Having had the perspicacity both to buy Easter Lilies from the wholesale broker and to buy them early in Holy Week (to avoid the Good Friday-Holy Saturday rush) we were blessed with a mess of Easter lilies still in the bud. And there they remained on Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. With certitude and aplomb, we put them in the church secretary’s office on Good Friday night, left the light on and ran the space heater overnight. By the time the altar was dressed for Easter at the Great Vigil, they were still in the bud. Hence, the following prayer:
Omnipotent Lord, you opened the floodgates of heaven for forty days, you opened the mouth of Balaam’s ass that he might speak, you opened the rock in the desert that water might flow out, you opened the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf and the lips of the mute, you opened the door to the tomb in the garden, you opened the minds of the disciples to recognize the resurrected Jesus and you will one day open the seven seals: Come quickly and open these Easter lilies before the nine thirty service tomorrow morning, that they may glorify you with their beauty as we do with our praise; We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
There’s a room in our house euphemistically known as “the study”. It is about 9 feet wide and 14 feet long — an odd room by any measure — and odd stuff collects there, things that don’t fit anywhere else in the house.
There’s an upright piano, perpetually out of tune because it is against an outside wall and suffers too many temperature changes. But it has to go here; if it is on the hardwood floor of the part of the house that lies above the crawl space, it pings annoyingly whenever anyone walks by it.
There are about a thousand vinyl records sitting in cardboard boxes on the floor against one wall, irreplaceable recordings waiting to be transferred to the more modern storage medium of CDs and DVDs. That wall is lined with bookshelves from just above the record boxes to the 11-foot cathedral ceiling, filled mostly with religion and music and our collections of Tolkein, C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dorothy Sayers, and Charles Williams. A built-in shelf against another wall overflows with over-sized books, and the cabinet beneath is filled with photographs waiting to be sorted and scanned. There’s a half-wall of red brick, the back side of the two-sided fireplace the study shares with the living room.
The last side is mostly window, but it is vain to expect light from it most of the year, since just outside is an enormous holly tree that blocks the southwestern exposure. Only in the late afternoons of June and July does sunlight penetrate beneath the holly for a few brief hours. Still, if lights are on in the study, it is impossible to private there. From the street, every nook is visible through the lace curtains that came with the house.
The room is always cold. It’s part of a garage conversion, you see, so the floor is slab and it doesn’t share the forced-air heating that keeps the rest of the house habitable in January and February. Oh, there are electric wall heaters, but we dare not turn them on. Those irreplaceable records and the temperamental piano are directly in front of them.
Between the cold and the darkness, we don’t use the room much as a family. Sometimes, when we have a party, company may overflow into the study. When the kids are visiting, or we have music to practice for church, someone may spend an hour or so a day playing the piano. I occasionally hunt for a book on the shelves, reconfiguring the replica Williamsburg chair into a stepstool so that I can reach as high as the next-to-the top shelf. But rarely are two of us in the room at the same time.
For eleven months of the year, I mostly just pass through the study on my way to my office from the rest of the house, ignoring the growing layers of dust on the shelves and the blast of cold air from the crack behind the cabinet, the records and photos and the work they represent, and the growing stacks of stuff for which there is no room elsewhere that will be out of the way here for “just a day or so until I find time to really put it away”.
But in the twelfth month, the study comes into its own. You see, the high-ceiling cold and dark corners and visibility through the window that make the study less attractive the rest of the year make it the perfect place for the Christmas tree.
The cold keeps the tree from drying out. Against the dark room, the lighted tree is magic. And it can be seen from the street, so the house doesn’t seem entirely devoid of Christmas decoration.
The week before Christmas, we actually do clean out all the stuff that has accumulated in the study. Then Sarah — my youngest — and I go hunting for the tree. We have done this together since Sarah was old enough to help pick out the tree, that is, since she was about three, and we do it still, although now she commutes from her apartment in the city for the event. We go to Joe’s or Bill’s or Ed’s Trees –any lot that still has trees on December 21 or so (not always easy in a culture that confuses Advent with Christmas season). We roust out the cold, bored attendant from his trailer, and we look for the right lopsided noble fir that will fit between the fireplace wall and the bookshelves. Money changes hands, usually more than I would like, and Bill or Ed or Joe saws off the bottom of the tree so it will be “freshly cut”, and ties the tree to the top of the car. We drive home, and Bruce helps us wrestle it off the car rack. Then everyone stands on the front porch and gives advice to the unlucky family member who must wiggle under the tree and seat it in the stand. When it is upright and snug in its basin, we carry it in triumphal procession to the study, where it sits, one day or three or five, naked and bare but watered, until December 24.
Then Sarah decorates it. She winds strand after strand of small white steadily burning lights more or less evenly on the branches. She puts on the ornaments that came from Grandma Emma’s boxes, which Grandma no longer uses since her health won’t let her put up and take down a tree. She adds the few that we retrieved from Grandma Kae’s house after Kae died, the bird with the long tail feathers and the Santa. There are the paper and styrofoam and glitter balls that David and Mary made in Sunday School, and the cookie ornaments Aunt Meg gave us each year. We have a lot of cookie ornaments for Mary as the eldest, fewer for David, fewer still for Sarah. There are the ornaments Judy bought me the year I was pregnant with Mary and depressed, and spent all our food money on a tree, but then didn’t have enough money to eat or decorate the tree. She gave me the red spike “tree topper”, and some green balls you have to wrap around the branches with pipe cleaner. They go on the tree every year. There are the ornaments we brought home from trips to special places, and the crystal rose and three wise men, that have to be placed so that the tree lights will glint through them. Sadly, there are no longer the Ukranian egg ornaments we laboriously blew out and covered with wax and dyed one year; an infestation of mice in the garage destroyed them. But there are no anonymous ornaments on our tree: every one has a story.
On Christmas Eve, we all go to the late night vigil service, then come home, sometimes in rain, or snow, or just biting cold. Bruce makes hot spiced wine, and then on this night, this one night, we all crowd into the study, around the tree, and sit together for the hour or two it takes to open our presents. We have done this every year since we moved into the house. It is the perfect place to be on Christmas Eve.
I was thinking about all this while I cleaned out the study for Christmas this year. I had put on a recording of Christmas Carols from St. John, and was busily restacking boxes and dusting shelves and trying to find places to really put away the oddments that collect in the room over the regular course of a year of unuse. And all the while, I was engaged in that most annoying and unavoidable activity of the Christian: theological reflection.
Here is a room, ignored by daily life in the world, but its very faults in that world are the gifts necessary to the observation of an essential spiritual experience. It is dark and cold and a hard place to be every other day, but on Christmas Eve, it is warm with love and alight with laughter and if that spills over to the stranger on the street, so much the better.
So too was the stable in Bethlehem dark and cold, of little interest to the people flowed through the inn on their way to Jerusalem. They gave it only the thought necessary to stable their animals for a night. Even the owners kept it but minimally cleaned out; they would have had no time for more. But one night, one Christmas night, it became the birthing room for the Son of God. On that holy night, it was filled with the Light of the World, a light to enlighten even the Gentiles, standing outside, looking in with confusion.
Here is a room, ignored by daily life in the world, used for a short time for celebration, then forgotten. So in our society today, Christmas is often just a series of duties and parties and observances to be gotten through, perhaps enjoyed but more likely just endured. We read articles on how to survive the stress of the holidays, how to simplify the observance others expect of us. And if we manage to get through the holiday season, we can heave a sigh of relief and go back to normal until the next year.
On the narrow mantle of the study side of the fireplace, are two tiny Christmas tree replacement light bulbs. I found them one year in the high tufts of the rug as I was vacuuming, after I had already put the ornament box and lights back in their place in the garage, and I was too tired and cold to go back out to the garage and climb the ladder to the shelf with the ornament box and put them away properly.
They are little 2 amp lights, an inch long. But in a world that is otherwise pitch black, they would be enough to guide someone home. Here they still lie, ready for use when some year we bring out the lights and find one of the bulbs has not survived its summer sojourn in the garage. Until then, I see them, even unlit, on the corner of the mantle each time I pass through the room, a constant reminder of the room’s true purpose.
The room has changed. It will never be the same. Christ has come.
Fritz Allhoff & Dave Monroe, Food & Philosophy: Eat, Think and Be Merry, Oxford: Blackwell, 2007.
Donald Altman, Art of the Inner Meal: Eating as a Spiritual Path, San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1999.
Carolyn Walker Bynum, Holy Food, Holy Fast, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
Robert Farrar Capon, Light Theology and Heavy Cream, Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 2004.
Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A culinary reflection, New York: Modern Library, 1967.
Br. Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, Liguori, Missouri: Liguori/Triumph, 1996.
Br. Victor-Antoine D’Avila-Latourrette, From a Monastery Kitchen, London: Robert Hale Ltd, 1994.
Gillian Feeley-Harnik, The Lord’s Table: The Meaning of Food in Early Judaism and Christianity, Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.
Sara Covin Juengst, Breaking Bread: The Spiritual Significance of Food, Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1992.
L. Shannon Jung, Food for Life: The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2004.
Carolyn Korsmeyer, Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.
Elisabeth Luard, Sacred Food: Cooking for spiritual nourishment, Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press, 2001.
Cristina Mazzoni, The Women in God’s Kitchen: Cooking, Eating and Spiritual Writing, New York: Continuum, 2005.
Mary Ann McGivern, Not By Bread Alone: Recipes and Reflections for Christian Cooks, Chicago: ACTA Publications, 1998.
Francine Prose, Gluttony, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Irene Psathas, Sister Irene’s Culinary Journal: a notebook filled with love, faith, and recipes, many blessed years of cooking, serving, and caring, Brewster, Ma.: Paraclete Press, 1998.
Peter Reinhard, Brother Juniper’s Bread Book, Philadelphia: Running Press Book Publishers, 2005.
Peter Reinhard, Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Café, Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Publ. Co., 1994.
Daniel Sack, Whitebread Protestants: Food and Religion in American Culture, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001.
Ernst Schuegraf, Cooking with the Saints: An Illustrated Treasury of Authentic Recipes Old and Modern, San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2001.
For the Stock:
4 c. chicken stock
2 medium onions
1 medium carrot
4 stalks celery (with leaves)
6 cloves garlic
½ tsp black peppercorns
½ c. Marsala wine (or Madeira)
For the Rice:
2 c. chicken stock
½ c. wild rice
For the Bread Cubes:
4 slices black Russian rye bread
4 slices white bread
For the Veg:
1 cube butter
3 large shallots
½ c. sliced Cremini mushrooms
½ c. sliced Shiitake mushrooms
½ c. Chanterelle mushrooms
1. To make the stock, pour chicken broth into a large saucepan. Peel the onions and cut them into eighths. Peel carrot and slice it into ½-inch pieces. Cut the celery into ½-inch pieces. Peel and crush garlic cloves. Add the vegetables and peppercorns to the stock. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about an hour uncovered. Strain and discard the solids. Return the stock to the saucepan and reduce to 1-1/2 cups. Add ½ cup Marsala (or Madeira) wine. Reduce to 1-1/2 cups.
2. To make the rice, bring chicken broth to a boil in a small saucepan, add the rice, return to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer about an hour, until the rice begins to flower or break.
3. To make the bread cubes, lay all of the bread slices on a sheet pan and toast in a 250 degree F oven for about fifteen minutes. Turn the slices and toast fifteen minutes more. Remove the bread and slice into cubes using a serrated knife. Place the cubes on the sheet pan and toast another half hour.
4. To make the vegetables, melt the butter over medium heat in a large frying pan. Peel and chop the shallots. Sautee the shallots for ten minutes until softened but not darkened. Clean and slice the mushrooms. Add the mushrooms to the frying pan and cook only a couple of minutes to draw their liquor.
5. To make the dressing, combine the rice, bread cubes, and vegetables (with the butter) in a large mixing bowl. Add about a cup of the stock, a little at a time, and stir to wet the bread evenly. Add more stock as needed. Turn out into a baking dish. Cover with foil and bake twenty minutes in a 350 degree F oven. Remove the foil and bake ten minutes more.
About 2200 years ago, a pious Jew wrote a long short-story or a short novella about a man named Tobit who lived in the 8th Century BC. Or about Tobit’s son Tobias. Or about a woman named Sarah and her parents Raguel and Edna. Or about Raphael the Archangel. No matter, it was a pretty good yarn with lots of dramatic elements: suspense, romance, impersonation, illness and cure, fantastic creatures, divine intervention and more.
Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox think it is a canonical book of the Old Testament. Anglicans think it is deutero-canonical. Protestants don’t think much about it at all. In those Bibles were it can be found, it is usually printed with such books as Judith, Ecclesiasticus, The Song of the Three Children, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, and two books of Maccabees. Protestants don’t think much about those books, either.
About 2200 years later, Frederick Buechner, a prolific American writer and Presbyterian minister, expanded upon the biblical version of Tobit in a novella called “On the Road with the Archangel.” Written in the first person by the Archangel Raphael (cleverly disguised as Tobias’ traveling companion Azarias), all of the elements of the biblical story are included. Many are enhanced by Buechner’s faithful imagination.
This brief (149 page) novella is a delight: funny, poignant, involving, and challenging to one’s own theology. Buechner finds that many of the personal issues faced by ancients are faced by moderns. There is a sense, then, in which this 2200 year old story is a story about today.
Buechner was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of the South in 1996, the year before “Archangel” was published.
We hear much these days about the polarization of society. The debate over how best to provide health care in this country seems to have descended to the level of a cock fight, with each side crowing over scoring a hit, rather than rising to a thoughtful discussion of the need to supply basic health care services and pay for them responsibly — a discussion that, if the proponents weren’t so concerned with winning, might actually provoke the creativity necessary to craft viable solutions. The debate over gays in clergy collars likewise so often seems more about scoring points by citing the most proof texts than about seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit to discern how we Christians may help each other fulfill our baptismal vows to love our neighbors — all our neighbors — without violating our consciences. Even the debate over evolution and creation is often reduced to quips and quotes of various authors that promote neither good science nor good theology, but which do sell books.
What we have forgotten, and what we desperately need to remember, is how to become reconciled, one to the other.
Americans seem particularly bad at reconciliation. We are great at competition, but we don’t do forgiveness well. We aspire to reconciliation from time to time — we have the incredible image of the whole of Congress standing together on the steps of the Capitol after 9/11, singing “God Bless America”. Unfortunately that dream of common cause faded all too quickly with squabbles over the nature of the threats and best ways to meet them, and there was no underlying sense of real unity to carry us through the practical realities of the ensuing politics and economics.
I don’t know what the answer is. I can only offer, by way of meditation, three images that continue to haunt me: an archway at Magdelen College in Oxford, a statue and a plaque in a side chapel at the Cathedral in Rouen, and a pair of Westminster Abbey tombs.
We went to England in the summer of 1986. We were grad students with little money, but we had come by a slight windfall, we had some vacation time coming, and we had friends in England we could stay with at least part of our trip. So we packed up our 9-year-old, 3-year-old, and 15-month-old, and went to find the England of J. R. R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers, Arthur Ransome, Dick Wittington, Henry II, T.H. White, Isaac Newton, and Edmund Halley.
Lewis’s England lies largely in Oxford, where he taught at Magdelen, so we boarded the train to Oxford and the hallowed groves of academe, where teachers have taught and students have studied and dreamed for a thousand years. Wandering through those grounds that were open to the public, we came upon names carved into the wall of an archway between a great square and a cloistered walk. It was a memorial to the members of the College who had fallen in the Great War of 1914 to 1918.
You find these memorials in every village in England, sometimes on the walls of a municipal building, sometimes on columns in the center of village square, sometimes on plaques flat in the ground of the churchyard, among the gravestones of those who made it home. Lists are long; casualties were high, and some villages lost half of their male population in the trenches. Standing in the shadowed archway at Magdelen, we paused to read through the names, and realized with awe that they were divided into two groups: those who died in the service of George V of England, and those who had died in the service of Wilhelm, Emperor of Germany.
For you see, Oxford colleges have this odd notion that once you become a member of college, you remain a member of college. You can return and read books in the library, be seated at the college dining table, wear the college robes, attend the college colloquia, and when you die, be memorialized on the college walls — even when you die in the service of a political enemy. Governments rise and fall in the actions of charismatic leaders; industry bends to pragmatic ends; fashions will alter, economies will render the rich poor and the poor rich, but the underlying purpose of academics is to seek the truth, and at Magdelen, that shared journey creates a community that cannot be easily severed, even by war.
Fast-forward twenty-three years to a different trip, and a different country.
There was a decade in the nineteenth century when the Cathedral at Rouen was the tallest building in the world, its steeple rising nearly five hundred feet above the placid waters of the Seine, which meanders through the fields and orchards of Normandy on its way from Paris to the English Channel. Bombed and broken on D-Day, the cathedral nave has been repaired and remains breathtakingly impressive. Beneath the lacy stone and stained glass lie the tombs of Rollo the Northman and Richard the Lionheart, king of England, and at the same time, feudal lord and Duke of Normandy. And, not surprisingly, since just about every church in Normandy has some memorial to Jeanne d’Arc, there is a chapel in the north transept with a modern statue commemorating her martyrdom. She is in chains, her expression calmly resigned, while stone flames lick at her stone gown.
Rouen is the end of Jeanne’s story: here she was held in a fat tower that still stands near the train station, tried by an illegal court, and burned to death in the town square as a witch at the hands of the English, who had determined that her uncanny ability to beat their well-trained armies with smaller forces must lie in a pact with the devil. One might well think the Normans should have little love for the English: Jeanne’s martyrdom marked a turning point in a century of war between France and England that left northern France devastated and economically impoverished for yet another century after hostilities ceased.
So it is with a bit of shock that the Cathedral visitor reads the plaque under the double gothic arches just behind the chapel altar: in French and English, it proclaims “To the Glory of God and to the memory of the one million dead of the British Empire who fell in the Great War 1914-1918, and of whom the greater part rest in France.” In the chapel, in the crimson and sapphire and emerald light from the restored windows above, you suddenly realize that you are in a holy space, one that can abide the fundamental tension of human relationships. The English killed Jeanne, savior of France; the English died in defense of France. The English are — however long ago driven back and exiled to their island, and however badly some of them have behaved — still part of Normandy, and they will still come, if need be, to defend it.
Across the channel, in the center of London, on the banks of the Thames, lies Westminister Abbey. Here the English buried their poets and painters, dreamers and scientists, princes and kings: Geoffrey Chaucer and Lewis Caroll, Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle, Charles and James and Anne Stuart.
In the north aisle of the Lady Chapel are two tombs, one stacked above the other. In the lower one lies Mary Tudor, most Catholic queen of England, who held her sister Elizabeth in house arrest to prevent a civil war, whose courts ordered Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley burned at the stake on Broad Street in Oxford for their defense of a Protestant faith, and who sought all her life to serve God by bringing Him a Catholic kingdom in communion with Rome. In the coffin above her lies that same Elizabeth, most Protestant queen of England, who in her turn held her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, under house arrest to prevent a civil war, who ordered the executions of Mary and Robert Devereux for political plots, and who sought all her life to serve God by avoiding the religious wars of the Continent and creating a peacable England. When we visited the chapel in 1986, the plaque on the floor read: “Those whom the Reformation divided, the Resurrection will reunite, who died for Christ and conscience’ sake”. Standing among the royal tombs beneath the stone arches of the chapel, confronted by two sisters at deadly odds with one another, it is with some shock that four hundred years later what remains is the conviction that reconciliation is not merely possible: it is inevitable where there is a fundamental common goal to serve God.
The issues that divide us as Americans and as Christians and as Episcopalians are real; they are complex, and they challenge us to be the best we can be to address them. As individuals, we have limited resources of time and money and talent and intellect and emotional stamina. We cannot resolve complex problems by isolating ourselves from each other. We can only truly begin to worship together, feed the poor, care for the injured, bind up the wounds of war, and make peace when we realize that the eternal truths that unite us are more important than the temporal issues that divide us. We start by standing together on the common ground of our baptismal vows, the Eucharist, Christ’s Resurrection, and God’s eternal love for each of us and all of us.
There once was a child born the fourth son of a noble couple. As he demonstrated no particular skills and as he was highly unlikely to inherit his father’s title and property, the couple gave him to the local abbot to be raised as a monk.
The abbot found no skills in him that might benefit the monastery so he put the youngster to work in the kitchen. For many years, the boy laboured at the lowest tasks, working himself slowly up into positions of greater and greater responsibility. He learned to butcher and to preserve. He learned the secrets of winemaking and brewing beer. He mastered the arts of baking and saucing.
In his middle years, the monk became master of the kitchen and tutored the many younger monks who were assigned to assist him. The kitchen’s reputation grew and grew until it became famous throughout the kingdom.
The abbot granted him leave to absent himself from vigils and lauds as he was so busy in the kitchen preparing the food that would become the three meals of the day. “Work is prayer,” the abbot said, and so it was.
Visiting abbots and princes sought to steal the monk chef away from his monastery but his vow of stability wedded him to the place where he was first professed. The abbots of neighbouring monasteries often sent young monks to work and study under him.
One day, there was a convocation of bishops and abbots at the monastery for which the chef monk prepared the best dishes of which he was capable. Praise was heaped upon him and he was deeply gratified that so many important people appreciated his art.
That night, the chef monk dreamt that he was in Heaven where he met the Lord. Jesus Himself greeted and welcomed him. There were dark green bushes on which beautiful golden fruit was growing. When the monk looked at the fruit, Jesus bade him to pick and eat. It was the most wonderful flavour he had ever tasted … and he had tasted many.
In the early morning, the abbot saw the chef monk in his assigned place in the choir at the first daily order of prayer. Accustomed to his absence, the abbot sought him out after the liturgy and asked why he was there when he had been excused.
“I had a dream last night,” the monk told his abbot, “in which I learned that the highest things I can accomplish on earth are lower than those things which are freely given in Heaven to those who have not so much as earned them.”
There was little light, most of it coloured by its passage through stained glass, in the abbey church. As the monks found their assigned places to sit, I found my place in the Benedictine breviary — one of two books necessary to pray the daily offices with the brothers. I discovered that the guestmaster or his assistant had marked all of the places with coloured ribbons, which was one of a hundred examples of the hospitality enjoined by the Rule of Saint Benedict.
The printed order of the liturgy carefully set out who was to say (or sing) what when. I was surprised to see that many of the parts in the service were to be read by the hebdomadary. And what, pray tell, might that/he be? My first guess was a camel with seven humps.
Once safely back in my cell in the retreat house, I accessed the Internet and looked it up. [Note: Reading things on webpages does not violate the monastic rule of silence, required between the last office of the day and the first office of the morning, so long as the cyber-reader does not actually say the words on the page out loud.]
According to the 2009 edition of the Random House Dictionary, a hebdomadary is, “In the Roman Catholic Church, a member of a church or monastery appointed for one week to sing the chapter Mass and lead in the recitation of the breviary” and, according to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, the 1998 edition, “A member of a chapter or convent, whose week it is to officiate in the choir, and perform other services, which, on extraordinary occasions, are performed by the superiors.”
As organizations with long histories (and thus specialized vocabularies) strive to become modern, there is a tendency to simplify their language by the elimination of unfamiliar terms. Opponents to this process refer to it disparagingly as “dumbing down.” Proponents see it as removing linguistic barriers to attracting new people.
You can’t be much of a philatelist without learning about watermarks, selvage and perforations. You can’t become much of a cricket fan without learning about wickets, googlies and chuckers. You can’t do much on the stock markets without learning about blue chips, arbitrage and naked offers.
The Benedictine brothers’ retention of the term hebdomadary didn’t put me off, nor create an impenetrable barrier to my inclusion in their worshiping community. It created an opportunity for me to learn something and that can’t be bad.
The Episcopal Church uses a lot of specialized vocabulary, some of which must be challenging to newcomers to the church. One way to make the church more hospitable might be to eliminate much of that language. Another might be to offer some good dictionaries for those willing to make the effort to learn.
An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: a user-friendly reference for Episcopalians, Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum. Eds, New York: Church Pub., 2000.
John N. Wall, A Dictionary for Episcopalians, Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 2000.
The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3d ed., F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingstone, Eds., New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Stephen E. Moore, Church Words: Origins and Meanings, Cincinnati: Forward Movement Publications, 1996.
At least she was not violating RCW 46.61.667 which has prohibited holding a cell phone to one’s ear while driving in Washington since 1 July 2008.
The importance of gesture, facial expression, posture and other visual cues to oral communications has been thoroughly studied and validated. We “say” a great deal in conversation with the parts of our bodies which do not make vocal sounds. An arched eyebrow, a shrug of the shoulders or a thumbs-down gesture can actually reverse the meaning of what we say with our words alone.
But there was no one else in the car with the lady using the hands-free phone … no one to SEE her right hand carving the air or stabbing a finger for accusatory emphasis.
If the driver’s gesticulations were not intended to add to the message received by the person on the other end of the telephone connection (who couldn’t see them) nor the passenger in the car (who wasn’t there), what were they for?
Perhaps they were more of the sort of gestures made when one is listening to a symphony and the listener’s hands begin to conduct an imagined orchestra which cannot see the rhythm nor the cut-offs. Or perhaps of the sort one makes when nodding one’s head in agreement or shaking one’s head in disagreement while watching a speech on television all alone. Or perhaps of the sort the character Tevia made in his conversations with God portrayed in “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Not everyone makes the same type (nor quantity) of gestures when communicating. Everyone knows someone who can be described as “unable to speak if you tied her hands behind her back.”
The Episcopal Church is a good place for people who have a modest need to communicate with their hands and bodies in worship. Other churches are better for those with a much greater need; still others are better for those with none.
The typical worshipper in an Episcopal service stands to sing, sits to listen and kneels to pray (although there is a great deal of variety among different Episcopal congregations). Some Episcopalians bow toward the Book of the Gospels as the reading is being announced and concluded. Some bow during the words concerning the Incarnation in the Nicene Creed. Some make the sign of the cross on themselves at various points in the liturgy. A few even genuflect, ‘tho this is not particularly common. Vested ministers in Episcopal worship rarely move from one place to another without making it a procession. On Palm Sunday, in most churches, everybody gets into the processional act.
For some, worship is a wholly verbal experience. One might say that they worship in their heads. The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (2002) says “In many places, orality fuses with kinaesthetic movement in the liturgy. Such physical manifestations reflect a holistic understanding of the human person and the worshipping person.” (p. 32) We may not be dancin’ in the aisles, but our orality fuses nicely with our kinaesthetic movement on our best days.