Tag Archives: Palm Sunday

Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do

PalmSunday-06

The children also greet Christ with palm branches and lay their garments on the ground honoring Him as King.

I kept Holy Week and Pascha with Saints Peter and Paul Antiochian Orthodox church this year. The Orthodox Christian Church celebrated  Pascha (Easter) on May 5. I did not make it to all of the holy week services. There were seventeen, beginning with the Saturday before Palm Sunday, the Saturday of St. Lazarus, the Righteous.  The people and their priest, Father Joseph Longofono, offer their gifts and talents with generosity and devotion. They are warm and welcoming to this awkward Presbyterian who comes among them to pray and learn more about a faith tradition she has long admired from afar.

On Palm Sunday, (April 28 this year) at the end of the service we processed outside with our palms, songs, incense, and other regalia and holy items for which I do not know the words.  I can tell by The Services of the Great and Holy Week and Pascha, the book of Holy Week liturgies I purchased, that most of these words are Greek. I learned enough Greek in seminary to pass the class and my ordination exams. Since then translation is an afternoon’s ordeal involving a concordance, Greek grammar book, Kittle’s ponderous Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, and trying to remember the Greek alphabet.

A few startled sparrows rose out of the shrubbery as we poured out onto the lawn.  Cars buzzed by heading East on one-way Huntoon Street. Along our path I smiled to see at my feet a little shrine of twigs overlaid with narrow strips of green moss.  Easy to miss, barely a foot or two in height, the shrine was a small construction of sticks stuck at various angles in a patch of moist bare ground.  Tucked in the crotch of a branch was a white spirea blossom.

The happy procession wound back inside the small sanctuary, its walls alive with glowing icons of the saints. You can feel them all looking tenderly on from heaven, adding their voices to our prayers and songs and benediction. I read that Orthodox draw no distinction between the Body of Christ in heaven and those on earth. They view both parts of the Church as inseparable and in continuous worship together of God. Orthodox worship therefore expresses this unity of earth and heaven in every possible way so that the earthly worshippers are continually reminded through all their senses of the heavenly state of the Church.  Wikipedia

It is as though for the Orthodox, worship is a continuous act since the beginning of the church. Everyone in heaven is there and we show up to join in the perpetual praise and leave and return as our lives allow. When we return we merely pick up where we last left off. And unlike many churches I am familiar with, nobody here is in any hurry. After all we have eternity.

The church was packed with more children than adults this day. Older children stood quietly with their parents, toddlers sat on the floor, mothers, fathers, grandparents, and aunts held babies crooked in their arms and nestling against their shoulders. Some kids sat on the few pews.  (Orthodox Christians stand for worship. The pews are reserved for the elderly, children, and fainthearted visitors.)  Toddlers wandered about. There was an ease about their presence, parents taking them in and out of the service as needed. The occasional cries, thumps, or exclamations formed a descant of baby babble to the chants and songs sung in four part harmony throughout the service.

After church I chatted with a little girl, admiring her cute flip-flops, and on the way to my car came upon the twig shrine with a red haired boy kneeling before it. The twigs and blossom had been kicked over.

I said to the boy,” Oh did you make this? It is very beautiful.” Nodding yes, he told me that his sister knocked it down.

“I am sorry. It is a holy thing,” I said.

His sister joined us and said, “Luke doesn’t like to sing the holy songs.”

“Hmm,” l said, as Luke worked on rebuilding his shrine, “sometimes people prefer to make holy things than to sing holy songs.”

“He doesn’t like to come to church,” she said in the irksome manner of sisters who broadcast a brother’s private life to strangers.

“Yes, there are people who feel that way,” I said to the little girl as her brother struggled to get the blossom to stay in the crook of the twig. I thanked Luke for making a holy thing and repairing it, and walked to my car.

His sister, shouted after me, “He is hypert,” as she, appearing a little hypert herself ran racing around the church yard in a holy dance of her own.

Luke, kneeling in the dirt with his offering, as brothers everywhere have learned to do, ignored her.

pearblossomclose

Hundreds of Ways to Kneel and Kiss the Ground
The impulse to worship and to express the beauty and awe of our souls to the author of our being seems nearly universal in human experience. I believe this desire is placed in us by God in the core of our being, like a magnet, which draws us through our life experience to reach out and connect with the one who put it there. We may spend a lot of our lives seeking ways to express this sublime impulse. Yet if we trust our hearts, we will be led to places and forms of worship, as though guided by a God-given implanted GPS device.

There are many ways to worship God.  Sufi poet, Rumi tells us, Let the beauty we love, be what we do.  There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. I believe that our efforts at praise and worship are like building little shrines in the mud, each dear to God, each delighting the heavens, each precious.

When the beauty we love, becomes what we do, even the mundane may hold the potential of sublime worship: Lucille’s macaroni hot dish; the green and pink chintz curtains Elsie made for the ladies room; the deacon holding the door for you; your desperate prayer; a pile of rocks in the desert; your garden. In all kinds of ways we gather sticks, find a blossom, and put it out where someone will see it. Praise will be offered.

To be human, made in the image of the Creator, is to pour out our hearts on something we love which is greater and beyond ourselves.  Our responsibility is to discover ways to kneel in reverence, which will express our deep yearning and connect us to what is good, true, beautiful, and free. For me that is worship of God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ.

Luke’s Palm Sunday act of worship reminded me of another child’s offering. When she was around six or seven, my daughter, Diana, brought me a stick with dandelions, grass, and pink phlox wound around it. I wrote about it in my book Letters from the Holy Ground,

“This is a prayer stick, mom. I made it for you.” It was a large stick with flowers woven round the top. Could I let the stick pray for me? For I do not know how to pray aright. I lean the stick against my altar. “Pray stick,” I say. “Pray now.” I go off to other things, while the stick holds the offering pointing toward heaven. Dare I trust creation to pray for me, to bear my prayer? Here stone, pray. Here river, pray. Here moon, pray. Just by being what you are, a maple branch salvaged from last fall’s ice storm, wrapped round with pink petals, transformed by the touch of a child’s hand into something sacred.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? That is the question. For our hearts are heavy, and we, captive by this mortal flesh sit down and weep.

Loretta Ross (-Gotta), Letters from the Holy Ground  – Seeing God Where You Are, Sheed & Ward, 2000, p 67

How shall you sing the Lord’s song? Find that gps device in your heart and let it point you in the direction of the worship of your soul. I would love to hear about the things which lift your heart to God in the comment section below.

Love – in Small Doses for the Sin Sick Soul #7


 And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love.
– William Blake

 Palm Fanfare

Passion Sunday

They fought on the way to church
this time ugly.  

Was it the tone he took,
or her throbbing resentment
that kicked in the door
like a demon repo man
turning up to repossess their souls?  

Mud rushed in
a roaring sludge
of sorrows, lashes
rebukes, scorn
bitterness, betrayal
heaping up
burying the light.  

The back seat was silent.  

In the sanctuary they stood mute
in the crowd of flourished palms
hosannas fluttering like petals
watching their kids in the happy throng
pass by with pain in their eyes.  

Across town the detective
poured herself another cup of coffee
scanned reports from last night
homicide, hit and run
three break-ins, some domestics.  

Robert rolled over,
knees up to his chin, gripping the covers.
He hurt so bad. He couldn’t get those feelings
for Andy to go away, nor the horror
in the cafeteria when they snickered and laughed.  

Lester sat at his kitchen table, thumbing through his Bible.
He got the diagnosis the day before.  
The words didn’t make sense.
He looked around.
Everything seemed tilted sideways.
Does cancer cause this? he wondered.  

Alice in a back pew waved her palm like a white flag.
During the week she goes into a house full of roaches
and mice to treat the baby of a twelve year old girl.
People so desperate, so much pain. Plse pray,
she texts her friend and waves harder,
counting on this Jesus to make a difference.  

Nations thrash and groan. Politicians rage.
The bomb ticks in the parked car.
Seas haul homes and lives
out to watery oblivion.  

Some peasant playing a fool on a donkey
rides into town saying he is the King.
He is going to turn things around,
unseat the emperors,
release the grasp of greed,
cure the lust for money,
and heal the virus.
Sure enough the fool gets himself killed.  

Everyone is looking for a goat to carry off
that mudslide of shame, regret, and responsibility.

For a while we can pimp up the peasant,
wave some foliage, call him king
as the bullies and the haters
the fear mongers and the betrayers 
the self- righteous and the proud hitch
a ride on his back like fleas.
Then we can go home, relax
watch the ball game and root for our team.  

But the peasant with pain in his eyes
on the donkey has his own agenda.  

I am not your Palm Sunday ornament,
a wonder super hero
your ticket to respectability
a card to play in your political games.  

Look again. I am you.
I am you riding high into town.
I am you awash in disgrace and humiliation.
I am you having done the unthinkable
and there is no way you can repair the damage you caused.  

I am you, holiness, hawking yourselves day and night
in the holy places you have turned into markets.
I am you, holiness, stuck
right down in the middle of a profane life in a profane world.
I am you, holiness, betrayed by a sneer, or the grab for influence.
I am you, holiness, trampled on and defiled.  

Will you duck out now
skip those other services
and only show up year after year
in your new clothes
to see the lilies and hear the music?  

Or will you come back
to listen to my commandment 
to let me wash your feet
and drink to a new covenant?  
Will you stay awake with me
and with yourself one hour in our suffering?
Will you say, not my will, but thine?  

Will you face your betrayer, see what you need to see 
become truth in the face of authority?
Will you strip off all your disguises, costumes
facelifts, masks, and self-deceit?
Will you hand over your assets for others to toss the dice?  

Will you watch at our dying?
Will you thirst?
Will you feel your own pain?
Will you cry out why has God forsaken us?  

Will you rest in the tomb
that silent womb of mystery
dead with me?  

Will you come early on the third day?


Lily

Lily (Photo credit: amitkotwal)

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Note to readers:  This blog is part of a series of Lenten “short takes” on the themes of lent, which follow more or less the lectionary Scripture lessons for this season. Like a note you find tucked under the bark of a tree, a lozenge to let melt in your mouth, an amulet to wear around your neck, I hope these little reflections may hold a small dose of truth or comfort  or challenge for your life on the way to Easter.

In the abundance of words which inundate us daily, it is easy for the message of redemption to be buried under the latest disaster, outrage or scandal. Likewise the familiar stories and passages of lent may grow dull and trite to ears and hearts already stuffed with words. 

I have noticed in my work as spiritual director that it is hard for many of us to take in the goodness and grace, as well as the challenge of the story of Jesus and God’s redeeming love. Perhaps we need to titrate the gospel. Sometimes a well- timed, tiny dose, carefully administered, may be what the Physician orders for our healing. And so slowly we build up our tolerance for love and more and more joy finds the faith in us through which to invade our being.

Dose titration:  adjustment of the dose until the medication
has achieved the desired effect