Carrie Kahler: Three Poems

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Parishioner Carrie Kahler taught a class at Saint Mark's a few years ago on ekphrastic poetry, focusing especially on Saint Mark's own collection of icons. Three poems she wrote as a result of that class were subsequently published in the literary journal Image, issue No. 99. (You can view them on Image's website here, here, and here.) She has graciously offered to share them here. 


 

After Rublev’s Trinity

Each face turned toward
a face at table leaving
always a space for

one more. An open
door to run through when someone
can’t quite make it home

on their own. Though the
wings work, humans haven’t got
them, and it’s hard to

converse from heights so,
in one hand a staff to lean
on. The other hand
ever reaches down.

After Prokhorova’s Saint Mark

There is no shadow
of turning here but there are
spaces for the dark.

Neither does the point
vanish—receding toward
a horizon of

agreement pinned to
dancing angels, instead gold
instead several

visions at once see
desk with sharp quills curved to light
like the mind on the
feet that bear good news

After The Anastasis

who’s to say here what
is not when the hand firmly
grips the bird-light wrist

the face facing Eve—
her son’s as much as Mary’s—
furrowed long and lined

on her left Adam’s
cloak billows back in the blast
of blue air He brings

the deep blue behind
Him an almond of truth that
is, heaven that is

how we grasp after
holiness when gold leaf is
too dull we go dark

witnesses crowd each
other’s ears and each gestures
and each gesture sends

your glance heavenward
you stand just beyond the first
parents just this side

of death’s doors waiting
for the pull to light waiting
to leave the late night

Kathy Albert: Prayers for Life

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Parishioner Kathy Albert wrote this reflection on two meaningful prayers. Thank you for sharing, Kathy! 

When life gets rugged, I turn to a wealth of spiritual wisdom that has sustained me over the years. Here's a prayer that I am saying out loud now after meals. It comes from Gates of the House: The New Union Home Prayer Book, published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis:

"Let us praise God.
Praised be the name of God, now and forever!
Blessed is our God, of whose abundance we have eaten.
Blessed is our God, of whose abundance we have eaten, and by whose goodness we live.
Blessed is the One-Who-Is!
Blessed is the [Holy One] our God, [Sovereign] of the universe, whose goodness sustains the world.
The God of grace, love, and compassion is the source of food for all who live—for God's love is everlasting.
Through God's great goodness we do not lack and will not ever lack.
For God is in the goodness that sustains and nourishes all, providing food enough for every living being.
Blessed is the [Holy One], Source of food for all who live."
Thomas Merton prayed a prayer that also finds resonance in my own heart, especially now:
"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."
I am now no more vulnerable to death than I have ever been.  Life is always tenuous!  So I can take this moment to choose life more than ever!  In the face of the deaths, I choose to live!  Life is good!

Dean’s Letter: One Body, Many Parts

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As we approach two weeks since the first public health directives upended our normal routines, with many in the interim faced with job loss, school closures, and the threat of illness coming too close, I am keenly aware that the stress of this disruption and the weight of the burgeoning health care crisis are bearing down on us, collectively and individually. It is difficult in the moment to find an unimpeded path to resolution and a return to normalcy (whatever that may look like). None of us are certain how long this will last, and that naturally enough prompts anxiety. And there is a deep sense of grieving intermingled in it all.

I name all of this, having had personal conversations or email exchanges with literally hundreds of you in recent days—I name all of this as we prepare for a very unusual Holy Week, and I am acutely aware of the fact that we are making our journey to the cross of Good Friday this year like no other year in living memory. But we do so ever-enlightened by the hope of resurrection. We are resurrection people, and we are called to live in a way that does not gloss the harsh realities of life, but rather holds those struggles in the context of resurrected life, trusting that something new is in the works, even if we can’t quite make it out just yet....

Please click here to read the remainder of the Dean's message.

Sonjia Gavin: Blessing and Curse

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Yin and Yang. Sinner and Saint. Blessing and Curse. As they say, there are always to sides to a coin.

In this time of limbo, I find myself thinking about this daily. What is the take-away from all of this? What are we supposed to be learning? How are we going to make it through? Will this ever this end?

All around us, we are experiencing a new normal. Students are not in school, employees are being laid off (including me), some are working from home (husband), stores are closing, and many are in fear of contracting COVID-19. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that this is a disorienting time for all of us.

The first few days of self-quarantine for my family was rough. It was a lot of learning to live together 24/7, adjusting to our new normal, and listening. As we head toward the end of the week, we have found our rhythm. For now. We are “plotting a different course than the one we had planned.”

In his sermon on Sunday, Steve encouraged us to look for outward signs of spiritual grace waiting to surprise us, bless us, and nourish us. Common things made holy for our spiritual benefit.

For everything I see as a loss, there is a blessing on the other side. Reframing my perspective takes some practice. During these difficult times, we must be diligent in looking for outward signs of God’s grace.

Reflecting back on this week I can see God’s grace, the Blessing, all around me. Life has slowed down. WAY down. And this is a beautiful thing.

I’m reconnecting with my family on a whole new level. We spend time together, and actually enjoy it! I am A LOT less stressed out. Without as much to do or worry about, the rhythm of my life has found a new equilibrium. And it makes me wonder how I can refocus my energy when this is all over.

I have been able to enjoy the sunshine and put energy and time (something I would not have had with our normal routine) into working in my yard. It has never looked so good! The bulbs are popping up, the trees are blooming, and the birds fill the air with their songs. Spring has arrived. Common things made holy for our spiritual benefit.

God is here in this time of wilderness. We can cling to his promise in the Sacraments and look for the outwardly visible signs of God’s grace in our everyday lives

Reflections on Signs of Grace…

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After hearing Dean Thomason's sermon on March 15, 2020, parishioners were invited to reflect on where they had been experiencing sacramental grace in their daily lives during this challenging time. 


 

I snapped a photo (attached) on my walk out of PCC this evening after being greeted by a brass band playing music together in the park. All of the musicians were standing at least 6 feet apart (practicing social distancing) while they played joyful music. Lifted my spirits immediately and filled me with gratitude!

—Kari Nasby


 

I am standing with my cup of coffee looking out at our sun-filled back yard and enjoying the life at our bird feeder. Juncos, chickadees, towhees and house finches are our frequent visitors but this afternoon it is mostly chickadees and juncos. For me they are holy little spirits, clothed in feathers, emissaries of God’s love.

—Nancy Valaas


 

As I washed my hands this past week and used sanitizer for what seemed like the hundredth time, practiced social distancing, and did my best not to become hopeless, I’ve had this ongoing internal dialogue about what it means to live a Eucharistic focused life during a pandemic. I can’t stop reflecting on serving at the 11 a.m. Saint Mark’s service last Sunday. The “physical” pews and chairs in the Nave were empty. As one of the handful of ministers who stood on the platform for the Liturgy of the Table, it was clear to me that we were celebrating communion across time, space, and beyond the four walls of the Nave.

While the pews and chairs were empty, the Nave was not! The Cathedral Parish and beyond were clearly present with us. For me, this is a Lukan Road to Emmaus time where Jesus is walking with the two disciples and revealing the truth of Holy Scripture to them so they can hear and soon through the blessing of wine and breaking of bread can see. In today’s context, some of the visible signs of grace are simple as taking extra time to notice water and how I am washing my hands. Water is ritually cleansing and life giving. With the coronavirus, water can limit its spread and thus can be lifesaving.  It is also being mindful of how fearful people are in public and especially in confined spaces like elevators.  When I recognize this fear in others, it is to be gentle and to acknowledge the person with a kind gesture. In my home, we are making it a point to reach out to friends, family, and especially those who live alone and to make sure they are okay.

Living a Eucharistic focused life at its core is being called to community. It is seeing the presence of Jesus in the most common aspects of life.  It is especially true as we navigate not having the ability to be physically present to those we love and to be in our faith community. I know that wherever The Liturgy of the Table is celebrated, it is celebrated for all of us, physically present or not..

—Robert Stevens


 

Amanda: “We’re all in this together”

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For Saint Mark's member Amanda, the experience of social isolation and distance is not a new one. She recently posted this thoughtful reflection on the Saint Mark's Community Closed Facebook Group, and it is being reposted here for the benefit of community members who do not use Facebook. Please leave a comment below if you are so moved. 


Hi church. I’m Amanda, my family started attending St. Mark’s this past summer. I’m stepping out in a moment of vulnerability to share my story a bit.

This social distancing, self-isolation, lots of handwashing, nervous “am I going to get sick” scenario the nation finds itself in is essentially how I lived for almost two years. I was dealing with significant health issues and isolation was my best option to be well.

For about two years I went almost nowhere indoors. I had next to no physical contact with anyone except my immediate family. When I did go somewhere I often ended up sick. I scrupulously washed after any contact with people. My hubby and son (who most of you know as the smiling 9-year-old in a bow tie) had to go through an involved process to clean up whenever they came home from somewhere. It was this past spring, almost a year ago, that my healthcare team decided I could start doing more.

I know how hard this is. I know how scary, frustrating, confusing, and lonely it is. In some ways, I am grateful people are going to *get* it now. A lot of people live like this every day. If you want to talk to someone who gets it, please reach out. If you’re lonely or scared, please reach out. (I’d also like to mention I’ve worked from home for years now and I am a homeschool consultant. I have lots of easy to implement resources and systems for those who are suddenly working from home and/or homeschooling).

Watching the service reminded me this time I’m not alone. That empty sanctuary and the distance between everyone present felt so strange, didn’t it? Yet it reminded me we’re all in this together. And God is in the midst of us giving us comfort. We’re gathering to worship and connecting as we can. It was holy and heartbreaking. Beautiful and sad. Lonely and united.

I encourage you to be incredibly intentional about cultivating community in any way you can. Reach out to multiple people a day. We live in an era where it is easier than ever to communicate. Keep communicating. Especially make sure to reach out to those with chronic illness, the elderly, those who are already feeling the financial pinch, those in your life with depression and anxiety, and those who care for people in these categories. And send real mail. When I was isolated getting mail was a lifeline. The internet is amazing and we should use it to connect. And there’s something about holding a letter in your hand that someone wrote for you that fills the soul in a unique way.

“Your people” need you now more than ever. This is an opportunity to shine God’s light and hope into a scared and hurting world. I hope it’s not an opportunity that is overlooked.

Michael Seewer: “COVID-19 and Me”

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The video that was live-streamed carefully avoided images of the empty pews and chairs, except for a few special moments at the beginning and end—but for those few of us present in the church the emptiness was a constant, unsettling presence. Cathedral Sacristan and Head Verger Michael Seewer posted a personal reflection about his experiences last Sunday on his personal blog. Below is a brief excerpt. Read his full post on his personal blog


As the liturgy was to begin, the Dean shared words of welcome with everyone joining us on the internet. It was weird. And then, the choir rang the bell to signal the start of the service. The crucifer got ready to lead the procession (of three people…our processions are normally 50 or 60 people). And it really hit me.

This is all so weird.

The church was basically empty. At least, all of the seats and pews in the main part where the worshiping congregation sits. We normally have several hundreds of people attending each service. I think it hit me then, just how much things have changed just in the last couple of weeks.

I keep telling myself that I’m not going to let this all overwhelm me. I live in a city over 2,000 miles from my family. And though I have some wonderful friends whom I love and trust, I have occasional feelings of loneliness, missing the lifelong friendships from my hometown.

In the midst of our liturgy this morning, the words of Scripture washed over me. The reading from Exodus and the story of the Israelites in the wilderness. The words of Psalm 95…the antiphon

Harden not your hearts as your forebears did in the wilderness.

over and over and over…reminding me…don’t lose hope in this wilderness.


Read the rest of Michael's reflection here

Members of the cathedral staff completing final preparations for the first-ever livestream-only liturgy. L to R: Cathedral Sacristan Michael Seewer, Associate Organist John Stuntebeck, Dean Steve Thomason, Sound Board Technician Michael Perera, Associate Musician Rebekah Gilmore, Canon Cristi Chapman, Cathedral Videographer Christopher Brown. Photo by Communications Director Gregory Bloch.

Kelly Moody: “Everything Has Changed”

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Associate for Spiritual Formation Kelly Moody recently sent the following letter to the participants in Children and Family Ministries at Saint Mark's. Her reflection is relevant, however, not just to parents of young children, but to all of us, and so we are sharing it here.


“Everything has changed.”

We say that in Godly Play at the beginning of a new liturgical year, and it seems appropriate in the wake of the news all gatherings over 50 people are prohibited, restaurants, gyms, libraries and museums are closing, and public and private schools are cancelled until at least April 25. Everything external about the way we go about our daily lives has changed this week, and it’s making waves. The impact of these changes will vary among us, but the anxiety that comes with disruption and uncertainty will accompany each of us to some degree. That is to be expected, and I pray that we will be divinely gentle with ourselves and one another as we live into a new reality, and seek creative ways to support the emotional, mental, and spiritual health of our children and ourselves.

Though these external changes to our daily lives are temporary, we ourselves will be changed during this season, too.  We will be formed by the cessation of gathering and activity in deep ways. It is always true that we are formed by our attention and action, but perhaps it’s easier to notice in unusual times like these- times of enforced ceasing.

As members of the Church, the Body of Christ, we have a model for living fully in the face of disruption, and seeing and celebrating God's presence in hard places. It is the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the Eucharistic shape of our weekly worship. And as it turns out, it is the pattern of our liturgical calendar, too, which conveniently locates us now in the season of Lent, a time to cease. Every year in Lent, we remove certain things from our worship space and simplify our liturgy. We set aside aspects of celebration and feasting and distraction in order to turn our attention to God’s still, small voice. We are doing that in far more drastic ways this year! But we do so with intention each year to follow Jesus’s path of preparation for surrendering his life on the cross, knowing transformation will come through surrender, somehow. And so, we have a unique opportunity this year to practice surrender.

The question is, to what, or to whom will I surrender?  

I am here to say that until this week, I had not yet been very intentional about surrendering to anything more courageous than the entropy of my own overcrowded and busy life this Lenten season. I'd even taken on too many Lenten disciplines! Truth be told, sometimes our churches become markets of frenetic activity, too, just like the rest of the world.

But not this year. This year we are given the gift of a remarkable ceasing. Folded into the worldwide disruption of COVID-19 is an opportunity to make a different Lenten choice; to show up to our own formation differently and listen to the still, small voice of God calling us gently and persistently to be still and know, and to be changed by that knowing.

The path before us is a bit rocky, but it is not uncharted. We are in the company of Christians throughout time who have found their way through disappointments and unexpected challenges by the light of Christ, in the presence of Christ, and with the love Christ. We are in the company of one another, and we will continue to be formed by our faith every time we gather for prayer and worship by livestream, or make contact with one another by phone, or meet together by Zoom in the weeks ahead.

And, we are in the company of Christ, now and forever. That will not change!

Peace to you and your families.

Kelly

Sandra Smith: A Reflection on Social Distancing

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Sandra Smith is a longtime parishioner who was recently named Cathedral Chaplain. Her perspective as an immune-compromised person is uniquely valuable at this time, when we are all forced to consider the effect that our choices and habits could have on others. She submitted the thoughtful reflection below:


Thank you all—the people of our Church and of our State—for participating in social distancing as we all navigate preventing and containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus. I am very proud of and grateful to our Church specifically, and our city and state governments, Seattle and Washington, for implementing social distancing as a norm.

As an immune compromised individual (living with cancer at this time of COVID-19), I am very aware of who is coughing nearby, and whether they cover their cough appropriately, and the distance between where they are and where I am. I have to be. I don’t have the robust immunity of someone who is healthy, so I may not have the ability to fight infection, and that can affect my health quite seriously and quickly. I don’t shake hands or hug people today, and don’t attend groups. I wash my hands fully and frequently, before preparing food, before eating, after using the bathroom, and after touching shared common area surfaces.

It may seem like a crazy response to someone who is healthy that I’m washing my hands so much, or distancing myself from those I care about, and constantly discerning all the surfaces I touch with a heighten awareness and vigilance. I want to protect all of you from the spread of this virus as much as I don’t want to catch it myself. I don’t want you to get sick, nor to unknowingly affect others like me whose health isn’t robust either. We are one people interwoven with each other.

So I am continuing to respond to life with an informed cautious response amidst this virus, now in tandem with the advice of my medical care team, the cancer support agencies I rely on, and my Church who have all sided with “an over abundance of caution.” I attended a family memorial exercising social distancing norms which was awkward and difficult to not hug, but the last thing I wanted to do was to transmit anything to my family. So not hugging was my way to love them intensely.

Let’s continue building up our community and family connections in creative ways by phone, web-conferencing, email, sending letters and texts, settling into the still place where I believe God resides, speaking to our hearts. As my mom always said, “This too shall pass.” Be vigilant.

From the Dean: Reframing the Challenge

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The following is an excerpt from the Dean's letter sent out on March 7, 2020. For the full text of the letter, and information about Saint Mark's response to the current viral outbreak, please visit the cathedral's Coronavirus outbreak information page.


Every Lent we retell the account of Jesus’ forty-day retreat in the wilderness as a time of temptation, but also as a time of prayerful discernment, for Jesus and for all who follow him. Jesus began his worldly ministry in earnest only after that time apart. With this in mind, I wonder if we might see this time as not only a challenge but also an opportunity—to see it as being afforded a time in which life is changed, and to ask ourselves, for what purpose?

Or, to extrapolate, what if we were to frame this time in which many of the daily practices in the busy-ness of life are reduced, or withdrawn, for a time—in this way, can we see it as sabbath time? What would you do differently if you saw this as sabbath? More rest, more recreation (re-creation, as God intended), more quality family time, more time to pray, more time to journal, and to do so with intention. What will you do?

With the prospect of fewer meetings, and with this image of sabbath in mind and on my heart, I am engaging my centering prayer practice with more intention, and I am going to re-read two books—Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s landmark book The Sabbath, and Walter Brueggemann’s wonderful book Sabbath As Resistance: Saying NO to a Culture of Now. I might encourage you to explore one or both, and perhaps later this month, if the health crisis persists, as I expect it will, we will make plans to host on-line book discussion groups using Brueggemann’s book. (I’d encourage reading this book regardless!). We can and will continue to form community in life-giving ways!

We press on, friends, trusting in the pervasive presence and love of God as the guiding force for us all. I am grateful to be on this journey with you all! I am,

Affectionately,

The Very Reverend Steven L. Thomason
Dean and Rector