Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Behavioral Clarity: Judith 10 with poem by Swithun, Judith

Daily Readings
Sirach 47, Nehemiah 6:1-7:3, Judith 10, I John 4

Daily Text: Judith 10

Behavioral Clarity
Very quickly now in Judith 10, she dresses, meets the town officials, is permitted to leave Bethulia, goes through the valley and provokes her own capture. Through it all her focus as the instrument of God’s action is unswerving. She acknowledges God when praised, she exhibits no fear when accosted and taken into captivity by an Assyrian patrol in the desert alone in the middle of the night. She meets Holofernes with a proper mixture of respect and assertiveness. At all times, she seems to exhibit behavioral clarity in such a way as to accomplish all that she needs to in order to achieve her God-inspired ends. How unusual! Even the clearest thinking persons regularly lose their objectivity in the emotion of the moment, whether that emotion be pride, empathy, fear or timidity. Clarity is so much easier in the quietness of one’s home or study.

from Judith
Swithhun, Bishop of Winchester
, 856 [1]

She his [2] gifts doubted (not)
On this broad-stretching earth; early found she, then,
Defence from the famous King, when she felt most need of
The almighty Judge’s favor, that from terror the greatest
God the Creator would free her: the Father in heaven
Glorious did grant her this boon, since the greatest faith she
Ever reposed in the Lord almighty. Olofernes, ‘tis told me,
A wine-feast gladly proclaimed, and a wondrously sumptuous
Banquet he bade to be spread: all the best of his thanemen
The leader of armies did summon. They early anon
Did as he bade, shield-bearing men; to the mighty war-captain
The chiefs of the folk came flocking. The fourth day this was
Since the gracious Judith, sagacious in spirit,
Elf-lovely lady, the leader first sought for.

1Attributed to Swithun by A.S. Cook. Others suggest Caedmon or Cynewulf [cf.537:3].
2God’s gifts

Collect for the Day
My Father, teach us not only thy will, but how to do it. Teach us the best way of doing the best thing, lest we spoil the end by unworthy means.

[286:92:283 Revd J. H. Jowett, 1846-1923]

Friday, November 03, 2006

Judith's Prayer: Judith 9 with poem by Chorley and Ellerton, God, The Omnipotent

Daily Readings
Sirach 46, Nehemiah 5, Judith 9, I John 3

Daily Text: Judith 9

Judith’s Prayer
The influence of what is happening in Jerusalem in the temple is reflected in the timing of Judith’s prayers. How pervasive the hours for temple prayers were for the faithful!

Judith’s prayer is the focus for the entire of Judith chapter nine. In it her ancestor Simeon is glorified as Judith identifies with this tribal progenitor. In Genesis 34 Simeon’s sister, Diana, is raped and even though the man would do anything to have her for his wife, Simeon and his brothers slaughtered all of the adult males in the Hivite village by trickery and deceit. The author of Genesis does not approve of his behavior, but Judith does, even calling it an act of God.. She plans and prays to achieve victory over the Assyrians with likeminded deceit and cunning. The difference seems to be that while Simeon’s act was uncalled for, Judith’s act is one of great necessity. She sees them similarly.

A theology of omnipotence and omniscience—all power and all knowing—are spelled out in Judith. This is a theology of Deuteronomic orthodoxy. God is not recognized by the nations and Judith wishes for that. God is responsible for all acts of history because he foreknows them and thus essentially plans them. That was true in Simeon’s case, she maintains, and she prays that her own act will bring about the glory of God and will also be seen as part of God’s knowing and doing. There is a sense that she is convinced that this is God’s will anyway, and she prays then to be simply his tool in carrying it out. Today we would tend to embrace the foreknowledge without acknowledging the design, believing that while God knows the future, he does not tamper with the action of physical laws or the exercise of free will, that might bring that future about. No such distinction is made in the Deuteronomic order of things. The book of Job reflects this view, while the prophets and the psalmists occasionally go beyond it and recognize the power of human will.

God, The Omnipotent
Henry F. Chorley, 1808-1872
John Ellerton, 1826-1893

God, the omnipotent! King, who ordainest
Great winds thy clarions, lightnings thy sword;
Show forth thy pity on high where thou reignest,
Give to us peace in our time, O Lord.

God the All-merciful! earth hath forsaken
Thy ways of blessedness, slighted Thy word;
Bid not Thy wrath in its terrors awaken:
Give to us peace in our time, O Lord!

God the All-righteous One! man hath defied Thee,
Yet to eternity standeth Thy word;
Falsehood and wrong shall not tarry beside Thee:
Give to us peace in our time, O Lord!

God the All-wise! By the fire of Thy chastening
Earth shall to freedom and truth be restored;
Through the tick darkness Thy kingdom is hastening:
Thou wilt give peace in Thy time, O Lord!

So shall thy children with thankful devotion
Praise Him who saved them from peril and sword,
Singing in chorus from ocean to ocean,
Peace to the nations and praise to the Lord.

Collect for the Day
Eternal God, whose image lies in the hearts of all people,
We live among peoples whose ways are different from ours,
whose faiths are foreign to us,
whose tongues are unintelligible to us.
Help us to remember that you love all people with your great love,
that all religion is an attempt to respond to you,
that the yearnings of other hearts are much like our own and known to you.
Help us to recognize you in the words of truth, the things of beauty,
the actions of love about us.
We pray through Christ, who is a stranger to no one land more than another,
and to every land no less than to another.

[286:373:1119 World Council of Churches, Vancouver Assembly, 1983]

Thursday, November 02, 2006

No One Spoke Ill of Her: Judith 8 with poem by Fanny E. Lacey, Judith and Holofernes

Daily Readings
Sirach 45, Nehemiah 4, Judith 8, I John 2

Daily Text: Judith 8

No One Spoke Ill of Her
Genealogy is that ancient story device of establishing one’s bona fides at the beginning of a story. Here in Judith 8, Judith has an amazing sixteen ancestors, naming a colleague of Moses, Shelumiel, silently including Simeon who was Sarasadai’s father, the tribal progenitor, and Isaac the patriarch, known also as Israel. But not only does she have an illustrious pedigree, she has lived a praiseworthy life, respected by all. Hearing of the crisis she summons the town officials and harangue’s them for their weakness in leading the people into virtually testing God. Unrepentant, Uzziah, the leading man of Bethulia, defends his behavior. Evidently, short tempered with their rationalizations, Judith offers to effect a resolution to the crisis herself. The officials are to meet her that night at the city gate to let her out on her mission. They assent and give their blessing.

This is a woman of action, as well as good breeding, sound mind and pious practice. Immediately, we see someone whose stature is head and shoulders above that of the local politicians. Much has been made of the statement that this makes for the status of women in ancient times. Ridicule, irony, and humor are all at the expense of the men. However, this author suspects that the leadership of this woman was simply what was needed in that crisis and that little or no diminishment of the men took place. Deborah, Jael and Esther come immediately to mind. God uses women readily when a woman’s leadership is needed and available. How many other times he used women, but that use went unrecorded will always remain a mystery. “No one spoke ill of her,” including these men who probably considered it an honor to be summoned to her home and asked to give their blessing on her planned action.

Judith and Holofernes
Fanny E. Lacey

Judith viii.32

With beauty’s wile the tyrant to ensnare,
O’er her fair brow she braids her perfumed hair;
The glittering sandals bind her dancing feet,
As their gay silver bells responding sweet
To her light step: in harmony she floats;
While he, enraptured, gazes till he doats.
“What ho, ye serfs, my bondsmen here, what ho!
Crown ye the board, and let the red wine flow;
Fill to the goblet’s brim!” he joyous cries;
“This Hebrew damsel lifts me to the skies!
Here in my tent I will that she abide,
And with her beauty grace a conqueror’s side,”
And wily Judith hears, to glad employ,
And still renew, the spell that make his joy:
But when his ravish’d senses own the power
Of the full revel and entrancing hour,
Sleep doth enchain him with oblivious thrall,
And on his couch she views him powerless fall.
Pass’d hath the midnight watch, the music ceased;
The weary eye turns from the remnant feast,
The tapers faintly gleam: on the still air
No echo falls, and she alone is there;
On Israel’s sleeping foe awhile to gaze,
“God of my fathers, ‘tis Thy judgment-hour;
As unto Israel’s God she inward prays:
Thine is the strength, the glory, and the power;
Nerve Thou my woman’s arm; unto my heart
Thy ministering angel’s wrath divine impart.
Behold my feeble hand his falchion wield;
Bod of my fathers, be my strength and shield;
Thus for the righteous cause,” inspired she cries,
“Thus by my hand our heathen foeman dies.”
Fearless she strikes; and oh, so young, so fair,
Glowing as God’s avenging angel there;
While thousand voices shout with one accord,
Israel victorious in the glory of the Lord!

Collect for the Day
King of Glorie, King of Peace,
I will love thee;
And that love may never cease,
I will move thee.

Thou hast granted my request,
Thou hast heard me;
Thou dist note my working breast,
Thou hast spar’d me.

Wherefore with my utmost art
I will sing thee,
And the cream of all my heart
I will bring thee.

Small it is, in this poor sort
To enrol thee:
E’en eternitie’s too short
To extol thee.

[286:5:10 George Herbert, 1593-1663]

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Waiting Game: Judith 7 with poem by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Judith

All Saints’ Day

Daily Readings
Sirach 44, Nehemiah 3, Judith 7, Revelation 7:2-4, 9-17

Daily Text: Judith 7

A Waiting Game
The day has come for the vast army, now 170,000 strong, to move against Bethulia. And they do, moving up to the source of the city’s water supply. The NRSV, in Judith 7, says this water source was one of springs, the Vulgate says an aqueduct [534:173].
“Now Holofernes, in going out, found that the fountain which supplied them
with water, ran through an aqueduct outside the city on the south side; and he commanded their aqueduct to be cut off. Nevertheless, there were springs not far from the walls, out of which they were seen secretly to draw water, to refresh themselves a little rather than too drink their fill” (Vg. 7:6-7).
If this Vulgate text is accurate it explains why the foreign mercenaries in his army subsequently recommended that he capture the springs and let the people die of thirst (7:12-13). By dominating the water supply and surrounding their points of egress on all sides, the Assyrians insure their downfall, and they do so without risking loss of life.

Fascinating is the recognition that though the foreign mercenary troops did not want to wait for Bethulia and the Jews to displease their God, when it came time to attack they themselves recommended patience and a waiting game—precisely what Achior had recommended, and for which he was banished.

from Judith
Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Now Holofernes with his barbarous hordes,
The scum of twenty servile sovereignties,
Crost the Euphrates, laying waste the land
To Esdraelon, and, falling on the town
Of Bethulia, stormed it night and day
Incessant, till within the leaguered walls
The boldest captains faltered; for at length
The wells gave out, and then the barley failed,
And Famine, like a murderer masked and cloaked,
Stole in among the garrison. The air
Was filled with lamentation, women’s moans
And cries of children: and a night there came
A fever, parching as a fierce simoon.
Yet Holofernes could not batter down
The brazen gates, nor make a single breach
With beam or catapult in those tough walls:
And white with rage among the tents he strode
Among the squalid Tartar tents he strode
And curst the gods that gave him not his will,
And curst his captains, curst himself, and all;
Then, seeing in what strait the city was,
Withdrew his men hard by the fated town
Amid the hills, and with a grim-set smile
Waited, aloof, until the place should fall.
All day the housetops lay in sweltering heat;
All night the watch fires flared upon the towers;
And day and night with Israelitish spears
The bastions bristled.

Collect for the Day
Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with lyou land the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

[BCP 245 All Saints’ Day]

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Greatness: Judith 5:22-6:21 with poem by Stephen Spender, "I Think Continually of Those----"

Daily Readings
Sirach 43, Nehemiah 2, Judith 5:22-6:21, I John 1

Daily Text: Judith 5:22-6:21

Nothing unexpected occurs in Judith 5:22-6:21. Not trusting a military escort for Achior, Holofernes sends his personal aides with Achior to Bethulia. The transfer is contentious, but uneventful. Achior is, on the other side of the city walls, interrogated by the Jewish leadership, believed, and fêted; their prayers are renewed. What Achior has to say fits everything they have already surmised for themselves. Nothing has changed.

While Achior is indeed a hero, in this case one who has stood with integrity in the highest counsels of two opposing camps, nothing he has done changes anything. What is it that forms a man or a woman a Mandela, a Bishop Tutu, a Martin Luther King or a Judith, while many others, just as integrious, make little difference? Many a man and a woman fill a great role with lackluster, while others are great with or without the role. None of this is meant to disparage Achior. He was in his own right a great man. Far better to be an Achior than a Holofernes, who simply ends up by being a fool and a dead one at that! Parallels, in our own political, national and religious life, are close at hand.

“I Think Continually of Those------“
Stephen Spender

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are fêted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun they travelled a short while toward the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

Collect for the Day
O thou great Chief, light a candle in my heart, that I may see wht is therein, and sweep the rubbish from thy dwelling place.


Monday, October 30, 2006

Knowledge, Intelligence and Counsel: Judith 5:1-21 with poem by Bliss Carman, Lord of the Far Horizons

Daily Readings
Sirach 42, Nehemiah 1, Judith 5:1-21, Philemon

Daily Text: Judith 5:1-21

Knowledge, Intelligence and Counsel
Judith 5 focuses on the report that alone of all the peoples of the region the Jews are resisting Holofernes. Puzzled he asks his advisors from the region—Moab, Ammon and Philistia—what this is about. Essentially, Holofernes is requesting whatever they have, i.e., knowledge, intelligence and counsel. Achior, leader of the Ammonites, responds loyally with all three. He knows intimately the history of this people. He understands how their God works with them for good and for ill, and finally, he suggests a safe process for defeating them without angering their God.

But no one in that company wants to admit that they are subject to the whims of Israel’s God. What is fascinating here is the contributing and parallel advice given Holofernes by Achior and later by Judith. Achior, knowing that God’s favor rests on Jewish obedience, counsels patience. Judith, when she is addressing Holofernes in chapter 11 knows and says the same thing, but she offers the addition al virtue of knowing the manner by which they are about to sin. So interwoven is the testimony of Achior and Judith that Holofernes, given the added incentive that he is thoroughly entranced by Judith sexually, is finally ready to listen, and he does so without question. It is obvious to this author that Holofernes understood Achior’s integrity from the beginning and only treated him as he did because of the impatience of his other advisors.

Note finally, that once again the people of God behave differently from the people of every other nation. It is this difference that God always asks. The behavior of one who lives for and trusts God implicitly is very different from the behavior of one whose religion does not define his/her life, but is only a part of it.

Lord of the Far Horizons
Bliss Carman

Lord of the far horizons,
Give us the eyes to see
Over the verge of sundown
The beauty that is to be.
Give us the skill to fashion
The task of Thy command,
Eager to follow the pattern
We may not understand.

Master of ancient wisdom
And the lore lost long ago,
Inspire our foolish reason
With faith to seek and know.
When the skein of truth is tangled,
And the lead of sense is blind,
Foster the fire to lighten
Our unillumined mind.

Collect for the Day
O he sons of the Buddha! The radiant body of the Tathāgata
in innumerable ways bestows benefits upon all beings.

It benefits us with its universal illumnination which vanquishes
the darkness of ignorance harboured in all beings.

It benefits us through its great compassionate heart,
which saves and protects all beings.

It benefits us through its great loving heart,
which delivers all beings from the misery of birth and death.

It benefits us by giving us a firm belief in the truth
which cleanses all our spiritual impurities.

The innumerable rays of the light of intelligence emanate
everlastingly from the spiritual body of the Tathāgata.

Whoever sees this light obtains the purest eye of the Dharma.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Holding the Tale of Herodotus: Judith 4 with poem by Robert Hillyer, Thermopylae and Golgotha

Daily Readings
Sirach 41, Ezra 4:6-4, Judith 4, I Esdras 2:16-30

Daily Text: Judith 4

Holding the Tale of Herodotus
Judith’s author sets the time for his story yet again in chapter 4, this time shortly after the return from exile and the re-consecration of the temple, ca. 515 B.C. As with other dates and times in the book of Judith, it is difficult, if not impossible to make complete sense of it. However, this is, for the author, the critical time of action. Of greater interest is the call by Joachim, the high priest in Jerusalem for the mysterious city of Bethulia to take certain mountain passes and defend them against the Assyrians. Arnoldo Momigliano argues that the author of Judith was aware of Herodotus’ account of Sparta’s war against Persia at Thermopylae [534:154]. Caponigro makes a similar case in “Judith, Holding the Tale of Herodotus” [536:47 ff.]. Their point is that Judith’s author fashioned his story with Thermopylae in mind. Moore’s contention is that even if such is true, and it certainly could be, it has to little or nothing to add about the book’s historicity. This is a religious story, written to inspire Jewish hearts toward a God who continues to care for them in a world where the odds are not in their favor. Little wonder that this story has continued to inspire the faithful down through the generations into our own time.

The leaders and the people humbled themselves with fasting and prayer, and the Lord heard them and respected their petition. The God who has intervened throughout their past on their behalf is ready to act once again. What he did in Egypt, he did in Caanan. What he has done in Canaan, he has done in ‘Assyria.’ What God has done in Assyria he will certainly accomplish in second century Persia and beyond.

Thermopylae and Golgotha
Robert Hillyer

Men lied to them and so they went to die.
Some fell, unknowing that they were deceived,
And some escaped, and bitterly bereaved,
Beheld the truth they loved shrink to a lie
And those there were that never had believed,
But from afar had read the gathering sky,
And darkly wrapt in that dread prophecy
Died trusting that their truth might be retrieved.

It matters not. for life deals thus with Man;
To die alone deceived or with the mass,
Or disillusioned to complete his span.
Thermopylae or Golgotha, all one—
The young dead legions in the narrow pass;
The stark black cross against the setting sun.

Collect for the Day
It is glory enough for me
That I should be Your servant
It is grace enough for me
That You should be my Lord.

[286:332:1027 Arabic prayer]