The Ambiguity of Saints
Friday, August 31, 2007 -- Week of Proper 16
(Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, 651)
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.
Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html
Audio Podcasts of today's "Morning Reflection" and those from the past week are available from http://www.stpaulsfay.org/id244.html (go to St. Paul's Home Page www.stpaulsfay.org and click "Morning Reflection podcast")
Today's Readings for the Daily Office (p. 980)
Psalms 16, 17 (morning) 22 (evening)
1 Kings 5:3 - 6:1, 7
I am glad that we are learning more about the spiritual and emotional struggles of Mother Teresa. Her life and ministry were truly inspirational and exemplary. She also lived with the kind of doubt and darkness that is common to all humanity and consistent with what we know of other saintly lives. Living consciously and faithfully with our dark side is critical to our mental and spiritual health. It is good to know that our heroes struggle with some of the same weaknesses that we might experience within our own lives. Faithful life and work involves maintaining hope and idealism in the face of human failure and weakness.
During the past three days we've read from the epic of 1 Kings about the reign of Solomon. His legacy is a touchstone of wisdom and power. Yet within this story about the building of the Temple, there is reference to forced labor, a form of slavery. Although Solomon expanded his nation's boundary and strength to historic proportions, in many ways he was much like any other Oriental tyrant. He was deeply resented, and some of the conflicts that led to the division of the kingdom soon after his death were rooted in animosity toward his abusive policies. King Solomon's heritage is a mixed one -- wise, powerful, tyrannical.
The latter part of the book of Acts narrates the travels of Paul in the form of a classic hero's epic. He guides a foundering ship's crew to safety and today shakes off a viper's bite. Thankfully we have many of his personal letters, so we know more about his colorful and at time ambiguous life. He is a hero, but at times he has an anger problem. He may be depressive. And many have speculated about the "thorn in the flesh" that troubled him chronically.
Today we begin the story of Peter's promise of faithfulness and his triple betrayal. We learn that the disciples cannot stay awake during Jesus' prayerful struggle. Jesus is "distressed and agitated... deeply grieved, even to death." He asks to escape the forthcoming ordeal. He speaks for all of us saying, "the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."
I recently read an essay about some of the factors that influenced the disillusion of several movements of the 1960's and '70's. The struggle for racial equality and gender equality, the peace movement and anti-materialism movements of those days were strongly inspired by values of love and equality and a hopeful vision of a better and more united world. Millions were motivated by great idealism in the pursuit of these hopes. According to the essay, one of the weakness within these movements was a failure to incorporate the recognition of human sin and weakness within the idealism of those groups. When people acted like people -- selfish or power dominated -- many threw up their hands in withdrawal, giving up their hopes in fits of recriminations.
It is one of the strengths of the Church that ours is a heritage and theology that recognizes the ambiguity, fallenness, and weakness of our institutions, heroes and people. We have a process for self-examination, prayer, confession, forgiveness and restitution. In fact, our Church is founded on the "rock" of Peter, the apostle who could not live up to his own expectations. At the critical time of trial, he denied Jesus three times. He was restored and became the founding witness to the resurrection. Thank God we know, saints are human. As the old hymn goes, "...for the saints of God are just folk like men, and I mean to be one too."
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