Thy kingdom come

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen. 

I am intrigued by Gospel stories that give us a glimpse of Jesus’s prayer life. I’m guessing from the first line of our passage today, that the disciples were intrigued too. 

After teaching and extroverting, the Gospel tells us that Jesus went away by himself to pray. I imagine that he came back emanating a different kind of energy; a refreshed, grounded and perhaps more generous kind of presence than he had had before going away to pray. So much so, that one of his disciples asks him to teach them how to pray. 

Debie Thomas, a spiritual writer and minister of lifelong formation, suggests that the disciples were not ignorant or inexperienced when it came to prayer; they were devout Jews who had most likely grown up regularly attending corporate worship - maybe they were like our servers - readers, intercessors or acolytes. They knew their prayer techniques, but they were seeking something different, something that reflected a qualitatively different kind of prayer that Jesus seemed to be able to do. 

This weekend, I did something I haven’t done in a while - I watched some late night comedy to catch up on the news. It turns out that they had plenty of material to work with. This week the congressional hearings on the Jan 6th insurrection concluded, the ever-increasing pressure of climate change is being felt around the world while the US government can’t seem to find a way to mitigate emissions, and the WHO director general declared the beginning of a monkey pox pandemic.

Of less interest to late night comedians, a lot has been taking place in the church world too. General Convention, the meeting of the governing body of the Episcopal Church in the U.S., concluded almost 2 weeks ago, with some really positive outcomes. And now Anglican Bishops from around the world, including our own Bishop John, and many other attendees are preparing to meet at the Lambeth Conference in England, starting on July 26. 

One of the most impactful experiences in my spiritual journey was the opportunity to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference as a youth steward. 

Since 1867, the Archbishop of Canterbury has invited all the bishops in the worldwide Anglican Communion, currently representing 165 countries across the world, to gather in person once every 10 years or so. As an interesting side note, I learned that the first two Lambeth Conferences in 1867 and 1878 were convened at the request of Anglican bishops in Canada. 

In 1867, now as then, not everyone was on board with the idea of the conference, and a number of bishops refused to attend. One of the main fears was that this gathering would centralize authority and challenge local authority, the way parishes are sometimes uncomfortable with diocesan authority, or provinces with federal authority. 

Fast forward to 2022, and again we have bishops preparing to gather amidst mixed feelings and trepidation. While the Lambeth Conference has passed resolutions, it is not primarily a legislative space, but a gathering place. In that spirit, the Lambeth 2022 organizers tried to do away with resolutions. Unfortunately, one resolution remains for discussion. And that is a resolution from 1998 affirming the notion of marriage as between a man and a woman, abstinence for those not called to marriage, as well as a call to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation. In addition to this, Archbishop Justin Welby invited LGBT bishops to Lambeth 2022, but not their spouses. 

The 2008 Lambeth Conference that I attended, which was the last Lambeth Conference held, also took place in the midst of pain, conflict and exclusion. Bishop Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church from New Hampshire, was not invited to attend the conference as a Bishop, and many bishops from the Global south refused to attend. 

The youth stewards, of which I was a part, were a group of 50 or so, young people 35 years and under, from all over the Anglican Communion, lay and ordained, who served as gophers, security, shepherds, anything that was needed by the conference organizers and the attendees. We differed in our perspectives on the full inclusion of women and LGBT people in the church, we differed in our sense of vocation in and for the church, and on many other dimensions of our identities. And yet, we all cared deeply for the church, we all cared deeply for our faith. We sang together, drank (probably too much) together, laughed together and prayed together.

Every day, a different province in the Anglican Communion hosted a worship service. While there was a diversity of worship leaders, liturgy and music, one thing that was consistent was the invitation to pray the Lord’s prayer. Every day, we gathered under a giant purple tent that held over 1,000 people, and when the invitation to join in the Lord’s prayer was offered, the beautiful cacophony of hundreds of people praying this ancient prayer in their own language could be heard.

At Lambeth, I experienced a leveling of hierarchy. There were a number of bishops who enjoyed taking breaks to talk to the youth stewards. I was so honored to talk to bishops who were vulnerable and authentic about their vocations and their questions.

I remember a bible study, where I heard a British bishop confess to a Sudanese bishop that he finds it really hard to pray. I heard an African bishop share with the other bishops in the room about people in his diocese that faced physical persecution because of their faith. The intense inner conflict of the desire for community and the desire to honor their commitment to deeply held values, opened up for many a space of vulnerability and a searching desire to catch a glimpse of the other person with the eyes of Jesus.

Even with the brokenness of the church laid bare, I remember thinking that if leaders were able to be vulnerable enough to be open about their questions about the church, their roles, their personal desires, the dryness of their spiritual lives, their humility about not knowing the way forward, or how to be in genuine relationship with each other, then this was something I wanted to belong to.

There are so few spaces in society that can contain doubt and questioning and that try to be guided by a desire for a hoped for reality that is unknown and yet unseen. It made me feel that there was something much larger undergirding it all, and there was spaciousness - space for my doubts, straying and wonderings too.

I wonder if that’s what Jesus found in his prayer time. A place to unburden himself of the expectations of those around him, a place to shed his expectations of himself, a place to reorder his ego, to let go of what wasn’t his to fix and clarity to claim what was, a place to ground himself in the ground of all being, to reconnect to the eternal and the unchanging beneath what is temporary and constantly changing. A place of freedom to be whole and fully known and loved and healed by God. I don’t mean for a discussion of prayer to paper over the very difficult question that is part of humanity’s spiritual struggle: the question of how to be in loving relationship with those around us.

Many days I find it difficult to be in loving relationship with the people I say I love, including myself!, much less the people I disagree with, don’t like, or don’t understand. It is a profound spiritual challenge that confronts each of us.

But I do believe that there is real transformative power in prayer. Transformation of the self. Transformation of our relationships. A mysterious transformation of the communities we belong to and ultimately the world.

I am grateful for this broken and beautiful community of seekers that is the Church, grateful to be part of a community that can pray when confronted with the limits of our understanding and our abilities and our sustenance.

Grateful that we have a God who listens to our prayers, and to whom we can pray, leaning into the divine mystery, with trust, expectation and unknowing: “Your kingdom come.”