Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Six Snapshots

As many of you also know,
today is Christ the King Sunday.
This is the King of the Jews says the sign they hang over Jesus’ head.
It is not meant as a compliment or an honor—
the sign is a joke, a sarcastic comment.
Whoever heard of a king that would let himself be crucified!
What few could understand at the time
was how different a King Jesus was—and is.

To be honest it is difficult for us to see Jesus as a King.
As Americans, we don’t really have an understanding of “king”
not as part of our cultural or political DNA.
In fact, we fought a war back in the 1770’s to rid ourselves of a king.
But as I said,
Jesus is a very different king.

I read an interesting article this week by Dianne Bergant
(“Long Live the King” in America: National Catholic Weekly)

She writes:

Probably the best known royal leader in the world today is Queen Elizabeth of England. Although her leadership role is in many ways more ceremonial than administrative, her official title is still quite impressive. She is Queen Elizabeth II by the Grace of God, Queen of this Realm and of Her Other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

Wow! I don’t think Queen Elizabeth ever has to try to fit her name onto a computerized form.

But then we have this feast day—
which is why our hangings and vestments are white today—
known as Christ the King Sunday.
It was established in 1925
by Pope Pius XI hoping to remind people of the one true King.
No need for lengthy royal titles.

Christ is the head of the body—the Church—
writes Paul in his letter to the Colossians this morning.
Jesus became everything in all its fullness.

Travel offers us a way to experience the fullness of life
and the fullness of God in all things, in all people and in all places.

As many of you know,
My husband Tom and I have just returned
from a trip to Paris and Brittany.
Between the two of us,
we took 774 photographs.
I considered setting up a projector this morning,
having such a captive audience,
and showing you a slide show.
But I thought you might like to get home before dark,
so, instead, I am going to share six verbal snapshots with you.

So here are six snapshots from our recent trip:

Snapshot one: Patience.

We arrived on a Tuesday morning at Charles de Gaulle airport
and had no problems getting on the RER train
that took us right into the city,
only a short ten minute walk to our friend Meredith’s apartment.

The beginning of our trip—with on-time flights
and easy access into the city didn’t require any patience.
That is my kind of travel!

However, in just a few hours that all changed
as the transit workers went on strike.
And then other workers went on strike
in sympathy with the transit workers.
Moving around the city of Paris became a challenge—
a challenge demanding much patience
and considerable creative maneuvering.

It meant that when we were trying to return to our friend Meredith’s apartment
after a wonderful but very tiring day at the Louvre Museum,
we watched 7 metro trains go by--
so tightly packed with people
that neither Tom nor I could fathom
crushing our way into the already
crushing human drama.

But we were blessed, lucky—
we did not have to be home at a certain time
to fix supper or pick up children from school or get to work.
We had the luxury of letting trains pass by—
finally, after seven trains and about an hour of waiting,
we went up and out of the metro station
and walked back to the apartment.

Walking is not so bad.
You see a lot of things when you walk
As the world passes by slowly
instead of at a whooshing speed under or over ground.
It passes very slowly for me when I walk—I am slow.
(Much of the time I felt like a fat little French poodle
hurrying to try and keep up with my speedy greyhound companions.)

Twice we tried to visit St. Chappelle
only to be turned away because enough of their staff could not get there
to safely open the Church to the public.
Or were they doing some special program or renovation?

The sign on the gate was in French.
The only part Tom and I were both certain of
was that we were not getting in.

Regardless of how much I had read about St. Chappelle’s beauty
or how much I longed to see it
or how far we had traveled
or the reality that we might never be back in Paris again.
St. Chappelle was not going to be part of our visit.

Life’s disappointments, both small and large,
require strength and patience—and the ability to move on.

Be prepared to endure everything with patience—while joyfully giving thanks,
writes Paul to the Colossians.

Snapshot Two: Thanksgiving.

I missed celebrating the Thanksgiving feast here with you
at St. John’s last Sunday.
I hope it was a joyful and delicious time for all.

The first day we were in Paris,
our friend Meredith said to us,
We need to go to the Thanksgiving Store.

The Thanksgiving Store?
What on earth do they sell at the Thanksgiving Store,
I wondered.
That is really the name of the Store.
The Thanksgiving Store is a special little grocery store in Paris
that sells the foods that you can’t usually buy in Paris
The foods that spell HOME to Americans—
Peanut butter, Jello, Pop Tarts, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups,
and more.
And when the Thanksgiving holiday rolls around,
The Thanksgiving Store in Paris really gets hopping!

A can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup sells for $ 12 a can.
A can of those little fried onion rings sells for $ 11 a can.
You’ve just spent $ 23
and you haven’t even bought the green beans for your casserole yet!!

Turkey is $ 11 per pound.

But our friend Meredith was intentional and determined
that she would offer a traditional Thanksgiving Dinner
to her American friends who found themselves in Paris—
for the holiday or for longer.

She wrote in an email after we returned home
that yes, it was an expensive dinner--
but friends are “priceless.”

We cannot put a value on the people we love.
We too often forget the value of those who love us.

Snapshot Three: Saints

We were surrounded by saints in France.
There were the capital “S” saints—
as we visited Notre Dame (many, many Notre Dames as a matter of fact)--
Notre Dame meaning “our Lady”
and our Lady Mary being quite loved and revered in France
and a favorite name for churches we discovered.

We visited Chartres and St. Samson’s Cathedral
and the medieval walled city of St. Malo.

We read the history and the legends and the lives of these Saints
and we stood and prayed
in these overwhelmingly beautiful Gothic spaces—
and could not help but feel the glory and grandeur of God
in the magnificent construction done my hands and hearts
in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.

But it was the every day saints that also took my breath away.
Our friend Meredith who offered us incredible hospitality every day.
A wonderful reminder of the gift of a 40 year friendship.

The smiling ruddy faced man who ran the cheese shop.
The hotel desk clerk who at breakfast offered me “jus ananas”
and when I queried, “Banana juice?”
he double over with laughter in a joyful, friendly way.
It was pineapple juice.
He shared with me that banana in English is banana in French.

Those everyday saints who mercifully spoke English to us
when we were struggling
or patiently encouraged us to try to say what we wanted in French.

Stefan the accordion player who every evening sat on the bridge over the Seine
playing these lovely strains of music—
even in the rain (he sat under a big blue poncho playing away).
It was like being in a movie—we had our own soundtrack each night
as we walked back to the apartment
crossing over the bridge back to Ile de Saint Louis,
our friend’s neighborhood.

Saints are those who remind us to not believe in stereotypes.

You may have heard that the French are rude.
We did not find that to be true at all.
What we found were that people were kind and helpful and funny and open.
We met only one rude person—a waitress at dinner one night—
my allergy to onions truly sent her over the edge!
Si je mange d’oignons, challotes, poireux, ciboulette, je morte.
Je suis tres tres tres allergique.
She didn’t want to hear it or believe it.
She adamantly refused to accept that chives were in the onion family.
I wouldn’t eat the salad which was liberally doused with chives
(I had no wish to die in France)
and she took that quite personally
She got very angry.
She was very harsh—not just to us—but to everyone it seemed--
and I can only imagine that her life must be very hard.

Either the harshness of her own life
is making her harsh to everyone around her--
Or her harshness to everyone around her
is making her own life very harsh and very hard.

She made me mad, I confess.
I had a few choice harsh comments of my own about her
that evening after dinner
(a dinner I did not get to eat).
But in retrospect, I have tried to include her in my prayers—
and to include myself
for being so quickly judgmental of her.

How important that line is in our baptismal covenant—
To respect the dignity of every human being.

The challenge is that we are called to do that for EVERY human being.
And we long for that respect for ourselves as well.

Snapshot four: Bells

The church bells ring and resonate throughout your body.
It was unlike anything I have ever heard.
I wanted to come back and have a conversation with our bell here at St. John’s
And say, Hello bell! I met your great grand-daddy!!

As we arrived at St. Samson’s Cathedral in Dol-de-Bretagne in Brittany,
a burial service was ending and people were leaving the church.
As the casket was placed into the hearse,
the bells in the tower began to ring.
And they rang and they rang and they rang.
Not just 7 times as we do before a service here,
but the bells rang and rang and rang--for ten or fifteen minutes.

We stood there, from a respectful distance on the sidewalk,
not knowing the name or the life of the person who had died,
but feeling somehow connected and bound to that person
and those who grieved his death,
connected as brothers and sisters in Christ,
connected even though our language, our culture, our customs differ--
but in Christ,
all things hold together.

Snapshot five: Worship

I attended a weekday mass at Notre Dame in Paris.
and even though the service was in French
and was a Roman Catholic mass,
it was still liturgically familiar and I was able to follow the service.

In this very busy tourist attraction of a cathedral
it is still, first and foremost, at least for some,
a place of worship.
The priest never hurried the Eucharist—
even though there was a swirl of people
touring the cathedral on the outskirts of the sanctuary.

The priest’s mindfulness and peacefulness was true gift
to all of us in that little congregation
of which I was part of that day.

Like the outer edges of the bustling Notre Dame Cathedral,
our lives will never be completely peaceful and calm—
we all live in turbulent times, personally and corporately.

But there is a quiet center amidst the turbulence.

Just as our worship together here,
our coming together here in this place, St. John’s,
in churches and synagogues and mosques and temples all over the world,
worshipping together gives us blessing and respite,
give us strength and patience,
gives us hope in our times of darkness
gives us space to offer thanks,
gives us memory to remember
the wholeness of God.

Snapshot six: Beggars

If you were to ask me to name the one thing I did not expect in France,
I would have to say the beggars.

I was especially shocked to see beggars outside the cathedrals.
It was disturbing to me at first.

But then I began to think about the beggars in the Bible.
Just as in the days of Jesus,
the place to come in contact with lots of people
was at the temple gates.
Some things do not change.

Outside the cathedrals in France
were people who were blind and begging,
people who had no legs,
a mother with a baby in her arms pleading for a few coins…

And then there was the man
standing at the doorway of Chartres Cathedral,
who upon spotting us as we approached,
began singing—in English with a thick French accent—
at the top of his cheerful lungs,
“He’s got the whole world in his hands….”

And I couldn’t have agreed with him more.
Travel opens your eyes to the enormity of God.

Travel is so full of wonderful metaphors for our life and faith journeys.

Travel shakes us up.
It makes us face new situations.
It reminds us we are not the center of the world—
not as individuals, not as Americans.
Travel opens our eyes to see the world in new ways.
Travel can be just another scrapbook on the shelf
or it can be an experience that transforms us.

It is important that we do not travel our faith journey as tourists only,
as sight seers.
We are called to live into the fullness and holiness of the life that God offers us.

Christ the King.
Christ as the head of the body—the Church.

In our Episcopal Catechism of Faith,
in the section about the church,
the question is asked: Why is the Church described as holy?

The response is:
The Church is holy, because the Holy Spirit dwells in it,
consecrates its members (that’s you and me)
and guides them in God’s work.

Indeed, travel can open our eyes to the holy.
The even better news is this:
coming home
offers that same immense gift.

1 comment:

Susan Pearce said...

Beautiful! Sorry I missed Sunday but glad to be able to read it! Susan