Remembering and Forgetting

Dear Friends,

I saw the cartoon from The Simpsons on someone’s Facebook page. It showed Homer Simpson reading the local paper. The headline on the front page read, “Today we remember Martin Luther King, Jr.” Beneath it, in a smaller font were the words, “Tomorrow we forget him.”

The cartoon caught the challenge we often face in marking off special times for celebrations and commemorations. We may hear again and again portions of the “I Have a Dream” speech on Martin Luther King’s birthday. How often do we reflect on its meaning or engage in the work of fulfilling it the rest of the year?

The same can be true of our celebrations as a church. We know that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ was not confined to a manger in Bethlehem. But as we pack away the creche figures, do we pack away the meaning of God’s coming to us as well? Easter is not one Sunday in the spring. Indeed, every Sunday liturgy is meant to be a celebration of the resurrection, and all of its implications for us.

Though we may have packed away the baby Jesus, our weekly scripture readings call us to remember, rather than forget. As we did last week, this week we will listen to an account of the adult Jesus coming amongst us and saying,”Follow me.” And so we will follow. And if we do so with eyes, ears, hearts, and minds open,  then we will do more than remember. We will discover how Jesus is calling us in this present day, and in every day to come.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

A Quiet Gift

Dear Friends,

There is something wondrous about the silence a snowfall brings. I read recently of the reason that sounds are muffled during a snowstorm:

When light, fluffy snow accumulates on the ground, it acts as a sound absorber, dampening sound waves much like commercial sound absorbing products.

“Snow is going to be porous, and typically porous materials such as fibers and foams, and things of that sort, absorb sound pretty well,” said David Herrin, a professor at the University of Kentucky’s College of Engineering who studies acoustics.*

For all of the inconvenience that a heavy snow can bring, it can also bring moments of seeing God’s beauty, and time to contemplate in quiet what our place in the world is meant to be. Quiet is rarer and rarer in our world today, as is the requirement to sit or stand and simply contemplate.

In the psalm we read this past Sunday, we were told by the psalmist that God

…gives snow like wool:
he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.

We know that God does not direct the particular aspects of any weather event. Still, we trust that this is the same God, who the same psalmist declares,

“counts the number of the stars,
and calls them all by their names.”

And God knows our names as well.

I hope that in the midst of shoveling, scraping, and dealing with reconfigured schedules, you can nonetheless take at least a moment today to dwell in the quietness around you. Receive that quiet as a gift from God, in which you may contemplate your place in this beautiful cosmos, and your response to the One who knows you by name.

Faithfully in Christ,

Tom

 

The Shortest Day

Dear Friends,

I was up extra early this morning – for whatever reason, our dog was ready to go out and about at 5 am today. I usually do not walk her that early, and in a part of the woods where she can be off the leash, I had a hard time seeing her as she ran about. Her black coat blended in perfectly with the surrounding dark.

Of course, the longer we were out there, the more the light increased. I am accustomed to being outdoors at the end of a day, when the light diminishes and night overtakes us. I am not nearly as accustomed to watching the subtle growth of light, even before the sun has risen. On this shortest day of the year, it gave me pause to realize that with patience, I would see more and more – both of Esther, and of the world. In that pause I gave thanks, and was reminded that the light of God does not always burst upon us like a brilliant sunrise, but sometimes slowly envelops us in ways that give us hope. The light may not come  in a blaze of glory, but  be like a lamp hanging in a stable, providing just enough of a glow for new life and new hope to be born.

Wherever you celebrate Christmas this year, I hope the light of God in Jesus Christ will give  you hope, and vision to see, and act, in love.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

From Our Rector

Be Not Afraid

Dear Friends,

On my recent trip to New York City, I visited for the first time the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park. Located on the tip of Roosevelt Island in the East River, the memorial commemorates what Roosevelt, in his 1941 State of the Union address, identified as four essential human freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. With these words, Roosevelt sought to resist the increasing isolationism that he encountered throughout the nation, at a time when international events threatened all those freedoms.

Though Roosevelt listed freedom from fear as the last of those freedoms, it strikes me that fearfulness often is the root of threats to the other three freedoms. When we fear another’s viewpoint, or question the reliability of facts when making political decisions that affect us all, we are tempted to discount the importance of freedom of speech. When we are encouraged to fear or ban others from our shores based on their religious beliefs, freedom to worship for all persons is endangered. And if fear and anxiety make us accumulate as much as we can without regard for others, then the true wants of those in need will not be addressed, and our humanity is diminished.

As Christians, we do not deny the reality of fear. Fear is a very human emotion. Yet in this season especially, we remember the words,  “Be not afraid.” Those were the words that Gabriel spoke to Mary in a small home in Nazareth. Those were the words that angels offered to frightened shepherds on a hillside as the brought tidings of great joy. Those were and are the words that Jesus offered to his disciples, and to us.

Each of us has the freedom to respond to what we perceive as threats with all the reason, skill, and compassion that God has given us. Each of us has the capacity to defend those four freedoms.

If we wonder how we can do that, when the larger events of the world seem beyond our control, perhaps we can listen to the words of Eleanor Roosevelt. After her husband’s death, she was instrumental in drafting the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which enshrined those four freedoms. Reflecting on the challenge of defending human rights, she wrote, “Where after all, do universal rights begin? In small places, close to home…unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

Freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. May they have meaning for us here in this “small place,” this parish that we love, so that our witness may resonate with in a world so in need of all these freedoms.

Faithfully,

Tom

Adapted from the rector’s  Clergy Viewpoint column of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge, December 14.

From Our Rector

Dear Friends,

“Everything is already all right.” Those were words of wisdom a mother used to offer her daughter when her daughter was facing challenges of one sort or another. Years later, when that daughter was grown and suffering with cancer, those words gave her strength.

Of course, when one is facing a life-threatening disease, everything is not all right.  The words could be understood as offering a hopelessly naive take on life. Is everything ever all right in our lives, let alone in our communities, and in the world? As I read the morning news, the first words that come to mind are not that “everything is all right.”

Yet in this Advent season, we continually hear words of hope, encouragement, and an invitation to look beyond the present moment.  As Christians, we believe that in Christ’s resurrection, death and the powers of evil have been overcome. No matter the circumstances we face, be they personal illness or structures of society that seem to crumble around us, we act with a quiet but confident assurance that, as Julian of Norwich once wrote, “All shall be well again, and all manner of things shall be well.”

The words a mother offered her daughter were not meant to deny the sufferings of the present. Instead, I hear in them a reminder of the underlying reality of our lives, the gracious God who will work through all manner of things and all kinds of persons for the healing of our lives and the world.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

From Our Rector

Dear Friends,

Wherever you may be tomorrow, you will be included in my prayers of gratitude as I gather with family at the Thanksgiving table. And if you just happen to be at a table where you are asked to offer the grace, you might offer the following prayer from The Book of Common Prayer.   A blessed Thanksgiving to you all!

Faithfully,

Tom

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have
done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole
creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life,
and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for
the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best
efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy
and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures
that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the
truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast
obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying,
through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life
again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.

Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and
make him known; and through him, at all times and in all
places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

 

Advent Approaches

Dear Friends,

I have been eagerly hearing your stories of all that has been accomplished while I was away on my sabbatical. At the same time, I find myself looking forward. Advent approaches! For the Christian community Advent means, among other things, the beginning of a new liturgical year.  On the first Sunday of Advent, December 3, we will begin a new cycle of scripture lessons in our Sunday liturgies. Our gospel lessons will be drawn primarily from the Gospel of Mark.

Advent is also considered a season of preparation. Familiar to many of us is the idea of preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The readings and hymns of the season, however, will also ask us to anticipate and prepare for the return of Christ, not as an infant, but as the one who comes to fulfill God’s reign, addressing us all with his profound and mysterious combination of judgement and mercy.

For me, a longstanding tradition of the Advent season is the creation of an Advent devotional calendar, which has been a collaborative project with my friend and colleague, Merry Watters, for over 25 years. You can find and download this year’s calendar at my website here.  It will also be available on cardstock at the church over the next several weeks.

As I have done for the past several years, I will be sending out  by email a daily reflection on each day’s scripture and suggested devotion. If you have received it in the past, you will be getting it this year, and I will be sending out the parish email list as well.  My hope is that it will be one way in which we can make the Advent journey together. On that journey, we will approach both the babe in the manger and the one who, “in such form as none would guess, will surely come to judge and bless.”

Faithfully,

Tom

 

God’s Goodness Blessed

The Sabbath teaches us in time
to find the rhythm of life’s rhyme.
God’s goodness blessed,
a holy sign,
Come, learn to love
the sabbath time.

Dear Friends,

The words above are part of the last hymn we will sing this Sunday at the 10 am service. They come from a text I composed years ago, when I was preparing to take some time away from parish ministry.
I know they are an invitation for me, as I embark on a sabbath time. I also know that for our wardens, vestry, staff, and clergy leaders, the months ahead may seem like anything but a time of rest.

I so appreciate their willingness to lead all of you over these next three months. I do hope that people will step forward to continue or even initiate new ministries in my absence, if they are so inspired. But I also hope that you hear those words as an invitation to you, and that these next three months can provide opportunities for true sabbath. Some of the rhythms of parish life may be different while I am gone, and such change may be unsettling. Sometimes however, the very changes which are unsettling reveal  that deeper rhythm of life which is unchanging – the steadfast love of God. Like the very beating of the heart, it can often go unnoticed, but is essential to life.

I will pray for you as I hope you pray for me during this time. My prayer will not be focused on hoping things “go well” while I am away (for I’m confident they will). Rather, I hope  that you and I will hear more clearly  God’s very heartbeat, so that the rhythm of our own lives resonates with that pulse of love which is steadfast and sure.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

 

A Time Away

Dear Friends,

A friend sent me an email this morning with a clip of Fred Rogers listening to the Empire Brass Quintet play a piece for him – “Central Park Morning.” It was a lovely way to begin the day. Included with the clip were some quotes of Mr. Rogers, and among them was this:

“It’s important to know when we need to stop, reflect, and receive. In our competitive world, that might be called a waste of time. I’ve learned that those times can be the preamble to periods of enormous growth.”

I’m so grateful that the parish is providing the opportunity for me to have such a time during my sabbatical. Creating the time to “reflect and receive” means that I will be away for the whole sabbatical. It also means that I will not be returning for any occasions or pastoral needs, such as baptisms or funerals.

During sabbatical periods or transition times in the life of a parish, the senior warden takes on the leadership role normally held by the rector. We are fortunate to have Doug Heim serving as our senior warden. He and I, along with Bridget Nyhan, our junior warden, have been meeting to prepare for this time. Questions or concerns during the sabbatical can  always be brought to the wardens, even as people already look to them throughout the year.

The three of us will be meeting this week with Lyn Brakeman, Dick Simeone, and Liz Senft, our priest and pastor associates, and Luther Zeigler, our sabbatical supply priest.  Together, they will ensure that pastoral care continues while I am away.

We are fortunate to have such leaders, both lay and ordained, and I am grateful for all that they already offered in preparation for this time.

I do hope there have been at least moments this summer when you have had the chance to stop, reflect, and receive.  Such moments can be a form of prayer, when in the quietness of waiting, God’s whispers and guidance can be heard more clearly.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

Sabbath Time

A Watercolor From 35 years Ago

Dear Friends,

As many of you know, on Monday July 24th, I will begin my sabbatical. For three and a half months, I will be away from parish life, returning on the Feast of All Saints, Sunday, November 5th.

The purpose of this leave-taking is to rest, to renew a sense of call and vocation, and to do things that I would not otherwise be able to do without such an extended time. The goal is to return to St. John’s prepared for another extended season of ministry together.

A theme of the sabbatical will be to spend time on creative endeavors, familiar and new, to which I have given too little time in recent years. It has been a life-long dream of mine to learn to play the piano. Having already started lessons, I am eager to spend more time at  the keyboard, and look forward to returning being able to play at least a few hymns! Still, Douglas has nothing to worry about.

Over 30 years ago, I explored watercolor painting  and pen and ink drawing. I have not lifted the brush or pen in quite awhile, and will be taking watercolor classes at the beginning of the sabbatical.

One region I plan to paint images of is the Thousand Islands. I am fortunate that my spouse, Thomas Brown, will have a sabbatical at the same time. While we each will be doing some different things, we will spend a good two months of the sabbatical, from mid August until mid-October, at Thousand Island Park on the St. Lawrence River. Over the last fourteen years, it has become a place of  sabbath rest and spiritual renewal for us both, and I am grateful to have more than a few weeks there this year.

I’ll share a bit more  about my plans in in next week’s News and Notes. I know another important question that my sabbatical raises is “What about St. John’s?”  You will be receiving a letter from the wardens before my departure about clergy leadership and the life of the parish during the sabbatical. Do see the news below about our clergy leadership in the fall.

I am so grateful to the vestry for their encouragement and support for this sabbatical, and to the Diocese of Massachusetts for its provision of sabbatical grants for clergy.   My prayer throughout this time will be that everyone of us finds ways to incorporate sabbath into the rhythm and rhyme of our lives.

Faithfully,

Tom