Pages of Grace

COVER 5.1It’s been nearly a two-year project, and I’m happy to announce the release of All Is Grace, a Collection of Pastoral Sermons, by the Most Reverend Robert Sherwood Morse (1923-2015), published by the American Church Union. I was honored to edit this remarkable collection and enjoy a remarkable journey.

The gathering of these sermons, written on yellow pads and bits of hotel stationery, also gathered my own life together, pulling in the scattered, shattered bits of grief over his passing. Reaching into the sixties, the words reflected the reach of my own life, having come of age in that tumultuous time. As I typed the words, turning them into digital format, I lived a parallel story that at times intersected with Bishop Morse’s own life.

Those who knew him often recall how they met him, for he changed lives. We all have our stories. The Assistant Priest at our Berkeley chapel regaled to me on Thursday how he and his fiancee were looking for an Anglican clergyman to perform a Nuptial Mass. He was finally directed to St. Peter’s Oakland where,  he was told, they were “more Catholic than the Catholics.” My friend found Father Morse outside, cleaning up the grounds, picking up bits of trash. That was 1969. His friendship with Father Morse continued for forty-eight years. He chuckled, his eyes shining, young again. “We have been so blessed to have known him.” I nodded thoughtfully. Indeed.

My story has been told in these pages before, but humor me, dear reader. Allow me to reminisce a bit too, on the occasion of this publication.

I was a single parent returning home with my four-year-old son. I was looking for an Anglo-Catholic parish, like my friend, for I had fallen in love with the Eucharist, the “smells and bells,” the dance of song, prayer, and liturgy. I was, as C.S. Lewis said, “surprised by joy,” again and again, every Sunday morning. I had tasted Heaven, and nothing could compare. So I looked for Heaven, in February 1977, in the yellow pages of the phone book (remember those heavy doorstoppers?)  I found St. Peter’s Oakland, a twenty-minute drive from our apartment in Walnut Creek. I guessed the parish was Anglo-Catholic since they listed times for “Confessions.” I knew, after the service, I had found my home. Father Morse greeted me on the steps of the church as I was leaving and handed me a pledge card. “Fill it out and come downstairs,” he said simply, after we had chatted a bit.

He was larger than life – 6’3″ – and seemed to float in his white robes. He had a huge smile and a booming voice. He owned a confidence, a sense of knowing, that I trusted. I did as he asked. I was unemployed, but I filled out the card, pledging 25 cents a week. I stepped downstairs to the undercroft. It turned out to be a momentous coffee hour, a historic meeting in which the congregation voted unanimously to leave the mainstream Episcopal Church.

Looking back forty years, I wonder at the miracles that unfolded before me. I learned to be faithful, to worship every Sunday. I worked in the Sunday School, then helped with other projects over the years. He was my priest and my friend and a good listener. He blessed my marriage to a wonderful man who became father to my son and the “wind beneath my wings.” Over those forty years, I listened and I learned. I prayed the prayers and sang the songs. I stepped along the narrow path, to Heaven, both in time and in Eternity.

Bishop Morse is in Eternity now, by the river that runs by the throne of God. He is also on the cover of this book of sermons, and as I opened the first box of books that arrived on my doorstep, I smiled. There he was, his image beneath the large red letters, ALL IS GRACE.

My friend, the Berkeley priest, said he recalled how Father Morse repeated simple phrases, words we could carry with us beyond the Sunday sermon or the weekday office visit. “All is grace!” was one of those phrases. Often we needed more encouragement, and he would help heal our wounds with, “God writes straight with crooked lines,” “God sits in the corner and waits,” “To love is to suffer,” and “The Passion of Christ is the union of love and suffering.” There were many other words that helped us understand who we were and are as human beings, gifted with freedom, created by a God of infinite love.

And it’s so very true. All is grace, for all ends well for Christians who believe in Christ, our God of love. Our dear Lord looks after his sheep. He calls us by name and we know his voice. We are pilgrims on a path through the dark wood of the world, listening for his call in the quiet of the forest. We know we will emerge into the bright light of Heaven, into a chorus of angels and Heavenly host. We know that our suffering is redeemed by God’s grace.

All is grace, for all ends well for Christians who obey God’s law of life and love. His love demands obedience to the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. But his infinite mercy offers forgiveness, a chance to repent, to change, to start anew, again and again. These themes live in the pages of Bishop Morse’s sermons, for this Easter 2017 the book has been born, breathing on its own, resurrecting my bishop’s voice.

“I hear his voice,” my friend and others are saying about the book. Yes, and I have been living within the voice for two years. No, forty years. Ever since my son and I visited St. Peter’s and the tall welcoming priest in the white robes greeted us on the steps.

All is grace. Indeed. All is grace.

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