Substitution

Substitution

Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23 I didn’t have time to write a long sermon. Would those who were looking forward to a long sermon this morning, please raise your hand, and I’ll talk slower! I met Debbie Osgood at Home Depot yesterday and she praised the work of those who came to help with the gardens for the workday. I join my thanks to hers. At first glance, the gardens look beautiful out there.   I’m sorry I could not be here, but I had spent practically the whole day on Friday at Ursuline College activities. You see, the Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences was ill, and the President and Vice-President asked me to fill in for her. That’s why the title of this sermon is “Substitution.” Substituting for the Dean meant that I was required to go to the Baccalaureate Mass in the morning and assist in “hooding” the graduates. One of the Assistant hooders talked me through it. I don’t know when you were last at a college graduation. It’s like a medieval pageant. The faculty and graduates all wear academic robes. Everyone has a different style and colors depending on your school, your degree and your status. Some even have cords and medals draped over their shoulders. I envied some of the most colorful and ornate! So the graduates came up to the altar where six of us hooders stood on the first step leading up to the altar. The graduates handed their hoods to the Assistants. The Assistant hooders asked them to turn around and back up to us hooders, then they expertly folded the neck of the hood and handed it to me just right so all I had to do was put it over the head of the graduate and flare out the colors inside. At the orientation, I only had one question since most of our graduates are female: “What do I do with their hair?” I was warned NOT to touch it. Then that same evening, we had the graduation itself with the awarding of diplomas.   It is a big deal, held at the Wolstein Center at Cleveland State University. There were almost 400 graduates seated in front of the raised stage and their parents and relatives sat in the balconeys. The faculty formed an honor guard and clapped as the graduates processed in. There was a video screen, an organ and a trumpet player playing Pomp and Circumstance and traditional graduation music. It took about 20 minutes just to get everyone seated. My job was to walk with the stage party and the other Deans, since I was substituting for a Dean, and then when the graduates’ names from...

Read More

Comments on Canticle of Canticles and Isaiah

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book An Altar in the World, encourages practices of prayer and meditation that are NOT abstract and in some ideal place, but are feeling the dirt between your toes and hearing the birds sing and relishing every gritty detail about being on this earth. Eckhart Tolle, in The Power of Now, encourages meditation that goes into the body.  He advises such techniques as listening to the silence between sounds, or following the sound of a bell into silence, or following your breathing into the body.  The idea, of course, is to quiet the mind and the ego so that there is space for the present, the now, and the divine. The Canticle of Canticle is a perfect book for getting into the body.  There is a whole history of interpretations of this book, from the first time it was acknowledged as part of Scripture.  Interpreters were quick to create an allegorical and a mystical interpretation, to get away from its flagrant eroticism and so to interpret it as a dialogue between God and Israel or between Christ and the Church.  After all, there is a biblical history of understanding God’s relationship with humans as similar to the relationship between a bride and a bridegroom.   –Because, whenever we say ‘love,’ we are raising implications of romantic, physical love. Barbara Brown Taylor has a shocking passage about this (p. 38).  She relates a conversation with a fellow minister about attraction and spiritual intimacy with God.  The union with God is very, very similar on our human level to that between a husband and wife, with that idealized sexual love in this marvelous book called the Canticle of Canticles. It may be a relief to turn the page from the Canticle and arrive in the Bible at the Prophet Isaiah, except that he, too, acknowledges our fleshly humanness, even in writing these lines which Christians have long understood as referring to Jesus and his Mother:  “…the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (7:14).    Sex is how we continue to live, to populate the world, and to experience one of the greatest pleasures and closeness this world has to offer.  Isaiah could be considered implying that it is the way the divine enters the world. The mystics, the enlightened contemplatives, acknowledged this and were able to integrate it into their spirituality.  They could look at a picture of St. Teresa of Avila in ecstasy and understand the physicality of it without being thrown.  They had come to a place where the physical and the divine were no longer opposites.  They could imagine God as spouse, lover, embracing, kissing and becoming one.   They could...

Read More