Advent 2: A Sonnet

I’ve barely squeezed out a sonnet for the week (2 hours before the week ends, at least in my time zone). But somehow I did it!

Collect for Advent 2:

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

My sonnet for Advent 2:

Oh Merciful God, come help us hear
Your messenger birds, the prophets preach
Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near,
The kingdom of heaven is in our reach.
Prepare the way, prepare the way,
Repeats their morning warning song.
Prepare the way, prepare the way,
The kingdom of heaven is coming along!
Come help us see and still our sins
That we may come to, joyful, greet
The perfect sun that’s entering in
In earthly form for us to meet.
Helped by those birds, who say awake,
In you, through Christ, we may partake.

 

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Advent 1: A Sonnet

I used to write poetry. A few poems in middle school, a few more in high school, and a few semesters worth (enough to get me rather burnt-out) in college.

These days, I don’t write poetry, although I continue to write poetically.

And as of today? Apparently I write sonnets based on collects (pronounced coll-ects and amounting to short prayers focused on one theme, for those who don’t know) from the Book of Common Prayer, inspired by the liturgical-year sonnets of poet-priest Malcolm Guite.

Maybe, just maybe, this will even be the start of a spiritual practice of sonnet-writing, in which I try to write a sonnet for each week’s collect. Maybe. Stay tuned.

Here’s the collect for Advent 1:

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

And my poem for Advent 1:

Almighty God, come give us grace
To wipe the dust from corners dark,
To clear in us for you a place,
To set the wreath and light the spark
That must precede our every flame
That must precede our every fire.
Your son so humbly, spark-ly came
To make more light be our desire.
We’re making room, so visit please
In hurried, blurry homes and hearts.
You visit and the darkness flees
From oft-forgotten crevice parts
Through him who lives and reigns with you
And readies us for Advent new.

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Discipleship According to Sara Bareilles

altar-torch-7-8-top“I used to be scared of fire,” I said calmly, as a thin flame danced before my face.

I was serving as an acolyte maybe a month into my time at divinity school, recruited at the last minute to help with a chapel service. The kind of recruitment that starts with a simple favor (carry a candle) and spirals into several additional tasks like “Oh, by the way, can you also do the Scripture reading? … Oh and be a chalice bearer? … And arrive an hour early so we can go over things?” (Welcome to ministry life, I suppose.)

“Uhh, are you gonna be OK?” the other acolyte asked nervously, eyeing my fire-lit face.

With a smile and shrug, I replied in the way in which we affirm our baptismal vows: “I will, with God’s help.”

I will, with God’s help.

This has become a mantra for the new tasks I’m invited to attempt these days — tasks which can appear humanly impossible but are, in fact, divinely possible.

Or, in the words of Sara Bareilles’ hit song “I Choose You,” which “coincidentally” came on the car radio the day of that chapel service both as I drove to school and as I left, running through my head like a helpful earworm throughout the day:

“I am under-prepared, but I am willing.”

I am under-prepared to figure out vesting in vestments and processing down aisles, assisting at the altar and knowing the terminology (good Lord, the terminology) for anything that goes on and around the altar. I am under-prepared to lead morning prayer — much less the chanted morning prayer that I managed to lead a couple weeks ago. I am under-prepared to write most of the papers I am writing, because there is simply not time to develop expertise or even understanding of a topic in the one week or even one day allotted to that topic in class.

But, somehow, I am willing.

I’m quite certain Sara Bareilles was not thinking of Christian discipleship when she composed “I Choose You” (in fact, I’ve heard she was writing about marriage, which is also a lovely way to interpret the song). But, when I hear this song on the radio, I can’t help but think of the calling of Jesus’ first disciples, recorded for instance in Matthew 4:18-22:

As he [Jesus] walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zeb′edee and John his brother, in the boat with Zeb′edee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.”

A call from God. And a “yes” from humankind.

God who doesn’t mind in the least — in fact, perhaps intends — that we be under-prepared for the work to which we’re invited. And humankind who needs only to be willing.

Prayers of the People: A 2016 Rendition

2016Last summer, the Internet started asking questions like “Is 2016 the Worst Year In History?” and compiling collections like “Tweets That Perfectly Sum Up 2016 So Far.”

I’m not usually one to catastrophize like that. But, after this past week, I toss up my hands and say yes, 2016 has lost its mind. Then, alongside the raw frustration, maybe because I’m Episcopalian and in seminary and doing a semester-long project on the spiritual discipline of lament, I toss up my hands to the Lord and say something like this (modeled after Prayers of the People, Form I):

With all our heart and with all our mind, let us pray to the Lord, saying “Lord, have mercy.”

For the 336+ Haitian souls deceased as a result of Hurricane Matthew; for the 4+ missing, 211+ injured, and 60,000+ displaced; for the mourning mother, fearful father, hungry child, and tired aid worker, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For the woman who was sexually assaulted at the hands of Donald Trump and for the woman or man who hears audio bragging of the assault and recalls all too viscerally their own unwanted encounters, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For the faithful LGBT-affirming InterVarsity staff worker losing or quitting his job and for the student feeling confused, alumnus feeling betrayed, and administrator feeling pressured to impossibly appease all parties, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For the transgender woman fighting for dignity in her state, school, and restrooms, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For the black man who fears that wherever he goes he cannot truly go in peace or safety, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For the anxious student who sleeps little, worries lots, and insists that he would rather die of shame than accept any grade lower than an A, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

For deliverance from all danger, violence, oppression, and degradation, let us pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

Sacrament at the Soul of Me

I grew up at a Baptist church receiving Communion seemingly whenever the senior pastor felt like offering it, which probably amounted to once a quarter. Ushers would pass heavy silver trays up and down the pews — a tray of wafers followed by a tray of little, thimble-sized plastic cups of grape juice. It seemed like snack time to my seven-year-old sensibilities.

06-2015-laity-lodge-02I don’t know exactly when the sacrament became something more than snack time. But it certainly has.

When I visited and joined an Episcopal church at age 22, I started receiving Communion once a week. It was the focal point of the Sunday service, as opposed to the music or sermon, which I have seen centralized and even quite frankly sensationalized in some settings.

When I interned at and worked at that Episcopal church, I started receiving Communion multiple times a week, because the parish offered the sacrament typically every Monday-Friday in conjunction with morning prayer.

Eventually, I started hungering for it. Just a few months ago, when I was away from home and from my home church one Sunday,  I noticed the hungering for it and semi-jokingly told a friend traveling with me: “I think I’m having Eucharist withdrawal!”

It’s not a physical hunger. Because, let’s be real; that’s best satiated with some Sunday brunch after church.

It’s a spiritual hunger. The hungry searching of a weary swimmer grasping for a buoy. The “hangry” searching of a tired traveler scanning airport corridors for some trustworthy sustenance. Subway and Starbucks are my airport go-tos. Bread and wine are my life’s go-tos.    

The comparison of Eucharist to fast food chains is a pale comparison indeed. But what I mean is this: it’s a source of constancy. I remember the relief of finding a Subway at the Toronto airport during a layover once, tucked away among all the unfamiliarities of poutine and ketchup-flavored potato chips. I remember the warm comfort of sipping Starbucks at the Charlotte airport during many a layover when I used to travel periodically between Texas and Virginia. Travel where I may, these edible anchors would be there, offering much the same menu each time and at each location.

Having recently moved halfway across the country, I find that Communion is an edible anchor too, offering “much the same menu” upon each reception. Maybe a thin, round wafer or a piece of sweet, soft bread. Maybe juice, usually wine. Always “the gifts of God for the people of God.”

When I receive nowadays, I go back to my seat and might recall fondly other times I have received. I might recall a quiet Jesuit retreat center in North Texas or an Anglican mission church in Belize. I might recall that home parish that first taught me to cherish Communion, glance at my watch, and realize that even across time zones they’re eating and drinking of the same body and blood at about this same time.

I might recall the time last summer when my grandma’s 94th birthday was approaching and I arranged to give her Communion for her birthday. As I told my mentor-priest: She really doesn’t need anything else, and I really can’t offer anything else. So, come Sunday, she wheeled her walker into the sanctuary, sat on the edge of a pew, fell asleep twice during the sermon (sorry, preacher), and watched as I served the chalice to countless parishioners more ambulatory than herself. Finally, a priest gestured to me to follow him out to the pew where Grandma sat. He leaned over, handed her “the body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” and stepped back into the aisle. I stepped forward, making eye contact with this white-haired woman of God who has thus far been around all my life but who cannot possibly continue to be around all my life. I held out “the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,” she warily dipped her wafer in, and promptly dropped it. I looked at my priest, who shrugged, and I fished the wine-soaked wafer out of the chalice and placed it in her thin, receptive hands.

Later, we laughed about the awkwardness of that Communion.

Much later, I would cry about the gift of that Communion.

When so many things change, move, age, and even pass away, the Lord does not. For me, Communion attests to this.

Because, a thousand miles away from some of my closest family and friends, the continuity of Communion over time and space tells me that the Lord provides for those family and friends. I have done and will keep doing all that I humanly can to care for them, but ultimately the Lord will provide. And, Communion tells me that the Lord provides for me too. Travel where I may, this edible anchor will be there. Thanks be to God.