Habits of Grace

Habits of Grace, April 28, 2020: An invitation for you, from Presiding Bishop Curry
[April 28, 2020] As we learn how to adjust our lives given the reality of the coronavirus and the request to do our part to slow its spread by practicing social distancing, I invite you to join me each week to take a moment to cultivate a ‘habit of grace.’ A new meditation will be posted on Mondaysthrough May. These meditations can be watched at any time by clicking here.
April 28, 2020Meeting Jesus
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There’s an interesting pattern in some of the stories of the resurrection. In Luke 24, for example, some of the followers of Jesus are traveling from Jerusalem itself to the small village of Emmaus a few miles down the road. A stranger comes up to them, walks with them and carries on a conversation with them and all along, the stranger was Jesus raised from the dead. They didn’t recognize him. They didn’t see that it was Jesus until, as the Bible says, their eyes were open as if they turned and actually saw him in the breaking of the bread and saw him alive.

A similar thing happened to Mary Magdalene in the 20th chapter of John’s Gospel, where she is frantically running around looking for his body, and she comes up to someone she mistakes for the gardener in the cemetery. It’s actually Jesus raised from the dead. But again, she doesn’t recognize him until he speaks, “Mary,” the way he always said it and he says though she stopped, and you know how we say did a double take, turned and saw that it was Jesus and cried out, “Rabboni!” That pattern may well be reminding us who hear those stories generations after it all happened that the risen Christ, that the Lord Jesus, that our God, is actually walking with us even when we cannot see, feel or sense his presence. Sometimes we just have to stop, be still, and turn and behold.

Psalm 46 says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. . . Though the mountains be toppled into the midst of the sea, God is our stronghold.”

Be still and know that I am God.

In a prayer in our prayer book, says much the same thing:

Oh God of peace who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength. By the might of thy spirit, lift us we pray thee to thy presence where we may be still and know that thou art God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Jesus said at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, at the end of the messages about the resurrection, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”

God love you, God bless you and may God hold us all in those almighty hand of love.

Habits of Grace

Habits of Grace, April 20, 2020: An invitation for you, from Presiding Bishop Curry

[April 20, 2020] As we learn how to adjust our lives given the reality of the coronavirus and the request to do our part to slow its spread by practicing social distancing, I invite you to join me each week to take a moment to cultivate a ‘habit of grace.’ A new meditation will be posted on Mondaysthrough May. These meditations can be watched at any time by clicking here.

 April 20, 2020:  God Hears Our Prayers

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The late professor Walter Wink, in one of his books, says that “History belongs to the intercessors who believe and pray a new future into being.” None of us know the mystery of prayer and how it works. I don’t know the intricacies of prayer’s mysteries. What I do know and believe, is that prayer makes a difference. It’s not a magic foot. It’s not a way to… It’s not a form of wish fulfillment, but it is a way of bringing our deepest needs and concerns and our very life into our consciousness and into the very presence of God.

There’s an interesting story in the eighth chapter of the Book of Revelation, just a few of the verses, where you have this swirling of events happening in history and a world in chaos and the text says, “There was silence in heaven for half an hour.” Walter Wink and others looking at that say that in its highly symbolic language, the Book of Revelation may be trying to tell us that even in the midst of all the chaos of the world, the prayers of God’s people actually make a difference. Because if you look at that small section of the first few chapters of chapter eight in Revelation, during that silence of heaven, it says that the prayers of the saints are mingled with the incense before the throne of God and that those prayers are taken right to God. God hears our prayers. God responds in God’s way and we respond.

Prayer matters. It’s not magic, but it makes a difference. There’s a prayer in the prayer book that I thought you might like. It’s a prayer for in times of sickness, for use by the sick person, but maybe it’s a prayer that can apply to us all.

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever shall be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. If I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words and give me the spirit of Jesus.

What a friend we have in Jesus. All our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer. God love you. God bless you and may God hold you and this whole world, the entire human family and the whole of creation in those almighty hands of love.

Monday Meditation from the Presiding Bishop

Habits of Grace, April 6, 2020: An invitation for you, from Presiding Bishop Curry

[April 6, 2020] As we learn how to adjust our lives given the reality of the coronavirus and the request to do our part to slow its spread by practicing social distancing, I invite you to join me each week to take a moment to cultivate a ‘habit of grace.’ A new meditation will be posted on Mondays through May.

April 6, 2020:  His Eye is on the Sparrow

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There is a prayer that begins the Good Friday liturgy that may be perfect for this time. It’s found on page 276 in the prayer book and it prays, “Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this, your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and given into the hands of sinners and to suffer death upon the cross. Who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.” That may well be a prayer for us this Holy Week.

“Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this, your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed.” Over the years that I’ve prayed that prayer, almost some 40 years now as a priest, I’ve often asked myself the question, who’s the family? Who’s the family we are asking God to behold? Is it the family of faith? Those who have been baptized and accepted and follow Jesus as savior and Lord? I think that’s true. But is it bigger than that? And during this Holy Week, in the midst of COVID-19, I believe we must pray it, praying it bigger than praying for ourselves. I have a feeling this prayer is for the entire human family of God.

John 3:16, speaking of Jesus giving his life as an act of love on the cross, says, “God so loved the world.” Not just the church, not just his faithful followers, not just any particular nation or any particular race or any particular ideology or religion. No, no, no. “God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” The family in the prayer, let it be the human family of God. Let it be all of us. Asking God to behold us now. To behold us in these moments. To behold those who are sick, who suffer, who die. To behold their families and loved ones. Behold all who care for them. Behold us all.

When I hear that word behold, praying God behold this your family, particularly during this Holy Week, which may be one of the toughest times during this pandemic, I remember that old song that says this, “Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart be lonely and long for heaven and home when Jesus is my portion, my constant friend is he? His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me.” And then the next verse says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. His tender word I hear. And resting on his goodness, I lose my doubts and fears. Though by the path he leadeth, but one step I may see, his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me. Oh, I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”

God love you, God bless you, and may God hold us all, the entire human family of God, in those almighty hands of love.

Habits of Grace – Monday Meditation from the Presiding Bishop

[March 30, 2020] As we learn how to adjust our lives given the reality of the coronavirus and the request to do our part to slow its spread by practicing physical distancing, I invite you to join me each week to take a moment to cultivate a ‘habit of grace.’ A new video meditation will be posted on Mondays through May.

March 30, 2020:  Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself

Last week I was reading in Matthew 22 and I noticed something that I hadn’t seen before. Matthew 22 is Holy Week, it’s smack dab in the middle of Holy Week. The conflict in Jerusalem is escalating. Jesus knows this and it’s at that point that he’s tested by, clearly someone who probably was trying to entrap him. He knows that. It was the guy who came up and said, “What is the greatest law in the entire legal edifice of Moses?” And Jesus responds, drawing on what Moses taught in the Hebrew scriptures, in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, “You shall love the Lord your God with all yourself, all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” And then he says, “On these two, hang all the law and the prophets.”

It hadn’t occurred to me that when Jesus said that, he was actually talking about how you live in an uncertain period of time. About how you live in any period of time. But how you navigate in particular in uncertain territory and tough territory. He was in uncertain territory in Holy Week, and it was tough territory. It wasn’t a pandemic. It was a passion. And he said, “Love God with everything you got. Love your neighbor in the same way. Love yourself.”

And so I decided last week that I was going to make sure every day I did three things very simply, or at least thought about them. How can I love God today? Very simply, nothing complex. How can I love my neighbor, others? How can I love myself? And it occurred to me that just sometimes asking the question, you may or may not have an answer, but you may figure out an answer for that day. That sometimes just asking the question can help in times of uncertainty, in days of pandemic, and in times when the days are just going to keep going on and on and on.

How can I love God today? How can I love my neighbor today? How can I love Michael today? One thing I’ve started doing in my prayer list, is keeping a list of groups of people to pray for. And I’ve been praying for first responders, folk who work in hospitals, the folk who keep the grocery stores open, the pharmacies, police officers, firefighters, ambulance folk. People we can’t even see. People who keep the Internet going. I mean all sorts of folk. And so, I would offer this prayer for all of them.

All of the people we don’t see, but who help to keep life livable, even in time of pandemic.

Keep watch dear Lord with those who work, or watch, or weep. And give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ. Give rest to the weary. Bless the dying. Soothe the suffering. Pity the afflicted. Shield the joyous. And all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Love God, love your neighbor, and love yourself, day by day.

God love you, and you keep the faith.

Stay Calm – Stay Connected – Stay Church

A message from Bishop Sutton, March 25, 2020

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.(Psalm 23, KJV)

Above the rood screen in the nave of Washington National Cathedral, there is a huge wooden crucifix with our Lord’s mother Mary and Mary Magdalene standing at his side, gazing at the slumping body of Jesus hanging on the cross. It is a moving scene, one that I would gaze at every time I worshiped in that magnificent space. But what really caught my eye from the vantage point of my chair was what was behind the cross…the lights in the nave cast a huge shadow of that crucifixion scene on the ceiling behind it. I would sometimes find myself looking several minutes at the darkened image on that ceiling, and sometimes I tried to avert my eyes from looking at it. For it was the “shadow” of the cross that haunted me…and probably the world as well. You see, we all live in the shadow of the cross, although it’s not something we pay much attention to in our daily lives.

We are in the season of Lent, the time in the church year that Christians reflect on what it means to live in the shadow of the cross. It began a few weeks ago when a member of the clergy made made a dark ashen sign of the cross on our foreheads saying, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Little did we know then that less than a month after Ash Wednesday those words would become more fearfully real for us than we could realize. Then, as now, most of the world has been thrown into fear: fear of the dust, fear of darkness and death.

Notice the verbs in the 23rd Psalm; they are active verbs, not passive. The Lord makes us rest in green pastures, the Lord leads us beside still waters, the Lord restores us, comforts, prepares and anoints. The Lord does all the heavy lifting in this psalm! And what is our task here, the one active verb for us in the psalm? We “walk” in that valley of the shadow of death: we don’t rest in that valley, we don’t shrink in fear in that valley, we don’t succumb to hysteria and panic in that valley, we don’t cut ourselves completely off from our neighbors, friends and family in that valley. No, we walk. In the face of suffering and pain, the people of God, fueled by the Holy Spirit, get up; We aren’t paralyzed with fear. As for resting, yes, we “rest” in God daily in prayer. But in this world, and more importantly in our communities right now, something more than our individual private prayers is required.

For today, living in a world ravaged by the sickness, death and destruction caused by the COVID-19 coronavirus, we are all walking “in the valley of the shadow of death.” What does that mean? It means recognizing that the life we live here on earth, stranded between the crucifixion and the resurrection, is marked by imperfection. It’s living in the midst of suffering, illness, poverty, violence, injustice and death.

But there’s work to do if you are a person of faith. To be with and follow Jesus today, you’ve got to pick up your mat and walk. Of course, this image is a symbol for being active, to participate in a mission, not a literal statement that you must be physically able to walk. No, walking in the valley of the shadow death means doing whatever we can to grow, nurture and support life in that valley. Even during this time when we should be staying at home as much as possible for the health and safety of everyone, “walking in this valley” still means finding ways to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, reach out to the lonely, protect the children and the elderly, and care for the sick. This is the diaconal ministry to which we are being called to focus our energies on in this troubled time.

Remember what I’m calling the three “stay-c’s” – stay calm, stay connected, stay church – that will get you through these stressful times:

1. Stay calm. Don’t give in to fear, despair and anger. We are all stressed and on edge to some extent, so try to take a deep breath before flying off the handle emotionally at every little thing that doesn’t go well. Give yourself a break – and give others a break, too. Make a special effort these days to be as Jesus was in that boat when his disciples were crippled in fear, when after resting in God he said, “Peace…be still.” Stay calm.

2. Stay connected. If your church livestreams its services, turn on your laptops, tablets or mobile phones and join in. Let us know if your parish needs help getting started. But if your congregation cannot for any reason livestream at this time, then always know that you can join in to your cathedral church’s services every Sunday and during Holy Week – and I’ve encouraged your clergy to consider NOT having to put on every Holy Week liturgy, but instead encourage their church members to join with the whole diocese in the livestreamed services offered from the cathedral. For those of you at home who are just not technologically equipped to log on to any service, you can do two things: 1) rejoice that your church is still providing worship services, and you can pray for them even as they are worshipping online, and 2) You can still pick up the phone and stay connected that way. Call your priest or deacon; pray with them on the phone. Call someone in the church to let them know you were thinking about them. Check in with family members and loved ones near and far. Find new and creative ways to connect, and stay connected.

3. Stay “Church.” We are reminded more than ever in this crisis of something that we always “knew”, but never fully realized until now: that “the church is not the building.” We, the people, are the Church! The present crisis is forcing us to return to our roots as a Church, not defining ourselves as tied to a particular sanctuary, but as a people building a holy sanctuary within. If we stay calm and stay connected with one another, we will find that our church, our congregation, no matter how small or large, will grow stronger in this period, not weaker. Staying church means that we, in the words of the Eucharistic prayer, will find many ways to remain “fervent in prayer and in works of mercy, and renewed by God’s Word and Sacraments.” We will focus this season of not being able to receive the Sacrament, on “being Sacrament” for others in our congregations, in our families, and in our communities.

Several years ago, on a cold rainy afternoon in Rome, Italy, I was with a group of choir members on a pilgrimage of singing through Italy, led by my wife. We were crowded into a cold damp room in the catacombs outside the city walls. We were reading scriptures, praying and singing songs there as we did a service of the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. We were surrounded by the bones of those who had gone before, almost two thousand years ago; their bodies were now dust. But they, those unknown early Christians, were alive! There in the flickering candlelit shadows, we felt their presence and found ourselves rejoicing in the catacombs of the dead even as we recited Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL, FOR THOU O GOD ARE WITH ME.” We remembered that for Christians, death’s shadow casts no fear.

To live in the cross’ shadow is not the same thing as “living in darkness,” which is living into our own shadows. For the cross is ultimately a symbol of victory, not defeat for us. At the cross is all the pain, all the suffering, all the senseless death and destruction, all the injustices of life…and God takes it all on upon Himself.

“In the shadow of death may we not look back to the past, but seek in utter darkness the dawn of God.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Finally, did you know that yesterday, March 21, was World Poetry Day? Poets help us to see with an economy of words what we sometimes cannot see or name. This one has been shared recently by many around the world, a poem of hope for what we are going through right now.

A poem by Kitty O’Meara, And the People Stayed Home

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

Amen.

Habits of Grace – Monday Meditation from the Presiding Bishop

[March 23, 2020] As we learn how to adjust our lives given the reality of the coronavirus and the request to do our part to slow its spread by practicing social distancing, I invite you to join me each week to take a moment to cultivate a ‘habit of grace.’ A new video meditation will be posted on Mondays through May.  

Now available: Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry‘s weekly “Habits of Grace” meditations during the #COVID19 outbreak have been built into a new limited-series podcast offering from The Episcopal Church. Simply search “Habits of Grace” in your favorite podcast player, or follow one of the links below to popular apps.

(You can also simply ask your smart device to “Play Habits of Grace Podcast”)

Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/…/habits-of-grace-w…/id1503355070

Google Play: https://play.google.com/music/m/Ivlbvix6wwf6xg37ojoqhy562vq…

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/2pIBebkhNKBVBayYsGVlA5…

Hello. This past week I came across two passages, one from the Bible, one a poem. The one in the Bible, I was just reading through parts of Matthew’s gospel and was reading through the Sermon on the Mount and got to chapter seven where Jesus says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

In this time when we are all called to physically distance from each other, physical, not social, but physical isolation for the good of each other. I’m mindful of the words of Jesus when he said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Maybe that’s a frame for having to live in a time of physical isolation.

The other thing that I came across was a poem. It was in an email from Thistle Farms, a ministry that many of us know, led by Becca Stevens. It was a poem called Pandemic*. It’s by a poet named Lynn Ungar, who’s also an ordained minister, and in the poem she says:

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has become clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

Have a blessed week. God love you and keep the faith.

*Used with permission of the author.