Why I am Episcopalian, Part 3; or Quotation of the Day

Ian Cron puts so many things so well; here, exactly why I wandered into a Roman Catholic Church seven years ago:

“Much of the liturgy for the mass, filled with its formularies, prayers, and creeds, is well over a thousand years old. I was moved that people were offering up the same words, giving expression to the same truths in different languages and time zones all around the globe that very day. Some were singing the liturgy in grand cathedrals in Europe, and some under a lush canopy of trees in Africa. Some were performing the liturgy in secret house churches in China, and others in prison chapels. Where or how it was said it didn’t matter. Solidarity mattered.

As I pondered the faces of saints captured in stained glass, the frescoes that adorned the walls and ceilings of the nave and apse, it dawned on me that the liturgy was connecting me to a long and ancient line of believers.  Time had become irrelevant.  We were one chorus, one communion of saints.  I was but one soul in the long procession of the faithful that wound its way down and along the hilly landscape of history.  I was appropriately small.”
Chasing Francis, pg 90

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.

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.