Eric Litman's Sermon for the Feast of the Incarnation 12-25-15

Audio recording of Eric Litman's Sermon for the Feast of the Incarnation 


St. James’s Episcopal Church
Christmas Day, 2015
John 1:1-14

In the name of our one God, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Good morning and Merry Christmas.  Thank you for joining us on this strangely warm Christmas morning.  Today we reflect back on the birth of Jesus, we gather to remember the circumstances of Mary and Joseph and the birth story of their son Jesus.  In our Gospel reading this morning we don’t get that old story, straight from Bethlehem, to our living rooms.  Instead we get the cosmic story of the incarnation from the beginning of the Gospel of John, with talk of Word and flesh, darkness and light, and grace and truth.  Serious theological language, it’s gripping if not at least a bit confusing.   It’s the type of bible text that makes one clamor for a narrative, a story with a plot, rising and falling action and characters that we can relate too.  The nativity story has long been an important part of the Advent and Christmas season, Church traditions the world over have been recognizing this sacred dramatic ritual in sacramental observance of and participation in, the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  Now, this wasn’t always the case.   The centrality of nativity pageants and nativity figures and nativity scenes has ebbed and flowed over the course of church history.  The first recorded instance of a dramatic re-enactment of the nativity story was in Greccio, Italy in 1223, under the direction and desire of St. Francis of Assisi.  In his biography of St. Francis and retelling of this nativity event, St. Bonaventure quoted Francis as having said:   “I want to enact the memory of the Infant who was born in Bethlehem, and how he was deprived of all the comforts babies enjoy; how he was bedded in the manger on hay, between a donkey and an ox. For once I want to see all this with my own eyes.” St. Francis wanted to experience the drama, he wanted to see the story manifest with his own eyes.  It is a remarkable way to participate in this story.  In general, common folk of that time were not literate, and almost certainly did not understand Latin, the authorized language used in church.  This was likely the first time the people present had been presented with this story in an understandable form.  The first time they may have felt that connection, or empathy with Mary, as she desperately sought a safe place to have her child.  Sadly, during the reformation northern and central European Protestants abandoned the nativity imagery carte blanche.  It was thought that depictions of the infant Jesus were considered to be graven and a violation of the 2nd commandment.  Protestants dropped the nativity and picked up the Germanic Christmas symbol of the Christmas tree.  The Christmas tree is a fine symbol, but it’s more of a theological sign than a narrative device.  The tree is a sign of creation, and a sign of the cross.  The Christmas tree does not engage imaginations in the same way that the nativity story can draw listeners in both young and old.  It wasn’t until the 19th century that the nativity imagery and the dramatic use of nativity scenes became a more ubiquitous symbol of Christmastime in the United States.  One of the powerful elements of the nativity story is that it is eminently contextual.  The story of the birth of a child deeply penetrates the human experience it touches, in part, on the story of all people.  Whether it’s part of our own self-understanding, our own autobiographies all start with a birth narrative.  Our first existential struggle was to survive as babies.  We may have re-experienced this with the birth of siblings, children, nieces, nephews or friends.  This is the perspective that the Gospel of John re-enforces, this was not a story with only local or cultural significance.  This was a story about humility and love, not just for one family, or one town, or one people group but for the whole world, and from the beginning of time until for evermore.  God was so intimately one with creation, that God came to dwell among us as one of us.  This sacramental reality, the incarnation of God as a human, gives our own birth stories, our own incarnation on earth an important meaning.  God did not send Jesus to earth to merely contextualize the human experience, to provide a touch point between the divine and the profane but to send us a manifestation of God’s loving, peaceful existence.  Jesus was the human incarnation of God’s being, John’s Gospel records that ”the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of God’s only son, full of grace and truth.”  Jesus came to be the incarnation of grace and truth.       

We cannot have the nativity story without John’s Gospel; we can’t just have the human story of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, the story of desperate parents and a vulnerable baby, the story of dispersion, poverty and dislocation, all critical themes to keep present in our hearts and souls.  But, we also need that other incarnation story, the mystical story from the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Without the Gospel of John the story of the nativity remains a compelling historical story, about specific people, in a specific context, trying to do the best they can, in horrible circumstances, to provide for their young family.  But, without John, the nativity can quickly become only about the crèche figures on the mantles of our homes, or the players in our parish pageants.  The story of the nativity can be taken captive, and used to give shape and meaning to our own small eco systems, at worst our very small eco systems.  This is certainly not all bad, family tradition is crucial, and finding meaning in our local community is extremely important.  But, John’s gospel asks us to read the nativity story with a very different perspective.  With a cosmic perspective, a timeless perspective, a global perspective that asks us to take the story of this vulnerable baby, and allow it to inform how we respond to the needs of people throughout the world.  Allow this story to change our hearts, and our actions.       

I’ve been thinking about how we might perform a theatrical interpretation of the prologue to John’s Gospel.  How we might turn word becoming flesh into a pageant.  I’m not sure that I have the necessary dramatic imagination to tackle something that esoteric but we can certainly read the nativity story mindful of word and flesh, of light shining in the darkness, and of grace and truth.   When words become flesh, we can literally observe what they mean; we can see how these words become incarnate and exist in the world.  What grace and truth look like in action?  How grace becomes food for the hungry, or how truth becomes fighting to give someone else a fair chance to succeed in life. 

Today, let’s remember that Jesus, the son of God came into this world as a vulnerable child, a child that brought the light of heaven to earth, a child that brought flesh to the word and a child that brought God’s presence, God’s grace and truth to dwell among us.  Amen.   


Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity 12-24-15

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for the Feast of the Nativity


Christmas Eve 12-24-2015

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Isaiah 9:2-7; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20


"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" AMEN.

Every year when the winter solstice rolls around, and the night is at its longest and the day – even without our persistent cloud cover of the last several days here in Cambridge – seems hardly able to achieve its full brightness with the sun slanted so close to the southern horizon as it is at this time of year, we need to gather and be reminded, as Isaiah reminded his people Israel in a very dark time in their history, that no matter the darkness, a great light is possible, that “Light has shined” even on those living in deep darkness, that joy can increase, that despite the “boots of the tramping warriors” and “the garments rolled in blood,” the yoke of our burden of fear, injustice and antagonism can be broken and peace & justice CAN prevail.

No wonder we keep returning every solstice week to this cavernous space to beat back the dark with our candles and beat back despair with our songs of hope and listen again to the mysterious little story of a refugee baby born in a stable because there was “no place for him to lay his head,” [Luke 9:58] a baby who, before he’s weeks old, is traveling across borders amid the crowds, fleeing with his family the persecution of a ruler bent on securing his hegemony by any bloody means whatsoever. Every year we long to hear again that this baby, despite all this “lastness, leastness, lostness and littleness,” has THE power to save a manifestly dark and broken world. And we come together to be reminded of this hope, even at the cost of ALSO being reminded, by the light of our little candles in the dark, of the scandalous truth that will become ever clearer as we watch this baby grow up over the coming year, that he is “a Messiah  - a Savior - who will do his work not at the top of the heap, [as everyone from Donald Trump on out expects], but in the very depths of the human condition,” that only through the extremity of being despised and rejected “can anything saving be done about the world.” [Robert Farrar Capon, The Parables of Grace, p. 166, underlining mine]

What kind of HOPE is THAT, I ask you? In a world filled with heartbreak, how can a BROKEN HEART be a HEALING ONE? Parker Palmer, who knows heartbreak from the inside, writes this in a blog on Krista Tippett’s On Being website:

Left untended, our hearts can become so brittle that under stress they break apart into a million shards, and are sometimes thrown like fragment grenades at the ostensible source of their pain. Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering. But attentive students of life learn to exercise the heart day in and day out, allowing life’s ‘little deaths’ to stretch us in ways that make our hearts suppler. Then, when larger forms of suffering strike, our hearts can break open rather than apart – giving them a greater capacity to hold life’s pain as well as its possibilities and joys. I know many people,” writes Palmer, “whose wounds – held in a broken-open heart – have made them ‘wounded healers.’ Instead of growing bitter and brittle and passing their pain on to others, they’ve [declared,] ‘This is where the pain stops and the love begins.’ Not in spite of their suffering but because of it they’re better able to offer active forms of compassion to others who suffer.” []

Poet Naomi Shihab Nye, herself Arab-American, born in St. Louis MO just four years after her Palestinian father’s family lost their ancestral home in Jerusalem, knows this “practice of suffering,” as do so many of our Jewish and Muslim next-door neighbors. It’s run deep into her bones. It’s she who connects it up to healing in her poem called, “Kindness.”

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend

Take 90-year-old gardener Hector Black of Tennessee, featured on Radiolab and StoryCorps recently, talking about corresponding with and then forgiving the murderer of one of his daughters. Turns out there’s an even deeper heartbreak in Mr. Black that undergirds that extraordinary magnanimity: now, at the very end of a very long life, it comes out that Mr. Black, married for 60 years to his beloved wife Susie and father of a number of children, is gay. When he began to realize it in his teenage in the South of the 1920’s, he didn’t even have a word for it. It took 70 years and his own child’s coming-out to acknowledge it. He’s still making his peace with it. His NPR interviewer Ari Shapiro observes to him, I hear you say is that you might have some regrets about some choices that you've made. But you do not regret the life that you lived, even though you only really came out at age 70.” To which Hector Black replies, “I don't really … it's a weird thing to say, but I really think that suffering can be … it certainly isn't always by any means … but it certainly can be a way of understanding other people, opening. You know, Mother Teresa said, Lord, break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in. I can't say that…You know … but I really am grateful that my heart has been broken a good many times because it does help me to love.” []

Welcome back to the Feast of the Nativity, my friends, the Feast in which we remember how Kindness is born into the world, vulnerable and at-risk, disguised as our very own selves, who do suffer and will suffer, whose hearts have been broken and will be broken.  Welcome back to the Feast in which we reclaim our hope and our faith and our courage to claim that suffering and heartbreak as a gift and a POWER to heal the suffering and heartbreak of others, not letting our hearts become brittle and sharp-edged, exploding into violence, dismissing others and writing them off as hopeless or worthless, but rather stretching our hearts to encompass them, to welcome them in.

As Parker Palmer counsels, this heart-stretching is a practice, not a one-time winner-takes-all. “Attentive students of life exercise the heart,” he reminds us. As delicious as it is to gather as we do this night and enjoy the scent of evergreens, the candlelight, and each other’s company, we need a more consistent investment than just this if our hearts are to be ready for the suffering to come, especially the suffering of others besides ourselves. As the Letter of Paul to Titus says, we are in training by God’s grace. We have to go to the spiritual gym! We need the support of a community of kindness ourselves if we are to learn to bear our own pain in a way that softens, not hardens our hearts. We have daily to open ourselves to what is amiss in the world, if we are to be ready to help, ready to reach out, ready to make room in our own hearts for others.

Only in the strenuous practice of kindness ourselves will we reliably notice, as poet Nye says, when

kindness… raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with 
[us] everywhere
like a shadow or a friend

So promises the Feast of Christmas. With the practice of kindness, suffering will not be the end of the story. As Edmund Sears wrote in the original “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” in a verse our Hymnal 1982 decided to leave out, O “ ye beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow, Look now! For glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing. O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing!” AMEN. []


Approved November Vestry Minutes 11-24-15

Vestry Minutes: 2015-11-24

Adopted December 15, 2015


Presiding: Rev Holly Lyman Antolini

Members Present: Sylvia Weston, Isaac Martinez, Lucas Sanders, John Thomas Kittredge, Marian King, Tom Beecher, Thomas Wohlers, Mary Beth Mills-Curran, Jean Clark,

Members Absent: Nancy McArdle, Dana Evelyn, Matthew Abbate, Nicholas Hayes

Guests: Rev Eric Litman, Jules Bertaut, Jeff Zinsmeyer


●        JT Kittredge, J Clark & I Martinez provided a supper of cashew curry and salad.

●        J Bertaut led the Vestry in a revised version of the lesson for Advent 1 from the new Middle/Upper  school “Shine” curriculum. 

Regular Agenda

New Upper & Middle Church School Curriculum

●        E Litman & J Bertaut discussed the new curriculum, Shine, which comes from a Mennonite group.

○     It is more open to interpretation and flexible in structure than the previous one.

○     It includes an emphasis on spiritual practice and living out one’s faith.

 Program Liaison shared-leadership Planning

●        I Martinez & MB Mills-Curran reported:

○     The VLPRT committee hopes to have a report and implementation plan for the January Vestry meeting.

Nominating Committee Updates

●        There are a Junior Warden and five member-at-large positions to fill.

●        No candidates have agreed to serve as Junior Warden as of yet.

●        There are two people who have agreed to serve as members-at-large and two more are considering serving.

●        At the behest at the Rector, JT Kittredge moved:

○     “That Rachel Evans be appointed to the vacant position on the Nominating Committee.”

○     T Wohlers seconded.

○     The resolution passed unanimously.

Currency of Money Committee Updates

●        As of now, the 2016 Currency of Money campaign has gotten 58% (69) the pledges goal and 64% ($159,588) of money goal.

●        Before Ingathering Sunday, the campaign was slightly ahead of last year, but Ingathering Sunday was well below what was expected.

●        However, it’s not out of line with previous years before last.

Memorandum of Appreciation for Emily Litman

●        I Martinez moved:

○     “That the Vestry and Clergy present to Emily Litman a memorandum of appreciation for her work in the nursery before we hired a coordinator.”

○     JT Kittredge seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

●        JT Kittredge agreed to draft the memorandum for presentation to the Vestry at its December meeting.

Redevelopment Update

●        J Clark moved:

○     “That the Vestry enter executive session.”

○     I Martinez seconded.

●        The motion passed unanimously.

J Clark moved:

○     “That the Vestry exit executive session.”

○     T Wohlers seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.




Minutes of October Meeting

●        T Wohlers moved that

○     “That the portion of the minutes that refer to proceedings while the Vestry was in executive session be sequestered and kept confidential to the Vestry, ordained leadership and the office manager, until the Vestry deems them no longer confidential.”

○     I Martinez seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

●        S Weston moved that the minutes of the October meeting be accepted as amended.

○     T Wohlers seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

Financial Report

●        L Sanders reported:

○     On the October financial report

■     The current financial situation of the parish is very healthy.

■     October pledging rebounded somewhat after the statements were mailed out.

○     Budget development

■     2016 budget writing has been very conservative, perhaps overly so, so far. 

■     But meeting our pledge goal is essential to being able to keep our programs.

■     Some pledges have been received for restricted purposes. The standing policy of the Vestry has been that any restricted pledges have to be approved by the Vestry before being accepted.

○     L Sanders moved that

■     “The Vestry accept the $200 directed gift for the Synthesis curriculum for the Bible Study program.”

■     JT Kittredge offered an amendment in the form of a substitute motion:

●        “That the Rector be authorized to accept gifts for specific purposes up to an amount of $500.”

●        T Wohlers seconded.

●        The motion as amended passed unanimously.

○     The Vestry tabled further discussion of policy around restricted gifts until the December meeting.

○     L Sanders moved:

■     “That the Vestry retain Natalie Finstad as facilitator for the Vestry retreat at an amount commensurate with last year’s retreat.”

■     T Beecher seconded.

■     The motion passed unanimously.

○     L Sanders moved that the financial report be accepted.

■     I Martinez seconded.

■     The motion passed unanimously.

Calendar Discussion

●        The calendar was discussed.

Rector’s Report

My continuing question for the rest of the academic year:

“Who’s the WE that is working on this?”


Parish Activities October-November

- Currency of Money continues strongly. Awaiting report on “Ingathering” so we can determine how much follow-up we’ll need to assist with as a Vestry.

- Nominating Committee continues valiantly. Full recruitment for Jr. Warden and five members-at-large still elusive.

- Mary Matthews joins us as Nursery Coordinator at least through the summer. Highly qualified for this small job! Brings good energy to it.

- All Saints Day liturgy beautiful; good turn-out for Dr. Forrow’s end-of-life planning workshop. An inspiring presentation on the challenges of supporting the dying in a world of aggressive and ever-emerging modern medical care. Learned a lot about “palliative care” and the need for everyone – family members and friend young & old – to learn to think and plan ahead.

- Miles Thomas-Moore completed his St. James's video. Lucas has converted it for easy linkage and we’ll watch it together in December.

- St. James’s God’s Economy group still exploring options in Dorchester-Roxbury-Mattapan. Not ready to allocate funds yet. Nicholas distracted by many competing work obligations and hasn’t completed hand-off to other leadership. I cannot add this mandate to my roster, so I await his capacity and that of others.

- The Worship Commission Advent sub-team has planned Advent/Christmas. Sylvia Weston and Marian King are meeting w Pat and me this month to plan Epiphany & Lent. The all-parish Lenten formation/worship curriculum from Canada was too complex for us to chew into this year without guidance and none of the Epiphany/Lent team could make the introductory meeting. Eric and I are working on his ordination service for January 9th. Pat, Eric & I will resource the teams over the year and implement the overall vision at our weekly Tuesday AM liturgy planning sessions.

- Vestry retreat planned for Bethany House; Natalie available. New-Vestry orientation will be over dinner at my house on the Annual Meeting Sunday, Jan. 24th.

- We have one adult baptizand in preparation for Easter Vigil baptism and I'm working to prepare a family for an infant baptism that combines a parent of practicing faith with a parent who doesn't claim a faith - a common occurrence these days. My Inquirers/Confirmation Class will begin the First Sunday of Lent. Confirmation itself doesn't happen until mid-October. We’ll try a two-module format with five weeks in Lent and five weeks in late Pentecost, because of this.

- Re potential Haitian internship: following conversation with Edie, this is still very much in preliminary discernment. Will continue in discernment with Canon for Ordinations Edie Dolnikowski and with other mentors of this young person.

- Olivia Hamilton continues in regular conversation with me about postulancy; leading Bible Study and joining the liturgical ministers and proposing to be a candidate for Vestry to help fill out her experience in Episcopal ministry. She and I will attend the Diocesan Ministry Discernment Day on Feb. 13th. The next step would be assembling a discernment committee a la Isaac, Mary Beth & Nicholas...

- Monthly Healing Liturgies continue, as Reed presides at his last two, one this coming Sunday w Eric Litman presenting on healing the Earth and one on January 31st with Reed presenting.  I will assume responsibility for these beginning on February 28th with Carol Hilliard presenting on living with family members w profound disabilities.

- Reed Carlson will preach his last Sunday with us on the morning of January 31st, and we'll celebrate his ministry with us, bidding him Godspeed as he joins Britta in ministry in East Boston.

- Anti-Oppression Team – still awaiting word on grant funding from the Diocese. At our November meeting - resourced by Mission Institute Director Diane D'Souza - we articulated the following action goals: to offer the Anti-Oppression Epiphany Lessons & Carols again on January 3rd; to invite St. Stephen’s in Lynn’s Beloved Community team to St. James’s to preach, share a meal with us, strategize together. Also to have the Anti-Oppression Team present at a Healing Liturgy focused on Black Lives Matter and racial reconciliation. The group also intends to testify at the one of the Open Listening Sessions for the Diocesan Mission Strategy in January in support of new initiatives in anti-oppression work in the diocese.

- Pat and I are working ahead toward leading an ecumenical choir at the Cambridge Peace Commission Martin Luther King Day service in January at St. Peter's, singing Margot Chamberlain's gospel composition. Christian Brocato already on board; waiting to hear from Brian Corr.


Diocesan Activity

- Chaired Resolutions Committee at Diocesan Convention, Nov. 13th-14th

- Retired from Alewife Deanship formally at the Diocesan Convention.

- Meeting next week of the Mission Institute Advisory Committee - quarterly



- Have been engaged in physical therapy for ongoing joint and lower-back arthritis. A constant management challenge!

- I will be away with family the week between Christmas and New Year's, as per usual (and my Letter of Agreement). The Rev. Dr. James Weiss will preside and Eric preach on Dec. 27 at a 10:30-only service.

- My annual silent prayer retreat will be the last week of Epiphany, Feb. 1st through 6th at SSJE. Will be attending CREDO II "Clergy Wellness Conference" in late October 2016 as "continuing education."


Senior Warden’s Report

●        S Weston reported:

○     She and J Clark met with a contractor from the insurance company on interior damage due to melting from ice dams.

●        J Clark raised possible danger of falling masonry due to deterioration of bricks in porch arches.


Assistant Rector’s Report

●        E Litman reported:

○     Church school has a new curriculum.

○     Last Sunday was the youth-led service.

○     Troop 56 has taken over making sandwiches for Open Church.

○     St Nick’s fair is coming up; the Troop 56 will be leading the game for the kids.

○     Eric is working with Anti-Oppression team about doing work with the kids.

○     Eric has been talking to the Rev. Dr. Lisa Fortuna who works with at risk youth.

○     He is hoping to get some St James people to trained in Godly Play in the spring.

○     The pageant will take place as usual on Christmas Eve.

New Business

●        S Weston asked that we work harder at sticking to the agenda schedule.

●        JT Kittredge asked that we review how the Mutual Ministry Review went, and whether we want to repeat it in the future.

○     I Martinez solicited feedback on the MMR to be discussed at the next Officers’ Meeting.


●        The Rector led us in the Lord’s Prayer to close the meeting.


Prepared by JT Kittredge
Submitted (with thanks to JT) by Nancy McArdle


Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 4 Advent 12-20-15

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 4 Advent


4 Advent Year C 12-20-15

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Micah 5: 2-5a; Canticle 16 (Magnificat), Hebrews 10:5-10; Luke 1:39-45


Our souls proclaim your greatness, O God, and our spirits rejoice in you, for you have looked with favor on the lowly and raise them up in mercy and grace.AMEN.

So this is Mary’s day, this Fourth Sunday in Advent, in the third of our three-year scripture reading cycle, Lectionary Calendar Year C. And this is THE “pregnancy” day of all scriptural days, the only day in the whole of the three-year lectionary that we celebrate TWO pregnancies in one day. You can’t step politely around those two big bellies – the belly of Mary the incipient Mother of Jesus, the Theotokos, Mary the Godbearer, as the Orthodox say, and the belly of her aged cousin Elizabeth, bearing John the Baptist. Today those bellies are firmly at the center of our gaze.

Generally throughout our two-thousand-year history as a faith, we Christians have focused on Mary’s belly as a symbol of her meekness, her submission to the will of God. Countless sermons have counseled us to follow suit in “womanly” fashion, to submit meekly to God. Now mind you, as one of the most stiff-necked among us, woman though I am, I am all for submission to the will of God. For “bending and not breaking.” Etc.

But today I’m just not going there. Today, Mary’s belly is signifying something entirely else. ANTITHETICALLY else, actually. Today we do NOT have “Mary meek & mild,” as so many Christmas carols put it. Today we have Mary the Adventuresome. Mary the Risk Taker. Mary the Upsetter of the Social Apple Cart. Mary the Imaginer of Alternatives. As theologian Nancy Rockwell writes, Mary is “determined, not domestic; free, not foolish; holy, not helpless; strong, not submissive. She beckons women everywhere to speak out for God’s justice, which is waiting to be born into this world.” []

Today we have Mary setting out straight from her terrifying encounter with the Angel of God, straight from her “Yes,” still echoing in her head: “Yes” to a terrifying out-of-wedlock pregnancy with no assurance that her fiancé Joseph is going to go along with it. We have her setting out alone – against all social convention of her time, to travel while pregnant at all, let alone to travel alone - to journey to the house of her cousin Elizabeth who, in solidarity with her, is also carrying an impossible child, a child she conceived against all probabilities in her old age.

This is one of the most woman-centered passages in the whole New Testament, Luke’s story of Mary’s journey to see Elizabeth: a marvelous image of women’s solidarity in times of trouble and joy, no men (out of utero anyway) in sight. That’s nothing against men, mind you. But it’s significant that we are being invited into God’s upending work via women, given the gender balance of most of history and our continuing issues with institutional glass ceilings, pay differentials and single-mother poverty and homelessness – and that’s just WOMEN’S struggle; don’t get me started on the struggle that faces people who do not choose a gender or who transition from one gender to another! Truly, God has gone to the margins to find the gracious future God intends.

And when the women and their gestating babies acknowledge each other, it provokes in Mary a rip-roaringly revolutionary testimonial to the power of God she feels surging within her. Hearing Mary’s manifesto the Magnificat, anyone with any power – political, economic, socio-cultural - should suffer more than a moment’s qualm. Mary’s song allows those in power no quarter. As we sang with Mary earlier in our Canticle, when God’s arm is engaged in strength, the mighty are cast down. The rich are sent away empty. The proud are scattered in their conceit (or, in the marvelous Rite One image, “in the imagination of their hearts”). Everything is turned upside down.

That baby that Mary said “Yes” to is inspiring her, belly-first, in the power of God, to head right into the teeth of the Powers That Be in the world, the Powers that hold the vulnerable in thrall, that suppress the futures and the capacities of the poor, that rend the social fabric in an ever-wider chasm between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” the Powers that consume the resources of developing countries and return only political corruption and the frantic upsurge of terrorism, that put the bodies of people of color at risk of death, as Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me, and make life perpetually fearful and uncertain for them. Because we have heard the whole story of Jesus’ life again and again, we already know what the pregnant Mary doesn’t yet know at this point in the story: that she is going to pay for her courage in the most painful way possible for a mother; she will lose her son in the prime of his life, executed by the police forces who cannot see him for what he is, God’s own Self bringing love into the world.

Speaking of women whose precious sons are perpetually at risk, who sally forth into their lives, belly-forward, in the fullness of their dignity, to put the world right in whatever way they possibly can as long as it is a way of love, let me turn to some women I met by way of my daughter Tina’s “Gravy” podcast last week, the Delta Jewels. [] The Delta Jewels are an amazing assembly of “Church mothers,” women ranging from 66 to 103 who are leaders in their rural Mississippi communities, educators and pastoral assistants in their churches, running things behind the scenes. They are women that African-American journalist Alysia Steele sought and found when she moved to Mississippi to teach at Ol’ Miss and found herself traveling the Mississippi Gulf Coast and missing her own “church mother” grandmother from Spartanburg South Carolina and wondering what enabled those women like her grandmother – granddaughters of slaves themselves and caught in the vice grip of Jim Crow apartheid for much of their lives – to endure “both hardship and change.”

Take Miss Joyce Myers, of Ruleville Mississippi. “She talks [to Alysia Steele] about how she had a strange relationship with her [own] mother. Her mother always seemed very hard to her. Her father was the lovable one; her mother was the disciplinarian.” “When my mom would cook,” Miss Myers relates, “she would always cook in [big ol’] rolls pans. She cooked a lot of food. And all the kids could come and eat. And she would tell us, she says, ‘Ok, I got this for meals right now. I want you to take it down there.’ And we would walk – I don’t care we were muddy or whatever – we had to take that food down there. You know, she was a Good Samaritan. And then when we lived up in the compress quarters [where the cotton gin was located], the train ran through. And hobos used to be on the train. [“Hobos” was the term that covered all the men – black & white – who were unemployed in the Great Depression and who would ride the freight trains around the country desperately looking for any work at all.] They would come to the back door, and [my mother] would have their food in one of those brown bags. And she would hand it out to them. She was a real, real woman because a lot of people wouldn’t have fed those hobos. They would have been afraid of them but she was just handing them a bag out the back door. They would get off the train. They knew where they could get some food. And after them the other guys… they told the other guys that were hobos because every time the train came through, she had those bags sitting on the table and she would hand them out to them. So she was a jewel of a woman to me.”

You can get Alysia Steele’s collection of the women’s stories & recipes, Delta Jewels: In Search of My Grandmother’s Wisdom. And you can listen to the podcast for other stories by the women among the “Delta Jewels,” women like Leola Overton, telling how, in a terrible period of unemployment, “God had to take her all the way down” to the point that she hadn’t a speck of food in her house for her six children before she would bend and go out the back door and over to the next street to her godmother Mrs. Mary Hallow’s house and acknowledge that her children were hungry. Whereupon her godmother emptied her fridge and her pocketbook to feed Leola’s children. Or Mrs. Myrlie Evers, “widow of slain Civil Rights Leader Medgar Evers,” whose mother worked for a wealthy white family in Vicksburg and brought strawberry tarts and fancy hand-me-downs back from work for Myrlie in her girlhood, her mom and grandmother and aunt taking those finely-made dresses apart and reassembling them to fit her, until Myrlie put her foot down and refused to wear those fancy dresses anymore, and would only wear the “croaker sack” skirts – skirts made from flour sacks - that African-American folks wore. “I prefer that over the clothes that were given to me from the white [people’s] house,” she proclaimed.

These women are in the same sisterhood as young African-American writer Kiese Laymon’s grandmother Catherine, the buttonhole slicer at a chicken plant in central Mississippi, whose job it was to slice the belly and pull out the guts of thousands of chickens a day. “Grandmama,” Laymon writes in the literary journal the Oxford American, “got up every morning around 4:30 AM. She took her bath, then prepared grits, smoked sausage, and pear preserves for us. After breakfast, Grandmama made me take a teaspoon of cod liver oil ‘for my vitamins,’ then she coated the area between her breasts in powder before putting on the clothes she had ironed the night before… and I remember marveling at her preparations and wondering why she got so fresh, so clean, just to leave the house and get dirty. ‘There’s layers to this,’ Grandmama often said, when describing her job to folks. She went into that plant every day, knowing it was a laboratory of racial and gendered terror. Still, she wanted to be the best at what she did – and not just the best buttonhole slicer in the plant, but the best, most stylized, most efficient worker in Mississippi. She understood that the audience for her work was not just her coworkers or her white male shift managers, but all the Southern black women workers who preceded her and, most importantly, all the Southern black women workers coming next…

At the end of his piece, Laymon writes, “This weekend, I’m going to drive down to Grandmama’s house in central Mississippi…” and “I’m going to tell Grandmama that because of her, I know what it’s like to be loved responsibly. I’m going to tell her that her love helped me listen, remember, and imagine when I never wanted to listen, remember, or imagine again… I’m going to tell her that when no one in the world believed I was a beautiful Southern black boy, she believed. I’m going to tell Grandmama that her belief is the only reason I’m still alive…” []

From this day all generations will call me blessed, sings Mary: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.  

He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

The promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever. 

In the 13th century, mystic and theologian Meister Eckart told the nuns he served, “We are all called to be mothers of God – for God is always waiting to be born.” [ “No More Lying about Mary” by Nancy Rockwell] He wasn’t just speaking to the women in the room, any more than I am. We are ALL called to say YES to the baby. Every one of us, no matter our gender, has Mary’s womb in us, a womb in which to nurture the world-transforming, terrifying love of God and to bring it forth, naked and vulnerable and powerful, into the world.

So let us pray:

Lord, you blessed us with Mary, not Mary meek and mild, but Mary strong and wild, willing to go far out over the boundaries to serve your empowering purpose, Mary willing to put her whole life at risk on many levels, Mary who did not acquiesce to “her place” but burst out of it, pregnant with possibility no one else was imagining. Let us not consent to our diminishment or that of anyone else. In Mary’s name, let us all, whatever our gender, be the mothers you have made us to be. Let us “love responsibly!” Let us act as IF every one of your children, no matter their circumstances, was our own child, with a dignity and a destiny that commands our love and our awe. AMEN.


Eric Litman's Sermon for 3 Advent 12-13-15 

Audio recording of Eric Litman's Sermon for 3 Advent


St. James’s Episcopal Church
Third Sunday of Advent
December 13th, 2015
Luke 3:7:18

In the name of our one God, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.  Please be seated.

In the liturgical calendar the third Sunday of Advent is referred to as “Gaudete,” meaning “to rejoice” or “to be joyful.”  Today is the “Sunday of Joy.”   Now, that might not excite some of you.  For many of us prescribed religious emotions are not very useful, it is difficult to consider trying to turn on a particular emotion, let alone an emotion as upbeat and chirpy as joy.  Personally, I find joy to be a bit elusive.  But regardless of how we are feeling this morning we find ourselves gathered here to consider Advent joy, our individual joy and our communal joy.  Now, even if we are able to find the emotional energy to join together and be joyful this morning, considering everything going on in the world, would it be appropriate?  Corporate mourning feels more appropriate.  In the past several weeks, our nation and many parts of the world have been confronted with tragic incidence of violence, bigotry, fear and uncertainty.  How can we possibly bring joy into a conversation that involves another mass shooting and the violent deaths of innocent people?  How can we bring joy into a conversation that involves reckless and vicious rhetoric that argues for the exclusion of an entire people group based on their religion and culture of origin?  How can we bring joy into a conversation that involves the continued revelation of violent police misconduct directed against people of color?  And how can we bring joy into a conversation that involves our own fears and anxiety about the safety of our communities and the stability of our fragile earth?  This Advent season is calling us into another period of introspection and discernment, a season of waiting, hope and joy.  How does our faith, how does the birth of Jesus speak to the fresh wounds inflicted on our world.                

Our Gospel reading this morning might seem like an odd starting place to contemplate joy, considering the divisive tone that John the Baptist takes with the gathered crowd, “you brood of vipers,” but the struggle to find joy in the midst of the tragedies and difficulties of life is significant to this story.    John had been traveling throughout Judea, teaching from the book of Isaiah and baptizing people in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.  He stopped along the River Jordan and a crowd gathered.  Now, the Jordan was no insignificant place in the history of Israel; after escaping Egypt and crossing the Red Sea, and spending decades in the wilderness, the river Jordan was the last obstacle that separated the Israelites from the Promised Land, one last test, one more border to cross, before life would be prosperous and fruitful and safe, where life would be joyful.  Nearly 1,500 years later, God’s people find themselves back on the banks of the Jordan, back at this threshold, back at this liminal space separating exile and promise.  The crowd was living under Roman occupation, there had been civil unrest, and war.  The people must have been fearful, and anxious.  Feelings of joy were likely scarce.  This was not the life of peace and prosperity that God’s people had hoped for. 

John directly addresses the crowd and exhorts them to be introspective and to be mindful of how they are living their lives.   He challenges “Do not begin to say to yourselves 'We have Abraham as our ancestor,” God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.”  John is expressing to the crowd, that our faith is not merely a genealogical enterprise, that there is no inherited merit in the loving, moral actions of our ancestors or other saints who came before us, they are certainly our great exemplars but not our eternal surrogates.  We too are called to live our lives as manifestations of God’s love in the present.  The crowd then asks John, “What then should we do?”  “In reply John says to them, "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, "Teacher, what should we do?" He said to them, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what should we do?" He said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages." 

This is powerful, offer your coat to one who has no coat, feed the hungry, act morally in your business dealings and in your politics.  This sounds like a foretelling of the Sermon on the Mount…. And John tells it well.  John is suggesting that God calls us to uphold justice and mercy even when our own life circumstances are unsettled, undesired or possibly unsafe.   I find this to be a very challenging exhortation, an exhortation that questions the very ways in which we satisfy our own moral responsibilities in the world.  Do we take solace in the historical actions of others; do we find comfort in merely having the right ideological positions or in being on the “right side of history?”  Moral and ethical ideas are extremely important but they alone are not a substitute for our own tangible, manifestations of God’s love in the world.  God did not come into the world just as word, just as prophecy, God also came into this world as flesh as a human being like you and I, the joining of word and flesh, the spiritual and material, the divine and the human.  This dialectical convergence intimately links together faith and faithful action, belief and a way of life.  The mandate of our faith is not only to speak prophetic words and to promote prophetic ideas but we are called to be physical manifestations of God’s love in the world, to be loving flesh, engaged in the material suffering of others.  Friends, this is what we are preparing for in Advent, the coming of the Messiah, the incarnation of Jesus, the manifestation of God’s love in the world.  God’s love did not come in the form of a great political power that changed the world through might, or through a great philosophical tradition that swept the world changing hardened minds but through local acts of mercy, service and love.  John is reminding us that our lives are the sacrament of the incarnation, that we are the manifestation of God’s love on earth.   Could this be a cause for joy?       

At first thought joy can seem to be primarily an emotion felt internally, something that is possessed or not.  Joy can certainly be a felt emotion, but what if joy was also something that we could give to others.  I’m not talking about some type of emotive, joyous contagion passed on through excessive amounts of  holiday cheer but the joy that can be given through humanizing a neighbor in need.  A neighbor who may be cold and might need a warm coat for the winter, or a neighbor that may need help with groceries around the holidays.  Or maybe the act of publically speaking up and standing in solidarity with neighbors who are being treated unfairly and brutally by the police, or offering affirmations of value and dignity to our Muslim neighbors who are living in fear due to bigotry and fear mongering and to those who are being unjustly denied refugee status here in our country because of their religion and culture.  We may or may not feel joyful but we can live sacramental lives in this world that offer joy to others through faithfully sharing our resources, through offering others respect and dignity and by fighting for justice and mercy in the world.    Joy may seem elusive but when we give of ourselves, when we offer ourselves to others, and when we are able to participate in the joy of others, I pray that we can also experience that joy, that we will live in the realization that we too are valuable and beloved.  I pray this Advent season as we wait for birth of Jesus, that our lives would be full of joy and that we would give joy freely to others.      



Isaac Martinez's Sermon for 2 Advent 12-6-15

Audio recording of Isaac Martinez's Sermon for 2 Advent


2 Advent Year C 12-6-15

Lections: Mal. 3:1-4; Cant. 16; Phil. 1:3-11; Luke 3:1-6


Will you pray with me? Almighty and loving God, by your tender mercy, let the dawn from on high break upon us, to give light to us who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace. And may I preach to you this morning in the name of God our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.

Well I don’t know about you church, but after this week, I could have used a little more Jesus and little less John the Baptist in today’s lectionary, a little more love and a little less refiner’s fire, a little more Good Shepherd and a little less angry prophet. Nevertheless, here we are, with the words of John the Baptist quoting the prophet Isaiah resounding in our ears: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be humbled, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of our God.”

Now throughout his gospel, Luke tries to be very clear about when events take place and so we start chapter 3 in the 15th year of the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius, which gives us a date of the year 28 or 29. And not only does Luke list the secular rulers of the time and place, he also tells us who the religious rulers are, the High Priests, Annas and Caiaphas. Against this backdrop of top-down human authority, sitting in their mighty palaces and lavish temples, the word of God comes, not even to the priests, but to a single man in the wilderness.

Unlike his fellow gospel-writers, however, Luke doesn’t depict John the Baptist as uncivilized. We don’t read anything about how he wore a tunic of camel hair or ate locusts and honey. No, the wilderness for Luke is not a place of desolation. But it is a place apart, a somewhere away from the colonizing forces of the Roman Empire and its collaborators in the Temple. It’s as if Luke is saying, we can’t listen for the Good News unless we can remove ourselves, even just temporarily, even if only in our hearts and minds, from the surrounding culture and its values. In fact, throughout the first 3 chapters of Luke, we see God breaking into human reality from the unlikeliest and the lowliest of places.

Take for example the story of John the Baptist’s birth. In chapter 1, we hear about John’s parents, the small-town priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth. Both are holy people, living “blamelessly.” Yet they have no children because Elizabeth is barren and they are only getting older. When Zechariah is away from home to serve in the temple, the angel Gabriel comes to him and says Elizabeth will be pregnant with a son who will follow in the footsteps of the great prophets of Israel and “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” But Zechariah foolishly back-talks to an angel and Gabriel makes him mute until his son is born. Then, six months later, Gabriel makes another unexpected pregnancy announcement to Elizabeth’s relative, Mary. Mary then visits Elizabeth where she sings her Magnificat. Like John’s opening statement, Mary’s Magnificat proclaims a similar vision of God’s restoring, world-turning justice where the mighty are brought low and the lowly are raised up, the hungry are fed and the rich sent away empty.

Finally, when John the Baptist is born, Zechariah is released from his angelic mute button and he sings his own song of praise: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; he has come to his people and set them free.”

Through these examples, of John quoting Isaiah, of Mary’s Magnificat, of the song of Zechariah, we hear a powerful litany of thanksgiving, of mercy, of justice, of salvation, of liberation. These are prayers both in anticipation of and in response to God breaking into their lives, of God inviting them to join God in remaking and redeeming the world.

2000 years later though church, this world still needs redeeming and remaking. Now, in the 7th year of the presidency of Barack Obama, when Paul Ryan is Speaker of the House of Representatives and Mitch McConnell is Majority Leader in the Senate, and when Charlie Baker is governor of Massachusetts, we need the Word of God to come to us in our wilderness, in our places set aside from the powers of this world and give us grace and courage to preach a radically different reality.

When there can be more shootings in 2015 than there have been days this year, we need proclamations of repentance, of metanoia, a turning back to God’s dream of peace and reconciliation and away from this world’s values of violence, exclusion, and inequity. When 17-year-old Laquan McDonald can be shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer who had a record of misusing his authority and then have his murder covered up for a year by the “justice” system, we need a wild reversal for our own time. And as global leaders in Paris continue to negotiate how to address climate change and its consequences, we need to sing for God to come and set us free from an economic system that profits from destruction and exploitation.

From Isaiah and Malachi to Zechariah and John and Mary, we see that God’s in-breaking isn’t something that just happens to us. Instead it requires our active agreement and participation with God, individually and collectively. And the Good News is we have started to respond already St. James’s! Through our membership in the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and the Do Not Stand Idly By initiative, we are advocating for law enforcement agencies, who are accountable to us, to use their purchasing power to pressure gun manufacturers to make safer firearms. In a world that thrives on top-down, unjust power structures, our Vestry is working on instituting a new model of shared leadership. And in a broken morality that says we must strike back at those who harm us with even greater force, we have responded to the obstructive lawsuits to our new parish hall with a renewed openness to our neighborhood by throwing a fabulous St. Nicholas Festival on Friday night, with our Hildebrand House in-gathering today, and with our Christmas Caroling around the block next Sunday, Dec. 13 from 4-6pm. I hope you can join us!

So, in this Advent season, as we prepare for the in-breaking of Jesus, let’s go wait in the wilderness, let’s find those places away from the oppressive centers of power where we can hear the Word of God, and let’s continue to join our action to prayer so that as Paul says to the Philippians, we might “produce the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” Amen.


Rev. Dr. Robert K. Massie's Sermon for 1 Advent 11-29-15


Approved October Vestry Minutes 10-20-15

Vestry Minutes: 2015-10-20

Adopted November 24, 2015


Presiding: Rev Holly Lyman Antolini

Members Present: Sylvia Weston, Isaac Martinez, Lucas Sanders, Nancy McArdle, John Thomas Kittredge, Marian King, Tom Beecher, Thomas Wohlers, Mary Beth Mills-Curran, Matthew Abbate, Jean Clark, Nicholas Hayes

Members Absent: Dana Evelyn

Guests: Jeff Zinsmeyer



●        J Clark, N McArdle, and I Martinez provided a delicious supper of lasagna, spinach salad, bread, cheese, and fruit.

●        J Clark led us in a reflection on the Parable of the Sower.

Regular Agenda

Program Liaison shared-leadership planning

●        I Martinez reported on the two recent ministry leadership discussions

○     There were 32 participants over both sessions

○     He presented a report on what was learned and next steps.

○     Summary on what was learned:

■     St J’s has challenges with ministry shared leadership and replacements

■     People really want the shared model of leadership

■     There is complexity and ambivalence about holding people accountable

■     Staff and priorities are not always aligned

■     Leaders want training on shared leadership

■     People need investment in currency of shared relationship

■     There is a desire for cohesiveness across ministries

■     There is a need for clear and substantial responsibilities for the Vestry

○     Summary of next steps:

■     Before November Vestry meeting, the VLPRT hopes to produce a fuller report for the parish.

■     There was discussion of making a presentation on the program at Annual Meeting.

■     The VLPRT Team hopes to design a revised Vestry Liaison program, in collaboration with interested Vestry members, and present it at the November meeting.

●        N McArdle and L Sanders agreed to help with the discussion.

●        The Vestry expressed its great appreciation for all the work the VLRPT did in planning and executing the two discussion sessions.


Continued Discussion of Food Pantry

●        H Lyman Antolini presented a proposal for the future of the Helping Hand Food Pantry.

○     She began by giving the Vestry a briefing on the recent history of the ministry.

○     The Vestry discussed the issue with a strong sense of commitment to the ministry.

○     Holly solicited volunteers to serve on a committee to the plan the Pantry’s future.

“Mutual Ministry Review” Discussion

●        I Martinez presented a proposal from Cynthia Hubbard to lead a Mutual Ministry Review between the Vestry and the Rector.

○     She offers a tightly structured, two hour version.

○     The Rector feels strongly that the Asst Rector should be included.

●        I Martinez moved that

○     “The Vestry set aside two hours in November for a Mutual Ministry Review with Cynthia Hubbard and that it allocate $150 (plus milage) to compensate her.”

○     T Wohlers seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

Redevelopment Update

●        J Zinsmeyer presented an update on the redevelopment.


Approval of Minutes

●        JT Kittredge moved that the minutes be approved as presented.

○     T Beecher seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

Financial Report

●        The Rector has found a promising candidate for Nursery Coordinator.

○     L Sanders moved that

■     “The Vestry, in appreciation for Mary Matthews’ work as Nursery Coordinator, will fund a scholarship for her at EDS in the same amount as we normally pay a Nursery Coordinator.”

○     T Wohlers seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

●        Three radiator valves are showing corrosion and need to be replaced, and the estimate is just under $1,500.

○     L Sanders moved that

■     “The church move ahead with the replacement of the three corroded radiator valves at the discretion of the Senior Warden.”

○     I Martinez seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.

●        L Sanders presented the financial report

○     Financial condition is currently good.

○     Current pledge payments have not picked up from the summer, but that may be because they were so strong last winter.

○     The “Currency of Money” pledge campaign has gotten off to a strong start.

○     The Finance Committee, as always, is asking that all the Vestry members sign a pledge card early.

●        L Sanders moved that the report be accepted as presented.

○     MB Mills-Curran seconded.

○     The motion passed unanimously.


Rector’s Report

My question for the rest of the academic year:

Whos the WE that is working on this?

Parish Activities September-October

- Currency of Money well-launched (hard work last week by team, Kathryn, me)! Budget process beginning... Finance Committee next on Thursday Nov. 5 at 6:30: I encourage all Vestry who wish to drill down into the budget details to join us for that meeting, which is the first real "construction zone" for the coming year.

- Nominating Committee up and running, minus one member (Bill Taylor). Well-organized w Jeremy Wilmer as convenor, but we'll miss Katherine Gilliland's gentle pressure. Thank GOD our Sr. Warden, Clerk and Treasurer are staying on! (Your rector is thrilled!) Big task still remains: new Jr. Warden; at least five new (or re-upping) Vestry members needed.

- For All Saints Day, Katie Rimer has recruited Dr. Lachlan Forrow of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, speaking on “The Conversation Project” on end-of-life care as keynoter for another “End-of-life planning” event on All Saints Sunday, such as we held several years ago. This is a regular canonical part of our responsibilities as a parish.

- Miles Thomas-Moore completed his St. James's video late Sunday but couldn't figure a way to put it on a flashdrive - file too big. So Lucas is resourcing downloading it into the Micah Intern laptop. I haven't seen it yet. Maybe we'll get to watch it in November!

- Evaluations completed.

- St. James’s God’s Economy group still exploring options in Dorchester-Roxbury-Mattapan. Not ready to allocate funds yet.

- The Worship Commission sub-teams at work: Pat & I waiting to meet w Eric & Mary Beth on Advent/Christmas. Sylvia Weston and Marian King are the team for Epiphany & Lent. I'm looking into an all-parish Lenten formation/worship curriculum from Canada as a new possibility for us. Pat, Eric & I will resource the teams over the year and implement the overall vision at our weekly Tuesday AM liturgy planning sessions.

- Early Lent: My Inquirers/Confirmation Class will begin the First Sunday of Lent. Confirmation itself doesn't happen until mid-October. We might try a two-module format with five weeks in Lent and five weeks in late Pentecost, because of this.

- Inquiries about internships: one I will turn down and the other is a continuing discernment with Canon for Ordinations the Rev. Edie Dolnikowski.

- Olivia Hamilton - working with Luther Ziegler in the Harvard Chaplaincy and worshipping with us again after completing her Good Shepherd Watertown internship - is in regular conversation with me about postulancy; leading Bible Study and joining the liturgical ministers and proposing to be a candidate for Vestry to help fill out her experience in Episcopal ministry. She and I will attend the Diocesan Ministry Discernment Day on Feb. 13th. The next step would be assembling a discernment committee a la Isaac, Mary Beth & Nicholas...

- Monthly Healing Liturgies continue.  Britta Meiers Carlson – Reed’s wife – will present on Oct. 25th, same day she preaches and offers a Gathering on her church-planting work in East Boston. Eric is going to present on "environmental healing" on Healing Liturgy on November 29th, First Sunday of Advent. No liturgy in December due to holidays. Either Reed Carlson himself will present on January 31st, or Carol Hilliard will present on living with family members w profound disabilities.

- Reed Carlson will preach his last Sunday with us on the morning of January 31st, and we'll celebrate his ministry with us, bidding him Godspeed as he joins Britta in ministry in East Boston. I will take over the Healing Liturgy planning he and I have shared.

- Eric has been working on a regular Nursery Coordinator as you know from our conversation about our candidate. Emily - bless her! - has been filling in meanwhile.

- Anti-Oppression Team - thanks to Benazeer Noorani and Mardi Moran - filed application for $10,000 Congregational Development money for more VISIONS training, "training trainers" so we can begin widening the circle of work at St. James's. At the invitation and under the facilitation of the Mission Institute, our Team met w the Beloved Community Team at St. Stephen's in Lynn last Sunday, joined also by members of multi-racial Trinity Episcopal Church in Haverhill. Lots of fellow feeling between St. Stephen's and St. James's over the tension inherent in our work both between cultivating honest relationship within the team and pursuing social justice action in the surrounding community, as well as the question of how to widen the circle of conversation into the congregation. They, like us, have experienced loving their congregational diversity but being afraid to talk about it, hence the BC Team.

- New Vestry Orientation will be Annual Meeting Day evening at my house, January 24th. All-Vestry Retreat scheduled at Bethany House, Feb. 26 & 27. Do we want to ask Natalie if she will continue our "shared leadership" work?

Diocesan Activity

- Chairing Resolutions Committee at Diocesan Convention, Nov. 13th-14th

- Retire from Alewife Deanship formally at the Diocesan Convention.


- Pace continues to be quite relentless, between our own (wonderful!) activity and diocesan obligations such as Resource Day and Chris Morck's (again, wonderful!) institution at Grace Church New Bedford. I will be taking an extra day off, this Thursday through Saturday, October 24-26 to rest. Eric will carry the pastoral phone. Drawing class again on Tuesday afternoons, 2 to 5 PM at the Cambridge Adult Center, going well and keeping up my swimming.

- My annual silent prayer retreat will be the last week of Epiphany, Feb. 1st through 6th at SSJE. Will be attending CREDO II "Clergy Wellness Conference" in late October 2016 as "continuing education."


Assistant Rector’s Report


·         This past Saturday (10/17) evening Ann and Jeremy Wilmer/Dwyer hosted a pot-luck dinner for the nursery family’s.  It was a great opportunity for the nursery family’s to spend some time together and connect. 

·         Emily has been filling in the Sunday nursery coordinator roll and that continues to be working well.

Church School

·         Church school continues to go well.  The young church class is has seen some real growth with in class behavior and I attribute that to the diligent and intentional work of our teachers.  The middler and upper elementary church school classes both are going well, our committed teachers in both of those groups continue to bring life and spiritual formation to these classes.   We are planning a mid-fall check in with the teachers to discuss the size of the middler class (which has been a bit smaller) and talk about the possibility of doing a joined elementary class this year, as of now this is just a possibility.  This needs to be evaluated by the teacher cohort.  Next year we will graduate several young church students into the middler group, so I believe the future of the middler group is bright.  

·         We have been using a curriculum called “re:form” for the past couple of church school years and with the consensus of the teachers, Jules Bertaut and I are searching for other curricular options.  I believe we have a found a good candidate that we will be reviewing more thoroughly in the next couple of weeks.

·         This Saturday (10/24) we are running a Communion Class for the children of the parish, it will combine story-telling, bread baking and some liturgical instruction.

·         We are currently doing well staying in compliance with our safe church policies.  After the first of the year we will host/offer the web based safe church training for folks who need to have their safe church training renewed.


·         A week ago Tuesday Holly, Mary Beth, Andrew Rohm and I attended the Scout honor court which celebrated scout achievements for a variety of things.  Holly also honored Michelle Holmes and Derrick Jackson with the St. George’s Episcopal Award for service to scouting and the church.  

·         I’ve been attending the scout meetings the last Tuesday of the month to connect with the youth and the adult leaders.  We have been working on the Scouts’ service program to the parish.  They are signed up to run games for the kids at the St. Nicholas Fair, they are working with  Mardi Moran to start making the sandwiches for Outdoor Church (they are making them for this Sunday!)

Worship Committee 

·        Children’s Liturgy – 11/22
·        Advent Liturgy – Mary Beth and I are working on planning this liturgy.
·        Christmas Pageant – We are working on planning the Christmas pageant.  

I attended the GBIO gathering on 10/8 at St. Kathryn Drexel parish with Nicholas, Sylvia, Tom, Linda and Andrew.  It was my first visit to a GBIO assembly, it was very helpful (and uplifting) to attend and learn more about GBIOs platform and actions.  

Anti-Oppression Team – I have joined our wonderful AO team, I am learning a lot from this group of leaders and I continue to look forward to be part of this work. 

Preaching – I have had the opportunity to preach on 9/20 and this past Sunday 10/18. I continue to really appreciate these opportunities!

Warden’s Report

Sylvia reported that:

  • Church Insurance will have construction consultant come to look at interior damage from last year’s storms
  • Jean Clark has joined the property committee
  • Will have deteriorating valves replaced on boiler


Prepared by JT Kittredge
Submitted (with thanks to JT) by Nancy McArdle


Eric Litman's Sermon for Thanksgiving Day 11-26-15

St. James’s Episcopal Church
Thanksgiving Day
November 26, 2015
Matthew 6:25-33

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  Please be seated.

Good morning.  We gather this morning to pick up the telling of an old story, a story that dates back several hundred years, a story that involves religious refugees and native people, a story that involves your family and mine.  Like the recognition of many holidays the observance of Thanksgiving is partly rooted in the remembrance of historic events and partly rooted in family tradition.  This project of gathering and remembering, telling and breaking bread is an ancient human social experiment that connects generations and generations of people with the experiences of their ancestors.  These stories and traditions shape our understanding of who we are where we came from.  The author Marilynne Robinson wrote, “There is no reason to suppose the use of narrative is in any way a marginal activity. Narratives define whole civilizations to themselves, for weal or woe.” For happiness or for sorrow.  Our stories are woven with the complexities and paradoxes of life.  The type of complexity that motivated a group of European religious outcasts to cross the Atlantic Ocean in the hope of religious freedom and a better life, the complexity of a native people who welcomed the stranger, shared resources and offered friendship only later to be betrayed and displaced.  This historical inheritance is fraught with triumph and suffering, the marginalization of a native people, and it’s the story of the unlikely establishment of this commonwealth.  Many of our own stories are equally as complex; our stories are full of anguish and joy.  Thanksgiving can be a time for families to gather and rest, to reminisce and to belong to one another.  Thanksgiving can also be a time when the loss of loved ones can be felt very deeply, and the reality of unreconciled relationships can be raw and painful.  The human experience does not excuse us from the holidays.  Running through these historical and personal narratives is this thread of light, the powerful theme of thanksgiving, of recognizing the ways that we are fortunate and expressing gratitude.         

Our American Thanksgiving traditions have largely become a type of civil holiday, with civil rituals and maybe even a civil prayer.  But this social form of gathering, sharing a table and offering thanks is certainly not an American civil enterprise; it is part of a much older story, the story of redemption.  Our complex stories, the stories of our lives and our families, our successes and our trials, are all part of the story of the family of God, a family who has gathered around tables for thousands of years to remember, to tell and share and to offer gratitude.      

The word for our Holy Communion, Eucharist means thanksgiving.  To give thanks to God for Jesus who brought new life to the world, to give thanks for one another, our fellow sojourners in this transitory life and to give thanks for the natural world which sustains us.  Thanksgiving is at the center of our spiritual and sacramental life together.  The sacrament of the Eucharist is not just a memorial recognition of the last supper, a historical retelling, it also has a profound theological element that affirms God’s presence within us and among us.  The Eucharist locates our own stories into the same redemptive narrative as the generations of saints that have come before us, and it provides us with the context through which we can bring our lives before God and experience communion and healing.  The Anglican tradition has described this sacramental idea as divine participation, which suggests that God’s people actively participate in the work of God and that God actively participates in the work of God’s people.  This was summarized in an early Anglican liturgical phrase, “that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us,” or “that we may evermore dwell in Jesus, and Jesus in us.”  We are agents of God’s manifestation in the world, God’s love and mercy; our lives are the sacrament of Thanksgiving. 

Alexander Schmemann wroate:  “The Church is not a society for escape, corporately or individually from this world to taste of the mystical bliss of eternity. Communion is not a 'mystical experience': we drink of the chalice of Christ, and He gave Himself for the life of the world. The bread on the paten and the wine in the chalice are to remind us of the incarnation of the Son of God, of the cross and death. And thus it is the very joy of the Kingdom that makes us remember the world and pray for it. It is the very communion with the Holy Spirit that enables us to love the world with the love of Christ. The Eucharist is the sacrament of unity and the moment of truth: here we see the world in Christ, as it really is, and not from our particular and therefore limited and partial points of view. Intercession begins here, in the glory of the communion banquet, and this is the only true beginning of the Church's mission. It is when, 'having put aside all earthly care,' we seem to have left this world, that we, in fact, recover it in all its reality.”

The histories of our Thanksgiving holidays are complex narratives, full of conflicted historical events, joyful reunions and difficult family dynamics.   Our Gospel reading this morning reminds us to not be preoccupied with the circumstances of this world, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink….but to strive first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well," Matthew’s Gospel does not say that our circumstances are not important, they certainly are, but that if we strive first for the kingdom of God, if we live our lives as sacramental manifestations of God’s love on earth, we are reminded that God is with us in all of the complexities of life, and that the Kingdom of God’s peace and love is already ours.  I pray that all of our holiday celebrations today are full of hope and joy, while continually being mindful of the needs of others and that we will live into our calling to be the sacrament of Thanksgiving in the world. Amen.      


Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 25 Pentecost 11-15-15

Audio recording of Holly Lyman Antolini's Sermon for 25 Pentecost


Because of the terrorist violence in Paris and Beirut over the weekend of Nov. 13-15, our Eucharist for November 15th opened with this introduction and prayer at the Welcome:

This morning, we begin our worship with an acknowledgment of the terror experienced this weekend in Paris, Beirut & Baghdad. It’s devastating to think what a climate of fear will inevitably grip the City of Light, as it grips all the other cities that suffer this kind of heartless, unpredictable and random violence. How vulnerable we all are to the insane pursuit of valor on the part of a few with access to frightening weaponry! And then how we risk the backlash of intolerance that can be as bad or worse than the random acts of violence that initiated the trouble.

Please stand as you are able for the prayer. The Lord be with you. Let us pray. 

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We then reorganized our service and shortened my sermon, leaving out the annotations for Robert Hass’s poem “State of the Planet.” Instead, we launched into the Prayers of the People, concluding them with a gathering in which the entire congregation circled the nave, lit small candles from the Paschal candle, and sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” and “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” named all the countries and cities, Paris, Beirut & Baghdad included, that have suffered irrational violence against innocent citizens, and concluded by praying my prayer below from the ending of my original sermon.

The poem itself was in the bulletin, and we are appending it here so that those who wish to follow my original intentions and read the poem may do so easily. Also included below are the annotations I had originally intended to make before the reading.


Proper 28 Year B Track 2 11-15-15

©Holly Lyman Antolini

Lections: Daniel 12:1-3; Ps. 16; Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25; Mark 13:1-8


Protect us, O God, for we take refuge in you; we have said, "You are our God, our good above all other… Show us the path of life, O God, amid the enormous challenges of terrorism & global warming to our human capacity for forbearance and restraint. Wake us from our dream of consumption to perceive and participate in the great sacrament of our Earth. For in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.  AMEN.

Are you ready not just to “read, mark, and learn,” but also to “inwardly digest” the holy scriptures we’ve been given this morning – digest the WORDS we have been given just as we digest the COMMUNION that we will be given? Are you ready to take a sharp look forward into a heart-stopping future, as invited by the Book of Daniel and the Gospel of Mark, and still “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,” as the Letter to the Hebrews advises? Because our readings for today, with their images of impending cosmic war and destruction, are can be tough to chew and swallow, let alone digest! And doubly, even triply so when we’re reeling from the random violence and antagonism, the pointless and devastating wreckage wrought by the shooters in Paris this weekend.

Both Hebrew Scripture and Gospel come from the genre of our biblical writings we call the “apocalyptic” – writings that emerged in times of persecution and often used cataclysmic battle-imagery to predict God’s future victory over vividly evoked powers of evil. Good to affirm at the very outset that these words have been given to enable us, as today’s Collect says, to “embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.” And that our Psalm seems to wrap its arms around us and hold us reassuringly close in the face of terror.

Apocalyptic visions of the future are not far from our nerve-endings anyway, even without the violence in Paris. In these days of rising sea levels and species loss and impending UN Climate Change Conferences scheduled in that self-same City of Light, we are daily invited – no, summoned! – to the broadest-possible perspective on our existence on earth, past, present & future. The discourse that surrounds this summons is by its very nature dire and terrifying. How not to turn away from this perspective in horror? How, instead, to chew right into it, to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it,” with the hopefulness our Collect tells us our faith can supply?

One of the ways I intend to do it is by reading Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si: On the Care of our Common Home, as my preparation for the liturgical new year, the season of Advent that begins on November 29th this year.  Anyone want to join me in that? I’m happy to host an Advent Monday evening opportunity for candle-lit contemplative prayer and discussion of the Pope’s thoughts. Let me know if you’re “in,” and we’ll decide which Monday in December to set aside.

But I also find it helpful, when things are too much for me and threaten to overset my “blessed hope,” to turn to the genre right next to the apocalyptic in its evocativeness of imagery and also in its willingness to take on hard things, the genre of poetry. And so I offer this morning as a kind of meditation on global warming an extended poem of Robert Hass from his book Time & Materials: Poems 1997 – 2005, a deeply sacramental and challenging poem called “State of the Planet.” Hass was commissioned to write this poem for the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, whose mission, says their website, is to “seek fundamental knowledge about the origin, evolution and future of the natural world. Its scientists study the planet from its deepest interior to the outer reaches of its atmosphere, on every continent and in every ocean, providing a rational basis for the difficult choices facing humanity.” [] I offer Hass’s poem today as a meditation both on the mighty wonder of our Earth and on the challenge we face – or hide from, depending – in stewarding our relationship to that Earth. Because poetry is musical, it’s worth reading aloud. Because it is allusive and elliptical and often complex in imagery, I also provide you with the full text in your bulletin, so you can either read along or set it aside and listen and then return to it later.

A couple of annotations to prepare you: though the poem is relating Hass’ simple experience of pausing in his car at an intersection on a fall day near his home in Berkeley CA, and watching a young girl dash across the road in the rain with her backpack on, Hass is also, throughout the poem, addressing the Roman poet Lucretius, born a century before Christ, whose only known work was an epic poem called De Rerum Natura, “On the Nature of Things,” that astonishingly anticipates our modern scientific view of the world. Lucretius regarded Venus, the Roman goddess of Love, as his poetic patroness and governor of the nature of things, so Hass also refers to Venus. In addition, he makes reference to a wondrous variety of parts of the world, but one particularly important one you might not have heard of before is the Napo River, an Andean tributary of the Amazon, traversing the jungles of inland Ecuador and Peru, a region problematically rich with petroleum reserves. Also, you have an image – I’m sorry it’s so tiny! – at the end of your text of the poem: an image of the Three Graces from a painting by Renaissance painter Botticelli, which Hass refers to and describes very particularly. Lastly, while I hope you will allow yourselves to travel along through the poem from image to image without trying too hard to analyze it, I also hope you will be on the alert for a couple of loaded words of value in the enterprise of addressing climate change: one is the word “restraint.” And the other is “restoration.”

May God be in my mouth, and in our ears and hearts.

Read the poem. 


“State of the Planet” by Robert Hass (from Time & Materials)

On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory



October on the planet at the century’s end.

Rain lashing the windshield. Through blurred glass

Gusts of a Pacific storm rocking a huge, shank-needled

Himalayan cedar. Under it a Japanese plum

Throws off a vertical cascade of leaves the color

Of skinned copper, if copper could be skinned.

And under it, her gait as elegant and supple

As the young of any of the earth’s species, a schoolgirl

Negotiates a crosswalk in the wind, her hair flying.

The red satchel on her quite straight back darkening

Splotch by smoky crimson splotch as the rain pelts it.

One of the six billion of her hungry and curious kind.

Inside the backpack, dog-eared, full of illustrations,

A book with a title like Getting to Know Your Planet.


The book will tell her that the earth this month

Has yawed a little distance from the sun,

And that the air, cooling, has begun to move,

As sensitive to temperature as skin is

To a lover’s touch. It will also tell her that the air –

It’s likely to say “the troposphere” – has trapped

Emissions from millions of cars, idling like mine

As she crosses, and is making a greenhouse

Of the atmosphere. The book will say that climate

Is complicated, that we may be doing this,

And if we are, it may explain that this

Was something we’ve done quite accidentally,

Which she can understand, not having meant

That morning to have spilled the milk. She’s one

Of those who’s only hungry metaphorically



Poetry should be able to comprehend the earth,

To set aside from time to time its natural idioms

Of ardor and revulsion, and say, in a style as sober

As the Latin of Lucretius, who reported to Venus

On the state of things two thousand years ago –

“It’s your doing that under the wheeling constellations

Of the sky,” he wrote, “all nature teems with life –”

Something of the earth beyond our human dramas.


Topsoil: going fast. Rivers: dammed and fouled.

Cod: about fished out. Haddock: about fished out.

Pacific salmon nosing against dams from Yokohama

To Kamchatka to Seattle and Portland, flailing

Up fish ladders, against turbines, in a rage to breed

Much older than human beings and interdicted

By the clever means that humans have devised

To grow more corn and commandeer more lights.

Most of the ancients groves are gone, sacred to Kuan Yin

And Artemis, sacred to the gods and goddesses

In every picture book the child is apt to read.



Lucretius, we have grown so clever that mechanics

In our art of natural philosophy can take the property

Of luminescence from a jellyfish and put it in mice.

In the dark the creature give off greenish light.

Their bodies must be very strange to them.

An artist in Chicago – think of a great trading city

In Dacia or Thracia – has asked to learn the method

So he can sell people dogs that glow in the dark.



The book will try to give the child the wonder

Of how, in our time, we understand life came to be:

Stuff flung from the sun, the molten core

Still pouring sometimes rivers of black basalt

Across the earth from the old fountains of its origin.

A hundred millions years of clouds, sulfurous rain.

The long cooling. There is no silence in the world

Like the silence of rock from before life was.

You come across it in a Mexican desert,


A palo verde tree nearby, moss-green. Some

Insect-eating bird with wing feathers the color

Of a morning sky perched on a limb of the tree.

That blue, that green, the completely fierce

Alertness of the bird that can’t know the amazement

Of its being there, a human mind that somewhat does,

Regarding a black outcrop of rock in the desert

Near a sea, charcoal-black and dense, wave-worn,

And all one thing: there’s no life in it at all.


It must be a gift of evolution that humans

Can’t sustain wonder. We’d never have gotten up

From our knees if we could. But soon enough

We’d have fashioned sexy little earrings from the feathers,

Highlighted our cheekbones by rubbings from the rock,

And made a spear from the sinewy wood of the tree.



If she lived in Michigan or the Ukraine,

She’d find, washed up on the beach in a storm like this

Limestone fossils of Devonian coral. She could study

The faint white markings: she might have to lick the stone

To see them if the wind was drying the pale surface

Even as she held it, to bring back the picture of what life

Looked like four hundred millions years ago: a honeycomb with mouths.



Cells that divided and reproduced. From where? Why?

(In our country it was the fashion in philosophy

To not ask unanswerable questions. That was left

To priests and poets, an attitude you’d probably

Approve.) Then a bacterium grew green pigment.

This was the essential miracle. It somehow unmated

Carbon dioxide to eat the carbon and turn it

Into sugar and spit out, hiss out the molecules

Of oxygen the child on her way to school

Is breathing, and so bred life. Something then

Of DNA, the curled musical ladder of sugars, acids.

From there to eyes, ears, wings, hands, tongues.

Armadillos, piano tuners, gnats, sonnets,

Military interrogation, the coho salmon, the Margaret Truman rose.



The people who live in Tena, on the Napo River,

Say that the black, viscid stuff that pools in the selva

Is the blood of the rainbow boa curled in the earth’s core.

The great trees in that forest house ten thousands of kinds

Of beetle, reptiles no human eye has ever seen changing

Color on the hot, green, hardly changing leaves

Whenever a faint breeze stirs them. In the understory

Bromeliads and orchids whose flecked petals and womb-

Or mouth-like flowers are the shapes of desire

In human dreams. And butterflies, larger than her palm

Held up to catch a ball or ward off fear. Along the river

Wide-leaved banyans where flocks of raucous parrots,

Fruit-eaters and seed-eaters, rise in startled flares

Of red and yellow and bright green. It will seem to be poetry

Forgetting its promise of sobriety to say the rosy shinings

In the thick brown current are small dolphins rising

To the surface where gouts of the oil that burns inside

The engine of the car I’m driving oozes from the banks.



The book will tell her that the gleaming appliance

That kept her milk cold in the night required

Chlorofluorocarbons – Lucretius, your master

Epictetus was right about atoms in a general way.

It turns out they are electricity having sex

In an infinite variety of permutations, Plato’s

Yearning halves of a severed being multiplied

In all the ways that all the shapes on earth

Are multiple, complex; the philosopher

Who said that the world was fire was also right –

Chlorofluorocarbons react with ozone, the gas

That makes air tingle on a sparkling day.

Nor were you wrong to describe them as assemblies,

As if evolution were a town meeting or a plebiscite.

(Your theory of wind, and of gases, was also right

And there are more of them than you supposed.)

Ozone, high in the air, makes a kind of filter

Keeping out parts of sunlight damaging to the skin.

The device we use to keep our food as cool

As if it sat in snow required this substance,

And it reacts with ozone. Where oxygen breeds it

From ultra-violet light, it burns a hole in the air.



They drained the marshes around Rome. Your people,

You know, were the ones who taught the world to love

Vast fields of grain, the power and the order of the green.

Then golden rows of it, spooled out almost endlessly.

Your poets, those in the generation after you,

Were the ones who praised the packed seed heads

And the vineyards and the olive groves and called them

“Smiling” fields. In the years since, we’ve gotten

Even better at relentless simplification, but it’s taken

Until our time for it to crowd out, savagely, the rest

Of life. No use to rail against our curiosity and greed.

They keep us awake. And are, for all their fury

And their urgency, compatible with intelligent restraint.

In the old paintings of the Italian renaissance,

–  In the fresco painters who came after you

(It was the time in which your poems were rediscovered –

There was a period when you, and Venus, were lost;

How could she be lost? you may well ask). Anyway

In those years the painters made our desire

An allegory and a dance in the figure of three graces.

The first, the woman coming toward you, is the appetite

For life: the one who seems to turn away is chaste restraint,

And the one whom you’ve just glimpsed, her back to you,

Is beauty. The dance resembles wheeling constellations.

They made of it a figure for something elegant or lovely

Forethought gives our species. One would like to think

It makes a dance; that the black-and-white flash

Of a flock of buntings in October wind, headed south

Towards winter habitat, would find that the December fields

Their kind has known and mated in for thirty centuries

Or more, were still intact, that they will not go

The way of the long-billed arctic curlews who flew

From Newfoundland to Patagonia in every weather

And are gone now from the kinds on earth. The last of them

Seen by any human alit in a Texas marsh in 1964.



What is to be done with our species? Because

We know we’re going to die, to be submitted

To that tingling dance of atoms once again,

It’s easy for us to feel our lives are a dream –

As this is, in a way, a dream: the flailing rain,

The birds, the soaked red backpack of the child,

Her tendrils of wet hair, the windshield wipers,

This voice trying to speak across the centuries

Between us, even the long story of the earth,

Boreal forests, mangrove swamps, Tiberian wheatfields

In the summer heat on hillsides south of Rome – all of it

A dream, and we alive somewhere, somehow outside it,

Watching. People have been arguing for centuries

About whether or not you thought of Venus as a metaphor.

Because of the rational man they take you for.

Also about why your poem ended with a plague,

The bodies heaped in the temple of the gods.

To disappear. First one, then a few, then hundreds,

Just stopping over here, to vanish in the marsh at dusk.

So easy, in imagination, to tell the story backward,

Because the earth needs a dream of restoration –

She dances and the birds just keep arriving,

Thousands of them, immense arctic flocks, her teeming life. 



Let us pray. Write your law on our hearts and our minds, O Creator God. We cry to you in the face of atrocities the scope of which we can hardly bear, from the violence of those who seize opportunities for valorous self-identity by assaulting their innocent fellow citizens, to our seemingly unassuagable appetite for petroleum and other exhaustible and precious elements of your Creation even when we know we are destroying the very fabric of that Creation and leaving our beloved neighbors at the mercy of drought and storm and inundation and war. Open a new and living way through the curtain. Grant us “intelligent restraint.” Help us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, but encouraging one another to be agents of Earth’s restoration and all the more as we see the Day approaching. For you have made us your collaborators in the tender stewardship of this precious Earth and nurturers of our fellow citizens upon it. By your grace, let us to hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for you, who have promised, are faithful.  [from Hebrews 10:19-25] AMEN.

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