Friday, December 30, 2016


I was a big fan of the HBO show, Boardwalk Empire, having watched every episode. I remember a lot of it, even now. But one tiny scene from it, however, struck me then and has stayed vividly with me.

In Season 3, Episode 7, titled "Sunday Best," it is Easter Sunday, 1923. Richard Harrow, a paid assassin, who was badly injured in the War (World War I) removes the mask that hides his disfigured face to eat his Easter dinner. He is alone in the kitchen, away from others who might be disturbed by his appearance. Before eating, he bows his head and asks to be mindful of the needs of others. Always. This is, lest I have not made myself clear, a paid killer, praying. Praying!

I myself have gone years and years without saying grace.

In Marilynne Robinson's wonderful novel, Home, Glory Boughton, a preacher's daughter, ruefully confesses to her less-than-believing brother that even at a public lunch counter she feels she must stop a moment before eating to utter a silent blessing.

Saying grace is a practice that I believe even atheists should welcome. Even if you don't believe in a creator, you must know that the earth brought forth whatever you are about to eat. You must know that people worked to bring this food to you. So be thankful; be mindful of all that. For heaven's sake!

So why have I not made this practice my own? Just as a habit of grace was hard to dislodge from Glory and, apparently, Harrow, it has been equally hard to instill in me.

Last June, I decided to take up this very worthy practice of saying grace before meals. Setting a goal of two weeks, I made a brightly colored card and clipped it to my place mat, where I could not miss it. The card fell off the deck, got rained on, was always returned to its spot of remembrance. I couldn't fault myself for lack of intention. Two weeks of being reminded in bright green to say grace would surely establish the habit in me.


I sat down to meal after meal with the card in plain sight and still almost always forget to pray. Now, seven months on, I am finally remembering to say grace at some meals. But it is not consistent. Though frustrated, I keep trying.

Does praying grace before my meal matter to anyone? Are my efforts God-driven? Am I being thwarted by forces of darkness? I don't know the answer to any of these questions, but I do know that when I remember to pray, I feel a deeper tie to all God's creation. I remind myself that I am privileged to have enough food and a safe place to eat it. I am aware that I may one day not be so blessed but that I will be blessed in other ways.

Meanwhile, I can have fun with all this humility that is forced upon me. I can see my meager efforts for what they are. I can laugh at myself and my Type A goals and my longing to be able to pat myself on the back for achieving them.

But when I do remember to say grace, I say it in earnest. I find myself in a very holy spot, able to speak to God about my day, creation, food, work, troubles, blessings. Like Richard Harrow, I also bow my head and ask to be always mindful of the needs of others. And sometimes I even take off my mask.

Monday, December 19, 2016

"Now They Are All on Their Knees"

This is my final posting this Advent. It is more of a Christmas poem, but not one you'll hear from the pulpit or recited in a Nativity pageant. 

The Oxen
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,

“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
                                                                       by  Thomas Hardy

At some point in his illustrious career, this poet, to his regret, lost his faith. I often wonder why this happens to people and, if the loss saddens them, why they can't recover it? Hardy lived at a time when the Age of Enlightenment had massive sway over people's thinking. Suddenly there were explanations for everything, and humankind seemed almost supremely powerful. We had science. We had machines. People suffered in great numbers while barons of industry amassed wealth. Maybe this was just all too disheartening for him.

His novels, Tess of the D'Ubervilles and Jude the Obscure, in particular, show the failure of religion and, especially, the clergy. What gets people to where they must be in these stories is a grim determination for survival. When things end well, it is only a thin and meager wellness. 

Sp what prompted Hardy to write this poem of longing, of holiness that is just out of reach? Here he is ensconced in a comfortable pub with townspeople who recall the legend that at midnight on Christmas Eve, the animals worship the newborn Savior, yes, even in those modern times. Wherever they are, they fall on their knees, so great is their collective memory of that night of Nativity. All he would need is a word of encouragement to rush to the barn and see the oxen at prayer. Just one word. Which he does not get.

Friday, December 16, 2016

I have swept and I have washed

Either Mary Oliver is the worst housekeeper under heaven, or these are all metaphors.

Making the House Ready for the Lord

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice; it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

Mary Oliver

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Chooka - chook

Let there be childhood memories. Let there be shabby old Christmas tree ornaments in dusty boxes. Let there be 100 year old cookie recipes. Let there be faded photos and old worries. Remember the kitchen, the hall, the aunt, the uncle. Remember the rug and the sounds and the sofa. Nobody does this remembering so well as Irish Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney. (1939-2013)

Just FYI, I clearly recall playing this exact game with my many cousins on any sofa we could commandeer.

A Sofa in the Forties

All of us on the sofa in a line, kneeling
Behind each other, eldest down to youngest,
Elbows going like pistons, for this was a train

And between the jamb-wall and the bedroom door
Our speed and distance were inestimable,
First we shunted, then we whistled, then

Somebody collected the invisible
For tickets and very gravely punched it
As carriage after carriage under us

Moved faster, chooka-chook, the sofa legs
Went giddy, and the unreachable ones
Far out in the kitchen floor began to wave.


Ghost train? Death-gondola? The carved, curved ends,
Black leatherette and ornate gauntness of it
Made it seem the sofa had achieved

Flotation. Its castors on tiptoe,
Its braid and fluent backboard gave it airs
Of supernatural pageantry:

When visitors endured it, straight-backed,
Where it stood off in its own remoteness,
When the insufficient toys appeared on it

On Christmas mornings, it held out as itself,
Potentially heavenbound, earthbound for sure,
Among things that might add up or let you down.


We entered history and ignorance
Under the wireless shelf. Yippee-i-ay,
Sang "The Riders of the Range". HERE IS THE NEWS,

Said the absolute speaker. Between him and us
A great gulf was fixed where pronunciation
Reigned tyrannically. The aerial wire

Swept from a treetop down in through a hole
Bored in the windowframe. When it moved in wind,
The sway of language and its furtherings

Swept and swayed in us like nets in water
Or the abstract, lonely curve of distant trains
As we entered history and ignorance.


We occupied our seats with all our might,
Fit for the uncomfortableness.
Constancy was its own reward already.

Out in front, on the big upholstered arm,
Somebody craned to the side, driver or
Fireman, wiping his dry brow with the air

Of one who had run the gauntlet. We were
The last thing on his mind, it seemed; we sensed
A tunnel coming up where we'd pour through

Like unlit carriages through fields at night,
Our only job to sit, eyes straight ahead,
And be transported and make engine noise.

Seamus Heaney
from The Spirit Level 1996

What a gift he was to us, and, of course, still is!
Want more?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Country Roads

It's something of a cliche for poets to write about the countryside. Nature in all its bucolic glory, winding woodsy paths, sturdy country folk at work, all these have been done pretty much to death.

Some of the finest poetry, however, celebrates the rural life and scene. The two poems that I'm sharing today elevate the genre beyond the sentimental. One is about a sermon and one is, if you stretch the point just a bit, itself something like a sermon.

The Chapel

A little aside from the main road,
becalmed in a last-century greyness,
there is the chapel, ugly, without appeal
to the tourist to stop his car
and visit it. The traffic goes by,
and the river goes by, and quick shadows
of clouds, too, and the chapel settles
a little deeper into the grass.

But here once on an evening like this,
in the darkness that was about
his hearers, a preacher caught fire
and burned steadily before them
with a strange light, so that they saw
the splendour of the barren mountains
about them and sang their amens
fiercely, narrow but saved
in a way that men are not now.

                                                                                   R.S. Thomas
                                                                        from Collected Poems 1945-1990

After Apple Picking

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be one or two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough,
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the owrld of hoary grass.
It melted and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend,
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load and load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what would trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone.
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

                                                                                     Robert Frost
                                                                              from North of Boston 1913

Friday, December 9, 2016

Have Pity on Those Whose Chances Grow Thinner

For me, this is the perfect Advent poem.

People get ready there's a train a-coming;
Don't need no baggage you just get on board.
All you need is faith to hear the diesels humming;
Don't need no ticket. You just thank the Lord.

So people get ready for the train to Jordan,
Picking up passengers coast to coast.
Faith is the key. Open the doors and board them;
There's hope for all of those who love the most.

There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind just to save his own.
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner,
For there's no hiding place against the kingdom's throne.

People get ready there's a train a-coming
Don't need no baggage you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels humming
Don't need no ticket. You just thank the Lord

                                                                             Curtis Mayfield 1965

I was in college when this was released and I memorized every word. I'm quite certain that it was not the theology of the piece that made me fall in love with it, but, rather, the buttery tones of Mr. Mayfield's voice. Nevertheless, the theology stands up to my notions today and to the season of getting ready that is Advent.

So, come on, don't be shy, sing along with me...

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Make the World Continue

I can say with humility that I have a regular, though extremely imperfect, prayer practice. Prayer is one of the vows I made as a Julian affiliate so I take it very seriously. I also think about prayer a lot. I wonder what it does, what it means, even what it is, the catechism answers notwithstanding.

God asks for prayers; this is well attested in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Our prayers are always heard and even answered in some manner. But God is a mystery and withdraws from our purview. We also walk away. It's complicated.

The poem below by Anna Kamienska is about prayer. As you will see, she is praying for things that are already happening and that recur endlessly and predictably. Is this legitimate? Is there a note of sarcasm in her words, or is it a bitter surrender to God's will? Is God getting a grudging free pass? "Well, you won't answer my real prayers, so here are some that you will answer, [expletive deleted]."And, most importantly: Is it OK to pray like this?

A Prayer That Will Be Answered
by Anna Kamienska

Lord, let me suffer much
and then die

Let me walk through silence
and leave nothing behind not even fear

Make the world continue
let the ocean kiss the sand just as before

Let the grass stay green
so that frogs can hide in it

so that someone can bury his face in it
and sob out his love

Make the day rise brightly
as if there were no more pain

And let my poem stand clear as a windowpane
bumped by a bumblebee's head

Of course it's OK. God doesn't evaluate our prayer, testing it for attitude, grammar or devotion. God just listens. So it's an idea to pray like this once in a while. "Let the grass stay green" versus "thank you for making the grass green," or even "send rain to make the grass green."

Incidentally, this poem was part of the materials for a poetry workshop given in St Paul by Christian Wiman in May of 2015.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Two Songs of the Open Road

What is this urge to travel? What is this beckoning that some feel so strongly and yet is entirely foreign to me?

I am pairing two different poets here. A chardonnay with brie; a ruby port with a dark chocolate. But which is which?


in the stillness
of a bare canyon
I'm a scarecrow
with a cigarette
tied to its face

I'm an incident
in a tumbleweed's travels
on a backroad
a dustcloud in a lizard's eye


at the edge of a desolate plain
lies a graveyard
neat as a postage stamp
mailing this bleak postcard
to the afterlife

and every highway
wears on its shoulder
a wandering dog
struck dead


As I stepped out the front door of the hotel, a dust devil
big enough to swallow a car came spinning across the
parking lot, lifting its collection of dirt, papers, dead weeds,
30 feet in the air, until it collided with the carport roof
to die in a shower of debris, except for a small feather,
which wafted toward me and was about to alight on my
raised hand when the final gasp of the whirlwind snatched
it away to go dancing gaily over the top of the building
and I hurried around the hotel to claim the splinter of
grace that was meant for me. But the moment had passed.

Roger Parish
from Lines Written Near Marguerite Street
2006 Red Dragonfly Press


from "Song of the Open Road"

Afoot and lighthearted, I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth, I ask not good fortune, I myself am good fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querrulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.


From this hour I ordained myself loosed from limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master, total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.

Walt Whitman
from  Leaves of Grass

Roger is a dear and long time friend of mine. He is also a poet, though, being a persnickety old cuss, rarely releases a line. Whitman, on the other hand, well, you couldn't shut the man up. Yet the desire to see other vistas, to be part of other landscapes, infuses both. Roger has spent months and months wandering the trackless wastes of the American southwest and barely produced 200 words.
Whitman, I get the feeling, had his entire poem, of 224 lines in his head before he'd even reached the corner of his block!

Are you a traveler? What does it mean to you?


Friday, December 2, 2016

But Then We Were Children

My poetry-only Advent has never been about poems specifically relating to the season, or even particularly religious poetry. I like religious poetry and seek it out, but other poetry works just as well for me. If it takes the top of my head off, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson, it's good enough for me.

Today, however, I am on an Advent message and will share some lines from W.H. Auden's marvelous work, For the Time Being, a "Christmas Oratorio" which was never actually set to music. This long poem covers the story from before the Annunciation through the Flight into Egypt. Even though it was never fully performed, either spoken or sung, the reader can still hear voices raised in song, can still see movement of characters across a stage. Or maybe it's just my imagination.

The piece I am sharing today is from the first section in which Caesar's world is portrayed, and there is no better passage in all literature that so well describes the utter and endless tedium of a world without Christ. Auden plays with time so that modern references are intertwined with ancient ones. He plays with mood as well, transposing his 20th Century angst with the overwrought Empire of the 1st Century. This "dark night of the soul" is as easily viewed in any godless world or person.

But it was not entirely godless. God's people were there with "the fern's devotion to spatial necessity," going through some sort of motion. It was more that any reaching toward God had been so worn thin by reaching elsewhere. Sound familiar?

The Narrator of the oratorio:

If on account of the political situation,
There are quite a number of homes without roofs, and men
Lying about in the countryside neither drunk nor asleep,
If all sailings have been cancelled until further notice,
If it's unwise now to say much in letters, and if,
Under the subnormal temperatures prevailing,
The two sexes are at present the weak and the strong,
That is not at all unusual for this time of year.
If that were all, we should know how to manage. Flood, fire,
The desiccation of grasslands, restraint of princes,
Piracy on the high seas, physical pain and fiscal grief,
These after all are our familiar tribulations,
And we have been through them all before, many, many times.
As events which belong to the natural world where
The occupation of space is the real final fact
And time turns itself in an obedient circle,
They occur again and again but only to pass
Again and again into formal opposites,
From sword to ploughshare, coffin to cradle, war to work,
So that, taking the bad with the good, the pattern composed
By the ten thousand odd things that can possibly happen
Is permanent in a general average way.

Till lately we knew of no other, and between us we seemed
To have what it took -- the adrenal courage of the tiger,
The chameleon's discretion, the modesty of the doe,
Or the fern's devotion to spatial necessity:
To practice one's specific civil virtue was not
So impossible after all; to cut our losses
And bury our dead was really quite easy: That was why
We were always able to say:"We are children of God
And our Father has never forsaken His People."

But then we were children: That was a moment ago,
Before an outrageous novelty had been introduced
Into our lives. Why were we never warned? Perhaps we were.

More about Auden here

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Each Man Kills the Thing He loves

Oscar Wilde (1854 -1900) was famous for snarky commentary and wry drama. He was not, however, famous for his faith. In 1895 he was caught out as a homosexual (illegal in England at that time) and was sentenced to two years hard labor in Reading Gaol. His "Ballad of Reading Gaol" (1898) is deeply religious, and, when I read it again this Advent after many years, I found it to be profound and heartbreaking. That his sentence greatly contributed to his death a few years after his release made this work even more gut-wrenching.

I'm sure you'll recognize all the biblical references in the quoted stanzas. :-)

An early stanza claims....

Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,

Yet each man does not die.

There, and in the title to this post, is the most famous line from the poem. Is it true? Do we have a way of destroying what we love? In Reading Gaol, there was, according to the poem, a man condemned to hang for murdering his wife while in a fit of rage at her infidelity. The narrative tracks, in deadly rhythms, the last days of the man's life and the effect on the other inmates.

Many stanzas later....

Alas! It is a fearful thing
To feel another's guilt!
For, right within, the sword of Sin
Pierced to its poisoned hilt,
And as molten lead were the tears we shed
For the blood we had not spilt.

The Warders with their shoes of felt
Crept by each padlocked door,

And peeped and saw, with eyes of awe,
Gray figures on the floor.
And wondered why men knelt to pray
Who never prayed before.

We might feel awe as well. Hardened criminals weeping and praying for one in their midst who had, committed a much greater crime than theirs? Whence this shared guilt?

For me, Wilde had struck upon the notion of cosmic sin, shared evil, human failing. Can we look at another and see in their wrong doing, our own wrong, even if their crimes out weigh ours? As a mild mannered suburban housewife, am I able to look at a killer, a trafficker, a ponzy schemer and feel some of that guilt simply because I share his or her human nature?

Later on....

And all the woe that moved him so
That he gave that bitter cry,

And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,
None knew so well as I.

After the man is hanged his grave is left untended, even as he was untended in prison.

The Chaplain would not kneel to pray
By his dishonored grave:
Nor mark it with that blessed Cross
That Christ for sinners gave,

Because the man was one of those
Whom Christ came down to save...

Of course, there is One tenderer than the "Chaplain."

And thus we rust Life's iron chain
Degraded and alone:
And some men curse, and some men weep,

And some men make no moan,
But God's eternal laws are kind
And break the heart of stone.

And every human heart that breaks,
In prison cell or yard,
Is as that broken box that gave
its treasure to the Lord,

And filled the unclean leper's house
with the scent of costliest nard.

And lastly of the hanged man...

And he of the swollen purple throat,
and stark and staring eyes,
waits for the holy hands that took
the Thief to Paradise:
and a broken and a contrite heart

The Lord will not despise.

Upon his release from Reading Gaol, Wilde moved to France. He never returned to England, never wavered from his faith in God, and, his faith sure and true, never disavowed his homosexuality. Wilde died penniless two years later.

Rest in peace and rise in glory, Oscar.

More about the poet:

Monday, November 28, 2016

Think of the atoms inside a stone. Think of the man who sits alone. Poetry-Only Advent

I look up the meaning of "riven" every time I read this poem. "Wrenched apart; split with force or violence, broken into pieces."

Every Riven Thing
God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky, man who sees and sings and wonders why
God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into the stillness where
God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under the man the only man to see
God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,
God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.
Christian Wiman, from Every Riven Thing (2010).

Here is a link to Wiman's page on Poetry Foundation.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Coming Soon --- Poetry - Only Advent

Beginning next week, I am going to do something a bit different here on my blog.

Last year, I entered into the season of Advent with a resolve to be more thoughtful, more quiet. I managed to get all my Christmas shopping done before Advent, and I anticipated a different experience from my usual busy, crazy, whirlwind preparations for the great day of the Nativity of our Lord.

Now we all know God is not in the whirlwind. Neither is God in the mall, nor at the Post Office, nor even on the Internet. As an avid reader, I wondered how I could staunch my desires for deep theology, clever murder mysteries, profound guides to prayer. Then, as I was quickly reading through John Donne's "Batter My Heart Three-Personed God," it hit me...or it battered me.

I would take the entire four weeks and read nothing but poetry. Of course, I would read emails, recipes, instruction manuals as needed, but, recreationally, I would read only poetry. And that I would read slowly, repeatedly and with no goal. That's right. No goal. No end sight of completing all of Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman. No goal of even finishing one of the Four Quartets.

I love goals. I love lists and checking off items and making new lists, but I put that love away for the hope of a different love.

So...this Advent, I am hoping, goallessly, of course, to share on my blog, some of the poetry I read. No promises. There might be just a line or two. There might be more. I will,. however, conscientiously include the reference and, when possible, a link to the original. I may or may not write a few words of commentary about the poem, or how the poem gave me a new thought.  We'll see.

I am doing this, brothers and sisters, because I want to share what was for me a beautiful experience. No preaching. No recommendations. Just an open hand.

In Christ,
The Parishioner

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Peace of the Lord

Image result for passing the peace image

Old timers like me will remember when passing the peace was not a part of our Sunday liturgy at all. Although the very first Book of Common Prayer in 1547 called for passing the peace, three years later, the 1552 revision dropped the practice. After 427 years, the peace finally re-appeared in the revised Prayer Book of 1979. It seems now as if it’s here to stay, and with good reason.

Consider the placement of the Peace in our liturgy. It occurs after the prayers of the people and the confession of sin. It occurs, significantly, before the offering and before we prepare for Holy Communion. What does this tell us? Passing the peace is an act of reconciliation. It is a prayer of welcoming the stranger into our community and loving our neighbor. It is a shedding of our earthly concerns and needs, and, with fellow congregants, turning ourselves toward God.

When this practice appeared in 1979, some of the faithful objected to it, complaining that it disrupted the liturgy and drew their attention away from worship. We were meant to think only of God during the service. Any attention given to a fellow congregant was a “distraction” and had to be avoided.

Suddenly, or so it seemed, instead of gazing at the altar or reverently bowing our heads, we were looking in the faces of our neighbors and smiling and shaking hands. Passing the peace is nothing less than an intentional, choreographed distraction! What could this possibly have to do with worship? What do Jane and Michael and Peter and Robin have to do with my faith, my worship, my prayer?

At Baptism, we are made members of the household of God (BCP 308).  Colossians states
“…let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.”
(3:14) Greeting each other in the name of the Lord does not diminish our attention to worship; it amplifies it. We worship on Sunday morning as the Body of Christ, as a corporate entity. By offering Christ’s peace to each other we are proclaiming this truth.

What sort of “peace” is it that we are passing? It’s more than an absence of war, it is much greater than a hope for the other’s comfort and happiness. And it’s a lot bigger than “Have a nice day.” Jesus says:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

Jesus is not talking about the sort of peace that we can understand from our own experience. It is not a peace “as the world gives.” His peace points to him and to his kingdom which is both now and yet to come. We stake our claim to that kingdom both for ourselves and for each other when we pass the peace. This is God’s own peace, and it is ours to give and receive because of our life in the body of Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

A Year of Living Julianly Part V: End Times

Was Julian of Norwich ready to meet her maker?

I have just about come to the end of my Julian Year. For nearly 12 months, I have read in depth all of Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love as translated by Father John Julian, founder of the Order of Julian of Norwich, an order with which I am affiliated. A year's worth of days divided by 86 chapters means I have spent an average of four days on each chapter; I've also kept an extensive journal along the way. I have read Father J J’s (as he is known to us) notes as well as his helpful introduction and appendices. And yet, I am barely a beginner in understanding these magnificent words. Today, as this is the final report of my Julian Year, I will share some of Julian’s revelations about eternity. 

Significantly, our Lord did not show Julian “heaven”. Considering all that he did show her, this is very telling. She was shown hell which was uninhabited, by the way. How can this be, given the utter sinfulness of human kind and out utter depravity?

Funny thing about sin - it has no substance.

“And all this pain [of the world] was shown in one stroke and quickly passed over into comfort… But I saw not sin; for I believe it has no manner of essence, nor any portion of being, nor can it be known except by the pain caused by it.” Chapter 27

It’s like dust on a book jacket, crumbs on a place mat. Gone in an out breath. Yes we sin; sorrow and repentance are called for, but forgiveness is waiting. Should we expect punishment? Isn’t the pain and sorrow that we experience by sin enough punishment? 

“For it shall be seen before God by all his holy saints in joy without end that human nature has been tested in the fire of tribulation and no lack, no flaw found in it.” Chapter 63

The fire of tribulation renders us lacking nothing, flawless! I had to let that sink in for a moment. But this is how we were created, our true selves, image bearers of our creator, made in the likeness of God. It is our journey back to God through all our sin and pain that tests us, not as students are tested, but as silver is tested.

Moreover, by faith in Jesus, we share in his Passion. His suffering is our suffering. We share everything with him because he shares our humanity with us.

“I understood that, in our Lord’s meaning, we are now on his cross with him in our pains and our suffering, dying; and if we willingly remain on the same cross with his help and with his grace until the last moment, suddenly he shall change his appearance to us, and we shall be with him in heaven…and then all shall be brought to joy.”  Chapter 21

Oneness with Christ is a salient theme in Julian’s writing and this is the ground of all of her theology. We are one-ed to God by the act of creation. We are one-ed to God by the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection. We are one-ed to God by the work of the Holy Spirit in us.  And, at the last day, we will be one-ed to God forever.  But there is a secret in this final act.

“There is a Deed which the blessed Trinity shall do on the Last Day, as I see it, and what that Deed shall be, and how it shall be done, is unknown to all creatures that are beneath Christ and shall remain so until when it is done." Chapter 32

"This is the Great Deed intended by our Lord God from without beginning, treasured and hidden in his blessed breast, known only to himself by which Deed he shall make all things well.” Chapter 32

Julian’s most quoted words are:
“Sin is inevitable [original text says‘behovely’}

but all shall be well

and all shall be well
and all manner of thing
shall be well” Chapter 27

I bristle when I hear these words quoted lightly as they so often are. People latch onto Julian as some sweet little optimist, a sheltered innocent woman, who has only ever sat in her room and prayed and never wrestled with doubt or despair. She was not that person. She was not an optimist; she was a person of faith who struggled with every vision she was given, who, even after this experience of Christ, had, at times, to force herself to pray. 

What seems simple at first can be the most convoluted, the most daunting. The soul, for example.

“And then our Lord opened my spiritual eye and showed me my soul in the midst of my inner self. I saw my soul as large as if it were an inner world and as if it were a blessed kingdom…” Chapter 67

Are our souls united to each other? Are we all one soul? Did Jung have it right? In this world of our soul resides our Lord Jesus. He will never remove himself. We may move away from him, but he awaits us always. The soul was created from love and joy and that love and joy is relentless, overpowering. This is “god with us” and is probably all we need to know. She is told:

“’Take this generally and see the graciousness of the Lord God as he reveals it to thee; for it is more honor to God for thee to see him in all things than in any special thing.’” Chapter 35

For Julian to content herself with partial knowledge was most difficult. She had questions and she wanted answers, but she didn’t always get them. What she did get, however were some promises.

“Bliss” is not a word we use very much anymore. Even “joy,” except in the British locution meaning “result,” has passed from our usage, appropriately, I think, because these words evoke a state that cannot be compared to anything we know in this life, certainly nothing we can attain ourselves.  For C.S. Lewis joy was a momentary glimpse of God’s kingdom.* No wonder there is a ode to it. For Julian it is what awaits us. It has awaited us from the beginning.

“For as truly as we shall be in the bliss of God without end, praising him and thanking him, just as truly we have been in the foresight of God loved and known in his endless purpose from without beginning.” Chapter 85

In Julian's time, Christians were greatly concerned with eternity. It was the promise of happiness, rest and freedom from pain and suffering that focused their hearts on God. To achieve this promise, the faithful Christian had to triumph over sin. He or she feared hell and strove to avoid it. Effort was ceaseless. The need to be ready for death at all times drove faithful people to extremes of self denial. It was in this time that the church began to be accused of corruption, selling "indulgences," the literal means to eternal reward. We don't think very much about these things nowadays. Some say that the church has gone soft on sin. Certainly in the Episcopal Church, a parishioner can go for years without ever hearing the word "sin" much less "hell." 

I think Julian would be very happy in our church. I think our proclamation of the love of God in Christ would suit her well. She would love the words of our Prayer Book. And I think our deep focus on the life of Jesus and its meaning would feed her, as it feeds us. I definitely think she would love our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and his loud and bold proclamation of The Jesus Movement.

She might not be tempted away from her anchorage to attend one of our ice cream socials, but I think she would remember us in her prayers .... with a saintly smile.

*Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis

Monday, July 4, 2016

I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightening

Sparta rest area
Sparta rest area

Last month, on my way to the affiliates' retreat with the Order of Julian of Norwich, I had an encounter at a rest stop on I 90 in Wisconsin. This was my second time at the retreat. Last year it was a wonderful, beautiful six days of bliss and blessing. It was likewise this year, but the blessing started on the way.

I had stopped to have my packed lunch of egg salad, pretzels and a Diet Cherry Coke. Sitting at a picnic table that happened to be right in line with my rental car, a red Chevy Impala, another Chevy Impala pulled in right next to mine. This one was white, but otherwise identical to mine. A couple, a bit older than I am maybe, got out and did a massive double take when they saw the cars together. They looked over at me and asked, "Is that your car?" I replied that it was and they said, "Ours is just like it." "Mine's a rental, so I can't take credit," I replied."So's ours! Wanna trade?" asked the man. We all laughed. "Better not," I said, "I signed some papers." More laughter. And off they went.

No, this was not a transformative exchange. We did not "connect" in any soulful way. They didn't ask me where I was headed and then have a conversion when I told them. Nothing like that. But as they got in their white Impala and drove off, I thought what a lovely encounter that was. How pure it was! There was no subtext, no positioning, no irony, no assessment.

Then I saw Satan fall like lightening.

OK, I didn't quite see it that way at the time. Hearing Luke's gospel on Sunday* though allowed me to think that maybe my encounter was a bit weightier than I thought. Remembering these lovely people has made me smile many times since we spoke. I have prayed for them.

What I did see was something like a tapestry of all creation, large and blue with many colored threads in patterns that I couldn't make out. Most of it was unspeakably lovely. Parts of it a bit worn. After the people drove off, I saw a tiny part of it rewoven, right there before my eyes.

"We did that" I thought to myself. Just a few nice words, not even rising to the level of kindness. Just middling friendliness had the power to heal something in the world. And then I heard Satan berating himself for a missed opportunity. "She could have looked down on how these people were amused at something so ordinary. She could have seen herself as much more sophisticated. She could have been cold, or at least cool. Why couldn't she have mistrusted them or they her?" Very C.S. Lewis. Very Screwtape Letters.

When Jesus sent his disciples out to minister to the people in last Sunday's gospel account, he sent them to do his very own work. And that's what they did. And the world was better. The tapestry was mended. And Satan hated it. He fell from the sky like lightening. Because the kingdom of God had come near.

We are those disciples today. We are meant to heal, restore, bless and befriend. It seems the tiniest little act can have wide reach. The sending comes from Jesus. We can only consent, and then delight in it.

*Luke 10:1-11,16-20

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Collect for Purity

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.

This traditional prayer is said near the beginning of the Episcopal and Anglican rites of Eucharist. It comes so early in the service that it's easy to overlook. I confess that years went by before I attended to it at all, much less actually prayed it. We might find ourselves distracted during the reading - settling children, finding the page, yet it is worthwhile to ponder the significance of these very ancient words.

The Collect for Purity is 1200 years old! Amazingly, Christians have been praying these words since AD 800’s - but not all Christians. For many years this prayer was said privately by the priest as he (always he) prepared for the service of the Eucharist. Regular worshippers never even heard it.

                                                     Image result for thomas cranmer images

In the 16th Century, Thomas Cranmer, the first Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury and main author of the Book of Common Prayer (pictured above), moved this prayer from the sacristy to the sanctuary, so to speak, when he included it in the Eucharistic Rite itself. In the Anglican and Episcopal tradition, there are no exclusive prayers for the clergy. Our Book of Common Prayer is just that – used in common by laity and clergy alike.

A collect is a formal prayer with a formal structure. There is an address to God - Almighty God. This is like the salutation at the beginning of a letter.

Then follows the naming of an attribute of God – to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid. Does this claim make you nervous? It shouldn’t. These words affirm that God knows us thoroughly and lovingly. Who could know us better than our creator? Who could love us more? 

Next comes the petition - Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit. Notice that it is “the thoughts of our hearts” that need cleansing. In earlier times, the heart was considered the center of being, the self. A mental calculation such as "Did I thaw the roast?" would not interfere with worship so much as something on the heart, like anger, fear, or longing for anything not of God.

Next follows the aspiration or reason for the prayer - that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name. We want God to prepare us so that our worship will be true. This is basically a prayer to be able to pray. How often do we feel unable to pray? Our minds are not in the right frame; we worry that we cannot pray properly. Here we are asking God to correct these things so we may give ourselves entirely to worship.

Lastly is the doxology - through Christ our Lord. Followed by the all-important Amen, without which no written prayer is complete.

In the 14th Century, an anonymous author wrote The Cloud of Unknowing which has become a classic of Christian contemplative prayer. The writer placed the Collect for Purity at the very beginning of his prologue. It follows here in the Middle English.

God, unto whom alle hertes ben open, and unto whom alle wille spekith, and unto whom no privé thing is hid: I beseche thee so for to clense the entent of myn heart with the unspekable gift of thi grace that I may parfiteliche love thee, and worthilich preise thee. Amen.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Walk in the Woods

Each year the Order of Julian of Norwich offers its affiliates a retreat. Most recently this event has taken place at the Redemptorist Center in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. This year a special feature had been added to the grounds at the center. It is almost an understatement to call this a "feature." It is beautiful. It is breathtaking. It is holy. It is the Way of the Cross.

As you may know, the Way of the Cross, or Stations of the Cross, is a contemplative prayer practice, usually prayed during Lent. There are 14 stations or stops along the way. Prayers are said at each station. A relevant scriptural composite is also read. People actually move from station to station, often holding candles. They stop, pray, consider the event depicted and described. 

The Way of the Cross at the retreat center consists of bronze statues mounted on large "lannon" stone bases. If you've ever driven through Wisconsin, you will recognize the stone as those of the dells. These bases were quarried by a friend of the center, John P. Guiffre, who supervised the entire project, selecting the sites for each station, mounting the statues on the stones, creating the meandering path that leads the pray-er along through the Way. Mr. Guiffre died unexpectedly in January 2016, shortly after the project was completed.

The bronze statues are about four feet high; the stones are about two feet high. The path is difficult, narrow and hilly. I had to hold on to branches to keep myself from falling.

Even though it is not Lent, I want to share these images with you. I felt no reservation in praying the stations several times during the week that I was on retreat regardless of the season. At each station I prayed only what I could properly recall, even after many years of walking this way. It seemed to be sufficient.

We adore you, O Christ, and bless you,
Because of your holy Cross which has redeemed the world.

The First Station
Jesus is condemned to death

The Second Station
Jesus take sup his cross

The Third Station
Jesus falls the first time

The Fourth Station
Jesus meets his blessed mother

The Fifth Station
Simon of Cyrene is made to carry the cross

The Sixth Station
Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

The Seventh Station
Jesus falls the second time

The Eighth Station
Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

The Ninth Station
Jesus falls the third time

The Tenth Station
Jesus is stripped of his garments

The Eleventh Station
Jesus is nailed to the cross

The Twelfth Station
Jesus dies on the cross

The Thirteenth Station
Jesus is taken down from the cross

and placed in the arms of his mother

The Fourteenth Station
Jesus is placed in the sepulcher

A Few Notes
Did you notice the absence of Jesus' mother at the fourth station? And where were the women of Jerusalem at the eighth station and Veronica at the sixth? You, the praying person, are to become these individuals. A close up of the fourth station shows Jesus' eyes cast downward. Mary is clearly crumpled up in a heap, sobbing at his feet.

The twelfth station is the only one where people are gathered. You may have your own view, but, for me, this indicates the whole of humanity saved by Jesus. I stood between these two and if felt like a multitude.

Look again at the eleventh station. See the hammer and the nails. See also the inscribed paper that will be affixed to the cross.

Here is a close up of the second station: Jesus taking his cross. It is viewed from the opposite side which you would normally see.

I was too eager to share these beautiful images to wait for Lent. But because our salvation is continuous and everlasting and, as Julian would say, from without beginning, here they are now, today, in our needful world.