04 April 2020

THE FEAST OF JOHN DONNE IN THE YEAR 2020

THE FEAST OF JOHN DONNE
IN THE YEAR 2020

It is good, so good, that today, March 31, 2020, we keep the feast of John Donne! John Donne is one my personal heroes, because he was what I aspire to be: a strong poet and a devoted dean (though he was a brilliantpoet!).  He died as dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, in London, in 1631.

Here is a quick review: Brought up a Roman Catholic just after the English Reformation, John Donne (born 1573) did not intend to become a priest or a theologian. He studied law and apparently had a way with women. His early poetry surely reflected that tendency, and his is still held as an example of superb love poetry! (Read the bawdy “To His Mistress On Going to Bed”!). When he fell in love with (the young) Anne More, her family did not give consent to a marriage, and so he eloped with her. Her father, therefore, threw Donne into prison. (He wrote, from prison, the short epigram: “John Donne, Anne Donne, undone.”).

It was only later that their marriage was declared valid. Still later, a friend urged ordination, and so he was ordained in 1615. Sadly, in 1617, his beloved wife died, five days after the birth of their twelfth child together. Donne would go on, however, to become dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, and write some of the most sublime poetry of England.

Well, on this March 31, 2020, we are living in a time of both disease and imprisonment. The COVID-19 illness has infected all of us, either with the virus itself or with the fear of it and the precautions against it. We, all of us, are affected by the disease. We are also affected by a kind of prison: our homes!  Most of us are confined to our homes voluntarily, but still our homes can seem like prisons to us. We are stuck.

In this situation, read John Donne! John Donne knew of love and prison and illness. And he wrote deeply and powerfully about the presence of God in all those conditions. When he lay ill in his older years, he wrote (in Hymn to God, My God, In My Sickness):

I joy that in these straits I see my west;
     For though their currents yield return to none,
   What shall my west hurt me? As west and east
     In all flat maps (and I am one) are one,
     So death doth touch the resurrection.

But Donne may be most well known by words which ring true, so true, today, from his Meditation 17, NUNC LENTO SONITU DICUNT, MORIERIS [Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.]

Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he know not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me and see my state may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does, belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me. 

…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness.

….  No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Today, March 31, 2020, we know again the same thing that John Donne knew: no person is an island. We are connected. Sorrow and joy affect us all. Love affects us all. In all those conditions, God, our holy and passionate God, ravishes us wherever we are, in prison or in illness or in joy or in love. Batter my heart, three-person’d God!

AMEN.

The Very Reverend Samuel G. Candler
31 March 2020

20 July 2018

OFFERING AND LETTING GO

A Reflection on the 2018 General Convention of The Episcopal Church:


It’s hard to get 880 strong-willed and highly-qualified deputies to agree on the precise statements of our Church on sensitive issues. But I took that challenge as my role during this past 2018 General Convention of The Episcopal Church. I was asked by Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies, to chair a Special Legislative Committee this year, not one of the regular committees, which would consider any resolutions having to do with revising, or with revisions to, the Book of Common Prayer. I was honored to accept the invitation!

All sorts of proposed resolutions came to our committee, and all sorts of committed Christians came to testify in our open hearings. We prayed. We listened to people. We honored people. The range of issues came down to two: 1) Whether and how we might engage the process of Prayer Book and liturgical revision, and 2) whether and how we might allow same-gender couples to be married sacramentally in their home parishes, when their diocesan bishop is theologically opposed to same-gender marriage.

You can read elsewhere of the very many excellent statements and events of the 2018 General Convention: welcoming the Church of Cuba back into The Episcopal Church, taking steps to ensure safety and honor for women in the church, dismantling racism, going out to make a prayer witness at the Hutto Family Detention Center for the sake of detained immigrants, passing a budget, and how to appeal to Israel on behalf of Palestinians.

But I was honored to be among those crafting and dealing with resolutions on prayer book revision and on same-gender marriage provisions in certain dioceses. In the end, it was a great joy to propose two resolutions on those issues that actually passed. Success!

Again, you can read the actual resolutions (A068 and B012) in the official communication sites of our Church; I especially recommend Episcopal News Service. You can also read comments and reflections that speak of compromise. People were glad to seek, and to recognize, graceful compromise from some our Church’s more passionate and committed members.

But here is what I think happened: not compromise, but victory! I enjoyed noting the victories that our parties, and our entire Church, can rightly claim. For instance, our final resolution on “Prayer Book and liturgical revision” (A068) really does authorize us, the Church, to do revision. Plus, we really did claim that we remember (“memorialize”) the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. The 1979 Book of Common Prayer continues to be our duly authorized prayer book. But we also committed ourselves to the healthy and ongoing joy of liturgical revision. There was tremendous agreement on the need for inclusive and expansive language in referring to both humanity and divinity. People who wanted prayer book revision, and people who wanted to remain committed to the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, both could claim victory in our final resolution.

On the other issue, which was finally resolved in B012, I believe both “sides” can rightly claim victory. Importantly for me, we found a way for same-gender couples to be married sacramentally in their own, local, parishes even when the diocesan bishop is theologically opposed to that type of marriage. There are about eight dioceses of our Church presently in that situation. However, we were also careful to honor the theological principles of those eight bishops. They remain able to lead their dioceses with their conscience and leadership honored (It is just that “Their conscience is NOT their diocese!”).

Again, what I enjoyed about this year’s General Convention was how we found a way for opposing sides to enjoy victory, and not compromise. Compromise is fine, and necessary; but I believe we did something beyond compromise. We celebrated common victories together, as a Church, and that celebration was truly grace-filled.

Throughout General Convention, my counsel to deputies (and bishops!) is always “to offer and then to let go.” In our Church, all of us have important voices, and we have important offerings. Our role, in Convention, is to make our offering, our statement, our idea, our proposal, but then to let it go! Once we offer our word, that word is no longer ours alone; it belongs to a wider group: either the committee considering the resolution, or the House which is considering the perfected resolution, or the entire Church (House of Deputies and House of Bishops) finally concurring with each other.

“Offering and Letting Go.” That is my motto for successful General Convention activity. In our Church, no one –no matter who we are! – no one gets their own way. We offer what we have, and then we let it go. We don’t get our own way. But we do, indeed, get the Church’s Way, the greater good, the common good, the Way of Christ. The same goes for our local congregations and local communities of faith. Our most healthy communities of faith are those where people faithfully make our offerings, and then let them go, for the sake of the whole Church. In the end, it is not any one person or party who “wins.” In the end, Love wins! Alleluia!

25 August 2017

THE INTERSECTION OF TWO HEAVENLY BODIES IS NOT RARE!


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We were so happily enthralled and overshadowed by the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017! What awe! What mystery! What fun! Some of us had made plans for months to travel to some spot within the seventy mile “path of totality.” Others of us took off work to watch with special glasses or homemade pinhole viewers. Those who experienced the total eclipse, when the world became dark for up to two minutes or so, were spectacularly moved. Others of us shared their thrill vicariously.

Wherever we were, it was wonderful for us to pause, and to let it be. Recognizing, and imagining, the paths of two huge celestial bodies – heavenly bodies! – crossing each other was a truly awe-inspiring event. I would say that those several hours on August 21, of waiting and watching, touched people with transcendence, a sense of majesty and power that was so much bigger than us. Moreover, we shared those transcendent moments with other people: some of them friends, but others in campgrounds and parks, and some of them strangers we happened to park beside along the road. We shared both transcendence and intimacy.

For some of us, the more we studied the event, the more profound particular details became. We were aware that the moon’s shadow was racing across the continent at between one thousand and three thousand miles per hour. We were aware of slight angles in the earth’s and moon’s orbits that make an eclipse possible. We were aware that the precise size of the moon, at this particular time in its gradual withdrawal from the earth, is what makes a total eclipse possible – and not an annular eclipse (which does not completely cover the disc of sun).

Finally, some of us became aware of something else. Solar eclipses are not exactly rare. They are certainly rare if you stay in one place on the earth. However, they occur somewhere on earth about once every eighteen months – about 2 every 3 years. Indeed, many people claim to be “eclipse chasers,” making plans even now to be at the next solar eclipse on July 2, 2019 (though most of it will occur over water, in the South Pacific Ocean). I read where Joseph Pasachoff, astronomer from Williams College, has experience 65 solar eclipses.

I reckon, then, that if we include space and time outside earth, then celestial bodies –let’s call them heavenly bodies!—are intersecting their paths somewhere, almost all the time. Stars are crossing in front of other stars. Moons are coming between suns and planets. (These events are called “occultations,” which means “hidings”).

In the tremendous universe of God, then, there is always an intersection happening somewhere. What if we, we ourselves, are also such heavenly bodies? Sometimes, we are depending upon one light source, and another body moves between us and the source. Sometimes that movement occurs with amazing speed. We can see the shadow moving quickly along the floor, and it overtakes us. Sometimes the shadow is not a negative phenomenon at all, and the darkness can be helpful to us. Darkness can also show us that we have other sources of energy to depend upon, other sources of growth. In short, the darkness can both excite and calm us, showing us again our particular place in the tremendous order and creation of God

Yes, we human beings are heavenly bodies, too. We make paths and trails and orbits and intersections. When we meet another heavenly body –let’s call that heavenly body a spirit, shall we?—when we meet another spirit, when our paths cross, we have the opportunity for a fruitful intersection, we have the opportunity to say hello, to wink, to pause and to rejoice. (Or we have the opportunity to resent the shadow, to resent the interruption.)

The glory of this week’s total solar eclipse, then, can teach us about our own eclipses and intersections, and overshadowings. It is restorative simply to pause, and to marvel, at the glorious constellation of heavenly bodies among whom we live, and move, and have our being. We salute the complicated wonder of this universe of heavenly bodies. All of us travel in beautiful orbits. When our paths cross, a fruitful intersection will be that same combination of transcendence and intimacy that so many of us experienced August 21, 2017.

It is worth remembering one of the most mysterious and transcendent of all intersections: the one between divine and human. That intersection will always be impossible to fully describe, but here is how the gospel writer, Luke, described it: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). Right. It’s a miracle. And it can happen in us. And it can happen all the time.

(This article also appeared in Episcopal Cafe, and in The Cathedral Times. Thank you!)

14 April 2017

THE CROSS IS WHERE LOVE WALKS THROUGH DEATH

14 April 2017
Good Friday


It’s about walking. It’s still about walking.

On Palm Sunday, the walking began in glory, with bright sun warming the labyrinth ground. It felt good to greet the refreshing morning. We walked with energy and hope.

For me, the day seemed just like the previous morning, a Saturday, when I had walked to the Cathedral Farmer’s Market, and greeted hot coffee, warm bread, and familiar friends. The community was rich and strong.

That Saturday, I kept walking, into Buckhead Village, noticing the optimistic new construction everywhere, and stepping into a little boutique store, just to see what they had. Wow! I never do that, step into a store just to see what they have! But I did that day. And I kept walking still.

I find that when I take my steps intentionally, deliberately, prayerfully, those steps become somehow holy. I begin to see the beauty of ordinary things. And the ordinary things become holy. It seems easier to smile at people.

I kept walking. I was deliberately not in a hurry. I stepped inside one of our local restaurants, one which has been closed for two years, and has now come back to life. It’s been resurrected! It is in a new location, and I had to visit.

Then, I walked through the parking lot of the Cathedral. I knew that our family mini-retreat was occurring, and I knew that other visitors were elsewhere on the campus tending to things. I was walking, however, deliberately in the middle of the driveway. It is not the safest place to walk, but I do that occasionally here at the Cathedral, just to slow people down, especially when I have the time to engage people.

Yes, I was walking in a way to slow people down, especially people who were cutting through our Cathedral property, zooming through, in order to hurry their errands. It’s our property, and people don’t seem to know that. Thus, our parking lot is sometimes used as a convenient cut through, a way to get some place in a hurry. But, my thought is that the Cathedral is supposed to be the place that teaches us not to be in a hurry! It was fun to smile at people, and welcome them to the Cathedral!

But on Saturday, the passenger in one of the “cut-through cars” turned mean. The driver drove around me, but it was the back seat passenger who stepped out of the car and yelled at me, hollered at me. What was I doing walking down the middle of the road? I told him softly that I was slowing down the traffic that was zooming through our church property. We care for lots of people walking here, I said. Indeed, our youth and family retreat was occurring just then, on the lawn of the Lanier House.

Nothing further than that happened. The yelling man got back into the car, and they drove off. All was fine. I kept walking. But I have to admit that I also felt wounded, somehow stung by the man’s anger, even though I also admit that I had opened myself up to it. I felt like my walking had taken me not only to the nice people around town; but my walking had also exposed me to the angry people around town.

Good walks do that. They take us everywhere. As I walked on, I realized how often our walks take us through the valley of the shadow of death.

My little skirmish with meanness was not a big deal. I knew I was risking absorbing another person’s anger, and I did receive it. I figured I was absorbing that meanness on behalf of the church. I was stung by the guy, but it was nothing compared to the other ways that humanity strikes each other around this world.

My example is a small one.  But maybe it gives a way of explaining what Jesus did on Good Friday. Jesus walked. And he walked deliberately. And he walked knowing full well that he was about to absorb the meanness and anger of the world. More than that, of course, he was about to absorb the sin and violence of the world.

On this Good Friday, please don’t think about the old and worn-out ransom theories of atonement. Please disregard, in particular, any theory of so-called substitutionary atonement, the theory that Jesus violently dies in the place of humanity because God is owed justice. I have preached before about how meaningless those theories are. God does not demand blood because humanity has sinned. God is not a god of violence. Satan is not owed a ransom either. On Good Friday, there is not some cosmic judicial transaction going on.

The reason Jesus dies is because there is violence and death in the world, and Jesus dies to show us how to defeat that anger and death. Amidst all the anger and pain and violence of the world, Jesus demonstrates that there is a love that defeats violence and anger.

The reason we walk with Jesus to the cross today, is so that we can touch even the painful and angry parts of the world – even the neighborhoods we would rather not walk through. The neighborhoods of cities, and the neighborhoods of our interior lives, too. There are areas of our own souls that we fear walking through.

Today is a day to walk through those interior neighborhoods, too – places where we are in pain, places where we are angry, places where we might even be violent. Jesus wants to absorb those places, too.

We have skirmishes with death every day. Those deaths are not just the physical deaths of people we love. We have little outbursts with anger every day, too, encountering it in others, and even delivering it ourselves. Pain and death reside not just out in the world, but also in every one of us.

Jesus Christ touched, absorbed, all those places when he walked to the cross. The reason, then, that we walk with Christ to the cross, is so that Christ can touch those awful and treacherous places in us. When Christ touches them, they become holy.

Yes, I know it is hard to call death holy. But even death becomes holy when the love of Christ touches it. We walk the way of the cross so that Christ can touch our pain, so that Christ can touch our anger, so that Christ can touch our death.

When Christ touches the suffering of the world, when Christ touches the sin of the world, nothing magical or transactional happens. The Cross is not some commercial or juridical exchange wherein an angry God is now satisfied that a penalty has been paid for human sin. We are not “sinners in the hand of an angry God!” That way of thinking perpetuates the sad system of violence and blood shedding. That way of thinking leads only to more unjustified suffering.

What happens, instead, when Christ touches the suffering and sin of the world, is that sin becomes emptied, suffering becomes become dis-empowered. Sin and suffering lose any effect on us; they become meaningless, powerless. They wither away in the glory of love.

Yes, the cross is about love. Ultimately, the cross is where love touches the sin and suffering of the world. The cross is love, love absorbing anger and death, and de-powering them, in the name of God. The cross is where love walks through sin and death.

Our “Holy Week” is “Holy Walk.” And our Holy Walk brings us to this day, Good Friday, gazing at the cross of Christ, so that we can absorb that love which we see in Christ. Every one of us has skirmishes with anger and death every day. And some of us have tremendous battles with anger and death. And all of us will eventually die. Every one of us walks, eventually, through the valley of the shadow of death.

The way to prepare for those skirmishes and battles. and for death itself, is to slow down and walk through them in small ways now, to take the time to learn how to encounter them daily. When we say that we take up our cross daily, we mean that we are choosing to take love with us on our daily walks; with love, we are willing to encounter violence and to absorb the tiny deaths that assault us every day. 

The cross, then, is not where Jesus pays for sin. The cross is that place where love meets death. It is part of the Holy Walk of love. And love wins today. Love wins.


AMEN.