January 26, 2014

No Hands, No Feet...but yours

During Epiphany, we are looking at a Prayer of Teresa of Avila, a 16th century nun. Her prayer is well known and has been set to music and used in numerous meditations and no doubt as the theme of retreats. Last week we explored the first line “Christ has no body but yours”. This week we move on to the next line and get into the action of the prayer.
“[Christ has] no hands, no feet on earth but yours” says Teresa. What exactly does that mean for us as we seek to live as Followers of the Christ?
We each have gifts and talents that we can use for God’s glory. Sometimes we think that we have to have a lot of money or be incredibly smart or come up with some sort of amazing new invention to be worth recognition. There is currently a commercial running that points out that many of the ‘big ideas’ of recent history started in garages, at restaurant tables, or in dorm rooms by ordinary men and women who had just a little idea, which exploded into something big.
The same is true about our work for Christ. Max Lucado says that whatever we use for the Kingdom is the donkey that moves the Kingdom a little further down the road. He tells of a Hawaiian woman whose ‘donkey’ was her gift of carving wood into Bible shapes and then pasting verses on them to inspire others. (I cannot recall which of his books has this story in it.)
Recently I heard a commentator ask, “Have you ever noticed how often God uses seemingly unimportant people to do God’s work?” He cited the unnamed boy with the loaves and fish and the woman with the alabaster jar of perfume whose name isn’t mentioned. There are plenty more examples throughout the Bible of men and women who were nothing until God stepped into their lives: Joseph, Noah, Rahab… just to name a few.
Jesus tells his followers,You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5: 14-16) All that we do is a reflection of our life as Followers of Christ and builders of the Kingdom.
We all remember the Parable of the Talents in which “a noblemen went to a distant country” and left his slaves/servants in charge of some money to “do business…until I come back”. When he returns, he demands an accounting and rewards those who were diligent. However, the one who simply wraps up the money is rebuked, “I will judge you by your own words, you wicked slave! You knew, did you, that I was a harsh man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.” (Luke 19:12-26 & Matthew 25:14-30) Of course, the point of the parable is that we should use our gifts, not ‘keep them for a rainy day’.
It is easy to discount the impact of our individual gift because we don’t see the whole picture that God does. Each of us is a thread in the huge tapestry that is life and the Kingdom of God. You may see your life as a tangled and knotted mess, when from the front of the tapestry the thread forms a glittering highlight on the finished piece. Maybe you are like one of the threads forming the tree or the strand of multi-colored yarn in the edging from this close-up of a weaving by Edith Zimmer. We threads cannot see the completed image, but we are vital to the completion of it.

Which of your gifts are you currently using to ‘move the Kingdom down the road’? Are there some you have buried in the ground that you should dig up and use? Can you think of new ways to use the gifts you have? Let your hands and feet be used by God to build a tapestry or as this new song from Francesca Battistelli says, ask God to "Write Your story on my heart..."

Write Your Story, Francesca Battistelli
They say
You're the King of everything
The One who taught the wind to sing
The Source of the rhythm my heart keeps beating

They say
You can give the blind their sight
And You can bring the dead to life
You can be the hope my soul's been seekin'

I wanna tell You now that I believe it
I wanna tell You now that I believe it
I do, that You can make me new, oh

CHORUS
I'm an empty page
I'm an open book
Write Your story on my heart
Come on and make Your mark

Author of my hope
Maker of the stars
Let me be Your work of art
Won't You write Your story on my heart

Write Your story, write Your story
Come on and write Your story, write Your story
Won't You write Your story on my heart

My Life
I know it's never really been mine
So do with it whatever You like
I don't know what Your plan is
But I know it's good, yeah

I wanna tell You now that I believe in
I wanna tell You now that I believe in
In You, so do what You do, oh

CHORUS

I want my history
To be Your legacy
Go ahead and show this world
What You've done in me
And when the music fades
I want my life to say

I let You write your story, write Your story
Write Your story, write Your story

January 19, 2014

No Body now but Yours

You may have heard this poem/prayer of St. Theresa of Avila (at bottom of post) at some time. It has been beautifully set to music by John Michael Talbot and others. In the next few weeks, during this season of Epiphany 2014, come explore the prayer with me. Can the words of a 16th Century nun and mystic help us to follow Christ’s example more closely? Can the words help us to be a ‘thin place’ where the Light of Christ can shine through to the world?

Christ has no body but yours,” says the first line. This brings to mind the words of St. Paul Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12:27). Very often the term Body of Christ is used to refer to the Church as a whole and to individual congregations. It is indeed that, and more. Paul says we are “individually members”, too. That is to say, we are like cells making up the Whole.

Each of us is important and necessary to make the Body complete. Earlier in I Corinthians 12, (verse 14) Paul states, “Indeed, the Body does not consist of one member but of many.” We each have a different, but integral function to play in the completeness of the Body of Christ.

Paul continues with his analogy in I Corinthians 12:15-21 by suggesting that it would be strange and terrible if the hands, eyes, and feet started arguing with each other about who is most important. I’m sure I don’t need to point out how destructive that is in real life. In verse 24-26, Paul notes, “God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”

If you have read Wind in the Door, part of Madeline L’Engle’s Time Quartet, you’ll recall that it is the microscopic mitochondria which are the core of Charles’ malaise. The tiny interior cell parts are so important that their sickness makes the boy ill. It is only through the sacrifice of others that he is made well (and evil averted).  

This is the core of being a healthy Body-all parts care for one another and no member takes precedence. The hand understands that the tiny unseen cell in the big toe is just as important as the hand himself. Conversely the little cell doesn’t consider herself less just because she isn’t as visible as the hand. And, like in the book, the most minute mitochondria inside it all must take responsibility and “deepen” in order for all to be well.

What if we looked at others in the world around us in the same way? What if we looked at the world with love instead of competitively? What if we saw in the homeless man ranting on the corner a bit of Christ, might it make our response different? If we knew that the politician in power is no more important than the hungry child in Africa, how might we live? What if we understood that, as Jesus told the disciples, “But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (Luke 22:26)

The Body of Christ is more than the Church. The bread and wine of Eucharist feed us the Holy food of the Body of Christ which empowers us to live more fully as the Body of Christ in our place in the world. We may never do a mission trip to Africa or Calcutta, but we might be just the word of hope or smile of greeting a hurting neighbor or stranger needs. The Body of Christ is each of us in the world, too. “Christ has no body now but yours” say Teresa. What we do and how we act presents Christ to the world. Awesome power and not to be taken lightly… Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore how we can perhaps be hands and feet of Christ in the world in 2014.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

January 12, 2014

Teresa of Avila

Recently I have been struck by the tension and yet the union of the sacred and secular in Advent, Christmas, and now Epiphany. In Advent we are reminded that we are preparing for Christ to come. We look forward to the human Babe in a manger, while at the same time many of the lectionary readings point to the Second Coming. Christmas, the celebration of the Word made flesh (John 1:14) to bridge the divide between the Holy and the human. Now in Epiphany we study the earthly ministry of our Lord, from the Magi to his Baptism to the Transfiguration. Each of those instances is a place where the humanity is touched by the Holy-a thin place where heaven and earth are open to each other.

So, you ask, where is this all leading? In this Epiphany season, from now until Ash Wednesday, let’s look at St. Teresa’s Prayer as a way for us to be a ‘thin place’, a living manifestation of the intersection of sacred and secular that is all of creation.

Teresa of Avila, considered the author of the prayer, was born in 1515 in Gotarrendura, Spain. Her paternal grandfather was a Jewish convert to Christianity who was condemned by the Inquisition for returning to the Jewish faith. Her father, however, was a Spanish Christian who purchased a knighthood for himself. After her mother died, when she was 14, Teresa was sent to be educated by the Augustinian nuns at Avila. While there she was often ill and in her sickness experienced her first visions.

She continued to have mystic visions throughout her life. In her 40s (1556) it was suggested by ‘friends’ that the visions were diabolical. She began to doubt herself and tried to rid herself of the visions by flagellation and other self-tortures. Three years later, reassured by her Jesuit confessor Francis Borgia, she experienced a series of encounters with Christ where she experienced ecstatic union. Another of her visions was the basis for Bernini’s famous statue Ecstacy of St. Teresa at Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

In November 1535, the 20 year-old Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain. She was appalled by the lax adherence of the nuns to their vows, esp. that of cloister (removal from the world). This bothered Teresa and she wanted to do something.

With the support of her spiritual advisor, the Franciscan Peter of Alcantara, she resolved to start a reformed Carmelite convent. Teresa’s order was based on the vow of absolute poverty and added new regulations including ceremonial flagellation and discalceation (shoeless) of the nuns. A friend, Guimara de Ulloa, supplied funds for the new monastery of San Jose which was established in 1562.

With papal support she founded 17 more monasteries around Spain. She was still working on establishing more when she died in 1582. She was canonized and made a saint in 1622 by Pope Gregory the XV.

Teresa’s life as a cloistered nun with the gift of mystic visions and her ability to work to establish the many monasteries and reform the Carmelite order represent the tension and union of working in the secular world while seeking the spiritual path. Teresa, with her visions and her drive to reform the Order was a thin place through which the Light of Christ was able to shine.

Her famous prayer, set to music by John Michael Talbot calls us to consider how we can be the hands, feet, body of Christ in the world. Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore this prayer.
 

January 1, 2014

Present

Happy New Year and almost Epiphany!
The church year doesn’t align with secular time in many respects. The church new year is Advent 1. Cultural New Year falls much closer to the Feast of the Epiphany when we recall the visit of the Magi. However, in another way, Epiphany is a church new year. Advent is preparation for the Coming of Christ and Epiphany is the manifestation-the sharing of Christ in the world.
Many of us make new year’s resolutions and then soon forget them or let them slip by. There is one resolution that I hope to carry into 2014 for more than just a week or 2. That is PRESENT.
Present is one of those interesting words in the English language that has many meanings and many usages. It is a noun as in now and a noun in the sense of a gift. It is an adjective when used to define being somewhere. It can even be a verb when you give something or recognize someone or bring to mind.
Keeping all this in mind, I hope to accept the Present (gift) of the Present (time) and to be Present (actively there) to the Present (gift and Person) of God in me, while I Present (offer) God’s Love to those around me as a Present (offering) in the Present (now).
I boiled it all down to one word-well one acrostic:
Prayer
Response
Empowered
Simply
Engaged
Now
Thanks
I challenge you to come up with one word that summarizes your hope for your faith walk in 2014. Maybe you want to put your own words into the acrostic for PRESENT…
Next time we'll start a series on Teresa of Avila's prayer "Christ has no Body now but yours".
Today I offer to you this prayer from the Diocese of the Rio Grande blog. It is a Syrian Orthodox Prayer for the New Year which embodies Present and being Present.
 Our Holy Father, God of our yesterdays, our today, and our tomorrows.
We praise You for Your unequaled greatness.
Thank You for the year behind us and for the year ahead.
Help us in Your new year, Father, to fret less and laugh more.
To teach our children to laugh by laughing with them.
To teach others to love by loving them.
Knowing, when Love came to the stable in Bethlehem, He came for us.
So that Love could be with us, and we could know You.
That we could share Love with others.
Help us, Father, to hear Your love song in every sunrise,
in the chirping of sparrows in our backyards,
in the stories of our old folks, and the fantasies of our children.
Help us to stop and listen to Your love songs,
so that we may know You better and better.
We rejoice in the world You loved into being.
Thank You for another new year and for new chances every day.
We pray for peace, for light, and for hope, that we might spread them to others.
Forgive us for falling short this past year.
We leave the irreparable past in your hands,
and step out into the unknown new year knowing You will go with us.
We accept Your gift of a new year and we rejoice in what's ahead,
depending on You to help us do exactly what You want.
In Jesus name, We pray, Amen