Month: December, 2012

Repent, For The Kingdom Of Heaven Is At Hand: A Meditation for Advent

While sitting handcuffed in a Berlin prison cell, shortly before his execution by the Nazi regime, Father Alfred Delp S.J. wrote an Advent meditation about figures “who personify and live the Advent message and the Advent blessing” in times of distress and suffering. One of these figures is John the Baptist whose message  was a call to repentance in a time of uncertainty and upheaval. For Delp, it signified  a call to an “Advent of the heart” – a time for spiritual renewal amidst the horror and suffering of war.

Repentance is not a comfortable subject at any time. No wonder Herod had John arrested. Yet Matthew’s Gospel makes a very striking point. In Chapter 4 he tells us “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee …  From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus not only continued the theme of his fore-runner, he made repentance the foundation for his gospel.

Many Christians  prefer to regard Advent as a period of anticipation rather than as a time to dwell on past failures. Yet repentance, while it requires us to face the reality of our sins,  is not just about the past. It involves a change of direction for the future. In that sense, repentance is a time of hope. It involves a challenge and an opportunity. In Delp’s words, repentance involves an Advent of the heart.

During Advent Some years ago ,  I went through a period of unemployment with profound uncertainty about the future and about my ability to support my family.  I experienced it as tremendous external spiritual pressure to give in to an image of myself as a piece of “used Kleenex” – of no use to anyone – and to embrace despair. In fact, I did eventually give in, but, over the following few weeks, through the support and prayers of my family and of our home church fellowship, I was gradually hauled back out of the quicksand.

In the process of my recovery, I came to understand that much of my vulnerability had been the result of doubting God’s sustaining love and care for me  – and that this in turn was a consequence of failing to “keep short accounts” with Him. Though I had been brought up to understand the necessity for regular confession and repentance, I realized that I had strayed out of His path and out of hearing His voice. I needed to turn back to the shelter of His protection. In other words, I needed to repent.

My first step was  to turn to  the familiar words of the general confession on page 77 of the Book of Common Prayer.   But as my recovery continued, I felt a need for a more personalized prayer, still a “general” confession, but one that would help me to gain insight and a measure of protection from the recurring patterns of sin and failure in my own life. I needed a prayer that would express my contrition within the context of my faith and with a focus on turning anew to the path of obedience. I called this prayer my “bar of soap” prayer because that is its purpose –  regular cleansing.

Over the succeeding years I have edited and updated  my bar of soap prayer many times as I have learned more about the patterns of my failures. It is my lifeline to My Lord.

Why am I writing about this as part of an Advent blog? I believe that repentance is the key to experiencing the “Advent of the heart” that Alfred Delp wrote about in his prison cell. It is our essential preparation for participating in the joy of Christmas. Repentance can be sought in any number of ways: in formal or informal prayers, in meditation, in the Anglo-Catholic practice of confession in the presence of a priest, or even with the assistance of a trusted friend. The main thing is to do it as your preparation for the coming of our Lord.

For those of you who may be interested in developing their own bar of soap prayer, I attach mine as an example.

A Personal Confession

Almighty God, Author of Truth and Justice, Judge of all creation, I confess before You that I have sinned in thought and word and deed. I have sinned in what I have done and in what I have left undone. You have given me the gift of Yourself: of knowing You, by scripture, by faith, in the fellowship of other believers and, most wonderfully, in the loving companionship of Jesus – yet I have fallen away. I have forgotten You, though You never forget me. I have failed to trust You. I have relied upon my own strength. I have taken the blessings that You shower upon me and pretended myself to be their author. I have been impatient and discontented and self-absorbed. I have been selfish and insensitive in my dealings with others. I have been self-indulgent. I have embraced temptations that press in upon me. I have harboured resentments and engaged in self-justification before You and before those around me. In all of these things, I have usurped Your rightful place on the throne of my heart. Though the external appearance of my sins may not be great, yet I know how deeply they corrupt me. There is no health in me as long as I harbour them. I know that, in my weakness, I cannot even act to lay my sins before You, except through the mediation of Your Son and by the empowerment of Your Holy Spirit.

Forgive me my sins, O God, both those I remember and those which, through my dullness and perversity, I have either forgotten, or never recognized. I ask this in the name of Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, who has broken forever the power of sin and death. I confess Him to be my Saviour and my dearest Lord. Heavenly Father, of Your great Mercy, accept Jesus’ death on the cross as the atonement for all my sins, that they may be utterly washed away in His precious blood. Cover my nakedness with His righteousness. Restore me, in Him, to the shelter of Your love and give me Your grace, that my weaknesses may become Your strength and that I may have the courage to stand firm against all temptation. By the Holy Spirit dwelling within me, set fire to my spirit and grant me Your power of love toward my neighbour that I may abide in your Kingdom, serving You in this world and walking with confidence daily into the doorway of everlasting life. Father, strengthen my hope and give me singleness of heart that I may see Your face and dwell in adoration before You, worshipping and glorifying You forever. I humbly ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thank You Father for the confidence that You have given me that You do love me and that You have forgiven all of my sins, through Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord” 2: A Meditation for Advent

Advent is a season of waiting. We participate in the vigil of the faithful remnant of Israel – people like Simeon and the prophetess Anna – as they awaited the coming Messiah. But Advent is not just about the remembrance of that First Coming. It is also anticipation of Our Lord’s return. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus warns us that “the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect”. Yet, within our anticipation of that Second Coming, Advent waiting has also a third and more personal dimension: none of us know the hour of our own departure.

In the Book of Revelation, John recounts a vision in which Jesus Christ  gives him messages for the seven churches of Asia. The final message, to the church in Laodicea, includes a vivid image of an unexpected knock on the door that will announce the arrival  of the Lord of the Church: “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me. (Revelation 3:20). Several years ago, this image led me to write an Advent meditation which I offer to you for your own Advent reflection and preparation as we await the coming of the King of Kings.

THE HOVEL OF MY HEART

A Meditation

Sketch: "Cabin, Shady Lane"

The hovel of my heart

Inside each of us at the very core of our being is a safe place – a refuge – that protects the essence of who we are – the house of our soul. In your imagination, come visit with me in my house.

My soul’s house is not a fancy place, but I find it comfortable and secure. It has a strong oak door with iron hinges and a big lock. Basically, it is a one room dwelling with low ceilings and very dim lighting which leaves the corners of the room in deep shadow.

I spend most of my time in the middle of the room. There isn’t much furniture – just an old painted wooden chair that is a bit rickety when I sit on it. It is not a very comfortable chair, but it is my own – it is the place where I can sit and feel safe as I survey my life within the dim privacy of my own self. I call that chair the throne of my heart.

I live most of my life outside in the surrounding world, but I always come back here. It is my secret place, where I feel safe. Yet not entirely safe: secret and private though it is, there is always a fear that someone will find me here – someone will come knocking on my door.

If I were not a Christian, a knock on my door could only come from one person – Death. Even though I am a Christian, I know that sooner or later Death will knock on my door – and Death has the key to the lock.

But since I am a Christian, I also know the story of Jesus knocking on my door. If there is a knock, it may be Him! When I am being especially diligent about my faith, I try to anticipate His coming, like the wise maidens waiting for the bridegroom in the parable. Then I will invite Him in to my home and somehow I will be safe.

Suppose for a moment that He has knocked and that I have invited him in. Once He enters, it is funny how everything looks different. The light seems much brighter in the room. I can now see into the corners clearly. They are filled with clutter – garbage really. Looking around, the room itself is a very shabby place, with uneven floors, peeling paint, full of dust and trash. My home is really more of a hovel than a house. It makes me feel uncomfortable with my guest.

Where am I going to seat Him? There is only that one chair – that rickety kitchen chair – my chair – the one I sit in when I want to be alone and undisturbed. Now I have a guest. I know that it is an honour to entertain Him, but do I want Him sitting in my chair?

Now, if I make a great effort I think I can convince myself that His presence in my place is entirely welcome – not an imposition – not an interruption of my cozy solitude. Perhaps I will make a pot of tea to make Him feel welcome. Perhaps I will let Him sit on my chair. Perhaps I will even sit on the floor at His feet since there is no other place to sit. Perhaps He will appreciate my hospitality and come to visit me again. Perhaps, He won’t stay too long.

Then, almost by accident, I turn to look at Him. I can see His eyes looking into me. In those eyes I see the reflection of a man hanging on a cross, silhouetted on a hillside. Suddenly I realize that I have got it all wrong. This pathetic hovel of my soul is not my refuge, it is His house. Its only worth is the value He places on it. He is not my tolerated guest, He is the owner. The rickety chair is His throne, not mine.

I throw myself down on the floor at His feet: “Lord, welcome to Your house. Sit on Your throne. Never leave me. Without the light of Your presence here all my life is just dust and ashes”.

As I say these words, I know how hard it will be to live them. I am already coveting my own comfortable solitude. I already want to reclaim my own right to sit on the rickety throne of my heart. How can I ever have the courage to serve him properly? Just as I start to feel really sorry for myself, He speaks in a low soft voice: “Beloved, don’t be afraid. I have overcome death. I will give you the courage you need, for I am your heart’s desire.”

I still live in that house – the hovel of my heart. I still accumulate garbage in my life. I still want to sit in my chair almost all of the time. But I know that I am not alone. Whether I feel His presence or not, He is with me when I need him. I don’t know what will happen when Death comes, but I know He will be here too. He will give me the courage I need, for He is my heart’s desire.

Mark Larratt-Smith
March 6, 2007

ASF News: Archdeacon Paul Crossland elected to ANiC Council

From the December 2012 ANiC Newsletter:

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New ANiC council members elected

On the final day of synod, members elected council members to fill seven vacancies:

  • Two lay members were elected: Claus Lenk (re-elected) and Victoria Huyer
  • Five clergy members were elected: the Rev Darrell Critch (re-elected), Archdeacon Paul Crossland, the Rev Paul Donison, Archdeacon Michael McKinnon, and the Rev George Sinclair (re-elected).

These join three council members whose terms are continuing: David Gibbs, Ed Lewis and Joel Reinhardt.  Council is chaired by ANiC’s moderator Bishop Don.
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Archdeacon Paul is, of course, a member of the ASF Interim Steering Committee.  We congratulate you, Paul – and thank you for taking on the extra responsibility!

You can read the whole ANiC December Newsletter here:  http://www.anglicannetwork.ca/nl_120312.htm

ASF News: Audio recordings from ANiC Synod 2012

The ANiC website has posted a number of audio recordings of sessions from Synod 2012 on their website!  You can access the audio here:  http://anglicannetwork.ca/anic_synod_1112_audio.htm

ASF News: A Snapshot of Synod 2012

I just ran across this blog post by the Venerable Jack Lumanog, an American Archbishop’s Canon, who was invited to be the Bible teacher during the Electoral Synod in Toronto.  Here it is:

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Preaching 3 Sermons in 2 Hours

My work as the Archbishop’s Canon from being the parish priest and pastor has been a huge transition.
One of the biggest changes has been in the area of preaching.  I went from preaching just about every Sunday and mid week service for Holy Week and guest slots (60+ sermons a year) to maybe a dozen times in my first year in Pittsburgh.  I was just reflecting on this and then I was invited by the Bishop of the Anglican Network in Canada to be their Bible teacher for their Electoral Synod.
Now, I have not attended an Electoral Synod let alone preached at one.  So, I prayed and prepared the best I could and showed up in Ottawa, Canada for Synod!
Basically, my function was to provide teaching while the ballots were being counted in the election of their new Bishop Co-Adjutor.  There were 3 ballots in all – so that meant, you guessed it – 3 sermons in the space of about 2 hours.
The people were wonderfully receptive and gracious in receiving my teaching ministry.  The first two sermons went just about as planned.  By the third, I was about mid-way through my notes and I heard an audible voice from the Lord: “Just stop and worship Me.”  I tried to carry through my sermon because it just seemed awkward to stop in the middle like that.  This went on for a few minutes and then I closed my Bible and invited everyone to stand with me and I led the electoral delegates in some praise choruses.
It was an incredible time of worship.  There was such a release of joy and I could sense the feelings of stress and anxiety just dissipating as we sang together.  As I was winding down with the singing, the results of the third ballot were announced by the Archbishop.  And, Bishop Charlie Masters was announced as the Co-Adjutor to succeed Bishop Donald Harvey in 2014.
The church erupted with applause, shouts of joy and plenty of tears.  I kept thinking to myself: “What an amazing honor to be a part of this moment!”  These brothers and sisters in Canada are such a joy to be with.  This was my second Synod in a row as a speaker and this is something I can get used to with these folks!
Here are a couple of lessons:
1) God delights to give us the desires of our hearts.  Just when I was getting a little gloomy about not preaching as much as I used to when I was a parish priest, I get to preach 3 times in 2 hours!
2) When God says to stop what I’m doing (even when I’m preaching!) and worship Him – I need to stop and worship.
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To leave comments on Jack’s post, or view his other blog posts, visit his blog:  http://jaxworld.blogspot.ca/

“Prepare ye the Way of the Lord”: Resources for Observing Advent

Image of road through trees.

Prepare ye the way of the Lord…

 

I am a novice at blogging, as I am sure will quickly become apparent, but I want to try to help us celebrate together the coming of our Lord into His world. I say “together” recognizing that many of us are isolated to a greater or lesser extent: by geography; by  circumstances; and very often by disillusionment with the organized manifestations of our faith. My hope is to find ways of bridging that isolation by stimulating the sharing of resources and experiences that can help to restore a sense of community for those of us who have not lost our  faith in our Lord and Saviour, but are struggling with a sense of belonging, especially as Christmas can be a time of loneliness for many people.

The season of Advent is a wonderful time of preparation to address this loneliness. It is a period of waiting in the darkness while anticipating the Light . At the start of Jesus’ ministry, St. Matthew tells us: “the people dwelling in darkness  have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord, it is that light that we await.

I want to start this blog by sharing with you two main resources that I intend to draw upon this season in my own devotions.  The first is a book of Advent readings called Watch for the Light published by Plough Publishing House. It contains wonderful readings by a variety of Christian authors all the way from Thomas Aquinas to John Donne and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is a marvellous collection of daily passages that  challenge our thinking and stimulate meditation about all aspects of Advent.

The second resource that I use is a book titled Advent of the Heart, which contains sermons and writings of Father Alfred Delp, a young Jesuit priest during the Second World War. Like Bonhoeffer, Delp was accused of conspiracy against the Third Reich. He was imprisoned, tortured and eventually executed by the Nazis in February 1945. The book includes a number of his meditations on Advent which were smuggled out of prison before his death.

(If you are interested, both of these books should be available in a library with a  good Christian collection or to purchase online. The first is available through ChristianBooks.com, while Advent Of The Heart is available from Ignatius Press.)

I will write further about these two books over the weeks ahead, but I want to start by sharing with you my favourite hymn, “Hark What a Sound” which is surprisingly little known these days.  For those of you with a copy of the old blue hymn book of the Anglican Church of Canada, it is listed as number 69. (It did not make the cut in more recent Canadian Anglican hymn collections!)

The hymn is sung to a lovely tune (Highwood by Richard Runciman Terry). You can listen to it on YouTube (do a search for “Hark What A Sound”).  But  it is the lyrics that so captivate me.  They were written as part of a lengthy and very Victorian poem entitled ‘St. Paul’, by Frederic Myers (1843 – 1901). The verses of the hymn stand out like jewels in that setting. They express so perfectly the yearning of the human heart as we each approach the promise that Our Lord has not only come to redeem us, but that He will return. They make a wonderful Advent prayer and meditation. Here are those lyrics:

Hark what a sound, and too divine for hearing,
Stirs on the earth and trembles in the air!
Is it the thunder of the Lord’s appearing?
Is it the music of his people’s prayer?

Surely he cometh, and a thousand voices
Shout to the saints and to the deaf are dumb;
Surely he cometh, and the earth rejoices,
Glad in his coming who hath sworn, I come.

So even I, and with a pang more thrilling,
So even I, and with a hope more sweet,
Yearn for the sign, O Christ, of thy fulfilling,
Faint for the flaming of thine advent feet.

Yea, through life, death, through sorrow and through sinning
He shall suffice me, for he hath sufficed:
Christ is the end for Christ was the beginning,
Christ the beginning, for the end is Christ.

Amen, come quickly Lord Jesus!