Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Another Way of the Cross?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011 -- Week of Proper 13, Year One
George Freeman Bragg, Jr., Priest, 1940
William Edward Burghardt DuBois, Sociologist, 1962

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Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, 978)
Psalms 119:97-120 (morning)      81, 82 (evening)
2 Samuel 9:1-13
Acts 19:1-10
Mark 8:34 - 9:1

I usually read a passage like today's as an invitation to embrace suffering and sacrifice.  "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."  I don't want to compromise the traditional understanding of the cross as a call of self-denial and willing suffering service, but it strikes me this morning that there is another experience that has some similar qualities.

When we become deeply engrossed in doing something that grasps our attention and challenges our skill, it is easy sometimes to lose our sense of time and even our sense of self.  The social scientist Mike Csikszentmihalyi, who developed the concept of "flow," asks people to recall activities when time stops for us, when we find ourselves doing exactly what we want to be doing, and never want it to end?  He tells a story to illustrate.

"I visited my older half-brother in Budapest recently, Marty.  He's retired, and his hobby is minerals.  He told me that a few days before he had taken a crystal and started studying it under his powerful microscope shortly after breakfast.  A while later, he noticed that it was becoming harder to see the internal structure clearly, and he thought that a cloud must have passed in front of the sun.  He looked up and saw that the sun had set." (from Martin E. P. Seligman, Authentic Happiness, Free Press, 2002, p. 114)

There are times when we seem to disappear, our lives lost, absorbed in the moment.  Sometimes it is with another person, when we are so focused on their story or their being that we give ourselves completely over to their circumstances or need.  Sometimes it is when we are working on a task and find ourselves so challenged that the task takes us out of our self awareness.  We give ourselves over to the moment and its challenge.  Time seems to stand still.  Oddly, there is usually no experience of positive emotion when we are so absorbed.  When someone is "in the flow," there is no one there to need the experience of pleasure.  Maybe afterward, we might reflect on how satisfying or fun, or even ecstatic the activity was.

Seligman calls these moments "gratifications."  They are tasks that challenge us and require that we concentrate and use our best skills.  We become deeply involved, sometimes almost effortlessly.  We have a sense of feedback, that what we are doing is its own goal.  We become absorbed, so engaged that our sense of self as separate vanishes.  Seligman teaches a version of "The Good Life," that urges us to discover and use our personal strengths every day in the main areas of our life to do meaningful acts that bring abundant "gratifications".

Some of our teens recently returned from the Episcopal Youth Event in Minnesota.  They had a lot to tell about.  They loved being with a thousand other Episcopalian teens.  They made friends.  Worship was "awesome."  But they spent a lot of time talking about two service projects they engaged in on their return, one a Habitat project Kansas City, the other a fix-up, clean-up day at our campus ministry.  In both cases they were doing hard physical labor that demanded considerable skill and concentration.  They threw themselves into it.  They worked for hours, but only expressed exhilaration.  And, at the end, tiredness.  It was great.  It was fun.  When questioned, they said, yes, it was like time stood still.  They weren't watching the clock, marking time.  They got into the task so much that these usually self-absorbed teens became absorbed.  At the end, they felt good because they had done something meaningful that helped others.

Maybe it's not too much of a stretch to include such work as a form of taking up one's cross, losing one's life for Christ's sake and the sake of the gospel.  



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About Morning Reflections
"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 -- Click for online Daily Office
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Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 7:42 PM, Anonymous janet said...


I guess I am not reading your reflection well, because it seems to me the experiences are the same "way". Jesus was surely walking his path for other than suffering reasons, losing his life, for us, for those he called his friends, and focused intently on God's will at that moment. The suffering was just a part of it. And the Youth, their experience included embracing suffering and ing and sacrifice (an early Saturday morning, it was extremely hot). I guess I don't see that they are all that different ways, and maybe that was your point!

It is interesting that as I try to find volunteer positions and employment in care giving type work for those I serve (with severe disabilities) that many places do not want them to try because they have a caretaker, and how can they care for another when they need care themselves. And I wonder, sometimes out loud, which of us on this planet does not need both - to care for others and to be cared for as our circumstances and needs allow.


At 9:37 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Good thoughts, Janet. I think I was writing to myself, because I have an abstract anxiety (maybe sometimes resentment) toward feeling like I should sacrifice myself for others because that's the right thing to do. But that's not the way it is when it is the most natural thing in the world -- an act like Seligman says, of using our personal strengths to do something meaningful to bring abundant gratification.

Your second paragraph reminds me of people who are unwilling to receive. They rob others of the pleasurable opportunity to give.


At 8:23 PM, Anonymous janet said...

Ah OK, I think I see better now. When I've gone back and tried to analyze my pure intentions, behind an act of what some might say is acting like a doormat, there is some of each I think, some of this is the right thing to do, I can do it with God's help, even though it involves great self sacrifice (which later may lead to the resentment part, especially when it doesn't seem to bring a desired result). Hopefully, somewhere in that intent, is the desire to follow God's will into those actions, this is what God has presented to me to act on and it does feel like the most natural free-flowing act in the moment because you aren't aware of any sense of self to be self sacrificing with. As Merton states in one of his famous quotes, we can't know God's will for us perfectly, but our pure (from God, not from us) desire to act in God's will is enough. That perfect love of Christ, that holds us all so close, can relieve our anxiety a bit.

We talk about intent within the Healing Touch community. We can choose to act in the best interest, with the best of intentions for those who are receiving Healing Touch. We can leave to God to do the healing/restoring/enlightening as that special soul needs. If we did not take that step into loving action there may not be a space for God to work in others, and in us.

Peace and healing light and love to all our abstract (and very real) anxieties,

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

That's beautifully put, Janet. Transforming at the level of intention seems so critical.

Yet there is some virtue in doing the right thing even when there is not much good intention present. The begrudging good act is a good act nonetheless. Better than waiting until I have pure intentions. (If ever.) What do they say? "The perfect is often the enemy of the good."



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