Thursday, December 31, 2009

Something about love

Artist: Karl Nordström
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Quite a lovely image, I think:

It is good and true to think that every ray of the sun touching the earth has the sun at the other end of it. Just so, every bit of love upon God’s earth has God at the other end of it.

- Mark Guy Pearse

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Freedom to be oneself in God

Artist: Jan Vermeer

Here's an idea for the New Year: Let's all learn to laugh more!

God’s love is a gift that can make you forget yourself at times. The Scottish writer George MacDonald said, “It is the heart that is not yet sure of its God that is afraid to laugh in his presence.” God loves us as we are right now! That’s one of the things I’m most grateful for. I love the freedom to be myself in God. I pray that a year from now, five years from now, I will be a godlier woman, but I know God won’t love me any more than he does right this minute.

-- Sheila Walsh

This is my prayer, too. This is my assurance, too, as well.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holy Innocents (transferred)

Artist: Guido Reni
Image from Wikimedia Commons

I offer you something very short, very to the point:
A king like Herod had soldiers to help keep the peace, to help stop criminals from making victims of the law-abiding citizens. But Herod also used those same soldiers to murder the babies of Bethlehem. On the cross, Jesus would reveal the flaw to our entire social order: you simply cannot use violent means to stop violence, if we ever want the violence to ultimately come to an end. So, instead, Jesus suffered the violence to make an example of it, that we might one day see the light.
But will we? That is the question, isn't it?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Saint John the Evangelist (transferred)

From The Book of Dimma

Since December 27 fell on a Sunday this year, St. John's day was transferred to the 28th and Holy Innocents is tranferred to the 29th. (Feasts of Our Lord always take precedence over other feasts and Sundays are all feasts of Our Lord.)

The symbol of John the Evangelist is the eagle as you see above.

The Orthodox churches refer to this John as Apostle, Evangelist and Theologian and petition him with this prayer:
Beloved apostle of Christ our God,
hasten to deliver a defenseless people.
He who allowed you to recline on His breast,
receives you as you bow before Him.
Implore Him, John the Theologian,
to dispel heathen persistence
and to grant us peace and mercy.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

First Sunday after Christmas

Artist: Karl Dussault

From this morning's psalm:
He gives snow like wool; *
he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.

He scatters his hail like bread crumbs; *
who can stand against his cold?

He sends forth his word and melts them; *
he blows with his wind, and the waters flow.
Ah. So very appropriate for Tulsa this weekend!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saint Stephen, Deacon and Martyr

From the Nuremberg Chronicles, 1493

"He prayed for them that did the wrong. Who follows in his train?"

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Nativity of Our Lord

In the Greek mosaic above, created around the year 1100, midwives are shown bathing the newborn Jesus. This has long been an important image for the Eastern Church because it symbolizes the baptism that is to be.

One tradition has it that the biblical Mary Salome was midwife to Our Lady. But the Irish legend is that Saint Brigit was mystically transported through time and space so that she could serve as midwife at the birth of Jesus. Thus, she is invoked by Irish women during labor.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Artist: Arthur Hughes

Lusciously beautiful celebratory music

The very interesting wind instrument is the cornetto.

This is wonderful music to trim the tree by or just sit around with cider or mulled wine and a lot of candles lit while relishing the day!

O great mystery!

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the
new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.

"And I say, God bless it!"

Artist: Johansen Viggo

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew: "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round--apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that--as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they were really fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"

-- Charles Dickens, from A Christmas Carol

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Artist: Mikhail Nesterov
Image from Wikimedia Commons

The following is from a sermon entitled Heaven and Earth Wait:

Mary doesn't understand what is going on; the archangel's reply to her question, "How shall this be?" is a mystery. Gabriel only assures Mary that God will overshadow her in the Holy Spirit. But Mary senses the kind of terror that comes from being in God's presence (rather than the horror that comes from being in the presence of evil). She surrenders her assured future as the wife of a carpenter named Joseph to play the unknowable part God wills for her as Mother of the Savior.

How many times must we hear this basic Gospel truth to learn it? We have been waiting for so long for God in our lives. We have sung many hymns praying for the advent of God in our lives. But have we yet learned that the word of God addressed to Mary through the Archangel Gabriel, is the same word God addresses to us: "Hail favored one, the Lord is with you." How many of us understand that God is waiting for us to say "Let it be to me according to your word," just as God waited for Mary to say it?

-- The Reverend Marie Phillips*

So. The Annuciation is not to the Blessed Virgin Mary only. There is another annuciation to each one of us. That is a daunting thought, isn't it? And a reassuring one as well.

* Marie Phillips, a priest in the Diocese of Ohio, is Chaplain for Hospice of the Western Reserve and a Pastoral Associate for the Episcopal West Side Shared Ministries, a cluster of parishes serving the inner city

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A very wonderful prayer

Artist: Georges de La Tour

I found this over at my friend Paul's place, Byzigenous Buddhapalian:

Dear God, the troubles of our world have left many of us speechless. We don’t know how, in the numbness around jobs lost, illnesses we don’t have the resources to cure, a planet imperiled by the accumulated effects of our greed, and the seemingly endless presence of war and violence, to say our prayers. We are lighting candles, though – in our Advent wreaths, quietly, in side chapels of our churches, in our rooms where no one else but You can see. The candle flame is our prayer, wordless but filled with meaning, with petition, hope, and faith. And the candle flame is your answer to our prayer. You lighten our darkness, O Lord. Amen.

-- Marc Andrus, Bishop of California

Monday, December 21, 2009

St. Thomas, Apostle

Thomas, Apostle

Here is an excerpt from a reflection I found about Saint Thomas, whom we remember this day:

What do we do when something to which we have totally committed ourselves is destroyed before our very eyes? What do we do when powerful and faceless institutions suddenly crush someone to whom we have given total loyalty? And what do we do when our immediate reaction in the actual moment of crisis is to run and hide, for fear of the madding crowds? Such were the questions of most of the disciples, including Thomas, who had supported and followed Jesus of Nazareth for the better part of three years.

The doubting Thomas within each of us must be touched. We are asked to respond to the wounds first within ourselves then in others. Even in our weakness, we are urged to breathe forth the Spirit so that the wounds may be healed and our fears overcome. With Thomas we will believe, when our trembling hand finally and hesitantly reaches out to the Lord in the community of faith. The words addressed to Thomas were given to us: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed!”

-- Father Thomas Rosica

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent 4 - The Visitation

Artist: Meister von Meßkirch
Image from Wikimedia Commons

This morning's gospel reading tells us about an occasion known as the Visitation:
When they meet and Elizabeth recognizes in Mary something beyond the ordinary, something revealed to her through the Holy Spirit, she calls Mary "the mother of my Lord." She blesses Mary for believing in God's promises, in the fulfillment of "what was spoken to her by the Lord." It is a time of ecstasy for both of them.
They are two related women who are filled with the Holy Spirit and are delighted at the reality of the children in their wombs. In her hymn of praise to God, Mary focuses on what matters to her, a poor young woman who is obedient to God and who recognizes her humble origins. She senses that in her, in the promise of her child, in the words of God's messenger, something good is happening--not only to her but to other human beings.

* It is the humble who are being raised.
* It is those who feel awe before God their maker that are shown mercy.
* The powerful are brought down.
* The lowly are lifted up.
* And the hungry are fed.

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

O Root of Jesse

The Tree of Jesse

Here is this evening's antiphon:
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

Friday, December 18, 2009

O Adonai

Moses icon

The antiphon for this evening:
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
Here's a little comment about the O antiphons that I like very much:
We look forward to the antiphons in their own right each year, because their appearance on the calendar means that we can quicken our own hopes in anticipation of the Saviour's birth. Their arrival is much like seeing a familiar highway exit still just a little way away from home, or a train stop not far from one's intended destination. They comfort, heighten, calm and focus, but they are also direct and demanding.
It's from Anglicans Online and you can find the whole reflection right here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Great "O Antiphons"

Well, here we are. It's the 17th of December and it's time for the Great Os to begin. And so I give you the synthesis of them all in this truly stunning and luminous performance:

This is the arrangement by Zoltán Kodály

The first great "O" - Wisdom

Lady Wisdom with her daughters: Faith, Hope, Charity

Here it is:
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
Let us remember that the Church from ancient times has seen Christ as the incarnation of Wisdom herself. I recommend taking a look at The Wisdom of Solomon 8:1.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Suscepit Israel

I've had this on my mind today. I could wish for a slower tempo here but the voices just can't be beat.

It's from Bach's Magnificat, of course, and the English for this luminous movement is "He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy...".

Monday, December 14, 2009

Saint John of the Cross

And I saw the river over which every soul must pass to reach the kingdom of heaven and the name of that river was suffering: and I saw a boat which carries souls across the river and the name of that boat was love.

- Saint John Of The Cross

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Artist: Francisco de Goya
Image from Wikimedia Commons

I have always truly loved this morning's Epistle reading (Philippians 4:4-7). And so I was delighted to find the following:

As Karl Barth put it, the joy that Paul describes is a defiant "nevertheless," which draws strength from the gospel story and from laying one's deepest concerns before God "with thanksgiving." This joy seems to take root even in darkness. It is encouraged by the spread of the gospel, the growth of a young church, but most of all by the deep joy of God's presence and the hope this gives for whatever the future may hold.

-- William Dyrness

You can read the rest of the essay right here.

I do like that word, "nevertheless". It could well be a mantra for us whenever we are in times of great difficulty.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Immortal Light

Dear readers, do take the time to listen to this. You will settle, oh so gently, into the Sacred Depths if you do.

Please trust me on this one.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hanukkah, 2009

Krakow Synagogue

Since Hanukkah began tonight at sunset, I want to bring you the following:
1. What does Chanukah mean? The word Chanukah means dedication. It refers to the re-dedication and re-opening, in the year 164 Before the Common Era, of the Temple that stood in Jerusalem until the year 70 of the Common Era. Temple worship had been interrupted by a war between local Jews and colonial forces from the Seleucid empire to the north and east.

2. This Chanukah, liberate yourself spiritually. Whether you are Jewish or not, take a moment to consider those things to which you are dedicated. To what might you re-dedicate yourself with renewed commitment? To whom can you turn for support in doing so? As you do this, you will be following in the footsteps of Judah Maccabbee and the other ancient Chanukah heroes who asked those very questions, and found spiritual liberation when they answered them.

This was from a little Beliefnet article. You can read the rest of it right here.

I really like the emphasis on dedication and re-dedication and I think we can all benefit greatly by reflecting on this meaning.

Repentance and organized religion

Artist: Jacopo del Casentino

This morning I came across a reflection on Sunday's gospel reading that impresses me greatly. It is by by Kate Huey and I found it on the United Church of Christ website. If you have time, please go on over and read the entire piece; you'll be glad you did. In the meantime, I offer this snippet:
John came preaching a message of challenge and exhortation. In his day, the powers-that-be had arranged a world based on empire, with those at the top grabbing – through force and greed – the lion's share of power and material wealth for themselves (imagine that!). It wasn't just the Roman Empire and their puppets that experienced his wrath, but the religious institutions as well felt the sting of John's rebuke. John's message about the forgiveness of sins and being baptized in a river made the Temple and its elaborate systems run by powerful priests sound rather unnecessary.
That last sentence truly caught my attention. I never thought about the baptism of John making the temple penitential system unnecessary. That explains a lot, doesn't it?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Something about holiness

Artist: Sir Edward Burne-Jones

We could all think about this one for a long, long time. Really.

It is not because angels are holier than men or devils that makes them angels, but because they do not expect holiness from one another, but from God alone.

~William Blake

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In anticipation

In my humble opinion, John Elliot Gardiner is simply unsurpassed with regard to Baroque interpretation.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Despair in the context of Advent

John the Baptist admonishes Herod
Artist: Pieter de Grebber

I really never thought about despair quite this way before. Take a look:
The message John proclaimed was simple, "repent, he is coming." Jesus is the one who came. He changed everything. His resurrection is the ultimate change. Death no longer has the final say over our lives and us. The fact that death no longer has the last word is hard for us. Despair is a changeless place to live. Nothing can happen that will change anything. Despair is perfect stability. We humans crave stability.

But that craving is a consequence of our fears and our sins. Be your own personal prophet. Examine yourself by God's will and God's law. Claim and accept that God loves you and seeks to give you a new life that is happy with change because you are not offended by Jesus. Repent. He is coming.
The excerpt above is from an Advent sermon I found on the Sermons That Work site. The actual preacher is not named. (At least I can't find the name.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Second Sunday of Advent

John the Baptist

It troubles me how many people think that to repent means to feel very, very guilty about something. And so I like this brief excerpt from a sermon for today:

Repentance is not the same as remorse or regret. It is not listing all the ways things could have gone differently. It is not wishing you were a better person, that some things had never happened, that bad things wouldn’t keep happening to you. It’s not feeling guilty or ashamed. It’s not feeling afraid. It’s not something that leaves us stuck, or standing still, or spinning in circles, going nowhere.

Repentance is about movement, letting yourself be grasped by God, getting new bearings, and relying on God for directions.

The new life that follows repentance, the new direction that comes with a fresh start is what John was proclaiming in the wilderness. John’s message is a call to action: repent, turn around, accept help. God is coming to meet you on a road in the wilderness.

-- The Rev. Amy E. Richter

Ah, yes. "Make straight in the desert a highway for our God!"

The incomparable Jon Vickers

This morning's readings, of course, practically demand this beginning of Handel's "Messiah". Now, I've performed this often enough under the direction of so-called "Baroque purists" that I don't really like the following Romantic interpretation that was so popular in the 50s. Nevertheless, there is simply no tenor who comes even close, in my opinion, to this astonishing performance by the great Jon Vickers:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Something about angels

St Gabriel (12th-century mosaic)

We're going to be seeing a lot of representations of angels in the next three of weeks so I thought I'd bring you the following:

They manifest a nature's sublimity. That is why Gabriel is represented with wings. Not that angels have wings, but that you may know that they leave the heights and the most elevated dwelling to approach human nature. Accordingly, the wings attributed to these powers have no other meaning than to indicate the sublimity of their nature.

-- St. John Chrysostom

Friday, December 4, 2009

Relationship -- not rules

"Christ and the Apostles"

You know, if we only paid attention to the controversial issues of the day, we could easily be forgiven for concluding that Christianity is all about rules and monitoring people's behavior. In the excerpt from an Advent sermon below, the preacher claims that Christianity, in fact, is about something altogether different:

In part we've got it wrong because we have misunderstood Christianity. We have failed to understand that we belong to a religion of relationship, not a religion of law. In a law religion it is our job to follow the rules, and, if a messiah is part of the package, it is also our job to wait for that messiah to come, following the rules in the meantime. In a religion of relationship, in Christianity, our job is to acknowledge our relationship with God and to engage in that relationship as living beings, just as God is a living being. That is our essential commitment as Christians: by becoming Christian we commit to a relationship with God, with Jesus -- not to a rule of law, but to life with another human being who is also God.

Living well with Jesus, thus living well in the kingdom of God, requires what all relationships that flourish require: presence -- listening, responding, listening again, responding and so on. It is hard to have a healthy relationship with someone if you never show up or only rarely acknowledge their existence. The relationship does exist no matter what you do, but it is simply an unhealthy or inactive relationship if you fail to participate as active partner. Those of us who have unhealthy and inactive relationships with Jesus have them more out of ignorance than out of ill will; but ignorance is easy enough to overcome, and a new church year is a good time to work on that overcoming.

-- Jane Wolfe

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Reach into fear and reach God

Artist: Constant Dutilleux
Image from Wikimedia Commons

I am bringing you this single paragraph from an Advent sermon I found specifically because of the last sentence. C.S. Lewis once said that fear should not be seen as a sin but rather as an affliction. I agree. And here is a remedy - or at least a way of accepting and managing that affliction with the help of God:

[Last Sunday's gospel reading] challenges us, during this Advent season, to live as people who expect God to be near, and that God is doing something new in our lives. In this Advent season of preparation, the time of Christ's coming into the world, we are to live as if we expect just that. Christ's coming. What does that mean to our daily lives? That means we are to see the worries in our lives as possibilities. We are to look anew on the people and situations that trouble us as signs of God's near and living presence. That we can look at the dark skies and the dark places as moments of waiting and anticipating God's nearness. This means that we don't have to be bound by our fear, by we can reach into fear and reach God.

-- from a sermon by The Rev. Carol J. Gallagher

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


"Hoarfrost" by Camille Pissarro

A reminder here. We all know it, of course. And we need to hear it again and again:

Just as babies are not born without a period of gestation in the darkness of the womb, and just as spring bulbs do not blossom without a waiting period in the dark soil, so we do not bloom and flourish without times of quiet and rest. The season of Advent is one of those times, a time of dark and quiet and preparation. Take advantage of this gift of time — don’t let all your time in the next couple of weeks be totally caught up in the frantic holiday craziness.

-- from a sermon by the Rev. Kathleen L. Wakefield