The Episcopal prayer book has four Eucharistic prayers among which to choose: Prayer A, which is used most often simply because it's first in line; Prayer B, almost as popular; Prayer D, especially nice for major feasts. And then there's Prayer C, the weirdest.
Prayer C shows its mid-1970s origins. Informally christened "The Star Trek Prayer" almost as soon as it was published, it begins with an intergalactic inventory of the creation that sweeps through galaxies, suns, planets until arriving at "this fragile earth, our island home." It calls for much more congregational participation than the other three, causing even many regulars to fumble, disconcerted, for their lines if they don't have their books out. It pointedly refers to Jesus as having been "born of a woman," leaving Mary's precise medical condition a matter between her and her God. I happen to know that Prayer C was written during the course of one evening in Brooklyn, part of it in a bar and the rest in a laundromat. Truth.
So it's not as widely used as the others. Might that be why I misspoke during its recitation? Or was I distracted by my sore back? I had intentionally not taken a pain pill, not wishing to be befuddled in front of a churchful of the faithful, so I know it wasn't drugs.
In any case, I spoke these words: "From the primal elephants you brought forth the human race, and blessed us with memory, reason and skill." As soon as they had left my lips, I was delighted at the thought. It puts everything in a completely new light: we're not descended from monkeys after all; our forebears were elephants. That would be where we got our good memories. And it redressed an imbalance in Holy Scripture that has troubled me for years: there are no elephants in the Bible. Not a single one. I've always thought that was so unfair.
Oh, our elephantine ancestors! Our pachydermal patriarchs! Now I can picture Adam, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all of them elephants, picture them with their immense elephant wives, with Eve, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Oh, the herd of them leaving Egypt, easily crossing the Red Sea. Oh, their majestic kindness, their fierce anger when provoked! Oh, blind Samson, bringing down the pillars of the Philistines as if they were toothpicks -- of course he could do that. He was an elephant.
When did we cross over? Become frail human beings, so small and weak? When did we leave behind the heritage of the elephants, excise it for our holy books, so that not even a mention of them remains? Whose idea was it? Because I think it was a bad move.
Next week, December 5-9, help me celebrate the 25th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood! I can't believe it's been that long, but it has, and Episcopal Relief and Development has agreed to join the entire Geranium Farm in providing a way to give thanks for a ministry that has brought deep joy to me and, I hope, some good to the world.
Beginning next Monday, the website http://www.geraniumfarm.org/ will feature a special anniversary page at which you can leave me an anniversary message and, if you wish, make a donation to ERD to celebrate the occasion. I will select several projects of special importance to me from among the many areas in which ERD works, and you can choose among them.
I hope you will attend this week-long virtual party. And that you will find it possible to give me the only gift I want: the gift of service to the poor and those who suffer in the name of the God who loves them.