Tag Archives: Christ

The Fire of Pentecost

pentecost-flame2Lake Como, Italy

The Fire Trail, my sixth novel, has now been released into the world to fly on its own, and so we have flown as well, to Lake Como for a time of rest and re-creation. Settling into our hotel, we are recovering from the 20-hour trip, flying San Francisco-Newark-Milan, and the challenge of today’s airports, especially for the frail and elderly.

This morning, from our balcony, I hear the buzz of a weed-cutter clearing the hillside. Swallows chirp in the garden next door where visitors wander neat paths and beyond our terrace steep green-forested mountains descend to the long blue lake. I know, but cannot see from here, snow-capped Alps anchor the northern tip of the finger of water like winter queens on their thrones. Now, in the peace of a northern May morning, I consider yesterday’s Festival of Pentecost, a wondrous holy-day, and all that it means.

The images of Pentecost are powerful, a great distance from the gentle Jesus of mainline Protestantism. As the disciples await their Lord’s Holy Spirit promised at His ascension, they must have been fearful, wondering, and even doubtful. Their human limitations, just like ours, must have shadowed them, as they waited in hiding in Jerusalem.

And then it happened:

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts 2)

They were transformed. No longer fearful, they left the safety of their Jerusalem room and entered the danger of the Jerusalem streets, no longer in hiding, speaking in other languages of the “wonderful works of God.” Soon they found they had other powers, powers to heal, to endure, to inspire, to give others the power of the Holy Spirit, in a long succession through years and centuries to this day, to this moment, our moment in time, through Baptism, Confirmation, and Ordination.

The Feast of Pentecost is the fiat (meaning let it be done) moment for us all, a time we as children of God, say “yes” to Him, let it be done as He wills. For Mary said “yes” and was filled with the Holy Ghost, to nurture and give birth to God’s Son. We too, can say “yes.” We too, can be filled with His fire.

Lately I have been editing the sermons of our dear Bishop Morse, and reflecting from time to time on my last year with him, his last words. When we talked about the turmoil of our world, our church, even our local parishes, I often waited for an answer to why, some explanation for it all, and most of the time he would say, “He (or she) said yes to God. He (or she) didn’t say yes to God. That’s why. They didn’t open the door.” He would raise his brows, shake his head in wonderment, and his eyes would search mine to see if I saw too, if I understood. I did, for when you say yes, you ask that His will become yours. Let it be done. Fiat.

I have often thought of those words and their simplicity, as truth often is, right in front of us, staring at us, waiting for our response.

It is not always easy to say yes, and we often forget once we have said it. The Baptized forget who they are. The Confirmed do not remember. The Ordained look away. But if we have said yes, God will not forsake us. Then swords shall pierce our hearts, and nails shall wound our flesh. We shall know the despair of darkness, rimmed by the hope of light. In those times of terrible twilight and deepest dawn we must remember to breathe “Jesus” in and out, refilling our souls. We must remember to pray the Our Father, holding onto the words that will pull us to shore, that will give us life, that will save us.

Pentecost. They gathered on this Jewish festival day to remember the giving of the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai and were given a different kind of knowledge, commandment, and power. The English Church in time came to call Pentecost “Whitsunday,” White Sunday, for it was a traditional day of Confirmation, when the Confirmands wore white. Confirmation, of course, is a renewal, a confirming, of our Baptismal vows (vows of our godparents for us or our own vows) and is another Holy Spirit descent upon us. In Baptism and Confirmation, we say yes to God. We open the door to His will becoming ours. Let it be done. Fiat.

The disciples said yes, and on that day in Jerusalem two thousand years ago they received the Holy Spirit. And so we call this the Birthday of the Church. The Church – the descendants of those disciples – has been saying yes ever since, or at least trying to.

Last night, the evening of Pentecost Sunday, we stood on our balcony overlooking Lake Como. As a half moon rose in a chilly dark sky, fireworks boomed from a barge on the lake. Brilliant light rose and shattered over the waters, drifting down and disappearing like falling stars. The bright diamonds flashed so near I thought I might take them in my hands. But of course it was an illusion, a dream, a longing desire.

But Pentecost fulfills that desire. The Holy Spirit does indeed descend upon us and we can truly open our palms, our hearts, and welcome Him. We can say yes. We can have that desire fulfilled.

Sometimes we say no, even after we said yes, and we must repent. We must turn around, recall our yearning and renew our yes. This chance, a repeated loving chance, is the glorious heart of the Gospel, the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

My little novel, The Fire Trail, draws that crooked line that runs between saying yes and saying no, or even saying maybe. The way of yes is the way of love, of self-sacrifice for our brothers and sisters. The way of no is the way of unlove, of self-gratification. The way of yes is the way of civilization, be it Western, Eastern, Southern, Northern. The way of no is the way of the jungle, barbarism, darkness. Nihilism. Nothing.

I pray, as I watch the clouds gather over the snowy mountains, that I will keep saying yes and that God’s tongues of fire will continue to rebirth His Holy Church, to inflame us all with His will. Let it be done. Fiat.

Drenched by Christ

Rain on hillsIt’s been raining here in northern California and our happy earth drinks in the spring drenching, this gift from the heavens. Perhaps our rolling greens will not turn to golden browns quite yet.

It is often these quiet things, these gentle tears of the skies, that delight human senses. We pause and watch and listen. We turn off phones and radios and TVs and ponder, seeing new life birthing in buds and babies, feeling our own beating hearts dance to the rhythm of our breathing.

We are beautiful creatures both infinitely complex and varied, composed of miraculous maps within, historical maps, biological maps, genetic maps. We look to the heavens and see the miraculous maps of the universe, God’s stardust. We are small, tiny parts of a whole, and yet we are giants, of tremendous worth to our loving Creator.

As I stepped through the Holy Liturgy in our parish church this morning, I gazed at the high altar covered with white Easter lilies. I was flooded with wonder. There we were, ordinary folks, sailing in this old ark of a church, taking part in eternity intersecting time. With raspy voices we sing our hymns and the organ pumps out jeweled notes. We are an integral part of the great thanksgiving, the Sunday offering, the Divine Liturgy, the “work of the people.” We hear the silence too, moments of prayer, quiet seconds linking words of confession and absolution, sacrament and scripture. We watch tall tapers flame behind white lilies, a garden holding the tabernacle of God’s Real Presence.

I have found that the Eucharistic liturgy is both earthy and heavenly, uniting our two natures. For the duration of this hour our bodies and souls sing as one, married, united by love.

I’ve been typing up my late bishop’s sermons, and when asked to offer word suggestions for a dedication plaque, I thought of the love of God. Our bishop showed us the love of God, that it was real and living, that it was ours for the asking. And of course, when we are showered with such love we can shower others with such love. It is who we are meant to be, why we were created, to love and be loved.

It is all a mystery. St. John writes that God is love: “He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). But love is far more than a feeling, just as God is far more than wishful thinking. Love is complex and simple, demanding and sacrificial. Just like God. 

So God the Father loves us through God the Son, Jesus, whose very name is holy, one to be breathed in and out with a sacred sense of life and living. It is a name beyond all names, and with the naming of God we pull Him into our hearts and minds and souls, enlivening our bodies with His very breath, the breath of His Holy Spirit.

We have a church conference coming up, an Anglican Synod, and the days together with parishes from many states will be days of mingling the heavenly and the earthly. We shall sit on hard chairs and listen to speeches and reports, but we will also pray together, sing together, and love one another. We shall weave a tapestry of the Body of Christ, so that we may unite as one breath of love, at one in the breathing in and out of the Holy Spirit, the Name of Jesus, to show our world that God is love.

Christ the Good ShepherdToday is called Good Shepherd Sunday. I have a beloved icon that shows Christ in red-and-blue robes carrying a lamb over His shoulders. A wooden crossbeam stretches behind Him. Christ is the Good Shepherd who loves His sheep. He knows them and they know Him. The lamb He carries is like the lamb carried into the temple for sacrifice. We know, of course, that Christ is the sacrificial lamb. He replaces the lamb once sacrificed. For love of us.

I have a recurring nightmare where I am hiking along a steep mountainside in the dusk of evening. I must reach safety before dark and I must watch where I step or I shall fall far into the caverns below. Waking from these nightmares I recall thankfully that Christ will find me wherever I am and bring me safely home with Him. I will not be lost, for not one of His sheep are lost. He is the Good Shepherd.

And because of the Church and its liturgical dance of love, I know His voice when he calls my name. Like Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, I recognize Him by his voice. Like the disciples at Emmaus I see Him in the breaking of the bread. He is real. He is love.

I also have a recurring dream in which I am flying like a bird, low over green hills, arms outstretched like wings. I can sense in the dream that my arms must push downward through the air so that I can rise, as though I am swimming. It is a beautiful dream, a soaring dream, and one beating with love.

And so like these green hills, drenched and quenched by the rain, I am drenched and quenched by Christ. Christ in sacrament and scripture, in song and dance, in the breath of each day. I know that nightmares will be redeemed by dreams, dark terrors turned into bright joys.

As the clergy and acolytes recessed down the red-carpeted aisle toward the open doors of the narthex, the crucifix held high, the torches aflame, we sang the wonderful Hymn #88, “Jesus Lives,” written by German poet Christian Gellert in 1757 and set to the tune “St. Albinus” in the 19th century by Henry Gauntlett. We are instructed in the top left corner of the page to sing joyously and so we do. I particularly like the first and fourth verses, for they sing of the promise of the Good Shepherd:

 Jesus lives! thy terrors now/ Can no longer, death, appall us;/ Jesus lives! by this we know/ Thou, O grave canst not enthrall us. Alleluia!

Jesus lives! our hearts know well/ Naught from us his love shall sever;/ Life, nor death, nor powers of hell/ Tear us from his keeping ever. Alleluia!

Easter Lilies

Easter LiliesIt is a rich and glorious season, this time of Eastertide. 

As I plucked wilting blossoms off my Easter lilies near our front door I inhaled the sweetness of those remaining, taking care to avoid the staining powder of the yellow stamens. I then attended the roses that once sat on my dining table and now are over the kitchen sink. Five buds are left with shorter stems clustered together in a small pitcher between sculpted figures of Mary Magdalene and an angel. As I gaze at these reminders of the season, and especially of Easter Day, I wonder at it all.

The season of Eastertide, the fifty days linking Easter and Pentecost, provide a joyful time of quiet reflection on the meaning of the Resurrection. The immense implications of this historical event, when eternity intersected time, continues to stun me. And the scripture readings assigned for these days reflect as well, considering the meaning of this new world that was created by the empty tomb.

And indeed a new world was created with the death and resurrection of Christ. It is a revolution changing everything. In one of his first resurrection appearances to the disciples Jesus gently explains what has happened. As our preacher said this morning, Christ appears to them in an upper room where the doors have been locked. He has passed through material barriers to be in their midst. He has power over the world of matter in which we live. Is he a ghost? A vision?

St. John’s eyewitness account describes how Christ points to his wounds in his hands and his side as proof he is no ghost or vision. The disciples can see and touch him. He has a material body of flesh and blood. He is real. And yet he has the power to pass through matter.

In much the same way he seeks to enter our hearts, our own bodily chambers, to dwell in us. How does he do this? He gives the apostles power to forgive sins by breathing his spirit upon them. From this time on, the apostles, who give life to the Church, act for God in the forgiveness of sins. Why?

Christ desires clean-swept hearts, hearts of light that have expelled the dark. He can only enter a heart that is full of light, enlightened, clean of sin.

It is a profound mystery and yet it is profoundly simple, just as each of us is a profound mystery and yet profoundly simple. All creation teems with intricate complexity yet delightful simplicity. The day turns to night. The rain falls on the earth. The sun shines. And the layered meanings and conclusions of learned theologians can be summed in one sentence: God is love.

Just as I pluck the dying trumpet blossoms with their staining stamens, I pluck out my own selfishness, greed, envy, pride, my own staining sin. I trundle to Mass and confess. I repent and am forgiven. I can now enter the open doors of the Eucharist through prayer and praise, Creed and Scripture, to meet Christ in the bread and the wine. He enters my body, heart, and soul. I am given life and light and joy, having partaken of the divine.

All this Christ Jesus taught and showed in his life on earth, as he walked among us. The week before his death he gave us the Holy Supper and showed how he would return among us again and again with each Eucharist. After his resurrection, he gave us the Church and the way to forgiveness. After his ascension he gave us his Holy Spirit to strengthen, to comfort us. All told, Christ Jesus gave us himself, the only path to Heaven – the Way, the Truth, and the Life for, as St. John writes in today’s Epistle,

 “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” (I John 5:4)

Flowered by Christ

Easter St. Peter's  with family (2)We have a lovely tradition in our local parish church. The Sunday School children and staff “Flower the Cross.” Shortly before the sermon in our Anglican liturgy, during the “sermon hymn,” we process up the central aisle carrying flowers to the chancel steps where a thick white cross, about six feet tall awaits us. The cross has deep holes that penetrate the beams and we insert the stems into the holes. Soon the white cross is covered in brilliant color.

This year as I helped small hands reach for the cross to add another flower, I thought how each of us was like those flowers and stems and bits of green. We each had our own colors and characteristics and we carried them to the cross. We each had our own talents and treasures and we offered them to the cross. We each had our own joys and sorrows and we slipped them into the deep holes of that wooden cross.

The white cross welcomed us, pulling us into its wood, and in some way we became part of that cross of Christ. And with the flowering we were flowered too, changed, reborn into new life.

For Easter celebrates new life, not only spring and its seeds bursting into blossoms, but our own new resurrected life. For forty days and nights we have been dormant seeds buried in the dark soil of Lent. We waited and we watched and we prayed for this glorious Easter morning when death dies and life lives, rising from the tomb, Christ’s tomb, our own tombs.

There is no point to Christianity if one does not believe in the resurrection of Christ and its revolutionary effect upon us all. In the resurrection, suffering and sorrow change into love and joy. Darkness becomes light, and the words of the psalmist are fulfilled: 

“If I say, peradventure the darkness shall cover me; then shall my night be turned to day. Yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day; the darkness and light to thee are both alike.” (139:10-11)

Today we are covered by darkness. We hear of wars and rumors of wars, of new horrors, new terrors. Brussels, Paris, London, San Bernardino, Boston, New York, Fort Hood. Evil robs youth of innocence, prompting massacres in schoolyards or classrooms. Darkness spreads across the face of the earth.

And so we reach for the light in the darkness that enshrouds our world, entombs our people. We look to God, the author of love and life. We look to the only man who claimed to be God, who rose from the dead, the one whom St. John describes as “the true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (KJV, 1:9)

Why I believe in the resurrection and its challenge and others do not, I do not understand. For the evidence is there, clear as the light of day. But I suppose one must seek it, desire it, even long for such belief. For believing costs us. Believing means turning toward the light of love and away from the darkness of self. My bishop often said, “all doubt is moral.” I’m not sure if all doubt is moral, but I’m beginning to agree that belief requires a change of heart, an honorable discipline, a code of ethics that challenges us to change our ways. It is sometimes tempting to doubt, when belief accuses and demands our time, talent, and treasure. Demands our hearts and souls and bodies.

And so Easter’s resurrection message is a radical one. It says to our world, as Father James Martin writes in the Wall Street Journal, “Listen!” Listen to what the resurrection means for us! For the resurrection demands that attention be paid to a man who conquered death. Attention must be paid to his words, his deeds, his miracles of healing and feeding and calming storms and walking on water. Attention must be paid to his claims to be God, and to his Church’s claims after his ascension to Heaven. For the Church he founded, a stepchild of the Jewish temple, witnessed to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, again and again, in word and deed. Christians died tortuous deaths for their belief in Jesus Christ and who he was. They did not invent him. They knew him. And the witness continues.

Today Christians die daily for their belief in this God-made-man. They cannot deny Christ, cannot deny his light, his joy, his glory. They have been changed, reborn. They cannot go back to the darkness of self.

On Easter morning I thought of these things as I handed a flower to one of the children and helped her shove the moist green stem into the deep dry hole, into the wood of the cross. In that moment, she was part of the cross. She stood back and smiled, satisfied, and reached for another. Our baskets empty, we recessed out to the Sunday School.

We had given ourselves to Easter’s resurrection cross, and Christ had returned the gift a thousand fold. The dead wood had been reborn. So had we. For each of us had been flowered by and with Christ.

Passionate Passiontide

440px-Kruis_san_damianoWe are entering Passiontide, a time when we consider the great sacrificial love of God.

As I watched the passionate protesters at the huge Trump rally at the University of Illinois last week, I was struck by their hatred, not only of Mr. Trump and his supporters but far more importantly their dismissal of his right to free speech. Their own speech was all that mattered to them. They were all that mattered to them. No-one else could speak. Their world was small and dark, turned in upon itself, devouring itself, like cancer or gangrene. Such a world, such a place, Christians call Hell. 

For without God (and Hell is the absence of God), passion is uncontrolled and undirected. It becomes misplaced and dangerous. Whatever our passion might be, if it is not God directed and Christ-filled, it turns inward upon itself. It seeds destruction, including the source of the passion, the individual himself or herself. 

The word passion, as my bishop often said, is the union of the words love and suffering. For God became man to bring us close to him. By taking on our flesh and suffering with us, as we suffer, he redeemed and continues to redeem our suffering, our mortal flesh. We join him on the Cross and we join him in his Resurrection. This is called the atonement, the at-one-ment, for we are pulled into God by his becoming one of us. 

And so today on Passion Sunday the Church pauses and reflects on the Passion of Christ, the last two weeks of Lent – Christ’s painful path to Golgotha, the hill of the skull. All images of Christ in our parish church are hidden behind purple cloths, and we feel a visceral loss of love, to sense in some way what the world would be like without Christ. In the next weeks we will follow Christ on his path to Calvary as best we can, some of us better than others, depending on age and infirmity, time and desire, and most of all, depending on our love, our passion to follow him. 

I have come to believe, in my sixty-eight years, that we cannot experience goodly, Godly, passion without God. And we cannot experience God without the Church, his Body. We are not meant, as creatures created by a loving Father, to be alone, to meet our life’s challenges alone. We are meant to be loved and to love, and we can only do this through Christ and his great gift of himself.

The gift of Christ, the Son of God, was given to us two thousand years ago in Bethlehem and then on the Cross on a hill outside Jerusalem. In those moments, history breathed once again, as the fresh air of God’s love blew upon the world, changing it forever. Mankind turned up another path toward love, learning the meaning of true passion, God-filled love. Those who accept the gift never look back to the dark days of un-love. Those who accept the gift look forward to a lifetime and an eternity of glory and unearned love.

The gift of Christ, the God-Man, the incarnated Son of God, is, as they say, a gift that keeps on giving. With every Eucharist, God the Son is re-membered, made newly present in the Real Presence. With every Eucharist, God the Son mystically enters our bodies and re-members us. As Christ becomes one with our flesh, he dwells within, renewing, inspiring, with his love. His prayer becomes ours, and our prayer becomes his. Every day is an Epiphany, a day of manifestation and seeing. Every day is a day of becoming like the Wise Men at the manger, a day of understanding the manifold works of God. 

For as Christ became at-one with Man, he gave us a means – through his Body the Church – to become at one with him individually. Love is personal, tender, touching. God loves us, each and every one of us, each with our unique personalities. We are precious to him. He loves us personally, tenderly. He reaches out to us and touches us in every Eucharist. 

Only God can order our passions, whatever they may be, to be goodly, to be Godly. And with the ordering of loves, comes the ordering of our sufferings and sacrifices. Nothing is lost. All is offered up to the Cross, and all is returned a thousand fold. 

And so we enter Passiontide, a vigorous ride in and into our life with God. We ride confidently, knowing we are riding high and on to Easter’s resurrection.

Sacred Sanity

Michelangelo CreationI have been typing and saving selections from our late Bishop Morse’s sermons and writings into Word files to be published soon by the American Church Union. As I type, I can see him saying the words, see his gestures, hear his tone and cadence, his deep and sonorous voice as he preached from the central aisle of churches and chapels.

There are several themes emerging from the lined yellow papers, all spinning around and within the Love of God, but the one that I have found especially true in my own life is the sanity of belief, the ordering of chaos, the means to a meaningful life. Sanity is rooted in the Latin sanitas, health. It has come to mean mental health, the ability to reason within the realm of reality. For the bishop, such sanity led to traces of sanctity.

It does strike me as odd and also tragic, as it did Bishop Morse, that so many don’t see what seems so obvious to many a Christian. It is heartbreaking to see hearts so broken and bleeding in our secular culture today. It is, I suppose, the cost of freedom and love and choice, all intrinsic to the whole cloth of Christian belief. But even so, as I journey into Christ I journey deeper into His tears, weeping for those I love, scattered like lost sheep in the deepening dusk at the end of the day.

There is much in the Gospels about seeing and hearing, watching and waiting, seeking and finding, asking and answering. Because these matters matter so much but are also tightly bound to the world of matter, they are often unseen and half-understood. Christ teaches in parables to help us understand how God has acted to redeem us from our selves, our selfishness. He is expressing the inexpressible, so that we can see and choose Him or not. Poets attempt this realm. I have found in the bishop’s sermons many quotes from Christian writers, from T.S. Eliot and St. Augustine, Boris Pasternak and Fyodor Dostoevsky, words that reflect the great themes of St. Paul who also tried to feed his flock in ways they would understand.

Many do not believe in Christ the Son of God because they think His life and death and resurrection unproven, and belief to be irrational and even insane. To me the Resurrection of Christ has been shown to be reasonably and historically true, certainly as true as the grass is green or the sky is blue. That’s enough for me. That’s enough to set me on my journey of faith and see where it leads. I have not been disappointed.

It leads of course to Christ’s Body on earth, the Church. For the Church, in spite of being composed of imperfect human beings, is the best ark we have. Within this sacred vessel bound for Heaven we feed on Scripture and sacrament, prayer and praise. We have mentors to guide us, brothers and sisters whom we love and who love us, each one finding his own unique God-given identity and purpose. Traveling this Way and with this Truth, I will fully know Life. I will learn love’s demands. With this Family of God, this Body of Christ, I will travel into the heart of God, and He into me. 

We are creatures designed to search for meaning. Without meaning we begin a journey into despair, for the path only stretches forward to life or backwards to death. Deep within we know this, and we search for meaning in little isms, so desperate are we to have a sane reason to continue living. Today there is an array of “meaningful” pursuits that don’t involve belief in God or His manifestation on earth among us. Unbelievers, casting about, create their own religions, whether they be of the earth or of man.

But Love demands freedom to choose. So God gives us choices, and some we make are insane and make no sense and some we make are sane and make complete sense. Some choices allow evil to fester and grow. Some choices distort and maim and kill.

As we try to choose sanely what or whom we believe and how we should order our lives, we should consider whether we desire our short spans to make a difference in this world or the next. Anyone can embrace good works without God (although such efforts are often short-lived and disingenuous), but to say yes to Christ, to ask our Creator to guide our choices, is to allow us to become our true selves, the persons we were made to be. So we ask ourselves, are we traveling in the right direction? Are we knowing joy? Can we say that we we are sane or are we living in a fantasy, phantasmal world of our own creation?

The word fantasy has roots in the Latin phantasia, imagination or appearance, and later phantom from phantazein, to make visible. Phantoms made the invisible visible. Today a fantasy is deemed untrue, imagined.

It is crucial to face what Bishop Morse calls “Reality,” to live a life of sanity and in the end, of sanctity. We are challenged to face the fact of the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth who called himself one with God the Father. We must look with eyes that see regardless of whether current correctness calls such facts fantasy. Have we not eyes and ears? Can we not see and hear? Have we not minds that can reason? And we must be humble enough to seek help from those who have made the journey before us. So much is at stake. We must ignore the phantasmal shapes, beware and be aware of the watering down of history to suit cultural mood and personal need, and steer away from phantasmal ghouls  wailing the sirens’ song.

We must face these truths and choose the path to Heaven. Then and only then can we know sacred sanity and genuine joy, even embrace traces of sanctity. We can, if we choose Love, sculpt our time on earth with magnificent meaning. Life is so short. We don’t want to miss one second on this reason-able pilgrimage into God.

Listening in the Stillness of Lent

prayerThere is a great rushing about these days and I, living in the world, rush too, doing and thinking and writing, packing my hours and days and weeks, overscheduling, overpromising. The younger generations twitter not only in tweets, but chitter and chatter like small birds, speaking at such a pace my untrained (elderly) ear cannot absorb the frenzy and I cannot interpret the bites of sound flung so furiously and I often ask for repeats but to no avail, for they too race ahead around another corner and beyond into the future.

When do we rest? When do we pause and reflect? When do we listen in quiet for the still small voice of God?

It has been said that the Christian’s growth is two-fold.  A Christian grows into Christ and at the same time Christ takes residence within the Christian. “He in us and we in Him” we pray in the Mass. We receive Christ in the Eucharist and with each communion we invite Him to take over more of our lives. As He grows within us in this sacramental action and as we pray the prayer he taught us to pray (Our Father…) He begins to pray within us, so that our prayer becomes His, our deepest desire. And so we journey through this passage of time on earth, preparing for eternity.

It is so very good that there are regular times in the Church Year in which we are pulled out of our busy lives. We are called, especially in Lent, to observe a different way of living. Essentially we are called to simplify, to remove habits of misspent time, habits of gluttony, and care-lessness, and dance to a simpler tune, a slower and quieter one, so that our slow steps will ease our hearts. So that we can rest. We are asked to take this gift of found time carved from Lenten discipline and use it to love, to love others in care-taking, to love God in prayer-making.

Sundays are days of rest throughout the year. Our Creator in his infinite wisdom decreed in the beginning that we should rest on the seventh day. For Christians this day moved to Sunday to honor the Resurrection. Sundays became sacred, set apart to worship God in repentance, renewal, and regeneration. They are weekly holy-days for the faithful, healthy-days for body and soul.

Studies have found that religious people in general live longer than others. I believe it must be true, at least for true believers, those who practice their faith, integrate their belief into their lives to become whole, holy. Christians live under a law of love that provides order, an ordering of importance, a prioritizing of concern. Having answers to crucial questions, having a map to follow, decreases our stress. We know that we will not always live up to this law of love. We may ignore the answers to the crucial questions. We may forget we even have a map. We err and we stray like lost sheep, we follow the desires and devices of our own hearts, and there is often no health in us. But we also know that we have a loving Father. We repent, we confess, and we return to His law of love. We recall the answers and we follow the route on the map that has been so clearly laid out for us.

The ability to release to a loving God all of this stress and worry, to let Him bear the burden on His holy wood, is a relief giving birth to joy. And in our joy we return to the cross to happily help Him carry it, walking with Him through Jerusalem and through our own lifetime.

Lent is a time of renewal through re-creation. We retreat and reflect, we repent and are reborn, we render unto God what is God’s. We move out of the fast lane and into the slower one. We prune, cut back, and feed. We watch for new growth, meeting Christ in Sunday worship, praying our Morning and Evening Prayers, calling on the housebound, giving to the poor in need and in spirit, embracing the forgotten and lonely who sit alone in the corner of the room, knowing we are embracing Christ.

All the while, in the silence of Lent, we listen for the still small voice of God. Soon, we know, in the killing and burial of our rushed time we will hear His voice. Soon, we know, we will join our voice with His, and His with ours, to rise once again in glory.

Touching Love

Writing2I have been given the remarkable opportunity to look through boxes containing the sermons of the late Archbishop Morse, to possibly be published by the American Church Union. They were written on loose sheets on lined yellow legal pads. Some were jotted on hotel stationery. Some had their own colorful pocket folders, faded and spotted with time, water, and tea, and some were bunched with others by topic. Many were written in purple ink, his favorite, earlier ones in black ballpoint. There were even some typed from his seminary days, with notes in the margins from homiletics professors.

I hadn’t expected to find such treasures since he usually preached without notes.

I soon sorted them into seasons of the Church Year, but many sermons could have been preached anytime anywhere, and often were, as noted by his wife in the top corners in her neatly penciled script: date, feast date, parish. Some were added to, so that a sermon from 1961 lived on in 2006, having journeyed through half a dozen congregations, each time changed slightly according to hearers and season.

I began to type, words of hope, words of mystery and miracle, words of love. There was always a sense of happy wonder at the works of God among men and in his own heart and life.

At St. Thomas Anglican Church in San Francisco on February 18, 1990, Sexagesima Sunday (today’s Sunday in the Church calendar), he preached something like this: 

“We are in that wonderful three-week period of preparation for Lent, defined in the Prayer Book as the Pre-Lenten Season. These three Sundays are a period of reflection, and expectation for the severity of Ash Wednesday, the 40 days of Lent, Passiontide, and Holy Week. They are sort of hinges on the door that swings between the joyful mysteries of the Epiphany and the sorrow and suffering of Lent – the recalling of the passion and the death of Jesus Christ.”

Hinges on the door swinging between seasons. He was a poet. And, it occurs to me as I type his words, and now these words, that we are all poets searching for meaning, reaching for words to describe our human existence, to understand who we are. That is what poetry does, in the end, for it uses intense imagery to evoke sensory perceptions that will help us make sense of life. Christians have found such ways and such words in Sunday worship and so live poetic lives. We pray, and with prayer we use words to meet and touch the infinite, eternity, the source of all love, indeed, Love itself. We pour water in baptism to fill the reborn with God’s Spirit. We consecrate bread and wine to fill us with Christ in the Eucharist. We fill the finite – our own flesh – with the infinite. And we do this through the consecration of matter.

Sacramental Christians do not separate spirit and matter. The union of soul and body is the profound sacrament of Creation. In Michelangelo’s painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the hand of God touches Adam, filling him with life, the life of His Word, God the Son, the Christ, the Logos. All creation reflects this sacramental action of love.

It is a beautiful day in the Bay Area today, this middle Sunday in Pre-Lent. This creation around us is windswept and cold, the air washed by last week’s rain. Puffy white clouds slip through pale blue skies, winter skies hoping for spring. The green hills reflect the glory of God, for they are indeed his creation, just as we are.

The Church Year reflects the natural year in many ways. The date of Easter follows the vernal (spring) equinox (nearly equal days and nights), for the Jewish Passover was celebrated on the first full moon following the vernal equinox, and it is recorded that the death and resurrection of Christ occurred following Passover. And so our days lengthen, become Lenten, moving toward that date of the Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal equinox, March 27, 2016, Easter, Resurrection Day.

The door of the season opens to preparation, penance, and hope. We scour our hearts and invite Almighty God in to dwell. We sing and we dance the liturgies of the Church to unite matter and spirit, time and eternity. Soon we hear the song, feel the rhythm, the poetry of words made flesh.

My calloused fingertips have been hard at work, carrying words and throwing them onto the keyboard, words that scurry across the screen and, I understand, rest in a memory chip or megabyte, to be invited one day to re-appear on screen and paper.

And so the bishop’s purple ink on the yellow papers, water marked and parched and smudged, moves from his fingers to mine, from his heart to yours. This seems right, for the recurring theme I have found so far in these joyful sermons is Love. That God is Love. That is why the Christian life is so love-ly, so full of love, so full of joy, of color, of music, of beauty, and of truth.

Christians, if they are faithful, touch Love itself.

Wonderful Words

birdIt’s been a week of words, words, words, and more words. 

Some words were heated such as those between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz in the Republican debates. Some words were measured and thoughtful, such as those of Mr. Carson and earlier Ms. Fiorina in those same debates on Thursday. If words had trajectories, the former words were missiles launched; the latter words were birds circling and weaving.

I’ve been thinking about words and their power, particularly this last week of Epiphanytide when the Church celebrates the Word made incarnate in Bethlehem, Christ manifested to us, the world, the Word alight in the darkness. 

Words continue to light the dark, to beam bright epiphanies into despair and loss and confusion. Words comfort and heal and explain and judge. They forgive. They love.

The Bible is called the Word of God, and I’m glad the Gideons still supply hotels with free copies in nightstand drawers. The Gideons, a society of Christian businessman formed in 1899, has distributed over two billion copies of the Bible in two hundred countries in one hundred languages, today printing eighty million copies a year. Lately I’ve noticed the Bibles sitting alongside the Book of Mormon and sometimes the Teaching of Buddha. I wondered about the rarity of the Koran in these rooms but understand there is a concern about disrespect. One imam said that Muslims don’t need a copy of the Koran for they have memorized the first chapter, prayed five times a day.

It is good there are other faiths represented in these nightstands. Inclusivity protects the Bibles from the charge of exclusivity when guests complain of religion in their room. Americans are a freedom-loving people. We believe in freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of thought and conscience. It is why we debate conscientious issues before choosing our president. It is why we fearlessly use heated words, or words launched like missiles across a stage toward our opponent, missiles targeting other words.

I enjoy the politically incorrect Republican debates. They show that America still has a pulse, her arteries are flowing, her heart beating, in her celebration of free expression. Some pundits have complained there are too many candidates in the field, but I laud the number. Let us encourage this multi-faceted discussion and be proud of the raucous, boisterous conversation. Let us appreciate the talented and articulate candidates who give of their time, talent, and treasure, of varying gender and generation, race and ethnicity. This is America at its best. This is how we elect our governors.

And we use words, words, words. Let them fly through the air, circle and weave, and come home to roost in our hearts and minds. Let the words win and lose, as they become forged in debate, fired by truth.

Lots of words. I’ve been sorting our late bishop’s words, his sermons, scrutinizing the yellow lined pages, the brown parched sheets, scraps from hotel stationery scrawled with words, handwritten, prescient ideas pressed onto paper, words written in the purple ink the bishop favored. Staples or  clips join some pages, linking sermons back to 1951, his year of ordination to the priesthood. I’ve come to see an order in the pages, and the words, how they fall naturally into Church Year seasons and feast days within those seasons. There are also speeches given at dedications, ordinations, baptisms, synods, pilgrimages, retreats, and funerals. Dates, places, and occasions are recorded in the pale pencil script of his loving wife. 

Hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands of words. “He was a mystic,” a friend said recently. But then, all sacramental Christians are mystical by definition, for we believe in the mystical and mysterious action of the Holy Spirit among us in this hard world of matter. We believe in the mystical change in the bread and wine as the Word once again becomes flesh and dwells not only among us but within us in the Eucharist. We believe in the Spirit mystically flowing through the waters of Baptism and the oils of Unction and the words of absolution given by a priest to a penitent in Confession. The Spirit mystically weaves into the vows of bride and groom as they say committing words before a priest who, in the name of the Body of Christ, blesses their marriage, and the Spirit works mystically through the hands of a bishop in Ordination and Confirmation. 

As I study our bishop’s words, his purple script on yellow paper, I pray that God will enter my mind and heart and speak to me just as he entered my bishop’s mind and heart and spoke to him, that I might share these words bridging heaven and earth, spirit and flesh. One day, God willing, the words will flow onto pages bound into a book to be held and read, words that will instill the greater Word.

This last week, before the political words and the sorting of the words on the yellow lined pages, I sent off my review of Michael D. O’Brien’s Elijah in Jerusalem to CatholicFiction.net. In this end-times novel, Bishop Elijah confronts the Antichrist in Jerusalem. Like his namesake, the Prophet Elijah, Bishop Elijah listens for the still small voice of God. I too am listening for it, hoping to hear those huge words spoken by the little voice, whispering in the stillness of heart and soul. I often observed my bishop listening, listening to all of us with our many words and opinions, hopes and fears, but also listening to something else, someone else, trying to catch the quiet voice that wove among us as well. 

With the many threats at home and abroad, threats to freedom and faith, to liberty and law, let us celebrate free and faithful words, expressions of who we are and who we are meant to be, as Americans, as believers in God who became the Word made flesh.

All the Difference

star of bethlehem.jpgThomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution recently wrote about political lies of the last few years: 

“Lies are a wall between us and reality… Reality does not disappear because we don’t see it. It just hits us like a ton of bricks when we least expect it.”

Lies encourage us to deny reality, to “put our heads in the sand” and thus are dangerous. To say the Benghazi terrorist attacks (2012) were a demonstration over an inflammatory video, is a lie told to calm fear. But it invites complacency and so emboldens terrorists, both domestic and international. We have mourned lives lost in subsequent attacks because of this lie. This lie ensured the election of the current president, and a wall rose between our national defense and reality. 

And so too, as individuals, we might choose to believe lies for reasons of comfort. But such lies are dangerous as well, inviting greater suffering and confusion when reality “hits like a ton of bricks.” 

Reality has a way of eventually hitting us, and so too, belief in God and the claims of Christ are worthy of examination as to their truth, their reality. “What difference does it make?” many say, imbibing the lie of our culture that all beliefs are equal, all faiths equally true. While all believers are worthy of respect, how can all faiths be equally true, when one denies the claims of another? Alas, it makes a great deal of difference what a person believes. Living a true life means seeking the truth, embracing reality, sorting fact from fiction and avoiding the ton of bricks. One of the greatest lies of our age is that there is no truth. The truth exists apart from us, whether or not we can grasp it at any particular moment. 

I have long suspected the lie of “closure” in regards to mourning. Stephen J. Forman, a cancer doctor, writes in the Wall Street Journal “how the loss of a loved one is a part of each person’s life forever…. the reality is that closure is a myth.” Grief changes over time, but grief is woven into the weave of our souls, giving us greater compassion, understanding, and empathy. It makes us “wise” or “deep” or simply “good.” Suffering and grief helps us see. To remember at sudden moments, even with tears, those whom we have lost is a good thing, not one to be suppressed: 

“The danger of the idea of closure is that it heightens aloneness, by giving us a false expectation that these experiences should and will at some point end. They won’t… To deny (memories) is to deny precious moments of love, fellowship, gratitude and inspiration… To close the memory does not sustain the healing or help in proceeding with life. Such echoes from the past are voices in the present and are sometimes warmly felt.” 

This can be said of nations as well. To close echoes from the past is to deny who we are, forged by the past in this moment in time. To live only in the present is to force closure on the past, to live a lie, to disavow our nature. Our history is our life story, our identity as Americans. It is a cloak we cannot afford to shed, one our nation must wear in order to survive. 

To find closure after terrorism may for a time ease our national life. We pretend it didn’t happen and we carry on. But it is a lie to say it makes no difference. Of course it makes a difference. Those who died for our country must remind us continually what is real, what is true and what is false in our national narrative, how we face our future and defend our freedoms. 

Children long for boundaries. They beg for limits so that they can see the truth about their world, what is good and what is bad. Good parenting sets limits and teaches the truth, the reality, of forbidden territory. In this way they become responsible adults, for they have learned what is real. They can search for truth and face it. 

And so as we worshiped in church this morning on this First Sunday after Epiphany I gazed at our bishop’s chair, empty. He left us for Heaven, and now, seven months after his parting, his wife has joined him. As I looked upon the chair, I was gifted with a flashing memory of the bishop and his wife, as I knelt on the russet tiles, in the filtered light streaming from clerestory windows, in the singing together the Creed, the Gloria, the Our Father. The bishop and his wife were epiphanies that graced my life and I knew that they would continue to grace my life through the opening of my memory, the refusal of memory’s closure. Their lives were woven into mine, as mine was into theirs, through love, through the grace of God. I consider those memories, even in the depths of loss, to be precious piercings of my heart. These epiphanies, these openings, reweave my heart and soul, adding to the texture. I do not desire or need closure. 

In the Church, the Feast of Epiphany celebrates the coming of the Wise Men from the East who brought the Christ Child gifts. Epiphany means manifestation, the revealing of God in human form in Jesus in Bethlehem. With Epiphany, Christ is now manifested to the world, not just to Israel, not just to God’s chosen ones. The Wise Men follow a star so that the heavens as well take part in this epiphany, this revealing of God. They follow the star to a stable, a hillside cave. The universe shines a beam of light onto a newborn baby in the hay. The Magi, scientists of their time who studied the heavens, kneel before this child. They bring him gold for his kingship, frankincense for his divinity, and myrrh for his burial. After this epiphany in their lives, they will never be the same. 

And we will never be the same. Like the Magi, we kneel before Our Lord in our local church. We gather before his tabernacle, his stable, just as the Magi did two thousand years ago. We pray that we be made worthy to receive him through confession and absolution. As we pray, we are changed by the prayer itself, for we enter moments of epiphany, dwelling in time woven with eternity, knowing that God himself is with us and within us. 

To kneel before the manger or before the altar, experiencing such love, and to say it didn’t happen is to deny reality. It is to lie about the greatest truth of all, the greatest reality of all, God dwelling among us. For if God loves us and lives among us and within us, it makes all the difference to our own lives, and to all the world. We can now look truth in the face, even search for it boldly, knowing that we will be wiser, like the Magi on that holy night two thousand years ago. Our lives will never be about closure, but about opening. We will travel, epiphany by epiphany, into the open heart of God.