June 29, 2009

Jairus’ Daughter

from yesterday's sermon...

Imagine how quiet it must have gotten. The laughter has died down; perhaps a few whispers are going through the crowd outside; perhaps one of the flute players is keeping up a somber tune. But in the house, there is an intense silence. The parents have their eyes fixed on Jesus; the disciples wonder what is going to happen next — they have seen so much these last few weeks.

Into that silence a voice speaks. It is a voice filled with power, a voice filled with command. It is the voice that called all of creation into being, the Word through whom all things were made, “God’s all-animating voice” who calls from above, as our hymn put it. But that voice, a voice from beyond all time and space, here is a voice speaking gently to a little girl. “’Talitha cum... Little girl, get up.’ And immediately the little girl got up and began to walk... and he told them to give her something to eat.”

+ + +

That voice still speaks to us today. We have all fallen asleep in the death of sin, and that same voice calls out to us to awaken, to get up. We are not dead... we are only sleeping, lulled by the siren song of the world, the flesh and the devil. And Jesus says to each of us, Wake up, Get up!

This startling command stills the weeping and wailing of merely conventional repentance, the excessive display of grief and breast-beating.

This startling command silences the cruel laughter of those who would rather keep us dead, just so they could be proved right, those of the sour looks, and the judgment of others.

This startling command shakes people out of that deep despair at the sense of their own sin, lost in the false belief they are beyond forgiveness.

This startling command brings us back from the edge of death, from the shadow of death and the valley of tears: Jesus assures us we are not dead but asleep.

And he tells us to get up. Just as he called that little girl from the sleep of death, he calls us from the death of sin. “Get up, little girl; young man, arise; woman, I say to you rise up; come, Mother, take my hand; stand up, Grandfather.”

He quiets the mourners with a blessed assurance. He touches us with forgiveness, and fills the depth of our empty grief out of the abundance of his love. He lifts us from the sleep of death, stands us on our feet that we may walk and follow him, and feeds us with the spiritual food of his own body and blood.

Touched by this love, awakened by this voice, healed by this forgiveness, fed with this food, we can face anything — even bodily death itself — in the sure and certain knowledge that nothing in the universe can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.+

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Read or listen to it all, if you like, at Ekklesiastes

June 27, 2009

Thought for 06.27.09

When and why we gather

If there is nothing trivial in life,
if every bird and blade of grass
and hair on every head is known,
then how much more should we respect
those solemn moments when we know
God’s presence with us as we gather,
and learn thereby to bear that knowledge with us
when we go in peace, to love and serve,
to recognize God's presence
in all times and places?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 24, 2009

More on CWOB

I observed in a response to a comment on the previous post that,

The church’s present liturgies were mostly composed in the era of Christendom, when it was assumed all in attendance were baptized.

This is why the liturgies themselves contained explicit invitations for the congregation to come forward to receive, without mentioning the obvious — the requirement of Baptism (or in the Anglican tradition, Confirmation). Even our present Book of Common Prayer, arguably composed in a post-Christendom era, continues this form of invitation. Needless to say, we have long since departed from the patristic and conciliar custom of dismissing the catechumens prior to the Prayers! So our liturgical language hasn't kept pace with the change in the surrounding culture. (I do note that one change the 1979 BCP made over the 1928 was to remove the italicized words in "Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort" from the invitation to Confession.)

Again, I am not arguing in favor of CWOB — I am merely pointing out the various factors that have led to the question being raised in our time.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 22, 2009

Muddy (Baptismal) Waters

I’ve just finished reading Stephen Edmondson’s article on opening the Eucharistic table to the unbaptized, in the Spring 2009 issue of The Anglican Theological Review. I found this to be the most persuasive contribution to the discussion to date, though I remain unpersuaded that the church should move beyond discussion at the present time. However, rather than argue the merits of making such a change, I would rather briefly flag a few of the issues that, in my opinion, make this such a difficult topic to bring to conclusion either way.

Dual Purpose

Much as physicists have to try to think of light in terms of both particles and waves, theologians and liturgists have to acknowledge that baptism is an entanglement of double purposes: purification and initiation. Both elements figure in the traditional sequence of font to altar: one should wash before eating , and be part of the body before participating in the feast that celebrates the body. This has to be set side-by-side with Jesus’ downplay of contemporary purification rituals (though he by no means completely ignored them), and the openness of his table fellowship (though this has to be distinguished to some extent from the Eucharist as Paul understood it.)

A Closed Assembly

It is also important not to ignore the extent to which a strict requirement for baptism prior to admission to the body of the church may have been occasioned or emphasized by the persecutions to which the early church was subject. Peter shows no such reluctance about baptizing the family of the centurion upon whom the Holy Spirit descends while he is still talking, and baptism in general — in the apostolic church — appears to be wholesale rather than retail. But with the beginnings of persecution, in the pre-Constantinian era, there was every reason for the church to be circumspect about admitting people to the assembly before they had been scrutinized and initiated. However, we are in a post-Constantinian era: marked by the increasing number of the unbaptized, but also without the persecution (in most places) that necessitates heightened scrutiny.

A perfect storm

Ironically, in recent years we appear to have made much more of baptism and preparation for it. While not eliminating infant baptism, we have clearly moved to emphasize the adult rite, and a period of preparation and formation worthy of the second century. We have also emphasized the communal nature of the rite, by placing it in the context of Sunday worship.

At the same time, the Episcopal Church in just the last half-century has transitioned from an era in which many congregations celebrated the Eucharist only twice a month. We have effectively eliminated (in most places) a public liturgy to which unbaptized persons were fully welcome (Morning Prayer), to one in which their full participation is restricted or proscribed — though not, I hasten to add, to the extent it was in the days of the persecuted and conciliar church: when the unbaptized either were not allowed into the assembly at all, or were dismissed before the prayers.

Where from here?

So it appears to me that the waters remain very muddy on this question. Although the tradition clearly urges against it, it is a tradition that is by no means without its peculiar twists and turns. I look forward to further exploration and disentanglement as we continue to do our best to discern what Christ would have us do.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Love Between, not Among

Over on the House of Bishops/Deputies list someone commented that loving same-sex couples should be allowed to establish and sanctify lifelong, committed, mutual relationships — in short, to marry. Nothing new (at least in our times) in that statement; nor was there anything new in one of the predictable responses: Why shouldn’t three or more people be allowed to marry if they love each other?

The reason this kind of question continues to rise to the surface lies in the failure on the part of those who take this myopic view to distinguish between the many meanings that can be borne by the word love, and even more importantly the particular significance of the word mutual.

A polyamorous or polygamous grouping of people may claim to (and perhaps actually) share a loving relationship among themselves. But “among” makes all the difference — it is not the same as between. Such a group or assembly may love one another, but they cannot love “each other” — that kind of reciprocal experience is limited to couples. A multiply partnered relationship cannot be “mutual” but must be “distributive.”

And this is why raising the question is irrelevant to the discussion of same-sex marriage. It isn't just “love” of any sort that is at issue, but the particular form of mutual self-giving love that is only possible between two people. This is, in fact, why the people of Israel, and the church, extolled monogamy — the former in spite of the provision for polygamy, and the latter as an understanding of what early church writers called the good marriage: a reciprocal and mutual undertaking in which “the two become one.” Not the three or four, or more; but the two.

Only a couple can form that uniquely mirrored partnership in which one gives all of oneself to the other, and receives the other in return, wholly and completely, without reservation, and “foresaking all others” without some portion shared outside the bonds that unite them.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 18, 2009


Originally a setting for voice, violin and piano of Baudelaire's poem. As such it was awarded a minor prize at the Annapolis Fine Arts Festival Composition Competition, back in IIRC) 1968 or '69. Here it is arranged for wind ensemble.

MP3 File

Correspondances (1857)

Charles Baudelaire (1821—1867)

La nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles
L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.

Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.

Il est des parfums frais comme de chairs d'enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
—Et d'autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,

Ayant l'expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l'ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l'encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l'esprit et des sens.

translation by Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

Nature is a temple of live pillars
murmuring from time to time confusing words.
Humans wander this symbolic forest
Which regards them with familiar glances.

Like long echoes confounding in the distance
in a unity as shadowed as profound,
vast as night and the dawning of the light,
aromas, colors, sounds resound, respond.

There are some perfumes fresh as infants’ flesh,
sweet as oboes’ song, or prairies’ green —
but others, rich, corrupted and triumphant,

with the wideness of an infinite expanse:
like ambergris, balsam, musk and frankincense,
which sing the transports of intellect and sense.

June 14, 2009

The Church as Empire — Not!

From today's sermon

. . . . . . .

We heard [Ezekiel] in today’s reading with his advice and warning to Egypt based on the example of Assyria, which the prophet compares to a cedar of Lebanon — a great tree with its branches reaching up into the clouds, which nonetheless ends up being chopped down. Empires, be they never so mighty, come to an end. The line of dominoes tumbles along: Assyria was felled by Babylon, Babylon by Persia, Persia by the Greeks (who also took down Egypt while they were at it.) But then the Greek empire built by Alexander the Great was divided at his death, and eventually fell to the power of Rome. Rome too divided, and was battled by barbarians at one end, and after it became Christianized, by the rise of Islam at the other end. And Christianity itself? Well, that brings us up to the present day — and more importantly — us!

+ + +

Because ultimately the question isn’t, “Will the church survive?” but rather, “In what form will it survive?” I think it will survive — we have God’s promise on that; but I don’t think it will do so by being a great empire. Great empires don’t seem to be too successful in maintaining themselves, perhaps due to the sin of pride that causes them to lose sight of the words on that ring: “This too shall pass.” It seems the more empires try to resist change, the sooner they fall — intolerance and clamping down on people brings about even greater resistance, division, and internal weakness. Empires may be big, but they are brittle. The great tyrannies of the last century, and those that have survived into this one, do not seem long for this world: the higher they seek to rise, the bigger they strive to get, the more viciously they suppress those who dissent, the sooner their fall seems secure.

Just as the little mammals were somehow able to survive while the giant dinosaurs were collapsing all around them, so too the church managed to survive, the church managed to make it through the collapses of Greek and Roman and European civilizations, not by being big and powerful, but by slipping through the cracks of history — squirreled away in the catacombs underground, or out in the monasteries or out in the deserts. And when the medieval church tried to seize secular power, and insist on central control of all of Christendom, it only served to hasten the Reformation. So it seems to me likely that the church will survive in this our time, and as time passes, not because it is big and powerful, or centrally controlled, but because it remains true to its faith in Christ; by placing its hope not in an everlasting earthly empire, but an eternal heavenly dwelling. It will, in the meantime, do its best work here and now in its own small way, not as a giant agribusiness, but more as a cooperative of small family farms — as the church in each place is a family.

For it isn’t about how big the tree is, or how expansive the fields — but about the fruit and the grain that comes at gathering and harvest-time. When the bough breaks and the tree falls, when the crop is harvested with a sickle, what do we have to show for it?. . . . . . .

Listen to it all:

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 13, 2009

Thought for 06.13.09

On Democracy

The New York State Senate is beginning to make Iran look like Greece in the days of Pericles.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 12, 2009


An Elegy of Self-Dedication in Rondo Form, Holy Week 2008, Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

MP3 File

June 10, 2009

Thought for 06.10.09

Anyone who thinks the family is the cornerstone of society must have a very strange notion of civilization. I make this observation after some years of watching families attempt to organize weddings and funerals.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 7, 2009

Why I don't like tinkering...

A commenter on the previous post asked why I wrote it, and I responded in the comments. It occurs to me that the further thinking to which the question led might be of more interest, so here is some of it.

I'm concerned because I've seen some intentional revisions to our fundamental liturgies, not authorized by General Convention, proffered here and there. These are often no more theologically adept than the occasional ad hoc and ex tempore alterations encountered with, I'm sorry to say, greater frequency, as a cleric changes a word here or there off the top of his or her head. These other alterations are sometimes extensive, and radically revise the texts away from (or even contrary to) their original meaning. Quite apart from this being a violation of the canons, I find it undermines the unity of the church, and tends to produce parishes with the atmosphere of a boutique — a specialty shop that offers a liturgy to be found no where else.

I readily admit such things happen in terms of music and liturgical style — but at least the text has a common center. But with the text altered, everything is literally up for grabs. Such a parish becomes
sui generis in almost every aspect. And I think this is destructive to our common mission as much as to our common prayer. Why?

It seems to me that the further apart parishes are, the more they should aim at being as plain vanilla as possible — good vanilla, of course, organic beans with heavy cream — not only for the sake of the visitor or newcomer, but in order to share more closely in the common life of the wider church. In more urban settings, parishes can, I think, risk more variety in style (though not, as I'm attempting to note here, substance). But if the only church in town is offering a liturgy that is not BCP — in addition to whatever ceremonial, musical, homiletical, or sartorial variants are on tap — I can only think it will become more and more peculiar and isolated as time goes on, and is at risk of becoming a sect of its own.

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

June 6, 2009

Tinkers’ Curse

It is not within the authority (nor in many cases the competence) of individual bishops and parish clergy to tinker with (or radically revise) the texts of the Book of Common Prayer on their own initiative. I have no difficulty with bishops exercising their constitutional authority to allow for the development of liturgies for which no common text exists — though even in this case a bit of research may turn up work already accomplished elsewhere with greater grace and wisdom.

But when it comes to the texts of the Book of Common Prayer, it is important to recall the penultimate word: Common. These are not my prayers, they are our prayers. They are not mine to tinker with, to alter as the whim (or the Spirit, or the Ego, or both) strike me. There is plenty of scope for creativity in the liturgy without the need to refashion the Eucharistic Prayer or the Baptismal Covenant to suit my own peculiar views. This isn’t about peculiarity, but commonality.

These common prayers are there precisely to be central and uniform (though in the Eucharistic Prayer with considerable variety from which to choose.) They are the center stabilizing point of the compass whose inclusive reach can best be extended and expanded with a rich selection of hymnody (though there are limits there as well! — read the rules), vibrant preaching, and intercessory prayer adapted to the hearts&rsquo content of the people for whom and by whom it is offered.

To those individuals tempted to tinker with the Common Prayer, I offer some old advice, “Put it down; it don’t belong to you.”

— Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG