Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Greener grass and all that

This is really quite delightful:

The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. No, not at all. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass where ever you may be.

-- Robert Fulghum

Monday, December 29, 2008

Holy Innocents

Because December 28 fell on a Sunday this year, the Feast of the Holy Innocents was transferred to today.

We could call them, I suppose, the patron saints of so-called collateral damage* (that terminology surely being one of the most wicked euphemisms of our time).

Here's something from the fifth century that bears pondering:
Herod is disturbed. To save his kingdom he resolves to kill [the Child], though if he would have faith in the child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come.

Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king? He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil. But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage, and to destroy one child whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children.
I would also like to call your attenion to a reflection by The Rev John Gibbs for this day. It is a page from a much larger website I just found called "Minnesota Episcopal Environmental Stewardship Commission". The Lectionary Reflections are quite powerful.

* Yes, I know. Technically, the definition of "collateral damage" is that it is "unintended". That, I propose, is a royal cop-out. If such damage is inevitable, it might as well be intended. Remember, Timothy McVeigh called the deaths of the children who died in the Oklahoma City bombing "collateral damage".

Sunday, December 28, 2008

First Sunday after Christmas

(Eighth Century)

This morning's gospel reading was the prologue to John's gospel. I grew up in the Anglo-catholic tradition and it was common after a "low" celebration of the Eucharist for the priest to read the so-called "Last Gospel" - AFTER the blessing! And I was taught to make a profound bow at the words, "And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us". I'm very, very grateful for that background for it imprinted on my consciousness both a Eucharist devotion and an ongoing awareness of the centrality of the doctrine of the Incarnation that have turned out to be indelible:

No love that in a family dwells,
No caroling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

-- John Betjeman

Saturday, December 27, 2008

St. John the Evangelist

The following is by a different, much later John, of course. But I think the two shared a lot in their deepest hearts:

And I saw the river over which every soul must pass to reach the kingdom of heaven and the name of that river was suffering: and I saw a boat which carries souls across the river and the name of that boat was love.

-- Saint John of the Cross

Friday, December 26, 2008

Saint Stephen's Day

I remember well being taught as a child how significant it is that, on the day after Christmas Day, the Church chooses to honor the first person willingly to die for Christ - that person being, of course, the deacon Stephen. I used to teach for St. Stephen's School in Alexandria, Virginia - in those days an all boys school. It was quite stirring to hear hundreds of boys singing "He prayed for them that did the wrong; who follows in his train?" on many a chapel day. What Stephen prayed as his persecutors were stoning him was this: "Lay not this sin to their charge." Amazing.

In the past I've always considered this day to be one of reflection about the willingness to die for Christ. But this year I see it more as a call to be willing to forgive - no matter how egregious is the offense. Not condone. (People, sadly, often confuse forgiveness with condoning.) Stephen did label what was being done to him a sin, after all. But to find a way (no matter how long it takes, no matter how much work it takes) to wish for our enemies what we wish for ourselves - happiness, peace, alleviation from suffering and, finally, eternal life with God.

For a truly inspiring sermon on martyrdom by Lutheran pastor, Edward F. Markquart, go here.

But, perhaps the most inspiring words ever preached on this subject were uttered by St. Thomas Becket in the year 1170 - just four days before his own martyrdom:

Consider also one thing of which you have probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at once Our Lord's Birth and His Death: but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of His First martyr: the blessed Stephen. Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the date of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and in the Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven for the glory of God and for the salvation of men.

Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world's is. A Christian martyrdom is no accident. Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man's will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men... for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, seeing themselves not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead from which they draw their being.
May blessed St. Stephen strengthen us by his example and aid us with his prayers.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Nativity awareness

Oh this is so lovely, so right:

The Child does not change how God feels toward you, my friends. The Child manifests how God feels toward you – lets you know that He has loved you with an everlasting love.

-- The Rev.William Weedon

The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Here is one way of looking at the imcomparable gift of the Incarnaton:

There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.

-- Madeleine L'Engle

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Chanticleer - Ave Maria (Biebl)

Oh my. What a performance.

You may not know the Biebl setting of the Ave Maria as it was only written in 1964 and introduced to the U.S. in 1970. Please listen; it is stunning.

UPDATE: If you would like to hear this with all women's voices go here. It's a truly ethereal performance.


I've listened to many versions of this wonderful medieval carol (all for your sakes, dear Readers!) and this is, undoubtedly the best performance I've come across. Just the right tempo, just the right percussion and the tuning is sublime. Enjoy and Merry Christmas to all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

O Emmanuel

This evening's antiphon:
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come to save us, O Lord our God.
The word "Emmanuel" means God-with-us. Here's a story about this meaning that was used as an introduction to a Christmas sermon:
The land of Persia was once ruled by a wise and beloved Shah who cared greatly for his people and desired only what was best for them. One day he disguised himself as a poor man and went to visit the public baths. The water for the baths was heated by a furnace in the cellar, so the Shah made his way to the dark place to sit with the man who tended the fire. The two men shared the coarse food, and the Shah befriended him in his loneliness. Day after day the ruler went to visit the man. The worker became attached to this stranger because he "came where he was." One day the Shah revealed his true identity, and he expected the man to ask him for a gift. Instead, he looked long into his leader's face and with love and wonder in his voice said, "You left your palace and your glory to sit with me in this dark place, to eat my coarse food, and to care about what happens to me. On others you may bestow rich gifts, but to me you have given yourself!"
It's from a sermon by The Rev. Adrian Dieleman. You can read all of it here.

Monday, December 22, 2008

O King of the nations

Image found here
This evening's antiphon:

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.
Some observations about the kingship of Christ:

Being a king really meant something in Jesus' day. A king was the most powerful human being on earth. A king speaks, common people tremble.

For nations, the king was the only means of securing order and peace. The king was, civilization and domestic tranquillity personified in one person. He was to be honoured and respected and served. He was to be revered and feared and obeyed.
Jesus is not a worldly king. His power is not from this world, nor is it meant to be exercised in the way that the world exercises power.

Jesus exercised his power by serving others, by forgiving others, by healing others, by giving to others, by sacrificing himself for others. His power is the power of truth, the power of faith, the power of hope, the power of love - the power of life itself.

-- The Rev. Richard J. Fairchild

I especially am struck by the statement that the king was the only means of securing order and peace. It is so important to remember the "Peace on Earth" aspect of the Christmas message.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

O Rising Dawn

This evening's antiphon:
O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Here's a brief commentary:
This title is variously translated "morning star", "Dayspring", "rising sun", "radiant dawn", "orient". All beautifully express the idea of light shattering the darkness of night, of sin and death, of sickness and despair, with its brightness bringing healing and warmth to cold hearts. Jesus is indeed the true light, the radiance of his Father's splendor.
What a perfect antiphon for the winter solstice!

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Ah! I've been waiting all Advent to post the above picture. You can find it in the Art Blog section of Episcopal Café.

Here's a wonderful thought:
Who knows the influence of a mother on her unborn child? Here is a world of mystery which is still not wholly understood. But is it not possible that something of the concept of dedicated servanthood which was at the very heart of this young pregnant woman ‘got through’ to the child as yet unborn, and became an integral part in the shaping of his manhood and ministry? . . .

Mary saw, with a God-given clarity, at the moment of her greatest crisis, that servanthood lies at the very centre of the meaning of life as God intends it to be lived. Servanthood, obedience, in the great crises of life and in the little decisions of everyday, Mary saw as things of first importance. And so she doubtless taught the little boy on her lap, at her knee, through all his formative years.
One of the greatest gifts that a mother can give to her children is not only to pray for them but, from their earliest years, to teach them to pray. We may be sure that Mary's little boy was not very old when he began to pray the prayer which his mother used when first she knew she was pregnant: ‘I am the Lord’s servant; may it be to me as you have said’, or, to put it more simply and shortly, ‘Your will be done’.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

O Key of David

David with his harp
Today's antiphon:
O Key of David and Scepter of the house of Israel, You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open: Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Here's something about spiritual imprisonment that I think is pertinent:
You must recall the words "salvation" or "liberation" that are used in all religions. The final goal of all religions is salvation, or emancipation, or whatever word is most suitable in each language. But all these words have the same meaning -- getting saved. All religions teach salvation. Yet, from what are we saved? We are saved from spiritual prison. The thing that all of you want and need even right at this moment is the thing called "freedom" or "liberty," which is, simply, escape from prison. Whether a physical, material prison or a mental, spiritual prison, the meaning is the same. In all cases, we want freedom.

Those who lack wisdom can see and fear only the physical, material prisons. But those who have the wisdom to look more deeply will see how much more terrifying and dangerous the spiritual prison is...

Friday, December 19, 2008

O root of Jesse

Today's antiphon:

O Root of Jesse you stand as an ensign to the peoples; before you kings shall keep silence, all nations bow in worship: come and save us, and do not delay.
Here's the end of a reflection I found about the "root of Jesse" image:

Our hope is pinned on a dead tree shaped into a cross. Dag Hammarskjold, the late Secretary General of the United Nations, wrote in his journal on Christmas Eve 1960, “The manger is situated on Golgotha (the hill of the cross), and the cross has already been raised in Bethlehem.” Our hope is pinned on a cross, a dead tree. Our hope is found in a stump, in a root, in a vine, on a cross fashioned of dead branches. Our Hope is in the one who was lifted on a cross and raised the banner that is drawing all peoples to rally around him. “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. . . . In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:1, 10.) Our hope is in Jesus, right from the stump and root of Jesse.

-- Harry Heintz

Thursday, December 18, 2008

O Adonai

Here is today's antiphon:
O Adonai and leader of Israel, you appeared to Moses in a burning bush and you gave him the Law on Sinai. O come and save us with your mighty power.
And here is part of a reflection I found on a blog called Sarx:
Ultimately, the only way to understand God - as with any person - is to enter into conversation with that person. As God called Moses into fellowship at the Burning Bush, so God calls us (all humanity) into Fellowship in the incarnation of Jesus. Some images of Mary holding Jesus in her arms are called icons of The Burning Bush.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The First of the Great Antiphons of Advent

O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end of the earth to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.
I found this paragraph in a reflection on the Advent antiphons from Anglicans Online:
We look forward to the antiphons in their own right each year, because their appearance on the calendar means that we can quicken our own hopes in anticipation of the Saviour's birth. Their arrival is much like seeing a familiar highway exit still just a little way away from home, or a train stop not far from one's intended destination. They comfort, heighten, calm and focus, but they are also direct and demanding.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Have yourself a peace and justice Christmas

This is from Sojourners. It's to the tune of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas":

Have yourself a peace and justice Christmas,
Set your heart a-right.
Flee the malls and focus on Christ’s guiding light.

Have yourself a peace and justice Christmas,
Give your time a way.
Share God’s love,
And serve “the least of these” today.

Here we are, as we pray for peace,
We’ll live simply and give more.
We care for those far and near to us,
Which brings cheer to us, once more.

God brings down
The haughty from high places,
And lifts up the low.
God cares for the hungry and the humble, so –
Forget the stress and let the peace and justice flow!
And here are some ideas for how to do it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

An Advent prayer

I came across this prayer today which is entitled "Advent as I Consider the World Situation":

God of comfort, these times seem so uncertain, so scary. The world seems darker than it has in the past and I am less sure of myself. Maybe that's a good thing; maybe now I am turning to you with a realization that I need you so much more and that my life is not in my own control. Let me not forget all of those around the world who are frightened at this moment. Help those who are victims of terrorism and war. Be with those who have lost so much in the past year. Hold us all in your loving arms and let us be comforted by the strength and peace you want to much to offer us through the birth of your son, Jesus. Thank you for the many gifts you offer us.
Yesterday, I was one of the presenters for an interfaith prayer service sponsored by the India Association of Greater Tulsa. We were gathered to offer prayer for and express our solidarity with the people of Mumbai in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks they have recently sustained. It reminds me that this is not a season of joy for everyone by any means. Let us pray for all who are experiencing great pain during this time of year.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Third Sunday of Advent

Image found here

Today is Gaudete Sunday - Rejoice Sunday. Today's Epistle starts out this way: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." And so we light the rose candle on the Advent wreath. And we focus on both hope and joy.

Here is an Advent prayer by the late Henri Nouwen that points to this invitation to joy:

Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.

We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day.

We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.

We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.

We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

Friday, December 12, 2008

We're made for enjoyment

We were made to enjoy music, to enjoy beautiful sunsets, to enjoy looking at the billows of the sea and to be thrilled with a rose that is bedecked with dew… Human beings are actually created for the transcendent, for the sublime, for the beautiful, for the truthful... and all of us are given the task of trying to make this world a little more hospitable to these beautiful things.

-- Desmond Tutu

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The importance of story

The Storyteller

In my work as a spiritual director, I am repeatedly made aware of each person's deep need to tell his or her story. One aspect of spiritual maturity is the emergence of a genuine interest in hearing the stories of others as well as the collective stories of faith:

All human beings have an innate need to hear and tell stories and to have a story to live by…. religion, whatever else it has done, has provided one of the main ways of meeting this abiding need.

-- Harvey Cox

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A happiness weapon

Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon. A happiness weapon. A beauty bomb. And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one. It would explode high in the air - explode softly - and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air. Floating down to earth - boxes of Crayolas. And we wouldn't go cheap, either - not little boxes of eight. Boxes of sixty-four, with the sharpener built right in. With silver and gold and copper, magenta and peach and lime, amber and umber and all the rest. And people would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with their imagination.

-- Robert Fulghum

I know everyone says that this sort of idea is sweet but fanciful. It would never work. The question remains, however, has it ever been tried? And if not, why not?

UPDATE: Here's something Thomas Merton said that seems to go along with the Fulghum passage:
War represents a vice that mankind would like to get rid of but which it cannot do without. Man is like an alcoholic who knows that drink will destroy him but who always has a reason for drinking. So with war.
As it happens, today is the anniversary of Merton's death. You can read more about him on James Kiefer's Christian Biographies. (Check the list down the left side at Dec. 10 for the information on Merton.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Silence and strength

Starlight Over The Rhone
Artist: Vincent Van Gogh

This is, I believe, a luminously beautiful blessing:

May the stars carry your sadness away,
May the flowers fill your heart with beauty,
May hope forever wipe away your tears,
And, above all, may silence make you strong.

Monday, December 8, 2008


"Street sweeper St. Mark's"
Artist: Jennifer Black

Vocation. Let's think about it. This way:
If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well.
And, by the way, this is not about being perfectionistic. This is about being passionate. It is about joy. It is about deep delight.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Advent II

Given this morning's Old Testament reading I really do have to offer you the incomparable Jon Vickers:

If you want to go on to hear him sing "Every Valley" just go here.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Saint Nicholas of Myra

Sounds as if St. Nicholas was an early liberation theologian!
As a bishop, Nicholas, servant of God, was first and foremost a shepherd of the people, caring for their needs. His active pursuit of justice for his people was demonstrated when he secured grain in time of famine, saved the lives of three men wrongly condemned, and secured lower taxes for Myra. He taught the Gospel simply, so ordinary people understood, and he lived out his faith and devotion to God in helping the poor and all in need.
This is from an essay found right here.

(I know the image above is not historical but I liked it anyway!)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Clement of Alexandria

Clement is important because of his clear rejection of anti-intellectualism. Here's a passage from an essay on Clement:
He regarded the science and philosophy of the Greeks as being, like the Torah of the Hebrews, a preparation for the Gospel, and the curriculum of his School undertook to give his students both a knowledge of the Gospel of Christ and a sound liberal education. His speculative theology, his scholarly defense of the faith and his willingness to meet non-Christian scholars on their own grounds, helped to establish the good reputation of Christianity in the world of learning and prepare the way for his pupil, Origen, the most eminent theologian of Greek Christianity.
Clement is quoted as having said, “The Lord has turned all our sunsets into sunrise.” I've always loved that.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A wayside sacrament

This is all too easy to forget, I think:

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful; for beauty is God's handwriting -- a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every fair flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Child of the Light

Deanna, Child of the Light

I found a series of paintings on the Episcopal Church Visual Arts site. They are based on the wonderful hymn, "I want to walk as a child of the Light". You can see the rest of the series right here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Let it be

"Stillness of the Night"
Artist: Rodel Gonzales

This is from the New Zealand prayer book. I found it in the comments section over at Mad Priest's place. I think it is deeply beautiful:

Lord it is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done.
Let it be.
The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world
and of our own lives
rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly
to a new day,
new joys,
new possibilities.
In your name we pray. Amen.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Advent Conspiracy

This is making the rounds. Paul Rogers sent it to me most recently.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The "anguished seriousness of Advent"

This afternoon I spent time with a family that has been suddenly and devastatingly bereaved. And so I think you can see how the first sentence especially of the following words by Thomas Merton spoke to me today:

It is important to remember the deep, in some ways anguished seriousness of Advent, when the mendacious celebrations of our marketing culture so easily harmonize with our tendency to regard Christmas, consciously or unconsciously, as a return to our innocence and our own infancy. But the church, in preparing us for the birth of a “great prophet,” a Savior, and a Prince of Peace, has more in mind than seasonal cheer. The Advent mystery focuses the light of faith upon the very meaning of life, history, humanity, the world, and our own being. In Advent, we celebrate the coming, and indeed the presence, of Christ in our world.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

"And infinity spirals down..."

I just found this truly marvelous poem:


My five-year-old is enamored of the words
infinity and god, employing them
to map space and time. God is bigger
even than the biggest monster or spaceship.
A race car’s infinity fast, boys eat infinity cookies,
his scrubbed face is, he says, infinity shining
shining all the way up to God.

At day’s end,
God shrinks — small enough to become
the perfect stillness and perfect silence
that rests at the end of his nightly prayer.
And infinity spirals down to a feather in his pillow.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Feast of Kamehameha and Emma

King Kamehameha IV and his wife Emma were Christian rulers who encouraged the building of Christian schools and hospitals, and who contributed greatly to the spread of Christianity among the Hawaiian people. The King was worried by the growth of American political influence, directly connected with the work of American missionaries, many of whom openly favored annexation of the islands by the United States. He accordingly invited the Church of England to send missionaries and to establish a presence in Hawaii. (While touring England as a prince, he had attended worship services, and had been favorably impressed.) But, although the King's support of the Church of England was perhaps politically motivated, his support of Christianity was not. He and his wife were earnest in their devotion to both the material and the spiritual welfare of their people. The King personally translated the Book of Common Prayer and much of the Hymnal into Hawaiian. Their only son died in 1863, and the King died, apparently of grief, on 30 November 1864. The Queen devoted the remainder of her life to charitable endeavors (Queen's Hospital, the largest civilian hospital in Hawaii, is largely her doing). She died in 1885.
You can read more about them in a marvelous Advent reflection found right here. The author discusses the dark side of colonialism as well as the good works of Emma and Kamehameha.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

Happiness is the realization of God in the heart. Happiness is the result of praise and thanksgiving, of faith, of acceptance; a quiet tranquil realization of the love of God.

-- White Eagle

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

This present little instant

I found the following letter in the process of looking for some appropriate material to use during ongoing meditation class this week. It was written in 1513 by Giovanni Giocondo who was an architect and classics scholar as well as a Franciscan friar. The letter was addressed to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi who was obviously going through some sort of rough patch at the time:
I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant.

Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see. And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!

Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel's hand that brings it to you.

Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel's hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.
It is relatively simple, isn't it, for us to count our blessings and be thankful for those things we unambiguously evaluate as positive. But what about the difficulties? Fra Giovanni teaches us how to view these things as truly valuable as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

James Otis Sargent Huntington

Here's the first paragraph of a very interesting essay indeed about the priest whose memory we honor today:
James Huntington was born in Boston in 1854, studied at Harvard and at St. Andrew's Divinity School in Syracuse, was ordained to the priesthood around 1880, and served a working-class congregation. After a few years, he felt called to found a monastic order for priests of the Episcopal Church, and with two companions he began working among poor immigrants on New York's Lower East Side. After a slow start, he with others became the Order of the Holy Cross, which now has a monastery in West Park, New York, and priests involved in parish work and social work scattered elsewhere. Huntington was Superior of the order for several non-consecutive terms, but devoted himself chiefly to preaching, teaching, and counselling until his death on 28 June 1935. Since this is the feast of Irenaeus of Lyons, he is commemorated on the anniversary of the receiving of his monastic vows by the Bishop of New York on 25 November 1884.
I really do recommend that you click through and read the rest of the essay because it's about Huntington's convictions about social reform.

Monday, November 24, 2008

All life is holy

"Patch of Grass"

Our culture is sadly infected by the sort of dualism that causes us to believe in a separation between the sacred and the not-sacred. We can rescue ourselves from this sense of separation by realizing the following:

The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves.

- Terry Tempest Williams

From: Talking to God: Portrait of a World at Prayer

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christ the King

Ethiopian "Christ in Majesty"

Another name for this day is "The Great Reign of God’s Justice". That makes us think, doesn't it?

I want to send you to the archives of the sadly now defunct magazine, The Witness for a reflection on today's lectionary readings. It's entitled "Justice for 'the Least of These,' Salvation for All" by Karen A. Keely I can't possibly do it justice with an excerpt so please do click through and read it all. It's not very long. Here's the paragraph that kept me reading, however:
In his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, he tells the story of his Baltimore slave mistress, Mrs. Sophia Auld, a woman who had earned her own living until she married and who had never had a slave until young Frederick came to live in her household. When he first meets her, she is the Christian ideal and would have been recognized as such by all of Douglass' readers. She prefers him to look her in the face, a bodily representation of equality that was a punishable offense in the slavery South, and she begins to teach him the alphabet until her husband forbids her to, warning her that teaching a slave to read is against the law and will only give him ideas that will render him unfit for the life of unquestioning service before him. Following the nineteenth-century womanly ideal of submission, she obeys her husband, and Douglass portrays this move, this first step in treating him as less than fully human, as the beginning of her descent from Christianity into hell.
The rest of the article explains how this happens to her. It's a tragedy and a cautionary tale all at once.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cecilia and C.S. Lewis

Well, the Episcopal liturgical calendar gives today to C.S. Lewis but, as an old musician by (earlier) trade, I really need to honor St. Cecilia as well. Here's a little something about her:

Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians, and her name is often invoked before a performance. One performer who said a prayer to St. Cecilia before he sang was the famous tenor, Luciano Pavarotti. Cecilia is associated with music because she was credited with the invention of the keyboard, a claim which is not strictly true, as there were keyboards on much earlier Greek instruments called water organs. St. Cecilia was reputed to have lived around 200 AD. Though there may have been an historical Cecilia, the role of a female inspirer of music and musicians predates both her and Christianity..

C.S. Lewis died, as some of us well remember, on the same day as John F. Kennedy. Here's something he said that is very consoling, really:

Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith but they are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the passion of Christ.
Undoubtedly, his best work of fiction is Till We Have Faces. If you have not read it yet, do yourself a favor and don't put it off much longer.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Oh my. What an honor.

Roberta, a spiritual director in Washinton State and regular commenter on this blog, has graciously given me the Superior Scribbler Award. How truly lovely. Thank you so very much, Roberta! Roberta produces the blog entitled "Spiritually Directed." Now it's my turn to pass it on. Here's how the process works:

*Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
*Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
*Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to this Post, which explains The Award.
*Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
*Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

Okay. Here are my own five choices:

1. Of Course I Could Be Wrong. Naturally, I need to start with this blog that breaks all the categories. It's the community gathering place for a really motley and wonderful group of people held together by none other than Mad Priest himself.

2. Imageplay Photography by my dear friend, Cynthia Burgess. Okay, maybe this is not quite in line with the award in question since there is no "scribbling" involved - only photographs. But Cynthia happens to be an excellent scribbler, in point of fact, and is truly a dynamite photographer. I really want people to see her stuff.

3. AMERICAblog which is put together by John Aravosis. This blog will reveal my politics, if you happen to be curious about such things. I go here every single day and it helps me keep up with what's going on that the mainstream news sometimes overlooks or, at least, de-emphasizes.

4. Wounded Bird by the inimitable Grandmère Mimi. As she herself puts it, "Wounded Bird, on occasion, indulges in irony." Mimi lives in Lousiana (where I was born) and is a fellow Episcopalian. She comments on matters both ecclesiastical and political.

5. A Dress A Day by Erin. It's not religious, it's not political. I just like it a LOT. (It's the vintage stuff that's quite wonderful!) And that Erin. My goodness, can she write. Please check out her series, "The Secret Lives of Dresses". You can find each title in the sidebar. Here's one of my favorites.

Do visit the above blogs, if you're so inclined, and Roberta's too! I must say, it was fun making this list.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Edmund, King and Martyr

Here's a paragraph from a short essay about St. Edmund of East Anglia:

Edmund was born about 840, became King of East Anglia in about 855, and in 870 faced a horde of marauding Danes, who moved through the countryside, burning churches and slaughtering villages wholesale. On reaching East Anglia, their leaders confronted Edmund and offered him peace on condition that he would rule as their vassal and forbid the practice of the Christian faith. Edmund refused this last condition, fought, and was captured. He was ill-treated and killed. His burial place is the town of St. Edmundsbury.
And here's something else about him:
St. Edmund was fair-haired, tall, well-built, with a natural majesty of bearing. By the piety and chastity of his life he won the respect of all the Christians. He was a defender of the Church, a protector of orphans and widows, and a supporter of the poor. No man sought for justice from him and failed to get redress, and no innocent pleaded in vain for mercy.
I also learned today that he spent a year sequestered at Hunstanton memorizing the Psalter. That impresses me hugely!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Feast of Elizabeth, Princess of Hungary, 1231

I remember reading a historical novel about Elizabeth of Hungary when I was in high school. I experienced her story as both inspiring and very memorable and she has been one of my favorite saints ever since. What I didn't know, however, until I read about it today is that she is the patroness of the Third Order Franciscans which actually makes a lot of sense given that she was devoted to the poor and sacrificed most of her material goods in order to help them and then became a Third Order Franciscan herself after the death of her husband.

Her own spiritual director said this about her:
Elizabeth was a lifelong friend of the poor and gave herself entirely to relieving the hungry. She ordered that one of her castles should be converted into a hospital in which she gathered many of the weak and feeble. She generously gave alms to all who were in need, not only in that place but in all the territories of her husband's empire. She spent all her own revenue from her husband's four principalities, and finally she sold her luxurious possessions and rich clothes for the sake of the poor.

Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, Elizabeth went to visit the sick. She personally cared for those who were particularly repulsive; to some she gave food, to others clothing; some she carried on her own shoulders, and performed many other kindly services. Her husband, of happy memory, gladly approved of these charitable works. Finally, when her husband died, she sought the highest perfection; filled with tears, she implored me to let her beg for alms from door to door. Good Friday of that year, when the altars had been stripped, she laid her hands on the altar in a chapel in her own town, where she had established the Friars Minor, and before witnesses she voluntarily renounced all worldly display and everything that our Savior in the gospel advises us to abandon. Even then she saw that she could still be distracted by the cares and worldly glory which had surrounded her while her husband was alive. Against my will she followed me to Marburg. Here in the town she built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table.

Apart from those active good works, I declare before God that I have seldom seen a more contemplative woman.

By the way, Desmond Tutu is a Third Order Franciscan.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hilda, Abbess of Whitby

When I was a teenager, my parish church had a stained glass window dedicated to St. Hilda. I've admired her for a long, long time. And I've come to think it a real pity that her viewpoint of favoring the Celtic Christian tradition over the Roman one did not prevail at the Synod of Whitby. (A good list of the most common features of Celtic Christianity can be found here. You will need to scroll down a bit.)

Here's something from an essay about her:
She was the adviser of rulers as well as of ordinary folk; she insisted on the study of Holy Scripture and proper preparation for the priesthood; the influence of her example of peace and charity extended well beyond the walls of her monastery; and "all who knew her called her Mother, such were her wonderful godliness and grace." Saint Hilda is often represented in art holding Whitby Abbey in her hands with a crown on her head or at her feet.
And I think the collect for her feast day is particularly lovely:

O God of peace, by whose grace the abbess Hilda was endowed with gifts of justice, prudence, and strength to rule as a wise mother over the nuns and monks of her household, and to become a trusted and reconciling friend to leaders of the Church: Give us the grace to recognize and accept the varied gifts you bestow on men and women, that our common life may be enriched and your gracious will be done; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Feast of Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln

Here is some interesting information about St. Hugh (1135/1140 - 1200):
As a bishop he was exemplary, constantly in residence or traveling within his diocese, generous with his charity, scrupulous in the appointments he made. He raised the quality of education at the cathedral school. Hugh was also prominent in trying to protect the Jews, great numbers of whom lived in Lincoln, in the persecution they suffered at the beginning of Richard I's reign, and he put down popular violence against them in several places.
Hugh's primary emblem is a white swan, in reference to the story of the swan of Stowe which had a deep and lasting friendship for the saint, even guarding him while he slept. The swan would follow him about constantly, and was his constant companion while he was at Lincoln.
There's something very moving about the swan's attachment to Bishop Hugh. This story can serve as a reminder to all of us that friendship with animals can well be an important aspect of saintliness.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

For those who appreciate band music

I've been meaning to post about this for a long time and I keep forgetting. My good friend, Doug Brown, is the host of a wonderful new radio show called Wind and Rhythm. It is broadcast every Sunday evening at 7:00 (Central time) on Tulsa classical radio KWTU at 88.7 on your dial. Or you can listen on their webite right here. Please tune in. I promise you won't be sorry!

(Doug is a member of Christ Church, Episcopal in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is an Education for Ministry mentor.)

The Parable of the Talents

"Parable of the Talents"
(Image found here)

If you want to read a truly thoughtful sermon on this morning's gospel reading, please go over to Mad Priest's place and take a look. Here's a sample:
I think that when you take into account who Jesus was talking to, where the passage is in the Gospel, following on, as it does, from the attack on the pharisees, and that it was written down by Matthew, with hindsight, most probably after the fall of the Temple and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, then the talents represent the gifts of the covenant that had been given to the Jews by God. The scribes and pharisees had been given the law of Moses. They had been given the Temple, the sign of God’s presence among them. They had been given wonderful promises about how God would bless not only Israel, but, through Israel, the whole world. And they had buried them in the ground. They had turned the command to be the light of the world into an encouragement to keep the light for themselves.
I had never before thought of the parable this way. Whether that is "really" what Jesus was talking about or not (and we can't possibly know), it's a fascinating interpretation.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Seeing God as Beauty


This prayer of St. Augustine of Hippo has long been a favorite of mine because it addresses the Divinity as utter Beauty:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you had created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Consecration of Samuel Seabury, Nov. 14, 1784

The picture above shows us the "Seabury Window" in the Lady Chapel of Old Saint Paul's Scottish Episcopal Church in Edinburgh. Here's what their website says about Samuel Seabury:
Old Saint Paul’s has played a part in the foundation of the US Episcopal Church. The young American Samuel Seabury first worshipped at Saint Paul’s in 1752. In later years he was chosen to become the first Bishop of the United States and returned to Britain to be consecrated. As the prospective bishop of a fledgling republic, Seabury was faced with a choice: consecration in the Church of England required an oath of allegiance to the crown; however, this was not the case in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Remembering his days at Saint Paul’s, he returned to Scotland and was consecrated in 1784 in Aberdeen. His consecration is remembered on a plaque in Marischal College, Aberdeen, and in Edinburgh the Lady Chapel in Old Saint Paul’s is dedicated to Seabury’s memory.
There is a wondeful essay by Bishop Seabury published right here entitled "AN EARNEST PERSUASIVE TO FREQUENT COMMUNION."

Here is a very eloquent sample:
Consider these things, and let your own consciences determine, whether your neglect of the Holy Communion can be justified on any principles of Christianity or reason? Whenever you compare your conduct with Christ's command, sure I am, your own hearts must condemn you: Remember then, "God is greater than your heart, and knoweth all things." It is not so much with me, as with your God, you have this matter to settle; and did you attend to it, you would make no more excuses, but immediately prepare yourselves to become worthy guests at God's Table.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Today is "World Kindness Day"

Here's something to ponder:
Kindness is the life's blood, the elixir of marriage. Kindness makes the difference between passion and caring. Kindness is tenderness. Kindness is love, but perhaps greater than love ... Kindness is good will. Kindness says, 'I want you to be happy.' Kindness comes very close to the benevolence of God.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The feast of Charles Simeon

Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836)

I found a very interesting essay on Charles Simeon (priest) entitled "Simeon's Brigade" on the Christianity Today Library website. Do take a look.

On his deathbed, Simeon spoke these words (which I found here):
When asked what he was thinking, he replied, "I don't think now; I am enjoying."

Then later: "I am in a dear Father's hand; all is secure. When I look to him I see nothing but faithfulness - and immutability - and truth; and I have the sweetest peace."
What a lovely way to die. May we all be so blessed.