The View from the Sacristy: Symbols

March 25, 2015 § 1 Comment

screw top

[Editor’s note: This was so good last year, that we are bringing it back this year.]

It’s good to sit and think about altar guild work when I am, every other time, on the move and offering it.  The first real thought I have is it’s an opportunity to handle symbols.  I interact with them.  Some are exalted-looking vestments and frontals, some are prosaic-looking, a large jug of tokay with a screw-cap.  But all are more significant than they appear, and that is the magic.  They as a whole are as whole as the cross itself, the chrism and candle for baptism, the ashes for imposition, the funeral pall. The joy of the sanctus bells.  I don’t know if symbols can symbolize minor things, but these symbols don’t.

There’s a participation with them in altar guild work, of which my part is a caring for them.  Caring for the symbols of our faith!  They are mute reminders of the truth of our faith.  The symbols can be upsetting or beautiful, but this only reminds me of the wonderful thought from Martin Buber’s I and Thou, “ Jesus’s feeling for the possessed man is different from his feeling for the beloved disciple, but the love is one.”

Reminders of mortality or bells pealing a call to receive, the ciborium holding the Blessed Sacrament, the plastic tubs for the foot washing on Maundy Thursday, all these symbols, and caring for them, form an engaged Lenten meditation.

– Robert McVey

The View from the Sacristy: Symbols

March 19, 2014 § 1 Comment

screw topIt’s good to sit and think about altar guild work when I am, every other time, on the move and offering it.  The first real thought I have is it’s an opportunity to handle symbols.  I interact with them.  Some are exalted-looking vestments and frontals, some are prosaic-looking, a large jug of tokay with a screw-cap.  But all are more significant than they appear, and that is the magic.  They as a whole are as whole as the cross itself, the chrism and candle for baptism, the ashes for imposition, the funeral pall. The joy of the sanctus bells.  I don’t know if symbols can symbolize minor things, but these symbols don’t.

There’s a participation with them in altar guild work, of which my part is a caring for them.  Caring for the symbols of our faith!  They are mute reminders of the truth of our faith.  The symbols can be upsetting or beautiful, but this only reminds me of the wonderful thought from Martin Buber’s I and Thou, “ Jesus’s feeling for the possessed man is different from his feeling for the beloved disciple, but the love is one.”

Reminders of mortality or bells pealing a call to receive, the ciborium holding the Blessed Sacrament, the plastic tubs for the foot washing on Maundy Thursday, all these symbols, and caring for them, form an engaged Lenten meditation.

– Robert McVey

The View from the Sacristy: Cast Iron Floor Torches

March 12, 2014 Comments Off on The View from the Sacristy: Cast Iron Floor Torches

iron 2We are asked to look at Lent as a season of self-examination, by prayer, and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.  To help us focus our minds and spirits for the process of cleansing our hearts to “prepare with joy for the Paschal feast,” the silver candle sticks, the brass stand we use to hold the altar book which the Priest uses to celebrate our gathering, and the beautiful and rich vestments are all put away, the sacred images are covered, the processional cross is covered, and the singing of the Hampton setting to the Creed is set aside.

I want to spend a bit talking about the floor torches we us as altar candles in Lent. They are very different from the silver candles sticks found on the altar the rest of the year. For one thing, they sit on the floor and not the altar. For another, they are made of cast iron not silver; the torches have a certain beauty but they are nowhere nearly as elegant as our silver candlesticks. The cast iron can be so hard, dark, and unyielding. Sacred tradition says that the nails used to crucify the Christ were made of iron and I know I cut myself on the iron handling the torches all the time. It’s like a paper cut and it happens without even noticing.

I do not really know where these cast iron torches came from since they have been here as long as I can remember. I can tell you that if you look closely at them they are not a matched set. They look very much alike but they are not the same.  Some of the details of the scrolling of the leaves are different, the finials are also different. The biggest difference is that one must weigh 50 pounds and the other about 5 pounds. I have always thought that the heavier one is the original and the lighter one a copy so that they are a sort of matched set.

St. Luke in the Fields Iron Torch with GreensThe torches normally live by the icon of Our Lady of the Sign where it makes a beautiful setting for Our Lady since they match the style of the votive candle stand. Every Lent since Our Lady arrived, when we are preparing to “Lenten” the church on Shrove Tuesday, I always look for remnants of our Christmas celebration in the crooks and crannies of the cast iron torches. There is always a piece or two of fir or boxwood stuck in a groove from the greening of the church. It reminds me that Christmas is connected to Lent and Holy Week and that we celebrate Christmas with the word, “On the night before he died, Jesus took bread……” It also reminds me that Resurrection is on its way and in a few weeks the church will be back to its normal glory.

 – Sean Scheller

Lenten Reflection: Looking

March 11, 2014 § 1 Comment

Looking UpI almost stepped in something really gross on the subway platform this morning. As soon as I got a whiff of the mess I missed, I started congratulating myself for looking down. Such a sensible habit I’d taught myself.

To survive in New York City, we have to train ourselves to look down: Don’t slip on that black ice! Watch out for the open basement hatch in front of that deli! Don’t step in what the dogs (and the occasional horse) leave behind!  Be careful of the stinky steam erupting from that manhole! Stand away from the platform edge, or you could fall on to the train tracks!

While we have many good reasons to look down, the psalm appointed for this Sunday asks us to move our gaze for a few minutes. Psalm 121, a Song of Ascents, begins:
I lift up my eyes to the hills;
from where is my help to come?

The psalmist doesn’t make us wait for the answer. The second verse answers the question:
My help comes from the Lord,
the maker of heaven and earth

Despite the slush and muck we might be standing in right now, can we look up to God? We might laugh when tourists look up at our amazing city skyline and are so enchanted can’t move for a moment. Can we open ourselves to the same awe?

J.R. Miller begins his reflection on Psalm 121 this way:
“Not many of us at least are living at our best. We linger in the lowlands because we are afraid to climb into the mountains. The steepness and ruggedness dismay us—and so we stay in the misty valleys and do not learn the mystery of the hills. We do not know what we lose, in our self-indulgence. We do not know what glory awaits us—if only we had courage for the mountain climb, what blessing we would find—if only we would move to the uplands of God!”

This Lent, can we try to develop a habit of looking up — looking Godward — as often as we look down? Miller reminds us: “We grow in the direction in which our eyes habitually turn. We become like that on which we look much and intently. We were created to look up.”

Dear God, 
You made us to look up. When we stare at our feet (or our phones), we miss things. Even when we sense our full potential, we sometimes stick to what we know because it is easier and less scary. Give us courage for the climb. Help us to know that you will always protect us. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

– Chris Phillips

The First Station: Jesus Is Condemned to Death

March 6, 2014 § 1 Comment

The First Station: Jesus Is Condemned to Death by PilateYesterday, 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

Lenten Reflection: The Ways in Which Lent Provokes My Imagination

March 28, 2012 § 3 Comments

The first God I ever knew was a famine God, and he was made all the more lovely for how very few got to have him. In my Fundamentalist Evangelical home, God loved us, jealously, almightily, and in a way so few people would ever experience. That was the only fact that gave life meaning, the truth at the bottom of everything.
 
Of course, I never really noticed the famine until there wasn’t enough for me: not enough space in the Church, not enough space in the “beautiful” part of God’s creation, not enough of God’s pleasure. I turned 18 and fell in love with a woman and, to my devastation, realized that’s pretty much how things would always be. Suddenly I was in the crowd for whom God’s love had never been big enough—a crowd whose size I’d never even imagined.

As I spent a panicked year reading and rereading the Bible, trying to find a way to read it literally and find God’s blessing on the way I knew how to love, I started to see myself at a crossroads. I could choose a famine of human love and know myself fully in God’s love, while so many were denied it. Or, I could rip my life out of the roots and say, “If you want to spend eternity without them, you’ll have to have eternity without me, too.”

In these past weeks, my first “official Lent,” I’ve been thinking of those 6 years after I relinquished church and Christianity as my first “true” Lent. In the final wretched months before I pulled away, I felt was sitting at God’s table and starving. Admittedly, the first year of chosen famine “outside” was agony. But as time passed, that famine became a lens through which to study myself and the world.
 
That very hunger started pulling me back to the table–to church–last Lent. I’d begun to see how I viewed everything in my life through the lens of the Bible, Christianity, and Protestant theology. Following that hunger through last Lent finally brought me St Luke’s on Pentecost of 2011.
 
Perhaps the most powerful thing St. Luke’s has given me is access to ideas and traditions to which I was already heir. The sacraments and liturgical year reference the stories and ideas around which my life is already built—something like turning lights on in lamps that have always been there. Lent, like so many other traditions, takes a part of the story that I know backwards and forwards and offers me the chance to live it.
 
I admit to feeling very uneasy with the season, and often threatened. I think that’s because Lent, in many ways, is about lack. When I forget the difference between lack and scarcity, I start to feel unsafe; I get wary. But Lent has helped me contemplate the role that lack plays in Christianity: Jesus becomes human and lacks omnipresence; the tomb lacks Jesus’ body, as we ourselves (beyond the Eucharist) do now. But I also stand witness to how scarcity is used as a weapon when Christians lack the expanse of imagination required to picture the multitude of ways of being part of God’s kingdom.
 
More than anything, I think of Jesus in the desert, consciously choosing “not enough.” I myself am forced to name the places in me that were created by the all-consuming Christianity I was raised with that no other kind of Christianity can fill. Like a phantom limb, the ache of those vacancies is so profound, it sometimes actually wakes me in the night. Those were the parts of me filled with absolute conviction of my own rightness, with hunger for a love in whose eyes only I mattered.

I hope those spaces always remain empty. They are the hard-won home of doubt. I cherish doubt as the space between my knowledge and Truth itself. The desert makes room for angels; doubt makes room for other people, for God.

– Elisabeth Watson

Lenten Reflection: 3 Steps to a More Fruitful Facebook Use in Lent

March 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

A few weeks ago I, along with a list of other “friends”, received a message on Facebook that said we would not be hearing from our “friend” for the next 46 days because he was giving up the social media platform for Lent. Give up talking to your friends for Lent? That sounds odd. I thought to myself…

 If you find yourself relating to my “friend”, no worries, you’re not alone. Year after year more people are giving up communicating on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter for Lent, but when used for the right context these social media tools can actually enrich our Lenten experience. Here are three things you can focus on in the last weeks of Lent to help these tools assist you in your desert days:

 1)  Readjust your understanding of Facebook:

Sure, Facebook is great for catching up on blogs and playing FarmVille and Angry Birds but at its core it’s still about communication and relationship. Social Media transforms from a hobby to into a tool for mission when we start reading our news feeds with the intentional understanding that every status update and comment we read was written by someone on the other end of a screen that scares with us in the imago dei – the image of God. We may read things that make us laugh…make us smile…make us angry…or maybe even make us wonder why we’re still “friends”…but no matter, to acknowledge the God found in the other – even on Facebook – allows our digital interactions to be just as fruitful as our personal interactions.

 2)  Comment and Like More

Once we start understanding the true personhood on the other end of the avatar we are reminded that our relationship with God compels us into relationship with the other. Instead of removing yourself from Facebook during these 40 days, this is a opportunity to intentionally partake in the lives of those around you. When you see it’s someone’s birthday, take the second and wish them a “Happy Birthday”; if you see something you appreciate, take the few seconds and comment and build up the one who made the comment; and if something bothers you, instead of arguing with it, use this as a chance to understand where your neighbor is coming from by asking helpful questions.

 3)  Follow Some Great Lent Resources:

Finally, there are some great resources on Facebook that may enrich your time on Facebook and enrich your Lent.

            –SSJE: Great daily thoughts and mediations from our friends at the Society of St. John the Evangelist.

            –Unapologetically Episcopalian Thoughts, news, and other Episcopal related posts.

            Lent Madness A fun Lenten exercise based on March Madness that allows people to root and vote for their favorite saint.

When you like these, or any resources like these, it sprinkles reminders of our Sunday Life together back into our day to day use of Facebook. And while your at it, if you haven’t already, make your way to our own St. Luke’s in the Field Facebook Group.

Social Media can be a distraction, but if used properly it can be a fantastic tool for witness, evangelism, and discipleship. In these Lenten days, instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, take the time to use these tools are ways to foster relationship and growth.

– Colin Chapman

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