A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, August 21, 2020

More Hmms Than Ahas: The Sacred Seeps into Our Souls


by Rev. Tom Snyder, Pastor Emeritus and Visitation Pastor, First and Christ United Methodist Churches, Ashland, Ohio.


So reorganizing bookshelves and sifting through books continues (at a snail's pace-- I do have to examine each one!). In looking through the volumes I find related articles clipped and saved, reviews, notes written in flyleaves, and related titles added to bibliographies. Passing on some poetry books to our English teacher son, Peter, I found a handwritten quote I saved from a book I read in 1998. 

The following quote is by author and poet. Katherine Mosby:

Enlightenment, perhaps, is not found in a blinding bolt of lightning, but rather in a tiny series of illuminations, none of which is newsworthy, but all of which combine to lift the heart and widen the aperture through which we allow ourselves to view the infinite.

This is from the introduction to a volume she titled, The Book of Uncommon Prayer. Mosby's poem/prayers are modeled on the Book of Hours, a devotional book from the late Middle Ages based on the monastic canonical hours, eight appointed times of prayer throughout the day. It is probably no coincidence that this gifted writer uses the term "illumination" to describe how spiritual enlightenment comes incrementally. Medieval Books of Hours were frequently illustrated, and this art form is called "illumination". Pictured above is a page from a 15th century French breviary created by an artist known only as Boucicaut Master, now in the Cleveland Museum of Art. The lettering is by hand; the decorations exquisite. Surrounded by fanciful vines, birds, and tiny animals, the vividly-colored medallion portrays "The Visitation", Mary's revealing visit to Elizabeth. The image is delicate, tender, maternal; understating that these chosen women embody salvation, one bearing the Christ, the other his herald. Such images lift our hearts and widen our apertures to view the infinite. 

Mosby's quote moves me because it reminds me that in a culture where the loud, the blatant, the spectacular, and the epic make appeals to nearly every facet of life, our spiritual life does not depend on bombast and light show, but on these tiny series of illuminations, not even newsworthy, that connect us to one another, to the creation we inhabit, and to eternity. 

The hymn text "Spirit of God, Descend Upon my Heart", (Kitty’s favorite hymn), captures this in the second verse: "I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,/ no sudden rending of the veil of clay,/ no angel visitant, no opening skies;/ but take the dimness of my soul away"-- maybe in a series of tiny illuminations. 

We like to watch British mysteries; we call it our "Brit fix". Our current series is "Jonathan Creek". The sleuth named in the title is a quirky, nerdy (there must be a British equivalent for this term…) guy who invents imaginative tricks for a professional magician. Called upon for his additional skills at detection, we can tell when Jonathan is on to something moving toward the solution: he simply murmurs, "Hmmm…", no "Aha!", just, "Hmmm." While not entirely dismissing "aha moments", including holy ones, my hunch is that for most of us seekers, there are more "hmms" than "ahas, that the sacred seeps into our souls through the tiny illuminations and ordinary experiences that slowly and steadily, like water dripping on stone, shape us, change us, deepen us, allow us to see the infinite, the Divine.

We all know the Gospel hymn which crafts this reality into prayer: "Open my eyes that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me; place in my hand the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free. Silently now I wait for thee, ready my God thy will to see. Open my eyes, ears, heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!"

Faithfully, in love, Pastor Tom+                

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