Father Harrison’s Blog

By the Way …

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Posted on: December 19th, 2014 by Father Harrison

I spent a couple of days in retreat at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado this week.  St. Bernard Hermiatgewithdrew, recoiled, left, fled, drew back, ran away, gave some distance to most of what is usual and normal for me; hiding in a comfortable little hermitage overlooking the 3,000 acres the brothers who live and pray and work there oversee.  Much of the monastery grounds is used for grazing cattle and growing/selling hay these days. The pasture land is leased now, the brothers no longer raise cattle, but some do continue to work the hay fields. There was once a large egg production venture at the monastery, which fell out of prophet and favor in the 1970’s. These days the brothers support themselves through the sale of hay, holy hospitality through their retreat house and hermitages, and interestingly enough through the sale of cookies; online and at the gift shop in their main house.  I highly recommend the orange, almond, butter cookies.

I try to get lost, retreat to St.Benedict’s at least once each year, especially during Lent. The simple solitude, the quiet, the pastures and mountain views, even for a couple of days, renew and steady my balance, and I sense that God finds me, notices me, favors me, and I am reminded what I am all about.  Finally feeling disconnected from the usual and normal I settle in – then complete my first spiritual exercise, I always step outside my assigned hermitage and yell out over the pastures, “Well, God.  Here I am!  (“Harrison’s back, the brothers probably say.) 

It does not take long for me to be reminded I’d make a lousy monk.  I probably take too much of my most appreciated creature comforts along, especially books.  This time it was a small book by C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce) one of his I had not read; so well recommended that I read it the afternoon I moved in St. Bernard Hermitage.  A new book of the life and times of 100 saints of the church and society; I’m a “saint junky.” And just to make sure the ancient classics of theology can still hold my attention I read and made notes on Justin Martyr’s First Christian Apology (written sometime around 160 A.D.) well into each night – “Justice is inquiry, not punishment!!  Never mind.

From my readings I came away with this from C. S Lewis:  “Every poet, musician, artist, but for grace, is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells, to the love of telling, and suddenly they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about God.  They sink lower – becoming interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations. Ouch!  Suddenly, I had something to reflect on while disappearing.

Of course the “thing” I tell about is God, but I am ever-interested in God, I love God, I tell of my love for God, and I do wish to be favored and noticed by God – my prayer time made that clear.

Here’s the thing to remember:  God favors all of us.  God notices us all the time – solitary retreat not required.

God notices us and favors us, wherever we are, whomever we are with, while we go about our “usual and normal” at home, work, and school, God takes us in.

By the Way …

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Posted on: December 4th, 2014 by Father Harrison

Its Advent, and the “prophets of old” are at it again.

We preachers know Advent as the days that will (at least ought to) suggest that Christmas means something, that something is coming, that something changes at Christmas. On the Sunday’s of Advent we preach the “wait and watch” theme using words and phrases like “incarnation” and “salvation,” “the word made flesh.”  For good measure we will sing that “He” comes, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  We do our best to be reassuring modern day prophets ourselves, then we bless our people and send them all back into the real world of, “Are you through with your Christmas shopping yet – are you ready for Christmas?”

I wonder how do folks actually juggle and balance all the secular and religious aspects of Christmas?  We preach and assure that the world will suddenly become “all is right and all is bright,” that all the broken people will become whole and live abundantly as though Christmas really changes and fixes things, preach that God came and lived here as a human, to show us what God really intended for us, when the truth is we’re still watching and waiting, and shopping.  And the waiting will continue after we celebrate what we are waiting for; waiting for this planet and its inhabitants to be made right, still waiting for aching hearts to steady, hoping, praying, “Come Jesus, Come.”

Yes, it is soon Christmas time, but that doesn’t mean everyone and everything is well and good.   So unless I say this aloud, if I don’t be the prophet and announce that Advent also embraces the less than happy realities of our lives, make space for them and give voice to them, then I become part of the tinsel.

Advent, in its patience required waiting and watching for Christ to come again can be a profound time.

Advent lets us go to those places where we have buried stuff.  We can dig all that up, and out of the attic, hold it all out in front of us, hang it on the tree, and pray, “Come, O’ Come Jesus and take this stuff away.”  Advent allows us to dig up, wake up, hold up any sorrow, and sit and wait to let it go; give it up to Christ, who will accept it as so much gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

God already came to do just that. God has been with us since the beginning, since each of our beginnings.

At Christmas time we celebrate that sacred truth in fanciful, fantastic, whimsical, even sometimes bizarre ways, and eventually step into a church on Christmas Eve, trying to balance the secular and sacred. That’s how we live.

In and around that, you can count on me to declare what we cannot always see, I’ll promise hope in the face of hopelessness, I’ll point toward peace in the midst of conflict, I’ll notice joy in apathy, and assure all-forgiving love.  And I’ll probably do a little Christmas shopping.IMG_20131022_121212

 

By the Way …

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Posted on: November 21st, 2014 by Father Harrison

Thanksgiving characterizes November and this time of year.  It’s an unassuming and tender feast day, as I see it. There’s less focus on decorations, gift giving is not necessary, and far less last minute holiday shopping is required.  Bringing family and friends together to sit down, be together and share is the heart of Thanksgiving. Many folks leave their cities at Thanksgiving, wishing to return to the country to be around farms and a life lived closer to the land.  We are reminded and seek out what is important to us.  The desire to go home is so irresistible the day just before Thanksgiving puts most Americans headed that way – home.

The feast itself fairly mirrors the seasonal change and the new rhythm of our days: the Thanksgiving dinner preparation requires an early start, most likely at dawn, there is great haste to finish what needs to be done, then comes something of a delay before the big mid-afternoon dinner as we attempt to make the day linger as if we are clutching on to summertime, and suddenly the gathering gives itself over to the feast’s end almost too quickly to notice.  Just as abruptly, it is winter.

This is also the time of year in the Church we say goodbye to Pentecost. We also bid the Lectionary (the readings from Holy Scripture) for Year “A” farewell. The first Sunday of Advent, November 30, is also the first Sunday of Lectionary Year B (In the Episcopal Church we hear and consider Holy Scripture in a 3 year cycle: A-B-C.) Year A is laced with the gospel writings of Matthew; year B brings Mark to center stage.

Matthew has revealed to us that the kingdom of God (the land where God lives) is here, on earth; not up there, in heaven alone, but down here with us; unfortunately hidden by the world of human endeavor.  Matthew’s take on Jesus’ life and presence as the One who oversees, takes care, and intervenes is evident, mostly by surprise.  When Jesus does what Jesus does: someone is healed, a storm fades, the earthquake stops. When we feed one another, clothe, heal, give water to, visit or set one another free, Jesus lives among us – divine intervention in human endeavors; Christ comes again.

The world has changed in the years since the Gospel of Matthew, since all Holy Scripture was written: the numbers of hungry, thirsty, sick, lost, and imprisoned has only grown to large percentages of 7 billion people.  The margins where the people whose needs are overwhelming live are narrowing.  We wonder will things ever be right here on earth.

As we say goodbye to Matthew, a summary of his teaching offers a solution:  what matters most in human enterprise is how we make our choices about where to spend our time, our money, and our energy; giving the gifts that God gives us to each other.  Jesus said, (he assured his followers) when you take care of each other, when you do the things that make you love one another,  you are doing as I have done to you, and you are doing it to me; I am in you and you are in me, you cannot care for one another without caring for me as well.” Not caring (he said) will only torment you, isolate you, cast you into a place of darkness in this life.

It is often suggested we see Christ in other people; in strangers we are often taught to avoid and fear, in prisoners who have done unforgivable things, in the chronically ill who are most often condemned because we are88273b8b2c306a5055e58503b8294853 confident their lifestyle contributes to their illness, in the hungry who ought to be able to fend for themselves like the rest of us, in the foreigner.  If we do not recognize Christ in the “least of these,” it seems we fail Christ and that kind of failure is more than eternal punishment.

Jesus prays that we see ourselves and our world in a new way every day.  He taught us how to love, he assured us we could do it, he promised to live among us.

How we choose to share this remarkable gift with one another is entirely up to us.

By the Way …

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Posted on: November 19th, 2014 by Father Harrison

Thanksgiving comes and we start thinking about Christmas, or I should say Advent.  Those of us more familiar with the rhythm of the church calendar know we need this time of Advent to prepare for Christmas; that we “slow down, be quiet, wait and watch,” for God’s proof that God came to live as one of us, once and for all.  We need to be reminded of that.

Sometime ago while visiting one of my daughters we decided to take on the project of converting all the VHS videos I took of her and her sister growing up into DVD(s).  One afternoon we made up our minds to look at them – all of them.  The Christmas episodes seem to drag on and on.  The girls received a lot of gifts every Christmas.  Each year’s “must-have” toys for little girls were there each Christmas morning.  We laughed and we “awww(ed)” revisiting those Christmas mornings, and at one point we both fell silent.  As she glanced at me and caught my eye, I admitted, “Too much stuff?”  She smiled and nodded her head.

She went on to tell me some of what she remembered most about our Christmas’ past: me hoisting her on my shoulders to put the star at the top of the tree; the time a tree tied to the top of the car came lose and landed along the road home, we discovered it after we arrived home, no tree on top of the car, (an occasion for wild laughter); the Christmas Eve the three of us got all dressed up and went to a fine restaurant for a dad’s and daughter’s dinner; and the last time I took them both to sit on Santa’s lap.  They left a letter to Santa in a mailbox conveniently placed just outside Santa-land for those now too “grown-up” to sit on Santa’s lap.  She also said she could not recall a lot of the toys they received, even seeing them on film. It was apparent our love and the love of God that bound us together as one was fairly enough.

In my comings and goings I hear, I understand, that people are starved for a sense of meaning, worth, and belonging – What does what is happening to me mean?”  You are, we are, loved by God, who somehow gives us all we need, and our faith in that truth can be cause enough for celebrating the truth about the abundance of our earthly lives.

So in the spirit of Advent and Christmas traditions, waiting, watching, anticipating, giving, here’s the prayer I’ll be making for you in the days ahead; all throughout Advent:

I will pray that you have more. More peace, more joy, more contentment, a more profound awareness of belonging to God, and to each other, and above all else a more clear idea of just how precious you are to God.  God will not waver.  God is Virginia Riverstill healing and still creating.

That’s the truth.

 

By the Way …

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Posted on: November 14th, 2014 by Father Harrison

Recently, it has finally occurred to me that I’ll make a terrific grandfather.   Neither of my daughters (and their husbands) are “expecting”, yet, but I have been imagining that for a while now – being a grandfather – and that is something new for me. (The photo below is of my maternal grandparents, my mother being held by her father, grandmother behind him, and some of mother’s sisters; all long gone now).

I pray for our young families each day; for all families with young children.  They are so busy, so very, very busy, and children today (as we all were) are raised in very dangerous times – perhaps even more dangerous and difficult times – and in some ways they are less protected from danger and difficulty than we were; for instance, from guns taken to school.  The little girls in the photo may have had some days when they worried about having enough to eat after their father died within 4 years of the photo being taken.  They, no doubt, experienced “dangerous and difficult times” that I know nothing about.

I keep an eye on kids and parents when I’m out and about.  I sort of monitor their behavior, kids and parents alike, and often think to myself, “Been there, done that.”  Not out of some sense of relief that I am not likely to have to carry a tantrum-throwing toddler out of a public place, rather, more like I am offering a prayer that I know what they may be going through, what they have to go through, and (more importantly) they will get through these days well.

What I pray for most for our children, and their families is reassurance and well-being.  Still today, just as Paul warned the Thessalonians, difficult and dangerous occasions can happen without warning, with no apparent escape, but we remain people of hope, light, and grace is always present and near – everything will be alright.

That is part of my “monitoring” prayer as well (when I’m spying on kids and parents) “I have been there and done that and you can trust me – everything will be alright.”   I hope.  I hope.

G-grandma, G- grandpa Simmons, Aunt Ruby, Aunt Bobby, Aunt Maude, mom

 

By the Way …

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Posted on: November 8th, 2014 by Father Harrison

I made one of those confessions (this week) that causes some folks in the church to cringe.  I revealed to one of the Community Bible Experience groups this past week that the idea the second coming is the “thing” about Jesus (and all this) I just don’t get.  This one thing, I just can’t explain or explain away – rationally, theologically or otherwise.  How about you? I find the idea mind-boggling.  And being one who believes, professes, preaches, notices, walks – talks, even spits that Christ is here now – well, how am I supposed to explain the theology of a second coming in my profession that he lives among us.  It is a good thing nobody has asked me about what I feel about “Christ will come again.”  And I suppose you won’t ask now.

While others may encourage we consider this one to be a parable (Matthew 25.1-13) about the second coming of Christ, I understand it as a story (and encouragement) about waiting, with purpose. Waiting for something that others have waited for for centuries. Waiting for something we can hardly believe will happen.  Waiting for something we must be ready to happen, when we have no idea when, where, how, or if it will happen at all.   Truth is, we are used to waiting.

The run-up to the wait for Christmas is upon us. I have seen that first Christmas tree up in a home in my neighborhood this week. They just couldn’t wait.

We are used to waiting for a certain phone call.  Waiting for the results of a medical test. Waiting for a word from a friend or family member that in spite of an argument all matters of things will be well. We are well acquainted with waiting, but we still don’t like it.

What are you waiting for?  What will you do in the meantime?

By the Way …

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Posted on: October 30th, 2014 by Father Harrison

I receive television programs through a little black box called a Roku that “streams through the internet.”  Its like magic to me.  With Roku, I’m in control of my television.  I see no commercials.  I consider that “genius.”  Some, who know me better, would recognize my “cheapskate” attributes over being genius.  We mostly watch movies, but there are literally thousands of programs available, most free, some pay-per-view, yet unlike cable, or whatever the real technology of the day is, there are no monthly fees required from my little black box. (Yeah, go ahead, call me cheap).  Then there is my major league baseball channel – I swoon, just writing that statement.  MLB.com.  I can watch every major league baseball game, anytime I wish, all season long, live or pick an inning (any inning, any game), beginning with preseason games in February!  Want to know how many times I have watched Derek Jeter’s last bat at Yankee Stadium this year?  But there’s one catch, or error I should say, with my MLB channel this time of year.  The major network that carries the World Series (rhymes with socks) corners the market for the game and I have to watch the World Series games the day after they were actually played.  I have to avoid people who know I love the game, lest they spill the beans, stating who won.  I avoid looking at my favorite online news source.  I avoid newspapers, especially today, the day after game 7 of this year’s Series between the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants (go Giants).  Its a good thing Thursday is the day I write my Sunday sermons, I’m left to myself, there should be no “who won the deciding game” chat.  “Shhhh…go away, leave me alone, writing the sermon, no time to chat, sinner heal thyself – just for today.”

I love everything about the game, and take in all I love about it in each game I watch.  I umpire.  First little league, then certified high school, last year college level.  All one must do is learn the rules and know how to apply the rules, (more to it than hit and run, catch and throw, spit and scratch), be able to run well at least to the 45 foot line at first base if one is “behind the plate,” be calm in an argument (never take on a coach nose to nose, but spin them in circles and listen before offering a polite, “I had a good look at that play, sir”), enjoy being yelled at for 2 hours ignoring all but insults that involve your mother’s reputation, and most important of all, look older, wiser, and bigger than anyone on the field.  One also has to pass the rules test.  Having once worked in surgery, now being a priest, and always loving the game allows me steady nerves, a holier than though demeanor, and a superb command of the rules – I try not to spit and scratch.

There are folks who say, “watching a baseball game is like watching paint dry.”  They prefer watching the head-on collisions of big men, wearing tight pants, chasing who ever may be carrying a ball shaped like a little pumpkin.  Enough said.  But baseball – its more than just a game.  John Updike sums it up far better than I can in his poem Baseball – It looks easy from a distance, easy and lazy, even, until you stand up to the plate and see the fastball sailing inside, an inch from your chin, or circle in the outfield straining to get a bead on a small black dot a city block or more high, a dark star that could fall on your head like a leaden meteor.  The grass, the dirt, the deadly hops between your feet and overeager glove: football can be learned, and basketball finessed, but there is no hiding from baseball the fact that some are chose and some are not – those who mitts feel too left-handed, who are scared at third base of the pulled line drive, and at first base are scared of the shortstop’s wild throw that stretches you out like a gutted deer.  There is nowhere to hide when the ball’s spotlight swivels your way, and the chatter around you falls still, and the mother’s on the sidelines, your own among them, hold their breaths, and you wiff on a terrible pitch or in the infield achieve something with the ball so ridiculous you blush for years.  It’s easy to do.  Baseball was invented in America, where beneath the good cheer and sly jazz of the chance of failure is everybody’s right, beginning with baseball.

So, this tribute to the game, something I cherish about this life, as I leave my priestly study, sermon finished and simmering until Sunday, bound for my own “yard,” which I will mow one last time for the season while dreaming I’m the Head Ground’s Keeper at Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.   Game 7, which was played last night, is all mine tonight.

 

By the Way …

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Posted on: October 24th, 2014 by Father Harrison

The Matthew reading for this coming Sunday (22.34-46) is an important one, it is the climax of the tough question and answer sessions  and parable replies between Jesus and his Pharisee friends there in the Temple of Jerusalem.  This is the story of Jesus’ “final exam,” (“After that, no one dared ask him anymore questions.”) (46)

I have decided to preach the Deuteronomy reading (34.1-12).  This is a beautiful and heart-rending story, even sort of ironic.  I don’t know how anyone can read it, or hear it, without being emotionally moved.

Poor Moses.

Standing high on Mount Nebo, where he can see all of Judah stretching all the way out to the Mediterranean Sea, God says to Moses, “This land I promised, I will give it to your descendants.  I have now allowed you to see it with you own eyes, but you will not enter the land.” (4)   We can assume there is good reason the Scripture does not include Moses’ reaction.  Then God buries Moses where no one can find his body.  A great leader, one everyone knows at least by name, gone before “his time.” As with Jesus, everyone ought to know what happened to Moses in the end.

As with so many leaders, “gone before their time,” “His eyesight was clear and he was strong as ever.” (7) All the more disturbing, it sounds like Moses had a few more than 120 years ahead of him, but it seems his work, his role in moving the Israel forward was finished.  Many of us have seen a great many leaders die before their time, during our time.  John Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, died suddenly and violently.  Other greats died of natural cases.  The death and loss of leaders change the shape of our lives; we try to imagine the world with them gone.  We fear chaos and discord will overwhelm us, with them gone  Yet we always get by, move on, eventually seeing promise and hope with clearing eyes and new strength, renewed hope – new leaders are appointed.

So it was with Moses and the people of early Israel.

 

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By the Way …

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Posted on: October 23rd, 2014 by Father Harrison

Few truths about Jesus speak to his life as being human than the fact he had siblings.  Today, the Church celebrates the life and “ministry” of St. James of Jerusalem, one of Jesus’ brothers – sibling type brothers.  After the Church adopted the doctrine of “perpetual virginity,” (regarding Mary, the mother of Jesus) early thinkers in the church thought the term “brother” of Jesus really meant “cousin.”  A great deal has been said and written on the subject of Mary having other children after Jesus was born, (in her partnership with Joseph), but the Protestant church is careful to point out that “Joseph, knew her not until after her firstborn son was brought forth.” (Call it, The Doctrine of the Great Better Tidy That One Up.)  Then, along came Joses, Jude, and Simon, all “natural” sons of Mary, and let’s not forget the “unnamed sisters” of Jesus noted in Mark 6.3, and Matthew 13.55-56.  Whatever the circumstances of his birth and ensuing cover-up(s) to protect the “innocent,” God came to earth and had to do so in the only manner human beings can arrive here – born of a woman.  What genius!  I’ve said that before, especially on Christmas eve.

A wise monk wrote today, “James was a man open to possibilities; open to hearing God in new and varied ways.  That credits James with willingness to allow the possibility that the depth and breadth of God’s love is extended to all people – all people.  We’re still working on that “genius.”

At least we can consider James had a big brother who set great examples for his siblings and all us other “brothers and sisters.” 

By the Way …

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Posted on: October 22nd, 2014 by Father Harrison

Jesus suffered the sorrows of the people he encountered. Sorrow brought on by their own lifestyle, sorrow brought on at the hands of others and the oppressive forces of living on earth.  Jesus was wholeheartedly devoted to all people.  We modern’s look to our own devices – those of this world – thinking we can “out-smart unhappiness,” (those sorrows and burdens, that we suffer) trying to reduce or out maneuver them in a myriad of therapies.  There seems to be no rest for the weary.

The “rest” that Jesus promises is not the rest at the “end of one’s earthly live,” a promise we think we will only have to consider someday, later on.  Our rest, the grace and rest of the one who loves us so, does not have to come only at the “end of life.”  It is here and now – the love, healing, and peace of God among our-selves and among all the nations of the world.  His life of rest and abundance is a life very different from the one we live, yet it is ours to claim, anytime.

Of all those of this world who gave so much of themselves for freedom, peace, joy, happiness, and of course liberty, the abundance(s) of this life, there was no greater champion than Jesus of Nazareth. Living his Way is easy and light … and ours … to pursue.

By the Way …