Come Away and Rest

Boys in a Pasture, 1874, by Winslow Homer.
Boys in a Pasture, 1874, by Winslow Homer.

From the Rev. Deacon Carey Chirico, Director of Outreach, St. George’s Episcopal Church
Fredericksburg, VA | Proper 11 Year B,  July 19, 2015.

The sounds of locusts buzzing lazily in the trees.
The call of the mourning dove.
The sky filled with pink and yellow.
The flicker of lightning bugs.

Summer brings warm days which slow us down – Moving slowly, eating early and late, napping at midday.
In our southern city, it is as if the earth itself is calling us to slow down, dragging on our arms and legs.

In many parts of Eastern Africa, there is a tradition of waking early before dawn to begin the morning chores and then moving outside to a pallet to lie back down until the sun covers and  wakes your body to a new day.

This is not so much a homily or a sermon as an ode to the warmth of summer, to the call of the planets on our bodies.  Rest, be still, they seem to say. Let the heat of the day pass.

Growing up in an urban neighborhood in the South left me curiously aware of the Sabbath day habits of other faiths. The orthodox Jews walked back and forth to services. Usually in small family groups, they talked animatedly to the children in their the midst, leaving a strong impression of the importance of this Sabbath day to the family. Around the corner and up the street, the bells of the Catholic Church called their congregation to order. The nuns who lived nearby walked together, but the families arrived by car, with sulky teens and well scrubbed children. Greek Orthodox, Methodist, Baptist all worshiped alongside each other with the bells of our Episcopal Church ringing out our service times.

If you grew up in the South, you many have heard of the book Being Dead is No Excuse, and while we laugh, there is more than humor there. Sundays may have had their traditions, but despite our church-going habits, “creating Sabbath” was not necessarily one of them. What is the first thing that comes to mind when I suggest to you – Come away and rest? Do you immediately picture all the things you need to do today? The unwashed laundry, the un-purchased food?

And yet, as our bodies long to slow down, so too, our souls crave time to renew.

Today we hear about Jesus who has spent weeks traveling around the Sea of Galilee healing, teaching and guiding – followed by an ever growing number of people in need, like sheep without a shepherd. We hear Jesus saying, “Come away and rest awhile.”Jesus leaving the constant and unending stream of need, to renew and to reconnect.

Sabbath is a concept older than our Scriptures. Sabbath in Judaism, Sabbath as Jesus would have known it – is a way of seeking God’s presence in time, not a place. It begins at sundown – and ends at the following sundown – defined as when three stars are visible in the nightsky. In Hebrew, the word Shabbat means the ‘remembrance of the act of creation.’

In the lighting of the evening candles we are recalling the act of the creation of light. Anger and indignation, strong emotions are discouraged as it is a time that is a metaphor for paradise. The six days of the work week are but a pilgrimage in the world on the way to the next Sabbath evening. The Hebrew word for holy is one of the most meaningful words in the Bible, rich in context implying ‘full of majesty and mystery.’

It is interesting to note that the first object in Scripture given this description is not a mountain, or an altar or a sacred spring… but a day. “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.”

It was on the seventh day that God gave the world a soul, says the great Jewish mystic, Abraham Heschel, “Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.  The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.”

Time that calls to our souls
as the heat of the summer air
calls to our bodies.

And Jesus stopped, went apart and rested.

Perhaps he lit candles and welcomed in the Sabbath. Perhaps he recalled the prayers of childhood and said them over a simple dinner with his disciples. Perhaps he watched the sun set or got up early and soaked in the colors of dawn reliving the day that God gave the world a soul.

We spend a lot of time on sacred space. Do we know how to create sacred time?

Mystics would tell us that the Sabbath is a reminder of this world and the next – “For the Sabbath is joy, holiness and rest; joy is part of this world; holiness and rest are something of the world to come.” As a central tenant of Jewish life, it is a time of physical relaxation and spiritual renewal.

Come away and rest awhile. Amid the needs, the noise, the clamor of the world – come away and rest awhile. Not because the work of our weekly lives matters so little, but because the real work of our lives matters so much. Ours is the greatest of missions – to become a dwelling place for the Divine.

It is the season to rest, to recall to whom we belong and to whom we are the most beloved.



The seeds within us

From the Rev. Carey D. Chirico, Deacon, St. George’s Episcopal Church
Fredericksburg, VA | Third Sunday of Pentecost Year B, June 14, 2015

I was born in the 1960s. In the time of the Vietnam war; drive in movies and folk music and at a time when many people’s understanding of the Kingdom was changing. I was born before CNN, before Amber alerts and before the term ‘free range children’.

I was a free-range child. I ranged freely by bike, foot and small sail boat. We children ranged and looked and explored and miraculously survived.

I discovered very early on those long easy days of exploring swallows’ nests under the bridges of the Lafayette River and the small clams that dug themselves back into the mud at low tide that Mystery is the greatest of all motivators.

That mystery is not the absence of something but the presence of more than we can begin to comprehend.

“The Kingdom of God is like a seed that falls to the ground, sprouts and grows in the dark rich earth and the planter – has no idea how.” Those early days of my life were one science lesson after another and they led me to inextricably link mystery to physical to mystical to faith. God moment after God moment.

Allium Seed Head, shared  by Flickr user Xerones, Creative Common License
Allium Seed Head, shared by Flickr user Xerones, Creative Common License

The great Charles Darwin explored many of nature’s mysteries, among them the mystery of something called ‘drift seeds’.

Mystified by how seeds ended up on volcanic atolls in the middle of the Pacific Ocean–seeds carried thousands and thousands of miles–he wondered about the impact of traveling birds and fish that might carry and scatter them. Back home from his travels he actively investigated how this mysterious action happened, soaking seeds in salt water and timing their ability to float and placing them in tanks filled with fish.

My dear Hooker
… Everything has been going wrong with me lately; the fish at the Zoolog. Soc. ate up lots of soaked seeds, & then I imagined swallowed, fish & all, by a heron, being carried a hundred miles, been voided on the banks of some other lake & germinated splendidly,—when lo & behold, the fish ejected the seeds vehemently, & with disgust, equal to my own, from their mouths.—
Goodbye my dear Hooker

Ever yours
C. Dar

Science inquiry opened the mystery and we now know that certain seeds are seemingly made for dispersion by drift, their pods impervious to water and filled with air and their taproots ready to quickly grab sandy soil. But none of this is obvious; none of this was quickly seen. Really, it makes no sense that a seed would float over 30,000 miles and turn into the glorious flora of Hawaii.

Physical, tangible mysteries like these help me see the sense in the way that Jesus taught. This that makes me see the sense in obscure parables, indirect references and veiled images.

Mystery is not the absence of an explanation but the presence of more than we can comprehend.

The Kingdom is here, among us, active yet elusive, just within sight yet hidden from view.
Growing yet we know not how.

Is it possible, even probable that within each of us there resides a drift seed? That within each of us there is a seed germinating, humming, growing planted there by a loving God who knit us together in the womb? And as we go into the world, we carry that seed with the potential to let it go and to flourish?

And that we are the ocean current carrying it along?

We have heard a great deal in recent weeks about the decline of organized religion, of Church in the West. Surely it must make those of us in the pews feel like we have missed something that everyone else knows. What we have not heard as much about is the fact that 44 percent of Americans say that faith is of great importance in their lives, germinating and alive, looking for soil to hold onto. That Christianity is flourishing in Korea and China. What we do not hear about is the resurgence of attendance at Compline services, a monastic tradition of sung prayer to mark the end of the day, or the vast numbers of young people at services in Taize, France, or of the huge interest in social entrepreneurship by Church communities.

We have not heard about the fact that those who are in the pews are more committed and more engaged than ever since they are making a conscious choice to be there.

Rachel Held Evans, a modern-day Evangelical turned Episcopalian, writes that when she requested, on Facebook, title suggestions for her new book about looking for ‘Church’– one suggestion was “Jesus went to Heaven and all he left us was this lousy Church.” And she writes that as much as that made her smile, it in no way captures the mystery of Christian Community that is Church.

Church is a place that has the power to point to the Kingdom. It is a place where we who want to understand, want to question, want to look beyond the words come together. It is a place of followers, followers of Jesus the one who gave the authority to heal – not cure.

Church at its best is place that asks hard questions – understands that life often hurts, that brokenness exists and shows up to hold those pieces with each other. In community and in love. That is what takes us into Haiti, Congo and South Dakota. That is what leads us to host 12-step groups, divorce recovery groups, grief groups and to and explore hunger in our communities.

The mystery of this Church community invites us to plant and watch and wonder at the magnificence of life beginning anew.

When Moses stood on the banks of the Jordan, 40 years after the journey began for a rag tag group who would replant the Kingdom of Israel, he cautioned against forgetting, against the amnesia of success, the amnesia of affluence. He cautioned against forgetting whose and who we are.

Seeds lying in the earth, waiting to germinate to bring hope and green and oxygen into the world. New life emerging as mysteriously as it began. That is our invitation as the Church of Christ – to nurture the mystery, the dark, and the seed. When we live in the everyday and stop to make it sacred, we are marking the way of the Kingdom. When we bring to our work and to our play, to our meals and to our life transitions a moment of prayer, a moment of remembering whose and who planted and nurtured us, we bring into the world the signposts of the Kingdom.

Is it possible–even probable–that within each of us Children of God, is a seed, mysterious and wonderful, that we are carrying with us out into the world each day? A seed we can scatter and allow to bear beautiful fruit even though we know not how. A seed we scatter through our choices and engagement with God’s world. This is a seed that will mysteriously grow and thrive and bloom in ways that say, “The Kingdom is here.” This is the way. Follow me.

Rachel Evan’s response to her Facebook followers says it very well: “Church is what happens when someone taps you on the shoulder and whispers in your ear, “Pay attention, this is holy ground. God is here.”

Table Talk: Wow! Thanks! Help!

by Linda Carter and the Rev. Carey Chirico, Deacon

Smiles, laughs, and lots of them! Who knew we had a rector who could juggle apples while saying the opening prayer or juggle plastic bags? The mood in the room went from the usual quiet, concerned one to a momentary respite from life’s troubles. Thank you, Joe, for bringing the gift of laughter to The Table.

Ann Lamott explains that there are three major types of prayer – “Wow, Thanks, Help.”

The Table regularly presents us with all three moments sometimes at the same time. This past Tuesday, we had a dad come in asking about baby food. As we worked on finding community resources, a young mother who regularly shops with us came up to Chris Cook and said she could help. She had some extra baby food at home from her small family and she would happily share. She ran home (with her children in tow) and returned with two bags of baby food to donate to this fellow shopper in need. The previous week, this same mom had felt terrible when her baby, hanging from a front carrier, had kicked out and knocked Tom Way’s coffee mug off a table and smashed it. She also returned with a new mug for Tom.

At the end of the night, just as the doors were being closed and tables put away, a small family of four came in asking for food. They were first-timers, and the mom and children were given a personal tour of the tables and invited to choose what they needed. The nine-year-old was mortified and would not look up from her phone as her mom tried to involve her in the choices available. Finally upon reaching the baking area, the mom broke down and sobbed. “It has been a long time since I have seen this much food,” she said.

The greatest words of comfort we could offer were powerful ones: “We will see you next week. Please come back and let us know how you are doing. We will be here waiting for you.”

Wow, Thanks, Help – all at the same time. The Table continues to transform us through the grace of Christ’s presence there. Thanks be to God.

We will celebrate and bless the cooling shed on Sunday, June 14, from 2-4 p.m. at the George St. courtyard. There will be refreshments, music by The Table’s own DJ Richard, a ribbon cutting and thank yous to all who made it possible. Who knows? Maybe we can convince Joe to show off some of his juggling talents with produce from the Flores Farm delivery. Kohlrabi, beets, fennel, Daikon radishes might be a challenge even for him!

It begins with feet

The Maundy Thursday Homily from the Rev. Deacon Carey Chirico, St. George’s Episcopal Church
Fredericksburg, VA | April 2, 2015
“Seated, six feet off the ground” by Flickr User CDM. Licensed through Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Psalm 116:8
For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. Amen.

It begins with feet. Small, innocent feet which have never touched the ground.
Small feet which kick and wave in the air.
Feet that will grow and stretch and carry a grown man around the countryside, walking miles and miles each day – hot, brown, dusty and sweaty.

It begins with love.
The love of Mary’s words in the Magnificat. The love of teacher for his disciples.
The love of a shepherd for his lost sheep.

It begins with shame.
The shame of an unwed mother.
The shame of an unexpected pregnancy.
The shame of sheltering to be born -in a cave not a palace, among animals not friends.

And so we come to this day. The night when having journeyed with our Savior through the giddy days of Hosannas we arrive at the meal which will be our last.

On this night the disciples have gathered to eat together as they have on so many occasions yet surely they must have sensed, known that things were about to change. Jesus has given them the best he has, the best he can. In one final gesture he kneels down and again upending the Kingdom washes their feet.

Gently wiping, pouring, cupping their tired, dusty feet. Their protests are the final sign of their lack of understanding of this man they have followed.

Tonight we will walk in their steps. We will come forward, sit down and let someone take our foot and gently, lovingly rinse it with water. Then they will pat it dry, carefully returning it to the earth. Tonight we will have the opportunity to let ourselves be loved, be served, be cared for, be cherished. Is this not the greatest of His messages to us – care for each other, love one another as I have loved you?

And we will struggle just as they did.

We will resist showing someone else that which is imperfect, unmanicured, unlovable. We will protest. We will resist, we will want to stay in our seat. But when we relent.

When we let go…….. then we will get it. Then we will begin the work of understanding.

My friend Jane tells a story about an experience she had right here in this Church. Jane is a teacher, and one year she had – that child. That child that you struggle to love, struggle to reach but who defies your every attempt. And she was ashamed. Her inability to love this child made her feel ashamed.

At her wits end, dreading school the next day, Janie prayed here in this Nave. Then she stood up and walking up the aisle to the altar for communion she pretended that she carried in her arms this child. And at the rail she knelt beside him, offering up what was broken between them and her inability to fix it.

Three months later she asked the children to write an essay about something significant that had happened to them during the school year.

The unloving, unlovable child wrote about the day, that day, in the middle of the year when his teacher ……started loving him.

“Generally speaking,” says the great Fredrick Buechner,“if you want to know who you really are, keep an eye on where your feet take you.”

It begins and it ends with feet. Feet battered and pierced. Feet, which the Gospel of Matthew tells us, were grasped and worshipped by the women at the empty tomb. Feet, which carry us into the world, humble, misshapen, dusty and hot.

As it began, it ends in shame. The shame of a slave’s death on a cross, tried, beaten and defeated. Deserted and denied by disciples. Alone between two thieves.

And as it began, it ends in love, the greatest love mankind has ever known or will know. Love that takes all our cares, all our shame, all our brokenness and hands us back – hope, joy, growth and healing.

Tonight I invite you to take a chance and experience in a small way how hard it is to share that which is rough and unpolished even shameful about ourselves.

And I invite you into a small experience of the joy of being entrusted to care for someone else’s hard, embarrassing place.

Love one another as I have loved you and by this the world shall know that you are my disciples.