I have fond memories of a few childhood summers spent at an idyllic little summer camp in the Wisconsin north woods. It really was a beautiful camp - horses, a massive lake, craft shed, the whole deal - and it was the first place where I ever saw a drum set in a worship service. We were Catholic, my few best friends and I, but the evangelicals had the market on optimal camp experiences in late 90s/early 2000s northern Wisconsin, and the horseback riding alone was enough to inspire stumbling our way through the unfamiliar praise music.
What I remember most was the first morning in “worship” (kind of like half a Mass but somehow longer?) when I was graced with the sudden and mortifying realization that I had absolutely no idea what to do with my hands. All around, counselors and campers alike were bobbing their heads, swaying from side to side, their arms raised in various elevations of exaltation. I stood - stick-straight, red-faced, eyes locked on the packed dirt of the outdoor worship space, praying in earnest, sure, but mostly in petition for the hand-raising band members to wrap it up, for the love of Jesus.
Or you could….be very still? Maybe kneel? I mean…..
Thinking about this later, I realized that what challenged me was what I understood to be the chasm between this markedly public, exuberant expression of faith and the way that I had come to know Jesus myself (quietly - with no less passion - in the silent spaces of the Roman Missal and scrubbing chalices alone in the sacristy). Christ came to me always in silence & solitude, and the images of Him I saw in people or other quite beautiful things were always an echo of a prior recognition that had blossomed in hiddenness. It was a weird revelation to be with others meeting Jesus so intimately in a crowd - loud, exposed, unpredictable.
Of course, the passion of the evangelical camp kids and the passion of the Saints is rooted in the very same eternal Source of fruitfulness. It is the very same thing to love Jesus in the guitar solo and to love Jesus in the suscipe sancta Trinitas. Contemporary worship remains a good deal far from my natural liturgical habitat, but I think Christ blesses it right alongside the solemnity of His more introverted servants.
I have been thinking about Catholic kids at evangelical summer camp this week as I’ve been praying with a particularly pitched uncertainty in my own ministry. I seem to have not yet come to rest in any reconciliation between the very public (loud, exposed, unpredictable) demands of parish life and what I fundamentally understand as my vocation to a hidden, quiet faith. There were so many years where even in the madness of work and preaching and teaching, I figured and hoped that the endgame would find me slipping away to the cloister again, for good this time, wrapped in merciful silence and accountable only to the horarium of the Office.
But of course the cloister is not the heady flight from chaos. And of course the daily rhythms of care for a parish are steeped in a graceful and unshakable solidity. Of course of course. But how to reconcile that sense in prayer that one’s (my) life should be offered in adoration and submission in obscurity with the reality that I preach sermons in front of 400 people and spend a good deal of time just talking about things?
I’m the Catholic derp at evangelical summer camp again, y’all. Just staring at the dirt with my two friends but really glad to have been invited. Still moderately hopeful that we’ll get to go horseback riding later. Bad at swimming but pretty good at making rosaries in the craft shed.
Deus, qui superbis resistis, et gratiam praestas humilibus: concede nobis verae humilitatis virtutem, cujus in se formam fidelibus Unigenitus tuus exhibuit; ut numquam indignationem tuam provocemus elati, sed potius gratiae tuae capiamus dona subjecti. Per eumdem Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.
O God, who withstandest the proud and givest Thy grace to the humble, endue us with that true virtue of humility, the pattern of which Thine only-begotten Son Himself showed to the faithful: that we may never provoke Thee to anger by our pride, but rather in our lowliness obtain the gifts of Thy grace. Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who with Thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth unto the ages of the ages. Amen.
Immediately Relevant to Your Sanctification
A photo of the interior of Ely Cathedral. This is a self-indulgent inclusion - I will be visiting Ely in October for the first time and staying on a house boat about a mile from the Cathedral. It remains a great grace to remember that things like this exist and continue their small purchase in the eternal glorification of Almighty God (!)
The sermon is a highlight, as always, but give the whole service a listen.
The first Newman I picked up was his lovely collection of Prayers, Verses, and Devotions (featuring his personal translations of the Devotions of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes as well as the devastating Dream of Gerontius). Much of Newman’s work is available online, but if you’re new to his writings, the article above provides a helpful roadmap. He will be canonized, God willing, on October 13th, so why not start preparing your intercessions?
And you thought I didn’t have any hobbies. Needless to say, my husband and I are counting the weeks until we can listen to these nerds tell us about whisky. Lest you question the edifying capacities of this link, come to my house and let me tell you about the Outlander episode where Jamie secretly baptizes his son and initiates him into the ways of “stinking Papists.” Fair warning: I will cry.
While doing some sermon research, I came across this magnificent testament to the glory of human ingenuity. I tend toward total, Puritanical renunciation of unnecessary technology (ἀνάθεμα ἔστω!), but this sort of thing is why it remains an okay time to be alive. Click around for beautiful intertextual translations, centuries of illustrations, side-by-side translation comparisons, & full, book-by-book commentary on the Divine Comedy. Avoid if you, like me, have a deadline for something else (!)
September 13th: St. John Chrysostom
St. John Chrysostom (349 - 407 AD) - so named from the Greek Χρυσόστομος, or “golden-mouthed” in celebration of his famous eloquence. His sermons converted many to the faith, and he became known for humility and reverence throughout his service as Archbishop of Constantinople. St. John’s Easter Homily is well-known among Anglican churches (and others, to be sure) as the homily that is read aloud from the pulpit at the Easter Vigil.
Are there any who are devout lovers of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
First and last alike receive your reward;
rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
September 14th: Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Country Garden with Crucifix, Gustav Klimt, 1911
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross (or Holy Cross Day) has always been one of my favorite days in the Church Calendar. It is a day surely worthy of more sermons than anyone could give in a lifetime. While it is tempting, at times, to prefer to look to Jesus’ parables and healings, his miracles and good teaching than to look upon the Cross, it is the Cross through which His work of our salvation was made complete and perfect. This is no obsolete feast of pitched piety. It is the promise closer than the blood to any ridiculous sinner who’s found herself enfolded - against all reason - into the arms of mercy.
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
- Collect for Holy Cross Day, BCP 192