One story in four parts and persons: Hartley, Ranier Maria, Michael, and Joanna
Part One: Hartley asks, “Where’s the page in the Prayer Book to find the date of Easter Day?”
When he died in the summer of 2015, Hartley Rogers had been a member of the Parish of the Epiphany for more than four decades. He and Adrianne lived just two doors from the rectory (Adrianne still does), so he was a neighbor, and in that capacity we became friends. Hartley was retired from a distinguished career at MIT where he had taught mathematics. He had studied in prestigious schools, both in the United States and England, but you’d never know that from him; Hartley didn’t lead with “I went to Yale” or “I got my doctorate at Princeton.” The closest thing one might figure out about his education was seeing him in winter with a ubiquitous repp stripe scarf from Cambridge University. A former rector, John J. Bishop, once said to me, about Hartley, “He’s a real Episcopalian from New York.” READ MORE.
(I’m not sure what that meant, exactly, but Hartley was born in Buffalo, loved the tradition of his church, supported the Rector, and gave generously (I guess that made him a real Episcopalian from New York). Hartley would occasionally come to the back door of the rectory with a brief story; sometimes we’d go for a short walk down Mystic Valley Parkway, usually, he stood on the steps, demurring an invitation to come inside, always he had a question about something I’m pretty sure already he knew the answer.
Part Two: Fr. Koester says, “think about reading some of Ranier Maria Rilke”
One of the monks at the Society of Saint John the Evangelist has accompanied me at various times in the last 20+ years. I made my first confession (the sacramental rite of reconciliation of a penitent, as the Prayer Book calls it) with Fr. James Koester, effecting a cementing bond. James is Canadian, through and through, and a treasure. It was more than 15 years ago when he said, “think about reading some of Ranier Maria Rilke.” My first-ever experience of the great Austrian poet-philosopher (1875-1926), was from a paperback which I promptly bought following James’s directive, The Selected Poetry of Ranier Maria Rilke (edited and translated by Stephen Mitchell, 1989).
Part Three: Christmas is not your birthday: make Advent count
A midwestern United Methodist pastor wrote a little book a few years ago, Christmas is Not Your Birthday: Experience the Joy of Living and Giving like Jesus - Michael Slaughter laments our consumeristic ways of this season and makes a great case for reminding us that Christmas is not about getting gifts. Here’s my pitch to all of us: make Advent count. The Church of England is moving toward making it six weeks, instead of only four; that has appeal, I admit. The music and the colors get me, and so does any Advent wreath, they all have this effect of stopping me in my tracks. As I grow older Advent feels less like waiting for the glory of Christmas Day, and more like living the glory of waiting, just waiting. Advent isn’t Lent, but I do try to change my routine during Advent, to carve out a little more time to pray, or to read, or to do something that makes the season count.
Part Four: A gift from Hartley, and Hartley’s sister
One Sunday morning, as I was getting ready for church, I was doing what I do every Sunday morning: bustling about half-listening to Krista Tippet’s show on NPR, On Being. It was a re-run, and the woman Krista was interviewing was talking about Rilke, a Joanna Somebody. My ears pricked! I remember Hartley once mentioning his sister, Joanna, was a Buddhist. Suddenly it dawned on me that the woman being interviewed was the great Rilke scholar and translator, Joanna Macy, Hartley’s sister! Of course, I made the connection with Hartley later that morning. True to form, a few days later, Harley arrived on the doorstep of the rectory with A Year with Rilke: Daily Readings from the Best of Ranier Marie Rilke (translated and edited by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows, 1996).
It’s been a few years since I’ve spent much time with Rilke, but on this second day of Advent, I assure you that he’ll be a fantastic companion for me in these next four weeks. Maybe he will be for you, too. In any case, I look forward to hearing and seeing how Advent goes for you in 2018.
We have a lot in store for you at the Parish of the Epiphany, check the website, and resources] and there are wonderful resources beyond Winchester, click here.
Whatever we do, or don’t do, I hope we’ll make it count.
Faithfully in Christ,