This morning I said the morning office in what I euphemistically call “my chapel” at home. It even has a patron, Saint Paul no less. That is due to an old icon of Saint Paul which I found laying behind a book. Might as well put this to good use, I thought, and the use of the name suggested itself. Like some magic trick in Harry Potter the Chapel during “ordinary” time reverts into a living room with its altar returning to its more secular form of a coffee table which is frequently used as a bed by one of our cats. Little does that cat realize how blessed he has become.
As I made my way through the Rite, I faithfully sat and stood as I would have had I been officiating in Seibel’s Chapel at Trinity Cathedral. As I came to the scripture readings I remained seated and turned to the back of my Daily Office Book and read each reading followed by a Canticle, standing as I read beside my chair. As I read, something bothered me. The words of the scripture seemed to simply pass over me the like water in a shower without having any real meaning. It occurred to me that I had just departed from Seibel’s practice. In Seibel’s we stand, process to a lectern and read the lessons there returning to the officiant’s chair to lead the canticles. I decided to give it a try and see if comprehension did not increase. What a difference! The mere reverencing, standing, walking, turning and then reading focused me in a such a way that the words of the scripture literally jumped off the page. This further illustrates to me that I have to think of the Bible as a part of the liturgy and not simply as a set of stories or sayings separate and apart.
This reminded me of a part of Letter 4 from the Screwtape Letters. Uncle Screwtape in the midst of counseling wormwood says that “One of their poets Coleridge has recorded that he did not pray with moving lips and bended knees” but merely composed his spirit to love and indulged a sense of supplication.” Of course Lewis makes it clear that he has other ideas about this. He, as does Willimon and Hauerwas, felt that body posture tends to lead the mind and that by putting the body in a prayerful posture the mind is dutifully prompted to follow. This coincides with something one of my friends said concerning her yoga practice. To maintain some poses the yogi must fix their attention on a particular spot and by doing so the mind is able to create the framework for the balance needed to maintain equilibrium. Thus moving the head and the neck physically moves the mind to concentrate and accomplish the delicate balance. And, so it is, I believe with prayer. After my experience this morning I agree with Lewis that praying with the mind alone is not as effective as employing the body as well.
A year so or so ago in trying to get our parishioners to attend the offices and utilize a more complete form of prayer we were met with the argument that “this is simply unrealistic, you are trying to turn parishioners into monks”. The priest in charge eloquently answered that charge by saying that yes, that is true, to a point . She then explained the whys and wherefores of using your entire being for prayer. For the uninitiated it remains a difficult proposition that to pray properly our “entire being” must be engaged. But I say try it you’ll like it, no love it.
A friend and fellow parishioner told me some time ago that when he prays the offices at home he only reads the psalm and the scriptural readings. While I would never want to discourage anyone from praying, after today I urge them to consider saying the entire office and adopt postures which dispose their minds to God. Get a kneeling cushion, improvise an altar with a cross, crucifix, or icons and improvise an ambo or lectern for the Bible readings. Make the space you use for prayer sacred in its furnishings and yourself so with your postures and mind. Done this way you are offering up yourself and your life as a sacrifice to God. This, I feel, is what Jesus has called us to do.
The Gospel lesson appointed to be read today comes from the Gospel of Saint Matthew Chapter 25: 14-30.
The Parable of the Talents
14 “For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; 15 to one he gave five talents,[a] to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. 17 So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.’
I recall a television piece about a priest who after reading this passage at Mass handed out some small amount of money to his parishioners and asked them to come back after a period of time to see how they did in terms of making it grow. Many of the parishioners found to their surprise that they were quite adept at “playing the market” and were able to multiply their sum of money exponentially. But, to me the use of the term talent is strategic. Jesus did not say money. I tells me that the word talent must be a metaphor extending to time, talent, and treasure.
The note to he RSV says: ” It was Jesus way of speaking in two settings at once: as the master’s servant had his original talent, yet he earned nothing by it, so men can have their earthly existence and all that derives from it, yet lack merit in the final judgment.”
My thinking is that we can have very secure material lives but if we fail to take our time, talent and treasure to God’s work we could find ourselves coming up short at the final judgment. I don’t think it’s enough to simply make a pledge or endow a fund for a priest, or a building. I think more is required. God can use the money but he really wants us. He wants us to love him by loving our brothers and sisters in service. And when we strive to do that I think we will find that it multiplies our talents exponentially.
In conclusion a poem by John Milton says it best:
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent, which is death to hide,
Lodg’d with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he, returning, chide.
John Milton, from the sonnet “When I consider how my life is spent” .