Contemplative Church

  • With the arrival of October, I enter into my final month of ministry. I was ordained in June of 1984 and have served three congregations in Ridgewood, New Jersey, Glendale, Arizona, and Rumson. A sense of being called, however, began in childhood. I would sense......

  • This is my penultimate Oakleaves article. Next month’s will be my last and, in that communication, I want to focus on saying in writing thanks and good-bye. For this article, I want to prepare you for the boundaries which will form after I retire. We......

  • As I write, Rosanne and I are preparing for our week with Cynthia Bourgeault and others in Stonington, Maine. I know that the week will be powerful and supportive to our near and far aims of consciously growing toward union with God through daily conscious......

  • Easter is about openings. Jesus’ tomb was no longer closed but was opened on Easter. After the Risen Jesus appeared to his followers, they no longer stayed behind closed doors but opened themselves to public lives of witness and service. Some even opened themselves to......

  • Holy Week looms on the horizon. Palm/Passion Sunday is April 10. Our Holy Week worship schedule will include a Maundy Thursday service at 7:30 PM, a Good Friday service at Noon, and one Easter service at 9:45 AM. There will be in-person and virtual options......

  • Ash Wednesday is March 2nd this year and begins a rather brief period of spiritual preparation for the celebration of Easter. In the early church it was seen as a time of fasting to prepare initiates into the church for baptism. We will have an......

  • It seems that we all agree, regardless of our ideology and perspective, that we are living in strange times. Change and uncertainty are afoot and with it, anxiety abounds. I prefer life to be harmonious and predictable; but I am beginning to believe that this......

  • A New Year is before us. It is clear that this New Year will involve more than the usual amount of change. There is my retirement at the end of October. There is a legal suit from an alleged sexual abuse of a Boy Scout......

  • Rosanne and I are spending Thanksgiving at our upstate home. Our house is an old farmhouse, nearly two hundred years old. It seems an appropriate place for Thanksgiving dinner. In our fast-paced and over-stimulated world, there is some solace in remembering simpler times which existed......

  • It is hard to see when you are in the middle of it, but I am convinced that we are experiencing a profound shift in human consciousness.  We are changing and our world is changing whether we want it to or not.  Our cultural divides......

  • My deepest sense of personal calling is about getting at the roots of human behavior through contemplative practices. I believe that the best chance we have at changing our own lives and the culture in which all of us exist is through the transformation of......

  • It’s a season of wonder. And by wonder, I don’t mean the usual wonder of the fall—bright skies, crisp air, the changing colors of leaves. These will surely come and, I hope, refresh us. But there is also the more ominous wonder of this particular......

  • I just listened to a talk by Cynthia Bourgeault at the annual meeting of the American Teilhard Association. It’s a profound talk on so many levels. The point which I want to focus on for this brief article is Teilhard’s conviction that just as ultimate......

  • Recently, Rosanne and I stumbled across a Netflix series called, “The Good Place.” It’s a comedy about the journey of the afterlife, filled with many twists and turns and surprises. I won’t comment on it in any specific way, so that if you want to......

  • A funny thing happened after many of my friends started turning sixty-four. I’m sure that this is not limited to me. I would make a fuss that we all sing The Beatles’ song, “When I’m Sixty-Four.” To help us with our faulty memories and less......

  • It’s early yet, but signs of seasonal transition are around us. As I write, we are just a few days into the official turning of spring and, honestly, the landscape doesn’t look much different from when it was still officially winter. But there is something......

  • The Lenten journey, like the Christian journey itself, is full of paradox. Jesus tells us paradoxes like, in order to find life, we must lose it, that the first will be last and the last will be first, that those who humble themselves will be......

  • In light of the recent attack on the Capitol, there is conversation among us about finding or working to create unity. This makes sense, but I wonder if we have the understanding, the resources, and the collective will to make this happen. Because religion, so......

  • My daily spiritual practice is to get up early, make a cup of coffee and to sit with a biblical text, to let it have its way with me.  I keep a journal to help in this task.  Then I pray/chant five Psalms before sitting......

  • January is always a time of looking backward and forward. Taking stock and setting a fresh path. This seems like especially meaningful work for us this year, doesn’t it? 2020 was a year like no other. We are looking forward, in hope, that 2021 will......

  • The section of the Book of Isaiah, beginning with chapter 40, from which so much of our Advent and Christmas inspiration comes, is called by many the Book of Consolation. After prophesying judgment and punishment in the first section of this prophetic book, in chapter......

  • I write this article a week before our national election, as the number of cases of COVID-19 are on the rise to new heights. To say that we are living with uncertainty and anxiety would be an understatement. Will there be post-election chaos as mail-in......

  • As we enter into October, what is your inner state? What is our collective state? I ask this question not out of some desire for us to measure ourselves and others, to either congratulate or condemn. I ask these questions out of a sense of......

  • After nearly six months, we will open our doors for worshippers again on Sunday, September 13 at 9:45 AM.  I have spelled out many details about our protocols for reopening in a recent email blast and we will share our protocols in this newsletter—our first......

  • I have been watching some mother birds interacting with their children recently.  Just this week several babies left the nest, and not all of them were making the transition well.  One almost became cat food, but mom and dad showed up in the nick of......

  • My brother called me today to vent.  He lives in the suburbs of Atlanta and is moving to Alabama in a few weeks.  Moving is stressful enough, but moving in a pandemic, even more so.  His first grandchild is expected to be born shortly after......

  • Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a hidden treasure or a pearl of great value.  Once found, a wise person will sell everything else to gain this most valuable of all possessions (Matthew 13:44-46).  The changes and uncertainties which have descended upon......

  • Today and tomorrow, Christians remember Jesus’ final meal with his disciples, his betrayal, arrest, trial, torture and crucifixion.  Like anything human, abuses and distortions of this story and its relevance for us abound.  I do not wish to focus on addressing abuses and distortions.  I......

  • In the community where I live, we are over two weeks into a period of social isolation.  My church community has rather quickly adjusted to virtual worship, meetings and gatherings.  We are using a platform technology which allows us to see each other’s faces and......

  • Collectively, we are experiencing a dramatic shift in our assumptions and routines.  It’s safe to say that our attention has been grabbed by this moment as we watch wealth dissolve and our usual movements curtailed.  Like most pastors, I am adjusting to virtual worship, meetings,......

  • The title for this blog comes from the work of Richard Rohr who communicates powerful spiritual truths in ways that are easy to grasp.  The process of spiritual growth often requires a period in which we move out from a comfortable sense of order into......

  • In the past few days, the distress which comes with this pandemic has come to our country.  Major social events have been cancelled or postponed.  The stock market is in dramatic downfall.  Our routines are being impacted.  There is the fear which comes with uncertainty......

  • The Christ-focus of Benedictine spirituality is immense.  The practice of Benedict’s Rule is to always bring the attention to Christ.  This focus is woven into the pattern of each day with periods of worship and study punctuating the daily routines of work, service and self-care. ......

  • I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic school as a child.  Receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday was part of my formation as a Christ-follower.  On the surface, it seems like a strange ritual for children.  Going forward to a priest, receiving a smudge......

  • For the past four years, a group of daring souls have been meeting on Wednesday nights to explore a contemplative form of Christianity.  We have used patterns for gathering based on the wisdom teachings of Cynthia Bourgeault and The Living School of the Center for......

  • Tonight, our weekly wisdom group will meditate on Benedict’s teaching and Joan Chittister’s commentary on three of the earliest chapters in The Rule of Benedict.  The topics of the three chapters are obedience, restraint of speech and humility.  I wonder what the response will be. ......

  • A group in our congregation has started examining The Rule of Benedict as a source for our personal growth and for the renewal of our church.  We are using Joan Chittister’s book, The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century.  In the book, Chittister provides......

  • The final stage in Erik Erickson’s psychosocial development is integrity versus despair.  In short, what this means is that people who have worked hard at developing a life of integrity will have the capacity, as they near the end of life, to enjoy a sense......

  • I am several months into an experiment of trying to bring a Benedictine pattern of prayer and work into my daily rhythm.  This commitment started with a statement made by Cynthia Bourgeault who was leading a retreat at The Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, Massachusetts for......

  • Many years ago, a group in my church was using a tool developed by a pastor and friend, Tom Thresher, to help people explore why it is so hard to create change in our lives.  He adapted a process outlined in Immunity to Change, by Lisa......

  • One of the Scripture readings for this Sunday is from Jeremiah 18, in which we humans are compared to clay that is being worked by a potter, who represents God.  The claim is made that the potter is free to rework the clay if the......

  • For the past three months, I’ve been trying to be more intentional about creating a rhythm of life, inspired by the Benedictine pattern of ora et labora, prayer and work.  I’ve been reading from a contemporary Benedictine, Joan Chittister, who writes beautifully about the relevance......

  • It was a hot day yesterday.  The thermometer nearly hit 100 degrees.  After officiating at a memorial service, I had gone to the reception in our church hall which is not air-conditioned.  When I left, the temperature in the room was 96.  Once home, I......

  • A spiritual practice which I have been trying on more deliberately this past year is called Welcoming Prayer.  I find it a very counter-instinctive practice, so it has taken some time to bring it into the flow of my day.  The idea is to bring......

  • I find myself wondering about my responsibility as a pastor in these divided and concerting times.  To me, it seems clear that we have a president who is undermining democratic norms and values and appealing to an energy of fear which shuts down creative and......

  • Friday night, my wife and I joined some good friends for dinner to celebrate a couple of birthdays.  We were outside.  It was fun and relaxed and the conversation flowed.  At the dinner table, our host announced that he was going skydiving the next day......

  • I read reports that it hit 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Anchorage, Alaska last week.  Humans have never seen this reading there before.  Much of Europe also has experienced record-breaking heat this summer.  Where I live in New Jersey, we have had unusual amounts of rain. ......

  •   For many, the development of human reasoning and the flourishing of the scientific method necessarily brought about the decline of religion.  Unfortunately, much of church leadership has been threatened by the discoveries of science and began, centuries ago, a pattern of resistance which has......

  • Feeling drawn to a deeper communion with God, how do I seek to integrate this longing with my role as a pastor of a mainline, Protestant church?  Having pastored in my current setting for twenty-one years, has given me “permission” to explore this question in......

  • Before his death, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.  The destruction of the central symbol of God’s presence didn’t seem to unnerve Jesus.  Obviously, Jesus did not equate religious structures and symbols with God.  The death of religious structures and institutions was......

  • In my early years of ministry, I remember going to meetings of clergy.  At some point in our meeting, everyone would pull out their calendars as we tried to schedule the next meeting.  It was an extraordinary exercise of show-and-tell, as we displayed to each......

  • Lent is a church season devoted to reflection and the work of the heart.  It’s a time for asking why we are here and what supports and what resists our intentions for living more faithfully and lovingly.  In the classic pattern of western Christian spirituality,......

  • On the journey toward maturity as spiritual people, hopefully, we move beyond mere self-concern—I’m saved—toward an engagement with the suffering of the world—how can I bring healing to others?  Certainly, Jesus was a healer and manifested compassion in profound ways.  As ones who follow the......

  • Institutional religion is a mess these days.  Respectable mainstream churches no longer fire the imagination or inspire people to deepen their encounter with the Holy.  Fundamentalist churches promise the moon and the stars, but, in reality, lock people into silos of closely guarded communities which......

  • I am a mystic.  By that, I simply mean, someone who has had and continues to have experience of God or transcendence or Mystery.  Insert whatever word you want, they all fall short.  I am also highly educated and love the life of the mind. ......

  • I woke up feeling vulnerable this morning.  Perhaps it has something to do with the rhythms of life.  Periods of heavy lifting and activity followed by a pause.  This morning, I was in a moment of pause, with nothing pressing on my schedule.  Maybe that’s......

  • I feel a tug to write about the sea change in the mainline church, where I have served as a pastor since 1984.  George Orwell’s dystopian novel, imagined the year 1984 as a hellish scene of alienation and control, which seems much more apt as......