“I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.”
So reads one of the anthems in our Maundy Thursday service, words Jesus speaks during John’s telling of the last supper (John 13:34). Jesus has washed his disciples’ feet, calling them to follow his example of serving others. Afterwards he warns them of his upcoming betrayal, singling out Judas, but the disciples don’t understand. And then, as Jesus explains that he is going before them very soon, going somewhere they cannot follow, he instructs them to love one another as he has loved them. It is by this that everyone will know they are his disciples.
This is the mandate from which Maundy Thursday draws its name. Maundy comes from the Latin “mandatum,” meaning a mandate or command. In this case it stems from Jesus’ commandment that we love one another as he has loved us. For many years, in different branches of our Christian family tree, people have symbolized that love and service by washing someone else’s feet.
In early accounts of this practice, popes are described washing the feet of monks, kings washing the feet of peasants. It is an inversion of this world’s concept of what power looks like and does. Rather than wielding power over others, they are making themselves servants, caring for those the world sees as the least and the last. One church I know in New Haven, CT, has a Maundy Thursday practice of offering a foot health clinic, in addition to foot washing, to the people experiencing homelessness that make up a large portion of their congregation. (If you’d like to learn more, you can check out Chapel on the Green.) At Redeemer, feet have been washed as a part of a Maundy Thursday meal. Last year, as we were still beginning to adjust to living our lives online, David+ washed his daughter Helena’s hands on Facebook live.
Whether it is a subversion of dominant power structures that have nothing to do with the Kingdom of God; the care expressed to God’s most vulnerable children; or the tenderness of offering love to family and friends, Maundy Thursday is a day on which we memorialize Jesus’ commandment: to love one another as he has loved us.
This is all well and fine, you may be thinking — but we’re still in Lent 1. Why are you writing about Maundy Thursday now? There are still five Sundays to go!
Very true! We have plenty time left to journey with Jesus through the wilderness, on our way to Palm Sunday and Holy Week. And so I wonder, what would it be like if we entered into our Maundy Thursday mandate now, this early in Lent? What if we suffused all of Lent with the with the light of Christ’s love?
I recognize the ways that so many have been caring and serving for so long. Some people have been serving us in deep and powerful ways since this time last year: health care workers, grocery store employees, maintenance staff, and teachers, our postal and sanitation workers. They have been keeping us healthy, safe, and fed. You may have cared for people in your life in new ways, too: calling to check in on friends and family more, delivering groceries to a neighbor, praying hard. Our country is in flux as we question racist power structures that have led to the staggering loss of life and livelihood in Black and Brown communities, both from COVID-19 but also at the hands of our police and justice systems.
I recognize the ways that so many have been caring and serving for so long. And I don’t invite this practice as just one more thing to do, a chore to add to an already long list. (This is especially true for people on whom the expectation always falls to serve and care — that would reinforce the power dynamics of our world, rather dismantle them.) Instead, I invite you to consider Christ’s mandate this Lent as a lens through which we see our lives. What if we truly lived this as our operating instruction: to love one another as Jesus loves us?
Certainly, we would do it imperfectly. None of us are perfect, and none of us can love perfectly. It is part of being human; that is something only God can do. But we are still called to try! And loving others as Christ loves us does not mean that anyone should remain in an unhealthy relationship, or suffer abuse, or acquiesce to systems that deal death rather than life. It does not mean standing by as injustice is perpetrated — it is the direct opposite. In his love for us and for the world Jesus challenged the powers and principalities that tell us that we are less than beloved. He lifted up the lives of the people society devalued and oppressed, serving them before all others. And he called his disciples to do the same, to love with the same tenderness and passion that he did. Their service to the world was a sign of that love.
As we journey through this season of Lent, look at the world in light of Christ’s commandment with the same renewed attention that we bring to it on Maundy Thursday. How might I love others as Christ loved me? We may not be able to wash each other’s feet this year, but we can continue on with Christ’s mandate. We can continue to discover new ways to love one another and the world.
Prayer is and has always been an integral part of my life. In fact, I am a student of prayer and will be forever, I am sure.
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my Soul to keep [;]
If I should die before I ‘wake,
I pray the Lord my Soul to take. Amen.
This was the prayer each of us kids were taught to pray before bed EVERY night by my Mom. Every one of us learned it at an early age; along with learning to talk we were taught to pray. I do not wonder about this strong desire or even need to connect with God by my parents nor in their desire that their children should develop a relationship with God in this way. Our lives as well as the lives of the enslaved peoples before them were rich with the Spirit and the notion of the Divine outside of and within day-to-day existence. (No, Christianity did not bring God to Africa any more than it brought God to the Americas). God was way more than that which men could teach my Mom would be apt to say.
What are your earliest memories of being taught to pray? Maybe it was something you learned later in life. Many of us were taught that prayer was a “conversation” with God; mostly talking with a little listening on the side. Because our parents prayed daily in our sight and out of sight and even throughout the day, we learned that GOD was always near to us. Their way of praying taught us about their relationship with God—that it was REAL, tangible, and hopeful even when it was easier for them (I later learned) to live in despair.
Somewhere along the way the notion took root that prayer was, at the very least, a period spent thinking about GOD and God-ly things. But when St. Paul encourages the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing,” I realized I had to re-think that attitude. How could I learn to pray without ceasing? I asked Jesus to teach me to pray in just that way. I was not ready for the answers which have come over many years through many miles of life’s terrain —and continues.
Our beloved Book of Common Prayer calls prayer “responding to God by thought or by deeds with or without words,” and this gives us much more wiggle room than simply conversing with God about this or that. According to the Prayer Book, praying involves doing something—that is, responding to God who is ALWAYS speaking within us. Did you even realize that you do not initiate your own prayers—that GOD does? As Father Martin Smith would say, “paying attention to God’s approach to us comes first. Prayer is primarily attentiveness to God’s disclosure to us….” 1
At some point, I realized that I could include prayers for those I loved or who I knew were having a particularly difficult time, during my routine tasks throughout the day. I could offer prayers while chopping vegetables, attentively and with great intention. This opened the way for me to be able to stir prayers into my soups, into the kneading of my bread, or into planting my begonias on the Sunday before Easter. Have you ever dug in the dirt to plant and suddenly knew without a shadow of a doubt that the HOLY was right there…you could sense PRESENCE?
But what if prayer has an even larger landscape? What if prayer is simply be-ing-in-relationship- with-God? What if prayer is a mindset or an attitude? What if prayer is learning to be in the present moment where GOD is?
I do believe that prayer is the stretching forth of our hearts in desire and longing for something beyond us and within us simultaneously. Prayer is a mystery and a great gift. We humans conceive of ourselves as bodies, minds, and spirits and like the Holy Trinity each one of us is an organism whose parts are in relationship with each other; we are one human being. For me, this means I can offer a dance, song, or even a party in prayer to GOD. It would just be my way of inviting God into the dance or party because we are in-relationship and I am mindful of this present moment…now.
When we pray, we enter into the HOLY ONE of all that is and find ourselves knit together with the Holy Spirit in the communion of the ONENESS of all things—GOD. This understanding changes our entire view of prayer and its place in our lives individually and collectively. And since we are each uniquely and lovingly made, we each carry a special way in which we can use the multitude of prayer practices available to us or create our own either or both to be-with-GOD.
So, as a student of prayer this is what I have learned so far: Everything is ENERGY; Everything is RELATED; We are LOVED…no EXCEPTIONS.
(Smith, Martin L., The Word Is Very Near You: A Guide to Praying with Scripture, Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1989, p19.)
When was the last time that an old, tired concept that you had put in a “box”, labelled, and stored away in the closet of your mind was taken out, shaken out, and reenergized with new life, relevance and meaning?
This happened to me recently, with the concept of “fasting”. What does “fasting” bring to your mind? What feelings and thoughts do you associate with it?
For many of us, the concept of fasting — if we think of it at all — is something we associate with getting our blood drawn for lab tests (not a pleasant association!). Or perhaps we associate fasting with what our spiritual ancestors did and were exhorted to do, long long ago, as an act of repentance, as numerous passages from scripture attest. We might recall Jesus fasting in the wilderness for 40 days and nights. We may think of our Jewish brothers and sisters fasting on high holy days; our Muslim brothers and sisters fasting during Ramadan. Those of us who grew up Roman Catholic may even carry memories of fasting on certain “days of holy obligation.”
“Fasting” is something faithful people did long, long ago; something faithful people of other religions still do today; or something you might have to do, before you get your blood drawn.
At least, that is how I thought about “fasting” until just a few weeks ago, when I embarked on a 21-day functional medicine detox, on the strong recommendation of a dear friend who also happens to be a certified integrative nutrition health coach. She, herself, had completed such a program several months ago, and felt it was the single best thing she had ever done, to change her life and improve her overall health and well-being.
The program is based, really, on a simple concept: that it is good for our bodies, periodically, to “rest” from the “business” of digesting — to rest from using energy to process food — in order to have the energy, time and space to “take out the trash” and to get rid of toxins and other materials that have accumulated in our bodies and cells, that are harmful to us or that we do not need. Similar to taking time to clean out and purge our closets, cabinets and refrigerators, fasting affords our bodies the necessary time and energy to intentionally and efficiently “clean house,” if you will — the necessary time and energy to take care, of itself.
With that kind of recommendation and testimony from a dear, trusted friend, and professional in her field, how could I refuse? So I committed to doing the program and completed it at the end of January. During this period of 21-days, which included 6 days of fasting, interspersed with/spread out evenly between days of eating specified foods (mostly proteins, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits) — and now two weeks “post-detox” — I felt and continue to feel healthier in body-mind-spirit than I have in years. David, Grace and Ben will attest to the transformation and healing that has occurred. I am able to better care for others, because I am taking better care of myself. Thanks BE!
And so, I am now committed to incorporating fasting for 24-hours as a regular, weekly practice. Just as I did during the 21-day detox program, my “fasting day” will involve drinking plenty of water, herbal tea and a liquid shake that provides all the essential vitamins and nutrients my body needs, so I am not depriving my body of what it needs, but simply allowing it to rest from digesting, so it can use energy to clean house.
If this sounds like a practice you would like to try alongside me and others at Redeemer, during the upcoming season of Lent, please email me! I would love to share what I have learned, and am continuing to learn and experience, with you.
Take Good Care,
Governor Hogan said we’re in for a long winter, and he wasn’t talking about the weather. There are surely some good signs—COVID-19 cases and related deaths are down, schools are figuring out ways to see their students, vaccines are being delivered, albeit slowly. Power was transferred peacefully to the new administration on January 20… but wet paint covered the angry vitriol and violence of two weeks hence. Bipartisan efforts to jumpstart the economy are on the table… but elected officials still demonize the other. Denominations are taking concrete steps toward racial reparation, organizations public and private are interrogating their hiring and investment practices, people of color lead cities and school districts and businesses… but the sin of racism still cripples all of us, each of us. To extend the governor’s metaphor, right now the nights stretch longer than the days, at least emotionally. “Surely some revelation is at hand,” longed W.B. Yeats in 1919, as another pandemic left the world breathless.
We have been here before. In the 6th century B.C.E., the Hebrew people lost their nation and their capitol city, their ways of worship and (they feared) their God. Marched by force to a foreign land, they entered their own long winter of discontent. And much to their surprise, God revealed God’s abiding presence, tied not to real estate but ritual. God never left them, they just had to find a new set of eyes to see how his Spirit of healing and courage, of justice and peace had shifted from their heads to their hearts. They would need to embody their principles of love of God and neighbor, of stranger and self if the people and their Way were to survive.
They did it. In that time of extraordinary trial and pain, the Hebrew people wrote the stories and the laws that still shape our consciousness. They sang the poetry of Psalms to give voice to their crushing sadness, their understandable anger, and their soaring hopes. Prophets scanned the horizon for light and saw God coming through a servant who suffers with us and for us.
One of the features of ritual that got them through is lament, a corporate engagement with sorrow and grief. Centuries before Elizabeth Kubler Ross, our ancestors discovered that not only is it counter-productive to set aside grief, one literally cannot get to the morning without moving step by step through our longest nights. The liturgy of lament, recorded in fully 1/3 of the Psalms, invites the soul to engage the darkness within and the darkness outside as a means of grace. It is by walking through the ritual, again and again, which restores us, if we let the Spirit take our hand.
Inspired by the work of Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Graham Hill, I created a Liturgy of Lament for our Sacred Ground small group, and we tried it out last night. I offer it to you as a private devotion now (in a journal, in your prayers), with the hope that we might one day use it together in worship. In its original form I have directed it toward racism, but the ritual can be used with any system shaped by brokenness.
Yeats re-discovered in his own time that “things fall apart.” But the center holds—and there will be sun and warmth again.
The Liturgy begins with Psalm 13, as an invocation.
INVOKE How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
WORSHIP Name who/how God is. (Just, loving, merciful, good?…inclusive, inviting, welcoming?…trustworthy, present, healing?…One…with us, especially in times of crisis)
DESCRIBE… the difficult, painful situation of racism. (Where are we?)
CONNECT… the lamentable situation we’re in with the individual and corporate sins which created it. (How did we get here?)
CONFESS… your participation in racism. (What have I done, what am I currently doing?)
REPENT Express the deep sorrow you feel for the sins that got us into the problem, and describe a new direction/action you will turn toward. (What is your “new mind” thinking? What are your “new eyes” seeing?)
ASK… for God’s help. (We can’t do this alone.)
RECEIVE… all of what this gift of God’s help and presence brings—hope, healing, insight, truth-telling, resolve, courage, solidarity with others… more.
GIVE THANKS… in all the ways that come up in you.