Markers in Time

There are those moments in time that we hold up as significant. Meaning absolutely no disrespect to the 99.99% of the wonderfully normal times, there are interspersed times that do transcend the ordinary. One of these times is graduation.

Back in early May on a Saturday morning, one of my children graduated from college. He received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga in Art with a special emphasis in sculpture. He, along with approximately four hundred other students, received their Undergraduate Degrees under the broad range of opportunities afforded by the School of Arts and Sciences in a diversity of subjects. This did not even include the later graduation of the completely separate School of Business.

Anne and I, along with another son, were there to participate in the ceremony. There is not a word or words in our language to describe the feelings one has when their child walks across the stage, shakes the President of the University’s hand, and then receives that piece of parchment that proves they have graduated. It was undeniably a celebration.

I did not even attend my college graduation – though I promise you I did graduate with an Undergraduate Degree! The graduation ceremony was not required. On the other hand, Seminary graduation was certainly mandatory. Not one of my classmates outwardly showed or verbally shared that they did not wish to partake in that wonderful moment of our spiritual formation. It was three years of Master’s Degree work with many late, late nights of study and then followed by early, early Chapel. Seminary was, therefore, both academic and spiritual.

Father Bill went to a Seminary called Nashotah House; I went to Virginia Seminary. They both had their own way of approaching what it means to be a Christian through the lens of being an Episcopalian. We bring our seminary educations to you for your growth in those holy, sacramental markers in time.

The sacraments are both holy and markers in time: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Marriage, Unction (prayer for healing), Reconciliation of a Penitent (private confession), and Ordination. Defining Holy or Holiness is impossible, though it is real - it is what God does and not what we do by studying harder. We may have to get there – or be available at our house or in the hospital - for that sacramental marker in time for God to do it, however. It’s not magic done from a distance.

For instance, to receive that little wafer and sip of wine we believe are the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we hold out our hands or open our mouth to receive the Eucharist. When I miss the Sunday Eucharist, I know I have literally missed something. That bread and wine do literally feed us. It is my strongest inclination that God, as our Heavenly Father, is just like any proud parent watching his or her child receive their diploma. It doesn’t matter, however, what our grade point average is in order to be baptized, or confirmed, receive the Holy Eucharist, be married, receive prayers for healing, confess our sins, or even ordained. I think that there is this sense of overwhelming joy in God’s heart for you to show up and receive all the wonderful gifts of the sacraments that God has made especially for you. It is a holy time – a holy marker in time – when you show up. And God celebrates!

From Fr. George

Good Shepherd is a wonderfully noisy parish. That is an unusual manner to begin a Shepherd’s Voice article. If you come to Good Shepherd during the week, chances are that you might just find that something is going on in one of the classrooms or Parish Hall or Undercroft or library. The noise reflects a dynamic life within Good Shepherd, as well as preparation for an active life in outreach just outside the walls of the church building itself. Check out your weekly email (Good Shepherd events), the website (goodshepherdhayesville.org), your bulletin insert, as well as your Vestry Person of the Day (VPOD) Sunday morning announcements to get a sense of the vibrancy of Good Shepherd. It is essentially the Nave that is quiet.

This description of Good Shepherd might take some kind of intellectual adjustment, as well as spiritual modification, especially if you have come from a wonderfully quiet parish that had a very parttime staff. This corresponds to the matching hours for their presence in the parish. Realistically not much is going on in the office nor in the rare classroom areas. Perhaps, not much is going on at all. Of course, a canonically-required Vestry meeting will happen on a monthly basis; the choir will most likely meet on a weekly basis. Also, the Altar Guild will come on Saturday morning to prepare the Altar for the upcoming Sunday worship. Furthermore, there will probably be an occasional gathering of some sort - a Lenten offering is an example. The Nave, however, is quiet.

I bring up the compare and contrast of a wonderfully noisy parish and a wonderfully quiet parish. Who is right? Who is wrong? Those are loaded questions. They certainly reflect diverse spiritual priorities, because they are both wonderful.

I would not want to write that one kind of parish is right, while the other kind of parish is wrong. It is not that simplistic. I can only respond from a personal, priestly point of view. There are times when a study – either continuing for years or encapsulated to a certain number of weeks or limited to a day – is precisely where I need to participate. Moreover, sometimes group meetings of new possibilities excite me. Other times I need the absolute silence and stillness of the Nave to get a literal sense of God’s holy presence.

If anything, I believe that wonderful noise and wonderful silence can complement one another. When it is only the spiritual offerings that I attend, ironically my soul reaches a point of exhaustion. When it is only the literal sanctuary of the Nave that calls out for my presence, there reaches what feels like a saturation point in my soul.

The spiritual life is never easy to balance. Furthermore, what is balance for one person may not be a balance for another. As we move into the extensive Church Season of Pentecost in May, use it as a season for spiritual growth. Maybe you need to be in the silence of Nave. Perhaps this is a time for you to try out other opportunities at Good Shepherd. There is only going to be one way to find out. As the Video on our website concludes – Come and See.

From Fr. George

All one has to do is face towards the Altar and gaze in awe of one of the most peaceful stained-glass windows that there is in the Episcopal Church, or almost any church for that matter. Ironically, there is no stained-glass to it at all. The glass is perfectly clear so that it does not cover up any of the splendor in the distance. There is a series of mountains that are extraordinarily adorned in any season of the calendar year: the vibrant, varying jade greens of summer; the explosion of a gamut of nearly unpredictable, multi-colors in autumn; the powdery, white snows and leaden grays of winter; and the inkling of emerald, inflamed buds just starting to pop out from their winter doze.

Words do not do anything that is close to recounting the naturally splendid beauty that these mountains portray. It is like something spiritual is reaching down into our most intimate part – our soul – to whisper that creation is reflecting a Creator. The longer I have lived in Hayesville, I continue to be stunned by the splendor the area of Western North Carolina and North Georgia communicates. Mountains and fresh water – there is something incredibly special about the combination of those two. And this is coming from a guy who always has been mesmerized by sand, shells, and salt water.

We can look out upon those mountains every Sunday or any other time you happen to be at Good Shepherd; nevertheless, where we call home additionally has the hypnotic gifts of bodies of water. Lake Chatuge spans North Carolina and Georgia. Additionally, Fires Creek, Tusquittee Creek, and the Hiwassee River twist and turn their way throughout where we call home, literally in some of our backyards. If, however, you are willing to do some exploring of the origins of the rivers, creeks, and streams, you might just find yourself in an environment that takes you by complete astonishment.

I believe that Creation reveals a Creator. Admittedly, it is not that hard of a stretch for a priest to hold to this belief. There is, nonetheless, quite a difference to experience it along a root-riddled, rocky trail leading to a whispering waterfall. Over time the whisper grows louder as the conversation of the falling water picks up in volume. Quite suddenly the conversation becomes a pleasing roar that woos me to discover what I barely even visually behold.

White water stunningly succumbs to gravity down and off elevated rock formations. It even splashes outward and onto uneven rock outcroppings, as well as micro-forests of Mountain Laurel. Sometimes my glasses and my cell phone camera mist over with the imperceptible union of the blending of air and water. The entire atmosphere plainly feels both pure and powerful. I simply stay and breathe it all in.

While a drop of water is an absolute wonder, combine it with other tiny drops of water and a miraculous transformation occurs. Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote this: Too frequently we think that we have to do spectacular things. Yet if we remember that the sea is actually made up of drops of water and each drop counts, each one of us can do our little bit where we are. Those little bits can come together and almost overwhelm the world. Each one of us can be an oasis of peace.

The pouring of fresh water from our baptism brings us into the Church community where each one of us can be an oasis of peace, as well as part of something bigger than we could ever be as a single drop of water. As a single drop of water and as hundreds of drops combined, you and I are part of God’s creation, where God is our Creator.

From Fr. George

Lent is just one season of the Church year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, and Pentecost are the others. Rightly so, the Church sees Lent as a forty day season of penitence. The synonyms for penitence in a Thesaurus range from shame, repentance, atonement, contrition, remorse, regret to sorrow. There seems to be a range of negativity in those synonyms. Many of us do not need to be reminded of our need for penitence, while others of us do need to be reminded that our faith has this component to it.

Some of those synonyms are quite destructive. Shame, for instance, is something that Jesus would never do to us. Reminding us to repent, however, is something that is brought up throughout the entire Bible. Furthermore, Jesus was frequently quoted in the Gospels as proclaiming some variation of repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is complex for us to reconcile the sense of penitence without being toppled over into depression; this is not the purpose of Lent or even of our faith.

For instance, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it is C.S. Lewis who is able to give me a better appreciation of the balance of Jesus through the character of Aslan. He is the Lion in the title of the book and a clear representation of Jesus through the exact actions in his brutal, sacrificial death and his spiritual, real resurrection.

Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are the children who enter the world of Narnia through the Wardrobe mentioned in the title. Two of the characters in Narnia are Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. They invite the children to dinner. Over the meal, an otherworldly conversation turns to the Lion Aslan. The children all begin to develop a strange feeling just upon hearing his name. Lucy bravely asks if Aslan is safe. Safe? said Mr. Beaver. Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you. Toward the end of the book, Mr. Beaver says, He's wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.

We cannot tame Jesus, yet we cannot be frightened of him either. It is a delicate balance. The Collects or Prayers for the season of Lent can be found in The Book of Common Prayer on pages 166-169 for Rite One and pages 217-221 for Rite Two. Those prayers all provide incredibly accurate summaries and maintain that delicate balance for that specific Sunday of Lent. You are encouraged to read through them all, and as a part of your Lenten discipline to read the prayer for the upcoming Sunday.

Give yourself over to the commitment and joy found in Lent during Lent this year of 2018. Treat yourself. See where the journey takes you. I can write in full assurance that Lent never ends with pain and death but points to new life and resurrection. There was a full cross; there was an empty grave. That too is our faith.