Sunday, April 30, 2017

Grace United Church and the Grace Ringers, Napanee

 “Do you want to go to church in the morning?” my sister in law, Adell,  asked me last night.  

“Of course, “ I replied then.    I wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic in the morning when Adell woke me.   

Church is the truly ancient Canadian social club..  The tribe always had a war club and a social club. Everyone believed in spirit and blood.  The warriors knew of both in the field  but in the community blood was a matter for women. Warriors were baptized in fire while all children were baptized in church.   Ultimately blood and bread, the war and agriculture of ancient empire became the covenant of Jesus, son of the Yahweh god of the great  agricultural age.  

Jesus was different, a servant king.  Nietzhe called him a peasant god and celebrated instead the Superman.   The baby Jesus,  a different kettle of fish altogether.  

At Grace United Church in Napanee, the minister, Rev. Elaine Kellogg gave a deeply moving  sermon titled, Blessed Brokeness.   She compared the facts of Jesus’s crucifixion supported as it was by the descriptions of 4 gospels to the controversy of the miracle of the resurrection. She laughed, saying, that women, whose word was questioned even then, were the ones who first said Jesus had left the tomb. There were those who said he’d revived and left of his own accord. There were even those who like Doubting Thomas  demanded proof of the resurrected  stranger insisting on inspecting the wounds of crucifixion. A difference of opinion. 

Rev. Elaine Kellog said that while the life and death of Jesus might be fact in the public sense as a public event with witnesses, history and precedents, the resurrection was miraculous and open ultimately to personal experience.  

Somehow she brought home from this that Christianity is not just a temple religion but as much  the personal experience of spirituality and quite frankly the miraculous. 

This wasn't new as Jesus himself had said that thinking of crime was itself criminal. He raised the bar of religious ethic to the behaviour of thought as opposed to only action behaviour.  God was no longer only in the public space but also in the private and secret spaces.  St. Theresa described this as the Inner Castle.  Evelyn Underhill would write at length about it. The God of Christianity was everywhere.  

The congregation, this collection of Christians was very well behaved.  They listened with respect and tolerance.  There were no activists trying to silence Elaine Kellogg despite the radicalness of the message.  A polite and pleasant group indeed.  Some even invited us to join them for coffee later.  They welcomed us as strangers  We’d just learned of the origins of this custom but it went beyond that.  They even offered to share cookies a grandmother had baked. Tempting indeed. 

The Grace Ringers were especially precious.  The meditative have always loved the bells.  Unfortunately a millennial might well associate bells with  Buddhist meditation.  So few today even study Thomas Merton.  They overlook the central role of the bell in Christian church architecture. They associate it merely with the call to worship.  It is much much more.  Here these amazing musicians recreated the most extraordinary sounds of peace and joy .  It was truly  a miraculous mystical performance. I was reminded of the cathedral music of bells I’d heard years before in London.  Here, indoors,  was the intimate and truly heavenly sounds of celestial spheres. 

I love too that we sing in church.  We participate in music together. There are organists and pianists and choirs who practice but then they let us all join in.  We’re an regular amateur garage band on a larger scale participating in the search for harmony. Not Selah or Pentonix but slouching in that direction.  

I even love that we read aloud together.  It’s an odd sort of behaviour for Canadians collectively devolving to the individualism and alienation of digital reductionism,  computer cell phone addiction and other consumer distraction.   

In Christianity we celebrate life, personhood, family and community rather than the isolation, individualism,  alienation and addiction of the mainstream mediocrity.  If  only for an hour we gather to catch a glimpse of the transcendent.  In this church I really was reminded of “My Utmost for His Highest.” 

The service closed with ‘Be Thou My Vision,” a favourite Celtic hymn of mine. It gave me a special sense of  God  as intimate and personal. Of course others love God and God loves others. But he really does love me too.  Suffer little children to come unto me, Jesus said.  That’s the message of belonging.  We are all God’s children.  For the briefest moment I felt special, sunshine.  Blessed in my brokenness, loved despite my arrogance, I knew Grace.

Then minister, closing the service,  sent us off back into the world. 

Adell drove us back to Hay Bay and we chatted together about our very positive experience of the church.  The water was high in the bay and the winds were churning up the waves .The dogs were certainly excited to have us return. The flowers my brother had planted last fall were in radiant bloom.  

I believe in the miracle of resurrection.  I know that I only see the surface of things here. 

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