April 24, 2020
Recollection and Vision through Photography
I long ago bought a book entitled, A New England Autumn (Photographs by Gerd Kittel and Introduction by Eleanor Munro), because after paging through some of the photographs in the book I was moved to spend more time with them. I imagine I did go home and look some more, but I never really gave it the attention that it deserved.
So, in the midst of this Stay-at-Home order, I pulled it off the shelf and discovered several things. First off, the introduction by Eleanor Munro was as much poetic memoir as it was an examination of the photographs. But her writing is such that I am looking toward reading other works by her.
Then I turned to the photographs. There are eighty photographs, most of them without any people present, though some include the inhabitants of the towns where Gerd Kittel spent time engaging his craft and the wonder about him.
What I noticed as I spent time with the photographs was how they brought back memories for me, recollections of time spent, not in New England, but of summer vacations in Michigan when I was young. A certain view of a woods that one could walk through, brought back memories of doing just that years ago. A photograph of a cluster of cottages, with the owner’s house in the rear, brought back pictures of my visits to Michigan to the family home, which had once been an inn, with cottages spread around the property. By the time I saw them, those cottages were no longer being rented, and had fallen into some disrepair, but they stood as a testament to the thriving business that my grandparents had once owned.
And in the midst of my fond recollections, I realized how powerful such images can be in our worship and education activities. Even now, while we are physically distant from one another, we can share images via Zoom, Facebook or any of the other available platforms, as well as through emails. In fact, sharing them through email before a worship time or other activity will give people an opportunity to reflect upon the images and perhaps then experience the virtual time together in even richer ways. Creativity, and all that it evokes, will help us to transcend this time of physical separation.
April 17, 2020
Unique Among Many
As I was speaking to my congregation via Zoom on Easter, I talked about the moment in the garden when Mary encounters the resurrected Jesus. This is The Moment that defines Christianity. It is the Resurrection that defines our calling as Christians. People may love Christmas, amidst the pageantry and gift giving, but without the Resurrection there would be no Christmas as we celebrate it.
So, we celebrated the Resurrection, in the midst of the pandemic that has affected our world. And that virus doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if we are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and, well you get the idea. There is a certain commonality that links us as we are all susceptible to the virus and its effects.
While we each rightly honor and celebrate the unique traditions and holy days of our different religions, we need to do so with an understanding of how we relate to one another, and how we are bound together, all of us being God’s people. It is certainly the unique elements of Christianity say, or Judaism, or Islam, that draw us to walk in the traditions of our chosen path. And yet, our claims to uniqueness, at the exclusion of others, has always been a source of conflict, rather than moving us toward harmony in our world.
I have been reflecting upon this as I began reading a book of poems from ancient Greece entitled, A Garden of Greek Verse. This was a gift to me a while back, and one of those books that I decided to take off the shelf during this time of staying-at-home. As I started reading, first the notes about Greek painting, since the book is richly illustrated with examples of various forms of Greek art, and then as I began to read the poems themselves, I was struck by the dates that were offered for the lives of the poets, and for the art that was created in different time periods. I immediately began to equate those dates with the time of Moses for instance, or with the time of Solomon or the exile into Babylon. It was a stark reminder of the breadth of civilization across time, even though my own acquaintance is definitely with the dates and events of the people of the Bible. At some points along the way I studied world history, but my life in ministry has focused upon the faith traditions and stories of Judaism and Christianity. In some sense it is logical that I have narrowed my focus. Yet, nothing operates in a vacuum, and our understanding and appreciation for the larger picture is truly important.
Perhaps the art of various traditions, both the practical expressions that graced everyday objects, and the creations with distinctly religious or ritualistic purposes, provides us with an opening for learning and discussion. In both viewing the art, and imagining the people and culture that created such beauty, we can realize the connections that we share with one another. Yes, we are all still unique, but appreciating the uniqueness of both ourselves and others helps to make for a richer life, a life of truly being bound together as God’s children.
April 10, 2020
Many years ago, I was introduced to a poem by John Donne entitled “Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward.” It is centuries old, of course, and the language is certainly antiquated for our day, and yet, I am reminded of it, and re-read it, every year at this time. It is one of my routines during Holy Week. And, despite being more than four centuries old, I find beauty and depth and spiritual searching in it.
Donne speaks of riding toward the West, while his soul bends toward the East. He writes, “There I should see a Sunne, by rising set, And by that setting endlesse day beget.” He recalls those events of many centuries before, when Jesus died through the crucifixion, yet, through his death he gave to us eternal life. It is a basic statement of Christian faith, and yet the very ancient feel of the words makes me pause to consider again the life-changing events of that day.
Donne is recalling the day of Jesus’ death, even while he is riding, not toward Jerusalem, as if on a pilgrimage, but rather riding Westward, in the exact opposite direction. His opening words in the poem are actually incredibly pertinent to our own day. He speaks of the soul, of your soul and my soul, and how in the day to day living of our lives we tend to lose ourselves. In the hurried ways that we move, he says, we often move away from our soul’s true desires, being carried away by either pleasure or business to places where our soul is not truly fed, and not intimately connected to God.
Donne himself, on the day of Good Friday, in the year 1613, is indeed riding Westward, even as he feels the pull of his soul bending toward the East. It is in the depth of his soul’s reflection that he ponders the death of Jesus. He recalls that even nature paused on that day long ago, when God’s “footstoole” cracked and the “Sunne” winked, allusions to the shaking of the earth and the darkening of the sky while Jesus was on the cross.
He concludes the poem with a prayer of sorts, his final words being, “Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace, That thou may’st know mee, and I’ll turne my face.”
On this Good Friday, 2020, may we also pause from whatever we are doing, and thereby experience God’s grace, and the restoration of God’s image within us.
April 3, 2020
As I was preparing for worship via Zoom last Sunday, I was still learning what we can do in that format, and what doesn’t work too well. In my Disciples of Christ tradition, we celebrate communion each week. It is a challenge to do that when we are not with one another to share the bread and the cup. In fact, in our first worship gathering with Zoom we just didn’t have communion. But last Sunday, at the suggestion of one of my leaders, we had everyone select items at home to represent the bread and cup, recognizing that remembering Jesus is what is important, not a piece of matzoh and a cup of juice. So, we shared communion together from our multitude of locations. And it worked.
But as we now look at celebrating Palm Sunday, and Easter, while being apart from one another, it is again a challenge to envision worship, especially on these two Sundays that tend to be experienced through a variety of items that tell the story, including the palms on the Sunday of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, and the lilies and colors and decorations that usually accompany the celebration of the Resurrection.
Of course, for those churches who gather a few worship leaders together, and stream their worship gathering, it is possible for everything to look much like it usually does on those Sundays, just absent the congregation. But for churches who don’t yet stream services, especially for smaller congregations with less resources, there needs to be additional thought and creativity brought to the situation.
Looking toward Palm Sunday, one option is to invite people to bring some kind of green plant into the space they use to join the Zoom gathering. It doesn’t have to be a palm tree, although for those who have palms in their yards, the obvious choice is to bring a small frond or two to the worship time. But the sense of celebration doesn’t need to be limited to plants and palm fronds. Anything people have at hand that symbolizes a way in which they celebrate an important occasion – from balloons to banners to the clothes they wear – can add to the sense of celebration of Palm Sunday.
Then, during Holy Week, our church family usually has a Maundy Thursday service, with readings and candles and a sense of darkness that is broken into only by the small light of Christ that cannot be extinguished. This would seem to translate more easily into meeting via Zoom. Each person can be invited to light their own candle, and to extinguish it at a certain point, if that is how the service is structured. To bring something purple into each person’s space, to recognize the liturgical color, can also provide a setting for folks. The sharing of readings is easy with Zoom. And the celebration of communion can happen as described above.
Then comes Easter. Some people may go out and buy lilies, although I wouldn’t encourage a specific trip out for that right now. But bringing items of brilliant colors into their space, especially colors related to the light of Resurrection, is something that everyone can easily do. I am certain you can imagine other poignant ways to help set the stage for the celebration of this great day. But when it comes down to it, what is most important is proclaiming the story itself, in all of its mystery, wonder and joy.
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