The Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr.
“In gratitude, in deep gratitude for this moment, this meal, these people, we give ourselves to You, O God. Take us out to live lives as changed people because we have shared the Living Bread and cannot remain the same. Ask much of us, expect much from us, enable much by us, encourage many through us.” The Rev. Dr. Mark Anschutz
In this litigious age we hear municipalities and institutions of all sizes and types speak of trip-hazards on their properties. These hazards might include any offset in a pavement or sidewalk that can lead to someone falling. Regular inspections take place to locate these hazards so that they may be repaired. It seems to me this is an approach we might employ to great benefit in our spiritual lives.
There are many spiritual trip hazards, common to most of us at one time or another. These can include jealousy, wanting what someone else has, or frustration at our lack of having something. Anger, that we never seem to get past, trips many people. Addiction to various substances trips up others. Guilt for something we did, or didn’t do, can knock us down. Fear of getting older can make most of us wobble at one point another. Obsession with gaining power or influence over others can land us on the ground before we know it. At various times a general sense of loss of control can send us reeling. I sometimes think of these hazards as a great buffet table, like a salad bar, where we all partake of some of the poisons from time to time.
I began this column with the prayer above from my friend and mentor, Fr. Anschutz, because it stresses so powerfully and so succinctly the importance of a great balm for our souls: thankfulness. To be grateful, thankful, if to focus on what we have already received, stressing our blessings and not our shortcomings. A thankful heart is a lighter heart, a more content heart, and a heart more at peace with itself and the world.
There have been times when I wanted to pray but I was a jumble of emotions. At those moments I simply couldn’t begin the prayer I so desperately wanted to pray. So I just started naming blessings for which I was thankful. They often tumble out in no particular order--things from childhood, relationship, experiences, faith, places where I have served, Immanuel. In those moments I am taken out of myself, I feel centered, and free. I encourage you to try this approach in times when you might find it a challenge to pray.
What would it be like to lead with gratitude, with thanksgiving, in our lives? What would it be like to have a journal or a document on our computers where we simply list blessings? What would it be like to mention these blessings in conversations, naming God as their source? I believe we would gradually be changed people.
Our great national holiday of Thanksgiving approaches. Might this be an opportunity to list some blessings? Our annual Stewardship campaign at Immanuel continues, after a very encouraging and promising start. Have you pledged yet? Have you set aside some time to name some blessings, and some of the ways you plan to give back to God, for God’s great purposes in the world, from those blessings? Our parish home, Immanuel, needs and deserves our prayers, our time, our talents, our witness, and yes, our financial support.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all,
The Rev. J. Randolph Alexander, Jr., Rector
I decided to go to MacDonald’s for a Breakfast treat, (specifically oatmeal, hash browns, and coffee, if that helps to set the context). As I was standing in line I heard the man next to me talking to another man about how his children were preparing for Confirmation (yes, my Mother taught me not to eavesdrop, but they were speaking fairly loudly, so there was no way to avoid listening, especially when I heard the topic!).
The one man seemed very kind, and I could imagine he was a good Dad. He said that his children were preparing for Confirmation now, but then he said, “It’s a good thing I don’t go to Church. My poor wife is having to take care of it, and I think they will stop going after it’s done.” It became pretty clear they were talking specifically about the Roman Catholic Church, as the other guy talked about the struggles of getting an annulment since he had been married before, and the first guy talked about a friend who had recently had a stillborn child, how they wanted the priest to do some sort of blessing of the body, and how the priest didn’t.
I couldn’t decide if I was glad I was in my baseball cap and shorts, rather than a collar, or not. Should I interrupt? And what would I say if I did chime in? Would that be rude beyond belief? Or would it be caring, even loving? Could I say something like, “I’m sorry you have had that experience of Church—it’s not all like that—might you give it another try?” I was a bit angry at this guy, but I was much more angry at the Church, for letting this man and his family down, on some level. And I felt sad for him, profoundly so.
I didn’t interrupt. I decided that might cause further damage. I decided I could pray for this man, though, this man whose name I didn’t know. I prayed that, in God’s time and by whatever means, God’s love and pure delight in him might become known to this man. I prayed for healing in his experience of Church. I offered a short confession for any ways I may have damaged or impaired the experience of Church, or even of God, for others. I prayed that, somehow, this man’s relationship with God could be healed and made manifest in his life.
And I wondered how many there are like him out there. . . hurting, ticked off, distracted, or just plain bored with religion. And I thought of so many of our people who are so giving and loving, to one another and to strangers, who find hope and meaning and purpose in their relationship with God and in our fellowship. How do we connect with more of those many people out there like this man? Might our Anglican branch of the great Christian family speak more to him? Might we be a home he is looking for?
I was only left with some haunting questions. I resolved to trust God’s care, love, and grace for this man, but also to hold this question before us—what more can we be doing to reach out to the many like him, right in our neighborhood? How do we even cross their radar? Will you pray about this with me? And don’t hesitate to interrupt when you hear a conversation like this, if you think it might help. Otherwise, praying is always a precious resource.
See you in Church,