Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. Yet it is the law of all progress that is made by passing through some stages of instability and that may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow. Let them shape themselves without undue haste. Do not try to force them on as though you could be today what time — that is to say, grace — and circumstances — acting on your own good will — will make you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new Spirit gradually forming in you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser. Amen.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, 1881-1955
I imagine many of you are feeling, as I am this week, that the work of God in your life is going very slowly indeed. We are tired. We are stressed. Many of our usual sources of stability are decidedly unstable right now. But God is still God. As the poet says, “Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you.” Our times of worship in Morning and Evening Prayer at St. Mary’s are an oasis for those weary of the chaos outside. You are most welcome.
I know of at least two Bob Dylan fans at St. Mary’s. (You know who you are). Sad to say, Dylan’s music remains somewhat unexplored territory for myself. I am, however, in tune with Dylan’s preaching. In a recent interview in The New York Times, Dylan stated:
I’m wondering if anyone recognizes the face of this kind-eyed, elderly gentleman?
It belongs to Terry Waite, who back in 1980 was appointed by Robert Runcie to serve as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Assistant for Anglican Communion Affairs. In 1985, Terry Waite accompanied the Archbishop of Canterbury on a visit to Canada, that included a stop here in Regina (does anybody remember?) and Edmonton, where I was able to attend a special diocesan service to mark the occasion.
In his role, Terry Waite was involved in negotiating the release of Anglican clergy and British Nationals held hostage in the Middle East. But Terry Waite was himself kidnapped in Beirut in 1987 by members of the Islamic Jihad, and spent the next four years in solitary confinement, before finally being released. Throughout those years, a member of the chapel community that I was a part of then, would constantly intercede for Terry at our weekly Eucharist. “Taken on Trust” was the title of the book Terry wrote about his experiences.
In an interview in 2013, Terry Waite was asked how he coped during all this time in isolation in a dark cell.
You have got to be able to discipline your mind, because everything is lived from within. There is no external stimulation. There is no books, no one to speak with, no one to feed your identity back to you.
I was fortunate, firstly, because through life I had been an avid reader and therefore I had built up a store of books, poetry and prose in my memory. Secondly, I’d been brought up as an Anglican—I’m an Anglican Christian—and had been brought up with the Book of Common Prayer. The language of that was very, very helpful. I had unconsciously memorised it as a choir boy. If I can just give you an example of what I mean from one of the great old collects of the prayer book:
Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night . . .
That is very, very meaningful when you’re sitting in darkness. That collect not only has meaning, but it also has poetry and rhythm. There is a relationship between identity, language and prayer; somehow they help you hold together at your centre.
Some people may find this strange, but I never engaged in what is called extemporary prayer during that time. I felt that if I did I would be begin to, sort of, go down a one-way track, reveal my own psychological vulnerability and just get into the business of saying, ‘Oh God, get me out of here’—which isn’t prayer at all. That’s just being like a child. So by falling back on that which I knew, the Prayer Book and the balance of that, I was able to keep a bit more balance in my mind and also maintain some degree of inner balance… (1)
Well, it’s been 15 weeks since we began our own “isolation” under COVID, and 15 weeks since we dusted off and started praying through The Order of Service for Morning Prayer from our own Book of Common Prayer. Some of us, perhaps, are getting a little tired of this, but then again, perhaps some of us are finding the poetry and rhythm of the prayers are working their way not only into our hearts, but our memories, giving us an anchor for the soul in these tumultuous times. As Terry Waite discovered, “ life is lived from within” and “there is a relationship between identity, language, and prayer that help you hold together at your centre…and also maintain some degree of inner balance.”
With every prayer and blessing, from “my cell” to “yours”, as together we lift up holy hands, hearts and voices in prayer and praise to the Lord,
Almost exactly nine years ago my family and I were in Saskatoon attending the evening prayers and the funeral service for one of my older brothers. As he and his family were members of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, both services involved the liturgy of scripture, songs, prayers and acknowledgements. The open casket with my brother’s body was there and all of us had time to view him and pause for a few moments with the body.
Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say, as with a voice of thunder, “Come!”2 And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.3 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!”4 And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another; and he was given a great sword.5 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and its rider had a balance in his hand;6 and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not harm oil and wine!”7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!”8 And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him; and they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6. 1-8).
Some of you will perhaps recognize the figure of the man in civilian dress standing to the right of centre of a group of uniformed British Army chaplains. It is C.S. Lewis, celebrated author of children’s stories, and most celebrated Anglican lay theologian of the 20th century.
In a lecture he gave to his students at Oxford University during World War II, Lewis said, “The war creates no absolutely new situation, it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men has postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare thewar with “normal life.” Life has never been normal.”
Replace “the war” with “the corona-virus” and you have some sobering words for us to take to heart in the midst of what we regard as an abnormal situation and our longing for and our wondering how long before things return to normal…As far as our calling as Christians is concerned, nothing has changed. We must go about our business.
“My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek. (Psalm 27:9.)
On a practical front, please note the following:
Public services of worship at St. Mary’s have been suspended until further notice.
A phoning committee has been struck and will be contacting you to touch base either today or tomorrow.
I have prepared an order of service for Morning Prayer with Sermon which I will be sending out tomorrow. I encourage you all to create a beautiful space and read and pray through the service at home, knowing that though “spacially-distanced” from another, we have communion with Christ and with one another through His Word and Holy Spirit.
Pending the resolution of some technical issues, I may be able “live stream” the service on the St. Mary’s U-Tube channel on Sunday morning.
I will be checking messages on the office answering machine at 306-522-6052 daily. Please call me at home for emergencies.
I have been asked what the plans are at St. Mary’s in regard to preparing for a possible outbreak of the “corona-flu virus “ in Saskatchewan. The Bishop has issued heightened hygiene protocols for us to follow for worship. They include:
Aren’t you glad that we have the Nicene Creed as part of our worship every Sunday? I mean if you are not going to believe this, then what are you going to believe? What alternatives are there?
The American writer and cultural commentator, David Zahl, in a spirit of play and confession, wrote “The Seculosity Creed ” a piece of “sub-Nicene ridiculousness” in which he presents what our modern secular age offers us by way of faith and hope commitments to live by, which may obtain even here north of the border, and in moments of weakness, draw us in. Hope you enjoy it, as much as I did.