Grace Cathedral is an Episcopal church in the heart of San Francisco.
We are both a warm congregation and a house of prayer for all people.
We welcome visitors from all over the world.

 

What’s Happening at Grace Cathedral?

Celebrate Pride Weekend at Grace Cathedral.

Special Eucharist for Pride

Sunday, June 26

Celebrate Pride Weekend at Grace Cathedral.

Gentle and nurturing yoga practice

Yoga on the Labyrinth

Tuesday, June 28

Gentle and nurturing yoga practice

An inspiring reflection on the meaning of life through art

Right, before I die

Tuesday, June 28

An inspiring reflection on the meaning of life through art

Take a journey with Murray Hidary through his improvisational piano performance

Mind Travel: A Collective Journey with Murray Hidary

Wednesday, June 29

Take a journey with Murray Hidary through his improvisational piano performance

Three special Evensongs sung by the Choir of Men and Boys in preparation for their Salisbury Tour

Bon Voyage Evensongs

Monday, July 11

Three special Evensongs sung by the Choir of Men and Boys in preparation for their Salisbury Tour

Listen to Featured Sermons

Sunday, June 19
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Elizabeth Grundy
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
Read sermon
Sunday, June 12
Noumena and Phenomena: The Story of Gratitude and Forgiveness
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
Read sermon

Alan Jones taught me that, “The universe is not so much made up of atoms as it is of stories.”[1]

Jesus says to Simon, “Do you see this woman” (Lk. 7)? In one sense, of course, Simon does. But the whole point of this story concerns his failure to really understand.

I have very fond high school memories of our local Episcopal church’s midnight Christmas service. I usually cut the fragrant greens for the wreaths with an old botany professor. Singing familiar carols, the softness of the luminaria candle light, so many friends, the taste of the bread and wine, and afterwards the cold midnight sky filled with lights from distant worlds made me feel so near to God.

One midnight at Christmas in our packed church during the prayer of consecration a man in a black trench coat strode up the center aisle to the altar where he interrupted the priest. His anger and the tension it created felt almost unbearable. For a half second it almost seemed like he might kill our rector.

Everyone there that night saw him, but not many knew his story in the way that I did. The man’s name was David and I knew him as a gentle person from a church lecture series on C.S. Lewis. He had wanted to be ordained but had been rejected by our priest. He believed that it was because he was gay. He felt so much pain that he almost didn’t care what it would take to feel better. I often wonder if he is still alive and how he remembers that night. Henry David Thoreau writes, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”[2]

The story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, bathed them with her tears and dried them with her hair begins like this. It begins with someone with such a powerful story that it leads her to radically break social conventions.

Jesus says to Simon, “Do you see this woman.” We already know that Simon and Jesus see her in completely different ways. Simon understands her exclusively in terms of what she has done in the past. Everyone in town knows she is a sinner from the city. This woman has no existence in her own right for him. For Simon she only confirms his pre-existent sense of superiority over Jesus.

Simon says to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known… what kind of woman who is touching him – that she is sinner” (Lk. 7). The irony is that Jesus does know. Jesus knows not only what kind of woman this is, but what kind of judgment Simon has formed of him.

Jesus understands the woman’s pain, along with Simon’s testing and insecure sense of his own superiority. And so Jesus asks, “Simon do you see this woman?”

Probably the most important philosopher in modern European history is the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). He cared intensely about human freedom. In a short essay called “Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment?” (1784) Kant defines enlightenment as courageously emerging from immaturity and learning to make use of our minds without direction from others. It means living by the Latin motto “Sapere Aude” or “have the courage to use your own reason.”[3]

You might remember Isaac Newton’s (1642-1727) third law of motion from your physics class. He wrote that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Kant worried that this picture of the universe would make it hard for people to believe in their own freedom. He thought we might be tempted to see ourselves as billiard balls on the table simply knocked out of place by forces beyond us, compelled by desires that we did not choose.

To solve this problem Kant proposes that there is a difference between what he called the noumena which is how the world is in itself and the phenomena which is how we perceive the world. Our senses, our faculties contribute to how the world in Werner Erhard’s language, “shows up for us.” For Kant, the seemingly unbreakable laws of physics and causation are not how the universe itself is but how we perceive it.

What this ultimately means is that how we see the world cannot be disentangled from our experience of our own selves. Our self will not get out of the way when it comes to perceiving the world. We experience a bit of ourselves in everything we see.

Kant believed that in our heart we possess an extraordinary freedom to act even against our own instincts for selfishness. For him, the primary way we experience holiness lies in this freedom. It is how we come close to understanding God. Kant writes, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe, the oftener and the more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.”[4] Our very existence in this universe and our innermost freedom remind us that we are children of God.

To Simon Jesus says, “do you see this woman.” And all Simon can see is himself. Jesus tries to help him experience something more. He tells a story about a creditor who forgave one person $8,000 and another whom he forgave $80,000. Jesus asks, “Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replies, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” Jesus says, “You have judged rightly.”

Turning toward the woman he says to Simon, “I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven…” (Lk 7).

Jesus is not laying down a judgment. He is not condemning Simon. Jesus merely points out what is true. In a different way than Kant, Jesus teaches that what is inside us will determine how we experience the world.

Some say, “I can’t believe in God because the world is so terrible.” Indeed often the universe does not always live up to our expectations. Sometimes on days like this when so many of our brothers were killed in Orlando, I am tempted to despair. But is the world objectively speaking tragic… or is our very existence a gift? This depends on our story.

Jesus tries to plant in us a new way of being, a new way of experiencing the world and acting in it. Quite simply Jesus presents us with two pictures for how we might go through our life. Every day we choose between them.

We can see the world in Simon’s way as a battle for scarce resources in which we will only succeed through the failure or diminishment of others, or we can see with gratitude and hope as this woman does. In this miraculous moment she has come to recognize that God’s goodness eclipses every terrible thing that she has done in the past.

  1. Simon thrives on feeling superior to other people. He feels satisfaction through the subtle ways he reminds others of their lower status. For him, being religious means putting arbitrary rules over how we treat other people. To Simon what we seem like to others, is more important than who we really are. He represents that part of us that wants so badly to be admired. He constantly compares what everyone else receives with what he has. He cannot entertain the thought that he might not be right. He never really gives himself.

For Simon there is no such thing as grace. We receive nothing that we did not earn. Our past determines the future. He never even glimpses the gift of life, the savior, the one who is present in every moment. And so he offers to Jesus no water, no kiss, no oil. The universe will always, in a sense, be dead to him.

  1. On our good days however we have more in common with this woman’s experience. She teaches us that who we really are is not determined by other people’s judgments. She shows what might happen when we let go of shame. She does not always need to be perfect or right. She does not always have to win. She believes with all her heart in forgiveness. She is ready to grow and change. She is vulnerable, authentic and generous.

This woman lives in a universe alive with possibility. Free from the past, she experiences the perfect gift of every moment. She participates in a life far greater than her self, far larger than Simon even sees. In short, she can love. Her faith has saved her and she can go in peace.

Last night the actor Anna Deavere Smith explained that when she was a child her father told her that if you say a word often enough – you become that word. This week allow yourself to be the debtor who owes everything to God. Let your word be “forgive us.”

The universe is not so much made up of atoms as it is of stories. Every day these stories and the very presence of Jesus refine our perceptions and change the way that this holy world appears to us.

How about you? What will the starry heavens above and the mysterious freedom within mean to you? Will you allow the story of Jesus to draw you closer to God? Do you see this woman?

[1] Alan told me this line comes from a conversation about John Adam’s opera Doctor Atomic (2005). “The universe is made up of stories not of atoms.” Muriel Rukeyser, The Speed of Darkness (1968)

[2] Henry David Thoreau, The Illustrated Walden (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973), 10.

[3] Immanuel Kant, “What Is Enlightenment?” (“Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung?”) http://legacy.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/kant-whatis.asp.

[4] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, 3rd Edition, Tr. Lewis White Beck (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993),169.

Discover Grace

The Community Preschool

Yoga

The Shop at Grace Cathedral

The Community Preschool is an extraordinary early childhood program that prepares children not just for kindergarten success but for life itself. We founded the school because we have a passion for learning.

The Community Preschool is an intentionally diverse early education program that brings together children from families that are very varied in terms of culture, socio-economics, race and more. Our preschool  changes lives by providing scholarships to preschoolers who reside in the Tenderloin and other at-risk San Francisco neighborhoods.

“Once a week there is a yoga gathering unlike any other in San Francisco, and it’s all about the inspiring setting.”

Yoga on the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral is a unique experience. Several hundred people of all ages, from all over the city, of many different faith affiliations, including none, gather as one  to practice yoga in the darkened cathedral. Colorful mats cover the labyrinth, the aisles and even the altar. Tuesday yoga exemplifies our commitment to meeting people where they are and to recognizing there are many ways to be spiritual. Everyone is welcome; we even have mats to loan if you don’t have one. Namaste!

Take a piece of the cathedral home with you

Visit The Shop on the lower level of the cathedral for an eclectic, enticing and reasonably-priced selection of books, music, jewelry, gifts, labyrinth items and more. 

News

Connect with Us