Dude of Sorrows by Lisa Yuskavage 2015

Dude of sorrows – yuskavage 2015

It is now six in the morning.  I have the urge to write as for me it is very therapeutic and doing it at this hour allows me to also be a lawyer, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a friend without being too neglectful of any other part of my life.

I am afraid that today I find myself in one of those down moods where it just seems the whole world has it in for me.  As usual,  I suspect this is more me than anything else and that if I closely examine my own actions, or lack of action, I will discover the causes of my unhappiness. On down days I cling mightily to my daily regimen of prayer and exercise with lots of coffee.  I also do these activities early in the morning so as not to impose on “family” time.  Each morning I read the Daily Office of The Book of Common Prayer and for each day of a thirty day cycle the prayer book psalter prescribes a psalm or set of psalms that are to be read for both Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer.  Today is August 29th and the prayer book psalter prescribes the reading of psalms 139 and 140.  “These psalms are described in one annotated Bible as Prayer for Deliverance from Personal Enemies.”  139 is described further as “a lament”.   In one source a lament is defined as “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow” when used as a noun or “to mourn” when the word is used as a verb.  Sometimes the coincidence of the nature of the psalm and my personal emotional state is rather eerie.  Plainly God leads us to the water, but we, of course, must drink of it.

Great comfort has come in the words of these works of Hebrew poetry. Verse 11 of psalm 139 particularly stands out:

Darkness is not dark to you;

The night is as bright as the day

  darkness and light to you are both alike.

While the psalmist turns the lament into a hatred of those who hate God and continues that refrain in psalm 140, I cannot apply those laments to my own situation.  My enemies are not those friends who seem to have been angered with me, or the spouse who has misunderstood me, or the boss who has rebuked me.  They are not the enemies of God.  Rather, I am.   My poor perception, my lack of attentiveness, or diligence, and my lack of caring for my friends, my family or even for my job are really God’s enemy.  Fortunately, I do have a “way to go”.  In the words of Dame Julian of Norwich in her meditations “it will all be all right”.  Dame Julian was referring to the healing and redemptive power of Christ and how it renders all our shortcomings to no longer be shortcomings in the eyes of the Lord.  In John’s Gospel (16:12-13), Jesus says: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  In my case I see this as a command to lay aside my selfishness and to seek to do those things which help give happiness to my family, friends and neighbors.   By doing that I will lift the veil of depression and disperse that black dog who  far too often and for far too long attaches himself to my breeches and drags me down into the pit.

So having made a form of confession I feel empowered to prescribe a penance which shall be to “lay down my life for my friends even if in a metaphorical sense and to find ways to lay aside selfishness and tend to the needs of others in ways that benefit them  In laying down my life, I shall find life,  and find it abundantly.

A very dear friend posted a piece of art on her blog some months ago which I am posting along with this piece. “Dude of Sorrows” captures me this morning so precisely I cannot help but use it. The work is by Lisa Yuskavage and was created in 2015.



Last night for some reason a question arose in mind as to the lineage of the American Presidential anthem “Hail to the Chief’. At one time I had borrowed from the Richland County library a compact disc containing a compendium of civil war  music and I had a vague recollection that the piece was composed and played for General George McClellan who preceded General Ulysses S. Grant as the Supreme Union Commander. Well I stand corrected. From the very authoritative Wikipedia I have learned that the piece “Hail to the Chief” is of a much more distinguished lineage and much older in its use as a presidential anthem.

It seems in 1812 English songwriter James Sanderson set to music sections including ‘Hail to the Chief” of Sir Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake. Prior to this in 1810 two English producers made Lady of the Lake into a play for performances in London and Edinburgh and in 1812 the American version debuted in New York.
The following is a brief quote from the Wikipedia:

The association with the President first occurred in 1815, when it was played to honor both George Washington and the end of the War of 1812 (under the name “Wreaths for the Chieftain”). On July 4, 1828, the U.S. Marine Band performed the song at a ceremony for the formal opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which was attended by President John Quincy Adams. Andrew Jackson was the first living President to have the song used to honor his position in 1829, and it was played at Martin Van Buren’s inauguration in 1837. Julia Tyler, second wife of John Tyler, requested its use to announce the arrival of the President. Her successor as First Lady, Sarah Childress Polk, encouraged its regular use in this manner after it was used at James Polk’s inauguration; William Seale says, “Polk was not an impressive figure, so some announcement was necessary to avoid the embarrassment of his entering a crowded room unnoticed. At large affairs the band…rolled the drums as they played the march…and a way was cleared for the President.” Under the term of Harry Truman the Department of Defense made it the official tribute to the President.

President Chester A. Arthur did not like the song and asked John Philip Sousa to compose a new song, which was entitled Presidential Polonaise. After Arthur left office, the Marine Band resumed playing Hail to the Chief for public appearances by the President.

During the American Civil War (1861–1865) the same piece was also used to announce the arrival of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. On October 3, 1861, Davis visited with Generals P. G. T. Beauregard, Joseph Eggleston Johnston, and Gustavus Woodson Smith at Fairfax Court House (now Fairfax, Virginia) for a Council of War. While at Fairfax, President Davis also conducted a formal Review of the Troops, which numbered some 30,000. At the start of the review, the band of the 1st Virginia Infantry struck up “Hail to the Chief” and concluded with “Dixie”.

Well, who’d eh thunk it. “Combining Hail to the Chief” and “Dixie” seems contrary to all logic but we seem to have much more in common as a nation than we thought. May we give thanks to God for preserving our union and may we always strive to make sure that (in the words of Abraham Lincoln)  “…government of the people, by the people, …(and)… for the people,shall not perish from the earth.”

The Potato Eaters, The Call to Sacrifice, and Vincent Van Gogh

van-willem-vincent-gogh-die-kartoffelesser-03850RaiVincent Van Gogh Self Portrait

Today my dear friend and priest Emily Hylden offered us The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh.  And, she has used her remarkable ability to unearth a apt metaphor by comparing the scene depicting the eating of potatoes and the drinking of coffee to that of the widow offering all she had in her offering at the Temple as recounted in the Gospel of Saint Luke (Luke 21:1-4)  Jesus also uses that event as a metaphor for how we should be, that is sacrificial.  Giving away what you don’t really need does not fulfill the expectation and does not emulate Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  As Christians we are called to a sacrificial existence and certainly one that is very counter-cultural.

As for Vincent Van Gogh I find him to be absolutely fascinating as a man and as an artist.  It is to be expected that there is deep religious symbolism in his work as he was a deeply religious man who entertained the idea of a clerical career and one who suffered from what we like to refer to as mental illness. Sometimes I wonder if “mentally ill” people aren’t simply people who are gifted in ways we simply do not understand and imbued with spiritual gifts the rest of us will simply never have and which enable them to see and experience things far beyond our comprehension.  And, negatively their gifts allow them to experience a terror which tends toward self-destruction.

For a period in his life, around 1879, Van Gogh worked as a missionary in a mining region of Belgium and it was in this context that The Potato Eaters was painted in 1885 with its somber earth tones.  Later around 1886 Van Gogh moved to Paris and was influenced greatly by the French Impressionists.  It was under their influence that he adopted a much more vivid color scheme in his work provoking a more impressionist effect. Compare The Potato Eaters with its somber grey earth tones with the Raising of Lazarus (1890) and its vivid greens, yellows and blues and a fortiori the self-portrait (1889) employing  bright blues, yellows and reds.

The circumstances surrounding the loss of Van Gogh’s left ear are not entirely known.  His slicing of his ear with a razor occurred during a period in which he was visited by a fellow artist, Paul Gauguin.  It is believed that Gauguin’s departure from Van Gogh’s company is what may have prompted the slicing of the ear.  Oddly, Van Gogh wrapped his wound in a bandage and wrapped the ear in newspaper and delivered it to a local brothel that he and Gauguin had both frequented.

At age 37 Vincent Van Gogh died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

THE DAILY OFFICES AT TRINITY CATHEDRAL, Columbia, South Carolina. Morning Prayer-20 August – The Feast of Saint Bernard


We give thanks for the life and ministry of Saint Bernard, and for the privilege of being able to say the Daily Office in such wonderful surroundings as afforded by Seibels Chapel.  And, we give especial thanks for our visitor this morning who is giving consideration to becoming an officiant.

So much has been written about Saint Bernard it would be repetitious and maybe boring for me to recite his biography from Lesser Feasts and Fasts or Holy Women Holy Men.  So, beyond a few cursory remarks, I will leave that to the discretion of our readers to look into this on their own and maybe even go outside of those books to read about the Saint in more detail.

Personally, I was impressed by both scriptural readings which were assigned to celebrate Saint Bernard as well as the psalm assigned for the 20th day of the month.

The reading from Sirach reads particularly as if it was written as a description of the saint:

…he who devotes himself to the study of the law of the Most High will seek out the wisdom of all the ancients, and will be concerned with prophecies; he will preserve the discourse of notable men and penetrate the subtleties of parables; he will seek out the hidden meanings of proverbs and be at home with the obscurities of parables.  He will serve among great men and appear before rulers; he will travel through lands of foreign nations for he tests the good and the evil among men.

          Saint Bernard was a “fiery defender of the Church in the twelfth century” and was famed for his passion when he preached love for God “without measure”. (There is a very good discussion of Bernard’s view of the love of God in an article entitled ‘Praying with Bernard of Clairvaux” Christopher Yoder published this morning in the Living Church which has been posted on Facebook.)

Bernard was very concerned with the support of purity, doctrine, and prerogatives of the Church.  When a former colleague monk was elected Pope as Eugenius III Bernard became a sort of like a presidential advisor and troubleshooter for him.  He preached in favor of the Crusade against the Albigensians and the Second Crusade to liberate Jerusalem.  Unfortunately, the failure of that crusade gave rise to many attacks and criticism of Bernard.  He died soon thereafter in 1153 and was canonized in 1174.

“Among Bernard’s writings are treatises on papal duty, on love, on the veneration of Mary, and a commentary on the Song of Songs.  And he is credited with writing a number of hymns “O sacred head sore wounded” “Jesus, the very thought of thee” and “Jesus thus joy of loving hearts.”

Remember the life and work of Saint Bernard today and pray the offices often.



About a week ago my very dear friend and I were assisting another very dear friend, a priest, as she celebrated Mass. My EM friend noticed that I knelt during the period starting with the Sanctus and ending with the time when the third bell, if we used bells at Trinity, would be rung signifying the arrival of Our Lord and Savior.

My very dear friend caught me after the Mass and asked me point blank: “how can you stand to knell on that hard marble floor for so long?”  My response was I can’t stand it and that is precisely why I do it. It allows me to feel just a bit of the pain suffered by Jesus as he was scourged and crucified.  It allows me to feel the helplessness and hopelessness he must have felt as his humanity was crushed out of him first by the scourging and then by his suffocation through crucifixion. And at the end with the completion of the epiclesis it allows me feel the tremendous lift from the fact of the resurrection as I regain my footing to receive the blessed sacrament.

I think we Episcopalians have it right.  After the suffering of the crucifixion we feel full force the resurrection by receiving the wine and the wafer.   Wine is an alcoholic drink which is to be used with great circumspection because it induces a sense of euphoria resembling the euphoria of the resurrection.  Its use has been questioned by our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in the past and alternatively embraced by them after Vatican II.  Anglicans have never wavered on this point:  the wine serves a very useful purpose of reminding us of the resurrection.  Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again. And he comes again whenever two or three are gathered in his name and especially during Mass on Sunday.

So, this middle class laymen lawyer has found a way of communicating with his Lord and Savior in a very personal way.  He communicates and empathizes by allowing himself to suffer, just a little, which brings home to him the enormous sacrifice Jesus has made for us on the cross.

Go and do likewise my brothers and sisters.

PS. So often I feel unworthy. I feel unworthy as a lawyer, unworthy as a churchman, unworthy as a husband and father, and unworthy as a friend.  I have so many dear friends who have helped me so much in my quest for redemption that I am truly thankful to them all especially those who wear clerical collars.  Be there no doubt that when God calls these people they become messengers of God in the truest sense. May the Lord Bless and Keep Them All.

An Offering in Celebration of Our Sacred Lady

Picasso mother-and-child

“Mother and Child” (1901) Pablo Picasso

On this morning of the Feast of Saint Mary the Virgin I offer up a painting by Pablo Picasso entitled “Mother and Child” , painted in 1901, as a way of celebrating and lifting up the special nature of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, the “Theotokos,” .  As a naïve young lad I always found Picasso a bit “trite” and wondered what all the fuss was about.  However, as I have aged and been guided by some very knowledgeable friends, and one of my priests and artist son-in law in particular,  I have come to see the deep symbolism in his work as possessing great religious connotation.  This painting comes from what is referred to as Picasso’s “blue period”.  During this period the artist rendered everything in blue. In a way this painting is reminiscent of the baroque period artists who used blue to represent humanity and red to represent God.  Mary very often was painted wearing a blue undergarment with a red over-garment  to designate humanity upon whom special God like qualifies had been bestowed.

For me art of this caliber speaks tomes about the nature and mystery of our faith.  It even outdistances rich liturgy and fine preaching in its ability to convey the “feeling” of the concept conveyed.

This offering comes from a website which provides this further elucidation concerning the work:

The religious connotations of any picture involving a mother and child are inevitable and this iconic statement is one of a series of ‘Madonnas’ painted during the Blue Period. Picasso repeatedly combines the themes of religion and poverty as his development of the female figure moves away from the sexual allusions encompassed in prostitute images, to the more hallowed portrayal of the mother figure. The almost monochromatic use of blue in this period, and its traditional association with the Madonna, are superbly combined to produce a set of haunting, almost ghostly images. Notably, many of the Blue Period women are bowed as if carrying a heavy emotional burden.

Here the handling of space has a distinctive feel. The spatial structure is clearly defined and organized in horizontal bands crossed by the vertical lines of the upright chair. This grid-work of lines is beautifully disturbed by the gentle motion of the mother’s lovingly bent head kissing the child. The flowing line is echoed in the cascading folds of the mother’s wrap, redeveloped in a similar figure in La Vie (1903).

The highly expressive style is reminiscent of the 16th-century Spanish Mannerist master, El Greco (1541-1614), whom Picasso studied during his brief time in Madrid in 1896, reflected in the exaggerated, enlarged hands and the long, tapering fingers

From the website:  Pablo Picasso – Paintings, Quotes, Biography


The Divine Office According to the Anglican Rite of the Book of Common Prayer

St Francis

14 AUGUST Feast of Jonathan Myrick Daniels,  Seminarian and Martyr, 1965.  We remembered Jonathan Myrick Daniels tonight at evening prayer in  which we combined prayers according to Rite I of the Book of Common Prayer, lessons  and incense to mark the occasion of his life and martyrdom.  Three were in attendance.  One of the three was an Officiant in training and another wonderful young woman from Mexico City who was a teacher and attending a conference at the University of South Carolina.  We tend to have a lot of drop-ins from the wider community on Fridays and a fair number of Spanish speakers.  This begs the question of whether the officiants should study and learn Spanish and whether the Cathedral should invest in some copies of the Prayer Book in Spanish.  This particular officiant plans to learn Spanish so as to be able to minister to this community, or at least be able to understand and pronounce their names.   Our prayers completed, for now, this officiant is off for a well-earned glass of wine and to cook a wonderful Italian dinner for his family.  Pax et Bonum.  Paul.

P.S.  The picture is that of a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi assiduously maintained and groomed by Jana Clare Nicholson in the back garden of our residence on Plainfield Road in Columbia, South Carolina.


14 August – Feast of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, Seminarian and Martyr.   We remembered Jonathan Myrick Daniels tonight at the Evening Office in  which we combined prayers according to Rite I of the Book of Common Prayer, lessons  and incense to mark the occasion of his life and martyrdom.  Three were in attendance.  One of the three was an Officiant in training and another was a wonderful young woman from Mexico City who was a teacher and attending a conference at the University of South Carolina.  We tend to have a lot of drop-ins from the wider community on Fridays and a fair number of Spanish speakers.  This begs the question of whether the officiants should study and learn Spanish and whether the Cathedral should invest in some copies of the Prayer Book in Spanish.  This particular officiant plans to learn Spanish so as to be able to minister to this community, or at least be able to understand and pronounce their names.   Our prayers completed, for now, this officiant is off for a well-earned glass of wine and to cook a wonderful Italian dinner for his family.  Pax et Bonum.  Paul


Jonathan Myrick Daniels

4 August – JONATHAN MYRICK DANIELS, Seminarian and Martyr, 1965

I can remember clearly the day my family received the news that Jonathan Myrick Daniels had been killed.  I can remember the shock and absolutely devastated look on my mother’s face upon learning that an Episcopal seminarian had been slain by an unemployed highway worker.  This woman who been raised to believe in white superiority and whose family were silent accomplices in the evil called segregation was absolutely brought to her knees to realize that this tolerated evil was reaching way beyond anything previously imagined and threatening the safety and welfare of all people, even the superior race, with death and destruction.  Today, I pray for the soul of Jonathan Myrick Daniels who was a very brave witness to Our Lord. And,  I also pray for the soul of my mother who came to understand that what Dr. King and Jonathan and others were fighting for was right, true and just.  She overcame her “heritage” and also became a brave witness to Our Lord and instilled in me and my brother the realization that all men and women are truly created equal in the sight of God.  Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy. Amen.

12 August – COMMEMORATION OF THE LIFE AND WORK OF FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE, Nurse, Social Reformer, and Living Artist.

Florence Nighingale

Yesterday on the feast of Saint Clare, 11 August, the Reverend Emily Hylden published a piece in the Living Church entitled “Everyone’s An Artist” in which she skillfully interweaves the practices of living artists with an examination of the ways in which God calls us to become “living art” and to bring Jesus into the world through our words and actions.  The piece analogized the actions taken by the prophet Jeremiah, and others, by which they sought to demonstrate his prophecy not only by words but through actions so as to bring home the message that repentance was imperative.  In its conclusion Emily asks the question “How is God inviting you to join in his great work today? Notice Emily uses the word invite which conveys the concept that you have a choice.  You can ignore God and go about your business, or you can accept the invitation and begin the most important work you will ever do.

Today the Calendar of the Book of Common Prayer calls for the commemoration of the life and work of Florence Nightingale who is as most know the founder of the modern nursing profession.  Florence was a person who accepted God’s invitation and set about to make herself a “living artist” by conveying through her actions and deeds Christ in the world. She revolutionized hospital and nursing practices, set up hospital training classes for nurses and devoted many years to the question of army sanitary reform, to the improvement of nursing and to public health in India, and, she published Notes on Nursing in 1859 which went through many editions.

Accepting God’s invitation is daunting and frightening. It raises a number of concerns in our minds. Do I have the ability and talent to do this? What will people think of me if I do this? Will I be able to make enough money doing this to be “respectable” and live a comfortable life?   But, the lessons appointed to be read in connection with Florence Nightingale today provide us with reassurance.

In the lesson from Isaiah 58 the prophet talks about “the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke.” He talks about sharing bread with the hungry, bringing the homeless poor into your house, and clothing them. And the lesson concludes with an assurance that “if you take away from the midst of you the yoke, the pointing of the finger, and speaking of wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as noonday. And, the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire with good things, and make your bones strong.” Therefore, God seems to be saying the equivalent of “come on in the water’s fine”, you will be more than fine you will be illuminated.

As to the how, this question is answered by the lesson from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in chapter 12.  Saint Paul writes that there “are varieties of gifts”, “varieties of service,” and “varieties of working,” but that it is “the same God who inspires all in every one.”  He goes on to list examples such as “utterance of wisdom”, utterance of knowledge, gifts of healing as with Ms. Nightingale, worker of miracles, prophecy, the ability to distinguish between spirits, the ability to speak in tongues and the ability to interpret tongues.  This list is largely applicable to Church life but should also have a broader application to life in general and the assurance that each of us possesses talents and skills God can use in his service with equal effect. So take heart and know that you are capable of doing God’s work whatever your talents may be.

And, finally the Gospel as reported by Saint Luke tells us what happens when we become “living artists” and we practice what we preach.  Chapter 5 recounts the story of when Jesus was so hard pressed by the crowd he got into a boat and taught from the boat on the waters of Lake Gennesaret.  When he finished speaking he turned to Simon Peter and told him to “Put out into the deep, and let down your nets for a catch”. Peter quickly let Jesus know that he had been at it all night and had caught nothing so what’s the point? But out of respect for Jesus he ordered the nets to be let down. The result was they brought in a tremendous haul which practically broke the nets.  When Peter saw this he realized there were forces at work here far beyond him and he knelt before Jesus and expressed his unworthiness and acknowledged his sinfulness. It was at that point the assurance came “Do not be afraid,” said Jesus, “for from henceforth you will be catching men.”  In this I see that being a living artist, while a gamble and a bit frightening, pays off and is our job.  We may not become worldly wealthy, but spiritually wealthy to the point that the nets and the boats break.

So, how is God inviting you to become a living artist today?

Quotations from the Oxford Annotated Bible, Copyright 1962, 1973, Oxford University Press, Inc. based on the Revised Standard Version of the Bible,  OT Copyright 1952, NT 1st Ed 1946, 2d Ed 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States of America.