Monday, August 31, 2015

Always and Never

Proper 18    The Sunday closest to September 7
Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as
you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength,
so you never forsake those who make their boast of your
mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit,, one God, now and for ever.

A memory of our Harrisburg years is the time we hosted the Reverend Canon Bryan Green on a preaching mission (our term in Anglicanism is “preaching mission” instead of “revival”). The year was 1980, which as usual I remember because of the car I was driving, and during that week old Navy friends Gary and Jeri Hahn, who had been our neighbors in Japan in the early 1960s, stopped to see us in Harrisburg. I had been retired from the Navy a little over two years, and Gary also was retired. 

My recollection, which may be lacking, is that over his three or four day visit, Bryan Green preached first at St. Stephen’s Cathedral downtown, then at All Saints Episcopal Church, Hershey, and Sunday at our parish, Mount Calvary, Camp Hill. His preaching theme was “speck on a speck,” which I may remember so vividly because we went to every session at all three churches, and Bryan was such a forceful speaker, or because it so resonated with my years of obsession with astronomy, my nose in books and an eye to the eyepiece of the beloved telescope that earlier this year I gave to the Junior Museum. Starting in Cove School, my interest in astronomy seems to have triggered when we lived on top of a high ridge looking down upon a quaint Yokohama neighborhood, out across Tokyo Bay in one direction and at Mount Fuji in another, and up at a crystal clear sky of stars by night.

Bryan Green (1901-1993) had a bright life as a parish priest and evangelist of the Church of England. We were blessed and privileged to hear him, and to get to know him a bit when he came to our Pennsylvania parish. I remember during our parish reception for him, colluding with our choir director Dianne Morningstar for her to break resoundingly into “Hail Britannia” on the piano and watching Bryan’s delighted beaming smile. Just the age then that I am now, Bryan was as retired then as I am now from parish ministry, but still a dynamic voice in the Church, both in England and here in America.

Clearly based on strong faith, his preaching was fervent and persuasive, even to me. With my mind somewhere out in the open spaces of the universe, I loved his title and view that “God loves you, even you, just as you are, the way you are” he phrased it, “speck on a speck,” as in his preaching he carried us far out into the heavens to look down. Canon Green's visit, and the Hahns stopping to see us, must have been in the spring before I started seminary at Gettysburg Lutheran on my 45th birthday that September 1980. For some reason that I’ve never bothered working on, that age of my life and Canon Green’s “proclamation” as he called it, come to mind this week every year when our Collect comes round for the Sunday closest to September 7. Proper 18, the “always and never collect” my mind calls it. Always and Never are caution words that I try always to avoid and never to use. Because of them, the collect seems to carry an element of certainty beyond the confidence of faith, at least of my faith and doubt as I look back on life’s experience and out beyond the waning moon this before dawn hour and on into the blackness of space beyond space. How could Pantokrator possibly care for me, speck on a speck, just as I am, the way I am. It’s incomprehensible. Incredible. And remember, “just because I believe it, even believe it fervently with every fiber of my being, that don’t make it so.”  

That spring, Canon Green came to Harrisburg with a set proclamation, which those of us who went to every session heard him preach three or four times. True to his evangelical nature and message, he concluded each sermon asking the crowd to stand and sing “Just as I am, without one plea.” 

In the expanse of the universe, the Milky Way is so minor, and our solar system so tiny, earth just a speck, and me a handful of dirt, spit on to make mud, breathed into to give life. Dust, to dust returning. I just don’t know. 

Just as I am, though tossed about 
with many a conflict, many a doubt, 
fightings and fears within, without, 
O Lamb of God, I come, I come. 


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