Monday, November 29, 2010

Grace and Peace

Thanksgiving dinner has hardly been digested, and Advent announces itself. Advent is the season for waiting, for preparation and for getting ready. I don't feel ready to get ready; the preparation list seems daunting -- and the punishing pace of the season twists "wait" into a forbidden four-letter word.

Enter Paul's letter to the Ephesians. I have added this Epistle to my preparation list. And I have invited people across the diocese and beyond to add it to theirs. Part of the good news is that the letter is mercifully short. It is beautiful prose. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it "one of the divinest compositions of man (sic)." So we can take it slowly -- and allow the combination of prose, Spirit, beauty and brevity to speak to the soul. Let it not be a task, but a way to enter into the season.

"To the saints," Paul begins, and by saints he means us. Not just some of us. All of us. I don't think Paul is trying to flatter his audience. He says saints because he means saints. So ponder your sainthood. The goodness which has been given us -- and the giftedness that marks us. We are blessed. Through no fault of our own we are saints. Most of the time it seems that Christian theology asks us to sort through our sinfulness. Paul opens by identifying our saintliness. I invite you to deal with that.

"Grace to you and peace." I think he means that as well. I want to greet people with that same graciousness. And it doesn't always work. It certainly didn't this afternoon when I spent an hour trying to get across the George Washington Bridge. Let's just say that I didn't greet every other driver with a warm and open heart.

A couple of years ago I was remarking in a parish forum about the challenges of driving in New Jersey. Not just the driving part, but the etiquette part. One woman said that whenever she got cut off on the road, she responded with "go in peace to love and serve the Lord." I had a hard time believing her, and so I asked how long it took for her to say that. She indicated that she said it right away. Still not believing her, I asked her with what tone did she use when she said it. "As if I mean it", she replied. She was able to pass on the grace that had been given to her. Grace begets grace.

Now there is an Advent challenge.


  1. Paul writes "I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints.
    We, through our movements of our experiences each day are witnesses to our faith in Jesus and love of one another. Whether we let someone into a line of traffic or pray for the person who has just cut us off. We are always witnessing. Let people "hear of our faith".

  2. Let people see our faith as well in our actions, not just in our words.

  3. On the Sunday After All saints' Day, the Church of the Redeemer, Morristown chose the following poem for one of its lessons. What a wonderful description of an encounter with the "saints".

    Greg Jacobs

    MORE THAN IMAGES by Tony Sayer

    A spacious room. A high ceiling. A world.
    Candles flickering. Souls kindled.
    Around the walls paintings, posters, icons.

    But more than images. Presences.

    Merton and Bonhoeffer are drinking beer.
    Their bottles clink together as they confer.

    Saint Francis and the Sultan play chess.
    The Sultan always wins - Francis seems not to get the game.
    Fiercely he protects his pawns, but gives his bishops up with glee.

    Mother Seton, Sojourner Truth, and Hildegard of Bingen
    are making a quilt. Hildegard wants to add
    more and more green to the pattern.

    Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks and Ignatius of Loyola
    tread the turns of a labyrinth together.
    Inigo's limp slows him down, and
    the others keep to his pace.

    Elijah and Julian share a barley cake. The raven on his shoulder
    and the cat on her lap eye each other with suspicion.

    Gandhi and John of the Cross and Martin Luther King are
    swapping jailhouse memories. They want Bonhoeffer
    to join them, but Merton keeps opening
    another cool one.

    Rumi and Meister Eckhart have been writing song lyrics.
    Teresa of Avila rounds up John Woolman and Black Elk
    and Frederick Ozanam and Simone Weil
    to start a garage band.

    Dorothy Day and Clare of Assisi want to sign up.
    They want Howard Thurman to come too.
    But he's learning Tibetan chant,
    his deep-throated voice
    growing ever more

    Etty Hillesum looks upward, murmuring contentedly,
    "So many stars."

    William Blake is teaching an art class, but his students
    aren't paying attention. Chuang Tzu and Albert Einstein
    have gotten paint all over themselves.

    "Angels," says Blake impatiently. "Ranks of angels
    surround us."

    He waves his hand in the air. He points at us.

    For we too are here. Among these
    witnesses, servants, pilgrims, martyrs,
    in this patchwork communion of saints-we are here.

    Holy One, by what fiery grace have we
    come to join this company?

    We praise you for the gift of guides and companions.
    May we be such to each other.

    Show us our walking stick and our narrow way.

    Turn us to stillness and to hastening.

    Turn us to doing the little righteousness
    that is ours to do.

    Give us strength to love.

    Teach our hearts to break and break.


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