Tag Archives: Eucharist

The Tapestry of Memory

IMG_1326 (5)Perhaps it was the gold vestments against the crimson carpet at St. Peter’s Pro-Cathedral in Oakland that made the Mass of the Holy Ghost one of such deep beauty. Certainly the chanting from the choir loft behind us enhanced this sense of heaven and earth, the light angelic descants swirling over and around our mortal flesh in the weighty oak pews. It was both solemn and joyous, for we were thankful for our archbishop’s careful care over the last year and were happy to witness the installation of our new bishop. 

Saturday’s Mass was one of those moments in history that unites the political and the spiritual. Man has long organized his doings with one another, an activity we call politics, and in this national election year we are keenly aware of this process. We desire freedom and peace, and our national conversations as to how to achieve this in the most equitable manner with the most noble result, occur at set times. We hope and pray that the conversations – the debates, the reportings, and the elections themselves – lead to answers that most of us can live with, peacefully, in community with one another. 

Just so the Church, that Body of Christ on earth, must organize its “political” life within the Church in much the same way. We meet yearly to elect and legislate and found and order anew. But we also protect what has gone on before – those things we have found to be good. We conserve and preserve and build upon the old to create and re-create the new.  

Man is naturally conservative in this sense, that he must build upon his past for good or ill, and that is why change is often difficult, even painful. Instinctively he holds on to his biography, his ancestral beginnings. Intuitively he honors memory, the recording of history whether it be personal, public, or institutional. Today hundreds of years and thousands of photos and documents can be stored in a tiny chip of metal, retrieved with the flick of a finger, so that flexing the memory muscle is not as needed. Or is it? 

It has been observed that we are losing our ability to memorize, losing memory itself, for we have instant access to information. If this is true, then our rituals and storytelling grow even more vital to both nation, church, and temple. Those who have thrown out their past will find their future rootless, their lives or countries or churches built upon sand. 

And so as we convened together in meetings and gathered together for meals this last week, our diocese was charged to remember, to build upon our history as we step into the future. We did this through word and sacrament, prayer and praise. We acted out the great drama of our life together kneeling in pews and sitting on folding chairs. We told our stories, giving life to the memory of who we were and are and who we will be. It was rather like weaving a beautiful tapestry, with each one of us adding a thread to the design. Soon we could see the image we had woven – one of faith, hope, and charity. 

At St. Peter’s on Saturday the archbishop knocked on the narthex doors. The doors flung open, and thirty clergy processed up the red carpet to the altar, two by two, lead by the thurifer, the torchbearers, and the crucifer. The archbishop came last, shepherding his sheep, regal in gold and holding a shepherd’s crook. The gilded robes looked heavy, the miter pressing, and just so his duties must weigh upon his soul, for he must feed and protect his sheep. 

And so the Mass began, and we told our story of God’s great love. We sang our song of confession and absolution, of offering and receiving, of uniting with the eternal in the bread and the wine of the Eucharist. We told our story as we recited creed and read scripture, how God took on flesh to become one of us, to die for us, to live again for us and bring us with him. We told the story again and again, and especially on this Saturday morning in the slanting golden light that fell upon the red tabernacle and white altar, as our archbishop installed our newly elected bishop. We told the story as the bishop received the pectoral cross of our late Bishop Morse, a gesture reminding us to remember our journey to this moment. And we told the story as our bishop received his crozier, to remind him to remember that he must protect and feed his sheep. 

As Ruth R. Wisse writes in the Wall Street Journal, “All that has been earned and won cannot be maintained unless it is conserved and reinforced and transmitted and celebrated.” She is speaking of an “optimistic conservatism” seen in the observance of Passover, seen in the American rituals of Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. As individuals, citizens, and believers, we can lose it all if we don’t remember, if we don’t celebrate our stories, if we don’t remember to remember.

Drenched by Christ

Rain on hillsIt’s been raining here in northern California and our happy earth drinks in the spring drenching, this gift from the heavens. Perhaps our rolling greens will not turn to golden browns quite yet.

It is often these quiet things, these gentle tears of the skies, that delight human senses. We pause and watch and listen. We turn off phones and radios and TVs and ponder, seeing new life birthing in buds and babies, feeling our own beating hearts dance to the rhythm of our breathing.

We are beautiful creatures both infinitely complex and varied, composed of miraculous maps within, historical maps, biological maps, genetic maps. We look to the heavens and see the miraculous maps of the universe, God’s stardust. We are small, tiny parts of a whole, and yet we are giants, of tremendous worth to our loving Creator.

As I stepped through the Holy Liturgy in our parish church this morning, I gazed at the high altar covered with white Easter lilies. I was flooded with wonder. There we were, ordinary folks, sailing in this old ark of a church, taking part in eternity intersecting time. With raspy voices we sing our hymns and the organ pumps out jeweled notes. We are an integral part of the great thanksgiving, the Sunday offering, the Divine Liturgy, the “work of the people.” We hear the silence too, moments of prayer, quiet seconds linking words of confession and absolution, sacrament and scripture. We watch tall tapers flame behind white lilies, a garden holding the tabernacle of God’s Real Presence.

I have found that the Eucharistic liturgy is both earthy and heavenly, uniting our two natures. For the duration of this hour our bodies and souls sing as one, married, united by love.

I’ve been typing up my late bishop’s sermons, and when asked to offer word suggestions for a dedication plaque, I thought of the love of God. Our bishop showed us the love of God, that it was real and living, that it was ours for the asking. And of course, when we are showered with such love we can shower others with such love. It is who we are meant to be, why we were created, to love and be loved.

It is all a mystery. St. John writes that God is love: “He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). But love is far more than a feeling, just as God is far more than wishful thinking. Love is complex and simple, demanding and sacrificial. Just like God. 

So God the Father loves us through God the Son, Jesus, whose very name is holy, one to be breathed in and out with a sacred sense of life and living. It is a name beyond all names, and with the naming of God we pull Him into our hearts and minds and souls, enlivening our bodies with His very breath, the breath of His Holy Spirit.

We have a church conference coming up, an Anglican Synod, and the days together with parishes from many states will be days of mingling the heavenly and the earthly. We shall sit on hard chairs and listen to speeches and reports, but we will also pray together, sing together, and love one another. We shall weave a tapestry of the Body of Christ, so that we may unite as one breath of love, at one in the breathing in and out of the Holy Spirit, the Name of Jesus, to show our world that God is love.

Christ the Good ShepherdToday is called Good Shepherd Sunday. I have a beloved icon that shows Christ in red-and-blue robes carrying a lamb over His shoulders. A wooden crossbeam stretches behind Him. Christ is the Good Shepherd who loves His sheep. He knows them and they know Him. The lamb He carries is like the lamb carried into the temple for sacrifice. We know, of course, that Christ is the sacrificial lamb. He replaces the lamb once sacrificed. For love of us.

I have a recurring nightmare where I am hiking along a steep mountainside in the dusk of evening. I must reach safety before dark and I must watch where I step or I shall fall far into the caverns below. Waking from these nightmares I recall thankfully that Christ will find me wherever I am and bring me safely home with Him. I will not be lost, for not one of His sheep are lost. He is the Good Shepherd.

And because of the Church and its liturgical dance of love, I know His voice when he calls my name. Like Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, I recognize Him by his voice. Like the disciples at Emmaus I see Him in the breaking of the bread. He is real. He is love.

I also have a recurring dream in which I am flying like a bird, low over green hills, arms outstretched like wings. I can sense in the dream that my arms must push downward through the air so that I can rise, as though I am swimming. It is a beautiful dream, a soaring dream, and one beating with love.

And so like these green hills, drenched and quenched by the rain, I am drenched and quenched by Christ. Christ in sacrament and scripture, in song and dance, in the breath of each day. I know that nightmares will be redeemed by dreams, dark terrors turned into bright joys.

As the clergy and acolytes recessed down the red-carpeted aisle toward the open doors of the narthex, the crucifix held high, the torches aflame, we sang the wonderful Hymn #88, “Jesus Lives,” written by German poet Christian Gellert in 1757 and set to the tune “St. Albinus” in the 19th century by Henry Gauntlett. We are instructed in the top left corner of the page to sing joyously and so we do. I particularly like the first and fourth verses, for they sing of the promise of the Good Shepherd:

 Jesus lives! thy terrors now/ Can no longer, death, appall us;/ Jesus lives! by this we know/ Thou, O grave canst not enthrall us. Alleluia!

Jesus lives! our hearts know well/ Naught from us his love shall sever;/ Life, nor death, nor powers of hell/ Tear us from his keeping ever. Alleluia!

Easter Lilies

Easter LiliesIt is a rich and glorious season, this time of Eastertide. 

As I plucked wilting blossoms off my Easter lilies near our front door I inhaled the sweetness of those remaining, taking care to avoid the staining powder of the yellow stamens. I then attended the roses that once sat on my dining table and now are over the kitchen sink. Five buds are left with shorter stems clustered together in a small pitcher between sculpted figures of Mary Magdalene and an angel. As I gaze at these reminders of the season, and especially of Easter Day, I wonder at it all.

The season of Eastertide, the fifty days linking Easter and Pentecost, provide a joyful time of quiet reflection on the meaning of the Resurrection. The immense implications of this historical event, when eternity intersected time, continues to stun me. And the scripture readings assigned for these days reflect as well, considering the meaning of this new world that was created by the empty tomb.

And indeed a new world was created with the death and resurrection of Christ. It is a revolution changing everything. In one of his first resurrection appearances to the disciples Jesus gently explains what has happened. As our preacher said this morning, Christ appears to them in an upper room where the doors have been locked. He has passed through material barriers to be in their midst. He has power over the world of matter in which we live. Is he a ghost? A vision?

St. John’s eyewitness account describes how Christ points to his wounds in his hands and his side as proof he is no ghost or vision. The disciples can see and touch him. He has a material body of flesh and blood. He is real. And yet he has the power to pass through matter.

In much the same way he seeks to enter our hearts, our own bodily chambers, to dwell in us. How does he do this? He gives the apostles power to forgive sins by breathing his spirit upon them. From this time on, the apostles, who give life to the Church, act for God in the forgiveness of sins. Why?

Christ desires clean-swept hearts, hearts of light that have expelled the dark. He can only enter a heart that is full of light, enlightened, clean of sin.

It is a profound mystery and yet it is profoundly simple, just as each of us is a profound mystery and yet profoundly simple. All creation teems with intricate complexity yet delightful simplicity. The day turns to night. The rain falls on the earth. The sun shines. And the layered meanings and conclusions of learned theologians can be summed in one sentence: God is love.

Just as I pluck the dying trumpet blossoms with their staining stamens, I pluck out my own selfishness, greed, envy, pride, my own staining sin. I trundle to Mass and confess. I repent and am forgiven. I can now enter the open doors of the Eucharist through prayer and praise, Creed and Scripture, to meet Christ in the bread and the wine. He enters my body, heart, and soul. I am given life and light and joy, having partaken of the divine.

All this Christ Jesus taught and showed in his life on earth, as he walked among us. The week before his death he gave us the Holy Supper and showed how he would return among us again and again with each Eucharist. After his resurrection, he gave us the Church and the way to forgiveness. After his ascension he gave us his Holy Spirit to strengthen, to comfort us. All told, Christ Jesus gave us himself, the only path to Heaven – the Way, the Truth, and the Life for, as St. John writes in today’s Epistle,

 “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” (I John 5:4)

Passionate Passiontide

440px-Kruis_san_damianoWe are entering Passiontide, a time when we consider the great sacrificial love of God.

As I watched the passionate protesters at the huge Trump rally at the University of Illinois last week, I was struck by their hatred, not only of Mr. Trump and his supporters but far more importantly their dismissal of his right to free speech. Their own speech was all that mattered to them. They were all that mattered to them. No-one else could speak. Their world was small and dark, turned in upon itself, devouring itself, like cancer or gangrene. Such a world, such a place, Christians call Hell. 

For without God (and Hell is the absence of God), passion is uncontrolled and undirected. It becomes misplaced and dangerous. Whatever our passion might be, if it is not God directed and Christ-filled, it turns inward upon itself. It seeds destruction, including the source of the passion, the individual himself or herself. 

The word passion, as my bishop often said, is the union of the words love and suffering. For God became man to bring us close to him. By taking on our flesh and suffering with us, as we suffer, he redeemed and continues to redeem our suffering, our mortal flesh. We join him on the Cross and we join him in his Resurrection. This is called the atonement, the at-one-ment, for we are pulled into God by his becoming one of us. 

And so today on Passion Sunday the Church pauses and reflects on the Passion of Christ, the last two weeks of Lent – Christ’s painful path to Golgotha, the hill of the skull. All images of Christ in our parish church are hidden behind purple cloths, and we feel a visceral loss of love, to sense in some way what the world would be like without Christ. In the next weeks we will follow Christ on his path to Calvary as best we can, some of us better than others, depending on age and infirmity, time and desire, and most of all, depending on our love, our passion to follow him. 

I have come to believe, in my sixty-eight years, that we cannot experience goodly, Godly, passion without God. And we cannot experience God without the Church, his Body. We are not meant, as creatures created by a loving Father, to be alone, to meet our life’s challenges alone. We are meant to be loved and to love, and we can only do this through Christ and his great gift of himself.

The gift of Christ, the Son of God, was given to us two thousand years ago in Bethlehem and then on the Cross on a hill outside Jerusalem. In those moments, history breathed once again, as the fresh air of God’s love blew upon the world, changing it forever. Mankind turned up another path toward love, learning the meaning of true passion, God-filled love. Those who accept the gift never look back to the dark days of un-love. Those who accept the gift look forward to a lifetime and an eternity of glory and unearned love.

The gift of Christ, the God-Man, the incarnated Son of God, is, as they say, a gift that keeps on giving. With every Eucharist, God the Son is re-membered, made newly present in the Real Presence. With every Eucharist, God the Son mystically enters our bodies and re-members us. As Christ becomes one with our flesh, he dwells within, renewing, inspiring, with his love. His prayer becomes ours, and our prayer becomes his. Every day is an Epiphany, a day of manifestation and seeing. Every day is a day of becoming like the Wise Men at the manger, a day of understanding the manifold works of God. 

For as Christ became at-one with Man, he gave us a means – through his Body the Church – to become at one with him individually. Love is personal, tender, touching. God loves us, each and every one of us, each with our unique personalities. We are precious to him. He loves us personally, tenderly. He reaches out to us and touches us in every Eucharist. 

Only God can order our passions, whatever they may be, to be goodly, to be Godly. And with the ordering of loves, comes the ordering of our sufferings and sacrifices. Nothing is lost. All is offered up to the Cross, and all is returned a thousand fold. 

And so we enter Passiontide, a vigorous ride in and into our life with God. We ride confidently, knowing we are riding high and on to Easter’s resurrection.

Wonderful Words

birdIt’s been a week of words, words, words, and more words. 

Some words were heated such as those between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz in the Republican debates. Some words were measured and thoughtful, such as those of Mr. Carson and earlier Ms. Fiorina in those same debates on Thursday. If words had trajectories, the former words were missiles launched; the latter words were birds circling and weaving.

I’ve been thinking about words and their power, particularly this last week of Epiphanytide when the Church celebrates the Word made incarnate in Bethlehem, Christ manifested to us, the world, the Word alight in the darkness. 

Words continue to light the dark, to beam bright epiphanies into despair and loss and confusion. Words comfort and heal and explain and judge. They forgive. They love.

The Bible is called the Word of God, and I’m glad the Gideons still supply hotels with free copies in nightstand drawers. The Gideons, a society of Christian businessman formed in 1899, has distributed over two billion copies of the Bible in two hundred countries in one hundred languages, today printing eighty million copies a year. Lately I’ve noticed the Bibles sitting alongside the Book of Mormon and sometimes the Teaching of Buddha. I wondered about the rarity of the Koran in these rooms but understand there is a concern about disrespect. One imam said that Muslims don’t need a copy of the Koran for they have memorized the first chapter, prayed five times a day.

It is good there are other faiths represented in these nightstands. Inclusivity protects the Bibles from the charge of exclusivity when guests complain of religion in their room. Americans are a freedom-loving people. We believe in freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of thought and conscience. It is why we debate conscientious issues before choosing our president. It is why we fearlessly use heated words, or words launched like missiles across a stage toward our opponent, missiles targeting other words.

I enjoy the politically incorrect Republican debates. They show that America still has a pulse, her arteries are flowing, her heart beating, in her celebration of free expression. Some pundits have complained there are too many candidates in the field, but I laud the number. Let us encourage this multi-faceted discussion and be proud of the raucous, boisterous conversation. Let us appreciate the talented and articulate candidates who give of their time, talent, and treasure, of varying gender and generation, race and ethnicity. This is America at its best. This is how we elect our governors.

And we use words, words, words. Let them fly through the air, circle and weave, and come home to roost in our hearts and minds. Let the words win and lose, as they become forged in debate, fired by truth.

Lots of words. I’ve been sorting our late bishop’s words, his sermons, scrutinizing the yellow lined pages, the brown parched sheets, scraps from hotel stationery scrawled with words, handwritten, prescient ideas pressed onto paper, words written in the purple ink the bishop favored. Staples or  clips join some pages, linking sermons back to 1951, his year of ordination to the priesthood. I’ve come to see an order in the pages, and the words, how they fall naturally into Church Year seasons and feast days within those seasons. There are also speeches given at dedications, ordinations, baptisms, synods, pilgrimages, retreats, and funerals. Dates, places, and occasions are recorded in the pale pencil script of his loving wife. 

Hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of words. “He was a mystic,” a friend said recently. But then, all sacramental Christians are mystical by definition, for we believe in the mystical and mysterious action of the Holy Spirit among us in this hard world of matter. We believe in the mystical change in the bread and wine as the Word once again becomes flesh and dwells not only among us but within us in the Eucharist. We believe in the Spirit mystically flowing through the waters of Baptism and the oils of Unction and the words of absolution given by a priest to a penitent in Confession. The Spirit mystically weaves into the vows of bride and groom as they say committing words before a priest who, in the name of the Body of Christ, blesses their marriage, and the Spirit works mystically through the hands of a bishop in Ordination and Confirmation. 

As I study our bishop’s words, his purple script on yellow paper, I pray that God will enter my mind and heart and speak to me just as he entered my bishop’s mind and heart and spoke to him, that I might share these words bridging heaven and earth, spirit and flesh. One day, God willing, the words will flow onto pages bound into a book to be held and read, words that will instill the greater Word.

This last week, before the political words and the sorting of the words on the yellow lined pages, I sent off my review of Michael D. O’Brien’s Elijah in Jerusalem to CatholicFiction.net. In this end-times novel, Bishop Elijah confronts the Antichrist in Jerusalem. Like his namesake, the Prophet Elijah, Bishop Elijah listens for the still small voice of God. I too am listening for it, hoping to hear those huge words spoken by the little voice, whispering in the stillness of heart and soul. I often observed my bishop listening, listening to all of us with our many words and opinions, hopes and fears, but also listening to something else, someone else, trying to catch the quiet voice that wove among us as well. 

With the many threats at home and abroad, threats to freedom and faith, to liberty and law, let us celebrate free and faithful words, expressions of who we are and who we are meant to be, as Americans, as believers in God who became the Word made flesh.

St. Francis of Assisi

Francis_of_Assisi_-_CimabueAs storms lash the Carolinas, we in dry California are reminded that the seasons are changing. The earth turns, moving toward shorter days and longer nights. The light rain that happily dampened the Bay Area this last week washed the air, baptizing the breeze, and last night temperatures dropped to what Californians might call chilly. Today, on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the creation is full of the glory of God, the sun-drenched air sparkling, the leaves greener, the hills more golden.

They say this part of the country is not unlike Italy, and as I contemplate the gentle saint who walked those roads in Umbria and Tuscany in 1215, eight hundred years ago, I marvel again at his complex simplicity.

In my first novel, Pilgrimage, Madeleine and Jack Seymour journey from San Francisco (the city of St. Francis) to Italy. Madeleine’s priest has sent her on a pilgrimage to selected churches and sites; three were Franciscan: Assisi, Cortona, and La Verna. Madeleine reviews a short biography she has brought with her, and I must agree with Madeleine that Francis’s life is difficult to condense:

“Born in Assisi in 1181, the son of a prosperous cloth merchant, Francis Bernadone grew up hearing the tales of wandering troubadours. While fighting Perugia as a young soldier, he was captured. In prison, he had a vision of God; when released, he returned home a changed man.         “I am about to take a wife of surpassing fairness,” Francis announced, referring to “Lady Poverty.” He journeyed to Rome and gave his money to Saint Peter’s Basilica; he exchanged his clothes with a beggar.

440px-Kruis_san_damianoReturning to Assisi, he prayed in the church of San Damiano, where God spoke from the altar crucifix: “Repair my house, which is falling into ruin!” Taking the message literally, Francis sold his father’s cloth and tried to give the proceeds to the priest who refused them. Furious, Francis’s father beat his son and locked him in the basement of their family home. Francis escaped and returned to San Damiano for sanctuary. 

Brought before the bishop, Francis stripped off his clothes. “Hitherto I have called you my father on earth,” he said to his father, “but henceforth I desire to say only ‘Our Father who art in heaven.’ “

He wandered the countryside, singing to God, calling himself a jongleur for God, a troubadour-juggler-fool. Highwaymen robbed him and threw him in the snow. In Gubbio, friends gave him a cloak, a rope, and a staff, the clothes of a begging pilgrim. In Assisi, he rebuilt San Damiano and restored two other chapels. He nursed lepers, searching for God’s will in his life.

In 1208, in the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in the valley below Assisi, the Gospel reading commanded Christ’s disciples to give up all they owned, and preach repentance and the coming of the Kingdom of God. Francis renounced his few possessions and donned rough peasant sacking. Soon others followed, embracing poverty and preaching God’s love.

The Penitents of Assisi traveled to Rome for approval of their order. At first the pope refused their request, but after a dream where Francis propped up the collapsing Basilica of Saint John Lateran—the pope’s cathedral and symbol of the Church—he agreed to the new order.

Now called the Friars Minor, Francis and his followers lived in small huts in the valley below Assisi; in 1211, they were given the chapel of St. Mary of the Angels, the Porziuncola. They traveled the countryside, preaching and living humbly. The order grew.

Stories of Saint Francis spread throughout Italy. He healed lepers; he nursed the dying; he tamed a dangerous wolf; birds obeyed him. He created a live nativity scene in Greccio—an early crèche. He crusaded to Egypt to convert the Sultan. In 1224, on Monte Verna, east of Florence, he received the stigmata, the five wounds of Christ, from a seraphim angel: his hands and feet were pierced, his side was slashed, and he began a slow hemorrhage.

Two years later, at the age of forty-five, he lay dying. He asked to be buried with the criminals; but after his death his body was placed in the crypt of the Assisi basilica his followers built.”

  Pilgrimage (OakTara 2007)

It strikes me that Francis was not particularly interested in caring for the created order, but rather healing the people in it, and only after years of penitence and communion with God did he feel this desire. Francis’s renunciation of material goods, his poverty, somehow opened his body and soul to God, allowing God to enter and take up residence. We call this the sacramental life, for Francis became the matter that would become infused with God.

Christians experience this infusion in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, in the waters of Baptism, in the oils of Anointing the Sick. God enters his creation – the material world – and transforms it with himself. We call these transformations miracles.

Francis gave to God his spirit and his flesh, his life and his body, his “Brother Ass.” He became a penitent beggar. He suffered as any would suffer from cold and heat and fasting. At first he simply wandered the roads, singing to God. But as God entered him and united with him, within him, Francis began to care for the lepers and the lost. He gave no advice in regards to climate change or population control or environmental hazards, at least to my knowledge.

Francis, full of Christ, brought God to the villages and churches of Italy. He was the host, the means, through which God could touch his people. It was natural, that as God burned brighter and brighter within him, that he would desire to experience the love Christ felt for the world when he died. It was natural that he would pray in a cave on Mount La Verna to be given the stigmata, the five wounds of Christ. He would die two years later from those slowly bleeding wounds.

Le CelleWe once visited Le Celle outside Cortona. Home of Capuchin Friars, St. Francis’s cell can be seen – a cave-like room, hard bed, an image of the Virgin Mary, an altar. The convento, monastery, hangs on the side of the mountain, overlooking a gorge.

St. Francis's CelleWe too must be simple enough to open our hearts to God to allow him to dwell within, always aware that it might be more complicated than that, that the Creator will transform us when he enters into someone who will allow God to touch his people. He will lead us where we must go, not always where we want to go, turning our time into eternity, turning our earth toward him, bathing in his light.

Requiem

APCK-Logo-10-03-2008It was as if Archbishop Morse of our Anglican Province of Christ the King were present among us, and perhaps he was, the sense was so palpable. 

My husband and I arrived early Saturday morning for Bishop Morse’s Requiem Mass at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Oakland, near Berkeley in the historic residential neighborhood of Rockridge. The clergy were vesting in the Sunday School rooms (the sacristy being too small for such numbers) and as I checked on the nursery – lights on, toys set out, our young attendant waiting for the first arrivals with her sweet smile – I was greeted with the awesome anticipation I usually sense when dozens of clergy meet for a single Mass, whatever the occasion. 

But Saturday’s occasion was a serious one, an especially joyous one. These men knew this was a historical event, a meaningful time in all of their lives, in the life of the Church, in the world itself. This funeral was for no ordinary man, not your average priest. Bishop Morse had welcomed these men into the fold of the Anglican Province of Christ the King over the past thirty-seven years with the vision to continue traditional Anglican Christianity. Each man who had known  this bishop had differing and yet similar stories to tell of his love for them. 

A good shepherd, Bishop Morse had found these young men at miraculous moments in the millions of moments in their lives – at crossroads moments – and revealed the love of God in a compelling way. Saturday morning, as they robed in the Sunday School of St. Peter’s, pulling cassocks and cottas and stoles over their heads, chatting and catching up with one another’s lives since the last gathering, they were thankful for this man who had changed them forever. 

I had checked on the nursery and had watched the tide of clergy ripple through the Sunday School rooms. I now entered the nave of the church and joined my husband in our pew. I said my prayers of thanksgiving and looked about. Four large candles stood at the head of the central aisle, before the chancel steps, waiting for the casket. To the side of the chancel an acolyte entered from the sacristy. He lit tall candles on the altar. A large medieval crucifix hung over a tented tabernacle and marble altar. I thought how the steepled wooden ceilings and red-brick apse formed the bow of our ark. Stained glass windows, glittering along the side aisles, told stories of St. Peter. Behind and high above us rose the choir loft with St. Ann Chapel’s wondrous singers. Beyond them more stained glass burned bright with Pentecost crimsons, flaming to the eaves. 

As we waited in our pews, the choir sang softly, and I recognized Shall we gather by the river. Then the choir was suddenly silent, and in the silence a procession stepped up the aisle. Torchbearers held flaming candles, the thurifer swung clouds of incense, the crucifer held high the crucifix. Four young men, the bishop’s grandsons, rolled a closed casket to rest between the standing torches at the head of the aisle. 

I gazed at the draped casket, knowing that the spirit of this man was no longer there. He was alive, but where was he? Sleeping? Purgatory? Heaven? The body had become, now separated from the spirit, a symbol or memory, something tangible, and as sacramental Christians we honor the material of creation. We believe God  created us and our world from his great love. He even entered  our created order himself to walk among us, to die among us.

So in our liturgies, matter matters. Matter is our means of expression; matter is our vocabulary, our dialog with God. Hence, candles burn, incense billows, bells ring. We use our bodies to kneel and genuflect and make the Sign of the Cross over our heads and hearts. We process with our feet, we anoint with oil, we baptize with water, we mark foreheads with ash. We act the story, we celebrate the glories as we re-create Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday in every Eucharist. We receive the Son of God, uniting his body and blood with our own, taking, eating, and drinking the consecrated bread and wine at every Mass.

Words are one means of expression, but only one (and I do love words). We desire to express the profound love of God through the dance of the liturgy, through our bodies, through our living lives. 

So I gazed at the coffin, now anchoring our ark of a parish church, sitting in the heart of its cross. It was as though our ship had paused in its sailing through the rough weather of our world, and in this time of standing still we on board in the pews wove prayer and song around and over the body of the man who had fought for us all these years. 

Robert Sherwood Morse took a strong stand against the riptides and undertows of the seventies, eighties, nineties, and the first fifteen years of this millennium. He told the truth, unafraid, always listening to the voice of God spoken through scripture, sacrament, and tradition. Especially in the last few years, a time in which I was given the grace to work with him, I could see him listening, looking, feeling his way through choices, sometimes hard choices. In essence, he protected us from heresy, ensuring the ancient creeds would continue to be recited and, more importantly, believed. So, like Noah, he built an ark and welcomed us in. And like Moses, he led us through the desert to the promised land. He walked straight and tall, holding fast his shepherd’s crook. He watched out for hungry wolves. He protected us. He guided us. He loved us. 

And in that love he taught us how God loves. In that love he taught us how Christ loves, how to love one another. “Christianity is caught, not taught,” he often said. His exuberant witness was indeed catching, and the fire of God’s love spread from soul to soul in his congregations as his many arks set sail through the years. And we always knew it was Christ who acted through him. He was a vehicle, a way, a disciple who pointed to Christ, waving his hands in gentle arcs as he preached from the central aisle.

He loved the Holy Eucharist: “The purpose of the Church is to give humanity the Eucharist. The Church must clear the roads so that this can happen.” 

And so, as I gazed upon the draped casket surrounded by flaming candles, as I joined in the prayer-dance of liturgy and song, and as I stepped to the altar to receive Christ, our good bishop was present, with us. He heard us, he smiled upon us. His love wove between us, pulling us into Christ. For our bishop knew, and knows at this moment as I write this, that he formed a cross with his body, linking earth to heaven, a cross pointing to the true Cross, the way to life, to God, today and in eternity. 

As we sang, Yes, we’ll gather at the river,/The beautiful, the beautiful river;/Gather with the saints at the river/That flows by the throne of God, I could hear him singing with us, gathering us together in his love this first Saturday in June 2015, gathering us together in our mortality, so that we could gather later in eternity by the river that flows by the throne of God. 

Biography of Archbishop Morse

Easter Flowers

IMG_0485 (2).3The glories of Easter and Eastertide lift me into familiar joy, one that I expect each year. And yet this joy surprises me with its nuances, colors, and music: the lilies on the altar, the flaming candles, the removal of the purple coverings, the triumphant hymns and processions.

Easter often signals the arrival of spring, and the natural world reflects the supernatural with sunshine. This Easter in the Bay Area a long desired rain descended from the heavens, splattering our dry California soil. It was a too-short rain that came and went quickly, but it peaked Easter morning. Still we were dry inside the ark of the church.

After the Scripture lessons and Creed, and before the sermon, the children flowered the thick white Easter Cross placed at the foot of the altar steps. They shoved bright blossoms into the deep holes, and watched the wood of the cross come alive. Just so, I thought, Mary Magdalene came to the empty tomb and found the living Lord walking in the garden.

The Gospel appointed for Easter Day, the highest holiest day of the Christian Year, details Mary Magdalene’s visit to the empty tomb in a manner found in histories, not myths or legends. These specific details had been passed from one generation to another orally in the early Church, and were recorded decades after the event. So it is not surprising that the accounts vary a bit, but in the essence they are the same: Jesus, their Lord, had risen from the dead.  

The accounts agree on another key fact, that the women, not the men, made the discovery. Had these resurrection stories been invented, those who found the empty tomb would have been men not women. And yet, remarkably, the apostles did not find the tomb first; they didn’t even believe the women when they ran back to their hiding place and told them. It is Mary Magdalene who makes the discovery, and at first she doesn’t understand what has happened either, thinking the body has been stolen, a detail that could not have been invented. 

In John’s account, Peter and John return with her to the tomb and see the linen cloths lying to the side. John understands: he remembers the scripture foretelling his rising from the dead. Peter does not understand and they return home, leaving Mary Magdalene to encounter the “gardener.” 

Picture 089Unique to John’s account is this moving conversation between Jesus and Mary Magdalene: 

But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, and seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

         And they say unto her, “Woman, why weepest thou?”

She saith unto them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.” And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

         Jesus saith unto her, “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?”

She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus saith unto her, “Mary.”

She turned herself, and saith unto him, “Rabboni.” (Master)

Jesus saith unto her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.”

Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.        (John 11-18, KJV)

The risen Christ makes numerous appearances on earth before his ascension to Heaven, but even with these accounts, many today do not believe in the resurrection of the Son of God. Some of us need help, it seems. I was one of those. 

I was converted by reason, arguments I read when I was twenty, made by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. I made that first step of faith (I didn’t feel I was leaping) and found an Anglican church (Lewis was Anglican) to find out more. Experiencing my first Anglican liturgy in the spring of 1967, I was entranced, overwhelmed by beauty. I began the dance of a lifetime, weaving Heaven into my earthy world. 

I am still dancing, learning new movements and new steps, and enjoying the many other dancers in the Body of Christ, the Church, who dance with me and alongside me, helping and teaching me. 

And so, each Easter as the dead wood of the white cross comes alive with reds and blues, greens and yellows, pinks and purples, flowered by the children of our parish, I am thankful. I am thankful for Mary Magdalene and her faith and her witness to the glorious Resurrection of Christ; I am thankful that I could tell her story in my novel, The Magdalene Mystery, and in the telling understand how truly historical those resurrection accounts really are, deepening the belief I found forty-seven years ago, strengthening Lewis’s reasonable reasoning.

But most of all I am thankful for the Son of God among us, having risen on Easter morning, having walked the earth to appear to many, and with us today in the Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine. I rejoice in God’s great love: to be born among us, to live, die, and rise again, to take us with him into eternity in this world and the next.

Gaudete Sunday

???????????????????????????????The heavens opened early Thursday morning, and rain poured upon our California soil, slaking the thirst of the earth but soon bursting gutters and filling low places with floodwaters. In drought-plagued California, we didn’t dare complain, but were thankful.

We live in the foothills of Mount Diablo, and while our house is on bedrock, our northern hillside falls steeply into a ravine. Friday morning we noticed part of the fence was missing, and it had taken some of the landscaping with it as it slid to the bottom of the hill. I thought, as I have thought many times, how suddenly nature makes short work of man’s efforts to tame her, shattering our pride.

The earth is drying out now, and this morning we headed for church, bundled up for temps are in the low fifties (cold for us). The skies had changed from threatening to sudden beauty, with white clouds scuttling against brilliant blue patches, the low sun clarifying the air as though trying to fit more light into shorter days.

And in this winter-scape we prepare for the light of the Incarnation, to me always a stunning event, one repeated in a different way on humble altars in glorious Eucharists. It is Advent, and we prepare for Christmas, the coming of the Christ Child, God becoming one of us, with us, Emanuele. We celebrate the love, sacrificial and humble, of a God who loves his creation so much that he would do such a thing, that he would be born in a manger-cave, among animals, to a poor, devout Jewish couple who believed in his angel messengers and obeyed them.

And so, stepping into the warm nave of our parish church, the symbols of the space textured this story of miraculous birth. The Virgin Mary and her holy Child stood to the left, Gospel side, a bank of votives flaming at her feet. Three of the four Advent candles in their bed of greens had been lit (two purples and one rose). The American flag stood proudly, a testimony to our freedom of worship. Against the red brick apsidal wall, the white marble altar was draped in purple, and six tall tapers burned on either side of the purple-tented tabernacle. A crèche set in greenery, to the far right, Epistle side, told the humble story of glory, this huge contradiction, one of many fascinating ones in our faith, of glorious humility. Somehow true glory can only be found, we are told, in true humility. Somehow true joy can only be found in true sacrifice. Somehow the Creator must become part of his creation to save it from itself.

I love Advent III, called Rose Sunday, Gaudete Sunday. We light the rose candle along with the first two purple candles. Today is Gaudete Sunday because of the opening prayer, the Introit: Gaudete in Domino semper, or Rejoice in the Lord always… Rose Sunday is a break in the penitential purple of Advent, and this is the only Advent Sunday we have flowers on the altar. We emphasize the joy of anticipating Christmas rather than the penitence of preparing for Christmas.

In the daily readings of the Morning and Evening Prayer offices, the mood is definitely one of penitence and preparation. Most of the readings have been Old Testament prophecies, warnings, and judgments in Isaiah and the Psalms. We read the early chapters of the Gospel of Mark, of the beginnings of Christ’s ministry, but not the Christmas story, not yet. But most fascinating are the chapters in Revelation, or The Apocalypse, the great vision given to St. John on the Island of Patmos, detailing the end-times, the last days, the Second Coming of Christ.

We have been immersed in these daily prayers, not reflecting the coming of Christ to Bethlehem but reflecting the Second Coming of Christ in Judgment. We are “woken up” with these future realities, these warnings and visions, given a “heads up.” Are we ready for Christ to come? How will we fare when judged? Have we loved enough? Have we cleaned out our hearts to receive him? For he will not enter a cluttered heart fettered with sins, the detritus of selfishness and pride, envy and greed. There will be no room for him in such a heart. We need to make room for him.

So Advent, often called “Little Lent,” reminds us of the four great events, the adventures, to come to us: Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell. How will we – our lives – be measured?

This morning I entered the nave of our warm parish church and knelt in a pew, giving thanks for the clergy, the people of the parish, and the freedom to worship. I asked God to clean out my little heart, to remove all the obstacles to his advent in my soul. My gaze fell on the purple-draped tabernacle and knew that this weekly ritual, this rite, would set me right with God. I knew that the habit of confession would serve me well in the time span of my life, would ensure that I have the time of my life, ride the waves of glory in this great adventure. I knew that, encouraged by the words of the liturgy – confession, absolution, the great action of the Mass, Holy Communion – I would unite once again with Christ, in bread and wine placed on my tongue. I knew that each Eucharist prepared my heart and soul, mind and body, for the great Feast of the Lamb that would await me in Heaven. And I wanted to be ready. I wanted as many Eucharistic feasts as I could manage before then, readying my heart and soul. I want to sing with the angels and the saints.

I also love Advent III because we usually practice (after Mass) for the Christmas Pageant. Young and old gather together to portray our story of redemption, beginning with the Fall of Adam and Eve and ending with the Nativity of Our Lord, the beginning of our salvation, the antidote to the Fall. Lessons are read and carols sung. We rehearsed today; next Sunday we don costumes and prayers and wings (I get to be an angel, and yes, even with wings…) We have a five-year old Mary and an eleven-year old Joseph.

The days are wintry and short. We prepare to celebrate Christmas, the year of our Lord, Anno Domini, A.D.  Some of this sense, this pairing of season with humble glory, has been captured by the poet Christina Rossetti:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

 

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.

In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

 

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,

Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;

Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,

The ox and ass and camel which adore.

 

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;

But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,

Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

 

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

 Christina Rossetti (1830-1895), “In the Bleak Midwinter”

 

 Yes, Advent is a time to give him our hearts: clean, ready, and open.

Singing with Saints

SAINTS2I’m afraid I don’t appreciate falling back an hour so that we can spring forward later in order to move an hour of light from evening to morning. It confuses the body’s natural clock, and I’ve yet to find a good reason to practice daylight saving time today. I’m told it has to do with farmers needing earlier morning light, but the advantage only lasts a few weeks.

And yet, just as when I travel across time zones, the change brings to mind the strangeness of time itself, its movement, its speed usually governed by my own attention. Time speeds up when I am thinking; it slows down when I am not focused. But we all know this is an illusion, a fact that makes the whole process even more strange.

Aging speeds time too. We live a certain life-time, a set span as though we inhabit parentheses or brackets or quotation marks. Perhaps birth is a capital letter and death the period; we are the sentence and we hope we have many clauses and interesting verbs and fascinating, colorful nouns. One way or another we travel a road through time from birth to death, like flipping pages in a book, and the traveling seems to speed up as we move along. Those childhood years stretched out, especially those summer months with no school (at least in my childhood) and those long lazy days of reading and riding bikes into dusk and darkness and someone called you in.

And so it seemed appropriate that the Festival of All Saints landed this weekend, All Saints on Saturday with its extra hour (a sweet gift to be taken back later) and All Souls moved to tomorrow, Monday. All Saints and All Souls is a festival of time, I’ve often thought, celebrating the mystery of human life, and God within each of those human lives. We talk about the Communion of Saints, linking those from the past with those in the present with those to come, all in communion with us when we receive our Communion, communing together on a Sunday morning.

As our preacher explained, when we worship God we take part in the glory and worship of those in Heaven – the souls, saints, and angels, as described in the Revelation of St. John, the Epistle for All Saints Day:

I beheld… a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands, and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God with sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood around about the throne, and about the elders and the four living creatures, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. (Rev. 7:2+)

In our earthly hour of liturgical worship, ritual choreographed like a dance incorporating all the earthly senses (hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, smelling), we worship outside of time with those before, those now, those to come. We also worship deep inside time, in its very heart, the kernel of created life, deep within God himself as he enters deep within us. It is a pinpoint moment all pulled together as the Host is placed on the tongue and we sip from the chalice.

Time is telescoped on a Sunday morning in a simple church, so that when we leave the sacred and re-enter the worldly rushing world around us, where time devours seconds on a dial or falls into the abyss of a digital screen, gone – when we re-enter our ordinary comings and goings – we bring that timeless telescopic moment with us. We carry that jeweled moment, and all the jeweled moments of worship, collected in each of us, recreating us to be who we truly are. We become further sculpted and more defined. We have been fed and enriched and changed each time we join this host of witnesses, each time we sing our songs of worship as one voice:

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who thee…..  by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be for ev – er blest,
Al – le – lu – ia,  al – le – lu – ia!
                (#126, 1940 Episcopal Hymnal)
 

Our preacher spoke of the tortures of the early saints, their long, drawn-out martyrdoms as they confessed the lordship of Jesus of Nazareth. We look around our world today and see similar Christian martyrdoms, but we feel safe on our own soil. So far. Would we deny our faith? We wonder on days like today, when we recall Tertullian’s “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” We are thankful for these saints, for where would we be today without them?

Time would be a dull thing, scattered and meaningless, with no end in sight and too many ends in sight. We would be devoured by the noise and rush of the world or simply our own silent pride. We would be blind to beauty, truth, goodness. We would not see God, and so we would not appreciate the life he has given us; life would be cheap.

And so, in a way, All Saints is a prelude to Thanksgiving for, while every Eucharist is a festival of thanksgiving, today is a day in which we give special thanks for that emerald moment of worship promised, that moment we join with the heavenly host in the worship of God with the great Communion of Saints.