THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF THE ASCENSION
NORTHWOODS, MISSOURI 63121
July 29, 2015
Dear Friends in Christ,
As a kid growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, I was fascinated by my father’s service in World War II. Like most of his generation, he was reluctant to discuss the gruesome details of combat and his participation in it. What he often shared, however, was the “wisdom” acquired in battle. Among the observations that most impressed me was his assertion that, “There are no atheists foxholes.”
To be sure, Dad didn’t originate this quote. In fact, its authorship has long been disputed. But regardless of the source, it seemed to me then (and still does now) that it captures an important dimension of the human condition. In times of extreme fear, distress and pain, virtually all of us turn to some power beyond ourselves – to “god.” For some, it may be the God made known to the world in Jesus Christ while, for others, it may be a generic god – a vague and nondescript force that takes shape only in the mind of the person crying out for help. Important in both cases, however, is the recognition that there are times when our powerlessness is brought into sharp focus and our very survival depends on something beyond our control. “There are no atheists in burning buildings.” “There are no atheists on sinking ships.” “And, there are no atheists in ICU’s.”
Our response to these and similar crises seems universal. We call upon whatever “god” we imagine to protect and deliver us from the adversity we face. Our fears may be captured in a loud scream, a simple plea or a humble request. Although these expressions manifest our common humanity, our responses say something distinct about each of us. For some, the god to whom they cry has no name, no enduring presence and power that only is imagined. That god has no ears for our pleas.
Yet for Christians, we know our God. Our God knows us. And, the power of our God is present in every aspect of creation, in the death and resurrection of his Son and in the life of the church – the very Body of Christ. This is the God to whom we come in prayer – in our daily lives, as well as in moments of terror. And, this is the God who both hears and responds to our prayers.
These past few months I’ve had a great deal of time to pray, as well as reflect on the nature of prayer and our expectations of it. Priesthood notwithstanding, I have to admit that far too often I’ve taken the privilege of prayer for granted, sometimes even dismissing it as a bother in an otherwise jam-packed day. However, Mary’s illness has scared me to the core and, as such, deepened my prayer life in ways I could never have imagined. “There are no atheists in the face of a life-threatening disease.” Nor are there casual Christians or inattentive priests!
While direct access to God through prayer is available for all the seasons of our lives, I’ve come to understand my Dad’s pointed observation. It truly is in those moments of utter powerlessness and fear that prayer comes into sharpest focus and our total dependence on God becomes real.
My expectations of prayer also have been clarified. Illnesses, break-ups and losses are experiences we share and hurt us in ways we can barely express. Invariably, we want to make them “right.” We pray that God will resolve them. And, we expect that God will answer us … in just the way we want. That’s what we do when we’re scared.
In these past weeks, however, I’ve come to treasure the counsel of St. Chrysostom at the close of both Morning and Evening Prayer: “Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us …” Regardless of our perceived needs and fears, we’re reminded that the God whom we worship and to whom we pray has a far broader (and more informed) perspective. Our prayers, in fact, are answered not necessarily with what we want, but with what truly will save us. As St. Chrysostom concludes, “granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting.”
All of our lives are filled with a unique mix of joy and pain, each providing the context for prayer. My abiding hope is that we continue to grow in our conversations with God – both when we’re in the “foxhole” and when we’re not. And, I hope we increasingly learn to listen for the voice we need, not the one we think we want.
Although in the midst of summer vacations, reunions and travel, the work of Ascension continues.
· On Sunday, August 9 at 10:00 A.M., we’ll join the members of All Saints’ Episcopal Church for worship and their Annual Picnic at Vinita Park City Park. No services will be offered at Ascension that day. Please bring a side dish if you are able.
· The Bishop’s Committee will meet in the sanctuary on Sunday, August 16 from 12:30 – 3:00 P.M. to begin our strategic planning discussion. Lunch will be provided.
Please note that the attached schedule for August does not include acolytes. This summer, our youth have been engaged in other family and school activities and, therefore, often unable to assist. To avoid confusion on Sunday mornings, we’ve decided to temporarily suspend the use of acolytes. A training program for parents and youth will be scheduled for September prior to re-instituting the acolyte ministry.
May God continue to bless you and your family with immeasurable grace.