In 1998, with a newly-minted master’s degree in theology from the University of Chicago (but before I’d gone to seminary to train for the priesthood), I was asked by my rector to teach a new adult Sunday school class. I pulled out all the stops, teaching about every complex and arcane aspect of theology I could muster. The first week I had twenty students. By week three, the only class attendees were my wife Jill and a fellow named Dale who was too nice to quit.
I went to the associate rector to figure out what I was doing wrong. “What are you teaching?” he asked. I explained my syllabus and concluded by claiming, “I’m teaching earth-shattering stuff!” The associate rector looked at me kindly and said, “Barkley, it’s only earth-shattering to you.”
This is an important anniversary, when we commemorate something that happened a long, long time ago, something we take care to observe and remember each and every year in this season. We schedule our lives around it. We await it with increasing anticipation. We gather the family in a cozy huddle and share mugs of hot cocoa and candy canes. You know what I’m talking about, right? Of course you do.
I’m talking about the annual airing of A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Poet Denise Levertov, recalling countless paintings of Mary and Gabriel, interprets the Annunciation in this way:
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
The summer after I was in the second grade, my family took our first vacation to Florida. There were too many Thompsons to fit into one car, so my older brother and I traveled with my grandparents, Boo and Pop, in Pop’s late seventies-model Ford Crown Victoria. That car was so mammothly long, that once pointed in the direction of Florida, we were already halfway from Arkansas to Pensacola!
Traveling with Boo and Pop meant leaving a day early, so we could stop at every alligator farm, Stuckey’s, and other roadside Americana tourist trap along the way. Mostly, Pop would drive while my grandmother Boo sat in the backseat between Robert and me, singing songs, playing Mad Libs, and helping us spy license plates from all the fifty states as we passed other cars on the highway. (If you’ll recall, that’s how we endured travel in the days before iPods and satellite radio.) Immediately after lunch, though, Pop needed his nap. We either had to pullover at a rest stop, or else Boo had to drive.
*Christ Church Cathedral announced this month the creation of the Bishop John E. Hines Center for Spirituality and Prayer, which is slated to open Fall 2015. This is an incredibly exciting development in life of the both the Cathedral and downtown Houston. Here is a link to the article:
What follows is my column announcing the Hines Center: