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
March 14, 2017 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: Letter and Spirit
Bless all those whose lives are closely linked with ours, and grant that we may serve Christ in them, and love one another as he loves us.
The above are two of prayers of the people on the last Sunday after the Epiphany. These are two petitions I find not only to be dear but linked. I have a short story to tell that points toward the linkage. Roughly twenty years ago, I spent Thanksgiving with my friends, Jay and Warren, in Massachusetts. At the dinner table I sat next to Warren’s cousins. They were a lovely young couple who owned a dairy farm. Since cows never take a holiday, they needed to leave the festivities early. I was thrilled when they invited my hosts and me to visit the farm on the next day. I had another friend, Harry, who always said that if he was ever reincarnated he wanted to come back as a cow. He loved their sweetness and their calm demeanor. Touring the farm, I understood what Harry meant. I had never been so up close and personal with cows; it was a treat.
My friends led me to a part of the farm that looked like a quaint miniature village. A series of individual plastic huts housed the calves. Talk about up close and personal, the calves came right up to me and began to chew my knees. Because it didn’t hurt, I found It sweet and a little bit icky. In my naivety I took their approach to be a friendly, puppy dog kind of greeting.
In the sermon on the last Sunday after the Epiphany, Fr. William told his own story about living in a charming cottage with one major drawback: a dark, dank cellar. He confessed to going down to the cellar as infrequently as possible. But, since the Christmas decorations were stored there, come December it was necessary to take the plunge. He prefaced the next part of the story by telling us how much he hates spiders. When he turned on the light to the cellar, he caught sight of an unwelcome, very spidery guest.
Fr. William connected his experience to Lent. When the light shines on our own dark cellars, we often see the things we need to work on, things we would rather not see. Lent is the season we set aside for letting in God’s light and praying for understanding of what we see.
It took many years before the light shone on what I thought was my playful introduction to the calves. The truth is, on a dairy farm calves are separated from their mothers at birth. They are deprived of their mother’s milk and given a substitute (most likely corn based and grown in a monoculture). The calves were not greeting me, they were trying to use my knobby knees as a pacifier. It didn’t work out well on either side.
In Genesis 1:26, God says that humans are made in her image, and that we have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, cattle and wild animals, and everything that creeps upon the earth. Dominion implies stewardship. As Mother Stacey said in her sermon on Ash Wednesday, humans have proven to be very bad at reverencing the earth and using its resources rightly. In fact, we are so bad at it that we make continued human existence on the planet look like a very short term affair.
Part of the problem, I believe, is the notion established in Genesis, and continued throughout the Bible, that we are at the pinnacle of life’s hierarchy. It causes us to ignore animal life when we are blessing lives connected to our own and serving Christ in them. I don’t think I need to tell you that the cruelty I witnessed when I met the calves is mild compared to what else happens on factory farms (chicks ground up live, animals raised in their own waste, animals kept in spaces that prohibit movement, etc.).
I love the parts of the New Testament where Jesus goes against what is proscribed to establish what is compassionate. He flouted the Sabbath laws in order to heal and feed the hungry. Maybe it is time to rethink the hierarchy to arrive at a model that incorporates compassion. Since all creatures are created by God, maybe we can view ourselves as part of a connected community, part of an ecosystem instead of lords of the pyramid.
Animal production is the largest human made cause of greenhouse gases, and takes up roughly a third of the planet’s land. It is a major cause of deforestation, and therefore a major factor in pollution and climate change. A larger amount of land is needed to produce a meat-based diet. Therefore, population growth renders a meat-based diet unsustainable.
So, I’m wondering if in this time of the gift of Lent, we might let a little of God’s illuminating light fall onto our plate?
– Suzanne Pyrch
March 27, 2015 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: The Palm and Passion Sunday Liturgies
Palm Sunday is a very unusual day. We begin with the triumph of the Liturgy of the Palms, lots of Hosanna’s and a huge exuberant welcome party for Jesus upon his entrance to Jerusalem, The texts for the Liturgy of the Palms, Hosanna to the Son of David, All Glory Laud and Honor, and Ride on, ride on in Majesty, all reflect an almost shocking and sudden burst of enthusiastic joy and triumph toward the very end of the annual Lenten journey.
Then it is gone. Suddenly. Violently. Finally.
Immediately following our triumphal entrance into our sanctuary, we are suddenly reoriented, as if grabbed by the shoulders and turned to look in a different direction, by words of the collect of the day. The collect in no way reflects, or even hints at, the place of triumph from which we have just come.
Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
We are by that action compelled not to turn away from the emotional portrayal of the Passion that is to come.
What happened to Hosanna?
We live two liturgies on that day. Although we know how the story ends, each year we anticipate and cherish this moment of respite as we are suddenly unburdened from Lenten austerity with momentary exultation. We transition from sobriety to exultation just as we will again transition from despair at the foot of the cross to the unrestrained and uncontainable joy of the Resurrection. But, it is around this ongoing theme of opposition and tension that lies the spiritual inspiration of the days to come. Triumph to despair, confession to absolution, preparation to fulfillment, death to everlasting life.
I invite you my brothers and sisters to experience the dual liturgies of Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday by casting away your palms at the end of the first liturgy. Actually throw them on the floor. Let them remain there, ignored, stepped upon, and unnoticed, until the altar party has departed by that very powerful silent retiring procession, during which you will notice that the palms have even been removed from the processional cross.
The palms are a symbol of life, a living thing cast away, yet they are blessed with holy water. We meditate on this as we reclaim them after the mass, as we carefully fold them into small votive crosses, or place them behind the crucifixes that adorn our homes where they remain until Shrove Tuesday the following year. They become a daily reminder of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the anguish of the Christ’s Passion, the joy of Resurrection, and the victory over death itself. It remains a subtle ever-present reminder throughout the year of the important annual journey upon which we embark.
– John Bradley
March 24, 2015 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: Wandering Home
Lent will always be associated with my formation and confirmation at St Luke in the Fields. It remains in memory a special place, a special time, carrying with it a feeling of arrival, or maybe even of return. It’s a point of reference for me, much like a shore line is to a swimmer, or what home feels like when you’ve been away too long. Now, time and distance has taken me far away, and at times, I’ve have felt like someone lost, trying to find the way back home.
In the time since I left New York, almost a year ago, I’ve been something of a wanderer, looking for a new church community. I’ve believed all along that God would somehow show me where I should be and what I should be doing now with my life, and in my wandering, I’ve met some wonderful people and experienced quite a few different Christian traditions. Each one has been filled with sincere love and a different but earnest search for the meaning of Christ’s message in the world today. All have been beautiful, but at the same time felt foreign. Having witnessed so many different versions of liturgy, different ideas of service, different views on the meaning of scripture, I’ve sometimes been left wondering what we all have in common, what holds us together. I’ve finally come to believe that there isn’t such a thing as Christianity. There are really Christianities. But, Lent is a great teacher, and out of the confusion has come some insights that have the feeling of real truth.
I can see now that in spite of all the different takes on basics—the meaning of faith, the gifts of grace, the workings of the Holy Spirit, or even the very nature of Jesus, we all have one thing in common—we all come together in Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Throughout each of the Gospels, Jesus travels from village to town, healing the sick, blessing the poor, and bringing a new message of hope and assurance. He lives without a home, without possessions, and to all outward appearances, without a plan. But, as much as it looks like wandering, in the end, there is always a destination. He is always traveling to Jerusalem. I know now that it is our destination as well, the destination we all share. Not the actual city, but the city as symbol and reminder, a point of reckoning where we remember where and how God’s will was perfectly realized.
Now I think the search will be different, that I may have been looking in the wrong way and in the wrong places. Maybe the lesson of Lent is that we are all to be wanderers in the world, that we shouldn’t be too comfortable and at rest in our lives or in our faith. Maybe home is a different kind of connection, not a place to return to, not something fixed. Maybe home is something you feel when you give up the search and control, and rest in God’s love. Somehow, this makes sense and brings me peace in my wandering. It lets me feel the joy and purpose that pilgrims must share. Wherever we are, whatever language we speak, however different our cultures may be, and whatever form our tradition takes, during Lent we turn our gaze to our real home. We join together and walk with Jesus to Jerusalem.
– Tom Wharton
March 17, 2015 Comments Off on Lenten Reflection: Jonah, Noah and Lent
Shortly before Lent, Mo. Emily gave a lovely and cogent sermon on the rather grumpy and recalcitrant Jonah. Jonah, she explained was different from most prophets who, when called, answer, “Here I am, Lord.” But the all too human Jonah was so reluctant to answer God’s call to travel to foreign places for the purpose of telling a people that their behavior was about to incur dire consequences that he fled in another direction. Mo. Emily asked us to take another look at the rest of the story. When Jonah’s behavior put him in the drink, a large, terrifying fish came along. The fish swallowed Jonah. This has always been both a harrowing and humorous part of the story for me. Who wants to spend time in the belly of a fish? But the fish not only arrived just as Jonah was being overwhelmed by the sea, it spit the reluctant prophet out on dry land. The terrifying fish was Jonah’s savior.
In my head, Jonah’s story is linked with Noah’s. Both men are sent to save a portion of God’s people, a remnant. In a way, Noah takes on to his ark the yeast of the old world that will become the new world when the old is destroyed by flood. As master of the ark, Noah is the steward of the entire world. A task he actually manages by following God’s instructions. What do these two stories have to tell us today? I believe that we inherit stewardship of the earth and its creatures from Noah, and the responsibility to spread the word from Jonah.
Once again the earth’s inhabitants are in peril. It is clear that our behavior has brought on climate change (according to 97% of scientists). It is also likely that climate change and global warming could bring about the extinction of the human race. I hate sounding like Cassandra, but there is also the nagging voice in the back of my head that says, “Cassandra was right.”
What to do? In the bible, when God sends messengers it is always as a warning. God seems perfectly willing to change his mind if our behavior changes. Just ask Jonah.
How would this look? I have been interested in environment issues for a long time. I do a lot of little things to try and do my part. I take bags to the grocery, I drive a Prius instead of an SUV, I do my best to recycle. But these are really minor steps considering the fact that I do own a car, and, as my wife keeps reminding me, I forget to turn off lights when I leave a room. This is why I am a vegan. It is the single largest action I can take on behalf of the planet.
A UN report reveals that livestock is responsible for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. And this does not even take into consideration other animal industries, fur for example. In the introduction to his book, Occupy This Book, Mickey Z states that the global animal by-products industry consumes one third of the planet’s surface and is the top source of human-made greenhouse gas. A Guardian article on the UN report reveals that the UN, “considers a vegan diet crucial in order to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty, and climate change.”
I was pleased to find The Church of England speaking out on the issue. A February article in the Guardian discusses the key points of the church’s recent 52 page pastoral letter. The open letter urges clergy to join in political debate, especially around issues concerning social welfare. The article gives some of the key points addressed in the letter: the economy, poverty and inequality, and unemployment to name a few. I was pleased to see the environment listed as a key point. The letter states, “We belong together in a creation which should be cherished and not simply used and consumed.”
As Lent is a time of reflection and examination, I hope to spend some prayer time asking God how I can best answer, “Here I am,” when called. I think that if the fish saved Jonah, it is our turn to save the fish. Surf’s up. Meatless Monday anyone?
– Suzanne Pyrch
Lenten Reflection: What Advice Would You Give to the Newly Baptized/Confirmed/Received Coming into Our Church?
March 10, 2015 § 2 Comments
Among the possible questions suggested for those of us willing to write a reflection in the form of an answer to an interview question was this one: What advice would you give to the newly baptized/confirmed/received coming into our church? I found this to be an intriguing question. In years past, I served as a Formation Sponsor four times: twice for persons being baptized and twice for persons being received from another tradition (in both cases, Roman Catholic). I spent a lot of time with my candidates, preparing them to come into the church, but maybe not enough time preparing them for what comes after the Easter Vigil. It seems to me that the interview question is asking about that post-Vigil time. In other words, what would I say when a newly baptized/confirmed/received person asks: “OK, I’m an Episcopalian, now what?”
I recognize that this is a natural question. During Lent, those in formation are concentrating on learning as much as possible. They go on retreat, attend an instructed Eucharist, go to weekly classes, meet at intervals with their sponsors. The Easter Vigil may be seen as the culmination of the process, and it is a glorious one. However, when Easter is over, the new Episcopalian may understandably feel a bit of a letdown, or may feel exhilarated but not sure what to do next. If asked for my advice, I would stress to the one asking that the Easter Vigil is just the beginning of the rest of his or her life as a member of our community. The possibilities for continuing life in community can seem overwhelming if one looks at the list of activities in each week’s bulletin. Just some examples: for those who want to continue on an educational track, St. Luke’s offers a rich and varied adult education program; for anyone who wants even more educational opportunity, there is an Education for Ministry group at St. Luke’s; if the new member of our church is looking for something of a more spiritual nature, we have a weekly centering prayer group; for those who prefer something more active, there is no dearth of service and even social opportunities.
What is the common thread running through the activities enumerated above? It is that they are all a part of what makes a community a community. So here’s another bit of advice: No one should shy away from trying out one or more possibilities, nor should anyone be afraid to admit that whatever he or she tried isn’t the right fit. The important thing is to find one’s place within the community, even if for at least a while, that means just showing up. Keep thinking about why you decided to get baptized, confirmed, or received. Of what did you want to be a part? Take some post-Easter time to get the lay of the land, so to speak. The Spirit will lead you in the right direction, if you trust. Don’t feel you have to do everything, or anything, right away. But do recognize that you have God-given gifts and talents and that your experience in the church will be enhanced when you put those talents to use as a member of the community. Be open to the ways in which you can, in a paraphrase of the post-Communion prayer “do the work which the Father has given us to do, to love and serve God as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.”
May the remainder of Lent be a fruitful preparation for the wonder that is to come at the Easter Vigil and your life as a member of your new faith community.
– Julia Alberino
April 15, 2014 Comments Off on Forging Connections through the Psalms
One choice presented to us bloggers is to answer a question, as if someone were interviewing us. One of the questions that I found intriguing was “What is your favorite Lenten practice and why?” Over the years I have tried to introduce variation into my Lenten practices so that the season itself wouldn’t become stale and so that I wouldn’t fall into the “we’ve always done it that way” trap on a personal level.
In past several years, one thing I have done is to choose a theological or contemplative text that I hadn’t found time to read before and spend part of my morning contemplative time (another Lenten practice that I try to carry over to other times of the year) reading it, with the goal of finishing it by Holy Saturday. If something hadn’t changed this year, that is the practice about which I would be writing. However, something did change.
During Advent, Suzanne Pyrch introduced the Psalms Project to St. Luke’s. Simply stated, this is a practice whereby each person involved chooses a psalm and prays with that psalm every day of the season. Since many of us found this practice gave Advent new meaning, we asked to continue the project for Lent. As it happens, I’m reading Psalm 93 every morning this Lent, but it is not the psalm itself that has transformed the Psalms Project into my favorite Lenten practice. Being a part of the Psalms Project makes me feel a part of the community in a new way. It is a way of feeling connected on the days of the week on which we don’t see each other. In a city like New York, that can be so impersonal, any element that forges connection is to be treasured. Being connected to the community in this way gives me a new appreciation of Lent as a time not just of personal penance, reflection, and almsgiving in preparation for the joy of Easter, but as a time of being joined in a particular way to a like-minded community of believers. Lent now is both personal and communal. For that I am grateful.
– Julia Alberino