Bindings

Homily for Sunday, March 29, 2020
Lent 5A
Ezekiel 37:1–14
John 11:1–44

swaddlingIf you want to see something beautiful, something inspiring, something hopeful—things I suspect we all might like to see right now—if you want to see something that even might make you weep (in a good way), google “How to Swaddle a Baby 3 Easy Ways,” a short YouTube video produced (I think) by two maternity ward nurses.

All of these swaddles start with a square 40-inch by 40-inch blanket:

First is the “double swaddle.” Fold down one of the blanket corners and place the baby on the blanket with her head on the folded-down corner. Tuck in the baby’s first arm tight with one blanket corner, then bring up the bottom corner and tuck it over her opposite shoulder, and then wrap the still free arm in tight to the body with the remaining corner, tucking all edges in underneath. And then you more or less repeat with a second blanket.

Then, there is the “parent swaddle” (which I suspect is actually called the “dad swaddle,” except they were trying to be sensitive…). Lay the blanket down square and place the baby’s head, not at a corner, but in the middle of one of the edges. Wrap the first arm in tight to the body, and then the other, tucking each edge in underneath her. Finally, bring the bottom edge up, wrap it around, and then tuck those edges underneath. Easy!

And finally, there is the “traditional swaddle.” As with the “double swaddle,” fold down one corner of the blanket and place the baby on the blanket with the baby’s head on the folded-down corner. Wrap one side tight, rolling the baby slightly and tucking the edge behind his back. Then bring up the bottom corner and tuck it behind the opposite shoulder. Take the top half of the remaining corner and wrap the other arm in tight (again rolling him over slightly to tuck the corner behind his back) and then bring the bottom half of that corner and up and tuck it behind his other shoulder.

3_week_old_swaddled_infant“How did I get to watching videos about how to swaddle a baby,” you ask? No, I’m not making an announcement about the Duggan-Miller household. (We’re done.) I was looking for wrapping paper for a baby gift, and when the “Baby Wrapping” videos came up… how could I not click on those?

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Binding” doesn’t always get the best press, but there are plenty of instances of “binding” that are “good,” that lead to healing and greater life. Binding infants in a swaddle, for example, calms them. Binding dogs in snug-fitting “thunder shirts” similarly calms them during thunder. Doctors bind wounds so that they might heal. Monks’ vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience bind them in order that they may experience greater freedom. Some Jewish men bind phylacteries to their heads and arms to remind them of the Law. Some yoga poses are binds, with arms wrapped and hands clasped in seemingly impossible ways, but which help awaken one to the present moment.

And remember those famous lines attributed to St. Patrick?

I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity…

I bind this day to me forever…
Christ’s incarnation,
His Baptism…
His death…
His bursting from the spiced tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom,
I bind unto myself today.

Binding need not be “bad;” indeed, it often leads to greater life.

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In today’s lesson from John 11, Lazarus is bound: “his hands and feet [had been] bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth.” Jesus makes clear that Lazarus’ binding is not the kind of binding that leads to death, but rather to greater life:

But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

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Unbind him, mosaic, St Aloysius in Glasgow (Lawrence OP)

For us right now, it could be that we feel “bound” as we have been told to stay in our homes. I wonder if maybe we could allow our present “binding” to be the kind of binding that leads not to death but to life. I wonder if we can allow this time of quarantine and isolation—as difficult as it may be—to be a time in which our spiritual “bones” have an opportunity to come together, maybe as we spend more regular time in prayer. I wonder if we can allow our time of “binding” to be a time in which we allow God to lay “sinews” on our bones, maybe as we take time in the days and weeks ahead to read the scriptures. I wonder if we can allow our time of “binding” to be a time in which we might allow God’s “breath” to enter in, maybe asking God for a deeply felt knowledge of God’s love for us. For if we let God, God can take our scattered “bones” and gather them together and breathe new life into them such that, in the end, this time of “binding” might lead to greater life. For our Lord is “resurrection and life,” and can use even our present circumstances to lead us out of our tombs such that we, like Lazarus, might be “unbound” and “let go” and become alive in new and surprising ways.

 

A Work of Art

Homily for Sunday, March 22, 2020
The Fourth Sunday in Lent
John 9:1–41

In the February issue of GQ, Josh Dean writes of “The Great Buenos Aires Bank Heist,”

It was 12:38 in the afternoon on January 13, 2006, when the call went out to police: a bank robbery in progress. Moments later, cops were racing through San Isidro, a leafy, affluent suburb north of Buenos Aires. When officers arrived at the scene—a tan two-story branch of Banco Río, one of Argentina’s largest financial institutions—they were pleased to discover that the thieves were still inside.

As officers established a perimeter, they watched as the bank’s lone security guard ambled out the door, carrying his gun… Continue reading

Letting Jesus into our story

Homily for Sunday, March 15, 2020
Lent 3A — John 4:5–42

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Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, mural by by Emmanuel Nsama (chapel of the Njase Girls Secondary School, Zambia)

Dang, that was a long reading. I mean, weren’t we were standing here for, like, ever? And, heads up: in the coming weeks, the Gospels are even longer. Today’s Gospel was 38 verses. Next week’s is 41 verses. And the week after that the Gospel is 44 verses! Despite how long we had to stand, I’m not even going to preach on this Gospel… at least not directly. I am going to preach instead on another text from the Johannine corpus, a verse from John’s first letter that sheds light on these long readings we hear this Lent. From John’s first letter: Continue reading

Sin and Sight

Homily for Sunday, March 1, 2020
The First Sunday in Lent
Genesis 2:15–17; 3:1–7

heem2c_jan_davidsz._de_-_a_richly_laid_table_with_parrots_-_c._1650Though their podcast is supposed to be helpful in regards to eating and food, given the titles of the episodes—titles such as “Good Food, Bad Food,” and “Doomed if You Diet, Doomed if You Don’t,” and “Stress, Stress, Stress and Your Waistline”—and given also the phrases that pepper their podcast—phrases such as “issues I’ve had with food,” or “my war with food,” or the “judgments” we impose on ourselves and others regarding food—I have to wonder just how helpful Juna Gjata and Dr. Eddie Phillips’ “Food, We Need to Talk” podcast on NPR is for people.  Their language would seem to confirm that food has a negative “charge,” and would seem only to reinforce the link between food and failure, judgment and morality.

Having just heard this morning’s lesson from Genesis, we might say, “Well of course eating and food are ‘charged’ issues; and of course we pair eating and food with words such as ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ ‘doom’ and ‘stress,’ and ‘war’ and ‘judgment’… because it was through food and eating that sin entered the world.”  And we’ve also just begun Lent, a time in which many of us take on disciplines of self-denial that involve saying “no” to food, like no desserts, no chocolate or no wine.  It could be that sin entered the world through food and eating, and it could be that we could reverse or overcome something by saying “no” to certain foods.  It could be… Continue reading

Coming Full Circle

Homily for Sunday, February 23, 2020
Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Exodus 24:12–18

disney-dreaming-of-wonderland-rodel-gonzalez_1024x1024The homily this morning is about the parts of our lives that are in some way sundered from the rest. Don’t we all have degrees of shame or guilt that we don’t know how to square with the rest of our lives? And don’t we all have past traumas and hurts that keep us from living fully in the present? And while we can’t forget the past, much less change it, it is possible to come to have fresh eyes and to see, if not the past then the present, in a different light, and—to borrow that hopeful line from Eliot—“to know the place for the first time.”

I want to return to sundered places and to seeing with fresh eyes, but first I want to visit the very beginning, and also the end, of Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (which begins), Continue reading

Letting Go and Letting God

Homily for Sunday, February 16, 2020
The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Deuteronomy 30:15–20
Matthew 5:21–37

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Things fall apart; the center cannot hold Photograph by David Hoffman

Today’s homily is about things falling apart.  And about how sometimes the best we can do is to let things fall apart, because when we stand back and let things unfold, even if it means letting things fall apart, our letting go clears the way for God to do something with the pieces.  But because it’s no fun to begin with falling apart, I want to begin rather… with Deuteronomy. Continue reading

The First Commandment

Homily for Sunday, February 9, 2020
The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
Matthew 5:13–20

john_endecott_cutting_the_cross_out_of_the_english_flagThe text we just heard from Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” contains the New Testament’s first reference to “the law”—not necessarily the earliest, but the first reference to “the law.”  And because we are going to hear further references to “the law” in the coming year, and to take a closer look at what Matthew might mean when he says “the law,” this morning I am going to talk about “the law.”  But first, a passage from Nathaniel Hawthorne. Continue reading