August 30

Take and Read

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

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Gracious God, Holy and Just, Whose Mercy is over all thy works

We invoke thy blessing today as we embark on this new journey

Guide us as we sail out for points unknown, ports unseen, and horizons unexplored

Be our North Star, our compass, sextant

Keep a clean wind blowing through our lives to make us happy and humble

Help us to seek shelter when the gusts of loneliness and failure threaten to capsize

Bless and help us to be a blessing to those commissioned to sail this ship, to the set our course, and to the lead the way

And a special intercession today for all sailors and crew on the good ship 2019

For those on the bridge—wisdom

For those learning the ropes—patience

For those working the in the rigging—a light heart

For those who bid farewell at the gangplank, our parents and sponsors—thanksgiving,

thanksgiving for the birthpangs that brought life, the hands that prepared us to sail, the hearts that forgave and conditioned and seasoned us, for the tear filled eyes and proud hearts that wave to us as the ship leaves the harbor, our mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and our communities of meaning, belonging and empowerment—thanksgiving, thanksgiving.

O Thou who stills waters and calms seas, grant us fair winds, bright skies and an adventurous voyage


Here is a matriculation account. Vernon Jordan went to Depauw, a small Methodist school in Indiana, lead by various BU graduates.  His dad, mom, and younger siblings drove him up and dropped him off their in Greencastle, “up south”, Martin King might have said, from their home in Lousiana.  Weeping, his father said, “Vernon, we are not coming back until four years from now.  You are here where your future opens.  At graduation we will be here, sitting in the front row.  This is your time.  I have one word of advice.  Read.  When others are playing, you read.  When others are sleeping, you read.  When others are drinking, you read.  When others are partying, you read.  When others are wasting precious time and encouraging you to do the same, you read.”   He did.  Read, that is.  Last week, on Martha’s Vineyard, Mr. Jordan celebrated his 80th birthday, in the company of Presidents Clinton and Obama.

Speaking of Presidents, Boston University’s third President, Lemuel Merlin, left Boston for Greencastle Indiana, to become the President of Depauw, nearly 100 years ago.  All of our Presidents—Warren, Huntington, Merlin, Marsh, Chase, Christ-Janer, Silber, Westling, Chobanian, and Brown—would salute this Augustinian slogan, ‘take and read’.

For like our gospel lesson today, they and this University, have been interested in what makes a person human, in what makes a human be human, in what lies not outside, but inside, not in measurement but in meaning, not in the visible but in the soulful, not in making a living, only, but in making a life, fully.   Our gospel lesson today from Mark 7 is about the inside.  Set aside the details.  Set aside the religious conflict about kosher laws as Christianity moved out from Judaism.  Set aside the cups, pots, and kettles.   Set aside the ancient language that depicts what is evil.  Licentiousness is not a word we use a lot, however present the reality to which it points.   The inside.  The passage is about the priority of what is inside, about the priority of the heart, about the priority of the soul, about the commandment of God which ever trumps tradition. Gospel ever trumps tradition.

You hear echoes of other verses.  One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God…Cleanse the inside of the cup….What will it profit to gain the whole world and lose one’s soul?…Enter in at the narrow gate…

Your challenge in these fours years is not only to earn a BA.  Your challenge is to do so without losing your soul.  Your challenge is to do so gaining your soul, tending to the inside, walking in the light, becoming your own best self, finding the place where your heart, ‘the inside’ comes alive, uniting the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety, and uniting vocation with avocation, ‘as two eyes make one in sight’.  Frost:

Yield who will to their separation

My object in living is to unite

My vocation with my avocation

As my two eyes make one in sight

Only where love and need are one

And the work is play for mortal stakes

Is the deed ever really done

For heaven and the future’s sakes. 

Take and read.  You read.

Each Synoptic passage is like a choral piece, including four voices.  There is the Soprano voice of Jesus of Nazareth, embedded somewhere in the full harmonic mix.  In Mark 7, Jesus conflicts with the Pharisaic attention to cleanliness.  There is the alto voice of the primitive church, arguably always the most important of the four voices, that which carries the forming of the passage in the needs of the community.  Here the community is reminded about the priority of the ‘inside’.  The tenor line is that of the evangelist.  Mark here, marking his own appearance in the record.   The baritone is borne by later interpretation, beginning soon with Irenaeus, Against Heresies:  “What doctor, when wishing to cure a sick man, would act in accordance with the desires of the patient, and not in accordance with the requirements of medicine?” (in Richardson, ECF, 377) (If our church music carries only one line, we may be tempted to interpret our Scripture with only one voice, and miss the SATB harmonies therein, to our detriment.)

Take and read.

Our focus this year at Marsh Chapel is prayer.  Adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication.  An hour a day, a day a week, a week a quarter, a quarter a year.  8am, Friday, school break, summer.  But prayer is mostly resistance.  Resistance to what harms the inside, to what eclipses the soul, to what makes us less than human.  Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to earn your degree, as you will want to do with all life’s future earnings, in a way that leads to life.  In a soulful way.  In a hearty way.  In a healthy way.

Here is what we mean.  For a moment, we will take an imaginary walk, along with my colleagues Ms. Jaimie Dingus and Ms. Kasey Shultz.  We will set out and walk down the Esplanade, enjoying the sights of sailing and sculling.   When we come to the statue of Arthur Fiedler we will stop, and read, perhaps a passage from Chaim Potok.  In ‘My Name is Asher Lev, the young artist recalls a moment with his father.  The artist is six years old.  A bird has died and lies along the curb.


“Is it dead, Papa?”  I was six and could not bring myself to look at it.

        “Yes”, I heard him say in a sad and distant way.

        “Why did it die?”

        “Everything that lives must die”.


        “You, too, Papa? And Mama?”


        “And me?
        “Yes.”, he said.  But then he added in Yiddish, “But may it be only after you live a long and happy life, my Asher.”

        I couldn’t grasp it.  I forced myself to look at the bird.  Everything alive would one day be as still as that bird?

        “Why”, I asked.

        “That’s the way the Ribbono Shel Olom mad this world, Asher.”


        “So life would be precious, Asher.  Something that is yours forever is never precious.”


        Then we will walk a little farther, stopping for a moment in the Public Garden, as lovely a common space as there is.  We see Commonwealth Avenue, what Winston Churchill called the loveliest street in America.  We notice and name the flowers, enjoy the shade, perhaps take a boat ride.   Then we open a volume of poetry from Gerard Manley Hopkins:


    We are not far from the Public Library.  We enter, and go up the stairs.  We notice the civil war remembrances.  We look at the frieze that includes the Hebrew prophets.  John Updike came regularly to this great reading room—to read, and then, to write.   We pull up a chair for a moment.  At hand is a copy of David Brooks’ new book, The Road to Character.


“Recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.  The resume virtues are the ones you list on your resume, the skills that you bring to the job market and that contribute to external success.  The eulogy virtues are deeper.  They’re the virtues that get talked about at your funeral, the ones that exist at the core of your being—whether you are kind, brave, honest, or faithful; what kind of relationships you formed (p. xi).”

    The day is bright and cool—beautiful autumn in New England.  We choose the path along the Emerald Necklace, an unusual place to stroll, to saunter—saunter, a saintly walk.  A bench beckons.  We sit.  A Boston surgeon’s book is in our bag, Being Mortal.  We stretch and read his meditation upon medicine and meaning in the twilight of life.  


    “People with serious illness have priorities besides simply prolonging their lives…avoiding suffering, strengthening relationships with family and friends, being mentally aware, not being a burden on others, and achieving a sense that their life is complete…our system of technological medical care has utterly failed to meet those needs” (p. 155)

    Take and read:  an awareness of wonder may greet you on the Esplanade, an awareness of beauty in the Public Garden, an awareness of virtue in the Library, an awareness of mortality by the Emerald Necklace.    So that when you return to campus, you may take a seat for a moment in Marsh Chapel, under the window of St. Augustine, just here, who amid tears, misery and lamentation reclaimed his own soul by reading:

  1. I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which–coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.” [”tolle lege, tolle lege”] Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: “Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.

So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.

Take and read…

Take and read.

Take and Read!

Boston University, proud with mission sure

Keeping the light of knowledge high, long to endure

Treasuring the best of all that’s old, searching out the new

Our Alma Mater Evermore, Hail BU!

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

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