On the Way

There are times when life reveals itself to you in a manner unforeseen, one that reminds forcibly of the preciousness of its gift.  Last evening I set out from New York on Aer Lingus, heading toward Glenstal Abbey in County Limerick, Ireland.  That holy place and its Benedictine community have a particular place in what I might call my spiritual history since I spent the summer of 2005 there in a season of prayer and discernment that will remain important for the rest of my life.  Right now I am entering into a time of transition again (still?), and that is a story for another time quite soon.  But suffice it to say that it is a moment when I was looking forward eagerly to see Glenstal again.

Instead the late afternoon and evening into the early morning were spent in hours of increasing anxiety and uncertainty.  A scant 20 minutes out of NY the pilot announced to us that there were indications of a problem with the left jet engine in this 2-engine Boeing 757-200 and so we would be making an unscheduled landing in Boston.  We flew slowly, or so it seemed, landing finally at Logan.  For the next almost 6 hours, engineers tried and failed with fixes on that engine which, it was confirmed early, did indeed have a problem.  Twice after repair efforts the engine was tested.  Twice it failed the test.  After the second of these, the pilot opined to us for the first time that we likely would not be continuing further last night.  Then another hour or more elapsed, during which I expected the next announcement to be organizational, and concerned with where we would be staying and how we would get there.  Instead, the Captain suddenly announced that he had been assured that all was now well with the recalcitrant engine and that we would be taking off now.  Within a short time wer were taxiing toward the runway.

There the engines roared and we began rolling at ever-increasing speed along the tarmac, the sound familiar to all who who have ever flown.  Several hundred yards into takeoff, without warning the whine of revving engines went silent and we rolled to a stop in the middle of the runway.  Now I love the gift of silence, in prayer, in deep conversation, in most places that it can be found in this noisy world.  But I have rarely heard a silence like that in this Boeing as it came to a halt there at Logan.  After some time the pilot’s by-now familiar voice spoke for one last time: “Ladies and gentlemen, that obviously didn’t work.  The same problem manifested itself again. We are not flying further tonight.”

As one who must guard against a tendency to hyperbole at moments (billions of moments!), let me say this soberly.  It was clear then and since that the pilot had reached the clear, cautious, and caring conclusion that there was at least a chance that the engine in question would not be able to carry us safely across to Ireland.  And so it was prudent to stop.  For my part, I will ever be grateful to him for that decision, for his wisdom, and for the training and experience that led him to act as he did.

The rest of the story is filled with waiting for bags and buses and  hotel check-ins, along with five hours of fitful sleep, a decision not to go further today, and the work of saving the intent of retreat at this time.

As always, graces abound.  I met a wonderful brother and sister, just over to New York to celebrate his 70th birthday.  Their humanity, revealed in hours of conversation, is a lasting gift.  Perhaps above all, this experience provides one of those threshold moments that offer the chance to renew everything, just by opening oneself to what is.  Today, coming to dear friends in Arlington Massachusetts, sharing a simple of cup of coffee and taking a long walk on a spectacular autumn afternoon – each passing instant was suffused by a profound, gentle sense that if it were to be presented in words would sound something like the very simple phrase, “I am so happy to be here.”  Just that.  No more.  It might even be shortened to “I am so happy.”

Tomorrow the hoped-for retreat begins a day late and an ocean apart from where I intended.  I get the sense that someone else is in charge here.  On Sunday I preached about trusting, especially when the situation is dire.  The Sunday’s readings provided the only time in the 3-year lectionary cycle that the Book of the prophet Habakkuk appears.  The conclusion of his prophecy, not read in church this Sunday, provides fitting words for these days in my one life:

“Though the fig tree does not blossom,

    and no fruit is on the vines;

though the produce of the olive fails,

    and the fields yield no food;

though the flock is cut off from the fold,

    and there is no herd in the stalls,

yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

    I will exult in the God of my salvation.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

    and makes me tread upon the heights.”

[Habakkuk 3:17-19, NRSV]

Photo by John McGinty, October 3 2016 at Great Arlington Meadows, MA

Categories Uncategorized

The African-American Museum of History and Culture (and a first memory)


On the road yesterday I listened to the opening ceremonies of the new African American Museum of History and Culture of the Smithsonian Institution on the National Mall in Washington.  Every such event, of course, is long-planned and structured.  This museum has been in the process of becoming reality since 1916.  The words offered during the dedication and opening yesterday are worthy of a century of effort.

The Reverend Calvin O. Butts of the Abyssinian Baptist Church of New York City made a point well that was often emphasized in other ways by speakers who followed: African Americans have not been anything like incidental to the building of this nation.  Rather, in ways chosen and before then terribly unchosen, they have been vital to that ongoing project.  To paraphrase, Reverend Butts said in reference to the heritage of slavery in this nation and hemisphere: “Get me to work for you for nothing for 250 years and you can build anything.”  Undeniable truth.  Slaves, suffering with no rights, generation following generation, were a central part of the engine that drove the growth of the economy of America for centuries, and not only on the cotton plantations of the south.

George W. Bush, who as President signed the legislation to make the museum real, in a fine talk pointed out particular ways in which the existence of this institution both bears witness to the best of this nation and at the same time calls it to be even better.  A great nation, he said, does not hide from its own truth, even the uncomfortable and painful truths that are part of its story.  And he continued by affirming that a great nation can and does change.  And will continue to do so.  The photo, caught by a former White House photographer, of Bush and Michelle Obama embracing, is in itself a beautiful antidote to the present political moment in the ongoing presidential campaign.

And the man whose successor will be decided in that campaign provided a masterful talk. In some sense Barack Obama’s speech yesterday might be understood as a kind of valedictory on the massive issue of race relations and racism in the nation by the nation’s first black president.  He said that the museum’s establishment ” . . .reaffirms that all of us are America — that African-American history is not somehow separate from our larger American story, it’s not the underside of the American story, it is central to the American story. That our glory derives not just from our most obvious triumphs, but how we’ve wrested triumph from tragedy, and how we’ve been able to remake ourselves, again and again and again, in accordance with our highest ideals. I, too, am America.”

President Obama’s Speech

Toward the conclusion of the ceremony, as I continued along the road, an unexpected memory from long ago emerged in me for the first time in decades.  When I was a little boy my paternal grandparents, both Irish immigrants, worked for a time at the stately home of the founder of one of the banks in my hometown.  That banking gentleman had died by then, but my grandmother was one of the nurses caring for his elderly widow at the house and my grandfather was the gardener, coaxing beauty constantly out of God’s green earth.

As a child of four and five years old I would from time to time join them for a day at that (by our standards) great house.  I knelt next to Papa as he worked the earth with his gloved hands.  I talked to Nana when she would come downstairs from the bedroom of the lady of the house.  And, I wandered from time to time into the kitchen.

The kitchen was the domain of Theresa the cook.  Theresa was the first person of color I ever met, and with whom I ever interacted.  She moved around that kitchen like she had designed it.  She cooked and baked and filled that place daily with wonderful aromas.  She had a round and kind face in my memories, often covered in a generous smile.  She let me sit at the kitchen table and partake of her latest creation before even the folks who provided for the feast.

Theresa was likely born, I would guess, in the late teens of the twentieth century.  Her parents may have been, and likely her grandparents were, slaves.  They were defined each as 3/5 of a human person.  I don’t know what Theresa thought of her life.  I don’t know how or if she thought back to the lives of her beloved forebears. I was just a 4-year old sitting in her kitchen.  John Kennedy was in the White House and the civil rights movement was about to take flight.

Theresa and I didn’t talk about that stuff.  She probably didn’t know people had suggested around the time of her birth that there be established a museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

But I do know this, and in a way that I could not have expressed in words I knew it even then: Theresa knew how to nourish people.  She knew how to strengthen people for their journey, different though it was from hers.  She knew how to feed the hungry.

And in that, very truly among us in that big house, Theresa was a sacrament of the presence and the love of God who feeds us daily, when we love each other and when we fail to do so.  From the stovetop and oven, and from a tough history behind her and her people, Theresa was a teacher of loving truth.

She too has a place in the museum opened yesterday.


(Photo by David Hume Kennerly)


The wonder of it all

Is inside really

It’s there, in the inner attitude

That I see, or not, the marvel that

Sky is, or

Water’s surface, or

Memory deep and lasting, or

Your face, with that habitual smirk that

Sometimes trembles with feeling, and is 



~ John McGinty 

Categories Uncategorized

A Wise Reflection on this Sunday’s Gospel (no, it’s not mine!)

“When you give a lunch or dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbors,”

Jesus tell us. “No, when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.”

Click on the link for thought and action-provoking truth . . .

via | Saint Louis University Sunday Web Site

Chronicles of Grace 1

Lesson 1: Look, and Receive

Whenever I am overnight at Job’s Pond, there is consistency in the first thing I see in the morning’s light.  There is Gracie the Dog at the end of the bed, standing in silent stillness looking out over the pond into the new day.  She is unmoving.  She is absolutely attentive to whatever might be presenting itself (or not) on the water, in the sky, across the pond. Most often she makes no assessment nor comment on what she is seeing, or smelling, or hearing.  She just takes it in.

She just looks, and receives.

I am blessed to live with such a natural teacher.  As smart as she proves herself to be day by day, it seems she could have the power of speech if she really wanted it.  But she doesn’t need it.  She teaches by example.

And every morning I get this example:

Here is a new day.  There is light.  There is air.  There is both stillness and movement. No one knows what the day will bring and, you know what? It doesn’t really matter.  It will bring what it has been created to bring.  And whatever it brings (even on the days that include


death), all is embraced under the name ‘life.’  There is no need, nor any real capacity, to figure it out, to understand it before it blooms as it will.  There is only the invitation, new every morning and modeled by Gracie, to look and receive.


She looks into it every morning as if it were the first and the only morning of creation.  “Morning has broken, like the first morning . . . ”


Old Friends. New Blessings.

Last evening, deep into vacation, I drove two hours to spend some time with old friends. There I was reunited and talked and laughed and shared a marvelous meal with two families that I met first through the husbands and fathers thereof, and through them came to know and cherish their amazing spouses and wonderful children.

Somehow, most of five years had passed since we were last together.  This was hard to believe, though on reflection easy enough to understand, as those have been the years I have migrated to New York and worked on resettling and renewing.

I value friendship above almost all else.  And there really is something particular about old friends.  There is something special about those friends whom you may not see for months or years at a time, through months and years of change and challenge and God-knows-what-else.  But when you do come together once more – and you know what I am going to say – it is as if you have been in one another’s company all along.

And in a way, you have.  You have carried them in your heart.  And there, the passage of time does not rob.  It only enriches.  It reveals the deeper gifts that take time to unfold, be made known, and mature.  It reveals just what a treasure these people are.

Last evening reminded me of something that I have long believed.  People, men and women and children, human beings: these are real sacraments of the presence of God. These, together, are genuine icons of the face of Christ.  They are no less precious than that.

Today, as though to remind me that God’s generosity is never exhausted and that God is always giving, I was privileged to accompany a friend to an important appointment.  The bond that makes that accompaniment possible is strong.  The experience of being together is transforming.

We make one another more human, by the connections forged between and among us, and allowed to strengthen – even in the background – over the years.  I bless all those tangibles and intangibles that draw us closer to one another.  May our eyes and ears be always open to see and hear them, and to let them work in our hearts, remaking them again and again.