Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

Balm for the Soul

Monday, February 11th, 2019

One of the winners interviewed last night following the Grammy Awards was a young woman who was given an award for best Christian rock album.

This reminded me of the vast world of contemporary church music–a world that we at Incarnation touch in our Candlelight Communion service on Sunday evenings. Though we don’t have a rock band, we do have guitar and keyboard music and various forms of modern music.

As for the Grammy Awards show itself, there was little resembling Christian rock and nothing resembling classical church choral and organ music–on which our morning services depend.

I’m not too bothered by this; anything trendy one day is out of fashion the next. Church music has roots that are thousands of years old, and it’s not likely to vanish soon. People often tell me that they like a church that looks and sounds like a church.

Still, we need to be aware of what is going on in the secular world around us. Otherwise, it will rock us. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Shattering of Loneliness

Tuesday, February 5th, 2019

In his brilliant new book, The Shattering of Loneliness, the British monk Erik Varden tells of a moment when, listening to Mahler’s Second Symphony, when he discovered that he wasn’t alone. “With a certainty born neither of overwrought emotion nor of cool analysis, I knew I carried something within me that reached beyond the limits of me.”

Thus was Varden’s loneliness shattered forever. His testimony is causing something of a sensation in England–no doubt because it addresses the primal human need to believe that there is a divine out there, somewhere.

And Varden not only shows how loneliness is shattered by belief that there is a God–but also by experience of God. Through faith, we “carry something within” us. That divine something is always with us, whatever is happening in our lives. Thanks be to God.–J. Douglas Ousley


Weather Related

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal gave advice for traveling business people as to what to wear in offices in various sections of the country. The conservative suit expected in the Northeast was wholly unnecessary on the West Coast, and so on.

The article got me wondering how much one’s spiritual mood is affected by what we wear–which mood is in turn affected, of course, by the climate of the places we live in. Are people more optimistic when the weather is sunny? If they are more optimistic, are they less likely to feel the need for religion?

I don’t know if there has been any research on these issues. I know that both sunny California and rainy Washington State have a low rate of religious practice, while the temperate South has the highest rate of religious attendance.

Perhaps we can be content with Christ’s observation that God sends rain upon the just and unjust alike…–J. Douglas Ousley


The Spirit Speaks in Platitudes

Monday, December 24th, 2018

Sermons can be seen as a series of cliches interspersed with anecdotes and personal reflections. This is especially true at Christmas time.

And that isn’t all bad. After all, the Christmas message is not going to be a startling revelation to most people. It’s hard to say anything new about the birth of the Christ.

And yet, thank God, the Spirit still speaks to us in the feeble words we offer at this time of year. The bright light shines, the Messiah comes to earth, the Word is made flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth. —J. Douglas Ousley

 


A Hole in the World

Tuesday, December 18th, 2018

I know second-hand from my wife’s work that hospitals are like miniature worlds.

Employees work all sorts of hours enclosed within their buildings, wearing distinctive garments and speaking an arcane language only they understand. Bearing extreme stress together in situations of life and death, hospital employees not surprisingly come to think of themselves as “family.”

Early this morning, I officiated at a memorial service for a beloved doctor at a hospital on Long Island. Even though the employees in the packed conference room were, I assume, from very different religious backgrounds, I chose the service I knew best–the traditional language version of the Burial Office from the Book of Common Prayer.

I think that most of those present could find comfort in the ancient words. I spoke of the help many people felt in offering prayers for the departed; this was one of the few things we who mourn can “do” in the face of our grief.

Death rips the fabric of a community; it leaves a hole in the world of the people who are left. Thank God that we can offer prayers for our loved ones, that they may rest in peace and rise in glory. —J. Douglas Ousley


Pie in the Sky

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

At a Men’s Group meeting last week, we discussed the Christian belief in life after death.

I chose this topic because I had been surprised recently by parishioner skepticism about their immortality. Several regular churchgoers told me they were uncertain whether they would survive the dissolution of their bodies–even though this faith is an important part of traditional doctrine.

My guess is that this questioning stems largely from the apparent lack of scientific evidence for life after death. Skeptics may also question the apparent selfishness of belief in “pie in the sky after you die.”

My response is, first, that there is some evidence for immortality (the mystery of consciousness, near-death visions of heaven). Second, this hope is not selfish but rather the natural hope of men and women who believe in a loving and omnipotent God. Our God will not allow his people to perish.

There is much more to be said on this topic. What seems certain is that the church should be discussing it! —J. Douglas Ousley


Time is Short

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

“Be alert,” Jesus says in the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent, which is this Sunday.

I couldn’t help seeing the somber side of Christ’s message over the past few days. The day before Thanksgiving, the husband of a couple I married a dozen years ago failed to wake up. The cause of his death is being determined; in the meantime, I journeyed to the North Shore of Long Island on Monday to officiate at the wrenching funeral for the man, who left behind his wife and three children under ten.

The Book of Common Prayer’s words about being “in the midst of things we cannot understand” were all too appropriate for the funeral. May we be alert to the gifts of God each day–and be thankful. —J. Douglas Ousley


God-help

Monday, October 29th, 2018

As a parish, we are reading The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. The book has sold some 34 million copies–largely I suspect to evangelical Christians who know of Warren’s phenomenal success of Saddleback Church, Warren’s megachurch in Southern California.

The Purpose Driven Life is written in a light style, with short chapters and lists of suggestions and catchy phrases. But it makes one weighty point: we are to look to God for meaning and purpose in our lives.

Warren notes that self-help books tend to offer the same advice about believing in yourself and working hard, etc. By contrast, Christians are to look to the divine for support.

This is a crucial distinction between secular philosophies and Christianity. We depend on God rather than on ourselves. We know that self-help will only take us so far. We have a different if sometimes perplexing view of the universe–a view we can only live by with God’s help. —J. Douglas Ousley


Christians v. Christians

Friday, October 5th, 2018

Some years ago, I inherited a leather-bound set of the works of Sir Walter Scott. During a recent vacation, I read Scott’s most famous book, Rob Roy.

The novel includes interactions between the main character and the Robin Hood-like Scottish hero known as Rob Roy. But an on-going sub-text of the story is the 18th-century rivalry between rebellious Roman Catholics and conservative Protestants. Despite their common Christianity, the members of these groups are forever at each other’s throats–to the extent even of civil war.

Today’s intra-Church rivalries are happily less violent. But they remain highly significant. In liberal Christian circles, “evangelical” is a negative epithet. The same is true in evangelical churches of the word, “liberal.” As someone from an evangelical background who serves a traditionally Broad Church congregation, I think I’m particularly aware of the bitterness of this conflict.

Despite all the ecumenical work in the past half-century, we Christians have a way to go if we are going to “walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us…”–J. Douglas Ousley


A Great Episcopalian

Monday, August 27th, 2018

While John McCain attended a Baptist church with his wife, he never officially left the Episcopal Church in which he was raised. He often spoke of his faith in God, especially as it helped him to endure the long years in the brutal Hanoi prison.

Moreover, McCain’s funeral will be held in the National Cathedral, which is of course Episcopalian.

So I am going to claim him for our church–as an example of courage, generosity, openness, unselfishness, and just plain niceness. All Christians and other people of faith can be encouraged by his example.

A great Episcopalian. While he was only tangentially an Episcopalian, he was unquestionably great. —J. Douglas Ousley