Memorial Day 2011 – The Noble Call

One of my cherished memories of my father was taking him for a visit to the World War II Memorial which is flanked by the Washington Monument to the East and the Lincoln Memorial to the West.

It was a beautiful spring day in 2006 and he was deeply moved by the graceful and solemn design of the Memorial that honors the sacrifice of those we have come to call “the Greatest Generation.” At the age of 17, he did what so many of his generation did, enlisting in the U.S. Navy and dedicating his immediate future to preserve the liberties we still hold today.

I came across a wonderful essay for Memorial Day by a seminary classmate of mine, The Rev. William M. Shand, Rector of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Potomac.  His words resonate with me:

Political discussion today is fraught with acrimony. It is not worse than in former years, despite the protestations of some to that effect. When America is at war in various parts of the globe, the temptation is irresistible to those who would rewrite history to deprecate the armed forces of the country. Reasonable people can and do disagree as to the proper aims of military action, and no President has an easy time making decisions as Commander in Chief. But as we come to Memorial Day, it is worth remembering words spoken by General Colin Powell to a group of elite intellectuals in Davos, Switzerland in 2003. If one wishes to find the central motivation for so much of Memorial Day, General Powell, speaking as Secretary of State, put it eloquently:

“We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan [2002]  and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to seek our own lives in peace, to live our own lives in peace. But there comes a time when soft power or talking with evil will not work where, unfortunately, hard power is the only thing that works.”

Fr. Shand, “Billy” as I know him, captures a sound understanding of selfless service. Those who act upon that understanding, are the reasons why on Memorial Day, we remember them, honor them, and pray for the day “when nation will not rise up against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). Until that brighter day, we are required, in spite of all our human limitations, to defend the weak, cherish our liberties, and carry out policies and actions that will best promote the welfare of all. It is fitting and right that we honor those who gave everything for that noble call.

Sabbatical Plans

“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.” –Plato

This Sunday will be my last “official” Sunday before my summer sabbatical. As many of you know, Debbie and I look forward to nurturing our love of the visual and musical arts and to reflect on how these relate to the rhythm of spiritual practice.

In a world obsessed with words it is easy to forget how the visual and musical arts deepen and increase our awareness of both the beauty and tragedy of our world. Without color and shape, sound and song, our human lives would be greatly diminished.

For many years, I used to wonder why it was that when I took up my guitar and worked on a composition, such as a Bach prelude, or any other well written piece of music, time would evaporate. Lost in the intricate movement of fingers and expression of harmonic sounds emanating from the soundboard, I would often feel the same sensation of heightened awareness that I do when I engage in contemplative prayer. Can listening to and practicing music be thought of as a legitimate spiritual practice? Should I feel guilty for letting my “prayer time” become “guitar time?” Like a proper Anglican, I’ll err on the side of grace, not quibbling guilt.

In Centering Prayer, for example, a sacred word or mantra is used to signal that our intent in the time of meditation is to be in God’s presence. In music practice, it is not a word that we use to call us back to our intent, but a note or series of notes. When we are engaged in the practice of music and find our minds wanting to impose their endless cacophony of thoughts on us, we simply return to the notes that are written on the page or in our memory like the whisper of a gentle and irresistible wind. We’re not trying to listen to the music in order to feel it as a stimulus. Instead, we are letting the notes be the means for leading us deeper into that place where we can be still and know that God is God.

I know this may sound a bit esoteric, but I do believe that there are other languages that can lead us into the presence of God beside the spoken or written word. Art and music are among them, and there is no reason to think that such alternative languages cannot be included as a regular part of our spiritual practice. It’s those alternative languages of art and music that Debbie and I look forward to exploring in the weeks ahead. I plan to keep writing and reflecting in this space during my time away and will post photos and music here as time permits.

Needless to say, I am profoundly grateful for this opportunity. I ask your prayers for safe travel. I ask your faithfulness in worship during the summer and in your financial support of Holy Comforter’s mission and ministry. I ask your encouragement and support for Mthr. Libby and Fr. Jody in their various ministries over the summer, two of the best colleagues a Rector could ever ask for, as are all the members of our parish staff. They are gold. Let them know that.


Ricardo Gallen and the Bach Recordings

Wandering Eye Productions has filmed a lovely video of world renown guitarist, Ricardo Gallen, who is recording a new album with interpretations of Bach on a guitar which is a replica of a 19th century instrument. An inspiring performance to watch and listen to. 

It’s worth taking a 15 minute break to listen to the entire piece, but don’t miss Ricardo’s warm and unhurried intepretation of Prelude BWV 998 which starts at “10:08” into the Video. Be sure to select the “HD on” button on the bottom right corner. Headphones recommended!

Emmaus Encounter

The meditation below is based on Luke 24:13-35 and was written by Dr. Paul Gooder, a freelance writer and lecturer in Biblical studies, and Canon Theologian of Birmingham Cathedral.

Her insights into the Emmaus story inspired my sermon on this passage given at Holy Comforter, Vienna, yesterday.

As we walk away, defeated and disillusioned, Jesus meets us. As we sling insults at each other, Jesus stands alongside.

As we tell our stories of bemusement and betrayal Jesus listens. As we stand still gloomily, Jesus waits ever patient.

And then breaks in.

Walking with us, opening and explaining, accompanying, comprehending, unpacking, until the moment comes in an ever-familiar action that we realize that the one for whom we wait has been present all along.

How We Choose To Live The Day After

The juxtaposition of the Easter season with the capture and death of Osama bin Laden leaves me wondering what to preach about this weekend. We are living into a series of days when we contemplate the significance of Jesus’ risen existence and remember that in his earthly life, he forgave his executioners from the cross, in the midst of indescribable injustice and pain.

Like so many, I feel a great sense of relief that a man responsible for the deaths of thousands and a proponent of violence and the manipulation of religion for political purposes has met his inevitable end. I feel a certain gratitude for those who serve our country in both our military and intelligence agencies. As a follower of God in the way of Christ, I also firmly believe that no one’s death is a cause for celebration. Jesus Christ died for all and there are no human beings beyond the reach of his saving embrace. As one rabbi has written:

“It’s not the celebration on the day of the death of an enemy that exemplifies justice, but how we choose to live the day after.”

We will need to be patient with ourselves and others as we reflect on the significance of this momentous development in our efforts to diminish and ultimately eradicate terrorism from our world. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 will now become all the more significant. That day continues to represent a wound deep in the soul of our nation, but perhaps a small measure of healing can emerge in the days ahead.

The real question is “how we choose to live the day after,” and I believe that is a choice made much more vivid by the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. The resurrection of Jesus gives us the capacity to imagine our lives in a certain way, and to build on fundamental values that unite people of faith around the world rather than divide them. Like the two disciples who journey toward Emmaus in our Gospel for this Sunday, we have a companion who joins us on the journey, listens to our despair, and opens our eyes to see a world of new possibilities where we thought there were none.

Terrorism has been dealt a decisive blow. The pursuit of basic freedoms in non-violent ways have increased in nations suffering under totalitarian regimes. With the gift of each day we can choose to pursue the common good and live with respect for the dignity of those we encounter whether friend or stranger. We are not naïve, and know that too often, the distortions of human freedom impact our own hearts and those of others. But each day is a new beginning and we can choose to practice resurrection and share in God’s mission of healing and reconciling the world.