Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

10/2 2013

Why Taize?

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Every Monday our PTS community worships in the tradition of Taizé. For those who are unaware of this tradition, it is a service with roots in an ecumenical community in France and features repeated song, prayer, Scripture, and silence. We started worshipping in this way every Monday two years ago as part of a number of changes in our chapel program. We moved away from a more faculty-driven program into a more student-driven model. It is certainly still a work-in-progress, much like our personal and communal lives together. No matter how much we may think otherwise, we have never really arrived. God is always changing us. This is reality in our lives, as well as our chapel program.

The faculty members in charge of this transition wrote periodic e-mails to the campus about how this change would enrich our lives together, even if some of the styles of worship made us uncomfortable. We were encouraged to participate and allow ourselves to grow. These e-mails were clearly written for me. I was so angry the first year about these changes. My first year of seminary I felt like chapel had a rhythm and it grounded me as I navigated my life as a student, attempting to balance it with parenting small children. And, still, many of the memorable and challenging sermons of my lifetime were heard in chapel during that time. Chapel was my favorite part of the day. Well, aside from lunch. Then they had to go and change it. Why? And to me, it was a hot mess. I never knew what to expect. I like to think I am open to the Spirit, but I was very resistant to the changes. I also happened to have a baby during second year, so I was given the grace to process in solitude as I grumbled to God about how I felt like PTS had been led astray by some evil spirit. It sounds harsh, but I was a tad bit angry.

My third year, I started coming around, partly due to Taizé, but mostly due to the fact that I realized most of my friends were graduating and that chapel was one time I could see them regularly. I still felt apprehensive when we sang songs I thought were too contemporary, became nervous when speakers were too personal, and disliked how we were always moving the chairs around. But I pressed on.

This year, though, it all came together for me. In a moment of revelation, where God once again revealed to me the obvious, I sat in the realization of my own selfishness.  Worship is not about me. Like I said, this was a revelation of the obvious, which is often how revelation happens for me. Obviously, this was something I knew, but it was revealed to me through my experience of Taizé this year.

The service features the first round of song led by a cantor, and we are blessed at PTS to have many talented musicians and singers. I had prepared myself to be emotional at this particular service because I knew one of my favorite professors would not be there, as he has moved on to another very fortunate institution, but I hadn’t prepared myself for how emotional I would be about all of my friends who had moved on. As the cantor finished the first round, I sat thinking about how the cantor had been my daughter’s first teacher at the PTS Playroom and how thankful I was for this institution and community for nurturing my gifts, my family, and those who surrounded us during our time here. When I looked up, though, I realized that the cantor was not the person I had been thinking of. That person graduated last year.

Instead of feeling foolish, though, I praised God for the revelation that this is the point of worship. Not to confuse two clearly different people, no. But to remind us of the wider community of faith, the larger story that we are part of. Suddenly, my mind was moving on to the children who had performed in the Christmas play, the alums who had attended lectures and other events, the memorial service offered for a fellow student’s stillborn son, the academic awards given to well-deserving students, all these things in this place offered as worship and thanksgiving to the God who became part of our world, died, rose, and ascended into heaven.

Taizé (or something like it), I think, offers a way for communities in constant transition, like a seminary, to remain grounded and connected to a larger story. It allows us to reflect, weekly, through its predictable rhythm, on the changes that we all endure in our lives. And it allows a space for those who are a little less comfortable with the phrase “varied worship experiences” to remain grounded and maybe, just maybe, allow themselves to open up to the rich and wonderful expanse of God’s love through worship in the wider church.

Written by Shana Hutchings, Senior MDiv student

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2/21 2013

What Color Is Lent?

This has, thankfully, been a mild winter in Pittsburgh (the picture above comes from 2010).  Still, this year as every year, Lent began while winter still held sway.  Indeed, even now, with February at long last over and done (how strange that, according to the calendar, February is the shortest month of the year!), the official first day of spring, March 20, seems a long way off.

All of which may seem appropriate.  Lent certainly seems a wintry season of the church year: dark, cold, grim, unforgiving.  The liturgical color for Lent is purple—an appropriately dark and lugubrious shade.  But we are likely to think of Lent even more in winter shades: the penitential black of clerical garb, the gray of Ash Wednesday’s daubs on hands or foreheads, the off-white of sackcloth.

Yet, curiously, the term “Lent” has nothing to do with winter, or darkness, or fasting, or penitence.  Etymologically, “Lent” derives from the Middle English lenten and the Old English lencten, and is related to the Old High German lenzin, all of which mean “Spring”!

Likely we will have difficulty wrapping our heads around this concept.  Lent as springtime?  Our springtime associations wrap about Easter (a name which, by the way, derives from the Saxon goddess of fertility and the dawn!)—the feast of Christ’s resurrection, acclaimed by John of Damascus (sixth century) as “the Spring of souls.”  Even in the secular world, Easter is celebrated with signs and symbols of newness and life: eggs, brightly dyed in the shades of spring flowers; bunnies (famous for their fecundity!); and new clothes.

By contrast, these 40 days of preparation are appropriately penitential, marked by self-examination, prayer and fasting. Likely, we would prefer to skip the preparation and jump directly into the celebration!  But the Lenten disciplines are not optional.  Mark reminds us that, after Jesus’ baptism, “the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12).  Jesus could not avoid this time of trial, and neither can we.  But this Lenten season need not be grim and colorless.  Lent is a green season—a time of growth.  Lent provides the opportunity for us to dig down deeper in our tradition, to break up the fallow ground of our cold hearts so that the Water of Life may seep down into the center of who are.  Lent is the time for the Spirit to prune away our dead branches so that we may bear fruit.  It is then a season of new life—a springtime for our souls!

God grant you, sisters and brothers, a green, growing, God-filled Lent!

By The Rev. Dr. Steven Tuell, James A. Kelso Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament and Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

 

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2/15 2013

Ashes to Ashes

A few days ago Christians of both Protestant and Catholic flavors around the globe celebrated Ash Wednesday, or at the very least acknowledged it. This day is to serve as a mark, not only to the start of the Lenten season but also to our constant and continued dependence on God in our lives, for from dust we are and to dust we shall return, and dust we would still be if it were not for the craftmanship of the Creator.

At the service I attended on Wednesday, the pastor talked about having a choice.  He used the analogy of preparing plates of food, for a lot of time we may be tempted when dividing out the portions to put the better food and larger quanities on the plate we designate for ourselves.  But when it comes to serving the food, we then have a choice: do we keep the better, larger portion for ourselves, or do we serve that instead to the other person.

So we’re talking about something more than just a plate of food, even if it’s a plate of aparagus risotto with extra parmesan.  We are talking about this sculpted biological complicated heterogeneous yet functioning pile of ashes we call a body through which we facilitate and navigate this equally complex time process we call life.  And the question then becomes, what portion of life are we serving God?

To me that seems a strange question, like wearing a suit you know isn’t yours, so I sat at my computer and stared at it. As I grappled with this question, I realized the wording of dividing and portions in my brain brought about this image of shared custody, that some days I had control over my life and other days God had control.  Which is ridiculous, for I neither have the power nor the strength to be in control of something like that.  And giving of your life by assigning a specific portion to God doesn’t seem possible since the definition of all that equates to life is multi-faceted.

So maybe the question should be worded: Is our life serving God?

-Rebecca Dix, MDiv student

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