Messages from the Rector


March 26, 2020

It is almost two weeks since we have been outside the walls of St. Paul’s and encouraged to remain within our own. That is so isolating for us and especially those in our community who live in retirement facilities that are under quarantine. We often idealize the reality of early Christianity and the Church. Yet, we are being invited to live deeply in our faith as did those first Christians. We will return to the physical walls of St. Paul’s. For now, we must rely on the ties within our community which offer support and safety. It is realistic to say this will continue for weeks to come. As you seek center and balance inside the space you call home, I hope this little gift will allow you to reconnect with the place we know as home.

A Meditative Musical Video

May your spirit journey from the confines of your walls to the spaciousness of ours.

Blessings, Brad+

March 25, 2020

A poet I have come to cherish over the years is Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). He was born in Prague into a German-speaking family. The Dark Interval is a collection of letters on loss, grief, and transformation. This passage was written in 1919 and still speaks so eloquently to me about the human endeavor. In these times, it offers us hope and light as we journey through the unknown. I hope it offers you support and strength in your travels.

“Each time we tackle something with joy, each time we open our eyes toward a yet untouched distance, we transform not only this and the next moment, but we also rearrange and gradually absorb the past inside of us. We dissolve the foreign body of pain of which we know neither its actual consistency and makeup nor how many (perhaps) life-affirming stimuli it imparts, once it has been dissolved, into our blood!

Death, especially the most completely felt and experienced death, has never remained an obstacle to life for a surviving individual, because its innermost essence is not contrary to us (as one may occasionally suspect), but is more knowing about life than we are in our most vital moments. I always think that such a great weight, with its tremendous pressure, somehow has the task of forcing us into a deeper, more intimate layer of life so that we may grow out of it all the more vibrant and fertile. I gained this experience very early on through various circumstances, and it was then confirmed from pain to pain: What is here and now is, after all, what has been given and is expected of us, and we must attempt to transform everything that happens to us into a new familiarity and friendliness with it. For where else should we direct our senses, which after all have been exquisitely designed to grasp and master what is here? And how may we evade the duty to admire what God has entrusted to us, for this surely prepares us completely for all future and eternal admiration!”

We have been gifted by a deeply loving and caring family – St. Paul’s. I invite you to continue supporting one another and those outside our walls with calls, prayers, sharing on Facebook and spiritual presence as we walk through this dark interval. “How may we evade the duty to admire what God has entrusted to us?”

In hope and trust, Brad+

March 24, 2020

Spending so much time in familiar surroundings causes me to search those surroundings for something new. It often appears in things I take for granted or things my busy and wandering eye overlooks. The contemplative life is tuned to discover hidden things in plain sight. The staring eye can find the same treasure. As I sat on my bench today, soaking up what sun and warmth was available, I looked through the opening in the porch wall to see a daffodil shoot piercing a dry and faded Hosta leaf. Immediately the words of a favorite hymn came to mind: “If dead in you, so in you we arise, you the firstborn of all the faithful dead; and as through stony ground the green shoots break, glorious in springtime dress of leaf and flower, so in the Father’s glory shall we wake.” (Hymnal 149)

Death comes to life, yet Life comes through death. This is the heart of the Lenten journey we are on, especially this year. As events and the familiar continually become postponed, we know that life continues on. It changes as it goes and we, participating in it fully, are invited to journey along. We join that procession following Christ who leads us in faith and courage. Christ is the whole realm of nature, the firstborn of the dead. It is a gift that has been handed onto us to offer for one another and the world. That gift of love demands much of each of us. It demands soul and life and all. May we continue to journey in graciousness and offer our gifts that those who are alone and suffering, in pain and anxiety. May our eyes never lose sight of a glorious springtime dressed in leaf and flower. The Father’s glory shall await.

Brad+

“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” – Hymnal 474

March 23, 2020

As much as I love snow, none seemed as beautiful and comforting as this morning’s. After a week of such dark, it was as if light had laid down, ever so gently, connecting the space between us with only tulips, daffodils and crocuses popping up between. All things are one. Philosophical pondering knows well that where one and the other end is not obvious. Emotional knowledge, however, feels the rift that separates as deeply as the soul can measure. This morning, everything seemed to proclaim, “not only are we in this together,” but “we are one even in this.” It may be difficult to feel God’s love in the reality of the Corona outbreak. It is more easy to see God’s love in the simplicity of nature right now; in the quiet not pierced by the normalcy of morning traffic; In the chorus of birds returning to the trees. Yet, it is in the face of the other that God’s love is made real. For that we yearn. For that we have been invited by this cruel invitation of reality to reimagine and explore. May your search bring you new discoveries of divine presence each day. Brad+

A Blessing for Loneliness from To Bless the Space Between Us by John O’Donohue:

When the light lessens, causing colors to lose their courage, and your eyes fix on the empty distance that can open on either side of the surest line to make all that is familiar and near seem suddenly foreign,

When the music of talk breaks apart into noise and you hear your heart louden while the voices around you slow down to leaden echoes turning the silence into something stony and cold,

When the old ghosts come back to feed on everywhere you felt sure, do not strengthen their hunger by choosing to fear; rather, decide to call on your heart that it may grow clear and free to welcome home your emptiness that it may cleanse you like the clearest air you could ever breathe.

Allow your loneliness time to dissolve the shell of dross that had closed around you; choose in this severe silence to hear the one true voice your rushed life fears; cradle yourself like a child learning to trust what emerges, so that gradually you may come to know that deep in that black hole you will find the blue flower that holds the mystical light which will illuminate in you the glimmer of springtime.

March 22, 2020

It is a cold afternoon. It feels much more like December than the first days of Spring. The feeling of cold resonates with me far beyond the temperature. Neighbors and indeed the nation is hunkered down inside. The temperature and the temperament of reality these days draws me into reflection on the central mystery of our faith: the Incarnation. Maybe there is something deeply rooted in us that longs for it to be the Christmas season year long as the Hallmark Channel so evidently expresses. Is this time in our world and lives not rooted in the incarnation of both virus and humanity trying to reach agreement and mutual respect. These days call us to carry the Christ Child deep within us. It is a frightening journey and a blessed gift as Mary knew well. It was a reality St. Paul knew well: “it is Christ who dwells in me.” As we continue to grapple with our own fear, our sense of helplessness and our commitment to reach out to others who are alone and in need, we model Mary and Paul’s, least not Christ’s, faith lives well. In the Vesper light of the world and of this day, I offer you this prayer which has eased the burden of many journeys for me. As Auntie Mame said: “We need a little Christmas, right this very moment!”

Peace on the journey, Brad+

Amy Grant – Breath Of Heaven

March 21, 2020

We have had so much to deal with this week. In a week of only seven days, who could believe so much could change? Our Judeo-Christian traditions holds the understanding of seven days as a sacred reality of creation. It seems so ironic then that a literal seven days could witness the destruction of so much of our own created realities. That is the way it is. At the beginning of this sabbath in the Jewish tradition, I am reflecting on the selfless gifts so many offered to me this past week. I have been supported by the deep generosity of those is the faith community of St. Paul’s who stepped forward and accepted another task in their already busy and committed lives. They created a phone tree to keep in contact with the parish and share a network of caring communication to ease the burden of isolation that this way has placed on us. I have worked with those involved in the liturgy and communication to craft new ways we can continue to celebrate our Eucharistic faith, even if now by a Spiritual Communion. I had to inform staff to work from home and remain on-call in case of emergency as to not jeopardize their health. That was a difficult situation for many who wanted to be present in the building to continue their care of physical plant and daycare clients. Their commitment to St. Paul’s is truly one of ministry.  That is the way it is at St. Paul’s. We are family. We continue to hold on and offer a hand to those who need our help. It is the tie that binds us and holds us close to one another as threads in a seamless garment that is Christ. No one can express this reality and understanding better than poet William Stafford. I have shared this with you before. It is so real to me at the end of this week.

Blessed by your hands and grip,
Brad+

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

~ William Stafford ~

March 19, 2020

Dear Friends in Christ,

Bishop Miller has ordered all churches closed for gatherings of more than five (5) people. We will not be able to gather this coming Sunday and we will not be able to celebrate the Eucharist together for the foreseeable future. We will continue to create the weekly bulletin and place it online as a prayer resource. The diocese is creating a online worship experience that will be available by next week if not before. We will share information as it becomes available.

We will continue to journey together as St. Paul’s does. We are creating phone trees to maintain contact between members of the community. I’ll be calling to check in with you. Please do not hesitate to call me just to talk. I am available via email brad.toebben@stpaulsmilwaukee.org or by phone (414.242.7471). You may contact either Deacon Sheila or myself to add names to the prayer list to be printed in the bulletin. Lynne will continue checking phone messages. Know that pastoral presence and care is always available especially during this time.

A Very Deep Well

In light of the rapidly changing events of the past few days surrounding the Corona virus, market uncertainty and the anxiety we are all experiencing, last Sunday’s Gospel continues to come to mind. In the story of the Samaritan woman, confusion, misunderstanding, exclusion, isolation and welcome all embrace. Jesus comes into Samaria, a place Jews would not venture. Jacob’s well was the there and Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down at the well. When a woman appears at the well, he asks her for a drink. She is shocked. How could a Jew, an outsider, ask her a Samaritan woman for a drink? Why would he have anything to do with her? As the story continues, Jesus reveals that he is the living water sent from the well of God. He offers this saving water to her and as a result of her acceptance, she shares it with her fellow Samaritans who begin to believe in him.

The well of God’s living water is very deep and is often a very dark place. As Jesus sat by Jacob’s well, he was tired. As we sit by the well of life today, it is a very dark place and we are already very tired of something that for the time being already seems endless. The normalcy of our lives has been radically altered. The security of the future has been drastically shaken. Our situation may seem hopeless, but it is not. Disease and illness are so central to our faith tradition. It is through them that Jesus heals, restores, and invites us to a deeper experience of the reality of God’s well of Living Water. As we sit at our well and see how dark it appears, we know that God is in the center of it. We journey toward that light.

In the words of a great mystic, Julian of Norwich, who sat in isolation with only the presence of the Sacrament before her, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

May that be the well you find yourself at. A well rooted in God’s presence, a spring of water welling up to eternal life. We will move through this water together.

In deepest Presence and Prayer,

Brad+