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

Friday, October 15, 2021

Remembering Egypt

Sunset on the Nile

I've been home twenty four hours after a week in Egypt. Time-wise, my body is still somewhere over the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Jet lag is the only thing worse than modern air transportation. 

As I've unpacked and washed all the clothing I brought to Egypt, I realized that, for once, I did not over pack. Oh, there could have been one or two less blouses and I really only needed one pair of jeans instead of two, but I think I've got this packing thing down. I started with a check-on bag that weighed 16 kg and returned with that same bag weighing 18 kg. Not bad and still well under the 50 pound limit. 

What can't be weighed or measured are the memories I've brought home. 

Here are some random thoughts/impressions I didn't have time to note on my daily Facebook posts:

As one who operates from the perspective of feminist liberation theology, one of the questions I always start with is: Who has the power?

There is absolutely no doubt that the answer to that question is men. 

I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise. Egypt is part of Africa, the Middle East and Arabia, not one of those cultures is exactly a bastion of feminism.  More women wear full niqab or burka and hijab than not. The visible presence on the streets of any city in Egypt is overwhelmingly male.
 
FGM (female genital mutilation) is still widespread - although increasingly condemned - in Egypt. In June of 2008, FGM was made illegal. However, a 2014 national survey revealed that 92% of Egyptian women aged 15-49 had undergone FGM, 72% by a doctor. It should be no surprise that, as yet, no one has been convicted of performing FGM.

I wish I had had more time to talk to more Egyptian women about how they see themselves and their status in this culture.  It is significant, I think, that the great nation of Egypt fell under the reign of Cleopatra - which is a title, not a name. The Cleopatra we know was the seventh (some insist her name was Elizabeth Taylor). It seems as if Egypt has not forgiven that woman for their loss of stature. 

I wondered what it must be like to live in the midst of so much ancient history, to be constantly reminded of the glory and splendor that was once Egypt. How does it shape and form your sense of identity to know that your eyes are beholding the same pyramids and sphinx and tombs that Moses and Joseph saw? How are the stories of the ancient Egyptian Gods regarded by a people, 90% of whom are devout Muslim?

One is keenly aware of the poverty - 45% of the people of Egypt lives on less than the equivalent of $2 per day. And yet, there were no visible 'homeless' on the streets of Cairo or Aswan, Luxor or Memphis. 

The merchants, however, are aggressive. Very. Aggressive. They follow you, hovering over you with their wares, repeating phrases in English they've no doubt heard many times before: "Not now? Maybe later?" I found that putting my hands together in prayer, bowing slightly and respectfully, lowering my eyes and saying, "No thank you," was a pretty effective deterrent.

We were advised to bring $200 in $1 bills and I'm glad we were. Tipping is big in Egypt. No, I mean, you tip for everything. Going to the bathroom allows three people entry for $1, which also entitles you to a small amount of toilet paper. There's no 'charge' for use of the toilet, but you are still expected to tip.

When I remembered that half the people in Egypt live on $2 per day, it put my tipping into perspective.

It makes me wonder about the poverty in our own country. 

I also learned that there is absolutely no way I could ever live in a place where temperatures soar into the 100-125 F when it's not even summer! The fact that it was 'dry' heat did not make a whit of difference. I can not tolerate that kind of heat. 

I don't think I can look at another statue of an Egyptian pharaoh or king or military person without remembering that there is important significance to his leading with his left leg. The heart is on the left side of the body, so it is said that a leader leads with his heart, always ready to stamp out evil.

I've been consciously aware of leading with my left foot when I walk, and trying to remember to lead with my heart. 

There are so many more memories that have store themselves under my skin, in my heart, and into the muscles of my body, that I'm sure will continue to reveal themselves over the next  weeks and months. 

Right now, I'm just awash in gratitude for having been able to be in Egypt, on the Nile, with the people whose origins can be traced back centuries.

I have been changed in ways subtle and profound. 

I'm so grateful.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Once upon a time

I have a bad case of "money brain" tonight.

I'm on information overload, without a doubt, but I think I fried a few brain cells out there in the Temples of Karnak. 

It was 52 degrees celsius today. For those of you who don't do math quickly, let me do it for you.

That's 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Oh wait. I'm wrong. That's 125.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

No, there's no humidity but it is rather like standing in front of the open door of a blazing furnace.

I might have starting singing that Louie Armstrong song about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego , but to be perfectly honest, I could barely put one foot in front of the other and stay focused on what I was seeing.

Mind you, this is not summer in Egypt. Summer, they tell me, is worse. Much worse. 

I honestly can't even imagine it.

When I looked down at my feet and couldn't see my ankle, I began to think I'd better call it quits and head back to the Visitor's Center which was air conditioned.

I had already guzzled 4 bottles of water but when I finished walking the mile it took to get from the inner Temple to the Center and got into the AC I drank another whole bottle down in three swigs. 

I just haven't been myself since. Oh, I'm fine. Really. Just off. Well, more off than usual. 

I ate a wonderful supper and had a great conversation with some of my fellow pilgrims, but my thinking is a bit fuzzy and I'm having some difficulty staying focused.

No wonder the Egyptians worshiped the Ra father of creation and patron of the Sun. The sun is a force to be reckoned with, demanding to be respected.

I do much better when we are in tombs that are underground. Like the one I'm in pictured above in the tomb of one of the children of Ramses. It's cool and comfortable and I can take my time and read the stories on the wall. 

We left Luxor this afternoon, taking the plane back to Cairo. Apparently, I missed Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was here in Cairo at All Saints Cathedral, Anglican. In 2020 he announced that he had started a new territory for the Anglican Communion, the Province of Alexandria.  It's the 41st Province for the Anglican Communion. 

Welby said that the new province bears the name of Alexandria because it had a great place in the ancient world and covered a very large area from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, adding: “Alexandria preserved the Christian faith for us in times of hardship and turmoil.”

Honestly? When we returned to Cairo it was as if nothing had happened. No one was cleaning up ticker tape from the streets. There were no distant echos of wild cheers and applause. No vendors were selling "Welby Soap on a Rope" or tea cups or T-shirts emblazoned with the image of the ABC. 

Pity, eh? The man from Canterbury really needs to work on his PR management team.

Tomorrow finds us in Memphis to wander about the Pyramids, the Sphinx and, if we're lucky, a camel ride around the grounds. 

I'll tell you what: If it's as hot in Memphis as it was today in Luxor, I'm staying in the bus with Sr. Joan. 

I'm off to bed as we have a wake up call at 5:30. That would be AM. Breakfast is at 6 and we are out the door at 6:30. 

I've taken a hot bath and a cup of decaf tea and a Melatonin for good measure. Hopefully that will calm the monkey in my brain, who is jumping from one thought to another.

So, I'll end with this. As I've wandered around the inside of Temples and considered the stories being told on the walls, it occurs to me that Temples and Churches all serve the same important function:They keep the stories of our faith. 

Temples have hieroglyphics carved on the walls. 

Churches have stained glass windows. 

People come day after day and week after week to hear the stories. We love stories. We can't get enough of them. That may be due to the fact that since most of us were kids, there were a few magic words that could change and entire afternoon or evening. 

"Once upon a time". We heard those words and we knew to scramble our little selves over to the rug, cross our scrawny little legs in front of us, and settled down to listen to a story.

Our faith is held together by stories, from which we learn something new each time we hear them.

Stories are best when they teach us something not only about our faith, but about ourselves. 

Off I go to bed. On the road to Memphis in the morning. 

There are only two days left to this pilgrimage. Thanks so much for joining me on this journey

Saturday, October 09, 2021

This girl is on fi-ya!

Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, is every bit as amazing as you know her to be in her books. She’s got a razor sharp Irish wit, so there’s the soul of brevity in most everything she says. She’s got a point to make and she makes it with the clarity and passion and forcefulness of the nuns I knew in my youth in Catholic school.

 

For her, it’s all about Jesus. She believes in and lives out the Jesus story.

 

Now, if you unpack that, you’ll find more – much, much more – than an 85-year old Roman Catholic nun who might say the same thing and mean that and be obedient to every paragraph, sentence, word and punctuation mark to come out of Rome.

 

That is decidedly not Sr. Joan.

 

This girl is on fi-ya with love for the gospel and the person of Jesus Christ.

 

We had two sessions today with Sr. Joan. She talked about the Pharaohs and the examples they give us of religious leadership and the way they understood the gods. And then, she closed her laptop with a definitive snap and reminded us that, during some of this same time in Egyptian history, a man name Moses – one who had lived among them as one of their own – stood up and said, “There is only one God.”

 

Well, you would have to understand the pantheon of Egyptian Gods to fully grasp just how radical a statement this was.

 

But, you’d also have to understand why they built the Temples and the Pyramids to understand that the ideas of Virgin Birth and the Incarnation and Resurrection all came from the Delta – the cradle of civilization and deep religious thought – long before, centuries before Jesus was born.

 

Then, along came Joseph who pretty much said the same thing about there being one God and saved the very family who had sold him off to slavery from famine and death.

 

When Constantine declared Christianity the state religion, thousands of people fled to the deserts of Egypt and Syria to live the gospel as they heard it in their hearts and provided hospitality and spiritual to direction to thousands and thousands more people who were starving spiritually and desperate to know how to live the life they heard Jesus calling them to live.

Sr. Joan shared with us some of her favorite stories from the desert mothers and fathers and then asked us to reflect on them from our own lives. She asked questions like, “What is this tory really all about? Why is this story so important? Why do you think it has survived? What does it touch in your life? What does it disturb in you? What good came out of this story for you?”

 

I don’t have her book with me – her assistant collected all our books for her to sign tonight and/or tomorrow – but the story that was my favorite goes something like this:

 

The Abbott said, “The time is coming when people will be insane, and when they see someone who is not insane, they will attack that person saying, ‘You are insane because you are not like us.”

 

She then asked us to be in small groups and have honest conversations about the questions she had posed. Now, you know what? I have been in more small groups in more places in my almost 35 years of ordained ministry and I don’t think I’ve ever had more honest, more intimate, more passionate conversations as we did in my small group.

 

Do you know what I think made the difference?

 

I think you know what I’m going to say. Yes, it was Sister Joan and the example of servant leadership she set for the group.

 

We can’t all be Sister Joan but we can all do our best to be honest about our faith.

 

We can’t all be Sister Joan but we can all do our best to be passionate about our walk with Jesus and strive to follow his teaching.

 

We can’t all be Sister Joan because no one else is like Sister Joan and no one else in all the whole world is like you or me but if we strive to be authentic and if we live a life of integrity about what it is we say we believe, we, too, will be on fire with love for God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Tomorrow, I am deeply honored to have been invited to preside at The Liturgy of the Word at the ancient altar of St. Catherine’s Monastery, South Sinai, Egypt.  The monastery was founded in 527 by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. The church is part of the autonomous Church of Sinai, but is part of the wider Greek Orthodox Church, and is considered Eastern Orthodox.

 

Sr. Joan has asked me to lead the group in her Benedictine form of reflection on the gospel for tomorrow (Mark 10:17-31) about the young man who run up to Jesus to ask, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Seems to have been a burning question of the day in many different countries.

 

I’m to chose one of the stories from the desert mothers and fathers and have the group reflect on it and the gospel story.

 

I can’t imagine anything more orthodox than that.

 

Thank you, Sister Joan, for your passion and your wit and your trust.

 

Even so, please hold me in prayer. This is a huge responsibility and I want to do my best.

I'll let you know how it all turned out.


Day IV: "What they can't control . . ."

 

 

The Coronation of Queen Cleopatra

I’m afraid the difference of hours and the experience of cultures finally caught up with me. 

 

I thought it was because I am not as young as I think I am but, you know, even one of the young members of the staff who was delayed because of a difference about COVID testing was a bit off her mark. In her case, the hours got to her.

 

I am more overwhelmed by the richness of the experience of being here, in the cradle of civilization. They don’t call it that for nothing, you know. I mean, name it: Engineering. Agriculture. Architecture. Writing. Religion. Medicine. Surgery. 

 

All of that happened in Egypt long before the country of my birth was even considered as an idea, much less and ideology.

 

Here’s the truth of it: It’s humbling to be here.

 

And the experience of all that humility is part of the exhaustion.

 

I am constantly – in my mind and when I’m not actively thinking about it, in my body – deconstructing my own assumptions and expectations. 

 

For example, this morning, Saturday, October 9th, I walked into a Temple – Kom Ombo, which was just a short walk down from where my luxury boat hotel was docked – and discovered that the person who finished the temple was Queen Cleopatra.

 

I took off my shoes and put my feet on the path where Queen Cleopatra once walked.

 

When I visited the area where confessions were heard, and saw the hieroglyphics and realized that sin was confess and forgiveness and mercy promised, I realized that I was on holy ground. I took off my shoes and as I felt my feet touch the floor I found that I was weeping.

 

And then, I was sobbing. Because for whatever sin I held in my heart for which I will perhaps never be forgiven by the those I have wronged, I knew that God has forgiven me and is and has been and will always be merciful.

 

Oh, my dear friends, God is so much bigger, so much more, that we could ever imagine.

 

I knew that. I’ve known that for some time. But, rediscovering it here, in Egypt, has been most humbling and invigorating and exhausting.

 

One of our guides said something this morning that startled me. He was talking about how there were many crocodiles here on the Nile, and how they were so admired because they would quickly snatch their prey and drag them off to be even more quickly eaten.

 

The guide said, “What the Egyptians couldn’t control, they worshiped.”

 

What they couldn’t control, they worshiped.  And so, they worshiped the crocodile and made him a God and mummified their bodies and worshiped them.

 

I have been examining my relationship to Jesus and I must say, I don’t worship the God I know in Christ Jesus because of lack of being able to control the God I have come to love. I don’t even worship God because I think God controls my life.

 

I worship God who sets me free in Christ to try to love as God loves me.

 

What they couldn’t control, they worshiped. I don’t think that dynamic is limited to ancient Egyptians, however. I think some of us do that today, don’t we? Even those of us who say we follow the Way of Jesus.

 

Those of us who don’t often feel overwhelmed and humbled.

 

It’s exhausting. But, I’d rather that than misplace my adoration.

 

I hope I’ll be able to have more to write – and post on my blog – later on. It all really depends on the WiFi. Which I can’t control. And I definitely don’t worship.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Day II: Truth by blatant assertion

 

I honest to God don't even know how to begin to describe this day. 

So, let me just start with the obvious: geography. Egypt is part of the northwest continent of Africa, but it is also part of the Middle East and it is also part of the Arabic Nation. 

The people here count themselves as part of the descendants of "Poor Old Aunt Hagar" and her son Ishmael. One of our tour guides proudly said, "We are descendants of Ishmael". I said, "Really, so tell me: With whom did God make a promise?"

He stopped for a moment, his mouth dropped and his eyes got as wide as a 6th grader being confronted by his teacher with a pop quiz, and said, "Well, he made the covenant with Ishmael but he told it to Hagar. So, we are descendants of Ishmael."

"But, " I said, "God promised Hagar that her son would raise up a great nation of his own, right? The first time the promise came through an angel when Hagar ran away from her tormenting mistress, Sarai. The angel told Hagar to return home and have her child, saying,  'I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.'"

Then, after Sarai became Sara and had Isaac, she became jealous of the potential conflict over who would become Abraham's heir - his FIRST BORN son (Ishmael) or his "LEGITIMATE" son (Issac).  So Sara convinced her husband Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael to the desert where they would surely die.


This time, God spoke directly to Hagar as her son was near death. God repeated the promise to Hagar that the descendants of Ishmael would increase so "that they will be too numerous to count."

Twice the promise was made to Hagar. Once thorough an angel and once directly from God.

"I mean," I continued, "Hagar even named God, 'El Roi', "The God who sees me," because God saw the suffering of Hagar and Ishmael. Indeed, Hagar is one of a very few and select people to actually talk with God, and the second woman, Eve having been the first."

"Yes," he said, straightening his back and clenching his jaw, "so we are descendants of Ishmael, the first born son of the issue of Father Abraham - may his name always be praised - and, despite what you Christians and the Jews say,  rightly inheritors of the mantle of Abraham." 

Clearly, he was not having it. At. All.  Having grown up Roman Catholic, I can recognize the dynamic of "truth by blatant assertion" at 20 paces.

Once you start there, well, it's an incredible down-hill ride.  

So, Matthew asserts - without even one shred of evidence (I mean, after the 'virgin birth' and the whole entire concept of the incarnation, why start now?) - that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and that he had better leave Bethlehem and be safe for a while in Egypt.

Well, what good is a sacred story like that without a way to tell it "from generation to generation"? Especially one that secures the position of the prophetic leadership of Jesus with the prophetic position of Moses?

So, we followed the flight of the Holy Family today, and visited the shrine which, it is "believed" (because no one can actually prove it), that this is the "cavern" where the Holy Family lived several months of the two years they were in Egypt. (Or, was it four? But, it might have been twelve, if you read the scholars who inspired Ann Rice).

The 'hanging church' of St. Mary
We stood over the well from which the Holy Family drew their drinking water, and visited the room where they had their meals, which is now used by the Orthodox Priests as the place where they consecrate the bread in private - away from the uninformed eyes and minds of the laity - before they bring it into the church for distribution.

Because, sure, that's exactly the way Jesus and his parents would have wanted it. (Sarcasm fully intended)

That was actually at the cave of the martyrs Sergius and Bacchus, known as Abu Serga. I've posted a picture of the "hanging church" of St. Mary which was built on top of the cavern where the Holy Family is believed to have lived. 

I do have to point out that right across the street from all this deep spirituality and religious belief and cultural history and myth and legend and scripture is a very modern subway stop. 

There are people going to and from work and doctor's appointments and visits with their relatives and just the every day events of life. They seem totally nonplussed by the deep, rich significance of what is just across the street. Well, I guess, if it's been there since long before you were born and, PS&OBTW, it has nothing to do with your faith and belief as a Muslim, well, I guess it makes sense to be nonplussed and just be about your business. 

So, if that wasn't ancient enough history, we then spent some time learning about the Pharaohs and Egyptian culture as a prelude for learning about the application of the religious beliefs - like resurrection - which shaped and formed so much of their culture and society and cosmology.  That's where we'll pick up with Sr. Joan tomorrow out on the Nile. 

I've got stuff to say about Sr. Joan in a minute but I just want to share this with you. The Egyptians, of course have a story to tell because they wrote so much of it down on papyrus - thick paper made from the pith of the papyrus plant. 

Here's what I learned about papyrus. I always thought papyrus was the Egyptian word for paper which is, in fact, the word from which we derive our word 'paper'. 

 Not so.  papyrus is really a combination of three words - pap (way) py (knowledge) ra (God). So the word papyrus means 'the way to knowledge is God'. 

Think about that for half a red hot second. Now, think about the story of the Garden of Eden. And, think about how the Pharaohs thought of themselves as Gods. And, remember that the Pyramids were built as invitations to the Gods to come and relax and bring their cosmic energy to earth. And remember that oral history is not as reliable as written history and that the victor gets to write the story. 

See also: Truth by blatant assertion. 

Now, back to Sr. Joan, who is anything but "truth by blatant assertion". She is the real deal. Smart. Sharp. Quick witted as an Irish ditty. Has no tolerance for institutional arrogance and oppressive tendencies. Makes no friends with blind obedience, thoughtless compliance, or appeasement. 


Our day ended with an absolutely delightful dinner with Sister Joan who held court with "stories from the life of and extraordinary nun". No, she'd never say that and she'd slap my hand if she knew I wrote that but, you know, that's really what it was.  

We talked about vocation and corruption and abuse and love and relationships and bureaucracy and community and salvation and resurrection and still managed to eat supper and drink wine and not get one twinge of dyspepsia. 

Her meditations start tomorrow on the boat. I can't hardly wait. 

So, we're up tomorrow morning at 5 AM. Breakfast is at 5:30. We leave for the airport at 6:15. Our plane leaves for Aswan at 8 where we'll catch our boat on the Nile which will be our home until next Tuesday. 

I'm not sure about the WiFi connections on the Nile but I'm told I can use our Guide Essam's 'hot spot'. Fingers crossed. I'll still blog but I may not be able to publish them until next Tuesday. I'll try to keep up on Factbook. 

Be well. And, if you really want to walk like an Egyptian, here's a tip from the Pharaoh's that I learned today. If you look at their statues, every single one of them leads with his left foot. That's because Egyptians believed you stepped with the left foot to trod out evil so the heart could proceed.   

I've decided that I'm going to try to be more mindful of walking like an Egyptian from now on.

I don't know if its true that you can trod out evil, but heck, nothing else has seemed to work, so it's worth a try. Anyway, I'll assert it blatantly - six times before breakfast - until proven otherwise. 

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Cairo: Sleep Deprivation and Joy


Well, we have arrived.

I'm not sure how. I mean other than the great tub of the plane that carried over 200 souls in a 300 passenger capacity Boeing 777. We were delayed at the baggage claim because a father and son team had their luggage delayed by 24 hours. The airline was thoroughly apologetic and told the father and son to go out and get whatever clothing, toiletries, etc., they needed and send them the bill.

Well, we were all just punchy enough to try and barter our own way into a similar deal. No dice. These Egyptians are highly skilled barterers and we were regular probies (as they say on NCIS).

The arrival at the hotel was a bit chaotic, mainly because the driver was trying to sell bottles of water (3 for $2 - a much better price than the hotel would charge us for it, we were told), and we need it to wash our faces, brush out teeth as well as drink. So there was all that going on while we were getting rooms assigned and arrangements for luggage to be dropped off, and tying to pay attention to places to have lunch and the currency exchange, and, and, and . ... . . .

We must have heard it twice from each guide: Do Not Drink The Water. Do Not Brush Your Teeth or Rise Your Mouth With Water. Do Not Eat Salad. Apparently the Revenge of the Sphinx is 10 times worse than Montezuma's Revenge. I don't want to have either - ever! - so I put down my $2 and walked into my room with three bottles of water. 


I kept getting flashbacks of the scene in Slumdog Landlord when the boys are in the kitchen and one of them is filling the bottles with regular tap water and then sealing the twist off top with Crazy Glue. 
 
Yes, I've checked the rim of the bottled water. They are covered with plastic you have to peel off.

My hotel is lovely with a promised spectacular view. Additionally, there's a wedding and reception happening in the hotel plaza with a live band performance after the ceremony. I can look out the window and out onto the festivities. 
 
It's wonderful to see people happy and dancing and singing.

I'll tell you what, though: These Egyptian women know how to dress. They may be covered from head to toe with flowing fabric but OMG they are gorgeous and their outfits are gorgeous and their eye make up is a work of art and they have just the right amount of glitter and sparkles here and there and the whole megillah is a look that is positively stunning. 
 
As far as I know, Sr. Joan is not yet here. There was an additional opportunity to precede this pilgrimage with one in Jordan, which Sr. also led. I'm such a huge Sr. Joan fan-girl that I've actually been practicing my greeting so that I'm dignified and respectful and, well, adult. 
 
Even so, I'm sure when I see her I'm going to gush and say something stupid like, "Oh, and I've read ALL your books," which is totally not true - close but not ALL of them - but I'll still say it and smile broadly like a goof and not be able to hold up my end of an intelligent conversation. 
 
She's with us in the morning. Yay!

I did take a wee bit of a nap and had some amazing fish on a bed of mashed peas that was to absolutely die for. And, I wanted to not waste the whole afternoon in a nap so I did walk around a bit but it was so HOT and I am so punchy that I just gave in and rested. 

We're up and at 'em tomorrow at 6 AM and off to visit the holy places in Cairo. Tomorrow is the closest we get to being tourists as we ease into the desert and prepare ourselves for the Nile.

We did talk to our guide, Esau at dinner tonight and he has arranged for a 30 minute camel ride for those of us who want it (Ummm . . . yeah! Are you kidding me right now?). 
 
And, and, and, and, and, and, AND . . . . . Esau personally knows a relative of Razouk, the Egyptian tattoo artist I met in Palestine (thank you, Lindy) who did my latest tattoo. Razouk's family have been tattoo artists for over 700 years. This tattoo artist may be able to meet me in Aswan and add another tat to the stack on the outside of my left leg.

I know. I know. I'm on a pilgrimage. But riding a camel, like riding an elephant, is a spiritual experience. Trust me on this. And, you know, I can't put into words what it's like to add ink to your body - to mark an event or an experience on your body with something that will last as long as you have skin covering your bone. It's a whole creative process, which always involves the Holy Spirit. I can't wait to see what we come up with this time. 
 
I'm think it will be or include a Horus who, for me, is the prototype of the eagle symbol for St. John's Gospel because John's soaring poetic rhetoric, like the eagle, flew so high, the eagle was believed to be the only one of God's creatures to see the face of God and live.

It's now a little after 9 PM and I'm starting to fade. I'm going to take another hot shower, drink some camomile tea that I bought while I was out and about, and turn in early. Tomorrow is a very full day. 

Not a lot of picture. Yet. I'm still getting my bearings.

Film, as they say, at eleven

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Egyptian Pilgrimage: It begins


 

And so it begins. 
 
I'm at JFK in NYC, awaiting my flight to Cairo and my pilgrimage to the footsteps of Moses and the flight of the Holy Family. 
 
I've never flown out of JFK for any destination. I've flown from most of the other major airports but not this one. I'm here to tell you that every horror story you've ever heard about the way things work here is absolutely true. 
 
Honest to Ethel! I'm convinced that if the folks who run this airport gave their employees a sense of pride in the work they do, treated them with respect, and paid them a decent wage, people would be singing the praises of this airport. Seriously. 
 
Anyway, that's behind me now. Only wonderful stuff is ahead. My dearest friends, David and Sean, not only gave me (excellent) food and (amazing) shelter, with great conversation and bucketloads of love, they actually arranged for my transportation to the airport which was lovely. 
 
And, and, and, and, and, and, AND . . . . David blessed me with special sacred oil that was blessed at the Orthodox Shrine of Saint Irene around the corner. I'm convinced that I made it through that crapshow at the ticketing counter because Irene was guiding and protecting me . . . or, maybe protecting others from me . . . whatever, thank you David and thank you, Saint Irene. 
 
So, it's a direct flight from NYC to Cairo, which, I've discovered on other flights has its plusses and minuses. Near as I can figure, Cairo time is about six hours ahead of daylight savings time in the USA. 
 
So, we are scheduled to leave at 6:30 PM today and arrive at 11 AM tomorrow. Which I figure will be around 5 PM in my body. We are scheduled to be greeted at the airport and whisked away to our hotel (which reportedly faces the Sphinx and the Pyramid of Giza), eat supper, and then, TBTG, allowed to crash.
 
I think maybe this company has done this before, right? 
 
We ease into Cairo and our environs the next day, getting acquainted and oriented and (oh, joy!) hearing meditations from Sr. Joan Chittister, our Pilgrimage Spiritual Guide (I KNOW, right? Can you stand it? I'm anxiously awaiting her appearance at the airport gate.) 
 
On the third day, we board a plane and fly to Aswan, where we will then board a riverboat on the Nile. This is where we will enjoy breakfast and dinner every day and sleep while the boat takes us to our next sacred place. A fellucca - a small Egyptian boat - will take us to and from the riverboat to land every day.
 
Riding and eating and sleeping on the Nile! Cleopatra ain't got nothin' on me, kids!
 
Looks like we WILL hit all the usual spots like the Kom Ombo and the Temples at Edfu and Luxor and the Karnak Temple and the Obelisks of Queen Hatshepsut, the only female Pharoah, and the Valley of the Kings and Queens - because, I mean, seriously! I'm here! Why not?- but these places will be viewed through the perspective of what we know from scripture about Moses and the Holy Family and the Desert Mothers and Fathers as given in meditations by Sr. Joan. 
 
I can hardly sit still I'm so excited.
 
I feel so enormously blessed and privileged to have this opportunity. And, honestly? I'm excited to have you all along with me. You all have been great travel companions in the past and I have absolutely no doubt you will be this time, as well. 
 
So, welcome. Come with me! See what I see. And, if you have been here before, please don't hesitate to give me some information and any suggestions or hints you may have.
 
This is going to be SUCH fun! Onward!

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Things get loose

 


 A Sermon preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Georgetown, DE 
and live broadcast simultaneously at
Sirach 26:10 on Facebook
October 3, 2021

When I was a kid, Saturday mornings had their rituals. There was furniture to polish and laundry to be done and floors to wash and polish. That was what we kids did while my parents did the grocery shopping. Oh, and after our chores, (or, sometimes, during) we watched Saturday morning cartoons.

 

There was an order to the morning busyness that was prescriptive. The afternoon, on the other hand, was free for bike rides or a pick up game of softball or basketball or Jacks, or hanging out at a friend’s house, listening to the latest song on 45-rpm records.

 

My father, however, could always be found on Saturday afternoon, in the garage. Working on his Oldsmobile – which, I recently discovered, they don’t make any longer. I would ask him what he was doing and he would say, “Working on the carburetor.”

 

As I remember what my father taught me, the carburetor was a large, bulky contraption which sat on top of the engine which provided the necessary fuel to the engine and spark plugs to get the engine going. But nowadays they don’t use such a system.

 

I clearly remember the day I read in the newspaper that new cars used a 'fuel injector system'. It was the 80s and my dad had long ago traded in his Oldsmobile for a newer model. And yet, as I pulled up to my parent’s house one Saturday afternoon, there was my dad, in the garage. The hood of the car was up and my father was bent over the engine, wrench in hand.

 

Smart Alec that I was, I greeted my father who continued to work with his wrench, moving it here and there. “So, dad,” I said, “I understand that these new cars don’t have a carburetor. I think I read that they have something called ‘fuel injection’.”

 

My father kept working as he nodded his head in agreement. “So,” I said, not really asking a question about carburetors or fuel injection but rather to gently tease and test him, “if you’re not working on the carburetor anymore, what are you doing?”

 

My father was not a man of many words. He was taken out of school after the 6th grade to work the farm and whatever he knew, he taught himself. Daddy continued to move his wrench here and there on the engine and said, “Well, things get loose from time to time. You gotta tighten ‘em.”

 

Things get loose. You gotta tighten ‘em.

 

I think of my dad’s “Garage wisdom” whenever I read today’s collect, which begins, “Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve.”

 

I imagine God out in the heavenly garage, tightening things up on a Saturday afternoon so they don’t get loose. And, when they do, well, God’s got the wrench out and ready, before we even know something is loose.

 

Or before we, like Job, are even able to get out the potsherd, a fragment of pottery, to scrape away the ravages of sin, God is ready to forgive, ready to help us save  ourselves from the temptations of The Evil One for yet another day.

 

Over in the Gospel lesson, Jesus has his scriptural wrench out and ready, tightening up the understanding the Pharisees have had about divorce. Well, they didn’t really have a question about their understanding concerning divorce. Smart Alecs. They just wanted to test Jesus.

 

They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”


Understand, please, that women of antiquity - much like their sisters in many of those same countries in the Middle East - had no social standing whatsoever without a father or a husband. A divorced woman, much like a widow, was the poorest of the poor. Women - and children - were consider property. So, if a man wanted another woman, he could simply write a letter of dismissal for his present wife and move on, without any regard for the status of his wife.


Right, says, Jesus, that’s because things had gotten too loose. The people had been in bondage in Egypt for 400 years and needed a way to make them a great nation. Moses made things real tight. Jesus says "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’

 

Jesus is saying that divorce is the direct result of the hardness of the human heart, but from the beginning, divorce was never part of God's plan.

 

Jesus reminds them that "in the beginning, God made them male and female". In the beginning God made them equal. You can imagine how those words fell on the ears of the Pharisees, right? No, God doesn’t want divorce - God wants us to keep the covenants we make - but God doesn’t want inequality, either.

 

Mark doesn’t report how the Pharisees responded to that, but I’m pretty sure they went back to the Temple very unhappy campers. 

 

To underscore the point, Jesus even allows little children to be brought to him. He was “indignant” with his disciples when they tried to keep them away from him.

 

Children, like women, were considered chattel – or property.  They had no status, no rights. The disciples were men of their culture and time. I can just imagine how their heads began to explode as Jesus began, one by one, to tighten up their understanding of what God wants for the people of God.

 

Here’s the thing: God’s love is a love that liberates. If Jesus sought to protect women and children, then this passage isn’t really about divorce as much as it is about recognizing the imago Dei – the image of God – in everyone, particularly the people society tends to disempower. 

 

What God brings together, nothing can separate. This is descriptive, not prescriptive. We cannot simply discard that to which the Holy Spirit binds us. Divorce must be considered as carefully as marriage is entered into - with deliberation and careful consideration - even when there are irreconcilable differences, or hurt or pain or abuse.

 

Now, I worry about people all the time. It’s both genetic and a learned behavior. I come from a long line of women who worry. Slowly, over the years, I have come to understand that worry is one way to pray – for me, it’s a form of prayer. I ask God to be with those in our society who are as vulnerable as those ancient women and their children who were viewed as property.

 

And, you know, I’ve done this for so many years that I stopped listening for an answer. I just want God to do something for people whose humanity is unseen, let alone the divine image within them.

 

More and more lately, I feel as if the answer that I had stopped listening for is that God has already done something for the most vulnerable among us. Didn’t Jesus show us how to love one another? Jesus didn’t reinterpret the law to be contrary or to challenge those with power for fun. Jesus set an example for us to follow and embody.

 

My father’s Garage Wisdom did come from a book. I think it was divinely inspired.

 

Things get loose. Ya gotta tighten them.  We stray from the knowledge that God’s love liberates. That what God brings together, nothing can separate. That we are bound together by the Holy Spirit.

 

There's an ancient teaching of Rabbis that, before every human being - man, woman or child - before every human being there are 100,000 angels, sing, "Make way! Make way! Make way for the image of God."

 

I think we forget that, sometimes. We neglect to see the dignity in every human being. 

 

Things get loose. Ya gotta tighten 'em.


Whether we know it or not, God is already in the garage, wrench in hand. Because God sees godself in each and every one of us, no matter our age or gender, our sexual orientation or physical status, our race or religious beliefs. God recognizes the divine spark in each of us.

 

Our response is to see God in each other - as our baptismal vows say, "to seek and serve the Christ in each other" - and then behave accordingly.

 

We don’t always, of course. We often miss the mark. But we can be sure that when things get loose, God tightens them.

 

Amen.


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Farewell, Sadie Gene

An Obituary for a Beloved Family Member

 
Ms Sadie Gene Waggie-Tail, aka 'Sadie Gene, Jelly Ole Bean', Princess of The Land of Neurosis, first of her name, House Havanese, died peacefully and without pain last night in the arms of one of her humans. She had just turned eleven in August. 
 
She had been diagnosed last October with an abdominal tumor by her Vet, April Reed, who, together with her staff, had provided care with excellent skill and deep compassion. Dr Reed had planned to be here in our home “when the time came” so that Sadie’s two brothers, Lenny and Theo, could be with her as she left us, but Ms Sadie had other plans. 
 
Sadie came to us from a breeder in South Dakota via Millsboro Havanese, when she was 18 months old. After two litters it was determined that motherhood was not her calling and her breeders sought to find her a good home. 
 
As the fates allowed, she came to live with us and she quickly became an irreplaceable part of the pack at Llangollen. She will be missed by her two devoted brothers, Lenny, age 17 and Theo age 13 (recently diagnosed and being treated for cancer of the pituitary gland), her friend and walker, Auntie Anita, her Uncle Bill whom she adored, her groomer, Ryan at Wizard of Paws, who, at the end, groomed and bathed her special so she wouldn’t freak out, and the Fed Ex man, who always fell under the spell of her deep, brown soulful eyes. 
 
Cremation services will be handled by Parsell Pet Crematorium in Lewes (Part of Parsell Funeral Home where her humans will be tended to after death). A Memorial Service will be held celebrating her life later in October. She will join the ashes of her Brother Bogie who continues to keep guard over Llangollen from his spot on the desk, and Ms CoCo Chanel, who is interred in the front yard where she maintains her vigil as Honorary Harbormaster. 
 
Donations may be made in her memory to the ASPCA so that other dogs and cats may find their forever home. Of your mercy and kindness please keep her humans in your prayers as they grieve this unfathomable loss. 
 
You’re free now, Ms Sadie. You can run and walk without a waddle and the sound of the dishwasher or thunder in the distance will no longer freak you out, causing you to shivery-shake and tremble. It won’t be too much longer before you are joined by your brothers so please prepare them room. 
 
Thanks to the many wonderful memories you have left us (and password protection) you will never be forgotten. Because you were who you were, uniquely and distinctly, you will always be loved.
 
We’ll meet you at Heaven’s Gate.
 
UPDATE: SADIE GENE'S SIGN 
 

 I know. I'm going to risk looking like a complete and utter fool, perhaps confirming for some of you what you only suspected to be true about me.

As our Ms. Sadie Gene was dying, I kept telling her softly how much she was loved and how much she enriched our lives. I kept telling her that she was going to be missed but she would soon be in a place where there was no pain and where she would be able to walk and run and not be afraid of thunder or dishwashers.

I did ask her - I'm not sure where the impulse came, but the words were on my lips and out of my mouth before I could process what I was saying - that she send us a sign that she had arrived and that she was okay.

Ms. Conroy took this picture at 6:30 this morning when she was accompanying the morning constitutional of Sir Theo Barksalot, first of his name, House Heinz 57, a Rescued Knight of the Abandoned Barn.

Yes, it is a double rainbow. Right on our canal.

Think what you will. My heart is full and my soul is at peace.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Have salt in yourselves

 

A Sermon Preached at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 
Georgetown, Delaware
and simultaneously broadcast on Facebook Sirach 26:10 
September 26, 2021

 

Well, the disciples are complaining because John, one of the Sons of Thunder, ran across someone who was healing in the name of Jesus, but he was not a follower of Jesus. Apparently, he had not yet sat for his “Disciple Boards,” or paid his Annual Apostle Union dues, or signed his Oath of Conformity, or placed his hand on a Bible or crossed his heart and hoped to die.

 

Jesus says to let him go, adding, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Well, that’s a pretty low bar, isn’t it? Indeed, Jesus turns the tables ‘round on the disciples and tells them the personal cost to them if they try to put a stumbling block in the way of anyone trying to do some good in His name.

 

Here are a few examples: A millstone round the neck and thrown into the sea. Cutting off your hand – or a foot – or tearing out your eye. Yikes! Let’s hope Jesus is exaggerating again, just to make a point; that this is just his way of saying, “Listen. This is serious. Pay close attention. I really mean this.” Or, maybe he’s trying to evoke in them an understanding of the suffering of others by citing that which would cause suffering in them.

 

Jesus says, “For everyone will be salted with fire.Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Havesalt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

 

Have salt in yourselves. And be at peace with one another. What in heaven’s name is Jesus talking about?

 

Well, we know that the human body contains many salts, of which sodium chloride (AKA common table salt) is the major one, making up around 0.4 per cent of the body's weight at a concentration pretty well equivalent to that in seawater, interestingly enough.

 

According to the Salt Association (yes, there is such an organization), Roman soldiers were partly paid in salt. It is said to be from this that we get the word soldier – ‘sal dare’, meaning to give salt. From the same source we get the word salary, ‘salarium’. Other sources disagree with this and call it a myth, but I’ve long ago discovered that there are few coincidences in the world.

 

Salt was used for healing and purifying. Salt water was applied to infections and wounds and newborn babies were bathed in it. In some forms of Christianity, “the salt of wisdom” is placed on the baby’s tongue at baptism. That is also later ‘balanced’ with a drop of honey on the baby’s tongue, to signify the sweetness of the words of the Gospel.

 

Salt was connected with worship and covenant[i]. The ‘Covenant of Salt’ God had with King David refers to the imperishable and irrevocable quality of the engagement made between the two parties to the covenant.[ii] Salt was also used as an image for wisdom.[iii]

 

Salt is used for many purposes: Preservative. Adding taste. Cleansing. But, for the punishment of looking back as Sodom and Gomorrah burned, Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt. I know, right? Go figure.

 

I remember that my grandmother always kept a small bowl of salt in her kitchen. She would take a huge handful of salt and sprinkle it into a huge vat of soup or a large casserole pan before hoisting it into the oven. She would rub it briskly into beef or pork or on the outside and in the cavity of a chicken or turkey along with freshly ground pepper kernels.

 

However, it was a good thing that, in those days – with occasional exception –we only took a full tub bath once a week, on Saturday night before church on Sunday morning , because there was always a huge piece of salt cod soaking in the tub. The thick layer of salt had done its work to preserve the goodness of the fish; now it was time to soak the fish in a tub of water to remove the salt and cook the fish with other seasonings, along with vegetables and potatoes.

 

Salt can preserve. Too much salt can burn, which is why there is an old saying about “Rubbing salt into the wound.” It not only burns, but it preserves the hurt and pain.

 

Have salt in yourselves. What might Jesus mean by this?

 

In preparation for my upcoming pilgrimage to Egypt, I've been reading "How to Love" by Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh.

 

At the heart of Nhat Hanh’s teachings is the idea that “understanding is love’s other name” — that to love another means to fully understand his or her suffering. (“Suffering” sounds rather dramatic, but in Buddhism, it refers to any source of profound dissatisfaction — be it physical or psycho-emotional or spiritual.)

 

Understanding, after all, is what everybody needs — but even if we grasp this on a theoretical level, we habitually get too caught in the smallness of our fixations to be able to offer such expansive understanding.

 

He illustrates this mismatch of scales with an apt metaphor:

"If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform."

Thich Nhat Han teaches that understanding is love's other name.

 

There is a wise saying that “Jesus and Buddha walk together in heaven”. More and more, I think that may well be true. Jesus is teaching that, once we understand the suffering of others, once we recognize that suffering in ourselves and can see it in others, we find that understanding is love’s other name. 

 

It’s what our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, calls, “The Way of Love.”

 

There is no longer need to criticize or cast out or cut off or judge. There is no need to cause pain. We are called to try to understand – or as Jesus commanded, love one another.

 

Now, I confess to you that I am far from perfect on this Way of Love. I am as guilty as ‘flying off the handle’ and ‘rushing to judgment’ as the next person. That said, you should have seen me before I met Jesus. Let me just put it this way, it wasn’t a very pretty picture.

 

With practice and with (ahem!) age, I have gotten saltier and a bit wiser. I confess that church bureaucracy is still a huge stumbling block for me. I’m a bit like John, one of the Sons of Thunder. The institutional church makes me pull out my hair in absolute frustration. I have very little patience with it, mostly because, like the disciple, John, I really don’t understand it. I admit, this has entered into and been a factor in my decision-making process to be with you consistently for a period of time. 

 

You’ve no doubt heard me talk about “The Four Killer B's of Parish Ministry: Buildings, Boilers, Budgets and …. Lemme think…. There’s a Fourth Killer B . . . Oh, right, BISHOPS!

 

Buildings. Boilers. Budgets. Bishops. The Four Killer B's of Parish Ministry.

 

If we could just worship God together and enjoy each other’s fellowship and hospitality and do the stuff Jesus asks us to do like feed the hungry and welcome the stranger and love our neighbor, and bring more people to Jesus and bring Jesus to more people, well, it would be enough. It would be more than enough. 

 

I honestly love you all and, although we all have our “issues” and there are bumps in the road ahead, I see a bright future, and I seriously want to be part of that journey.

 

So, these words of Jesus sting a bit for me: “Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” Jesus calls me to realize that in order to be with you, I have to take the salt of the church as institution with the honey of the church as Body of Christ. 

 

I promise to try.

 

It's not unlike the rest of life, right? We have to take the bitter with the sweet. Try to see in every challenge an opportunity - to learn, to grow, to change.  As Rahm Emanuel once said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste."

 

“Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with one another.” 

 

These words of Jesus remind me of the wisdom of children’s author Shel Silverstein, 

How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it. 

How many slices in a bread? Depends how thin you cut it. 

How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ’em. 

How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ’em.”

Amen.

 


[i] Scripture says, Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings (Lev 2:13). So the use of salt was ordered first for the meal offerings, and afterwards for “all” offerings, including the “burnt offering.”

 

[ii] For example, Don’t you know that the LORD, the God of Israel, has given the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt? (2 Chron 13:5)

 

[iii] Gregory the Great said, “Now by salt is denoted the word of wisdom. Let him therefore who strives to speak wisely, fear greatly” (Pastoral Rule 4.12).