Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Peace Of God As A Lifestyle Issue

Fr. Dale Matson

 “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!  Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’  For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:30-33, NASB)
I have been blessed with constitutional weaknesses inherited from my ancestors. Yes, I did say “blessed”. I have inherited a vulnerability to obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol and blood pressure. The result is what is referred to often in my family records, as death from “Apoplexy”. Apoplexy is an antiquated generic term for sudden death by stroke or heart attack. I am blessed because leading a disciplined life tends to keep these variables in remission. This part is up to me because I am in control of these risk factors.
My cardiologist recently told me that 85% of those who are referred to him are there because of lifestyle issues. My elevated blood pressure was directly related to being overweight. I am an ectomorph (long and lean) by design. Even if my additional weight were muscle, it is still not healthy to add it to a frame that is not intended to carry it. For years, I have been able to chase away calories through exercise but this type of purging is also not healthy and has led to overuse injuries.
Diet (especially portion control) is perhaps more important than exercise as a variable in taking charge of our health.  I recently discovered that I was glucose intolerant and have sadly eliminated wheat products from my diet. Perhaps the key for a pre-diabetic like me is avoiding foods that cause my blood sugar to “spike”. These and adequate rest are lifestyle issues that are under my control and part of a disciplined adult life. If I lead a disciplined life will it guarantee that I will live longer? Even if I don’t live longer, the life I do lead will be of higher quality.
The last and most important lifestyle issue for a Christian is allowing God to be in control of those things under which we have no control. It is one thing to say that you have given your life to Christ. It is quite another to examine how this “surrender” is treated in a generic and theoretical sense. Have you given Christ your finances, your children, your health and your future? Perhaps the most elusive thing for me has been this letting go and trusting God. Because I have compartmentalized those things that I have given to God while still saying that I have given my life to Him, I have experienced God’s peace only occasionally. This peace, the peace that passes all understanding is the most important of all lifestyle issues. “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1st Peter 5:6-7). Lord, I cast all of my cares on you. Amen      

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Bears

Convent of St. Teresa in Avila Spain

Fr. Dale Matson

As I reflect on my dreams included in twenty years of journaling, there are frequent appearances by lions and tigers and bears. I believe a Jungian understanding would be that these animals symbolize untamed aspects of us. They are things about us that can be latent passions. They are the dark parts of our own soul and our unconscious life. Our dreams are also where God speaks to us, often using the language of symbols. It is here that God can bypass the ego’s diminished capacity as sentinel and filter. God once appeared to me as a bright light with radiant beams of light projecting from Him. One of the rays came directly into my chest. It has given me a great and lasting comfort knowing that I belong to Him.

The Wizard of Oz includes a scene where Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow are walking through a dark forest on their way to emerald city.  It is here that the Dorothy responds to the Tin Man’s caution with, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.” For Dorothy, it is a vivid and colorful unconscious experience when compared to her otherwise ordinary black and white life in the conscious world.”  Eventually, the characters learn on their journey that they already have within themselves what they were seeking on their journey. It is a journey to a destination in another realm in an attempt to return home.

For many years, I have been captivated by the life of St. Teresa of Avila and had the opportunity to visit her convent in Avila. I have been reading The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila. In her book, she describes the mansions of the soul. They are rooms within the soul with each room closer to the most interior mansion where God dwells. It is the journey of the soul on its pilgrimage back to God. In the First Mansion Chapter II, she commented about the hindrances to humility and self-knowledge, “The room itself is light enough, but he cannot enjoy the light because he is prevented from doing so by these wild beasts and animals, which force him to close his eyes to everything but themselves. This seems to me to be the condition of the soul which, though not in a bad state, is so completely absorbed in the things of the world.”

The wild beasts and animals are the lions and tigers and bears of our dreams. Dorothy and St. Teresa exhort us to courageously take on this journey of self-discovery as we also attempt to find our way home. It is a dangerous journey with wild beasts and evil creatures. Dorothy was kept safe on her journey by the ruby red slippers. We are kept safe by our feet shod with the preparation of the Gospel of Peace.” (Ephesians 6:15).

Lord, protect us on our way home to you. Give us courage, humility, self knowledge and zeal. Amen

Friday, November 18, 2011

Living and Dying: The Christian Paradox

Fr. Dale Matson

“Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33, NASB)
Carl Jung asked all of his new patients the same question. “Do you really want to live”? This is not only the basic question for those wanting to be well; it in no way contradicts the previous passage from Luke. Christians should neither overindulge nor neglect the needs of the body. St. Paul states, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Once again, there is a certain irony in both the humility of our bodies being clay pots and the glory of our bodies being temples that contain the Holy Spirit. It is the contents that matter most in either case.
In the Church, there is a considerable focus on the spiritual “activities of daily living” (ADL’s) that includes meditation, prayer, liturgy and service. How disciplined and intentional are we about these things on a daily basis? This is how the Christian participates in the daily drowning of the old Adam. It is a dying with Christ on His cross. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Galatians 2:20). If you are a Nicodemus, this is written for your sake.
There is also a healthy seeking of life as stewards of the bodies God has given us. St. Paul refers to a sanctification of the body in addition to the soul and spirit. This does not mean neglect of bodily needs, or worse hedonism or self-abuse. While Christ fasted, he also ate when He was hungry, slept when He needed rest and drank when thirsty.  This is not what St. Paul means when he states, “for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13). This statement is in perfect harmony with the passage from Luke. This is mortification of the flesh but it is not a reference to bodily obsession, neglect or abuse. Mortification of the flesh is a putting to death of the fallen part of our nature inherited as original sin. It is our selfish, self-seeking egocentricity that is the life that must be mortified. It is a circumcision of the heart. “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). It is a heart of stone being replace by a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Mortification of the flesh is performed on the inside.
Just as there are spiritual ADL’s, there are also Bodily ADL’s and the vast majority of physical problems presented to medical doctors involve a failure to honor these. Our bodies were created for and require physical work and exercise. Diet is another ADL that is as least as important as exercise. In fact, I have learned that no exercise program, no matter how extreme, can purge the careless consumption of calories. I have historically been more concerned about the kind of gasoline I put in my vehicle than the kind of food I consume. Proper diet can correct or alleviate problems with hypertension, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
As Christians we must understand the difference between dying to self for Christ and destruction of self through poor stewardship of our bodies. If you think that you need to be only involved in the Spiritual ADL’s, this is written for you.
Lord, help me to lead a disciplined life in body, soul and spirit. Amen   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Boogey Man And The Cup Of Suffering

Fr. Dale Matson

“You in your robes sang calling, calling, and calling him. In your heart, in your soul, did you find peace there?” (From the song Full Circle by Loreena McKennitt)

I believe many individuals, particularly those who have an anxious temperament, phobics, substance abusers or those who have difficulty trusting others, spend much of their lives seeking peace. For years, I have listened to the haunting song, Full Circle by Loreena McKennitt and my answer remains, “No, I have not found peace.” I have experienced peace states but I have never experienced peace as a trait. Peace has been my heart’s desire but it is so frequently stolen by the Boogey Man.  
The Boogey Man is the incarnation of our fears. He is what the child looks for under his bed and the adult buys insurance against. The Boogey Man is a tormenting bully (Captain Kirk’s Finnegan), a chronic illness, a supervisor at work, a parent, a random sniper. The Boogey Man is what we torment ourselves with more than whom or what torments us. Would that God would make him go away. If only God would just remove this thorn from our flesh. If only He would remove this cup of suffering from us. And when it is removed, we have peace for such a short sweet time. Then a new Boogey Man takes his place and we vex so, till our sweat falls to the ground like blood as we plead with God to remove the new cup of suffering. As with Job, the things we fear are in a holding pattern, hanging over us, waiting in the “trouble” cue, to descend upon us.
We know so well what the Boogey Man does. He steals our pride, our sense of control, and our self-confidence. He binds the strong man and takes his goods. We are continually mortified. It is that dream where we are naked in public. Or, is it a dream? Worst of all he cuts us out of the herd and isolates us. Our friends sound like Job’s friends. Lord, take this cup of suffering from me. The answer is always the same. “You have taken My yoke upon you yet you continue to refuse your cross.” Lord, couldn’t I progress without this suffering, without this baptism of fire”? “I am not like your saints. I am an ordinary person. Your saints sought this trail of sorrow. Blessed Mother Teresa asked to drink from your cup of suffering to the last drop. I have not sought these sorrows. These desolations are destroying me. “But you are so full of yourself; there is little room for Me”.
  Was this the question, pulling, pulling, pulling you in your heart, in your soul, did you find rest there?  Peace Lord, bring me peace. Amen



Saturday, November 12, 2011

Individualism and Self-Absorption

Fr. Dale Matson

            “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” (From Invictus by William Ernest Henley)
             I came from a Protestant white middle class family that embraced what President Herbert Hoover called rugged individualism. Many have pointed to Teddy Roosevelt as the archetype of the rugged individualist.   
            When I interviewed student prospects as the director of the school psychology program, I would ask them to tell me their story. What became clear to me over the years was the different world views the students brought to the program. Almost all of the Hispanic students told their story in the context of their family and culture. They did not see themselves as individuals distinct from the family which included the grandparents. Sometimes it would take an hour for their stories to unfold. Often, I would get lost in the lineage.
            There is a risk of an ego centricity that accompanies individualism. Perhaps males are given more latitude than females on this. Someone once said that we give our boys wings and our girls roots. In our society today, individualism has now been raised to the level of idolatry. Human rights translated in today’s terms is, I’ve Got To Be Me (A song popularized by Sammy Davis Jr.). Carol Gilligan correctly asserted the role of relationships in moral development and challenged Lawrence Kohlberg on his system of moral development based on individualism. Today, when the individual is free to do whatever she wants as long as it does not encroach on my rights; it is really a “work around”. It is me absolving myself of a responsibility to my neighbor. Ignoring my neighbor is failure to love my neighbor as myself.
            Eventually, I have come to see myself not as an individual with personal goals to be accomplished and a vitae to be embellished. While I still enjoy the alone time, it is obvious that I depend more on others every day. God puts those people around us to help us.
Life lived in a collaborative fashion produces richer results, affirms and empowers others and draws us out of the hell of self-absorption. There is no such thing as a self-made person. Each person begins with a genetic endowment from ancestors just for a starter.
             Hyper-reflection is a preoccupation with self. Kierkegaard called it “extravagant subjectivity”. Our contemporary society caters to and assists this narcissism. This individualism contributes to the symptoms of anxiety, hypochondria, depression and character disorders. At its most pathological point, it is the Schizophrenic collecting his urine because his bodily functions have become his sole focus and vocation. Our society as a whole is so individualistic that it is fast approaching a state of anomie, which Durkheim applied only to individuals.
An individual in isolation may succumb to hyper-reflection, dryness and desperation. A life lived interconnected to the community does not threaten the loss of individuality; it nourishes it. Family, friends and the Church are groups that provide structure, nurture faith, provide service opportunities, and direct us toward God and away from ourselves. The older I become, the more I see individualism as a pernicious modern malady.
The poem Invictus has always bothered me, even in my youth. I prefer, “"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20, NASB)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Philip’s Questions and My Responses

Fr. Dale Matson

It is strange how sitting in front of the blank screen of a word processor ruins my thought train.
In addition, I have not had such an experience, so I can only guess how I think it might affect me.
YOUR VISION How has this changed?
Your view of yourself
Your thoughts about the Church; Church Hierarchy; Mass; Your Homilies; the congregation
Your memories of childhood; your parents
Your day-to-day lifestyle
Your thoughts on running
Your expectations of yourself as a first responder
Your energies as a priest
Your thoughts about death? Your own? Other peoples?
These change questions above imply some change. Like “do you still beat your wife?” If there have not been changes of the sort implied, why do you think so? (I ask these questions because surviving my accident has had a profound ‘ripple effect’ on my life and the way I look at it and others.)
Have you been able to share this experience? How has it been received? Can people relate to it? Do they think you’re nuts? On something?
How did you feel during the experience? Just before? Immediately after?
Was this an out of body déjà vu? Kinda?
Do you feel more important as a priest now? Less? Same?
Does this make you more a provider than a server? Or vice versa. Or neither.
How does this vision compare to a normal experience?
Have you been taken aback by this?
How does the feeling you have about it now compare to that of your first love, Finishing the Iron Man? The birth of your first child, Being a grandparent, Quitting Dixon and Ryan?
Will this change the way you think about death?
Does the vision have an effect on the way you tolerate others?

Phil, I continue to think about myself being on a journey. Most of what I have written about is from the perspective of a seeker. I often think to myself, “Who am I that I should call myself a priest?” It is really a better question to ask, “Could I be anything else than a priest?”  That is what I was called by God to be from the beginning. As I stand by the altar, there are two thoughts running through my head. “I am not worthy to be here and yet I belong here.” I am only a clay pot but I contain a treasure. (Second Cor. 4:7)
I love the Church in general and the Anglican Church in particular even more. Without the Church, there would be no restraint on evil.  I believe in apostolic succession and know the liturgy of the Word and Table is what our Lord intended. The truth of Christ’s Church is evident to me and the mystery beckons me forward. As a priest, I am called to be a steward of the mysteries of God.  My homilies are always an attempt to demonstrate the application of the Gospel message to shine God’s light on sinfulness on one hand and offer His forgiving grace in Jesus the Christ on the other. He is our only hope of salvation and wholeness. I love our congregation. They and the other churches of our diocese have been obedient to their bishop, said "no" to false teaching, suffered persecution and poured themselves out on behalf of their neighbors.
There is a general restructuring of my past. As I stitch together the historical thread, I am please with what God has done orchestrating a life that seemed so aimless, self destructive and unproductive at the time. The curing process was lengthy but, as they say, “No wine before it’s time.” I was intentional about not just forgiving my parents but loving them. I am not repressing or denying things, only the good memories remain.     
I think my day-to-day lifestyle is informed by my vocation but realize that there is still much of the old Adam in me. I worry about a “hot microphone” and when I am driving, I do not wear my collar. I am also very much aware of the authority God has given me and try and keep in mind that when I speak, I  speak for His Church. I regret some of the public statements I have made on the blogs.  
When I am exercising in general and running in particular, He is with me, teaching me, offering ideas, telling me not to be so defensive, not to take things so personally, and to be more trusting. As a first responder in search and rescue, I have an opportunity to serve others. It is a chance to find those who are lost in a different sense. It is also an opportunity to submit to the authority of those who are in command and have authority over me. Finally, it is an opportunity to be in God’s wilderness.
My energies as a priest are limited because of my age. I observe the younger priests including our new Bishop (Menees) and wonder where they get all of that energy. God bless them for it and their optimistic zeal. I believe I have a different quality that comes with age that others pick up on. They give me the benefit of a doubt. Sometimes I am just thinking about candy when it appears that I am deep in thought.
My visions have been an unmerited and unrequested blessing from God. I asked for the gift of tongues years ago and received this gift. I mention this simply to say that both the Charismatic gifts and visions have strengthened my faith and diminished my concerns about my own passing. I have been both edified and humbled by the visions that God has provided to me. It is my hope that everyone has an opportunity to hear the Gospel message and accept it before they die. They may have begun work late in the day but their wages are the same.
I have both wanted and needed to relate these visions. I believe the people who are aware of these things in their own lives understand and are encouraged. You are the only one who has gone into such detailed questions. Perhaps others worry about my emotional stability at best and my sanity at worst. I think the fact that my life is disciplined and teaching orthodox, testifies to my credibility as a witness. In the most recent vision, I was simply an observer captivated by what I saw. Before that I was simply “Doing the dishes” as we say. After that, I investigated visions as a psychological phenomenon. I believe there is a general acceptance by psychologists that there are both normal and pathological possibilities. Generally, if you are left feeling humbled and more connected to others, I believe it is of God. I think being a psychologist has helped me sort out the reality of the experiences and comforted me. There is no rational explanation for what occurred. I did not even know at the time of the vision that the Corporal symbolized Christ’s burial linen. This was not an out of body experience at all. I believe the vision did not authenticate my priesthood nor enhance it. It was something God could offer to any believer. As I think about this answer, because it occurred during the cleanup portion of the mass, God was also reinforcing the servant role of my priesthood.
I believe this vision was different in kind than a normal experience. There was no visual stimulus there for my eyes to see. It was not a hallucination or a distortion of reality. I believe it was a vision that was not bounded by time or space perceived by my spirit. It was what Jesus talked about, when He talked about those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. He did not mean bodily senses. I am not taken aback by this because these things have always been a part of my world since childhood. I saw evil spirits in my grandparents’ home when I would awaken during the night. My brother never saw them. I sensed them in your mother in laws home and told you about it the next morning.
How does this compare to the other big experiences. I do not believe it diminishes them. It puts them into a new context and provides a patina. I am theocentric. God is at the center of my worldview. I hope to come to the place St. Paul was at when he said that he longed to depart and be with Christ. The world is a beautiful place. It is hard to give it up.  I still have difficulty being a self-designated “cop of the world”. I am prideful and self-righteous. I pray that God would help me to see Christ in everyone I meet.
Phil, I love you my brother,

My Friend Philip

Fr. Dale Matson

            I have known my close friend Phillip for over 50 years. He is one of the most gifted individuals I have ever met both physically and intellectually. His doctorate is in Geology and his profession was the analysis of rocks for Chevron. However, he could have been successful at anything he put his hand to. While he has been a scientist evaluating the physical world, he has done so with the eyes and ears of an artist. I am honored that someone like Phil would be and remain a lifelong friend to someone such as me who lacked Phil’s native aptitudes. Phil has always had a handicap. He has not needed God. Things have been easy for him; too easy. He has never had to rely on anyone else. Age and a nearly fatal motorcycle accident have provided an evolving but uncharacteristic humility and a willingness to listen more carefully. Like Jacob, he now walks with a limp.
             We have shared similar personal struggles and earlier lives which included mutual close friends, drunkenness, addiction to cigarettes and failed marriages. Like lifelong friends, we can share the minutia of the day at great length over the phone.  
            When Phil retired, he moved to a rural setting and enjoys the time he spends on his tractor and in his shop. He is also married a Roman Catholic woman who is active in her church and community on behalf of her church. She walks the walk and this has had an effect on Phil. She has not just his love but his respect. Phil listens to and learns from those he respects. He has no patience for those he does not respect.
            Our friendship has survived two crises. When I came back to Christ and witnessed to him about my need for Christ, I think Phil was disappointed in me. I’m sure he thought it was a weakness and a delusion. Unbelief had been a long shared mutual perspective. Being a Christian created a distance for a time. Being a Christian changes relationships and ended another close friendship. The second crisis was when I quitting drinking. I sent him a letter expressing my concern for his drinking. I struggled with sending the letter but finally mailed it. There was a long period with no response. I was concerned that perhaps I had been too confrontive about it. As it turned out, he finally did respond and said he would not allow my letter to threaten a lifelong friendship.
            In a recent conversation, I told Phil about a vision of Christ I had experienced at the end of the Eucharist. He remembered and recounted another vision that I had told him about. I said I would take some time to sort this out. He offered to write out some of his questions for me and I have them in hand. I will include them in my next posting.
            The point of this story is to offer a context for my response and a hope to those of you who have a burden on your heart that God has placed there for an individual in your life. I believe that God has been involved in preparing Phil’s heart for Christ his whole life. I also believe that Phil is correctly convinced that his lifelong friend has not been diminished by his relationship to Christ but has transcended both a miserable and an ordinary life because of Christ. Like any good scientist, he has the longitudinal evidence for this.
“I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.”   (Philippians 4:13).

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Gift Of Lineage

Fr. Dale Matson

One of the greatest gifts that I have received is the legacy of lineage. In many families there is one person who assumes the role of the custodian of the family history. At some point in our lives, we begin to appreciate those who came before us and contributed to who we are. Our ancestors provided a genetic endowment that causes physical characteristics and pushes us more quietly in other ways. How many regret not asking grandma or grandpa the questions about the family before their passing? My wife Sharon videotaped an interview with her grandfather and parents before they passed.

Our personal path may seem linear but our journey is actually more circular. You can go home again. There is almost a mystical quality that emerges when one investigates the family history. It is a treasure hunt assisted by the hand of God.

Celtic Cross On Grosse Isle
My father’s family left Ireland and arrived in Grosse Isle, Quebec, the year the immigration point opened, in 1832. They had a land grant parcel near Cranbourne, Quebec from the King of England for service in his military. The title to this cruel “gift” of land was entitled “Wastelands of the Crown”. I could not put a shovel into it. It was unsuitable for farming. The current owner’s new home rested on the old Matson foundation.  An infant Matson died on the journey in what were later dubbed, “coffin ships”, during the potato famine. Grosse Isle has a large anachronistic Celtic cross overlooking French Canada. The cross is also a symbolic tombstone for the British plantations in Quebec. Matsons were buried in Cranbourne and later moved by the French to a consolidated gravesite at Christ’s Church of Springbrook near Frampton. The last Anglican families left in 1952 after planting forget-me-nots around the church.  We retraced their steps further and found ourselves back in Ireland.

St. Salvator's Church
My family came from Cornacreeve and Glaslough in County Monaghan in Ulster. County Monaghan is one of the three Ulster counties in the Republic of Ireland. My family came from an area of County Monaghan that juts into Northern Ireland like a peninsula. They were tenant farmers on the Leslie estate. The Leslie family history is lengthy and full of bishops. The Glaslough cemetery is full of Matsons. I returned home with dirt from their graves and put it in my yard. Bishop John Leslie erected St. Salvator’s Church (Church of Ireland) on his estate about 1665. Although many public records were destroyed by fire in the 1922 uprising, many records remained in the local churches. My family history was recorded in ledgers contained in cardboard boxes in the belfry of St. Salvator’s church and the Sr. Warden trusted us to make photocopies in town.

Sanctuary of St. Salvator's Church
We attended Sunday services and communed at the same rail of my ancestors’ centuries earlier. I was a part of the communion of saints who had gone before.This was a journey that continued to unfold before us as word of mouth spread that the Matsons were visiting. We were directed from place to place and family to family. In Ireland, we were family. I was reconnected to the vine. Some Matsons had stayed and I met cousins no longer named Matson. Another branch left for South Africa. Time was set aside for us by those that remembered my family. I was edified and warmed by the kind words said about them.

And Ireland itself welcomed us. What a verdant land of history. The very soul of Ireland is represented in the Trinity College Library that includes the Book Of Kells, the Book of Durrow and the Brian Boru Harp. The countryside is a living monument to Christianity. We visited the Fore Abby after a rainstorm and the mist surrounding it provided a portal to the 7th century.

In discovering the history of my family, I discovered parts of myself along the way. It is not just about us. It is about us in the context of family. It is a true gift to have and to know and to acknowledge. Thank You Lord. Amen