Saturday, November 27, 2010

At Year's End...

These are the waning hours of the liturgical year. When sun sets this evening, another cycle of feasts, fasts, and ferias will be over, while a new one begins. To mark this “unremarkable” moment in the calendar, perhaps a quotation from St. Thomas Aquinas (commemorated January 28) would be in order. It is from a commentary he wrote on the Nicene Creed, and points us to the “end of all our desires,” as does the conclusion of the Church year:

It is fitting that the end of our all our desires, namely eternal life, coincides with the words at the end of the creed: “Life everlasting. Amen.”
The first point about eternal life is that humanity is united with God. For God himself is the reward and end of all our labors: “I am your protector and your supreme reward.” This union consists in seeing God perfectly: “At present we are looking at a confused reflection in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face.”
Next it consists in perfect praise, according to the words of the prophet: “Joy and happiness will be found in it, thanksgiving and words of praise.”
It also consists in complete satisfaction of desire, for there the blessed will be given more than they wanted or hoped for. The reason is that in this life no one can fulfill their longings, nor can any creature satisfy human desire. Only God satisfies, he infinitely exceeds all other pleasures. That is why we can rest in nothing but God. As Augustine says: “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

May the year now ending be counted as a sacred offering to you, O Lord. May the Holy Season of Advent be time when we learn anew that nothing but you will satisfy our deepest desires. May the year to come be one of growing in your knowledge and love! Amen.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The General Thanksgiving

The Book of Common Prayer is never simply a guide to the details of worship. It always points to the wholeness of the Christian life, the restored and integrated vision with which the Christian looks at the world and sees the Kingdom of God very near: indeed, here in our very midst, though disguised and often ignored.

In some ways each feast in the liturgical year is really only a heightening of what is always present in the Eucharist whenever it is celebrated. This is particularly true of Thanksgiving Day, where the Greek word for Thanksgiving is “Eucharist.”

If each Eucharist is a time for thanksgiving—not only for specific gifts, but for the whole gift of life, creation, being made in the Image of God—whenever it is offered by God’s people, then each day has a clear Eucharistic “basis.” For, each day of our life as disciples of the Lord Christ is either a day preparing for the celebration of the Eucharist, or a day of thankfulness for having shared in it—a thankfulness to be lived out in our thoughts, words, and deeds.

This, in turn, means that our daily prayers always have something of the Eucharist implicit within them. Yes, our daily prayers, whether offered in community or individually, always must be “Eucharistic." They are part of the whole offering of prayer made by the Church throughout the world and through all ages, and are a grateful response to the gift of the Holy Spirit who calls forth prayer in us.

And so the Prayer Book gives us many ways to live this Eucharistic vision out. Perhaps one of the most concrete and helpful is the General Thanksgiving, which comes at the end of daily Morning and Evening prayer. This prayer stands as a joyful reminder that we are a people of gratitude: initially for being created and sustained by God, and then for the particular blessings we have received each day. But the prayer continues on, with deeper thanksgiving for the restoration of our being in Jesus Christ. In him we are given the ability to know God directly and intimately. It is this relationship that brings forth in us the state of consciousness of God, of the world, of our neighbor—that recollected state of being—which marks a truly Eucharistic way of life. Only Christians who enter into this deep sharing in Christ can take up their cross and follow their Savior through life’s journey.

Each Thanksgiving Day points to the Eucharist; each Eucharist points to fullness of life available in Christ to those who turn to him; each day for the Christian is a renewal in the Eucharistic vision of life, and each prayer is soaked in the power of that vision.

The General Thanksgiving

Almighty God, Father of all mercies,
we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks
for all your goodness and loving‑kindness
to us and to all whom you have made.
We bless you for our creation, preservation,
and all the blessings of this life [especially, ____________];
but above all for your immeasurable love
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ;
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies,
that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise,
not only with our lips, but in our lives,
by giving up our selves to your service,
and by walking before you
in holiness and righteousness all our days;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory throughout all ages.  Amen.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Intercessions for Thursdays

From Bishop Lancelot Andrewes’ Private Devotions

In peace let us pray to the Lord.
For the peace that is from above and for the salvation of our souls,
Lord, have mercy.
For the peace of the whole world and for the good estate of the holy churches of God and for the union of them all;
Lord, have mercy.
For this holy house and for those who with faith and reverence enter in;
Lord, have mercy.
For our forebears in holy things, for the worthy presbyterate, for the deacons ministering in Christ, and for all the clergy and people;
Lord, have mercy.
For all the city and country, and for all believers who live here;
Lord, have mercy.
For the good temperature of the air, abundance of the fruits of the earth, and peaceful times;
Lord, have mercy.
For those at sea, those traveling, the sick, the weary, the prisoners and for their deliverance;
Lord, have mercy.
Help, save pity, and protect us, O God, by your grace.
Lord, have mercy.
All-holy, undefiled, highly blessed Mother of God, and ever-virgin Mary, together with all the saints, we commend ourselves, each other, and all our life to Christ our God, even to YOU LORD to whom be glory, honor, and worship. Amen.

(trans. By David Scott)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Getting Connected at St. Timothy's, Pt. 1

St. Timothy's Annual Pentecost Photo
When a person determines a call from God to become part of the worship community at St. Timothy’s Church, the question usually arises: “How do I get connected to news and information about the parish?” Here are some answers:

The Sunday Bulletin
Since worship is at the center of our lives as Christians, the Sunday bulletin (described in detail here) is the first place to go for upcoming events and parish news.

Sunday Announcements
Part of most Sunday liturgies is the Announcement time, occurring after the Peace is exchanged. These are brief oral notices, usually referencing something in the bulletin or the Tidings.

The Monthly Parish Newsletter: Tidings
Once you have decided to call St. Timothy’s home, you should give your contact information to the parish office, asking to have the Tidings sent to you. The newsletter contains articles from various ministry groups (called Commissions), an article from the priest, a monthly calendar, invitations to and descriptions of special worship services, and various other items about our common life. It is one of the most important sources of information in our parish. Back issues are available online here.

Weekly Electronic Notices: e-Tidings
This electronic bulletin-board is put out most weeks, usually early in the week. It combines material from the Sunday bulletin with other news, resources, and updates. Special e-Tidings are sent out with notices about late-breaking parish news. In order to receive the e-Tidings, one has to sign up via the parish web site’s main page here (currently in the lower right-hand corner).

Phone Tree
When some important news needs to be communicated to the parish, a telephone tree is activated. Please make sure the parish has your correct phone number. You may do this by sending the parish office an e-mail (

The Web Site
It goes without saying, one hopes, that the parish’s web site has a number of interesting pages with descriptions of ministries, leadership, resources for prayer, &c. Suggestions for improvements are always welcome!

That covers the “information” part of getting connected. But, there’s more (see Pt. 2 of this article)…

Reading Scripture with Honesty

When we read the Scriptures honestly we can admit that certain passages mean little to us. We are ready to agree with God because we have no reason to disagree with him. We can approve of this or that commandment or divine action because it does not touch us personally, we do not yet see the demands it makes on us personally.

Other passages frankly repel us. If we had the courage we would say “no” to the Lord. We should note these passages carefully. They are a measure of the distance between God and us and also they are a measure of the distance between ourselves as we are now and our potential definitive selves.

For the gospel is not a succession of external commandments, it is a whole gallery of internal portraits. And every time we say “no” to the gospel we are refusing to be a person in the full sense of the word.

There are passages of the gospel which make our hearts burn, which give light to our intelligence and shake up our will. They give life and strength to our whole physical and moral being. These passages reveal the points where God and his image in us already coincide, the stage we have already reached, perhaps only momentarily, fleetingly, in becoming what we are called to be.

We should note these passages even more carefully than the passages mentioned above. They are the points at which God’s image is already present in us fallen men. And from these beginnings we can strive to continue our transformation into the person we feel we want and ought to be. We must be faithful to these revelations. In this at least we must always be faithful.

If we do this, [such] passages increase in number, the demands of the gospel become fuller and more precise, slowly the fogs disperse and we see the image of the person we should be. Then we can begin standing before God in truth.

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, in Courage to Pray

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them; that, by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

St. Leo on Love, Faith, and Action

It is a great thing, no doubt, to have the right faith and possess sound doctrine; and sobriety, meekness, and purity are virtues that deserve high praise; but all these virtues remain vain if they are not coupled with charity. And we ought not to say that an excellent conduct is fruitful if it does not issue from love.

Let believers then examine their own state of mind and carefully scrutinize the intimate sentiments of their hearts. If they find some fruit of charity in their conscious self, let them have no doubt that God is in them. And that they may become more and more able to welcome so great a guest, let them persevere and grow in mercy which expresses itself in acts. If God is love, charity ought not to know any limits, for nothing that is limited can contain the divinity.

-- St. Leo the Great (today being his feast day), from Sermon 48

Collect for St. Leo’s day:
O Lord our God, grant that your Church, following the teaching of your servant Leo of Rome, may hold fast the great mystery of our redemption, and adore the one Christ, true God and true Man, neither divided from our human nature nor separate from your divine Being; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Poem for November

This is one of my favorite poems from John Keble's survey of the Liturgical Year. I find the way it links nature, scripture, our personal journey in life, and our faith to be both very touching and very thought-provoking. It is precisely this sort of integrated life I entered when I first became an Anglican Christian, and it is this practice of the faith that continues to nourish and inspire me years later. While the style of this poem may be quite dated, its content and message is eternal. Enjoy!

Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things onto Himself. Philippians iii. 21.

Red o'er the forest peers the setting sun,
   The line of yellow light dies fast away
That crowned the eastern copse: and chill and dun
   Falls on the moor the brief November day.

Now the tired hunter winds a parting note,
   And Echo hide good-night from every glade;
Yet wait awhile, and see the calm leaves float
   Each to his rest beneath their parent shade.

How like decaying life they seem to glide!
   And yet no second spring have they in store,
But where they fall, forgotten to abide
   Is all their portion, and they ask no more.

Soon o'er their heads blithe April airs shall sing,
   A thousand wild-flowers round them shall unfold,
The green buds glisten in the dews of Spring,
   And all be vernal rapture as of old.

Unconscious they in waste oblivion lie,
   In all the world of busy life around
No thought of them; in all the bounteous sky,
   No drop, for them, of kindly influence found.

Man's portion is to die and rise again -
   Yet he complains, while these unmurmuring part
With their sweet lives, as pure from sin and stain,
   As his when Eden held his virgin heart.

And haply half unblamed his murmuring voice
   Might sound in Heaven, were all his second life
Only the first renewed—the heathen's choice,
   A round of listless joy and weary strife.

For dreary were this earth, if earth were all,
   Tho' brightened oft by dear Affection's kiss; -
Who for the spangles wears the funeral pall?
   But catch a gleam beyond it, and 'tis bliss.

Heavy and dull this frame of limbs and heart,
   Whether slow creeping on cold earth, or borne
On lofty steed, or loftier prow, we dart
   O'er wave or field: yet breezes laugh to scorn

Our puny speed, and birds, and clouds in heaven,
   And fish, living shafts that pierce the main,
And stars that shoot through freezing air at even -
   Who but would follow, might he break his chain?

And thou shalt break it soon; the grovelling worm
   Shall find his wings, and soar as fast and free
As his transfigured Lord with lightning form
   And snowy vest—such grace He won for thee,

When from the grave He sprang at dawn of morn,
   And led through boundless air thy conquering road,
Leaving a glorious track, where saints, new-born,
   Might fearless follow to their blest abode.

But first, by many a stern and fiery blast
   The world's rude furnace must thy blood refine,
And many a gale of keenest woe be passed,
   Till every pulse beat true to airs divine,

Till every limb obey the mounting soul,
   The mounting soul, the call by Jesus given.
He who the stormy heart can so control,
   The laggard body soon will waft to Heaven.
-- "For the Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity," from The Christian Year, by John Keble

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dialogue, charity, and harmony in a season of unison singing...

Dialogue, long before it manifests itself through words, is a union of hearts through a profound harmonization of wills in one accord, which is not necessarily a unison, a uniformity, but a harmony on one identical melody with all the richness of its variations. Dialogue is first of all the silence of someone who knows how to enrich himself by listening and reflecting, and then, the statement of his personal thoughts, respecting those of the other. This dialogue, it is true, takes time. The too hasty forming of one’s opinion, where patience is demanded, is contrary to the spirit of dialogue, because it lacks respect for different opinions often born of experience and wisdom. Charity alone successfully presides in a dialogue. So the common life, which teaches charity also teaches dialogue.

            From the chapter “Community Life,” from Serving God First: Insights on the Rule of St. Benedict, by Dom Sighard Kleiner

Some years ago, I heard from a friend about a parish where all singing in harmony was officially discouraged. The liturgical leadership told the people that singing in harmony destroyed the sense of unity in the worshipping community: unison singing was much preferable in their expert opinion. I found this strangely appropriate to our era, when we so easily confuse unison with unity, diatribe with dialogue, chicanery with charity.

The above passage from Kleiner’s almost 40-year old commentary on the Rule reflects the great difficulty involved in forming and maintaining authentic, Gospel based communities. It turns out that demanding everyone sing in unison is a great deal easier—and more gratifying—than allowing a community to sing in harmony with the melody given to it by God.

The way to respond authentically to the "melody of salvation" rests in a deep appropriation of the charity Kleiner speaks of. There simply is no way to balance the diversity of gifts and experiences in a parish, a monastic community, a diocese, or a national/worldwide body with the “Faith once delivered” outside of profound immersion in (and practice of) the Love of Christ for the Father and for fallen humanity.

And this is where the “institutional” structures of the Church—deeply imbued with secular self-understandings of “rights,” “goals,” and zero-sum decision making—are weakest. Instead of witnessing to the humility of Christ based in the Love of the Holy Trinity, we exhibit strategies of institutional self-preservation and self-justification. Once fear takes over, charity is irrelevant. “Party spirit” and loyalty to “the system” is confused with an honest (if not always easy) harmony. Unity is replaced with unison, and the institution looks for any sign of discontent with the man-made melody of conformity.

The graciousness of God is beyond measure. It transcends both narrow fanaticism and antinomian complacency. In Christ God has brought forth the melody of salvation; this melody alone sings of our freedom to become saints of God, restored to our true identity. Yet, it is not an imposed, fearful song, suppressing our individual reality or character. Rather, it calls forth from us by the action of the Holy Spirit the fullness of who we were created to be. Christ, the melody of God’s Love for Creation, summons from us the perfected harmony of hearts and minds tuned to that Love. No police state is needed. Only those communities of faith which are rooted in that One Great Melody will take the time to listen and discern how to respond lovingly, patiently, and with wisdom. 

Like the moment after the bread is broken at the Eucharist, the dialogue needed for such discernment will be marked first by a silence born of awe and reverence. This is the starting point. From there the faithful community's discernment will be marked both by depth and generosity, because its participants hear the sheer beauty of the great melody, and will want to participate in it, to sing in complete harmony to it, with all their hearts.