Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

Hit in the Head

Tuesday, October 15th, 2019

Preaching on Sunday about the Healing of the Ten Lepers and the fact that only one leper came back to thank Jesus, I speculated that one reason New Yorkers have trouble being grateful is that they are so often overwhelmed by urban life.

They are assaulted with noise, they are aggravated by uncertain transportation, they feel hit in the head (sometimes literally) by the human congestion around them. No wonder we forget to thank God for all the good things in our lives.

That said, it is curious that religion isn’t more popular. Our form of Christianity, at least, presents relief from the stress of living. We offer worship and prayer, and that worship and prayer should bring comfort and healing.

As Christians proclaiming the Gospel in the world, we need to make people feel they won’t just be preached to. They will find a place of comfort and healing, a haven of blessing and of peace. —J. Douglas Ousley


Angels, Reconsidered

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019

I was talking yesterday with a colleague in another city, and he was saying how pleased he was to be able to assist recently in the ordination of his mother, a former minister in the AME Church who has become an Episcopal priest.

My friend happened to mention that his mother now serves a parish named, “the Church of the Guardian Angel.” I had never heard that name for an Episcopal church and I liked it immediately.

Although we just celebrated the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, and Incarnation’s windows are filled with angels, including some by the noted artists, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Edmund Burne-Jones, and William Morris, I don’t know that that the average Episcopalian thinks much about angels.

We might ask ourselves, why not? We believe that God watches over us–why couldn’t he give us each a spiritual protector?

We should be happy to trust in our guardian angels. Don’t we need all the help we can get? —J. Douglas Ousley


On Good and Bad Alike

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Jesus famously noted that the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. (Matthew 5:45)

So the rain of Hurricane Dorrien is falling mercilessly on the saints and sinners of the Bahama islands. The commanding Prime Minister yesterday commended his country to God, “the only One who can save us.”

As our part of the world deals with this and other hurricanes, we are reminded that even with all the marvels of technology, it remains impossible to control or even predict the weather. Things are better today than in past generations, when severe storms might appear without warning from the media. But we human beings are still far from being in charge of our planet.

This is a somber lesson for all of us, just and unjust. All the more reason to seek the aid of “the only One who can save us.” —J. Douglas Ousley


Attention Span

Monday, August 26th, 2019

Social commentators often note the short attention span of the public today. Only a few weeks ago, the media was filled with agonizing reports about two mass shootings, and there were countless calls for gun control. Today, you hear little about the subject, and we can expect little public comment until the next shooting. (Although we should note that the police have apparently managed to stop some recent incidents through good detective work.)

Major climate change reports appear periodically–only to disappear quickly from the public eye when some other newsworthy item arises.

The 20th Century French mystic Simone Weil often wrote of the need for “attention.” Like one’s focus on a piece of art, human beings need to learn to overcome distractions and concentrate on one thing at a time. Specifically, we need to pay attention to the divine. Weil saw this as part of the larger mystical project of “waiting on God.”

As far as media news is concerned, we might profit from devoting our attention to the deep issues beyond the headlines. To violence. To the condition of God’s world. To God. —J. Douglas Ousley

 


Anger Issues

Monday, August 19th, 2019

A fine sermon yesterday from our Associate Rector reminded us that Jesus was angry a lot. He wasn’t content with injustice, and hypocrisy and avoidable suffering.

This fact reminds us, too, that anger can be a good thing when it prods us to act and try to correct wrongs and help people.

This kind of righteous indignation might be termed, “social anger.” But “personal anger” directed at people we know or encounter may not be so valuable. Indeed, it can be toxic. As Jesus observed, anger can be the equivalent of murder!

The Rev. Adrian Dannhauser mentioned in her sermon that studies indicate people get “mildly or moderately” angry as often as several times a day. Using social media with its likes and dislikes is no doubt a modern factor in encouraging people to get mad.

In any case–while we are right to fight for justice–on a personal level, it’s much better for our souls to stay cool. —J. Douglas Ousley


Summertime, Summertime

Monday, August 12th, 2019

Recently, I have been working on an upcoming sermon dealing with Christ’s views of the Sabbath.

Traditionally in Judaism, the seventh day of the week (Saturday) was a day of rest. There was some debate, however, about the rules governing how strictly the Sabbath was to be observed. Jesus bent these rules himself, healing the sick and disabled on the Sabbath. As he famously observed, “The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

But while that is certainly the right perspective, it’s worth noting that because the Sabbath was a gift of God to human beings, we can expect observance of the tradition to be valuable. This is especially true in our modern society, as Sundays become increasingly commercialized and they seem more and more like the other six days of the week.

Today, we need to make an effort to get moments of rest and re-creation. As summer winds down, now may be a good time to plan our own personal sabbaths. After all, the Sabbath was made for us. —J. Douglas Ousley

 


Irreplaceable

Monday, July 15th, 2019

One of the unhappy things about parish life is losing people–the worst, of course, being losing church members through death.

Church officers are interchangeable; a vestry member or a rector retires and their successors can end up being more effective leaders than the ones they replaced.

But church members are unique and therefore are, strictly speaking, irreplaceable. New members arrive and occupy the pews, but they will never bring exactly the same qualities as those held by the departed persons.

Each one of us is a child of God. God sees us as we are, warts and all. May we appreciate this profound truth about our faith, and may we appreciate the unique personhood of our fellow children of God. —J. Douglas Ousley


Expecting to Dance

Monday, June 10th, 2019

As I mentioned in my sermon yesterday, there are many churches, particularly in Africa, where Anglicans come to worship on Sunday expecting to dance.

This is not the case in most American Episcopal parishes. Yet that doesn’t mean that our faith has to be, in the old phrase, “high and dry.” We can still look for an emotional element in our religion; in fact, we need to find such an element. We need at least on some occasions to feel the Spirit within us.

These experiences can range from enjoyment of a favorite hymn to a walk on a sunny day to a dinner out with friends. In the season of Pentecost, we can be grateful that the Holy Spirit is always reaching out to us. In that Spirit, we can, as the Twelve Step movement says, let go and let God. —J. Douglas Ousley


The Bell Tolls

Monday, June 3rd, 2019

Yesterday, I officiated at a memorial service at Yale as part of my class’s 50th reunion.

During the service, I read the name of every classmate who had died in the past five years. After the name was read, a bell was sounded and people present could offer remarks and remembrances of the deceased.

While it was a somber occasion, the mood was uplifted by humorous reminiscences of our college years. Yet the service couldn’t help being serious. As our class secretary remarked to me, eventually the bell will toll for each of us.

And that reminder of our mortality is also a reminder that religion is still needed by people–however secular they think they can be. Church bells are a sign that this life is not the end. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept.–J. Douglas Ousley


The Great Fifty Days

Monday, April 15th, 2019

The Church season provides for 50 days of celebration of the feast of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead–known as “the Great Fifty Days.”

Unfortunately, the Easter flowers don’t last that long, and people begin to head for the parks or the country on Sundays, and Easter is soon forgotten. Ironically, the 40 days of Lent seem more likely to be observed faithfully!

And yet the tradition is a good one. We need to be reminded that Christ always gives us new life, and we need that reminder as much as we need to acknowledge our sins during Lent.

We have no trouble remembering to celebrate Christmas time. Let’s celebrate Easter time as well. —J. Douglas Ousley