From the Rector #58

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

The middle of the summer always seems like a good time to contemplate a poem from Wendell Berry, who is not only a lyrical wordsmith but also a novelist, cultural critic, and a Kentucky farmer. From The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, here is his poem “The Vacation,” which is a good reminder to be present not only during times of refreshment but also in our day to day life:

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #57

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew includes one of the “Comfortable Words” in traditional Anglican liturgy about finding rest in Jesus, whose “yoke is easy, and . . . burden is light.” The next time you find yourself passing Christ the King Lutheran Church on Greenbriar Drive, notice that you can see part of that familiar quote on their wall. In his book Wishful Thinking (and later in Beyond Words), writer and theologian Frederick Buechner reflected on the rest that Jesus offers us:

In a sense we are all hungry and in need, but most of us don’t recognize it. With plenty to eat in the deep freeze, with a roof over our heads and a car in the garage, we assume that the empty feeling inside must be just a case of the blues that can be cured by a Florida vacation, a new TV, an extra drink before supper.

The poor, on the other hand, are under no such delusion. When Jesus says, “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28), the poor stand a better chance than most of knowing what he’s talking about and knowing that he’s talking to them. In desperation they may even be willing to consider the possibility of accepting his offer. This is perhaps why Jesus on several occasions called them peculiarly blessed.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #56

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Frederick Buechner is an American writer and theologian. Here’s a quote from his book Wishful Thinking (and later in Beyond Words) that you can ponder today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow:

To make suggests making something out of something else the way a carpenter makes wooden boxes out of wood. To create suggests making something out of nothing the way an artist makes paintings or poems. It is true that artists, like carpenters, have to use something else—paint, words—but the beauty or meaning they make is different from the material they make it out of. To create is to make something essentially new.

When God created the creation, God made something where before there had been nothing, and as the author of the book of Job puts it, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (38:7) at the sheer and shimmering novelty of the thing. “New every morning is the love / Our wakening and uprising prove” says the hymn. Using the same old materials of earth, air, fire, and water, every twenty-four hours God creates something new out of them. If you think you’re seeing the same show all over again seven times a week, you’re crazy. Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again. And the you that wakes up was never the same before and will never be the same again either.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #55

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Earlier this week, I read a short devotional that was written by Mary Zahl and posted on Mockingbird. It’s about pain, and the doubts that sometimes invade the psyches of Christians when pain arrives on our doorstep. I was particularly struck by the observation at the end about the difference between hope that is given rather than hope that is grasped. The only one who is truly holding on tightly and securely is Jesus, of course, and the one being held and loved is each of us in his arms:

Again and again, I have been struck by Christians using the language of faith to ward off the presence of pain. It’s understandable—pain is painful. All of us want to avoid it as much as possible, and when we can’t avoid it, we try what we can to minimize its side effects. As Christians, we get nervous admitting the depth of our pain, because what if it is a sign of a lack of trust in the goodness of God, a lack of faith? . . .

When pain is denied or kept at bay, the sufferer misses out on the opportunity that comes with facing pain honestly, which is feeling the weight and powerlessness of it. Counterintuitively, the experience of going into the pain generally brings out compassion, peace, and even joy on the other side.

Like the day we call Good Friday, our deaths (no matter how small) can be transformed—resurrected—such that we might even call them good. Conversely, when we hold onto words of “Christian hope” almost as if they were magic, we miss out on the joy and hope that come when the resurrection power is given rather than grasped.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #54

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

As we enter the rhythms of summer, here’s a prayer entitled “Occupy our calendars” from the book Awed to Heaven, Rooted to Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann:

Our times are in your hands:
But we count our times for us;
we count our days and fill them with us;
we count our weeks and fill them with our busyness;
we count our years and fill them with our fears.
And then caught up short with your claim,
Our times are in your hands!
Take our times, times of love and times of weariness,
Take them all, bless them and break them,
give them to us again,
slow paced and eager,
fixed in your readiness for neighbor.
Occupy our calendars,
Flood us with itsy-bitsy, daily kairoi, [i.e., God moments]
in the name of your fleshed kairos. [i.e., Jesus, the incarnation of God’s time] Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #53

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Today is the Day of Pentecost — a joyful feast that concludes the season of Easter as we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is the gift of God’s own presence with his people and throughout every corner of his creation. It’s like the wind, which one can feel but not see. It’s also like fire, which Episcopalian and author Rachel Held Evans describes in Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding Church:

The Spirit is like fire, deceptively polite in its dance atop the wax and wick of our church candles, but wild and mercurial as a storm when unleashed. Fire holds no single shape, no single form. It can roar through a forest or fulminate in a cannon. It can glow in hot coals or flit about in embers. But it cannot be held. The living know it indirectly—through heat, through light, through tendrils of smoke snaking through the sky, through the scent of burning wood, through the itch of ash in the eye. Fire consumes. It creates in its destroying and destroys in its creating. The furnace that smelts the ore drives off slag, and the flame that refines the metal purifies the gold. The fire that torches a centuries-old tree can crack open her cones and spill out their seeds. When God led his people through the wilderness, the Spirit blazed in a fire that rested over the tabernacle each night. And when God made the church, the Spirit blazed in little fires that rested over his people’s heads. “Quench not the Spirit,” the apostle wrote. It is as necessary and as dangerous as fire, so stay alert . . .

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #52

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Today is first and foremost the Lord’s Day in this glorious season of Easter. It is also Mother’s Day in the United States. For those in search of words to honor and address both of those realities, I offer the following prayer that I’ve adapted and greatly expanded from the Church of England:

Loving God,

This morning we thank you for mothers and children, for those who’ve been like mothers for us through the years, and for joyful moments, past and present, of life together at home.

Be with those who are grieving because they have no mother whom they can turn to because of death, disease, or estrangement. Be close to those who are struggling because they have no children to embrace because of infertility, tragedies, or broken relationships. Be near to us in every act of love that is shared within this church, fulfilling our promise to support baptized children in their life in Christ.

Help us as a community to nurture all the saints, young and old, with eyes to see and ears to hear their needs and hopes and dreams. And remind us of how you have been like a mother to your people in every generation, including ours: “. . . it was it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”

Stoop down to us, O Lord, today and always. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #51

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Each year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, a portion of the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John is read in our liturgies.  Those words refer to Jesus as the good shepherd and to us as the sheep whom he protects. And the twenty-third psalm is always heard on this day, which is often referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday.

For me, these familiar themes bring to mind the words of a favorite German chorale in the Moravian Church, which is a paraphrase of the twenty-third psalm:

Jesus makes my heart rejoice,
I’m his sheep, and know his voice;
he’s a Shepherd, kind and gracious,
And his pastures are delicious;
constant love to me he shows,
yea, my very name he knows.

Trusting his mild staff always,
I go in and out in peace;
he will feed me with treasure
of his grace in richest measure;
when athirst to him I cry,
Living water he’ll supply.

Should not I for gladness leap,
led by Jesus as his sheep?
For when these blessed days are over
to the arms of my dear Savior
I shall be conveyed to rest.
Amen, yea, my lot is blessed.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #50

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Today’s guest speaker at the Rector’s Forum at 10:15 a.m. in St. Bede’s Chapel is Mr. Justin Normand from Irving, Texas. Last fall this Presbyterian who wears a cowboy hat and boots and has a fancy white beard stood on a public sidewalk outside the nearest mosque to his home with a sign. He had become increasingly bothered by hate crimes that seemed to be targeting people because of their religious beliefs. So he stood there on the sidewalk with his sign that read:

Author Charles Finch happened to pass by and took a photo of Mr. Normand holding that sign. He posted it on Reddit and Twitter:

The image quickly went viral and spread across social media platforms as most people reacted warmly and emotionally to this small act of love. Mr. Normand later wrote a post on Facebook in which he identified himself as the man who held the “You Belong” sign. He expressed a desire to live in peace with his neighbors, especially his Muslim neighbors. What stood out to me, however, was his clear explanation that he didn’t do this small act of love because he agrees with everything about their religion or to express his outrage at those who were the source of the hatred and prejudice. About those filled with hate, he wrote:

It’s not about them. Not this time, and not here. This was about binding up the wounded. About showing compassion and empathy for the hurting and fearful among us. Or, in some Christian traditions, this was about washing my brother’s feet. This was about my religion, not theirs. . . . My own religious tradition ascribes these words to my deity: I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector

From the Rector #49

Weekly thoughts from the Rector of Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, where these words remind us that Jesus’ peace goes with us into the world.

Peace I Leave with You

Next Sunday, April 9, is Palm Sunday, when we will carry our palm fronds and sing our hosannas, following Jesus Christ and proclaiming him as King of kings. It will also be our first celebration of Palm Sunday as the feast day for Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church. Palmer is not only a family name, which is how this church came into existence, but also has referred historically to someone who had returned from the Holy Land with a palm frond or leaf as an outward sign of having undertaken a pilgrimage. It’s a wonderful metaphor for our life as Christians, and that’s why the image that represents Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church is a cross with a palm frond and why we will reflect on our identity as the people of God on Palm Sunday.

Many of you have seen the photographs down the hallway near the church offices that are snapshots in time of our congregation gathered on Easter Day through the years. We are reviving that tradition this year, assembling for a group photograph not on Easter Day but on Palm Sunday — Palmers together on the feast day that reminds us of who and whose we are. Our congregational photograph will be taken on Palm Sunday, April 9, at 10:15 a.m. on the side lawn between Autry House and Cambridge Street. For those coming to the 9:00 a.m. Choral Eucharist, we will simply process out of the church together during our final hymn and walk there. For those coming to a different liturgy that morning, plan to meet us there at 10:15 a.m. We want as many people as possible to be present for this family portrait, including friends, neighbors, and first-time guests — all God’s children. Hosanna!

— The Rev. Neil Alan Willard, Rector