I was glad this morning to see all well at our Berkeley Chapel. Our streaming online was set to start, and the hymns listed on the hymn board were some of my favorites. The organist was playing a piece that filled the space with joy as we awaited the dramatic procession in from outside. Five of the 14 Cal Rowing Crew who are residents on the property would be assisting our Dean of Seminary, Fr. Napier, and as all the pieces of the hour fell into place, I sighed my thanksgivings: thanksgivings for the place, the people, the freedom to worship in this holy chapel, unique and precious.
My week had begun with a fire alarm. It was a false alarm, but frightening and earsplitting just the same. It occurred in this Berkeley student residence on Sunday after Mass (last Sunday) as I was closing the office downstairs. Being that close to an alarm like that is something I will not easily forget. I can still hear it ringing in my ears.
It made me think about alarms, disaster alarms, that warn us of impending danger to body or soul, or both since it is difficult, in this world at least, to separate the two without serious harm. Pain is an alarm that something is wrong with our body or soul (physical pain or mental). Fever and swelling tell us that the body is reacting to an infection that could do further damage. Guilt and remorse tell us we have some confessing to do, some forgiving or being forgiven. Our conscience, formed from a young age, becomes our judge in these vital matters, so it is vital that our consciences are formed rightly, with a wholesome fear of God and a love of his law.
How we grow through life, from the womb to the tomb as they say, makes all the difference. Which path do we choose to take, and which laws do we ask God to write on our hearts?
The false fire alarm, I learned today, was caused by spilled milk in a fridge that sat on the floor above the basement where a smoke detector was. Upon investigation (with most certainly a hefty fine) we learned that the milk had gone through the fridge base, through the flooring, and had pooled around the detector.
We have so many false alarms today that ring our world with noise and harangue. We are alarmed by so many fears, from pandemic to vaccines to masks to terrorism to World War III, and even alarmed by the climate when it changes. Some of these are false and some not. We must figure it out. We must seek out authorities we trust to separate truth from lies, to form our souls, to point the right way to take in the midst of the dark forest. (Hint: mainstream news is not a trustworthy authority.)
Elders must teach the young, embracing the role of mentor. The young must seek out elders, embracing the role of student.
I have found our clergy to be a mixed group like any group formed from fallen humans. But within that group I have found elders that could teach me as well as parish laity. Some, through time, merely set an example for me in the way they lived their lives. Some preached, and I could tell when it rang true and when it was rang false. I prayed and continue to pray for discernment, minute by minute, to use the count of my days as wisely as possible, with a mind to know the mind of Christ.
One of my favorite podcasts is Andrew Klavan on The Daily Wire. He mentioned this last week that the first Christians called themselves followers of the Way. For Christ called himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And so Christ is the way we must go, forgoing all others, listening to his words of love, life, and, yes, law. We do this in the Church, through many ways – music, poetry, prayer, the song and dance of the liturgy – ways that lead into Christ, and he into us. There is no other way to life eternal, no other way to joy eternal, no other way to love eternal.
Through Christ’s bride, the Church, we are mentored by a trusted authority. We learn who we are: past, present, and meant to be. We learn how to learn. We are clothed in the habit of habit, good habits, that texture our souls, weaving fine golden thread into our unique God-created character. We learn how to love, how to be struck by the glorious differences between each one of us, how to raise up each one of us in joy.
I read recently that Homer’s Odyssey had been cancelled for some woke reason as part of a high school curriculum. One of the striking images in this classical work is the image of Odysseus tied to the mast of a ship, his ears plugged, in an effort to not listen to the sirens calling him from a distant shore. As I recall (and it must have been over fifty years ago that I read it) they are tempting him away from is purpose, sailing true and straight for home. And so we have the siren songs of today – the many distractions, some serious, some silly, that call us away from using our time well, away from the way we should be going, sailing straight and true for heaven. They are false alarms in the truest sense.
But even so some some alarms are good for us, warning us. Many alarms are going off in our world today, and many should be heeded, even at this late hour in the fall of the republic of America. Many alarms are symptoms of a serious illness in our culture, a Narcissism (again a classical allusion) trapping our people in childhood. We become tribal and petty and barbarian. We no longer celebrate our diversity, but brand one another as the other, as the enemy. We no longer see creation as a reflection of the Creator, as a magnificent tapestry of love. We no longer see that we are all children of God, all children in the family of God.
I am glad that, for the most part, I am able to spot false alarms, hear the tinny sound of their sirens. I am glad I can find rest and refreshment in this holy chapel on a Sunday morning, that I can dance with the organ and sing with the angels, that I can fall on my knees in penitence and worship, that I can be fed by Christ himself, that I have such a lovely parish family I love, my brothers and sisters in Christ, my children and parents in Christ. I am glad that I can be re-formed, reborn in the image of God.
There is nothing better than that. Nothing truer. Nothing that will silence the sirens ringing in our ears. At least for a time, an hour a week, a block from UC Berkeley.
St. Joseph of Arimathea Collegiate Anglican Chapel offers Mass weekly at 11:30 on Sundays. All welcome.