Posts tagged ‘worship’

December 17, 2016

you would have done no better than the people of Bethlehem

There are many of you in this congregation who think to yourselves, “If only I had been there…how happy I would have been to go with the shepherds to see the Lord lying in the manger!” Sure you would! You say that because you know how great Christ is, but if you had been there at that time you would have done no better than the people of Bethlehem. Childish and silly thoughts are these! Why don’t you do it now? You have Christ in your neighbor. You ought to serve him, for what you do to your neighbor in need you do to the Lord Christ himself.

From Martin Luther.

July 16, 2016

the full participation of the living with the dead

How the First Christians Changed Dying by William E. Kangas:

The fathers of the church did not view theology as being dangerous if it denied God’s wrath, but rather if it denied God’s suffering.

…As many Christians were killed for their faith, the book of Revelation opens up heaven and shows the reader that death is not an end. At the center of the worship of heaven is a Lamb who was slain. The martyrs are there with Christ, as are the apostles. The format seems to follow some of the early conventions of worship at the time. In many ways the book of Revelation teaches the early Christians that their worship together is a way to participate with all those who have gone before in feasting with the crucified Lord that reigns in heaven.

…Although we cannot know for certain how the author of Revelation viewed their work in relation to the liturgy, it seems clear that there is a reflection of many liturgical themes throughout the book. The author clearly believed there was a connection between how the Christians in his community worshipped and how the dead in Christ worshiped. Christian worship, in a very real sense, was seen as a foretaste of death. Because of Jesus, death was no longer something bitter, but it had become something sweet. The sacrament was a window into eternal life and offered a picture of death to the living.

…For those born in the first century CE the understanding of death was significantly different from how many in the west today experience it. If one was a Roman or a Greek, the traditional religion would have taught them that the dead were inaccessible. The souls of those who had passed away would have been drawn into hades, where no one could enter.

…No matter who one was or where they were born one thing would be certain: the dead and dying were dangerous. Death could have meant many things for a person in the first-century. One might have believed in a bodily resurrection; one might have believed in a spiritual existence; one might not have believed there was existence after death at all. No matter what one believed, no person would have been comfortable with the dead. This is one of the reasons Jesus was so revolutionary.

…The church began to treat the dead as if they were welcome in their lives, rather than curses to be avoided. As Christianity became the dominant form of faith in the Roman world the practice of burial shifted. People began to be buried within the city walls. When the dead cease to be a threat, a burden to, and an adversary to people, there is no longer a need to keep them far away. When the dead become a help, the treatment of their remains reflects this shift. Corpses moved from a place of exclusion at the outskirts of society to a place where they were embraced at the center of the community’s life. Since the body is seen as something that will be raised, it becomes something that is treasured and treated as holy.

…Sometimes scholars are shocked to see how flagrantly Christians violated the social norms of their day relating to death. They wonder why Christians began to embrace the dead, bringing them into social spaces and bringing the remains into their worship together. They would gather the bodies of those who had died (and even the scraps of their clothing) and hold them close to them, treating them as “gold and precious stones.” They would even make a point to travel to the remains of the dead on pilgrimage. From a sociological perspective, this kind of behavior seems baffling, but if one tries to imagine what the message of Jesus would have been like to people in the first centuries of the church it is easier to understand why the world began to change.

The full participation of the living with the dead was seen as an integral part of the gospel since all were made one in Jesus. To be able to come with joy to the dead was revolutionary.

…In a world where the corpse can no longer contaminate, the dead are no longer to be feared. This is an emerging epoch and a new reality. Although it is still sad to be parted from loved ones, the sadness of the grave does not deprive a mourner of their friend or relative completely.

…At first this idea seemed to resonate among the disenfranchised in the Roman world. Those who had been controlled through the fear of death by those in power found this new reality to have an unheard of potential to bring freedom. Death was not an end but a beginning. Execution was not a shame any longer but it could be a glory, if a person gave their life as a result of imitating Christ. There was a power in poverty that could break the authority of the rulers.

…The freedom of the Christian from death was infectious. When people heard the news it was difficult to believe, but as time went on the lives of Christians showed a real conviction that God had indeed achieved victory over death. Christians were living differently, and their lives became testimonies that they did not fear death any longer.

…The Christians did not only flaunt death at the hands of the Empire, they also showed no regard for it in their service to the dying. Christians were known for their compassion for the sick; when the plague would come into a city, they cared for the afflicted. While everyone else fled the city in fear, the followers of Jesus would stay behind with the suffering. …People were amazed at the compassion of these early Christians and saw evidence in their seeming supernatural resistance to disease of God at work in their lives.

…By the middle of the third century the church had become centers of care throughout the empire for all people in need. In Rome alone the church was supporting fifteen hundred people in need. They took in the widows, the homeless, and the sick. They cared for the destitute and the shipwrecked. These early Christians would seek out those in the most need and hold them as their dearest treasures. These Christians saw Christ in those who were broken and sought to bring the new economy of Christ to them through their own love and care.

…Christians saw Jesus as a man who walked through death and brought forth life. …As the first Christians looked to Jesus, they began to see their life together as part of a new reality, one that restored what they believed had been lost long ago. …Irenaeus of Lyons taught that the new paradise on earth was the church. He stated that the church was planted by God to restore again what was lost before.

…Death was no longer a force of chaos, and the dead were no longer gone. …The dead were tangible members of a tangible world that was being transformed…. History had a place in this new reality, and the dead were seen as just as much a part of the world as the living.

November 7, 2015

as if all creatures constituted a host of worshipers in the cosmic temple

Key passages from The Liberating Image by J Richard Middleton:

First of all, the interpretation of the imago Dei among systematic theologians almost universally excludes the body from the image (whether explicitly or by omission), thus entrenching a dualistic reading of the human condition. …Any Old Testament scholar worth her salt will acknowledge that the semantic range of selem—the Hebrew word for image in Genesis 1—includes idol. Although its semantic range is broader than this single meaning, we need to account for selem in many contexts clearly referring to a cult image, which in the common theology of the ancient Near East is precisely a localized, visible, corporeal representation of the divine. A basic word study would thus lead to the preliminary observation that visibility and bodiliness may well be important for understanding the imago Dei and that this dimension of its meaning should not be summarily excluded from consideration. [24-25]

It is more than plausible that in Genesis 1 (like Isaiah 6) God shares with angelic courtiers the decision to commission the human agent for a significant earthly task. …Beyond suggesting that God consulted with angels to create humanity (“let us make”), Genesis 1 may include the notion that humans are created in the likeness of angels. “Image of ‘elohim” in 1:27 would thus appropriately reflect God’s decision to create humanity (“in our image, according to our likeness”) in 1:26. It is fascinating that even the Genesis 2-3 paradise/fall story seems to understand a certain similarity between humans and angels. The latter text uses the very same verb to describe the purpose of both. While adam is placed in the garden to till/work and “keep” (samar) it (2:15), the cherubim are placed east of the garden to “guard” (samar) the way to the tree of life (3:24). In this case, however, it may not be humans imaging angels, since the cherubim seem to take over the human vocation that was forfeited through sin. Thus when adam is expelled from the garden, all that is left to do is to “till” or “work” the ground (3:23). The task of keeping or guarding the garden has been passed on to others. [57-59]

Like the Egyptian god Ptah bringing creatures into being by speaking first in his heart and then with his tongue (in the Memphite Theology) or the Mesopotamian god Marduk first creating and then destroying a constellation by his mere word (in Enuma Elish), creatio per verbum clearly portrays God as supreme in power and authority. [66]

Creation, followed by temple building and then divine rest, is a central theme in Mesopotamian, and perhaps Ugaritic, mythology (both Marduk and Baal have temples built for them after their conquest of the chaos monster). …The notion of Cosmos as temple in Genesis 1 is suggested more specifically by the prominence of sevens in the creation story. …The heptadic structure of Genesis 1 thus seems to have cultic, liturgical significance and may well be associated in some way with the Jerusalem temple. …This association of the number seven with temples extends beyond the Old Testament to other ancient Near Eastern cultures. …But more important than these … associations are the significant structural and thematic parallels between the creation account in Genesis 1 and the account of the construction of the tabernacle … in Exodus. [81-84]

Beyond the association of word and breath, however, the presence of the ruah elohim in Genesis 1 might even suggest that the newly completed cosmic sanctuary would then be indwelt by this divine presence (as the glory of YHWH filled the tabernacle when it was completed in Exodus 40:34). [86]

If the cosmos can be understood as indwelt by the creator, then the language of Psalm 119:91 (“all thoughts are your servants”) might well refer not only to the obedience of creatures to their cosmic ruler, but also to liturgical service in the cosmic sanctuary. This is consistent with Psalm 148, which exhorts all creatures—humans, angels, animals, even the sun, moon, mountains, and trees—to praise the creator, as if all creatures constituted a host of worshipers in the cosmic temple, over which God is exalted as king. This picture of creation as a cosmic temple also suggest the appropriateness of humanity as God’s image in the symbolic world of Genesis 1. For just as no pagan temple in the ancient Near East could be complete without the installation of the cult image of the deity to whom the temple was dedicated, so creation in Genesis 1 is not complete (or “very good”) until God creates humanity on the sixth day as imago Dei, in order to represent and mediate the divine presence on earth. [87]

Bezalel’s discerning artistry in tabernacle-building images God’s own construction of the cosmos. Bezalel’s Spirit-filled craftsmanship, which imitates God’s primordial wise design and construction of the cosmos, is functionally equivalent to the imago Dei. [87]

The human task of exercising power over the earth is nevertheless modeled on God’s creative activity, which, in Genesis 1, is clearly developmental and formative, involving the process of transformation the tohu wabohu into an ordered, harmonious cosmos. By implication, then, the human calling as imago Dei is itself developmental and transformative and may be helpfully understood as equivalent to the labor or work of forming culture or developing civilization. Besides the definitive human task represented in 2:15 by the agricultural metaphor (to “till” and “keep” the garden), which is a paradigmatic form of organizing and transforming the environment into a habitable world for humans, we may note the pervasive interest throughout the primeval history in human cultural achievements and technological innovations such as city-building; and nomadic livestock-herding, music, and metallurgy. The human task thus reflects in significant ways the divine artisan portrayed in Genesis 1 as artfully constructing a world. [89]

The imago Dei also includes a priestly or cultic dimension. In the cosmic sanctuary of God’s world, humans have pride of place and supreme responsibility …as priests of creation, actively mediating divine blessing to the nonhuman world and—in a postfall situation—interceding on behalf of a groaning creation until that day when heaven and earth are redemptively transformed to fulfill God’s purposes for justice and shalom. The human vocation as imago Dei in God’s world this corresponds in important respects to Israel’s vocation as a “royal priesthood” among the nations (Exodus 19:6). [89-90]

Given the widely agreed upon Mesopotamian background of the primeval history, I will assume … that the author of Genesis 1 (whenever he lived) was acquainted (in either oral or written form) with the Mesopotamian notion of the king as image of a god (as a particular crystallization of royal ideology) and that he intentionally challenged this notion with the claim that all humanity was made in God’s image. [145]

In John Walton’s summary, “the cuneiform literature everywhere agrees that people were created to do the work the gods were tired of doing and to provide for the gods’ needs.” [166]

The Mesopotamian deity remained aloof—yet its partaking of the ceremonial repast gave religious sanction, political status, and economic stability to the entire temple organism, which circulated products from fields and pastures across the sacrificial table to those who were either, so to speak, shareholders of the institution or received rations from it. At any rate, the image is the heart and hub of the entire system. His attendance worshipers lived from the god’s table, but they did not sit down with him. [169, extended quotation from A. Leo Oppenheim]

The mythology of Enuma Elish proclaimed in no uncertain terms the servitude (even bondage) of humanity, “created out of evil substance,” as cheap slave labor to do the “dirty work” of the lower gods. [176]

For human sociopolitical life to achieve its best and highest form, society must replicate the divine pattern that the gods enacted in primordial time. Sociopolitical order is thus thought of as a microcosm of the larger world of the gods and their founding of the cosmos, with some central urban site typically conceived as the navel of the world or the bond of heaven and earth. [177]

Human beings as imago Dei are thus not only priests of the Most High, they are (if we may dare to say it) God’s living cult statues on earth. Indeed, humans are the only legitimate or authorized earthly representations of God. …The claim that humanity is created as imago Dei suggests a rationale for the prohibition of images beyond anything we find explicitly stated elsewhere in the Old Testament. [207]

God in Genesis 1 creates for the benefit of the creature, without explicitly asking for a return of any kind. And humans, in God’s image, I suggest, are expected to imitate this primal generosity in their own shared rule of the earth. [211]

It is thus of immense significance that the primeval history recounts the founding of the first city not by God but by a human being. …In the ancient myths … “the gods provide humanity with all the essentials of human civilization. By contrast, in the Bible, early humans develop their own culture. The human being, a creature created by God, is the initiator and creator of its own culture. …Perhaps most significant for purposes of comparison with Mesopotamia, the [Bible’s] primeval history portrays a world without the institution of monarchy. While this would be literally unthinkable in Mesopotamian civilizations (or indeed any of the high cultures of the ancient Near East), on this point Israel’s historical narrative is clear. …It is the king’s primary duty to study the Torah and not exalt himself above other Israelites by inordinately increasing his power or wealth. [217-219]

Thus it would seem, at first glance, that the tower of Babel text describes (and critiques) a particular cultic structure. Yet there is nothing even remotely cultic about the narrative portrayal of this tower in Genesis 11. …Cities may be said to have fortified walls reaching “up to the heavens.” …Prophetic oracles against Babylon, especially in Jeremiah 51 and Isaiah 14:3-23, do not single out cultic practices, but rather imperial hubris, military fortifications, and oppressive power, portraying this in terms of Babylon’s aspiration to reach up to the heavens (see especially Jeremiah 51:53; Isaiah 14:12-20). [223]

This intertextual association of various elements of the Babel story with oppressive military/imperial power coheres well with the suggestion of David Smith that the story does not portray an idyllic world unified with a single primal language, but reflects the Neo-Assyrian imperial practice of imposing the single language of the conqueror on subjugated people. …Thus we find that an extant Assyrian royal inscription declares that Ashurbanipal II “made the totality of all peoples speak one speech” and that “his sovereign approach made the unruly and ruthless kings speak one speech from the rising of the sun to its setting.” Likewise a cylinder inscription of Sargon II boasts: “Populations of the four world quarters with strange tongues and incompatible speech…whom I had taken as booty at the command of Ashur my lord and by the might of my scepter, I caused to accept a single voice,” which Stephanie Dalley interprets as part of the Neo-Assyrian policy of indoctrinating foreigners into their supposedly superior language and culture. [223-224]

God is not threatened by this Promethean act of human assertion. Rather, a careful reading of Genesis 11 in the context of the primeval history suggests that Babel represents imperial civilization par excellence and that this imposed, artificial unity is a danger to the human race. [225]

A canonical interpretation of the [the tower of Babel text] suggests that it ultimately protests the hidden, systemic violence beneath Babylonian/Mesopotamian civilization by stripping away its putative divine legitimization. Babel is thus disclosed as nothing more than a human construction, and a violent one at that. …The civilization that claimed to represent the epitome of order is unmasked as simply another form of chaos. [227]

This invitational character of God’s creative fiats is indicated by their not being imperatives at all, but Hebrew jussives (which have no exact counterpart in English). As Eugene Roop explains, the force of the Hebrew jussive can range “from very strong (almost a command) to very soft (almost a wish)” and “always possesses a voluntary element.” [265]

…The word tôb has in this context at least a twofold connotation, esthetic and ethical. The cosmos is good in two senses: it is both pleasing to God, as a beautiful, well-constructed world, and it is evaluated positively since it enacts God’s will (and is not recalcitrant or rebellious). [266]

Indeed, we need to confront the overwhelming violence that pervades the Bible—from the widespread patriarchal social structure and assumptions that underlie the biblical text (which certainly constitutes a form of systemic violence against women) through the holy wars of Israel against the Canaanites (at God’s command), to the plethora of violent incidents attributed to God’s people in the historical books or to God directly (including eschatological violence). [268]

The opening biblical creation account (which does not contain cosmogonic conflict) now serves as the overture to the entire BIble, dramatically relativizing the other cosmogonies. …Genesis 1 constitutes a normative framework by which we may judge all the violence that pervades the rest of the BIble (including, but not limited to, texts of cosmogonic conflict). [269]

Corresponding to days 1-3, we have days 4-6, on which God fills precisely the static spaces just created with mobile creatures that appropriately inhabit them. …Yet two anomalies are found in this pattern. …We have the interesting phenomenon of two sets of borderline creatures (vegetation and heavenly bodies) that blur the boundaries between the panels as commonly understood. [278-280]

[Genesis 1 depicts] the process of creation as God sharing power with creatures, inviting them to participate (as they are able) in the creative process itself. …Both governing (or ruling) and separating [as tasks assigned to the sun and moon] are paradigmatically divine acts not only in the ancient Near East (especially in the Sumerian and Akkadian creation accounts), but also in Genesis 1, where God’s sovereign creative activity on days 1-3 consists precisely in three acts of separation. …Likewise, the “expanse” or “firmament” that God created (on day 2) is granted the godlike function of separating the waters above from the waters below (1:6), in imitation of God own separation of light from darkness on day 1. …This implies that sun, moon, and firmament, like humans in God’s image, participate in (or imitate) God’s own creative actions. [287-288]

The earth is invited to produce first vegetation (1:11) and later land animals (1:24), [while] the waters are invited to teem with water creatures (1:20). They are invited, in other words, to exercise their God-given fertility and thus to imitate God’s own creative actions in filling the world with living things. Actually, God takes quite a risk in calling for the earth to produce vegetation [on day 3] since up to that point in the story God has not yet engaged in the act of filling (it is not until days 4-6 that God fills with mobile being the regions or spaces demarcated on days 1-3). Indeed, on the next day, it is God who imitates the earth’s prior creative action by filling the sky with heavenly bodies, which in the literary structure of Genesis 1 is a derivative actions. God is, rhetorically speaking, preempted by the earth and does not seem to be threatened by this. Attention to these rhetorical features points us to a God who does not hoard divine creative power, with some desperate need to control, but rather to a God who is generous with power, sharing it with creatures, that they might make their own contribution to the harmony and beauty of the world. [288-289]

When creation is complete and we would expect a final formula, “There was evening and there was morning, the seventh day,” there is none, which leaves the attentive reader hanging and suggests that the seventh day is open-ended or unfinished. In the literary structure of the book of Genesis, the seventh day has no conclusion since God continues to rest from creating, having entrusted care of the earth to human beings. [291]

In Brueggemann’s summary, the picture of God in Genesis 1 and of humanity as imago Dei foregrounds “the creative use of power which invites, evokes, and permits. There is nothing here of coercive or tyrannical power, either for God or for humankind.” …The imago Dei [grounds] an ethic characterized fundamentally by power with rather than power over. [297]

Summary thoughts after reading The Liberating Image by J Richard Middleton:

God created the world as a temple with humans representing Him within this sanctuary as living and breathing images (legitimate idols) of Himself. Our presence makes the temple of this world into a place where the Creator is known, recognized, worshiped, and enjoyed everywhere and in every detail. Humans are made to act like their Creator, representing Him as His stewards, servant-kings, and priests. We were commissioned to fill up this temple-creation, doing God’s work of protecting everything, crafting beautiful new things, inviting new life to flourish, and recognizing God’s good design within everything. We do this, first, by simply giving names to each new thing, because to name a thing is to recognize it, uniquely, as a gift from God. God’s great goal and desire for this creation is for humans to produce and develop cultures and communities spreading throughout the world that He made and filling it with His image-bearing children. Every detail of creation, living and inanimate, is made to communicate God’s goodness and blessing, and humans are made to recognize, receive, and proclaim God’s goodness as we find it in every corner of our temple-world.

Genesis 1 and 2 teach these things in beautiful, careful language. They also intentionally and specifically oppose a set of creation myths from the surrounding cultures (where Israel was enslaved in Egypt and exiled in Babylon):

  • Humanity is not made to carry out tasks that the gods do not wish to do or to provide for the needs of the gods. Instead, humanity is made to enjoy God’s blessing and to imitate God’s own free work (of calling forth and crafting good and beautiful things that share God’s own life-giving qualities).
  • Humanity is not made from some inferior substance (such as the blood of an evil sub-deity who was vanquished by the higher gods). Instead, humanity is crafted from clay and the Creator’s own breath to carry the Creator’s own image and likeness.
  • The divine image and vocation does not belong only to the priests and kings of great civilizations. All humanity (male and female from every tribe, nation, and tongue) are God’s image within the created worldequally, collectively, and individually.
  • Human culture and civilizationin all its growth, power, noise, and diversityis never a threat to God. Unlike the pagan gods who must control and often limit aspects of human life and culture in order to ensure that humanity serves their divine purposes, God’s intention for human culture is always that it would flourish freely, spreading and diversifying of its own accord throughout the Creator’s world.
  • God does not create the world through violence, by defeating and dismembering the monsters of chaos and deep darkness to create a temple for Himself. God invites with a voice of authority but also a voice that always leaves space for a voluntary and participatory response. God hovers (like a brooding mother bird) and invites with his voice and crafts with his hands rather than attacking, cutting, or tearing like a warrior.
  • After the fall and rebellion of humanity, God does show Himself to be a warrior against the violence that humanity unleashes upon itself (and upon the creation that humanity was designed to protect and prosper). Violence and coercion immediately begins to plague and characterize every aspect of human life, culture, and civilization. As victims and perpetrators of violence, humans become agents of chaos and darkness instead of life and light. The most sophisticated city-empires are only a complex cover for extreme internal and structural violence against free, flourishing, and diverse human communities. In the tower of Babel text, an empire arises that forces many nations to speak one language and to serve the power of one kingly and priestly class (who alone represent the will of the gods), and God fights against this empire for the sake of preserving and promoting free and flourishing human culture throughout the world. This theme (of God fighting for free and flourishing human culture against empires of violence, coercion, and chaos) is central to the entire biblical story: the Great Flood, the tower of Babel, Abram called out of Ur, Joseph sold into Egypt, Moses fleeing Pharaoh, Samuel/David versus Saul/Philistines, Daniel versus Nebuchadnezzar/Darius, Christ versus Herod/Caesar/Satan, and the church versus the Whore of Babylon. Scripture is full of calls for God’s people to defend the powerless against the powerful (within a fallen world that is so given to violence). This is essential to the biblical idea of justice: defending the most powerless in a violent world because every human is God’s image (created to make God present within His good creation).
September 7, 2015

honoring your mother might be the last in the sequence relating to right worship

But to return to the matter of honoring your mother. I think it is significant that the Fifth Commandment falls between those that have to do with proper worship of God and those that have to do with right conduct toward other people. I have always wondered if the Commandments should be read as occurring in order of importance. If that is correct, honoring your mother is more important than not committing murder. That seems remarkable, though I am open to the idea.

Or they may be thought of as different kinds of law, not comparable in terms of their importance, and honoring your mother might be the last in the sequence relating to right worship rather than the first in the sequence relating to right conduct. I believe this is a very defensible view.

…It seems to me almost a retelling of Creation—First there is the Lord, then the Word, then the Day, then the Man and Women—and after that Cain and Able—Thou shalt not kill—and all the sins recorded in those prohibitions, just as crimes are recorded in the laws against them. So perhaps the tablets differ as addressing the eternal and the temporal.

What the reading yields is the idea of father and mother as the Universal Father and Mother, the Lord’s dear Adam and His beloved Eve; that is, essential humankind as it came from His hand. There’s a pattern in these Commandments of setting things apart so that their holiness will be precieved. Every day is holy, but the Sabbath is set apart so that the holiness of time can be experienced. Every human being is worthy of honor, but the conscious discipline of honor is learned from this setting apart of the mother and father, who usually labor and are heavy-laden, and may be cranky or stinky or ignorant or overbearing. …At the root of real honor is always the sense of the sacredness of the person who is its object. In the particular instance of your mother, I know if you are attentive to her in this way, you will find a very great loveliness in her. When you love someone to that degree that you love her, you see her as God sees her, and that is an instruction in the nature of God and humankind and of Being itself. That is why the Fifth Commandmemt belongs on the first tablet. I have persuaded myself of it.

From Gilead my Marilynne Robinson.

December 30, 2013

doth seek now with tears thy help to worship

So much to ponder in these ancient hymns of the Orthodox Church. I’m particularly struck by the repeated consideration given near the end of this hymn to the danger and difficulty of responding aloud to God’s revelation of Himself with “well-balanced songs of praise.” (Purchase an MP3 recording of this here, and see more ancient nativity hymn lyrics here.)
9th Ode of the 2nd Canon of Christ’s Nativity

Magnify, O my soul, her who is more honorable and more exalted in glory than the heavenly hosts.
I behold a strange and wonderful mystery: the cave a heaven, the Virgin a cherubic throne, and the manger a noble place in which hath lain Christ the uncontained God. Let us, therefore, praise and magnify Him.

Magnify, O my soul, the God born in flesh from the Virgin.
When the Magi saw a new and strange star appearing suddenly, moving in a wonderful way, and transcending the stars of heaven in brightness, they were guided by it to Christ, the King born on earth in Bethlehem, for our salvation.

Magnify, O my soul, the King born in a cave.
The Magi said, Where is the Child King, the newborn, Whose star hath appeared? For we have verily come to worship Him. And Herod, the contender against God, trembled, and began to roar in folly to kill Christ.

Magnify, O my soul, the God worshipped by the Magi.
Herod ascertained from the Magi about the time of the star by whose guidance they were led to Bethlehem to worship with presents Christ Who guided them, and so they returned to their country, disregarding Herod, the evil murderer of babes, mocking him.

Today the Virgin giveth birth to the Lord inside the cave.
Verily it is easier for us to endure silence since there is no dread danger therefrom for us. But because of our strong desire, O Virgin, and Mother of sameness, to indite well-balanced songs of praise, this becometh indeed onerous to us. Wherefore, grant us power to equal our natural inclination.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: Magnify, O my soul, the might of the indivisible and three-personed Godhead.
O pure one, Mother of the Word that appeareth newly from thee, O closed door, verily, as we behold the dark shadowy symbols pass away, we glorify the light of the truth and bless thy womb as is meet.

Both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. Glorify, O my soul, her who hath delivered us from the curse.
The Christ-pleasing people, O Virgin, having deserved to be granted its desire by the coming of God, doth seek now with tears thy help to worship the glory of His enlivening appearance wherein is the renewal of birth; for it is thou who dost distribute grace, O pure one.

This too:

When it was time for thy presence on earth, the first enrollment of the world took place. Then it was that thou didst decide to enroll the names of men who believe in thy Nativity. Yea, that commandment did issue forth from Caesar, since the everlastingness of thine eternal kingdom hath been renewed. Wherefore, we offer what is better than moneyed tax, namely Orthodox theological sayings; to thee, O God, Savior of our souls.

December 15, 2013

this improvised temple

From The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder:

There had been some changes made in the storage yard. Some of the ornate old porch pillars had been propped up around the lean-to so that they seemed to be supporting its sagging tin roof; the statue of Diana had been moved into position near this improvised temple; and in the place of honor at the back and center of the shed, the bust of Nefertiti was enthroned in the broken birdbath. The little boy was playing quietly with his octopus on the floor of the shed and the two girls were busily pulling the tall dry weeds that choked the yard, and stacking them in a pile near the fence. “Look, Melanie,” the girl named April said. She displayed a prickly bouquet of thistle blossoms. “Neat!” Melanie nodded enthusiastically. “Lotus blossoms?” April considered her uninviting bouquet with new appreciation. “Yeah,” she agreed. “Lotus blossoms.” Melanie had another inspiration. She stood up, dumping her lap full of weeds, and reached for the blossoms—gingerly because of the prickles. Holding them at arm’s length, she announced dramatically, “The Sacred Flower of Egypt.” Then she paced with dignity to the birdbath and with a curtsy presented them to Nefertiti. April had followed, watching approvingly, but now she suddenly objected. “No! Like this,” she said. Taking the thistle flowers, she dropped to her knees and bent low before the birdbath. Then she crawled backward out of the lean-to. “Neat,” Melanie said, and, taking the flowers back, she repeated the ritual, adding another refinement by tapping her forehead to the floor three times. April gave her stamp of approval to this latest innovation by trying it out herself, doing the forehead taps very slowly and dramatically. Then the two girls went back to their weed pulling, leaving the thistles before the altar of Nefertiti.

May 15, 2013

a society of possible gods and goddesses

This is the entire last passage from “The Weight of Glory” by C.S. Lewis. [Preached originally as a sermon at the Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin on June 8, 1941. First published as a single transcribed sermon called “The Weight of Glory” and appearing in the British periodical Theology, 1941. First published in book form by Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 1942.]

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

December 8, 2012

God who uses corporeal objects continually

Blessed is God who uses corporeal objects continually to draw us close in a symbolic way to a knowledge of God’s invisible nature. O name of Jesus, key to all gifts, open up for me the great door to your treasure-house, that I may enter and praise you with the praise that comes from the heart.

From The Spiritual World of Isaac the Syrian by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev.

December 16, 2011

the world of our passivities is a vast cosmos

Learning the art of willed passivity begins with appreciating the large and creative part passivity plays in our lives. By far the largest part of our life is experienced in the mode of passivity. Life is undergone. We receive. We enter into what is already there. Our genetic system, the atmosphere, the food chain, our parents, the dog – they are there, in place, before we exercise our will. “Eighty percent of life,” says Woody Allen, “is just showing up.” Nothing we do by the exercise of our wills will ever come close to approximating what is done to us by other wills. Our lives enter into what is already done; most of life is not what we do but what is done to us. If we deny or avoid these passivities, we live in a very small world. The world of our activities is a puny enterprise; the world of our passivities is a vast cosmos. We experience as happening to us weather, our bodies, our parents, much of our government, the landscape, much of our education. But there are different ways of being passive: there is an indolent, inattentive passivity that approximates the existence of a slug; and there is a willed and attentive passivity that is something more like worship.

From The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction by Eugene H. Peterson.

November 29, 2011

directing worship in the traffic

But “there are things,” wrote Marianne Moore, “that are important beyond all this fiddle.” The old-time guide of souls asserts the priority of the “beyond” over “this fiddle.” Who is available for this work other than pastors? A few poets, perhaps; and children, always. But children are not good guides, and most of our poets have lost interest in God. That leaves pastors as guides through the mysteries. Century after century we live with our conscience, our passions, our neighbors, and our God. Any narrower view of our relationships does not match our real humanity.

…If pastors become accomplices in treating every child as a problem to be figured out, every spouse as a problem to be dealt with, every clash of wills in choir or committee as a problem to be adjudicated, we abdicate our most important work, which is directing worship in the traffic, discovering the presence of the cross in the paradoxes and chaos between Sundays, calling attention to the “splendor in the ordinary,” and, most of all, teaching a life of prayer to our friends and companions in the pilgrimage.

From The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson.

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