Weekend Digest 2021:09
3 September 2021
Phoebe, Deaconess at Cenchreae (1c.)
I love almost everything about the end of summer. I’m an “anticipator” (for instance, I dig Christmas Eve more than Christmas, the run-up more than the pay-off, if that makes sense), so I love thinking about all that crisp air and fall foliage out there in front of us in time. I love school — shopping for supplies, getting the syllabus, buying books, first day of classes. I look forward to an annual retreat I’ve been making for over a decade with my clergy covenant group on Mt. Desert Island in Maine every Sept/Oct (that’s when the beard begins to grow back, by the way). I like kickoffs (both the program year kind and the football kind), Halloween and standard time, apple picking and winter gear, woodpiles and fire pits. Don’t get me wrong — summer’s good, too, but I love fall and winter even more. So turning the calendar to the 9th month as we do this week always makes my heart beat just a little faster.
Summer’s end means things are starting up again in earnest around here at St. B’s, as well, including — hopefully! — a more regular Rector’s Digest. It’s been so long since I’ve posted here, I feel like I should have something really important to say, but instead may I just share some pieces of thought still kicking around my head from the summer? Like my own, way-less-smart version of the Pensées (“Thoughts”), a collection of fragments written by 17c French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal. Eliot thought we should regard Pascal’s work as “merely the first notes for a work which he left far from completion; we have, in Sainte-Beuve’s words, a tower of which the stones have been laid on each other, but not cemented, and the structure unfinished.”
In no particular order, here are some stones, just a smattering of what’s been filling up my imagination these summer months:
- Listening: Two things jump out at me —
- First, Renee and I saw live music for the first time in like a year and half when my favorite band, the Lone Bellow, played the Ryman a couple weeks ago — and it was glorious! Whenever we see them live, I like to watch all 3 members of the trio — Zach, Kanene, and Brian — for different reasons. Zach Williams is like a smaller, more energetic, more charismatic version of Johnny Cash. What Johnny would’ve been like on stage if his hair had been on fire. Kanene Pipkin is a multi-instrumentalist (her husband, Jason, plays in the band) and has one of the most soulful voices you’ll ever hear. But this time we sat closest to Brian Elmquist’s guitar, and it was a joy to watch him wail away. Brian and producer Justin Glasco collaborate on a side project, too, and it’s captured my attention this week. It’s called Joyclub, and you can watch Brian play “Take Care” on Instagram or listen to a totally different version here. Not sure which is my favorite!
- And this week I got to spend an hour on the phone with an old friend named Isaac Wardell. Isaac is studying abroad in Belgium at the moment, but we met years ago when he came to my parish in Washington, DC, with some other musicians from Bifrost Arts, a worship collective Isaac co-founded with a seminary chum of mine named Joseph Pensak. More recently Isaac and his wife, Megan, founded another music collective called the Porter’s Gate — I think they were actually the last live music I saw here in Nashville before the world shut down! All four of their records — Neighbor Songs, Work Songs, Lament Songs and Justice Songs — are available to stream. I’m particularly taken with the whole first record, as well as “The Zaccheus Song” with Sandra McCracken and Paul Zach from the most recent release. (If you remember our inimitable worship team performing “Among Us (For the Least of These)” last November, well that’s a Porter’s Gate song — I just happen to think our guys do it a little better!).
- Watching: Jonathan Myrick Daniels is remembered in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church every August 14. A native of New Hampshire, Daniels was converted during an Easter service at the Church of the Advent in Boston, my old parish, while a student at Harvard. His love of Jesus compelled him to join the struggle for civil rights and drove him to the Deep South where, in 1965, he died from a shotgun blast when he placed his body between a white gunman and a young Black girl. That young girl was Ruby Sales, and recently she traveled to Boston to speak at the Advent. In conversation with my friend, the gifted artist Carolyn Shadid Lewis, Ruby tells her remarkable story during the event called “My Soul Magnifies the Lord: An Evening with Ruby Sales.” It’s well worth your time.
- Reading: Over the summer I relaxed with some great books — James McBride’s Deacon King Kong came highly recommended and was reviewed in the New Yorker; Gary Moon’s Becoming Dallas Willard: The Formation of a Philosopher, Teacher, and Christ Follower had been on my shelf for a while, tantalizing me with learning more about a hero of mine; and I was deeply moved by He Leadeth Me, the story of Fr. Walter Ciszek, a Jesuit priest captured by the Russian army during World War II, convicted of being a “Vatican spy,” and sentenced to 23 years in Soviet prisons and the labor camps of Siberia. But more recently I picked up Katie Haseltine’s All the Things: A 30 Day Guide to Experiencing God’s Presence in the Prayer of Examen (Morgan James: 2021). Actually, Renee and I picked it up together and have been reading through a chapter a night on the porch as we experiment with praying the Examen together. Katie, a Nashvillian and friend-of-the-parish, is our guest at the next Theology on Tap on October 3, so mark your calendars and pick up a copy of the book in the Gallery!
- Practicing: During our Covid year, a small group of clergy from the diocese started meeting virtually to discuss pastoral ministry. During the course of our conversations, we all mentioned how tired we were going into the summer, and one priest remarked that we’d all better find time just to be with Jesus to recharge our batteries. St. B’s had actually started a practice called “Holy Hour” just before lockdown last year, so at my friend’s suggestion, I quietly rebooted the practice a few weeks ago just before the Eucharist on Thursdays and just for myself. The practice is simple — the Sacrament is exposed on the altar and I just sit there with Jesus. In the words of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests, it’s a time when “I look at Him and he looks at me” and we’re happy together. Having suspended the practice last year, I thought we’d best restart slowly, so for now it’s a “Holy Half Hour” every Thursday from 11.30-noon. You can read more about it here and here and a thousand other places on the internet, but it’s really a practice best learned about via experience, and the little Thursday group (it’s not just me now!) would love to have you join us any Thursday when you have the time!
One last point — and this may be for stronger hearts than mine. If you love John Prine, like I do, you probably know his “Summer’s End.” Beautiful song; and just a devastating video. I leave it to you to decide which might be more your speed. Or maybe you’re more of a Foo Fighters fan. Whatever the case may be, as the temps get cooler and the days get shorter, know my heart for you grows warmer and my love for our little parish church grows ever longer. Nobody I’d rather be at summer’s end with than you.
God bless —