Monday, April 19, 2010

Thomas Merton saves the day (again)

"The only unhappiness," Thomas Merton wrote, "is not to love God."

I'm reading Merton's Dialogues with silence in preparation for a Contemplative Prayer session I'm offering this week. For several days now, I've entered into a time of unrest and anxiety, which relates to the imminent sabbatical of my rector -- and my stepping into his role (all the while running my own race in our lovely, crazy church). Merton calms the madness. His words jump from the page to my ears like notes played in perfect tune:

O flaming Heart,
Unseen and unimagined in this wilderness,
You, You alone are real, and here I've found You.
Here will I love and praise You in a tongueless death,
Until my white devoted bones,
Long bleached and polished by the winds of this Sahara,
Relive at Your command,
Rise and unfold the flowers of their everlasting spring.

(from Dialogues, p. 7)

Friday, April 09, 2010

Peace be with you

One of the preachers I admire suggests that a sermon does its job best if someone becomes uncomfortable (or gets mad at the preacher) upon hearing it. This Sunday, I may make some people uncomfortable. (It's time; I've been pretty gracious for three years.)

A visiting liturgist spoke at our recent clergy day, and gave evidence that the passing of the peace in church can so easily be unwelcoming, when the intent is the exact opposite. While newcomers or visitors awkwardly await a handshake, others around them share extended, effusive bear hugs or kisses as though it's a family reunion (which, some will argue, it is). But the more the exchange of words get away from passing the peace (making lunch plans, exchanging recipes), the time becomes a kind of intermission with gymnastics -- or at least some crazy pew-leaping -- which can give the offertory sentence a quality of desperation when attempting to call people back into worship.

Not long ago, I received the gift of an authentic, brief, and much-needed passing of God's peace from a colleague during an extremely chaotic Eucharist. This exchange meant so much to me that I'm willing to offend some people to get the circus atmosphere to stop. We'll see how it goes.