We’re going to do something a little different today. In place of a sermon, I’m going to tell you a story.
It takes place in Jerusalem in the year 70. The city is at war with Rome, which is fighting to crush a Jewish uprising.
Jerusalem is under siege, and the Roman army is about to break through the last wall holding it back.
The city is jammed with Jewish rebels and refugees from Galilee, and they’re all starving.
This is such a peaceful place, at any time of day. I was so aware of the rich smell of grass and earth. You can hear the whoosh of passing traffic, but it seems so far away. Many of the names have long since worn off the headstones. Quite a few of those that are legible are people I knew. Others represent families still living in the area, even after a hundred or two hundred years. The older I get, the more aware I am that I occupy this space between generations. I remember my mother and my grandmothers. I know I that in some ways I carry many of their hopes forward, manifest in my values and the way I live. Other things–certainly my ordination–would astound them. Would they approve? I can only imagine. And I, for my part, look at my granddaughter and have so many hopes for her. I hope for peace and stability for her world. I worry about the impact of climate change. I pray, and I vote.
The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
I almost always carry a camera. At minimum the camera in my phone, but usually also something a little more robust. Photography is a spiritual practice for me, a discipline of opening my soul to the beauty that is all around, reflecting the beauty of the Creator.
Lately I’ve also been cultivating an awareness of beauty beyond the beautiful image. Most often this means an awareness of all kinds of goodness in this world, from the soft touch of a fall breeze to the selfless generosity of one parishioner’s act of kindness toward another.
These things matter. This isn’t just a form of escapism from so much that is ugly and unjust all around us. As the restorative justice activist Howard Zehr wrote in his book titled “The Little Book of Contemplative Photography: Seeing with wonder, respect, and humility,” this kind of contemplative practice is “an avenue of refreshment and insight,” a way to “renew ourselves while gaining new insights into ourselves, the creation, and the creator.”
It’s what we need to be sustained in our fight against the ugliness, and to be reminded of our purpose in that effort.
This week, I introduced my granddaughter, who is not quite 2, to animal crackers, and I think we both agree: Life is very good.
A few of us gathered yesterday at the outdoor chapel for the Blessing of Animals in honor of the feast of St. Francis, which was last week: That saint who understood so very well that nature and Creation are filled with God’s goodness, that Creation is sacred and it’s the first place where we meet God. It was a nice ceremony. It was small. There was a lot of canine energy out there. And it was an opportunity for us to give thanks for those animals, to give thanks for the companionship that our pets provide to us.
So it’s seems ironic to come back 24 hours later and hear the first reading from the Book of Genesis, which tell us very explicitly that animal companionship is not enough. No matter how cute and warm and furry they are, no matter how loyal and devoted they are, our dogs and cats are not enough. We were made for something more.
We were made for relationship with others who can meet us on our own level. God was there with us from the beginning, but God also wants us to have everyday companions made of flesh and bone who can walk with us here on this earth. In that reading, when God says that it is not good for Adam to be alone, that’s the first time in all of the Creation stories that God looks at anything and says it’s not good. It’s not good for us to be alone. We were made for relationship. We were made to be in relationship with others like us.
Christa, Edwina Sandys, Cathedral of St. John the Divine
I took these photos back in the spring. I find this so very powerful and thought-provoking.
The only images I made then were these straight-on shots, perhaps because the question that grabbed me at the time was, what if? … what if you walked into church and this is what you saw?
I’m still answering that for myself, and pondering follow-up questions: … about what it means to think of God as one of us … about lifting up the suffering of women as meaningful and redemptive … and about what it would mean to see ourselves and each other as “fully represented in society, especially in its most powerful and iconic institutions,” as it says on the cathedral website …
I’m still intending to find time to go back and contemplate this (with my heart and with my camera, of course) from other perspectives, but Christa has been very much in my thoughts and prayers in this time.
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Call me weird (a few have) but I really enjoy a good funeral. This weekend we gathered to lift up a long life, well-lived, full of love, care and kindness to other individuals, and civic service. Marked by joy and sorrow, as life usually is. A life lived with gusto. Sad and glad we were—and reminded of the values we ourselves mean to live by, while we’ve still time to work on it. I wasn’t a close friend, but I am glad I knew her.
The Bible is a strange book sometimes. Sometimes the world in which the Bible stories with which we’re so familiar take place—sometimes that world seems so different that it’s hard to relate to those people, and it’s hard to relate to the message.
And then again there are times when I’ll read one of those stories and I’ll be so struck by the similarities, and I’ll say to myself, human nature hasn’t changed all that much in 3500 years. And that’s what really struck me in this week’s story about Moses and the two prophets with the very curious names of Eldad and Medad.
I swear, if I had twins, I’d name them Eldad and Medad. They’re really nice names, actually. Eldad means God has loved, and Medad means Beloved. In the Old Testament, the names of people and places usually mean something that’s important, and these names are all about love, God’s love.
So in this story, God has brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, and in the wilderness has provided them with water and plenty of food in the form of manna, and now they’re complaining that it isn’t enough for them. Basically, they’re complaining about change.
One of God’s critters has taken up residence on a window in the narthex: A show of patience and trust that what is needed will be provided.
Bald eagle near sunset, Rangeley Lake, ME. What a view he had from his perch high in a pine tree. Our guide tried to entice him to come down by throwing out some frozen fish, but that bird wasn’t having any of it. You have to admire his beauty, but you know he’s basically a predator. Some will admire that, but right now I feel for the vulnerability of creatures less powerful.