Thursday, May 28, 2020


Dear People of Holy Comforter, 

     Thank you for the opportunity to serve the congregation in some small ways during this time of transition. One way I have tried to serve is by sending you these weekly letters. Originally, I  hoped the letters would establish a wide and consistent pastoral contact to help lower anxiety during the transition. However, the pandemic shifted our focus. In recent weeks, the letters have emphasized theology because the traditional Christian faith has much to offer for hard times – not just to get us through them but to make us better because of them. It is spiritual alchemy turning the lead of social distancing into the gold of compassion. So I’ve been teaching the practice of Christian virtues, how God meets us in times of trouble, and how God just being God gives us hope.

Many of you have responded graciously to these letters and others have sent kind notes of appreciation and good wishes. I was touched by all your messages and am deeply grateful. I will remember you and your words warmly for years to come.

     As I write, your new interim has been chosen but the necessary formalities have to be completed before your wardens can make the announcement. But I can say your new interim is a well-respected, experienced, and capable clergy person who I have no doubt will serve you better than I ever could have. You are in good hands. I hope you will greet your new interim with Christian hospitality and prepare your hearts to follow a new leader. 

There are different approaches to interim ministry. I took an approach that was authentic for me and that seemed best crafted to serve you at that time. In retrospect, I would do some things differently; so, if your new interim has a different approach, I have every reason to believe the new way is better. An interim prepares the congregation for the new rector who will lead you into a new day. I am confident your new interim will do that beautifully and that you will work with your new interim to that end. 

     In her wisdom born of experience, the Church has a protocol that when clergy leave a congregation, we keep our distance until the new rector has had at least a year to get established. So you will not be seeing or hearing from me after this Sunday for some months. A number of you are my friends on social media. While I must temporarily suspend that tie, please know that I am just adhering to Church protocol for your benefit. There is no one at Holy Comforter I would not be delighted to reconnect with when the time is right. 

Before I go, I want to say two more things about the current challenge. The first is that it is hard not being able to gather with each other at the Church building. No way around that. The online gatherings are good, but not the same. Cognitive science was already telling us the downside of doing our social connections cybernetically. So, the Church is doing the best she can with what she’s got to work with. 

     But we have been through something like this before. During the British Protectorate (think Oliver Cromwell), Anglican worship was prohibited for 40 years.  40 years! It was a crime even to possess a Book of Common Prayer. But the people had Prayer Books anyway and they used them to worship at home. They were together with other Church members, not in person, but by saying the same prayers. That’s what “common prayer” means. Many of you have Prayer Books. If you don’t, you can order one.  Or you can find it online. I encourage you to print off the prayers you want to use rather than praying them from the computer screen. Pay particular attention to the Daily Office. Click it on the side bar “Daily Office.” For those using the real Book, it’s pp. 37-135. For a short and simple set of prayers, check the Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, pp.137-140. And you may find other prayers you want to add in to suit your own spirit. See pp. 810 - 841. Of course, you may draw prayers from other resources as well.

     Our forebears survived 40 years without joining each other for fellowship and worship because they still had the Book -- the Book of Common Prayer. You have it too. When the Church reopens, you may come together in a new way after having immersed yourselves in the prayers of Anglican Spirituality. 

     The second thing I want to share before I go is about the general mood of our time. Being separated from our Church community is only part of it. There is the separation from friends and family, the disruption of lifestyles, the economic burden, the anxiety for our own health and the health of those we love. There is no ignoring or pretending away our thoughts and feelings. Now is the time to be compassionate with each other as we are all going through a hard time, and that compassion starts with ourselves. So, be gentle with the parts of yourselves that feel all the things this ordeal makes us feel. 

     But if we practice faith, we don’t let those thoughts and feelings carry us away. We have our feelings, but our feelings don’t have us. Rumi wrote:

“If you are seeking, seek us with joy
For we live in the kingdom of joy.
Do not give your heart to anything else
But to the love of those who are clear joy,
Do not stray into the neighborhood of despair.
For there are hopes: they are real, they exist --
Do not go in the direction of darkness --
I tell you: suns exist.”

We do not deny our grief and anxiety. But we remember that “suns exist.” There is beauty out there, and humor, peace, simplicity, and love. Hold space for grace in your lives. 1st Peter said in last Sunday’s lesson, “Keep alert.” Alert for what? Alert for joy. Alert for delightful things happening right now in our lives. Pay attention to God who is present with us in this. God is present as the incongruous joy in the nighttime of our fears. “For there are hopes: they are real. They exist.”

I’ve spoken before of the psychoanalyst Victor Frankl, how he was imprisoned at Auschwitz and Dachau, how he lost his parents and his pregnant wife in the Holocaust. Dr. Frankl observed that the people most likely to survive the death camps were those who found or made meaning from the experience. That led him to write the classic, Man’s Search For Meaning. After his release, Dr. Frankl gave a series of lectures in 1946. His notes were lost for decades but have recently been published as Say Yes To Life In Spite Of Everything.[i]

     The title comes in a telling roundabout way. One of the first commanders at Buchenwald ordered that a “camp song” be written and sung every day. Understandably, most sang it with anger and resentment. But others wrote in a verse that had to be sung quietly so the guards could not hear. The verse went:
                 “Whatever our future may hold
We want to say ‘yes’ to life
Because one day the time will come –
     Then we will be free!”

This is Jewish strength and wisdom. Greek and Roman Stoics, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, said the same thing, calling it the “discipline of desire” – saying “yes” to life whatever comes our way. Saying “yes” keeps us in the game. St. Paul, no stranger to hardship, said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice!”[ii] Always? Yes, always. Because God is good even when life is hard. God cares and will bring us through. That’s worth rejoicing. Even the secular sage Frank Sinatra taught us that “this fine old world just keeps turning around.” We stay to see what happens next.

     So, brothers and sisters, hang in there. Keep alert for joy. Say “yes” to life. Seek the Lord. Be kind – to others and to yourselves. This too shall pass.

Blessings always,
Bishop Dan