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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Bread of Life—Giving thanks, always, for everything (B20O)

On to Sunday's readings, the fourth in the "Bread of Life" Sundays. I had a number of thoughts to share about this, but for today, I thought I'd start off with this thought, which I've used in a few workshops over the last dozen years since I came across Bill Bryson's great book of popular science, A Short History of Nearly Everything. To get into this a little bit, here is what St. Paul says in the passage we hear in the second reading Sunday from the end of the letter to the Ephesians:

...Be filled with the Spirit,

addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,

singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts,

giving thanks always and for everything.

Words like that make us pastoral musicians smile, of course, and affirms us in our ministry week after week. But in the context of these Sundays on which we hear proclaimed the words from John 6, which, from our historical vantage point, we associate with the Eucharist, the call to "give thanks" (in Greek, eucharistountes) is particularly poignant and ripe with meaning. The singing at Mass these mornings has been wonderful, even when I'm trying to introduce some new mass parts! Some days, it just seems to lift me up more than usual. These Sundays are like that.

So, I was giving thanks this morning for the last two weeks of my life as I was going over the couple of hundred pictures I took at MMA and on vacation with Terry's sisters in Keystone, CO. Meeting new friends and the youth participants at Music Ministry Alive, seeing old friends and laughing late into the night, being smitten again by Fr. Ray East ("love on legs") and Fr. Alapaki Kim from Hawaii, and Joe Camacho, and Bonnie and Tim and Lori and Kate and Matt and all the other folks who made the long work days not just bearable but blessed and magical. I'm giving thanks for the indescribable beauty of Colorado and the gift of being with the fabulous Donohoo sisters (most of them) and their families for a week, the "serenity of the clear blue mountain lake," the night sky crammed breathtakingly full of stars, the smell of the pines, the rush of the wind in the pines and aspens—it was all too much, over and over again. Then to come home to my beautiful parish, and the choir, and the young people who sing in the evening—it made the transition to reality a little easier!

You have your own list of gratitudes, I'm sure. And yet, that barely begins to scratch the surface of all that you and I have to be thankful for as we gather to break bread in the name of Jesus. The very bread and wine themselves are made from the energy that made the stars, fed by elements whose origin is hidden in prehistory and dust from the Big Bang, "fruit of the vine, work of human hands," sown, harvested, transported, ground, mixed, baked, packaged, transported again, and sold by human endeavor, all for the benefit of our blessing. And in a sense, when we gather at the Eucharist, this is bread's Big Moment, it is wine's Time to Shine. It's actually here, in the new creation that is the Eucharist, that bread and wine really become what they were created for. Now, at last, bread can really give life, can really nourish the whole person, body and soul, in time and for eternity. Now, finally, wine can warm the whole person, give gladness, health, and well-being to the whole body, mind, heart, and spirit. Both give themselves into the hands of Christ, who makes it possible for all humanity to come to a new awareness of itself as an organism that lives both in time and in kairos, not a collection of individuals adrift in a heartless cosmos, but part of a body whose life is the breath of God.

Now, that's not what Bill Bryson has to say, but he sure gets you thinking that way. This is from the first chapter of his book, and I offer it to you in the hope that you might enjoy it and be drawn to buy his book, or get it from your library, and gain a new or deeper appreciation of the universe that God has made, in one way or another. When we begin to realize the length of the hazardous journey that DNA has made to get to this day, and to the individuation that makes you you and me me, it's cause for a new kind of thanksgiving, and in a way, a kind of thanksgiving to which only science can give us a real entrèe.

For today, I'll leave you with the text. At the end of this blog, you'll see a link to the book on Amazon if you're interested in reading more. For now, enjoy this beautiful summer day.

I’m delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn’t easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.

To begin with, for you to be here now, trillions of drifting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and intriguingly obliging manner to create you. It’s an arrangement so specialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once. 

To be here now, alive in the 21st century and smart enough to know it, you also had to be the beneficiary of an extraordinary string of biological good fortune. Survival on earth is a surprisingly tricky business. Of the billions and billions of species of living things that have existed since the dawn of time, most, 99.99 percent—are no longer around. Life on earth, you see, is not only brief, but dismayingly tenuous. It is a curious feature of our existence that we come from a planet that is very good at promoting life but even better at extinguishing it.

The average species on Earth lasts for only about 4 million years, so if you wish to be around for billions of years, you must be as fickle as the atoms that made you. You must be prepared to changed everything about yourself—shape, size, color, species affiliation, everything—and to do so repeatedly…To get from “protoplasmal primordial atomic globule” (as the Gilbert and Sullivan song put it) to sentient upright modern human has required you to mutate new traits over and over….So at various periods over the last 3.8 billion years you have abhorred oxygen and then doted on it, grown fins and limbs and jaunty sails, laid eggs, flicked the air with a forked tongue, been sleek, been furry, lived underground and lived in trees, been as big as a deer and as small as a mouse, and a million things more. The tiniest deviation from any of these evolutionary shifts and you might now be licking algae from cave walls, or lolling walruslike on some stony shore or disgorging air through a blowhole in the top of your head before diving sixty feet for a mouthful of delicious sandworms.

You have (also) been extremely – make that miraculously—fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from it’s life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result—eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly—in you.

From A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson. Copyright © 2003, Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc. 

Here's what we're singing Sunday at St. Anne:

GATHERING:   Look Beyond
RESP. PSALM:   Taste and See (Kendzia)
KID PSALM: O Taste and See (Haugen)
PREP RITE:   Blest Are You (Haugen)
FRACTION:   St Aidan (A)
COMMUNION:   I Myself Am the Bread of Life
SENDING FORTH:   Table of the World (Nettleton/Alonso)

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