Our Life in the Light of God:
An Imaginative Catechism
An Exploration of Christian Practice in The Episcopal Church
With Reflection, Poetry, and Practice
A website-based version of this resource can be found by clicking HERE.
Throughout the centuries, Christianity has been seen as a religion of light, a practice of faith that explored our deepest identity (what we could call our Christian Anthropology) through the metaphor and symbol of Light. Jesus is understood as the Light of God, the Light of the world, and we are seen to share in His own life–to be His own body in the world. “This little light of mine,” we sing. Our sacred texts are full of references to light, drawing on the richness of the Jewish stories within the Hebrew Scriptures. In addition, it should be no surprise that the Christian metaphors and symbols around light resonate deeply with other wisdom traditions around the world. Deep calls to deep, as we see written in Psalm 42:7.
Our practice of faith asks us to reflect deeply on key questions:
- How do we understand ourselves?
- How is our understanding of ourselves connected with/rooted in our understanding of God?
- How can we nurture this awareness of our deepest identity–and our connection with one another?
- How do we embody this light and live faithful lives in the world today?
We recognize today that we often struggle to engage with our practice of faith, given the cultural dynamics, shifts, and pressures we experience. As the theologian Amos Wilder wrote in his seminal work Theopoetic: Theology and Religious Imagination,
It is at the level of imagination that the fateful issues of our new world-experience must first be mastered. It is here that culture and history are broken, and here that the church is polarized. Old words do not reach across new gulfs, and it is only in vision and oracle that we can chart the unknown and new-name the creatures.
Before the message, there must be the vision, before the sermon the hymn, before the prose the poem.
This work is an exercise, an experiment, in imaginative reflection. This imaginative catechism takes the basic catechetical framework from The Book of Common Prayer in The Episcopal Church and organizes it into key focus points. Within each focus point, poetry and practices are laid alongside the more definition-oriented structure, nurturing a more spacious approach that seeks to integrate the rational mind into our heart center, and even our bodies. The symbol and reality of Light is our anchor point, and, perhaps, we can even experience our theological reflection more as jazz riffs than rational mind-bends. We are, after all, integrated beings and the Light which we celebrate nurtures such an integrated wholeness of our entire being.
In each section, quotes and prayers from mystics, theologians, and even interfaith partners will be included to nurture that spacious openness all the more as we reflect on how our practice of faith transforms the way we live in the world today. The questions at the end of each section are meant to nudge us onto further exploration; in other words, they are diving boards rather than rules posted near the swimming pool.
Of course I could have pulled dozens more examples of poetry and reflection to pair with the catechism’s questions themselves, but these seemed like good conversation partners. See what examples come to you, and see what conversation partners you would include as you explore.
Section One: The Essence of Light: The Source of our Identity within God
Behold who you are; may we become what we receive
Inspired by the teachings of St. Augustine of Hippo
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:1-5
“God speaks to each of us as he makes us”
God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours, trans Barrows and Macy, Riverhead Books, 2005
Who are we in our deepest essence? What are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? These are key questions that all religious practice has explored since the dawn of time.
In this section, we will explore our essence, the ground of our being. We are created in the image of God, and even if that deep awareness is obscured, it is still present. Our practice, then, becomes to nurture a growing awareness of who we are, so that we can share more fully in the Divine Life. We learn that our understanding of ourselves is inextricably linked with our understanding of the Source of our life.
|Q.||What are we by nature?|
|A.||We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God.|
|Q.||What does it mean to be created in the image of God?|
|A.||It means that we are free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God.|
|Q.||Why then do we live apart from God and out of harmony with creation?|
|A.||From the beginning, human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choices.|
|Q.||Why do we not use our freedom as we should?|
|A.||Because we rebel against God, and we put ourselves in the place of God.|
|Q,||What help is there for us?|
|A.||Our help is in God.|
|Q.||How did God first help us?|
|A.||God first helped us by revealing himself and his will, through nature and history, through many seers and saints, and especially the prophets of Israel.|
God the Father
|Q.||What do we learn about God as creator from the revelation to Israel?|
|A.||We learn that there is one God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.|
|Q.||What does this mean?|
|A.||This means that the universe is good, that it is the work of a single loving God who creates, sustains, and directs it.|
|Q.||What does this mean about our place in the universe?|
|A.||It means that the world belongs to its creator; and that we are called to enjoy it and to care for it in accordance with God’s purposes.|
|Q.||What does this mean about human life?|
|A.||It means that all people are worthy of respect and honor, because all are created in the image of God, and all can respond to the love of God.|
|Q.||How was this revelation handed down to us?|
|A.||This revelation was handed down to us through a community created by a covenant with God.|
Questions for pondering:
- For a long time, there has been a tension within the broader Christian tradition around the language of “original sin.” For some denominations, there is an emphasis on such an understanding, yet for all of us, there is this invitation to understand ourselves as being created in the image of God. We hear descriptions in the broader Tradition around “original sin” and “original blessing.” How do you understand yourself at the deepest core of your being?
- Why is such an understanding of ourselves important? How does such an understanding of ourselves inform the way we live in the world?
Section Two: Understanding the Light: Exploring the Power of Story and Theological Reflection
Inside this pencil
crouch words that have never been written
never been spoken
never been taught
they’re awake in there
dark in the dark
but they won’t come out
not for love not for time not for fire
even when the dark has worn away
they’ll still be there
hiding in the air
multitudes in days to come may walk through them
be none the wiser
what script can it be
that they won’t unroll
in what language
would I recognize it
would I be able to follow it
to make out the real names
maybe there aren’t
it could be that there’s only one word
and it’s all we need
it’s here in this pencil
every pencil in the world
is like this.
W. S. Merwin, Copper Canyon Press, 2017
Christianity as a religious tradition didn’t come into the world complete and fully formed in a type of parcel post. We have experienced a development of how we understand God and ourselves throughout time. Oral stories were handed down until they were written down; these written texts were eventually edited, compiled, and translated into the forms we have now. Subtle meanings were sometimes lost in translation, while certain phrases have been emphasized at various points throughout the centuries. Through it all, we understand the Spirit to be at work through these texts–especially in our engagement with them within the contexts of our lives.
The Benedictine monk Brother David Steindl-Rast, in his article “The Mystical Core of Organized Religion,” offers a helpful diagram that shows the development of our reflection through time–and he notes the tendency we all experience of the immediacy of truth, goodness, and beauty to become rigid in concepts of dogmatism, moralism, and ritualism.
The Christian Tradition itself built on the rich imagery and theology of the Jewish faith, which was itself influenced by Zoroastrianism and other traditions in the Near East. Also, we see the dynamic interaction between faith traditions along the Great Silk Road.
In our own time, we are called to engage with our sacred texts in a way that we can experience a transformation in our own lives. We always look for the movement of the Spirit through the moral frameworks we have been given, so that we can live more fully into God’s vision of wholeness.
The Old Covenant
|Q.||What is meant by a covenant with God?|
|A.||A covenant is a relationship initiated by God, to which a body of people responds in faith.|
|Q.||What is the Old Covenant?|
|A.||The Old Covenant is the one given by God to the Hebrew people.|
|Q.||What did God promise them?|
|A.||God promised that they would be his people to bring all the nations of the world to him.|
|Q.||What response did God require from the chosen people?|
|A.||God required the chosen people to be faithful; to love justice, to do mercy, and to walk humbly with their God.|
|Q.||Where is this Old Covenant to be found?|
|A.||The covenant with the Hebrew people is to be found in the books which we call the Old Testament.|
|Q.||Where in the Old Testament is God’s will for us shown most clearly?|
|A.||God’s will for us is shown most clearly in the Ten Commandments.|
The Ten Commandments
|Q.||What are the Ten Commandments?|
|A.||The Ten Commandments are the laws given to Moses and the people of Israel.|
|Q.||What do we learn from these commandments?|
|A.||We learn two things: our duty to God, and our duty to our neighbors.|
|Q.||What is our duty to God?|
|A.||Our duty is to believe and trust in God;|
|I||To love and obey God and to bring others to know him;|
|II||To put nothing in the place of God;|
|III||To show God respect in thought, word, and deed;|
|IV||And to set aside regular times for worship, prayer, and the study of God’s ways.|
|Q.||What is our duty to our neighbors?|
|A.||Our duty to our neighbors is to love them as ourselves, and to do to other people as we wish them to do to us;|
|V||To love, honor, and help our parents and family; to honor those in authority, and to meet their just demands;|
|VI||To show respect for the life God has given us; to work and pray for peace; to bear no malice, prejudice, or hatred in our hearts; and to be kind to all the creatures of God;|
|VII||To use our bodily desires as God intended;|
|VIII||To be honest and fair in our dealings; to seek justice, freedom, and the necessities of life for all people; and to use our talents and possessions as ones who must answer for them to God;|
|IX||To speak the truth, and not to mislead others by our silence;|
|X||To resist temptations to envy, greed, and jealousy; to rejoice in other people’s gifts and graces; and to do our duty for the love of God, who has called us into fellowship with him.|
|Q.||What is the purpose of the Ten Commandments?|
|A.||The Ten Commandments were given to define our relationship with God and our neighbors.|
|Q.||Since we do not fully obey them, are they useful at all?|
|A.||Since we do not fully obey them, we see more clearly our sin and our need for redemption.|
Sin and Redemption
|Q.||What is sin?|
|A.||Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.|
|Q.||How does sin have power over us?|
|A.||Sin has power over us because we lose our liberty when our relationship with God is distorted.|
|Q.||What is redemption?|
|A.||Redemption is the act of God which sets us free from the power of evil, sin, and death.|
|Q.||How did God prepare us for redemption?|
|A.||God sent the prophets to call us back to himself, to show us our need for redemption, and to announce the coming of the Messiah.|
|Q.||What is meant by the Messiah?|
|A.||The Messiah is one sent by God to free us from the power of sin, so that with the help of God we may live in harmony with God, within ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.|
|Q.||Who do we believe is the Messiah?|
|A.||The Messiah, or Christ, is Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son of God.|
Questions for Pondering:
- When you look back on your life, how do you see your approach or engagement with the rules of your childhood changing through time?
- What is an example of a story in your family that has been handed down through the generations? How has your awareness of that story been meaningful for your life?
Section Three: The Light of Christ: The Call to Share in Jesus’ Own Life
If you want to know God,
Become love. If you want
To know others, become love.
If you want to know yourself,
Become love. And if you want
To know love, forget all you
Thought you knew or needed
To know, and become love.
Meister Eckhart’s Book of Secrets, trans. Mark Burrows and Jon Sweeney
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23
Of course a key distinctive element between Christianity and the other Abrahamic religious traditions of Judaism and Islam is that Christians understand Jesus to be the Incarnation of God. From their earliest encounters with Jesus at the lakeside, the disciples themselves sought to understand more of who this Jesus was, that his life so fully aligned with God’s purpose.
After Jesus’ death, the texts describe how Jesus appeared to the disciples and others, inviting them even further into the mystery of his own being–a mystery that had somehow conquered death. All were invited to share in this mystery, which was, in reality, the heart of God’s own being.
But how do we understand this? Herein lies a problem: the institutional church has so readily sought to form rational or doctrinal frameworks around this mystery of being. We want to “understand” this, and that desire to understand warps into a grasping posture that loses sight of the greater resonance in our heart that is the deep space of our religious practice. Don’t get me wrong, doctrine is a useful tool, but the mystics and sages always remind us of the perils of how our cognitive exercises lead to an illusion of control.
God the Son
|Q.||What do we mean when we say that Jesus is the only Son of God?|
|A||We mean that Jesus is the only perfect image of the Father, and shows us the nature of God.|
|Q.||What is the nature of God revealed in Jesus?|
|A.||God is love.|
|Q.||What do we mean when we say that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and became incarnate from the Virgin Mary?|
|A.||We mean that by God’s own act, his divine Son received our human nature from the Virgin Mary, his mother.|
|Q.||Why did he take our human nature?|
|A.||The divine Son became human, so that in him human beings might be adopted as children of God, and be made heirs of God’s kingdom.|
|Q.||What is the great importance of Jesus’ suffering and death?|
|A.||By his obedience, even to suffering and death, Jesus made the offering which we could not make; in him we are freed from the power of sin and reconciled to God.|
|Q.||What is the significance of Jesus’ resurrection?|
|A.||By his resurrection, Jesus overcame death and opened for us the way of eternal life.|
|Q.||What do we mean when we say that he descended to the dead?|
|A.||We mean that he went to the departed and offered them also the benefits of redemption.|
|Q.||What do we mean when we say that he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father?|
|A.||We mean that Jesus took our human nature into heaven where he now reigns with the Father and intercedes for us.|
|Q.||How can we share in his victory over sin, suffering, and death?|
|A.||We share in his victory when we are baptized into the New Covenant and become living members of Christ.|
The New Covenant
|Q.||What is the New Covenant?|
|A.||The New Covenant is the new relationship with God given by Jesus Christ, the Messiah, to the apostles; and, through them, to all who believe in him.|
|Q.||What did the Messiah promise in the New Covenant?|
|A.||Christ promised to bring us into the kingdom of God and give life in all its fullness.|
|Q.||What response did Christ require?|
|A.||Christ commanded us to believe in him and to keep his commandments.|
|Q.||What are the commandments taught by Christ?|
|A.||Christ taught us the Summary of the Law and gave us the New Commandment.|
|Q.||What is the Summary of the Law?|
|A.||You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.|
|Q.||What is the New Commandment?|
|A.||The New Commandment is that we love one another as Christ loved us.|
|Q.||Where may we find what Christians believe about Christ?|
|A.||What Christians believe about Christ is found in the Scriptures and summed up in the creeds.|
See pages 53, 96, 326, 327, and 864 within The Book of Common Prayer.
|Q.||What are the creeds?|
|A.||The creeds are statements of our basic beliefs about God.|
|Q.||How many creeds does this Church use in its worship?|
|A.||This Church uses two creeds: The Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.|
|Q.||What is the Apostles’ Creed?|
|A.||The Apostles’ Creed is the ancient creed of Baptism; it is used in the Church’s daily worship to recall our Baptismal Covenant.|
|Q.||What is the Nicene Creed?|
|A.||The Nicene Creed is the creed of the universal Church and is used at the Eucharist.|
|Q.||What, then, is the Athanasian Creed?|
|A.||The Athanasian Creed is an ancient document proclaiming the nature of the Incarnation and of God as Trinity.|
|Q.||What is the Trinity?|
|A.||The Trinity is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.|
Questions to ponder:
- What has been your experience with the Creeds? How have you seen yourself wrestling with them over time? What insight have you gained from them?
- What is your favorite Scripture passage? Have you had the same favorite one for a long time, or do you resonate with a different text now? What does this mean to you?
Section Four: The Living Spirit of Light: The Greening Principle in the World
Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
You will not find me in stupas, not in Indian shrine
rooms , nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:
Not in masses, or kirtans, not in legs winding
around your own neck, nor in eating nothing but
When you really look for me, you will see me
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.
Kabir, 15th century Indian mystic and poet, from Andrew Harvey’s translation.
What else is viriditas? It is God’s freshness that humans receive in their spiritual and physical life forces. It is the power of springtime, a germinating force, a fruitfulness that comes from God and permeates all creation. This powerful life force is found in the non-human as well as the human. ‘The earth sweats germinating power from its very pores,’ Hildegard declares. Instead of seeking body/soul in a warring struggle as did Augustine, Hildegard sees that ‘the soul is the freshness of the flesh, for the body grows and thrives through it just as the earth becomes fruitful through moisture. Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen
Christianity is understood to be a monotheistic religion, that there is one God; however, we understand that one God to be, in its essence, triune. The word “Trinity” never appears in the Bible. It is a theological reflection on how we have experienced God’s presence and action in our lives: that God is the Source of all life, that God is Incarnate in the person of Jesus, and that God’s presence enlivens all life through the Holy Spirit. This is what we mean in that great hymn Holy, Holy, Holy: “God, in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity.”
The Holy Spirit is the life principle, if you will, that is found within all creation. There have been many schools of thought within Christianity who have emphasized the presence of the Spirit, from the Celtic Tradition in the British Isles to the wide-ranging Pentecostal and holiness traditions.
Above all, perhaps we can understand the Spirit to be the living reminder that God’s presence is alive and breathing within us–within all creation–every moment of our lives. God is not an abstract thought; rather, God is life itself.
The Holy Spirit
|Q.||What is the Holy Spirit?|
|A.||The Holy Spirit is the Third Person of the Trinity, God at work in the world and in the Church even now.|
|Q.||How is the Holy Spirit revealed in the Old Covenant?|
|A.||The Holy Spirit is revealed in the Old Covenant as the giver of life, the One who spoke through the prophets.|
|Q.||How is the Holy Spirit revealed in the New Covenant?|
|A.||The Holy Spirit is revealed as the Lord who leads us into all truth and enables us to grow in the likeness of Christ.|
|Q.||How do we recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives?|
|A.||We recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord and are brought into love and harmony with God, with ourselves, with our neighbors, and with all creation.|
|Q.||How do we recognize the truths taught by the Holy Spirit?|
|A.||We recognize truths to be taught by the Holy Spirit when they are in accord with the Scriptures.|
The Holy Scriptures
|Q.||What are the Holy Scriptures?|
|A.||The Holy Scriptures, commonly called the Bible, are the books of the Old and New Testaments; other books, called the Apocrypha, are often included in the Bible.|
|Q.||What is the Old Testament?|
|A.||The Old Testament consists of books written by the people of the Old Covenant, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to show God at work in nature and history.|
|Q.||What is the New Testament?|
|A.||The New Testament consists of books written by the people of the New Covenant, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to set forth the life and teachings of Jesus and to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom for all people.|
|Q.||What is the Apocrypha?|
|A.||The Apocrypha is a collection of additional books written by people of the Old Covenant, and used in the Christian Church.|
|Q.||Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God?|
|A.||We call them the Word of God because God inspired their human authors and because God still speaks to us through the Bible.|
|Q.||How do we understand the meaning of the Bible?|
|A.||We understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of|
|the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures.|
Questions to ponder:
- Can you think of a time when you read a particular Scriptural text and felt something within you? A warming of your heart, a memory come to life, or a strong connection? When you felt comforted?
- What is your particular image of God’s presence in your life? What color would you describe? What texture? Is there a memory or story from your life that you hold close?
Section Five: A Web of Light: Exploring the Community as the Body of Christ
St. Paul loves to use the image of the community as the Body of Christ, and we can find this imaginative prayer throughout the Epistles. It is a powerful image for us to reflect on as we seek to understand who we are. St. Paul goes so far in Galatians 2 to say that “it is no longer I that live but Christ who lives in me.” The core aspect of our identity, if you will, is changed through the indwelling Spirit of Christ.
St. Theresa of Avila interpreted this reality of our being Christ’s body in a powerful way in her own time of 16th century Spain when she said “Christ has no body but yours…no hands but yours…no feet but yours.” Her own mystical experience of union drove her to evangelize, if you will, for such an immediate experience of Christ’s presence.
Of course, the Church as an institution has struggled to live into this mystical awareness. When the Roman emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire, all the trappings and security and status that came with this social reality put enormous pressure on a community who had lived at the margins. How would they maintain this connection to the deep core of their being? Prestige is like a gravity that pulls you in, and we can understand why so many struggle to trust such an over-institutionalized experience in our own time.
But this mystical core exists still as the beating heart of our identity as the Body of Christ in the world today. Our call is to practice this faith more fully.
Let only that little be left of me whereby I may
name You my all.
Let only that little be left of my will whereby
I may feel You on every side and come to You in
everything and offer to You my love every moment.
Let only that little be left of me whereby I may
never hide you.
Let only that little of my fetters be left whereby
I am bound with Your will, and Your purpose is
carried out in my life–and that is the fetter of
Rabindrinath Tagore (20th century Bengali poet, Nobel Laureate), from the collection The Heart of God.
It is even that, by the essence of Your nature,
You become one with me;
no division, indeed, between your essential faculties,
Your nature is Your essence and Your essence Your nature.
Thus, uniting with Your body, I participate in Your nature
and I really take as mine a part of your essence,
uniting with your divinity, much more becoming
heir in my body. . .
Symeon the New Theologian (11th century Byzantine mystic), Hymns of Divine Love, trans. George Maloney, S.J.
|Q.||What is the Church?|
|A.||The Church is the community of the New Covenant.|
|Q.||How is the Church described in the Bible?|
|A.||The Church is described as the Body of which Jesus Christ is the Head and of which all baptized persons are members. It is called the People of God, the New Israel, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and the pillar and ground of truth.|
|Q.||How is the Church described in the creeds?|
|A.||The Church is described as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.|
|Q.||Why is the Church described as one?|
|A.||The Church is one, because it is one Body, under one Head, our Lord Jesus Christ.|
|Q.||Why is the Church described as holy?|
|A.||The Church is holy, because the Holy Spirit dwells in it, consecrates its members, and guides them to do God’s work.|
|Q.||Why is the Church described as catholic?|
|A.||The Church is catholic, because it proclaims the whole Faith to all people, to the end of time.|
|Q.||Why is the Church described as apostolic?|
|A.||The Church is apostolic, because it continues in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles and is sent to carry out Christ’s mission to all people.|
|Q.||What is the mission of the Church?|
|A.||The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.|
|Q.||How does the Church pursue its mission?|
|A.||The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.|
|Q.||Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?|
|A.||The church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.|
|Q.||Who are the ministers of the Church?|
|A.||The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.|
|Q.||What is the ministry of the laity?|
|A.||The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.|
|Q.||What is the ministry of a bishop?|
|A.||The ministry of a bishop is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church; to proclaim the Word of God; to act in Christ’s name for the reconciliation of the world and the building up of the Church; and to ordain others to continue Christ’s ministry.|
|Q.||What is the ministry of a priest or presbyter?|
|A.||The ministry of a priest is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as pastor to the people; to share with the bishop in the overseeing of the Church; to proclaim the Gospel; to administer the sacraments; and to bless and declare pardon in the name of God.|
|Q.||What is the ministry of a deacon?|
|A.||The ministry of a deacon is to represent Christ and his Church, particularly as a servant of those in need; and to assist bishops and priests in the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments.|
|Q.||What is the duty of all Christians?|
|A.||The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.|
Questions to ponder:
- What is the most meaningful experience you have had of church in your life? What is an experience where you have struggled with the institutional pressures?
- When you reflect on your own life, what gifts and strengths do you feel you have, that you are being called to share with the broader community?
- When you reflect on St. Teresa of Avila’s image of “Christ has no body but yours…,” what “part” of you do you feel is something that God is seeking to nurture?
Section Six: Nurturing the Light: A Life Grounded by the Practice of Prayer
The greatest challenge within the breadth of the Christian tradition is not a loss of membership or a rapid decrease in budgets or a loss of prestige or cultural sway. Rather, our greatest danger rests with a loss of spiritual imagination and the willingness to cultivate a practice of faith that harnesses the potential within our own religious tradition. When we neglect our more substantive identity and are driven instead by superficial notions of success, the Christian community becomes starved of the more profound hope found within the gospels. The failure to cultivate our imaginative capacity greatly impedes leadership development and religious practices within all our religious communities.
Stuart Higginbotham, The Heart of a Calling
“It’s the season I often mistake”
Birds for leaves, and leaves for birds.
The tawny yellow mulberry leaves
always gold finches tumbling
across the lawn like extreme elation.
The last of the maroon crabapple
ovates are song sparrows that tremble
all at once. And today, just when I
could not stand myself any longer,
a group of field sparrows, which were
actually field sparrows, flew up into
the bare branches of the hackberry
and I almost collapsed: leaves
reattaching themselves to the tree
like a strong spell for reversal. What
did I expect? What good
is accuracy amidst the perpetual
scattering that unspools the world?
Ava Limon, The Hurting Kind, Milkweed Editions, 2022
When I was a child, I was taught–whether explicitly or just by soaking up stuff–that prayer was asking God for specific things. And that was all that it really was. We reached out to God, who seemed far away, and asked for help when things went wrong. And, for major trauma, we needed more people to pray along with us so that God would really hear us and change his mind. I struggled with this image even as a little child, because I felt there was more to our connection with God.
Prayer is the life-blood, the connecting thread, the grounding of our entire existence within God’s own being. It is the space, the tool, the practice that nurtures our awareness of God’s presence within all of our life–and within our common life together. The mystics and sages each us that, in reality, it is not we who pray to God, but that God’s own desire fuels the searching of our own hearts. “The Spirit prays for us with sighs too deep for words,” we read in Romans 8. Somehow, we learn that prayer is something that God is doing within us. I can’t tell you how this awareness shook me to my core and freed me from this quid-pro-quo mentality, this zero-sum framework that the culture tells me is the only way to understand life.
In the Church, we learn to pray in that we learn to see our entire lives as embodiments of God’s grace. We are infused with the Light of God, and our common call is to nurture this indwelling Light. The sacraments, which by definition are “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given to us by Christ as sure means of that grace,” remind us that God’s presence is found within the stuff of our lives, not just by thinking the right thoughts. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” Psalm 34 says.
Prayer and Worship
|Q.||What is prayer?|
|A.||Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.|
|Q.||What is Christian Prayer?|
|A.||Christian prayer is response to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.|
|Q.||What prayer did Christ teach us?|
|A.||Our Lord gave us the example of prayer known as the Lord’s Prayer. See page 364.|
|Q.||What are the principal kinds of prayer?|
|A.||The principal kinds of prayer are adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, oblation, intercession, and petition.|
|Q.||What is adoration?|
|A.||Adoration is the lifting up of the heart and mind to God, asking nothing but to enjoy God’s presence.|
|Q.||Why do we praise God?|
|A.||We praise God, not to obtain anything, but because God’s Being draws praise from us.|
|Q.||For what do we offer thanksgiving?|
|A.||Thanksgiving is offered to God for all the blessings of this life, for our redemption, and for whatever draws us closer to God.|
|Q.||What is penitence?|
|A.||In penitence, we confess our sins and make restitution where possible, with the intention to amend our lives.|
|Q.||What is prayer of oblation?|
|A.||Oblation is an offering of ourselves, our lives and labors, in union with Christ, for the purposes of God.|
|Q.||What are intercession and petition?|
|A.||Intercession brings before God the needs of others; in petition, we present our own needs, that God’s will may be done.|
|Q.||What is corporate worship?|
|A.||In corporate worship, we unite ourselves with others to acknowledge the holiness of God, to hear God’s Word, to offer prayer, and to celebrate the sacraments.|
|Q.||What are the sacraments?|
|A.||The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.|
|Q.||What is grace?|
|A.||Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.|
|Q.||What are the two great sacraments of the Gospel?|
|A.||The two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church are Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist.|
|Q.||What is Holy Baptism?|
|A.||Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.|
|Q.||What is the outward and visible sign in Baptism?|
|A.||The outward and visible sign in Baptism is water, in which the person is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.|
|Q.||What is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism?|
|A.||The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.|
|Q.||What is required of us at Baptism?|
|A.||It is required that we renounce Satan, repent of our sins, and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior.|
|Q.||Why then are infants baptized?|
|A.||Infants are baptized so that they can share citizenship in the Covenant, membership in Christ, and redemption by God.|
|Q.||How are the promises for infants made and carried out?|
|A.||Promises are made for them by their parents and sponsors, who guarantee that the infants will be brought up within the Church, to know Christ and be able to follow him.|
The Holy Eucharist
|Q.||What is the Holy Eucharist?|
|A.||The Holy Eucharist is the sacrament commanded by Christ for the continual remembrance of his life, death, and resurrection, until his coming again.|
|Q.||Why is the Eucharist called a sacrifice?|
|A.||Because the Eucharist, the Church’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, is the way by which the sacrifice of Christ is made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering of himself.|
|Q.||By what other names is this service known?|
|A.||The Holy Eucharist is called the Lord’s Supper, and Holy Communion; it is also known as the Divine Liturgy, the Mass, and the Great Offering.|
|Q.||What is the outward and visible sign in the Eucharist?|
|A.||The outward and visible sign in the Eucharist is bread and wine, given and received according to Christ’s command.|
|Q.||What is the inward and spiritual grace given in the Eucharist?|
|A.||The inward and spiritual grace in the Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith.|
|Q.||What are the benefits which we receive in the Lord’s Supper?|
|A.||The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of our sins,|
|the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.|
|Q.||What is required of us when we come to the Eucharist?|
|A.||It is required that we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people.|
Other Sacramental Rites
|Q.||What other sacramental rites evolved in the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit?|
|A.||Other sacramental rites which evolved in the Church include confirmation, ordination, holy matrimony, reconciliation of a penitent, and unction.|
|Q.||How do they differ from the two sacraments of the Gospel?|
|A.||Although they are means of grace, they are not necessary for all persons in the same way that Baptism and the Eucharist are.|
|Q.||What is Confirmation?|
|A.||Confirmation is the rite in which we express a mature commitment to Christ, and receive strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by a bishop.|
|Q.||What is required of those to be confirmed?|
|A.||It is required of those to be confirmed that they have been baptized, are sufficiently instructed in the Christian Faith, are penitent for their sins, and are ready to affirm their confession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.|
|Q.||What is Ordination?|
|A.||Ordination is the rite in which God gives authority and the grace of the Holy Spirit to those being made bishops,|
|priests, and deacons, through prayer and the laying on of hands by bishops.|
|Q.||What is Holy Matrimony?|
|A.||Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage, in which the woman and man enter into a life-long union, make their vows before God and the Church, and receive the grace and blessing of God to help them fulfill their vows.|
|Q.||What is Reconciliation of a Penitent?|
|A.||Reconciliation of a Penitent, or Penance, is the rite in which those who repent of their sins may confess them to God in the presence of a priest, and receive the assurance of pardon and the grace of absolution.|
|Q.||What is Unction of the Sick?|
|A.||Unction is the rite of anointing the sick with oil, or the laying on of hands, by which God’s grace is given for the healing of spirit, mind, and body.|
|Q.||Is God’s activity limited to these rites?|
|A.||God does not limit himself to these rites; they are patterns of countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us.|
|Q.||How are the sacraments related to our Christian hope?|
|A.||Sacraments sustain our present hope and anticipate its future fulfillment.|
Questions for pondering:
- Who taught you how to pray, and what particular practice or technique did you learn? How has that practice continued to shape you, or how have you seen yourself grow beyond it into something new, deeper, or more expansive?
- What is an experience you have had with Baptism or Eucharist when you felt God’s presence closer to you, or when you had a deeper awareness of grace in your life?
Section Seven: Embodying the Light: Seeing Our Lives Through the Lens of Grace
I ask you, dear sir, to have patience with all that is unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves, like closed rooms, like books written in a foreign language.
Don’t try to find the answers now. They cannot be given anyway, because you would not be able to live them. For everything is to be lived.
Live the questions now. Perhaps you then may gradually, without noticing, one day in the future live into the answers. Perhaps you bear within yourself the capacity to imagine and shape a sacred way of life. Prepare yourself for that, Trust what comes to you.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
“Your only delight”
There is in me a radiance
That never ceases, and if
I had eyes to see into the
Darkest depths of my heart
I would know that this inner
Spark is all You ever see
Of me, whether by day
Or by night, and this
Alone is my one and
Your only delight.
Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart, trans. Burrows and Sweeney
“Taste and See”
The world is
not with us enough
O taste and see
the subway Bible poster said,
meaning The Lord, meaning
if anything all that lives
to the imagination’s tongue,
grief, mercy, language,
tangerine, weather, to
breathe them, bite,
savor, chew, swallow, transform
into our flesh our
deaths, crossing the street, plum, quince,
living in the orchard and being
hungry, and plucking
Denise Levertov, 1923-1997
We live in a struggling world, and the truth is that folks have always lived in struggling worlds. In every time, those who are alive wrestle to make meaning with the circumstances they experience. We look to our religious practices to help us make that meaning, remembering that the root of the word “religion” is re-ligare, a joining together, if you will, of the disparate elements of our lives. Religion is a structure, a faithful posture, that nurtures wholeness. Remembering back to Bro. David Steindl-Rast’s image, we see how our particular practices nurture this deeper awareness of truth, goodness, and beauty. In other words, we always seek the light in times of struggle, and we give thanks for the blessings we experience in every day moments.
Many of us may have had experiences of being taught to fear God, that a time of judgment lies on the horizon for all of us. Some may have had a very fearful image of God, and they may have rejected the church entirely because of that. Others may have had an image of God that is so ambiguous or vague it’s like smoke, and they may have struggled to find any sort of anchor in the midst of their lives. Perhaps by reflecting on how we share in the Light of God, in the presence of God, we can come to trust God’s presence even more. Perhaps we come to see, as some have said, that God’s ultimate judgment is that we all are indeed worthy of love, that all of creation is a carrier, if you will, of God’s presence, and that judgment cuts through the hatred and animosity that we hold toward each other.
The Christian Hope
|Q.||What is the Christian hope?|
|A.||The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world.|
|Q.||What do we mean by the coming of Christ in glory?|
|A.||By the coming of Christ in glory, we mean that Christ will come, not in weakness but in power, and will make all things new.|
|Q.||What do we mean by heaven and hell?|
|A.||By heaven, we mean eternal life in our enjoyment of God; by hell, we mean eternal death in our rejection of God.|
|Q.||Why do we pray for the dead?|
|A.||We pray for them, because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God’s presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is.|
|Q.||What do we mean by the last judgment?|
|A.||We believe that Christ will come in glory and judge the living and the dead.|
|Q.||What do we mean by the resurrection of the body?|
|A.||We mean that God will raise us from death in the fullness of our being, that we may live with Christ in the communion of the saints.|
|Q.||What is the communion of saints?|
|A.||The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise.|
|Q.||What do we mean by everlasting life?|
|A.||By everlasting life, we mean a new existence, in which we are united with all the people of God, in the joy of fully knowing and loving God and each other.|
|Q.||What, then, is our assurance as Christians?|
|A.||Our assurance as Christians is that nothing, not even death, shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.|
Questions for pondering:
- What does hope mean to you? Does one have to be happy to be hopeful, or is there something more? How would you describe your experience of this?
- What is your image of heaven?
- How do you understand the body’s connection with salvation or wholeness?