Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Five: Our Favorite Music

The Friday Five come from here.

Martin Luther said:

"I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people gay; they forget thereby all wrath, unchastity, arrogance, and the like. Next after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor."

On this Friday before Reformation Sunday, let's talk about music. Share with us five pieces of music that draw you closer to the Divine, that elevate your mood or take you to your happy place. They might be sung or instrumental, ancient or modern, sacred or popular...whatever touches you.

1. My favorite hymn is "My Life Flows On". See my sermon about it here and another post here. I love this hymn and it brings me great comfort to hear it or to sing it.

2. Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze" is one of the pieces of music that relaxes my mind and body. I think I listened to it, looped, for a couple hours once when I was very upset. With the calming flute melodies, the piece also brings to mind the peace of Christ and the grace that comes from believing you are part of the flock of the Good Shepherd. You can listen to the song on Youtube here.

3. The soundtrack to "Little Women" (1994, starring Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder) has been the soundtrack to many meaningful moments in my life. I listened to it alone on the last night I spent in my dorm room before my college graduation (when everyone else was out partying). I listened to it as I prepared for my wedding. I've written many sermons with the airy instrumentals of that soundtrack playing in the background. I like the movie, but the soundtrack has been even more special to me- apart from the story.

4. My favorite song of all time is "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." I have more versions of that song in my collection than any other. (At last count, around 22.) I can recognize the strains of it anywhere. But it's not just the music. Consider these lyrics:

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring,
Holy wisdom, love most bright;
Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light.
Word of God, our flesh that fashioned,
With the fire of life impassioned,
Striving still to truth unknown,
Soaring, dying round Thy throne.

Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure;
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure.
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown.

I want to comment, but there is nothing I can say to improve upon those lyrics.

5. When a soldier/airmen/Marine/sailor returns from a deployment, it's called "reunion". At our reunion in 2007, Rob was supposed to arrive on a Sunday morning at 11 am. Then it was 3:30 pm. Then 10 pm. Then around midnight. During what became the longest 30+ hours of my life, I walked on the treadmill, I made cookies, I went to the store, and I listened to Queen's "Somebody to Love" about 80 times. Again, I listened on a loop and danced around my kitchen, shaved my legs, drank a beer, singing: "Can anybody find meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee somebody toooooooo looooooooooooooooooove?" Because of this association with this song, I don't listen to it that often. And if I hear when I'm not expecting it, I can have a very emotional reaction.

This happened the other day when I watching something on a friend's recommendation. The closing number of the show was "Somebody to Love". I sucked in my breath at the opening "Caaaaaaaan...." It's hard to hear the song right now because reunion is still over two months away this time. But it's coming. In less than 80 days (I hope), I should once again be able to my dance (preferably for fewer hours), shower, bake, shave and change the baby and then get in the car to know exactly where I will find somebody to love.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reliquary relinquished

I recently read this article about the return of relics to the Roman Catholic Church (or to some RC churches). Within the piece, the author has this to say:

After all, these spiritual accoutrements were a large part of the Catholic experience for well over a millennium. But a quiet groundswell of Catholics won't give up this time-honored tradition of praying to a saint's bodily remain. Pope Benedict XVI reinstated the Latin Mass. So why not bring back an emphasis on relic veneration as well? A French priest is currently touring the United States with the supposed bones of Mary Magdalene, and the faithful are flocking to pray in front of them. In September and October, the relics of a 19th-century nun, St. Therese of Lisieux, went on a 28-stop tour around Great Britain. If the thousands of devotees who came to witness these lovely bones are any indication, the faithful are hungering for a less sterile form of religion.

While there's no scholarly consensus on when relic veneration began, many historians point to the year 156 A.D. and the death of Polycarp, then bishop of Smyrna (in modern-day Turkey). He got on the Romans' bad side by praying to Jesus instead of the Roman gods, and he was burned. After the pyre cooled, Polycarp's followers scurried over and scooped up his remains and ran off with them. With that, the cult of relics was born.

I'm wrestling with the idea of relics. Can I call them holy souvenirs? What is the point of a relic? To remind the believer of an encounter with the divine, to enrich one's faith, to collect?

I'm struggling to separate the tangential symbol from the non-tangential experience. I like to things to commemorate places I've been or people (usually living) I've seen. However, I get the most spiritual peace from the blessing that is on something, from a medal to the elements of Holy Communion.

Perhaps that is what brings comfort to those who are seeking the bone fragments, pieces of cloth or strands of hair. Perhaps belief in the closeness of a saint gone on to that item brings a spiritual strength that I can't understand, but it doesn't make it any less real to that person.

Part of the reason we have water, bread and wine in our sacramental practice is so that we have earthly elements, which we understand, to bring us to a deeper understanding of, faith in and nourishment by the promises and actions of God in Christ. We call baptism and Holy Communion the means of grace, for they are means by which God communicates grace to us.

However, we can also have strict rules and ceremonies around the means of grace, some of which can strip away the grace. Perhaps the veneration of relics offers a glimpse of grace to some people, the knowledge that God has performed miracles in the past and has promised to continue to do so.

So I have a definite statement about relics. I suppose I don't, though I thought I did when I started writing this.

I'm not one who leans toward saying "to each his own" when it comes to matters of faith and faithful living. I believe the Bible offers us hope through Christ and that's the place where I hang my heart. However, without some relic veneration, we might not have preserved copies of the letters of Paul, the book of Revelation, the hymns of the early church. So somewhere in there is the place where the Spirit works so that the evidence of faith may be preserved. Thanks be to God.

Serving the Children (10/18/09)

Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

“Hey, I want you to do me a favor.” When I say that to you, how do you respond? Are you inclined at all to say, “Sure” without hearing what the favor is? That’s essentially what James and John asked of Jesus. “Hey, Jesus. We want you to do us a favor.” Despite all that Jesus has revealed to them about the coming of the kingdom of God and the miracles they have witnessed, James and John are most concerned with their reward.

They are essentially asking Jesus to tell them that they are the greatest among the disciples (and you better believe they’ll make sure the others hear about it). James and John have heard Jesus’ message, but they haven’t listened to it. When Jesus asks if they are up for the sacrifices they will have to make to have such a reward, the brothers eagerly assure Him that they are. However, Jesus says, “You may be able to make those sacrifices and you will. But the seats at my right and my left are not mine to grant. And you shouldn’t be interested in them anyway. If that’s all you guys can think about, then you missed the point.”

Even though that’s how Jesus answers the request, the other disciples are angry when they hear what’s happening. They might be mad because James and John asked such a question or they might be upset because they didn’t think of it first. But Jesus replies to all of them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

What is Jesus telling the disciples? What is He saying to us? “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.” Jesus offers the reminder that most people with power let it go to their head. Think of the other rulers we read about in the Gospels, Herod Antipas beheading John the Baptist, Pontius Pilate washing his hands of Jesus, Herod the Great and the slaughter of the innocents. The disciples knew that power did not necessarily mean goodness. And having power certainly did not mean being in the right place with God.
We too know people whose power goes to their head, people who take a position of authority as an opportunity to do whatever they please. Sometimes we suffer under those people. Sometimes we are those people, using and abusing the power we have in our workplace or at home, in a volunteer position or in an appointment.

Jesus goes on to say that kind of behavior has no place in God’s kingdom and between His followers, “But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” In order to achieve greatness in God’s kingdom, we must become like children. Being a child is different than being childish and seeking our own way.

Rather, we are called to innocence, to openness and to the main lesson of childhood- sharing. As followers of Christ, to show that we do share in His cup at His table and in his baptism, we are called to share the story of what God has done for us. We are called to share the gifts that God has given us. We are called to serve the neighbors God has placed around us. This isn’t a slavish service wherein we take pride in being beaten down, but a joyful service that bears witness to the joy and hope that has been poured into our hearts through Christ Jesus.

The seed of that joy is evident in what Jesus says next, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” The point of that slightly confusing reading from Hebrews is to remind us that Jesus is different from anyone else whom God had sent to God’s people. Jesus is a high priest, but His place also as the servant and the Son of God makes his service and his sacrifice different than what any other priest could achieve. Jesus did not have to ransom himself, but He came for the children of God.

We, with James and John, are precisely those children. We see the world’s models of power and we can be tricked into believe they are more than fool’s gold. We can be derailed by the power of the forces that oppose God and come to think that we are unworthy of grace and mercy. We can get a little power and we can all too easily forget whence it came. We, like sheep, go astray. And we, like children, can easily get lost.

So Jesus reminds us here that the path is one of service and humbleness. We are called to a vision of mission to God’s whole creation. We must work together to achieve God’s mission for our lives, for the church and for the world. And we are able to do that because of the One who gave his life for us.
So that we would be free to be servants, Jesus came and showed what service looks like. He came and reminded the disciples and world of what real power looks. He came so that we might know the peace that passes all understanding. When he had done all those things, Jesus died for all. In his last act of service, Jesus returned to the Father and said, “I’m home. And I brought the children with me.”


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Miss Havisham, I presume

My computer has been telling me, "You have not backed up your information in 50 days..." 51 days, 52 days, 53 days...

My kitchen calendar was still on August and, I discovered this week, so was my office calendar.

This past Wednesday I finally finished reading a book, my first since 17 August. I think I get bonus points because said book was neither about child development nor breastfeeding.

I'm eating cold leftover steak out of a baggie and typing quickly, listening to the new sounds around which my life rotates... the grunts, squeaks, and sighs that mean I have only so many minutes before Daniel, my baby, wants something.

All the familiar markers of my life are completely disordered and, at this time, unhelpful. When each day is a blur of feeding, sleeping, changing, playing, trying to go to sleep, changing, feeding, and paperwork... I don't really need a calendar or even to back up the things that used to seem so important.

In a week or so, I will be going back to work, which means now I need to consider how to have some semblance of a schedule. The coffee maker that is on my counter is representative of all the friends and relatives who have come to help me. I don't drink coffee, so it only appears to give the caffeine fix to those who are living the schedule-less life with me. Now they have gone and I have to figure out when to shower (at 4 am when I know he's sleeping?). How to make sure the dog gets enough exercise. How to eat dinner in 5 courses... an apple at 5 pm, a porkchop a 5:30, mashed potatoes at 6:15, a handful of spinach at 7:30, half a bar of chocolate with a glass of milk at 8:45.

It's all new every day and I just wait to see what happens.

I did update my kitchen calendar last night. Moving ahead to October (skipping September) was more exciting than I thought it would be. It means there are only two more calendar pages until 2010. It's less than 80 days until Christmas (do you know where your sermon is?), but that also means it could be less than 100 days until my husband returns from deployment. We don't have a date and won't until two weeks out.

But the days are full of possibility, rolling over, smiling, sleeping 5 hours in a row... and as each day passes, Daniel, Ivan and I get closer to the date when we can be the family we were meant to be with Rob at home.

So did you call me and not hear back? Did you email me and receive nothing in return? Slowly, I'm coming back to the rest of the world. Slowly, I'm moving up to October. Slowly, I'm regaining strength. Slowly, I figure out how to be a mother and a pastor. And slowly, I move more fully into God's grace, though that movement has very little to do with me.