Todo Bien

Unknown-1The last two weeks have been hard ones in the church I serve. (Those of you who are there will know why.) We’ve been impacted by several losses, both in our church and in our community, none of them easy. And so I found myself driving to church on the morning of Pentecost to lead a service that was meant to be jubilant, except that I was tired and empty and drained. To make matters worse, the service was bilingual, which meant I was going to be taking my weary brain through both English and Spanish, a language I speak quite poorly (if we’re being charitable about it).

I got into my car, and made the first turn; that’s when I saw it. Pulled up ahead of me, waiting for light, was a car whose license plate read TDOBIEN. If I hadn’t been thinking bilingually, I might have missed it, but there it was in blue and white: todo bien, all is well. I started to laugh, and joy entered my heart again. Indeed, all is well.

Caught in a vision of the Holy God, Julian of Norwich spelled it this way: All shall be Unknown-2well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. And those words were not foolish optimism, but the very heartbeat of the universe. For Julian was not Pangloss. She did not have a naive belief that what seemed to us to be evil was really good. Instead, she was speaking out of a direct encounter with the God who redeems all things, not negating evil, but working through the crooked lines we draw and the dark pain we suffer to bring forth the fruit of light and joy.

Listen to what she says: “And thus our good Lord answered all the questions and doubts I could put forward, saying most comfortingly as follows: ‘I will make all things well, I shall make all things well, I may make all things well, and I can make all things well; and you shall see for yourself that all manner of things shall be well.'”

Hold fast those words, for they are a pledge from one who loves you. Like a lover babbling, “I will keep you safe forever,” or a parent to a child, “I will always love you,” so our Lord God babbles to us: “This pain will not last forever, for it is not the reason that I made the world.” If God is true, if any of what we believe is true, then God, who created this world to be a delight, will restore it to its purpose by and by. And we, whom God made to dwell in it and tend it, to walk with God and rejoice in God, we, too, shall be made well — all our hurts healed, all our bent limbs straight, all our hearts unclenched at  last.

Julian goes further: when we suffer because of our love, or when we try to act in loving ways but fail, those pains are not lost at all, but transformed in the sight of God. She says, “Because of the humility which we gain through this, we are raised by God’s grace imagesright high up in his sight, with great contrition, with compassion and a true longing for God. Then we are immediately freed from sin and suffering and taken up into bliss and even made into exalted saints. By contrition we are made pure, by compassion we are made ready, and by true longing for God we are made worthy. As I understand it, these three are the means by which all souls come to heaven….Although a man has the scars of healed wounds, when he appears before God, they do not deface, but ennoble him.”

This is strong stuff: neither a denial of human suffering nor an exaltation of unnecessary suffering, but a reading which gives purpose to the suffering we cannot avoid because to love on this earth is to open ourselves to pain. We are none of us perfect; even the best of us have sharp elbows and barbed words, and so to risk love is to know that we will be hurt. And this world is not perfect: children go hungry; too many live alone; the Powers That Be do not always reward what is good — and so acts of mercy do not always bring about the result we intend. We are mortal, and so even the greatest love will, one day, be laid in dust. But Julian says that the wounds we earn in taking in these risks, the ones we get from trying to live as human beings in a world that is broken, are not scars, but marks of glory in the eyes of God. This difficult work of being broken on the world’s hardness wakes us from our torpor, shows us in unmistakable terms the terrible gap between what is and what should be, and the anguish of that insight propels us back to ourselves, to one another, and to our God.

So, then, nothing is wasted. Nothing is wasted.  And all manner of thing shall be well, because the One who wills it will not be thwarted. Because the One who wills it loves us, and will not allow us to be lost.

Thanks be to God.

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Pentecost 2015

Don’t you love the seven Principal Feast Days?  I sure do, partly because of the special distinctive acts we perform to set them apart and make them special, but also because of their significance, the lessons they impart.  That significance is crystallized in the Collects, and Pentecost is no exception.  In the same spirit of reading the holy scriptures in different translations in order to more deeply discern their meaning, I offer here for your study the collect for Pentecost as set forth in various prayer books.

But first, a couple of other things about Pentecost that you might not have known.

 First, if you’ve wondered what the word Pentecost has to do with the events that we celebrate on Pentecost, it hasn’t any, not like Christmas as a term has something to do with Christmas.  It is almost obvious, but you can run right past it, in the opening words of the lesson: “When the days of Pentecost were drawing to a close”   That is,It was already “Pentecost” when the special things we celebrate occurred.  Wikipedia says that it is “a prominent feast in the calendar of ancient Israel celebrating the giving of the Law on Sinai …[and] …is still celebrated in Judaism as Shavuot.”  The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church says this: “The Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks, which falls on the 50th day after Passover.  As the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles on this day (Acts 2:1) , the name is applied to the Christian feast celebrating the event, popularly called “Whitsunday.”  To which I add that Pentecost is also thought of as the birthday of the Church.

 Second, the mitre that a bishop wears is symbolic of the the tongues of fire that descended on the disciples at Pentecost.

 I once heard it said that the Pentecost Collect was the favorite prayer of the Pope.  I think it was said in reference to Pope John XXIII.

 Here are a few various collects.

 God, whiche as upon this daye haste taughte the heartes of thy faithful people by the sending to them the lyght of thy holy spirite; grante us by the same spirite to hauve a right judgment in al thinges, and euermore to reioyce in hys holy coumforte;…[“The First Prayer Book of Edward VI”]

 O God, who at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort….[“The Anglican Breviary” and “The People’s Anglican Missal”]

 O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit instructs the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in His consolations….[Prayer before Meditation, set forth in the “Pilgrim’s Guide” of the Episcopal Cursillo Movement]

On this day, Lord, You have instructed the hearts of your Faithful by the brilliant light of the Holy Spirit.  Give us the grace, under His divine inspiration, to have a sense of the time and a taste for the good and always to find our consolation and our joy in Him. …[Pre-Vatican II “Divine Office” (a Monastic Breviary]

O God, who on this day didst teach the hearts of Thy faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit: grant unto us, by the same spirit, to be wise in what is right, and ever to rejoice in his consolation.  [“The Marian Missal”]

O God, who at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by sending to them the light of the Holy Spirit: grant us, by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort. …[“A Manual of Catholic Devotion for Members of the Church of England”]

O God, Who on this day by the light of the Holy Spirit taught the hearts of the faithful, grant us by the same Spirit to relish what is right and always to rejoice in His comfort..  [“St. Joseph Daily Missal”]

God our Father, let the Spirit you sent on your Church to begin the teaching of the gospel continue to work in the world through the hearts of all who believe,…[“Christian Prayer,” a one volume post Vatican II Roman Breviary]

Almighty God, who at this time taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and  evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort…[“Celebrating Common Prayer” a breviary of the Anglican Society of St. Francis]

O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort,…[American “Book of Common Prayer” 1979]

And here, lest the pageantry of Pentecost Sunday have overtaken what it’s all about, I offer this reflection from the Maryknoll Missal.  “On Pentecost, Jesus crowned His life and teaching by sending the Holy Spirit into the hearts of Mary and the Apostles and three thousand converts.  In them and through them, began a new generation of men [and women!], a new supernatural family, a new Mystical Christ embracing members of every race.  Jesus gave his Holy Spirit to be the soul of His new Mystical Body.  That body, the Church …came into its full, active maturity on Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit came in visible form to begin His invisible activity.”

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 26-May-2015.

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Remembering

After World War II Armistice Day (a day assigned for the remembrance 0f those who died in war) was morphed into two days of remembrance: Veterans Day and Memorial Day, the former to remember veterans and the latter to remember all those who have died in war.

fripp 2010 023Traditionally Armistice Day was celebrated with a two-minute silence at 11am on November 11; the dead were remembered in the first minute and the survivors in the second.

As the son of a veteran I’m keen on these remembrances.  My father never talked much about his service and most of what I learned about his time as an infantryman in World War II has come from others.  My Dad was a POW in Germany and fought in The Battle of the Bulge.  I can remember being a kid on the beach of Lake Michigan wondering what in the world happened to my Dad’s toenails.  Later I learned about what happened to his feet. It was the dead of winter and my Dad and two other soldiers were held captive in a barn. Their captors had taken their boots but they escaped by running through the snow for miles.  When telling me that story my Dad recalled that it was his idea to run for it and that one soldier stayed behind thinking that that was just what the captors were waiting for.  Today I imagine the three of them having a debate in that barn about whether to run or not – peering at the soldiers on the porch of the farmhouse on the hilltop above them and wondering if they were watching.  When my father and the other soldier disappeared into the woods the third soldier ran for it too.  All three survived.

Another story I’ll never forget was told to me by my Dad’s step-father, who served at the same time as my Dad did:  When the war was over my father’s “last act” was (unofficially) to give the horse he rode to patrol the mountains in Germany to a farmer… an act that was the equivalent to the definition of the word armistice: a coming to peace despite differences. fripp 2010 016Grandpa Fred also told me that one of my father’s early experiences of the horrors of war was seeing his best friend’s head blown off and that my Dad went to war one man and came back another.  I can hear my Dad’s voice in the voices of the uncle and his buddies in Bob Hicok’s heart-wrenching Memorial Day poem:

The semantics of flowers on Memorial Day

    Historians will tell you my uncle
wouldn’t have called it World War II
or the Great War plus One or Tombstone

    over My Head. All of this language
came later. He and his buddies
knew it as get my ass outta here

    or fucking trench foot and of course
sex please now. Petunias are an apology
for ignorance, my confidence

    that saying high-density bombing
or chunks of brain in cold coffee
even suggests the athleticism

    of his flinch or how casually
he picked the pieces out.
Geraniums symbolize the secrets

    life kept from him, the wonder
of variable-speed drill and how
the sky would have changed had he lived

    to shout it’s a girl. My hands
enter dirt easily, a premonition.
I sit back on my uncle’s stomach

    exactly like I never did, he was
a picture to me, was my father
looking across a field at wheat

    laying down to wind. For a while,
Tyrants’ War and War of World Freedom
and Anti-Nazi War skirmished

    for linguistic domination. If
my uncle called it anything
but too many holes in too many bodies

    no flower can say. I plant marigolds
because they came cheap and who knows
what the earth’s in the mood to eat.

In 2013 the Veterans Administration reported that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide every day – one suicide every 65 minutes.  That’s ten times the number killed in combat for the same time period and more grim is the fact that because many veteran suicides go unreported this number might actually be lower than is actually the case.

If you haven’t done so yet, take two minutes to remember and pray for all those who have died and for all those who serve and try to survive.

    “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways and that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war. Come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Jim+

*As some may have noticed, portions of today’s post appeared in two earlier entries (one written on Armistice Day in 2013 and the other Memorial Day in 2014).

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For The Love of Christ

“‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’”

John 21:16

 

This passage from John, which comes to us as the Gospel reading for today’s celebration of Holy Eucharist, is one of the more interesting and telling passages in Holy Scripture–in my humble opinion.  Interesting and telling not because of the witty banter between Jesus and Peter (in fact there is little wit in this brief conversation); but interesting and telling because of how Peter and Jesus talk about love.

 

As Jamie Large, one of our two youth preachers on Youth Sunday a couple of weeks ago teased out for us, in English we have one word for “love,” which we apply to a number of different contexts.  However, in Greek there are several words for love–much like how in Norwegian there are between 180 and 300 words for snow.

 

When you read this passage in the Greek you see that Jesus uses the word “agape” for the kind of love that he is referring to, and Peter responds with a version of “philadelphos.”  Here is the quote above in the Greek:

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 8.28.57 AM

 

Jesus uses “agapas” and Peter uses “philo.”  The interlinear translation of “you are loving,” and “I am being fond of,” are correct.  This puts this whole passage, and the force of Jesus’ words, into a different light.  The agape love that Jesus speaks of is the all-loving, fierce, even to the point of tough love, love of God for all of God’s creation.  Agape love is the self-sacrificial love of Jesus dying on the cross.  The philadephos that Peter responds to Jesus with is the love of brotherhood, slightly-more-that-Facebook-friend, glad-you’re-on-the-team, Band of Brothers, kind of love.

 

God loves you with agape.  Who do you love with agape?  How do you show the love of God to those in your life?  What do you do; how do you act; how would those who you love with agape know that you love them with that force, that magnitude, that depth?  Today, find those whom you love with agape and tell them that you love them.

 

As the old blessing says:

“Life is short, and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who journey the way with us. So be swift to love, and make haste to be kind. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always. Amen.”

 

Matthewfirst

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A Song to the Lamb – from every family, language, people and nation

Does it sometimes seem that the more ways we have to communicate – email, texting, Twitter, and even actual conversation – the less we actually say?  The more confused we are about what is being said?  Too often it really is true that less is more.  Simple sentences like “I’m sorry” and “Sit with me” are enough.  And more often than not it is the wordless communications that say all that really needs to be said.  Gestures of friendship, acts of kindness, listening, showing up.

One thing I do love about my work, though, is thinking about the texts we sing in hymns and anthems.  There are texts that have opened my eyes to the power of poetry, and words that caused me to think more reflectively on Biblical passages and writings of ancient wisdom.  I know that words are important, but sometimes they are really just a vehicle for more persuasive music, because music is its own language of course.  It has dialects of tonalities, rhythms and instrumental colors that spring from different cultures and sometimes seem strange to foreign ears. But essential messages of peace, despair, joy, worship, fear, love – those basic human emotions – are nearly always obvious, whether you understand the musical dialect or not.  During the past season of Arts@Midday concerts here at St. Alban’s we experienced the serene messages of a koto player and the frenzied joy of a Latin American percussionist.  We heard light in sung Alleluias and the darkness of a troubled mind in expressionist opera.  At the heart of any of these musical experiences were simple messages of the human experience.

I came across a piece based on an Indian raga – one of the complex (to our Western ears) patterns of rhythm and pitch that are the basis of traditional music in India. Dwijivanthi has no actual words, but has the choir speaking and singing the syllables that Indian musicians learn – something like do, re, mi.  The recording I found online of it brought me to tears the first time I heard it, as I witnessed what I experienced as the pure joy of making music by an American high school choir in a beautiful example of cross-cultural communication.  Enjoy it here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUre_jHOGHw

and on Sunday when a choir at St. Alban’s sings this for the Pentecost service at 10:00.  Music – one language for the family of God.  No words needed.

SonyaFirst004

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Vergering confirmations

Vergering confirmations and ordinations at our cathedral are two of my favorite things.  Last Saturday I was privileged and delighted to be a part of the verger team helping with the confirmation, by five bishops (including Bishop Eastman, a former rector of St. Alban’s) of over 150 people from throughout the Diocese of Washington, including two from St. Alban’s – Miss Gabrielle Bouvier and Miss Sophia Higgins.  Organizing the entrance procession is where the involvement of a corps of vergers is most important. Vergers bring order out of what would otherwise be certain chaos and just milling about, with uncertainty and anxiety on the part of the participants.  It helps make being at the Cathedral, which for many might be their first time, a comfortable rather than an intimidating and overwhelming experience.  Assisting the confirming bishop at the moment of confirmation and in the administration of communion is equally moving.  I find the services of confirmation and ordination the church at its best and feel deeply honored to be able to participate in them in this way.

I close with the bishop’s concluding prayer.  “Almighty and everliving God, let your fatherly hand ever be over these your servants; let you Holy Spirit ever be with them; and so lead them in the knowledge and obedience of your Word, that they may serve you in this life, and dwell with you in the life to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 19-May-2015.

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The Other Trinity II

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