Liturgical Seasons and the Seasons of Our Lives

                                                   View from the Hospital

Contributed by Executive Director, The Rev. Tara K. Soughers, PhD

My faith community is a form of Christianity in which the seasons of the year are very important.  Like many faiths, we recognize the gathering darkness of winter, and the coming of new life in the spring.  However, our recognition of the seasons goes further than that of many others: every part of the year has its own liturgical season, and the themes, readings, and even the emotional color of our worship changes in response to the liturgical season.

There are certain disadvantages to this system.  There have been times when the somber and penitential mood of Lent is at odds with the mood in other areas of life.  There have also been times, when the exhortation to experience Easter joy for 50 days can seem almost impossible.  In those times, seasonal liturgical worship is a discipline.  Like many other spiritual disciplines, the difficulty of following a practice varies.  At times, I can find myself wishing that the season reflected my moods more closely.  It would be easier to rejoice when all was going really well in my life: rejoicing in times of grief is indeed difficult, and sometimes impossible to do.  Yet, I am immersed in a communal celebration  in those times, reminded me that worship is not primarily what  I do for my personal edification, but what we as a community do together.

But if there are those times when my emotions are out-of-synch with the liturgical season, there are also those times when the meaning and discipline of the liturgical season adds a layer of meaning to the events of my life that infuses those events with a depth that can hardly be overestimated.  This year, Easter and Holy Week were just such a time in my own life.

The events of Easter and Holy Week are centered on our affirmation, as a faith community, that God can bring life out of death.  On Good Friday, my brother had a lung transplant.  It is a dangerous procedure, and there are no guarantees that one will even survive the surgery.  In addition, this gift is given at the cost of another’s life.  The parallels could hardly be closer.  On Good Friday, we remember of the death of Jesus, who gave his life that others might live and live more abundantly.  As I flew across the country to be with my family, I was keenly aware of the connections between the liturgical season and my own personal season.  Having previously accepted the discipline of living out the liturgical seasons allowed my faith to inform my life, granting me the assurance that God can indeed bring life out of death.

My brother made it through surgery, and actually he has been doing remarkably well.  He was blessed with a healthy set of lungs, and with these lungs, he is not only off oxygen, but he is already breathing 300% better than he had before the surgery.  In fact, the surgeons said that his lungs were some of the worst that they had ever seen, and the lungs he got very beautiful.  It was a reminder that God often gives gifts extravagantly.

So this year, when I got to Easter, I was indeed already celebrating that gift of life that came through the sacrifice of another, so that my brother might have life, and have it more abundantly.  I was filled not only with Easter joy, but also with a profound thankfulness for the gift of life that God gives us in so many ways and for the ways that God can transform even death into life.  As a Christian, it was not a new understanding, but my understanding of what my family and I experienced was deepened by the discipline of following the liturgical seasons, and my understanding of Holy Week and Easter will be forever deepened by what happened in this year, when I personally experienced the passage from death into life in my own family.

Lent: Tilling the Ground

 

Contributed by Board Member, The Rev. Dr. Richard Bardusch

Lent is an old Anglo-Saxon word that means spring. While Lent overlaps spring in time, there is a deeper connection between the church season of Lent and the planting season of spring. Lent is about tilling the ground of our spiritual lives so that we can experience the new life of the Resurrection of Jesus. Lent is the time when we prepare our hearts to be sown with God’s love and Jesus’ new life.

Like the ground after winter, our hearts become hard over time and each year we need to break up that hardness so that like the ground they are prepared to receive the seeds of new life. Just as the plants thrive in tilled soil so to the seeds of God’s love thrive in a spirit that is broken and tilled.

As Americans we don’t like to have our world dug up. We like our patterns to be the same and predictable, but as Christians we are called to disciplines in Lent of preparation. Some of us give up bad habits, while others of us take on good ones.  Whether we give up or take on is not the question. They are both acts of preparation designed to till our hearts for the planting of God’s word and mighty deeds in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

How is God calling you to till your spirits? What do you need to give up or take on to prepare to receive God’s seeds of love? To till our hearts is the call of Lent.

Spiritual Benefactors

 

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Contributed by board member, The Rev. Dr. Richard Bardusch

In my Centering Prayer group we have been discussing benefactors. In this context a benefactor is someone who has loved and cared for us. It could be a friend, an older adult, a teacher, a colleague, etc. A benefactor can also be a spiritual teacher such as Jesus or Buddha. The idea is that when we meditate asking for the presence of someone who is our benefactor enables us to experience the love of the presence. This is a spiritual practice supports us as we seek to become more loving and compassionate.

I have come to realize that the Communion of Saints is a benefactor group. We invoke the presence of the Saints when we need support or comfort. We also invoke the Saints when we want to move forward on our spiritual journey. At St. Thomas, we place photos of our loved ones who have passed and become part of the Church Triumphant on the altar and place a candle in front of them on All Saints’ Sunday. These are the saints with a small “s”. Saints, but not as broadly known. My Dad is one of these and he is one of my benefactors.

Perhaps when you pray or meditate you invite your saints to join you? If you do, feel their love while you meditate or pray. Ask them for guidance. They may have passed from this life, but that does not mean they can’t continue to transform who we are.

I wish you benefactor blessings.

Blessing Animals

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Contributed by the Executive Director, The Rev. Tara K. Soughers, PhD

In early fall, you may see announcements in Christian Churches for a service called, “Blessing of the Animals.”  It can be done within the normal Sunday morning service or at some time, but it is generally in close proximity to October 4.

Many branches of the Christian Church have special days to remember exemplary practitioners of the faith, who are often called saints.  The word saint comes from the word which means holy or dedicated to God.  While different traditions have different criteria for naming someone a saint and recognize different people, most will have at least some people who they hold up as examples of how to live a Christian life.  Many of these saints are also associated with particular geographical locations or ethnic groups.  Most people are familiar with Irish St. Patrick’s day celebrations or Italian St. Joseph’s Day celebrations.  On these days, there may be special food or activities that call to mind the story of the saint.

Francis of Assisi was born in Italy in 1182 to a rich garment merchant.  He lived a carefree life of luxury until he was badly wounded in a battle.  The long convalescence changed him, and afterwards, he rejected the rich life he had been living to live a life in poverty.  Others began to follow him, and eventually he founded the Franciscans, and with Clare, the poor Clares.

As with many saints, the provable and factual stories are the most important, but it is the tales that grow up around the saint that are the most interesting.  It is true that Francis believed that we are brothers and sisters with all creation, as attested to in his poem “Canticle of the Sun.”  What is less sure are the stories of his remarkable kinship with animals, such as asking birds to cease their nightly chatter until he had finished preaching or making peace between a wolf and a village.  These stories, however, have captured people’s imaginations for centuries, and many depictions of Francis show him with either a bird or a wolf.  Because of this St. Francis is a much beloved saint, and statues of him will adorn many gardens

So in honor of St. Francis, some churches acknowledge that we are brothers and sisters with all creatures by honoring those animals that share our lives.  You don’t have to be a Christian to join in the celebration of the ways that animals, particularly our pets, demonstrate something about the love of God for all creation, who is praised through all creatures.

 

Ordinary Time?

Ordinary Time

Submitted by board member, the Rev. Dr. Richard Bardusch

Time is an issue with which we all struggle. In liturgical churches, i.e. churches with a formal order of worship, there is a period in our calendar called Ordinary Time. This part of the church year usually begins in late spring and lasts until late fall. It is the largest single season of the church year and has few of the bigger holy days. It is the regular time when life is grounded out and we move from one week to the next without a lot of interruption.

As a community we use this season as the time to recharge our batteries. It is not that we stop doing things so we can save our energy; rather, it is that we shift our focus, which brings a different type of energy. We focus less on the big holy days—because there are few of them—and more on the gentle connection of shared life. In other words, we walk together in regular life and connect in ways that some say might say are mundane or not very special.

There is an ebb and flow to life. Part of recharging our batteries is the practice of living into that shifting of focus. If we try to be constant with the type of energy we expend, we burn out. When we shift our energies to match the ebb and flow of life, we find ourselves continuously recharging.

The ordinary times of our lives are for shifting of focus, not shutting down. It is an important distinction. One is positive and the other is defeatist. Which do you want in your life?

Holy Week Pilgrimage to Jerusalem

In the late 4th century CE, a Spanish nun by the name of Egeria made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and described what she saw to her sister nuns. The pilgrimage industry had grown substantially in the previous 50 years or so since Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine had arrived in the Holy Land, determined to find the sites where the stories about Jesus had occurred. Once found, Helena worked to erect churches on those sites, and those Christians who had sufficient resources, both in time and money, could experience what it must have been like to walk with Jesus during his earthly ministry.

It is not surprising that during the week before Easter, there were rituals at the various sites associated with the Jesus’ last days on earth. The week began on the Saturday of the weekend before Easter, with the remembrance in Bethany of the day that Jesus rested with his friends. On the Sunday before Easter Sunday, there was a re-enactment of Jesus triumphant procession into Jerusalem, greeted by people bearing palm branches. On Thursday, the congregation gathered in the cave where Jesus met with his friends and kept vigil all night. On Friday, the congregation gathered to kiss the wood of the true cross (which Helena also discovered), and from the sixth to the ninth hours, lessons were read, hymns sung, and the congregation mourned. On Saturday, a paschal (Easter) vigil was held.

While those who were able to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Easter got the benefit of walking through the events of Jesus’ last days, most Christians would never be able to make the trip. So, many of the rituals that were originally celebrated in Jerusalem at the holy sites were taken back to local parish churches. In that way, all Christians were able to make this sacred pilgrimage. These services became basis for Holy Week observances, and are still observed, much the same way, 2000 years later.

Setting Our Faces Towards Jerusalem: A Lenten Quiet Evening

CGCSP Soughers Setting Our Faces Towards Jerusalem

Come and join us for an evening of quiet and reflection. From early Christian times, Holy Week has been a major time of pilgrimage. As Christians prepare for the holiest week of the year, come and prepare yourself to journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem.

We will begin at 6:00 with a soup supper and end by 9:30. Come for all of it or any part. Meditations will be offered, and feel free to bring any quiet activity that will assist you in your own preparation.