One of the basic tenets of Christianity is the return of Christ. In Eucharistic Prayer A in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer we say the words:
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
Other denominations use those words and there are similar words in the other Eucharistic prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. But what does “Christ will come again” really mean?
A lot of people over the centuries have taken those words literally. The Apostle Paul initially expected the imminent return of Christ, as his earliest letters attest. His tone changed as time wore on and Christ didn’t show up. Indeed Christ’s failure to return caused a lot of consternation in the early church.
Christ’s non-arrival has failed to deter many people over the centuries, however. Still today people are waiting. I remember after the Six Day War in 1967 my minister at the Methodist church here in Hemet excitedly announced that the Second Coming would now happen at any time.
I’m afraid that such people will continue to be disappointed.
During the season of Easter at Good Shepherd Episcopal, the Prayers of the People were framed by these words set to music:
Love one another as I have loved you.
Care for each other. I have cared for you.
Bear each other’s burdens. Bind each other’s wounds;
so you will know my return.
For me, when we do those things, that is Christ’s return.
I’ve always thought that the serenity prayer as it is normally recited just a tad maudlin and simplistic. The original version was, it is generally but not universally agreed, written by Reinhold Niebuhr. I find it much more meaningful and powerful. You can see it here.
Another version has been around for a few years, but I only discovered it via Facebook in the last several weeks. It’s on the web site The Jesuit Post and it was written by James Martin, SJ. The original post was published 9 November 2012. I reproduce the whole prayer here with some trepidation, as the intellectual property belongs to the Jesuit Post and to Father Martin. But I do reproduce it because, well because I myself need to be reminded of these words.
I love the Malcolm Boyd style Father Martin uses in this prayer.
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change,
which is pretty much everyone,
since I’m clearly not you, God.
At least not the last time I checked.
And while you’re at it, God,
please give me the courage
to change what I need to change about myself,
which is frankly a lot, since, once again,
I’m not you, which means I’m not perfect.
It’s better for me to focus on changing myself
than to worry about changing other people,
who, as you’ll no doubt remember me saying,
I can’t change anyway.
Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up
whenever I think that I’m clearly smarter
than everyone else in the room,
that no one knows what they’re talking about except me,
or that I alone have all the answers.
grant me the wisdom
to remember that I’m
A New Serenity Prayer © The Jesuit Post, All Rights Reserved
I have been taking an online retreat for Lent. One of the preliminary posts stated, “This is not the spiritual Olympics.” That made me think about how I can be competitive in situations that are really not competitive.
Take, for example, Toastmasters. Yes, we have the best speaker, best table topics, and best evaluator awards each week. We even had an actual speech contest last week. But really, Toastmasters is not about competition. It’s a mutually supportive group where we develop our skills.
Each week our president reads the Toastmasters mission statement:
We provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth.
Still I often feel the need to compete. But really, why should I be concerned if someone is ahead of me in their projects from the Competent Communication manual, or if someone else gets the best speaker award?
It’s an ongoing process for me.
Some months back my church posted the following on Facebook:
Pray as you actually experience life,
rather than as you might wish it to be.
It’s tempting to act as if things are as we would want them to be, and we certainly ought to be focusing on our goals and moving those things forward. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge where we really are.
Now implementing that, there’s the challenge.
I was not expecting to be writing a second remembrance within the same month, but here I am doing exactly that.
Our holiday letter to my long-time friend Dennise was returned “Not deliverable as addressed — Unable to forward.” An email I sent to her did not bounce, but searches on Facebook and LinkedIn turned up nothing. I hesitated doing a Google search, because of what I feared the result would be. But I did do a Google search.
My fears were founded. In the top ten results were at least three obituaries. I didn’t try to count. Opening two of those obituaries confirmed it was the Dennise that I knew. (How many people with that name spell it with two n’s?)
It turns out that she died in November 2014. Now I know why I didn’t get her usual comprehensive and creatively-written holiday letter last year.
Dennise and I were hired as technical writers at about the same time but completely independently of each other in 1995 at a company called Verity, which no longer exists. We shared an office until we moved to new facilities where our cubes were right next to each other. As it turned out we shared many of the same values spiritually, and we stayed in touch, however intermittently, after I left Verity in 1997.
Dennise was, if you believe in such things, an old soul. She was at her core a pagan, and she joyously celebrated the Winter Solstice. But she loved the liturgy at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and the values the institution stood for. She also loved the Christmas Eve Midnight Eucharist there. Meanwhile I was at the time moving from Religious Science to the Episcopal Church. We had many interesting conversations, both in person and via email.
I will miss Dennise. Let light perpetual shine upon her.
The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams
Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (June 2, 2015), 657 pages
Kindle edition $16.99, Amazon Hardcover $22.08
Whew! This was a slog.
The print edition of the The Fellowship is 657 pages, although the notes begin on page 512. And while the book is heavily annotated, there are no links to the notes in the Kindle edition, so accessing the references real time while reading on my iPad Kindle app was virtually impossible, and I didn’t try. Of course, even if you read the print edition you would have to keep one finger in the notes at the back to keep up.
While the Zaleskis have created a comprehensive reference work here, it was more detail than I needed. Still, there were some interesting bits. While it is widely known that Lewis lived much of his life with “Mrs. Moore,” the mother of his close friend who was killed in battle in World War I, it turns out there was, in fact, a Mr. Moore. Where he was or what he did is not explained, presumably because the Zaleskis were not able to unearth any information. Though it seems that both Lewis and Mrs. Moore complained regularly about Mr. Moore not doing whatever it was he was supposed to be doing. Then there was the fact that Lewis’s marriage to Joy Davidman, his love late in his life, was a pragmatic matter related to her illnesses.
Likewise, there is a lot of interesting information about the what it took for J.R.R. Tolkien to complete The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. The short answer: a lot. And although Lewis’s older brother Warnie’s name is not mentioned in the title, he was in fact an integral part of the Inklings group, which met regularly and shared their work with each other.
I think that I would have been better served reading the well-regarded The Inklings: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Their Friends, which, though out of print, is readily available as a used book from Amazon and no doubt other sources.
Still, I now know a few things that I didn’t when I began the book.
An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
Barbara Brown Taylor
HarperCollins e-books; Reprint edition (October 6, 2009), 244 pages
Kindle Edition $1.99, Amazon paperback $11.90
Learning to Walk in the Dark
Barbara Brown Taylor
HarperOne (April 8, 2014), 213 pages
Kindle Edition $14.99, Amazon Hardcover $21.06
Kindle edition purchased during a HarperOne sale for $1.99
I have long been a big fan of Barbara Brown Taylor. I have been reading her books since I first became part of the Episcopal Church. She was for many years an Episcopal priest in a small town in Georgia. She was particularly known for her preaching. Her first several books were collections of her sermons, and they were all very useful to me as I became part of the liturgical tradition. Eventually she left the priesthood to become a professor in a small college in Georgia. She documents her journey in Leaving Church. One of the many factors that caused her to leave was the fact that her preaching was so renowned that busloads of homiletic aficionados crowded out members of her congregation on Sunday mornings.
An Altar in the World and Learning to Walk in the Dark follow Leaving Church. Taylor’s earlier books revolve around Biblical themes and images. This is to be expected, since Episcopal sermons are based on the lectionary, the assigned scripture readings for the week. These two books are very much autobiographical.
An Altar in the World focuses on finding God outside the four walls of the church. Several passages in the book fall into the category of TMI – too much information. I did not need to read all of the details about her horse riding accident or the death of her father. Still there is much in this book that resonates with me. Taylor writes:
In my life so far, I have been a babysitter, an Avon lady, a cashier, a cheese-packer, a horseback riding instructor, a nursing unit clerk, a cocktail waitress, a secretary, a newspaper reporter, an editor, a fund-raiser, a special events coordinator, a teacher of creative writing, a hospital chaplain, a pastor, a preacher, and a college professor—and those are just the jobs that I have been paid for.
That makes me feel better about my varied work career as an adult. Taylor admits that she is not terribly good at prayer, something I totally understand. She also spends a good deal of time discussing the modern Jewish practice of Sabbath. She writes, “One thing I wish were mine is a proper Friday evening Shabbat service, beginning with the lighting of two candles when three stars can be counted in the darkening sky.” I relate big time. But that’s a topic for another blog entry.
Learning to Walk in the Dark is about what the title suggests. The darkness, as you might surmise, is both physical and metaphorical. Taylor writes about how darkness is almost universally portrayed as a negative. She points out that this negative perspective applies to every single reference to darkness in the Bible. She tells us that there is much to learn from the dark. She writes that the night is more nuanced than the day in that the sun is the sun, but the moon has phases. Each chapter in the book is based on one of the phases of the moon.
With these two books my appreciation for Barbara Brown Taylor continues.