Nothing But Net: the Morning Offering, a Yuletide Dream

To help you get a sense of what I’m talking about, you may want to consult these readings, these hymns as well as Joni Mitchell’s “River” and Leo Kottke’s “Jack Gets Up” – available on YouTube.


Morning Offering: http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers-and-devotions/prayers/morning-offering.cfm

The Sparrow in the Hall, from Bede’s story of the Conversion of King Edwin:  https://www.csun.edu/~sk36711/WWW/258/Bede.pdf (go to page 4, second full paragraph).

Hymns “In the Bleak Midwinter,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0aL9rKJPr4

“Be Ours a Religion” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMSfYU5-E2M

“Good King Wenceslas,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElO6auK1GYw



For a number of years in the 1960s, “every day in the morning, when I got up, and I crawled out of bed”, I would dimly catch sight of the “Morning Offering,” which adhered to my headboard, floating as if a thought balloon over my head.  Imagine the wooden backdrop behind me as that headboard, and the “Morning Offering” I’ve affixed (proportionally sized of course) as the 3” x 2” sticker on that headboard.

You see, Sr. Joseph Robert, my second grade teacher at St. Peter’s School in Dorchester, MA, had given every member of our class a sticker that had printed on it Fr. Gautrelet’s prayer that I read as the first reading today.  Sr. Joseph Robert spent some time talking about the prayer, though I don’t remember her words.  I do remember that she directed us to put the sticker on our headboard, so that, when we got up, we’d see the Morning Offering and say the prayer.  The logic was similar to putting your shoes under your bed so that, when you knelt down to get them, you’d remember to say your prayers.  I never mastered the shoe placement – rarely were my shoes under my bed, or even together — and my morning routine, more often than not, involved looking for one or both of my shoes, my only prayer being “Please, God, let me find my shoes.” 

Nor did I read the words of “The Morning Offering” more than half a dozen times – though that was the point of the headboard placement —  but I was very much aware of that sticker stuck on my headboard.  I’d received an assist from my mom, who noticed the sticker soon after I’d secured its place.  I was sure that she’d be proud of me and what I had done.  She was not happy.  She approved of prayer, of course, even calling me to task for my not being a prayin’ man.  When I was in college, I recall her saying, probably to my college roommate, that “Bernard doesn’t believe in the efficacy of prayer.”  Still, she was bothered that I’d marred the esthetic beauty of the headboard. When I made my go to argument, “But sister said…,” I think she just sighed, shook her head, and rolled her eyes. Sr. Joseph Robert’s high hopes for the prayer, and my mom’s dismay at the sticker seared that prayer’s place in my memory, even today, some 55 years later. 

Some five or six years ago, soon after I first became part of the Worship Team, Thom Belote, then our minister, asked me if I’d like to do a service.  I said, “Sure.”  He asked me if I had an idea for a topic – I answered “Maybe something on the Morning Offering.”  He was puzzled, as the Morning Offering was not covered at Harvard Divinity School.  Having said that, I figured I’d better review the text of the “Morning Offering.”  At the next meeting of the Worship Team, I informed Rev. Thom that I would still like to do a service, but it definitely would not be on the “Morning Offering.”  There was no way I could do a service on that. Working for “the intentions of the Holy Father this month” spoken from a Unitarian pulpit.  Yipes!

And yet, here we are. 

To put you at ease, I will not be calling for you or me to work for “the intentions of the Holy Father” this month, or any month.  Even as a Catholic kid, I did not have access to the papal to do list. Besides, while I felt sympatico with John XXIII, I didn’t feel that with later popes.  As I recall, Sr. Joseph Robert framed her discussion of “the Morning Offering” in terms of the central core of the prayer, the “offering” itself – “I offer thee all my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day.”  At the time, what struck me was that we got to offer up our failures and disappointments. When we had a bad day, or were feeling especially sad, we could offer that pain and suffering up to Jesus, who knew something of suffering, and, in so doing, we would feel supported and somehow better. Whenever I came home somewhat dispirited – it happened a lot – I was a lonely kid, sort of nerdy, and nearly totally useless in sports, oh, and I worried a lot, too, like Charlie Brown – I would go to the room I shared with my brother, Neill, and there on the headboard I would spot the “Morning Offering.” I’d take inventory, and mentally tie up my package of disappointments, think, “Well, sister said…” and drop that mess in Jesus’ lap, or toss it out into the void.  My disappointments spread out across the universe didn’t seem so big, and I could let go some of the sadness.  As I got older, I would even imagine people all over the Archdiocese doing the same thing, people I’d never met, and likely never would, but to whom I felt some kinship.

The “Morning Offering” did not just offer me solace, and a place to drop my crap; it also was a call to action.  For I was also called to offer my hopes and dreams and actions – oh yeah, and prayers – sorry, ma.  And before me, each morning (“every day in the morning when I got up and crawled out of bed”), there was the call, waiting for my response.  I never verbalized, never spoke aloud, and rarely even subvocalized call or response in my brain, but I know I saw the morning offering every morning when I got up, and when I saw it, at some level, I know I was thinking – another day, a day of possibilities, a day to be offered up to Jesus and the Holy Ghost.  When I get up these days, there is no “Morning Offering” sticker affixed to the headboard, but it still comes to mind.  I can see it “in my mind’s eye,” as Hamlet says. Here’s a day to be offered up, yet again. 

It was because I see that sticker, or feel what it meant to me in my youth, that the “Morning Offering” popped to mind when Thom Belote asked, “What would you like to do in a service?”  And it’s because that sticker stays stuck that I have finally gotten to it today.

 That sticker and that prayer were, for me, ultimately not about the Roman Catholic Church, or the Sacred Heart of Jesus, or the Immaculate Conception of Mary.  They were about community, offering me a sense of belonging to the larger community and the world beyond my immediate locus of pain and hurt, which empowered me to let a lot of that hurt go in real time.  And they were about my part in that community, that it was imperative that I do my part, that I am not helpless, and may even be helpful.

In the early 90s, when I chose to join the Unitarians by signing the book at May Memorial Unitarian Society of Syracuse, there were two immediate causes: one was a memorable Easter Sunday service given by Nick Cardell, Jr., entitled “What if they found the body?”; the other was my learning of the seven principles, and especially of the seventh principle, which speaks of honoring the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.  At the time, I did not hear the echo of the “Morning Offering,” but it’s there.  The interdependent web is that divine lap, with or without a big G god, which can help see me past my loneliness, when I feel lonely, and can offer solace in community when I feel dispirited.  And the idea that I, that we, are a part of that web offers us a challenge as well.  If we are a part of that web, what positive effect can we have?  What can we do?  That’s the challenge, and if we think of the enormity of the task, we will likely find ourselves overwhelmed and find it all impossible. 

I’d recommend starting small.  In the fourth stanza of Rossetti’s beautiful “Christmas Carol,” the poet contrasts a metaphysical plane, where live angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, which she slyly dismisses – they “may have” been there – with the immediate reality of an act of love, Mary kissing her child.  What is the answer to the cruelty, greed and destruction we see in the world?  I don’t have “the” answer, but an answer is right there in that verse – a kiss, a hug, a kind word, an encouraging smile, even tears shared. 

That is our choice, too, and our chance – “What shall I give?  Give my heart.”   When I hear the final stanza, with my Unitarian cap on, I trip up a little bit on “If I were a wise man, I would do my part.”  Aside from the sexism in that statement, I think I’m pretty smart, I could maybe call myself a wise man.  Perhaps many of you feel similarly about yourselves.  I know I’m always impressed by the mental acuity of the people I meet in this place.  We are a place chock full of wise men and women.  And doing my part – that’s a tough call to resist.  Doing duty, though, is not enough.  The call is to go all in – Rossetti says, “What shall I give… Give my heart.”  And we sing those words, and in so doing, take the words in to work their magic.

That focus on “my heart,” though, runs the risk of putting the spotlight on “me,” which can easily lead to my putting me above others, which cuts us off from community.  And that is an awful prospect.  Whether we put ourselves above others on a pedestal, or lose sight of others by focusing hard on our mistakes, as Joni Mitchell does so beautifully and so painfully in “River,” it’s very much the same.  In so doing, we deny a belief in the “interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”  Rather than undermine the fabric of community, let’s join King Edwin in the mead hall.  In the story, the focus is on disconnection.  Our lives seem cut off from what came before and what came after.  We are like the sparrow in the hall, and are like Edwin who imagines the poor bird.  For some, knowledge of a happy afterlife in a heaven beyond offers the solace they need.  It provides some surety for a life that seems parenthesized by the great unknown.  Let me suggest that we let the mysterious parentheses go for a moment, and turn attention to the hall itself, a room like this.  Outside it’s cold, sometimes grey, or dark, and forbidding, but here it’s warm and inviting.  A working HVAC system has something to do with that, and Jay Hetz’ care in stoking the fires.  But that’s not the warmth we come here for.  Rather it’s the warmth we feel in community, the sense that we are supported here, and the invitation we feel to be that warming presence for others.  And so, for me, though my mind can imagine that “sparrow flying through the hall,” I find myself distracted and mesmerized by the loving glance of another, kind words spoken, laughs and tears shared, and that is enough.

And what about Charlie Brown?  What are we to make of him, lying there on the ground, having failed, yet again, to get a chance to place kick a football?  Well, we don’t see it, but we know what Charlie Brown does.  He gets up.  I could see him going home, disappointed and disheartened, and maybe he had something at home like the “Morning Offering” where he could set his burden down.  Fall was always hard for Charlie Brown, but Spring was just around the corner, and with Spring, baseball, and the team of misfits he brought together, year after year. Let’s take our leave here, Charlie Brown with his team, King Edwin with his people, and we here, a part of our tight-knit beloved community.


1 Response to “Nothing But Net: the Morning Offering, a Yuletide Dream”

  1. 1 Blevins Sharon
    January 5, 2019 at 9:07 am

    Thanks, Bernie—nice!


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