Signs of the Times • 23 February 2017 • No. 110
¶ Processional. “Create In Me a Clean Heart (Psalm 51),” Thingamakid children’s choir, Jacobs Jewish Summer Camp.
Above: A cloud of ash, set aglow by lightning, billowing from Puyehue volcano near Osorno, Chile. (Getty)
¶ Invocation. “Come, O Life-giving Creator, / and rattle the door latch / of my slumbering heart. / Awaken me as you breathe upon / a winter-wrapped earth, / gently calling to virgin Spring.” — Edward Hayes, ”A Lenten Psalm of Awakening,” in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim
¶ Call to worship. “Give Me a Clean Heart,” James Cleveland & the Southern California Community Choir.
¶ “Do not bother looking for Lent in your Bible dictionary. There was no such thing in biblical times. There is some evidence that early Christians fasted 40 hours between Good Friday and Easter, but the custom of spending 40 days in prayer and self-denial did not arise until later, when the initial rush of Christian adrenaline was over and believers had gotten very ho-hum about their faith.” —Barbara Brown Taylor, “Settling for Less,” a Lenten reflection
¶ Good news following bad. A Muslim-American initiative to raise $20,000 for repairing vandalism at a St. Louis area Jewish cemetery (above–Reuters photo) surpassed that amount within hours and, at last report, stands at $116,000. “On the heels of bomb threats and hate crimes against dozens of Jewish community centers across the United States, a historical Jewish cemetery was vandalized this past weekend when over 170 headstones were damaged. Muslim Americans stand in solidarity with the Jewish-American community to condemn this horrific act of desecration against the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery. We also extend our deepest condolences to all those who have been affected and to the Jewish community at large.” —LaunchGood
¶ Hymn of praise. “Choneni Elohim” (“Be gracious to me, O G-d”), from Psalm 51, written and performed by Christene Jackma.
¶ “February comes from februum, the Latin word for purification. But before February became the universally adopted name of this month, it was known by others—such as the Anglo Saxon Solmoneth (mud month). It seems appropriate that February is when we transition (think detoxification) from the feasting of Christmas and Epiphany to the fasting of Lent. —Malinda Elizabeth Berry, “Walking Toward Possibility,” Sojourners
¶ Confession. “Those who observe [Lent] believe they are giving up things they want in order to focus on what God wants. There’s little popular appeal in that.” —Scott McConnell, Lifeway Research, in Bob Smietana, “East, Pray, Lent: Here’s What Americans Actually Abstain From,” Christianity Today
¶ In his 2015 Lenten message, Pope Francis urged the faithful to give up indifference instead of chocolate for Lent. —for more see Christopher J. Hale, Time magazine
¶ Hymn of lamentation. “Miserere Mei Deus” (God have mercy on me), Psalm 51 set to music in 1630 by Gregorio Allegri, performed by The Sixteen.
¶ Several years ago, at an Ash Wednesday service, the woman preaching that evening made a stunning confession. “Ash Wednesday is actually my favorite holiday,” she said. Pretty strange, we all thought. —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Ash Wednesday: The only counter cultural holiday we have left”
¶ Planning for Lent.
§ This year my congregation’s weekly Lenten reflection group will combine lectio divina (contemplative form of Bible reading) on the coming Sunday’s texts along with reading three of Dr. Martin Luther King’s most significant writings. (See below.) And since Lent invites meditation on the brevity of our own mortal lives, each session we will listen to songs group members want played at their own funeral.
§ Lenten resource. This year is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s final, and most controversial, speech: “Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break the Silence.” Given the fact that his famous “I Have a Dream” speech has become a bit dreamy in our time, “Beyond Vietnam” puts the bite back into Dr. King’s prophet challenge. The Muste Institute offers a convenient and affordable 48-page pamphlet containing three from King’s writings: “Loving Your Enemies” (sermon); “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (written while in prison); and “Declaration of Independence From the War in Vietnam” (often titled “Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break the Silence”): $2.00 each or $1.40 for 20 or more copies, postpaid; Spanish language version also available, from the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute.
§ The online site “Radical Discipleship” is preparing an intensive, daily reflection on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last major speech, “Beyond Vietnam: Time To Break the Silence” for Lent, starting with Ash Wednesday. Their daily offerings will include 1-2 paragraphs from that historic speech, along with short devotionals from peace and justice movement leaders from all over North America. If you want to get an automated email alert for each day’s posting, go to Radical Discipleship’s site and click on the “follow” button on the lower right side. (There is no cost, and it’s easy to “unfollow” at any time.)
¶ When only the (Aramaic) blues will do. “Psalm 51,” Choir of St. Simon the Leper, Republic of Georgia (sung in Aramaic).
¶ Words of assurance. “This the goodness of the News we hear and proclaim: What is needed is not perfection but penitence. Our shortcomings do not finally confine us. Our mistakes are not permanent. Grace is greater than our shame, and mercy will triumph over vengeance.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Create in me a clean heart,” a litany inspired by Psalm 51
¶ Hymn of resolution. “Give Me a Clean Heart,” Marietta Wolfe & the London Symphony Orchestra.
¶ Professing our faith. The relinquishment God asks of us—the desert into which Jesus guides us—is not a kind of spiritual immolation. The open-handed posture of Lent is not a form of groveling, as a beggar to a patron. The flame of the Spirit’s igniting presence does not scorch us. It makes us radiant. The ascetic practices of spiritual discipline are training for life lived unleashed from our shriveled little egos. —Ken Sehested
¶ I’ve seen several efforts written to encourage persistence during trumpfoolery’s reign. Here’s one I especially like: “Finding steady ground: strengthening our spirits to resist and thrive in these times.” It offers seven guidelines, each accompanied with brief commentary, composed to reach the broadest value-based constituency.
1. I will make a conscious decision about when and where I'll get news — and what I'll do afterwards.
2. I will get together with some people face-to-face to support each other and make sure we stay in motion. —continue reading the seven guidelines of “Finding Steady Ground.”
¶ Hymn of intercession. “Psalm 51” sung in Malayalam, a language spoken primarily in the Indian state of Karala.
¶ Short story. “The desert has a way of rearranging priorities,” said Beatriz Lopez Gargallo, the Mexican consul general for Nogales, speaking of Manuel Jesus Cordova Soberanes, 26, an illegal immigrant who rescued Christopher Buchleitner, of Rimrock, Arizona, a 9-year-old after the boy’s mother died in a car accident in the southern Arizona desert.
“Cordova was two days into his journey to Arizona from Mexico when he spotted the boy, alone and injured in the desert. His leg was scraped up, he was dressed in shorts despite the desert cold and his mother had just been killed when their van went over a cliff. The boy crawled out and went looking for help. Cordova gave the boy his sweater, fed him chocolate and cookies and built a bonfire.
“Authorities say if it hadn’t been for Cordova, Christopher might be dead. Cordova, who was honored for his rescue by U.S. and Mexican officials at a border crossing, was taken into custody by the U.S. Border Patrol and agreed to return to Mexico without going through formal deportation proceedings.” —Amanda Lee Myers, Associated Press
¶ By the numbers. “Suicide—not combat—is the leading killer of U.S. troops deployed to the Middle East to fight Islamic State militants, according to newly released Pentagon statistics. Of the 31 troops who have died as of Dec. 27 in Operation Inherent Resolve, 11 have taken their own lives. Eight died in combat, seven in accidents and four succumbed to illness or injury. The cause of one death is under investigation.” —Tom Vanden Brook, USA Today
¶ Offertory. “Psalm 51” (Tui Amoris Ignem), Taizé instrumental.
¶ “The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play." —Henri Nouwen
¶ Preach it. "No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great." —John Chrysostom, Christian mystic and 4th century Archbishop of Constantinople
¶ Can’t makes this sh*t up. The photo (at right) went viral after the photograph appeared following a Trump rally in Minneapolis shortly before the November election. The designer, likely a blogger named Misha, promoted an even more grisly t-shirt in 2006 following a Supreme Court decision he opposed, with the caption: “Five ropes, five robes, five trees.” —Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters. For more on the above news, see Brandy Adrozny, “The Man Behind ‘Journalist, Rope, Tree,’” The Daily Beast.
¶ Call to the table. “‘Fear of God’ is not cowering, frightened intimidation. Those who fear God are not wimps and are not preoccupied with excessive need to please God. They are rather those who have arrived at a fundamental vision of reality about life with God, who have enormous power, freedom, and energy to live out that vision. ‘Fear of God’ is liberating and not restrictive, because it gives confidence about the true shape of the world.” —Walter Brueggemann, Remember You Are Dust
¶ The state of our disunion. Columnist Jeffrey Salkin, talking about Trump’s failure to mention Jews in his comments on International Holocaust Remembrance Day: “That’s like talking about the Crucifixion and forgetting to mention Jesus.” —quoted in Salkin’s “Meet Trump’s Holocaust tutor,” Religion News Service
¶ Best one-liner. “Is Trump going to make America first, or simply alone?” —Trevor Noah, The Daily Show
¶ For the beauty of the earth. “20 Incredible Landmarks You’ve Never Heard Of.”
¶ Altar call. “The season of Lent is upon us. Listen for your instructions! Now is the time to flee Pharaoh’s national security state for the insecurity of the wilderness. Now is the time to listen for the Word whose hearing bypasses the ears of princes and high priests but is heard only in the wilderness.” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s “Lent is upon us,” a liturgy for Lent
¶ A 20-minute meditation for Lent. This outstanding TED Talk by William Ury, on conflict negotiation, highlights a key to Lent’s invitation to penitence: not to shame but to the difficult work of stepping back from history’s bloody momentum to see possibilities previously hidden. (My words, not his. Thanks Dan.)
¶ Benediction. “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world.” —Joseph Campbell
¶ Recessional. “If you want to find Jesus, go in the wilderness.” —The Princely Players, “Go in the Wilderness”
¶ Lectionary for Sunday next. “Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the wilderness.” (Matthew 4:1). —see “Wilderness: Lenten preparation,” a collection of biblical texts that speak of wilderness
¶ Just for fun. Low church liturgical dance.
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Above: Art ©Julie Lonneman
Featured this week on prayer&politiks
• “Create in me a clean heart,” a litany for worship inspired by Psalm 51
• “Lent is upon us,” a liturgy for Lent
• “Wilderness: Lenten preparation," a collection of biblical texts that speak of wilderness
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