29 July 2013

A New Journey -- Part 5: Praying Shapes Believing

"Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now."
-- Lyrics by Bob Dylan, 1964, "My Back Pages" (Album:  "Another Side of Bob Dylan)
-- The Byrds, 1967 (Album:  "Younger Than Yesterday")

The title of this posting is not totally accurate to the text that will follow.  There is some of this, and the title, itself, is from one of my favorite books, Praying Shapes Believing: A Theological Commentary on the Book of Common Prayer, (1985) by the Rev. Dr. Leonel L. Mitchell.  There is some history here, in terms of my own journey.

My mentor and spiritual adviser in seminary was the Rev. Dr. Louis Weil.  Fr. Weil was professor of Liturgics and Sacramental Theology.  Louis Weil, Charles Price, Leonel Mitchell and Marion Hatchett were the most influential scholars in sacramental theology and worship in the Episcopal Church during the 20th Century.  There were others, but anyone from an accredited theological institution in the Episcopal, Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches knew of these four -- and their works were required reading at all of our seminaries.  If they weren't, then I would say it's like calling a blood pressure of 140/90 "normal."  It isn't.
Dr. Louis Weil, 1975

My passion for good liturgy, my deep love for sacramental theology and its impact on daily spiritual life, and my own life of prayer came in great measure from my time with Louis Weil.  It was he who impacted Nashotah students from around 1973 until 1988.  Louis Weil spent his years from 1989 until retirement, a few years ago, at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, CA -- one of our seminaries.  CDSP is part of the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley:  a  consortium of nine independent theological schools clustered around a major library and academic research center.  It was founded in 1962.  

When I became Dean of St. James Cathedral, South Bend, IN on 1 January 1993, I was wonderfully surprised to find that the Rev. Dr. Leonel Mitchell, who was then the Professor of Liturgics and Sacramental Theology at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Chicago, was an Honorary Canon of the Cathedral and would be retiring within a couple of years and moving back to South Bend.
Dr. Lee Mitchell, 2012

After his retirement, Lee Mitchell did return to a home they already owned in South Bend (he had been on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame for a number of years).  He became an adjunct on my staff, and we became very close friends.  His counsel, advice and creative energy allowed us to do some wonderful liturgical events at the Cathedral.  When I left the cathedral 11 years later, I had become much wiser in crafting liturgy.   It was a very sad moment for me to learn of Lee's death in 2012 during the time I was immobilized after replacement of my right shoulder joint at Mayo.  

The impact of these two priest scholars, and the others I mentioned, upon the modern Church came out of the discovery of a huge number of early Church documents and materials shortly after World War II.  These were the folks who were the designers of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and our formal move from a medieval piety in the Church to a re-discovery of the joy and life-giving worship of those early centuries after Jesus.

Yesterday, the Gospel narrative included Jesus responding to the Disciples' request, "Teach us to Pray."  Jesus' response was the basis of what we now call "The Lord's Prayer."  It is no doubt the best known and recited prayers in Christendom -- and beyond.   At every liturgy in the Episcopal Church, this prayer is said by the congregation after the Eucharistic Prayer.  It is also said in all of the Daily Offices of the Church.  I have long been concerned as to whether we know what we are really doing when we say this prayer.

The Lord's Prayer, itself, is a model.  Break it down into its components, on one immediately sees a pattern that is universal in its implications for a conversation with God.   This came home to me yesterday, when the Rector of St. Boniface asked a question in his sermon, "Do our prayers shape us; or, do we use prayer to try to shape the world in our image?"

For the past three evenings at home, we have been watching a compilation series from the BBC (on DVD) entitled, "The Barchester Chronicles"  based on the novels of Anthony Trollope.  Trollope wrote in the 19th Century and parodied life in the Church of England during the Victorian Era.

I mention the Trollope stories, because it reminds me so very much of the machinations of both religious and secular organizations to influence culture and manipulate circumstances for their own best interests.  It reminded me that, during our Civil War, people on both sides prayed fervently that God would prevail on their particular side.  Same prayers -- opposing outcomes.  Who is right?

Ultimately, we need to realize that our attempts to change others by our own actions and by believing we have some kind of Divine mandate due to our "prayers" is probably the greatest of all sins....that of hubris...spiritual pride.

In Louis Weil's teaching and Leonel Mitchell's book, it was stressed continuously that the role of community worship is not to manipulate or impose our will upon those gathered, but to create a sustained community that can experience God's love and allow that to work deep within each person...for the sake of wholeness.

In our current milieu, there are politicians, journalists and religious leaders attempting to re-craft culture into a "God-fearing Nation" under a divine law that is mostly a projection of ego and looks very little like anything truly spiritual.  Besides, "God-fearing" is a medieval projection to act as an authoritarian control.  It leaves out "God is Love; and, Perfect Love Casts Out Fear," as well as Jesus' own prayer that "as I have loved you, love one another."  

In my own particular momentary circumstances, which is all for which I have been given ultimate responsibility, being fed up with diabetes and what orbits that condition is not enough in itself.  Trying to shape what my world should look like on a daily basis did not do any good.  When I finally, four weeks ago, simply entered into that silent space and asked what I needed to do to be all that I can be, it came to me that the journey would take a particular course.  I would have what I needed for the journey.  I simply had to take the first step.  All that I have related, the the previous postings, up to now began showing itself.  But, I had my part to do.

Asking and expecting God to cure my diabetes wasn't the route.  Offering the condition and asking what I need to accomplish to bring my health back into balance was the route.  That prayer seems to be shaping my life...on several levels...not just the physical.

Regardless of your tradition or background, how do you pray?  Is it like wielding a hammer; or is it with a desire to be reshaped?

Today's statistics are very interesting to me:

  • Weight:  233.6 -- exactly seven pounds lighter than I was when I began Wednesday morning last week.  Pulling glycogen out of those liver and muscle cells.
  • Fasting Blood Glucose:  87 -- a new record!  I have not registered a fasting glucose level this low since before I was diagnosed with diabetes.  Yesterday, it was 96.  Normal is 85-100
  • Blood Pressure:  130/73 -- still being a booger.  Optimal for me will be 120/70.  This may have something to do with the medication that controls my coronary ectasia.  We'll see.
Food intake is still following the detox phase of purging glycogen stores and resetting my body's metabolic routine.  Just keep watching.

Love and Blessings,


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