Category Archives: Terminology

The Sacred Hearts

sacredheart sacred-heart-of-mary For some reason I’ve been thinking about pictures of Jesus and Mary that I can remember from my childhood lately. The style I remember most from the homes of the older members of my family are all of the sacred heart of Jesus and the sacred heart of Mary, usually 8 x10 or larger hung or displayed next to each other. The illustrations here are not exactly like a remember but very similar. The prints in my memory are all very pastel, because they were all faded with age.

It struck me today how long its been since I’ve seen these once ubiquidous images. The reason is simple. I belong to a protestant church now and neither of these images are used. While protestant churches avoid pictures of Mary, they don’t use images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus either. I don’t know why as the sacred heart of Jesus is a symbol of the love of God. Anyone know why Protestants avoid the image of the sacred heart?


Peterson on Selah

Eugene Peterson’s interpretation of the meaning of the word selah.

Selah, scattered randomly through the Psalms seventy-one times, is the evidence. The word never occurs within the text itself but alongside as a notation in the margin. No one is sure of the exact meaning; scholars guess “pause for benediction” perhaps, or “louder here – fortissino!” What is beyond guesswork is that it is telltale evidence of liturgy. Like detectives sifting through the clues we find Selah; from it we deduce not a crime but a community. People were gathered together in prayer by and in these psalms. Congregations were assembled in worship. These prayers were not from the pen of solitary mystics; these are the trained voices of choirs lifting their voices in lament and praise, in petition and adoration.

These psalms teach us to pray are, all of them, prayers of a people gathered in community before God in worship. Some of them most certainly originated in solitude, and all of them have been continued in solitude. But in the form in which they come to us, the only form in which they come to us, and therefore in the way they serve as our school of prayer, they are the prayers of a community before God in worship. Prayer is fundamentally liturgical. Selah, untranslated and untranslatable, strewn throughout the Psalms, will not let us forget it. If the meaning is an enigma, its use is clear: Selah directed people who were together in prayer to do something or other together. Our prayer book, by the time we get our hands on it, has all these liturgical scribbles in the margins. Biblically, we are not provided with a single prayer for private devotions. The community in prayer, not the individuals in prayer, is basic and primary. The Americanization of prayer has reveresed this clear biblical (and human!) order. Individuals don’t “make up” the community, they are produced by it. The Psalms return us to the beginning, the original matrix of humanity and spirituality.”

Eugene Peterson,(1989) Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer. HarperSanFransico, p. 83-84.

Some of the most solitary sounding psalms have choir directions in their prologue. Of course some of our hymns sound solitary or like a two-way conversation, but aren’t; ‘Amazing Grace‘ comes to mind, as does ‘Here I am Lord‘.  The hymns of the Hymnal as poems have been printed in Poems of Grace: Texts of the Hymnal 1982. Perhaps these solitary sounding psalms were appropriate for a choir because the choir led the congregation in prayer rather then the choir singing instead of the congregation. Within the Temple, everyone may have been trained to take part in the choir as part of their temple training.

I think its interesting that the Book of Common Prayer strips selah out of the pslams, presumably because its shouldn’t be pronounced. That seems correct for a liturgical book. Yet, the service sheets (fliers) that people are given on Sunday with the collect, readings, and psalm does include selah, and the congregation says it. Why does the service sheet include it?

Science and Creation

A few weeks ago I was asked to do a session of my parish’s Adult Forum on the Episcopal Church’s Catechism of Creation, specifically the Science and Creation section. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to fit it in with the end of the semester duties and a whole series of other things. I didn’t want to do it if I couldn’t adequately prepare for it because I think its a very important topic. As a biologist, I’ve often dealt with teaching evolution to general studies students and I fully appreciate how important concepts of creation are to people’s fundamental concepts of theology.

It occurred to me that it would be a good topic for a series of blog posts. Maybe I’ll even manage to work out a few better answers for students.

It is difficult to talk about creation from the point of view both science and theology at the same time. The problem is mostly that of methodology. They are different ways of knowing, as they say. What is evidence to one is not evidence to the other. Both views are taking past each other.

A starting point, I think, is to say that the bible was never intended to be a science text book, nor are science text books intended to teach theology. The authors of the bible did not write anything that specifically contradicted observable nature. What they wrote fit their observations. It is hard for us today to strip away all of our observational aids. We must remember that they did not have eye glasses, much less telescopes or microscopes. The bible contains theological truths but is not scientific proof.

While discussing some fundamentals of the discussion, this may be a good place to discuss the terms ‘theory’ and ‘law’. As basic definitions go, a theory is statement that reflects one or more proven hypotheses and a law reflects a theory that has gained wide acceptance. In practice, laws are seldom put forward and different disciples do so at different rates. Science must always stand ready to revise its theories and laws as new evidence becomes available. Biology rarely proposes laws and the one that do exist have the title for historical as much as scientific reasons. Physics, on the other hand, produces and revises laws a higher frequency.

Let me give a example of a fundamental theory and law. We have cell theory that states that cells are the most basic form of life and that all cells come from pre-existing cells. We also have Mendel’s laws that predictably describe how genes are inherited from parent to offspring. Are Mendel’s laws more solid or widely accepted than cell theory? No, in fact, there are more exceptions to Mendel’s laws than to cell theory. Biologists believe that evolutionary theory rises to the level of law whether or not it has ever been declared by a scientific body. Biologists simply very rarely declare laws. I can’t think of any in modern times. Also, while we are discussing theories, please note that the theory of evolution and theory of natural selection are two separate theories. Natural selection is one of the mechanisms of evolution, but not the only mechanism or factor. Modern evolutionary theory, called Neo-Darwinism, is a melding of Darwin’s theories and Mendel’s laws.

I plan on putting up a series of posts on creation, some inspired by the Catechism of Creation, some will be on more general creation topics.

Note: I reserve the right to delete/refuse any comments that are abusive, non-constructive or simply long. I welcome constructive comments but this is not the place to post an essay in the comments section.

A Guidebook to Daily Prayer

Christopher L Webber. A User’s Guide to the Book of Common Prayer: Morning and Evening Prayer. Morehouse, 2005. $8 on

This is a very handy little book. It is designed for people who know nothing about daily prayer, and so takes nothing for granted. This is a good thing! Webber has reprinted the pages of morning and evening prayer out of the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), going so far as leaving the same page numbers, and then provides facing page commentary.

The Introduction overs a wide variety of information. One of the primary concerns here is the difference between Rite I and Rite II. Webber provides a discussion of how Rite I differs from Rite II, but all further discussion uses Rite II. He also discusses the differences between the 1928 and 1979 BCP.

The real value of the book comes when we get to the actual offices. Set up in facing page style, each section has a general description of its purpose, history, and the sources of the actual words. One of the obvious things that comes out of the discussion is changes to the canticles in the 1979 BCP. I have to say I like the additional canticles and I would be happy if there were even more of them. It always surprises me that so much from the apocrypha is included when there are so many canticles in scripture that are omitted (Jonah, Song of Songs, Hannah’s song etc). He goes on to give the sources and authors of the collects included with the offices. The bit about the Phos hilaron was considered a cherished old hymn by St Basil in 379 is interesting. I also thought it was interesting that Webber noted that the Magnificant can be used for morning prayer and that any morning canticle can be used for evening prayer. That is very good to know because always using it for evening prayer is a little too rigid for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but it doesn’t always seem like the best canticle to go with the other selections. The book rounds off short discussions of the prayers and a short glossary.

As I said from the beginning, its a handy book. Its not groundbreaking scholarship or comprehensive analysis, but it suits its purpose: to introduce new people to morning and evening prayer. I think it does that quite well.