Monday, July 9, 2012

Regaining our Momentum

Dear Parish Faithful,

We are all aware of the more popular usage of the term “momentum.”  It implies “a strength or force gained by motion or through the development of events,” according to the second definition in the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.  It is used in a variety of settings:  a political candidate may be carried to victory on a wave of momentum that “the development of events” has created in his/her favor.  In the world of sports, we know that  during a game the players and spectators can sense that the “momentum” may shift from one team to the other.  That shift can be the key moment that may determine the outcome of the game.  A team is said to have “momentum” when it is on a winning streak, etc.  (Although when pressed, it is almost impossible to scientifically measure the over-all effect of this supposed momentum that is carrying a team forward on its irrepressible waves.  And for baseball aficionados, a manager once said that a team’s momentum is only as good as its next starting pitcher!).   On the other hand “to lose one’s momentum” is something to be avoided at all costs.  It implies the inevitability of defeat.

Be that as it may, perhaps we can apply the popular notion of momentum to parish life.  On the one hand, it seems clear that a parish “loses” any momentum that it gained once we reach the summer months.  Great Lent and Pascha – and all of that spiritual discipline/momentum and the “springtime of the soul”  - are, alas, at best faint or forgotten memories.  The Apostles Fast does not seem to be a momentum-creating event in the over-all life of the parish.  And the “dog days of summer” drain away any momentum before it can gather any strength or force.  Of course, this is the time of year for vacations that take us all in different directions for periods of time.  The “development of events” on the parish level during the summer are simply not conducive to generate that mysterious and hard-to-define entity that we call “momentum.”  A parish “gets through” or even “survives” the summer through its weekly celebration of the Lord’s Day Liturgy, awaiting the restorative qualities of the Fall.  (Although, the Dormition Fast should serve as a momentum-shifter in parish life when it comes in the first week of August.  We will explore those possibilities when the time comes).

Yet, there is an exception to the above.  And that exception comes to us in the form of our Summer Bible Study.  This parish event connects the Sundays in a very meaningful way, as the vertical dimension of reading the living Word of God is intersected by the horizontal dimension of communal fellowship.  And that intersection gives us the Cross on which the Son of Man was “lifted up” according to St. John’s Gospel.  My concern is that we will lose the wonderful momentum that we generated in our first four sessions, because we missed last week due to the Fourth of July falling on a Wednesday this year, and that is the chosen day of our sessions.  For a couple of this year’s sessions, we had record attendance, as our designated space was bursting with a wide variety of parishioners and some “guests” from outside of the parish, and we were scrambling to set up new tables and open us new seats.  Now that we are in July, vacations will start kicking in, but I want to encourage everyone to return to the Bible Study with the same enthusiasm manifested up to this point.  I returned from Detroit to find this very encouraging letter on my email server from one of our Study participants:

“The Bible Study has been really wonderful so far and I am seeing the Gospel in a new light.  The Orthodox prism always makes the text extraordinary and multi-dimensional.  It always remind me of a hologram – something that was previously two-dimensional and flat on the page, suddenly gains depth and perspective!”

Nice.  In a “nation of heretics,”  we will uncover the Orthodox understanding of the Holy Scriptures.

So our goal now is to recover the momentum generated in the first four sessions, as we continue our reading and study of the unique Gospel According to St. John. The Bible Study is the scheduled and enacted  “development of events” that lead to “strength or force” in the life of the parish.  Of course, that momentum is only experienced by the actual participants in the Bible Study.  Thus, as we start up again on Wednesday evening, I am extending an invitation to everyone to join us as we work to keep ourselves spiritually alive during the challenging summer months of parish life.  This is a parish-wide task.  We need your presence to help regain that momentum.  To return to a term from above, we have already experienced the “dog days of summer” as record temperatures have us scrambling for the cover of a cool atmosphere.  The weather as a conversation piece is now more meaningful than a “filler” that plugs up the awkward silences of a discussion that has been drained of content. By the end of one of these days, we seem to be running on empty.  And the intense heat makes us thirsty.   As we quench the thirst of our bodies with expensive bottled water, flavored ice tea, and juices or sodas; we need to think of the thirst of our souls for spiritual drink.  We know through experience that the drinks that will temporarily quench our bodily thirst, will leave us thirsty again shortly thereafter.  The thirst of our souls can be quenched by a drink that is long-lasting in its effect.  That drink comes in the form of the “living water” of the Gospel promised us by Christ.  This water can well up as a fountain of eternal life.  But we need to drink of it.   With this image in mind, perhaps we can expand the title of this summer’s Bible Study as we begin the second half on Wednesday evening:

To Drink the Living Water of the Gospel that Wells Up to Eternal Life.

Vespers – 7:00 p.m.
Bible Study – 7:45 p.m. (Ch. 5 of St. John’s Gospel – The Sign of the healing of the paralytic by the Pool of Bethesda and the Discourse to follow).

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