Saturday, February 26, 2005

Beethoven's Hair

For access to the interactive site which tells this phenomenal story, click on above title.

I have Beethoven in my blood. So may you. Nightly, I was lullabied by his symphonies or for variation, a piano concerto. Passionate music. Provocative music. Music to woo a lover or win a war.

Da Da Da DUH. Da Da Da Duh.

In my family love of the music of Beethoven reached a profound level. Over the years we lived a sort of parallel Ludwigian existence. My father, given a musically gifted son, assumed the role of Beethoven's father. He had a passing resemblance to the great genius himself. If my father had let his hair grow, he would have looked like Beethoven. Alas. He did not. And he stopped short of waking my brother at three in the morning to practise.

My brother, one supposes, was to be the tortured genius. Given the painful exigencies of the real Beethoven's life, one wonders why we all entered into this legend with such whole hearted vigour. I think there was some belief in our family that it was necessary to suffer for one's art. No pain. No gain. I will stop short of saying that both my parents went deaf as an empathetic response to Beethoven in later life. But they did go deaf. The rigorous tutelege of young Ludwig was our family's template for life. And after all, our last name did begin with the letter "B." And my brother's name did begin with "L."

The long dead composer achieved sainthood in our household. Well, there was Jesus. And then there was Beethoven. Beethoven, writing Moonlight Sonata. Beethoven cutting the legs off his piano so that he could feel the vibrations of his music on the floor. Beethoven, stone deaf, being turned to face tumultous applause for the debut of his ninth and last symphony. Beethoven's sufferings somehow flavoured his music and made him real.

Then there was the fact of his personal habits, his temperament and lifestyle. I believe that loving Beethoven made us more tolerant of human weakness than we otherwise would have been. Fundamentalist. Evangelical. Teetotalers. He wasn't any of those things and yet we honoured him. Beethoven's foibles stretched us, made us think. Made us, somehow citizens of the world.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

What day is it?

One day pushes itself into the next.
Always some tasks left over
to seed the agenda of the future.

Mail waiting for stamps.
Mail waiting for addresses.
Some things can't happen on the net.
Like thank-yous,
and personal care bills,
and posting videos.

And washing.
Those colour sorted piles,
extended in rows across the basement floor,
lie dormant for tomorrow.

People to be consoled.
Errands to run.
A well-meant promise to be kept.
They stand like scarecrows
in a field of days
stretching to infinity.

There must be a reason why
I chose this,
rather than that,
like Frederick Bueckner,
climbing his study stairs
and turning his back on
visible suffering
to do what may be a higher good.
Or I may be fooling myself.

Missed the day for blogger's protest.
Really a whole day went missing.
What was I doing?
Ah, babysitting.

And is this Wednesday already?
Is there a point to getting started this week,
or should I just wait until next?
Can I pick up a paint brush?
Can I write a story?
Can I further my vision?
Can I concentrate on God?
Can I admit I'm angry?

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Hagia Sophia

Return now to the subject of Sophia, the Spirit of Wisdom, because it is not far from the longing for liturgy which I have been clumsily attempting to address for the last two posts. I'm making this a short post because Thomas Merton has written a poem entitled Hagia Sophia which links his vision of Sophia both with the active work of God in creation and with the Holy Spirit and with Jesus. He does all of this within the framework of the traditional hours of prayer; lauds to compline. If you believe as I believe, that our worship is rooted not so much in knowing as in mystery, then Merton's poem is for you. If you believe, as I believe, that there is a feminine face to God, then this poem is for you.

Click on title above to take you to Thomas Merton's poem Hagia Sophia

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Longing for Liturgy: Part Two

I believe that my longing for liturgy began in childhood when I attended a cousin's confirmation. Such was my early fundamentalist indoctrination, that I felt a hum of terror as well as a frisson of curiosity while watching the proceedings. Were these windows "idols?" Were these carvings "graven images?" I let myself down into what was Holy Mystery. The service was scarey and wonderful. The colours, the candles, the organ and choir embraced me; spoke to the place inside me where God and Beauty dwelt. The air was filtered gold. The scriptures had a familiar cadence, but a deeper dignity than they achieved when we read them from well-worn "promises" around the supper table each evening.

It is not news that space affects and shapes worship behaviour, and visa versa. People move into a cathedral with a muted awe. There is little chat before service. The space invites contemplation. A large industrial space is conducive to contemporary worship with room for sound equipment, projection screens, dancing and moving about. The plain Quaker meeting house is perfectly suited to the prayers which will be spoken after silence. Given these differences, I wonder if denominations, rather than being a divisive, might be God's way of providing for varying taste and temperament.

In EVANGELICALS ON THE CANTERBURY TRAIL, Robert E. Webber urges us to be Christians first and whatever else we are, Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist (even "emerging" one supposes) second. This concept was compelling for me since the church where I worshipped had many "distinctives". There was a tendency for me to commit the sin of henotheism, placing the distinctives and governance of the church in the ultimate place in my life. God showed me that the amount of time I spent talking about the church, complaining about the church, strategizing for change in the church, were depleting my love of God. Indeed, my constant battle with the church was substituting for a truer experience of God in my life.

Webber asserts that the evangelical church arose, in part, as a response to scientific rationalism. Christianity needed to be rational. Sermons defend what properly may be accepted as Mystery. I remember an agonized flannelgraph retelling of "Jonah" which a zealous leader inflicted on our stunned congregation. In it he showed, with dimensions, that there was a fish large enough to swallow Jonah whole, what Jonah experienced literally in the belly of the whale, and how he, hairless and naked and scalded by stomach acids, was spat onto the beach. All irrelevent!

I find the liturgical church comforting in that it takes me into the creaturely space of not-knowing. God is great, compassionate, mysterious and bigger than me. I sense this in the vaulted space, in the art, in the grand music pulsing through wooden pews, through the timelessness of the service.

Never was this comfort more needed than when Rob and I found ourselves in England as tragedy stuck his family at home in Canada. His sister, thirty-two years old mother of three children under five, was killed in a car accident. Unable to return for her funeral, we sought out a place to be in prayer each day of our journey, stopping for evensong or attending morning prayers wherever we found ourselves.

The day before the funeral in Canada, we visited Westminster Abbey. In November, by custom, it is surrounded by a memorial to war dead. There were thousands of white crosses planted in battalions, complete with a separate section for padres who had given their lives in service. Hundreds of padres! Newly ordained pastors, we purchased a cross and placed it in memory of some unknown padre in some unknown place. We were strangely comforted by participating in this symbolic act. In its deepest sense, that is what liturgy offers, a symbolism which speaks to heart matters, bypassing the rational mind. This multitude of crosses and our own loss had a connection which would only be destroyed by analysis.

The Abbey, however, was not our ultimate destination on the funereal day. Crowded with tourists, it was more like a museum than a place of worship. No comfort there. Just to the left of the Abbey, stands St. Margaret's Chapel. There God's Spirit surrounded us and comforted us. The interior was womb-dark and one could kneel for a long time in quietness, undisturbed. I remember shaking uncontrollably. Neither could believe that this young mother, wife, sister, daughter...was dead. In agony and unknowing, we clung to eachother, comforted by the palpable eternity which surrounded us. This has remained a most sacred memory of our life journey. In our bereavement, we felt surrounded by clouds of witnesses, connected to past and future by the act of kneeling and reading and praying.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Longing for Liturgy: Part One

This blog came out of reflections on bobbi's post Ash Wednesday in

It was another Wednesday of no particular significance in the church calendar. We were on our first holiday away from children, and found ourselves in romantic Charleston strolling cobbled streets in evening light. When bells began to toll, we followed the sound to a wonderful Episcopal church where earlier we had wandered among ancient tombs and pieced together stories of Colonial America. This time, we were not alone. From behind iron gates and painted doors in that museum perfect city, citizens of every discription emerged. A lady in a mink coat and diamonds, a poor man on crutches, a woman in a wheelchair, her friend, street people. There were young folk dressed in jeans and tees; older folk whose clothes, conservative and clean, had seen better days. There were children, holding hands with parents. White folk. Black folk. Gay and straight folk. A lot of hugging, waving and greeting as we all poured into the church.
Like Bobbi and Liam we were eyed with curiosity and welcome. We were greeted with a handshake at the door and carried willingly to places near the front.
It was a low church service of the kind we now refer to as "blended," a little guitar, a little organ. There was the usual juggle with the books. No matter. I didn't care if I got it right. I just soaked in the Spirit of the place, the clear intentionality of the worshippers, the focus on prayer and scripture, the beauty of the read prayers, the sincere tears at general confession, the release of absolution. The homily was a gentle reminder of our Christian duty within the world. With a full heart, I received communion, and let my tears of joy and longing fall unhindered.
I had been sneaking the restfulness of liturgy for years. It provided soothing contrast to the lively music, hearty singing, hand clapping, and "testimonies" of my home church. Read prayers were a considered change from the spontaneous, well-meant ramblings, which sometimes invited the Lord to endorse a narrow personal agenda. Communion drew my heart. Having grown up and served in a non-sacramental church, this act of ritual had special appeal to me. I loved the fact that one was not forced to walk the aisle alone, but that all those who wanted to receive came forward together. I loved that I participated in an act of worship which linked me to Christians around the world and down through history. The significance of this brought me to tears each time I participated. I could barely stand from the sense of holiness I felt in this...probably was very close being slain in the spirit right there in the Anglican/Episcopal church. This was the power of Communion for me.
Over the years, we have continued to seek out respite from evangelicalism in churches which have a highly liturgical service. Amongst the highlights: daily morning prayer at the little Anglican Church at Jackson's Point, Ontario; Christmas Eve in a Lutheran church in Florida; a memorial service for transplant donors at St. Michael's Roman Catholic Cathedral in Toronto; an Episcopal service in Savannah, the first Sunday of the war on Iraq.
We had crossed the border with some trepidation on the day the U.S. declared war. Strangely, there was no bottleneck, no added questioning. We sailed blythely on our way; Tybee Island, our longed for holiday destination. We had chosen Sunday as one of our days to tour nearby Savannah, and knowing from a previous visit that there was a church on just about every square in the old city, we had our pick. We began early, walking the squares, trying to sense the Spirit of each place, reading sermon topics on notice boards, noting times, praying. Our stroll took us to the Episcopalian Church. Somehow we knew we would feel at home.
It was a subdued service. We had expected perhaps, some flag waving, a chorus or two of God Bless America. No. It was a straight, right out of the book, Anglican/Episcopal service, with some resounding hymns and a homily taken from the lectionary texts for the day. (Rob has been preaching from the common lectionary for nearly twenty years. It forces him to come to terms with scripture, rather than riding any particular hobby horse. However, I stray.) So the sermon instructed us how we should live in the light of scripture. There is a place in the Episcopal service of prayer where names are mentioned specifically. It was there and there only where the war on Iraq was mentioned. It was acknowledged that some in the large congregation had relatives and friends who would be serving and be in danger. They were prayed for. AND THE IRAQI PEOPLE WERE PRAYED FOR. Simply. Lovingly. Non-dogmatically. Without prejudice. Kindly. The war had just begun, but there was healing in that place. The liturgy, the structure of the service had provided us all with safety from the urgency of the moment and placed us squarely where we should be in Kingdom goals and Kingdom ends. I am still thankful.

Some years ago Rob and I read a book called "Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: why evangelicals are attracted to the liturgical church" by Robert E. Webber. More about this later.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Speaking of Sophia, an open letter

Oh dear Stephanie,
I fear I may have opened a contentious issue. I love the way you use the names of God. Sophia is the feminine name for the wisdom of God. There is evidence that early Christians equated Sophia with the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, especially the Wisdom Literature, she is Wisdom and is closely linked to the wisdom of Solomon.
I am not an expert in this. Of course, some see that the patriarchal church has suppressed this knowledge of Sophia in order to maintain a totally masculine Trinity. Others, of course, would see the resurgence of interest in and knowledge about Sophia as a blasphemous attempt by feminism to pervert the gospel.
Whatever knowledge I have personally about Sophia, has been gained in passing, rather than through deep study. I liked the notion, when I first heard of it, and was comforted by the fact that The Holy Spirit might be the feminine aspect of God. Certainly, the work of the Holy Spirit, both as inspiration (wisdom) and as comforter, are what is highest and best in women.
In truth, I think of God as neither male nor female. I believe that our assignation of gender to God arises from anthropomorphism. While we were created in the image of God, it seems to me that many of our attempts to understand God must of necessity arise from what we perceive and know of ourselves. Revelation of God has come in human form. The words of God were written down by the hands of humankind. That does not mean they are without divine inspiration, indeed, it is that inspiration which is attributed in early Christianity to Sophia.
So, if it comforts us to address God as Abba, Daddy, in response to the example of Yeshua, Jesus, then too, may it comfort us as women to accept that The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom and Truth, Sophia, wears a feminine face.
Love and blessings, to a wise woman of faith, Stephanie,