FROM FATHER SMITH: THE GOD WHO WORKS WONDERS
Let me begin by quoting a passage from The Lenten Triodion of the Orthodox Church: “O Trinity uncreated and without beginning, O undivided Unity, three and one, Father, Son and Spirit, a single God; Accept this our hymn from tongues of clay; As if from mouths of flame.
When I was in graduate school, the reading list for my program included a number of books on the trinitarian and christological controversies that took place during the first few centuries of the church’s history. Reading about those early theological battles was often rough going. On the one hand, learning about the political machinations of some of the church’s leaders was less than edifying. On the other hand, I often found myself inspired by the ongoing struggle on the part of some of the church’s greatest teachers to articulate the central affirmations of the faith, even though I often had to struggle myself to understand the language and reasoning of those teachers.
I have a very clear memory from that time of reading about the works of, say, Saint Athanasius or Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, and experiencing, if only for a few minutes, a certain clarity. I would feel that I understood their arguments and could actually keep the structure of those arguments clearly in my head. Almost always, however, that clarity was short-lived. The structure would turn out to be like a house built on sand, fragile and easily washed away. The sharp counter-argument of a fourth-century theological opponent, a verse from Scripture, an apparent contradiction and suddenly the arguments would collapse and I would find myself frustrated, feeling that it was impossible to maintain the shape, the whole, of those doctrines clearly and coherently in my mind. And, of course, at the end of the day, it is impossible.
To read the verses of the hymn quoted above, a hymn sung by Eastern Orthodox Christians during the Lenten season is, all these years later, something of a comfort: the church acknowledges that the effort to articulate its understanding of God as both Three and One is an effort doomed, always, to a certain degree of failure. Even the greatest theological minds find themselves speaking about the Trinity with “tongues of clay”; and yet the struggle never ends. The terse, concise, but sometimes odd language of the Nicene Creed is studied and parsed and interpreted generation after generation by those who wish to understand how it is possible for us to speak about God as clearly One and yet distinctly Three while also believing that we know what we are talking about.
But often we do believe we know what we are talking about. Or, better, we believe deep in our hearts that we are speaking the truth when we say such things even if we can’t explain why we believe them to be true. Which leads me to those “mouths of flame.” What the authors of the hymn understood is that it is best for us to begin, not with logical proofs for God or God’s triune life and essence, but someplace else altogether. They realized it was best to start with prayer and praise and poetry and worship, with hearts filled with feeling, with “mouths full of flame.”
I often have occasion to walk by a children’s book store on Eighteenth Street in Manhattan called Books of Wonder. I love that name. It captures for me the truth, confirmed by psychologists and catechists, parents and teachers, that children have a capacity for wonder that is truly remarkable, a capacity that many of us adults admire, but must struggle to imitate. That capacity suggests to me that human beings are born with an ability to experience the presence of God and to respond without guile to that presence, with joy, laughter, respect, excitement, amazement, awe and praise; and while it may be true that adults lose some of that innate ability they need not lose it altogether. For instance, if one reads day after day through the Psalter one cannot help but notice the range of emotions therein. The psalmist moves from distress, to anger, to intercession, to repentance, to a desire for vengeance — and yet over and over again the psalmist returns to words of wonder and praise; he feels the need, it seems, to praise God for his goodness and sometimes to praise him just for being God: “you are the God who works wonders and have declared your power among the peoples” (77:14); “all your works praise you, O Lord, and your faithful servants bless you” (145:8).
In Christianity this impulse remains the same but metamorphoses into the praise and confession of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In moments of intense meaning and revelation – the Annunciation (Luke 1:35); Jesus’ Baptism (Mark 1:9-11 and parallels); the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8 and parallels) – God is experienced as triune even though the language of the gospels is not the language of the creeds. It is this experience which is mirrored in Paul’s letters as he talks about how living as a disciple of Christ is to know God as Spirit, Lord (Christ) and God (Father). (See, for instance, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 and 2 Corinthians 13:13.) For Paul, it seems as if the very fabric of the Christian life is trinitarian, even if he is not interested in explaining how the Trinity “works.”
This was an unusual week for me. It began on Sunday when I baptized two infant children “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” As always, those words, when linked to water, oil, pure white garments, candlelight, and the human voice raised in songs of praise, seemed to be words of power, set on fire. The week ended as I received word of a parishioner’s death. I picked up a Prayer Book and read, “Depart O Christian soul, out of this world; In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you; In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you; In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you. May your rest be this day in peace, and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.” In a moment of great sadness, I could find no better words, words that gave me hope, words that named God for who he is: Three in One, One in Three. James Ross Smith
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED for Sharon, who is hospitalized, and for Jackie, Susie, Peter, Jimmy, Wayne, John, George, Jack, Sandy, Krislea, Olutoyin, Timothy, Anna, Julia, Dorothy, Chris, Rolf, Dianne, Gert, and Rick; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Christine, Rob, and Mark; and for the repose of the souls of Carol Pepper and Christine Lytle . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . June 19: 1959 Alexander Gordon, Sr.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . Parishioner Carol Pepper died at home on the afternoon of Thursday, June 16, after a long struggle with cancer. Born in Pennsylvania, Carol studied at the Yale Divinity School, was ordained to the ministry of the United Church of Christ, and served as chaplain at Williams College. She received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the City University of New York in 1997. Carol worked on her doctoral dissertation while in residence here at Saint Mary’s. At the time of her death she was Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and Psychologist in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the Bellevue Hospital Center. She was also an advanced candidate at the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis & Psychology. Her research and interests included interpersonal and relational psychoanalysis and the clinical use of dreams. She was for many years a psychologist in the Bellevue-NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, specializing in working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims of torture. She was a faithful Christian and a committed member of this parish. Please keep Carol and her family and friends in your prayers.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . The Sunday organ recital by Else Voelker will begin at 4:30 PM . . . As is our custom, on Trinity Sunday, June 19, we will offer Solemn Evensong & Benediction for the last time until the first Sunday in October. During the summer, Evening Prayer is read on Sundays at 5:00 PM . . . Monday, June 20, 6:30 PM, Meeting of the Board of Trustees, in the Rectory . . . On Friday, June 24, the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, there will be a Sung Mass at 6:00 PM. Friday abstinence is not observed on this feast of our Lord . . . Father Smith will hear confessions on Saturday, June 18. Father Jim Pace will hear confessions on Saturday, June 25.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord. This observance begins on the Friday after Pentecost, June 17.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Parishioner Sharon Singh has been admitted to the hospital for treatment. She expects to be there until next week. Please keep her in your prayers . . . Paz Sofia Marrero and Conrad Antonio Marrero, Jr., the twin children of Conrad Antonio Marrero, Sr., and Natalie Marrero were baptized at the Solemn Mass on the Day of Pentecost, June 12, 2011. It was a joyous liturgy. Please welcome the Marrero family to the parish and keep them in your prayers . . . We have received a Letter of Transfer for John DeCamillis. John has been worshipping with us for some time now. We are happy that he has decided to join the parish. Please welcome him to Saint Mary’s . . . Thank you to parishioner Richard Theilmann, who continues to volunteer his time to help us solve various electrical problems and issues related to our sound system. The gifts of his time and expertise are much appreciated . . . Altar flowers are needed for the following dates: July 10, 17, 24, and 31. If you would like to make a donation, please contact Aaron Koch in the parish finance office . . . The Rector will be away from the parish from Tuesday, June 21. He returns to the rectory on Thursday, June 23 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 345.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . The prelude at Solemn Mass this Sunday is the prelude on Saint Patrick’s Breastplate by Charles Villiers Stanford (1852–1924), Op. 101/5. The setting of the Mass ordinary today is Missa Trinitatis Sanctae (“Mass for the Holy Trinity”) by Francis Grier (b. 1955). It was commissioned by Westminster Abbey, and was first performed there on July 21, 1991. The composer crafted the work specifically for that building’s resonant nave – and also for the intimacy that exists in the Quire. Large-scale harmonic progressions are combined with intimate rhythmic gestures – the Gloria, for example, features a texture in the lower voices that is intended to imitate the sound of a vibrantly-strummed guitar. Also evoked is the feeling of medieval music, and the harmonic lushness of an impressionist composer such as Ravel or Debussy. At the ministration of Communion, the choir sings the motet Cherubic Hymn from The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom, Op. 31, by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873–1943). The Te Deum is sung to the setting from the Morning Canticles in C by Stanford. . . Particular attention is drawn to our final organ concert of the season at 4:30 PM on Sunday. It is performed by Elke Voelker, one of Germany’s most respected and talented organists. We hope that many members and friends of the parish will be able to join us for both the recital and the service. James Kennerley
CONGRATULATIONS, DR. SHARER . . . Leroy Sharer, parishioner and member of the Board of Trustees, was recently granted an Award for Meritorious Contributions to Neuropathology by the American Association of Neuropathologists (AANP). Leroy is Professor of Pathology and Director of Neuropathology at New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) / University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). The Award was given to acknowledge his many contributions to his profession and to the AANP, in particular his research in the area of HIV and AIDS. His research has concentrated on the effects of HIV-1 on the central nervous system. Sixty-two of his more than ninety papers and chapters relate to AIDS, with a particular focus on HIV in children. Leroy is a longtime member of Saint Mary’s and the award citation mentions his commitment to this parish. We are delighted, and very proud, to hear that he has been given this much-deserved award.
VISUAL ARTS PROGRAM (VAP) . . . A new exhibition, Seeing and Believing: Works by Charlotte Lichtbau, is now hanging in the gallery in Saint Joseph’s Hall. Ms. Lichtbau was born in Vienna in 1925 and came with her family to the United States in 1940. Since the early 1950s, she has often returned to Austria, working both in Vienna and in Altaussee, located in Austria’s Salzkammergut region. She has painted the mountains, lakes and countryside in and around Altaussee for more than seventy years. Her work includes landscapes, fantasias, paintings of mythical figures and biblical scenes. Ms. Lichtbau is a modernist, whose work has been deeply influenced by the European tradition of expressionism. She has had two major retrospective exhibitions in Austria in addition to a recent retrospective here in New York at The 8th Floor Space in Chelsea. Ms. Lichtbau has also worked as an art critic, publishing reviews and essays in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Herald Tribune, Arts Magazine and other publications. Her works now on view in Saint Joseph’s Hall include Gothic Madonna (1965), Water into Wine (The Wedding at Cana) (1966), Stabat Mater (1983) and Annunciation in Altaussee I & II (2006).
MARK YOUR CALENDARS . . . On Corpus Christi, Sunday, June 26, the 11:00 AM liturgy will be Solemn Mass, Procession through Times Square, and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament . . . Tuesday, June 28, 4:00-8:00 PM, Saint Joseph’s Hall, Visual Arts Program Reception to mark the new exhibition in the gallery, Seeing and Believing: Works by Charlotte Lichtbau. Members and friends of Saint Mary’s, and their guests, are invited to attend the reception and meet those who are well-acquainted with Charlotte Lichtbau’s very striking work. All are welcome . . . Wednesday, June 29, is the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles. There will be a Sung Mass at 6:00 PM . . . Monday, July 4, Independence Day, Federal Holiday Schedule: the church opens at 10:00 AM and closes at 2:00 PM. Only the noonday services are offered. The parish office is closed . . . Friday, July 22, Saint Mary Magdalene, Mass 12:10 PM & 6:20 PM . . . Friday, August 5, Eve of the Transfiguration, Sung Mass 6:00 PM . . . Saturday, August 6, Transfiguration, Mass 12:10 PM.
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector;
The Reverend James Ross Smith, curate;
The Reverend James Pace, assisting priest;
The Reverend Rebecca Weiner Tompkins, deacon;
The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.
Saint Mary’s Mission House
Sister Deborah Francis, C.S.J.B.;
Sister Laura Katharine, C.S.J.B.
The Community of St. John Baptist
The Parish Musicians
Mr. James Kennerley, organist and music director;
Mr. Lawrence Trupiano, organ curator.
The Parish Staff
Mr. Aaron Koch, business manager;
Mr. Miguel Gonzalez, Mr. Mario Martinez, Mr. H. Antonio Santiago, sextons.