Occasions of Grace

In 1998, with a newly-minted master’s degree in theology from the University of Chicago (but before I’d gone to seminary to train for the priesthood), I was asked by my rector to teach a new adult Sunday school class.  I pulled out all the stops, teaching about every complex and arcane aspect of theology I could muster.  The first week I had twenty students.  By week three, the only class attendees were my wife Jill and a fellow named Dale who was too nice to quit.

I went to the associate rector to figure out what I was doing wrong.  “What are you teaching?” he asked.  I explained my syllabus and concluded by claiming, “I’m teaching earth-shattering stuff!”  The associate rector looked at me kindly and said, “Barkley, it’s only earth-shattering to you.”

It was an important lesson, and one I’ve not forgotten.  Pastors want the bombastic sermon, the eloquent article, and the energetic class to be memorable and transform lives.  But mostly they aren’t, and they don’t.  Rather, when people recall the positive difference I, you, or anyone else has made in their lives, they usually hearken to much more mundane and fleeting things: the hand-written note that arrived on the lonely day; the visit that occurred so soon after receiving a frightening health diagnosis; the smile or hug that reminded them they are loved.  These are the things that have lasting impact and change lives for the better.Helping hand

In his book The Tipping Point, social theorist Malcolm Gladwell reviews a series of such small things that have had huge consequences in our world, like the stone thrown into the pond whose concentric ripples extend all the way to the pond’s edge.  Gladwell looks at how fashion trends take hold, how crime rates fall, and even how diseases spread.  It is usually the small event that serves as the tipping point for transformation.

This is true in our individual lives as well.  For us, too, often the small and seemingly insignificant encounters become the tipping points for transformation.  The right thing, in the right place, at just the right time—no matter how small—can make a world of difference.  I call these moments “occasions of grace.”  They are the way in which God’s love is spread in the world.

As we enter into the Christmas season, when God is born into our midst, I hope we’ll take extra notice of the way God is encountered in our occasions of grace with one another.  They make all the difference.

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What Christmas is all about

This is an important anniversary, when we commemorate something that happened a long, long time ago, something we take care to observe and remember each and every year in this season.  We schedule our lives around it.  We await it with increasing anticipation.  We gather the family in a cozy huddle and share mugs of hot cocoa and candy canes.  You know what I’m talking about, right?  Of course you do.

I’m talking about the annual airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Unlike the Nativity itself, A Charlie Brown Christmas may not be two thousand years old, but this December it does mark an important milestone.  This is the fiftieth anniversary of the television cartoon’s original airing on CBS.  Along with Ralphie Parker and A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas is a seasonal custom I refuse to miss.  I watch it each and every year, which means I’ve seen it more than forty times now.  And still, I’m struck by several things with each viewing.

"You're hopeless, Charlie Brown."

“You’re hopeless, Charlie Brown.”

The first is how cruelly Charlie Brown is treated by the other children.  For instance, when Charlie Brown brings the little Christmas tree back to pageant rehearsal, Violet says to him, “Boy, are you stupid, Charlie Brown.”  Lucy adds, “You’ve been dumb before, but this time you really did it.”  And Patti piles on with, “You’re hopeless, Charlie Brown, just hopeless.”

The other children are vicious toward Charlie Brown, as children sometimes can be.

A second thing that strikes me is how subversive Charles Shultz was, way back in 1965.  You see, A Charlie Brown Christmas was supposed to be one big, thirty-minute commercial for Coca-Cola.  It wasn’t merely that Coke served as the commercial sponsor for the cartoon.  Rather, Coca-Cola actually commissioned it.  In other words, A Charlie Brown Christmas had as its very intention the commercialization of Christmas.  It was a big corporate ploy to use the Peanuts Gang in order to sell more soft drinks in the cold winter months.  Charles Shultz took the commission, but he then slyly turned what was supposed to be a half hour Coke commercial into a sophisticated critique of the commercialization of Christmas!

No sooner has the cartoon begun than Snoopy enters a Christmas light contest advertised this way: “Find the true meaning of Christmas.  Win money, money, money!  Spectacular!  Super-Colossal!  Neighborhood Christmas lights and display contest.”

To which Charlie Brown laments, “My own dog, gone commercial!”

"My own dog has gone commercial!"

“My own dog, gone commercial!”

The theme carries onto the set of the gang’s Christmas play.  Lucy reveals to Charlie Brown, “Look, let’s face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.”

And this reality is reinforced for Charlie Brown when he visits the Christmas tree lot, filled with pink and blue aluminum trees, signifying the artificiality, superficiality, and commercialization of everything Christmas.

But Charles Shultz didn’t focus only on what Christmas had become.  His message wasn’t, ultimately, one of critique.  Rather, it was one that cut to the very heart of the matter.

In an interview on NPR about the fiftieth anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas, producer Lee Mendelson relates that Charles Shultz insisted the holiday cartoon include a reading of the Nativity narrative from Luke’s Gospel.  Shultz met resistance.  After all, what does the Bible have to do with selling Coca-Cola?  But Charles Shultz maintained that there was no other way to tell the story.  In fact, without the Nativity reading there is no story.  There is no Christmas.

And so, when Charlie Brown, in his hopeless desperation, cries out, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Saint Linus of the Sacred Blanket steps forward and replies, “Sure, Charlie Brown.  I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”

"I can tell you what Christmas is all about."

“I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”

Linus walks to center stage, asks for a spotlight, and recites in the eloquent language of the King James Version, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger.’ And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.’”

And then the most remarkable thing happens.  There is a full ten-second silence in the cartoon, as Linus walks off stage and back to Charlie Brown.  That is a lifetime on screen, valuable seconds filled with nothing.  It is as if Charles Shultz recognizes that Linus’ words—Holy Scripture’s words—need a liturgical pause, so that the viewer can abide momentarily in the quiet stillness and understand the magnitude of what has just been shared, on CBS, in primetime, during a Coke commercial.

It is, indeed, what Christmas is all about.  It is that without which there is no Christmas at all.

DETAIL FROM ICON OF THE NATIVITYThe paradox of the modern Christmas season is that during this time of supposed joy, rates of illness, suicide, and other maladies actually increase.  Why is this so?  Well, it is well known that Charlie Brown mirrors many of creator Charles Shultz’s own personal insecurities, and I think we empathize so much with Charlie Brown’s character year after year because the treatment he receives triggers some of our insecurities, too.  We can bear to watch the children taunt Charlie Brown because he is a cartoon, but our hearts nevertheless break, and we understand and can sometimes relate, when Violet calls him “hopeless.”

You see, the source of hope is nothing that our superficial and commercialized culture has to offer us at any time, and especially at this time of year.  The source of hope, now and always, is that God chose to be born among us, to enter into our contingent, dangerous, and often lonely world so that we would never, ever be alone.  And as Jesus is born in a stable stall this night, the Christ is also born anew in our hearts.  The theologian Angelius Silesius said four hundred years ago, “If Christ were born a thousand times in Bethlehem but not in you, you would remain lost forever.”  But he is born—this very night—and we are found.  That is why we rejoice.  That is what Christmas is all about.

For thirty minutes, now for fifty years running, Charles Shultz has, indeed, proclaimed the Gospel.  “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.”  May your hearts be glad.

Annunciations

Poet Denise Levertov, recalling countless paintings of Mary and Gabriel, interprets the Annunciation in this way:

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

In today’s Gospel scene, Mary is so utterly normal.  She’s just a poor, giddy young girl from Galilee, preparing for her upcoming marriage.  And yet, to her out of all people throughout all history, God’s angel makes the visit.

Edward Burne-Jones rendering of the Annunciation

Edward Burne-Jones’ rendering of the Annunciation

And that angel, if we are to believe centuries of Christian art and Levertov’s poem itself, is as impressive as Mary is mundane.  Like some mythic creature from Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Lewis’ Narnia, the winged angel enters into Mary’s abode, filling the space with light and promise.

If we were watching a Hollywood version of this scene, we’d expect Mary to stand transfixed and mesmerized, compelled to accept God’s offer of a Son.  Yet to our astonishment, exactly the opposite occurs.

Two things are of stunning note in this story.  First for whatever reason, God needs Mary.  God relies upon her for his plan of salvation to move forward.  And second, as Denise Levertov reminds us in her poem, God waits on an answer.

The angel offers, and then God waits.  Gabriel’s master waits upon the decision of this poor, teenage child.  The angel will not insist.  God will not coerce.

Mary has her whole life ahead of her, a wedding and new household and all the unglamorous yet predictable and comforting years in Galilee.  What the angel proposes is definitely not how Mary would have written the script.  This is most definitely not the time to let the Spirit of God enter into her life and grow beyond her ability to control.

The Irish tell the story that the one night in all of history in which the stars stood still in the sky was when they held their very breath on the night of the Annunciation to see what Mary would say![i]  (I love that image.)

At the moment of decision, with the angel, and God himself, waiting anxiously for her response, Mary breathes the last predictable breath of her life and says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.”

As a result, in Mary’s life she will know sorrows deeper than words.  But she will also know God and play her part in his salvation of the world.  And she will be blessed.

Lest we forget, Mary’s is the second annunciation in Luke’s story.  The first happens earlier in the first chapter of the Gospel, when Gabriel appears to Mary’s elderly cousin Elizabeth.  (He was a busy angel in those days!)

Elizabeth is barren.  She has never been able to have children, and now she is well past her child-bearing years.  She is at that point in her life when she expects—and perhaps hopes—that surprises are over.  She has weathered many storms and endured many things, and she is ready for predictability, if not ease.  And yet, by the intervention of God she and her husband suddenly discover that they, in their mature years, are pregnant.

When Mary herself becomes pregnant, she visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is in the latter stage of her own pregnancy.  When Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice approaching, Luke tells us, “The child [John the Baptist] leapt in her womb.”

Leonardo da Vinci's conception of the Annunciation

Leonardo da Vinci’s conception of the Annunciation

Why does Luke emphasize Jesus’ virginal conception?  The first and easiest answer is that it fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, cited by Matthew, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”

But Luke’s Gospel, which we read today, doesn’t explicitly make this connection; only Matthew does.  More likely, the parallelism for Luke is between Jesus’ conception and John the Baptist’s conception.

How are these two miraculous conceptions parallel?  Elizabeth is old and barren.  Mary is a youth and a virgin.  And yet there the both of them sat, recipients of the impossible, given by God, with the world of their expectations shattered by the  new lives tossing and turning in their wombs! The God of the Annunciation is nothing if not world-shattering.

What do these stories mean for us?  Well, perhaps not unexpected pregnancies in the literal sense, but more generally it is all a matter of where God meets us in our mundane lives.  If we are younger, closer to Mary, we have a lifetime of plans ahead of us, expectations for the way we want things to be and how we want things to turn out.  If we are older, like Elizabeth, we may be at a point where we look back at a wealth of experiences, and perhaps struggles, and are ready for some predictability, if not ease.

Mariotto Albertinelli's depiction of the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth.

Mariotto Albertinelli’s depiction of the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth.

But annunciations happen!  Sometimes, God shows up with a message, and we have no control when.  At sixteen, twenty-six, forty-six, or seventy-six, we may hear the rhythmic beat of angels’ wings just outside the window.  No matter where we are in our lives, God can meet us, overturn our expectations, and do something miraculous.

To what might God be calling you?  To what new place?  To do what new thing?  To serve in what capacity?  To offer what word of grace?

Remember, there are two things of crucial note in this story.  First, God needs us.  It may be inexplicable to us, but God has created a world in which we are a necessary part of God’s plan for salvation.  Without us, the preparation for the kingdom doesn’t happen.  That should be sobering.  Heck, it should be terrifying.  But it should also remind us of the immense favor and value God bestows on us.  On us—us—God chooses to rely.  There is a role—perhaps a unique role fillable by no one else—for you, and for me.  And when we respond, though we may experience pain and challenge, we will also know God and be blessed.

And second, though God’s need for our participation is real, God waits on our answer.  We can—and often do, moment by moment—say no to God.  The angel does not insist.  God will not coerce.  It is our decision.

We are at the end of Advent.  In just four days, God will be born anew into our world.  Light will shine in darkness.  Angels will sing.  Even now, as we prepare, Gabriel may be hovering just outside, waiting to fill our souls with the beckoning of God.  There is anticipation in the air.  The stars themselves hold their breath, hoping we will be willing to give up predictability and control, to give ourselves over to our part in God’s great story, and to say, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord.”

___________________________

[i] Herbert O’Driscoll shared this story with me.  It was first told to him by his father’s farmhand, when Herb was a boy in Ireland.

Eyes on the road

The summer after I was in the second grade, my family took our first vacation to Florida.  There were too many Thompsons to fit into one car, so my older brother and I traveled with my grandparents, Boo and Pop, in Pop’s late seventies-model Ford Crown Victoria.  That car was so mammothly long, that once pointed in the direction of Florida, we were already halfway from Arkansas to Pensacola!

Traveling with Boo and Pop meant leaving a day early, so we could stop at every alligator farm, Stuckey’s, and other roadside Americana tourist trap along the way.  Mostly, Pop would drive while my grandmother Boo sat in the backseat between Robert and me, singing songs, playing Mad Libs, and helping us spy license plates from all the fifty states as we passed other cars on the highway.  (If you’ll recall, that’s how we endured travel in the days before iPods and satellite radio.)  Immediately after lunch, though, Pop needed his nap.  We either had to pullover at a rest stop, or else Boo had to drive.

The make model (and color!) of Pop's Ford Crown Vic

The make and model (and color!) of Pop’s Ford Crown Vic

On the second day, at nap time, Boo drove.  She was five feet tall and weighed a hundred pounds.  Though I don’t remember seeing them, I feel sure she must’ve tied blocks to the soles of her shoes to reach the pedals and sat on a phone book in order to see over the dash.  In the passenger seat, Pop dozed off, and the four of us continued down the highway.

Twenty minutes or so later, as I played with my Star Wars action figures in the backseat, I heard Boo cry out to Pop, “Carl!  Help me.  I don’t know what to do.”

We were on a four-lane highway, and when I looked up I saw a massive wide-load truck right alongside the Crown Vic.  It carried a double-wide trailer, and the space between it and the side of our car couldn’t have been more than six inches.  Boo’s knuckles were white with fear as she clutched the steering wheel.  Pop awakened, and glanced at the wide-load.  Following the turn of his head, Boo started to look to her right as well.  Pop intuitively realized that she would, and he turned immediately back toward her.

“Look straight ahead,” he said sternly.  “Keep your eyes on the road; look at where you want to be and where you want to go.”

The tension in the car was palpable for a few more seconds, until the shoulder widened and the truck could slide further to the right.  With breathing room, Boo tapped the gas, and we made it past the wide-load.

_________________

John the Baptist strikes us as something like Clark Griswold's Cousin Eddie.

John the Baptist strikes us as something like Clark Griswold’s Cousin Eddie.

We’ve moved back into the season of Advent.  It’s a new church year.  We’re at the beginning of the journey.  And at the beginning—the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel—we find not Jesus, but John the Baptist.  John meets us at the outset.  He is the one who gives us the crucial advice before we begin down the long road with Jesus.  And what does John say?  In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.  Make his paths straight.

In our common retelling of this story, John the Baptist is Jesus’ crazy cousin, something like a more serious version of Clark Griswold’s Cousin Eddie in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  John lives apart from society.  He eats bugs, has wild eyes, and says strange things.  We love John, but we prefer that he sleep outside on the driveway, away from the rest of the family.  It’s better for everyone that way.

Who John really is and what he is all about are lost on us, because we don’t understand the world in which John lives.  It’s not our world.  If we miss that important fact, we’ll never understand John.

_________________

New-Year-ResolutionsThis being the beginning of the church year, consider what many of us will do in a few weeks, at the beginning of the calendar year.  We’ll make resolutions to be better, to do better, to get from here to there.  We’ll resolve with the best intentions, but within a few weeks—or days—we’ll have given up and given in to whatever vice we’d hoped to shed.  In most instances, we’ll have a nervous laugh and think to ourselves, “Well, maybe next year.”

Why is the laugh nervous?  Because those little, failed resolutions we make each New Year are really emblematic of something bigger and deeper that we experience in our lives.  There is an anchor, a drag, a force that pulls us to the left, the right, and down whenever we attempt to transform ourselves.  Failing to lose five pounds or be a more considerate driver we may dismiss with a chuckle, but giving in one more time to addiction, or allowing toxic anger to damage relationships with those closest to us, or betraying the trust of those who depend upon our work—these are failures that deflate us and can sap our hope.  They smother us with a heavy molasses-like malaise.

This is true of our corporate and national lives as well.  These past few weeks we’ve all experienced events across this country that remind us of the gap between who we are and what we want to be as a people.  We have seen—in Ferguson, in New York, on social media— just how fragile, nationally, our relationships are, just how embittered our citizens can be toward one another, just how much pain and mistrust exists, just how easily we veer onto a crooked path.

We have seen just how fragile, nationally, our relationships are, just how embittered our citizens can be toward one another, just how much pain and mistrust exists, just how easily we veer onto a crooked path.

We have seen just how fragile, nationally, our relationships are, just how embittered our citizens can be toward one another, just how much pain and mistrust exists, just how easily we veer onto a crooked path.

We want things to be better.  We want to be better.  But is seems that we cannot. We want to be forgiven and set free from the burdens we all carry, but the truly-felt sense of such forgiveness and freedom seems distant and out of reach.  We want to cry out, “Help me!  I don’t know what to do.”

That takes us back to the world of John the Baptist.  There, forgiveness and freedom really were understood to be distant and out of reach.  Forgiveness required the temple in Jerusalem.  It required the exchange of a sacrificial animal.  It required the brokered mediation of the high priest.  One can imagine a desperation felt by common folks like you and me, when release from the anchors that seek to drown us was so contingent and almost out of reach.

And that’s where crazy John enters the scene.  Forgiveness and freedom, John claims, aren’t contingent on some faraway temple.  We don’t have to muster the coin to purchase the sacrificial animal.  God isn’t distant and doesn’t hide from us behind a green curtain.  God, John says, will meet us where we are, even looking a mess as John does, not fitting in with civilized company; even in whatever wilderness in which we find ourselves, no matter how dense, or ugly, or frightening, or lonely.   How do we prepare for that meeting?

Crooked highwayThere are two words in this Gospel passage from which we, as Episcopalians, shy away: sin and repentance.  They’re uncomfortable, maybe even off-putting, words.  They sound to the ear like the kind of things other churches might talk about. But what do they mean?

Sin means, literally, to miss the mark, to aim in the wrong direction, to head down a crooked path that leads to danger and injury.  And repentance means to refocus one’s attention on another way, to reorient and change direction.

On that trip to Florida thirty-six years ago, with our car endangered by the looming presence of an oversized truck that seemed to appear from nowhere, my grandfather knew that my grandmother’s hands on the steering wheel would instinctively follow her eyes.  For my grandmother to have turned her gaze toward the truck encroaching on her lane would have courted disaster.  With a glance, her hands would have shifted, and she’d have veered into something she did not want, to the destruction of us all.  We, too, can easily veer into destructive behavior, into dismissal of one another, and selfish pride, and betrayal, and toxic anger.

The means of repentance are this simple:  As my grandfather said to my grandmother, “Keep your eyes on the road; look at where you want to be and where you want to go.”

And where we want to go, whose path we want to follow, into whom we want to live, is the One whose coming we anticipate this very season.  He is the one foretold by John, the one to whom John points, Jesus the Christ.

In the wilderness, when we put Jesus the Christ before us, directly in our line of sight—Jesus who is the embodiment of all God’s hope for us—the crooked road straightens, the looming dangers recede, and we begin to see our way to the other side.

In the wilderness, when we put Jesus the Christ before us, directly in our line of sight—Jesus who is the embodiment of all God’s hope for us—the crooked road straightens, the looming dangers recede, and we begin to see our way to the other side.

This does not mean putting blinders on to either our personal or our societal struggles.  The path itself does not go around the wilderness; it cuts through it.  But in the wilderness, when we put Jesus Christ before us, directly in our line of sight—Jesus who is the embodiment of all God’s hope for us—the crooked road straightens, the looming dangers recede, and we begin to see our way to the other side.  How do we do it?  We take on the discipline to begin each morning by giving thanks to the God who creates us; we punctuate each day with intentional moments of prayer, being still so that God may speak to us; we strive for justice and fairness by recognizing Jesus in the faces of all those we meet, no matter their color, creed, political party, or economic circumstance.

It is amazing how the path before us straightens when we follow this advice: Keep your eyes on the road; look at where you want to be and where you want to go.

You see, repentance is practical, not esoteric.  Priests call it spiritual discipline; psychologists might call it a form of behavioral modification.  Either way, as John declares, it reorients the mind, the body, the soul as a prelude to the coming of the One who will find us—all of us—in our wilderness.  It readies us for that meeting, so that we meet Jesus as grace and not indictment, as the Lord who affirms our repentance with forgiveness and freedom in immediate embrace.

It is Advent, friends.  In your individual life and in our broken world, light is coming into the darkness.  Repent, and believe in the Gospel.

“And in our bodies, we shall see God”: Announcing the Hines Center for Spirituality & Prayer

*Christ Church Cathedral announced this month the creation of the Bishop John E. Hines Center for Spirituality and Prayer, which is slated to open Fall 2015.  This is an incredibly exciting development in life of the both the Cathedral and downtown Houston.  Here is a link to the article:

http://www.christchurchcathedral.org/2014/11/hines-center-open-fall-2015/

What follows is my column announcing the Hines Center:

“And in our Bodies, We Shall See God”

In his very good book on the mystical theology of William Law, my seminary professor Alan Gregory distinguishes the bodies of angels from the bodies of men. About angelic bodies, Alan says this:

“Angels are spirit; they enjoy a heavenly materiality.  Entirely subject and obedient to their wills, angelic bodies are the immediate music of their desire.  When their love turns from God, at once all is discord and loss.”

It’s an interesting notion: Because angels have no physical bodies, when their spirits turn away from God, they are lost entirely.  (That is, after all, the biblical story of Satan.) There is no physical, bodily anchor to keep angels tied to place and prevent them from spiraling into hell.

The Hines Center will be located adjacent to the Cathedral in the Episcopal Health Foundation Building (formerly the Wilson Printing Building) at the corner of Fannin and Prairie.

The Hines Center will be located adjacent to the Cathedral in the Episcopal Health Foundation Building (formerly the Wilson Printing Building) at the corner of Fannin and Prairie.

But about human bodies, Alan says, “Our bodies are not like that; they have their own way, acting alongside and even upon our thoughts and intentions.  Their rhythms exceed our knowing; their demands resist our wills.”

When our souls rebel, our very bodies can sometimes save us.  That’s counter-intuitive.  We think of our bodies as the locus of our lusts, our addictions, and our gluttony.  But consider also those times when our spirits desire destructive things, but our bodies hesitate, seemingly of their own accord.  Recall those moments when our bodies resist the vices of our souls by dropping to our knees in prayer.  Sometimes, indeed, it is our bodies that check the harmful inclinations of our spirits!

Alan Gregory goes on to say that, “Since we are embodied, we have our being in a material world through which we are to hear, find, and make trial of the love of God.  Our bodies give us time, a stake in change, an arc of movement and possibility.”

Conceptual drawings for the Hines Center include a labyrinth built into the floor of the sanctuary space.

Conceptual drawings for the Hines Center include a labyrinth built into the floor of the sanctuary space.

In other words, with the exception of those few who have had near-death, out-of-body experiences, it is unavoidably through our bodies that we encounter God.

When we combine these two ideas—that our bodies can redeem our souls and that in our bodies we encounter God—the importance of orienting our bodies toward God becomes obvious.  With spiritual practices and holy habits we can, indeed, attune our bodies to the Creator and move in concert with God’s purposes. And where are bodies are directed, our souls will follow.  Mystics and sages have understood this throughout Christian history, and it is toward this end that Christ Church Cathedral is engaging in the exciting endeavor to create the Bishop John E. Hines Center for Spirituality & Prayer.

The Hines Center will provide myriad spiritual practices designed to put our souls in harmony with our bodies, and both in harmony with God.  Through the Hines Center, we’ll be able to participate in contemplative prayer, labyrinth, visual art, sacred dance, yoga, one-on-one spiritual direction (which is a kind of spiritual counseling) and interfaith lectures.  The Hines Center will also be a primary way that the Cathedral reaches out to the growing downtown residential community.

Dean Thompson and Melissa White walk through the mezzanine level on a tour of the future Hines Center space.

Dean Thompson and Melissa White walk through the mezzanine level on a tour of the future Hines Center space.

The Hines Center project is a cornerstone of our Vision Action Plan, “A Future Filled with Hope.”  As your Dean, I am incredibly excited by all it will offer.  In the words of Alan Gregory, by forming our bodies and souls, the Hines Center will give Christ Church, “a stake in change, an arc of movement and possibility” as we look toward our future.  I know you share this excitement.  We’ll celebrate together—in our bodies—when the Hines Center opens next year.