Worship 

There are many things that distinguish a pilgrimage from a holiday or other kinds of organized tours. We worship together. A lot. The first thing we did together (after sharing food, of course) was to share mass. 

Lynn Adams reflects on today’s worship:

Being crowded into the Elijah Chapel and praying in our familiar forms; being supremely tired and also extremely waked up by the feeling that a very big story happened right here to Jesus and his lovably clueless disciples; the stormy atmosphere—all this pulled me into a feeling that something even more extreme or extraordinary is present than I can quite catch. 

Our first mass together


Kierstin Brown offers this snippet of our time in that chapel: ​
​You can read more about our visit to the Church of the Transfiguration here

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Day Three: Arrival and Transfiguration

Our tired, happy group arrived in Tel Aviv at 9:30am, Israel time, collected ourselves and our luggage, found our guide, Ghassan, and boarded the bus that will be our home away from our various homes away from home for the next 9 days.

“”We drove past small towns and rich farmland to meet up for lunch with our group members who had arrived from other places the previous day. Those people had the benefit of this lovely sunrise over the Sea of Galilee on Tuesday morning; it rained most of the day but we hope for a similar sunrise Wednesday or Thursday!

Joe McDermott contributed the rest of today’s post:

Today at the beginning of our Pilgrimage here in Israel and Palestine, we went to the top of Mount Tabor, where believers hold that the Transfiguration took place. (See: Matthew, Chapter 17)  We’d had many paths to gather here in the Holy Land (I’ll take my pre-pilgrimage holiday over the diversion to Newark and 9 hour layover many shared any day!), and this was a fitting place to begin.

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There are two churches at the top of a striking mount rising up out of the plains, one Franciscan and Greek Orthodox (which seems to be closed). The pictures are of the Franciscan church exterior, the nave, detail of the mosaic above the main altar, Rev Rob Rhodes (Associate Rector at St Paul’s) celebrating Mass in the Elijah side chapel, the detail of Moses above the altar in the other side chapel, and a view from the church to the valley below. 
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 It became clear I wasn’t alone finding myself in awe to be standing for the first time in a place Jesus walked.  Through our shared liturgy, we became a transformed gathering of pilgrims, shedding any tourist-identity we still had tagging along.  Jesus reveals himself to us – sometimes in dazzling white – and sometimes asks us to hold that in our hearts until the time is right.  I hold this experience in my heart and know that I will have the skill and insight to share it in the right way when the time is right.  We as a group see ourselves differently as well, transformed by the experience.  We went up the mount perhaps a group of tourists and came down a community of pilgrims.  This is a fitting beginning.

 Growing up Camp Filed, the former Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) summer camp and retreat where Sleeping Lady Conference Center is now outside Leavenworth, Washington, was very important to me and my family.  Thus beginning at Mount Tabor was particularly poignant for me as the Chapel at Camp Field was the Chapel of the Transfiguration and I had occasion to remember dear friends in my prayers there this afternoon.

Remembering where we come from and entering into a spirit of pilgrimage, its been a good day.

 

Day Two: Newark. 

We arrived in Newark at 7am after a relatively short and uneventful flight across the country. With a 9-hour layover ahead of us, we went our various ways: some went into the city, some to a hotel room for a shower and a nap, some relaxed in the airport’s Meditation Room, and others wandered the airport, in search of breakfast and then lunch.

The Newark Airport is fairly new and completely automated, especially when it comes to selling just about everything. However, the airport has also adopted the good practice of asking for instant, real-time feedback!


I asked people which button they’d press for today and while most of our pilgrims are sleep-deprived and disappointed not to be closer to the Holy Land, they all said they’d press the yellow button, because the day held difficulties and also much for which to be grateful. Again, like life.

The Pilgrimage Begins. Sort of.

I arrived at the airport to find a series of texts and missed calls indicating that bad weather in San Francisco meant a series of flight delays, and rerouting our group, necessitating an overnight flight to Newark and another overnight to Tel Aviv! As I write this, most of us have been at SeaTac for almost eight hours! Rather than arriving at our hotel on the shores of Galilee late Monday, we won’t arrive until Tuesday afternoon. 

My first response was to be disappointed at the delay of the start of our pilgrimage—not to mention the hours spent in airports! It was helpful to remember that we’re on pilgrimage through most of life. Our pilgrimage to the Holy Land began when we left our houses this afternoon, or maybe this morning with the prayers of our congregations, or perhaps when we began dreaming of this journey many months ago.  And so, already on pilgrimage, we’re blessed to have this early reminder that when we go on pilgrimage, we’re not really in control of how the journey unfolds. Like most of life. 

That said, although as of this writing we haven’t yet left Seattle, we have, as pilgrims, had dinner together and prayed Evening Prayer together. Stay tuned. 

The subversive power of resurrection

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Part of my Lenten journey included the Stations of the Cross most Wednesdays. It was a blessing to make that journey-within-a-journey week after week. If you’ve ever participated in this service you are familiar with the verse and response: “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.” Saying those words on my knees, over and over in the darkness of the Wednesday evening liturgy got them into my gut in a new way. O Christ, by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

So here we are, on the first day of the week, on the other side of the cross. Do we feel redeemed? What about the world? What would a redeemed world look like? I think most of us would agree that it would look different from our world.

I could tell stories of terror and violence on the other side of the planet, in Brussels, Istanbul, or Jakarta, but I don’t have to; it’s all around us. We could look at poverty and desperation in another hemisphere, but we need only walk around our block. We can read about broken hearts in the daily news, or we can find them in our neighbors, our friends, and sometimes, in ourselves. We could look toward another era, an earlier time, for fear and civic unrest, but it’s here, in our time. More and more people I speak with talk about their fears for our own nation, our place in the world. You don’t need me to tell you stories of bad news.

the-empty-tomb

We live in a time not unlike the time and place where Jesus’ first disciples encountered the empty tomb, a time deeply entrenched in a system of racial and religious prejudice and economic inequity that made everyone powerless to effect change.

What do we do about this? What do we have to say about this on Easter morning? If you get together with friends or family later today and talk to them about your morning, and if they say—as my friends often say—“Oh, yeah, it’s Easter….I forgot,” is there anything to say to them about this day that connects with the rest of life?

Yes. Tell them about the “subversive power of the resurrection.” I’m borrowing the phrase from New Testament theologian Nancy Claire Pittman, who has written that resurrection is “an invitation to live as Jesus lived, a doorway to a life in which meals are shared with enemies, healing is offered to the hopeless, prophetic challenges are issued to the powerful. Only now it is not Jesus who does these things, it is we ourselves who see … the subversive power of the resurrection in order to live it now.”

Tell them about the subversive power of baptism.

Years ago, I had the privilege of participating in the baptism of my two-year-old niece. It was a complicated situation. My niece and her big brother were not churchgoers; my sister-in-law was having them baptized to please her father, who was dying three thousand miles away. My niece was having none of this. She screamed and cried all the way through the procession to the font. She hadn’t had her nails trimmed in a while and her mother, who was carrying her, had scratches on her neck.

The priest used a line I’ve borrowed whenever I’ve baptized a fussy baby. He said: “We all respond to God this way sometimes…” When it came time for the actual baptism, she struggled even more. The priest turned toward the congregation with a big smile and said: “I think we’re all going to get a little wet.”

In a few minutes, we’re all going to get a little wet. There are cathedrals that do asperges with giant branches of water from a swimming-pool sized font, and everyone gets soaked. This water is a tangible reminder of who we are, why we are here, and who we belong to.

When we blessed the water earlier this morning, we remembered the water of creation, the water through which God delivered God’s people into the land of promise, the water in which Jesus himself was baptized. This is the same water that fills our font, the water with which we washed each other’s feet on Maundy Thursday, the water we used to wash this altar.

The water is the same water drunk by our enemies and those who wish us harm, the water that bathes the person with whom we are angry, the person who has hurt us, the person who doesn’t know we exist.

Remembering these connections across time and borders has never been more important than at this moment in our common life. Through the call-and-response of the baptismal covenant, we become active participants, stakeholders in the life of the one who rose from the dead and who goes before us in the transformation of the world.

LS20120612_stpaul_005-smallWe adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world. The cross itself is redeemed: God turns a shameful death into triumph over death. Hence the crucifix hangs right here where we feast and celebrate. God redeems our sin and alienation, exchanging them for love and hope.

Easter does not erase suffering. Easter says that God never stops being present in suffering and that we, too, as followers of the risen Jesus, can be present for those who suffer, can be present in vulnerability, in love, in the mighty, subversive power poured onto us in the waters of baptism.

Before dawn, we heard the Exsultet, an ancient hymn of praise that proclaims our Easter faith: This is the night when you brought our ancestors out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land….this is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and rose victorious from the grave.

We don’t say “that was the night,” but this is the night. Every time we proclaim resurrection we proclaim liberation of the oppressed, food for the hungry, good news for the downtrodden. The resurrection is now. The life we covenant to live in baptism is now. Like the prophets and storytellers whose words fill this day, we bring into this moment all the suffering and fear around us and we take from this moment the life that cannot die, the life that, as George Herbert says, killeth death.

The angels of the Lord ask: why do you look for the living among the dead? Witnessing and experiencing the subversive power of the resurrection, the subversive power of baptism, is as important now as it has ever been. Unless we’re going to live out our lives inside the empty tomb, we must find ways to wield our baptismal identity for good.

Maybe redeeming the world is redeeming fear and turning it into courage. Perhaps redeeming the world is about redeeming doubt and turning them into good news. What if it’s redeeming complacency and resignation, to turn it into outrage and action? What if redeeming the world is about finding stories of love winning, and telling those stories. Maybe redeeming the world is about being those stories, living those stories. Let’s find out.

 

 

Time takes time

I’ve been inspired, the past few days, by the generous continuum of ways people think about, express, and adopt resolutions for the New Year. Or not. One friend posted: “This isn’t Lent, folks!” Which reminds me of a conversation in early Lent about giving up and taking on for Lent. Someone in that group said: “that sounds more like a bunch of New Year’s resolutions than penitence and renewal.” They’re both right, of course.

resolutionsI tend to either pass up the opportunity provided by the turning of the calendar, to make change, or I come up with a long list doomed to fail. Historically, I’ve an an all or nothing gal. Like most people, many of my resolutions tend to be around health and fitness. I’m not alone here, I know. I think two years ago I wanted bench press my body weight, learn to do handstand push-ups, and train for a Tough Mudder event. Like a lot of people, my New Year’s resolutions historically have a touch of wanting to turn myself into someone else; a younger, more serene version of myself, perhaps.

There’s no such thing as a clean slate. We bring all of who we are into each year and each endeavor. Sure, I have too many unfinished knitting projects I should bind off in 2016. I’d like to pack healthy snacks more often. I chronically want to lose five pounds. But I am who I am and I’m kind of done with failure.

This week, I was chatting with a wise person about my fitness goals for the coming year and he gave me some profound advice. (“Profound” may just be another way of saying he said exactly what I needed to hear.) He said: “Think about what you want to be really good at ten years from now, and work toward that.” I immediately knew what that longterm goal was. Not that I’ll never tell; I don’t want to jinx it.

timeAnd the point is not so much the goal as the long view, the nudge to remember that time takes time. Transformation takes forever. Whether it’s moving to a new city, embedding oneself in a new community, making new friends, doing a better job of loving one’s neighbor or sharing wealth or staying healthy and injury-free over a long period of time…all of these things take time. Sometimes, forever. And that’s good news.

Accepted wisdom is that most people have broken their resolutions by the third Monday in January. But imagine that it’s not about breaking or keeping, but being faithful to a larger vision. Bring it on.

 

Stage directions from the Bible

I am a huge fan of the works of William Shakespeare. Like a lot of people in strange lines of work, I was an English major, and so I was exposed to a lot of Shakespeare, not just the obligatory eighth-grade reading of MacBeth and tenth-grade reading of Romeo and Juliet, but throughout college. Last fall I had an ongoing discussion with my son about why it would behoove him, as a possible college English major himself, to take a Shakespeare elective in his last semester of high school. (He is having none of it.)

randjAs I’ve reflected these past few weeks on the Gospel of Mark, the thing that has me thinking about Shakespeare is not any particular play, but stage directions. Shakespeare’s stage directions were always very spare, essential three- or four-word instructions that Shakespeare left, instructions that always included a verb and only more if absolutely necessary. The most famous of these comes from “The Winter’s Tale”: Exit, pursued by a bear. Somewhere in the development of playwriting—and if your studies took you out of the 17th century you will know more than I do about this—stage directions became far more than the bare essentials. Some playwrights seem to need to spell out every minute detail of a scene, leaving nothing to individual directors, producers or, heaven forbid, the actors.

Mark’s gospel is like Shakespeare’s stage directions. Especially this Epiphany season. Our gospels resound with Epiphany verbs. These are the verbs that reflect what Jesus did. They also are our one-word stage directions for being followers: Come, proclaim, repent, believe, call, leave, go, follow, teach, heal. 

Much is left to the imagination. And, we hope, to the Spirit. As we strive to follow, believe, go, or teach, no one is going to tell us where to stand or what to wear or what to do with our hands. That’s up to us. Gloriously challenging and freeing. What Epiphany verbs are going to direct you in the coming weeks?