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Friday, October 22, 2010

Here, I Cry

I stood proudly once,
twenty odd feet towering above
where the wind pushed me higher.

Towers of steel forged by experience
could withstand the idle assaults
that came.

Nearby glances were thought
empowering, nay
sweetly on my heart.

And the fall came.
All at once.

Those memories seem vain nowadays;
twisting the ego tightly round a
hellish nail.

Chill'd nights,
sleepless nights,
cast the daze upon my face.

Nothing escapes.
Nothing holds.

And my cries go unheard.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Barb of the Nazarene

Hooks of love caught the world (i am)

from the heights above (breaks barriers of hate),

while feeding the fishy souls (and men);

catches and releases (drawn to his wounds)

from the barb of the Nazarene (live again).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise: the Liturgy of the Lamb

The Church of the Advent, Photo by Br. Ciaran Anthony DellaFera, BSG

Turning the corner past Boston's famous bar, Cheer's, I could hear the English Change Ringing bells tolling down the avenue.  In a methodical count, the peal sang out into the crisp air, bouncing off the otherwise silent brahmin neighborhood.  The day could not have better, clear skies with a light breeze.  Boston Common was already spilling over with tourists, runners, and the like.  Sunday was prime time for Bostonians to be out and about.

The spire from one of the gem's of The Episcopal Church began to come in focus, and my pilgrimage was nearing its climax.  And there it was, on the corner of Brimmer Street in the posh company of Beacon Hill, sits The Church of the Advent.  I arrived with ample time for exploration before Solemn High Mass was to commence at 11:15 a.m.  My heart was racing.

Now it goes without saying that every pilgrim erects a construct of expectations--whether spoken or not--of how the people and place will receive the hungry.  I must admit that I had a few in mind that Sunday morning, and upon my own discovery, were proven to be unfounded.  The prevalent stereotype of "spikery" in Anglo-Catholicism was at the forefront of my mind en route to mass that morning.  

Opening the door to the sanctuary was a bit otherworldly--the incense from the previous mass was thick in the air and I had an immediate, striking sense of the Divine.  I could smell it.  The twenty-five or so choristers were practicing a beautiful setting of the Kyrie, and the mixture of male and female voices struck a deep impression right at the threshold.  Inside, I grabbed a choice seat with a good view of the altar so that I could soak up all that I was about to encounter.  I sat and surveyed the interior beauty of this gem.  The sunlight that morning was piercing the clerestory windows, amplifying the smokey vaults of the ceiling.  This was going to be something unlike any ordinary Rite II liturgy.

I discovered a pleasant, harmonious blending of Rite I from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer along with what could only be described as Sarum additions.  I got a kick from seeing pasted inserts on the inside back cover of the Book of Common Prayer revealing several of the additional texts.  Underneath the Hymnal was a card with the Angelus and antiphons to the Blessed Virgin Mary printed on both sides.   The hymnody came from The Hymnal, 1982 and was juxtaposed with mass settings in Latin and Greek--the Kyrie, Gloria, etc.  The Gospel was chanted, we genuflected at the appropriate place in the Nicene Creed, and we all said the Angelus following the liturgy complete with the ringing of the Angelus bell.

Ceremonial aside, what I feeling inside was simply exciting.  The power of liturgy to transport you both out-of-time and in-time was not only made possible during the mass but was actually experienced, as evidenced by my goose-bumps.  This was a feeling I have not felt for some time.  One of the unintended consequences of liturgical training in seminary is that you tend to have a harder time worshipping in the broader church--one has to work extra hard to suppress feelings about liturgical mishaps and the like.

Following mass, I wondered about the sanctuary still reeling from the heavenly banquet but wanting somehow to capture that same feeling through photographs.  There were several shrines about the place, but one in particular just sang out, Christ the Great High Priest.

There he was, crowned and adorned in the priestly chasuable with hands outstretched to me.  "I love you," he says, "come to me and I will refresh you."  The hands beckoned a hungry, hurting world to take Christ's burden of love and justice, of true freedom in eternal life.  The eyes were piercing the holiness around me, drawing me into an intimate space of Christ's presence transcending the temporal.  Never before have I felt that way before a shrine, not even Walsingham herself I dare say.

Reentering the atmosphere, I climbed down the stairs for coffee hour and found myself making new friends over a glass of sherry in the garden.  Ah.  This was my kind of parish.  I say that I was lost, off in wonder, love, and praise;  its more likely that I discovered that I was found to be in a place where the liturgy of the Lamb draws both the familiar and the odd together, making new creation.  What a treat for a Sunday.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On the Mission of the Church

"Mission is putting love where love is not."
St. John of the Cross

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Documentary: The Saint of 9/11

Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM (1933-2001)

The Order of Saint Anthony the Great is exploring the life and witness of Mychal Judge, the New York Fire Department Chaplain who died at the World Trade Center on September 11th.  A Franciscan and a priest, Mychal's life was filled with joy, pain, love, and self-giving. 

One of Father Mychal's favorite prayer's sums up his theology:

Lord, take me where you want me to go;
Let me meet who you want me to meet;
Tell me what you want me to say
And keep me out of your way.

The documentary film, The Saint of 9/11, captures both the eternal joy and love of the friar along with inner turmoil that so often accompanies holy people.  Click on the title of the film to watch it, it's worth your time. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The American Inquisition

If asked, my parents could tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing the day JFK was shot.  Likewise, I can tell you exactly where I was on the morning of September 11, 2001.  It's something that never leaves me. At the time, I was a senior at Hampden-Sydney College, and like most college students, managed to roll out of bed late and head to The Commons for breakfast, half alert to the comings and goings of the wider world.

I didn't even make it upstairs to the dinning hall that morning.  Walking inside the Tiger Inn, the campus watering hole, I saw scores of other students surrounding the televisions inside.  And there it was on the tube, the smoking twin towers of the Big Apple red hot with tragedy billowing from within.  Shocking does not even begin to describe the feelings going through my body.  The live video feed had a numbing, disorienting affect on me.  The eerie silence of the usual bustling restaurant hit each student as they opened the doors on that crisp September morning.  Something was horribly and unusually wrong.  It was palpable.

Later that day, the Dean of Students called and asked me to accompany him on a visit to a mutual friend and administrator who had just learned of his beloved aunt's death in the World Trade Center attacks.  As we sat with Ryan, it was clear to us that no words could bring back his aunt;  our presence was simply that of loving compassion.  The usually large former football player sat quietly smaller on the edge of the sofa.  Nothing made sense anymore.  

While I was safe in central Virginia that day, the events of our national tragedy are forever burned into my conscience and it still haunts me.

Hope, however, did find a way.  By sunset, students from Hampden-Sydney organized a massive prayer rally on the football field for those who needed to begin their own process of understanding.  It started first with prayer.  Standing hand-in-hand, the college community surrounded the entire field in a unified prayer for peace, reconciliation, and healing.  I was proud to be apart of a community that was willing to struggle in corporate unity for Christ amidst the day's horrific events.

More recently, the news surrounding a proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero in Manhattan reveals that the Nation's wounds have not healed. Pogroms, of sorts, erupted across the country in sacrilegious protest.  How bold of them, some opined, it's the enemy right in our back yard! The hysteria and media hype that ensued for weeks was akin to ripping the band-aid off fresh wounds still deeply felt by millions of Americans.  Christian extremists were quick to charge that God had demanded Islam's holy book, The Qur'an, be burned in protest.  Pundits spun the stories and debate on every possible side grew to an alarming pitch.

It also reveals that the soul of America is too cramped.  Too narrow and claustrophobic, America's capacity for healing and reconciliation needs to be widened, stretched out.  The western mind categorically rejects weakness and vulnerability in order to champion a form of social Darwinism that inevitably does great harm to the soul.  Christ said as much.

In the post-resurrection narratives of Jesus found in the Gospels, he disarms and assuages his scared disciples with the words, "Peace."  Retributive justice is not on Christ's mind.  Visibly bearing the wounds of the crucifixion, Jesus' glorified body does not erase the painful lacerations inflicted by his death sentence.  They are there, unambiguous to the human eye.  Why?  Because God does not erase the course of human history--it's too incarnational.  Even Francis of Assisi prayed to receive the blessing of Christ's wounds because they were to serve him as the sovereign reminder of God's power to heal through brokenness.

I fear, though, that history is beginning to repeat again in the twenty-first century.  The Spanish Inquisition of the fifteenth century sought to control and maintain Christian orthodoxy under the sentence of death.  Conversion by the sword is fleeting and fickle, history proves that this is not how we celebrate progress.  And now in 2010, the orthodox standards are being drawn from a clouded state of mind tantamount to an inquistion on American soil.

A narrow and cramped soul disavows anything contrary to what a pollster statistically proves.  American ingenuity has all but disappeared, and the financial markets are reeling for the time being.  "In God We Trust," is the motto found comically on our currency.  More Americans, I suspect, place trust in the almighty dollar than they do with The Almighty One. We blame politicians and political parties for not fixing our problems.  Changing the parties in charge of either the White House or Congress since 9-11, so it seems, has not solved much of anything.

Still, I don't lose heart.

Simply put, we should not put our faith in this or any government for salvific results; we should look to our faith communities to process through the hurt and anger of our woundedness to find answers for our way forward.  We have to reconcile ourselves to ourselves and to others.  Healing takes time.  It is clear that in the space of the past nine years, very little healing has occurred.  This can change and we can serve as instruments of that process.

Wounds, thank God, can and do heal.  They can serve as painful reminders of the past, or they can transform us into blessings for the future.  That decision, for now, is ours to make.