Monday, February 27, 2012

Come, people; Aaron's drest! -- 'Holy Mr. Herbert's' Day


HOLINESS on the head,
Light and perfection on the breast,
Harmonious bells below raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest.
Thus are true Aarons drest.

Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest:
Poor priest! thus am I drest.

Only another head
I have another heart and breast,
Another music, making live, not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest:
In Him I am well drest.

Christ is my only head,
My alone only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me e'en dead;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in Him new drest.

So holy in my Head,
Perfect and light in my dear Breast,
My doctrine tuned by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest),
Come, people;  Aaron's drest.

-- George Herbert

In this poem, Herbert compares the outer vesture of Aaron with the inner condition of his soul. He finds in himself the brokenness common to all humanity—yet, as an ordained minister of the Gospel, he sees how utterly destructive that dissonance is for those whom he serves. Turning to God in humility, he acknowledges that the “music” of his soul is Christ, and offers the totality of his life and ministry to God so that Herbert might let the sound of the Gospel ring through him clearly. Renewed in this knowledge, he can go forth into the liturgy in peace and joy.

I have had this poem in the vesting sacristy for many years, and it forms part of the cycle of pre-liturgy prayers I offer week by week.

It was in a class on 17th Century English Literature that I was introduced to Herbert and the Anglican tradition. It was during that semester that I became aware of the beauty this part of Christ’s Church. My life has never been the same since, and for this I am deeply thankful on this, the annual commemoration of the life and witness of George Herbert—priest and poet.

Collect for George Herbert
Our God and King, who called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls, a poet, and a priest in your temple: Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to perform the tasks you give us to do, knowing that nothing is menial or common that is done for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, February 24, 2012

"A Radical, Single Christianity" -- The Purpose of Asceticism

…[T]he Sayings of the Fathers have a great deal to teach us today. They should not be read, however, in an unrealistic or romantic way. It is not the desert that makes a desert father any more than it is the lion that makes the martyr. The desert is present everywhere and the spirituality of the desert can be found anywhere. We often make a mistake about the desert fathers and look for the wrong thing in their lives. It can sound as if the monks went around the desert trying to outdo each other in asceticism while their disciples sat around scoring points. But this is not at all what it is about. Man can derive his life either from God or from the earth and one way in which the lives of the desert saints can convey to us how much they depended on God, is to show us how little they depended upon earth. Ultimately, for the desert fathers it is not a question of more and more asceticism for its own sake, but they become more and more free because of it, until in the end they are like the mystical tree of China which grows with its roots heavenwards, uprooted here, rooted there.

   The true spirituality of the desert is radical. Its essence is absolute simplicity, that consciousness that a man stands before God, establishing a relatedness between the two which is all-embracing because there is nothing that is outside it. Then the whole desert blossoms with meaning, the whole cosmos is guarded around. This is the essence of these Sayings and this belongs to our times as much as to any. We must go to this single, basic, radical Christianity, which does not mean trying to copy what they did, but we must learn from them a crystal-like simplicity.

Forward by Anthony Bloom, Metropolitan of Sourozh, to
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Sr. Benedicta Ward, SLG

The True Purpose of our Lenten Observance…

The following is from the collection of early Christian writings entitled The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers, translated by Sr. Benedicta Ward, SLG.

An old man was asked, “How can I find God?” He said, “In fasting, in watching [giving up sleep for prayer], in labors, in devotion, and above all, in discernment. I tell you, many have injured their bodies without discernment and have gone away from us having achieved nothing. Our mouths smell bad through fasting, we know the Scriptures by heart, we recite all the Psalms of David, but we have not that which God seeks: charity and humility.

These brief, profound insights on the Christian life remain some of the most penetrating in our tradition. Here, an unknown monk—likely from the monastic world of fourth century Egyptian Christianity—reminds all who fast, pray, and labor for the Kingdom that our external efforts, while important, are always a means to an end, never the end in themselves. That end is charity and humility.

 Our ascetic devotion must be about the acquisition of the Love of God the Holy Trinity, in response to what the Ash Wednesday liturgy calls “the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.” This is an exercise of Christian discernment. When this is so, our labors are blessed by God and are holy. Otherwise, they are empty, futile, and likely very damaging.

May this Lent lead to a true growth in such love, such humility, so that God may be glorified, the Church enlarged in compassion, and each one of us shine with the love of Christ.

A Holy Lent to all!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Feasting in a time of Fast…

Lent can be more than a time for fasting. It can also be a joyous season of feasting. Lent is a time to fast from certain things and to feast on others.

Fast from judging others.
            Feast on Christ dwelling in them.

Fast from darkness.
            Feast on the Light of Christ,

Fast from ill thoughts.
            Feast on the healing power of God.

Fast from words that pollute or embitter.
            Feast on words that purify.

Fast from discontent.
            Feast on gratitude.

Fast from anger.
            Feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism.
            Feast on encouragement.

Fast from worry.
            Feast on divine order.

Fast from complaining.
            Feast on appreciation.

Fast from negatives.
            Feast on affirmations.

Fast from pressure.
            Feast on unceasing prayer.

Fast from hostility.
            Feast on nonresistance.

Fast from bitterness.
            Feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern.
            Feast on compassion for others.

Fast from personal anxiety.
            Feast on Eternal Truth.

Fast from discouragement.
            Feast on hope.

Fast from the facts that depress.
            Feast on God's promises.

Fast from lethargy.
            Feast on enthusiasm.

Fast from suspicion.
            Feast on innocence.

Fast from the shadows of sorrow.
            Feast on the light of Resurrection.

Fast from idle gossip.
            Feast on intentional silence.

Fast from seeking mastery.
            Feast on accepting mystery.

Fast from fear.
            Feast on trust.

Adapted from an anonymous source.

A Poem for Lent's Beginning...

Statue of George Herbert,
Salisbury Cathedral, England

From the poem "Lent"

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
            But is compos'd of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow
            To ev'ry Corporation.
True Christians should be glad of an occasion
To use their temperance, seeking no evasion,
            When good is seasonable;
Unless Authority, which should increase
The obligation in us, make it less,
            And Power itself disable.
Then those same pendant profits, which the spring
And Easter intimate, enlarge the thing,
            And goodness of the deed.
Neither ought other men's abuse of Lent
Spoil the good use; lest by that argument
            We forfeit all our Creed.
It's true, we cannot reach Christ's forti'eth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
            Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Saviour's purity;
Yet we are bid, 'Be holy ev'n as he, '
            In both let's do our best.
Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast,
            As may our faults control:
That ev'ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlour; banqueting the poor,
            And among those his soul.

George Herbert, priest and poet (1593-1633)
Commemorated Feb. 27th

Monday, February 20, 2012

Prayers before and following a death

A Prayer for a Person near Death

Almighty God, look on this your servant, lying in great weakness, and comfort him with the promise of life everlasting, given in the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Litany at the Time of Death

When possible, it is desirable that members of the family and friends come together to join in the Litany. [This litany may also be said privately.]

God the Father,
Have mercy on your servant.

God the Son,
Have mercy on your servant.

God the Holy Spirit,
Have mercy on your servant.

Holy Trinity, one God,
Have mercy on your servant.

From all evil, from all sin, from all tribulation,
Good Lord, deliver him.

By your holy Incarnation, by your Cross and Passion, by
your precious Death and Burial,
Good Lord, deliver him.

By your glorious Resurrection and Ascension, and by the
Coming of the Holy Spirit,
Good Lord, deliver him.

We sinners beseech you to hear us, Lord Christ: That it may please you to deliver the soul of your servant from the power of evil, and from eternal death,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you mercifully to pardon all his sins,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to grant him a place of refreshment
and everlasting blessedness,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please you to give him joy and gladness in your kingdom, with your saints in light,
We beseech you to hear us, good Lord.

Jesus, Lamb of God:
Have mercy on him.

Jesus, bearer of our sins:
Have mercy on him.

Jesus, redeemer of the world:
Give him your peace.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Officiant and People

Our Father, who art in heaven,
  hallowed by thy Name,
  thy kingdom come,
  thy will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses
  as we forgive those
    who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
  but deliver us from evil.

The Officiant says this Collect

Let us pray.

Deliver your servant, N., O Sovereign Lord Christ, from all evil, and set him free from every bond; that he may rest with all your saints in the eternal habitations; where with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

A Commendation at the Time of Death

Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world;
In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you;
In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;
In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you.
May your rest be this day in peace,
 and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.

A Commendatory Prayer

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant N. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.  Amen.

May his soul and the souls of all the departed, through the
mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.

A Litany following a death

The Officiant begins the litany with these words:

It was our Lord Jesus himself who said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Let us pray, then, for our brother (sister) N., that he may rest from his labors, and enter into the light of God’s eternal sabbath rest.

Receive, O Lord, your servant, for he returns to you.
Into your hands, O Lord,
we commend our brother (sister) N.

Wash him in the holy font of everlasting life, and clothe him in his heavenly wedding garment.
Into your hands, O Lord,
we commend our brother (sister) N.

May he hear your words of invitation, “Come, you blessed of my Father.”
Into your hands, O Lord,
we commend our brother (sister) N.

May he gaze upon you, Lord, face to face, and taste the blessedness of perfect rest.
Into your hands, O Lord,
we commend our brother (sister) N.

May angels surround him, and saints welcome him in peace.
Into your hands, O Lord,
we commend our brother (sister) N.

The Officiant concludes

Almighty God, our Father in heaven, before whom live all who die in the Lord: Receive our brother N. into the courts of your heavenly dwelling place.  Let his heart and soul now ring out in joy to you, O Lord, the living God, and the God of those who live.  This we ask through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

From The Book of Common Prayer, 1979

Saturday, February 18, 2012

O wondrous type! O vision fair!

When we come to the last Sunday before Lent, we celebrate each year the glorious Transfiguration of Christ, an event so beautiful and so moving that the Church provides two occasions in the year on which to recall and bathe in its light.

The Transfiguration is, of course, firstly a revelation of Christ’s divinity—the final one we celebrate in the season after the Epiphany. It is also a revelation of what those who love Christ and share in his life will experience. When Christ was transfigured, he revealed momentarily not only his future, resurrected state. The cloud that overshadows Jesus (the Divine darkness of Sinai) overshadows the disciples, as well. The uncreated light that pours forth from Christ falls on the disciples and on the mountain itself. As some icons of the Transfiguration show, the power of this moment is precisely because it is not limited to Christ but flows from him onto and into the world, the people around him.

Because of this, we can understand what St. Paul means in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, when he speaks of God “who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This light was first shown to us at the Transfiguration, and it is an earnest of a world shot through with that light at the end of the ages. Each Eucharist is, likewise, suffused with this spiritual light. Each saint glows with the light of this grace, and only those who share in Christ’s life and love may perceive it.

Christ’s Transfiguration marks the transition from his preaching ministry in Galilee to his self-offering in Jerusalem. It is a moment of great joy, but also a moment of tragic honesty: the One who is the source of such power, beauty, and awe will have to be arrested, abused, denigrated, and finally killed in order to rescue us from our own horror and delusion. This, too, is a measure of how much we are loved.

With this day, we say farewell to Alleluia. We join Jesus, in our half-hearted and incomplete way, in “setting our face towards Jerusalem,” and walk into the Lenten fast. Calling upon him, we pray for the strength to take up our cross and bear it honestly. But we do this not alone in the dark. We do it with him, in the light of his presence. Sharing in that light, we find the courage to be disciples once more this Lent and beyond.

Collect of the Last Sunday after the Epiphany
O God, who before the passion of your only‑begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Prayers at the Beginning of the Day

Prayers at Rising

In the X Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[Our Father, &c.]    [Hail, Mary, &c.]    [I believe, &c.]

Glory to you Lord, O Lord, glory to you, glory to you who have given me sleep for the refreshing of my weakness, and to restore the labors of this fretful body.
To this day and all days, a perfect, peaceful, healthy, and sinless course:
Grant this, Lord.
An angel of peace, a faithful guide, guardian of soul and body, to pitch a tent around me, and always to prompt what brings salvation:
Grant this, Lord.
Pardon X and remission of all sins and offences:
Grant this, Lord.
To our souls, what is good and becoming, and peace to the world:
Grant this, Lord.
Repentance and discipline for the rest of our life, and health and peace to the end:
Grant this, Lord.
Whatever is true, whatever is honest, whatever is just, whatever pure, whatever lovely, whatever of good report, if there be any virtue, and praise, such thoughts, such deeds:
Grant this, Lord.
A Christian close, without sin, without blame, and if it please you without pain, and a good answer at the awesome and testing judgment-seat of Jesus Christ our Lord:
Grant this, Lord.

O God, you are my God, and you have made me for yourself. O Lord, Heavenly Father, to you I devote my heart, and my entire life. Grant me your grace that this day I may live in your presence, and walk in the path of your commandments, following the example of my Savior Christ, and being made like unto him. Give to me your Holy Spirit that, trusting only in him, I may overcome those sins which beset me. Grant, O gracious God, to me and to [names] such blessings as we need. I ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day:  Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do, direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Let this my prayer, O Lord, come before you in the morning. You took upon yourself our feeble and suffering nature; grant me to pass this day in gladness and peace, without stumbling and without stain; that reaching the eventide without any temptation, I may praise you the eternal King: through your mercy, O our God, who is blessed, living and governing all things, world without end. Amen.

Lord, give me the strength to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely on your holy will. Reveal your will to me every hour of the day. Bless my dealings with all people. Teach me to treat all people who come to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that your will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unexpected events, let me not forget that all are sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me the physical strength to bear the labors of this day. Direct my will, teach me to pray, and you yourself, pray in me. Amen.

At the prayers of St. Mary, (N.N.), and all the Saints, may the Almighty and merciful Lord X Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless and preserve me, and bring me to life everlasting. Amen.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

John Donne on Penitence

Act of Penitence

Forgive me, Lord, my sins
The sins of my youth,
The sins of the present;
The sins I laid upon myself in an ill pleasure,
The sins I cast upon others in an ill example;
The sins which are manifest to the whole world,
The sins which I have labored to hide from mine acquaintance,
            From mine own conscience,
            And even from my memory;
My crying sins and my whispering sins,
My ignorant sins and my willful;
Sins against my superiors, equals, servants,
Against my lovers and benefactors,
Sins against myself, mine own body, mine own soul,
Sins against thee, O almighty Father, O merciful Son,
            O blessed Spirit of God.

Forgive me, O Lord, through the merits of thine Anointed, my Savior, Jesus Christ.

John Donne

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Making a Lenten Rule

A Guide to Making a Lenten Rule


Lent is a season to prepare for the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection at Holy Week and Easter.  Each year, we are called by the Church to fast from what has made us too full, or has deadened our response to God’s call. It is also a time to rededicate ourselves to the study of God’s Holy Scriptures, daily prayer, works of mercy in our community, forgiveness of wrongs done to us, and turning away from sinful practices in our lives. What can you do to hear God better?  Making a written commitment to implementing these changes in our life is called a Lenten rule.

A Lenten rule should be very clear and achievable; heroics and vagueness won’t work.

·      Specificity: Rather than writing “I will pray more” it would be better to say when, how long, and what resources you will use during your Lenten commitment to prayer.  The items on the Lenten Table in the narthex may help.

·      Realism: Instead of taking on something you know you are really not prepared to do, try something that moves you closer to your goal.  Remember: a good Lenten rule leads to changes in our way of life after Lent, as well.

·      Breadth: Fasting can include things other than food.  What about time at the computer?  How about a fast from speeding or making judgments about others, and noting the times and circumstances when you broke your fast?  One can learn much from taking note of the pressures and cycles of life which make us vulnerable.

·      Balance: Your rule should lead you to balance in life and reliance on God.  A rule is not a way to prove how spiritually strong you are or how much you love God.  God loves us; we must learn to respond to that love.

A Lenten Rule


In order that I may prepare in heart, mind and body to receive the risen Christ at Easter, I am making a commitment to God this Lent with the following points of self-denial and devotion:

I will fast from:

I will take on:


I offer this Lenten season to God, that I may be transformed more and more into the person he calls me to be.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Preparing to make a Confession

A purple stole is used for confessions.
Purple is both the color of  royalty
and the color of repentance, for repentance
is the royal road back to God.

Below are some common questions for use in preparing for the service of The Reconciliation of a Penitent, commonly called “confession.”

The point of these questions is not to “check off boxes” of sins committed or not committed. This, by itself, is an exercise in futile legalism. The point is open our spiritual eyes to the truth of our life, the direction of our existence—and then to receive grace in this sacramental rite to reclaim the life we have been given in Holy Baptism, when the Holy Spirit came to dwell in us. It is this precious gift we recover in making a confession.

As one ponders these specific examples of sin or error in life, be alert not only for “yes” or “no” responses, but ask of God such things as: “why, Lord, do I choose this?” and “what has this action done to others?” and “how has this cost me fullness of life in you, distancing myself from you and from my full, potential self?” No matter how many times you come back to these sins, do not hesitate to confess them. Perseverance is central to the Christian life: it is our response to the endless gift of grace.

When God formed us, he gave us the capacity to choose fullness of Life with him, or a diminished life pointed towards death apart from him. Sin is the choice for that diminished, death-bound life. Let us raise these choices to consciousness before the Holy Trinity, then confess them and receive the spiritual grace and healing of Holy Absolution. In so doing, we turn from the grave to Life in communion with God, our sisters and brothers, and the New Creation God is bringing forth even now.

When you finish with this (or any other) examination of conscience, you may desire to write down the fruit of your reflections to share with you confessor. You may choose to journal on these matters, as well. Above all, see that you are the judge, not the patron, of your sins. Bring them before God and offer them up in loving contrition—sure of his redeeming love for us all individually and corporately.

Some questions for reflection before making a confession

Have I been angry or irritated? Have I abused anyone? Used foul language? Viewed carnal images or consented to carnal imaginations? Struck someone? Offended someone in an argument? Have I raised my voice in anger?

Have I joked or made fun of the disabled, unfortunate, elderly, or those different from me? Am I truly at peace with everyone? Have I asked forgiveness of those I may have offended? Have I withheld forgiveness to another out of spite or selfishness?

Have I failed to give aid to someone in need, especially when asked? Have I donated to the needs of the Church? Have I sought God when making decisions?

Have I been cruel to animals? Do I treat God’s holy creation with contempt? Have I taken something without asking? Have I failed to return a book or other thing that I have borrowed?

Have I been stubborn, insistent on pressing my point of view? Have I plotted or taken revenge on one who has offended me? Have I broken my baptismal, marriage, or ordination vows? Have I told falsehoods, distorted the truth, cheated, judged others or gossiped?

Have I joked of the faults of others, or exposed the faults of another to make myself the better? Have I been vain? Sought glory or praise for myself? Does my inner peace disappear when others are unfair to me or judge me?