Author Archives: Christine Sunderland

June Journal, Second Sunday after Trinity

APCK Logo newLockdowns, we are told by the State of California, will be lifted on Tuesday, June 15. But I fear the fear remains locked into many hearts, a place where it has found a home, fed by fear and led by fear. The lockdowns have robbed us of time, talent, and treasure, have isolated us from family and parish, have done incredible harm to each one of us.

Most of my Sundays these last fifteen months have been sheltered ones, tuning in with my husband to Facebook and Zoom screens. We watched and listened. We sang songs and repeated responses and prayed prayers, as if we were heard through the screens, our voices carried by invisible angels of mercy. Some of the liturgies were masked, then unmasked, then masked again. Some got off to a rocky start, taking several months to upgrade equipment and signal boosters (a challenge in Berkeley). Some were outdoors, in courtyards, such as our Arizona parish and in the dead of winter those blue blue blue skies were welcome on our screens. Some kept the organ playing; some didn’t. Some teetered toward a semblance of the Eucharist we all know and love. They all did their best, given the mandate to close down.

Each parish, each Mass, had its own character or personality, a quality I have long enjoyed in our travels through Europe, visiting churches and abbeys and monasteries, each one different, the Mass always the same, yet each a living breathing incarnation of God’s love, his magnificent acts in history.

It is those acts in history, the first years of the first millennium, that we re-member in the Mass, and it is those salvific works that we eat and drink at the altar rail, embodying the mysteries of the universe living in the bread and the wine.

And so today I considered the value of symbol, of word as symbol, of musical note as symbol, representations of a greater truth or truths for which we all hunger, our longing coming from somewhere deep within. I considered these things on the periphery of my delight, my lingering joy as I drove home from our chapel in Berkeley.

I realized that the screens are a poor representation of the Body of Christ, and that the purpose of the living gathering, with real people in real time in real space, kneeling on real cushions, praying to the Real Presence in the tabernacle, was to embody the love of God. We meet together, a disparate gathering from all walks of life, many races and backgrounds, to worship the real and living God of Abraham and Isaac, who became one of us as Jesus of Nazareth, and who loves us beyond measure. I experienced the real thundering notes of the real organ behind me (five feet away in this intimate chapel), the real action of the Mass celebrated by a real priest, sung and chanted, sending real notes into real ears. I felt the real hard tiles under the real velvet cushion under my bony knees and the gentle ache of my back, unused to such posture.

GIVING THANKSOur preacher preached on the wedding feast parable and all the excuses that are made not to come to the feast. I recommend tuning in to the tape still on Facebook (St. Joseph’s Chapel) to hear what he said, words that expressed ideas and imperatives that made sense. For we must answer the invitation to the feast of the Eucharist, if we are at all able, in person. We must gather with our fellows and sing together as one voice, uniting many voices. We must praise together with the Gloria and repent together with the General Confession. We must kneel together as the precious words are spoken and the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. We must pray together, out loud, prayers that are prescribed for the very reason of saying them together as one, an anthem of heart and soul raised to the altar, to the Real Presence of Christ who enters each of us on this bright warm morning in a small chapel near the university.

It usually strikes me during one of our Anglican liturgies, when I am physically present in the nave, the diversity, the many differences among us. I have come to believe that Christ continually creates us, and recreates us, his brush strokes adding something here, something there, to the canvas of our person, spirit and flesh. He does this if we engage in the greatest love affair of all time and all eternity, the love between each of us and God. He does this if we allow him to order our goings, to prepare the path for us to walk on, to enter our hearts and minds, to accept gladly our invitation to accept his invitation to live in one another. He does this if we say yes as Mary did.

And so our priest (who is half Chinese and half African-American) spoke without notes from the head of the aisle before the altar, his eyes twinkling in love for each of us. He was so joyful as he spoke I wondered if he might burst into laughter, but instead he simply enjoyed us, each one of us, sitting in our spaced folding chairs, rapt. I found at one point I laughed out loud myself, enjoying his enjoyment. He moved from the Gospel parable to St. John and another passage on loving one another. We must love one another, he said, and we cannot do this looking into screens.

I sighed my thanksgivings. He was right. And meeting the challenge in parish life is rather like meeting the challenge in any group of devoted people. Each one of us has opinions about masks and sheltering and hoaxes and what we have gone through in the last year plus. Each one of us has thoughts we would like to express that might not be another’s thoughts. There even may be some strong disagreement, some hissing, some biting of tongues. But that is because we are so very different with each passing day, month, and year as the Master works his will upon us in this great creative dance of life.

So we learn to love one another, differences and all, a beautiful diversity. We learn to love in the greatest school of charity (love), the Church. The English mystic Evelyn Underhill wrote a short book called The School of Charity. She was speaking of the family as I recall, and here too we learn to love those under our roof, those whom close proximity provides a challenge. But the parish is also a school of charity and we must attend liturgies in person in order to fully partake of the lessons to be learned. When we stumble, we are raised up by others, held by others. When they stumble we raise them up. We listen to one another. We see the intricate complexity of each person, glimpses of their true hearts and souls. We learn to love as one before Christ in the tabernacle, as we use symbol and song to express the inexpressible.

Our nation is a school of charity as well. It is a parish of individuals that come together to love one another in spite of our differences. We love one another also through symbol and song, through high-flying flags, through pledges of allegiance intoned together, hand upon heart. We have stories that tell our history, just as our faith is told in Epistle and Gospel, and in the Nicene Creed. As Americans, united under one flag in one nation, we gather at appointed times to renew our love for one another and our freedoms – at Thanksgiving, on Memorial Day, on the Fourth of July, on Veterans Day, and many other celebrations of who we are as a free people.

US_Flag_Day_poster_1917Flag Day, tomorrow, June 14, is often neglected. The flag, with its increasing number of stars over the years, reminds us that we are Americans, a union of many peoples and states and tribes. Our differences, the flag says, are our glories. Our unique populations from all over the planet, have chosen this land, this nation, in which to live and in which to love. The many differences we see all around us are why we are the envy of the world. For we are called by symbol and song, and story too, to love one another, to celebrate our human worth.

Our nation, like our church, has a calendar of seasons, and these seasons call us in real time to be a union and not a disunion, to heal and to not hurt. Memorial Day steps into Flag Day and Flag Day prepares us for Independence Day, July 4. The men and women who gave their lives defending our nation, did so under our flag, and we sense them watching over us as we celebrate the anniversary of the Fourth of July, the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1976, the flag billowing against the blue sky, for the Declaration declared our national creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Thirteen colonies, each one vastly different from the others, signed the Declaration. Each one would have to learn to get along, learn to love in this national school of love.

The Declaration was a piece of parchment with markings on it. It was words that symbolized deeply held convictions. Just so we today, in our little chapel, declared deeply held convictions about the nature of man.

And so we learn to love one another, to welcome all to the feast.

June Journal, First Sunday after Trinity

Michelangelo CreationWe have embarked upon Trinity Season in the Church Year. It is a season marked by love, the love of God as embodied in the Holy Trinity between the three persons of God and the love of God for us as his created own. It is a long season, lasting through most of November to Advent and the new Church Year beginning again. It is a “green” season, in terms of the Kalendar, and is a growing-in-the-faith season, as we follow the teachings of Jesus, Son of God, as he walked among us. It is a love season and it is a growing season and we realize we cannot grow without God’s love moving among us, and we cannot love without God’s creative growing, his reaching to touch us and our reaching to touch him.

This movement of God among us, first in flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, then in spirit as on Pentecost, is the glory of lives faithfully lived. Without the stirrings of our soul, the confessions of our conscience, the commandments ordering our ways, and their defining judgments at the end of the day, we become creatures of the wild, no more than beasts. The poetry and prayers of our daily lives disappear without the Holy Spirit’s presence among us, breathing upon us, inspiring us to love one another.

There are those today who desire social justice and indeed, this is a product of God’s love and a commandment of Jesus. In today’s Gospel, Our Lord teaches the parable of the poor man Lazarus who begs outside the gate of a rich man:

“There was a certain rich man,” Jesus says, “which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.” (St. Luke xvi.19+, 190, BCP)

It is a vivid description of the rich and the poor (I find it interesting that the rich man is not named as is the poor man.) Jesus continues with the parable, describing what happens to each man when he dies. Lazarus is carried by angels to Heaven. The rich man, unnamed, finds himself in Hell in torment.

476px-LastjudgementEvery year when we hear this parable read and interpreted from the pulpit, I sense the congregation squirm, as if they hoped the poetic Epistle would be the text for the sermon (St. John on love) rather than this uncomfortable story told by the Son of God which seems to condemn riches. And Christians believe in a final and personal judgment, which includes judgment of the heart. I have heard many interpretations of this parable, some more symbolic than others, but the underlying image is too forceful to be ignored, sores and dogs and all. We are, indeed, commanded to love, as St. John says in the Epistle. And how do we love? We love our fellow man. And hence the social gospel, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. John writes,

“We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” (I St. John iv.7+, 189, BCP)

The social gospel came out of the Christian gospel. This care for the greater community, indeed, for those whom we do not even know, was a radical departure from earlier times. And this Christian commandment emerged from the Jewish sense of social justice. This was not practiced in the Classical world of master and slave. This imperative came from the belief that each person is created in the image of God, and thus is sacred, regardless of class, race, handicap, born and unborn.

Just so, it was the Christian culture in England that condemned slavery; it was the Christian imperative in America that fought the Civil War to end the barbaric practice.

Land of Hope CoverI have been revisiting the history of our nation in the Hillsdale College online education class, “Land of Hope.” I am hoping I can retain some of this broad sweep of the past. Regardless, I am thoroughly enjoying the lectures given by Dr. Wilfred McClay and the many photos of earlier times. He speaks of Woodrow Wilson, one of the leaders of the “Progressive” movement, an elitist, intellectual, program to care for the poor, i.e. the imperative felt by the Christian culture of the time.

Dr. McClay contrasts this movement to the “Progressives” today. Those who claim this title and the mission of social justice today bear little resemblance to those of the early twentieth century. The key difference is that Wilsonian Progressivism was based on Christian principles that supported churches, faith, and family. Today’s Progressives marginalize, penalize, ostracize, and even criminalize Judeo-Christian faith and practice. It is a term designed to sound positive and caring, but in reality reflects a desire for power and control over the population at large. Progressivism sounds more caring than Marxism or Communism, doesn’t it?

The earlier Progressives and today’s Progressives, however, do share a few characteristics: they are elitist, see themselves as the nation’s intellectual chosen people, thus desire to remake society top-down, and require the power to do this by mandate. They also share the desire to improve the race through a version of eugenics, popular in the Darwinian early twentieth century, and seen today with gene editing and abortion, a kind of racial cleansing of the “unfit.” But again, it is to be stressed that the Wilsonians were curbed not only by their Christian assumptions in regards to human dignity, but by freedom itself, in the popular vote which welcomed Harding and Coolidge in the next round of elections.

And so we are commanded to love God, for God is love, and our fellow man, made in God’s image. It is a commandment that intersects Earth with Heaven. It is an intersection that makes all the difference, and as we remain faithful to our communities of faith and encourage others to join our Christian family of love, the two spheres – Heaven and Earth – merge within us and without us. We see more clearly. We live more courageously. We love as we are meant to love, without fear, as St. John writes.

RESOURCE_TemplateThis intersection informs the setting my recent novel, Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020). The mountain rises to the skies like praying hands and, deep within its caverns, icons gleam reflected light, pulling our hermit Abram through their doors. And as he is pulled in, he is fed and filled. He can then go out, into the world, to embody, incarnate the love of God for his fellow man.

We are told that God resides within and without. The Spirit within urges us to do right and be righteous, to follow the commandments burned into the tablets of stone on Mount Sinai. The Spirit within nudges us to be full-filled with God himself.

For God loves us so very much. He wants our good. He desires us to be with him. He wants to fill us full of his joy.

May Journal, Trinity Sunday, Memorial Weekend

MEMORIAL DAY FREE IMAGEOver the last fifteen months the American people have been masked, muffled, silenced, frightened, bullied, manipulated, and cancelled. We have died a thousand deaths, deaths to freedom, to faith, to family, to children, to the aged, to human dignity and the sanctity of life. We have been publicly shamed and privately imprisoned. We have been ordered to stop singing, stop speaking, stop shaking hands. We have watched loved ones die alone. We have been ordered to abandon funeral gatherings to mourn together and comfort one another. We have been banned from church and temple. We have been prodded and pushed and pricked, catalogued and analyzed and researched. We have been turned into numbers for data, both real and unreal, both true and false. We have been lied to by leaders we trust and our trust is broken along with our hearts. We have been used, and the users should be ashamed.

Chaplain in the S. Pacific TheaterWe have not fought and died in a war, as heroes did in Europe and Guam, but we have stood our ground. We have survived one of the greatest attacks on Western Civilization in history. We have watched our cities burn and our businesses vandalized. We have been denied police protection. We have been called names unrepeatable in civilized society, judged irredeemable and deplorable. We have been derided and defamed by Machiavellian might, by elites, corporations, tech, media, academia, and the deep state. We are American heroes.

We have done all this, survived all this, in the name of freedom, freedom we can still see in the distance, a light flickering but not put out, and we pray that we are nearing the end of the darkness that has fallen over our land of the free. We are American patriots.

Power has been usurped by elites in the name of public health and safety, as a virulent virus traveled the face of the Earth, seeking to devour. Mandates grew and multiplied, to feed a frenzied and fraudulent election, to skew and deceive, to win at all costs the Presidency. Hatred fueled hatred, dividing Americans into tribes at war with one another. The hatred rose like a river of hot lava against our sitting President, Donald Trump. The haters schemed, by any means, to remove this American hero, one who rarely slept and gave himself to his beloved American people, one who brokered Middle East peace, high employment for all, border protection, law and order, oil independence, protection guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – protection of our freedoms, free speech, freedom to worship as we choose. He made America safe and strong, unified not divided, proud of our light on the hill and our history of heroes like him.

And so, this weekend we remember the members of our nation who protected freedom with their lives. We see the flags flying, red-white-blue, alongside the white crosses in a grassy field of dreams against a windblown blueness that only a loving God could provide in this time of sorrow and joy.

Holy_TrinityWe are reminded that sorrow and joy go together, as do suffering and love. They are intertwined, for they tell the truth about the human condition, the common experience of mankind – life and death and life again. The flag reminds us of our country and all that freedom means. The white cross reminds us that the hand of God is upon us and we need not be afraid. The Son of God, the humble preacher from Nazareth, who suffered and died, rose to life, for us. These fallen heroes who protected us, kept our country and way of life safe and sacred, today sing praises to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, before his throne, before the glassy sea, alongside the River of Life. They glance to Earth and see us mourn. They see TRINITY.RUBLEVour love. They say, no more tears. We are saved by the white cross washed by the blood of the Lamb of God. We are singing, Holy Holy Holy, Lord God of Hosts!

We remember them in song and prayer and ceremony. We celebrate the Holy Trinity as we are lifted into love.

We look around us for more heroes born into our own time, born into this time of challenge. We look for heroes to protect our nation – and the world – from this tyranny. We look to those who will speak, who refuse to be silenced, who stand to be counted, not cancelled. We look to those who revere our history, protect our heroes of the past as well as the present, and learn from our mistakes to make a more just future.

St. Joseph's 002compWe attended St. Joseph’s Chapel in Berkeley this morning for the first time in fifteen months. It was good to be home again. It was good to sing with others, to be part of a joyous corporate worship. The singing rose to the vault and soared out the high clerestory windows. We thanked God that we were able to join together once again. We thanked God for his three persons, the Holy Trinity, and his care for us, his great love. For we know our freedom comes from him.

And we thanked God for our nation and those who died for her, those who fought for her. My father was a Chaplain in the Navy in the South Pacific in World War II. He led men in prayer over caskets draped in the stars and stripes. He wouldn’t talk of those years, although he was one of the survivors. Instead he led others to Christ, protecting them from the darkness, until the spirit of the age of doubt engulfed him, darkened his vision. But I am proud of his service, both to our nation and our Church. He made a difference on board the U.S.S. Phoenix. He made a difference in the pulpit, in Bible study, in youth groups, in camps. He made a difference.

May we never forget to remember, to free our world with Christ, to celebrate the Holy Trinity in the fields of grass, marked by the white crosses and American flags. May our memories carry the past into the present on this Memorial Day. May God bless America.

May Journal, Whitsunday (Pentecost)

Land of Hope CoverI have lived beyond my three score and ten years on Earth and yet I found myself desiring to refresh my education with an online course offered free from Hillsdale College: “The Great American Story: Land of Hope.” I have, of course, read numerous books over the years chronicling the American story and foundations, but it was probably in the 1960’s that I last took a class in American History. With all the talk today of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, Founding Fathers, and freedom itself, this online course caught my eye. I wondered if I was up to it.

And I have to say, I am thoroughly enjoying it.

I also was drawn to this course because it is taught by Wilfred McClay, using his text. I had read the text and mentioned it in these pages (Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story; Encounter Books, 2019). Highly readable, the text reads like a story, the story of our nation, told honestly, the good and the bad, and why, when, who, and where. There was no apology or grievance, but a thoughtful discussion of what happened to create this great American experiment in democracy.

The book didn’t urge me to riot, or vandalize, or topple statues. It didn’t portray victims but heroes of every skin color. It made me hopeful. It made me proud.

And it sounded a few alarms for today: can we hold onto our great American story? Is the American experiment in democracy nearing its end?

In addition, I had a personal association with the soft-spoken Dr. McClay who has taught in the past at our Berkeley seminary, St. Joseph of Arimathea Theological College. His son at the time was a Cal student in Classics and a member of our chapel parish. When it came last spring 2020 to consider endorsements for the jacket of my novel, Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020), which considered the importance of history, our violent cancel culture, and threats to free speech, he was kind enough to endorse it:

RESOURCE_Template“In Angel Mountain, Christine Sunderland has created a gripping and theologically rich novel, in which four remarkable people make their way through a shifting cultural landscape ringed with apocalyptic fire, revolutionary politics, and end-times expectancy.”

So when I saw that Dr. McClay was giving the twenty-five, twenty-minute lectures, I signed up. The course is part of a massive online effort by Hillsdale to educate the American people (yes, that’s you and I). The most recent course is on Dante. I look forward to the twenty minutes, the simple quiz, the supplementary materials provided, and the entertaining and colorful images adding drama and interest to the presentation. One doesn’t have to purchase the book (or anything else). You merely sign up and learn at your own pace.

And they say that it’s good to keep your brain active as you move into the last decades of life.  So I am trying!

I’m one-third through the lectures, in the 1830’s, and what has struck me is the drama and passion of our heritage, the vigorous debates, the efforts to form this more perfect union of disparate colonies founded for varied reasons. The effort and courage required to break off from Britain was immense: to fight this war of revolution and to forge a document to protect the fragile future, one that would prevent tyranny and ensure the voice of the people. (Just like today.) Both George Washington and Alexander de Tocqueville (Democracy in America) called it an experiment, for such a republic had never been formed before. The Founders looked to the Classical world for models, looking to the past in order to move into the future.

I thought how our current American troubles were placed in perspective. For today we need these same kind of leaders, leaders who lead, with passion and sacrifice, as did Washington, Jefferson, and many others. We have the same issues at stake – our freedoms threatened by tyranny once again, the experiment in democracy seemingly breathing its last. The control of our major institutions – government, economy, and media – by a single party should raise concern among all of us. Balance of power, a key element of the American experiment and forged into the Constitution, is clearly under siege.

Star Spangled BannerI particularly appreciated the chapter on Andrew Jackson, a hero in the War of 1812, elected in spite of his rougher qualities. His victory against the British at New Orleans helped him gain the Presidency in 1824. He championed the average citizen, regardless of education and class, saying they have practical wisdom and should be allowed to vote, hence the term “Jacksonian democracy.” Many compared Donald Trump to Jackson, and I can see why. One could also compare Dwight Eisenhower to Jackson, since the general was elected after his leadership in World War II. And did you know that “The Star Spangled Banner” was written in the War of 1812, as Francis Scott Keys glimpsed from his ship the flag of victory raised over Fort McHenry, Maryland, after the fort was bombarded by the British? (seen in the painting above)

Our country is comparatively young, and yet we can see this river of reason and rights running from the first colonies into our present troubled sea. We reason that we have our rights listed clearly in our founding documents. We seek the truth. We seek freedom to speak, to assemble, to worship. We seek to be counted when we cast our votes, rooting out all fraud.

There is no other country in the world like America. She is the last great hope of civilized and civil civilization. 

PENTECOST ICONAnd so today is Whitsunday or Pentecost, the great celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples in Jerusalem. The disciples were troubled too, their Lord having ascended to Heaven. But on this day the fire of the Holy Spirit, like a rushing wind, came upon them, giving them the ability to speak in many languages, to witness to the many ethnicities in Jerusalem at that time, to tell of the marvelous works of God in Christ, the salvation of mankind.

This Holy Spirit has never left us. This third person of God continues to breathe upon us, through sacraments, prayer, and scripture. He leads us where we must go, gives us the words we must say, lifts us up when we fall. He listens to our complaints, to our fears, in our darkest moments. He is the comforter, the strengthener. He guided the Founding Fathers in the creation of this more perfect union, establishing a new country, unique in the history of Man. He guides us today, as we seek to hold on to the good in our history and learn from the bad, celebrate the successes and mourn the mistakes.

Come, Holy Spirit, breathe upon America, re-awaken her spirit of freedom, her spirit of hope. Rekindle the spark that makes her a shining light upon the hill, a beacon to the world.

 

May Journal, Ascension Sunday

ASCENSION ICON.WEBERThe mystery of life is the mystery of death and life again. We cannot live a life of meaning without facing our own death. Someone once said that our death begins with our birth, or one could say more accurately, with our conception. We grow but we also decline, and all of time is held in our palm, or perhaps God’s palm. Can we hold on to time? For how long?

It is a curious thing, this mystery of time, for time only matters if it is our own, if we live it, in it, through it. As I have journeyed in this world of time (toward my own death and new life) I have increasingly perceived through the veil of life, the thin film enshrouding us, the thin linen hiding, and perhaps protecting, the glories of Heaven. I perceive and I pierce the shroud through prayer, through the Eucharist, through love. And on the other side is glory, seen through a veil, through a dark glass, as St. Paul says.

Most of us, even agnostics and atheists, sense there is more to our own lives than the bodies that house our selves, the flesh incarnating our spirits. Unbelievers say that imagination or art or thought itself is something housed, a separate entity from the body. Beauty, truth, music, love, all reflect the spiritual side of Man. We recognize personality, that no two individuals are alike, that even twins are different in their own lives housed by flesh. Believers marvel at this extravagant and exquisite mystery, this infinite complexity of genes and cells and organisms, an ongoing festival of life borne by birth into the future, until the Second Coming of Christ and the end of time.

As a grateful Christian, I look forward to my new life, a better and more perfect life, the life meant for each one of us to live. Death is only for the body, a rebirth, an ascension. And in Heaven, in the New Jerusalem, we will be given new bodies, as promised.

I thought of these things as I visited our virtual Eucharists this morning – in Illinois, Arizona, and California. I celebrated the Ascension of Christ, with him, ascending into the light of Heaven. The last forty days I have walked with him on Earth, having risen with him on Easter morning, having left behind Joseph of Arimathea’s empty tomb, the linen cloths folded neatly. We were crucified that Friday, Christ and his creation, and the veil of the temple tore in two, the curtain lifting between Man and God. Since that historic day, 2,021 years ago, our chancels and altars are open to the faithful, the partition gone, the Holy of Holies no longer hidden, the sacrament housed in a tabernacle on an altar aflame with candles and bedecked with roses. Since that day we are able to see better, to pierce the veil between Heaven and Earth.

ven_3-venice2006

In Western Christianity, we take this openness, this vision, for granted. The Eastern Orthodox have retained the partition, as a wall of gleaming icons. I recall visiting the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice, today Roman Catholic, but retaining the Eastern iconostasis, the wall of icons. We could not see the action of the Mass, for the chancel was walled off from the congregation. We peered through a central open doorway to mysterious movement beyond. We could see and hear choirs high above on either side, not hidden by the iconostasis. The liturgy seemed to separate us from God, as though we were observers, tourists (which we were), visiting a hidden, private Holy One. It was more of a performance, and indeed, the music soared through the five gilded vaults, ethereal light glancing off the mosaic-tiled walls like fluttering angel wings.

There are as many ways of worship, I suppose, as there are believers, another wonder-full miraculous mystery. And so we gather together with those of similar aesthetic sense and, in some cases, similar theology. We gather to sing praises and partake of the body and blood of the Crucified One, today resurrected and ascended, each one accepting the invitation to the wedding feast, wearing our best garments, honoring Host and Creator. As members of the Church, his body, we are also his bride, and this is our wedding feast too. We are glad to be invited and we are happy to sit anywhere at his table and glimpse any or all of his glory. And so the Body of Christ over all Earth and possibly beyond is made up of unique individuals, yet who are claim membership in the Family of God.

FamilyIndividuals being part of a group is an American foundation. America was founded on Judeo-Christian assumptions, this anachronistic teetering between individuals and groups, between freedom and common rule. She is built upon Christian precepts. The question today is whether the precepts, this delicate and vital balance between tribe and member, tribe and nation, can effect a peaceful society without Judeo-Christian belief. Put another way, can freedom and common consent survive without assent to outside authority, i.e. in this case, the Judeo-Christian God? Can human dignity and the sanctity of human life be protected without belief in the Creator?

The answer is not known, but many fear that the answer is “no.” Still, we work through the maze of these months and years, watching and praying as we are told to do, holding fast to love, to freedom, to faith, and to family.

IMG_3395 (7)We are Christians. We live on the rim of Earth, the edge of Eternity, the horizon of the heart of God. Each second, minute, hour, day, is a mystifying gift, an invitation from Christ to the festival of life. In the mean-time, we the Church wait for Christ’s next great gift, the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Today we ascend from Earth to Heaven with Our Lord. Next Sunday the Holy Spirit descends from Heaven to Earth to seize our hearts and minds with his fire.

We have been given so much, such treasure, such bounty, such joy. Our cups overflow with goodness and mercy and we live in the House of the Lord forever, now and in Eternity, on Earth and in Heaven.

May Journal, Rogation Sunday, Fifth Sunday after Easter

prayerRogation means asking and Rogation Sunday was traditionally a time when folks asked for God to bless their harvest. The seeds were in the ground and sprouting. By the end of summer, crops would be ripe for harvesting. So too, a mother gives birth to life at the end of a time of protected gestation, pregnancy, within her body, fed by her blood. So we ask God’s blessing on mothers today, an especially poignant timing, a time when Rogation coincides with Mother’s Day. 

Mothers sometimes do not want their children, sometimes kill the baby in the womb. Mothers are not always good, but those who accept this great gift, the chance to nurture life, are especially blessed. Like all of God’s gifts, children can be challenges. But also, like all of God’s gifts, children can be a great joy.

We celebrate today the mothers who said yes to God’s gift of life, just as Our Lady the Virgin Mary said yes to Angel Gabriel with her fiat, “Be it unto me according to your word.” In our frail humanity, we look to Mary to see how to mother, how to love, how to nurture, how to guide the glorious flowering of a child into an adult. It is a delicate balance, freedom and righteousness, freedom and boundaries, freedom and duty.

We celebrate all mothers who rise to the challenge, who say yes to God. For those who say no to new life, we pray they repent and embrace the joy of this gift.

There are mothers who say yes and mothers who say no. But there are also those who mother children not their own, children who become theirs. We see this especially in the life of the parish where all women are called to be mothers to all children and all men are called to be fathers.

In January 1977 I was a single parent with a four-year old son, a rambunctious towhead holding onto my skirts and peering around them in both fear and fascination with his world. We arrived on the steps of St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Oakland, California and ventured inside. The beauty, the incense, the candles, the chants, the joyous hymns all called me to stay and we did. Over the years the women of the parish mothered my son and the men mentored him. I shall always recall those times, times of great difficulty, yet times of great love, love born in this parish. My son grew up to become a fine father to his own son and daughter, and now it was my turn to mother the children that arrived on the steps of the church. I taught Sunday School, some of the most delightful moments of my life.

And so I sing praises to mothers who mother everywhere in all times and seasons.

Views_of_a_Foetus_in_the_Womb_detailAnd we ask for God’s blessing on the crops, on the seeds and the newborn, those who were chosen and given life. We ask that God forgive our nation and its great apostasy in the killing of the unborn, the seed denied a chance to mature and live. It is a great evil, a great lie, that this is somehow freedom. For such denial of life is slavery, slavery to self, slavery to desire.

We ask God to turn our hearts and minds to honor mothers and those who mother. We ask God to save our country from this infant genocide. We beseech Our Lady, so full of grace, so blessed among women, so blessed to bear the fruit of her womb, Jesus: Dear Holy Mother, pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Pray for us, Holy Mother of God, that we may be worthy of the promises of Christ, worthy of Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost.

Rogation Sunday marks the final days of Eastertide, culminated in Christ’s Ascension this Thursday. The next three days are traditionally days of fasting and prayer, and we offer all in the name of life. For Easter is the gift of eternal life, the gift of God the Son and his conquering death to give us life. We pray through these days, the culmination of fifty days, arriving at Christ’s Ascension to Heaven. He tells the disciples that He must go to the Father so that they may receive the Holy Spirit, the third person of God, on Pentecost, ten days after the Ascension.

AscensionGiotto.Scrovegni Chapel Padua 1304

Ascension by Giotto, the Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy, 1304

It is such a rich, colorful time, these days of greenness and growth, these days of planting and prayer, these days of soaring under a sun lengthening the days, lightening our lives, these days of Mary’s month of May.

For the mystery of Christ is the mystery of God’s immense love for us. The mystery of the Holy Trinity, the three persons of God, is the mystery of God’s great bounty and his plan for each of us. In God the Father, He creates us and gives us life; in God the Son, He walks among us and shares his life with ours, dying and rising, so we can live with him now and forever; in God the Spirit, He enters our hearts and souls and minds, molding, nurturing, inspiring, leading. In all of these persons of God, we see an intelligence and a love beyond measure.

And so we pray our praises and our thanksgivings for the gift of life itself, and for all those mothers who mother.

May Journal, Fourth Sunday after Easter

Mount_Diablo_from_Quarry_Hill_in_Shell_Ridge_Open_Space

It is as though the natural world were waking to spring, after a long slumber. The oaks are full and rustling in the breeze outside my window. It is as though they were saying “shush…” slowly and sleepily, listening to the breath of life blowing over the land. The branches dance and wave gently, their leaves absorbing the sun, raised open to the light. 

The world is waking up.

So too, we humans sense the change. We yearn for the light, for something greater than we are, for the good, the true, and the beautiful.

We are told to watch and wait for the second coming of Christ. Is it soon? The disorder in the world cries for order, for a loving order, one which frees us to fly. But the wars and the rumors of wars, the false prophets, the flippant lies told without care – all these things point to Christ’s coming. In our lifetimes? Perhaps. Perhaps not. We do not know and perhaps it is best we do not know but must be ready.

The borders of our nation are porous and illegals and the unvetted pour in. Prisoners convicted of violent crimes roam and threaten California communities. The borders of our lives, of our safety, are no longer holding.

Our children are taught to hate our country, to welcome its destruction, to agree silently to the silencers, to be afraid to be free, to speak.

And yet the breeze of life blows over our land. Parents organize. Truth-tellers publish. Freedom, so fragile, catches its breath in fits and starts as we the people awake to our imprisonment.

Pastors and priests preach truth once again, bolstering flocks with Christ. They feed souls with Scripture, Sacraments, and creeds. They heal minds with meaning, with the whys and wherefores, building strong arks of peace in our souls before the floodwaters rise.

And so, as we tuned into our virtual liturgies in Illinois (1), Arizona (1), and California (4), we were flooded by God, by his power, by His voice, by the song He sings to us.

We sang our thanksgivings for life itself, for the natural world awake around us, the planet that spins in a galaxy finetuned second by second to nurture and keep us safe. We marveled at the stunning nature of nature, its infinite complexity. We plunged into the sea of understanding that gives order to our daily crises. We were called to recall who we were, are, and ever shall be, uniquely loved by our Creator, individually and as a living part of Christ’s Body.

For a few hours this fourth Sunday in Eastertide, we considered the words of St. James: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” We learn that God made us by speaking a word upon the cosmos. We hear that we trust this Creator who is our Father and who is light, who is ever faithful in His care for us. We see that we are to “receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.”

Michelangelo Creation

It is all true, we think. It is truly true, that as members of the Body of Christ we are part of His vine, His taproot into life. We grow in this life eternal as the word is grafted onto us. We must be meek to receive; we must repent; we must love. We must listen to our holy ones who are true and good and be deaf to the unholy who are false and evil. The engrafted word in Scripture and Sacraments enlivens us to face the roaring lions eager to devour.

We wake to this Spirit that moves among and within us. There will always be troubles in the world, always be plague and heartache. We are the blessed ones, to understand what it all means, to choose a path through a forest of danger and doubt. The Lord is our Shepherd. We fear no evil. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

We sang with all our hearts the recessional hymn in the Berkeley chapel:

Praise, my soul, the King of heaven;

To his feet thy tribute bring;

Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,

Evermore is praises sing: 

Alleluia! Alleluia! 

Praise the everlasting King.

Praise him for his grace and favor

To our fathers in distress;

Praise him still the same as ever,

Slow to chide, and swift to bless:

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Glorious in his faithfulness

Father-like he tends and spares us;

Well our feeble frame he knows;

In his hand he gently bears us,

Rescues us from all our foes.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Widely yet his mercy flows.

Angels, help us to adore him;

Ye behold him face to face;

Sun and moon, bow down before him, 

Dwellers all in time and space.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

Praise with us the God of grace!

(H.F. Lyte, 1834, based on Psalm 103)

April Journal, Feast of St. Mark, Third Sunday after Easter

AMERICAN FLAGIt seems at times, that time stands still, in this weary world of Chinese Flu, extreme lockdowns, and punishing masks. For children, the costs are horrific and ongoing here in California. For young adults, suicides are on the rise. For the rest of us, fear hovers and shades our every move, every social gathering, every event. We wonder if freedom is bound and captive, if speech is silenced, if elections are rigged, if justice is bribed or threatened, if truth is honored, if reality is real. We wonder if America is imploding, if churches will go underground.

And so I approach Sundays with gladness, being reminded that the illusions of our current state are just that: illusions. We the people need not fear. We the people will gather in real time and real space to once again worship God, boldly and mask-free, our faces open and loving and praising Him. Freedom is not yet bound by ties of tyranny, but as free flying as we desire. Speech is spoken to those who listen, who have ears and who hear. Elections are not always rigged, and we still have the power to ensure they are not. Justice is not always bribed, and we can make sure that justice is blind not bribed, blind to favor, blind to threats, blind to extortion and mob rule.

We the people must awake from our deep slumber. We must listen and learn and love. We must protect our peace, our communities, our children, from the violent hordes who believe the lies.

APCK Logo newToday, Sunday, was especially blessed, and I was made especially glad. For from the dark jungle of the week’s rioting and untruths, I entered a space of peace and truth.

And even better, a space of hope for the future.

For this last week was our Anglican Synod, a yearly gathering that met in real space and real time. While I wasn’t able to attend, I learned much was accomplished and much celebrated. Two deacons were accepted for the next phase of their calling, the priesthood. A priest was consecrated bishop. Our faithful and steady Anglican Province of Christ the King is stronger than it was last month – stronger in faith, discipline, and vision. They are unmasked.

And today we heard the Gospel appointed for the Feast of St. Mark. Jesus the Christ says, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” (John 15:5-6) Mark traveled with Peter and wrote his Gospel account based on Peter’s witness. He was a branch sprouting from the vine, a branch from which we descend. We tap into the same source of life as the first apostles.

imagesKnowing that we are a part of the Body of Christ, branches of the vine going back two thousand years and living today, gives us hope that we need not carry the world upon our shoulders. And yet, if we do not abide in Christ, if we are not a branch of His Vine, manifested in the Church, we will not bear fruit and we will be lost.

One of the preachers I heard this morning in our virtual liturgies said that in this world of threatening events, we need to remember that we are Christians first and citizens second. While we render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, we must uphold our Christian faith first and judge accordingly. Should the two come in conflict, our faith must direct our actions. For we are branches of the True Vine and can only bear fruit if we remain so. 

Recently I read a good summary of Critical Race Theory and the horrors this movement is inflicting upon our children through education at all levels. This Neo-Marxism, developed in the 1990’s, has produced its own branches over the last decades: “social justice,” intersectionality, identity politics, cancel culture, speech silencing, erasure of history, and white guilt, to name a few. These narratives inflame and divide and are based on lies. They cut off many well-meaning Christians from the True Vine. They deaden souls. Division, chaos, and anarchy result, all satanic deceptions.

It is encouraging that parents are now protesting this K-12 propaganda. We are called to tell the truth and to support those who are brave enough to tell it as well.

And so we pray and we praise and we read our Scripture. We open our eyes and our ears and bear fruit for Our Lord.  We call upon Him to lead us in all truth, in all love, with His vision in our hearts and souls, always remembering we are branches of His vine. He is our life. We need only look to Him first in all things.

April Journal, Second Sunday after Easter

Windsor choirAs American democracy stumbles into the second year of fear and pandemic, we look to stable and true leaders. Thus, Prince Philip’s death has sounded a mournful note in the hearts of many.

Seeing the Queen sitting alone in the choir of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, masked and dressed in black, brought home the tragedy. 

Philip lived a long life of duty as the Royal Consort to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Duty is out of fashion today. Someone once said that duty is the discipline of love. Love is not free, freewheeling, or freefalling. Love must be molded by sacrifice and care-full attention to the beloved. Love demands discipline; love demands duty.

I have read that Philip was outspoken. So in his duty and obedience to Elizabeth he did not give up his opinions, his integrity. Within the framework of his position and duties to the people of England and the Commonwealth (and there were many such claims upon him) he grew strong in his own person.

He was a man of faith, we are told. He could do broad Church or high Church Anglican, but the one he preferred was short Church, according to the Bishop Chartres. (Most of us can identify with such a preference.) And so his funeral was a simple one by royal standards, designed by him and subject to those fearful Coronavirus restrictions. He was true to himself in death and life. He was trustworthy.

I have found that being able to trust a person, to rely that they are truthful and supportive and dedicated to the right action, means a great deal. Truth, like duty, has been downgraded today, and undervalued in both public and private spheres. This is a national and international tragedy. For without trust and truth, we are blind.

APCK Logo newAnd so as I tuned in to our virtual Eucharistic liturgies this morning in our Anglican Province of Christ the King, I thought of Philip and England and the Anglican Church. I thought of the Queen sitting alone in that massive choir in the chancel of St. George’s, waiting, sitting in mahogany stalls lined with white lanterns in the gothic abbey style. I thought of her strength in the face of so many heartbreaks and challenges. And I gave thanks for the pageantry and ceremony her reign ensured and continues to ensure, an ordered beauty of holiness that has been passed down through the centuries, ever since Thomas Cranmer produced our Anglican Book of Common Prayer.

For it is this tradition of ancient liturgy that we as Anglicans in America embrace, an ordered beauty of holiness expressing the inexpressible: the being of God, the love of God, His nature, His sacrifice, His offering Himself to us. 

Christ the Good ShepherdAnd today, Good Shepherd Sunday, we heard the powerful Gospel of Saint John, quoting Christ Jesus. Our Lord tells us that He is the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep. He knows us, and we know His voice. He protects us from wolves who scatter us. One day, Our Lord promises, there shall be one flock and one Shepherd, for all those who know His voice will be brought into his fold.

It is good to be strengthened by these words in this time of scattering, sheltering, masking, and fear of one another, distancing ourselves. Hearing these words spoken by different readers before different altars molded these truths into my heart and soul.

And while the image of Christ the Good Shepherd is strengthening and comforting, one of our preachers extended the image by saying we must all take on this nature of Christ. We must become shepherds too, bringing in lost sheep to the fold of the Church. We sometimes treat our fellow faithful as a social club or even unwittingly a burial society, closed and close and comfortable. We must be like the Good Shepherd and look out for the lost and suffering, healing them with the words and liturgies of God made Man, in His Church.

How do we do this? We love our fellow man, in exercise of duty. We tell the truth, we sing the truth, and we hold the truth high for all to see. We are not ashamed of who we are. We do not remain silent in the midst of tyranny and lies. We mentor the next generations. We turn no one away.

We practice the ten commandments, the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and learn how to do this in weekly, if not daily, reading of Scripture, and with our own Baptisms and Confirmations and Eucharists in the Body of Christ, the Church.

IMG_1326 (5)Our Diocese of the Western States, Anglican Province of Christ the King, will be consecrating a new bishop this week. Bishops carry a crook, or staff, for they are shepherds, looking to bring in the lost, to teach the saved, to be pastors and priests to the clergy in their charge. They watch for wolves who devour and divide. They tell the truth about man and God, about who we are and who we are meant to be. They comfort us with historic, witnessed, creeds and doctrine. They give us opportunities to be shepherds. They teach us how to love as Christ Jesus loves.

And so, Prince Philip was laid to rest. Well done, good and faithful servant. The world will miss you and all that you quietly did and humbly were. Rest in peace until the trumpet sounds and we all shall rise again.

April Journal, First Sunday after Easter


Fish Out of Water CoverI recently read a remarkable memoir, Fish Out of Water, by Eric Metaxas. It is told in an informal conversational style, full of anecdotes of his growing up in the Greek Orthodox community in Danbury, Connecticut. One of the threads or themes particularly resonated with me.

His church life as a boy did not claim his love, did not call him to believe. When he does experience God, it is an answer to a yearning not fulfilled. Through a series of miraculous events, he finds his way as an adult to the evangelical stream of Christianity in America, for it is being born again that recreates him and claims him as one of Christ’s own. His joy in these pages is nearly tangible.

It often happens that established, successful churches dull our belief with their familiarity and routine, and we have to leave our childhood church and return to a different stream of Christianity. Probably like many things we do, ritual can become hollow and automated. Prayer can become words memorized and unfelt or even unheard. And yet ritual and prayer, when cultivated in love and adoration in the worship of God, add richness and beauty to a sacred conversation.

I was raised in the Presbyterian church. At some point in the 1960’s as a young adult I lost my faith, but returned as an Anglican, having been won back by the apologetic reasoning in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I was luckier or more blessed than many in that my time in the agnostic/atheistic desert (essentially my college years) was short, and God found me and claimed me again. I do recall those years, however, as painful ones, full of sadness and confusion, for life had no meaning without God.

God was everything, and I had lost him. But he had not lost me.

And with my return to the Church and to life in Christ, I returned to moral law and peaceful order. For only with an objective and true authority can we know what is right and what is wrong. This is the righteousness of God’s rule in our world and the universe, a righteousness we cannot own without the Resurrection. This righteousness I wrote about in my recent post at American Christian Fiction Writers, “Resurrecting Righteousness,” how Christian storytellers are called to remind their readers and the world that there is a better way, a righteous way, a way ordained by God, for us to live with one another.

ResurrectionChrist_Behind_Locked_DoorsWith these thoughts running through my memory of the week, this morning’s Gospel sounded a sweet note. For as the resurrected Christ appears to the fearful disciples, he says, “Peace be with you.” This phrase is repeated throughout our eucharistic liturgy. In some Roman Catholic parishes the peace is passed one to another in the pew, with a handshake or a nod (maybe not presently with the pandemic). These words remind us of the great reward of being claimed by Christ and of our claiming Christ: peace.

And how we need more peace today. Perhaps our time is no different than any, but peace seems particularly illusory. We fear to speak or we will be demonized or cancelled by those who disagree. We fear rampant crime as police are defunded and defamed. We lock ourselves in our homes, fearful of virus, but also riots and revolutions.

Peace. I recall in the 1960’s folksongs with their call for peace, not war. They thought peace would come if we did not defend America in war; peace would come if drugs were plentiful and morality was ignored in the name of free love.

They were wrong. For it was a devil’s bargain, an illusion. Peace comes from righteousness, from heartfelt trying to act right, from admitting wrongs, from experiencing God’s will in our lives. Peace comes from the loving authority of our Creator, as found in Scriptures and the Church. Peace comes from Christ breathing upon us in our baptisms and our eucharists and our evening prayers.

Holy_TrinityThe Epistle lesson today was almost harsh. St. John writes, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”

I have found that truth, if it is truly true, makes sense. One strand weaves into another to make a perfectly woven tapestry. This morning it happened again. Mr. Metaxas’ account of God speaking to him in dreams and through people and events, in miracles, bringing him home again, upheld and verified the righteousness of God, his goodness, his personal intentions for each of us in his moral universe. And this morning we received God’s peace, the result of rebirth and righteousness.

And so we pray that we all are reborn, again and again, redeemed again and again, returned to Our Lord to be remade, again and again. We pray that we know the peace that passeth all understanding.

And we pray for our country, that America once again be a land of peace, a land of rebirth, and a land of righteousness, that America will return to God.