FROM FATHER SMITH: “HE SET MY FEET ON A CRAG, MADE MY STEPS FIRM”
In over my head. I grew up in Western New York, in a small town between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, where the Erie Barge Canal empties into the Niagara River. A few miles downriver from my hometown the Niagara begins to look the way most people imagine it. The current picks up speed. There are rushing cataracts and, before you know it, you’ve arrived at those famous Falls. However, in the town where my family lived, the river is placid, nothing like the wild thing that it is about to become; and so there are a number of small beaches on the riverbank there, as well as on a large island that sits in the middle of the river, where it is quite safe to swim.
My family often visited that island, known as Grand Island, during the summer months, arriving there early to eat breakfast and to go for a swim. One summer morning when I was quite young – I must have been four or five – I saw my father walking out into the water, carrying one of my younger brothers. Unbeknownst to him, I began to follow him. I didn’t yet know how to swim and before you knew it I was, literally, in over my head. I began to thrash about, to gasp, and swallow water. I know now that I was never in any real danger, but I can still remember how surprised and frightened I was as I “stepped into the abyss” and could no longer feel firm ground under my feet. Suddenly, however, and just as surprisingly, I was lifted out of the water by a man, a complete stranger, who’d been standing nearby and seen my predicament. He held me for a moment, let me catch my breath, and put me down on the sand. Oddly enough, I can’t remember much of what happened after that, but I can still recall that stranger’s smiling face. I am much older now than he was then. I suppose that he has long since died. But I can still remember him after all these years and I remember his face with relief and with gratitude.
Pulled out of the desolate, the roiling, pit. Psalm 40 begins like this, “I waited patiently upon the Lord; he stooped to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure” (Ps 40:1-2). For a long time I’ve imagined that scene as taking place in the mountains. I thought the metaphor that the psalmist was using was that of a person – or perhaps even an animal – that has tripped and fallen into some kind of wet and mucky crevasse. Then God reaches down and lifts the frightened creature out of the mud and carefully places her in a dry and safe place, well away from danger.
However, Robert Alter translates these verses as follows, “I urgently hoped for the Lord. He bent down toward me and heard my voice, and He brought me up from the roiling pit, from the thickest mire. And He set my feet on a crag, made my steps firm.” Alter says this about the second verse, “ ‘The roiling pit,’ literally, ‘the pit of noise.’ Most interpreters conclude that the noise is the rushing sound of the…waters of the abyss” (The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, New York, 2007, p. 141). After reading Alter’s translation, and his comment, the image in my mind has changed. I no longer think of scraped knees and bruised limbs on a mountain path. I think of drowning and gasping for air; and I can’t help remembering “being saved” on the banks of the Niagara River all those many years ago.
Ancient advice for reading the psalms. Saint Isaac of Syria once said, “When we have the same disposition in our heart with which each psalm was sung or written down, then we shall become like its author, grasping its significance beforehand rather than afterward. That is, we first take in the power of what is said, rather than the knowledge of it, recalling what has taken place or what does take place in us in daily assaults whenever we reflect on them. When we repeat them we call to mind what our negligence has begotten in us or our diligence has obtained for us or divine providence has bestowed upon us or the enemy’s suggestion has deprived us of or slippery and subtle forgetfulness has taken away from us or human weakness has brought upon us or heedless ignorance has concealed from us. For we find all of these dispositions expressed in the psalms, so that we may see whatever occurs as in a very clear mirror and recognize it more effectively” (quoted in John Cassian the “Tenth Conference on Prayer,” in The Conferences, translated and annotated by Boniface Ramsey, O.P., New York, 1997, p. 385).
Saint Isaac then goes on to suggest that by reading the psalms in this way, by discovering the whole breadth of human experience in them, by discovering ourselves in them, we make them our own. They become something other than just holy texts that we approach with great reverence, but without much feeling. Saint Isaac suggests that by putting ourselves into the psalms, they become personal and we pray them in a new way. We don’t just recite ancient words printed on a page, we begin to allow ourselves to take our own deepest experiences to God in prayer; and then we grow closer to God and God to us.
Trying to make the psalm my own. I like Lent. I’m not sure that I would like it to last longer than forty days, but still I like it. I like its simplicity, its clarity and its purity. But the qualities of the season do not necessarily make my life simpler, or clearer or purer, sometimes quite the opposite. Life can get messy, even in Lent; and what I’m trying to remember is this: when life gets messy, when I fall and skin my knees, when I feel myself sinking and gasping for air, it’s time to turn to the One who has the power to pull me up out of the roiling pit, look me in the eye, let me catch my breath and put me gently down on dry ground. Jay Smith
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Demetrio, Helen, Joyce, Susan, Kean, Gene, Victoria, Vincent, Wayne, Debbie, Theresa, Mary, Lee, Julie, Betty, Gerald, Aston, Amy, Jim, Barbara, Odin, Chandra, Sharon, Arpene, Ann, Ruth, Dorothy, Richard, Linda, Gert, and Rick; for the repose of the soul of Warren Olson; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Matthew, Mark, and Rob . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . March 11: 1886 Sarah Sophia Schiefflin Barclay; 1888 Thomas Tweedle; 1897 Zenobia Lawrence; 1907 William Chapman; 1920 Joseph Rogers Fallon; 1921 Elizabeth Jane Goddard Smith; 1958 Grace Clark; 1987 Vincent Onorato.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . Warren Olson, a former member of the parish, died on March 1. While at Saint Mary’s, Warren was a faithful member of the guild of acolytes. His funeral was held at the Church of the Transfiguration, on Thursday, March 8. Please keep Warren, his family and friends, and all who mourn in your prayers.
FASTING AND ABSTINENCE IN LENT . . . The ordinary weekdays of Lent are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord. Fridays in Lent are observed traditionally by abstinence from flesh meats.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Saturday, March 10, at 10:30 AM, the Consecration of Canon Andrew Dietsche at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, 112th Street & Amsterdam Avenue, as Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of New York . . . Daylight Saving Time begins at 2:00 AM on Sunday, March 11. Clocks should be moved ahead one hour . . . On Sunday, March 11, at 10:00 AM, Father Peter Powell continues his Lenten series on Genesis 1-11 . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class will not meet on Wednesday, March 14, while Father Smith is away from the parish. The class resumes on March 21 . . . Saturday, March 17, 8:00 PM, Miller Theatre Early Music Series, Tenebrae, with Le Poème Harmonique, Vincent Dumestre, conductor . . . The Stations of the Cross are offered every Friday in Lent at 6:30 PM, following Evening Prayer . . . Father Jim Pace will hear confessions on Saturday, March 10. Father Gerth will hear confessions on Saturday, March 17 . . . Father Smith will be away from the parish from Monday, March 12, until Tuesday, March 20. He returns to the office on Wednesday, March 21.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Demetrio Muñoz, a good friend of Saint Mary’s, suffered a ruptured appendix last weekend. He had surgery early on Sunday morning. His condition continues to improve while he recuperates at Beth Israel Hospital. Please keep him in your prayers . . . Parishioner Gerald McKelvey continues to do rehabilitation therapy. He is now at Terence Cardinal Cooke Healthcare Center, which is located at 1249 Fifth Avenue, between 105th and 106th Streets. The Center’s phone number is 212-360-1000. Please keep him in your prayers . . . We received word this week that former sexton, Emanuel Grantham, has found work in the Washington, D.C., area, where he moved recently to care for his parents. He is grateful to all those here at the parish who provided support, offered prayers, and wrote recommendation letters during this time of transition . . . Confirmation and the other rites of Christian initiation will be celebrated at the Easter Vigil. For more information, please speak with one of the parish clergy . . . If you would like to sponsor a reception after the Solemn Masses on Annunciation, Monday, March 26; Easter Eve, Saturday, April 7; or Ascension Day, Thursday, May 17, please speak to Father Jay Smith or contact the parish office . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 223.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . During Lent the organ is played only as necessary to sustain the singing (with the exception of the feast of the Annunciation and, to a lesser extent, the Fourth Sunday in Lent) . . . Music at the Solemn Mass on Sunday morning is sung by the lower voices of the choir. The setting of the Mass ordinary is Mass for Four Voices by Thomas Tallis (c. 1505–1585). Tallis, who remained a lifelong Roman Catholic, reached the summit of his artistic career near the time of the English Reformation when styles of liturgical music began to change greatly. Though this setting is in Latin, it was composed after the Reformation and its relatively simple homophonic (chordal) texture is largely in keeping with the reformers’ musical guidelines. Like other Masses of this period composed in England, there is no Kyrie eleison. The text would have been sung to plainsong, perhaps with extra liturgical texts “troped,” or interpolated, with the Greek, depending on the occasion. On Sunday, we sing the Kyrie from the plainsong Mass XI – Orbis factor – which, incidentally, is the tone used for the dismissal at the end of the service. At the ministration of Communion, the choir sings the motet Out of the deep by Thomas Tomkins (1572–1656). Tomkins was one of the most prominent composers of the late Tudor and early Stewart periods. He began his musical career as a chorister at the Chapel Royal in London and, at some point, studied with William Byrd. Tomkins became organist of Worcester Cathedral in 1596, where he remained until the Civil War made the regular operations of the Cathedral impossible. In 1668, Out of the deep was published posthumously in London as part of a monumental collection of Tomkins’ work, entitled Musica Deo Sacra. The collection was probably edited and published by the composer’s son, Nathaniel. James Kennerley
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We donated a number of toys, gift cards, books, dishes, and kitchen utensils this week to the New York Foundling Hospital (NYFH). NYFH’s diverse network of programs “works interactively to provide care for families with multiple social, economic, medical, and psychological needs.” A significant component of NYFH’s mission is to serve children in foster care and to work with teen mothers. Thank you to all those who made the donations possible and thank you to Deacon Mary Jett for delivering these items to NYFH . . . We have committed ourselves to donating six pieces of luggage this year to NYFH’s “Cases for Kids” initiative. Children in foster care often find themselves “on the move,” moving from foster care back home, suddenly entering foster care, packing and prepping for NYFH’s summer camp or joining a sibling at a new foster home. These children are often forced to move their belongings in large garbage bags, an unwieldy and less-than-dignified solution. NYFH is looking for donations of “rolling luggage”; the recommended size is at least 30” x 14”. For more information, visit the NYFH website. If you would like to make a donation to this initiative, please speak to Father Smith . . . We made donations this week to the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen to help our sister parish mark the Soup Kitchen’s thirtieth anniversary. We are grateful to the members and friends of Holy Apostles, and to its rector, Father Glenn Chalmers, for continuing to provide this essential resource for our neighborhood and our city . . . We continue to collect non-perishable food items and cash donations for the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Please look for the collection basket in the back of the church on Sunday mornings . . . Bishop Sisk wrote to all the people of the diocese this week. He noted that “one year ago, on March 11, the Tohoku region of Japan was shaken by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. Twenty minutes later, a tsunami rolled onto the shores of eastern Japan sweeping 15,000 people to their deaths. The tidal wave unleashed a series of mishaps leading to the near-meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. The aftershocks, both literally and figuratively, are still felt a year later.” The diocese of New York, in collaboration with the Metropolitan Japanese Ministry (MJM), is raising funds and awareness to assist the people of Japan, especially in the critically-affected diocese of Tohoku. In particular, the diocese is seeking to assist with the rebuilding of the Sei Ai Kindergarten, connected with All Saints’ Church, in the city of Aizu-Wakamatsu in Fukushima, Japan. The bishop has invited Episcopal New Yorkers to consider making a donation to aid the people of Japan and to assist with the rebuilding of the kindergarten in the Diocese of Tohoku. Checks should be made payable to "Episcopal Diocese of New York" with the notation "Japan Disaster Relief Fund" in the memo line. Donations should be sent to The Episcopal Diocese of New York, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10025, Attn: Controller. Donations can also be made online. For more information please contact the MJM office at 914-723-6118 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the MJM website. Jay Smith
SUNDAY ADULT FORUM IN LENT & EASTERTIDE . . . On Sundays during Lent, Father Peter Powell is leading a five-part series on Genesis 1-11. Father Powell tells us what to expect during class this coming Sunday: “The Lenten Genesis study this week takes a brief sojourn into the less well-known stories of Gen 1-11. Looking at chapters 4 through 6:4, we will discuss the stories of Cain and Abel. Do you remember Seth? Adam and Eve had three sons. Where did the wives come from? If humanity was created in Eden then where is Nod? We will look briefly at the amazing ages of the generation between Cain and Seth and Noah. Then we will close with a brief and amazing story about the seduction of women by the sons of God! Very interesting stuff hides in the Bible! Also, please remember: the most important aspect of Bible study is to do it. It is more important to start than to worry about starting in the right place. Therefore, even if you missed the first two weeks of the Gen 1-11 series you are invited to join us this week. Newcomers are always welcome to join the class” . . . The Adult Forum will not meet on Palm Sunday, April 1; on Easter Day, April 8; or on the Second Sunday of Easter, April 15.
SAINT MARY’S WOMEN’S GROUP . . . You are invited to join the Group on Tuesday, March 20, as they celebrate International Women’s Month at General Theological Seminary. Members of the Group will gather at 5:30 PM to tour the new Christoph Keller, Jr., Library (where parishioner Mary Robison is reference librarian), then join the seminary community for the Eucharist at 6:00 PM. After Mass, the Group will have dinner together at a nearby restaurant. All the women of the parish are cordially invited to come to this event. You are invited to bring your partner, spouse, or significant other, if he or she is interested, for this month’s activities. Email email@example.com to RSVP or if you have questions. You may also contact the parish office to RSVP. (We ask that you RSVP at least twenty-four hours in advance so that we'll have a head count for campus security; and please try to arrive on time so that the tour can begin on time. Thank you!)
CONCERTS AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Wednesday, March 20, 2012, 8:00 PM, Between Heaven and Earth: Sacred and Secular Baroque Music from Germany and Italy, with Musica Nuova, Amanda Keil, mezzo-soprano; James Kennerley, tenor; Kris Kwapis, cornetto; Kelly Savage, harpsichord; Elizabeth Weinfeld, viola da gamba; Dorothy Olsson, dance and choreography. You may visit the Musica Nuova website for information and to purchase tickets . . . Saturday, March 31, 8:00 PM, New York Repertory Orchestra, David Leibowitz, music director. Music by Mozart and Shostakovich. Admission is free . . . Saturday, April 21, 8:00 PM, Miller Theatre Early Music Series, Treasures of the Renaissance, with Stile Antico.
DONATIONS FOR ALTAR FLOWERS . . . We hope to receive donations for flowers for the Annunciation, March 26, and for Palm Sunday, April 1, as well as for some other Sundays in April. We also welcome donations for Easter flowers. If you would like to make a donation, please contact the parish office.
LOOKING AHEAD . . . Monday, March 19, Saint Joseph, Mass 12:10 PM & 6:20 PM . . . Monday, March 26 (transferred), The Annunciation of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Solemn Pontifical Mass 6:00 PM, the Right Reverend R. William Franklin, bishop of Western New York, celebrant and preacher.