Tag Archives: Madroño Ranch

Behold that Star – of David!

A week ago, after the wedding I wrote about briefly in this post, PW and I were walking from the Lindsey Chapel to the vesting room so she could hang up her vestments before heading over to the wedding reception a few blocks away. The Emmanuel Church complex is huge, and the Chapel and the vesting room are separated by Emmanuel’s enormous sanctuary. In other words, they’re almost as far apart as you can get and still be in the building.

The sanctuary of Emmanuel Church (lights on)

Leaving the small, brightly lit chapel for the darkness of the cavernous sanctuary on our way to the vesting room was like entering a cave without a head lamp. The first thing my eyes found as a reference point was one of the two shiny gold Stars of David on the Boston Jewish Spirit’s Ark. When BJS isn’t using the Ark for their services, it sits in the front left corner of the Emmanuel Church sanctuary. Since I have very little impulse control when it comes to the game of “Hey, that reminds me of a song!” I blurted out some alterations to the beginning lines of Thomas Talley’s Christmas carol “Behold That Star”: “Behold that Sta-arrrr! Behold that Star of David! Behold that Sta-arrr! It is the Ark of BJS!”

The Ark on the Bimah at a BJS service in Lindsey Chapel

When I finished laughing at myself, I was immediately struck by the profundity of the scene: two Church Ladies navigating their way through a pitch-black sanctuary by moving toward the glimmering stars on the front of the Ark of the resident synogogue.

The next morning, BJS’s Rabbi Howard Berman preached at Emmanuel’s service, as he does once a month. He gave a thoughtful reflection on Thanksgiving, and there were two tiny words he said that I will never forget, especially on the heels of having used the Stars of David as navigational reference points just the night before. At some point in his sermon, Rabbi Berman began a sentence with the words, “Our God…”

As soon as Rabbi Berman said these words, my eyes flashed over to the Ark in the corner, and I felt like I was witnessing a peeling back of thousands of years of Christian arrogance and exclusivity. A Jewish rabbi saying the words “Our God,” from the pulpit of a Christian church, preaching to a mostly Christian congregation, against the backdrop of a sculpture of Jesus and his friends at table for what Christians call The Last Supper.

When Rabbi Berman said “Our God,” I heard a reference to the God we share. I didn’t hear him contrasting a Jewish God to a Christian God. I thought of how often I’ve heard sickening references comparing “the Old Testament God of Vengeance” to “the New Testament God of Love.” If you’ve spent any time in Christian churches, or Bible Studies, I bet you’ve heard it, too. Shoot, if you’re a Christian, maybe the OT God of Vengeance vs. the NT God of Love is one of the lenses through which you read or hear scripture, maybe without even realizing it. Given my own experience in churches and Bible studies, I can assure you that you’re not alone. I wish there were some way to destroy this construct, since in my experience it doesn’t do anyone any favors.

PW told me once that someone asked Rabbi Berman how he feels about preaching, either to BJS or to Emmanuel, while standing in front of images of Jesus and the disciples at table. She reports that he says, “I look up there and I see a bunch of people doing what good Jews do: eating together.” When asked how he feels about standing in front of images of Mary, he says, “I look up there and I see a good Jewish mother.”

As I’ve reflected this year on my improbable, and occasionally hilarious, journey into Church Lady-hood, I’m persuaded that there’s no coincidence to the fact that I never imagined myself ever saying the words “I’m an Episcopalian” until I found myself at a church that has a Rabbi-in-residence, and shares its communal space with a synagogue. If being a Christian and an Episcopalian looks like THIS, count me in!

I felt compelled to write about all this after I read my friend Heather’s essay Friday morning on the Free Range blog that she and her husband Martin started last year. My comment on her website was that I wanted to make everyone I know read her essay. Now, I know I can’t make you read it. But I’m telling you that you’ll be richer beyond measure if you do. Just to give you a hint of what you’ll miss if you DON’T read it, Heather compares practicing a religion with wrestling with a new language:

Having become reasonably fluent in Christianity, I’m trying to learn at least something about the other languages around me. As I learn more about Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, I don’t become less fluent in my own language; rather, I understand it more profoundly. I understand its distinctiveness and thus its limitations. I understand something of its fraught interactions with other religions and have learned the uneasy need for…humility. I try not to speak slowly and loudly in my own language when speaking to non-native speakers and hope they will do the same for me. In my limited experience, I’ve found hospitality, not hostility, whenever we try, in our different tongues, to speak with each other.

I finished all of the above on Friday night, just after sundown, which is the beginning of the Jewish sabbath. It was one of those clear, crisp, perfect New England fall evenings. The moon was almost full, Jupiter was doing its autumnal bragging, and there were quite a few stars visible as my dog and I made our way around the neighborhood for her evening walk.

As I surveyed the sky, and thought about the two gold stars on the BJS Ark, it occurred to me the stars are always in the sky, it’s just that during the day they are eclipsed by the closest star to us, “our local hero” as The Weepies’s song calls the Sun in the video posted below. That same eclipsing effect can happen with religion, or any guiding ideology.

When we Christians become too focused on what we think of as our own story, we can lose sight of other stars that help us understand ourselves better, that are always there to help us find our way to being instruments of justice, peace, and love in the world. I count my lucky stars that I belong to a church that has an Ark in it. As I learned last week, when the lights are out in the sanctuary, the most visible objects are the gold stars on the BJS Ark. I find my way by following them.

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“the soprano sings an intimate and gracious air punctuated by surprising unison choral outbursts”

I have so many shout-outs today, it occurs to me that maybe I should start a tradition of Shout-out Sunday here at The Crooked Line.

First, to my beloved friends from college, Martin & Heather, who are creating something wild and wonderful down in the Texas Hill Country: Madroño Ranch, A Center for Writing and the Environment. If creativity and the environment are the least bit interesting or important to you, their blog needs to be on your reading list.

Reading Heather’s blog post yesterday inspired the post I wrote here yesterday on grief, and it’s still weaving its way in and around and through my grey matter.  One of the persistent wonderings I’ve had since reading Heather’s essay about time and creativity and memory was around the possibility of being able to feel time as we’re moving through it.  As a former swimmer, I love the feel of being in water and how the texture of water changes.  Swimming in lakes in New England in the springtime, on a sunny day, the top foot or so of the water can be warm, and sometimes even feels thick in its warmth.  But if you go vertical, you find that there is a very cold, dark, sharp layer of water below.  At least that’s how it feels to me.

It occurred to me last night that music is one way that I feel myself swimming through time.  I love all different kinds of music, which is probably apparent if you’re a regular visitor to this blog, or if I’ve imposed one of my CD mixes on you.  My music appreciation has a whole new gear since my wife PW started working at this church a couple of years ago.  For most of the year, except the summertime, some grouping of singers and musicians from Emmanuel Music provides a couple of musical offerings every Sunday.  For me, this means that nearly every Sunday, I have a goosebump experience.

The title of today’s post comes from Michael Beattie’s always-evocative program notes for today’s anthem, Handel’s Chandos Anthem 7, “My Song Shall Be Alway.”  So picture this.  I usually sit in the third row of the church, just to the right of the center aisle.  I like being this close because if I’m really quiet in my head, and if no one is talking to me, I can hear sharp inhales and exhales of the musicians, I can hear the keys being pressed on the oboe, plus all the wonderful sounds of the instruments and voices blending together.  Anyway, today I was sitting there, and while I usually try not to distract myself by looking at the bulletin during the music, sometimes I can’t help it.  And there was some point during the lovely soprano solo today when I wanted to see how the program notes described it.  I found the weaving together of the soprano’s voice and the oboe, and Michael’s dancy conducting, to be particularly time-swimmy.  So I looked down at the notes, and I just as I was reading this line “the soprano sings an intimate and gracious air punctuated by surprising unison choral outbursts,” I was enveloped in one such surprising “choral outburst” and waves of goosebumps shot up my spine and engulfed my head.

I feel unbelievably lucky to hear extraordinary live music on such a regular basis, and even when the music itself doesn’t bring goosebumps, often just watching and hearing how the ensemble, conductor and chorus are working together will result in goosebumps.  Even when I’m just not feeling the music on a particular day, the luxury of watching the ensemble, conductor and chorus swim through time is inviting in and of itself, and the next thing I know, I’m doing a figurative cannonball into the pool and I’m in there with them.

Finally, completing the kick-butt church day today (“kick-butt” is a high compliment in my family of origin), one of our newer parishioners, the Rt. Rev. J. Clark Grew, took the tricky pitch of the virulently anti-Semitic gospel reading for today and basically hit it over the Green Monster onto the Mass Pike.  I love hearing really great preaching and teaching on a reliable basis.  Another reason I love sitting up in the front is because when a particularly good sermon — like today’s — is concluded, I usually hear at least one whispered “Wow” coming from behind me.  Today there were several such murmurs.

That’s it for my first Shout-out Sunday.  Since it’s been such a Heavenly Day, I’ll let Patty Griffin take us out with that very song: