Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Sunday, July 29, 2007

"It's me, it's me O Lord, standin' in the need of prayer . . .(especially on vacation)

There's something wonderful about attending church when you're on vacation.

Over the past 20-something years, I've discovered this is especially true for priests.

We've been coming to Rehoboth Beach for the past 17 years, the first 12 years, renting a home in Rehoboth Beach proper, and attending The Episcopal Parish of All Saints' Church there, in the ocean block of Olive Avenue.

Every time I attended church there, I could never allow myself to take communion without first confessing my envy of the priest who lived in the beautiful Victorian rectory, with wrap-around, screened-in porch, right next to the church.

My, my, my.

In the past five years we've owned, Llangollen, our wee cottage on Rehoboth Bay, we have been attending St. George's Chapel, the Episcopal Church nearest to us, and part of All Saint's Parish. I have come to dearly love this lovely little church.

I love the fact that you walk through the cemetery before you actually get into the chapel. Indeed, the burial ground is larger than the church proper. That is as it should be, I think. The Communion of Saints could never be contained within the walls of any church.

I'll try to get to church a bit earlier next week so I can take pictures of the unique interior of the chapel, which features a pulpit that rises high above and behind the altar. That may sound strange, but if you could see how small the chapel is, you would understand this to be an innovative, creative utilization of space.

This is the rector, Max J. Wolf, who preached a wonderful sermon about prayer, which some of you will remember I desperately needed.

I was driving home from New Jersey on Wednesday when I came upon a grisly accident scene. It horrified me and shook me to my core. Indeed, it shook everything I know and believe about prayer and turned my soul upside down. Your comments and personal emails have been a source of solace. I had no idea how much more healing I needed.

Max is a wonderful preacher. Like this chapel, he has his own style. I've described it before as improvisational jazz. First of all, he doesn't use a manuscript, which invokes instant awe in me. I have seen him bring newspapers, letters and books into the pulpit, but never a manuscript. For this preacher, tied as I am to my manuscript, that is pretty amazing.

It is obvious he preaches from a prepared heart which has been in deep prayer and meditation. He began by reciting the first verse of Psalm 138, "I will give thanks to you, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I will sing your praise." He ended by singing "It's me, it's me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer."

He preached on the gospel, of course (Luke 11:1-13); specifically on the Lord's Prayer. In between, he read to a short passage from John Mcquarrie's "Principles of Christian Theology." Max underscored that prayer, for Macquarrie, is not intended to manipulate God, but to unify us with God. The impulse for prayer always comes from the Holy Spirit.

I needed to be reminded of that. I came home and got my copy of Macquarrie's book off my shelf and was reminded that prayer for Macquarrie acknowledges the "permeable presence" of God everywhere in creation.

He writes, "Intercessory prayer provides ... openings into the dense texture of the human situation through which can come the creative and healing power of the reality we call God," says Macquarrie. "Prayer, as petition and intercession, helps to make the human person porous to the divine reality" (from Owen F. Cummings's John Macquarrie, a Master of Theology, Paulist).

Something in my soul, something shaken and deeply disturbed by that grisly accident scene and the overwhelming need to do something concrete to help, was healed by this understanding of prayer.

Max had a small, personal book of prayer, given to him by the family of a parishioner at whose funeral Max had presided this week. In it were beautifully calligraphy prayers, all done by hand, which the man had collected and written over his 84 years of life.

Max read a portion of this one to us:

Little Gidding
T.S. Eliot

(No. 4 of Four Quartets)

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,

At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

After Max read that, I discovered, for the first time since Wednesday, that I was finally able to draw a deep breath. I didn't know I hadn't.

I love going to church when I'm on vacation. It's one time when I know my soul will be healed and refreshed, along with my body and my mind, in places and at times I didn't even know needed healing and refreshment.

Thank you, Max, for being such a wonderful priest to this priest on vacation.


MadPriest said...

You have a second home?
First against the wall come the revolution, then!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

No, darling.

I live in a RECTORY in NJ.

This is my HOME.

My only home. This is the place where I hope to retire.

My plans are NEVER to do an interim. I'll do occassional "supply" for friends, but I do not intend ever to HAVE to work weekends again, unless I choose to do so.

I plan to walk every day, rain or shine, to the little Cafe up the street, get a cuppa joe and the Times (that would be NY, of course), sit and read and chat with the locals and show off for the tourists, walk home and work a bit 'round the house and yard, maybe do some writing or reading, maybe do some fishing or crabbing, maybe by then we'll have a boat and I can take it out into the Bay if the water is calm.

Sometimes, it's that image that keeps me going, you know?

I think I'll make a lovely old age pensioner, don't you?

Bill said...

Elizabeth, First: I've only just found you and now your getting ready to retire. Not Fair.
Second: I've often wondered what priests do when on vacation. It's got to be very different going to church on Sunay and not having to worry about the sermon, or the music, or if the altar was set up right, or if the lems and lectors are going to show up, or if, or if, or if or if. It must be nice to just go in and be with God and not have to be the master of ceremonies.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, TALKING about retirement and GETTING READY for retirement are two very, very different things.

I'm not going anywhere for a long while. I've got a sabbatical to take in a year or two.

Which is why the idea of retirement keeps me going.

Jim said...

Rev. Elizabeth,

Keep that lovely image of retirement before you. I suspect you wont ever quite get there. You have this problem, I suspect that some would call it a charector flaw. You cannot abide injustice. And, as the wrong wing is determined to advance it, you are simply not going to quit.

Never mind how, at my age, I know that.


Muthah+ said...

Jim is right, Elizabeth. You won't be able to retire anymore than I will. God just keeps calling.