I have been talking about what it means to live your life in circle; a circle of mutual support, affirmation, inspiration, and work. Living, working, and growing with others.
Today we will gather to say goodbye and celebrate the life of Jack Mapes. So I wish to use this historical day to speak about two circles that Jack and Hazel, his beloved, shared their lives with for over 4 decades.
The first circle is the circle of prayer. Jack’s life was blessed and full because he made a weekly habit of gathering in circles of prayer. I watched Jack do this for the past eighteen years, and I know he had been doing so for twenty plus years before I arrived. I watched Jack gather with others in the hood room, and later the lobby, every Tuesday. I watched Jack pull into parking lot along with a few others every Thursday at 2 pm. After watching Jack do it for a number of years, I began to wonder, just how much blessing and burden-carrying Jack and a handful of others were bearing on behalf of the parish? How good was my life as a priest, or how fortunate were we, because Jack and Hazel and few others were committed to being a circle of prayer on your and my behalf?
So a few years back, coming out of the CDI experience, I was increasingly compelled to embrace the idea of forming circles of prayer. And, it became obvious, that such a practice was ingrained in our tradition via the Daily Office. I began to share such an experience in the chapel on Fridays at noon. Stew and Judy Lauterbach, along with Medora Kennedy, have shared such a circle using the Evensong Service of the community of St. Julian. They have faithfully maintained that circle for the past ten years or so. Tom and Susan Richey, along with Coleen Kebrdle, have shared in a circle of prayer every Monday at noon. And the Eucharist on Tuesdays has become for myself, Corrine Givens, Medora Kennedy, and Coleen Kebrdle, a circle of prayer and reflective conversation.
Jesus taught his disciples, wherever there are 2 or more, gathered together in my name, I am present. In my own experience, and as I have seen in the life of others like Jack and Hazel, when you give your life to a circle of others who are aware of the power and bonding it brings, your life becomes larger than the flesh that holds you and the blood that flows through your veins. If you give effort and attention to gathering with a circle of only a few, to offer the daily office as members of the universal church, you begin to see your world and the world around you change. You give your life to being the conduit between the seen and unseen world, there is no limit to what your life becomes a part of.
Beyond the work of prayer, I believe a second gift is received when you give yourself to such a circle, is the gift of Anam Cara, which is the gaelic term meaning “soul friend.” Those with whom I gather have become my soul friends and I have become theirs. It doesn’t happen at once, but over time, those with whom you share the daily office, the community requests, the seasonal passages of scripture, the passing from one season to the next, the conversation evoked by all the above. The persons you share such with become like brothers and sisters. It is akin, I think, of what persons share more intensely in monastic or communal life together. Over time, true sacred friendships are cultivated when you share together a circle of prayer. Persons with whom you may have little or nothing in common, become eternal kin.
Jack is no longer with us in person to carry all that work of prayer that he bore on our behalf, but I believe something. I believe that Jesus was speaking truth when he told his disciples that they would be better off for him to pass form their sight to be with them in the spirit. Likewise, I am believing that in Jack’s departure, many will rise to carry on. I believe the gift and power and place and fellowship of prayer that Jack Mapes cultivated in this parish, can yield ten, twenty, fifty, and hundredfold. I believe that the weight Jack carried will fall upon us, and I believe, at least some will choose like Jack chose in 1977, “Come on Hazel, let’s begin a circle of prayer and change our life and our world.” And, by God, that is exactly what he did.