Sermons

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Evening Hymn

Most Holy God, the Lord of heaven, who in the high-arched sky has placed the sun that flames up from the east and brings the splendors of the dawn:
for you the dazzling star shines forth which in its gleaming path declares the wonders of your glorious power, and beckons us to worship you.
The day departs, the evening stars serenely light the darkening sky; the moon with cool reflected glow will bring the silences of night.
You, Holy One, Creator, Lord, you in the primal world once set the boundaries of the day and night and ordered seasons in their round.
Like sun and day, shine in our hearts; like moon and night, give loving peace. Free us from bonds of blinding sin and guide us on our path to you.

(Hymnal 1982, 31)

Wednesday of Holy Week

Today I heard a wonderful sermon by The Reverend Doctor Thomas G. Long. One of the things he mentioned in the sermon was a book by Tracy Kidder called Old Friends, which is about a community of folks living in a nursing home in Massachusetts. Most of the residents were struggling with losing their memories. They were trying not to forget. Dr. Long held up to us the example of one of the residents who has a different problem - he was not able to forget. He was not able to forget the things he wished he had not done or had done differently in his marriage, now that his wife was dead. He wished he had told her he loved her more, he wished he had not yelled at her over a trifle. Dr. Long was talking about how there are these windows that open, just for a little while, giving us access to God, to love, to experiencing life in its fullness. And then they close. And then it's too late to go back.

I have written elsewhere about doors closing and windows opening, and I have written about regret. But today Dr. Long was speaking about God's regret. God's regret that we do not act, either out of our busyness or our numbness, when we have the chance. I had not thought about it in those term. The Gospel for the day was the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, from Luke, and his focus was on God's regret that the rich man had not taken the opportunity to care for Lazarus, and thus his own soul. Abraham, who was in the bosom of God and who spoke for God in the parable, called the rich man, who was in agony in hell, "child." And Abraham explained that there was a chasm fixed between God and the rich man so that those who would want to go to comfort the rich man could not. Because it was too late. Dr. Long pointed out the regretful way that Abraham spoke to the rich man. My child, even though I want to, I cannot come to you; it is too late. (Not, "You idiot, why should I come to you when you messed up so badly in your life.")

Dr. Long pointed out that of course it is never too late for salvation, that Luke also writes of the prodigal son and of Zaccheus, the rich man who was transformed by his meeting with Jesus so that salvation came to his house in the end. But he did want to say that there are some things for which it is too late, and that not only we but even God regrets that we did not have the life we were created to have.

Of course, when I think about this, I see that again discernment is the key to navigating the path through life. Discerning when the window is open, discerning what we might regret later, and yet not spending one's life agonizing over what could have been. God does not desire the kind of "penitence" that is simply self-flagellation over every missed opportunity. In the old days, at least among Roman Catholics, there was something called "scrupulosity" - a preoccupation with sinfulness, having an overblown sense of one's sinfulness, so that one cannot have a relationship with God. "Tender conscience" is a mild way of putting it, but there are others, such as Hazel Motes, the protagonist of Flannery O'Connor's novel Wise Blood who took to wearing a hair shirt and finally blinded himself - who can not do enough to scourge themselves of sin and never, ever feel that they are worthy to receive God's love. And they are tormented forever, at least in this life.

Life is hard. We try our best sometimes, we don't try enough sometimes. Windows open, doors close, chasms are fixed, we can't go back. But God does not desire that we live tormented lives. We have to be able to learn from not having acted while the window was open but not to be in living hell as a result.

Because in the end, one will always be invited to the banquet. There will always be bread and wine at the table for us at the feast of the supper of the Lamb.

Noon Prayer: Wednesday in Holy Week

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(BCP 220)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday in Holy Week

For many of us, there's a lot of heavy lifting to do during Holy Week. Clergy are preparing for multiple services, daily, each with its own choreography and most with sermons or homilies. Music directors and choirs must figure out how to cover all the services with singers and musicians. Church staff are churning out bulletins and making sure the websites and answering machine messages have all the times listed correctly and the volunteers are taking all the extra calls about everything. Readers and acolytes are needed for unusual times, like Thursday night. The Altar Guild is on duty daily.

And life is still going on as if none of this were happening. Baseball practice or symphony rehearsal is still scheduled, Maundy Thursday notwithstanding. People who have jobs are expected to show up and work as usual, the noon Stations of the Cross notwithstanding. The jazz combo has a gig on Good Friday, a big case is being argued in court, patients are not expecting to wait until after Easter to be seen. There's a funeral to be attended out of town and homework and customers. Everyone is juggling schedules. Life goes on.

It's intense. But actually, it's not unusual. All these things are true, on a smaller scale, every week. We still have to be committed to making time for worship, for prayer, for gathering together, for putting aside the never-ending to-do list and attending to our spiritual lives. Life in God is not something we just do on Sundays for an hour.

This is much more obvious during Holy Week, but it is not any more true. It is always a temptation to skip morning prayer in order to get in a workout or go to coffee with a friend; it is always hard to take twenty minutes for contemplation on Thursday nights. There is always something else that the world beckons us toward that happens at the same time as the time we meant to attend to the Holy.

There have been times when I thought that the monastic life was the only way to truly live a life of prayer. The world is just so distracting! Having prayer scheduled and attendance mandatory as a matter of living out one's vows seemed to me the way to go.

But of course, we have all taken those vows. In our baptismal covenant, we have vowed to life a life of prayer, of feasting and fasting, of teaching and learning, of gathering and studying. It's the other stuff that gets worked in, not the other way around. We make those vows again and again before God and everybody (and will do so again at Easter), and we will vow to uphold one another in our life of attending to the Holy.

We have to be intentional about prayer and about having and developing a spiritual life. It's only when we learn that there are many kinds of prayer and that there are many ways to attend to the Holy that we will find that it is indeed what we do all the time, and it is the rest of the stuff that gets worked in.

Morning Prayer: Tuesday in Holy Week

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(BCP 220)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Evening Prayer: For the Diversity of Races and Cultures

O God, who created all people in your image, we thank you for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world. Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 840)

Monday in Holy Week

Singing "O Sacred Head Sore Wounded" is one of the "joys" of Holy Week. Bach's chorale from his St Matthew's Passion is a beautiful expression of piety - familiar, yet not overused the way Christmas songs can be - that never fails to move me when I sing it.

But on Sunday I did stop singing it, because halfway through the first verse I saw, out of the corner of my eye, my son and several other boys carrying a huge cross down the aisle of the nave. I've seen that cross almost every Palm/Passion Sunday for sixteen years - it's more than ten feet tall and very heavy and plain - but seeing my younger son and the young man who lives next door and other teens bringing it in just stopped me in my tracks. They were very intent on their task, and attended to the raising of it with workmanlike precision, and all the while we (or at least most everyone around me) sang on "Ah, keep my heart thus mov-ed to stand thy cross beneath, to mourn thee, well beloved, yet thank thee for thy death..... Lord, let me never, never, outlive my love for thee.... My days are few, O fail not, with thine immortal power, to hold me that I quail not in death's most fearful hour; that I may fight befriended, and see in my last strive to me thine arms extended upon the cross of life." And at the end of the singing, the sound of the hammer, fixing the cross upon its place at the crossing while the boys came round to their seats beside us... And my heart was mov-ed and my eyes were full of tears.

I spent the first couple of years after coming back to church (after a long absence) sitting in church with my tears leaking out most every week. Tears of regret, of sadness, of joy, of relief, of surrender. The grand drama of the Holy Week liturgies particularly entice me to connect with my own brokenness and the brokenness of the world we live in. The world where violence is on view everywhere and lying and cheating are part of everyday life. The world where justice still does not roll down like the waters. The world in which those whose job it is to protect the vulnerable choose instead to protect themselves and their peers. The world where people are still spitting on one another and mocking and calling one another names. The world my children are learning to navigate.

The world God desires to transform into the new heaven and new earth.

Noon Prayer: Monday in Holy Week

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(BCP 220)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Evening Prayer

Almighty and most merciful God, kindle within us the fire of love, that by its cleansing flame we may be purged of all our sins and made worthy to worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 111)

Sunday Reading


Today being Palm Sunday, I'm linking you over to Padre Mickey's Dance Party, the blog of an Episcopal priest serving in Panama, in which you get to see how they gather and prepare palms for Palm Sunday. While here, one person just goes over to the Cathedral to pick up a bunch already ready for Sunday, in Panama, they head out to gather them in the jungle and the altar guild folks then make them ready for use in church. I love how everyone is involved getting the church ready for the day! See the palm gathering here, and the preparations here.

Over at Religion Dispatches (Exhilarating the Breakfast Table since 2008), check out this essay by Mark Vernon called "Does Evolution Favor Religion?" Vernon takes a look at the "selfish gene" versus the "Good Samaritan" and explores the question of individualism and acts of altruism in light of the work of David Sloan Wilson, a biologist who calls "the selfish gene" a myth and who believes that human success depends upon doing what's best for the community rather than individuals.

Finally, check out this map from Gallup showing the self-reported well-being (thriving, struggling, or suffering) of adults in all the countries in the world.

Happy Reading!


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Heads

I spend a lot of time in my head. I like Ideas, and Thinking. I enjoy reading and talking and theories and all sorts of intellectual exercises and engagement (except doing math problems). Reading the Scriptures, participating in liturgy, studying history and theology - all these things I can do and enjoy very much in my head.

There are times, however, when I need to get out of my head. I can do that in company with others - listening, sympathizing, talking to and from the heart. Warm interaction with others is not such a head-thing. And there are plenty of times when a little levity, a little silliness, a little sadness bring me in touch with my core self. But still, I find it really easy to go to theory at the times when I ought to stay with my feelings more and just let them be for a while.

My fear is that I will be overcome by feelings, I suspect. And end up a puddle on the floor. I well remember being an emotional teenager, reacting to much of what happened in life with intense feelings that threatened to sweep me away. Sometimes I was swept away. It felt out of control. And sometimes I ended up in places where I'd rather not be. My feelings clouded my judgment.

So the head seems safer, not to mention smarter (in all senses of the word). Like many children, part of my formation was singing "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so." See? Books!

We are approaching Holy Week. This is a time when I wish most to be able to move easily between head and heart, between thinking and analyzing and just letting the feelings sweep over me. (Singing what we read in books!) There are big questions during Holy Week, and now is the time to prepare for the intensity of the questions as well as the intensity of the feelings.

Now is the time to prepare for new life, a life of wholeness, life abundant. Soon we will sing "Now the green blade riseth" and it's time to get ready.

Noon Prayer by Charles Henry Brent

Today is the feast day for Charles Henry Brent, Bishop of the Philippines, and of Western New York, who died in 1929. He wrote this prayer for mission, which was included in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace. So clothe us with your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

(BCP 101)

Christ our true and only Light:
receive our morning prayers,
and illumine the secrets of our hearts
with your healing goodness,
that no evil desires may possess us
who are made new in the light of your heavenly grace.
Amen.

(Enriching Our Worship 1, 51)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Evening Prayer

Grant us, Lord, the lamp of charity which never fails, that it may burn in us and shed its light on those around us, and that by its brightness we may have a vision of that Holy City, where dwells the true and never-failing Light, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 110)

Annunciation

So on this feast of the Annunciation, the event of the Angel Gabriel coming to Mary to announce the news that she would conceive and bear a son, Jesus, who would be the savior of the world, it is natural to think about how God communicates with us. To wonder how God will announce the news to us about where it is God might be leading us, about how God wants to use us as vessels of grace in this world.

One friend told me he suggested to God the use of a brick falling out of the sky with a note attached that said, "Go (or don't go, if that was the plan) to seminary." I myself planted a burning bush (Euonymus alatus) next to my mailbox, figuring God could make use of either the bush or the U.S. Mail. Another friend told of his own friend's agonizing over whether to stay in a job or take a new one and finally distinctly hearing a message from God that basically, God didn't care which place the man did the work, so long as it was God's work that was being done.

We make a lot out of the fact that Mary said yes. That Mary could have said no. (Which gives rise to the question - was there another woman who did say no? Naturally, she wouldn't have made it into the story.) But either way, God did have a plan, and communicated that plan to Mary, who agreed to the part she was to play.

Then there's the story of Joseph, son of Jacob, who was put in well by his brothers who hated him, and sold into slavery, and went to Egypt and then after Joseph had become and Important Person, he was the one who saved his family from starvation. The brothers were concerned that Joseph would be mad at them for putting him in a well and selling him into slavery (duh), but Joseph explains that while the brothers did what they did in order to bring harm to Joseph, God meant it for good. In other words, God was the behind-the-scenes mover and shaker.

It would have been different if Joseph said, "But God brought good out of it nonetheless." In other words, this is slightly different from God bringing good out of tragedy or even evil. This sounds like God engineering.

So, does God engineer? Are we puppets in a larger cosmic drama, the way people were in the stories of the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses?

The story of Mary and the way it is told in Luke is that God does have a plan, a plan of salvation, and many and varied are the vessels by which God brings things about in this world, but somewhere in there is also the idea that our knowing and willing cooperation is part of the plan. This is not engineering the way it sounds in the Joseph and his brothers story (which may be semantics, but that's an argument for another day).

When I wonder about what God might be calling me to, I remember the friend's friend: it probably doesn't matter if it's this location or that location. Notice that Gabriel did not spell out the whole Bethlehem-Nazareth thing to Mary. It's the work that we are given to do, the people we are given to love, the good news we are given to share. We may ourselves discern that for any number of reasons, one location is better than another for us to do that work, but it's doing God's work that matters.

Still, an angel's visit would be nice. Or a note.

Noon Prayer: The Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord

The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe

a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Wild air, world-mothering air
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that's fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing's life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life's law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race -
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence power is
Great as no goddess's
Was deem-ed, dream-ed; who
This one work has to do -
Let all God's glory through,
God's glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round
As if with air: the same
Is Mary, more by name.
She, wild web, wondrous robed,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let dispense
Her prayers his providence:
Nay, more than almoner,
The sweet alms' self is her
And men are meant to share
Her life as life does air.
If I have understood,
She holds high motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good
And plays in grace her part
About man's beating heart,
Laying, like air's fine flood,
The deathdance in his blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still.
Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him; morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlehems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn -
Bethlehem or Nazareth,
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God's and Mary's son.
Again, look overhead
How air is azur-ed;
O how! Nay do but stand
Where you can lift your hand
Skywards: rich, rich it laps
Round the four fingergaps.
Yet such a sapphire-shot,
Charged, steep-ed sky will not
Stain light. Yea, mark you this:
It does not prejudice.
The glass blue days are those
When every colour glows,
Each shape and shadow shows.
Blue be it: this blue heaven
The seven or seven times seven
Hued sunbeam will transmit
Perfect, not alter it.
Or if there does some soft,
On things aloof, aloft,
Bloom breathe, that one breath more
Earth is the fairer for.
Whereas did air not make
This bath of blue and slake
His fire, the sun would shake,
A blear and blinding ball
With blackness bound, and all
The thick stars round him roll
Flashing like flecks of coal,
Quartz-fret or sparks of salt,
In grimy, vasty vault.
So God was god of old:
A mother came to mould
Those limbs like ours which are
What must make our daystar
Much dearer to mankind;
Whose glory bare would blind
Or less would win man's mind.
Through her we may see him
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.
Be thou then, o thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God's love, o live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wishing

My mother used to say to me, frequently, "Don't wish your life away." This was frequently in response to my desire to grow up, to leave home, to go to college and get out of the small town in which I grew up. I wish I were 16, so I could drive. I wish I were 18 so I could go to college. I wish I were doing something with my life that I would find meaningful. She admonished me to enjoy the life I had instead of wishing for a life in the future.

This is true. It is sometimes hard to enjoy the life one has, to find meaning in the here and now instead of always looking for something else. "Bloom where you are planted!" proclaim (in curlicue lettering) many cute posters featuring smiling-faced flowers.

But it is also true that wishing can be the dreaming, imagining, thinking about where one wants to go and who one wants to be that is not a negation of the now but an exercise in wondering and hoping. Wishing can be the expression of how we would like for the world to be - kind, generous, just - in the face of how we often find the world - petty, cruel, filled with violence. I wish my kids didn't have to go through the hurts life hands out. I wish we would all stop yelling at one another both in the house and on TV. I wish, I wish, I wish.

And wishing can keep hope alive. Wishing is sometimes naming hope, naming what is right and good and just and acknowledging that even though we all fall short, we know it could be better. Wishing for a better world can enable us to keep working for a better world. Keeping the desire for generosity, justice, kindness in the conversation is a good and sometimes inspiring thing.

Wishing is also sometimes naming love - I wish my children did not have to experience hurt, I wish I didn't have to be hurt myself, even though I know the lessons we all learn are common to us all. We all get hurt, we all learn the hard way, and coddling ourselves and our loved ones stunts our growth. But we can still wish it didn't have to be that way and let ourselves and our loved ones know that we know what it feels like to hurt.

And so I do not want to wish my life away, but I do want to wish for hope and wish for love and wish for justice and wish for peace.

Music

I saw this over on Andrew Sullivan's blog (The Daily Dish) and had to share. It's a just-released YouTube video of Eric Whiteacre's Virtual Choir singing his composition Lux Aurumque ("light and gold"). The Virtual Choir is made up of folks from 12 countries singing their parts on their home computers (they had to do YouTube auditions back in July). It's stunning, all the more so as one looks at the pictures of the folks of all ages and races singing into their webcams from their bedrooms or basements or wherever and putting out an ethereal sound.

Click here to watch and hear.

Noon Hymn

Now let us all with one accord, in company with ages past, keep vigil with our heavenly Lord in his temptation and his fast.

The covenant so long revealed to those of faith in former time, Christ by his own example sealed, the Lord of love, in love sublime.

Your love, O Lord, our sinful race has not returned, but falsified; author of mercy, turn your face and grant repentance for our pride.

Remember, Lord, through frail we be, in your own image were we made; help us, lest in anxiety, we cause your Name to be betrayed.

Therefore, we pray you, Lord, forgive; so when our wanderings shall cease, we may with you forever live, in love and unity and peace.

Hymn 146, 1982 Hymnal. Words attributed to Gregory the Great (540-604)

Morning Prayer for Wednesday in the Fifth Week of Lent


Almighty God our heavenly Father, renew in us the gifts of your mercy; increase our faith, strengthen our hope, enlighten our understanding, widen our charity, and make us ready to serve you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(Lesser Feasts and Fasts)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Night Prayer

I lie in my bed
As I would lie in the grave,
Thine arm beneath my neck,
Thou Son of Mary victorious.

(The Celtic Way of Prayer, 159)

Tuesday Extra: Heaven

Having just posted about heaven, among other things, I just came across this article in the online daily magazine Religion Dispatches - an interview with Lisa Miller, Newsweek writer and author of a new book, Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination with the Afterlife. It's a really thought-provoking topic and the interview is a good read. I recommend it. Click here to read.

Noon Prayer: Gregory the Illuminator (4th Century Bishop and Missionary of Armenia)

Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints, and who raised up your servant Gregory the Illuminator to be a light in the world, and to preach the Gospel to the people of Armenia: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

(Lesser Feasts and Fasts for March 23)

Vision

There are days when the path ahead looks clear and the goal is in sight. What turn-offs or side-tracks might be lurking on the periphery do not beckon. There's movement, and clear pathway, and the sun shines on the goal.

Most days, however, are not like that. The shining goal turns into a mirage, or a reflection of something somewhere else, or the sidetrack calls like a siren and off I go perhaps to dash upon the rocks. Or, I just stand there, looking but not able to move.

I wonder if I have the right goals to begin with. Is the goal "heaven" or is it "meaningful employment" or is it "loving my neighbor as myself" or is it all of the above? "Heaven" seems a little fuzzy - how does one mark one's progress? And should heaven even be a goal? It's not like one can earn it or reach it on one's own. It's not like we actually know what heaven is anyway.

"Loving my neighbor as myself" is, as they say in the business world, is not quantifiable nor is the path to achievement of that goal, along with its milestones, in a workable format. As if life might even come in "workable formats." The path toward "loving my neighbor" is all sidetracks.

And then there is "perfection." What if the goal is to let go of anger, or to witness to peace, or to walk humbly with God? There's no handy to-do list on the path to those.

And so I think I want to let go of "goal." And concentrate on "vision." What do I see, where do I want to be in light of what I see, and how much of my seeing is out into the world and how much of it is turned inward? What do I see with the eyes of faith, the eyes of love, the eyes of compassion? How much of my seeing has to do with imagining - imagining the world as God's new creation, imagining love, imagining peace, imagining fearless generosity.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Evening Prayer

O Lord God Almighty,
as you have taught us
to call the evening,
the morning,
and the noonday one day;
and have made the sun to know its going down:
Dispel the darkness of our hearts,
that by your brightness
we may know you to be
the true God and eternal light,
living and reigning for ever and ever.
Amen.

(BCP 110)

Noon Prayer for Sound Government

O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.
To the President and members of the Cabinet, to Governors of States, Mayor of Cities, and to all in administrative authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties.
To Senators and Representatives, and those who make laws in States, Cities, and Towns, give courage, wisdom, and foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to fulfill our obligations to the community of nations.
To the Judges and officers of our Courts give understanding and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and justice served.
And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name.
For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Amen.

(BCP 821)

Morning Prayer: Psalm 23


The Psalm for the day (Monday in the fifth week in Lent) is Psalm 23. Please click the link to listen to Bobby McFerrin's recording of his Anglican chant setting for the psalm.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Reading

I am a big fan of traditional Irish folk music, and one of the big thrills of my life was sitting in a couple of "sessions" at the local pub where traditional musicians held jam sessions, especially the one in County Donegal where some members of the band Altan played for several hours. The radio program "Thistle and Shamrock" is a place to listen to a wide variety of tunes from Ireland, Scotland, Brittany and Nova Scotia among other "Celtic" regions. Hosted by Fiona Ritchie, the show can be heard on NPR. In this St Patrick's week, here's a link to the Thistle and Shamrock page: click on the "Fiddle Styles" link to hear a great hour-long show on the different fiddling styles in the background while you surf the net for other Sunday reading, or listen to the Welsh Roots or New Gaelic Voices shows.

Check out this article about Episcopal folks in Rhode Island who decided to give up clutter for Lent. This is amazing: the vow was to not only de-clutter their homes but to agree not to purchase anything other than food, fuel and medicine during Lent. All I can say is, Wow. I wish I had thought of this. Or better yet, I wish I had done it.

And from The New Yorker, an review of three books exploring "happiness research" with some surprising conclusions. Plus, cartoons! Read it here.

Happy Reading.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Conversation

According to an article in the New York Times this week, people who regularly engage in deep conversation are happier than those who engage in a lot of small talk. Here is the "money quote" (as they say):

"[S]ubstantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: both because human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people. 'By engaging in meaningful conversations, we manage to impose meaning on an otherwise pretty chaotic world'...."

People want their lives to have meaning. They want existence itself to have meaning. Novel after novel, book after book, movie after movie chronicles the search for meaning, from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes to The Catcher in the Rye and every generation's version ever since. Meaning isn't about logic or reason; it isn't about "universal truths" (other than the one that is stated at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice but even that one was written with her tongue firmly planted in Ms. Austen's cheek). Meaning isn't something one simply "finds" after looking for it. Notice that the article says we not only find, but we "create" and "impose" meaning. We ourselves have something to do with deciding what meaning is and how it exists in the world and in our lives. Sometimes we talk about "making sense" of things that happen in our lives, and this is not about logic or reason. Meaning is about faith and mystery and love and compassion and beauty and a particular truth that resonates with one's core being. And as the Times article makes clear, meaning has to do with relationship, and interaction on a deep level both creates and fosters relationship.

The Times article notes that the psychologist who did the research on which the article reports plans next to ask people to increase the number of substantive conversations they have daily. This is where I become curious. How do we, sophisticates living in the fast-paced, cynical, bottom-line driven Twenty-First Century do that? Other than by putting it on our calendars or to-do lists or by paying someone to converse with us? We are awfully self-conscious, too. Isn't it kind of sloppy to go around having meaningful conversations unless they occur late at night, around a fire or accompanied by a bottle of wine (or two).

Being part of a faith community is also about the search for meaning. The notion of being connected to something bigger than ourselves gives us a sense of being connected to meaning itself. We sometimes fail miserably in our efforts of meaning-making (trying to impose "sense" on senseless things, like tragic accidents, abuse, death and destruction and so end up with a TV preacher announcing that the earthquake in Haiti is God's punishment for a pact with the devil). But the faith community is a venue - a container - for discussion about meaning and about our attempts to engage and participate in God's life somehow.

For young people, the faith community must be a place where deep discussion and engagement with matters of meaning can take place. It is sometimes said that if we want to keep young people coming to church, we better not talk too much about God, or it will turn them off. But where else are they going to engage such ideas and questions? If the church or synagogue is not the place to do that, where on earth is? School? Starbucks? The Debate Club? I think the ones who say that are the ones who themselves are self-conscious about God-stuff. They don't want to talk about God, either, and do what is truly hard work of making sense of our existence. I suspect because they have some deep doubts they'd rather not share in public.

Making sense of our existence is hard work. And why not? It ought to be. Life is more complicated than a Rubik's Cube. And so we do so in community. We engage with one another our fears, our hopes, our dreams, our doubts, our questions, our search. We make meaning, we create it, we become truly ourselves (and happy!) when we are fully engaged in not only the search but also in the sharing.


Spring Break

Every year about this time, people go on Spring Break. Early spring breakers either go skiing or to Mexico or some other warm spot. Later spring breakers go to the beach or to Europe or sometimes to Grandmother's. Some college spring breakers just go to sleep. Because Spring Break comes during Lent and sometimes during Holy Week, a lot of clergy have to miss Spring Break, or at least most of it.

There was not Spring Break during Jesus' day, and so we don't know What Would Jesus Do about Spring Break when it fell within Lent. Pretty sure Jesus would not miss Holy Week. But then again, there was no Lent during Jesus' day, either.

But Jesus did say this: 16 ‘But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
17“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon”; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.’
(Matthew 11:17-19, NRSV)

So I guess one must discern, is it the time for the dance, or is it the time to mourn? From whom will we take our cue? I suppose it depends on the tune and the kind of dance.



Noon Prayer: Saturday in the fourth week of Lent

Mercifully hear our prayers, O Lord, and spare all those who confess their sins to you; that those whose consciences are acused by sin may by your merciful pardon be absolved; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(Lesser Feasts and Fasts)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Evening Prayer

The sacred Three
To save,
To shield,
To surround
The hearth,
The house,
The household,
This eve,
This night,
Oh! this eve,
This night,
And every night,
Each single night.
Amen.

(The Celtic Way of Prayer, 48)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Evening Prayer

Almighty God, we give you thanks for surrounding us, as daylight fades, with the brightness of the vesper light; and we implore you of your great mercy that, as you enfold us with the radiance of this light, so you would shine into our hearts the brightness of your Holy Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(BCP 110)

Promises

One likes to keep one's promises. This is a matter of integrity, an indicator of reliability, a point of honor for most of us. We especially want to keep promises made to children, to co-workers, to those deemed dependent upon or interdependent with us.

There are times, though, when it proves to be impossible to keep a promise. Which causes consternation. I have seen this frequently in the case of teenagers (including my own teenaged self). We make a promise to a friend to go to the movies this Friday night, and then parents come along and explain that we have to go and visit our grandmother on Friday night, and then we wail, "But I promised!" More sophisticated teens may add an explanation that this is a matter of personal integrity, that parents must give way to the teen's sense of responsibility to peers.

There are others who simply cannot make promises. Promising seems like too much of a commitment. We might not want to promise simply because we might worry that things won't work out and then we will disappoint someone or let them down. (And someone wails, "But you promised!!!) Or we might worry that we will feel hemmed in, because we want to reserve the right to change our minds or just to be free from feeling responsible or just free. (Sometimes this is called "commitment phobia"). So we qualify our promises (calling upon some version of "the Good Lord willing and the creek don't rise") or we just won't promise at all. And we try to get others to see that this is normal.

Then there are the times when we make promises that we simply should not make. Either because we promise out of a sense of guilt, or because we are manipulated into the promise, or because we get kind of puffed up and imagine we have the right or authority to promise something that is not ours to deliver. How many of us have promised to fix something that we simply could not fix? How many of us have felt that if we made a rash but heartfelt promise (like in the movies), the cosmos would somehow rearrange itself so that we would somehow have the ability to make good on it?

This promising business is actually one of the things I really like about being an Episcopalian. We do make promises, pretty regularly, but we always make them in the context of being both assisted by God and being upheld by the community. When a person is baptized, they or their godparents make promises and then those assembled promise to uphold those persons being baptized in their Christian life. When a couple comes to be married in the church, they each make promises to each other before God and everybody, and then all those assembled promise to uphold those persons in their marriage. When people stand up in church and make promises as individuals, the other people there make promises, too. We believe that God has made promises to us, and we believe that there are promises we ought to make in response - the promises we make in the baptismal covenant. We promise to be in community and to attend to our formation through study and prayer and participating in the Eucharist; we promise to repent when we go astray; we promise to witness to our faith; we promises to love neighbor as self; we promise to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being.

But we promise "with God's help." And we promise among those who promise to support us. We are not just out there all alone, flapping in the breeze and buffed by the storms. We are upheld by God and by the community.

Not that this makes promising a cinch. It is not easy to uphold persons in their marriages in our society; it is not always obvious or easy to know what we should actually DO that might constitute upholding a person in their life of faith. It's not easy to know when or how to make good on our promises even if we want to.

But I like the exercise. And I think that when we do this over and over, it sinks in, and we naturally begin to act as if we are upholding those others in the community in their vows. We naturally begin to make good on our promises, sometimes without knowing we are doing so, just by being in relationship with those others.

Because that is the bottom line. The basic promise we make is to be in relationship with God and with others, and then we live that out as best we can, with God's help and being upheld by God's people.






Noonday Psalm


Psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then we were like those who dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.
Then they said among the nations,
"The Lord has done great things for them."
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are glad indeed.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses of the Negev.
Those who sowed with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,
will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

(BCP 105)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Evening Prayer


As I save this fire tonight
Even so may Christ save me,
On the top of the house let Mary
Let Bride in its middle be,
Let eight of the mightiest angels
Round the throne of the Trinity
Protect this house and its people
Till the dawn of the day shall be.

(The Celtic Way of Prayer, 92)

The Tallest Cross

This is the tallest cross at Monasterboice (County Louth), called The West Cross or the Tall Cross. In fact, it's the tallest high cross in Ireland. It stands 7 meters (21 feet) high - the person in the photo is 6 and a half feet tall. This one has a lot of scenes, since it's so big, and most of them contain three figures. Three is a popular Christian number, especially in Trinitarian Ireland. It also features, unusually, a fully-clothed Christ in the crucifixion scene on the cross's west face.

After viewing many of these crosses (my family felt we viewed way too many of them), it became obvious that there were stock scenes found on many of the crosses - often in the same order - and that certain postures or symbols were attached to certain figures to indicate their identity.

So ends our tour of Celtic iconography. Happy Feast of St Patrick!

The Cross of the Scriptures

This is one side of the Cross of the Scriptures at Clonmacnoise. (Actually, it's a replica - the original is inside the visitor center.) Here you see the crucifixion in the center. Celtic Jesuses often do not have beards. Below that is a circle with a dove inside - The Holy Spirit. The top panel is the arrest of Jesus. The middle one was featured in an earlier post - I think it is the weeping women although they are not dressed like women - perhaps the disciples abandoning Jesus, or a woman, the Beloved Disciple and the one who lost his clothing. Someone else said it was the soldiers taking Jesus' clothing. At any rate, below that are the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb - the "Romans" may be dressed like "Vikings," who had raided the monastery, burning its wooden buildings to the ground. If so, a case of "interpretation in context."

An Old Testament Story

Still at Monasterboice, here we have Moses striking the rock to bring forth water for the Children of Israel in the wilderness. This one has an Egyptian feel to it.

Doubting Thomas

Here we have the story of Doubting Thomas on a high cross at Monasterboice.



Jesus is in the middle, and Thomas is on the left, poking a finger into Jesus' side. (The text in John does not say that Thomas actually did this - Jesus did invite him to, but whether Thomas actually did so or not is obviously not the point.) The person on the right is probably St John the Evangelist - he is holding a book, which is probably the Gospel of John, the only Gospel in which this story is found.

More from Kells

From the west side of the West Cross at Kells, the scene of Christ's baptism. John the Baptist is at the far left, putting water on the head of Jesus; they both stand in the water. The dove ascends in the middle. On the left are two onlookers, possibly one male and one female.

At Kells


This is a scene of the Last Judgment one of the crosses at Kells. A few on the left are saved, and several on the right are not.

Another High Cross Scene

Here, also at Clonmacnoise, on the Cross of the Scriptures, below a scene of the arrest of Jesus and above a scene of Christ in the Tomb, this one is hard to identify. The three characters have halos, so they are "good guys." Normally having one figure's arms crossed over another means "handed over" but that doesn't work with three haloed figures. Perhaps they are the women at the foot of the cross, comforting one another.

More on High Crosses


This is a detail from a cross at Clonmacnoise, a beautiful Shannon-side early Christian monastic community (about 1500 years old) in County Offaly. The shepherd may be Jesus, the Good Shepherd, but it also may be a depiction of St Patrick, who is often known by his shepherd's crook.

Touring the Irish High Crosses

The high crosses of Ireland served the same function as stained glass windows in churches in later ages - they were teaching tools. The carvings in the crosses depicted scenes from the Bible. People who could not read could learn the stories through pictures.

The photo here is a detail from the east side of the Muiredach high cross at Monasterboice near Dublin and is a two-fer: Adam and Eve on the left, and the death of Abel on the right. A natural to put them together - naked Adam and Eve eat the apple and immediately clothed Cain kills Abel in the field.

The Lorica Litany (St Patrick's Breastplate)

Today I shield myself with threefold power,
invocation of the Trinity,
belief in the threeness, profession of the oneness,
in union with the Creator.

Today I shield myself with the power of Christ's baptism,
his hanging and burial,
his rising again and his ascension,
his descent for the last judgment.

Today I shield myself with the loving power of the Cherubim,
obedience of angels, service of archangels,
hope of rising to my reward, prayer of the patriarchs,
sayings of the prophets, teachings of the apostles,
faith of confessors, deeds of righteous people.

Today I shield myself with the power of heaven,
light of the sun,
brilliance of the moon, splendor of fire,
speed of lightning, swiftness of wind,
depths of sea, firmness of earth, hardness of rock.

Today I shield myself with God's power to direct me,
God's strength to uphold me,
God's good sense to guide me,
God's ear to listen for me,
God's speaking to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's path opening before me,
God's shield to protect me,
from the snares of demons,
the inducement of my own vices,
the proclivities of human nature,
and those who wish me evil.
I summon these powers to come
between me and every cruel and merciless power
that threatens my body and my soul.

Christ be my protection today
against violence,
against illness,
against drowning,
against mortal wounding,
So that I may come to my ultimate reward.

Christ be with me,
Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me,
Christ be inside me,
Christ be beneath me,
Christ be above me,
Christ on my right hand,
Christ on my left hand,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit up,
Christ when I rise up,
Christ all around me.
Christ in the heart of everyone who beholds me;
Christ in every eye that sees me;
and Christ in every ear that hears me.

Today I shield myself with threefold power,
invocation of the Trinity.
belief in the threeness, profession of the oneness,
in union with the Creator.

The Lord is salvation.
Christ is salvation.
The Lord is salvation;

May your salvation, O Lord, be always with us.


This is one of many translations of St Patrick's Breastplate, also known as The Lorica and The Deer's Cry. From: A Celtic Eucharist - Brendan O'Malley - Morehouse publishing

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