February 27, 2015 Comments Off on Hymn of the Week: Precious Lord, Take My Hand
But when I heard “Precious Lord” this week, and suddenly felt it for the first time, the word that especially struck me is home. The images that came to mind were all of doors. The dark doorway that I pictured as a kid when going “into my heart room” to be with Jesus, while praying Teresa Donze’s classic meditations for children. The “doorway that belongs / to you and me” in Mary Oliver’s poem, “Coming Home“. The kind of home that the doorway represents, the home of memory and imagination, is inherently shared. I think that’s what makes home a painful thing to think about sometimes. It reminds us of the people we’ve lost, as Dorsey had lost his wife. It can remind some of us (and especially LGBT people) of awkward holidays, of family who have rejected us or with whom we aren’t able to share our full selves. Exactly because coming home sounds like such a warm thing, it can bring out the thin sliver of grief in even our happy relationships — the realization that nothing lasts forever, that children grow up and parents age, that lovers change and friends move away. Home hurts most when we are lonely, when we are feeling the lack of loving relationships in our life.
The Precious Lord in this hymn isn’t pointing ahead to otherwordly bliss, or even to the specifics of what practical restoration of relationships, of health, of whatever is lost, will look like. He is already there in the dark, close enough to touch and hold on to. He isn’t offering a map. He invites trust. He doesn’t wait for us to find and follow him. He grabs onto us and pulls us with him.
March 14, 2014 Comments Off on Lenten Hymn of the Week: Hymn 603, Hymnal 1982
This coming Sunday, we will be singing Hymn #603 in the Hymnal 1982, “When Christ was lifted from the earth.” The words were composed by Brian Wren, one of the most prolific hymn writers of the 20th century.
When Christ was lifted from the earth His arms stretched out above
Through every culture, every birth, to draw an answering love.
Still east and west His love extends and always, near or far,
He calls and claims us as His friends and loves us as we are.
Where generation, class, or race divides us to our shame,
He sees not labels but a face, a person and a name.
Thus freely loved, though fully known, may I in Christ be free
To welcome and accept His own as Christ accepted me.
The hymn text recalls a portion of the Gospel text for the day, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15) The words ask us to lift up our gaze to Christ, who in his seemingly most desolate and humiliating moments, was lifted from the earth on the cross, but who draws not scorn from us but an inexplicable love, a bloom of compassion and gratitude for the depth of love that flows from his obedience unto death.
What a paradox! How can we gaze upon a man so wracked with pain and despair, so powerless and broken, and feel not repulsion but attraction? And how can his moment of desolation swing wide the gates of blessedness rather than clank them shut?
The hymn tune paired with this text reflects this blessed paradox. While the text reminds us of Christ’s awful lifting from the earth on Good Friday, the tune is in ¾ time: a slow waltz. While speaking of his cross, the tune and rhythm invite us to dance, to remember that this lifting, though terrible, is for us and for our salvation. The cross communicates to us definitively the lengths to which God is willing to go for the love of us, not as we may one day be, but just as we are. And knowing ourselves to be accepted and cherished, we find ourselves moved to reach forth our own hands in love, “to welcome and accept,” those who belong to Christ, which is everyone.
– The Rev. Gabriel Lamazares
March 7, 2014 § 1 Comment
Hymn 145, Hymnal 1982
Words: The Very Reverend Percival Dearmer (1867-1936)
Music: Besançon carol “Quittez, Pasteurs”, harmony by Martin Shaw (1875-1958)
It seems that many think of Lent as a time of denial, or penitence, of giving up foods and actions even the use of “Alleluia”. And indeed our liturgy reflects this time of self-reflection and fasting. Just yesterday we were called “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.”
It would not surprise you to note that many of our Lenten hymns reiterate this “reflection” and “repentance” theme. Phrases like “wilt thou forgive” and “ [Christ] himself has fasted and has prayed” and “teach us to mourn our sins” and “grant that we in penitence may offer you our praise” and various other hymns entreating us to “keep vigil with our heavenly Lord in his temptation and his fast” are found throughout this section of the hymnal. In fact there may be more cheer getting a paper cut or stubbing your toe than in a lot of hymns.
This indeed is only half of the true meaning of Lent. The other half is one wherein we turn our focus from inward reflection and preparation to one of outward action in the world helping those in need—putting action to our words rather than just reflection. That is not to say the reflection is not important—but it is likely that it is fulfilled in action. One hymn, and one hymn only in our traditional Lenten section pulls us out of the inward reflection and puts us into the world’s need for help and justice, and that is Hymn 141.
The text was written by The Very Reverend Percival Dearmer, an English priest born in 1867 in Kilburn, England. A member of the Alcuin Club (an Anglican organization dedicated to preserving church liturgy) he is best known for his work on the Parson’s Handbook which had the intent of offering Anglo-Catholic liturgical practices and worship that were compatible and complementary to the Book of Common Prayer. He implemented much of the liturgy in a London parish well known to us, St. Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill, where he was serving as Vicar.
In 1906, working with greats like Ralph Vaughn Williams, he published The English Hymnal. In 1926, the two were joined by Martin Shaw (the person who arranged the tune we use for this hymn) to produce Songs of Praise and, in 1928, the Oxford Book of Carols.
After serving 15 years at St. Mary the Virgin, he became a volunteer and activist. He served with the Red Cross in World War I with his first wife (who died in service). He then worked with the YMCA in France and later worked with Mission of Help in India. He married a second time to Nancy Knowles.
He was avid socialist who served as Secretary of the Christian Social Union for eleven years. He incorporated a lot of his socialism in his writing and teaching in what he called a “Litany of Labor” which was incorporated in his handbook for communicants called The Sanctuary. He was appointed canon of Westminster Abbey in 1931 and used his position to run a soup kitchen for the unemployed. In 1936 he died and was buried in the Great Cloister at Westminster Abbey.
Looking at Dearmer’s background, one can see his call to action and social justice reflected in this hymn. The text is based on Isaiah 58:5-12 (text below), and was set to a French Christmas carol called “Quittez, pasteurs”. I would be remiss if I didn’t say, that’s probably why it is also one of the few “cheery” hymns we have for Lent.
The text, and indeed the passage from which it is pulled call us from the fast and ashes into actions of social justice: to break the yokes of oppression, to feed the hungry and house the homeless, to clothe the naked and to reconcile with family. In so many words, Isaiah writes that if we fast and do not do these actions, our fast is dead and pointless. Indeed verses 1-5 talk about people oppressing their workers and quarreling while they fast, missing the point of God’s call to us to make the world a better place. It is plain: do this and then healing will come; vindication will come; you will call to God and God will answer; but only by removing the yoke–the burden from among us—the oppression around us in the world.
For me this hymn is a call to action. It is a call to not be silent—to stand up and make a difference and help fight oppression. And we are all acquainted with the oppression around us. We see it in racism, ageism, sexism, homophobia, and all other isms, in politics and the church. It is rampant. As I write this, I am reminded of the laws passed in Nigeria, Uganda, and Russia that oppress LGBT people—oppress and endanger their very lives. As essayist James Addison said, “No oppression is so heavy or lasting as that which is inflicted by the perversion and exorbitance of legal authority.”
As Mother Stacy often says, we do not need to look far to see those at risk and oppressed by the world – our outreach programs, especially the youth in “the Church” are examples of oppression within families, friends, and communities that are presented to us at our doorsteps on Hudson St.
I do think, if Dearmer were to visit St. Luke’s today, he would likely find himself at home, not just with our liturgy, but also with our outreach. Yet he would still push us to continue to break those bonds of oppression, and to bring about a new day where God’s glory adorns us with love as the prize. “Arise! Arise and make a paradise!”
Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, “Here I am”. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
– Chap Day
March 6, 2014 § 1 Comment
Yesterday, I went to church in the afternoon. I usually love Ash
Wednesday–thinking about life and death and preparing for this holy
season–I like the order and ritual of it all. I like nodding to people on the street who are also wearing ashes. But this year, I found myself lost in the privilege of Ash Wednesday. How many are
unable to take the time to go to church in the middle of the week? How many are ill? For whom is the reminder of death all too present, too imminent? Last week, my grandmother died. Yesterday, I held the prayer book she gave me for my 11th birthday in my hands and read psalm 51. The priest had just looked into my eyes and firmly, sternly reminded me, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It made me sadder than I had expected–it ushered me into a mourning I had not anticipated.
Today, we begin our journey through the stations of the cross.
Throughout the season of Lent, this blog will offer meditations on
this series of moments at the very end of Jesus’ life as depicted in
parishioner James Middleton’s paintings. So today, I face the outset
of this journey with ashes on my forehead, with mortality at the front
of my mind, with loss present and visceral. The stations of the cross
begin with, “Jesus is condemned to death by Pilate.”
It’s a plot point with which we churchgoers are familiar; we recite it
in the Nicene Creed each week. Still, I couldn’t figure out what I was
looking at in the image–faceless bodies holding spears and a seated
body washing his hands in a stream of water–until I turned to
scripture: “when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that
a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before
the crowd.” (Matthew 27:24) The deaths we begin with are complicated;
the mortality we remember at the beginning of this season of Lent is
not simple. Even a ritual as small and seemingly innocuous as washing
hands–what our priests do before every Eucharist–is called into
question as we start Lent.
It is a reminder that we are all called to death, and we are all
called to life. The two go hand in hand, just as the water that washes
us pours through our fingers. And in this liturgical season, the
miracle is that life comes after death. This is why we celebrate Holy
Communion after our imposition of ashes; this is why we can forge
through these 40 days with the promise of Easter on the horizon. As we
begin our journey through Jesus’ stations, may we marvel at the
incomprehensible promise of life which will come out of death.
– Julia Stroud
March 5, 2014 Comments Off on Ash Wednesday: How We Burn the Palms
[Editor’s note: We will post a series of posts from the Altar Guild about why and how we do what we do at St. Luke’s during Lent.]
The ashes we use at St Luke’s on Ash Wednesday are made by burning leftover palms from Palm Sunday. In the past, this was not our practice; we used to use store-bought palms, since one would think that dry palm would burn easily and create very pleasant ashes. This is not the case. The dry palm burns, but it takes some work to make it into ashes suitable for distribution during the service. The first problem is getting the palms to ignite. We used to use lighter fluid to get the palms burning, but that meant we really couldn’t use the result for ashes since I’m sure lighter fluid isn’t good for human skin. Another problem is that the palm veins tend not to fully burn and so the ashes are filled with lumps and hard pieces. After much experimenting, we discovered that a layer of cotton on the bottom of the tub we use to burn the palms gave a good base to the flames and burned hot enough to make ash of the palms. The cotton also kept its integrity so that it could be easily removed from the palm ashes. Another hint for good ashes is to push the palm ash through a sieve once cooled to remove any large veins or other materials which have crept into the ash.
– Sean Scheller on behalf of the Altar Guild
March 4, 2014 Comments Off on Shrove Tuesday
Happy Shrove Tuesday a.k.a Fat Tuesday a.k.a. Mardi Gras!
Starting tomorrow, visit us all during Lent for reflections on the Stations of the Cross, Lenten hymns, Icons, and more. We will post every day as in years past, so be sure to come back and comment often!
December 17, 2012 Comments Off on From the Altar Guild: The Symbolism of the Cope in the Advent Blue Set Week III
So now it’s the third Sunday of Advent the Sunday called Gaudete (Rejoice), as the Lord’s arrival is near. The Church wears rose-colored vestments as a sign of the joy we feel anticipating the birth of the Savior which is to come very soon. At St Luke’s, we wear what we have of a rose set (a chasuble, pulpit fall, burse, veil and our priests wear rose stoles). We also have rose-colored flowers today in the sanctuary.
In our exploration of the symbols on our Advent cope, we are up to the T for St Thomas whose feast day is December 21st and the sun for the remembrance of the Dayspring on December 22nd. .
December 21 – St. Thomas the Apostle – O THOMAS DIDIME
O Thomas Didymus, through Christ who suffered you to touch him, we entreat, you by your prayers for us on high, to aid us in our miseries, lest we be doomed with the lost when the judge appears.
December 21st is the traditional day of the martyrdom of the apostle. Sacred tradition says that Thomas was martyred in Mylapore, India having a spear thrust through him. The Mar Thoma Church of India is the legacy of the ministry of St Thomas. There is a Mar Thoma congregation in New York who used to meet on Sundays afternoon in the undercroft of Church of the Intercession uptown. I was there once as part of a Churches of New York Architecture Tour just after the Mar Toma congregation finished worship and, boy, could they could teach St Luke’s something about the use of incense. It was so smoky and they had finished the service almost 30 minutes before I was there and the undercroft certainly had an aura of sanctity.
I always find it a bit jarring to be thinking of Thomas, who has such a large a role in the Easter narratives, so close to Christmas. I don’t ever remember anyone named Thomas in any of the Christmas stories I have ever read. You know that the doubting Thomas story is the Gospel for the Sunday after Easter every year. Then again, the Thomas story is focused so much on the physicality of the Risen Jesus, when Jesus invites Thomas to reach in and feel his wounds, that it makes such perfect sense, as we get ready to celebrate the mystery of the Word-made-flesh remembering Thomas’ shining hour. Thomas is our reminder that the babe in Bethlehem grows up to be the Risen Jesus in the upper room who is my Lord and my God for us all.
December 22 – O ORIENS
O Dayspring, brightness of light everlasting and sun of righteousness: come and enlighten him who sits in darkness, and the shadow of death.
Dayspring is not a word that we use in everyday speech. I had to look up exactly what dayspring means. It is the time before the dawn when the horizon can be seen and perhaps the outline of some objects. In the liturgical life of the Church, it is the hour of Prime, the first prayers of the day. It is very early in the day and it can be a magical time when the light overtakes the darkness, the rising sun is anticipated well before it is actually seen or the heat of its rays are felt. It is a time of great possibilities, the day has just begun and anything is possible. This brings to my mind the passages from the Gospels that tell of the first Easter Day “after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning” when the women went to the tomb of Jesus. So, once again, so close to Christmas I have Easter on my mind. I always think of Christmas as the miracle in the middle of the night while Easter is the miracle of the dawn.
Last week I told you one of the secrets of the sacristy that we have a purple low mass set for Advent. I remember many years ago the designer and creator of the set, Graham French, telling me that the set was meant for both Advent and Lent since it was purple with silver trim and so was a penitential set since it had no gold.
Next week we will hear about the last two symbols of the Advent cope.
December 15, 2012 Comments Off on Advent Quote: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
December 14, 2012 Comments Off on Scripture Reflection — Luke 3:7-18: If Today You Hear God’s Voice, Harden Not Your Heart
Our Gospel Lesson for Sunday Advent 3 is Luke 3:7-18, the old chestnut of John the Baptist addressing the “crowds that came out to be Baptized”.
I have a confession: people specifically, the unwashed public up close in crowds, repel me. In March I began a job working in what I refer to as Tourist Zone 2, in the shadow of the Tiffany star at 57th and 5th, just south of Central Park South and The Plahza. Having to maneouver my way through “children laughing and people passing meeting smile after smile” while I’m trying to get from my crowded train, around two construction sites, the Apple Store and lines of rickshaws on the way to my office every morning is an object lesson in prayerful meditation during my Advent practice. I do love people in general, however, and what fascinates me most about them in the abstract is what they pray about and what they pray for, and what they think about and what they say out loud.
An hilarious thing to me in this vein is when I used to watch one of my girlfriends at my old job go COMPLETELY berserk because she would ritually give work to one particular department at the firm and they would ritually COMPLETELY mess the project up requiring her to do the whole project all over again herself. You would think after a couple of times, let alone every time for my eleven years with her, it would cease to be a surprise and become an expected behavior, yet each and every time she would become exasperated all over again in new and exciting ways, together with tried and true rants, about that department’s incompetence.
I do it myself, especially with my weight gain over the last 11 years. I keep saying, I’m so fat, I’m so out of shape, I need to lose this weight, one of these days … Backstory: I was in a miserable job, I ate and drank my feelings and now, 60 pounds overweight, I keep saying, UCH ! I’ve GOT to get this weight off … then I think, but it’s Easter, just these few chocolates; oh, it’s Halloween, my yearly Snickers bar (and not many kids came by this year so what am I supposed to do with these leftover Hershey miniatures); dear, here we are at Advent again, I have to make my sister-in-law her favourite holiday cookies. I balance my exercise routine with the substantiation that we live in New York and I walk miles every day, so I must be healthy, plus we don’t have enough money to join a gym; the Ashram is so inconvenient to practice daily … like I can’t practice yoga on my own floor at home, as if I don’t have free On Demand exercise channels, can you imagine MAKING the cookies but not waking up in the middle of the night and have SEVERal, rationalizing it by pretending I have a sleep-eating disorder. Oh, and then there is the daily free leftover catering at work, like I seriously need a brownie and an extra sandwich just because they’re free and have no calories (but I don’t eat the bread, so that’s healthy). As Ethel Roberta Louise Mae Potter Mertz used to say in an exasperated tone, “Honestly, Lucy”.
I’m (obviously) no scholar, but I was learned [sic] that between the writing of 4th Maccabees (≈19 B.C.E.) and when we presume John began his ministry of baptism (≈26 Anno Domini), the countryside was bursting at the seams with Messiahs. Everyone was looking for Him and it seemed there was one on every corner, so John by the Jordan River was not as much an oddity as we might think. What gave him distinction, however, was a new message: repentance. Metavnoia, μετάνοια, a change of mind, the act of heartily amending with abhorrence one’s past . The system of Jewish ritual since it was handed down from God by Moses afforded propitiation of one’s wrong-doings through ritual sacrifice and the assurance of no guilt from wrong-doings by adherence to these rituals. No concept of remorse, no practice of inner reflection, no sense of personal responsibility for the wrong-doing, just the clearance of the balance sheet through performance of a ritual. John came to announce a new path.
We pronounce the Confiteor during Eucharist and at least twice each day, at morning and at evening prayer, and the words flow so easily from our lips, just like the Lord’s Prayer, but do we mean them? Do we realize what we are saying? Do we examine our hearts and make amends and attempt repentance, a turning away? I’ll tell ya, it would be easier for me to give up one of my two cloaks to a stranger in need sometimes than it is for me to let go of the resentment I feel from an offense I perceive from someone, or to abandon some judgment which brings my heart to hatred for someone, seldom realizing that I must be guilty of the same thing I despise in them or else I wouldn’t know how to recognize it. We are guided by John in our Gospel Lesson to make straight our paths, to prepare the way for the Lord and to lay the foundation of reasonable and just behavior, guiding us to await in joyful anticipation the cleansing fire with which Jesus will baptize us.
“As the people were filled with expectation…” In my very humble opinion, I find The Revised Common Lectionary a bit clumsy this time of year, as it requires us to be very nimble bobbing from nativity narratives to Jesus’ early ministry, a visit with Doubting Thomas and our risen Lord with a side trip to the fiery fields of Armageddon before we dock with shepherds watching their flocks by night. I buoy myself during the season of anticipation by remembering that we’re not just waiting for this grown-up Messiah, or for the return of the Christós; we’re also waiting for the birth of a little baby.
Know what happens when a little baby comes in to your life? I’ve heard stories! Time evaporates. You need to be prepared well beforehand with a cozy sleeping space, food and clothes, toiletries and toys … there’s no time to collect them after baby’s arrival and there certainly is no time for selfish and petty little problems like lack of sleep or the inconvenience of a diaper change or food preparation… the baby needs to be attended to constantly and you need to be in top mental and physical condition or you’ll collapse. (Actually, I’ve also heard stories that no matter how tip top shape you’re in you’re NEVER ready for the first few months of a newborn’s needs.)
It’s all well and good to be bored and wander out to the shores of the Jordan to have an afternoon’s entertainment observing the funny-looking John shouting about the coming of the Lord, but what happens if you listen but you don’t hear. Are they accountable for the content of the sermon? It’s all very lovely to tell people I go to church all the time, but that doesn’t mean I’m paying attention to anything that’s being said and it certainly doesn’tmean I process or practice the words I proclaim during the service. Am I required to act accordingly throughout the week? As Joyce Meyer says, “I can sit in a garage all I want, but that doesn’t make me a car.”
Advent calls us to a season of clarity, expectation, renewal and new birth … not just a season to sing pretty songs and hear pretty stories but a season of preparation, readiness. A chance to cast off our own chaff and blossom as mature grains of wheat to be gathered in to God’s granary lest we be consumed by unquenchable fire, ingesting this call to excellence and heeding the exhortation that we should not rely on the devotions and practices of our past, but be revitalized by a renewed and passionate present so that we are worthy to greet the coming of our Savior, whether his first arrival or his second. Not just to hear John proclaiming the Gospel that whatever I have is so bountiful and sufficient that, if I give some away, grace and bounty will be mine. As he tells the soldiers, I should be satisfied with exactly the blessings I have. And as I tell myself, concentrating on being overweight is not going to lose me weight and “one day I’ll get to that” doesn’t get me fit. Watching my intake, planning and attending to my practice, and steadfast diligence is the key to my success. Isn’t that true for almost everything in life at which we wish to excel?