Sunday, November 24, 2013

Advent 1A prayers and other texts

Note: Back in May I took a course on Ecology and Worship, the principal activity of which (other than a lot of reading) was writing liturgical materials with a particular awareness of creation and ecological concerns.  The tricky part was infusing the prayers and texts with such awareness without getting out of whack with the occasion.  I'm not always sure I succeeded but the effort was itself the reward, and I even managed to adapt part of one for use in my parish internship this past summer.
This past Tuesday I attended, as part of my current non-parish internship, the Living Waters Interfaith Summit hosted in Richmond by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  In one session, pondering the question of how to bring home to congregations the significance of the environment that surrounds us (in particular the waters of the Chesapeake watershed, but it's hard to separate) I was reminded of that  May class, and ultimately moved to resume the activity of writing liturgy with that balance in mind.  What follows is a first effort for next Sunday, Advent 1A.  Make of it what you will.  You might check the scriptures for the day from the Revised Common Lectionary as well, as some references to those are found below.

Call to Worship:

One: Our eyes are shrouded, as in a haze on the high mountain.
All: We long to see you, O Lord.
One: Our senses are uncertain, feeling and even smelling the coming rain in the air.
All: We yearn to feel your presence, O Lord.
One: We are awakening, slowly, as dawn overtakes the darkness.
All: Come to your people, Lord, like the dawn of a new day.
One: Let us worship the God who molds the mountain, refreshes us with rain, illumines our lives with the sun.
All: Let us worship God.

Prayer of the Day:
Creator God, our hearts are dry.  Our eyes are heavy.  Our souls are asleep.  Refresh our hearts with the drenching rains of your promise.  Open our eyes with the dazzling light of your presence among us.  Awaken our souls that we may be alert to the dawning of new life, longing still to be united in truth with your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Spirit, Three in One, One in Three, now and forever.  Amen.

Prayer of Confession:
Holy God, we are guilty of so much.  We claim to wait for your coming, but we do not wait for anything.  We claim to love your creation, but we devour its resources and spoil its waters beyond what it can bear.  We say we love your children, but we ignore the poor, marginalize the homeless, scorn the prisoner, and act venomously towards those with whom we differ.  For all the ways we sin against you and disobey your will, forgive us.  Heal our own brokenness, and make of us vessels for the healing of your world.  Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
Hear this good news: our sinfulness is not the last word.  Christ, who could condemn us, loves us instead, and restores us to right relationship with God and with God’s creation.  For this new life, know that in Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.  Amen.

Prayer for Illumination:
Holy God, break in upon us like the sunrise to brighten and illuminate the reading and hearing and proclamation of this your word.  Amen.

Communion Liturgy: 

Hear these words from Scripture: (Romans 13:11-12)
You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.  Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

God calls us to this table, God’s own table, to partake of the grains of the earth and the fruit of the vine, and here to learn to live at peace with one another and with all of God’s creation.  There are no doors or gates to bar entry to this table; all who heed God’s call, hear God’s son, and crave God’s spirit are welcome here.

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Creator God, maker of all that is, you gave to us a good and fertile world.  Throughout history you have provided good for your people even when your people have rebelled against you.
You have given us abundance in nature, even as we squander it and make scarcity in its place.
You have given us a vast and plentiful world to share, but we war over it.
You have given us prophets and psalmists and disciples and apostles to teach us what your good created world looks like and how to live in it, but we ignore their teaching.

Teach us, good Lord, to sing with all creation:

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory;
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

We thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ, whose life and teaching we celebrate by anticipating his birth even as we mark his undying love for us in anticipating reunion with him.  Living as a human, with a body of flesh and blood, he showed how to live in harmony with all of your creation. He received baptism in water like us.  He gave us this sign and sacrament of bread and wine, gifts of creation, to bring us together in a fellowship in you that cannot be broken, a fellowship that embraces all you have created.  Dying, he showed us unlimited love.  Living again, he showed us unlimited life.

Great is the mystery of faith:
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Grant to us, O Lord, your wildly rushing and untamable Spirit, binding us to each other evermore, all creatures and plants and mountains, and oceans and winds and rains singing your praise in concert, living in the harmony You intended.
May that Spirit drive us:
            To live rightly in the world, so that none take too much and none have too little;
            To extend your divine hospitality to those who are sick, imprisoned, homeless, estranged, or lost;
            To live in your world without swords or spears, anything that divides or excludes or separates us from You and Your good created world.
Glory to the One who creates, the One who redeems, and the one who sustains, Three in One, One in Three, now and forever.  Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

The Bread and the Cup:

The soil and rain of the earth nurtured and fed grains that were gathered and used to make thie bread that Jesus broke and gave to his disciples, a sign and token of his life given for us in living, dying, and living again.

The soil and rain of the earth nurtured and fed grapes that were gathered and pressed and made into wine that Jesus poured and gave to his disciples, a sign and token of his life ongoing and flowing through us.

The table is ready; Jesus bids us come and eat.

Prayer After Communion:

God of mountains and valleys, rivers and oceans, we thank you for these gifts of soil and sun and water that You give us.  Teach us, like those who nurture and tend the grains and grapes and then wait with anticipation, to do good work in your world, and to anticipate with eager longing the advent of your Son, through whom we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A quickie: The guest cat

We've had a guest cat of late.

She lives somewhere in the neighborhood, we're pretty sure.  At least we think so.  Nonetheless, she's been spending most of recent days outside our house, increasingly often curled up on our porch.

Yeah, it was stupid to feed her.  But not as unacceptable a choice as letting her go without, which was evidently the case before.

She's tiny compared to our two monster boys.  Cute.  Black and white, sort of a "tuxedo cat."  Unlike most cats accustomed to roaming this neighborhood (and there are many, strangely), she will generally be quite affectionate (and this was before getting food).

It's heart-wrenching not to let the cat in, especially as the weather gets colder.  But she's not our cat.

Our two cats do observe her from the windows.  They don't like her, or she doesn't like them.  Hissing is involved.

She's clearly been an "outdoor cat" for some time, affectionate or not.  She's certainly not suited to be taken in.

Still, it's hard.  We're pathetic.  

She may even be out there right now.

It's getting awfully cold.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ordinary Name Syndrome

Earlier today while trying to read (I say "trying" because our older, larger cat decided I'd make a good pillow about that same time) I had the radio turned on and was somewhat listening to the public-radio staple Performance Today.  My distraction was momentarily resolved when a piece for flute, oboe, bassoon and piano caught my attention and held it for the quartet's full twenty-minutes-or-less duration. I was particularly struck by the quartet's meltingly lovely second movement and rompingly fun third movement.  Having missed the name of the composer (clearly it was a relatively new piece, though not of the variety of "new" that demands harmonic thorniness or other sorts of unease), I was curious to hear who had created it.  At its end the host (a substitute for the regular, which for me made the show easier to listen to) identified the composer as one Bill Douglas.  A quick Wikipedia search and location of the composer's website fleshed the name out as a musician with fingers in a bunch of different musical activities, from jazz piano to some vaguely new-agey recordings to mixed-influence classical pieces like the quartet I heard, a not-all-that-atypical story for a modern composer.

At that point a silly random thought entered my head: how many people can accept a composer named "Bill Douglas"?

A jazz pianist named "Bill Douglas" probably presents little problem, but classical music (entirely through its own fault, I sometimes fear) makes it hard for folks who sound like ordinary women or men to get a real hearing in the ears of those, not part of the inside world of classical music, who might nonetheless enjoy hearing what those composers have to offer.

This isn't the first time I've had such silly thoughts before.  As I've blogged before, my main research interest back in my musicologist days was a composer named George Chadwick, active around the turn of the twentieth century.  In some of my down moments in research, despairing at the degree to which Chadwick was neglected in various eras, I would idly wonder if part of the problem was that "George Chadwick" could just as easily have been your accountant.  (For the record, other composers who became focal points in my study at other times were Frederick Converse, which just makes people think of athletic shoes -- I think he might have been distantly related to those Converses -- and Edgar Stillman Kelley, who I'm privately convinced used the "Stillman" to keep from sounding too ordinary -- he was eccentric enough to do that.)

Such wasn't necessarily always the case.  Chadwick was actually fairly successful in his lifetime for an American-born composer in a concert culture besotted with Germans.  Personally, I blame what sometimes gets called the "music appreciation racket" (a term possibly coined by Virgil Thomson, who might have suffered from "ordinary name syndrome" to some degree).  For so long concert patrons got drilled with the notion that one should only be bothered with Great Composers, and those Great Composers tended to have fairly exotic-sounding European names, the kind best rendered in capital letters -- BEETHOVEN, BRAHMS, CHOPIN, LISZT, WAGNER (pronounced with that German initial "V"), MOZART and so forth.  Obviously some American composers of the twentieth century did get over, but there was occasionally something just exotic enough about the name to set them apart, maybe more with italics than caps -- Aaron Copland, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein; while Howard Hanson sounded more like a Nebraska dentist and so forth.

Anyway, my tangent-prone mind of course took off elsewhere.  Is Ordinary Name Syndrome a thing?  Does an ordinary, accountant-y sounding name have its own particular psychological weight?  Does having a mainstream name sometimes work to weigh down its bearer with mainstream expectations?

My name is Charles Freeman.  Nice enough name, but nothing particularly special about it.  That squares fairly well with my usual perception of myself.  Nice enough guy, some things I am good at doing or saying, but nothing particularly outstanding or noteworthy about me.  Fairly ordinary in many ways, not bad ways, but fairly ordinary.

I was a bit of an achiever in elementary and junior high and high school, the kind of thing that was really useful at getting into college and then faded into the background in the face of real life.  I am blessed/saddled with a wildly introverted personality that is fascinated with the world and sees so much in it, but lacks the outgoingness to strike forth and say what I see, outside the occasional confines of this blog and the other one, recently started.  I sometimes wonder, in my sillier moments, if I'd somehow be able to find a little more push in my life if my mother had come up with something different to call me -- "Alonzo," say, or "Jackson" (not merely "Jack"), or who knows what.  Probably not, but who knows?  I'd have been mercilessly tormented as a child, I suspect, but perhaps it would have led to a measure of cool and assurance I don't always have, if I'd survived it.

Or perhaps I should go the three-word name route.  Charles Spence Freeman.  As a kid I was mortified of that middle name.  Now I tend to think it's damn cool.  At one point in college I came close to adopting it as my call-by name.  Three-word names do seem to carry a little extra cool, whether through hyphenation or otherwise.  Of course, it helps to have three names that sound fairly cool together.

I am being silly, I do realize.  Still, as I get towards the end of this seminary time I suppose I'm wondering who the heck I am anymore, ordinary name or otherwise.  I don't particularly feel like a pastor at this point, which is just as well because I'm not one at this point.  I'm reasonably good at some of the tasks of the pastor, not so much at others.  I clearly am not free of certain academic habits or modes of thinking.  I could still teach in the higher-ed classroom, though I'm frankly grateful to be free of some of the other burdens of academia.  Still, I certainly don't feel like a musicologist anymore either.

I've had cancer, and for the moment I don't seem to have it, but I certainly don't feel like a cancer "survivor" (whatever that means).  Blessedly, at the moment I don't really feel like a cancer patient, either.

I certainly don't feel like a writer, though I'm now straddling two blogs, so clearly there is some itch to do something with the written word in there.  An itch, perhaps, but not a need?  There is a dribble of hymns with my name on them, but it certainly isn't a flood or a river or even a decent-sized creek.  Is it just a thing, a phase perhaps, or is there something more to it?

Standing at unknown places is more, typically, than our fragile souls can bear.  Even when the thing beyond the known border is good, or likely to be good -- even to be the thing we've been wishing or dreaming or praying or preparing for -- it is a tremulous moment, that one just before you can see it.  Ordinariness stares me in the face, in the absence of that yet-unknown next place.  It has its own taunts, not those that torment the ones given to wracking doubt and fearfulness.  It'll be okay, I guess.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  It may not be the first call, or the second, but you'll get to a decent point, and you'll do fine.   This is where the absence of tone of voice in a blog is so paralyzing; "fine" needs to be heard with descending pitch, the absence of encouragement without quite being its opposite.

I have skills and I have talents.  I know this much.  Getting from having them to using them, aye, there's the rub.  I don't particularly need to be famous, or rich (although a bit more financial sufficiency would be good, with the bucketloads of medical debt impending), or handsome or many of the other cheap goals that consume so many people.  If I have any fear at this point, I guess it is a fear of squandering something, and I'm not exactly sure what.  Such is the natural result of the kind of reckless transition I'm making, I suppose.

At any rate I can only guess that the thing to do is to step forward again, in the hope that light will shed itself upon that unknown thing.  Ordinary name or not.