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Sunday, November 11, 2018

Inspired generosity

A Sermon Preached at 
The Episcopal Church of St Phillip, Laurel, DE
Pentecost XXV - Proper 27 B

I seriously loves me some Jesus, but sometimes – not always, but sometimes – Jesus pulls my last, poor, tired nerve.

Like in this Gospel story. Jesus is in the Temple, sitting across from where people are putting money in the Treasury. Rich people were putting in large sums but he watched as a widow came in and put in a few small coins, worth about a penny.

Jesus calls to his disciples and says look at this poor widow! Even though she’s only contributed about a penny, she’s actually given more than all those rich people.

I want to say, “Wait! Stop! And, what is YOUR contribution, Jesus? For goodness sake, get up, man, and do what SHE did! How about putting into practice what you preach?”

In fairness, maybe he did and that part just didn’t get written into the story. I don’t want my temporary annoyance with Jesus in this particular story to detract from his larger point: There is a difference between giving out of your abundance and giving out of the same generosity with which God gives to us.

I’m privileged to be a guest here so I don’t know when you start your Stewardship Season but I’m of a mind that Stewardship Season lasts all year. As your leadership – laity and ordained – begin to consider the 2019 Budget, I hope you are at least beginning to consider your pledge to this work and ministry of this church, especially as you face the uncertainty and challenges of this time of interim leadership and transition.

So, I want to underscore the point Jesus makes in this gospel story with a story of my own. I want to underscore the point he made about the difference between giving out of your abundance as opposed to striving to be as generous as God is with us. I also want to underscore my own point about leading by example.

I clearly remember the first time I started to earn an allowance. I got fifty cents a week in the form of two shiny quarters delivered to me by my father every Saturday night. Right after we had taken our weekly baths, washed out our white gloves and polished our shoes for Church the next day.

My father would remind me, every week, that one quarter was to go into my piggy bank and one quarter was to go to into the Church collection basket on Sunday.

I can still feel my teeth clench with resentment as I tried to smile and say, “Yes, Daddy.” Sort of the same way my teeth sometimes clench when Jesus annoys me. It didn’t take me long, however, to figure out a way to beat my father at his game.

The collection baskets in the church of my youth were literally baskets with long, smooth handles that the ushers would glide skillfully and smoothly through their hands as you placed your pledge envelope or coins into them. There were three collections in my church: one for the Adults to put their paper money or pledge envelopes, and one for ‘the work of missions’ - usually an order of priests or nuns who were working with people in far off places like Cambodia or Guatemala or someplace in Africa.

The children’s basket was always the last basket to be passed. Since we normally sat in the back of the church, it was filled with shiny coins – dimes, nickels and quarters – rendered with the same resentment I always felt in my heart. The best part, however, before listening for the ‘clink’ of your coin as it went into the basket, was to first move your hand across the cool top of the coins. To a kid, you could almost see the dream of how many ice cream cones or comic books you could buy with that great stash dancing above their heads like the caption balloons of the cartoon characters we watched every Saturday morning.

What was God going to do with all that money, anyway? I was quite certain that God would have been much happier knowing that His children were happy with their mouths full of jaw-breakers or gummy worms we could purchase with those quarters.

That’s when I got the idea. Ready? It’s brilliant. Truly brilliant.

I discovered that if you put your hand over the coins, you could simultaneously drop your quarter in while very discretely picking up one or two more. Then, you would fidget in your seat, pretend to cough into the hand with your ill gotten gain, and then, as your mother gave you the ‘evil eye’ for making noise in church, you simply leaned over and slipped the quarter(s) into your sock or shoe.

Brilliant! It was a positively brilliant scheme which went on for weeks without anyone noticing what I was doing. My parents did get a bit suspicious when I stopped being resentful of giving one half of my hard earned allowance money to the church, so to cover my tracks, I began having conversations with them about how I might have a vocation to become a nun.

I have to tell you, this was my first run as a thief, and I was pure genius! I was being a scoundrel and they thought I was trying to be a saint! How cool is THAT?

Well, because God is God and we are not, all good – and bad – things come to an end. Eventually. Eventually, I got found out.

Turns out, one of the nuns had turned to give me the stink eye when I coughed and saw me slipping the coin into my shoe. Over the next few Sundays, she watched and realized that I always coughed at the same time and always made the same move down to my shoes. She reported me to the priest and, before I knew it, my parents and I were called into the parish office where the nun told my parents exactly what she had seen.

My parents were furious. I was humiliated. The priest, a kind, gentle man, came over to me and gently put his arm around me as he asked why I had done it.

Through heavy sobs and copious tears, I blurted out the real reason: I was afraid. I was afraid because, after I went to bed, when my parents thought we kids were all asleep, I was awake. And, I could hear them argue.

Their arguments were always the same. It was always about the family budget. My brother was very ill and she had to pay Dr. Rudolph for the office visits and she still had a $70 balance with Mr. Rexall at his Drug Store for my brother’s penicillin. Now, $70 may not seem like a lot these days but at that time, for my family, that was a fortune.

My mother was concerned that my father’s good friend, Mr. Johnnie Walker, was taking more money than she was able to pay either Dr. Rudolph or Mr. Rexall. My father said that a man needed something at the end of the day when he worked so hard at the factory. They would go back and forth, their voices getting louder and more angry, and I would fall asleep with the pillow over my head to block out the sounds of their argument.

I thought that I could save up enough money to help my parents pay off the doctor and the pharmacist, let my father keep his friend, Mr. Walker, happy, and still buy candy and comic books for myself and my siblings and friends.

I’m not really sure what happened next. I do remember the priest asking the nun to take me out of the office and to the kitchen where he invited her to share a slice of cake and a glass of milk with me while he talked to my parents.

I do remember that my parents stopped arguing late at night and that Mr. Walker’s name was no longer  a line item on my parent’s budget.

And, I will never forget that this priest’s decision to err on the side of generosity changed my life. Actually, his generosity inspired the generosity of my parents and has inspired me to err on the side of generosity. 

Oh, and he also inspired me to stay away from a life of crime. 

I am inspired, like the widow in this gospel story, to contribute more than mere money. I am inspired not to just ‘go through the motions’ like the scribes in the first part of the story.

I am inspired to be as generous as I know how to be, even though sometimes – not always, but sometimes – the institutional church, the Body of Christ, pulls my last, poor tired nerve.

I hope you are inspired to do the same, because generosity is always inspiring. Your generosity can and will inspire others. Just as God's generosity inspires us.


Sunday, November 04, 2018

And I mean to be one, too.

A Sermon Preached at St. Phillip's Episcopal Church, Laurel, DE
All Saints' Sunday - November 4, 2018

Today is the day many in the church celebrate All Saints Day. We are allowed to transfer it from Thursday, November 1st to the closest Sunday, and so we have in this church.

I don’t know what you, personally, believe about ‘saints’. Episcopalians hold various places on a broad spectrum of thought about this subject. 

Some reject it flat out as ‘Papist rubbish’. Others embrace it fully, even placing statues of various saints in and around the church. 

You’ll even find some congregations with banks of votive candles in front of statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary or in one church I know in Baltimore, a statue of King Charles I, the reported last and highly disputed saint of the Reformation who refused to give up bishops in the church and was martyred for his choice.

So, here’s the question many of you have always wanted to know but were afraid to ask: Do Episcopalians believe in Saints? Do we ‘make’ saints the way the Pope does?  Do Episcopalians have their own saints?  No we do not. 

We do have some saints which you can find listed in the Book of Common Prayer, including Mary, Joseph, Peter, Paul, Matthias, Bartholomew, Matthew, Michael, Luke, James, Simon, Jude, Andrew, Thomas, Stephen and John – all new Testament figures. 

Episcopal Churches are often named after saints from the post-Biblical age (like, St. Augustine), and those individuals identified by the universal church as saints are often called saints. 

But, for the most part, our “saints” are identified as “theologians, bishops, martyrs, etc.” 

Or, as that favorite song in our hymnal “I sing a song of the saints of God,” by Lesbia Scott puts it: And one was a doctor, and one was a queen, And one was a shepherdess on the green; They were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too.

Saints, for Episcopalians, are people not to pray to or through whom to ask intercession from God; rather, they are heroes of the faith whose lives provide a blueprint of sorts for our lives. 

For the saints of God,"as Scott wrote, are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too."

That is very unlike my highly devout Roman Catholic grandmother who had little shrines everywhere in her house. Indeed, the top of her bedroom bureau was covered with statues of saints with little votive candles in front of them. Under the votive light were little slips of paper with her written prayer petition.

The thing about my grandmother is that she didn’t fool around. If she was going to make a ‘novena’ to a particular saint for a particular petition, that saint had jolly well better respond in the affirmative to her request.

I remember the statue of St. Gerard, the patron saint of families, was always in deep doo-doo.

She would pray to St. Gerard for one of her 15 adult children (she had had 20 pregnancies and 22 children) and, if he hadn’t granted her novena, she would turn him around to face the corner and blow out his candle adding as her finger wagged in his direction, “And you won’t see the light of day again until you answer my prayer.”

I credit my healthy, balanced theology of sainthood from my grandmother.

It always breaks my heart every time I read this morning’s passage from Luke’s gospel and hear Mary say to Jesus, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It’s so heart-wrenching, that scripture reports, “And Jesus wept.”

But, listen to what Jesus says to the crowd after he performs the miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus. 

Remember, Lazarus has been dead four days. When Jesus commands them to roll back the stone, Mary cautions him that “there will be a stench”.

But Jesus prays to God and then says in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” And scripture reports that “the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, "Unbind him, and let him go."

Unbind him and let him go. 

The first part of the miracle is that Lazarus was raised from the dead. But the second part is just as miraculous. The people had to help unbind him – they had to get near his smelly body and put their hands on the strips of cloth that bound him and remove them.

To my mind, that is the best understanding of the theology of miracles and saints. 

It’s not just the intervention of God – it’s not just the miraculous working of Jesus. It also takes all of us – the community of faith – to roll up our hands and unbind each other that we may be ‘let go’ of the death-grip of sin. 

To find new life after resurrection.

The stories of the saints are just stories, some of them fantastic. We are the ones who unbind the stories from the past and find within them a blueprint of a life of faith from which we might learn about the miraculous work of God.

And, as Lesbia Scott has taught us to sing, “For the saints of God are just folk like me.” 

So, yes, I do look to the lives of the people I’ve known who have died. I don’t pray to them to intercede with God for me. But, I reflect on their lives and what I’ve learned from them. I try to change my life for the better. 

In Buddhist and Asian cultures, the ancestors are honored and revered not just one day a year but always. In African and African American cultures, the ancestors are likewise honored with libations and prayers.

In Hispanic cultures, "The Day of the Dead" - November 2nd, or All Souls Day - is observed by creating altars with pictures of the deceased and vases of marigolds. The names of the deceased are said aloud and everyone responds "Presente" - "present" - as an acknowledgement that the souls of the deceased live on. 

I want you to take one moment right now. Close your eyes and call up the faces and names of the saints in your life who have died and passed on to the other side. When you are ready, speak their names, aloud or silently in your hearts.

Take a moment to do that right now. 

And, now, let us all say, "Presente".

I believe what we say in the Creed every Sunday. 

I believe in the communion of saints. 

I believe that Jesus kept his promise and has given us the gift of life eternal. 

I believe that our ancestors are with us, walking with us, inspiring us on this pilgrimage we call life.

I can’t prove that to you. If I argued the case in court against Perry Mason I would most certainly lose. Which is right. It doesn’t make any sense, actually. But faith rarely does.

Jesus said to the crowd, “Unbind him and let him go.”

It’s a message we all need to hear on this day when we honor and celebrate the saints who have gone one before us, the saints who are here now, and the saints who are yet to come.

May we continue to be free – to be let go, unbound – to worship God in the fullness of the great mystery that is God - and the mystery that is the faith of our lives. 


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Witch of Endor

So, it's Halloween and I HAVE to say something about The Witch of Endor. Her story can be found in 1 Samuel 28:3-25. Check it out. There's actually a service in the Episcopal Book of Occasional Services for All Hallow's Eve and some parishes actually use it. I know I did whether in a parish or doing campus ministry setting. I used it today - well, an abbreviated, customized version - for my Hospice staff.

It's a curious story about Saul's visit to a woman who was blessed with a gift of extrasensory perception. Today we might call her a "medium" or a "seer". But she is known in scripture as "The Witch of Endor".

Like all gifted women, when their gifts are feared or envied, they become "evil" and outlawed. You know, sort of the way that rich Republican politicians think abortion is evil and ought to be outlawed - until their girlfriend becomes pregnant and then it's a blessing.

Samuel had died and Saul had outlawed all mediums under penalty of death. Saul was getting ready to do battle with the Philistines, but when he got a look at their troops, he was seized by fear and absolutely scared to death!

So, he prayed but God did not answer his prayers, not by dreams or prophets. So, what was a King to do? He broke his own law and ordered his men to find someone who could provide him with a seance. His men said, "There's a witch in Endor" - and the rest, as they say, was history. Or, scripture.

Saul, brave man, disguised himself and went under cover of night to Endor and ordered the woman, "Call up the person I name." But, the woman said, "This is a trap! No way!"

Saul assures her that no harm would come to her and when the woman agrees, he says, "Call up Samuel." With that, she recognizes him, "You are Saul!"

Samuel's spirit is aroused from the dead and he is none too happy to be disturbed. Samuel tells Saul that God has turned his back on him because of his disobedience and that God is now on the side of the Philistines. He tells him that it won't be long before Saul and his sons join him.

Saul falls to the ground weak - he hadn't eaten for a while - and overcome with fear. It is then that the woman feels great compassion for Saul and does a remarkable thing.

She who had been in fear for using her gifts under penalty of death recognizes the fear in Saul and is moved to an act of unspeakable generosity. She takes a grain-fed calf - probably meant to feed her for a few months - and slaughters it, feeding Saul and his men. She also bakes some flatbread and serves it to them as well.

Here are a few snippets of what Sam Portero writes in "Brightest and Best":
Halloween affords us a time to snicker at death, to race through the graveyards with our friends, to dress up in disguise as though the ruse might fool the grim reaper and protect us for yet another year. But we need not run from the fear or disguise it with costumes or ritualize it away in parties and laughter; it was that fear that drove Saul in desperation to find the Witch. 
There was more for Saul at Endor than a vision; there was care. That is the greater surpise, the surprising turn at the end. For Saul, whom the woman had feared for his power, was reduced by his fear to one in need. 
It says that when she saw that Saul was terrified, this woman - this "witch" - was moved to minister to him. She urged him to rest and to take food. She prepared him a meal and gave him what he need most, which was care.
The good news of the story is that fear does not remove us from the reach of God. Fear may be the point of vulnerability through which God actually reaches and touches us. 
In our very arrogant and confident generation, fear may be one of the few places remaining through which the light and the love of God may shine. It has already made many of us more careful; it may yet mak us more (faithful).
Whistling as we walk past the graveyard will in no way exempt us from the eventuality of one day residing there. Dressing for success cannot protect us from the failures to which we are prey. Smiling cannot avert the genuine pain that comes from contemplating our own certain end in the face of our friends or in the bathroom mirror.
It may do us much good to face into the fear: Saul did and found there the face of God."
Happy All Hallows Eve!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Transformed people transform people

A Sermon preached for Pentecost XXIII - October 28, 2018
The Episcopal Church of St. Philip - Laurel, DE
(the Rev'd Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

Have you ever read something that was so short and so succinct that the truth of it caught you up short? That happened to me the other day when I read something by Roman Catholic Contemplative, Richard Rohr.

He was talking about suffering and how suffering is transformative. He said, “When you can be healed yourself and not just talk about healing, you are, as Henri Nouwen said, a ‘wounded healer’.”

And then he said this, “Transformed people transform people.”

Let me say that again: Transformed people transform people.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week, especially in terms of the gospel story about Blind Bartemaeus and what that might have to say to us about all that has been happening in our country this week.

So first, let me put the Gospel story into context. Bartemaeus, we are told, is the son of Timeaus. He is obviously known and at least pitied in his hometown of Jericho.

You remember Jericho, right? At least you remember the old African American spiritual, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho. Oh, Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down.”

Well, scholars are pretty universal in their agreement that the story holds little historical value but it’s a great story, nonetheless.   

So, the story goes that Noah cursed Canaan to be a slave and God gave the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants. 

But the children of Israel, Abraham’s descendants, themselves became slaves in Egypt. Moses, led by God, led the people out of Egypt to the borders of the Promised Land of Canaan.

Moses charged Joshua, son of Nun, to take Jericho, the first city of Canaan to be taken back by the children of Israel. The Israelites marched around the walls once every day for six days with the priests and the Ark of the Covenant.

On the seventh day they marched seven times around the walls, then the priests blew their ram’s horns, the Israelites raised a great shout, and the walls of the city fell. Following God's law, the Israelites took no slaves or plunder but slaughtered every man, woman and child in Jericho, sparing only Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute who had sheltered the spies, and her family.

It is important to know a few things about Jericho in Canaan. The first is that Canaan, which had been the Promised Land, gradually became a place of disregard among the Jews. 

Canaan was on the trade route and so many people from many foreign lands were there, interacting with the locals. They often intermarried with the Jews, leading them to be considered racially impure or “mongrels”. They also didn’t worship in Jerusalem during the High Holy Days.

You will remember the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman who begged for healing for her daughter. And, Jesus said to her, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." "Yes it is, LORD," she said. "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." Well, the reference to “dogs” is a reference to the racial status of the Canaanites.

So, it’s important to remember that in agreeing to heal the man from Jericho, Jesus is healing another Canaanite. This explains a bit why the neighbors might be ‘shushing’ him and ‘sternly ordering him to be quiet’ when he calls out to Jesus for help. They have no reason to expect that this Nazarene Rabbi will help a Canaanite.

But, Jesus does. “Go,” says Jesus to Bartemaeus, “your faith has made you well.”

It’s also important to note that Jericho today is a city located near the Jordan River on the West Bank in Occupied Palestine. It would appear that the racial and ethnic tensions which existed in antiquity persist today.

Mark’s gospel story ends this way, “Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” And, where would that be, you ask? Where was it that Bartemaeus, now with his sight fully restored, follows Jesus?

If we continue reading Mark’s story, from Jericho, Jesus and his disciples head toward Jerusalem where they walk right into the festivities for the celebration of Passover. We know all too well what is about to unfold. The crowd will echo the same greeting Bartemaeus used with Jesus. They will hail him as Son of David and shout Hosanna’s in his name.

And, oh, what Bartemaeus will see unfold before his very eyes! Oh, the horrors and the terrors he will witness. Oh, the betrayal and the brutality he most certainly wished he had never seen.

We don’t know what happened to Bartemaeus after the events we now call Holy Week. We don’t know if he witnessed either the Crucifixion or the Resurrection. But, I’m thinking there was a reason that the story of this particular man’s healing in the particular city of Jericho was told just before the events in Jerusalem.

Our modern eyes have witnessed things this week that we wish we had never seen. Fourteen pipe bombs were sent to 10 people – all outspoken critics of the present administration. On Saturday, at least 11 people were murdered and several others seriously injured, including 4 police officers, as they gathered at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the bucolic neighborhood of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, PA.

We are living in a time of blinding hate and palpable anger which are being fueled by violent, hateful, bigoted rhetoric. Normal levels of disagreement and dissatisfaction are now exaggerated and exacerbated to dangerously high levels.

And, in the midst of all of this violence and hatred came the internment of the ashes of Matthew Wayne Shepherd, a 21 year old gay man who, twenty years ago, was robbed, tied to a fence, pistol-whipped and left to die in the freezing cold of a field in Wyoming.

Matthew’s family has been holding onto his ashes all these years, afraid that “haters” as his father Dennis named them, would desecrate his resting place. His parents thought to spread his ashes among the hills and mountains of his beloved home state of Wyoming, but they had hoped that they might have a place where they could visit the earthly remains of their son.

As it turned out, that safe place became available in a crypt at The Cathedral Church of St. Peter and Paul, also known as “The Washington National Cathedral”, an Episcopal House of Worship in Washington, DC. 

Matthew was an Episcopalian and loved serving as an acolyte when he was a child. And so, after 20 years, Matthew’s physical remains were laid to rest on Friday, and in a place where people are blind to race or gender, religion or creed, age or ethnicity, or sexual orientation. The Cathedral is known as “a place of worship for all people”. And so it is.

In his homily, Bishop Gene Robinson told the story of the report of the police officer who first came upon Matthew’s body, tied to that picket fence. There was a deer lying down in the snow next to Matthew. From all appearances, that deer had been there all night, keeping vigil with Matthew. He had not been alone. One of God’s creatures had great compassion on his suffering and had stayed with him all through that long, awful, painful, frigid night.

The police officer reports that as she approached Matthew’s body, the deer looked straight into her eyes and held her gaze for a long time before getting up and leaving. “I knew that that was the Lord, right there,” she said.

Bishop Robinson praised Mr. Shepard’s parents for not just grieving privately but for turning his killing, “this horrendous event,” into “something good.”

The more I think about it, the more I think that’s the real miracle of this gospel story of Blind Bartemaeus. I think the miracle was not so much about having his sight restored but more about what he did with his ability to see. He opened his eyes and followed Jesus – through his crucifixion on the cross and to his resurrection from the tomb.

The more I think about it, the more I think that can be the real miracle of the story of our lives. I think the miracle that is waiting to happen is for us all to open our eyes to what violent rhetoric and hateful speech is doing to us as individuals and as a nation.

When we do that, when we open our eyes, we can decide to end the violence and the hatred and turn all of these horrible events into something good.

Like Bartemaeus, we can have our sight restored.

Like Bartemaeus, our faith can and will heal us.

The more I think about it, the more I think Richard Rohr is right,

“Transformed people transform people”.


Monday, October 22, 2018


I have fallen in love with Galicia.

I didn't intend for it to happen. It just did. 

Perhaps it is because my maternal grandmother hailed from this part of the Iberian peninsula - in Portugal. I'm sure my maternal grandfather and paternal grandparents, who immigrated to the USA from the Azores, also have roots in this part of the world as well. 

In an inexplicable and strange way, it does feel so much like "home".

I look into the faces of the people in these villages and they could be my relatives, my aunts, uncles and cousins.  The hair is dark and thick and curly. The skin, "olive" complexion. The eyes are intense and expressive. And, of course, you couldn't miss the distinctive Iberian nose.

I listen to the sounds of the language and music and smell the food and I am instantly transported to my grandmother's kitchen.  I can hear her talking and singing as she cooks. 

There is a softness to the sounds of the language my grandmother reminded me constantly that I'd better learn fluently 'lest I be unable to speak with the angels, for it is a language so beautiful that it is the chosen form of communication in heaven.. 

It is a "shuusch" sound that falls with such familiarity and tenderness  on my ears that it almost makes me weep with a sense of ... what is it? Nostalgia? Homesickness?

Ah, no. It's not that. 

Now I remember. 

It's 'soledad', an inexplicable longing, a loneliness, a wanting for something that may be right in front of you but somehow is not available, perhaps because it has changed. Or, is no longer there as you remembered. Or, wasn't what you expected.

My grandmother used to remind me that you can have 'soledad' for a person when he or she is sitting right next to you.

I thought I was coming here to Spain to walk The Camino. And, I did that. I have the swollen ankles, the spider vein that popped on the back of my left calf and the still vaguely sore muscles to prove it.

More importantly, my heart is full and my soul is content that I not only physically walked The Camino (no small feat), but did so spiritually and emotionally as well.

At least, I thought I was content. 

Until I saw more of Galicia. 

And now, I have 'soledad' for a place I have only just this one time visited. 

I know. How does that even make any sense? 

I don't know. It just does. Somehow, it makes perfect sense. 

I am reminded of that wonderful quote by Blaise Pascal, "The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of."

It is said that The Camino provides what the heart and the soul did not know that it had lost. 

I am discovering this new chapter of The Camino which, it is also said, never ends at the Cathedral de Santiago. It only just begins there. 

And so, I am leaving this place knowing that I will be returning one day. 

Yes, I want to discover Iona and make a pilgrimage there.

Yes, I hope to finish the pilgrimage of the Axis Mundi and make pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem.

Now that I know the differences between being a tourist and a pilgrim, I am longing to see what my heart and my soul and my spirit will gain from those two ancient, holy places. 

But, I also hope to return here to Galicia as a pilgrim not a tourist, to discover or recover or uncover my ancestral roots and deepen my spirituality and commitment to service which was such an integral part of the spirituality of my grandparents.

And so, I'm off to the Aeropuerto de Santiago de Compestella. I wanted to go back into the Cathedral Square for one last time - perhaps to attend early mass at the little Capilla Santa Maria Solome, the mother of Santiago - but I simply couldn't bear to say goodbye again.

My heart is filled with emotions, mostly deep, deep gratitude and boundless joy.

My soul is wide open to endless possibilities and dreams.

And yes, I have 'soledad'.

But, it's good, you know?

It means that I have experienced something so good, so wonderful, so amazing, that to leave it brings an instant sense of longing.

In its own way, 'soledad' validates and affirms what the heart has always known.

If I somehow take a sudden, unexpected leave of this life - or, if it is simply my time to go - and you wonder where it is my soul will choose to hover, look no further than Galicia.

I think most of my relatives - past, present and yet to come - are all here.

I am richly blessed and so very, very grateful.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Day 12, Stage 11: O’Pedrouzo – Santiago (20 km / 12.4 mi)

Sunrise at Casa da Torre Branca
The day began at sunrise at the Casa da Torre Branca, a lovely farm house in Lavacolla which has been in the same family for over 400 years, where we had spent the night. We traveled through Pedrouzo and the remarkable, large stretches of eucalyptus forests and pine and fir reforestation areas.

Leaving Lavacolla, we began the ascent up to Monte De Gozo (Mount of Joy), a hill from where we caught our first glimpse of Santiago’s cathedral, which was breathtaking. There it was! Our destination! In plain sight! And yet, so much more walking to be done.

Suddenly, we were thrust out of the bucolic forests and meadows into the city of San Lazaro. Cars, buses, taxis – all jarring street noise which was a sharp reminder that a pilgrim’s journey is not one of sterile piety. The spiritual journey must go right into the heart of humanity – with all of its noise and clamor, its anxiety and suffering, its joys and sorrows – or it is meaningless.

Mount de Gozo (Mount of Joy)
I caught the first glimpse of the towers of the Cathedral from the small square of San Pedro (St. Peter) on which there is a small stone cross.

I must say, it took my breath away. I was flooded with a mixture of emotions. I wanted to go and yet, going there meant that the journey would end. I would have attained the goal of my destination.

As much as I wanted to be there – to ‘make it’ – I wanted to savor these last few steps.

I walked through Cervantes Plaza, via Sacra, Azabacheria Street, Plaza de Azabacheria and then, there I was, with hundreds of other pilgrims of all ages, at the Plaza del Obradoiro, looking at the baroque grandeur of the Cathedral de Santiago.

There I was, standing in the place which had once been the forest where the beheaded body of St. James had been buried, along with the two disciples who had carried his body there from Jerusalem.

There I was! I had made it to the place where for thousands of years millions of people had come to pay homage, to seek forgiveness and be absolved, to be granted a plenary indulgence, to be assured of entrance into heaven, to find an answer, or healing or a cure; or perhaps had no expectation and found nothing or, instead, found exactly what they didn’t know they had lost.

There I was! I found myself filled with a deep sense of gratitude and joy, full measure, pressed down and overflowing.

It was in the midst of that moment that I had a deep insight about how the pilgrimage is more than just a metaphor for life. It is the way of life.

A pilgrimage is filled with hot sunshine and cooling rain, with blisters and bruises, as well as times of unknowing and times of certainty. Life has its many challenges and trials, losses and blessings, its time of sweetness and joy as well as bitterness and sorrow.

A pilgrimage is made step-by-step, one foot in front of the other, in long periods of boredom and tedium, and moments of intense beauty and inexplicable happiness and profound insight. Life is best lived moment-by-moment, day by day, staying as much in the present as possible, marked by periods of clarity as well as uncertainty, sometimes with hope and other times with despair.

A pilgrimage does not necessarily have a lofty spirituality or sense of the holy; neither do some lives. Nevertheless, the Spirit of the Holy One is an ever-present companion, silent only because that Spirit is unrecognized or unacknowledged. 

Cathedral de Santiago
Hospice professionals talk about patients who have a “rally” – a few hour or few day burst of energy where the patient will suddenly ask for a favorite food after several days or even weeks of taking only bites of food and sips of liquid. 

They will ask to have someone in particular come and visit for no particular reason. Or, they will seek forgiveness from someone and/or ask for forgiveness from another.

I believe they have caught a glimpse of their “destination” and they want to slow down their journey a bit and savor for just a little while longer the fruits of their labors here on this side of Eden.

I think I had that “rally” in the Square of San Pedro when I caught my first glimpse of the towers of the Cathedral de Santiago. With my destination in sight, I wanted to savor where I had been and where I was going.

Oh, and then there was the exquisite, unspeakable joy of arriving at the beautiful city!

In the Eucharistic preface of the Burial of the Dead, the Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church has these words, “… for we know that life is changed, not ended…”.

Those words have always been profoundly important to me.

 I believe them with all my heart. I believe them even more deeply today.

When we were in Madrid, the leader of The Camino gave us a white rock to keep in our pocket and a Pilgrim’s Blessing.   I have that white rock near me as I type the words of that blessing.
1.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, if you discover that the Camino opens your eyes to what cannot be seen.

2.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, if what concerns you most is not getting there but getting there with others.

3.     Blessed are you Pilgrim when you gaze out at the Camino and you see it filled with names and sunrises.

4.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, because you have discovered that the real Camino begins when the walking ends.

5.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, if your backpack is getting emptier but your heart is so full that it doesn’t know where to keep more emotions.

6.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, if you discover that taking one step back to help a fellow Pilgrim is worth more than one hundred steps forward without worrying about others.

7.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, when words fail to express the gratitude you feel for every surprising moment on the Camino.

8.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, if you seek truth and make your life a Camino in constant search of people who embody the Camino, truth and life.

9.     Blessed are you Pilgrim, if you find yourself on the Camino and you present yourself with the gift of time without hurries so as not to neglect the image of your heart.

10.  Blessed are you Pilgrim, if you discover that a great part of the Camino is silence, and a great part of silence is prayer, and prayer brings you closer to your (Creator) who is waiting for you.
Life is changed, not ended
I hope that you have found some blessing as you have journeyed with me these last few days. 

I know I feel deeply blessed, full measure, pressed down and overflowing.

I will be posting a few more blog posts as I have a few more days here in Santiago.

Tomorrow I will travel to Rias Baixas by boat to watch the folks on that island harvest mussels and clams and scallops.

They will be brought on board the boat and steamed for us and served with the wine that is also produced on that island.

I travel to Madrid on Monday and will spend a few more hours discovering that magical city. I make my way home on Tuesday.

I am so very grateful for those of you who have kept me in prayer, sending me words of encouragement and support, cheering me on when I was afraid I wouldn’t make it.

As the Spanish say, “Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto.”

Thank you, Life, for you have given me so much.

Buen Camino, my friends. Buen Camino.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Day 11, Stage 10: Arzua – O’Pedrouzo (20 km / 12.4 mi)

Today we expect to see many more pilgrims and services along our way, since many of the different Caminos to Santiago will begin to unite. Once again, our route takes us through meadows, forests, orchards and rural villages.

In Preguntono, we take the road leading to Cortobe, Pereiirina, and Calzada. In Saleda the Way approaches the main road leading to Santa Irene, where there is a small 18th century chapel and a covered fountain with the image of St. Irene. Legend says that those who wash their feet in this fountain get cured and released of blisters.

Today is October 18, 2018, the Feast of St. Luke. Thirty-two years ago, I was ordained priest at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Lowell, MA. Lowell is one of the old “mill cities” where English mill owners hired young women from England and then Ireland and then Portugal to work for room and board and a small stipend of about one dollar per month.

In Lowell, one of the mill owners decided to build an Episcopal Church in town. Since his wife’s name was Ann, he decided the church should be named after her. And, since church attendance would be required of his employees, he also required that they tithe 10% of their monthly wages to the church. They had no choice. It was required.

There was poetic justice in my ordination there.

I am the daughter and granddaughter and niece of “mill girls” who worked the mills in the nearby mill town of Fall River, MA.

I am also the daughter and granddaughter and niece of labor union organizers who fought for safe working conditions and fair wages and benefits.

My family became activists and organizers after a fire in one of the factories took the life of my grandparent’s firstborn son and namesake, August Lima Medeiros, Jr. 

I am quite certain that the owner of those mills in Lowell rolled over in his grave at the thought of a Portuguese-Azorean “greenhorn” – and, for goodness sake, a woman – being ordained in “his” church.

That is not exactly the vision he had for the future of that church. His wealth and privilege and sense of how the world is ordered would have prevented him from even imaging such a possibility.

Pity, eh?

Last night, I had a “memory-dream” – a dream that I first experienced the night of my ordination in my bed in the house in Lowell where we lived. It comes back to me every now and again.

I remember being awakened in the middle of the night by a light in the room. As I opened my eyes, the light grew bigger and brighter until it filled the entire room. The center of the light was a pinpoint of open space which beckoned me out of the bedroom. I got up slowly from the bed and softly tipped-toed out of the room to the hallway.

There, I saw the entire city of Lowell illuminated, shining beautifully like a brilliant gem in the velvety night sky. It was not at all the gritty, down-on-its luck city one saw in the harsh reality of the day, with mills long-abandoned and bordered up, waiting and hoping and praying for the next wave of immigrants to make them hum with activity again.

I don’t know why, but I heard myself ask the light, “Am I to stay here?”

And, from the middle of the middle of the light, a sound spoke to the middle of the middle of me: “You will travel far in my name.”

And then, that was it!  The light was gone and I was standing in the middle of the hallway, in the middle of the night, all by myself, in the dark.

I went back to bed and convinced myself that I was just sleepwalking – just a little over-exerted from all the excitement and emotion of the day.

But, that dream has returned and haunted me for years. Sometimes, it just appears. Other times, I invite it back so I can understand deeper layers of its meaning.

Thing of it is, that sound was right. I have traveled far and wide, doing this work of ministry.

I’ve worked in and either been canonically resident or licensed in six dioceses – Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maryland, Newark and Delaware. I’ve attended seven general conventions – three times a deputy – and two Lambeth Conferences.

The five years that I was Canon Missioner to The Oasis and worked for Jack Spong, I traveled all over The Episcopal Church, preaching, teaching, presiding and witnessing, mostly in church which claimed never to have met an LGBTQ person before, much less one who was ordained.  

I never would have even imagined, thirty-two years ago, that I would be walking the Camino on this anniversary. Or, as a matter of fact, ever.

I posted this poem on my FB page this morning. It is a poem by Antonio Machado that I discovered a few years ago and it has served to sum up my understanding of my vocation and ministry thus far. I have taken it with me these past 32 years of ordained ministry.

It is the second stanza which has really inspired my sense of ministry. I have come to know that the Bees of Heaven will gather my failures and take them to the Queen of Heaven to be blessed and will return to me as white combs to build new ministry and sweet honey to sustain me.
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.
Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.
The Bees of Heaven have been with me on this Camino, taking all my failures up to the Creator who is blessing it and now, even now, is making of it white combs with which I will build the future of my vocation and ministry.

Tomorrow, we walk 20 km to Santiago.

Buen Camino, amigos. I am so blessed that you have come this far with me.,