"I love and I hope."
These words are inscribed on the ring I wear next to my wedding band. My husband gave me this ring 25 years ago today, January 21, 1989, the day I was ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church.
The ring speaks to me about vocation, about that call to do work of love and hope. It's a shorthand, ring-sized reminder for me of Frederick Buechner's description of vocation as "the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."
We see that meeting place of deep gladness and deep hunger in Matthew's story this week where Jesus calls Peter and Andrew and James and John, saying "Follow me." It's a story about vocation. Jesus doesn't say anything about gladness or hunger, of course, but when those fishermen heard "Follow me," I bet they sensed a bit of both. I bet they didn't want to go. I bet they could not not go. And so they drop their nets. They leave behind all that's familiar. They set off with Jesus to tell that good news story about a compassionate God, and to join in his costly work of healing and compassion and liberation. They trade their private lives for public ministry, as they challenge the empire, the temple and the status quo.
That's work that takes love and hope. I think we're all called to this work, because we're all called to be people who love and who hope. Each one of us has a different way to respond to "Follow me" at different times and places in our lives; it's as much about who we are as what we do.
That's what I loved about this ring when I received it: it described what I wanted to dowith my life as a priest, but it really named who I wanted to be-a person who loves and who hopes. I suppose I saw these words as a kind of declaration. Now I see them as a prayer.
On this anniversary day, I can say that I've been blessed to spend these 25 years at that intersection of deep gladness and deep hunger. I felt called back then to drop my nets, despite the fact that it would change everything, and I've been called again and again over the years to answer changing versions of the original call. Every time I've been called beyond my comfort zone, but every time I've looked for that intersection of gladness and hunger.
Looking at my ring today, I can say that I have known love and hope: I have loved my work in the church-from the local parish to the national Beatitudes network-and I wouldn't trade it for anything. I can say that on good days, I have been a person who loves; and every day, I have been a person who hopes. I have been fueled by hope every step of the way, a fierce hope for a better world.
That's another thing I love about this ring: it speaks to me about that larger world. The inscription is not in English, but French, J'aime et J'espere, as the ring is a replica of one given to Thomas Jefferson's daughter when he was ambassador to France. I like it that this symbol of my ordination holds this bit of political history-a nice mix of politics and religion.
Today, more than ever, I am fueled by a fierce hope as I see a new 21st-century generous Christianity showing up in the public square to carry on that costly work of healing and compassion and liberation, and that challenge to the status quo.
So, more than ever, I love and I hope. That is my prayer, and our challenge.
Echoes from the Edge
By Christopher Craun, 2013-14 Beatitudes Fellow - January 21st, 2014
My first Sunday as the Rector of St. Michael & All Angels was on September 27, 2009, on the feast day for St. Michael & All Angels. It was a complete whirlwind full of joyful celebrations, radical welcome and a few unexpected surprises - like the teenage boy springing out of the sacristy door in a full leotard doing an interpretive dance to the reading from Revelation, throwing the dragon down from heaven. Definitely a surprise. I will never forget that day. I will never forget the feeling of being carried by the spirit of the congregation. The challenge I faced from that day forward was to keep that same spirit alive while defining how I was going to contribute as a leader in our worship together. I believe I found a start through preaching.
During my very first sermon that Sunday, I could hear the exhale of the congregation when I acknowledged some of the feelings that I knew would be present with my arrival. I said, "With all the excitement and joy that is spilling out today, I know that there is probably also some fear - at least I know that there is for me. I have always had a hard time with change. Ever since I was a little kid (and I know some are worried that I am still a little kid) I have wanted to know exactly what the plan was." Any anxiety or tension about what to expect or fear about my age, came out in a good and honest laugh. That was the starting block for what has unfolded over the last four years.
In my first year I made a conscious effort to experience the entire church year without making any changes. I wanted to know what had made St. Michael's the church that it was and listen for what made it tick. During this time I believe that my leadership came through preaching and presence. After my first year I had to remind myself that I was not hired to maintain the current condition, as solid as it was. It was time to start creatively implementing change. It wasn't always done well and it wasn't always done right, but I'd like to think that I wasn't making the same mistakes each time. During a season of exploration, I changed the seating of the chancel so many times that the choir never knew where they would be singing. I moved the altar up and back, side to side. I removed altar rails, then put them back in. When all was said and done, the only physical change that I made was removing the gate of the altar rail, leaving the center open to reflect what we say - that wherever you are on your journey of faith or doubt, all are welcome to receive at God's table.
It seems like a simple lesson to learn, that real change does not always consist of where we move the altar and how we set up our chairs. But it has been a lesson that has shaped my understanding of where change comes from. It comes from listening to one another, paying attention to the words and art of worship, and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us along new paths. And change happens best when we allow for all three elements to be part of the dance.
Christopher is Rector of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Portland.
Finally, the Poet
By John Core - January 21st, 2014
verses one and four
from the hymn text written by John Core:
When a prophet sings of justice like broad rivers
flowing free, let me clearly see the vision
of an earth that might yet be:
God's intention, human dreams,
righteousness like mighty streams,
waters teeming with salvation
to wash cleanthe whole creation.
As you grant us better insight
with the vision your grace gives,
help us make the wiser choices,
simplest of alternatives
stripped of empty act and talk
we may take a humbler walk,
justice, kindness no abstractions,
but made real in words and actions.