Saturday, August 27, 2011


I will go to the altar of God.
To the God of my joy and gladness.
Tomorrow morning at St. John's we are doing an "instructed Eucharist" at the later service. We did this last fall at the early service and it was very well received. Cradle Episcopalians along with newcomers to our tradition told me how much they enjoyed learning more about our Eucharistic liturgy. I talked about a lot of things, everything from the theology behind what we do, to why we have certain rubrics, to why people bow and when most do it. And—surprise, surprise—people enjoyed spending some time talking about what we do each week.

And so, of course I'm looking forward to something people enjoy... but it's more than that. The idea of taking our time going through Holy Eucharist, with me being able to share the moments and import of each section of the liturgy... well I don't know many things as a priest which would make me happier.

Back when I was discerning with the Diocese of Northwest Texas whether or not I was called to presbyteral ministry, one of the key sign-posts was my love for Holy Eucharist—and my desire to be close to it. I still remember that first Sunday as a Eucharistic Minister, back at the Church of the Heavenly Rest in Abilene, TX. I remember standing there, just a few feet from the altar, I almost fell over from the power of being so close to this holy meal.
Give judgment for me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; deliver me from the deceitful and the wicked.
For you are the God of my strength; why have you put me from you? And why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?
Some Sundays, when I arrive at the church, I'm worn out. Maybe it's been a long week, or a weekend that wound up being more work than rest, but I pull myself out of bed at 7am and by the time I get to the parish I don't feel much more alive than I did when the alarm went off.

And sometimes that weariness runs deeper. As though over the past few days or weeks God has gently put me from him, teaching me perhaps love through absence. Or strength through weakness. Or life through death.

But by the time I'm in the sacristy, as I slowly put on each layer of clothing, I feel more strength, more comfort. As I say the pre-service prayers with the other ministers, I feel grace wash over me. Just the fact that I'm allowed to ask God to defend me, to stand up for me... well, for someone who is better at apologizing than standing up for myself, it's rather challenging.

And when I'm tired, when God feels far, I say those pre-service prayers, getting ready to go to the altar of God with my fellow Christians and the liturgy begins to ring true. "Why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?" I think to myself.

I just don't know.
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling;
That I may go to the altar of God, to the God of my joy and gladness; and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God.
But as we approach the celebration of Holy Eucharist, we approach the making present of the God who does indeed stand up for us. We approach the making present of a God who did not consider it sufficient to watch us struggle down below. We approach a God who descends with fury and abandoned love, to pitch a tent among us.

And if I can get there, if I can get to that holy hill and to that dwelling, I will give thanks. I promise I will.

Just to reach out and touch, to smell, to taste... it all will remind me that the dwelling of God is never as far away as it seems.
Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? And why are you so disquieted within me?
Put your trust in God; for I will yet give thanks to him, who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
So tomorrow, I'll get to talk with my brothers and sisters about why I love Holy Eucharist. I'll be able to share the profound joy I find in each and every moment, as we rehearse lines passed down to us through centuries. Like a mother's lullaby, teaching ancient truth to a weary child. Like basic arithmetic, discovered ages ago and then taught and rediscovered a new with each generation. Over and over God's people learn once again that God is very near. Very close.

There's no need to be weary.

There's no need to feel disquieted within.

Our God is not far off.

Our God is here.
Lift up your hearts.
We life them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to Lord our God.
It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blue like Theology

The other night I was at a winery with Bethany's aunt and uncle. There was a jazz band playing and I felt the warm night air lazily coast over my skin. I took a sip of wine and listened to the music dance.

One of the things I love about jazz is the way the musicians interact with one another. They feel where the music is going and work their way along, each listening to the others as the music goes from dissonance to dissonance, sometimes reaching resolution, but not always.

We were down in Ohio seeing Bethany's grandmother, who is not doing well. Earlier that morning, I heard that my grandmother's health issues are also continuing. I knew our monthly vestry meeting was only a few days away, and while we are blessed in my parish by a wonderfully healthy and good vestry, any priest will likely tell you that vestry meetings are significant work.

All of these thought swirled through my head as the music played on. The emotions and stresses mixing as the guitar danced over the top of the base line. And yet, anytime my thoughts began to descend deeply into the ponderings of these past days, the music kept grabbing me, pulling me in, inventing me to slip between the chords and find something, something tenuous and hard to grasp.

I don't know what was there, beckoning me. But as I thought about the pain of watching those I love inexorably age, day by day... as my mind turned over the work ahead in my life as a priest... in the midst of all of this, the music would not be ignored.

There was a book that was quite popular in evangelical circles several years ago called Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. It came out in 2003, I heard the buzz, read some of the first few pages, and bought it. I only actually read the book through for the first time a couple of months ago.

I've never been terribly good at being hip.

But there's this great line at the very beginning,
I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing a saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve. But that was before any of this happened.
I promise you, I did read the whole book, but I don't think anything else in that book came close to the poignant truth in those few paragraphs. Don't get me wrong, I still think it's a good book. It's just that those paragraphs have haunted my theological memory for the past several years since I first bought the book after having read them.

We spend so much of our lives aching for resolution. We want things to be whole and good and permanent. We don't want to lose people, for them so slip off the map of our lives. We want consistency to our daily life, not the constant up and down and change that is so often its actual shape. We want things to do more than just be, we want them to remain.

I wonder what it means to say that God doesn't resolve. I wonder if the beatific vision, if the theosis we are all undergoing, if it winds up leaving us in some place where we don't reach stasis, but instead, where we grow in love enough to finally embrace change and growth, to finally be content with no resolution just a continuing journey.

These are the sorts of thoughts that are easy to have when you're drinking good wine and listening to good jazz. They're much harder in the bright light of day when life surrounds you.

So I think I'll turn some jazz on. I want to hear what I heard that night, in between the notes and the chords, somewhere next to the dissonance of a diminished ninth, reaching out and inviting me. Maybe when the Holy Spirit isn't at church, she hangs out in jazz music, inviting people to love and live differently. If the Spirit is hanging out there, what words of wisdom might be spoken? What words of grace might I hear?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Deep Desire

"It sounds to me, Jared, that you have such a deep desire for union with God."

I'd never quite had that said to me, I think, at any other time in my life. So when my new spiritual director said it at our first meeting, it struck me as strange. I've been pondering ever since yesterday why that is.

Why would it be strange to desire union with the divine? I know theologically—and have known for years now—that this is one of the descriptions of the telos or goal of life, reunion with the divine. In some traditions it's called the Beatific Vision. In other traditions, it is a part of the doctrine of Theosis. In patristic and mystical theology, union with God is the third of the three states of being. The first state is the purgative way, then the illuminative way, then the unitive way. Each leads into the other as we are drawn further into the divine life.

And while the fancy theology surrounding all that might not always be on the tip of every Christian's tongue, wouldn't it be rather normal to say that every Christian has a desire for union with God?

Why was I surprised by my director's comment? I'm a priest, of course I have a deep desire for union with God. Really, doesn't every Christian, regardless of order?

But after talking with her about my journey, after sharing my experiences with God and my hopes for my own spiritual life as a Christian and as a priest, when at the end of all of that she said this thing to me, this articulation of what she perceived as my deep desire. Well, it surprised me. It seemed... like such a.... kind thing to say.

So often all we do is focus on our failings, on the things that we have created, the barriers we build between God and each other. We rehearse and remember each tripping step in our journey and it take someone else to point out that even with all the trips and falls, we still seem be slogging up the mountain with great determination.

I do. I do have a profoundly deep desire for union with God.

My soul wants to be home.

And it makes me wonder, is the telos of parish ministry union with God? Is the goal of worship, faith formation, preaching, administration, pastoral care—all the bits and pieces that make up priestly ministry—is the goal of each of those actions union with God, helping others along the way to union with God?

At times it may be purgative, as we seek to open ourselves to the painful cleaning away of the sickness within. At times it may be illuminative, as we seek to come to greater realization of the voice of God in our lives. But in the end, does it all have a unitive end?

I think it probably should.

Because I doubt I'm the only one whose soul wants to be home.

And I doubt I'm the only one who can sometimes use the excess of activity (the excess of the activities described above) as a flurry of motion to occupy my mind... so that I don't think of the gaping God-shaped void within me that still is longing to be filled.

Almost three decades in Christian community, my whole life, and yet the hole is still there.

And sometimes it hurts something awful. 

"It sounds to me, Jared, that you have such a deep desire for union with God. Let's talk about that," my director said to me.

Yes. Let's do that.