Public Reading of the Gospel according to St. Mark

Saturday, November 28, is New Years Eve.

At least as far as the liturgical year is concerned.

Yay! Ending of Year A. Woo Hoo to the beginning of Year B. Finally.

In the parish where I served, for a number of years, we had a custom of reading aloud, in community, the primary Gospel to be read in the new liturgical year. Early days in the new year, we’d gather in the nave, seated in a circle around the altar, and take turns reading through the gospel, chapter by chapter.

It was usually a dozen or so of us. A family might bring their children, an older couple might come. Clergy, Junior Daughters of the King, random folks.

We’d light some candles, begin with Evening Prayer, and the entire Gospel was our Scripture reading.

I’ve been remembering the gift those readings were, especially since Scripture was written to be read aloud, and in community.

At sunset on Saturday night, a new year begins. I have this wild idea, in this year like no other, to create a zoom event for the public reading of the Gospel of Mark.

If you’d like to join me at 6pm on Saturday night to welcome the new year with reading scripture in community, and closing with compline, contact me, and I’ll send you the zoom link.

In the meantime, New Year’s blessings.

In foreign lands

It was a day in California. Shelley’s visitation. Shelley’s funeral. Shelley’s burial. Shelley’s reception.

This was the most people I’d been with since March. It felt like I was in a land far, far away. Too many people were not wearing masks or wearing them over their mouths only. It was impossible for me to be as safe as I feel at home, though I did my best in case I’d brought germs from Texas. But it was a good reality check of why the pandemic is continuing to spread. Especially in settings of grief.

My therapist had reminded me that in the midst of being responsible for officiating at the funeral that I was grieving, too. After the reception, I had several hours until my flight left. It was time for me to grieve.

I thought of the ways I could spend the open time. Since I was only twenty minutes from the border, I decided to drive to Mexico to see the “beautiful” wall.

Well. I didn’t actually go into Mexico. I was a little concerned about some glitch that might not get me back into the US in time for my flight. But I drove along the border and saw all the ways we’ve made sure that those we don’t want to enter are kept out.

My best photos of that not beautiful at all wall were from the parking lot of the outlet mall that backs up to Mexico. Yet another strange land on this unusual day.

I am now in the midst of the two flight long home that includes a three hour layover in between (last minute plans have limited options). I have more space to sit and ponder.

It was good to have time to be with my California cousins. I had fine conversations with all sorts of folks about life and death and God. I listened a lot. I loved the San Diego weather experienced from the hill top of my cousin’s home.

I was particularly aware of the cloud of witnesses surrounding us in this mourner’s land. As I prayed before the service, I could feel the prayerful presence of relatives who I love so dearly that have welcomed Shelley home. Dear ones like Uncle Jamie and Aunt Frances, her grandparents; my dad, her great uncle; and Grandma Blanche, her great grandma.

As God would have it, part of Grandma Blanche’s farm is still in my family. We rent our portion out to be farmed, and the rent check came in a week or so ago. My mom generously offered to pay my brothers’ and my way to the funeral and to treat the whole family to dinner in California. I loved thinking that Grandma Blanche was taking care of her family, and of the great granddaughter she was meeting for the first time in heaven.

I did have to wonder how Grandma Blanche, a devout Southern Baptist, felt about treating us to margaritas and beers with our dinner.

I can’t help but think about the hospitality that thrives in heaven. No walls for sure. Welcoming arms. And I suspect toasts abound.

After all, scripture tells us that crying and tears of sorrow are not to be found in heaven.

From Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away….God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

Tears, mourning, and death are for us who are still traveling in this foreign land.

Leaving the Pod

I’ve been very careful since the pandemic began. Masking, social distancing, washing hands, rarely leaving my home. Except for one Sunday when I was one of three persons at a live-stream worship, I’ve worshiped via the Internet. I haven’t received communion since Lent, 2020.

But today I am in a motel in San Diego, California. My 28 year old cousin died unexpectedly, and I have come to be with my family and to officiate at the burial. We’ll be outside and masked, but this is another pandemic first for me.

I know that funerals can be hot spots, and I will do every safe practice I can. But when I heard the news, I knew this was what God would have me do.

I won’t say I’m not a bit anxious. I am. A good part of my job this past six months has been helping churches plan how to gather safely. I know the challenges.

I’m also grieving. New grief on top of all of the other grief that my heart has been carrying. Like so very many of us this Coronatide.

This morning while I was on the plane to San Diego, a sermon I preached and recorded Friday before I left, live-streamed during worship at Grace Episcopal, Houston. It was a stewardship sermon about how we live our lives loving God and loving our neighbor.

So I’ve left my pod for two days, and then I’ll return to my pod again. But today and tomorrow I’ll be loving God and loving neighbors in California.

M

The Bells Toll

Almost everyday at 4.15, I stop whatever I’m doing, put in my ear buds, and log into Facebook.

The sisters of Our Lady of Grace, Beech Grove, Indiana, livestream their evening prayers. They began inviting us to join them early in the pandemic, and it has become my Coronatide worship.

Those that have had the gift of worshipping with the Sisters know the Benedictine rhythm of evening prayer —opening words, a hymn, a slow chanting of Psalms, a scripture, silence, Gospel antiphon, singing of the Magnificat, Gospel antiphon, intercessory prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, a blessing, the closing words, and then a soft bell to let us know that prayers are over. You can tell I’ve done this a few times to know the liturgical drill.

Except a few weeks ago they added more bells. Rung with purpose. With an exclamation mark of sound. Before the gentle bell at the end.

When coronavirus deaths began mounting in Indiana, the Sisters decided to end their evening prayers by ringing one bell to remember each person from Indiana who had died from COVID-19 that day. They did it to honor each Hoosier (their words) who was no longer with us because of the pandemic.

I have to admit. Sometimes I want to skip out early. It’s hard to hear those bells. To count them. To know the grief associated with each bell. And to know that if we had better health care in our country, for all people, and if we’d had had a thoughtful national plan for fighting the coronavirus in the spring, that there would most likely be fewer bells rung each evening at the Monastery. Maybe there would be nights when the bells didn’t ring. Maybe we’d whoop an Alleluia! instead.

The fewest bells rung on an evening that I’ve been with the Sisters is 4. The most is 29. Each bell is a grief-filled prayer.

In Texas, where I live, ringing daily bells to remember Texans that have died from Covid-19 would take a long, long time. Much longer than those Hoosier bells.

In America, ringing daily bells to remember all of our brother and sister Americans who died from the pandemic—would the bells ever stop?

And if we rang one tone of bell for people of color who had died? Or for the death of people without insurance? Or people who died alone? Would we begin to appreciate how much we must change and how deep our sorrow is?

Yesterday, 1,164 Americans died from COVID-19. That we know of. By the Sisters bell ringing rate, we’d be ringing bells for 95 minutes.

Today, in Texas, 189 people died from COVID-19. We’d ring the bells for 16 minutes.

And in Houston, where I live? 18 people died today. The number of bells we would ring in my city would be more than than the number of Hoosier death bells I heard at prayers tonight from the Monastery.

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The Lord Almighty grant is a peaceful night and a perfect end.

AMEN

May the Divine Assistance be always with us and with our absent sisters and brothers.

AMEN

No words

This is the third blog I’ve begun in as many days. The past two have gone into the draft folder:

A white lady of privilege. Wearing a mask in Ascensiontide.

Sunday night I joined the Sisters of Our Lady of Grace for their Taize worship vía Facebook Live with prayers for healing. I lit candles.

I sat quietly praying with the Sisters, and as they sang I began to sob. Sobs from the depths of my spirit.

I had not wept that deeply since an afternoon years ago many weeks after my dad had died. As it does, unexpectedly when we think all is well, grief hit, and I sat on the stairs of my home and cried with tears too deep for words.

There are no words to express the sorrow, the grief, the anger, the loss of these days.

I can pray, adapting this litany of peace from the Archdiocese of Dublin by Kevin Pearson

A litany for those without words

When peace is fragile, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When tempers are raised, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When atrocities occur, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When talks break down, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When agreements are broken, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When darkness weighs upon us, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When we cannot see you, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When hope seems faint, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.
When faith seems difficult, and we cannot breathe, Come Holy Spirit.

Come Holy Spirit, so that we can breathe.
Receive all who have died, particularly from disease, especially the disease of violence, so that we can breathe.
Comfort their families and communities, so that we can breathe.
Chasten the violent, so that we can breathe.
Champion authentic leadership, so that we can breathe.
Renew the peace of our cities, so that we can breathe.
Come Holy Spirit and breathe new life into our ailing world. Amen

In the silence, may we listen for how we are to be the answer to this prayer.

It is wellish with my soul

I’ll admit. My Lenten disciplines didn’t play out the way I’d planned. I didn’t get very far in the book I’d planned to read everyday. I didn’t do my daily prayer walk. I did pretty well fasting from unkind words. Mostly. The almsgiving was actually the star of Lent with endless new opportunities to offer my tithe.

So now it’s day two in the 50 Days of Eastertide. I’m not sure what day it is is the season of coronaboundtide. Still I am thankful for the reworked words of St. Benedict, Everyday we begin again.

On Holy Saturday, the last day of Lent, I prepared for Easter.

I mixed together whole wheat flour and filtered water in a glass bowl. I had decided to create my own sourdough starter.

I filled a whiskey barrel with dried leaves, packing peanuts made from corn (thank you Rebecca Wood), and potting soil.

On the Sunday of the Resurrection I made a flower garden with my morning coffee.

The first worship of the day was with the Sisters of Our Lady of Grace. The schola sang words of the resurrection gospel from Luke of women and fear and spices and bowing faces to the ground and being perplexed and remembering his words and idle tale and my soul was lifted. Later I listened to a wise sermon from our bishop. And even later I worshipped with my Bend family and their church beautifully named New Hope. Imagine—worship in Indiana, Texas, and Oregon. It was like Jesus appearing through locked doors to the disciples.

Between worship, I planted seeds in my new driveway garden. Job’s Tears. Sunflowers.

The miracle of wild yeast had begun to transform the whole wheat flour and water into something new. Now full of life and bubbles, I began the process of throwing a bit of the starter away each day, and feeding it new flour and water (there’s science and best practices that explain why some of the living starter has to be removed and disposed of before it can be fed again). It will be a twice a day process until the starter is ready to be used.

On this Easter Monday, the starter I fed last night has grown twice it’s size and is now waiting for its morning discard and feeding.

Alleluia. Christ is risen. The wild yeast, too.

The Last Song

After the supper was over and the table had been cleared away
When the last bottle was empty, there was nothing much left to say
Jesus started humming an old tune, everybody fell right in
They sang the last song, the last song

Matthew started singing the low part, John grabbed the high harmony
Their voices filled up the night air all the way to Gethsemane
Judas walked some distance behind them like he had forgotten the words
They sang the last song, the last song

Just before they got to the garden
Just before they all fell asleep
Just before Barabbas was pardoned
And Jesus was nailed to a tree

I reckon it was some kind of soul song, maybe kind of sad and slow
All about how we get weary, all about holding on
Only Jesus knew what was coming, still he never said a thing
He sang the last song, the last song

He could have made a toast to the good times and only the best for his friends
He could have stayed up late reminiscing about the long strange trip it had been
But he went just like a lamb to the slaughter knowing it was part of the plan
And sang the last song, the last song

This song by Kate Campbell was the final hymn at the Maundy Thursday service at St. Mary’s for most of the years I served there. Our wonderful music director, Celeste, sang it to conclude the service. Hearing it takes me to a holy place.

Tonight is Maundy Thursday and for the first time in over thirty years I am not in church.

This morning, as is our custom each week day morning while working from home, the Mission Amp team gathered by Zoom to pray. One of our team members had created a beautiful Holy Thursday liturgy that left my eyes full of tears. I had had good worship.

So tonight I walked my neighborhood labyrinth. The park had yellow caution tape wrapping the playground with a warning sign about staying six feet apart.

As I walked in prayer I listened to the song that represents Maundy Thursday to me more than any other. The Last Song. Phrases like

Judas walked some distance behind them like he had forgotten the words.

and

All about how we get weary.
All about holding on
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punctuated my steps.

I realized as I walked the labyrinth tonight how the dirt and gravel were coming through my shoes. My feet will need to be washed tonight.

But first I’ll stop on the way home by a friend’s house that is having a rough time. I’ll stand in her driveway and have a chat. I’ll wash her feet by way of listening and presence. Our own kind of Maundy Thursday liturgy.

Because our lives are the liturgy in this time of Church in the world. I think Jesus is pleased at the song our lives are singing.

Preparing for Holy Week

Holy Week is next week. 

Since our isolation/quarantine began, one of the most anxiety-producing events for faith leaders was wondering how we would “do” Holy Week, that week before Easter that we especially join Jesus with his walk to the cross.

 

As a former parish priest, I know how much time and effort is spent planning worship, proofing and reproofing and reproofing again worship booklets. Rehearsals. Cleaning. Decorating. Providing the sacrament of Reconciliation of a Penitent. Money spent on flowers. Foot washing. Stripping the altar. Stations of the Cross.

These are all good and holy acts. But as we wander in this strange land, six feet apart and behind closed doors, it feels that we have a gift this year. We can enter into an even deeper meaning of an intentional walk with Jesus.

Where is God’s invitation this year?

Starting with Palm Sunday.

Each of us can pray the Liturgy of the Palms. It’s in the Book of Common Prayer and no clergy are necessary. Then we can stop. Since we will be walking the way towards the cross with Jesus, we can sit fully with his triumphant-ish entry into Jerusalem without jumping ahead to hear the Passion Gospel. Because Jesus hasn’t died yet.

In preparation for Palm Sunday: Today, Tuesday in the fifth week of Lent—do you know how to fold a palm or branch cross (I never could master it despite how many times Jo Cassidy tried to teach me)? If you do, go outside and gather some leaves. In Houston, palm branches are actually not difficult to find. Fold crosses and mail them to people who might like a bit of love. The palm crosses will be there for them on Palm Sunday if you do it today or tomorrow.

Had you planned to give flowers for Easter worship? We can take whatever money we would have spent on flowers and use it to provide food for hungry people. Flowers for Food. Write a note to the people you would have honored by giving Easter flowers for Easter worship; let them know why you are so thankful for them and that someone hungry will have something to eat because you shared your love in a tangible way.

This is the time for us to be God’s people in a powerful way in a world that is starving for the peace that passes understanding.  Where is the invitation today?

Good morning God.

This is your day.

I am your child.

Please show me your way.

AMEN,

 

Lenten Crosses

The Forward Day by Day reminded me this morning that it is the feast day of Charles Henry Brent, Bishop. In all his busy holiness, perhaps his greatest gift is prayer, particularly a prayer for mission that is in the Book of Common Prayer:


Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

So clothe us in your Spirit that we reaching forth our hands in love

This is one of my favorite prayers, and this is the line that always resonates with me.

Today, when I am limited in how I can physically touch others with my hands, how can I specifically reach forth my hands in love? To bring others to the knowledge and love of God?

That’s a Lenten cross we can all bear.

Remembering: This is not my first rodeo

When I was still living in the Rectory, my home flooded twice. Those two floods and the after consequences were perhaps the most painful times of my life. When I had gotten through those two terrible, terrible events, only in looking back, despite the enormous pain, I knew they had been the very best times of my life. Certainly not while going through them; only afterwards when I saw the person I had become and the gifts I had received did I see clearly how God works through the very worst of times.

I bring those learned gifts to this uniquely terrible, terrible time knowing that even more gifts will be received. Certainly for me personally. Certainly, I pray, for a country (and world) where we will be more unselfish and generous and where we will seek to rise to the other’s best and to serve the common good.

On Saturday, my first Sabbath since the crisis hit, I took advantage of early hour’s shopping for those of us of riper years. It is the first time I’ve ever had to show my driver’s license to enter a store in order to buy groceries!

I was delighted to score peanut butter and coffee filters. The very best gift of all was church at checkout. Erica, my brave checker, and I had a good talk about God as she rang up my groceries. I came out of the closet and told her that I was a priest. She asked me if I could bless some oil for her because she was all out of holy oil. As God would have it, in the minutes it took her to find some oil on the nearly empty shelves (substituting almond for the out of stock olive), no one else came to her register to check out. There in Whole Foods we had a prayer service.

Later that day I decided to go to the nursery. My butterfly plant was covered in monarch caterpillars and they had stripped it to the stems.

My local nursery had gotten in a fresh supply of milkweed—limit four per person. Milk. Butter. Toilet paper. And now milkweed. Ah, life in a pandemic.

Martha and I had a chat as she rang me up. Her weekday job is working with seniors. She had bought some beautiful hanging baskets (on sale!) and delivered them (at safe distance) to the elder home-based folks in her church. As she told me about her ministry of far apart care, it was church, once again. At Another Place in Time.

When I got home, I realized that Martha had slipped a couple of extra milkweed plants in my car when she had helped me carry my purchases to my trunk. A passing of the peace, of sorts.

On Sunday, the loneliness of living alone was becoming heart hurting. I remembered something I’d learned from the two floods. It’s okay to ask for what you need—and then to receive what is given.

I reached out to my Oregon family. I joined them for online worship with their local church, New Hope. We FaceTimed. And last night, my wonderful daughter in law sent me photos of their day.

And there on Austin’s daily schedule, call Grandma.