March Journal: Passion Sunday, Fourth Sunday in Lent

We celebrated the Annunciation this last week, Archangel Gabriel’s visit to Mary to announce the grace she would receive, if she consented to bearing the Son of God. “Let it be unto me according to thy will,” she says, assenting, her great fiat. Her “yes” changed the world forever, giving us the Redeemer and showing us how to say yes too.

She teaches us humility, so necessary to see God and listen to his plans for us. 

We have become gods in our own eyes, with eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear. We are blinded by our own will, pride, and self-love. All sin is selfishness, a bishop once said to me. We become bound by our own desires.

And so we begin Passiontide, the last days and weeks of our journey to Jerusalem. As I listened to our wise, soft-spoken preacher this morning, sitting in a chair before the purple covered tabernacle, in his purple vestments, I marveled how individuals can age like fine wine. Each one of us, so unique, can make the choice to listen to God rather than be as gods. We can choose to step carefully through our own lives and be responsible for the space and time into which we are born. We cannot save the world if we cannot save ourselves. We cannot save ourselves if we do not cherish life at all ages in all stages.

Our preacher spoke of the Gospel lesson appointed for today and the weaving dialog between Our Lord and the Pharisees (St. John 8:46+). The passage considers the question, who is Jesus? “Who do you say that I am?” he asked Peter earlier, using the forbidden name for God, I am. It is a heartening passage, watching Our Lord’s skill in this debate, as he considers truth, logic, reason, until finally he sums up the conversation with, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am.”

The Pharisees are not of God, Christ says, for they do not recognize who he is. If not of God, who are they? Who do they represent? Who owns them? Our preacher spoke of the darkness that is seen in this passage. It is easy to slip into the darkness, to not answer the question. It is easy to look away, step aside, keep silent, allow our hearts and minds to not hear the question. We either say yes to God, or we say no with our silence. A house divided cannot stand. For or against. There is no inbetween. There will be an accounting.

In the movie, “God Is Not Dead 2,” the protagonist, a teacher, describes how she came to believe in Christ. She was troubled by something, and went for a walk, and she passed by a church with a sign out front that asked the question, “Who do you say that I am?” She didn’t think much about it but for the next few days the question haunted her. She wanted to answer it, and seeks out a pastor to explain it all. The question changed her life. And it is true – “If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.” She is reborn.

I often have thought that we are reborn again and again, each time we confess, are absolved, and return to God, clean of sin. And with each rebirth, we grow further into who we are meant to be. It is a lifetime of falling and rising, reaching for his hand. It is a lifetime of silence and sudden speech, of filling the void of our lives with the music of the spheres and learning to dance. We empty out and fill up, again and again, and each time we are made whole, more holy than before. It is a time not to be missed, this time of our lives. To know true joy, we embrace the gift of faith, learning and loving, with liturgy and song and prayer. The Church gives us this chance to live out the time of our lives with God – the Father, the Son, the Spirit.

Who do you say that He is?

It’s a question to be answered, today on Passion Sunday, as we journey to Jerusalem to enter the greatest love ever known, the love of God.

And as I journey, I’m revisiting my Lenten discipline, my “Prayer for a Sick Person.” (BCP 45)

“Father of mercies and God of all comfort, we humbly beseech thee to behold, visit, and relieve thy sick servant Francis, for whom our prayers are desired. Look upon him with the eyes of thy mercy; comfort him with a sense of thy goodness; preserve him from the temptations of the enemy; and give him patience under his affliction. In thy good time restore him to health, and enable him to lead the residue of his life in thy fear, and to thy glory; and grant that finally he may dwell with thee in life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Francis is undergoing an operation on Wednesday. Please pray for him.

March Journal, Rose Sunday, Fourth Sunday in Lent

We are preparing for our yearly Anglican Synod at the end of April, which will be held here in the Bay Area after two years in Chico and Redding. It will be good to see old friends and make new ones, and be able to attend some of the local events. Our Diocese of the Western States will share the synod with our neighboring diocese, the Diocese of the Southwestern States, which means seeing more old friends from out of state and meeting more new ones.

Our own St. Joseph’s Collegiate Chapel and Seminary in Berkeley will be co-hosting the synod with our Clayton parish, St. Martin of Tours. On Tuesday, April 25, St. Joseph’s is having an Open House with Mass, lunch, history tours, videos, and items from our archives, ending with Solemn Evensong. The Open House is a prelude to the beginning of the Synod on Wednesday and is open to all who are interested.

In preparing a booklet that speaks to the history of the seminary and the Berkeley location, one block from UCB, I have pulled out files from our archives, journeying back to 1960 when a certain Fr. Robert Morse, Episcopal Chaplain at Cal, desired to build a student chapel for corporate worship. A trusting priest, he thought he had the support of his bishop, but not so. Bishop James Pike wanted to derail the project for the local parishes saw the young chaplain as competition. Yet somehow, our faithful Fr. Morse did not give up. He patiently, over the next fourteen years, listened to that still small voice he heard in his prayers, and finally saw the chapel rise from the corner of Durant and Bowditch in 1974. Along the way, I wonder why he didn’t give into despair, but continued on, one step at a time, faithfully. He listened and he waited on God, as individuals appeared in his life who would make all the difference.

In the process of researching this story, it occurred to me once again how unique each one of us is, with unique talents and temptations, no two alike. How can that be? Scientists studying Evolution and Intelligent Design call the genetic code one of “infinite complexity.” It is this complexity that puts the lie to evolutionary theory as being the only path of human development. We are far too complicated and evolution far too simple. We were designed by an intelligent creator and, one might add, designed by a loving creator.

When I am in a group, be it my Curves ladies who exercise with me on machines in a circle, or be it my friendly faithful on folding chairs in church, or be it simply a line of folks at the Post Office, I like to watch each person and delight in their differences, their uniqueness. For we are not robots, no matter the ChatGBT artificial intelligence tool, and each one of us is beautifully intricate, with our own purpose designed by our loving creator. Those who study history know this – the uncanny ability of one person to make a difference, to be in the right place at the right time to enact another chapter in humanity’s timeline, hopefully a chapter of grace.

As a friend at Curves said to me one day, “Everyone has a story. I like to know the story.” Simple and profound. This particular lady has the most beautiful smile I have ever encountered, with curious eyes, and a sweet way of tilting her head as she listens. Yes, listening is a great talent too. I am trying to do more listening and less talking, for when I do, I get to inhabit another’s story for a time. I am never disappointed. It is true I do like to chat, perhaps too much, and I try to resist the temptation and listen, riding the wave of infinite complexity that is on offer in the other.

And so, I wonder in awe, at the many little moments of decision that Fr. Morse made in the early sixties, finally maneuvering to the safer waters of the early seventies, one day at a time. He must have been a good listener, waiting on God, desiring God’s will. For he was led to the right individuals that would protect not only his priestly vocation, but his vision of the chapel on the corner of Durant and Bowditch. He was listening, and he was led. I can see him now, listening to me babble, his thoughtful face absorbing my words and solving my problems of the moment. He would nod, his eyes growing large in recognition of a shared thought or discovery. He was transparent, trusting.

Looking back, as historians do from their high perch of the present, it all seems logical and inevitable. But when I imagine myself in his position, when I imagine what it was like when he realized he had misguided and nearly prosecuted by the Diocese of California, despair would surely have nipped at my heels. To be sure, Fr. Morse was only human, as they say. But I believe he laid his temptations, his worries and his fears, at the foot of the Cross, went back to listening to God, and patiently and prayerfully pondered the next step.

Not knowing what the next moment will hold, or the next day, or the next year, can be frightening. And yet with Our Lord in charge of our lives it can be exhilarating. We must follow the Cross, for all is grace, and nothing is lost. Everything counts. Our failures, our missteps, our wrong turns are all redeemed. He picks us up and dusts us off and sends us out once again into the world of infinitely complex human beings, our brothers and sisters, our parents and our children, each creation glorifying the creator. Then we bask in the light of his love.

And we remember to listen. For each one of us is making history in our own time, step by step, prayer by prayer.


March Journal, Third Sunday in Lent

They say that joy is different from happiness, but it seems to me they are close cousins at least. Happiness grows into joy. Joy is the crowning of happiness. When you are joyful, you are happy. But when you are happy, you are not necessarily joyful.

I experienced an otherworldly sense of joy this morning in St. Joseph’s Chapel. It was not the first time and I hope not the last (aha, hope is woven into the equation, I am certain).

I was not expecting it, and it appeared at once from nowhere and everywhere, a deep sense of being loved and cradled by beauty and glory.

We weren’t sure we would be braving the rain this morning. And we lost an hour with the time change, adding to our fatigue. Indeed, we doubted we would/should/could brave the journey into Berkeley, not between storms. Then there were the kamikaze highway drivers. There were the potholes and floods. But the skies cleared for a time, and we plucked up our courage. We decided to go. After all, it was Lent.

I avoided the potholes and flooded spaces, eyeing the cars speeding around me, crossing lanes, zigzagging, racers determined to tempt fate, or perhaps God, with the thrill of their speed. In California, police are scarce after defunding and riots.

So by the time we arrived, all we wanted was to be safe, to get home after Mass intact. We didn’t have high expectations.

We entered the cold and dark chapel, and I turned on the lights and the heat, lit the candles beneath the Madonna and Child icon. We took our seats. Our organist had arrived and was playing something encouraging, an energetic and charming prelude. Our sexton/cantor waited to begin the chant. Soon our priest, preceded by two Cal Crew residents who served as acolytes, began to intone the litany. They stepped slowly up the aisle, praying “Lord have mercy,” carrying torches alight. We joined in the responses.

As we sang the songs and prayed the prayers, so well known to us that the words live on our lips, we few became one, the clay of our souls sculpted into beauty. The organ boomed, the cantor sang, and the music soared high over the altar and up into the domed chancel and the clerestory windows. Our preacher preached quietly, profoundly. We are all called to take part in the Kingdom of Christ on Earth and in Heaven, he said. Each one of us has a gift that is meant to be offered, as part of the Body. We heard the words of St. Paul written to the church in Ephesus: “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth;) proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:1+, BCP 128)

Perhaps it was the sudden thundering downpour on the roof and our warm safety inside; perhaps it was the Lenten purples – the tented tabernacle, the vestments. Perhaps it was the fire flaming from the candles and the sweet Madonna with her Child in the back cradling us as her own. Perhaps it was the Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated by our elderly priest, and the General Confession and Absolution. Perhaps it was when we stepped to the altar to receive the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, as the cantor chanted the Psalms.

Sometime at some point I realized it wasn’t happiness I was holding in my heart. It was joy, the joy of creating and offering to God our liturgy of love. It was the joy of the Holy Spirit weaving among us, making us one. It was the joy of being a part of a holy family, the family of God. And as our preacher reminded us, each one of us is essential. Each one of us must offer ourselves and our talents. Each one of us then becomes our sister or our brother, our mother or our father, our aunt or our uncle, our children.

For when we create and offer our love sculpted by prayer and song and sacrifice, Our Lord makes us children of his light. And we bask in his joy. We nearly see his face.

Perhaps, too, joy came into the space created by my lack of expectations. I went to Mass because it was the right thing to do, not because I desired to go. I had many excuses, but all were banished. And so, when we least expect it, we are bathed in light. We simply need to pay attention to creed and commitment, to do our little part as a member of the Family of God, the Body of Christ. Then we are surprised by joy, as C.S. Lewis wrote.

And yes, we made it home safely, beneath the storming heavens. And as I looked up to the greening hills, a rainbow shown through the mist.

Thanks be to God.

March Journal, Second Sunday in Lent

There is something about a cold clear day, washed with a night’s rain rattling the drainpipes in the roof, that speaks of winter facing spring. Today was such a day, as the clouds parted for our journey into Berkeley to St. Joseph’s Collegiate Chapel for Lent 2. We entered the space, still cold from the night, but feeling the heater pumping up through the side vents. Soon it was warm, and amidst swirling incense and sacred words, we gathered together to ask the Lord’s blessing upon us, as we travel to Easter and Resurrection Day. We few, happy few as it were, rode the melodies of the morning, confessing, chanting, celebrating, and receiving the Real Presence one more Sunday on this good Earth.

Our good preacher reminded us (as he does each year) that we must consider our Lenten Rule, what to add, what to give up. I often fall back on the welcome advice given by the British Anglican mystic, Evelyn Underhill, who said the true Rule is to face and inhabit God’s will in our lives. Fortified with this thought, along with our good preacher, I decided to memorize another prayer from our poetic 1928 Book of Common Prayer. But what am I giving up? My own desires as I face God’s will in my life. Also, I give up minutes and hours to add the prayer to my memory. But what prayer?

I had already returned to my yearly Lenten Collect, saying it daily, reinforcing a former Lenten prayer rule:

“ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (BCP 124)

Then I considered my life and the last year and all those who have gone before me into Eternity. There was Shelley, Scott, Beth, and John. And others… I cannot recall, but it seems like so many. There were little deaths too, little losses, where hope seemed unredeemed, where truth was difficult to face. And yet there were moments resurrected, moments of grace, where wounds were healed, sight restored, paths once unknown now known.

There would be more friends and family making the great journey in the year to come. What better prayer than the prayer, “For a Sick Person.” It seems dauntingly long, but I’m going to give it a try. It might prove useful one day, when I am at a loss for words in the face of loved ones leaving me:

“O FATHER of mercies and God of all comfort, our only help in time of need; We humbly beseech thee to behold, visit, and relieve thy sick servant [N.] for whom our prayers are desired. Look upon him with the eyes of thy mercy; comfort him with a sense of thy goodness; preserve him from the temptations of the enemy; and give him patience under his affliction. In thy good time, restore him to health, and enable him to lead the residue of his life in thy fear, and to thy glory; and grant that finally he may dwell with thee in life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”  (BCP 45)

I placed an e-copy of the prayerbook in my Kindle for easy access. For, as the Collect for today reminds us, we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves. This is also a good prayer to memorize, and much shorter (!):

“ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (BCP 127)

And so, as we prayed the prayers and sang the songs and listened to our Cantor’s amber voice sanctify the moments, the organ holding time in each note, soaring over and around us and up to the clerestory windows – as all these graces danced within and among us, weaving us together, we were healed, made whole, holy, for another week in Earth time, until Lent 3.

It is a curious thing about Earth time, temporal time, our time. It feeds somehow on Eternity. It grows in the midst of the heavens declaring the glory of God. It takes on a beauty that is indescribable, like a golden ball on a Christmas tree. Hence we have poetry, music, and not least of all, love, the three beauties given us as we dance on our journey of grace, three graces leading to faith, hope, and charity, the Holy Spirit weaving among us and within us, brightening our lives, beckoning us to Easter morning.

February Journal, First Sunday in Lent

It snowed on Thursday night, blanketing Mount Diablo here in the Bay Area. Somehow, it seemed a good way to begin Lent, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The snow will melt, to be sure, just as our bodies will decompose when we make the great crossing into Heaven.

Thursday night our beloved Archbishop entered Eternity after a long battle with cancer. No wonder the world around our house became frozen and cold. He is no longer with us.

Archbishop Upham was in the right place at the right time for those of us who are part of the Anglican Province of Christ the King. God does this again and again, creating individuals with unique talents that, when offered to him, are key players in the battle of good and evil in our world. I have seen so many instances of this occurring, mostly unnoticed, but as I age I notice more and more. Patterns weave into greater tapestries of meaning and sense.

Our Archbishop was a quiet and thoughtful priest with an inner strength that was almost palpable, characteristics that inspired trust in what he said and did. He became a full time priest after a career in music education and happened to be at the right place and the right time to steer our Anglican ark into calmer waters, having been tossed about in recent storms. He was solid and he was faithful. He listened to God and tried to do God’s will. He understood, as one does if one prays, right from wrong, truth versus lies. He had a vision of how things should be and he wasn’t afraid to witness to that vision.

Archbishop Upham had many talents, but one I loved was his singing voice, a deep melodic sound that, when he visited our university chapel in Berkeley, resounded through the vaulted space, soared above the altar and touched the medieval crucifix suspended above. 

It is a curious thing that the afternoon of the day he died I was corresponding with the bishop who was looking after him in Raleigh, North Carolina, about adding a name to our seminary email list, a request that had just come into my mailbox. I ended my email to our bishop/registrar with, please give Archbishop Upham my love. I hope he did. A few hours later John Upham left us, released from his earthly pain and sorrow and struggles. He knows now how we all loved him.

And here, in California, it snowed on the mountain that night, in honor of Archbishop Upham’s life and witness.

Perhaps this is the music of the mountain I am writing about in my novel-in-progress. Perhaps we are the music of the mountain, the voice of love, the deep resonating assurance of God’s love for us. We harmonize together, creating a symphony of sound that could not be sung alone.

What is music? It’s the perfect ratio that brings beauty into our ears, rhythm into our step and beat into our heart. We are musical creatures, you and I, chords joined together to create something larger than any one of us could create.

Our Archbishop knew this, and as he directed his choir of bishops sitting on the Council of Bishops, they saw they could make music too. And so those of us in the pews hear the notes and make them our own. We sing in unison the great and profound words of our musical tradition, telling the story, singing the story of God’s love for us. We face the altar, singing to the Real Presence of Christ, as his Body the Church, and as his Bride.

It seems right that our Archbishop died on the other side of Ash Wednesday. We pick up where he left off, sing the tune he was singing. We join our voices as we travel the road through Lent to the Passion and to Easter. It is a stony road through this season of late winter and early spring, with these lengthening days, and we must learn to avoid the sharp edges, as we sing the words of penance and rebirth.

It is raining now, a steady cold rain greening our hills. As I return to The Music on the Mountain I shall give thanks for the music in my heart, soul, and mind, the harmony of love. For love turns ash into green grass, death into life. It is love that sings to us, calling us to be faithful, to be brave, to witness to who we are and who we are meant to be. It is love that tells us, in the last days, fear not, all is grace.

Living the Story of Faith and Freedom

I’m pleased to announce that American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) published my post today, Living the Story of Faith and Freedom, how Christian novelists tell stories woven with faith and freedom, set in a real world, enlightening our human condition with hope. Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, our preparation for the glorious events of Easter. Today is also February 22, the birthday of George Washington and the feast day of St. Joseph of Arimathea, Apostle to England in the first century. It is a time to remember, reflect, and repent so that we may rejoice with the saints on Earth and in Heaven that Easter resurrection is ours too.

February Journal, Quinquagesima, the Sunday before Lent

I was blind and now I can see. 

As I continue working on my novel-in-progress, The Music of the Mountain, I am often tempted to turn down unexpected yet rewarding paths that I pray don’t blind me to where God wants me to go, to see what he wants me to see, to tell a tale he wants me to tell. The most recent path has taken me to Vienna in 1938 and the Anschluss (annexation), the invasion of Austria by Hitler in March and the following Kristallnacht (night of broken glass) in November. Over this horrific time period over 30,000 Jews were arrested and deported to camps.

The question is often asked, why didn’t they see this coming? Why didn’t more escape, immigrate, hide? Vienna posed one of the classic answers, that with their wealth and perceived assimilation, their conversion to Catholicism or simply becoming secular Jews they thought they were immune. Many, to be sure, didn’t think of themselves as Jewish. They had intermarried and had provided the Vienna community with the greatest art and music, intellectuals and writers, Europe has ever known and probably will never know again.

I became intrigued with Vienna when a friend gave me a calendar of Gustav Klimt’s paintings. Klimt was an Austrian symbolist painter (1862-1918). The story of his painting of the Viennese Jewish socialite Adele Bloch-Bauer (1881-1925), “The Lady in Gold,” using icon-style gold leaf, ushered me into fin-de-siecle Vienna, a time of the great literary and music salons. I was intrigued, particularly since I would be including in my novel a Holocaust story. Would this be the tale I would tell? There were many to choose from.

So I read the book that tells the tale of Adele by Anne-Marie O’Connor (The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, New York: Vintage, 2012). I then saw the movie based on this story of the fight for ownership of the painting (featuring Helen Mirren), involving a dispute between Adele’s heirs and the Austrian government, finally settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. I wasn’t as interested in the court case and effort to recover Nazi stolen art as I was with the early chapters in the book describing Viennese society at the turn of the nineteenth century, with the rise of industry and banking. Adele’s father was head of one of the largest banks in the Hapsburg Empire and head of the Orient Express. Her husband is Ferdinand Bauer, a sugar-beet baron. They were significant patrons of the arts. She was an early feminist, desiring to be educated as men were (!). She posed for the well-known painter Klimt, and reigned over the grand salons in her palace.

While she was not directly affected by the Holocaust, her world was. I suddenly realized why they didn’t see it all coming. They had become decadent, assuming that society needed them, considering all they had given to society, so very true. Recall that Vienna was home to Mozart and Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss, Freud and Adler, to name a few. Vienna must have seemed like the center of the cultured world, glittering and golden, brilliant and artistic. 

Just like Americans today.

We too, have become decadent, seeing the greater world as dependent upon us, our talent and wealth, and so it has been in past and for the most part still is. But we don’t want to be blinded by our creature comforts and most of all, our pride. We have become soft, used to modern conveniences, used to being entertained, used to supermarkets laden with food and dry goods, used to doing little for our world and contributing less. Today, I read, people have the “right not to work,” to be paid by those who do work.

Then came the pandemic and lockdowns and shortages, the escalating gas prices and homelessness, the rising crime and mass shootings, the brainwashing of our children, the takeover of major institutions by the radical left, and yes, the unsurprising rise of anti-Semitism, the traditional scapegoat for burgeoning inflation and general unhappiness.

The Gospel lesson today was the healing of the blind man on the road to Jerusalem. He is healed because of his faith: “Receive thy sight,” Jesus says. “Thy faith hath saved thee.” (Luke 18: 31+, BCP 123). This third Sunday of Pre-Lent, as we prepare to receive the ashen cross on our foreheads this Wednesday, as we begin our own journey to Jerusalem, our own passion, our own healing and salvation, following Christ’s footsteps to the Cross – as we prepare to step alongside him, we pray to see the truth of our world and our own souls. Heal us, we cry, have mercy upon us, that we may see. We are told by our censors to be silent, to not cause a disturbance, just as the blind man was told. But we, like him, speak out, crying to Our Lord that our world may see, may be awakened.

And so, the question remains. Will I be using this Viennese story in my novel-in-progress, the story of why a few escaped because they could see, and why most were murdered because they refused to see? I placed the research in a pile of other stories, keeping the Lady in Gold in my sight. Then I read about “Leopoldstadt,” the brilliant play by Tom Stoppard. An excellent review can be found in January’s Commentary. The play is set in Vienna, from the fin-de-siecle to 1955. While it is fiction, of course, it is based on many stories of the time, including Tom Stoppard’s. It turns out that he is Jewish and his mother and father, along with their two young sons fled Czechoslovakia, from a town near the Austrian border called Zlin. They fled on March 15, 1939, the day the Nazis invaded. His name then was Tomas Straussler, and his father’s employer moved his Jewish employees to Singapore, to another factory. Of course I ordered the recent biography of Tom Stoppard. An interview by director Patrick Marber is excellent and fascinating.

The play opened in London in 2020 and recently in New York. It takes place in a drawing room in a grand palais in Vienna and we see how the families portrayed didn’t see, we see how easily blinded one can become. I’m looking forward to reading the script. Another pathway beckons… but yes, I think the experience of the Jewish community in Vienna will be one of my backstories. Leopoldstadt, the Jewish quarter in Vienna produced much of the West’s civilization, and somehow mirrors today’s challenges in eerie and frightening ways.

And I shall pray for healing as we follow the path to Jerusalem. 

February Journal, Sexagesima Sunday, the Second Sunday before Lent

At St. Joseph’s Collegiate Chapel in Berkeley this morning, we entered the second Sunday of Pre-Lent, and I was struck by the light shafting through the clerestory windows upon the crucifix, a reminder to have ears to hear, eyes to see.

Just as Septuagesima’s Gospel was about Time and Judgment, Sexagesima’s Gospel today is about what we do with the time, knowledge, and grace given us, once we encounter Christ in our lives. Our Lord tells the parable of the seed in the soil, and considers what kind of soil and what sort of fruits that will be produced.  Some seed fell upon the way-side, some on a rock, some among thorns, and some on good ground, baring fruit. The seed is the word of God… Jesus explains clearly what it all means. We want to be those who “having heard the word of God, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:4+, BCP 121)

The Gospel is paired appropriately with Paul’s long list of all the dangers and challenges he has endured as a minister of Christ. He is writing to the Church in Corinth in an effort to encourage them to be brave and long-suffering. Hence his list (briefly): he works hard, is whipped, imprisoned, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked. His perils are many: seas, robbers, wilderness, slanders, hunger, thirst, weariness and painfulness, fastings, cold and nakedness. He even gets angry. But he glories in his very infirmities. One guesses Paul is answering complaints of the Corinthians, giving them a pep talk (2 Corinthians 11:19+, BCP 120).

What do we do with our time on Earth? Are we producing fruit, having heard the word of God? Do we keep it? My mother turned 103 last month, a truth that focuses my own attention on our next great adventure, our passage into Eternity. Our numbered days are shrinking, a fact that I find both encouraging and worrisome. The clock ticks. The bell tolls. Judgment awaits.

It has been remarked by many how silent the Christian churches and Jewish synagogues are today, in terms of standing up to some of the totalitarian trends gathering speed. Eric Metaxas recently interviewed Alan Dershowitz about his book, Guilt by Accusation, in which he speaks of the extortion racket that has emerged from the “Me Too” movement. He mentions that in the long process of clearing his name through the courts (he refused to pay the ransom), others continued to shun him, including his own synagogue who “didn’t want to invite trouble.” Mr. Metaxas recognizes the symptoms of turning away from tyranny – that blind eye and silence in the face of the dragon – for his biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer recounts a similar acquiescing in the 1930’s that propelled Hitler and the death camps.

The parallels are frightening. The self-censoring is everywhere. Where are the St. Pauls of our era? Where is the good soil that bears good fruit?

I see a bit of St. Paul in Elon Musk and the Twitter Files. There are others too, brave Davids with slingshots aimed at formidable Goliaths, but I also understand the fear of inviting trouble, cancellation, shunning, destruction of career, loss of family. The anger and loathing I have seen first hand in family members and friends when they find I am not only a Trump deplorable but a Christian deplorable as well is formidable. I can identify to a limited extent with St. Paul. But I have, so far, less to lose, being retired, elderly, and numbering my days, as it were. Even so, the deranged outrage of these folks is palpable.

There are many tentacles to this octopus, to swim with another metaphor. Universities are requiring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statements from prospective students as well as faculty applying for a position. It is not enough to be silent, to turn away from the tyranny, but students and faculty must also show their actions supporting the DEI program. They must salute. They must march. And DEI, a racist program, is just one of many incursions upon our freedom and the dignity of merit and character, the sanctity of all human life, from conception to grave.

And so I take great heart in hearing the litany of abuse Paul suffered and Our Lord’s parable fully explained, in case we wanted to censor the meaning. It’s all about hearing the word and believing, then with “an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.”

I suppose, at the end of the day, we pray we have ears to hear, eyes to see, to recognize the King of Glory when we meet him in Paradise, seated on his throne in glory.

February Journal, Septuagesima Sunday

Today is Septuagesima Sunday, the beginning of “Pre-Lent,” the first of three Sundays before Ash Wednesday.

I have long been fascinated by this segment of time carried forward from earlier days, earlier rituals and seasons of the Church. Our present worship of God is thus punctuated by the past, to form a whole in our own time, enriching us all the more with the Communion of Saints stepping into our lives throughout the year.

Septuagesima’s lessons are about time, running the race to receive an “incorruptible crown” (St. Paul, I Corinthians, 9:24+, BCP 119). Our lives are this race through time to the end of our own time and our passage through judgment into Eternity. Just so, Christ tells us a parable in the Gospel appointed for this day, where the workers in the vineyard are paid for the day they work, dawn to dusk, and question those who only work the last hour. Should they receive the same pay? Our Lord says, essentially, it’s up to my goodness and not of your concern. We too, who work in the vineyard from an early age, might resent those who enter the Kingdom at the last minute, on their deathbed. But we learn today that it’s up to Our Lord’s goodness and judgment and not of our concern.

The parable is also about envy, as our preacher pointed out this morning. A right and ordered attitude, formed by an informed conscience, educated in the pew and at the altar rail, tells us not to be envious. Indeed, one of the Ten Commandments given to Moses is, “Thou shalt not covet.” Envy of course is desire to be like someone else; covetousness is the desire to have what they have. Close cousins, to be sure.

We have been given life, a circumscribed length of time on this Earth. This is a wondrous gift, this time from conception to cradle to grave. It is up to us to judge ourselves in preparation for Judgment in Eternity. We are called to clean out our hearts, to make a new and right heart within. This is enough of a challenge, to remove the beam in our own eye. We do not need to remove our neighbor’s beam.

But we can point the way. In love we encourage others to judge themselves rightly, inform their consciences, in the pew and at the altar rail and the confessional. We keep the church doors open, the candles lit, the hymnbooks ready, and we welcome our brothers and sisters traveling through time alongside us.

And so both lessons today are about time and how to see ourselves in this space granted, this time in which we have been placed. The times seem tumultuous to many of us, and it may very well be that we are witnessing a great shift in the world order, as well as a diminishing role for the Church. As Joseph Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI) wrote in 1970 in his profoundly prophetic Faith and the Future (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009) the Church will become smaller and more spiritual, and this faithful flock will offer something new to men and women who have forgotten God and in their loneliness “feel the whole horror of their poverty.” We are seeing this played out today.

We don’t begrudge the late converts but celebrate and give thanks for their new life within.

And as we look ahead to Ash Wednesday and the full realization of our mortality, we begin to consider where we may have gone astray, in thought, word, or deed, where we need to repent and clean out our hearts, to make them right with God. We consider what rule we might keep, what to add to our hours on Earth and what to remove. Fasting and abstinence apply to all of our doings – perhaps less TV, more Psalms; less this, more that. A spiritual fast as well as a physical one. A fast that mysteriously becomes a fulfilling feast.

As we move through Pre-Lent and into Lent, then into Passiontide and Easter, we educate our souls by informing our consciences. We do this by our own faithful presence before the Real Presence, so that we see ourselves as Our Lord sees us. Only then can we approach the mystery, majesty, and miracle of Christ’s death and resurrection. Only then can we fully partake of Eternity in Time today, the Word made flesh among us, now and always.

January Journal, Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

January is the month of Life conquering Death. It begins with resolutions to change, to be better, to do this, to not do that. For some it is a “dry month,” purging alcohol toxins from the system and hopefully purging bad habits as well. We all want to live, not die, to savor every minute of the life we have been given. We have emerged from a time of holiday gatherings and festivities, of giving and receiving, of singing to the baby in the manger, “silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…” We have considered the miracle and mystery of Christmas, God incarnate, come to save us from ourselves.

And so in January we are ready to save us from ourselves with resolutions to be better in some way. Christians do this weekly, with confession and repentance, or even hourly, saying to Our Lord, “Forgive me for that, forgive me for this, forgive me… I am sorry.” Whether once a year or once a day, we innately know we are under judgment in some way; we innately know we are sick and need healing. Our souls need saving.

As I putter along with my novel-in-progress, The Music of the Mountain, my decision to set it in January 2023 has produced some interesting discoveries about this month in our present day. The Feast of Epiphany led me to light and dark, vision, seeing, knowing. That the January 6 protest in Washington D.C. was on this day has struck me with some force since the event happened. Coincidence? Don’t know. I try to look at all sides, and make up my own mind about truth and lies. This rally, to my mind, was a demand to delay the counting of the electoral votes until further investigation could be made. It was not an effort to overturn the election, but to question certain electors and to re-certify them to everyone’s satisfaction. There appears to be clear evidence there were FBI instigators in the crowd, urging them on. No protestors used firearms, and the only death was one of the protesters at the hands of the police (will there be justice for Ashley Babbitt?). Nothing burned down. One thing for sure, these rather foolhardy trespassers wanted more light shed on what happened over the previous year 2020 in terms of the election. Numerous irregularities needed bright sunlight. News stories were buried that needed to be aired in the light of day. Questions needed answers. We are still unraveling what happened, two/three years later.

January 6 and the light of Epiphany – the desire to see reality for what it is – coincided with this march on Congress by citizens who desired to shine light on their beloved country. 

This year, Epiphany fell in the midst of rainstorms and flooding here in Northern California. Power outages from fallen trees left us in the dark for days in cold temperatures without heat, light, and without warning. The storms darkened the skies through the 15th, and we began to see sunlight once again. 

Soon we were recalling the fiftieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade – January 22, 1973, when the Supreme Court federalized the right to abortion, overturned in October 2022, and given to the States to decide. As of now it is thought that 11,000 babies have lived that would not have lived since this 2022 decision. Life won over death. But the tragedy continues, as State by State work to settle the question, when does life begin? Science says conception. Death says whenever you want, you decide. 

And so folks marched for Life in Washington D.C. on Friday, in San Francisco on Saturday (crowd estimated at 30,000), and in cities across the country over the weekend. Sunday the 22nd was the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, coinciding with the Third Sunday in Epiphanytide, recalling Jesus’ first miracle, turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, a moment when Christ celebrates marriage and the joy of family and friends, and of course, children.

This weekend of Life was soon overshadowed by a week of mass shootings in California. On Saturday the 21st, eleven were killed in a dance hall in Monterey Park in Southern California. On Monday the 23rd seven were injured and one died in a mass shooting in Half Moon Bay in Northern California. There was a mass shooting in Oakland as well.

As we moved through the week, mourning the many murdered, the skies dried and an icy wind cleared the air, culminating in Friday the 27th, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. I was stunned when I realized this fell in this same month, a week after the Roe v. Wade anniversary. The two holocausts remembered within a week. In January.

The Jewish Holocaust remembrance – January 27 – recalled the freeing of Auschwitz by Soviet troops on this day. In all, some 1.1 million people were killed in this concentration camp in Poland. Friday, January 27, 2023 was the 78th anniversary, a commemoration established by the United Nations in 2005.

These twin horrors – holocausts – must not be forgotten: the children lost through abortion (2 million a year in the U.S. since 1973) and the genocide of six million Jews, five million Slavs, three million ethnic Poles, two hundred thousand Romani, two hundred fifty thousand mentally and physically disabled people, and nine thousand homosexual men by the Nazi regime.

I was reminded of this anniversary by my friends in Kentucky who run Nazareth House Apostolate, a retreat and prayer center. Vicki and Father Seraphim Hicks send a daily prayer email that includes significant meditations on our times. Vicki quotes the author and survivor Elie Wiesel who describes Holocaust survivors as those who had “emerged from the Kingdom of Night. We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering, and not to share them would mean to betray [the dead].”

We must never forget all holocausts – the genocide of babies and the genocides of peoples. In my novels, I try and include not only immigrant stories, but survivors of genocide. We must not forget.

Being absorbed by these events over the last few weeks, I failed to remember one last commemoration in January, one that captures my heart, for January 28 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Denver consecrations. After leaving the Episcopal Church for matters of faith and practice, some would say heresy, four bishops were consecrated in Denver, Colorado in 1978. This event solidified the foundation of the Anglican Province of Christ the King. Our Bishop Morse of blessed memory was consecrated bishop with three others, thus ensuring the apostolic line of the episcopacy for our Anglican province. We have traveled a long road together through the decades since 1978 and have been blessed to speak truth to lies, love to hate, bringing many into the ark of the Church and her promise of life eternal.

And so this month of January 2023 has been full of light and dark, in great need of more epiphanies, in great need of Christ’s light in the darkness. We see why he came to us as a baby in a manger-cave outside Bethlehem, why we celebrate him in all we do, for he brings the light of truth, the light of love, and the light of life into our tragic world. He truly saves us in our Time for all Eternity.

And of course this is the music of the mountain, a tune that calls us all to love, light, and life eternal.