The Tenth Station: Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments

April 3, 2017 Comments Off on The Tenth Station: Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments

Artist: Simon Carr

Matthew Chapter 27 Verse 28: They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him,

There was little dignity in Jesus’s death.  He was at the mercy (or lack) of others.  The agents of his death were cruel.  He had no control.  His very clothes were taken from him.  He was made to wear a strange garment.

This was like almost all deaths I have seen.  As a person dies they lose the various outer layers of their lives, self-reliance, deciding when to eat, deciding what to eat, deciding what to wear, control of bodily functions and cognition.  It is not pretty.  It is not dignified.

But there also can be grace in dying.  That grace does not emanate solely from the dying person but in large part from those around her.  The gathering of love around the dying is a breath of the eternal, because it echoes back the love that the person shared with others in their life, and the love around the dying also echoes into the future as a bright coal of memory of those who were there.

While Jesus had cruelty in his death, he also had loved ones there.  He also expressed the ultimate love in his very act of dying and his resurrection.

So, don’t expect much dignity in death.  But there can be love, grace and hope.

– Bruce Goerlich

Composer Spotlight Lent V: Arvo Pärt

March 31, 2017 Comments Off on Composer Spotlight Lent V: Arvo Pärt

The choral music scheduled at St. Luke’s for the Fifth Sunday in Lent (April 2nd) will be:

  • Thomas Stoltzer – Judica me, Deus (Introit)
  • Arvo Pärt – De profundis
  • Iain Quinn – O esca viatorum
  • Richard Proulx – We adore you, O Christ
  • Arvo Pärt – Pari intervallo

– Blog Editor


The music of Estonian-born composer Arvo Pärt is unique in the contemporary music world and has attracted a substantial following in recent years.  Pärt’s early music was solidly in the atonal serial idiom.  By the early 1970’s he had reached a dead end compositionally.  At about this time, he converted to Orthodoxy, and also discovered the power of Gregorian chant and early Renaissance polyphony.  His response was to develop a tonal idiom based on a mixture of scales and triads, a style that he calls “tintinnabuli”.  Listening to this music is similar to viewing an icon: the music does not “go” anywhere but rather “exists”, emerging out of silence and receding back into silence.

Pärt left his native Estonia in 1980 and subsequently settled in Berlin.  De profundis was composed in the same year.  A setting of Psalm 130, it is one of his most impassioned vocal works.  The relatively simple material unfolds in an unwavering manner, adding voices in a single dynamic arch.

Pari intervallo was originally composed for four wind instruments, though the organ version is the more familiar.  The title describes the musical material: a pair of voices moves in strict parallel, with a second pair of voices filling in the music.  The piece was composed in 1976 ‘in memoriam’ for a friend who had died.

Iain Quinn was born in Cardiff, and began his training as a chorister at Llandaff Cathedral. He subsequently studied at The Juilliard School, Larry Allen at The Hartt School, the University of Hartford and at the Institute of Sacred Music at Yale University.  In 2013 Mr. Quinn was appointed Assistant Professor of Organ at Florida State University. The recipient of several awards Mr. Quinn was awarded a Fellowship by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, an award from The Prince’s Trust and is the recipient of an ASCAPlus award from The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.  His motet O esca viatorum was commissioned by the Concert Choir of the University of New Mexico.  The text is an anonymous hymn first published in Mainz in 1661.

Richard Proulx was a prolific composer with more than 300 published works, including congregational music in every form, sacred and secular choral works, song cycles, two operas, and instrumental and organ music. A Roman Catholic church musician, he served on the core committee for such hymnals as The Hymnal 1982, New Yale Hymnal, the Methodist Hymnal, Worship-Second and Third Editions. Proulx was a member of The Standing Commission on Church Music of the Episcopal Church and was a founding member of The Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians. He may be best known to Episcopal congregations for his setting of the Sanctus & Benedictus, S125 in the Hymnal 1982.

Spotlight on Arvo Pärt:

Missa Syllabica

Magnificat

Cantate Domino

Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten (orchestral)

– David Shuler, Director of Music

The Ninth Station: Jesus Falls for the Third Time

March 30, 2017 Comments Off on The Ninth Station: Jesus Falls for the Third Time

Artist: Gus Moody

How are we measuring our Lent so far? How are we measuring ourselves and others and by what measure?  The lyrics of Seasons of Love haunt me when I think of this question.

How do you measure – measure a year?
In daylights – in sunsets
In midnights – in cups of coffee
In inches – in miles
In laughter – in strife


At times we have a tendency to record days and years in just the strife. We live in a culture of scarcity that tells us there isn’t enough riches, resources, love, and all that’s good to go around. It tells us to take what we can grab by the fist and pocket it away before someone else does. Every failure or disappointment is just more of the pie slipping away from us. Shame is what keeps the machine running by whispering in our ear that we aren’t worthy of love and belonging anyway, that we were never going to be as good as everyone else, and that there is little point to taking risks or even bothering to try when it will all just suck anyway. We will get nothing and we are nothing.

Jesus falling for the third time epitomizes how this kind of shame can manifest and how we can respond to others, too. Sometimes we don’t know quite what to say when someone is struggling so we are quick to say something like this to a Jesus falling again moment: “Wow, Jesus, you fell again huh? It’s no biggie. But let me tell you what happened to ME the other day! Way worse!” Or we think, “I’m so much stronger as a fisherman so I’d only fall twice max.” Or better yet, “Poor Jesus, bless his heart.” We tend to focus on the falling with ourselves and others as if that’s the point.

What if the point was more about the resilience to get back up? Or the bravery to carry an impossible weight and keep going anyway? Or the very love that keeps us showing up not in spite of the cost and falls and shame but because of it? One of my Lenten practices this year was to try meditation as a new way of praying. I thought I was just particularly bad at it because I had a million thoughts racing and it seemed as though the whole point was not to have thoughts. It really isn’t actually about not having thoughts, as many of you are aware. The point is to touch the thought. let it go, and come back to the present moment. I think this is instructive as we think about the ways we think about falling down in a year, in a lifetime even. The point isn’t that we try to eliminate falling, because falling will happen. The point is to touch our wounds, failures, and hurts, let them go, and come back to our authentic, true selves.

So indeed how will we measure this Lent, this year, ourselves? Will it be how many times we’ve fallen or failed? Seasons of Love gives us a clue in how we might measure  — “measure in love”. When we do find ourselves falling again like Jesus, we might remember to touch it, let it go, and come back to ourselves knowing we are worthy of love and belonging. When we see others fall, we might just stand with them in solidarity. These are our seasons of love.

– Nicole Hanley

A View from the Sacristy: Icon of St. Luke

March 29, 2017 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Icon of St. Luke

In our Lady Chapel there is an icon of St Luke. It is the only image of our patron saint that we have. It is a traditional style icon that replicates an actual 16th century Greek icon and was gifted to the parish by the Formation Class of Easter 2013. This icon shows Luke sitting on a bench, surrounded with tools of the painter’s trade (brushes, mixing bowls, and a storage box), and holding a small palette and paintbrush. He is in the process of painting a panel with the image of the Virgin and Child. This image is called Hodighitria (“She who points the way”) where both the Virgin and Child face the viewer and the Virgin points or gestures towards the Christ. The panel rests on an elaborate easel that features notches that allow the artist to adjust the easel to hold larger and smaller panels. Luke also seems to use the notches to hold brushes.

Paul calls Luke “the beloved physician” in his letter to the Colossians, so Luke has always been identified as a physician.  The tradition of Luke as a painter began in the Byzantine East during the iconoclastic controversy in the 8th century. In the ancient world and right into the Renaissance, a medical doctor was often also an artist. One of the reasons for this connection is that both the physician and the painter would rely on minerals and plants to create medical treatments and pigments as well. Whether doctor or painter, must time was spent searching nature or the local markets for these minerals and plants, and then even more time grinding and mixing them to concoct their own treatments or their own paints.

The icons that St Luke originally painted are always agreed to be three in number; in some traditions the three icons are all of the Virgin. The first is called Hodighitria as in our icon; the second is Umilenie (“Our Lady of Tenderness”) where the Virgin and Child are cheek to cheek, often reaching out for each other; and the third is of the Virgin without the Christ but by herself and similar to the Virgin from a traditional iconic representation Christ in Majesty flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist called Deësis or Deisis meaning “prayer” or “supplication.” Exhausted yet? There’s more! Another tradition holds that the three icons are said to be of the Virgin and Child (Hodighitria), the second is of the Christ, and third is of Saints Peter and Paul.

 

The Virgin of Vladimir

Modern Deisis, detail of Virgin

 

                                     

Regardless of what’s on the panels, there are also differing legends of the panels on which they were painted. One tradition tells that after Christ’s Ascension, when the Virgin went to Ephesus to live with Saint John, she took all of her household furniture with her from Nazareth that included a table made by her Son, the Carpenter. When Luke came for a visit, he offered to paint her portrait. Mary suggested that the tabletop be made into three panels so that Luke could paint three paintings. The tabletop was cut into three 5×3 panels. Still another tradition says that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Saint Luke, offering three heavenly panels to use to paint the three paintings.

Some people say Luke sent the three icons to Theophilus, the person to whom Luke dedicates his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Another tradition say that Luke kept the icons, the icons were lost, and then discovered by Saint Helen of Constantinople, title for Helena (empress) (c. 250 – c. 330), mother of Constantine the Great. In Constantinople there was a church and monastery built in the 5th century to house the Virgin Hodighitria that survived until the fall of the city to the Turks in 1453.

Wherever the panels come from or whatever they’re painting on, most traditions tell that, as Luke paints the Virgin’s portrait, they talk and she tells him the story of her life and, most importantly, the stories that we find only in the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel which do not appear in the synoptic gospels. Luke not only paints a portrait of the Virgin in paint, but also with words in his Gospel. When Luke has finished his work and presented the icon to the Virgin, it is reported that she said, “Let the grace of Him Who was born of me, and my mercy, be with these Icons.”

St Luke Presenting the icon of the Hodighitria to the Virgin Mary, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai

– Sean Scheller

 

 

Lenten Reflection: Musings on Lent

March 28, 2017 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: Musings on Lent

I was brought up as a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and became an Episcopalian in college.   The season of Lent was therefore not something that was ingrained in me from childhood.  I hope the reader can forgive any theological mistakes I make in this note.

It appears to me that there are traditionally two ways to approach Lent, penitence and atonement.    Penitence is feeling sorry for what one has done.  Atonement is taking actions to repair for what one has done.  Penitence as manifested in action is usually expressed as giving up something:  ice cream!  Atonement is usually expressed in action as doing something more, attending more services, doing more charity work, etc.

I find I’m not very good at or interested in penitence.  As it is, I question my actions too much already!  And in my Quaker background I saw a lot of people who were so involved in a “simple” life, that they appeared to be the most “prideful” folks I knew.  Giving up so they were purer than others.   I just am not constitutionally fit to be penitential.

I’m a better fit for acts of atonement.  I am now carrying around boxes of raisins (when I remember) to give when asked for a handout.  If I don’t have a box I will give a dollar.  In short, I’m trying to recognize the humanity in others.   I am also trying to live more in the moment.  I have a lot of changes in my life and my natural instinct is to worry about the future.  I think we can look at the temptations of Jesus as a way the Devil offered Jesus control: over death and over others.  I am trying through prayer amongst other things to give up that need for control.  I can’t control the future.  I can try in this moment to do the best I can.

I asked Doug Blanchard to paint three paintings for me to try and capture this.  It is of a quote from Micah:

What does the Lord God require of you but to do Justice, to love Mercy and to walk humbly with your God?”

Maybe that means Lent is every day of the year.

– Bruce Goerlich

The Eighth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

March 27, 2017 Comments Off on The Eighth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

Artist: Rev. Posey Krakowsky

At first glance this seems to be a “Fear not” moment.  Jesus says to the weeping women “Do not weep for me” But instead of continuing, as Luke does in the telling of his birth, with angels assuring shepherds of wonder – here Jesus turns the lens of grief back upon the women.  “Weep for yourselves and for your children.”

God manifested in human form in order to deliver a message of love and radical inclusion and rather than being universally embraced, Divinity walks up a dusty mountain road carrying a cross on which to die.

This is not so much a moment of judgment, but of clarity.  A reminder of the work left to be done in order to bring the world closer to that heavenly country.  That the tragedy the women see unfolding before them – innocence heading to crucifixion – won’t end with a single man on a single day.

“Do not weep for me Daughters of Jerusalem, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”

– Caroline Prugh

Composer Spotlight Lent IV: Johannes Ockeghem

March 24, 2017 Comments Off on Composer Spotlight Lent IV: Johannes Ockeghem

The choral music scheduled at St. Luke’s for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 26th) will include:

  • Johannes Ockeghem  – Missa Cuiusvis toni
  • Pierre de Manchicourt – Hic est panis 

– Blog Editor


Johannes Ockeghem was the greatest musician of the late fifteenth century.  On this judgment both the modern historian and the composer’s contemporaries concur, for no one enjoyed greater prestige among practitioners, patrons and students of music in the Renaissance.  To Desiderius Erasmus, the greatest of the northern humanists, Ockeghem was the “Prince of Music”.  To Antoine Busnois, foremost composer at the court of Burgundy, he was to be compared only with Pythagoras, the legendary inventor of the art.  To a whole generation of Netherlandish musicians – Josquin, Brumel, La Rue among them — he was the “Maistre et bon Pere”, in some cases a teacher, and for all a model.

Ockeghem’s greatest achievement as a composer was the unprecedented feat of creating extended polyphonic compositions that were not based on a discernible pre-existent scaffold, whether Gregorian chant of secular song.  The absence in some of his works of a so universally relied-upon structural device as a cantus firmus has made Ockeghem’s music difficult to analyze.  To compose music so “free” and “inspirational” is a task of great difficulty, demanding an inexhaustible richness of invention and technique.  As a result, Ockeghem’s music is unique in the body of Renaissance polyphony.

The Missa Cuiusvis toni is a work of compositional brilliance in another respect as well.  The mass is intended to be sung in any of the four modes.  (A rough analogy would be a piece of nineteenth-century music that could be played in either C major or C minor.)  There are no clefs in the part books, so it is up to the performers to sort out the tonality.

Pierre de Manchicourt was born in Béthune in about 1510.  Most of what we know of his early years comes from title pages of his publications.   He became director of the choir at Tours Cathedral in 1539, master of the choirboys at Tournai Cathedral in 1539 and maître de chapelle there later that year.  Manchicourt was appointed to the coveted position of master of Philip II’s Flemish chapel in Madrid in 1559 and remained there until his death in 1564.  Manchicourt’s early motets show the influence of Ockeghem and Josquin; his mature style is close to that of Gombert and Clemens non Papa, combining eloquent and finely wrought melodies with constantly varying imitative techniques.  St. Luke’s Choir released a recording of the music of Manchicourt, including this motet, on the MSR label in November. The recording is available on our website and at the Parish Office.

For additional listening on Johannes Ockeghem:

Here is link to the Kyrie from his Missa Prolationem

The Sanctus from the Missa L’homme arme

This is an interesting video about Ockeghem:

 

–  David Shuler, Director of Music

The Seventh Station: Jesus Falls A Second Time

March 23, 2017 Comments Off on The Seventh Station: Jesus Falls A Second Time

Artist: Linda Mason

How very human it is for the Son of God to fall—not just once, but twice. Twice, Jesus falls, brought down by the weight of His cross, His pain and suffering.

And if Jesus can be brought so literally low, if God can allow Godself in the person of Jesus to be brought down, to suffer, then perhaps we ought to reexamine our own views on suffering, pain, and hardship.

Christianity writ large has a bad habit of trying to justify suffering. Women suffer in childbirth and from patriarchal inequality because of Original Sin, from domestic violence because of poor interpretation of Ephesians 5. People with disabilities suffer because they haven’t been healed by God yet—and obviously are doing something wrong, or are sinful in some way. The poor are poor by their own fault—or are meant to learn something from the experience of being “the least of these.”

“But I would never think that way—about others or myself!” you may be thinking. It’s an insidious practice of self-hatred; our entire theology of redemption through the Christ event is centered on the need for a humanity that deserved to suffer because of its actions and, essentially, got lucky that the God of Israel happened to like humans and wanted some company and felt like grace was a good idea. So even when we don’t think we think like this, we do—about something. And justify it with religion more often than not.

I for one don’t think suffering is good or bad. I think trying to assign a moral weight to suffering and pain is destined for disaster. Call it good and you glorify the suffering of people who do not deserve it, abandoning them to their suffering without trying to do our Christian duty of spreading agape love in the world in the inbreaking of the kingdom of God. Naming suffering an outright bad is just as dicey; condemning suffering leads to heresy almost any way you slice it. And on the more human level, condemning suffering as a moral evil leaves us unprepared to handle the trials and travails of human life.

Instead, I meditate on the suffering of Jesus and try to cultivate compassion rather than trying to theologically justify it or glorifying it. I mediate on Jesus falling twice—showing Himself to be so very human and so far from perfect and God-like—and find peace within myself as I navigate my own sufferings and hardships as I live a very human life, graced with the Holy Spirit and love of God, given hope through the life of Christ.

– Madeline Pantalena

A View from the Sacristy: Icon of Our Lady

March 22, 2017 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Icon of Our Lady

I know we were going to look at St Luke as a painter this week, but first I want to explore another icon in the church. I want to look at our icon of Our Lady that hangs on the wall to the north of the High Altar and behind the votive candle rack. The author of our icon is Sister Dr. Ellen Francis, a life-professed sister of the (Episcopal) Order of St. Helena in Augusta, GA (founded in 1945 in Kentucky), and a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina.

What is an icon? To our Western eyes, an icon is a painting done in a somewhat archaic traditional style. The colors are bright, space is non-existent, movement is stilted, and forms are rigid. To the eyes of faith, an icon is the revelation of the Kingdom of God. It is a window in to creation as transfigured, renewed, and deified by the saving acts of Christ. So an icon is not just a painting, it is, as St. John of Damascus said, a “channel of divine grace,” the place where heaven and earth meet, so that we can have a glimpse of heaven. The icon which hangs behind the pulpit, above the rack of votive candles, is called Our Lady of the Sign. The image is based on the two quotes from scripture we see above.

The first is a prophesy from Isaiah where God promises to send a savior born of a young woman. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) The original Hebrew text of the word for the young woman has traditionally been translated as virgin although modern scholarship has challenged that translation and it is now usually translated as you see it above. The icon portrays the Virgin opening herself up in prayer to reveal the Christ within. For the Virgin this is true in both a physical sense and a spiritual sense. The Virgin is often looked upon as a type for the Church and the individual Christian; in this icon she is the Church who reveal’s Christ to the world through its liturgy and sacraments and the individual who lives their life.

The second is Mary’s “yes” to the message of the angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of Jesus as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. Luke, actually, is all around…. “Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38). The icon shows the Virgin at the moment she has conceived the Christ in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the stylized work of the iconographer we can see a fully formed Christ Child in the mandorola of his mother’s womb. A mandorola is an aureola or aureole, which depicts the radiance of a luminous cloud which, in paintings of sacred personages, surrounds the whole figure. The term mandorola is the Italian name for the “almond” nut, and refers to its usual shape of a vesica piscis, the intersection of two disks with the same radius, intersecting in such a way that the center of each disk lies on the perimeter of the other in the shape of an almond. The mandorola generally surround the figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary in traditional Christian art. It is distinguished from a halo in that it encircles the entire body, and not just the head. It is commonly used to frame the figure of Christ in Majesty in early medieval and Romanesque art, as well as Byzantine art of the same periods. The mandorola is blue as a symbol of the earth where God, as Christ, has come down from heaven to dwell on earth. Yet, even while being in human form Christ is still supported by a seraph, the highest order of angel, who stand forever before the throne of God crying, “Holy, holy, holy!”

Jesus is most often shown as a miniature adult and not a child except in icons of the Nativity. This has to do with the Church’s understanding of the human and divine natures of Christ as defined at the Council of Nicaea and the iconographer’s attempts to portray that truth. Jesus is always shown with the clothing of an adult or dressed as a priest. He is usually shown with his hand raised in a blessing or teaching gesture.

Sacred tradition says that when the angel appeared to Mary she was in the midst of saying her daily prayers. Our icon continues in that tradition by showing the Virgin in the Orans position. The Virgin stands with her arms folded up at the elbow and her hands facing out. The Orans is an ancient attitude of prayer much older then the more recent folding of the hands in front of your chest that is so common today. We still see this gesture at the Holy Eucharist. See if you can notice it!

The Virgin Mary is dressed in a red mantle that covers her from head to toe; she is also wearing a blue inner garment since we can see the blue sleeves from her up turned arms.  The red is a symbol of divinity that overshadowed the Virgin and the blue is a symbol of her humanity. The mantle has three gold stars, one on the forehead and one on either shoulder, theses stars are a symbol of the Virgin’s continued virginity before, during and after the birth of Christ.

(This is an update to an earlier article from the St Luke’s Gazette.)

– Sean Scheller

Lenten Reflection: Poop or Get off the Pot / #LentUnEdited

March 21, 2017 § 1 Comment

Dear People of God … I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
The Book of Common Prayer, Proper Liturgies for Special Days, Ash Wednesday, page 265

The habit of consistently eating healthfully and making correct and positive choices for what goes in our body is good for us. Making sure that on certain days we come home from work and we, instead of flopping on the couch, put on some music and shake our booty, which provides us with consistent opportunities to achieve an invigorated circulatory system. Establishing and sinking in to some patterns and habits, though, can become anesthetizing, often to our detriment. Sometimes when we’re not in a positive space spiritually or psychicly, we can find ourselves taking comfort among the company of murmurers, people who just want to gnaw on bones, because it makes us feel less alone, and it sure does feel good to whine and wallow and really sink ourselves deep down in our misery, doesn’t it? A more appropriate and life-giving choice, however, is seeking wiser counsel among people who are dedicated to “whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, [topics of] excellence and / worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). Sometimes, however, it’s only easy to see that we’re in a rut in hindsight. Sometimes in counseling friends who act like this, it takes a while to realize that they don’t want to be helped out of their muddle, they just want company in it.

We read in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews that we are to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,” to “provoke one another to love and good deeds,” and make sure “not to neglect meeting together.” That sounds encouraging, but it’s not such an easy practice, this meeting together. Following the teachings of Jesus as Christ is challenging enough, but putting together a service which will rejuvenate and elevate our bodies, minds, and spirits on a weekly basis has provided us with the state of the Christian church today: everyone has their own flavor. Some like laser shows and body stirring anthems, jumping up and down and spirited sermons; some like to sit quietly in a room in silent prayer; some like to hear an encouraging pep talk with poems but little Scripture; and some, like us, follow the structure and liturgy of the ancient rites.

The practice of following The Book of Common Prayer is not an easy row to hoe (so much flipping !) and it is my humble opinion we’ve strayed far from even knowing what’s inside it (#LetsMeetInThePrayerBook). We’ve really got to dig deep, ‘cause it may look like there’s not much there, but the simplicity of what’s recorded is powerful and life-changing and I don’t think we pay enough attention to it (and it’s pretty much the document which guides our journey as members of the Episcopal Church).

Thing is, you can come and sit and hear the pretty music and sing (or not sing) and stand and sit and stand and cross yourself and shake a hand or two and sit and stand and kneel (or not kneel) and have “your little cracker” and “your juice” and go on your way, probably rejuvenated, I’m not knocking it, but The Book of Common Prayer asks us to live a life in a consistent rhythm, to pray several times a day, to meet at least once a week, to observe the traditions of a cyclical calendar, and, most importantly, to delve into God’s Word and explore the Sacred Mysteries of the Good News that Jesus sacrificed himself as propitiation, once, for all, and the hardships are over and done, the Law has been fulfilled. We’re to come together to remember that, yes, but also to live in the joy of that Good News.

The bidding I led with is one of the two times in the church year that the priest comes down to the lip of the altar and addresses us personally, in the name of the Church. “~Do this. Observe a Holy Lent. Examine yourself. Turn from your inappropriate habits…and meditate on the holy writings.~”

Often people rush past the “self examination” part and go straight to the “self denial” part … “What are you giving up for Lent ?!” “Oh, I’m not giving up anything, I’m taking ON something!” … The choices people make for Lenten “self denial” has always just slayed me (#NoJudge). All I can ever think of is “reindeer games,” which refers to the Rankin/Bass stop-motion animated Christmas television special “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” (which to me is a painful and personal documentary of school yard shaming and bullying, but that’s stuff I’m still trying to work through). The Urban Dictionary defines them as, “any fun activities which are enjoyed only by members of a clique, the fact of which is often purposefully made obvious to anyone existing outside of said clique in order to make them feel inadequate and left-out.”

I feel like the whole “giving up” and/or “taking on” aspect of the practice of Lent is such an enormous distraction from the first bidding, the deep “self-examination and repentance” we’re called to. If we “give up” chocolate, is that truly a soul-changing revelation and will we truly repent from ingesting it? I’ve heard of some people, and the lack of their understanding of cause-and-effect astounds me having worked in the service industry all of my 20s, who are going to forego dining in restaurants, and squirrel all that money away to donate it at the end of Lent. Meanwhile, there is some poor woman who works a second job as a waitress so that she can afford to get her kids new Easter outfits who is going without that tip. Wouldn’t it be more of a sacrifice, more of a gift, more in the vein of walking with Jesus, to go to that restaurant, have a cup of tea, and leave a crisp twenty dollar bill, just for satisfaction of giving and the benefit of a person working in service depending on those daily tips?

Self-examination is the first thing asked of us. In an age (or because of our chronologic age) where it seems as though we have no accountability to any presiding authority, it’s often difficult to know if we’re inside or outside appropriate boundaries. Here’s a boundary for self-examination: Why do we show up at church? What are we doing there? What are we contributing?

When we show up at church, do we swoop in with tales of woe, asking everyone to notice us, participate in the calamity of our day? “Oh, I’m so sorry I’m late! Oh, what happened to me! The horrors of my commute! Me, me, me!” Do we bring in troubles from the Outside? Or do we wipe Outside off our feet at the doors and come inside to settle in to the peace of the preparation of worship. I’m not talking about a fake smile and a, “Oh, praise Jesus, sister, I’m OK and I’m on my way!” but many of us want to spread our troubles around instead of being bearers of a Good Report. I gotta tell you, as a member of the Altar Guild? In the past? I’ve seen people treat the Sacristy like a Green Room backstage at a high school production of GODSPELL and I would just want to scream, “WHAT ! are you DOING ! here! This is a HOLY SPACE where people are preparing themselves to proclaim the eternal mysteries of GOD ! Why are you here ?! and WHAT are you contributing !” I’ve talked to people in the pews who only come on Sundays sporadically because they just need a “little church,” because “it’s always the same anyway.” Really?? Because the experience is not what’s being presented to us, it’s what we’re pouring in to it, it’s our collective concentration that turns this from a performance in to a Cosmic Mystery. We’re there to lay our lives down on that altar as a sacrifice, in tandem with Jesus’ sacrifice for us and for all, as we recall the preparation of Passover before the ultimate redemptive sacrifice.

Lent starts out demanding we contemplate our own mortality, too. Lent isn’t easy, Lent is a journey in a wilderness. As The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth M.C. Kaeton posts on her blog telling-secrets, <Not The Wilderness.  A wilderness. A place we haven’t yet explored A place as yet unknown to us. A place where we may confront things we have not yet encountered. A place where we can explore our own vulnerability. A space where we might discover the limits of our spiritual endurance.  / Indeed, how does this ‘sacrifice’ which leads us to ‘charity’ actually underscore our privileged status and emphasize – but not bridge –the chasm between rich and poor. What if we came to our eight-week Lenten journey with a real sense of ‘poverty’, with a full sense of our powerlessness and vulnerability and no measurable goals?>

We’re almost halfway through. It’s not too late to take stock and really change our hearts, minds, and behaviours if we came at this year casually or carelessly. It’s also just Spring, a time to pray that God’s Holy Spirit will “Create in us a clean heart and renew within us a joyous spirit” (Psalm 51). A time to shake off what once was, and to make room for a new “me”. To make sure that, when we enter a room, we can give thanks to God, “who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us spreads and makes evident everywhere the sweet fragrance of the knowledge of God. For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ which ascends to God, among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing … an aroma from life to life, a vital fragrance, living and fresh.” (2 Corinthians 2). Let’s take up the practice of being a sweet fragrance, vital, living, and fresh, where ever God leads us, shall we?

– your pal, dasch

  • Categories

  • The Church of St. Luke in the Fields (Episcopal)