To mourn thee, well beloved…

Ah, keep my heart thus moved
to stand thy cross beneath,
to mourn thee, well-beloved,
yet thank thee for thy death.

I’m a word-guy. I love words, and I love the “right word” especially — that difference between “lightning” and “a lightning bug” as Twain put it.

I make my living, such that it is right now, mostly through words, putting them together in such a way that might prove most persuasive for my clients.

Good FridayYet, this day is just one of those days in which my words just fail. I try (because that’s just what I do) to put Good Friday into words.  With its feelings of concurrent and desperate hopelessness and hopefulness, I’m not willing (or able) to just let the moment or the feeling simply be. In that way, I guess I’m a little like Peter, always seeming to interject words when they really aren’t necessary. “Lord, it’s good that we are here…” he eagerly says at the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:4), or “Lord, you’ll never wash my feet, and a breath later, “…Then Lord, not only my feet but my hands and my head as well!” he dramatically exclaims at the Last Supper (John 13:8-9).

I too want to capture the moment, to put into words what I feel when I sit in a silent church with a dear friend for an hour like I did early this morning. But on Good Friday, the best I can do is often just sit, in silence, and and maybe thumb my way through the 1982 Episcopal  hymnal, and let poets do what they do best…

168   O Sacred Head Sore Wounded

In thy most bitter passion
my heart to share doth cry,
with thee for my salvation
upon the cross to die.
Ah, keep my heart thus moved
to stand thy cross beneath,
to mourn thee, well-beloved,
yet thank thee for thy death.

 

585   Morning Glory, Starlit Sky

…Therefore He who shows us God
Helpless hangs upon the tree
And the nails and crowns of thorns
Tell us of what God’s love must be.

Here is God, no monarch He,
Clothed in easy state to reign.
Here is God, with arms outstretched,
Aching, spent, the world sustain.

 

And of course, there’s that hymn that thoroughly overwhelms me every time, not only for John Ireland’s sweet and simple and perfectly aligned tune, but most especially for sheer beauty of Samuel Crossman’s heart-warming and heart-wrenching words…

458   My Song Is Love Unknown

My song is love unknown,
my Savior’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown
that they might lovely be.
O who am I,
that for my sake
my Lord should take
frail flesh, and die?

In life no house, no home
my Lord on earth might have;
in death no friendly tomb
but what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heaven was his home;
but mine the tomb
wherein he lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
no story so divine;
never was love, dear King!
never was grief like thine.
This is my Friend,
in whose sweet praise
I all my days
could gladly spend.

And so it is this day. I would be disingenuous to say, for sure, that “all my days I could gladly spend” but I will spend this one at least singing silently the “sweet praise” of “my Friend ” who died for me.

Love Unknown

The Choir at King’s College Cambridge: My Song Is Love Unknown

 

 

Advertisements

We are bold to say…

In just about every Eucharist, worshippers are invited to pray the timeless words of “The Lord’s Prayer” with this phrase:

And now as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say:  Our Father…

And the thing is, when we consider the rather astonishing notion that we should and can communicate – – directly, intimately, instantly — with the Omnipotent Creator of the universe, we ARE being bold.

Yet, as we read in the Gospel from a few Sundays ago (Luke 11:1-13), that is precisely the posture that Jesus advises his followers to take, when one of them asks how to pray. After acknowledging the holiness of his father’s name, Jesus is all about imperatives. The words he uses to instruct those around him boldly include a list of directives: Come. Give. Forgive. Lead. Deliver. Jesus apparently doesn’t see the need to say the word “please” to “Our Father in Heaven” even once, given a relationship that is so pure and so thorough, and in which (and in Whom) he feels so purely and thoroughly known.

Screenshot (1)

Just to make the point inescapable, Jesus goes on to tell a ridiculous story that suggests that prayer may include being somewhat of a pest. When we pray, says Jesus, it is like a friend who bangs on a neighbor’s door at night, asking to borrow some food to give an unexpected guest. “Who cares if it’s late at night?” Jesus seems to say. Regardless of the chronological time of day, Jesus more than anyone knows the proverbial “dark night of the soul” can take place 24/7, and that just happens to be the Lord’s office hours.

The sleepy neighbor from behind  closed doors tries to rebuff the pestering nuisance from next door, yelling at him that he’s already in bed and his children are asleep,  and the dog and cat are in, and he’s taken his Tylenol PM, and the alarm system has been set, yadda yadda, yadda.  And yet, the pest keeps boldly banging the door, and because of his “importunity” (what a great word), the pesky fellow gets his way and the bleary-eyed and exasperated neighbor eventually lets him in, to serve him in his hour of need.

Again, Jesus seems to be saying “It doesn’t matter that you might be feeling rejected by the voice you think you are hearing on high, or you think God is asleep and you are hearing no heavenly voices at all, or you are hearing God’s voice loud and clear and all It is saying to you is ‘Go away and leave me alone!’,” Jesus assures them.  He explains that “…every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Luke 11:13.)

Maybe Jesus was influenced by that sublime story of Jewish bargaining that was the Old Testament lesson (Genesis 18:20-33) for that same Sunday when the Lord’s Prayer in Luke was the Gospel.  With no shortage of truly comical buttering up, Abraham talks Yahweh back from the ledge, striking a deal to spare Sodom from fire and brimstone if he could find some “righteous” folk there.  At first, The Lord’s bottom line is 50. Then 45. Then 40. Then 30. Then 20. We can’t be sure of whether it was Abraham or the Lord who grew more tired of the bargaining, but both went their separate ways after the bargain basement price got to 10.

Jesus’ point to his disciples (and I am both comforted and poked when I get the fact that this group includes me) seems to be to keep asking. Even if I am not sure what I should be asking for…keep at it! Keep seeking, even if the right words (or the right requests) elude me. Keep searching my heart, and for God’s Heart, even if I sometimes I question the relevance — if not the existence — of either or both.

In short, Jesus is telling me — KEEP KNOCKING…BOLDLY!

God can take it.

Dogs and Tears

This we know: every living thing is Yours and returns to You….

Several months ago, a dear friend lost a companion that had been a part of his life for the better part (a phrase here that is meant literally) of two decades.  I tried to offer — as best I could — some sense of awareness that his mourning and suffering over an animal was as real and as raw as any grief that any human suffers in this life.

Sandy SnoutIn doing so, I shared a special liturgy that I happened to come across while looking for something else.  Like the best of liturgy, it speaks to something deep within us, an ineffable and unexplainable “Something” in the words of worship that on an especially blessed occasion can carry us, to a suffering that to be sure is still suffering, but somehow seems blessed, and lifts us to our deepest and highest selves.

With permission, I share this letter to my friend who had to end the confused agony of his aging dog, just a few days before Christmas…

>>>Bill, this has to be so painful, especially at this time of year. That was a beautiful tribute you wrote to a wondrous and amazing creature. I’m so sorry for you and your family.

We Whiskeypalians have prayers and services for just about every damn thing. I came across this just recently. (I especially like the two prayers at the end.) On my better days, I do believe that our Loving Creator brings into our lives all manner of things that enrich us, and nourish us. When they are taken from us the richness and the nourishment stay behind.

Let me offer this, for whatever it’s worth…

Liturgy for a Dead or Dying Pet

Leader – Let us sing to the Lord a new song;
All – a song for all the creatures of the earth.
Leader – Let us rejoice in the goodness of God;
All – shown in the beauty of all things.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (8:18-21)
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

A Reading from the Revelation to John (Rev. 21:1, 4-5a, 6)
I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away. And he shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death,neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold I make all things new. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

Reader: The Word of the Lord
All – Thanks be to God.

Let us pray.

This we know: every living thing is yours and returns to you. As we ponder this mystery we give you thanks for the life of N. and we now commit him/her into your loving hands. Gentle God: fragile is your world, delicate are your creatures, and costly is your love which bears and redeems us all.

Holy Creator, give us eyes to see and ears to hear how every living thing speaks to us of your love. Let us be awestruck at your creation and daily sing your praises. Especially, create within us a spirit of gratitude for the life of this beloved pet who has lived among us and given us freely of his/her love. Even in our sorrow we have cause for joy for we know that all creatures who died on earth shall live again in your new creation. Amen.

Bill, my prayer for you and your family during this holy season and throughout the New Year is to have a holy and cleansing grief. And that through this loss, your broken hearts move even closer to each other, to lovely Cici (who I’d like to believe is romping and “slobbering” on another shore and in a greater light), and to a Mysterious and Infinitely Loving God who loves us and grieves with us more than we can possibly imagine.<<<

I’m not sure why this hot July I’m led to write about such things now.  Except perhaps that in these last weeks of death and despair at the hands of sick people using guns and trucks and more guns, there has been much over which to grieve.  (And, for another dear friend, even more grief of late.)  I’m coming to find, more and more, that our God — whose Son wept over his friend Lazarus — does not take away our grief.  But, maybe, if we are so blessed, and we recognize that our Loving Creator weeps with us, we find some meaning in it.

 

…marked as Christ’s own, for ever.

Then the Bishop or Priest places a hand on the person’s head, marking on the forehead the sign of the cross [using Chrism if desired] and saying to each one…   N., you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever. Amen.

Not sure what it is about Baptism, but I become a misty-eyed old fool most occasions. It’s not the babies that get me all sentimental. After all, cute though they are in their snow white “Christening gowns,” those little cherubs are basically just sleeping & crying & feeding & pooping machines. No big deal.
Christs own forever

The Christian version of branding a calf…signed, sealed and delivered.

And yet, what our tradition offers to them is a very big deal. It is an extraordinary thing we offer these pudgy-faced lumps of flesh in baptism — we name them and brand them.

“(Jackson Benjamin or Mary Catherine or John Jacob Jinglehimer…), you are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as CHRIST’S OWN…FOR EVER!!!!!!!”
I look at the priest holding that baby, and sometimes think of a little calf scampering off having just had its rear flank permanently seared by the red-hot branding iron. And for whatever reason I mist up, knowing (or at least wanting desperately to believe) that whatever lies ahead for that infant, whatever future choices are made for or by that child, whatever those innocent eyes see (or refuse to see) in the lifetime waiting ahead, I am being told that this newest Christian belongs, not just to our parish, not just to the one holy catholic church universal, but to Christ!
Christ named him.
Christ claimed her.
And Christ marked and sealed that young child as his own.
And NOTHING can separate him or her or any of us from God’s infathomable Love and Grace.
For ever.
Quite overwhelming, when you think about it.

…of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one God,
    the Father, the Almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all that is, seen and unseen.

This season of Advent just seems to do a number on me.

Yes, there is the absurd rush, the frenzy to not miss a single party or sale or movie opening.  But there is also, from time to time, a sense of the surreal that breaks through.

Christmas Tree lights2
Christmas trees in the dark: Yearning for something, not knowing what it is, only that it is.

It’s another kind of absurd altogether — a fuller sense of the “absurd” reality that we Christians profess.  We are reminded this time of year more than any other that our God, the “one God, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth” chose to appear to Creation in the form of an utterly helpless infant, born to a young unwed girl under desperate conditions.

Maybe I just manage to keep this absurdity at bay better during other seasons, more easily brushing off the sheer wonder and profound beauty of a single human breath.  Not so much during the longer, colder nights of Advent.

When I refer to the long, cold nights of this season, it has little to do with shorter hours of daylight in the northern hemisphere.  For me, these “long and cold nights” are more of a spiritual description than thermal — the darker, longer, colder nights of the soul.  Watching lights on a Christmas tree in the quiet dark lead to a deep stirring within.  My truest heart desires something intensely, to know something and to know it deeply.  And yet, that heart is not really sure what it is yearning, sure only in the deepest feeling that whatever it is, Whoever it is, it IS.

Most times when I am asked by the Celebrant to “stand and profess our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed,” I begin to mindlessly recite the words, and just gloss over the opening sentence, and its enormously powerful last phrase. But it is this darkness of Advent that reminds me more clearly that God is the maker of “the seen and the unseen.” God has made not just the stars in the heavens and the hairs on my head — not just what can be seen through telescopes and microscopes — but the Unseen, too.  We are surrounded by a holy host of maybes, which (or who) somehow swirl around us at the most needful of times, like a snowfall at night, unseen until one awakes in the morning, and  realizes what has been going on while we slept.

This time of year leads me to understand more clearly that part of our human nature is to seek and yearn for the unknown.  And it leads me to believe more and more that this very human trait exists because we have been “created” to seek and yearn for a Creator. We are meant to bathe in that Mystery. And perhaps, such a Divine (?) purpose goes even further. Part of my “rent” for occupying space on this planet is to purposefully search for that Mystery not only in what is “seen” around me in this universe, but also in the “unseen,” in those closest to me, and ultimately in myself.

And I as engage in that exploration, I am bound to be in that state perpetually.  I am like Bono singing “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…” and I’m beginning to understand I never really will. Advent is telling me that the finding comes most often is in the searching itself. The “answer” is not discovered by “arriving” at a destination but in the journey along the way.

And the deepest of such yearning is to know and feel Emmanuel. God with us.

God- the of the omnipotent loving Creator
With- not over us or far away, but closer than close, touching us and everything in our existence
Us – in this tiny speck of dust that is our little corner of galaxy in the universe.

I become like the author of Psalm 8 when confronting such things. Such knowledge is too good for me; I cannot attain it.

I can only yearn for it.

…and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace.

Goldfish. How and why would I think of goldfish?

At a recent communion service, I was mindlessly thinking of everything BUT such things as “unity, constancy and peace.” Contemplation of God’s unfathomable Love was, well, unfathomable.

Then, suddenly my mind actually heard the words the Celebrant was saying, and I focused on the ending phrase of one particular sentence (from Eucharistic Prayer A): “…Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace.”

Unity Constancy and Peace - names of Goldfish?!?!

Unity Constancy and Peace — Strange Names for Goldfish?!? …Stranger thoughts on a Sunday morning.

And I thought how those would be great names for goldfish…or maybe names of children at some tree-hugger commune. I smiled quietly but after that, didn’t give the phrase much thought.

Then, just a day or two later, I “just happened” to read a commentary to a morning devotional online, and was struck particularly by the writer’s lament. She worried about dwelling in her house of “resentment, anger and fear” and I instantly thought about those three words from the Eucharistic prayer that had made me grin just a few days earlier.  While I can never say for sure, I’d like to think that just maybe I was taken back to that funny little moment about fishy names by some Holy Guidance. Maybe what was “given” to me, when thinking of “unity, constancy and peace” was a counter to that unholy trinity of “resentment, anger and fear.”

The holy triune of “unity, constancy and peace” has been on my mind even more in these last weeks.

It has been almost a month now since the horrific event that occurred in a city that I dearly love. On June 17, 2015, nine parishioners extended faithful hospitality to a very sick young man in Charleston, South Carolina, and paid for it with their lives. In the days since, gallons of ink and gigabytes of data have been used by all manner of writers trying to make sense of something that can never make any sense.

The only small thing I can add is to note how the surviving members of the mass shootings at “Mother Emanuel” AME Church are exhibiting EXACTLY those God-favored qualities of “unity, constancy and peace.’ And it strikes me that seeing those three qualities in action can truly lead us all to a stronger faith.

The events in Charleston, and more particularly its blessed aftermath of forgiveness,mercy and grace, are tangible examples and evidence to this jaded trial lawyer of a Divine Good in this Universe. Beyond all reason or logic or science, this Loving Life Force has the capacity to somehow transform horror into hope, tragedy into triumph, and victims into victors.

And once again, the gift of Liturgy can serve as an expression of such mysterious Grace. One other thing struck me in freshly considering this well-worn and too-familiar phrase.

The order in which these words appear — “unity” first, then “constancy” and finally “peace” — seems by itself to be a divine design. That is, the first when combined with the second are precursors and prerequisites which can lead to the third.

  • Beginning with Unity, and the realization that those things that divide communities and souls are so much smaller than those things that unite.
  • And that sense of oneness, when applied and nurtured with Constancy
  • Can, at long last, lead us (and me) to Peace.

Thanks be to God.

…a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.

Maybe it is just the times in which these words are most often uttered…

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant (Name). Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive (her) into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.
Amen.

The ancient Greeks spoke of time in terms of kairos as well as chronos. The former is a time of essence, time of real life-changing and memorable substance, not mere seconds or minutes or hours that are registered on a stopwatch. Kairos is something beyond measurable time. It is what the Celtics call “thin” time; a time when the barriers and curtains between what is seen and the Unseen are paper-thin, and we can glimpse the Hereafter with some sense that this universe possesses mystery (Mystery?) that is FAR more than our five little and meager human senses can ever perceive.

Whatever the reason, when this collect is said, Continue reading