Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Another Thought from Father Don

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends:

Below is today's reflection by Fr. Don Talafous, St. John's Abbey, shown at left. I was really struck by his holding up before us how much of an impact we, as individuals, can have on the lives of those around us --family, friends, people we meet in living our life. We can truly be a gift or help in another person's life--we to a certain extent can control that.

He shows us how to live out the 4th tenet of our Rule of life: "...and Show Fellowship with a welcoming heart, seeking Christ in everyone I meet, offering comfort and celebration. "

Shalom and many blessings, George DeFilippi

Father Don says, "After years of looking for someone else to blame for all our deficiencies there seems to be more appreciation today of accountability and responsibility. In fact the former word may be in danger of taking its place with other overexposed words like diversity and codependency. This new trend could encourage us to see the value of our life, our words, our example for our family, our friends, our neighborhood, our world. What we do or do not voluntarily do in the way of worship, love, honesty does strengthen or weaken the character, the tone, the texture of the community of which we are part. For our little part of the world and for many people around us we are irreplaceable; without the things we do or say they are diminished. Our lives, words and actions can build up or tear down. Our encouraging words or gestures help someone else through the day -- or the night. Our sympathy and listening tell others they are not alone, have worth. The respectfulness or dignity we bring to what we do helps others believe in the worth of living. What we do in response to our conscience is vital to the world around us and is our way of responding to the call of the Lord in the here and now."

Read more here: http://www.saintjohnsabbey.org/

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advent Quiet Night Dec 2

Last week a small band of Abbey members gathered in the Rhodes Room at St. George's for our annual Advent Quiet Night. The event was preceded by a simple soup and salad supper, topped off with some fabulous desserts, all contributed by members of the Abbey.

Missie Burman and Marlee Norton presented a thoughtful program focused on what it feels like when your life suddenly veers off in a new direction, as it did for Mary and her relative Elizabeth. We enjoyed long moments of silent contemplation on this theme and a shared reading of a simple Scottish story about three little trees whose lives also turned out differently than they'd expected.

Many thanks to all who attended, contributed food, helped out in many ways, but especially to Missie and Marlee for designing a wonderful program.

May your Advent experience this year be a peaceful one.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Hi everyone!

All who participated in the Urban Abbey retreat at Shrine Mont, Oct. 31-Nov. 2:

The serenity and beauty of Shrine Mont that we experienced during the Abbey retreat remain a vivid memory for me, and perhaps for you as well. A highlight was the joyful celebration of the Eucharist in the outdoor shrine on Sunday morning. We were made to feel very welcome by St. Anne's of Reston, as were five other church groups. The sermon by Jim Papile, rector of St. Anne's, gave us a new way of looking at the Beatitudes, and the essence of his message is reproduced below, so that we can return to it from time to time for additional insight.

Other Abbey members and friends:

I wish you all could have been with us at Shrine Mont for the Abbey retreat. Donna Crocker did an excellent job of organizing a retreat for us that provided generous amounts of time for personal prayer, study, and meditative walks during a weekend of ideal fall weather. And we were blessed to have our own Marlee Norton celebrate the Eucharist for us on Saturday morning. As with any good blending of Urban Abbey and Shrine Mont traditions, the weekend also included observing the daily office and convivial times of "porching", games, and just enjoying each other's company.


The sermon offered an interpretation of the Beatitudes that I'd like to share with you (below). It aims at an understanding of who we are, rather than who God is.

Explanatory note:

Most of the following text is based on The Message, a paraphrase of the Bible by Eugene Peterson. The one exception is the word for "blessed". The Scottish theologian, Neil Douglas-Klotz, tells us that the Aramaic word that Jesus would have used has the meaning of "ripe", in the sense of being ready. Jesus addresses his companions at a moment of expectation, saying, in effect, you are the fruit that is ripe; you are ready to seed the love of Christ in the world.


Take your favorite Bible translation and open to Matthew 5: 3-12. For each verse, read first your translation, and then the corresponding paraphrase below.

Matthew 5:3-12 3 You’re ripe when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. 4 You’re ripe when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

5 You’re ripe when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That is the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

6 You’re ripe when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

7 You’re ripe when you care. At the moment of being “care-full”, you find yourselves cared for.

8 You’re ripe when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

9 You’re ripe when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

10 You’re ripe when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

11 Not only that—count yourselves ripe every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.

12 You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

I found that many of these verses came alive to me in a new way, as they did also for other Urban Abbey members at Shrine Mont that day. I hope that, as you read the same passage, there will be understanding and blessing for each of you as well.

In peace, Wayne

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends:

Below is today's meditation from Fr. Don Talafous of St. John's Abbey. Being a "type-A" person his message really resonates with me today. For us as Abbey members, his admonitions to "watch and wait" and "be present for those who need us" have great application especially in today's troubled times.

Shalom, George

While praying in the garden the night before His suffering and death Jesus said to the disciples: "Wait here and watch with me" (Matt 26:38). He didn't send them off to importune the local bureaucrats for another hearing, to get reinforcements or to organize a protest. Many a contemporary of ours would consider His words too passive; why not tell them to do something rather than just wait and watch? It is difficult for people raised in our culture just to sit and watch. We feel we're being judged by our peers on how proactive we are, how able to do something. Part of Jesus' point is that in some circumstances the best thing to do is to wait, watch, be present. The friends of Job who harangued him in his suffering finally did the right thing when they shut up and sat with him in his misery. Beyond this the words of Jesus admonish us to question the value of our frenzied activity. We are so busy getting somewhere that we often have no time to be anywhere. In our pursuit of education or of advancement, of business opportunities, we need to learn just to be, to be present to those who need us. Our silent presence cannot have a price put on it; yet it's often worth more than our fumbling actions. "Wait and watch." — Don Talafous OSB 12/05/08

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Murky Books

Dear Abbey -- The members of the Murky Book Club are reading some books in upcoming weeks that might be of interest to Abbey members.

Starting this Wednesday, October 15, the group will discuss "Three Cups of Tea," the story of one man's efforts to build schools in the most remote and wild corners of Afghanistan.

Starting in mid-November, they will look at "The Bible--A Biography" by Karen Armstrong.

The book club meets at the Murky coffee shop in Clarendon near the metro station on Wednesday evenings -- contact Mike Nelson for more info (mnelson@pobox.com).


Saturday, September 27, 2008

New Listening Groups Formed

For the benefit of those who did not make it to today's Abbey community meeting, I am posting here the new listening group assignments. The conveners, whose names are marked in the list below by an asterisk (*), should make contact with their new group members, establish an initial meeting date and time and communicate that information to Jo Belser. Jo will give each convener a key to the church, so please make arrangements with her directly to sign up for your key.

Thanks to all who attended today's community meeting. An especially big thank you to Angela Churchill and Ron Crocker who designed the agenda for the day and led us in centering prayer followed by a very stimulating and interesting review of the listening group process.

I will send out, under separate cover, minutes of the afternoon's community meeting and the decisions which were made along with a summary of upcoming plans for the Abbey.

Listening Groups -- October, 2008

Group 1 – Meets on Monday evenings
Anne Omelianowich*
Dolores Dabney
George DeFilippi
Philip DuMoulin
Laurie Lewis
Seton Droppers

Group 2 – Meets on Monday evenings
Patrick McCabe*
Donna Crocker
Raima Larter
Angela Churchill
Marlee Norton

Group 3 – Meets on Tuesday evenings
Missie Burman*
Wayne Lewis
Pat Loudis
Jim Thomas
Scherrone Briggs

Group 4 – Meets on Wednesday evenings
Emily DiCicco*
Judy Wyne
Nancy McCracken
Marcia Devens
Ron Crocker
Louise Ruhf

Group 5 – Daytime meeting during the week
Sonya Marsden*
Concepción Boquilon
Anne Cake
Seville Allen
Kathie Panfil

Abbey Members currently not in a group
Jo Belser
Suzannah Rohman
Lorraine Underwood
Rob Stefan
Norma Kacen
Patty Droppers

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Urban Abbey meeting 9/27

The Urban Abbey will meet in community for reflection, fellowship, study, prayer and a chapter meeting on Saturday, September 27, from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM at Virginia Theological Seminary. This is a particularly important meeting where our Abbess will announce the new Listening Groups as well as give us an opportunity to review the reasons and procedures for Listening Groups. Because we have several important decisions facing the Abbey, Raima wishes to gather us in a formal chapter meeting for discussion and decision.

Gibbs Room in Aspinwall Hall at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria provides a quiet setting and good accommodations for our time apart. If you have a problem getting a ride, e-mail Ron Crocker and he will help you.

The cost for the day including coffee break and lunch is $20 per person. You may give Ron Crocker cash or a check. Make the check payable to St. George’s Church. As in the past, members of the abbey have brought light snacks to share at the beginning of the day. I encourage you to do that.

Dress comfortably; bring writing materials and anticipation for being together in community. We need to prepare material and tell the kitchen how many people will attend so please let me know whether or not you will attend by tomorrow, September 19.
Intention, Formation, and Action

Saturday, September 20, 9 am-noon
The Community of Reconciliation

Join us for a morning of exploration to learn more about the Community of Reconciliation at Washington National Cathedral, an emerging, ecumenical network of individuals offering the ancient Christian wisdom and practices of Benedictine spirituality as an alternative way of life to our often fragmented world. Learn what it means to become a companion in the Community, experience time for spiritual renewal, and explore how to begin bringing reconciliation to the world. RSVP/Questions: (202) 537-6217 More information>>

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sermon by Anne Omelianowich

Dear Abbey -- Several weeks ago, Abbey member Anne Omelianowich gave a fabulous sermon at St. George's about the importance of silence. Her message seems especially appropriate for Abbey members, so I've asked her for permission to reproduce it on the Abbey blog. Thank you, Anne, for this reminder of the importance of silence in our lives.


‘Now, there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake, a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire, a sound of sheer silence.'

We fill our calendars with appointments and load our lives with words and events; and somehow, we think that in the chaos of living, we will find life. Perhaps, we do find a life, but is it the life that we desire?

On Wednesday evenings, I often attend a prayer service at St. John's. It is a hour filled with long spaces of silence. When some have questioned the length of those silences, others have responded that they have a need for silence in their lives and seem only to find it there.

In those moments of sheer silence, we find the place where we are one with God, the space where we have been created in his likeness. We find the Peace that is ours when we live a life conscious of that integral part of ourselves. It isn't a peace without conflict, or without the presence of the racket that life pours on us, but a peace as a sense of really knowing who we are and what we are becoming.

We drink in the excitement of spectacular events. The opening of the Olympics this weekend reminds us of the expectations that we have of the spectacular. We hold our breath against the possibility of the fury that may accompany these events. Everyone has a statement to make. All want to be heard.

But God doesn't clamor for our attention. God waits for us in silence, waits for us to become silent.

We set aside a time of silent prayer and then rush to fill the space with words that neither God nor we require. By some, silence is seen as a waste of time and space that could be used for something.

We are constantly lured into the religion of acquisition, be it of possessions or ideas or the attention of others.

A couple of weeks ago, I arrived at my daughter's home to spend the evening with my grandsons, Isaac, who is nearly 6, and Ethan, 3 and a half. Noise assaulted me when I opened the door. The usual din of their household. I prepared the evening meal for the boys and myself, as Carol and Marty prepared themselves to go out for the evening. The din continued as we sat down to eat. We waved goodbye and sent them away with wishes to ‘have a good time'. The door closed, and silence fell on us like a cool breeze on a steamy, hot day. The struggle for attention had been silenced by the closing of a door. On both sides of that door, there was relief at the peace it brought. Even the perpetrators of that struggle for the attention of their parents were suddenly pleased by the silence.

We suffocate the very essence of who we are and allow no time for the process of becoming.

We pay so much attention to getting what we think we want, to what others are thinking of what we do, and where we go, and with whom we keep company, and what we are wearing that we find no time to clear away the rubbish to see ourselves, stripped of all the trappings, to find the presence of God in us, and to know when ‘we find ourselves in the place just right' as the Shaker Hymn says.

I invite you to schedule a place for silence in your lives where God might meet you. The place where you are at home with yourself without the distractions of phones ringing (particularly cell phones), clocks ticking away the minutes until your next appointment, chores that will still be there if not done during these precious minutes.

Henri Nouwen said that ‘Silence is a place where we all become pilgrims. It is what guards that fire within us and it teaches us how to speak.' Paul writes to the Church in Rome that ‘The Word is very near you, on your lips and in your heart.' We don't have to go somewhere else to find God, we need only to clear away the clutter so that when God speaks to us, we can hear the Word in our hearts.

We have thought that silence belongs to monasteries. But I can tell you that silence is what welcomes us home to ourselves and where God waits for us.

When I lived in Nevada, there were some years when I worked in Las Vegas and spent the day pressured to produce the product of my employer. I drove home in traffic that rivals rush hour here. But once I reached the mountain pass that separates Boulder City, the small town where I lived from the Valley where Las Vegas spreads across its entire floor, I could once again see the vastness of the desert and the canopy of blue sky unobstructed by buildings and highways, and the noise was left behind like a door closing against it.

I can breath again. There is space and solitude and great beauty in the desert. When I first came to the desert, I read in Hosea about how God called the one he loves into the desert to win her back there with words of love. It was a message with my name on it, and I understood the desert to be the place where, in solitude, God would wait for me.

God has a desert for each of us, where he waits to win us back with those words of love.

In the Gospel today, we see Jesus, once again leaving the throngs of people who have been listening to him teach, and go up into the mountains to be alone, to be alone with God, to restore his spirit and to find there the words to speak. There he is alone with God, in silence.

We see Jesus, time and again, taking himself off. We need to take ourselves off for the very same reasons. God will speak to us there, not in the wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in the silence.

The monk and theologian, Thomas Merton, wrote: "I, Solitude, am Angel
And have prayed in your name.

Look at the empty, wealthy night
The pilgrim moon!
I am the appointed hour,
The ‘now' that cuts
Time like a blade.

I am the unexpected flash
Beyond ‘yes', beyond ‘no',
The forerunner of the Word of God.

Follow my ways and I will lead you
To golden-haired suns,
Logos and music, blameless joys,
Innocent of questions
And beyond answers.

For I, Solitude, am thine own self;
I, nothingness, am thy all,
I, Silence, am thy ‘Amen'. "

In Spiritual Literacy by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, they write:

"Silence is a special place you must go regularly. Silence is a grace that nurtures, heals, reveals and renews. ‘No spiritual excercise,' counsels St. Seraphim of Sarov, ‘is as good as that of silence'.

Be still and know.
Be still.

Readings for this sermon are from Proper 14 Year A (see below). The original sermon was delivered on August 10, 2008 at St. George's Episcopal Church in Arlington, VA

1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Monday, June 30, 2008

Dear Urban Abbey,

I would like to add a word of thanks to all who helped make our Fifth Anniversary celebration a big success. Kathie Panfil and Marlee Norton did a great job organizing the community discussion and we experienced an outpouring of creative ideas thanks to Kathie’s skillful guidance of our conversation. Thanks, also, to Pat Loudis for organizing a wonderful meal of soups, breads, fruit and all sorts of goodies. Thanks, in addition, to all who contributed food and who pitched in to help set up the tables and the food and to clean up afterwards.

A special thank you to Marlee Norton, our celebrant, to Ron Crocker for assisting in the Eucharist, to our readers Anne Omelianowich and Patrick McCabe, and to Marcia Towne Devens for guiding us musically throughout the evening and playing the piano during our rousing final hymn. And thanks to all who attended and participated, making the evening such a huge success.

Please respond to Kathie’s request for corrections, additions or any other ideas you’ve had since our meeting. If you were not able to attend the meeting and would like to add your ideas to the list below, please feel free to do that as well. The leadership team will take all your input and use it to help us discern where the Abbey is being called next.

Our next community meeting is likely to be in September. Watch for an announcement of a specific date and place as these plans are firmed up over the next few weeks.

Raima Larter

Dear Urban Abbey,

On June 26, 2008, we commemorated the 5th anniversary of the Urban Abbey. We did so with simplicity, setting up for supper together, and after eating, reflecting on how the Abbey has contributed to our own lives and to our larger community. Then we celebrated the Eucharist together. I think we agreed that the evening was one of grace.

Below are the notes from our discussion. Raima Larter will use them to guide the leadership team this year. If there is something you would like to add, please send it on to all of us by using the Urban Abbey’s e-mail group.

We might have more discussion, electronically, as we move ahead.
Kathie Panfil
- - - - - - - - - -

Group A

Deepened sense of spirituality.
Enhanced our skills of listening to God.
Intentionality committing to listening groups Concentric rings: St Georges, and within it, Urban Abbey Support in times of difficulty Helps us recognize face of Christ in others More open heart.

Growth from retreats Helps to know others are also reflecting, listening.

What else are we looking for?
More commitment to listening groups.
Reorganize some groups and keep groups doing well together. Reawaken midday prayer.

Group B

Learn what spiritual growth means.
Others to talk with.
Community of the heart.

What else are we looking for?
Service: what else does it mean/might it mean?
Not more tasks, but want to explore ways Abbey could support our service.
Call on others through abbey channels.
Abbey members as yeast in other groups.
Deeper spiritual foundation should enable us to reach out.
Helping ourselves/others to deepen spiritually is indeed service.

Group C

Personal growth.
Healing services/Taizé.

What else are we looking for?
How do we let others know what the Abbey offers?
Difficult for new members to fully grasp focus of abbey.
We should sponsor events with theme, speaker. Invite Region 3 or others.
Add to Web presence/blog.
Use labyrinth as a ministry.

Group D

Feeling God's presence more often.
Profound friendships made in Abbey.
Experience of deep, shared prayer.
More comfort with silence.
Rule of life: makes it easier to do what we want to do anyway.
A different way of making decisions (not voting).

What else are we looking for?
We aren’t growing (but should).
We should help others find their spiritual center.
Some prayer groups have started and ended; should we start something else?
We could start a healing community: home visits for prayer Try body-centered prayer: learn from/share what we do with others.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Abbey Celebration June 26

On Thursday, June 26, 2008 from 6-9 pm we will gather in the Parish Hall at St. George’s to celebrate our fifth anniversary. The history of the Urban Abbey can be traced to discussions that began more than five years ago, including a parish retreat in November, 2002, followed by the formation of a task force and a second retreat the following spring. On June 26, 2003 twenty two individuals made a commitment to God and one another to take on a Rule of Life and, thus, the Urban Abbey was formed.

As is our tradition, our meeting will begin with food and fellowship. I suggest the following rough agenda:

6:00-6:30 Gather & Prepare Dinner
6:30-7:30 Dinner & Fellowship Time
7:30-7:45 Clean-up
7:45-8:30 Community Meeting or Program
8:30-9:00 Liturgy (Including Installation of Leadership Team & Joining of any New Members)

Notice that new members of the leadership team will be formally installed at this meeting. Please let me know as soon as possible, but by June 15 at the latest, if you feel called to service on the leadership team this year – we do need at least two more individuals to serve on this team, so please prayerfully consider this possibility for service to the Abbey community.

The third component of our Rule of Life is to “Serve others, share the tasks of the Urban Abbey Community and be mindful of God in my daily work.” Our upcoming meeting provides a perfect opportunity for each Abbey member to live out this aspect of our rule, so please volunteer for one of the following tasks. Let me know which of these you would like to help with and I will put people in touch with each other.

Volunteers needed for:
Development of program ideas
Food Coordinator
Food Preparation and Set-up
Design of Liturgy
Any other ideas you may have (maybe a birthday cake?!)

I look forward to hearing from you and celebrating with you in June!


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Some of us have enjoyed on line courses in spirituality offered by “Spirituality & Practice.” They are offering the following, for your information.

Ron Crocker

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Lectio Divina—An Online Retreat and Practice Group

And now for something a little different: “Spirituality & Practice” is partnering with “Contemplative Outreach,” founded by Fr. Thomas Keating and best known for its pioneering teaching of centering prayer, to present an online workshop on Lectio Divina (Divine Reading), one of the great treasures of the Christian tradition of prayer.

Lectio Divina flows out of the Hebrew method of studying the Scriptures which is called haggadah, learning by the heart. Haggadah was an interactive interpretation of the Scriptures by means of the free use of the text to explore its inner meaning. This online retreat will present the Christian version of this spiritual practice working with passages from the Bible. However, the method of divine reading can be used with any sacred text, so people of all traditions are invited to join us.

The Lectio Divina online retreat and Practice Group will run from May 19 to June 16. Participants will receive a weekly e-mail with step-by-step instructions in the Lectio Divina method. Two other weekly emails will provide answers to your questions and links to audio programs with commentary on this classic practice.

Replicating what you might experience during a face-to-face retreat, you will have access to a private Practice Group at SpiritualityandPractice.com, where mentors from “Contemplative Outreach” will provide further guidance and support. Here is an opportunity to report on your experiences with this practice and learn from others working with it. The Practice Circle will be available for an additional month for further sharing as you incorporate Lectio Divina into your daily life.

The fee for participation in this very special online retreat and Practice Group is $39.95. To sign up, click here then go to the bottom of the page that will be opened and click on the “Subscribe to E-Course” button. We and our friends at “Contemplative Outreach” are very much looking forward to sharing this beautiful practice with you.

-- Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

Sunday, April 27, 2008

On the Importance of Creating a Daily Practice

When we join the Urban Abbey, we commit to following a Rule of Life that has four components: (1) Pray daily; (2) Study scripture; (3) Serve others; and (4) Show fellowship. Notice that while all four of these components of the Rule are important and integral parts of our life in the Abbey, only the first states specifically how often it should be done: pray daily. It doesn’t say “pray once a week in church,” or “pray when you remember to,” or even “pray if you feel like it.” It says pray daily.

In many ways, life in the Urban Abbey is much harder than it is for members of traditional spiritual communities that live together, since the personal discipline required to follow the Rule can be much greater. When we live in a community and all we have to do is roll out of bed and go to chapel at the appointed time, it is hard to not pray daily. Prayer simply happens in a monastery and the community member need only show up as the rhythm of regular, ongoing prayer goes on around them. We get a taste of how supportive this external schedule can be in our community meetings and retreats. At these community events, the Daily Office is used to structure our time together and provide prayer opportunities that busy Abbey members may not always be able to find space for in their daily lives.

And, yet, we have all committed to following the Rule of Life and the first part of this Rule says we will pray daily. What is a busy Abbey member to do? Don’t those people who thought up this Rule know that mornings are very busy and we have to get to work, get the kids to school, attend a very important meeting? And, yes, we understand that morning prayer is not specified – daily prayer can occur in the evening, but then there’s dinner, going to the gym, and more important meetings. Maybe even church committee meetings! Doesn’t that count?

Well, no, it doesn’t count. All of these activities are important and worthy of our time, but none will feed us the way daily prayer will. When we skip this most important of daily activities we deny ourselves the spiritual food that we need to sustain all our other important life activities. If you pray daily you will be amazed at how much more you have to give to your work, your kids and all those people you go to meetings with.

Several years ago, after I had a serious accident requiring major surgery (some of you remember this!) followed by a diagnosis of an unrelated but equally serious illness requiring daily medication, I came to my senses and realized I needed to start paying attention to my body. Daily. I had been an on-again, off-again yoga student for years and had heard one teacher after another say “You will never experience the power of yoga until you establish your own daily practice.” So, I decided that I would try.

I got up a half hour earlier each day, spread out my mat and sat there trying to remember how to do the poses. It was hard without my teacher nearby, so I got books, which I glanced at often, sometimes from an upside-down position, and I kept at it. Every day. I had heard that it takes 30 or 40 days before a repeated activity becomes a habit, so each day that I got out my mat and got down on the floor, I put a check mark on my calendar.

Then, one day, after several successful weeks, I slept through my alarm and in my hurry to get to work and some important meeting (that I now remember nothing about) I skipped my yoga practice. I felt off all day. I was distracted, annoyed by everybody and everything. I didn’t make the connection until I glanced at my calendar and saw the evidence of missing my daily practice: the coveted check mark was not there for that day. And I suddenly knew I’d been provided an important lesson in establishing a daily practice: do it every day and soon you will find you cannot live without it.

To establish a daily practice, we need to give ourselves a specific assignment, and it needs to be realistic. If you have only 5 minutes to give to prayer, try saying the Lord’s prayer or (my favorite) choose one of the “Daily Devotions” in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP, pp. 136-140; see online version http://vidicon.dandello.net/bocp/). And, remember: prayer can take many forms and it isn’t always necessary to pray with our lips, using words. An early morning walk or run might be your way of praying. Our own presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, is featured on the Runners World website http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-369-374--12358-2-1-2,00.html describing her regular practice of running as a form of “body prayer.”

My own current practice involves (as you can surely guess by now) twenty minutes of yoga followed by either p. 137 in the BCP or one of a selection of prayers I’ve collected over the years and keep in an old tea box, but it also involves writing. I use a spiral notebook and I write to God. (This morning, I received this message as I wrote: “Teach them the importance of a daily practice.”) For me, a writer, it works. You may benefit from a different way of praying.

Praying daily doesn’t need to consume a lot of time, but what it does need is regular attention. You should pray every day and it may help you, as it did me, to keep track. You might try getting a package of sticky gold stars from the craft store and giving yourself one on your calendar for each day you say your prayers. We all loved getting those stars when we were kids, and you might be surprised how motivating they still are.

Find a daily practice that works for you and stick with it for 40 days. Every day you do your practice, give yourself a gold star or a check mark on your calendar. If, in 40 days, you feel no difference in your life, this may mean you need to change something about your practice. Find a prayer practice that feeds you. Your way of praying may be different from mine or the next person’s, but there will be one that works for you and you will find it. And when you do, your life will be improved in ways you would never have predicted.



Raima Larter, Abbess, Urban Abbey

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Is This Your Season?

Abbey Chat April 14, 2008
[Reprinted from a recent post to the UA Listserv]

I spent a few hours this weekend digging in the backyard, preparing a spot to plant some tomatoes, herbs and peppers. At this time of year my mind turns to gardening, even though it's too early to plant. In gardening, like life, there is a season for everything, and this is the time for preparation. Planting will come later and the harvest much, much later – but now, in early Spring, we simply prepare the soil and wait.

Evelyn Underhill, an astute observer of the spiritual life, draws powerful images of spiritual formation from the gardening experience. She says: "All gardeners know the importance of good root development before we force the leaves and flowers. So our life in God should be deeply rooted and grounded before we presume to expect to produce flowers and fruits; otherwise we risk shooting up into one of those lanky plants which can never do without a stick. We are constantly beset by the notion that we ought to perceive ourselves springing up quickly, like the seed on stony ground, showing striking signs of spiritual growth. But perhaps we are only required to go on quietly, making root, growing nice and bushy; docile to the great slow rhythm of life." [Lent with Evelyn Underhill, 2nd edition,Morehouse Publishing (1990) p. 98]

In the life of the Urban Abbey we are entering a new season, maybe not yet the season for planting, but definitely a season of preparation…for a new program year and, soon, a new Leadership Team. The Abbess/Abbott joins with 3-5 Abbey members to form a team which takes primary responsibility for the coming year's Abbey events. If you are a member of the Abbey, are you called to be a member of this team? Is this your season for making root or, perhaps, for sending out leaves and flowers? I ask each Abbey member to give some thought and prayer to this question and consider whether you are called, at this time, to serve the Abbey in a leadership role. Over the next few weeks we will be forming a new Leadership Team, aiming to have a complete group in place before the June meeting (date yet to be determined). You might consider discussing your possible role in theLeadership Team with your listening group, since the listening group can help us discern a call we may not hear so clearly ourselves. Others often see in us those qualities we have difficulty seeing in ourselves. (I speak from recent personal experience!) I would be happy to talk to any of you about this possibility if it interests you, if you wonder whether what you feel might be considered a"call," or if you see this possibility in the future of another Abbey member. Please email me if you would like to discuss this.

Raima Larter, Abbess, Urban Abbey

366 Day 204 - April 24 - We wish this rule to be read often

If there is any chapter in the rule that demonstrates Benedictine openness to life and, at the same time, models a manner of living in the midst of society without being consumed by it, this is surely the one. Guests are welcomed enthusiastically in Benedictine spirituality but, at the same time, life is not to be frittered away on work, on social life, on the public bustle of the day. The community is to stay as self-contained as possible so that centered in the monastery they stay centered in their hearts. More, this balance between public and private, between openness and centeredness, between consciousness of the outside world and concentration on interior growth is to be remembered and rehearsed over and over again: “We wish this rule to be read often,” the rule says plaintively so that the monastic never forgets that the role of the committed Christian is always to grow richer themselves so that they can give richly to others.
--Joan Chittister, The Rule of Benedict, Insights for the Ages

Seton's Thought
I hear the call to walk the fine line that combines “of” the world and “in” the world in these words. I like to walk and tramp in various places, often listening for God in the process. This reading makes me think how sometimes I try to walk the curb at the edge of the sidewalk or road. Depending on the place I am walking this can be easy or difficult. The call to “read the rule often” is an important call when thinking about these walks – sometimes I lose focus and think I am more skillful than I really am and take more risks than I should. More often I become complacent and quit walking the path requiring balance; I take the easy way out and stop walking altogether. May I be reminded daily of the need to keep walking, searching, and searching for the balance between “of” and “in”…

This is a posting from my Flickr page, where I have been taking a picture each day since January 1st and adding some thoughts or comments on Sister Joan Chittister's reflection on St. Benedict's Rule of Life. I may, on occasion, post other pictures and items. You can see other postings in this series on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/seton-droppers/sets/72157603811618902/

Do you have photographs (such as this one that Seton Droppers took) of Urban Abbey events that you would be willing to share? If so, please contact jobelser@saintgeorgeschurch.org.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Emergence: In honor of Earth Day

“We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life…”

In my “other life” I am a scientist. Throughout my career I have studied how it is that life can arise from seemingly inert matter. My work has focused on trying to find what it is that drives atoms and molecules together into the complex forms we know as DNA, proteins, cells, tissues, and organs. How do atoms and molecules arrange themselves into entire organisms that live and move and even think? Scientists call this a “big question” but, so far, we do not have an answer. We do, though, have a name for the process by which this miraculous thing happens: we call it Emergence.

What could be a bigger question than how life emerges from molecules? Well, how about this one: Where did the molecules come from? Physicists have recently determined that the sum total of all the atoms and molecules in all the planets, stars and galaxies accounts for only 4% of all the “stuff” of which the universe is made. About 22% of the rest is something called Dark Matter while the remaining 74% is Dark Energy, neither of which is well understood. Astrophysicists say that, at some point in our universe’s history, ordinary matter emerged from dark matter and energy in a process somewhat like cooling a pool of water to 32 degrees. The ice that forms
is the ordinary matter solidifying from this watery, mysterious dark “stuff.”
The newly solid ordinary matter goes on to collect into stars and galaxies and planets—and eventually us.

To me, this is miraculous. Both the fact that it happened and the mechanism by which it happened are awe-inspiring. How could a thinking person not be awe-struck by the complex and intricate process that happened in just such a way that you can now sit here and read this essay with eyes and brains made of molecules that used to be dark matter?

The late Alan Watts, a mystic, one-time Episcopal priest and prolific author (among other things), described the planet Earth as “peopling” in the same way that an apple tree apples. He imagined visitors from outer space, out touring the neighborhood and looking for signs of intelligent life, but bypassing the early earth with not so much as a glance, saying, “It’s just a bunch of rocks.” Several million years later when they come around again, they stop, pointing and say, “We thought this planet was just a bunch of rocks—but, look! It’s peopling. It must be intelligent after all.” [Alan Watts, “The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are,” Random House, 1966]

So where is God in this? As the creed says, we believe in the Holy Spirit, the giver of life. Is God the explanation
for all the gaps in the scientific creation story? (Just what is that dark matter, anyway?) A “God of the gaps” who enters our faith only when science has not progressed far enough to answer all the questions will ultimately disappoint us, since the gaps will eventually be filled.

I confess that I once was very bothered by the seeming gap between science and religion, but I have come to see the two approaches to “asking the big questions” as equally valid, and to understand my own self as one whole, integrated human being who can marvel at the miraculousness of life in all its minute detail and simultaneously praise the One who made all this possible. God cannot be separated from life. God is in every part of life: in our bodies and minds, in our cells—even in our molecules! The universe is alive and we have been blessed with brains that allow us to know this.

I leave you with a quote from Rumi [“Teachings of Rumi,” Andrew Harvey, Ed., Shambhala Press, 1999], a great poet who seemed, every day, to catch a glimpse of the majesty of God and think to write it down:

How can I — or anyone else — ever cease being astounded
That He whom nothing can contain is contained in the heart?

-- Raima Larter, Abbess, Urban Abbey