Kyrie/Letanía de Alabanza
My priest friend Joe faces another round of surgery and then significant time rehabilitating with a third new knee. It means that I will walk with the community of St. Paul’s through Advent, Christmas and into the season of Epiphany. I could not ask for a more gracious and kind community to be with.
There are all kinds of small graces and gifts in this time. I love Advent. This year, I am so thoroughly aware of the seasons, liturgical and solar. Today, the rain has fallen steadily, much welcomed and necessary. It is not terribly cold but completely overcast and damp, a true fall-into-winter kind of day. The sun will set at 4:42 but as overcast as the day is, by 4 or 4:30 it will be dark. Those advent candles are powerful in this kind of darkness.
I laughingly told someone that this is a girl-priest thing: I am delighted that I will get to use my Advent stole, my most favorite stole of all. I will also spend time, four weeks in a row, with the women of the parish and the narratives of the Annunciation and the Visitation to Elizabeth. How will those stories intersect with the lives of a group of women I am just getting to know and how will they intersect with my life, in this new place? I can’t know now, but I have the certainty that by the time Christmas Eve arrives, they and I will have grown some small bit further into the “fullness of Christ”.
Last Sunday, before the service, a couple of people showed me around the parish offices and hall. We went from room to room, each with its own history of joy, some rooms with reminders of significant, heart breaking loss. The very last room we stopped in has a safe in it. One of the people with me went into the safe and brought out a fabric-bound box, about 18” x 10”. Carefully, he took out the parish Registry Book that first starts back to the 1850’s. Every single baptism that has been celebrated in this church is recorded there, along with the weddings and funerals and confirmations. We stopped on one page that showed that there had been a large number of baptisms on a single day. In the section where you normally enter the names of the parents of the baptized, all it said next to all those names was “adult”. The parishioner explained that that meant that each of the baptized was a slave.
I have carried that moment in my heart since last week. History is very thin in Southeast Florida. Houses are torn down and new ones put up over and over again. Something 100 years old is ancient. I preached at All Saints on one of the Sundays of Advent last year. I already knew it was the last service I would ever be a part of there and I had a keen sense of the passage of time. It had been quite a while since I had preached from that pulpit and when I got up and looked out at the congregation, though I knew many people, I realized it was practically a new congregation. Sherod and I can look back on the 16 years he was there and define three almost distinct congregations he served in. My time with El Centro, and then St. Ambrose was more brief, and the Latino community was even more transitory than at All Saints. A number of people left and quite a number of people of St. Ambrose died while I served there. It was hard to have a sense of history.
As I pondered the Registry Book at St. Paul’s, as I thought about those names recorded on its pages and the other stories contained in the room where it is stored, a room named after a young person who died tragically a few years ago, I was so mindful of what it means to live in a place where history is not denied, not erased and not easily forgotten, in fact, where history matters.
I will walk with the folks of St. Paul’s for a time. I hope I will be able to make some small difference. But I also know that one of the things that is already different about me is a desire to learn what history might have to teach me. There is a sense of waiting and anticipation—a marked change for one who has been used to going into places with all kinds of plans and ideas and notions. I look forward to getting to read the Registry Book with some care—say names out loud of people who came before me, who have made this place what it is. In a sense, that Registry tells the story of humankind—hope and despair, darkness and light all woven together—almost as surely as the Book of Genesis.
Two years ago at St. Ambrose, we launched an experiment in bicultural liturgy during the Season of Advent. Instead of the Gloria at the beginning of the service, we sang a piece that goes to the heart of what I understand about this season—it is called “Kyrie/Letanía de Alabanza (Litany of Praise)”. It’s how I live, how I suspect most of us live, most of the time: asking for mercy, lifting our song of praise and thanksgiving almost in the same breath. In this season, in this little town far out of the way, we will be hope and longing made flesh. We will try to remain awake for the coming of the Messiah. Lord have mercy…
Te alabamos Señor (We praise you, Oh Lord)
Tú nos das agua viva, (You give us living water)
Señor ten piedad (Lord have mercy)
Kyrie, kyrie, kyrie eleision
We praise you Oh Lord
You open our eyes
Christ have mercy
Criste, Criste, Criste eleison
Te alabamos Señor, (We praise you, Oh Lord)
Tú nos das vida eternal (You give us life eternal)
Señor, ten piedad (Lord, have mercy)
Kyrie, kyrie, kyrie eleision
Bob Hurd, Composer