Sunday, June 23, 2013

An Ear Worm

For the past couple of days I've had a hymn running through my brain at odd times, especially when I'm out walking early in the morning. My brain often gets in that particular mode at that time and sometimes it just refuses to get shaken loose, even though I can listen to a hundred different pieces of music during the day. It's called an "ear worm" and it can drive me nuts at times especially when it's a particularly irritating ditty from some commercial. As ear worms go, though, I guess this one isn't as bad as it could be. The verses may be out of order, but this is how the hymn sang in my brain.

(1) I love thy kingdom, Lord,
the house of thine abode,
the Church our blest Redeemer
saved with his own precious blood.

(2) I love thy Church, O God:
her walls before thee stand,
dear as the apple of thine eye,
and graven on thy hand.*

We used to sing this one a lot when I was growing up in the Baptist church. You could sing it out loudly and harmonize to it nicely. Even though I don't think I've ever heard anyone use "blest" in a conversation (although "blessed" is common) and "thy" and "thine" were reserved for readings out of what a friend of mine always called the "Saint James Bible," the hymn still had something that has stuck with me all these years.

(4) Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heavenly ways,
her sweet communion, solemn vows,
her hymns of love and praise.

Perhaps this verse is why my mind has been stuck on this hymn this week. I do love my church; I've tried other churches but I always seem to be pulled back to the Episcopal Church like a magnet. Every time I return I can almost hear God saying, "SIT!  STAY!" although God knows as a cat person I'm not too likely to be overly impressed with dog commands. But it's true. It is sweet to be with others in a flexibly-traditional way of worship, and heaven knows the Eucharist has sustained me through many things as well as fed me even when my faith was flagging. The part that perhaps resounds most for me right now is the "solemn vows" part since a new friend was just ordained to the transitional diaconate, a step towards his ordination as a priest in God's (and the Bishop's) good time.

One of the first things that grabbed me about the Episcopal Church decades ago was the liturgy. It had grace, it had flow, it had predictability, it had often-repeated prayers and canticles that could be easily memorized and pulled out of the mental filing-cabinet at need, and it had a noticeable lack of agitated and emphatic exhortations to repent every few minutes. Nobody interrupted the final hymn after every verse to issue yet another "invitation" to accept Jesus and go to heaven. Episcopalians were rather more formal; you were reminded that you were a sinner in readings, prayers and the confession, but you were also given words of forgiveness and a lovely meal to remind you that you were one of God's children and, even if nobody specifically mentioned the image, your picture was on God's refrigerator.

In the Episcopal Church there are a lot of "solemn vows," probably the catch phrase on which this whole mental ear worm of mine hangs. Ordination is really about solemn vows: vows to God, to the Bishop, to the assembly who are gathered for the occasion and to those with whom the ordained will serve and, with God's help, from whom they will be nourished as they continue on their spiritual journey. But ordinations aren't the only solemn vows.  Those married in the church take solemn vows, too often easily broken but none the less (hopefully) seriously taken at the time those vows were said. For infants, solemn vows are made on their behalf at their baptism, vows that are repeated by them as they make their confirmation and can speak those vows for themselves. For every baptized Episcopalian, those baptismal vows are repeated several times a year, whether accompanying a baptism or confirmation or on one of the days that the church traditionally sets aside as particularly appropriate for baptisms. Each time those vows are repeated, they are reinforcement of the life we're supposed to lead, a re-learning through repetition.  The Episcopal Church takes "solemn vows" very seriously indeed.

(3) For her my tears shall fall;
for her my prayers shall ascend;
to her my cares and toils be given,
till toils and cares shall end.

Reading through the lyrics of the hymn I saw this third verse, which I had forgotten, and I was reminded at how precious my church is to me. Is it perfect?  Heck, no. It's sometimes slower than molasses in January on some things I think should move a whole lot faster, and a bit quick on the trigger with some other stuff. But, given all things, it is in this church that I'm pretty sure God wants me to be and that it's not just a matter of personal preference (although I have to admit, God's preference seems to be just right for me).

(6) Sure as thy truth shall last,
to Zion shall be given
the brightest glories earth can yield,
and brighter bliss of heaven.

I hear this verse in response to those who say that my church, our church, is dying. Seeing seven people ordained, three of whom will go on to become priests, tells me that people are still being called to serve in Christ's church and are answering that call. Actually, there are a lot more people called to serve in Christ's church, just maybe not to the order of priests or even deacons. Every single person in our church is called by God to live out their baptismal covenant and to not just sit in the pew on Sunday and put an envelope in the alms basin and think that's it for the week. We are all priests by virtue of our baptism, even if we don't wear collars. We are God's hands and feet while we are on this earth and God rather expects that we will live up to that, not for glories in heaven but to bring about the kingdom of God NOW, in this time and wherever we find ourselves planted.
Maybe this particular ear worms was a way of God putting some things in motion in the brain that demand attention -- like the challenge to serve and to live the lyrics, not just lip-synch the words.

* The Hymnal, 1982, Church Publishing Company, #524.

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