Architectural Assumptions

What does the architecture of a worship space tell us about the builder’s beliefs about baptism?  –in the case of these two lovely places, it tells us a lot (I’d argue that any religious space will tell you a lot theologically, but that’s for another day).

St. Francis Chapel – Kanuga, North Carolina

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This humble little outdoor chapel almost made me cry when I came upon it early one morning.  Do you see the bridges leading over the creek from the congregational area to the altar?  One literally goes through water to arrive at the Eucharistic table.  We first experience baptism, the washing of our bodies that signifies the washing to which we submit our souls through Jesus’ sacrifice.  We then may approach the altar where we are fed, spiritually and in other ways, by Jesus’ sacrifice.  It’s really all about Jesus’ work–hence the cross you see over the altar.

…and another bit of architectural theology, from Minnesota (and the Roman Catholic Church).

Church of the Holy Spirit in St. Cloud, the parish from which my great-grandma was buried this May, has had a significant impact on my understanding of liturgical theology (half is this, explained here, and the other half will wait for another time).

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This is their baptismal font.  Do you see how it’s clearly meant to be used by adults as well as babies?  This piece of furniture will make the baptizan wet.  They will be drenched, if they kneel on the rock underneath the water flow.  It’s at least better than a sprinkle, and more significant still that this parish built its object used for the entrance rite into Christian life to be used by both infants and grown ups.  What kind of assumptions have Christians made in the past when baptismal fonts became little marble bowls?

Harry Potter Life Lesson #3

Wizards know how to party.  Did you notice that in the Harry Potter series?  A favorite cafe of mine in St. Louis boasts from its bakery case, “Treacle Tart: A Favourite of Harry Potter’s.”  Each of the seven books provided a sort of liturgy–that is to say, as reader, you knew what to expect at the outset of each new volume: we’d open with Harry away from school, then he’d go to school, then everyone would attend a feast.  Adventures abound, and then would come winter finals, and a Christmas feast.  More adventures, some stress, mounting tension over the great quest of the year, and then an Easter week feast.  A climax, a resolution, the end of the school year…

Why bother with these feasts, or with including meals at all?  On a more detailed level, where do our heroes meet before (almost) every Quidditch (a wizard sport) match?  They meet early in the Great Hall to eat.  Where do our heroes trudge before classes and between exams?  To the Great Hall.  To eat.  (TOGETHER).

For aficionados of the Harry Potter series, one of the most vivid sites at Hogwarts is that of the Great Hall, the gathering place for the community, the place where everyone eats together.  During Ron & Hermoine’s months-long fight, they still sit together and eat (in silence) at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall.  As a sort of reset button and a moment that can be counted on, the feasts of Hogwarts (and at times, the characters’ homes and camp sites) provide a figurative space set apart.  Worries are forgotten during meals, people are most able to keep their mental demons at bay–those eating together pull each other into the present, allowing moments of enjoyment and peace in the midst of the battles against evil which creep ever closer throughout the series.

Something happens to relationships when humans eat together.  The wizards celebrated, mourned, and counted time by their meeting to eat.  We do the same thing, sometimes (not as often as we did, perhaps, in times past), but I wonder what would happen if we did it more of the time–if we recognized the power of sitting down in uncomfortable places and eating together.

It’s not a coincidence that JK Rowling included big, important meals in her series; I think she was reminding us of the power of sitting together at the same table and eating in spite of broken friendships, tragedy, or danger.  Continuing to show up at the table at the appointed time, even when you aren’t sure if your eating partners will, is a way we can be present for each other the way that God has been present to us already.

The wizards’ parties were a way to show their love and commitment to each other–it’s a celebration of their relationships–as well as a place that can offer a familiarity and safety in the midst of upsetting circumstances.  Whether you are with your loved ones at a glorious spread on fine china in a well-appointed dining room, at a diner late at night hunched over pie and coffee, or huddled around a fire outside eating something that the campfire burnt, it’s what happens in the moments you share, more than the food itself, that you remember and that encourages you–feeds you.

What it Takes to Get to the Altar

The holiest half-hour of my week, when the profundities of God rain down into my head, is when I’m hoping to administer communion to God’s people at the altar rail. This week, a middle-aged woman faltered up to the rail; I could tell, though she didn’t look injured, that it was a feat for her to get herself to the rail – she gladly expended significant effort to come and receive life-giving bread.
I began to pray as I pronounced to each person, “the body of Christ, the bread of Heaven.” I prayed for what these dear, faithful people faced in order to get themselves and their loved ones to Jesus’ altar, to his living Body and Blood.
A sister congregation lost two whole families in a plane crash last weekend; well-publicized – and many more not-well-publicized – court case verdicts came in; someone left a marriage or a home; someone got very bad medical news.
Years ago, friend of mine posted quotation that (in my better moments) I try to keep in mind, “Be gentle with everyone, for you do not know what load they are carrying.”
Our sufferings in this life are many, but our medicine is the same – God’s love through Christ’s broken body.

the changing tide of recipes

2012-11-01 08.39.41popping up recently on pinterest: lots of “just one cookie” or “just two cupcakes” recipes. How is our eating changing such that we have never needed or wanted this sort of recipe before? I’ve seen some of these photo-recipes with captions like, “I live alone, so this is PERFECT!”–that’s one reason–more people are living alone today than in the past; people used to live with their siblings or their parents or have their grandparents live with them, and now, instead, we’re all living by ourselves. There’s no one with whom to share the batch of cookies or cupcakes, so we make just one or two.

I wonder if we have always eaten so many sweets. I didn’t grow up in a house that had baked goods or sweets just lying around. A box of cookies was a big treat, as was birthday cake. Pies were never seen, and dinner had no regular connection with dessert. I suspect that sugar and butter used to be less-regular items on our recipe pages and shopping lists–foodstuffs have become much less expensive in the last decades, and perhaps that’s another reason we may eat more sweets: enjoying them is not nearly the financial obstacle it used to be.

If we didn’t always used to eat so many sweets, then we probably only ate them on celebratory occasions, going out to dinner, having a party, gathering people together for a birthday or anniversary–times when we’d have a whole bunch of people who could polish off a platter of cookies or a whole cake.

A very wise woman (who lives alone) observed to me this week, “It’s all about eating together, isn’t it?”

why we should dress up to go to church.

In August, I drove to Ohio to visit my family for a weekend and to collect the dishes my grandmother had designated for me 12 years before, when she died.  After more than a decade, I had a stable enough (read: not-a-dorm-room!) home in which to keep and use these family heirlooms.  Though we have sturdy and colorful Fiestaware, I looked forward to using this set on weekends, on days I felt extra low, special occasions, and any time I longed to feel close to my grandmother and my family again.  Especially in a time when many kids move away from ancestral homes and lands, objects like these taken on extra meaning and reverence.

I remember Thanksgiving with these dishes (I’m talking specifically about the dinner plates/serving bowl in the photo above); just seeing them immediately makes me think of my grandmother, her home, how I felt when I was there, and by extension, the rest of my family.  In a way, when eating on these dishes, I’m eating with my family–we’ve shared meals on these plates and pieces.

This is the same thing that’s going on in church–this is why Episcopalians and Roman Catholics and other churches of “high” liturgy use silver-plated goblets and plates, and why they use fine linen napkins and tablecloths.  First, the meal that we join together to eat each Sunday (or whenever you go to church and enjoy a Eucharist) is an important meal, it is a meaningful meal–like Thanksgiving, or someone’s birthday, or the night the boss comes to dinner.  Second, just like the special dishes that remind me of my family and ancestors, our special silver chalice & paten (cup & plate) are reminders of the Christians who have worshiped God for generations before us, in that very church–they were bought or given by them and passed down through the generations of Christians called to be Christ’s church in a particular place; they’re heirlooms (metal lasts longer than clay or porcelain, let alone gold’s anti-bacterial properties–spurious or not, this comforts me).  Third, we believe that somehow, this bread and this wine is different than the stuff you pick up at the grocery store, and if it is different, if it is in some way Christ’s Body and Blood, then we ought to treat it with some care, and putting it on sturdy, beautiful, set-aside-for-that-use serving-ware seems like a good way to denote its importance.

Therefore, we dress up.  What I mean is that if we notice the importance of particular meals in our daily lives (Thanksgiving, birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas (!!)), ought we not remember the Last Supper in the same way?  A way for each of us to respond to God’s call to us is to present our best to him–our best clothes, for one thing.  Of course, God doesn’t love us less if we show up unshowered and with jeans on, nor does he talk about us behind our back with the Son and Holy Spirit; however, dressing up for church is a way of putting some of our own skin into the game, so to speak.  God does not require it!–but God does desire a contrite heart (and since we are not just hearts, but bodies, our clothing and how we use our bodies can be an offering and symbol of our contrition and honor and love for God).

Perspectives on the Eucharist

oh, there are dozens and hundreds of theological explanations of the Eucharist–what *exactly* is “happening,” and how and why…  this is not one of those.  this is a reflection on how Jesus can specifically meet a person in the bread & wine of Holy Communion.

this morning, i learned that dear, dear friends of mine are moving about a six-hour plane ride away.  both husband and wife have been so vital to the discernment of my call to ordained ministry that i honestly don’t know where i would be without them (well, without Jesus, of course, but without their willingness to be conduits!).  thinking of their exit makes me tear up; i hope i get over that part at least by the time i see them…

as such, it’s been an emotional day.  i looked forward to going to the week-day Eucharist that the church i’m working at this year hosts every Thursday.  the familiarity of the service is so, so calming.  this particular service is small, usually less than 10 attendees, and held in a chapel that’s covered in carpet, wood and a bit of hewn-stone accent–it feels like a cozy cave (with lovely triangle windows at the top that let you see only the tops of the trees outside).  Not only was the homily about Advent and waiting (someone here is searching for a job post-grad), but Communion was something special today.

as i knelt down and the wafer was placed in my hand with the usual words, it dawned on me that this was exactly the same thing they would do and experience when they went back to England.  they, too, would receive the cup with the same, old proclamation.  we’d be taking and eating and living in Christ, still together, somehow, though we would not live down the street (in walking distance!) from each other anymore.  we would still be tightly knit as God’s children, washed by Jesus’ blood–we will still be one body, because we share one bread and one cup.

this is exactly (one of) the thing(s) that the Eucharist is to remind us of–that we aren’t individuals, and we aren’t divided and we aren’t alone.  we are joined to all Christians throughout space (the whole earth) and throughout time (all of history) in the sacrament of Eucharist.  we all serve the same Lord, and so we are never so far away from each other as we may feel, because we are all part of the same mission.