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.