Saturday, August 12, 2023

The I in Faith

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. -- Ephesians 4:4-7

of through all and in all

Years ago, when I began both Education for Ministry (EfM) and writing for the Episcopal Café, I customarily wrote “We” in sentences and paragraphs in the first person plural form. I know that preachers, priests, and clergy use “We” in prayers and sermons, and even our BCP uses the plural form in liturgies and collects.

 It was meant to be inclusive, showing that all of us were part of a single family, group, organization, congregation, denomination, 0r whatever. It worked for me until one of my EfM mentors, Ann Fontaine (of blessed memory), began insisting that each of us start to and continually use “I” instead of “we” when talking in our group sessions. It was hard to break the habit of years, but I finally did it, finally understanding the reasoning as to why it was so important.

 Using “I” taught me to state my own beliefs, positions, actions, tradition, and culture. Each of us was a different person with different experiences and customs, and even two people sitting next to one another in the same pew often held beliefs and thoughts anywhere from slightly different to widely divergent. It allowed me to take ownership of what I think and feel. I know that ministers, priests, and clergy generally speak in “we” terms, including themselves in the congregation and seeking to unify it. I do not feel I have the theology or the authority to speak in such group speech as I am only a lay person. I speak for myself, not seeking to impose my beliefs or thoughts on any group. I own my particular theology and acknowledge it, not speaking for others or even for God.

Wrestling with this ownership thing, I have concluded (at least for now) that when I use the word “Faith,” I must break it down into parts.  “FA” is like family – the Trinity, The Holy Family, my EfM group, church congregation, close friends, and neighborhood. “TH” is like theology – a system of beliefs and traditions, some of which go back hundreds if not thousands of years and sometimes change for me as I learn more about it. That leaves the letter “i” in the middle, which is where I see myself, balancing the two, trying to be fair and just to both, and being willing to learn with an open mind which is subject to change, sometimes without notice. The “I” I would use, though, is a lowercase letter, as I do not see myself worthy of a capital letter, especially when speaking about (and certainly not for) God.

Jesus used a lot of “I” statements, particularly in the Gospel of John. “I am the vine…” (14:5), “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” (14:6), and “I am the light of the world…” (8:12), among others. I believe he used them to convey his message; he stated his job and news, often metaphorically or allegorically, which took egotism out of the equation. Had he come out and flatly said that he was the Son of God, his life would have been much shorter than it was since to make such a claim was not only blasphemy to the Jews but high treason to the Romans. Still, we understand what his “I” statements mean, just as the crowds who heard him teach recognized him in such metaphors as the story of the good shepherd or the good Samaritan.

Using “I” statements in speech or writing has made my faith stronger by forcing me to come to grips with pretty much exactly what I mean and be able to enunciate it when the opportunity presents itself. It leaves room for others to disagree to one degree or another but without an outright argument or disagreement. It allows me to recognize the right of others to have their own beliefs without arguing them into agreeing with mine. Hopefully, they will also respect my right, but if they do not, then it is their choice.  

 Reciting the Apostles’ Creed gives structure to my faith, whether said aloud or repeated silently. I may have slight twinges about one or two words or phrases, but I can also fall back on the ambiguity being an Episcopalian allows me to be. I have learned to be comfortable with that and make it part of my family, faith, and theology.

Amen.  God bless you all.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Empty Spaces, Sacred Spaces

Another Education for Ministry (EfM) training is in the books.  Since I am a mentor for an EfM group, I have to attend a yearly training session to learn new things and sharpen my skills. I get my training online since my group is online only (many groups meet face-to-face). It is nice since I get to stay home, near the refrigerator and the loo, if you understand the British-ism. I enjoy the training every year, but it is sometimes pretty intense. 

Part of our training is working with Theological Reflections (TR), an integral part of the EfM program. We start with what we call an artifact: a picture, an object, a movie, a scripture story or verse, a book, an advertisement, or something we saw on Facebook that makes us prick up our ears and think of the possibilities that a TR using it would bring forth. From there, we go to find a focus – a place where we can all agree we want to explore in the next step of the reflection. Here we look at options. We practice with metaphors that frame the artifact or express feelings and where our core values lie in reference to the metaphor we are focusing on. We use four sources to explore (Tradition, Culture, Position, Action) and use those to look at the metaphor from the perspectives of what our Christian tradition tells us, what our culture says about it, what our position (belief, where we stand on an issue) is, and finally what action is God calling us to do in light of what we have discovered through our personal and group exploration and experience. The whole TR process can be exhausting, but it can also be full of insights, enlightenment, and energization.

One of the TRs we did in training this year was an exploration of an image of a concrete and brick floor, metal window, door, wall frames, and roof trusses. Each item was individual; the only pieces connected were where the trusses met metal columns. The rest was all open space set in a woody glen near Richmond, VA.* We first had to establish what we were looking at. Some of us saw an area, perhaps pre-construction, but not suitable for anything since it had no people or identifiable furnishings. At least one person saw it as a sacred space, consecrated by what was there to memorialize and an invitation to worship with nothing between themselves and God.  Statements we came up with about the image ranged from “It is not complete. It is not good for anything. It appears to be something it is not.” We asked ourselves and each other if the object in the picture was complete as it was. After some discussion, we ultimately came to a question we wanted to examine further: "Am I complete as I am?” 

The empty space in that building made me consider whether I was a complete human being or perhaps I had gaps, spaces, holes, and voids inside me. Why were those gaps there? What had I learned that was wrong, or what have I yet to discover? How do I feel about that? Where had I made mistakes that took me in the wrong direction, what choices had I made that proved to be errors, and what and where were my core values? What needed changing, and how would be the best way to do that?

There was more to the TR, but right now, I have stopped with the image of the empty building with its invisible parts and the self I cannot see in the mirror, the interior self. I know there are plenty of empty spaces, and some of them are old wounds that have never healed. I also know there are sacred spaces, perhaps not big ones, but big enough to let me sense when one is nearby. Now, I know there are sacred, thin spaces at times that I can sense and rejoice in them. It does not have to be a consecrated space; it works in my cluttered living room and the National Cathedral every time I have been there. It worked when I walked by my river back home or through the historical paths that crisscrossed the woods around it. Remembering how those sacred spaces felt to me is enough of a goad to keep me looking for more, whether empty or teeming with humanity.

The quest and the usually organized method of sitting and contemplating it (or even walking with it) are essential. If I ever get back home, I am sure it will resonate with all the prayers, joys, tragedies, and experiences of those who have been there before. I want to feel that in that place, and feel again a familiar feeling of a sacred, even if empty, space. Meanwhile, I have some internal completion to do on myself.



*Historic Polegreen Church, Hanover County, VA.  A monument to a historic church built in the 17th century as one of the first non-Anglican churches. It was destroyed in a battle during the Civil War and has now been made an official historic monument. It is often used as a wedding venue. Please read the entire history on the website. 

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Peter's Vision


Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’ Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But I replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.” But a second time the voice answered from heaven, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven.  – Acts 11:1-10


This is a story of a somewhat different Peter from the ones we read as he followed and learned from Jesus himself. Here he is, seeming like a more mature and more confident Peter than the one who seemed to stumble around. This Peter grasped the points that Jesus presented and did not seem to need to ask questions that required Jesus to explain in simpler terms as he had done earlier in his acquaintance with Jesus. This is a Peter that I respect and can learn from.

This Peter met with circumcised believers who questioned his association with Gentiles, even to the point of eating with them. This meant that the meat at their meals might not be kosher, like seafood, pig, and other dishes. The circumcised could not understand how he could forget his upbringing and the ritual cleanliness that had been part of his life for so long.

Peter told them about his experience with a trance that came to him while praying. In his vision, a vast sheet came down from heaven, filled with all sorts of animals, birds, and even reptiles. These were creatures that were considered “unclean” by the circumcised Jews, to be shunned at all cost and never eaten, even if one were desperate from hunger. God had told Peter to kill and eat these creatures, something Peter, in his righteousness, had never done. God had a response to that, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”  All this was repeated three times, a sacred number denoting perfection, completion, and, as Christians would see it, a recollection of the Trinity.  Peter realized that this vision not only referred to meals but also to association with people whom the circumcised would shun. The teachings of Jesus applied not only to Jews but to Gentiles as well. In short, It expanded the “Who is my neighbor” in a whole different way.

The image of the sheet has meaning for me because it permits me to eat things like shrimp and scallops, bacon, ham, sausage, and other things that involve mixtures of meats and seafood. In essence, it permits me to wear mixed fibers, own multicolored cats, put pepperoni on my cheese pizza, and all sorts of things. What it requires me to do, however, is to see all people as my neighbors and my brothers and sisters. Of course, there will be people I do not like, just like there are foods I cannot bring myself to eat, but that does not excuse me from the obligation to treat them as God’s children, just as I am. It requires me to treat the creatures and, indeed, the earth itself as a creation of God, to be respected, cared for, and loved.

I like the Peter I discovered in this story. It does not erase his humanity but adds to it in ways that make him easier to like and respect. Without his vision, I think Christianity, and perhaps the world, would be very different. 

Thanks, Peter. I think I will order a pizza – with sausage, mushrooms, and double cheese. Want a slice?

Saturday, July 1, 2023

Comfort and Listening


In all my years on this earth, one of my favorite memories is hearing Mama read to me at bedtime, like Bible stories, Little Golden Books, stories of heroes, and even tales of talking trains and construction equipment. I remember hearing her read a set of books called “Bedtime Stories” and then reading them myself a year or two later.  There were Bible stories and stories about children, primarily pointing out the difference between bad and good children. The stories were heavy and moralistic, sometimes even frightening to me as a child, but they were still books. Hearing Mama read them sometimes made me listen to her voice and not really hear the words she was reading to me. I remember the feeling I had then and wish I could remember the sound of her voice and not just the feeling of hearing it.

Retirement has given me the gift of time – a lot of time. There are times to do chores (which can be put off if necessary or even by choice), times to nap, periods for knitting or reading, and even watching TV. I often had to choose which I wanted to do more, read or knit, since I could not do both at once. I could read and watch TV (which I had done for years) and knit and watch TV, but I could not read and knit simultaneously. This was my quandary.

Then I found my solution. My e-reader allows me to access a program that lets me choose books I like and then reads them to me as I knit! It seems like the best thing since Mama. Granted, I have to pay for the books, but I purchase only books I know I will like, as I will probably listen to them as many times as I have read the digital copies. There is no compunction here about never re-reading a book. There are moments when I can recite a section of a book I am listening to because I have read it so many times in digital form.

All that got me thinking about the importance of listening: most of us are born with five active and working senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. We use those senses to learn about the world, the people who are our parents and siblings, and our teachers. We listen to lessons and learn how to read by matching the sound of the words to letters written on the board, but we must listen to know how to match the sounds to the words. To learn, we must learn to listen, a task that, in my mind, is much harder today since we have so many distractions.

We hear a lot about people in the Bible going to hear Moses, the prophets, holy people, and rabbis. There were no books, handouts, bullet points on a big screen behind the speaker, or even paper and pens to take notes. People had to listen and remember what was said, then return to their own families or communities and correctly transfer the knowledge they had gained to those who could not be there themselves.

People were more attuned to listening and “reading” people by paying attention to what they said, how they said it, and what their body language told them.  Scripture was essential and had to be transferred from one generation to another without error or change. We are told that in Jesus’ day, as in the millennia before, listening was the primary way of learning, and learning was the way to pass important information to the next generation in turn.

We do not listen as much anymore. We have our heads stuck in earphones or buds, the radio, television, cell phones, and just about any other communications devices we can carry around or sit and play with. If someone else is talking, quite often, we are busy in our own heads formulating a response to what we believe we heard, not necessarily what was said and how. As for reading body language, we are often too busy to notice.

Sitting and listening to my audiobook, whether my hands are busy with something that does not require much attention or not, has reminded me of the importance of not just hearing but allowing me to be immersed in what I hear. There are times when I need the sound of education that teaches me something I need to know, while at others, I need it to be like a security blanket, comforting, soothing, and familiar.

I hear my audiobook calling. There is another chapter or so to listen to before bedtime. I must decide whether to read a chapter from a Christian history textbook or a cozy mystery book based in a comfortable little town. Decisions, decisions. 

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Why Worry?

'So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today. – Matt. 6:34


There are times when I do the daily reading where I try as hard as I can to make whatever I have read relevant to whatever is going on in my life. I may read something about leprosy in the reading, but I cannot make leprosy fit into my thinking. Granted, I can come up with half a dozen things, but leprosy? Not really.

I do not remember Jesus talking about contamination running across the lawn and into the street for a month or so, but he did talk about people not following God's law, which was to love God and one's neighbor. I thought of that, but since the other four trailers on my side of the street contributed abundantly to my problem, it was not easy to love them, at least then.

Life lately has been a bit like the joke about what the beaver once said. "It's just one dam thing after another." I have heard that one at least a hundred times over the last fifty years, and it still makes me giggle. It is still as true for me as it was the first time someone brought it into conversation. It seems as if problems have come along in an almost predictable procession, usually involving something not working, being turned off sporadically (like water), financial issues, and similar difficulties. Things are all right now, but I tend to have my fingers crossed or raise a few prayers for a break in the almost steady flow of problems.

I had to smile when I ran across this part of the reading for today, "Do not worry…." I must have read that bit of scripture a hundred or more times over the course of my life, but this time it is as if I was being told not to worry about what is next; it will come in due time. It is true that today's problems are enough without borrowing trouble from tomorrow, next week, or even next year.

Jesus was undoubtedly familiar with worried people. The Samaritan woman at the well was probably as concerned as she could be that Jesus would reject her because of her ethnicity, her irregular marital status, and the fact that she was a single woman out without a male escort. She had plenty to worry about. Her neighbors probably reminded her of her almost outcast status daily, and a Jewish man was at the well closest to her home. Jesus surprised her. He spoke of her life and lifestyle without condemnation. He told her not to worry and gave her a message for her neighbors. He set her up as his first evangelist, giving her a message of hope for herself and others with worries, anxieties, and concerns.

I often pray the Serenity Prayer in troublesome times: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Over the years that I have been repeating that prayer, it has helped me not to worry nearly as much as I used to, and I certainly do not deliberately worry about what might happen somewhere or when. Life has been much more tranquil since I have made that prayer like a mantra, but now and again, life throws me a curve ball to remind me that life is not all beer and Skittles or that it is even a series of metaphors to be tossed around.

So, I thank God today for the reminder that worry is useless because it does not change anything. What will happen will happen, whether or not I fret about it. I should remember the part from Psalm 55, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee" (v. 22a). Whether I place it in a more modern version of English or the King James Version, I learned as a child, it is a reminder to let God take care of it. I do not know if Bobby McFerrin had God in mind, but he seemed to be channeling a message from God when he wrote the song that made him famous, "Don't worry, be happy." 

Sounds like good advice to me. There. I feel better already. 

Saturday, June 3, 2023

The Power of Memories


Grief and memory go together. After someone dies, that's what you're left with. And the memories are so slippery yet so rich. – Mike Mills, American musician

Yesterday I had to write a letter. I used to write lots of them back in the days before computers, text messaging, and the like. Some of my notes could fit on a postcard’s back, but most were two or more pages. I remember writing one letter that was sixteen pages, written on notebook paper, both sides. I do not remember what I said, but I am sure I wrote so much for a reason. It was probably just drivel, unimportant and trivial things I had done, heard, thought, or learned, but that stuff was important to me then. The lady I wrote to was a good friend and never complained. She also never failed to respond. That is one memory that I cherish.

I wrote the letter yesterday to another friend, older than me, who has known me all my life. We have shared many years and memories, but now I live three-quarters of the way across this country from her. Sure, I could telephone, but this time I had to write, or rather type, an actual letter. I was sending her a prayer shawl in the mail, and I wanted to explain the purpose of it, what the colors meant to me, the different stitches I had put into it, and mention that many prayers had gone into it. It was meant to be something soft, light, and comforting, like a gentle hug from far away. While writing, though, it brought back memories of things like her wedding, her family treating me like one of them, and her introducing me to Chinese food in my teens. There were days at the beach, shopping trips, lunch at various places around town, and afternoons spent organizing her jewelry box. It was all fun.

I think the letter was more than a page and a half, but I could have written a volume. I have many memories of her mother, in a way, taking the place of mine, who died when I was fourteen. Her mother helped me sew clothes for college, tried to teach me to cook some of my favorite dishes, and generally listened to my babble as I sat at her kitchen table, drinking iced tea and feeling like I was at home.

I wanted to remind my friend of all those memories, including the times I have tried to make her mother’s spoon bread but never could get it past the “If it looks like hog swill, you’ve got it right” stage. It was a dish she made often, frequently to be taken to a family in grief over the loss of a loved one. She reminded me that the spoon bread, full of butter, would slide down a throat clogged with tears when nothing else would. I mentioned the spoon bread in the letter since, if I lived closer and could get the dish to turn out like her mother’s, I would have taken it to my friend’s house. It would have been understood and welcomed since my friend was indeed in a state of grief. The shawl would have to replace the spoon bread, but hopefully would last much longer and demonstrate the sympathy and love that went into both.

I thought about my friend a great deal yesterday, running through memories like a child running through a meadow full of dandelions, buttercups, and daisies. Then I had what was indeed an insight: my friend and her family had demonstrated what God’s love was like -- accepting, protecting, sharing, feeding, listening, and a hundred other things. They were not church-goers, but they still illustrated what Jesus tried to teach about loving one’s neighbor. They were not rich, but they always had an extra potato to put in the pot so I could have dinner with them. They gave me good advice and taught me things I needed to know outside of school books. They shared their time with me. If those things were not examples of what Jesus taught, I would have missed the point of that lesson altogether. 

Rosa Parks once said, “Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.” That quote sums up God’s will and is a guideline to recognize God’s work in others who give without thinking or stinting. I am sure I won’t forget this insight quickly because it has lodged in my heart when I think of my neighbors who were more than neighbors. They were teachers of an exceptional kind, the kind Jesus would have approved. They put words into action without quoting.  

Look around you. Who teaches love and kindness to neighbors without saying a word about it? Have you done that in your own life and ministry? Have you investigated memories to see where you might find a lesson or insight?  I did, and I am glad. I would have missed a great life lesson. 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

An Episcopal Testimony


The TV is turned off. The sky is clouding up as twilight approaches. The wind is picking up, and there is a possibility of rain, which we could use around here. My mind is going round and round like a hamster in a cage about what I must write about tonight. I have thought of untangling some thoughts about the humanity of God, but I found Barth had written a series of lectures on the topic, so I canceled my musings until I had had time to read it and hopefully digest it.

Then I could discuss a quiz I found on Facebook (don’t quit reading yet, these are passing thoughts). It asked, “What kind of Anglican are you?” The questions were more thoughtful than the usual Facebook drivel. The first one was about what vestments you prefer with your litany.  There were about ten choices, starting with “Alb/surplice, cincture, stole, and chasuble” and went on to give responses such as all the liturgical garments worn in the English church, a response as to why we spend so much time discussing vestments when we should be talking about justice, an entry containing preaching bands, none at all, and some other choices.  The quiz continued, throwing in questions about theological issues (including tossing in some theological big-wigs) and the like. It kept me occupied with ten questions for at least half an hour.

I had to laugh at my results. My son’s godmother, with whom I had been friends since her younger son and I were in elementary school together, once gave me a pithy but memorable response to what kind of Episcopalian I was.  Was I “High and crazy, low and lazy, or broad and hazy?” I was delighted that my initial guess about my place in the Anglican/Episcopal church fit Granny’s categories. The result was Broad church. My self-diagnosis was dead on.

It brought me to consider Granny’s trio of categories of Episcopalian. She was a cradle-palian, so I felt that that qualified her to know which type was which. I do not necessarily agree with “crazy” or “lazy.” I do not think it is crazy to have incense flying left and right at the slightest inspiration (“Smoky Mary’s” comes to mind) or churches that were more like Baptist ones with no crucifixes, altar, communion at the rail with a chalice and paten, etc. I would not say those folks to like that kind of worship are not lazy, just people who respond to a bare minimum of action and distraction.

I knew from the moment I walked into All Souls’ Church in Washington DC, Granny’s home parish, that I felt at home. The music was sublime (no Victorian heart-rending poetry or melody), the language was that of the King James version, and one stood for worship, knelt for prayer, and sat for instruction. Kneeling was a new but welcome and very fitting position, especially when confessing my sins or other prayers. I did not take communion, but seeing people go to the altar and drink from a common cup and receive a host (taking the Body and Blood of Christ under both species, as the church puts it), brought the idea of true communion, not only with God, Jesus, and the Spirit, but with those who shared in the ritual. While I knew everybody in my Baptist church, I only knew Granny at this one, yet I felt closer to them than during a worship service back home.

I waited until my first year of college to be formally accepted into the Episcopal Church. I knew my family would be shocked, but Daddy did not seem to mind and gave me his permission and blessing. I would not have done it otherwise. Like a true Episcopalian,  after I was confirmed, I took a long sabbatical from church, finally returning to it on a Christmas Eve some two decades later. It was again like coming home, although I only knew a few people in the overflowing nave. I have left the church several times after that, but on my return, it felt like God was saying very firmly, “SIT! STAY!”

I am still an Episcopalian even though I do not attend church with any regularity. I used to be able to walk across the street to my parish church, but now I live further away and without transportation. I still believe in it and believe in God and the things the church taught me. I found myself to be more “Broad and hazy” than I did years ago because I learned I did not have to have hard and fast answers to everything. Ambiguity was fine with me, and I could say things like “Born of the Virgin Mary” and “Rose from the Dead” without crossing my fingers behind me. Did they happen as the Bible says? I do not have a clue, but it does not matter. I believe it anyway.

I love my Episcopal church even if I really wish they would not be so slow or wishy-washy about some things people feel strongly about. I believe if Jesus invites someone to the altar rail, even without baptism or formal reception into the church, they should be able to take the sacrament and let Jesus work within them. I believe that LGBTQ+ people, people of other races, nationalities, and cultures, mentally and physically handicapped or ill folks, and all people, from infants to older people, should be treated with respect and love. Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, including a much larger number than possibly Jesus could have imagined, having come from a small town.

I guess I have fallen into doing what the Baptists call a “testimony,” but I do not regret what I said here. Maybe it will spur someone to look at their life similarly. An examination is always a good thing.

God bless.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Fireflies and God's Presence


Our Education for Ministry (EfM) group had an interesting theological reflection the other night. The presenter brought a picture of a Raggedy Ann doll to share and begin the discussion. What emotion did the image bring to our minds?

Her emotions were about collecting Raggedy Ann dolls and also spending summer vacations with relatives in North Carolina. She began describing things she remembered with fondness. She mentioned things like cheese biscuits, ham, cornbread, and various regional foods. It made some of us with similar experiences suddenly feel very hungry. She had another memory of seeing her first fireflies, little black-and-red winged bugs whose abdomens flashed a greenish glow to signal with other fireflies. I immediately thought of the willow tree in my childhood front yard with fireflies (which we called lightnin’ bugs) blinking under the trailing whips and leaves. I needed the joy that memory brought me that night, and I continue to think of it with pleasure and fondness.

I needed the pleasure my own memories brought me. Two days earlier, I had gotten up to find the last of my “boys,” my little girl Phoebe, had crossed the rainbow bridge overnight. She was buried next to the shed with Dominic and Gandhi. I had said good morning to them since Gandhi passed just before Thanksgiving, so I added Phoebe to the morning greeting. Going back into a house devoid of cats yet with the toys, litter boxes, dishes, and the like wasn’t easy. It’s the first time my house has been empty of furry companions since before I moved here fifteen years ago.

I am slowly getting rid of the things I may never use again, but I might. Making those decisions is hard, and my heart aches for my furry bundles of joy. Now and again, though, I get little flashes of joy that pop up. One is my afternoon rainbows. They result from light in my western-facing window shining through many prisms that catch the light and project it in little bits of a rainbow on the opposing wall and ceiling. I do love those; they bring me peace and thoughts of God’s closeness.

Today, as I was washing dishes, the breeze caused three blossoms off my bougainvillea to chase each other over the black asphalt of my driveway. It only lasted a minute before they blew onto my neighbor’s lawn and just sat there. It was like watching three children playing – or three kittens. Maybe they were being batted around by three kittens I could not see, three tuxedo kittens that lay just a few feet away from the dancing blossoms.

There have been other moments of joy, like the memory of the lightning bugs, that help take the pain of my loss away, even if it is just for a few brief moments. It is not surprising that others pop up. For instance, a dear friend’s mother is having medical issues and is anxious about it. She is involved in a Bible study that seems to occupy her mind most of the time, but still, when someone thinks or mentions the C word, it tends to wipe other things away for a while. I had knitted a white prayer shawl with triangles (the number three again), so I sent it to her via my friend. It seems it was a very welcome gift, precisely the right color, and was very comforting. I got a lot of joy out of knowing that. Having gone through a bout of cancer myself more than a decade ago, I know how much things like that can help.

I know God was with me when I found Phoebe’s little body that morning, just as I remember God being present in the lightning bugs, the cancer diagnosis, and even with the dancing bluish-red flowers chasing each other for a brief time. It is easier to see God’s hand in the little joys, but perhaps when I need to feel God’s presence the most, I cannot feel it through the pain I or someone I care about is going through.  

I feel guilty when I forget God’s presence when sad, harmful, or awful things come along. I do have a feeling, though, that God understands I am only human. After all, even God let God’s grief show when Jesus, the beloved son, died on the cross. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, have died both before and after that Friday afternoon, but God had never before acted from grief rather than anger. I guess I should consider that God made us in God’s own image, complete with the ability to feel joy, anger, despair, and even grief.

Meanwhile, I still have the three outside boy cats I feed daily. I love them, but in a slightly different way than I did Phoebe and the indoor boys. It’s my way of caring for a little bit of nature and God’s creation. The purrs I get from at least two of them (the third is too new and skittish to approach yet) are my thanks and another bit of joy. I am glad I have that reminder too.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Rule #39, Spiritually Speaking


There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory.

So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first, but the physical, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.

What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  – 1 Corinthians 15:41-50


Those who watch the TV program NCIS are familiar with Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ numerous rules. They are words of wisdom that often help the agents (and Gibbs – and, incidentally, fans of the show) see a situation in a different way. One of the often-quoted ones is Rule #39, “There is no such thing as a coincidence.” Really? Reading the lesson from 1 Corinthians today would seem to refute that, given that today I will attend the funeral of a lovely woman. I was pleased and honored to call her  “friend” for some time, although not nearly long enough, to my way of thinking. Granted, it was often hard for Gibbs’ agents not to see coincidences given their line of work. Still, Rule #39 showed up frequently in their episodes.  

One thing I can be sure of is that L will undoubtedly rise in glory, spiritually, if not physically. She lived a good life, practiced love for her fellow human beings and four-footed friends, worked hard, and comforted those who needed a shoulder to lean on. She used her gift for crafting to delight those who received those items made with love and beauty. Watching her decline rapidly due to cancer was heart-wrenching for those who knew and loved her. Still, I know most of them feel relief that her excruciating suffering is over. As St. Paul noted, the first human was made of dust, a physical body covering a spirit like all of us. Jesus, the second man, was a spiritual man in a physical body. He rose from the dead, having shed that physical body and in full custody of his spiritual (and visible) person.

We have been taught that we may have been born of dust but bear the spiritual image of Christ once we shed that shell of dust and clay. We hope to rise from the dead on Resurrection Day, just as Jesus rose on Easter. We also hope to be reunited with those who have preceded us into the kingdom of heaven (which I devoutly hope includes four-footed loved ones).

I cannot entirely agree with (or understand) Paul’s words sometimes, but I have no problem in this case. It is a hope that I cling to. I have lost so many friends and family members that I hope to see again. More certainly is that I will probably lose more before I, too, join those who have, to quote Shakespeare’s Hamlet,”…[S]huffled off this mortal coil.” I believe in the resurrection of the dead, as the Prayer Book assures us, and I have faith that God will be generous.

I may not agree with Gibbs’s rules one hundred percent of the time, just as I do not agree with Paul. Today, though, I cannot totally call this a coincidence, but it is closer to one than not. Maybe there needs to be Rule #39A – “Occasionally, two things happen together that make you wonder.” I think I can subscribe to that one. Meanwhile, I will just keep believing.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

A Story from a Wood Carving.


When will I ever learn? I scroll through Facebook daily, sometimes several times a day, and often leave a comment or a rating on posts I see, like, or dislike. Today, I saw a picture of a most striking and masterful wood carving of a warrior-type man beside a cliff. His foot was placed on a rather evil-looking creature with bat-shaped ears and an evil face, lying almost prone on the ground but with its head raised from the dirt. It occurred to me that it could be a modern St. George, but instead of a slain dragon, it was an unearthly creature that was defeated but not dead. I clicked on one of the choices but did not remember which one. The vote was based on the skill and detail of the carving rather than the story it was conveying. I wish now I had copied the image and the attribution.

It was not until I got into bed that I started really thinking more about that carving. I still saw St. George in it, but then I thought it should be Jesus defeating the foes of hell. That was when my mind started telling me a story.

I saw Jesus walking down a road alone, with only a staff. His path left the main road and wound through the hills and scrub of the surrounding desert. He sat down beside a huge boulder to rest briefly in its shade when suddenly he found he was not alone. A man stood in front of him.

"I have looked for you, brother, and here I find you," the stranger said. "I serve a great and powerful person who has heard of you and your skill with words and deeds of power. My master has sent me to find you and bring you to him. He has a great task for you, and you will be rewarded richly."

"I know who your master is, and I have all the worldly goods I need. I do not need rich rewards. I serve the One my heart, body, and soul loves and honors. I need no other master," Jesus told him.

"Ah, but my master can give you the whole world and all that is in it if you simply come with me and yield to him," the man cajoled. He knew that failure in his task would mean severe consequences when he returned to his master.

Jesus retorted, "I serve One for whom the whole world is His Kingdom. He created it in love and oversees it with that same love and care. Your master can only offer a crumbling shell."

"Ah," the man replied, "But my master can make you his sole heir. He can give you charge over the multitudes that look to him already and promise you success in recruiting more to his side. The earth's treasures will be yours, and all the people of this world will look to you as their god. They will sing your praises and bow to your name. They will offer you sacrifices and bring great gifts to your temples. They will fear your wrath and worship you with great adoration. You will want for nothing, and nothing will be denied you."

Jesus stood up. "I know who you are and who you serve. I can and will serve only the God of Heaven and Earth, Creator and Ruler of the Universe, God of love and trust. He is my Father, and I owe all that I am and have to Him. I need nothing you can offer."

Bending over, Jesus picked up a small handful of dust. Opening his hand, he blew on the dust and dispersed it. "This represents the promises of your master. My Father offers living water and fertile fields. His children are as numerous as the stars in the sky, and the very Sun and Moon obey His commands. What does your master have that can compare?

"I cannot kill you, but I can defeat you with the Word and Power of my Father. Turn your ways toward the true God and away from the evil you and your kind wreak on the children of God. Only by doing that is your life ensured."

The man began to collapse on the ground. His countenance changed from the human form he had assumed and became more like the skin and ears of a bat. As he writhed on the ground, he raised his head as Jesus set his foot on his back. "You are correct, you cannot kill me, and I cannot change my allegiance to my master even though he can destroy me easily. One day we will meet again in a final battle. You have defeated me this time. I  look forward to our next meeting, Jesus of Nazareth."

At this point, the story stopped. The image of the carving began to fade, bit by bit. Still, I clung to the account my mind had created from it. Only by loving and following Jesus and obeying the commandments of God would I gain eternal life, a life that I was promised as a Child of God.

As I, and all other Christians, approach Holy Week and the days leading up to the joyous celebration of Easter at the end, the lesson is clear. We must believe, but we also must act. It is not enough to think of eternal salvation as an individual pursuit. We have to consider all the words of God that tell us to treasure and care for the earth but also to do the same for all the people of this earth. Easter seems a good time to rededicate ourselves to our Baptismal Covenant and acknowledge that God has given us work to do. Belief is empty without it fostering action. Only then can we genuinely claim all God has promised us through Jesus.

Originally published on Episcopal Café as part of Episcopal Journal, Tuesday, April 3, 2023.