Reason and Sacrifice

YOKE blog post 2-27-15 fast

“If it were easy, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice,” my older son said to me this weekend.

And that is simply true. It is early in Lent, and Easter looks a long distance away.

Yet onward with this fast.

Why am I fasting? I have some good reasons – it is traditional, it frees some funds for charity, I need to lose 20 pounds to lessen the burden on my arthritis damaged hips and feet.

It gives my body a break from rich food, alcohol, sugar and meat.

Reasons, good reasons.

Sometimes we don’t have a “good” reason for fasting, though, in the fasting seasons. And then we should simply fast, cutting out meat, dairy, fish, sugar, alcohol. We live for a few weeks the way many people in the world must live all the time.

Sometimes the reason for the fast is simply obedience.

See more at The YOKE: http://www.theyoke.org

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Church Door

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The door of a church is more than simply a way inside. It is a symbol of baptism, marriage, death, heaven. It is the symbol of entering into the eternal union with God, and it is, when one is outside it, symbolic of the loss of community.

Cathedral doors are incredible structures. The massive wood and metal doors themselves are surrounded by stone arches, sculpture, art work. They are high enough for giants. Thousands of people may enter through those doors for a single event. They are a symbol of God’s triumph, of Christ’s entering and leaving this earth, and taking us with Him to life everlasting.

I have been noticing church doors here in Iowa City. Some of the old doors are ornate and beautiful, works of art and engineering. Others have been modified to include a small airlock entry to keep drafts out in the winter, and keep air-conditioning in through the summer. Chipboard, plywood: seemingly temporary structures overshadowing the door behind it. They make me anxious, as if entry to the church now requires a test, a holding place, a narthex before the narthex.  Practical ugliness replaces open beauty.

Side entrances and “new” doors are often steel, reinforced glass, locked with mechanisms. They don’t have obvious doorknobs or latches. I approach them and wonder if it is a pull or push situation. They are glum, industrial portals, with no character, a resigned modern patch on an historic structure.

One church we visited lately had actually closed off their main doors; the narthex had been turned into a tiny meditation space. If a visitor was not prepared, or came to the building from the other side, it would seem impossible to get in the building, as the obvious doors are no longer functional.

I really don’t like this trend. I have never liked locking churches, and having them vacant most of the week. My vision of the church is that of a place where people want to be, where they are comfortable meeting, working, talking and visiting as well as a place where they come for prayer and sacrament. Medieval churches were like this; markets were held in their precinct. People took shelter, courted, made plans, rested, and viewed the art they enclosed. Priests, clerks and monastics were available for prayer, discussion, instruction and advice. Schools were conducted, music made. the dedicated were there for prayer all day and night. The church was sanctuary, Pilgrims ate and slept there.

I doubt if we can return to that ordered use of churches and the Church until we are willing to give up our ownership of those buildings and institutions, and return them to God.

See more about us at http://www.theyoke.org.

 

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The Visible Cross

YOKE qtly crucifixAll believers come to Christ by way of the Cross. Without the Cross, our faith is ephemeral, and  devolves into emotional platitudes.  Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. The new life God gave us in Jesus, the Christ, is by way of the dead seed falling into the ground, and coming forth, strong and vital.

And we keep the image of His torture and death before us, for that reason – to remember His passion, that is, His suffering in innocence, and His death. His earth-born body came out of the lonely tomb not by a mere resuscitation , but with a new kind of life, the matter of the atoms and particles made over in the perfection God intended for creation from the beginning.

My own house has many crosses and crucifixes on the walls, balanced on shelves, depicted in artwork. I have almost no secular artwork, except for a few quiet and personal pieces. If I am sitting or working, or falling asleep, or waking, I want to see the Cross before me.

My life depends on it.

To see that issue of the YOKE quarterly, go to http://www.theyoke.org.

 

YOKE annual 2 crucifix

In the Wilderness: 2 Jacob Wrestles With The Angel

Malcolm Guite, our poet-priest, writes on Jacob wrestling with an angel.

Malcolm Guite

DSCF9147Here is the second in my suite of seven sonnets on the theme of Wilderness composed in response to a set of paintings by Adan Boulter which will be exhibited along with the poems at St. Margaret’s Westminster . As before, I am giving you the initial sketch from Adam’s notebook with his pencilled notes (shown above) and then my sonnet in response. The finished paintings, made with both the sketch and the sonnet to hand, can be seen any day in lent at St. Margaret’s between 9am and 4pm.

In the first painting and sonnet Abraham welcomed the angels who were the harbingers of Isaac’s arrival. Now we skip  generation and Isaac’s own son has that life-changing encounter, that long wrestle in the dark that will change his name to Israel and change his future and ours for ever. This meeting with an angel is the harbinger of his…

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Trinity Spiral

Trinity spiral

 

sweet journey into the heart,  this inward path

living water flowing from chaos into order

since the first word of creation

an eternity that holds itself as more than a progression of days

days that are One Day days that flow back to the Day of Divine Rest

it is finished and is always creation creating

under the hand of the Maker

(This post is in response to a graphic provided by my partner in ministry, Fr. Larry Woodsmall of the YOKE – http://www.theyoke.org – as an exercise in new creative prayer.)

 

The Virtue of Good-natured Patience

iowa city winter_walkwayI work in a restaurant. I alternate between the back of house as a prep cook and the front of house, taking orders from guests and facilitating the staff who are serving and cashiering that day. At the back of the house there is the usual kitchen atmosphere, with people rushing around at the height of our service hours, and a lonely lull while I dice, stir and portion.

I expect my co-workers and managers to be a bit wound up when we are really busy. I even expect that sometimes they will be less than polite and patient. I try to cope with that by meeting their expectations beforehand, working to stay an hour to a day ahead of demand. I prepare the food and put it where they can expect to find it. If I fall behind, then they, in all fairness, can come to me and tell me what they need and when they need it – which is usually “now.” A big part of my kitchen job is planning what needs to be prepared in what order, and allotting appropriate time to it.

I have to be the patient one in this, patient with their demands, calm in the face of a storm that is brewing almost every shift. It requires balancing a hundred details in my mind; if I lose my cool, it will all fall apart for everyone. I sometimes have to stand up to competing demands, and explain what is being done at what time, and how their needs can be facilitated. That usually means stating simply, “I won’t get to that for 30 minutes. If you need it now, if there is none left from the last shift, then you will have to do it yourself.” And because we intend to keep working together without throwing plates, soup pots or knives at each other, we maintain a patient degree of sanity and reason.

white house kitchen 1892

It would be so much better if customers would be as patient with us. While we are not a cordon bleu kitchen, we are not a fast-food chain. Quick service means that there is a limited menu, and most items are prepared to some degree to be finished as ordered. The wait is not 30 minutes, but it is not three minutes, either.

But rather than an apologetic for our service philosophy, I am writing of my concern that many people are impatient with our service, and the service in other retail places. Why are we all demanding that food be instantly placed before us? Why are we demanding to have what we want, when we want it, which is right now? The patience people employ when service is not instantly given is a tightly wound, judgmental containment.

There is a strong virtue in good-natured patience.

Usually we experience a temperamental patience that is mere polite holding of the tongue while impatient. It means the bearer of the patient situation is internalizing the stress of that situation, that one is being imposed upon by having to wait. It is a self-focussed thought process; the self is too impatient to give other people the courtesy of time.

Simply put, without all the semiotics and philosophy: Some people consider themselves too important to have to wait in the ordinary course of events.  They frown, cross their arms, say things like, “No, it’s all right, I can wait a few minutes.”

There are people who smile, and say, “Oh, I quite understand, so sorry I have to put you to this trouble, it seemed like such a simple thing to ask for.”

And what they mean is that they did not want to invest fifteen minutes in waiting for what is essentially a complicated process. They become patronizing, and they may smile, but their body language says that they are annoyed and impatient, even if the delay is because of their misunderstanding. Those who endure a situation requiring patience are the ones who criticize later. The wait staff was slow but couldn’t help it because of personal failings. (I have been called stupid in different ways, even by seemingly patient customers.) these same people may say of their secretary that they put up with her despite her ineffectiveness, and they say it with a smile, being long-suffering saints in the office.

Good-natured patience could is entering a situation with an open mind, adapting quickly to circumstances, and adjusting expectations to fit the event as one finds it. Really, it is better to say to oneself, in a busy restaurant, “I know I don’t have the time to wait, so I will go elsewhere today.” If the wait staff or manager asks why you are leaving before being served, a gentle explanation is all that is necessary: “I didn’t expect it to be so busy today, and I have limited time. I understand that not everyone can be served at once, so I will come back some other time.” The angry patience of standing in line, staring at one’s watch, infects those waiting and those serving. It does make the situation worse.

goodbreadrecipe2Christian good-natured patience is entering every moment with an open heart. It is standing in the Kingdom wherever we are. It is a pervasive understanding that one is not the most important individual everywhere; it is humility. Christians practice a patience that knows of the mysterious and great work of God, from the natural cycle of the seasons and bringing forth fruit, to the realisation that all that is good happens in God’s time, not ours. That time might be right now, or it might be what seems to be a long delay.

I was not a patient Christian in earlier years. I am not well-known for my patience now. But I am beginning to understand the great patience of God, who does not give up on his creation, especially humanity, which has been so wayward for so long. We love God, and yet we do not like to wait for his plans to unfold. We confuse the things of this world that we covet with the good gifts God gives us. We want a reward we can see, eat, touch, and spend like cash.

The patience of Christ is the patience of the athlete, working day by day to build a better body, more strength, more accuracy, more speed. The patience of Christ is the patience of a woman expecting a child, living through the weeks as everything about her changes.

Be patient with other people. Be patient in love, in the very moment in which we are living. Be patient with yourself, and happy that God is seeing fit to make us all like himself.