Lent through the Psalms

When I was a young bride, back when having a Better Homes and Gardens house was a high priority, we had a lovely book about the psalms that was well-placed on our highly-polished living room coffee table. Every proper home, young brides were told, had a Bible and a Complete Works of Shakespeare, neither of which was to be taken too seriously. I thought throwing in the book on the psalms was an added touch of class – a little demonstrated reverence for things holy. It was not necessarily  for reading.

I actually did open the psalms book on occasion, mostly when I was feeling blue. An index in the back of book offered prescriptions for every life situation:

If you are lonely, read psalm such and such,

If you are perplexed, read psalm . . .

If afraid, read psalm . . .

 It was all quite lovely. And that is how most of us encounter the psalms.

 But for our Hebrew forefathers, the psalms were far more than lovely thoughts and comforting words. They were the very heart of the people of Israel; the rugged story of the life of the community as it moved from oppression in Egypt to deliverance and the promise of a coming kingdom.  

In the psalms the Hebrews simultaneously berated God for the mess He had put them in (“How many adversaries I have!” 3:1) and declared their everlasting loyalty to their God (“All who take refuge in you will be glad” 5:13). They railed at God for the many injustices they suffered (“All who see me ridicule me” 22:7) and begged Him to wipe out their enemies with horrific images (“Happy are they who take [their] little ones and dash them against the rock” 137:9).

 But the psalms are also the voice of the people celebrating in joyfulness as they recall again and again how their God has delivered them (“Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him all you peoples. For His loving-kindness toward us is great, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever” Ps 117). 

Israel’s story is our story. It is a story of disappointments and dashed hopes mixed with glimpses of Heaven. It is the story of continually moving toward God in hope and expectation.

 This is also the story of Lent, a season that begins in deep penitence and moves through our heightened awareness of our separation from God as well as our need to return to Him. It is a story that culminates in the jubilation of Easter and man’s reconciliation with The Holy One. 

Athanasius, a Christian leader of the 4th Century, noted that while most of Scripture speaks to us, the psalms speak for us. During this Lenten season, we will return to the roots of the psalms and investigate how they continue to speak for us today. Each week we will offer a set of psalms for your examination and reflection and give some suggestions on how to make them your own. We will also offer reflections from some of our writers as they engage the psalms. 

It all begins on Ash Wednesday, March 9, here on ReflectionsOnline. Sign up in the email subscriptions at the right to receive it in your e-mail inbox. And please invite others to join us. The logon address is www.reflections-dwtx.org 

Marjorie George
Editor, ReflectionsOnline

The One

by Marjorie George

My cousin lived in an iron lung for 14 months when he was a child. He was one of the thousands of victims of the polio epidemic – mostly children — that gripped the country in the post-World-War-II years. In 1952, at the height of the outbreak, 58,000 cases of polio were reported: 3,145 people died that year and another 21,000 were left with mild to debilitating paralysis. In the public’s mind, only the atomic bomb induced more fear than polio. It was particularly communicable during the summer, so community swimming pools and other gathering places were closed. Our own CampCapers delayed its official opening by a year due to polio.

The customary treatment was to put patients into an iron lung, a contraption that looked like today’s MRI machines. Except it was not a pass-through event. The patient was encased in the lead chamber, with only his head sticking out, where pressure was applied to force his lungs to function. 

In entire hospital wards, row upon row of iron lungs were lined up with only children’s heads sticking out of them — great, hulking leaden tubes with little round balls at the ends.

Then, on April 12, 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk announced he had discovered a polio vaccine. Salk was hailed as a miracle worker, and the day was a day of national celebration. I remember lining up at the local community center to get my shot when I was 12. The atmosphere was euphoric. The relief on parents’ faces was cause for weeping.

A generation later, the polio vaccine is merely a part of babies’ routine vaccinations.

John the Baptist saw Jesus coming down the road and pointed at him: “Look, there he is. The one who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). The one who cuts through all the fear, the one who brings an end to death and destruction, the one who heals all disease and mends all hearts.

Jesus came into a world in which God’s people had been slaves to oppression for two thousand years. They had suffered wars and the cruelty of foreign rulers; had wandered across desserts for a generation; had been forced to practice their religion surreptitiously, had had their women carried off and their children slain on a whim. The incarnation of the Christ was a cataclysmic event. He was the promised Messiah, come to end all that.

 Where were the people lining up to receive the gift? Where were the reporters? The television journalists? The heraldry? The appreciation? The outright joy of it all?

For, mostly, the world shuffled on, oblivious to what had been given to it.  

We easily recognize the heroes of our secular lives – the Jonas Salks, the Abraham Lincolns, the Martin Luther Kings. But do we as quickly acknowledge the saving moments of Christ in our lives? Do we see a couple reconciled, a teenager’s life turned around, a father freed from addiction, or a dread disease cured, and say, “Look, there He is. There is the one who takes away the sin of the world”?

Blow the trumpets. Let the sound be heard across Zion. Or, at the very least, take a moment to say, “Ah, there you are my Jesus.”

Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at Marjorie.george@dwtx.org

 

Worth 1,000 Words

By Marjorie George 

There are five of them. Five photos hanging on the bedroom wall, photos of women in high-lace collars with their hair pulled up in buns. They are sturdy women; their faces are serious. The photos are worn, all of them black and white or sepia toned with yellow age spots that testify to their authenticity.

The first photo is of my mother as a child, holding her rag doll, circa 1920. Above her on the wall is her mother, Cora. She graduated from high school in 1894; I have the watch her father gave her in celebration. Next to Cora hangs her mother, Jewell, the youngest of eight children. Above that is Jewell’s mother, Hannah, who helped her father at the family mercantile after her mother died. To the left of Hannah is her mother, Sadie. We don’t know much about Sadie.

Sometime during this Advent I will do what I have been doing for as long as the photos have hung in the middle bedroom down the hall – I will take a few moments to sit with “the ladies.” I will look at them and say, “Because you were, I am.”

These are my women; they are my story. I see the narrative continuing in the photos of my daughter and granddaughter hanging farther down on the wall. A special talent, the color of the eyes, a trait for curly hair – we share these in our story.

So, too, all creation shares the Christ-story, the story of God breaking in on humanity in the Incarnation. We celebrate the event, perhaps in different ways, every year, but the story never changes: Christ was and is and is to come.

In her wisdom the church gives us the season of Advent, a season of “sitting with” the Christ-story and figuring out our place in it. Before we accept the great gift of the Incarnation, we ponder what are the gifts we have been given to receive the story and propel it forward? What are the particulars of my God-given experiences, how has God claimed me as his child, what is my continuing story?

These are the questions I will consider during Advent when I take my cup of coffee and go sit with my history captured in these women of my lineage. When I look closely, I am sure I will see that other story – the one with God as my father and Christ as my brother, the story that stretches back to the beginning of time. 

Marjorie George is Communications Officer for the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas and editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org   This article also appeared on www.Explorefaith.com, a website dedicated to providing tools for spiritual nourishment and faith formation and spreading the joyous news of God’s love and grace.

 

Working without a net

 by Marjorie George

I was reminded this week – again – that the spiritual life is often a life lived in tension. Maybe it was the performance I saw of Cirque Dream (think knock off of Cirque du Soleil). One of the acts was six young, lithe women in body suits who apparently had been stripped of their bones. They performed a series of moves on a huge, open-sided, steel-framed octagon thing suspended 30 feet above the ground. The moves involved bodily contortions around the apparatus and each other – hand to hand, hand to feet, feet to feet (no, really, at one point they hung connected to each other by their ankles). 

So I’ve been thinking about the trapeze acts in the circuses of my childhood. You’ve seen them: the two trapeze artists ascend very high, skinny ladders to platforms on either side of the ring. They both grab their trapezes and swing back and forth, going faster and faster and higher and higher for the build-up to the big moment when one of them lets go of her swing and hurls through the air to the waiting hands of her partner. However many hundreds of feet above the ground (if she is very brave they have removed the safety net below her) she hangs in mid-air, trusting that her partner will catch her.  

That is sometimes the posture of the spiritual life – daring to let go of something for a future that is now only glimpsed. Considering, as I hang there, that maybe this was all a horrible mistake born of my over-active imagination. Is something/someone really going to catch me? 

A friend offered an even larger dose of reality to my little reverie: the hands that catch us, he noted, are sometimes human hands, and sometimes, because they are human, they fail us. And we fall. What then? 

Then, said my friend, we rely on our own resiliency. That sounds harsh until I examine what constitutes “my own” resiliency. My resiliency includes the belief that when I fall and get hurt (and I do fall and get hurt) God Almighty will help me to get up and move on. My resiliency includes the absolute certainty that the prayers of my friends and the prayers of the Church are at work on my behalf constantly. It includes my history in which God has always picked me up and dusted me off and moved with me into my future. It includes a reliance on Paul’s statement that nothing – nothing – can separate us from the love of God (see Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verses 31+). 

I said earlier that we are called to “live” in the tension, but sometimes I cannot do that. Sometimes the best I can muster is to exist in it for a period of time, rather like a visit to the dentist: I can do it because I know it will soon be over.

 As we prepare to enter into the season of Advent, itself a season of preparation for the Really Big Show, can we dare to voluntarily enter into that tension? Can we hang suspended, letting go of the old ways, the old thoughts, the old habits for four weeks? Can we, in faith, reach for something that is almost-but-not-yet? Can we, and this is a biggie, actually embrace it, welcome it, during Advent 2010?

 Can we, with great audacity, reach out to the hands that reach for us? Welcome to the greatest show in all heaven – and here on earth, too.

 Marjorie George

Marjorie is the Communications Officer for the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas and editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.

 

 

 

 

 

Re-Membering the Saints

On Sunday, Nov. 7, many of our congregations will celebrate All Saints’ Day. Below, the Rev. Matt Wise of Church of Reconciliation, San Antonio, reflects on what it means to be the communion of saints.

by the Rev. Matt Wise

In that beautiful pause following the end of the doxology and just before the ancient dialogue of the Sursum Corda begins(“The Lord be with you.  And also with you.  Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.”) I take a deep breath.  Having just moments ago donned the chasuble, I step up to the table, now set with bread and wine, and look out into the faces of this congregation.  Then my eyes drift upward through the windows behind the pews out into the Reconciliation courtyard – the trees, rocks, water and leaves where so many saints are scattered, so many memories of loved ones literally co-mingled with the dirt.  And in that pause, in that fleeting moment with parishioners in the foreground and memorial garden in the background, I KNOW COMMUNION.

The tradition of our Eucharistic theology relays to us the central significance of “rich remembering.”  We call something from the past, namely the disciples breaking bread with Jesus, into the present, making it a present reality for us to participate in here and now. We remember.  And in doing so, we re-member. 

The Body of Christ in this world is broken apart, spread thin, scattered broadly, separated, dismembered.  Yet, at the core of our being as Episcopalians is this simple meal of thanksgiving where, in the midst of our brokenness and from the farthest corners of our diaspora, we all come together around one table joining with all the company of heaven, with those saints who have come before us and those sacred ones who will come after.  Those in the pews are joined with those in the gardens are joined with those outside our cloisters and in this feast we re-member the dis-membered body of Christ.  And the glass and stone of window and wall that separate the sanctuary from the courtyard, indeed, the very boundaries between life and death are transcended as the cloud of witnesses that is the Communion of Saints is made a living, breathing reality. 
“We who are many are one body because we all share one bread, one cup.”

To learn more about the communion of saints and All Saints’ Day, go to the Explore More tab.

Reach the Rev. Matt Wise at mwise@churchofreconciliation.org

 

 

Look, look, what do you see?

by Marjorie George

There is a concept in photography known as depth of field. It has to do with how much of a photo is in sharp focus. In a narrow depth of field, one object will be in sharp focus while other objects in the background and foreground will be blurred.

Take a photo of children on a playground. If the photo is taken with a narrow depth of field, one particular child will be in sharp focus while all the other children, and the play equipment, and the trees just beyond the playground will be blurred. The point is to bring attention to the one child as all else fades away.

 But if a photo is taken with a deep depth of field, everything in the photo will be in focus, at least to the naked eye – the one child and the other children and the play equipment and the trees just beyond the playground. Hence the viewer’s eye sees it all.

Good photographers, those who use ALL the buttons on a digital camera, know how to manipulate depth of field. It has to do with the f-stop and the shutter speed and the this-button and the that-button (and here we refer you to a google search for a more complete, and perhaps more accurate, explanation of depth of field. If you are really savvy, call it DOF).

 This little foray into the fine points of photography translates, I think, when we consider All Saints’ Day and the Communion of Saints. To understand Communion of Saints, we need a deep depth of field. We need to open up the shutter of our eyes and see what we might not otherwise see. 

Many of us are accustomed to understanding saints as dead men and women who, in the words of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, have “crowned their profession with heroic deaths.” And that is true. But the Catechism also teaches that “the Communion of Saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise” (Book of Common Prayer, pg 862).

 Come back with me to the playground. Some of those children are my grandchildren, alive in health and happiness. But look over there at the little boy on the swings. That’s my cousin who died when he was four. And see that cluster of moms, chatting together with one eye on the playground? My mom is there, watching her children, and her children’s children, and her children’s children’s children. How she loved all of her “kidlies” as she called them. Unto the third and fourth generation. She now enjoys them eternally. And so do I. That’s the connection of the Communion of Saints.

 In the fall/winter 2010 issue of Reflections magazine, writers speak of the “thinning of the veil,” a suspension of that tenuous time-space continuum that separates heaven and earth. That gets blurred when the Communion of Saints is the photo in the mind’s eye.

 God, who is beyond time and space, has knit us together in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of Christ, says the collect for All Saints’ Day. For whether we live or die, we are alive in the Lord.

This article is from the fall/winter 2010 issue of Reflections magazine, published by the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas. To read the entire issue, click here. To learn more about All Saints’ Day, Dia de los Muertos, and the concept of the communion of saints, go to the Explore more tab on this blog. Reach Marjorie at Marjorie.george@dwtx.org.

 

 

From The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas

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