First night in Verona. I dreamed Bishop Katharine was ordaining me or installing me – some sort of clergy initiation rite – in Nevada, though I had been serving there already for all these years. It felt like a fresh beginning. I introduced the offertory with some of my usual explanation but added this: when the alms, bread, and wine are brought together from the congregation to the altar, it extends a lifeline from our hearts to God, a lifeline by which God draws us into Godself.
It is true: “Praying shapes believing.” The way we worship shapes our view of reality, our spiritual experience, and eventually our behavior. So it is not just nit-picking to say it really is a problem that most of our congregations perform the offertory wrongly. The point I was trying to make is the heart of what I fear the Church is misunderstanding about who we are and our path to wholeness and authenticity.
When we have the elements already inside the sanctuary or when we surreptitiously slip them up for the setting of the table while the offering is collected, it suggests the priests are in possession of God who will be dispensed at the altar rail to sustain the needy for another week. But when the offering is performed as the rubrics prescribe, it signifies that we give ourselves to God for transformation, and the grace we receive is not merely a sustaining but also a transforming grace, that the movement of grace is a gift exchange that extends out into the world. The effect of ritual is subtle, slow, almost subliminal. It takes years and years to shape the soul. But I do wish we were doing a better job of shaping souls for dynamic interaction with God instead of passive dependency on sustenance doled out by clerical hands. Do not worry Nevadans; I will not attempt to force this change. I only dream of it – literally -- for it for all our sakes.
The first day in Verona, I spent mostly reading in cafes. I was prepping for my upcoming Church & Society class for our postulants. It was a slow moving lovely day, followed by a reception with law school folks and dinner with good friends who told me about more new books I need to read.
The second night in Verona, I dreamed Linda and I were changing planes in Houston. As we were getting on the plane, I realized I had lost my computer somewhere in the airport. I had to get off the plane and go looking for it. This reminds me of the last time I flew into Houston. My computer had died and was then lost by the Geek Squad in the course of repairing it. But to be a bit more psychological, I wonder if there is something I’ve lost that I need to go back and reclaim for use in what lies ahead. I wonder if trying to move ahead is impossible until I have gone back for something. What might that be?
Our second day in Verona, we toured the Arena where they used to pit gladiators against each other in the good old days. Today they were setting up for an Adele concert followed by the summer opera season. We then took in the museum in Castel Vecchio, a huge castle with lots of wonderful late medieval and Renaissance art, almost all on sacred themes. On thing that struck us was the feminine representations of Jesus, reflecting the “Mother Christ” theme we read about in Julian of Norwich. One could have spent a few hours on any of the statues or paintings. These artists truly had a gospel to proclaim, and it wasn’t simplistic happy-clappy feel good stuff. It was about the love of God running in the deep currents of human life where love and sorrow flow together, often intermingled.