11 August 2018

The People

Often in the stores told in the bible there is a main character the story revolves around and it can feel like it is their actions or their sole relationship with God that is driving the story.

However there is another, sometimes misguided, sometime powerful voice in the stories of the Old and New Testament: the people.

In the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation of the bible, there are 1558 references to "the people" listed in the Old Testament, Apocrypha, and New Testament. Sometimes 'the people' are just background characters, there to give flavor to the story. Other times they are critical to the path the story takes.

'The people' as a character in the story, are very often foolish and make terrible choices. The entire book of Exodus is full of the people as a whole making choices that irritate and enrage God; misunderstanding God's purpose for them; or sometimes, more rarely, thanking God for giving them what the needed, praising God and promising to be ever-faithful.

The people in the New Testament are just as fickle. Some days they are following John and Jesus around hanging on their every word. In others they are calling for Jesus to be put to death.

So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood;[a] see to it yourselves.” Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
~ Matthew 27:24-26

Later, in Acts, 'the people' have swung around to another opinion and oppose the "...rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family" (Acts 4:5) when these high-status people want to punish Peter and John for healing and speaking in Jesus's name.

There is no way to know if this group of 'the people' was composed of the same folks who shouted for Jesus to die.

After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened.
~Acts 4: 21

What we do see over and over in stories in the bible is that 'the people' are an actor in the narrative and that they frequently drive the powerful, be it God or human leaders, to distraction.

The people, either when acting as a concerted mob or just as individuals that happen to support a specific goal in the moment, often change the course of the story.

The people, by their presence in the stories, also serve to remind the readers that the 'named' characters weren't the only actors in the unfolding drama of the relationship between God and humanity.

It is never just Abraham and Sarah, or Aaron and Miriam, or Saul, or David; it is not just Peter and John, or Mary and Martha, behind all of those named in the stories is a universe of unnamed people who are sometimes central and some time peripheral to the story, but who will all be impacted by the choices made in the stories.

Just like the named characters, sometimes 'the people' get to act directly in the story and make terrible choices that must be recovered from or atoned for.

To me, the fact that 'the people' are not just passive background in the stories is a reminder that God's relationship is not just with the named characters that appear in the bible, but with all of us. The new covenant God made through Jesus is not just with the disciples but with everyone.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
~Matthew 4:23

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All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gatewayunless otherwise noted.

Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.

28 July 2018

The Book Written for Me

Because I am one of the many people who cannot read any of the ancient languages the books of the Old and New Testament are written in, I depend on the scholarship of others to translate those books into English.

Translators work hard not just to capture the meaning of ancient words that we no longer have context for, but also to phrase the meaning using a structure readers can understand. It doesn't take much of a change in wording to change the sense or emphasis of a biblical passage.

The first biblical translation I ever read was the King James Version (KJV). Here is the King James version of Psalm 40: 6-7, part of one of the readings for today.

Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.

Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me,

Here is the same passage from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the translation that I default to.

Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
  but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering
  you have not required.
Then I said, “Here I am;
  in the scroll of the book it is written of me.

Other than updating the language from Early Modern English to Modern English, the change that catches my attention is the one from 'Lo, I come' in the KJV to 'Here I am' in the NRSV. This may only be an artifact of my own limited understanding of Early Modern English, as 'Lo, I come' might mean exactly the same thing as 'Here I am' to a native speaker of Early Modern English. However, to me, there is a difference in the energy of the phrases. 'Lo, I come' indicates movement, a sense of departure, and a decision to take action on the part of the speaker; while, 'Here I am' indicates stopping, a sense of arrival, and a past decision brought to completion.

The King James Version was published in 1611 and the New Revised Standard Version was published in 1989. In the 378 years that elapsed between these two publications there were advances in biblical scholarship and an increase in the number of original sources discovered that scholars could use. That discovery and scholarship continues to this day.

In 2007, Robert Alter published his translation and commentary of the book of psalms. His commentary includes explanations of his translation choices, notes about the meaning of some phrases, and notes of areas of the text that are fragmentary or challenging to translate.

His offering for Psalm 40:6-7 is:

Sacrifice and grain-offering You do not desire.
  You opened ears for me:
    for burnt-offering and offense-offering You do not ask.
Then did I think: Look I come
  with the scroll of the book written for me.*

The changes of note between this translation and that of the NRSV are the phrases: 'opened ears for me', 'offense-offering', and 'the book written for me.'

He notes that: "'You opened ears for me' literally means, 'You dug open ears for [or, to]'--that is, vouchsafed me a new acute power of listening to the divine truth. In later Hebrew, this idiom karah 'ozen comes to mean 'listen attentively.' It is also possible to construe this--because 'ears' is not declined in the possessive--as God's listening attentively to the speaker."

It is interesting that the other two translations give the ears to the psalmist while Alter shows that the ears have just been opened. There is no clear ruling on whose ears they are. That opens up many possible meanings for this on phrase. The newly opened ears might be those of the psalmist, those of God, or even those of a third party or parties. I love the visceral power of 'you dug open ears' giving the sense as it does of a lot of work going into getting those ears to open.

The other change of Alter's that speaks to me is the change from a book written 'of me' and a book written 'for me'. A book written 'for me' by God that I carry with me has a different sense than a book written 'of me'. If the book is 'for me' it is a gift given directly to me, something I can refer to and use as a reference going forward in life. If it is 'of me' then it is about me, making me an object of the book rather than an active user of the book.

Spending time looking at different translations made to fulfill different purposes, allows me to embrace and analyze the text from different points of view.

King James gave his committee of translators instructions that "intended to ensure that the new version would conform to the ecclesiology of, and reflect the episcopal structure of, the Church of England and its belief in an ordained clergy."+

The guiding principal for the New Revised Standard Version was: “As literal as possible, as free as necessary.”

Robert Alter is trying to capture the compact and unique poetical structure of the psalms in English while using modern scholarship.

Each of these translations is impacted by the underlying goal brought to the translation process by the people working on the project. I think there is great value in looking a different translations, not only because it is interesting and expands my idea of what a particular passage might mean, but because this multiplicity of voices reflects how difficult it is to hear the voice of God.

We are so very tiny in the vastness of the Universe and therefore in the Vastness of God. As we see in the the story of Moses in the Old Testament, meeting God face-to-face changes a person irrevocably. God is too big for us to fully comprehend first-hand.

Jesus, coming to us 'incarnate from the Virgin Mary' as we say in the Nicene Creed is something we can comprehend, even if we aren't great at always following his teachings. Through Jesus, God shows us how we can live in relationship with God and with our fellow humans.

For me, translations of the biblical texts, helps add to that faceted nature of God. The Old Testament God is one facet, Jesus another, and the stories humans have told about both of those facets are further expressions of the nature of God. There is a fractal nature to it that allows for infinite expression of our understanding of God.

The book written for me, is not just one book and not just one understanding of that book. My book is is shimmering multifaceted jewel that reflects one understanding of a story when the light hits it one way and another when the light changes.

What does not change is the stone itself, my understanding that while God, while vast, is the at the heart of the book written for me.

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*Alter, R. (2007). The Book of Psalms:: A translation with commentary (pp. 142). New York: W.W. Norton.

+Daniell, David (2003). The Bible in English: its history and influence. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-09930-4. via Wikipedia

All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gatewayunless otherwise noted.

Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.

14 July 2018

Gathered In

Today the Daily Office reading that caught my attention was from the Old Testament.

In Deuteronomy 31 we have reached the point in the story where Moses must hand over power to Josuha as God has made it clear that Moses will not live to cross the Jordan into the promised land.

For some reason the assigned reading skips the most poignant part of this story. Not only has God already told Moses he will die soon, but God keeps referring to Moses's imminent demise throughout the conversation between God, Moses, and Joshua.

Earlier this year my mother died. I was with her through her final weeks as she slowly released each of her responsibilities as she found she could no longer do them. The one she held on to the longest was co-ordinating Speaking to the Soul and while she did not want to give it up, she reached the point that she just wasn't mentally able to work that used to be easy for her. Letting go was made easier because a new editor volunteered and Mom got to see that the project would carry on with out her.

Still, it seemed to me that the hardest part of the process of dying for Mom, was when she reached the point where she had given up all of her responsibilities and regular interaction with friends.

Reading the passage from Deuteronomy, I wonder if that is how Moses felt in this time of transition. The time of his death had been appointed. He was, with God's encouragement, giving up his primary role and was seeing something he had been involved with for most of his adult life moving on without him.

As my mom was going though the same process, I was impressed with her strength and grace. Yes, she was mad this was happening to her, but she never took that anger out on me or Dad as we cared for her. She took care to let go of things when she could no longer do them and kept her own failing powers from sabotaging projects she loved. She didn't hang on until the bitter end and that made the end more full of grace.

In reading, Moses had one last job to do before he died. At God's direction, he wrote the Song of Moses and he and Joshua, together, recited it to the people.

He did his last job to the best of his ability and didn't rail against his fate or sabotage the succession of Joshua to his place.

Once the recital was finished, God told Moses to Mount Nebo where Moses would die and be gathered to his kin.

Having seen my mother give up one responsibility after another, all of them things she had loved doing, it did not surprise me that she died only a few days later. Maybe it should not then surprise me to see Moses make a similar end.

I will always miss my mom. I think of her every day. However, one of many great gifts she gave me was living into having the grace to let go. She, like Moses, did her last jobs and then left us to be gathered in with all those who went before.

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All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gateway

Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.

30 June 2018

Saints Peter and Paul

The idea I took away from my Sunday school days, was the idea the saints Peter and Paul were very much like brothers. The fought like cats and dogs about the fundamentals of the nascent Christian faith but both passionately believed in what they were building. That shared passion is reflected in the letters that tell their stories.

Today's lessons for their shared feast day encouraged me to broaden my understanding of the ideas Peter and Paul brought to the communities they worked with.

In the reading from Acts, Peter tells the story of two visions that brought him to a Gentile family. He had a vision in which he is told, "What God has made clean, you must not call profane." (Acts 11:9b). At the same time, men from Caesarea had their own vision of an angel who said: "Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved." (Acts 11:13b-14)

When Peter met and spoke with them, he saw the Holy Spirit come down on them as it had with his fellow disciples. He tells this story to help his fellow apostles and the believers in Judea who were critical of him for eating with the uncircumcised.

I had always thought that it was Paul that lead the way among the Gentiles and who opened up Christianity for all who wished to follow the teachings of Jesus and that Peter was deeply opposed to it.

I think part of that idea came from the other New Testament reading for their shared feast day. In this reading, Paul comes right out and says: "On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised..." (Galatians 2:7).

Given their histories, it makes a lot of sense that Peter, one of the first disciples of Jesus, would work among the circumcised; while, Paul, a Roman citizen with his 'road to Damascus' conversion, would serve the uncircumcised. They had very different life experience and had come to their faith in very different ways.

However the passage from the book of Acts is a good reminder that these two saints, while being so different, did work in tandem. The shared the goal of getting the Good News of Jesus's message of the Grace and Love of God into the wider world.

I wonder if Peter had taken to heart the experience Jesus had with both the Samaritan woman at the well and the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter.

Peter had also had the experience of hearing Jesus's parables first hand, and it would not surprise me if the vision he related in the book of Acts sprang directly from from the parable found in Matthew 15.

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” ... But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
~Matthew 15:10, 15-20

So while Paul would later come to see his role as that of the main missioner to the uncircumcised, Jesus had already planted the seed in Peter's mind that his message had the potential to reach far beyond the original disciples.

The story Peter tells also acts as a conversion experience for his audience in Judea:

And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
~Acts 11:16-18

The apostles and the believers in Judea go from criticizing him for spending time with the uncircumcised, to being stunned into silence by the power of Peter's story, to praising God for giving the Gentiles such a gift.

I suspect this conversion effect could only have come from Peter. Peter had a shared background with the group in Judea and a rapport with them that Paul probably didn't have. Paul had, after all, spent the first part of his life persecuting any Christians he could get his hands on. If the same message prompting acceptance of Gentile believers had come from Paul, even if by then the Christians in Judea trusted his conversion, it might not have had the same underlying power that Peter's telling of the story had.

Peter and Paul figured out that the messenger can matter in their shared ministry of spreading the Good News. There were communities that Peter could more easily reach because of his Jewish background and his direct connection to Jesus. There were communities that 'got' Paul better because he was a citizen of Rome (and therefor of the Known World at that time). There were communities that would trust Peter because they had known him all their lives and there were communities that better related to Paul's 'road to Damascus' conversion story.

For all that the narrative of Peter and Paul can be one of battling it out for the soul of the early church, from the passages appointed for their shared feast, it is clear that they agreed on at least three things: the message of Jesus was important enough to spend (and risk) their lives on; all are welcome to follow Jesus and enter into the community of believers; and sometimes, the messenger matters.

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All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gateway

Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.

16 June 2018

The Dust of God

There is a lot to work with in the readings for Friday in the season of Pentecost, Proper 5. Not the least because it is interesting to look at the difference and similarities in translation between the Book of Common Prayer and Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms.

Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
  Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me,
  O God of Israel.
...

The afflicted shall see and be glad;
  you who seek God, your heart shall live.
~Psalm 69:7, 34 Book of Common Prayer

Let not those who hope for You be shamed through me,
  Master, O Lord of armies;
Let those who seek You be not disgraced through me me,
  God of Israel.
...

The lowly have seen and rejoiced,
  those who seek God, let their hearts be strong.
~Psalm 69:7, 33 The Book of Psalms by Robert Alter*

The words that arrested my attention are similar in both texts. The psalmist is suffering from many afflictions in this psalm and is calling out to God to save them while also naming all of the suffering and uncertainly they are experiencing.

However in the midst of their own suffering, they take a moment to hope that their shame does not reflect badly on other people who wish to follow God. They express the hope that their visible suffering will not dissuade others from finding a relationship with God.

I think of this in relation to my own private theology and in a modern context. For example, I don't believe in prayer as a vending machine: put prayer in, get results out. I believe that prayer is a way to talk to God about what is going and, in the process, to bring my thoughts and desires into line with what I believe. Prayer doesn't change God, or make God act. Prayer changes me.

I also don't believe that God saves people from harm. If I believed that, it would mean everyone who dies or is hurt does so because God chose for it to happen. To me, that negates the entire concept of free will. If God is doing the choosing then nothing we can do has any meaning.

That does not mean that our will can override our circumstances or the randomness of the universe. If I die from getting run over by bus, or get cancer, or live to be 99, none of that is in my direct control, but neither is is God's choice for me. I think that God hopes I will make good decisions with my life, but in order for it to be my life, God can't step in and 'save me' from myself or from just plain bad luck. I am tiny, the universe is unfathomably large and will affect me in strange and unpredictable ways-- it the same way that a breeze blows a dust mote around. I can't choose actions of the breeze, but I can choose to remain in relationship with God while being blow along.

Going back the psalmist: if people know that I worship God and try to live by the rules God gave me, and I still visibly suffer, how can I hope to be a helpful representative of God to others?

I think the psalmist answers their own question in verse 34: The lowly have seen and rejoiced, those who seek God, let their hearts be strong.

The path to God is not easy. Life itself, with God or without, is hard. It is full of 'the slime of the deep', 'the water depths', and '[our] folly.'

But God, while respecting the boundaries of our free will, can still be a companion in our distress. The psalmist calls on God's kindness, clear sightedness, steadfastness, and compassion. God's attention to our prayers can help us rescue ourselves, not from death and destruction as that comes to everyone in time, but from losing our faith in God's abiding love for us.

One day we will all return to God. But while we are here on Earth, God lets us all find our own way, painful though that process might be. God always "listens to the needy" (Psalm 69:35a) and makes space for us inhabit as we offer ourselves in prayer.

...and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the breath returns to God who gave it.
~Ecclesiastes 12:7
-=-=-=-=-

*Mr Alter uses a different numbering system on this psalm than is used in the Book of Common Prayer.

All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gatewayor the Book of Common Prayer. A pdf of the Book of Common Prayer which contains both the lessons for Sundays and the Daily Office can be found at: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/book_of_common_prayer.pdf

Mission Clare is a good resource for daily morning and evening prayer online.

01 June 2018

What Price Love

In reading for the daily office for today, I found verse 15 of Psalm 31 speaking to me.

My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.
~Psalm 31:15

I noticed how the psalmist made a distinction between 'enemies' and 'those who persecute me' and it made me think about how often the worst damage done to people is not by enemies by friends or family.

How many of us actually have 'enemies' in reality? I would guess very few.

On the other hand, how many have had a relationship go bad, or had to learn how to create and enforce boundaries with people we thought we could trust, or had to cut off contact with a family member or friend because the relationship had become toxic? I suspect a great many more people have gone through this than have ever had an enemy.

The Psalms have a lot to say about enemies. There are over 80 references to enemies in the NRSV translation alone. Interestingly there are only 11 references to 'friend' and nearly all of those are the psalmists complaining about friends who have done them wrong*.

Looking at this, it feels like it was easier for the psalmists to complain to God about all of the evils their 'enemies' were doing to them, than to bring up issues they were having with their friends.

This is not surprising to me. It is much easier to dehumanize someone from a distance and put them into the category of 'evil enemy' than it is to stand up to friends or family who 'done you wrong' especially if those people are deeply enmeshed in your life. It is feels easier in the moment to make excuses for their behavior and hand wave it away than it is to confront them.

This is very true in close-knit communities where everyone knows everyone else and risking being the one to speak up can mean risking, not one, but all of your relationships in that group. It gets even more complicated when that group is a faith-based community that tries to take seriously Jesus's command:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
~Matthew 22:36-40

If we are called to put love first, what do we do when someone in our community acts badly? The temptation is try to preserve the community by sweeping the issue or behavior under the rug and pretend that it didn't happen.

Or, if you were ever like me as an earnest 20-something, spend hours working with the person and the group to try to find a solution. Not realizing that in some situations there is no good solution that will work for everyone-- especially if any of the people involved are acting in bad faith.

It took me a long time to learn that not every relationship is worth saving. Part of what delayed my learning was the idea that I should love my neighbors, all of my neighbors. In part, my issue was a lack of understanding of the complexity and fierceness of love. My early ideas of love were a lot like the fiction I wrote at the time: everyone hugs at the end and feels better. That rather one-dimensional view of love left no room for dealing with the damage a close friend or family member could do. If there was no way to 'hug it out' because the relationship was toxic, the person was spiraling out of control, or they were abusive, what then?

How to protect myself from "those who persecute me" when those people are my friends and family and not an isolated 'enemy'?

The key, I think, is in Jesus's command itself-- we are to love others as we love ourselves. We are to love our neighbors, yes; but not at the exclusion of caring for our own needs. When we find ourselves in a relationship that is damaging, then we need to love ourselves enough to take action.

Embracing love as Jesus calls us to, does not mean embracing being passive. I firmly believe that the love Jesus talks about is an action not a feeling. It is something we are meant to do not just experience. Part of loving our neighbors and ourselves is setting healthy boundaries and calling out destructive behavior when we see it.

Jesus called us to make heaven on earth through love. To do that we need to make it clear that abuse, bad actions, and bad faith are not, and never have been, any part of love.

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*Which makes me think that the Pslams and the Blues have a lot more in common than I ever realized.

All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gateway or the Book of Common Prayer. A pdf of the Book of Common Prayer which contains both the lessons for Sundays and the Daily Office can be found at: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/book_of_common_prayer.pdf

Mission Clare is a good resource for daily morning and evening prayer online.

19 May 2018

Endurance

They shall perish, but you will endure;
they all shall wear out like a garment;
as clothing you will change them,
and they shall be changed;
~Psalm 102: 26

Once, long ago, I wrote ElfQuest fan fiction. I fell in love with the stories as a young adult and they were some of the first comics I ever read.

When I started college, one of the first friends I made came from our shared interest in the ElfQuest series. This was before the Internet, so finding people with shared interests was more a matter of luck than diligent searching. This friend introduced me to the idea of fan fiction: that people could like something so much it would inspire them to write their own stories set in the same world.

Some of the characters we were writing about were both artists as close to immortal as makes no never-mind. I became fascinated with the idea that they would outlive any artwork they made. More than that, that their subjective experience of time, might cause them to feel like a tapestry they spent years making turned to dust in the blink of an eye.

Would they go back an re-make a favorite piece that had been destroyed by time? Would their aesthetic have changed so much in the intervening decades that they would not be able to imagine re-creating something, even if it was beloved? Would they even miss something that had vanished while their attention was elsewhere?

At the time, I had a lot less life experience and a lot less knowledge about how fragile most art is. Thirty-years on, I have seen moths go through my closet and snack on handmade woolens, I have worn favorite socks until they can no longer be darned, and I have made garments that I have worn until trying to patch them leads to the results cited in the Gospel of Matthew that is part of today's Daily Office:

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak, for the patch pulls away from the cloak, and a worse tear is made.
~Matthew 9:16

Nothing tangible can endure in its original form forever, even million-year-old fossils are rock-shadows of more transient forms of life.

Like our garments, we will wear out in time. The things we make, the events we plan, the actions we take will all fade away from the world; sometimes before we ourselves do.

I wonder if that is the reason that in the same passage from Mathew that is cited above, Jesus says: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. (Matt 9:13)

Sacrificing an object, an animal, or even some of my time to God may be seen as transactional and short term. In this moment, I do X in exhange for Y. The relationship does not have to persist past the moment of sacrifice. Both sacrifice and relationship are transitory and temporary.

When Jesus calls for mercy rather than sacrifice he calls us into a state of being. Instead of giving a thing that moth and rust can destroy, he asks us to give our attention and focus; to use our energy to show mercy rather than to judge.

When we judge we put a wall between ourselves and other people. This wall of our own opinion can make it impossible to see people as human. As with the Pharisees, judgment turns fellow humans into "tax collectors" or "sinners" instead of Zacchaeus or Mary or any of the other followers who Jesus called to him by name.

We shall all perish, we shall all wear out like our favorite pair of socks but until then we can take on Jesus's request to hear and show mercy to those around us.

Doing so might be harder than making a one-time sacrifice, but it has a great potential to open our hearts and allow us to hear Jesus call us into his love by name.

-=-=-=-

All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gateway.

The psalm is from the Book of Common Prayer. A pdf of the Book of Common Prayer containing both the lessons for Sundays and the Daily Office can be found at: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/book_of_common_prayer.pdf

Mission Clare is a good resource for daily morning and evening prayer online.

22 April 2018

Ann Fontaine, Rest In Peace

My mom, Ann Fontaine, passed away peacefully on April 18th at home after several weeks of hospice care.

We have set up a Memorial site where I can post the latest on the plans for her memorial service,  friends can share memories of her or post the dates of any local celebrations of her life they are hosting, and where we can preserve her "What the Tide Brings In" blog posts.

The site is: http://seashellseller.org



Come, Thou

As most readers already know my mom, Ann Fontaine, passed away earlier this week.

To say I will miss her greatly is an enormous understatement. I don't think I even realize how much I will miss her. I know from the many cards, emails, texts, and social media contacts that I am not the only one.

Her favorite hymn was Come Thou Font of Every Blessing". It is where she got the title for her book of reflections on daily office and it captured her feeling of being found by God.

In one of the last in-depth conversations I had with her she said she felt that her entire life, especially in the church, was all about the serendipity that was created by her relationships.

All of the opportunities she had to be active in the church came from people she already knew either inviting her to join a project or introducing her to other people.

She built relationships all her life. I knew she was ready to go the day she told me she couldn't have any more visitors.

She also said, about politics in the church, to fight the good fight for what you believe in but never make it personal and always do what you can to keep or restore relationships with people.

Her vision of the church was that you are beloved of Jesus no matter what; and there is always a place at the table for you.

She worked to help the church be a place where people could build intentional communities. She worked hard to bring Education for Ministry (EFM) to even more people through on-line gatherings, she was a strong supporter of the movement to allow for the ordination of local priests who are raised up to serve small communities that would never be able afford a full-time priest. When she ran HR Camp in the 1980's she had the kids design the rules they would live under; in the process, teaching them that many of the 'rules' in society that we take for granted can actually be changed through human effort.

The reading from the New Testament for today, speaks to the idea that it's not a bad idea to question the rules we make for ourselves, or that we become enamored of:

...why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.
~Colossians 2:20b-23

As I go forward in to the world without my mom, I hope to carry with me her understanding that much that seems fixed in the world can actually be changed with effort; that people and relationships are precious; and that standing up for what you believe in is difficult but worth doing.

I leave you with the text to her favorite hymn. She wanders no more. She is deep within God's infinite love and grace.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I find my greatest treasure;
hither by thy help I've come;
and I hope by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger
wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for Thy courts above.

~Robert Robinson set to Nettleton
Hymn #686 1982 Hymnal

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All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gateway.

A pdf of the Book of Common Prayer which contains both the lessons for Sundays and the Daily Office can be found at: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/book_of_common_prayer.pdf

Mission Clare is a good resource for daily morning and evening prayer online.

07 April 2018

In Waiting

I have settled in 'for the duration' with my Mom and Dad at their home on the Oregon Coast. I am helping my Dad care for my Mom as she is in the final stages of her illness.*

In our church year, we are in the time of the disciples just beginning to realize the the promise of the Resurrection has been fulfilled.

In the reading for Friday, 6 April we have the Gospel of Luke 24:1-12 where Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them see the angels at the tomb who tell the women that Jesus is no longer among the dead, but has risen.

I don't really have time for the story of the resurrection this year. My attention is focused on doing my best to keep Mom comfortable and to work with Dad so neither of us burn out while caring for her. No only are we living day-to-day, but from moment-to-moment, and from task-to task.

Mom and I were watching the new series of Call the Midwife and a line jumped out at me:

Waiting for a death is like waiting for a birth, we must find ways to occupy ourselves.
~Call the Midwife, Season 7, Episode 1.

Helping out in a household where someone needs full time care is all about doing the next thing in front of you: doing little jobs for them, washing dishes, making meals, washing laundry, picking up the mail, buying groceries, running errands all have to be done and done in a way that fits in around the energy and schedule of the patient-- because her comfort is the paramount reason all of these chores need to get done.

The thing I have found, which is reflected in the quote from 'Call the Midwife,' is that each of these necessary tasks becomes its own small ministry for my mom or dad.

At home, my husband does the laundry and I fold and put it away. Here, I not only wash, dry, fold, and put away, I spend time prepping the whites the way I know Mom likes (treat for stains, soak in Oxy-clean, wash on the bulky setting). I do each step mindfully and try to give it my full attention and it becomes a spiritual practice of its own.

When Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women came to the tomb with the spices they had prepared for the body of Jesus they were dealing with the practical reality of the work a death entails. In Luke's telling of the story, the women had seen Jesus at the crucified. They had watched as his body was taken down and given to Joesph of Arimathea. They had seen it laid in the tomb and they had gone home to prepare what was needful for such a burial.

They had gone from task to task, maybe not thinking beyond the needs of the immediate moment, until it was time to go to the tomb and do the work of preparing the body of Jesus according to what was proper and would do him honor in death.

When they got to the tomb, all their plans and ideas were thrown into disarray. The body of Jesus was gone and here were two angels telling them that the promise of resurrection had been fulfilled.

I wonder if some of them weren't angry at this revelation. Grief is a strange beast and I, personally, am not great about having my plans upset-- especially if I am emotionally invested in them. I could see myself being bewildered and angry at Jesus for upending my plans for the day by not staying dead.

I don't know what feelings the women had as they saw the angels and heard the good news of Jesus' resurrection; just as I don't know how I will feel when my Mom eventually becomes to weak to stay in this world with us.

I am pretty sure she won't rise on the 3rd day. (If she was planning on it, she would have told me in no uncertain terms by now.) Other than that I have no idea of what life without her will be like.

For now, I don't have to think about that. Mom, Dad and I have a pact: We live in the present moment and don't think much beyond the needs of the day.

Like the women who went home and prepared the spices after they had seen Jesus laid in the tomb, I am occupying myself and not thinking about the moment I must go to the tomb.

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*I am very lucky to have a husband, housemate, and daughter who support and encourage me in this. I am also lucky that my Dad, my Mom, and I all seem to work well with each other in various combinations.

All bible quotes are from the NRSV text at Bible Gateway.

A pdf of the Book of Common Prayer which contains both the lessons for Sundays and the Daily Office can be found at: https://www.episcopalchurch.org/files/book_of_common_prayer.pdf

Mission Clare is a good resource for daily morning and evening prayer online.