October Journal in a Pandemic Year, Feast of St. Luke, Trinity 19

img_4645I’ve spent a good deal of time this year sheltering with my icons.

Saints, Apostles, Holy Events, Our Lord Jesus, the Holy Family, the Holy Trinity, all cover my walls in my home office, a veritable cloud of witnesses to the love of God.

And when I sing the Gloria in Excelsis Deo and the Creed, even the Our Father, along with my virtual chapel congregations during a Sunday Holy Liturgy, I let my eye rest on these golden images. They comfort, strengthen, enable. They pull me into their stories as I sing the words of the stories.

For that is what the Creator does, he shines golden light on his Creation, making each of us shine too, shining light in turn on others and other created matter.

RESOURCE_TemplateLike my hermit on Angel Mountain, I am called through these doors into another world, a more real world, one that makes the ordinary world of matter more real too. Unlike the wraiths from Hell in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, where they find upon their visit to Heaven they cannot walk on the too real grass with their flimsy see-through spirits. They have not been made real enough to partake of this greater reality. As I recall, the blades of grass are like knife blades, hurting the feet of these flimsy creatures.

The Great Divorce CoverDo we want to experience life more fully, see colors more vividly, love with greater selflessness? We can if we become Christians and allow God to remold our souls, and often, bodies.

Our journey to Heaven as we travel through Earthly time, heading for Eternity, is a journey that prepares us for this greater Reality. We are weak and frail, but Christ feeds us and strengthens us.

LUKEToday is St. Luke’s Day, and we recall and celebrate the evangelist who wrote the third Gospel. We heard about him today in our virtual sermons, but what I think of most of the time in regards to Luke is the Christmas narrative in Chapter 2. It is said that Luke received the account from Mary herself, and that he painted her image several times.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed…” Christmas after Christmas, the children lined up in the narthex of our local parish, dressed in robes and sandals and head scarves, carrying stuffed lambs, arranging glittery sashes over white smocks with matching halo crowns. They would process up the aisle to the chancel in their turn, first the prophets prophesying, then Mary and Joseph journeying to Bethlehem, then lo and behold, a child is born and placed in the straw manger basket. Angels enter, carrying a giant bright star that leads shepherds and kings to the stable-cave.

In our tradition we use the classic King James translation, and the narrators speak the words to the congregation with great joy and reverence as though offering words of gold, poetic beauties, on this cold Sunday, days after the winter solstice. And all the while, the congregation sings well known carols, welcoming the little players in this giant pageant.

And so I am fond of Luke who traveled with Paul, preaching the Gospel, as described in his book, Acts of the Apostles.


Tradition holds that Luke painted an icon of Mary holding her Holy Child, and of the three images surviving, one is in the Basilica of Mary Maggiore in Rome. We have visited often. There is a side chapel in the transept, home to this image which rests high above the altar. The great Marian shrine is one of the historic pilgrimage churches, and when we entered the giant space, we often heard singing coming from this side chapel. We would follow the song – usually an Ave Maria as well as other tunes – stepping silently up the central aisle, turning left at the transept and peering into the side img_4647chapel, full of pilgrims. We would enter, kneel in the back, and say a silent prayer of thanksgiving. The pilgrims were most often from other countries, and often from America, school children and choirs that have laced their Rome journey with a necklace of spontaneous song. It was a great privilege to experience this again and again.

There is a second image that Luke painted that is said to be in Bologna, and I believe a third in Constantinople (Istanbul), said to have been lost. The one in Bologna is in its own shrine outside the city on a hill, and I recall a colonnaded walkway that connected the shrine and the city. Each year a procession formed and winded its way to the shrine, singing. We were never able to be part of this, but the image is encouraging and lingers in my memory.

One of our preachers this morning said that St. Luke is credited with painting the Our Lady of Vladimir image of Mary as well as the Black Madonna of Czestochowa.

So Luke is artist and author, one that sought to celebrate this great intersection of time and eternity.

prayerThe Church has been given a magnificent patrimony in both faith and art, gifts that make reality more real. For by expanding our sight into another dimension, through words and image, we become closer reflections of the Divine. We are made in the image of God – every one of us. And we are pulled into this Divine Image by our own creation, by partaking of the sacraments, by breathing the Holy Spirit into our lungs as we breathe the name of Jesus, by sharing with others made in His image how beautiful each person is.

candleWe are in a time of great national peril, a time when these gifts may be threatened, a time when we may have to celebrate our Lord of Eternity in a hidden chapel tomb as the first Christians did. I hope and pray this is not the case. Today is a time to speak and to warn, to fall on our knees before God in chapel or procession, virtual or physical, and pray for our country and the Western tradition that guards its faith and freedoms.

We must not be muzzled by masks – by lies masked as truth, by hate masked as love. St. Luke wrote and painted and encouraged the telling of this great good news, nothing less than the story of our redemption. Thank you, St. Luke.

October Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 18

I am pleased to report that I am on page 663 (of 980 pages) of Andrew Roberts’ excellent doorstopper, Churchill: Walking with Destiny. While the details of World War II (battles, etc.) are more difficult for me to follow, the personalities and how they interacted at the time to literally save Western Civilization has been fascinating: Winston Churchill above all, but many others as well.

Thinking about history, the question is often asked, “How do we know what is true, and what isn’t?” or “How do we study/write history?” “What are primary and secondary sources?” “What authorities make this true?” And Pilate’s famous one, “What is truth?”

I asked and considered these questions in several of my novels, in particular, The Magdalene Mystery, which searches for the narratives surrounding Mary Magdalen, and tries to discern the truth, if there is one. How historians have “done” history over the last century is a part of the equation, for methods have changed considerably. New Testament history – the Gospel accounts of Mary Magdalene and what she saw and didn’t see at Christ’s tomb on that first Easter morning – have been questioned. And yet, as I researched how we know what we know, the more I understood how these accounts were written and read and copied over the centuries to become our testament of redemption. And yet the naysayers, the destroyers of objective truth, won over public opinion and destroyed our people’s faith in the salvific acts of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago.

In truth, some modern intellectuals, particularly on the Left, consider truth an impossibility and at best a subjective opinion. Again, the history of history and historians is also a subject of The Magdalene Mystery. For it is remarkable how truth is considered dead, along, I suppose, with faith.

I still believe in objective truth. Granted each person sees it slightly differently, but we should all seek it fully and not be afraid of discovering it to the best of our knowledge at that moment in time. Hence, the choice of go-to authorities is important for the average person, since most of us cannot be authorities on everything.

Facts and fictions are tossed about today in a media circus of entertainment. We as readers and viewers have been reduced to observers in the stands, wondering if it is worth voting for anything or anybody. We fear speaking out or questioning, so that only one side controls the conversation. In the case of speech in our world today, might makes right, not democratic or constitutional.

And so as I read about Winston Churchill, and his many heroic deeds, I am supremely grateful to Andrew Roberts. Mr. Roberts’ words ring true. He shows where Churchill goes astray, misses the mark, creates the wrong impression, is, in fact, human and full of foibles. But he also shows how this man, with all his faults, was a man walking fearlessly with his destiny. He stood alone most of the time, always seeking how he could save Britain, and by saving Britain, save the United States and the free world.

I am currently reading about early 1941 and, having researched the invasion of Greece by Italy and Germany as backstory to a character in Angel Mountain, I recognize overlapping moments in my memory where truth resides. The Nazi invasion of Crete in the spring, where my Elizabeth Levin (6) with her little brother (2) were hiding with their families in the mountains, was a moment I describe in the novel. The character of Elizabeth is based on a true account (I heartily recommend), a memoir by Yolanda Avram Willis, A Hidden Child in Greece, Rescue in the Holocaust.

At the time, the Nazi landing on the beaches of Crete was considered a great defeat for the Allies, but it turned out to be a great victory, for it delayed the invasion of Russia for six weeks, just enough time for a particularly cold winter to set in, one that spelled victory for the Allies.

And so today, in the midst of many warring factions in the West, we see history torn down, erased, cancelled. Truth is said to be lies and lies said to be truth. The past is weaponized, and we are left in a dangerous void of meaning. We must pray for discernment, for totalitarian regimes are fond of erasing history. This we know from history, and there are a few of us left who studied history. He who controls the “narrative”, the past, controls the present and the future, according to Communist dictators. Many have written eyewitness accounts of this, and the mass killings that ensue, should anyone be left to read a true account. An excellent account of the Communist gulags and the suppression of truth can be found in the works by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Even so, we still have reliable authorities, those who tell true history. And as we celebrate Columbus Day tomorrow, it is good to seek authorities that tell true American history. I found one such article in the Epoch Times, a paper I trust, which I am looking forward to reading in celebration of America’s discovery.

We still have libraries and books and pages to be turned, words to be read. We still have heroes and saints and sages. This may be our time, our world, our destiny. This may be the time in which we are called to tell the truth and to walk with those who seek it.

The Inspiration of Christopher Columbus by José María Obregón, 1856

October Journal in a Pandemic Year, Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the beggar who traveled the roads of Italy, preaching and healing, who kissed a leper on his face. He was both humble and joyous, and he understood he must be pierced by the love of God in the flesh to fully love. He died at age forty-two, nearly blind, and bleeding from the wounds of Christ, the “stigmata” received on the mountain called La Verna. He is a saint of the flesh, of the body, of God’s immense love.

I have come to appreciate the human face and its remarkable ability to communicate. While noses are for breathing (definitely a good and essential part of the face), mouths are for speaking, and for subtle expressions that I have taken for granted over the years.

Because now I can’t see them, masked as they are. Mouths are essential as well, but since they expel and inhale dangerous viral globules, they risk spreading and receiving infection. Sneezing and coughing are discouraged, although I had thought they were always discouraged. Good to be reminded, I suppose, not to sneeze or cough on anyone.

I confess that I have always hated telephones. Hearing a person’s voice to me is not enough. I hold the instrument to my ear or tap the speakerphone, and I try to fathom what the face at the other end of the line, the other side of the Cloud, is trying to tell me. And of course this can be remedied by Skype or FaceTime or Zoom, I do realize.

I visited some family members not part of my “pod” yesterday and left greatly disturbed by the necessary masks. This time it wasn’t that I couldn’t breathe (which is true, I tend to panic) since they were kind enough to allow me not to wear my mask, and we were “distancing”, and I am healthy in spite of being over seventy and deemed by the powers that be to be vulnerable. This time my disturbance was over having to speak to eyes looking at me over the mask. It was surreal, as if they weren’t there, but not quite.

I heard their vocal expressions and nuances and laughter and I could see their eyes crinkle and widen and smile oddly. But I left their home frustrated, feeling I had been robbed of something essential to my well-being, my communication face-to-face. I had been robbed of something intrinsically human, and also, I am beginning to think, divinely ordained to express love. I longed to really see them as our Creator intended, and I couldn’t really see them.

My recent ACFW blog post speaks a bit about this, the uses of the face, the need for Christian writers to reflect God’s face in their writing. I’m glad God doesn’t wear a mask, but breathes his Holy Spirit here among us, stirring us up with joy. And we have God the Son too, a face replicated by icons through the centuries, a face we have come to pray to, a face that is full of love and concern, if perhaps sometimes demanding and stern, as is proper in a well-ordered creation, a created order that loves one another.

And in spite of all the furor over mask-wearing, there has been (as of this writing) no evidence that the practice makes any difference, except that it curtails those who might sneeze upon you or cough upon you, in which case you have made the foolish decision (or loving decision) to be too close to a very ill-mannered person, and might need to think that through in future choices you make, at least if you are deemed vulnerable by the powers that be.

One way or another, the State has taken away our responsibility for our behavior, our ability to choose to love on our own, to make the decision to stay home if we are sick, or to sneeze or cough our globules into a sleeve (as we used to do).

In our faith tradition, in our liturgy and afterwards, we have many moments when we are close to one another, sharing the Eucharistic cup, eating of the Eucharistic bread, kneeling side by side before the tabernacle. In the past we would shake hands, hug, touch a shoulder in tenderness, encouragement, or sympathy. When I had a cough, a didn’t cough on others. If I was sick, I stayed home. Now I’m always home, by decree.

I hope we can return to normalcy, to loving one another again, but I’m not sure about that in California. We shall see. Many are fleeing the state and for many reasons. Government control over faces might be a breaking point at some time. It’s just about my breaking point (and I worry about the children in this world of separation, this world of isolation and unlove).

But, then again, there is today’s Epistle, Paul’s call for “lowliness and meekness and long-suffering in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace—one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:1+). Paul calls himself “the prisoner of the Lord.” So I shall embrace my facelessness as best I can, in increased humility and most of all in love, and become a “prisoner of the Lord” too.

At least among Christians, there is only one body, the Body of Christ, the Church, as one of our preachers said this morning. In this painful separation from one another, and the fueled divisions of our politics of hate, this is Good News. We are not separate from one another. We are not faceless. We are one body, His Body. Until the New Heaven and Earth. Until we see Our Lord face-to-face, with our redeemed faces.

And just as described in my recent novel, Angel Mountain, we will sing with all our might, one of the hymns that our Berkeley chapel chose for today, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty,” based on Revelation’s song of the angels. We will sing with the angels and the saints and all those who have gone before us, those who have died during this pandemic, those who have died before this pandemic, all those family and friends we long to see once again. We will sing with St. Francis.

For we will see their redeemed faces, full of Christ’s glory. And we too will be redeemed, full of Christ’s glory.

“The Face of God”, ACFW Blog Post Published Today

I’m pleased to announce that American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) published my post today, “The Face of God”, considering how Christian novelists are called to transfigure Earth with Heaven. Thank you ACFW!




September Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 16

“How few men are strong enough to stand against the prevailing currents of opinion!”

Churchill, London to Ladysmith via Pretoria

“Let us free the world from the approach of a catastrophe, carrying with it calamity and tribulation, beyond the tongue of man to tell.”

Churchill, House of Commons, April 1936 (1)

The above quotes reminded me of our president. Indeed, and often surprisingly, many of Winston Churchill’s words remind me of the other social outcast and truth-teller of our times, our president.

The times are troubling: anarchy, looting, burning, and tearing down of not only our communities but our history as a people, a free people, and a people who not only free others, but cherish freedom and die for freedom worldwide.

I’ve been reading Andrew Roberts’ Churchill: Walking with Destiny. I was familiar with the 1930’s appeasement movement, the many voices of power in Britain who thought that Hitler would be friendly if Britain was friendly. It is a natural temptation of a goodhearted, good people, to trust others, and to blame themselves for others tyranny (the bully in the schoolyard who stole my lunch must have done so because of something I said or did).

While a natural temptation and a natural good as well, the desire to appease, or to make peace at any cost, isn’t always the wisest plan in the real and fallen world of bullies, whether on the schoolyard or in foreign countries or in our own cities—Seattle, Portland, New York, or Louisville. Real bullies only understand a return of force, unfortunately and tragically for those of us who desire peace and tranquility. History shows us this, and those who study history know this. But alas, our public schools, grade school through college, have not taught true history. It will be up to us to remind those who did not study our past, how the past informs our present. The 1930’s appeasement of Hitler nearly allowed an evil tyrant to take over Europe. He would not have stopped there, but would have taken America’s eastern ports, launching into our own homeland his campaign of terror.

Today, it will be up to us to stand against “the prevailing currents of opinion” decreed by major media outlets. It will be up to us to stand against bullies, mob rule, and cancel culture. The alternative is to  forfeit the public peace needed for freedom to thrive. A conundrum, and not for the faint of heart.

On the other hand, all we really need to do is cast our vote, and love and respect one another.

It is curious that Winston Churchill did not describe himself as a Christian. He was a nominal Anglican and believed in the values of the Western world, indeed the British Empire: respect for the individual, freedom, rule of law and fair justice, representative government, the culture of arts and the growth of science that could only be nurtured in this relatively peaceful social order. 

He didn’t seem to realize that his Western values were Judeo-Christian, and that without the belief in a higher authority, a God of love, it was questionable if such a society could survive. But he counted on society to believe, something we cannot trust today. We shall see. We may have used up any moral capital left on the shores by the receding tide of faith, or perhaps these values will be replenished by folks that hold these truths to be self-evident without believing in God. One can only pray that this is so.

If not, we need to evangelize as we have never evangelized before, just like my Hermit Abram in Angel Mountain. We must preach the gospel of our God of love, our God of human dignity, our God of equality under the law, our God of personal freedom and personal responsibility. Only within this creed can we preach the Ten Commandments and stop those who steal and murder and destroy.

The Epistle today was one of the great Pauline readings, one that always comforts me and fills me with hope, for Paul lived in a tyrannical and terrible time as well. Paul would understand being at odds with the prevailing opinions. He writes to the Ephesians:

The Epistle. Ephesians iii. 13.

“I DESIRE that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 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 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.” (Italics mine.) (1928 Book of Common Prayer, 212)

We must be rooted and grounded in love so that we can comprehend the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ. We must see clearly and do the best we can for our nation, to free the world from approaching catastrophe.

We must not appease the bullies for the sake of peace. We will only invite more bullying.

And we might heed the words of Winston Churchill, a lone voice in the wilderness of appeasement:

“The whole history of the world is summed up in the fact that when nations are strong they are not always just, and when they wish to be just they are often no longer strong…” 

Winston Churchill in a speech to the House of Commons, 1936 (2)

(1) Roberts, Andrew. Churchill, Walking with Destiny (Viking, 2018), 397.

(2) Ibid, 399.

September Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 15

Our beloved cat, Laddie, died early Friday evening, when my husband and I made the difficult decision to have him put to sleep after he suffered a major seizure. He was over sixteen years old, from a shelter run by Tony La Russa in Walnut Creek (Animal Rescue Foundation), born in March 2004. They had named him Stojakovic after the Serbian basketball player. We changed his name to Laddie. We found him there as a kitten, a tough and tiny red tabby.

He had a good life, we keep telling ourselves. We were not allowed to be with him when he died, due to the pandemic, and the local animal hospital’s pandemic rules. We would have to wait in the car outside. And so we did. The vet was most helpful, all things considered, and spoke with us by phone as she examined Laddie, and then gave him a large dose of anesthetic.

And so we grieve. Given the lockdown-sheltering for over six months, we spent a great deal of time with Laddie, and he with us. It was a unique time in history – a time when “bubbles” become small countries of experience, for good or ill. Our bubble has been for the most part good, and Laddie has been a major contributor to that goodness.

And so we miss him all the more, and I try and tell myself, after all, he was just a cat. Just a cat? you cat-lovers exclaim in shock and amazement. Yes, I know. Me too. No such thing as just a cat.

We tuned in to our virtual church services this morning, and while St. Joseph’s Chapel had difficulty all the way through with their internet connection, I was able to catch a few words of the sermon preached by Fr. Napier. As I watched him speak from the center of the chancel, the altar and medieval crucifix rising behind him, I listened in amazement. He was detailing how the family dog had passed on recently, and how he was meditating on the nature of animals and souls and will we see them again? And then the connection went out again.

My angels were all around, weaving us together in a kind of sweet sympathy, a mourners’ melancholy, hopeful of Heaven. I smiled. Only God could bring such crooked lines as ours together as he did this morning, and I felt I was climbing a ladder into His Sacred Heart along with Father Napier and his family (his children, now grown, were in my Sunday School once).

Our dear bishop of blessed memory often said, “To love is to suffer.” So I am happy to suffer on account of love. I am offering our losses (the empty space in our rooms, in our hearts) to his Sacred Heart. And I am offering thanksgivings for being able to love, to love a tabby who followed the sun around the house and joined us in our daily routines which had become his daily routines. We and he had merged our lives together during this sheltering time.

And if it is this difficult with a pet, what must it be for those who have lost parents, spouses, children, during this time, when hospital visits are forbidden and churches are fined for their gatherings to honor and mourn?

I long for my church community to gather together once again, when all of these losses and sufferings are shared with the physical presence of faithful friends. The closure of our churches in California has gone on far too long, over six months and counting. Local businesses are shuttering for good, simply because they cannot afford to give up their savings to stay open. California is burning, in many ways, not just with the forest fires which continue to rage. I pray this is not the future of our country as well.

The air quality has improved a bit, and we had a few days of sun, seeing the colors of the earth joyfully return in the hills around us. Greens are green, blues are blue, my flowers in their pots outside the kitchen are happy in their yellows and pinks, even the seeds I planted from a Sunday School class years ago. But the air still smells of smoke.

Laddie is featured in Angel Mountain, my recently released novel. He too travels to Heaven and arrives safely on the other side of the Woods of the Cross. I do believe we will see our animals there – for when Heaven and Earth become one in the New Earth and Heaven, when Christ returns and reigns, the lion will lie down with the lamb so there must be cats and dogs too! All the creatures will be peaceful among us, as it must have been in the Garden of Eden so long ago.

In the meantime, and this is in many ways a mean time, we shall miss Laddie and with every pang of grief I will say a prayer of thanksgiving for his life, for our miraculous time together.

Deo gratias.

September Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 14

I have been reading Andrew Roberts’ biography of Winston Churchill, Churchill: Walking with Destiny (2018, Viking). Two remarkable themes stand out so far and I’m halfway through the 1,000 pages: first, his lifetime experiences formed a man that could save the free world from Hitler and tyranny; second, those experiences rose from his own dedication to the truth, making him controversial and a political outsider most of his life, his bravery fortifying him, his fortitude making him brave.

While born into an upper-class family, it is curious that he was half American by way of Jenny, his mother, an American socialite. And the upper-class pedigree didn’t seem to soften his rough edges. He said what he thought, did what he thought right, and forged ahead regardless of public or parliamentary opinion. He was tireless, a human dynamo. And yet he loved life (perhaps this was the root of his passions), enjoyed wine and conversation, and most of all, people. He didn’t let mistakes deter him. He reminds me of a current American leader who is also judged by elitist gatekeepers.

I have been pondering the remarkable parallels between Donald Trump and Winston Churchill. Who knew? you may very well ask. I can see my readers raising brows and gasping, or more appropriately, harrumphing with, “you’ve got to be kidding.”

Both men stirred up controversy and yet got things done in order to save the free world. Churchill’s life experience gave him the tools to lead the West to war with Hitler, and to win. His love of people—and his country, England—gave him the language to encourage his listeners and command loyalty. He saw what was coming in the early ‘thirties—the socialist machine rising in power—when the peaceful British refused to see, wanted to believe in appeasement even until the last year of the decade, even when Hitler invaded Poland in direct violation of the most recent agreement, even when the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, argued appeasement, but fortunately didn’t win his argument. When Britain declared war shortly after, Churchill made it clear that the purpose was not to conquer other powers but to protect and defend the Western democracies, the free democracies, Western Civilization. His eloquence echoed the great speeches of an earlier time, a time when words meant something. And these words can be heard again today.

Our current leader has grown into his presidency, and in the growing has become more measured, more sedate, and even more eloquent, in spite of tweeting. But this rough and tumble businessman does not forget what he learned in the real world—how to negotiate a deal, how to win freedom for America. He sees clearly for he doesn’t require the love of his political naysayers, be they the elite of the Left or the Right, media or academia or Hollywood or corporations. He sees what needs to be done, and how to do it, and he is fearless in honoring his promises to us, necessary and vital promises. I believe he too is a man of destiny. I believe his street smarts combined with his energy and his love of the people of this country have prepared him for a particularly dangerous time, today’s time of riots in the name of Marxism, today’s time of worldwide threats to freedom.

It is still smoky here in the Bay Area, but a ray of sun is trying to penetrate and allow us to see the colors of our world. We are still locked down, but because of fear and panic due to plague, local businesses have closed permanently, and life will not be the same. California is masked in more ways than one, not seeing what needs to be seen, and turning a blind eye to what needs to be done. The fires still burn, a product of poor policy, and a dangerous blindness to reality. Our lights go out on a rolling basis. Our doctors are overworked and overwrought. Ah, California, what has happened to you?

Today’s Gospel passage was the account of the ten lepers who were healed by Christ, but only one returned to give thanks. Only one saw what had been done with his horrible illness, only one honored the healer, only one saw that his healing of a cancerous disease was a true miracle, only one gave thanks to God for his great glory.

In Angel Mountain, my recently released novel set in 2018, a time of terrible forest fires in California, a hermit fulfills his calling on a mountainside in the East Bay, preaching and healing and baptizing. He calls for repentance for the Kingdom is near. The world is smoky from fires in the north (the town of Paradise), but he speaks to pilgrims in the meadow of a new Heaven and Earth, joined, one without smoke and fires.

We are all called, we are all unique individuals with a divine purpose on this earth. Our divine destiny may be simply to see clearly and speak clearly and make choices with clear understanding. It may be to change the heart of one other person. The leper who was diseased and shunned was now healed and allowed to return to society. And he gave God the glory. He wore no mask. He could see clearly. He broke away from the others to return to Christ Jesus and praise God. He was healed in body and soul.

We are a people of body and soul, flesh and spirit. We are a people walking with destiny toward a new Heaven and Earth. Individually we walk with our unique destinies, the sum of those choices made along the way. Our choices may not be popular, they may cause some to cancel our words and spew hate, but if they are formed by a clear and courageous vision of Christ, they will lead us to become the person we are meant to be, to walk with our true destiny through and in Him.

+ + +

Two interesting facts about Winston Churchill:

He wore his many keys on silver chains that wrapped around his back, with the keys resting in his pockets.

When in 1940 he was finally made Lord Admiral of the Navy (the second time) the word went out to the forces – “Winston is back!” They must have known that he would take a commanding interest in every detail, and they would need to be on best behavior with this leader of such energy and vision.

September Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 13

This week we remember Nine-Eleven, the terrible assault on New York on September 11, 2001 by terrorists who hated America and desired to destroy her. But they didn’t. She rose from the ashes.

America is under another assault, this time from within. And so we pray. We pray for her to survive this assault and rise once again from the ashes of our cities, to rise like the phoenix of old, and claim her true history, her true values, her freedom and justice for all.

Our Anglican 1928 Book of Common Prayer has a prayer for this kind of justice that seems to be under attack. The listings of daily Scripture readings, the Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, and the “The Order for The Administration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion, with The Collects, Epistles, and Gospels,” are appreciated and often used, the tissue pages well thumbed, there are many unique prayers I have come to love as old friends.

Our Council of Bishops asked that we all include in our daily prayers, the prayer “For Social Justice”:

For Social Justice

ALMIGHTY GOD, who hast created man in thine own image; Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice among men and nations, to the glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I have learned (I think) “A Collect for Peace” which is a part of the Morning Prayer Office. It lives above “A Collect for Grace” on page 17, memorized many years ago when I was saying my morning prayers in a rush, multitasking. Adding “A Collect for Peace” was the latest addition. Now, I ask myself, can I possibly make room in my memory bank (that seems challenged these days) for the Social Justice prayer? Given our current state of the American union, or disunion, and given we have been asked by our archbishop to pray this daily, I will give it a try. Like the Peace prayer I will tape it on the back of my phone that is often in the palm of my hand.

All Christians are called to pray for social justice expressed in and protected by the rule of law, recognizing the dignity of every person made in God’s image, born and unborn, regardless of race, gender, class. And our country, America, is the cradle of freedom, equal opportunity, and peace, at least it tries to be, enshrines these goals in its constitution. It is certainly the best the world has to offer at this moment in history. And it is the most threatened at this moment in history.

My recently released novel, Angel Mountain, shines a light on a dark period in the history of Europe. My characters Elizabeth and Abram made it to America as young adults, but as children, aged six and two, they hid from the Nazis in cellars of brave Orthodox Christians in Greece.

Their backstories recall a familiar history we should not forget. Jews fled Germany and Russia, both totalitarian socialist states. These countries were run by elites who believed they knew better than the rest of the population and any means justified the end, their impossible dream of utopia as they defined it. Those persecuted, those not fitting in, fled (if they could) to the West and to freedom: western Europe, then America.

If America chooses to become socialist, chooses to believe the false promises of a socialist utopia, those persecuted, those not seen as suitable in words or deeds will have no place to go. We are the last hope of the world, the last light still burning on the mountaintop.

And so, we pray for justice for all, equality under the law, and most of all for hearts and minds to be changed, so that every person is valued as a child of God, born and unborn. Freedom requires hearts of love. Freedom requires us to be responsible for ourselves, and to care for our neighbors. Freedom requires good people of faith, people of the Christian (or Jewish) creed, people of the moral law, people of honor and duty and right action for its own sake. The Jewish tradition calls this righteousness, and so it is, and so it should be once again.

In every Mass we confess our sins—for we know we are imperfect. We confess to Almighty God (not to social media or protestors or those who threaten us). If we confess to a priest, he acts as Christ’s representative, not as himself, not as society.

I believe it was Eric Metaxas, biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said that the rise of the Social Democratic Party (Marxist, Nazi) in Germany in the ‘thirties, and all of the horror that entailed, meant the silencing of the churches along the way, quietly coercing the tacit acceptance of these bodies of faith. The Party did it through lesser issues, demanding allegiance (or simply blindness), all the while building a fascist terror that nearly took over the world. Andrew Roberts details this kind of soft appeasement in Britain in the ‘thirties in his new biography of Winston Churchill: Churchill: Walking with Destiny. I pray that this kind of quiet agreement will not be successful in America, but already we see churches wanting to confess their sins to those who loot and burn. We should only confess our sins to God.

Public confessions made to society are a Marxist practice, and these “confessions”, whether by religious figures, media and Hollywood celebrities, corporate chiefs, or academic faculty, are troubling. A Catholic priest recently made just such a confession in the form of the Catholic catechism, fully vested, at the altar of his church, as though it were a sacramental act.

Regardless, Christians and Jews believe in the God of all righteousness, true justice. One day we will face our Maker. One day we will need to account for our lives, our thoughts, words, and deeds. In the meantime, I shall work on my prayer for Social Justice for all, praying to the author of my soul.

Soon Americans will choose whether to celebrate her history of freedom or silence it. They will choose whether to allow free speech or to deny it. They will choose whether to seek truth or useful narratives. 

I shall keep on praying for our country, our freedoms, and for social justice for all.

August Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 12

It is a curious thing, the way God writes straight with the crooked lines of my soul. He must have to pull and tug the lines to make them straight. In the pulling there is suffering, growth. In the pulling there is the divine molding the mortal, the eternal sculpting those bound by time. I am reminded of the childhood reminder to stand straight, not to slouch, so that my spine does not crumble in upon itself. I must see straight ahead and not have my eyes cast down. I must mind my posture to see the clearly.

Our world is suffering, is being pulled up into God’s sight. We are called to see His glory, hear His voice, praise His name. Do we see, hear, voice with our lips?

The lockdowns and fires, here in California, border our lives with danger, threatening families with the unknownFear is near, sometimes knocking, and too often entering uninvited. We are adopting, at least in my home, a new routine. This alone is difficult, this change in habit. Yet I have found in the last few months, that good has come out of the pulling in of our boundaries. We have time for reflection. We have time for reading. We have opportunities we didn’t have before to love better, to forgive better, to welcome peace into our world of busyness.

When I wrote Angel Mountain, set in November of 2018, fires and smoke formed a backdrop to the preaching on the mountainside, and yet, it was reported, that the meadow where the hermit was preaching and baptizing remained clear. Christ does that. He clears away the smoke of our lives.

Time has been pulled in, pulling us into a sharper focus, like the zoom command at the top of my screen. My world may have shrunk, but I can see better, and I appreciate the sudden sun that comes through the smoke from time to time. I remember to count my blessings, breathing deeply the name of Jesus, glad to have clean water, lights, even air conditioning. Power outages will roll in from time to time here in California, for we are under a green regime in Sacramento and fossil fuels are evil, according to the manipulators who claim to know better.

The November election will determine if California policies will be the national policy. I hope not. Churches are being fined for meeting together (even while practicing social distancing) to worship God.

Sunday mornings have become the anchor of our week. Sunday is like the top of the mountain, with last week falling away on one side and the next week on the other. We tune into our virtual services and hear the Gospel and Epistle appointed for that day, sometimes three times, as we visit several parishes in our Anglican Province of Christ the King. We hear sermons discussing the same Scripture, as is customary, for sermons are usually based on the appointed lessons. And as I listen to three preachers give their own Holy Spirit inspired sermon, I am amazed at how nothing is repeated. The unique mind and heart of each priest colors his vision of God. Each one forms sentences differently, paragraphs fall together differently as works of art, each theme and message strikes a singular note, creating a tune never heard before and never to be heard again, a tune that enters my own hearing, heart, and mind. And reception of the words is individual as well, so that with my ears I hear as only I can hear, see as only I can see, understand as only I can understand. I pray that the words fill my vision with God.

These moments in earthbound time on Sunday mornings are unique in all history. These few hours occur for the first time and will never be experienced again. I am so privileged to be able to visit these chancels in Palo Alto, Berkeley, and Arizona, three different altars and furnishings, three singular experiences. And yet, they are united by the words spoken, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the poetic words of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, words translated from the Roman rite in the sixteenth century into Elizabethan English, the mystical consecration of the bread and wine to become the Real Presence of Christ.

The Gospel lesson was about Christ’s healing a man who couldn’t hear and couldn’t speak (“deaf and dumb”) told by St. Mark (7:31+). Are we hearing what God is saying to us? And when we have heard, do we witness to those words spoken, that gentle touch of our hearts? Do we allow Christ to sculpt our souls to be what we were meant to be? Or are we deaf and dumb?

When the liturgies come to a close, I know my crookedness has been straightened a bit. I still walk through my days bent and given to temptations that will bend me more. But on Sunday morning for a few brief hours, I unstop my ears to hear God’s voice. I open my lips to sing His praises. I am no longer deaf and dumb.

My crookedness has been pulled straight for a brief moment in time in which I knew eternity, and I am grateful.

August Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 11

A pall of white smoke has covered Northern California. While we haven’t evacuated, we packed “go” bags in case, remembering our elderly cat Laddie, his travel cage, his insulin shots.

Living amidst nature is a beautiful experience but does have drawbacks, and grass fires are some of them, as well as annual armies of aunts (the insects), field mice, turkeys, and the occasional wild pig who takes delight in digging up the lawn. I believe, as we age, we come to realize that the natural world is winning against our meager, ineffective attempts at control, yet we do battle as best we can to own the space we have been given.

And now fires and smoke and the expectation of earthquake season. 

I walk through the house, surveying our possessions, accumulations from 70-80 years on this Earth, considering what is important to save and what is not. I sense a parallel with my wandering through time, accumulating ideas and opinions and thoughts, sins and virtues, hates and loves, blessings and bedevilments. One day I will walk on my final journey, hopefully holding our Lord Jesus’ hand and arriving at the pearly gates of fame, carrying these spiritual possessions on the back of my soul. St. Peter will advise what to save and what to leave behind, what to confess, what to celebrate. Or perhaps Our Lord will, or perhaps an angel, like Angel Michael in my recent novel, Angel Mountain, who guides the hermit Abram on his journey through the Woods of the Cross (plot spoiler alert).

My bishop of blessed memory often said he finally understood the phrase, “The good die young.” How can that be right, I wondered. He meant, I have come to see, is that they are released from this life’s suffering earlier than the rest of us. They’ve earned early release. They enter Eternity and into the beloved’s Presence, hear the glorious music and laughter, bathed in His love. They enter bliss, blissfully.

The Chinese flu, which some say is overly hyped for political purposes while others cringe in fear of contagion, has added menace to this already dangerous wildfire season in Northern California. We are under house arrest either by force of the state or by force of society’s judgment upon us should we go out and meet together, see one another’s faces, return their smiles, their hugs, their touch. We stay connected through keyboards and Clouds that somehow carry our messages to loved ones and friends. We wait and we wonder. When will these troubles pass? What will be their cost to each of us, to America?

The Presidential election in November is on our minds as well, as one political party concluded their virtual gathering last week, having nominated their runners in this earthly race. The second political party will begin their Cloud gatherings tomorrow. There was and will be much hand-ringing and accusations, much anger and angst. There is also hope that Americans will cast thoughtful votes, that they will listen and learn before choosing.

The gregarious conventions of the past which became increasingly scripted and violent may be no more. Instead they will be replaced with faces in squares and speeches intoned to an invisible audience through the Cloud into our living rooms, appearing on screens we can remotely turn on and off with a small handheld wand or a tap of the finger or even a few words to Siri, the Cloud servant of all. Conventions will squeeze into phones and tablets and live there forever.

I for one will vote for the peacemakers, the deal-makers, the protectors of life, the defenders of our exceptional country, those who do the job I would like them to do. This is no time for careless complaints. The stakes are serious.

America was always a miracle in the making. Can she continue to make miracles? The odds are not with us, for who believes in miracles? Yet we pray without ceasing that the miracle of America continue to shine a light in the darkness of the world, that the impossible continue to be possible, for the poorest of the poor, for hopeful immigrants, for every race and gender, for the unborn, for every identity. 

Today, as Christians are denied the right to pray together as Our Lord commanded, “When two or three are gathered…,” we still hope and pray and repent our many sins. We repent, so that we may be forgiven. We are forgiven so that we may find the Way to Heaven, to arrive at those pearly gates, to enter the glory that awaits us in the Kingdom. So my husband and I tuned in to virtual services, attending three Masses this morning, overlapping in time. We gave awards: Best Chanting, Fr. Weber, St. Ann Chapel, Stanford. Best Sermon, Canon Dart, Christ Church, AZ. Best Hymns, St. Joseph’s, Berkeley.

As we stood to sing #600, “Ye holy angels bright who sit at God’s right hand…” I smiled. My husband’s marvelous tenor filled the room, and I squeaked along as best I could, making up for talent with enthusiasm. We could hear a few voices in the chapel, living deep inside my laptop, and the organ played by the talented Eugene was magnificent.

A challenging time. Riots and burnings in our cities. Fires and smoke in the hills. A political landscape of triumphant truths and shamefaced lies further dividing us, as if house arrest and natural disasters weren’t enough.

And yet… we overcome these tribulations. We follow the star that leads to the manger in Bethlehem. In this dark time, we follow the light we know—the light of love shone upon us by our Creator, upon all creation. We follow the light to where it leads, and along the way hope to reflect that light, carry that lantern for others to see and follow too. We are not really alone and there is no reason to be lonely, or despairing, not with all we have been given as Christians, not with the overwhelming and saving grace of Christ in His amazing abundance.