peered back at me.    I feel some kinship to Peter on the mountain at the Transfiguration. He wants to build booths to memorialize the moment. I want to do the same whenever I have these wildlife moments. They are always a time of such privilege, awe, and joy for me. I want to save them and savor them. I want them to last.    In the next couple of years, development is scheduled to take away the little woods behind my house. There will probably be more fences that will close off the wildlife highway that runs through the middle of the subdivisions, as it does in many places in Charlotte. That loss of habitat grieves me deeply. The large old trees that shelter the hawks, owls, smaller birds, insects, and small animals will be gone. The foxes will not have holes; the birds will not have nests.   This past Sunday, Director of Outreach & Mission Laura Konitzer and I had a conversation with Liz Clasen-Kelly, CEO of Roof Above, a long-time partner of Christ Church and one of the leading advocates in the areas of homelessness and housing affordability. Probably because of this recent transcendent moment with the fox, the line from either Matthew’s (8:20) or Luke’s (9:58) Gospel came to mind. We were talking about the very human predicament of experiencing homelessness, and I noted the deep kinship that Jesus must feel to those who do not have a stable dwelling place.    If we are to walk the way of Jesus, then we have much work to do to ensure that this is a city (county, state, country) where everyone has a place to call home. And when I say everyone, I include not only all of us humans created in the image of God, but also all the creations of God’s imagination, not the least of which is a beautiful, inquisitive fox and the woods in which it dwells.    O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you an the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, p. 259)

Behold!

January 31, 2024

For six years we have been praying for Peter Schreiner in church on Sundays.      Peter is not a member of Christ Church, nor does he have family in Charlotte.* Until recently, I have never known why he needed our prayers. I finally Googled his name and learned that Peter, at 27, was in a car accident in 2017. He fractured his T5 vertebra and had no movement or sensation below his chest. Peter, a former scuba instructor, could not sit up, talk, eat by mouth, or take a drink of water.      I reached out to Peter’s mother recently and asked how Peter is doing. Peter is living independently in California, drives a car, and continues physical therapy and participation in clinical trials with leading spinal injury scientists. He is still challenged by paralysis of 75% of his body but has some live nerve connections through his injury site and is slowly getting some voluntary movement in some leg muscles.    We will continue to pray for Peter weekly, but no longer on Sundays. We will pray for him every Wednesday at our noon Eucharist as we pray for several others each week at that service.** (See below for an explanation of our two prayer lists.)    I don’t know how or why prayer works (I must have missed that class in seminary). Sometimes intercessory prayers in church can feel more like announcements than petitions. If our prayer list is announcing anything, it is announcing the needs we all have and reminding us that we are responsible to help carry one another’s burdens.     Our prayers are not meant to inform God of a matter or to manipulate God to do our bidding.  Our prayers are not something we do to God or for God, but they are what God is doing for us, and in us, and through us. We need to say our prayers far more than God needs to hear them.    Prayers are an act of caring for one another, of joining God’s work of healing, reconciliation, protecting, blessing. I believe our prayers for others find their intended receivers and that because of prayer things happen that would not happen without prayer – for both the one who is prayed for and the one who prays. Theologian Karl Barth said “to clasp the hands in prayer is an uprising against the disorder of the world.”    I have never met Peter Schreiner, but because I have prayed for him regularly for six years, I feel a connection to him. And now, knowing some of his story, I am reminded of a word we hear these days only in the Bible, a word exclaimed when God’s genius and great love is revealed: Behold!       – Lisa   * We came to know about Peter through Christ Church parishioner, Martha Alexander. Martha knows Peter’s mother, Mary Kate Wold, CEO of the Church Pension Group or CPG, which is near and dear to my almost 65-year-old self these days. Martha served on the CPG Board of Trustees, and when Martha attended board meetings in New York City, she liked to take a current Christ Church bulletin to show Peter’s mother that we were praying for her son.       ** Our Sunday prayer list is the first line of defense for our parish. This is the place for pressing and acute needs of parishioners and those in their immediate circles. This is the list we are all encouraged to use in our daily prayers at home. The Sunday prayer list is generally a temporary home for our prayer requests. The Wednesday noon Eucharist is a place to be intentionally prayed for by the community and a minister with the laying on of hands and anointing with oil (James 5:14–15). The Wednesday prayer list is a place for parishioners with chronic or long-term needs to be held in prayer by the people and clergy of Christ Church.  – The Rev. Connor Gwin, Associate Rector for Spiritual Well-being and Care.

The Courage to Be You

January 24, 2024 • The Reverend Chip Edens

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.” ― e. e. cummings     Did you know there is only one “you” in the world? You are God’s unique masterpiece.   In a world that screams for conformity and demands that we meet other people's expectations, it can be hard to be you. I think of the story told by psychologist and spiritual writer Anthony de Mello:   A woman suddenly stops a man walking down the street and says, “Henry, I am so happy to see you after all these years! My, how you have changed. I remember you as being tall, and you seem so much shorter now. You used to have a pale complexion, and it is really so ruddy now. Good grief, how you have changed in five years!” Finally, the man gets a chance to interject, “But my name isn’t Henry!” To which the persistent woman calmly responds, “Oh, so you changed your name too!”   Some people will never really see us. It hurts. It can feel lonely. But when we claim our belovedness, not only do we feel the joy of living authentically, we find a strength that changes us and the world around us.   I love how Brennan Manning puts it: “What makes the Kingdom come is heartfelt compassion: a way of tenderness that knows no frontiers, no labels, no compartmentalizing, and no sectarian divisions. Jesus, the human Face of God, invites us to deep reflection on the nature of true discipleship and the radical lifestyle of Abba’s child.”   Our great truth is that we are all masterpieces. We don’t need others to tell us that. The one who truly matters has already spoken. As the Psalmist says, “You are wonderfully made.”   Today may your day be full of self-compassion and compassion for those walking their own journey to discover their belovedness. And may you find strength in your uniqueness. All the other jobs are filled. The world needs you to be fully you.   With love and prayers, Chip

Quiet Life

January 17, 2024 • The Reverend Connor Gwin

What is your ambition? What do you aspire to do? Who do you aspire to be?  America is a nation built on aspiration; it is the heart of the American dream. It seems that we are constantly striving to “be all you can be” as the old Army slogan put it. Ambition is a primary virtue in the American mind. Aspire is a fascinating word. It originally meant “to breathe upon.” Its root in Latin is shared with respire (to breathe) and perspire (to sweat). Somewhere in the Middle Ages it came to mean “to strive for, seek eagerly to attain, long to reach.” The Greek word that is most translated as aspire or ambition shows up three times in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul uses the word to speak of himself (“I make it my ambition to proclaim the Gospel” – Romans 15:20) and the life of a Christian (“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim (our ambition) to please Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 5:9).  We should pay attention to that word. What we aspire to, what our ambition is pointed toward, will dictate our lives. You may remember that cheesy motivational poster from your high school guidance counselor’s office: “Aim for failure and you'll always succeed.” As simple as it sounds, it is vital to remember that we often end up where we aim.  So again I will ask: What do you aspire to do? What is your ambition in 2024?  The third place this word shows up is in 1 Thessalonians: “But we urge you, beloved...to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands...” (4:10b-11) The aspiration of the Christian life, according to the Bible, should be to live a quiet life, mind your own business, and work with your hands.  This runs counter to what our society tells us. This runs counter to what we may hear from many teachers and influencers in our day that are constantly telling us to do more, to earn more money and more acclaim, and to get as much attention as possible for what we are doing. We are concerned with optics, image, and perception over essence. This is not the way of Jesus.  The Christian life is a hidden life. We ourselves are hidden in Christ when we are baptized (Colossians 3:3). Jesus tells us to hide in our closets when we pray (Matthew 6:6) and to keep our good deeds hidden even from ourselves (Matthew 6:3).  Aspire to live a quiet life. Aspire to pray to God our Father who sees your hidden needs and your secret hopes. Make it your ambition to mind today’s business in your own hidden life, trusting that God will care for the business of other people and the business of tomorrow. Above all, Jesus tells us, simply and quietly seek first God’s Kingdom and everything else will take care of itself (Matthew 6:33).  

More Than We Can Handle

January 10, 2024 • The Reverend Allen Pruitt

When I was in college, I worked at the Etowah Skate and Tennis Center in Rome, Georgia. “Skate and tennis?” you might ask. How on earth did those two things go together? How did teenagers on skateboards coexist with adults of all ages playing tennis? It was just as chaotic as it sounds.   A favorite story happened when a 14-year-old skateboarder went to grab an errant tennis ball. He had every intention of throwing it back over the fence, but only after asking the 50-year-old judge’s wife for a cigarette. Contradictions abounded. Conflicts ensued. My goal was simply to keep tensions from boiling over.   This is the time of year when many of us are trying to identify and eliminate conflicts in our lives. I need to get healthy – start an exercise routine. We need to manage our money better – let’s work out a new family budget. We fail at a great many of those attempts, not because they are too difficult: we see people accomplishing them all the time. We ourselves accomplish difficult things all the time. We fail at a great many of those attempts because we prioritize something else, because there is some secret value we hold more dear. And that doesn’t always have to be something evil. I may proclaim a well-worn desire to be physically healthy, but really I value leisure and rest and quiet.   Our values are in conflict. Sometimes those really are conflicts between good and evil, but often they are conflicts between fine and good, between good and better, or between two perfectly reasonable alternatives. You might sit down to read the Bible, only to wake up from an accidental nap 43 minutes later. Thanks Be to God!   This time of year (or perhaps all year long), wisdom might consist of realizing that we will never eliminate those conflicts. It’s not that we are making bad choices or that we aren’t working hard enough – it’s that life is not a problem to be solved. We really do have more than we can handle.   But then, so did Jesus.   I recently read a poetic essay by local Charlotte musician Andy Squyres. He asked us to imagine Jesus carrying his cross to Calvary. Can you imagine Christ on the Via Dolorosa, feeling all the despair and pain of betrayal and then looking up and seeing one of his disciples holding up a Hobby Lobby sign that says “God will never give you more than you can handle?”   God gives us all more than we can handle. If you don’t have a handle on your life, it may not be a matter of failure, it’s likely a matter of being alive. And Thanks Be to God for that! What God gives us is not simple idioms or easy answers, but endless grace. God gives us more grace than we can handle, enough grace for our broken lives and for all the inner turmoil and all the conflicts we can’t resolve with a new routine or a better budget for our money or our time.   You will never eliminate every conflict in your life – no matter how hard you try. You will also never eliminate the grace of God from your life – no matter how many times you try to save yourself, give up on yourself, or serve only yourself.   We may run out of steam on our resolutions. We may run out of energy. We may run out of time. We may run out of life – the cross proves that even God can die. What will never run out is the grace of God. And Thanks Be to God for that!

Thank You and Yes.

January 3, 2024 • The Reverend Joan Kilian

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” – John 10:10b, NRSV   As we end one calendar year and begin another, our greetings are often filled with wishes for good health, peace, joy and, of course, love. They are what we wish for others, but also, what we wish for ourselves. If we are at all reflective, it’s a time for taking stock of the year that has passed and for looking forward with hope.    There is always the question, to borrow from poet Mary Oliver, of what did I do with my ‘one precious and wild life’ over the course of this past year? Where would I like a do-over, with what or with whom do I need to reconcile, what brought disappointment, sadness, or grief? Conversely, where did I find joy, hope, meaning, purpose, and connection? In the year that lies before me, for what or for whom do I hope, how would I like to grow more fully into the person God has created me to be, what new adventures, opportunities, and relationships beckon?   An old Gaelic prayer tradition says “Thank you!” for all that has been, and “Yes!” to all that lies ahead. The gratitude, optimism, trust, and hope expressed in such a simple prayer are profound. In it, I am acknowledging all the blessings in my journey (whether recognized or not), and I am leaving it in God’s hands to guide me into the future. The God who knows what I truly need. The God who knows me like a shepherd knows each one of his sheep.   When Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” he is speaking as the Good Shepherd about the sheep in his care. What does that mean for me or you as one of those sheep? What does it mean to live an abundant life? What does it mean to recognize that we are in fact part of the herd, part of the larger community?   The theme for this winter-into-spring at Christ Church is “A Life Well-Lived: The Abundant Life. Faith. Connection. Well-being.” I believe that our wellness (the abundance that we experience in life) is directly connected with our trust in God and with the gratitude we express for it. Believing is seeing, not the other way around. I also believe that our wellness is inextricably linked with the well-being of all.    So, I want to invite you this winter-into-spring to get curious about the bigger picture in this city, the pasture for all the sheep that live here. What does it take to experience well-being? How might someone else who differs in race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, physical capabilities, political views, etc., answer that question? I also want to invite you to be willing to be uncomfortable. How do you and I roll up our sleeves and help cultivate well-being so that every person in this community experiences dignity and flourishes?   Stay tuned for some upcoming programs. On February 4, at 10 am in All Saints’ Hall, we will host Liz Clasen-Kelly, Chief Executive Officer for https://www.roofabove.org/about-us/. During Lent, there will be two Sunday programs based on a book by Eric Liu (a previous Faith Forum guest) entitled, You’re More Powerful Than You Think You Are. These programs will explore what it means to work together in a polarized world to build an equitable community.   Thanks for all that has been, and yes to all that lies ahead! May we boldly ask God to lead us out of our homes, out of our own neighborhoods, out of the paths we usually travel, and out of our comfort zones to what God has in mind for us – which is far more than we can either ask or imagine!

Reflection

December 28, 2023 • The Reverend Emily Parker

Each year I look forward to the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. For me, it is a relatively slow period that offers space and time to focus more on being and less on doing. It is a time for reflection on the year that has come and gone – the joys, the hardships, the blessed day in and day out – the mosaic of relationships and experiences that make up our lives.  Here in this liminal time, I would like to share a few stanzas from John O’Donohue’s poem titled ‘At the End of the Year’ from his well-known and well-loved book, To Bless the Space Between Us:  “As this year draws to its end,  We give thanks for the gifts it brought  And how they became inlaid within  Where neither time nor tide can touch them.   The days when the veil lifted  And the soul could see delight;  When a quiver caressed the heart In the sheer exuberance of being here.   The darkened days that stopped The confidence of the dawn.   Days when beloved faces shone brighter With light from beyond themselves;  And from the granite of some secret sorrow A stream of buried tears loosened.   We bless this year for all we learned, For all we loved and lost And for the quiet way it brought us Nearer to our invisible destination.”   In the new year and with whatever it may bring, I pray that we are able to keep our whole beings in tune with the love and light of Christ that flows through us and between us.     With peace and gratitude, Emily+ 

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