Sunday, September 03, 2006

God's gopher

I love it when we can't get a priest on Sunday. (I should be careful saying that, because I'm charged with scheduling the priests to celebrate for us. If I come up short, the sisters may suspect I did it on purpose.) I tried to find one for today, but it was Labor Day weekend and short notice, and I couldn't cajole, bribe or beg anyone I called.

On Sundays, when we have no priest, we go out to mass. Each sister may choose where she wants to worship and I gravitate to St. Bart's on the East Side, where the music always soars to heaven and I sometimes run into old friends.

The sermons are usually good, too, and when you have a Gospel like today's to work with, what's to ruin? it was the passage from Mark, where Jesus is called to task because his disciples haven't washed their hands before lunch. He of course turns the rebuke inside out and proclaims that it's what's inside coming out that defiles, not what's outside going in.

When my kids were growing up, we had the "thirty-second-rule." If you drop something and it stays on the floor less than thirty seconds, it's still clean (unless you can see that it's got dirt or hair or dust bunnies sticking to it.) My grandmother had her own version of this rule. She'd say "You have to eat a peck of dirt before you die." I didn't know what a peck was, but figured out early on it was a lot. It's not what you put in your mouth that's dirty, it's what comes out. My grandmother was also one who thought nothing of washing my mouth out with soap if I said things that weren't allowed. She only did it once that I remember, but the taste stayed with me the whole day.

Of course Jesus was speaking about more than saying dirty words. This teaching encompassed the entire gamut of ritual piety for its own sake, especially when it's practiced to exclude others, and at the expense of loving kindness.

The preacher threw in a lot of translations and word derivations, interesting tidbits I never knew. The word piety, for example, has the same derivation in Hebrew as loving kindness. I didn't know that. Also that the word worship means to serve. That makes sense. Jesus was very big on service. What he never bothered to mention was what a magical and life-giving activity service would be. Maybe he wanted us to figure it out for ourselves.

Our preacher took a brief tangent on the service thing... saying how important it is to serve God by doing what God actually needs, not by doing what may feel good to us. He mentioned specifically running errands and carrying messages. I got stuck on an internal image of God's gopher... or gofer... Go for this, go for that. It made me smile to think of being a gofer for God.

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