Oct 2 2011

{Day 2} The Friendly Beasts

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St Francis by John August Swanson

The Psalmist writes, “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the ocean depths. You save people and animals alike, O LORD.” (Psalm 36:6)

Today is World Communion Sunday. This year, it is also St Francis Day, commonly observed in Episcopal churches with the blessing of the animals.  I like to think that the whole peaceable kingdom comes to worship, at least in spirit, and that a true world communion includes our furry and feathered companions on this earth.

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Nothing helps me pay attention to the present moment more than seeing little (or big) creatures at work and play. One wonderful day, I happened upon a fox cub, eager to pose and pounce for my camera while mom was off foraging.  Birds are always chirping on my balcony and even a squirrel finds her way up four storeys by scaling the wall.

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Recently I discovered Sufjan Stevens version of The Friendly Beasts, a Christmas song about the animals’ gifts to Jesus. I love to think that animals worship their Creator:

(Click pause on the Music for Dreaming in the right column if you’d like to listen.)

Jesus our brother kind and good
Was humbly born in a stable of wood
And the friendly beasts around him stood
Jesus our brother kind and good

“I” said the donkey shaggy and brown
I carried his mother up hill and down
I carried him safely to Bethlehem town
“I” said the donkey shaggy and brown

And “I” said the cow all white and red
I gave him my manger for a bed
I gave him my hay for to pillow his head
“I” said the cow all white and red

“I” said the sheep with a curly horn
I have him my wool for his blanket warm
And he wore my coat on that Christmas morn
“I” said the sheep with a curly horn

“I” said the dove from the rafters high
Cooed him to sleep that he should not cry
We cooed him to sleep my love and I
“I” said the dove from the rafters high

And “I” said the camel all yellow and black
Over the desert upon my back
I brought him a gift in the wise men’s pack
“I” said the camel all yellow and black

Thus every beast remembering it well
In the stable dark was so proud to tell
Of the gifts that they gave Emmanuel
The gifts that they gave Emmanuel

Practice: As you go about your day, I invite you to pay attention to the animals that cross your path and simply watch them for a moment. How are they worshipping God? How might the Holy Spirit be speaking to you through them?

31 Days


Feb 2 2011

Candlemas

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My two favorite feast days of the liturgical year are not big name celebrations.

Certainly, I get goosebumps hearing the first strains of “O come, O come Immanuel” or “Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” each Advent.  Knowing that the palm branches so green the year before become cross-shaped soot smudged on my brow never ceases to quiet me, dust to dust.  And in turn, I wave those palms and wash feet and listen in morning darkness to the story of salvation across the centuries, and wear red for tongues of flame and gifts poured out.

All great and important days.

Yet two less known, not widely celebrated feasts fill me with simple, smiling delight.  The first is sometime around October 4th, St Francis Day.  All the animals get to come to church for a blessing.  Hamsters, cats, dogs, rabbits, birds. Or in rural areas… sheep, horses, chickens, goats, the whole peaceable kingdom come to worship.

“Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.  Your righteousness is like the might mountains, your judgments are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.” Psalm 36:5-6

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My other favorite day is…today.  Known by a number of names, Candlemas, or the Presentation, remembers Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the Temple to be offered in service to the Lord as a first-born son.  In Luke’s Gospel, the family is met by Simeon and Anna, who have both longed to see the Messiah:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss  your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32

In many churches, Candlemas is when all the candles set-aside for the coming year’s worship are blessed.  At St James Cathedral, Seattle, this is taken seriously: hundreds upon hundreds of creamy beeswax candles are stacked around the baptismal font, enfolding worshippers in their delicious honey fragrance. My mouth waters with the memory.

But even in the midst of celebration, there is a prophecy of the coming sorrow. The church year begins to look toward Holy Week. In the scripture readings for the day, Mary is told by Simeon that “a sword will pierce her heart as well.”

Today I light my morning candles with a prayer, honoring Jesus, the Light which was foretold, birthed in the stable, held to Mary’s breast, blessed by Simeon and Anna, and presented to God in the Temple. Hope. Life. Love.

“The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word.  The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one. Everything was created through him; nothing—not one thing!— came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.” John 1:1-5

(an edited repost from the archives)

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