top of page


Theological Reflections to help us "Pray Attention."


Friday, February 13

Rev. Sarah C. Stewart

Decades before “sorry, not sorry” splashed onto social media, I was a kid finding her way around a game board, negating competitors' progress in the race to win. No matter the name of the game, I seldom was sorry. When I saw youngsters at our Shrove Sunday festivities, stretched out in Foote Hall with a version of the same game, I couldn't help but laugh out loud. Even if an ironic "sorry, not sorry" never crossed your lips, Lent asks us to examine if our "Sorry!" is sincere.
On Ash Wednesday, the prophet Isaiah's words call us to be clear: Repentance is not a game we can play to win. “Announce to my people their rebellion… you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high.” 
God sees through our “sorry, not sorry” and calls our "winning ways" to be transformed. Love wants so much more for us. And God's mercy offers us many opportunities to move toward wholeness. Lent is one such sacred opportunity. With forty days, Lent offers space for us to feel our way forward in faith, turning back to our Creator whose love forgives, restoring us in community. We are loved from beginning to end, even as our contrite hearts are still learning to love like God.

This year, St. Paul's is focusing on prayer in Lent. And the Holy Spirit will help us explore these practices that support our paying attention to God's presence. The presence that shows up for us in nature's sounds, in music, and in poetry. The presence that welcomes grace through stillness and movement, as we sink into our bodies and feel God's very breath in us. The presence that realigns our lives through God's tender care we encounter in Scripture and prayer. Lent holds space for all of us--our worries and wonderings, our desires and hopes--as we seek to know the mystery of Christ's risen life at Easter.

Yes, we invite you to PRAY ATTENTION in this season. Sorry, not sorry for that pun. Because a faithful Lent holds space for pause and penitence, as well as holy fun!

With hopeful expectation,

Lent Introduction
Stillness 1


Friday, February 16

Ms. Jocelyn A. Sideco

You are invited to practice stillness this first week in Lent. Stillness requires a slowing down of your body. The hope is once you have stilled your body, whatever God wants to tell you you are able to hear.


But stillness is not just about your body. Stillness is about your thoughts, your attitudes, your reactions, all the ways you live and find connection. The psalmist invites us to,”Be still, and know that I am God.” This stillness goes beyond stopping your body, sitting and even taking a deep breath.


How can you come to know that God is God this week?


Sunday’s Gospel from Mark’s first chapter recounts Jesus’ baptism. The entire crowd heard a voice say, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” In that moment of rebirth, Jesus' identity was confirmed. The spirit breathed in new life in that fraction of a moment. Instead of getting swept away in all the details, Jesus received good, piercingly clear news: He is loved. He is invited to love. And that God is pleased.


Here's a short story to get you thinking about how a practice of stillness can connect you better with God and with one another: three of us were standing in the aisle after a recent service. One asked if we could listen for a moment.They were received with eager nods. So they continued to share that they didn't know how to support a colleague during a difficult time. The other gave an expression of sadness, empathy, and support. The first one turned to us and asked for prayer. I affirmed their request and asked the other to say a prayer. They did. Each of us took a breath, held one another’s  shoulders and bowed our heads. 


Stillness was the posture that allowed us to pray. Not a stillness that meant not moving, but a stillness that states, “I am making myself available to the vulnerability of being in relationship with God and others.”


And it was in that space of open vulnerability that God was able to speak in and through us the living words we all need to hear, “You are loved. Be love and be loved. I am present. I am pleased.”

Peace to you, 


Stillness 2


Walk. Stop. Run. (Patterns of Prayer)


Just seeing these words I feel energized in my body-spirit, though it’s been a minute since I was pulled into a playful game of “red light, green light” or “freeze tag." Still, I wonder if this isn’t a metaphor for how I approach prayer: walking up to my connection with God and then getting stuck. Some days, my stream of words runs heavenward with such stamina that it appears I am eager to discharge my worries. Heeding that middle word—stop—is difficult for me (maybe it also is for you?) Must we really be still to remember that God is God? The "Prayer Challenge” I perceive in Psalm 46 is a tricky one to navigate, especially for Silicon Valley paced sorts. Yet, in the strangeness of stillness lie hidden blessings, ripe for discovery.


In prayer, we “show up” (or not) so that we can see the Loving One who moves toward us even when we are busy with our “Walk. Stop. Run.” rhythms. When I sit in the sunshine and soak in the rays that warm my skin, I discover that quiet promise of God’s presence, offering me rest. Walking the labyrinth, I pause at each turn. That change in pace doesn’t impede my movement so much as awaken me to God’s spirit, breathing steadily in me. Then there is the satisfying endorphin rush of running, boosting my spirit as limbs pump oxygen through my body. I appreciate the pregnant pause before any muscles accelerate as I anticipate what it will feel like to stretch and press my limits. But even when Stop! comes through no choice of my own, in difficulty or distress, God’s love is there, enfolding me in the compassion of another who comes alongside me in grief or suffering. Stillness comforts weary bodies as we settle into bed gratefully at night, just like any waking pause can open the eyes of our hearts to glimpse God, present in momentous and everyday moments, quieting us with love revealed in stillness.


Even if we begin with a simple prayer as we witness someone accelerating at a not-so-yellow-and-definitely-not-still-green light, we can find deeper places to be still, breathing into that bodily knowing that God is with us in our daily “Walk. Stop. Run.” I pray we turn toward Jesus in the days ahead, whether we take up Holy Week’s invitation to be still in communal witness to the stories of Jesus’ Passion and Resurrection, or find other ways to pause in awe and wonder at the gift of God’s great love for the world, embracing all of us.


May we know God’s grace and peace in movement and stillness,


Friday, March 22

Rev. Sarah C. Stewart


Friday, February 23

Rev. Sarah C. Stewart

Making the Words Your Own: On the Practice of Praying with Scripture

I can’t recall which piece of Scripture I first “learned by heart.” Psalm 23? John 3:16? The Decalogue? I didn’t grow up in a liturgical tradition but I was steeped in reverence for God’s Word. Following the Psalmist's practice of hiding those words in my heart, I memorized passages until the Bible somehow began to feel like a personal prayer book. Read more...

During my 1980's childhood musical “sampling” was becoming mainstream. I enjoyed how artists entertained and delighted, weaving familiar bits of melody and words in novel ways. Their creativity took root in my spiritual imagination. Every time a catchy piece pops up again, my ears perk up. A familiar snippet throws me “back to the old school” and I don't feel one bit uncool. This dynamic also plays out in biblical texts.

The New Testament writers regularly “sampled” themes from the Hebrew Bible as they articulated their awareness of God’s presence and claimed their own practices of faith. Jesus' familiarity with the Torah, the Writings, and the Prophets comes through in his preaching and teaching, as he reprises key themes from Scripture. Jesus' disciples did the same thing, riffing on biblical wisdom and delighting in Scripture's beauty, comforting and nourishing many through the practice.

We too, can find ways to make Scripture our own. Even if we don’t feel up for memorizing entire passages, we can pray with these texts. Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying is one of my favorite renditions of the Psalms. And a friend gave me a book this past Christmas that describes how the early Christians prayed with the Psalms. Our Book of Common Prayer offers an entire Psalter section designed to support our practice of praying with Scripture.

What Scriptures have nourished you in your spiritual journey? How might those words become your own again this Lent?

Scripture 1


Friday, March 15

Jocelyn A. Sideco

Composition of Place

A few weeks ago, Sarah and I held a space in Higbie Library to reflect on Scripture in more embodied ways. We were praying with Jonah and his experience of being swallowed up in the whale. So we closed our eyes while all the blinds were drawn, and we sat there imagining we were, quite literally, in the belly of a whale. It was an awkward, mediocre invitation until the sound of our boiler bellowed a deep, cavernous and pulsed cry. Then I knew God was there.

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius describes the composition of place as a practice of entering into a concrete place in the selected passage in scripture. Using our senses we ask, “What does it look like? Smell like? Sound like? Feel like? Taste like?” We are invited to use our imagination to place ourselves in the scene, remembering that the composing is more for our own centering and placement than it is about the details of the place.

This Sunday’s Gospel begins like this, “Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.” Try composing yourself in this moment.

I think of how the Greeks and the Jews were living together in Bethsaida. I think of how Andrew, Peter and Philip were all from that town in Galilee. I imagine their friendships. A gentle smile comes over me as I imagine a couple of people seeking out Jesus and asking to see potentially friendly and familiar faces first so that their introduction may be witnessed in the best light. These guys may know one another!

It is in this place that I reflect on the following words of Jesus, “Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”

The invitation to death is both sobering yet bearable when I wonder about what kind of life these Greek men are looking for in looking for Jesus. Rabbi Sharon Brous in her book, The Amen Effect (our community book read this Lent), offers a fun play on words with the word witness. Instead, she uses “with-ness.” I wonder about how these Greek people wanted to be with Jesus just as these disciples were with Jesus. I also wonder what Jesus has in store for these two groups when society continues to paint the picture that they are different from one another and that there is a social cost to pay because of that difference.

How can composing the place in Scripture help you enter more fully into God’s Way, Truth and Life?

Scripture 2


Friday, March 1

Jocelyn A. Sideco

For my college graduation, I insisted on including Donna McGargill’s Servant Song at our Commencement Liturgy. Although not necessarily a musically rigorous arrangement, the lyrics and the combination of the movement and pattern of notes made room for the questioning I was in the middle of doing: “What do you want of me, Lord? Where do you want me to serve you?” (Listen to this school’s rendition here or listen to the songwriter’s version on Spotify here.)

This Sunday’s Opening Collect pleads, “Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls.” What a great prayer for integration and alignment! I think of all the ways that music, rhythm, and sounds help me to find a pace, a way, a hope.

How do songs help you listen for God’s actions in your life? How do songs make room for the spaciousness necessary to hold uncertainty, joy, grief, connection?

I have two more examples of how singing has brought me closer to God’s presence and call in my life:

When I lived in New Orleans, we sang a version of the Memorial Acclamation to the setting of We Shall Overcome. As I prayed “Jesus Christ has died; Jesus Christ is risen; Jesus Christ will come again” with people at St. Augustine’s, the first church for free blacks, those words of past, present, and future meant something more audacious and liberating.


When I think of my children, I think of how their imaginations are constantly being shaped by how we spend time and who we spend time with. Karen Gibson and The Kingdom Choir’s version of Stand by Me at Meghan and Harry’s royal wedding comforted me and Ale the first few months of her life. Ánali would regularly go to bed listening to The Litany by Matt Maher on repeat. Maggie now sings all the lyrics to the South African Hymn we love so much, Mayenziwe

Song has a way of helping us access our faith, hope, and love in real time. What are you listening to? What does God want you to listen to?

Song 1


Friday, March 8

Dr. Susan Jane Matthews, Director of Music

Sing, my soul, his wondrous love begins at 1:07:43

"10 Questions for March 10"

Alive in Song


It is a blessing for St. Paul’s to host the First Annual Youth Choir Festival West this Sunday, founded to enrich chorister opportunities in the Episcopal church on the west coast. These choristers are the present and future of music in the church. We are delighted to welcome the youth choirs of Trinity Cathedral, Portland, Oregon (Dr. Katie Burk Webb, Canon for Music; Nicholas Stigall, Organ Scholar) and St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle, Washington (Rebekah Gilmore, Choir School Director) to join with the St. Paul’s Choir School for this festival. 


After many weeks of preparation at home, at last on Saturday the choirs will rehearse together in the morning, talk with commissioned composer Errollyn Wallen from her home in Scotland via Zoom, and then adults will join the youth for an afternoon rehearsal.  Forty of the youth are singing the treble or soprano line (from grade 3), five are young men in high school with changed voices singing bass, and sixteen adults will fill in the remaining middle voice parts of alto and tenor.


In celebration of International Women’s Day, the choral and organ music offered in this 10am Holy Eucharist and for the 4pm Evensong are by women composers, from the German abbess Hildegard of Bingen composing eclectic chants in the 12th century to Trinity Cathedral’s Katie Burk Webb and her twin sister Margaret Burk composing for the Episcopal church today.


On this Laetare Sunday (Rejoicing Sunday), we return to chanting the psalm and an exuberant postlude at the 10am Holy Eucharist.  The psalm will be sung to a medieval chant tone, each youth choir taking a set of verses, and all singing the refrain.  At the postlude, Katie Webb plays British composer Cecilia McDowall's Church Bells Beyond the Stars inspired by the final lines of George Herbert's Prayer (I): “Prayer the church's banquet, angel's age, God's breath in man returning to his birth, The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage . . . A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear; Softness, and peace, and joy, and love . . .  The milky way, the bird of Paradise, Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul's blood, The land of spices; something understood.”


At the offertory, all are invited to join in the hymn anthem Sing, my soul, his wondrous love by Sarah MacDonald.  The choir will sing the first three stanzas.  Following an organ interlude, all are invited to join in singing the fourth stanza while the trebles of the choir sing a soaring descant. (Song can be selected on the left in video form or above hyperlinked to recording from St. Paul’s.) MacDonald is Cambridge University Organist, Director of the Girls’ Choir at Ely Cathedral and Director of Music at Selwyn College, Cambridge, the first woman to hold a director of music position in an Oxbridge school.   In the communion anthem God so loved the world, Canadian composer Stephanie Martin sets words from the appointed Gospel from John for choir, flute, and oboe.


The festival youth choir will sing again at the 4pm Evensong, including the premiere of the anthem Life Song by Belize-born British composer Errollyn Wallen who lives in a lighthouse in the far north of Scotland. The anthem is underwritten by the Marcia McCowin Estate Fund. Wallen writes that Life Song is “a personal musical picture postcard from Orkney to my new friends across the Atlantic, naming some of the teeming wildlife right here in my garden which runs down to the sea. Life Song celebrates what it is to be alive in all seasons.”


If you’d enjoy having your listening of the music of this 10am Eucharist and 4pm Evensong of the Youth Choir Festival West guided by some fun questions, complete “10 Questions for March 10.” You may redeem your correctly completed form with me for a 5x7 print of one of the birds in the commissioned anthem Life Song. You can find me at St. Paul’s 1929 Skinner organ after playing the Evensong postlude by Florence Price.


Come together, alive, in song that holds us through all seasons.

Friday, March 8

Rev. Sarah C. Stewart

Gifts of Love: Voice, Breath, and Communal Song


Whether or not you grew up singing in choirs, your voice is a gift from God. And like every divine gift, your voice unleashes greater satisfaction when you bring it out the box for play time. In the shower, in the car, and even in church, we can discover the grace of this refreshing news: whoever you are and however you sing, God loves to hear your voice. In that playful space, it is hard not to relax into the joy of this perennial invitation: Sing out, my soul!


God loves to hear your voice is a mantra that helps me relax as I come to song. Because, truth be told, this poor soul gets nervous every time I chant or sing in church. I have to resist rehashing “sore thumb” mistakes, including times I hit wrong notes or mixed up the appointed moment to enter the song. Over time, I have come to realize that communal singing is first and foremost about enjoying our connection to the music and the beauty of our voices blending, as our souls sing in response to God’s great love for us.


Breathing deeply is a form of prayer that grounds me every time I contend with jitters before vocalizing. And however unsteady I may feel leaping into the first few notes, I thrill every time we lift up our hearts in community, as the Sursum Corda at beginning of the Eucharistic prayer invites us to do. The collective song to which our souls together give voice helps me come alive, in worship as in life, as I find myself alongside others in prayer and play, held in the loving gaze of our Creator, whose Holy Spirit sings in us, beautifying one and all.

bottom of page