Dear Folks,

What do we do with the days that stretch between now and Christmas?  (Clue: shopping and cocktail parties may not be the most satisfying answers.)  How can we slow down and get quiet, even for just a few minutes?  How do we hear the silence through the jangle of year-end deadlines and the buzz in our own heads?  How do we make room for something holy, when what we’re mostly waiting for is a better job, or a decent place to live, or a letter from a college, or a little love in our life?

Here’s a picture of Advent that one poet paints.  “Look how long the weary world waited, locked in its lonely cell, guilty as a prisoner.  As you can imagine, it sang and whistled in the dark.  It hoped.  It paced and puttered about, tidying its little piles of inconsequence.  It wept from the weight of ennui, draped like shackles on its wrists.  It raged and wailed against the walls of its own plight.  But there was nothing the world could do to find its own freedom.  The door was shut tight.  It could only be opened from the outside.  Who could believe the latch would be turned by a pink flower—the tiny hand of a newborn baby?” (Pamela Cranston)

It surprises me every year to remember that the darkness of the world is pierced by the twinkling eyes of a baby in a manger, someone who wants to be fed and changed.  “I see you,” the eyes say.  “I need you.”  Somehow we find God and our best selves in this fragile promise between two people… maybe a parent and her child, maybe a couple of friends or siblings, maybe even between strangers.  “I’ll take care of you, until you don’t need me anymore,” we promise.   And then we hope against hope that “You’ll take care of me, if I ever get lost, or when I’m sick or old and tired.”  We know it doesn’t always work out very well, either in a particular household or within the family of man, so we tell the story again each December to hear what we’ve been missing, and to see if we can get it right this time around.  The only eyes that God can look out are ours, the season reminds us, and if the world’s wounds are going to be bound up, then it’s our hands that will do it.  And every heart will be made a little more whole in the process.

This Saturday, Caroline and I will lead an Advent retreat: two hours of silence and a few carefully chosen words.  We will invite you to experience the particular sacrament of this season: life being born anew.

Be silent.  “I ask you to be thoughtful about the noise in your life.  Perhaps you might consider tuning out, turning off, and saying no.  Saying no might be the word of God.” (Z. Vance Wilson)

Watch.  “You reveal your presence to us in unexpected places, in unexpected times, through unexpected people, in unexpected forms.” (Jayakiran Sebastian)

Wait.  “Ask me about this blessing… and I will tell you… of the seed that knows its season and the wordless canticle of stars that will not cease their singing…” (Jan Richardson)

Make space.  “When Advent seeps into our souls, we come to understand that small is not nothing and empty is not bereft.  To be small is to need, to depend on the other.  Smallness bonds us to the rest of the human race and frees us from” isolation.  “To be empty is to be available inside to attend to… the blessings of life.” (Joan Chittister)

Join us in the chapel on Saturday morning from 9:30-11:30.

Love, David

As a child growing up in Timonium, chicken was my family’s fowl-du-jour for Thanksgiving. My parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from The Philippines in the 1960’s, each with a suitcase in one hand and big hopes and dreams in the other, were not familiar with turkey. And so a baked chicken, seasoned with salt, pepper and a few dashes of paprika, was our family’s simple Filipino-American Thanksgiving meal for several years, with steamed rice, vegetables, and “bibingka” for dessert (sweet rice cake made with coconut and milk), until my sister and I were older.

Sitting at Thanksgiving dinner eating our chicken and rice, my mother used to tell us how her father, a high school principal in Ballesteros, a small town on the northern coast of the northernmost Philippine island of Luzon, was not pleased when he learned she wished to emigrate. Understandably, neither he nor my grandmother wished for their only daughter to live halfway across the world from them. It was my mother’s oldest brother, my Uncle Pons, who became her greatest cheerleader and advocate, giving her emotional and financial support so she could achieve her dream.

Last Sunday in church, Caroline began her sermon on faithful discipleship and risk-taking by recounting the story of the 102 courageous souls who boarded The Mayflower in 1620 and set sail from Plymouth, England, for a new life across the Atlantic. Since then I have been thinking of the countless trans-Atlantic and other voyages taken by courageous souls over the centuries and recent decades — both the voyages freely chosen, and the ones enforced, against people’s will — that have shaped the full, ongoing narrative of our country.

And I have been reflecting on our country’s narrative in the light of this coming Sunday’s “Feast of Christ the King”, when we are given the chance once again to reflect on and imagine “Christ’s reign”: a reality where the outcast and the established, the saint and the sinner, the stranger and the beloved-known, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, regardless of race or class or politics or religion or whatever-barriers-we-humans-place-between-one-another, coexist in life-giving relationship with each other, as human travelers on one sacred, earthly voyage together.

We are still en route to this glorious vision, and we each have our oar to pull, our piece of the narrative to write. This voyage takes all the courage and the will, all the resources and all the heart, we have to give it. As we celebrate our great American feast of Thanksgiving, a feast that is universal at its core, let us give thanks for the blessings of our lives, including the chance to be on this voyage, traveling en route together.


Dear Folks,

Some years more than others, we have to prepare for Thanksgiving beyond the pies and the turkeys and the stuffing.  In November 1962, only weeks after the Cuban missile crisis, the young president of the United States wrote this to a rattled nation:

“It is fitting that we observe this year our own day of thanksgiving. It is fitting that we give our thanks for the safety of our land, for the fertility of our harvests, for the strength of our liberties, for the health of our people. We do so in no spirit of self-righteousness. We recognize that we are the beneficiaries of the toil and devotion of our fathers and that we can pass their legacy on to our children only by equal toil and equal devotion. We recognize too that we live in a world of peril and change–and in so uncertain a time we are all the more grateful for the indestructible gifts of hope and love, which sustain us in adversity and inspire us to labor unceasingly for a more perfect community within this nation and around the earth.”

In his invitation to the country, I hear Kennedy imploring himself.

“Let us renew the spirit of the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving, lonely in an inscrutable wilderness, facing the dark unknown with a faith borne of their dedication to God and a fortitude drawn from their sense that all men were brothers.

Let us renew that spirit by offering our thanks for uncovenanted mercies, beyond our desert or merit, and by resolving to meet the responsibilities placed upon us.

Let us renew that spirit by sharing the abundance of this day with those less fortunate, in our own land and abroad. Let us renew that spirit by seeking always to establish larger communities of brotherhood.

Let us renew that spirit by preparing our souls for the incertitude’s ahead–by being always ready to confront crisis with steadfastness and achievement with grace and modesty.

Let us renew that spirit by concerting our energy and our hope with men and women everywhere that the world may move more rapidly toward the time when Thanksgiving may be a day of universal celebration.

Let us renew that spirit by expressing our acceptance of the limitations of human striving and by affirming our duty to strive nonetheless, as Providence may direct us, toward a better world for all mankind.”

We, too, have more to do this year than grocery shop and fix old recipes.  It won’t be easy or fast, and it will take all of us pulling together.  We need to make some things which have grown old feel brand new again:

Let us reclaim the vision of America as the land of liberty and justice for all… Let us remember on whose shoulders we stand.  Let us respect each other across lines of difference.  Let us repair the violence of racism.  Let us restore women to their rightful place.  Let us recover religion, the arts and sciences, and physical education as a means to make each of us more humane.  Let us rebuild Baltimore… through business investment and job creation, through improved transportation and restored housing, through re-engaging young people and caring for seniors, by adding strength to wherever there is light and hope.   Let us revive the spirit of Thanksgiving in our time.

Hope and love are indestructible, and I am so thankful for you.

Love, David

P.S.  If you need one, here’s a blessing for your table next Thursday, by Nicholas Samaras.


For what we are given.
For being mindful of what we are given.

For those who grieve and those who celebrate.
For those who remain grateful in the face of everything.

For the assembly of words that links us together.
For individual speech that becomes speech shared.

For the transformations a written page may effect in us.
For those who pay attention.

For the teachers who gave us the chrysalis of language.
For the comrades of the heart who left us signposts.

For the parent who gave us the one ethic of discipline.
For ourselves who may take discipline to heart, and not resent it.

For the second chance that is the writing down.
For those who know that half of poetry is silence.

For the language of breath, and the breath that is prayer.
For those who wake to light, and know the depths of sacrament.

For this common meal, and us who bow our heads and partake.
For those who remember that “so be it” is also written.


Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5:14)

This past May we initiated The Ministry of St. Luke which is more commonly known as the ‘laying on of hands’.  Although this ministry is not new to Redeemer, what did change is that it transitioned from clergy centered to the laity. Eight individuals were invited to offer themselves to be part of the first group. Subsequently the clergy spent several Saturday mornings training them. While yes, the ‘how to’ was important, the primary emphasis was on the theological aspects of offering prayer for another person’s needs. During our time together there were expressions of fear, doubt, curiosity, and excitement that became the ties that bound the group in a powerful way. The gift of mutual vulnerability was palpable as they embarked on this spiritual journey.

It has now been six months which provides us with an opportunity to review our efforts. Overall the clergy and staff are very pleased with the reception from the parish. The individual members of The Ministry of St. Luke are finding their way with growing confidence in their role. Each one of them has spoken of both the privilege and the spiritual power of being involved. That is why this is called mutual ministry as both the one who offers prayer and the one who receives the prayer are united by the presence of the Holy Spirit. We also are aware that we want to continue to educate the parish about this special ministry as it becomes a regular part of our worship experience. With that in mind, the clergy will be offering an Adult Ed Program after church on Sunday, December 10 that will describe the training the individuals received as well as give the parish an opportunity to have a conversation with them.  We feel this will be a wonderful occasion to further understanding of this very significant ministry. As we look ahead, we will be incorporating The Ministry of St. Luke on a more regular basis so that every week the congregation will have the chance to engage in prayer with one another.


A Laying On of Hands
A laying on of hands
Not the clashing of souls
Simply a laying on of hands
A gathering of faith
That helps strengthen prayers
And helps pull down blessings
A bestowing of grace
A laying on of hands
Simplicity becomes sacramental.

Dear Folks,

Have you already packed up your Halloween costume?  I wonder what you were this year: goblin, ghost, superhero, cheerleader?  If you are an adult, have you noticed a pattern in your costumes over the years?  Be honest now.  Have you been a monster 10 or 12 times or Mae West over and over?  Let’s think about what that means… I have a friend who was Batman nine years in a row as a kid, and now he’s a school psychologist.  Makes sense, huh?

We always had a couple of boys every year at St. Albans who would borrow one of the chaplain’s cassocks and collar and play a priest, bestowing blessings up and down the hallway, and then begging someone to make his confession.  And there was usually some burly guy who would wear a wig and squeeze into his sister’s pumps.  One year I was standing by the Little Field with a dad, who yelled to his wife at a distance, walking toward us from the courts in her tennis whites.  “I’m surprised to see her so far from her office in the middle of the day,” he said.  It was his son.

It’s pretty great, isn’t it, to dress up as some form of your alter ego, walk through the neighborhood, and get candy for your effort.

Tuesday evening I struck up a conversation with everyone who walked by my stoop, and the little kids beamed when I recognized the Disney princess or cartoon character they were channeling.  Not so with the teenagers.  As an adolescent, you find yourself in a bit of a grey zone about Halloween.  You get impatient with people who want to compliment you on your costume.  Not thinking, I said to a young man, “You’re a pumpkin, aren’t you,” and he responded with a bored and frustrated voice, “Not just a pumpkin, man.  I’m a jack-o-lantern.”  Underneath his face paint, I’m pretty sure I saw his eyes rolling.

No one really knows how our current version of the holiday came to be.  It didn’t earn a permanent spot on the American calendar until the 20th century, and “no one finds mention of trick-or-treating or anything like it in published sources earlier than 1939.” (David Emery, Urban Myths)  Interestingly enough, one does find reports of “unrestrained pranksterism and vandalism in connection with Halloween from the late 1880’s on,” so current theory holds that trick-or-treating was contrived by adults to provide an orderly alternative to juvenile mischief. (Emery)  If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, I guess.

Of course the word Halloween derives from “All Hallows Eve,” so our dressing up in costumes on the night before All Saints Day may borrow from a medieval custom.  In those days and earlier, folks believed that on this holy night and day, the souls of the dead mingled with the souls of the living in some special and powerful way.  Long before Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis, people dressed as their biggest fears or sorrows on one day of the year, so as not to be controlled by them on the other 364.  The veil between order and misrule, present and past, the living and the dead is thin on All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day.  Insightful folks are willing to hold it all at once.

This weekend we celebrate the feast of All Saints in the same spirit: baptizing babies, blessing the new Columbarium, and reading the names of parishioners who have died over the past year.  Make a special effort to be with us, so that with you we can name the folks that you love and have lost.  The liturgy enables us to hold together grief and joy with heaven and earth.

Wearing a costume can be one of two things: a way to hide or a way to set yourself a little free.  We can cower behind a mask of our own making, or explore a new dimension of ourselves with judgment suspended for a while.  Next Halloween you might re-discover a passion that you had forgotten.  Why don’t you act it out sometime between now and next year?  If someone asks what you are doing, you can always say you are working ahead on your costume.  And if your exploring uncovers a deep longing inside you, chances are the world has a deep need that fits it exactly.