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Sunday, August 30, 2020

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.


Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”  

A sermon preached via Facebook Live Broadcast

Sirach 26:10 The Headstrong Daughter

Pentecost XII - Proper 17A

August 30, 2020


Poor Old Simon Peter! Last Sunday Jesus asked the question, “Who am I?” and Peter responded, “You are the Son of God, the Messiah!” Jesus responded by naming him the foundation of the Church.


Seven days later, we hear that this same Simon Peter is a schmuck – an obstacle to the vision Jesus has for his ministry here on earth.


Well, when you think about it, Peter is not much different from the rest of us.  


Peter reminds us that sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between when we’ve slipped over the line between sin and grace. Sometimes, it’s hard to know when a moment of achievement has become a vehicle for sin or when a moment of sin has become a vehicle for grace because we slip between them so effortlessly.


Peter reminds us that you can be a building block one day and a stumbling block the next.


The older I get and the longer I live the more I am drawn to the real characters in life – the ones whose personalities are more complex and complicated – who often slip in the balance between sin and grace.  You know the people I’m talking about. The ones who sound like that verse in Frank Sinatra’s song. You know the verse I’m talking about:


I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king

I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing

Each time I find myself flat on my face

I pick myself up and get back in the race.


That’s life, as Frank would say. Some would say it’s a life well lived.


There are so many people who live their lives balancing on that line between sin and grace, they often slip effortlessly between the two.


There are times when I think of St. Peter in that way. We only hear what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have to say about him, but I’m guessing there was a lot more to the man than meets the eye. Jesus clearly saw something in him – beyond the socially clumsy, awkward fisherman – something about his humanness that inspired Jesus to name Peter as the foundation of the community of faith that would be built in his name.


There are many people who come to mind, but I’m remembering a story told by Jack Spong about the priest who was his role model.


Jack’s father died when he was 12. His mother had not finished the 9th grade in school and thus had little ability to replace his father as the family’s breadwinner.  The family soon fell into rather precarious poverty. For about two years, he says, he was little more than a radically lost, insecure adolescent.


Then someone came into his life through no action on Jack’s part. His church in Charlotte, North Carolina, chose a new rector. The year was 1946, World War II had come to an end, and the man chosen had just come out of the navy, where he had served as a chaplain on an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific.


This man was different from any minister or priest Jack had ever known.  He was young – only 32 years of age. As a young boy, he thought that one needed to be 80 years old to be ordained. And, he wore white buck shoes. Everybody knows that priests wear black, lace-up oxfords. 


He also drove a Ford convertible. Definitely not a Volvo or Oldsmobile. Finally, he had a stunningly beautiful wife who was dashing and bejeweled. She even smoked cigarettes in a long golden cigarette holder. Not your typical pastor’s wife – especially not in The Episcopal Church.


Jack writes that he was so deeply drawn to this couple that he volunteered to do anything that enabled him to get closer to them, so he became the only acolyte in the church willing to serve at the 8:00 a.m. communion service.


In order to help the family, Jack took a job delivery the newspaper to about 150 families. He had to get up at 4:30 every morning to do his route which took about two and a half hours. He had just enough time to shower, dress and catch the bus to his downtown church for the 8 AM service.


In those days, fasting before mass was a requirement. However, not having food in his stomach at that hour either made him feel dizzy and nauseous. Every time Jack was acolyte, he either fainted or vomited or had to be carried out of the sanctuary.


Even so, his priest wanted him to continue to serve, so after mass they would walk ½ a block up the street to café and buy him breakfast. There, they would talk. Jack said he never remembered what they talked about, he only knew that this was the only adult he ever remembered who listened to him. He listened deeply enough to ask him clarifying questions and help him think through the questions of his life.


Jack said, “It was such a simple thing to do, such an ordinary thing, but to this lonely and lost fifteen year old boy, it was powerfully important and life-giving. I adored that man and wanted to be as much like him as I could be. He became the model for my life and I found my vocation to be a priest in my relationship with him.”


After Jack graduated from high school and left to go to university, this priest also left to become rector of a church in Louisiana. Unfortunately, while he was there, he fell into addiction to alcohol. Apparently, it got so bad that the man was removed from the priesthood.


The world judged him to be an ordinary man with an ordinary weakness, but Jack said that to him, he was a great person.  That priest died thinking of himself professionally as a failure, but to Jack, he was a vital person, a change agent to Jack who became a change agent in the church and the world.


The truth is that he was just an ordinary man who simply took the time to talk with a lost teenager. It was something that anybody could have done, but he did it.

Jack wrote: “Most of us will not be generals who win battles or elected officials who will rise to political power. We may not become the chief executive of either a small business or of a great corporation, but we can make a difference, a profound difference in the lives of those around us in ordinary ways just by being sensitive, just by being a friend, just by saying the right word at the right time in the right circumstance.”


I see Peter in that way – flawed and faulted, but there for Jesus when he needed him, saying the right word at the right time in the right circumstances. And then, just as easily, saying words that – just like that – would put him on the slippery slope to into a great fall from grace.


There is no magic formula to protect you in life or make you perfect.


 We were not made for perfection. We were made to be human.


Just like Peter. Just like Paul. Just like Jack’s priest. Just like Jack Spong. We are capable of moments of brilliance as well of acts of foolishness for which there are always opportunities for redemption and grace.


Tennis great, Arthur Ashe, was one of the first celebrities to die of AIDS which he contracted from a blood transfusion, but he suffered the same prejudice and bigotry as every other person with AIDS.


Ashe gave a simple formula, an ordinary recipe for an extraordinary life that I think is worth considering. He said:


Start where you are.  

Use what you have.

Do what you can.” 


It’s not a guarantee for a perfect life – no promise to keep you from messing up or sliding that slippery slope from “a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king”.


Like Peter, you can be a building block one day and a stumbling block the next.


But, Ashe’s wise aphorism is one way that ordinary people like you and me can walk the sometimes very fine line between sin and grace. 


Start where you are.

Use what you have.

Do what you can.”   


And know that, whatever happens in your life – through the good times and bad, when you stay in balance or fall from grace – God loves you beyond your wildest imagination.



Sunday, August 23, 2020




A Sermon preached during a 

Facebook Live Broadcast: Sirach 26:10 

the Rev'd Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton


Note: This is NOT the sermon I preached. When it came time to broadcast, I felt I couldn't preach on authenticity while reading from a manuscript. What I preached has elements of this sermon but it turned out to be much shorter than this.


I try very hard to tell this story only once every three years. I’m afraid I’ve lost track so if you’ve heard me tell it before, well, let me just say that it’s one of my favorite stories so thank you for understanding and I hope you enjoy hearing it again.


So, the story goes that St. Peter decided to take the day off from his official duties of welcoming the newcomers to the Pearly Gates and – what else? – go fishing. Jesus was happy to volunteer to cover for him.


Bright and early the next morning, Jesus appeared at the Gates even before the angels and archangels, the seraphim and cherubim, arrived for their warm up Alleluias. He had put on his special, dazzling-white robe – the one he had worn on Mt. Tabor (or, was it Mt. Hermon?) for the Transfiguration – and his Sunday-go-to-meeting handmade Italian leather sandals.


Suddenly, it was time, and the cherubim giggled as they opened wide the Pearly Gates of Heaven. The first arrival at the gate was a Roman Catholic priest. Jesus gave him a hearty welcome and then said, “Say, I’m wondering if you’d answer a question for me. Who do you say that I am?”


The Roman Catholic priest said, “Well, the Pope says. . . .” Jesus quickly cut him off saying, “I know what the Pope says. I’ve read all the encyclicals of all the Popes. Welcome! Welcome! Come in! Come in! ”


The next arrival was a Lutheran pastor. Jesus also gave him a hearty welcome and then asked him the same question: “Who do you say that I am?”


The Lutheran pastor said, “Well, the Bible says . . . “ Jesus quickly cut him off saying, “I know what the Bible says. I’ve read every bible in every version. Come in! Come in! Welcome! Welcome!”


Finally, an Episcopal priest appeared at the gate. Jesus gave him a warm and enthusiastic welcome and then asked, “Who do you say that I am?”


The Episcopal priest said, “Why, You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God! The Anointed One! The Christ who is and was and is to come!”


Jesus was absolutely elated. He even did the same little joy-joy-happy-happy dance he gave when Peter gave him a very similar answer. “Yes! Yes! Yes,” said Jesus. “That’s absolutely right.”


And then, the Episcopal priest became a bit pensive and thoughtful and said, “Yes, but others say . . . .”


That is one of my favorite stories not only because it presents, in comic, caricature form, the different Christology (or understanding of Christ) from the various branches of religion, but it does so with a certain amount of authenticity which, I think, gives the story its humor.


If nothing else, we Episcopalians can laugh at ourselves.


It is true that Episcopalians, being Anglicans, adhere to a fairly orthodox view of the humanity and divinity of Jesus while still being open, without judgment, to the interpretation of other perspectives of Jesus.


Someone once said that the Anglican Church is “the roomiest room in all of Western Christianity.” I have found that statement to have more than a thread or two of truth. At least, that’s our goal – to be open to catholic, protestant, evangelical and orthodox expressions of faith which maintaining an adherence to the basic tenants of Christianity.


The point is that, whatever one does, it must come from a place of authentic belief. This is so because, as Jesus said to Simon (who he called) Peter, “ . . . whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”


Those particular words of Jesus, more so than many of the other words of his teachings, have always affected me deeply.


Jesus is speaking, of course, of what he has just said to Simon: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven . . .”


Jesus is making a promise to Simon Peter and, some say, by extension to the other disciples. It’s as if he’s saying, I will build my church on you and you will have the keys to the kingdom – this is my solemn vow.


Think about that for a moment. Jesus is saying something about the nature of a sacred vow. Jesus is also saying that our spiritual lives are not lived in a vacuum. What comes out of our mouths should be at least as carefully considered and what we put into our mouths.


Jesus is saying that heaven and earth are not hermetically sealed apart from one another; that there is an exchange between the two; that promises or vows made on earth are heard and kept in heaven; and that what has been set free on earth is also set free in heaven.


I’d like to think that explains a bit why, in the story I told earlier, the Episcopal priest is hesitant to name his understanding about Jesus as the ONLY way to understand Jesus that has any authenticity or validity.


It’s not just about being “Protestant nice” or “politically correct” or “polite White”. It’s about being confident in your own beliefs without having to be restrictive of the beliefs of others. It takes real emotional and spiritual maturity not to have to be right – especially about God; to be confident enough in what you believe to practice generosity of spirit.


Religious intolerance is part of the reason this country was founded. The Puritans were very narrow in their focus of what they believed about God and who they thought God is and how they wanted to worship God and behave in the world. They fled England to find religious freedom here in this country.


Ironically, Puritans were pretty intolerant of the religious expressions of the Native people – calling them ‘heathens’ – and, in fact everyone else who came to this land who held different beliefs and expressed those beliefs differently.


That intolerance seems to be in our cultural DNA. There are Roman Catholics who can tell you that part of their family story includes harsh treatment and prejudice. Catholics in revolutionary America tended to be wealthy, English speaking, and more focused on private devotions than on public displays of their faith.


Thus the Protestant majority mostly tolerated them. But, by the 1920s, anti-Catholics, including the Ku Klux Klan, believed that Catholicism was incompatible with democracy and that parochial schools encouraged separatism and kept Catholics from becoming loyal Americans.


That attitude lingered for many years. I certainly remember it as a young Roman Catholic child, growing up as part of an immigrant Portuguese family in the mill town of Fall River, MA. I was just a small child but I have a clear memory of the intensity of the conversations about whether or not John F. Kennedy was fit to be President of the United States.


Not only was JFK the youngest man ever to run for POTUS, he was (gasp!) Irish. And even more unthinkable: he was Catholic. His family was built on its faith. His campaign for president was almost crushed by it.  People asked 'If a Catholic were in the White House, would that mean the pope would be calling the shots on what went on in the White House?'"


It sounds ridiculous now, doesn’t it? Especially since we have a President in the White House who professes to have been Presbyterian but is now non-denominational evangelical and a First Lady who is a Roman Catholic who attends Episcopal churches and sends their son to an Episcopal school.


We also have a Democratic candidate for POTUS and his wife who are devout Roman Catholics who both publicly support some issues which are in direct conflict with the strong tenants of the Roman Catholic Church. The candidate for VPOTUS grew up a Christian and a Hindu. Her mother was a native of India and her father was a practicing Baptist from Jamaica. She attends a Black Baptist church and her husband, Doug, is (wait for it) . . . . Jewish.


I submit to you that this is much more a picture of religious tolerance than some people are comfortable with. You must believe in THEIR understanding of God and Jesus or you are somehow deficient. Less than. Suspect. Inauthentic. Un-American.


I’ve quoted her before and I’ll quote her again and again. Author Anne Lamott says, “You can be pretty sure you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”


I think the question Jesus asks his disciples is a question with which all Christians must wrestle and answer if their faith is to be authentic.


Who do YOU say that Jesus is? Not what the Bible says. Not what the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury says. Who do YOU say that Jesus is. For YOU?


When we get “real” about our faith, our faith evolves and becomes more real, more authentic. Until one day, we too will stand before Jesus and proclaim, “You are the son of the Living God. You are the Messiah!”


And then we’ll look around at all of the wonderful people from different countries and cultures and creeds who are with us in heaven and know that, while their answer may be different from ours, we are all exactly where we belong – home – with the one who created us from love to love to be authentically who we were created to be: Loving children of the God of Love.  



Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Voice of a Stranger



The voice of a stranger. 

A sermon preach on Facebook Live Broadcast

Sirach 26:10 The Headstrong Daughter

Pentecost XI - Proper 15 A - RCL Track I

August 16, 2020

There’s a very silly joke about a monk named Brother Bernard who was traveling and sought respite in another monastery for a few days. This particular order of Monks was not allowed to speak but they could chant at prayer times. Each morning they gathered for prayers and the Abbot intoned 'Good morning Monks' and they all chanted in reply 'Good morning Abbot'. 


Brother Bernard was just a bit mischievous, and, truth be told, a bit bored with the silence, so he decided to have a wee bit of fun. The next morning, when it was time to reply ‘Good morning’ to the Abbot, he, instead, intoned 'Good Evening Abbot'. 


The Abbot heard this, looked round and chanted (to the tune from the Broadway play, South Pacific) 'Someone chanted evening. He must be a stranger'.


Yeah, it’s probably a good thing I can’t see your faces or hear you groan. 


I’ve been prayerfully considering the story of Joseph and his brothers as well as St. Matthew’s story of the Canaanite woman. It occurred to me that in both of these stories, that sometimes, you need to hear a foreign voice – the voice of a stranger – before you can discover or uncover what’s been there all along, right in front of your very eyes.


Let’s take a look, first, at Joseph,the great grandson of Abraham and Sarah, the grandson of Isaac and Rebekah, and the son of Jacob and Rachel – her first and his 11th son. We’ve been following his story of betrayal by those brothers who left him in a pit and then sold him into slavery in Egypt. 


Betrayal and abandonment is not unknown to this family, so we ought not be surprised by the way his brothers treated Joseph. What is surprising – to us and to them – is how Joseph has moved through all that and has risen from his imprisonment and oppression to a status among the Egyptians and in the House of the Pharaoh that placed him in a position to help his brothers in their time of need and distress because of the famine. 


The first words of Joseph to his brothers always undo me. After he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it,” he says, “I am Joseph. Is my father alive?” 
Oh, can you hear the pain in his voice? 

Remember, Joseph was so beloved of his father (the first born son of his wife, Rachel, with whom he first fell in love and for whom he worked an additional seven years.) that Jacob made him a coat of many colors. 


His brothers, who betrayed him because of that very coat, did not recognize him at first.  Then, he recounts his story but tells them it was all for the good because now he is in a position to save them. 


Joseph, their own brother whom they had betrayed, whose voice they did not recognize, who had become a stranger to them in a strange land, turned out to be one of their own.


We’re going to come back to this in a minute but I want to also want to lift up the Canaanite woman. Mark calls her the Syrophoenician woman because he is writing to a Roman audience and wants to emphasize her race. Matthew’s audience is the Israelites so his emphasis is on the fact that the Jews thought of the Canaanites as half-breeds or “mongrel dogs”. 


Whether you read the encounter in Mark or Matthew, this story is painful to read. The poor woman isn’t seeking anything for herself but healing for her daughter. In both accounts, Jesus is rude, bordering on being cruel. 


This is when his humanity is showing, and it’s not his most favorable side. 


The woman’s intelligence and wit, however, turn his put down into an insight for him.  He said, “Itis not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said,“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’table.”


And, just like that, the eyes of the heart of Jesus are opened. Just like that, the voice of a stranger pierces through the dense fog of his humanity and cuts straight through the place of divinity in him.


The voice of a stranger has enabled him to hear the deepest truths of his heart. 


He knows, suddenly, that his understanding of the scope of his ministry has made his heart “too sizes too small”.  The voice of a stranger opens his understanding and his passion and compassion. Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.


We can get very comfortable, I think, with the familiar. And, that can work to our own detriment.  I don’t know about you but I have learned a lot about myself and my church and my world during this Time of the Great Unfamiliar which we know as the COVID-19 Pandemic. I don’t know about you but what I have learned about myself has sometimes surprised me and sometimes annoyed me. 


I’ve learned that I have more patience than I thought I had. Well, about some things. I’ve learned that my “normal impatience” becomes very aggravated when I’m annoyed – mostly by things I can’t do. 


I miss little things like meeting a friend for lunch. Or, just a spontaneous get together for coffee or tea at a Café. Hugs. I miss hugs. Oh, how I miss hugs! Yes, of course I miss Eucharist but I also miss baking things for Coffee Hour, even though Coffee Hour has never been my favorite thing about church. 

I had a doctor’s appointment for my annual physical this week and I found myself wanting to wear a dress or a skirt and a blouse. 


And, shoes - not flip flops or sandals. 


And, lipstick, which I used even though I was going to wear a mask (how silly is that?) And, I found myself spraying my hair lightly with hairspray which I only do when I’m going someplace special. Let me assure you that the doctor’s office for an annual Wellness Check has never been on my list of “someplace special”. 


But, it was this week. 


In this strange Time of The Great Unfamiliar I am learning things about myself that I didn’t know I didn’t know. I am listening to the voice of the stranger and discovering that it is me. My voice is strange to my own ears, telling me things I don’t necessarily want to hear about myself. But it is important – very important – for me to listen. 


A quick example: When I was in Thailand I initially had a very difficult time adjusting to the culture there. I kept asking myself, “Why do they do that?” Eventually, I started asking some of my Thai friends who had come to trust me, “Why do you do that?”


And then, one day, I was talking about soap, of all things, with one of my new Thai friends, most of whom had already created a term of endearment for me. I was the “crazy farang lady”. Farang means “foreign” and my craziness, I assume, was because I was Western. 


I didn’t realize it but they had been thinking, “Why do these Westerners do that? Why does she do that?” 


As we were talking about what kind of soap I should buy as souvenirs for my family and friends, my friend, Sunan, could not contain himself any longer. He burst into uncontrollable giggles and, when he came up for air, asked, “Why you do that?” 


Why do I do what? I asked. 


“Why farang lady have same word for thing to wash and thing to eat?” 


He saw that I was thoroughly confused, so he said, “You eat soup, yes? And you wash with soup? How that can be?” 


He was hearing “soup” and “soap” pronounced in the same way.  Well, of course, that sounds pretty crazy. Ridiculous. When I was able to enunciate more clearly for him and he understood, we laughed and laughed and laughed. 


The voice of Sunan taught me a very valuable lesson. From that point on, this crazy farang lady stopped asking, “Why do they do that?” Instead, I started to ask, “Hmmm. . . I wonder why I do that?” 


I stopped approaching the stranger from the perspective of judgment, that different must be wrong. Instead, I used the occasion to more closely examine why I do the things I do, to better understand myself from a different lens of reality.

I think that’s what happened to Joseph – a stranger in a strange land of Egypt – which allowed him to better assimilate into the culture of his new reality and find forgiveness and reconciliation and, eventually, salvation for his brothers.


I think that’s what happened to Jesus who allowed himself to listen to the intelligence and wit of the crazy foreign lady from Canaan and open the eyes and ears of his heart to see and hear something about himself he didn’t know or understand. 


St. Paul says to the church in Rome, For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” He goes onto say a most remarkable thing, “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.”


Truth be told, I’ve been sitting with that last sentence for many years now and it still sounds strange to the ears of my heart. Where I have landed with it at this point in my theological evolution is to avoid judging others before I examine my own actions and motives. God is merciful to all. So should I be merciful to others and myself. 


For me, that’s the Exit Door out of my own arrogance. 


Listening to the voice of the stranger – in the person of someone else or the voice that arises in me that is strange to me – is the more difficult path I need to walk in order to move past my cultural bias and prejudices. Or, as Paul would say, “imprisoned in my own disobedience”.


And sometimes, the key to open the Exit Door often lies in laughter. Laughing at “Soup and Soap” did it. Laughing at a silly story about chanting monks can do it. 


The brothers of Joseph listened to the voice of a stranger and discovered forgiveness and reconciliation and love and the path to their own salvation. 


Jesus listened to the voice of a Canaanite woman and it expanded his understanding of his ministry. 


Sometimes, you need to hear a foreign voice before you can hear what has always been in your heart but you were afraid to listen.   



Sunday, August 09, 2020

Why did you doubt?


 Why did you doubt?

A Sermon preached on Facebook Live Broadcast

Sirach 26:10 The Headstrong Daughter

Pentecost X - Proper 14 A

August 9, 2020

In 1881, a boy was born to Louise Helluin Mieusset who designed fashionable hats for Boston’s elites. Mme. Mieusset named her son Louis Ernest, who was reportedly a happy, active child, who thrived on the love of his mother. 

Not much is known about his parents or the child. What is known is that just three months before his fifth birthday, the child died. Now, some researches insist that Louie died of scarlet fever, but romanticism has always triumphed over historical data, so the facts have been disputed for years.

The story of the death of Louie Ernest Mieusset that has lasted is this: One day in 1886, Louie went sailing out on Jamaica Pond, which is part of a lovely suburb community just outside of the city of Boston, MA. He was not yet five years old. Some adult must have been in the boat with him. Perhaps he was with both his parents?  Or, was he out for a little ride with his Papa? Did a storm suddenly appear? Or, was he moving around, as children will, upsetting the balance of the boat?

We do not know. The tragedy of his death is so great and so filled with grief it seems unable to carry any further burden of detail. The story is only told that the boat tipped over and the child drowned.

Louie’s father is never mentioned in the story. Perhaps he drowned as well in the boating accident? Or, perhaps he met a face worse than death and had to bear the burden of blame and guilt for his son’s death? Conjecture and speculation do not lead to the truth that would hold the answers to our questions.

What we do know is this: His mother, Louise, paid a man named Max Greim, a stone artisan who had immigrated from Bavaria, to sculpt a memorial to her son which she placed over his grave at Forest Hills Cemetery in Roxbury, MA. 

The white marble sculpture, named "Boy in a Boat," is that of a hauntingly lifelike Little Louie, dressed resplendently in the proper Victorian clothing of the day, his right hand holding a tennis racket, his left hand resting on what looks like a large shell. The boat is filled with his favorite toys. His left foot is outside the boat, as if he were about to step out of the boat and run to the tennis court. 

The amazing thing is that the entire sculpture is encased in glass. When one visits the gravesite – as I did as part of my chaplaincy training – one will find the “Boy in a Boat” monument in pristine condition, sheltered as it has been all these many years later from the harsh New England winters and infamous Nor’easters.

Also erected with this statue is a marble bench with a removable drawer (since removed) where the grieving mother could come to clean the glass, polish its brass fitting, place flowers, and do other duties as she saw fit.  The story is that she paid for his statue with the money she had saved for Louis’ education.

Due to financial reverses, Mme. Mieusset’s private income ceased, and she went to work as a domestic on Beacon Hill.  She lived on Kirkland St. in the South End, becoming increasingly frail but attending to her son’s grave weekly by scrimping and saving, always leaving a fresh flower.

To this day, hundreds of years after Mme. Mieusset’s death, someone – or, perhaps, several someones – come weekly to clean the glass, polish its brass fitting, and place fresh flowers. The identity of this faithful someone is unknown – although, perhaps, that person or persons are known to the staff at Forest Hill Cemetery who have certainly observed them over the years but have guarded the caretaker’s anonymity.

I first saw this monument in 1985 as a chaplain intern at Boston University Hospital. We spent a morning at Forest Hill Cemetery to study what other people expressed in their monuments about their belief in death and the afterlife.

Over the years, when I’ve been visiting friends or family in the Boston area and as time has allowed, I have stopped by several times to visit “The Boy in the Boat” as well as one of Gracie Sherwood Allen, a little girl who died of whooping cough in 1880, at about the same age as Louie. Her statue is also encased in glass and rests not far from Louis’.

I’m drawn by the grieving of their parents, their need to immortalize their children in marble, and then, because they can no longer protect them, their stone images, at least, are protected from the ravages of time, sheltered under glass.

But it is the story of Little Louie in the boat that always captures my imagination. Indeed, whenever I hear St. Matthew’s gospel story of Jesus and the disciples in the boat that my mind often wanders to the image of the Boy in a Boat.

In the gospel story, Jesus has gone up to a mountain to pray, sending the disciples ahead of him in a boat. But, a storm suddenly came up and the wind and rough seas threatened to capsize the boat. Suddenly, Jesus came walking on water right by the boat. The men were, of course, startled and scared and thought it was a ghost.

Peter, being Peter, said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.” And, Peter did, walking toward Jesus on the water. But then, he noticed that the wind was strong, and he began to sink.

“Lord, save me!” he cried out. And, Jesus reached out his hand and saved Peter, saying, You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Jesus has his moments, in scripture, where he is utterly and thoroughly human – where his frustration and anger, his impatience and annoyance – come through loud and clear. This exchange between Peter and Jesus has always sounded so harsh to me.

When Jesus chides Peter and says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” I want to respond, “Umm . . . because I was sinking? And, the wind was strong? And, I wasn’t in the boat? And, you know, because I’m only human?” 

It’s always fascinating to me that Jesus, fully human and fully divine, is his most human self when he chides others for being very human. And, mostly that happens even as he is in full divinity mode – such as in this instance of walking on water. 

“You of little faith.” Those are the words of Jesus that haunt me – second only to his question, “Why did you doubt?”

I have come to know that a big part of faith is doubt. Indeed, I think doubt is one of the guides on the Journey of Faith, which can often lead us to find a deeper, stronger, more robust and lively faith. 

In fact, it was after Peter doubted and he and Jesus got back into the boat that the disciples became even more convinced of the nature of Jesus saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” 

Doubt and anxiety are often companions on the Journey of Faith and guides on the Road to Belief.

As I’ve reflected on Louise Mieussett’s grief at the loss of her little Louie, I don’t know if it was doubt or faith that led her to commission that hauntingly life-like monument to her son’s life, but I have come to understand that both doubt and faith are two very strong strands woven deep into the pattern of grief.

To doubt is not to sin. To be anything less than human, to take tragedy at face value – to surrender to a dispassionate state of “It is what it is” – and not grieve and mourn, not doubt and be occasionally anxious or afraid, grieves the heart of God, I think.

Even Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

I don’t know if there will be a monument to this uncertain, chaotic, turbulent time in our lives, when the winds of misfortune and death and killing prejudice threaten to hurl us from the safety of our life rafts on this fragile earth, our island home. 

If there were to be one, I don’t know what it would look like. 

I would hope that someone would come out and remember this time and all the souls lost to the dual pandemics of COVID and racism.

I would hope there would be some anonymous someone who would come and clean the glass around the monument so we don’t lose sight of the lessons this time has to teach us.

I would hope some anonymous someone would come and sit and meditate on the lives lost as well as the lives of the heroes who risked their lives to save the lives of others.

I would hope there would be some anonymous someone who was faithful to the belief that life is a precious gift and even the occasional unfairness life can bring does not diminish its value ---

To take an occasional risk even though that also extends an invitation for anxiety and fear to be companions on the journey

To ask questions even though more questions and doubt may be part of the answers received.

To know that betrayal is always possible but never a victor and abandonment is never as strong as hope.

To succeed and not grow complacent and self-satisfied.

To fail and not be paralyzed and defeated but rather see the lesson learned.

So that when, one day, in that great bye and bye, when we stand before Jesus, he will say to us as he did to Peter, “Come!”

And, he will stretch out his hand and together we will walk on the peace-filled waters of eternity.