Yesterday, June 28, the Episcopal Church marked the life and work of St. Irenaeus of Lyons. Although the dates of his birth and death are uncertain, we know Irenaeus lived during the second century CE. As a young adult, perhaps even as a teenager, Irenaeus took Christianity to Lyons, in southern France, where he was later ordained a presbyter (priest). He had learned his faith from Polycarp, a venerable early Church leader (and later martyr) who had himself learned from John the Evangelist. Irenaeus lived during a time of Christian persecution, before the Roman empire had adopted Christianity as a unifying religion. While away in Rome on church business, the bishop of Lyons died in prison and Irenaeus was elected to replace him.

The church business Irenaeus traveled to handle is what he is remembered for. During the first few centuries of the Church, there was great debate over doctrine (though perhaps this is part of the essential nature of being the Church, since there are plenty of continuing debates over doctrine today). There was no central Christian authority and different communities from all sides of the Mediterranean and throughout the Middle East had their own unique flavors of belief and practice. What were the tenets of this new faith of Christ followers? How was scripture to be interpreted (and what counted as scripture)? How did Jesus being human and divine work? How did creation come to be?

Irenaeus was dispatched to Rome to mediate conflict coming out of all these questions and different answers to them. In particular, he went to address the creeping influence of gnosticism (gnosis is Greek for knowing; gnostics believed that Christ came to reveal sp). Rather than a singular alternative religion, what scholars call gnosticism today was a collection of philosophies and beliefs that shared certain characteristics – all of which were close enough to Christianity to be confused for it. Irenaeus went to clear things up (he also wrote a book about it).

One central feature of gnosticism was an assertion that there were two Gods instead of one (Triune) God: the God of Hebrew scripture, and the God of (what would become) the New Testament. Gnostics believed that the God of Hebrew Scriptrue formed the world out of matter and was subordinate and inferior to the New Testament God, who was ineffable and transcendent and revealed in Christ. (A very simplified equation of another gnostic belief: material world < spiritual world; matter = bad, spirit = good. This makes things like the Creation and the Incarnation kind of tricky.) Christ, in turn, was an emissary from a higher realm who descended and took up residence in the body of Jesus (eek!) to reveal secret mysteries to spiritual men and women. (To be clear, this is not Christianity!)

Irenaeus wrote against all of this (and more) using the “rule of faith,” asserting with scriptural backing from Deuteronomy and Corinthians that “there is one God, ‘maker of heaven and earth, who formed man…called Abraham, led the people [of Israel] from the land of Egypt, spoke with Moses, gave the law, sent the prophets,’ and is also ‘the Father or our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Christian faith did not begin with Christ,” as the gnostics held, but “had its beginnings with God the creator who had given the law to the Jewish people and sent the prophets” (Wilken, 44). There was only one God, and that God was present throughout the entire story.

The rule of faith I mentioned above was an oral tradition in the early church. Just like there was no cannonical Bible, there were no doctrinal creeds in the second century (the first version of the Nicene Creed was affirmed in 325 CE). To profess their faith, Christians preparing for baptism were asked a set of three questions about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “We believe, wrote Irenaeus, in ‘one God almighty from whom are all things…and in the Son of God Jesus Christ our Lord….who became man, and in the Spirit of God’” (44). This rule, which had been handed down orally and was part of the tradition of Christian teachings, was key to scriptural interpretation for Irenaeus. It was the pattern, the rhythm of belief, that gave meaning to the whole (44-45).  Not only was there one God, who created all things, but that God became flesh and was present as the Spirit of God as well.

We carry the imprint of Irenaeus in our faith today. We affirm that there is one Triune God, that our faith stretches back to the stories of Genesis, and that Creation – the physical world – are good. And, we understand our apostolic (which is to stay, beginning with the apostles of Jesus) faith to be “known through the witness of persons and the teachings and practices of a community that extend[s] back in time” (45). We are part of a rich, beautiful, troubling, inspiring, confounding lineage of faith, and Anglicanism draws deeply from the well of Christian tradition in our belief and practice. What we do and say and sing and pray is connected to these ancient conversations.

If all of this feels a little esoteric, I’ll leave you with this. I am fresh off a beach vacation, during which I watched Elliott (now 8 ½ months old!) eat a lot of sand and begin to learn to crawl. He was moving his body and experiencing new parts of Creation in new ways. It was wonderful! Reflecting on it, and on Irenaeus, I am grateful that my tradition affirms that his body is Good and that so is the sand he ate. The same is true of my body, and yours, no matter our frustrations with them or their limitations or what society tells us about them. There is nothing that Elliott or you or I have to do to access salvation, no secret knowledge out of reach – it has been given freely to us, by a God who also had the body of a baby and probably ate some dirt and sand, too. We are already loved and Good – because we are made by the God who created the whole world (including all that sand) and called it Good and at whose heart is love. And we can rest in God’s heart, with ancestors like Abraham and Sarah and Irenaeus, eternally.

~Rebecca

The older I grow, the more I believe that along the spectrum of human endeavors, parenting wins top prize under the general category: most important task while being really hard and really worth it and really heart-expanding and heart-breaking and humbling and joyful and mind-blowing and awesome and fearful and amazing and exasperating  and  … and … and … and …  all at once.

As a parent (and depending on the age of my children), I have experienced a full range of human emotions. And, if I am being both honest and self-aware/self-reflective — with the exception of being a spouse — there is nothing quite like being a parent that offers a mirror or window into my own soul: its mountains and valleys; what is healed and what is whole; what aches and what still lies broken, lingering, beneath the surface.

What do I really believe? What do I hope for? What do I fear? Does this show up, in how I parent? Sure it does.

Also true is that as I grow older, I gain a deeper understanding of my relationship with my own parents. With this understanding comes greater compassion, both for myself and for them.

Revelations sometimes come when we least expect them; when, for some inexplicable reason, “the veil of the temple is torn in two”, and the fog, for a moment, lifts.

Here is one that was given to me, on a walk by a stream last spring. I share it today in the hope that it might speak to you in some meaningful, life-giving way.

Love,
Cristina

Revelation by A Stream

it was three days
after
she had surrendered
her spirit

(and)

i was walking
by the side
of a stream

i am sorry
it was so hard

i whispered

so much
of the time
between us

(then)

in the silence

i heard
her say

my child

i gave you
all the apples
i had
to give you

it turns out
you needed oranges
as well

if i
had had
oranges
i would have given them
to you
too

i gave you
all the apples
i had

***

my heart

once heavy

softened

becoming

light

Have you ever taken one of those crazy Facebook© quizzes like, “What kind of cat are you?” or “What kind of drink are you?” or What kind of house will you live in next year?”  Well— ahem, I have.  They used to be fun, but then they started getting weird; I know, even weirder than the cat question.  However, I admit I am a sucker for answering the questions, if only to see if the results resonate with me.

Most of us have taken a personality-type test of some sort like the Myers Briggs Personality Test © or StrengthFinders©.  They were designed with a little bit of the Greek aphorism “know thyself” and a lot of psychological theory to help the test-taker understand their unique perception of the world and their response to it.  Often the testing was done in a corporate setting with the explicit objective of making more effective and productive members of the corporation.  With that all said and done, I still consider myself an ENFJ who sometimes acts like an INFP. J

Nevertheless, I was introduced to the Enneagram through a workshop at Well for the Journey, a non-profit dedicated to spiritual and emotional wellness in Towson, and I have been on quite a ride of self-knowing ever since.  With the help of a consultant, using the Enneagram has assisted me in understanding how my unique perceptions color my thoughts and behaviors in ways that affect my relationships with life in general and those I love in particular.

The Enneagram is a spiritual tool first believed to have originated in the 4th century with an early Christian Desert Father, Evagrius.  “He used the nine-pointed symbol to highlight vices that disturbed inner peace.”  Here, the idea was to find balance in one’s personality to know the peace of Christ as much as possible in day-to-day living.  It was a S. American psychiatrist who “used modern psychology to develop a theory of nine distinct personalities—enneatypes—that highlighted the vices, virtues, and core motivations of each type.”

As my friend, Beverly, is quick to point out though, every human being has each type within them, but has conditioned themselves to use a single one in most circumstances.  The types are part of a triad assigned to a specific portion of the human anatomy dependent on how one makes most decisions whether heart, head, or gut.  Types 1, 8, and 9 usually decide by their gut feelings; types 2, 3, and 4 by their heart; Types 5, 6, and 7 decide by their intellect.  However, all salient components of each type are necessary for truly effective decision-making.

So now, you might ask—so what?  What good does knowing have to do with being or doing?  I would answer, “A lot.”  Recognizing not only my essential qualities but also my basic fears, needs, desires, and motivations helps me to pray through the kinds of changes I need to make in myself.  “Know thyself” becomes more than an aphorism, but an ongoing work of significant importance to my spiritual development—and yours, too, for we are all ONE.

Unlike those other tests I have had fun doing, taking the test and working through the Enneagram itself is helping me to know who I truly am—since I am obviously NOT a cat nor a drink.  And yes, I have laughed at what resonates and there are also quite a few “aha” moments as well.  Those are the ones I live for.  I must admit I am learning something new every day with love and gratitude.

Faithfully,
Freda Marie+

Dear Folks,

I am delighted to announce that Thomasina Wharton will be our new Director of the Center for Wellbeing. The Center for Wellbeing was created by the Reverend Caroline Stewart and David Ware in 2019, and Caroline led the Center for two years as its first director.  Begun in response to an educational series on mental health, its mission is to promote emotional wellbeing for individuals and the Baltimore community, and to nurture spirituality as a component of mental and physical health.

In all that it does, the Center recognizes that wellbeing is a path and a practice, rather than a destination.  Grounded in a parish context, the Center presents workshops, speakers, and book studies, as well as offering spiritual direction for individuals.  It promotes awareness and interest in holistic health, inviting conversation, study, and practice. Thomasina will begin her service on September 1.

Thomasina is a native Baltimorean and the youngest of six siblings. She was educated in Baltimore City Public Schools, Villa Julie College (now Stevenson University), and pursued continuing education at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. She spent 25 years in management roles at Verizon. Upon leaving corporate America, she served as the Executive Pastor at Connexion Point Church in Baltimore with her husband, the Rev. Rayner C. Wharton, Sr., who was lead pastor there for over 30 years. Connexion Point is an intentionally cross-cultural, multi-generation, multi-site church in Edmundson Village, West Baltimore.

In the summer of 2021, Thomasina and Rayner began attending Redeemer, and the following year they were confirmed in the Episcopal Church. They are active members of the parish—part of the Rector’s Bible Study, Connections Choir, leaders in BUILD, and lay eucharistic ministers.

Thomasina brings a lifetime of experience to her role as Center Director. She is a graduate of the Renovare Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation, a two-year training program exploring a variety of spiritual disciplines, Christian community, and retreat leadership. She serves as an on-line facilitator for the Institute, leading a cohort of students across the country and the world. This summer she completes her training at the Bon Secours Spiritual Direction Institute. Perhaps most powerfully, Thomasina offers the presence of a loving, healing spirit to the individuals and couples she guides. “I think my gift is to make space for people, as they find their way,” Thomasina told me last summer as we began to pray about her role at the Church of the Redeemer. It is true: “when you are speaking with Thomasina,” said one of her directees, “it feels like you are the only person in the world.”

Thomasina and Rayner have four adult children and nine grandchildren.

If you haven’t yet met Thomasina, you are in for a treat. Please help me welcome her to our team at Redeemer.

Love,
David

as you walk
across the threshold
behind you — what has been
before you — what has yet to be
be mindful
of what
you carry with you

like one
who is packing
a bag
to go
on pilgrimage

take time
to be still
to reflect
to envision

choose with intention

and take special care
that your compass
orients
to the voice
of the One
who brought you here
who calls you forth

to be
to become
to embody
more fully
who you really are

Beloved

Beloved

Beloved

~Cristina