Saturday, 26 November 2011

Oh shit and hail Mary.

From 2 Kings 18:27  (in the Authorised [or King James] version of the bible).

But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?

I quote this verse to assert that the bible is unafraid of “earthy language”.  This gives me leave to utter the occasional “oh shit”.

I have previously introduced you to a great woman who lives in a neighbouring community. Her name is Betty M.  We meet as I walk my dog. Betty is an octogenarian ex-Marine.  She is feisty and funny. She is a widow.

One of her sons Steve M. moved in with her about two years ago. 

Steve is a wee bit younger than I.  He was a Methodist minister, but following a sad divorce he skated into a new career as a care-giver in a local Nursing Home. He and I have enjoyed some lovely chats.  He is a gentle soul. We both agree that his mother is “the tops”.

Steve was diagnosed with liver cancer about 8 weeks ago.  He is now moving towards death.

He and his Mom Betty put out the word that visitors were not welcome.  I understand this fully.
Should I be stricken with a terminal illness I too would not want “the world and his wife” to visit me.

Nonetheless I have prayed for Steve and Betty each day.

Betty ‘phoned me a couple of hours ago. She told me that she had held off from talking to me lest she should cry.

But of course she cried, and I assured her that I had heard and shared in many tears.

I said that my primal reaction to Steve’s illness was to utter the words “Oh shit”.  She knew and recognised that language.

Then I offered to pray on the ‘phone.  She agreed.

Knowing her to be of Irish Catholic heritage I launched into a prayer from that tradition.

I prayed:
“Hail Mary, full of grace
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God
Pray for us sinners
Now, and at the hour of our death AMEN

Betty joined in with this prayer, even as she wept.

“Oh shit” and “Hail Mary” were the best prayers I could offer.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Bon mots

“Grief is like one of those roller towels in public lavatories. Shared with too many people, it gets soiled and worn out.”

(Joyce Carol Oates, “Missing Mum” p 345 ecco books 2005)

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Sermon for Thanksgiving 2011

The Revd J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface Church, Siesta Key, FL

I preached this sermon at St. Boniface on Thanksgiving two years ago.  I forgot what I said, and so did you.  So here it is again.

How would you define an Englishman?  Try this:

“An Englishman is a self made man, who worships his creator.”

I can tell you that one liner in good heart, for I am English born and raised.  There is more than enough truth in the joke.

We are surrounded by “self-made” citizens who proudly affirm “I got all I have by good old fashioned hard work and no one is going to take it away from me”.  There is a common belief that good old fashioned hard work is a sign of virtue, and that virtue is rewarded by wealth. Somewhere, deep in the secret part of my heart I believe that too.

That belief flies in the face of the facts.

First: There are millions of good hard working Americans, many of whom have two or three jobs, who are barely scraping by.  And there are other millions who would welcome good old fashioned hard work – if such work were available.

Those of us who work with homeless people hear time and time again “I want to work, but there’s no jobs out there”.

That belief flies in the face of the facts.

Second: A wee bit of reflection would lead us all to acknowledge that there was much “good luck” involved in our success and prosperity. 

There was the teacher who inspired and encouraged us. There was the prospective employer who took a chance on us.  There was the good friend who was gutsy enough to challenge us into healthier ways of thinking and living. There was the spouse who both tended the home fires and worked outside of the home so that we could go through college.  The list goes on.

So much good luck.  The truth is that we did not do it all by ourselves.

The obverse of the coin of good luck is that many of the poorest and or homeless Americans are poor and homeless because of a string of bad luck.

We are the lucky ones.  We, and I mean those of us who are in this Church today, are in the top 5% of the world’s most fortunate people. None of us are here by merit and virtue alone.

Lest we should forget that as we often do, or deny it because it is an inconvenient truth, this holiday called Thanksgiving plops itself on our path as a temporary road block designed to make us reflect about our lives.

Such reflection might lead us to three sentiments.

First: to a kind of giddy and joyous humility.

Second: to a renewal of our glad commitment to deep stewardship.

Third:  to the exhilarating thought and emotion of utter gratitude.

The Boston Globe columnist James Carroll suggests these sentiments can also lead religious believers into worship.  His column two years ago inspired some of what I have said this morning, so I will leave the last words with him.   Carroll wrote:

“What do we talk about…………when we talk about (giving) thanks?
1.     Awareness begins when a person grasps the single-most basic fact of existence, which is that existence is given.

2.     The most important aspects of each human’s condition, from physical makeup to intelligence to family connections to cultural legacy, are accidents of birth.

3.     The givens  of life do not begin with us. How we make use of what  we are given is something else, but  givenness is the starting point.

4.      Self-consciousness is the recognition that we ourselves are not the source of our most precious selfhood.

5.     A religious view makes the instinctive leap from the given to the giver, calls it “God,’’ and offers gratitude as the essential form of worship”

(The numbers 1-5 above are mine, inserted for clarity. They were not part of James Carroll’s Boston Globe article)

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

A lovely encounter

My favourite local supermarket is not the dominant and ubiquitous “Publix”  (high prices and crummy produce). It is “SweetBay” a part of the Hannaford Group.

There I was this afternoon to get some red potatoes and brussels sprouts to cook and eat for dinner with some homemade meat loaf.

My cashier/clerk was a young woman.  At her till was a large sign which read “my belt is broken” – meaning that the moving belt which transports purchases towards the cash register would not work.

Being a very “male” male I immediately checked the belt on my trousers, and assured her that my own belt was O.K.

She grinned and said “it’s only the men who make jokes about this, the women never do”.

Ooops!  I apologised, and then asked her age.

She told me that she is 18 years old. She is an adult.

I responded by saying: “Let me tell you something which you will soon discover. Men’s brains are not in their heads, they are below their belts”.

“I already know that” she countered “that’s why I prefer women”.

“Do you have a girl friend?”  I asked.

“Oh yes” she said “we’ve just started dating”.

I congratulated her with all my heart. I thanked her for telling me this.  I wished her very bit of success with her new relationship.

As I drove home I rejoiced that this 18 years old woman felt so secure in her sexuality.  I was honoured that she had felt free to tell me a bit about her life and love.

It is a wonderful new world eh?

Monday, 21 November 2011

Such a great day!

I've had such an exciting day!

Here is one of my cats, Ada,  as she slept.

Here is the other cat Adelaide (also sleeping)

Wow!  They are both so full of life!

The thrill of watching Penne eat her mid-day meal

A tiny Anole Lizard (yes they are "Anoles"[not Geckos]) crept into the house. Cat Adelaide sprang into action and played with this little Anole.  (She later decapitated it, but I spare you a photo' of a headless lizard)

Sunday, 20 November 2011

St. Boniface Church, Sarasota FL - good stuff this morning!

1.  The first scripture reading at the St. Boniface 10:00 a.m. Eucharist this morning was from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel (Ch 34 v 11-16 and 20-24).

I made certain to seek out the Lector (reader) right after the service to thank her.  She had read the passage so beautifully, with perfect intonation, tone and pace. Her reading made the scripture “come alive”.

2.  The hymn before the reading of the Gospel was “King of Glory, King of peace”.  This was written not as a hymn but as a poem, by the fabulous Welsh poet George Herbert (1593-1633).

George Herbert was from a prosperous family in what used to be the County of Montgomeryshire in Wales (now part of the Welsh region called Powys).  

He had been a Member of Parliament from the County Town, but in about 1630 he was ordained as a priest in the Church of England, and became the Rector of Bemerton (near Salisbury, Wiltshire, England).   There he blossomed as a poet. 

But it was a brief flowering.  For George Herbert was suffering from tuberculosis. He died at age 40.

His poem/hymn is one of my favourites.

In the U.K. we sang it to a very fine Welsh Tune by one J.D.Jones (1827-1870) – a tune called “Gwalchmai”.

In the American Episcopal Church since 1982  we have sung George Herbert’s poem/hymn to a “new” tune.  The tune is named “General Seminary” and was written by one David Charles Walker (b 1938).

It is a fabulous and lyrical unison tune.  The music and the words seem to be made for each other.

I know the words by heart.  So I disdained the use of a hymn book this morning. I closed my eyes, and I sang with verve, with conviction, and with joy.  Ere long my eyes filled with tears.

This was because I had entered into that place in which words and music combine to bring about a sense of bliss, of joy, and yes – even an entry into the adoration of G-d.