It is important to remember the deep, in some ways anguished seriousness of Advent, when the mendacious celebrations of our marketing culture so easily harmonize with our tendency to regard Christmas, consciously or unconsciously, as a return to our innocence and our own infancy. But the church, in preparing us for the birth of a “great prophet,” a Savior, and a Prince of Peace, has more in mind than seasonal cheer. The Advent mystery focuses the light of faith upon the very meaning of life, history, humanity, the world, and our own being. In Advent, we celebrate the coming, and indeed the presence, of Christ in our world.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
INFINITY AND GODMy five-year-old is enamored of the wordsinfinity and god, employing themto map space and time. God is biggereven than the biggest monster or spaceship.A race car’s infinity fast, boys eat infinity cookies,his scrubbed face is, he says, infinity shining –shining all the way up to God.At day’s end,God shrinks — small enough to becomethe perfect stillness and perfect silencethat rests at the end of his nightly prayer.And infinity spirals down to a feather in his pillow.
Friday, November 28, 2008
King Kamehameha IV and his wife Emma were Christian rulers who encouraged the building of Christian schools and hospitals, and who contributed greatly to the spread of Christianity among the Hawaiian people. The King was worried by the growth of American political influence, directly connected with the work of American missionaries, many of whom openly favored annexation of the islands by the United States. He accordingly invited the Church of England to send missionaries and to establish a presence in Hawaii. (While touring England as a prince, he had attended worship services, and had been favorably impressed.) But, although the King's support of the Church of England was perhaps politically motivated, his support of Christianity was not. He and his wife were earnest in their devotion to both the material and the spiritual welfare of their people. The King personally translated the Book of Common Prayer and much of the Hymnal into Hawaiian. Their only son died in 1863, and the King died, apparently of grief, on 30 November 1864. The Queen devoted the remainder of her life to charitable endeavors (Queen's Hospital, the largest civilian hospital in Hawaii, is largely her doing). She died in 1885.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you have not. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant.
Take peace! The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see. And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!
Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel's hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel's hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.
Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Here's the first paragraph of a very interesting essay indeed about the priest whose memory we honor today:
James Huntington was born in Boston in 1854, studied at Harvard and at St. Andrew's Divinity School in Syracuse, was ordained to the priesthood around 1880, and served a working-class congregation. After a few years, he felt called to found a monastic order for priests of the Episcopal Church, and with two companions he began working among poor immigrants on New York's Lower East Side. After a slow start, he with others became the Order of the Holy Cross, which now has a monastery in West Park, New York, and priests involved in parish work and social work scattered elsewhere. Huntington was Superior of the order for several non-consecutive terms, but devoted himself chiefly to preaching, teaching, and counselling until his death on 28 June 1935. Since this is the feast of Irenaeus of Lyons, he is commemorated on the anniversary of the receiving of his monastic vows by the Bishop of New York on 25 November 1884.I really do recommend that you click through and read the rest of the essay because it's about Huntington's convictions about social reform.
Monday, November 24, 2008
The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
In his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, he tells the story of his Baltimore slave mistress, Mrs. Sophia Auld, a woman who had earned her own living until she married and who had never had a slave until young Frederick came to live in her household. When he first meets her, she is the Christian ideal and would have been recognized as such by all of Douglass' readers. She prefers him to look her in the face, a bodily representation of equality that was a punishable offense in the slavery South, and she begins to teach him the alphabet until her husband forbids her to, warning her that teaching a slave to read is against the law and will only give him ideas that will render him unfit for the life of unquestioning service before him. Following the nineteenth-century womanly ideal of submission, she obeys her husband, and Douglass portrays this move, this first step in treating him as less than fully human, as the beginning of her descent from Christianity into hell.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Well, the Episcopal liturgical calendar gives today to C.S. Lewis but, as an old musician by (earlier) trade, I really need to honor St. Cecilia as well. Here's a little something about her:
Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians, and her name is often invoked before a performance. One performer who said a prayer to St. Cecilia before he sang was the famous tenor, Luciano Pavarotti. Cecilia is associated with music because she was credited with the invention of the keyboard, a claim which is not strictly true, as there were keyboards on much earlier Greek instruments called water organs. St. Cecilia was reputed to have lived around 200 AD. Though there may have been an historical Cecilia, the role of a female inspirer of music and musicians predates both her and Christianity..
C.S. Lewis died, as some of us well remember, on the same day as John F. Kennedy. Here's something he said that is very consoling, really:
Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith but they are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the passion of Christ.Undoubtedly, his best work of fiction is Till We Have Faces. If you have not read it yet, do yourself a favor and don't put it off much longer.
Friday, November 21, 2008
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Thursday, November 20, 2008
Here's a paragraph from a short essay about St. Edmund of East Anglia:
Edmund was born about 840, became King of East Anglia in about 855, and in 870 faced a horde of marauding Danes, who moved through the countryside, burning churches and slaughtering villages wholesale. On reaching East Anglia, their leaders confronted Edmund and offered him peace on condition that he would rule as their vassal and forbid the practice of the Christian faith. Edmund refused this last condition, fought, and was captured. He was ill-treated and killed. His burial place is the town of St. Edmundsbury.And here's something else about him:
St. Edmund was fair-haired, tall, well-built, with a natural majesty of bearing. By the piety and chastity of his life he won the respect of all the Christians. He was a defender of the Church, a protector of orphans and widows, and a supporter of the poor. No man sought for justice from him and failed to get redress, and no innocent pleaded in vain for mercy.I also learned today that he spent a year sequestered at Hunstanton memorizing the Psalter. That impresses me hugely!
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I remember reading a historical novel about Elizabeth of Hungary when I was in high school. I experienced her story as both inspiring and very memorable and she has been one of my favorite saints ever since. What I didn't know, however, until I read about it today is that she is the patroness of the Third Order Franciscans which actually makes a lot of sense given that she was devoted to the poor and sacrificed most of her material goods in order to help them and then became a Third Order Franciscan herself after the death of her husband.
Her own spiritual director said this about her:
Elizabeth was a lifelong friend of the poor and gave herself entirely to relieving the hungry. She ordered that one of her castles should be converted into a hospital in which she gathered many of the weak and feeble. She generously gave alms to all who were in need, not only in that place but in all the territories of her husband's empire. She spent all her own revenue from her husband's four principalities, and finally she sold her luxurious possessions and rich clothes for the sake of the poor.
Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, Elizabeth went to visit the sick. She personally cared for those who were particularly repulsive; to some she gave food, to others clothing; some she carried on her own shoulders, and performed many other kindly services. Her husband, of happy memory, gladly approved of these charitable works. Finally, when her husband died, she sought the highest perfection; filled with tears, she implored me to let her beg for alms from door to door. Good Friday of that year, when the altars had been stripped, she laid her hands on the altar in a chapel in her own town, where she had established the Friars Minor, and before witnesses she voluntarily renounced all worldly display and everything that our Savior in the gospel advises us to abandon. Even then she saw that she could still be distracted by the cares and worldly glory which had surrounded her while her husband was alive. Against my will she followed me to Marburg. Here in the town she built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table.
Apart from those active good works, I declare before God that I have seldom seen a more contemplative woman.
By the way, Desmond Tutu is a Third Order Franciscan.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
When I was a teenager, my parish church had a stained glass window dedicated to St. Hilda. I've admired her for a long, long time. And I've come to think it a real pity that her viewpoint of favoring the Celtic Christian tradition over the Roman one did not prevail at the Synod of Whitby. (A good list of the most common features of Celtic Christianity can be found here. You will need to scroll down a bit.)
Here's something from an essay about her:
She was the adviser of rulers as well as of ordinary folk; she insisted on the study of Holy Scripture and proper preparation for the priesthood; the influence of her example of peace and charity extended well beyond the walls of her monastery; and "all who knew her called her Mother, such were her wonderful godliness and grace." Saint Hilda is often represented in art holding Whitby Abbey in her hands with a crown on her head or at her feet.And I think the collect for her feast day is particularly lovely:
O God of peace, by whose grace the abbess Hilda was endowed with gifts of justice, prudence, and strength to rule as a wise mother over the nuns and monks of her household, and to become a trusted and reconciling friend to leaders of the Church: Give us the grace to recognize and accept the varied gifts you bestow on men and women, that our common life may be enriched and your gracious will be done; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Monday, November 17, 2008
As a bishop he was exemplary, constantly in residence or traveling within his diocese, generous with his charity, scrupulous in the appointments he made. He raised the quality of education at the cathedral school. Hugh was also prominent in trying to protect the Jews, great numbers of whom lived in Lincoln, in the persecution they suffered at the beginning of Richard I's reign, and he put down popular violence against them in several places.There's something very moving about the swan's attachment to Bishop Hugh. This story can serve as a reminder to all of us that friendship with animals can well be an important aspect of saintliness.
Hugh's primary emblem is a white swan, in reference to the story of the swan of Stowe which had a deep and lasting friendship for the saint, even guarding him while he slept. The swan would follow him about constantly, and was his constant companion while he was at Lincoln.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
I've been meaning to post about this for a long time and I keep forgetting. My good friend, Doug Brown, is the host of a wonderful new radio show called Wind and Rhythm. It is broadcast every Sunday evening at 7:00 (Central time) on Tulsa classical radio KWTU at 88.7 on your dial. Or you can listen on their webite right here. Please tune in. I promise you won't be sorry!
(Doug is a member of Christ Church, Episcopal in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is an Education for Ministry mentor.)
I think that when you take into account who Jesus was talking to, where the passage is in the Gospel, following on, as it does, from the attack on the pharisees, and that it was written down by Matthew, with hindsight, most probably after the fall of the Temple and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, then the talents represent the gifts of the covenant that had been given to the Jews by God. The scribes and pharisees had been given the law of Moses. They had been given the Temple, the sign of God’s presence among them. They had been given wonderful promises about how God would bless not only Israel, but, through Israel, the whole world. And they had buried them in the ground. They had turned the command to be the light of the world into an encouragement to keep the light for themselves.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
This prayer of St. Augustine of Hippo has long been a favorite of mine because it addresses the Divinity as utter Beauty:
Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you had created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
Friday, November 14, 2008
The picture above shows us the "Seabury Window" in the Lady Chapel of Old Saint Paul's Scottish Episcopal Church in Edinburgh. Here's what their website says about Samuel Seabury:
Old Saint Paul’s has played a part in the foundation of the US Episcopal Church. The young American Samuel Seabury first worshipped at Saint Paul’s in 1752. In later years he was chosen to become the first Bishop of the United States and returned to Britain to be consecrated. As the prospective bishop of a fledgling republic, Seabury was faced with a choice: consecration in the Church of England required an oath of allegiance to the crown; however, this was not the case in the Scottish Episcopal Church.There is a wondeful essay by Bishop Seabury published right here entitled "AN EARNEST PERSUASIVE TO FREQUENT COMMUNION."
Remembering his days at Saint Paul’s, he returned to Scotland and was consecrated in 1784 in Aberdeen. His consecration is remembered on a plaque in Marischal College, Aberdeen, and in Edinburgh the Lady Chapel in Old Saint Paul’s is dedicated to Seabury’s memory.
Here is a very eloquent sample:
Consider these things, and let your own consciences determine, whether your neglect of the Holy Communion can be justified on any principles of Christianity or reason? Whenever you compare your conduct with Christ's command, sure I am, your own hearts must condemn you: Remember then, "God is greater than your heart, and knoweth all things." It is not so much with me, as with your God, you have this matter to settle; and did you attend to it, you would make no more excuses, but immediately prepare yourselves to become worthy guests at God's Table.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Kindness is the life's blood, the elixir of marriage. Kindness makes the difference between passion and caring. Kindness is tenderness. Kindness is love, but perhaps greater than love ... Kindness is good will. Kindness says, 'I want you to be happy.' Kindness comes very close to the benevolence of God.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I found a very interesting essay on Charles Simeon (priest) entitled "Simeon's Brigade" on the Christianity Today Library website. Do take a look.
On his deathbed, Simeon spoke these words (which I found here):
When asked what he was thinking, he replied, "I don't think now; I am enjoying."What a lovely way to die. May we all be so blessed.
Then later: "I am in a dear Father's hand; all is secure. When I look to him I see nothing but faithfulness - and immutability - and truth; and I have the sweetest peace."
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
You think dogs will not be in heaven? I tell you, they will be there long before any of us.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Here's something from one of Saint Leo's sermons that strikes me as very pertinent today:
[T]he money-lender's trade is always bad, for it is sin either to lessen or increase the sum, in that if he lose what he lent he is wretched, and if he takes more than he lent he is more wretched still. The iniquity of money-lending must absolutely be abjured, and the gain which lacks all humanity must be shunned. A man's possessions are indeed multiplied by these unrighteous and sorry means, but the mind's wealth decays because usury of money is the death of the soul.
I wonder how the world might be different if we, as a culture, had taken this biblical principle seriously. I really do.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Today's gospel, of course, is the parable of the wise and foolish virgins - the wedding attendants. You can read it for yourself at Matthew 25: 1-13.
Here's something Jerry Goebel says as part of a study on this parable:
When [Christ] does arrive it will be at the very last possible moment. Everything will seem absolutely dark except for the tiny flame he has given us to bear. Will he find us ready? We are not to be concerned over the brightness of our flame. Our one concern must be, “Is my candle lit?” Is my candle lit and held up for all to see? A small candle is incredibly bright when the surrounding world is completely dark.I love that last sentence for I have always believed that "it is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness."
We are moving toward Advent once more - a time (for the Northern Hemisphere) of ever increasing darkness in the natural world. This is a wonderful parable to bring our attention to this time of preparation.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
Here is a beautiful description of the experience of prayer:
Yet it is in this loneliness that the deepest activities begin. It is here that you discover action without motion, labor that is profound repose, vision in obscurity, and, beyond all desire, a fulfillment whose limits extend to infinity.
Friday, November 7, 2008
O Lord our God, who call whom you will and send them where you choose: We thank you for sending your servant Willibrord to be an apostle to the Low Countries, to turn them from the worship of idols to serve you, the living God; and we entreat you to preserve us from the temptation to exchange the perfect freedom of your service for servitude to false gods and to idols of our own devising; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Here's something very moving about Archbishop Temple on his feast day:
In 1931, at the end of the Oxford Mission (what is known in many Protestant circles as a Revival Meeting), he led a congregation in the University Church, St Mary the Virgin, in the singing of the hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." Just before the last stanza, he stopped them and asked them to read the words to themselves. "Now," he said, if you mean them with all your heart, sing them as loud as you can. If you don't mean them at all, keep silent. If you mean them even a little and want to mean them more, sing them very softly." The organ played, and two thousand voices whispered:I found the above excerpt right here. I recommend clicking through. There's a lot more there about William Temple - surely one of our greatest archbishops of Canterbury.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
For many who participated, it was a never-forgotten experience.
Temple became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1942, when a German invasion seemed likely. He worked for the relief of Jewish refugees from Naziism, and publicly supported a negotiated peace, as opposed to the unconditional surrender that the Allied leaders were demanding.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Whether you supported Barack Obama or opposed him, whether you are celebrating today or grieving, the President-elect needs our prayers. And we can all, whatever our political persuasion may be, acknowledge the historic significance of yesterday's election. President Bush said the following this morning:
No matter how they cast their ballots, all Americans can be proud of the history that was made yesterday. Across the country, citizens voted in large numbers. They showed a watching world the vitality of America's democracy, and the strides we have made toward a more perfect union. They chose a president whose journey represents a triumph of the American story -- a testament to hard work, optimism and faith in the enduring promise of our nation.Here is prayer many of us grew up on:
Many of our citizens thought they would never live to see that day. This moment is especially uplifting for a generation of Americans who witnessed the struggle for civil rights with their own eyes -- and four decades later see that dream fulfilled.
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant to the President of the United States and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.May we pray it regularly during the transition as well as when the new president takes office.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Did you know that at one time Election Day sermons were customary? Here's an excerpt from an up to date one by Forrest Church:
But, in the largest sense of the word, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama is going to save us. Here the old Puritan preachers were right. The votes we cast for president are much less important than the votes we cast with and in our lives. Then God, greater than all and yet present in each, will save us. God will save us by looking through our eyes, and touching our hearts, and applying our hands to the saving work of neighborly love. Conversely, wherever you see neighborly hate, God is absent. God's love unites us, it doesn't divide us, either within or among ourselves.May we all pray for our nation this night and extend compassion and lovingkindness in our prayers both to the candidates we support and to the candidates we oppose. And let us do what we can to make our nation just and good whatever our personal political outlook may be.
If the United States of America is about anything it is about unity amidst diversity. E pluribus unum. Not one for many, but out of many, one.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Usually November 2 is All Souls Day but because it falls on a Sunday this year, All Souls is transferred to Monday - tomorrow.
Here's an excerpt from a lovely little essay about our relationship with the saints:
Did you ever wish you had friends in high places? Someone to help you out in a bind? Perhaps a buddy to give you a boost? A special guide?(You can read the whole piece right here.)
Stop wishing and know that you do! You have friends in the highest of positions, and these are people who will not turn their backs on you when the going gets tough. In fact, they are especially pleased to smile on you and lift you up when you are down. They are the saints, and they’re planning a place among themselves for you.
Did you ever wonder what people in heaven do all day? Float on clouds? Wander around on gold pavement? Sing a cappella? Maybe. But many of us have the wrong impression if we think heaven is a perpetual resting home where we indulge our every desire and forget about other people.
The saints are at peace and are resting in the Lord, but it’s not the kind of rest that is oblivious to the world! No, they are always aware of us and are prepared to receive our prayers in love.
Some people frown on the idea that we should pray to saints. Idolatry, they cry! But they have a misconception of the role of the saints. Saint Paul tells us that we are a communion of saints, and a saintly communion, united with the Lord, is not divided by death. Those who are called to God might leave our earthly eyes, but they are present, and they are family and family members do not ignore each other when one of their own asks for help.
So, let us be strengthened by their example and aided by their prayers in the assurance that one day we will join them in union with the Holy One for all eternity.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Saints are people who know something profound about love, that suffering is connected with it. They learned the path of sainthood is not one of accolades but accusations. They were charged with demanding change because they wanted people to know more about God than others could stand to have revealed. They challenged governments and leaders who were exploiting others. They worked to bring justice to those who were ground down by unjust systems. And in their dedicated work, they were jailed, beaten, maligned, and sometimes murdered.
We are pilgrims of the saints. We should read about them because they are models who challenge us to use our assets as part of God’s redemptive plan. We pray with them because they bring us a sense of connectedness between our world and the next. We hallow their days on liturgical calendars because they have each given us unique insights into what it means to live a life to God.
On this day we celebrate them all, knowing that God adds to their number all the time. We find ourselves amidst a cloud of witnesses, perhaps singing a favorite hymn that honors them. If we don’t have music we should at least read the words of those hymns today, because they capture the deep resonance of their lives.
-- -- the Rev. Ben E. Helmer