Messages from the Rector


May 11, 2020

Self-Awareness

I spent two days last week in another world (no, this is not about soap operas). I participated in a webinar offered by The Sacred Art of Living Center in Bend, Oregon around the enneagram and spirituality. The center was founded in 1996 by Richard Groves and his late wife, Mary. It exists as a “living school for the support of all persons in the helping and healing professions.” For two days I was part of a new, virtual community while I remained in the confines of my own home. The experience, however, was one of being far away and out of the “normal freeze” that all of us are experiencing. To come into a virtual room of some forty unknown persons can be just as daunting online as in person, yet it is a testament to the ability of humans to connect regardless of the limitation of space and immediacy. This is none the less true of our ability to connect with ourselves, especially during a time which threatens our own peace of mind and stability.

The Enneagram (from Greek meaning nine and written or drawn) is a model of the human psyche taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types. It has origins and roots that are vast in geographical location and early human cultures. The nine types are situated in a 3×3 fashion with each of three types sharing one of three domains. The domains are body, heart, and mind. Within each domain are three personality types which draw their fundamental identity from that domain. If you have explored the Enneagram or have never heard of it, I would encourage you to take some time – of which we all have so much now – and journey into a place that may offer you some needed escape and self-discovery. It will not only impact how you relate with others. It will offer you insights into ways to both cultivate your gifts and become aware of those things which you may feel threatened by. It is a worthwhile way to discern (distinguish) both yourself and the world around you which are so ever-present these days.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely only on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge God and your neighbor, and God will make straight your path. Proverbs 3:5-6

Brad+

Sacred Art of Living 

May 8, 2020

Simple Gifts 2

It is Friday and we all need something light-hearted and uplifting. Joanne Filmanowicz sent this to me. You may have seen it before, but it is worth another view. It shows how beautiful, healing, and simple gifts can be. May it awaken in us the gift of creativity as we continue to reach out with a healing touch. Click to view the video.

O most Glorious and Blessed God, I present myself and this work into Your hands. Do with it as You will. Guide my thoughts. Hold my hands, that You alone are writing (painting, carving) through me, producing whatever You wish me to say. And now, O my Beloved and my Joy, I prostrate myself into Your most loving embrace in thanks that You give me talent, inspiration, discipline to do Your work. Amen.

So be it. Brad+

May 7, 2020

Nurses Day Always

In the shadow of Nurses Day observed yesterday, I realize that each day is now nurses, physicians, and all health-care workers day. In speaking to my neighbor this morning, a physician at Columbia St. Mary’s, I became even more aware of their current situation and stress. We are lauding them, but I believe much more is needed – our deep presence in prayer with them. Not only should that prayer be one of gratitude, but also one of healing for them.  My neighbor explained not only the chaos and stress that is to be expected, but the heighted sense of awareness with regard to their patients and themselves that must be before them at all times. Enough stress would be endured in the “normal” care of the sick. Now, they must retain that focus and priority while balancing additional attention to the COVID threat. Many of them return to their homes either alone with little outside support or to their families where they must exercise added distancing from their loved ones. They are now surrounded by patients on all fronts of their life. As elective and required surgeries increase, their responsibilities will double, at least. Let us hold them deep in prayer. If you know one of these living saints, reach out to them in some special way.

Almighty God, whose beloved Son Jesus Christ, went about doing good, and healing all manner of illness and disease: continue, we beseech you, his gracious work among us especially through physicians, nurses and all health care professionals. Grant them wisdom and skill, sympathy, patience and endurance; keep them safe and preserve them from all contagion. Cheer, heal and sanctify the sick, and send down your blessing on all who care for them healer, Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Brad+

May 6, 2020

Finding Our Common Ground

Thanks so much to those offering prayer concerns. Please keep them coming. I believe it is a vital form of prayer and ministry especially now. Education and youth topped many lists. As it happens, it coincides with the work of Common Ground, a non-profit advocacy organization, we are affiliated with. One of the most pressing issues CG is tackling now is the situation of an education stall in Milwaukee. Since the beginning of the pandemic and the closure of the public school system, no plan of online instruction, mailing of educational materials, or even teacher/student contact has been offered by MPS. Anything coming from teachers in the way of student contact or teaching initiative is solely dependent upon the teacher’s desire and initiative. Moreover, the teachers remain fully funded and paid, yet many are “vacationing” from the classroom for the remained of the term. CG has reached out to Superintendent, Dr. Keith Posley regarding this issue. His response has been vague and unproductive. On Thursday, April 30th, The MSP School Board met in its monthly meeting online. CG representatives were present in the meeting. Only 2 out of 9 school board members spoke regarding student needs and priorities or offered any support to their situation and need. In an unusual fashion, no reading of testimony was permitted and comments from attendees was not allowed.
This is a dire and tragic situation not only from the perspective of care of the education of our youth and our future, it is an irresponsible display of stewardship for the funding that tax payers have contributed to the school district over the years. CG is considering additional ways to address this situation. Any plans and ways we can participate and assist with our charge to educate the youth entrusted to our care will be shared with you as they are made public.
On a very positive and celebratory note, Bob Connolly announced that the final mortgage from the Milwaukee Rising initiative was being made last week. That is such a heroic endeavor to combat the mortgage debacle that ravished Sherman Park and so many neighborhoods in the 2009 subprime mortgage crisis. Millions of dollars in home equity have been returned to homeowners and the properties returned to Milwaukee’s property tax rolls. I know many of you were on the ground working tirelessly in that effort. Thank you for your ministry, good and faithful servants.

Collect for Education

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom: Enlighten by your Holy Spirit those who teach and those who learn, that, rejoicing in the knowledge of your truth, they may worship you and serve you from generation to generation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Collect for Social Justice

Almighty God, who created us in your own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Brad+

May 5, 2020

Simple Gifts

One of the gems in our Anglican tradition of worship is the Prayers of the People. I love them because they provide a common link that all the churches in our communion share regardless of the form being used on any given Sunday. We pray for the same intentions: the Universal Church, its members, and its mission; The Nation and all in authority; the welfare of the world; the concerns of the local community; those who suffer and those in any trouble; the departed (with commemoration of a saint when appropriate). Moreover, the prayers allow us to focus for the week ahead our ministry and expression of the gospel in our particular faith community.
I would like for us to do that in these reflections. I invite you to offer me a topic or need that is foremost in your mind these days. Then I will craft the reflection around that concern and prayer. It would allow us a fresh and very intentional way to connect with one another and pray as the body of St. Paul’s. Your suggestions will remain anonymous, but we can share them in a body of prayer beyond just one person. That really is the heart and goal of common prayer. I will begin today:
I heard someone exclaim yesterday that it “feels more like the beginning of November than of May.” That suggestion made my mind travel to Thanksgiving and the comfort food both my body and mind craved. As I sat in my study on a conference call, I notice a gratuitous copy of Taste of Home, a cooking magazine, that I had never taken out of the wrapper. The cover featured “The Ultimate Thanksgiving” and the recipes inside were quite simple versions of classic holiday fare. I accept gifts of the Spirit whenever I sense them and thought, “Thanksgiving week it is.” I’m looking so forward to escaping some of my new routine by filling the house with savory and inviting scents. If Hallmark can do “Christmas in July,” then I can do “Thanksgiving in May.”
As I thought about that I began to remember those who are in deep anxiety and fear around shortages of food and fears and realities of unemployment. How can I celebrate knowing those realities? Yet, is not that what the Eucharist does and is that not the reason we long for it? I decided to proceed with my original plan but limit my ingredients to those I have on hand (some of my most delicious and cherished meals came from evenings or days locked in from a snow storm without the prerequisite trip to the supermarket).  The words of the hymn 645 The King of Love My Shepherd Is, came to mind: “Thou spread’st a table in my sight; thy unction grace bestoweth.”
So it begins. A week of Thanksgiving favorites all from the pantry, larder and freezer. I look forward to it more than I ever did in November and there is none of the stress. Only relaxing and finding God’s bounty behind the next door.

Collect for Thanksgiving Day

Almighty and gracious God, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who live and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Brad+

May 4, 2020

More Soaps in Sight

Thanks to so many for their childhood stories of soap, washing and Mom catching “her story.” I thought we might continue that clean fun today. As I told you, I came up with 22 daytime soap operas I can remember during my life. The title for each one is embedded in the following reflection on the reality of COVID-19 during the past six plus weeks. Anyone who can send me the list is invited for lunch my treat. We can wait until the current state of distance is eased or we can “do lunch” virtually and I’ll order pick-up or delivery for you. Let’s play. It might be a change from sudoku and crosswords.
Life Like A Soap Opera
For the past six plus weeks we have been living on the edge of night. Life is like another world as the doctors tirelessly search for a cure. One day seems like all the other days of our life as the secret storm continues to grow. No thing is left untouched as events are cancelled and trips postponed indefinitely. My good friend announced last week that her long awaited holiday in Sommerset, England had to be put off yet another year. The summer sports season has been struck and now even fall looks gloomily empty. That will be so difficult for my cousin. Ryan’s hope was that the family would spend an endless amount of days and nights at Kansas City Royals baseball games. On the phone the other day, he moaned “all my children are crushed and driving me nuts!”
No part of life has been left untouched by this pandemic. Even my neighborhood market looks like a general hospital as it gets sprayed down with disinfectant regularly. Such a non-discriminating virus affects everyone. It separates both lovers and friends and raises the passions of everyone. Even those who vowed for richer, for poorer are being tested daily in their affection. As people want to return to some sense of normalcy, many are acting young and restless. This weekend my family in Texas gladly marched outside in defiance of reason as people flocked on beaches from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara. I’m afraid the bold and the beautiful might not look so in a few weeks.
Let’s pray that will not be the case. Whatever the state of things to come, life will continue on somehow. How do we find center as the world turns upside down? We pray. We search for tomorrow and a new way to appreciate the love of life. May that guiding light always shed radiance on your path. After all, we only have one life to live.
Those aren’t tears. I just have soap in my eyes.
Brad+

May 1, 2020

Soap

As you know from my posts this week, I have discovered many new ways to reflect. This morning washing my hands again, I thought about soap. That invited me to float into daytime soap operas. You may know that they were called that because their purpose was to advertise laundry detergent to housewives. That challenged me to remember as many “soaps” as I could. I came up with twenty-one. That’s a lot of laundry detergent. My mother never watched them. But I discovered them in the summers of junior high. They helped pass long hot Missouri days. These days, it is simply washing hands and recalling memories that seem to pass the time.
I’m still thinking about soap and am flooded with memories. We were a Dove and Ivory household. I never like either. I wanted Irish Spring and occasionally I was treated to it. Even though the scent of our usual soap wasn’t pleasing to me, the memories of childhood it brings back are pleasant and calming. On this May Day, be silly and play a new game. What was your childhood home’s preferred soap? What are the best memories of childhood that brings to mind? What are the best memories of these days and your new insights? They will hold you well in the coming days.
I tried to include a wonderful video clip Suzy Brennan sent me, but it is to large and no way to link it. New game for you: search the web for people playing a giant keyboard by dancing on it. It is so cool. Reminds me of the movie Big with Tom Hanks. These days imagination is a great gift.
Brad+

April 30, 2020

Burning Bush

It is amazing what I can “see” these days. With so much of the same in my view – news, food, still streets outside the window – it was so refreshing to “see” this. If you zoom into the photo you may be able to see it too. As I sat at the kitchen table turning my head to the window, I noticed the candle on the counter reflecting in the window pane. There was only one flame, but it appeared in multiple locations on the glass and lined-up with the branches of a bush outside the house. I immediately thought of Moses and a bush on fire but not consumed. That was the closest look he could have of the Sacred. Today it was mine. As coincidental and contrived as it was, it was quite a beautiful moment for me. It has held me in a place of deep gratitude this day. As I watched a news report of a 56-year-old mother who purposefully recorded her decline and death from COVID so others might continue their vigilance against infection, I feel deep gratitude for each breath. The food crisis for so many makes me welcome leftovers and simple meals. Knowledge of the greed displayed by corporate hoarding of the pay day loan program and made me so thankful for the intentional and centered leadership of our finance committee in discerning the decision to pass on those funds and allow other struggling faith communities to survive.
It has been a very blessed and good day in my “monastic cell” and so I turn again to Michael Casey for this reflection on Gratitude:
The story of ten lepers being healed and only one coming back to give thanks can serve as a useful reminder of the importance of gratitude as a lubricant of social life. Human beings are social animals, and the only way that we can flourish is in a state of inescapable interdependence. We are constantly giving and receiving services that are rendered at some cost to the one who serves. It is only appropriate that the recipient acknowledge this in some way, at least by saying, “Thank you.”
We are aware that the giver invests both thought and effort in preparing a gift, and so givers are greatly esteemed. Perhaps we are less conscious that there is also an art in receiving what another gives. When we receive a gift, we become indebted to the donor. In some cultures, we are obliged to reciprocate with a gift of comparable value. Even when the gift is gratuitous, honor demands that we repay the giver by the manner in which we accept the gift. The word gracious comes to mind. To receive a gift graciously involves acknowledging the joy that it brings us, at the very least with a smile. We honor the giver by manifesting our appreciation of the value of the gift — whether it be its objective value or simply what it means to the recipient. And we recognize the thoughtfulness and generosity of the giver. We should invest as much in receiving a gift as the giver invested in preparing it.
In a culture where all are encouraged to be doers, perhaps we need to place more emphasis on being good receivers. People who are conscious that everything that they are, as with all that they have, must come from other people — and ultimately from God — are less likely to be self-centered and antisocial. They are blessings to any community of which they are a part. On the other hand, nobody wants to be around ungrateful people: those who are so possessed by a sense of entitlement that they cannot recognize generosity in others or feel any inclination to reciprocate.
We have been the recipients of many blessings. May we also be among those who take the trouble to come back and give thanks to God and to others for what we have received.

Lord God, giver of all good gifts, we thank you for the blessings with which you have enriched our life. Grant us the humility to recognize the services others do for us and the nobility of spirit to repay them with our gratitude, our prayer, and our willingness to reciprocate. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

So grateful for you and all you do.
Brad+

April 29, 2020

Happiness

From Balaam’s Donkey by Michael Casey:

Psalm 4 asks, “What can bring us happiness?” Our inner identity is clearly indicated by the way we answer that question. Is it money, or power, or friendship, or security, or love? These are all good things, useful and even essential for a sound level of contentment. All of them, however, are precarious. Today we enjoy them; tomorrow we may well lose them. Possession that is only partial is unsatisfactory; it always seeks more. Possession that is liable to loss can never be absolute. Wars, natural disasters, and civil disturbances can, in a single day, rob us of the assets that took a lifetime to accumulate.
Another psalm says, “in God alone is my soul at rest.” This verse may remind us of the famous sentence in Confessions that St. Agustine addressed to God. “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We will remain forever dissatisfied until we learn to look beyond the things of time to seek what is above. “Here we have no abiding city.” All things are transient; only God remains.
Our faith reminds us of all this, but, because eternity surpasses our capacity for understanding, we allow ourselves to live as if heaven did not exist. We do not reject the notion of eternal life, but we set is aside in order to concentrate on things that are nearer and more comprehensible. We say, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
Leon Bloy once said, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” If we really open our hearts and our lives to God, we will begin to experience a little bit of heaven on earth as the joy that floods the spirits of the elect begins to take root in our souls. Perhaps then we begin to understand why Jesus summarized the effects of discipleship in terms of happiness. “Happy are the poor, the meek, the persecuted…” It is God alone who brings true contentment.

Eternal Father, you have called us to share your joy and to take our place at the banquet of eternal life. Teach us to keep our eyes fixed on the end of our journey, and help us to follow the example of your Son, who is the way to truth and life. We ask this in the name of Jesus our Lord. Amen.

April 16, 2020

What Time Is It?

Luke 24:36b-48
Jesus stood among the disciples and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you– that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
These days hold a con-fused sense of time for me. This is heightened in this first week of Easter. I suppose it should be so. In our faith tradition we speak of “three days as one” and of seven weeks of Easter as “one day.” We also refer to different designations of time often confusing them. “Everlasting life” is not “eternal life.” Everlasting is a very long time. Eternity is outside the matrix of time. “In the twinkling of an eye,” Paul says, “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (1 Cor 15:52).” The reality of life in this pandemic has placed all three of those realities before me. I find my mind and spirit vacillating between them all the time. This Easter has brought me closer to a desire for eternity than ever. To be outside of time and away from this reality is so alluring. Yet, even a Risen Christ “hangs around” with his disciples to assure them that this too shall pass. His presence is everlasting, as Paul attests. Even in death, we are still in time until the “trumpet sounds” at which time we rise and are changed. Finally, ready for eternal life, we step out of time and move completely into the reality of God.
Every day right now weighs down my mind with “this will never end.” It is really everlasting. And, yet, I no more admit that than I realize this life could end at any moment. What an odd paradox of time holding me at the same time. Somewhere in such a thin place is the Easter experience that the eternal is vaguely present. I suppose that is what keeps me moving, albeit in the same places. Was it really so different for the first disciples? Why should we expect that it should be different for us? Are we not, especially these days, witnesses of this? Our call this Easter, as it was that first Easter, is to move with the eternal through the everlasting reality of now. Then, in the twinkling of an eye, we might catch a glimpse of the Risen Christ who says, “do not be afraid, I AM with you always.”
Brad+

April 15, 2020

Holding onto the Risen Christ

Matthew 28:9-10
Jesus met Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
How different this passage is than yesterday’s from John. In that encounter, Mary is instructed by Jesus not to hold onto him. Here, the women are allowed to hold Jesus’ feet and given instruction to communicate to his disciples. I don’t believe this is contradictory. Mary was alone. One cannot hold the Risen Christ and remain completely alone. The women in Matthew’s account can hold him because they already constitute a community. Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them (Mt. 18:20). Though we cannot be physically gathered now, we are always gathered as one by the Risen Christ who is present in this community of St. Paul’s. The challenge for us in these days is to hold onto Christ’s feet and allow them to guide us to those places we desire to be. May they always bring us back to St. Paul’s so that we may go forth from here and proclaim Christ’s presence and God’s love to other disciples. If we can hold that Easter duty, many will be able to see Christ. That does not require the movement of our feet. It demands the following of our hearts. Holdfast.

Brad+

April 14, 2020

Do Not Hold onto Me

John 20:11-18
Mary Magdalene stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, `I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
This is my favorite story of Easter. It speaks so simply of the human experience of loss. It speaks so strongly of the human experience of healing and new life. Jesus words to Mary have been heard by us for weeks. They will likely be echoed for months to come. Jesus reminds Mary that it is not in embrace that presence is ultimately found. It is in recognition and response to the voice of a loved one and a stranger that we see the Risen Christ. As difficult as it is for us to be apart, it is better for the other that we are at a spatial distance. That space does not impede the touch we may have as a faith community. In this Easter week, may we continue to share with each other the things that the Risen Christ has said to us. As we look at the world from a distance, may we recognize we have seen the Risen Lord present and at work in this pandemic. That can provide others with true embrace.
Brad+

Love Unknown

John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

LOVE UNKNOWN (v. 2)
He came from his blest throne salvation to bestow,
but men made strange, and none the longed for Christ would know,
But O my friend, my friend indeed, who at my need his life did spend.

This must have been the song of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead. It was certainly the song of Mary who offered her most costly gift, all she had, to Jesus. Was it the song of Judas? It seems not as his only concern for the poor was to provide an embezzled living for himself. Can it be our song? Jesus says: “yes.” It can be our song if we journey with him this week. If we pay attention to only our most basic needs. If we reconsider one more trip to the store for something we would like, but do not require. This is a week to walk slowly, paying close attention to the feet before us as Mary does Jesus’. We can anoint them with our prayer and presence knowing that that anointing prepares them for their death – for their eventual journey into God. Each of our daily steps take us further in that direction. The fullness of life and the fullness of death are not in opposition to one another. They are the same reality – the same journey. They move together, side by side, until at the end of our day we step completely into the presence of God. This is the path Jesus’ feet will make this day. This is the path our feet make always. May they always move in assurance that we, like Jesus, will spend our life at the need of our friend, known and unknown. Brad+

In the Midst of Dis-Ease

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+