Monday, June 01, 2015

Forward Day by Day: Looking Back, February to April 2015

[Photo: February snow, Atlanta's 2-in. blizzard, 2014]
"We hear God when waves crash, leaves rustle, and birds chirp as they welcome the morning," I read in Forward Day by Day, (Feb. 15, 2015).   Sun isn't up, yet, but the view from the lectern where I type now is a rustling wall of green, this June 1st. Back in February, we did have a snow day (though the photo is from a year earlier), and the view was a welcome respite from the drab greyish browns, and from the worst stretch of the year for teachers and students alike.  I often needed to hear the messages provided in the quarterly pamphlet Forward Day by Day (  meditations from scriptures.  Now I have a some time to revisit messages that were particularly helpful.
Readings from February 2015
Writer Ann Rose, a professor of English and an Episcopalian, responded to the line Seek my face (Psalm 27:11) with an anecdote from Maya Angelou's first memoir: Angelou's 8th grade graduation at a segregated African-American school was marred by the discouraging message of the white school official who delivered the address.  Then the boy valedictorian discarded his own speech and sang the "Black National Anthem" that had been struck from the program, "Lift Every Voice and Sing."  Rose remarks on the courage he had, to see God's face and follow his heart.

Mark 9:7  This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!   Ann Rose writes that we hear God, not only in waves crashing and birds' songs, but "we can hear God's holiness in a toddler's giggle, and we can hear God's pain in the whimpering of a beloved pet.  We can hear God's call to action through the nightly news."  Rose points out that Orthodox icons depict saints with enlarged eyes and ears for a reason: We must be alert and open to perceiving God throughout our busy days.

Deuteronomy 6:10-12. When the Lord your God has brought you into the land... with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant... take care that you do not forget the Lord.    Rose hardly had to add what's true of most of us Americans, that it's "easy to think I deserved everything I had."  I wonder how verses 10-12 would look on one of those gauzy photo montages of stars, stripes, and happy consumers? In Romney's campaign rhetoric about "makers and takers" a couple years ago, I heard a message that those who have little, deserve little.  Republican Paul Ryan has since repudiated that idea, or has at least qualified it.  Progress!

Psalm 37:7  Do not fret yourself... Be still before the Lord.  Professor Rose writes, "Recently I fretted over someone else's failure to prepare a presentation well.  I fret over a single negative course evaluation from a student [and] petty politics that surface in committee meetings."  She and I have this trait in common, for sure -- especially in winter term.  She reminds us both to keep God at the center, and the trivialities will lose their power over us.

Rose gives us this anecdote to illustrate Hebrews 2:17, He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect:  when Rose asked friends to pray for a 13-year-old girl who was to begin administering insulin shots to herself, one of the friends began a regimen of cutting her fingertip with the corner of a razor blade so that she could understand the courage that the girl would need.

Professor of English Literature, Rose tells how she "backed off from" Romantic poets in college, judging them to be neo-pantheists.  Been there, thought that!  Noticing nature in the imagery of O.T. and Jesus, and discovering Celtic saints' works, she has found new connection to those poets and to the psalm 19:3-4, Although [the days and nights] have no words or language, and their voices are not heard, their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.

March 2015
Serving at Trinity Episcopal Church on Wall Street, Mark Bozzuti-Jones contributed meditations for March 2015.  I admit that I paid less attention during Lent, following our church's own devotion booklet.  Still, I noticed these bits from Fr. Mark:

He writes of making a mantra of John 5:17, My father is still working, and I am also working.  "We are all works in progress." He asks, "What is your work with and in God?"

John 7:6 My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.  The priest remembers a home where 300 clocks hung from the walls, because "for us, the time is always now."  In the passage, it's clear that Jesus' time to die had not yet come, but what does the next phrase mean for us?  The commentator suggests that "we are called to practice death," by which he means, "The clock is ticking, and we are being called now to go love and serve the Lord."

April  2015
"The world" is a theme that resonated through me most as I read meditations by priest Nancy Hopkins-Greene, who serves at the Church of the Redeemer in Cincinnati.

Just before writing that sentence, I took a break to walk the dogs before sun-up.  Mia, curled at the sunken warm spot of my bed for her post-breakfast nap, roused herself as soon as she saw me putting on my walking shoes, and pulled herself across the length of the bed, looking up at me sideways in that way she has of inviting play, tail waving.  I can say, definitively, that there's something wrong with any religious teacher who tells us to shun "the world" in the sense of sensual pleasure and recreation.

The writer would agree, even when her chosen text is 1 John 2:15, Do not love the world or the things in the world.  She answers that most effectively in response to a reading from Wisdom 2:6-7, in which "those who reasoned unsoundly" are quoted as saying, Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist, and make use of the creation to the full as in youth.  This attitude, she says, "is not about praising creation, but grabbing as much as we can get from it" for ourselves.

The same theme shows in her response to Psalm 23.  "Into this world where we are constantly being sent a message of scarcity [that we don't have enough things or enough time] comes the God of abundance."   I shall not be in want.

Another reading from Wisdom 5:14 puts the writer in mind of a practical suggestion: Because the hope of the ungodly is like thistledown carried by the wind... and it passes like the remembrance of a guest who stays but a day.  "Our hope," she writes, "lies ultimately in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  But often it is grounded in concrete acts of hopefulness, like serving the poor, feeding the hungry, embracing the lonely or planting a tree.  Our hope needs to be grounded -- so it doesn't blow away."

I'm grateful to this writer for a couple   observations about the Psalms.  One is her reminder that many are "salvation history" psalms, and she suggests that we should each write our own salvation history psalms.  Good idea!

Then, she pointed out what I've never noticed, that the Book of Common Prayer assigns a portion of Psalm 119 every Wednesday.  It is the longest of psalms, and singularly focused with a synonym for "law" in every verse.  The psalm is also an acrostic, every eight verses beginning with one Hebrew letter, as the headings tell us, from Aleph to Taw.  The form, she tells us, is part of the message, and so is its weekly inclusion in our prayer book, being "steady, predictable, and orderly -- like the law itself."  She concludes, "In our fast-paced, ever-changing world, our lives of prayer -- all of our lives -- can often use some stability, predictability, and order."  

[Photo:Mia and friend, enjoying nature, one year ago this month]

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