Thursday, December 17, 2009


It is my sad duty to inform all those who have not yet heard the news that a member of the online Urban Abbey community has died. We lost Gideon this past weekend and we are still grieving. Online Abbey member Josh has written a beautiful post where you can read more about our dear friend. Please pray for Gideon's family and friends and for the repose of his soul.

The Urban Abbey is in a time of transition. Although the Abbey community here in Arlington is aware of these changes, the online community is not, so I wanted to post a few words here. A little over a week ago, I stepped down as Abbess of the Urban Abbey. Leadership of the community in Arlington has been transferred into the hands of a three-member transition team, who will lead the community over the next few weeks and months through reorganization discussions.

During my tenure as Abbess, I established a number of online outreach efforts, including this blog. As many of you know, a Twitter account was also set up, and I began a practice of leading online community prayer through micro-blog postings of the Daily Office. A true community, equal to any "real life" community, has grown up around those prayers. The evidence for the living, breathing body of Christ that exists in this online community was palpable last night as we held an online prayer service for Gideon.

The online community is strong and vital and several members of that group have come together to re-organize what was formerly an outreach effort of the Urban Abbey into a stand-alone, online monastic community. As details are worked out, further announcements will be made. We invite you to join us.

Blessings and Peace,

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Benedictine Weekend in Washington DC

The Community of Reconciliation at the Washington National Cathedral is holding several special events the weekend of Nov. 13 - 15, including a contemplative-style Benedictine service. If you are interested, please check this link for further details and to RSVP.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Urban Abbey Retreat at Shrine Mont

The Urban Abbey community will hold a retreat at Shrine Mont Retreat Center in Orkney Springs, Virginia, from Friday evening, Nov. 6, 2009 through noon Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009. The retreat is entitled "Taste & See" and will provide opportunities to sample various Abbey practices. We especially invite folks who are curious about the Urban Abbey and would like to find out more about what it means to be an Urban Abbey member.

Some of the events planned for the retreat are: Daily Offices, Taize, Guided Meditation, Lectio Divina, Journaling Workshop, Meditative Walk, Presentation on St. Teresa of Avila (drawing upon "The Way of Perfection"), Listening Groups, Worship in Cathedral Shrine with St. Anne's, and "Feed God's People" and "Sharing the Meal" discussions.

The cost of the weekend is $180, which includes meals and a single room. If you prefer to share a room with another participant, the cost drops to $160. There is still space available for this retreat, but please contact Laurie Lewis by October 27 to make a reservation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fall Community Meeting October 10

The Urban Abbey is holding its fall community meeting on Saturday, October 10, 2009 from 9:00am - 3:00pm. The activities of the day will focus on practical ways to use the Rule of St. Benedict to balance and enhance our spiritual lives. The meeting is open to all and will provide an excellent introduction to the Urban Abbey. If you are in the Washington DC area and would like to attend, please contact us for further information.

Many of us go through life busy with the everyday tasks: things like getting kids to school and classes, work, squeezing in time at the gym, paying bills, staying on top of household chores and repairs and maybe time for a friend here and there. We often bring our “busyness” to church with our volunteer tasks. Always striving to get things done, we may find ourselves asking, "is this nourishing me or just something else I do?" We wonder how to have a less fragmented and more fulfilling life.

The Urban Abbey is hosting a single day retreat on October 10th to provide you with some very practical tools to try and help you answer that question for yourself. The retreat is based on Jane Tomaine’s book St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living. We will be exploring The Rule and its relevance for our modern day lives. There will be several opportunities through the day to try a variety of tools suggested in the book. Through this retreat you’ll discover how St. Benedict’s Rule can increase the quality of your life, showing us how, as Benedict says, “to open our eyes to the light that comes from God.”

The retreat is open to all. Please join us and bring a friend!

When: Saturday October 10, 2009

Time: 9:00am- 3:00pm

Where: St. George’s Parish Hall and Rhodes Room

Who: You and anyone you think would like to experience a variety of spiritual practices that can nourish and feed our lives.

Books: Jane Tomaine’s Book will be available for purchase for $12.00. It is not necessary to purchase or pre-read the book to participate. It will be a wonderful resource after the retreat.

Meal: A simple lunch will be provided.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Learning From Other Traditions

Last month, I spent a week at a retreat center in upstate New York. The center provides ample spiritual support for people of all faiths, and one daily offering was a meditation class, taught by Ji Hyang Sunim, a Zen practitioner. I had attended her class the previous year, and I was eager to return. Sitting with Ji Hyang each day at 5:30 in the tranquil sanctuary atop a hill became the center of each day for me, just as it had the previous year.

As part of each day's meditation, Ji Hyang read to us from the "Metta Meditation," a list of statements that, while simple, came to have a profound impact on me. The intent of the Metta meditation statements is to make us aware of what Buddhists call the "loving kindness" in us, around us, and filling all people and all beings. Although the word "God" is not used in Buddhist thought, I understand the "loving kindness" that is spoken of in these meditations to be what Christians call the love of God.

Ji Hyang started by asking us to cultivate loving kindness for ourselves, before moving onto others. She asked us to repeat these words in our minds after she read each line to us:

May I be filled with loving kindness; may I be held in loving kindness.
May I accept myself just as I am.
May I experience the innate joy of being alive.
May my heart and mind awaken; may I be free.

The Metta meditation went on to ask us to envision someone close to us, and to repeat the same affirmations for them. "May you be filled with loving kindness," etc. And then we envisioned others, people not so close to us perhaps, and, in turn, all beings, repeating the same affirmation: "May all beings be filled with loving kindness," and so forth.

For me, the most difficult part of the meditation was the second line: "May I accept myself just as I am." In the Christian tradition, and the Episcopal tradition in particular, we begin many prayer sessions with a confession. We confess our sins, against God and one another, and I have always believed that this is a good way to start a prayer. No matter how perfectly I try to live my life, I've reasoned, there is always room for improvement, and I can always say, without reservation: "I have not loved you with my whole heart. I have not loved my neighbor as myself."

So, the Metta meditation caught me up short. Here I was being asked to accept myself, just as I am. Warts and all, sins and all, shortcomings and all. And to do it before I even confessed any of those shortcomings. When Ji Hyang would say, "May you accept yourself just as you are," I wondered why it was that I could not do that. Why was I harder on myself than she was?

Ji Hyang is a wonderfully gentle soul and I found myself returning to that meditation class, largely to hear her remind me to accept myself, just as I am. I didn't immediately understand why this seemed so profoundly difficult. Wasn't I supposed to look in the mirror and acknowledge what I had done, or not done, and promise to do better?

Weeks later, I realized that what Ji Hyang was teaching me, had been right there in front of me in the prayer book. And it was in the daily confession of sin, no less. Until she confronted me with her simple phrase, "accept yourself" I had never really noticed that we say, "I have not loved my neighbor as myself." Notice that the implication in this sentence is that we must love ourselves first. We must show compassion for ourselves, and accept ourselves, before we can know what it means to love our neighbor.

And this, of course, is how God loves us. God looks at us and sees us, with all our shortcomings, and in all our broken-ness, and loves us anyway. When we can finally see ourselves the way God sees us and can truly accept ourselves, just as we are, we can then move on to loving our neighbor as ourself.

Accept yourself, just as you are. Because God accepts you, and loves you. Just as you are.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Selecting a Spiritual Formation Activity

The second component of our Rule of Life actually has two parts. The first part is simply to "study scripture." We do this in various ways, either by reading selections from scripture according to an assigned lectionary or through the group study technique known as lectio divina. No specified frequency for this study is given, and Abbey members choose to follow this part of the Rule in whatever way works best for them: daily, weekly, etc.

The second part of this portion of the Rule is, in contrast, very specific about timing: "pursue a specifically selected spiritual formation activity annually." Although the frequency is specified (annually) the range of spiritual formation activities which have been chosen is as varied as the members of the Abbey.

I often start thinking in January about what my chosen spiritual formation activity will be for the year, but it is not usually until the late summer that I begin to pursue the activity. I think this is because, having been a student, then a teacher, for most of my life, I still think in terms of academic years. The year begins when school starts!

This year, I have chosen to pursue a deeper exploration of chant. I have always been a singer, and for most of my life in the Church have been a member of the choir, so musical expression is an important part of my spiritual experience. Chant is, in one way of thinking about it, music -- so it is not surprising I would love it. However, in another way of thinking about it, chant is more than music. Chant is prayer -- meditative prayer, in fact.

In our Abbey meetings and retreats, we have often used Taize, a type of Christian chant, to enhance our prayer experience. Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a weekend-long workshop exploring chants from many different religious traditions. Christian, Jewish, Muslim (especially the Sufi version of Islam), Native American, Buddhist and Hindu chants were all introduced. I enjoyed singing all of these and learning about their uses in religious rituals from around the world.

The chants were in many different languages: English, Hebrew, Arabic, Sanskrit and others, but the meaning of almost all chants, as the instructor, Robert Gass, explained, is basically, "Yay, God!" Most chants are devotional and the point of the chant is to express love and praise for God.

Chants are sung, of course, but they are different from most songs in that they are usually very simple and often repetitive. One Taize chant the Abbey often uses is "Ubi caritas, et amor; ubi caritas, deus ibi est," which means: "God is love and where true love is, God himself is there." This can be sung dozens of times and the idea is to sing it enough times that the singing becomes automatic, the words and tune require no thought, and a state of deep prayer can be entered.

In Robert Gass' workshop I learned how effective it is to sing a chant for a very long time -- 20 minutes or more -- then stop and sit in silence as a group. We did this repeatedly throughout the weekend, and no matter which chant we had just sung, I found myself in a state I would describe as simultaneously ecstatic and deeply peaceful. I can now see why the ancient practice of chant has become a central feature of every religious tradition: quite simply, chant brings us into deep, personal contact with God. And the experience can be profoundly moving.

What spiritual formation activity do you plan to pursue this year? Will it be chant, or might you want to follow the lead of a former Abbey member who decided to visit and walk every labyrinth she could find? Or, perhaps, you will choose some readings or go on a retreat -- or come up with your own unique spiritual formation activity.

How will you live out this component of our Rule of Life in the coming year? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Dear Abbey Members and Friends:

Below is yesterday's meditation by Fr. Don Talafous of St. John's Abbey. Fr. Don's meditation brought a number of thoughts to me regarding the first tenet of our Abbey's Rule of Life: "Pray daily guided by the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) or another Christian format and worship regularly in community." My first thought is that one could interpret this tenet to limit us in our praying to existing words or prayers that others have devised to express the many reasons or things for which we go to God in prayer -- adoration, petition for someone or something, sorrow, confession, forgiveness...and the list goes on. To me it is true that others more skilled with words than I have come up with wonderful prayers that express very well the feelings in my heart...and it is good to use those. Our own BCP has a marvelous collection of collects and prayers for our use. But this gives rise to the second thought...and that is recognizing that we do "have a friend in Jesus." We typically do not talk with our friends in prescribed phrases or sentences, rather words, our own words, come tumbling out that express the thoughts and feelings of the moment. It seems to me that in living into this part of our Rule of praying daily, there is also space for opening our minds and hearts to God (Jesus) and talking as we do with our earthly friends. This may be a more genuine form of praying. I believe our Rule is broad enough to encompass both types of prayer.

Shalom and many blessings, George

"What a friend we have in Jesus." (My unchurched father in his old age and nearly deaf could be surprised at times alone in his house singing "what a pal we have in Jesus," a variation probably more due to failing memory than any desire to be hip.) Just hearing that line from an old-time Protestant hymn might strike some Christians as too chummy or simply undignified. Churchgoing people get so used to the formal language of the service that "what a friend we have in Jesus" seems a bit like bringing the sweet-nothings of people in love into a public auditorium. Yet Scripture itself warrants the language of friendship. In John 15 Jesus talks about laying down His life for His friends. "You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer speak of you as slaves. Instead, I call you friends, since I have made known to you all that I heard from my Father." Revealing ourselves to another, opening our hearts to another, is the sure sign of friendship, a necessary step in fostering it. In turn Christians have every right to turn to Jesus in times of great need or turmoil. Moments of exhilarating joy or crushing sadness drive us to open up to a friend for comfort and understanding. Similarly, why shouldn't we open ourselves to the Lord in such times? In any budding relationship we encourage intimacy by a willingness to open up, to risk self-revelation. Jesus says He has made known to us all that the Father has told him. We have every reason to think: "What a friend we have in Jesus." Fr. Don Talafous, 7/11/09

Friday, July 3, 2009

Call and Response on Twitter

As many of you know, the Urban Abbey has a presence on Twitter. I have been using this micro-blogging tool since early in Lent to provide excerpts from morning and evening prayer. The Twitter feed for the Abbey has become quite popular and is now followed by over 750 people, many of whom have become regular attendees at our "Twitter Prayer Services."

Last week, one of our followers suggested we experiment with a more interactive form of prayer, specifically Call and Response. We chose the Celtic Daily Office as the text to use for our experiment since it has explicit Call and Response sections. A date and time was announced and we held our first real-time, online Call and Response prayer service last Saturday, June 27.

The experiment was a great success. I posted the "Call" phrase, e.g. "Out of the depths I have cried to You," and approximately ten or so followers on Twitter posted, in response, "O Lord, hear my voice."

The experiment seemed to be working so well, I decided to continue the Call and Response format into the next section of the prayers that are entitled "Expressions of Faith." I posted the first part of each sentence and the followers responded with the second section. The result looked something like this:

Abbey: "Lord, You have always given bread for the coming day;"
Followers: "And though I am poor, today I believe."
Abbey: "Lord, You have always given strength for the coming day;"
Followers: "And though I am weak, today I believe."

This pattern continued through the rest of the faith expressions section, and by the time I called for prayer requests, my sense was that the Twitter followers had become a true community. I noted expressions of thanks and blessings passing between the followers as the prayer time ended.

Because our Call and Response experiment was such a success, we've decided to repeat it tonight. Reminders are being tweeted throughout the day along with a link to the text. If you wish to join us, we will start around 9:00 pm EDT. Go to to sign in and follow along. We look forward to seeing you at tonight's service!

Raima Larter, Abbess, The Urban Abbey

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Spiritual Formation

Dear Abbey Members and Friends:

The second tenet of our common Rule of Life is: "Study Scripture and pursue a specifically selected spiritual formation activity annually."

I have tried to study scripture on a regular basis on my own, but have been unsuccessful. One discipline that I have been more successful with is the spiritual formation part. I subscribe to Weavings which is a spiritual journal published 6 times a year and contains a number of short articles, poems, etc., written on a specific topic for each issue. The current issue is titled "Cling Always to God." This is a wonderful issue. I want to share one poem by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, a regular contributor to the journal:

What to do in the darkness

Go slowly
Consent to it
But don't wallow in it
Know it as a place of germination
And growth
Remember the light
Take an outstretched hand if you find one
Exercise unused senses
Find the path by walking it
Practice trust
Watch for the dawn

I have come back to this poem several times now. There are parts that I find comforting [a place of germination; watch for the dawn] as well as those that are challenging [practice trust; take an outstretched hand]. I hope you will find this engaging to your soul as well.

Shalom and many blessings, George

Friday, June 19, 2009

Abbey Traditions

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends:

One of the early traditions of our Urban Abbey was to pray the Lord's Prayer at noon. We are a non-residential community and this was offered as a way to connect our members. Many of the original members of the Abbey continue this practice. I invite those of you who don't to consider this as one of the ways to live into the first tenet of our Rule of Life, "Pray daily, using the Book of Common Prayer or another Christian format, and worship regularly in community".

I like to include the following, along with the Lord's Prayer, in my noon prayers:

Give praise, you servants of the LORD; *
praise the Name of the LORD.
Let the Name of the LORD be blessed, *
from this time forth for evermore.
From the rising of the sun to its going down *
let the Name of the LORD be praised.
The LORD is high above all nations, *
and his glory above the heavens. (From Psalm 113)

Collect for the Urban Abbey. Oh God, you are wonderful and generous indeed. You sent your Son to be with us as our Guide, our Friend, and our Savior…we thank and praise You for that. Be with us now in our time together; open our eyes and hearts that we may be present and mindful of each other as You are ever present and available to us. As we cannot in our own strength do this or even with hope of success attempt it, we ask these things, O Creator, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord together with the Spirit. Amen.

Shalom and many blessings, George

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thought for Today

Dear Abbey Members and Friends:

I found today's reflection from St John's Abbey a wonderful reminder of the inclusiveness of God. One of the things I treasure about our Abbey is the willingness of our Abbess and those who plan our events to draw spiritual practices from other faith traditions. We have become such a rich community because of this diversity. But we also remember that, as Christians, we show our witness to the world through our belief in Jesus Christ and how Jesus embodies God's unflinching love for each of us. The challenge is to continue to be open to seeing God's love in action in the world around us and in spiritual practices of other faith traditions while remaining grounded in who we are as Christians.

Shalom and blessings, George

One problem a collection of reflections like this might have competing on the Internet with other Web sites of "spirituality" results from the inclusion of the Christian perspective. Books with wider public appeal do not betray or give preference to any such "narrow" perspective as the critics would call it. A friend asked me if a book of my reflections would be an appropriate gift for some Jewish friends. I had to say that I didn't think so. No effort is made here to exclude Jewish or Islamic or Hindu readers; in fact I am indebted to these faiths for insights. I believe with St. Paul that God has not left any part of the world without some witness to God's love for us. For Christians that witness shines out in Jesus Christ. But I don't think that we can say that it is only in Christ that God has revealed something about God's love for all human beings. On the other hand, to ignore Christ in the interest of a wider appeal would be turning our backs on what has formed and nourished us. Faithful Jews, it seems to me, must affirm that God has shown love for them by the care given the Chosen People and described in the Scriptures. Other religions affirm a similar message through entirely different images of God or of the power that cares for the world. It's hard to imagine -- impossible to believe -- that God does not make the divine love available to human beings wherever they are. Fr Don Talafous, SJA, 6/16/09

Monday, June 1, 2009

Dear Abbey Members and Friends:

Today's meditation by Fr. Don Talafous, St. John's Abbey, really struck me. The fourth tenet of our Rule of Life tells us, "Show Fellowship with a welcoming heart, seeking Christ in everyone I meet, offering comfort and celebration." Giving generously of our time is certainly part of that rule of life. In today's busy environment, it is so easy to overlook opportunities to be present for someone else, whether part of our family, church community, or even the wider community. What many of us do not have is someone who will give us a few minutes to just LISTEN to us. What a gift that is when someone does that! Fr. Talafous, I believe, has it right when he speaks to what we are given in return for opening ourselves to listening and presence for another.

Shalom and many blessings, George

"Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me" (Luke 1:43)? In the gospel event we call the visitation these words are Elizabeth's response to a visit from her cousin Mary. The pregnant and elderly Elizabeth doesn't give a self-centered response: "Where were you? It's about time" but "How did I ever deserve this?" Elizabeth receives the gift of Mary's time and effort as an unexpected, most welcome kindness, a gift. Daily life offers all of us opportunities to give generously and also to receive with gratitude and joy what others give. In our day phone calls and letters as well as convenient mobility make it possible for us to bring consolation, light, even some excitement to the lives of the lonely, the ill, the neglected, the suffering in any way. You could even include e-mail for some. Yet with so much technology-enhanced opportunities for communication and contact, we still so often plead no time. Visitation in some form or other of those who would benefit from it is a snap for us today compared to what it was in Mary's time. What keeps us from doing more of it? Perhaps it's our lack of identification with the selflessness of Christ, something He learned at least partly from His mother. Fr. Don Talafous, SJA, 6/01/09

Friday, May 8, 2009

The Feast of St Julian

Today is the Feast Day for St. Julian who lived from 1342 to about 1416 in Norwich, England. She was a spiritual recluse and anchoress who devoted her life to prayer. Julian is now revered as one of the world's great mystics, a woman who had several profound, direct experiences of God.

Julian believed her mystical experiences were not meant for her alone, and that she was called to share them with the rest of us. And so she did.

Julian wrote extensively about her encounters with God, especially one that took place in 1372 when she was about thirty years old and extremely ill. In Revelations of Divine Love, Julian described the messages she received from God during this experience. They range over many topics including the nature of God, the nature of God's Creation, sin, suffering, evil, and on and on. One topic she writes eloquently about in this account is prayer.

Julian said, that when we pray, we do not always have an easy time of it "...because we are not sure that God listens to us. We think this is because we are so unworthy and because we don't feel anything, for often we are as dry and barren after prayer as we were before." She sympathizes with these universal human feelings and says, "This is how I have experienced it myself."

But she goes on to reveal what she learned from her direct encounter with God about prayer. She reports that God revealed these words to her: "I am the ground in which your prayer is rooted. First I want you pray and next I make you want it. After that I enable you to pray and so you do pray. How, then, can you possibly not have what you ask for?"

This is an astounding idea, that God is the source of our very desire to pray. What, then, of the "dry and barren" feelings Julian speaks of, feelings that sometimes follow our attempts to pray?

Julian says that God instructed her: "Pray inwardly, even if you don't enjoy it; it helps you even if you don't feel it or see it. For when you are dry and barren, sick and weak, your prayer is especially pleasing to me, even though you don't enjoy it very much. That is true of all prayer made in faith."

So why, then, does God want us to pray? Is it that God wants us to feel dry and barren? No, Julian says in her teaching - the reason is that when we pray, we are doing what God wants us to do. In the very act of prayer we become closer to God, united with God, even, by living out God's desire for us.

So, on this feast day for St. Julian we celebrate the life of a woman who was drawn into a close relationship with God and then devoted her life to teaching us all that she learned through that relationship.

The quotes provided here are taken from Karen Armstrong's summary of the writings of four medieval mystics, Visions of God which includes more extensive excerpts of Julian's writings. The book is highly recommended for those interested in further reading about Julian and mysticism.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In Honor of Earth Day

The following post was originally published one year ago today, on Earth Day, 2008. I still find it very appropriate, so am republishing it for Earth Day, 2009. Happy Earth Day, everybody!

Raima Larter, Abbess, The Urban Abbey

“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?”

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Walking The Airport In Easter

As I write this I am in transit on a business trip, waiting between flights in Minneapolis. To pass the time I took a walk around the airport. Sitting down and pondering how different my routine is today I was struck, at first with how I missed the trees, flowers, rocks, and streams I pass every day. Then I thought about my surroundings: I am sitting amongst millions of years of God’s work and creation. I am sitting on a seat made from plants and animals, there are carefully cut and polished rocks beside me. Hidden above and below is iron, limestone, aluminum and many other elements, minerals, and compounds.

Perfect? No. We don’t always use the resources God has provided prudently. We often don’t re-use them when we have finished. Sometimes we don’t even recognize what has been provided. (When looking at plastic how often do we remember the living, breathing, growing plants and animals that absorbed the energy from the sun, fixed carbon from the air, and reached a natural end to a God given life?)

We have used the resources God provides for many purposes. While surrounded by these creatures, plants and rocks from the past, both distant and near, families and individuals, couples and groups pass me. We come from all around the world; we leave for places both familiar and new.

For many of us this is a week both familiar and new just as the destinations my fellow travelers and I venture to. Sunday was Easter, the day we remember and relive the Resurrection of our Lord. I grew up celebrating Easter, so much is familiar. Each year we also encounter new people and new events, our lives include different births and deaths, joys and sorrows, all reminding us how our lives are constant voyages of discovery, change and growth.

Today I must remember to thank God for the familiar and the new, the ancient, the old, and the just arrived. Join me and raise joyful thanks for all God provides and does.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Echo Chamber For The Word of God

In the new book Seeking Life, The Baptismal Invitation of the Rule of St. Benedict (2009) Esther De Waal reflects on how St. Benedict outlines a way of living where we continually seek to live lives more in line with God.

The complete quote, on page 65, reads "'The entire monastery -- and in microcosm the heart of each monk - is nothing more than an echo chamber for the word of God...each monastery, each monk, each Christian becomes a house of God...'" I find this image of being an echo chamber for the word of God both comfortable and challenging.

Are there places, times, and activities where you sometimes pause and hear God's word seemingly right next to you? Perhaps you are like me and more often than not hear the echos fading away, since we forgot to be quiet after asking God a question...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Actors, Directors, Wisdom, and Forgiveness

But he was so merciful that he forgave their sins
and did not destroy them; *
many times he held back his anger
and did not permit his wrath to be roused.

For he remembered that they were but flesh, *
a breath that goes forth and does not return.
(Psalm 78, verses 38 & 39)

For many years I have read a certain bit of "experience, strength, and hope" in the AA Big Book thinking it was speaking to me as the "director" of this play of life I am in. Yesterday I noticed the word "actor". This makes a profound difference in my reading and my understanding. God is the Director, I am the actor. I am here to perform the work God has for me. This is made clearer both in Benedict's rule, which provides direction and instruction on living a life in the Lord's service, and in other twelve-step readings which remind the reader to conform our will with God's will.

Today, as I pondered my new found realization that I had read something wrong for years, I was struck by the beauty and power in these tw0 verses, where I realize that even if I made a mistake, God forgives me, I am only human and will make errors.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Spring Community Meeting

The Urban Abbey will hold its Spring Community Meeting from 9am to 3pm on Saturday, March 28, 2009 in St. George's Parish Hall. This will be our last community meeting with Ron and Donna Crocker, who have both been instrumental in making the Abbey what it has become, so we will use this opportunity to say good-bye and send them off into the retirement sunset with our prayers.

Our theme for the day will continue the Lenten focus on hunger that we have been exploring in the Adult Forum series, but take it to a higher level - spiritual hunger. The day will include Morning Prayer, lectio divina and time for silence, lunch, a whole-community meeting and discussion and a very special Eucharist.

The program is still taking shape so I will send more details as we work everything out, but we will essentially use the day to consider the question, "How does the Urban Abbey feed me and feed others?"

In the meantime, please RSVP to me by Sunday, March 22. Donna Crocker has agreed to organize the food for the day (we will really miss her skills in this arena!) so we need a good headcount. It would be helpful to hear from you even if you cannot make it or are still unsure by the deadline.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Daily Office Online

After a little investigation, I have learned that the blog we have been following as we tweet Morning and Evening Prayer, is not an official blog from the Episcopal Church, despite the fact that it is entitled "Morning and Evening Prayer from the Episcopal Church." Thus, my statement in the previous post was not entirely accurate. The prayers are, nonetheless, from the Book of Common Prayer and the readings are all (as far as I can tell) chosen appropriately for each date, so these are prayers that Episcopalians can use as we pray the Daily Office.

As you can see from the comments to our last post, the author of this blog has objected to us referring to his work as we pray excerpts from the Book of Common Prayer on twitter. We will continue to refer people to this blog through our blogroll (see sidebar) since it is a beautifully done compilation that is easy to use.

Other online versions of the Daily Office exist such as this one that includes only Morning and Evening Prayer and this one that includes both a Rite I and a Rite II version. If you know of other online resources, please let us know and we will try to collect them here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Tweeting the Daily Office

These days, it seems, all the world's a-twitter. Everybody from Senators to journalists are tweeting. The Abbey has joined the conversation in a unique way: twice a day we pray the Daily Office on twitter.

The Episcopal Church has a blog on which Morning and Evening Prayer is posted every day. I have been using the Abbey's new twitter ID @TheUrbanAbbey to post short excerpts of these prayers daily.

A screenshot of tonight's Evening Prayer session is shown here. It shows (in reverse chronological order) the "tweets," or short 140 character updates, I posted to the public twitter timeline as I read through Evening Prayer tonight. Nearly 70 people followed along - some from as far away as Britain and New Zealand.

Among the responses to our presence and activity on twitter are several comments that the Urban Abbey exemplifies a "new monasticism." Others point to us as an example of a new, electronically-enhanced approach to urban ministry. Many of those who follow us are, themselves, taking similar approaches to ministry in the virtual world.

It is an exciting time to venture into the brave new Web 2.0 world. If you would like to follow along with us, join us for Morning and Evening Prayer each day by signing up at and following the Urban Abbey at -- see you in the twitterverse!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Updates to the Abbey Blog

We recently updated the look of our blog and added some new features. We've posted our Rule of Life at the top of the right sidebar, added a calendar of upcoming events and also included a list of other blogs you may find useful or interesting.

Our current links include The Daily Office blog, which posts Morning and Evening Prayer, every day, from the Episcopal Church, the blog of the Bishop of Buckingham, England and a blog authored by Rev. Bosco Peters of New Zealand. Please send us suggestions for other links, including your own blog if you have one, and we will take a look and might even add it to our list!

Monday, March 2, 2009

More of Father Don's reflections can be found on the Saint Johns Abbey website.

Lenten Thought

Dear Abbey Members and Friends:

Fr. Don Talafous' meditation for Ash Wednesday is below. In today's meditation, he returns to the theme of our 'crosses' by inviting us to think of whether 'adding' some Lenten discipline to already overloaded lives is more appropriate than looking at 'how' we approach the crosses existing in our lives now -- be more generous with our time for co-workers and family, be more patient with the person who always seems to get under our skin, etc. I was listening to this week's edition of Speaking of Faith that deals with depression. One of the people interviewed spoke of a person who helped him the most. That person just sat with him and offered his presence, not suggestions for how to pull out of his depression. I find the meditation below most challenging and a way to truly grow spiritually. Living our lives more generously certainly has the ring of our Savior calling.

Shalom and many blessings, George

"If you wish to be my disciple," Jesus says, "you must take up your cross each day, and follow in my steps" (Luke 9:23). Can't we read in that expression 'your cross' an indication that there is already a cross of some type in our lives? It might be lying neglected under some papers. The point is that it's there, in my life. I don't have to go looking for it or figure out how to make myself one. What Jesus and Lent urge is that we should take it up more generously each day, with good spirit, turn it to good, rather than looking for some other cross which can never have the custom built character of this one, the cross given us by nature or life. Some of the stuff we hear about Lent suggests that we look for what I would call luxury crosses or substitute crosses. Instead of handling well the cross that is right before us, we decide on something more satisfying to our egos, like an hour on our knees each day or skipping meals. These crosses can be about as significant as the ones that rock stars hang around the necks or from their ears. Francois Mauriac has said that the only genuine crosses are those we have not chosen ourselves. Aren't these what Jesus calls 'our' crosses? What are they? For example: the stress that comes with our work; a difficult person we must work with; some nagging physical problem which has no simple solution; putting up more patiently with some grouch or, better yet, not being one ourselves; facing that morning task with more alertness. Let us take up our cross daily; if we haven't lifted it lately, it's right there. All we need is a closer look. Fr. Don Talafous, SJA 2/25/09

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Monastery without Walls

The Urban Abbey is bringing ancient spiritual practice into the modern world and one component of that involves joining the conversation on the Internet. Or, rather, Internets, as the many modes of social networking are coming to be known. We are excited to see so many like-minded groups around the world and have linked to several of their blogs on our newly-updated sidebar (right).

Are you on FaceBook? If so, you might want to follow our blog there. We are also on Twitter (twitter username @TheUrbanAbbey) so please follow us if you are, too.

To continue reading our blog, go here. Thanks for visiting!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Esther de Waal Retreat a Success

Yesterday's special retreat with Esther de Waal, held at Washington's National Cathedral, was a huge success with 41 participants, a total that included many visitors and first-time attendees to an Urban Abbey event. Special thanks to Wayne Lewis who organized this event with the assistance of Anne Omelianowich and George DeFilippi. Thanks, also, to Seton Droppers for printing and folding a supply of Abbey meditation booklets for distribution to participants, and to all who provided refreshments.

Participants in yesterday's event were treated to a wonderful presentation by Esther on the Rublev icon of the three-personed God. Time was set aside for silent contemplation on the icon or in any number of quiet, beautiful spots around the Cathedral. Participants also attended Evensong in the Great Choir of the Cathedral before gathering one last time with Esther in the crypt of the cathedral for a final discussion.

The afternoon provided a wonderful preparation for our move into Lent, which begins this Wednesday. Thanks go to all who participated and, especially, to Esther de Waal for her time with us.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Mindful Eating

As you may have heard, the Abbey has been asked to lead the Adult Forum sessions during Lent this year. Since the parish theme for 2009 is "Feeding the Hungry," we will use this series to explore hunger in all its manifestations--physical and spiritual.

Kathie Panfil has graciously agreed to organize these sessions for the Abbey and has already started to invite other St. George's groups to participate. The dates involved are the Sundays in March (3/1, 3/8, 3/15, 3/22 and 3/29). I will be kicking off the series with an overview modeled on the first session of a curriculum entitled "Just Eating" published jointly by Church World Service and the Presbyterian Hunger Program. As the authors of this curriculum write: "Eating can be a mundane activity done with little thought or reflection; or it can be an opportunity to thoughtfully live out our faith and practice justice."

In other words, we will use this series to explore "Mindful Eating" in all its varied aspects. The Abbey will be working with other groups from the parish. I hope Abbey members will enthusiastically participate in the series. We can use this opportunity to help our fellow St. Georgian's understand how powerful mindful living can be and how the simple act of paying attention can feed us.

If you would like to help with this series, please contact either Kathie Panfil, myself or any member of the leadership team (which also includes Missie Burman and Ron Crocker).


Saturday, January 31, 2009


Dear Abbey Members and Friends:

Below is today's meditation from Fr. Don Talafous, St. John's Abbey. I like the reaffirmation that God wants good things for us in this life, but we are creatures of this earth and subject to he 'laws of nature'. For me today the message reminds me of the 4th tenet of our RoL: "Show fellowship with a welcoming heart seeking Christ in everyone I meet, offering comfort and celebration." Fellowship--being present for another --is one of the greatest gifts we can give.

Shalom and blessings, George

Protestant preacher William Sloane Coffin just after the death of his college-age son in an accident confesses to blowing up at a neighbor. This well-intentioned person had brought in a dinner for Coffin and his family and said, "I just don't understand the will of God." He said: "I'll say you don't, friend. Do you think it was God's will that Alex never fixed that lousy windshield wiper, that he was driving too fast in a storm, that he probably had a couple too many drinks? That there are no lights or guardrail on that road?" Coffin says that nothing sets him off so easily as "intelligent people who seem to think that God goes around the world with a finger on the trigger, a fist around the knife, hands on the steering wheel." His point, of course, is that bad things happen because of human or natural causes. An arsonist or a faultily installed piece of equipment starts a fire; the friction in the earth's crust causes a 6.6 quake; a person possessed by hate fires the gun; a careless driver hits the child. On the positive side, we should be reminded that grain gets to starving people because of human ingenuity and generosity; that a limb nearly ripped off in a farm accident is saved by skilled doctors; bad governments are ousted by committed and responsible citizens. The frustrated woman takes it out on God in prayer: "All we have on this earth are problems and a bunch of dummies who will never figure out how to solve them. Even I could make a better world than this one." From deep within she heard: "That's what you're supposed to do." God needs us to act in this world; we need God's strength to bring about changes for the better.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bishop Gene Robinson's Inaugural Prayer

Dear Urban Abbey members and Friends:

I was sent Bishop Gene Robinson's prayer for the opening event of the inaugural at the Lincoln Memorial. Following is a brief commentary and the prayer. I find it truly an amazing and wonderful prayer. I wanted to share it with you.

Shalom and blessings, George

As you may know, the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, the openly Gay Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, gave the opening prayer at yesterday's Lincoln Memorial event. It was the first event in the inaugural festivities this year. HBO, which had paid for exclusive rights to the event, chose not to broadcast Bishop Robinson's prayer. So if you watched there you wouldn't have caught it or even known that it occurred. NPR didn't air it either. There's no record of it in images placed on the sites of Getty Images, New York Times and the Washington Post. It's a complete erasure of his ever having delivered the prayer. So we're going to celebrate it by providing here the full text of Bishop Robinson's prayer. I suggest you forward this around so that everyone has a chance to enjoy it.

Opening Inaugural Event, Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, January 18, 2009
Delivered by the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson:

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God's blessing upon our nation and our next president.

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will:

Bless us with tears - for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger - at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort - at the easy, simplistic "answers" we've preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience - and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be "fixed" anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility - open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance - replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity - remembering that every religion's God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln's reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy's ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King's dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters' childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we're asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand - that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Save the dates: Feb 22 and March 28

Two exciting Abbey events are coming up this spring, so mark your calendars now. On the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 22, 2009 Esther de Waal will meet with the Urban Abbey at the National Cathedral from approximately 2pm to 6pm for a special retreat focused on discernment. Part of this event will include Choral Evensong, regularly scheduled at the Cathedral from 4-5 pm on Sundays. More details will be forthcoming soon. Big thanks to Abbey member and former Abbott Wayne Lewis for arranging this exciting event with a leading Benedictine thinker.

Also mark your calendars for Saturday, March 28, 2009 from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm for the Urban Abbey's spring community meeting. So far, nothing but the date and the location - St. George's parish hall - has been decided, so if you would like to be involved in planning this community meeting, please contact either me or any member of the Abbey leadership team (Missie Burman, Ron Crocker and Kathie Panfil).

More details soon, so stay tuned!