FROM FATHER SMITH: SUMMER SOLSTICE
I moved to Saint Mary’s in January 2007. A few months later I was walking down Sixth Avenue one evening, just before sunset. The sky was very clear. It was really lovely out. I reached 42nd Street and stood at the corner, waiting for the light to change. I happened to glance west, looking towards the Hudson River. I was stunned by what I saw: the sun, a huge red globe, was hanging there just above the horizon, perfectly centered and framed by the skyscrapers lining the avenue, and the sunset’s colors were reflected in the windows of the buildings up and down the avenue. For a few minutes nature cooperated with architecture and created an image so lovely that I just stood there and stared, waiting to see what would happen next. I have lived in New York for most of the past thirty-five years, but I’d never witnessed a sunset quite like it. Foolishly, I thought I’d managed to discover something new. It turns out that this is an all-but-unique New York phenomenon, a function of Manhattan’s north-south orientation and, in Midtown, its rigid east-west grid. Many people before me have witnessed it and appreciated it. They’ve even given it a name, “Manhattanhenge,” an allusion to Stonehenge’s interaction with the rays of the sun on certain days of the year. Apparently, Manhattanhenge occurs twice a year, on dates that fall just weeks before and after the summer solstice, on June 20-21. This year Manhattanhenge takes place on May 28 and July 12. (The wonderfully informative and entertaining Neil deGrasse Tyson of the American Museum of History explains all of this for you on the Museum’s website.)
The sun has surely attracted the attention of human beings for as long as we have lived on this planet and have had the ability to stop and stare at a sunset and wait to see what was going to happen next. People from many cultures have worshipped the sun, and it’s easy to see why. The heavens, the planets, the moon, the sun, and the sun’s movements through the sky, have always made human beings look up in wonder.
The sun was certainly worshipped in the Mediterranean world and devotion to the Sun god seems to have become increasingly popular right around the time that Christianity was born, so much so that some scholars have suggested that the cult of the Sun god fostered a kind of “creeping monotheism” that played a role in the rise of Christianity in the Greco-Roman world. Whether that is true or not, the church’s early bishops and theologians were all too aware of the cult of the Sun god and most of them, though perhaps not all, didn’t like it one bit, especially when the members of their congregations seemed reluctant to leave old religious habits behind, appearing to be perfectly comfortable venerating the Sun, and then going off to worship their new Lord, Jesus Christ, the Sun of Righteousness.
Pope Saint Leo the Great (c. 400–461) was one of those bishops. He was bishop of Rome between 440 and his death in 461. In one of his Christmas sermons he writes:
“[There is also] the ungodly practice of certain foolish folk who worship the sun as it rises at the beginning of daylight from elevated positions: even some Christians think it is so proper to do this that, before entering the blessed Apostle Peter’s basilica, which is dedicated to the One Living and true God, when they have mounted the steps which lead to the raised platform, they turn round and bow themselves towards the rising sun and with bent neck do homage to its brilliant orb. We are full of grief and vexation that this should happen, which is partly due to the fault of ignorance and partly to the spirit of heathenism: because although some of them do perhaps worship the Creator of that fair light rather than the Light itself, which is His creature, yet we must abstain even from the appearance of this observance: for if one who has abandoned the worship of gods, finds it in our own worship, will he not hark back again to this fragment of his old superstition, as if it were allowable, when he sees it to be common both to Christians and to infidels” (Sermon XXVII, 4).
Leo’s rhetoric is distinctly un-modern and he may seem more than a little cranky to many folks. Still, he makes an important observation here, something that lies at the very heart of Christianity (and Judaism and Islam, too, of course): the sun is a creature, a glorious creature, but a creature nonetheless. The sun is not God. God created the sun; and a number of things follow from that. Christian theologians, poets, scientists, and just plain Christians, like most of us, may find ourselves standing on the street corner—or at the beach, or on the mountaintop—and marveling at the intricacies of nature; but it is a lovely thing when awe and wonder at the natural world shift subtly, becoming praise of the One who created the world and all that is in it.
When that happens, we may find ourselves praying, along with Saint Francis of Assisi (Francis appears to have been less cranky than Leo!), “Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name. Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!”
Summer begins next week: in the Northern Hemisphere summer begins this year on Friday, June 21, the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Perhaps it will be a clear day, drenched with sunlight. Perhaps there will be a beautiful sunset, late in the evening. People around the world will gather to mark the event. 1,200 yoga enthusiasts will be doing their sun salutations in Times Square on Friday. The Paul Winter Consort offers its 18th Annual Summer Solstice Concert at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine (on June 22 at 4:30 AM!). Wherever we are this year—in the cathedral, in the square, here at Saint Mary’s, hard at work, beginning our vacations—it will be good to give thanks for Brother Sun and Sister Moon, and, in the power of the Spirit, to praise God for the goodness of creation, and to praise the Son, the Sun of Righteousness, through whom all things were made. Jay Smith
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Dolores, Kay, Doris, Emma, Phyllis, Jim, Peter, Donn, Charles, Pamela, Henrietta, Sean, Denise, Casey, Eloise, Sharon, Linda, Christopher, Jane, Diana, Eileen, Arpene, José, LuraGrace, religious, Paulette, priest, Rowan, priest, John, bishop, and Paul, bishop; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Marc, John, Elizabeth, Daniel, and Nicholas; and for the repose of the souls of Doris Perez and Thomas Schulze, priest . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . June 16: 1889 Nellie Benson Beame; 1900 Ellen Havens; 1911 Sarah Jackson; 1923 Frances Victoria Murray; 2011 Carol Pepper.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . The Reverend Thomas Schulze, the godfather of Father Matthew Mead, died this week after a long illness. Please keep Father Schulze, his wife, Kay, their family and friends, Father Mead, and all who mourn in your prayers.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . The Board of Trustees will meet on Monday, June 17, at 6:30 PM . . . The Rector and the sisters will be away from the parish on Saturday, June 22, in order to attend the Community of Saint John Baptist’s annual Commemoration Day . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, June 15, by Father Jim Pace, and on Saturday, June 22, by Father Jay Smith.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . The Right Rev. Andrew M.L. Dietsche, Bishop of New York, issued a pastoral letter on May 31 about the murder of Mark Carson on May 18, in which he deplored the fact that it was one of a total of nine violent anti-gay hate crimes that took place in Manhattan during the month of May. You may read the pastoral letter here . . . We hope to receive donations for altar flowers for the Sundays in July and for several Sundays in August. If you would like to make a donation, please contact the parish office . . . The New York Philharmonic’s Concerts in Central Park will take place this year on Saturday, July 13, and Monday, July 15. As in past years, a number of Saint Marians are planning to attend. For more information, you may contact parishioner Grace Bruni . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 197.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . The Solemn Mass this Sunday features works by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958), the giant among English composers of the last century. Vaughan Williams was the son of an Anglican clergyman; his mother was a cousin of naturalist, Charles Darwin, and the influences of science, religion, and the realities of post-war England are all evident in his astounding catalogue of works. The prelude at Mass this morning is his Musette, one of only a few pieces that the composer wrote for the organ; the Prelude on Hyfrydol, played on Sunday at the end of Mass, is from a well-celebrated set of Three Preludes on Welsh Hymn Tunes, published in 1920. At the ministration of communion we hear soprano, Amanda Sidebottom, sing “The Truth Sent from Above,” one of the many folksong discoveries/arrangements that engaged much of Vaughan Williams’s creative life. It’s unfortunate not to include some of Vaughan Williams’s brilliant hymnody in today’s liturgy, but so many of his hymns are date- or event-specific, and we will most certainly enjoy them as they occur during the coming season, beginning with Down Ampney, which will soon be followed by “For All the Saints” (Sine Nomine), for the Feast of All Saints, on Friday, November 1. Mark Peterson
FROM THE COMMUNITY OF SAINT JOHN BAPTIST . . . Next Saturday, June 22, the Community of Saint John Baptist will celebrate its annual Commemoration Day, in anticipation of the Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist the following Monday. On Saturday, June 22, the day’s events will take place at the convent in Mendham, NJ, beginning with the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist at 10:30 AM. The Eucharist will be followed by Greetings and a Luncheon. Bishop Dietsche will be the celebrant at the Eucharist and the preacher will be the Right Rev. Herbert Donovan, retired bishop visitor of the community. RSVP: 973-543-4641 ext.3 or by email.
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Electronic versions of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger’s Guide to Free Food and Assistance are available here . . . We continue to gather non-perishable food items for Saint Clement’s Pantry. Please contact Sister Deborah Francis for more information about the Pantry’s work.
FROM INTEGRITY NYC-METRO . . . “Please join us Sunday, June 30 to represent the Episcopal Church in New York’s annual Pride March. The March, which commemorates the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, is the Episcopal Church’s largest and most visible witness of our inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people to the population of this area. We traditionally have representation from a dozen or more congregations, as well as diocesan groups and members of Integrity, occupying two city blocks as we proceed down Fifth Avenue. Our presence in the march is organized by the LGBT Concerns Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The exact location of our muster location is not announced until a week or so before the event, but it will in all likelihood be in the Flatiron District (near Fifth Avenue and Thirty-third). The time and exact location will be posted here as soon as it is known. We will begin the day with Eucharist at the Church of the Transfiguration, 1 East 29th Street, at 11:00 AM. However we will also offer a Street Eucharist at our muster location, celebrated by the Rev. Cynthia Black, D.D., Rector of the Church of the Redeemer, Morristown, NJ, at approximately 1:00 PM. The march route proceeds down Fifth Avenue to Washington Square, then turns right and crosses the West Village on Christopher Street, ending at Christopher and Hudson. After the March, we will offer Evensong at the Church of Saint Luke in the Fields, 487 Hudson Street, at 6:30 PM.”
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Monday, June 24, The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist, Mass 12:10 PM & Sung Mass 6:00 PM . . . Friday, June 28, The Eve of Saint Peter & Saint Paul, Apostles, Sung Mass 6:00 PM; Saturday, June 29, Saint Peter & Saint Paul, Apostles, Mass 12:10 PM
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . At the Theatre at Saint Clement’s, 423 W. 46th Street (between Ninth and Tenth Avenues), June 5-July 14, 2013, the Peccadillo Theater Company presents The Silver Cord (1926), by Sidney Howard. From the company website, “Alternately hilarious and heart-stopping, Sidney Howard's The Silver Cord (1926) tells the story of the sweetly tyrannical Mrs. Phelps—the ‘mother of all mothers’ and one of the great villains in all of American drama. Pathologically devoted to her two adult sons, Mrs. Phelps is driven to new heights of manipulation and intrigue when her eldest son returns home with his new bride—a modern woman with her own career and, more important, her own ideas about marriage and family. Add the budding romance between the younger son and his unconventional ‘flapper’ girlfriend and you've got the makings of an explosive Freudian melodrama.” Call OvationTix (212-352-3101) to order tickets; tickets may also be purchased online. The play is directed by Dan Wackerman, company artistic director. The managing director of the company is Kevin Kennedy. Dan and Kevin often worship with us on Sunday mornings . . . At the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, Friday, June 21, 5:30 PM: Make Music New York's summer concerts arrive at the Cathedral with an informal harp performance next to the Peace Fountain on Amsterdam Avenue. Following the harpists, Kent Tritle, director of cathedral music, will lead a massed chorus in Fauré's Cantique de Jean Racine and Requiem. No tickets or reservations are needed, and all are welcome to listen or participate . . . Also at the Cathedral: Saturday, June 22, 4:30 AM (note very early time), the Paul Winter Consort presents the eighteenth annual summer-solstice celebration. Tickets may be purchased online.