One of the challenges of our worship is that our liturgy is so rich that we can find ourselves barreling past treasures without even pausing to notice what we have said. This week’s collect is a case in point. A “collect,” in the Episcopal tradition, is a prayer that collects the faithful into one body, one communal expression of holy desire. This week’s read:
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such things as surpass our understanding; Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Let’s think about that for a moment: Loving you in all things and above all things. That beautiful phrase sums in nine words the two great spiritual impulses of our time. First, to love God in all things: to see God in the earthworm and in the sunset, in the beauty of a baby’s tender flesh and in the pain of one suffering with ebola, to see through the thin skin of this earth to the love of the One who made it. The “big word” to describe this is panentheism (which is not the same thing as pantheism). Pantheism is worshiping everything as God; panentheism is seeing the one God through all the wonders God has made. The first leads to polytheism, the second to the most radical monotheism. It recognizes that everything and everyone has one source, one Creator — and must be honored as kin.
The second great spiritual impulse is mysticism: putting God above all things, first in all what we do and all that we are. It is the spiritual form of the most basic urge to love: to wrap our existence around one other being, to make him or her the center of our life, and to pour ourselves out as an offering to what we have found to be good and holy and true, to the one who makes our heart sing.
In some forms, it urges us to leave behind all that is created and to seek only God, but if we hold these two ideas together, we arrive at the fulness of the spiritual life: to love God first, and to love all creation as an expression of God’s being — as God’s gift to us (which it is). Jesus shared this vision with his followers when he told them,
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt 6)
There’s a poem by Bonnie Thurston that holds a lot of this together, and I want to leave you with it to meditate on this week, together with the collect; it’s called “Little Rule for a Minor Hermitage.” Here it is:
Greet the day with thanks
for safety through the night.
Rekindle and nurture this hearth’s fire.
Care for life on this bit of land.
Work; pray; rest.
Do no harm.
Think about what matters.
Attend to the body.
Welcome guest and stranger.
Take what comes with gratitude.
Give what is needed with gladness.
Greet nights with courage.
Review the day for small joys
overlooked in living it.
Then, trust the darkness.