Friday, April 27, 2007

St. Something-Or-Other

It's now official (except I'm still waiting for paperwork to sign), that my first call assignment is to be the new vicar of a mission church in Frederick County, MD! The congregation is known as The Gathering and was launched about 8 years ago in Walkersville, MD. They've been through some huge changes in the past year and have been without a priest since last August. They are restarting the mission in the Buckeystown/Urbana area and worshiping at the Bishop Claggett Center in Buckeystown MD.

So I'm very excited about the future prospects for this mission "reboot" and we have a lot of work to do, but it's good stuff with great people. St. Francis of Assisi said, "God gave me brothers and sisters" and this community is truly a gift from God.

But it's also with a heavy heart that I leave my internship site this Sunday. St. Thomas' Episcopal Church in Hancock MD has been my spiritual home for the past two academic years. Beautiful and caring community with a really amazing rector who trusted me to do things that a lot of clergy might not have. Of course, Allan+ has impeccable taste too - he's married to my dear friend and mentor, Anne+ who is the rector of my home congregation, St. Mark's Episcopal in Lappans, MD. I'll return to St. Mark's for just a few weeks before going to The Gathering. Two farewells in the same month ... I'm buying a stockpile of Kleenex.

My youngest daughter (who according to her grandfather has the "explainer gene") explained how all of this change will work out for me, even if she couldn't remember the name of the new congregation. She said, "Now you belong to three churches Mom." When I asked her what she meant, she replied, "Well, some of you belongs to St. Thomas' and some of you belongs to St. Mark's and now some of you belongs to ... um ... St. Something-Or-Other."

Let's hear it for "St. Something-Or-Other!" God knows who she meant.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Wisdom in the face of tragedy

I'm a Hokie wife. It's been a hard week. There is no way to "make sense" of the senseless tragedy that happened at Virginia Tech this week. God is not absent. God grieves with us - the one who lost His only Son knows our grief and suffering. God is not absent - God is in the community that comes together to care for each other.

Poet and priest John Donne, eloquently addressed this in his Meditation XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris in 1623. Most know this meditation for it's famous line "send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." But there is more to his meditation, and it is fitting to quote the substance of it.

"Now, this bell tolling softly for another, says to me: Thou must die."

PERCHANCE he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill, as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

The church is Catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all.

When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member.

And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

There was a contention as far as a suit (in which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring first that rose earliest.

If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is.

The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that this occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.

Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Neither can we call this a begging of misery, or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbours.

Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did, for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it.

Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another's danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

From "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions" (1623), XVII: Nunc Lento Sonitu Dicunt, Morieris

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming ...

It does seem like the first full week of the Easter season is like going back to our regularly scheduled programming, doesn't it? For those of us who are highly involved in the church, whether lay or ordained, Holy Week seems to put us in a form of "suspended animation" where the rhythm of our lives is disrupted - even if only for a brief intense few days.

But now we're back. Back to the regular routine of school and work, back to household chores (and boy did that laundry pile get out of control last week!), back to writing papers to finish up that pesky M.Div. so I can get ordained.

St. Paul says, "So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away– look, what is new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5.17). But what happens when Easter feels like a resurrection back to the same life rather than something totally different?

For me, this is the trap of looking for some miraculous mountaintop or lightening bolt kind of experience to affirm my faith in Christ. I don't know of a time when I wasn't a Christian. Sure, I've had conversions (note that's plural!) along my journey, but the vast majority of the time, my call is to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.

I'll admit, finding God's presence in the pile of dirty laundry is a challenge; however, I learned a lot from an obscure monk named Brother Lawrence. In a little book entitled, The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence was interviewed by Joseph de Beaufort, a counsel to the Archbishop of Paris. These conversations were recorded and published in this small book in 1691 (you can print a copy from the link above).

Brother Lawrence's aim was to live a life in constant conversation with God and that God's presence is in and through all things - even the most mundane tasks. Lawrence is my kind of guy - he really didn't like being assigned to work in the kitchen (cooking's not my gift either). But by setting his heart on doing everything for God, even the tasks he didn't like became a joy instead of a burden.

So I'm looking for God in the laundry room. I've no doubt God is there.