Friday, April 10, 2015

Worship as the Work of Children

It is not often that I get to worship with my children. So, when the rare occasion arrives, I make every effort to be a part of that special time with them.  Even though Sunday after Sunday, my mind is focused on using the correct Eucharistic prayer or making sure that the silence after the prayers is long enough for personal prayer, but not too long to scare the parish into thinking I've forgotten, I still remember what it it is like to wrangle small people in the pews. After finishing my Easter Vigil with families and children at Redeemer, I raced home to make the Vigil for Christ Church.

In the darkened church, I had Josiah seated on my lap and Adelaide pushed up against me. I was surprised by two things: Adelaide is now singing the hymns by looking at the hymn boards and finding the hymn in the Hymnal. She then follows along following the verses and sings quite lustily.  If one of the primary reasons for worship is to incorporate the practice of thankfulness to God into our lives, I was inordinately aware that my little girl has begun to claim worship as a practice of her own.  No longer was she an observer, but she is now a leader and an initiator in her praise of God. Of course, I know this has been happening week by week through the care of her wonderful babysitter and the greater community of faith, but I witnessed a child singing God's praises of her own doing. I can only imagine that as time goes on the deep theology and poetry contained in those hymns will build sinew and muscles on the skeleton of her singing voice.

And there sat Josiah perched on my lap watching the verger bringing readers up to the darkened lectern to tell a story from our salvation history. Half way into the second lesson, which I framed for him as a story about God, he said quite plainly to me, "God says to love your enemies." Now the story we had been listening to was the dramatic one in which we hear about Israel's deliverance from Egypt through the Red Sea over the dry land and that ongoing fight they had with their captors.  Instead of shushing him, I quietly said, "You are right."  You see, it became clear to to me that my son was making a connection with one Biblical story and with another one he held in his memory.  In Seminary, we were taught to see how the canon speaks in many voices and how they tell the many facets of God's love song to us.  My little boy seemed to grasping at that in some small sense.  It was a beautiful moment and I was a proud mama and priest.

Sometimes, I worry that my kids suffer because I am not there Sunday after Sunday to expand on a Bible story or to explain a procession. But, it is days like these that I am reminded the word liturgy comes from the Greek word "liturgia", which quite literally means the work of the people. My children are being shaped by the body of the faithful in the work of their worship. I am not essential, but the community gathered is and the Book of Common Prayer enables my children to hear the Scriptures and sing praises to God. "Let all your peoples praise you oh God, let all your peoples praise you." Yes, even the little ones, and let them praise you even if they end up wearing purple sneakers on the Feast of the Resurrection because their mom is not there to tell them otherwise.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

God as Forgiver and Forgetter

This past weekend, I had the unique opportunity to return to a place which flooded me with memories all weekend long. You see, I traveled to the monastery of the Society of St. John the Evangelist for a silent retreat.  It had been seven years since I had last been there.  As the guesthouse monk, opened the door to my cell, I realized I had been assigned the same room I sat in seven years ago—the view of the Charles River was stunning as the sun set.  Seven years ago, I sat on the same wooden benches in the refectory, eating in silence, as the monks read out loud. Seven years ago, I stood in the chapel trying to get the rhythm of the sung psalm setting right. And seven years ago, I tried to get comfortable in the small, single bed as I was pregnant with my second child.  Beautiful memories flooded me as I unpacked and quietly placed my books and my journal on my desk.
But, in the course of a silent retreat, not all memories stay beautiful.  As the silence continues, sometimes you get stuck on a difficult time in your life, or a person that has taken up space in your thoughts, that you would like to shake. Sometimes silence brings memories that are far from beautiful.
At some point on my retreat, while I was perched on my little blue chair, gazing out on the river, I reread this passage from Jeremiah.  In this passage, God decides to cut a new covenant with Israel.  Jeremiah declares, “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord.”  Buried deep into the 3ist chapter, after a long series of reproaches to Israel, God decides to do pursue a different tack.  The words” after those days speak” volumes. After all, if we can’t help but remember that after God established a covenant with Israel through Moses, they had a party and worshipped a golden calf. After those days, refers to bad memories of the Israelites worshipping foreign Gods. After those days, recalls the days and nights of bitter complaining back to God in the desert.  And yet, in Jeremiah we hear that God’s heartache is transformed into action. God’s bad memories move God to get over the myriad of ways in which Israel failed God and reach out again.
This time, God says, “It will not be like the covenant that I made with the ancestors when I took them by the hand out of Egypt—a covenant they broke, though I was their husband says the Lord for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.” This time God created a new covenant not based on sacrifice. Rather, God’s new covenant is based on a decision to forget their sins.  Interestingly enough,, this covenant is based on God’s ability to forget his bad memories of the past. God, in God’s mercy, seems to decide that the only way to fully restore his relationship with this people is not just by forgiving their sins, but by forgetting them. And, it seems that forgetting their sins is not a one-time action, but rather an ongoing commitment.  Who is this God who needs to wash away bad memories? Who is this God who needs to forget our iniquity so that God can remain in covenant relationship with us?
Forgive and forget is a trite phrase that is thrown about in modern parlance. But, here is seems that forgive and forget are conscious choices that God makes so that God can remain in right relationship with his people. It seems God does what his troubled people can not do. God forgets to restore. God forgets to recreate. God forgets to resurrect.
It is common for us, as Christian people to look to Scripture for guidance.  After all, the Scriptures are inspired by the Holy Spirit. But, sometimes we try to look too deeply from an anthropomorphic lens, rather than a theocentric lens.  I can already hear many of you saying, “Are you telling us to forgive and forget?” No, I am not.  I am telling you this is what happens in Jeremiah so that Israel and God can move forward. What is clear to me above all else, though, is that God picks a strategy so that “they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest, says the Lord.” It is to these words I would cling.
Interestingly enough, the period of Lent is built around memory and remembering.  Ash Wednesday brings us to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return.  Palm Sunday recalls the great acclamation “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Maundy Thursday is the great commandment to remember the Last Supper.  And, of course Good Friday recalls the cold, hard wood of the cross that we might all come into his saving embrace. When we get to Easter, we viscerally cry out Alleluia Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed Alleluia we remember to say.
So, we are a people built on our memories of God and on memories of God’s faithfulness. But, even in our Rite of Confession, when the priest declares absolution and pardon, she puts away all your sins. And most powerfully, is bound to never speak of the confession again, and within the realm of human possibility, swears to forget what you have told her. It might be that we are called as a community to remember God’s faithfulness year in and year out season by season, Sunday by Sunday. And we may be called as well to forget our iniquity when it stands as a detriment to full life in the covenant.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Spring Break or Holy Week?

With three kids in three different schools, we experience a bit of confusion as to who goes when and where and how during the regular course of the school year. But, the height of our confusion culminates around our Spring Break/s. Elias' break started last Thursday and ends tomorrow. Since his sister and brother were in school, he had a very low key break. Instead of flying to the Bahamas, he traveled to the Franklin Institute with his mom on Friday. He was also given a full set of the Rick Riordan series to keep him entertained. On average, he finished about a book every day and half--he will gladly tell you he averaged 404 pages a day.

But, to kick-off Addie and Josiah's Spring Break, we did our first ever all family movie outing. Up until now, Josiah was either not ready to see a movie that the "big" kids were able to see or Adam and I had always taken the kids separately as a last ditch effort when we had run short on parenting skills or stamina.  This time, however, was our first planned trip as a whole family.  While now I know why families don't go to the movies too often ($80 for tickets, popcorn, and drinks), I sure got a kick out of watching Josiah in this enormous Lazy-boy chair that is now an integral part of the movie experience--his little feet did not even hang over the edge.

Soon the younger two will be off to Gaga and Pop-Pop's and Elias will return to school and Mom and Dad will be able to fully enter into the prayer and drama of Holy Week.