In our Advent adult education series in the parish where I serve we did a brief study of different styles of Christian spiritual expression. We looked at Celtic, Benedictine, and Franciscan spirituality and practices, and we were encouraged to find ourselves in each of these - which ones resonated most clearly with our own understandings of and relationships with God? With our community's?
My answer to this was that I always find myself drawn to the practices and disciplines of Benedictine spirituality. There's something about the largely predictable rhythm of being drawn into prayer periodically through the day that helps me. I don't pray the Offices because I'm strong, or a particularly "good" Christian. I pray the Offices because I am decidedly weak. If left to my own devices I would fail miserably in keeping myself open to God's speaking in my day-to-day life.
Today was one of those days when the discipline was a gift more than others.
One of the Psalms appointed for Evening Prayer today was Psalm 84.
It has a way of sneaking up on me.
I know that one of the mantras of Integrity (the LGBT advocacy organization in The Episcopal Church with whom I have worked several times over the past few years) is Psalm 84:11 - "No good thing will God withhold from those who walk with integrity". But even so, it always seems to surprise me whenever I stumble upon those words in prayer.
The Psalm that was chosen for my ordination as a deacon was Psalm 84. Even so, I was deeply moved and surprised in the midst of the ordination as I spoke the words of the eleventh verse. It had slipped my mind that that citation was significant to me in that way. Despite my failure of memory, I believe that God was quietly moving in that moment and reminding me of a piece of my purpose in ordination.
The same thing happened tonight.
It started two nights ago, actually. I was enjoying the reception before the dinner at our Diocesan Convention on Friday night - happily wandering through the crowds of friends and colleagues. I ran into Louie Crew - the founder of Integrity, a giant of the progressive movement of The Episcopal Church, lay leader in my diocese, and my friend. He quickly stuffed a little box into my hands and said, "Just stick this in your pocket and take a look at it later when you have a chance."
Of course I did as I was told. I've learned to quickly follow the advice of Dr. Crew whenever I've been fortunate enough to have received it! But admittedly, my curiosity quickly got the better of me and no more than a few minutes passed before I declared it to be officially "later".
In the box, I found this:
along with this note:
December 12, 2009
May your priesthood bring joy to absolutely everybody!
This cross was given to me at the first Integrity convention, at the Cathedral of St. James in Chicago, 1974. I rejoice to share a stretch of the gravel on the Way with you.
In case the picture is too blurry, the cross reads: "INTEGRITY / Dr. Louie Crew / First Annual Award 1975".
On the back is inscribed, "Ubi caritas et amor deus ibi est" (Where charity and love are, God is there).
I am profoundly humbled and touched by Louie's generosity.
I've always said, there's something that feels a little strange about receiving gifts on the occasion of an ordination. It's not that I don't appreciate the kindness, but that the ordination feels like such a gift in it's own right that it feels strange to receive other material expressions of the community's shared joy.
In this case - as has been so often the case with gifts from others over the past couple of months - that strangeness is compounded by the fact that Louie's real gift is his friendship. It has been a source of such joy and honor for me to have had this chance to get to know him and to learn from him over the past few years. For him to have shared this expression of generosity feels like almost too much to bear.
I was thinking about that for the past couple of days - how to say "thank you" in the face of such kindness and generosity.
But then tonight, that sneaky Psalm peeked in once more: "No good thing will God withhold from those who walk with integrity."
It's true. I see it in my own life. Even when I'm feeling down or tired or overwhelmed or lonely. Even when I feel most distant from God. Even then, God is calling. When I dig through the clutter that so easily piles into life and find the quiet center, God is there with a quiet message - a familiar message - made new once again.
"No good thing will God withhold from those who walk with integrity."
I am blessed by the legacy of those saints, like Louie, walking their paths with integrity - a path on which I now endeavor to tread. Just as the Psalm reminds us that our God is both sun and shield, this mantra is both what calls me home and directs my journey into the unknown.
I am indeed blessed.