Author Archives: Christine Sunderland

September Journal, Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

TimeI’ve been thinking how time layers us with its seconds, minutes, and hours. As we journey through this pilgrimage of time on earth we are layered with our choices, our loves, our sins, our virtues. Each one of us is unique and uniquely loved by God our creator. Each one of us is a fine painting, a charming concerto, a sculpture carved in the image of God. Each one of us is a one-of-a-kind work of art.

Much has been said about the nature of art, or even the art of nature. Many have opined on beauty and meaning and how truth is related or not, how we express through art our deepest longings and desires, or perhaps our angst and anger at our fallen world, our world falling about us, crashing to dust at our feet.

I finished watching the 9/11 series, 9/11: One Day in America. I saw footage I had not seen, in particular the fall of the third building, 7 World Trade Center. The clip showed it collapsing into rubble, “pancake” style, straight down, the huge billowing clouds of dust and debris swallowing the air and tunneling down the adjacent streets just as had happened with the North Tower and the South Tower. Fire had leveled the building to the ground.

Watching the mini-series and seeing the last building fall added a mournful layer to my life, to my own heart and soul. They are images I will not forget, nor should I, nor do I wish to. They are a layer of life, of reality, of truth.

Oil_painting_brushstroke_textures_coastal_rocks_detailAnd so I am a slightly different person each day, as another brushstroke has defined the texture of my canvas. I know more than I did, and this knowledge adds to my daily growth.

Other strokes refine and define the oil on my canvas, and so I choose to worship on Sunday with other Christians so that my painting is further perfected with the love of God.

In our Berkeley chapel I gazed at the carved crucifix above the altar, a humble corpus attached to a rugged wooden cross. It too has seen the layers of time since the thirteenth century, and it becomes one of the layers in this domed chancel, adding to the flaming candles, the white linen altar, the tented tabernacle lovingly prepared by our priest, reflecting the color of the Sunday and the Season. The tabernacle itself is a layer wrapped around the Host within, a womb holding life, holding the Real Presence of Christ. For us. For our own gazing and our own worship, our own feeding and sharing.

Layers. The layering of life. The many stories that make up each one of us, never to be told again, never to be lived again in exactly the same way. The Lord of Life living in the tabernacle reigns, raining his baptismal waters upon us like a fountain in the desert, washing us clean, saying, “Eat, drink, this is myself given to you.”

We confess our sins and are forgiven. They are removed from our canvas, no longer there, by a holy erasing. We repent, promising to try again to be good, to love one another, to layer upon one another the love of God, the love of creation.

We are reminded by St. Paul, in words that may be the most poetic in all of Holy Scripture, of the tender brush strokes upon our souls, forming the next layer of beauty in our temporal time:

“I bow my knees unto the Father… that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Ephesians 3.13+, BCP 212).

I want to be rooted and grounded in love. I want to comprehend the breadth, length, depth, height of the love of Christ, passing knowledge. I want to be filled with the fulness of God.

Church_DoorThe Church opens a door to that journey of joy. It opens the door onto the porch outside, onto the sidewalk, saying, come and see, come and see… Come and be painted by the Master of Creation. The Church opens the door to the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, saying, come and be fed by the Master of Life. With these layers, these brush strokes upon our souls, we open our hearts to one another. We join together, layered by Christ, brothers and sisters, the parish family.

For a time the horror of 9/11 is eclipsed by the joy of a Sunday morning. But we must see with wide open eyes the darkness of man, his temptation to destroy. We must be layered by true history, accepting the past in order to understand the present, to step into the future as children of God. We must never forget the holocausts of life, personal and cultural and worldwide, so that we may embrace the holiness of life, sharing it with one another, layer by layer, rooted and grounded in God’s love.

September Journal: Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

9.11.ONE DAY IN AMERICAAnniversaries of past events serve our memory, for good or for ill. Some are recurring celebrations: birthdays, weddings, graduations. Some are firsts: first word, first tooth, first concert, first kiss, first…. And some are recurring memorials of past tragedies or sorrows: Pearl Harbor, terrorist attacks, Nine-Eleven. We remember these annual events so that we will not forget. 

The September 11, 2001 New York trade center bombings is a tragedy that we must not forget. We were attacked on our own soil by religious jihadists who believed that America was evil and desired our death.  Our response was to enter Afghanistan and control the terrorists that were given safe harbor. We did this for twenty years. We may have been nation building, as some have said but this was not the reason we were there. We were there to keep world peace.

The fact that we are no longer there means that world peace is once again threatened, that the jihadists have been given a green light to plan attacks all over the world, but particularly in the West and those nations who desire freedom.

And so I turned to an updated National Geographic series, 9/11: One Day in America. I wanted to remember. It was recommended by The Epoch Times, a news source I trust, and so I now recommend it. The hour by hour account includes the scenes we have seen over the years, but interwoven by phone messages and alerts, told by survivors. The interweave is brilliantly done, and one gets a sense of the day as it was. Also recommended are the interviews and videos recently done with Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Adviser to President George W. Bush at the time of the New York attacks, and later Secretary of State. Her analysis of today’s situation in light of her experience is most valuable and can be found at The Daily Wire and the Hoover Institution.

american-flag-2a2Where was I on Nine-Eleven when the first reports came through on the television? I was at home, and I saw the newscast as we made breakfast, for 8:45 a.m. in New York City is 5:45 a.m. in the San Francisco Bay Area. We were stunned, as was the nation, and then we feared we were now at war once again.

As a great-grandmother having lived seventy-four years on this good earth, I have experienced wartime. Vietnam was our war, the war that swallowed our young men, the war that maimed them and discouraged a generation. It was an unpopular war and riots encouraged draft dodgers and resisters. It was a time that eclipsed one’s own time, those college years that other generations seem to treasure. We lived in fear and confusion, as radicals marched and rock missals broke classroom windows and sit-ins disrupted college life. Before Vietnam was Korea and before that was World War Two. My father was in the World War and he too was affected deeply by what he encountered on his ship in the Pacific Theater. He survived the kamikazes and returned to marry my mother in Long Beach and to forget war and to have the family he so desired.

War puts things in perspective, just as death gives meaning to life. My bishop of blessed memory often said that a truly religious person has faced his own death. Accepting a limited span of life makes those hours, days, and years all the more precious and valuable. I suppose it is the old economic trope, that scarcity raises value.

In the second half of the twentieth century America grew complacent. There were many warnings, precursors, to Nine-Eleven that went unheeded. Military spending declined. National Intelligence floundered as well.

911_world_trade_center_photo_spencer_platt_getty_images_2438388_resizedThis seems to be happening all over again as we shamefully exit Afghanistan and defund not only our police but our military. We are ripe for another attack upon our soil. What will it take for us to truly wake up and not just be woke? Or, when will the woke awake? The pandemic has diverted our attention and nearly blinded us to reality. We live in a fallen world, and while many hold utopian visions of the goodness of all mankind, these visions are not rooted in reality. America alone offers freedom to the world. Other Western nations have become too weak to offer anything but dreams and platitudes. Soon America will be too weak as well. The Taliban et al do not desire to have a seat in the world order of united nations. This is not their goal. They want a world theocracy governed by Sharia law.

IMG_3022With the images of the planes hitting the towers, of the explosions and black smoke billowing into the crystal blue sky over Manhattan, of the people jumping to their deaths to avoid burning, of the collapse of the tower into a giant heap of ash and rubble that ate the air of Lower Manhattan, home of world trade and finance – with these horrific images running through my memory – I was glad to spend a few hours in our Berkeley chapel this morning. I was glad to sing and pray together with my brothers and sisters. I was glad to let the thundering organ notes pour over me, fortifying me. I was glad to hear the Gospel lesson about the lilies of the field that neither sow nor reap, and that our Heavenly Father cares for them. I was glad to be reminded not to worry too much about tomorrow. And of course Our Lord was not saying to sleep through the days but to be heartened, for in the end, all things will work to the glory of God. We still need to be perfect, still need to repent, and still need to learn better ways of loving one another. We still need to be faithful, watching and vigilant.

Memory teaches us what is good and what is evil. We learn hard lessons that we do not want to forget. I am glad I immersed myself in this twentieth anniversary of Nine-Eleven. I can see better, and because I can see, I can better choose the path that must be taken. As our nation must do as well. Wake up, America.

The Fire Trail, a Novel: Jessica’s Memories of Nine-Eleven

Chapter 17, Jessica, age 22, grad student, UC Berkeley, 2014:

NYC LibertyOn that same Thursday, about the time that Zachary Aguilar began his run and Anna Aguilar made tea, Jessica Thierry decided she would not return Zachary’s calls from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. She wanted to concentrate on her thesis, and she set to work. She spread out her papers and photos on the counter. She turned on her laptop and checked the national news.

Immediately images of Nine-Eleven filled the screen: the smoke, the imploding towers, the screams. Jessica drew in her breath. She had forgotten the date. Today had been a normal day on campus. She had attended her seminar on research methods and visited the Berkeley Historical Society downtown, all the while haunted by every scruffy straggler, every sinister footstep, every stranger’s glance. The Fire Trail ordeal was recent, she told herself, and the horror would recede with time, but the police sketch that confronted her at the Post Office, the bank, the market, and the library kept the man alive in her thoughts. No wonder she had forgotten the date.

The headlines had been the usual ones; she did not recall a mention of Nine-Eleven in her local news report: Live Oak Park celebrates 100th birthday. State may fine UC Berkeley for violations related to custodian death. Police seek help in solving four-year-old Berkeley murder. Business burglarized on Shattuck Avenue. Fire Trail suspect still at large . . .

Jessica turned to her notes, trying to concentrate, but unable to focus on Berkeley history, as the New York attack flashed through her mind. Her own fears seemed silly. Where had she been on that terrible day? She was nine; Samantha and Ashley, eleven. September 2001 was before Facebook and sexting and selfies. It was before Ashley’s drugs got out of hand and before Samantha’s drowning. It was before she met Dr. Stein in family therapy and learned the two systems of growth, emotion and control, that so changed her. It was before she discovered that knowledge coupled with self-discipline was empowering.

Jessica recalled her mother had picked them up early from school and driven them silently home. Ashley and Samantha were giggling about a boy, and their mother shushed them angrily. And then, at home, the television on, her parents tense. Her father got off work early.

Jessica read through her notes. She opened a new Word document, and typed:

Thesis

presentation sistersThe presence of religious institutions in the late nineteenth century were key to the development of the city of Berkeley, and thus give good reason for government support today. I shall argue this through examination of the work of the Presentation Sisters in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and its impact on the community of Berkeley. I shall consider the change in the community with the erosion of such religious institutions, changes seen in education, medical care, and public safety, areas of vital interest to city, state, and federal governments. 

Background

Originally settled by the Ohlone tribes, the area that is now Berkeley became home to the first Europeans in 1776 with the arrival of the De Anza Expedition, largely financed by the Catholic Church. This group established the Spanish Presidio of San Francisco, the military defense at the mouth of the Golden Gate. For his services, the soldier Luis Peralta was granted 44,000 acres of land on the coast opposite to San Francisco, contra costa, where he raised cattle. Rancho San Antonio was divided among Peralta’s four sons, and it was Vicente’s and Domingo’s parcels that eventually became the town of Berkeley. The brothers lost most of the land to Gold Rush squatters and died in poverty. Domingo lived from 1795 to 1865, and his house on Codornices Creek was the first non-Ohlone dwelling in Berkeley.

More settlers meant more children. In the early 1850s, Archbishop Joseph S. Alemany invited groups of women
religious to come to California from Europe, including the Daughters of Charity, the Dominican Sisters, Notre Dame de Namur, and the Sisters of Mercy. When the Sisters of the Presentation in Ireland were invited in 1854, they said yes. Five sisters arrived from convents in Midleton and Kilkenny; by the end of the first year three returned home due to illness. Their order was called the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

She glanced at her own family photo. In the nineteenth century families considered children a precious gift since so many died in infancy. They had larger families, for they hadn’t learned how to avoid conception when inconvenient or undesired. She thought of her sisters’ abortions, of the nieces and nephews who hadn’t survived her sisters’ choices. If there was a Heaven, would she meet them there? Reading about the many children of early San Francisco and the nuns sailing from Ireland to teach them was comforting and enriching. In contrast, her own world seemed barren in its celebration of childlessness. 

The leaves rustled outside, and Jessica turned with renewed determination to her text. Who were these Presentation Sisters, after all?

nano2The Foundress

Nano (Honora) Nagle (1718-1784) founded the Sisters of the Presentation. Cousin to the statesman Edmund Burke, she was born into a wealthy Norman-Irish family in County Cork, Ireland. When the young Nano visited the tenants on her family estate, she was troubled by their poverty and lack of education. She began a life of prayer and good works to help their children. She opened a school in 1754 in Cork City and six more schools over the next fifteen years. She cared for the poor and built homes for the elderly. She became known as the Lady of the Lantern, for she visited the sick, the elderly, the lonely, and the poor in the slums. She lived among them, spending her fortune on their education and care. In 1775 she founded a community of women religious, sisters who would continue her work. She died of tuberculosis in 1784. 

The Sisters of the Presentation have continued Nano Nagle’s work throughout the world in Ireland, England, the Americas, India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Papua, New Guinea, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Palestine.

Such goodness, Jessica thought. Did such goodness exist today? It appeared so, in spite of today’s creed of self. What was the source of their goodness? Jessica intuited the source was faith in God, as though God empowered them to be good. Is that what Father Nate meant by “cult creates culture”?

The University of California

UCB HISTORYIn 1866 the private College of California in Oakland, led by Congregational minister Henry Durant, taught a classical core curriculum modeled on Yale and Harvard. The trustees decided on a new site alongside Strawberry Creek in the foothills of the Contra Costa Range.

It is said that, at Founders’ Rock, a group of College of California men watched two ships standing out to sea through the Golden Gate. One of them, Frederick Billings, thought of the lines of the Anglo-Irish Anglican Bishop George Berkeley, “westward the course of empire takes its way,” and suggested that the town and college site be named for the eighteenth-century Anglo-Irish philosopher.

Bishop BerkeleyBishop Berkeley (1685-1753) had spent four years in New England and had written a poem, “The Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America,” the last stanza being:

“Westward the course of empire takes its way;/The first four acts already past,/A fifth shall close the drama with the day;/Time’s noblest offspring is the last.”

Although he never saw Berkeley, he was correct about the course of the British Empire taking its way westward to the New World and on to the coast of California. America was, after all, the child of England and thus the child of classical education in the English language, with studies in Latin, Greek, history, English, mathematics, natural history, and later, modern languages.

America’s colonial colleges had been founded by religious institutions: Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth by Puritans (Congregationalists), Princeton by Presbyterians, the College of William and Mary, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania by Anglicans, Brown by Baptists, Rutgers by the Dutch Reformed. The University of California at Berkeley, a century later, was no exception. The degree of religious influence varied and lessened over time, but the drive to achieve and to educate the young was a key aspect of Christianity. This “course of empire” was driven by Christian assumptions and worldviews and, of course, was meant to reflect the positive aspects of empire: peace, law and order, public health, and a solid education in the liberal arts, all considered necessary for democracy to thrive.

UCB HISTORY2While much has been said about the negative aspects of British colonialism, it cannot be denied that wherever the empire found itself, it worked untiringly to better the population to the degree it knew how. And the British heritage, the heritage of the West, is one of learning, law, and charity, seeds planted by Christianity. It is a legacy of freedom that flowers throughout the world on every continent among all races and is no longer unique to the Western world, but characteristic of the “Anglosphere.”

Jessica considered her words. There was, and remained today, a thin but necessary line between Church and State. Yet if credit were not given to the Western tradition, if the next generation were not taught the ideals of democracy and free speech, American culture could lose the benefits of their precious tradition of liberty and law. That would be a tragedy indeed.

Christine Sunderland, The Fire Trail (eLectio Publishing, 2016, 135-143)

The Fire Trail, a Novel: Father Nate’s Memories of Nine-Eleven

Chapter 16, Father Nate Casparian, age 77, caretaker of Comerford House and Chapel, brother to Nicholas Casparian, dying of ALS, former Cal professor, 2014:

nine-eleven crossA sudden silence fell over them like a pall as they stepped slowly and carefully down the gravel path through the gardens, hearing only the sounds of their footfall and the caws of unseen birds high in the pines. Pausing, they looked out to the pale sky spread over Comerford House. When Anna spoke, Father Nate could barely hear her. “I was making breakfast when I heard,” she said. “Where were you on Nine-Eleven, Father?”

The question jabbed the priest’s memory, but he didn’t mind. Memory, he knew, could be healed by love. Anna wouldn’t probe too deep. He trusted her to heal and not hurt. He could see, when she glanced at him, that she simply desired to remember the day, to mourn for America then and now. He tried not to waver, but his face must have betrayed him, for she added, “You don’t have to tell me.”

“It’s okay, Anna. Stories are good. Especially true stories that explain the present, like all true history, all good history, handed down to the next generation. But let’s sit so I can rest my legs again.” He motioned to her to join him on a bench in the garden. Taking a deep breath, he said a quick prayer, forcing himself to give voice to that time of sudden, shocking loss. “I was a parish priest and friar. Nicholas was teaching at Cal. I lived near the church, St. Joseph’s. I remember hearing the news when I turned on the TV early in the morning.”

“Me too.”

“It was before the fire.” He touched his crimson cheek. “And before the ALS.”

“Two more tragedies.”

“But the worst tragedy was . . . Louise.”

“Louise?”

TWIN TOWERS“Louise Casparian, Nicholas’ wife.” Anna grew silent, and Father Nate could see an array of emotions pass over her face. She waited for him to speak. “She died that morning,” he said, focusing on a pale pink rose in the garden. “She was visiting a cousin at her office in New York at the Trade Center. They never had a chance.”

“Oh, no.” He turned to Anna and met her soft dark eyes, caring eyes, eyes that understood loss. Encouraged, the words tumbled out, and he found himself gesturing with open palms, standing, pacing, and sitting again. “We didn’t realize, at first, where she was at the time, but when we didn’t hear from her . . . well, we learned soon enough. Nicholas was devastated, as were the children. They were adults, of course, a son and a daughter with families of their own. But it was so violent, so unexpected.”

“How did he manage such a loss?”

“He plunged into his work. But his academic colleagues claimed that America asked for it, citing our imperialism, capitalism, and wealth, and saying that the terrorists were the real victims. Nicholas was furious. It became his mission to correct their lies.”

“What did he do?”

“He fought them with words and ideas. He set up courses to teach the next generation the truth: America’s history, her institutions, what defines her, his six grand pillars.”

flag“Six grand pillars?”

Father Nate ticked them off on his fingers. “There were the three L’s: Limited government, individual liberty, rule of law . . . let’s see, the other three were free markets, personal responsibility, and traditional values.” 

Anna repeated them as if committing them to memory.

Father Nate continued, venting the concern he shared with his brother and welcoming the healing tonic of Anna’s friendship as though she could carry his burden by gathering it up, at least for a time.

“Nicholas claimed that our country had grown weak and vulnerable to another attack. Clinton eviscerated the CIA, he said, so intelligence was ineffective. He used the word eviscerated, I remember. I had to look it up.”

“And President Bush?”

“Nicholas admired Bush, said he would go down in history as one of our great presidents. He thought the liberal media had reached a barbaric low when they made fun of him. He often said that the guarantors of freedom and free speech were their close cousins, respect and responsibility.”

“I remember how the papers and TV made fun of President Bush, even little things, personal things. I don’t like sneering and bullying. It isn’t right. It isn’t civil.”

Father Nate nodded. “It crosses the border between the civil and the uncivil. But the media bias soon was out in the open. When President Bush’s term was up in 2008, the media orchestrated the next election. The new president, their man, eviscerated, my word this time, the military across the board, leading to our current crisis.”

“And this encouraged the rise of Islamic terrorism?”

“Yes, to put it simply.”

“Americans don’t like war.” Anna looked doubtful, and Father Nate knew she voiced the feelings of many, that if you don’t like something then it must be wrong. Even national defense was now guided by feelings.

Father Nate breathed deeply and spoke firmly, as though explaining to the daughter he never had, telling the truth, emboldened by love.

“Nobody likes war. But balance of power keeps the world safe, prevents war and protects peace. War is inevitable when you have tyrants in the world, regardless of their reason. Russia is another rising tyranny. So the balance of power has now been tipped in tyranny’s favor.”

They headed downhill, following the path.

“What happened to Nicholas’ son and daughter? And their families?” Anna asked as they neared the chapel.

“They’re fine, in Arizona and Maine. Each invited their father to come live with them, but he didn’t want to be a burden. So he sold the house in the Berkeley Hills and moved in with me.”

“He wanted to keep teaching.” 

Father Nate nodded. “He lived and breathed academia and the free exchange of ideas. Working was the therapy he needed. And now he was on a mission, to correct the media’s lies, the lies taught on campus, politically correct lies.”

“Was it really that bad?”

500px-Statue_of_Liberty_7They crossed the lawn to the French doors. He wanted Anna to understand what it means to be a refugee, to emigrate to America. “Anna, our grandparents fled the Armenian genocide of 1915 in Turkey, where their own parents—our great-grandparents—were murdered. They worked hard when they came to this country. They farmed near Fresno, living in a refugee community. Nicholas and I grew up during World War Two. We were raised to deeply value liberty—the freedom to think, speak, and worship as we choose. We loved America. We loved the culture of the Western world. We didn’t have much, but we had America. We were Americans.”

“I understand, Father.” She opened the door. “I’m so glad to hear your story. Thank you.”

“Not an unusual one, even if ignored or forgotten. Thanks for listening to an old friar, Anna.”

“But what happened to Nicholas’ Western Civ program?”

“It struggles. Many faculty still think the West is the cause of the world’s problems, not the solution.” Father Nate shook his head. “I can’t figure them out. Do they want to be like Russia? Or China? Or Iran? Do they want women to be enslaved, children raped? Do they want Jews, gays, and Christians slaughtered, beheaded, crucified? Blasphemers whipped and adulterers stoned? What are they thinking? I’ll never understand the America-haters, and there are lots of them with powerful tenure in respected universities today. They’re teaching our children and grandchildren to hate their own country.”

They stood in front of the table, and Anna tasted her tea. “Cold.”

The Fire TrailFather Nate picked up a towel and reached for a cup. “This Fire Trail killer is a victim of our not enforcing the law. We’ve grown lax because many don’t believe in the source of our laws. Nicholas sometimes quotes Jefferson: ‘Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?’ The words are etched into the Jefferson memorial in Washington, D.C.”  

Anna glanced up at him. “He means that if we don’t believe in the source of the gift we might not believe in the gift itself?”

“Exactly.” 

“Religion is important, I’ve come to see, even if I’m not very good at believing. Now go and fetch Nicholas. I’ll meet you in the chapel. We have lots of prayers to say tonight.”

Christine Sunderland, The Fire Trail (eLectio Publishing, 2016, 128-133)

The Fire Trail, a Novel: Anna’s Memories of Nine-Eleven

Chapter 15, Anna, age 57, Zachary’s mother and docent/librarian of Comerford House Museum, 2014:

The Fire Trail“As Zachary ran the Fire Trail on Nine-Eleven, Anna busied herself in the Comerford kitchen, making tea. A grandfather clock tolled four. The notes, Anna thought, sounded mournful, appropriately so, on this day of such remembrance, such national tragedy. The day had cast a spell of sadness over her. She had skipped CircleFit and instead worked steadily in the library upstairs. No one showed for the two o’clock tour, now that school was in session, and she turned on the small TV in the pantry, muting the sound, simply wanting reassurance that her country had not been attacked again.

Having set the table with a bowl of sliced apples and a plate of oatmeal cookies (steel cut oats, whole wheat), she added a vase of red roses from the garden. She waited for the water to boil, glancing from time to time at the TV screen, reading the running news panel along the bottom: Trade center rises from ashes, opens 13 years after terror attacks; Berkeley Free Speech Movement rally planned; Militants behead British hostage in video; Suicide risk on the rise for elderly; Fire Trail suspect still at large

Comerford House was quiet, as though a pall had fallen over the grounds. Anna vividly recalled September 11, 2001. She had been thirteen years younger then, only forty-four, and Luke had not yet left them for that young Rosalind, and they were a family. California time was three hours earlier than New York time, so Anna first learned about the attack shortly before six in the morning and Zachary was still sleeping. She had risen early to see Luke off for his shift at Foodmart and was making breakfast, the portable TV blinking and flashing its morning news.

nine-elevenThe first TV bulletin had been nearly unbelievable. The voices of the reporters moved from pragmatic concern to astonishment to horror at what they were seeing, and then saying, as they described the planes diving into the towers. Today, thirteen years later, Anna could see it so clearly: the black smoke of the first plane and the fiery explosion of the second. It was, she recalled, when the second plane hit, that she, along with a stunned nation watching, concluded this was not an accident. The United States was under attack. But who would do such a thing? Later, she learned, four passenger airliners had been hijacked by nineteen terrorists who had turned the planes into suicide bombs.

That morning Anna had stared at the screen, dumbfounded, as American Flight 11 and United Flight 175 dove into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center. She witnessed men and women jumping from upper windows to their deaths. She saw the towers implode and fall to the earth, and she could even now feel the terror of it, as though she were there. She could taste the dust billowing through the cavernous streets, the heart of America’s financial markets, as terrified workers ran from flying debris. The third plane, American Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon and the Department of Defense in Washington D.C. The last plane, United Flight 93, diverted by passengers rushing the hijackers, exploded in a Pennsylvania field. Over three thousand died, including hundreds of firefighters and police, the deadliest attack on American soil in the history of the United States.

HALF MAST FLAG CLOUDYThe kettle whistled. Anna turned off the burner, the flame died, and she poured boiling water over tea leaves in the pewter teapot. Leaving the tea to steep, she moved from the kitchen into the foyer and crossed to the music room. From there she could see the San Francisco skyline, its misty shape still visible, still intact. Comerford’s porch flag flew at half-mast, and she watched the heavy canvas ripple in the growing damp, its stars and stripes waving as though holding the past and the future in its weave.

Anna heard the French doors open and close in the kitchen. Father Nate had arrived for tea…”

Christine Sunderland, The Fire Trail (eLectio Publishing, 2016, 115-116)

The Fire Trail, a Novel: Zachary’s Memories of Nine-Eleven

Chapter 14, Zachary, age 26, grad student, UC Berkeley, 2014:

Yelp3“On Thursday, September 11, close to four p.m., Zachary parked his car at the trailhead where the East Bay hills bordered Berkeley. It was the anniversary of a horrific day of national tragedy, and he needed to see the silvery bay, the San Francisco skyline, and the Golden Gate. He wanted to think. His mind and heart were a jumble. He needed to sort things out.

He began with a few stretches but could feel the chill of the fog moving up from the water, so turned up the uneven path toward the Fire Trail at a slow jog, watching his step and soon hitting his regular rhythm.

Zachary ran, pounding softly the packed earth, parting California bay laurel, passing under gnarly oaks, their aged branches turning and twisting into the air. He ran through stands of cypress pines, their trunks straight and strong, punctuating broad meadows of green grass. He ran through patches of lingering fog and splashes of sudden sun… He loped along the narrowing trail through low grass in a wet and foggy hollow. He plowed through more bay and laurel and on through live oaks to another crest. Soon he would emerge onto a vista point. Hopefully, he could see the San Francisco Bay, if it was not yet engulfed by fog.

FT2He could stare at the city and figure out his life, what to do next, as he had done many times over the years. The long bench was welcome, and he sprawled on it, pulling out his water bottle. The San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate glistened in the encroaching mist. Berkeley dipped low and shadowy toward the shoreline.

Thirteen years ago today, 2001, the year of the New York City attacks, he was only thirteen. Zachary could not imagine what it was like to have been in New York on that Tuesday morning, September 11th…. With the Trade Center attack, the recent wars, and now the beheadings, trust and truth and commitment were more important than ever. Life became serious when it was threatened.

nine-elevenNine-eleven. Zachary stood and stared at the skyline, imagining the planes attacking San Francisco as they had attacked New York. He had seen the images on television year after year, and each time was astonished that others would hate America like that, hate their freedom. Such hate and such tyranny were so opposed to the innate human desire for love and transcendence. Those terrorists chose the bestial way, the way of the jungle, the way of illiteracy and babble, the way of chaos and death.

And yet America had its own communities of chaos and death. There were moments, Zachary admitted, that he desired greater control over criminals, greater safety on their streets. Was that a desire for tyranny? He hoped not… He could see the boundary between liberty and law was not always easily seen.

Zachary suddenly felt a great love for this skyline, this bay, this American city with its bridges. The nation had been at peace for many years before 2001, so that events like Nine-Eleven were shocking. They burned the mind and memory, seared images onto the soul. In this way, Zachary judged, the attack pulled Americans out of their lethargy and into paying attention, to watching, to being alert. Just so, the recent beheadings of American journalists James Foley on August 19 and Steven Sotloff on September 2 by the Islamic State woke up Americans. Even home-grown horrors like the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013 and the Fort Hood massacre of 2009 nudged the nation to evaluate who and what America was and is, and how best to re-form this perfect union of cultures, races, and beliefs.

The Fire TrailBut America, Zachary believed, still held close to her heart the values of freedom, even in the face of the hate flying into New York City on that clear, September morning. America still valued free speech, democracy, and peaceful assembly. America still had the will and the resources to protect the world from tyranny. The nation wasn’t perfect, the balance precarious, but that was the price of freedom…”

Christine Sunderland, The Fire Trail (eLectio Publishing, 2016, 107-111)

September Journal, Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Fire TrailWhether or not one agrees that America needed to leave Afghanistan, the nature of the leaving, the exit as it were, has been a catastrophic failure, not only in leaving many vulnerable Afghans and Americans behind, but in allowing the Taliban to take over the country. Three weeks ago the terrorists who attacked America on September 11, 2001, took over Kabul and most of Afghanistan. Six days from today, we remember and mourn those lost on nine-eleven, all those killed in the World Trade Center bombings in New York by the Taliban.

Will there be another attack on U.S. soil on this September 11, 2021, the twenty-year anniversary?

The fear of pandemic has been replaced by another more familiar fear: terrorism.

My sixth novel, The Fire Trail (eLectio Publishing, 2016), is set in September 2014. I chose the month largely for reasons of setting. I wanted dusk to be falling in the hills east of San Francisco, where the fire trail winds above UC Berkeley. The novel opens with that setting, as the student Jessica runs the trail alone and comes upon the body of a girl recently murdered. She sees the murderer and he sees her. And so the plot unfolds. September was the best month: school in session, waning daylight in the early evening.

At first it did not occur to me that the span of the novel, essentially the month of September, would include the anniversary of nine-eleven. Given that a central theme is the collapse of Western Civilization, I would need to handle this in some way, either utilize the memories of my characters or merely mention it in passing.

I decided to honor the memory with four central chapters in which each of the four characters recalls where they were on that day, adding to their respective backstories and paying tribute to the great sacrifice of Americans, including first responders and may others who helped the horrific rescue.

And so, this week I will be posting selections from each of those chapters in honor of those who died in the greatest attack ever on U.S. soil. They are memories typical of the character’s age and disposition, memories that formed them in powerful ways. Americans will never forget.

And now, three weeks after Kabul was taken over by the same terrorists that attacked us in 2001 – the Taliban – we watch and wait and pray that our people are vigilant here on our own soil. For terrorism throughout the world is now on the rise. Our borders are porous and in many places torn down, and tyrannical regimes hate our freedoms. They hate our way of life; they hate us. And they see that we are weak and decadent, and they are right. We are.

Cleansing of the Ten Lepers

Artist unknown, 1035-1040

With these fears and thoughts running through my heart and mind, it was good to return to the Berkeley chapel to be strengthened in body and soul. The Gospel lesson was a reminder, too, of why America is a great nation, founded on great principles. The lesson was the account of Christ healing the ten lepers, and only one returns to thank him. “Where are the other nine?” he asks.

Thanking and thanksgiving are fruits of a Judeo-Christian culture. They are fruits of freedom, for they come from the heart. They give a true accounting of gifts given, an acknowledgement of the brotherhood of man, the giving and receiving freely. They are the fruits of freedom and the fruits of love. Thank-yous are one of many courtesies we learned as children to get along with one another. We learned to say the words so that one day we would feel them.

caxton's book of courtesy imageI came across an essay by John Horvat at the Imaginative Conservative site, called “Time to Return to Medieval Courtesy Books.”   He describes how the “woke” crowd of today deems civility and manners to be artificial concepts that reinforce power structures and should never be taught to children. He goes on to explore the history of manners and their teachings through “courtesy books” created in twelfth-century Christendom. These books were an attempt to instill virtue in children to aid their developing consciences, with direct instructions including table manners, sharing food, and the one command I particularly liked was, “Don’t chew with your mouth open.” This one seems to have been cast upon the wayside today, as they say. Caxton’s Book of Curtesye (1477) can be found on the Google Books site.

It is this heritage that is being attacked today, over two thousand years of nurturing ways to get along together according to the God of Abraham and his descendants, according the Western Civilization. It is this heritage of freedom that terrorists seek to destroy.

Tomorrow is Labor Day, and again, a feature of the West, the desire to work and create, to imagine and build, a desire to be celebrated and protected. The rise of labor unions in the nineteenth century was this desire to honor AMERICAN FLAGthe work of Americans and protect their rights. We honor our workers and the contributions of each and every American to this great land of liberty. We honor work by honoring the virtue of self-discipline, responsibility, and perseverance.

And so we remember nine-eleven in this aftermath of the fall of Kabul to our enemies, to those who did us such great harm. We remember, on this twentieth anniversary, why we are called to remember, to keep America free and strong, to save Western civilization from the barbarians at our gates, gates that today appear to be wide open.

August Journal, Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

500px-Statue_of_Liberty_7As we watch the fall of the West, the twilight of civilization as we have known it, it is good to remember to breathe the name of Jesus.

I learned this one-word prayer, one-name prayer from my friends in Kentucky who know something about prayer. They pray without ceasing in a hermitage/retreat house called Nazareth House Apostolate. For we are told to pray without ceasing, and breathing the name of Jesus helps us live this joyful command, calling upon the Lord of Hosts to be present here and now.

We are also told to rejoice in the Lord always. For he is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the ancient of days. When Western Christendom fades with a whimper and not a bang (T.S. Eliot) we still have Christ ordering our days, our hours, our minutes. We still rejoice always. As some say, God is in charge. And others remind us to fear not. And my bishop of blessed memory often said, we know how the story ends, at least Christians know, and it is a good and glorious ending.

The bombing at the Kabul airport on Thursday, killing over 200 people, including children, trying to flee Afghanistan, was not unexpected, given the tensions in the radical Muslim world and their hatred for the West, and yet it sent shock waves through the West. The response from President Biden, when he finally addressed the American people late in the day, and by extension, addressed the world, was a weak attempt to placate, sidestepping the crisis he caused by the sudden exodus, preceded by the shameful closure of Bagram Air Force Base in the dark, without notice to our Afghan friends and NATO allies.

Holy_TrinityAnd so we prayed for them with The Litany (1928 Book of Common Prayer, 54+) this morning in our Berkeley chapel. We dedicated our prayer to those trapped in Afghanistan and those who lost their lives. As we chanted the responses to the many supplications I was thankful for the poetry of these ancient lines, said in unison as a chorus, many voices becoming one, creating a work of art of its own in our haunting barrel-vaulted chapel, unique to the moment and setting:

O GOD the Father, Creator of heaven and earth;
  Have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world;
    Have mercy upon us.
O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful;
    Have mercy upon us.
O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God;
    Have mercy upon us.

We prayed for mercy for we prayed for the world. We prayed for the world because we love the world. We take on the suffering of others and ourselves and offer it all to Christ.

As I chanted, I thought how good it was to be a part of this stream of Christ’s body, this artful, beautiful, exquisite liturgy we sing together. There is another time and place for spontaneous prayer, always good. But praying and singing in unison the words of thousands of years with other Christians, uniting those who came before with those who come after us, and those along side us today, is a powerful and joyous cleansing and fortifying. Having the words embedded in heart and mind sculpt a finer heart and mind, a more holy heart and mind. Online services are not the same. How good it was to be there.

I also realized that we must seize every moment, hour, and day to live fully in the love of God. We do not know how long we will have the chance to meet this way. We cannot predict tomorrow. The recent events in Afghanistan brought home the realization that we live in an increasingly shrinking world, and all events effect our fragile existence, no matter who we are.

The smoke from the California wildfires smothers the hills and valleys in the Bay Area. We cannot breathe. It is like a cursed blanket of ash.

SAINTS2And so breathing the name of Jesus is healing. The Lord God Eternal enters me with each breath. I inspire and am inspired. And I received the Eucharist today, the Real Presence absorbed into my flesh.

I give thanks this afternoon for one more chance to gather together with other Christians, to pray and sing and celebrate together as one born of many: one voice uniting us in this moment in history, one body of believers in this place in this moment, never to be repeated, a moment now the past, never to be the present again.

How many Sundays and how many Eucharists and how many moments of such delight will come to me in my span on earth? I shall take advantage of all I can, remake my poor flesh and my weak soul with the love of God, the food of eternity and life everlasting.

August Journal, Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

prayerThe fall of Kabul to the Taliban shocked the world this last week, and the images of desperate Americans and Afghans trying to escape Afghanistan have been seared into our memory. I pray for them, for their safe passage, and for all those immigrants who desire to come to America.

The war is, of course, a religious war between Christian freedom and Islamic slavery. Islam, the religion of “peace,” can only accept peace through tyranny and oppression, according to the Koran and the laws of their God.

Christianity is also a religion of peace. But our interpretation of the laws of God is quite different, founding cultures of freedom and democracy, in contrast to sharia’s cultures of absolute obedience and medieval punishment.

It is a war between cultures and their foundational belief systems, a war of ideals. The Christian West, however, has forgotten its roots, has even denied its founding principles. So we have a war between a (nearly) dying culture of materialism in the West and a living culture of domination in the Middle East.

Other tyrannies – Communist China and Communist Russia – will seek to use this rising force for ill to their own ends. And Pakistan, home of the Taliban and ISIS (Islamic State), has a nuclear bomb. There was great celebrating in Islamabad, Pakistan, as Kabul fell, as the soldiers paraded in U.S. gear and brandished U.S. weapons, having taken U.S. helicopters and U.S. bases.

AMERICAN FLAGDoes America have the nerve and verve to rescue her people trapped behind enemy lines? She has the ability, but does she have the will?

Many in America are waking up to the reality of today’s world, that America is a unique experiment in freedom, a fragile one at best, one that needs nurturing and above all, love. She is a country that depends on generation after generation being educated in her goodness, if not her perfection, her desire for good, if not her achieving it. She is a Christian country, founded upon principles of bravery, self-discipline, and compassion, with a strong work ethic. She is founded upon confession and repentance, and has done significant repenting since the earliest days of the colonies. She sees all her warts and flaws, yet moves on, taking a higher path, learning from her mistakes.

She is an aberration in the world. Freedom and democracy are not the usual stream in the flow of history. That is why everyone wants to immigrate to America. She is unique, an aberration. She is exceptional, a bright city on a hill, a light in the darkness.

RESOURCE_TemplateI hope to feature a few immigration themes in my next novel, picking up on some of the themes in Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020). The hermit living in the mountain’s caves and his sister living in the foothills are Jewish refugee immigrants who hid from Hitler’s Holocaust in Greece during World War II. They understand freedom. They understand the miracle of America. They do not forget how blessed they are to make it to this country, to survive. In my new novel, Return to Angel Mountain (working title), at least one character will embody the immigrant experience.

For we are a nation of immigrants, and that is our crowning glory. We understand the miracle of America, or at least we did, at least until the last few decades when those who hate America slid and slipped into our universities and poisoned the curricula, now doing the same in our grade schools with Critical Race Theory and other versions of “social justice.” The haters are loud and threatening. They cancel open debate and silence speech. They destroy lives with innuendo and threats and mob violence. They threaten the world with their hatred of freedom.

What do the haters think about the cargo plane packed with people fleeing the Muslim world? What do they think about those who held on to the wings and dropped to their deaths in a terrifying attempt to leave and come to America?

woman-praising-on-god-illustrationAnd so I prayed this morning in our Berkeley chapel for the Americans and others who value freedom, who are trapped behind enemy lines, whether in the Near East or the Far East.

The Gospel lesson today was the healing of the man who couldn’t hear or speak.

America is like that man, deaf and dumb. And also blind. We need to be healed, healed by Christ. We need to be reminded who we are and our role in this violent world of war. We need to look to the flag and be proud of our great gift to all humanity, through the ideals of America’s founding. We need to teach our children to love our country and, since we were founded in the Christian West, how to truly love one another.

August Journal, Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Napa_Sonoma_firesThe 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?

IMG_3647I 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.

440px-House_of_the_Virgin_MaryToday 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.”

LADY ICONAt 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.