The Significance of Things Large and Small

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Dear Friends,

Have you seen the news reports this week about the design and scope of our universe?

A new paper in the Astrophysical Journal claims that there are ten times as many galaxies in the universe as was once thought. That would bring the total number of galaxies to about two trillion. Most of you know that I am no scientist. I cannot even begin to comprehend what this means – except that it reminds me of how small and insignificant I am. And sometimes I need to be reminded of that.

There is a story told about Teddy Roosevelt, who certainly had high selfregard. It is told that when camping out under the Western skies with his friend the naturalist William Beebe, he used to engage in a kind of ritual chant before going to sleep.

“That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda,” Roosevelt would declare, pointing to the sky to a small patch of light near the constellation of Pegasus. “It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun.” The president would then turn to Beebe and say, “Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”

Given  the size and scope of the universe, we are small and insignificant indeed. Yet the news of the universe for some reason brought to mind words of Dame Julian of Norwich, the great English Christian mystic of the 14th century. She once looked at something very small and insignificant, a hazelnut, and yet saw much:

th-3“And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God. “In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”        —  Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love

In the smallest of things, Julian saw the fullness of God’s creation. In every human life, the beauty of God is fully present. Julian had eyes to see that. My hope is that we do as well, whether we gaze upon a hazelnut, into another’s eyes, or even look into the depths of our sometimes anxious or fretful hearts.

God made us. God loves us. God keeps us. Thanks be to God.

Faithfully,

Tom

Fear and Faith

Dear Friends,

As Election Day approaches, the bishops of both dioceses in Massachusetts have invited all Episcopalians to participate in a 48 hour prayer vigil, beginning on Sunday November 6 at noon and concluding on Election Day, Tuesday November 8, at noon.You can read their full statement here. Some parishes are already planning services or vigil periods in their churches during that time, and information will be forthcoming about how our parish will be participating.

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Time and again as we approach  presidential elections, we are  told that the particular election before us is the most decisive election in a generation. The prospect of momentous change can fill us with anticipation, and also with fear. I know this is not the first election in which some people feel anxious and uncertain about the outcome, and it will not be the last. Our bishops are calling for us as communities of faith to ensure that all we do, and the choices we make, are rooted in prayer.

I am a great admirer of  Marilynne Robinson, a writer whose fiction and nonfiction works are imbued with her deep Christian faith. Last year In an article entitled “Fear” in The New York Review of Books, she commented on the palpable anxieties present in our national life:

“First, contemporary America is full of fear. And second, fear is not a Christian habit of mind. As children we learn to say, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” We learn that, after his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Christ is a gracious, abiding presence in all reality, and in him history will finally be resolved.”

“Fear is not a Christian habit of mind.” Those words have come to me again and again  when I find myself growing anxious or fearful.  Fear is not a Christian habit of mind, because, as Robinson writes, “Christ is a gracious, abiding presence in all reality.”

I encourage us to keep those words in our minds and hearts as we move through these next few weeks, as well as in the days after the election. Whatever the outcome, some of us will be disappointed and some of us will be excited. We will seek ways to work for the common good, and we will do so as a community of faith, knowing that Christ is present in all reality – in both our fear, and in our faith.

Faithfully,

Tom

Note: The article “Fear,” by Marilynne Robinson, is from the September 24, 2015 issue of The New York Review of Books, and can be found here.

 

A Mission and Vision for Our Life Together

Dear Friends,

Last Friday evening, our vestry gathered for prayer at Evensong, and then dinner hosted by Fay Donohue. The next day, we met again for a day-long retreat, seeking to articulate the mission and vision of this community. We paid attention to the words you wrote and spoke – in parish surveys, at past annual meetings, and also kept before us the vows of the Baptismal Covenant and our understanding of what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.

We are excited by the work we did, and after the October vestry meeting we will be sharing more about what we envisage for our future together. Among other things, we hope to introduce a mission statement with accompanying vision, and at least two practical goals. One of the goals we set is already under way – a feasibility study for a capital campaign – and others focus on ways we can reach out beyond our walls to our neighbors.

Even as we were planning for our future, I was struck by the degree to which we were being the church we are called to be this weekend. While leaders were meeting in prayer and planning on Saturday, other parishioners were greeting guests from Charlestown and beyond, opening our doors to the larger community. Later that day, a number of you assisted and attended at the funeral service for the mother of one of our members, extending Christ’s love and care. And then of course, on Sunday we gathered for worship and formation, and welcomed newcomers to join us on our journey.

Please continue to pray for our vestry. And as we share the fruits of our work, I hope you will pray to see how God is calling you to be a part of this marvelous community, called together to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in many and profound ways.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

 

Giving Thanks for Leaders in Our Midst

Dear Friends,

Tonight, our vestry will be joining those who gather each month for Evensong at 6:30 in the church. Vestry members will be there to pray and prepare for a retreat the following day. We will be meeting as a vestry for most of the day on Saturday to plan for our parish’s future. Our hope is to emerge from the day with themes for a mission statement and a vision for our parish as we look ahead to the next few years.

Vestry members have been reading the results of the parish survey, along with other materials that provide a glimpse of what has been important to us over these last five years. We are excited about all the ways we have been blessed, and yearning to discern more clearly who God is calling us to be.

We will be meeting at Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester from 9 am to 3 pm (it is often good to meet in a different place to get some perspective on the parish we know so well). Our facilitator will be the Rev. Nancy Gossling, a priest in our diocese who has considerable experience leading such retreats.

How can you help? Many of you already have by answering the questions on the parish survey. You can also pray – on Friday evening, even if you cannot join us for Evensong, and on Saturday. Among your prayers, please give thanks for these leaders, who give of their time, talent, and treasure in so many ways to serve God.

Faithfully,

Tom

Members of the 2016 Vestry:

Maureen Lavely, Senior Warden
Bridget Nyhan, Junior Warden
Charlotte Maynard, Treasurer
Jake Sterling, Clerk
Fay Donohue
Matt Haldeman
Whitney Hayden
Doug Heim
Steve Spinetto
Jane Struss
Tom Mousin, Rector

 

Good Advice for the Fall

Dear Friends,

Earlier this week, I sent out to our vestry the agenda for our meeting. It included the topics we needed to cover, as well as the regular calendar of upcoming events. Our Junior Warden, Bridget Nyhan, responded in an email and suggested that we needed to add one more agenda item: “Breathe!”

She noticed that there is much going on, starting tomorrow with the Sidewalk Sale. Don’t forget to take a breath in the midst of it all, she was suggesting. And so I will. And if I needed a reminder, it was provided for me on Thursday evening. I was upstairs in the Parish Hall, getting ready to welcome the Choir back. Last spring, Jane Struss graciously offered to lead the Choir in some breath and movement exercises before each rehearsal, and she was there again this Thursday night. And so I joined in, becoming much more aware of the air I was breathing in and then sending out. I became more aware of the power of breath.  It was a gift, even as Bridget’s reminder was.

It is no small thing the the Hebrew word, ruach, is used in the Hebrew Scriptures for both “breath” and “spirit.” And it is not small thing that Paul in his letter to the Romans can describe the Holy Spirit as interceding for us with “sighs too deep for words.”

I do want to remember to breathe as the fall schedules of work, home and church, are upon me. And I want to remember that with each breath, I can trust more deeply in the Holy Spirit to be present, to guide, to support, and even to cause me to stand still, to stand straight, and to simply, breathe.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

Corners of Holiness

IMG_4336Dear Friends,

Several of you mentioned how much you appreciated the memorial created on Sunday at church for the police officers and young black men who died in acts of violence in our country last week. Sadly, we have had to create too many of those memorials. The Sunday before, flags of Iraq, Turkey, and Bangladesh commemorated lives lost in terrorist attacks in major cities in each of those countries. And just a few weeks before that 49 candles and photographs helped us to pray for the victims of the shootings in Orlando.

While I regret having to create such shrines, I am also struck by how that side corner of the church has become a place of true devotion. Most weeks, three icons – of Jesus, John the Evangelist, and of Mary the Mother of God – provide the central  focus of this side altar. You may pass them unnoticed. Or it may be that  you have been drawn to this corner before or after church for a brief prayer of thanksgiving or petition, before the icons or before the faces of those who have died.

Yes, the main altar in the chancel is a central focus for our worship. It is where we gather each week to meet Christ in the Eucharist. But there are other places of holiness and devotion as well. Just a few years ago, the side area by the door to the garden  was a storage place – a shelf for candlelighters and other things that might be needed in worship. Now the words that once were inscribed over our “high altar” – Holy, Holy, Holy, have become the base of another altar that has transformed a cluttered area into a place of devotion.

It makes me think about corners of my own life that God is seeking to transform. And I wonder if there are parts of your life -neglected areas, or a corner or aspect of your being that has grown cluttered. What is God seeking to make more holy in your life?

As you walk by that side altar in church on Sunday, consider that question. And give thanks that God is continually making all things new, even in the places in our lives where we may least expect it.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

Summertime, and the Livin’ Is…..

IMG_0449Dear Friends,

With summer upon us, schedules often change. George Gershwin suggests that come this season, the living’ is easy. It may not always be easy. At times, commitments to family vacations or projects can make us feel as as busy and over scheduled as ever. At the same time, it is not unusual to find ourselves moving to some different rhythms in July and August. Here at church, it is a quieter time, with no formal formation programs for our children or adults.

But maybe, just maybe, the summer months can open a door to doing something new. If you happen to have a Monday morning free, perhaps you have the time to join Maureen Lavely at the MANNA community. Or wander over to the Cutler Memorial Garden on a Monday evening. If you have never put your fingers into the dirt or tended to a growing plant, you just might discover that you love it. Our B-SAFe ministers, who have created marvelous lunches for the last two summers at St. Luke’s/San Lucas in Chelsea,  would love to have some new persons join them during the last week in July.

And what about Sunday mornings? Maybe the summer is a time to “flip” for a Sunday – if you are a faithful 8 o’clocker, try attending the service at 10. Likewise, if all you know is our worship life at 10 am, discover what it means to worship in the Garden on a sunny Sunday morning at 8 am.

Summertime, and the living’ is……. perhaps easy, perhaps challenging, and just maybe a little different.

Faithfully,

Tom

 

The Bread of Life

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Dear Friends,

Every Sunday, we come to the altar and share a meal. It is the meal that Jesus ate with his disciples on the last night of his life. It is a meal in which we believe that Christ continually gives himself to us in the consecrated bread and wine. We believe that transformation takes place in this meal. We may wonder how ordinary bread and wine becomes Christ’s living presence. But the more miraculous transformation we are invited to consider each week is the transformation that takes place in us. Ordinary human beings, you and me, are fed by Christ so that more and more, we may become the presence of Christ in the world.

I invite you to think of that transformation as you consider two invitations to partake in other meals this summer – with the MANNA community at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and with the B-SAFE summer program at St. Luke’s/San Lucas Episcopal Church in Chelsea. You’ll find the invitations elsewhere on this website. Our nourishment at the altar on Sundays means little if it does not result in our lives becoming the joyful sacrifice that was and is Jesus Christ’s life: an offering of ourselves to the world, for the nourishment of all God’s people.

At the heart of our worship each week is the mystery of ordinary bread and wine becoming the life giving presence of Christ. And that very mystery is then made manifest in ordinary human lives living in extraordinary generous and loving ways. As St. Augustine told those who came to the altar centuries ago: “There is your mystery on the table. Be what you receive.”

Faithfully,

Tom

The Giver and the Gift

thDear Friends,

On Monday, I had the privilege of presiding at the funeral of Virginia Spencer, the mother of George Born, a member of our parish. Although I had never met Mrs. Spencer, I benefitted greatly in preparing for the service by reading a memoir she had published several years ago. As with every human life, it was not without its challenges, and she knew both joys and disappointments.  Reflecting on her own life, in the last chapter she posed a question for herself, and no doubt, for the reader. The question was this:

“What does the giver of life want me to do with the gift?”

When we reflect on our own mortality, or the mortality of others, it is a question that resonates. It resonates for a woman who lived a long and fulfilling life. And it resonates  this week, as we respond to another senseless tragedy and see the suffering of the innocent.

Many of the victims of the slaughter in Orlando were so young, and were just beginning to answer that question for themselves. Quite a few were from Puerto Rico, and were beginning to build lives in a new community and in a new place where the future seemed bright. For so many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons, responding to the gift of life means nothing less than living honestly and openly, and not denying who we are. That is precisely what some of the victims were doing in that nightclub.

On that Sunday morning in Orlando, the gift was taken from too many. The gift was taken, not by God, but by a senseless act of evil. Amidst all the reactions of anger, despair, and fear, amidst all the questions that arise from such an atrocity,  I hope we will also hear the question that leads us to reflect on our own lives and the capacity we have to love.

What does the giver of life want us to do with the gift?

We may think that we have years or even decades to answer that question. Then we are reminded that the time we have to respond is this moment, and this day.

What does the giver of life want you to do with the gift?

Faithfully,

Tom

A Tree Grows in Charlestown

IMG_4020Dear Friends,

In 2012, our children planted a dogwood tree at the front entrance to our garden, in thanksgiving for the nearly decade-long ministries of Art Schnitzel and Simon Ringrose, our Godly Play teachers. It was a beautiful addition to the garden, and a lasting way of saying “thank you” to two dedicated teachers.

The winter of 2014-15 was not kind to the tree. Massive amounts of snow caused considerable damage, and some feared that the tree would not survive. But a tree grows in Charlestown! Bowed but not broken, the tree is recovering and blooming for us this spring. Our gardeners,  especially Francie Malo and Rosemary Kverek, have lovingly tended to the tree, and its blossoms have been greeting us for the last week or two as we have arrived at church.

“Resilience” is a word that comes to mind as I look at that tree. Buried under feet of snow, many of its branches were broken. Some of the harm came from persons unaware of what they were doing. One morning, I hurried out of the office to stop a young couple who was digging out their parked car. They had no idea that they were piling snow onto a tree that had already mostly disappeared. They were quite apologetic, but some damage was done.

IMG_4022“Resilience” is a word that come to mind when I think of our lives as Christians. To be a Christian and commit ourselves to Christ does not mean that we will some be protected from the challenges and vicissitudes of life. Just read the book of Acts, and you will see how quickly Christians can get into trouble. Yet down through the centuries, from those earliest followers to martyrs of today, followers of Jesus have found again and again a kind of resillience to live out their lives, not only with endurance, but even with joy. The late William Sloan Coffin was fond of saying, “God promises us minimum protection, maximum security.”

When the blooming dogwood greets me as I arrive at the office, it brings a smile to my face. I give thanks for its beauty, and for its resilience. And I hope that my life can offer a sign to the world of what faithfulness in the midst of it all can mean.

Faithfully,

Tom