Posts Tagged ‘spirituality’

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


Miserable Offenders

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019

Lent has 16 more days to run and, as usual, I find this penitential season to be a worse experience than I expected it to be. I always feel the same. I just can’t wait for Easter.

I suppose that’s the way penitential seasons are supposed to go; otherwise, they wouldn’t be penitential. They wouldn’t make us feel sorry for our manifold sins and offenses and negligences. Or, as the old Prayer Book put it, we wouldn’t feel like the “miserable offenders” we are.

Of course, that’s not all we are, thank God. We are saved by the Cross of Christ. Baptized in Christ, we are marked as Christ’s own forever.

With that promise in store, perhaps I am kvetching just a little too much about Lent. —J. Douglas Ousley


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