Sunday, May 11, 2008

SUNDAY AT ST. MARY’S

An eight a.m. service that is held in a church more than five minutes’ away translates to “Rise and Shine,” in my lexicon, but we’ve begun to attend early Sunday services at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church a few miles from Sewanee, a place nestling in a bluff spot on 120 wooded acres near St. Mary’s Sewanee, a Center for Spiritual Development. Today, St. Mary’s was a perfect spot to hear The Gospel about the sound of wind rushing on Pentecost, as we could hear the wind rustling in the oaks and dogwoods, blowing strong on the bluff. St. Mary is always flooded with light from small windows on either side of the chapel, long windows behind the altar on the bluff side, and skylights in the ceiling.

Sister Lucy delivered the homily today, and although she’s nearly blind and has some difficulty reading parts of the Liturgy, she didn’t miss a beat when preaching, sans notes. She shared a great anecdote about an Episcopal Church being built in the Philippines where the builders hung a stained glass window with the dove upside down and gave the congregants the impression that The Holy Spirit was leaving the Church, rather than entering it. Sister Lucy says that there are some in the Church who might like to think this is true of The Episcopal Church in this country, but she didn’t agree, and she believed The Holy Spirit continued to work within the people of The Episcopal Church – big winds, big changes, but the heart of God ever expands within his people. This allusion to the heart of God reminded me of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s words, “At the heart of Matter/ A World Heart/The Heart of a God.”

Sister Lucy is one of those living saints who invites small miracles to occur in people’s lives. She also likes “thin places,” as I have mentioned in a previous blog – those places where connection with the Divine seems to be more possible –like Sewanee, Sedona, Iona. She once led a group of Sewanee pilgrims to the Isle of Iona in Scotland, a very “thin place,” and nudged a miracle alive in a rector (now deceased) who suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. He was among the pilgrims in her party and was well-known to me because he once served our congregation at Epiphany in New Iberia. Elmer was recognized for his booming voice and his passionate deliveries of the Gospel, but by the time he made the trip to Iona, he had become ill and lost the grand timbre of his voice. At a service Sister Lucy led on the Isle of Iona, she turned to the startled rector and handed him the Gospel book, insisting that he read. Anne, the rector’s wife, who stood at his side, says she trembled with fear, expecting him to be unable to read a line. However, in that moment, in that thin place… and only in that awesome moment… the rector resumed his former booming voice and read the Gospel without faltering. As the story goes, the rector never read again, but on the Isle of Iona, with Sister Lucy’s prodding, he was given his place to proclaim the Word in a blessed space.

After the service ended at St. Mary’s, we walked around the rose garden, now in full bloom in front of the chapel, and waved at a small stone angel in a homemade swing. We drove off with the usual feeling of having enjoyed the spiritual hospitality of this wonderful group of Episcopal nuns who live on a bluff of the Cumberland Plateau overlooking the valley. We were revved up enough to make an hour drive to Chattanooga, TN where we enjoyed Mother’s Day brunch in the art district of Chattanooga at the Back Inn Café overlooking the Tennessee River. While sitting outdoors in the May sunlight eating a Spanish omelet, I thought about my two daughters, now in their forties, and marveled at their ages… at how, just moments ago, it seemed, they were two blonde, high-spirited sisters testing my motherhood. Despite their present age, not to mention mine, I feel that I yet have “miles to go before I sleep.” For Pentecost, here’s a snippet about an organist I knew at the Church of the Holy Spirit when I lived in Graham, Texas, published back in the 60’s and re-published in THE BOOK OF UNCOMMON POETRY now available at THE BORDER PRESS:

THE SPIRIT MADE MANIFEST
Light, arched above an unveiled face,
enters a human window;
the dove, descending,
rains mystery into constant hands
and the Spirit is made song.
Soon antiphons efface small sorrows
and the reasonable gods man endures
tumble noiselessly from rude altars,
startled into flight.
Here, the dove hovers in an encompass,
loving the face bent over sacred expression,
here, touching its own gentle reflection,
the Spirit visits its work.
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