Category Archives: Spirituality

Searching for Sunday on the Wilderness Road

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I have been a fan of Rachel Held Evans since I read her first book Evolving in Monkey Town (2010). Soon I was following her blog and when the opportunity arose this winter, I was able to get an advance copy of her newest book Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church.

Even though I don’t have experience in the Evangelical tradition, Evans has the ability to relate her experiences to others from many traditions – even someone raised Catholic like me. Searching for Sunday is a memoir but not a chronological diary. Reflective of her search for rooted authenticity, she organized this book into sections on the seven sacraments.

Each section begins with a sumptuous, earthy meditation on each sacrament that  recalls their physicality. Sacraments are done not just assented to.  She next shares something of her own experience of the sacrament and stories she has gathered around the country in  a way that makes it relatable to many others. This book is for all of Christendom, or at least American Christianity, rather than one fraction or denomination. In each section we are reminded how many traditions mark these sacraments in different ways, whether they care to recognize it in each other’s traditions or not.

anointingHealing may be  implicitly named in only one of the sacraments but there is healing found in every one of them and in every section of this book.  In this sense each of these sacraments fulfills a vital need for a full Christian life by providing acceptance (baptism), forgiveness (confession), sustenance (communion), validation (confirmation), purpose (holy orders), healing (anointing of the sick), and companionship (marriage) all held together with grace and love.

Receiving the sacrament for the first time is only the beginning. They are meant to be re-experienced for a lifetime. When the church withholds anyone of them them by no longer accepting or sustaining, denying the need for healing, purpose, or companionship, the pain can be intense, leaving scars that last a lifetime. If the church is a peek into the kingdom of heaven on earth, then rejection by the church is a glimpse at hell. What is hell if not the absence of God? We are Christ’s body, if we turn our back on each other is it not inflicting a glimpse at hell on the isolated? Jesus does not abandon or exclude, especially when his church does. How great his disappointment must be.  While the LGBT community has been the most visibly discriminated group, many women still struggle to be heard as well as seen in churches that wield the bible like a weapon to enforce their laundry list for conditional acceptance. Searching for Sunday is a balm to sooth the pain, to let you know that you are not alone, validate your pain and begin the healing process.

When we have been hurt, our instinct is to avoid the pain at all costs. Christianity can not be done alone. Even the most holy anchorite who spent their time solely devoted to 11083615_10206463705340882_7433903619505391052_nprayer, needed the church, depending on their brothers and sisters for spiritual support, physical and sacramental sustenance, a slender line to life. We are no different. Going it alone is just not an option. But, this doesn’t mean that we have to stay where we are rejected, whether that is a parish, denomination or tradition. Perhaps one of the most important messages of this book is that the death of a church (or your relationship to it) is not the end; Jesus is in the business of resurrection. New life in Christ will come, perhaps in unexpected places. The journey will not be easy but Jesus never promised an easy road.

Do you think it was a coincidence that I was offered to read this book early, over a Lent that I had chosen to step away from my parish over? I don’t. Its now the Easter season and I am glad to be back at my parish, but if I ever do need to step away for longer it won’t be the end of the world either.

Aqua blue prayer beads

Sky blue Anglican Rosary
Aqua blue Anglican Rosary

I particularly like this one. I think its just pretty. I don’t know that my picture does the blue justice. It really is a lovely aqua blue. The cruciform beads are, if I recall correctly, blue moon cats-eye beads, the week beads are aqua, with silver spacer beads and a celtic knot to hold the three ends together.

This is another icon cross that I particularly like. It is similar to a cursillo cross but different. It has an inscription that reads: “Ecce lignum crucis in quo salus mundi” Behold the wood of the cross on which hung our savior.” I haven’t been able to find out much about where it comes from. I thought I read somewhere that it came from an ancient painting or inscription. It is a pretty widely available cross in Catholic shops and generally inexpensive. So before you buy one in silver or bronze from somewhere like the rosary workshop, they are often available in base medal from local Catholic supply shops. They are all exactly the same design with the rough Latin inscription and the stars around his feet. I would like to know more about it, so please comment if you have any clues.

From the Rosary Workshop
From the Rosary Workshop

Again, the celtic knot is just structural but doesn’t have a prayer assigned to it. I think this is a weak point in the Episcopal/Anglican design. You need some type of three-way bead for structural stability. Either we need cruciform beads designed with three (or four) holes so that strands will lay correctly or we need to intigrate a three-way bead/medal into the design. In diagrams the Anglican rosary looks like a nice circle of prayer but when you string it, it never comes our circular.

St Oswald chaplet

This is my usual pocket chaplet. I’m afraid it has some wear and tear from being in my pocket most of the time. This must be a soft glass because the beads are definitely much shinier than they originally were and some are starting to feel worn. I really didn’t expect that when I picked them.  The wire has been repaired a few times. I call it my St Oswald chaplet because the design is themed on St. Oswald but I don’t have any specific Oswald themed prayer that go with it.

St Oswald Chaplet
St Oswald Chaplet

St Oswald design:

  • Format: one-week Anglican rosary (1/4 of an Anglican rosary). To use as an Anglican rosary, just use the cruciform bead and week beads four times.
  • Purple glass beads: larger ovals for week beads and smaller round beads for invitatory and cruciform bead. St Bede tells us that King Oswald’s banner was purple and gold, and of course, purple fits Christ the king.
  • Celtic knot acts a three way connector but no prayers assigned. This chaplet is hand wired together and the wire is usually what breaks from bending too often.
  • Large Celtic cross
  • Charms: rugged cross and heart-in-hand.

Why two crosses? Well, in addition to their usual Christian meanings, both types are associated with St Oswald. The rugged cross reminds me of the handmade cross erected before his army at Heavenfield and the Celtic cross reminds me that it was King Oswald who first brought the Irish to Northumbria and granted Lindisfarne to Bishop Aidan. Without King Oswald, it is possible that there would be little or no Irish influence in the English church. This mixture of the two crosses also reminds me to balance the art of the Celtic cross with the rugged reality of the rough cross.

Silver heart in hand charm
Silver heart in hand charm

The heart-in-hand charm is actually an early American design but it fits King Oswald very well. His right hand was a long standing symbol (and relic) and he was famed for his generosity. It is also a reminder that Christians should have our hearts in our hands, not on our sleeves. In our hands, not only as an offering but in hands that do the work of the heart.

As for prayers, I tend to be not too inventive. I do actually use this chaplet throughout the day as the occasion comes up. Because the occasion is usually  a spare moment when I’m ‘out in the world’ my prayers are usually fairly free form. The Lord’s Prayer on the cross. The invitatory is free form depending on what is of concern at the moment. The cruciform bead is usually the Gloria Patri (glory be) in the form I learned as a child: Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was the in beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Then followed by the orthodox Jesus prayer on the seven week beads. Lately, I’ve been following it all up with an Ave Maria. I haven’t fit it in on a bead yet…hmm, maybe that link that currently has no prayer purpose. While this one quarter of a Anglican rosary, it could be modified because chaplets don’t have set formats.

Irish prayer beads

Irish prayer beads
Irish prayer beads

I said quite a while ago that I planned to put up some designs for Anglican prayer beads. I finally got my camera sorted out so here is the first one.

Design components:

  • Invitatory and cruciform beads: 8mm apple  green cats-eye beads
  • Week beads: 8 mm light apple green glass beads
  • Clear glass spacer beads used throughout. Celtic knot used as a three-way linker, no prayers assigned to it.
  • Irish penal cross
  • Double-sided medal with St Patrick on one side and St Bridget on the other.

The Irish penal cross dates from the early modern period in Ireland, roughly 17th century. It is called a penal cross because these were the penal times, when the practice of Irish Catholicism was suppressed and all too often backed up by prison sentences. Most surviving Irish penal crosses have a handmade look and vary in design because they were locally made.

The Irish penal cross is a type of icon crucifix. It usually has the same set of icons. There is not a lot of agreement on what some of the symbols mean because these things were obviously not written down during Penal Times.

Front icons:

  • spiked halo: doubles as a halo and a symbol for the crown of thorns
  • hammer: for the nails of the cross
  • jug or chalice: last supper (bottom of cross)
  • binding cords: represent the scourging
  • spear: piercing of Christ’s side (left side of bottom)
  • ladder: rung like steps on the right side of the cross represent a ladder to heaven
  • INRI: across the top of the cross represents the sign nailed to the cross by the Romans

Back icons:

  • cock and pot: variously said to be a butchered rooster that returns to life to crow the resurrection on Easter morning, or said to be related to a legend of Judas.
  • three spikes: three nails used to attach Christ to the cross, in the typical v-shaped icon. This makes me wonder if it doesn’t double as a symbol of the trinity.

The Rosary Workshop has a page of antique (and some modern) Irish penal rosaries here. It appears that this form of a cross did first appear before the ‘Penal Times’ but the reality is that they were popular during the penal times. English suppression of Irish Catholic practices made them more popular by not allowing other alternatives to flourish.

I don’t really know or understand why Anglicans avoid this particular cross. As Episcopalians we didn’t have anything to do with the suppression of Irish Catholicism. Some of us, including me, have Irish Catholic ancestors. For me, this is an ancestral cross as much as any Anglican cross. I suspect that Anglicans in the US also avoid this cross because they avoid crucifixes in general and with so many icons of the passion, it makes people uncomfortable. Well, the passion isn’t supposed to make you comfortable.

All combined I like this set of prayer beads for Lent. The penal cross with its symbolism of the passion is ideal for Lent and Holy Week. Yet, the light green color also reminds of spring. The medal of St Patrick and St Bridget are not only there because they are the co-patron saints of Ireland. St Bridget’s feast day is February 1 and usually proceeds Ash Wednesday by only a few weeks (a few days last year).  Before the calendar correction February 1 would have fallen two weeks later in the lunar year and the medieval Irish  associated St Bridget’s day with the birth of spring lambs, appropriate for the ‘Mary of the Gaels’. St Patrick’s feast day, March 17th, always falls during Lent without exception.

Mind and Soul

Julian of Norwich
Julian of Norwich

Prayer unites the soul to God. Although the soul is like God in nature, it is often different from Him in condition because of a person’s sin. Prayer then acts as a witness that the soul wills as God wills. It eases the conscience and prepares us for grace. That is why God teaches us to pray — to trust without doubting that we will have grace, for the Lord looks on us in love. God wants nothing more than to make us partners in His good will and work.

Julian of Norwich, Revelations

Julian’s concept that it is our soul which is made in the image of God is a very attractive proposition. It frees us from the problematic concept of God as an old man which directly contrasts with Biblical teaching that God is undefinable, that no man was capable to telling you what God looks like.  Hence, the ten commandments forbids making idols of anything in the heavens, under the earth or in the water under the earth (ie. in God’s exclusive domain).

Julian’s quote makes me think about the relationship between the mind and soul.  The linkage between the mind and soul is complicated but they are, to my mind, clearly distinct. The mind is a product of the brain and a function of the body. It goes through a life cycle of development, growth, and eventual decline. It is subject to disease and damage; the soul is free of such disability. If a person suffers a mind-destroying stroke, we don’t consider their soul to be damaged in any way.

What then is the relationship between the mind and soul? I think that the mind can make an impression on the soul like a stamp on hot wax. The mind does not alter the nature of the soul, but molds its shape. To apply this separation to Julian’s quote then, sins distort the proper shape of the soul. Prayer trains the soul to want what God wants and prepares the soul to experience God’s grace. Prayer molds the soul into a form oriented towards God.

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Julian quote from: Carmen Acevedo Butcher. (2008). A Little Daily Wisdom: Christian Women Mystics. Paraclete Press.