Wednesday
Feb202013

It is Meet and Right: Why I am voting for Saint Hilda in Lent Madness (Sarah Raven, Ascension House and SHH '12)

St. Hilda is symbolic. She was a dedicated worker who demonstrated the incarnational presence of Christ crucified by her enduring service, sacrifice and love. It is said that she was ill with a fever for years before she died, and all the while she was still working and building up the Church.

For those of you who do not know about the Lenten craze sweeping the nation, according to the website lentmadness.org, “Lent Madness began in 2010 as the brainchild of the Rev. Tim Schenck. In seeking a fun, engaging way for people to learn about the men and women comprising the Church’s Calendar of Saints, Tim came up with this unique Lenten devotion. Combining his love of sports with his passion for the lives of the saints…”

So whether you think pitting one saint against another in an online popularity contest is fun or heretical, it is clear that the intention of Lent Madness is to inspire Christian education of the Episcopal Calendar of Saints, and promoting discussions about the lives of the saints. Lent Madness is sponsored by the Forward Movement who publishes the daily devotionals, Forward Day by Day.

Lent Madness is causing a stir outside of the Church as well, with articles written about it published by the Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-tim-schenck/lent-saints-alive_b_1385393.html, and recently from USA Today,http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/02/06/saints-lent-ncaa-march-madness/1896965/.

On February 21st, St. Hilda of Whitby will square off against Samuel Seabury. “Celebrity bloggers” from the Lent Madness website will post a brief history of both individuals and then the rest of us will have 24 hours to cast our votes, 8am-8am EST. 

Vote against Samuel Seabury? I could not possibly vote against the first bishop of Connecticut, the man who is responsible for ensuring that the Episcopal Church maintained apostolic succession. Seabury’s connection to my state and to Yale is undeniable and as a resident of New Haven how could I possibly vote against him? Despite the internal conflict this may cause, I have reconciled my decision by telling myself, I am voting for St. Hilda, not against Seabury. 

some of the deaconesses of Saint Hilda'sBut why vote for St. Hilda? In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that I am an alum of the Episcopal Service Corps young adult program-St. Hilda’s House, http://sainthildashouse.org. Why is the program named after St. Hilda? “In 1910, Fr. Frederick Burgess established deaconesses in habit (nun's garb) to be resident at Christ Church. They lived in a residence called Saint Hilda's House; they would serve the sacristy of the church, the children of the church school, and the poor and orphaned of New Haven until the early seventies operating a free medicine clinic, soup kitchen, and many other ministries.  In remembrance of their work and in that tradition, we have retained the name Saint Hilda's House.” 

So one of the reasons I may be inclined to vote for the abbesses and founder of the abbey at Whitby may be because I was a part of a program that bears her name. But beyond this obvious connection, St. Hilda is symbolic. She was a dedicated worker who demonstrated the incarnational presence of Christ crucified by her enduring service, sacrifice and love.

It is said that she was ill with a fever for years before she died, and all the while she was still working and building up the Church. Born in 614 AD, it could not have been easy as a woman to find a leadership role in an often patriarchal church. She followed the call to become a nun when she was 33, (the presumed age of our Lord when he was crucified) and though her own sacrifice would mean that she would never get married, have children, have a lover, etc., she made a difficult choice that helped bring Christianity to England and lead the way for Samuel Seabury and so many others. 

In his The Ecclesiastical History of the English, the Venerable St. Bede had this to say about St. Hilda, “All who knew her called her mother because of her outstanding devotion and grace". St. Bede was known to be a pretty accurate historian and I don’t believe him to be someone who would heap lavish praise onto another if it was unfounded. So if we are to believe this saint and early Church historian, then there was something extraordinary about St. Hilda, something we have yet to discover. I often feel that I simply do not know enough about St. Hilda because she did not write confessions, or volumes of theological work.

She did not have the leisure time to create tomes espousing her beliefs. St. Hilda “rolled up her sleeves” and did the work she felt called by God to do. In this way St. Hilda is like a kindred spirit. I may never write a great theological work, or be able to craft an impressive apologia for some doctrinal belief, but I can roll up my sleeves and do the work I feel called to do.  

But Hilda is not just an extension of my idealized self. St. Hilda established her own rule of life at Whitby, and was apparently known for her great wisdom. Church bells that were 13 miles away were heard at the moment of her death, and a devout nun saw St. Hilda’s soul being “borne to heaven by angels.” Looking at her icon; a stately woman holding a crosier in one hand and Whitby Abbey in the other, I have no doubt that although I may never fully understand who she was, The Episcopal Church USA, The Anglican Church, and The world-wide Anglican Communion, all owe her a debt of gratitude.
The very least I can do to show my love and thanksgiving for this great woman is cast my vote on her behalf. (And yes, I’m fully aware that if St. Hilda were alive today she would tell me to stop wasting my time on silliness and get back to work-here’s hoping she also had a great sense of humor). 

 

Saturday
Feb162013

Prayer Partners (David Burman, SHH '13)

I was reminded how fruitful praying for others can be. I had felt empty and frustrated when I prayed for myself the previous day, but this time, as I recounted my prayer partner’s concerns to God, I felt filled with the spirit. Somehow, as I asked God to be present in my housemate’s life, I was reminded that my spiritual life does not consist wholly of my own relationship to God, but also of the ways in which God is present in my relationships with other people.

A couple days ago, I prayed, but I seemed to get nowhere. It is an axiom that prayer does not always feel fruitful, but this instance was particularly frustrating. There are a couple areas of my life in which God’s will seems a bit unclear, and so on this occasion I walked into the Lady Chapel at Christ Church (so called because a stain glass depiction of the Virgin Mary sits above the altar in this chapel), resolved to pray about these concerns.

But my mind didn’t focus. I tried reading and meditating on scripture, but that didn’t work. I tried being still and seeing if the words of God might come to me in some shape or form, but they didn’t seem to. I even tried different postures: I tried sitting upright, slouching, and kneeling, but all without success. Eventually, I just walked back to the rectory where all of us interns live.

The next day (Saturday) was a busy one, primarily because we interns spent most of the afternoon and evening making dumplings. But during a brief lull in the dumpling-making action, I again sat down to pray. This time, however, instead of praying for myself, I prayed for my prayer partner.

Recently, we Hildans have begun to split into groups of two each week. Every Friday or Saturday, we each draw a name of one of the Hildans out of Neil’s splendid top hat, and that Hildan is our “prayer partner” for the week. We focus particularly on praying for our prayer partner that week, and then each pair of prayer partners eats dinner together on Thursday, before we draw the following week’s pairs.

So far, I have met up with most of my prayer partners at the beginning of the week as well. At our first meeting, we have shared some of the things that concern or excite us with each other, so that we can remember what the other person is dealing with in our prayers. Then, when we eat dinner together at the end of the week, we can review our weeks with each other.

This prayer partner system has been quite helpful to my prayer life, turning it outward to others. Even though I have long known praying for the concerns of others is vitally important, it occurred to me that, recently, I have been praying for myself the majority of the time.

But now I have a prayer partner to pray for each week, and when I sat down to pray for my partner during the pause in our dumpling making, I was reminded how fruitful praying for others can be. I had felt empty and frustrated when I prayed for myself the previous day, but this time, as I recounted my prayer partner’s concerns to God, I felt filled with the spirit. Somehow, as I asked God to be present in my housemate’s life, I was reminded that my spiritual life does not consist wholly of my own relationship to God, but also of the ways in which God is present in my relationships with other people.

This is what holding others in prayer can be – a means by which God refreshes tired minds and hearts and frees them to love others. 

Thursday
Feb142013

The Fear of God. (AND SNOW!!!!!!!) (Ed Watson, SHH '13)

My fear of God is a fear of what I might be asked to do. Currently I would say that I am called to be here, and this has meant me living half a world away from the friends and family who mean the whole world to me. I know I’ll be back home in the summer, and I know I’ll be back home in a few years. At the moment, answering God’s call is easy for me: I am happy, fulfilled, and comfortable. There will almost certainly come a time when this is not the case.

So, we had a bit of snow over the weekend. 35 inches in New Haven. Was pretty awesome. Winter Storm Nemo hit on Friday, and it snowed solidly for about 24 hours. When we woke up on Saturday everything was solid white: we only saw the road outside our house three days later. The traffic lights were still running, but they were somewhat forlorn in the absence of any traffic. By Sunday there were a lot of people out walking, soaking up the fact that the snow was nowhere near gone: people were snowboarding down one of New Haven’s main streets.

One of the most wonderful things was being able to see the places no one had walked: I went up to Farnham Gardens to find the snow completely undisturbed (and up to my waist), so just sat on the top of a submerged bench and admired the pristine beauty of it. Then completely wrecked it by tramping through it all and pretending to be an Arctic explorer. Otherwise, school’s been shut all week: there are still unploughed side streets and the busses won’t run. It’s given my plenty of time to write, and I’m sure everyone will be pleased to know that the next great philosophical treatise of our time is going well.

It is of course now Lent. Not sure what I’m giving up, but I think I will actually try and do something particular this time round. My thinking over the week has been divided between writing and fear. Fear pops up a lot in life and language, and I’ve been trying to figure out where it fits into the particular version of the Christian life we’re trying to live here.

There’s a lot of fear in the world: apparently almost all advertising is based on exploiting it, it runs through most political discourse, and of course it infiltrates a large number of the choices we make. We’re afraid of things that might happen, we’re afraid of things that might not happen; we’re afraid of the things we might be, we’re afraid of the way we might look. The most prevalent form of fear in my experience, both in and out of school, is a fear of failure: this particular fear is so crippling that it can literally paralyse us as we try to face up to the seemingly insurmountable challenges in front of us.

I’ve come to believe that Christians shouldn’t be afraid of anything except God. Put in particular terms, this seems obvious: if God is omnipotent and omnipresent then everything that occurs does so because he wills it, therefore God is the cause of all things, including all the things that give us fear. This isn’t a good way of looking at it: there are senses in which it is true to say of God that he is omnipotent and omnipresent, but they are not the senses which lead to questions of rocks that can’t be lifted, nor are they the senses which lead logically to the conclusion that all things happen because of God. There is, however, another way of looking at it.

There are two sets of things we might fear as Christians: those things which are the will of God, and those that aren’t. The first includes things I fear such as losing my parents and my sister, losing friends, the things that the world might throw at my students. I am afraid of freak accidents and the intrinsically meaningless suffering they entail. But I can’t shake the feeling that as a Christian I should not fear these things, the reason being that belief in God necessitates the view that they are never final.

It might be seen as controversial to say that things occur which are not the will of God: after all, we’re constantly having to grapple with these misapplied concepts of omnipotence. But it doesn’t follow from the belief that God is at the heart of all things that all things follow from the heart of God. Rather, to say that God is at the heart of all things means that there is never a state of affairs in where the only option is death: there is nothing, no matter how horrific, out of which good cannot come, and redemption is not possible.

Things occur that are not the will of God: we suffer needlessly, we commit needless evil. But from that suffering we can take strength, from our own fallen nature we can take understanding, and from both we can do our utmost to ensure that others no longer have to endure what we endured or go through what we put others through. Nor does it matter how fallen we are: there is no human state of being that completely prohibits the doing of good. Obviously we might still fear the moment itself: it is natural to fear pain. But to allow that fear to govern our actions, and so to live in fear, is to see pain as the end point: and this does not make sense.

We should not fear suffering, because suffering can be defeated through Christ. We should not fear our own failure, because we can never fall beyond the reach of God.’ These are Christian ways of overcoming fear, and it is because I hold these things to be true that I do not think it consistent for me to both have faith in God and fear those things in the world which are not the will of God.

What then of God himself? Well: God is to be feared.

There are several things God is not to be feared for: punishment is one. I try remain silent on the doctrine of heaven and hell because I do not think there is much interesting to say about it: I will say, however, that the idea that God metes out wrathful and eternal vengeance on sinners does not fit with what was written above. It is true to say, from a view of faith, that distance from God can feel like punishment: it feels like deliberate pain, and it feels like God is allowing us to be overcome by suffering. But it only feels like this: a better way to put it is simply to say that distance from God necessarily entails suffering, and that responsibility for that distance lies on the human end, not the divine. We are not distant because we are punished; we do not suffer because we are punished; people do not die in natural disasters because God is meting out his judgement on our sinful nature.

How then is God to be feared, if not as the rod? He is to be feared because his will might not be our will: he is to be feared because he might ask us to give up everything we hold dear in his name.

This obviously fits well into the theme of Lent: it is a period where we cease doing certain things that cloud our vision so that we can try and focus our lives towards God. Ash Wednesday is the day we accept our own mortality, try to overcome our fear of death, and so see the path to life (or something like that). But the fear that God might ask us to give up everything runs deeper than a fear that God might want is to stay off Facebook till Easter.

At the heart of our particular version of the Christian life is the idea that we are trying to live out responses to God’s call. This is a call to do God’s will, bring love into the world, yada yada yada. The fear is that responding to this call might force us to give up things we love; that answering might require us to give up our own happiness, our own dreams, our own expectations of what our lives should be. The fear is that we might not be able to do this.

My fear of God is a fear of what I might be asked to do. Currently I would say that I am called to be here, and this has meant me living half a world away from the friends and family who mean the whole world to me. I know I’ll be back home in the summer, and I know I’ll be back home in a few years. At the moment, answering God’s call is easy for me: I am happy, fulfilled, and comfortable. There will almost certainly come a time when this is not the case. I am afraid of what would happen if I felt called to live a life such that I never saw my family again: I am also afraid that I would say no.

God is to be feared because of what he demands: he demands the subjugation of the self to the service of others. Unlike the previous, I do not think this fear can be fully exorcised: we cannot reason away the fear of this sort of self denial, through thought or through faith. Instead, it must be faced, and overcome. A part of doing this is to give up fear of all else: a Christian need not fear anything in the world. Rather, focus on God as the sole object of fear, and work to get to the point where you can face that fear: work to get to the point where if you hear the call, you will be able to answer.

In summation: the only correct object of Christian fear is God.

(This might seem a bit of a bleak note to end on, so one final (only slightly) cheerier reflection: if the thing you’re most afraid is also what you believe to be the source of all goodness, hope, and love, then you could be doing a lot worse.)

(P.S. I hope none of the above implies the complete abandonment of some sense of reason or use of critical faculties: if you hear a voice calling you to kill an innocent, for example, you are definitely within your rights to assume that it’s not God talking to you.)

Ed's post and more of his writing can be seen here at his blog...

Saturday
Jan052013

"God Gave Us Garlic. What Will We Give?" (Sarah Raven, SHH '12)

Sarah is the program director of our new mission initiative at Ascension in the Hill called GARLiC (Green Art Recreating Life in Communities).

"Members of GARLiC teach and create green art in urban areas to promote environmental awareness, artistic expression and poverty alleviation.   Instead of adopting a charity model where resources are held to be redistributed to others, we will emphasize that every member has resources necessary to the organization."

After college I joined Teach for America because I wanted to give back to public schools and help children in low income areas succeed. I taught elementary school in the South Bronx for four years. What I enjoyed most about teaching was the flexibility I was given to be creative; and the light in children’s eyes after they learned something that would enrich their lives forever. However, I disliked the chronic insistence that art and science should be sacrificed for more time on math and reading.

Art for art’s sake was a lost concept and I soon felt trapped between my convictions and standardized tests. 

In the South Bronx I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a group of people who made a point of claiming green spaces (with or without the city’s permission) and converted them into community gardens. One of the members of this group, Max, went “dumpster diving” with others to claim food that was recently thrown out by grocery stores. Chain grocery stores often toss food that is not actually rancid but has passed its “sell by” date. Max was a true “starving artist” who would ingest garlic pills every day to try to aid his health.

Teasing him I said, “You’re nothing but a garlic eating commie!” It was one of those things that just stuck and was eventually shortened to “garlic commie.” I was playfully accused of being a friend of garlic commies, and then eventually, a garlic commie myself.  I was not used to being around people who cared so much about the environment that they would flush their toilets infrequently and lock arms to protect a garden from being bulldozed by the city.

Although I was never able to fully adopt all of Max’s practices and beliefs, and most of my friends today are anything but communist, I was able to retain a tiny clove of garlic in my heart. Through the years, I never lost my passion for education, art, or urban renewal. 

Several months ago while searching the internet for new craft ideas, I learned about “upcycling,” a largely suburban middle class concept where one takes an item that was going to be thrown away, and creates something purposeful and beautiful.  I became consumed by the idea of taking upcycling and green art to poor urban areas.

Then I remembered my love for garlic. The symbolism of this small plant that is formed from an intricate grouping of smaller cloves, and can overwhelm the senses is provocative. GARLiC (Green Art Recreating Life in Communities) is a collective that embodies the health, strength, and God-given goodness of the garlic plant.  Members of GARLiC teach and create green art in urban areas to promote environmental awareness, artistic expression and poverty alleviation.

Our purpose is to use recycled materials to create eco-friendly art. By doing this GARLiC will also promote the following:

1) Helping to combat the amount of municipal waste, thereby helping the environment,

2) Encouraging a reduction in consumerism and conspicuous consumption by encouraging participants to give recycled gifts, and

3) Providing new skills and resources to racially and ethnically diverse people with moderate-low incomes in urban areas. 

Thus addressing multiple issues; environmental awareness, consumer spending, and a lack of urban art education.

In New Haven there are a number of museums, and art resources downtown, but almost nothing in the poorer and more remote neighborhoods. It is not incidental that the location of the GARLiC classes is not downtown New Haven, but in the Hill.

GARLiC is a member based organization; all students will be contributing members through a donation of one product. Members will also be asked to donate their time and talents to teach classes to others, help clean the studio space, or whatever the member can contribute.  Instead of adopting a charity model where resources are held to be redistributed to others, we will emphasize that every member has resources necessary to the organization.

Some materials will be provided to members, but people will be encouraged to bring products and containers from their home that they were going to throw away so that they can learn how to make use of the things they already have. The classes provided will range from the traditional; painting, drawing, jewelry making, to paper making, turning trash into useable products, and also an overview on environmental awareness.

I hope you join us in this green revolution, and try some of our GARLiC (it won’t make your breath smell). For more information about how you can contribute to the mission of GARLiC please visit at: http://garlicart.com/ and visit us on facebook!

Sarah M. Raven, a Saint Hilda's intern from 2012-2013, is a member of Ascension House in the Hill and the Program Director of GARLiC, a mission of Christ Church New Haven.

Friday
Nov022012

Week 8: The Weirdness of Community (Ed Watson, SHH '13)

(This blog post is a little delayed because of Hurricane Sandy: apologies for that. I will write up a proper post about Sandy next week, when there’s some perspective on the overall damage caused. Suffice to say for now that New Haven was incredibly fortunate and suffered only minor damage and flooding, though some of the surrounding towns were hit far worse.)

Almost two months now since I arrived in America: as with all these things, it feels like an eternity that’s just flown by. My routines have settled: I always leave the house for work looking my usual complete shambles, then stop off at Blue State Coffee to order my mocha, put on my tie, and tuck in my shirt (it’s like Clark Kent turning into Superman). I do my best to spend Tuesday evenings out of the house, just so I get a little time to call my own apart from both work and community. The dishes are a major part of my week. Church also provides a nice structure: I’m not a natural church goer, but I’m finding that making the effort prevents the chaos beyond from overwhelming, if only because it ensures that there is at least half an hour every day where I am forced to stop working (though it will surprise none that know me to learn that I don’t often find that overly difficult).

Life in St Martin’s Grad Support is engaging as ever. We’re starting to develop a proper system to ensure students are productive for most of the time they spend with us, without being overworked, and I’m really enjoying getting to know all the different characters who frequent Afternoon Study. At some point I’ll write a full piece about what my experiences are teaching me about extreme poverty. This week, however, I just want to give a brief sketch of some of the stranger elements of living in community.

Anyone who’s gone to boarding school (a whole 1% of British School-children according to Wikipedia!) knows what it’s like to live in a house where there is no such thing as privacy. A boarding house, however, does not entirely negate the possibility of individualism, at least not to the same extent. What do I mean by this? I mean that unlike in intentional community, a boarding house does not require that every personal instinct or inclination be superseded by the needs of the community. This is, as far as I can see, the first principle of community: that you enter into it knowing that you must dedicate yourself to the wellbeing of that community above all else. One example of what this means in practise: in community, romantic relationships must take place in a public setting: as such, the undertaking of such relationships must be discussed by the community as a whole, not just the individuals involved.

I might be making this sound quite bleak: it’s not. It’s a pretty fundamental precept of many ethical systems, religious and secular, that true happiness is achieved not through the fulfilment of personal desire but through attempting to dedicate yourself to the service of others: in pseudo-formal terms, ‘real’ happiness is directed outwards, founded upon the wellbeing of others. An intentional community is just a community founded upon an explicit and localised version of this principle, both in terms of the community itself and in terms of those institutions and individuals the community hopes to serve, whether it be in projects like AIDs New Haven or ISIS refugee shelter.

So far, so potentially self-righteous. The really interesting thing about living in this intentional community, or at least living in this intentional community, is just how weird some of the things we do are. I’m going to pick two examples: the first is the way we decided to cap off our house rules, hashed out in extreme detail over the course of about a month. We decided that it was necessary to make explicit a sort of house mission statement: a summation of both what we hope to achieve and the character in which we hope to achieve it. It’s the sort of thing which might easily sound superfluous: that was certainly my initial opinion (I eventually decided that it was actually incredibly important: there are going to be times when I act in ways which are incompatible with living in community, and at those times it will be necessary for my attention to be drawn to a set of principles to remind me of the standard I signed up to).

This being a Christian community, over the course of a week members of the house wrote up Biblical passages which they felt best encapsulated the principles according to which a community should love (along with a few more secular offerings: my contribution was nicked from something my Dad has always said; that we should try and live such that we are people whom others are better for having met). We then read through each of the different contributions at house meeting, thought silently for a minute or so, then put forward a word or short phrase which had particularly resonated with us. What we were left with was a sort of poetic post-modern construct, which when read seemed the sort of thing which would serve as a perfectly adequate set of principles according to which we could try and live. This is an inherently weird way of doing things: the weirdest thing about it is that it worked.

from our Michaelmas term retreat.

The second thing I’d like to mention is the retreat we went on this weekend. The house left New Haven on Thursday to spend two nights at Camp Incarnation, a summer camp lifted straight out of Friday the 13th (I of course ended up sleeping in Room 13, less than a week before Halloween). This extended weekend presented an opportunity to recharge our batteries out in the superlatively beautiful autumnal countryside: first and foremost, though, we were there to share our ‘faith journeys’. Weird.

I was more than sceptical as we set out, not least because I didn’t see that I personally had anything much to say (my story runs thus: I woke up one morning about two and a half years ago believing in God, and that’s about it. I’ve developed my account of what belief in God actually means, but not in an fundamental way: more making sense of it in relation to the various positions I hold when it comes to various philosophical debates). In any case, I didn’t see what exactly were we likely to achieve by sitting and splurging out our stories.

My scepticism was unfounded. First up, the retreat clarified something something I’ve always believed but never completely understood: the fact that for religious people, faith cannot be divorced from the ebb and flow of life, both in the general and particular. The faith stories shared were not isolated threads of a greater life story, but rather that which made sense of all else.

Secondly, the retreat demanded a leap of faith on the part of all present: specifically, faith in those others listening. I am not going to discuss the content of any story because they were told in trust. The total, crushing honesty of every story was a wonder to behold, and it was something that was only possible in a context of total and utter trust.

This is perhaps the most striking feature of living in community: it demands complete trust and total openness. It demands that the individuals who make up the community let down the defences which protect individual safety and instead accept a terrifying vulnerability to allow understanding. The impact is huge: to tell your story, to not just one close friend but to eleven people who not two months ago were total strangers, and to find that story accepted is uplifting in a way I haven’t really found elsewhere. The same is true of the feeling that other people trust you enough to tell you their story. It’s terrifying, and exhausting, but it leaves you with a feeling not dissimilar to that of drinking a single cask single malt.

Anyway, community living is weird. It entails doing things that jump right off the rails of normal group interaction. But again, the weirdest thing about it is that the upshot of all this weirdness is not the formation of some cultish commune but the provision of the support and security we sometimes need to go out into the harsh realities of modern life and do what little we can to change those realities, even if only for a few people and even if only for a short time (though I believe that many of my housemates are currently doing permanent good, however naive that might sound). That service, whatever its worth, could not exist as it does apart from the weirdness behind it: as such, the weirdness is wonderful, and I’m very much enjoying living in a very weird community.

to read more of Ed's blog...