Reflections to start the week
Monday, November 25, 2013
A gallant faith
In this week dedicated to an attitude of gratitude, I’ve been thinking about the word eucharist, which in the Greek means thanksgiving. I recalled the different contexts in which I’ve presided at services of Holy Eucharist. Sometimes only a few folks, two or three gathered in Christ’s name. Sometimes hundreds. Some informal, others not so much. One liturgy that meant a lot to me, one for which I am deeply grateful, was a service I often led years ago at a nursing home, held on Wednesday afternoons. We met in a small activity room, not a chapel. Neon overhead lights. No candles. Well worn xeroxed orders of service. Bingo or bridge going on in the next room. Standard hymns we thought were widely known. “Amazing Grace” sung every time we met, though mostly it was an a cappella solo by the officiant (me) which was probably not the most edifying offering for those present. There were readings from scripture, which always included Psalm 23. And a brilliant homily, though I was never sure how my deep theological insights were received in this congregation where many battled dementia, and where others slept through the service. Snoring was not uncommon.
Here’s what stands out for me about that service: We always concluded with a prayer, printed in those dog-eared leaflets, which years later I found in the Book of Common Prayer. It goes like this:
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.
I’ve said the prayer in other contexts, but in that setting, it really got to me. With most of the congregation either in wheelchairs or wheeled into the worship space on hospital beds, the call to faithfulness and gratitude in all of life’s circumstances was powerful and poignant. I found myself particularly focused on the phrase about being gallant in doing nothing. I was younger then, with little pastoral connection to folks nearing the end of life. I came to appreciate, to admire, to marvel at the courage of these worshippers. Many seemed to contend with some form of confinement. I sometimes thought of it as imprisonment. Most of my ministry up to that point had been with children and youth, invincible, immortal, mobile, lively. These older congregants, even those who could not speak, who could not remember me from one day to the next, became my teachers about living gallantly. When we prayed to be given the spirit of Jesus, I carried that aspiration with me from that place, into the world, at least for a little while. Isn’t that what worship is supposed to do?
This week, beginning with this day, November 25, 2013, is a gift you have been given. It will not be given again. How will you use it, this one time opportunity? You don’t know what it will bring. Neither do I. All we can do is to ask to be made ready for the day. Whether today we stand, sit, lie low, or do nothing, we ask to be brave, to savor the quiet, to exhibit patience, to do all of it gallantly. What would it mean to be a gallant Christian today? To live in the spirit of Jesus? To do so with grateful hearts, which would be a wonderful way to observe Thanksgiving.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.