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A mystery


Pope Benedict's action in throwing open "the gates of Rome to disaffected Anglicans" is my excuse for recalling something of Anglican liturgy, and how it might speak to a heart and soul.

Some years ago, I walked through the open gates of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. The Episcopal Church in America is one of the unrulier members of the Anglican Communion, and perhaps a reason that some Anglicans have become disaffected. I was there to witness Violet's baptism.

I had met her mother, preparing food in Trinity's kitchen for a big community meal. She was rosy with exertion and not long afterwards her daughter was born. From my pew I watched as the Dean took the small bundle that was Violet into his arms.

Golden reflections from the baptismal bowl shivered upward as he dipped the shell, trickling water three times over her head, and anointing her forehead with oil. Violet felt his arms around her, and looked down at the shining water as water dripped down her face and she didn't cry. Gently wiping her dry and still holding her, the Dean prayed one of my favorite prayers from the Book of Common Prayer,

Sustain her, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give her an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.

That was in February. In November I entered the cathedral gates on All Saints day to remember those I knew and loved who had died. Inside the nave, votives had been lit, and their small fires burned.

In the candlelight I sat and thought of my Uncle George who had encouraged me to hope and my Uncle Frank who had been so faithfully kind to my father and my grandparents who had loved me. They were gone, yet with me still. I sat and thought of blessings I had received, like lights in the darkness.

All Saints is also one of four holy feast days set aside for baptism. The adult who has asked to be baptized steps forward to be washed clean of the past and welcomed into a new way of being and into a community of faith.

Anointed with water, blessed by the laying on of hands, she promises to be a witness to God's love as she receives the outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.

Imagine how that might feel, water cascading over your head and shoulders until you were washed clean of all your regrets and failures and fears, even fear of death, washed so clean you were gleaming in the candlelight, alive with happiness. . .

And imagine you then carry into the world an inquiring and discerning heart to love wisely and fully. Sustained by the Spirit, you carry the courage to will and to persevere, so nothing really troubles you, and you do not despair. You carry the spirit to really see and love even the unlovable, who have rarely known love, and the unknown, who come to the door of the cathedral for food. You carry the gift of joy and wonder in all God's works, and joy transforms you.

I am sure you can imagine it, and I hope you have lived it. The liturgy has helped me to see how it might be. The liturgy - which means the work of the people - is found in sharing blessings and remembering kindnesses, in singing songs of praise and cooking a community meal, in welcoming a child and helping her to grow.

Comments (1)

Death Bredon:

The Anglican formularies are sound -- the Authorized Version, the historic Book of Common Prayer and Ordinal, as well as the Thirty-Nine Articles when interpreted without party zeal or special pleading.

Would only that Anglicans only adhere to them and allow themselves to be grafted thereby to the True Vine rather than foolishly squander their patrimony like the Prodigal Son.

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