Words from Cliff and Pastoral Notes

Distinction Amid Relation

I came across this quote from Marcia Pally that I think describes the role of church and personal life. We are in community or relationship. At the same time, each one of us is distinct. She sees this play out at the smallest levels of existence. “Subatomic particles,” she says, “each of which is distinct yet each of whose trajectory is formed by ‘responding to’ other subatomic particles and their trajectories.” In the “strange attractor” pictured here, a system goes its chaotic way, distinct from predictable order, and through continual feedback there is a weaving of relationships to form this beautiful design. Basic to our existence and spirituality is our distinctiveness and our relationship.

(Continue Reading…) We can bring this up to the human level. Last week a black neighbor, looking at our website, noticed that Saint Paul’s had hired an African American soprano for the church choir in 1947. He recalled that in second grade nearly fifty years ago he mentioned to a white classmate at the Jenks School that they were both Episcopalians. The white boy, a member of Saint Paul’s, answered, “Oh no we’re not. There are no negroes in the church I go to.” This painful memory has not been erased in all that time. When we become distinct and unrelated, there is division, racism, and lasting hurt. Our distinctiveness needs to be situated in relationship. We of course have come a long way. It has taken a long time. Now Saint Paul’s has an African priest. There is still far to go. But basic to our existence is relationship in which we are free to be distinct. Never forget the relationship.

Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians said, “For (Christ) is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” (2: 14).



I walked into church today and found a new angel kneeling for Betsy Baxter’s funeral, a promising young woman who died too young. I have often wondered why there are so many carved angels at Saint Paul’s – over 50. What did the architect have in mind? (Continue Reading…) Three years ago the Irish mystic Lorna Byrne came to Saint Paul’s. She said that in her experience, “I see a lot of angels holding lights in front of people, helping to encourage them.” I like to imagine a company of angels from which we draw courage. I think that they help to illumine the way even when it leads back home to God. In fact, the angels at the pinnacle of the church ceiling hold crowns of righteousness for each of us on the day of that homecoming. In First Peter it says, “And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away” (5: 4). So angels welcome us home. They illumine the way. They encourage us and accompany us through thick and thin. I suppose that is why there are so many carved angels in Saint Paul’s.


Prayer Helps

There is a double meaning to this little note. Yes, prayer helps, a lot. I have been struggling with some muscle and joint pain. In between several lab tests and the diagnosis, my imagination and my prayer have been dueling it out. I imagined worst case scenarios, and my prayer was to wait, to trust, and to know that in whatever was to happen there would be new learning. (Continue Reading…) It turned out that my diagnosis was polymialgia – not as bad as I might have imagined. My prayer calmed my “drama.”  There are also helps to prayer, and this is the second meaning of this note. I went to walk the labyrinth. There is something settling about that. The back of the church was arranged for another program so that I wasn’t able to walk it. However, there is a labyrinth on our website. It is possible to “walk” this labyrinth with your computer’s mouse (another meaning of “church mouse”). Both are good helps to prayer. My choice was to go to an orthodox prayer rope. It is made of black wool, tied in 33 knots forming a circle with a cross where both ends join. As with the labyrinth, one goes in a circle. At each knot one says the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus have mercy” ending with the Lord’s Prayer. Prayer helps. Indeed it does. And sometimes it is good to use little helps to prayer, such as a labyrinth or something like a prayer rope. By the way, we dedicated our labyrinth three years ago this Sunday.

– Cliff

Join in Creative Resistance

Jesus’ message was one of freedom; freedom from the power of death and freedom from control, as love is never controlling but always freeing. There are powers that want to crush this spiritual longing for freedom. There are security states that want to control people’s movement and speech. There are also religious movements that leave no room for people to choose their beliefs or even room to freely breathe. A friend, the Rev. Sunny Hallanan at All Saints’ Church in Waterloo, Belgium wrote to ask prayers for all who were involved in the bombings that took place on Tuesday. (Continue Reading…) Creative resistance questions the morality of these fear-based, controlling powers. It seeks to write a different narrative, that of resurrection, freedom, and love. This is the narrative of Easter. It is told in stories, sung in anthems, and expressed in painting. Diana Whitener appears to tell the tale through oil paintings of Jesus springing from grief to freedom, from terror to joy, from control to love, from death to life.



Easter: “That’s how the light gets in.”

Easter is the rising of light for the world and ourselves. Frankly, it is all that we have desired. What we yearn for has become real in Jesus Christ. It does not mean that we possess the light, as if such a thing could ever be possessed. Rather, it is our weakness that is an opening to let the glory in. (Continue Reading…) I think of words by the songwriter Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack, a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

Easter reveals Paradise to us, the light that illumines who we most truly are. The closer we draw to God, cracks and all, the more beautiful we become. Paradise or heaven is the freedom to come to ourselves, not be beside ourselves. It is a spiritual journey that changes us. We are freed for one another. We see the web of life that connects us to each other and God’s creation.

April will see a discussion of St. Ephrem and the Hymns on Paradise. This is a 4th century writing that anticipates by almost 1,000 years Dante’s Paradiso. Both help guide us on our journey to its end, where all become partakers of God’s splendor. Paradise is both a present as well as a future reality. It is an energy within, calling us to new life.

We see it in the risen Christ. The light of paradise calls us to remember we are not alone. Remember, the risen Christ says in Matthew, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The risen Christ is the energy we feel as the scriptures are made clear. “Were not our hearts burning within us as (Christ) was opening the scriptures to us?” As we have received light, so Christ sends us out to help open others to that same light. Forget your perfect offering. Let yourself be cracked open. That’s how the light gets in. “Peace be with you,” the risen Christ says. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Take Easter joy and spread it. Take Easter peace and promote it. Take Easter light and show it. Take Easter love and bestow it.

~ Cliff