January Journal, Third Sunday after Epiphany

In this season of Epiphany, of manifestation, it is appropriate to consider how we converse with one another in a free country, how we manifest our own epiphanies to one another.

The power of expression reflects our national debate, such as it is. Will free speech be silenced in the wake of wokeness? Will those who disagree with the current propaganda be prosecuted for inciting violence? Time will tell whether there are enough good men and women to save our union. As Ronald Reagan said,

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Freedom must be fought for with words as well as wars. Such expression is manifested best in love, in love of words, in love of persons, in love of reasonable argument, in love of, at the end of the day, truth.

Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?”, is the foundation of modern secular thought. For truth is a phantom, we are told, and it is only feeling and perception that is true. It is a happy thought for the unbeliever, the agnostic or atheist, for judgment cannot occur apart from truth. Ergo, no one sins; ergo, all are absolved.  We justify our actions with our background, race, gender, inequality or victimhood. Without God to judge, who are we to judge? today’s relativists opine.

And so, without any objective standard of perception, media in all forms becomes an expression of feeling, not truth or facts. Where journalists once sought to report the facts, they today give their opinion, or a lockstep and prevailing opinion, a politically correct opinion, and masquerade their propaganda as truth. 

In this war of words, truth is lost.

And in this war of expression, of dubious manifestation masquerading as fact, I discovered a source of news that has been a great blessing. In addition to the local left-leaning newspaper and a national paper afraid of retaliation, I discovered The Epoch Times. In print and digital formats, this newspaper, in my opinion, “gives the other side,” since there are always at least two sides. The reporting is straight forward, as opposed to opinion pages. In addition to the News, The Epoch Times offers: Opinion, Life & Tradition, Home, Mind & Body. There is a children’s page and there are book reviews. There is a wonderful section on traditional art: great paintings, great architecture, great music.

The Epoch Times has offered a balanced source for news and strengthens those aspects of American culture that need strengthening today: family, faith, education.

Which brings me to an article on the “1776 Commission,” created by former President Trump to ensure America’s school children learn America’s founding principles, teaching them why we consider our country to be the last great hope in the world. This noble effort seeks to teach our unifying principles, that we are a country where freedom and free speech ensure we honor diversity as we embrace our common language, history, and ideals:

“‘The 1776 Commission’s first and last report, despite being banished by the Biden administration, will endure because it upholds the founding principles of the United States,’ the advisory commission’s chairman said.

“The 1776 Commission, appointed by President Donald Trump for two years, was tasked with producing a report on the nation’s founding principles while providing guidance on how the federal government could promote those principles in public education. It is commonly seen as a counter to The New York Times’ 1619 Project, which has been pushed by educators who teach the American story as one that’s based upon racial oppression.”

GQ Pan, “1776 Commission Chairman: The Founding Principles Offer the Only Hope of National Unity”, The Epoch Times, January 21, 2023 

Just as Christ’s epiphany manifested God in flesh, incarnate, to the world, so we must be epiphanies, manifesting our faith and our country to the world, in spite of those who try to silence us. We must protect free speech by supporting media that speaks truth to powerful elites, offering another side to the news we see opined in mainstream outlets. We must protect speech while we still can. 

If we don’t become manifestations, shedding the light of epiphany, free speech in the public square will be cancelled.

So, I thank you, Epoch Times, for your courageous stand in our season of peril. Because of you, we can read vitally important news that is absent, has been erased, from our national debate.

And, dear readers, please support this great endeavor as best you can. It may be the last stand in this erasure of history, memory, freedom, and America herself.

January Journal, Second Sunday after Epiphany

tempImagedsavSaIt feels like spring in the Bay Area. A few pink blossoms have appeared on a bush outside my window. The olive tree in the front yard shimmers in a silvery light as the sun glances from its gray-green leaves. A light breeze blows. This afternoon our world is domed in blue and the hills are bathed in hints of the green to come.

We felt an earthquake the other day (epicenter in Concord), and my desk rattled as the ground moved beneath the house. It was a minor quake, but one reminding me of the shaky nature of life and its seasons. Each minute could be a departure from the known; each second could spin us into another dimension.

The election (and this year of fear-full plague) was like that and the events that surrounded it: the demonizing of peaceful people, the cancellation of words and lives, the rewriting of history as well as the present. Our culture quakes. Our lives are being remade, redirected by a powerful force. In the chaos and confusion, whirled into the swirling events of recent months, we wonder what is happening to our world of law and order, freedom and free speech, simple decency and good will among men.

BAPTISM OF CHRISTAnd yet, in the Gospel lesson appointed for today, the Second Sunday after Epiphany, Christ is baptized, and in this epiphany showing who Jesus of Nazareth was and is, we see the dramatic beauty of all creation. For here, the Son of God, to be one of us, submits his flesh to the pouring of water, to be baptized into humanity itself. The Holy Spirit descends like a dove. A voice from Heaven says, “Thou art my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:1+) Earth opens to Heaven, and God and Man are joined in this sacrament.

And so we are reminded that we are sacraments, sacramental. Humanity is far more than mere matter but carries the divine within. It is this spark of holiness that draws us to beauty, truth, and love, intangibles that at first only hint of Heaven, but in time, reveal Heaven. It is this presence of God within us that gives us eyes to see others as holy creatures too, worthy of respect and love.

Our Christmas kittens, Angel and Gabriel, adopted recently, are growing each day, and she, once scared and shy, is now the aggressor. She dominates Gabriel, and we worry her rough play may hurt him. She jumps and twirls and flies, landing on him and grabbing him with both paws. “Easy,” we say, “not so rough.”

The two of them remind me of the wildness of nature, this wilderness in which we live, both on Earth and in our own flesh. We are called to tame the wildness, this personal and cultural wilderness, to become holy through discipline, respect, and equal justice. We are called to affirm this holiness of life by our words and deeds, our stories and songs. We are called to create and not destroy, to protect life within the womb and life nearing death. We are called to practice a sacramental way, a way of spirit within flesh, a way that proclaims we are the outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace. 

RESOURCE_TemplateIn my recent novel, Angel Mountain, I consider the claims of Intelligent Design Theory and its compatibility with Darwinian Evolution. The magnificent intricacies of life hint at a Designer with a purpose. Today science has given us evidence supporting this claim. In mapping the genome in the 1990’s, NIH Director Francis Collins was stunned by the intricacy and beauty of the design, and his conversion began, first to Deism, then to Christianity. Eventually he founded Bio-logos, an online site for the debate between faith and science. The pathway had been prepared by Phillip E. Johnson of UC Berkeley and the Discovery Institute in previous decades, and Dr. Collins adds to the evidence for belief in the Christian God as Creator of all.

And yet, as these marvelous developments stir the winds of a Great Awakening in our time, a great cancelling has sought to erase such speech and debate, another theme of Angel Mountain. A great cancelling is erasing and rewriting history, redefining time, turning truth into lies and lies into truth, and encouraging our animal nature, untamed and wild and bestial. The great cancelling has divided us into tribes at war, returning us to the jungle.

As I watch my kittens rumble around the room, flying and pouncing and biting, I recognize this side of nature, human nature as well. But we are far more, whether our speech is cancelled or not. We are sacramental creatures, meant to love sacramentally, carrying the divine spark, however hidden.

The Sacrament of Holy BaptismChristians have been baptized into Jesus, and we rise with him from the waters to touch the Heavens. When Earth quakes we cast our eyes to Heaven. When spring lands on leaf and limb, sparkling Earth with light, we know who we are.

We cry to those not yet baptized, “Be reborn today!” We point, like John the Baptist, to the One who is life itself. We point to Our Lord, King of all Creation through the ends of time, to the new Heaven and Earth.

January Journal, First Sunday after Epiphany

In this time of unrest and confusion and lockdowns, I have found the Church to be a godsend, and it is, of course, a literal God-send. For the Church Year has structured my days and months in a time that is seemingly timeless and unstructured, a floating time, streams merging seconds into minutes.

The secular world has crushed time in an overabundance of flu-fear, has voided time of meaning, shuttering weekly worship and other gatherings, social events, sports events, academic events, that not only connect us to one another, teaching us to love, but structure our time into intervals of meaning. In the past we did this, this, and this. In the future we plan to do this, this, and this. These tools of sanity, our mental calendars that divide the immense future into manageable portions, have been taken away. All is chaos. The past is soon erased. The future is unknown.

I have written a good deal about cancel culture in my novels, particularly in the more recent Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, April 2020). Today free speech is cancelled if deemed uncomfortable. Debate no longer invites charitable reasoning. Emotion rules the day. Lies reshape perception, incited by emotion, not truth.

And so, I particularly welcomed today’s celebration of Epiphany, the light of truth, the light of God manifesting the divinity of Christ Jesus. It is a piercing light, for honesty is not always agreeable. It is a cleansing light, for confession cleans the soul: Christians are called to scrub their souls regularly, with humility, with the light of truth. We don’t always like what we see, but we emerge cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. Only then can we remain sane.

Truth. Light. The star led the magi to the manger, to the bed of the newborn King of Kings. These wise men fell on their knees and worshiped a baby in a stable, born to peasants, outcasts fleeing a powerful State. Christians today follow that same star in the heavens to the manger of this King of Kings. We too kneel and worship, stunned by the immense love of God our Creator. We too have become outcasts, for not only do we follow the light of the star, the light of truth, but we speak this truth in a time when a powerful State purges truthtellers.

America’s freedom, her democratic system, depends upon a free and honest press, not bought and paid for. Today, the mainstream press, including media of all kinds, is in the pay of powerful political interests, so that it is difficult for citizens to know the truth.

The race riots that began several years ago and resurfaced this summer in Portland, Seattle, and other cities across the nation were instigated by professional thugs, and these same figures reappeared last week, identified and arrested as those leading the break-in of the Capital. In all of these criminal riots, many bystanders were swept into the melee, often because they didn’t fully understand what was happening.

One truth that we must hold to be self-evident is that we cannot exist as a society with double standards of law and order. We are all equal under the law, and those responsible for leading riots should be held accountable. We should deplore all criminal activity, regardless of race, gender, political persuasion.

We need the light of that Epiphany star today in our national discourse, in our academic discourse, in our community discourse. We need to humble ourselves before the manger and admit we are not perfect. We need to listen to one another with respect and love. We need to encourage speech, not silence it. We need to unite, not divide; we need to find common ground as Americans.

And most of all, we need to seek the truth ourselves, not rely on the latest media sound bites, be it newscasts, social media, or Hollywood pundits anointing themselves as authorities. As our churches are shuttered, as the State decrees become suffocating, we can speak truth to power, as some have said.

To speak the truth, we step into the light of the Epiphany star brightening our own journey through time and take comfort from all that the Church gives us. The Church calendar organizes our thoughts and actions. We look back to the birth of Christ, the shepherds and the angels, the magi falling on their knees in worship. We look forward to the three Sundays of Epiphany, then to “Little Lent,” the three Sundays of preparation for Ash Wednesday and Lent, then Lent which prepares us for Easter.

We are given ritual and song that unite us as one body, Christ’s Body, the Body of Christ, and we have access to that community virtually if not in person. The rituals recall and relive and recreate the great truths of God and Man, reminding us of who we are, children of a loving God. The song is our poetry of belief, the harmonious melodies of the Body of Christ. We sing of the angels and the manger and the magnificent moments of Christmas. We sing of the star and of the wise men. We sing of holiness, and sanctity, and love. We sing of all the glory that awaits us in Heaven and all the glory streaming among us – His Body – hinting at what we will soon see, what we will soon become.

We sing of truth, of faith, of hope, and of charity. We will never be silenced. We will never be cancelled.

As we step into the year 2021 in the light of that Epiphany star, we may be forced to choose between good and evil, truth and lies. We may be forced to take a stand, as those lawmakers in Washington last week were forced prematurely to do, forced by criminal mercenaries to choose sides without hearing the truth.

We must armor ourselves with truth, seek the truth, speak the truth. Will we?

Today’s appointed Gospel was the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem, asking questions of the priests. He tells his mother Mary that he has been about his Father’s business. This is one of the manifestations of Epiphany, the light revealing who Jesus truly was and is. The next two Sundays will also be manifestations, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John, and his first miracle, turning water into wine in Cana. The light of truth reveals these historical events, so that we can see, so that we can understand, so that we can believe.

The Epistle today included the beautiful words of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans:

“Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God… For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Romans 12:1+, BCP 110)

As churches are shuttered and we are silenced, we may become living sacrifices. As we present this reasonable service, not conformed to the world of deceit, we may be shunned. For we are transformed by Christ, who renews our minds with the truth of all creation, and we understand more and more what is good, what is acceptable, and what is the perfect will of God.

Within the light of this Epiphany star, within these holy moments of truth, we gather with one another, singing praises for all God has done for us, all that He has given us, all that is good, perfect, and true, for we are one body in Christ, every one members one of another. 

This is the truth of the light of Epiphany.

January Journal, Tenth Day of Christmas

christmas-lightIt is a truth deeply felt but rarely confessed that goodness is a target for evil, that evil, being nothingness, twists the good, the true, and the beautiful, twists the great gift of the Holy Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Belief in the Incarnation, the birth of Christ, has been nearly eclipsed over the centuries by belief in the outer trappings of Christmas. How did this happen? How did we forget the holiness of the holiday?

A devil whispered in the believer’s ear, you can have Christmas, the pleasures and parties, and not weigh yourself down by belief. Keep up the doings and goings and shoppings. Foster your desires, not others. Become god. You don’t need faith. Santa Claus, a twisted version of Bishop Nicolaus of Myrna, replaced God. Santa Claus gives gifts, material gifts.

Yes, the believer thinks, keep the manger wrapped, keep the story wrapped, keep the shepherds and the magi wrapped, under wraps. We can feel Christmas without the demands of belief. We will admire the wrappings of the good, the beautiful, and the true without having to face the good, the beautiful, and the true. We need not actually open the real Gift of Christmas – the Incarnation. We can admire and enjoy the wrappings and the trappings without confrontation.

And so parties and pleasures usurped, upstaged, holy liturgies. Greed usurped love. Pride usurped humility. Pleasure usurped joy. Each corruption hinted at what it had once been – the good, the true, and the beautiful. Each corrupted virtue, becoming a vice, eclipsed God’s great act of Love, that majestic intervention in human history to walk among us. The vivid reality of Christmas – Christ’s Mass – Christ’s coming in the flesh, incarnate, the ultimate Eucharistic sacrifice – is replaced with pale echoes, corrupted creatures of darkness.

And in this past year of the pandemic, when holy liturgy, vital and virtual, and the many activities of Christmas, are denied by the State, we become forced to focus on what is left of the holiday. What is left if we cannot hustle and bustle. What remains?

star of bethlehemChristmas. True Christmas remains. The manger remains: the Son of God, born to us in a stable, on a bed of straw, under a brilliant star. Angels, shepherds, and magi find their way to Bethlehem. You and I find our way to Bethlehem.

This humble glory is the heart of Christmas, deeply known, but often forgotten. This glory story is witnessed and told through the centuries. It is a simple, breathtaking story that changes us forever.

If we believe.

If we do not believe, if we desire sentiment and not reality, if we settle for pale, pasty imitations over the real thing, if we choose twisted truth over honest truth, corrupted good over genuine good, then we will not know joy and gladness. We will not know love and laughter. We will become pale and pasty, imitations of what we were truly meant to be.

If we believe, we are given all we need and will ever desire. For under the wrappings, behind the decorations, lies the Son of God, the Savior of all mankind, the King of Kings. Deep within the greeting cards, the festive wreathes, and the twinkling trees, is an invitation to each of us.

wise men-christmas-jesus-geWe are invited into the heart of God, through His Son, Jesus. We are invited to share his divinity by partaking in his Love.

We are invited to celebrate this Jesus, the Savior and Lord of all. For this alone is the true reason for this season of joy. This alone is the good reason for the wrappings and the trappings of Christmas. This alone is the beautiful reason we walk the earth, creatures of His, designed to love as He loves. This alone is truly Christmas.

And so today on this tenth day of Christmas, we follow the star to the stable in Bethlehem. For on the Feast of Epiphany, January 6, we will experience a true, beautiful, and good epiphany – the burning light of Christ offered to us.

It is a new year begun with new life, the new life of Our Lord as he comes home to our hearts and we become changed forever – we become the true, the good, and the beautiful.

December Journal in a Pandemic Year, First Sunday after Christmas, Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

journey-to-bethlehem
Merry Christmas!

We have entered the Twelve Days of Christmas, the time spanning the birth of Christ to the arrival of the Magi, the Epiphany of Our Lord on January 6.

I have found that the Christmas festivals of the last three days are often obscured by the rush and bustle of the season. Even adults who no longer believe in the birth of the Son of God yearn to recreate the days when they believed as children. They yearn to yearn for God, to experience mystery and miracle. The secular world, having lost faith, keep the rituals of gift giving, caroling, and the tale of the extraordinary bearded man from the North Pole on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. They keep the recipes and the dinners and the festive gatherings. They want to believe but do not want the moral demands of such belief. They want to be children again and see the world as fabulous.

This season was dampened by the pandemic, hushing it to a hum. My husband and I and our two Christmas kittens celebrated a quiet Christmas (well, they are kittens, so not that quiet). We connected with family by phone and screen rather than in a physical gathering. I wondered in some awe that the events in Bethlehem two thousand years ago could feed us so miraculously and mysteriously and joyously today in a quieter time. We have been forced to step back, breathe, and see differently.

The pandemic lockdowns, at least here in California, meant more virtual church, more contemplation, more singing alone or with one’s immediate sheltered family, and to those living inside the screen, more words read, more glory stories told, and most of all, a sudden quietude that filled the rooms of our home.

At the end of the day, and perhaps all time, we are reminded to remember God. We are called to pay attention to Christmas, Christ-Mass, the celebration of the child born in Bethlehem, He who brought salvation to mankind, and Himself in every Eucharist.

And so, on Thursday evening my husband and I gathered in front of our screens to take part in a virtual Christmas Eve Mass, celebrated at our beloved chapel a block from UC Berkeley. We said the words, sang the songs, and prayed the prayers.

Silent night, holy night / All is calm, all is bright / Round yon virgin mother and child. / Holy infant so tender and mild. / Sleep in heavenly peace. (#33, Joseph Mohr, 1818)

On Friday we gathered before our screens to hear the Holy Liturgy for Christmas Day, sung at our chapel at Stanford.

Hark, the herald angels sing / Glory to the new-born King! / Peace on earth and mercy mild, / God and sinners reconciled! / Joyful, all ye nations, rise, / Join the triumph of the skies; / With the angelic host proclaim / Christ is born in Bethlehem! (#27, Charles Wesley, 1739)

Mary and Joseph sheltered in a hillside cave. Obedient to God, she gave birth to the Savior of the World. We, obedient to God, shelter in our homes, give birth to belief in this Savior of the World. We welcome Him into our hearts, our sheltered hearts. We give him room. In the quietude of this season, we listen to the melody processing through the centuries, into our time, our day and hour and minute, and in these notes of grace we face our Redeemer. We are unmasked by Love; our souls are bare; we prepare for life eternal.

STEPHENOn Saturday, the Feast of St. Stephen, we honor the true cost of discipleship. We read the words in Acts 7, how Deacon Stephen saw the face of God as he was stoned to death, our first Christian martyr. St. Paul, then Saul, watches, as his own transformation begins, for he would soon meet Christ on the road to Damascus and be changed forever.

And today, Sunday, we celebrated the glorious Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. John saw and wrote that in the beginning of all creation was the Word, and the Word was God. He was the Light in the darkness witnessed by John to be the true Light, and all who believe on his Name would become sons of God. The first verses of John’s gospel are read on Christmas Day (John 1:1-14) and describe who Christ Jesus is: He is the Word who created the world, who was born into that world but unknown by that world. But to those who did know him he empowered them to become sons of God. And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth.

JOHN APOSTLEThese three days tell the magnificent story of the intersection of time with Eternity. We tell of our Savior’s birth, tell of Stephen the first martyr, and tell of John who teaches what this means for us.

Tomorrow, the fourth day of the twelve days of Christmastide that lead to the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, we descend into the violent Roman world of the first century. We mourn and recall the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, the murders carried out by Herod to protect his crown.

We recall these historic events because we have witnesses who testified to their truth. Our Bishop Morse of blessed memory often said that Christians are a people of reality. We face the truth of what happened, then and now, both the glory and the tragedy, both life and death. For like Stephen we will be called to suffer for our faith. And like the killing of the firstborn boys under age two by Herod, we will be attacked for our faith. This is the reality of salvation, the reality of Christmas.

writingWe Christians will never stop telling the story of our redemption in Time to live in Eternity, salvation on Earth to live in Heaven. We will never be silenced, even sheltered as we are, for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Deo Gratias.

December Journal in a Pandemic Year, Fourth Sunday in Advent

tempImage9tAL0sWe put aside, or perhaps assuaged, our grief over the loss of our tabby, Laddie, who climbed into Heaven three months ago, and adopted two kittens from a local shelter. At only 14 weeks, they seem incredibly tiny, and we have been introducing them slowly to the house and of course to us, graduating from small spaces to ever bigger spaces.

Coming into our home in this time of coming, Advent, has seemed appropriate, especially given the California lockdown this month. We have time, time to wait and be gentle and care for the kittens, as we await the coming of Our Lord in Bethlehem this Friday. It is a season of time, a timely season, one of quiet hope, enriched by Scripture. It is a dark season waiting for the light, waiting for the dawn of Christmas Day. It is a time of beloved lessons and carols, words made beautiful put to music, housed in song through centuries of hymnody, words living in the melody that tell the marvelous story of redemption, the story of the Savior of Mankind coming among us as a humble infant. It is a time of candle light at dusk in the middle of winter fog and frost and snow, when the shortened days end and the long night begins. It is a rich time woven into the tapestry of prayer.

Advent St. JWe pray for grace to cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which the Son of God, Jesus Christ, visited us in great humility.

And the casting away the works of darkness is particularly true this year, with the fear and the panic over the flu sweeping the world, sweeping some into Eternity and forcing others into closed spaces, hoping the virus will not seep under the doors or through the windows.

The darkness, like the virus, is viral, slithering to our homes, a snake ready to strike, or pacing through our neighborhoods like the coyote howling at night, like a roaring lion eager to devour. For the true pandemic is a virus of the soul, as we have guessed and known for some time.

In looking upon these wee little kitties (not yet named) it is easy to understand the immense love of God, that he could create such delicate creatures with such magnificently minute parts – whiskers, eyes, ears, tales, long hair in proportion to their tiny bodies. Our Creator of the universe breathed life into these beings who eye us with hesitation, desire, and need, and finally acceptance of love offered and returned. We caretakers are so gigantic and clumsy, but we care for them as best we can.

The gigantic and the tiny reflects the miracle and mystery of God. The contrast is all around us and within us. We, such temporal weak creatures, with bodies destined to decay to ash, have been given souls full of God’s spirit, full of God’s love, beating hearts pumping blood, beating hearts longing for God, longing for Heaven, longing for fulfillment, longing for redemption.

I have long considered in my gentle years the happy and fortifying words memorized over my life of three score thirteen so far to be the food of God for my soul. For indeed, Christ was and is the Word of God. He became incarnate just as our thoughts become incarnate in words on screen and paper, in song and liturgy.  And when we look upon the manger and the poverty of His birth, we are astounded once again by the gift of life given to us in such a way, in such a place, amidst the terror and tumult of the Roman Empire. There was no room in the inn we are told. We rejected the Savior of the world, the Son of God. We rejected Love incarnate.

The Nativity of Our LordThe Incarnate Word lying in a stable amidst the the farm animals, the angels singing glory and praise, the star in the heavens showing the way, a powerful portent of eternity, the Holy Family teaching us how to be a whole family, the traditions that further incarnate this immense event in history – all these things are given us. The creche, the evergreen tree strewn with lights, the gifts and cards and greetings given, the songs of peace and joy and delight – all the past Christmases are reborn to live in this coming Christmas. We keep the holy tales alive and they in turn enliven us, feeding us with humanity’s greatest desire throughout the centuries, to become whole, holy, filled with the love and light of God. The past is sacred for it forms our present and our future. To deny our history is to deny life itself, to deny meaning, to deny that what and who we are has eternal consequences.

And so we pray in our own time that in the last days when Christ shall return in glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we shall rise to the life immortal.

And such is our coming prayer, our Advent prayer, this fourth Sunday in Advent. We pray that when we are judged we shall be forgiven our repented sins, those things we have done and those things we have not done, for there is no health in us.

For we shall be judged, every one of us.

We should rightly fear this judgment, and so we try to keep current with daily or weekly confession of our failings. We clean out our hearts to make room for Christ in the inn of our souls. We find that with a clean conscience that we sleep better. We love better. We measure ourselves against God’s righteous standard, and continually failing to meet it, we confess and are forgiven. We are clean, washed in the blood of the lamb. A right spirit dwells in us.

And so we wait for His glorious majesty to be revealed in a cave manger outside Bethlehem. We wait for His coming, for the angels singing, the shepherds adoring, the kings on bended knee offering the first Christmas gifts: gold for His kingship, frankincense for His priesthood, and myrrh for His burial. We wait and watch and listen for His coming, His advent at Christmas and the end of time, in humility and in glory, just like His creation.

Come, Lord Jesus, Savior of the World, King of Glory, come. Come in your great humility and your glorious majesty so that we may rise to life immortal.

December Journal in a Pandemic Year, Second Sunday in Advent

RESOURCE_TemplateIn my recently released novel, Angel Mountain, my characters face judgment in the course of the story, and how they deal with it reveals more about them. Indeed, America today faces judgment; our culture faces judgment; our universities face judgment.

None of us wants to be judged, and it is my guess that it is a part of our human nature, perhaps our fallen nature, to desire to flee judgment or to turn a blind eye to the accusation that we have fallen short of the mark. 

What is the mark? And how is it set? Does it change in time with the weather and politically correct opinion? C.S. Lewis spoke of an innate sense of right and wrong that we are born with and said that this is a proof of God’s existence. In some of us, this sense lies buried deeply, I would add. Then, in some of us it is so fine-tuned that we call those who have such an educated conscience, perfectionists. And perfectionists are guilty of pride. So there you have it. A conundrum. Can’t seem to win for losing, one of my relatives often opined.

On this Second Sunday in Advent our preachers touched on the theme of Judgment. As you may recall, the first Sunday is Death, the second is Judgment, the third is Heaven (I’m looking forward to that one), and the fourth is Hell. I virtually visited five Anglican parishes this morning, in tandem, slightly overlapping, a miraculous gift of the Internet to travel like this, from Bolingbrook, Illinois (All Saints), to Los Angeles, California (Our Saviour), to Carefree, Arizona (Christ Church), to Palo Alto, California (St. Ann’s), and lastly to our Berkeley Chapel (St. Joseph’s), parishes in our Anglican Province of Christ the King. Our Province is like a large family, stretched from sea to stinging sea, and if you have been a member for forty-three years as I have, it is heartwarming to see our priests say Mass and preach, many whom I recall as students in our Berkeley seminary in the eighties and nineties.

And so back to judgment and the last days, the Apocalypse, when we all shall be judged. One preacher referenced the hell and brimstone aspect of the possible verdict, a vision often buried. But, he said, never fear, for there is an escape route in the last hour, Jesus Christ himself. We need to repent and all will be well. We don’t repent, and all will, shall I be blunt, not be well. But we all have fallen short of the glory of God, of perfection, every one of us, so we need to get used to repenting, and often. Good advice, I thought, for I have long admired the power of habit. 

BibleA second sermon considered the wonderful Collect prayer for this morning:

“BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.” (1928 Book of Common Prayer, 92)

If we want to know what will actually transpire at the end of the world, we need to read the Scriptures as often as possible, for laced throughout are clear depictions of our future. While Revelation paints entire canvases with image and song and poetry, the Gospels, as well as the Old Testament, describe our future. But more than read the Scriptures, our priest explained, we must “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” I smiled with those words for in one of the Scripture readings this last week, St. John, in his vision we call Revelation, or Apocalypse, is give the holy book to eat.

But yes, we must inwardly write these words on our hearts. How else will we know what to repent and what to celebrate? How will we prepare for the Judgment?

Today’s times are troubling. Whether or not the end times are in the next hour or in another century, we do not know. In fact, we are told in Scripture that not even the angels know.

MichaelAh, angels! They are all around us. I have a number of gilded icons portraying archangels which comfort me in this time of sheltering and pandemic. They guard and guide and protect. They are messengers and warriors. Scripture says we will be their judges one day (!).

Our world rejects judgment. And yet our world is quick to judge. We are told that if we fall short we can blame someone else, judge someone else, or a group, or a nation. It’s really never our fault, for that would hurt our self esteem. It’s always someone else’s fault. We are simply victims of prejudice, of class, of gender, of race. We are told to hate those who hurt us and cause us to fall short this way, damaging our self esteem.

Scriptures point to a different way, a brighter way, even if a difficult way. We must face our failings in the bright light of God and admit our sins every chance we have, daily, hourly, if not directly to a priest in a confessional, then directly to God in our prayers. Only then can we remove the cancers growing in our souls. Only then can we bear responsibility for our lives, heal our broken hearts, and step into God’s light.

Bishop Morse of blessed memory often said, “To love is to suffer.” I wondered about that but have come to see that to love is to give and to give is to lose something of ourselves. To love is to expose ourselves to hurt by others for we have given them a part of our heart. And yet to know this truth ennobles the hurt, so that suffering has profound meaning, at lease if it is the fruit of love.

Since the Fall of Man in the Garden so long ago we fail again and again, turning to the dark when we really want to turn toward the light.

In Angel Mountain, the hermit Abram preaches repentance from the mountainside, baptizing in the icy pond before the white cross. Pilgrims gather. Social media has gone viral. Who is this white-robed man commanding us to repent? Who does he think he is?

There is one in the crowd who hates Abram, hates being judged. Malcolm Underhill summons the reasons it is righteous to hate Abram, all the reasons that his teachers, his family, the social justice warriors have instilled in him over the years. For he has read, marked, and inwardly digested the scriptures of darkness. And when Malcolm is judged, he reacts like a cornered beast, growling, or like a coiled snake, hissing and ready to strike.

all-saintsThere are two strong currents blowing over our land. One is light and one is dark. One tells us to honor judgment, to confess, repent, and be forgiven, to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, clad in the white robes of the Lamb. The other tells us to kill the judges, to deny, to hate, to fall into the lake of brimstone and fire, the Kingdom of Hell, clad in nothingness, to devour and be devoured.

It is Advent and we look to Bethlehem, to the Advent of the Christ Child on Earth. We watch and we wait. We clean out our hearts and prepare a room for the King of Glory to reside. Who is the King of Glory? The Lord God of Hosts, the Lord God of Hosts.

Come, Lord Jesus, come. In your advent, set your people free.

November Journal in a Pandemic Year, First Sunday in Advent

ADVENT SUNDAY 1I found the three purple candles and one rose candle in a box of old Sunday School supplies. I unwrapped them, pulling them from clinging cellophane and gently pushed their bases into a circular holder. I next stepped outside into an icy breeze and snipped greens from a fir we planted twenty years ago. I wove the bits of greenery around the candles and set my Advent wreathe in the middle of our dining table.

Today is the First Sunday in Advent, the first of four Sundays that prepare us for the first advent of Christ Jesus in Bethlehem. On these four Sundays it is traditional to consider the four last events of man: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. In this way we prepare for the second advent of Christ Jesus upon this Earth, when a New Heaven and New Earth ushers in the Kingdom of God. In this way we prepare for our own death, face our own mortality.

It is a serious time, with serious themes, and particularly appropriate to our world today, our world of pandemic, unrest, division, and unbelief. It is a time for prayer, and Americans are lifting their voices, praying for our country, praying for protection from the violence in our streets, the violence on our campuses, the violence in our hearts. We pray for peace. We pray for freedom.

And so, today our preacher considered Death, the first theme.

It is a subject we hide from, as can be seen in the modern American rituals of death, the whisking away of the corpse to be cremated and no longer considered, the memorial service replacing the Christian funeral rites. Yet death comes to all of us, often with little warning. We do not know the hour or the day or the year we will journey into another world.

Second Coming of ChristAs our preacher mentioned this morning, all we know about where we are going when we die is what we have been told by the one who has been there and returned: Jesus of Nazareth, who died and came back to life. Witnesses testify that this itinerant preacher, onetime carpenter, performed miracles of healing and resurrection from the dead. This Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels by contemporaries, informs us that Heaven has many mansions – rooms – prepared for us. He tells us to be not afraid, for He is with us always, even unto the end of the Earth.

Advent is a cosmic, cold and wintry time, a time of watching for the coming of Christ not only in Bethlehem, not only in the last days, but in our hearts. We are told that the Son of God wants to abide in us: we in Him, He in us. He loves us. He desires to be with and within His creation.

This year the Advent Season is also a time of great fear in our land, fear of the unknown, fear of this virus that robs our breath and clings to our cells in unknown ways, fear of death following close on our heels. Some have said after months of battling the fear of the pandemic, and the pandemic itself, through questionable lockdowns, masks, and distancing, our fears have become a virus as well, worse than the Chinese Flu. Fear has shuttered shops and eateries and inns, theaters and sports and gyms. Fear has denied workers work, worshipers worship, and the worst of all, denied the dying their family and friends.

flag.nationAlso this year, the Advent Season in America is a time of cleaning up our elections, as though seeing that dirty windows needed washing. We are proving to the world that we have legal systems that help us clean up dirty elections, dirty voting. We are proud of our democracy, our electoral system, and will not allow excess dirt to bury it. We will not succumb to bullying and extortion. But we are also a loving, trusting people, so we often allow the systems to clog with grime before we decide enough is enough, and we decide to clean our house. This is that time. This is that year of wintry cleaning in Advent.

And so the Christian world pauses for a brief moment in the midst of battle to reflect on where we are today, where we have come from, and where we are going. We pause to clean out our own hearts as well, our own houses with our own dirty windows. We confess. We repent. We accept forgiveness. We invite the Lord of Lords into our hearts as we consider the mansions He has promised for those who repent, for those who choose Him, choose Love, choose Truth, choose Life, choose the only Way through the cross.

Advent prepares us for these great events, these four last things that we all will face. Alongside, in our prayers and our words and our testimonies, we will suffer with the nation as the nation suffers, we will uphold her freedom to worship and assemble peacefully, and we will shine a light on the great sin of our time, the ongoing genocide of the unborn, every minute of every day. We will walk the Way, with the Truth, and the Life, into the Light.

Gerard_van_Honthorst_001For we are told, again and again, that Jesus is the Way, that no one sees the Father unless through Christ himself.

Christians are unafraid of fear, for we have faced the ultimate fear, our own death. We have embraced the antidote to the virus of fear, Christ and his promise of eternity.

And so we walk the Way to Christmas, to Christ’s first advent in Bethlehem. As we light that first candle tonight, we pray, Come Lord Jesus, Come.

Thanksgiving Song

Collect for Thanksgiving Day

“O MOST merciful Father, who hast blessed the labours of the husbandman in the returns of the fruits of the earth; We give thee humble and hearty thanks for this thy bounty; beseeching thee to continue thy loving-kindness to us, that our land may still yield her increase, to thy glory and our comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (1928 BCP, 265)

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I am thankful for America, the bright light on the hilltop, a beacon to the world, from sea to shining sea.

I am thankful for my own year of life, my own year of living, my own year of prayer, penitence, and pleasure.

RESOURCE_TemplateI am thankful for my latest novel, Angel Mountain, a story about the state of Western Civilization, Intelligent Design and Evolution, faith and science, cancel culture and free speech, Heaven and the Apocalypse, true history and the Holocaust, the sanctity of live and human dignity. 

I am thankful for America, for her freedoms, her liberty and law, her First Amendment and the right to worship, peacefully gather and voice our hearts and minds. 

I am thankful for America, for her people and their courage to stand up to tyranny rising, to speak the truth, to label lies, and sort fact from fiction.

I am thankful for America, for her entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, homemakers, nurses, farmers, and all other workers with their unique talents; for books and writers, music and musicians.

Advent St. JI am thankful for President Trump and Operation Warp Speed, for his devotion to our country, for protecting us from threats within and without, for his epic heroism.

I am thankful for America, for the falling pandemic death rates in a country so vast and diverse. 

I am thankful for America, for those who defend her, on foreign or domestic soil, military and police.

I am thankful for America, for those who cherish academic freedom and have suffered for it.

am thankful for America, for her past and present and future, for her wars of defense and correction, civil and uncivil, for righting wrongs and freeing slaves, for Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers, for the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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I am thankful for our loving God, for his Son and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, for His Holy Spirit indwelling in us, for his promises of Heaven.

I am thankful for our Church and clergy; for the faithful who pray for one another; for those who sing His praises, daily, hourly, minute by minute; for the hymns, thundering and poetic and uplifting, sung for centuries, ringing into this minute of our day; for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer; for Holy Sacraments.

tempImage2hF2cBI am thankful for our tabby cat Laddie, who climbed the ladder to Heaven, who shared his time on Earth with us; for animals and plants and colors and seasons; for wind and rain, for stars and planets, for day and night, for the sun and the moon, for apples and pears, for plentiful harvests, for ice cream, for espresso, for sleep, for dreams, for work and play, for seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching; for laughter, for faces, for smiles; for kindness, love, and generosity.

I am thankful for friends and family, for children, born and unborn, for the miracle and mystery of life itself.

May God bless America, from sea to shining sea.

Epistle for Thanksgiving Day, St. James 1:16+

“DO not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: for he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” (1928 BCP, 265-6)

November Journal in a Pandemic Year, Sunday next before Advent, Trinity 24

pentecost-flame2Today is Stir-up Sunday, the Sunday next before Advent in the Christian calendar. It is called this because of the opening prayer that a collects us together:

STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (1928 BCP, 225)

We call the Holy Spirit to come upon us and give us the will to do right according to His commandments, to bear good fruit. And there is no better time to call upon this Third Person of the Holy Trinity. There is no better time to stir up God’s people, our nation under God.

ApostlesCreed2We often need stirring up, for we are a joyful people and prone to complacency in our joy. We have answered some of the great mysteries of life, the whys and wherefores, the whats and whos, the whens. We know we are fallen, but we know the remedy. We have a deadly virus, but be not afraid, for we have the antidote. We are under sentence of death in the cosmology of Heaven’s justice, but we know how to commute that sentence through repentance, through the death and resurrection of Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, through touching the hem of His garment and carrying His cross. We are at peace, for we have immense meaning in our lives. More than that, our  lives embody meaning, every breathing moment adding to the total of that meaning, for nothing is lost and everything gained. Nothing is wasted.

Bishop Morse of blessed memory used to cheer me up with the words, “Nothing is lost.” I’ve often recalled those words, when I hammer away at a keyboard or receive another rejection, or a project has fallen through, or a plan come to naught. Nothing is lost. Everything counts in the economy of God. 

RESOURCE_TemplateIt is this wholeness of life, this holiness of life, that the Christian owns, that the Christian can claim for his or her own. It is a vast fortune, and we claim it to be ours. It is an inheritance my hermit Abram speaks of as he preaches and baptizes from a rocky ledge to the pilgrims in the grassy meadow below. It is a theme of my recently released novel, Angel Mountain, this joy, this grace given.

So out of sheer complacency, having been given so much grace, we often need a little stirring up. And so this Sunday Collect prepares us for the Advent season as a kind of bugle cry to get our attention: wake up! It’s time! The last trumpet will soon sound! Christ is born in Bethlehem! Christ is returning, filling the sky! Can you see Him?

The world needs stirring up as it awaits the Second Advent of Christ, the Second Coming.

This last week I needed stirring up and I needed the reassurance that nothing was lost. While I knew the media had years ago declared war on a sitting President, and while I knew that if an honest and free press gives way to tyranny that democracy dies, I was surprised once again that a major news conference shedding evidential light into the deep shadows of our recent election was not covered, but dismissed and scorned. It was as though the last hope of a free press was gone.

The Gospel today was St. John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand, with only a lad’s five barley loaves and two small fishes (John 6:5+). Andrew asks, “What are they among so many?”

And we ask, what are we among so many?

How can truth be broadcast when major media is corrupt? And yet our voices continue to be heard. For nothing is lost.

IMG_3395 (6)And so in St. John’s account we see the economy of Heaven: the vast and the microscopic, the immortal and the mortal. The Lord of the Universe sits on a hillside and receives a basket of loaves and fishes from a little boy. We are given concrete details: the people are to sit; there is grass to sit upon; Jesus gives thanks and distributes the loaves and fishes, feeding them all. It was a miracle of creation repeated, multiplied, a down-from-Heaven-to-Earth miracle, an intersection of eternity into time.

Finally, Jesus instructs his disciples to “gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” Nothing be lost. I am a fragment: gather me. I don’t want to be lost. John writes that there were twelve baskets of fragments gathered. He is a good witness to reality, to truth. He gives us details in his account.

And so we must be good witnesses to all the fragments.

One of the ways that totalitarian governments take and retain power is to repeat lies until they (seem to) become truth. Just so, it seems we the voters are expected to see and not to see, to witness and not to testify. We begin to doubt our senses. We begin to believe the lies. It’s so much easier to go along.

woman-praising-on-god-illustrationBut many are praying that true truth is told by those who do the telling. As evidence is amassed in numerous court cases litigating recent election practices, we pray that light lights up the dark, forces the lies to emerge from the shadows so that we can truly see.

We must be stirred up enough to remain awake to reality, to truth, to the truth of the Advent of Christ, to the truth of the light shining in the darkness, to the truth of who we are in spite of our brokenness. We gather our words like loaves and fishes, hoping they will multiply and feed the hungry. The fragments are gathered too, so that nothing is lost.

Every breath counts. Every prayer counts. Every true vote for freedom counts. We need not be afraid. Nothing is lost.