Sunday, April 29, 2012

Breaths Sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock

Sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock

Those who have died have never, never left
The dead have a pact with the living
They are in the woman’s breast
They are in the wailing child
They are with us in our homes
They are with us in the crowd
The dead have a pact with the living

Listen more often to things than to beings
Listen more often to things than to beings
When the fire’s voice is heard
Tis the ancestors’ breath
In the voice of the waters
Ah-wsh        ah-wsh

Poem by Birago Diop

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

About Intercessory Prayer

TOWARD THE END OF the Office of Morning Prayer we observe a silence wherein people may pray for whatsoever they will. As a result of hearing these prayer concerns we learn a lot about each other in a very short time. Paradoxically, we often come to know each others’ grief, anxiety, and deep joy before we are certain of each others’ names!
Recently at that point in the Office we learned about one person’s close connection to a local family that has suffered violently at the hands of their own son. Others prayed for the group of homeless folk who were our guests for the week as part of the South Oakland Shelter. Alongside these weighty concerns, I prayed for the return of our cat, Bella, who ran away a week ago and has not returned. As these varied concerns are set before us, for a moment we get a glimpse of the world through God’s eyes, in all its tragedy and confusion and absurdity.
What do we expect our prayers to accomplish? I cannot even find my cat, how can I expect to do anything about monumental issues that oppress the world? I do not claim to know how God will go about responding to any of these concerns, I only know that when they are released into the flow of liturgical words and silence they do not just evaporate, they seem to swim, like fish, as if we were fly-fishermen engaged in the practice of “catch and release” while standing hip deep in a sacred stream. I only know, that is, that these concerns are being shared, and therefore, somehow, changed.
If that sounds too vague, I can report another prayer concern that is more straightforward: our oldest daughter, Caitlin, is a professional actress in New York, and for weeks I have been praying that a long string of disappointing auditions come to a happier resolution. A few days ago I learned that she will be performing in The Great American Trailer Park Musical in New Lebanon, New York! Does this somehow “prove that prayer works?” Of course not. Does it provide cause for rejoicing? You bet.
It is a good thing we do not understand how intercessory prayer works. If we knew for certain that our prayers could cause wounds to heal, or homeless people to find apartments, then what excuse could we find to justify not spending 24 hours a day praying for the world’s needs? If we stopped praying to eat lunch, or take a nap, we would be directly responsible for all the suffering not being relieved by our neglecting to pray! Thanks be to God for the mysterious indeterminacy of prayer.
Now, about that cat…

Saturday, April 7, 2012

"Alleluia," sing the frogs;
"Christ is risen," I reply.
"We are here but you can't see us."
"I believe it," I reply.


Friday, April 6, 2012

The Fig Tree Incident

IT HAS BEEN gratifying to have so many companions at Morning Prayer this past week. We even ran out of booklets on one of the days.

So we peer over each other’s shoulders to perceive the liturgical text, recite the ordered verses, and observe the measured silences. It is a solemn, ritualized, yet profoundly natural response to the impending catastrophe of Holy Week. What else are we to do? Run around screeching and pulling out our hair? (In my case, that gesture would be particularly ill-advised). No, I can think of no more appropriate a thing to do, when faced with the collapse of all meaning and hope, than to acknowledge our condition with psalms and silences and gospel readings that resound under the high ceiling like words from the basement of time.

Speaking of gospel readings, I could not help but be struck by at the strange wisdom of lectionary-designers who, supposing that Holy Week congregations might be somewhat larger than at other times, use the opportunity to have us read about Jesus and the unproductive fig tree. Enigmatic? You bet… I am reluctant to admit that it comes across to me as if Jesus had a temper tantrum! A fig tree they passed had no fruit (even though it “was not the season for figs”) so he cursed it. When they passed by the same tree that evening (having ransacked the Temple in the interim) and found it withered, it almost seems as if Jesus was embarrassed at his earlier outburst and came up with a lame symbolic explanation to make it seem less petulant… that can’t be right, can it?

The transformative events of Holy Week do not fit neatly into a package. We approach them liturgically because to do so any other way would make us crazy. The fig tree episode strikes a discordant note, spoiling any notion we may have had that the crucifixion could be rendered into a tidy doctrine, or a grand symphony performed in a plush concert hall, instead of a ruthless execution carried out at The Place of a Skull.

NO MORNING PRAYER ON MONDAY! The church will be closed, so please don’t show up, and encourage others not to do so either.