Category Archives: mid week on the web

The oughts and the anys

by Marjorie George

We used to call it “the oughts and the anys”:  If any hath ought against thee . . .

It comes from chapter 5 in the gospel of Matthew, verses 23 and 24. The King James Version has it: “Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

The Jews of Jesus’ time (to whom he was speaking) had a clear understanding of sacrifice – it had to include confession and repentance.  Sacrifice alone could not effect the atonement for which the sacrifice was being offered. And that repentance included making amends to any whom one had wronged. Not even the sacrifices offered on the Day of Atonement could avail a man of God’s forgiveness unless that man first reconciled with his neighbor. No man could be right with God until he was right with his neighbor. Jesus was reminding the Jews of this.

The preface to the confession in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer captures this notion perhaps better than our later versions:

“Then shall the Priest say to those who come to receive the Holy Communion: Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, (emphasis mine) and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.”

Before we can enter into the sacrifice that Christ made for us on the cross, we must first confess, repent, and be in right relationship with our neighbors.

Notice that this discussion in Matthew comes directly after Jesus’ admonition about the sin of anger: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (5:21-22).

So Jesus forbids anger – the anger that leads to hurling insults and the anger that is contemptuous of another. He forbids the anger to which we are rightfully entitled because, after all, we were wronged. He forbids the anger that becomes our constant companion, leaving us perpetually seething. He forbids the anger that refuses to forgive. I knew a woman whose husband was killed in a car accident when their only daughter was pregnant with her first child. In that same accident, the woman suffered no more than the loss of the diamond out of her wedding band. She never forgave God. She lived years – 40 or more – angry at God, angry at life. Then she died. Alone.

And what of those who will not accept our repentance, our longing to make things right; the one who wants to be miserable in his misery a little while longer? Jesus has advice for that, too, and I believe it is “saddle up and git on down the road” (loose translation of Matthew 10:14) – not in anger, maybe in sadness, and always with a distant hopefulness that eventually reconciliation will be a possibility.

Doth any have ought against thee? Go and be reconciled to that one. Then come and lay your gift on the altar.

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at Marjorie.george@dwtx.org.

Continuing the conversation
Jesus got angry, the best example being when he cleansed the temple (Matt 21:12-13 http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=179385384 ; see also Mk 11:15-19; Lk 19:45-48; Jn 2:13-17) What do we make of that?

 How do we reconcile our anger against those who have already died?

We invite your comments, below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Envy

by the Rev. Drs. Jane Patterson and John Lewis

Because we teach exclusively in the area of the Bible, our first question about any spiritual principle is, “Is it biblical?” The seven deadly sins are not specifically biblical. Jesus doesn’t appear to have been big on lists of anything. But he was concerned about any persistent habit that erodes our heart and that eats away at our relationship with our neighbor (Mark 7:14-23). The destruction brought about by pinched habits of the heart goes in two directions, both inward and outward, just as the fullness of life brought by “clothing ourselves with Christ” (Gal 3:27) begins within us and spills over as blessing for our neighbor.

The big lie that undergirds envy is the notion that anything that you have, you have at my expense, and anything I have, I have at your expense. Against this lie, Jesus said simply, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Not “Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.” But “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus would allow nothing to stand between ourselves and our neighbor, least of all envy.

What appears to have concerned Jesus was the way in which some of our narrow little habits of mind destroy both ourselves and others and misconstrue the bounty of God. To Jesus’ way of thinking, what my neighbor has, whether materially or spiritually, is intended to overflow to my benefit; and what I have is intended to overflow as a blessing for my neighbor.

The sin of envy has two faces: one is my envy of what someone else has or is, and the other is the way I secretly desire to make others envious of me, which is at least as destructive. A member of one of our discernment groups lived for a time in Egypt. The family’s maid stole some jewelry from the dresser-top, and the family was encouraged to press charges. When they went to court, they were surprised to find that the first questions were directed to them, not to their maid. “Do you know what financial responsibilities she has? Do you know whether or not she can live on what you pay her? Do you frequently parade your expensive objects in front of her?” The family was called to account for having incited the envy of the woman who worked for them, thus working her destruction.

Jesus calls us, time and again, to be scrupulous about the habits of our hearts, not for our own benefit, but for the full life of those around us. Following Jesus wholeheartedly is about cultivating the willingness to be pulled into the tow of God’s love for all.

The Rev. Drs. John Lewis and Jane Patterson are co-directors of The Work+shop (www.theworkshop-sa.org) and are on staff at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio TX.

The 7 Deadlies

by Marjorie George

Star Trek has gone biblical. In a new Star Trek book*, the writers have developed seven stories around the seven deadly sins, attaching each one to a different Star Trek race.  Romulans are brought down by their pride; Cardassians do themselves in through their envy; Ferengis are driven by greed.

But actually, the seven deadly sins are not listed as such anywhere in the Bible. Rather, the list was compiled by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. These vices, say the Church fathers, are at the root of all other sins. One who commits adultery does so perhaps out of lust, but perhaps out of the pride of the conquest, the envy of another man’s wife, the greed of wanting more than one has when what one has is perfectly sufficient.

The Seven Deadly Sins are the sins of the masquerade, the lie I am able to justify. I set a goal for myself, and when I reach it I push a little deeper, ask a little more of myself, until no accomplishment is sufficient. I have made my standards higher than God’s standards. I have succumbed to the sin of pride.

This week, we begin a series on the Seven Deadly Sins. Our purpose is not to reproach but to reveal. Subtitle it “Things That Prevent Us from Growing into the Person God Made Us to Be.” The series is based on seven articles that appeared in the January/February 2008 issue of The Church News, the newspaper of The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. To that we will add more resources for your own investigation (see This Week on the Web, below). We begin with the sin of gluttony, for no particular reason.

As always, we invite your conversation.

*Star Trek: Seven Deadly Sins

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at Marjorie.george@dwtx.org.


Gluttony

by the Rev. Mary Earle

“Put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony” (Proverbs 23:2).

It started with kid mohair.  So soft.  So beautiful.  So wondrously luminous.  Then came Hill Country llama and alpaca.  Not to mention merino wool.  Yes, I confess it.  I am a fiber glutton.  This is what happens when one takes up spinning and weaving at age 50, after years of desiring to know those crafts.  Now, several years later, I have a fiber stash that looks like I could set up a store.  I fell into gluttony.

You will notice that this gluttony did not have to do with food.  While gluttony often is linked to an inordinate desire for food, it is classically defined as “the over-indulgence of things lawful” or “an inordinate desire to consume more than that which one requires.”  As you might have guessed, we are a nation of gluttons.  We consume goods, food, energy, drink, beauty as if we were the only nation on earth.  It is such a norm within this culture that we have trouble noticing when gluttony has us in its grip.

The wise observers in Christian tradition from time to time have said that gluttony is the worst of all the seven deadly sins.  Why might that be?  Because gluttony begins with a failure to see the good gifts God gives us in the right perspective.  Gluttony begins – surprise — in the eye.  When gluttony has me in its clutches, I see and I consume.  There is no pause for beholding, no moment of deep appreciation.  Gluttony does not know how to see with love and gratitude.  And gluttony is so joyless.  The art of savoring God’s good gifts to us is lost, and we live for the passing little rush of acquisition.  (Yet gluttony is not addiction.  An addict suffers from a sickness, a disease.  A glutton is choosing to consume.  The will is active, and choice is a possibility.)

The remedy?  Again, the remedy begins with the eye, with the practice of the contemplative’s “long, loving look.”  In other words, slowing down, stilling the frenetic desire to consume, to possess.  We are recalled to that lovely harmony that is God’s design for all that is created.   Slowing down allows wonder to stir, and gratitude to grow.  We find ourselves less trapped by consuming, and we are drawn to practices of thanksgiving.   We savor life, and we savor what God has given us.  We hear Christ’s call to see things from the divine perspective, not with an eye toward consuming, but with an eye toward deepening respect, kindness and love.

The Rev. Mary  Earle is a writer, retreat leader, and retired priest in the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas.

Here I am

 by Marjorie George

I was working on the contents page of the magazine I was putting together.  Someone reading it over my shoulder said, “Be sure to include the author names. That way I’ll know whether or not I want to read the article.” And I did, but since then I have thought more about it.

It’s a fairly closed-minded way to operate, when I reflect on it. But I, too, select articles and books based on the author. I presume I know what this writer has to say, and I usually like (read: agree with) it.  I search the television-movies listings the same way: “Ooh, a Denzel Washington movie; let’s watch that.”

I expect to get what I expect to get from this person, experience, situation. I carry it into personal relationships – I presume to know why this person is acting this way, responding as he is. No point in listening any further.  

We enter our prayer life through a similar preconceived set of notions. In his poem Footnote to all Prayers, C. S. Lewis says we often address God through the familiar symbols –God as father, judge, king, creator, and so on. The result is that the God to whom we pray is the God of our own perception. But our puny concepts of God are partial at best, flat-out false at worst.

When we begin by naming God, we assume that we know more about the one we’re addressing than we may actually know. In Naked Spirituality, Brian McLaren likens our prayers to arrows aimed at the bulls-eye of our conceptual target – our limited idea of God, which is so much less than God turns out to be.  With Paul we see through that glass darkly (see I Corinthians 13:12).

So McLaren begins his prayers with one simple word: “here.” Here I am, Lord, and here you are. Let me just sit with that for a bit. Beginning with the word “here,” says McLaren, “subverts the assumption that we have God named, figured out, and properly targeted.” It is rather like being out in the woods, says McLaren, “calling out so that we can be found by the one seeking us.”

Here I am in the presence of the mystery with no compulsion to solve it. Here I am with the One who transcends my understanding. And here you are, God, whoever you are, and I wonder what you and I have to do with each other this day. Here I am, teacher, ready to learn. I’m showing up. Without my analytics.

“Here” begins the all-the-time practice of the presence. Here I am in this meeting with my colleagues, and here you are. Help me to be open to their thoughts instead of mentally racing to formulate my own response. Here I am selecting watermelon at the Wednesday morning farmer’s market. And here you are, and together we will ask a blessing on this brown-skinned farmer who works out in the hot Texas sun every day for my pleasure.

Here I am at this point in my life’s story. Here I am washing my face, pouring the first cup of coffee for the day. Here I am at a Little League baseball game, cheering on a grandchild on third base as he streaks for home plate. Here I am under the radiation machine as it delivers jolts to one specific part of my body. Here I am in pain, elation, worry, comfort, discomfort. And here you are — my past, my present, and my future. Here I will stay, even when I can’t name you, trying ever-so-hard to be open to what I don’t yet know.

 

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at Marjorie.george@dwtx.org.  

We welcome your comments.

The book on my head

by Marjorie George

My mother used to make me walk across the room with a book on my head so I would stand up straight. Back and forth, back and forth, trying to keep the book from falling as I glided across the floor. Mom wasn’t mean; I had a slight curvature of the spine, and she thought this would help straighten it out.  For I don’t know how long, I slouched when I walked, except when that damn book was on my head.

And do you know what happened? Eventually I walked upright even without the book. Months and months of practice had become internalized. The awkward had become ordinary.

If he knew my little story, Brian McLaren would say that’s how spiritual practices work. “A way of life is formed by practices,” he says in Naked Spirituality. “Both our ancient religious traditions and our contemporary theories of education and human development agree on that.”  Spiritual practices, says McLaren, are about bringing “a sacred normalcy to the rhythms of life”  –  making prayer ordinary in our daily schedule; making generosity normal, normative, and habitual; practicing simplicity instead of consumption; countering violence with peacemaking (McLaren, Finding our Way Again, pg 4).

Unlike baseball practice and swim-team practice, the point of spiritual practice is not to get better at the practice.  The point of spiritual practice is to incorporate the holy into our ordinary lives. We do not “do” centering prayer with the goal of becoming an expert at centering prayer. We engage in centering prayer to bring us closer to God.  I didn’t get better at reading by walking with a book on my head; I eventually trained my body to stand up straight.

Learning that was a revelation to me. I thought the doing of spiritual practices required an ascetic discipline for the purpose of garnering an unblemished soul – a state I could attain to if I worked at it hard enough. At other times, I took the approach of simply waiting for the ecstasy to show up. After all, I thought, if I have to work at it, what’s holy about it?  If I have to call it down, what’s inspired?

I also thought that the whole category of spiritual practices always had a certain degree of stringency to it  – fixed-hour prayer, named and regular fast days, uninterrupted and prolonged meditation. And these are some of the practices, but into that category we can also put Christian hospitality, the practice of gratitude, handwork such as quilting, and reading. Spiritual practices, says McLaren, are simply about attending to the well-being of our souls, doing for them what exercise does for the body and study does for the mind. Spiritual practices are ways of becoming awake and staying awake to God.

They need to be simple, doable, and durable ways in which we encounter the mystery of God. The first practice McLaren undertakes in Naked Spirituality is a practice of awakening to the presence of God through the word “here.” Here am I, God, and here are you, with me. May the real I and the real you become present to one another right here and right now.

There is a plethora of ways to begin the habit of spiritual practices, although most practitioners suggest beginning with a guide of some sort. That can be a person, a book, or an online presence. McLaren’s two books on the subject — Finding our Way Again and Naked Spirituality. — are excellent and solidly Christian. We have more resources on spiritual practices on our Mid-week on the Web entry, directly after this article.

Or you can begin by practicing the suggestion of Micah to intentionally “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (6:8).  If you need help with that, try putting a book on your head. The Bible would work just fine.

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.

We invite your comments, below.

 

 

Hearing the Spirit of Pentecost

by Marjorie George

There were 17 by my count — 17 different nations represented by those who gathered in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. There were Medes and Romans and Cretans and a whole bunch of people from nations that I can’t pronounce, much less spell. And here were the disciples speaking in all those languages, and here were the crowds hearing them in their own languages.

Were they drunk? No, for it was only nine o’clock in the morning. Were they surprised? They shouldn’t have been.  Christ had said the gift of the Spirit was coming.  “I will ask my Father, and he will send you an advocate to be with you forever,” Christ had told his disciples. Through the Spirit, He had said, those who believe would do even greater things than He himself had done. And this Spirit, this continuing presence of Christ, would lead the disciples into all truth (Jn 14:16, 25-26).

Through the Spirit, Christ had said, he would be with them always. Through the Spirit, he had told them, they would be able to preach the gospel to all nations, heal the sick, make disciples, build a church. This is the spirit they heard in at least 17 different ways.

We know this Spirit in our own languages; we call him comforter, counselor, guide, healer, revealer.  He is who we need him to be. I learned that from a friend who told me once that the first thing Christ says to us every morning is, “Who do you need me to be for you today?” This day are we walking a path of confusion? Christ through the Spirit will be our guide.  Do we need courage going into a hard place today? Christ through the Spirit will be our strength. Are we in need of comfort today? Or healing? Or clarity? The Spirit is all these to us.

But there is another aspect of this happy triad, and it is summed up in the words of one of our Eucharistic prayers – “deliver us from the presumption of coming to this table for solace only and not for strength, for pardon only and not for renewal” (Book of Common Prayer, pg 372) We must ask the question of Christ each day: “Who do you need me to be for the sake of your Kingdom this day?”

Do you need me to be truth-teller in the midst of deception? Do you need me to be mediator in the midst of conflict? Am I to stand firm today as the winds of chaos seek to blow me over? Is there someone this day for whom I need to be comforter? Is it required of me today to practice endurance as I face the long-haul?

Thanks be to God I don’t have to be or do or say anything under my own power. The Spirit has come and continues to come every time I call upon him. In at least 17 different ways.

Come Holy Spirit, as you came on the day of Pentecost, and fill me with your power. Open my eyes to see you as surely as the first disciples saw flames dancing on their heads, and to hear you in the all the ways you reveal yourself to me.

Reach Marjorie at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.

For your reflection: Whom do you need the Spirit to be for you today?

Comment below.