Saturday, March 31, 2018

An Eyewitness Speaks

My name is Miriam. It's a common name in my world, and there were at least three of us who stood at the bottom of the cross yesterday as our leader and Rabbi hung there, a victim of Jewish jealousy and Roman fear of insurrection.

While no women had ever been named disciples or apostles, we women were there to support those who were so named, as well as to enable us to be near Jesus and to learn from and of him. Most of us had means so we were able to help buy food, and we cooked and did such work as was normal for women in our time. It was hard to live, going from place to place as we followed Jesus, but somehow it didn't matter. What was important was being near him and feeling his gentleness, power, and love. He taught us a new way of living, and for that we loved him even more.

The night he went to Gethsemane, we were not permitted to come along. The first we heard of the trouble was when others came back to where we were and told us that Jesus had been arrested. They told us about Judas betraying him, and we all gasped in shock because Judas had been as a brother to us, just like all the others. Yet he had betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. It was so hard to comprehend. It was Judas who pointed Jesus out to the Roman soldiers who invaded Gethsemane and bound Jesus’s hands behind his back before pushing him back towards the city itself and Herod’s praetorium. Now we knew where Peter had gone.

We heard the next morning the Jesus was going to be crucified. It was a shameful form of execution, with no dignity given to the accused, no pity, and no empathy. We ran to Golgotha, the place of the skull, and we waited as he was brought up the hill, with a stranger carrying his cross for him. Jesus had been beaten severely and savagely, and he had a crown of thorns on his head which made his scalp bleed profusely. The stripes on his back were bloody and deep, and his hands and knees were scraped and raw because he had fallen several times under the weight of that wooden cross they had forced them to carry.

Finally, they forced Jesus to lie down on the crossed pieces of wood and hammered nails into his wrists and into the sides of his heels. Many who had experienced this screamed in agony, but Jesus uttered not a single sound. They hoisted the cross up so that his whole weight hung by those nails in his wrists. We could hear him as he gasped for breath, and occasionally he would try to push himself upright to take the strain off his arms so that he could breathe more easily. It was a painful struggle, and painful to watch.

We moved close to the foot of the cross, close enough for him to see us women and to know that we were with him. The only disciple that came with us was his beloved John. The others stayed hidden for fear of being arrested themselves.

We could see the blood flowing from wounds. It must have been agony every time his back moved against the rough wood of the cross, but still he said nothing. Jesus spoke out several times, not in screams of agony or even moans of deep pain. At one time he began to recite a psalm,” My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was as if for the very first time in his entire life Jesus felt deserted, and at a time when he most needed the comforting presence of God. It must have broken Jesus's heart, for we saw tears running down his face and there was nothing we could do to comfort him. At the end he cried out one last time, "It is finished. Into thy hands I commend my spirit," and with a shudder he died.

His side was pierced with a lance, just to make sure he was dead. They took him down after a while, and a rich man who had followed Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, claimed the body. After wrapping it in linen, his men carried the body away. Most executed criminals were not given such treatment, but Joseph was influential, and when he asked, Jesus body was given to him. It was getting close to sunset, so they hurried to a new tomb that had been carved out of rock, Joseph’s own future tomb. They placed the body on the stone slab and quickly rolled the stone across the face of it before rushing home for the beginning of Sabbath.

Our own Sabbath came, and we gathered in an upper room, men and women alike, mourning the loss of our teacher, our spiritual guide, and our friend. There were wails and sobs, but we weren't allowed to truly mourn because it was the Sabbath and mourning was forbidden on the Sabbath. Still we sat, tears running down our cheeks, as we spoke of Jesus. We spoke of the lessons that he had tried to teach us, the prayers he taught us, the happy moments, as well as the sad moments we spent with him. It was all we could do to try to understand this loss; it was so great yet could not really be expressed. Had it been any other day of the week, we women would have gone to the tomb and anointed his body with herbs and spices and then wrapped him in clean linen and then left him in that tomb. Being the Sabbath, however, we were not permitted to do that, or even really to leave the house except to go to synagogue or the temple. That day which you call Holy Saturday seemed like it was a million years long. Only when the sun set could we thank God the Father that we had made it through that horrible, empty, lonely day.

You of course know the rest of the story. You know what happened on that first day of the week when sunrise came, and we could leave to go and do what we needed to do. It's no surprise to you, but to us it was incredulous, unbelievable, and confusing. Then we went back and told the others and they came and saw what we had seen, an empty tomb.

On the first day of the week, the day you call Easter, you express the joy that we felt when we found why the tomb was empty, when we saw our beloved Rabbi among us again, and could hear his voice once again preaching, teaching, and being among us despite scars that remained on his body.

May you have a blessed Easter — tomorrow. Today, remember us who were so lost and so disconsolate but who ultimately witnessed a miracle called the resurrection.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 31, 2018, under the title "Eyewitness."

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Commemoration of Óscar Romero

It was a peaceful day in an area known for strife and murder. Inside the convent chapel, the priest elevated the host in the great moment of the mass. Suddenly a shot rang out and the priest slumped to the floor. The assassins quietly left the chapel and drove off, leaving the scene of horror for the nuns who witnessed it. The priest was the Archbishop of El Salvador, Óscar Romero, and he was dead.

Archbishop Romero was and is known in El Salvador for his fight for human and civil rights. The corrupt government of El Salvador in Romero’s time made life easy for the rich, but extremely hard for those who scrape their livings off the meager grounds that they could use. Gangs moved freely and usually with governmental permission to kidnap, rape, torture or kill almost at will. Dissension was ruthlessly stamped out. Romero fought the government and in return, he paid for it with his life.

In 1980, when Romero’s assassination occurred, the idea of a shooting in a church, especially in a Roman Catholic Church in a Roman Catholic country with the Archbishop of the country being gunned down was a horrifying story for the news to carry. Things like that just didn't happen.

I remember soon after arriving in the Philippines in 1970 for a three-year tour with my husband, and hearing that not all that long before, the mayor of a neighboring town and part of his family were killed by insurgents who came into the church during mass, selected their targets and shot them. That was hard to believe, and that was in the 1970s and in a country where seeing people walk around with submachine guns was common. I see somewhat the same thing now, only people carrying assault weapons.

Romero was a hero to his people and, after his death, his countrymen and others within civil rights communities around the world considered him a saint for his stand against oppression and cruelty. That he should die, especially in the way that he did, just increased the visibility of the problems.

In 1997, the martyred archbishop was beatified and made a Servant of God by Pope John Paul II. Recently, Pope Francis stated that Romero would be made an official saint sometime in the next year. The road to sainthood is almost complete, but I don't think Romero would be overjoyed. Long before the Pope declared it, he was a servant of God and a servant of his people. His life was dedicated to his flocks and they knew it. They felt the intensity of his care and his love for them, and they responded to it. They felt God working through him.

Romero was a martyr. He was doing his job. He was preaching the gospel. He was paying attention to the things that were wrong and trying to enable the kingdom of God on earth in his country. The oppression continued in El Salvador until 1992, when the government was overthrown, and the slaughter ceased. Among the dead were 75,000 according to the UN, and included Romero, four Maryknoll sisters and nine Jesuits who died two years after Romero. They are also included in the commemoration of his day as the martyrs of El Salvador.

During the upcoming holy week, we focus on the martyrdom of Jesus on Good Friday. An innocent man, falsely convicted, decried by the temple, the Romans, and ordinary people. Jesus died for his faith and for his teachings, just as Romero did. Romero's execution took his life in a matter of heartbeats while Jesus is martyrdom took hours. While we observe Good Friday and all that it entails, perhaps looking back on the teachings of Jesus and how martyrs all around the world have met their ends violently for those same beliefs and their attempts to follow Jesus as best they understand.

This week I think I'll remember Romero and all the martyrs for the faith who died trying to do their best to follow the will of God and to help their neighbor by loving them and caring for them. Good Friday will have an adequate memorial for the death of the One who inspired Romero and all the martyrs, and so it's worth taking the time to see those martyrs around the foot of the cross praying, crying, and resolving to not let that death be in vain. For Romero, Easter would come, not in 1980, the year of his death, but it would come and with it the resurrection.

Have a blessed holy week.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, March 24, 2018.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

St. Patrick's Breastplate

St. Patrick's Day, a day when things turn green. People wear green T-shirts, eat green bagels, drink green beer, stuff themselves with corned beef and cabbage and potatoes, and in short, party. It doesn’t matter whether or not they are actually Irish, of Irish descent, or even adopted Irish. Everybody’s Irish (except for those who are of Orange descent and sometimes even Orangemen). All of this is in honor of the saint known as St. Patrick, a patron saint of Ireland.

Patrick wasn't actually Irish. He was born in Britain around 390, the son of a deacon and grandson of a priest. He was kidnapped by Irish pirates in his early teens and sold as a slave in Ireland. He really was not too interested in religion, even though his family were Christians, but his stint in slavery gave him lots of time to discover an interest and a deepening faith. Upon his return to Britain, after escaping slavery, he returned to his family, and eventually became a priest himself.

Several years after his ordination, he was sent back to Ireland as a missionary and evangelist. Through him, many of the Picts and Anglo Saxons were converted to Christianity, as well as many Celts. One reason for his success was his ability to meld Celtic and Christian symbols, belief and practices together, with each faction finding things they could accept and practice, such as the possibly apocryphal story of his explaining the Trinity by using a 3-leafed shamrock. Given his early slavery in Ireland, Patrick was a staunch opponent of slavery and made his beliefs about this quite clear.

Patrick wrote a spiritual diary, of sorts, detailing his spiritual progress and his shortcomings. This book, known as Confessio was a glimpse into his deep spirituality and is a classic of early Christian writings.

One of his best-loved lot attributions was what is called Saint Patrick’s Breastplate or the Lorica of Saint Patrick. It's a very Celtic kind of prayer such as would be prayed by one facing a dangerous journey (which was the alleged reason for its writing) or even from everyday perils. Layer by layer Patrick sought to surround himself with the blessings of the Trinity, the company of heaven, natural forces of earth and the heavens, God’s care for every aspect of his life, and, in a pair of verses not usually read with the Lorica, asked protection from Satan, heresy, sin, idolatry, wizard’s craft, death-wounds, burning, choking, and poison. This prayer was his armor, his mental buckling on of impenetrable mental and spiritual protection.

It's a beautiful prayer. We have it in our hymnal (Hymnal 1982, #370 1), as do other churches within the communion. It's generally sung around St. Patrick's Day but also at times of ordinations and consecrations, or just about any time a long processional is needed.

Our most familiar translation of the Breastplate is a poetic one done by Cecil Villiers Stanford.The first group of verses is very lyrical, then comes a center section that changes in meter and in a different mode of description. This is the part that always makes me feel as if I were wrapped in a soft warm blanket when I read it or sing it. In the hymn book it lies as verse six:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me,

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ and mouth of friend and stranger.

I can't think of a prayer that so completely puts me in the hand of Jesus.  Christ is present in all planes and dimensions of my being.

In another, more literal, translation, it comes even closer, I think:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in the eye of everyone who sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.2

It seems to me that everything that I am and do should reflect the Christ that surrounds me, fills me, and directs me. I think it's a wonderful prayer for all of us in times of trouble, because it reminds us that Jesus is all that we are, have, and will be. Patrick's confidence was amply displayed when he prayed this prayer.

If, on Sunday, I find myself in church, singing, "I bind unto myself today," I won’t groan because it takes up about 2 1/2 pages of the hymnal, because it seems boring (which I don’t find it at all), or "What's that weird part in the middle?” I try to read the words as I sing them and try to understand what Patrick or whoever wrote it was trying to accomplish with this prayer. It was a very personal prayer and a very Celtic one, possibly derived from a type of pagan prayer called a “binding spell.” Patrick’s adoption of Celtic tradition to incorporate into worship was one of his great abilities. It's a pretty good prayer to consider even if I only read it once or twice a year. Saint Patrick has left me a nice warm blanket to help me feel safe and loved, because the world of the Trinity is a world of love – and, on one day of the year, a world of green things and camaraderie among all manner of folk.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

God bless.


  1. Hymnal 1982, Church Hymnal Corporation, New York (1985), #370. Words attributed to Patrick (372-466), translated by Cecil Villiers Stanford (1852-1924). Verse 6 is sung to the tune of Deirdre, one of the oldest known pieces of Irish music. The remaining verses are given the tune name St Patrick’s Breastplate.
  2. St. Patrick's Breastplate, publisher unknown, Translation by Kuno Meyer ca. 1920.
  3. St Patrick’s Breastplate is also known as “The Deer’s Cry”.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul at Episcopal Café Saturday, March 17, 2018.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


I have recently taken up knitting again. I used to do it, probably 30 years ago or more, but I got away from it for some reason. In Arizona, all the sweaters, heavy shawls, afghans, and ponchos are seldom needed, but it's a temptation to do handcrafts just for the pure pleasure of it. Still, with yarn come tangles.

The other day I bought a skein that had obviously been at least partially used and just put back on the shelf, half in the skein in half out. Since it was the only skein of that yarn in the three cities around which I circulate, I bought it, and promptly spent a number of hours that day and the day after, trying to untangle the mess that someone had left. I finally got aggravated in one spot and just cut first one end and then the other end of the tangle, and that was that. Normally I am very good at untangling tangles. I actually like doing it: fishing line, clothes line, yarn, macramé string, kite string, I like untangling them all. I can spend hours doing it and not really get frustrated. My fingers in a way seem to know where the yarn needs to be teased apart just to find where the main knot or tangle is, and the best way to get it straightened out.

As much as I don’t really mind tangled yarn, I hate tangled thinking and tangled words. I have occasional aphasia, which makes me use the wrong word. It absolutely aggravates me beyond all measure. I have no patience with aphasia whatsoever. I have trouble thinking of it as just another form of tangle that needs to be undone. So, the neurons in the communications center of my brain get tangled up every now and then, so what? It's just that for somebody who likes words as much as I do, I find it frustrating when I know perfectly well what I want to say, but it comes out wrong because my brain told my tongue to say something different.

Tangles or entanglements or entangling shows up occasionally in the Bible. Probably the one that's easiest for me to understand is when the Pharisees surrounded Jesus and tried to trap him by getting him tangled up in his words. Jesus’s facility with words confounded the ones trying to entangle him and they walked away frustrated. There are several other references, one of which is when Moses and the Israelites were in the desert and, having walked a fair way in one direction, turned around and headed back the way they came to try to confuse Pharaoh’s soldiers who were trying to get them back to Egypt. Another tangle -- Moses was one who had a tangled tongue. His brother Aaron was chosen as spokesman for Moses when Moses needed to give God’s words to the people.

I seem to run into entanglements in my personal life quite often. It's so easy to get tangled up, especially when I leap before you look. I confess, although I tend to hang back on many occasions, there others were I indulgently leap forward only to find out the nice comfortable dry shore that I'm trying to reach is either out of range and I'm going to get wet or I fall face first into a rock. Each time I do that I think that I really should have done it differently, but somehow, in the course of life, I usually forget that until it's too late again. Confessions of a slow learner.

It's sometimes difficult to listen to news stories and soundbites that feature people who seem to talk in such a way as to tangle up what they actually mean with what they actually say. It's hard these days to know what's real and what isn't, because what's announced joyfully on one network is squashed and totally different on another. Even the people who are giving us the information tangle it up. How many times have we heard someone say that something is going to happen only to be told the next day, well, we really didn't mean it that way. It's like being in a giant tangle of fishing line, very fine fishing line, and trying to untangle it seems like almost impossible task.

I don’t think God really intends for us to be tangled up. The 10 Commandments are relatively straightforward, even though we have to remember that in some ways some of them are now interpreted slightly differently than what has been done when God first gave them to Moses. I often wonder why God didn't put in some other things that may be would be helpful, like “Thou shalt not speed on the highway,” or “Thou shalt not be spit on the sidewalk,” or “Be polite; a smile won’t kill you."  

Okay, most of those are covered with some commandment or other, but not all of them can be read literally. Today we consider “Thou shalt not kill” to mean we shouldn't commit murder and looking at the statistics on the television and the radio, a lot of people ignore that one completely. Then you have the folks who argue that killing anyone is murder, although in wartime it’s perfectly fine. One side is urged to kill the other and vice versa. Whether or not it's killing seems to depend solely on one's position.  And then again there are those who believe in the "I've got mine, too bad about you," the folks who have what they want and need but do not feel it's necessary to share with those who are less fortunate, even small children who starve to death in our own country. Some will tell us all “Well, it's their own fault. They shouldn't have had the children if they couldn't afford to feed them,” or “It's not my job to take care of somebody else's kids.” But just wait until their child gets sick. They are the ones demanding that their insurance cover everything and that their child get the very best treatment possible. Meanwhile, maybe just across town, homeless child dies from a very preventative illness, but without any medical care or insurance, there's nothing their parents can do for them.

We've got a lot of problems these days, individual and collective, that we need to get straightened out. I know I do, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this ark. Jesus’s solution, I think, to being in tangled is to be to be simple, to read and follow the Beatitudes, and mostly to love God and love their neighbor as themselves. That's a pretty simple group of words, and almost impossible to get tangled up in. Simple solutions to complex problems? Why not? Those complex problems started out pretty simple ones, but nobody paid attention.

Perhaps it's time for us to go back to the simple ways. To be community, to look out after one another, and try to avoid tangling the fishing line or the knitting yarn or the kite strings. Remember K. I. S. S.,” Keep it simple, ******”. I don't think we necessarily need to call ourselves or anybody else by pejoratives, but keep it simple. The message that God gives us over and over and over again in the Bible to love your God, love your neighbor as yourself. How much simpler can it be?

I'll probably continue to untangle knitting yarns, crochet thread, and boardroom flaws, although I think kite strings and fishing line are out of my lifestyle currently in my life. Maybe I should do with my own life what I try to do with the yarn -- keep it simple, avoid entanglements, work patiently, and take my time. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café, Saturday, March 10, 2018.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

A Little Child...

We’ve always prided ourselves as a nation that seem to care about children. We focused on kids when it came time to really get some changes made in the health and safety realm: lead paint; lead and other chemicals in the water; unsafe schools with asbestos and more lead paint; auto safety seats for children; increased security in hospitals for infants and children; and a desire to give the children the best education possible, all of which were goals that we had for our children and the children of the future.

It's become almost impossible to read a news feed or a newspaper or even pick up a magazine that does not have a story somewhere about children, whether children in trouble from poverty or lack of basic healthcare, children who are exposed to toxic chemicals and waste, and whose health has been seriously affected because of it. We also get stories of children living in abject poverty, many them homeless, and probably as many who are under housed in shacks without running water or heat other than a fireplace or a wood stove. On the other hand, we're hearing more and more from our kids, kids who have been exposed to a form of terror most of us can't say we ever experienced and can only imperfectly understand.

I remember atomic bomb drills in high school where a signal would come on and everyone would rush into the hall to find an empty locker, then kneel on the floor with our heads in them as a form of protection. I’m not sure how much good that would've done on in the long run, had we actually had an atomic bomb attack, but it was felt to be the best that could be offered at the time.

Flash forward to today. We have had almost two dozen shootings, many of them in and around schools, where children and teens have been killed, injured, or traumatized in such a way that some of them may not be able to recover from this. We tut-tut, send our prayers and thoughts, but then we demand that somebody do something. And here come the kids, the survivors and those who fear for their own safety unless something happens, and soon.

Survivors of the latest school shooting in Florida have stood up and said enough is enough. They have planned marches and spoken publicly about their experiences and what they see as necessary to be done to protect their safety in the future. Some of them have gotten some horrid comments and bullying messages about their stance, but they haven't stopped their protest. Now teens across the country are joining that movement, walking out of school and marching to make visible their protest to the fact that their schools aren't safe because their streets aren't safe, and their streets aren't safe because guns are easy to access, and anger is rampant.

Jesus said to “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:14). What would Jesus say about the plights of our kids – those who are innocent and those who are depressed, angry, and see no other alternative to violence?

The whole argument about how to make our kids safe hit me last Sunday when I was in Walmart picking up cat food, a fairly routine trip for this household anyway. In front of me in the checkout line was a man and a little boy who was busy helping his dad clean out the grocery cart, standing in the cart and very quickly and precisely handing his father each item without dropping it, spilling it, or missing his father's hands. He had gorgeous big brown eyes, a cherubic face, and a cute little boy haircut. He was well dressed although not Brooks Brothers, but I noticed that he had a plain shirt on and so did his dad. I asked about his age and his father said the boy was about 2 1/2. I looked at the child and I said, “You're a very helpful little boy. You are really good at helping your daddy.” His comment was, “Thank you ma'am." Ma'am? I haven't been called that in a very long time, but this came out of this little boy, without prompting from his father at all. I was gob smacked. A child being raised with manners. It was so refreshing after what we've heard about teens going wild and doing drugs and disrespecting anyone and everyone, and even small children gaining access to guns and shooting themselves, a sibling, or a friend.

When they got ready to leave, I complemented the father and the mother on their raising of the child, and how verbal he was at such a young age. They smiled, thanked me, and as the father began to push the cart away, the little boy turned to look at me and he said, “Have a nice day, ma’am.”. It suddenly made me think that maybe there is hope for this generation and the generation to come if at least one child can be taught respect for others and have a healthy self-image to boot.

I can see that little boy as one of those children on Jesus's lap. He was representative of all children. He was innocent, clever, and very well spoken for a child his age, pronouncing his words clearly, correctly, and appropriately. His parents certainly cared enough about him to work hard with him to make sure that he was equipped to go out into a world where he might be a little bit different than other kids, but he was also being prepared for adulthood, quite a way down the road of life. I hope I run into him again sometime. He gave me a renewed faith in my fellow human beings, at least for a little while.

Jesus was about love, yet today it seems to be that one for one person's definition of Jesus is the antithesis of someone else's. Somehow, I think we need to find ways of showing the love of and for Jesus that we have received. It may be our best (and maybe only) chance to reach lost and hurting kids (and adults as well) and begin to rebuild that kingdom of God on earth that we all dream of.

Bless that little boy. I don't know his name or really anything about him, but it seemed that Jesus seemed to shine from him. There was a sense of peace, innocence, joy, and hope about him. I wish I could shield that little child from what he's going to learn as he grows older of people's inhumanity to others and how hatred fuels the fires that produce violence. But then, maybe he’s the hope of tomorrow, one of the teens who aren’t afraid to speak up and speak out. Maybe those who protest now will be an inspiration for him and kids like him. 

And a little child shall lead them…

God bless.

Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Caf é Saturday, March 3, 2018.