Category Archives: Coronavirus

A Prayer for Spiritual Communion

A Prayer for Spiritual Communion
In union, O Lord, with the faithful at every altar of your Church where the Holy Eucharist is now being celebrated, I desire to offer you praise and thanksgiving. I present to you my soul and body with the earnest wish that I may always be united to you, and, since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, I beseech you to come spiritually into my heart. I unite myself with you, and embrace you with all the love of my soul. Let nothing ever separate you from me. May I live in you, and may you live in me, both in this life and in the life to come. Amen.

Sermon, June 7

When Bishop Miller invited me to preach on Trinity Sunday, I was both honored and alarmed. It was and is a daunting assignment! Every year, in Episcopal circles on Twitter and Facebook, there’s a little flutter before and after this feast over which preachers commit heresy in the course of explaining the Trinity.  I hope to avoid that pitfall because I am under no illusion that I understand the Trinity. 

When I can’t avoid talking about it, I like to turn to the fourth-century theologians who thought and wrote about the Trinity back when that was the central theological debate of the age. The Nicene Creed which we say every Sunday, and the Church’s formal doctrinal language, can make the idea of the Trinity feel rigid and dry. But those long-ago thinkers were keenly aware that they were fumbling to put words to a mystery that is, as Gregory of Nyssa writes, “beyond a certain point ineffable and inconceivable.”

One of my favorite ideas from these fourth-century writers comes from Gregory’s brother Basil, on the math of the Trinity. He wrote, “The Unapproachable One is beyond numbers, wisest sirs … Count if you must, but do not malign the truth…There is one God and Father, one Only-Begotten Son, and one Holy Spirit. We declare each Person to be unique, and if we must use numbers, we will not let a stupid arithmetic lead us astray to the idea of many gods.” (On the Holy Spirit) Basil goes on to explain that because of this distinctiveness, yet unity, of the Persons of the Trinity, the proper way to count the Trinity is not one plus one plus one makes Three, but but One, One, One… makes One.

One idea that was important in thinking and writing about the Trinity during this formative time and the following centuries is perichoresis – a wonderful Greek word that means something like, Moving around in a circle. Scholars have tried to render the concept into English in many ways:  relational co-inherence, co-indwelling, dynamic reciprocity, interpenetration, fellowship, intimacy, sharing, mutual belonging…. No one term or phrase captures it, but I think you get the idea!

Gregory of Nyssa wrote that because of this profound interconnectedness of the Persons of the Trinity, it’s impossible, for example, to think or talk about just the Holy Spirit. He writes, “Since the Spirit is of Christ (Rom 8.9) and from God (1 Cor 2.12)…, then just as anyone who catches hold of one end of a chain pulls also on the other end, so one who draws the Spirit (Ps 118.131) as the prophet says, also draws through him the Son and the Father.” (Epistle to Peter)

What these great-grandparents of our faith are telling us is: Within Godself, there is multiplicity – the Persons named as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and there is relationship. Relationship is not something secondary to the Divine, something added on to a fundamental completeness; but is in the very being and heart of the Holy, from the beginning. C.S. Lewis writes, “‘God is love’ is a way of saying that the living, dynamic activity of love has always been going on within God, and has created everything else.”

And we, humans, made in the image and likeness of God, we too are relational, in our very being. Made to belong to one another – and to the ecology in which we are placed, though that’s a sermon for another day! We were made for connection, for fellowship, for sharing, for love. That’s not just throw-pillow philosophy. It’s also the conclusion of quite a number of scientific fields. 

That connectedness is fundamental to God’s nature, and ours, is a challenge of sorts to Western thought – to the idea that the fundamental unit of humanity is the autonomous individual. We are prone to think of ourselves as much more separate from those around us, much more self-determined in our opinions and choices, than we actually are. Despite being reminded otherwise regularly over the millennia!

St. Paul wrote, “All the members of the body, though many, are one body… The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Cor 12)

John Donne, in the 1620s, another time of plague, wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less…  Any [person]’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in [hu]mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

In the late 20th century, Archbishop Desmond Tutu introduced us in the American church to the idea of ubuntu, explaining: “We believe that a person is a person through another person, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours.” Ubuntu means, “We belong in a bundle of life.” 

(from his memoir No Future Without Forgiveness) 

Writer and human rights activist Glennon Doyle calls us to look at the crises of our times through the lens of knowing that there is no such thing as other people’s children. 

We need each other. No person is an island. We belong in a bundle of life. There is no such thing as other people’s children. We know all this – but we forget, so easily. We fall back into the illusion that I am an independent Self. That my skin and my skull bound my being. That what makes me and matters about me are my own, singular tastes, choices, possessions, experiences and moods – and not my connections and my context. 

Except that there’s this pandemic going on.

A few weeks ago, in a piece about life during coronavirus, I read a line that said something like this: We are thinking more socially than ever before. I didn’t make note of the source at the time; I should have, because I’ve thought about that idea, again and again. 

It started with those diagrams or animations that were circulating in the early days, when social distancing was a new idea: Remember – you’d be invited to visualize yourself as a dot. And lo and behold, that dot is connected to other dots. Not just the people you’d readily name as being in your network – family members, co-workers, friends – but people you didn’t think much about before: Your grocery store clerk, your postal worker. The receptionist at your hair salon. Your child’s teacher. Your child’s teacher’s child’s teacher. 

No man is an island. 

Our fresh recognition of the degree to which interaction and connection are part of our daily lives came at first with a lot of fear. Trips to the grocery store became fraught because we were newly mindful of touching what someone else has touched; of inhaling air that someone else just exhaled. 

But as our new awareness settled in, many of us started to think about our fundamental interconnectedness in more measured and altruistic ways. The people who deliver my mail and my packages: Are they OK? Are they staying healthy? Are they afraid? Does their employer provide masks? Do they have paid sick leave if they need it? Perhaps we start wondering because we’re estimating the risk of virus on our Amazon boxes – but then we keep wondering because those people too are part of my network. Their wellbeing should matter to me. Does matter to me.

In a recent essay, Anne Helen Peterson writes about the nationwide drop in consumption – partially because of job losses and fears of even worse economic times ahead, but also, she argues, because of “a newfound awareness (and attention to) the human cost of each purchase: For everything you buy online, there are people in factories packaging it, others in warehouses distributing it, and still more in trucks delivering it.” Some of those people have some protections provided by employers; others do not. One person told Peterson, “The calculus for every decision is: Do I need to put an essential worker in harm’s way to get this? [Or] can I do without it?” 

Likewise, we’re slowly getting used to the idea that masking is primarily to protect OTHERS from us. As the Bishop says so well, the mask is a sign of love of neighbor. Putting on a mask is a physical act that acknowledges our mutual vulnerability and responsibility. We belong in a bundle of life – and we mask to preserve life. 

As protests continue against our nation’s long and entrenched history of excessive use of force against black and brown bodies, I’m seeing more of my white friends and colleagues than ever before saying, I see. I hear. I’m going to start this work. We are realizing that systems that make us feel comfortable and safe, often have the exact opposite impact for our neighbors of color. We’re coming to understand more deeply, more urgently, that our lives are embedded in a shared fabric that lifts some kinds of people and presses down on others. 

May we hold onto that newfound knowledge, even though it hurts – and not be like the person described by the apostle James who looks in the mirror, then walks away and immediately forgets what they look like. 

This newfound, deeper awareness of our mutual interconnectedness that I think I see is certainly not universal. For every person considering afresh the wellbeing of those touched by their choices and actions, there is a person angry that their hair salon isn’t open yet… a person who has not understood, or does not care, that the risk is MUCH higher for the staff, who come into contact with many customers, than for the client. 

But I think more of us are carrying those dot and line diagrams in our heads these days, one way or another. We are aware in fresh and vivid ways of the human networks that lead to us, and out from us. 

Where do we go from here? Will it stick? Does it matter? The podcast 99 Percent Invisible had an episode recently about the strange opportunities the pandemic has offered – like, ecologists are able to listen to how whales communicate when they’re not competing with the noise of commercial shipping. The hosts observed, “We don’t want to talk about silver linings when so much bad is happening. But… I don’t think it diminishes the moment to treat [it] as having lessons for us… It would be a double tragedy if we went through this and learned nothing.”  [Emmett Fitzgerald, Roman Mars]

It would be a double tragedy if we went through this, and learned nothing. 

What could it look like to carry forward our new social – or epidemiological – patterns of thinking? Disease is not the only thing that is contagious – that spreads through social contact. Information is contagious – and so is misinformation and disinformation, lies spread deliberately to sow confusion and mistrust. Just as it’s incumbent on us as children of a God of wholeness to strive to avoid spreading disease, so it is incumbent on us as children of a God of truth to strive to avoid becoming vectors of falsehood. Take responsibility for what you pass along, in real life and especially on social media, and remember that we’re most likely to be fooled by lies that lean into our existing biases. 

Ideologies spread socially. In recent years white supremacist ideologies have spread rapidly in online spaces and beyond. When we find ourselves in the presence of racist or hateful speech, it’s on us to break that chain of transmission. All you have to say is, “I don’t like that kind of joke,” or, “Talking about people that way makes me uncomfortable.” That can feel hard – but it’s a lot easier than not leaving your home for two months!

There are things we don’t want to spread – and there are things we DO. We are social animals; we are shaped by the attitudes and behaviors of the people around us, and we shape others in turn. Rightly deployed, that’s a powerful force. 

Faith is contagious, of course – and like the coronavirus, it’s unlikely to be caught by casual contact; it’s much more likely to make the jump from one person to another when you spend time in close proximity, breathing the same air. 

Kindness is contagious. Again: That sounds like a throw pillow, but there is science behind it. When people witness someone else doing a kind act, they’re more likely to do something kind for others. One study suggested that a person who sees an act of altruism may go on to do as many as four kind acts in response. 

Moral courage is contagious – the courage to do or stand up for what is right, even when there are significant risks. Both social norms – the spoken and unspoken messages we get from the people and culture around us – AND particular people who model costly courage, make us more likely to do what is right even when it scares us. Having others in our network who are standing up and speaking up for justice and mercy literally encourages us – puts courage into us – to stand up too. 

My skin is not the boundary of my self. My humanity is inextricably bound up with others – in tiny everyday ways and in big, world-changing ways too. The mutual belonging and interdependence within the very heart of God, the Holy and undivided Trinity, is at the heart of my being as well – and yours.  May a fresh, fierce, hopeful knowledge that no one is an island, that we belong in a bundle of life, that every death diminishes me and there is no such thing as other people’s children – may that knowledge shape our choices and our lives, from this day forward. May it be the blessing we carry away from this season of bitter and costly wrestling with disease and injustice. 

Some sources… 

Basil and bad Trinity math: 

https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/st-basil-and-the-stupid-arithmetic-of-the-trinity/

Gregory of Nyssa:

https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2018/05/01/st-gregory-of-nyssa-perichoretic-trinity-2/

BuzzFeed piece:

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/annehelenpetersen/recession-unemployment-covid-19-economy-consumer-spending?fbclid=IwAR0KVivjzZAbshRYv64zn_F50Kqf5MA00YegrHC_Qq92MieS2sQ7pd5H0dc

99 Percent Invisible, Episode 401: The Natural Experiment –

https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/the-natural-experiment/

A starting point on the contagion of altruism – 

https://ethicalleadership.nd.edu/news/harnessing-the-power-of-elevation-how-a-little-known-emotion-makes-ethical-leadership-work/

A wonderful piece that didn’t make the cut but that you should read – “The Pandemic is a portal” 

https://www.ft.com/content/10d8f5e8-74eb-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca

Homily, May 17

We begin by watching a short film about the life of St. Dunstan. 

Wonder together some: 

What was your favorite part?…

What was the most important part? … 

Let’s look at an image of Dunstan together. 

It’s interesting to study Dunstan. He is a figure of holy folklore, a man who is said to have miraculously levitated a falling beam. But he is, too,  an actual figure of historical significance – the great libraries of Britain hold manuscripts that bear Dunstan’s actual handwriting. Here is a page from a manuscript known as the Glastonbury Classbook, currently in the collection of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. The big central figure is Jesus Christ, depicted as a king. But what you should notice is this little monk in his habit, down here in the corner, kneeling at Christ’s feet. This might be an actual self-portrait of, by, Dunstan. He’s known to have written manuscripts of this period, he began his career at Glastonbury, and he was an artist and craftsman. This is the image of Dunstan we keep in our icon corner at church – not an icon that makes Dunstan central, but this image that perhaps shows him the way he pictured himself: kneeling at the feet of Christ. 

(What it says:  Dunstanum memet clemens rogo, Christe, tuere / Tenarias me non sinas sorbsisse procellas  – ‘I ask, merciful Christ, that you protect me, Dunstan; do not permit the Taenarian storms to swallow me’).

There’s a lot to say about Dunstan, who lived an interesting life in interesting times. But today I want to focus on Dunstan the reformer.  Dunstan’s faith led him to a life of civic engagement that left Britain better than he found it. 

The Britain into which Dunstan was born was fractured, chaotic, and dangerous. It was only thirty years before his birth that Alfred the Great had begun to unify many small kingdoms into something resembling a nation – and that work was ongoing during Dunstan’s lifetime. 

Besides political divisions and frequent wars and skirmishes, for most people life was brutish and short. In Dunstan’s time the common people were uneducated, poor, harassed by bandits, cheated by merchants, and oppressed by the landed aristocracy. Rule of law and civil society were almost nonexistent.

Dunstan committed his long life to supporting the project of a unified, orderly Britain, with education more widely available; common systems for money and commerce; and a fair and equally-applied judicial system. 

He is rightly remembered as a founder of monasteries & proponent of Benedictine monasticism; but for Dunstan, monasteries were a tool for reform. Dunstan and the other great bishops of his time believed deeply that the flourishing of the English people would be best served by the cultivation of monastic centers, whose prayers, teaching, and care for the common folk would be a stabilizing and improving force.

Dunstan was a consummate pragmatist. His lifetime and work spanned the reigns of eight kings. He was exiled by some, elevated to higher and higher positions of honor and influence by others. He pursued his vision with the help of friendly kings, and against the opposition of unfriendly ones. Dunstan’s life reminds us that while human political agendas and God’s agenda can overlap, those overlaps are always temporary and partial. If we can keep that in mind, then maybe our civic and political engagement can be as clear-sighted and stubborn as Dunstan’s was. 

And over the course of Dunstan’s long, determined, faithful life, England did become a little more ordered, a little more just, a little safer. Something worked – and Dunstan’s role in those changes was honored, as he became celebrated as a saint within decades of his death. 

I think Dunstan the reformer stands out for me right now because I think we may be tempted to think that reform, the work of making things better for more, the work – as we see it as Christians – of making the community and world around us better reflect God’s intentions of justice, mercy, peace, and wholeness, needs to start from a place of stability. It’s something people – usually people in authority – sometimes say: Now isn’t the time. Things need to be more  settled before we can work for improvement. 

But Dunstan and those who worked alongside him, did what they did in chaotic, violent, unsettled times.  As the great rabbi Hillel once said: If not now, when? 

In a few months, or weeks, we will be under immense pressure to get Back To Normal. It’s already starting, to some extent.  I hope that we will demand a better Normal than the one we had before. I hope that we will have the insight and courage to be choosy about what we want back in our lives, individually and especially collectively. 

What would we like to see better, on the other side of all this?

What will we to work and fight and vote and pray and give to build into the new Normal? 

I’d like our new Normal to value our health care workers, from janitors to surgeons, more.

And to better respect and better compensate the work of teachers and child care workers more.

I’d like our new Normal to recognize that minimum-wage hourly work is essential work, and makes those jobs more sustainable and livable. 

A society that listens when scientists tell us about the risks of how we’re living now, and responds by changing our behavior. What if we did that with climate change?….

I’d like our new Normal to extend our realization that we are connected. And that we need one another. 

What would you like to see become part of the emergent Normal, friends?… 

Sermon, April 26

This morning, I’m taking the opportunity of our online worship to do something that’s harder to do in church – look at some art together. I mentioned last week in the evening gathering that there are wonderful paintings of some of these Easter Gospel stories by the artist Caravaggio, who lived in Italy from 1571 to 1610. Caravaggio’s work represents some rich and wonderful visual exegesis – reflecting on a Scriptural story and drawing meaning out of it by rendering it artistically. 

Here is his painting of our Gospel story from last week – The Incredulity of St. Thomas.

Remember, when the other disciples told him that they had seen Jesus, risen from the dead, while he was not with them, Thomas said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” In Caravaggio’s image, Jesus is guiding Thomas’s finger into the wound in his side. As much as to say, “If this is what you need, Thomas… let it be so.”

How would you describe the look on Jesus’ face? Unmute & share what you’re seeing, if you’d like – just a word or two. You can do it in Chat, too. How would you describe the feelings on Thomas’s face?….

When you’re looking at a Caravaggio painting, always notice the hands. He paints very expressive hands. Notice Thomas’s left hand. Does that add to how you read his feelings, in this moment? 

All right. Let’s move to this Sunday’s Gospel – another beautiful story of followers of Jesus meeting the risen Christ. Two of the disciples, Jesus’ friends and followers, are leaving Jerusalem – burdened with sadness and disappointment. They had hoped that he would be the one to redeem Israel – to free their nation and people from the degradation of Roman rule, to a new era of freedom and holy strength, like the remembered time of King David. 

But that’s not what happened. Jesus didn’t call the people to him and start a righteous revolution. Instead, the imperial powers and the local powers, Pilate, Herod, and the chief priests, worked it out among themselves to dispose of him. It wasn’t even especially difficult. And now, the great moment of hope and possibility has passed. They’ve heard about the empty tomb and the rumors that maybe Jesus is alive; but still, it feels like everything is over. They might as well go home, and return to the normal lives they abandoned when they joined the Jesus movement. 

We know both their names, by the way, though Luke only names Cleopas. John, in his Gospel, names the women who were standing near the cross – one of them is Mary, the wife of Clopas. 

Clopas and Cleopas are very likely the same name. And it makes all the sense in the world that this was a married couple traveling together, since we know there were women among Jesus’ disciples, and since the story ends at a home they share. 

So, Mary and Cleopas are headed home, sad and weary.  But then a stranger approaches and falls into step with them. He asks them, What are you talking about? And when they tell him, he says, Wait, have you even READ the Scriptures? It was necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things! And as they walk on, the stranger re-interprets Scripture to them, texts of liberation like Exodus and texts of judgment and promise like the Prophets, to show them that passing through death to new life is a story God tells in the world, over and over and over again. 

And then they reach Emmaus. And Mary – I’m sure it was Mary – says, Oh, please stop here with us. It’s getting dark. We don’t have much in the cupboard, but I’ll borrow from a neighbor. Stay. And the stranger agrees to stay. And over their simple shared meal, he takes bread, and blesses it, and breaks it, and gives it to them. And the words and the voice, the way he lifts his hands, the way he meets their eyes when he holds out the bread – suddenly, they see. They recognize. They know. 

Here is Caravaggio’s image of the supper at Emmaus.

You’ll notice that Caravaggio thought both of the disciples on the road to Emmaus were men. What else do you notice?…

A couple of notes: The servant is a self-portrait of Caravaggio. Caravaggio’s Jesus here doesn’t look like a conventional Jesus – he is young and androgynous or even feminine. This is how Caravaggio has interpreted the fact that the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus – he must have looked different in some way. Compare the Jesus in Caravaggio’s painting “The Taking of Christ,” who looks a lot more like “normal” depictions of Jesus.

Then Jesus – disappears. (While he does have a real human body, the Risen Jesus seems to be able to pop in and out of our reality in a new way!) And Cleopas and Mary stare at each other, with understanding and hope dawning on their faces. And they RUSH back to Jerusalem – seven miles by night! – to tell the other disciples what has happened. How Jesus walked with them and talked with them, and was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. 

That phrase may sound familiar! It’s used in one of our Eucharistic prayers, Prayer C. The congregation says it: Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread. It’s also in a beautiful prayer we use in the evenings sometimes, a prayer based on this story: Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread.

Sharing the Eucharist, breaking bread that is the Body of Christ and sharing it among the fellowship of believers that is also the Body of Christ, is central to our church’s practice. We are fasting from it now, for a season, for the sake of human wellbeing – for one another and for our wider community. I know that fast is really hard for some folks. I’m sorry. We will return to the Eucharistic table, when we have discerned that it’s safe enough, and how to do so with minimal risk. 

The breaking of the bread is a really important moment when we can see and feel and touch the Divine. But it’s far from the only such moment. I love what Mary and Cleopas say to one another: Were not our hearts burning within us, while he was speaking to us on the road? Hours before they recognized their mysterious traveling companion as Jesus Christ, God incarnate, hours before this eucharistic meal, they had the sense that they were hearing something powerful and important and true. I think that’s why they begged the stranger to stay with them. Not just kindness or politeness, but also a sense of connection, possibility, urgency. 

Were not our hearts burning within us? I know what that feels like. That sense of hearing important truth, truth that will change how I think and how I live. Or hearing something that has a call on me. I know the feeling of a deep-down nudge that says, Pay attention. There’s something here. Something that kindles your heart and awakens hope. You’re close to one of the cracks in everything, where the light gets in. I am more or less attuned to those nudges, that strange inner warmth, depending on how well I’ve been sleeping, how hard I’ve been working, how open and present I’m able to be. But I do know that feeling. 

We love gathering at our church building – but we know God doesn’t live there. We love sharing the Body of Christ in Eucharist – but we know that’s not the only place to meet Jesus. We may be all shut up in our homes, but the risen Jesus walks right through locked doors, friends. 

Where is the Holy showing up for you, in these days? Where might the Holy show up for you, if you look, and listen? If you open your heart to expect that even here, even now, God has a word to speak to you, or a gift to offer you, or a mission of love to invite you into? Listen to your heart, friends… notice when it burns within you. 

Response question: Where have you seen or sensed God’s presence, gotten a glimpse or whiff of the Holy, in these days? … 

ChurchLands Possibilities, April 2020

In early April, Rev. Miranda and Carrie met with ChurchLands leader Nurya Love Parish over Zoom to discuss how we might think about using our grounds in new ways in light of changed circumstances due to the coronavirus pandemic. (NOTE: If you’re not already familiar with the ChurchLands program, please take a moment to go read this page!)

We noted that many people – both members and non-members – experience our church grounds as holy space and use them accordingly. That led us to some interesting and hopeful questions. How might we be more intentional about inviting members and friends to use our grounds as a place of pilgrimage and prayer, in the months ahead when there may be somewhat more freedom of movement but gatherings are still limited? When we begin to gather again, how might our grounds be a tool for gathering in holy space, when people may not yet feel comfortable coming into the enclosed space of the church building? Might our present circumstances lead us to some experimentation with a long-held desire at St. Dunstan’s for more outdoor, or indoor/outdoor, worship? 

Could hands-on outdoor projects be a way to work together as a church (even if we come and work at separate times) this spring and summer – and if so, what projects would serve the possibilities listed above? (More visible and accessible paths to the Pine Island altar and labyrinth? More wayfinding in the woods?…) 

As Nurya said, Our grounds offer many kinds of possibilities and opportunities. How might this treasured resource take on new purpose and new value for us in this season? 

Holy Week Homilies

HOLY WEEK HOMILIES for Worshiping in Place

The Rev. Miranda Hassett, St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, Madison, WI 

Maundy Thursday – Homily for the Anointing of Hands

So, let’s talk about footwashing. That’s usually the “special thing” we do tonight. Footwashing was a significant gesture of service in the ancient Near East, because people’s feet needed care. My daughter and I recently read an article about Roman sewers that contained this line:  “The streets of a Roman city would have been cluttered with dung, vomit, [human waste], garbage, filthy water, rotting vegetables, animal skins and guts, and other refuse from various shops that lined the sidewalks. 

Feet were dirty. And because people mostly wore sandals, feet also took a beating – dry & cracked, often small cuts or injuries. Tending someone’s feet was a real act of humility – usually for those of lowly stature, considering what you’d be washing off. That’s why Peter resists it – he doesn’t want Jesus, his honored friend and teacher, to do this for him. But Jesus says, I need to do this. Because foot washing was a true act of service. Imagine how good it would feel to have your dirty, beaten-up feet gently washed & dried & perhaps anointed with some balm or oil. 

I think foot washing as a church custom is really holy and precious. Even though the context has changed a lot – our streets are pretty clean, and we mostly wear shoes – it’s still powerful and intimate and humbling. But it’s also pretty hard to do as part of a Zoom liturgy. It takes time; it takes setup; it excludes those who are joining us on their own. I encourage you, if you’d like, to wash your feet or one another’s feet after the end of our service tonight, perhaps as kind of a bedtime ritual. It’s a tender, holy gesture.

But what we will do now, as we are gathered, is something different – but I think it’s a fair analogue, for this year, this moment in the life of the world. I’m going to invite you to anoint your hands. Or if you’re here with others, to anoint one another’s hands. Don’t start yet! I’m still talking! 

Anointing hands is different from washing feet. Feet were dirty, and had shameful cultural connotations. Hands are not seen as shameful in our culture, and our hands are all probably REALLY clean. But they may also be dry. Sore. Chapped or cracked. Our hands are bearing the burden of our carefulness. 

In Matthew’s Gospel, almost the last thing that happens before the Last Supper, is that a woman anoints Jesus with scented oil. It’s a gesture of honor – something you do for somebody special – and also a gesture of care. 

So let’s carry all that into this gesture of anointing our hands. Make it a mediation, a sacred pause. Whether you’re tending your own hands or someone else’s… take your time. Be gentle. Be thorough. Thank these hands for their work. Thank them for what they are sacrificing every day, by being washed and washed again until they are dry and scratchy and maybe painful. Thank them for helping keep you safe; helping keep your loved ones safe; helping keep everyone safe. 

There’s a simple prayer you can say – to yourself or to whomever’s hands you are anointing: [Name], I anoint your hands in the name of the One who made you, loves you, and sustains you. 

 

Maundy Thursday – Homily for the Stripping of the Altar 

Let’s remember what we usually do at this time… and describe it for people who haven’t seen it at St. Dunstan’s before.… 

One of the things we do is empty the tabernacle and take the consecrated bread and wine to the Altar of Repose. It’s a place we set aside holy things that we aren’t going to use for a while. Usually a pretty short while – Thursday evening to Saturday evening!

I was talking about Maundy Thursday with a friend, Michael, and she said: Maundy Thursday, and specifically the stripping of the altar, is going to be hard this year because so many people are living through that experience of having things stripped away from them. When we are putting away beautiful, special things that give us delight, Michael said, people will look at that this year and think, That’s not just a symbol. That’s my life. 

Dear ones: What we are doing now is hard, and costly, and important. This thing we are doing together, that’s making us worship through computer screens – It may help keep us safer – my household, your household. That’s certainly one big goal. But It is definitely helping keep our whole community safer. 

It’s hard for us to to see it, but the people who are modeling this epidemic tell us there’s a really direct line between our setting aside all these things for a season, our self-isolation – what a weighty phrase – and saving lives. Lives of people we may know but also lives of people we don’t, because we are all in a web of connection, in ways we maybe didn’t think about a lot before coronavirus. You’ll never know the names of the people who are alive in June because of what you are setting aside right now. But they have names, and lives, and people who love them. 

Staying home, minimizing our contact with others and the outside world, is one of the most Christlike things we may be called upon to do. 

So in few minutes I will strip our symbolic altar. But first, I’d like to take some time for you to create your own Altar of Repose for the things you have set aside for this season. There’s a fancy word for this – renunciation. Things set aside or stop doing for a reason. We have been asked and told to stay home – but we still have a choice about whether & how fully we comply. We do have agency, and we’re using it. 

Take your pens & slips of paper & write or draw some of the things you’re NOT doing right now… your renunciations. Some of the things we miss & are longing to return to. Please include the things that feel trivial, like stopping by a favorite coffeeshop or petting your neighbor’s dog when you meet on a walk! You can just write a word or two;  you’ll know what you mean. Then gather all those slips into your envelope or special container, and set them aside in some special place. We are setting aside beautiful things, lovely things, things that delight and fulfill us. But we will bring them forth again, when the time is right. We will. 

 

Good Friday Homily

This liturgy is hard because it leans into suffering, loss, struggle, and death. This year we are all in that together in a (I hope) unique way. It’s humbling for me as a pastor because I know that Good Friday always hits some people hard. Maybe every year; maybe only in some particular year – it’s all just too close to the bone, this story of betrayal, abuse, indifference, despair, and a lonely, brutal death. 

This year it’s close to the bone for all of us, collectively. And that is strange and raw and hard and holy. This is a day to acknowledge grief at suffering and loss. It’s also a day when the Church says two bold, insistent things: You’re never alone; and death is not the end of the story. You’re never alone because in Jesus Christ, God entered into human experience, even into its darkest depths. God can always find us there, walk with us there. 

My prayer for people in times of profound struggle or pain is not that God will be with them – I believe deeply that God is always as near as our next breath – but that they may have a clear and present sense of God’s presence with them. 

The other thing the church says on Good Friday is that death is not the end of the story. But we mostly say that by saying: Come back tomorrow. This is not the final chapter – as final as those last verses may sound. So: Come back tomorrow. Easter is still coming. 

This is also a day to acknowledge anger. Anger at our common circumstances and all that they are demanding from us, costing us; and anger at those who could have helped it be otherwise. The virus, a product of Nature’s freedom to change and diversify, kills. Human greed, dishonesty, arrogance, short-sightedness and indifference have made its impact, its death toll, so much worse. 

I’ve heard from several members of the parish that you’re really struggling with anger. The process that resulted in going ahead with this week’s election, against all public health advice, was a focal point – but it’s not just that, by any means. 

Many of us have been taught that anger is bad or dangerous – or unChristian. But there’s plenty of anger in the Gospels, and throughout our scriptures. Anger is tricky; it’s easy to deceive ourselves when we’re angry. I know within myself that my capacity to see a just and loving resolution to a situation is not as good when I am angry. But it doesn’t follow that anger is bad. Anger is both natural and necessary. Anger is energy. Energy is good. Anger is willingness to act. Action is good. God loves justice more than we do – and God loves those who will suffer needlessly because of this disease more than we do. Just as we’re not alone in grief, so we are not alone in anger. 

Let’s join our voice with the voice of King David who, three millennia ago, wrote or had written a powerful psalm of indignation, Psalm 10… 

 

Easter Vigil Homily

Does it feel like Easter? Show me with hand motions!  Yes? No? Sorta? Not really? ….  On a scale of one to ten? … 

It’s a strange Easter, for sure. We can’t make a big noise ringing our bells all together.  We can’t share chocolates and fizzy juice after the end of this service. We can’t look at all the beautiful plants around the altar.  We can’t hide and find easter eggs on the church grounds. We can’t prepare beautiful anthems by our singers and instrumental musicians. (Well, we did one last week – but it took some doing! It’s harder to make music together when you can’t BE together!) We can’t cook a big meal to share with guests from near and far. 

Easter could feel kind of small, this year. 

But it helps me to remember that the first Easter was pretty small too. Only a few people knew, at first – and for kind of a while! Jesus rising from the dead didn’t change the world overnight – at least, not in ways most people noticed.  The change was deep and slow and mysterious, beneath the surface of things. We’re still living into that big, slow, deep change, the change in everything made by the first Easter. 

Way back at the beginning of all this, when things were just starting to go quiet, I remember thinking that it felt like Holy Saturday. The Saturday after Good Friday. That’s a time of waiting and preparing, in church….  of quietness and anticipation. We’re still carrying the sadness of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday… but we’re getting ready for the big joy of the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday. I always feel kind of still inside, on Holy Saturday. And when I would drive around town on that day, it often seemed like kind of a quiet day for everybody. 

That’s why I thought of Holy Saturday, back when things were just starting to be canceled, when people were just starting to stay home. And here we still are – in a really, really long Holy Saturday….! 

There are different ideas about what happened on Holy Saturday, the first Holy Saturday, between when Jesus was laid in the tomb and when his friends found the tomb empty on Sunday morning. 

Some people and some churches imagine Jesus just … resting. Like a child sleeping in their bed or a seed sleeping in the earth. After all, he’d been through a few really hard, demanding days. Resting and healing so that sometime in the early early hours of Easter Morning he … got up. Folded up the grave cloths like a blanket, and walked away… 

Some people and some churches imagine what was happening on Holy Saturday very differently. They don’t picture Jesus lying there quietly. They picture him basically doing a jailbreak. Freeing those who have been held captive in the realm of Death, starting with Adam and Eve, understood as the ancestors of all human beings. Breaking down doors; shattering chains and locks.  This idea is called the Harrowing of Hell. There are lots of images of it – let me show you a good one, from a 12th or 13th century manuscript… 

The big green monster there, that’s Hell or the realm of the dead, imagined as a monster that’s holding all the dead people inside it. The Devil lies tied up at Jesus’ feet. And Jesus, with the help of an angel, is leading Adam and Eve to freedom, to new life in God, and the others will follow them!…. So in this version, Jesus isn’t resting; he’s fighting evil and death, for the sake of new life for all humanity. 

I’ve been thinking about how in this long Holy Saturday we are living through, both of these things are happening.  A lot of us feel a little entombed… like we’re closed up somewhere, just waiting for the right moment to emerge into new life. It might be restful, it might be restless, but we’re closed up, like Jesus in the tomb, like Noah and all the animals in the ark, and we wait. 

But in the meanwhile – others are doing battle with death itself, for the sake of life. Our friends who are health care providers are doing that. Doctors and nurses and hospital staff and all kinds of health care workers – mental and spiritual health too! – all over the country, all over the world, are fighting death, fiercely, day and night, as hard as they can. 

And biologists and epidemiologists and geneticists and statisticians and public health people and all kinds of scholars are putting together information as fast as they can, seeking more and more ways to keep people from getting sick and keep people who DO get sick from getting REALLY sick. 

And then there are mayors and governors and journalists and pastors and public health officials and university administrators and teachers and all kinds of other people who are working so, so hard right now, to make the best decisions they can to keep people safe, and to tell people the best things to do to keep themselves and each other safe.  

There are a LOT of people fighting death! Fighting for life! Right now! They are so brave, and they help me be brave. Even when I’m bored or restless or sad or weary or lonely. 

It is Easter tonight. But it’s also Holy Saturday, the waiting time. It will be Holy Saturday as long as some of us are waiting to come out of our tombs… and some of us are battling the powers of death. We know, tonight, that Jesus is with us, whether we are resting or fighting. 

And whenever we are able to be together again, in the same space: We will have a great big Easter party. No matter when it is! We will celebrate resurrection and new life! We will celebrate that death does not have the last word! We will celebrate release from our confinement! We will celebrate that nothing can separate us from God’s love! I’m looking forward to that party so much, friends. 

Before we continue with the Renewal of baptismal vows, let us pause to hold in prayer all the people, places and situations who are waiting to be able to come forth for a new chapter, like the people and animals on the ark; who are longing for freedom, like God’s people in Egypt; who need God’s healing breath, like the bones in Ezekiel’s vision… Whom are we holding in prayer this Easter night? …. 

Palm Liturgy, April 5

Here is the sheet to download for our Palm Worship, Sunday at 9:15am. We will also use some of this material at our Palm Sunday Vespers, an evening gathering (6:30pm)  for those who can’t join us in the morning.

Palm Liturgy Page 2020

PREPARE:  Sign or banner (on paper, fabric, whatever) proclaiming what you hope God’s new King will do! (Friend of St. Dunstan’s Father Jonathan Melton shares an idea for making a “palm” sign – this is a great option too; watch his video and follow along here!) You could also cut flowers or small branches to wave. The people of Jerusalem used palms because palms grew there. It’s appropriate to use whatever grows in plenty in your environment!

SERVICES
St. Dunstan’s Palm Procession, Zoom, 9:15AM: We’ll gather for the Palm Gospel & some music before our diocesan liturgy. Bring your Palm Sunday banners, signs, and palms (see below)!

Diocesan Worship with Passion Gospel, 10AM: Follow along on Facebook or Youtube. A link to download the bulletin will be sent out later this week.

St. Dunstan’s Palm Sunday Vespers, Zoom, 6:30PM: A simple evening gathering with sharing of palm banners (for those who couldn’t join the morning “virtual procession”) and time to pray together.

Need Zoom links to join our worship? Email Rev. Miranda at or ask to join our parish Facebook group, St. Dunstan’s MadCity. 

Holy Week Worship, 2020

This week is Holy Week, the most important week on the Christian calendar! We WILL hold Holy Week services, online. Scroll down for plans and times. Here are some ideas about preparing for Holy Week.

1. Gather and prepare some things to help you participate in our online liturgies. For each service, below, I suggest some items you might gather or prepare. These suggestions are not meant to feel like an assignment or a burden! Rather, I want us all to feel that we can create holy space wherever we are, and know that we are participants in, rather than viewers of, these special liturgies. Here’s the abbreviated list: Banners/signs & boughs; bread, wine or juice; ointment or balm; envelope, paper, & writing utensils; a cross; a special candle; a bowl of water; snacks and treats; bells & noisemakers. See list of liturgies for more detail.

2. Pray the Stations of the Cross. The Stations of the Cross are a practice of prayer that dwells with Jesus’ journey from his sentencing, until his body was laid in the tomb. You could sit in a quiet place and read and pray the Stations, or you might call them up on a smartphone and take them on a walk with you, pausing to read and pray as you move around your neighborhood. There are many online versions of the Stations. Here is the version we have used in recent years. 

3. With younger children, share the whole story. It’s important for younger kids to be reminded of the whole story before we begin Holy Week – so they know that it eventually has a joyful, triumphant ending. That’s more important than ever, this year! Here are some ways to do that:

HOLY WEEK LITURGIES

MAUNDY THURSDAY, April 9, 6PM
Try to be at the end of your dinner, more or less, at 6pm as we gather online for this service. (But it’s OK if you’re still finishing up!) Consider setting your table nicely and making this a special meal, whatever that means for you right now.  PREPARE:  Please have some bread and some red wine, grape juice, or another special drink set aside on your table, to use in our worship. Please have some ointment or balm for dry skin nearby.*  Please have an envelope (or special box or container), slips of paper that will fit in envelope or container, & writing utensils on hand.

Download the Maundy Thursday bulletin here.

GOOD FRIDAY, April 10, 12PM & 7PM 
PREPARE: Find a cross, or make one; it can be as simple as two sticks and some twine.

Download the Good Friday bulletin here.

GOOD FRIDAY STATIONS for KIDS, April 10, 4PM 
Nothing to gather; just join Rev. Miranda on Zoom! 

EASTER VIGIL, Saturday, April 11, 7PM
We are starting our Vigil early this year so that our younger members can join in the sharing of holy stories. The Vigil should be finished by around 8:30PM.  PREPARE: A special candle to light; a bowl of water (maybe a special bowl?); a special place prepared for listening to holy stories (cozy blankets? snacks? A fire in a fireplace?); Alleluia signs or banners; something that rattles (a container with pebbles or dry beans); bells & noisemakers (keyrings work well); perhaps some treat foods for a feast.

Download the Easter Vigil bulletin here. 

EASTER SUNDAY, April 12
Diocesan Easter liturgy, 10AM, on Youtube and Facebook.

Think about doing something on Easter Sunday that gives you joy and leans into the future. Plant something. Make a time capsule. Watch the sun rise, or set. Go someplace with water and celebrate your baptism. Blow some bubbles!

How Not To Freak Out

Dear ones, as I walk through these days, I’ve been really noticing the wisdom of folks for whom, for various reasons, this strange season is at least somewhat familiar territory. Here are some things I’ve gathered that I think may be helpful to others as well. I’d love to hear what’s been helping you – or what’s especially hard.  – Rev. Miranda+

On life during a crisis…  

Wisdom from Emily Scott, who was pastoring in New York City during and after Hurricane Sandy, and learned some things from that experience that may be more broadly helpful now. 

1. Your brain won’t work as well. This week I’ve forgotten what I was doing a thousand times. Stress messes with your sequencing, and ordering your thoughts gets hard. Try to do one thing at a time.

2. Touch down once a day for the big picture, but focus on the tasks in front of you most of the day. There’s a lot to take in about how our world has changed. Take in news and new information once during the day, to make sure the work you’re doing in is in line with the new reality. But the rest of the time, focus on your work. Having something to focus on always gives me a sense of agency.

3. Pause to assess your gifts and your vocation, and how they might meet the need in this current moment. We’ll all have to adapt in this new time, but lean on gifts God gave you, and take a breath to decide how to focus your time.

4. Savor the sweet spots. It might be snuggling down under the covers when you first wake up or a cup of tea each night on the porch, but linger in the moments that give you comfort as long as you can. 

5. Do less. Our capacity has changed; we are able to do about 50-75% of what we did before this crisis hit. Let extra stuff fall away and streamline what you can. Extend grace to yourself and others. 

6. Adapt and pivot. Be as nimble as you can. We’re in a world that looks very different. I know I said “do less” above, but also, it’s a time to “do differently” as well.  What resources can you or your organization offer to the work of taking care of our neighbors and community at this time? 

7. Don’t be surprised if past trauma shows up. Under stress, we can expect past traumas to influence our reactions and our days. Notice the signals your body’s sending you, and plan in time and energy for caring for yourself. 

8. Rituals and structures of self care are key. Meditation or a set pattern of prayer at the beginning and end of the day. A long walk. A regular talk with a dear friend. Set up structures that will hold you through this time.

9. You’re not God. If you’re the kind who thinks you have to rescue the whole world, remember that we’re in this together, and God is still here. There are people working for good in every setting — hospitals, libraries, schools, grocery stores. You can trust them to do their job, while you do yours.

What’s going on inside of us: Grief… 

Wisdom from an expert on grief and grieving. I found this article really helpful. Here’s an excerpt: “With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.” Read the whole article here: That discomfort you are feeling is grief

What’s going on inside of us: Anxiety…  

Wisdom from a friend who has lived with anxiety for a decade & learned many coping strategies. Catastrophizing is the psychology term for “when your brain runs away with you and tells you that the worst case scenario is about to happen.” 

Avoiding it: Gently notice if certain kinds of information tend to activate this reaction for you. Be selective about what information you take in, and when. Remember: what you *need* to know is only the information that will impact how you act. Everything else is optional and it’s OK to avoid it. 

Countering it: Firstly, get mental health support if it’s really crippling. (Yes, you can still get that kind of help even in these times. Start by calling your primary care doctor if your don’t know where else to start.) But if it’s not crippling, there are many coping strategies you can try, like: 

  • Distraction. Take your mind off of it, and let it fade out.
  • Exercise. Intense exercise, even for 1 minute, can help dissipate your anxiety hormones so you can relax. 
  • Relaxation exercises: Sometimes you can trick yourself out of your anxious thoughts by relaxing your body enough. This works best if you do it often, and not just when you are feeling anxious. 
  • Shift focus to things you *can* do and control. 
  • Check the facts. Sometimes, seeking more (better!) information can help you pull back from spiraling anxiety. 

Read the whole article here:  Fighting Anxiety – What I Learned

Responding to others…

Wisdom from Sarah Knoll Sweeney, an Episcopal priest and hospital chaplain, whose vocation is to accompany people going through hard and frightening experiences.

Compassion rather than empathy…  Lots of us – not just pastors! – are being asked to help others manage their anxiety or struggle right now. Friends or family members may be reaching out and leaning on us. Sarah advises us to think in terms of compassion rather than empathy. Empathy means feeling what someone else is feeling – which can add to our own anxiety, and drain our capacity to respond or even care for ourselves. Compassion, Sarah writes, is different. “Taking a [pause] to send our loving-kindness to those we serve is a renewable resource, and moves us to caring action rather than burnout…. [Between phone calls, or while washing your hands,] visualize the care-seeker you just encountered. In silence, send them loving-kindness. Then, send it to the next person who will encounter them… As you rinse off your blessed hands, send one more push of kindness to [someone else –  maybe someone you struggle with or find difficult.]”

Letting others have their distress…  More from Sarah Knoll Sweeney: “I haven’t talked with a single person who is not in some form of distress, [physical, moral, spiritual…]. In your current distress, whatever it looks and sounds like, which helps more: someone who says, “Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon,” or someone who listens intently, capturing and reflecting that they actually heard you, and doesn’t try to put a lid on it, dismiss it, or minimize it?… You have no power to take away physical illness, to solve moral dilemma, or to spin lament into joy. [But] if we say, “Oh! I’m sure you don’t have it, you’ll see,” or “Calm down, you’re all worked up over nothing,” we tell the person, your distress is wrong. Your distress is invalid. Your distress isn’t worth hearing. That’s a toxic message in any encounter, but right now, we all have to let our distress be real and keep going anyway. If you want to be allowed to have the distress you feel right now, please, [let others] have theirs… Don’t reassure it or invalidate it. Reflect it: “You’re at your wits’ end.” “This doesn’t feel right to you.” “You need some relief.” See how you’re not even in that sentence? In not insisting on solving it, you have held an actual moment of space for the other person. Right now, this kind of encounter is priceless. That kind of moment is gold. [Offer this to others, and seek out] someone who can do this for you.”

Extending grace, lowering expectations… Sarah writes, “When we’re under pressure, our oldest roles try to take over because in our lizard brains, we still believe these will get us through (for better or worse, they did!). Those with whom you’re working closely are wrestling their own.” Try to be self-aware about how you may be reacting from your own deep patterns, more so than in “normal” times, and realize others around you are doing the same. “People are going to be deeply entrenched in their favorite ways of coping right now.”

Leaning on faith & the tools and heritage of faith…

As Christians, we strive to trust that God is with us in all circumstances; and we know that God’s people have been through many hard times in the past. The apostle Paul wrote to a church assembly whom he could not be with, loved, and missed, in the letter to the Philippians. Julian of Norwich, one of the saints we hold in special honor in our congregation, lived in a time of plague and chaos  (here’s a wonderful short paper about Julian & some ideas for reflecting on and praying with Julian, from the bishop of one of our neighboring dioceses). Many of the Psalms speak of distress, longing, and seeking – and sometimes finding – peace. Here are a couple of starting points: Psalm 90 and 130 are cries for God’s help; Psalms 121 and 131 are psalms of trust. If you would like more suggestions for praying with the Psalms, let me know!

Setting aside time for daily prayer – even a simple, short practice – can help anchor you as well. Daily prayer both gives us routine and structure, and offers us a chance to rest in God’s presence and perhaps hear God speaking to us. One very simple practice is this shortened Compline – prayers at bedtime. If you are using this on your own, simply read both the leader & response parts.

Music is a touchstone for many of us – both familiar songs (hymns and church songs, and not so churchy songs too!) and, sometimes, new songs that help us face the present moment. Deanna, our music director, and I are working on plans to continue offering music to our congregation in this time. If there’s a song you really miss and want help finding, so you can sing it at home, please let us know. Here is a song by Martha Burford, based on prayer #59 in our prayer book (p. 832), and performed by friend of the congregation Paul Vasile, that speaks to our need to rest in God in this time.

Finally, remember to do things you enjoy.  

On that subject, I really love this video (OK to watch with kids!): https://vimeo.com/58659769

Bonus resource: One of the priests in our diocese is also a counsellor and has started posting short videos about how to deal with these times. You can find them here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/JDKCounseling/videos/?ref=page_internal