As a young girl, my parents prepared my brother and I to seek an expansion of perspective beyond that which our own community had to offer. Comprised within this family plan were experiences of art, travel and educational enrichment. The mode of delivery usually meant we were loaded into the farm truck and driven to some event in Oklahoma City…despite any resistance on our part.
These “field trips” might have included a classical concert or perhaps a lecture from an archeologist who had discovered pitch clad shards of gopher wood on a limited time-window excursion in Turkey. Sometimes, the evenings were capped off with an ice cream cone at Kaiser’s in the heart of downtown. At the time, I’m sure the ice cream was my favorite part. I do recall, however, feeling the hair on my arms lift as I touched the Lucite bound tiny pieces of what I thought might be Noah’s Ark.
My K-12 formal educational journey was also important in how I began to view the world. I learned of fairness and the magic of discovery from the effective teachers, and of injustice and constriction from those less able. The good must have outweighed the challenging, however, because every cell in my body seeks new understandings to this day. It’s in my DNA, and God reminded me of this by giving me a gift on Day 33 that I’ll never forget.
This past Sunday I attended The University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. Expectations had already been set on my part simply knowing that C.S. Lewis had preached his “Weight of Glory” sermon in that very hall. John Wesley spoke there on many occasions, and before the College system sprang up in Oxford, the church served as the location for the educational exercises such as group lectures or exams. This was at a time in the 13th century when scholars actually lived with the professors to receive their education. This church is central to how the entire educational context was set throughout Oxfordshire.
Eucharist began at 10:30 and I came in the door at 10:32. I was handed a Hymn book and a guide to the service, was shown an available seat and sent on my way. Being an evangelical, I’ve learned to watch the other attendees and the pastor carefully when participating in a service such as that offered at St. Mary’s. There is standing, sitting, standing…and sitting. And standing. There is also a participatory portion that the audience reads by following the service guide. All these machinations are unfamiliar to me, but easy to follow. I’m glad, because it left much of my mental energy available to absorb everything else. Comments continued after the photograph…
I’ll not provide the entire sermon, nor all my thoughts during the service. Indeed, some were too personal, too humbling, too set on the holiness of our Lord. However I will share a bit of that for which I am grateful:
1. I’m grateful for the chance to have heard the message delivered by the Reverend Canon Brian Mountford, Vicar of the University Church. From the moment he began to speak, my rapt attention zeroed in on his outline and it was one of the best sermons I’ve heard in my life. Scripture, poetry, philosophy, education, human suffering and regard – all these concepts and perhaps more were laid before those attending and asked to be considered on behalf of our Creator.
2. I’m grateful for a greeting time wherein the only task was to reach out to those around us and utter this simple phrase, “Peace to you,” or respond, “And to you as well.” This made me cry – the simplistic form of a gentle greeting and a gentle return. Wonderful.
3. I’m grateful for a communion service where each person was reminded with one phrase, “The body of Christ,” that which they were taking as they were handed a piece of bread. And I’m grateful to have been given the chance to drink from a community cup real wine, the edge of which was wiped with a cloth and given the person next in line. I’ve never shared a cup with others, and it is a compelling experience.
4. I’m grateful to have had the chance to sing all verses of the selected Hymns, generally written in Old English verse, accompanied by an organ whose song filled the highest corners of the cathedral. I know the notes lifted up our voices and sent them to the Heavens.
5. And, I’m grateful for the reminding affirmations for all who participated, each time we read along during the service. An example: “We are the body of Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Let us then pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.” Another: “Great is the Mystery of Faith – Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Blessing and honor and glory and power be yours for ever and ever. Amen.”
With every affirmation stated by the audience, my faith was affirmed and deemed a righteous pursuit.
I don’t know if I’ll get to attend a service at St. Mary’s again. However, for me, it was as if my spirituality had attended an inspirational conference – – a conferring or communion with God. A renewal was given to me and for that I am grateful as well.
I’ll leave you with a poem that was read during the sermon. The discussion was about how one person might say a leaf is green due to the chlorophyll, another because the evolutionary sea life was purple – so green was refracted, and another – a poet – might say “because it means renewal.”
Peace to you.
The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.
Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.