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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.

January Journal, Third Sunday after Epiphany

It’s been a week of awakenings, epiphanies, which is appropriate given my review of The Awakening of Jennifer Arsdale by George Leef was published yesterday on the VoegelinView website, a fascinating library of erudite articles on culture, history, music, Western Civilization, and more. My little review was a bit nervous about the company it was going to be keeping, but I gave the review’s heartfelt words and lines a pep talk and all seems fine now. Sometimes you have to venture forth into the wider world, I explained patiently to my creation. Just like Jennifer Van Arsdale.

Epiphanies are awakenings, perhaps more focused. Epiphanies are re-creations, new creations, sudden sight, sudden hearing, sudden knowing. Sometimes they heal, warn, advise. And so as I listened to the Gospel for today in the stunning St. Joseph’s Collegiate Chapel in Berkeley, I had an epiphany about epiphanies. For Christ’s first miracle is recounted, the turning of water into wine at the wedding feast in the town of Cana. But of course, I thought, our Creator can turn anything into anything. He knows how to do it, the water was created by him as was the wine. On this altar in our chapel, He will become present in the bread and the wine. And just so, I thought, daring to venture forth into the wider world of seeing, understanding, even knowing, Christ can do the same with us. He can change us from water into wine, if we desire it, if we will it, if we say yes as Mary did all those years ago.

I’ve been working on the backstories for my four characters that will inhabit the pages of my next novel, The Music of the Mountain. When I approach these things, early on when the task seems so gigantic that I fear I shall freeze in trembling apprehension of all the details that must be either remembered or recorded – when I approach the creation of my characters, I pause, wait and listen. I want epiphanies to help me create the characters. I want, no less, God to give me a nudge or two. A sign. An arrow pointing somewhere. So I wait, empty-handed as it were, for I have found approaching Our Lord empty allows Him to work his own miracles in my heart, soul, and mind, allows Him to fill the emptiness.

So over the week, details began to emerge, confirmed by others with whom I conversed about the storyline. Pieces fell into place. And again this morning, on this bright sunlit morning, sitting on my folding chair and gazing at the medieval crucifix over the altar with its tented tabernacle and up to the vaulted dome and its slanting rays of sun (sun!), I had two more epiphany ideas for the story, ideas that will create a stronger foundational structure for the novel.

My old vicar in the story is living in an abandoned (UC Berkeley) residence hall next door to this chapel. He is going to have regular conversations with God in the chapel, as one would have with an old friend one counts on. We shall hear what ails him – and why – and learn, perhaps, a bit more about the spiritual life, the Christian pilgrimage through Time into Eternity. His bishop of blessed memory lies beneath the altar, and perhaps these ashen relics will work their own epiphanies in those who worship in this incredibly sacred space.

My second epiphany I had this morning regards my youngest character, Molly MacRae, who desires to teach children real history, true American History, in a school she will run, either online or in person. I’m thinking she will have regular reflections on fairy tales told in her childhood. Once upon a time, not so far away, lived a princess… Princesses are out of favor in our world of dumbing down and persecuting merit or rank. Molly is concerned and knows she has a princess heart if only she can find her prince.

And now I’m thinking the would-be prince will be considering what it means to be a hero, to be a man, to fill a role that Western Civilization has honored for millennia, for heroes sacrifice themselves for a greater good, or perhaps to protect a princess, and must be rewarded with honor and high esteem. Bravery needs to be honored, else who would dare to be brave?

The fourth character, my Ethics Professor, will have a past of suffering. How she has suffered – what she has done that becomes to her unforgivable – will be visited as a story within a story, slowly, tenderly, with great care not to open the wounds too wide, too suddenly.

For we are all stories within stories within stories, as our Dear Lord knows, having written us, each one of us unique, trembling figures of passion playing out our own passio, our own Way of the Cross. Epiphanytide teaches us this, teaches us to listen, to see, to open our hearts to Our Heavenly Father. He manifests himself to us, but only if we say yes, as did our Blessed Mother Mary so long ago in a town called Nazareth.

January Journal, Second Sunday after Epiphany

We are all epiphanies, manifestations of our loving God, and just as Christ was baptized by John (today’s Gospel), just as the Holy Spirit came upon Christ as he rose from the waters, just as Heaven touched Earth and God the Father spoke his words of love, just so we too are bathed by the Heavens and touched by the Holy Spirit. Just so we hear the voice of God our Heavenly Father.

It continues to rain and flood in the Bay Area, but in spite of the power outages and closed roads we are grateful for the watering of our hills. You can see the green grass drinking the rain, quenched. And we are told that our drought might be over, at least it would be if we had built enough reservoirs and didn’t let the excess run into the sea. Evidently there are environmental concerns in Sacramento that worry about a fish.

Epiphanies. With these epiphanies, these drops from the Heavens, I build my characters that will live inside my next novel, The Music of the Mountain, layering them with unique personal histories so that I can get to know them and understand how they will react when when the page is turned. The foundations must be solid and extensive for each one, just as we have our own histories too, making each one of us unique, each one an epiphany.

The novel is about history in a way, or rather its importance, and the devastating consequences of erasing our past, be it national or personal. For we are today the choices we have made in the past. We have our own foundations, given to us by our loving Creator. To cherish our pasts, warts and all, sins and all, joys and fears and sufferings – all of it – is to cherish our Creator. As my bishop of blessed memory often said, “Nothing is lost, nothing is wasted.” And I have come to see that each moment in our time on earth counts in the divine realm of Eternity. Each moment counts in the accounting of each one of us.

And so we repent, clean out our hearts of all the bad choices, the sins. We bathe in the baptismal waters of rebirth, daily, moment by moment. In this way we are continually renewed, our sick insides healed and healthy once again. We can breathe once more, deeply, breathe the name of Jesus and know that God is with us.

So who will be inhabiting these pages of my novel to come?

Molly MacRae is a young woman, 25, grade school teacher, American History, who leaves her job because of the false history she is required to teach. She desires to go back to school, possibly Hillsdale, to earn a Masters in Education, and set up an online school. She is Evangelical.

Winston Adams is a young man, 30, a journalist, who is fired for telling the truth. He went with the political program, silencing stories, promoting false narratives, until he had had enough. He told the truth. He was soon out of a job, but now he considers honest ways of earning a living, perhaps even starting his own newspaper or journal. He is a Catholic.

Fr. Thomas Adams is Winston’s grandfather, 80,  who is Anglican vicar of the now boarded up university chapel, south campus. After the riots and the lockdowns and his own bout with the pandemic, he returns to the property now in ruins, no longer open. He lives in the abandoned student residence next door and plays the organ in the chapel. He prays.

Dr. Patricia Norton, 50, has been fired from her prestigious university position as Professor of Philosophy and Ethics, for refusing the vaccine and masking requirements, which she maintained were unethical demands. She is agnostic. She lives in the old Villa Tilifos at the base of Angel Mountain (from my last novel). She bought the spacious house for back taxes, since the owners had not returned after leaving on an extensive pilgrimage to pray for the world.

All four characters notice a disturbing trend: large sections of the Internet have been erased, books have disappeared, and libraries have empty shelves, where the Classics once resided, alongside great literature, history, all supporting and defining Western Civilization. American founding documents can no longer be found, but have been replaced by less “offensive” materials.  Theology and philosophy shelves are bare. My valiant heroes set out on a mission to retrieve the physical copies that still exist and put them somewhere safe, at least for the time being.

Fr. Adams shows them his hidden basement, a musty, dark place full of books not yet found. They begin their Great Work of Freedom in this space…

And somehow it all leads back to Angel Mountain… where they can hear music, familiar chords, dancing with one another. What is the music? It leads them to where they must go, these melodies of meaning, chords christening a new world to be born, formed on the foundations of the Old World.

Of course all of the above may be tweaked by more epiphanies, more reaching for the Heavens, more sudden sight, seeing the way it must be, how Love moves among us, creating us to love one another as we rise from the waters of Baptism.

January Journal, First Sunday after Epiphany

We were startled to wake up to the New Year with a two-day power outage. Portent? Sign? Who knows?

Major storms hit Northern California over the last few weeks (with more to come), endangering all in the greater Bay Area, as flooding and falling temperatures (and trees) reminded us of the fragility of modernity, so dependent upon the power “grid.” As we entered the second day, I told myself it was good for me to see just how dependent we actually were upon electricity. No light. No hot water. No cooking. Limited cell phone use. No WIFI (!)

It was also a reminder of Christmas and Epiphany, the dark stable with the bright star shining upon the Son of God born this night, the light of the angelic choir singing to the shepherds and pointing the way to Bethlehem, the stunning cosmic appearance of the large star cluster in the sky noted by magi (early astrologers/astronomers). They would see this cosmic appearance heralded a major event. Astrophysicists today have noted that an unusual conjunction of planets and stars occurred around this time that could have been the bright star of Bethlehem.

Mystery and miracle abound. The heavens declare the glory of God as a child is born to save mankind, born in a lowly manger cave to swaddle each one of us, keep us safe from the cold and the dark.

I took advantage of the mini-lockdown that continued all week and wrote the first scenes of my new novel, The Music of the Mountain, working title. The lights and heat came back on with a screech but flood warnings encouraged us to stay put. The star of the heavens had entered our dark cave of a home to shine light on our souls, healing our blindness. A light shone in our darkness, for as St. John says, “That was the true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9, KJ V). And with this little light of mine I tapped my keyboard, creating characters and sculpting scenes with my words.

The words spilled from my heart through my fingers onto the page just as they are doing now. This, I believe, is a miracle in itself, that Our Lord continues to shine the light of Heaven upon Earth, through each one of us, if we desire it. Eternity enters time and we glimpse starlight. When we look up into the night sky, we see stars forming perfect patterns, mathematical ratios singing the music of the spheres, and we realize the glory of our loving God surrounds us. Nature may not be so loving, with winds and floods storming our land, but there is an order behind it all, and we know by the light of Christmas that it is a loving order. We are the renegade ones. We are the rebellious children who worship idols. We are the shepherds and we are the magi in the cave on that dark, light-filled night. Our fear becomes wonder. We fall to our knees in penitence and worship. And a little child born to us over two thousand years ago in real time, in real history, forgives us from his manger-throne.

We are made whole by this holiness. Earth sings to the glory of God, reaching for Heaven. It is this conjunction of Heaven and Earth that is heard on Angel Mountain in my new story. It is this touching, the finger of God touching each one of us, recreating us, again and again, that is the music we hear, the perfect harmony of the Creator and his creation.

In this sense all of my stories are about Epiphany, this sudden sight, this sudden healing of our blindness. This child Jesus comes to us today, enters our hearts and lives there. Miracle and mystery abound, and we sing this song of love to one another, for there is nothing greater than the Heavens touching the Earth.

The Church celebrates Epiphanytide for six Sundays this year, the number varying with the date of Easter which is set by a cosmic calendar of the moon’s appearance (“the first Sunday after the full Moon that occurs after the spring Equinox” and relating to Passover.) Each Sunday the Scripture lessons will shine a light on the manifestations of Christ to the world. Today we are told by St. Paul in the Epistle to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1+, BCP 110).  And the Gospel story tells of the boy Jesus in the temple, “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:41+, BCP 110). In this Epiphany, the boy Jesus reveals who He is, for he says to his worried parents,  “I must be about my Father’s business”. 

And so we awake to a new dawn, to who Jesus is and his saving grace as the Son of God. We allow our minds to be renewed so that our hearts will know what is good, acceptable, and perfect, what is, at the end of the day, the will of God for each one of us.

“Worthy Words: Prophetic Plots”

I’m pleased to announce that American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) has published my post, “Worthy Words: Prophetic Plots,” how Christian novelists prophesize, foreshadowing major plot arcs, and thus satisfy the desire for meaning and making sense of God’s world – past, present, and to come. Thank you, ACFW.

This post completes a four-part series on “Worthy Words” published in 2022 on the ACFW site, that considers my novel-in-progress, The Music of the Mountain. I’m looking forward to creating a new four-part series in 2023.

December Journal, Fourth Sunday in Advent

Mary and Joseph must be on their way to Bethlehem now. Soon, soon, they will seek shelter, knowing the Child Jesus would soon come into this world, their world, a world of poverty and danger. The Holy Family, created in that miraculous moment when Mary conceived the Son of God, know little about their future, but enough to do God’s will in their life in each moment lived.

It is said that Advent, this month of journeying to Bethlehem, of preparing the way of the Lord in our hearts for his coming, is about Mary. It is Mary’s month, to be sure, in the sense that she said yes and will soon give birth to the Saviour of the World. And so we celebrate her, rejoicing in the gift to each one of us, Our Lady, Our Mother.

The family today is weathering many storms, fighting many defensive battles on many fronts. There appears to be a host of demons that seek to destroy the family, for in this holy assembly, made up of the mother and father and children, we find the nucleus or perhaps crux of the world, past, present, and to come. As the crux, it has become the cross of our culture, a suffering cross that heals wounds and divisions in our world.

We are fallen from grace, and within this micro-society we call the family, we see challenge and difficulty and even survival. Each one of us within the family is called to get along. Each is called to live with one another, usually in close circumstances, to honor and teach and love one another. Yet sin and self pulls us the other way, inward, and it is this tension that teaches us to sacrifice for the other.

I believe it was Evelyn Underhill who said that the family teaches us how to live within greater communities, the town, the nation, the world. The family is a training ground of love, the “School of Charity” as she put it. So too, is the parish family, mirroring all the petty squabbles in the biological/adoptive family as well as all that is precious and good by the grace of God.

My husband and I have had the grace to be a part of the Anglican Province of Christ the King for over forty years and within the same parish for that time as well. Trust me, there have been many squabbles witnessed and many sides taken and much wringing of hands over this or over that, by us as well as everyone else, but there’s been lots of love too, just as in any close family. I was thinking today, sitting in the nave of St. Peter’s Oakland and watching the traditional “Living Creche” performed in the chancel before the altar and tabernacle (home of the Real Presence of Christ), beneath the statue of Christ Crucified and the tall flaming candles at his feet, that these good people of our parish of every age and ethnicity and talent are truly my sisters and brothers. When I arrived at St. Peter’s in 1977 I was only thirty with a young son, and most of the congregation I considered to be my mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, and even grandparents. Today, it seems (suddenly!) I am in the grandparent role, and I think of these faithful Christians gathered in church as my grandchildren, children, and sisters and bothers and cousins.

In all of these families – the Holy Family, the natural family, the parish family – we polish one another like tumbling rocks washed by the waters of Baptism. Year after year, we seek to get along, to love one another better, to beg forgiveness for harms done, and to seek repentance and healing at the altar. We learn to forgive and in the forgiving we grow closer to Christ. In the growing closer to Our Lord we seal one another with the Sign of the Cross, for only in Christ can this kind of love flourish, and only by the Cross can this love be real.

We know that the journey of the Holy Family must have been full of hardship and danger. They were Jews living in a hostile Roman world, a military occupation. Just so, we too live in a hostile world, occupied by a growing tyranny increasingly militant. We are encouraged by the image of their journey in the weeks of Advent, for we are on the same path in time to our own Bethlehem, Eternity with God, the new Jerusalem.

In the meantime, we journey to church with our families to worship Christ with our parish family. We learn to love as we are meant to love. Our advent is Mary’s advent for she is our Mother. In this way, Mary and Joseph lead us through the sufferings of the world, and in this month of counted days we await in the quiet of the night Our Lord’s coming to us on Christmas morning. It is a silent night for in such silence the music of the spheres may be heard, as all creation sings to the glory of God.

We listen for the music and we hear the angels sing. We see the shepherds gather and the gentile kings kneel with gifts. We too give gifts, our hearts to Mary and Joseph and the Holy Child, and presents to one another, as we receive his Presence, the greatest gift of all, starlight, star bright, the Son of God born this night to save us from ourselves, to give life and light to all of us, and to all the world.

 

December Journal, Third Sunday in Advent

My husband and I are in our “gentle” years, the years leading to the great passage out of time into eternity. There are moments when I sense that I stand upon a great height, not the pinnacle of the mountain but close, and look over a landscape of friends and family, those I have known on Earth. It’s a sweeping vista also of time passed, and within the vista are rivers of rhyme and reason, suffering and love, heartache and joy. There are forests of fir, deep and dark and green, and paths through the trees to the light at the end. There are deserts, so dry as to parch the throat with the desire to drink, but there are also lakes of pure water, filled by falls of tumbling foam from rocky gorges, waters so fresh and so quenching I know I can drink with pleasure and certainty that these are living waters of life.

Our lives are indeed landscapes of loves and unloves, of life and death, holding potential for Heaven or Hell. We know this, those who have had the remarkable grace to love, and live, in our time. We know the other side as we travel through these vast landscapes. We know there is darkness, and we know there is desert.

My husband and I don’t have our Christmas tree yet, but we are thinking about it. I recall other trees we have planted in our living room, where white sheets swaddled the water basin, the sweet smell of evergreen permeating the house. The first year of the pandemic lockdowns (2020), we didn’t have the heart to decorate the tree, but managed to string the lights and put a star on top. There would be no visitors that year for Christmas, due to COVID fears (now proven exaggerated), and the effort seemed too much. Nevertheless, the tree stood there in the bay window and greeted us as we drifted around the rooms like sad fairies. The tree – nearly seven feet as I recall – became a visitor in itself, a guest that represented all the guests we missed that Christmas. We sat by the tree and listened to Handel’s “Messiah” as the many colored lights brought memory closer, gifting us with the love of family and friends, of Christmases past.

I’m thinking now how such a magnificent tree didn’t need decorating, although the following year in 2021, still locked down, we managed ornaments as well, and even garlands. And perhaps the 2020 barely decorated – forlorn – tree became a symbol for our world then, a sadly bare world, where isolation bred cold and fear, and hearts shriveled. In a way the tree, barely dressed as it were, was enough and appropriate to the time and the setting, a California Christmas in 2020. The tree became a metaphor, a poem, an artform expressing lockdowns and all that that meant for many of us.

I’m also thinking now how a Christmas tree is like a person, with dated ornaments from the past assembled in the greenery, bobbing a bit as the cat tries her luck with a raised paw. The few new ornaments added each year pulled us into the present, and as I hooked the loop on the edge of the satin, braided ball from a London shop and found a branch to house it, I appreciated the past as a glorious gift from our Heavenly Father.

And so as I envision the trees of our past and now a tree to bring home this year, 2022, I can see clearly that all of these lovely and homely bits and pieces of Christmas reflect our Creator’s great gift of the Christ Child. For Christmas is His gift to us, the celebration and the season, the trees and the trimmings, the friends and family. And the greatest gift of all is the Word made flesh, Our Lord Jesus, who dwelt among us two thousand years ago (not that long ago really), who suffered to become one of us, who humbled Himself to enter our world, who loved us so that He gave us the gift of Himself to us, his children.

And He continues to give the gift of Himself, again and again, on altars in chapels, in words said in bedtime prayers and morning Psalms. I now see that as we give to one another, whether it be a card or a greeting, we partake in the Father’s gift to us in Bethlehem. We dress our Christmas trees in sparkle and time and love, and the tree smiles back all twinkly, singing, “Merry Christmas to you, too!” and “Thanks for inviting me!”

We switch off our lamps and leave the jeweled lights burning bright through the dark forest of evergreens. We sing, “Silent Night,” and “The First Noel.” We tell the story again and again, through art and word and poetry and pageants, through sacred traditions of trees and trimmings and festive foods. We sing the story in carols. We are reminded to remember we are children of God, even from the precipice near the top of the mountain, looking over the landscape of our lives. 

We are reminded, too, that God gives us Himself unceasingly if we desire Him. We need only say, “Yes, come in to my heart, please!” and “Merry Christmas!” 

December Journal, Second Sunday in Advent

We have entered the Church’s New Year, and as in January’s New Year, we begin December’s Advent with penitential prescriptions. Instead of making resolutions (usually fitness), we clean out our hearts. Both beginnings call us to change for the better, to repent and resolve. In so doing in this season of Advent, we prepare ourselves for the greatest of all festivals, the Nativity of Jesus Christ, Christ-Mass.

Advent is called “Little Lent” for this reason. We scour our souls with the Word of God, with His Word of Creation, with Christ Himself in the Eucharist. We look for our failings, our sins, our unlove. For our Creator will re-create us in His image as we were meant to be. As we submit to our Father’s will for us, we discover our true selves. It is in this prayer, “Thy will be done,” that we find joy, a mysterious and miraculous, and even surprising, joy.

Advent calls us to pay attention to these joyful moments. We watch for Christ’s second coming, the advent of the New Jerusalem, and the advent of Judgment. For Advent means “coming,” and we are reminded of the three advents of Christ – the coming to mankind as a baby in Bethlehem, the coming to mankind in judgment in the New Jerusalem, the coming of Christ in the Eucharist today, filling our hearts. And so in Advent we prepare for His coming to us at Christmas, for this coming will change mankind forever. We clean out our hearts to make room for the Savior of the World. We pay attention. We re-mind one another through ritual and song.

The Church Year cycle invites us to dance through Time to prepare for Eternity. The nine seasons tell the greatest story of all, that of God’s immense love for mankind and his desire to share Eternity with us. We tell the story of redemption (crucifixion and resurrection) and salvation (our saying yes to God); we sing the story in hymns and in liturgies and in pageants and in processions. We dance this dance of life, and in the dance we learn to love one another. We learn to share. We learn to give. We learn to step outside our prison of self and, slowly, miraculously, we learn to see one another more clearly. We learn to listen, to hear the music of the spheres, the perfect harmonies of the universe.

And so in this season of Advent, when daylight is shortened and darkness lengthens, this season of cold and silence, when natural world shrinks and hibernates, sleeping and waiting for spring – in this season of Advent, we look to the bright lights of Christmas. We cast our eyes upon Mary, our Mother, and her story of obedience. We watch her say yes to God, and in this “fiat” we learn obedience too. We watch her journey to Bethlehem with her faithful Joseph, and we learn patience and fortitude and trust. We watch her seek a safe place to bear her child, the Son of God, which she finds in a dark cavern. We journey with her.

As we journey we sing carols that tell of these magnificent acts of God. The poetry and the rhyme, the melody and the meanings, invite us to journey with Mary and Joseph. With the bright stars and the glorious angels we too pay homage to the King of Kings born in a manger on Christmas Day. With these hymn-stories we become part of the re-creation of the world. We live inside these love-songs. We dwell there, in the Bethlehem manger, where the shepherds bow to the newborn King, where the magi from afar bring gifts to honor His priesthood, His kingship, and lastly, His death that will redeem the world with resurrection.

And as we journey through the year, we hold the hands of our children, to show them what God has revealed to us. We teach them to clean out their hearts to make room for Him, so that they too can glimpse glory, the glory of the only Begotten:

“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 1:14, KJV)

We dance the dance of life through the year, so that we may vanquish the dirge of death. We journey with Mary who carries the Christ Child in her womb, and as we celebrate the Holy Child within her, we celebrate all children, born and unborn. We celebrate all mothers and fathers who trust in their Creator to bring them through the rough times, so that they can fully enjoy the good times, the truly God-times.

We journey in the dark of night to emerge into the light of day. We see our way with the our flaming candles, three purple and one pink, lighting our way through Advent, bringing us to the glory of Christmas morning.

A Call for Human Rights for the Unborn

Unfolding a Post-Roe World, by Francis Etheredge (to be published soon by En Route Books and Media, St. Louis, MO, 2022).

Reviewed by Christine Sunderland, updated December 2, 2022

In Unfolding a Post-Roe World, bioethicist and theologian Francis Etheredge updates his earlier work, The ABCQ of Conceiving Conception, by considering the Supreme Court of the United States ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson which stated, “abortion… destroys an unborn human being,” overturning the Roe v. Wade (1973) decision supporting abortion rights. Today, science (biology, embryology, genetics) defines human conception as occurring from the moment of fertilization; this first instant of fertilization begins a continuous development, culminating in showing forth this person from conception. Thus, defined as a human being, the embryo shares the same human rights as you and I, the right to life being paramount.

The Supreme Court found no right to abortion in the U.S. Constitution and thus referred these decisions to the States. And so we ask, “Is there a right to life of the unborn in the U.S. Constitution?” We wait to see, as cases in progress argue yes, based on the 14th Amendment and its historical interpretations. For if the embryo is defined as a “person” from the moment of fertilization, with all rights and protections, then the following phrase in the 14th Amendment would be binding:

“Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Not only has the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, but the European Court of Human Rights has said, “human embryos [should]… not be reduced to the level of an object.” Thus, humans are not to be objects of experimentation. They are not to be frozen for future use:

“The Hippocratic Oath states: ‘I will not give a woman a pessary to procure abortion’. The Nuremburg Code says: ‘No experiment should be conducted where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur’. The Belmont Report says: ‘persons with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection’.”

Francis Etheredge re-introduces his earlier arguments in support of the embryo as a person. With the Supreme Court ruling in America, this science (and logic) is supported by law. Embryos as human beings should now be eligible for human rights protections claimed by humanity globally. The author updates the debate and considers medical ethics, philosophy, theology, and historical precedent. He reminds us that to be human is to be a member of the human race, in-relationship with one another, beginning with the mother who bears and gives birth to us, then the father, the family, the community, the nation, and the human family worldwide.

The author adds depth with his poignant and powerful poetry, reflecting his own suffering in the loss of a child through abortion, humbly witnessing to his own tragedies. Thus, he prays that those who see the pre-born as blobs of tissue reconsider and embrace a future of life and love and inclusion. He offers them sight when they are blind.

For if we mistreat these tiny and innocent human beings, we open the door to our being mistreated as well. Eventually, tyranny will prevail, and our own rights will be threatened. We too will become disposable, our right to life and liberty denied. Francis Etheredge urges us to recognize this fact and see that “rights are integral to human existence.”

The author answers objections to his arguments, and here again, his thorough and patient reasoning and scholarship is convincing. He addresses the dignity of women, with several female contributors and testimonies. He offers supportive resources for women pressured to seek abortion.

One testimony comes from the late Mother Teresa who cared for the poor in the slums of Calcutta:

“Please don’t kill the child. I want the child. Please give me the child. I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child.”

And there are many today who would offer the same love and acceptance.

In addition to testimony and resources, we learn how abnormal cells of the embryo, which once were considered deforming, are sent to be used in the placenta, the nourishing sack within the womb. Abnormal cells can regenerate.

Why have these discoveries been silenced? We see that powerful financial interests are invested in the business of contraception and abortion. And yet studies have found that women are often damaged by these products and procedures preventing pregnancy. Over fifty percent of ectopic pregnancies have occurred with women who have used intrauterine devices.

Scriptural and theological evidence weaves through the discussion: Psalm 139, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…” The action of God, ensouling the child at the moment of conception completes the creation of a fully human being; this ensoulment constitutes a nature sacrament, for the “human person comes to exist, so God has acted to complete it.”

Mr. Etheredge calls for the world community to grant human rights to the next generation:

“We stand, then, at a point in human history where it is not so much a question of personal choice determining anything and everything as choosing the truth, as it becomes more fully known concerning human conception, that will take us into a humane future of the human race or the future of the human race will be determined by the most powerful and prevailing vested interests that will determine, on utilitarian grounds, whose future it will be to be a resource for the rest of the human race.”

It is true, as Christ said, that the truth will set us free (John 8:32). We must face the truth of what we have done, this slaughter of our children. We must face the light, repent, and enact laws to end the killing of the next generation.

Francis Etheredge’s Unfolding a Post-Roe World is an important work for our times. Children are the future, humanity’s future, at least in this world. In the world to come, we shall have to answer for what we have done, or left undone, what we have said, or left unsaid, for human rights belong to all of us.

Francis Etheredge, Catholic husband, father of eleven, three of whom are in Heaven, is author of thirteen books on Amazon. Visit him at LinkedIn and En Route Books and Media.  

Christine Sunderland is author of seven award-winning literary novels about faith, family, and freedom. Her most recent novel is Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock, 2020).

UPDATE, DECEMBER 2: This title is now available on Amazon.

November Journal, Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity, Octave of All Saints

We had a cold spell in the Bay Area this last week and suddenly our trees turned burnt orange, fiery blazes of glory in the valleys around our house. The seasons change, bursting with life, throwing off death, preparing in time for winter’s sleep, and spring’s awakening. We on Earth move in time too, humanity seeking and seeing and learning each day more about who we are, what it is to be human, our light and our darkness, even our own manifestations of holiness.

For we were created to be holy, in the image of God, to love one another and to protect one another from evil. For as the poet priest John Donne wrote in 1624:

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.”

We are in-relationship with all of humanity.

And so the world awaits the events in America, watching to see what the next days, months, and years will reveal. And we too, as faithful citizens of the Kingdom of Christ the King, watch and wait. For the great Holocaust, the genocide of generations unborn, shows signs of ceasing. But will the killing cease?

As Christians we pray to Christ our King to have mercy upon us for not doing enough to help others see the unborn are human beings with rights to life. We pray and protest and lobby. We establish clinics and support centers. We provide adoption services. As ultrasound images tear hearts, opening them to love, many women choose life. They never regret it.

But the Holocaust goes on: the dismemberment, the piercing of hearts of mother and child, the horror of what we are doing as a nation and what we are doing as a state, in California, where there is no sanctuary for the unborn, for the “unwanted” embryo.

I recently finished reading Francis Etheredge’s newest book, a pre-publication manuscript for review, to be published later in November by Enroute Books and Media, Unfolding A Post-Roe World. Once again, this poet-philosopher-theologian has argued a comprehensive and powerful case for granting personhood, and thus the right to life, to the embryo from the moment of conception, at fertilization. Science has shown this is when human life begins, when each one of us began, and thus these tiny human beings should enjoy all the protections we larger ones enjoy, protections we call human rights. He sees this as a worldwide cause, for we are all “in relationship” to one another as members of the human race. Our family trees are rooted in Adam and Eve, and, as John Donne wrote, no man is an island.

America leads the world. What we do to the least of ours, our most innocent and vulnerable humans, is noticed. Our inhumane treatment of the unborn is noticed by other cultures, other countries. Eventually, should we continue on this dark path, we shall find we are being treated the same way, crushed by powerful forces.

We are in-relationship with one another; we are responsible for one another.

As Christians we call this being of one flock, sheep gathered by the Shepherd. We listen for his voice, attend to his commandments, reach for his hand to touch and heal us. We know what it means to be the People of God, the Children of God. For we know Christ, and he knows us. He is in us, and we are in him.

And so St. Paul tells us today to “Put on the whole armour of God.” But it is an armour of virtue, not of steel: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the ruler of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” We are to be protected by truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, prayer, and perseverance. (Ephesians 6:10+) We are to stand firm.

Americans cast votes on Tuesday. Whom we elect to office and what laws we support, will affect the protection or destruction of our children, will give or deny them the human rights they deserve. These unborn, allowed to live, protected by law, will be the new generation that heals America. Already, many lives have been saved in states that chose life. Many are being saved each day, each hour, each minute. Let’s save them all. Let’s role back the tyranny, push away the principalities and powers of darkness. Let’s vote for life for each of these vulnerable innocents.

(For expert testimony by a doctor as to what happens in an abortion, see: https://www.tfpstudentaction.org/media/videos/doctor-destroys-abortion)