Formation Resources: A Focused Intention

by: 
Bob Scott, Kathryn Carroll, Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones

Have you noticed how it seems as if this year, every time we come to a national or liturgical holiday, we step back and say, “Well, this one’s not like all the others”? The July 4 weekend arrives amid evidence that from healthcare to policing to employment, our nation’s stated goals of liberty and equality are not being played out. As Christians, we turn to our scriptures, tradition, and community to help us navigate the challenging times and respond in the diverse ways we feel called.

This week’s resources for all ages read our times through the scriptures. The Holy Spirit has a wonderful way of turning up when it counts, and the lectionary readings for this week bring home important truths — both hard and encouraging. Our staff is looking forward to a time of quiet, reflection, and centering, and our wish for each of you is the same. We pray that these reflections, practices, and activities may sustain your practice in the Way of Love, as we all listen, learn, and turn.

Bob Scott and the Faith Formation and Education Team
 


 


This Sunday
 

To prepare for Sunday, see this week’s readings.

 


Adult Learning and Discovery
 


Whole Community Learning at St. Paul’s Chapel

Will We Be the Right Kind of Children?

Bob Scott, Director, Faith Formation and Education

The central image of today’s gospel reading — children sitting in the marketplace, each complaining to the other: why won’t you rejoice when I rejoice, cry when I cry? — evokes for me a picture of those times when we just can’t get on board with one another, when empathy fails and we feel isolated in a crowd. I think we all know that experience and its contrast, those times of connection when we all pull toward a common cause. Take a moment to remember those times in your life. Which one fills you with energy and hope?

On this Independence Day that’s only ever commemorated independence for some, we need to look out on the streets and within our hearts to ask which kind of time this is. Will we catch fire for change, one community of all colors and backgrounds and immigration statuses, so we can take on the task of shaping a society where all people can flourish, and those who fall will be picked up and restored? If we do, I know we’ll be doing the work of the holy spirit. (Call it what you will, no need to sing spirituals except those who want to — God isn’t anxious about credit.)

If the spark fails to catch? Jesus shows one reason empathy and connection sputter out: distraction. For his generation, the leaders and the lightning rods were John and Jesus. Reliably, people found side issues to dismiss both. Oh, John, he’s weird. Doesn’t eat or drink like a normal person. Jesus, he eats and drinks with everybody. An alcoholic with no taste. Do you see what those critiques are? Distractions.

“The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work,” the writer Toni Morrison said in a speech at Portland State University in 1975. “It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

“Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds,” Jesus assures us. Look not to the complaints and cross-complaints, but to the fruits. Social media may teem with pro and con arguments about the demonstrations, but USA Today’s banner headline for June 24 was “Protests lead to wave of policing reforms.” Reforms, even if incomplete or small, vindicate the wisdom of the actions.

Jesus points not only to the problem but also to the solution, and it’s intergenerational. He contrasts those quibbling children in the marketplace with “infants” who can see what the “wise and intelligent” miss. Remember that, in the gospels, seeing and action are linked. As we age, we get very good at finding reasons to doubt, step back, temper our enthusiasm (I speak from experience; if yours is different, thank you!). The young are flammable; they can catch fire. Contrary to stereotype, they are capable of great focus and tireless determination. If you have access to it, watch the filmed version of the Broadway production of Hamilton to be reminded what a bunch of young people were able to do, despite distraction, in-group sniping, and opposition from the established powers. Leadership and followership alike in the movement we need will be drawn from all ages, and it’s critical we give the young the ear and space and trust they need.

This passage finishes with one of Jesus’s most-quoted statements, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Those words mean something new to me every time I encounter them. At this moment they speak powerfully to another thing I know by experience: Nothing feels easier or more natural or gives more energy than a challenging task that you know in your gut you are called to face, especially in the company of a community that shares the task and the passion. May we each find the sense of call that makes the heaviest burdens light.

 


Adult Practice
 


A tree casts a shadow in Trinity Churchyard

True Prayer is Vigilant, Transformative, and Leads Us From Idolatry

Dr. Kathy Bozzuti-Jones, Associate Director, Faith Formation and Education

The Sufi poet Hafiz invites: “Ask the friend for love/Ask him again/For I have found that every heart/Will get what it prays for most.” As one trained in Christian virtue ethics, I love this quote because it attests to the intimate connection between prayer, intention, and the active formation of habits through practice that support virtuous living. “You become what you do” or “You become what you pay attention to, ask for, and seek.”

A scientific axiom from neurobiology echoes this spiritual insight: “Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows.” In other words, we can induce structural changes in the brain by combining intentionality, open awareness, and focused attention in practice and be transformed (See Dr. Dan Siegel, UCLA). Where is your attention these days? What is your deepest intention? In the Gospel of John, Jesus asked the question about inner transformation in this way: “What are you looking for?”

“In tandem with praying and upholding the virtues is the arduous work of inner transformation that comes through self-knowledge that surfaces for us in prayer. Contemplation always exposes our hidden motivations in our unconscious memory of our early life or even of more recent experiences, it gives us lucid realizations of our inner states, and it grants us sobering self-knowledge,” wrote Brother Wayne Teasdale in A Monk in the World. “We realize the need to cleanse ourselves of the seeds of selfishness and negativity and to permit the unconscious to integrate with our deepest intention for God and love. This process takes time and requires that we actively participate by renewing our intention and attention. If the unconscious remains unintegrated with our spiritual lives because these seeds continue to grow into our conscious experience, then we have a divided heart, a will desiring God but other goods as well. We cannot have it both ways.” He points out that when Jesus cautioned against serving two masters, he didn’t mean we cannot desire other things, but, rather that we should order them carefully and we shouldn’t prefer them to God. How does one, then, integrate a divided heart? “To become integrated,” writes Br. Wayne, expanding on his imagery of seeds and selfishness, “we need to pull out these unconscious roots and surrender them to the higher order of divine love. When we do, the unconscious is united with the conscious and the superconscious — the Divine — and they all work together for our complete transformation.”

So, if our brains can rewire with focused attention, and if we become what we do, and if our hearts will attain what they pray for most, and if attention and intention can integrate a divided heart and lead us to a higher order of love — what can this teach us about initiating or deepening our moral commitment to racial justice and equity in our nation? What does any of this have to do with the moral demands of our times to show up for marginalized peoples amid entrenched systemic injustices? We can pray for social justice, but that can sound pretty inadequate, given all that needs to be accomplished ethically, legally, and structurally in ongoing social action to right longstanding injustice. 

But, what if we were to become transformed, if we become the justice we seek through our commitment to growth in self-awareness through prayer, as Teasdale and Rumi suggest?  Ultimately, vigilant prayerful attention can shape and integrate who we are, how we act, and how we move in the world. Unlike occasional prayers, the end of our active participation in the process of growing in prayerful self-awareness is Godliness. You can call it clarity. Call it skillfulness. Call it virtue. Enlightenment. Spiritual maturity. However you describe it, integrated people will lead the way in creating integrative solutions for whole human living. 

This means that true prayer leads us away from idolatry. To put it more concretely: “Real prayer has a vigilance that is constantly watching and deconstructing the human tendency towards idolatry,” writes Fr. John O’Donohue in Eternal Echoes. Liberation theologians have named modern day idols as the absolutization of exploitative capitalism and national security. It is no secret that these idols, like the fiction of white supremacy, are at war with the teachings of Jesus today. True prayer is necessary because it is vigilant, transformative, and leads us from idolatry to right action in love and justice. 

With grounded hearts and commitment to the hard work of attaining “sobering self-knowledge,” we can shine the light of truth on the reality of the death-dealing status quo. “We can always make a difference,” says Cornel West, “if we muster the courage to think critically, to care for others, and to sustain hope, so we can organize and mobilize with one another to bring power and pressure to bear on the prevailing status quo.”

Additional Resources

 


Children and Families Resources
 

A Generation Gap

Kathryn Carroll, Interim Program Manager, Children and Families

In what generation do you identify? Your children? 

 Gen Z
 Gen Y/Millennial
 Gen X
 Boomer
 Silent
 Greatest

The distinctions between the generations seem to be a perennial character in every society’s storytelling, in the ancient Genesis story of sons and daughters and the less-ancient Gospel this Sunday.

I’ve noticed that, for parents, the generation gap starts feeling more pronounced the minute our children enter our lives, no matter how young or old we are when that happens. At first, it’s kind of nostalgic when children are old enough for us to remember being that age. And as we age, internal and external changes widen that gap even further. We hear ourselves beginning sentences with, “When I was your age…”

Blame and shame have been traded between generations since time immemorial: today for corruption of our institutions, global warming, racism, immigration, moral decay, general bigotry and other -isms; for wars, and for who is and isn’t residing in the White House, and more. Funny thing is, I keenly remember feeling blamed for, and burdened with, all of that when I was a teen and young-adult activist rebel. I think that a lot of that blame and shame was and is due. The best response contributes to an advancement of awareness and change that improves people and societies.

All that makes me wonder where we’d be now if no generation had ever resisted “the establishment;” just as I wonder where humanity would be if not for Jesus’ rebellious message and courageous example. Presently, we see a lot of the “cancel culture” playing out in the shame games, especially online. We also see some incredible movements and communities online that are mobilizing people, hearts, and minds in ways that were only imagined in sci-fi when I was younger — indeed, as recently as when some millennials were children! It appears that the monolithic generations, global cultures, and institutions are made of flesh, blood, and soul, after all!

We all come with burdens and all yearn to free ourselves and each other of them. It’s not a zero-sum game. When we suffer and celebrate with the stranger, enemies, OUR children; we might well be one step closer to liberty, justice, and happiness for all.

Family Worship: Home Edition

See Family Worship: Home Edition to see this week’s activity for children and families.

Summer Sundays

Summer Sundays Family Worship Watch Party and The Very Best Day are on hiatus for the holiday weekend. We will resume next Sunday, July 12, at 9:15am. Please RSVP to Kathryn Carroll at KCarroll@trinitywallstreet.org.

 


Song of the Week
 

Each week, we’ll share a song of the week to help you go deeper with each Sunday’s theme. The playlist will be updated weekly, and the song of the week will sit on top.