Reflections for third Sunday after Pentecost, June 10

Following John Wesley’s Advice to Avoid a Sour Religion

This Sunday afternoon eighteen of us from Saint Paul’s visited the Karen Gould Collection of medieval manuscripts (leaves, bifolia, quires and manuscripts) at the Spencer Art Reference Library in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City. Our group included current members and alumni of EfM(University of the South continuing education at Saint Paul’s), Fathers Stan Runnels and JonathanCallison, Marie Thompson (primary EfM Mentor), Gene (my husband), and this writer. Amelia Nelson, the Librarian, was a gracious host. To avoid overwhelming the group with too many of the 52 items in the Collection we spent the hour concentrating on 8 items:

(a) three examples illustrating medieval worship practices (a twelfth-century Breviary leaf, a fifteenth-century Missal leaf, and a fourteenth or fifteenth-century Book of Hours for private devotion
(b) two Bible manuscript leaves, one thirteenth and another written and decorated in the fourteenth century and discussed below
(c) an example of liturgical music in Latin and German (fifteenth or sixteenth-century)
(d) a small Gothic Revival volume on the life of Saint Didier in the Ghent-Bruges illumination style
(e) the 1513 Basel printing of Marcus Marullus, Bene vivendi instituta, (with original binding, UrsGraf engravings and (front and back) 15th century German manuscript leaves of Biblical commentary used as pastedowns and flyleaves

A recent addition to the collection, the richly illuminated French fourteenth-century leaf (Pucellian style)from the Bible formerly at St Alban’s Abbey in England was the main focus of fascination. That leaf, with text from Chronicles (Paralipomenon in the Vulgate) following St Jerome’s preface, is both beautiful and entertaining. The historiated initial on the recto is a fine example of standing figures representing descendants of Adam in splendidly modeled clothes.  Less typical are the figures outside the decorated frame. At the bottom, perched on trailing ivy leaves is a hybrid animal. We see his orange tail and legs extending from behind a blue cloth that wraps around him but reveals his puppy-like face. This imagemay represent an apprentice artist having fun while learning how to paint draping cloth.

At the top of the recto leaf, standing on the middle vertical frame is a youth dressed in blue holding his right hand to his ear and in his left a tall club-like object. Brother Thomas Sullivan OSB, of Conception Abbey, points out that Jerome’s Prologue in the left column preceding the beginning of the chapter itself refers to “hearing but not hearing”. This reference explains both the gesture holding the ear and perhaps that the chap holds an ear horn in the other hand.

At first glance, the verso of the leaf, although similarly heavily ornamented, appears not to contain any figural representation, although the ascenders on “F (for filii) in the top-line words of both columns have ornate gold penwork flourishing. Art historians who have studied this leaf point out that in the goldflourishing there are profiles of human heads verging on the grotesque.

Medieval users of this text may have enjoyed the subtle jollity of the artists, as do modern readers.


Reflections for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 3

Reflection on Sundays long ago

I reflected recently on a time some years ago when I saw the church in general and St Paul’s differently.  I was in a low period in my life.  Often depressed and anxious about my future, that state of mind carried over to my views on religion.  It can be said that my expectations were immature.   I was married at St. Paul’s, and it is where our daughter was baptized. It was my church.  I attended services occasionally, showed up at social gatherings and participated in outreach activities as it was expected of me, so I thought.  Nevertheless, I felt a separation from the others in the congregation and at times felt inferior.   Defensively, I often quietly judged the congregation to be hypocritical or insincere about faith.  Fortunately, this is about a time in the past.

Changes in my life have brought me to see things differently. My childlike view that the world should be perfect has mellowed.  I have a better opinion of myself. My expectations of The Church do not require it to be the sole bastion of all that is good. I no longer see the church as descending from upon high; rather, it is made of all of us and we have flaws.  Those I once thought to be hypocritical or insincere are now just others like me doing the best we can with what we have, seeking something better.

Reflection for Sunday, May 27,Trinity Sunday

As I listened to the first reading (Isaiah 6:1-8) on Sunday, I thought of a comment I often hear. It’s almost a complaint and goes something like this: “If I had a revelation like that, my  faith would be a lot stronger.” I think many people think that we just don’t hear from God in the way He used to talk to people. Yet, I think we are resistant also. When someone says he/she hasheard from God, our first thought often is that the person is running a scam. Thus, it is with some trepidation that I say, a couple of months ago, I think I heard from God. I’m very glad no seraph cleansed by mouth with a hot coal. I don’t think I want a revelation like that.

For some time I have been dealing with quite a bit of strife; strife over changes at work,and over social/political issues that the whole world seems to be fighting. Well-meaning friends flood their Facebook pages with “true facts” trying to refute disinformation and coworkers exchange confidential advice with a sense of intrigue. My revelation came along one day when I wasn’t thinking about any of these things. I was just very busy work, work, working. It felt like I just had an idea. I thought: “don’t bother fighting the bad, just participate in the good.” Immediately, I felt greatly relieved. I feel as if I have experienced some deliverance, it’s a gift. I have been extricated from the tentacles of argument.

Now and then I do perceive the tentacles reaching back for me. It’s not a real vision, just the recognition that the strife is ever willing to return, if I invite it back. I need to remember that moment of understanding that I experienced. Isaiah’s vision was written down so that it could be declared to the world, and perhaps to help him remember too. I try to recall my revelation andremember that I don’t need to engage in the pettiness that is so vexing. Rather, I need to show a better way. Later on Sunday, I had occasion to react to someone’s ardent political opinions and I needed to send an email to report a difficult issue to my administrator at work. Rather than fighting back against what I consider inappropriate behavior, I think that I offered constructive and supportive comments, on both occasions. It was not so easy to do and I had to think about it for a bit. I do believe that we need to model the behavior that we want to see in others. Some people use the phrase “fake it til you make it.” It’s really not faking it; it’s practicing it until it becomes a behavior that you do without thinking about it. I’m still practicing.

Reflection for Sunday, May 20, Pentecost

…we do not know how to pray as we ought…

This phrase from the reading from Romans struck a chord.  Although I have been writing for publication for 55 years, I am floundering on this reflection.  My responses to Sunday’s service feel more like one of those incident room boards you see on TV crime shows—the ones with a collage of photos and drawings and maps and words with lines connecting this to that to the other.

Examples?  “…give them their food in due season…” and “…they are filled with good things…” from the Psalm connects to the parish picnic after church.  And “…renew the face of the earth…” from the same Psalm has an arrow pointing to the baptism of Eva Marie Kmeck which has an arrow pointing to my conversation with her dad about my times in Eastern Europe and the Slavic origin of their surname as well as an arrow connecting “…marked as Christ’s own forever” from the baptismal service to the many times I have used those words to remind myself that things are better than they seem.

And, indeed, things are better than they seem because I begin to see my way, though dimly, through this interwoven and tangled web of Sunday morning impressions.  One of the central messages of Pentecost is the portion of Acts 2 which describes people speaking in many tongues and people understanding the message of God in their own languages (and now I am connected right straight back to Eastern Europe where Sts. Cyril and Methodius introduced the radical notion of a Bible in the common tongue).  I was reminded of pilgrimages to Taize where the Gospel is read sequentially in as many languages as needed for the thousands of guests to be able to understand it and of a parish Fr. Stan and Guytie and I used to belong to where the Gospel was read on Pentecost Sunday simultaneously in as many languages as the congregation could muster.

That lead me to reflect on the many expressions of “language” that we use in worship.  During certain parts of the Eucharist, some stand, some kneel, some sit.  Each posture has a use in the spiritual journey of the person who adopts it.  And music!  Sunday we had traditional Episcopal hymns, a highly syncopated gospel choir anthem, a communion offering with percussion and in their own language from the South Sudanese congregation, and that particular Sanctus that sounds like Roman legions marching in with shields and lances in a Cecil B. DeMille extravaganza. Each of these languages struck just the right note for various worshippers in our diverse congregation.

A thread that connected many of us, one Fr. Stan included in his homily, was the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry’s Royal Wedding address about the power of love to transform (here we go connecting right back to baptism) and the many possible expressions or languages (not in the sense of the Love Languages books) of that transformative love.  The sense of community for the parish and its guests at the picnic; feeding people through the food pantry, TEFAP, back snacks, Meals on Wheels, senior commodities and more; the day school and Sunday School and youth programs that seek to support and encourage children and teens; the presence of the South Sudanese congregation;  our ongoing involvement in social justice efforts; welcoming the newly baptized into our fellowship and communion—just a sample of the languages of love St. Paul’s speaks.

This reflection does not exhaust the note taking and crisscrossing all over Sunday’s service leaflet but it hints at the richness of this special Pentecost Sunday.  Back to Psalm 104 again:  May these words of mine please him.

Reflections on Sunday, May 13, Easter 7

Oh, it’s Mother’s Day. Memories of handmade cards, crowded restaurants and waiting anxiously for that long-distance call. No one can really express that feeling of heart-exploding love when holding your child for the first time or having your grown child walk through the door after a long absence. No one can express the grief of that first Mother’s Day without your Mom; realizing that you can’t look for the perfect gift that expresses the gratitude and love for life of support and love you have received and can no longer share. There are no words.

Jesus tells us that God’s love for us is unlimited. Mother’s Day makes me imagine that God’s love, as expressed by Jesus, must be at least, if not more amazing than the indescribable love I feel for my child or the incredible and unconditional love of my Mother for me.  I am not the perfect Mother and I was not the perfect child.  I am not the perfect child of God, but I am assured that God loves me as I love my child and as my Mother loved me, despite my imperfections.  That is my Mother’s Day gift and I receive it from the grace of God every day of every year.

Reflections* on Sunday, May 6, Easter 6

All Things Bright and Good

A theme that could be taken from today’s service is “joy.” I haven’t been to church in a couple of weeks due to travel and other complications. A funny thing about church is when you’re not there you wonder why you need it, but when you return, it becomes exceedingly clear. I felt joyful to be back, to be reminded again of Christ’s love, and to share in worship with people I love.

The readings, the music, the message – all conveyed the love of God and the joy it brings. This love and joy makes us free. Love and the joy seemed to me this morning to be two sides of the same coin. Experiencing God’s love is joy; joy is founded on our creation as God’s children.

God’s love and God’s joy allows us to freely give to others and can be felt most deeply in the giving. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I love you.” It’s not a commandment to us to be good, it’s a commandment to feel and act on the joy of love. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Peace, love, and joy to you this day.

*A series of blogs written by lay members of St. Paul’s reflecting upon their unique experiences of the intersection of life and faith on Sundays

Holy Saturday

Today Jesus is dead and in the grave. The ambry is empty, the reserve sacrament consumed. There is no provision for the celebration of the Eucharist on this day. It is as if the church is suspended between “Jesus in dead” and “What?!?!?”

As I wrote yesterday, at least for this moment, we must be willing to imagine the unknown quality of this day for the earliest followers of Jesus. Cleopas, like many others, was gathering his stuff and preparing for the long walk home. “We thought he was the messiah, the one. But he is dead; he is in the tomb.” Those on the edges of discipleship are drifting away. This season of hope and expectation, a season punctuated just a few days earlier with Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, is ended.

Holy Saturday is too often overlooked. It is a day to feel the banality of hopelessness, the pathos of despair, and the marginalization of the vulnerable. It is the darkest day imaginable.

Pause for at least a few moments today and imagine this day for those earliest followers of Jesus.


A closing comment: This is the last installment of the 2018 Lenten Meditations. I want to thank all those in our EfM group who contributed to these Lenten meditations. You each did an incredible job of exploring your unique experiences of the season and of scripture. My thanks to the leaders who coordinated this and for all who contributed. You all did a smashing job!