Tag Archives: Christianity

Friends

I am often struck by how unique each of one of us is, and the miracle of this truth occurring again and again and again…. into infinity. 

It is like the prism of color we find in light, the colors that aren’t actually colors, but merging into those on either side. Where is green? Where is red? Where is blue? And yet every shade is there, to an infinite degree. It is like the perfect note soaring into a blend with other perfect notes in a string quartet, notes creating melody creating song, a song that echoes in your minutes and hours and days. It is like beauty, this unique person in a unique body. 

And so when I gaze at my friends, ordinary folks chatting around tables and milling in our undercroft after church I am often stunned by the glory of God’s creative power. I heard in a sermon once that each person is like a universe with its own planets and suns and moons revolving around one another. And yet the universes come together at times to form society, to gather in gatherings, to befriend in friendship. 

Friendship, our preacher said today, is something one works on. It is also a key and valued component of a good marriage. In friendship we look after one another, we sacrifice for one another, we celebrate and mourn with one another. We are not alone when we have friends, and to have friends one must be a friend, one must be-friend.

In our Gospel reading today Christ heals the man with palsy, who is dropped through the roof on a pallet into the crowd. His friends organized this operation, having faith that the Galilean prophet would heal their sick friend. Somehow, they open up the roof of the house and lower him in. They have faith. 

They have faith that the Prophet will respect their friend’s presence, lying on the pallet. They know that Christ will see this man as beloved and unique. They know that Christ will, in effect, see him. They are right.

Christ does see him. He sees inside of him, all of him, every shadowy corner. He says, Your sins are forgiven. He sees the man fully for who he is, good and bad. He loves him. He redeems him.

I have a number of friends who are crippled, or palsied, or maimed in some way. For that matter, everyone I know is maimed in some way, be it spiritual or physical, including myself. Yet the love of God sees us and holds us close, each of us. For we are created in his image, unique and miraculous beings placed in our moment in time. And we are given the power to love as he loves, respecting and cherishing all human life, from the womb to the grave.

I have been watching the video, War and Remembrance, a TV drama which reenacts the horrible holocaust of World War II. Here we see individuals who did not respect human life, who did not cherish each and every person created by God. It is a chilling reminder of a slippery slope.

To say we are part of the human race is not enough. We are much more than that. We are brothers and sisters, befriended and cherished by God Almighty, and we go through our time on earth breathing his breath, the power of his Holy Spirit.

My sister, the poet Barbara Budrovich, sent me one of her delightful poems, which, while this one is about punctuation, it is also about friendship, for our language reflects our deepest desires:

Who Am I?
Barbara Budrovich
 
I’m Comma’s identical twin.
 
With s by my side
I make others multiply.
 
Like our Ellipses
I stand for the missing.
 
I dwell in the sky
And bring–to the lonely–companions
Worth holding.

On Angels and Devils and Holy Confirmation

I recently finished a book called Raising a Modern Day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood, by Robert Lewis. One of the many valuable suggestions in this unique and compelling work is the creation of ceremonies that celebrate stages of maturity. These ceremonies are not merely for father and son, but for communities of fathers and sons. They serve to give the young man self-knowledge, ideals, and support.

Ceremonies marking rites of passages are not new to mankind, but with the disintegration of American culture, ceremonies are often overlooked. It seems that there was a time when the many cultures that formed our union melted into the pot we called America. Not so much anymore, as we shift to encourage multi-culturism, which whether intended or not, affirms division rather than union. It is true that our many ethnic threads strengthen us and richly texture our nation. But being a naturally inclusive and friendly people, we have chosen a celebration of division, so that what defines America – both internationally and domestically – has become increasingly difficult to state.

This morning when we celebrated Holy Confirmation in our parish church, I was thankful for this moment of definition. The bishop laid his hands upon the heads of the confirmands as they knelt on the steps leading to the altar. As Anglican-Catholics, we believe that Confirmation marks publicly the moment when children become adults in the Church. For adult confirmands it marks a new adulthood in the Church, as they witness to their beliefs. The younger confirmands are asked to confirm the promises that were made for them as infants in Baptism. They are of an age of reason, no longer children, and they can promise with understanding. “Do  you promise to follow Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour?” the bishop asks them. The bishop then prays that they be strengthened by the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, and that they be given the Holy Ghost’s gifts of grace: wisdom and understanding, counsel and ghostly strength, knowledge and godliness, and lastly, holy fear.

They will need these knightly gifts, I thought, as they live out their faith in a world often hostile to Christianity. They shall don the shield of faith and the armor of righteousness, and the Church, the Body of Christ, shall comfort and nurture them throughout their lives, through marriage, childbirth, sickness, even in their dying. God shall never abandon them. As a shepherd he shall lead them beside still waters. He shall restore their souls.

It was particularly fitting, on this bright Sunday morning as September gives way to October, that we celebrated these Confirmations, these confirmings of faith and receivings of the Holy Ghost, on the feast day of St. Michael and All Angels. As the lector read from Holy Scripture, we heard the account of the great war in heaven when Michael the Archangel threw out Lucifer and his angels. “The great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth and his angels were cast out with him… And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony… Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” (Revelation 12:7+)

Angels and devils are not common beliefs today. We might speak of angels whimsically as though reliving the fairy tales of our childhood. But devils are definitely not the stuff of acceptable conversation. Yet Scripture affirms their existence. Demons are said to be angels – pure spirits created separately from mankind – who have rebelled against God and now are given a span of time to scurry among the people of the earth, wreaking havoc where they can and undoing the good that is being done.

The good angels, however, are with us too, and we can call upon them. They are all around us, if welcome. And Confirmation – that affirmation of faith in Jesus Christ – welcomes them. These angels help us to be modern-day knights. They guide us on our journey on earth as we head to heaven. At times, I believe, they protect us from bodily harm. Dear friends of mine recently survived a rear-end collision, emerging from their totaled sedan shaken but, it turns out, having suffered only minor wounds. Angels were there, I am sure, as the drunk driver slammed into their car, stopped at a red light. Angels took some of the brunt of that crash.

So with ceremony and prayer and song, with ritual and the dance of the Eucharist, we re-affirm who we are, what we are, where we are going. We re-affirm to whom we belong, and with the company of the angelic host we are given our own wings to heaven. With the gifts of the Holy Ghost we are embraced by the Body of Christ.

Shattering Time

An elderly member of our parish journeyed to Heaven this last week. Her photograph was in our church’s narthex this morning – bright eyes, red hair, full of life.  It had been many years since I had seen her like that, for she had been weakening for a good and Godly while, and I smiled in recognition. She was younger then. (So was I.) 

I carried her image in my mind as I entered the nave and took a seat alongside my husband in the long oak pew. Now, thinking over the morning and my friend’s celestial journey, I am grateful for this great ark of the church that cradles each of us in this world. We the faithful sit in the nave, a word derived from the Latin navis or ship, and our own church is shaped rather like a boat, this one sailing the seas of Oakland, California. One day I too, like my friend, will journey out of this world and into the next, but for the time being I am protected by the Church. And not only protected, but in this womb I am fed by the Church, until reborn in Heaven. And what is the heavenly food that I feed upon in this womb of an ark?  I feed upon prayer, worship, scripture, and God himself in the Mass.

Today was fittingly a day of rebirth in our parish, celebrating the opening of the new Sunday School year with our annual Ice Cream Social. The children trooped up the red-carpeted aisle for their blessings and trooped out to their class. Soon they skipped downstairs for ice cream and home-made hot fudge. There were many smiles as we indulged, and more smiles as we were quizzed on Bible story facts and figures. There were prizes too.

Our children represent a new generation being raised up that replaces those, like my friend, that have journeyed on. So we teach (and show) our children the love of God. We tell them the stories of his great acts among us, those great acts that led up to the Incarnation in Nazareth two thousand years ago and those great acts since the Incarnation. Our preacher said today (and now I paraphrase, reaching into my rough memory) that the Cross intersected time and space; the Cross made past and future all new, re-newed. It shattered time. And I saw in my mind as he spoke the fissures of an earthquake crackling and cracking through time and space, in every direction. The Cross and the Resurrection changed everything. The Cross vanquished time by vanquishing death, giving us eternity.

We teach our children these stories of before the Cross (B.C., Before Christ) and after the Cross (A.D., After Christ, the Year of Our Lord). We call these eras Old Testament and New Testament (literally the old and the new testimony or witness or history) and we cradle our children in the ark of these stories, each account true in different degrees and ways, so that the new generation may know and be protected by the love of God. We teach our children God’s commandments so that they may experience God’s loving forgiveness. We teach them to sing and celebrate and offer themselves to God in the great liturgy of the Mass, so that they may receive God back in the bread and wine, and so be inspired, full of the Spirit, as they travel through the hours and days of the week ahead.

We cradle our children in the Church, just as my friend had been nourished and cradled by the Church in her earthly life. Through the Church God holds us close to him, and we sail on the waves of our sea of earthly time, the way clearly charted and the destination in sight. The bow of our ark cleaves cleanly through the waters, whether stormy or still, our ship directed and driven by the words of consecration before the altar within, where in the glorious song and silence of each Sunday morning (and sometimes during the week), God’s priest re-members (pulls into the present) the action of the Cross and  shatters time in the mystery of the Mass.

Dear Dwan, may your soul rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon you.

Meaningful Work

My sixty-seventh summer has passed. My sixty-seventh autumn is upon me. And linking summer and autumn is Labor Day. While instituted in 1887 to honor union labor, Labor Day has come to be a celebration of all kinds of work, whether organized into unions or not. 

I believe human beings are wired to work, to produce, to create in some fashion. The Midwest killing over the summer by someone who said he was bored reveals the despairing numbness that comes from lack of purpose, lack of work.

Purpose. Rick Warren speaks of The Purpose Driven Life. We ask one another, what is the purpose of man? What is the purpose of life? We seek meaning, and work is an expression of the meaning we have found.

Of course there are many jobs that seem mindless, meaningless. I filed and typed for long hours and longer days as I cobbled my may through college, and later, as a single parent, as I supported myself and my young son. Not all work is meaningful, but most work is productive, if at least for the boss or the company worked for. At the end of each day, the file cabinet was plump with the filings from my inbox, and my inbox was empty. I had been productive. And when I received my paycheck it felt good to have earned it.

And in a sense every job, including sitting here at my computer in the comfort of my office lined with icons and books, with my cat nearby and my husband’s ballgame heard in the distance, has long periods of routine work, of slugging along. But I have been blessed with meaning in my life, so that no matter what work I do, it is offered to God. I am secure in the knowledge that I have tried to listen to God’s voice, I have tried to understand the next step to take, the next turn in the next crossroads (no pun intended).

Christians are or should be purpose-driven people. They know who they are and why they are and how they came to be. They know where they are going and they know the way. Sometimes we take wrong turns, more than we confess, but God brings us back. Through his Church he gives us road signs and we finally get back on the main highway, the way to home.

This morning we witnessed two young adult baptisms in church. The young ladies, one finishing high school this coming year, the other in the middle of her college years, had been brought home to the Church by their grandparents. I thought how wonderful it was that at this moment in their lives, when so many crossroads would soon appear before them – choices of classes, schools, careers, dating, marriage, family – they would have the grace of God empowering them, nudging them along. They would see signs that would steer them in the right direction. And as they make these choices, they would have a reference point – God’s will, his design for them, as expressed through the Church.

We are forever wandering and forever coming home, every one of us. And the nature of what we do with our lives, how we spend our time each day – our work as children of God on Planet Earth – matters. It matters because everything matters, everything counts. We may not always get it right, but as a member of the Body of Christ, we have signposts helping us along, helping us choose. 

Many baby-boomers will be retiring in the next decade, and they will face these choices, how they will spend the rest of their lives, their hours, their days, their weeks, their years. Some will volunteer at local hospitals. Some will take another job to supplement their income. Some will spend precious time with children and grandchildren, or neighbors and friends. Some will volunteer at church or temple. Some will give their time to spas and saunas, fitness clubs and golf courses. Whatever the trade-off that is made for the remainder of their days, they will choose activity that brackets and organizes their time, and this choice will shape them in the last leg of their journey through time. 

For me, I have the Church, and through the Church I have God. With the Church as my home, with the family of God surrounding me, with the sacraments and hymns and joyful Sunday worship, I have signposts along the way. I need only watch for them. Without the Church I should wander aimlessly, bored, purposeless, without meaning to my work. With the Church I can see; I am given productive years as I travel the last leg of my journey to Heaven. In the Church I am home, and when I stray I know the way back. A good exchange for my working life.

In today’s Gospel, Christ tells of the ten lepers he healed, but only one returned to give thanks. Today, this Labor Day weekend, I give thanks for the meaningful work God offers us, and I return each Sunday to give thanks again and again.

New Israel Baptism

Our rector is Jewish. A number of years ago he converted to Christianity while a student at Cal Berkeley. Last year he accepted our call to become our parish priest. For us, he brings a rich Old Testament background to our community of faithful and we are grateful for his fiery and brilliant sermons. For him, I believe, he finds in our Anglican worship a rich liturgy flowering from Jewish roots in both word and action.

We have other Jewish converts in our midst, folks that came to believe the long awaited Messiah was indeed born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago, lived, died, and was resurrected so that we might be resurrected too. But they also are drawn here by incense, chants, bells, and soaring worship, by the beauty of holiness lauded in the singing of the Psalms.

I was thinking about this as I witnessed baby Joshua being baptized in church this morning. One of Joshua’s grandparents is Jewish, so his baptism added another Hebraic stream to our river of faithful. Through water and Spirit, through the words of the priest and the vows of the godparents, Joshua became one with the Body of Christ, our New Israel.

Our New Israel. For in spite of the horrific conflicts between Jews and Christians over two millennia, orthodox Christianity holds that Christ did not found a new church but was the fulfillment of the old, promised by God to Israel through the prophets. As Christians, we are an extension, as it were, of Judaism. And in baptism those outside the New Israel, outside the Church, are brought inside; those not a part of the Body become one with the Body of Christ. When Joshua is twelve (or so), he will be confirmed by the bishop. He will receive the Holy Eucharist and become one with Christ in an even deeper and more fulfilling way.

The Good Shepherd finds his sheep, no matter how scattered they may be. They may be from older traditions, different traditions, or no traditions at all. They may be clinging to a mountainside of doubt, fleeing a burning forest of anger, lost in a desert of despair and loneliness. The shepherd finds them and brings them home to safety, to love.

Our preacher said today that Christianity provides the map to Heaven, both in this life and the next. Some parents say they want their children to grow up with no faith so that they can choose when they are adults. But why wouldn’t we want to give our children maps to Heaven? our preacher asked. Why wouldn’t we want to give them directions, signposts, lights to light the path? If we know how to get there, shouldn’t we show them the way? 

God gave the Old Israel a map. God’s people journeyed from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Joseph to Moses to Joshua, from the kings through the prophets, through wars and persecutions and slavery. They drew close to God and drew away from God, but God always brought them back to him. His people were clearly chosen, clearly set apart. And Christians too, as the New Israel, are chosen. They are sanctified, set apart. This happens in baptism in the miracle of water and Spirit. This happens when the Children of Israel, or any of us who are wandering in the desert, are baptized into the Body of Christ, and we are set on the road to Heaven. We are given a map.

The Gospel today was the story of the Good Samaritan, a parable reaching beyond one’s own people, one’s own tradition. While the story is about love, about caring for a man beaten and robbed and left for dead on the side of the road, it is also about prejudice and fear. Two Jews – a priest and a Levite – pass by on the other side, ignoring the victim, whose blood would make them unclean. A Samaritan, considered outcast by the Jews, stops, binds his wounds, brings him to an inn, cares for him, and even pays the innkeeper to continue the care.

This morning, our Jewish priest poured water on the head of Joshua, saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”  Another sheep was brought into our fold. Another child of Israel was made one with God in the Body of Christ through water and Spirit.

And as for me, I am thankful that I too have a map to Heaven.

Sunday Surprises

It’s been a day of pleasant surprises.

As I checked my email this morning, before leaving for church, my picture flashed up on Catholic.Ink, a newsletter of CatholicFiction.net and Tuscany Press showcasing Catholic authors and books. The interview was a while back, and I had forgotten it. What a surprise! I read it with fear and trembling, thinking occasionally, is that really me? It was one of many seeds planted in the last year. Many seeds I plant never sprout, let alone flower. So it was a pleasant surprise. 

I had forgotten about it by the time we arrived at church in a bitter, numbing fog. I turned on the heat in the Sunday School rooms (heat in August? I asked myself, shivering). The balloons and welcome sign were already by the entrance and I set out the materials for the crafts, the cloth for our circle time, the storybook, the snack, and the poster board attendance chart waiting for its sticky stars to shine like a rainbow. Our sunflower plants had emerged from the black loamy soil in their little pails and there were even some green leaves. Natalie (3 ½) will be happy with that, I thought. 

Summer Sundays are often quiet and predictable, for folks go on vacation, attendance is lower, and today our rector was gone as well, and it, well, it just seemed like it would be quiet, slow. 

The children arrived and we stuck our sticky stars on the chart and gathered together around the circle, praying, talking, and singing about the saints of God. We worked on our crafts and watered the plants and lined up in the narthex for our blessing, then stepped solemnly up the red-carpeted aisle to the altar rail where our senior priest blessed us and gave the teachers Holy Communion. We padded back to our classroom and finished our projects.

We were beginning to put things away when I saw, standing in the doorway, a gentleman from the past whose uncle had been a dear friend, now in Heaven, probably one of those saints we were singing about. What joy it gave my husband and me to chat with Tim, mid-forties I guessed but looking much younger as he spoke of God in his life (“I’ve been reborn,” he cried at one point), what memories he brought back, as though Father Gilman were right there with us, chuckling and rubbing his chin, and saying I told you so. 

Happy with this turn of events, we headed toward the stairs to go down to the hall for coffee. Swimming in a current of memories of Father Gilman, I was surprised by the approach of my good friend Edwina. She introduced me to her pretty granddaughters, seventeen and eighteen. “They want to be baptized,” she announced quietly, her face alight as though she had discovered a great secret or was planning a coup. “When can we do it?” she asked me. I led them to the baptismal font in the back of the nave and we spoke a bit about baptism, the action of God through water and the Holy Spirit, the becoming part of the family of God, the Body of Christ. I gave them some materials to look over and promised that the rector would call them soon. By the time we all trundled down to have our coffee, we had become family, soon to become God’s family, a close connection indeed.

Downstairs in the parish hall I rejoined my husband and Tim. We chatted about Father Gilman, the old times, sharing the many stories of this robust man of God. Father Gilman was tall, a hefty man, once an engineer (he built tunnels through the Rocky Mountains, he told me), who had found his priestly vocation upon retirement. He loved to laugh, but what many recalled was his discipline. He ran the Bishop’s office like a Marine another once said (I for one appreciated this aspect, working in the office from time to time). He barked at acolytes who were late to Mass. He was a practical man and a spiritual man too, an effective combination. He knew when to be quiet and he knew when to act. He was thoughtful and watchful. He wasn’t afraid of warning people they were going to step off a cliff. As we chatted with Tim, I thought how the past linked us together like a great fishing net, or wove us into a huge tapestry. Seeds sprouted, full-flowered, within minutes in my soul. “As you get older,” Tim said, shaking his head and smiling (just as his uncle once did), “you look back and see connections.” How true, I thought, and how good it was to have such blessings travel with us as we age. 

Looking back in my own life I see patterns form, remarkable connections made, and I often think the saints in Heaven pull the strings this way and that as though we were part of a great drama, but of course it’s so much more than that. I do wonder, though, at times, if one day from my Heavenly perch I might be able to nudge or prod those I love who are still on earth, nudge them toward God, since I would be surrounded by the power and glory of the Father, Christ would be beside me, the wind of the Holy Spirit would be at my back, the angels would be whispering and fluttering. The temptation, it seems, would be to forget those on earth when one is so transfixed with God himself. One day I shall see; one day I shall know.

In the meantime I watch and wait for these amazing surprises, these moments of sudden joy, of the sun coming out. C.S. Lewis once said (and Father Raymond Raynes said this as well, so I’m not sure who was first; they were contemporaries, both saintly men) that belief in Christianity was like belief in the sun rising. When the sun rises, we know it has risen not because we can see the sun clearly, but because we can see everything else. Just so, God lights up the world and we can see.

I suppose the greatest surprise of all is that I’m still surprised, surprised by joy, way more than pleasantly surprised, but stunningly, excruciatingly, sweetly surprised. Today I have added a few more bright sticky stars to my own chart of Sundays. My chart is sprouting color like crazy, this sudden Sunday, the Tenth after Trinity in the year 2013, with all these rainbows weaving through my time, here and in eternity.

Patient and Brave and True

My husband and I drove from one micro-climate to another this morning as we headed to our local church, from valley sun to coastal fog. I entered the Sunday School rooms, switched on the lights, and leaned the welcome sign against the front door.

I inflated balloons – red, blue, yellow, green – and tied them to white ribbon, making a Sunday School bouquet, and hung them next to the sign outside. The sign read, “Summer Sunday School, Saints of God, All Welcome.” I left the door ajar in spite of a cold breeze that had found its way through the July fog and into our church.

All was ready – the Attendance Chart with its stickers, the circular rug for Circle Time, the organ accompaniment downloaded into my smart phone for “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” Small pails, pink and blue, waited for seeds and soil, the beginnings of new life, one of our summer projects.

I Sing a Song of the Saints of GodThe teachers arrived, followed by the children. We sat around the circle and read the story about the Saints of God (based on the hymn).  I tapped my phone and the organ accompaniment began. We stood, singing and illustrating the words with hand movements and twirls. As we sang (and twirled) I pondered the words of this classic hymn (243):

I sing a song of the saints of God,
Patient and brave and true,
Who toiled and fought and lived and died
For the Lord they loved and knew.
 
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
And one was a shepherdess on the green:
They were all of them saints of God – and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
 
They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
And his love made them strong;
And they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake,
The whole of their good lives long.
 
And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
And one was slain by a fierce wild beast:
And there’s not any reason – no, not the least –
Why I shouldn’t be one too.
 
They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus’ will.
 
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too. (Lesbia Scott)
 

I love this hymn for it defines a saint as practicing ordinary virtues. Saints are patient, brave, and true. Saints simply love God and because they love him, they try to do his will. They are “just folk like me.” They may not always succeed (saints are not perfect) but they try.

Patience and bravery are clear enough. But true? The saints were true to the truth. They believed God became man and died for us, rising again. And they were martyred, rather than deny this vital truth. They were martyred for witnessing to it, for telling folks the good news.

Mary MagdaleneMy recent novel, The Magdalene Mystery, is about truth and its telling in the media, in academia, and in the Church. It is about the truth of Saint Mary Magdalene, who she was and who she wasn’t. It is about how we know what we know about the stunning events of that first century, events that changed our world, indeed, saved our world.

Tomorrow, July 22, is the Magdalene’s feast day, and we celebrate this woman who knew Christ Jesus, was the first to see the risen Christ, and preached his resurrection in Provence. With Bishop Maximin, she traveled the roads east of Marseilles, sharing the good news with this Greco-Roman culture. Some years later, she died and was buried in the area of Aix-en-Provence. Today, some of her relics rest in the cathedral in St. Maximin and some in the Grotto of La Sainte-Baume nearby, where legend says she lived her last years. Other relics are venerated in the Vézelay cathedral and some relics rest in her Paris basilica, La Madeleine. 

A group of American pilgrims are traveling to La Sainte-Baume for the annual Dominican pilgrimage from the town to the cave (Dominicans care for the grotto). They will pray for blessings, for patience, for bravery, for truth, and continue praying a novena, a nine-day prayer cycle. And, according to many, Mary Magdalene is a powerful saint and will hear these prayers. Paula Lawlor, a mother of seven from San Diego whose intercessory petition was answered some years ago, is leading the pilgrimage. She believes Mary Magdalene saved the life of her son, pulling him from an abyss. She believes this was a true miracle, and is now committed to witnessing for this saint. It is clear that Mary Magdalene changed Paula’s life.

Our Gospel today told of Christ’s warning against false prophets, “Ye shall know them by their fruits…”. We know the saints by their good fruits, by the lives they led, and lead among us today. As I sang with the children this morning, I knew Mary Magdalene would have done the same, teaching the next generation the truth about God and his mighty acts among men. She would have shared her love of God. She would have encouraged them to be saints too, to bring forth good fruit. Mary Magdalene was the first witness to the resurrection, and she witnessed throughout her life, just as we do today.

This morning at church, after coffee and conversation, my husband and I stepped outside. The fog was gone, the sun shone brightly, radiantly burning away the mist, allowing us to see the leafy greens and the blues of the sky. A dim curtain had been parted, lifted, burned away, just as it was parted two thousand years ago in that Easter tomb-garden when Mary Magdalene saw her risen Lord.

(To follow Paula’s pilgrimage, visit http://magdalenepublishing.org/blog/.)

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Magdalene and the Search for Truth

A summer fog rolled in early this morning, blanketing the Bay Area and threatening misty rain to the north. Temperatures plummeted. The gray damp seeps into the skin and the spirit, and, as we entered the Caldecott tunnel on the way to church this morning, the white swirls slipped alongside the highway, creeping on little cat feet as the poet Carl Sandberg once wrote. The sun is hidden up and away – still there, I’m told, but hidden.

There are many things we cannot see from our vantage on the edge of this tumbling planet we call Earth. Yet we wake in the morning and go about our business of life as though we can see, trusting. We trust that gravity will keep us from flying off the edge and into orbit. We trust that if we eat we shall not be hungry. We trust that the vehicle we enter, start, and maneuver, will obey our commands, although we cannot see the engine or predict the oncoming traffic or crazies who lose control of the wheel. We trust without seeing. We trust and act as though we can see. If we didn’t do this we would be paralyzed, would remain under the covers, perhaps under the bed. (And we would starve.) 

In our daily lives we learn to trust greater authorities than ourselves, and we learn to trust the authority of experience. I use both authorities when I act as though gravity will keep me attached to the planet – the authority of science and the authority of experience, for I have never flown into orbit (yet). I trust both authorities with regards to eating and hunger. And also, I trust both authorities when I drive my car. Even when I pass through foggy patches and dark tunnels buried inside a mountain, I trust I will come out on the other side. Tunnel engineers tell me I will. My experience tells me I will.

This is a theme of my newly released novel, The Magdalene Mystery, which I am happy to say is now in print and available at Amazon and the OakTara Store. It is a mystery, a love story, a cliffhanger. But it is also about truth and trust and how we know what is true and whom to trust. It is about choosing which authorities to believe. It is about the manipulation of truth for profit, for power and the devastating effects of such manipulation in art, the media, the world at large.

Since Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, a story alleging the marriage of Christ and Mary Magdalene, writers and composers have hopped onto his lucrative money train. Did these authors consider whether the claims were true? Did they see themselves as authorities? Were they New Testament scholars? But audiences believe these claims simply because they are in print, or in a movie or opera. The works are reviewed by media, after all!

The blind lead the blind. We live in a fallen world and much is at stake in this propaganda war. Propaganda is not a word one hears anymore, for twisting the truth to one’s own benefit has become common practice, and propaganda has negative overtones. Truth, propaganda says, is relative. But is it? 

Truth is truth. I for one choose the authority of the Church and two thousand years of debate and prayer and councils and scholarly exegesis. I do not have two thousand years to do this, and I am grateful that this is one wheel I do not need to re-invent. We do have expert authorities, at least as expert and as trustworthy as we will see in this world. There will always be fallen authorities, men and women who veer intentionally or unintentionally from what is real, embracing the false. There is simple incompetency. But we also have that vast consensus of history and tradition, Chesterton’s “democracy of the dead.” 

There has been a trend in the last century to profit from attacking large institutions. Big government and organized religion provide giant antagonists, becoming the new dragons to slay. The underdog rises from oppression; the prisoner throws off his chains. This trend developed naturally from the cult of the anti-hero, the folk hero with no princely powers who slays the dragon. The anti-heroes, ordinary folks like you and I, defeat or laud their ordinariness. They are lovable and inspiring. But when such trends cross into lies about the profound nature of life, death, love, God, and misstate the truth about man – who he is, where he came from, and where he is going – the trends become dangerous.

 “It’s just fiction,” I’m told. “It’s just a book, an opera…”

Ah, art, it’s subtle power! And it’s stretchy, flexible boundaries. And this, too, is a theme in The Magdalene Mystery. Is it okay – in art – to mislead, misrepresent, twist history? To rewrite what  has been said to be true for two millennia? To assume that because some don’t believe the Messiah came that the Messiah didn’t come? These are large leaps in logic, and dangerous ones. 

Like the sun behind the fog, God is not always seen, felt, experienced. Does this mean he is not there? We look to our authorities for belief that he is – philosophers, historians, theologians, our own experience. 

How do we know the New Testament claims are true? Did Jesus of Nazareth rise from the dead? If he did not rise from the dead, the Church offers me nothing. If he did rise from the dead, the Church offers me everything. If the Resurrection is true, all falls into place, for all the whys are answered. The fog burns away, the sun comes out. I see it all. I see Mary Magdalene reaching to touch the risen Christ, this Son of God with a resurrected body. I see God. I feel his great love for me.

So I’m celebrating my novel’s birthday. My characters  finally live and breathe, and can speak to you directly, after being cooped up in my brain and in my laptop’s memory. Perhaps they will stop nagging me, trying to escape. Now they join the characters in my other novels, a large family that keeps me sweet company even in the fog. This I know from experience.

Corpus Christi

The Feast of Corpus Christi was celebrated last Thursday, so today, Sunday, we formed a Corpus Christi procession.

In my soon-to-be-released novel, The Magdalene Mystery, my protagonists witness a Corpus Christi procession in Rome. From inside the basilica Santa Maria Maggiore they hear chanting outside. They follow the sounds to the porch steps in the growing dusk. A crowd has gathered. Soon they see clergy, monks, and nuns walking toward them up the Via Merulana from the basilica San Giovanni Laterano. They are singing the Pangue Linqua, St. Thomas Aquinas’s hymn to the Eucharistic Presence, Now my tongue, the mystery telling, of the glorious body sing… Daylight has turned to twilight as the sun drops behind domes silhouetted against a glowing Roman sky, but lanterns held by the processing singers lighten the darkness. The Pope is part of the procession. He kneels in an open van before a monstrance cradling the Blessed Sacrament. When he arrives at Maria Maggiore, he processes with the Blessed Sacrament into the gilded Marian basilica for the liturgy of Benediction and Adoration.

I’ve always loved processions – their beginnings, middles, and ends – for they reflect our own journeys through time, satisfyingly. They are an art form, portraying the People of God as the Body of Christ.

Last Sunday in our own parish church we stepped outside, leaving the inner safe sanctum of the church, and had processed up Lawton Street as we sang to the Trinity. Today we we stepped out onto the sidewalk, singing to the mystery and miracle of Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist.

Raised a Presbyterian, I had some doubt about the claims of the Eucharistic Presence when I first heard about it. But over the years scripture and tradition have testified powerfully and personally to the reality of the Real Presence. We are told when we receive Christ in the Eucharist we are fed by God in a unique and saving way. We are told Christ’s Presence is one of the three comings of Christ – the first, two thousand years ago, taking on human flesh in Bethlehem; the second, in the daily consecration of bread and wine and the reception by millions of faithful; the third, the Second Coming of Christ in the future in judgment. Our Lord commanded us to receive him in this way the night before his death, at the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday of Holy Week) so it is fitting that Corpus Christi falls at the end of the glorious seasons  of Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, chasing Trinity Sunday, as though it were an exclamation mark at the end of a beautiful sentence. For we have added a postlude to the Easter season of salvation with this mysterious and miraculous gift of bread and wine. We may now enter into the long season of Trinitytide, when we grow steadily in our faith, quietly, with fewer exclamation points.

It may be the everyday nature of this Eucharistic miracle that has made it less of a mystery, so that it is often taken for granted. It may be we live in a doubting age, an age that isn’t interested in God, or in God’s love for us. But for me, I have always been in awe before the Blessed Sacrament, transfixed and transformed.  I have experienced love, the love of the Creator for the creation, the love of God the Father for his children and personally for me as his own precious child. This is no small thing. It is true nourishment, without which I am smaller, without which I enter my week weaker.

So the Corpus Christi procession, winding through the public squares of our world, stepping into the communities of disbelief and doubt, is a witness to that love of the Father for his children, the  precious prodigals that he so desires to come home, to come to him.

Unlike the Roman procession, it was not dusk as we walked the half block outside the church. A bright morning sun emblazoned the cross raised high by the crucifer. It lit the golden monstrance holding the host.  We held our hymnals, following the words linked to the notes, bar by bar, verse by verse, and occasionally I glanced up to the Corpus Christi, carried with care, with tremendous honor (as he later told me), by our devout deacon. It is an image I shall never forget, this gilded circle with the Real Presence in its center, carried along Lawton Street, rising and falling gently with the stepping of our deacon, in a heartbeat rhythm. We followed the cross and the monstrance; we the Body of Christ followed the Body of Christ. We had received him at the altar, and now we flowed like a river through a neighborhood in the Rockridge community of Oakland.

When I set the first part of my story in Rome, I studied my monthly calendar to choose the most appropriate and meaningful season, month, week, day, hour. When I saw the Feast of Corpus Christi in its Thursday-after-Trinity square, the decision was easy. For in this mystery, the mystery of God and man, the mystery of God touching us and we touching him, beats the heart of our Christian faith. And since my novel’s story was about reasoned belief and dubious doubt, historical truth and media lies, the real Mary Magdalene and the imagined Mary Magdalene, I began to research the Rome procession with the help of a nun at San Giovanni Laterano, the Pope’s cathedral as Bishop of Rome.

It has been a rich, fruity season, this spring in the year 2013, like a burst of cherry in a glimmering Beaujolais. We began the month of May processing, singing to Mary. We ended it processing, singing to the Holy Trinity. And we begin June processing, singing to the Blessed Sacrament, as the door to summer opens.

On Truth and Lies

I am nearly finished typing up The Life of Raymond Raynes, copying with minor changes the original work by Nicholas Mosley (thank you, Lord Ravensdale, for your blessings on this project). Those fortunate enough to have read Father Raynes retreat addresses, given in Denver in 1957, The Faith, will have a sense of what dipping into his biography would be like. Much of the three hundred pages comprises direct quotes from letters and speeches, so the text is largely Father Raynes’s words.

I am so honored to type these words. It is as though as I type the words enter my heart and mind in sacramental fashion. So I have spent a lot of time of late with Father Raynes, with him in South Africa, with him when he was Superior of the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield, England, with him as he chatted about the faith in some of the great homes in rural England. (“House parties,” one retreatant called them, “all gin and confession…. they were wonderful…”)_

Our small publishing group hopes to produce more of these out-of-print books that tell of our Anglican way of Christianity. The more I live and experience Anglo-Catholicism, the more I am fulfilled by its rituals, sacraments, theology, and the more I appreciate our place in history and the telling of the Gospel.

Which brings me to interpretations, and ways of expressing the Incarnation and what it means. It brings me to the Gospel – what is it, what does it mean for me, for my family, for my community, my nation, the world. There are numerous answers to these questions, numerous interpretations.

Just as there are many interpretations of sacred texts. There are, our preacher reminded us today and I had to smile at its appropriateness for me at this time, interpretations of interpretations.

And this all leads to the question of truth. Can we know it, does it exist, are we merely beings of impulses and instincts. Is science so very incompatible with religion. I think not. They support one another.

My fifth novel, I hope and believe, will be released in May. The Magdalene Mystery asks these questions of interpretation, of truth. Can we know Mary Magdalene? Can we know who she really was? This question leads to the next, can we know what happened in that first century of the Early Church? Which of course leads us to Holy Scriptures and the challenge posed by many doubters in the last fifty years, can we know that a man named Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead? Indeed, can we even know that Jesus of Nazareth ever lived and walked the earth?

I suppose much of this quest for truth is personal for me, since my father left his Christian faith and his pastorate in the sixties’ upheaval of doubt. He believed what he read, what so-called New Testament scholars were writing. The Jesus Seminar soon “validated” his new creed of unbelief. American culture, drunk with freedom from moral restraints, and celebrating the birth control pill, launched into a party that is still going on (the devastation caused by the sexual revolution is a topic for another day). My parents read themselves out and away from their living faith and into something sterile and self-serving.

So today I type quickly, my fingers tapping the keys. Father Raynes’s telling of the truth will be one more expression that will feed a culture starving for the real thing. Of course each of us must read, evaluate, and judge. That’s what free will is all about. But this biography that seems to be emerging through my fingertips, like The Faith, encourages each of us to decide on our own and not be swayed by media and false testimony. Father Raynes’s words point to true authorities, not bestselling journalists and sensational novelists and fads. His words inspire us to embrace the traditional morality of the Gospel, to see that right and wrong do exist, that selfishness is not an admirable trait. His words encourage us to have backbone, to stand up and be counted in our world today. His words encourage us to meet God and enjoy him forever.

And my little novel, soon to be in print, hopefully will do the same thing in a different way, with a love story set in Rome and Provence, and a mysterious quest with clues in breathtaking basilicas. A predator stalks, and folks spread lies like spiders spinning webs.

So I must get back to my typing and back to the joy of telling, retelling, and telling once again, making all these words come alive on the page.