Thursday, September 28, 2006

Walking the Danville Labyrinth in Prayer

I'm taking part in a Wednesday night small group discussion at church titled "Worship Alive." Among the topics we've discussed is the ancient practice of walking a labyrinth.

In this practice, the walker enters the path to the center of the labyrinth, walking slowly and in a prayerful manner, and makes his-or-her way along the path. At the center, the walker must turn around and walk the same path back out. (The labyrinth is not a maze--no dead ends here, just one way in and back out again!)

The most famous labyrinth is set into the floor of Chartre Cathedral in France. Flying to France would be quite a trip for me, but I recently discovered that a labyrinth has been built in a park at Danville, Kentucky, near the campus of Centre College. This is a Chartre-style labyrinth, and is (as you can see) in the open air.

There are two links for this topic: and This last link takes you to a virtual labyrinth.

The act of movement in prayer helps to concentrate the mind. And the twisting path of the Chartre Labyrinth suggests certain themes for meditation. One thinks, or example, of the four seasons of the year, of the turns and twists in a normal life, and of the search for peace at the center. A cross divides it into four quadrants, which are interconnected.

I'm told prayer inside a labyrinth can be very deep and meaningful.

Thoughts? Comments?

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Monday, September 25, 2006

A prayer that Huston Smith might like

In a previous post, I discussed Huston Smith's new book, The Soul of Christianity (right). One argument he makes in that book is that the Christian world view--and the view of all of the world's major religions--is that the physical universe isn't the only reality.

Our physical universe of matter and energy is at present the only universe that science can access, which is the basis for the modernist view that foregrounds materialism. One thinks of Carl Sagan's introduction to Cosmos back in the '70s, when he said, while a beautiful series of star views played across the TV screen, "The Universe. It is all that exists. It is all that has ever existed, and all that ever will exist."

Huston Smith argues that the Invisible Universe is just as real as "reality." In fact, as physicists tell us, "reality" i.e. matter, is really a form of congealed data. Reality is in some sense information, not stuff.

Anyway, I found a beautiful prayer in The Book of Common Prayer that I thought Huston Smith might enjoy. It's actually Proper 20, the prayer for this week, and it runs as follows:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The ancient words sound surprisingly current, don't they?

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Huston Smith and "Restoring the Great Tradition" of Christianity

Huston Smith, author of The World's Religions, has published a new book, The Soul of Christianity: Restoring the Great Tradition. Smith says this book is in reaction to a book by one of his former students, Marcus Borg. Smith says he told Borg that he thought too much had been surrendered "to secular modernity." Borg, of course, disagreed, and so Smith decided to refute Borg's book, The Heart of Christiainity with his own book.

Smith's arguments are too complex to paraphrase here, but when he speaks of Christianity's "Great Tradition," he means the church's the first 1,000 years. In those centuries, Christianity was essentially one voice, before the Eastern church broke away from the Roman church, and of course centuries before the Protestant Reformation. "This tradition is the trunk of the Christian tree, of which all our [present-day] churches are branches" (186), he says. He would like to see this Great Tradition preserved and strengthened.

Smith identifies certain ideas that are central to "classical Christianity," viz. the Trinity, the Incarnation, and Atonement.

The first part of his book attacks the modernist view, also called materialism. If 21st century science tells us anything, it is that the universe of matter and energy is not "all there is." One of the underlying ideas of Christianity (and of the other major world religions, Smith says) is that the visible universe is suspended in the web of a larger multi-verse. We are surrounded by transcendence.

It's an interesting book, well worth reading.

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Thursday, September 21, 2006

September 21: St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Today many Christians remember Saint Matthew and are giving thanks to God for his witness as an apostle and evangelist. The Scripture readings associated with the day bear the themes of Matthew as a Gospel-writer (hence readings that speak of the Scriptures), Matthew as an Apostle, and Matthew as a sinner called by God's grace:

  • Psalm 119:33-40 or Psalm 19:2-5 (A stanza in praise of the Scriptures)
  • Ezekiel 2:8--3:11 (God gives the prophet a scroll, a message for the people of Israel)
  • Ephesians 2:4-10 (Christ takes sinners and incorporates them into the company of the saints.)
  • Matthew 9:9-13 (Jesus sees the tax-collector Matthew at his desk, and says, "Follow me.")

The Church has composed many prayers for this day. Here are two, one or both of which you may wish to offer within your heart:

From the Parisian Missal, 1936:

Almighty God, in your boundless mercy you choose Matthew, a tax collector, to share the dignity of your apostles: Enable us, sustained by his example, steadfastly to follow your Son Jesus Christ and to remain faithful in your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

From the Book of Common Prayer

We thank thee, heavenly Father, for the witness of thine Apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of thy Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"Embrace Your Inner Pentecostal"


There's an intereting article in Christianity Today Online titled "Embrace Your Inner Pentecostal," by Chris Armstrong. The focus of Armstrong's article is the influence Pentecostalism has had on main-line faiths--not just in modern worship but in the inner faith journeys of individual Christians.

He argues that Pentecostalism is anti-modern--in fact post-modern--in its experiential emphasis. He also claims that Pentecostalsm encourages the early-Christian practice of "Eudaemonism," or happiness in the faith.

I thought we might be interested in this argument because Pastor Gene's current sermon series is on the joy-filled book of Philippians. For the next few weeks we'll be talking about happiness in the faith.

The link is

Best wishes,
Mason Smith

Going On A Trip

Hello Everyone,

I just wanted to check in with everyone and see how things are going for you.

I am about to go on a little trip. I am going to Hastings, NE and The Grand Canyoun. I figured I would give a "heads up" about this. I would like for everyone to pray for us on this trip that we have a smooth and enjoyable vacation and get back safely. I will be leaving on Saturday morning (probably) and will not be back for at least two weeks. I will miss two if not three services (depending when I get back). I suppose that the choir and Sunday School will have to do without me for a bit. I wish everyone well. I will miss church dearly, but this is an opportunity that doesn't come eveyday (maybe once in a lifetime--some may not get this opportunity at all).

God Bless You. Be Safe.


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Prayer for Steve Irwin

Many of our readers will be familiar with Australian naturalist and TV personality Steve Irwin and his wife, Terri, who for years hosted "The Crocodile Hunter" program on Animal Planet. Steve died this week while filming a documentary when a singray attacked him, spearing him with its barb. He leaves behind not only his wife but two small children.

Perhaps readers of Anthrakia might want to remember Irwin's family in their prayers this week. My family and I have enjoyed his work for a long time, and we will miss him like a personal friend.

In additon to the normal prayers for comfort and understanding, we might also pray for the thousands of other men and women who face danger in the course of their jobs. Irwin, of course, was an entertainer and educator, but police offcers, firefighters, military personnel go to work every day not knowing if they will return.

Perhaps such a prayer might go like this:

Almightly God, please send your Holy Spirit to comfort the family of Steve Irwin. Be with them in their time of loss and bring the healing that only You can bring. Also, Lord, be with the men and women who must go into dangerous waters each day. Help them to accept the dangers of their service, and to know that You are with them in every sea, at every depth. Be with us also, Lord, as we struggle to accept the loss of a beloved naturalist and educator. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Monday, September 04, 2006

A prayer for Labor Day

This is Labor Day in the United States, and The Book of Common Prayer includes a short prayer to be said on this holiday. Many Christians today will join us in praying the following:

Almightly God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; though Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

September 2: Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig

Today Lutherans throughout the world are remembering Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig (how's that for name!), known as the "Poet of Whitsuntide." He wrote more than a thousand hymns. Two of his more well-known hymns are "Built On a Rock, the Church Doth Stand" and "God's Word is Our Great Heritage." Grundtvig will always be remembered as the greatest historian, poet, educator, religious philosopher, hymn-writer, and folk leader that Denmark has ever produced. Many more of Grundtvig's hymns can be found at Gamle Danske Sange and Grundtvig: salmer i udvalg (Project Runeberg).

The collect for today:

Almighty God, we praise you for the men and women you have sent to call the Church to its tasks and renew its life, such as your servant Nikolai Grundtvig. Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit, whose voices will give strength to your Church and proclaim the reality of your kingdom; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

September 2: The Martyrs of New Guinea, 1942

Today many of our Anglican/Episcopal friends remember those Christians who died as martyrs in New Guinea sixty-four years ago. Here briefly is the story:

New Guinea (also called Irian), one of the world's largest islands, has a difficult terrain that discourages travel between districts, Consequently, it is home to many isolated tribes, with many different cultures and at least 500 languages. Christian missionaries began work there in the 1860's, but proceeded slowly.

When World War II threatened Papua and New Guinea, it was obvious that missionaries of European origin were in danger. There was talk of leaving. Bishop Philip Strong wrote to his clergy: "We must endeavour to carry on our work. God expects this of us. The church at home, which sent us out, will surely expect it of us. The universal church expects it of us. The people whom we serve expect it of us. We could never hold up our faces again if, for our own safety, we all forsook Him and fled, when the shadows of the Passion began to gather around Him in His spiritual and mystical body, the Church in Papua."

They stayed. Almost immediately there were arrests. Eight clergymen and two laymen were executed "as an example" on September 2, 1942. In the next few years, many Papuan Christians of all Churches risked their own lives to care for the wounded.

Here is a prayer you may wish to give God:

Almighty God, we remember before you this day the blessed martyrs of New Guinea, who, following the example of their Savior, laid down their lives for their friends; and we pray that we, who honor their memory, may imitate their loyalty and faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Friday, September 01, 2006

August 31: Aidan of Lindisfarne

Today many Christiains remember Aidan of Lindisfarne who was a memorable missionary, abbot, and bishop among the Celtic people. The Book of Common Prayer provides these words of thanksgiving which you may wish to offer to God as you pause to remember the life of this wonderful saint:

O loving God, who called your servant Aidan from the peace of a Cloister to re-establish the Christian mission in northern England, and gave him the gifts of gentleness, simplicity, and strength: Grant that we, following his example, may use what you have given us for the relief of human need, and may persevere in commending the saving Gospel of our Redeemer Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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