Friday, March 23, 2012

The Unnecessity of Creation

Robert Farrar Capon says, “The world may or may not need another cookbook, but it needs all the lovers—amateurs—it can get.”

This Lent I have been reading (or I was supposed to read) texts that will make me slow down and pay attention to the world.  I decided to focus a good portion of my time on paying attention to food.  I have been reading through Robert Farrar Capon’s book The Supper of the Lamb. The book is a celebration of God and creation disguised as a cookbook of one long recipe (Lamb for Eight Persons Four Times Over). The books has made me think a lot about the unnecessity of creation. God desires that we enjoy creation simply because it exists.  I want to share a few lines from the book. 

Listen to his instructions on peeling an orange (keep in mind that this author spends 10 pages reflecting on how to cut an onion):

“Peel an orange. Do it lovingly—in perfect quarters like little boats, or in staggered exfoliations like a flat map of the round world, or in one long spiral, as my grandfather used to do. Nothing is more likely to become garbage than orange rind; but for as long as anyone looks at in delight, it stands a million triumphant miles from the trash heap.

That, you know, is why the world exists at all. It remains outside the cosmic garbage can of nothingness, not because it is such a solemn necessity that nobody can get rid of it, but because it is the orange peel hung on God’s chandelier, the wishbone in his kitchen closet.”

For Capon, the kitchen table is the place where we meet God and take in the joy of living. It’s the place to enjoy the unnecessity of creation.  The table is the place to experience God’s creation with all of your senses. Take for instance wine:

“In a general way we concede that God made the world out of joy: He didn’t need it; He just thought it was a good thing. But if you confine His activity to creation to the beginning only, you lose most of the joy in the subsequent shuffle of history…How much better a world it becomes when you see Him creating at all times and at every time. Each thing, at every moment, becomes the delight of His hand, the apple of His eye. The bloom of yeast lies upon the grapeskins year after year because He likes it; C6H1206=2C2H5OH+2CO2 is a dependable process because, every September, He says, ‘That was nice; do it again.’

Let us pause and drink to that.”

Here is to slowing down, paying attention, and taking in the unnecessity of creation.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Funeral Reflections

I presided over my first two funerals this week. A colleague of mine told me, “You are going to want to write about those.”  I shrugged it off at the time, but he was right. I offer a few reflections the morning after:

1.) I don’t take it for granted that pastors are invited into the most intimate moments of life and death.  I realized this as I sat with the dying and a grieving community.  This is a gift and I try to cherish it as much as I can.

2.) God does not fix all of our crises but can transform our tragedies into something beautiful.  I read Scripture with a woman during her last moments on earth. After we read for a while, she said “thank you” over and over—at least six times. She asked me to keep praying—those were her last words.  Then, she gently closed her eyes. We have lost the ars moriendi (the art of dying); most folks want to die instantaneously.  Contrarily, this death was artful and a beautiful illustration of her life.

We worship a God who made something beautiful out of dust and a God who transformed public execution into salvation. Grief and despair feel at home during the time of death, but we must endure the suffering while keeping an eye toward the beautiful. You can choose to perceive the world as heartless, but never forget about the mystery and wonder of God.

3.) Holy Communion is important during funerals. Since the 4th century, the community of Jesus Christ has celebrated a farewell meal with the deceased.  Communion accomplishes a number of purposes.  It is thanksgiving for the life of Christ and the life of the deceased. It is fellowship—with Christ, the gathered congregation, the universal church, and with those that have passed.  It is remembrance—we remember that Christ entered into our brokenness. It is grace—the Holy Spirit provides strength and nourishment to the body as we go through this hard time. Lastly, it is hope—communion is eschatological as it points toward the heavenly banquet. As the body gathers around the table, we long for the day where we will all eat together united in peace and perfection.

Sometimes our words fall short, but Communion fills that void.

4.) It’s very difficult to put together a funeral service that honors the wishes of the family and is also theologically astute.  Overall, a funeral should be presented as the intermingling of two stories: the story of Jesus Christ and the story of the community, which includes the story of the deceased. The point of focusing on these two stories is to allow the funeral to place the story of the deceased and the story of the grieving community into the story of God. The funeral can easily slip into just “a celebration of life” at the expense of the most important story—Jesus Christ. A “celebration of life” is important, but it is a dead end without Jesus.

5.) Pastoral care during a time of death is exhausting.