Archive for hope

Holy Innocence

Today on the feast of Holy Innocents, I commend to your reading a beautiful post by Eleanor Parker, Clerk of Oxford. You’re likely familiar with Coventry Carol which we sing on this day. Parker expands the resonance of that song wonderfully by showing us the tradition to which it belongs.

She writes, “there are in fact a considerable number of medieval lullabies which share the mood of the Coventry Carol: somewhere between lullaby and lament, full of melancholy and pity for the child being comforted, whether it’s Herod’s victims, the Christ-child, or any human baby born into a weeping world.” Here’s just one stanza of such a lullaby: “Lullay, lullay, little child, child, rest thee a throwe.”

Child, it is a weeping world that thou art comen in;
Thy pour rags prove that well, thy bed made in the bin; [manger]
Cold and hunger thou most endure, as one begot in sin,
And after die upon the tree for love of all mankyn. [mankind]
Lullay, lullay, little child, no wonder that thou cry;
Thou art come among those who shall cause thee to die.

So many thoughts crowd my mind as I meditate on the weeping Christ Child being comforted by his mother. I’m glad that Jesus was not betrayed by family, though he would speak of it. It seems a mercy granted to him and also a truth revealed–a bond of love that survives the crush of a sinful world.

I think about what Parker describes as “the crying child, innocent and uncomprehending, who weeps for no reason – and yet has a reason to weep, though he doesn’t know it, because of the world he has been born into.” I think all the creatures of this world who suffer and do not know why–children, animals, the disabled.

I’m reminded of the Hopkins’ poem “Spring and Fall”

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

I think that Christ must weep because of the world and for the world; for himself and for us. And I think that compassion, like innocence, is a mystery in a weeping world.

Poured into our hearts

molten iron rsz


…and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

Romans 5:5

When the changes come, what will you take with you?


The newspaper was a great invention. I’ve spent hours and hours happily reading newspapers, and have recycled great quantities of newsprint in my day.  My house is also full of vinyl records and CDs. But as surely you have noticed, journalism and the music business are not the same businesses they were twenty years ago. If you worked at a newspaper or in a record store back then, I’ll bet you don’t any more, even if you want to. The internet has changed where we get our news and our music, and how we keep up with our friends. When was the last time you sat down to have a leisurely visit on the telephone–just to catch up?

The Church is changing too. Membership is declining across the denominations. People are voicing frustrations. Asking questions. Trying new things. Church is happening in pubs and bars. The Methodists are debating whether Holy Communion can be offered online. More clergy have piercings and visible tattoos. The Pope is offering indulgences for being present via Twitter.

Of course, the Church has already gone through over 2000 years of changes, so we shouldn’t fear change. And we’ve always been a diverse bunch–especially since Paul started preaching to the Gentiles. So really, what’s the big deal? Church may look a little different in ten years. Not a problem. We’re not wearing hats and gloves any more either.

But the question for me is not one of adapting to fad or fashion. It’s about essence and accident. I think that something qualitatively different is happening to the Church because of the way technology and the internet allow us to form communities and share information. This feels bigger than hats and gloves, and more like the Reformation. There’s a Do-It-Yourself Zeitgeist that seems to be drawing some strength from the long-standing priesthood-of-all-believers debate.  And there’s obviously a lot of frustration born out of the years of acrimonious culture wars. Sure there’s always been plenty of frustration, but now it’s getting 26 million hits on YouTube.

A friend of mine once lived in the Middle East where he and his wife would play a game: “If you have to get out with just what you can carry, what do you take?”

Lately I’m thinking we need to play that game in church. We’ve always said, “The Church is not a building.” So what is it? What is it now? What’s essential? Do we need buildings? Worship services? Education and spiritual formation opportunities? The Bible? The sacraments? Do we need clergy? Do we need denominations and affiliations?

I’m not saying this is the apocalypse or the death of the Church. Still, I see changes coming, and though people are plenty busy, very few seem to be getting ready for anything different. Instead I see a lot tips and tricks for using technology. I see church folks using Twitter and Facebook to broadcast the same information they’ve always broadcast. And instead of offering spiritual food to The Church Online, too many clergy only offer the opportunity to watch them talk to other clergy online. Why doesn’t the Church come up with a Big Idea instead of adopting a few new tools? Let’s ask ourselves, “Has your cell phone changed your life? How could it change your spiritual life? Where are people gathering online? Can the Church be a presence there?”

I wish that more people would think about the Church as a network where technologies can be used to facilitate the action of the Holy Spirit. I wish they would consider creating a “community…cloistered within a digital mesh that connects members to one another throughout each day.” I wish there were a little more hospitality and a little less sales.

I feel confident that God will find people wherever they are and however they gather. It’s the Church that needs to be more nimble and creative. We need to talk about what’s essential going forward. Otherwise, we’ll arrive in the future having packed our favorite watch and forgotten our shoes.


Taizé Community – Cantarei ao Senhor

The Taizé Community in France is an ecumenical monastic order of Protestants and Catholics–a “parable of community” that seeks to be a sign of reconciliation between divided Christians and between separated peoples. Taizé songs are intended to support personal prayer, and reveal to us a glimpse of heaven’s joy through the beauty of human voices.

The community is made up of about one hundred brothers. After a time of preparation, a new brother in the Taizé community will make his lifelong commitment. Here are a few of the words used to express this commitment:

…The Lord Christ, in his compassion and his love for you, has chosen you to be in the Church a sign of brotherly love. He calls you to live out, with your brothers, the parable of community.

So, renouncing from now on all thought of looking back, and joyful with boundless gratitude, never fear to run ahead of the dawn, to praise, and bless, and sing Christ your Lord.

Receive me, Lord Christ, and I shall live; may my hope be a source of joy.


Souls seeking God

Faith lengthens the soul, charity widens it, hope gives it height.


Isaac of Stella (d. 1169)
English Cistercian
translated by Hugh McCaffery

From In the School of Love: An Anthology of Early Cistercian Texts, selected and annotated by Edith Scholl, Cistercian Publications, 2000.