Episcopal Nuns

Guest blog by Rev. Kate Maxwell OSB

“I didn’t know there were Episcopal nuns.” This is a response I often get when I tell someone that I’m a Benedictine Sister. It seems that Episcopal/Anglican religious communities are a well-kept secret!

The Episcopal Church recognizes two types of ‘religious’ groups: Christian Communities and Religious Orders. Orders are traditional communities that usually make vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience. They have all their goods and financial resources in common and live together in a convent or monastery. In this, they are quite similar to the communities of the Catholic Church.

Christian Communities, on the other hand, are often dispersed; that is, the members don’t live together but support themselves individually, give to a common purse for the expenses of the community, and generally don’t make a promise of celibacy. The vows taken in Christian Communities vary according to the spirituality of the Community.

My Community is the Benedictine Priory of St. Mary. We are a brand new Christian Community of women, lay and ordained, married, single, or partnered. We live on our own and meet in person at least once each year. The rest of the time, we keep in touch via technology. We are a Benedictine monastic Community, which means that we follow the 1,500 year old Rule of St. Benedict, interpreted for today. At Profession we make the traditional Benedictine commitment of Stability, Obedience, and Fidelity to Monastic Life. Our primary ministry is prayer.

The Priory of St. Mary is a new foundation, and so we are not yet recognized by the national Church. Becoming recognized is a long process. A community needs to have been in existence for several years, have at least six full members, and have a lot of documentation. The Priory has been organized in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. The Right Reverend Craig W. Loya, our bishop in ECMN, is our Bishop Visitor, which means that he is our connection to the House of Bishops and the larger Church.

If you’re curious about religious life in the Episcopal Church, check out the National Association of Episcopal Communities (naecc.net) and the Conference of Anglican Religious Orders in the Americas (caroa.net). Many Episcopal religious communities belong to one or the other.

Take a look at the Priory’s Facebook page and like us!

You’re welcome to join us for Compline at 7PM on Sunday evenings as well. Just email us at PrioryStMaryOSB@gmail.com and I’ll send you the link.

If you’d like to know anything else about the Priory of St. Mary or Benedictine life, just contact me at intern@stjohnwilderness.org — I’d love to chat with you.

~ Kate OSB (the initials stand for Order of St. Benedict)

Love One Another

Guest Blog by Rev. Margaret Thor

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12

Jesus said this to his disciples, to us. Wouldn’t it be great if we simply loved one another? Jesus commanded us to do this, so let’s get it done! Yet, we all know that nothing is quite that easy. Love is complicated and demonstrating love, especially to strangers, is hard. How are we to love strangers, those we don’t know, those who are different than us, those of other cultures, upbringings, and experiences, those outside our sense of normal? I wish I had an answer as I struggle with this question as well.

I wonder what it would be like if we asked the question of strangers (and I use this term very loosely), “how can we love you” or “what does it mean to you for us to love you”. Would we be willing to listen to their answer? Or would we assume that we know how to love them and what they need? 

At Easter and during Baptisms, we promise through our baptismal covenant that we “will seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.” We also pledge to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” We promise to do this with God’s help as we know that we cannot do it alone.

As a deacon, I took a vow to “interpret to the Church the needs, concerns and hopes of the world”. In addition, I am “to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ himself.” Frequently we attend church to be comforted by God’s word and promises, yet we are called to the difficult work of loving our neighbor. 

This is why you will frequently hear me pushing you to the seemingly uncomfortable work of putting your faith into action in the world. It could be serving at the food shelf, advocating for those experiencing homelessness and hunger, or protesting for equitable treatment of our Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC). It could mean working side by side with marginalized families as they build a home with Habitat for Humanity. Once Covid restrictions are lifted, it could mean sitting down to dinner after preparing the food with indigenous people at First Nations Kitchen in Minneapolis.

Recently my husband and I along with our son drove home after a day in Iowa City. My husband was driving above the speed limit and was pulled over. He got his documents ready for the officer and answered his questions. None of us felt any fear. After the officer took my husband’s license and did what he had to do in his patrol car, he came back and gave my husband a warning. I wonder if we were a black family if the outcome would have been different. I wonder if my husband would have received just a warning and not a ticket. I felt our white privilege and wonder if I witnessed that impact on the officer’s decision. Wondering and learning and engaging with those who are strangers may be a way for us to love one another. I think it is important to take time to listen and to hear what another person desires. This summer we are planning a series of talks from people from communities that are marginalized. I invite you to attend these gatherings – keep your eye on my information about this series. And once we hear, let us act on their wishes and not on our own. Jesus commanded us to love another as I have loved you. It is this unconditional love that we are to share. If we do this in the name of Jesus, our joy may be complete.

A Crack in Everything

There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

There’s a story in the Bible about a man by the name of Jairus. Actually, I’m not sure if the story is more about Jairus or about Jairus’ daughter or about the Jews or about Jesus… it’s all rather complicated. The story begins when Jairus, the leader of a local synagogue, having heard about the ability of Jesus to heal, approaches Jesus and pleads, “‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’” And so, Jesus comes. By the time he arrives at Jairus’ house, however, the girl is dead. Jesus takes Jairus, Jairus’ wife, and a few of the disciples into the house, and with the simple words of “Talitha koum!” or “Little girl, get up!,” Jesus heals the girl.

We are given little clue as to Jairus’ response to the miracle. The Bible says only that, “they were astonished.” Other translations say that they were “beside themselves.” I believe that the Light of God found its way into a crack. You see, despite all Jairus had learned in his life, it was only when faced with the illness and death of his daughter, that is, when he was confronted with a crack in his life, that Jairus comes face to face with the love of God manifest in Jesus. That’s how it almost always happens. A crack develops and God shows up.

There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

That’s the message of the cross and it is central to our lives of faith. It’s funny though. We do everything in our power to ensure that no cracks develop. And even when cracks do develop, we try to deny them or ignore them or pretend as if they aren’t really there. We eat the right things, we exercise, we are faithful in our study and work, we learn how to be polite and function respectfully in society; we raise good kids; etc, etc. But somehow very little of that does much to help us understand the Light and love of God. It’s so often only when things go wrong that our eyes are opened and our hearts become receptive to the light of Christ. It is through the failures, the sadnesses, the sufferings, the brokenness that the light finds a way into the depths of our being.

There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think we should try to make cracks in the lives of others or in our own lives. I don’t think that God makes cracks in our lives. It’s just part of our human existence. But instead of denying the cracks, or being embarrassed by the cracks, or being overwhelmed by the cracks, we may learn to accept them and actually learn to look for the Light and Love of Christ that inevitably and invariably finds its way through the cracks.

This past year has been difficult. It has been full of sacrifice and loss and brokenness. In my life and in the lives of every single person I know, cracks have opened. It’s been hard. It is hard. But when you’re at your lowest, always remember that you are never alone. God is always by our side. Fear not the cracks in your life.

There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

~Father Art

Popping the Bubble

For many years, I ran an adventure camp in northwestern Wisconsin. We offered a wide variety of activities to our junior and senior high campers, including mountain biking, ropes courses, whitewater canoeing, sea kayaking on Lake Superior, rock climbing, etc.. There was an activity that we tried one summer called Bubble Ball. Basically, it was a no-holds-barred version of soccer, but each player was encased in a blow-up body bubble made of clear flexible plastic, sort of like a human-sized beach ball that extended from above the head to just below the waist. Bubble Ball players could run full steam and crash into each other with abandon… and there were no consequences! It was immensely fun, and with little to no pain or injury. We did all recognize, however, that because there were no consequences, Bubble Ball bore little resemblance to reality, that is, to an actual game of soccer. To be honest, after a while, the appeal of Bubble Ball expired. There was something about the artificial nature of it that just got old. 

In retrospect, much of my early life feels as if I was playing Bubble Ball. Growing up in a white, upper middle class family, there was never a time when I had doubts about whether I would have three square meals provided each day or a roof over my head at night. All of my friends pretty much looked like I did as did all of my teachers at school. Church was no different. I went to an Episcopal church where all the families looked pretty much like our family. The swim club that we frequented on the weekends was a little bit different in that everybody was wearing fewer clothes, but really, it was just the same as everywhere else — very middle and upper middle class and very, very white.

I knew that there were other people who weren’t as fortunate as we were, and certainly I knew that there were other people who had a different skin color than I, but I only knew about them, conceptually, that is. They lived in a different part of town and moved in different circles. I didn’t really know, that is, in a relationship sort of way, many people that were in a different economic state as we, and I certainly didn’t know anybody with black or brown skin. Truthfully, I had an immensely happy childhood, but in retrospect, I think that there was something a bit surreal about it all. It was as if we were in our own bubble, playing our own game of Bubble Ball.

In the tenth chapter of the book of John, Jesus makes the purpose of his ministry clear. He says, “I came that [you] may have life and may have it abundantly.” Abundant life. That’s the reason Jesus came. He was sent into the world so that you and I and every living thing on the face of this earth may have abundant life. Further, this abundant life that Jesus brings is not always immensely fun or immensely happy. Abundant life is about receiving the sacrificial offering of Jesus and, in turn, offering our lives as a living sacrifice for others. In other words, abundant life is anything but a game of Bubble Ball.

The abundant life that Jesus lived and calls us to live is genuine, real, oftentimes joyful, rarely convenient, sometimes uncomfortable, painful and even deadly. Abundant life is filled with some people who look and talk like we do, but filled also with folks who look and talk nothing like us. Living the abundant life that Jesus offers means bumping into people without the protection of a bubble. It entails being vulnerable and refraining from judgment. It requires a willingness to seek understanding and a commitment to justice and mercy and love. The promise is for relationship, real relationship, with God and with others. Abundant life is not easy, but it’s good. It’s really, really good.

So, take a few minutes and consider your life today. Does everybody kind of look and talk the same? Do the people that you bump into on a regular basis pretty much have the same sort of life as you with only small differences here and there? Are you really experiencing the abundant life that God offers us in Christ Jesus?

If not, then maybe it’s time to pop the bubble and get to know somebody whose skin is a different color than yours or whose bank account is less full. Maybe it’s time to become acquainted with somebody who experiences God in a different way or whose family history is so unlike your own. It takes guts to live without a bubble. But therein lies the life, the abundant life, that Jesus offers us all.

~Father Art

It’s All About Jesus

I missed Compline on Monday night. Compline, of course, is one of the Daily Offices, one of the times each day that Christians are encouraged to pray. It comes at the end of the day, usually after one has finished eating dinner and washed all the dishes, after taking the dog for one last walk and after getting in a few minutes of reading time. Compline is positioned at the time of the day just before one settles in for the night and is an opportunity to quiet one’s heart and mind, give thanks for the day just completed, and say prayers for those both near and far. But I missed Compline on Monday night. And to make matters worse, I was supposed to lead Compline on Monday night.

I have been saying prayers with parishioners here at Compline each night for months now, rarely missing a one. Indeed, part of my personal set of spiritual disciplines is saying my prayers at the beginning and ending of each day. But I forgot. How on God’s green earth could I have forgotten?

It’s easy to answer this question… I had other things on my mind and heart… the dishes yet to be washed, the upcoming property tax bill, the catalytic converter stolen from my car a few nights before, my friend recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, my many responsibilities in the week ahead. But goodness, after all these months of leading Compline for our parish and after all these years of saying Compline as a part of my own spiritual path, how could I be so unfaithful?

Of course, you may be thinking, missing Compline isn’t that big of a deal. The people intending to worship on Monday night will survive and will forgive me. There’s always the chance to do better the next night. I know, I know. But still, I can’t get over the fact that after all this time, I am still so utterly unfaithful. Because the reality is that it’s not just Compline. There are all sorts of other ways, both smaller and much, much graver, that I have proved to be unfaithful to other folks and to God. And it happens each day, every day. With Saint Paul, I often find myself in shame thinking, “Wretched man that I am, who will rescue me?” And I know that I am not alone. Many of you may be thinking the exact same thing.

Now, the answer to Paul’s question, my friends, is almost too wonderful for us to bear! He answers his own rhetorical query with, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Who will rescue us? Jesus. Who can bear to look upon us in our unfaithfulness? Jesus. Who will refuse to abandon? Jesus. Who will remain faithful? Jesus. Who will free us from anything and everything that holds us in bondage? Jesus. Who will birth the Kingdom of God within us? Jesus.

It’s about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus.

Today is Good Friday. If this day is about nothing else, it is about the love of God poured into our lives through Jesus. Whether we are faithful or unfaithful, through Christ Jesus, God remains faithful. Whether we believe all the right things, whether we believe all the wrong things, whether we don’t believe anything at all, through Christ Jesus, God is faithful. Whether we are good or bad or somewhere in between, through Christ Jesus, God remains faithful. Whether we succeed or fail, through Christ Jesus, God remains faithful. Whether we remember Compline or completely forget it, through Christ Jesus, God is faithful. Faithful. Faithful. Ever faithful. Through Christ Jesus, God is faithful.

This day is Good. Good beyond all comprehension and imagination. Good because God is Good. Good because in Christ Jesus, God makes us Good. And so on this day, of all days of the year, may we hear God’s voice whispering into our minds and hearts, “you are beloved and accepted and received and embraced not because you deserve to be but because I want you.” You see, my brothers and sisters, it’s just not about us and about whether we have our act together or not.

It’s about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus.

~Father Art

Just Say Yes

“And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”

Christians around the world celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation yesterday, that is, March 25th. This is the occasion when we commemorate the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she was to give birth to the Messiah. While the announcement is certainly good news for all of us who are beneficiaries of God’s grace in Christ, I am not so sure it would have been received as such by Mary herself. 

Most probably, Mary was a young teenager when she received the news from Gabriel. She was poor, unmarried, already engaged. These are all very good reasons why Mary was quite likely perplexed and frightened by the annunciation. Having a child at that particular moment in her life would have had many life-altering ramifications, almost all of them negative. And yet, despite her misgivings, Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Holy Scripture does not indicate whether Mary really had a choice or not, but typically, God does not impose God’s will on anyone. So, I believe that Mary could have said “No, thanks.”  But she doesn’t.  Mary says “yes,” and because Mary says “yes,” all of history and all of life was changed forever.

For whatever reason, God chooses to partner with human beings to bring about God’s mission of life and love to the world. Mary is a rather obvious and exceptional example, but the Bible and human history is filled with other examples of God working in just the same manner. I think that it has something to do with love. God’s dream is that every single creature on the face of the earth might be swept up in God’s vision and mission of love. God’s offer to all is to become active participants in the work of reconciliation and restoration. But for this to happen, for God’s Kingdom to come to earth as it is in heaven, for us to actually experience the coming of that Kingdom into our own little lives… we must say “yes”. Just like Mary, we have a choice to participate or not.

I wonder how many times each day an angel comes into our lives announcing frightening but potentially history-changing and life-altering news. I wonder how many times each day we are given the opportunity to say “yes” to God’s invitation to participate in the work of the Kingdom. I wonder how many times, after hearing the announcement, we sadly but politely decline the offer. 

I will, however, tell you this, my friends…

          I’m going to be on the lookout for Gabriel or one of his friends. 

                    And when the angel issues the invitation to join God on the Way of Love;

                              And when the angel whispers his advice into my soul to “just say yes;”

                                        I’m going to do it!

Next time, like Mary, I’m going to respond, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  I hope you do too. 

~Father Art

Dot by Dot

I don’t like going to the dentist. Never have. Indeed, I don’t know too many folks who do. I do, however, have one positive memory of going to the dentist when I was a kid. In the waiting room at the dentist’s office was a stack of magazines, and among the magazines I would almost always find, if I searched for it hard enough, a Highlights Magazine. Do you remember that magazine? To be honest, I don’t actually recall reading much of the magazine because I would always turn as quickly as I could to the Connect the Dots game page. The goal of the activity was to connect all of the dots with a pencil, proceeding from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 to…. you get the picture. Clearly this was before children had smart phones to occupy their attention! After connecting all of the dots, a picture would emerge from the page. If I was lucky, some other kid hadn’t gotten to the page before me, and I would be able to be the one to connect the dots and draw the picture. It was magical, really.

All of life is connected. That’s the way that God created it. A healthy spiritual life occurs when we not only recognize this fact, but actually do what we may to stay connected. I believe that sin occurs when we become disconnected from each other, from other parts of God’s creation, or from God himself. We profess that God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to earth to connect the dots once again and reconcile us both to each other and to God. Christ is constantly about this work of reconciliation, and as followers of Christ, connecting the dots is our commission as well.

Real reconciliation is rarely easy. It always starts and ends with prayer, recognizing that if reconciliation is truly to happen, it will only be through the power of God’s Spirit working in and through us. Prayer reminds us of God’s will and God’s ways. Prayer gets us back into the flow of God’s grace. Prayer connects us once again to God and empowers us to connect with others. Is it any wonder, therefore, that Jesus taught his disciples to pray?

As a kid, I was always amazed as I connected the dots in the Highlights magazine. The picture would almost mystically appear as each connection was made. It’s the same as we go about the work of reconciliation… connection by connection, dot by dot, the Kingdom of God begins to emerge here on earth as it is in heaven.

~Father Art

5 Bold Strokes

I recently watched a delightful movie called The Half of It. It’s a coming-of-age-comedy-drama stoked with some splendid narrative. At a critical juncture in the movie, one of the characters, Aster, explains that she “had a painting teacher once tell her that the difference between a good painting and a great painting is typically five strokes, and they are usually the five boldest strokes in the painting.” Most people who paint don’t want to ruin a pretty good painting by making a bold stroke, and so they settle for a pretty good painting.  

This is certainly not the way that it is with God. The story of the creation of the world has God making bold stroke after bold stroke until finally, as God steps back to survey what God has done, God declares it “very good.” And it doesn’t stop with the creation either. The Bible is full of stories about God making bold strokes… empowering Sarah to give birth in her old age, felling Goliath with a small round stone, tumbling the unrelenting walls of Jericho, protecting Daniel in the fierce lions’ den, empowering the utterly impoverished and unwed Mary to give birth to the Messiah, ripping the thick veil of the temple in two as Jesus dies upon the cross. Further, Jesus’ ministry on earth is depicted as a collage of bold strokes… changing water into wine, healing on the Sabbath, casting demons into pigs, walking on the water, overturning the tables of the money changers, washing the disciples feet.

If we are to take seriously the witness of Holy Scripture, then we must conclude that God does not shy away from taking some bold strokes in God’s relationship with human beings. Sure, there are days and days, even years and years, when God’s brush strokes are quite mundane and ordinary. But it is the pattern of God also to make some big, bold strokes. God does this because, well, God is painting something great, not just pretty good.

As we partner with God in rendering the paintings of our lives, I wonder… where are the 5 bold strokes? Can we see any occasions when we dared greatly to follow Christ even when it meant ridicule or risk or sacrifice? Or are we so concerned with not messing up something pretty good that we have settled for a life-painting with no bold strokes? Do we yearn for our lives to be great in God’s sight? Or are we playing it safe day after day after day? Before we make the next decision for our lives, before we make the next movement of our brush, perhaps we might ask ourselves, “Is this the best stroke I can make?”

~ Father Art

Morning Courage

Every morning he is there, lights on when the rest of the world is dark, shuttling to and fro, chopping and mixing and spicing, preparing for the day before him. He is both proprietor and cook of a small café here in town. I pass him by each morning on my quotidian walk, a pane of glass separating the cold of the new day from the welcoming warmth of a cherished gathering space infused with the smells of breakfast. His establishment is not open yet. Patrons have yet to arrive, that is, if they do at all. The disease is still with us, and most people remain justifiably cautious, choosing to munch cereal at home rather than risk blending their breath with that of others. I knock on the frosted window and wave. He looks up from his work and gives me a smile and nod. There is a certain inexorable courage in my friend’s diurnal routine. In the very face of pandemic, he continues to prepare for guests who may or may not arrive. Despite his fears, he continues to chop and mix and spice, every morning.

Persistence seems to be a quality in humans that God honors. Jesus says, “Ask and you’ll get; seek and you’ll find; knock and the door will open.” The implication in Jesus’ words is that those who ask and seek and knock will do so repeatedly, that is, every day. The getting and finding and opening rarely occurs on account of a one time effort, no matter how faithful or Herculean. There’s another story in the Bible of a healing at a pool called Bethesda in Jerusalem. It was to this pool that multitudes of sick, blind and lame people would come. They had the belief that the first person to step into water after the pool had been “stirred” would be healed of their particular infirmity. There was a man who had come to the pool each day for thirty-eight years in the hope of being healed. Of the hundreds of people who had gathered about the pool, it was this man whom Jesus chose to heal. It takes courage to seek and ask and knock, and the picture of one doing so for thirty-eight years is one that inspires.

This is the same courage that I witness in the lives of other friends who gather each morning for prayer. They come to say much the same words and to express many of the same concerns as those who have done the same for a thousand years. They come to listen for the still small voice of a God that they cannot see. Some come full of faith, full of energy, full of hope. Others come despite their lack of the very same. Perhaps they come out of a desire to be in community. Or is it just obligation, and does it really matter? For what matters most is that they come. Such persistence is courageous, no matter the conscious or unconscious motives. It is courage, morning courage.

Courage is doing what needs to be done regardless of the consequences. It is preparing for the feast, even if no one comes. It is staying by the pool even if one is not chosen that day. It is saying one’s prayers, even if those prayers remain unanswered. For the most part, none of us understands the ways of God or the timing of God. We walk with only partial sight, trusting in the beneficent presence and patient guidance of the Spirit within. Morning courage is asking even when an answer doesn’t immediately come. It is seeking even when finding the right path means running into ten thousand deadends first. It is knocking, persistent knocking, even when one must stand by an unopened door for a long, long time.

It is my belief that finally, if we are able to practice such morning and afternoon and evening and nighttime courage, we will realize that God has been doing the same for much longer than we can ask or imagine. Our morning courage is simply a derivation of the Great Courage of the everliving and everloving God, the One who is faithful, ever faithful. God has been asking that we might say yes to God’s love; seeking that we might allow ourselves to be found; knocking that the door to our hearts and souls may be opened. So this day, may you take courage, morning courage, and know that your courage is met by that of God. God has been asking and seeking and knocking, chopping and mixing and spicing, preparing for a great feast on the off-chance that today you and I might arrive to partake.

~Father Art

Trading Up or Trading Down

I walk with my dog Bernie every morning, and every morning he plays the game of Trading Up. Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the game. For my dog, it goes something like this… he will come upon some object that is lying on the sidewalk or in a snowbank or in the middle of the street or at the base of a trash can (his favorite place), and he will pick it up in his mouth. I understand that a good and responsible dog owner would take whatever object he has newly acquired out of his mouth immediately, but to do so would require me to take off my mittens, “convince” Bernie that the object is not good for him, and then when the convincing doesn’t work, to wrestle the object out of his chops. Frankly, I’ve made peace with the truth that I am not a good and responsible dog owner, and so, I allow Bernie to continue the walk with his newly acquired treasure. Okay, let’s say Bernie has picked up a chunk of disgusting ice that has fallen from the rear wheel well of some passing truck. He will carry the ice until he comes across something that he deems better, for example, a McDonald’s french fry holder. His first option is to carry both the ice and the french fry holder, but when he realizes that his mouth is not large enough for both, he chooses the one that he deems more valuable, in this case, the McDonald’s french fry holder. Bernie will continue this game for the entire walk, and usually by the time we arrive back at the house, he will attempt entry with whatever “superior” object to which he has traded up. At least half the time, said superlative object is road kill.

Of course, this game of Trading Up is one which humans play also. Much of the time, many of us play this game of desiring and seeking that which we do not have. This yearning for what we do not have leads to dissatisfaction with what we do have. Further, if and when we do actually acquire that for which we yearn, we usually quickly tire of it, desiring and seeking something else which we deem more valuable. And so it goes. We do it with clothes. We do it with cars. We do it with houses. We do it with jobs. We even do it with our relationships. And rarely does this game of Trading Up satisfy.

William Wordsworth, the renowned 19th century English romantic poet, writes, “The world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending we lay waste our powers.” Wordsworth lived at a time of the industrial revolution when many people traded up for the bright and shiny objects of their new society, all the while sacrificing their connection with nature and God. Wordsworth describes the game as a colossal “waste of our powers.”

All the great religions, including Christianity, speak to the futility and waste of playing this game of trading up. Indeed, the incarnation of Jesus may be interpreted as the direct opposite. The apostle Paul writes that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born of human likeness”. If anything, this is a game of “trading down”! It is in humbling himself “to the point of death, even death on the cross” that Jesus establishes the way of life and salvation. And as followers of Christ, this is the way we are called to journey as well.

Lent is a time for subtraction, of self-emptying. During Lent we are given the opportunity to discover once again that we are loved and belong just as we are and with just what we have, not as the world tells us we should be or as the world tells us we should have. So this Lent, may we refrain from laying waste our powers. May we choose the Way of Christ, and leave Trading Up to the dogs.

~Father Art