Growing up, I took piano lessons. I love music, didn’t mind practicing, and actually improved. Piano lessons mean recitals, which I took in stride until fifth grade.
That year, on recital night, when it came my turn, I walked out onto the stage of my elementary school, sat down at the piano, found my hand position, and launched into “Clare de Lune,” intermediate version. I played the first page without a mistake, and then the second page. And then, I lost my place. I completely forgot how to play my way into the third page.
I started over and played the first page and the second, and still couldn’t find my place. Devastated and humiliated, I found a chord I could play with some flourish; stopped, got up, took my bow, and rushed off the stage in tears.
I would take piano lessons for many years. I would never again play alone in a recital. To lose one’s place can be a life-altering experience.
Consider David: who successfully unites Israel’s northern and southern kingdoms. And yet, the unstable alliance of people from disparate religious, social, and economic backgrounds requires more.
So David acts to return the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. The Ark: Israel’s reminder of God’s presence, provision, and protection in the risky desert wanderings. The Ark: a four foot by two foot by two foot rectangular box; gilded in gold; two cherubim figures at each end, framing what all of Israel know as God’s mercy seat.
David dances with wild abandon upon the Ark’s arrival; dances in a state of relative undress. And David’s wife, daughter of David’s predecessor King Saul, objects to her husband’s immodesty. David loses his place.
He, who has danced his heart out before God’s mercy seat, shows no mercy. Shunning his wife, he leaves her childless; and separates the lineage of David and the lineage of Saul forever in Israel’s history.
To lose one’s place can be a life-altering experience; creating barrenness and estrangement for self, for others, and for a nation.
And consider Herod: John the Baptist’s prophetic preaching captures the king’s curiosity. Herod admires John’s courage, even as the prophet proclaims Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife adulterous.
At his wife’s insistence, Herod imprisons John; and yet protects him; intrigued by the prophet’s mysterious message.
A daughter beguiles Herod with her dancing at his birthday party. Herod makes her a frivolous promise in front of all his guests. “Anything you want, it’s yours!” he tells her.
Treachery in Herod’s house is strong. Mother and daughter conspire. The request? “The head of John the Baptist; his head on a platter.” Herod loses his place.
“A deal’s a deal” he reasons. Needing to save face before his powerful friends; he orders John’s death. Only now, Jesus appears; more potent than ever. And Herod lives with the nagging feeling that John and John’s God are not gone at all.
To lose one’s place can be a life-altering experience. Expediency and treachery leave a residue.
Timothy, Paul’s missionary companion, finds a complete mess of a church in Ephesus. Folks all dressed up in religion who want nothing to do with God. They, like we, have lost their place.
We have lost our place as people of peace; for children die in schools, the faithful die at prayer in their houses of worship, the refugees of war and of poverty die in the desert or on the seas.
Pope Francis reminds us we have lost our place as stewards of creation; raping the land, warming the planet, soiling the water.
We have lost our place as those with responsibility to do justice and love mercy on behalf of the last, the least, and the lost: paying minimum wage no family could live on, ignoring the hungry and the homeless in our midst, turning a blind eye to the young and the innocent trafficked for sex and for exploitation.
So what are we to do? What do we do when we have lost our place?
Paul sings from the pages of Ephesians. Bless God! Bless God: who before the world began had us in mind to love. Bless God: who adopts us as family and makes us children of highest blessing. Bless God: who redeems our lives in Jesus making us holy and blameless altogether. Bless God: who with goodly grace gathers all that has broken and come apart into the holy heart of love for all eternity. Bless God!!!
In the longest run on sentence in the Bible, the author of Ephesians blesses God over and over and over again: for who God is, for what God does, for how God acts.
In words so full of yielding, so full of trust, so full of gratitude; Paul makes clear that God lives at the center of life, giving rise to our adoration, worship, praise—and acknowledgement. For it is in acknowledging who God is, what God does, and how God acts – that we find our place. Children: beloved, adopted, redeemed, sealed, graced, gathered.
All prayer begins with this acknowledgement. And over time, we become what we pray; and we become how we pray. If, in our prayer, we bless God; then the possibility exists that we may become God’s blessing for others.
In November of last year, this Cathedral invited the Muslim community to offer Friday Juma’ah prayers here in the nave. Not everyone welcomed that expression of this Cathedral’s continual and continuing prayer: “God, bless us; that we might live and serve as a house of prayer for all your people.”
Many of the calls and emails, tweets and texts, received by the staff and clergy were angry, ugly, cruel. And yet one email I received following the prayers has stayed with me.
“My name is Laura, and in my attempt to find an interfaith day care for my two month old beautiful, inspiring, blessing of a son – I came across the National Cathedral’s service wherein Muslims were invited into the church to pray their prayers.
After researching “interfaith everything” for the better part of five years and finding mostly organizations, blogs, and websites that foster Christian/Jewish relationships, I felt compelled to reach out.
As a young woman with many spiritual questions, I am comforted to find a person with whom I might share my own interfaith experience; if only in hopes of learning to parent my newborn son.
I am a Catholic; married to an American/Egyptian Muslim. We each have emotional ties to the foundations of our faith. I am also a mother on a journey to find or create a community that will welcome our family and foster our spiritual growth.
In his schooling and in his worship, I want my son to know love rather than ‘us’ and ‘them’; an environment that teaches him to respect himself and those around him; to appreciate differences, to drive his curiosity, to challenge his stereotypes. Most of all, to know God is love and love is powerful.
I sit and write next to the Christmas tree my husband raised. I sit and write as he is in the next room praying an Arabic bedtime prayer his mother taught him over our sleeping son. My husband and I are able to love because of the love my Christian family and his Muslim family taught us. I know there is space for shared faith in our home. I am not always sure where to find room for shared faith in our community.
I welcome and greatly look forward to your thoughts.”
This Cathedral community blessed God with those Friday prayers. For when we show that we love something or someone that another cares about, that’s God’s grace at work in our lives, creating blessings.
To offer blessing means to draw a circle of light around a person, a community, the creation; to protect, heal and strengthen. To offer blessing means to call some of the wholeness God intends for us into the present, into the now. Looking to God, the source of all blessing, we make gracious invocation for the sake of others and for the world of God’s making.
And in gratitude for the capacity to bless, we bless God. We bless God: who overcomes every kind of injustice, cruelty, and hate with steadfast love, unceasing mercy, never-failing grace. We bless God: to remind ourselves that everything we know of life, everything we know in life is ultimately held in God’s lavish grace. We bless God, in whom we find our place. We bless God, and we hope and pray that God will make of us a blessing.