This weekend several of us from St. Mark's will be going on retreat at St. Anthony's Retreat Center. It will be a time devoted to guided meditations, prayer, walks, and calm. I am very much looking forward to the retreat, and for those who are going, you are going to receive a real treat. Maxine Pollock will be with us, and she will be doing the guided meditations. I first met Maxine at a clergy retreat for the diocese at the camp, and for many years she served as the Pastoral Associate in a local Roman Catholic church. She continues to work as a spiritual director here on Oahu. Because of the retreat, there will be no daily services at St. Mark's on Friday, May 5, or Saturday, May 6, as those who celebrate the masses and lead the daily offices on these days, will be at the retreat.
So often due to the busyness of life, we are running on empty, and we do not even know it. I know that this has been true for me at different times in my life. A crucial turning point for me was when I decided that I was no longer going to be controlled by my calendar or work expectations. Rather I was going to decide my schedule, and I was going to program regular prayer into my life. This meant three things for me. 1.) Daily Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer were going to be set in stone. 2.) Most days I would either celebrate the mass or attend the mass. 3.) I would set aside significant time for reading and silent prayer each week. Sometimes this has meant missing various church meetings. Clergy like to have their meetings over lunch, and many of our masses at St. Mark's are at noon. Like all things in life, choices have to be made, and fortunately there have been few negative consequences. I know that for some of you my three objectives might seem severe, and I also know that as a priest I have quite a bit of control over my schedule. That being said, I invite you to ponder how your life might be controlled by factors you find annoying. What would it take for you to refocus your calendar or schedule so that God might have more space in your life? If you are hungry for God, why not make the changes that satisfy your desire?
True happiness cannot come from money, prestige, or worldly power. It can only come from our relationship with God, as well as those things which are inspired by God, such as our relationships, talents, and values. No matter what we do in life, our relationship with God is tantamount. I am grateful we can offer this retreat this weekend for some of our parishioners at St. Mark's, and I hope that this time of putting God first can be a yearly practice we nurture. Sometimes people need a complete reboot and alternate setting to discover just how hungry they are for God. For others, a retreat can affirm that one is following a healthy spiritual path. For some, the time away from phones, email, and social media is pure heaven.
When we are not on retreat, all of us can institute practices within our lives to put God first. St. Mark's is open every day for the Daily Office and the mass. I am always amazed by the number of guests who come to St. Mark's for these services. Sometimes these services are better attended by non-members than by members. Often the homeless tell me how wonderful it is for our doors to be open during the day. When you feel as if you are consistently the social worker's problem to solve, it is a blessing to come into an air-conditioned church and receive the Body of Christ. We should never under-estimate the power of the church's Sacraments to heal and to be relevant.
If coming to St. Mark's during the week is impractical for you, there is always the option of doing the Daily Office on your own, although this requires more discipline. For awhile we have had a group of people at St. Mark's devoted to praying the Daily Office. For some of you it might make sense to gather once or twice a week at an alternative location than the church. In the near future we will be resuming weekly Evensong and Benediction as a central gathering for those committed to this practice, as well as those who are curious about adding the Daily Office to their prayer life.
We live in a world of soundbites, and this includes spiritual soundbites. People, when they come to church, often want to be entertained, and they can be disappointed by their expectations that the ministers are to be the sole source of inspiration. Many think that when they come into the church, they are merely spectators, and that professionals will do the praying for them. Our society fosters this idea that prayer requires very little "heavy-lifting" or work in the background on our individual part. This is why so many can come to church regularly, and yet they hunger for God. (I always seem to surprise people when I say that the sermon is a form of communication. Just as a the preacher must inspire, the people are ethically obligated to listen and digest the substance of the message. This can be especially tiresome if the preacher employs endless gimmicks.) Just as we have an addiction to fake news in our society, we might call such spiritual emptiness fake church.
Inspiration is a "three-way" intersection. Certainly ministers, whether lay or clergy, inspire us with their music, sermons, lectoring, acolyting, ushering, etc. Those sitting in the pews also add to the inspiration by bringing their hearts and minds to actively participate. When both of these channels are engaged, that's when we discover that the inspiration coming from God was always present among us. The challenge was that we were too busy to notice God's work among us, or we never brought ourselves fully to the gathering. We discover that God is always moving to us with great love, even when we are distracting by so many other things.
Father Paul Lillie+