Hank Williams, Frère Jacques and Psalm 95...

To build on yesterday's post, let me share both an extended reading from Richard Rohr's book,
Breathing Under Water, and part of a dream. Rohr is reflecting on the spiritual wisdom of the 12 Steps and is bold in his analysis.  He writes the following in reference to the 12th Step:

After trying to teach the Gospel for over forty years, trying to build communities and attempting to raise up elders and leaders, I am convinced that one of my major failures was that I did not ask more of people from the very beginning. If they did not turn outward early, they tended never to turn outward, and their dominant concern became personal self-development, spiritual consumerism, church as "more attendance" at things, or to use the common phrase used among Christians "deepening my relationship with Jesus" (most of which demands little accountability for what you say that relationship is...) Bill W seemed to recognize this danger early on. Until people's basic egocentricity is radically exposed, revealed for what it is, and foundationally redirected, much religion becomes occupied with rearranging deck chairs on a titanic cruise ship, cruising with isolated passengers, each maintaining his or her personal program for happiness while the whole ship is sinking...

And just to guarantee there is no ambiguity, Rohr goes on to quote AA's Big Book: "Our troubles are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves; and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he or she does not think so. Above everything else, we... must be rid of this selfishness. We must - or it kills us!" Anything that encourages us to remain selfish and self-absorbed enables and empowers an unhealthy codependency and must be rooted out. 

Man, does that have a lot to say about church:  what we do, what we don't and why! A recent dream was my inner take on Rohir's writing and took the form of me "firing" different people in varying contexts: a youth group, a school, an office. Inwardly, it speaks to me about first "firing" the thoughts and actions in my own life that waste my time. Outwardly it also calls up my "letting go" of those aspects of ministry that are an equal waste of time. I woke up this morning thinking of Hank Williams' song, "The Ballad of Hank Williams" with its prophetic chorus.

A sabbatical is a time for rest and refreshment. It is also a time for discernment - personal and professional - and as I ripen into this quiet time I'm playing with words like artist, grandfather and friar for my continued ministry. Artist in pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness - grandfather as a way of interacting with congregation, loved ones and family - and friar as a spiritual servant committed to the wider common good.  In another church, I used to say that while tradition spoke of God as Father (when it should have included Son and Holy Spirit, too in a sacred, joyful dance of creativity) I had come to think of the Holy as more of a grandmother: a loving presence filled with wisdom and the time to listen and help. A comforting, safe reality into which I could speak my fears and know they were heard without judgment or shame. A love so much greater than self that helped me re-enter life refreshed.

I pray that same truth resonates with the word grandfather. Robert Bly and Marion Woodman (among others) have dubbed our current culture as a "sibling society" where no one aspires to maturation. Rather, everyone acts like they are forever young - brothers and sisters forever - without any mothers, fathers or grandparents. My Poppa Fred used to sing a little ditty: Mother and Father pay all the bills while we have all the fun! It used to make me laugh and laugh as a little boy. Now I see that this nursery song was also a teaching tool: there is a season for all things - including growing up. In our realm it seems that there is no place, value or respect for a community's elders. And yet elders move slowly through their world and take the time to listen and watch and wait. They have experience, stories and insight, too should anyone care to ask.

Cut to the nursery rhyme: Frère Jacques.  We sang it this morning at a very late breakfast - and then I spent some time pondering the simple words. What a fascinating summary of where I sense my calling is heading. First, there is the personal invitation: brother James - or sister Dianne - or....? Second, is a question:  are you sleeping? And then the closer: listen, the bells of matins are ringing. That is, the call to the morning service of worship before a day of serving others is calling.

Frère Jacques, Sœur Jean,
Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines, sonnez les matines
Ding ding dong, ding ding dong.

Are you sleeping, Are you sleeping
Brother John, Sister Jean?
Morning bells are ringing, morning bells are ringing,
Ding, ding, dong; ding, ding, dong.

Like so much of life, I have known that song - in French - since I was a child. But I had no

idea that the ringing bells made reference to matins. Further, without this insight, I didn't know that matins begins with Psalm 95: O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it and the dry land, which his hands have formed. O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. 

I am going to sit with this nursery rhyme for the remainder of my sabbatical. I want to listen to the ringing bells calling me to wake up. I want to be attentive to this calling into worship and service. I want to embrace with joy and commitment this moment in my life as artist, grandfather and friar I want to ponder what this might mean for my return to ministry at home as we wake up together to the things that matter.  In a word, I want to playfully explore my calling as Frère Jacques. I think it is an invitation that is simple to articulate, easy to create harmonies to and begs a jazz chart with room for improvisation.


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