From Father Beddingfield: Wisdom and the Body
I’ve been thinking a lot about wisdom lately. Any search for wisdom risks arriving at a point of frustration where we might agree with the writer of Ecclesiastes, “In much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.” Nevertheless, those of us involved in the current Wednesday night Christian formation series are plodding forward. I don’t know that we’ve wandered any closer into wisdom, but we’ve had a good time. As Joe Pearson has led us through Ecclesiastes and Job, we’ve been surprised and challenged, delighted and humbled. For the next two weeks we’ll study Job and Song of Solomon.
The Song of Solomon was also the topic for a conference last Saturday sponsored by the Diocese of New York Spirituality Committee and the Center for Christian Spirituality at General Seminary. We heard lectures on the Jewish and ancient Near Eastern context for the book. We looked at some of the allegorical interpretations made by early Christian theologians. We also saw how the Song of Solomon reached a kind of sensual highpoint in the language and imagery of medieval writers, particularly in the sermons of Bernard of Clairvaux.
On Saturday it was fascinating to me that even in an academic setting when certain passages from Song of Solomon were read out loud, there was nervous giggling. At several points, there was “oohing and aahing.” This always seems to happen. No matter how mature, how well educated, how spiritual or how learned the audience, such vivid poetry and imagery seems to provoke at least a smile, and sometimes a nervous laugh or a shuffle in the seat.
The Song of Solomon is often understood as a love poem about Christ, the bridegroom and his love for the church. Others have understood the journey of the bride in the Song of Solomon to represent the journey of the soul toward God, a love that is consummated as the soul finds union with God.
But there is no denying the physicality of the text. It is explicit. It is carnal. It is downright sexy. Our nervousness with the Song of Solomon—the reason serious theologians still smile and giggle—has to do with our self-consciousness and embarrassment with the body. It may be centuries after the fig leaf in the garden, but most of us are still somewhat uncomfortable with our bodies and with the idea that our bodies are gifts from God and are to be enjoyed. It is sometimes hard for us to understand that God chose to become a body and dwell among us.
At Saint Mary’s we have just completed the observance of All Saints’ and All Souls’ and are continuing the commemoration of the faithful departed with four days of low Mass Requiems. While we pray for the souls of the faithful departed, we also remember more than the soul. We remember bodies. Those who we loved and love still had bodies that we recognized and touched. We also believe that God raises bodies from the dead, bodies that are new and different, but bodies nonetheless. In the words of the Catechism, “We mean that God will raise us from death in the fullness of our being, that we may live with Christ in the communion of the saints” (BCP p. 862).
While Western culture often places an inappropriate focus on the body, religious culture sometimes encourages us to ignore the body and concentrate exclusively on the spirit. It is one of many scriptures reminding us that a part of our journey into God has to do with our bodies and the appropriate use and expression of love with our bodies. Whether we like our body or not, whether it amuses us or maddens us, embarrasses us or tempts us, we are possessed with a body created and blessed by God. May we grow in our acceptance of the bodies we are, even as we grow into the bodies we shall become. May it be that with our whole self—body, mind and spirit—we can one day affirm, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me” (Song of Solomon 7:10). — John Beddingfield
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Loretta who is hospitalized and for William, Robert, Gloria, Jason, Harold, Billie, John, Michael, Virginia, Bart, Margaret, Marion, Hugh, Rick, and Charles, priest, and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Ned, Timothy, Patrick, Kevin, Christopher, Andrew, Joseph, Marc, Timothy, David, and Colin . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . November 7: 1986 Bruce Taylor; November 8: 1992 Edna May Chaney; November 15: 1959 Irene Helen Williams, 1972 Wallace Charles Taylor, 1973 Estelle Moore, 1983 Ralph Burus Smith, 1997 Noel J. Blackman.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: 1 Kings: 17:8-16, Psalm 146:4-9, Hebrews 9:24-28, Mark 12:38-44 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, November 8 by Father Gerth. On Saturday, November 15, 2003, no confessions will be heard.
SPECIAL SCHEDULE FOR NOVEMBER 15 . . . On Saturday, November 15, the only service that will be held at Saint Mary’s will be Evening Prayer at 5:00 PM because of the annual meeting of the Convention of the Diocese of New York. Father Beddingfield, our lay delegate Jon Bryant and I will be in attendance at the Cathedral for this meeting. Stephen Gerth
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . This week at the Sung Mass, played by associate organist Robert McDermitt, the prelude is Andante from Sonata No. 3 by J. S. Bach (1685-1750) and the postlude is Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott by Johann Gottfried Walther (1684-1748) . . . At the Solemn Mass, the prelude is Preludio ‘Sine Nomine’ by Herbert Howells (1892-1983) and the postlude is Präludium und Fuge f-moll, BWV 534 by Bach. The setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa quinti toni by Orlande de Lassus (1532-1594). The music at Communion is Höchster, was ich habe; an aria from Kantate, BWV 39 (Brich den Hungrigen dein Brot) by Bach. It will be sung by Ms. Sarah Blaskowsky, soprano, and also will feature Ms. Ruth Cunningham, recorder. Both are regular members of our choir, and Ms. Cunningham is also proficient as a pianist, flutist and medieval harpist . . . We continue our weekly series of organ recitals at 4:40. This week, Mr. Kevin O’Malia will play works of Bach, Franck and John Cook. Mr. O’Malia is the assistant organist of Trinity Church, Princeton, New Jersey.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Special thanks to the Men and Boys from Christ Church, Greenwich and their director, Mr. Robert Tate, who sang with our choir on All Souls’ Day . . . The 2004 Ordo Calendars are here and will be available in Saint Joseph’s Hall after the Solemn Mass on Sunday. The price is $5 . . . Help is still needed for the Thanksgiving Dinners on November 24 and 25. Call the parish office or Father Beddingfield for more information . . . Our study of the Book of Job continues this Wednesday night in Saint Benedict’s Study from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM. This week, we look at Job, chapters 20 through 42. Come and join the discussion . . . Attendance on All Saints’ 197, attendance last Sunday 268, attendance on All Souls’ 213.
NEWCOMERS DINNER AND DISCUSSION . . . Join us after Mass on Tuesday, November 11 for the last of three dinners especially for those new to Saint Mary’s or those who are curious about becoming a part of the parish. To RSVP call the parish office or email Father Beddingfield.
GIFTS ARE NEEDED FOR SAINT NICHOLAS CELEBRATION . . . Aids Action International needs help gathering gifts for approximately 2000 children and adults who are living with HIV/AIDS. UNWRAPPED holiday gifts for children and adults should be placed in the marked box in Saint Joseph’s Hall. They will be taken to the cathedral on December 3 for the Saint Nicholas Celebration to take place that evening at 7:00 PM. Members of the New York City Police Department and others will distribute the gifts. Recipients includes Saint Mary’s Children’s Hospital AIDS Home Care Program, Albert Einstein Family Immunology Center, Saint Mary’s Episcopal Center, Bailey House, and A Better Place.
A WORD OF THANKS . . . The last weekend at Saint Mary’s was really very special. I want to thank all of those who made the liturgies so wonderful. It is such a privilege to be a part of a Christian community whose common life is ordered by the great liturgical tradition of the Church. There simply isn’t another place like Saint Mary’s. There were more than a few moments all weekend when it seemed as if heaven and earth were meeting within the walls of this church. S.G.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Twenty-second Sunday after PentecostMonday Leo the Great, bishop
Tuesday Martin, bishop
Wednesday Charles Simeon, priest
Friday Consecration of Samuel Seabury, bishop Abstinence
Saturday Of Our Lady No Mass or Confessions (see note inside)
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend John Beddingfield, curate,
The Reverend Rosemari Sullivan, assisting priest, The Reverend John Kilgore, assisting deacon,
The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.