From the Rector

A Word of the Year and a Good Way to Live

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s word of the year in 2023 was “authentic.”

I’m not surprised.

Merriam-Webster publishes the annual “word” from among the most looked-up within a given year, filtering out more common five-letter words that appear in countless games and crossword puzzles.

In 2023, with the arrival of popular AI apps (like Chat GPT and Google’s Bard), a surge in charges of fake news, and a rise in “deepfake” photos in news and media, it seems there was a big increase in the interest for what is real, true, and even—if it exists—original. We all have to ask ourselves, more and more it seems: “Is that the real thing?”

But I don’t think a search for what is authentic was limited to 2023, or even any recent decade or century. I believe it is deep within the human longing.

The origin myth in Genesis portrays a devastating impact on human beings’ capacity for authenticity. Those first humans—having lived together in the garden with total transparency, both knowing and being fully known—are jolted into a different dynamic after eating that forbidden fruit. They hide and they blame. Covering nakedness, pointing fingers elsewhere in their guilt and shame, they play out a demise of authenticity on those pages. One might read all the pages of Hebrew and Christian Scripture that come after with that loss of vulnerability, transparency and authenticity in mind.

Dr. Brad Reedy, an author and psychotherapist whose work has been important to me and many others, recently posted on Instagram: “To be seen and loved just as we are is so sublime, the best word we have for it is heaven; it’s so rare and beyond our daily experience, we imagine it above us in the clouds. To be seen and loved… I can think of nothing more powerful. It changes a life…and then it changes lives.”

Perhaps the authentic is a big part of what we long to recover in the human quest.

I’m here for it. Are you? What does it look like when we are seeking to be honest, real, and really authentic with one another?

We do not know all that 2024 will bring, nor what “word” will belong to the year ahead. But we can carry forward a desire for authenticity – in ourselves, in others, and in church or other circles to which we belong. We can seek to be ourselves, to be loved and embraced—and to love and embrace—just as we all are. This is deep in the heart of what healthy community can be. It is the gift that we can give to one another, as God gives this gift of unconditional love and belonging to us.

Walking with you,

Scott+

The Rev. R. Scott Painter, Rector

Email: ScottP@stmaa.org

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Rejoice! Somebody is shouting for joy…

Rejoice!
Somebody is shouting for joy
not because they can see the joy
not because they can feel the joy
but because they believe in joy.
And so they shout to the trees
the leaves, the hills and valleys.
They shout to the mountains, sand and everything
that sees or breathes the living air
Everything that lives,
everything that moves
or grows, or stands or lifts its hands up
in sunshine morning glory.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Not because there’s any reason
Because sometimes, it’s true, there’s not
Rejoice in the storying of hoping,
not because of any reason whatsoever,
but because of joy, because of hope
because survival must mean something more than coping
Rejoice! Rejoice! Our day of storytelling will come around again.
Rejoice! We must make it. Rejoice!
– Pádraig Ó Tuama

How do tangible things create an intangible feeling of joy? Ingrid Fetell Lee asks this question in her book, Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness.

Fetell Lee, a Brooklyn designer and writer, observes the joy stirred by all sort of encounters in the material world: “Gazing at a favorite painting in an art museum or making a sandcastle at the beach, people smiled and laughed, lost in the moment. They smiled, too, at the peachy light of the sunset and at the shaggy dog with the yellow galoshes… They tended rose gardens, put candles on birthday cakes, and hung lights for the holidays.”

I am inspired by Fetell Lee’s conclusion that joy is available to us in the everyday world we inhabit through all sort of experiences. She contends that we can live with intention and even “design for joy” in our environs to open ourselves to its possibility in nearly endless encounters.

I believe joy is integral to our resilience as human beings. It is something essential to our lives, even though at times joy can be difficult for us to access or even accept as being possible.
At Christmas, we tell the story of God coming to inhabit the world with us. God becomes human with us, walks with us, stands with us, and points to the fullness possible in this life. It is such surprising news every Christmas –Jesus is born and we hear that God has not given up on us and has not abandoned the world to itself. There is a promise inherent in this word: joy is possible in this life – surprising intrusions of buoyancy that strengthen and quicken us as we walk on.

This Christmas, I pray we be open to the possibility of joy. Because, in the words of the Irish poet Pádraig Ó Tuama, “Survival must mean something more than coping.” Joy comes to us, and it invigorates our lives to keep going.

“Rejoice! We must make it. Rejoice!”

With you this Christmas,
The Rev. R. Scott Painter,
Christmas 2023

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