CGS Stories

Stories of our life at Good Shepherd.

Reflections on Recovery, Spiritual Healing and Noah

From Rev. Bill Bennett

“This is another day, O Lord.  I know not what it will bring

forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be.  If I

am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still,

help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it

patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. 

Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit

of Jesus.  Amen.”

“In the Morning,” Ministration to the Sick, THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER, page 461

 

The prayer above has long been a favorite of mine among the many prayers in THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER, but it has had particular meaning for me lately in the wake of my heart by-pass procedure, and especially the recovery period which followed it and continues through the present and for the next few weeks. The whole experience has helped me understand more deeply the matter of healing as it is known and experienced in Christian life- that is, the whole person, not just our physical selves, but our mental, emotional and spiritual selves are involved in the healing process; and further, that the occasion of physical illness may bring into more dramatic relief the spiritual and other brokenness that is hidden in the midst of our busy lives, but that must be faced and dealt with when one is compelled to lay in bed or be otherwise restricted in activity by the demands of recovery from something like a major operation and/or illness. I was not, except for a few momentary times, ever really worried about the procedure ending badly. The chances of a good outcome were 97% according to my surgeon, and I was pretty comfortable with those odds, and had great confidence in those tending to my medical needs. Further, my main concern about a less than desirable outcome had to do with the impact it would have on friends and loved ones, and on my Parish community as a whole; and secondarily, with the embarrassing fact that I had not yet made burial plans which were on file with the Church, and a few other loose ends in my “final preparations.” My greater concern had to deal more with what the balance of my life would be like following a successful procedure. I had a great deal of time to reflect on my life and that is not always a comfortable experience, but it is necessary, I think, if one is to move forward from something like this. At the same time, one thing that has emerged from this reflection is the importance of not projecting into the future, a projection that can be filled with fantasies and faulty assumptions, but to focus on the day and moment you are given, and build upon that. The Lord himself said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Take no thought for tomorrow, for the evil of the day is sufficient.” That sounds a bit grim to some, I suppose, but I think that those are  little words packed with wisdom. There is an “evil of the day” to face, and it is largely the dark, murky urges of our own hearts which, under the power of death, lead us to reject the gift of the day and the present moment God has given us, and which he is present in, in favor of some better day, some better life that we may have off in the future, somewhere, if just this or that thing or person or event or whatever will turn out the way we want it to. This is not to preclude hopes or aspirations for the future, but grounds them in an embrace of the reality of the present, and of the day we are given: “Give us this day our daily bread.” And it is to reject the power of death over our lives which insidiously seeks to assert itself through an avoidance of the present, in favor of a comfortable bondage to a faulty, nostalgic memory of the past, and fantasies about a better future, rooted in our emotional neediness and our fears, and, sometimes, in our attempts to manipulate others’ lives to meet our own perceived needs. The power of death is not experienced so much in worrying about dying as it is in anxiety about living, about life. The faith of Christ is about the radical affirmation of life, with the Resurrection of the body as its chief symbol, and the healing of body and spirit, especially in the healing miracles of the Lord, but also in every human experience of healing, is a foretaste of that resurrection event. There is one thing for sure that I have found out in this experience, and that is that I am surrounded by the most amazing friends, loved ones, family members, and parish community. God has been truly good to me in having these wonderful healing relationships. My heartfelt thanks again for all the prayers and well wishes that have accompanied and supported this healing process.

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The current state of my recovery is that I have been able to drive for about a week, am staying at my own residence unassisted, am coming into the Church office a couple of days a week for limited hours, and I expect to be working my way back into the Sunday ROTA for all services in the next few weeks. The expectation is that I should be able to do all activities I was doing prior to the surgery in eight weeks following the date of the operation, which was on March 12. My primary physicican tells me it takes about six months to be able to experience the full benefits of improved heart function as a result of the procedure.

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The tools and techniques of spiritual healing are not quite as precise and clear as those involved in physical healing, but one Lenten practice which I have taken up holds some promise, I believe, in my own life, for the rehabilitation and good health of my soul, and that is the simple practice of spending 20 minutes in silent meditation at the beginning of each day, using a word, repeated over and over, from the Christian spiritual tradition, such as “Peace,” “Mercy,” “Grace,” “Jesus” or some other word such as this to focus on as a way of gently dismissing whatever distracting thoughts come to mind as a gentle silence is sought after. I have found a helpful tool for this in a 20 minute timer which initiates the time of silence with a soft “gong” sound, and ends with three “gongs.” This can be found at http://www.prayworshipserve.com/online-prayer-timer/. This website is in support of an excellent little book titled THE RESTORATION PROJECT by Episcopal priest Christopher Martin, and has a number of other helpful resources for cultivating the practice of contemplative prayer. 

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Finally, my recovery has given me the opportunity to watch more than my share of cable news and I have been interested in the controversy that has accompanied the release of Darren Aronovsky’s film “Noah”  among some evangelicals. Aronovsky has said he is making an “unbiblical” version of Noah that is more of a “universal” story. The truth is that the Noah story is universal. Almost every early human culture, from Babylonian to Native American, has some flood narrative. This is probably not a testimony to some literal global flood event but rather because most early cultures emerged in river valleys, where periodic flooding of the surrounding area made early agriculture, and thus permanent settlement, possible. Occasionally floods of huge proportions would happen which would make it look like the entire world was flooded. (Think of an early culture living along the Tar River when Hurricane Floyd hit, whose idea of the extent of the world ended at the Nash-Edgecombe-Wilson county lines. It would seem to them that the entire world had flooded.) The biblical flood narrative was probably adapted from the Babylonian flood story in the saga “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” along with some aspects of the biblical creation stories found in the first chapter of Genesis. Of course it is given a particular meaning, in this case, reaffirming God’s covenant with all creation at the end, and establishing a new line of humanity from Noah’s lineage. An interesting interview on with Aronovsky on “Noah as Jewish Midrash” can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-raushenbush/noah-the-movie_b_5022132.html. And in another media related matter, a blogger suggests ways that the new “king” of late night TV, Jimmy Fallon, can teach the Church a few lessons from which it could profit- I recommend his comments which can be found here: http://www.thegodarticle.com/7/post/2014/03/6-things-the-church-can-learn-from-jimmy-fallon-ordainjimmyfallon.html

Peace and Blessings, Bill B.

Published: 
April 10, 2014

ASSOCIATE RECTOR’S REFLECTIONS

By The Rev. Bill Bennett

“Adoration, Formation, Transformation”

 (LEFT: Fr. Steve Rice, Rector, St. Timothy’s Church, Winston-Salem)

Fr. Steve Rice, Rector of St. Timothy’s Church in Winston-Salem, a vital and growing parish in our Diocese, shared with us, during our Wednesday evening Lenten program last night,  his experience of how a contemporary engagement with the Anglo-Catholic tradition has brought renewal and a new sense of mission and celebration to his parish Church. At the heart of their life together as a parish community are the values of “Adoration, Formation, and Transformation” which you will encounter immediately on going to their website: http://sttimothysws.org/. Fr. Steve used some audio-visual aids to show us how the Solemn High Mass is being celebrated at St. Tim’s (parts of this can be viewed on St. Tim’s website). Fr. Steve added this service as a third Sunday service in addition to their 8:00 am service and their principle service, which was previously celebrated at 10:30 am but was moved to 9:00 am, with the Solemn High service celebrated at 11:00 am. Fr. Steve noted that young adults were very much involved in this service both as communicants and as liturgical lay ministers. He spoke also about how the statistical decline in the Episcopal Church’s average Sunday attendance may in some part be related to a loss of a sense of adoration in worship, which is at the heart of the celebration of the Solemn High Mass and the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Next week, Fr. Richard Cornish Martin, Assistant at St. Timothy’s Church here in Raleigh, former Rector of “flagship” Anglo-Catholic parish St. Paul’s K Street in Washington DC, Superior of the Society of Mary (Anglican/Episcopal) and author of a Forward Movement tract on the Blessed Virgin Mary, will speak with us about the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Anglo-Catholic belief and devotion.

Download Fr. Steve's power point presentation from his Wednesday evening Lenten program.  

If you are unable to open this download, please e-mail The Rev. Bill Bennett to obtain a copy.

Published: 
March 7, 2013

Associate Rector's Reflections

Christ’s Advent Meets our Yearning

“Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us…” Collect for Third Sunday of Advent

 “Now is the time for you to wake out of sleep, for salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.” Romans 13:11

 “Advent is the season of watching and waiting for the coming of God. We recall his promise to come among us in power and great glory, and prepare for his coming in judgement at the end of all things, his coming in the child of Bethlehem in fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah and others, and his coming among us now. How shall we recognize him? Will we be caught napping like the foolish virgins? Will we be sheep or goats? Would we – will we – have the nerve to say yes when the angel comes and taps us on the shoulder, like Mary when Gabriel came to her? – Santcliffe, David (Bishop of Salsibury), THE PILGRIM PRAYER BOOK

The days of Advent, leading up to the celebration of the Nativity of our Lord at Christmas, gives us an opportunity to resist the commercialism, and to some extent, the empty sentimentalism of the secular “Christmas Season” (What used to be measured in “shopping days” – but now isn’t every day between now and Christmas a “shopping day?”) But this time of Advent can be so much more. In Advent, we can even bless, consecrate, and redeem some of the “Happy Holiday” season we find ourselves caught up in. Many of us do have gifts to buy, parties to go to, holiday meals to prepare, guests to welcome. Renouncing all these things may be for some who seek a deeper and truer experience of this holy season, but that kind of ascetical discipline has, in the experience of Christian spirituality down the ages, been the calling of the monastic, the heremetic (hermits), and the mystical few. They are bright lights, and their witness gives us a foretaste and a hope for a time and a place just over the horizon, where all things are made new. Their witness is a sign of hope which is God’s gift to all of us. Meanwhile, most folks, like I know I am, and expect most of you are, find ourselves perhaps with a more mundane calling, yet with hearts that yearn… for what we may not be quite sure. But we who gather each Sunday and at other times as God’s household, the Eucharistic Body of Christ, the Church, may find reliable signposts that guide us on a journey into the mist which is the mystery of God’s purpose with us and among us, where Life, Time, and Space are redeemed – even the Life, Time and Space of a secular, commercial Christmas. Advent, for us in the Northern Hemisphere a time of increasing darkness, brings the news that a light is breaking in, even into Christmas commercialism. Space, Time, and Life – our lives, all life – are being redeemed and made new. The child in themanger, who will bear the entire human condition, even poverty and rejection, even suffering and death, comes to us, dwells with us, even within our deepest fears and hurts, and gives us a paradoxical Good Friday to redeem all the Black Fridays. I try to keep each and every member of this blessed community of Good Shepherd in my heart day by day, but you are so in a special way during this season of Advent. I pray you will receive the gifts God has for you in this time. One small, practical way are through some special Advent devotional material which is available to you in several locations in the Church and parish life center. Please pick one or more up when you come either to Colin’s ordination on Wednesday or to Eucharist on Sunday. See also this Advent resource from Episcopal CREDO.  

Be sure to check out one of the many fine books that are on display in our Library for your Advent reading. Other Advent selections can be found on the Library shelves and listed in the purple Advent folder you'll find there.

 “We are moving into the season of Advent, and for must of us, this will mean that we are in a “waiting” mode – but waiting for what?

 …Believe that you are being given a special invitation by God to give this time to meet him. You meet God in the deepest dimension of your heart. There you are at your truest and best self. Ask for the gift of a silent heart to be able to hear God’s whisper there. Then you will catch on to what God wishes for you this Christmastide.” – SACRED SPACE: FOR ADVENT AND THE CHRISTMAS SEASON 2012-2013 “An Advent Retreat”

 

Advent Peace and Blessings, Bill Bennett

Published: 
November 29, 2012

The Rector' Ramblings...October 18, 2012

The Rev. Dr. Robert C. Sawyer

As we move toward the second half of October, I want to continue with some thoughts about how we live into the commitment that comes to us through baptism.  Last week I shared the first of three special ways we can live into that commitment that have their basis in statements made by St. Paul in the twelfth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans.  The second statement given to the Christians in Rome is, “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly…” (Romans 12: 16)

 As Christians with genuine love for one another, we are to be a welcoming community.  Those who come to us are treated as brothers and sisters in Christ.  We do not rate someone’s value by their economic standing, but by the fact that they are a child of God just as we are and by the fact there is a true sense of dignity in them.  Never are we to look down our noses at those who are less fortunate, the day worker, the migrant worker, and the homeless.  We must always be willing to reach out to them with the message of love and power that is found in the Gospel. 

For the past couple of weeks. The Rev. Dr. Colin Miller has been teaching a course to help prepare us to go beyond the doors of Good Shepherd into the community around us.  I encourage you to attend the remaining classes in Colin’s course as a way of gaining a deeper understanding of what it means to “Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty; but associate with the lowly…”

Published: 
October 18, 2012