From the Rector
From the Floor to the Balcony
It is hard to believe that it has been three years. Three years since All Souls Parish discerned three areas of to focus our time, attention, and resources: Deep Hospitality, Christian Action and Practice, and a new path for the Parish House.
Seeing as many things have happened in the last three years––the Vestry has turned over entirely, many people on our staff are new, there are scores of members who have become part of this body since that strategic plan was made––we decided to dedicate time to our Vestry meetings this summer to check-in on the direction that we set back in 2015.
Each month we gave attention to one of the areas: Deep Hospitality in June, the Parish House in July, and Christian Action and Practice in August. In doing so, we held up the components of each of the plans to see what has happened in the last three years, using a very simple lens: that we were doing that element, that we didn’t see it happening, or that we weren’t quite sure. The good news is that in each of the three areas we have made real progress. And I consider it good news that there is still work to do––this plan still has legs.
First what is working well. In Deep Hospitality, there is now a clear pathway to membership, we are more intentionally and capably incorporating newcomers into being new members, and there are consistent ways for members to connect with each other at parish-wide events. Areas that we will be giving more attention to are creating an overall culture of welcome, creating the structures for people to connect with one another in small groups, and ways to re-incorporate folks who are looking to re-form their practice.
One of the surprises of this check-in exercise was the realization that we have accomplished what we initially set out to do regarding the Parish House. To date we have discerned a path forward (affordable housing and space for All Souls), found partners (SAHA), entered into a fruitful relationship, decided on the program (affordable housing for seniors), received diocesan approval, and created the design for the building. We are now in the latter stages of the entitlement process and are looking ahead to financing and hopefully the start of construction in the next 18 months. Having seen tremendous progress in the last three years, the Vestry looked ahead to the next three and set new goals: to ascertain the needs of furnishing All Souls’ new administrative and living spaces, and to prepare for a capital campaign for the undercroft and other areas in the church.
Finally, at last night’s meeting, the Vestry turned their attention to our goal of developing Christian Action and Daily Practice. There were three components to this area of focus, each with six to ten actions––it was an incredible report from that proposal group. The three areas are as follows: Immigration: welcoming the stranger, Honoring Creation: faithfully responding to climate change, and Caring for Foster Youth and Children. What stood out to the Vestry in our conversation was that there were some areas of clear action––our use of the first floor of the Parish House and the subsequent accompaniment with immigrants, green design principles for the Parish House project, and the gathering of supplies and regular cards of love and initial mentor teams for foster youth. Interestingly, one of the areas that we had yet to fully live out across the three areas of Christian Action was in the realm of advocacy. Though some of that advocacy work has started, we realized that we have great potential to partner with organizations who share our values and vision, lending ourselves in the reformation unjust laws and structures.
For me, and the members of our Vestry, this exercise of review and recalibration has been remarkably helpful. In the day-to-day and week-to-week demands and urgencies of the parish life it is far too easy to forget the path we’ve set. As scholar Ronald Heifetz teaches, it is essential to regularly leave the frenzied pace of the dance floor to see what the scene looks like from the balcony. From there the view is encouraging––transformative work has begun, with more to come.
From the Interim Sabbatical Associate Rector
Pray Without Ceasing…HOW?
The admonition “Pray without ceasing” is the sum total of the 17th verse of the 5th chapter in the letter to the church at Thessalonica. And it is something which Christians have tried to do ever since — with a variety of tools and different levels of success.
One of the first methods was probably speaking in tongues, described in the Book of Acts (Acts 2:4); a gift of speaking in a language not our own to proclaim the good news or praise the Holy One which seemed to fade away until the turn of the 20th century when it reappeared in Pentecostal revival services and mid-century in the Charismatic renewal. The gift allows a person to pour their heart out to the Holy One without getting cramped by the mental censor whose self-critical litany of “coulda, woulda, shoulda” can prevent us from being really honest with God. We cannot demand that this gift be given to us and, depending on our context (1 Cor. 14:1-9), sometimes the gift can be experienced as divisive.
Another very early way to pray without ceasing developed in Eastern Orthodox traditions but was unknown to most Americans until the 20th century when the “Jesus Prayer” was central to the plot of J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. The same petition is repeated constantly, each syllable matched either to one’s breath or to one’s heart beat.
The most well known version is:
Jesus Christ, Son of God, savior, have mercy on me.
Published anonymously in 1881, The Way of the Pilgrim was translated from Russian into English in the 1930s. Among multiple translations, I particularly like the ones by Helen Bacovcin, Image Books, 1978 (& The Pilgrim Continues his Way); and by Olga Savin, Shambhala, 1991. There are centuries of resources among Christian Orthodox communities about how this prayer practice developed and is used.
When I first attended All Souls in the late 1970s, someone gifted me with a weekend retreat to explore this practice. We carefully wrote our own breath prayer, with our favorite name for the Holy One and a petition for ourselves, in about 5-9 syllables. The intent was to find our prayer and stick to it. Using Anglican rosary beads, I have used my breath prayer with great regularity — changing the petition very rarely (maybe once a decade). I have found particular comfort using this practice in the midst of besieging worries or insomnia. A highly “portable” practice, one can pray while in lines at the grocery store, in traffic jams, or in quiet corners of regular prayer time. I’m amazed by people who can do this in time to their heart beats…sometimes it is difficult enough to find the rhythm of my breath!
The Daily Office (Monastic Version)
The schedule of eight daily liturgies (the monastic “hours”) was an essential way for Western monastic communities to pray without ceasing. Thomas Cranmer collapsed them into Morning and Evening Prayer in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer (see the July 19th Pathfinder for some apps for that!), but the full schedule is:
- Matins (during the night, at midnight, or just before Lauds); sometimes called “Vigils” or “the Night
- Lauds or Dawn Prayer (at Dawn, or 3 a.m.)
- Prime or Early Morning Prayer (First Hour, approximately 6 a.m.)
- Terce or Mid-Morning Prayer (Third Hour, approximately 9 a.m.)
- Sext or Midday Prayer (Sixth Hour, approximately 12 noon)
- None or Mid-Afternoon Prayer (Ninth Hour, approximately 3 p.m.)
- Vespers or Evening Prayer (“at the lighting of the lamps”, generally at 6 p.m.)
- Compline or Night Prayer (before retiring, generally at 9 p.m.)
Paraphrasing my favorite Benedictine Abbot: the point is to reach a place where priorities shift so that prayer is the purpose of life and “work” is recognized as the interruption instead of the other way around.
Our Book of Common Prayer does not include all of these office, and the current Roman prayer books have rearranged them a bit. If you are interested in praying the complete traditional Daily Office in English, the best resource is probably The Anglican Breviary.
Practicing the Presence of God
Then there is the tradition described by Brother Lawrence, the 17th Century Discalced Carmelite who encouraged people “…to form a habit of conversing with GOD continually, and referring all we do to Him; we must at first apply to Him with some diligence: but that after a little care we should find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.”
I knew just enough about Brother Lawrence to recognize deep similarities described in A Testament of Devotion written by Quaker Thomas R. Kelly in 1941. I was tickled by the way practices from so many strands were woven together in Kelly’s book:
Holy listening and alert obedience remains as the core and kernel of a God-intoxicated life, as the abiding pattern of sober, work-aday living.
Kelly touches on the vision of holiness reflected in the biographies of saints which might inspire us to seek this level of prayer, then describes the second step of obedience which is sometimes linked to a phrase similar to a breath prayer, running constantly through us.
Walk on the street and chat with your friends. But every moment behind the scenes be in prayer; offering yourself in continuous obedience.
He then encourages the reader: don’t fret when you slip but
Begin again just where you are…Don’t grit your teeth and clench your fists and say ‘I will! I will!’ Relax. Take hands off. Submit yourself to God. Learn to live in the passive voice – a hard saying for Americans – and let life be willed through you. For ‘I will’ spells not obedience.
We are in good company, traveling with so many different people of faith around the world, and through the Millennia, as we find our own ways to “Pray without ceasing.”
This is the fourth and final reflection on prayer by the Rev. Marguerite Judson, whose last day as our Interim Sabbatical Associate Rector is August 19th.
From the Associate for Music
On the “Power” of Music
We have heard a lot about King David in this summer’s Old Testament readings, particularly as we have slowly progressed through the two books of Samuel. Named in many psalm headings, and described in 2 Samuel 23:1 as “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (in the King James translation; the more recent New Revised Standard Version has “the favorite of the Strong One of Israel), David traditionally has been thought of as a great musician, even as the author of the psalms themselves.
But the Revised Common Lectionary, which tells us what parts of scripture to read in each liturgy, skips a famous passage that describes the full extent of David’s musical powers, 1 Samuel 16:14–23: “Now the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, ‘See now, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command the servants who attend you to look for someone who is skillful in playing the lyre; and when the evil spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will feel better.’” One of Saul’s servants finds David, who enters the king’s service and gains his favor. “And whenever the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand, and Saul would be relieved and feel better, and the evil spirit would depart from him.”
Many cultures have adopted some form of the idea that music can influence mood, emotion, morality, and even action. In some parts of the ancient world, this capability was an arguably predictable outcome of music’s very nature, because the discourse of music was a discourse of order. Music referred to the proportional structures through which mind, soul, and cosmos cohered (hence the notion that the motions of the planets were music); these structures bound the individual to the wider world.
This shared proportionality meant both that different varieties of music aroused correspondingly various temperaments in listeners, and that listeners’ traits played a role in determining their responses. From a moral perspective, music was a two-sided coin, posing risks but offering rewards. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates recommended banning certain kinds of music “because more than anything else rhythm and harmony find their way to the inmost soul and take strongest hold upon it, bringing with them and imparting grace, if one is rightly trained, and otherwise the contrary.” St. Augustine famously struggled to weigh the positive potential of music against the sensory temptations it presented. The later Roman author Boethius told of the “many wonders song has performed on the affections of the body and mind,” but admitted that “a lascivious mind takes pleasure in the more lascivious modes [types of music], and is often softened and corrupted by listening to them. Contrariwise, a sterner mind finds joy in the more stirring modes and is braced by them.”
These tensions came to fuel debate among protestant writers as the Church of England got off the ground. In this climate the story of David and Saul accrued several different strains of interpretation. Some cited it with straightforward approbation, at times alongside a similar story about the musician Timotheus manipulating the passions of Alexander the Great (this tale would become the subject of Dryden’s ode “Alexander’s Feast”). Self-styled “godly” writers—sometimes called “precisians” or “puritans” by their enemies—were just as likely to disapprove of Saul for finding comfort in music rather than in the Word of God. The moderate puritan Andrew Willet proposed that music itself possessed no ability to drive away the evil spirit that had beset Saul, since “spiritual evils are not chased away with carnal means” (an assertion deduced from 2 Corinthians 10:4). Instead, Willet suggested, music worked on Saul’s affective state, allaying a “natural distemper” within him with which the evil spirit had “concurred.” In this account, the evil itself was expelled not by music but by David’s “godly songs and prayers” (that fact that Willet sought to isolate good effects to sacred words is a topic for another day).
The impression that music has power of course occludes some of the processes by which it is consumed and ascribed meaning; our reactions to music are constructed by culture, experience, and circumstance. Yet what is striking about these interpretations of the story of David and Saul—and indeed about much commentary on the larger issue—is how rare it is to find flat-out denials of the basic notion. We have even seen that in some cases dissension over the use of music is itself the product of a tacit acknowledgment regarding its allure. The Episcopal Church bets on the positive outcomes; beyond allowing music, the institution canonically requires that it be used “as a help to the people in their worship […]” The ideal is not that music replace other helps to this end, but that whatever “power” it seems have—however that “power” is really produced—works to enhance prayer, kindle devotion, and ultimately bring worshipers closer to the divine.
This week, Change your Routine…
What could be more of a change of routine than the ten month trip Pat Jones and Don Gates took around the country?
But, Pat and Don’s trip was not just a change of routine, it was taking the Pentecost Challenge one step further, (even before there was such a thing as “The Challenge”).
Pat and Don didn’t set out to deal with the issues in which we are divided. Instead, they proved to be living symbols to hundreds of people along the way of those elements that unite us: respect and awe for influence of environment upon our lives, loving our neighbors, importance of family and friends, community spirit, appreciation for our heritage, and respect for other cultures.
How did they accomplish this trip in 10 months? Pat would say, “Don’s planning.” But it was more than that. They coordinated meeting places and had reservations with friends and family to visit and to join them along the way to experience with them the activities we all share everywhere in the country not only places of historical importance, magnificent natural wonders, but sports, ball games, music events and festivals, art exhibits, and countless opportunities to appreciate the local cuisine.
While the music events and the ball games (and some golf for Don) provided the “vacation” aspect, the central focus of Pat and Don’s sojourn was to reunite with family, many with whom they had not been able to spend time in years.
Did they accomplish their mission? You be the judge…
- Morehead KY: a cousin and his son
- Colorado Springs: a sister and her two sons
- Carbondale CO: a nephew from Pat’s late husband’s side of the family, his wife and family
- Park City UT: where there was a Gate’s family reunion (all 4 siblings, their kids and families and 93 year old matriarch, Dot!)
- Missoula MT: a sister-in-law and her husband
- Washington DC: a brother, a half brother and niece and their families
Did they take time for church?
One of Pat’s and Don’s many goals was to check out as many opportunities as they could. Consequently they tasted all variations of religious experiences, from Rev. Liz’ recommendation in Tucson of Grace St. Paul’s, currently assisting a family in the midst of a deportation issue; St. Clement’s on W.46th in New York City, which is as much a theater as it is a church; and St. James AME in New Orleans, where they were, not only applauded, but also taken to Betsy’s Pancake House on Canal Street for lunch by one of the parishioners.
Did they remember All Souls and those of us left behind? They did more than that, they even found people some of us might have forgotten.
In Phoenix they dined with Kate Jacobson; In Austin, Texas, they reunited with the Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski and family; at St. Andrews in Hopkinton, New Hampshire they heard Reed Loy give a fine sermon. They saw Emily Feeley in New York City. In Mount Airy, Maryland, they were delighted to hear Kristin Krantz preach in her small town church. In Manhattan they took a walk on the High Line with Michael LeMaire; in Havasu Falls, Arizona, they took a pack trip with Sarah Crawford and Kieran King; in Missoula, Montana, they had dinner with Anne Geiger and Ted Geilen and their two daughters. In Portland, they stayed with Karen & Ken Powell.
Even though, “90% of life is just showing up,” they did more than that for local events…
In New Orleans, Pat and Don took a bike tour of the 9th Ward, most hard hit by the catastrophic hurricane Katrina where they were pleased to hear that instead of a Disaster Tour, it is now called a Rebirth Tour.
They were part of the “March for Science, NOLA style, complete with a brass band.
In Brooklyn Pat walked to a nearby Lutheran Church to help out with that week’s lunch of stuffed acorn squash, homemade sauerkraut, cornbread and frosted cake.
In Washington DC, “I headed over to St. Margaret’s to assist with their Thanksgiving Meal for those in need. I had one guest tell me as he left that he thought this church was doing what Jesus taught: welcoming the stranger and feeding them. It caught me a bit by surprise. I nodded, and said, I think you are right.”
And Don took part in a local political campaign.
Did they have any conversations with family members that brought out differences of opinion on current affairs?
Don’s answer “Except for one instance, (when, we agreed we did not want to go there), our families all seem to be in the same frame of mind!”
Did they help prove that the Bay Area Bubble can be burst, and that it is possible to move about the country with humility and respect for the concerns of others? You bet they did!
Pat and Don both continue to show their thrill and excitement over their experiences with their families as they absorbed so much of what this country has to offer.
But, then, how many of us has ever heard of, let alone seen a buffalo take a dust bath? Pat and Don did.
Why is that so important in today’s world? If we do not appreciate the absolute joy of the environment in this country, how will we ever understand each other?
— Margaret Sparks
Come join us
Come join our pick-up Summer Choir on Sunday, August 19th. The music will be manageable enough to prep entirely on Sunday morning, creating an opportunity for those looking for a slightly different way into our choral family.
Come at 8:30 sharp to sing at the 9:00 service, 10:45 sharp for the 11:15 service.