Identify Me

“If you want to identify me, ask me not where I live, or what I like to eat, or how I comb my hair, but ask me what I am living for, in detail, ask me what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.”

–Thomas Merton

 

thomas-merton-500 Merton is asking about the kinds of labels we have for who we are–how we are known and for what we are known.  And we are quite good at creating all kinds of classifications, neat boxes and categories into which we can both put others, and ourselves.  How are we known to others?  How do we know ourselves?  What identifies us….our allegiance with a sports team, our religious affiliation, the kind of car we drive, what work we do, what neighborhood we call home?  The list of “identifiers” goes on and on.

 

But how good are we at knowing who we ARE, or harder still…knowing who OTHERS TRULY are?  Our society seems to find all kinds of ways for us to be anonymous, wrapped up in and subjected to only the things of our choosing (witness everyone glued to their individual “screen” or listening to only what they choose in public places).  This makes getting to know someone or, to use the word that Merton chooses, “identifying” someone even more difficult, and makes being known equally as difficult.

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These questions Merton asks are perhaps difficult for some of us to answer.  I mean, what DO we live for…REALLY live for?  Do we live for our family?  Do we live in order to provide security for ourselves or others?  Or deeper…do we live in order to enrich the lives of those with whom we are in relationship?  Do we live to change the world–whatever little corner we can–so that others might grow and thrive?   Do we live so that we might enlighten and enliven others, or do we live for the betterment of ourselves?

Even with those sets of questions above, I’m not really getting at what Merton is asking because those are all “broad-stroke” questions, aren’t they?  What are the details of what we are living for?

But, where the going gets tough in this matter of identification–at least for me–is looking at what, “is KEEPING ME from living fully for the thing I want to live for” (my emphasis added).  Yet, without that critical step, that critical analysis, the whole exercise simply falls short of us actually making any real progress towards living our lives more authentically.

What is the thing for which are you living…and what is holding you back from that thing, that life?  As we end the season of Epiphany and stare down the barrel of Lent, these questions from Thomas Merton can be helpful ones to use as we examine ourselves and our lives.  I think the answers we ponder and settle on will “identify” the thin places in our lives where we feel the closeness of God’s presence.  The answers of our identity will also help us to know where sin has entered into our lives…moving us farther away from the God who knows our true “identity” and longs for us to become our best selves…created, loved and known.

In Christ,

Matthewfirst

 

 

 

 

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Abundance

Earlier this week, I had a delightful conversation with a long-standing parishioner of St. Alban’s and faithful participant in the 11 am community. It was one of those conversations that moved gracefully from topic to topic without any guidance from us. This parishioner told me that she had felt called this past Sunday to attend one of the English speaking services. I am glad she listened to that call. She told me she connected with Rev. Matthew’s sermon in a deep and meaningful way to the message of scarcity and abundance. I called Rev. Matthew and asked to read a copy of that sermon. It was indeed powerful and loving. If you missed it in person, it will be available soon on line.

It brought to my mind the Hebrew Bible story of the manna God sent from heaven. The manna flowed freely from the heavens. It was abundant and more than sufficient to nourish all the people daily. But there were those who viewed life through the lens of scarcity and hoarded the manna. That manna spoiled. God was making a point about resources in creation being sufficient if only we share. The New Testament continues this message of abundance and sharing. Just think of the loaves and fishes.

But our conversation continued, and we talked about the poisoned water in Flint, Michigan. We were both saddened by the fact that people were turned away from free, bottled water in some locations because they lacked identification. We lamented that some people controlling access to essential water were hoarding it and denying it to others from fear or hatred. The bottled water was abundant, but not to all people.   The good news is the government took steps to remedy the situation and provide water regardless of identification when concerns were raised.

So I end this reflection with the ideas of generosity and compassion and reaching out to all people. Jesus would not have hoarded the water for the “in group.” Jesus would have shared the water.

Gozo y paz (Joy and peace,)   Rev. Debbie

Al incio de esta semana, tuve una conversación muy agradable con una feligresa de una larga entrega con la parroquia de San Albano y una participante fiel en la comunidad de las 11 horas. Era una conversación que se movía con gracia de un tema a otro sin ningún tipo de orientación de nosotros. Esta parroquiana me dijo que se había sentido llamado este pasado domingo para asistir a uno de los servicios ingleses. Estoy contento de que ella escuchó a esa llamada. Me dijo que se conecta con el sermón del Rev. Mateo de una manera profunda, y ella conecta con el mensaje de la escasez y la abundancia.   Después de esta convesación, llamé a Rev. Mateo y le pide que enviera una copia de ese sermón. El sermón era poderoso y amoroso. Si se lo ha perdido en persona, estará disponible en línea.

Se trajo a la mente la historia de la Biblia Hebrea del maná que Dios envió desde el cielo. El maná fluía libremente desde los cielos. Era abundante y más que era suficiente para alimentar a todas las personas diariamente. Pero hubo quienes vieron la vida a través del lente de la escasez y acaparaba el maná. El maná se descompuso. Dios estaba haciendo un punto acerca de los recursos en la creación de ser suficiente si solamente compartimos. El Nuevo Testamento continúa este mensaje de la abundancia y el compartimiento.   Basta pensar en los panes y los peces.

Sino nuestra conversación continuó, y hablamos sobre el agua envenenada en Flint, Michigan.   Estábamos tristes por el hecho de que las personas fueron rechazados del puro agua gratis en algunos lugares debido a que faltaron identificación. Lamentamos que algunas personas que controlan el acceso a los botellas de aguas puros fueron acaparandolos y negarlos a los demás por miedo o el odio. El agua embotellada era abundante, pero no a todas las personas. El gobierno tomó medidas para remediar la situación y proporcionar agua independientemente de identificación cuando se plantearon preocupaciones.

Así que termino esta reflexión con las ideas de la generosidad y la compasión y extendir la mano a los demás.   Jesús no habría acaparado el agua para los que pertenecen al “grupo.” Jesús habría compartido el agua con todos.

Gozo y paz, Debbie+

 

 

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Presentation

72w061aYesterday was the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus, which recalls the day when Our Redeemer was himself redeemed. You see, it was the custom, back in the days when the Temple still stood in Jerusalem, that every firstborn male, whether of humankind or of beast, had to be either sacrificed or redeemed from sacrifice by the offer of a lesser creature. The practice went back to the time of the escape from Egypt, when God struck down the firstborn of Egypt but the Hebrews were able to save their own by sacrificing a lamb and painting its blood onto the doors of their homes. And from that day onward, God was considered to own every firstborn.

And so Joseph and Mary appear at the Temple with their offering of a pair of turtledoves, which was the offering of the poorest of the poor. But when they came to the Temple, an aged man named Simeon, who had been promised that he would not die before he saw the Messiah, caught the infant Christ up in his arms and began to cry out that this was the chosen one of God. And an ancient woman named Anna joined him in his joy, and Simeon prayed, “Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised.”

Those words resonate for me, because for me the Presentation is not only a reminder of a key day in the life of Christ; it is also the day on which my mentor died. I remember rushing to the hospital, arriving a few minutes too late, the stunned and grieving faces, and only later — the next day, even — realizing that it had been a holy day in more ways than one.

Because the Presentation is not only an archaic custom: each of us will, in time, be presented to the Lord. We will make our long lastgiotto-di-bondone-passion-mourning-over-dead-christ journey. At the church where I serve, we come out to greet the body as it arrives. We gather around it; we drape it with a beautiful cloth, and then we pray for this child of God who has been set free to go in peace.

We who follow Christ live in expectation of that day — not in fear, but in hope. We know that we have been redeemed, that whatever our sins, they are covered by the blood of one more precious than two turtledoves, more precious even than a lamb.

We know more: we know that death is not the end, but is only the start of a great adventure, in which we will move from grace to grace, growing toward the heart of God for all eternity.

Before my mentor died, his grandchild asked him, “Grandpa, are you afraid to die?” And he replied, “I look forward to with great anticipation.” But we can anticipate it only when we live in the light of eternity; when our words and our deeds are such that we would wish them to endure.

What in your life enables you to look forward in hope? What in your life causes you fear or heaviness of heart? Turn them both over to God, now, while we walk in the light of day. For we have been redeemed, my friends; we have been redeemed.

 

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A Remembrance

As I mentioned last week, I spent some of the time while snowed in sorting through some old papers.  I found those humorous quotes from church announcements that I shared with you.  I found something else too.  I found the remarks I made at my father’s funeral at Notre Dame Catholic Church in Houston, Texas, nine years ago. I’d like to share those with you. This is what I said.

Good morning, and thank you for coming. I know it means a lot to dad, and it means a lot to us.

I would like to say a few words about Howard, about incarnation, and about the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

Any of you here who were present at Howard and Virginia Lee’s 50th wedding anniversary 20 years ago may recall that I spoke then about how their life together was an incarnation of their wedding vows. I had come to an understanding of the meaning of incarnation in a sudden flash of insight one afternoon years earlier while working as a customs officer in San Ysidro, California. I was face to face with an importer who had merchandise to which some prohibition applied. The importer wanted to proceed unhindered and was not too subtle in suggesting that there might be something in it for me, if I let him. I did not, of course, or I would not be telling you this, but the insight that came to me during that moment as I insisted on the “letter of the law” as it were, was that the law and the regulations were just spots of ink on pieces of paper unless there was someone to give them effect, and that at that moment I was an incarnation of those particular laws and regulations. They, the printed pages, were dead things, but they were living through me. It was a curious and new understanding, that I was giving life to words. And through that insight I understood what was meant by Jesus being the Incarnate word; that he brought to life the words of God set forth in Holy Scripture, among them, of course, the two great commandments, to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, and our whole mind and our whole strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Since then, I see incarnations of words all the time, often mundane, sometimes holy, and sometimes tragic. Much of human life, as opposed to the lives of our dogs and cats, is giving life to words. Which presents us with a question: what words shall we give life to?

Turning to the Fruits of the Spirit, if your catechism lessons are a bit rusty, I’ll cite them for you. They are: love, joy; peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, kindness, and self-control. And as I have reflected on dad and his life I see that he was the incarnation of all of these. Even in those times when I as a child and teenager provoked him to quite justifiable anger, these qualities showed forth in his actions. All of you here now, and hundreds of others not here today, know of Howard’s extensive public service for which he has been often recognized and honored. But each of you also probably knows of instances, unknown to others, where Howard reached out in love and concern in varied and creative ways to help someone else, you perhaps, through the pitfalls of this earthly life. This was one of the hallmarks of his life all life long, the full range of it not known completely even to those closest to him. The individual lives changed by Howard’s phone calls, his letters, his encouragement and advice, his appearances to testify of behalf of this person or that, and his prayers are perhaps his more far-reaching legacy, even more significant than his public accomplishments.

Of course, he did not do this on his own; no one does – no one can. Howard was an incarnation of the fruits of the spirit because he was a devout and faithful follower of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and he lived out that life in faithfulness to his Church. He followed the admonition of Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage and a blessed martyr of the Church, who taught that to have God as your Father, you must have the Church as your mother.

So as we go forth from here into our work and into our family lives and into our recreation, let us all be mindful of what words we incarnate, and let us all renew our commitment to strive to be incarnations of the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, kindness, and self-control – just like Howard.

Amen.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 2-February-2016.

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Power and Pathos

Artists in the Hellenistic (which means “after” Greek, or “in the manner of” Greece) period did something extraordinary.  Instead of sculpting in stone and marble they chose to render their subjects in wax so that they could achieve greater and more realistic detail (like the crows feet on an aging man’s eyes) and then cast them in bronze.  Portrait-of-a-ManThey also preferred to portray, unlike their predecessors, ordinary people (relatively speaking) as well as gods and goddesses. They would use other materials (like copper, bone and enamel) to make the sculptures come alive, like a photo-realistic painting, a la 150 b.c.

On Friday afternoon last week a friend and I did some time traveling.  We went to Greece and spent some time meeting people that lived in the Hellenistic period beginning with the death of Alexander the Great in 323 b.c. and ending with the emergence of the Roman Empire at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC.  Most of the thousands of sculptures produced in the Hellenistic period – many of which portrayed ordinary people – are lost; dismantled or destroyed by the Romans or others… melted down and turned into coins or weapons.

On our journey on Friday afternoon we met an orator, a poet and a North African.  We stood in front of what was most likely a funeral monument for a boy that died a tragic and untimely death.  One man we met bore a striking resemblance to Ted Kennedy.  North-AfricanIt was fascinating. Walking around these sculptures at the National Gallery on 00309897001_HFriday we felt as if we were Hellenic; citizens of ancient Greece.

It was amazing to me to meet these people for two reasons.

The first is that as an artist who has created sculpture in the very same way (lost wax casting) I have a keen appreciation of the complex process involved in casting bronze. First rendering three dimensional forms in clay; then making plaster molds from the clay renderings; filling the plaster molds with hot wax and then then surrounding the wax with slurry until you have what looks like giant white formless blobs; burning out the wax and then filling them with molten bronze; then welding all of the pieces back together and finishing the metal until… voila!

The second is that the people we met on Friday were people that lived at time very close to the time that my – and maybe your – savior became incarnate and walked the earth.  A time very close to the days when the first disciples of Christ began to build the church and proclaim the Kingdom of God and when the tent-maker and great Apostle Paul preached “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  

The pictures below trace the lost wax process.  The piece was the result of a commission I got from the Bowling Green Public Library.  The task was to create a sculpture to honor a parishioner of the church that I served – Ferris Van Meter – who died of cancer way too young.  Ferris had three loves: the church, the library and Western Kentucky University. When I learned that Ferris had a chair in which she sat to do her very favorite thing – sit and read – I conceived Ferris’ Chair, a child-sized rocking chair.  Each component of the chair is taken from a classic children’s book or author:  The Little Engine that Could; Goodnight Moon, Roald Dahl; Dr. Seuss, The Wizard of Oz; The Giving Tree; James and the Giant Peach; and Harry Potter.

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Ferris’ Chair tells a story, as does every piece in the special exhibit at the National Gallery. If you are into time travel and want to spend some time with people who lived in the era just before the time of Christ, go see Power and Pathos.  If you linger with these sculptures they will speak to you.  X 2677I don’t know what they will say to you but what they told me was to hold on to what is the greatest gift we have been given by God… the gift of this one life we have been given to live, and to live that life as well as we possibly can, because barring whatever eternal life will be like, our time on this earth is limited.

Happy Monday,

Jim+

 

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Favorite Hymn

Recently I was having a conversation with someone and was asked, “Matthew, what is your favorite hymn?”  Although I have many hymns that I love there are a few that would fall into that category of “favorite.”  I answered: Hymn 707 in The Hymnal 1982.  For me the words to this hymn are how I hope to lead my life, responsive to the call of God, used as an instrument of God’s will, filled with a sure-fire knowledge of God’s love and presence.  This hymn of consecration appears in “The Christian Life” section of our hymnal.  The lyrics come from

 

Francis_Ridley_HavergalThis hymn of consecration appears in “The Christian Life” section of our hymnal.  The lyrics come from Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879).   She was inspired to write the lyrics while on a small five-day trip, staying in a house with nine other occupants.   As she told the story:

“There were ten persons in the house, some unconverted and long prayed for, some converted but not rejoicing Christians. He gave me the prayer, “Lord, give me all in this house!” And He just did! Before I left the house every one had got a blessing. The last night of my visit I was too happy to sleep, and passed most of the night in praise and renewal of my own consecration, and these little couplets formed themselves and chimed in my heart one after another, till they finished with, “Ever, ONLY, ALL for Thee!”

Here are her words as they appear as Hymn 707:

Take my life, and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee;
take my moments and my days,
let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move
at the impulse of thy love;
take my feet, and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing
always, only, for my King;
take my lips, and let them be
filled with messages from thee.
Take my silver and my gold,
not a mite would I withhold;
take my intellect, and use
every power as thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
take my heart, it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne.
Take my love; my Lord, I pour
at thy feet its treasure store;
take my self, and I will be
ever, only, all for thee.

What is your favorite hymn?  What is the ONE hymn that moves your spirit, that stirs your heart, that makes you an instrument of praise to God our creator, sustainer and redeemer?  Today, sing out your song, glorify God…as Frances puts it as, “rejoicing Christians.”

 

In Christ,

Matthewfirst

 

 

 

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A Wordy Kind of Saint

Imagine teaching a lesson on Thomas Aquinas to 3rd and 4th Graders. That’s the sacredly foolish task I gave my Sunday School teachers one year at my first parish in preparation for All Saints’ Sunday. Why Aquinas, one might reasonably ask? Why not St. Francis or St. Nicholas or one of the more accessible saints, whose greatest feats were outside of the library? Well, we learned about them too. But since today (January 28) is the feast day for St. Thomas, I thought I’d share a little about what we learned from looking at Thomas’ life – and the different forms that sainthood can take.

We learned about someone who loved books – especially the Bible and anything by Aristotle. We encountered someone whose gentle quietness and size led people to call him “the Silent Ox.” (He seems to have saved most of his words for the page.) We met someone who used his thoughts for God, who asked endless questions about God because he loved God so much, and who then used every word he could think of to ask even better questions.

And then we learned, as our Godly Play story on St. Thomas puts it: “The answers to his biggest questions about God were beyond words.” The man who loved words more than anyone came to know God in a new way one night. Something happened while he was celebrating Communion. He was in a daze for days afterwards. Finally he told his friend what he discovered: “I can write no more. I have seen things which make all my writings like straw.”

I suspected then – as I do now – that there are kids who need to know that their questions about God matter, that questions are not the opposite of faith but can be an expression of it. Some need to know that they can serve God with their minds as well as their souls and bodies, and that if they struggle to find the right words for their relationship with God – it may be because God was never meant to be contained by words in the first place. Perhaps that’s a lesson for children of all ages.

Peace,

Emily+

aquinas image

P.S. The image is G.K. Chesterton’s favorite depiction of Aquinas – a detail from “Madonna and Child Enthroned by Angels and Saints” by Domenico Ghirlandaio, c. 1486.

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