There is something delicious about a rhythm learned deeply. Maybe it’s the beat to a song you love, or the steps to a dance – maybe it’s the familiar words of book, read aloud over and over again. If you like routine in your life, maybe it’s the same pattern of events each week, a comforting anchor.
For Anglicans, one of the rhythms of our shared prayer life is the Daily Office. These services have traditionally been used to mark times of daily prayer, stretching back beyond Christianity into Judaism. In medieval Europe the offices were seen primarily as the purview of monastic communities and clergy. Medieval monastic offices were plentiful. In addition to lauds (morning prayer) and vespers (evening prayer), there was matins (at midnight or cockcrow), prime (first hour), terce (third hour), sext (sixth hour), none (ninth hour), and compline (bedtime).
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who wrote the prayer book that our BCP is based on today, reduced the eight monastic offices to the two main services of Morning and Evening Prayer. The services were printed in English vernacular (a big part of the Protestant Reformation in Europe and the Anglican Reformation in England) and intended for use by the entire church. While access to books (and an education that enabled someone to read) was still limited, these daily prayers became an integral part of Anglicanism, the rhythm of daily prayer.
Today, our Prayer Book contains Morning, Noon, and Evening Prayer, as well as Compline. There are also abbreviated services, Daily Devotions, that work well with participants of all ages. If you’ve ever flipped through the BCP and wondered what pages 37-146 were about – this is it! While most Episcopal Churches today celebrate Eucharist on Sundays, you may have been to a parish that instead offers Morning Prayer as the primary Sunday service, with Eucharist reserved for select Sundays. This was news to me – I couldn’t remember ever saying Morning Prayer until I began the discernment process. That changed radically when I arrived at seminary: we said Morning Prayer every morning, Monday through Friday, at 7:30 am. At times it was difficult, especially for students with children who needed to get them out of bed and to school. But the practice of praying together and learning these particular forms of prayer has stayed with me – the rhythm stuck – and remains one of the most formative parts of my time at divinity school.
It is a rhythm I have loved continuing here at Redeemer, initially on Facebook and now in person. If you’re curious, or want explore Morning Prayer, you can find us on Monday and Wednesday mornings in the courtyard at 8 am. Navigating the Prayer Book can be tricky; we’re learning together! Or join Bert and the choir for Compline or Evensong – or undertake saying a service at home every day or every week. Try out one of the Daily Devotions with family. If you don’t have a BCP handy, check out Forward Movement’s online Daily Office offering that provides the entire service: https://prayer.forwardmovement.org/home.
This is just one of the many rhythms of life we share, as a Church and as a community. Right now, rhythm is something I’ve been longing for, especially as our world continues to shift daily with restrictions and quarantines and the continuing grief and hope present around us. Maybe Daily Prayer is the anchor you need in this time – or maybe it will lead you to the rhythm that resonates even more.
There are moments when the veil between “heaven” and “earth” seems to thin. I recently experienced such a “thin place”, and I’d like to share my experience with you.
It began several nights ago, in the wee hours of the morning, when sleep continues to be elusive and I found myself in a liminal space, waiting on the sidelines of that blissful field of dreams. It was while here that I beheld a vision of a young, beloved man who left us too soon, 3 years ago.
His face was serene, his eyes clear and piercing. His body was made of light, shimmering, with what appeared to be wings … yes, wings … angelic and peaceful, steady and commanding. The rhythmic movement of his majestic wings were calming for me, as was his invitation to focus on his voice. Not long after, I believe I fell asleep.
When I woke up, I felt an intense longing to go for a leisurely walk around Lake Roland. As Providence would have it, it was my day off, so I could indulge my desire. I invited a girlfriend to join me, and off we went, on a sunny fall morning, sharing the highs and lows of our lives and commiserating on the challenges of our particular midlife transitions — the “dying” and the “rising” we both feel we are navigating in our own ways.
We had just crossed the railroad tracks, when an exquisite butterfly landed on the path directly in front of us. We both noticed it immediately and stopped. It moved in a small circle on the ground, then danced from side to side. And then, it just stayed. Right. There.
We stood there on the path together, two women and a butterfly. Seconds passed. Minutes. Another walker and a biker came by. I fully expected, of course, for these newcomers to frighten our winged friend away. But no! She … He … It … flew closer to us!!! And resumed her rhythmic, calming motion with her wings … open … close … open … close … open … close …
As calming and steady as my angel friend the night before. Calm. Steady. Present.
I do not know how long the 3 of us were together. Eventually, another walker came by, and for whatever reason, his appearance on the scene caused our butterfly to fly away from the path and into the sun-speckled trees above.
What she left embedded in my heart was a deep knowing, a reassurance, that we live in a universe infused with grace, not always visible to our human eyes yet ever Present and Real.
My prayer for you today, my friend, is that you have an experience of grace.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Last fall we formed a visioning committee to dream about expanding the Parish Day School into the elementary grades, guided by a commitment to only grow if it benefitted the school, the parish, and the community around us. We invited educators and parents, vestry and a former PDS board chair to join us, and we asked local school leaders to challenge our assumptions. The process clarified who we uniquely are, what we value, and why now might be the right time to grow. And because the pandemic compelled us to add a first grade option this program year, as we write to you, 16 first-graders are thriving in a repurposed room at the bottom of the parish hall stairs.
In June, we met with Nancy Grasmick, former Superintendent of the Maryland State Department of Education, to think out loud with us about two ways we might grow: upward in grade level and more deeply into our relationship with Govans School. Her response was immediate and strong. “By expanding to the third grade, Redeemer will complete early childhood education, a precious gift to the current landscape of schools. And by creating an on-going partnership with Govans, you offer a rare public-private partnership that can knock down walls that divide us.” Go for it, she said, and you’ve got a fan in your corner. On Tuesday, the Vestry voted their commitment and full support of the school’s case for growth!
Here’s what we are excited about. The Parish Day School is a small, inclusive Episcopal School which welcomes diverse families from different religious, cultural, and economic backgrounds. We provide a nurturing environment grounded in early childhood learning—experiential, student-driven, open-ended, multi-sensory… active, playful, noisy, messy… and full of joy. Through listening and reflection, our students are helped to solve problems, make decisions, and communicate effectively with other children and adults. Music is part of our daily life, which presents exciting possibilities to partner with the Choir School of Baltimore. Our eight acre campus and curriculum stretch minds and bodies, invite exploration and wonder, and model how to learn from our mistakes. We are committed to providing an affordable option for early grades, with small classes and low teacher-student ratios, and we offer need-based financial aid. Our teachers and students are faithful, welcoming, courageous, and kind.
The work ahead is to continue listening to every stakeholder, especially as we design curriculum and develop ways that Redeemer and Govans can help each other. It also includes fostering a culture of stewardship within the school community to support an annual fund, capital costs, and an endowment. In the next program year, additional students will mean having classrooms in learning cottages, and we will also need to discover space in our buildings for special programs. Continued growth will call for more permanent structures, we imagine, and school alumni and the parish community will be invited to take part in that development.
Students are fundamentally shaped in the earliest years, we believe, and so as we add elementary grades and a child-centered partnership with Govans School, we offer a program that will not only change individual lives, but our city along with it. That’s the vision which nourishes us. If someone asks you about the Redeemer Parish Day School’s plans for growth, tell them this: We are educating children to be curious, confident learners, discovering each person’s unique worth and beauty, building an inclusive and equitable community, strengthening the school, the parish, and Baltimore. Will you grow with us?
David Ware, rector Mary Knott, PDS director
Today, September 23, the Episcopal Church remembers Thecla of Iconium. Ever heard of her?
I hadn’t, either, until I started taking Greek in seminary. Our teacher gave us a passage to translate, and I found myself looking up the Greek word for seal (the ones with flippers) in my lexicon. Seals! And they were ravenous!
According to tradition, Thecla was a disciple of Paul. She was incredibly popular, especially with women, in the early church. Her story is told in the second century text, Acts of Paul and Thecla. If it sounds like the title of an adventure story, that’s because it was (remember, ravenous seals). The story goes that when Thecla heard Paul preaching the gospel, she abandoned her plans to marry and followed Paul instead. Her devotion to the Gospel was not particularly well received, and she was condemned to burn at the stake. But – ! – her life was saved by a miraculous thunderstorm! Drama!
And it doesn’t stop there. Thecla was then thrown to the beasts at a local arena. (Think gladiator arena, but minus the dude in armor. There are other accounts of early Christians being sent to the arena because of their piety during this time, though scholars differ on how much and for how long early Christians were persecuted before Constantine made it the religion of the state. It depended on where they were and who was in power.) She was protected by a fierce lioness (very cool) but, afraid it was her last chance to be baptized, she threw herself into a pool of ravenous seals and baptized herself while the seals were struck dead by lightening. WHAT?! As you can imagine, Greek class was derailed by our delight with the story’s outcome. Thecla was released by the governor and she continued to preach the gospel on her travels.
Acts of Paul and Thecla is very much the adventure story it sounds like: it contains many tropes of ancient fiction and is written in the same style of non-Christian stories. While much of it may be apocryphal, Christians in late antiquity believed that there was a real woman behind the story. She pops up in art and literature from Gaul to Palestine and people named their babies after her. Tertullian, a second and early third century Christian writer from Carthage, wrote that early Christian women used Thecla as an example to defend women’s freedom to teach and baptize.
Remembering Thecla today, I wonder what your seal pits are? A funny way to phrase the question, but I mean it seriously. What are you willing to stand up for, to which you will stay true, despite great risk? Where is God in it? Does it make you free? Thecla was called to spread the Good News, even though she was a woman and persecuted for her religion. Although it made her a target and left her vulnerable, God’s call also made her free. And her life (or at least stories about it) served as an example to countless other Christians, especially women who sought freedom.
As a closing prayer, here is the collect for Thecla.
God of liberating power, who called Thecla to proclaim the gospel and did not permit any obstacle or peril to inhibit her: Empower courageous evangelists among us, that men and women everywhere may know the freedom that you offer us in Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
PS If you want more Thecla, check out her entry in Lesser Feasts and Fasts (you’ll see much of the same information I offered today and the collect, plus the assigned scripture texts for her feast). Or, if you’re curious, you can check out a translation of Acts of Paul and Thecla. PBS has an English translation that’s (probably) from the early 18th century:
I have recently had the privilege of making a new friend—let’s call him Vernon. Vernon is a well-traveled, well-read, and retired neurosurgeon who led the field of neurosurgery for much of his working life. He is truly a scientist down to his toes and everything must have a rational, scientific explanation…even if science hasn’t caught up to articulating it yet.
So, imagine my surprise when he started asking me questions about GOD! In these his later years, he is searching for he knows-not-what. His very busy mind is driving him crazy because he has not been able to align his rational thinking with this deep question mark that seems to be hanging over his head. Having traveled around the world and enjoyed much of the finer things of life, he finds himself asking, “so what? Is this it? Is there more?”
Of course, questions like these are right up my alley. Our spirituality is nothing if it doesn’t somehow respond to the questions of meaning in our lives. Questions like WHY AM I even HERE? As we have talked more about this subject it struck me that Vernon never spoke much about how situations or circumstances or even people made him feel. He had a myriad of thoughts about these things, but no feelings about them.
If you are living the human experience, and you are if you’re reading this reflection, you have feelings that are reflections of the emotive experience of being alive. All of life is energy and emotions are simply energy-in-motion. That is why Fear…a strong emotion has a self-conscious and reflective side to it which can be articulated. If we find we cannot express our feelings, we are allowing these strong emotions to get stuck within us which have been shown to make us physically sick or sicker.
As Vernon and I have spent time together talking about this GOD-thing even more, I have come to realize that life’s experiences are to be felt as well as considered with the mind or thought about. In other words, to block off our feelings shuts off a part of our aliveness…and dare I say it, separates us from GOD. You and I are meant to both think and feel. It is who and what we are.
So, what do we do with difficult feelings like fear, sadness, anger, guilt, or shame to name a few? We certainly don’t pretend they are not there. Try this. We can close our eyes and discern where in our body this feeling sits; cradle it with compassion and love; and watch its transmutation. It will change. Try it and see. Learning to process our emotions in this way is very calming to our nervous systems and is overall beneficial to our lives.
Vernon and I are learning together that we can experience GOD through our feelings more deeply than we can through what we can intellectually speak about GOD. The Divine, after all is to be experienced in this school of LIFE. At the end of the day, it is about learning to express gratitude for the experience of being alive—right here and right now. So how do YOU feel today?
Holding You in LIGHT!