Newsletter Submission November 2010

“Advent: More than Four Weeks before Christmas”
By Fr. Eric Cooter

In just a few weeks, the liturgical calendar will shift from what the Church refers to as “Ordinary Time” (the Sundays after Pentecost) to the “Season of Advent.” Advent, the four Sundays before the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, has through certain symbols, taken on some erroneous nuances of meaning and significance. One of the most obvious symbols that we are in the Advent season will be the appearance of purple vestments and banners used during worship. In addition, at the beginning of the worship we will light one of the Advent candles each week until all are lit on the last week. The first two weeks of Advent, we will light the first two purple candles, the third week we light the rose candle, and finally we light the last purple candle on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. Although these traditions have significant meaning to us, Advent is much more than merely an interim season before Christmas, more than purple vestments, and much more than merely a wreath with candles on it.

Advent is about anticipation. During Advent, we await both of Christ’s comings: we anticipate His second coming in judgment, and we await the celebration of His first coming at the Nativity. There is a rich tradition associated with the Season of Advent. Originally, it was a penitential season (not unlike Lent) in which the people prepared for Christ’s coming through a period of fasting and self-examination. The purple vestments and purple candles are traditions, which we still love today, but are emblematic of the former penitential nature of the season. In its earliest observance, the third week of Advent’s rose candle was emblematic of the relaxation of the fast. Today, the penitential theme has diminished from our observances, and we now focus on the “Coming of Christ.” We will notice that in the last two weeks of Advent, the readings and hymns will focus primarily on the first coming of Christ at the Nativity and thus, differ greatly from the first two weeks.

In the first two weeks of Advent, the scripture readings, the hymns, and collects, all focus on our anticipation of the second coming of Christ. The belief that Christ will return in glory is not anything new for us. We refer to His return each week when we recite the Nicene Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.” As Christians, we live in the hope that Christ will return to restore the Kingdom of God, to restore justice and righteousness, and to restore all creation to God’s dream for creation. We live in hope of the resurrection. This is our faith, this is our hope.

For our culture, the same four weeks before Christmas, which we call Advent, finds many of our neighbors and friends frantically hanging lights, decorating trees, running to parties, and buying presents. The anxiety of the season runs high these days. For Christians, Advent serves as a time in which we can stop the frantic nature of the upcoming season, and prepare ourselves for the Christ child who sleeps silently in the manger. It is a time for us to prepare ourselves for Christ who will return in glory, to restore all creation and establish God’s Kingdom. Advent allows Christians to walk a different path than that of the frenzied, hysterical, worried anxiety-filled holidays. Advent provides Christians a reflective moment, a four-week season in which we can sit, pray, meditate, and prepare while we wait with expectation, with exceeding hope, and overwhelming eagerness at the arrival of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Fr. Eric+

September 2010 St. David’s Newsletter Article

“Stewards: Taking care of the master’s vineyard.” By Fr. Eric S. Cooter

Back in the day, I was a retail associate buyer for a large national retail chain. I managed a specific portion of the resources, inventory, advertising, and multi-store selling space for this rather large corporation. The merchandise was not mine, the advertising investment was not mine, the stores were not mine, nor were the fixtures, signing, sales or profit. I knew that I was not the owner of all this stuff, but I still had to answer to, and I had ultimate accountability to the stockholders. I was in a sense, the steward of the stockholder’s investment. Even though I did not own it all, when I spoke to my suppliers or fellow associates, it was common for me to refer to all this stuff as “my product lines,” “my departments,” or “my staff,” but the reality was, none of it was “mine.”

Many of you may have had similar experiences in your careers. The idea of stewardship is not difficult to fathom, when we consider relationships like that of employee and employer. The concept sometimes becomes a little fuzzier when we think about stewardship in terms of what is ours and what is God’s? Many of us have no problem referring to the homes we live in, the families of which we are a part, the cars we drive, the time we have (the very breath we breathe), in terms of personal ownership. We have no problem naming each one of these (home, car, time, breath, or life) as “mine.” However, saying “mine,” begs the question, “is our lives our own?” Who is the source of our life; the very breath we take? As Christians, we confess that the God is the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of our lives. God is the ultimate stakeholder of all creation, and we as those created by God, are the stewards, the caretakers, the managers of all of God’s treasures. There is great responsibility that comes with being the stewards of God’s creation. The responsibility becomes clear to us, when we recognize that our very lives should be an offering to God.

Living our lives an offering to God is not about giving God “His fair share.” Offering ourselves to God is about living each day knowing that our gifts of time, our gifts of talent, and our gifts of treasure are ultimately God’s, and not individually our own. So, offering to God the gifts of time, talent and treasure for the work of God’s kingdom, should be based more on a response to our growing love and commitment to Christ, and less on a mathematical formulation for determining how much we give. Giving is always a matter of the heart. Our Lord taught, “Where your treasure is, so your heart will be also.”

Our treasure of time is overlooked sometimes when we consider an offering to God. How do we spend our days? Do we make time for prayer? Do we set aside specific time each day for loving God, for listening to God, for just being with God? Do we set aside time for growing closer to our Lord through study and reading scripture? Sometimes we can be caught up in scripture study, merely because it is “something that is a so-called expectation.” However, when we delve into the narratives of scripture, we come to know Our Lord in an intimate way. Joining with the saints before us, who read the narratives of the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Old Testament, we begin to have a better understanding of the character, the nature and the loving acts of God throughout history. This fall and throughout the rest of the year, there will be additional ways to grow closer to Christ, through some new education opportunities for all ages (youth and adults). As these opportunities present themselves, I encourage each of you to participate. Also, there will be opportunities for some folks to put their talents to good use, as study facilitators as well.

“Our lives as an offering to God” is our response to God’s grace as creator, redeemer, and sustainer of our lives. I encourage us all to consider and pray about how God is calling us to be stewards of God’s treasure in this community of St. David’s, and in the broader community in which we are called to serve.

Aug 2010 Newsletter Submission – St. David’s Episcopal Church

“I Want to Pray” By The Rev. Eric Cooter

Whether we face challenges and uncertainty or even in times of relative peace, the phrase “I want to pray,” reflects a deep awareness of our reliance on God. Merely acknowledging a desire to pray can be a spark that ignites a raging fire of love for God. Prayer takes many forms, but we tend to only venture out so far when it comes to our prayer practices. We often overlook one of the most ancient prayer practices in our Christian tradition. Contemplative prayer focuses on listening to God, by simply becoming aware of our desire to be drawn into God’s presence. Listening is critical in the development of any relationship. As basic as it may seem, verbalizing and listening are the building blocks of all communication. Prayer, the sacred form of communication, includes both speaking and listening, and practicing prayer that includes both is essential to a richer prayer life.

Contemplative prayer is a form of prayer that had its origin in the mid 4th to early 5th centuries. During this period, “Hermits, Ascetics and Monks who lived mainly in the Scetes desert of Egypt, beginning around the third century CE, were the first Christian hermits, who abandoned the cities of the pagan world to live in solitude. These original desert hermits were Christians fleeing the chaos and persecution of the Roman Empire’s Crisis of the Third Century.” (Merton) In times of uncertainty, one does not have to escape to the desert or live in solitude in order to find solace in God’s peace. Abba Isaac, one of the early “Desert Fathers” taught, “the person who continually invokes God as his protector, is aware that God is ever present at hand.” (Pennington, p. 18) Through the knowledge of God’s presence with us, even in times of trouble, uncertainty, and anxiety, we can have confidence. Abba Isaac also asserted, prayer that “contains an invocation of God, a humble confession of faith, a reverent watchfulness, a meditation on human frailty, an act of confidence in God’s response, is an assurance of his ever-present support.” (Pennington, p. 18) In other words, when we say “I want to pray,” we verbalize our heart’s desire to be present with God. “I want to pray” is an attentive acknowledgement of our reliance on God, which leads to a desire for conversation with God.

There are times in life when we face the unknown, when feelings of anxiety and fear emerge and threaten our sense of God’s peace. Anxiety such as this usually accompanies major changes or life transitions, but through prayer, we can recall that our Great Protector is always present. We can face uncertain times knowing that the Spirit lifts us to a place of quiet confidence. It is this confidence that gives us the strength to face any adversity.

O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and
rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be
our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray you,
to your presence, where we may be still and know that you
are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer p. 832 )

Peace and Blesssings,
Fr. Eric+

Sources Cited:
1. Merton,Thomas (1960).”The Wisdom of the Desert, Abbey of Gethsemani”
2. Pennington, M. Basil (2001). “Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form” 3. 1979 Book of Common Prayer

July 2010 Newsletter Article – St. David’s Episcopal Church

Benedict of Nursia, Abbot of Monte Cassino, c. 540
by The Rev. Eric S. Cooter

Benedict of Nursia, better known as St. Benedict, would normally be commemorated on the liturgical calendar on Sunday July 11. Because all Sundays are feast days of Our Lord, we would normally move this Feast to commemorate Benedict, to the first weekday following the Sunday. St. Benedict has had a major influence on monasticism and especially on our Anglican spirituality. The Rule of St. Benedict focused on many aspects of life and it was developed so that anyone could follow it. One key to the rule was that it embraced the notion of moderation and balance. “Moderation is key to the Rule of St. Benedict. He did not want his monks fasting or praying too much, but he did not want them to do the opposite, either. Instead, he called for a healthy balance in life, and it is this that appeals to many lay people.” (Srubras 2010)
Balance in life is difficult to attain. We are pulled in so many directions, and sometimes one area of life is in competition with another, for our time and effort. Benedict however, encouraged balance in life. Three areas of our lives always seem to require particular attention: recreation, work, and our spiritual lives (corporate worship, spiritual disciplines, private prayer, etc). It seems that when any one part of our life gets too much of our time and effort, the other areas of life suffer. Too much work leaves little time for prayer and quiet time with God. Too much work also takes away from time for recreation. Recreation (re- creation) is not merely “killing time” and relaxing, but it is a time set aside to help restore us to wholeness. For some of us it may be hobbies like quilting, sewing, cooking, gardening, fishing, golfing, painting, flying or some other pursuit that is enjoyable, and one that harnesses our natural ability to create. We need this time to be whole persons created in the image of God. When any one area of our lives wars against another, we are out of balance and other areas and relationships suffer.
Keep in mind; our lives are not easily segmented into neatly defined boxes. For some of us, we find that the boundaries between recreation, work, and spirituality are very vague. When we discover God’s active presence in our work, recreation, and prayer life balance occurs because we are rooted in God. For Benedict, balance was not about meticulously dividing time and effort between multiple areas of life. Balance was about living in an awareness that our work and efforts do not have to war with our time of prayer, our time in silence with God, and in our time to join God in the act of ongoing creation. As co-authors with God in the narrative of salvation and restoration, we are vessels for the Spirit’s re-creation work in and through us.

Works Cited
Srubras, Rachel. “Oblation.” 2010. (accessed June 2010).

"Hoist Sail" The deep waters are calling!

The Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21
“There came a sound like the rush of a violent wind”
Driving down the road the other day, I saw sitting in a marina, 20 – 30 beautiful sailboats. Just sitting there. I thought, this is not the use for which sailboats were intended. Sailboats are designed and built to ride high on the waves with sails unfurled catching the mighty winds. Sailboats are designed and built to carry people from one place to another and in the process, give people a rich, experience. Sailboats are vehicles that require a lot of work to keep them afloat. No one individual can sail a ship. It requires others who can tie off ropes at appropriate times, adjust the tension on the sails, and support each other in the quest to ride high on the winds.

The Holy Spirit came upon the church on the Day of Pentecost like the rush of a violent wind. Pneuma the greek for wind, spirit, or breath was poured out on the church that day. The breath of God breathing life into the church was the birth of the church. The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and with each other in Christ. It takes many hands working together to accomplish God’s mission for the church. It takes the breath of God to accomplish God’s mission for the church. Without the breath of God, our mission becomes a vision of our own making. Without the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Voice of Truth enlightening our path, we are wondering aimlessly about.

The Church is like a ship carrying the people of God toward the mission of God. When we open our sails to receive the rush of the wind of the Holy Spirit, we are moved toward the mission of bringing others to the knowledge and love of God. It requires many hands to adjust the tension of the sails, to discern the movement of the Spirit. It requires gifts, spiritual gifts, to keep the beautiful ship on course. No one member of the church can accomplish the mission alone, but together we are called to work together. The wind of the Spirit of God can fill our sails and will guide us into all truth.

Like on the day of the birth of the Church, the Spirit came upon the people gathered, and the Spirit comes upon us today. Enlightening us, empowering us, calling us to do the work that each of us together have been called to do. We are not called to anchor in the marina, with sails tied up and riggings stowed away. The church is called to deep waters and high waves of an open sea where the Spirit blows and fills our sails, so that all may come to know Christ.

Graduation invitations, stamps, and the ministry of healing.

I had an interesting encounter in the post office yesterday. I was on my way home from Sewanee and I happened to be wearing clericals after serving in chapel that morning. I had my graduation invitations addressed and ready to mail, so I stopped at the local post office to get stamps.

In the lobby of the post office, I saw a woman who appeared to be a bit distraught. When our eyes met, she said to me, “You are obviously a ‘man of God’.” I smiled, and she asked me if I would pray for her because she had just been diagnosed with cancer. I asked her what her name was, and then asked if I could pray for her right there. She looked surprised and her eyes welled up and she said, “please.” We held hands in the lobby of that post office and prayed.

All of our circumstances are all fraught with unseen fears, tragedies, and challenges and it is when we are taken out of our selves, God allows us to be a part of the ministry of healing for others. Be ready and open to those times when, in the most unpredictable circumstances, God will call us to serve each other, to comfort each other, to pray with and for each other.