The Bay Area is smoky today, temps burning into the high ninety’s. I was glad, as I smelled the smoke, that I resupplied our evacuation bags this last week. We are entering fire and earthquake season. So far we are safe.
I grew up in the East Bay, Orinda and Lafayette, and while I recall high August temps, I don’t recall fires like these we are experiencing in the northern valley country. Some say it is climate change, but facts do not support this. What facts do support is that these fires are caused by poor forest management, too little deforestation, and dollars diverted from grid and infrastructure maintenance toward “green energy.” Such is the case in a state known for its liberal save-the-earth policies and disaster scenarios. We shall probably have rolling blackouts due to these policies as well. Ironically, I recently learned that solar panels are made in China by high emission factories, and electric cars must use batteries using fossil fuels from Venezuela. The one nuclear plant (safe energy) is being closed in California.
So it appears that summertime is a time to restock the evac bags in the Peoples Republic of California. It made me think about life and death, being prepared. It is a time to consider restocking our lives as well, preparing for the great crossing into Paradise. Am I ready?
I was thinking about this today in Berkeley at St. Joseph of Arimathea Chapel, as we prayed for two friends who entered Paradise this last week. I had not seen them recently, but had known them for many decades, fellow parishioners, dedicated to the Church, lovers of God. They both died of age-related deaths, and I am sure they are in a better place now.
When friends pass into Eternity, we think of our own lives and our own passing someday. Are we ready? Have we packed evacuation bags?
I suppose the Church prepares us for the journey with evacuation essentials. We enrich our minds, souls, and bodies at the altar each Sunday. We sing praises to the Lord of Hosts. We soar with the organ on the wings of hymns into the barrel vault that domes the medieval crucifix and Real Presence in the tabernacle below. We become one with one another in the ancient liturgy commanded by Our Lord Jesus himself at the Last Supper. We leave the chapel, our evacuation bags near to bursting. We are restocked with the essentials, the Eucharist, absolution, healing of body and soul.
Our good Vicar and Seminary Dean has been offering an anointing with holy oils, signing a cross on our foreheads and praying for our healing. In this time of fear and pandemic we have been given one more blessing to calm our souls and disordered minds. I am grateful. He loves us so.
Today is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, a “pious opinion” doctrine in the Anglican world, meaning you can believe it, or not believe it. I think there are good reasons to believe she fell asleep and was bodily carried into Heaven to be with her son. No group has ever claimed her body, the relics, in a time when they would have done so, eventually. It is said she went to sleep in the hills above the port of Ephesus. We visited the “House of Mary” many years ago, arriving by cruise ship at the port of Kusadasi, Turkey, touring the nearby Ephesus ruins where St. Paul preached (including the arena) and making our way up the hillside to the shrine of Mary. It is believed that the beloved apostle John (Evangelist) looked after her, then lived his life out on the nearby isle of Patmos where he was given the vision of Heaven, the Apocalypse, as written in the Book of Revelation.
So much of life is a mystery, hidden from us, tucked in the silence of the air we breathe. We have been given many hints and clues, many appearances and many miracles since Jesus Christ appeared on earth two thousand years ago. We have been given evidence, argument, reasons to believe. I believe it is a matter of desire, of wanting to understand these mysteries, for they are not hidden if we open our eyes to see and ears to hear. The Church is a rich source of salvation. She opens her doors (when not mandated closed) to all of us. “Come. Come and see,” she sings. “Come and meet the Lord of Creation, of Eternity, of Life itself. Come to the banquet spread upon the altar.”
At the conclusion of our liturgy in our Berkeley chapel, we turn and face an icon of Mary, the Theotokas, one donated by a Russian émigré who was a friend of our Bishop Morse in the mid-twentieth century. We repeat the ancient salutation of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary, “Hail, Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”
Yes, Our Lady Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Bring us to Heaven to be with you, dear Mother. To be with your Son, Savior of the World, Salvator Mundi. We are packing for the journey with every prayer, every liturgy, every song, every encounter with Christ.
For more information about St. Joseph of Arimathea Anglican Chapel, visit sjachapel.org. Masses are streamed through St. Joseph’s Facebook page.