June 27, 2010

Effortful Episcopalians

This procession is moving along. You are most welcome to come along with it, but don’t take it personally if we do not wait for you to get it—at least on the first try.

However difficult it may be for the neophytes to feel it, fumbling with a verbose bulletin and two—count them, two—books for worship, there is moving across the surface of this hour a determined cadence.

Celebrant—people, celebrant—people, celebrant—people.

At times we feel like some sort of high-church sculling crew: our boat made of blocks, our captains in albs. Each prayer, every response has the feel of one more pull across the shimmering waters.  A race from pulpit to font to table.  (Granted, the course reveals its technical traps: “What in the world was Rite II?” asks my fellow teammate, after the trip.  He, too, is a rookie.)  Even so, there was movement in our churchy minutia, from here to there and back again.

In this era when the rest of us Protestants are falling all over ourselves to “connect” with the burned-over crowds and on Sundays “meet people where they are,” some part of me appreciates how this boat-for-worship can—will!—move along quite without me in it.  People matter, of course, but at least this liturgy calls forth more of a “we” than “me.”  I am in this boat, but it is not mine.

For one thing, there are a great many actions for a great many people. The chancel is at times a rush-hour of activity.  Choirs, ushers, acolytes, priests, pilgrims, all scurrying about—an Episcopalian pileup.  We stand, we sit, we kneel.  I sing, I speak, I look … I taste. Someone once dubbed this frenzy “the work of the people.” And because most of the movement of worship is not confined to the frontal cortex, but is embodied, in full view, perhaps for this reason it is difficult to escape the notion that none of this is about me.  I am here, but this time is not mine.

So although the four-year-old two pews forward of me spent the entire Eucharist making fart-like noises with her cheeks and having a merry time of it, and even if the couple just in front of me spent the Sanctus chuckling at her mini-theater, prayer-book in hand … God was still praised.  All around our gassy gal arose the larger doxological chorus.  We sang and ate and sang some more, quite without her permission.  Her cheeky little show, subsumed in a sea of hymnody.  She made her presence known, but the boat would not be thrown off course.

“Holy, holy, holy,” high and lifted up, O Jesus.

Above cheeks and chuckles and even private connections, as in “If you don’t connect with me, preacher, I’m outta here.”

Alas, can’t you see the passing waters?
Pick up an oar and get out of your head.
Don’t you hear the captain?

Row, O self-anchored ones.  Row with me across these baptismal waters. And sing as you sail.  Sing to the Lord of this lake. Keep moving with me! One more prayer-pull.  Feel the grace of possibly being left behind.

God is here. And we are Thine.

June 20, 2010

A Prayer for Trinity Sunday

This is our worship, O God.  We praise you and pray to you because that is what you made us for, and that is what Jesus taught us to do, and this is what your Spirit prompts in us now—our praise and our prayers.

From a week of living in your world, O Father, we gather now to worship you—you who are eternal, timeless, without beginning or end. This world we know is yours, and yours alone.  You have made it, and so to you we lift our prayers for it.  Dor people and places around the globe who cry out for your good gifts: mercy, justice, healing, truth …  And we confess those sins of ours that mar the landscape of this week now finished …

From a week of discipleship in your world, O Jesus, we gather now to worship you—you who invaded our history and walked among us, wearing our flesh and announcing God’s news.  This is your gospel, and yours alone.  You have spoken it, and so we lift our prayers to you for those who most need to hear it.  For people and places right in our own lives who cry out for faith, hope, and love, for a saving-healing-restoring word from you … And we confess those places in our own lives today that resist your call and conversion …

From a week of ministry in your world, Holy Spirit, we gather now to worship you—you who are present among us in this moment, connecting us to Christ and drawing us together in fresh unity.  This is your time, and yours alone.  You make it worship, and us God’s people, so we lift our prayers to you for people and places we have yet to know, for those to whom you will soon call us to go, and love, and serve … And we confess our fear of the future and our resistance to being led forward by you …

This is our worship, O God.  We praise you and pray to you because that is what you made us for, and that is what Jesus taught us to do, and this is what your Spirit prompts in us now.

June 2, 2010

Good Posture

Chiropractors are known to say that good posture makes for a lifetime of flexibility.

I wouldn’t know.  I tend to hunch too much over my laptop, so much so that at least twice a year one of those long muscles running up my back decides to go rogue and stage a clinched-rebellion.  I pay the price for poor posture and enjoy for at least a week a rather stiff neck, and limited field of vision.

It is a metaphor for life in Jesus.  How we stand (or sit, or kneel) before the Lord will in large measure determine how open we are to the movement of God’s Spirit among us.  Good posture makes for a lifetime of flexibility.

Take Pentecost, for instance.  Sit in the pew for even a few years and annually you’ll hear recounted the wild and woolly excitement of Acts chapter 2.  Jesus has departed the scene now, but his core group is gathered in an upstairs room at the Holiday Inn Express – Jerusalem.  It is just another day, except that all around town another Jewish festival has brought people from all over the region to market.

So there they are, the apostles: Huddled in prayer. Waiting. Wondering. Worrying?

And then it happens, in God’s good time.  Tongues of fire.  Blustering winds.  Movement.  Confirmation!  Before long, down in the parking lot, a crowd has gathered to take in this sanctified spectacle.  These strangers to God’s fold hear the old salvation story with brand new ears.  “Those guys up there are all locals.  How is we can hear God speaking to us in our own language? I can hear!”  It must be God.   And as it turns out, the fire and wind of Pentecost is not about increased confusion so much as blessed understanding.  God moves and speaks, and even strangers can now feel the new movement and hear the good news.

But back to posture: I’m moved by those first apostles’ willingness to stay put for spell.  Family therapist Murray Bowen once quipped, regarding relationships: “Don’t just do something, stand there!”  That might be wise counsel for a church on the move.  This first round of disciples decides to “sit together in one place” and wait for God to move among them (Acts 2:1).  Chapter 1 notes that during this time they were “constantly devoting themselves to prayer.”  All this, with the teaching of Jesus still fresh in their ears.

These are the stances that make for good posture before the Lord: coming together, rehearsing the teaching of the Lord, devotion to prayer, expectation … patience.  This is how a people sit and wait for the Lord to move, in the good timing of providence.  And this posture contributes to a certain kind of flexibility: an openness to the movement of the Holy Spirit, a willingness to flex and move when God tongues speak and Jesus winds blow.  An expanded field of vision.  A greater range of motion.  Good posture as the people of God.  Flexibility for faith.

May it be so for us.