Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Dedication of our church - Oct 4, 2011

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Roy Parker, OHC
Feast of the dedication of our monastery church (Saint Augustine) - Tuesday, October 4, 2011

1 Kings 8:22 - 30
1 Peter 2:1 - 5, 9 - 10
Matthew 21:12 - 16

I’ll begin with a parallelism between a passage in Second Samuel and the Gospel text which illuminates Jesus as the fulfillment of the idealized David in the tradition. In Second Samuel 5, this account of Jerusalem made the capitol of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah. “The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites... who said to David, ‘You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back, -- thinking, ‘David cannot come in here.’ Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion...  David had said on that day, ‘Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.’

Therefore it is said, ‘The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.’ According to Matthew, “Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple... The blind and the lame came to him in the temple and he cured them... the children (were) crying out in the temple, ‘Hosannah to the Son of David.’ ”

Not only do we have this dramatic alteration of David’s history as a man of blood, but an equally dramatic upset of what the tradition esteems as acceptable for a temple offering -- for hear this description from the Book of Malachi: “If I am a master, where is the respect due me?" says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name... When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not wrong?  And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not wrong?”

The blind and the lame came to Jesus in the temple and he cured them, because in another place he says to the clergy, Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.  Well, we, lame and the blind, as we might be, are totally acceptable to the Son of David who desires to heal us in his mercy and we give thanks for this house in which it occurs to some extent in the hosannahs sung with childlike confidence day by day.

Ever since I sang with a shape-note choir in San Pedro, CA several years, a day when the polyphony seemed to lift us off the ground, I’ve been enamored of Alexander Schmemann’s emphasis of the importance of such music to the liturgy when he says that it’s only truly possible to mention angels and archangels when the music has lifted us from the earth to that extent, which takes some time, such a feast as mends in length.

And this, it seems to me, is why a tent is mysteriously woven into this blessed structure for which we give thanks.  Solomon’s dedicatory prayer is clear that the building itself cannot be the whole story: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth?  Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house...” and when David, Solomon’s father, proposed such a house, the prophet reminded him that the God of Israel was a tent-dweller while John the Evangelist states that the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us while observant Jews will also do something of the sort for Succoth.

The tent is a kind of reminder or balance for the church or temple structure, born out by a photo contest about prayerful gatherings in Jubilee magazine some years ago in which, amidst many an extraordinary church interior, first prize went to a picture of gathered Bedouin in a tent.

In his letter just read to us, Peter urges us to allow ourselves be built like living stones into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.   In the construction of Solomon’s Temple the rock had to be quarried off-site because in the Ancient Near East it was unacceptable karma to use iron tools within the sacred precincts.  However, shaping was possible on-site with softer implements of antler and wood, for example, and if Solomon were building the Arches National Monument in Utah, wind alone with plenty of time would have sufficed.

I imagine that we ourselves are being shaped on-site, as it were, by a host of skillful means basically at the service of ego-disablement, and, like the Arches National Monument, requiring a lifetime.  To allow oneself to be built into a spiritual house resembles the Centering Prayer adage: "To intend to consent to God’s presence and action within."

When I underwent the training to become a presenter of Centering Prayer a few years ago, Bonnie Shimizu, the leader of the workshop, told us about The First Saturday Practice Day which used to be held at the Center in Snowmass, Colorado.  On the first Saturday of every month the public was welcomed to the Center for several hours of Centering Prayer practice in the inviting meditation hall.  Those unfamiliar with the method were taken aside at the beginning for brief basic instruction.

We thought, What a wonderful thing to try at La Casa de Maria in Montecito, CA, and, so, out went the publicity.  Well, First Saturdays have become one of La Casa’s most desirable events, getting on the average of thirty meditants per month, and the remarkable testimony about the day so often given is how the group practice supports and carries the practice of each person.  It would, I imagine, be like this blessed space serving as both quarry and temple.

Our group practices have the power to shape each of us into a living stone and so long as we’re living stones our design cannot be frozen, our blueprint is ever developing.  But along with the ego-disablement implicit in this, we’ll remain mindful of Bernard of Clairvaux’s arresting summation of the process in describing the four stages of love:
1. (least perfect) The love of self for self’s sake;
2. (better) The love of God for self’s sake;
3. (better yet) The love of God for God’s sake; and
4. (most perfect) The love of self for God’s sake -- the very best building material of all.
 Getting ready for a festive Vespers (incense will burn!)
Picture credit: George R. at "George Visits Holy Cross" blog

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