Monday, September 06, 2010

Saints and sacraments

Marian Miller: Brighten the Corner Where You Are.

I always learn something new during early-morning minutes before and after the weather report on NBC’s “Today” show.

Natalie (Matt and Meridith had Labor Day off) told me this morning, for example, that Craigslist has blocked its “adult services” section. I hadn’t known previously that Craigslist had an “adult services” section. Actually, I’ve never looked at Craigslist (I’m not in the market for anything other than a half-gallon of milk right now and expect I’d better go to HyVee for that).

So I “Google Newsed” Craigslist to see if more information was available. It seemed to be, but I quit reading midway through the first report. If you-all know more about Craigslist or its adult services section than I do, please don’t tell me. I don’t care.


Then there was something about some guy named Glenn Beck and a “Restore America’s Honor” rally. I googled him, too, and found out one useful thing --- that he spells “Glenn” with two “ns” rather than one. He seems to be some sort of radio personality. But the fact he spells his name with two “ns” is really all I needed to know. If you know more, again, please don’t tell me.


All this got me to thinking about the weekend news I was really interested in. Take Marian Miller’s 90th birthday.

Sunday brought a double-header for several of us at St. Andrew’s --- Morning Prayer in Chariton, then a quick run down to Grace Church in Albia for Holy Eucharist with the bishop, who was visiting.

But the high point in Chariton certainly was Marian’s birthday. Marian is a saint --- and our oldest communicant.

Maybe “saint” needs a little explaining, since it can be a touchy concept. Episcopalians usually are mildly cranky about the generally-recognized saints of the church. We name our parishes after them (St. Andrew’s, for example) and sometimes mark their official feast days, but don’t expect anything from them --- like intercession --- other than the examples they’ve provided.

My former vicar was a firm believer in the sainthood of all believers, and made a point of always beginning general correspondence to us with “Dear Saints.” Not that many of us viewed ourselves as saintly. Others limit saintly references to those who have died in Christ, thus “sainted” --- those now among that great cloud of witnesses. And so it goes.

I’m using “saint” here as descriptive of someone in whose life we catch a glimpse of God and a glimmer of who we are called to be. That’s Marian all over. You have to know her to appreciate that.

Last summer I believe it was, several of us from both St. Andrew’s and Grace got together just to sit around and drink coffee (or lemonade), eat, visit, play a game or two --- and sing. Marian’s theme song is “Brighten the Corner Where You Are,” so she asked that we sing that, and we did. Since her memory is not what it once was, she requested it two more times before the evening was done --- and we sang it two more times, one of the essential messages of Marian’s life with two exclamation points.

Marian has very little short-term memory left, but that can be conditional. Unless her family is doing it, one of us always picks her up every Sunday morning at the assisted living center and brings her to church. Earlier this summer, we got to yakking in the kitchen and time got away. The telephone rang. “This is Marian, it’s Sunday morning. Where are you?” We haven’t been that careless since.

At Bible study one day last winter, the conversation turned to why so many people feel it unnecessary to go to church on Sunday. “My goodness, what else would you do on Sunday?” Marian asked.

So the birthday of a saint who always brightens the corner where she is and where we are lucky enough to be, too, is big news.


The other big news on Sunday was the baptism of three and the confirmation of two by our bishop, Alan Scarfe, at Grace Church. Big news at the other end of the age spectrum, although one of the three baptized was a youngish adult and two, teen-agers.

The bishop always confirms, but loves to baptize, too --- and does so as often has his location on a particular Sunday or other occasion allows.

Now baptism is one of those rites of the church that Christians, who obviously are quite often not led down the same paths, can squabble about if they care to do so.

In the Episcopal church, as well as the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran and several other approaches, baptism is how we are “born again,” washed clean, “sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever,” as the Book of Common Prayer puts it. Sometimes that leads to misunderstandings with fellow Christians who look upon baptism as more of a symbol than a sacrament and at being “born again” as something quite different, a conscious decision --- something an infant for example is incapable of --- inspired by the Holy Spirit but undertaken only when the decision-maker is old enough to make this decision for himself or herself.

 Whatever the case, in an Episcopal church on a Sunday morning, baptism is big news whether the candidates be infants, children, teens or adults. Participatory news, too, since the assembled faithful renew their own baptismal vows as the service proceeds --- and depending upon the congregation, occasionally get a little damp themselves as water is taken from the font and splashed (sparingly) on everyone within reach (If you’re attending a baptism and see a priest armed with an aspergillium headed your way, don’t duck but do take your glasses off).


The bishop is an interesting guy and a good preacher --- another reason for the trip to Albia. I wouldn’t care for his job. There are between 50 and 60 Episcopal parishes in the Diocese of Iowa and he expects to visit and officiate at a service in each one at least once a year, for some more often. This means he’s not home very often on weekends.

His visits also are good for at least one repeat of an old standing joke. The bishop, as surrogate shepherd of the entire diocese, brings along his crosier --- a shepherd’s staff that disassembles and fits into a carrying case similar to most carrying cases when in transit. It is usual, as the bishop walks up the sidewalk carrying the case, to inquire which he’s brought along this time --- his saxophone or his shotgun.

Born in England, the bishop tells about when at age 15 he began to discern clearly the direction life would lead him. Coming home to what he describes as typical English parents after a service at a nonconformist (Methodist) chapel, he walks into the living room and tells them he’s “given his life to Jesus Christ.” To which his dad responds, “O that’s nice; we all do odd things sometimes.”


Finally, one of my favorite Rosella Erdahl stories. Rosella, a Norwegian Lutheran saint but saint none the less, was in her 70s and 80s when I knew her in Rake, Iowa, a small mostly Norwegian and mostly Lutheran town way up by the Minnesota border. Her mother had been a Rake, a surname taken from the farm in Norway from whence the family had come to live at and give its name to a new Iowa town.

As a girl, Rosella took three lessons learned from her Norwegian Lutheran pastor to heart: (1) That it was crucial that infants be baptized as soon as practical after birth; (2) that to fail to do that was to place in doubt the eternal destination of an unbaptized infant’s soul should it die; and (3) that any baptized person could, in an emergency, baptize with water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Rosella also was a trusted babysitter, occasionally in the homes of non-Lutherans or careless Lutherans who had not yet taken one or more of their children to the font. This she came to see as an emergency situation, and she began to baptize the unbaptized herself --- until her parents caught on. We called her the stealth baptizer.

But it’s something to consider if your babysitter is Lutheran and your children have not been baptized.

1 comment:

Ed said...

I've sold a thing or two through Craiglist. It is a handy site to know if you have something to sell regionally. I suppose it should be no surprise to me that selling adult services locally would be on there but it was. Then again, I've heard the first two things to exploit any new form of media is porn and religion.