Feminist Hermeneutics and Jamba Juice

Last weekend J and I went for a long run and stopped afterward to refuel ourselves with a delicious sugar-bomb smoothie. This was the first time in a while we’ve done this; back in Seattle, when we were training for our first (and only) marathon, we would go pretty regularly to Emerald City Smoothie near our old place on Capitol Hill. Our closest source for a smoothie now happens to be a Jamba Juice, and so it was that I found this artifact:

kidsmoms

What caught my attention was “Kids and moms agree.” No dads, of course.

This is something that registers particularly strongly with me as J and I are thinking about having children in the next couple of years. Both of us want to be actively involved with caring for our kids, and to do what we can to make our work schedules flexible enough for that to happen. But if there’s one of us who is more likely to spend more time at home with kids, it’s me. J makes a lot more money than I do, for one thing; and her work is an 8-to-6 schedule, whereas some of mine can be done from home and with flexible hours.

I don’t mean to pick on Jamba Juice too much. “Mom” as shorthand for “parent” is everywhere in our culture. In many ways the prominence of mommy culture in books, blogs, and media is a great thing in that it raises the profile of caring for children as crucially important and meaningful work. Nor do I feel the need to complain as if I were being oppressed and marginalized here. To the extent men are “left out” of the child care scene, it’s because our societal values have privileged men and asssumed they would be doing the more prestigious, more “male” jobs in the marketplace. The Jamba Juice flyer is just a reminder of how far we still have to go before caring for children is seen as both equally valuable with other kinds of work, and something that people would naturally want to participate in regardless of gender.

Paul, Tradition, and 1 Cor. 11

“Did Jesus institute the Eucharist at the Last Supper?”

That’s the title of a fairly recent essay by the prolific and astute liturgical scholar Paul Bradshaw. As it happens, you can read a great deal of it, or maybe the whole thing if you’re lucky, through Google Books’ preview function. Bradshaw summarizes a great deal of recent work–his own, and that of others like Andrew McGowan–which suggests that the origins of the Eucharist are much broader than a single Last Supper event but lie in the overall meal practice of Jesus throughout his ministry.

In itself, that’s not an altogether new thesis. It goes back through the work of NT scholar Norman Perrin and even in some ways to Hans Lietzmann’s 1920s work (Messe und Herrenmahl). But one of the most important pieces Bradshaw has added is his analysis of the Synoptic Gospels’ institution narratives. He has shown–to my mind, pretty convincingly–that each of the three gospels probably had a source for the Last Supper which did not include Jesus’ words identifying the bread and cup with his body and blood, but which focused on eschatological sayings: “I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until I drink it anew in the kingdom of God,” and similar. The author of Mark had the institution narrative as a separate tradition and added it as a discrete chunk to the Last Supper scene. The authors of Matthew and Luke later followed suit.1

Where did the institution-at-the-Last-Supper tradition come from, then? The most obvious candidate would seem to be Paul, who includes it in 1 Corinthians 11. If Mark got it from Pauline church sources, that might leave Paul as the single point-source for this particular story: although it ends up appearing in four different places in the NT, it’s quite possible that each of those four accounts can be traced to Paul’s version. So where did Paul get this tradition? Bradshaw outlines the two possibilities: “either from a Christian source that he believes to have preserved a trustworthy version of what Jesus actually said and did, or alternatively by some sort of direct revelation.”2

Last Supper

photo by Steve Gray/TheRevSteve

Now there are always theological implications to history. Good historians try to be aware of their own theological preconceptions and to question them, but our theological outlooks still inevitably constrain what historical possibilities seem likely to us; and, conversely, our historical reconstructions will tend to have an impact on our theology. In the case of eucharistic origins, the work of Bradshaw, McGowan, and others over the past few decades has rightly emphasized the diversity of early Christian meal practices and undermined the oversimplifications that liturgists have sometimes tended to create.3 Theologically, these results tend to suggest that we might do well to emphasize the celebratory, common-meal dimension of the eucharist more and to move away from a narrowly paschal emphasis that sees it only as a commemoration of Christ’s death.

With that shift in emphasis I’d tend to agree. And yet, of course, it is always possible to overstate a case. This is what Gordon Lathrop cautions us against in his essay “The Reforming Gospels: A Liturgical Theologian Looks again at Eucharistic Origins.”4 Noting his own location as a Lutheran for whom the “theology of the cross” is always critically important, he accepts most of Bradshaw’s historical reconstruction but suggests that the more Pauline emphasis on the cross, even if it was not originally a part of some meal practices, functioned as a reforming word to the proto-Christian-meal-assemblies, insisting that it was the Crucified and Risen one who was being celebrated and that this meal must never be celebrated to the exclusion of the poor and those who suffer. As a liturgical theologian, Lathrop accepts the importance of careful historical reconstruction but reserves the right to make value judgments about what has happened in history: liturgical theology is always normative as well as descriptive. And so for Lathrop Paul’s emphasis on the connection between the Lord’s Supper and the cross is important and worth maintaining even if the historicity of an institution narrative taking place at the Last Supper is questionable.

What I wonder is this: does Lathrop actually go farther than necessary in discounting the possibility of that historicity?

He opts pretty strongly for the second of Bradshaw’s two possibilities as to where Paul received the story of the institution narrative: not as oral tradition from Christians before him, but “directly in a vision or revelation from the Risen One or . . . from a prophet or prophets who have spoken in the name of the Risen One.”5 Lathrop’s basis for this is that Paul “does this kind of quoting [of oral tradition] nowhere else,” and that Paul usually uses the word kyrios (Lord) “to mean the Crucified-Risen One,” that is, the one he has met in his own visionary experience of the risen Christ.

I think what Lathrop has in mind here is passages like Galatians 1:11-12, where Paul argues that his gospel didn’t come to him through human beings but as a direct revelation from his encounter with Christ. But in this case Paul is talking about his “gospel”–his conviction that Christ is risen Lord and that he, Paul, has been appointed by Christ as primary missionary to the Gentiles, who can be fully included in God’s covenant–a conviction that did indeed surely come to him through direct visionary encounter, and that created significant conflict between him and more conservative members of the Jewish Christian movement.

Yet there are other places where Paul does seem to cite tradition that he has received from those who were “in Christ before [he] was” (Rom. 16:7). The best-known is 1 Cor. 15, where he cites the tradition of Christ’s death and resurrection appearances (and goes out of his way rhetorically to “reach across the aisle,” emphasizing that this is tradition he shares with Peter and James).6 Paul uses formal, language of “receiving” and “handing on”; these terms would later be used by rabbis to describe a technical process of transmitting tradition from one generation to another. Notably, these are the exact same verbs in 1 Cor. 11 to describe the institution narrative.

Lathrop is right to point out that Paul’s inclusion of the phrase “from the Lord” in 1 Cor. 11 may seem to change the meaning somewhat. After all, if he is really citing tradition here it would be more natural for him to say “I received from Cephas and James” or “from those who were apostles before me.” So the wording here might weigh in favor of a “direct revelation” interpretation. But before making that call, I think it’s worth considering the partial parallel of another passage: 1 Cor. 7. Here Paul is giving counsel about marriage: and throughout the entire chapter he makes a clear distinction between commands “of the Lord” and his own judgment. What’s noteworthy is that it seems highly likely that the commands “of the Lord” he is referring to here are, indeed, pieces of oral tradition: because here Paul’s careful distinction actually matches up quite well with traditions in the Synoptic Gospels that are at least not verbally dependent on Paul. Moreover, Paul seems to privilege this oral tradition that he has from Jesus over his own judgment, although he still believes his judgment is in accordance with “the Spirit of God.

Does it really matter whether Paul received the institution narrative as oral tradition or through a visionary experience? Yes, and no. No, because if Christians believe that Paul really did have an encounter with the risen Christ (and we’d better!–or else half our New Testament is of highly dubious value), and really did at times have mystical experiences inspired by the Spirit of God, then there’s no reason not to consider this revelation of a profound connection between the Lord’s Supper and the Lord’s death to be theologically meaningful for us as well, even if it was idiosyncratic in the earliest church. But yes, because as 21st-century people we also simply value historic factuality more highly than mystical experience. And that’s not a bad thing. Even Paul, after all, seems to have made a similar evaluation in 1 Cor. 7.

From my own reading of Paul so far–and I should say upfront that New Testament is a secondary field for me, that I’m early on in my Ph.D. program, and that this reading may well change at any time!–my sense is that he believed he had had a single, unique encounter with the risen Jesus. He considered this encounter to be on the same level as the resurrection appearances to Peter and the other apostles: a historical face-to-face “seeing,” even if hard to describe. Then, throughout his life, he had other visionary experiences in the Spirit. It’s not clear to me, though, that he would describe these as “seeing the Lord” or that he would elevate the content of these to an equal status as that of oral tradition he had received.

There’s a methodological question at work here as well. One often hears in New Testament studies that Paul was “not interested in the historical Jesus”: that his theology is based completely on his experience of the crucified and risen Christ, and that since he never knew Jesus in the flesh, he had little interest in details about Jesus’ earthly ministry. There is  considerable truth to this–but like any meme, it can be oversimplified and underquestioned. Paul doesn’t often refer to tradition about Jesus’ ministry, even in places where it might support his theological arguments, and so it seems likely that he didn’t have encyclopedic knowledge of the kinds of traditions that show up later in the gospels. But that doesn’t mean that he had none at all, and it doesn’t mean that he had no interest in the historical Jesus whatsoever.

From a different point of view, we might even see Paul as our most reliable source about the historical Jesus. We know that he had firsthand personal acquaintance with Peter, James, and likely others who had known the historical Jesus. And we have several letters that are certainly by Paul. We have nowhere near that level of clear authorial identity, nor clear connection at just one remove with the historical Jesus, in any of the gospels.

Kevin BaconPaul may have been more than six degrees from Kevin Bacon, but he was one degree of separation away from Jesus.

Paul is silent about the historical Jesus most of the time. But there are a few places where he is not. It seem to me that–making allowances for all his theological presuppositions, his apparent ignorance of a great deal of tradition, his agenda to defend his own apostolic status, and so forth–there is still a good argument to be made for taking Paul seriously when he does seem to be making historical claims about a Jesus whose actions were less than 25 years in the past at the time of his writing.

What does all this mean? I’m not completely sure. Perhaps that even if the Last Supper institution story has a point-source with Paul, we ought not to write off the possibility of some historicity for it. Now, this wouldn’t explain why the synoptic authors ended up in possession of a different Last Supper tradition focused around eschatology and impending betrayal, nor why John ended up in possession of a footwashing-and-discourse Last Supper tradition, neither of which mention anything eucharistic.

This semester I’ll be participating in the foundational New Testament area doctoral seminar, which is focusing on–you guessed it–1 Corinthians. At first when I learned this I was disappointed, because I’ve already done coursework on Paul and would have liked to spend some time focusing on the gospels or on the non-Pauline epistles or Revelation. But with these questions rolling around for me, maybe spending some more time with 1 Corinthians will end up being providential after all. As far as NT books are concerned, it’s certainly one of a liturgist’s best friends.

  1. Bradshaw notes that his analysis draws from the earlier work of Xavier Léon-Dufour. See “Did Jesus Institute,” 12-17; the same analysis is given in greater detail in the first chapter of Bradshaw’s Eucharistic Origins (London: SPCK/New York: Oxford, 2004). []
  2. Bradshaw, “Did Jesus Institute the Eucharist at the Last Supper?”, in Maxwell E. Johnson, ed., Issues in Eucharistic Praying East and West: Essays in Liturgical and Theological Analysis (Collegeville, MN: Pueblo, 2010), 12. []
  3. In particular, these oversimplifications have come from the magisterial, profoundly important, but often idealizing work of the mid-20th-century Anglican scholar Gregory Dix. []
  4. Worship 83:3 (May 2009), 194-212. []
  5. 202-203. []
  6. Here I’m drawing on an exegesis I wrote for coursework on Paul last year, which you can read if you want. []

Breaking the Body? Episcopalians and the Fraction

During our liturgical theology seminar at the GTU in the spring semester we spent a week or two discussing the great medieval allegorists like Amalar of Metz and William Durandus, who found rich (if often tenuous) symbolic meanings in almost every word and movement of the liturgy. The discussion got me thinking about the ways Episcopalians today tend to talk about, and to enact, the breaking of the bread in the eucharist.

I’ve been in places–and maybe you have, too–where the priest breaks a piece of bread quickly, almost violently, then holds it aloft while proclaiming triumphantly, “Alleluia: Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us!” It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the fraction rite is meant to be a reenactment of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross–especially if the sharp snap of a wafer lends its aural emphasis to the proceedings.

Sometimes this understanding is explicitly reinforced by teaching or printed material. I’ve seen bulletins with marginal glosses like this:

As the bread is broken, we take time to ponder the holy mystery of the Eucharist. The host, which is the large wafer that the celebrant holds up, has become the body of Christ, and now is broken, symbolizing for us Jesus’ broken body on the cross.

For those of us whose only (or main) experience of Episcopal liturgy has been with the 1979 prayer book, it can be startling to realize that the previous book didn’t include a fraction rite after the eucharistic prayer at all. Instead, the rubrics called for the priest to break the bread during the prayer, at the words “he brake it,” in keeping with Anglican practice since 1662.

By restoring the breaking of the bread to a point after the eucharistic prayer, the 1979 book restored an older pattern common to both Western and Eastern Christianity. It also helped make it clear that the eucharistic prayer is just that–a prayer, addressed to God–rather than a dramatic reenactment of the Last Supper in which the priest tries to mimic the actions of Jesus step by step. Instead, the entire prayer corresponds to the “giving thanks” of the institution story, and the breaking happens afterward, in preparation for distributing communion.

So far, so good. What’s interesting is the way this breaking of bread tends to attract different interpretations to itself. At its heart, it’s a functional action: if you’re using a single loaf of bread, it has to be broken in order to be shared. But even within the pages of the New Testament there are many theological interpretations associated with the fraction. For Paul it’s a sign of unity. In Luke it’s a moment of epiphany when Christ is recognized, hearkening back to the earlier breakings of bread in his earthly ministry. Later liturgical practice would see another theological interpretation begin to arise: if this bread that has been consecrated by prayer has become for us the body of Christ, then it’s natural to see the “breaking” of that “body” as in some way reminiscent of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross.

Reminiscent it is indeed, and can be so in a very moving way, giving rise to all kinds of fruitful meditative possibilities: here is Jesus, giving himself for me and for all of us; why, even bread must be broken in order to be shared. It’s just like what he says in John’s Gospel: only if a grain falls into the earth and dies can it bear much fruit. God, give me the grace to give myself away in love as you give yourself to me . . . And so on. When we participate in the liturgy, we’re being immersed in a world of interlocking, overlapping symbols and metaphors that can combine and enrich one another in unexpected ways. This is a good thing. As Robert Taft points out, we can and must look at the same eucharistic table at different times and see it as “Holy of Holies, Golgotha, tomb of the resurrection, cenacle, . . . heavenly sanctuary,” and much more.1

Photo by bobosh_t

Photo by bobosh_t

Something different happens, though, when we take one of those reflections and pin it down as the meaning of the fraction. Soon the central purpose of the action–the sharing of a common loaf–gets lost, as do the core New Testament associations of unity and Christophany. Instead we can find ourselves in more allegorical territory, seeing the fraction as a ritual reenactment of Jesus’ death on the cross and the “breaking” of his body. This interpretation (John’s caveat about Jesus’ body not being broken notwithstanding!) became prominent in later classical and medieval understandings. From that symbolic interpretation, it’s a short step to the inference that what’s going on in the mass is the repetition, over and over again, of the slaying of Jesus at the hands of the priest.

This was the kind of interpretation Luther battled against. He saw the fraction rite as altogether optional and perhaps undesirable, since it lent itself to this somewhat gruesome understanding of a Jesus who had to be sacrificed over and over again, in contrast to the “once and for all” of the Letter to the Hebrews. Of course, by the time of the Reformation, the use of separate wafers rather than a single loaf at the infrequent times when members of the congregation received communion meant there was no longer a functional purpose for the fraction rite at all. And so, following the Reformers’ general vision, the Anglican prayer book tradition never had a separate fraction rite until the reforms of the twentieth century. The 1552, 1559, and 1604 books said nothing about any breaking of the bread at all.2 Then in 1662, when a series of manual acts was put back into the prayer, the breaking of bread was put there as one of them.

So here we are as present-day Episcopalians. We have an honest-to-goodness fraction rite for the first time since 1549; and for the first time since many centuries before then, we have a situation in which most of the congregation is in fact receiving communion each week. We are perfectly primed for a rediscovery of the breaking of the bread as a holy moment of epiphany and a tangible symbol of unity. And, yes: as long as we are speaking of bread as Christ’s body and then in the same moment breaking it, in a meal remembering the cross and resurrection, there will always be rich possibilities for meditating on Jesus’ self-giving sacrifice in connection with that breaking. But we do better not to canonize that secondary symbolic possibility as the primary meaning of the fraction.

Howard Galley, one of the framers of the 1979 prayer book, has noted a bit wryly that the drafting committee didn’t envision the unintended consequences that might arise from choosing “Alleluia: Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” as the first recommendation for a fraction anthem. The phrase on its own can seem to reinforce the idea that the priest has just sacrificed Christ. Yet the text in its entirety carries a very different message. It is the first line of Pascha nostrum, a characteristically Anglican hymn that celebrates the resurrection in lines taken from Romans and 1 Corinthians. We sing the whole thing during Morning Prayer in Eastertide, and it is a ringing affirmation of the once-and-for-all nature of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, which needs never to be repeated–although at every eucharist we commemorate it, celebrate it, participate in its benefits, are incorporated into it:

Alleluia.
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us;
therefore let us keep the feast,

Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Alleluia.

Christ being raised from the dead will never die again;
death no longer has dominion over him.

The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all;
but the life he lives, he lives to God.

So also consider yourselves dead to sin,
and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Christ has been raised from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since by a man came death,
by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.

For as in Adam all die,
so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

Photo by Lorianne DiSabato

Photo by Lorianne DiSabato

(If you want, you can read the original reflection paper that inspired this post.)
  1. Robert F. Taft, “The Liturgy of the Great Church: An Initial Synthesis of Structure and Interpretation on the Eve of Iconoclasm,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 34/35 (1982): 74. []
  2. The 1549 book does mention in its rubrics that the bread should be “devided . . . and distributed,” but without any ceremony; it is treated as a functional act of distribution. []

St. Mary the Virgin: Mary of the Incarnation

Stephen R. Shaver
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Berkeley, CA
St. Mary the Virgin
Isaiah 61:10-11
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 1:46-55
Psalm 34 or 34:1-9

Hail Mary, full of grace: the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

+ + +

Back in 2005, when The Simpsons had just recently become the country’s longest-ever-running sitcom, there aired an episode in which Homer and Bart Simpson decide to convert to Roman Catholicism—lured in by pancake suppers, bingo, and an engaging young priest voiced by Liam Neeson.

Shocked at this development, Marge Simpson has a vision of an afterlife in which she’s sent to Protestant Heaven: a bland place where upper-crust WASPs with sweaters slung across their shoulders play croquet and badminton, sip gin and tonics, and address one another with names like Buffy and Dash. Looking off in the general direction of Catholic Heaven—set far across an impassable gulf—they shrug their shoulders and say, “Not our sort, dear.” Squinting into the distance, Marge sees a rollicking land of fiestas, piñatas, spaghetti feasts, Irish dancing, food and drink bursting off of every table—and in the thick of it, living it up, are Homer and Bart.

Marge is so upset at not being with her family that she demands to speak to Jesus. But tough luck, the anemic-looking preppies with her tell her, pointing over towards Catholic Heaven. “I’m afraid he’s gone native.”[1]

http://www.splendoroftruth.com/curtjester/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/SimpsonCatholicHeaven.jpg  http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v330/Jamie_Barnes/simpsons_pc1.jpg

Now we Episcopalians occupy the strange, beautiful, and somewhat unique position within Christianity of being able to claim to be Protestant and Catholic at the same time. Within North American culture we have sometimes been seen—and have sometimes functioned—as a church with just that elitist, upper-crust identity The Simpsons skewers. But at our best, we are heirs to the rich tradition of incarnational Christianity that knows food and feast and dance and play can be sacramental encounters with the God who made the material universe and called it good. The sociologist and priest Andrew Greeley wrote about the “Catholic imagination,” in which God is seen not as distant from the world but as pervading the creation, the glorious presence animating the whole universe: so that saints and statues and candles and holy water and stained glass are just part of the multiplicity of the ways God reaches out to human beings in our bodies as well as our spirits.[2] It’s not as simple as a split between Protestants and Catholics, though: for there are Protestant mystics and Catholic puritans. It’s about a way of being Christian that recognizes the brokenness and sin in the world, but also believes that God’s yes is stronger than the world’s no; that human beings and all of creation still reflect the divine glory in whose image we were made; and that in Christ all things are being redeemed and transformed into fullness of life. At our best, Episcopalians share that sense that there is “a splendor burning at the heart of things” that lets us offer a robust affirmation of the messy and beautiful created world.[3]

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Mary, blessed virgin mother of our Lord Jesus Christ; beloved of Catholic Christians, both Roman and otherwise. And some of the ways in which Mary has been venerated down through the centuries can seem more than a little unworldly: lily-white statuary, flowers, songs whose texts emphasize concepts like purity and perpetual virginity and meekness. Puritan Mary: ethereal, unearthly, unangry, unsexual, unsullied by the messiness of life.

But there is another Mary. This is Mary the Theotokos: the God-bearer, that title given her to emphasize her role in the incarnation of the living God. Mary is the saint of incarnation: the saint of the flesh, the very one who lends her own fleshly humanity to the eternal Word. And this is the Mary we meet in scripture: Mary the fierce upholder of God acting in this messy world. Brave Mary, consenting to an unlikely pregnancy and the likely social scandal that would attend it. Resourceful Mary, traveling poor with her husband, having her baby where the world would let her. Angry Mary, reprimanding her twelve-year-old messianic adolescent for disappearing in Jerusalem and scaring his family sick. Insistent Mary, coming to Jesus at the wedding at Cana to get him to keep the party going by replenishing the supply of wine. Concerned Mary, showing up with Jesus’ brothers to try to get him to come home when his ministry seemed to be getting out of hand. Brave Mary, again: standing at the cross, loving her son to the last. And then, in the first chapter of Acts, the last time we see her in scripture: Mary the disciple, there at the birth of the church, witness to her resurrected son and Savior.

Today in our Gospel we hear Mary in her own words. The pregnant Mary has gone to visit her cousin Elizabeth, herself pregnant with John the Baptist: and in her exultation Mary pours forth this revolutionary song, the Magnificat, which has become the church’s song at Evening Prayer. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior: for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. . . . He has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” The nineteenth-century Christian Socialist Thomas Hancock called Mary’s song “the Marseillaise of humanity,” the hymn of God’s liberation for the poor.[4]

One of Hancock’s contemporaries was Stewart Headlam, a thoroughly incarnational character from our tradition’s history. Headlam was an Anglican vicar of radical politics and Anglo-Catholic piety—both of which made him a significant headache for his respectable Evangelical bishop, and had a great deal to do with the fact that he was assigned to parishes in the slums of London. But according to his biographer, John Orens, what seemed most blasphemous to Headlam’s more conventional fellow clergy was neither his politics nor his churchmanship: it was his support for the theatres and music halls that made life worth living for the working poor whom he served. In Headlam’s time, even the legitimate theater was seen as morally questionable: as the Buffys and Dashes of that time and place would have said, “Not our sort, dear.” The music halls of the working class were thought of as scurrilous dens of sin: places where copious alcohol and illicit sex were both easily available, and where the human body was shamelessly displayed moving and flowing in dance. For Stewart Headlam, on the other hand, the music hall had a great deal in common with the mass. The potential for misbehavior was outweighed by the fact that the music hall also offered the potential for joy in the midst of the dismal environment of the sweatshops. The God who was the source of all joy and beauty, and who was encountered in stained glass and statues and incense, was also the ultimate source of the beauty of music and dance, and of the human form itself.

Now Stewart Headlam had a passionate devotion to Mary. Indeed, when the suspicious bishop asked his vicar whether Headlam believed in the divinity of Jesus, the vicar’s jesting answer was: “Of course he does, and I think he believes in the divinity of Our Lady also!”[5] But his devotion was not to Puritan Mary, but to the Mary of the incarnation. Once an angry opponent asked him whether he thought St. Paul would ever have set foot in a music hall. “I do not know what St. Paul would have done,” said Headlam. “But I do know that our Lord would have gone; and taken his blessed Mother with him.”[6]

Today we at St. Mark’s, Berkeley, celebrate the Mother of God incarnate. And she has things to say to us, here in this parish that so deeply values beauty. We are in many ways heirs to that Catholic revival of the 1800s, with our rich tradition of music and our beautiful space and vesture and liturgy. And we are here in this amazing city of Berkeley: a place of theater, and music, and counterculture: a place of great wealth and great poverty: a place of messiness and of incarnation.

Here and now, God is looking with favor on servants, showing strength with his arm, scattering the proud, lifting up the lowly, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty. Our vocation is to join in.

May Mary’s song call us ever more deeply into that vocation, today and always.


[1] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Father,_the_Son,_and_the_Holy_Guest_Star. Video clips are available in various places online.

[2] Andrew Greeley, The Catholic Imagination (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).

[3] John Orens, “The Anglo-Catholic Vision” (downloadable from http://www.orderoftheascension.org/a-bit-of-history/).

[4] Orens, “Dancing the Magnificat” (downloadable from http://www.orderoftheascension.org/a-bit-of-history/).

[5] Ibid; for this quote Orens cites Frederick G. Bettany, Stewart Headlam: A Biography (London, John Murray, 1926), 63.

[6] Ibid.

A beginning

I’m Stephen Shaver, an Episcopal priest and a student of liturgy in the Ph.D. program at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. This will be a place where I’ll share short thoughts as well as longer pieces of writing. Some will be more casual, some more academic, and most will probably have to do with life and liturgy in the 21st-century Episcopal Church … though I may end up writing about most anything else as well.

Thanks for visiting. More to come soon.