Friday, March 30, 2012

Lenten Fridays: Seashell Break

A knobbed whelk with its knobs worn off.

Collect for Friday in the Fifth Week of Lent

  1. O Lord, you relieve our necessity out of the abundance of your great riches: 
    Grant that we may accept with joy the salvation you bestow, 
    and manifest it to all the world by the quality of our lives;
    through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
    one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

After the Rain

I went out for a walk after some rainshowers the other afternoon, taking my new camera out for a spin.  Here's a photo of a very fragrant (too bad I can't make this a scratch-n-sniff blogpost!) daphne odora blossom decorated with a few raindrops.  I'm still getting used to the new camera, which is more complicated than my previous one. I think I will be quite happy with it but there is a learning curve.  Thank goodness for digital photography - one can snap away and see the results immediately and go back and try again.

After taking a bunch of photos of wet flowers and trees, I wandered over to the duckpond.  The single male mallard (from this post) is back in town.  I do hope he finds a new mate this spring.  There was also a pair of Canada geese checking out the pond bank for a potential nesting site.  I imagine that sooner or later a bunch of ducks will arrive and the pond will be full of baby ducklings this summer.   They will be excellent subjects for my zoom lens.  As will the turtles that poke their heads out of the water - our own little Nessies.

The world looks so fresh after a spring rain.  The air feels clean. The birds are joyfully bathing in the puddles. 

I'm preparing with joy for the paschal feast, as it says in the Prayer Book.

Collect for Thursday in the Fifth Week of Lent

  1. O God, you have called us to be your children, and have promised that those who suffer with Christ will be heirs with him of your glory: Arm us with such trust in him that we may ask no rest from his demands and have no fear in his service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: The Meadow

Collect 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. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


There's a fair amount of ink being spilled in many venues about how we need to let go of a notion of a Golden Age of the Church, be it the First Century, the Fourth Century, the Tenth Century, or 1958 when Sunday school buildings were being built to house the burgeoning population of families with children crowding into suburban houses of worship. 

The thing is, as was beautifully depicted in Woody Allen's film "Midnight in Paris," there is no Golden Age.  The people in the Age we think is Golden thought that some other time before that was in fact the Golden Age.  We gather together a bunch of ideas, thoughts, hopes, dreams, along with some facts and figures, and project them onto a time and place that we declare to be the Time When Things Were Better. 

Sometimes this is nostalgia for a time in our own lives when things seemed simpler and friendlier and such.  Possibly because we were children - so things were simpler, for us anyway.  Sometimes this is a nostalgia for times well before our time, when we can focus on the positives (beautiful French dresses!) and ignore the negatives (no plumbing! head lice! the plague!).  It is human nature, it seems, to pine for days gone by and declare them vastly superior to the days at hand.

As children, a certain group of my friends and I liked to play "The Olden Days" down in the basement of our house. We pretended to be pioneers who had to go out to the well to get water and cook over a fire.   Sometimes that morphed into playing "School," which had both a modern and an olden days version.  We liked to put on costumes and pretend and create - create scenarios and story lines and to make something out of nearly nothing.  Our imaginations worked overtime during such play.  We were always creating something new, often out of necessity.

I agree that there is no Golden Age of the Church.  There were good times and bad times, all mashed up together, in every age.  And so it still goes. 

But there is also creativity and imagination, which has been an important part of every age, that ought to fuel the both process of looking back AND of looking forward with curiosity and appreciation.  "Look," God says, "I am doing a new thing!" 

And so looking back doesn't have to make us slaves; being realistic about today's issues doesn't have to make us despairing; looking forward doesn't have to make us anxious.  

But nostalgia needs to be corralled.  Think of the Israelites wandering in the desert, missing the garlic and leeks (and forgetting the slavery) in Egypt.  It too often simply binds us and doesn't really get us anywhere.

Collect for Tuesday in the Fifth Week of Lent

  1. Almighty God, through the incarnate Word you have caused us to be born anew of an imperishable and eternal seed: Look with compassion upon those who are being prepared for Holy Baptism, and grant that they may be built as living stones into a spiritual temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Monday, March 26, 2012


Mary, did you marvel at the sight of an angel in your room?

Did the hair on the nape of your neck stand on end - in fear, in fascination, in dread, in tender curiosity?

Did you consider saying no?  Did you blush or panic or with that you could rush out the door into the cool spring breeze and forget it ever happened?

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, he said in his angel voice that must have sounded like heaven to your maiden ear.

Why else would you have listened?
How else could you have listened?
Unless it was the sound of heaven that kept you still.

And while he waited for your answer, were you thinking that your life was over?

Or was it just the beginning?

Collect for the Feast of the Annunciation


Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jesus Weeps

I was horrified to read this article in the New York Times today about three young men (ages 18 to 20) who admitted in Mississippi state court on Wednesday and Federal court on Thursday that they had, at various times between April 2011 and February 2012, conspired together to drive into Jackson, Mississippi, for the purpose of finding African American people to harass and assault.  In seeking victims, they tended to choose people who were homeless or who appeared to be intoxicated, as they figured such people would be less likely to report the assaults to anyone. 

One night last summer, these three left a party with several other friends to drive to Jackson where they found an African American man, Craig Anderson, who appeared to have locked his keys in his vehicle, and who seemed to be intoxicated, in a motel parking lot.  They brutally assaulted Anderson and then one of the young men jumped into his own truck with which he ran over Anderson while the others shouted and cheered.  It turns out that this part of the story was caught on the motel's surveillance tape.  Mr. Anderson died after the assault.

In CNN's coverage of the case (here), the young man who is charged with Anderson's death said that he and his friends were "young and dumb, ignorant and full of hatred."

That young man is nineteen.  And I believe that he was ignorant and full of hatred.  How else could he have done such a thing?

The judge in the case said that there was no excuse.  And there isn't.

Meanwhile, I spent yesterday with some young men (and women) who are just a bit younger than the young men from Mississippi. And am about to have a twenty-two year old young man come and to visit for ten days.  I know from being around these young men and women that they need passion in their lives.  They need to feel deeply and to belong and to connect and to have some fire in their bellies for something. 

Pray God it's not hatred that fuels their passions.  Pray God it's not bonding together to conspire to hurt and humiliate others.  Pray God it's not disregard for human dignity and life itself that makes them feel alive.

And while you're praying for my young people and for those you know, pray, too, for the family of Craig Anderson, who argued against the death penalty in the case and instead have pleaded for racial reconciliation in Mississippi.  The reason why this case has appeared in Federal court to begin with is because it's being prosecuted as a hate crime.

Having grown up in an area and in an era where many white people were not at all ashamed of using racial slurs and throwing rocks and worse at African Americans, when a black family might wake up and find a cross burning in the front yard, when a black classmate would be harassed in school in front of everybody, when nobody felt particularly obligated to speak up and call out hatred or to decry such assaults, I had hoped that this kind of thing would have died out by now.  I had hoped that times had changed.

But these people are nineteen and they still hate and cheer one another on in their hatred just like people did in 1968.

Jesus weeps.

Collect for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lenten Fridays: Seashell Break

Still life with crabs, whelk egg cases, and clam shells.

Collect for Friday in the Fourth Week of Lent

  1. O God, you have given us the Good News of your abounding love in your Son Jesus Christ: So fill our hearts with thankfulness that we may rejoice to proclaim the good tidings we have received; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

World Water Day: All you who are thirsty, come!

Today is World Water Day.  March 22 was designated as World Water Day back in 1992 by the United Nations, and we are more than halfway through the UN's Decade of Action for Water for Life (begun in 2005).  I didn't know that - did you?

YouTube's blog today is featuring videos about water made by groups such as, Charity: Water, One Drop Foundation, WaterCharity, WaterAid, and others.  Some are funny, some are thought provoking, most are under five minutes and a few under a minute.  Some feature celebrities (like Matt Damon). Almost all of them are made for an American audience in mind and they challenge us to notice how much water we use every day and how we take it for granted that we can just turn on a tap and get as much clean water as we want.  Many of the videos then go on to tell the stories of people in Haiti, India, and some African nations where the lack of clean water and education about hygiene is an urgent issue.  
For instance, Charity: Water reports that there are 42,000 deaths every week that result from dirty water and unsafe hygienic practices and that 90% of those who die are children under the age of five.  They also note that women and children are the ones who have to walk to find and carry water, which has an impact on both their physical health and their access to education. 
Many of these organizations are involved in helping those in underdeveloped nations drill wells and undertake other water projects as well as working with local people to train them to educate their families and neighbors about water and sanitation.  Other organizations work to raise awareness in developed nations about the world water issues.  (One Drop Foundation was founded by the guy who started Cirque du Soleil and focuses on using the arts to promote education and community involvement in water issues worldwide.) 

Further, the trend in charity water projects is similar to micro loans: they find small projects that can be underwritten by individuals and managed by the local people (or, in some cases, a member of the Peace Corps).  

So, please - I know you're really busy, but check out some of these organizations today and learn about the world wide water crisis and how easy it would be for you to be part of the solution.   Remember Jesus' words to the woman at the well: "The [living] water I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." 

Collect for Thursday in the Fourth Week of Lent

  1. Almighty and most merciful God, 
    drive from us all weakness of body, mind, and spirit; 
    that, being restored to wholeness, 
    we may with free hearts become what you intend us to be 
    and accomplish what you want us to do; 
    through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
    one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: in the garden

Collect for Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Lent

  1. O Lord our God, you sustained your ancient people in the wilderness with bread from heaven: Feed now your pilgrim flock with the food that endures to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


 (This is a reprise of a post from last year...)

Remember that poem called "Desiderada" that everyone had a poster of in the 1970's that began, "Go placidly amid the noise and the haste and remember what peace there may be in silence...." ? It then goes on to remind one to speak one's truth gently, listen to everyone (for even the dull and ignorant have a story), age gracefully, don't be cynical, etc.

The line I always remembered was "You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here, and whether or not it is clear to you, the universe is no doubt enfolding as it should."

Things are always unfolding, always moving through a cycle. In the case of the Souvenir de St Anne rose pictured here, I know what the unfolded flower will look like. I can rejoice in its unfolding because I know how it will turn out. No doubt, my rose buds will unfold as they should (barring a sudden late freeze or Japanese beetle attack). And so I can enjoy the buds, enjoy the half-opened blooms, the gloriously full blossom, and even appreciate their fading, because I know both that the spent blooms will drop off the bush by themselves and that there will be other and more blooms to come. In my botanical universe, things unfold reasonably predictably.

The larger universe does not seem to be quite so predictable. And so the unfolding can bring anxiety. Who will this person (baby, child, teenager) unfold to become? What will I be when I grow up? What will next semester look like? What will this marriage be like in ten years? What will happen to my child who has cancer, my friend in intensive care; what will happen in my new job? Is all that stuff going to unfold as it should, and whose idea of "unfolding" and "should" will hold sway?

Is the universe really unfolding as it should when an earthquake kills more than 200,000 people in a desperately poor country? Is the universe really unfolding as it should when a child is molested, when someone is tied up and dragged behind a pickup truck for miles, when people are bought and sold as sexual slaves? Is that child's brain tumor part of "God's plan?"

I don't know what The Plan is. None of us does, although many claim to - and do so out of a desire to be comforting, to say that somehow God will make it all right. God will make it all right, but probably not in the way we would imagine God ought to do so (by smiting bad people, by healing our sick relatives and friends, by giving us back what we lost).

Part of the unfolding is our response to these things. How we will be in a marriage, how we will care for the displaced and the hungry, how we will respond to the injustices, how we will uphold the sick, the infirm, the grieving. Perhaps our response is to be one of the petals, alongside many other petals. I just know that somehow I have to be able to rest in the knowledge that God will make all things new and wipe away every tear, even as I know that there will be plenty of tears to wipe away.

Collect for Tuesday in the Fourth Week of Lent

  1. O God, with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light: Quench our thirst with living water, and flood our darkened minds with heavenly light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Refreshment Monday

Yesterday was, as is the case always on the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Refreshment Sunday, also known as Rose Sunday, Laetare Sunday, or just lighten up a little Sunday.  (Ok, that last one is not an official designation.)  Laetare comes from the traditional introit (opening antiphon) of the day, which begins (in Latin) "Laetare, Jerusalem" (Rejoice, O Jerusalem).  Rose Sunday is so called because rose-colored vestments may be worn this day (as is also true for Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent).  "Lighten up a little" probably needs no explanation.

We are headed into the darkest part of the year, Holy Week, and since we are more than halfway through Lent, a little respite is in order to help us keep moving through this most penitential of seasons.

With St Patrick's Day just past and the first day of Spring arriving tomorrow, and temperatures in the 70's (at least) already, and everything blooming like crazy, it's hard NOT to lighten up.

But we're not there yet.  There is a lot more to Lent, still. 

What I like about this contrast - the somber liturgical season amidst the backdrop of the crazy-profuse exuberance of spring - is how much it is like real life.  Our own need for self-examination, for exploration of areas we often neglect in our lives, our need for confession and repentance comes at the same time as this breathtakingly beautiful spring season full of cherry blossoms and red buds and crabapples and pears and forsythia and tulips and weeping willows leafing out.  During the last few days I've enjoyed seeing bright yellow Carolina jessamine adorning dull fences and bridal wreath spirea shrubs arching delicately near flowering quince with its wicked thorns. 

And this is how it works in real time, too.  Death and tragedy come in the same week as birthday parties and weddings.  Life and death, joy and sorrow, abundance and loss all sit next to one another in our lives.  There are many threads that run through each of our lives, side by side.  Pain, beauty, sorrow, joy, loss, accomplishment.

So, perhaps I'll stay lightened up for a few more hours and then, following Jesus' lead, turn my face toward Jerusalem again, with purpose and conviction.

Collect for Monday in the Fourth Week of Lent

  1. O Lord our God, in your holy Sacraments you have given us a foretaste of the good things of your kingdom: Direct us, we pray, in the way that leads to eternal life, that we may come to appear before you in that place of light where you dwell for ever with your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Does Sign Guy Have The Answer?

For your consideration today, in light of the Gospel reading from John for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, I'm happy to offer this guest post from my husband, Tom Cox, who is a sports fan in the truest sense of the word and also one of the most faithful people I know.

John 3:16: "For God so loved the world..."

JOHN 3:16! I can never hear this verse of scripture, or even see a citation to John 3:16, without thinking of the guy with the crazy multi-colored wig who for years has surfaced at most major American sporting events, occupying a prominent location and holding aloft for the television cameras his sign proclaiming to the world his simple message: "JOHN 3:16." There he is, amidst a sea of "We're Number 1!" foam fingers held by thousands of people with their eyes uplifted-not in reverence to the Lord, but instead straining to see if the just-kicked football had split the uprights.

The message in the John 3:16 sign seems so simple, so confident, so certain. Why does the apparent confident certainty of Sign Guy disturb me? Am I envious of him because his faith must be is so solid and unquestioning that he feels compelled to proclaim his message in every available public venue? Perhaps. Does he offend my overly developed Anglican/Episcopalian sensibilities about what constitutes proper conduct? Most assuredly. Why can I not be as certain that I have "The Answer," but instead spend the better part of my spiritual journey struggling even to formulate the questions?

The world prizes certainty. Political pundits, newspaper columnists, corporate leaders, government officials, and advertisers bombard us with assurances that they have the answers. In our often uncivil public discourse, many stand ready to shout down in anger, or to dismiss as idiots or liars, anyone who would disagree with them. We people of faith are not at all immune to the allure of certainty. After all, by finding God, and thus having come to possess the Truth, are we not now compelled to share it with and impose it on those unfortunates among God's creatures who have not yet seen the light?

Without denigrating either the faith or message of Sign Guy, I believe that God does not demand that we accept or deliver to the world a message of simplistic and unquestioning certainty. We may in fact be called to something much more challenging-to pursue a path of true humility.

Unlike certainty and swagger, humility is neither prized nor encouraged in our narcissistic culture. It is more likely to be treated as a variation of mental illness than as a virtue, evidencing low self-esteem and the absence of a healthy ego. Some of us high-functioning Episcopalians may as well have eliminated the word "humility" from our functional vocabulary-trying as we do to reach or maintain our own worldly "success" while raising our children to develop their sense of self-worth as they rack up impressive lists of personal achievements. Perhaps it is time we gave humility another look.

Walking humbly with God (in the words of Micah 6:8) could lead us to acknowledge that we are flawed and finite creatures; that there is much about God and the universe that we cannot understand; and that to think otherwise is to engage in a vain attempt to restrict and confine God within the limits of our own minds. True humility may also open the path to more meaningful connections with our neighbors, as we recognize that those neighbors, even those who appear to be unaccomplished or disadvantaged by our cultural standards, may have things to offer us that are every bit as valuable as whatever it is we can provide them.

It is also possible that we can share the message of God's love most effectively when we deliver it from a place of humility rather than certainty. After all, who makes the more effective "evangelist": the humble, open and sometimes doubting seeker of truth through the message of the Gospels and in relationship with others, or Sign Guy, who has The Answer wrapped up in a single Bible verse? Should that contest ever become a televised sporting event, I know which team I will choose.

Tom Cox

Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lenten Fridays: Seashell Break

Part of a horseshoe crab shell.

RIP Camera

I interrupt your Lenten disciplines to ask for prayers of repose for my beloved camera, which after a long illness has died and moreover is, to quote Dickens, as dead as a doornail.

Nearly all of the photos you see here on the blog were taken by that camera.  I loved it well and truly.  And of course it can never be replaced in my heart.  I bought it specifically to take on a family trip to Ireland but found it to be almost perfect for almost everything I wanted to use it for.  

I have plenty of photos in the files, so blogging will not be interrupted.

But photography is my hobby and I do need a new camera now.  Would any of you, my dear readers, care to share your recommendations and stories about/experiences with your camera?  My own preference is for something that is not too large or heavy or complicated but flexible and still powerful, with an excellent macro mode for photos of flowers and bees and shells but also ability for zooming in on wildlife and such. 

Thanks, and peace to you this day and every day.

Collect for Friday in the Third Week of Lent

  1. Grant us, O Lord our Strength, a true love of your holy Name; so that, trusting in your grace, we may fear no earthly evil, nor fix our hearts on earthly goods, but may rejoice in your full salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Who's Watching?

This is my pet rabbit, Mr. Bunny.

As I make my way through Lent, sometimes I wonder if I'm being watched.  Is God watching me to tote up my Lenten failures?  Or even to credit me with my Lenten successes?  Are friends or parishioners watching to see if I am "different" during Lent?

AM I different, during Lent?

I like to hope that I am being slowly shaped, like sand shapes rocks, by my Lenten practices.  I imagine that any changes will not be evident right away, if at all, from the outside.   I go through the season with a heightened sense of my relationship with God and my way of being in the world, and maybe an eye turned inward every now and then to "take my temperature," but like with most things, I think whatever formation that is being done now will only become evident later.

Still, I like to think that I'm growing and that I will notice that growth when the need for its application becomes apparent.

How is your Lenten discipline going this year?

Collect for Thursday in the Third Week of Lent

  1. Keep watch over your Church, O Lord, with your unfailing love; and, since it is grounded in human weakness and cannot maintain itself without your aid, protect it from all danger, and keep it in the way of salvation; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Wisteria

Wisteria - Macon, Georgia.  People have mixed feelings about this vine.  It's invasive. And it's beautiful.  This time of year, its garlands adorn trellises and woodland wastelands, without distinction. 

Collect for Wednesday in the Third Week of Lent

  1. Give ear to our prayers, O Lord, and direct the way of your servants in safety under your protection, that, amid all the changes of our earthly pilgrimage, we may be guarded by your mighty aid; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Photo of the Day: Two Swans a-Swimming

Swans always look so serene.  But underneath, they're paddling like hell.  You know that, right?

Collect for Tuesday in the Third Week of Lent

  1. O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear us; 
    and grant that we, to whom you have given a fervent desire to pray, 
    may, by your mighty aid, 
    be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities; 
    through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
    who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
    one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Music for Vespers

This is one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written.  From Sergei Rachmaninoff's Solemn Vespers, this is the Nunc dimittis, the Song of Simeon, which we say or sing every night at Evening Prayer.  It goes like this:

Lord, you now have set your servant free, to got in peace as you have promised;  for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see: a light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel

In addition to being wonderfully beautiful, this piece also features the lowest of the low bass notes at the end.  For that reason, there are not that many successful recordings/performances of this piece.    Rachmaninoff hoped it would be sung at his funeral, but it was not.  Perhaps the appropriate singers were not available.

This recording from Robert Shaw's Festival Singers, performed in Quercy, France, is the best I've ever heard.  If you like it, bookmark it and return to it for evening prayer whenever you can.

Slowing down

It may seem counter-intuitive, but I have learned (and can even practice, spottily) to deliberately slow down when I feel as if I need to speed up.

It's easy to let anxiety about a long to-do list, or a ticking clock, or a crammed-full calendar rev my engines up to move me into a mode of "efficiency" that is, in fact, not such a good thing.  When I feel that I need to make a decision so I can tick something off the list, when I plot to figure out how to drop in on the largest number of people/books/ideas/meetings without actually engaging in any of them beyond the surface, when I feel my anxiety rising about how much I have to do, I don't need to act on that anxiety.  I'm better off, and so are the people around me, if I purposefully do not act upon that anxiety. 

Of course that doesn't mean that if something is on fire, I should deliberately slow my actions down and let it burn away while I gather my thoughts and breathe deeply.  Sometimes you gotta yell "Fire!"

But most things are not on fire.  They really aren't. 

I've spent a lot of time in the last week or so going over my calendar.  There's a lot of stuff on my calendar, and more stuff upcoming (you know, Holy Week, etc.).  Deliberately taking time to do nothing, to rest, to engage deeply, to be truly present to the people with whom I am physically present can be hard under those circumstances.  It can be hard not to have one eye on the clock, or one eye on the calendar, or one eye on the next person in line.  I do not always succeed in my effort to keep both eyes on the task or person or time at hand.

But I know it's the better response.  The better response to people, to tasks, to my vocation, to myself, to God.  There will always be more anxiety around the corner, more opportunities to rush.  No need to hurry toward them.

Collect for Monday in the Third Week of Lent

  1. Look upon the heart-felt desires of your humble servants, 
    Almighty God, 
    and stretch forth the right hand of your majesty 
    to be our defense against all our enemies; 
    through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
    who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
    one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

World, Interrupted

Gospel:  John 2:13-22

So when it was time for the Passover, when all the Jews from everywhere flocked to Jerusalem to make their sacrifice at the Temple, Jesus, who always went to the festivals, also went to Jerusalem.  And there, instead of making his sacrifice, right there in the middle of it all, he short-circuited the whole system for everybody else. 

Because of his action in the Temple that day, nobody would be able to make their sacrifices for Passover.  Wow.

Despite the whip and the table-overturning action, though, this story is not about Jesus’ anger. He’s not so much angry as he is deliberate, as he usually is in the Gospel of John. He’s not finding fault with the sacrificial system, either, but rather announcing, albeit in very dramatic fashion, that it is no longer needed.  That there do not have to be transactions and intermediaries within a complicated structure, the kinds of things found in the market place, for people to be in relationship with God. 

In his disruption of the people’s worship and the Temple process altogether, he is, like an Old Testament prophet, acting out just who he is.  He is an interruption.  He is the man from God interrupting the regularly scheduled program to bridge the divide between humanity and divinity.  Jesus is God’s interruption of the world as it was before.  The incarnation is a divine interruption into earthly life.  Here Jesus is playing out that cosmic event by interrupting the religious practices of the day.

Jesus’ point in this prophetic performance exercise is that HE is now the locus of God among the people.  Not the Temple. 

And that while the old system of sacrifice assured people of their salvation (which was a good thing!), Jesus was here to show God’s people another way to salvation, a way that Jesus himself will, and did, provide.

God is not a God of a particular location, bound by walls and courts and corridors, but is a living God who is among the people instead of being found in a complicated system of rules and observances.  The new Temple, Jesus, may be destroyed just like the last one, but God will raise that Temple up in three days.  And that raising will be the sign of our own raising to new life in God.
And so again, Jesus breaks down the barriers between us and God.  In this case, literally.

The obvious follow up to this action, then, is the question, why worship in a building at all?  If the historic and storied Temple has been made obsolete, then what about our building?  What about our system, with its Prayer Books and vested priests?  If our salvation is assured, why not just go to the mountains or the beach and read the Bible or some Thomas Merton or Teresa of Avila?

Well, as you know, many people do go to the mountains or the beach. They say that they are spiritual but not religious.  They commune with God in their own way, without a church to tell them anything.  I understand that.  I spent some time being spiritual but not religious myself.  It was nice to sleep in on Sundays.

And yet, I came back.  I came back because I wanted to be part of something that was way bigger than I was.  I found that there were buildings that were sacred places for me, places where I felt I could commune with God within a specific community.  Community that formed me, that upheld me in my troubles, that prayed for me, and visited me, and brought food to me. 

I found people who would walk with me on my journey; people who would serve as mentors and guides along the way.  I found beauty in sacred spaces and in music in church. I found classes and groups that fed me spiritually.  I found that the church could be a resource not just for me but for others, all kinds of others.  I found that it was through being in community that I could discern where God was calling me to go and who God was calling me to be.

I found I could be spiritual AND religious.

Jesus was all about community, and he taught in the synagogues.  But he didn’t want people to worship the Temple instead of worshiping God.  The Temple wasn’t a place for community the way our churches are, or should be, but a place of individual transactions.  Jesus didn’t want people to have to make transactions to be in relationship with God.  He wanted people to encounter a living God in their daily lives.

And so that is our challenge.  We are not here to worship our building, expecting that somehow our salvation comes from membership and pledging (as important as those things are).  We are not here to make a transaction with God for our salvation.  Congregational life is how we are formed and transformed, and God is among us here, I know absolutely.   We derive real sustenance from being part of a church community, and our spiritual growth depends on our prayers together, our considering Scripture together, our working together for the good of the world around us.

But this is not the only place God is.  We don’t just “come to see God” on Sundays and holidays.  We, too, can encounter a living God in our daily lives, when we re-orient ourselves to look for God everywhere and not just here.  God interrupts our lives every day.... when we feel some kind of urge to visit someone who is sick or lonely or welcome a stranger or get involved with Episcopal Relief and Development or give out bread at Grove.  God interrupts our preoccupations with getting things "right" through order and systems and calls us to action out there in the world.

Jesus wants us to live for God and others. To worship God and not the church or the Bible.  To be in community but not to worship the community.  To be fed in community for our work in the world.

Archbishop William Temple put it best when he said, “The church is the only institution that exists for those who are not its members.”   You see the difference between that and the temple as the locus of transactions to assure salvation.

I once heard prayer described as a willingness to be interrupted by God.

And so in our wonderful corporate life together here, let us keep this idea in mind. Jesus is the great interrupter!  Let our prayer be that we be willing to be interrupted by God here, and out there, every day.

Collect for the Third Sunday in Lent

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saturday Morning Music Video: Lauridsen's Lux Aeterna

This is the first ten minutes of Morten Lauridsen's work Lux Aeterna, which includes the Introitus and In te, domine, sperave.  This whole work is something of a requiem, without a dies irae. 

Lauridsen is an American composer from Los Angeles/the Pacific Northwest.  This recording is by the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Sinfonia Orchestra, Paul Salamunovich, Conductor.  His style gets into my soul like few other composers do; I hope you'll enjoy it.  Close your eyes and just let it wash over you.

The translations from the Latin are thus:


Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them
A hymn befits thee, O God in Sion.
And to thee a vow shall be fulfilled
in Jerusalem:
Hear my prayer,
for unto thee all flesh shall come.
Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

In te, Domine, sperave

To deliver us, you became human,
and did not disdain the virgin's womb.
having blunted the sting of death, You
Opened the Kingdom of heaven to all believers.
A light has risen in the darkness for the upright.
have mercy upon us, O Lord,
Have mercy upon us.
Let thy mercy be upon us, O Lord,
as we have trusted in thee.
In thee, O Lord, I have trusted
let me never be confounded.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Lenten Fridays: Seashell Break

A very worn lightning whelk.

Collect for Friday in the Second Week of Lent


    Grant, O Lord, that as your Son Jesus Christ prayed for his enemies on the cross, so we may have grace to forgive those who wrongfully or scornfully use us, that we ourselves may be able to receive your forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Among the "comfortable words" spoken after the absolution (the announcement of the forgiveness of sins) in the Rite I service of Holy Communion in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, are these words of Jesus:  "Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you."  (Matthew 11:28)

Most translations of this verse use the phrase "I will give you rest" rather than "I will refresh you."  A quick (and hardly exhaustive) search suggests that only the Douay-Rheims and Wycliff versions use "refresh."  The rest, from the Tyndale and Authorized (aka King James) versions to the New Revised Standard and Common English Bibles, use rest (no pun intended).

While I don't want to get into some kind of slog about how the verse ought to be properly translated, the difference between "refresh" and "rest" seems significant.  I've always loved this verse (usually reading it with the "rest" being given), hearing it as an invitation to lay my burdens down at the altar, to give over the heavy stuff to God when I am becoming worn out by those burdens.  And there is an implied relief that one receives upon laying down those burdens.  Sweet relief.

But refresh means that I am given something in addition to relief.  I'm given what I need to go on.  Maybe I'm still laying down those burdens and feeling that sweet relief, but receiving refreshment gives me something new, something besides rest and relief.  Refreshment means I may gain new insight, new energy, new commitment, and new power to continue my journey, trusting that more refreshment is always available when my soul begins to flag. 

My guess is that I may read this differently, depending on my own state of mind and body and soul.  There are times when I just want rest, and the thought of going on doesn't seem desirable or even possible.  

But going on is what we are usually called to do.  And so there is God's refreshment, like manna in the wilderness that is available every day, just for that day, as a gracious gift.  No doubt that's the purpose of its placement in the Rite I Eucharistic service, just prior to communion, when we will again receive refreshment, the power to go on, in the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood. 

As we continue moving through Lent, the season of wilderness and abstinence of various kinds, I will keep the idea of refreshment in mind, not only in my own discipline and journey but also so that I will be mindful that when I celebrate the Eucharist, I am offering Christ's refreshment to those who come to the altar rail with hands outstretched to receive it.

Collect for Thursday in the Second Week of Lent

  1. O Lord, strong and mighty, Lord of hosts and King of glory: Cleanse our hearts from sin, keep our hands pure, and turn our minds from what is passing away; so that at the last we may stand in your holy place and receive your blessing; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Lamb of God

Wordless Wednesday: A Goose Walks on Water

Collect for Wednesday in the Second Week of Lent

    1. O God, you so loved the world that you gave your only- begotten Son to reconcile earth with heaven: Grant that we, loving you above all things, may love our friends in you, and our enemies for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Thin Places

Ever since Jacob dreamed about the ladder upon which angels ascended and descended between earth and heaven, people have been aware that some spots seem to be "thin places."  Places where the separation between earth and heaven is as thin as gossamer, where it's possible to imagine God's glory and God's reach and God's abiding presence and love to shine through all barriers.  Places where we can feel that God and/or God's messengers are very, very near.

For me, places where I can see the vastness of both water and sky are such thin places.  There is so much activity going on in them, even if I can't see it with my eyes.  I know that life is teeming in the water and in the sky and on the earth, all sorts of creatures going about their business, and I am in the midst of it all, trying to be aware of it all and maybe trying to be in synch with it all, too. 

The "thin place" pictured here is also a resting place for migratory birds.  As you probably know, birds that fly great distances have to find safe places to rest between the long legs of their journeys.  They need shelter and sustenance and a sense of safety.  Great numbers of birds - birds equally at home on the water and in the sky - rest in this area during the winter, reasonably undisturbed. 

We need such places of rest in our journeys as well.  Places that give us a sense of peace, and maybe elicit awe and wonder.  For me, water (and especially water and sky) views give some kind of visual peace that provides respite even when I'm driving along the highway and can look out into a marsh or river or canal or pond and get that sense of peace.  We need that sense of sustenance and safety, too, so that we can be present not only to God in our resting but to God in our doing.  And so that we might have a sense that while the world is vast and confusing and our place in it might be small, we are beloved and have a place in the world that belongs to us, uniquely.  That we are part of creation and have a part to play with the gifts we have been given to use for the good of the world.

When I'm in the kind of place that gives me peace, I actually feel more capable of taking on the arduous tasks of life.   Because I feel that I am not alone but supported by God and God's angels who move back and forth between and among us all the time.

Where are the thin places you love?

Morning Collect for Tuesday in the Second Week of Lent

  1. O God, you willed to redeem us from all iniquity by your Son: Deliver us when we are tempted to regard sin without abhorrence, and let the virtue of his passion come between us and our mortal enemy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, March 5, 2012

South Park Sanderlings

These little birds are sanderlings.  This is probably my favorite breed of shore bird, and that's saying something because I love all kinds of shore birds.

What I love about them is how their little legs go so fast as they run back and forth up and down the beach as the waves come in.  They look like wind-up toys running along, first down to the water and then just as quickly away from the waves. Like little kids, they want to get in, and then when the water approaches, they run away as fast as they can. 

Sanderlings are a wonderful antidote to, say turkey vultures.  Yes, they're all God's creatures, but there's nothing cute and whimsical about turkey vultures.

I took this photo while on my Lenten retreat at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, along the beach on Assateague Island (which is also part of the Assateague National Seashore and where I also happened to see a couple of turkey vultures as well).  I noticed that many of them were standing on one leg - and as I moved closer to them, they hopped away, still on one leg.  They looked like they were in a scene from South Park (or Veggie Tales if you like), all bobbing along instead of running quickly and smoothly they way they usually do.

It turns out that this standing and hopping-on-one-leg behavior signifies that the birds may be feeling disturbed.  So, while I was laughing as I watched them, I'm sorry to feel that I came across as an intruder. 

I've taken many photos of sanderlings over the years, but stills never do them justice.  So here's a short video by Javier Salinas Laguna that shows just how delightful they are:

Sanderlings from Javier Salinas Laguna on Vimeo.


Collect for Monday in the Second Week of Lent

  1. Let your Spirit, O Lord, come into the midst of us to wash us 
    with the pure water of repentance, 
    and prepare us to be always a living sacrifice to you; 
    through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
    who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
    one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Here's Looking at You

While away on my beach retreat, I decided, after some wrestling with myself, to eat out at a real restaurant.  The kind with nice tablecloths on the tables and shapely wineglasses.  Sometimes eating alone in such a place is intimidating. It's not like eating at Wendy's when you can spend the whole time checking Facebook by phone while you eat.  And it's not the cheapest option.

 But after hiking several miles and the prospect of hiking another several the next day, and the trip being a Lenten retreat meaning I wanted to be intentional and thoughtful about all that I did, I realized that I ought to let someone cook me a nice dinner for a change.  And that I ought to enjoy eating it, that I ought to savor it, actually.

I sat next to a window, through which I could see inside an open doorway into a storefront across the street the unmistakable pattern on the ceiling of a disco ball, and some pre-teen types walking into the place.  As I watched, my waitress arrived.  She told me about the specials, took my wine order, and then, hesitating slightly, said that she was watching the scene across the street, too.

It was the middle school dance.  Her only son, an 11 year old with Asperger syndrome, was there.  She wasn't sure how long he would want to stay, given that a major thunderstorm was headed our way.  He would probably want to be at home during that.

I told her that my son was at a music event for the weekend and that I was sorry not to be able to be with him.  She nodded sympathetically.

When she came back with my wine and a lovely loaf of bread, I asked her about home. She lives with her mother with whom the boy stays when she works at night.  During the day she's a teacher at the high school.  We looked out the window together at the shapes moving around inside the storefront.  I couldn't see much dancing going on, but a few heads were clustered in groups around the room while lights flickered overhead.  I remembered middle school dances.

Before I finished my meal, the wind had blown in some heavy rain, and I watched several kids run out to cars where their parents were waiting, arms over their heads in a futile effort to fend off the wet.   My waitress announced that her son had stayed for an hour at the dance, but was at home now.  He said he had a good time and would go to the next dance, but he didn't want to be out during the storm.

I left her a bigger than usual tip.  And was grateful to God that I'd decided to eat a real meal in a real restaurant instead of holing up at some fast-food joint with my phone to keep me company.

When I hear the debates about single parents, about health care benefits, about education and especially about teachers (and how so many of them are so bad), I will remember my waitress and her family.  Our national debates (and our private conversations) are so often about "them" and "those" and serve only to make sweeping generalizations, almost always negative, about whole groups of people.  Like single parents or teachers.  But among "them" are actual people with actual stories.  Like this person, working two jobs, depending on her mother for child care for an autistic son, working to provide everything for all three of them.

We need to actually try to see real people when we have these debates and not treat them as categories.  It will help if we actually know some of "them."  Even just a little bit (although not like we came to know "Joe the Plumber," who became a media star, at least for fifteen minutes or so, four years ago in service to a political agenda).  To see their lives as they really are and not as we imagine or want them to be.  To look at them with the eyes of compassion (from the Latin: to suffer with) and not through the lenses of our own prejudices. 

Is my waitress the emblem of all teachers or single parents or parents of special needs kids? No. She is one example, a woman with whom I had some conversation, mother to mother, and on whose face I could read the tension and worry about her child even as I experienced her competence at her job and confidence in her abilities.  Someone a lot like me, actually, in some ways.

In our national conversations about all of these things (and immigration, too), it is never wrong to start with compassion and go from there.  We are talking about people, not categories, with lives, not lifestyles.  People who are not sitting around at home planning to take over the world with their "agendas" or even take away other people's rights.  Just people, loved by God. 


Related Posts with Thumbnails