Saturday, July 17, 2010

Journaling and the Search for God

Journaling and the Search for God
Fr. Dale Matson
The late Anglican Priest and author Morton Kelsey was a strong proponent of keeping a personal journal as a means of spiritual development. His book Adventure Inward: Christian Growth through Personal Journal Writing (1980) lays out several reasons for keeping a journal. They include personal historical continuity, enjoyment, creativity and the release of our imagination, help with decision making, therapy and the following idea. “If it is inner growth and self-knowledge which is one’s goal…this process is nearly impossible without journal keeping.” Additionally, he notes, “However, if I pursue the path of a relationship with God, then sooner or later I will use a journal for each of these other reasons as well.” In an interview I conducted with him at his home in Northern California in 1995, he reiterated that the journal was one of the most important means toward spiritual growth.
I began keeping a journal in 1994 and have reflections recorded daily for the past sixteen years. It is part of a commitment to a disciplined daily life. Each day begins at 4am with a devotional for each day of the year followed by the journal entries, then correspondence and finally physical exercise. It is a practice I take with me when I travel. I keep a small travel journal with pages that are later transferred to the annual spiral notebook journals. It is primarily a daily record keeping of the events of the previous day but includes dreams when I can remember them, tasks to be completed, ruminations and worries and concluding prayers that address the main worries. I have also employed what Fr. Kelsey would call active imagination where I dialogue with inner figures and outer figures. I have also written a considerable number of “portraits in prose” for many of the significant people in my life.
So what has happened over the last sixteen years? The journal is much like a camera that has taken photographs that I can review. I began in middle age with quite a confrontational and competitive style. There was territory to be conquered and defended, all for the sake of the ego. There were people who God continually used to challenge me to be more gracious toward including my sons. There was a hardened self righteousness about me. I was turned down in 2001 for the Diaconate by the Commission on Ministry. Perhaps it was a metastasized ego at the time. My primary emotions were fear and anger, well disguised of course. Some of the change is probably due to tincture of time. However, God has been growing the fruits of the Spirit in me also. There is less anxiety, fear, anger and resentment. There is more compassion, patience and contentment.
The journal is one of the most significant things that God has used to help me to find the Jesus part of me and to accept those parts of myself that are weak and unattractive. Those parts must be accepted because they cannot be hidden. They are our thorn in the flesh. There has been major healing for me along the way and in a mystical way; those around me have been helped to some extent also. Sometimes I consider stopping the journaling and destroying them but God is not finished and uses this process to help me. It is like the low dose aspirin I take daily. Unlike Mother Teresa, the church does not own my journals and thankfully they will be destroyed when I die. Unlike her, many of my comments could not bear the light of day.
I would hope that those that read this would consider a journal for themselves. It is time well spent and a good investment in a more whole and holy life. Amen.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Commemoration of Bishop Wm White: A Prophetic Message for the Church

The following is an excerpt from the 1887 Centennial Commemorative Discourse celebrating the consecrations of Bishop White and Bishop Provoost, delivered in Christ Church by the Right Rev. William Bacon Stevens, D. D., LL.D. Bishop of Pennsylvania.

We may have the most perfect church organization which earth can furnish; we may have a well attested apostolic lineage for our ministry; we may have as grand a liturgy as the human mind can construct; we may have as gorgeous a ceremonial of worship as the loftiest aesthetic art can devise; we may have as magnificent cathedrals and churches as human architects can build;--but if our diocesan organization does not rest on Christ as its corner-stone; if that apostolic succession is merely the articulation of dry bones, and is devoid of the life-blood and nerve-force of apostolic fellowship and doctrine; if that lofty worship degenerate into mere lip-service and ceases to be the true worship of God in spirit and in truth; if that gorgeous ceremonial tends to fasten the mind on the accessories of divine service, and obscures, rather than unfolds Christ, and if our noble church edifices only echo through their aisles a teaching not warranted by Scripture, not supported by the Book of Common Prayer, not meeting the soul's true and eternal needs--teaching for doctrine the commandments and traditions of men, at once "strange and erroneous,"--then is our church indeed without Christ--a fair temple without the schekinah; like the Church of Ephesus, having "left its first love"; like Sardis, "having a name that thou livest but art dead," and like Laodicea, "lukewarm, neither hot nor cold."

Only as the Holy Ghost, the living Spirit of truth, teaches in our churches; only as the living Christ is heralded there in his perfect fulness as the sinner's only Saviour; and only, as the one living and true God, is worshipped there "in the beauty of holiness" and "in spirit and in truth," can we fulfil the true conditions of our existence as an organized Christian Church,--then only can Christ speak to us as he did to the angel of the Church of Philadelphia, one of the seven Churches of Asia, and emblemized by a golden candlestick, saying "I know thy works. Behold I have set before thee an open door and no man can shut it, for thou hast a little strength and has kept my word and hast not denied my name."

By William Bacon Stevens, D. D., LL.D., Bishop of Pennsylvania.

The entire text is here.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Still Small Voice

A Still Small Voice in Every Day Life
Fr. Dale Matson
“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 comes to understand 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. 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 for I have also.
This voice is not the auditory persecutions experienced by psychotics. This 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. The voice is a Counselor. The voice is not any louder than our own thoughts as God the Holy Spirit speaks to us.
Let me illustrate with three personal examples. I used to be in construction and had just completed a final grading of a new home site. As I talked with the owner who was smoking a cigarette, I was thinking some rather judgmental and critical thoughts. A question arose in my thoughts, “What makes you better than him?” I immediately repented in my mind, which was accompanied by uncustomary compassion.
I was recently visiting with a friend over lunch. We talked for a quite a time and when I was done with what I had to say, I was preparing in my mind to move on. “Wait, he’s not done yet. Stay awhile longer.” The friend didn’t take much longer and thanked me for listening.
At times this past week I thought about a former student that I have not seen since my retirement. I had heard she divorced her husband after a long estrangement about eight years ago and I remember her as being fragile emotionally. As I was plodding along on my Saturday long run today (I still call it running), I approached a couple heading toward me. She said, “Dale, is that you?” It was the former student who beamed as she introduced me to her husband. God was growing a compassion for her in my heart prior to our seeing one another again. She asked what I’ve been doing since my retirement. I said that I was ordained an Anglican Priest. It was a wonderful exchange and I reflexively blessed both of them.
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.

“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14 KJV).

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Fr. Dale Matson
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1st Peter 5:7)

Anxiety is defined differently than fear. Fear generally has an object, immediacy and a means of avoidance. Anxiety is more of an uneasiness, an apprehension about the future and a sense of the unavoidable. Anxiety is often associated with depression. While Depression is often the primary diagnosis, Anxiety may be the presenting problem. While depression gets “top billing” and treatment dollars, it is anxiety that takes the quality and the could-have-been out of far more lives than depression. Anxiety extinguishes dreams and paralyzes plans. It is the primary ingredient in the opposite of the Peter Principle. Most people will not become who they could be.
Anxiety rubs against our thoughts until it creates an open wound in the soul. To some extent we do it to ourselves. We fail in the basics of eating, exercising and resting. Some dither until they must rush. Some multitask, doing nothing well. Some become addicted to frenzied activity in an effort to fill a life devoid of meaning with substitutes.
We also live in a virtual world that does not wait for us to catch up. We are simply inundated with information beyond our ability to process and absorb it. We are suffering from virtual Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. How many times have we seen the jet airliners fly into the twin towers of the World Trade Center? How many times have you seen the seemingly unstoppable crude oil bubbling from the well deep in the ocean headed toward pristine beaches and fragile estuaries? We no longer live in small isolated communities. We live on and experience a planet’s worth of trauma. We brace for hurricanes and blizzards days in advance with some never arriving. We are informed by scientists that there could be an asteroid that would collide with our earth and we would all perish. Anxiety makes us cautious. Everything we buy including the morning coffee comes with a warning label.
We have a world’s worth of trauma delivered to our home and portable viewing screens twenty four seven with updates on the ten. We are like BP. We cannot plug the leak so how do we survive the spill? At its core, Anxiety is an ego state. It is the ego awfulizing at the prospect that it may perish. It is an existential drama where the individual is continually in a state of “What if”? It is the ego trying to control what cannot be controlled. The worst part of anxiety is that we have no control yet we are responsible. We are shocked no matter where we jump to in the cage. We cannot avoid or escape the shock.
Anxiety is not an uppercut to the jaw. It is a series of body blows that wears us down. It masks the ego vulnerability and manifests itself as road rage, frigidity, autoimmune disorders, social isolation and self medicated fugue states. It is the primary disease of self and the prognosis is morbid. The prescription is divestment of self not destruction of self. It is time to step off the throne of self and surrender to God. We must stop trying to be God. We are vulnerable because life is all about us, our wants and needs. It is our ego that requires applause.
Instead, we must put ourselves in the least honored place, the place of the servant. It is not about acquisition. It is about pouring ourselves out on behalf of others. How much of our time, talent and treasure is wasted building an edifice of straw to ourselves. Our legacy is those we have helped not a curriculum vitae filled with self promotion. The self we keep propping up and defending is a golden calf and a false god. We have fashioned ourselves into idols. We are not only idolaters; we are the worst kind of idolaters because we are the idols we worship.
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). So what is the release from this prison of anxiety? 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. I believe this is not something that happens overnight. It is a daily giving over of ourselves to Christ. Sometimes it is expedited by a “Dark Night of the Soul” like Cancer or the death of a child. It is something I struggle with too but less so as I age in Christ and the new man comes forth. Each time there is anxiety, we can ask ourselves, “Is it my ego that I am defending here?”. If it is then let go and let God as someone said. Amen

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6).