Tuesday, May 24, 2016



Fr. Dale Matson

[Note: I was invited to give an address on Wellness to the San Joaquin Counselor’s association on Wednesday. I thought it would be useful to put it on “Soundings” too.]
I would like to begin by thanking you folks for inviting me to share with you today. I came to Fresno 24 years ago. My mentor Bob Wilson was younger then at age 65 than I am now and was head of the School Counseling School Psychology programs at Fresno Pacific University. It was called Fresno Pacific College then. He died at age 71 and that is how old I am now. This talk begins with a looking back of sorts for me.

I am also a former member of the San Joaquin Counselors' Association and attended my first meeting in the fall of 1992 held at Duncan Gardens here in Fresno. Bob Wilson, who would later receive the McDaniel Award as outstanding California Counselor, introduced me to many of the counselors. I also met Diane Talbot at that meeting. She was a deserving recipient of the McDaniel Award also. At that time she was a counselor at Tranquility High School. I would later recommend her as Bob’s replacement as head of counseling at Fresno Pacific when he retired. She obtained her doctorate, held that position and later become my department head when I stepped down. She retired this year from Fresno Pacific as director of Counseling and School Psychology. I am so proud of Bob and Diane and the programs at FPU have prospered under their wonderful guidance. It was a joy to share many years' worth of conversations and lunches with both Diane and Bob.

With that said, it brings me to the topic at hand, “Wellness”. When I attended my first meeting in 1992, it was sadly evident that many of the counselors were burned out. Some told me candidly that it was all they could do just to make it through another school day. They were stressed and stretched beyond their ability to cope.

I left that meeting wondering why Bob at age 65 had more enthusiasm for helping others and more fire in his belly for the profession of counseling than many of these young counselors. I wondered how the students they worked with could be helped if their own issues distracted the counselors themselves. 

Additionally, we were preparing graduate counselors and school psychologists at a Christian university. What could and should be different about our training approach than other preparation programs? How could we train our students that would make them more resilient to the job stresses they would be immersed in once they became employed? The California Commission on Credentialing had standards we had to meet for our programs to be accredited. Could we include a “Wellness” component into our classes that would help the students become more resilient and robust themselves? We set out to do just that using Bob himself as the incarnation of what it means to be a healthy individual. Bob was one of the most resilient individuals I have ever met and he had beaten back cancer for the last 12 years.

Bob and I both discussed this situation and realized that the most important treatment variable in counseling was not treatment technique. Research had demonstrated that all forms of treatment like behavioral, cognitive, psychodynamic and family systems all had about the same amount of treatment efficacy. In other words, they all worked about the same. The bottom line was counseling was better than no counseling.

Our second conclusion was that if the chief treatment variable was not technique then it must be the individual counselor. The wellness of the individual counselor was the chief treatment variable. How could we help the counselor develop behaviors that would model self-nurturing not self-destruction?

Bob himself was involved in his Roman Catholic Church and was a man of deep faith. He had come to a place where he accepted God’s will totally. For Bob, each day was truly a gift. He was also a strong advocate of Logotherapy. Victor Frankel wrote the book “Man’s Search For Meaning” http://www.amazon.com/Mans-Search-Meaning-Viktor-Frankl/dp/080701429X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464121082&sr=1-1&keywords=Man%E2%80%99s+Search+For+Meaning

And it became the platform for Bob’s use of the Socratic method and helping others find meaning in their life. The main principles of Logotherapy are:
•Life has meaning under all circumstances, even the most miserable ones.
•Our main motivation for living is our will to find meaning in life.
•We have freedom to find meaning in what we do, and what we experience, or at least in the stand we take when faced with a situation of unchangeable suffering.

While Bob never said these verses from Scripture to me, I think they best typify his counseling and his life. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34b) When Bob interacted with others, they always discovered the best parts of themselves. There were good things they may never have seen before.

Wellness is not just taking on a hopeful and positive attitude about self and others. It is also walking the walk with behaviors that enrich life including self-discipline and a regulated life. When I see Diane, I often ask her if she is still working out at the fitness center in the morning and her reply is always in the affirmative. Bob walked 5 miles every morning using hand weights.

Unlike Bob, I am a prodigal who spent about 20 years of my early adult life killing myself on the installment plan with cigarettes and alcohol. Christ rescued me from an unproductive and self-destructive life and running the good race has remained my objective. I have led a disciplined life because at mid life I chose with God’s help, life not death. God is a God of life.

Every morning for the last 25 years, I have arisen at 4am. I begin by journaling the previous days activities. This has proven invaluable when reconstructing events, writing books and wrestling with personal issues over the years. Sharon, my wife has agreed to respect the privacy of these journals and burn them when I die. When I travel, including backpacking, I have a smaller travel journal that I take with me. I tear the pages out when I get home and put them in my regular journal. I also use a daily devotional and this year I am using a daily devotional I published last October. http://www.amazon.com/Daily-Devotional-Common-Morning-Lectionary/dp/1518731716/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1464123558&sr=8-1&keywords=daily+devotional+dale+matson
It was a blessing to write it in Lectio Divina format. The format is a verse or verses from Scripture, a reflection on the verse(s) followed by a prayer.  Now I can read my own devotional after reading devotionals from the church fathers like St. Augustine for many years.Every morning I check my e-mail and check the news on the Internet including responses to the two blogs I moderate.

I run, swim or bike every morning. I heard it said once that sweat comes from places a shower never reaches! I also train with weights three times a week. Recently the research has indicated that weightlifting is not only good for maintaining upper body strength and cardiovascular health. It is also good for bone density and reduces the risk of dementia.

Sharon and I also walk our two Airedales together every morning. Although our first Airedale Brown has passed on, we have walked our dogs for 20 years together. Keeping in touch with your spouse is a way of loving them.

What else is important to personal wellness? Attending a religious service on a regular basis helps one deal with life on a spiritual level. Attending services is not only an exercise in faith, hope and love; it is basic Wellness. I would be willing to bet Bill W. who was a cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous based the 12 steps on the church liturgy. In the liturgy, we have confession, forgiveness, absolution and reconciliation and the promise of amendment of life. We are made well again.

Over the years I have also found that the song by Barbara Streisand, “People” sums our need for others quite well.

“People who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world,
We're children, needing other children
And yet letting our grown-up pride
Hide all the need inside,
Acting more like children
Than children.”

Human relationships form a psychological safety net and are the bedrock of Wellness. It is important to initiate and cultivate friendships. I have one friend Mark Allyn that I have known and remained in touch with for over 65 years. I have a group of friends that has met for over 20 years every Thursday morning for coffee and a bicycle ride. I am usually the one who initiates, who calls, who writes. Why not? If I didn’t the relationships might perish from neglect. Most people don’t initiate. Get over it.

I include family in this too. I can still remember meals at my parents' home when I was a child. My grandparents would be there along with my siblings and parents. We continue that tradition today and Sharon is very intentional and tenacious about making these events happen.

I read books also and many of the classics are available through Amazon at little or no cost as used books or via Kindle. In addition to Man's Search For Meaning, I would recommend Spiritual Passages: The Psychology Of Spiritual Development by the late Benedict Groeschel. http://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Passages-Psychology-Development/dp/0824506286/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464120788&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Psychology+Of+Spiritual+Development

The role of the Counselor is like the role of the Holy Spirit who is also referred to as “The Counselor”, “The Advocate”, and “The Paraclete”. The counselor is sometimes a bruised individual from a dysfunctional family. The counselor cannot help someone else find peace until the counselor has rewritten his or her own self-destructive life script. However God uses the broken people for their compassion. As St. Paul States in 2nd Corinthians. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (1:3-5)

My trainer, Fran Culbertson from the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater once told me, “A good counselor listens with his third ear.” How different is this in reality to the Old Testament passage from 1st Kings? “And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12 KJV). The NIV version states, “The gentle whisper”. Are you listening for the gentle whisper in your counseling? Are you listening for the gentle whisper in your life?



Thursday, May 19, 2016

Bishop’s Note: May 19, 2016 – Truth ⬥ Conviction ⬥ Adoption

Bishop Eric Menees

Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of Pentecost, one of the major feasts of the Church. Just as we celebrate Christ’s incarnation on Christmas, so too we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church.

In John chapter 14, Jesus promised: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17 ESV)

Jesus promises to send the Helper - the “parakletos” (παράκλητος) who is Truth, brings Conviction, and invites Adoption! The Holy Spirit is the essence Truth and helps us to discern the Truth, which originates from God and resides in God, as opposed to the Lie, which originates from Satan - the father of all lies! It is the Holy Spirit that gives us insight into, literally “inspiration.” When we come to that place of simply knowing the truth in a situation - deep in the depth of our souls - that is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

But, equally, Conviction is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Here I mean that sense that comes from deep within that says, “Oh man, I messed up.” Conviction leads to a sense of sorrow and regret. Conviction also leads to a desire both to take responsibility for our actions AND to be reconciled.

While the world tells us that feelings of guilt are bad, as Christians we say, “No, we should feel guilty when we are guilty - we should feel shame when we’ve acted in shameful ways.” Quite simply, would you want your child who steals from your purse or wallet not to feel guilty for his actions? Of course not! At its very worst, the lack of feelings of guilt and shame is called being sociopathic. I am not saying that ALL FEELINGS OF GUILT AND SHAME are good or appropriate - Satan can manipulate these as well. When the Holy Spirit convicts us, it is a healthy guilt and a healthy desire to make things right by taking responsibility for our lives and seeking reconciliation! And so, we thank God for the Conviction brought through His Holy Spirit, and the reconciliation and amendment of life that occurs as a result!

The Holy Spirit also brings with Him a spirit of adoption: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13 ESV) It is God the Holy Spirit that makes us a “new creation” and allows us to be “born again.”

Throughout this Season of Pentecost, we would do well to ponder on God the Holy Spirit, who is Truth, brings Conviction, and invites Adoption!

I pray you all a very blessed week!

Catechism Questions: 286-288

286. What is the Fourth Commandment?

The Fourth Commandment is: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

287. What does it mean to keep the Sabbath day holy?

“Sabbath” is from the Hebrew shavath, which means “rest.” God commanded Israel to set apart each seventh day following six days of work for rest and worship. (Exodus 19:8-11)

288. Why should you rest on the Sabbath?
I rest, as Israel was to rest, because God rested on the seventh day from his work of creation. The Sabbath rest brought rhythm to life, work, and worship; freedom from slavery to unending labor; and awareness that God is Lord of all time, including mine. (Genesis 2:1-2; Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Bishop’s Note: May 12, 2016 – Holiness of Life

Bishop Eric Menees

Last Sunday’s gospel lesson was taken from the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of St. John. This was Jesus’ “High Priestly prayer,” offered at the conclusion of the Last Supper and just before his arrest and crucifixion.
Jesus concludes this prayer with three petitions for the disciples, (and, by extension for each and every one of us): Sanctity, Unity, and Eternity with Jesus in heaven. The basis for unity & eternity are found in Christ and His holiness imparted to us in His word. Jesus prayed: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17 ESV)

What does it mean when Jesus prays: “Sanctify them in the truth?” Jesus is asking His Father to make us Holy in God’s Truth – in the Word of God. We live in a world that believes that holiness of life is a fallacy – an old religious myth that leads people to seeking boring, deploring lives of misery. I could not disagree more! Holiness of life, while not all sunshine and daisies, is a life worth pursuing, and ultimately a life that leads other people to God.

To live holy lives begins with submission to the Lord; submission of our whole lives, lifting every aspect to God and asking for His forgiveness and grace to rain upon us. To submit to the Lord is to place ourselves third on the list of priorities, with loving God and loving others as numbers one and two.

To live holy lives is to align our lives with the Word of God taken in its clear and simple understanding. Too often, people tell us that we need to be biblical scholars to understand God’s word. Not true! We need to be open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to understand God’s word. We are called to embrace what God commands, and to reject what God tells us to reject. We embrace love, grace, and peace, and we reject sin, pride, and violence. In other words, we embrace Jesus Christ,the only begotten Son of God, and we reject Satan, the fallen archangel and master of evil.

My prayer for each of us, including myself, is that God the Father will fully answer His son’s prayer to make us holy in His Truth and Word, unit us in the person of Jesus - our Savior and Lord - and bring us to eternal life with Jesus through his sacrifice on the cross.

I pray you all a blessed week and a very holy Pentecost!

Catechism Questions: 284-285

284. How can you use God’s Name lightly?
Profanity, careless speech, broken vows, open sin, and meaningless exclamations all cheapen God’s Name. These treat God’s Name as “empty” of the reality for which it stands. (Matthew 5: 33-37; Articles of Religion, 39)

285. How can you honor God’s Name?
I honor and love God’s Name, in which I was baptized, by keeping my promises and by upholding honor in relationships, charity in society, justice in law, uprightness in vocation, and holiness in worship. (Deuteronomy 12:11; Psalm 138:2; Proverbs 30:7-9; Matthew 5:22-23; Ephesians 4:25; James 5:12)

Friday, May 6, 2016

St. James Anglican Cathedral: Daughters Of The Holy Cross

Fr. Dale Matson

Click To Enlarge 
Daughters Of The Holy Cross

“Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Every time the Daughters of the Holy Cross (DOHC) send me minutes of their meetings or emails of the names of those requesting prayer, I am amazed at the extent of suffering of my brothers and sisters in Christ. We are not a young congregation and health challenges come all too frequently. The extent of this suffering is more often than not, unknown to our faith community at St. James Cathedral unless these names are included in the Prayers of the people. There is no family left untouched by tragedy.

Because their chapter is at the Cathedral, these women are known as the Bishop’s Chapter and are concerned with the lives of those in the entire Diocese. You know who these ladies are by the cross they wear which is symbolic of their ministry.

This suffering includes the daughters themselves who are mature in the faith and oft-wounded veterans of spiritual warfare themselves. Many of the DOHC members are what I would call “citizen soldiers”. They have family responsibilities that require their attention also and serve the congregation in various other ways. They are women living in community under vows but not under a convent roof. They are our faith firewall.

We know from Scripture that the prayers of the saints rise as incense to Heaven and are collected in golden bowls. (Revelation 5:8). Heaven needs lots of bowls.

Their intercessory prayers on our behalf are like the Holy Spirit. “And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26). If the saints of St. James only knew how much their lives are supported by the safety net provided by the DOHC prayers!

I cannot say enough how much their intercessory prayers undergird the mission of our faith community, protect from attack and harm our clergy and prevent the evil one from entering the hearts of the faithful. Personally, their prayers have helped empower my sermons, strengthen me in sickness, and helped heal me after medical interventions.

Their prayers have helped guide the hands of medical personnel, softened the hearts and minds of those trapped in unforgiveness toward others and self and moved the unrepentant sinner toward repentance. Their prayers have helped loosen the bonds of those trapped in addiction. Their prayers have given the resolve to abused women to end the desecration of their body, the temple of the Holy Spirit.

They are exhorters who encourage the timid, affirm the clergy and provide an ear to those who are neglected and abandoned. They see with the eyes of faith and are able through prayer to “…call things that are not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17b)

If the lay congregants are the mainsail and the clergy the spinnaker, the DOHC are the jib as we sail the uncharted sea of faith.

“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” (Philippians 4:6)
Thank you from all of us and may God continue to richly bless your ministry.

For those who may be interested, here is a link to the national organization.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Bishop’s Note: May 05, 2016 – The Ascension

Bishop Eric Menees

Today we celebrate one of the major feasts in the church: the Feast of the Ascension. Today we remember our Lord's ascent into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, ruling in heaven and continually making intercession for us, his adopted children. Recently I read this little piece from Sermon 73, by the fifth century Pope Leo the Great (c. 400-461) entitled: "Between the Resurrection and the Ascension."

“Dearly beloved, those days which intervened between the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension did not pass by in uneventful leisure, but great mysteries were ratified in them and deep truths were revealed.

In those days the fear of death was removed with all its terrors, and the immortality not only of the soul but also of the flesh was established. In those days the Holy Ghost is poured upon all the Apostles through the Lord’s breathing upon them, and to the blessed Apostle Peter, set above the rest, the keys of the kingdom are entrusted and the care of the Lord’s flock.

It was during that time that the Lord joined the two disciples as a companion on the way, and, to sweep away all the clouds of our uncertainty, reproached them for the slowness of their timid and trembling hearts. Their enlightened hearts catch the flame of faith, and lukewarm as they have been, they are made to burn while the Lord unfolds the Scriptures. In the breaking of bread also their eyes are opened as they eat with him. How much more blessed is that opening of their eyes, to the glorification of their nature, than the time when our first parents’ eyes were opened to the disastrous consequences of their transgression.

Dearly beloved, through all this time which elapsed between the Lord’s Resurrection and Ascension, God’s Providence had this in view, to teach his own people and impress upon their eyes and their hearts that the Lord Jesus Christ had risen, risen as truly as he had been born and had suffered and died.

Hence the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at his death on the cross and backward in believing his Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the Lord entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy.

Truly it was great and unspeakable, that cause of their joy, when in the sight of the holy multitude the Nature of mankind went up: up above the dignity of all heavenly creatures, to pass above the angels’ ranks and to rise beyond the archangels’ heights, and to have its uplifting limited by no elevation until, received to sit with the Eternal Father, it should be associated on the throne with his glory, to whose Nature it was united in the Son.”

I pray you all a very blessed Ascension Day!

Catechism Questions: 281-283

281. What is the Third Commandment?
The Third Commandment is: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.”

282. What does it mean not to take God’s Name in vain?
All forms of God’s Name are holy, and those who love him should use his Name with reverence, not lightly or for selfish purposes. (Leviticus 19:12; Psalm 29:2; Psalm 99:1-5; Revelation 15:3 – See Questions 169-175)

283. How can you use God’s Name irreverently?
In false or half-hearted worship, oppression of the poor, and conflicts cloaked with divine cause, people use God’s Name without reverence for him, and only to further their own goals. (Ezekiel 36:22-23)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Still Small Voice And The Holy Spirit As Life Choreographer

Easter VI year C 2016

Fr. Dale Matson

Click On Photographs To Enlarge
Endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep
Young Ram Has Moutain Lion "Tattoo"

Our Gospel lesson for the 6th Sunday of Easter states in part, These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:25-27) Here Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit Who indwells all Christians not just His apostles. Think for a moment about the actions of the Holy Spirit. He is a Helper. He is the One who reminds, He is a Teacher, One who empowers and He is a Comforter. It is timely that Father Carlos has a class on listening to the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is Someone who reminds, teaches, comforts and counsels, the Holy Spirit is also a choreographer and I will talk about this later.

How do we tune in to the Holy Spirit? How do we get on His wavelength? Sometimes it seems like when my grandsons try to communicate with each other on our walkie talkies. They both press the talk button at the same time and can’t hear what the other is saying. The range of the walkie talkies is about five miles but they yell all the louder at each other from a distance of about ten feet.  Sharon and I can hear them both without the walkie talkies quite well thank you. Sometimes Jamison is on channel one and Maxwell is on channel three.  They can’t seem to agree to be on the same channel. Here are the lessons learned.  First of all, unlike Jamison and Maxwell, we need to get our finger off the talk button and simply listen. Second, never buy a boy anything that will amplify the sound of his voice.  Let’s look at one of my favorite passages from the Old Testament to help us understand how God communicates with us.

“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12 KJV).

In this passage the Prophet Elijah finally understands that God can be found in the “still small voice” (“gentle whisper” NIV). Certainly God communicates with us through Holy Scripture. He also communicates through His Sacraments, circumstances and through a word from our Christian brothers and sisters. In all these ways God leads us in our daily life. And this is His role as choreographer. I once had a student who said about herself in all humility, “I have always been blessed to hear the voice of Jesus.” I understood her perfectly and hope you do too.

This voice is not the auditory persecutions experienced by psychotics. A clinically depressed person may believe that the voice telling them that they are no good is from God. Well, it is not from God.  The Holy Spirit’s voice is instructive, it is a Teaching voice. It is not the condemning conscience energized by the law written on our hearts. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1). The voice is Comforting. The voice is not one of self-criticism. How many have made a mistake and immediately say something like, “You jerk, what were you thinking?” That is not God. That is what I would call the voice of our critical parent. Has a parent ever talked that way to you?  The voice is a Counselor. The voice is not any louder than our own thoughts as God the Holy Spirit speaks to us. God is not in the earthquake. He is in scores of little things in our daily life. As the children’s song states, “He walks with me and He talks with me and He tells me I am His own.” I would add that God will never; repeat never, tell you to do something that is not consistent with Scripture.

Let me illustrate with a personal example. I was on the east side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains last week.  As I drove north again after crossing at Tehachapi, I called a friend in Bishop to say I would be staying the night in Bishop and could go out looking for Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep the next morning as planned. He asked me where I was and I said I was just south of Lone Pine. He said he found some Bighorn Sheep near there and told me about an area where I could look. As some of you know, I have been searching for the endangered Sierra Nevada Bighorn sheep over many mountain passes for years. There are only 600 of these endangered sheep in all of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from Yosemite as far south as Olancha Peak. Finding a Bighorn Sheep is like finding a needle in a haystack.

I drove to a place where I couldn’t travel any further in my 4X4 truck and began walking up a trail at almost 7,000’. I was carrying my camera with a heavy telescopic lens on a shoulder strap and the climb was wearing me down. I eventually decided to turn around and go back to my truck. As I began walking back down, I heard in my thoughts, “Go higher”. Here is a rule of thumb about the Holy Spirit in my life and perhaps yours also. If it is a bold idea that takes you out of your comfort zone, it is probably the urging of the Holy Spirit. “OK, I’ll climb a bit higher”, I thought to myself. Then I began to see tracks from sheep on the trail and decided to try and follow them. I saw mountain lion tracks too. About a quarter mile further, I saw a Ewe standing on top of a big boulder about 300 feet above me and off to my right. Keep in mind that the vast majority of the times Bighorn Sheep are so far away they cannot even be seen without binoculars or a spotting scope. How could I NOT notice her?

I immediately began taking photographs thinking it wouldn’t last. Again I heard, “Go higher” in my mind. I thought, “But that will scare the sheep away.” I decided to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit. I encountered a group consisting of one ram, two juveniles and six ewes that allowed me to get within 125’ of them. I could have taken their photographs with a smart phone. My large 600mm lens became a portrait lens and the photographs may be the closest ever taken of the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep in the wild. I spent an hour there taking over 100 photographs. My arms got tired from holding up the camera and heavy lens but unlike Moses; I had no Aaron and Hur to help me hold my arms up any longer. The sheep were so comfortable in my presence; they actually grazed toward me at one point. All of the time I was there, I felt as if the Holy Spirit was also there as the grand choreographer of this unique experience. Thank You Lord!

It was not until I finally left that I began to see how much God had orchestrated the entire experience including the timing of my call to my friend in Bishop, his directions to the area near where he had seen the sheep, God’s voice urging me to continue to look for His flock. The sheep were perfectly at ease with my intrusion into their world. Perhaps it was because they were with the Good Shepherd and me. Thank You Lord! I think it is in the really good experiences and the really horrible experiences that we are best able to see God guiding our lives with an unseen hand. Sometimes we see it at the time, Sometimes days and even years later that we see God’s involvement.

After years of struggling over mountain passes looking for bighorn sheep, I am reminded of Psalm 37:4. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” I am not preaching the prosperity gospel here. We do not name it and claim it. We are to be persistent. God rewards persistence and as stated in Hebrews, “He rewards people to try to find Him.” (CEB) When we finally find His Sheep, we should expect to find Him there too. This experience with the Bighorn Sheep also reminds me of a portion of our opening collect. “O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire…” This experience far exceeded all I could have desired.
In addition to being our life choreographer, He is the voice of the teacher, the counselor and the comforter neatly woven into our thoughts yet we are able to distinguish His voice from our own thoughts. With Elijah, God was not in the wind, earthquake and fire. Monks and Mystics seek silence and solitude to hear the voice of God yet ordinary Christians are blessed to hear God every day. Yes, God also speaks to us through others.

Let’s take a more careful look at this verse from our Gospel lesson.  “These things have I spoken to you while I am still with you, but the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father  will send in my name.” Here Jesus is both looking ahead to His ascension and later to Pentecost. Thursday is the Feast of the Ascension. How fitting is it then for St. Paul to say that those who are led by the Spirit are not under the Law. (Galatians 5:18) Does this mean that we are no longer bound by the Law? No, it means that when we are led by the Spirit of God, we will also honor the Law. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). The more the world becomes a confusing and crazy place to exist, the more I appreciate the Ten Commandments. There is certain clarity about them. The commandments are to behavior what sea level is to the surveyor.

I think there is also a great deal of moral ambiguity and confusion. Never forget this. The church will always be counter culture. We are called haters and bigots and we are not. It is not a right to free speech that we claim. It is a prophetic voice we cannot and should not contain. A life led for Christ is an affront to those living licentious lives.

As St. Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit has told us, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). We live in anxious times. So what is the release from this prison of anxiety for the Christian? It is the decision to die to self and live for Christ, for He is our authentic self. It is not our story. It is His story and He is the author and finisher of this story. I believe this is not something that happens overnight. It is a daily giving over of ourselves to Christ.

As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit. He is our choreographer, counselor and advocate. We have a conscience cleansed by the blood of Christ and forgiveness of our sins. We have hope. We are headed toward eternal life. We cannot convince the pagans around us to reform themselves because their minds are darkened by sin. We can however live a redeemed life, be a beacon of light to those who are perishing; to those who no longer have boundaries. “ …but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15) Amen.