Breathing In…

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The life of the Christian has three distinguishing aspects: deeds, words and thought. Thought comes first, then words, since our words express openly the interior conclusions of the mind. Finally, after thoughts and words, comes action, for our deeds carry out what the mind has conceived. So when one of these results in our acting or speaking or thinking, we must make sure that all our thoughts, words and deeds are controlled by the divine ideal, the revelation of Christ. For then our thoughts, words and deeds will not fall short of the nobility of their implications.  St. Gregory of Nyssa, 4th Century

St. Gregory of Nyssa was one of the most important, formative theologians and bishops within the wider Christian Church. We “owe” a great deal to him when it comes to how we understand God, although he may be unknown to most. He and his brother St. Basil (the source of our Eucharistic Prayer D) and their friend St. Gregory of Nazianzus, described the Holy Trinity as a Divine Community of Oneness. The rich images of the Holy Trinity and the Nicene Creed can be traced to them.

One of the images St. Gregory offers us as a parish community is that of a movement within the spiritual life, within Christian discipleship. St. Gregory invites us to consider our own awareness of and participation in this movement: that we are called to a life of inner communion and realization of God’s presence in our lives, which we then embody within our Christian discipleship in the community and wider world. [1] There is a flow, St. Gregory says, a flow that goes in and out.

We are introducing this new reflection space called In & Out at Grace Church with many hopes. One hope is that we increase our ‘proficiency’ within our practice of faith. [2] It is important, as we have shared with one another, always to keep growing, to continue opening ourselves to new insights from God. I’m reminded of Cynthia’s sermon from October 26, when she wondered with us what image we have of God. How has our image of God changed throughout our lives, and what language have we been given to help describe the Source of all life that flows through us?

Another hope is that we enter more deeply into our practices of prayer. Prayer undergirds every aspect of our life. As Anglicans, we understand ourselves to be people of prayer, people at prayer. The two books which frame our self-awareness are, of course, the Bible (a collection of books, we remember) as well as the Book of Common Prayer. It is through praying together as a community that we come to understand ourselves more fully. It is through prayer that we yearn to experience what St. Gregory describes as divine ideal, the revelation of Christ.

It is easy to get swept away in the busyness of life, neglecting our need to cultivate the inner dimension of a practice of prayer. This temptation, of course, lies at the heart of the wonderful story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38ff). Martha kept busy in the house, preparing the dinner and focusing on the tasks at hand. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to the Lord and soaking in his presence. It is easy to read this text and say that Martha was wrong—or that Mary was wrong. But, the deeper meaning rests in realizing that both point toward aspects of our Christian, and that it matters how one approaches the tasks at hand.

This, in essence, embodies the purpose of our reflections. How do we understand the flow between the cultivation of a practice of prayer (the contemplative and formative dimensions of faith) and the invitation to embody our faith through compassion in the world around us (the rich conversations around vocation, call, and service). It is a very Benedictine model, at its heart, that realizes the profound truth behind the monastic ideal of ora et labora, prayer and work. Both flow together—dance together—with work flowing out of the overflow of the Divine presence that rests within and is cultivated in our spiritual heart.

So, we offer this reflection to the community. I will draw on the richness of the Christian tradition within the sphere of formation, of contemplative practice while Cynthia will draw on the richness of our call to embodiment and vocation and compassion. And, we will build on each other, responding to one another’s reflection and watching the conversation grow and expand…and invite us all in deeper and deeper to our true identity in Christ as a spiritual community.

Many blessings, always,
Fr. Stuart



[1] Tilden Edwards offers a wonderful meditation on this, and I’m indebted to him for his introducing me to the image Gregory of Nyssa offers.

[2] Stephen Prothero is an important contributor to the conversation around the need for a greater proficiency of faith, noting how we lack so much awareness of theological language within contemporary church life.


  1. It’s interesting how so many different thinkers’ ideas focus on the importance of mindfulness in relationships and daily life.

  2. Anita, thank you!…. I agree….I think there is such importance in cultivating mindfulness… I’ve been thinking about a “framework” or “paradigm” of “A Conscious Parish,” a community that is mindful of its vocation, its language, its practices, its need for greater interconnectedness…. Let’s talk more!

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