Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Great Litany, Goosebumps and Grace

I actually had a restful Thanksgiving Holiday. What a surprising thing! Most years recently, I have found that holidays are, or become, compressed efforts to cover all the bases of things left over from working too much. For the first time in a long time, Thanksgiving felt like a release. Laura and I had some good friends over, and aside from my struggling with wind and cold while attempting to smoke a stubborn and recalcitrant turkey, the feast came off very well indeed. Due in no small part to Laura's efforts to make the day special, and to our friends' being willing to hoof it all the way from Brooklyn to scenic Bucks County for a day and a half in the "country."

We had the opportunity to enjoy a day away from the office, too. Along with the holiday, there was an ebb to the influx of emails and tasks-to-be-done-yesterday that I have found to the be Sitz im leben of life in parish ministry. The morning was spent savoring the fullness of yesterday's feast and too much coffee. The afternoon, we wandered down to Warrington to see the new Harry Potter movie. One of the best of the set, I am convinced; not to mention the hardest to set to film for its length as text and its complexity of theme. The young Potter is, virtually, growing up. Be interesting to see what the next film will look like, and what it will be rated. One little child just couldn't take the adult themes. Laura overheard her expressing her confusion to her mother..."It is really all pretend, isn't it, mommy? That boy isn't really dead?" Potter is for kids, but that part of the narrative has to be tough for parents trying to explain it to little ones who love Harry for the boy that he was, and not the man he is becoming. And for now, let's just leave Voldemort's resurrection out of it. That begs too many scary theological issues.

The weekend ended with the first Advent of my short tenure beginning with...First Advent. We lit the wreath, chanted the Litany and changed liturgical colors. From green to purple, from that odd and extended season after Pentecost called, oddly, "Ordinary Time," we now move into a season of anticipation and preparation, both for the coming of Our Lord and for the new year, 2006.

There is anxiety, to be sure. Stewardship, while increasing, is starting to enter into "trickle" stage with pledge submissions dropping off in frequency. We are still running up from last year, but like so many other churches beset with tough financial times and donor fatigue from this year's disasters, we are chasing after commitments that might or might not come through. Without endowments or funds to see us through, and with a realistic year-end deficit looming, I have a feeling January is going to be a tough month. God be with us.

Still, this Sunday was one for the books. I am always surprised, pleasantly, when I get swept up in a moment during worship. I am usually so focused on leading that I miss the happening, but this past Sunday got me. At the early service, I experienced the intensity of kneeling throughout the Litany. No mean feat when I am somewhat out of shape, and the kneeler for the priests is "freestanding." All muscle, all focus. Hard work. Then, at the close of the main and late services, we sang one of my true favorites: "Lo! He comes, with clouds descending." Goosebumps and joy when the men took one of the verses. And I can't tell you how beautiful the choir sounded when the sopranos took the descant on the last verse. The silence that hung in the air in the seconds after that hymn finished was grace itself. I hope others felt the same, still I feel blessed when those moments come along.

On top of that experience, I was reminded again in my associate's sermon that we are in this world while being called to be apart from it. She used a phrase I have heard before, but need to remember. She called on us, in this Advent as in life, to see the world with "kingdom eyes." That means, as I see it, that we are called on to seize on the vision of God for us...And to embrace what God is doing through us. In other words, we are not to "wait for it;" but to "reach for it." That is a new posture for me, and it challenges how I see waiting. It is an active art, not a passive task.

Come Lord Jesus!


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