April 17, 2014

From the Rector

Coming Close

We are here. Today, Maundy Thursday, is the first of the Three Great Days, or the Triduum. Since at least the 4th century Christians have been re-tracing these steps, re-turning to gather, watch, kindle and sing. At All Souls this means we have been learning new music and brushing up on old. We have been preparing the spaces, readying the pieces we will need. And we have been planning, planning, planning. Preparing to make room in our space and in ourselves for what is to come.

Last night many of us walked through these steps to rehearse. From the foot-washing to the final meal, followed by the stripping of the holy space. To the foot of the cross, to watch and wait. To the new fire, the ancient stories, new life seen in water and oil, and through singing with the saints to make this Feast of Feasts. We did this not to achieve perfection over the course of these days but so that we can be fully present in them, holding the space for all who wish to come close to this great Mystery.

So many in our time and place yearn for authenticity. We want to be able to touch, to hold, to participate in something real. For much of what we experience around us is passing or lacks substance. We can readily identify with the author of Ecclesiastes who writes, “Vapor of vapors! All is vapor.” Yet even as we are surrounded by that which fills our time but not our longing, we hunger for that which is real and true. Real and true, not just for our time, but for all time.

This is why we take inordinate amounts of time and attention to prepare for these Three Great Days. Because when we are paying attention, when we have set the space, when we enter these stories, when we walk these steps, we come close. We come close to the Real. What it means to be really, truly, fully human. Intimacy. Betrayal. Longing. Loss. Delight. Life.

We are here, friends. It is time once again to come together to walk this Way. To gather around the table. To watch, even as we wish to avert our eyes. To kindle the new flame. And to sing with joy. Walk with us these Three Great Days. Walk and come close.


From the Associate for Parish Life

Lent Challenged

I must confess that other than doing one hour of worship a week I have utterly failed the Lenten Challenge. When Phil first brought it to my attention I was excited and determined to pray 20 minutes a day, worship 1 hour a week and do 4 hours of service a month. Ok…I guess I wasn’t that determined. I was excited initially, though. I was excited to be more intentional about setting time aside each day to spend in prayer. I imagined myself sitting in the chapel with my finger labyrinth, listening to Ana Hernandez or Taize music and practicing contemplative prayer. I was looking forward to finding new and creative ways to engage in active service throughout the month.

What happened? Would it be too pat to say, “life happened”? I got busy and distracted. I was tired. I have no good reason for not following through. I imagine all of us could tell the same story about our lives – my busy-ness and distraction are not somehow greater or more real than yours.

The truth is, Lent is hard for me. When I was at Calvin College I really got into it. I gave up all sweets or desserty type foods, I gave up alcohol, I gave up radio in the car. After college a woman from my church introduced me to Martin Smith and I read his A Season for the Spirit regularly during Lent for many years.

I have experienced Lent as a powerful and meaningful season before, time set apart. Recently, though, I just have not been up for the intentionality as I once was. Instead, what I have found is that I need Grace. I need to be able to try and to fail. Does the fact that I intended to do the Lenten Challenge and then didn’t mean that Lent doesn’t count for me this year? If you perhaps “fell of the wagon” in your own Lenten disciplines and fasts, did you indeed fail Lent? I don’t think so. I have come a long way since my more evangelical, piety filled days when I was more rigid and dogmatic towards myself and others. Sometimes I think we just need a break. We need to be gentle with ourselves and one another, gracious and flexible when our experience does not meet our expectations.

Despite my less than rigid Lenten experience these last 40 days I am excited to enter into and revel in the mystery these next 3 days will bring. I haven’t actually done the Lenten Challenge but I have read the regular e-mails they sent out. This past Monday’s was perhaps my favorite:

Walk with Jesus
This week we are asked to walk with Jesus, day by day, and those days will include meals and deep expressions of love and friendship. They will also bring betrayal, fear, grief, and the cross.

How will you stay open this week to all the truths of life – the joys and the sorrows?
How will you walk the way of the cross?

Today, tomorrow and Saturday we will enter into this timeless and familiar story in new and unexpected ways. We get to walk with Jesus during some of his most intimate, painful and confusing moments with his disciples. My hope is that we, as a community, are able to approach these moments with eyes wide open, that we don’t turn away when it gets too vulnerable or agonizing, that we see ourselves in these stories and that we leave on Saturday night confident in the love and grace Jesus freely gives us.

Invite friends and family to join us on this journey.


From Arts at All Souls

Higher Ground





















The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.
Matthew 27:51-52

Many times I have listened to the words of the Passion read on Palm Sunday, but for me this past week, these two verses in Matthew stood out as John Chakan so boldly delivered them. Each and every Sunday, we as parishioners sit in the pews and face a visual depiction of these verses in the Anastasis icon – what we have commonly called the Resurrection icon – to the left of the Quire. Other names for this event include the Harrowing of Hell or the Descent into Hades, where after his death by crucifixion Jesus makes his way to Hades, illuminating the darkness with his radiant halo and shimmering garments. After breaking down the doors of Hades – shattered and trampled below his feet – a figure personifying Hades is bound and weakened, left in an abyss of darkness.













Jesus stands on a narrow expanse of rocky earth, bridging the tombs of Adam and Eve who have waited, imprisoned in the realm of the dead. Their arms are raised in supplication and Jesus is there to raise them up out of their suffering. At each side of Jesus are saints and prophets – including King David, Solomon, and St. John – gesturing toward him as the one whose coming they foretold.


















I recently taught the formation class “Windows into Icons” and had the opportunity to spend a lot of time looking at our icons at All Souls, and then returning to look some more. For me, my eyes kept wandering back to the hands in the center of the Resurrection icon. Jesus’ hands and Adam’s and Eve’s are not met in the sure grip of an interlocking handshake.















Rather, Jesus’ hands encircle each of them around their wrist, where they are essentially rendered helpless in contributing to the cause. It is Jesus who lifts us up out of the darkness, out of our moments of utter helplessness, lifting us up and planting our feet on higher ground.

Jesus’ actions depicted in this icon serve as a prefiguration for his own Resurrection, and simultaneously the Resurrection of all humanity. The Resurrection is the most fundamental belief of Christianity. This is what we celebrate during the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening, and this is why our Resurrection icon plays a central role in the evening’s liturgy. There comes a time near the end of our long wait where we – standing in the darkness of the narthex – break through the doors bursting into the illuminated nave. Immediately, we are met with this glorious icon of Christ freeing us from the darkness, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb bestowing life!

Friends, this is a joyous moment! No longer must you squint from the pews to see what this is all about – Jesus Christ is right in the midst of streaming worshipers. Here is our chance – each of us in our own way – to show our thanks, our praise, our reverence, a gentle touch, a nod, a kiss, a grip, a high five!

–Michelle Barger

View from the Pew

Lenten Touch Stone

On Ash Wednesday I picked my touchstone out of the Shrove Tuesday ashes, rinsed it in the water and wondered what to do with the wet bit of half-baked clay.  I wrapped it in a handkerchief, stuffed it in my pocket and hoped it wouldn’t make too much of a mess.

At home emptying my pockets, I was surprised that there was no mess.  The stone had been properly fired and I found it a bit compelling.  It looked a little like something found on an archeological dig in the catacombs – about the size of a quarter, indented in the center and incised with a cross.  The cross was a bit off center, but did the job.










The next morning I slipped it into my pocket.  During the day, there were a couple of minor annoyances and I touched the stone and was reminded that there were more important things to think about than a balky computer.  I stopped short and did think of Christ’s suffering and his wonderful gift to the world.  During the next weeks I found myself touching the stone and feeling relieved and calm. 

Last Friday, when I emptied my pockets the touchstone wasn’t there.  I checked other pockets, the cushions in my chair, and the washer and the stone had disappeared.  I soon realized that I didn’t really need to touch the stone, all I had to do was think about it and it still worked.

The moral of this story?  There are many ways to keep a holy Lent.

–Carl Smith


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