I went into my library and pulled from the shelf Volume One of The Liturgy of the Hours, read the Psalms and Canticles appointed for Evening Prayer on Wednesday of Advent 1, and the Readings.
Given that I pretty much abandoned this practice a few years ago, this may or may not be remarkable. Let us allow it to be whatever it is without labels.
Following through on the vineyard theme from the Vineyard Song in Isaiah 5, here is a portion of the Chartres windows depicting the harvesting of grapes and trampling of wine.
Psalm 27, BCP5 One thing have I asked of the LORD;one thing I seek; *that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life;6 To behold the fair beauty of the LORD *and to seek him in his temple.
These are some interesting verses and I am framing them with scenes from Chartres Cathedral. The photo above is one I took in May 2014; the one below from the internet.
When I was about forty years younger, these verses spoke of my sense of vocation to priesthood. With Chartres in mind, it is easy enough to get rather sentimental about it. The reality, of course, is more one of roof repairs, bad sound systems, problems with heating in winter and cooling in summer, landscaping, access, signage, and all the other attendant challenges of a house of worship. I am not even listing the challenges of life in a faith community. Not very romantic.
Nowadays, in fact, I rarely enter a church building. I do so mostly to attend concerts. Many concerts touch my spiritual core quite deeply. The inner fire that believes in Grace and in Uncreated Light and an Ultimate Reality we name as Love--this breaks through when certain texts and sonorities combine. I tend to weep at a majority of the concerts of the Santa Fe Desert Chorale.
As I read the verses from Psalm 27 this evening they struck me as intriguing vestiges of my past. So what abides? Is there a greater truth or reality here that can still speak to me?
For starters I would affirm, as many do, that all Creation is the Temple of the Lord. The Universe is sacred, an incarnation of the Holy. The Earth is sacred. Sign me up as a Celtic Christian or a happy pagan here; it works for me. I do not discount houses of worship. Just because I claim that they are not the Church but where the Church meets does not mean I think they are unnecessary. For humans to form community, they need to gather. Baptism and Eucharist may occur outdoors but as concrete material events they must take place in specific places. The inward and spiritual graces of sacraments cannot be separated from the outward visible signs. Christianity is a faith of Incarnation, a faith rooted in time, space, and matter.
I am too much of an aesthetic personality to dismiss sacred spaces. They may be as humble as a grove or sacred well or as lofty as, well, Chartres Cathedral. Endowing a sacred space with honest material and visual beauty does not offend my sense that we should be about caring for human needs (and not merely human, for we live within a web of life and must also care for the planet). I refuse to play the game of saying A negates B and we must choose one or the other.
My sense of the presence of God, however, has slipped the tether of specific places. As Helen Colman reminded us many times, "Every meal is Eucharist." As Christ rises from the waters of Jordan he fills all things with blessing. The world does not become blessed because I bring it into the walls of a church or pronounce a traditional formula. It is already blessed by divine choice, by divine action, by eternal divine love. All I can do is recognize that prior blessing, that prior reality of existence that is everywhere filled with grace. If I, in my priestly role, pronounce a blessing I am only articulating what by grace already is true.
I have long believed, and often repeated, that there is only one place. It is deep within the Heart of God, the eternally loving heart, the lance-pierced heart. All of time and space is ever and always there. So no matter where I am, I am always in the presence of the fair beauty of the Lord. I cannot stray outside that beloved place, nor can anyone.
This belief--a stance that is metaphorical, poetic, mystical--sustains me and helps me not fret. Like a child I pray, each night, that God will bless folks but I believe that is already God's will and action. I just want to align myself with it and with those I love. I don't pray for anyone's salvation or worry about it. For me, salvation, however it is to be understood, is a given by grace. Neither faith nor works will make it happen, nor will the lack thereof hinder it. Yes, I am a universalist. So sue me. The gates of the New Jerusalem are open by day and by night; never closed. Enter if you will. The Spirit and the Bride say, Come!
What does this have to do with Advent? I am quite uncertain.
8 December 1990, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco - a newly ordained priest sets the Table. Next Tuesday will be the 25th anniversary of that moment.
December 2013, San Gabriel Episcopal Church, Corrales NM - the last Mass I celebrated.
I don't mind being, as I put it, "very retired" from formal public ministry. Even so, it is a very real part of who I am. No sudden insights or conclusions this evening. I am simply sharing some bits and pieces.