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Hallo again to all.

It has been a busy and eventful week. In New Zealand, a powerful storm dumped substantial snow and rain six days ago, interrupting electrical service and causing floods and landslides. Much of the world has been riveted to television screens in order to watch the World Cup. Several news services have reported that North Korea may be preparing to test a long-range missile that could reach all of North America. And the Episcopal Church USA elected its 26th Presiding Bishop during its triennial General Convention in Ohio.

We wish the Bishop of Nevada well as she begins a nine-year term as Presiding Bishop. She comes to this position at a time that is poised to be redefining for the Anglican Communion as well as for the American Episcopal Church. She will be one of the most visible Anglicans in the world during her tenure, and her election has already been greeted with widely differing reactions. As is common in recent American politics, this election (at least in the House of Bishops) was relatively close, with a small margin of victory and one close contender not too many votes away. This local church and the wider communion stand in need of clarity, healing, and direction, and we pray that Bishop Jefferts Schori will be a capable guide in all of these ways going forward.

Crux stat dum volvitur orbisTonight, though, our thoughts turn not to the most visible of Christians, but rather to the invisible majority who make up most of our parishes and congregations. Through their commitments to attendance, Christian service, prayer, teaching, cleaning and a host of other things, but most of all through their quiet living out of their baptismal vows, these people hold our communities together in the love of Christ. Their constancy and goodness remind us that Stat crux dum volvitur orbis — the cross stands still while the world turns around.* This is a hard point for many of us to grasp, but it needn't be. If God's love in Jesus Christ is stronger than death — and what else is the lesson of the Resurrection? — then this love must likewise be stronger than any attempts to define God's love by our own lights in terms more precise than those he has already established from before the beginning of time. Christ's love, lived by his friends in careful quietness, gentle joyfulness and patient steadfastness, points us over and over to this fact: as weather, politics, sports and church change, there are always innumerable places where love is lacking and needs to be put. This does not and will not change. That this kind of life will not usually make its way into history books amid the changes and chances of this life is no matter. This service is perfect freedom.

Portrait of a Carthusian, by Petrus ChristusIn delicatessens and places where they eat bialys, we occasionally hear that someone is a lamedvavnik — just about the highest possible praise in this world of bagels, lox and pastrami. Lamedvavnik is a Yiddish term that refers to the Talmudic idea of 36 invisible righteous people in every generation who hold the world together by their prayers, their goodness and their blamelessness before God. (The Hebrew letters lamed and vav are used numerically to represent 30 and 6.) The lamedvavnik is not just a mensch among mensches, nor even a mensch squared or cubed; his or her place in the world is on a completely different level of necessity in the economy of life on earth. Lamedvavniks are hidden, and probably do not even know that they are among the tiny group who maintain the health of the world. Since, then, there exists the possibility that each person is a lamedvavnik, it is incumbent to live, pray, and love in light of that potential holy calling.

We suspect that Martin Thornton was writing from a Christian perspective about something like the idea of the lamedvavniks in his extended explications of the 'remnant' in pastoral theology. (Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation, 1956 and Christian Proficiency, 1961.) The remnant are those quiet souls who have aspired to Christian proficiency in their lives. They remain to pray and live in their parishes even longer than the one hour for which Christ asks in Gethsemane. They are the dependable, praying, beating heart of each parish, the core who mean what they live and live what they meant by their baptismal vows. They are the people of whom Saint Seraphim of Sarov said 'Acquire the spirit of peace, and a thousand around you will be saved.' We are sure for our part that some unnoticed person in each parish — or perhaps a handful of them — does more good in the course of a lifetime than most church committees, meetings or strategies will ever bring about. As the secular and ecclesiastical media continue to spin votes and events in their own ways, we give thanks for this core of real, pure-chemical goodness in the Church and the world. In them abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; even when conventions are in session and pass on their way into history.

Are you a lamedvavnik? See you next week.

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Last updated: 18 June 2006

* This is the motto of the Carthusian order, that most quiet and austere group of the athletes of prayer who are monastics. We have been reading An Infinity of Little Hours, an intimate look at this order; and we look forward to the American release of a new (mostly silent) film about them called Into Great Silence.

(Click for the 17 June update on Cynthia's cancer.)


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