The Waiting Room

They didn’t know exactly what they were waiting for, but they knew they needed to be together. That’s what first strikes me about Pentecost – a.k.a. what we’re about to celebrate on Sunday. We’re told that the people who were closest to Jesus “were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). It wasn’t just the apostles. His mother and brothers were there too. They didn’t all claim to understand him in his fullness; how could they? But they all loved him and missed him, and as long as he wasn’t there as he was before, it felt better to be with other people who loved and missed him too.

It had been over a week since they last saw Jesus. For a while after Easter, they kept seeing him – in locked rooms, along the road, on the lakeshore.

This last time, though, was different. They were back on the Mount of Olives, where he’d been arrested not too long before. Jesus told them that they’d receive power when the Holy Spirit came – but he didn’t tell them when it would happen or what exactly it would be like. Only that this Spirit – or Advocate, as it’s sometimes translated – would be with them forever. And then “a cloud took him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9). He was gone.

And in Luke’s account anyway, the Spirit hadn’t come yet – at least not in full force. So they stayed together and prayed and waited. We’ll hear more on Sunday about what happened next, but it’s this in-between time that interests me now.

I’m in one of those in-between times myself. By the time this is posted, I’ll be getting ready for my Grandma’s funeral. My family and I will be together, as we were in the days keeping vigil before she died. We don’t all claim to have understood her – at least as she was in her fullness. We all know pieces, and by being together we have more of the whole. But we all love and miss her, and as long as she’s not with us as she was before, it feels better to be together.

The good news, of course, is that the Spirit that sustained her all her life is still with us and will be forever. We might not feel it as the rush of a violent wind at this point; at least I don’t. The Spirit’s presence with me is quiet right now, as quiet and sustaining as the breath that’s keeping me alive.

I love that the Hebrew word for “spirit” (ruach) can be translated as both breath and wind. It speaks to the different ways that God’s Spirit is present with us. Sometimes it’s undeniably strong; it feels powerful. And sometimes it just doesn’t. But it’s no less present or real – or powerful, for that matter.

Someday I’ll feel the Spirit like a gale force wind again. It will give me the ability to speak with force and conviction about God’s deeds of power in whichever corner of the world I find myself, as it did Jesus’ first followers. But until then, I take comfort that the Spirit is no less with us when it’s all we can do to keep breathing. It’s with us in each and every breath, whether we notice it or not. It will even be with us when we stop breathing. Thanks be to God – when Jesus promised that the Spirit would be with us forever, he really meant forever.



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“The Daily Cup” is moving

Part of our plan in developing our new website, which debuted last year, was for “The Daily Cup” to be part of it. As you may have noticed, there is a “Blog” tab on the homepage of the web site, and if you have clicked on it, you have seen that our recent “Daily Cup” posts are there. I have been posting them there for the past several months in anticipation of this next step, which we are now ready to take.

Beginning next Monday, May 16, we will no longer make blog posts to and will only post them on our web site. At 8:00 a.m. each weekday, MailChimp, our email client for This Week at St. Alban’s, will send out the latest “Daily Cup” post to you. It will look something like this:

Daily Cup screen shot

As before, your comments are welcome. To leave a comment, click

Visit Blog button

which you will find at the bottom of the post, and you will be taken to the post on our web site. Scroll to the bottom of the post, and you will see this:

Blog comments

In spite of what it says, there is no need for you to login or register to make a comment. Simply type your name and comment and press “Submit Comment.”

Those are the basics. Now, I need to share a few more pieces of information with you.

  1. We have done our best to include all of you on the new email list. If Monday and Tuesday come and go next week, and you have not received “The Daily Cup,” email or call me, so that I can make sure that you are included.
  2. Those of you who read email in Microsoft Outlook may notice that images do not fully display. This is due to the unique way in which Outlook reads code. If you experience this, you can click on the “Read in browser” hyperlink near the bottom of the post, and it should display correctly there.
  3. Since we are hosting the blog now, you can visit “St. Alban’s Daily Cup” page anytime and browse the history to reread any post anytime.
  4. We are retaining our account, so our archive of “Daily Cup” posts will not be lost.
  5. Finally, if you have any other unforeseen issues, please don’t hesitate to contact me and let me know.



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What do you hope for?

Last weekend, our parish set up an enormous graffiti-board at a festival called Flowermart  that we knew was going to draw a couple thousand people. (Jim Quigley blogged about the idea here: What happened was pretty magical:

People of all ages came to join in: little children, old people, even people who needed us to write for them. People who wrote in English, French, Spanish, Bulgarian, Korean, Arabic, Latin, and Greek.  The little ones hoped for puppies, Legos, and “cadny.” Several kids hoped for an end to poverty, or that the homeless would find homes. The grown-ups wrote “peace,” “gun control,” “healing, “release,” “new life,” “a cure for breast cancer and for all cancer.” “Equal opportunity” appeared, as did “to get a job.” “$15/hour and a union” was near “love and dachshunds.” A man from a 12-step group hoped for “serenity and sobriety.” People posed for pictures next to their post, then came back, hours later, to read what others had written. Passers-by took pictures. A couple people offered to make donations; they were visibly confused when we explained that this was a gift. “Why are you doing this?” they asked, over and over. And yet, they chose to join in.

And then there were the conversations. Cathy, who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Sarah’s mom, who hoped for a healthy, full-term granddaughter (after her IMG_2216daughter had suffered two miscarriages). (Pray for them both.) The cheeky guy in a wheelchair who looked at me pointedly and said,”I hope for help to get to Flowermart.” I abandoned my post and pushed him up the hill.

The most moving thing was that when we asked people what was in their hearts, we revealed the beauty in one another.

And then there’s this: last week, I wrote about Glennon Doyle Melton using her blog to raise money for Syrian refugees. The day I wrote about, The Compassion Collective raised $380,000. In donations that were capped at $25/person. If everyone gave the maximum amount, that’s more than a million people reaching out to help strangers in need. Probably, not everyone did give the maximum amount, so that’s even more.

We have been hearing a lot these days about “those people,” by which speakers indicate anyone who is not like themselves: different race, different gender, different values, lives in a different part of the country. Well, more than a million of Those People reached out from their living rooms to lift up the lives of strangers. They gave their money and the prayers of their heart. And when you ask Those People what they hope for, they write: peace, kindness, compassion, a world without violence, pizza, new life, for someone to love me.

Personally, I am proud to be one of Those People. Maybe we can even start a movement: “I’m one of Those People.” Will you join us?


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Family hymns

Do you have favorite hymns? Jonnie Sue and I do. One that we share is “The Church’s one foundation,” number 525 in “The Hymnal, 1982.” I’m always moved when I have an opportunity to sing it, as was the case this past Sunday when it was the recessional hymn. The imagry in its five exquisitely phrased verses rather perfectly and suscinctly expresses the origin, meaning, mission, and aspiration of the church. Each phrase of each verse could serve as a basis for a meditation.

The reason that it is particularly moving to me is that it has become our family funeral hymn, sung at the funerals of all four of our parents and my brother. It is the last verse that makes my eyes damp when I get to “mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won” and the concluding prayer that we too may have grace to dwell on high with them.

Thank you, Samuel Stone, for composing these words and thank you too, Samuel Wesley,for setting them to such memorable music. Truly it is a big part of the music of my life.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washignton DC, 10-May-2016.

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I’mIMG_2810 Irish.  I love saying that.  We Irish love stories and every time we tell stories the details change but the truth remains… (one might think here of the Gospels?)!

So here’s my gospel for the day, a little late.

I can remember sitting around a table with some of my siblings when my older brothers and sisters were talking about what they would accomplish in life.  At one point I said that I’d like to become something that didn’t register with my older sibs.  Amidst some disdain my mom said, “If Jimmy wants to be a mechanic that’s just fine… the only thing that matters is what makes us happy.”

Oh Mom…  thank you!

And thank you Moms!

To every mother, Happy Mother’s Day, belated!





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The Ascension

ascension della robbia


Thursday was the day in the liturgical calendar that we remember the Ascension of Jesus into heaven. It is celebrated forty days after the Resurrection. In addition to marking the day of the Ascension, the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of the Acts of the Apostles has contributed much to the structure of the liturgical year from Advent through each season including the season of Easter. In many countries around the world, the day of the Ascension is a nationally revered holy day.

The forty-day period between Easter and the Ascension was a time of preparation for the disciples of Jesus. Jesus was still with them and appeared to them. Jesus helped them to believe not only in his resurrection, but also in living for him, the risen Christ, during his physical absence from their world.   Jesus prepared them for their mission as witnesses for a Christian faith.   Jesus did not abandon them. As we conclude this season of Easter move to the next, we remember on Pentecost the presence in our lives, as in the lives of the Apostles, of the Holy Spirit.  Through the Holy Spirit and through us, Jesus’ disciples from all the ages, the presence of Jesus Christ continues in our world. In Acts 16:7, the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of Jesus.

A Reformed tradition, Christian theologian, Karl Barth, describes the Ascension as a change in the perspective from which Jesus shapes the world—no longer from the earth but from a more universal, timeless vantage point. This approach in my opinion overcomes the need to explain scientifically what actually happened in the Ascension event. The nature of Jesus as human and divine continues. The acceptance of mystery is a part of my faith. As unfashionable as it may be, I believe in miracles. And this miracle is a really big one.

So important is it that the author of Luke and Acts ends his Gospel with the Ascension and begins Acts with more about the Ascension. It is the bridge between the life and ministry of Jesus and the beginning of the Christian church. The image with which I chose to begin this reflection depicts the literal Ascension, a glazed terra cotta by Luca Della Robbia, a 15th century Italian sculptor. But I close with an image of a painting from the twenty-first century painter, Lee Davis. I perceive in this second image a shimmering energy and light spanning heaven and earth that represents for me the beauty of the Ascension—a unity that is eternal and beyond the confines of the dimensions of the this world.

ascension cross photo copy

Posted in The Rev. Debbie Kirk | 1 Comment

Enemy of the People

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. “ Or so Anne Lamott writes in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. I remember discovering this line in seminary and wondering where this wisdom had been all my life.

Up until then, I’d never really understood the need to overachieve as a foreign invasion. I thought it was my own voice telling me to get the A, no matter what. Where does that message come from, that we can be reduced to how we perform? And how do we manage to internalize it so early?

The women who raised me, my mom and grandma, didn’t teach me that. They taught me that I was a beloved child of God and that Jesus loved me no matter what. In the church of my childhood, however, the message wasn’t quite so clear. We were taught to take the Sermon on the Mount quite literally. When we heard “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), we didn’t laugh this off as impossible. We didn’t let ourselves off the hook. Grace was no justification for spiritual laziness. We could be better people if we tried harder, and there was no excuse not to try. Failure to meet the mark was no excuse for not trying to reach it.

It was only much later, when I had the tools to explore the Bible on a deeper level, that I realized that this verse doesn’t mean what I always thought it meant. Some things can get lost in translation, it turns out. For example, the verb here in Greek is in the future tense: “you will be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” It’s less a command than a vision of something we can’t see yet.

Likewise, the Greek word for “perfect” here means something like “whole, complete, or mature.” In that light, a newer translation called the Common English Bible (in the context of a passage about loving our enemies) translates this verse as “just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”

The closest we get to this notion of perfection in our liturgy as Episcopalians is the Collect for Purity at the beginning of the Eucharist, “that we might perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name.” It’s still a high bar, no doubt. But loving the One who loves us unconditionally doesn’t seem quite as challenging as living without failures or mistakes. It might even help us love ourselves a little more easily. If the One who knows all still sees fit to love us, who are we to question that judgment?

Personally, I now prefer Luke’s version in his parallel passage in the Sermon on the Plain. He writes: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Maybe that’s more what spiritual “perfection” – or maturity – looks like. Not the ability to live without error, but the capacity to show mercy to ourselves and each other. If we’re going to put in all the energy it takes to lead a faithful life, we might as well aim for the right mark.




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