“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”
Poet Muriel Rukeyser

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Called to Wholeness

Called to gather, Called together… a reflection on Luke 15:1-10

Hildegard was the tenth child born to a family in Germany. The year was 1098, and in those days the 10th child was considered a tithe. We think of tithing as that portion of our income that we give to the church. So, what this meant was that the tenth child of a family was given to the Church as a tithe. Hildegard was raised by a woman named Jutta. The two of them lived in seclusion, in a cottage near a local Benedictine monastery.

Jutta and Hildegard lived a life of silence and prayer eventually gaining a reputation for their profound spirituality. Soon other women joined them. Before long they had started their own religious community focused on developing intellectual gifts. Later Hildegard started two religious communities for women, one in Bingen and one in Eibingen. Hildegard ran these on her own and was able to function with a tremendous amount of autonomy and authority for a woman in the medieval era.

Hildegard describes having these dazzling visions, common to many mystics. Modern medicine believes that these visions were migraines, but at that time they were understood as a spiritual gift. At the age of 43 Hildegard’s visions became more intense and from them she began to create music, art, literature, and drama. Her work was filled with images of God as mother and woman many centering on creation stories.

Bernard of Clairvaux, another well known saint from this era, read one of her books and recommended it to Pope Eugenius III. The Pope read it, a book written by a woman, not at all common in the 12th century, and from this Hildegard became famous. She was sought after for counsel on all matters by kings and queens, archbishops, and several popes. Imagine being a woman, who in any period of time was an advisor to, not one, but several popes.

Hildegard went on four preaching missions through out Northern Europe. Again, such a thing was completely unheard of. And, in addition to her spiritual and religious work she also practiced medicine and published treatises on natural science and philosophy.

But for Hildegard, music was the most essential element. This was especially true for worship where she wrote her own liturgical compositions. Her music is filled with unusual structure and tonality. We listened to her music and chanting during our meditation time this morning. In the Episcopal Church we celebrate her feast day on Sept. 17.

Hildegard of Bingen gives us a wonderful introduction to our worship life this year. Her innovative approach to faith changed the world she lived in and continues to inform ours. Her creativity enabled her to face challenges with the spirit of an artist, of one who is not afraid of failure. Artists, anyone of any depth and experience in faith, understands that we grow the most when we encounter challenges. It is through facing challenges straight on and moving through them that we grow in depth and breadth. Building on the theme, “Deepening Our Faith” I hope we too can engage many creative avenues in the year ahead. Here are some of the ways we try to do this.

First we have our Sunday morning meditation time. We offer this every Sunday for 15 minutes before the service begins. This means that all of our work preparing for and setting up for worship needs to be completed by 7:45 or 9:45, depending on the service. The choir rehearsal needs to be finished, the altar set and candles lit, the books readied, the lights dimmed, and the music turned on.

Into this quiet meditation space we are invited, if we are so inclined, to come and sit. It affords ua a few moments to shift from the busyness of our lives and make time for God. This is really an invitation into private, personal worship. As the quiet meditation time ends we are invited to gather as whole into corporate worship. Our corporate worship time is an invitation to be together. After 15 minutes of meditation the lights go on and we begin to worship as a community. Combined, this personal quiet meditation time and the corporate worship time holds the potential to deepen our faith. Which is the point of our gospel, Jesus calls us to gather and to be together. When we hear Jesus speak about gathering the one lost sheep, or the one lost coin, and bringing it back together with the rest, it is a call to unity, to wholeness.

In October we will enter into a month long celebration of our ministries. We kick it off with a blessing of the animals on Sat. night, Sept. 29, at a 4pm service. During October we will celebrate the work, or ministries, we do in our personal lives and the ministries we do here together. This month of reflection will culminate in our Celebration Sunday on Oct. 28. As we prepare for the 28th we will be blessed by three parishioners who are going to preach. Each one has taken a Sunday in Oct. and will offer a reflection on their faith and how their faith may have been challenged, and how faith forms and informs their lives. Those sermons will take place on the 7th, 14th, and 21st of Oct. I’m not going to tell you who is preaching, you’ll have to come and find out for yourselves.

The celebration on the 28th will include our annual brunch and the blessing of individual ministries of this parish. This is when we will make an offering, a pledge for the year ahead. This is when we tithe to the church, not our 10th child, but our time, talent, and resources.

During the rest of the year we will have the opportunity to read, in the newsletter, a variety of essays written by parishioners on the theme, “This I Believe.” This process is part of NPR’s revival of Edward Morrow’s show in the 1950’s, of the same name. Several parishioners are gathering already to ponder, discuss, and draft essays. If you would like to join us please let me know.

Deepening our faith is a theme that points us to look at how our lives are being lived and in what ways we are striving to find wholeness. Wholeness in how we treat one another and ourselves. Wholeness in how we strive to open ourselves to God. Wholeness as we gather to worship together, a whole community, not just a bunch of individuals in a room together. Our Gospel reading this morning also points to this wholeness. Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin are stories that call us to a reconciled unity. The emphasis is on the community and not on the individual. They are parables of love, of the depth of love God has for us. God loves for being who we are and calls us to bring ourselves into community. To share, to learn, to receive. How can we be part of this community? What will we, in the midst of the our busy lives, give of our time, talent, and resources? How can being a part of this community help to deepen our faith?

We will engage in worship as the primary means to deepening our faith. Let us ponder ways we can translate what happens here into action, something we are able to express more fully in our lives. And, strive to become living examples of God’s love; the love that is known to us in Jesus and kept alive in us through the Holy Spirit.

Hildegard wrote a poem on just this very thing. It goes like this:

Holy Spirit,
Giving life to all life,
Moving all creatures,
Root of all things,
Washing them clean,
Wiping out their mistakes,
Healing their wounds,
You are our true life,
Luminous, wonderful,
Awakening the heart
From its ancient sleep.

In this year ahead, as we seek to “Deepen Our Faith,” may we strive to look at our lives with a clear unwavering eye. May we make time for God in personal and corporate worship. May we make glad music to the Lord in the spirit of Hildegard. May we rejoice with others in this church and celebrate our ministries. In doing so, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will wash us clean, heal our wounds, and awaken our hearts. Healed and whole within ourselves may we bring that same wholeness, the love of God, into the world around us.