Gifts of God in a Parish Church

We got off to aApostlesCreed2 slow start this morning, for on the way to church I realized I had forgotten my reading glasses. To go back or not? The thought of not being able to see the words, to sing the hymns with my parish family was a sad one. We took the risk of being late and went back home to fetch them. (Note to self: place extra reading glasses in car and other well-used locations.)

Once back on the road, winding along Highway 24 past Lafayette and Orinda, home towns of my childhood, and through the Caldecott tunnel, I quieted my mind for Mass. I wondered, as I have often wondered, what God would give me today, what he would show me. I took on the heart of a child, opening my eyes to all around me. I considered my week and my many strayings, my sins, large and small, especially the hard-to-see sins of attitude and desire and fear and worry. I cleaned out my heart.

The day was bright and clear, promising increased warmth with Santa Anna breezes. Leaves were changing and golden patches had appeared among the still-green oaks. (Flocks of swallows have been swooping and looping over our back yard, wings catching the light, and baby birds have emerged from bushes, strutting and looking at their world with curious awe.) Greens were greener today, the blue sky bluer. The earth sparkled. I wondered what gift God would bring me as we drove to church, as we covered a bit of the earth’s round surface, and within my wonder a prayer formed and grew, asking for eyes to see. For I have found, if I can see it, there is always a surprise gift. I just need to pay attention.

We parked and crossed the new courtyard that now welcomes us to worship in our century-old church, St. Peter’s Anglican in Oakland. We climbed the steps, entered through the wide open doors, and stepped into the narthex. We found seats in the nave. As I knelt and said my prayers of thanksgiving for the freedom to worship, for the clergy, and for the people of the parish, an opening prayer I learned long ago, I considered my brothers and sisters all around me in the pews.

There was a sense of quietude this morning, of calm, a quiet that continued even as the liturgy began, even as the Scriptures were read, even as the Canon of the Mass invited us all to take part in the great work of the people, the action of the Eucharist, the sacrifice of  Christ reenacted each Sunday morning. These were clearly all great and good gifts, but I sensed there was another, and I watched and I waited, saying the prayers and singing the praises, confessing and receiving absolution, partaking in the Real Presence of Christ.

It was a re-freshing Eucharist, an hour of sustenance. Each Eucharist, I have found, is different, each liturgy while being the same is never the same. A new color is painted on my soul, a new note added to its melody, another flock of birds turn their feathers to the sun, and I always marvel in curious awe.

002After Mass, I visited the Sunday School to see the children, and I found my gift.

Two of my former students (from twenty-five-plus years ago) sat side by side with their children. The two generations, three, counting myself as I joined them, gave witness to the love of God. The room had been redecorated since then. We had all taken many paths since then. But there we were, living testimonies to the teaching of the next generation, having found our own unique paths back to church.

In the chaos of a world that devalues family and marriage and commitment, it is good to have a parish family to weave us all together again. Many of my former students from the ‘eighties live far away. Most have experienced or been touched by heartbreak, divorce, loss and tragedy. Even believers in an ordered, religious, path through life, one of sheer joy and redemption, cannot help but be tossed and turned in the storms of today’s culture. So, just as the medieval monasteries gave shelter from the wilds, just as they turned the swamps of Europe into fertile valleys and named stars through telescopes, so little parish churches today, like ours in Rockridge, keep us safe and teach us how to live. They offer peace; they offer family; they show us the why of existence, who we are and who we are meant to be. They give us a way forward to believing in God, or to fortify that belief, a path to understanding his great love. And on the altars of these churches God is re-presented to us, given to us, sacramentally.

We cross the courtyard and enter the silence, carrying hearts of turmoil laced with selfishness, confusion, and distrust. We are blind but want to see. We spend an hour with God, in God, and he with us, in us. When we leave, when we cross the courtyard and re-enter October 2014, we are changed and renewed.

Our eyes  have been opened. We can see the many gifts given. Now we can turn and give them to our children and they to their children.

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