What does it cost?
Parishioner Martha Pierce found a distinctive peace and quiet at St. James' nearly 20 years ago. Today, she is especially committed to her ministry in Healing Prayer. Her reflections on supporting St. James' delve deep -- even into the "plethora of memories and the storehouse of experiences [she finds] within this house of God." Read on...
In 1913, Freud commented that “money matters are treated by civilized people in the same way as sexual matters -- with the same inconsistency, prudishness, and hypocrisy.” I want to break through the cultural barrier which forbids the discussion of money under most everyday circumstances.
I find my self asking the age old question, “what does it cost?” This could entail anything from the everyday basic realities of food and shelter, to the larger concerns of healthcare expenses, retirement, and end-of-life care. “Can I afford it” is the next phrase that enters my mind after I perform a quick cost-benefit analysis in front of the shampoo aisle in my local drugstore.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, remarks that “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This is quite a message, yet one which is rationalized easily in my mind by classifying Bonhoeffer, in my father’s words, as a “bit of an extremist.” Anything I would tell you about my own participation in this life pales in comparison the blood of the martyrs shed on behalf of their solid convictions and faith in a person named Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, I found myself reduced to tears as I quietly thought about what I would share about myself in relationship to the reality of how I live out my faith in this Jesus as part of St. James’ Church.
Belonging to Jesus costs me very little. Little in comparison to the plethora of memories and the storehouse of experiences I find within this house of God. I entered St. James' Church on Homecoming Sunday 1996 -- a little over twenty years ago -- after spotting an eye-catching bouquet of balloons streaming out of the front door of the church. I was running by on my way back from the park, mostly in search of some sort of awareness of how to best navigate my newly-found home in the midst of a sea of competing demands on my time and psyche. I entered the church that evening for a 6:00 p.m. service and found the peace and quiet which has so helped contain my life. It was a peace and quiet which I found even again when, five years later, earth-shattering circumstances intruded upon us: We worshiped in Temple Israel while waiting for building renovations to be complete and, like deer in head lights, we joined the throngs of New Yorkers facing a fresh graveyard of 3,000 people just eight miles away.
I could list the variety of activities and small roles I have had over two decades as a member of St. James' Church. My current and most favorite activity (apart from my membership on the Rockwell committee) is participating in the weekly healing prayer ministry. Being a recipient of healing prayer is as powerful as finding myself on the other side of the altar rail; it is given to those who seek to present themselves, their friends, and their families to God and ask for spiritual intervention targeting their bodies, minds, and every imaginable part of their lives. There is power in the name of Jesus and as we invoke this power we all change. God’s active healing presence through the participation in this activity can fully sustain us no matter what the outcome.
In addition, the sustenance derived from the Word of God and the Sacraments are offered several times each week at St. James'. I am enabled to live in the power of the Holy Spirit despite my full awareness that the only true guarantee in this life is death. I can either live this life in daily fear of that eventuality or I can move through each minute of every day housed in this place where our lives, our fears, our sorrows, and our celebrations can be wholly contained and held. There is room for each one of us in this place.
As you absorb your own moments and memories here at St. James', please continue to realize how little it does cost each one of us to be a part of this ongoing conversation about a larger life. We can each hold onto our fears about surviving, or be held by something so much more than we could ever ask or imagine.
Entering into this life at St. James' and actively participating in this holy space reminded me of that same balloon image I once was asked to hold during a course in hypnosis. The leader of the seminar, in a very calming voice, asked us to visualize our hand holding onto a large bunch of balloons. We were then told to count backwards from the number ten and let go of the imaginary balloons when we reached the number one. I was unable to do this, rendering me a poor candidate for hypnosis. At that time, it was clear that my wish to hold onto the balloons and my mistrust in the process represented a whole host of hesitations and disbelief about the practice of hypnosis.
The message of letting go also has to do with how we think about giving our yearly financial support of St. James'. I so believe our church is a different kind of an institution, as compared to a club or a museum. The tangibility of goods offered here is certainly less than ones which can be purchased at a department store. And there is absolutely no guarantee that even one of your prayers uttered here will be answered as if God is a vending machine or an ATM.
Offering money to spread the word about Jesus flies in the face of all that we are told in a world constructed on the advertising images reflected on Madison Avenue. Signing on for a financial commitment merely represents your willingness to support this place with its intangible returns on your future. Letting go of your cash in order to support St. James' can contribute to the lives of others. Pledging your yearly monetary contribution may provide the message of a living Jesus to a world destined to hoard as much of their balloon supply as possible. We can all continue to live as if holding on for dear life to our personal resources will keep us afloat -- and maybe even prolong our lives. But when we let go and allow ourselves to be held by God and by St. James', the world has a slightly different appeal. Contrary to the incivility in Freud’s time, our destinies can revolve around a more civilized humanity. This civility contains a consistent message, the practice of a non-judgmental attitude towards self and others, and an embracing of a truth which supports full disclosure of our own helplessness in the face of life and death.