THE SACRAMENTS & HOLY BAPTISM

THE SACRAMENTS

What are the sacraments?
Three pairs of handknit socks and an old toothbrush.

What is grace?
A cold kitchen smelling of turnips.

What are the two great sacraments of the Gospel?
The prickle of skin on the neck and winter lightning with hail the size of hibiscus blossoms.

 

HOLY BAPTISM

What is Holy Baptism?
Incomplete collections of stickers of the States, English coins from the 1950’s, varieties of organic dried fruit, baby bonnets from dusty Italian shops.

What is the outward and visible sign in Baptism?
Perhaps the woman on the Cosmopolitan cover.

What is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism?
Gravity, that curvature of spacetime, which is like love, the only thing that keeps us from being pulled apart by forces no one yet has named, for which there is no adequate equation.

What is required of us at Baptism?
To fit into a new skin without edges or protuberances, one that looks good in any circumstance, however alarming it may be.

Why then are infants baptized?
So that they can write anonymous letters to small children, elderly widows, or members of the House of Representatives on that strange Japanese notepaper designed for adolescent girls who do not read English.

How are the promises for infants made a carried out?
By the popping of white berries that grow by the sidewalk in front of the house belonging to the old lady with hair that smells of mothballs.

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PRAYER AND WORSHIP


What is prayer?
The OneThing, stark, without edges, holding all things equal within its limitless infinite arc.

What is Christian prayer?
Two women in filthy pants, high boots, two tired women, up all night with lambs.

What prayer did Christ teach us?
A solemn dance to some obscure string quartet while strewing cherries and golden popple leaves.

What are the principal kinds of prayer?
The little V of concern marked for years now on my mother’s forehead, the birder’s squint around Bea’s eyes, my sister’s endlessly surprised eyebrows.

What is adoration?
Ritual, candles, scented air, good things to eat and drink, only with everyone on a tricycle.

Why do we praise God?
Maybe for red underwear, or air the shape of a body sliding across our skin.

For what do we offer thanksgiving?
A message on the answering machine explaining that your daughter has run away with a poet and will not be home for dinner, or ever again. That pain in your hips that awakens you at 4 am. and you can’t find a comfortable position and while you’re twisting there, wakeful, all the cats come and lick your face and knead whatever part of you is trying to be still. A brown paper bag filled with false moustaches.

What is penitence?
The kind of spring morning when you wake up knowing you’ll have lots of energy and get everything done and then you step out of bed onto a fresh hairball the cat coughed up while you were having a romantic dream of William Shatner or possibly Lucille Ball.

What is prayer of oblation?
Stones so old the glacier couldn’t have brought them.   Stones older than the moon.

What are intercession and petition?
Intercession is walking toward a shadow.  Petition is a glorious vulture,  preening its glossy feathers with a red bill tipped with white.

What is corporate worship?
One hot breath that breaks down the fine ferns and fiery plates of frost.

 From the Dada Catechism

NOT LIKE A DOVE

Come Holy Spirit, come
like a red eft creeping out
from under wet leaves,
crossing the travelled highway
at night after rain.
Come like the brown anole comes north
unexpected in bananas or limes;
like a gecko hunting roaches on a wall.
Come like chameleon;
like iguana still as deep green death
flittering a cloven tongue.
Come like Komodo parting the ways
with your stinking breath.  Come
clear the carrion from this isle.
Come Holy Spirit
come like the Dragon remembered of old
rattling and clanking on golden wings.
Seize our treasures  for your twinkling hoard.
Burn away all that will burn.

published in:

The Other Side, Spring, 2003
Behold:  Arts for the Church Year, Lent Easter 2006
And most recently in a book called at the Still Point, A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time, compiled by Sarah Arthur, Paraclete Press, 2011

JUDGEMENT DAY

When the angel with the flaming sword asks:
What have you done that is good?
What have you done that will last?
This is the answer I will give:

I walked long with my husband
on wild uphill footpaths
remembering the names of flowers.

I gave thanks on a cold blue morning
while the new-raised sun
spread my shadow
along the unmarked snow.

I kept rosemary in a white pot
in my kitchen window.

I held my sister’s hand ten days before she died
and we watched the sky turn orange one more time
and listened to a meadowlark
and did not need to speak.

I played the piano for an old man in a nursing-home:
“when the roll is called up yonder,” and he sang.

I counted shooting-stars with my son
one summer midnight
and felt the skin of dew-covered grass
pulling us in safe.

The day before a February storm,
I took in a thin silver stray cat
with eyes the color of green olives.

I sat most of an afternoon in the sun
with my old dog, and later we rolled in leaves.

I trust that these will suffice.

Published in The Witness, December 1998

THE MINISTRY

Who are the ministers of the Church?
Thin green fish, transparent but for their dull black eyes, who swim their lives away between the tentacles of a giant squid.  A willing ballerina with a broken shoe.  A group of angry citizens bearing signs protesting the right of witches to sing canticles after dark

What is the ministry of the laity?
Not to go on pilgrimages.  Their bodies will do it for them—they are traveling all the time.

What is the ministry of a bishop?
To stare at a wall until it grows eyes and stares back, or at least until the cat intervenes.

What is the ministry of a priest or presbyter?
Not to be introspective.  Introspection makes no sense.  It’s boring and tedious.  No more can be mined from that bony hollow.

What is the ministry of a deacon?
To cut toenails in such a fashion that the new growth is quite flexible, almost like a kind of prehensile appendage.

What is the duty of all Christians?
To carve totem poles, build cathedrals, cross the Pole by air.

THE CHURCH

What is the Church?
Red stones made from the bodies of roadkilled red efts.

How is the Church described in the Bible?
As a little bachelorette in a red boa with a banana saying “This is like, totally embarrassing.”

How is the Church described in the Creeds?
The Rock of Salvation Refuge Temple Apostolic Church.

Why is the Church described as one?
Because it is a chorus of small children in their Sunday Best earnestly singing a Hungarian folksong to an audience of uncles, grandmothers, symphony orchestra clarinetists, and working cowgirls from Montana.

Why is the Church described as holy?
Because of an early cold morning Christmassy feeling, coziness of house and the warmth of candle and coffee.

Why is the Church described as catholic?
Because it proclaims gullies made by glacial water, a cluster of hickory nuts, like jingle bells.

Why is the Church described as apostolic?
Because it is like ducks brooding the eggs of swans.  Because the silver apples of the moon are real.

What is the mission of the Church?
To wriggle out of their grasp, to give the handkerchief away, to drop the bracelet in a pond.

How does the church pursue its mission?
Like a poet on hold.

Through whom does the church carry out its mission?
Through a woman in a cave, with fire and food.  Through bears.

THE HOLY SCRIPTURES

What are the Holy Scriptures?
A dragon holding us.  Just outside our skin she surrounds, her scales hover:  the body of Earth within her.  The underside of her skin today is blue.

What is the Old Testament?
A trochee rhythm with refrain.

What is the New Testament?
The bow in the sky.  The key.  A singularity.  All the power faded into light.

What is the Apocrypha?
Nebulizers, crayons, O2 tubing, forearm splints, ace wraps, butterfly wraps.

Why do we call the Holy Scriptures the Word of God?
Because we need a new umbrella.

How do we understand the meaning of the Bible?
As a house with windows like cats’ eyes.