The Kaleidoscope of God’s Reflections

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, September 20, 2020

By: Sam Bruce

I am not a very reflective person. I don’t fret about what could have been, nor do I attribute some mystical insight on looking back. Events in my past or in my current vision are points in time. Many I remember as inspirational, and a few have required repentance; but, I can’t go back and change what was said or what was done. I don’t like reflecting on the past because it can’t be changed. But, I can learn from it and address what or who I am in the future. Unfortunately, I can’t know what will happen in the future or generally change it; rarely is a redo possible. I think the best thing to do is to seize the moment!

I’d like to be a bit more literal on the idea of reflection. Do you remember the stories of Echo and Narcissus? Echo is cursed to only repeat whatever she last heard. She becomes frustrated and saddened in her fruitless love for Narcissus. Overwhelmed with self-pity and longing, she hides in a cave and withers away. Narcissus, after seeing his reflection, is compelled to stay there for the rest of his life until he starves and dies. In the end, Narcissus is transformed into a flower representing beauty without vanity. The moral is that excessive pride, self-love, and vanity lead to bad things. This is not to say that a reflection is vain or prideful. The danger lies in getting stuck in the reflection. This can lead to paralysis as it did for Narcissus.

In Western religions we tend to reflect on the need for forgiveness; we are forgiven when we reflect on and accept God’s grace. In Eastern philosophies we are taught to see nothing in the reflection; in this nothingness is everything. In both Eastern and Western philosophies we reflect on this “everything” as Love, Compassion, Empathy, and Self-Forgiveness. God is reflected in everything: the snake, squirrel, bird, stone, water, snow, wind, child; a cool night, a hot day, a joyful encounter, a sad goodbye, the stars in the heavens; you, and yes, me. Unlike Narcissus, I am able to move on. But what do I see when I look at my reflection? Is that me or is that God; is it nothing or is it everything?

When we see our reflection in the mirror, what do we see? Pride, vanity, envy, self-love, and even jealousy? Do we get stuck in our reflections, or do we see God in them? Honestly, the question is not complicated. In some ways it’s the simplest question of all. If we see God in everything, as I do, then our reflections should be filled with Love, Compassion, Empathy, and Self-Forgiveness—the Narcissus flower. When you look into a mirror, I hope that’s what you see. If so, then when I look at you and you look at me, we are looking at the same thing. It is this reflection that is nothingness and every-thingness. To see God in everything is not difficult at all. Look around you at the kaleidoscope of God’s reflections!

Lord, may the words that we hear be your words.

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, September 13, 2020

By: David May

Lord, may the words that we hear be your words.

Many of us will recognize these words as the prayer Bob Hetherington prayed from the pulpit before preaching on Sunday mornings. This simple prayer called us to listen for God through the words of the sermon we were about to hear.

Our Vestry and parish leadership are right in the middle of an amazing initiative in our parish where we are seeking God together and listening for God’s words through each other’s words. Beginning this past week, the Vestry began hosting 17 Zoom call meetings with all the ministry groups and committees of the parish. It is a huge and, I think, important undertaking. After such a long time away from each other – and likely a long time still to go – the Vestry has set out to engage with our congregation ministry by ministry.

For these meetings, members of each ministry group or committee are being asked to consider two questions and share their thoughts. The questions are: What is COVID-19 teaching you/us? and, What do you want to do about that? The hope with these questions is that in this extraordinary time we are living in, we are being pressed to clarify what matters most, what our core values really are, and how those insights will lead us to live our lives especially as followers of Jesus Christ. What kind of a Church is God calling us to be now?

As I write this, we have already held our first five meetings. It has been so good just to see one another and to talk with one another. One of the things that COVID-19 is teaching me is that I am just terrible at being a person on my own! God has made us to need one another. The conversations have been deep and funny and serious and moving. And in all of that, we are listening for God and how God is moving in our lives.

My conviction and hope is that when these 17 meetings are complete, we will see that God has been using these conversations to shape a vision of hope for us as we go forward into this strange, new world.

Later this month, we want to expand these conversations to our whole congregation. We are planning for three or four Zoom Webinars. You will be able to sign up for the one most convenient for you and we’ll be glad to give you plenty of instructions on how to do this! These webinars will include a sort of ‘state of the parish’ report from the Vestry, a report on the themes that have emerged from these 17 Zoom call meetings, and a time to receive questions or comments. The meeting will conclude with the vision that we have heard from God to go forward together with hope—always hope. And the prayer we began with, ‘Lord, may the words that we hear be your words,’ will give way to a new prayer: ‘Lord, may the work that we do be your work’.

Who do You Say that I am?

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, September 6, 2020

By: Cabell Jones

Note: This reflection was originally shared as part of the 10 a.m. Outdoor Worship Service on Sunday, August 23.

When David asked if I would offer a reflection for the outdoor service it was one of those yes/no moments. Yes, it would be an honor to offer a reflection; I’m flattered that he asked me. No, it means I have to stand up in front of fifty people and speak words that I have written. I said yes because I could feel a nudge from God saying “You need to do this.” God has a habit of pushing me out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t sure what I would say, but I trusted that God would show me the way so here I am.

As I read today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 16:13-20, two things jumped out at me. First, Peter is the rock – the foundation of the church. The second is Jesus’s question, “Who do you say that I am?”

Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” His next question is more personal—“But who do you say that I am?” Peter’s immediate response is, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Jesus blesses Peter and goes on to say that Peter is the “rock” on which he will build his church. Peter must feel good at this moment. He understands who Jesus is and is not afraid to speak this truth. It is hard to imagine at this moment that Peter will deny Jesus three times. But, as we know, that is exactly what Peter does. Peter, the rock, the foundation of the church, denies even knowing Jesus. How can that be? How can this man be the foundation of the church?

Peter does become the foundation of the church in spite of or maybe because of his denials. This gives me hope, because Jesus is willing to forgive Peter. Jesus understands that we make mistakes. He does not judge us or hold our mistakes against us. Jesus offers us love and mercy. And that is good news.

I find it interesting that Jesus is asking the disciples these questions. He seems to be instructing the disciples, but he is asking questions instead of explaining or giving them the answer. If I’m honest, I wish God would just give me the answer. Clear, straightforward directions, please. But like I said, God has a habit of pushing me out of my comfort zone.

The question I kept hearing this week was “Who do you say that I am?” And this time it was not directed at the disciples but at me. Who do you say that I am? I know in my head that Jesus is the Messiah. I feel confident saying, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth; And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord.” But does my life reflect this truth? Have I accepted Jesus into my heart and soul? Am I willing to become what God calls me to be even if it’s something I never could have imagined?

Life as a School

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, August 30, 2020

By: Nell Cobb

As summer wanes and autumn descends, our collective eyes are on our schools: our children and their teachers. We all have had teachers who have changed the direction of our lives. Mainly, they have loved us through the challenges of learning at whatever grade and level. We never forget the influence of these special teachers.

In 1995, I was hospitalized for 37 days in a large teaching hospital in Vienna, Austria. My husband and I were on a 3-year assignment for an American Fortune 500 company in the Czech Republic. It was mid-June when I was struck by a mysterious illness which took us to one of the largest hospitals in Europe. After many days and numerous tests, the diagnosis remained elusive. I was in a fight. I soon realized that I needed to garner all of my inner resources to assist my doctors. Wimbledon was on television, and I remember watching Sampras polish off Becker in the men’s finals. The quiet, calm and gentlemanly way that Sampras won was impressive. I gained resolve from his win, his battle on Centre Court.

With a legal pad in hand, I started keeping a daily log: asking questions of my doctors each day, silently praying for them. From my experience, a teacher is always more interested in the student who is actively engaged in learning, showing interest. Besides, this exercise became integral to my attempt to understand and play a role in the outcome. As Bob Hetherington would say, I was attempting to “Lean In!”

Since Austria is predominately a Roman Catholic country, a crucifix hung over my hospital door. I had a daily reminder of Christ who suffered and died on the Cross. That reminder put my life in perspective. I was keenly aware that I was fortunate despite my present circumstances, in both large and small ways. I had friends and family praying for me and, no doubt, strangers. I felt the presence of those prayers. I was in one of the best hospitals in Europe, and I had some of the best doctors and nurses. Gradually, gratitude for each new day enveloped and surrounded me. I felt the presence of God.

Reflecting back, I call that period of time my Summer School in Vienna. I would say that we (as a collective body) have all been experiencing a sort of New School since mid-March with the sudden onset of COVID-19. We are learning new ways of living our daily lives in the world. We look to others, to our dear church, St. Mary’s, and ultimately to God our Father, Jesus our Lord and Savior and the Holy Spirit who is our Advocate and Teacher. We never stop learning, but I know that we have the best Teacher who loves us and is here to help us.

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” – John 14:26

Stumbling Through the Dark and Learning Another Way

Weekly Reflection, Sunday, August 23, 2020

By: Sydna Street

The year 2020 began with such promise – a new year, a new decade – and it just had a nice ring to it. If there’s a line between the two 20s, then 2020 becomes 20/20 which is a measure of perfect vision. I remember that measure well because as a child in grade school, my eyesight had failed to be measured as perfect. Stumbling, then, was not new to me. Stumbling now is both new and different but it has sparked a memory that has come back to me many times this summer – a memory that I have come to cherish.

Not long after my husband, Bill, and I moved to Goochland County, we built a pond on our farm. We used to swim in that pond all summer, often lingering at the end of the day to watch the sunset; and often we found ourselves needing to find our way home in the dark. Although I used a flashlight, it did little to illumine our path causing me to stumble along the way to catch hold of Bill’s arm. Then he taught me another way – what he called the “Indian style” of seeing in the dark. “Turn off your flashlight, Sydna, and just stay quiet and wait. Give your eyes time to adjust.” Gradually it would happen. The path would become bathed in just enough light to see our way home through the woods.

That was many summers ago. In this summer of 2020, I awake every day to a dusk of unknowing. Maybe you’ve experienced this, too. My normal patterns of moving through the day don’t work anymore. Once again I’m stumbling for something – something to hold on to that’s familiar. That’s when the memory of walking in the dark through those woods comes back to me and I hear Bill’s words of encouragement to become quiet – to wait and let myself adjust to a new way of seeing, for another way of knowing. St. Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:14 comes to mind: “May the eyes of your heart be enlightened, may you know the hope to which he has called you…”.

In her book Mystical Hope, Episcopal priest, Cynthia Bourgeault, suggests the path of the eyes of the heart is like dropping your mind into your heart. “If you can just turn off your ordinary way of thinking for awhile, another reality will take shape,” she wrote. She explains this way of knowing with the metaphor “sailing in the fog” which is a way of knowing that she learned well while sailing off the coast of Maine. It’s not unlike what Bill taught me – get quiet and let another part of yourself go to work.

Father Thomas Keaton calls it “taking a vacation from yourself…detaching yourself from thinking long enough to begin to trust a deeper something inside…”. AA calls it “Letting go and letting God.”

Whatever way it’s called, it’s a bit scary and it takes some practice. But why not practice? Why not take a vacation from yourself these days? I do! I let go and let St. Paul’s prayer fill the eyes of my heart with his beautiful image of hope to which we have all been called.

“I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the power to comprehend with all God’s saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know this love which surpasses knowledge……that you may be filled with all fullness of God .” – Ephesians 3:17-19