Review: The Sacred Made Real

A review of The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture 1600 – 1700 at the National Gallery of Art Washington DC., 28 February – 31 May 2010

By Nicholas Cranfield

Most of us expect sculpture, whether wood or stone, to be pure. Despite a large number of painted mediaeval statues we still tend to think of the marble sculptures of the likes of Bernini or the great temples of Greece and of Rome. Even now scholarly opinion remains divided as to how much Greek temple sculpture was polychromed despite the surviving traces of paint on columns and friezes. Nineteenth century attempts to convince historians otherwise continue. It is a shock to learn that what to our eyes appears classical in both simplicity and form was never originally unadorned and was once garishly painted.

The exhibition at the NGA The Sacred Made Real brings together for the first time just such richly polychromed statuary from seventeenth century Spain set in the context of the more recognizable paintings of the same period. The curator, Dr Xavier Bray, demonstrates the complimentarity of these thirty or so exceptional works and argues that Spanish art in the Counter-Reformation period, independently of Italy and the Renaissance, achieved startling levels of brilliance.

Much of the zeal within the Church has always come from within the Iberian peninsula beginning with Saint Vincent of Zaragoza and continuing into the mediaeval period with Saint Dominic and, in the sixteenth century, the founders of the Jesuits and the new reformed orders; Francis Xavier, Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.

It is against this background that this unique exposition unfolds making it ideal as an accompaniment to any Lenten devotion or Eastertide reflections. In London, where the exhibition ran successfully for three months, clergy and groups of interested lay people could be seen in the gallery every day and the silent awe with which gallery goers absorbed the show was palpable.

Inevitably, perhaps, the big names are those of the painters since it is with their works that most visitors will be familiar. The contemporaries Velázquez (1599-1660) and Zurbarán (1598-1664), as well as Jusepe de Ribera and Francisco Ribalta are all here while sculptors like Gregorio Fernández and Juan Martínez Moñtanés (who appears in a 1636 portrait by Velázquez), and Pedro de Mena are all rescued from obscurity.

Of the five Spanish saints canonised by Pope Gregory XV, on 12 March 1622, we come to meet Ignatius in a life-size statue made at his beatification in 1609 in which the sculptor had used a copy of the Jesuit’s death mask owned by the artist who painted it. No contemporary likeness of Ignatius was ever made as he personally rejected the idea but early Jesuits wanted an image of their founder. Paired with it is a second statue, of Francis Borgia, made later for his beatification (1624). Borgia, the duke of Gandia (1510-72), renounced his earthly diadem when he was widowed in 1536 and he is shown, both in the effigy and in a painting by Alonso Cano, gazing at the crown he has foresworn.

These figures speak strongly of the religiosity of Spain and stress both humanity in all its agony and ecstasy and real dogged determination. One glance at Mother Jerónima de la Fuente, painted by the twenty year old Velázquez, when she was 66 and about to sail from Spain to found a community in the Philippines, shows a redoubtable woman who would strike fear into any believer; the painted wooden crucifix she holds looks like an instrument of God’s holy war.

That should remind us how so much of this art was intended for the expanding colonies that Spain and Portugal held overseas. This in turn often involved what we might think of as mass production. As the recent show Sacred Spain at the Indianapolis Museum of Art showed (winter 2009/2010) statues could be readily transported to serve as models while increasingly Iberian born artists, like Antonio Montúfar and Sebastián López de Arteaga, settled overseas, serving the church in New Spain.

Such statues and paintings achieved a new verisimilitude in art which, the organisers argue, derived from the Low Countries where we know that van Eyck and Roger van der Weyden had also often painted statues in the early fifteenth century. The links between what became the Spanish Netherlands during the upheavals of the Reformation and the Hapsburgs in Spain introduced material influences, without direct reference to Italy. Sixteenth century artists like El Greco and Titian had worked in Italy before coming to Spain and engravings increased the awareness of, for instance, Michelangelo’s work beyond the Italian peninsula.

Across Spain there was a more rigorous demarcation between painter and sculptor than in Flanders; the finished sculpture had to be passed to a member of the guild of artists for the actual painting. I was longing to know whether Velázquez himself had undertaken this as we know that his former teacher and later father in law Francisco Pacheco did. As an apprentice he no doubt found Pacheco completing the gilding on statues such as that of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception.

It is none other than Pacheco who is jointly credited, with Moñtanés, for the powerful life-size representations of St Ignatius and Blessed Francis Borgia (Seville University). Only much later did Pedro de Mena seem to break this unionised strangle-hold, painting his own sculptures in defiance of custom.

As well as being an artist (His Christ on the Cross from Granada (1614) is here) it was Pacheco who wrote on the art of painting, a practical handbook for all aspiring painters. In the wake of the restraints on images and decorum determined by the Council of Trent he recommended how best to treat of certain religious subjects and thereby established the parameters for much later iconography. He observed that the application of colour to statues revealed ‘the passions and concerns of the soul with great vividness’ (1649).

The paintings of Zurbarán form the core of this exhibition and his works outnumber those of other artists. The 1628 Zurbarán painting of the martyred Mercedarian Saint Serapion (from the Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford, Connecticut) is the undoubted highlight. Despite his shocking death Zurbarán portrays him in sublime stillness. There is no blood and we, the devout, absorb and respond to the violence that is not seen in a profoundly visceral way. It was originally painted for a mortuary cell and would have allowed generations of monks to reflect on mortality.

Powerful among the many sculptures that, seen here as art rather than as overdressed devotional objects in cluttered churches, come to life is one of the many effigies of the Dead Christ, made by Gregorio Fernández for the Jesuit House in Madrid (1625/30) Newly cleaned for this show, the full horror of death is caught in the half open eyes made of real glass, the dirtied finger and toe nails of real horn and the ivory for the teeth. The thick blood clots and mess of death, his gashed knees and ripped palms, unflinchingly promote the Incarnation.

As striking but less bloody is the pairing of a celebrated painting by Zurbarán of Saint Francis in ecstasy, hooded and looking upward in a moment of rapture, and its half size ‘copy’, undertaken by Pedro de Mena for the sacristy of Toledo Cathedral some twenty five years later. In both media the saint is exclusively drawn away from us by his upturned gaze. This, and the bared foot, derive from a tale popularised in the 17th century that Pope Nicholas V had visited Assisi in 1449 and found that the dead saint’s body was perfectly preserved, standing upright as if still gazing at heaven.

But de Mena’s achievement, the tattered habit of the holy friar and the powerful cast of shadows, is perhaps the more striking as he was both sculptor and painter, bringing to his task the rich inheritance of both aspects of this extraordinarily vivid and expansive exhibition.

Dr Nicholas Cranfield is an Anglican priest based in a London parish and arts reviewer with a regular column in the Church Times (www.churchtimes.co.uk

The saints of Black History Month

By J. Carleton Hayden

Black History Week, now Black History Month, was founded in 1927 by Carter G. Woodson, chair of Howard University's history department, in the week that contains the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (Feb. 12), and Frederick Douglass (Feb. 14). For us Episcopalians, the month contains three remarkable descendants of Africa commemorated as saints of the church.

The first African American to be added to our liturgical calendar was Absalom Jones, a slave who through hard work purchased first the freedom of his wife, Mary, and then his own, founded the Free African Society, America's first formally organized social welfare association run by blacks, the Episcopal Church's first black congregation, St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, and became, in 1802, this country's first black priest. For the past 30 years, the Washington Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians has held a diocesan-wide commemoration of Jones, which this year is set for Feb. 14 at Calvary, D.C.

Janani Luwum, the martyred Archbishop of Uganda (feast day, Feb. 17), was recently added to our liturgical calendar. He denounced the brutality of Idi Amin, Uganda's dictator, and asserted the right of the church to promote justice and protect the oppressed. Summoned to the presidential palace, Luwum went boldly, declaring "I can see the hand of God in this." Idi Amin ordered him shot as a traitor, with some reporting that Amin himself had pulled the trigger. At the cathedral in Kampala, thousands gathered for a memorial service at an empty grave that had been prepared for Luwum next to that of James Hannington, Uganda's first bishop. Hannington, an English missionary, also had been martyred in Uganda on Oct. 29, 1885 (feast day, Oct. 29). A statue of Luwum now stands among the martyrs of the 20th Century at Westminster Abbey.

Anna Julia Cooper, a devout Anglican, feminist, educator and civil rights advocate, is currently my favorite Black History Month saint. She was added to the liturgical calendar in 2006. I first became aware of Cooper in 1969 as a Howard University graduate student. After the daily morning Eucharist, her grandniece, Regia T. Bronson, often treated this small congregation to breakfast at Cooper's stately but decaying residence at 201 T. Street NW, about a half block from St. George's, D.C. Bronson gave me some of Cooper's books, which are to me sacred relics, and her papers, which I deposited at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. These contain letters from such notable historical figures as Frederick Douglass, William Still, Alexander Crummell, and Mary Shadd Cary, a leader among African American refugees in Ontario and later America's first black lawyer.

Anna Julia Cooper was born into slavery on Aug. 10, 1858, in Raleigh, N.C., to Hannah Stanley and her slave master, George Washington Hayward. Cooper praised her mother for her sacrifices and guidance but stated she owed nothing to her white father "beyond the initial act of procreation." A cradle Episcopalian, she was one of the first students at what is now St. Augustine's College, established by the church shortly after the Civil War to educate teachers and priests to serve newly-freed slaves. She married her Greek professor, the Rev. George Augustus Christopher Cooper of Nassau, and the young couple labored in the Episcopal mission there until he died of pneumonia in 1897, just two months after being ordained as a priest.

Cooper earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Oberlin College, the first American college to enroll both women and blacks, and went on to teach at the AME's Wilberforce University, -- which was named for William Wilberforce, England's anti-slavery champion (feast day, July 30) – and at St. Augustine's.

In 1886, she read a sensational paper on the need to educate women at a meeting of the Conferences of Church Workers Among the Colored People at St. Luke's, D.C. The next year, she accepted a teaching position at Washington's segregated M Street High School, America's best high school for blacks. She worshipped at St. Luke's, boarding with several other professional women at the home of her rector, the Rev. Alexander Crummell. She was named principal of M Street High School in 1902. Four years later, she was not re-appointed following allegations by the white director of high schools that her discipline was insufficiently severe and her academic standards too high for black students. She taught at Lincoln University in Missouri and Langston University in Oklahoma, and spent summers at Columbia University pursuing her doctorate, eventually returning to M Street High School as a teacher.

Always an advocate for the rights of women and African Americans and a builder of institutions to prepare them for full equality in American society, Cooper wrote in her best-known book, A Voice From the South by a Black Woman From the South, (1892): "When and where I enter, the whole race enters with me." A prolific writer, she also penned an autobiography, A Third Step, Legislative Measures Concerning Slavery in the United States, among other works.

At the 1893 Women's Congress in Chicago, she lectured on the intellectual progress and achievements of African American women. When Crummell founded the American Negro Academy, a forerunner of the NAACP, to counter racism in the U.S., Cooper was its only female member. At the first Pan-African Congress, held in London in 1900, she presented a paper titled, "The Negro Problem in America," which described the plight of African Americans as pathetic for a Christian nation. Congress attendees included fellow Episcopalians William E.B. DuBois and Bishop James Theodore Holly, of Haiti, the Episcopal Church's first black bishop. Cooper also prepared the Congress's memo to Queen Victoria, protesting apartheid in South Africa.

At the age of 55, Cooper's life changed dramatically when she became the guardian of Regia Bronson and her four siblings after their mother died. She purchased a home on T Street, and became one of the first black residents of Le Droit Park.

At the age of 66, she was awarded her PhD from the Sorbonne, becoming the fourth African American woman to earn that degree. And in 1930, after more than 40 years at M Street, she accepted the presidency of Frelinghuyuen University, a struggling group of vocational evening classes taught by volunteer faculty and meeting in black churches. As finances declined, she moved the classes into her home, accepting neither rent nor salary.

She died peacefully in her sleep on Feb. 29, 1964, at the age of 105, and was buried in Raleigh, N.C. On her tomb were inscribed the words she had chosen, "Somebody's teacher on vacation… Resting for the fall opening."

What a blessing that every Feb. 28, we can celebrate her heavenly birthday and ask her to pray for us, her students, always being shaped as disciples waiting for the new school year.

The Rev. J. Carleton Hayden is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington and a professor of history at Howard University. This article first appeared in Washington Window.

Snowbound: Some Spiritual Lessons

By Kathy Staudt

Except for a brief grocery run between storms, I was “snowbound” for nearly a week, from February 9-13, with the two huge storms falling on the DC area. It took 2 days for our suburban cul-de-sac to be plowed at all – and then the second blizzard came. Unlike many in the area we have had our power on the whole time, so we were not materially deprived, apart from cabin fever. It was just a long stretch of time at being at home, mostly it’s been an experience of just being “stopped.”

At first we celebrated this time as an “enforced Sabbath,” something that is welcome in the workaholic culture of the DC area, when the weather conditions and the slowness of the cleanup process simply force us to let go of whatever important things we were doing. And for a day or so, yes, it was a welcome “sabbath time.” But after that a more insidious inertia set in.

Indeed, I have been wondering whether an “enforced Sabbath” is kind of a contradiction in terms. Sabbath is supposed to be a regular spiritual practice, a part of our routine – a way that we simply let go of busy-ness to acknowledge that God is Lord of all of our time and work, and that our work is not our own, but God’s. It strikes me that perhaps a more regular practice of genuine Sabbath would have been a good preparation for the spiritual challenge this snowstorm posed for me. For what I felt most of the time was a deep restlessness, a sense of being unhooked from any reliable routine or pattern, and so an inability to settle to much of anything – even settling down to read a good book, as I’d longed to do, and had time to do, or to write, or pray, or do anything much more than responding to what came: answering email, gmail chatting, facebook, grading the occasional paper.

By the end of the week I was snowbound both outwardly and internally. Unmotivated. Stuck. It is a place in life I recognize, and perhaps it has left me with a useful image, a new spiritual metaphor to remember when I do not have control over the way forward, and the place I’m in seems crowded, enclosed, confused, with too many competing demands. Outwardly, I kept busy, apparently “doing things.” Since I work at home, the work was all there, looking at me, and I picked my way through it, in an unmotivated way. But any substantive or creative writing was just blocked. With the rhythm of days flattened out, I lost the internal rhythm of prayer, study, work and rest that would normally steady and settle me. The computer was too alluring – a way of staying connected with people, emails and facebook posts that make me feel needed, important, not buried at the end of a suburban cul de sac. My spouse was at home, also working, we broke for meals together, and I did find that losing myself in the creative art of cooking does help to redeem a snowy day -- but even that grew old after 5 days.

Inwardly, my response to this snowstorm and the break in our routine was beginning to feel more like the kind of “stopping” of life that comes with illness, or grieving, or other unexpected interruptions. Times when we are “brought up short” – as theologian Richard Osmer puts it – where we come up against a break in our regular expectations of life and are not sure what to make of it.

Then there was the shoveling out: my way to freedom, once the roads were clear, thwarted by my own bad choices: I had parked the car in the driveway after the first storm, to save the effort of shoveling our whole driveway, which slopes uphill from the garage. But the second snowstorm buried the car under a snowdrift – so the work of digging it out doubled. In the end I needed to dig the whole driveway, roll the car back into the garage, and begin again. . No work saved, and hard to see how long it would take me – and no help in sight. The neighbor who had helped me after the first storm was tapped out; my spouse was laid up with bronchitis. My car would be free only when I could get it out.

The task itself was clear enough, but discouraging. I would dig away at the snow but there was nowhere to go with it – the piles blew back at me, and though I’m in decent shape it grew tiring, heaving each shovelful to the top of the growing snowpiles along the driveway. Gradually I’d begin to see patches of pavement, mingled with ice -- but I’d think: “this will take hours – maybe won’t be done by dark today. I don’t know how long my strength will last.” All I could do was to keep filling the shovels fullpiling snow high on the already deeply covered lawn behind me.” An unrewarding task for long stretches, but obviously the only way out.

Gradually, shovelful by shovelful, I began to break through to a way out.. It was fine as long as I could focus on the single task: lifting the next shovelful, moving the snow, pausing to admire the brilliant sky and the sparkling icicles around me. When I started to obsess about how long it would be before I was dug out, and whether it would be today or tomorrow, discouragement quickly overwhelmed.. There was no way of knowing how soon my efforts would pay off. I simply had to keep on. Knowing it would be done eventually. Not knowing when, or how long I could last, this shift, before taking a break.

Help came, finally, when I was about ready to admit defeat. – from someone with fresh arms and a fresh approach. He moved the last few shovelfuls and backed the car out for me, up and over the icy hill, and finally, I was free.

I’m appreciating some spiritual insights from this experience of being snowbound. It may be reaching a bit, but the metaphor works for me, I shall try to remember all of this next time I am aware of being spiritually “snowbound” – in that place of interior “stuckness” that is all too familiar for me.

Dr. Kathleen Henderson Staudt keeps the blog poetproph, works as a teacher, poet, spiritual director and retreat leader in the Washington DC area. She is the author of two books: At the Turn of a Civilisation: David Jones and Modern Poetics and Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture.

Recovering "three-dimensionality"

By Christopher Evans

Let us renew our vows to heav’n,
Beyond restraint of reason stir;
By David’s oath to Jonathan,
Faiths fragments become singular.
Do place thy peace upon my lips,
I will with my “also’s” follow;
With my body I thee worship,
Joy plots transgressions overthrow.
Love purifies lovers’ fire,
Makes chaste but by feverous burn;
Through thee to Thee one desire,
Awareness rises with each turn:
For fervor fashions godly ends,
Fastens by each breath as friends.1

Recently Archbishop Rowan Williams offered the beginnings of an apology:

The debate over the status and vocational possibilities of LGBT people in the Church is not helped by ignoring the existing facts, which include many regular worshippers of gay or lesbian orientation and many sacrificial and exemplary priests who share this orientation. There are ways of speaking about the question that seem to ignore these human realities or to undervalue them; I have been criticised for doing just this, and I am profoundly sorry for the carelessness that could give such an impression.2

Without going into enthusiastic hyperbole, his words represent the possibility of a fresh start.3 The start is in actually having to engage with lgbt persons as persons. However, restraint on our part will require restraint on his part and on the part of the rest of the Anglican Communion. No more dehumanizing words or deeds, no more stereotypes and cardboard characterizations. Period. We lgbt baptized too are conversation partners and full members in the Christ’s Body not by your inclusion, but by Christ’s choosing.4 The days of our accepting the terms set only by heterosexual brothers and sisters are over. As this holy season of Lent reminds, we all, not just lgbt Christians, are called to examine ourselves, to conversion of “habits, behaviors, ideas, and emotions.”5

In the past few years we lgbt Anglicans have been treated to a rather mind-boggling exercise at the highest eschalons of the Anglican Communion involving Archbishop Rowan Williams. The institutional attitude of Anglicanism toward lgbt persons has become represented in and by a single person. And that attitude is ugly, like a spider-trap of insanity-causing propositions all too akin to the alcoholic family or abusive home.

It is really a special form of splitting, a phenomenon in which reductions of all or nothing are made either to the good or to the evil. In this case, the poles have been the personal and the public. Other poles, as I will show further in have been laid upon lgbt persons. But this splitting is even more special because it also wants a both/and solution of personal openness and public denigration. It is almost Kafkaesque in its ability to hold together irrationalities disguised as ambiguities and paradoxes. It does not cohere.

And that incoherence will continue to fly farther apart as more and more lgbt persons live into a personal-public coherence.

Anglicanism has never claimed tight consistency, but comprehensiveness does not imply that 1+1=10 either. But that is exactly what lgbt persons have, however, been asked to accept. It is unacceptable.

And that unacceptability spills not only into lgbt lives, but into the lives of many younger people, losing the gospel in the process.

Here is what it looks like:

On the one hand, Archbishop Williams is a good and nice man. I have no doubt that this is the case. I also have no doubt of his theological acumen, and I am quite fond of his works, meandering as they do in a familiar Anglican style resonant of Maurice, Temple, or Ramsey. Not necessarily tightly consistent, but comprehensively beautiful.

Personally, he is a kind man. A smart man. “He has gay friends.”

On the other hand, Archbishop Williams has chosen and choses only to present and speak for the public official, such as it is, consensus, such as it is, on lgbt persons and our loves.6 Thus, he has had harsh words for the consecration of Bishop Robinson and for Bishop Robinson himself, has placed the burden of welcome and conversion on lgbt persons near-too-exclusively, has more than once spoken in ways that come across as dismissive, has acted in ways that tell us friendship is expendable.

Publicly, he is the voice of institutionalized heterosexism. “Good gays are celibate and closeted.”

And together his own personal-public split is quite representative of Anglicanism as I know it.

Yet, this split of personal and public is representative of a breakdown in ecclesial personhood and conversion to utter dependence upon Christ on the part of all of us. The result cannot be but cardboard characters. After all, for us to be ecclesial, the personal and public will cohere at least in a comprehensively beautiful way if not in an always tightly consistent one. Much is the same way in moral theology as practiced by Hooker and the Caroline Divines. To be ecclesial persons requires describing one another with the patience of the iconographer.7

What cannot be done—and has been done too consistently by many apologists, is to argue that because Rowan Williams (and Anglicanism) is a nice, good guy personally and “has gay friends,” therefore we should give him (and Anglicanism) a pass on public words and actions that dehumanize, words and actions that have too often given permission for others to show contempt toward lgbt persons. And have all too often, meant or not, communicated an abstractive, reductionist, attitude toward us that allows others to not only say, but do the same. That’s not nice! Or good! Or true! Much less beautiful!

I could offer a list. Many already know both the words and the deeds. I am sure there are more.

Behind-the-scenes meetings and personal meetings do not make up for or repair these public words and actions. They do not put on public record that the Anglican Communion abhors maltreatment of lgbt persons or that as adult Christians we too have a responsibility to make informed moral decisions and that does not give everyone the right to pick our souls apart or kill our bodies. On the contrary, Williams has allowed for a 1984-esqueness that is not only mind-boggling or head-splitting, but heart-numbing. We love you and we love you not. See how we love you!

But again, to be fair, Archbishop Williams is representative of the way most Anglican Churches and the Anglican Communion behave toward lgbt persons of the Body (and those outside the Body). We are asked to live with and accept splitting. A nice word here in private, a public beating if necessary to show our mettle. How many American lgbt ordination candidates have I known who are assured in private while their bishop threatens to throw them under the bus if anything comes into the open? That’s just one example of this severe split. I am sure that if asked lgbt Anglicans could produce reams.

Recently, Archbishop Williams called for a more three-dimensional approach. I am going to take him at his word by making a suggestion to him.

Archbishop Williams shows an affinity for Benedictine tradition, so I can imagine a very different scenario.

This scenario does not allow for a split of the personal and the public, but teaches by example, indeed, by his person. This scenario is one in which Archbishop Williams refused and refuses to indulge others’ contempt for lgbt persons in both word and deed. This scenario insists upon leadership by requiring he take up his theologian’s pen again and put on his episcopal teaching mantle. The split between personal and public is mended not by a quick change in official Communion stance, but by humanizing-in-doing. And it rehumanizes Rowan Williams. I miss the theologian-scholar. I miss the teacher. These have been lost to us to-date in his role as Cantuar. And that is a shame. (I think of the corresponding leadership shown by Archbishop Ramsey working to have homosexuality decriminalized in the United Kingdom and not without controversy.)

This will naturally involve a crash course in experiencing lgbt lives, which will require stepping outside his head and into our daily existence to experience our joys and concerns, our sufferings and our triumphs, our prayer and our delight.

That does not mean that he would automatically suggest Province-wide much less Communion-wide changes in third order teaching on human sexuality--after all, he has no authority to do that.

But he could humanize us as no one else can not only by talking to us at closed-door retreats and conferences, but by standing alongside us in public photo sessions and eating at our home tables. He could publicly show us as persons, show our relationships and partners as loves, not merely speak of us as abstractions and reductions notable only as “sacrificial” for the good of the Communion or as “sexual practices” that disgust. After all, such language continues the old dehumanization and reinforces the heterosexism that so moves the heart of current Anglicanism, I dare say, more than Jesus Christ.

As Anglicans, we place great value on homely divinity, that is, our ordinary and daily human existence of home, work, and community is as much our prayer as the regular round of Offices and Sunday Holy Communion that hold us. It is in the everyday that our lives grow in Christ, are sanctified. To not take that in to consideration for lgbt persons (to make of us villians of pushy resolve and sexual libertinism or heroes of lackless color with closeted quirks), to do less than describe the fullness of our lgbt lives with the same brilliance of detail and color as Archbishop Williams does of icons of the Mother of God and our infant Lord Christ comes close to bearing false witness. It is to fail to show where God is at work in us. It is to fail to recognize those means by which God sanctifies us. It is to docetize us, to strip us of flesh, and doing so, docetize members of Christ’s own Body.

As a human being of real flesh and blood, my relationship is more than a sacrifice and certainly not reducible to sex. We play together. We snuggle. We laugh. We eat. We fight. We serve. And at the same time these do not exclude sacrifice or sex, the other polar swings often on offer by the “left” and the “right” respectively. The same goes for my relationship to the rest of the Body. This is all to say that any communication that will bring together this split of the personal and the public, that will cover the ecclesial gap that currently destroys personhood and devours our Churches, will require moving beyond how it is lgbt persons are good (or bad) for everyone else—as sacrifices or sex practices, and begin showing us, speaking about us (and with us), as rather ordinary people with all of the same personal peccadilloes and life aspirations of our heterosexual kin.

And doing so, we will all find ourselves more human, more ourselves. As the saying goes, “there is nothing as queer as folk.”

Neurologists tell us of the brain in the heart and depths, or is it the other way around? The heart and depths do touch the brain, the body’s mind compound.

Tracing the scar running
one-inch down my left pectoral,
near-over my heart crosses thin flesh.
Where surgeon’s art removed grief’s growth
and sutures closed me fresh.

This my body given,
my blood shed for you to come out,
a mere shadow of Him who holds us.
Outward sign of inward ache—
I dare to name it Love.8

(To see the footnotes, click Read more.)

Dr. Christopher Evans recently completed a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies and Church History at the Graduate Theological Union. He offers occasional musings on the Rule of St. Benedict, liturgical questions, and life as a Benedictine oblate at Contemplative Vernacular

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Doing the theology: Yes, we have

By Michael Russell

Bishop Pierre Whalon has recently suggested that one of the ongoing issues in the current troubles is that TEC put the cart in from of the mule by acting with respect to the confirmation and consecration of +Gene Robinson before we had fully formed or voted for a theological rational for such actions. Sadly we cannot change the past, but we might at this time affirm that in the deliberations of GC and the church over the past thirty years we have done that work and then ratified on the floors of the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies.

Since we cannot undo the past I have to wonder about the utility of generating such an “official” theological position now. If we were to spend time doing some "careful" theological study and then adopt it, for whom are we doing it? Not for ourselves because we've already committed to a path. Not for those who are clearly and I think permanently opposed to full inclusion, they will never be convinced. Perhaps it would be useful for people who can be swayed one way or the other, and for that reason it may be worth doing.

With the cat well out of the bag, however, I suggest we just distill all that has brought us to this moment into a series of affirmations or principles and enter any future conversations from there. Those might include:

1) Scripture has no definitive teaching on homosexuality as it is practiced by couples in the Christian family. Even Peter found parts of Paul's letters hard to understand! The use of scripture to stir up hysteria, to create scapegoats or to justify violence against any group of people is anathema.

2) While there are commands in parts of scripture, the overall purpose of scripture is not to be a legal code or a guide to all things simply. Those who seek to make a new law from the Gospel have failed to understand it at all.

3) The traditional understanding of marriage was as a political, economic, or procreative union, sometimes unions, rarely consensually or freely entered into by women and often not by men either.

4) All people are children of God regardless of their genetic construction and the Church is free to place in leadership anyone who loves Jesus and has gifts for ministry.

5) Reason and Nature are sources of divine revelation (do read Hooker to understand this one) because God made it all and it all teaches us about God. While sin hampers, it does not destroy human capacity to learn new things that our ancestors could not have known. These things are as much a reflection of God's will in the universe today as such things were for our ancestors.

6) Only one commandment survives with any authority, "Love one another as I have loved you." The rest is hash.

There may be others we might say, or some group might want to flesh them out. But frankly I think GC has struggled hard over the decades to parse all this out. It has listened to all including strongly dissenting voices and then made decisions based on its considered judgment. That is doing theology too.

The Rev. Michael Russell is rector of All Souls', Point Loma, in the Diocese of San Diego. He is the author of Hooker's Blueprint: An Essence Outline of the Laws of
Ecclesiastical Polity, and blogs at Anglican Minimalist.

The woman around the corner

By Greg Jones

When Moses went up the holy mountain to speak with God it changed him. Numbers says that Moses spoke to God “mouth to mouth," that “he beheld the form of the Lord.” Yes, when Moses spoke to God, and God to Moses, “mouth to mouth," you better believe it changed him.

Moses saw the light and he was changed. If you saw a burning bush, a pillar of fire, and the glorious countenance of God on high, you’d be different too. But Moses, in his enlightenment, in his illumination, came back not proud, but humble. In the enlightenment of what he witnessed, he came back not haughty, but veiled in humility. After all, he didn’t want the people to idolize him, to put him on a pedestal, to build a tabernacle around him.

For Moses knew that Moses was not God, but an enlightened witness for God – to a fragile people, still in national infancy, weak and wounded by four centuries of oppression, violence and abuse. No, Moses didn’t want to be worshipped by hungry souls, ready perhaps to miss the point. He just wanted to be faithful. And he was.

When Jesus went up the mountain and God’s glory in Him was revealed, He wouldn’t allow the witnesses to miss the point. Yes, He was revealed to Peter, James and John as God’s own expression, and they too beheld the form of God as Jesus. But then He led them down; to do what He came for; not to be trumpeted in Glory, but to serve. Not to be boothed up, but to go forth: to heal, to save, to love the children of this mortal coil who suffer still under sin and death.

Moses was changed by his encounter with God and, eventually, so were Peter, James and John. All were enlightened; for real, not for pride, as servant-witnesses to the Light of God: who wills all to be healed, loved and cherished.

Have you suffered? Do you still? From oppression? Violence? Bondage to fear and death and grief and worry? Do you know God’s precious love for you?

Last week, I drove up to Washington D.C. in the midst of its great snow. (Not many left North Carolina for D.C. last week!) But, I drove straight up 95, right across Memorial Bridge, up the gorgeously snow heavy Rock Creek Parkway, and after a stop at Booeymonger's for a bagel, I made my way to Chevy Chase, to the funeral of the woman who first showed me the precious love of God.

Fran Dabrowski was a neighbor. My dad lived next door to her when he was a kid in Chevy Chase in the 1950s, and in 1970, when I was a year old, my folks took me around the corner to Fran's house, where I fit right in. She had eight kids -- and in addition to helping to take care of me, she sheltered so many fragile persons in that old house on Leland Street.

When my parents divorced, I went to Fran’s nearly every day for a few hours of care and play. I basically lived in her house from age 1 to age 9, when she began a teaching career at Georgetown Day School, where she was also much beloved.

My first Christian experience was as a toddler in the Chevy Chase Methodist Church Cherub Choir, which she led. I learned about church, about hymns, about robes and weekly service to God. The first sentence of the message of God I ever learned, Fran taught me:

“All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all.”

This humble, hardworking, woman (with eight kids of her own and a household filled with refugees from scattered lives) convinced me that God loved me and all creatures – great and small. I was small when this enlightened witness to Christ showed me the powerful love of Jesus, and I’ve felt great ever since. Not in pride. Not in glory. But in being included by a Gracious Lord who sent someone like Fran to find me.

Are you feeling small? We all do. And we all are. But I’m convinced God loves us, and we can grow in His love, by following His Son. If you know this, if you’ve seen the light in the face of some enlightened witness to Christ, then share it, with all the small, who need to see it too.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ('Greg') is rector of St. Michael's in Raleigh, N.C., a trustee of General Seminary and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders — whose fourth studio release is available on iTunes. He blogs at Anglican Centrist.

The romance of war III

This is the third of a three-part article.

By Michael Pipkin

Chris Hedges, after seeing war in all of its forms, no longer wonders why we wage war – it makes sense to him, and to me: War is seductive. We are led to war by very large ideas like “National Defense” or “Protection” or to bring “Democracy” to people far away. In an age of technology, we are led to war with the belief in something that is neat, tidy, and clean. A war where we don’t see or count the dead, but speak only in terms of victory and exit strategy. I was led to war by these ideas, except I had my own desire to live fully into God’s will for my life to further complicate the question of what is meaningful and right.

Hedges writes that the myth of war is a potent thing, indeed, “allowing us to make sense of mayhem and violent death. It gives us a justification to what is often nothing more than gross human cruelty and stupidity. It allows us to believe we have achieved our place in human society because of a long chain of heroic endeavors, rather than accept the sad reality that we stumble along a dimly lit corridor of disasters. It disguises our powerlessness. It hides from view our own impotence and the ordinariness of our own leaders. By turning history into myth we transform random events into a chain of events directed by a will greater than our own, one that is determined and preordained. We are elevated above the multitude. We march toward nobility.”

Now, you and I may disagree about the applicability or universality of what Hedges is saying, but I can tell you that this was very much my experience. The myth of being a good chaplain and a good Marine is every bit a part of how we were to follow in a long chain of heroes, and that if we were faithful we would achieve our place in history – and yet it required something of me that I was not prepared to admit until, as my chaplain assistant watched over me, on that February Morning, while I was digging into the road and pouring concrete into the gaping hole left by a previous violence, he was shot in the wrist and fell to the ground.

If the myth of war disguises powerlessness and hides our impotence, the reality of war shatters all of that.

All men are equalized by combat. All men are ordinary on the battlefield. Bullets and shrapnel and chemicals do not distinguish between rank, combatant status, sex, religion, or faithfulness. To my enemies, who themselves had been fed an equally seductive myth about war, I was a prime target, a target of opportunity – if you kill the chaplain, you wound everyone – but to their bullets, I was no different than the guy standing next to me, my bodyguard.

We don’t know exactly whom the sniper was targeting. I was the only guy not wearing a weapon, and it was pretty easy to guess that I was some kind of non-combatant, or at least ranking officer, because all of the Marines were deferring to me, helping me, and everywhere I went, my chaplain’s assistant was standing watch over me, protecting me. I don’t know if I was the target of a bad sniper, but I took it personally anyway. Mike was my man.

In that moment the myth vanished.

I heard the shot ricochet off of the vehicle behind us and I saw Mike hit the ground out of the corner of my eye. Normally, when we take fire, the chaplain’s assistant, who acts as my bodyguard because chaplains are not allowed even to carry a defensive weapon, is supposed to tackle me to the ground – a limitation that Chaplain Capodanno never had to contemplate. But this was odd; I didn’t know what to do. For even the briefest of seconds I contemplated: Do I dive right or left. I still had not realized that it was Mike who had been wounded, and so I dove right as he fell left. The Marines took up positions and began to seek out a target, all the while we were trying to determine from which direction the shot came, and how best to provide a perimeter of defense so that the corpsman and the ambulance could be brought forward to tend to Mike’s wounds.

I wondered then if the people who had shoved the myth of Chaplain Capodanno down our throats had ever been shot at, if they had ever been in any combat situation. Because the reality of what I was experiencing was, altogether, eviscerating. I had never felt so incredibly impotent in my life, and for all of our strength that day – we were surrounded by armored vehicles, tanks, perimeters of roving infantry, and helicopter gunships all meant to protect us – for all of our showing of force, we were unable to stop the violence. The sniper, knowing that we all wear bullet proof vests that cover our torsos and Kevlar helmets to protect our heads, was aiming at the level of our pelvis, just below the belly button – a tactic used often, because there is a nexus of blood vessels and nerves that gather in your pelvis, and the likelihood of hitting something fatal or crippling is very likely – an extremely violent choice of targets.

It has been said that War is the Pornography of Violence. And in waging war itself, Hedges suggests that the seductiveness of violence, the fascination with the grotesque, with what the Bible calls "the lust of the eye," gives us the illusion of god-like empowerment over other human lives. I now know why.

I can only imagine that, looking through his scope, the sniper looked at a great number of us working there that day, and that there was great power in choosing which one of us he would shoot and where he would shoot us. And I imagine that there was a great feeling of victory in seeing one of us go down; even if he didn’t stick around long enough to see our fear, I know that he assumed it.

And that is where the myth of all of this ends for me, and where the reality of war sets in.

We are told that wars are necessary to protect our way of life, and yet, war itself undermines our way of life and proves only that we have the capacity for destruction. We believe that our technology makes us more powerful, that we can project our power in such a way as to limit the number of casualties on our side, but thinking like this only separates us from the reality that war, even from a distance, is damaging to our bodies, corrupting of our minds, and emptying of our souls.

It mars the very creation that God has breathed life into, life made in God’s own image. That’s the internal damage. Externally, it rends the world that we have been invited by God to exercise stewardship over, destroying the landscape for generations to come, creating false boundaries called “Nations” that ultimately need defending, and dividing person from person, making us believe that we are somehow right and just in our way of life and way of thinking, and right and just in our defense of that thinking.

But war proves nothing except for our lack of faith.

War is, at the very foundation of its exercise, the disconnection of our fundamental theological beliefs – disconnecting what we believe about God from the very choices that we make as God’s followers.

We choose to destroy because we think that we must. But the truth is that we do it because we have forgotten that meaning doesn’t come from anything that you and I do or create or participate in. Meaning itself is imbued upon us by God.

The disconnection is that we have taken on the responsibility of giving ourselves meaning, which is the meaning of the story of our expulsion from the Garden of Eden, as Adam and Eve attempted to become the masters of Good and Evil. We continue in that heritage, believing that we are the masters of meaning, that we can bestow honor, that we can choose where to draw boundaries, that we can choose where and how to met out justice. We fight wars because we defend what isn’t ours to defend, and we choose to believe in war because it gives value and meaning to those “values” that define our existence.

The great irony in making war is that we believe that it ennobles us. My many medals, my combat badges, my rank… I’m still very proud of what I did. But the greatest myth is that somehow I’m a better man because of any of those things. But we all need to understand how deeply disconnected that kind of thinking is from what we believe as Christians.

I am a better man because God became one of us – it is in the incarnation that humanity is ennobled, and it is in our creation that we are given meaning, not in how we stigmatize our enemies, or create false divisions, or destroy the creatures of God.

I have meaning because I am marked as Christ’s own forever.

The Rev. Michael Pipkin is priest-in-charge of The Falls Church (Episcopal) in Falls Church, Va. He served in the Navy for nine years, including one tour of duty in Iraq. He also served as a Navy chaplain at Bethesda Naval Medical Center after returning from overseas. This reflection was delivered on Nov. 8, 2009, at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Va.

The romance of war II

This is the second of a three-part article.

By Michael Pipkin

Even as I struggled with my call to ordained ministry during my last year of college, I was walking across the street to the Naval Officer Recruiting station having coffee with the recruiter, coming close on several occasions to signing the forms to enter the Navy to become a Flight Officer. The dream of jets was on the tip of my tongue, and yet I struggled with God’s call to ordination.

The recruiter suggested that I become a Navy Chaplain – and suddenly it felt like I, too, had a purpose in life, and I entered the seminary with that express desire: to become a Navy Chaplain.

What propelled me into the Navy in the first place was every bit a product of what my culture told me would make me a man, and what propelled me onto that battlefield in 2006 was every bit a product of what Navy Chaplains are trained to value – that a “good” chaplain is one who gives his very life for the service of his men.

At Chaplain School we were fed, over and over again, the story of the “Grunt Padre,” and the force of the story was that, if we were ever going to have any meaning at all, we would be like the Grunt Padre, Lt. Vincent Capodanno.

Chaplain Capodanno was a Roman Catholic chaplain who was killed in action in Vietnam and later recognized with a Medal of Honor that reads: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Chaplain of the 3d Battalion, in connection with operations against enemy forces. In response to reports that the 2d Platoon of M Company was in danger of being overrun by a massed enemy assaulting force, Lt. Capodanno left the relative safety of the company command post and ran through an open area raked with fire, directly to the beleaguered platoon. Disregarding the intense enemy small-arms, automatic-weapons, and mortar fire, he moved about the battlefield administering last rites to the dying and giving medical aid to the wounded. When an exploding mortar round inflicted painful multiple wounds to his arms and legs, and severed a portion of his right hand, he steadfastly refused all medical aid. Instead, he directed the corpsmen to help their wounded comrades and, with calm vigor, continued to move about the battlefield as he provided encouragement by voice and example to the valiant Marines. Upon encountering a wounded corpsman in the direct line of fire of an enemy machine gunner positioned approximately 15 yards away, Lt. Capodanno rushed a daring attempt to aid and assist the mortally wounded corpsman. At that instant, only inches from his goal, he was struck down by a burst of machine gun fire. By his heroic conduct on the battlefield, and his inspiring example, Lt. Capodanno upheld the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the cause of freedom.”

Chaplain Capodanno is a legendary figure in the chaplain community – and his legend has grown to mythic proportions even as the Catholic Church is moving to make him a saint, none of which is to say, at all, that he was not a hero, or that he is not worthy of emulation. He certainly was and is. But, the myth of Chaplain Capodanno is the myth of war for chaplains: that if we are going to be a good chaplain, which meant that, if we were going to be loved by our Marines and sailors, then we would go wherever they went, do what ever they did, eat what they ate, sleep where they slept, and, if you were lucky, die like they died.

We were to provide, like the Grunt Padre, encouragement by voice and example to valiant Marines.

This was the only way to be a chaplain, a fact that was backed up by the countless times that “bad” chaplains were pointed out to me – the ones who stayed in the relative safety of their offices aboard ship, or in their tents at the rear of the battlefield. This was deeply underscored, for me, when, after being in Iraq for only three weeks, a rocket was launched into our camp, landing on the roof of our chapel, destroying most of the worship area and all of our senior chaplain’s office. Nobody was hurt – thankfully it happened on a Monday – but after that, the relative safety of my office never quite seemed like an option. I reasoned that I would have equal odds of being killed pretty much anywhere. And so I took risks that ultimately got me decorated for my bravery, recognized by my commanding officer as being his combat chaplain – a title, perhaps, most coveted by my peers.

There was pride in being a combat chaplain. It meant that you were a good chaplain, living into God’s call for your life and ministry. It meant that you were faithful. It meant that you were holy. It meant that you would get promoted and that God would allow you to continue to minister in extraordinary ways to extraordinary people in extraordinary places.

To further reinforce this myth, all of this happened in a context and culture that is meant to prepare us for combat. In training with my Marines, I learned the other myths of war – that our enemy was less than human, not worthy even of a name, and so we called them “Hajjis,” which, as I later discerned, is an even more violent name than “Gook” or “Nip” or “Kraut” because it is a bastardization of one of the greatest honors that can be bestowed on a person of Islamic Faith – the person who completes one of the five pillars, requiring them to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, is called a Hajji, and we were throwing that honorific title back at them as though it were excrement. We were fed pictures of them chained up as dogs. And we were formally taught classes on “The Warrior Code” where officers and other chaplains told us that our enemies were without honor, having no ethical code by which to order their lives – and we were taught that the most significant thing that we could ever do was to follow our flag into combat, as so many men had done before us – we were connected, in our minds, to the very same sacrifices of the men at Valley Forge, Tripoli, Iwo Jima, Kuwait, and Kosovo – they would be our strength, and we would be their honor.

What drove me to join that road repair convoy that day was the desire to be a good chaplain – a desire to live up to the name, to live up to the myth, to make my superiors proud of me, but more than all of that, I wanted my life and my calling to have some meaning – I wanted to be proud of me. I wanted my life to be connected to a history – I wanted to believe that somehow, through my service, I would be a brother to my grandfather, and that I could give my own children something to be proud of.

So I gave myself over to the myth, and in doing so, I became a part of the larger myth of war that suggests that war is necessary, even good, because in waging war we might create peace.

The Rev. Michael Pipkin is priest-in-charge of The Falls Church (Episcopal) in Falls Church, Va. He served in the Navy for nine years, including one tour of duty in Iraq. He also served as a Navy chaplain at Bethesda Naval Medical Center after returning from overseas. This reflection was delivered on Nov. 8, 2009, at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Va.

The romance of war I

This is the first of a three-part article.

By Michael Pipkin

I never forget the date, partly because it was my dad’s birthday, which is always Groundhog Day, February 2nd – even though the year gets fuzzier as more time passes - but there are touchstones that help me to remember. It was 2006, which, as I say it, seems awfully close for something that seems like it happened so long ago.

The day began early with a knock on the plywood door of my hooch. My chaplain’s assistant was helping to roust me, because, as my wife could tell you, I’m not a morning person – especially not at 4 o’clock in the morning.

It was, of course, still dark, but bitterly cold. February in Iraq is a miserable month, with rain and coldness seeping into every nook and cranny, making your bones cold. I put on every layer that seemed practical and necessary before putting on my bulletproof flack jacket and heading over to the convoy briefing.

This was my third ground mission with my battalion that, among other things, was responsible for filling in the craters and repairing the roads damaged by IEDs on the major highway between Fallujah and Ramadi – 30 miles that made up the most dangerous roadway in the world. That morning we were to receive the intelligence briefing, the convoy code words, and the plan of the day for a mission that would take us only 10 miles or so in the direction of Ramadi.

The mission itself was simple: find craters on the highway and fill them with steel and concrete before the insurgents could fill them with bombs creating death traps for our convoys, which were mostly driven by civilians.

Imagine, if you would, a road a lot like any main street in America. Wide, yes, but built up on both sides for most of the way with homes and businesses. Our convoy would move slowly down that road, and upon finding a crater, stop. The trucks would circle around, giving some defense, and we would go to work digging it out, filling it with steel rebar, and then filling it with hand mixed concrete from 50lb bags.

The opportunity for disaster was high.

The first time one of our convoys went out along this road it was hit with nine rocket-propelled grenades. On another mission along this same stretch of road, an armored vehicle ran over mines that were “triple-stacked” – three mines, one atop the other, lifting the 17-ton truck off the ground completely. Nobody had been killed on any of these road repair missions, but still, a discerning person might ask, what the heck was I doing on that mission in the first place? Given the high likelihood of attack, what possible good could a chaplain accomplish on such a mission?

But that’s just it. The likelihood of an attack made it all the more probable that I might get a chance to live into the fullness of what I had been told and trained to believe that a chaplain was supposed to be, and in that regard, I was no different than any man or woman who has ever gone to battle. I was seeking meaning.

I am reminded of a book that was given to me by a colleague, just as I was entering the Navy, entitled War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, written by a man named Chris Hedges, a writer who spent his career as a war correspondent, covering every major conflict around the world, including five years in El Salvador, years in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Colombia. He witnessed the intifada in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, civil war in Sudan and Yemen, conflicts in Algeria and Punjab, Romania, the Gulf War, the Kurdish rebellion, and finally the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. He spent the majority of his life witnessing war in all of its forms, trying to account for its causes, name its victims, and report the facts of both victory and atrocity. As America began its march toward the war in Iraq, Hedges published this Pulitzer Prize-winning book. The title alone, War is a Force Which Gives Us Meaning, should be chilling enough, but Hedges’ theses, which says that, despite an awareness of its destructiveness and its questionable ethics, war can give us what we long for in life: purpose, meaning, a reason for living.

I spent nine years in the Navy, and the first thing that I should say is that I am very proud of my service and very proud of the men and women with whom I served. It is my intention to give honor and deep respect to my brothers and sisters by, hopefully, not trivializing our service, but recognizing the reality of what their service means to them and to me. But I am not speaking for them; I am speaking only for myself.

My choice to put on a uniform, to join the Navy, to serve with Marines, to go to Iraq, to join up with that mission on that fateful February 2, is as much a product of my own innocence as it is a product of what Chris Hedges calls the Myth of War.

On the one hand, I was born into a family and culture that valued military service. As a child, after seeing Top Gun almost 100 times, my dad and I attended air shows and I was mesmerized and seduced by the awesome power and speed of combat jets. I also grew up listening to my grandfather’s stories of his service in the Navy before and during World War II, and looking at his photo albums I always thought that those were the happiest days of his life. And as I grew up, I was always fascinated by one commercial in particular – that Marine Corps recruiting commercial with the young Marine in his dress blues vanquishing the dragon and then standing as a pillar of strength with his Marine Corps NCO Saber in front of his nose, saluting.

The myth of war is very much a part of our culture. It tells us that war is glamorous, that war is neat and tidy, that war produces heroes, that war is cool. And maybe worst of all, the myth of war tells us that war is necessary. I am steeped in this myth. From the earliest days of my life I can remember being dazzled by uniforms, impressed by medals and ribbons, and envious how every member of the military seemed to have some distinct purpose in their life. As Marines liberated Kuwait in the Gulf War, I was receiving, for the third consecutive year of my life, an Ollie North Haircut, which I still get almost every three weeks.

Besides the fact that men and women in our military get to fly jets, drive tanks, shoot guns, and wear impressive uniforms, they projected a power that intoxicated me. They seemed to have a singular purpose in life which gave them meaning and for which they received accolades and honor. But more importantly, they were doing something that seemed to matter. Wherever they went, the men and women of our armed forces seemed to make a difference in the lives of others – and indeed they do.

The Rev. Michael Pipkin is priest-in-charge of The Falls Church (Episcopal) in Falls Church, Va. He served in the Navy for nine years, including one tour of duty in Iraq. He also served as a Navy chaplain at Bethesda Naval Medical Center after returning from overseas. This reflection was delivered on Nov. 8, 2009, at Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria, Va.

Ashes and water

By Ann Fontaine

As I was looking at resources for Ash Wednesday I came upon a website and saw in bold letters: WARNING - ashes and water do not mix - will cause burning!! And so it does. It makes a mixture that will burn skin. But the image captured my imagination and I thought it is even truer than the physical effects of mixing ash and water. Water and ashes are two of our most powerful symbols.

Water, used for Baptism where we are first marked with the sign of the cross representing birth, new life, renewal, and liberation from slavery. Ashes are used on Ash Wednesday when we are once again marked with the sign of the cross, which now represents our mortality, death, endings, and enslavement.

Burning symbolizes the power of the Spirit coming alive in our lives. It is the awareness of our finite time on this earth. The power of the resurrection lights the fire of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Ashes bring home the reality of death -- we are mortal, we will die. As we say in the imposition of ashes - "Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return." But that is not the end of the story. Easter tells us that there is not just death and endings. Easter comes to tell us that we are also to “remember that we are love and to love we will return.”

Lent is a journey from Ash Wednesday. We recognize our finite time here on earth, journeying to Easter and coming back to the awareness of the fullness of life as granted in our creation in the image of God.

The Ash Wednesday Gospel is odd for the imposition of Ashes. We hear that we should not practice our piety in public but perhaps we take this so seriously that we become afraid of practicing any piety before others.

The prophet, Joel, however, calls us to:

Sanctify a fast,
call a solemn assembly,
gather the people,
sanctify the congregation,
assemble the aged,
gather the children,
even infants at the breast and why --
so people will not ask
“where is their God?”

Let us show forth the holiness of our creator, with our ashes, so people will know that we are a holy people - committed to God and followers of Jesus Christ. How might we do this? I suggest we move beyond chocolate to declare our own fast and feast ---

Fast from judgment, Feast on compassion
Fast from greed, Feast on sharing
Fast from scarcity, Feast on abundance
Fast from fear, Feast on peace
Fast from lies, Feast on truth
Fast from gossip, Feast on praise
Fast from anxiety, Feast on patience
Fast from evil, Feast on kindness
Fast from apathy, Feast on engagement
Fast from discontent, Feast on gratitude
Fast from noise, Feast on silence
Fast from discouragement, Feast on hope
Fast from hatred, Feast on love

What will be your fast? What will be your feast?

The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.

Alone before the almighty

By Leo Campos

For Peter Damian the fundamental question is "How can I live an authentic eremitical life?" He, smart man that he was, quickly realized that physical separateness does not a hermit make.

Rather, the call of the hermit, of the solitary, is a call from and to Authenticity. How can you respond to the True God truly and truthfully? I know this all sounds like an academic question, or perhaps a niche topic for a bunch of cave-dwelling hermits. But I have come to believe this is the question facing all Christians. And the answer is authenticity.

It is important to highlight that authenticity is not the same as creativity, and certainly not truth. Creativity is desirable in purely intellectual activities. There is much more creativity required of the mathematician than the historian or the novelist. Truth is orthogonal to authenticity - but they are not causally connected. Of course in any healthy authenticity there must be a correlation to truth. But truth (or Truth) travels independently and meanders through both creativity and authenticity. It also (frequently!) traverses beauty. Authenticity may be geometrically parallel to beauty, but there is hardly a correlation between the two - only at points which are crossed by Truth in both lines.

Authentic expression is possible only after work is done to nullify the programming which everyone uses to navigate life. In fact it could be said that authenticity is the very flow of Life, while Truth transcends it, or is at best liminal.

To find an authentic expression a couple of pre-conditions are necessary. These are probably apriori phenomenologies. The first is that of The Caller. The Holy Spirit initiates, the creature, at best, responds. Always reacting to the movement of the Prime Actor. Always a step behind. The second, assuming the initiative of the Ghost, there is the personal effort of the Called - the work of sanctification, deification (in Eastern terminology). It is me becoming Jesus God.

But how? Here we enter some hypothetical territory. But the evidence for the correctness of this path is available for those souls who are of an empirical nature, who are not afraid to try things. First, for those who truly want to pursue this path there must be a tendency to distrust personal judgment. This is either something which the individual is born with, or it can be learned through experience. There is a reason why monastic life is best left for those older among us, who have had enough life experiences to realize that our own judgment is a poor guide.

Secondly there is a need for the soul to have (or develop) a great and joyous desire to abandon judgment in favor of response. Response is how a sinner can act righteously. It is a mimicking, a shadow-play, following the Spirit. To be responsive to the way the wind is blowing requires quick hands and quick feet as a sailor friend of mine put it.

Thirdly, as evidenced by all who have attempted this work is that there will be an overflow of charity. This charity, this love, comes not from the emotional center, nor does it come from the intellect. Emotional love is passing, and it varies, fluctuates. This is carnal love. It can be harnessed to much good use, but not solid enough to use as foundation. The intellectual love comes from understanding the nature of Truth and the demands it makes. Thus loving a neighbor is a duty - a joyous one, but still duty. Duty is subject to many things, mostly interpretation, evaluation, history. Truth being transcendent will always be scattered in the prism of the zeitgeist, which makes it inauthentic, even while it does bring light.

Authentic love comes from another approach. It is not that emotional or intellectual love is incorrect or invalid. Far from it. But they are unstable in the eyes of eternity. What is needed is something that will last. And here is where the Christian is called to take up their own cross. Authenticity comes from incarnation. To use more monastic terminology, it comes from presence. It is only in being present to the present that authenticity can blossom.

The only way to do so is to be given the gift of seeing, profoundly realizing the uniqueness of God's Love for me in my totality. I am not if not loved. Saying YES to this love of God is the authentic response.

At that level true Rock is found, true foundation. It is pure light.

This is why I always say that every Christian is called to be a hermit: alone before the Almighty and Ever-Living God.

From that place, word by word, brick by brick, the hermitage can be built - the place of healing for all who enter, the place of safety for all who seek it. In the presence of the authentic Christian hermit the Church exists.

And nowhere else.

Brother Leo Campos is the co-founder of the Community of Solitude, a non-canonical, ecumenical contemplative community. He worked as the "tech guy" for the Diocese of Virginia for 6 years before going to the dark side (for-profit world).

Lent and joy. Yes, joy.

By Bill Carroll

A parishioner recently observed to me that the liturgical year does not provide enough room for joy. I don't know whether this is right or wrong, but it certainly feels that way sometimes. This year, the season after the Epiphany is particularly short, exacerbating the problem. Ready or not, Lent is right around the corner. The question I ask myself is: what does this season have to do with joy?

Lent is, of course, a penitential season. It is a time for self-examination, reflection, and discipline--even for sorrow. Lent is a time to clean house, as we open ourselves up and let God turn our lives around. It provides the occasion to be converted all over again, both to God and to our neighbor. Lent highlights the work of repentance that is always central to the Christian life. This need not be maudlin: it involves turning from sin by the grace of the Spirit, abiding in the mercy of Christ, and living toward God with joy.

This past weekend, I read a book by Archbishop Rowan Williams that I've been meaning to read for some time. It's based on a series of meditations that he offered in Canterbury Cathedral during Holy Week of 2005. Williams gave the book the title Tokens of Trust, because he wished to highlight that the triune God described in the Creeds is the utterly trustworthy Creator and Savior of the world. The most interesting part to me concerns the death and resurrection of Jesus. It will certainly influence my Easter sermon this year. As we enter the season of Lent, however, I thought it would be useful to share some of the things he says about repentance in his final chapter on death and judgment:

...[A] Christian community doing its job is a community where people expect to be repenting quite a lot, and where the confident calling of others to repentance, which Christians enjoy so much, needs to be silenced by self-scrutiny and self-questioning before God.

But the miracle is that a repentant community, a community of people who are daily aware of their own untruthfulness and lack of love and are not afraid to face their failures, is a community that speaks profoundly of hope. The Church does not communicate good news by consistent success and virtue--as we have noticed--but in its willingness to point to God; and repentance, which says that you don't have to be paralysed by failure, is thus one of the most effective signs of the Church's appeal to something more than human competence and resource...

One of the oddest things in our culture is that we seem tolerant of all sorts of behavior, yet are deeply unforgiving... We shouldn't be misled by an easy-going atmosphere in manners and morals; under the surface there is a hardness that ought to worry us. And this means that when the Church in the Creed and (we hope) in its practice points us to the possibility of forgiveness, it is being pretty counter-cultural.


Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust (Westminster/John Knox, 2007), pp. 151-152

Ash Wednesday is February 17. As we pray the long litany and receive the ashes as a sign of our mortality and penitence, may we rediscover the inexhaustible abundance of Christ's mercy and truth. May we rediscover that "something more" than our own competence or strength, which empowers us to be God's Church. We call it grace. It is the source, framework, and goal of our life in Christ.

Our Lenten journey is a gateway to Easter joy, a long fallow season that begins in ashes and tears and leads us, inexorably, through the narrow door of the Cross. Even during this season, however, the liturgy reminds us that we are to "prepare with joy for the paschal feast." The Good News is too irrepressibly good to remain hidden away. Even in Lent, the Easter fire remains burning, pervading creation and conveying Christ's risen life to us all.

The Rev. Dr. R. William Carroll is rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. He received his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. His sermons appear on his parish blog. He also blogs at Living the Gospel. He is a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis.

"I don't know how you do this day after day."

By Marshall Scott

“I don’t know how you do this, day after day.”

He was standing in the hall, outside the room. In the room, surrounded by other family members, his mother lay in a hospital bed, dead. He was standing outside, grieving in his own way, but in his own way unable to go to the bedside.

“I don’t know how you do this, day after day.”

This is hardly the first time I’ve heard that statement. Indeed, it is pretty common. Wrapped in, almost overwhelmed by their own sorrow, family members will look at us who walk with them through that sorrow, through the prism of their own fears. The family members don’t want this experience. How, then, can some of us make a career of accompanying them, and so many others, through it?

Several different thoughts go through my head at the question. One is that I’m the wrong person to ask. I grew up with a small town funeral home in the family. To visit my aunt and uncle was also to visit the funeral home, for they lived in a small apartment at the back, so as to be available at all times. Too, since it was a small town, to visit was almost always to walk in on someone else’s funeral, but someone my mother knew from childhood. It was simply a part of being in a large extended family, with roots spread through the community. Death was simply more of a family event for me.

Another is to recognize that it really is harder for the persons actually grieving than it is for us who walk with them. I have been on the other side, too; and I don’t think my grief, my fear, was really that much more controlled. That experience does help me empathize; but as empathetic as I can be, I know it’s harder for them.

I can acknowledge, too, that this isn’t something I do “day after day.” In my suburban, community hospital death really isn’t a daily occurrence. Grief and sorrow certainly are, for there are many losses other than death. At the same time, I still get to see most patients go home, stronger, in less pain, and with more hope.

But the most important answer isn’t about history or distance or balance. The most important answer, and one that I do share, is, “It’s what I’m supposed to do.” You see, the most important answer is about vocation. I can do this day after day – indeed, I have had periods of months when I did do it day after day – because it’s what God has called me to do. More broadly, it’s what God has called us to do, because I believe that vocation is as much a factor for the others I work with, nurses and doctors and social workers and aids, as it is for me. Whether we would use that language or not, whether we are conscious of it or not, underlying all of our work is vocation, a sense that we are called to this work, to this companionship in the face of grief.

Sometimes it’s easier to see this in other professions than in my own. For example, I have often noted that there are some specialties in which a nurse will work for either eighteen months or eighteen years. I have said that at various times about emergency room work, or intensive care, or pediatric nursing, or hospice. It’s not that those practices are all that much alike, except in the sense that each requires a special gift, a special charism, that allows the individual to sustain the particular variety of stress that is characteristic of each setting. Each environment creates a particular kind of emotional and spiritual stress, and finding one’s living in each seems to me to require a particular charism and vocation. Without that charism, that vocation, individuals will eventually leave, sometimes burning out before realizing that they need to leave, for a more amenable practice.

I think the same is true in our ministries, professional and otherwise. I have had colleagues in other ministries make the same comment as the grieving family member: “I don’t know how you do this day after day.” At the same time, I have to appreciate that I don’t know how they do what they do, either. It’s been a long time since God called me to parish ministry, and while God might call me to that yet (as I often remind candidates for ordination and others exploring vocation, the question isn’t just, “What is God calling me to,” but “What is God calling me to now?”), I can’t assume that I know how I would fare. I have been in parish ministry, a long time ago in a setting far, far away. I have clear memories of committee meetings where little seemed to happen, meetings where I found myself silently clawing at the arms of my chair. At the same time, I came to realize that those meetings were important in the life of the parish for the structural maintenance of the community all out of proportion to their “demonstrable outcomes.” For all the fulfillment we specialists find in “serving at the point of need” (not to mention excitement; I have often said that chaplains are the “adrenaline-junkies” of the clergy), the life of the Church, and the heart of the life of the individual Christian, is centered in the parish; and I appreciate my colleagues who have the special gifts to work in parishes well.

The lessons for this week, the Fifth after Epiphany, are about vocation. We hear of Isaiah’s call as “a man of unclean lips, in a people of unclean lips;” of Paul’s call “last of all, as one untimely born;” and of Peter’s call as “a sinful man.” Each of them carried out a special ministry, and carried it out for the remainder of their lives; but none of them could have done so without that call. Because of their vocations, they were able to provide special ministries, calling God’s people to hope in the face of great doubt and great grief. From their own words we hear it: it wasn’t their personal qualities or histories that sustained them. They simply did what they were called to do. They responded in the words Isaiah stated explicitly: “Here I am. Send me.”

There is in this world more than enough challenge and grief to go around. We are called to minister in one way or another in the face of - indeed, in the midst of - all of that challenge and grief. And if each of us sees in the ministries of others aspects that might be difficult, in fact others will see similar difficulties in ours. We are best able to minister day after day when we discover where we are called. Personal qualities and histories may in fact contribute to that discernment. On the other hand, if we pursue lives to which we are not called, we will not last eighteen years, or even eighteen months; and it may be burnout that shows us we are mistaken.

I have heard this in a hospital hall, from someone frightened of his own grief, but each of us in ministry and in service may well hear the same comment: “I don’t know how you do this day after day.” We may think about our gifts and skills, about our histories and our circumstances, for all of those may make their contribution. At bottom, though, the most important answer is a matter of vocation. One way or another, each of us experienced a call, a sense of vocation, for this ministry in this circumstance; and the most important reason that each of us can live and serve in this ministry is simply that on one way or another we answered: “Here am I. Send me.”

The Rev. Marshall Scott is a chaplain in the Saint Luke’s Health System, a ministry of the Diocese of West Missouri. A past president of the Assembly of Episcopal Healthcare Chaplains, and an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross, he keeps the blog Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside.

Re-thinking Ash Wednesday

By Christopher L. Webber

The adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was, by intention, the inauguration of a new relationship between the church and its liturgy. No longer would we have an unchangeable liturgy handed down from past centuries, but we would become again a community like the early church in which innovation and enhancement would be encouraged and a frequently revised prayer book would draw on the best of this creative process to provide an evolving standard of excellence.

This process was disrupted first by the unexpected depth of the resistance and then by the emergence of the computer and internet, and the ease of desktop publishing--possibilities unimagined only thirty years ago. The Standing Commission on Liturgy has, nonetheless, continued to provide new resources, well used in some places and completely ignored in many others. What has been missing however, is a careful re-examination of the 1979 Prayer Book, to ask what was well done and has worn well on the one hand and, on the other hand, what was poorly done and needs to be reconsidered. Even typographical errors such as the inconsistency of capitalization of the word “Godparent/godparent” have gone uncorrected since to correct them requires action by two General Conventions and opens up the possibility of new wars that no one would willingly initiate at this time.

Nonetheless, there are weaknesses in the present book that need attention and the canonical authority of the bishop to authorize appropriate other forms for special purposes would seem to encourage experimentation at the local level.

To cite one specific example, the order for Ash Wednesday is awkwardly arranged and questionable in its theology. Why to take the simplest matter first, does the opening rubric tell us “On this day, the Celebrant begins the liturgy with the Salutation . . .” but not provide either the Salutation or even the page number for it? There’s plenty of blank space on the page to provide Salutations in both Rite I and Rite II, but instead the presider has to direct the people to another page for that one line and then tell them to turn back to the Ash Wednesday liturgy to find the opening collect after which they sit to hear readings which are the same every year but are not provided. If ever there were a need to hand out bulletins with the full text of the service, this is it!

Then we come to the Bidding which attempts to provide an explanation of the Lenten Season but, unfortunately, seems only to offer that quintessentially Anglican rationale: “we have always done it that way.”

“Dear People of God,” the Celebrant or Minister appointed is instructed to say, “The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord's passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting . . .” Yes, but was there a reason grounded in Scripture and in the nature of the Christian faith that undergirded this observation and custom? We are never told. This will not trouble those Episcopalians who are satisfied to carry on customs simply because they are customs, but does the annual reading of this exhortation perhaps reenforce the notion that custom indeed is king?

Consider also how the Ash Wednesday order ends with a long Litany expressing penitence and then asks the presider to read a statement which is not an absolution. It says the clergy are empowered to pronounce absolution – but doesn’t do it. Instead it offers a prayer for true repentance and renewal of life which is certainly appropriate, but wouldn't Ash Wednesday be a good time for a real absolution?

I asked a member of the Liturgical Commission some years ago why the order was framed in this way and was told “Well, there were members of the committee who wanted to save the pseudo-absolution from Morning Prayer in the 1928 Prayer Book and this seemed like a good place to put it.” One wonders why they didn’t just leave it in Morning Prayer Rite I!

I am not one to stray far from the strictest and most literal obedience to the Prayer Book, and I am frequently appalled by the freedom with which rubrics and customs are currently ignored. I don’t travel much, but when I do, I have encountered prayers and practices that would, to put it mildly, benefit from informed appraisal. At the least we would all benefit by exposing local variations to wider criticism. In that spirit, the following is offered as a possible improvement of the Bidding in the Ash Wednesday liturgy that might be used with the consent of the bishop. Comments and criticisms would be very welcome.

Dear People of God, The Holy Scriptures tell us of God’s loving purpose in creation: to raise up a holy people worthy of eternal life. Because we have fallen far away from that purpose, God has worked patiently to draw us back sending prophets and teachers to warn and to guide us and coming at last into this world in Jesus and sharing our human life and death so that we might know the full extent and power of God’s love and forgiveness. In the waters of Baptism and by the power of the Holy Spirit, God has called men and women of every time and place into the Church, the Body of Christ, to offer worship and praise, to bear witness to God’s love, and to work with God for the healing of the nations.

Yet we continue to fall short of the holiness for which we were made and to turn aside to our own purposes, weakening our witness and failing to fulfill the ministries to which we are called. We stand in constant need of the forgiveness that Jesus proclaimed and which he commissioned the disciples to offer.

Therefore from very early times, the Church has set aside the season of Lent as a time when God’s people are called to repent their sins and to renew the promises made at their baptism. It is a time when we are called to examine our way of life, to put aside all luxuries and self-indulgence, and to live a life of greater discipline, centered again on our Baptismal covenant of faith and witness and our commitment to seek justice and peace for all people.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of this season of renewal, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.

This is hardly a radical revision but it puts the emphasis on the Biblical witness to God’s purpose rather than church custom. Why not also, if this makes sense, print up the whole service and put the Salutation in place at the beginning and a proper absolution at the end of the Penitential Litany? And why not petition the Standing Liturgical Commission for a revised Order for Ash Wednesday the next time they want to enrich our worship?

The Rev. Christopher L. Webber, the author of a number of books about the Episcopal Church and Beyond Beowulf, the first-ever sequel to Beowulf, has recently become Vicar of St. Paul's Church, Bantam, Connecticut.

The Prayer of Manasseh: a little gem of devotion

By Derek Olsen

Candlemass has passed us now, devotions to Our Lady have shifted from the Alma Redemptoris Mater to the Ave Regina Caelorum, and—for those who keep them and for those who don’t but remember—the ‘gesimas are upon us. The signs of the seasons begin to turn our eyes toward Lent.

I’m ready for it. Lent is one of the seasons I look forward to each year. It’s a time of preparation and introspection that sets time aside for us to take stock of who and what we are. When we look closely, honestly, we find that—among other things—we are mortal, fallible, and frail. Our liturgies are part of this process of discovery and assessment, leading us to contemplate these truths more deeply. Elements appear that have been dormant in the other seasons of the year that help us focus our attention inward.

One of the best additions into the 1979 prayer book is a canticle hitherto unprayed in the Episcopal experience—one specifically intended for use in Lent: the Kyrie Pantokrator taken from the Prayer of Manasseh (canticle 14 in Morning Prayer, Rite II).

The prayer of who? From –what? Is that in the Bible?

Funny you should ask…and a little setup is required to answer this properly.

From the days of Paul at least, and likely earlier, the “Bible” of the first Christians was the Septuagint, the Pre-Christian translation of the Old Testament into Greek. As Christianity spread, and as the Western half of the Roman Empire became more parochial and lost its facility with Greek, a translation into Latin had to be made. St Jerome edited the version that would become official but made a strange choice—he decided to break with Church Tradition and to go back to the Hebrew and Aramaic texts of the Old Testament. This meant facing an issue of which the Church was aware but with which it hadn’t had to struggle: there were a set of books in the Old Testament that were composed in Greek and which did not appear in the Hebrew (and Aramaic) Scriptures.

What to do with these?

Jerome made a call that has been so decisive and influential that we find it quoted within our Anglican 39 Articles. After listing the Books of the Old Testament the article states: “And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine…” In that list is “The Prayer of Manasses”. So—yes, in a proper Anglican Bible you find a section labeled “Apocrypha” and within that section you will find the Prayer of Manasseh. It’s short—just 15 verses—but a little gem of devotion.

Manasseh—who was he? If you took a wild guess and said the first-born son of Joseph who, with Ephraim, had a tribal section carved out for himself in the land of Israel you’d be right—sort of… That’s a Manasseh, but not the right one. This Manasseh was a king of Judah, reigning from (roughly) 687-642 BC. And, as far as 2 Kings 21 was concerned, he wins the Worst King of Judah EVER award. The shortlist is idolatry, sacrificing his own children, and widespread murder… The version that 2 Chronicles 33 tells has a twist, though; here he’s carried off to Babylon where he prays a great prayer of repentance, God forgives him, and he returns to try to reverse the evil he has done.

Neither 2 Chronicles nor history has seen fit to give us that prayer, but later tradition couldn’t let a great opening like that go.

Thus, we have our apocryphal book written probably in the 2nd century BC, most likely composed in Greek (though we don’t know for sure) that tries to present the kind of prayer that Manasseh must have prayed. And though it probably isn’t the original prayer, and though it probably wasn’t written by a king, it was most undoubtedly written by sinner, a person, and a poet who has given us words in which to find ourselves.

The language of the prayer is, to my ears at least, a bit hyperbolic and over the top, and yet opens for us a door into the psychology of repentance that is thoroughly steeped in biblical theology and transmitted through the vivid imagery so common to the songs and poems of this so-called Inter-testamental period. Our canticle is only a selection and, in the interest of space, leaves out some of the lovely imagery early in the prayer. (I’d encourage you to go back and read the whole thing—all fifteen verses of it; you can fit that into your schedule, right?)

The prayer begins with the poet’s eyes on God, recollecting the mighty acts of creation. The power and majesty of God are recounted by describing the vast energies of creation, and wonder at the God who can harness them. It then turns to the character of God. This almighty Creator nonetheless has care and concern for the sinner and the transgressor. There’s a turn at verse 8, at the middle of our canticle; the eyes of the poet shift from the external view of God to introspection. Suddenly “I” language appears. The poet confronts the reality of sin. Then, in a beautiful mixed metaphor, the poet “bends the knee of my heart,” not in excuses or self-justification, but in pure supplication. In these words there is absolute conviction of two things: first, the poet’s sinfulness; second, the character of God—that our God is the God who forgives. A final doxology rounds things out.

I’d encourage you to spend some time with this canticle this coming Lent. Whether you pray Morning Prayer regularly or not, I urge you to make this canticle part of your devotions as you contemplate what it is to be us: mortal, fallible, frail, yet truly the creation of One who loves us without end.

Dr. Derek Olsen recently finished his Ph.D. in New Testament at Emory University. He has taught seminary courses in biblical studies, preaching, and liturgics; he currently resides in Maryland. His reflections on life, liturgical spirituality, and being a Gen-X/Y dad appear at Haligweorc.

The Church in Haiti: a reminiscence

By Frederick Quinn

<1> The Episcopal Church in Haiti (1959-1961)

The Haiti of François Duvalier was a brutal dictatorship that lasted from his election as president in 1957 until his death in 1971. No voices of political opposition could be raised, the legislature was dissolved, and the cabinet changed every few months. Duvalier (1907-1971), a former country doctor who attracted legitimate attention for his work in successfully eradicating yaws, declared himself president for life and the reincarnation of the Emperor Jean-Jacques Desallines, the black ex-slave who founded the Haitian republic following the defeat of the French in Saint-Domingue in 1802. People with leadership skills during his era fled into exile in various embassies or joined the Haitian diaspora in New York, Miami, or Caracas. Schools closed, teachers and writers sought jobs in Paris with UNESCO or in universities abroad. Haiti was a country with a troubled past, unstable present, and problematic future.

The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in downtown Port-au-Prince with its locally-painted murals of Gospel scenes in Haitian settings is what most Americans recognize first as the presence of the Episcopal Church in Haiti. During my two years in Port-au-Prince I was active at the Cathedral as a lay reader and lived just down the street from the Rt. Rev. C. Alfred Vogeli, Missionary Bishop of Haiti, who had a strong interest in promoting the visual arts, especially painting, and building the church’s local leadership to eventually replace a white bishop with an indigenous one. The Episcopal Church was a minority church in Haiti, even among Protestant groups. The state’s official religion was Roman Catholicism, regulated by a concordat, a diplomatic agreement with the Vatican; among Protestants the Methodist church was preferred by the mulatto elite for its good schools. Voodoo beliefs permiated the society; once, as a way of humiliating the President-for-Life, François Duvalier, his opponents slaughtered an ox on his father’s grave, a particulatrly heinous rite in the vodoo lexicon.

The center of diocesan life in Haiti was the Cathedral. Its main Sunday service was at 6 a.m., filling the large church with several hundred people, even during a tropical downpour. I once asked Bishop Vogeli, a collector of Haiti art, how the murals came about. He said the artists were refused permission to paint in the larger Roman Catholic cathedral, but that he had no hesitation in making the Episcopal Cathedral's walls available to them. Then he left for a long fund raising trip and vacation in America, and did not see the results until returning several months later.

The Cathedral murals depict biblical scenes in a rural Haitian setting. Surrounding the altar and looking down like characters in a cosmic drama. They were painted between 1949 and 1951 by artists from the Centre d’Art, founded by DeWitt Peters, an American painter and teacher who was quick to see the talent in the Haitian artists and encourage it. Peters was a Graham Greene-like character who had come to Haiti as an English teacher during World War II and stayed until his death in the late 1960s. He had impeccable taste and organizational skills, but also a thoroughly autocratic personality. Artists who wanted to evolve beyond the “primitive” accused him of holding them back. His response was that almost all who switched styles failed to evolve and ended up producing second rate French Impressionist-type works.

The Haitian church was experiencing a period of change in the 1960s. Bishop Vogeli was looking for a Haitian successor, and posts previously held by white American clergy gave way to Haitians. An unwritten rule, established in an earlier time, was abandoned, that no Haitian approached the communion rail until the last American left.

<2> Good Friday in Croix des Boisquettes

On Good Friday in Port-au-Prince in 1960 we held a service for the English language congregation in the Chapel of St. Vincent’s School for the Handicapped, run by the Boston-based Sisters of Saint Margaret. The small chapel held about twenty persons, and two of the nun’s dogs paraded about like vergers, and then slept under the altar. After the service, some of us visited Croix des Boisquettes, a hill outside town where Roman Catholic Good Friday processionals were held. On the way our car was stopped by a man in a red shirt blowing a police whistle, while dancers and musicians surrounded us. The strong smell of clairan, cheap local rum sold in old canning jars, perfumed the gathering. The leader did a quick step, then plopped his hat on the car for money, as his companions rocked the car, reminding us of what a lack of generosity might bring. I gave him a dollar, and the group danced off. The following week there were reports of a car being overturned by dancers at the same spot, unhappy that their overtures for payment were refused.

We left the car at Gantier, and walked along a dusty road. A large cross stood at the hill’s crest, and streams of people moved up and down the winding gullies to it. Fourteen wooden crosses as used by the Roman Catholic Church had been erected along the way. Soft drink vendors outnumbered the faithful in places. On the hilltop were three large wooden crosses, one with a large metal Christus figure. Faded paper and wax roses hung from its feet. To cover their bets voodoo followers had placed a pile of rocks and bits of cloth at the foot of the cross. A large woman stopped praying, drank from a jug of rum, and sprayed crosses, statues, and nearby stones like a fire hose.

Standing on top of the dusty hill as the wind whipped through the nearby scrub growth, I listened to the murmuring incantations and, in the fading light, watched a growing crowd carrying candles, descending like flowing lava into villages on each side of the hill. As we left, evening fires were lit across the horizon, glowing coals warmed heavy iron pots; a husky-voiced vendor yelled “paté chaud” and the evening’s voodoo ritual began in earnest.

<3> Visiting Rural Parishes in Haiti’s South

In early September of that year the Dean of the Cathedral, Roger Desir, and I went by mule and horseback through mountain gullies to some of the rural missions near Leogane in Haiti’s south. Lay readers ran most of the small white stone and cement churches in the absence of a priest. At one church, village women took turns using a sewing machine, donated by a church in upstate New York, to make clothes for their children. In another, the priest had just returned from a rural mission and a heated discussion ensued with a lay reader. The priest had refused to baptize a couples’ child unless they married. This was their second child out of wedlock. The lay reader took the couple to another priest, and after misrepresenting the case, presented the child for baptism. The original priest and Dean rebuked the lay reader, who was content to sit on the church step with a sheepish grin. They would soon leave, he would remain. I asked the Dean why such a person’s credentials would not be revoked, but the Dean said the lay reader had been a figure in the community for many years and the priest had only been there four months.

One mountain later we met Nepthalie St. Marc, a lay reader for forty years. He, and his father before him, had been active in St. John the Evangelist Church, Petit Harpon, where Nepthalie read services each Sunday, buried the dead, ran a school, and sponsored a medical clinic. In addition, he was a prosperous coffee farmer, as were several lay readers in the south.

His hill top house had three rooms, one a bedroom with a small, lumpy bed, which I was offered, and an armoire holding three neat but well worn locally tailored suits. Nearby was his office with a hand-made table and several account books; in the dining room a glass-front cupboard held pictures of family, friends, newly-wed couples, and one of Christ standing behind President Duvalier, his hand on Duvalier’s shoulder, saying, “People, believe in him; I have chosen him…Peace to Haiti for men of goodwill.”

Our evening meal was stewed chicken. Our host insisted on keeping the windows shuttered to “keep the bad night air out.” Meanwhile, a mud-caked longhaired dog smelling like an open garbage pit huddled under the dining room table. I tried to gently edge him out and was greeted each time with a primordial grow; this had been his place for years. Twice I tried to open the window, saying I wanted to admire the evening sunset; twice Nepthalie, fast on his feet and quick to shut the window, met me. "The night air is bad for you," he said, puzzled that anyone would think otherwise.

The next morning we rang the old train bell an American parish had sent to Petit Harpon, and within half an hour, more than fifty persons walked slowly up from the fields for the communion service. The landscape resembled the setting of an Italian Renaissance painting set in the tropics. The Dean celebrated, using still warm freshly baked bread, and one of the lay readers read the lessons in the darkened chapel, wearing his wrap-around sunglasses with the price tag and brand name still attached, a sign of affluence.

<4> The Mountain Clinic of Bel Ange Désir

Later that morning we continued by donkey to another lay reader’s house. My donkey had been trying to dump me for three days and finally succeeded. As we crossed a ridge, I leaned forward, providing the moment he had dreamt of, and slowly lowering his front legs to the ground, he deposited knapsack, canteen, and me into a gully while the village laughed uproariously. In the late afternoon we arrived at the home of an herbalist and lay reader, Bel Ange Désir, who supervised an attractive chapel and small hospital where he gave his herbal remedies to ten patients. As we left Beautiful Angel of Desire’s place of healing, a man called the Devil’s Cowboy followed us. Sweating, and with glazed eyes and a loud voice, he mocked us. We passed a house where two men played checkers on the front porch, but both turned their backs to him. Across the path was the small chapel. Its interior decorated with voodoo emblems, and obviously used for a recent ceremony. The Dean angrily tore down the paper voodoo flags and told the Devil’s Cowboy to stay out of the church. Bel Ange Désir then chased the Devil’s Cowboy down a hill, threateningly waving his machete, and ending the confrontation.

<5> Bishop Vogeli is Expelled

Under Duvalier’s divisive leadership, bands of state-sponsored thugs, the ton-ton macoutte, roamed about freely as vigilante bands, loyal only to their sponsors, like the condottiere of Italian city-states. An Episcopal priest with political aspirations was among their victims. The principal of the Episcopal High School was jailed for several days without explanation. Pierre, a Haitian lawyer, whose life revolved around memories of a year spent in London as a law student, and whose treasure of treasures was a small British car he had purchased from his small stipend, disappeared during one of the times of martial law. Pierre had helped found the Haitian-American English Teachers’ Association, and his killing was my second, but not my last, encounter with a political death. Newspapers were closed, radio stations silenced. Bishop Vogeli was a strong leader in a difficult setting. Once, when the high school’s principal was seized by the police and disappeared without warning the bishop in full purple and white cassock, showed up at the school and sat in the principal’s chair for two days until the school director was released. A realist, he set out to maintain the church’s presence in a difficult political climate, seeking neither confrontation nor capitulation.

The Bishop was expelled from Haiti on short notice. The reason was he failed to appear on New Year’s Day 1966 with the civic leaders who each year were expected to come in person to publicly offer their greetings to the President. The presence or absence of individuals from the New Year’s ceremony at the Palace was an indication of whether or not they supported the President. In this case, Duvalier believed the Church was snubbing him. In reality, the invitation arrived at the Bishop’s office the day after the ceremony was over, as the Haitian mails were non-existent and messengers delivered all such invitations. When he left, the Bishop had every opportunity to castigate Duvalier, but he made no public statements, working instead for the church from exile in Brooklyn. He came to West Redding, Connecticut., for the baptism of our son, Christopher. Appearing in a red cope and miter decorated with embroidery of the plants and flowers of Haiti, he filled the small white clapboard New England church with color.

The Rev. Dr. Frederick Quinn served as an American diplomat in Haiti, 1959-1961. His reminiscences are taken from a forthcoming spiritual autobiography, Merrily I Made My Way. The author of fourteen books on law, history, and religion, he is a former chaplain at Washington National Cathedral.

The Super Bowl, Groundhog Day and the Feast of the Presentation

By Sam Candler

I am glad that the Super Bowl occurs so closely to the Feast of the Presentation.

Tell the folks in Las Vegas that this is my wager: less than ten professional football players have ever used the words "Super Bowl" and "Feast of the Presentation" in the same sentence. While we're at it, let's throw in Groundhog Day. How many people realize that Groundhog Day is always on the Feast of the Presentation - or "Candlemas," or the "Purification of the Virgin," or whatever name our ancient and beautiful church gives to February 2.

I actually believe that all these events have something in common. They are ways that our community, our civilization, hopes for life and light in the midst of winter.

Let's start with the Super Bowl. That is where most of our North American culture will be focused this week. Consider the gatherings, the parties, the festivities around Sunday night. This is ritual at its most primordial. People plan schedules and change behavior and spend their resources for this event; in my book, such is the stuff of religion. The entities that change your schedules and order your lives and to which you offer your money are usually what we call "gods."

The Super Bowl usually falls right in the middle of winter (in North America). So does February 2, which is the Feast of the Presentation. The day falls almost exactly midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Though winter "begins," officially, on December 21, it is rarely as cold then as it is in the middle of winter - about February 2. Thus, our ancestors realized and devised all sorts of mid-winter feasts and festivals to remind them that Spring was coming.

Christians began to observe this mid-winter day as "the Purification,", or "Candlemas," or -now-"the Feast of the Presentation." According to tradition, the young child Jesus was to be presented in the Temple 40 days after his birth; other traditions have called this same day the "Purification of the Virgin" (following Leviticus 12:2,6). However, the tradition of "Candlemas" came closest to recognizing what is going on in our natural world. Whether they called it "Presentation" or "Purification," Christians lit candles on this day. At Christian churches across the world, people light candles and walk in procession; they walk toward the light, even in the deep mid-winter.

Something in our human condition will always long and lean for light. We yearn for its energy, especially when we miss it the most - in the bleak midwinter. Somehow or another, our secular Groundhog Day is also associated with the longing for this light. We are wondering just how long it will be before Spring comes. Will the groundhog see his shadow or not? Is there sunshine today -too early-or not?

I have no idea whether all the bellweather groundhogs across the United States saw their shadows or not. And, no matter who actually wins the Super Bowl, all of our country is strangely warmed on Sunday night watching the festivities.

It is wintertime now, but the world has turned toward Spring. Yes, there will be more cold snaps. There may even be an ice storm. But the earth has now turned around the sun toward Spring. I hope, and the Church hopes, the same thing about life today. Perhaps our health is bad right now. Perhaps our economy is bleak right now. But God has turned us toward light, toward health.

I encourage us, then, to present ourselves to this God of Light. Like the Virgin Mary and her husband, Joseph, present yourselves and your offspring to God in the holy temple. Go to that place which has preserved and proclaimed light even during the darkest times. Light your candles. May our lights bring forth more light, the Light of the World!

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip's Cathedral in Atlanta. He chaired the House of Deputies' Committee on Prayerbook, Liturgy and Church Music at the General Convention. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

After the quake, a question of justice

By Greg Jones

When Jesus proclaims the beginning of his ministry in his hometown synagogue, he offers us a nutshell of the whole Gospel itself. Obviously, there's more than merely what he quotes from Isaiah -- in terms of detail and how it comes to be fulfilled -- but a succinct microcosm of what the Good News of God in Jesus Christ is to be sure to be found there.

In Luke 4.16-21, Jesus says the ancient prophesy of God making the world right again is no longer a future thing, but a thing in the process of fulfillment in Him. He says that in Him the Spirit of God has anointed a savior to bring good news to the poor, release to captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, and redeeming the fallen world.

Clearly, this is a work not yet finished, even in our own day. It is tempting, in our cynical moments, to say that this restoration project proclaimed by Christ in Luke 4 doesn't appear to have gotten very far. Again, we can look at Haiti, as just the most recent case in point for the cynical argument against Christ's message.

In Haiti, we are hearing that some 150,000 have died so far from the earthquake. It is an unfathomably high number, and is perhaps only the beginning. That's something like 1.5% of the population. Staggering. An earthquake of magnitude 7.0 on the Richter Scale killed some 150,000 people - so far. Yet, twenty-one years ago an earthquake of almost that size (a 6.9) struck San Francisco. Almost the same size, but in that instance only 63 people died.

What's the difference? Well, it's a question we must put to ourselves in terms of what Jesus is talking about in Luke. It's a question of the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed in our midst. It's a question of the fallenness of the world -- and I don't mean the planet itself.

No, it's a question not of plate tectonics or earth science, but of justice.

The reason 150,000 died in Haiti and 63 died in the U.S. is a question of societal injustice. Isn't it?

I believe that Christ has begun the redemption of a fallen world, and until He comes again in judgment, we who call Him Lord are supposed to join with Him in the saving work. This means not only feeding and clothing, but also working towards just societies.

The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ('Greg') is rector of St. Michael's in Raleigh, N.C., a trustee of General Seminary and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders — whose fourth studio release is available on iTunes. He blogs at Anglican Centrist.

Dinner church: sit down at the table

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
Luke 30-31

By Emily Scott

You are invited to Dinner Church, our posters read, this and every Sunday. Dinner Church at St. Lydia’s. So you make your way to the corner of Avenue B and 9th Street in the East Village on a Sunday evening. It’s winter now, so you bundle up against the wind as you emerge from the bus or the subway and hurry to our door. Someone welcomes you, helps you put your coat away and gives you a nametag. And then says, “Would you like to help cook dinner in the kitchen, or help set tables upstairs?” And puts you to work.

St. Lydia’s is the just-over-a-year-old church start that I founded together with a whole bunch of friends and congregants, including my collaborator and now-colleague Rachel Pollak. If you asked us if we’re doing something experimental, I suppose we’d say yes, but we’d also say that we’re doing something incredibly traditional. Our liturgy is modeled after the Eucharist of the Early Church when Christians would gather for worship that took place around a full meal, blessed with the great-great-grandparent of our modern Eucharistic Prayer. When Paul writes to the Corinthians, hassling them to wait for each other and eat together at the Lord’s supper, he’s talking about an ancient potluck with its liturgical roots in the Sabbath Supper and Seder Meal. And this is what we do at St. Lydia’s, not because we’re liturgical purists, but because we find this ancient practice resonates sonorously in our context.

But where were we? Oh yes, you were working. Perhaps you’ve elected the kitchen, and find yourself industriously peeling a squash as directly by one of our lead cooks. We’ve found that working together helps build community, as we make worship together. Rather than seeing work as a burden to be shouldered by the unlucky or unwitting, we see work as an opportunity to participate in creating something amazing.

Around 7:00, someone hands you a casserole dish to be taken to the sanctuary, where the dinner table has been set by congregants and newcomers alike with a bright tablecloth and napkins. Someone uncorks the wine and sets out the bread. Then everyone gathers in the entryway for a prayer, a welcome, and the candle lighting. You participate in singing a simple, repeated song as we process to the sanctuary and light the candles on the table. You hum with the group as the presider (it’s Pastor Phil tonight, the pastor at our host church, Trinity Lower East Side) prays over the meal, tears off a big piece of bread and says to his neighbor, “This is my body.” A moment of silence, and everyone digs into the meal, passing wine and juice and serving dishes round the table. There’s a lively commotion as conversation sparks.

Between our core group, folks who wander in and out, and visitors, attendance at St. Lydia’s can fall anywhere between six and eighteen folks on a given Sunday night. This means that the character of our worship can change drastically from week to week. Some Sundays we’re a reflective, intimate group. Other Sundays we’re a boisterous crew singing in four part harmony. It sort of depends on who shows up. And who shows up is a source of surprise and delight. Often we’ll be joined by folks who make their home in the park across the street, or kids who were riding by on bikes, or 15 college students staying in the church on a mission trip. All are welcome at the table.

At the moment, Lydia’s has a core group of about 15 congregants. Our first gathering was at a congregant’s home in Advent, 2008. The group has shifted and changed since then, gaining members one by one. For the most part, the core group is between 25 and 35 years old. We’re tend to be fairly educated and creative: an artist, a few writers, some graduate students, a copyeditor. We have a varying degree of familiarity with church. Most of the visitors who show up at our doors have one thing in common: they are spiritually hungry. They have this sense of God at work in their lives, and they’re trying to figure out how to respond.

But back to worship.

Dinner is followed by the exploration of scripture. I preach a compact sermon and ask the group to respond from their experience. You might surprise yourself by offering a story of your own. Then the group takes hands, sings a song, and prays. After a poem is read, everyone lifts their cups as the presider blesses them, then clean up begins and you dry plates and glasses in the kitchen. The moment the dishes are done, folks crowd into the entry once again for announcements, an offering, a final song and a blessing, and after sharing the peace with your neighbors, you head back out into the night. There’s food in your belly, and perhaps even a song from the evening cycling around in your head. And a postcard in your hand. And some leftovers in the other.

We do church this way because people are hungry. People in New York have hungry bellies that may be filled with home cooked food. They have hungry souls that may be filled with holy text, holy conversation. And these hungers are sated when we sit down together to eat.

We do church this way because people want challenge. People want the challenge of sitting down next to someone, someone they don’t know, who may be entirely different from them in every way, and working, reaching, to see her as God sees her: perfectly and wonderfully made. And we are challenged when we sit down together to eat.

We do church this way because people are looking for Jesus. People are looking for Jesus and thinking that just maybe they see him, but then again maybe not. But when we sit down together and break bread, we glimpse him for a moment in one another’s eyes and say to each other, I see Christ at this table; I see him when we sit down together to eat.

Emily Scott is the founder and Pastoral Minister at St. Lydia’s , a new church start in Manhattan. She holds an M Div from Yale Divinity School and blogs at sitandeat.typepad.com. She invites you explore the St. Lydia’s website.

Seeing gasoline rainbows

By Adam Thomas

Sometimes, I am too young to hear Jesus’ words in the Gospel. Or too old. Or too naïve. Or too refined. Often I wonder if God is holding a particular set of words in reserve for a particular time in my life — when I need those words I will finally hear them. Or perhaps I already have, and they have settled into the bedrock of my faith.

The words of Jesus are beautiful and dynamic. They grow in depth of meaning as I grow in depth of experience, emotion, and faith. Many of Jesus’ words mean something new to the disciples after the resurrection because the disciples are different after the resurrection. Likewise, the words of Jesus are the same, the chapters and verses are the same, but I am different every time I read them. In the novel, The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield says a similar thing about the natural history museum:

The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finishing catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole…Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat on this time…Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you’d be different in some way – I can’t explain what I mean.
Both small differences in me from day to day and large changes in me from year to year can affect my reading of scripture and my encountering the words of Jesus. The climactic change in the lives of the disciples was the resurrection; for me, the changes tend to be small, the differences subtle. But a new encounter with Christ can erupt from even the smallest change, the subtlest difference. When I open myself up to seeing gasoline rainbows, when I realize I am different than I was before, I discover the power of the words of Christ working within me.

In a recent bout of nostalgia, I read some of my old writings and found that I had discussed the same verses on three occasions. After he washes the disciples’ feet, Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). The words were the same each time, but I was different. Here’s what I mean.

It’s May 9, 2004, and Easter season blooms on the domain of Sewanee. I’m a junior in college. I’m two or three steps into the exhaustive process towards ordination. Classes are drawing to an end; exams are approaching. With flagging energy, I am writing lectionary-based reflections on xanga.com (before people ever used the word “blog”). And Jesus’ words encounter me:

“Wow. [Jesus] could not have put it more succinctly, or more beautifully. It does not take mighty acts or wondrous miracles to show people that we are followers of Christ. Just love. But I would argue that love is a mighty act, it is a miracle. Loving with the love Christ taught us – the only true love – is more powerful than anything. […] When we love with the love Christ taught us, we bring Christ to others. This love is powerful, transformative, life-changing, irresistible. Paul tells in his letter to the Romans that nothing can separate us from it. And it is our duty, and it should be our joy, to spread this love to others.”
It’s March 7, 2005, and fog rolls into the domain along with Lent. I’m a senior in college. I’m a postulant for Holy Orders, and I’m waiting for my bishop’s decision about sending me to seminary next school year. I’ve broken John’s Gospel into forty passages, one reflection per day for my Lenten discipline. And Jesus’ same words encounter me again:
“This is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian – to love one another as Christ loves us. We are capable of love because God loves us. Indeed, Paul tells us, ‘God is love.’ So how do we love? I think that is an impossible question to answer succinctly. In a past reflection, I called love the ‘conscious or unconscious search for God in other creatures.’ Searching for God means searching for all that is good, right, true, and graceful about another. However, this does not mean looking past all the other stuff. When we love truly, we see the good and the bad and continue to be in relationship. Contact (spiritual, emotional, &c.) is essential for love – only by staying in contact with God and others can we feel the love that purges our iniquities from us.”
It’s March 20, 2008, and Maundy Thursday comes impossibly early this year. I’m a senior in seminary. I’m a new deacon in the church, and I’m preaching at my field education parish. But the flu keelhauls me for five days, the middle of which is Palm Sunday. Being ill is all I can think about, and Jesus’ words encounter me a third time through that illness.

Life is only worth living when it can be shared with others. This sharing is another word for love. And love shatters the illusion of self-sufficiency. When the flu knocked me out, my friends served me. I had no choice but to let them serve me because I could not serve myself. And I am better for it. They showed their love for me by bringing me medicine and food. In their act of loving service, they washed my feet. I have a share with them, and we all have a share with Jesus Christ. We are his disciples because we have love for one another. There is no such thing as self-sufficiency. An inability to accept the service of others masquerades as self-sufficiency. But this masquerade is a dismal half-life. Christ came that we may have life, and have it in abundance. Washing each other’s feet, serving one another, and loving each other with the love of God brings this full, abundant life in Christ.”

It’s January 26, 2010, and I’m seeing through the eyes of my old selves. On each day when I read those verses from the Gospel according to John, Jesus encountered me with the same words. And each time, Jesus used my gasoline rainbows to transform me into a new vessel for those words. Over the years, the same words have helped me change into the new person I am continually becoming.

I invite you to look for the gasoline rainbows in your life. You are a new person since you last picked up the Bible. How are you different from the last time you read a particular passage of scripture? What is new about you? How have Jesus’ words made you new? What are your gasoline rainbows?

The Rev. Adam Thomas, one of the first Millennials to be ordained priest, is the curate of Trinity Episcopal Church in Martinsburg, WV. He blogs at wherethewind.com.

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