Category Archives: Uncategorized

September Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 16

“How few men are strong enough to stand against the prevailing currents of opinion!”

Churchill, London to Ladysmith via Pretoria

“Let us free the world from the approach of a catastrophe, carrying with it calamity and tribulation, beyond the tongue of man to tell.”

Churchill, House of Commons, April 1936 (1)

The above quotes reminded me of our president. Indeed, and often surprisingly, many of Winston Churchill’s words remind me of the other social outcast and truth-teller of our times, our president.

The times are troubling: anarchy, looting, burning, and tearing down of not only our communities but our history as a people, a free people, and a people who not only free others, but cherish freedom and die for freedom worldwide.

I’ve been reading Andrew Roberts’ Churchill: Walking with Destiny. I was familiar with the 1930’s appeasement movement, the many voices of power in Britain who thought that Hitler would be friendly if Britain was friendly. It is a natural temptation of a goodhearted, good people, to trust others, and to blame themselves for others tyranny (the bully in the schoolyard who stole my lunch must have done so because of something I said or did).

While a natural temptation and a natural good as well, the desire to appease, or to make peace at any cost, isn’t always the wisest plan in the real and fallen world of bullies, whether on the schoolyard or in the foreign countries or in our own cities—Seattle, Portland, New York, or Louisville. Real bullies only understand a return of force, unfortunately and tragically for those of us who desire peace and tranquility. History shows us this, and those who study history know this. But alas, our public schools, grade school through college, have not taught true history. It will be up to us to remind those who did not study our past, how the past informs our present. The 1930’s appeasement of Hitler nearly allowed an evil tyrant to take over Europe. He would not have stopped there, but would have taken America’s eastern ports, launching into our own homeland his campaign of terror.

Today, it will be up to us to stand against “the prevailing currents of opinion” decreed by major media outlets. It will be up to us to stand against bullies, mob rule, and cancel culture. The alternative is to  forfeit the public peace needed for freedom to thrive. A conundrum, and not for the faint of heart.

On the other hand, all we really need to do is cast our vote, and love and respect one another.

It is curious that Winston Churchill did not describe himself as a Christian. He was a nominal Anglican and believed in the values of the Western world, indeed the British Empire: respect for the individual, freedom, rule of law and fair justice, representative government, the culture of arts and the growth of science that could only be nurtured in this relatively peaceful social order. 

He didn’t seem to realize that his Western values were Judeo-Christian, and that without the belief in a higher authority, a God of love, it was questionable if such a society could survive. But he counted on society to believe, something we cannot trust today. We shall see. We may have used up any moral capital left on the shores by the receding tide of faith, or perhaps these values will be replenished by folks that hold these truths to be self-evident without believing in God. One can only pray that this is so.

If not, we need to evangelize as we have never evangelized before, just like my Hermit Abram in Angel Mountain. We must preach the gospel of our God of love, our God of human dignity, our God of equality under the law, our God of personal freedom and personal responsibility. Only within this creed can we preach the Ten Commandments and stop those who steal and murder and destroy.

The Epistle today was one of the great Pauline readings, one that always comforts me and fills me with hope, for Paul lived in a tyrannical and terrible time as well. Paul would understand being at odds with the prevailing opinions. He writes to the Ephesians:

The Epistle. Ephesians iii. 13.

“I DESIRE that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Italics mine.) (1928 Book of Common Prayer, 212)

We must be rooted and grounded in love so that we can comprehend the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ. We must see clearly and do the best we can for our nation, to free the world from approaching catastrophe.

We must not appease the bullies for the sake of peace. We will only invite more bullying.

And we might heed the words of Winston Churchill, a lone voice in the wilderness of appeasement:

“The whole history of the world is summed up in the fact that when nations are strong they are not always just, and when they wish to be just they are often no longer strong…” 

Winston Churchill in a speech to the House of Commons, 1936 (2)


(1) Roberts, Andrew. Churchill, Walking with Destiny (Viking, 2018), 397.

(2) Ibid, 399.

September Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 15

Our beloved cat, Laddie, died early Friday evening, when my husband and I made the difficult decision to have him put to sleep after he suffered a major seizure. He was over sixteen years old, from a shelter run by Tony La Russa in Walnut Creek (Animal Rescue Foundation), born in March 2004. They had named him Stojakovic after the Serbian basketball player. We changed his name to Laddie. We found him there as a kitten, a tough and tiny red tabby.

He had a good life, we keep telling ourselves. We were not allowed to be with him when he died, due to the pandemic, and the local animal hospital’s pandemic rules. We would have to wait in the car outside. And so we did. The vet was most helpful, all things considered, and spoke with us by phone as she examined Laddie, and then gave him a large dose of anesthetic.

And so we grieve. Given the lockdown-sheltering for over six months, we spent a great deal of time with Laddie, and he with us. It was a unique time in history – a time when “bubbles” become small countries of experience, for good or ill. Our bubble has been for the most part good, and Laddie has been a major contributor to that goodness.

And so we miss him all the more, and I try and tell myself, after all, he was just a cat. Just a cat? you cat-lovers exclaim in shock and amazement. Yes, I know. Me too. No such thing as just a cat.

We tuned in to our virtual church services this morning, and while St. Joseph’s Chapel had difficulty all the way through with their internet connection, I was able to catch a few words of the sermon preached by Fr. Napier. As I watched him speak from the center of the chancel, the altar and medieval crucifix rising behind him, I listened in amazement. He was detailing how the family dog had passed on recently, and how he was meditating on the nature of animals and souls and will we see them again? And then the connection went out again.

My angels were all around, weaving us together in a kind of sweet sympathy, a mourners’ melancholy, hopeful of Heaven. I smiled. Only God could bring such crooked lines as ours together as he did this morning, and I felt I was climbing a ladder into His Sacred Heart along with Father Napier and his family (his children, now grown, were in my Sunday School once).

Our dear bishop of blessed memory often said, “To love is to suffer.” So I am happy to suffer on account of love. I am offering our losses (the empty space in our rooms, in our hearts) to his Sacred Heart. And I am offering thanksgivings for being able to love, to love a tabby who followed the sun around the house and joined us in our daily routines which had become his daily routines. We and he had merged our lives together during this sheltering time.

And if it is this difficult with a pet, what must it be for those who have lost parents, spouses, children, during this time, when hospital visits are forbidden and churches are fined for their gatherings to honor and mourn?

I long for my church community to gather together once again, when all of these losses and sufferings are shared with the physical presence of faithful friends. The closure of our churches in California has gone on far too long, over six months and counting. Local businesses are shuttering for good, simply because they cannot afford to give up their savings to stay open. California is burning, in many ways, not just with the forest fires which continue to rage. I pray this is not the future of our country as well.

The air quality has improved a bit, and we had a few days of sun, seeing the colors of the earth joyfully return in the hills around us. Greens are green, blues are blue, my flowers in their pots outside the kitchen are happy in their yellows and pinks, even the seeds I planted from a Sunday School class years ago. But the air still smells of smoke.

Laddie is featured in Angel Mountain, my recently released novel. He too travels to Heaven and arrives safely on the other side of the Woods of the Cross. I do believe we will see our animals there – for when Heaven and Earth become one in the New Earth and Heaven, when Christ returns and reigns, the lion will lie down with the lamb so there must be cats and dogs too! All the creatures will be peaceful among us, as it must have been in the Garden of Eden so long ago.

In the meantime, and this is in many ways a mean time, we shall miss Laddie and with every pang of grief I will say a prayer of thanksgiving for his life, for our miraculous time together.

Deo gratias.

September Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 14

I have been reading Andrew Roberts’ biography of Winston Churchill, Churchill: Walking with Destiny (2018, Viking). Two remarkable themes stand out so far and I’m halfway through the 1,000 pages: first, his lifetime experiences formed a man that could save the free world from Hitler and tyranny; second, those experiences rose from his own dedication to the truth, making him controversial and a political outsider most of his life, his bravery fortifying him, his fortitude making him brave.

While born into an upper-class family, it is curious that he was half American by way of Jenny, his mother, an American socialite. And the upper-class pedigree didn’t seem to soften his rough edges. He said what he thought, did what he thought right, and forged ahead regardless of public or parliamentary opinion. He was tireless, a human dynamo. And yet he loved life (perhaps this was the root of his passions), enjoyed wine and conversation, and most of all, people. He didn’t let mistakes deter him. He reminds me of a current American leader who is also judged by elitist gatekeepers.

I have been pondering the remarkable parallels between Donald Trump and Winston Churchill. Who knew? you may very well ask. I can see my readers raising brows and gasping, or more appropriately, harrumphing with, “you’ve got to be kidding.”

Both men stirred up controversy and yet got things done in order to save the free world. Churchill’s life experience gave him the tools to lead the West to war with Hitler, and to win. His love of people—and his country, England—gave him the language to encourage his listeners and command loyalty. He saw what was coming in the early ‘thirties—the socialist machine rising in power—when the peaceful British refused to see, wanted to believe in appeasement even until the last year of the decade, even when Hitler invaded Poland in direct violation of the most recent agreement, even when the Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, argued appeasement, but fortunately didn’t win his argument. When Britain declared war shortly after, Churchill made it clear that the purpose was not to conquer other powers but to protect and defend the Western democracies, the free democracies, Western Civilization. His eloquence echoed the great speeches of an earlier time, a time when words meant something. And these words can be heard again today.

Our current leader has grown into his presidency, and in the growing has become more measured, more sedate, and even more eloquent, in spite of tweeting. But this rough and tumble businessman does not forget what he learned in the real world—how to negotiate a deal, how to win freedom for America. He sees clearly for he doesn’t require the love of his political naysayers, be they the elite of the Left or the Right, media or academia or Hollywood or corporations. He sees what needs to be done, and how to do it, and he is fearless in honoring his promises to us, necessary and vital promises. I believe he too is a man of destiny. I believe his street smarts combined with his energy and his love of the people of this country have prepared him for a particularly dangerous time, today’s time of riots in the name of Marxism, today’s time of worldwide threats to freedom.

It is still smoky here in the Bay Area, but a ray of sun is trying to penetrate and allow us to see the colors of our world. We are still locked down, but because of fear and panic due to plague, local businesses have closed permanently, and life will not be the same. California is masked in more ways than one, not seeing what needs to be seen, and turning a blind eye to what needs to be done. The fires still burn, a product of poor policy, and a dangerous blindness to reality. Our lights go out on a rolling basis. Our doctors are overworked and overwrought. Ah, California, what has happened to you?

Today’s Gospel passage was the account of the ten lepers who were healed by Christ, but only one returned to give thanks. Only one saw what had been done with his horrible illness, only one honored the healer, only one saw that his healing of a cancerous disease was a true miracle, only one gave thanks to God for his great glory.

In Angel Mountain, my recently released novel set in 2018, a time of terrible forest fires in California, a hermit fulfills his calling on a mountainside in the East Bay, preaching and healing and baptizing. He calls for repentance for the Kingdom is near. The world is smoky from fires in the north (the town of Paradise), but he speaks to pilgrims in the meadow of a new Heaven and Earth, joined, one without smoke and fires.

We are all called, we are all unique individuals with a divine purpose on this earth. Our divine destiny may be simply to see clearly and speak clearly and make choices with clear understanding. It may be to change the heart of one other person. The leper who was diseased and shunned was now healed and allowed to return to society. And he gave God the glory. He wore no mask. He could see clearly. He broke away from the others to return to Christ Jesus and praise God. He was healed in body and soul.

We are a people of body and soul, flesh and spirit. We are a people walking with destiny toward a new Heaven and Earth. Individually we walk with our unique destinies, the sum of those choices made along the way. Our choices may not be popular, they may cause some to cancel our words and spew hate, but if they are formed by a clear and courageous vision of Christ, they will lead us to become the person we are meant to be, to walk with our true destiny through and in Him.

+ + +

Two interesting facts about Winston Churchill:

He wore his many keys on silver chains that wrapped around his back, with the keys resting in his pockets.

When in 1940 he was finally made Lord Admiral of the Navy (the second time) the word went out to the forces – “Winston is back!” They must have known that he would take a commanding interest in every detail, and they would need to be on best behavior with this leader of such energy and vision.

September Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 13


This week we remember Nine-Eleven, the terrible assault on New York on September 11, 2001 by terrorists who hated America and desired to destroy her. But they didn’t. She rose from the ashes.

America is under another assault, this time from within. And so we pray. We pray for her to survive this assault and rise once again from the ashes of our cities, to rise like the phoenix of old, and claim her true history, her true values, her freedom and justice for all.

Our Anglican 1928 Book of Common Prayer has a prayer for this kind of justice that seems to be under attack. The listings of daily Scripture readings, the Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, and the “The Order for The Administration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion, with The Collects, Epistles, and Gospels,” are appreciated and often used, the tissue pages well thumbed, there are many unique prayers I have come to love as old friends.

Our Council of Bishops asked that we all include in our daily prayers, the prayer “For Social Justice”:

For Social Justice

ALMIGHTY GOD, who hast created man in thine own image; Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice among men and nations, to the glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I have learned (I think) “A Collect for Peace” which is a part of the Morning Prayer Office. It lives above “A Collect for Grace” on page 17, memorized many years ago when I was saying my morning prayers in a rush, multitasking. Adding “A Collect for Peace” was the latest addition. Now, I ask myself, can I possibly make room in my memory bank (that seems challenged these days) for the Social Justice prayer? Given our current state of the American union, or disunion, and given we have been asked by our archbishop to pray this daily, I will give it a try. Like the Peace prayer I will tape it on the back of my phone that is often in the palm of my hand.

All Christians are called to pray for social justice expressed in and protected by the rule of law, recognizing the dignity of every person made in God’s image, born and unborn, regardless of race, gender, class. And our country, America, is the cradle of freedom, equal opportunity, and peace, at least it tries to be, enshrines these goals in its constitution. It is certainly the best the world has to offer at this moment in history. And it is the most threatened at this moment in history.

My recently released novel, Angel Mountain, shines a light on a dark period in the history of Europe. My characters Elizabeth and Abram made it to America as young adults, but as children, aged six and two, they hid from the Nazis in cellars of brave Orthodox Christians in Greece.

Their backstories recall a familiar history we should not forget. Jews fled Germany and Russia, both totalitarian socialist states. These countries were run by elites who believed they knew better than the rest of the population and any means justified the end, their impossible dream of utopia as they defined it. Those persecuted, those not fitting in, fled (if they could) to the West and to freedom: western Europe, then America.

If America chooses to become socialist, chooses to believe the false promises of a socialist utopia, those persecuted, those not seen as suitable in words or deeds will have no place to go. We are the last hope of the world, the last light still burning on the mountaintop.

And so, we pray for justice for all, equality under the law, and most of all for hearts and minds to be changed, so that every person is valued as a child of God, born and unborn. Freedom requires hearts of love. Freedom requires us to be responsible for ourselves, and to care for our neighbors. Freedom requires good people of faith, people of the Christian (or Jewish) creed, people of the moral law, people of honor and duty and right action for its own sake. The Jewish tradition calls this righteousness, and so it is, and so it should be once again.

In every Mass we confess our sins—for we know we are imperfect. We confess to Almighty God (not to social media or protestors or those who threaten us). If we confess to a priest, he acts as Christ’s representative, not as himself, not as society.

I believe it was Eric Metaxas, biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said that the rise of the Social Democratic Party (Marxist, Nazi) in Germany in the ‘thirties, and all of the horror that entailed, meant the silencing of the churches along the way, quietly coercing the tacit acceptance of these bodies of faith. The Party did it through lesser issues, demanding allegiance (or simply blindness), all the while building a fascist terror that nearly took over the world. Andrew Roberts details this kind of soft appeasement in Britain in the ‘thirties in his new biography of Winston Churchill: Churchill: Walking with Destiny. I pray that this kind of quiet agreement will not be successful in America, but already we see churches wanting to confess their sins to those who loot and burn. We should only confess our sins to God.

Public confessions made to society are a Marxist practice, and these “confessions”, whether by religious figures, media and Hollywood celebrities, corporate chiefs, or academic faculty, are troubling. A Catholic priest recently made just such a confession in the form of the Catholic catechism, fully vested, at the altar of his church, as though it were a sacramental act.

Regardless, Christians and Jews believe in the God of all righteousness, true justice. One day we will face our Maker. One day we will need to account for our lives, our thoughts, words, and deeds. In the meantime, I shall work on my prayer for Social Justice for all, praying to the author of my soul.

Soon Americans will choose whether to celebrate her history of freedom or silence it. They will choose whether to allow free speech or to deny it. They will choose whether to seek truth or useful narratives. 

I shall keep on praying for our country, our freedoms, and for social justice for all.

August Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 12

It is a curious thing, the way God writes straight with the crooked lines of my soul. He must have to pull and tug the lines to make them straight. In the pulling there is suffering, growth. In the pulling there is the divine molding the mortal, the eternal sculpting those bound by time. I am reminded of the childhood reminder to stand straight, not to slouch, so that my spine does not crumble in upon itself. I must see straight ahead and not have my eyes cast down. I must mind my posture to see the clearly.

Our world is suffering, is being pulled up into God’s sight. We are called to see His glory, hear His voice, praise His name. Do we see, hear, voice with our lips?

The lockdowns and fires, here in California, border our lives with danger, threatening families with the unknownFear is near, sometimes knocking, and too often entering uninvited. We are adopting, at least in my home, a new routine. This alone is difficult, this change in habit. Yet I have found in the last few months, that good has come out of the pulling in of our boundaries. We have time for reflection. We have time for reading. We have opportunities we didn’t have before to love better, to forgive better, to welcome peace into our world of busyness.

When I wrote Angel Mountain, set in November of 2018, fires and smoke formed a backdrop to the preaching on the mountainside, and yet, it was reported, that the meadow where the hermit was preaching and baptizing remained clear. Christ does that. He clears away the smoke of our lives.

Time has been pulled in, pulling us into a sharper focus, like the zoom command at the top of my screen. My world may have shrunk, but I can see better, and I appreciate the sudden sun that comes through the smoke from time to time. I remember to count my blessings, breathing deeply the name of Jesus, glad to have clean water, lights, even air conditioning. Power outages will roll in from time to time here in California, for we are under a green regime in Sacramento and fossil fuels are evil, according to the manipulators who claim to know better.

The November election will determine if California policies will be the national policy. I hope not. Churches are being fined for meeting together (even while practicing social distancing) to worship God.

Sunday mornings have become the anchor of our week. Sunday is like the top of the mountain, with last week falling away on one side and the next week on the other. We tune into our virtual services and hear the Gospel and Epistle appointed for that day, sometimes three times, as we visit several parishes in our Anglican Province of Christ the King. We hear sermons discussing the same Scripture, as is customary, for sermons are usually based on the appointed lessons. And as I listen to three preachers give their own Holy Spirit inspired sermon, I am amazed at how nothing is repeated. The unique mind and heart of each priest colors his vision of God. Each one forms sentences differently, paragraphs fall together differently as works of art, each theme and message strikes a singular note, creating a tune never heard before and never to be heard again, a tune that enters my own hearing, heart, and mind. And reception of the words is individual as well, so that with my ears I hear as only I can hear, see as only I can see, understand as only I can understand. I pray that the words fill my vision with God.

These moments in earthbound time on Sunday mornings are unique in all history. These few hours occur for the first time and will never be experienced again. I am so privileged to be able to visit these chancels in Palo Alto, Berkeley, and Arizona, three different altars and furnishings, three singular experiences. And yet, they are united by the words spoken, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the poetic words of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, words translated from the Roman rite in the sixteenth century into Elizabethan English, the mystical consecration of the bread and wine to become the Real Presence of Christ.

The Gospel lesson was about Christ’s healing a man who couldn’t hear and couldn’t speak (“deaf and dumb”) told by St. Mark (7:31+). Are we hearing what God is saying to us? And when we have heard, do we witness to those words spoken, that gentle touch of our hearts? Do we allow Christ to sculpt our souls to be what we were meant to be? Or are we deaf and dumb?

When the liturgies come to a close, I know my crookedness has been straightened a bit. I still walk through my days bent and given to temptations that will bend me more. But on Sunday morning for a few brief hours, I unstop my ears to hear God’s voice. I open my lips to sing His praises. I am no longer deaf and dumb.

My crookedness has been pulled straight for a brief moment in time in which I knew eternity, and I am grateful.

August Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 11

A pall of white smoke has covered Northern California. While we haven’t evacuated, we packed “go” bags in case, remembering our elderly cat Laddie, his travel cage, his insulin shots.

Living amidst nature is a beautiful experience but does have drawbacks, and grass fires are some of them, as well as annual armies of aunts (the insects), field mice, turkeys, and the occasional wild pig who takes delight in digging up the lawn. I believe, as we age, we come to realize that the natural world is winning against our meager, ineffective attempts at control, yet we do battle as best we can to own the space we have been given.

And now fires and smoke and the expectation of earthquake season. 

I walk through the house, surveying our possessions, accumulations from 70-80 years on this Earth, considering what is important to save and what is not. I sense a parallel with my wandering through time, accumulating ideas and opinions and thoughts, sins and virtues, hates and loves, blessings and bedevilments. One day I will walk on my final journey, hopefully holding our Lord Jesus’ hand and arriving at the pearly gates of fame, carrying these spiritual possessions on the back of my soul. St. Peter will advise what to save and what to leave behind, what to confess, what to celebrate. Or perhaps Our Lord will, or perhaps an angel, like Angel Michael in my recent novel, Angel Mountain, who guides the hermit Abram on his journey through the Woods of the Cross (plot spoiler alert).

My bishop of blessed memory often said he finally understood the phrase, “The good die young.” How can that be right, I wondered. He meant, I have come to see, is that they are released from this life’s suffering earlier than the rest of us. They’ve earned early release. They enter Eternity and into the beloved’s Presence, hear the glorious music and laughter, bathed in His love. They enter bliss, blissfully.

The Chinese flu, which some say is overly hyped for political purposes while others cringe in fear of contagion, has added menace to this already dangerous wildfire season in Northern California. We are under house arrest either by force of the state or by force of society’s judgment upon us should we go out and meet together, see one another’s faces, return their smiles, their hugs, their touch. We stay connected through keyboards and Clouds that somehow carry our messages to loved ones and friends. We wait and we wonder. When will these troubles pass? What will be their cost to each of us, to America?

The Presidential election in November is on our minds as well, as one political party concluded their virtual gathering last week, having nominated their runners in this earthly race. The second political party will begin their Cloud gatherings tomorrow. There was and will be much hand-ringing and accusations, much anger and angst. There is also hope that Americans will cast thoughtful votes, that they will listen and learn before choosing.

The gregarious conventions of the past which became increasingly scripted and violent may be no more. Instead they will be replaced with faces in squares and speeches intoned to an invisible audience through the Cloud into our living rooms, appearing on screens we can remotely turn on and off with a small handheld wand or a tap of the finger or even a few words to Siri, the Cloud servant of all. Conventions will squeeze into phones and tablets and live there forever.

I for one will vote for the peacemakers, the deal-makers, the protectors of life, the defenders of our exceptional country, those who do the job I would like them to do. This is no time for careless complaints. The stakes are serious.

America was always a miracle in the making. Can she continue to make miracles? The odds are not with us, for who believes in miracles? Yet we pray without ceasing that the miracle of America continue to shine a light in the darkness of the world, that the impossible continue to be possible, for the poorest of the poor, for hopeful immigrants, for every race and gender, for the unborn, for every identity. 

Today, as Christians are denied the right to pray together as Our Lord commanded, “When two or three are gathered…,” we still hope and pray and repent our many sins. We repent, so that we may be forgiven. We are forgiven so that we may find the Way to Heaven, to arrive at those pearly gates, to enter the glory that awaits us in the Kingdom. So my husband and I tuned in to virtual services, attending three Masses this morning, overlapping in time. We gave awards: Best Chanting, Fr. Weber, St. Ann Chapel, Stanford. Best Sermon, Canon Dart, Christ Church, AZ. Best Hymns, St. Joseph’s, Berkeley.

As we stood to sing #600, “Ye holy angels bright who sit at God’s right hand…” I smiled. My husband’s marvelous tenor filled the room, and I squeaked along as best I could, making up for talent with enthusiasm. We could hear a few voices in the chapel, living deep inside my laptop, and the organ played by the talented Eugene was magnificent.

A challenging time. Riots and burnings in our cities. Fires and smoke in the hills. A political landscape of triumphant truths and shamefaced lies further dividing us, as if house arrest and natural disasters weren’t enough.

And yet… we overcome these tribulations. We follow the star that leads to the manger in Bethlehem. In this dark time, we follow the light we know—the light of love shone upon us by our Creator, upon all creation. We follow the light to where it leads, and along the way hope to reflect that light, carry that lantern for others to see and follow too. We are not really alone and there is no reason to be lonely, or despairing, not with all we have been given as Christians, not with the overwhelming and saving grace of Christ in His amazing abundance.

Goodreads Giveaway Winners Announced

Congratulations to the ten winners of my recent Goodreads Giveaway! Your books have been ordered. Many thanks to the 1,494 readers who entered for a chance to win a free copy—we hope to have another giveaway in the next year. To be on my direct mailing list for quarterly announcements and updates, please email me: Chris@ChristineSunderland.com.

August Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 10

SunsetA triple-digit heat wave rolled over our golden hills a few days ago. To open a window or door is to enter an oven.

Last night, after a coral-ribboned sunset that streaked the sky above the disappearing sun, we were woken by thunder and lightening. The lightening must have been near, hovering over Mount Diablo, a.k.a. Angel Mountain. It boomed over the land.

Our Planet Earth felt small and helpless in the dark before dawn, beneath these loud and dueling skies. Man has little control over nature, neither his own nor the world around him. Climate is climate, ever changing.

Our dry golden hills needed the drenching, and in the morning the hot air smelt of wet hay, the brown grasses stale and dank. Would the storm dampen potential blazes?

Now as I write, the sun has returned and is back to baking our land.

And as I write, angry riots continue to fill the news reports. Tyranny threatens in this time of panic and disorder. Police states wait offstage for their cue. We watch and wait, hope and pray. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

And so we turned on our screens, tuning in, this morning for Sunday worship—laptops and phones and tablets: Christ Church Anglican in Arizona, St. Joseph’s Anglican in Berkeley, St. Ann Chapel Anglican in Palo Alto. Their timing was sequential… 10, 11, 11:30, and I listened to the lessons and sermons (several), prayed the Creed(s) and sang the Gloria(s), then settled into St. Joseph’s liturgy, the Canon of the Mass, the Eucharistic sacrifice.

The Epistle spoke of the gifts of the Spirit, the fruits given to each of us if we seek God. The Gospel mirrored the turbulent storm of the night—Christ was angry with those who sold in the temple and He “cast them out.” The house of prayer had become a den of thieves. Choices were made.

I have been working with the Berkeley chapel organist to stream the services live through Facebook, so we have our organ and four hymns for the day at the ready. We watched the host become the Real Presence of Christ. We centered our focus on the altar and the priest’s prayers dating to the sixteenth century and far earlier to ancient abbeys. We watched the miracle unfold, familiar and foreign all at once, timeless and time-bound, in a small chapel a block from the university, twenty miles away from our home. We sang the songs (my husband loves hymns and I follow along), encouraged by the booming notes entering real time on this August Sunday, the Tenth Sunday after Trinity.

But it was not as it should be. We were not gathered together as the Church, a physical fellowship, and yet we were gathered together as the Church, a spiritual fellowship. We were separated by distance and space but united in ceremony and time, a welcome ordering of souls in this modern world of disordering.

It is as if humanity is being sorted out, into sheep and goats, wheat and tares. We are asked to choose and if we have not been watching and listening and seeking God’s grace in our lives, “tuning in”, the choice will be difficult or simply deadly. We will be asked to choose what kind of a society we would like—one that favors free speech, freedom of worship, freedom of thought and belief, versus one that dictates speech, worship, thought, belief. We will be asked to choose between life and death, creation and destruction, individual dignity and group shaming. The choice is clear for some of us, having been schooled in the Church, having been fed by the Church, having been given eternal life through the Church, this Bride of Christ. The choice is clear for we were blind and now we see (better), were deaf and now we hear (better), were dumb and now we speak (better), at least for now, as long as we tune in.

RESOURCE_TemplateMy recently released novel, Angel Mountain, speaks of these things, this second coming of Christ and some of these choices that are set before us. Is the world ending? Is the return of the King soon? Our preacher (one of them) said that Jesus Christ will make all things new, that He will reconcile Heaven and Earth, that He will create a new Earth. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Last night, as thunder rumbled and lightning flashed, I was reminded of our smallness. I was reminded that we are a tiny part of this terribly turbulent world. Our hearts cry for peace; are we more than mere animal? And I answered my question with the Church’s teachings, with Our Lord’s teachings, that we are made in the image of God, the imago Dei, and that because of this knowledge, this belief in a God of infinite love, we must be a people of infinite love, schooled in a love that passes all understanding. We must admit our frailty and choose to live lives of glory, lives of life, lives of light.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

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Two days to enter for a chance to win a copy of Angel Mountain in the Goodreads Giveaway….

 

August Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 9

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, celebrated August 6, and ongoing through the octave, always stuns me, perhaps transfigures me. I joined the St. Ann Chapel’s virtual Mass on Thursday and listened to the words of the Gospel of St. Luke (9:28+):

“AND it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said. While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud. And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.”

My recently released novel, Angel Mountain, is about transfiguration. There are icons in a bright cave that glow with uncreated light. There is the face of a believer transfigured by the joy of faith when he speaks of Christ. There are singers glistering with the melody of hymns and psalms. For all of us are invited into transfiguration. We need only say yes, Lord, transfigure me: let me hear your voice.

On the mountain, Luke describes one of those moments when Christ literally becomes our bridge to Heaven from Earth. It is a moment of revelation, recalling Christ’s baptism when the dove descends and the voice from Heaven proclaims, “This is my beloved son….” It is a moment that the earthbound disciple Peter doesn’t fully understand, thinking that Christ is equal with Moses and Elijah. It takes a dark and threatening cloud and the voice of God the Father to explain to him what is happening: “This is my beloved son! Hear him!” And yet the disciples still didn’t quite understand.

We often need such a direct voice from on high, the voice of life, the voice of God our Creator. Especially now, as our world seems to be full of anger and despair, even suicidal. We may not always understand, but we need listen, again, and again.

The pandemic reminds all of us of the fragility of our lives. Life itself is transfigured in illness, in the destruction of our flesh, in death. A gray pall wraps our world as darkness is welcomed by those who would destroy life, silence our words, imprison our thoughts. Our daily world has been turned upside down and we find ourselves in a dark cloud. But do we hear the voice calling us, the voice of love, in or perhaps through the cloud?

I planted some seeds last week in my garden, wondering if they would germinate. They were seeds from many years ago, seeds in a little packet that had been left over from a summer Sunday school class. I had low expectations, given the time passed, and not sure if a box in a hot garage was the best storage for these tiny bits of promise. I poured the packet into my palm. They were barely visible, so minute, and I scattered the seeds into the soil. I patted them under their earthy blanket, their cave-tomb, and watered them carefully.

And yet, green leaves are now shooting out of the dark soil. The black loamy surface is transfigured from death to life. Not transformed, for the seeds are the same as when they lay buried. But transfigured into what they were meant to become: leaves, stems, flowers.

Such life we take for granted, congratulating ourselves, thinking that we created it. We kill the unborn, thinking we have the right. We snuff out life all around us without a thought. And yet, there are moments when we pay attention, when we allow the darkness to be penetrated, when Christ himself transfigures us, moments when we listen.

I finished my prayer memorization (see last week), the morning prayer for freedom:

“O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom, defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies, that we trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries, through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

I confess that I missed a few words, but I’ll work on it, incorporate it into my other morning prayers written on my heart: the Our Father, the Venite, the Jubilate Deo, the Te Deum. For prayer transfigures. Prayer is like Christ on the mountain, a way to Heaven itself, a means to a joyful end. And prayers written by great theologians such as Thomas Cranmer reflect truth, and truth transfigures.

My bishop of blessed memory often said that to love is to suffer. And yet to love is to experience transfiguration inside the suffering, to know joy. It is a curious conundrum, a contradiction, like many in this world of spirit and matter, in this world of Heaven and Earth we do not fully understand. In this world of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

But for now, in the shadowy land of pandemic panic and rotting riot, our precious liberty and law no longer sacred, I will listen for the voice in the heavenly cloud. I will say my prayers, learn as many as I can by heart, with my heart, so that I will be able to hear His voice when He speaks to me. And when He speaks through my prayers, living in the words and the very breath I am breathing, I will breathe the Holy Name into my body, into my very flesh. I will string a rosary of words that carry me into His presence.

And I will be transfigured by joy.

All are welcome to visit the virtual services at St. Ann Chapel. Email saintannchapel@gmail.com and ask to be added to their Zoom and Facebook list. For more about St. Ann Chapel, visit Saintannchapel.org.

The Goodreads Giveaway is now in progress for Angel Mountain, through August 18. Enter for a chance to win!

August Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 8

Aside from the riots and burnings, the assault on private and public property, the rise in unemployment, bankruptcies, and closures, the students denied education, the poor becoming poorer, sports with no live fans, performing arts with no live audience, the churches with empty pews, the fear engendered by a strange virus, aside from these minor disruptions to daily life (“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the theater?”), Americans seem to have downshifted into a simpler mode of existence, which may not be a bad thing altogether.

There are silver linings to the storm clouds as they say and blessings to be counted. And Sundays are good days to count blessings and reflect on thanksgivings.

I find myself, elderly and sheltering with my husband, also elderly, having more time each day which I now can restructure. For I hate time lost, time gone, precious minutes of my life not lived fully to the glory of God.

Having obliged a number of obligations, particularly in regards to my recently released novel, Angel Mountain, I now have a little time. When this occurs—usually on vacation or other “rest” periods—I assign a bit to memorize, either from the 1928 Anglican Book of Common Prayer or Scripture (usually KJV, more poetic). One can never have too many prayers or verses tucked away in one’s little memory bank. And my memory bank is often depleted and bereft… for I don’t pay attention often enough to this simple challenge. So, it being an election year, and a year of clear attacks on our freedoms, recalling the Marxist playbook, I revisited a prayer in the Service of Morning Prayer, “A Collect for Peace.” I have tried this one before and always struggled for some reason, confusing the phrases in a most frustrating manner. So I am giving it another go and taped the words to the back of my phone (naturally, attached to my palm).

Here is where I am:

“O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in whose knowledge standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom…”

That’s taken a week of glancing at the back of my phone. I’m working now on the next phrase:

“Defend us thy humble servants in all assaults of our enemies”

Curious, I just noted, we are asking for defense in all assaults not from all assaults. So the assaults will still come, but we will be girded with enough righteousness, with helmets of salvation, swords of truth… to be safe, saved.

The famous phrase in this prayer is “whose service is perfect freedom,” and I have returned to it often because of those words, that, at first, seem to contradict one another. Service, perfection, freedom. How can there be freedom in service? Something to consider in these moments given me, these extra hours.

The sheltering shuttering locking down of our lives has also afforded me an opportunity to attend church virtually. I immediately checked out the larger churches, to see what they were doing and in the process recalled that one can go to any of the world’s great cathedrals and see rituals in glorious settings—in Rome, Paris, London, with the time change of course. But there are such services in the U.S. too. They stream the service and we watch as spectators.

But most of our little Anglican parishes had never stepped into this world of virtual reality in order to claim souls out there in the Cloud, except perhaps for an odd few minutes of video showing a procession for an ordination or other memorable event. This was new territory, and our clergy would have to respond as best they could. Many have been proud they didn’t “do Internet things, or email even, and Facebook… too dangerous.” And I often wondered about that, considering it a missed opportunity. But now it was sink or swim, especially here in California, where the governor has imposed strict restrictions on congregations congregating, although protests and riots appear to be anointed with his approval, no masks required.

But I’m not going down that road, as they say. Instead, I have been watching our parishes to see what they would do, and it brought up some interesting observations.

Many did nothing. But among those who did, the Zoom approach seemed the most popular, where a link was sent to members and others who asked for the invitation to the service. This kept the group private, good for the club atmosphere (coffee hour) but not so good as a public witness, opening the front doors as it were to all passersby, with what would entail “streaming” (can now can be done through Facebook).

Some clergy opted for both, which on reflection, seems the best approach.

Once I was used to seeing my face in one of those squares and devoured advice on camera angles and ways to look better than I really do (this has not been successful, alas), I felt more at home with Zoom.

But the question of open/closed doors continues to fascinate me. The church is supposed to be making disciples of all nations. Here we were, suddenly in a place in time where folks in all nations were looking for our open digital doors. I know from the Facebook page we have for our UC Berkeley chapel, St. Joseph’s, we have visitors from all over the world. They especially like the short videos of singing and processions, but the altar and the vertical space and the sense of holiness in our chapel seems to draw many to us, folks we have never met, but longed for something we could offer.

The Internet, with all of its downsides (and I won’t go down that road either, not today at least), has brought people together. Especially those we used to call “shut-ins.” Especially those who are lonely, suffering, dying. Anyone can enter this world wide web of singing, dancing, storytelling, funny videos, classes of every description, and on and on. The world has become democratized, the gatekeepers to such knowledge and entertainment no longer relevant. The world has direct access through a simple phone. Who would have guessed?

Another detour I won’t pursue is the policing of this world wide web.

So getting back to the churches and their services and their open or closed doors. It is a characteristic of human beings that we have an inner and an outer life. Inside, outside. Spiritual, physical. Something we are told is united in Christian faith and practice. And parish life can be like that—caring for one another within the parish, caring for those outside the parish. It is always tempting for any group to grow increasingly inward, becoming a club of close friends, a closed society. It becomes difficult for them to open those doors and allow anyone in, to change the happy parish family.  And yet, how vital this is, for with closed doors, closed hearts, the mission we have been given is soon forgotten. Soon the closed doors are locked—for safety of course. Soon the Sunday School is silent—quieter that way and less troublesome.

So I am thankful for this remarkable opportunity given to churches to preach the Gospel to all nations from simple screens and keyboards and video cameras, preferably in a physical chancel before a physical altar. I hope more churches do this, and if they have an invitation-only service, that they consider doing a live-streaming as well.

After all, we want the doors to Heaven open to us one day, when we reach the top of Angel Mountain. We want to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Here is your perfect freedom. Welcome home.” And we will all stream in, smiling and singing and glorifying God.