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Reflections

The following are occasional reflections of St. Ann’s clergy or special visitors to our parish.

A Full Heart
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, April 5, 2018

My heart is full after a magnificent sabbatical send off! It was a blessing to be with so many of you and to be presented with your original prayers, a sturdy walking stick, an exquisite compass and – something no pilgrim can be without – flip flops, for my journey.

The reflections I offered following the presentations were insufficient to convey all that I was feeling. I am sure I will come up short again here, but I must thank those who were involved in planning a great party, those who cooked and baked the wonderful food that was served, and those who moved things along throughout the evening. I especially want to thank Mo. Kate Salisbury who surely organized the most thoughtful activities, from the prayers, to the labyrinth walk and slide show. Fr. Craig, the wardens, members of the staff, and all of you – even those who were only able to be there in spirit – also played a part in making the occasion and this moment of transition truly holy.

As I make my way, I want you to know that the privilege of having a sabbatical to look forward to is not lost on me and is nothing I take for granted. I recognize this opportunity for an extended rest, time away from work responsibilities and for spiritual refreshment that is built into my agreement is a rare gift and generally unheard of in most professional arenas beyond the Church.

My heart will remain full with gratitude for you and I will hold you in prayer every step of the way throughout my travels in Italy, Spain, England and France. From across the miles, we will continue to be fellow pilgrims journeying with God.

(Please note: One can keep up with Fr. Denaro’s trip on Instagram @pilgrimjohnny2018.)

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Walk Where Jesus Walked
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, March 30, 2018

A tour organizer promoting a Holy Land pilgrimage sent me an information packet and a sample promotional announcement that includes this pitch: “Walk Where Jesus Walked.” I pray that the liturgies of Holy Week at St. Ann’s are a means for you to make a holy journey with Jesus along the way of his passion, while right here in Brooklyn. If it is the more affordable option, it’s a costly spiritual challenge nonetheless. It’s also the one sure road to a blessed Easter.

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Leaving Nothing Out
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, March 22, 2018

Suppose we did our work
like the snow, quietly, quietly.
leaving nothing out.

Wendell Berry from his collection Leavings

This Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. We move from Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to his crucifixion on Good Friday. In Christ, God leaves no aspect of human experience untouched. Grace leaves nothing unrestored. In Holy Week, we summon the patience to walk with God through elation, suffering, and the quiet of death to witness resurrection.

You are invited to join us in church in ancient services particular to this week designed to leave nothing, and no one, beyond the reach of redemption.

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Children of God Together
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, March 16, 2018

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the falling together, and a little child will lead them. Isaiah 11:6

As teenagers across the country walked out of schools yesterday to protest gun violence, this passage kept entering my mind. We Christians take the passage as a pre-figuring of Christ, but maybe we need to let a more generic meaning hold for it these days. Yes, it describes a utopia, a perfect world that we all know in our grownup minds cannot be achieved in the real world – and so yes, we Christians see this as a vision of the perfection of heaven that only God can bring about, and that we believe Jesus as child and man and risen Lord is leading us toward. That’s all good.

But maybe the “peaceable kingdom,” as the world this passage describes has come to be known, will be brought a little bit closer to reality if we adults stop talking, stop managing, stop enumerating obstacles, stop rationalizing, and just let the children – little ones, teenagers, all the ages that keep getting shot at and killed – lead us. After all, they are the ones who have grown up in this world we made: a world where lockdown drills and actual shootings are just part of how school works. They are the ones who seem to understand that only when we cling to our bone-deep connections as human beings – as children of God together, as we Christians put it – will we find any kind of peace at all.
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Spring Ahead and Be Still
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, March 9, 2018

I have never really minded losing an hour of sleep at the start of Daylight Saving Time. This year, however, time seems to be racing, as my long-awaited sabbatical approaches. (I will be away from April 8 to July 8.) I suddenly find myself resenting the idea of being denied a single minute to get things in order! I finally had to admit to myself that I no longer imagine getting everything done before I go – but I nonetheless will go!

The illusion of time challenges us all, whether we are enduring a prolonged personal trial or enjoying an experience we wish would never end.

We are in the midst of the season that pulls and pushes us emotionally and spiritually in many directions at once. In Lent, we journey over many weeks into the unfolding story of Jesus’ most difficult days with an awareness of the joy of the resurrection just beyond it.

As we reach this midpoint in Lent, we would do well to take stock of where we are in this moment, to be present to the variety of our feelings, and to consider where God is in our experience now. While we can’t help losing an hour of sleep this weekend, we can contemplate the gift of this time.

We can be intentional, that is, in returning to what centers and grounds us while on our earthly pilgrimage. Even as time carries us forward, we can pray on and embrace the divine invitation extended in Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God!”

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Journey to the Center
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, March 2, 2018

Our series “We Are Pilgrims,” which has focused on the tradition of pilgrimage in the bible, Christianity, and many faiths, has been inspiring. In his monthly presentations, Fr. Craig Townsend has reinforced the idea that our spiritual journey is one of pilgrimage with God and how actual pilgrimages made to holy places in various parts of the world come to symbolize the divine path along which we all are invited to walk.

For the presentation on the Way of the Cross of Jesus last Sunday, Fr. Craig teamed up with St. Ann’s parishioner Jacqueline de Weever who recently returned from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. We were blessed to hear about and see images of the places or stations on the Via Dolorosa along which Jesus is believed to have journeyed to his death on Mt. Calvary. This path is one that pilgrims have been traveling for centuries.

In her book, Pilgrimage—The Sacred Art: Journey to the Center of the Heart, the Rev. Dr. Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook explains that in the Middle Ages Christians vowed to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to walk in the steps of Jesus. But because it was impossible for many in the West to travel this distance, the ancient practice of walking the path of a labyrinth was adopted by churches, where labyrinths were installed in the floors, including in several major cathedrals in Europe.

While there is great mystery about how and where the tradition of the labyrinth’s use began, Dr. Kujawa-Holbrook asserts that the ancients walked them “for spiritual insight, prayer, protection, healing, and pilgrimage to the center.” And she adds, “[As] Christians began to reinterpret this tradition for themselves, the purpose of the labyrinth became a symbol of the soul on a journey toward God. Walking the labyrinth was thus a pilgrimage along the one true path to eternal salvation.”

Within a few centuries, the labyrinth became a controversial symbol and fell out of use, until the last century or so when it has regained popularity in Christian churches and in the wider culture.

As part of our exploration of pilgrimage, and in anticipation of my forthcoming sabbatical, which has a pilgrimage theme, we have acquired our very own labyrinth for St. Ann’s. If you are in church this Sunday, you will be offered a preview of it and invited to use it between our two morning services and after the 11:15 am Holy Eucharist.

Through the remaining weeks of Lent and Holy Week, and as often as we can make it available for use at St. Ann’s, may our new labyrinth become a spiritual tool to enrich and enliven our walk with God.

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Take Up Your Cross
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, February 23, 2018

This week’s Gospel records Jesus’ unsettling invitation: Take up your cross and follow me. Even now, the image of the cross is a startling reminder of mortality. For Jesus’ contemporaries, it also would have carried a strong association with Rome.

The Roman Empire had used the cross for generations to intimidate and control its subjects. When Pilate sentenced Jesus to crucifixion for the state crime of sedition, Jesus joined thousands who had been killed to preserve the Roman status quo.

An extraordinary thing happened, in 337 AD, when Constantine, Rome’s first Christian emperor, abolished the practice of crucifixion in honor of Jesus. Sozomen (400-450 AD) wrote that Constantine regarded the cross with “a peculiar reverence” that led him to repurpose this instrument of death into a symbol of redemption.

Lent is a season to follow Constantine’s, and Christ’s, lead: to take up our cross – whatever robs us of life – and transform it into something life giving. To discover that necessary evils are no longer necessary at all.

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Facing Darkness Again
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, February 17, 2018

During his Ash Wednesday sermon entitled, “I Don’t like Lent,” Bishop John McKee Sloan of the Diocese of Alabama announced from the pulpit, “I’m not any good at [Lent] — I don’t enjoy it.” He came around to claiming the importance of the season saying, “During Lent we face the darkness that we caused. We face the separation that we put between us and our Lord. Just as we need sour to understand sweet, I don’t think we can understand light without darkness.”

Bishop Sloan doesn’t reference the tragic school shooting that took place on the afternoon of Ash Wednesday in South Florida. Perhaps he hadn’t yet heard about it. Or perhaps, after hearing about it, he was at a loss to speak to the reality of yet another mass shooting in our country, this time one that left 17 people dead, including adults and teenagers.

Many of us will admit we don’t particularly like or enjoy Lent, but I pray that throughout this season we find ways to confront sin at work in our lives and surrender to God’s will and life-affirming love.

Many of us also will admit we don’t like guns, and so the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, offers us a focus for our spiritual work in Lent. The charge to face the darkness we have caused challenges us to acknowledge our shared responsibility in a system that allows for the proliferation of firearms within society, including those designed for military combat, that surely separates us from God. May we discover a renewed strength and courage in these days – in the name of the dead and their surviving families – to call our elected leaders to account to make us and our fellow Americans safer in our schools, churches and communities by preventing easy access to guns. And may we be peacemakers always.

Tomorrow’s preacher at St. Ann’s, the Rev. Ana Levy-Lyons, Senior Minister of the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn Heights, may help us. Rev. Levy-Lyons has written a book called No Other Gods: The Politics of the Ten Commandments, and I have faith that, in the wake of this week’s school shooting, she will enliven in us a godly response to the commandment, “Thou shall not kill.”

Like it or not, we are called to face the darkness of death as we step into Lent. Blessed are we to be pilgrims on the way of the cross of Jesus that leads to life.

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Black History Month
The Rev. Craig Townsend, Associate for Faith Formation, February 8, 2018

February is Black History Month, a celebration begun as “Negro History Week” in 1926 by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (founded by historian Carter Woodson). President Gerald Ford, during the events of the US Bicentennial in 1976, recognized the expansion of this celebration to a month in some quarters, and it became a national observance. Thus we embark on an annual reminder of the positive contributions of African-Americans to our nation’s history – but also reminders of the past and still ongoing traumas of racial conflict and oppression. I believe this is to call ourselves continually to try to live up to the highest ideals of freedom, equality, and justice on which this nation was founded. To acknowledge the ways we as a nation have traumatic histories that are often buried – not only African-American histories, but Native American, Asian-American, Latin-American, to say nothing of gender and sexuality – is to remind ourselves that this national project will never be complete, and will always require that we keep our eyes on who we want to be as a people.

As Christians, we have a particular perspective on this problem: we are the people who believe that we are all sinners who fall short of the vision God has of us and for us, but that we are nonetheless still loved by that God in Jesus Christ – and that we are therefore always called to live in response to that love, to strive to move beyond our sin, to become the people God created us to be.

Let us then all observe this Black History Month to further our knowledge, to expand our embrace, and to lift one another to see ourselves as flawed but beloved creatures of our God.

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Super Sunday
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, February 2, 2018

Our big Sunday at St. Ann’s will begin long before the first pass of the Super Bowl is thrown. We will have the privilege of welcoming Ravidath Ragbir, the Executive Director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City and our neighbor in Brooklyn Heights, to our church and into the pulpit at the 11:15 am Holy Eucharist. In the weeks since I last wrote about him in my reflection in this e-newsletter, Ravi has received an enormous amount of local and national attention. He is a long-time immigrant rights activist who was recently detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) and now faces deportation. You can read about his situation here.

Though Ravi has been granted many stays to his deportation as his case to vacate a 2001 felony conviction moves through the courts, he has lately become a target of an aggressive campaign by ICE against high profile immigrant advocates. The religious community has rallied around Ravi. As you know, two of our bishops joined an interfaith show of support for him at a rally and prayer walk on the day he was detained. Bishop Lawrence Provenzano will preside at the service. The Very Rev. Michael Sniffen, Dean of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, is expected to attend. There is a great chance many guests, including some politicians, will also join us. This is a unique opportunity for us to extend hospitality to the wider community and an initial pivot toward our coming new status as the Pro-Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. Most significantly, this is our chance to rally around Ravi and all those who are vulnerable in the current anti-immigrant climate in our country.

In addition to all this, our plans to make sandwiches and provide a community meal for our hungry neighbors are still on! And as planned we’ll have in the midst of our gathered community the Saint John’s Bible — a profound and impressive reminder of the gospel call to embody God’s living word. So on this super Sunday, let’s embrace this big chance to walk in love, as Christ loved us, and to be the church in action.

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You Are What You Write
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, January 14, 2018

Scribes were, for centuries, the primary stewards of the Word of God as well as teachers. Once solely responsible for the reproduction of sacred material, scribes in ancient Israel uttered every word they wrote and bathed each time they inscribed the name YHWH. The spirit of a scribe’s work is summarized in Deuteronomy 11:18: You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus travels to Capernaum, where his teaching garners immediate and rapt attention. “He teaches with authority,” people gush, “not like one of the scribes.”

In the medieval era, scribes were rendered practically obsolete by the printing press. Yet even as economic demand for their work diminished, the spiritual value in transcribing sacred texts by hand persisted.

In the two weeks leading up to Lent, St. Ann’s will house a rare edition of the Saint John’s Bible, the first handwritten Bible to be completed in the modern era (see Announcements below). Beginning this Sunday and throughout the season of Lent, we will consider the art of sacred writing and its role in our modern piety. As the saying goes, “you are what you write.”

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Still Dreaming
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, January 19, 2018

In the story of the calling of the first disciples from Mark’s gospel we’ll hear this Sunday, Jesus invites the fisher folk to join him in “fishing for people.” Of course, Jesus does not mean casting a net to snag new recruits. He means meeting people where they are, affirming their worth and their dreams, and inviting them into community with them.

We too are called to the work of discipleship to bring the truth of God’s love to others, often at a cost, as seen in the lengths to which Old Testament prophets to Martin Luther King, Jr. went to help others realize their dreams. We are being called in this very moment to honor and support the fragile dreams of our neighbors.

Last week, two of our bishops and diocesan clergy, including Mo. Kate and I, and many people of goodwill attended a rally and participated in a prayer march, called a Jericho Walk, for Ravi Ragbir, the director of the New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City. Ravi was appearing before Immigration and Custom Enforcement officers for what should have been a routine check-in. Ravi arrived to the U.S. as an immigrant from Trinidad in the mid-1990s. He was a green card holder until he was charged almost 20 years ago with a felony conviction as an accomplice of a non-violent crime. He has been required to appear before immigration authorities since 2006, each time being granted an extension of his stay. His hearing last week ended with Ravi being detained. His lawyers continue to work to prevent his deportation and reunite him with his wife, an American citizen, and his 22-year old U.S.-born daughter from a previous relationship.

The only thing that changed about Ravi’s situation is that he has become a more forceful advocate and defender of vulnerable immigrants.

Ravi wants something that I believe we as faithful disciples can support, which is that he and other immigrants – including those known as DREAMERS – can hold onto their dreams of a better life and live in freedom.

In the name of the God of love, may we be ready to “drop our nets” and stretch beyond our comfort zones to meet people where they are and support them in holding and realizing their noble and sacred dreams.

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Sacred Dreams
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, January 14, 2018

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

From the Address Delivered by The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

This Sunday the Bible offers us its dreamers – those who see in the dark. We read the call of Samuel who hears God say his name in the middle of the night. In the gospel, Jesus recalls Jacob’s dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder.

Dreams are sacred. They may be as close to the Holy Spirit as we come and it is often the role of the prophet to articulate them.

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Winter Sojourn
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, January 4, 2018

T.S. Eliot’s poem The Journey of the Magi begins this way:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.

The heavy snow swirling in the bitter cold wind today, just days before the fast approaching Feast of the Epiphany (January 6), gives this verse a particular poignancy. Eliot’s famous poem is a surprising and at times haunting meditation on the experience of the “wise men from the East” who are led far from home along a difficult path to an encounter with the Christ child. In the third and final stanza of the poem, we learn that years later these sojourners are still puzzling over the impact and meaning of what they witnessed. I encourage you to read (or re-read) this challenging and very moving poem in its entirety.

Throughout the fall, Fr. Craig Townsend invited us to think of our journey of faith as a life-long pilgrimage with God and to find parallels to our own experiences in those of biblical sojourners and generations of spiritual pilgrims.

Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season and ushers in a season of light. As we hear about the magi in Matthew’s gospel on this Epiphany Sunday and pause with them to take in the wonder of God made manifest in humankind, may it inspire more than questions, but hope and new insights for the next phase of our continuing journey and the next chapter of our unfolding story at St. Ann’s.

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Hope Springs
The Rev. John Denaro, Rector, December 22, 2017

Things have turned around just overnight. There will be more minutes of daylight today than there were yesterday, thanks to the arrival of the winter solstice. Hope does truly spring eternal, and very particularly with the arrival of the promised gift of God in the One who comes – and is coming still – to save us and usher in a new era of abiding, enduring peace the world has never needed more.

You are invited to join us for a very full day on Sunday through which we’ll move from expectation to celebration, starting with Advent IV morning services at 9:30 am and 11:15 am, and continuing with the Family Christmas Eve service and pageant at 4:00 pm, picking up again with caroling at 9:00 pm, immediately followed by our Festival Eucharist of the Nativity at 9:30 pm.

O come, o come, one and all!

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Navigating Darkness
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, December 15, 2017

She,
In the dark,
Found light
Brighter than many ever see.

She,
Within herself,
Found loveliness,
Through the soul’s own mastery.
And now the world receives
From her dower:
The message of the strength
Of inner power.

Langston Hughes

This Sunday the Church celebrates “Rose Sunday,” a bright spot in the often penitential season of Advent. Our liturgical color shifts from blue to pink for just this week and we turn our attention to Mary as she bursts into song – the Magnificat – upon learning God’s plan for her.

This poem by Langston Hughes was not written about Mary. It’s titled Helen Keller. Deaf and blind, Helen took a leap of faith holding the hand of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, who was herself visually impaired. Together they navigated darkness to open a new way of life for themselves and others. Mary, Helen and Anne share the faith that God has a vision for us, even if we cannot yet see it ourselves.

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The Holy Unexpected
The Rev. Kate Salisbury, Associate Rector, December 1, 2017

Advent begins this Sunday.  It is the first season of the Church year.

The prophet Isaiah is read nearly every Sunday in Advent and sets much of the tone for the season. Beleaguered by war and foreign occupation, Isaiah longs for a renewed sense of God’s presence.  “Oh! That you would tear open the heavens and come down!” he cries.  “You are the potter and we are the clay.”

At the outset of winter, nature begins to looks stark. The air is cold. Only a few leaves cling to the trees.

And yet Advent encourages us to perceive these changes not only as loss, but as a preparation for something new. This season carries us through the longest night of the year to a miraculous birth.  Advent is a season to practice hope, and to prepare ourselves for holy – and wholly unexpected – ways of knowing God.

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