Dear Sisters and Brothers:
As a companion piece to the public statement I released yesterday regarding the news from the recent primates meeting, I wanted to send some additional thoughts to you as clergy - to offer both a sense of how I'm trying to work on this in my own mind and heart, and, hopefully, a lens of how you might work through this yourself and with your parishioners, friends and family. In the midst of all the "noise" that will surround us in the next several days and weeks and months, I pray you might find this helpful.
I am resisting the impulse to be reactive until I read the official document and engage in conversation with my colleagues. ++Katharine images this as a "season of fasting," particularly apt as we enter Lent this week. Other voices have already begun to fill the web and the airwaves with their feelings and opinions, as we have come to expect. If you have not done so, I encourage you to read the Presiding Bishop's pastoral letter to understand how she and her colleagues frame this.
Years ago, I learned to scuba dive, and among the lessons - life and death lessons - was one on the 3-Rs of diving, to be used in an emergency such as a menacing predator, a partner who is panicking or in shock, or one's own severed air hose. The first R is to Regain Control, or to steel oneself to calm down and be still and observant. We can do nothing when our emotions are raging. The second R is to Respond to what is happening, to consider possible responses or alternative choices. The third R is to React, to choose the proper response and act on it decisively.
Whether The Episcopal Church is in a life and death situation is rather difficult to know when we are in the midst of something that has profound personal and communion-wide dimensions and implications. My best guess is that the more passionate we are about something, the more likely we are to move to reactivity, skipping the step of regaining control, and never arriving at a response which we may act on decisively. I try to put these Rs in terms of our spiritual practice, and it seems to me Regaining Control is about being still. "Be still and know that I am God." When our emotions rage, we become locked within ourselves rather like the Prodigal Son who is described as "beside himself" and later, as "having come to his senses." Somewhere in the experience of feeling all was lost, he let go of the indignation of his deprivation "even my father's slaves eat better than this", and I do not think I am stating this too strongly - he let go of the panic of poverty. In the stillness of letting go, he saw possibilities, including the previously unthinkable possibility of going home to his father.
The second R in our spiritual journey seems to be about discernment, seeing the various possibilities and their potential, if not probable, outcomes. Yes, as Paul reminds us, "we see through a glass darkly," but we see! And what we see, what emerges more and more, if not entirely clearly, is a response that seems best, most fitting, most helpful, most life-giving and life-sustaining. Anything less does not participate in the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ - his sacrifice of himself on an altar not of his making.
This third R for us is engagement or mission. This really takes mindfulness, for it is so very easy to imagine our passion as God's passion. Yet we are trying to hear and see God's longing and not inflate our own. How much more complicated this is when, no matter what course we take, there is likely to be both a good and harm at the same time. How do we discern and act for the greatest good and the least harm? That seems to be the essence of his "Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves."
Thank you for listening or bearing with this musing that I clearly need to reflect on and listen to myself, when my own feelings well up and I would like to speak outrageously and dramatically. Feelings are feelings. We have them and they are real and good in their place - as weather-vanes but not as compasses.
It is Lent, a good time to go inside more deeply, to become more introspective and more reflective. In 2003, and well before, we walked into this place as a church, somewhat naively and somewhat knowingly. We are not victims, though some may be as a result of our own or others' future engagement and mission.
I invite you to join me more deeply into prayer.