Last Days of the Transcontinental Trek

Two meals from the last two days of the voyage to California stand out. A dinner, and lunch the next day. They stand out less because of the food (which indeed was excellent) or because of the hospitality (which was warm and genuine) than because of the waiter. At dinner on the first night in the Coachella Valley, we got into conversation with our waiter. He was efficient, friendly, and knowledgable as to his work at the Bella Vita. But, as is blessedly also the case when we can allow ourselves to open up and see it, he was also a real human being. In conversation during one of his visits to our table late in the meal, he shared with us that he works two restaurant jobs, almost constantly. He does so for one reason: he is saving money for his childrens' college education. He came from Mexico to the USA and has worked to make a life here, not first of all for himself, but first of all for the next generation.

Though the backgrounds are different, I looked into his eyes and listened to his voice and I saw and heard my father, born in this nation after his parents arrived from Ireland, a man who worked most of the daylight and many evening hours for decades for the love of his family. We are. We are. We are all the same. There is, in the end, never, a them and us. When we seem to see that division, let us shake our heads and hearts free of that devilish delusion and see one another clearly, all made in the image and likeness of God. It is an image that remains whatever be the story of a given life. It is a likeness that is burnished and shines over the lifetimes of those who choose to live for others, to live for love.

The next day, Sunday, after church, we sought out a place for a brunch/lunch. I remembered a place from a prior visit as providing good, fresh, healthy fare. We arrived and got settled, met our waitress and placed our order. Then someone stopped at the table and said happily, "Good afternoon!" I looked up into the face of our waiter from the evening before. Of all the (very many) eateries in the Coachella Valley we had found our way to the second of the two in which he works. I asked him if he had any time off this coming week. He said he would have Sunday afternoon and Monday morning at home. For a total of six days he would be standing next to tables like that one, inquiring what might be provided for the nourishment of those guests. And in the vital background, he does so to provide nourishment of body and mind and heart, now and into the future, for his children. I pray they will grow to know, if they do not already, the wonder they have been given in their father, and I suspect, their mother as well.

I do not know whether, in his constant efforts, this new friend ever finds his way to church to praise God with community. I hope he does. But whether or not he does, here is another walking embodiment of sanctity. God works and walks and converses among us every day. We have only to listen and to see to know this is true.

(Day 4), with references to Day 3

This day concludes in the city of Brush, Colorado, incorporated in 1884 (or was it 1894), 2.56 square miles in size, and currently at a population of some 5800, up considerably over the last 10 years. We have just returned from a great steak dinner at True Grits on Edison Street. The place is entirely (and quite visibly) given over to the honor of the actor John Wayne. It has been owned by the same woman for the past two decades. Tonight, as is always the case on weeknights, her father acted as the greeter, from thence retiring to the bar and the Broncos-Bears preseason game on TV. He was born on a farm in central Kansas. They didn't have electricity and the summer days and nights were almost unbearable to a kid who didn't like the heat. Grown up, he headed out and came to Brush during the bit of an oil rush they had here in the 50's. He arrived in '54, saw the nighttime temps drop so much from day that you needed a light jacket. By his own testimony, in a tale likely 'oft told, that was enought to sell him. He decided to stay, and has been here ever since. He married, raised, a family, did odd jobs, worked maintenance for almost 30 years at the hospital and now, in retirement, he is the welcoming face and voice of True Grits.

His daughter is not only the owner. She is the waitress. She is not only the waitress. She is the cook. She is not only the cook. She is the bartender. And damn it if she's not really good at every one of those roles. We had the place entirely to ourselves, arriving at 6:30 and leaving about 2 hours later. This made me worry, as she and I had conversed about the high cost of running and maintaining and insuring the place. But lo! As we left a van arrived with a huge, hungry, and young'un-heavy family arriving to do the American deal. You give me food. I give you money. God was arriving with them.

This morning we had risen at Clive, Iowa outside Des Moines, having slept like a forest (never mind a log) following a very long day of travel. We traveled long again today, through unrelenting miles of Iowa corn, and unrelenting dozens of miles of Colorado openness (and an official speed limit of 75 mph). Every state, I keep remarking, is distinct in so many ways. As soon as you cross the line, the very texture of the roadbed changes, as does the sound the tires make rolling on it. And you immediately know: 'Ah! Infrastructure counts here,' or 'Cheap as hell this bunch.' And your tires whine their agreement.

Brush, Colorado is named after an early Lt. Governor of the state of Colorado. He never lived here, but liked to come often to visit 'his town.' But you know what, rather than being his town, I really think Brush truly belongs to the man on the barstool who came long ago from Kansas and stayed, and to his daughter born here, slaving away to make a business work for 20 years and still smiling. She feeds the public as much as they need, and does it again and again. There is some Eucharist in there, let me tell you.

Tomorrow: on through Colorado, through the Rockies, and emerging (one hopes) into Utah.

Pax vobis.

(Day 2)

Today the road stretched from Amsterdam NY to Westlake, Ohio, just west of Cleveland. The weather was absolutely gorgeous with blue sky and fair weather clouds dotting the heavens. The traffic was moderate, with the exception of our arrival in Cleveland during rush hour. That was rather heavy and slow, but it gave a moment to take in the view of Lake Erie as we moved along I-90. It is majestic.

When you have known someone for 51 years, since you were a child, experienced them in the strength of their adulthood and at the fullness of their powers, traveled with them when their knowledge and confidence made the going seem simple, it is an adjustment, sometimes a challenge, and a revelation of God's faithfulness, to be with them in their old age. To witness limitations that were once unimagined pressing on everyday life, at each moment. To see weakness and the noble effort to adjust to it. To hear the echo of the call that has come to them to let go, to surrender, to release – for some people the hardest call of a lifetime perhaps. I have seen that today. I have seen it before, and continue to do so, in people that I love, who mean worlds to me. It is not easy to see. Sometimes – no, often – it is not easy to accept with patience. It becomes necessary to call yourself back in quiet moments to who you know you are called to be at this moment in this friendship, to remind yourself of what you are called to do and to contribute (as best you can) hear and now.

It is all a part of the rhythm of life. Sometimes that rhythm is pleasing. Sometimes it is jarring and unpleasant. But still and all, it is life's rhythm and who should not desire to say yes to life, whatever she offers?

And still more, it is instructive to have my own 'crabby knee' as I now name it, which has been bothering me occasionally for months, bloom at this precise moment – while crossing the continent – into at times almost crippling disability. What a teacher about my own future, my own letting go, my own necessary surrenders, whatever they may turn out to be.

Jesus asked that we who are his apprentices take up our own crosses and follow him along the way. We never have to look for our own crosses. We should not even ask to know what they might be. They will come, without fail. And we will know them by two signs – by how regrettable their coming seems, and later by the bright, otherwise unseen places they reveal.


Tomorrow, onward again toward Iowa, Nebraska and news of threatening weather.

OffRoad OnRoad 2017 (Day 1)

Underway!

I am writing in bed in a Super 8 Motel in Amsterdam, New York. This town has a road system that feels too complex for its size, all the 21st century American retailers just outside of the historic town, and rows of beautiful old, and well-kept, Victorians. It also has tonight plenty of silence and dark spaces and pouring rain. Returning from a simple evening meal at Panera I got out of the car to the unmistakable smell of cow dung. Bovine excrement. Call it what you want and it smells just as . . . [fill-in-the-blank]. The thing about it is this (which I share at the risk of offending everyone I know and don't know), is that I love that smell. Oh my God I am serious. I do. It brings me back to my uncle's farm in Ballyhaunis, County Mayo, Eire. It somehow reminds me powerfully that I am part of this earthly reality, and that that fact, and that reality itself, are very good things indeed. It reminds that all of this is God-honest, dirt-rockin' real. This planet smells, and therefore it is alive.

I began this day in New York and end it now in New York. The day began in Shoreham on the north shore of Long Island. The ferry from nearby Port Jefferson carried the dog and I to Bridgeport, Connecticut. From there I drove to Somerville, Massachusetts, to visit my mother who is recovering from a recent fall. My brother Terry and I had lunch with her. It felt good. Then off to my friends in Arlington and to the barber and into the car with my traveling companion, and westward ho!

One thought beams brightly clear from this day: from the sky, so various in its aspects, cloud shapes changing, light pouring down followed by rain. Myriad greens blooming either side of the road on superhighways and little byways. Human faces of every age and background at rest stops. Smiles and tears. Conversation waxing and waning. Recollections of the past and hints of possible futures. The one thought is this: how stunningly beautiful is creation. All of it and everything in it. What gifts God gives us. How do we even come to terms with it? How do we forget its forever-newness? How do I cry out with joy every time I step outside? How?

Thank you Lord.

Tomorrow: from Amsterdam to . . . .

[Below; Mary and John McGinty today at the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Somerville MA; and below below Mary and Terence McGinty at the same locale].

Prayer, Praise, and the Real World

At noon today I made a first-ever visit to the Abbey of Regina Laudis at Bethlehem, Connecticut.  Sweeping east to west from Portland I arrived within about an hour.  Entering the monastery grounds off Flanders Road I drove slowly uphill, keeping my eyes on the signs.  I spied the Chapel where I knew prayer would be taking place at noontime.  I was there early and settled into the simple knotty pine chapel while one of the nuns arranged flowers and plants near the altar.  Other visitors came in for prayers, only one other male among them, a boy of (I would say) about 6 years on the planet.  He was there in the company of his older sister and two women.

[Photo: Father Jack SJ MD]

As the place was so quiet, the pre-prayer conversation of that little group was heard by default.  The boy turned to one of the women and raised a perceptive question: "Do the sisters," he asked, "ever get bored?"  I do not recall his mom or aunt's response, but the question got me thinking.  "Do the sisters ever get bored?"

First of all the question implies (and not for the first time) that one of the worst things that can happen to us in the 21st century is to be bored.  I suspect, in fact, that living as human beings together in community, there may well be boredom as well as excitement, contentment, wonderment, and all the other quite human responses to living in the experience of the nuns.  

But my next thought was this: what a wonderful thing!  To be bored.  The very possibility, in the context of the 'real world' (as it is sometimes called outside monastic enclosures) strikes me as heavenly.  In a world situation in which, within hours of our gathering there at Bethlehem to pray, north Korea launched their second intercontinental ballistic missile of this month, evidencing capacity to reach many of the major metropolitan areas of the USA, according to news reports including Denver, Chicago and New York; in this context, boredom sounds like a blessing.  In a world in which, I cannot at this point say different or less, the USA itself boasts a chief executive who, if at all, is revealed in his stream-of-consciouness tweets to be only marginally less bizarre than north Korea's Kim Jong Un, yes, boredom is worthy of embrace, welcome, and thanks, were it to arrive.

The word 'bore' and its eventual application to human persons showed up only in the very late 18th century.  Decades later the variant 'boredom' was born apparently from the pen of the great Charles Dickens in his novel Bleak House of 1852.  And boredom has been more and more in our daily speech every since.  And more and more dreaded.  Its origins may include the work of a drill, a hole-boring tool, which methodically and without excitement produces a hole in a material.  And so the piece of wood is 'bored' by the drill.

Which brings us back to the nuns of Regina Laudis, who gathered this midday and gave praise to God in sung psalmody for some twenty minutes in gentle Latin.  To some, I suppose, that gathering itself might seem boring.  But underneath the chant melodies, below the syllables of the words of Scripture, deep within the daily round of ora et labora that characterizes the daily life of the sisters as it does Benedictines around the world, it may well be that the finger of God is boring a hole through the hearts and minds and souls, through the humanity of the women who make up that monastic community.  Day by day, hour by hour, syllable by syllable, they are making themselves available to the work of the Sculptor who bores where humans in their freedom allow, and there creates Christs who live and teach and love and pray and offer themselves every day for the love of this crazed thing that the rest of us call the real world.  

Only the end of time will reveal where reality really kept its house.

A sweet addendum: as prayer ended today in the Chapel at Bethlehem, one of the adults accompanying brother and sister looked toward the nuns praying beyond the altar, behind the grill (a kind of rood screen) and beautifully noted, "We serve Jesus on this side, and they serve Jesus on that side."  In Jesus then there is just one side.  And when we pray together, it is all 'real.'

Strangers on a Plane

Suffering and compassion. Humanity and divinity are found right in there.

BeautyBeyondBones

There are really two types of people when it comes to airplanes: there are the talkers, and then those who would rather get a root canal than socialize with the person seated next to them.

Admittedly, I am the latter. Earbuds in, sunglasses on – I am a fortress. I am simultaneously praying for a) the plane not to go down, and b) my seat mate to not try to drum up small talk. Priorities, right?

giphy-8

But I love flying, I really do. Riding in an airplane is always a bit of an adventure. You never know who you’ll be sitting by, and for a couple hours, you’re completely out of control, and unplugged.

giphy-6

I was flying back to Ohio today from New York. And there are always a lot of emotions, seeing the intimidating city skyline of Manhattan slowly morph into the lush and fertile Ohio River valley…

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“I am here.”

Sermon written for July 2, 2017; Church of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, Shoreham NY

Preached sermon streamlined!

Romans 6:12-23

Matthew 10:40-42
Genesis 22:1-14

God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.” Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together. When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place “The Lord will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

_________________________
“O my father, am I really to go with you?

And help you with the sacrifice to the Lord?

You’ve never taken me before, and I’ve always wanted to go.

Why do you weep, Mother? We won’t be long.

I’m growing up, now, and it is right that I go with Father.
Father, where is the lamb for the sacrifice?
Father, what are you doing? Father —

Father, how can the Lord want me? I am only a child.

How can you worship a Lord who wants your child?

Father, there is terrible laughter in the air like thunder.

You are not my father. I am afraid of you.

I will close my eyes. This rock is hard and cold against my bones.

This rock is. . .
Father. I heard thunder again.

You are untying the ropes which cut my skin.

You are laughing and crying, and the ram in the bush

is waiting with frightened eyes.

He does not understand, either.”
(Madeleine L’Engle, Sacrifice of Isaac)


[Caravaggio (or Cavarozzi), 1598-1603]

Madeleine L’Engle’s poem, Sacrifice of Isaac, painful to read, painful to hear, bears witness to the struggle of almost numberless generations to take in and bear with, if not to comprehend, the story we hear today from the 22nd chapter of the book of Genesis.  
What is this? God’s chosen, Abraham, bidden by the God who has called him and given him the promised son in Isaac, to take that son to a remote mountain and there to end his son’s life with his own hands, by violence. Sarah, the unlikely mother of Isaac, left back at home, old and approaching death; left to mourn the unthinkable loss she is about to sustain. The loss of her son. The loss of relationship with her husband. And God’s chosen, Isaac, the son of laughter, surrounded now only by tears. The tears of his brokenhearted mother. The tears of his father, torn in two by this test. And Isaac’s own tears. How could the boy, as L’Engle’s poem brings forward, possibly understand what was happening there on Mount Moriah?
And for that matter, how can we understand?
Rabbi Steven Nathan wrote a five-poem set on this terrible text; one poem each in the voice of Isaac, of Sarah, of Abraham, of God, and of the Rabbi himself, standing in our place. They are powerful and heart-rending and do not spare us a moment of the fullness of the truth, and I commend them all to your reading. But we, here, on this Independence weekend, are called painfully to realize that in the end, for the people God created, there is no absolute independence. There is ultimately only relationship. There is only ultimately relying on one another. In the end there is only trust, no matter what the cost. And this is nothing less than frightening.  
I have to cry out to you the Rabbi’s poem, the fifth and last one on the Binding of Isaac, written in his own voice, and so in ours:
V. What About Me

Why Who What

I do not Understand

Why I should Care to

They are 
Foreign

Strange

Unknown

I pity them
Father

Sacrificing son and self

Mother

Sitting in silence

Enabling the plot

Son

Risking all

For what

God

Self-centered

Needing to know

The Truth

Even if 

It kills

Them
Leave me alone

I do not want

To know you

Yet
I must

I do

For you are all

Me

I am all

Of you

One
No 

I refuse to believe

This Truth
I would not

Sacrifice

For any God
I would not abandon

The miracle child

I never thought

Would be
I would not

Risk my life

To prove 

My love
I would not

Ask

The unaskable

Of those 

I claim

To

Love

To serve

My needs
Or

Would I
Have I

Will I

Again

Don’t we all

No

I refuse

To believe

With complete faith

That 

This

Is
Yes

I know

With complete faith 

How could it not

Be
Love

Sacrifice

Pain

Surrender

Fury

Resignation
All 

Part of life

For all

For God

Our image source
We God

Do not want 

to cause 

pain 

we still do

We God

Do not want

To know 

The limits

Of

Faith love

We still do

We God

Do not want

To give up

The self

The ideal

To find

The truth

Within

We still do

We God

Do not want

To sit

Passive inactive

Allowing 

The plot

To unfold

Before our eyes

Within our heart

Unable to

Stop it

We still do

Why

Must this be

Why

Can it not

Be simple

Why can

There be

No pain

No test

No sacrifice

No surrender
Why
Because
Without 

Pain

Testing

Sacrifice

Surrender

Life 

Would not

Be

Life
Without these

We would be

Isaac

Without laughter

Never able to leave

Home
Abraham
Staying at his tent

Welcoming guests

Never going

Beyond

Comfortable borders
Sarah

Protecting

Her precious possession

Never letting him

Go 

Grow

Live
God

Not knowing

How far

Each of us

Will go

What

Each of us

Will do

To surrender 

To 

Divine will

To continue

The story

Of creation
Still

I do not like them
Yet

I love them

For I know 

Them

I know

Their actions

Feelings

A part of

Me

I

A part of

Them
Remember

With all this

Suffering

Was 

Not

Part

Of 

The plan
Suffering

Comes

Only

When we

Deny

That everything

Everyone

Is indeed

Part 

Of the plan
As long

As we realize

We are

One

We are

Part

Of something greater

Not apart

By Our Selves

We may experience

Pain

But suffering

Will stay

Away
Perhaps

This is

What God

What they

Are trying to teach
I still

Don’t like 

The players

I still

Don’t like

The plot

But

Now 

I watch it

Unfold

Within and around

I see

Their traits in me
Through the

Pain

I know

There is something

Greater

I must

Learn
Still
I wish

There were

An

Easier

Way
Maybe

Next 

Year

God, God’s Word, do not always make it easy on us. As one of our eucharistic prayers says it so well, we do not come here for solace only, but also for strength. And how we need it. How we need it when we touch upon the mystery, the third rail of faith. I would like, as I think you would, to remain nearer the surface. Let me concentrate on the painting of the building behind me, on the questions of dollars and cents that face us, on the practical stuff. No matter how hard that might get, that stuff does not insist on diving deep inside us and tearing us up like this word of God from the very first book of the Bible. This is the Scripture that moves us to put our hands gently over the childrens’ ears. 

 Who is this God who says, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” And who is this Abraham who “rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him.” And who is this Isaac, this boy who says in trust of the father he loves, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” as he carried the wood for the sacrifice on his own shoulders.  
This is so far beyond paint and dollars, beyond the everyday (thank God!) that we want to run. But if we are going to be here at all, the starting place necessarily is to let this story cause us to shudder and to shake. As have these two poets and their two poems.
In the extraordinary 6th chapter of his letter to the Church at Rome today, Paul the Apostle insists on something that doesn’t ring well in our 21st century ears. He insists: you have to be servant to something or someone in life. He even says ‘slave’ instead of servant; even harder to hear. You can be slave to sin, Paul writes, and follow it to lasting death. Or you can be slave to God, and follow God to lasting life. Early in today’s reading from Romans there are words that might shed light into the darkness of Mount Moriah, where Abraham went as the slave of God to offer up his son, and where at last the voice of God cried out, “Abraham, Abraham, do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him . . . .” Paul’s words are these: “. . . present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life . . . .” (Romans 6:13)
Present yourselves to God as God’s servants, trusting beyond all rationality that God, by whatever horrific twists and turns on the way, will only lead those who follow along the way to life. The road to life, as Jesus knew and Paul preached, goes through the country of death along the way. So present yourselves to God as those brought, carried, moved, taken from death to life.  
But how? How do I ‘present’ myself to God? How do you? How, in the midst of full lives, do we find God, or better, allow God to find us? How, when we might rather not get into the deep ‘heart’ stuff where God deals, bring ourselves around to stop and allow the encounter with God, which is more real than anything else, to happen?
Look in the three verses of Matthew’s Gospel that we hear today. Six times in those few lines rings one word: Welcome. Welcome welcome welcome welcome welcome. Welcome.
We present ourselves to God by welcoming God into our everyday lives, with both reverence and fear, as well as faith and love. And we welcome God in the way Abraham welcomed all those whom he loved. Three times in the story of the binding of Isaac, someone calls Abraham’s name. The first and third times it is God who calls. The central time it is Abraham’s son Isaac who calls. And each of the three times, Abraham readily responds with one word in his own tongue, Hineni.
“Here I am.” “I am right here.”
There is depth in this single word. To his God and to his son, each crying out to him, Abraham replies as their servant: “I am here. I am here with you. I am here for you. I am for you.” In this way, Abraham presents himself to God and his son Isaac. In this way, Abraham welcomes them into his life, even in this moment of pain and drama. Learn the word and use it: Hineni.
There are echoes of Abraham’s ‘hineni’ in the traditional greeting offered by the Natal people of Africa to one another when they meet one another along the way. When they meet, one says, Sawa Bona, “I see you.” And the other responds, Sikhona, “I am here.” Between those greetings they pause, and for a long period, look into one another’s eyes in silence. Then they speak the words again, now trading places, “I see you.” “I am here.”
There along African byways the Natal are presenting themselves to one another. They are welcoming one another. And not in shallow fashion. In those words, sawa bona and sikhona, they are deeply acknowledging one another’s existence, humanity, uniqueness, and importance. They are doing what Abraham did on that continent generations and generations earlier, “Hineni dear God! Hineni my son! I am here with you. I am here for you.”  
Those tribesmen and Paul the Apostle are pointing us in the direction of who we are called to be and what we are called to do in relationship to God and to each other. Through every ordinary day, and in moments as horribly extraordinary as the binding of Isaac, we are called to be people who welcome the full reality of God and one another into our lives. We are called to be people who trust in God and in the people of God no matter what is asked of us or how difficult it is to understand. We are called to be women and men who rise each day to say in our words and by our deeds to God and to all our brothers and sisters, “Whatever this day asks of me and whatever you may need of me, I present myself to you. I welcome you. I see you. I am here for you. I am here.”
This Independence Day weekend, as we give thanks for all that we have been given in this land and in its history, God’s unrelenting word powerfully declares that we are free for the sake of one another. We are free to be blessing to one another. We are free to encourage one another through life’s painful visits to Mount Moriah, to support one another when God asks a lot of us. We are free to remind one another that we are servants of God and to unite with one another as the presence of the living Christ in our time and place.
“Whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:42)
John P. McGinty

Anniversary

I am here in bed at the end of the anniversary of my birth today.

It has been a long and tiring day, and absolutely full of the kind of blessings that enrich my life.  I celebrated Eucharist this morning above Long Island Sound at Camp DeWolfe with this year’s summer staff as they completed their weeks of training.  What an amazing group. How full of faith and love and grace.  I spent time with the dedicated (and small) staff of Saint Anselm’s, celebrating the retirement of one of our own, a great woman who has been a sign of welcome and love to the children and parents of the parish for the better part of three decades, day in and day out.  And tonight I sat here in the rectory in conversation with four of this summer’s camp staff, two from the UK and two from Poland.  What a blessing to sit and talk and get to know young people from these nations who are full of life and possibility.  

A staggering (to me) number of people shared happy wishes on Facebook and by text and on Messenger and by phone – family and friends, near and far.  Some I see often.  Some I have not seen in decades.  How could anyone deserve such an outpouring, I say? But you don’t have to.  It is, truly, all grace.  Gifts given and received.

Two songs sum me up at this point in my living.  One is the Canticle of the Turning, expressing the certainty that the world will turn to the way intended by its Creator and Redeemer.  Justice and mercy will in the end embrace all that is.  I need to hold this truth in the midst of a daily world that speaks a different lyric indeed.  

The other is the 19th century tune of Robert Lowry, How can I keep from singing?  The beauty there is the seeing deeply that all in the end is so beautiful, so good, so filled with the love of God that no other response is justified save a lifelong hymn of praise.

Thank you, Lord, for life and for every breath; for every word spoken and heard; for every heart open and for the blessings that lie ahead . . , especially when they cannot yet be seen.

Seeing

I opened my eyes

To the same leafed trees

Beyond the same windows,

But now the light streamed 

From within them 

And the life shone there.

I said, “My God, You are here.”

And came the ancient 

Unmistakable 

Words,

“I am.”

Just Thinking

I’m sitting in our empty church where we intended to pray Eucharist 20 minutes ago at 9am. That’s a change of our usual weekly schedule, so folks arriving for mass might have been expected to be few. 

Just around 9, the children and families of our Academy arrived for the day. They gather first in the church and there was life and laughter and movement here only minutes ago. 

It’s hard as a pastor not to note the contrast of the two moments, especially as one with a love of the liturgy. The important question is always in this space, and in this heart, as to how in our day real pastoral care and true prayer relate. I know they do. One of the moms bringing her daughter this morning to school shared the joyous good news of her own mother’s freedom from cancer. And she attributed the gift precisely to faith and to prayer. 

So faith and a reverence for prayer are not gone. They’re not missing. 

The thing rather is the struggle to integrate the settled ways of old church with the lives and legitimate needs of the people of God living this moment. The ‘give’ (as needed) likely needs to be on the ‘old church’ side. An institution, and it is that, does best in having a genuine loving generosity toward all God’s people. Anything less makes little sense and leads nowhere where there are young voices and laughter and possibility in bright eyes.