Not Being Anxious About Your Life

truck

“Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…..” — Jesus, in Matthew 6:25

I read this opening line in the Gospel passage for today as I sat in Trinity’s chapel, having just watched our truck being hoisted onto a tow truck to be hauled off to the repair shop.  And while suddenly and unexpectedly needing to have one’s vehicle repaired would surely not make the top 10 list of bad things that could happen in life, as I was en route to the chapel for my morning prayer, I must admit that there was an anxious thought very much at the top of my mind:  the bill that will be coming to get the truck up and going again.

And so, as I sat in the midst of this anxious thought, here came Jesus, saying “Do not be anxious about your life.”  My response to Jesus was simple:  I think this falls under the category of easier said than done.

This particular teaching of Jesus is one that has always both comforted and irritated me.  On the one hand, I am comforted by the freedom that can come when one lets go of one’s anxiety.  After all, living anxiously isn’t much fun, and anxiety can creep into the cracks and crevices of one’s heart, mind and soul and take over everything else if we allow it to.  On the other hand, I am irritated by the fact that the way Jesus presents this teaching makes it sound like it’s easy to let that anxiety go.  In my experience, getting to that place of freedom by letting go of anxiety is not an easy journey.

The only way we can get there, I think, is through a conscious application of spiritual practice, and a conscious shifting of perspective.  The spiritual practice involves, for me, a quiet centering of myself consciously in the presence and embrace of God.   This centering practice helps to connect me with the source of life, and reminds me that my true life and my true self are to be found in God. For me, this centering involves a consciousness of breath and an invocation of the Name of Christ.   And when I experience myself in God’s presence and embrace, I know that whatever it is that is making me anxious ultimately cannot touch the heart of who I am.  And that realization leads to a shifting of perspective, and helps me to place the anxiety-producing event in a larger context.  In terms of my own life, this is one moment and one challenge that will pass.  In terms of the larger life of the world and the challenges that others are facing, this event is really not such a terrible thing.  And that, in turn, leads me to a place of gratitude, to the appreciation of the blessings that are a part of my life but that anxiety can mask and hide.  All of this helps me to release the anxiety, and return to a place of peace and freedom in God.

So, Jesus is right, of course.  Being anxious about life doesn’t change anything or help us, but rather obscures our sense of connectedness to God and to the larger world, and to all of the things that we have to be thankful for.  If we can pray our way back to a connection with God, then we can see things as they are, deal with things from a better perspective, and not allow the anxieties of our lives to overwhelm us.

This is not always easy, and we likely won’t stay in that place of freedom and peace permanently.  We’ll have to get our way back to it again and again.  But if we keep making that prayerful journey, the path to that place will become more familiar, and we’ll find that we can get back to it more easily and more quickly over time.

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Peace,  (the Rev.) Matthew Dutton-Gillett

Reflections from the Ranch

This week I attended my first Diocese of California clergy conference, which served as the opportunity to make my first visit to Bishop’s Ranch. What a beautiful place!

Part of the substance of our gathering was a discussion of the book “Bury the Chains”, a book which Bishop Marc had called to our attention and asked us to read. Most of us had not found time to do that, of course, but we joined together in an interesting kind of collecive reading that was able to give us all a sense of the book’s content.

“Bury the Chains” tells the story of the effort to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. As we considered the book, we were asked to reflect on what the ups and downs of the abolition movement in Britain might teach us about social change movements in our own time.

I was particularly interested in one particular question, which asked us to consider what happens in a social change movement when it reaches a dry or stuck place, unable to move forward for the moment, needing to regather its energy and reconsider it’s strategy. One option at such moments for people of faith is to turn to God and one another in prayer and contemplation, awaiting the Spirit’s leading to indicate the way we should go in pursuing God’s dream of a more just world.

This dynamic of action in the world for justice, interrupted by periods of contemplative retreat, lies at the very heart of the gospels. Over and over again, we see Jesus retreating briefly from active ministry for prayer and contemplation, either by himself or with his close community of friends. It is a pattern that suggests to me two things: that Christian action to promote a more just world needs to be rooted in a deep connection to one’s own heart and the heart of God, and that active ministry needs to be grounded in prayer and contemplation if it is to remain fresh and energetic.

This, it seems to me, is true not only of Christian participation in movements of social change, but also of active ministry within the church. Can you imagine creating a plan in which church members are invited to engage in a time of prayer and contemplation to prepare for a period of activity in some parish ministry? And can you imagine, after a time in activity in some ministry, returning to a less active period of prayer and contemplation, to reflect and reevaluate? I wonder how such a model could reeneegize tired lay ministers? I wonder how such a model could raise up new leaders and participants in our ministries?

Serving the Gospel, whether within the church or in the larger community, should always be a spiritual experience, and should serve not to exhaust people, but to transform people’s hearts and spirits.

Such are the thoughts on my mind as I return from this time spent with the ordained community within our diocese.

Reflections on Christian Formation

Of Forms and Formation (Article for October Newsletter)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God —what is good and acceptable and perfect.  – Romans 12:2

As this edition of the parish newsletter reaches you, formation programs for children and youth will already have gotten underway.  Later in October, our Sunday morning forums will resume with an offering directed toward those who are newer to The Episcopal Church, as well as those who are just interested in learning more and perhaps renewing knowledge that may have been forgotten.   Look for more information on our “Your Faith, Your Life” series elsewhere in this newsletter.

I was interested to note that one of the things the Vestry highlighted in its explanation to you of my call to become your new rector was what was called my “cradle to grave” vision of Christian education, or what I like to call formation.  What the Vestry saw as my vision in that regard is rooted in a conviction that at every stage of our lives, we encounter the mystery of God, the mystery of the sacred, in new ways.  At times, our lives shift to such a degree that we lose any sense of God at all for a while.  At other times, we feel so connected to God’s presence that it almost takes our breath away.  Most of the time, we are somewhere in between.  My hope and my vision is that we can begin to create opportunities for Christian formation that meet people where they are, and support them as they journey into deeper, newer places.

The reason I prefer the term formation to education is that the idea of being formed and transformed is exceedingly open-ended.  It implies, for me, an unfolding process of discovery that happens both individually and in community, and whose possibilities and depths are limitless.  It implies that we are being shaped by encounters with God and with one another, and it implies that the journey we are on is really less about acquiring knowledge and more about living into a relationship with the Holy.

Frannie, Beth and I are beginning a conversation together about opportunities for formation at Trinity Parish.  Some of that discussion has involved instituting an evening program every week, and some of it has involved the idea of beginning some small group work after the first of the year.  We are even beginning to speak about the use of web-based resources.  Things are percolating, you might say, and I am excited about what will be bubbling up.

One thing about Christian formation, though:  it is most definitely a team and fully participatory activity!  We can offer, but ultimately it is up to each one of us to decide whether those opportunities are worth our time.  I hope you will decide that they are, not only for yourself but for your children, if you still have children at home.   School is important, sports are important, all kinds of activities are important – family is definitely important.  The soul and the spirit are also important.  We live in a society that is uncertain and unskilled about soul and spirit – but we are inheritors of an ancient wisdom tradition that can shed light on them both.

Stay tuned, and pray and think about making room in your life for soul-work.

Peace and blessings,

Matthew+

Early Service: Chapel or Church?

This was sent out as a letter to those who were identified as regular worshippers at the 8:30 service.

Dear Trinity Faithful Early Worshippers,

I am deeply grateful for the conversation we had in the midst of last Sunday’s 8:30 service about how worship in the chapel has been for you, and whether the 8:30 service should continue to take place in the chapel.  Those of you who shared your thoughts and feelings with the community spoke honestly and clearly, and with a generosity of spirit toward those with different points of view.  That was a gift to all of us.

As I have considered prayerfully what was said last Sunday, it seems clear to me that for many of you, worshipping in the chapel has been a sacred experience.  It also seems that the service has attracted more people since moving to the chapel, though there certainly may be other factors that have contributed to this.  It is also clear to me that there are a number of people who miss the opportunity to worship at an early hour, with the more traditional liturgy, in the main church, and for whom the chapel has not yet been experienced as a sacred space.

In reflecting on all of this, and after conversation about it with Frannie and Beth, I am proposing that, beginning in October, we have the 8:30 service on the first Sunday of the month in the main church, and that on the other Sundays of the month, the service take place in the chapel.  I believe that this schedule honors what I perceive to be the preference for the chapel of the majority, while also honoring those in our midst who wish to experience this liturgy in the main church on a regular basis.  I make no claim that this is the perfect solution.    I am hopeful, however,  that it will help all of you to feel that you have been heard and respected as valued members of Trinity Parish.

As always, I welcome your feedback.

Peace,

Matthew

Cycle of Liturgies at Trinity Parish (10:30)

One of the things that I became aware of in the course of the new rector search process, and which has been affirmed since my arrival at Trinity, is the diversity of ways that the people of Trinity encounter God and the sacred in our worship.  There are those in our community who connect deeply with the liturgies of the Book of Common Prayer and the more traditional elements of ritual that go with them, and who find a sense of the sacred in receiving Communion at the Altar Rail.  There are others who rejoice in an altar placed closer to the congregation, who find God in other images and expressions not necessarily found in the Prayer Book, and who connect deeply with what I would call a “more free” feel to the liturgy and in music drawn from more contemporary sources.

The challenge for me, and for us all, is to honor this diversity in our worship life, without creating so many different service times that the community becomes disconnected and disjointed.  Toward that end, we are beginning a new cycle of liturgies.  It is my hope that this cycle will, over the course of each month, engage each of us in a way of worship that is most meaningful to us.  I have great confidence in the generosity of spirit of Trinity people, so that if the liturgy we are experiencing on a given Sunday is not your favorite, you will nevertheless be able to rejoice in the knowledge that it is connecting deeply with other members of our community.

I welcome and encourage your feedback as we experience this new cycle.  None of it is set in stone, and if it seems prudent to make some adjustments as we go forward in our journey together, we will certainly do so.

May God bless us richly, as we seek to meet God in our worship together.

Peace,

Matthew+

September Liturgical Cycle (10:30)

September 6 – Enriching Our Worship liturgy, with Center Altar

September 13 – Book of Common Prayer, Rite II, with High Altar

September 20 – Book of Common Prayer, Rite II, with High Altar

September 27 – Adventure Sunday, with Center Altar

Monthly Cycle Beginning in October

First Sunday of the Month – Book of Common Prayer, Rite II, with High Altar

Second Sunday of the Month – Enriching Our Worship liturgy, with Center Altar

Third Sunday of the Month – Book of Common Prayer, Rite II, with High Altar

Fourth Sunday of the Month – Adventure Sunday, with Center Altar

Please note that we will use different Eucharistic Prayers (the prayer the presiding priest says over the bread and wine) on each of these Sundays. On the third Sunday of each month, we will use Prayer C from the Prayer Book, which involves the congregation in the prayer itself.  We will also sing the Psalm on the first Sunday of the month, as well as including the Confession of Sin.  Our music will also tend toward the more traditional on the first Sunday, though we will retain the sung Creed and sung Lord’s Prayer we have been using.

When there is a fifth Sunday, we will have a special liturgical experience.  The next such Sunday is November 29, and we will have a special liturgy to celebrate and observe the beginning of Advent.

Please note that I am aware that there are many in the community who long for and appreciate an opportunity for contemplative prayer in community.  Frannie, Beth and I will be discerning, with others, how this need might best be addressed. We welcome your input and ideas.  – Matthew+