Dear Folks,

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!  Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all they years are met in thee tonight. 

We have sung the carols a thousand times, watched the pageant over and over, packed and unpacked the creche so often that the shocking story of the Incarnation has become tame.  The vision that God is born from a human mother, that heaven and earth meet in a baby wet from delivery, ought to find us hiding under the sofa rather than basking in any sentimental glow.  Sound the alarm!  Hit the decks!  The God of the universe is wearing swaddling clothes and is asking us to hold him in our arms.  Yikes!  “The word became flesh and dwelt among us” is how the gospel of John describes this news, a notion that more than a few have called undignified, unsophisticated, and un-theological!   But according to Christianity, it is the way things are.

Writer and former boys school chaplain Frederic Buechner writes, “All religions and philosophies which deny the reality or significance of the material, the fleshly, the earth bound are themselves denied (by this revelation).  Moses at the burning bush was told to take off his shoes because the ground on which he stood was holy, (but) incarnation means that all ground is holy, because God not only made it, but walked on it, ate and slept and worked and died on it.  If we are saved anywhere, we are saved here” within the dusty mess of the world and our lives.

The stories of Advent and Christmas present a vision that touches something quite deep and universal—of hope fulfilled, of peace achieved, of light that shines through overwhelming dark—but their gifts are more than emotional.  They are mythic and politically charged, conveying truth that speaks directly to our current wilderness.  Consider their historical context: the kingdom of God in the form of a Jewish peasant born in a marginal backwater is lined up against the imperial kingdom of Rome.  And this poor brown man (and his mother Mary) offer a liberating way that continues to save us today, across the centuries, if we have ears to hear it.

Convention said the Roman puppet Herod was the “king of the Jews.”  Caesar Augustus was called “son of God.”  His successor Octavian, who ruled at the moment of Jesus’ birth, had the moniker “one who is divine.”  Apollo was understood as the “light of the world.”  So a story which appropriates all of these titles to Mary’s son, who was poor himself and gave voice to his humble following, redefined power then and now.

A vision of this social transformation from around the time of Jesus goes like this:  “The earth will belong equally to all, undivided by walls and fences… Lives will be in common and wealth will have no more division… There will be no poor man there, no rich or tyrant, no slave.  Further, no one will be either great or small anymore.  No kings.  No leaders.  All will be on par together.”  (Syballine Oracles 2:319-24)  But how does this new day begin its dawning?  The transformation began in the humility of the manger, but it has always depended on human beings to carry it out: God with us, God for us, God acting through us.  Some current opportunities?  Living wage jobs, affordable housing and health care, integrated neighborhoods and fair access to capital, equitable public schools, affordable daycare, a justice system committed to rehabilitation more than punishment.  O come, o come Emmanuel in our hands and minds and hearts, in our systems and in our organizing… Now!

Fully understood, the Incarnation means that we bring heaven to earth.


I want to share with you this reading which is part of our tradition for Thanksgiving. It seems even more poignant this year. Bill and I will pray it, even though it will be just the two of us.

“An Accounting of Gratitude”
Arthur Foote from Taking Down the Defenses (1972)

“The grateful soul of the wise man is the true altar of God.” PHILO JUDAEUS (c. 20 BC-c.50 AD)

I say to myself: Be Thankful.

Be thankful for the happiness  you have known in times past, the moments of mirth and ecstasy, the years of health; how many of your dreams have come true; promises , long deferred, have so often at least been made good.

Be thankful for the dearness of your loved ones, the fidelity of your friends, the courtesy and kindness repeatedly shown you by total strangers.

Be thankful that your fears have again and again proven groundless, that you have survived so many close calls, so many narrow escapes; and that the same good fortune  has generally followed your children in their misadventures, and your friends likewise.

Be thankful for not only for the joys that have accompanied your way, and the unnumbered gifts of a kindly providence. Master the harder part of gratitude for life’s sterner lessons. You have known pain, pain that has given you warning of unseen dangers. You have known failure, failure that shattered false hopes of easy victory, and toughened your spirit for renewed efforts. Having made mistakes, you have learned important lessons. Having encountered  obstacles, you have found courage and endurance to surmount them. Having known sorrow and loneliness, you have discovered  that even these have quickened  your sympathy, and taught you the needs of others.

Be thankful, then, that so much you have not sought and would have by-passed if you could, nonetheless has proved enriching to your experience. Even in life’s dark labyrinthine ways and bitter moments, the man of faith and hope can trace the workings of a mysterious wisdom, an impartial providence, to more than human love.


Last week after the “official” election results were announced my daughter, Crystal, posted an interesting thought on Facebook.  “Now, the real work can begin!!”

Indeed, there is MUCH to be done.   For me, that work begins with reflections on the new lessons we have all learned over the previous four years, about ourselves as a nation and as individuals within that nation.  One of the foremost lessons is about our relationships with our BFF’s, parents, and others whom we hold near and dear.

I have personally learned that many of my siblings (by other mothers) are or have been quite naïve and almost simplistic in their views of the nature of human beings.  Nevertheless, reading a sibling’s blog yesterday reminded me of how many are truly suffering with the grief and pain of loosing family members and close friends due to political or ideological differences.  Who knows, you may be one of them.

Now, with a time of food and fellowship just around the corner, some discover that those whom they have shared bread with for years (or even a lifetime), will no longer speak or converse with them at all as a consequence of the overtly divisive climate that has been made manifest in our common life.  It is sad and painful to acknowledge.  But I want to assure you that there is always a lesson to be learned as we journey through life…and THIS is a lesson indeed.  “Blood may be thicker than water, but the spirit of the heart binds us to one another.

While reading my brother, John’s laments about his loss of personal and familial ties, I recalled an experience from the life of Jesus of Nazareth which could shed some meaningful light on what he and many may be experiencing.

In the third chapter of Mark, Jesus has been teaching something different from the religious establishment of his day.  Additionally, his teachings are accompanied by acts that are truly amazing.  Some of the religious elite slander him openly suggesting that he is aligned with Satan and not God.  So many people surround his home for hearing and healing, that the local folks start talking and his own family thinks he has gone a bit loco and must be protected from the crowds.  They need to stop him from acting this way.  The text says:

“When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind!’” (verse 21)

When his family calls to him, Jesus’ response was not quite what was expected from someone living in a society where family was essential to the meaning of life, itself.  His response is astounding.

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those who sat around him, he said, “here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (verses 33-35)

Now I ask you, what is GOD’s will, except to love?

Jesus words are a shocking redefinition of what that society would have thought family meant.  Family, it turns out, is not a matter of biology or even ideology, but of loyalty, respect, and mutual deference to God’s will.  Blood may be thicker than water, the spirit of the heart is love and that binding is deeper and eternal.

This may not be comforting to John or many others, but there is a lesson here if we can receive it.  I have to admit the times I have experienced the loss of a close familial relationship has been neither comfortable nor convenient, but I know there is a lot to be said for siblings (by other mothers) whose hearts beat in loving rhythm.   I actually have quite a few of those!  Not biologically or even ideologically compatible all the time, our desire to-be-in-Relationship with each other instead of to be right, transcends our conflict.  Somehow, we work it out.

BTW, the Relationship, is not our own…it is GOD’s.  That is why the “R” is capitalized! The Relationship is in, with, and through The Holy Mystery whom we call God.  It is a different world with new lessons.  I continue to learn daily.

So, my Brothers and Sisters (of other mothers), be encouraged and keep learning.  The old Pete Seeger song says, “keep your eyes on the prize and hold on.”

With prayers of LIGHT & LOVE,

Freda Marie+

Dear Folks,

We will have to create some new traditions this Thanksgiving.  I know one family that plans a visit to a sculpture garden that day.  Another person is collecting books for a children’s library, and he’ll spend that morning pasting bookplates inside the front covers.  The Franciscan Center at 101 West 23rd Street serves meals every week, and maybe you and a friend could lend a hand this year around Turkey-day? (  Or you could organize your neighbors to rake leaves as a group, or write letters to old friends, or buy groceries for the person behind you at the store?  Listen carefully over the next few days to hear about someone who will be alone this year… If they have a computer or a cell phone, invite them to your table virtually, and then break bread together through the wonder of Zoom.  It may feel awkward or silly at first, but if you let the limitations recede, you’ll be surprised how “normal” it feels to have Aunt Sue across the table on a screen.  (An added bonus: you won’t have to eat those creamed onions she brings every year!)

Public health educators tell us that the holidays could wreak havoc with the virus.  So, instead of inadvertently being part of a super-spreading event, we should spend Thanksgiving with our pod this year.  Connect to your extended family over the phone instead of meeting them around a table; and if you do gather with a little group, do so outside, sitting six feet apart, and leave your masks on when you are not eating.  Here’s an idea: invite your cousins to play a game virtually, setting up a board at the either end of the phone line and moving the pieces around for one another.  Scrabble and Monopoly work well!  Or save a few crossword puzzles and give each other clues on the phone, over pie.  Or bust up the idea of a traditional meal altogether—maybe it’s too painful to face the empty chairs—so go on a bike ride or a hike or a long walk, instead.  Then make something to eat that you would never associate with Thanksgiving, like tofu or chickpeas or lamb burgers, and buy a six-pack of local beer instead of choosing wine that goes with a bird.

In college I spent Thanksgiving with friends in upstate New York for several years.  Decades before, in the early 50’s, the mom’s family lived in Brooklyn and welcomed a French exchange student to their home on the day before Thanksgiving.  With little in the way of shared language, the family had to explain the holiday and its historical background in a matter of hours to a young woman from Nantes, who had no context for the large meal with distinctive foods, not to mention a way to understand the Macy’s parade.  When words failed them, the family found themselves with their new friend on the streets of Brooklyn in makeshift costumes and cap-guns, wielding a pillowcase that had been painted to look like a turkey.  They have never forgotten that hilarious pantomime, rooted in the need to foster welcome and create new traditions.  What is the opportunity this year for you?

To me it feels like that day in long ago Brooklyn.  Traditions seem strange.  Words fail us.  Loss is more familiar at our tables than friends or faraway loved ones.  So we will have get to Thanksgiving by another road this year…  Hang on, change is coming, and we are being born again.  How will you get there?  And when you get a glimpse of how it might be good, maybe you can share it with a stranger or a friend.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened  (e.e. cummings)


Yesterday several of us gathered in the courtyard for noonday Eucharist, to draw strength and sustenance from our ancient ritual of gathering together in community to pray, to hear God’s Word and to share our Lord’s meal. We came with questions, uncertainty, anxiety, sadness. We came with a desire to be together, in our spiritual home. We came looking for hope and something solid to stand on. I imagine you may be feeling the same way …

A couple of years ago, a dear friend was struggling to make it through a season of darkness in her life; she confessed she felt she was drowning in a sea of uncertainty and couldn’t find a foothold on anything that felt like solid ground. But the more she talked and reflected on her life, the more she was able to identify specific things she was, indeed, certain of — islands of solid ground, that she could stand on, in the midst of a sea of uncertainty — like outcroppings of rock on which to stand, to make her way step by step, across a turbulent, fast flowing stream.

Perhaps this is a “practice” each of us can intentionally engage in, to navigate our way forward, if only for today. Find something — identify something — in your life, of which you are certain … and allow yourself to “linger” there, for awhile. One minute? 5 minutes? Let it be the rock on which you stand, if only for a moment. Perhaps it’s the feel of the warmth of the sun on your face. Or the feeling of your beloved’s hand, wrapped around yours. Or the steady drumbeat of your own heart, as it beats its sacred rhythm inside your ribcage. Or your breath, as the air enters and exits your body. Perhaps it’s a passage or psalm from holy scripture that anchors you, a favorite poem, a song. (Psalm 46  and Psalm 146  feel particularly appropriate for today!) A walk outdoors. A recipe to bake. A friend to call.

In his sermon for the Feast of All Saints last Sunday, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry lifted up the teachings of Jesus as something solid for all of us to stand on, this season and always. If you haven’t heard or watched his sermon already, I commend it to you

Last Sunday as we gathered outdoors at 8am before the rain storm and then at 10am indoors (a last-minute adjustment!) during the rain storm, we renewed our promises to God, ourselves and one another as baptized Christians, as part of our baptismal covenant. Renewing these promises together is another island of solid ground, on which we can stand, together:

Whatever your “practice”, let it be a time of reenergizing your soul-spirit’s connection to the Source of All, the Holy Mystery that holds us and is the very Ground of Our Being … we are each a part of something Grand, Awesome and Majestic that is working in and through our present reality, and we each have our part to play.

A poem for you, that I came across last night; it spoke to me, may it speak to you as well.

By Audette Fulbright Fulson
H/t Peace Lee

Did you rise this morning,
broken and hung over
with weariness and pain
and rage tattered from waving too long in a brutal wind?
Get up, child.
Pull your bones upright
gather your skin and muscle into a patch of sun.
Draw breath deep into your lungs;
you will need it
for another day calls to you.
I know you ache.
I know you wish the work were done
and you
with everyone you have ever loved
were on a distant shore
safe, and unafraid.
But remember this,
tired as you are:
you are not alone.
and here
and here also
there are others weeping
and rising
and gathering their courage.
You belong to them
and they to you
and together,
we will break through
and bend the arc of justice
all the way down
into our lives.


Dear Folks,

I took a break from the headlines this morning and stopped focusing on the bold-faced names.  In the space freed up, I gave thanks for the neighbors who raked a few leaves this week so that our gutters wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the rain… I thought about the social worker in Baltimore county who hasn’t missed a beat since March, organizing food distribution on Wednesdays, health-checks on Tuesdays, and homework help every other afternoon… I thought about the teacher in Rosedale who keeps coming up with new ways to find the 7th graders who haven’t shown up on-line…  I thought about the folks we have buried over the last months, and the babies born, and the couples who figured out how to get married in little circles of ten (with grandma and grandpa on Zoom or parked a safe distance away)…  Before dawn today, my body weaves the ache of the last six months with the hope for next Tuesday’s decision, especially for folks who sweep up around the bottom.  If Jesus is the model, our work is to make sure the top of the ticket knows what’s going on with the rest of us.  This election is about making sure that every one of us can rise and thrive.

With covid-19 cases increasing, I think about Jason, who works the night shift at the hospital.  He’s a great big man with a very quiet voice, whose job is to give a shower to people who can no longer bathe themselves, and to help them go to the bathroom when they call in the middle of the night.

And Annie the nurse, who disarms with humor the most frustrated teenager, paralyzed by an automobile accident, or businessman halted by an aneurysm, distracting patients from what they can’t do and helping them see all that they can still accomplish.  “Baby, you go ahead and cry if you need to, but we’re also going to laugh some,” she says.  “We don’t have any invalids around here, no sir.  Just folks who’ve got to learn a new way to do things.  And if this old dog can still learn a new trick, then you can, too.”

And Rosalie, who for eleven years took critically ill babies home from the hospital, because they didn’t have parents or anyone else who could take care of them.  She and her husband Joe, who just got over the virus, gave the infants weeks or a few months of comfort and a decent burial, adding strength and solidarity to their brief and often difficult lives.  One child thrived beyond anyone’s expectations, through several major surgeries and significant disabilities, and she’s now their 30-year-old adopted daughter.

By any name, these people are saints.

Jesus never praised climbing the ladder of success.  In fact, he warned against it.  “Don’t take the best seat at dinner.  Don’t lay up your treasures on earth.  Don’t curry favor with those in power.”  Instead Jesus focused our eyes on people from whom we usually look away: the lost, the lonely, the lame, and the left-behind.

Blessed are you, he said, when you are poor in spirit; when you are laid low by mourning; when you are meek and unheard; when you long for justice with all your heart; when you are merciful; when your heart is pure enough to see good in every person; when you help make peace.  We do not find the light of God in our lives apart from our suffering.  Saints don’t direct us to easy, comfortable ways.  The ones I know show us how to keep going in deep darkness, how to survive the bullies, how to have hope in the mean times. (paraphrase of Nancy Rockwell)

Look in each other’s eyes when you stand in line to vote: that’s where the action is.  With God’s help, the world is being restored by everyday saints.


Last month a team of 20 clergy and lay leaders reached out to and successfully connected with 175 individuals in our parish, to hear what’s on people’s minds and hearts. Some met in person or on Zoom in small groups; others connected one-on-one over the phone. These 3 questions were asked to guide the conversation and listening:

1) What has been most pressing or challenging to you in the past 6 months?
2) How have you responded or want to respond to what you’ve experienced or heard others talk about?
3) What has been/feels most hopeful for you during this time?

Many expressed grief about what they can no longer do at/in connection with Redeemer, alongside gratitude and appreciation for the variety of offerings during Coronatide and the ways we are adapting and staying connected. A specific desire for more ways to gather, connect and share in small groups was expressed. Our team of listeners also heard a mixture of gratitude for blessings/silver-linings of this time mixed with guilt and acknowledgment of privilege, as well as a mix of concern about personal/daily and communal/national/global challenges. Many are looking to Redeemer to help frame our “new normal”, be stewards of hope, keep preaching Good News of hope and love over fear. In general, folks are coping and getting by.

Below is a bullet point summary of what we heard in response to our 3 focus questions.

Many thanks to all who took part!  If you were not contacted and would like to participate, we would love to hear from you! Please email me to schedule a time to connect and share.


What has been most pressing/challenging in the last 6 months?

  • missing touch, physical connection, eye contact, hugs; church; communion
  • feeling isolated and disconnected
  • ongoing, chronic uncertainty; not being able to plan and/but having to make decisions anyway; fatigue over having to be “hyper-vigilant” all the time, in daily life
  • angst over the state of our country; political divide; racial tensions; digital divide and schools; climate change; COVID
  • grieving traditions, holidays, celebrations of milestones
  • desire to be of help/to make a positive difference but not knowing how to, being stuck at home and having to restrict human interactions due to COVID

How have you responded/ chosen to respond?

  • adapting/finding ways to stay connected with people (learning how to use social media, Zoom; good old telephone; getting together outdoors safe/social distancing); finding or creating “church” in other ways
  • using this time for personal/spiritual growth and learning (lots of reading; listening to podcasts, meditations/reflections)
  • spending more time outdoors, going for walks, appreciating nature
  • finding meaningful ways to serve by delivering food, helping neighbors

Where have you found hope?

  • in the resurrection, the bigger picture; faith in God and that good/light will prevail
  • in Redeemer’s services, conversations, offerings; message of love repeated regularly
  • in friendships, relationships, marriages
  • in historical perspective and also modern technology/future vaccine
  • in possibility that this period will be transformative and result in meaningful change for social justice; and that Redeemer will help frame and guide this transformation for our parishioners/members
  • in the younger generation and new leaders to emerge

Many years ago, there was an advertisement by the US Navy recruiting office whose slogan was: “It’s not just a job, it’s an ADVENTURE!”  Several of my brothers signed up for the navy behind that slogan and retired later discovering that word to be true.  I think the same might be said for the times in which we live.

After reading both local and national news headlines recently I have come to the conclusion that LIFE is quite the ADVENTURE, once we accept it as part of the Holy Mystery of God.  Our consciousness and awareness of life (as we are living it out) can take on a different flavor and hue of majesty, delight, and great beauty when we accept it as mystery and learn to practice mindfulness so as to always be in the present moment.

I have been recently drawn to Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount in the gospel of Matthew and particularly the way Jesus describes us—as salt and light.  Salt carries multiple connotations throughout Matthew’s gospel as does light but the operative phrase rests upon our identity for the earth or world.  Therefore, my nature, as a follower of Jesus, is for those whose paths I cross each day.  My identity is grounded in my nature of salt and light for the world.  Jesus says so.

Now, as much as I would like to think I need to somehow act like I am salt and light, one lesson I am learning is that the word of GOD is true.  I already amYOU already are salt and light.  When we receive and accept that identity, we allow GOD to make life an ever-increasing mystery and adventure for us.  We may have little knowledge of where it is heading, but we are willing to trust in the process of the One who is the ground of our existence.  It is a different consciousness, worldview or map of reality for sure.

So, what might living adventurously look like?  It might mean living with courage and the willingness to be true and authentic to ourselves; even when it makes others uncomfortable.  It might mean the willingness to ask questions and not have an answer.  It might mean the willingness to speak up and live out of an identity larger than the one we currently hold.  Adventurous living always means making a conscious choice to resist bondage to feelings of fear, discomfort, anger or even hatred; by exchanging those feelings for the truth of the foundation of our identity—salt and light in the world.

We do this not because of ourselves, but because of our GOD and the fact that we trust that the word Christ has spoken about us is, in fact, true.  If I am salt and light in the world, I am certainly not fear or discomfort even thought I may feel fearful or uncomfortable sometimes.  I am NOT my feelings just like you are not your feelings.

If life is an adventure I can live with expectation and hope as easily as I can live with pessimism and worry…it is just a matter of perspective after all and NOT who I am.  I am free to choose a higher level of consciousness.

As members of God’s family, we have all we need to lean into the adventurous nature of life as it presents itself to us. We may be certain of life’s goal: to receive and transmit the LOVE and Goodness of GOD all around us.  I say we have what we need, but this does not mean we realize our true nature nor live out of it—at least I sure do not.  But I am learning some valuable lessons and thought I would share them with you since they are helping me to receive and live into the peace of Christ, more often.  Thank you for being fellow journeymen.  Life is truly an ADVENTURE!

Thanks be to GOD.
Freda Marie +

I was not a particularly neat child. I am, by nature, a little messy: piles of things tend to accumulate around me. Stacks of papers on a desk; a jumble of clothes on a chair, waiting to be put away. Putting things away seemed counterintuitive. I knew where everything was when it was out – I could see it! Or rather, sometimes I could see it, until a second layer began to accrue. “Get your things off the floor!” was not an infrequent response when my bedroom door opened. It was a reasonable request. Eventually, after enough grumbling, I’d get down to it. 

And parts of tidying up were fun! I still find organizing and arranging different pieces of my life very satisfying. It brings a little order to the chaosthere is something deeply creative about the process. But without fail, after a few minutes cleaning up one spotI would be distracted by another area that needed tending to. Part way through the floor in front of the closet, the lost stuffed animals partially under my bed would call out to me.  

So it is today. I’ll be part way through one task when I notice something else that needs doing and begin bouncing back and forth between themFinishing one thing completely would be a much more efficient use of time, and perhaps a better marshalling of mental energy. It’s true of the papers and sermons I write, it’s true of events that I plan. But there are just so many ideas that could be explored, and they’re all in conversation with one another! The downside is that going back and forth between them can feel like a constant rush for time, mirroring the pull of contemporary life on our time and attention. We live in world that constantly seeks our attention: in addition to click-bait headlines and algorithms privileging posts that invite strong reactions, there are the very real crises of our time. There is so much clamoring for space in our minds that it can feel like we are always being pulled back and forth, rushed and stretched because there is so much to consume and process. More often than not, I think, we are the ones being consumed. 

God calls us to live in the reality of our messy, chaotic world. It’s what we are baptized into. We’re not called to be overwhelmed by it, though, or consumed by it. We are called to live in the world and to transform it into God’s kingdom through our livingWe are called to recognize the moments of space and grace that interrupt our usually scheduled programming. God is there, in the mess and chaos with us, making those spaces and filling them with graceAnd when we can recognize God in it, and step into God’s invitation for us and our lives, we experience the already of God’s kingdom, and help live out its not yet 

As Christians we see our lives through the lens of Christ, and we look to his life, death, and resurrection to make meaning of the world. Jesus didn’t ever seem interested in efficiency, but he certainly knew what it was like to navigate a messy and chaotic world. Think of all the times the crowds are mentioned in the Gospels! There were people around constantly, trying to touch him, pressing closer to hear his words. When it got to be too much, he stepped away and he prayed 

In Mark, Jesus says to his apostles, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31) He had noticed that in their work “many were coming and going and they had no leisure even to eat.” So they go. And after feeding the 5,000 people who follow them out of town, Jesus demands his disciples get in a boat and cross the sea of Galilee, leaving him behind, so he can go up the mountain to pray 

We are not Jesus. But like Jesus we need to live into those moments of space and graceTaking time to breathe and pray and reflect doesn’t mean we are shirking our responsibilities: they are part of our responsibility. They can help us hear God more clearly, and they give us new perspective when we return to the mess that may surround us. Sometimes we notice them as they occur. Other times we have to ask for help seeing them. And just like we might need the invitation to come a way to a deserted place and rest awhile, we need to invite the people around us to do the same.  

Maybe it’s a friend, or partner, or child who you notice is spinning a little too fast from one thing to another and needs to take a pause. Maybe it’s a colleague, who could use a little help on a project or the reminder that their work isn’t going unnoticed. Maybe it’s someone bagging your groceries, who looks like they’ve had a long week and could use a friendly conversation. Maybe it’s someone asking for money at an intersection, with whom you can share your generosity and compassion. Whoever it is – whatever messy room surrounds them, metaphorically or in reality – invite them to find some space in the middle of it and take a few breathsListen to God’s invitation to you. The mess will still be there, but you may be changed.  

With love,

Dear Folks,

For most of his life, my father struggled with mental illness, never diagnosed.  He called it “feeling blue,” but the poetic label belied the depths of his depression and its effect on the folks around him.  We learned to accommodate the violent eruptions, the name-calling, the self-centeredness, the angry truck engine roaring off down the street, which meant he would disappear for a day or two.  I appreciated his absences more often than not. And we tiptoed around when he slept with his head on the dining room table, making up stories about his professional failures and setbacks.  “He’s proud… he’s sensitive… he’s too smart for typical jobs and that’s why we don’t have any money…”  Truth was, I didn’t know what was wrong, just that he wasn’t well.

The impact of accommodating the dis-ease in the household, rather than engaging it or working through it openly, was multilayered—running away, addiction, acting out, depression, materialism, pride—the body of our family was traumatized, and my siblings and I still carry those wounds.  Thanks to therapists and mentors and spouses, each of us is working through the pain by now, in large part to break the pattern.  We know what happens to children and spouses and communities when a parent’s troubling issues are swept under the rug.  The silence and the lack of a sensible narrative are as toxic as the rages.

At some point the stories of Jesus became a way through for me.  As I read them, the Spirit doesn’t just look at our destructive behavior and tell us to stop it.  It comes to where we are most vulnerable, asks us “Where do you hurt?” and shows us the impact of visiting our pain on others.

Last night I dreamed about a part of the Arthurian legend, the time when the king had been mortally wounded.  The people went about their daily tasks lethargically, as if they were in a trance, or they were at odds with each other, and many felt lost.  At this moment a fatherless young man named Parsifal comes of age, and he encounters the king’s knights riding along the road.  Awestruck, by their shining appearance, he sets off for the castle.

But Parsifal is struck dumb by what he finds there.  Instead of the glorious Camelot that he expected, he finds himself in the middle of a wasteland, where everything is sterile and cold.  He discovers that the king has been wounded in the middle of his body, and had lost the powers of potency and regeneration.

The young knight wants desperately to help his king, but he, like everyone else, had no answers as to how to heal the wound.  Instead his mind was filled with questions, but he dammed them up, remembering that his mother had told him not to embarrass people by probing too much.  So he leaves the court on a quest for the holy grail.

After venturing down many blind paths and false trails, Parsifal glimpses the grail—the cup that Jesus purportedly used at the last supper—and as a result, he felt the king’s pain in his own heart.  He rode back to Arthur’s castle and rushed to the king, who was at death’s door.  Overcoming his earlier hesitance, he knelt beside his monarch and asked, “What ails thee?”

What ails thee?  Where does it hurt?  How are you suffering?

And the spell was broken.  By asking him an honest question of compassion, the king is restored, and the inhabitants of the kingdom along with him.  The king offered the young man a toast: “When you falter and fail, never forget: today holds the promise of redemption.”  Today you can make a healthy choice.  Today you can benefit the community.  Today you can be redeemed.  However dark the night has been, compassion and empathy can create a new day.

Consider the power of such a question, posed by one struggling traveler to another.  What ails thee?  Where does it hurt?  What happened a while ago that still festers and fumes?  What are you caught up in that makes you sick?  What makes you or your family or the community stumble and fall?

When I was a young man, I set out equipping myself for my own quest.  Like Parsifal, my initial strategy was to sheathe myself in the same armor I had seen other knights don—Ivy league degree, list of contacts, straightened white teeth and a good haircut—but all that had nothing to do with the wound in my belly.  Lost and stuck when arguably I should have felt some considerable potency, I spent a year seeking my father.  I found him (and myself) in endless cups of coffee shared at a Burger King, piecing together a sensible narrative of my family’s story, asking him “What hurts?”  Raising the pain to consciousness equipped me to not repeat its wounding pattern.

When a leader is wounded at his center, the system suffers, and that is our reality as Americans at this moment.  Whatever one’s political party, our president is not well.  Deflection, distraction, self-centeredness, and bullying are not the signs of health, and accommodating such destructiveness in one who wields such power imperils the whole.  I pray for President Trump every day.  Republicans and Democrats at their best stand for humane values grounded in good will, good governance, elected representation, responsible stewardship of resources, and securing the well-being of the most vulnerable.  Solving our problems through honest debate and respecting each other’s right to informed and differing opinions brings out the best in us.  Interrogating our history with open eyes, open minds, and open hearts enables us to recapture our soaring aspirations, even as we confront that we have never yet achieved its goals for all of our citizens. We can one day.  But not if we don’t ask ourselves what ails our principal leader, confront every measure of collaboration or colluding, condemn any act of or invitation to violence, seek his healing, and our own.