Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Anglican Prayer Beads: The Nameless Women of Scripture - Sisters of Jesus


As I count them, among scholars who have searched scripture, there are approximately 26 unnamed women in the Christian Scripture. Checking these same sources, there are about 80 unnamed women in Hebrew Scripture.


To many of us, that is not at all surprising. At quick glance, it looks like there are hundreds of women who are named, mostly in Hebrew Scripture. However, comparing the nameless women in both scriptures, it would appear that women were more apt to be named in Hebrew Scripture than in the time of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection.

In the genealogy, it is clear that women were not named after the Babylonian Captivity. That seems to have been carried over once they returned to “The Promised Land”. When women were named, it was, at best, inconsistent.


In the weeks of Christmastide and Epiphany, when we celebrate the Incarnation and the Manifestations or Showings of the Incarnation, I want to lift up the lives of some of these women and mediate on their lives using Anglican Prayer Beads.


My particular focus will be on the Nameless women. Since so little is known about them, much of what I will write might fall under the heading of “Christian Midrash”. It’s what I like to call ‘respectful conjecture and supposition’, which places it somewhere below the lofty, scholarly approach of “Christian Midrash” but, I hope, far above “Parlor Gossip”.


I want to begin with the Sisters of Jesus. No, that’s not the name of a religious order. The sisters of Jesus are actually mentioned in two places in Scripture:


Matthew 13:55, 56:   “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?’”


And, Mark 6:3:  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary[a and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him.”


The context of both these pieces of scripture is the return of Jesus to his home in Nazareth. When the Sabbath came, Jesus began to teach in the synagogue and “many were amazed”. But, some balked at his presumption to teach them. I mean, wasn’t he the son of Joseph, the tekton, the master craftsman? Don’t we know his brothers and sisters? Isn’t he punching above his weight?


“His sisters” are not mentioned anywhere again in scripture. Early Christian literature seems to name only two women, but there may have been more. The Gospel of Philip names them Assia and Lydia. Other writings name them Maria or Anna and Salome.


Some writers identify Salome as the daughter of Joseph from a first marriage. Which begs others question – First Marriage? Who was the first wife of Joseph? – which will never be answered, but will go on my list of questions to ask Jesus when I get to heaven. 


Can we surmise that these two sisters may have been part of the “other women” who went to the grave to tend to the dead body of Jesus? Salome is named in Mark’s Gospel as “the mother of James and John” and Matthew names her as “the mothers of the sons Zebedee”.


Since “Mary, the mother of Jesus and widow of Joseph of Nazareth” is named as being in that group, is it possible that Salome, the sister of Jesus, was also there, as well as Mary (if that was her name) one of several Mary’s named in that passage? (Luke 24:10)


There is more we don’t know than we do know, but the “sisters of Jesus” provide us, at the very least, with an understanding that Jesus grew up in a close community of siblings who squabbled and fussed and teased each other as sisters and brothers often do.


The fact that he had sisters gives us a window of possibility as to why Jesus changed his mind about the request from the Canaanite woman whom he initially dismissed with a racial slur but then granted her request of healing for her daughter. (Matthew 15:21-28)


It may also provide an insight as to why Jesus sat and engaged the Samaritan woman in conversation at the well, which was shocking to the apostles when they returned. (John 4)

So, to the Sisters of Jesus, whether they be Assia and Lydia or Anna or Mary and Salome, we owe a debt of gratitude. Their relationship with Jesus undoubtedly influenced his life and his ministry.


As we remember them, let us recall the words spoken to her by the Angel Gabriel and the song their mother no doubt sang for them and taught them to sing, which certainly reached the ears and touched the heart of their brother, Jesus.


The Cross

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee

Blessed art thou among women and blessed is

the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.


The Invitatory

The Holy One has cast down the mighty from their thrones, 
and has lifted up the lowly. 

G-d has filled the hungry with good things, 
and the rich have been sent away empty.


The Cruciform
From this day all generations will call me blessed: 
the Almighty has done great things for me, 
and holy is the Name of G-d.


The Weekly

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, 
my spirit rejoices in G-d my Savior. 


Watch it here on Facebook

Monday, December 28, 2020

Love In The Time of COVID: That which is essential



Earlier this evening I had the enormous privilege of presiding at a Celebration and Renewal of the 30th Anniversary of Wedding Vows.


It was via Zoom. And, by cell phone.


Let me explain.


The couple are Roman Catholics who left their church earlier this year. I didn't ask why and they didn't say. Actually, we just haven't had time for that conversation. Yet.


They have been attending an Episcopal Church where I've been helping out Here's the thing: They've never been inside the church building, proper. They were just invited to the weekly Zoom-charist by a friend who is a member of the church and serves on the vestry. They loved the experience and stayed. Or, rather, they keep clicking on the Zoom link every Sunday.


They didn't fall in love with the church architecture or the sound of the organ. They didn't love the choir or the beautiful stained glass windows. They have never even tasted the wonderful goodies or the excellent coffee at coffee hour.


They've never had a face-to-face, actual, in-person meeting with other congregation members or the previous interim priest who has left, nor I, helping out when I can, especially recently, through Advent and Christmas.


So, yes, I've never met them in person, but I've already provided some pastoral care and presided at a family prayer service for the husband's 84 year old mother who died in a hospital in Florida of COVID. She was, undoubtedly, the family matriarch. No family members were allowed to be present at her death.


That led the couple to say, "Hey, we have an anniversary coming up. We'd like to do something to mark that. Something just simple and quiet. But, maybe we could, well, maybe gather the family? Do you have any ideas about what we can we do?"


Do I haven any ideas? About liturgy? About gathering family and community?


They obviously don't know me, right? Well, they're learning.


Of course, I put together a service - patched together from Episcopal, Lutheran and Roman Catholic sources. It sounded familiar enough to their ears - which they loved - and yet it was unique to them.


Suddenly, this turned into a family affair. They invited their children and family and the original wedding party to the event. I don't know how many were actually on the Zoom call, but it seemed quite a lot.


Unfortunately, there was some sort of glitch in the Zoom session - the husband thought he had set up two sessions and had sent me the 'trial run' and I couldn't get onto the one with the rest of the family and friends.


So, not to be deterred, they called me on my cell phone and put their cell phone next to the computer. And, everyone could hear me and I could hear them. And they made such a joyful noise.


People cried and laughed and the couple kissed and everyone said how much they didn't know they needed this as a family after losing Grandmother last week but they were so grateful.


I'm just astounded by what technology allows us to do.


You know, this pandemic is wretched. It is evil. Of that, there is no doubt. And yet, it presents us with the best time to be Christian. We have so many tools available to us.


We are so advanced and yet we're learning that we still have so much more to learn.


Our buildings are lovely and they are important, but they are not necessary. Our faith is inspired by our beautiful music and musicians and glorious instruments, but it is strengthened by prayer in community that gathers where and how it can.


Death may steal some from our midst, but life has this way of going on. "Life is changed, not ended," our Prayer Book reminds us. Joy finds its way into the necessary moments of our life.


Even at the grave we make our song, "Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!"


These are uncommon, extraordinary times. So, our response is necessarily uncommon and extraordinary.


Love in the time of COVID is still love. Only more so.


In the time of COVID, the church is still the church. Only more so.


We're just learning that, sometimes, we're more of the church outside the building.


We're learning what the fox taught the Little Prince, "That which is essential is invisible to the eye."


Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Word Made Flesh

 A Sermon preached via Facebook Live Broadcast
Sirach 26:10 The Headstrong Daughter
Christmas I - December 27, 2020

"And the Word was made flesh and lived among us."

Believe it or not, this is John’s Nativity Story. This is his answer to Matthew’s genealogy. This is St. John walking away from Luke’s embroidery of the Nativity and getting right to the very heart – the middle of the middle – of the incarnation.


These are the things that matter to St. John – words. Actually, The Word. The word that was in the beginning, is now and forever will be. That same sacred Word of God that became flesh and lived among us.


This passage is why St. John is always depicted as an eagle. His Christology – his theology of Jesus the Christ – is summed up in the image of an eagle, the only one of God’s creatures who can soar so high in the heavens that he has seen the face of God.


I believe it was Maya Angelou who once said that words and language are what separate us from other life forms and make us human. It's the conversations we have that deepen our human relationships. It is those conversations we have that give shape and form to our individual human identity.


So, let me tell you a story of creation that was written by a modern mystic, poet and Jungian psychoanalyst, one Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Here is her story about the use of words and the creation of stories.


Imagine pulling up your mat, sitting with your legs crossed. Now, place yourself in the sacred circle and listen: Once upon a time……there were no stories.


“How did stories come into being? Ah, stories came into the world because God was lonely.


God was lonely? Oh yes, for you see, the void at the beginning of time was very dark because it was so tightly packed with stories that not even one story stood out from others. Stories were therefore without form, and the face of God moved over the deep, searching and searching – for a story. And God’s loneliness was very great.


Finally, a great idea rose up and God whispered, “Let there be light.” And, there was a light so great that God was able to reach into the void and separate the dark stories from the stories of light. As a result, clear morning stories came to life and evening tales as well. And God saw that it was good.


Now, God felt encouraged, and next separated the heavenly stories from the earthly stories, and these from the stories about water. Then God took great joy in creating the small and the tall trees and brilliantly colored seeds and plants, so that there could be stories about the trees and seeds, and plants, too.


God laughed with pleasure, and from God’s laughter fell the stars and the sky into their places. God set into the sky the golden light, the sun, to rule the day, and the moon, the silver light to rule the night. And in all, God created these so that there would be stories about the stars and the moon, stories about the sun, and stories about all the mysteries of the night.



God was so pleased with these that God turned to creating birds, sea monsters, and every living creature that moves, every fish and all the plants under the sea, and every winged creature, and all the cattle and creeping things, and all the beasts of the earth, according to their kind. And from all these came stories about God’s winged messengers, and stories about ghosts and monsters, and tales of whales and fishes, and other stories about life before life knew itself, and about all that had life now, and all that would come to life one day.


Yet, even with all these wondrous creatures and all these magnificent stories, even with all the pleasures of creating, God was still lonely. God paced and thought and thought and paced and finally! It came to our great Creator. “Ah, Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them care for, and be cared for in return, by all creatures of the seas, all those of the air, and all those of the earth.


So God created human beings from the dust of the ground, and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life, and human beings became living souls, male and female God created to them. And as these were created, suddenly, all the stories that go along with being completely human also sprang to life, millions and millions of stories. And God blessed all of these and placed them in a garden called Eden.


Now God strode through the heavens wreathed in smiles, for at least, you see, God was lonely no more. It was not stories that had been missing from creation, but rather, and most especially, the soulful humans who could tell them.”


Meister Eckhart, a 13th century theologian and mystic, said it this way, “God laughed and begot the Son. Together they laughed and begot the Holy Spirit. And from the laughter of the Three, the universe was born.” 


I think, each time we tell our stories, God smiles and laughs and something in us is released into the cosmos, bringing new life to the rest of creation and deep into our very souls.


When we live into – and out of – the Gospel story, bringing justice and liberation to all of God’s creatures and creation, Jesus smiles and laughs and something in us is released into the cosmos, bringing healing and hope to the rest of creation and deep into our very souls.


When we create stories and poems and art and music and sculpture and instruments and tools and ideas, and concepts, The Holy Spirit smiles and laughs and something in us is released into the cosmos, bringing new life and a new spirit to the rest of creation and deep into our very souls.


And, all three members of the Trinity laugh together, and that laughter, that joy, that creative energy, I believe, is what is at the center of the universe, allowing it to renew and give birth to itself again – despite our human penchant for foolishness and arrogance which make our relationships with each other and the rest of creation toxic, and pollutes the face of the earth.


And that, my friends, is the best Nativity Story. Ever.  Indeed, I think the laughter and joy at the center of the Universe – when heaven and earth laugh and rejoice together in creation – may well be God’s favorite Nativity Story, too.  



Friday, December 25, 2020

Celtic Advent - Day XL - December 25


Celtic Advent - Day XL – December 25


Wildly Unimaginable Blessings

Alden Solovy

Let us dream
Wildly unimaginable blessings…
Blessings so unexpected,
Blessings so beyond our hopes for this world,
Blessings so unbelievable in this era,
That their very existence
Uplifts our vision of creation,
Our relationships to each other,
And our yearning for life itself.

Let us dream
Wildly unimaginable blessings…
A complete healing of mind, body, and spirit,
A complete healing for all,
The end of suffering and strife,
The end of plague and disease,
When kindness flows from the river of love,
When goodness flows from the river of grace,
Awakened in the spirit of all beings,
When G-d’s light,
Radiating holiness,
Is seen by everyone.

Let us pray —
With all our hearts —
For wildly unimaginable blessings,
So that G-d will hear the call
To open the gates of the Garden,
Seeing that we haven’t waited,
That we’ve already begun to repair the world,
In testimony to our faith in life,
Our faith in each other,
And our faith in the Holy One,
Blessed be G-d’s Name.


When I began the process of writing a reflection for each day of the forty days of Celtic Advent, I really had no idea what I was committing myself to. Seriously. ‘Round about Day twenty I thought to myself, “Really? Only halfway through? OMG!”


Turns out, the process became a ‘life review’ of sorts. As I spent time in meditation and reflection, I allowed my ‘monkey brain’ to have at it and see what memories it would uncover. Some were funny. Some were uncomfortable. One or two were actually painful.


And, those were just the ones I chose to share in public.


The thing of it is I didn’t know when I started was that this was actually important work, necessary work for my soul, especially in the midst of the pandemic.


And yes, I’m going to say it: It was therapeutic. Without the therapist. Self-therapy. Well, okay, if I’m honest, a lot of this stuff – these stories – and the insights I’ve received, were first uncovered in therapy sessions.


I can tell you this as the honest-to-God, hand-to-Jesus truth: There are at least two therapists out there who have new living room furniture or a lovely new deck on the back of their homes because of my neurosis.

The amazing thing, well, to me anyway, was so many of you could relate. These stories and reflections touched something in you that I thought was just in me. And, it made you laugh and it made you cry, right along with me.


What an unexpected gift!


Oh, and I got to brush off my skills at using Roman Numerals. Please do note that I remembered the Roman Numeral for forty. XL. Right there. My 9th Grade Latin teacher is smiling down from heaven.


Her name was Ella Bella Philpot. No, I’m not making that up. She was a mousey little woman who was probably in her 40s but looked like she was in her 60s. She had a slight facial tick and often blinked her eyes several times in rapid succession which we all could see despite the fact that she wore heavy coke-bottle thick glasses with thin gold wire frames.


She also had a very bad case of dandruff which covered her glasses like her own, personal year-long snow flurry.


She wore dowdy tweed Jonathan Meyers suits every day of the three seasons of the school year.  She would often pull down the ends of her tweed jacket with a smart jerk, especially after writing on the board but often after one of us had successfully conjugated a verb – at which point she would add a very rare smile.


I saw her out at the town fair one hot July evening. She was wearing a lovely, light colored summer dress with a flouncy trim all around her neckline and the bottom hem of her dress. I remember that she was wearing open-toed shoes – with nylon stockings. She was being escorted by her brother, a very thin, tall drink of water who was wearing a light, short-sleeved, pastel colored plaid shirt, with a pastel blue bow tie.


I remember whispering to my mother that THAT was Ms. Ella Bella Philpot and THAT was her brother Robert James Philpot, IV.


I was dying to see the reaction on my mother’s face. She managed to maintain control but her left eyebrow escaped and raised itself in a delightful upside down parenthesis which matched the slight uplift to her lips and seemed to contain whatever it was that she wouldn’t allow escape her mouth.


“What an interesting pair,” was all she said.


As you can see, my monkey brain has been active this morning.


Some of you have been very kind and suggested that I have these reflections published. I confess, that thought is rather daunting to me. Mostly because I haven’t the faintest idea about the publishing world. It feels daunting and very presumptuous of me to take all these stories and think I might be able to sell them to people who would actually pay money to read them.


It is humbling, however, to think of walking into a WalMart and finding copies of my book in a pile of others in a display marked, “75% off”.


We’ll see where the Spirit leads. I do thank you for your kind words.


All of this is to say I hope you will “muddle through” all of the restraints and constrains of this most bizarre holiday and have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now.


May this be The Best Pandemic Christmas Ever – and, please God, the last.


I will leave you with the second prayer Alden Solovy wrote for the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021. 

Pervasive Peace

Alden Solovy

May it be Your will, G-d of our fathers and mothers,
That the year ahead bring a pervasive and complete peace
On all the inhabitants of the earth,
Beyond all the dreams of humanity.

,יהי רצון מלפניך, אלוקי אבותינו ואמותינו
,שהשנה הבאה תביא שלום מוחלט ושלם
,על כל יושבי תבל
.מעבר לכל חלומות האנושות

May it be so. Amen.


Merry Christmas to you and all those you love, near and far!







Thursday, December 24, 2020

Celtic Advent - Day XXXIX - December 24


Celtic Advent - Day XXXIX - December 24


What do I get for this? I said
& the angel gave me a catalog
filled with toasters & clock radios
& a basketball signed by Michael Jordan
& I said, But this is just stuff
& the angel smiled at me
& swallowed me in her arms.
I'm so glad you said that,
she whispered to me.
I knew you still had a chance.

     ~ From StoryPeople


Do you need a Savior?

When I was serving a suburban congregation in Northern New Jersey, one of the littlest of the children did what all parents in the Tri-State Area consider a Rite of Passage. She went with her parents to Radio City Music Hall to see The Nativity Story.

I’m told she was absolutely enraptured by the performance, positively caught up watching the story which she had only been read now dramatically unfold before her eyes: The sweet baby Jesus, meek and mild, the young Virgin Mary, the strong, silent Joseph.

Just before the dramatic ending, when, of course, Santa makes his entrance and the Rocketts dance on stage . . . . (Funny, I don’t remember that part from scripture. Well, never mind.) . . .the melodious voice of one, speaking in very measured tones from behind the curtain, calls out the rest of the story. That this child that was born would grow to be the savior of the world. That he was born so he could die for us . . . .

At which point, this wonderful precocious child of our community sat forward on the edge of her chair, looked with wild bewilderment at her parents and said, “He DIED? He’s DEAD?”

Her parents, being very wise, said, “You know, we’ll be in church tomorrow. Why don’t you ask Reverend Elizabeth?”

So, the very next day, just before service, her father came and told me the story, “Heads up!” he said. Such is the lot of a parish priest.

Right after the service, right on cue, the child came running to me, most distressed and breathlessly dramatic. “Reverend Elizabeth! Reverend Elizabeth! Did you know that Jesus is DEAD? Did you know that they KILLED JESUS?”

I took her by the hand and led her to the stairs at the entrance to the Parish Hall and prayed a frenetic little prayer to the Holy Spirit to come. We sat down and I heard myself say, “Well, you know, the people who were around Jesus were good people. They were just scared people. And, when people are scared they can sometimes make very bad decisions and do bad things. Even people today do the same thing.”

She nodded her head in agreement like a wise person in her 50s. “But, why did they have to kill BABY JESUS?” she pleaded.

“Oh, they didn’t kill Baby Jesus,” I said “Jesus was 33 years old when he died.”

“THIRTY-THREE?? That’s how old my MOTHER is!” she said, which made the adults who had gathered at a safe distance chuckle and snort.

“So,” she said, they didn’t kill BABY Jesus?”

“No,” said I.

“Oh,” she said as she got up and straightened her dress, “That’s different.” And then, she ran into the Parish Hall and headed straight for the cookies.

Do you need a savior? Especially one who is weak and vulnerable and dependent on you?

Well, here’s my answer. It’s in the form of a story – one of my favorite Christmas stories so don’t stop me if you’ve heard it before.

It’s about my 6th or 7th  Christmas. That was the year I got my own room. I am the eldest of four children and there were only three bedrooms in our apartment. My parents fixed up the room in the attic just for me. Oh, at the time, the room was bare – almost Spartan – but I knew it had great potential once more of my things were moved in. I was absolutely thrilled. I felt this was going to be the best Christmas ever.

In my first night in my own room, I was all snuggled into my bed, surrounded by my comforter, reading my favorite Nancy Drew book when my mother called up that it was time to turn off the light and go to bed.

That’s when I discovered the problem. The light was in the center of the room. In the ceiling with a pull string. That meant I had to get up from my bed to turn off the light. Which meant that, once the light was off, I would have to make it from the center of the room back into my bed. And, I had to do that before the monsters who lived under my bed came out to attack me.

How could I do that? I decided to ignore my mother. It became a pattern in my life.

My mother called again. I felt the tears well up in my eyes, and my throat began to burn. I couldn’t let her know that I was crying. Big girls don’t cry and I didn’t want to loose my big girl’s room so soon after getting it. So, I screwed my courage, threw off the covers, and ran to the light, turned it off, and ran back into my bed – walking so fast I’m sure my feet did not touch the floor.

But, I knew. I just knew that the monsters would come and get me anyway. I knew they didn’t like to be fooled and they had been tricked out of getting me. Soon and very soon they would start to appear. I shut my eyes tight and waited for the inevitable.

Suddenly, miraculously, I heard a “click” and I opened my eyes to see a small sliver of light at the bottom of the door at end of the stairs that led to my attic room. My mother had turned on the hallway light. Perhaps she had heard the anxiety in my feat as I ran to turn off the light.

But, in the midst of the darkness there was light. A small sliver of light, but light. That light was all I needed to feel safe. To find some sense of security. To be saved from my worst nightmare and imagination of the unknown.

Jesus is, for me, that small sliver of light at the bottom of my worst fears and imaginings.

I don’t know about you, but I need that light in my life.

When people fail me – when they disappoint me – I need that small sliver of light in my life to give me hope.

When I fail others – when I disappoint them – I need that small sliver of light in my life to call me back to my best self again. To confess and repent and try to do better and be better. To lift me from my depression and call me into peace and joy and love and hope.

Do you need a savior?

Well, whether you need one or not, one is on the way.

Do you need a savior?

Ready or not, here he comes – again. There is the voice of one crying into the wilderness of our lives. It is saying, “Prepare the way of the Lord” – who may not come as you expect in a great, flashy show, but as a small sliver of hope.

A minute dollop of peace.

A tiny scrap of joy.

A seemingly insignificant morsel of love.

Even so, it will be enough to save you from your worst imaginings of the world, your harsh experience of others and the deepest fears and terrors you suffer in the wildernesses of your life.

I'll leave you with these thoughts about faith and church from Rachel Held Evans

“One of the most destructive mistakes we Christians make is to prioritize shared beliefs over shared relationship, which is deeply ironic considering we worship a God who would rather die than lose relationship with us.” ~ Rachel Held Evans

“Faith isn’t having everything figured out ahead of time; faith is about following the quiet voice of God without having everything figured out ahead of time.” ~ RHE

“I am a Christian,” I concluded, “because the story of Jesus is still the story I’m willing to risk being wrong about.” ~ Rachel Held Evans

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Celtic Advent - Day XXXVIII - December 23




“God’s grace is a gift that is freely given to us. We don’t earn a thing when it comes to God’s love, and we only try to live in response to the gift. No one is climbing the spiritual ladder. We don’t continually improve until we are so spiritual we no longer need God. We die and are made new, but that’s different from spiritual self-improvement. We are simultaneously sinner and saint, 100 percent of both, all the time. The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority. The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t, through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.”
― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint



The pandemic has forced us into some interesting scriptural and liturgical gymnastics in order to bring the Eucharist to congregations. Some churches are doing “drive by” communion. Others are doing “parking lot” communion.


There are some churches that have created “Pod Churches” where a Eucharistic Visitor is specially commissioned and assigned to a specific household to bring consecrated hosts. Together, they watch Eucharist being live streamed and, at the appropriate time, the communicate themselves.


Other churches have chosen to use the idea of “Spiritual Communion” wherein a prayer of special intention from Armed Forces Handbook is said while the priest is live streaming Eucharist. I’ll post a copy of that prayer at the end of this reflection.


Bishops and priests and deacons are, understandably, nervous. On the one hand, we want to take seriously the notion of The True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. On the other hand, some are concerned about the Eucharist becoming a fetish of sorts. Trying to find the balance means some experimentation, which some bishops are loathed to allow.


Meanwhile, people are spiritually hungry. We are muddling along as best we know how, but none of it is completely satisfying – especially as we come to celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation in the Nativity of Our Lord.


Which brought back a memory of my six months of diaconal ministry in 1986 when I was a Chaplain at the University of Lowell in Lowell, MA.


We were serious as a heart attack about the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, of which I had no doubt and about which I was – and am, still – very sober and somber, but as a transitional deacon there were pragmatics and practicalities to be consider as I endeavored to establish a weekly “Spaghetti Supper and Eucharist” at our home in Lowell for the University Students every Sunday evening.

Ann Fowler, a dear friend of mine, had been ordained to the priesthood and, as it turned out, had an abundance of home baked bread which had been consecrated but not used during her ordination service.

Ann asked if I would like to take it home. I was thrilled to do so, as I had been borrowing consecrated hosts from my brothers (only brothers, then) in the Episcopal Churches of Lowell – St. Anne’s, where I was to be ordained that October –  and St. John’s.

Ms. Conroy looked at the three loaves of bread I was carrying back to the car and, when I told her what they were, was absolutely, positively horrified.

“What are you going to do with them?” she asked, “They certainly won’t keep for more than a week!”

“I shall put them in the freezer,” I said, cheerily.

“IN THE FREEZER??!!” she thundered.

“That’s the Body of Christ,” she said, breathlessly. “You can’t put Jesus IN THE FREEZER!”

Now, let me pause here to explain something about long-term relationships.

There comes a point when you understand that your role – your job, indeed, your bounded duty – in any sacred, committed relationship, is to torment one another.

I know. It’s not stated in the marriage vows. But, every couple, at some point in their marriage eventually understands this.

Back to my story, then:

In that moment, I knew that Ms. Conroy had just written out, signed, sealed and delivered, a License to Torment. And, it had my name on it. I couldn't actually see it, but I had no doubt. I went home, put the consecrated bread in the freezer, and hardly slept at all in gleeful anticipation of the morning.

There she was, in the kitchen, drinking her morning coffee and reading her newspaper. I went to the refrigerator, opened the freezer door and said, “Barbara. It’s me. Jesus. I’m so cold. Help me.”

Ms. Conroy looked up from her paper, frowned, stirred her coffee, returned to her paper, and said nothing more.

And it was night, and it was morning, the second day.

Act II. Same scene. I went over to the refrigerator, opened the freezer door, and said, “Barbara. It’s me. Jesus. Behind the broccoli. It’s freezing in here. Help me.”
Ms. Conroy emitted what can only be called a low growl. I knew I had been warned, but I simply couldn’t resist.

Pray for me, a sinner.

And it was night, and it was morning, the third day.

Act II. Same scene. And, ACTION.

On cue, I opened the freezer door and said, “Please, Barbara. It’s Jesus. You have to help me. I’m so cold. I'm FREEZING!”

And I said, “If you really are the savior, help yourself!” And slammed the freezer door.

At which point, Ms. Conroy slammed her hand on the table, went over to the refrigerator, opened the freezer door, removed the three loaves of frozen consecrated bread and starting walking to the back door.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“I’m going to feed this bread to the birds!” said she, and stormed off as I watched her from the kitchen window, chuckling as she tried to tear pieces off the frozen loaves of bread, which would have required a miracle for her to perform.

Now, it wasn’t that I doubted for a minute that Jesus was – IS – present in the consecrated bread. Indeed, I pushed that point of belief to its ultimate, albeit ridiculous conclusion.

It’s that I believed it so much, I played with any doubt that He was present, even in frozen form. Better in frozen form, I reasoned, which could be thawed and consumed than to have grown moldy and inedible and then, I suppose, burned.

And, I think that’s the point of faith – to believe enough to play with your doubts.


Tomorrow evening on Christmas Eve, we will hear the story of the Nativity and much of it will surpass the bounds of logic and reason. And, it won’t make a lick of difference. We’ll all enter fully into the story and, even though we aren’t in church and the organ isn’t playing all the familiar and much loved Christmas carols, Jesus will still be present to us, even though he will come to us via cyberspace.


As the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “For with God, all things are possible.”


I will leave you with these words from Nadia Boltz-Weber to consider as we prepare our hearts to make room for the Savior in the manger of our hearts – and computer or laptop or smart phone screens

“My spirituality is most active, not in meditation, but in the moments when: I realize God may have gotten something beautiful done through me despite the fact that I am an asshole, and when I am confronted by the mercy of the gospel so much that I cannot hate my enemies, and when I am unable to judge the sin of someone else (which, let’s be honest, I love to do) because my own crap is too much in the way, and when I have to bear witness to another human being’s suffering despite my desire to be left alone, and when I am forgiven by someone even though I don’t deserve it and my forgiver does this because he, too, is trapped by the gospel, and when traumatic things happen in the world and I have nowhere to place them or make sense of them but what I do have is a group of people who gather with me every week, people who will mourn and pray with me over the devastation of something like a school shooting, and when I end up changed by loving someone I’d never choose out of a catalog but whom God sends my way to teach me about God’s love.”
― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People



Prayer for Spiritual Communion

Armed Forces Handbook.


In union, O Lord, with your faithful people at every altar of your Church, where the Holy Eucharist is now being celebrated, I desire to offer to you praise and thanksgiving. I remember your death, Lord Christ; I proclaim your resurrection; I await your coming in glory. Since I cannot receive you today in the Sacrament of your Body and Blood, I beseech you to come spiritually into my heart. Cleanse and strengthen me with your grace, Lord Jesus, and let me never be separated from you. May I live in you, and you in me, in this life and in the life to come. Amen. 


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Celtic Advent - XXXVII- December 22


Celtic Advent – Day XXXVII – December 22


“Some rabbis say that, at birth, we are each tied to God with a string, and that every time we sin, the string breaks. To those who repent of their sins, especially in the days of Rosh Hashanah, God sends the angel Gabriel to make knots in the string, so that the humble and contrite are once again tied to God. Because each one of us fails, because we all lose our way on the path to righteousness from time to time, our strings are full of knots. But, the rabbis like to say a string with many knots is shorter than one without knots. So the person with many sins but a humble heart is closer to God.”      
                         ~Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood



I was a newly ordained priest at my first call as Chaplain at University of Lowell, in Lowell, MA. One of the first mission projects I created was to establish a weekly Eucharist at the Solomon Carter Mental Health Center. I had carefully trained a handful of students in how to lead worship and, together, we had decided that two of them would come with me to the Center, on a rotating basis.


The third floor of the Center was a 'locked unit' - pretty much a human waste basket for all those people who had been released from psychiatric facilities - where they would stay for a few weeks, be released to the streets for a few weeks and then, readmitted again after a brief stopover at the Lowell Police Station and the City Jail for some obtuse, vague charge as 'disturbing the peace'.


I had secured permission to provide a service of Holy Communion, as it would be advertised, making sure the staff knew that I would be bringing in bread (or, hosts, if need be) and wine.


"Nope," they said, "can't bring in anything - not hosts, not bread - from the outside. Especially not wine."


"Okay," I said, "Can you provide me with a few slices of bread and some grape juice?"


"No bread," they said, "We had a 'suicide-by-stuffing-bread' last year. No bread on the ward. And, no peanut butter. That's even worse."


"Okay," I said, "No problem with the peanut butter. How about some saltine crackers and some grape juice?"


"Deal," they said, "We keep them in packages of two - no 'stuffing' - and you can just open up as many packages as you need."


Imagine my surprise when I appeared for that first service and found, waiting for me, some graham crackers and grapefruit juice.

"It's all we had," they said without apology, adding, "It's the end of the month. Supplies are low."


In I went, to the locked "Recreation Room". I heard the door lock behind me and realized that I was alone in the room with two terrified students and about 25 people who were in all sort and manner of 'altered states' of consciousness.


People were walking around nervously, pacing, smoking, muttering to themselves, occasionally shouting out obscenities.


I set the table, yelled out what was about to happen, and asked people to take their seats.


No one did.


I started anyway - said a few, abbreviated opening words, one of the students read the first lesson, the other led the psalm. I went right to the gospel and then said a few words about it.


To my amazement, some of the folks actually sat down and were listening to me. The room was not exactly quiet, but the din had certainly decreased a few decibels and was now a dull buzz.


As I started to say the Eucharistic Prayer, one woman in the front - Helen, I'll never forget her - spoke up.  Helen's eyes looked like the last 20 or 30 years of her life had witnessed some pretty rough roads. Makeup clung to the deep wrinkles and lines in her face, her eyelids were a bright blue with a crooked line of mascara outlining them, and her lips were a misshapen bright cherry red.


She looked like a tragic clown in a very painfully human circus in this "Recreational Room".


"Hey, are you allowed to do that? I mean, being a woman and all," she asked in a gravelly voice.


"Yes, I am an ordained Episcopal Priest," I said, sounding every bit like a newly ordained and slightly insecure Episcopal Priest.


"Yeah, sure you are" she said, taking a drag from her cigarette, "and I’m the Queen of Sheba. Well, I can't take communion. Divorced, you know."


"Sure you can," I said, "Everyone is welcome at the Lord's Table."


She looked at the oblong utility table where I had set out the starched, white corporal, and had the shiny silver paten and chalice, raised an eyebrow of suspicion, shrugged her shoulders, and lit another cigarette from the one she had almost finished.


I got through the Eucharistic Prayer and marveled as most of the people in the room seemed to be paying close attention to what I was doing. Perhaps a memory from childhood or an earlier day was awakened, and they recognized this as a holy moment.


Even after the words of institution, the mood in the room remained solemn. As I prepared to distribute communion, Helen called out, "Hey, shouldn't we be singing something?"


"Sure," I said, "Why don't you lead us in singing one of your favorite hymns?"


Oh, do be careful what you ask for. I asked her to sing. And so, she did.


She leaned back her head, closed her eyes and started singing in the most reverent tones I've ever heard, "She'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes. She'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes. . . ."


By the third verse, about a dozen or so people joined her. "She'll be driving six white horses, she'll be drivin' six white horses (big finish) WHEN. SHE. COOOMMMES!!"


You know what? In that moment, when the absurd met reality, and the profane intersected with the sacred, I knew that Jesus was already there, in that locked Recreational Room, on the third floor of the locked ward of the Solomon Carter Mental Health Center, in Lowell, MA.


And, I had this epiphany. Jesus was fully present to us, but not just in the graham crackers and grapefruit juice. I had already figured that out.


My epiphany was this: We hadn’t brought Jesus to church. We had only just brought the church to Jesus.


We are three days away from celebrating the birth of Jesus. It is still unthinkable to me that we will not be in Church on Christmas Eve. I cannot get my head wrapped around the fact that there will be no Christmas Pageant, no organ music accompanying the choir singing all our favorite Christmas carols.


The worst is that we will not have That Moment when the house lights go down, the candle tapers are lit, we get on our knees and sing, “Silent Night”.


As tempting as it is to wallow in my sorrow, I find myself thinking of that Eucharist – indeed, those Eucharists – at the Solomon Carter Center in Lowell, MA.


The ancient church did not meet in a building they called “the church”. They understood themselves to be the church. They celebrated Jesus in their midst in their homes.


This Christmas, we can’t go to church but we can be the church – in front of our laptops or smart phones or television sets – and worship God together in the best way we can which, turns out, is also the most ancient way.


And, Jesus will be present.



“This is what God's kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there's always room for more.” ~ Rachel Held Evans



“Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”

                                                                                    ~ D.T. Niles


Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in.

                        Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”


Monday, December 21, 2020

Celtic Advent - Day XXXVI - December 21


Celtic Advent – Day XXXVI – December 21


Twinkle, twinkle, little star

How I wonder what you are.

Up above the world so high

Like a diamond in the sky

Twinkle, twinkle, little star

How I wonder what you are.


Today a day of a very interesting juxtaposition of events: The Winter Solstice, The Great Conjunction, and the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle.


The Winter Solstice officially began at 5:02 AM ET this morning, which marks the official start of the Winter Season.


The winter solstice is an astronomical event, based on the Earth’s tilt away from the sun. It occurs when the tilt of the North Pole is positioned the farthest from the sun, causing less light to reach the northern hemisphere.


This means that today is the longest night or the shortest day, depending on your perspective. From this day forward into the end of 2020 and the beginning of 2021, each day will grow longer and the night will grow shorter.


The word ‘solstice’ is derived from the Latin word solstitium. It is a combination of sol, which means sun, and stitium, which means to stop, and refers to the sun appearing to briefly stop moving at the moment winter arrives, and also at the moment summer arrives — which is the Summer Solstice.


This is the day when the sun stops. Just take that in for a moment. The sun, in its orbit around the cosmos, seems to hit a brief pause.


Ancient cultures may not have had the technology to measure or track the movement of the sun, but they knew something significant was happening in the cosmos. Many cultures believe that the archetypal Mother gave birth to the sun on this day: It's when the Egyptian deity Isis gave birth to Horus, the sun god, and the Greek Leto gave birth to shining Apollo.

In the matriarchal religions, the day marks the rebirth of the goddesses Persephone, Besana, Amaterasu, and Sun Woman.


In the Irish countryside, ancient people built a huge Stone Age tomb mound called Newgrange in homage to the astronomical event. It predates Stonehenge by 1,000 years.


Around 800 B.C.E, the Paracas people in Peru mapped the desert with geoglyphs connecting ceremonial mounds to the spot the winter solstice sun set on the horizon. In other parts of the world from Ancient Egypt to Machu Picchu, sprawling constructs were built in alignment with the winter solstice.


The Yalda festival is still observed in Iran with modern adaptations like staying up late and savoring ripe watermelon and pomegranate. And the ancient Druid pastime of cutting mistletoe in celebration of winter solstice has not only survived, but is a widely practiced holiday ritual.


The Solstice doesn’t just hold power over the imaginations and minds of ancient people or those in foreign lands. In 2012, people somehow became convinced that this astronomical even would surely herald the end of the world. They based this prediction on a reading of the Mayans’ Mesoamerica Long Count Calendar, which suggested creation would end at the start of a "14th b'ak'tun" — which, you guessed it, happened to fall on the winter solstice that year.


This year, the solstice falls on the same day as “The Great Conjunction” when two planets, Jupiter and Saturn, will come so close that they will appear as one in the sky. Astronomers report that these two planets haven’t been this close in over 400 years, and it has not been visible (occurred at night) in over 800 years.


Experts believe that this alignment won’t happen again for another 60 years, so don’t miss tonight’s opportunity. We should be able to have an unobstructed view toward the southwest horizon as soon as it becomes dark.


Because it will occur this year on the winter solstice, just before the Christmas holiday, the timing has led to a speculation whether this could be the same astronomical event that the Bible reports led the wise men to Joseph, Mary and the newly born Jesus – the Star of Bethlehem. Indeed, the Great Conjunction has also been called The Christmas Star or The Bethlehem Star.

The story of the star has long fascinated readers, both ancient and modern. Within the New Testament, it is found only in the Gospel of Matthew, a first-century account of Jesus’ life that begins with the story of his birth.


In this account, wise men arrive in Jerusalem and say to Herod, the king of Judea: “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.” The star leads them to Bethlehem and stops over the place where the infant Jesus and his family were staying.


There are lots of scientists and theologians who contend that we ought not confuse the two. The leading argument against this being The Bethlehem Star is that Matthew is very clear that this was not a normal event. Indeed, the star that led the wise men was extraordinary. 


Matthew says that the wise men come to Jerusalem “from the East.” The star then leads them to Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem. The star therefore makes a sharp left turn. And astronomers will agree that stars do not make sharp turns.


Moreover, when the wise men arrive in Bethlehem, the star is low enough in the sky to lead them to a specific house. As physicist Aaron Adair puts it: “the Star is said to stop in place and hover over a particular lodging, acting as an ancient GPS unit.” The “description of the movements of the Star,” he noted, was “outside what is physically possible for any observable astronomical object.”

Those facts have never gotten in the way of a good story, and over the centuries, Matthew story has inspired many delightful Christmas Pageants and romantic poetry and prose.


Into this great confluence of events the church honors the life and witness of St. Thomas, one of my favorite apostles, who, I’m sure, would have held Matthew to greater account. Thomas was both brave and bold and unafraid to face the unvarnished truth.


You might remember that after Jesus was crucified, the apostles went into hiding. Well, all but Thomas. Indeed, when the resurrected Jesus first appeared to the disciples who were hiding in that Upper Room, Thomas was not with them.

This should not come as a surprise. When word comes to Jesus and the disciples that his friend Lazarus has died, Jesus says “Let us go to him.” And Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” This is not a statement of cynicism, but rather, one of courageous loyalty. (See John 11:5-16)

No, I suspect that Thomas was not hiding in that room or anywhere else. I suspect Thomas was already out in the world – checking things out, waiting to see when the time was right to bring his fellow disciples back out into the world to begin spreading the Good News of God in Christ Jesus.

Thomas gets it. He knows that there are worst things than death. What could be worse than death, you ask? Well, for me it would be never having fully lived at all. Like living your whole life ruled by anxiety and fear, instead of having it filled with hope and possibility.

Yes, of course there’s danger in that. Possibility is a very dangerous thing. When you believe in possibility, and you put your belief into action, well, you might make a mistake. In fact, you could make a whole lot of mistakes. You might open your mouth and unintentionally hurt yourself – or, someone else. Or, do something that has unintended and unexpected outcomes.

Your plan might not all go exactly as planned. But, where would you be if you hadn’t tried? If you hadn’t been bold enough to risk coming out of what is safe and secure and trying to live what it is you say you believe?

Yes, of course, there is danger out there in the world. Thomas is not ruled by fear but by hope. He knows that the life of a disciple is hopeful and fully engaged with the world. He’s the one who insists on putting his fingers into the wounds of Jesus because he knows that by his wounds we will know Jesus.


Not by perfection. Not by logic. Not by reasoning. But, by vulnerability and sacrificial love, a willingness to suffer for what is right and for what will bring transformation and new life. Just the way Jesus came into the world.


All over the world, people in different countries and different cultures who practice different religions will express their understanding of the meaning of the Solstice and the Great Conjunction and the feast day of St. Thomas in a wide variety of ways.


Some will use this time to cleanse the energy of their space using wooded bowls of salt. Others will be inspired to decorate a Solstice Wish Tree or express gratitude in notes written to people in their lives.


One of my favorite rituals is to put some gold glitter into a bowl of water and light a candle to represent the Sun and then dip you hands into the water and sprinkle glitter “sunshine” to anoint your hands and face and those of others. 


Perhaps the most meaningful is one is the one that is most simple. Look up.


Start tonight and look toward the southwest horizon for the “Christmas Star”. The Jupiter-Saturn meet-up reminds us that each one of us is and opening for the light, a gateway through which the absolute can manifest.


Make it a daily habit to look up. Look up at the sky and take a moment to thank God for the “firmament of the heavens”.


Look up and beyond whatever it is that is concerning you or causing you worry or anxiety. Know that the world is spinning just as it needs to and without your help.


Look up and know that there is a force that is beyond our wildest imagination which holds together the planets and stars, the oceans and mountains, as well as your life.


Look up and open your mind and your heart to wonder and magic and mystery and know that doubt often opens the pathway to questions which lead to discovery which can deepen faith.


I will leave you with this wonderful Shaker “gift song”:

’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
’Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right