The Best Birthday Ever

IMG_2919 (3)I recently turned seventy and the best birthday present ever was to see my son and worship side by side in church, my husband on one side, my son on the other. I thanked God for my son’s miraculous healing. For it truly was a miracle. It was the gift of God’s grace.

I have mentioned in these pages my son’s surfing accident in Costa Rica in early March when he dove into shallow water and the horrific days that followed. It is a miracle that he is alive. The surgeon told him he was given a second chance, a new life, for the surgeon had never seen anyone survive such a neck injury before.

Many of you, my dear readers, prayed for him in those difficult days. It made all the difference. Thank you, my prayer warriors, for you must have stormed Heaven’s gates.

When I saw my son on my birthday, I was grateful. There was no sign of injury. He appeared the same, walking normally, acting normally, healthy, with surgical scars on his neck, front and back, that will remind him of his ordeal and his second chance. My little boy, now 6’3″, forty-four, father to two precocious and precious adolescents, husband to a wonderful woman, had survived. Like the centurion’s servant and Jairus’ daughter, my son lived. And he now carries within him a certain glow, a reborn love. He reached for God and God touched him.

I reached for God in those days following the accident.

There are times in life when my soul reaches into the dark, groping for God. It is easy to find God in Scripture, in the Eucharist, in church, in other people. But in the night-time of our days, when danger growls from the surrounding jungle of our lives, we reach in prayer. We reach for the light, the light of love, of reason, of faith, of truth. We reach for meaning, for answers, so that we might understand suffering. We call, “Lord Jesus, help me.” We cry, “Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” We pray, “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” And he hears us, as he promised.

When I reach into the dark for God, I know he is there, taking my hand. I don’t always feel it, don’t always experience him, but I know he is there. It is this knowledge that Christians own. It is this certainty that they enjoy. It is this joy that is theirs. The world does indeed make sense after all. It follows natural laws ordained by its creator: laws broken in Eden, but rejoined by Christ on Calvary when he redeemed our brokenness with his death and resurrection. Christ civilizes the jungle outside and within, with his own sacrifice. He atones, making us at-one with him.

My flesh is thinning. I am feeling my age. I move slower, reflect longer, and practice loving others more. I am a child of God, a small part of the redemption of the world, no small thing. When I dive into the shallow waters of this world, when I break the laws of nature and of God, when pride ravages humility, when I ignore God’s commandments of life and welcome Eden’s sins of death, I find myself in the darkness of midday, reaching. I know if I can touch the hem of Christ’s garment it will be enough. He will heal me, for he knows I am too frail to heal myself. He is the master surgeon.

And so on my seventieth birthday we celebrated life. We celebrated eternity. We celebrated our very breath, our bodies, our blood. As my granddaughter lit the candles on the cake I considered my wish. I prayed that grace, abundant grace, amazing grace would visit us all, would cover us and protect us from the dark. For as my bishop often said, “All is grace.”

As I blew out the candles I knew it was true. All is grace. Every single month, day, and hour of my seventy years on this earth has been redeemed by God’s amazing grace.

All Creatures Great and Small

Sunday SchoolAs the world grows more dangerous, church-going becomes more welcome, a true respite and refuge. Worshiping as one chooses is one of the great gifts given to Americans on the wondrous Fourth of July. And each year, as that holiday approaches, I give thanks for the freedom of worship.

In a time of wars and rumors of wars, we enter the doors of our church and are pulled out of ourselves toward something, someone greater. For an hour each week we soar with the birds, dance with the angels, and commune with our God.

Communion with God is no small thing – thought to be revolutionary once and in some cultures still revolutionary. But in Christianity we do just that. The creature communes with the Creator.  The small communes with the great. This is no small thing.

This morning in our parish Sunday School, we started our Summer Sundays children’s program, around the theme “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” We began with circle time and invited Our Heavenly Father to join us. We folded our hands and prayed, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…”

Because we have faithfully invited Our Heavenly Father into our classroom, into our circle, and into our hearts, week after week, year after year, the children knew these holy words. They said them with great gusto, as though sending them up and out, flying through the sky. There was no hesitation. No wondering what the next phrase is. They had it all down. They have been faithful.

We had made a place for God, and we continued with snack, story, song, and craft. All the while God was with us, and his Holy Spirit danced among us, filling us with his joy.

We sang about all creatures great and small, the purple headed mountain, and the river running by. We sang about the cold wind in the winter and the pleasant summer sun, the ripe fruits in the garden – He made them every one! For each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings: God made their glowing colors and He made their tiny wings. As we sang we knew that God was there, prompting us. For he gave us eyes to see them, these bright and beautiful things. He even gave us lips that we might tell how great is God almighty who has made all things well.

As the children raised their arms for “creatures great” and tumbled on the rug for “creatures small,” I considered the preciousness and precariousness of the time. I gave thanks for our country that still allows us to sing to God with our children. I gave thanks for America, her laws, her liberty, and her common celebrations, her Independence Day.

For the Fourth of July is our day of common celebration. It is America’s birthday, and we are one family gathered around the cake aflame with lights. As a nation we make wishes on this day, wishes for peace and freedom, for liberty and law. We form a circle around the cake with its flaming candles, holding hands of every color and class, as we honor one another in word and deed. For we are Americans. And each one of us is bright and beautiful, for the Lord God made us all.

An usher peeked into our classroom. He motioned that it was time for our communion blessings. We formed a line, hands folded, and stepped carefully up the central aisle of the nave of the church toward the altar. As I received Christ in the bread and wine, I gave thanks for this refuge, this church, this respite from the turmoil of the world. I gave thanks for our freedom to commune with God our Creator.

One hour a week we retreat into the warm refuge of the church, this ark of Christ. We sing and pray, and the children lead us in the “Our Father.” A simple sixty minutes of peace. A simple sixty minutes of freedom. A simple sixty minutes of joy, we creatures great and small, communing with Our Lord God who made us all.

Common Ground in an Uncommon Country

The Fire TrailA blistering heat wave finally broke last night in the Bay Area. The fog rolled in from the vast Pacific Ocean, through the Golden Gate, blanketing the towns along the bay with mercy.

We are fragile creatures, comfortable only in moderate temperatures. We require food and water and protection from weather. We don clothing and build shelters. We wonder about the forecast just as our forebears worried. Will the crops survive? Will we survive? We check news reports to be prepared, to protect ourselves. We know we are not immortal, although we pretend we are.

There are also cultural signs that predict shifts in worldwide threats, such as massive movements of populations to safer shores. There are religious signs that predict changes in mankind’s heart, the rising violence among us, the murder of innocents, the hardening of conscience. These signs are not as clear as weather predictions and many do not see them. But they point to a serious change in the climate of our culture, for those who choose to see.

They point to a climate of indifference. A time of refusal to see the trends and face what they portend. With the loss of faith in a God of loving authority, the ebbing of conscience followed, so that the shores of man’s heart are parched and dry. Right and wrong have become personal choice, momentary whim, relative like Einstein’s theory. Authority is questioned, then its demands abandoned. The individual sets his own course without regard for the unborn or the marginalized. It’s all about me.

I am reading a dystopian novel, 2084, by Henry William Kalweit, set in Paris in that year, a city ruled by extremist Sharia Law. The signs of the takeover of France and Europe had been there, clear markers, but ignored in a desire for inclusivity and diversity. Now, in 2084, sculptures and paintings from the Louvre are dumped into the Seine or set afire. Airlines are long gone; televisions forbidden. Transportation is by foot or cart. Justice is swift and brutal in the sharia court. Christians and Jews hide in the underground maze of sewers to survive. It had been a slow takeover of the European demos, but a steady one – through population decline in one group replaced by an increase in another. The signs were not recognized.

In my recent novel, The Fire Trail (eLectio. 2016), the firebreak in the hills above UC Berkeley serves as a symbol for the border between civilization and the wilderness. Fires have jumped the trail from time to time, devouring neighborhoods. Yet the fire trail above Berkeley also served as a break, a border, a wall that keeps out the wild and untamed, protecting the civil and tamed.

And yet the wild and untamed have indeed invaded the campus this last year, once the home of thoughtful rhetoric and reasoned argument. The first casualty of the invasion was law itself, the authority of the collective voice of the people through their vote. With the rule of law unrecognized and unenforced, no one is safe. Anarchy is close by. We saw this in the Berkeley riots over the winter and spring when invited conservative speakers were bullied into silence by an illiberal Left. But the Berkeley police learned from this violence and were able to subdue the most recent disturbance last month.

Democracy is fragile, just like us. It must be nurtured and safeguarded and fed and housed. As citizens and voters we must learn to recognize the signs of democracy’s weakening in order to protect it. We do so by encouraging civil debate, honoring free speech, and respecting one another. We do so by finding common ground as Americans.

As we approach our national Independence Day celebrations, let us give thanks for our freedom, and for this remarkable country. We fought tyranny before, and we can do it again. But we need to recognize the signs. We need to seek common ground in this uncommon country, America.

Ascension

IMG_2718 (2)The sky touches the sea here in Hana, Maui, holding it close as the waters move over the face of the earth. It is warm on this Ascension Sunday, the day we celebrate Christ’s bodily ascension from earth to Heaven, but a cool breeze is spirited ashore. We sit on a wooden deck that wraps our cottage, immersed in sky and sea as though joining them. The blue waters crash and spew against green bluffs and black lava, like sudden memories urging our minds to not forget Memorial Day, and to not forget Christ’s ascension.

For such memory memorializes freedom and those who fought and died for us. Many of those brave men and women who served our country to protect the peace of our shores have ascended ahead of us to God. So it is a time for those of us left behind to give thanks for their courage, to honor those who have gone before and fought for our peaceful gatherings, in churches and squares, in cemeteries and parks.

Today, the 28th of May, is also the second anniversary of our Bishop Morse’s passing into Heaven. God worked through him to touch us. Our bishop often said that it was a matter of saying yes to God, or no to God. If you said yes, as Saint Mary did, said yes to God’s will in your life, said yes to willing his will, God could work through you here on earth. And if he did this, you were changed again and again, transformed and transfigured. When you stumbled, he lifted you up. When you doubted, he infused you with belief. When you despaired, he inspired you with hope. We call this grace, this action of God, and when you say yes, all is grace.

IMG_2755St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Hana was festive this morning as though ascending with Christ. All was light and bright, for the Bishop of Honolulu was visiting to confirm eight children. Arched windows in the white walls leading to the vaulted chancel caught breezes from the sea far below, and the gentle air breathed over God’s people. The acolytes and clergy processed in, lighting the path to the altar with crucifix and candles and Holy Scripture, carried by solemn servers absorbed by the rites of holiness.

The bishop blessed the water in the baptismal font and sprinkled drops over the congregation in the gleaming pews. After lessons were read and responses chanted, he addressed the candidates standing before him. He explained that in the rite of Confirmation, they would be immersed in the Holy Spirit of God, not only marked with chrism oil on the forehead, but immersed totally in God’s love. They would be given power then to tell the world about God’s love, to allow God to love others through them. He spoke earnestly, from the center of the aisle, allowing God to love through him. He asked them questions of belief, questions of great and holy matters, and they answered yes, confirming the vows made at their Baptism. They said yes in this moment of Holy Confirmation. They said yes with heart and soul and mind. They said yes to God.

The Lord's Prayer HawaiianAs we witnessed their Confirmations we confirmed our own, ascending with them into Love, into God, this morning in the village church of Hana, Maui. We joined in the singing and praying and thanksgiving. We ascended into the song of love, the song of yes, the song of Scripture and sacrament. In this white church with its polished pews, young and old from all backgrounds joined hands and sang “E ko makou makua iloko okalani…,” “Our Father, who art in Heaven…”

I knew, as we held hands and prayed together, that this is what we must remember, this is what we must never let slip from our memories. We must bind this moment to our hearts and minds. This moment of communion, with God and with our brothers and sisters in Christ, was why our soldiers fought. They fought and died on foreign beaches and in dirty trenches, soaked with Christ’s blood. They fought so that we could hold hands and sing to God today in church, on this Ascension Sunday. They fought so that we could one day ascend with Christ, into Christ, so that we could join earth to Heaven, and Heaven to earth, so that we could become a sacrament of love to our brothers and sisters in this world. So that we, as Bishop Morse often said, could love enough.

 

Pages of Grace


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All is grace. Indeed. All is grace.

To order copies, visit http://www.AmericanChurchUnion.com or email sjatc@sbcglobal.net.

             

Easter Flowers of Life

IMG_2603 (2)We drove to church in a gray drizzle that watered the earth this Easter of 2017. I looked forward to the flowering of the white cross by the children of the parish. For in this flowering we acted out a wonderful story, and I had a part in the story simply by being faithful.

I read recently that Christianity invites us to become a part of a glorious story. If we accept the invitation, we shall be changed. In the twinkling of an eye, we shall embark on a new path, in a new direction. We shall not look back to those days when we were not a part of the glory story.

Being a part of something larger and greater than ourselves satisfies a basic human need. We naturally reach for the heavens, reach for meaning, desire to believe we are more than mere matter, but spirit as well, that we house a divine spark within us. Those who do not believe in Christ, in his salvation invitation, seek religiously to be a part of social or political stories. It is an innate yearning for belonging to something greater.

In the Bay Area, mobs gather and destroy property. They attack others, in the name of hating hate speech, defining hate speech as opinions with which they disagree. They are reminiscent of zealots in sixteen-century Europe who destroyed images of Christ and attacked clergy. Today Christians throughout the world are persecuted. Churches are bombed and believers slaughtered. The local vandals who riot, breaking laws and denying freedom, believe they act righteously. They are purifying their gathering places – parks and campuses –  to make them “safe” spaces where they won’t feel “microaggressions,” i.e. different opinions. They are channeling their yearning for meaning into a cult of sensitivity and self.

Created by God, we yearn for him. We want to believe in him. We want to be part of his story. But today it is unfashionable to believe the historical evidence of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, so folks who want cultural approval find other ways to express their religious impulse.

And so at Easter, I am thankful that I am part of God’s story. For the Christian story is the very heart of our humanity. It is the foundation for all good law and every just liberty. It is the source of the deepest love and the most extraordinary mercy.

It was still drizzling as we arrived at church. Children gathered in the Sunday School and adults took seats in the pews. The thick white cross with the holes drilled through to house the flowers waited at the head of the red-carpeted aisle.

The children and teachers entered as the organ thundered and the congregation sang. We stepped happily up the red carpet to the white cross, carrying our flowers. As I helped a two-year old shove a green stem into one of the lower holes, I sensed we were anointing those holes made two thousand years ago on Golgotha, filling Christ’s wounds with this green life, with these rainbow colors, with our own healing salve of love. For long ago, outside Jerusalem, we nailed Our Lord to that cross. We buried him in the tomb. Now, we filled the holes, making his body whole again. And so, as Christ’s body, we became whole too. And as part of the story, we rise with him to new life.

The tiny hands pushed the stems deep, and soon the greens and reds and yellows and blues burst from the white wood of the cross. We stood back and gazed at our masterpiece. It was a transformation from death to life, a kind of transcendence, a resurrection, a master-piece, a piece of our master. We processed back to the Sunday School, satisfied, having played leading roles in the story of Easter, in our own life-stories.

We celebrate new life on Easter, the gift of eternal life. We celebrate the greenery of God’s incarnation, his passion, his life, death, and resurrection. On Easter, death passes over us, and we are reborn. We flower in this time of pass-over.

Our children will not forget how they flowered the cross today, for in our parish we do this every Easter, again and again. We repeat the important parts of the story, so that we become a part of them. We repeat Easter with every Eucharist, and we repeat the cross-flowering with every Easter. We act out the drama again and again, because it is true, because it is life-giving and life-saving.

After the organ played its last note and the priest prayed his last prayer, the flowered cross was taken to the front steps of the church. The rain rested for a bit, and in the watered air the light glimmered and glistened. We took photos alongside the colorful cross as though Our Lord stood among the children. “Let the children come,” he told his disciples.

And so we do. We welcome the children into this glorious story of life, love, and God. We welcome them to flower their cross and ours.

The Passion of Passiontide

PassiontideAn old friend entered eternity this last week.

He was a part of the Body of Christ on earth, our particular part of the Body, part of the glorious stream of life that poured from Bethlehem two thousand years ago, part of an even earlier river rolling through history, dating to Abraham.

We saw our friend and his wife regularly over the last forty years, at church events we worked on together with others. All the while the Holy Spirit wove among us, gathering us up. Now in looking back, I can see that God was teaching us how to love. And he continues to teach us, continues to gather us together.

I thought of these things as I gazed upon the purple-draped candlesticks on the altar in church this morning. The crucifix above was hidden too, the massive purple cloth falling in soft folds toward the purple-draped altar and tented tabernacle. Shrouded in purple as well was the sweet Madonna and Child to the left of the pulpit. We had entered Passiontide, stepping toward Palm Sunday and the great events of Holy Week and Easter. Passion is the union of love and suffering, and Passion Sunday helps us focus on the last days of Christ before his crucifixion and resurrection. In these two weeks, we follow him to the gates of Jerusalem.

When I enter the nave on Passion Sunday, all that purple cloth, burying the images, is a sudden shock, and perhaps this sudden loss nudges me to focus on the weeks to come. It is a culmination of Lent, this loss of Our Lord’s image, this shrouding of the chancel. It says, pay attention. These days are important.

I looked over the congregation. Each person is part of our Body of Christ, and the stream of God’s love runs among us all, gathering us all up in the Eucharist. In our communions, we commune with Christ’s Real Presence, and in that communion, we become one with each other. In our common prayer and song, we become a family of God, the Body of Christ.

I prayed for my son, for whom many prayed over the last few weeks (thank you all!), who is recovering from a surfing accident in Costa Rica. He told me that the day after the accident, when he was in the hospital and word was getting out to his church family, his workplace family, his neighborhood family, and his filial family, he was soon flooded with prayer. “It was the love of Christ coming through them to me,” he said. “God’s love through others. It was amazing.”

Yes, the Body of Christ is glorious. Evelyn Underhill, the Anglican mystic, wrote that Christians form a “school of charity,” a “school of love,” that is reflected in their creed. In the Church, the Body of Christ, we are taught to love one another, to suffer for one another, to experience true passion, a union of love and suffering. As we grow in grace, in love for one another, we draw closer to God, so that when it is time for us to leave this earth, we can bear his love, can look upon his face in the brilliant light of glory, as Moses did before the burning bush, and the shepherds did before the heavenly host of angels.

Today, the Church, the Body of Christ, has a greater mission that ever before: to meet loneliness with love. As the family fractures, and communities hide behind locked doors, Sunday worship welcomes those isolated from true community. We say to those broken and betrayed, hurting in silence, enter our doors and take our hands. Sing with us, pray with us. Be a part of our dance of love. Be a part of something greater, something holier, something more glorious than you can imagine.

Our Lord commanded on that first Maundy Thursday, “Take, eat, for this is my body that was given for you. Do this in re-membrance of me… love one another as I have loved you.” And so we do as he said, we re-member him in his Real Presence, veiled under the forms of bread and wine, but present in a very real sense.

The images of Christ are shrouded in purple, but I know they are present beneath the cloth. The Presence of Christ is shrouded in the Host and the Chalice, but I know Christ is present in the bread and wine, as he promised.

One day, I will join my friend in Heaven, by the river that runs by the throne of God. There will be no shrouds, no veiling. Then, because of Christ’s Passion and his Easter resurrection, we will know the glory of the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

The Love of God

Michelangelo CreationI had much to be thankful for in church this morning.

Ten days ago I received a phone call that no mother ever wants to receive. Our son, 44, had been seriously hurt in a surfing accident in Costa Rica. He was in a hospital in San Jose, the capitol. Broken vertebrae and discs meant he could not be moved. Surgery would be necessary.

While I have rejoiced often in our son’s love of life, I have just as often feared for his loss of life. What he thinks normal, I deem risky. Needless to say, there have been many scrapes and bruises in his growing up, many warnings that he is, after all, mortal like all of us.

When the word got out about the accident (gotta love Facebook), the prayers rose to the heavens. Angels had been with him, I believe, during the accident itself and those early hours as he lay on the beach in pain. Now hundreds of friends and family members joined the angel chorus of healing and protection. They stormed heaven with prayer.

Yes, angels had been with him when he hit hard-packed sand. One of his spinal discs shattered, and a fragment entered the spinal column, .5 millimeter from the spinal chord, which would have caused paralysis or even death.

The ensuing days of pain were turned into grace by the love of God. Our son said that the love of God poured into him through his friends and family. The love of God answered him when he cried, “Lord, help me,” as he waited for the surgery, his neck brace necessary but strangling. In all of this, Christ strengthened our son in this Cross of suffering. God held him in his palm, so that he could, as he said to me, sing like the Psalmist,

“I waited patiently for the Lord, and he inclined unto me and heard my calling. He brought me also out of the horrible pit, out of the mire and clay, and set my feet upon the rock, and ordered my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even a thanksgiving unto our God.” (Psalm 40)

This morning in church, as I listened to our preacher speak of the hand of God reaching out to us, creating us, saving us, parting the seas for us, I smiled. For God reached out to our son as he does to the faithful every day. If we choose, we can grasp that hand. We can hold on tight. But we must be faithful, live a life of faith. Like St. Peter walking on the water toward Christ, we must keep our focus on Christ.

Today our son is home in the U.S., safe and healing, and I continue to be stunned at the many answers to prayer. There will be months of therapy, but he suffered no brain damage, and he is walking short distances. This is because of God’s presence in his life and God’s love pouring out to him through others. 

I often think of Michelangelo’s magnificent painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. In the Creation scene God’s finger reaches for Adam’s. The touch will give Adam life, and the divine spark will flow from God to his new creation, mankind, Adam.

Christians are a sacramental people. We know God works through us and in us. God took on flesh to be one of us, with us, and he continues this sacramental work of grace, working his will through matter. We need only be faithful, to feel his touch upon us. One way to ensure our faithfulness is to keep Sundays holy, to worship weekly in church. Here we are reminded of God’s commandments. Here we are given the grace to open our hearts to God. When we do this, angels will dwell with us, even when our backs are broken and we lay on a beach in pain. And we will be healed.

As we sang this morning with St. Patrick, “I bind unto my self today/The power of God to hold and lead,/ His eye to watch, his might to stay,/ His ear to hearken to my need” and concluded with his wonderful song-prayer, “Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger,” (Hymn 268) I knew it all to be true.

Thank you to all the friends and strangers who were the means, the pathway, for God’s love to heal our son. And thanks be to God for his marvelous grace, his new song to sing.

All Is Grace

Holy_TrinityAn icy wind threw hail against my kitchen window earlier this afternoon. A dusting of snow had settled on the top of Mt. Diablo and, as I peered out to the angry weather, a rainbow, barely visible, tried to emerge through mist over the mountain, soon to be gone.

A good first Sunday in Lent, I thought. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

We are frail creatures inhabited by the love of God, unfit for such glory, yet yearning for more. Our pilgrimage in time – to our deaths – is the essence of all creation. Made in God’s image, we incarnate him as well. We are like him, for we can reason, we can create, and we can love.

Our fragility bears such greatness, as it bares its carefully guarded conscience within. We must bare and confess our failings, our not loving enough. We must inform our conscience so that we can learn to love better. For as our conscience grows in strength, we become less fragile. It is all up to us, up to our willing God’s will. It is up to us to commit to loving, to giving away our precious time, to taking the hard road when the easy one is so tempting.

I have found Advent and Lent to be a good school of conscience training. The discipline of saying the Offices of Evening Prayer or Morning Prayer (or both) immerse the heart and mind in God’s will for us. The prayer offices – going back to the seventh century – include rich poetic prayers, Scripture inspired. They include Scripture readings, true lessons, appropriate for the season. They include lyric psalms that join our voices to those of thousands of years, B.C., before Christ walked among us.

Advent prepares us for the Feast of the Incarnation, Christmas, the birth of Christ. Lent prepares us for the Feast of the Resurrection, Easter, the great salvific atonement of Christ’s Passion.

As my bishop often reminded me, passion is the union of love and suffering. And so we make small suffering sacrifices of self during these forty days as we step through the wilderness of Lent. We give up minutes of our time in the morning or evening to reach for God, to stretch our heart to welcome him within us. We follow Our Lord to Jerusalem, the Way of the Cross, and his Passion.

How do we follow Our Lord to Jerusalem? We make a Lenten rule, to do something for someone else – for God – and to give something up – for God. Like an athlete in training, we tone our wills to run the race of time to the finish line of eternity. We sculpt our wills, through abstinence and fasting, to unite perfectly with God’s will. As Our Lord said to His Father, in the Garden on Maundy Thursday, in the dark of the night before Good Friday, let thy will be done.

The sun has come out, the storm has passed. The earth is watered and green. We too must be watered, sometimes by storms, sometimes in ways we do not desire. We suffer. Our loved ones suffer. And yet, there is a greening that comes through suffering love, there is a growth. But it must be within God’s will. That greening is called Grace, the Grace of God.

My bishop often said, “All is grace,” and it is true. God pulls good from evil. He turns humility into glory. He redeems suffering that is united to his own suffering on the cross. We sometimes call this “offering it up” to God, to the cross. And so it is. It is an offering, indeed – our own pain and confusion and heartbreak filling the holes in his hands and side, sharing with him.

I have come to believe that evil is real. It is planted in hearts by little sins, infinitesimal wrongs, hardly noticeable. It is fed by pride and then greater sins. Soon, it is cancerous, devouring. I have known those who succumbed to these hissing snakes, thinking they sang songs of adoration. They had grown blind to their sins, little and big, so that grace could not work upon them. Grace was refused.

Lent is a time to consider these things, to examine one’s heart and mind. Does the heart love enough? Does the mind train the heart in the will of God? It is a time to root out the rot, the multiplying mold. It is time to confess.

And when the heart is scoured clean, it can be filled with grace, with the love of God. It is then, after forty days in the wilderness, thirsty and tempted, that we can say, “Abba,” Papa, Father. It is then that we can fill the heart with holy desire, desires informed by Scripture and prayer. It is then that we have a conscience that will unite our will with God’s will.

It is then, and only then, that we can celebrate Easter, the resurrection of God-made-flesh, our own Incarnate One, for we are finally made fully at-one with him in the Atonement.

We must run the race to Easter, to eternity. In my end is my beginning; in my self-denial is my self-affirmation; in my death is my life. We must train, we must learn this discipline of love.

The novelist George Bernanos reflects St. Therese of Lisieux’s words when he writes, “Grace is everywhere,” or “All is grace.”

In Lent, we learn to welcome the Grace of God into our lives.

Eternity in Time

Time sometimes meets eternity. Or is it rather that eternity intersects time?

I have been working through the final edits of the late Archbishop Morse’s sermons, to be published soon by the American Church Union. Organized according to the Church Year, I am immersed in a conflation of time, all time, all seasons, as though standing outside of time and yet within its heart.

Indeed, time and eternity dance with one another in these words, phrases, and paragraphs. They mingle as in a sacrament, when the holy enters the ordinary, when God becomes bread and wine, and He enters our world, our bodies.

In this dance of time and eternity, I notice things differently. I watch white clouds scuttle across blue skies and see Heaven looking back. The natural world – trees, grass, the earth under my feet, hold eternity in its atoms. Where is the line between matter and spirit, between body and soul? Working on the archbishop’s sermons, I cross those boundaries, as though nonexistent. Yet I know they exist.

I have not breathed my last and I am still living in the material world. But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob lives within me, in my flesh, just as He promised. After receiving the Eucharist on this brilliant blue morning, I know I was strengthened immeasurably as the Host was placed on my tongue. Kneeling before the altar, I crossed the border between Heaven and Earth, offering myself once again to His glory. And as I offered, He offered back, giving Himself to me.

In the Eucharist, there is a unity, a sanity, a wholeness. We are meant to live, created to live, in this moment of love. We come home to God in every Eucharist.

Getting back to the sermons of our dear archbishop, I must confess that I am tempted to the sin of pride. It is easy to think yourself quite wonderful when you edit a book of such historic and inspiring words. It is easy to give yourself the credit. And yet I know that nothing can be done without grace, without God’s action upon me and through me. I know that I must be very very very small for God to use me, and for me to hear His voice. Like C.S. Lewis’s image in his novel about the division between Heaven and Hell, The Great Divorce, we must be tiny to fit through the door to Heaven, to be pulled through the eye of the needle, to keep to the narrow path. As I recall, the entrance to Heaven in Lewis’ wonderful story was up through the soil of the earth, through a blade of grass, into a more-real realm of mountains and rivers and valleys, Paradise. You had to be tiny to enter Heaven.

Sensing that celestial world so near as I edit these sermons has made my own world of the senses luminous, transfigured. I have been adding footnotes to Scripture references and Book of Common Prayer references, and the movement from sermon quote to King James Version chapter and verse, from liturgical actions and phrases to the Book of Common Prayer orders and offices, has woven threads of gold into my life and the work of my fingers as I tap the keys.

This morning, as I knelt at the altar rail, I looked about. The chancel appeared the same but different as though the air shimmered. The marble altar shone in shafts of sunlight, the tabernacle reigning in the center between candles and flowers, the large medieval crucifix high above. The clergy moved along the altar rail, pausing before each one of us, giving us the Host, saying, “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.” Soon came the chalice holding the wine, and I heard the words, “The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s Blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.”

I gazed at the red carpet that led up the central aisle, from the entry to the steps to the chancel where the path widened to nearly fill the chancel. The carpet had been laid on dark gray tiles, stormy in color. This morning they appeared like a great void, a cosmic falling away on either side of the red carpet. The path was narrow from the entry doors to the altar. Stepping off the red carpet would mean flying into the abyss. But we, the faithful, rode the ark of the Church in these seas of eternity, safe and warm, welcomed home by God.

And all we need do is show up on Sundays, say our prayers, confess our faults – those falling-away moments – and offer ourselves to this God of immense love. Seems easy, to reap such glory. For if we do attend Mass faithfully, in all our humility and littleness, if we do offer ourselves to Christ to use according to His will, God will return the gift a thousand fold when we receive Him in the bread and wine. For if we are little, we can fit on the narrow path, enter through the low door (on our knees), and yet miraculously grow in grace to be all that we are meant to be. We run the race, as St. Paul said in today’s Epistle, to receive an incorruptible crown. We labor in the vineyard to receive our reward, the last first, the first last, as Christ said in St. Matthew’s gospel parable. For today is Septuagesima Sunday, the beginning of “Little Lent,” and we consider what fasts to observe in Lent, three weeks away, be they fasts of food or wasted time. We must tone our souls to prepare for the race to Easter’s Resurrection.

If we do these things, in remembrance of Him, we will know glory on earth as well as in Heaven. And nothing will ever be the same.