10 February 2016

lazy and wasteful

“Lead me on the paths of salvation, O Mother of God,
For I have profaned my soul with shameful sins,
and have wasted my life in laziness.
But by your intercessions, deliver me from all impurity.”

“I am sorry I have wasted (and still waste) so much time; I am sorry to be as agonizingly shy at eighty as I was at twenty; I am sorry that I speak no languages but my mother tongue and that I have not traveled or experienced other cultures as widely as I should have done.  I feel I should be trying to complete my life, whatever ‘completing a life’ means.”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day in which we are prompted to “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  I began with two quotes.

First are some lines from the hymn “Open the Doors.”  (It’s performed online by the Holy Cross choir at Holy Cross Orthodox Church in High Point, NC.)  What gripped my attention was the bit about wasting my life in laziness.  My old pal, the deadly sin of acedia, of sloth, rears its ugly head—but takes its time in doing so!  It remains a major struggle.  I need help, both divine and human, to be shaken from complacency.  (That help includes intercession from Mary, the mother of God, as strange as my non-Catholic past would have it.)

The second quote comes from Oliver Sacks’ book Gratitude, a wonderful little book published last year, which consists of four essays that he wrote in the time leading to his death.  As the title suggests, he sums up his life with gratitude, of being “a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

But likely due to that sense of gratefulness, the time he has wasted troubles him all the more.  Still, posed with expectations of completing his life, he injects levity by wondering what that’s all about anyway!

A few weeks ago, while Banu and I were still in Tennessee, we took my mom to the eye clinic.  As we were in the waiting room, a cockroach came walking across the floor.  I was requested to step on it, but I refused.  I noted that when our civilization has turned to dust, this fellow will still be around.  (That is, his or her distant descendants!)  Dust to dust; ashes to ashes.

We are reminded of our mortality.  We wear the ashes because there is no time like the present.  Laziness and wastefulness meet their match in those ashes.

[The inscription on the image is “Remember, man, you are dust and to dust shall return,” Jacques Gamelin, Nouveau receuil d’ostéologie et de myologie dessiné après nature. 1779]

31 January 2016


My wife and I arrived in New York on Tuesday, and we’re staying at the home of a colleague who was kind enough to have us!  Yesterday, I attended the first presbytery meeting since coming back.  I mentioned to some people that it really didn’t seem like a year had gone by.

There’s the saying that “time heals all wounds.”  I’m not sure how true that is—we need God’s grace to open our hearts—but some healing did occur.  Still, the need for healing was a rather insignificant part of a warm reception.

As I said in a recent post, I picked up some things during the past year while worshipping with Episcopalians.  One is making the sign of the cross.  I never thought that it would become part of who I am!  I still feel a bit self-conscious about it, but I also feel like something is missing within me if I fail to do it at certain times.  That was true during worship at the presbytery meeting.  Making the sign of the cross is something I’ve done while sitting in the pew and coming up for the Eucharist.  What happens when I’m again leading worship?  Would it appear to be an affectation?  (I suppose this hand-wringing goes with being an introvert.  I’m not sure.)

By the way, I also worshipped with the Lutherans this past year.  I like them, too!  (The first time I ever attended church with a congregation that actually observed the First Sunday of Advent was a Lutheran church in Florida.  There was also an infant baptism—the first time I had ever seen that done!)

So, we begin again.  The year closes, the year opens.

I’ll end with a collect for Sundays in the Book of Common Prayer:

“Lord God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ triumphed over the powers of death and prepared for us our place in the new Jerusalem: Grant that we, who have this day given thanks for his resurrection, may praise you in that City of which he is the light, and where he lives and reigns for ever and ever.”

16 January 2016

soon to be a New Yorker (again)

Banu and I have spent the past year in the Volunteer State, experiencing a quasi-sabbatical.  After some twists and turns, professionally and personally, we’re ready to return to the Empire State.

We arrived on the first of February, Super Bowl Sunday (with the notorious Seahawks-Patriots game).  In the weeks after, we experienced a number of snowy and icy days.  That’s rare for Tennessee, but as we were out driving, it helped to serve making the transition from New York a bit more seamless.  Snow-covered scenery was a familiar sight.

But the call of parish ministry has us heading back north.  My mom’s health has dramatically improved, and some necessary work has been done on the house.  And it’s been wonderful to reconnect with my sister and her family.  My nephews have turned into a pair of good-looking young men!

I will miss Nashville and being near a big city.  Still, we plan on frequent visits back here, having a home away from home.

[Banu was behind the camera in the Thanksgiving Day photo.  From left to right are Curtis, me, my mom, Kaleb, Curtis (big Curtis!), and my sister Kristen]

02 January 2016

living liturgically

“The offering of the body in prayer is at the heart of life and includes everything in our daily life.” (124)  So writes Caryll Houselander.  She speaks of it “giving the majesty of liturgical action.”  She adds that we “carry this idea into the world…making life a liturgy.”  When we live this way, we do so with liturgical power.

For the large majority of 2015, we worshipped with the Episcopalians.  I’m grateful to have gotten better acquainted with the Episcopal Church and with its liturgy.  I have come to admire the Book of Common Prayer.  I love its beauty
and the way I have been introduced to actually singing much of the service.  That includes the Gloria in Excelsis (“Glory to God in the highest”).  In a number of ways, that worship has soaked into me.  (I even make the sign of the cross!)  A couple who invited us for dinner said they like the structure of the Episcopal service.

Still, seeing at a distance where you’ve come from lends a new perspective and appreciation.  That’s been my experience as a Presbyterian.  I told Banu that I have a newfound understanding and affection for our Book of Common Worship.  That also applies to the Hymnal, which even has the Gloria in Excelsis as numbers 566 and 575.  (That’s the “blue” 1990 version!)

And truth be told, I prefer the prayers of confession of sin and the prayers of the Great Thanksgiving, which accompany the Eucharist (or the Lord’s Supper).  I like the variety in them, as they change with the seasons of the church year.  The Presbyterian liturgy has a number of affirmations of faith, not just the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds.  I know that these things are true of some other church liturgies.

 Having said all that, if these various aspects of worship do not result in our living liturgically—if we do not carry this beauty, majesty, and love into the world—we are, as St. Paul says, but “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”; we “gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:1, 3).

Relying on the power of the Spirit which flows from the heart of the Trinity, we make life itself a liturgy.

21 December 2015

Advent people

“We are living in Advent and are preparing the way for the Coming One.” (105)  Jürgen Moltmann, in his book A Broad Place, isn’t simply referring to the liturgical season of Advent.  He’s referring to life itself, especially the life of faith (and Christian life in particular).  He’s exploring a theme from his classic work Theology of Hope from four decades earlier.  He says, “The foundation of hope
is not utopia and the exploration of unknown future possibilities; it is the new beginning and the beginning of the new, here and now, today.”

Advent is possibly my favorite season in the church calendar, and still, somehow it eludes me.  It is always “not yet,” at least “not yet” for me.  I still have trouble wrapping my head and spirit around it.  I get the theology, the meaning, of it.  (Or at least I tell myself I do!)  But does it change the way I live?  Do I have the determined commitment to prepare the way?

The epistle reading for Year A of the 1st Sunday of Advent is from Romans 13.  St. Paul says that “it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep… …the night is far gone, the day is near” (vv. 11-12).  As Advent people, we are called to wake from our slumber.

Maybe that’s why Advent seems so vague to me.  Am I too reluctant to “lay aside the works of darkness”?  We do need darkness to sleep—and sleeping is so comfortable.  (But sleeping through life!)  And our culture, with its shiny gadgets, and people filling us with fear, and reminding us of our duty to consume…

Advent says that now is the time to prepare the way.  Tomorrow never comes.

09 December 2015


Human Rights Day is tomorrow, and after listening to the madness of Donald Trump’s comments about barring entry by Muslims into the US, I told my wife that I needed to bathe my mind in the sanity of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

I was reminded of him while watching a replay of last Sunday’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, in which he had a cameo appearance.  So I tuned into the excellent show he did, the updated version of Cosmos, which I’ve been revisiting.

As fate (?) would have it, the episode appearing was “Hiding in the Light,” which features, among others, Ibn al-Haytham.  (His name was Latinized as Alhazen.) One thousand years ago in present-day Iraq, he developed what would be called the scientific method.  His specialty?  The study of light.

In 2005, Brian Turner, a US veteran who had served in Bosnia and Iraq, published a book of poetry called Here, Bullet.  I mentioned this eight years ago.  I made special attention to his poem, “Alhazen of Basra.”  Here it is again:

“If I could travel a thousand years back
to August 1004, to a small tent
where Alhazen has fallen asleep among books
about sunsets, shadows, and light itself,
I wouldn’t ask whether light travels in a straight line,
or what governs the laws of refraction, or how
he discovered the bridgework of analytical geometry;
I would ask about the light within us,
what shines in the mind’s great repository
of dream, and whether he’s studied the deep shadows
daylight brings, how light defines us.”

On previous Human Rights Days, I’ve focused purely on the meaning of the day.  I wanted to go a little more “right brained” this time.  So what better way to rail against the darkness of human rights violations and small-minded bigotry than to focus on the light?