The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (tr.)
All apologies to my Lord and Savior, but the most fun job I’ve ever had was teaching adult beginner ballet at a studio in midtown for 6 years.
[Example of port de bras – place, shoulder, place elbow, place wrist, place hand, place fingers…]
I can teach you how to move your arm like this. But grace is actually not about those joints, or aiming for a specific placement. It’s really about the space in between the movement, the thread that connects from one thing to the next. Another way to think of it is that it’s not the dots, and it’s not even just connecting the dots, it’s the way you draw the lines that connect the dots.The stuff you can’t prescribe or teach or point to or define, but that is so obviously there.When we were reflecting on St. Michael’s Day in our staff meeting this past Tuesday, Kate made the point that St. Michael is different from our other saints who have feast days in our church calendar. St. Michael wasn’t a human being. He wasn’t a person with a life and a story that serves as an example to us. He certainly wasn’t martyred, as so many of our saints seem to be. St. Michael was an angel. The feast of St. Michael and all angels is about a heavenly war that crosses into the earthly realm, a day to acknowledge the reality that God orders the ministries of angels and mortals alike. It actually points us to the fact that this world, the things we can point to and see and connect to and define, is actually connected to God’s world, which we can’t see but is nonetheless so truly there.
As the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning tells us,
“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God…”
Or as Ignatius of Loyola puts it, “God in all things”
It’s likely all of us are in church today because somewhere deep down we know and have maybe even experienced that God is present in the world around us. We can see the Spirit’s movement though we can’t point to it, or prescribe it, or even fully define it, because God’s movement is present in and around things we CAN point to.
We can point to our Saturday kitchen, even if we can’t prescribe the relationships and spirit that emerge from the most unexpected encounters with our guests each week.
We can point to the music John plays, the keys and chords and instruments and choir voices that make music, even when we can’t explain the ways the music lifts our spirits and our hearts.
We can point to the lessons our children learn in Sunday School each week, even if we can’t predict how that lesson manifests days later when a child makes a connection to something else they’ve encountered.
We can point to the bricks and mortar of our church building, even if we cannot prescribe the way this house of worship has shaped and housed and served a community for over 200 years.
We can point to a personal habit of praying every morning, even if it’s impossible to plan for the way God’s voice shows up and directs our steps.
God’s grace lives in the space in between, in the ways we know but can’t define. It’s one of those things that is easiest explained by saying. “You’ll know it when you see it.” Or perhaps more precisely, “you’ll know it when you experience it.”
Today we’re also kicking off our annual pledge drive, a campaign called “Forward in Grace.” (which you’ll hear more about in a few minutes) You all know that churches rely on their members to support them financially. Truly, without you, there would be no St. Michael’s – and without your financial support, we could not do the things we do.
And at a time when things are still hard and uncertain, it is so fitting to be guided by the theme of “forward in grace.” We all need a little bit of grace right now. We’re tired and overwhelmed, and it doesn’t seem like the pandemic, in the end, did much to change course for the better, like we thought it might. There are things we have less of these days: less time, less money, less patience, less energy, less joy.
But we have more, too. We have more bonds with each other that have grown deeper. More awareness of the important things in life. More willingness to put our money where our mouth is when it comes to issues of social justice, like reparations, or climate change. More awareness of the frailty and fragility of this life, and more eagerness to live it with integrity. More attention not just to the things we can point to, but to the movement of the Spirit in between them.
We have, in a word, more grace.
[port de bras again]
What’s amazing about grace is that it’s not just about the arm, the shoulder, the elbow, the wrist, the hand, the fingers. Doing this movement in isolation doesn’t achieve the same effect. It’s also the lean of the chest, the angle of the head, the rootedness of the movement deep in the center and extending outward. The space in-between the dots is connected far more extensively than you can imagine.
When I ask my ballet students to define how grace feels, they most often use words like “centered,” “freedom,” even as they cannot define exactly where it comes from.
As a church, we are engaged with matters of the spirit. Even though our website points to all the things we do here, the truth is, those are simply the things that help us see God, in-between and among. The make us centered, free, walking through a world crammed with heaven.
Forward in Grace.