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News & Resources: Spiritual Spot

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Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

You'll find here occasional writings, a few rants, and hopefully some insights too, about Christian discipleship, the Episcopal Church, and on faith community's life at the Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, Massachusetts. At the Epiphany we understand ourselves to be "a welcoming Episcopal community, united in God, called to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to transform the world with love and generosity."


  • August 07, 2020 11:44 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Collect for the Feast of the Transfiguration

    "O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the king in his beauty; who with you O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever. Amen. (BCP, p. 243)

    Today, Thursday, August 6th as I write this pastoral message, is the day that the Episcopal Church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration. We can also commemorate the Transfiguration on the Sunday just before Lent, when Jesus starts to speak to his disciples of his forthcoming death, so that it is a transition between the Epiphany season, in which Christ makes himself known, and the Lenten season, in which he prepares the disciples for what lies ahead. The Transfiguration takes place on Mount Tabor, where Jesus brings Peter, John, and James, The Gospel of Matthew records that "he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. At this moment Moses and Elijah appeared, and they were talking with Jesus. A bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud stated, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."

    The Transfiguration takes place about three years into Jesus’ three-and one-half year ministry. Jesus had just started speaking to his disciples about his impending death, but the disciples did not want to hear about or believe that he would die. So Jesus needed a way to really impress them and I am sure seeing his body enveloped in white and gold did the trick. Not to mention hearing the words from above say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him”.

    How do we listen to Jesus? It is not easy, particularly in the disquietude of this world. Disquietude, what an odd word. The first time I had ever seen this word was in the Collect for August 6th (above), so of course I had to look it up. When I used the on-line thesaurus, the thesaurus was not helpful, it could not find any similar words. So then I tried the on-line dictionary which defined “disquietude” as a state of agitation or anxiety. What an appropriate word for this day and these times, particularly after seeing the horrendous images of suffering in Beirut, Lebanon, a place that has experienced more than its fair share of suffering and close to the hearts in this household.

    How do we listen to Jesus in this time of high agitation and anxiety? It really is difficult, but as people of faith we must, and we do find ways to listen to Jesus. I try to hear God’s voice through Jesus Christ in the beautiful bird songs in the early morning, in the beautiful sunsets we have seen the past couple of evenings, taking pleasure in the natural world of God’s creation, conducting Morning Prayer, and attending Compline are some of the ways. I started a prayer practice of reading a little each night from books I have collected from Church Publishing. I am currently reading Crazy Christians, A Call to Follow Jesus a collection of sermons by our Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry. The table of contents alone gives me hope; Following Jesus with Our Feet, Living into God’s Dream, A Mountain Climb that Can Change the World, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Hold On, Hold On, to name a few. These sermons transport me to a better place away from anxiety and into a hopeful place that opens my ears and heart so I am prepared to “listen to Him”. What are your practices, do you need a start or a re-start, again, it is not easy during this time of disquietude, there are many ways to “listen to Him”, find what works for you, Jesus will love you no matter how you listen to him.

    In closing, let us pray for the people of Beirut using this prayer by the Brigidine Sisters; We pray, God of all people, that your Spirit of healing and protection be with the people of Beirut and Lebanon at this time. May the good news of peace and loving care be with all who live in Beirut, especially those suffering as a result of this disaster.

    May the terrifying sounds of explosion, ambulance sirens and the cries of those trapped in buildings give way to sounds of courage and hope.

    May the smell of acrid smoke, burning buildings and remains soon give way to a renewed sense of God’s loving presence and strength.

    May there be real cooperation between rescue workers, government personnel and civilians so that true justice and peace might break through for all and people’s deep suffering alleviated.

    Our Lady of Lebanon, pray for us and for all who suffer in Beirut. Amen.

    Yours in Christ,
    Suzanne Owayda, Warden



  • July 29, 2020 12:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear friends at Epiphany,

    Back in the old days (the middle of March), it seemed we were looking at a two-week closure of our church building – a necessary inconvenience that would soon be behind us. More than four months later, we remain in the midst of a pandemic that has changed our lives, our church, our communities, and our world.

    We do not yet know when we will be able to gather again in person for worship. We miss being with each other in the sanctuary, in Hadley Hall, in the church school classrooms, in the cloister garden! It is hard to live with uncertainty, with not knowing the answers to “When?” and “How long?”

    Our situation brings to mind something St. Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Philippi. Paul had founded the church in Philippi several years before, and wrote a letter of encouragement to the Christians there. Paul composed the letter, by the way, while he was in prison – in the midst of trying and uncertain circumstances. Paul wrote to them, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4.9). He wanted them to persevere in the faith he had taught them, knowing that such persistence was a channel for God’s presence and peace.

    As I reflect on what our life as a parish has been like these past four months, I am filled with gratitude for how we have kept on doing the ministry we have received from Jesus, and for how we have kept the bonds of our common life strong. We have kept on praying and worshipping, teaching and learning, serving and caring, exploring and experimenting, struggling and growing, reading and reflecting, laughing and crying, discussing and discerning, giving and forgiving. And in doing so, God has been right there with us – it is impossible to be physically distant from God!

    We have not stopped, even for a single day, being the church of Jesus Christ. And as the saying goes, we need to “keep on keeping on.” It is by no means easy. This time of being physically apart is spiritually and emotionally challenging, and requires sacrifice from each of us. Yet in the midst of this uncertain time, I’m certain that we will keep on doing our ministry. And I’m grateful for your companionship in these days.

    Yours in Christ,
    Sarah


  • July 23, 2020 1:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    At the beginning of the summer, I asked for people’s favorite hymns so that I could use them throughout the season. I got a wonderful variety of responses from a number of people, and we have been singing at least one every week. This coming Sunday is no exception. But the hymn that I have chosen for this week might seem a little strange for this time of year.

    “I sing a song of the saints of God” is a hymn that we would normally sing on All Saints’ Sunday in November. Lesbia Scott, the wife of an Anglican priest, wrote the text for this hymn in response to one of her children asking, “Mum, what’s a saint?” Scott used specific examples of saints in the first two verses of her hymn. “One was a doctor” refers to St. Luke who wrote two books of the Bible, the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles. “One was a priest” was John Donne who was an Anglican priest and poet. “One was slain by a fierce wild beast” refers to Ignatius of Antioch who was an early follower of Jesus who refused to renounce his faith and was thrown to the lions by the Romans. Scott gives us a great history lesson as we sing, but verse three is the reason that I love this hymn.

    “They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still,
    The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will.
    You can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea,
    in the church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
    for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”

    In response to the question, “What makes a saint?,” Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor said: “Extravagance. Excessive love, flagrant mercy, radical affection, exorbitant charity, immoderate faith, intemperate hope, inordinate love.” If we are all saints of God that is certainly a lot to live up to, but there is no doubt that this is what our world needs right now.

    Each week I try to choose a closing hymn that sends us forth and inspires to make a difference in the world. I’ve placed this hymn in that place this Sunday. As we sing these words at the end of the service, I hope we will all be thinking of ways to show “exorbitant charity and inordinate love” to the people around us.

    Faithfully,
    Craig Benner

  • July 17, 2020 10:49 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear friends at Epiphany,

    In these days of pandemic, with their anxiety and uncertainty, I’ve gone back to an old prayer. It’s in a small devotional book called In God’s Presence, published in 1929; I bought it many years ago at a book sale, and can’t have paid more than fifty cents for it. Yet the prayer, to me, is priceless. It’s a prayer for the morning, written by Henry van Dyke:

    Lord, the newness of this day
    Calls me to an untried way:
    Let me gladly take the road,
    Give me strength to bear my load,
    Thou my guide and helper be –
    I will travel through with Thee.

    Over the years, in the midst of overwhelming situations, or times of turmoil and uncertainty, I have turned to this prayer, and pray it when I wake up. In three couplets, the prayer acknowledges the gift of a new day, asks God for gladness and strength to meet whatever the day brings, and confirms a desire to move through the day with God. It is a brief prayer, uncomplicated, and for me a source of real strength and encouragement at the start of a day that is waiting to be lived.

    It seems that this is a time to pray old prayers and new prayers. I wonder what prayers you are praying these days – have you found comfort in a prayer you learned when you were a child? Are you finding fresh sources of prayers? Are you discovering hidden treasures in The Book of Common Prayer? Perhaps you are composing prayers out of the raw material of these days.

    I think God helps us find the prayers we need to pray, whether they were written hundreds of years ago or just this morning at breakfast. And I believe that God is weaving us together as a parish through every prayer, strengthening the spiritual bonds among us in this time of being apart from one another. God cherishes each prayer we pray as together we travel this “untried way.”

    Yours in Christ,
    Sarah


  • July 08, 2020 2:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Over the past several weeks, I’ve been participating in our Tuesday noonday prayer service over Zoom. It’s usually a small group of us, with Sarah Conner leading the brief service and reading a reflection from an author from her collection of favorite books. I’m glad to have it as a new practice. Oftentimes I don’t recall the specific author or the book, but the essence of the reflection will stay with me.

    This week the reflection was from a woman who spent some time in an Amish community. She wrote how her time in this community helped her appreciate work being done in the moment, not as an task to be crossed off of a to-do list so that the next item could be taken on, but rather as an opportunity to be more mindful and open to a deeper understanding of God’s presence. There is something quite appealing to me about this concept. On one hand it feels as though life has become so much more complicated for us, as we individually and collectively figure out how to emerge from our extended period of lockdown into something new, albeit not quite normal. On the other hand, perhaps it is an opportunity to stop, reflect, pray and wonder who God is calling us to be – both individually and collectively, as we go from one task to the next.

    During Miriam’s online retirement celebration, I noticed a shift – the Zoom platform enabled us to gather, see, pray, celebrate, laugh, and cry as a church in a way I hadn’t experienced since before the pandemic. Surely God was present in these moments as we thanked our friend and pastor for her years of loving service to us. I believe we were being called collectively in community to that moment – it felt like a holy occasion.

    Our summer Holy Conversations series, focusing on examining systemic racism, is another example of an opportunity to pause and reflect, both as individuals and as a community, in the midst of so much uncertainty. I recognize that while we may be perceived by many as a liberal leaning parish, that does not necessarily reflect our reality. In reality, we represent many different experiences, perspectives, and beliefs – and these are not always in harmony. However, we are all children of God, and that is what unites us as a community of faith. Indeed, throughout our parish history, we have been at the forefront of discussing and discerning the impact of many issues facing our church and society; war, gender, sexual orientation, immigration, and the #metoo movement are some examples. I believe our history of commitment to examining these issues is worthy of celebration. That does not mean that these conversations were any less challenging at the time they were happening. We will have our disagreements and differences (all families and communities do), but our baptismal covenant calls us – individually and collectively, to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves”, and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being”. And we will, with God’s Help!

    Faithfully,
    Dave McSweeney, warden

  • July 02, 2020 3:23 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear friends at Epiphany,

    I have been reading Robin DiAngelo’s book White Fragility in preparation for our gathering tonight (July 6), the first of six holy conversations about this book. You’ll find more information about tonight’s gathering, and reflection questions for the first two chapters, elsewhere in 3 Crowns.

    As a white person, I am finding the book challenging, demanding, and illuminating. As a Christian, my reading brought to mind St. Paul’s appeal in his letter to the Romans: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God…” (Romans 12.2).

    DiAngelo’s book can help those of us who are white to see how profoundly we have been conformed to a world in which whiteness is seen as normative and confers privilege. It is not something we intend as individuals; rather, as DiAngelo notes, it is because “racism is deeply embedded in the fabric of our society” (p. 22). To begin to grasp this is to have our eyes opened to how racism pervades our society and how we might make different choices in light of this. Or in Paul’s words, to grapple with systemic racism is to have our minds renewed so that we can more clearly discern and do the will of God, in whose Name we promised at our baptism to “respect the dignity of every human being.”

    Reading White Fragility and reflecting on it is one way that God is transforming us, renewing our minds so that we can be conformed more and more to God’s will for us and for all people. That’s why these gatherings over the summer are holy conversations – they are about our life and witness as a church. This is slow, patient, hard work; transformation always is. Let’s see what God will do with these holy conversations.

    Yours in Christ,
    Sarah


  • June 26, 2020 10:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear friends at Epiphany,

    We have just said a heartfelt goodbye to Miriam Gelfer, our beloved priest and friend, as she begins her retirement. It has been hard to say goodbye to Miriam, made all the more difficult because the pandemic prevented us from being together in person for her farewell.

    Grief

    We are in the midst of grief right now. One of the things we know about grief is that present grief often brings to mind grief we have borne in the past. I imagine that saying farewell to Miriam also brings to remembrance the bittersweet farewell you offered to Thomas last spring. Both Thomas and Miriam belonged to you – they were yours, in a deep and lasting way. After many years of ministry with you, they knew your stories and were deeply woven into the fabric of Epiphany. It is hard to let them go.

    Gratitude

    And yet, mingled with our grief is gratitude. One of the graces of the interim time is that it opens a space for reflection on the ministry of the priest who has departed. There is time to acknowledge with gratitude – publicly, yet often silently, in one’s heart – the blessings of his or her ministry. There is time in which to begin to harvest the abundant fruit of Miriam’s and Thomas’s ministry among you. In its own way, this is a season of thanksgiving as well as loss.

    Growth

    There is something else at work here, too. The interim time also offers space to grow toward welcoming a new rector. Right now, your rector search committee is imagining a future with the candidates with whom they are in discernment. And I expect that each of you, in your own way, is imagining what the future holds. You are growing toward a new beginning, even as you grieve the departure of such treasured companions as Miriam and Thomas.

    As you dwell in this time of grief, gratitude, and growth, Rilke’s poem Autumn comes to mind. The poem acknowledges the inevitable losses we bear – the “falling” that marks our existence – and yet ends with the assurance that

    there is One who holds all this falling
    With infinite gentleness in his hands
    .

    I pray that in this interim time, you will find rest in the One who is infinitely gentle and always with us.

    Yours in Christ,
    Sarah

  • June 11, 2020 12:29 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    My dear friends at Epiphany,

    My heart has been so full of all of you for the last nine months! I’m back “home” with you, whom I love, for the next few months, and am eager to “see” you online, dear friends. For those of you who don’t know, I am your Seminarian in the ordination process. I have been immersed in and serving at All Saints Episcopal Church of the North Shore (ASNS) in Danvers as part of my field education.

    It has been an exciting year of learning, experimenting, reflecting, and experimenting more, all in the generosity and grace of God. As you can guess, I’ve been staying informed about you by Dave (every day!) and keeping you all in my daily prayers.

    Who could have guessed that I would return to you in this new reality? Like you, I have had every facet of my life impacted by the coronavirus and the events of the last few weeks as the U.S. has faced its original sin of racism. Those of you who know me, however, may not be surprised that, amid all of this, I see hopeful and even exciting possibilities for the future. We have been granted a unique opportunity to reimagine what it means to be “church!”

    What message is it that we, as Christians, have to offer our troubled world? Simply: God is here, and God loves you. You are God’s beloved children; each of you is created in God’s image. As we heard last Sunday, Jesus promised his fearful disciples, “I am with you always.” Let us not forget, “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you’” (Is. 41:13).

    For the past ten years, God has used my brain tumor to teach me the fragility of life, and I am grateful to God for the blessings of abundant life every day. As the entire world is learning right now due to Covid-19, we can give ourselves over in freedom to receive the grace of God by facing the reality of our mortality as creatures. From this grace comes the power to work towards the flourishing of all, the fulfillment of God’s promises, right now. As Episcopalians, we offer the answer to the world’s deepest desires: the presence and love of the Creator.

    During this time of the global pandemic, I have seen the church step into its role as a conduit of God’s grace, healing, and justice. What is the church at its most essential? Using technology to focus on this, I have seen Zoom worship and Bible study allow for face-to-face, heart-to-heart, mind-to-mind contact that deepens personal and communal faith. As individuals encounter the Holy Spirit within each other, their synergy transforms not only their lives but the entire world in which they live. What I found over at All Saints was that the vitality of the congregation exponentially increased online—so much so that we’ll be keeping certain services online even after we are permitted to return to physically gathering. Our meetings have prompted social action, as we identify ways to meet the needs of the “least of these” (Mt. 25:40) in our midst.

    Our greatest challenge is to remind our church of the fundamental trait of the gift of God’s salvation: the grace to remember that we are beloved children of the Creator of all (1 Jn. 3:1). One effect of the pandemic has been to expose systemic failures to care for the marginalized in our society. This crisis has exposed the broken systems in our world that privilege some on the backs of others. It has also revealed our apathy. Yet when we remember our status as God’s children, our reaction is one of profound gratitude. The key to the transformational work of the church today is to stay rooted in the spiritual discipline of gratitude.

    The Parish of the Epiphany and the entire Episcopal Church, are in a unique position to serve God’s creation, meeting the needs of a world yearning for hope, because our primary message is a life of gratitude for unfiltered Love. We do not require an admission price; we firmly believe that it is given freely from God’s account, not our own. We will bring this message to the world, not require the world to come to us. As Bishop Steven Charleston recently wrote, “Now is the moment for which a lifetime of faith has prepared you.” Trust God, who has been preparing us for this moment. Now is the time. The Holy Spirit continues to transform us by renewing our minds (Rom. 12:2) in the service of all of God’s creation.

    I am so delighted to be back among you, dear friends!

    Brett Johnson



  • June 05, 2020 5:48 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dear friends at Epiphany,

    In Harry Emerson Fosdick’s well-known hymn “God of grace and God of glory” (#594 in The Hymnal 1982) we ask God to “grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour.” And there is much to face in this hour. Thousands of Americans continue to gather across our country to protest the brutal murder of George Floyd on May 25, and to call for justice in the face of the systemic racism that besets our society. And on May 27, we learned that Covid-19 has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people in this country – a terrible milestone that was reached with alarming speed. This milestone and the protests against racial injustice are not unrelated events, as we know that Covid-19 has taken a disproportionate toll on people of color.

    To help us find wisdom and courage to face this hour, we are beginning a series of holy conversations at Epiphany. Tonight (June 8) at 7:00 p.m., everyone is invited to gather online for “A Holy Conversation: Engaging Prayerfully with Race and Privilege.” It will be a time to reflect on the destructive consequences of racism in our society and to consider how white privilege benefits some of us and creates barriers for others. The Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas, a parishioner and Episcopal chaplain to MIT, will facilitate our conversation (you’ll find the Zoom link here).

    Through it all, prayer is an unfailing source of wisdom and courage. The collect “For Social Justice” on page 260 of our Book of Common Prayer was included in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Though this prayer was written almost one hundred years ago, it speaks to us today as we face this hour:

    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.

    Yours in Christ,
    Sarah


  • May 31, 2020 12:47 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    On the Monday of Memorial Day weekend I went out walking and found myself headed to Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Arlington. One could walk for hours on the paved and dirt paths that wind through the cemetery. The cemetery also contains a newly constructed columbarium where my father’s cremains are held. I was thinking about how my mother and her sisters would visit the cemetery to decorate the graves of their parents. I could never quite understand the ritual but somehow I found myself doing the same thing.

    It is not really possible to “decorate” a columbarium because it is a wall with drawers where the cremains are placed and the front stone has the deceased's name and dates. Since my dad served in WWII his stone has a special tag identifying him as a veteran. We were one of the first families to purchase drawers in the columbarium so we are on the “top floor”, and it was really nice to see a couple of gerbera daisies placed on top of my dad’s marker. I later learned one of my sisters had been there and left the flowers. My thoughts were with my father as I continued walking towards St. Agnes Church. I wanted to read the Beatitudes that have been on the outside wall of the church that overlooks the large municipal parking lot where the Arlington Farmer’s Market is held, you may know it. The wall has a sculptural relief of Jesus preaching the Sermon on the Mount and then the Beatitudes written in scroll in the same style. I felt drawn towards the Beatitudes because, as a young child, I remember having numerous discussions with my father about the Beatitudes; what are they?, who wrote them? what do they mean? I am the oldest of five girls and we use to fight and fight often, over clothes, chores, the one TV, the one phone, friends. And I can recall my dad saying “Blessed are the peacemakers…….”. Over the years whenever I would walk through that parking lot I would stop and look at the wall and reflect on the writings. It brought me comfort, so on this day when I got to the parking lot and looked to the wall, the Beatitudes were gone. I was confused, when were the taken down, how did I miss that, and then worst of all, were they ever there? On closer inspection, I could see newer bricks from an obvious repair or replacement. I was relieved to know that I did not imagine those chats from many years ago. Right now, I wish I could wave a magic wand and have the Beatitudes back up on the wall but I would add one more, “Blessed are those who wait, for they will learn to be patient”.

    We are all waiting and it is hard. We are waiting for the pandemic numbers to go down, we are waiting for in-person worship, we are waiting to decide about summer plans, we are waiting to learn about school and college restarts, some are waiting to get out of quarantine, we are waiting to continue our rector search process, we are waiting on God, and we are waiting on each other. We have all heard that “patience is a virtue”, and we can all give examples of what patience or lack of patience looks like, but what does patience really mean? The definition that speaks to me right now is that patience is waiting without complaint and we can look to Jesus Christ as an example of patience. Jesus waited without complaint when his disciples were slow to believe, were a bit slothful, were at times self-centered, and a bit dopey. Jesus never rebuked or insulted them, but he did prod them in the right direction so that they eventually were walking together as one. As difficult as it is to wait, we all need to be patient with each other when it comes to if, when, and how we will gather together for in-person worship. The current restrictions are very challenging especially when it comes to those over 65 and young children. I am praying that no one runs ahead while others are left behind, but rather we will grab each other’s hands and pull some along as well as pull some back so that we walk together as a pack as we contemplate what an in-person worship will look like.

    “Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer.”
    Romans 12:12

    Yours in peace,
    Suzanne Owayda, Warden



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