Monday, March 2, 2015

Forty Days of Tenderness

The short essay below was published online yesterday (Sunday, March 1) as part of the Intent series of daily Lenten meditations. (Copyright © 2015 LEM).

Intent is a joint project of the Lutheran Episcopal Ministry (LEM) at MIT, Episcopal BU (the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Boston University), the Lutheran Episcopal Campus Ministry at Northeastern University and the Episcopal Chaplaincy at Boston College, The Crossing, St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Cambridge, and Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Boston.
Note: these congregations exploring together the possibility of becoming a mission hub or mission cluster with a focus on creating affordable housing opportunities in the form of intentional communities --hence the reference in the essay below.
You can sign up for Intent (it's free) here. Note that the daily meditations, which you can receive via e-mail, include not only written ones but visual and musical ones as well.

Dawn, Second Sunday in Lent
(c) Jane Redmont 2015

Forty Days of Tenderness

Two or three decades ago, my beloved mentor, Krister Stendahl, preached an Ash Wednesday sermon I will never forget. The cry of Ash Wednesday and Lent, he reminded us, is “Return to the Lord your God!” Return, he added, to God who is tender and merciful. Lent, he continued, is a time to remember the tenderness of God and therefore (here’s where he got me) to learn anew to be tender with ourselves.

Lent is the church’s annual retreat. It is a time of truth-seeking and truth-telling, of re-attuning our lives to live in justice and mercy, of renewal in prayer and practice. For many of us, this may involve additional time in solitude. But the self-examination of Lent is not for reflection on our self alone. It is not simply about “Jesus and me.” We are on this 40-day retreat together.

So we return to the unending tenderness of the Holy One of Blessing. We let this tenderness touch us and cradle us. We let it live with and within us. And we learn—again or for the first time—to live together, with our households and congregations, with the stranger on the street, with this new mission cluster, with our sisters and brothers who need housing, with those we love and those who are hard to love.


This takes time and care. It may feel slow and require some inner untangling and delicate steps in our community life. Lent is difficult. But it need not be harsh. How will we live these forty days of tenderness?


Jane Redmont is a theologian, spiritual director, and pastoral worker and is the author of two books including When in Doubt, Sing:Prayer in Daily Life.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The children

Children, children, children. Children running away from violence and poverty in Central America, children sent back to violence and poverty in Central America, children killed on a beach in Gaza, children hungry and unsafe on the streets of these United States, children deathly ill with cholera in South Sudan. Cry out, o stones.

I first posted this lament on Facebook about 12 hours ago, Wednesday July 16, 2014.

Photo: Reuters, Gaza, July 16, 2014

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Paths to Trinitarian Life and Prayer

This essay was published nine years ago in the "Proclaiming Gospel  Justice" section of the late lamented magazine The Witness's online version. It remained up on the Web long after the magazine and its A Globe of Witnesses online incarnation ceased publication, until fairly recently.  I found a cached copy of the essay this week and reproduce it here. Thanks again to The Witness and its then Editor, Ethan Vesely-Flad, for offering me the opportunity to reflect on the challenging topic of the Trinity in the light of the scriptures from Year A of the Lectionary.

We are in Year A of the Lectionary again and I am preaching this weekend (in an Episcopal parish south of Boston). I may crib from myself a bit in the sermon... For now, study and prayer!

Andrei Rublev (15th c.), "Trinity"


 Paths to Trinitarian Life and Prayer
 
by Jane Carol Redmont

 
Friday, May 20, 2005

The Witness
Lectionary Reflections for Trinity Sunday (A)
 

Readings for Trinity Sunday, Year A, May 22, 2005

  • Genesis 1:1 - 2:4a
  • Psalm 8 (or Psalm 150)
  • 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
  • Matthew 28:16-20

 
Most of the preachers I know think of Trinity Sunday as Preacher's Nightmare Day. How to keep the sermon from degenerating into a doctrinal lecture? How to do justice to such a complex and vital doctrine in twelve minutes -- or even twenty? What is the connection with the scriptures? Why is the doctrine celebrating God's dynamic and relational self so easy to freeze or to ossify? What has the Trinity to do with the sufferings of our world? And where does any of this leave, lead, or involve the people of God, the true celebrants of this feast? (Preachers are only there to help open a few windows.)

Dorothee Soelle, the German theologian, poet, activist and mystic who died just two years ago, often wrote of how difficult she found it to speak about God.

Equally often, she quoted the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart's saying that God is "that which is most communicable."

This day's feast reminds me of both her statements.

It reminds me also that Soelle once wrote "We can only speak about God when we speak to God."






It matters how we understand the ecology of God. We need the insights of icons and books, of ecofeminist and Orthodox Christians, of scientists in dialogue with theologians and ethicists.


These words are one of our windows for the day: one of the major paths to understanding the mystery of the Holy Trinity goes through prayer.

I say this not to avoid doctrinal discussion (well, perhaps just a little) since our understandings and formulations of God do matter. They matter to us as a Christian community, and perhaps more importantly, they matter to the broken world in which we live and to its healing. It is interesting (and, I think, no accident) that in recent ecumenical conversations, in fresh theological reflection in both Eastern and Western Christian traditions, and in the work of ecofeminist theologians from the North and the South (Ivone Gebara of Brazil comes first to mind) a renewed understanding of God as Trinity has gone hand in hand with increased attention to God's creation: attention to the environment, to the interdependence of earth, waters, skies and the sentient creatures who dwell there, attention to the impact upon them of human decisions, institutions, and societies. It matters how we understand the ecology of God.

We need the insights of icons and books, of ecofeminist and Orthodox Christians, of scientists in dialogue with theologians and ethicists. And nothing can replace the time that this kind of reflection requires nor our commitment to this mindful exploration.

But at some point, sooner rather than later, we need to hear and speak the poetry of God's mystery. And we will need, at some point, to do so in the second person, "you," speaking to God.

The feast of the Trinity is the gate through which we pass into the long season of the Spirit-filled year. God is alive. God is present. We have just spent the season of Easter remembering and proclaiming this reality, and at Pentecost last week we prayed it with particular intensity, remembering the multiplicity of human experience. Let not the celebration of Trinity, in its honoring of speech about God, lose its speech to God.

So to God we turn, today, even if we see only fragments, or through a glass darkly.

When God is "you," we can plead, argue, listen, fall silent. We can praise or lament. And we can gaze -- at creation in nature, at icons, at the faces of those we love and those we do not love enough.

This contemplation is not of and for the few. The Holy One who is also Multiplicity, and who remains One, is "that which is most communicable." We are not, with this God into whose life Jesus has invited us, in the domain of the spiritually privileged. "We are all mystics," Soelle reminds us.




Take the risk of speaking to God, of approaching or letting yourself be approached, in the boldness of the Spirit and the terror of these times. Alone, or, as this Sunday, in a praying community. In song, in silence, in poetry, in gesture.




Take the risk of speaking to God, of approaching or letting yourself be approached, in the boldness of the Spirit and the terror of these times. Alone, or, as this Sunday, in a praying community. In song, in silence, in poetry, in gesture.

Amos Wilder, the biblical scholar (brother of Thornton Wilder, the playwright and novelist) wrote nearly thirty years ago:

It is at the level of the imagination that the fateful issues of our new world-experience must first be mastered. It is here that culture and history are broken, and here that the church is polarized. Old words do not reach across the new gulfs, and it is only in vision and oracle that we can chart the unknown and new-name the creatures.

Before the message there must be the visions, before the sermon the hymn, before the prose the poem.

The scriptures today do not offer us a formula. They offer us vision, imagination, paths into Trinitarian life and prayer.

"Hallelujah! Praise God with timbrel and dance and strings and pipe." Hear and read and sing the Psalm. Hear it anew. ["Praise God and Dance" from Duke Ellington's Second Sacred Concert, which premiered at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1968, is a setting of Psalm 150.] Engage in that praise, directly, with cymbals and trumpet and and voice.

Today's Epistle is doubtless in the lectionary because it is one of the few places in which an explicitly Trinitarian greeting appears. But notice other words from this letter to the church at Corinth. "Do you not realize that Christ is in you?" "Do what is right." "Live in peace." What invitations come with the Trinitarian blessing?

Read and hear the words from Genesis both dramatically and reverently: stars, sky, earth, swarms of living creatures, waters of the sea, fish and human creatures, and -- hear, O busy, overscheduled ones -- God's sabbath rest, and the earth's, and ours. What response will we give to this when we go forth into all the nations?

Pray the feast. Let the feast live in the people of God.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Summer online retreats (or winter, if you're in the Southern Hemisphere)

Online retreats are back! 
Time off for the season of Easter 
(50 days
 and now, a season of the Spirit 
with a lot of options for you.

 
Photo (c) Jane Redmont (2014)

Monday, May 19, 2014

In the sanctuary and on the streets, alleluias and shared bread

Text posted first on Facebook last night.

 
Brewer Fountain, Boston Common


Two profoundly beautiful worship experiences today.

The first in the morning at Emmanuel Church in the City of Boston with Mendelssohn anthem; let's-tackle-this-one sermon with focused biblical analysis by the Rev. Pam Werntz; three baptisms; thanksgiving for 10 years of marriage equality; bread and wine blessed and shared; the final Bach cantata of Emmanuel Music's 2013-14 cantata season, glorious in praise and beauty. Candles and the play of light. Alleluias in hearts and voices.

The second, also with alleluias, a bit later in a very different setting: on Boston Common with Common Cathedral (often spelled common cathedral w/ no caps) in a congregation of mostly homeless men and women with some housed people as well, a dynamic young woman leading worship, and a youth group serving sandwich lunch before the service. A message of God's unconditional love for all and of God's very presence in our midst, a highly participatory service, with a structure but a lot of spontaneity (same structure as the other Sunday Eucharist but much simpler, pared down), and heartfelt Prayers of the People. Ragged at the edges in all the right ways, reverent, raw, with much assurance of forgiveness and comfort. Bread and grape juice blessed and shared. Sunlight, clouds, wind, the play of light.

Communion and contemplation in both places. And welcome. And song. And healing.

Not either/or. Both/and. The Church is a wide, deep, and diverse reality. Alleluia.



Emmanuel Church before the liturgy, 5th Sunday of Easter
Photos here are of parts of the worship space, the physical context. I don't take photos during worship; we do have photographers at Emmanuel who document some of our celebrations;  photographers and writers about common cathedral respect the anonymity and privacy of participants.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Body. Christ. Bodies.

"You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle, if you do not pity Jesus in the slums... It is folly --it is madness-- to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children." 

-- Bishop Frank Weston at the 1923 Anglo-Catholic Congress


Friday, February 14, 2014

Barbara Harris, Bishop: Silver Anniversary and Ecumenical Reflection

The following essay appeared in the March 10, 1989 issue of the Catholic lay-edited magazine Commonweal under the title "When the Spirit Leads: Barbara Harris, Bishop." The editors cut out the last sentence without consulting me. They made a few less drastic changes which I note below the text of the essay. This text, with some minor copyediting, is my original version.

Barbara Harris was consecrated bishop on February 11, 1989 and served as Bishop Suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts (1989-2003). She served as Assisting Bishop in the Diocese of Washington (2003-2007). Happily, she is back among us in Massachusetts. We will celebrate the 25th anniversary of her consecration this Sunday, February 16, 2014, with a Gospel Vesper Service.


[February, 1989]

A day or two before the consecration of Barbara Clementine Harris as Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, Cardinal Bernard Law and Greek Orthodox Bishop Methodios issue written statements of welcome. The statements are cordial. They also speak of the danger Harris’s consecration presents for reconciliation among Christian churches, or what has become commonly known as “Christian unity.”

At the consecration, the gospel music of St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church choir alternates with the delicate melodies of the Chinese Congregation and classical European harmonies of Trinity Church choir. The stately cadence of the Book of Common Prayer moves us forward, but in the musical realm there is a preferential option in the air: clearly, the day belongs less to Mozart and more to the music of the Black church. The celebration flows. This is no Tower of Babel: we each hear God speaking in our own tongue.

As Barbara Harris walks down the center aisle, a tiny woman whose voice and presence can fill a cathedral, over 8,000 people burst into applause. (“Not very characteristic of the Episcopal Church,” says one member of the congregation, Mary Shannon.) Throngs of priests, row upon row of beaming women and men, process down the side aisles of Boston’s Hynes Auditorium. Barbara Clementine Harris, a woman and a priest of African descent, is consecrated a bishop by the laying on of hands, according to the tradition of the apostles, by 55 men, most of them white. All through the celebration, the bishops have been purposeful, solemn and excited, with the calm certainty that God, through them, is doing a good thing.

In describing the celebration, those who were there speak of unity. Mary Shannon repeatedly uses the term “body” to speak of the church and of her experience of this day –“finally being part of the body...” “... all of us together in one body.” She is wearing a locket with a picture of her 80-year-old mother, a member of St. Andrew’s Parish in Seattle, who “still carries her white gloves with her in church yet has rolled with the changes.” She speaks in the plural: her mother, her daughters, her husband, her women friends, all rush into the conversation. “I cried,” she says. “I just felt so happy for all of us.”

Modene Dawson of Philadelphia speaks of another unity. For her, and for many African-Americans in the assembly, the significance of the event extends beyond the church. “It’s beautiful for the country,” she says. “It shows racial harmony.” The church which conducts this celebration is not apart from the world; it is the body which proclaims to the world that God is alive in history.

Paul Matthews Washington, in his sermon, speaks about God and history. Harris’s friend and mentor, he is Rector Emeritus of the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, which feeds, clothes, and sanctifies the poorest of the city. In this church was held the first ordination of Episcopal women to the priesthood, in the summer of 1974, less than 15 years ago. Harris, a member of the church, led the procession, carrying the cross.

“We cannot,” says Washington, “overlook the fact that this woman being consecrated today is not just an American woman. She is a Black woman... This is a woman... who has had to struggle; she’s been despised, she’s been rejected... God has lifted up one who was at the bottom of society and has exalted her to be one of His chief pastors.”

Washington speaks of Harriet Tubman, who “nineteen times went back into the land of bondage,” thanking God for her freedom by helping to free others. He speaks of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who was raised from her lowly estate and sang of God’s power to raise up the humble and put down the mighty from their thrones: “Mary,” he says after quoting the Magnificat, “was an oppressed woman. That’s how Holy Mary Mother of God felt!” He weeps as he recalls the slavery and oppression of Black people in this country. “Only in understanding the past can we fully appreciate God’s action in this event,” he says.

The Episcopal Church, a church of power and privilege, has chosen “a have-not,” says Washington, but also one who “burns when others are offended,” a “disturbing prophet.” Harries has for years –in her public relations and policy work in the corporate world, in her parish, in her work with the Episcopal Church Publishing Company, in her pastoral ministry—advocated racial and economic justice, taken up the cause of women, spoken out against homophobia; she has, says Washington, devoted enough time to prison chaplaincy “to serve a two-year sentence herself.”

The Right Reverend Barbara Harris, newly robed in bright vestments with Ashanti designs and symbols, presides at her first Eucharist as bishop. Among the concelebrants are Carter Heyward, one of the “Philadelphia Eleven” ordained at the Church of the Advocate, and Florence Tim-Oi Li, the first woman ordained a priest in the Anglican Communion, in Hong Kong, one generation ago. At the distribution, Harris slips over to the far side of the auditorium and gives communion to the people in the hearing-impaired section, who have been singing with their hands for three hours.

A bishop is, among other things, a maker of unity. Barbara Harris has already begun to make unity; but not in the ways in which unity was previously understood or structured. Her brother bishops, Law and Methodios, fear for the health and welfare of Christian unity. But where are the real rifts in our lives today? Are they doctrinal? Where is the real, urgent need for unity? And when we say “unity,” what do we mean? Whose unity, which unity, and at what cost?

The deeper chasm today is not between Protestants and Catholics, or Greek Orthodox and Episcopalians. It is, much more, between haves and have-nots, between Blacks and whites, between men and women, between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. These are the wounds in need of healing, in church and in society. As for denominationalism, it is no longer the principal intrachurch split. Far deeper is the gap within each of our faith communities between fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists.

Early in the service, the Presiding Bishop, Edmond L. Browning, asks if anyone knows of any reason why the consecration ought not to proceed. Two men come to the microphone. The first calls the consecration “a sacrilegious imposture,” the second “an impediment to the realization of the visible unity of the Church for which Christ prayed.” There will be a problem, they argue, with the value of any sacrament celebrated by Harris.

Bernardine Hayes, a computer systems analyst, self-described “dormant Catholic,” and veteran civil rights and peace activist (she is currently Vice President of WAND, Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament), had never before today “seen a woman offer the sacraments. She is so clearly affiliated with the poor,” Hayes adds. “She strikes me as a true minister.” Hayes feels something stir within her during the liturgy –“the realization that the piece of my life which is missing is the spiritual piece.”


This was, she says, "like a Pentecost."

Whose unity?

The intervention of the dissenters highlights the lack of unanimity in the church about the consecration (although Browning is quick to point out, at the post-consecration press conference, that the overwhelming majority of Episcopalians support it.) But it is, in its way, a step on the road to greater unity. Perhaps the two men will change their minds; perhaps never. What is hopeful and healthy and makes a body strong is that their pain was not swept under the rug. However token, this part of the ceremony honors difference: and the unity of the Episcopal Church around this celebration –the unity behind the liturgy—is not the easy unity of unreflecting liberals. It has been hard won, tempered by prayer and struggle, and forged through the participatory process of decision-making in the Episcopal Church, a community that gave us two-thirds of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Elizabeth Pearson Rice-Smith, a United Church of Christ minister who witnessed both the ordination of the “Philadelphia Eleven” and Barbara Harris’s consecration, believes that “if our vision of church unity embraces diversity in God’s ministries and the human experience of faith, there is much less need to split off. I think,” she adds, “that women are willing to say things about the messy stuff that don’t condemn or blame or banish. We want to create spirited change that doesn’t mean war, that doesn’t mean people don’t talk to each other, that doesn’t mean annihilation.”

Which unity, and at what cost?

Christians do still need to speak with one another about Eucharist and ministry, about theological thought and ecclesial practice. But the context of this discussion has changed, and so have the discussion questions themselves. Unable and unwilling to hide her particularity, unlikely to temper her prophetic stance, Barbara Harris –not in spite of this but because of this—is a maker, not a breaker, of unity.


(c) Jane Redmont 1989




A few other changes – skip this if you don’t care about the minutiae: The editors also lower-cased “Black,” which I had in upper case, and made a spelling change that eliminated my metaphor “singing with their hands.” They changed it to “signing with their hands.” Of course the congregation members in question were signing –but adding “with their hands” would in that case have been unnecessary. The celebration was full of song, and part of the beauty of it was that people sang with both voice and hands. I was seated in the section next to the one using American Sign Language. The editors also deleted the paragraph with Rice-Smith’s quote.

I was still a Roman Catholic at the time I wrote this essay.

 A decade later, in 1999, a few years after I moved to California, I was invited to be on the panel of speakers at the 10th anniversary celebration of Bishop Harris’s consecration. The invitation came from the Rev. Canon Edward Rodman, with whom I had often been on the television show “In Good Faith” on WCVB-Channel 5 (then the ABC affiliate in Boston). I served as the Roman Catholic voice on the panel and offered some insights from a Catholic feminist perspective.

A few years later –12 years ago last month— I was received into the Episcopal Church. The discernment leading to this reception –and the lengthy process toward ordination to the priesthood, a vocation dating back to the 1970s– are another story for another time and place.
 
Thanks be to God for Bishop Barbara!