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September Journal, Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

A Jewish friend of mine knows all about birds, and she told me this week that she had spotted the seasonal return of the white-crowned sparrow in her garden. She explained that they often return during the ten days between Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Atonement calls for confession, repentance, and being once again put right with God. Christians see Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection as providing our atonement, our at-one-ment with God, as my Bishop Morse of blessed memory often said. We examine our hearts, our minds, our deeds, and consider what we did wrong. We desire to wipe these wrongs off the slate of our soul so that the wall of sin separating us from God is vanquished, just as death is vanquished by Christ’s sacrifice.

So welcome, white-crowned sparrow, to remind us of life and death. Just so, Christ reminds us in the Gospel lesson this morning that we are to remember that if our loving Father cares for the “birds of the heaven” he will care for us. We are not to serve two masters, not make idols of the many temptations in our lives. “Be not anxious for your life… consider the lilies of the field…” 

And as St. Paul writes in the Epistle to the Galatians, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” So we offer our lives and all of our worries and needs and yes, our confessed sins, to Our Lord, and he makes sense of them. He returns what we need a thousand fold. As our preacher said, these are returned purified of the sin that was in them. We are at-one with him.

I have found that releasing my sins to Our Lord is like releasing birds into the air. It is a kind of rebirth, a resurrection, to be forgiven again and again, to start anew with a fresh slate. But I must take the time and embrace humility in order to make a full accounting of my life. Are there idols – other masters – that demand worship and service? How do I spend my time, this precious time given to me, my very life? Have the words of my mouth been acceptable to Our Lord?

The Christian life is a glorious one. It is, as our preacher said, good news, gospel. And so it is. Yet it demands self-examination, a purifying, an atoning for our wrong turns so that we will order our loves rightly. Rabbi Meir Soloveichik writes recently in the Wall Street Journal in his essay, “The Meaning of a Yom Kippur Prayer,” that the liturgy combines “the notions of human fallibility and freedom, which together comprise the foundation of repentance and the Day of Atonement itself.” It is our recognition of our human fallibility, our sin, and the use of our free will, our freedom given by our loving God, that “help to heal the past.”

It is this God-given freedom that allows us to stray and it is this freedom that allows us to admit our wrong turns and like the prodigal son, return home. Western Civilization has been founded upon freedom, this free will to choose, but to repent and atone, and thus relies on these Judeo-Christian values. To abandon this foundation of atonement, as many desire, is to chart a destructive path into the future, to sail into dangerous waters. We pray this will not happen to the West and thus to the world.

And so it begins with each one of us. I have found that if I consider every thought and action of the day, cleaning out my heart, I am able to make room for Our Lord to enter in. I am able to wait, watch, and wonder as my life unfolds before me in marvel-ous ways I could never have seen or expected. Sufferings are sent packing into the beauty of atonement. Grief too, is transformed by rebirth. Bit by bit, day by day, with the help of the Church and her faithful family, my mind learns the art of living for a living God, my heart learns the art of loving for a loving God, and my soul learns the art of singing like the white-crowned sparrow, a song of freedom and flying.

We gathered for coffee and snacks after Mass this morning, and the chatter flew among us like birds soaring. One thing leads to another, one story to another, and in the sharing of our loves and lives we see the Holy Spirit dancing among us. For we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and it is this humility and honesty that we share that unites us as the Bride of Christ, the Church. It is this belief in the God of Abraham, in the Holy Trinity, in our Lord Jesus, his death and resurrection, and all that is taught, all the creeds and hymns and prayers, all the sacraments and Scriptures – all of this is part of the Atonement, the at-one-ment with God, giving us many moments of heaven on earth.

September Journal, Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

There is something wet outside, coming down from gray skies, straight, then slanted, tapping on my window. Is it rain? How do I know? Do I trust my senses? Do I trust my past that tells me yes, this is rain, and you’ve seen it before. It drops from the skies like that. California doesn’t have enough, we are told, and so it is difficult to believe our senses.

I’m auditing an online theology class this fall and we are reading Francis Hall’s Dogmatic Theology. He tackles first things first. He speaks of reason and authority and truth and how one must use reason to arrive at any conclusion, including matters religious and supernatural. It is true of course and reminds me of the argument for the existence of God, that we have self-consciousness at all, that we have any ability to look at ourselves from outside ourselves, that we are even having these thoughts typed on this page.

Our world today tells us that truth is relative, that there is no objective truth, and yet most folks will not deny the truth of gravity by jumping off a roof rather than taking the stairs. We all live with assumptions of truth, truth from our past, from our teachers, from our parents, from all those who raised us, who educated us.

And so most will say yes, teachers teach us because we trust they have authority in their subject. Just so, we reason, we look to our clergy to teach us because we trust they have authority as well.

I wrestle with these questions in all of my novels to some extent, because the question of belief in a loving God is such an important one to every single person on our planet, a matter of life and death. We ask why we suffer, what happens when we die, is there meaning to life, why are we here?

And thus as I look around me the last few years and see the fertile soil of belief in a chosen truth authority become the quicksand of materialism – the belief that there is no belief – my heart aches. For to have no answers to these crucial questions is to invite meaninglessness, despair, and death, and there is no need for such quicksand to claim so many hearts and minds. It is an unnecessary and perhaps evil tragedy that is unfolding in our world.

Many institutions we have trusted to be authorities in our lives now lie to us. We see it in government agencies, in major universities, in multi-media industries, in the creative world of books and films. We see it in the boycotting and blacklisting of those who try to speak truth to lies and correct the damage done.

And so today I see how vital it is to choose correct authorities. How do we know? We trust our own past, our own senses, our own reason, our own education that gave us the sum of man’s learning in fields of endeavor – math, science, literature, history. We find those who are honest enough to tell the truth, who are brave enough to stand for true classical learning, who will not be silenced by thugs with the steel boots of slander, vilification, and ruin.

The world has been given a short reprieve from the stifling of debate and the lauding of lies. The world now is watching Great Britain mourn their Queen Elizabeth. A commonwealth of over fifty nations benefited from the virtues she embraced, from the faith she practiced, from her uses of the past to inform the present. Today their leaders and other world leaders are gathering in London. Tomorrow they will pray for the queen’s soul in Westminster Abbey. They will give thanks for her life of authority and her life of truth. There will be processions and hymns and canons saluting. The fanfare reminds us there is more to life than mere matter. There are those we can trust and look up to. There is meaning.

Monarchy embraces the truth and value of tradition as informing the truth and value of today. Why study the past? many ask. To inform the present, many answer. And it is true. We learn from our history who we are, the wrong choices we have made, the good choices we desire to repeat. Without such examination, however prejudiced or personal, we sink in the quicksand of modernity. We have no lifeline. And we give thanks for those who remind us of such gifts, such graces, as not only the study of the past, but the rituals of seasons, both secular and sacred, that add to the truth we are seeking.

True authority can also be found in conciliar bodies, tested by time. Such is found in the Church, and such is found in Congress and Parliament where selected men and women represent many others. They gather together (they congress) and they speak with one another (they parley). No one person rules.

As I examine the authorities in my life of seventy-five years, I have come to trust those who reflect true science, true faith, true liberty and freedom. It is difficult, at times, to separate the wheat from the chaff. Yet I know I must make the effort – to read widely, to check facts and figures, to consider opinion versus true reporting. As a citizen in a still free country, my vote is important. It counts not only in the ballot box but in the final accounting. As I dig into the various narratives, I ask, which is true? Who can I trust? Who can secure our freedoms and our constitution that guarantees those freedoms? Who can stand up to the thugs who threaten and throw away lives lived truthfully?

I am one of the blessed ones, graced with belief. I needed reason however, to put the puzzle together, and C. S. Lewis helped with that. Writing my first novel of ideas, Pilgrimage (set in Italy), helped too, for it set out the questions that needed answers. In the writing, the truth emerged. For writing is speech, and speech is love, for thus we meet one another in the pages turned. I continued the conversation in Offerings, considering visions and healings in France, and in Inheritance (set in England), praying in the great abbeys and walking through the history of Christianity in the West. These conversations – these paths – revealed the truth of our lives as human beings in this world of time.

I watched the lines in London today, the queues of mourners bringing their children to pay their respects to the late queen. They know this is a moment of truth, a moment in time, in history, a pivoting of the world, as we stand on the edge of a cliff. Will we lose our balance and fall? Will we see that these rituals reflect who we are as human beings, as truth seekers, as those who say meaning matters?

We must seek the truth. If we seek Him – the Living and Loving God – who is all truth, we will be graced in our search. For Christ healed ten lepers today. He heals us. He leads us. He loves us. He is our shepherd and we are his sheep. He is our creator-authority who knows us best, knows the reason for our seasons in this life and the next. And like the one leper who returned to give thanks in today’s Gospel, so we give thanks today, for true reason, for true love, for true belief, for true grace to be healed as well.

The sun just came out, turning the grays green, brightening the sky. All is grace.

September Journal, Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

England’s Queen Elizabeth passed into Eternity a few days before America’s memorial of Nine-Eleven, the bombing of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001 in New York. The two events weigh upon my heart and mind in nearly equal measure. Both the good queen and the crumbling towers are icons of Western Civilization; both are signs of a passing age and a loss of innocence, a call to defend freedom in the free world.

There has been much of late in the news about Elizabeth Windsor, whose reign spanned seventy years. She embodied many Judeo-Christian values – courage, responsibility, humility, work ethic, duty, love of God, love of family and the “family of nations,” as King Charles III said in his recent address to the nation (and to the world). Her quiet reserve gave her strength and stature and allowed her to embrace all of her people regardless of differences in background or belief. She is greatly mourned and terribly missed.

Our World Trade Center was a symbol of our freedom and democracy, our own work ethic, our desire to create and to build, rather than to destroy. The Islamist terrorists chose the towers, for they were iconic symbols of our free world. They also chose Washington D.C. targets, symbols of our nation, of our rule by the people, for the people, through representative government.

America revolted against England’s monarchy in 1776, for monarchy isn’t always good. While England’s monarchy is limited constitutionally, nevertheless, the character and inclinations, not to mention self-discipline, of the person wearing the inherited crown affects the events of their reign, for good or ill. Americans wanted to rule themselves and, having come to these shores for pure and Puritan reasons, having been persecuted by a king, they had a history of freedom of religion. They wanted not only self-rule, but freedom to speak and worship as they chose. They risked all to travel by sea to these shores, and most made the journey because of religious persecution at home. They wanted freedom to worship, to speak.

Today those freedoms are once again threatened, not by outsiders, although that may be the case as well, but by our own people in power.

In the short history of the United States (compared to England) Americans drifted away from the Judeo-Christian ethos, a rule of behavior under the authority of God necessary for democracy to thrive, even survive. As we drifted away from God, we invited anarchy, for without a higher authority, we become little kings, dwelling in our own castles of desire, greed, and self.

And so we honor the life of Queen Elizabeth II, a life embodying the Christian ethos, a reminder to Americans the substance of our great loss, the current denial of that ethos. And it is a great loss, this rejection of God’s authority, for the vacuum is soon filled by tyranny.

Even a monarchy relies on this goodness to define the reign, to keep tyranny at bay. Will the new king revere the Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai and stated by Our Lord Jesus in today’s Gospel? Will the new king, with a dubious past and woke religion, believe in the authority of God? Will he encourage freedom in his realm?

And so we have the death of the Queen, an icon of Western Civilization, a civilization that has tried over time to civilize the world, has fed the world, defended the world, and taught the world that life is sacred and human dignity precious.  Western Civilization has given us art and music, beauty and love, truth and honesty. While the ideals are not always met, the ideals remain, albeit barely.

Today, these ideals seem to be crumbling like the imploding towers. We are told there is no truth, and it is true, there is no truth without God.

“I am the Truth,” Christ said. And in today’s Gospel we hear the story of the Good Samaritan, the man who cared for the wounded traveler on the side of the road. For we are told to love our neighbor, not only our own family, our own nation, but the family of nations. We are to love one another, care for one another, respect one another. This is the message embodied in Elizabeth, Queen. This is the message embodied in the American founding.

The twin towers fell to ash. In Elizabeth there seemed a permanence, a faithfulness to freedom and the ideals of Western Civilization. She has left us for a better world. We enter a new age, a time of watchfulness, a time of care, as we defend the Truth which will set us free, Our Lord of Hosts.

Thank you, Elizabeth Windsor, for your life and devotion to your people. As Americans honor those lost in the Nine-Eleven attacks that sought to destroy America, we remember your faith in freedom, born of your faith in God.

RIP, Elizabeth, Queen

September Journal, Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

What is the meaning of life?

This is Labor Day weekend, a time to honor workers, those who give of themselves, their time and talent, to create something outside themselves. We honor work and works, the breathing of life into inanimate things, through design or imagination or usefulness.

We work to earn a living, to provide for our families. We bring home the dollar value of our labor, but in the process we have accomplished two works – the work for which we are paid and the work of caring for our families. And as we do this work for our spouses and children, we find our Heavenly Father close, in our midst, smiling. For he labored to create us, our world, and our universe.

Some work is more meaningful than other work. Some work we choose. Some work we do not. Some work we do out of obligation and duty to righteousness, to God. Some work we do from passion and love of the work itself or the people the work helps, and so we do not ask for pay, for the value is in our heart. We volunteer for these works. We are glad to be a part of something larger than ourselves, and in the giving of our time and talent we find meaning. We find God, our Heavenly Father, and he pulls us into his sacred beating heart.

We all want to find meaning in our lives, to color our daily pages bright and beautiful, carefully filling in the empty spaces, the emptiness, within the holy lines drawn for us by nature and nurture. We desire to know the why of our existence, of our neighbor’s existence, of the world’s existence. We want to find meaning.

Women were once told, and still are told, that meaning is found only in the workplace. While it is true that meaning is in the work we do, whatever it is, wherever it is, women have a unique work that is their crowning glory, for women give birth to new life. And not only is the woman able to give birth, after carrying the child within her own flesh and feeding that child with her own life-blood, she is given the joyous work of caring for the child after he or she is born. So a mother’s great work is her time in labor, as she labors to birth the child. It is a suffering work of love, and out of the pain will come joy. Soon she will labor in the home and this will become her sacred workplace.

If such a woman who has given birth to life does nothing else in her time on Earth, her life will have infinite meaning. And it is truly a precious meaning that she alone can own, knowing that this single moment of laboring for this new life has enlightened all her life’s moments to come with meaning, if she only realized.

Some do not realize, make real, this brilliant star of meaning that anchors and guides all mothers. Some do realize this awareness that they have participated in the greatest miracle of all – shepherding, laboring, bringing life into this world of humankind.

Men have been told that meaning only exists in power and wealth. And yet, just as women can participate in the labor of life, men can too, should they father a child, should they labor to support that child, should they labor to love that child and its mother, should they vow to do so for their lifetimes in the sacrament of marriage and family.

Such men and such women form the true labor union, the family. Such men and such women need never fear their lives have no purpose or meaning, for if they have indeed formed such a union of labor, formed such a family, they have participated in the grandest of Heaven’s labors – the creation of life, the sustenance of life, the miracle of life.

Men and women who do not own the blessed choice to father and mother, to labor for love of new life, even so, are charged with supporting those who have formed these labor unions we call families. Aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors, can all participate in the life of the baby growing in the womb by comforting and encouraging the mother and father in this great labor of love. Godparents come to mind, but any role or title will suffice, will meet the standard for this great answer to the meaning of life.

To comfort and strengthen these parents, these shepherds of life, is to find one’s miraculous meaning, the purpose of existence. From this point of understanding, this still point in the universe of pondering, wondering, and philosophizing, every man and every woman may step into their remaining time knowing all one needs to know to answer life’s great questions. Such men and women inhabit God’s miraculous palace of reality and sanity, and there is nothing more gloriously meaningful than that.

And so, while we celebrate the worker, a celebration that is often associated with labor unions, let us not forget the laboring unions nearby, the families, the creating of the future with the creation of new life. Let us labor to not forget what is right and true and beautiful, and right in front of us. Let us celebrate our daily labors of love, our support and comfort for life itself, that union of male and female to create the unborn child in the womb.

Let us celebrate these great labors of love; let us realize God’s true meaning in such unions and such family re-unions.

 

August Journal, Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

The fog rolled in over the night, but dissipated by early dawn, having blanketed our dry brown grass in the hills around Mount Diablo in the SF Bay Area with moisture. The drop in temperatures was welcome, if seemingly a bit early, and yet the shortening days and longer nights reflect our change of seasons.

Weather changes. Climate changes. All the earth, under the loving gaze of our Heavenly Father, rolls through the universe, around the blazing sun, with its moon rotating around us. The heavens declare the glory of God, as do the tiniest of creatures, as does my cat, a longhair from a Red Bluff shelter who was rescued by our local Animal Rescue Foundation founded by Tony La Russa.

We give thanks for the change of seasons, the changing of days, the marking of time with temperature and light. We give thanks for life, born and unborn, every miraculous moment declaring again the glory of God. We give thanks for growth, for the baby that bursts into the world of oxygen and bright light, meeting that brave new world with a startled cry and a slap on the back. What was it like to leave that warm womb and suddenly be thrust into a such a cold and sterile climate? I don’t recall, but I experienced it to be sure, as did you, as did all of us who were fortunate enough to be born.

We give thanks again and again, for it is meet and right so to do. We are made in our Maker’s image, and like our Maker we are called to love. Love can be hard. Love can mean suffering. Love is a mystery. Love has its own climate of hot and cold, its weather that weathers storms and implants life to continue love on our Planet Earth long after we are gone to where we long to be, a place deep in our hearts, a longing that answers the question, “Where do we go when we die?” Somehow we know – we go to the place of our greatest yearning.

We yearn for God and so we yearn for love. Love links us like a daisy chain, all green and yellow and fresh and living for the time in its own time.

Did I tell you about my cat? Gold and white with giant green eyes who lives to eat and to be brushed. She knows what she knows. She knows her purpose, her plan, her daily needs, and the household climate she requires, one of love. She lives with us, a visitor from Heaven, for a short time on Earth. We have been given the delightful task of caring for her while she is visiting. We have been entrusted with her love.

Just so, I sometimes think, we are entrusted with one another, for this short time on Earth that we have been given. We too are visitors, knowing we are made for another kingdom, another climate, a place so golden and brightly white that we will shield our eyes as we adjust to the glory. It will be a moment of recognition, of coming home. We know this now, that we are pulled to God by a golden thread, a thread woven deeply into our soul. And being entrusted with one another, with family and friends that are woven along with us in our time, we are called to love the place and the person and the time that we have been given.

We heard about the Pharisee and the Publican today, a parable told by Our Lord Jesus. It is of course, a story of pride and humility, of vice and virtue. It is a story too of how to pray, how to reach for God in prayer. It is a story of simplicity, of denial, and in that denial of self we find our true selves. When we pray simply and from the heart, repenting our vices, we are forgiven and made new creatures. Our golden thread grows strong and weaves a pattern of joy in our soul. We wait and listen for Our Father’s voice, his tug upon the thread, and having emptied ourselves out before him, we are suddenly filled up.

Have I told you about my cat? She lies curled now, on my desk, sleeping. She knows what she knows. And she knows it’s time for a nap. Soon she will hear me bustling in the kitchen, cooking dinner. Soon she will follow the sound of my voice to the kitchen, the sounds of love, the sounds she has grown to know well.

Will we know our Shepherd’s voice when he calls? Have we listened carefully to his voice in Scripture and Sacrament and Song?

As I made breakfast this morning I watched from my window the fog skirt back to the coast, to the City by the Bay. Tufts of clouds, darkened in shadow by the sun slanting up over the mountain, drifted over the land, this golden land of hills and valleys. I said my morning prayer, ending with, “What will you show me today, Heavenly Father?” I knew if I watched and listened throughout the minutes and hours of the day, I would hear his voice.

Our country is in a strange climate of angst and suffering. Our people are confused by the crying wolves that bay at the moon, that encircle our homes. We watch and listen for Our Lord Jesus. We love those whom we are called to love, those in our midst, those in our hour, those who share these times with us. And thus the climate changes, turns on a tiny axis of care, a humble cry, forgive me, make me anew. Make a new and right heart within me. And thus, in such humility, is born the unborn. In such humility, we reach to our children and teach them to reach too. And the golden thread weaves through time into another time, brightening the lives of those who will come after us. For we have learned to love in our own climate, in our own time.

August Journal, Tenth Sunday after Trinity

We suffered a power outage this morning, and once again the fragility of our “grid” and our foundational support systems across America based on electricity became too real, in this third week of August, as we bake through the summer. Threats to our way of life loomed large, not only with energy delivery and fire management here in California, but on many many many levels.

In the wake of the recent military style raid by the FBI on a former president’s residence, with seemingly little cause, or none that has been shown, I’ve been thinking once again about truth and control of the “narrative.”

It has long been a characteristic of Marxist and Communist states that truth (and its cousin, language) is manipulated to suit their ends. As we watch the rise of neo-Marxism in this country we watch the narrative shift to suit those currently in power. With the control of academia, grade school through college, and control of the major media institutions, it is easy for many of us to lose sight of reality, ascertain what is true, and identify what is false.

We were locked down and masked for over two years, isolated, fearful, because of a virus wildly exaggerated, and now these methods have been debunked by real numbers and even the CDC itself. We read our news sources from our phones and laptops and local papers and accepted the new normal, this never-ending state of emergency (at least in California).

The Russian collusion hoax sought to destroy a sitting president, by means of his own government agencies and spies. We saw from muted media that the collusion said to occur with Russia was, indeed, fabricated, and those involved committed serious felonies. We saw that it was all a witch hunt, yet those individuals have not been held accountable, but seem to enjoy their fame. What happened to equal justice under the law?

As we waited for Hunter Biden’s laptop to reveal its serious secrets in 2020, we saw big media ignore the crucial story so close to the election. Had this story been reported, I firmly believe that Mr. Biden would not be president today. And had there been election integrity at the state level that fall, Mr. Trump would have won by a significant margin. I say this, having read reports from both sides, having made up my own mind, now labeled a “denier” and “domestic terrorist” in keeping with the manipulation of language and silencing free speech.

As we tried to protest peacefully on January 6 these criminal practices on the part of our government, as was our right and has been done by both parties historically, we were demonized and targeted and jailed. Some conservatives are still imprisoned, their livelihoods destroyed. The protest at the capitol, while unruly, with some guilty of trespassing, was not violent. We did not burn and loot and kill as others do frequently. And yet we were portrayed as doing this by the mainstream news outlets. Hooray for phone footage that revealed the truth.

We watched with the nation the January 6 show trial, camouflaged as an investigative committee, with one-sided testimony to destroy Mr. Trump, with a prosecution and no defense, the panel holding one pre-decided verdict, guilty.

I attended school in a time when we learned to debate issues. We learned to argue both sides, to understand the heart and reasoning of those with whom we disagreed. But it became obvious in 2014, when a conservative speaker met with rioters at UC Berkeley and was forced to leave the hall, things had radically and dangerously changed. Other speakers at other universities were cancelled if they didn’t meet the Left’s approval and narrative. I set my novel, The Fire Trail (eLectio 2016), in the midst of this startling violence.

I could see I would have to find authorities I trusted to tell the truth. I would listen to both sides and decide for myself what to believe. But this is more and more difficult for most folks. With a one-sided social media and one-sided tech corporations, news is largely controlled by the narrative of the Left. Even so, we can seek out the other side: The Epoch Times is at the top of my list, along with conservative think tanks that have created an online presence of their own. But it takes some effort.

Go to YouTube (or Rumble) and watch Victor Davis Hanson, Andrew Klavan, Eric Metaxas, Dinesh D’Souza, and the Martin Center for Academic Renewal. Read George Leef’s The Awakening of Jennifer Van Arsdale, an honest and true novel I reviewed in these pages. And my most recent novel, Angel Mountain (Wipf and Stock 2020), continues the current debate about freedom and free speech.

And what if I discovered I might not be as woke as my neighbors, my friends, and my family? I am pressured to self-cancel and keep quiet about my views, and thus support tyranny with my silence.

This is not healthy for America. Free speech is too easily cancelled and costly. Anarchy, fed by open borders and drugs and absent policing, is frightening. Our highways are frightening. Economic policies, public health policies, education policies, foreign affairs policies, all support this anarchy. We must be allowed to speak, if any are left to listen, or who will be kind enough to listen.

Let us hear both sides, or multiple sides. Let us welcome other viewpoints than our own. Let us respect one another. And let us cast our votes honestly without rancor, knowing that our vote counts finally.

Our power outage is over, and with a high-pitched screech, the system roared back after a four-hour down time. The lights came on, the fridge purred, the AC hummed, my phone charged, my Wi-Fi blinked, and all is right with the world. For now.

In the meantime, between emergencies, we pray for America. May she truly wake from her long slumber and once again ring her bells for freedom, for free speech, for equal justice under the law, for civil civility. And most of all, for truth, true truth, distilled in respectful debate.

August Journal, Ninth Sunday after Trinity

A family friend, Scott Gallagher, died this last week in Durango. He was bicycling home in the early morning dark, when he was hit by a car (https://gofund.me/0f2971aa)

He worked for the Fire Department and was highly regarded and well loved by many in this town in southern Colorado. Scott and my son grew up together in the Bay Area in those formative years of early teens and on. Scott had a wonderful spirit about him, as if he were too good for this world, giving, cheerful, smiling. I looked him up in some old photo albums and found a few images I sent to my son Tom to be added to the collection they were creating for Scott’s Memorial service. The photos brought back memories of Tom in those days and the powerful and wonderful influence the Church had upon us.

There is a photo of the boys with our Bishop Morse in Tahoe one summer. Another was taken in the Berkeley Seminary Library. I know they went on an Outward Bound adventure at some point but couldn’t find an image of that rugged trip. They loved the outdoors and as adults gravitated to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, probably among the most rugged of God’s mountains, rising to 14,000 feet. They hiked, skied, snowboarded, and earned enough to get by to snow camp the next day.

Along the way, my son Tom married and today has a beautiful family in Boulder. He knuckled down in school – even with the mountains calling him outdoors – and earned his Landscape Architecture degree. Today he has a design-build business, a perfect fit for his natural talents. Scott joined the Durango Fire Department, married Karen, and they had a beautiful daughter, Gwen. My heart aches when I think of them now, along with his mother, Sue, and sister, Lisa.

Mothers never cease being mothers. And I suppose it is true that fathers never cease caring for their families, perhaps in a different way. And so today’s parable rung true this morning in our chapel, the Prodigal Son, told by Our Lord Jesus. It is a story of wrong turns and a story of backtracking and finding the right path to be on. It is a story of confession and repentance and forgiveness. And it is a story of sibling rivalry and jealousy exhibited by the older brother. All very human temptations. All familiar wrong turns. But the father welcomes the son home in the end, just as Our Heavenly Father will welcome each one of us. I can see Bp. Morse of blessed memory welcoming Scott, wrapping his arms about him.

And tomorrow is the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the celebration of her rising bodily into Heaven, rather than her body dying as happens to most of us. It is a lovely belief, not supported by Scripture but by tradition and the many stories of Mary in Ephesus, where she spent her last days, finally in a cave in the mountainside. We visited the site once, where a lovely order of nuns run the shrine that looks down upon the old port of Ephesus and its amphitheater, where St. Paul preached to the goldsmiths (and they didn’t like what he said). Today the port has been renamed Kusadasi and is part of Turkey. In his incredible novel, Father Elijah: An Apocalypse, Michael D. O’Brien, tells the story beautifully.

Mary falls asleep and is carried into Heaven. Some traditions call it the “Dormition of Mary”, her falling asleep. One tradition says that since no one ever claimed her bones as relics, her body has never been found. But there are many other traditions that also affirm her entering Heaven body and soul. In our Anglican tradition, it is what we call a “pious opinion”, something we may believe or not.

Mary is our mother. She knows what it is to lose a son, a beloved, and probably only, son. She shares our worries and sufferings, the loves and fears of mothers everywhere. She is our humanity in holy form, reaching out to us, knowing as she knew what it is like for a sword to pierce the heart, for a son to die.

At times like this, I look to the Church, and I am thankful I have her prayers and support to make sense of things. I enter the hymns so rich in poetry and I understand a bit better what it means to love. For to love means to deny oneself in a certain way. To love is to suffer.

But it’s all worth it. In the end, at the last days, when we gather by the river that runs before the throne of God, we will know and we will understand what Love truly is.

Rest in Peace, Scott, and may light perpetual shine upon you.

August Journal: Eighth Sunday after Trinity

It is a rich time, an unfolding time, a time full of fullness, a time when we pause and wonder at the world about us and how we came to be here, to live each day in beauty, truth, and goodness, to love and esteem one another, each as a child of God.

Yesterday was the Feast of the Transfiguration, and I learned something in church today about the light of God, the light that transfigured the face of Christ as he spoke in a cloud with Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets). The scene has always dazzled me with its many surreal qualities, a scene that no one could possibly make up who hadn’t been there. It’s puzzling at first. Did it really happen? But the Church has expounded for us for centuries, helping us understand the short narrative we find in the Holy Gospels.

What struck me today was the light. The light of God can be blinding, our preacher said today. To look into the face of God – too bright for us, unless we have been transfigured ourselves, unless we have grown through repentance, have chosen the right path through our time on earth. “Fear not,” the angels say when they visit. Shepherds cover their eyes as they look to the heavens to see the choir of angels on the eve of Christ’s birth. The light is so bright, so blinding. So bright to be burning. So bright to be a fire that consumes. And so our path leads us to Heaven, prepares us to choose Heaven. For those on the wrong path will be blinded by the light, burned by the flames.

Is this where we recognize the flames of Hell? The light of God will either burn or transfigure. C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce envisions Heaven as a place too real for the wraiths of Hell to endure. Blades of grass are sharp and cut through them. But those prepared for Heaven are real enough to walk on this same grass.

And so the light transfigures us, changes us, for we have been transformed.

There is a darkness over our land today. It is a darkness that makes it difficult for many to see their way to the path that will lead to Heaven. The darkness beckons, enshrouds, clouds. How do we know to turn away from the dirge we hear, the deadly wail of grievance and despair?

It’s easy. We turn away from the darkness of death and toward the light of life. We turn to the light of Christ found in our local church. We enter the doors and step inside. We learn to lean to the light by sitting alongside others seeking God and the path to Heaven. We learn we are not alone on the path. We learn we are sisters and brothers, children of God. In fact, St. Paul tells us today, we have received “the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father… we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:12+)

In the nave we sit together, sing together, speak together as one voice. We form a family, where many become one in Christ. Each one of us is unique, never created before and never to be created again. The Master himself made us, a glorious creation, each adding to the seamless garment of many colors. We face and embrace the light of Christ on the altar in the tabernacle, alit by flaming candles, and sunlight shafting from above. We step into the aisle and walk in line with our sisters and brothers to receive the Real Presence. We become one Body, the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Christians experience a miracle many times over in the consecration of bread and wine. But they also receive a miracle many times over in the many becoming one. We who have been divided by race, abilities, genders, beliefs, know this is true. We know this is how we should be – not divided, but undivided, united by the love of God our Creator, united by adoption, united as his children, each unique, each a part of this family of God. We know this is how it should be, how it is meant to be. And we are reminded by Scripture, by song, creed, and prayer, that we are one body before our Father in Heaven. We sing with one voice, Gloria.

We are reminded how to see the path, how to turn toward the light, how to listen and to learn and to love, for such a path transfigures and enlightens and leads us to Heaven, as one Body, the Bride of Christ.

Feast of the Transfiguration: New ACFW Post Published

American Fiction Writers (ACFW) has published my post today, “Worthy Words: Creative and Compelling Characters,” how Christian novelists develop compelling and creative characters transfigured by truth, beauty, and righteousness, linking Earth and Heaven, the third in a series on writing from a Christian perspective. Thank you, ACFW.

July Journal, Seventh Sunday after Trinity

We are in the long, green, growing season of the Church Year, a season that is seasoned with Paul’s letters to the first Christian churches, and the miracles and teachings of Christ. We heard today in Paul’s Epistle that the wages of sin is death, that as servants of sin we were free from righteousness and without fruit; we were paid with death. But as servants of God, our fruit is holiness and everlasting life through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:19+). In the Gospel (Mark 8:1+) we hear of Christ’s miracle when he fed the four thousand, those traveling to hear him preach from the hillside, turning seven loaves and a few fishes into many, a witness to his divinity and a precursor to the institution of the Holy Eucharist on the night before he was crucified.

It is a time of learning and listening, this green season of Trinitytide.

And so I reflected on the last two weeks and the graced chance to attend daily noon Mass at St. Joseph’s during their seminary residential session. Each morning I decided whether I would go that day, for I have many home commitments that require my presence. But the Real Presence waited for me on the simple altar in our chapel, urging me with that still small voice, nudging me to be present at all ten of the weekday Eucharists.

The daily feeding enriched me beyond measure, in a way that I find miraculous and precious. Each day I asked, “What will you show me today?” “What part of my soul needs healing?” so that the effort seemed to work out – the scheduling, the lack of planning, the spontaneity. Ten great gifts for me at the altar. Ten meals for my soul. Ten fruits harvested. Ten seeds planted to flower with faithful watering.

A friend of mine, the vicar of our chapel, showed me a website a number of years ago. There were boys singing in a cathedral a lyrical song I wasn’t familiar with, since it wasn’t in our hymnal. They sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Their voices soared in the space, and they sang as though they too soared, flying into the domes and beyond into Heaven. I never forgot that, those voices and those words so plaintive and grateful, and I looked up the song later and learned it. It has become one of my favorites, and from time to time we sing it from printed sheets in our chapel.

For it is faithfulness that teaches us about righteousness and the Kingdom of Heaven. It is daily prayer, daily song, daily ritual morning and evening that brings us into God’s presence. Most of the time, the routine is just that, routine, but I have found that as I memorize the words they come from someplace deep inside my heart, and my conversation with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit becomes more real, feeding me, so that I am better able to recognize sin and to know righteousness. The daily conversation gives me the sight that is needed to see, the nutrients needed to flower.

Faithfulness can be boring, to be sure, and even with this slight annoyance we learn discipline and fortitude. A bit at a time, a still small voice at a time, so that compiled in years upon years (my threescore and fifteen as I write this) the whisper becomes a chorus of angels. Along the way are many dry times, and faithfulness bridges these deserts in the heart. Faithfulness says, go to Mass even if you don’t feel like it.

Faithfulness means getting off the couch and stepping out the door and traveling to Sunday Mass, often at a cost to our immediate comfort. Perhaps it is the cost, the discipline, that feeds more faithfulness, for in time it becomes easier and easier to keep the feast and observe the fast of comfort.

Faithfulness means recognizing and responding to the gifts others have given you – an invitation to teach Sunday School, a chance to sing in the choir, a sign-up for the local mission and its food drive or soup kitchen. We open our hearts and minds to these sudden moments, evaluating if they are sent by God to help s grow green and fruitful and righteous. An elderly friend of mine at the age of 82 faithfully tidies the pews, putting books back, each Sunday. She will be rewarded.

Faithfulness multiplies just as those loaves and fishes multiplied on the hillside. Christ as our creator is not challenged by creating more out of his own creation. And so he multiplies the loaves and the fishes. Just so, he multiplies the graces and blessings in our lives as we open our hearts to his will. Our faithful attendance, seemingly a little thing, begets others to be faithful as well, and then they beget others’, so that many sheep hear the Shepherd’s call, and many seeds are sown in the desert.

Today my heart is full because I took those little baby steps each day to go to the noon Mass. I shall remember these two weeks for a long time, and I shall magnify their presence in my soul with each Sunday eucharist, all the while looking forward to our Seminary Summer Session 2023.

For great is thy faithfulness, O God my father. Call me to be faithful too.

“Great is Thy Faithfulness,” by Thomas O. Chisholm (1866-1960), written in 1923, based on Lamentations 3:22-23, public domain
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father!
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided:
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided:
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine with 10, 000 beside.
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!