O Emmanuel

Today we cry out, “O Emmanuel!”

Or, in other words, “God: be near, not distant!”

It’s as if we finally have figured out what our true heart’s desire is: to know the Divine better.

Like Aaron at the base of the mountain, when we aren’t attuned to the Divine in the world (and ourselves and others) we make golden calves like money, fame, vanity, and yes, sacred texts and religion.

Those last two are the sneakiest golden calves of all…

Today we plead that God be made known. We look to the skies to spy it in real time, all the while God arrives under the most normal, unassuming, ungodly way…which gives us insight into the Divine mind, if we pay attention.

(Painting by Mary Sullivan)

O Rex

“O Ruler!” are the words sung by the church today. “O Rex!”

In our most honest moments we admit that we both like leadership, and like to rebel against it…humans are fickle.

We’re all ruled by something. Even the most unique individual allows that uniqueness to guide them to a fault. The most “don’t tread on me” flag waving person has a hook in their nose and their ideology is steering the ship.

What rules in your life?

At its best this call is a plea that our basest desires will no longer rule us, and that something more holy will do it. Perhaps peace will rule. Or love. The best of the Divine attributes!

At its worst, well, we’ve turned Jesus into just another self-styled tyrant to whom we demand others give their allegiance…

-art by Vincent Crosby

O Dawn

“O Oriens!” the church cries on the morning of the Winter Solstice. “O Dawn!” is what it literally means, both a bit ironic and exasperated on this shortest day of the year.

You know, my son Finn was born with two “true knots” in his umbilical cord. In ancient days this sign would have probably been taken as an omen of either his greatness or his mischievousness (and it would have been right on both counts!).

But living in a scientific age we have no need for these signs, right?

Well, I’d suggest the opposite. In another year with so much death, and with depression so rampant, we need reminders of our greatness, Beloved.

It’s all a reminder that, with every dawn, with every dayspring, something amazing is possible.

The dawn, the bright and morning star, is an ever-rising sign that something amazing is possible.

So stick around, Beloved. In case you didn’t know it, it’s good you exist and, well, amazing things are always possible with every dawn…

(Art by Edward Fielding)

O Key of David

“O Clavis David” or “O Key of David” is the chant the church cries today.

This is less of a plea and more of a reminder from us to God that a promise was made, long ago, that from the house of the shepherd-king David another shepherd would come and unlock the doors of God’s reality, bringing heaven to earth…or at least starting the process.

We search constantly for the keys to unlock the universe: the Secret, the right prayer, the magical path.

I wonder, though, if really the key we need isn’t one to unlock the heavens, to unlock the universe for our own gain, but rather the right key to unlock our own selfish hearts…

Maybe we’ve misunderstood this message all along.

O Root of Jesse

Today the church uses its parched tongue to cry out, “O Radix Jesse!” or “O Root of Jesse!”

The ask here is that the dead stump of a family line, scourged and ravaged by one conquering after another, eating away at the Family Tree, somehow live again.

This dead-end of a year feels very stump-ish to me.

It’s also just true that while we may have eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, we have not learned its wisdom. That ancient tree is dead in our hands as we call what is evil, good, and what is good, evil.

Come quickly, Holy One.

O Lord

On December 18th in Advent the church raises its voice to cry out, “O Adonai!” or “O Lord!”

This is, perhaps, the most honest prayer there is, Beloved. In times of trial and joy, “Oh God” or “My Lord” slips from our lips.

In the ancient context of Advent, this cry is both an invocation and a statement of political priorities. The Empire of old (and now?) would have you believe that power is Lord, that grievance is Lord, that Caesar is Lord.

In fact, all the ancient steles and decrees said just that: Caesar is Lord.

But the church, at its best, says that the Divine is Lord.

It’s a political statement. We’ve forgotten that…but we can remember. There is time.

-art is by Michael Adonai, an Eritrean painter, entitled “Back to Homeland.” You can imagine crying out “O Lord” when longing to return to your mother…

O Wisdom

Today Advent takes a more persistent, pleading posture as the church begins calling for salvation using the ancient names for the Holy One.

These names are known as the O Antiphons, and true to form they are sung by all creation in chorus.

We begin, crying, “O Sapientia!” or “O Wisdom!”

It’s worth noting that Wisdom, especially in the Hebrew scriptures, is personified as female, flowing out as a part of the Divine mind.

“O come, O Wisdom from on high,
and order all things far and nigh.
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel,
Shall come to you, O Israel.”

The Light Bearer

Today the church, especially those of Scandinavian heritage, remembers a young saint and martyr who, in memory, has a taste for sweet rolls and coffee: Saint Lucy, The Light Bearer.

Having lived sometime at the end of the third century in Sicily, Saint Lucy was a victim of the Diocletian Persecution, a purging of Christians in Roman territories. She was said to have lived a good life who had a heart for the poor. Legend goes that her mother fell gravely ill when Lucy was a young maiden, and when she recovered St. Lucy gave all of her bridal dowry to the poor in thanksgiving to God. Her would-be suitor did not like this at all, and turned Lucy in to the authorities for being a secret Christian.

As punishment Lucy was forced to work in a brothel…though she refused to work at all, which frustrated her oppressors. They took her out to the village square and built a fire around her in order to scare her into submission, but she remained unafraid. She eventually died due to these intimidation tactics, and her legend grew in the Christian communities as a brave young woman who had no fear in the face of danger.

Saint Lucy is remembered as the patron saint of the working poor. Her name literally means “light,” which makes the intimidation tactics of her oppressors ironic.

In modern practice Saint Lucy’s memory made its way far north to Scandinavia where she is highly regarded, especially as her feast day is quite near the Solstice.

Saint Lucy, or as she is known in the North, “Sankta Lucia,” is remembered by the procession of a young girl in the house wearing white with a red sash (the sign of a martyr), her head adorned with a crown of candles, bringing breakfast and a blessing to each room. These candles stand for two important symbols in Saint Lucy’s story: both the light that was used to intimidate her, and they also symbolize her eyes (the candle of the body), which prayers to Saint Lucy are reported to protect. A traditional breakfast on this day are Lussekatter, or “cat’s eye rolls” made of saffron and currants.

Oh, and if your home doesn’t have a young girl to process, have no fear. Young boys often dress in red as St. Lucy’s attendants by the name of “Star Boys.” They, too, carry on the tradition with star wands, blessing each room.

It makes sense that in the Scandinavian North around the shortest days of the year the people would seek out signs that the light would never be extinguished. Saint Lucy is one of those ancient signs; an ancient memory that humans have long utilized to remind themselves that though shadows lengthen, the light never dies.

Though the Saint Lucy practices are fun and highly tied to heritage, it is too bad that she is not remembered better as the fierce young woman of lore.

Saint Lucy is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that reminders of hope are necessary for humanity, and stories often provide those reminders.

The story of Lucy the Light Bearer, the fierce and unafraid young woman, is worth remembering.

On this day I often recite a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, especially as daylight is at a premium and we’re all overworking:

“My candle burns at both ends
it will not last the night.
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends,
it gives a lovely light.”

-historical pieces from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

Antagonizer of the Privileged

Today, as we begin our Advent journey in 2020, the church honors Dorothy Day, Friend of the Poor and Antagonizer of the Privileged.

Born in Brooklyn just before the turn of the 20th Century, Dorothy worked for radical newspapers in her early years, mixing with the bohemian crowds of Greenwich Village.

She found herself living with a man she loved, and became pregnant in 1926. It was during this time that she experienced a life-changing conversion to the faith, and she made her home in Roman Catholicism.

She struggled to marry her internal passion for the Christ with her outer conviction to work for social justice. In 1933 she collaborated with fellow gadfly, Peter Maurin, to found the Catholic Worker Movement. Living simply and intentionally, this pseudo-monastic community took a vow to live collectively for the betterment of the poor and the outcast.

They set up hospitality houses in the city, collective living units in agricultural plots of land, and convened clarity councils to make decisions. They aimed to “create a new society within the shell of the old.”

St. Dorothy died in 1980. There is a story about her funeral that, as her casket was being carried through the street to the sanctuary for the funeral Mass, a person with severe mental illness pressed in on the crowd gathered around the procession. They made their way to the casket, and opened it, peering down upon Dorothy. The whole crowd stood and let it happen, knowing that it was precisely this human Dorothy had come to give her life to, and was ministering to them one more time.

St. Dorothy Day is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that simple living is a calling for some, but not all. Poverty should be a choice, by God, and not the result of unfair economic, social, or political circumstances. The church is called to lift those trapped in poverty and to invite those with much to embrace a simpler life for the sake of their neighbor.

-historical bits from Claiborne and Wilson-Hartgrove’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

-icon written by Dan Smith

Patron Saints of A Topic We Tend to Ignore

Today the church honors two ancient saints of the faith, perhaps the “Patron Saints of Waiting,” St. Elizabeth and Zechariah, the Parents of St. John the Baptizer.

This feast is honored in Palestine on this date, and honoring them begins to turn our collective faces toward the season of Advent, the season of hope and patience.

Zechariah is the pious priest in the line of Abijah, noted by St. Luke in his first chapter. Elizabeth, whose namesake is the wife of Aaron (the brother of Moses), was also of priestly lineage. This makes it, at least in the ancient world, an ideal marriage: pure and priestly.

By the time of Jesus, there were so many of priestly lineage alive that the duties of the temple were afforded by lot, as not all could participate. One day this privilege fell to Zechariah, as the story goes, and he was ordered to light incense in the Temple. As he was performing his priestly duty, an angel appeared to him and announced that he and Elizabeth would, in their old age, have a child.

By the way, if your Biblical mind isn’t brought back to the aged Abram and Sarai and their son Isaac at the mention of this story, you’re not paying attention…these stories are meant to invoke one another, Beloved.

If your Biblical mind isn’t brought back to Hannah and her son Samuel in the telling of this story, you’re not paying attention, Beloved.

Luke, in writing his Gospel, knew what he was doing with these lovely saints…

Elizabeth, that dear saint, did not, for whatever reason, have any children in her young age. In this way, she followed in the footsteps of Sarah and Hannah before her.

By the way, I note “for whatever reason,” because contrary to popular belief at that time (and even today), we have no biological indicators that note that anything was amiss with Elizabeth’s ability to conceive. Indeed, Zechariah could have had an ailment that prevented him from parenting. But, as with all history written by men, for some reason the fault falls on Elizabeth.

I love Saint Elizabeth, and St. Zechariah, too, because their struggle is so relatable to so many today.

Zechariah had a hard time believing that they could have a child, and for this reason he became both deaf and mute for a time being. This is a strange biological development…much like having a child in your old age would be…but the theological development is pretty clear: some things that the Divine makes possible are hard to talk about and hard to listen to.

Zechariah and Elizabeth named their dear child John, defying tradition. At the naming of their child (Zechariah wrote it down for those present), his voice was restored, and immediately he was blessed with a song that we still sing in the church today during the season of Advent, the Benedictus Dominus Deus. It is a song about promise fulfillment and echoes the Magnificat of Mary and the Hebrew Scripture song of Hannah in 1 Samuel.

St. Elizabeth and St. Zechariah are a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes Diving things take a little while to happen, and that patience and hope must continually hold hands in this life.

They are also a reminder for me that the church needs to openly and honestly talk about the difficulty of conception, a topic so few want to discuss because of its delicate nature. But, Beloved, this is such an important and wide-spread issue, the church must talk about infertility with honesty, and forget with the nonsense of “in God’s time” or any such mess that can be hurtful for those who want to be parents but have difficulty for whatever reason.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.