St. Brendan's congregation is an active participant in the life of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church. Our mission is the realization of fullness of life through: Worship of God Service to the world Active concern for each other Education to expand the mind and spirit.
As we said Sunday, “Pittsburgh wakes this morning a new city--changed forever. God, however, has not changed!” The first part above seems undeniable and very real to most of us; the second part may feel a bit “iffy” though. Some may be thinking, “I wonder how God can let this happen.” Some might simply question whether God cares or exists. Others tend to become more reliant on God at times like this. Still others remain neutral at best. The first thing I’d like to say is that, wherever you are, God can handle it. It's OK. Faith ebbs and flows. This is why community is so important. There is always someone up when we are down, and there are others taking action when we seem unable to do so. We get by with a “little help from our friends.” It’s important during these times to remind each other that light and darkness have coexisted for centuries.
I attended a meeting early Tuesday morning. As three of us were reflecting on these events, one of the group reminded us that from all time “light and darkness coexisted.” This is nothing new and we made it through. Another went further and observed that when the two do interact, they do not interact equally. When you are in the light, you might notice darkness but you quickly lose track of it. It takes conscious effort to stay focused on it because there is always a nicer thing that is lit up waiting to grab our attention. On the other hand, when we are in darkness even the slightest ray of light makes a supreme, lasting difference. Ever experienced how the slightest break in your window shade in the morning makes a dot of light so huge that continued sleep becomes next to impossible?
Might this notion be a healthy way to navigate the confusion we are now experiencing? I have seen people really reaching out (signs of light). I’ve gotten more calls, texts and emails around the events of last Saturday than around any other issue to date. I have also seen you all talking with each other about this anti-semitic attack and the aftershock. (More light!) In the Episcopal Church, we often hear this sentence repeated: “As long as we are talking to each other, things will be well.” So keep talking, keep sharing, and keep letting others know how you are seeing things when you are going to marches and attending memorial services. Let us know what God is putting on your heart and what you’re doing about it. Invite others into what you’re doing.
A piece of sage advice was given to me years ago when things were tumultuous in my life: “Don’t wait to think your way into new action; Act your way into new thinking.” A huge act of darkness came our way last Saturday. It wants to envelope us. Your reaching out and talking, your presence at rallies and memorials, your donations to help, your calls to Jewish acquaintances, friends, relatives just to let them know you are thinking about them, and your intentional attempts to better understand organizations like HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society) are all dots of light that dispel darkness and hate.
(Pittsburghers gather outside the Sixth Presbyterian Church for a vigil on Saturday, 10/27/2018).
Know that St. Brendan’s has a team of clergy listeners who love St. Brendan’s and are eager to be present to you. In addition to me, the Reverends Moni McIntyre, Rodge Wood, and Bill Pugliese are all available if you need to talk to someone. You don’t have to have major issues to contact one of us. Please consider us as among those with whom you get by with “little help from your friends.”
A number of years ago I was having a stimulating conversation with a psychiatrist friend. We were talking about mental health in general, talking shop sort of speak. He made an amazing comment during our conversation that has become the foundation of how I think about mental health and mental health disorders.
In his comments my friend stated that he could take all the mental health disorders contained the DSM V (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Vol 5) and place them immediately into two groups. One group is about the past, e.g. Depression, PTSD, etc. The other group is about the future, e.g. Anxiety and Paranoia, etc. He then offered his definition of mental health as the ability to stay emotionally in the present. What an insight!
In 1997 the spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle in his work The Power of the Now has based his whole spirituality on this notion, the power of the present moment. Tolle continues his thoughts in his second work, The New Earth. Mr. Tolle offers this inspiring thought: "Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally."
Over the last twenty-eight years in my clinical practice I have experienced the blessing of professionally counseling teens, young adults, and older adults, both individually and as couples. Time and time again I see my clients’ bondage of being stuck in the past and/or future. Part of my work with them is to lead them to develop the skills of attentiveness, self-awareness, and mindfulness. Most of our psychic pain comes from our ego. I once heard ego defined as an acronym: Easing God Out. How true this is. Many of our problems large and small seem to be rooted in our ego and our egoic attitude toward self, others, and nature.
What relief I see arising in my clients’ lives when they take the risk and allow themselves to be in the present. They experience a kind of empowerment and confidence. On the other hand some struggle with letting go of the past and future and insist that they need to plan. This is true. We all need to plan. However, living in the present as a mentally healthy person does not have to interfere with our need to plan. Planning a plan and not an outcome seems to be key. A plan is projected course of action with an end point. All good plans need to be open to change because of unknown or unforeseen factors. And so we adjust. One the other hand one who plans an outcome has attached to the fulfillment of the plan one’s own emotional serenity. This attitude can lead to putting all our “emotional eggs” in the basket called future. This often leads us to create and maintain unrealistic expectations of self and others which can be the foundation of self-destructive behaviors.
Some of you may be wondering what the connection of living emotionally in the present has with our faith as Christians. Well, to me there is a connection. In Exodus 3:14 when Moses went up the mountain he met Yahweh. And when he asked God what he is to say to the Israelites when they ask who sent him. God responded with “I Am Who Am.” Isn’t that presence? God’s identify seems to be so intricately enveloped in the present. In my work when I help others to stay focused in the present, I might well be helping them position themselves to meet the Divine. Now that prospect gets me out of bed in the morning to meet the day and to get to work advancing the Kingdom.
(Image: Moses and the burning bush. Loca sancta icon from the 12th or 13th century.)
One final thought about mental health awareness. It might be helpful to frame mental health as mental health hygiene. We practice dental hygiene, sleep hygiene and personal hygiene. Why not practice mental health hygiene? This hygiene requires that I daily practice awareness of myself and my emotions. It is important to find someone you trust and share your feelings with him or her. Mental health hygiene requires that I practice attentiveness to my surroundings, my friends, my family, and my fellow parishioners. And in doing this we will be more fully focused on the present and in that moment touch and be touched by the grace of our ever present God. I wish you good mental health.
Bill Dorn is a licensed professional counselor and a certified advanced drug and alcohol counselor who holds a Master of Divinity degree. Bill maintains two offices as part of Isaly Counseling Associates in the North Hills on McKnight Road and in Carnegie. If you are interested in his services you may call Bill directly at 412-853-8487. More information about Bill is available at www.isalyca.com.
It feels like Summer is starting to come to an end. Labor Day is past, schools have started back, and we even had a very brief taste of cooler weather to come.
Even though I don’t get a summer break (now that I am no longer in school and since I don’t have any kids in school), I find that the pace of my summer still tends to differ from the rest of the year. I work at a non-profit in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood (where there are several universities) and things slow down during the summer when all the students are gone and many people are on vacation. But now the students are back, the parking is once again horrendous, and I find myself looking to reset from my summer schedule and get back into my routine.
At St. Brendan’s, we too are getting back into our regular routine. It is a joke that Episcopalians don’t come to church during the summer. And, I must admit, I only made it once in July and twice in August. So for me, and for lots of folks, fall means getting back into the routine of going to church. St. Brendan’s still has a lot going on in the summers, but often to a slightly different rhythm. Now the choir is back, Sunday School has started, and this Sunday, September 23, is our first children’s liturgy of the fall and our annual ministry fair. (During the ministry fair, we showcase many of the ministries going on at St. Brendan’s so everyone has a chance to see, and get involved in, all of the ministries going on!)
(St. Brendan's children singing a song during a children's liturgy)
There are several reasons I try to make going to church a part of my Sunday routine. First, when I make going to church a habit, I find it is much easier to get up on Sunday morning than if I only go once in a while. It is easy to slip into the mindset of “Well, I didn’t go last week, what is one more week…” or “I have lots to get done today; I just don’t have time.” But if church is part of my Sunday routine, I find I am less likely to come up with excuses not to go. Like any habit—be it going to the gym, watching less TV, or attending church—once you commit to making it a regular part of your life, it gets easier.
Second, when I spend less of my mental energy just getting myself to church, it is much easier for me to find a few moments for mediation and spiritual reflection at church. During my busy schedule, having this time to reflect really helps me reset and prepare for the next week. The Rev. Jennifer Andrews-Weckerly shares a similar sentiment in her blog post, “Finding Grace in the Routine…” She writes, “When we fall out of the routine of prayer, we find connecting with God more difficult. When we fall out of the habit of going to church, we find our weekends are missing something valuable. When we fall out of the pattern of regular learning and serving, we find our relationship with God is not as deep as [we] might like.”
Ever since I was a child, I have thrived on routine. You might say I found that routine kept me rooted. At my request, my mother even wrote out daily schedules for me on snow days and during summer vacation when I was young. Though I have learned to be (somewhat) more flexible in adulthood, I generally find that having a routine helps me focus my day. Not surprisingly, that is also one of the things I enjoy about the Episcopal liturgy.
I have heard Episcopal liturgy, with its repetitive structure, critiqued as “rote.” Some say that reading the same prayers and responses every Sunday doesn’t leave room for spontaneous, heartfelt emotions. I would disagree. I find that, in part because of its repetitive structure, the Episcopal liturgy provides a rich foundation for personal prayer and reflection. For me the liturgy is more rooted than rote.
(St. Brendan's adult choir)
In her memoir Girl Meets God, Author and theologian, Lauren Winner, explains why she chose the Episcopal Church. She describes Episcopal worship thus: [the]
“liturgy is dull, and habitual, and rote, and you memorize it, and don’t think about what you are saying, and it is, regardless, the most important thing on the planet. It is the place you start, and the place you come back to”
(my emphasis). She also writes: “[An]other familiar thing [from her Jewish past], when I first walked into an Episcopal church, was the prayer book, the habit of fixed-hour prayer, the understanding that you were saying more or less the same liturgy as Anglicans around the world, that you would say the same prayers every morning, every evening, over and over and over, till you knew them by heart, and long after that, till they were rote and boring, comfortable as your best friend’s kitchen and familiar as flapjacks.”
Now, I disagree with Winner on the dullness of Episcopal liturgy, but the part of her experience that resonates with me is the centering and focusing effect of the repetitive worship and the foundation it builds for spiritual reflection. I find that as I repeat prayers I have known by heart since I was a child, I am better able to focus on their meaning. And, as my life and the world around me change, I continue to come to new understandings. Just as my life is strengthened by routine, so my faith is strengthened by saying prayers, singing music, and participating in liturgies that connect us across time and place.
I enjoy vacations and holidays as much as anyone—especially now that I don’t get a three month break during the summer! But I am also content in returning to my routine, to the habit of going to church, the habit of prayer.
I am centered and renewed by coming to church to pray this prayer, then to move out into the world and return to church to pray this prayer again the next week:
Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP, pg. 11)
Grace and peace,
A member of St. Brendan's since 2014, I enjoy being a part of this welcoming and giving community of faith. However, I am not a theologian, biblical scholar, or official spokesperson for The Episcopal Church. If you read anything on this blog that is inaccurate or contrary to the teachings of The Episcopal Church, please consider it my error and let me know! If you have questions, comments, or ideas for future blog posts, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.