Officiant and People: Our Father, who art in heaven
If you look through the New Testament, the word saints is only in its plural form – no singular saints, just a collective. This is different from the honorific Saint that is bestowed on a select few whose very human essence scattered the love of God like a prism flings light. Christianity, like its mother Judaism, is a communal affair rather than a singular pursuit.
The collective shows up again in the prayer Jesus left with us. Our father, not my father or your father. God isn’t the personal property of a single person, even one praying this prayer in solitude. God gives life to everyone, and everyone is claimed as a child of God’s love.
Our means I can’t exclude those I’d prefer to exclude, and they cannot exclude me. We are in this life together. We come before God together, even when we don’t, can’t, or won’t admit it.
What a powerful reminder, in the middle of whatever activities the day brings, that I am not alone – unique, beloved, but never alone.
That goes for you, too.
[For more on the Noonday Prayer service, click above.]
A meditation, silent or spoken, may follow.
There are so many words thrown at us every day, almost every minute of every day, that they can become an indistinct buzzing more than bearers of anything important. When the words become too loud and too numerous, turning them into background noise can keep things manageable – a way of keeping our heads above water and our lives moving forward. But there’s a cost to it: life-giving words are filtered out along with the meaningless babble.
Built into this mid-day service is a pause, a space for a meditation. It might be filled with words, it might be an intentional respite from words. In the middle of the day’s activities, in the middle of this service, is this pause. Silent or spoken, a time to ponder life and love and holiness and fear, this is opening our hearts and souls to God – if only a crack.
What would life be like if we took time in the middle of every day to pause? If only for a moment, a few breaths in length, we welcomed God into the middle of our commonest of activities?
I can’t say I know, but I think it’s worth giving it a try.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. I Corinthians 13:4-6, NRSV
When I resent someone else’s good fortune, I can feel my heart constrict – squeezed by a giant fist of jealousy and envy. I think that’s as much a lack of love and appreciation for what I do have as it is a lack of love for the person who has what I don’t. With some effort and a larger perspective, I can let go of resentment over such things.
But what about that feeling of irritation that comes over someone else’s behavior? Talking too much, not talking enough; laughing too loud, not laughing at all; correcting my mistakes to be helpful or to be annoying – the list goes on and on. Perhaps I don’t usually ascribe my own irritability to a lack of love because it’s so easy to believe it’s the result of the other person’s shortcoming rather than my own.
Why is it so easy to see someone else’s irritability as self-generated, but so difficult to see mine as the same? If I ask myself this question, perhaps with some effort and this larger perspective I’ll be able to let go of irritability as well.
[For the full text, click I Corinthians 13 above.]
Where there is Poverty and Joy,
there is neither Cupidity nor Avarice.
St. Francis, The Admonitions, XXVII
Merriam-Webster has one of my favorite websites – Word of the Day, language games, and access to a world class dictionary and thesaurus. There are also short essays so well written that just about any subject is made interesting. As an avid reader and habitual writer, www.merriam-webster.com is a verbal playground. So as I was pondering what to write about Cupidity, I took a look at Merriam-Webster’s definition. The first one: inordinate desire for wealth. The second: strong desire, lust.
When I first read Francis’ words, I paired poverty with avarice and cupidity with joy – an instance of chiasmus, with the word pairings making an “X” when connected by lines. In that case, it’s the second definition of Cupidity that serves as Joy’s opposite. Lust is desiring someone as an object for fulfilling sexual desires; it turns the desired person into a thing rather than honoring that person as a companion in an intimate physical expression of joy. God knows the news is full of cupidity these days – sad tales of women and men intimidated and threatened if they refused to submit to unwanted advances. Such actions are harmful, draining joy from future relationships as well as bringing pain in current circumstances.
I think that first impression is right, but incomplete: all four words relate, either as companions or as contrasting qualities. Merriam-Webster’s first definition of Cupidity is about seeking wealth without thought for its consequences or its true worth. With no thought to what is necessary and life-giving, cupidity is the absence of poverty just as surely as it is joy – and avarice is cupidity in action.
Why is it that sex and wealth, such powerful forces, can lead to a life in ruins or a taste of heaven on earth?
Today is the day for remembering the astronomers/astrologers who followed a star to find the Christ Child. Contrary to Christmas pageant tradition, the Magi didn’t show up on Christmas day or any day soon after: enough time had passed for them to reach Bethlehem by way of Jerusalem and for Jesus to grow from a baby to a child (Matthew 2:1-12). While tradition holds that there were three of them (Casper, Melchior, Balthazar), it doesn’t mention their names or numbers in the Bible. It seems that there are a lot of things that have been read into this story over the past two thousand years, and it isn’t easy to read this sacred story without all the additions and assumptions.
Epiphany in the capital E church sense is a revelation or manifestation of the divine, in this case the revealing of the Christ child to holy travelers outside the Jewish faith. My visual for an Epiphany is a brilliant shaft of light parting the clouds. It’s a beautiful image, even if it’s a cliche.
In the lower case sense, epiphany can mean an illumination, a sudden grasp of truth, and the revelation of something essential revealed or understood. I guess the light-bulb-over-the-head is the cliche image, but it’s not one I can claim. I don’t really have a static picture for it, but I do have a couple of moving ones. The first is looking through a kaleidoscope – seeing the fractured colors become identifiable flowers or figures with a quick aligning turn. What made no sense seconds earlier falls into place and I see its structure and beauty. Two others: adjusting telescopes and microscopes to see what is too big or far away and what is too small or too much a part of me to grasp. In all cases, it’s a change of perspective – a new look at reality that allows me to grasp an essential truth or be grasped by an essential truth.
Like the Magi, I won’t see God-with-Us without leaving behind the comforts and assumptions of home. Epiphany and epiphanies only come when I’m willing to journey beyond my present understandings of God, world, self, and neighbor. Today is as good a day as any to hit the road…
There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind. C.S. Lewis
(quoted in Daily Peace: Photos and Wisdom to Nourish Your Spirit, Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2015, January 1)
It was on the Jeep in front of me, read at a red light on Cranberry Highway. White letters on a blue background, on the bottom of the back door. When I saw it, I was thinking about the calls and emails I had to make today – trustee matters, first steps in a new library/school project, reminders for tomorrow’s meeting.
Earlier in the drive, it was thoughts of tomorrow’s Bible study: Hannah’s story. Before that, writing the mental list of things that need to be done in the learning garden before a service day brings a dozen or more high school learners into it.
I don’t think any of these tasks eat away at my life. I am happy with the time I spend on and at work. It adds something to my life, and it’s a way to serve God and neighbor. But I don’t have a forty hour a week job, or a fifty or sixty hour a week job. Or two jobs to keep a roof overhead. I have the time and energy to work for what I value rather than what pays bills. It has the disadvantage of no money, but the great blessing of time well spent.
If I were to put this bumper sticker on my car, I’d have to change it:
I Had A Job, But My Life Ate It