It’s so easy to assume the worst, at least if you’re anxious by nature. I think of the Pilgrims, who, for the sake of their children and love of God, surrendered their fear of the unknown. They embarked on a rigorous journey of sacrifice, to establish one nationunder God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Facing fast and furious seas, starvation, disease, and desolate wilderness, they pressed on. Then, in thanksgiving, joined hands in a symbolic feast of community. May we all be thankful, assume the best, and rest in God’s love this Thanksgiving!
Jesus once told us, “Truly, I say to you, ‘Everything you ask for, praying, believe that you will receive (it), and it will be done for you.’ ”
All this week during communion we sing these words from Matthew in the Communion proper for the day. As I stand waiting to receive communion, I’m aware of who’s in my immediate vicinity, a Catholic man from New Jersey, a Methodist from Texas, and several elementary and middle school aged kids, all of us singing this prayer together. I don’t know why it caught my attention, but it struck me that all of us from very different backgrounds and age groups were being united through prayer and through this song.
And I wonder what each of us was asking God this morning? Perhaps a wide variety of things.
Among many, one thing on my mind was the headline to the Boston Globe I saw on the way out the door this morning; that 5 people were killed in a synagogue in Jerusalem, four of them while praying, and the 5th man trying to protect the others. I wonder what these men were asking of God in their house of worship. I wonder how God’s “in-box” works for all the requests he must receive. Does he sort them by the ones that are sent with belief, and the ones without? I find comfort in praying. But in my pieces of prayer tossed to the heavens, do I actually believe that they can and will happen? Or do I only ask?
I was talking with a friend last night, just in passing. Talking about life, and change, and being afraid of new things. She said that someone had recently pointed out to her that the word adventure has the word advent in it. I know Advent is still two weeks away, but actually, it really caught my attention. I love words, and I love exploring where they come from and what they mean. Both the root of advent and adventure can be traced back to the Latin advenire — “to come to, reach for, arrive at.” Later uses introduced a sense of risk or danger. One definition that struck me was, “a risky undertaking of unknown outcome.”
Look at the story of Christ, who arrived on earth as a vulnerable baby, forced to flee shortly after his birth, challenged in the desert by the devil himself, betrayed by a friend, nailed to a cross, and raised from the dead… Talk about risk and unknown outcome!
But here’s what really got my attention — the suffix -ure indicates “act, process or result.” Start putting these parts together and you get things like — “the act of reaching for, the process of arriving at, the result of coming to.” So of course adventure requires risk, and unknown outcome — but can’t we hang on to the outcome that we do know? That Christ’s “risky undertaking of unknown outcome” resulted in our redemption. And so we reach for the adventure of Advent.
Friday Lauds opens with Psalm 51, perhaps the most famous of all the penitential psalms – Have mercy on me, O God. As we began Lauds last Friday, I thought again about the fact we always begin Friday morning asking God’s mercy. However, as we continued through the service, the word mercy began to present itself in other places — in the opening of the 2nd psalm # 143, O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in the brief response, Make me to hear your mercy in the morning; in the Gospel antiphon, By the inmost mercies of our God, the rising sun has visited us from on high; and the 4th verse of the Benedictus, to show mercy to our fathers. I realized that we had been moved through an entire service by the theme of God’s mercy!
This idea of a theme throughout a worship service — the Divine Office or the Eucharist — is not new. On the contrary, it is quite old! But the power of a theme to speak is not diminished by time, only enhanced. Mary Berry used to call these themes the “hidden gems.”
If I were to write a musical, I would juxtapose two hymns that are beautifully simple, and simply beautiful. Our Communion hymn for last week was the 18th. century Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts. I stood near the altar during the singing of it, surrounded by delightful mosaic tile flowers, insects, butterflies, mammals, and sea creatures. They swirled and flourished beneath my feet with enviable freedom and energy, content to be as God created them. Mind and imagination took over, and I added my own (non auditory!) touch as we sang: ‘Tis the gift to be simple,’tis the gift to be free…all things bright and beautiful…’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be…all creatures great and small…in the place just right….all things wise and wonderful…in the valley of love and delight… the Lord God made us all! Creation interrupts our busy, sometimes chaotic lives, to teach simplicity of heart, humbleness of spirit, and unfailing trust in God.
I haven’t wanted to get out of bed all week. I wasn’t sure if it was tiredness, the gloomy weather, or all of the above! I couldn’t muster enough will-power to make this feeling go away. I asked for help from friends, tried exercising, praying, eating differently, but even the parts of the week I look forward to and expect to uplift me, didn’t help. Sunday a group of young kids from Boston came to sing in our Church. As I came through the back door of our Church in the afternoon, I heard their sound, and stopped. I had forgotten these suburban area kids had traveled down to the Cape to spend a day at our facilities. I ran to the back door to peek in on their rehearsal. Youthfulness, joy and honesty rang around the room. I stopped and listened long enough to see and hear the joy it was for these kids to sing. It made me smile, and remember that sometimes we must just keep putting one foot in front of another, not knowing when God might use a moment to re-awaken us inside.
I logged on to Amazon.com the other day and was startled to see, staring back at me, a “countdown to Black Friday” (which, as it turns out, now begins for many stores at 5pm on Thanksgiving Day).
The one day a year that we are actually encouraged as a nation to express gratitude for what we have, is fast becoming another day we are encouraged to aggressively go after what we want.
I felt myself self-righteously puffing up with a rant about lack of gratitude and “where are our values” and then ground to a halt. How often do I live this way myself? Not grateful in the moment for the blessings in my life, but clocking my own personal countdown to the next thing on the horizon that I am sure will make my life perfect.
One of the beauties of chant is that it teaches through sound. It is difficult for most of us to realize, without considerable effort, what life would be like if we could not read — it seems unimaginable. Yet, in the centuries when many of our most ancient chants were newly composed, only the educated minority could read. So, in an effort to teach the chant, composers often united certain sounds with certain texts or seasons. In this way, through repetition, people started to learn things such as the seasons of the church year, feast days, etc., through association with sound.
However, these composers did not just wake up one morning, get out their “catalog of modes” and say, “today, I shall compose in Mode II.” The definition and categorization of modes actually came after the chant already existed. It was a subtle skill they employed which was based upon a sense of using particular sounds to evoke or underscore certain emotions, thoughts, or ideas.
The image below is actually a chart with simple, modal descriptions of some of the great music theorists and composers of the last 1000 years: Guido d’ Arezzo (11th century), Adam de Fulda, (15th Century) and Juan Espinoza (17th Century). If you look at these descriptions and then take a look at some of your favorite chants, you might find you have a fresh perspective of some pieces that you know quite well!
Image Credit: Mode Chart copyright Community of Jesus, Inc, 2014.
I consider it my right to demand that God earn my trust. I certainly have enough unrequited hurts to justify skepticism…or so I believed. Then along came a single Bible verse that turned me upside down and led to considerable inward debate. Psalm 25:7: The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. The Hebrew word yare – to fear – also means to respect or reverence. To paraphrase, The Lord confides in those who respect him and shares with them the desires of his heart. The Lord searches for those he can trust with his love for another, patience and kindness in adversity, or joy in a time of sorrow. Will I respond unselfishly or demand for myself?
The church is full of so many riches. After morning Lauds and Eucharist, I’m asking myself, “why do we so settle for so little?” Beautiful prayers, full of profound and extraordinary possibilities, mystery and hope roll off our tongues. But I know at crossroads throughout the day, the prayers and beliefs I’ve just spoke will be temporarily sidelined. I’ll forget to include God moment by moment in the conversations of the day and will settle for less then He would give me. Pope Benedict XVI once wrote, “Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well.” Our faith in the promises of heaven and God’s intended future for us, gives us every reason to smile today. We have countless examples gone before us of the power and might of God; the bible’s many heroes and heroines of faith, over 2000 years of history since Christ’s coming and we have each other. We must not forget the transfiguring hope God brings us each day, for as In the wisdom of St. Benedict, “each day we begin again.” Let us not brush aside the routine treasures of our faith, for they have the capacity to give rich value and meaning to our every moment.
Lord God of power and Might
Nothing is good which is against your will,
And all is of value which comes from your hand.
Place in our hearts a desire to please you
And fill our minds with insight into love,
So that every thought may grow in wisdom
And all our efforts may be filled with your peace.