Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Thou Shalt Love

          There are some traditions from my Jewish background that have followed me into my life as a Christian. The menorah my family used when we celebrated Chanukah sits on one of my bookcases. On the anniversaries of my parents’ deaths, I put on my father’s prayer shawl, such as Jesus would have done at the Temple before he read from the scrolls, and recite the Kaddish, the prayer for those who mourn.  On both my front door’s frame and my back door’s frame, hang two small boxes, the tops of which point to the east. In those boxes, those mezuzahs, are these words, written in Hebrew, from Deuteronomy II: 18-21, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words which I command thee this day shall be upon thy heart. And thou shalt teach them to thy children when thou sittest in thy house, when thou walkest by thy way, and when thou liest down and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the doorposts of thy house and upon thy gates that ye may remember and do all my commandments and be holy unto your God.”

Several months after my father died, my stepmother gave me a box of my items that belonged to my father, things she thought I might like to have. She had no idea what treasures she was giving me. The box contained my father’s prayer shawl, given to him on the occasion of his 13th birthday. Also in the box was a small blue velvet bag tied with a gold cord. Contained in that pouch were my father’s tefellin, the small black boxes I had seen my father wear on his head and on his left arm from time to time, such as after his parents died and when he headed out to synagogue with a friend for Sabbath services. I recall the time I had asked him why and how he wore those strange boxes, especially one that was tied by leather straps to his forehead. He started to explain and then stopped and told me to go get my bible. After he tied the boxes, one to my left arm and the other to my forehead, he opened the bible to Deuteronomy II and read verses 18-21.

As I stood feeling the pressure of the boxes strapped to my forehead and my bottom side of my upper arm, my father explained to me that he wore the tefellin out of a sense of duty to God. I had long been taught that with faith in God came responsibilities to God. Verses 18-21 were a summation of some of those responsibilities.

For as long as I can remember, I have had the habit of kissing my fingertips and then reaching up and touching the mezuzah that is affixed to the back doorpost of my house. I am certain it is a habit I developed from watching my father do the same thing each time he exited the house in which I was raised. That simple act, as I head out into the world, reminds me of God’s presence in my life and of my responsibility as a result of that presence. I try daily to live up to those responsibilities. I admit, some days I think I am much more successful than on others. But with each new day, as I head out the door, I tap my kissed fingertips on the box on the doorpost of my house and hope people whose paths I cross that day are able to see the love God has for each of them reflected in me.


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

When in Our Music

One of my favorite hymns is When in our music God is glorified. The tune and the text really speak to me and explores the main reason behind why I love working in the church. The hymn text was written in 1972, and it is set to Charles Villiers Stanford’s tune ENGELBERG, which was composed in 1904.

This hymn text encompasses what our music should bring to the worship service. Our music should always glorify God and the entire creation should rejoice with music toward God. Music is sound, and as musicians, we take the sound and compress it into time through rhythm, notes, dynamics, and words to take the sound to a deeper meaning, which hopefully stirs our hearts closer to God. Through our music, we speak the Truth, and we can learn much about our faith through music. Singing and music in the church have been around for hundreds of years. David wrote the psalms, which were set to music, and he played the lyre, calming Solomon. Mary, the mother of Jesus, rejoiced in song when she learned she would birth Jesus. Jesus sang a hymn the night He was betrayed. Cathedrals around the world have sustained choirs for hundreds of years. Through the centuries, music has always been an avenue to draw us closer to God.

At Christ Church Cathedral, our choirs - Girls, Boys, Mens, Singers, Schola, Imps - and music staff spend hours upon hours each week on the details of music to produce beautiful, artistic music on a weekly basis that ensures we will be able to give our highest praises and worship to God on Sunday. Our prayer is that through our worship, music, and sound, you will be moved to a more profound alleluia and draw closer to the One who gave us the gift of music. 

When in our music God is glorified,
and adoration leaves no room for pride,
it is as though the whole creation cried

How often, making music, we have found
a new dimension in the world of sound,
as worship moved us to a more profound

So has the Church, in liturgy and song,
in faith and love, through centuries of wrong,
borne witness to the truth in every tongue,

And did not Jesus sing a psalm that night
when utmost evil strove against the Light?
Then let us sing, for whom he won the fight,

Let every instrument be tuned for praise!
Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise!
And may God give us faith to sing always
Alleluia! Amen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Trembling on the Pilgrimage of Life

     Phil Cousineau writes, “If your journey is indeed a pilgrimage, a soulful journey, it will be rigorous.  Ancient Wisdom suggests that if you aren’t trembling as you approach the sacred, it isn’t the real thing.  The sacred, in its various guises as holy ground, art or knowledge, evokes emotion and commotion.” After returning from our pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, I am realizing that the journey of faith, is really a pilgrimage.  All of those steps that I took this summer, just emphasize a little bit more the how to do it.  
     Rigorous can certainly describe my walk on many regular days here at home as I expect it can describe yours.  It seems that the older that I get the more rigorous it becomes.  Sometimes, the rigor is more emotional than physical but it is still rigorous! 
     The below picture was taken in Padron, Spain while walking the camino pilgrimage this summer. It was a time of trembling for me.  It came as a surprise.  Bernie and I got off course on the fifth day of our time with all of the pilgrims.  Yes, we did get lost and it was very hot.  We however had heard of a spot where James had actually preached and we wanted to see it.  It was away from our prescribed path but there was a strong inner pull for both of us.  Because of being lost and asking many people for directions, we put way more steps in our day than we had planned.  We had been told that our destination was right behind the Convento do Carme.  You can’t miss the convent when coming into the town, but this mountain where James had spent time was not right behind it.  We walked down the convent steps and around on a back street where there was a woman helping anyone who came by.  Fortunately, she spoke English and directed us down the street a little farther where we climbed 115 steps to the Monte Santiaguino.  It was very late in the day but a pull was still calling to both of us.  We climbed these rugged, ancient steps that were lined with the Stations of the Cross.  As I approached the top, my insides were doing flips and turns.  I could sense the tears welling up in my eyes as well as a trembling deep within.  I was approaching ground on which a man who had known Jesus in the flesh was trying to live out his call.  We sat on that mountain together in silence, imagining and praying.  I felt changed somehow.  I knew that I was being touched by the holy.
These trembling times always come as a surprise.  This community of Christ Church Cathedral, is surrounded by the sacred in many guises.  The opportunity to tremble is ever present!  We can't however make it happen.  What we can do is what people of faith on pilgrimage do every day:

  • ·        continue our search for God by worshiping with the community

  • ·         be faithful to personal spiritual practices

  • ·         wrestle with our questions

  • ·         ask for support and guidance

  • ·          keep going even when we are tired by putting one foot in front of the other.

     Then to our surprise, in the blink of an eye, we tremble.
     I look forward to being with you as we study, wrestle and support one another in so many ways in this new year.  I would love to hear about your moments of trembling if you would like to share.  Just as I struggle for words to describe my pilgrimage experience on the camino, I know it is hard to put this journey of faith into words.  We can try however as we exchange our stories with another.

Dr Elizabeth Conrad, Minister of Christian Formation

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

I Love You Despite Ourselves

          Earlier this week, I received an email from a former colleague lamenting the state of her relationship with her brother. What began as a disagreement last summer has grown into a full blown argument, one so intense my friend and her brother can not even be civil to one another at family gatherings. How, my friend wondered, could she and her brother be so far apart sociologically and politically? How could she ever forgive him for some of the things he had said and implied? Why would he/could he want to forgive her for the things she had said in anger?

          As I thought about that email, I remembered the reading from Luke 12:49-56 in which Jesus said He had come to bring fire and division rather than peace to the earth. Jesus' anger in that passage is all but palpable. The image of Jesus in that passage is not the peaceful, lovingly tending-His-sheep Jesus we generally envision Him to be. Rather, He is full of anger and frustration, tired of people being so dense and hypocritical. He is fed up with people not being able to see the forest for the trees. I get the impression He is angry at me, but I am not even sure why.

          Yet, I am reassured. I know Jesus loves me like a sister, as one of His bumbling stumbling flock, who would be lost were it not for Him. I know Jesus loves me like the beloved child of God that I am. He loves me in spite of myself, in spite of my foibles and my occasional hard-headedness. (Truth be told, my frequent bouts of hard-headedness.) He loves me when I have trouble loving my neighbor. Jesus even loves me when I am having a difficult time loving myself.

          I have not yet replied to my friend's email, but I think I know what I am going to say. when the smoke up the upcoming election clears and life is measured in more meaningful ways than measured sound bites, allegations and accusations, it will be long past time to look beyond politics and heated discourse. It will be long past time to practice what Jesus has commanded us to do: to love one another even as we love ourselves. I believe with all my heart that if God forgives us and still loves us, despite all our faults and differences, then we can surely forgive one another as well. I believe my friend and her brother love one another regardless. They need to remember the reasons they love one another rather than focus on the reasons that divide them.  Amen.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Meditation In Song

This week's Meditation is a prayer in sound. The Cathedral Choir sings Magnificat (The song of Mary) in B Minor by T. Tertius Noble. It was recorded on Sunday, June 26, 2016 during Evensong at Washington National Cathedral.

Magnificat in B Minor - T.Tertius noble

My soul doth magnify the Lord:  and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.  For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.  For he that is mighty hath magnified me:  and holy, holy, holy is his Name.  And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.  He hath shewed strength with his arm:  he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.  He hath put down the mighty from their seat:  and hath exalted the humble and meek.  He hath filled the hungry with good things:  and the rich he hat sent empty away.  He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel:  as he promised to our forefathers Abraham and his seed for ever. 
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son:  and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be:  world without end.  Amen.

Canon Erich Balling

Thursday, July 28, 2016

How We Respond to God's Beckoning

Last Sunday, Father Brent preached on prayer, and as he reviewed the prayer practices most meaningful to his life I began to think back on my own journey. As I thought about the prayer practices that had made the biggest impact and influence on my relationship with God I recalled my teen years when I kept a journal. The journal was my “direct line” to God, where I felt I could freely talk and express myself, and where I heard God’s response in return.

During the St. Louis Urban Adventure, a few weeks ago, with the Cathedral Youth we practiced the discipline of journaling as we reflected each evening on where we lived out our Baptismal Covenant during the day. This practice only took a brief moment, five minutes, where the youth used the silence of the evening to process all that had taken place that day, and how it had impacted their journey as baptized persons. At the end of the week one of the youth commented on how meaningful this practice had been to her, and her hopes to continue it at home.

Prayer practices are just that, practices, that take our time and energy to reveal true fruit. One of this week’s words from the Society of Saint John the Evangel, in their daily email “Brother Give Me a Word,” was “beckoning”. As Br. David Vryhof reflected on the act of God beckoning us to prayer he recalled a classmate's daily call to passer by’s in the student lounge, “talk to me.” Prayer is God’s call to us to “talk”, to engage, and to participate in the most meaningful relationship we will ever have, with our creator. It is not a demand, but an invitation from the one who simply desires to be a part of our lives.

As I reflect on the meaningful practice I kept during my teen years I am reminded that our prayer practices change and grow as we move throughout life. They take time to develop and bear real fruit. And, they are always available to us to return to wherever we are. Br. Vryhof was intentional to point out that God does not call us to prayer with a finger wagging in disapproval, but with arms outstretched beckoning. It is an invitation to communion and relationship, and it is our to decide how we respond.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

"The path around our home is also the ground of awakening." Thich Nhat Hanh

Coming home from a pilgrimage to a foreign place is unlike any other coming home that I have ever experienced.  Bernie and I stumbled home late Friday night from roughly 24 hours of travel.  We had just walked the Portugese route of the Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James.  I can see that it will be a long time before I am able to make sense of it all.
There was so much walking and fatigue in those few blessed days away that I could not catch my breath or begin to ponder what was happening inside of me.  Every day we rose early, were given a hearty breakfast and then headed out on the path.  Some days were hotter than others, some were hillier and dustier than others.  Some days held more encounters that caused one to pause.  Every day however the walking continued for all of us.  Walking continued to stir together every scent, landscape, memory, person, song and ache that arose.  There was no time to wonder what kind of mixture was being created.  We just kept walking.
T.S. Elliot wrote that pilgrimage often reorients one's life.  Now as I sit at home in Lexington, Kentucky, I begin to look over the map of my life from those days on the Way.  How am I being asked to change by things encountered both inside and out along the way?  Why in this particular summer did my pilgrimage in life call me away to a distant land?
One memory that stands out is depicted in the picture above.  On Monday, July 4th as we made our way from Caldas de Reis to Padron I was stopped in my tracks by what I would normally consider a very ordinary and unexciting scene.  What looked like twinkling lights peeked through some wilderness brush, lighting up a shaded path.  I had to stop and just stare.  Bernie must have wondered why I was stopped by this tangled mess.  It was different though - just for a moment in time I was able to see the more.  It was a burning bush moment.
I believe that these scenes are everywhere around us - in our own back yard.  We don't have to travel thousands of miles away in order to wake up to the beauty in life.  Most often in the day to day grind however, we are blinded to God's wonder.  I encourage you to take a short walk - see yourself put on glasses which allow you to see deeper into things.  As you intentionally walk with these new glasses,  pay attention.  What do you see that you had not seen?  Maybe you see something different in another or in yourself.  Or maybe you will catch a glimpse in nature.  Walking helps us to unwind as it frees the mind of its chatter.  

Perhaps the biggest gift of the pilgrimage is the realization that I can wear these glasses every day.  It is my choice.  Do I choose to get caught up in chaos or do I choose to wear these glasses which enable me to embrace this pilgrimage that we call life?  This is available for all of us every day...