Friday, May 31, 2019


The Ascension isn’t a literal space flight.
It’s Jesus claiming his authority 
to change the world.
It’s like ascending to the throne
but it’s an authority he chooses
to exercise in this world through us. 
That’s why our lessons are about power.

Jesus’ last words to the apostles were:
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you . . . .
It’s Jesus’ last will and testament, his legacy to us.
He entrusts us with his mission.
To carry out that mission, we need his power.
But power makes us distinctly uncomfortable.
No one admits to wanting power.

The word power conjures up images of tyrants, dictators, 
             and robber barons.
Add religion and you get those triple-chinned bishops
            eating turkey drumsticks in Renaissance movies.
Nice people don’t talk about power, especially in church.
So, what has power to do with Christianity?
Christians are supposed to be simpering, pusillanimous, 
dispensers of charity and pious platitudes, 
are we not?

But is that pusillanimous Christianity even honest? 
Sociologist of religion, James Davison Hunter says,
            Human relations are inherently power relations.
            Power saturates all of social reality . . . .
            How people engage the world is at least implicitly
                        a question of how they relate to power.

To truly have nothing to do with power 
            is to disengage from the world.
To pretend we have nothing to do with power is 
            to deal with the world, and with our selves, deceitfully.
So let’s talk about power honestly.

Jesus said, You will receive power.
2ndTimothy says, God did not give us a spirit of fear,          
            but of power . . . .
Ephesians says, Glory to God whose power working in us
            can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
When we are confirmed the Bishop says,
            Strengthen O Lord your servant . . . . 
            empower her for your service.

Jesus gives us power for his mission.
If we don’t claim that power, we remain passive parasites,
            not partners in mission with Christ.

So what is this spiritual power Christ offers?
Is it something we might dare to own?
First, forget what you know about worldly power.
This is another thing altogether.
Worldly power is about domination.
It’s one person diminishing the power of another person
            – making himself more by making someone else less.

Spiritual power isn’t about domination.
Jesus always resisted dominating power.
Spiritual power is relational.
It’s energy flowing between people 
          to make them both stronger.
Spiritual power heals, encourages, inspires.

It’s the ability to influence 
-- not control – influence -- others 
            out of something deep and authentic.

If we are strangers, you cannot influence me.
If you are a fool, you cannot influence me 
            unless I’m a bigger fool than you are.

But suppose we become friends.
Suppose I trust that you mean me well.
Suppose I experience you as sane, wise, honest, 
       and decent.
Then I will trust you 
and you can influence me for good.

That’s the opposite of worldly power.
Look at any interpersonal transaction 
and check the  power dynamics.
Does one person exert power to diminish someone else?
Or does each person share power, 
         empower the other person?
That’s how we distinguish the world’s power 
           from Jesus power.
Remember he exercises his authority through us.
He doesn’t dominate us. He empowers us.

That’s the way he invites us to exercise power 
--  by empowering others. 
But we cannot empower others 
            unless we claim and cultivate 
            our own spiritual power first.
There are three ways to do that.

First, it takes prayer.
After Jesus told the apostles they were 
            to receive power for the mission,
            the Bible says, they constantly devoted themselves 
                    to prayer.
Prayer flips the switch for Christ’s power to flow through us.

Second it takes study.
Knowledge is power the adage goes. 
You have the power to influence me 
            only if two things come together.
One, I can tell you mean me well.
Two, I can tell you know something.
Proverbs 24 verse 5:
            A person of knowledge increases power.

2ndPeter says, His divine power has given us 
            everything we need for life and godliness.
            This power was given to us through knowledge. . . .”
We do not grow strong in faith unless we value it
            seriously enough to study it.

Finally, spiritual power is relational.
Its roots are in Christ-centered relationships.
Spiritual power grows through the intentional discipline
            of paying attention to each other, 
             caring for each other,
            and finding things to appreciate in each other.
We grow in spiritual power when we do three things:
            Pray, study, and befriend each other in Christ.
When we do those three – pray, study, befriend – 
 we cease to be spiritual parasites
        and become partners 
                    -- powerful agents for the kingdom.

Eucharistic Prayer C says,
      “Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this table
               for solace only and not for strength.”

Friends, the Body of Christ needs a backbone.
The Body of Christ needs some fire in its belly.
The Body of Christ needs a steady eye, a firm hand,
            and strong right arm.

We need Christians who pray until they radiate spirit,
            who study their way into holy wisdom,
            who have the caring fortitude to hold fast to a friend
                        in the storms of life.
When we practice that kind of religion,
            we’ll have the faith of the apostles.
Then, our faith will not just be an aid to ordinary life
            lived in an ordinary environment.

It will be the driving force of extraordinary life
      that transforms our environment with justice and mercy.
We will be change agents for the kingdom of God.
When we live out that kind of religion,
            we will be baptized with fire as the Bible promises

            and the world will feel our transforming energy.

Sunday, May 26, 2019


In the 1860s, Horatio Spafford 
                was a successful Chicago lawyer.
He married a young Norwegian woman, Anna Larsen,
            and they were blessed with a son and four daughters.

But then, in Spring, 1871,
Spafford invested heavily in Chicago real estate,
            only to see his wealth literally go up in smoke
            next October in the Great Chicago Fire.
That same year, scarlet fever killed their son.

 Spafford sent his wife and daughters by ship 
              to Europe for a vacation to assuage their grief,
intending to join them 
                 after concluding some business. 
Instead, he received a telegram from his wife, Anna,
            Saved alone.
The ship had sunk and all the children
            were drowned.

Spafford immediately boarded another ship
            hurrying to Anna’s side.
As it sailed through the waters where their girls were lost,
            he put pen to paper and wrote the hymn,

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Jesus said, Peace I leave with you. 
            My peace I give to you.
            I do not give as the world gives.
            Do not let your hearts be troubled.
            Neither let them be afraid.

Each Sunday we say,
            The peace of the Lord be always with you.
But the peace of the Lord isn’t easy to grasp.
It’s the peace that Horatio Spafford knew
when he had lost almost all he loved
            and yet could say, It is well with my soul.
That is indeed the peace of God which surpasseth
            human understanding.

I hope to shed a little light on the peace of Christ.
But first let me say what isn’t.
It isn’t that blissy spacy attitude of  cult members
            disconnected from real life
and the tears in the nature of things as Virgil put it. 

The peace of Christ is a deep current running through 
and beneath the inevitable tumult of worldly affairs. 

To make any sense of it, 
            I need to combine the insights of two 
            great teachers – Roberto Assagioli,
                        a 20thcentury psychoanalyst,
and Lady Julian of Norwich, a 14thCentury mystic.

Like most analysts, Assagioli said
            each of us is made up of different parts.
Subpersonalitieshe called them.
We may have an inner judge, an inner worrier,
            an inner party animal, an inner avenger.
The list goes on. 
We each have our own distinct cast 
            playing their roles in our interior dramas.

But Assagioli said we also have something at the Center.
He called it the Core Selfor the Soul.
 The Soul, he said, is always serene, always balanced,
            always looking on our other parts 
                        with kindness and good humor.
The very nature of the Soul is that peace like a river
            runs through it. 

Assagioli went on to say something truly remarkable.
Just as each of us has a Soul,
            the Cosmos itself has a Soul
looking serenely and compassionately
on everyone and everything,
            and each of our Souls is inextricably linked
                        to that Cosmic Soul.

He might have been reading our Lady Julian. 
On May 8, 1373, she had 16 visons.
In one,  she saw that each human Soul is bound
 to Christ with a bond that cannot be broken.

Any division, she said, cannot be between us and Christ
for our Souls are never apart from Christ.
The breach lies between the other parts of us 
and our own Souls.
But how does that breach occur?
We don’t lose our Souls through sin
            but through distraction.
We lose our Souls as we might lose our car keys.
We identify so much with one of our subpersonalities,
            the judge, the climber, the collector,
            the do-gooder knight, the victim,
            whichever part of ourselves is most worked up,
            that we lose touch with our Center,
            our Soul, the heart of our being.

But we can reconnect to our Souls
            thorugh prayer, meditation,
            liturgy, journaling, or quiet reflection.
When we go to the center, breathe,
            remember our deeper Self,
            we find the peace of Christ waiting there.
The peace of Christ isn’t a sedative.
It isn’t spiritual anesthesia.
It doesn’t make us numb or blissed out.

Our feelings don’t disappear.
We don’t pretend them away.
We still have our feelings
            but our feelings don’t have us.

Instead we step into our Souls
            to look on the rest of ourselves,
            our subpersonalities if you will,
            though the eyes of Jesus
            -- not judging them, blaming them,
            repressing or amputating them,
            but respecting, caring for, 
and appreciating each part of ourselves.

Stage director Rose Riordan says, 
            I never see the characters I direct 
            as good or bad . . . . They’re living
            the only way they know how.
Our Soul sees the rest of our parts that way
and if we let our Soul be the director,
we’ll get a better play.

There is no part of us that hasn’t been
            necessary to our survival in this life,
            no part that isn’t doing the best it can
                        with what it’s got to work with.

But there is no part of us 
that can handle life’s challenges
            unless it’s rooted in the peace of Christ
            that he has already implanted
                        in the center of our being. 

Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you.
I do not give as the world gives.

The world is a variable place.
Some days are diamonds. Some days are stones.
That’s the life we are here to live.
But running through it and beneath it,
            there’s one thing we can always count on,
            one spiritual treasure we take to the bank.

The peace of Christ in our hearts is a given.
It doesn’t depend on anything 
            but Christ being Christ
            and he is always Christ.
That’s why 
         Whatever (our) lot, 
(he has) taught (us) to say,
It is well, it is well with (our) soul(s).