Hymn of the Week: Precious Lord, Take My Hand

February 27, 2015 Comments Off on Hymn of the Week: Precious Lord, Take My Hand

121757“Take My Hand Precious Lord” is au courant after Beyonce’s performance at the Oscars, and Ledisi’s moving version in Selma. Recalling its meaning for Dr. King is a beautiful way to close Black History Month. Thomas A. Dorsey, famous for incorporating the rhythms and spirit of the blues into gospel music, wrote this hymn in his grief after his wife died in childbirth. So many insightful things have been written about it that it’s slightly intimidating to take up. For example, in her recent NPR piece, Ann Powers notes how earlier hymns that helped people survive by envisioning a transcendent future Promised Land “lacked earthiness, literal earthiness — the acknowledgment that we don’t live ‘over there,’ even when we want to.” In contrast to the transcendent escape we long for, especially in suffering, “‘Precious Lord’ requires a singer to stay within her body while reaching heavenward, calling to God as a bereft blueswoman calls to a straying lover.”

In the spirituality of the cross, the totality of God’s decision to be with us, within our world and the darkness of our struggles, within human embodiment and all of the vulnerability and humiliation that goes with it, I feel like I am always a learner, drawing from others’ wisdom. I spent most of my life feeling that I was floating above my body, and struggling to connect with other people in it.

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.

 – Aaron Miner

Quote of the Week: Neil Douglas-Klotz

April 12, 2014 Comments Off on Quote of the Week: Neil Douglas-Klotz

Expanded translation of Matthew 11:28-29 from the Aramaic by Neil Douglas-Klotz:

Come to me,
All of you, all of yourself,
In your frenzied weariness,
Your movement without end,
Your action without purpose,
Not caring in your fatigue
Whether you live or die.

Come enmeshed by what you carry,
The cargo taken on by your soul,
The burdens you thought you desired,
Which have constantly swollen
And now exhaust you.

Come like lovers to your first tryst:
I will give you peace and
Renewal after constant stress:
Your pendulum can pause
Between here and there,
Between being and not-being.

The Fourth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

March 27, 2014 Comments Off on The Fourth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

Fourth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Luke 23:28). James Middleton’s Fourth Station dramatizes this moment of encounter between Jesus and these women of Jerusalem. We see just the hands of women reaching toward Jesus in various poses, various ways of trying to encounter Jesus. We also see just the hand of Jesus in both a gesture of stop and simultaneously a gesture of reaching out. Between Jesus and the women is the cross. What might this visual interpretation be suggesting?

The scriptural basis for this station comes from Luke 23:28-31. Interpretations abound, but one is that the “daughters of Jerusalem” were professional mourners, women who went to mourn on behalf of those men who were on their way to death. These women were attempting to visibly grieve for those who may have had no one else who might mourn them, and in that way hospitality was extended to the least, to the other, as a way to please God.

In light of this interpretation, Jesus’s response is an interesting challenge. It problematizes the outward practice of professional mourning for these criminals, the outcasts of society as a religious practice . It may be tempting then to see Jesus’s response akin to what many a parent may have thought during the tantrum of their child: “I’ll give you something to cry about.” I think Jesus, however, might be calling out the problem of inauthenticity, of grieving for show, without compassion, in the name of God for those perceived as less than. Underlying this may go something like, “this could never happen to me or people like me,” or “maybe they brought on their own suffering”, and “I’m glad I’m not like those people.”

Suffering, shame, death is not just for those “other people”, those people we do not consider part of our safe circle. I once had a conversation over a very dry martini with a retired NYC school teacher who would tell her third grade students when they started to bully or gang up on the weaker kids, “We all bleed, we all cry, and we all die.” What Jesus’s response suggests to me in this interpretation is that whatever suffering or shame is going on with me is also going on with you. We all bleed, we all cry, and we all die. We are all the “other”.

I like the way James has painted the cross in between Jesus and the women, the way it almost seems like Jesus is pushing, offering the cross to the women, and how it connects him to the women. The cross reminds us that we all have the human experience of suffering, of shame, of death. No human is exempt. And part of the mystery of the cross is that in authentically responding to our suffering and identifying the same suffering in others, we have an opportunity far greater than cheap pity. This opportunity of compassion, literally suffering with, brings with it redemptive grace, resilience, and resurrection.

– Nicole Hanley

Lenten Reflection: Stardust

March 25, 2014 § 1 Comment

mars rover landingI’m beginning to realize that the experience of Lent will be different each year. The self examination that comes with Lent will pose new questions and, in relation to the circumstances in my life, lead me deeper into the ultimate mysteries of human existence. This year, I’m experiencing Lent during a major transition in my life. I’m moving, leaving a city I know and love and beginning a new life in a new place. While the choice has been mine, it has also felt like a path that was given to me to take. The “felt” part seems to be important. I don’t seem to be able to think my way through it, or Lent. I have to feel my way, and the feelings that have come with this move mirror the sometimes turbulent weather we get in the season of Lent—excitement, sadness, fear, anxiety, and sometimes even peace.

Last year was the first time I’d gone through the Ash Wednesday service and heard the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” I had expected the ashes, but wasn’t prepared for the words. I was startled by the weight of them, and for a few moments didn’t seem to have any thoughts. I felt as though I was in one of those scenes in movies where someone slaps a person in the face to wake them from a trance. I know the words are intended to remind me of my mortality and provide a wake-up call to its implications about how to live my life. But, all I really felt was a strong sense of an undefined dread.

This year, because of my life circumstances, the feelings went deeper into what I think the dread of my mortality is really about. It now seems to me that the real dread that I feel has to do with me—this “I” called “Me”—disappearing. I haven’t faced my imminent death yet, but know some people who are, and the haunted look of disbelief that they have in their eyes tells me that this is the ultimate realization they are struggling with. To a lesser extent, I’m experiencing something like that in that I’m leaving a place and realizing that it will go on without me. So, I have a chance this Lent to begin to feel my way through my fear and bewilderment, to let the words Jesus spoke facing his own death and the way he lived his passion show me the way to live a real life, without the cultural distractions designed to mask that fear.

I sit and imagine New York going on without me? People actually going to work, having fun, making love, having dinner, going to the gym, taking cabs, seasons coming and going, history happening, and all of it oblivious to me not being here. Concerts will be given at Carnegie Hall, new blockbusters at the Met, new skyscrapers will go up, neighborhoods will change. Who knows, maybe even the Second Avenue Subway will be finished! All of this will happen, and I will disappear. I am dust and to dust I will return—and in New York, you’re dust pretty quickly…

And then, there are the people. I know, and have known so many wonderful and dear people here.

I have this theory. It came to me a few years back, when it occurred to me that there existed people, who were “my people” They were people that I immediately connected with. I seemed to meet them rather regularly, and always with the feeling that I’d known them for a long time and that we were always going to be good friends. They were “my people”. The world was full of them, I just hadn’t met them all yet. When I came to St Luke’s, it seemed as though everyone I met was one of “my people”. The truth that I came to understand was that everyone is one of my people. And in fact, that is what Jesus is talking about. Everyone is one of everyone else’s people, and we are more than that, as the one body of Christ.

So, who then, is this “Me” that is so afraid of disappearing and being forgotten?

In my clearer moments, I realize that the “Me” I call myself isn’t the same “I” that God created. It is something like a social vehicle I’ve put together to get along in this world. The way I’ve constructed it reminds me of the way I developed my signature… I took a “T” from someone’s handwriting I liked, a “W” from someone else. I took other letters and numbers from other people and designed a “Me” on paper. But, the signature isn’t me, it’s a graphic, something like a written mask or a set of clothes. Something temporary and changing. That awareness is what’s brought forth in being called dust on Ash Wednesday. But, what is dust?

I remember a line in the Joni Mitchell song, “Woodstock” — “We are stardust, we are golden.”

I am the image of God and also dust. I know I am part of a mystery that is too enormous and too beautiful for me to see clearly, but I’m afraid and sad. Scripture tells me that God loves me and all of God’s creation is good. That means everything, even the dust from which I and the stars are made, are particles of God’s love. That brings me peace. If I am—and all of us are—God’s dust, then we are all really one. The “me” I’ve construct is free to go now, because “I and “We” are the same thing. We are God’s love—a love that continually reshapes and reforms itself. And, we will never be apart.

It all comes down to love.

So, I’ll find rest and comfort in love. Jesus calls us to love each other as friends, and so we are and always will be. What are miles between friends? What is time, when we are all part of eternity?

– Tom Wharton

The Third Station: The Cross is Laid on Simon of Cyrene

March 20, 2014 Comments Off on The Third Station: The Cross is Laid on Simon of Cyrene

003 cyreneI wanted to pause and meditate for a moment on the meaning of this famous scene, of Simon the Cyrene carrying Jesus’s cross.  I think it’s really significant that we get this picture not just of Jesus’s sacrifice, not just of his kenosis or pouring out, but of being supported by another.  Even though this is something that the Roman soldiers imposed, I feel that our imitation of Christ should not only be in self-sacrifice, but maybe also in receiving the sacrifice of another.   In allowing some burdens to be borne for us by our sisters of brothers in Christ, it reminds us of our dependence, not just on each other, but ultimately I think it reminds us of our dependence upon God.  Christ didn’t do it on his own; why on earth do we think that we should?

This is why Paul will can say to the Galatians, “Bear each other’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ.”  Paul makes the fulfillment of the law of Christ contingent upon mutuality between self and other.  Contrary to the law of nature, where self-preservation is the governing concern, relationality in the mystical body of Christ functions through selflessness.   To bear one another’s burdens builds community.  And, you know, there’s something about bearing a burden for someone else that makes it feel less heavy.  It’s like it feels lighter than if it were my own.

This law is a constant check on human instinct, which is always bubbling up: the instinct to self-preservation.  To bear the burdens of another, and to allow an other to bear one’s own burdens, demands a decrease in selfishness and an increase in humility.  It’s an acting out of these two virtues, and what they say is true, if all else fails, fake it till you make it…. In helping somebody else who has a need, automatically I become less obsessed with my problems, less absorbed in my stuff, in my hurt.  By the same token, allowing myself to accept help from another instantaneously creates in me a feeling of humility.

Under the law of Christ, it’s no longer that, in order to get something, one must take.  That is the old law, and the law of Rome.  To be members of the mystical body of Christ means that in order to get, one must give.  And what one gets is access to life in the Spirit, and freedom from hierarchical relationships and the violence inherent in them.

I think part of what Jesus means when he invites believers to take up his yoke is exactly this, to help carry someone else’s cross for a while, and to allow others to do the same for you.

– Atticus Zavaletta

Lenten Reflection: Slough It Off

March 18, 2014 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: Slough It Off

DOOL“The sand in the hourglass runs from one compartment to the other, marking the passage of moments with something constant and tangible. If you watch the flowing sand, you might see time itself riding the granules. Contrary to popular opinion, time is not an old white-haired man, but a laughing child.
And time sings.”

― Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

I promise that my ears are clear and that I’m not projecting my thesis on each person I meet? but two weeks in to this Lenten season and it seems a common theme I’m hearing from people is not What They’re Giving Up this time ‘round but what they NEED to give up this time ‘round, which is EVERYthing … not coffee, not chocolate, everything. Giving up beating their heads against a wall by expecting different outcomes from identical situations, giving up expecting perfection from people who are ill-equipped to provide it, giving up beating themselves up for their imperfections when they know all they need to do is put their plans in to action …  and it’s hilarious that the theme is already in the Zeitgeist (sponsored by Walt Disney, ‘natch) LET IT GO (from FROZEN), sung brilliantly by Adele Dazeem.

My husband and I spent the month before Lent this year, like you do, in prayer and contemplation of what we thought God wanted this Lent to look like, in our home and in our hearts. The Holy Spirit inspired my husband to look at the use of sand in other parishes to signify Jesus’ journey through the desert and bring his experience in to our meditations; some parishes actually replace the holy water in the baptismal font with sand. It got me to pondering …

St. John's Cathedral, Los Angeles, CA

St. John’s Cathedral, Los Angeles, CA

Father Steve Pankey, Associate Rector at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Foley, Alabama, has a FANTASTIC blog I’ve followed for years called “DRAFTING THEOLOGY, a blog about the bible”.  What it actually feels like to me is a blog from the innocent viewpoint of a very loving, devoted, brilliant child who has been raised all his life in an intimate, unconditionally loving relationship with someone he knows is God and someone he knows is Jesus, and then at one point in his life, someone gives Steve “Scriptures” written by people he feels don’t really know the same people he does. Steve’s general reaction to the passages is, <WHO are they TALKING about ! ! This isn’t the God I know !> Steve will also wrestle with things God is asking of him in certain portions of the Gospels, especially as he’s in the final hours of writing his sermons each week. I encourage you to follow his journey; it’s quite illuminating while being absolutely delightful.

On “Temptation Sunday,” Father Steve wrote:

Have you ever felt envious or jealous toward Jesus?  I mean, in about six weeks’ time, as he’s sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, getting arrested, and hanging crucified on a tree, we won’t wish we were him, but this morning as we hear about his 40 days in the wilderness, maybe you’re getting just a tinge of jealousy. Jesus’ wilderness experience isn’t easy, but it is a once in a lifetime experience. Two-thousand years later, the Church invites us into a 40 day wilderness experience every year. Jesus was able to focus solely on his spiritual journey during his time away. Lent happens in the midst of the busyness of life: work, kids, grand kids on spring break, tax season, and, to add insult to injury, just four days into Lent this year we’ve lost an hour of sleep in the name of “Saving Daylight.”  It probably isn’t rational, but sometimes, I’m tempted to feel jealous of Jesus’ wilderness experience.

My personal experience with sand begins with some of my first memories on Virginia Beach each summer with the whole family.  The sand is lovely, it’s shiny, but I hate how it gets in everything (although I love months later when you’ll go to use a tote bag and find sand hiding in it!). Sand is really just an impediment keeping me from the ocean where I know the Holy Spirit is eager to wash away my cares and worries with the sounds of the waves crashing against it, the misty air rejuvenating my lungs, and the cleansing submersion as I renew my Baptismal promises.  (I know it’s psycho, har har, but I even renew my Baptismal promises in the shower each morning DON’T JUDGE ME LOL !)

So sand separates me from my deepest wish, to be washed and cleansed in the ocean. Sand is hot as blazes and if I don’t yet have my “summer feet” it’s like a kiln turning my skin to clay. It’s also a workout! Trudge is the vivid verb which comes to mind. Yet, once we take that first step, the sand becomes an exfoliant; no $30 pedi or little fishies needed to scrape or bite the callouses built up over my past journeys. If I continue walking long enough, there will be no evidence of my past left on my feet, only fresh, clean, newly minted skin. Ah, but there’s the rub (har har): I actually have to trek through the sand long enough for it to become efficacious. I must endure the first uncomfortable sensations to enjoy its benefits.

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be perfect, mature and complete, lacking in nothing. — James 1:2-4

There’s also probably going to be some sand in the winds which come whipping across my face … there’s a hundred or so bucks saved on a facial.  But, O! the glow of a face having shed its winter layer, fresh and pink and new.

One of the points of replacing the water at the baptismal font with sand, for me, is chiefly to shake us out of what is for some, is the sin of our customs. I love singing the Hampton setting to the Creed SO much, it fills me with SUCH joy and is ripe with acting opportunities (“he sufffffered death … and was buried …”) and then the glory ! of the angels singing the DESCANT over “…on the third day he rose again…” Toward the end, however, if I’m not really “feeling church” that day, or I’m having a particularly uninspired worship experience, there’s a point where we make the sign of the cross and I’m like, oh, here comes some more Anglo-Catholic choreography …

Now I know it’s a vicious judgment on my part, but sometimes I watch people come in to church and dip their fingers in the font as casually as dropping off keys on a counter. There’s a casual presumption that there is going to be water there; just like the assurance that there is going to be a bottom to the glass they’re about to pick up or that the seat they’re lowering themselves on to is going to hold their weight. It just looks like a thoughtless habit. There’s no visible recognition of the act, there’s no sensual response to the tactile experience of the coolness of the water, or glimmer of the spiritual significance of the Holy Spirit moving the surface of the water in the beginning of creation … it’s just somethin’ ya gotta do. Lent is about shaking off habits, isn’t it? Evaluating and meditating on our spiritual practices? And the thought of coming in to church and hitting a pool of sand when you’re used to an entirely different experience would sure wake you up to realize there’s been a change in liturgical seasons, huh ?!

Another reason that I love the idea so much is that it puts me in concert with the struggling man, Jesus.  He’s fighting to make sense of his dual nature and the path of discernment for what God has called him to do. You’ve had those times when God calls you to do something and your only reaction is one of many: “I’m sorry, you can’t possibly mean me.” “You’ve GOT to be KIDDING me.” Or the ever popular, “Oh, HELZ no.” … it’s so very rarely immediately the meek and “Christian” response of  “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”  The key, however uncomfortable, to accepting a newness from routine in answer to God’s call is always that first blasted step. I can tell myself my life would be so much better if I would practice my yoga postures every day but it doesn’t mean a thing if I don’t actually get off my keister and practice my yoga postures every day.  It’s very easy to pay lip service 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 but it’s an entirely other thing to have to work at getting to the cool ocean shore by having to trudge through the hot sand.

God doesn’t ask much of us … just the dedication of our whole heart and being. One thing our church asks of us, however, is to step outside of ourselves, to step away from ourselves, to cease all ritualistic, repetitive, mindless behavior and EXAMINE it, each piece of it, possibly to discard it forever, but, most urgently and importantly, to make sure we know why we’re doing it; to make sure it’s the most healthy choice for our most healthy existence, for that’s really all God wants for us: our perfection. Not the “Christianist” kind of I-Never-Sin-But-I’m-A-Sinner kind of perfection … but the serene, lovely, purring-on-all-four-cylinders kind of idyllic perfection I always dream of when we picture “…that heavenly country…”

Let’s join Jesus in his walk through the desert. Let’s take that first step, allow ourselves to be beaten by the elements, allow our natural and spiritual beings to slough off dead skin, mindless articulations, patterns of a dead and spiritless life. Let’s come out the other side of Lent with a revived awakening, a fresh outlook, a recognition of the excitement of a brand new day, and a fresh awareness of why we’re so deeply in love with God in the first place.


The Second Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross

March 13, 2014 Comments Off on The Second Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross

"Cross Laid on Him", James MiddletonThis Lent, one of the “disciplines” I have “taken on” is to read along each day with the Lenten meditation booklet from Episcopal Relief & Development. The theme this year is women’s empowerment. In his reflection this Monday, The Rev. Scott Gunn spoke to the tension between some biblical passages—particularly the third chapter of Colossians—and women’s empowerment. What do we do with injunctions which tell wives to be subject to their husbands and instruct slaves to obey their masters? Gunn’s answer is this:

 “Passages such as these … invite a thoughtful reading of the wider context of the gospel message. Jesus reminds us, his followers, again and again that to find our lives, we have to lose them. We have to take up our cross and follow him. We are all servants.The underlying theme—that which undergirds the gospels—is that we must follow Jesus in all we do, that the cross alone is our focus. Whatever earthly relationships we have are governed by God’s more profound desire that we love God and our neighbors. In our various ministries, outside and inside the church, we are called to proclaim and to practice God’s love for every person. That task both invites each of us to be a servant and empowers us all.”

Today we are at the second station; “Jesus takes up his cross.” As in our image of this station, the cross is truly the center, the focal point, and the purpose of this whole journey we are on. Indeed, we may feel in our daily lives as if we have huge crosses to bear—to invoke that well-worn phrase—but this station gives us a space to reflect on what it really means to “take up our cross.” As I enter into this image, what I find most empowering is the boldness of this cross—its centrality and its force. Perhaps we can find strength in its ability to bear some of our own weight, as well. In fact, we don’t have to carry these crosses on our own.

– Julia Stroud

James Middleton painted the Stations of the Cross for the Church of St. Luke in the Fields. Learn more about this series in his artist’s statement.

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