Praise God

If you’re here this morning feeling triumphant and joyous and free because of the Supreme Court’s decisions this past week, praise God.

If you’re here this morning feeling queasy and uncertain because of the Supreme Court’s decisions, or because of hate that’s been manifested in our state and even across the street in the last few weeks, praise God.

If you feel like finally, finally, God is answering your prayers, praise God.

If you feel like, in light of this week, God must be taking a nap, praise God.

I do truly pray that there are people in these pews today of all those convictions, because there is merit in all those convictions, and familial love and diversity is a hallmark of the Kingdom of God.

God doesn’t look the way that any of us think he does. God doesn’t act the way any of us suppose he should. God doesn’t look like you. God doesn’t look like me.

God looks like Jesus Christ.

God is Jesus Christ.

Praise God, our Lord Jesus Christ.

And you know what today is? Continue reading

Happiness List: Good Friday Edition

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I offer this afternoon a few pieces of art for contemplation, instead of the usual trappings of my happiness lists.  These efforts have invited me into the drama, depth, and grace of Holy Week in a new way this year, for which I am grateful. Continue reading

the morning after

when I woke up the first morning as Mrs. Hylden, the morning after our wedding, I came to a discouraging realization: I am still the same person I was yesterday.

I had this strange, unexpressed expectation that when I got married, I’d change–overnight.  I’d become a grownup and I’d brim with that patience and generosity and perspective that I’d always struggled to cultivate.

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The morning of May 30th, I got up with an extra band of gold on my finger, a new name and a new commitment, but I didn’t really feel any different, and I surely was not magically oozing fruits of the Spirit.

Yesterday, I tried making gluten-free gnocchi for the first time.  Longer than forming the dough, rolling and cutting the individual gnocchi(s?), was the shopping–three grocery stores later, I only had to make one (not super effective) substitution.  As I was chasing down new ingredients and throwing myself into the deep end of gluten-free substitutions (having mastered gluten-ed substitutions awhile ago), I fought my frustration at the glacial pace and inefficiency of the whole process.  Scouring shelves, rereading recipes and searching google on my phone to find “substitutions for sweet white rice flour,” made me realize the same thing I’d learned when I woke up May 30th, 2011: Life takes time.

Earlier this year, a dear colleague from the cathedral took a new job; at a party, a parishioner asked her about the new work.  Reflecting on the joys and challenges of inhabiting a position with both promise and little preconceived shape, she said of change, “It keeps you honest.”  Rather than being lulled into complacency by certainty and repetition, changing circumstances encourage us to grow in uncomfortable but transforming ways.  We never wake up one morning having arrived, we (or at least I) rarely complete our to-do lists in one day, and no one–ourselves or others–change as quickly as we hope they would.  Life takes time.

Time to adjust to a new lifestyle–job, diet, exercise regimen, environment.

Time to heal from wounds–relational or physical.

Time to change our habits, learn new skills, be transformed into new people.

“Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night; so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord(Collect for Compline, BCP page 132)

How I Became Episcopalian, Part 2

There’s an Episcopalian joke I like to tell: some parishioners went to their rector and said, “Father, we want to do a Bible study.  What book should we start with?”  Their rector, taken aback, but quite pleased, suggested they start with the Psalms; he showed them where it was, near the middle of the Bible, and told them to come back in six weeks and tell him what they’d learned.  Six weeks passed, and they came back to his office, rather upset.  “Father!” They exclaimed, “The Bible has stolen its material from the Book of Common Prayer!”

Last week one day, the Daily Office Lectionary assigned Philippians 4:1-9; a passage with 3 or 4 separate highlighter marks in my trusty hard-backed NIV Bible from high school.

The passage epitomizes why I became Episcopalian.  As I read, or listen to, these words, I hear memory verses in verses 4, 5, 6, and 8—sentences I committed to memory as an elementary or high school student:
“4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

In verse 4 I hear the lyric to a children’s song I learned more than twenty years ago at home.

Verse 7 is the common blessing offered during Ordinary Time at the end of a Eucharist service:
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

When verse 8 is read, I hear part of a prayer said during the service in the Book of Common Prayer called, “Thanksgiving for the Birth of a Child”—a service I relish offering at hospitals when I visit the newest members of my congregation.

The psalms have become the same kind of patchwork quilt for me—snippets and echoes of other Scripture passages pop up in the psalms all the time, and in turn, the psalms are woven throughout our Book of Common Prayer.
The little red (or black) book that guides Christians of the Anglican tradition in their prayer, worship, and study with God is a puree of Scripture, set to rhythm and mashed up to show through its very being how the God of the Old and New Testaments is made man in Jesus Christ.

One Sure Thing

20130906-105958.jpgLast weekend, I was in Cooperstown, New York. This is the place where I learned what it was to be a parish priest, where I fell in love with the vocation, and where I’ve been stretched and challenged within an inch of my life to do my best at that job. The places (geographically) where great pain is experienced and lived through are sites of enormous comfort. When I return to Cooperstown, or Grand Lake, or Durham, I feel like the rocks and trees and wooden siding of buildings understand me and are full of those powerful memories–they’re witnesses to the battles fought.

People are witnesses, too, of course, and they can be a comfort, but there’s something about buildings and mountains and lakes and particular bits of earth (on which one stands and remembers a vantage point) that is somehow deeper, perhaps because of their stability and unchangingness. The unsettling thing is that even cities, buildings, and bits of earth change. You remember your backyard growing up as a place of great meaning, but when you return to your childhood home decades later, it’s almost unrecognizable–the trees have grown so that the sun is not at all the same, the new owners have re-modeled the flower beds; it’s not the same place anymore, the place you knew is lost.

God promises, though, that he is the same yesterday, today and forever. In this week’s Epistle lesson, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, we hear the witness of faithful people in the past who believed and trusted that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v. 8). This is what the church’s Gloria Patri says (“Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, amen.”).

The first part of Hebrews 13 recalls Abraham, Joseph, and the prophets by their faith-filled acts: Abrahahm “show(s) hospitality to strangers, for by doing that (he) entertained angels without knowing it” (v.2); Joseph was first sold into slavery, then was imprisoned unjustly (v. 3) but didn’t turn away from God because of his circumstances; and the prophets, fairly described as “those who are being tortured” (v. 3) exactly because they refused to turn from God–to renege on God’s promise of being unchanging himself.

“Let marriage be held in honor by all… for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.'” (vs.4-5) The witness of Christian marriage is an effort at humans committing–in God’s strength–to be faithful to each other despite changes in themselves and their circumstances. This is the commitment that God makes to us–that he will never leave or forsake each of us, that he will be with us when we have no home like Abraham, or when we are isolated like Joseph, or when we are being persecuted like the prophets. God remains the same, even when we change and when our worlds change.

“Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

(BCP service of Compline, pg. 133)