Friday, November 07, 2014

Knapsack 11-13-14

Notes From My Knapsack 11-13-14
Jeff Gill

Public words and private thoughts

Rounding out my reflections on public inscriptions, most of them carved in stone around Granville, many hidden in plain sight or at least overlooked through being seen too much, I have a few thoughts about some words in a semi-public, quasi-permanent place.

It's in the front of St. Edward the Confessor Roman Catholic Church, beneath the mural of Christ enthroned, lamb about his neck, rainbow at his feet, and patron saints adoring on either side.

These words I cite are painted, but painted in a very public way in a space where many of us even non-Catholic folk might pass by and read them, for events and gatherings and commemorations. Some of my Catholic friends have expressed their uncertainty about the phrases, having a vague sense that they aren't Biblical lines (though they have that general quality), but not sure where they come from.

For a church building dedicated to one of the last Anglo-Saxon kings of England, it makes sense that these words are from Old English, or Anglo-Saxon the tongue. The mural inscription uses the start of a set of lines in "Crist" or Christ in Old English, a set of three poetic constructions, of which "Crist I" is also known as the "Advent lyrics," because this first part is actually twelve poems in Anglo-Saxon about Christ's advent, his coming.

"Come now, King of heroes. Do not delay too long. We have need of mercies, that you free us…" In Robert Boenig's translation, he goes on to say "…and faithfully give us the healthful gift, that ever after we may always thrive in the thing that prospers among the people – your will."

"Crist" is an acquired taste, in Old English or in a 20th century translation, but it has a more modern association that might please some who have no other connection to Wessex kings or Roman rite. The entire three part assemblage was translated in the earliest part of the 20th century by a young man who went on to be a very respected scholar of early English and Germanic literature at Oxford, greatly honored in old age.

His honors, however, were more for his fantasy writings, his literary achievements in his own right. His name was J.R.R. Tolkien, and he wrote "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" and much more in Middle Earth.

His first step into middle earth, though, was in translating a line in Anglo-Saxon found elsewhere in Crist A, in the Advent Lyrics, which goes:
"éala éarendel engla beorhtast / ofer middangeard monnum sended"
"Hail Earendel, brightest of angels, over Middle-earth to men sent"

Tolkien wondered who Earendel was, a word that was a form of address to the Morning Star, but with more mythic meaning. Finding little information about those meanings, he began to create some of his own, and so began Middle Earth in the fall of 1914, one hundred years ago.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he has a fondness for Anglo-Saxon art in all forms. Tell him your quirky pasttimes at or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Faith Works 11-9-14

Faith Works 11-9-14

Jeff Gill


Planning ahead, with grace



Thanks to reader Johnda, I've been reminded that Thanksgiving is coming soon.


Okay, I knew Thanksgiving was heading our way, and I've been finishing Advent and Christmas plans the last few weeks, but I had sort of overlooked the Great American Holiday.


Yes, there's the Fourth of July, but most countries have some sort of "national day" with fireworks and parades and celebrations of various sorts. Canada has a Thanksgiving Day, but they hold it on the second Monday in October and it's not quite the same "all hands on deck" thing it is in America.


Our own fourth Thursday in November observance, with roots in harvest festivals and Pilgrim history and echoes of Native American awareness: it's very much a thing to its own United States self. Friends who have spent extended periods overseas have told me about how important it can be to find other Americans to gather with as November heads for a conclusion, whether a turkey is roasted or not.


Johnda's reminder to me is that there's not only the national holiday of Thanskgiving, and the family traditions that bring us around a dinner table like no other commemoration, but there's that little matter of a prayer.


Who will say grace for Thanksgiving? And if it's "you" that's tapped, could I offer any hints or guidelines or suggestions for doing a family table grace before that awkward moment of silence, followed by an even more awkward question from the relative at your right:  "Say, uh, would, um, you do the honors, I mean, if you could just…. Uh, would you say grace?"


Step one in a happy Thanksgiving moment of grace: consider asking a likely candidate in advance "would you say grace for the family just before we all sit down to dig in?" It's always more graceful to give someone warning that they might be called on.


Step two, if you happen to be that person: how will you pray?


There are a number of tools to help you out. Christians have often used the acronym "ACTS" to recall a useful sequence of expression in public prayer; A for adoration, C for confession, T for thanks given, S for supplication.


Adoration is simply an opening statement of appreciation and respect, like the "Dear So-and-so" at the start of letters. "Almighty God, from whom all blessings flow…" is a form of adoration.


Confession is to clear the decks, and acknowledge, if nothing else, that we know we're not God, and that our acts and intentions are often not in line with God's. "God, we know that there are many who would be so glad to have just a portion of how we're blessed at this table…" might be part of our confession in a Thanksgiving prayer. Gandhi is believed to have said "Oh God, bless this food we are about to receive. Give bread to those who hunger; and hunger for justice to us who have bread." That's the confession part of ACTS in a nutshell.


Thanksgiving we should be pretty much up to speed with; S for Supplication is a reminder that we don't ask for ourselves until we've interceded for others, and that our own blessings come into focus when we actively call out for the blessings others so greatly need.


That's the ACTS method. The author Anne Lamott had a book out not long ago that sums it up even more simply, and with a slightly more secular spin: the title is "Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers." Lamott argues that pretty much all our prayers fall into one of those three categories: Help, Thanks, or Wow. For Thanksgiving, you might want to include parts of all three in your family table prayer.


Or there is the quirky yet beautiful grace from the punctuationally challenged e. e. cummings:


i thank You God for most this amazing
day...for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes


And if you don't know what else to say, there's what we've taught the Lad is always the basic form: "Dear God, Thank You, Amen!" Most prayers at any table simply expand on that solid tripod.


Or the classic: "Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen."


How will you pray at your Thanksgiving table?


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County, Ohio; he's probably going to be saying grace somewhere in Indiana a few Thursdays from now. Tell him how you say grace at, or @Knapsack on Twitter.