Tuesday, May 31, 2016

In Memoriam: John Neely

In Memoriam: John WM Neely
John 14:1-6
St. Bartholomew’s Church, Manhattan

“O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron's beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all, give us grace to live as true men and women - to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve Thee as Thou hast blessed us - with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Amen.”*

I was once told that it’s a pretty bad idea to say a sermon at a friend's or family member’s funeral, but when my grandmother died my family, being made up of lapsed Catholics, had nothing. There was going to be no service, no sermon, no eulogy; nothing. When I heard this, I said, ‘Well, okay... I’ll do this. It’s better for me to step in then for there to be nothing.’ It was a mess.** And I hope that today is not a mess, but it might be because John Neely was for me, like for so many of you, my friend, and contrary to death-denying "celebration of life" ceremonies, so in fashion today, you and I are here together to mourn the loss of our friend.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Who Will Open Our Closed Lips? (Sermon for the Feast of Pentecost)

A Sermon for the Sunday of Pentecost
Genesis 11:1-9 & Acts 2:1-21
Calvary - St. George's Church

When I was a hospital chaplain I’d visit a lot of very lonely people. Many who I’d see had no other guests. Some of these patients would regularly apologize for talking without breaking the whole time I was with them. I’d often feel bad having to tell them it was time for me to see the next person.

At the end of one visitation, one woman suddenly interrupted her train of thought mid-sentence and told me, “I feel so lost, so cut off, so alone,” and then she apologized. I told her not to. Then she said something unexpected: ‘I'm not apologizing to you, I'm apologizing to myself. Hospice is horrific, to be sure, but what I've realized being here is that I've felt disconnected for decades; even when I was surrounded by family and friends. I’m sorry to myself for not noticing this when I was young. Sorry that I never did anything about it.’

And when I got home that night, I laid in my bed and stared at the ceiling, and wondered if I didn't feel the same.

Why are we so alone? So unable to share with one another what moves us?

We see other people coming and going each in their own way, and it saddens us that we are so cut off from each other. That there are so many different worlds -- you in your house and me in my house, you with your thoughts and me with mine. We feel this is simply not the way life is meant to be: this separate life we all lead. And we know that with a single change we could have infinitely more joy and connection, if only we could open our hearts and talk with each other.

But then we experience the fact that we are mute. Our lips bound. Yes, we certainly talk with each other, we find words all right, but never the right words; never the words that would really do justice to what actually moves us; never the words that would really lead us out of our loneliness and into community.*