Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Art of Rejoicing

When I received this month's hymns for SpiritCare, I noticed that the first on the song sheet was "Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart."  I felt some unease because I was unfamiliar with it. I listened to the hymn online, and discovered that it does have a lovely melody.  As I listened to the hymn a second time, I began thinking about the word rejoice and how, unless I am singing with a congregation, I don't hear the word in daily life. I checked Mirriam-Webster online, and learned that usage of the word peaked in the 1850's and has been declining ever since. Doing our part to keep the word alive seemed reason enough to sing. 

The hymn also refers to "waving a festal banner" which does sound lively.  Yesterday, even though I was on a Memory Care floor, I asked the question, "What would your festal banner look like?"  I was expecting a minimal response at best, but I was surprised.  One resident responded that she loved dancing and cooking, so she would put those on her banner.  The pianist, who usually is fairly quiet, said she would put a picture of the ocean on hers.  Another said that she missed being in the mountains, so she would put a mountain on hers. Josie quietly added that she would carry a banner if Jesus was on it.  I thought of the images I have seen of statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe being carried through crowded streets on her feast days and I thought that a starry mantle sky over a darkened blue desert landscape would make a beautiful banner.  

The pianist and I then moved to another floor where the residents' dementia is more pronounced. Here we simply sang, prayed, and I read a short piece of scripture.  As we were just about to start singing our final hymn, John joined us.  He is a tall man, even though he now walks slightly bent over his walker.  He is gregarious and has a strong speaking voice. I asked him if he wanted a song sheet, and he reluctantly said no, that he could no longer read.  I suggested that he and I sing together.  Although I did not have the hymn memorized, I found that our singing side by side with my making eye contact with him as often as possible, helped him sing in a strong voice.  I did indeed rejoice, and John was happy as well.  Most of the residents wanted to keep their song sheets.  I knew those sheets would soon be set aside and forgotten, but I also know that what the residents were really seeking was to hold on to the music and the sense of togetherness as long as possible. 

For now, it seems our festal banners are the size of a legal sheet of paper with large print.  We could, however, use some more hearts and voices.  Come join us.  Pure hearts or not, there  are many who need to experience a sense of rejoicing once more.       
   
"Rejoice, ye pure in heart. 
Rejoice, give thanks and sing. 
Your festal banner wave on high, 
The cross of Christ your king."      
 
Edward H. Plumptre, 1865  
Photograph is a detail from a festive fountain in Petaluma  

  

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

An Abyss of Love

I have been reading quite a bit this Christmas season, and one of the books that has given me much to ponder is Eugene Peterson's, The Contemplative Pastor, Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, originally published in 1989.  In his chapter entitled, "The Subversive Pastor," he writes:  
  
Jesus' favorite speech form, the parable, was subversive. Parables sound absolutely ordinary: casual stories about soil and seeds, means and coins and sheep, bandits and victims, farmers and merchants. And they are wholly secular: of his forty or so parables recorded in the Gospels, only one has its setting in a church, and only a couple mention the name of God. As people heard Jesus tell these stories, they saw at once that they weren't about God, so there was nothing in them threatening their own sovereignty. They relaxed their defenses. They walked away perplexed, wondering what they meant, the stories lodged in their imagination. And then, like a time bomb, they would explode in their unprotected hearts. An abyss opened up at their very feet. He was talking about God; they had been invaded! 
 
Jesus continually threw odd stories down alongside ordinary lives (para, "alongside"; bole, "thrown") and walked away without explanation or altar call. Then listeners started seeing connections: God connections, life connections, eternity connections....Parables aren't illustrations that make things easier; they make things harder by requiring the exercise of our imaginations, which if we aren't careful become the exercise of our faith.   
  
I probably feel the closest to Jesus when I am walking and looking at leaves and flowers and the curious things I am lucky enough to see in the neighborhood.  Through these walks, I have come to understand a little more about the movement of growth, color, and form.  In other words, I have learned something of my soul, and maybe of angels and Mary: an abyss of beauty that is ever with us.  May we remember that no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we are not strange and separate, rootless creatures. Rather we are souls that belong completely in the light and love of the Divine.    
 
Let us exercise our love.    
 
   

photograph: Oakland CA, May 2018