Do you have a question about life, love, or faith? Submit it online, fill out the form below.
Can you believe that it’s the end of May already?
I can’t believe that it’s the 21st Century already.
Not quite 20 years ago, I spent the better part of my summer on a mountain bike. I was in Banff, Alberta, an hour or so west of Calgary, working as an intern in the Banff Centre theater department. I loved the work, loved being part of ballet and opera and drama, loved being part of the creation of beauty. And I loved the smallness of that wilderness town. From just about anywhere, it was five minutes to the trailhead.
My friends and I took every advantage of the proximity of the forest and its trails. Work would end and we would get on our bikes; there would be a break for the afternoon and we would get on our bikes; the weekend would come and we would get on our bikes. We logged a lot of miles. Mostly we rode together, young men of more or less the same age. But occasionally my colleague, Harry, brought his son along. Harry’s son was perhaps 11 years old (I’m sorry to say that the boy’s name is one of many things that the tide of my memory has carried out to sea) and he was a strong rider; he kept up with us easily. Sometimes I would daydream of the future and think: Someday, I’d like to go riding with my own son or daughter.
I remembered that summer this past Friday when my son, Ami, and I went mountain biking on Spokane’s High Drive Bluff Park. Ami will turn 11 in July, and like Harry’s son, he kept pace with me without difficulty, even as we encountered some of the Bluff’s steeper climbs. (In a handful of years, I suppose that I will struggle to keep up with him). It was special to be in the woods on a bike beside my son, beautiful and maybe just a little sad to see my old dream come true.
When I first came to faith, I worshipped at a parish that did not mark birthdays, anniversaries, or other days of celebration in the Sunday assembly. And so, when our family moved and we began attending a parish that did name thanksgivings as part of Sunday worship, I was nonplussed and maybe even irritated by the practice. When, I thought, is all this talking going to end and the liturgy resume?
Over time, I have warmed up a bunch to saying thanks in church together. In part that’s because I have chosen to hold my preferences in worship a little more lightly, to let go of the temptation that so many of us have to make “good worship” and “worship that I like” into the same thing, so that the music that I don’t like is dirge-like or schmaltzy and the symbols or actions that I don’t like are irreverent or stodgy. But more than that, I have come to believe that saying thanks in community is a good and joyful way to get ready to come to the Christ’s table. After all, “Eucharist,” translated into English, means something like “Thanksgiving.”
My boss and colleague, Bill Ellis, wrote recently about how much he appreciates the diversity of experiences that the folks at St. John’s Cathedral share with one another during our Sunday morning thanksgivings. In particular, he praised our willingness to share our losses with one another even as we share jubilations. I second Bill’s words. And I will add that every thanksgiving there is has an element of loss within it (much as every loss has an element of joy, for big grief is evidence of big love). To celebrate a 60th wedding anniversary is also to name that you have become old. To celebrate a return to health is also to name that you have been really sick. To celebrate your son riding a bike beside you is also to name that he will soon be a child no more.
So let’s say thanks. And if there is an occasional tear even within our days of celebration, well, let’s say thanks for that as well.
The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.