Your Vestry met on July 22nd and approved the 2012 and 2013 financial audits, the 2013 Parochial Report, and the Safe Church Guidelines and Policies. We heard from the Sound and Light committee about cost effective ways to improve our sound and lighting situation in the sanctuary and approved a small budget for those items. We discussed the Holy Currencies concept geared toward making the parish both sustainable and missional and voted to re-form the Holy Currencies and Currency of Money committees. We heard a report on possible Christmas Fair alternative ideas and voted to move forward with a Dec. 5th St. Nicholas’ Eve intergenerational celebration at the church. We heard reports concerning property issues (repair of Rose Window and portion of parish hall roof) and finances (statements will be going out soon). We affirmed all those responsible for a successful and joyous St. James’s Day parish picnic. As always, please don't hesitate to contact any of us with any questions.
Proper 11 Year A 7-20-14
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Genesis 28:10-19a; Ps. 139; Romans 8: 12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
“If I say, "Surely the darkness will cover me, and the light around me turn to night," darkness is not dark to you, O God; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.” AMEN.
It is wonderful to be with you on this my seventh St. James’s Day in this parish. That’s a good biblical number, isn’t it: seven? Seven days of Creation in Genesis, the first book of the Bible. In the giving of God’s Law in the book of Leviticus, the “seven sevens” that make the Sabbath Jubilee year of debt-forgiveness and restoration. Seven angels and seven plagues complete the work of God in the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. Seven equals fullness, wholeness, completion, perfection.
Well, this St. James’s Day, forget about that! Fullness and completion? WE HAVE A PARISH HOUSE BUILDING TO BUILD! We’ve got a needy world to serve! I’ve got miles to go before I sleep as Rector of St. James’s! We’re just getting ROLLING!
That said, though, I’m relishing the readings we’re given in the lectionary on this my Seventh St. James’s Day as your Rector, because they offer me a word about fullness and completion that runs much deeper than list of accomplishments we’re trying to get through, much deeper than the frantic totting-up and segmenting-out of what the Greeks named “chronos,” meaning ordinary time, passing time, the minutes and hours of the Currency of Time that never seem to be “enough,” that seem to sift away from us faster than we can move. These readings speak to me a word not about that scarce commodity of chronos time but rather about the endless abundance of fullness and completion that undergirds the fleeting passage of chronos time, that lies instead in the realm not of kairos, God’s Time, Eternal Time, the Ever-Present Now of God’s love.
Maybe this makes more sense to me, returning as I am from two blessed weeks of vacation in Puget Sound Washington and Northern California, when kairos dictated my daily rhythm more than the relentless chronos. Or maybe the sense comes from my week’s workshop on the Holy Currencies with the Rev. Dr. Eric Law in Los Angeles, a week of reminder to live from a theology of abundance, not scarcity. But I suspect my reading of these passages from Scripture – Jacob’s ladder in Genesis, God’s intimate knowledge of us in Psalm 139, Paul’s thrumming words of hope in the Letter to the Romans, and then the peculiar parable of the Weeds & the Wheat in Matthew – is most affected by my day in that workshop spent at Homeboy Industries, a business-and job-creation program that sprang from the work of Jesuit priest Fr. Greg Boyle – “Fr. G” as the gang members, the “homies,” in the program call him – in the Dolores Missioncomunidade de base, Christian base community, in gang-and-poverty-saturated Boyle Heights in LA. And from my reading of Fr. Boyle’s book about Homeboy and Homegirl’s work, Tattoos on the Heart: the Boundless Power of Compassion.
Maybe it comes from the privilege of hearing our Homeboy Industries guide, I’ll call her Maisie, tell us her story as we sat behind the headquarters in the burgeoning herb-and-vegetable garden of the Homegirl Café. Articulate in two languages, Spanish & English, funny, engaging, employed as a Homegirl Café cook, Maisie came to Homeboy initially just to have some tattoos removed in their free tattoo-removal clinic. It’s a route in used by many who, like Maisie, have become enmeshed in the gang network, who have struggled with addiction – in her case, mainly methamphetamines – who have dealt drugs themselves, done jail time. But back behind that sorry history lies much, much more that Maisie described for us: her deep poverty from infancy; physical abuse by mother and father; irrational and unpredictable parental behavior; failure in school; early marriage to an abusive partner and then desertion; six children; loss of the children because of neglect; homelessness; rape; yet another pregnancy, discovered in jail. A stew of shame and self-denigration followed by self-defeating choices, bubbling up into yet more shame. Efforts to get purchase on job skills, on education, on parenting, only to have circumstances and her own reactive choices knock her off-stride again and back into the self-destructive cycle of addiction and shame. Add weapons and gang affiliations and you get deeply endemic cycles of violence as well. Psychiatrist James Gilligan writes, “the self cannot survive without love, and the self, starved of love, dies. The absence of self-love is shame, ‘just as cold as the absence of warmth.’ Disgrace obscuring the sun.” [Ibid. p. 46]
It’s a familiar inner-city narrative (with its own rural parallels, worsening as the meth-and-heroin crisis worsens outside as well as inside cities). As this story repeats and repeats, it’s understandable that we might begin to get jaded and want to give up on the intractability of the problem. We might begin to sound a bit like the slaves in Jesus’ gardening parable when the good seed comes up weeds: “Where did these weeds come from? Shall we go pull them up? Shall we just incarcerate them and take care of it?Three strikes and you’re out for good?” It’s tempting to start thinking not just “weeds vs. wheat” but also “enemies vs. friends,” and even “children of the kingdom” vs. “children of the evil one.” But then the householder gives the slaves strange advice – strange to those of us who work so hard to give vegetables a chance in our gardens. “No,” he says, “for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both the weeds and the wheat, the good seed and the bad grow together until the harvest.”
It might be Fr. G speaking. Because despite all the violence, Fr. G bears witness, after thirty-some years working with members of the 1,100 gangs – 86,000 young men and women – in Los Angeles, that God takes a very different view of humanity than we do. God, after all, was looking on when the very first plants were created, long before anyone figured out how to cultivate them into good productive domesticated seed at all. From a God’s-eye view, Fr. G might say, we’re all weeds. Or we’re all wheat. Because God loves every single one of us, utterly. In fact, Fr. G says, “Not much in my life makes any sense outside of God. Certainly, a place like Homeboy Industries is all folly and bad business unless the core of the endeavor seeks to imitate the kind of God one ought to believe in. In the end, I am helpless to explain why anyone would accompany those on the margins were it not for some anchored belief that the Ground of all Being thought this was a good idea.” [Ibid. p. 21] And the Ground of All Being’s just waiting, hoping, praying, trying to create the conditions for us to discover how lovable and beloved we really are. Because as Fr. G says, “homies seem to live in the zip code of the eternally disappointing, and need a change of address. To this end, one hopes (against all human inclination) to model not the ‘one false move’ God but the ‘no matter whatness’ of God. You seek to imitate the kind of God you believe in, where disappointment is, well, Greek to Him. You strive to live the black spiritual that says, ‘God looks beyond our fault and sees our need.’”
Fr. G tells a story. (He tells many, many versions of this story in so many engaging ways, but they often come down to this.) Fr. G takes a young gang member, “a life force of braggadocio and posturing… a gang member, but a peripheral one at best,” a mid-twenty-something named Willy, a “charming, quintessential homie con man,” to an ATM at the Food 4 Less market, to get him some cash for dinner. Fr. G writes, “I tell Willy to stay in the car [at the market], in case we run into one of Willy’s rivals inside. ‘Stay here, dog,’ I tell him, ‘I’ll be right back.’ [“A “dog” is the one upon whom you can rely – the role-dog, the person who has your back.”] I’m not ten feet away when I hear a muffled ‘Hey.’ It’s Willy, and he’s miming, ‘the keys,’ from the passenger seat of my car… ‘The radio,’ he mouths, as he holds a hand, cupping his ear. I wag a finger, ‘No…’ It’s my turn to mime. I hold both my hands together and enunciate exaggeratedly, ‘Pray.’ Willy sighs and levitates his eyeballs. But he’s putty. He assumes the praying hands pose and looks heavenward… I proceed on my quest to the ATM but feel the need to check in on Willy only ten yards later. I turn and find him still in the prayer position, seeming to be only half-aware that I’m looking in on him. I return to the car, $20 in hand, and get in. Something has happened here. Willy is quiet, reflective, and there is a palpable sense of peace in the vehicle. I look at Willy and say, ‘You prayed, didn’t you?’ He doesn’t look at me. He’s still and quiet. ‘Yeah, I did.’ I start the car. ‘Well, what did God say to you?’ I ask him. ‘Well first, he said, ‘Shut up & listen.’’ ‘So what d’ya do?’ ‘Come on, G,’ he says, ‘What am I sposed ta do? I shut up and listened.’ I begin to drive him home to the barrio. I’ve never seen Willy like this. He’s quiet and humble – no need to convince me of anything or talk me out of something else. ‘So, son, tell me something,’ I ask. ‘How do you see God?’ ‘God?’ he says, ‘That’s my dog right there.’ ‘And God?’ I ask, ‘How does God see you?’ Willy doesn’t answer at first. So I turn and watch as he rests his head on the recliner, staring at the ceiling of my car. A tear falls down his cheek. Heart full, eyes overflowing. ‘God…thinks…I’m…firme.’ To the homies, firme means ‘could not be one bit better.’” [Ibid. pp. 22-24]
Isn’t this the discovery Jacob made when he woke from his dream of the angel ladder with his head on a stone and knew God was in that dreary, desolate, uncertain place, and found his ears ringing with God’s promise, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you?" Isn’t this the promise in Psalm 139, that no darkness is too dark for God? That God will search us out and know us and prize us because God knit us together in the first place, most wondrously? Isn’t this the hope in things unseen to which Paul gives voice in Romans Chapter 8, as we wait to realize that we are fully and finally and everlastingly God’s adopted and beloved children? It’s the discovery our guide Maisie made when she came in for a tattoo removal and found instead, herself, her lovable, capable, resilient, reliable self, through all the free programs, the mental health counseling, legal services, parenting curriculum, education classes, work-readiness training, and, yes, employment services that Homeboy offers. It’s what you feel in the air of Homeboy Industries, everywhere you go on the premises, surrounded by faces our media have taught us to fear, but that in fact shine with a kinship not based on anyone having to “qualify” to be there, but based instead on confidence in a love that will never let go. As Fr. G says, “Out of the wreck of our disfigured, misshapen selves, so darkened by shame and disgrace, indeed, [in the words of Franciscan Richard Rohr,] the Lord comes to us disguised as ourselves. And we don’t grow into this – we just learn to pay better attention. The ‘no matter whatness’ of God dissolves the toxicity of shame and fills us with tender mercy.” And as thousands can testify who have come home to themselves at Homeboy, found their dignity, found their capacity, found a job and a life and a healthy community: whatever trouble we get into in the chronos of our lives, the kairos of God’s love is ALWAYS waiting to redeem us, right at the core of us. We just need to learn to pay better attention.
And that’s what we’re here to do at St. James’s, no more and no less. To learn to pay better attention to the presence of God, disguised as ourselves. To move from dis-grace to Grace ourselves so that we might have a clue how to extend that unreserved grace to ANY and EVERY person we meet, the ones who come over this threshold into our congregational community and the ones who never get anywhere near it. Anything and everything we do and say here, in prayer and out, in worship and in service and in fellowship and mutual enjoyment, is aimed at that discovery, the discovery every Homeboy homie is longing for, “led by the Spirit of God,” to know ourselves no longer prisoners of shame but “children of God.” For ‘When we cry, "Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ,” hoping to “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. AMEN.
Proper 8, Year A 6-29-14
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Genesis 22:1-14; Ps. 13; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42
I put my trust in your mercy; my heart is joyful because of your saving help. I will sing to the LORD, for he has dealt with me richly; I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High. Amen.
Such a lovely weekend: the prime of summer! What we all long for, when these warm months come around: sunshine without too much humidity; enough moisture to revive the plants and bring out their blossoms and their beautiful scents; birds courting tunefully from every bough; weddings – we had TWO yesterday: Guy Evans & Kazue Murata, and Gwen Crevensten & Guibenson Hippolyte – to remind us that all this abundance flows from God’s loving and steadfast heart. I’m heading out on vacation tomorrow for two weeks in the San Juan Islands in the Northwest, and with my friends in California, before I head to Eric Law’s Holy Currencies workshop in LA. Time for a nice, relaxing sermon about sabbath rest, don’t you think?
So what does the lectionary give us? The famous story among biblical stories: Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. And what a terrifying ring it has in our 21st century ears, we who read about child abuse in every paper, whose ears are buzzing with the terrible reality that the most vulnerable among us – our children – are subject to violence – sexual or not – at the hands of those charged to protect them. A story meant to fill us with inspiration at the depth of Abraham’s trust in God instead implicates both father (human) and Father (God) in an intent to murder the very one they are most responsible for protecting. And though Isaac’s mother Sarah appears nowhere in this story, one is uncomfortably reminded of how often mothers in such situations fail to speak – whether from fear or from a determined denial, or worse, from being implicated in the crime.
And if we put a Christian gloss over this Jewish story and say, It’s a foreshadowing of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, as we are invited to do when we read this story as part of the Easter Vigil, as we have for well over a millennium, does that make it any better? That God should set out to sacrifice God’s only Son as the core story of our faith: is that the God in whom we put our trust?
And then, you might say, how dare I construe such a biblical story – the Word of God, Holy Scripture, written to acquaint us with God and to instruct us morally and spiritually – in such a terrible light? Am I not to be obedient to scripture?!? What kind of desperate arrogance is that?
Yet I say to you, one of the primary challenges to our spirituality, every day in some way or other, is the evil we encounter, personally or proximally, in this world that God created, that God called “good.” And nothing challenges our faith more deeply and troublingly than the evil done to the vulnerable: to the children we love, to the children we ARE!
Take, for example, a core member in one of the congregations I have served who was a faithful chalice-bearer, an 8 O’clocker, a property chair (and you know how devoted THAT ministry is! Ask Sylvia Weston, who, as Sr. Warden, has been functioning as Property Chair here at St. James’s!). In the neighborhood where my congregation member’s own children were growing up, a family nearby adopted a child who proved to be “a handful,” as my mother would have said. They adopted the child in a profound spirit of altruism, and even after the parents divorced, the single mom patiently and devotedly adapted and adjusted and strove to meet the needs of the boy as he grew. My congregation member’s children were friends with the child and the two families spent many hours together. Nevertheless, the boy struggled with drug addiction, and then, tragically, as a very young man, succumbed to gun violence.
Even though the congregation member had long since moved away from that neighborhood, and his children had grown and moved out, still the death of that young man struck him like a physical blow. After all the goodness inherent in the mom’s adoption of the child and all her efforts on the child’s behalf, HOW COULD GOD LET THAT CHILD GROW INTO THAT TROUBLED MAN AND DIE? How could God “do” that to the child? (Or at the very least, ALLOW it?) How could God “do” that to the mother?
Where was the ram in the bushes for that child? Where was God, when God was needed?
For the congregation member, this was a death knell to his faith. He could no longer “put his trust in God,” in a world in which such evil could occur. If this is the cry of my former congregation member, is it not also the cry of anyone who has suffered trauma as a child? The trauma of accident? Worse, trauma at the hands of one’s trusted loved ones, like the trauma suffered by Isaac – though the story from Genesis does not explore Isaac’s feelings at all, we note – when his father bound him and laid him on the firewood and raised the knife? Trauma inflicted by the very people one most NEEDS to trust, on whom one relies for care and nurture, for affirmation and protection? Where is God, when God is needed?
This week, we learned through the radio station WBUR that neuroscience is confirming what we might long have suspected, that child abuse actually changes the BRAINS of children so afflicted, seriously interfering with the very development of their brains, and hence interfering with their ability to trust and to respond to adversity with resiliency instead of with helpless rage or self-distrust and self-harm. It doesn’t take any acrobatics of imagination to construe from this that children growing up in poor and violent communities suffer the same effects of constant, chronic trauma. Nor does it take imaginative feats to realize that children even in economically comfortable circumstances who grow up afflicted by chronic racism or religious persecution or by bullying because of their sexual orientation or gender identification may also suffer such fundamental modifications of their responses to life’s challenges. Where is God in such widespread and endemic social injustice against our most vulnerable citizens, when they themselves are innocent and their sense of themselves and their identity is just developing?
So summer vacation or no summer vacation, we cannot simply sidestep the discomfort of the Abraham-&-Isaac story. The question it poses is an eternal question, one we’ve struggled with throughout the ages. And it is OUR question, our 21st-century question. We must face right into it.
And for that, we must reach even deeper into the story itself, into Isaac’s silence, even, may I say as a Christian, into JESUS’s silence in the face of Pilate’s conviction. Evil DOES happen. It IS happening. It is happening to the most vulnerable among us. Such abuse and trauma – whether inflicted by a whole community in its racism, sexism, and every form of prejudice, or by a trusted individual, a parent, a relative, a clergyperson, a counselor, a coach – IS happening to children in our own communities, in our congregations and families. And children do not even know how to construe what is happening to them. All too often, they try to take responsibility for their anguish by blaming THEMSELVES instead of the abuser, even though there’s no way they could possibly have the agency to change the dynamics of abuse.
It cannot be surprising that some founder in the depths of that silence, that victimhood, like the tragic young man in my congregation member’s old neighborhood. There is no formula to paste over that dark truth. But the wonder is, that others do NOT. Others find, in the very depths of that darkness, the promise that sums up the Abraham-&-Isaac story: The Lord Will Provide! Others, like Isaac who went on to father the nation of Israel, like Jesus whom the grave could not hold, mysteriously and counter-intuitively find, right in the very midst of that desolate darkness the seeds of faith, the springs of faith in the very midst of their desert, and choose, not to give up on God, but to turn all the more adamantly to God who is their ONLY trust in a world in which evil abounds.
And if we look to the passage for today from Gospel of Matthew, we find another word to us alongside the dark word of the Abraham-&-Isaac story. And it’s a more potent word when we look back over Matthew’s Chapter 10 and realize that the whole of Chapter 10 has been dealing with conflict and division, as the disciples are commissioned and sent out to do the work of God’s Kingdom “like sheep in the midst of wolves,” dragged into conflict and before governors and kings, flogged and forced to defend themselves, persecuted and fleeing, man against father, daughter against mother, one’s foes members of one’s own household, fearing that they have been forgotten by God like a handful of pathetic sparrows, “losing their life” in God’s service as Jesus lost his. Life – and ministry – are struggle, in Matthew Chapter 10. And here, at the end of the chapter, Jesus adds today’s word of welcome and hospitality: ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me …and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’
We are the ones through whom this welcome is to be extended. We are commissioned in our baptism into the death of Christ so that we may live and shine with God’s love no matter what the darkness. We are sent into the world to bear Christ’s affirming word of presence and love to the places where people most have reason to doubt its truth. We are Christ’s hands and feet in this suffering and afflicted world, we by whose hands the cup of cold water can be given. We are called to UNDO the darkness of racism, to UNDO the darkness of prejudice against people for their gender identification, their sexual orientation, their religious conviction, their mental health status, their economic status, to extend our welcome to ALL GOD’S CHILDREN. We, most particularly, are called to the careful and honest and patient undoing of the legacy of trauma endured by those whose trust was violated when they were too young and to dependent to be able to know how utterly wrong the perpetrators were and to confront them, whose basic identities have been skewed by such harm, those who struggle even to know what love is.
So please stand and join me on page 5 of your bulletins in praying Psalm 13 again, from the springs of our spiritual longing in the face of the evil in the world, so that we may assume our baptismal calling to be light in the darkness, and love where love is lost.
1 How long, O LORD?
will you forget me for ever? *
how long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long shall I have perplexity in my mind,
and grief in my heart, day after day?*
how long shall my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look upon me and answer me, O LORD my God; *
give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;
4 Lest my enemy say, "I have prevailed over him," *
and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.
5 But I put my trust in your mercy; *
my heart is joyful because of your saving help.
6 I will sing to the LORD, for he has dealt with me richly; *
I will praise the Name of the Lord Most High.
Trinity Sunday Year A 6-15-14
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a; Ps. 8; Matthew 28:16-20
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all, ever more. AMEN. [2 Cor. 13:13]
I often find it helpful to turn to Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, called The Message, when I need illumination on a passage of Scripture that has had its edges worn off. Matthew 28 is one of those. The line “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” has been used as THE “missionary statement” of so many Christian denominations over the centuries, often licensing Christians to approach unfamiliar peoples and cultures around the world with an extraordinary arrogance, as if the Holy Spirit had arrived along with these Christian missionaries, rather than being present from the beginning, inherent in the Creation as Genesis 1 says, inherent in the community they approach, among the strangers they do not yet know. To baptize these new acquaintances, in this interpretation, meant to bring Christ to “spiritual paupers” rather than to discover Christ already richly in them, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves,” as our baptismal covenant exhorts.
So how lovely to open Eugene Peterson’s translation and read, “Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set [in the Resurrection appearances] for their reunion. The moment they saw him, they worshipped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally. Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge, “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name, Father, Son & Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”
Note: Jesus’ authority is for a purpose: to commission US, to imbue US in turn with that authority! And for what do we use this new-found authority? To PRACTICE what Jesus has commanded us, day after day after day! And to train others in the PRACTICE. And what commandment is that, that we are practicing? We are practicing LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER. SACRIFICIAL LOVE. SELF-OFFERING LOVE. We are practicing “risking ourselves totally,” which is our spiritual worship, as Peterson translates Matthew. We practice to risk participating in the Trinitarian Love – the Unity in Diversity – that is at the heart of God’s own Self, God who could not merely remain a Oneness but needed relational Love at God’s own Center in order to BE GOD. God the Three in One that draws Jesus’ humanity fully into divinity, for Jesus does not split off from his human self in ascending into the Godhead, but remains fully human and fully divine. We are commissioned to practice risking ourselves totally to be part of THAT synergy of self-offering, reconciling love.
A very, very different vision of what it is to travel throughout the world as emissaries of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, isn’t it? To arrive in each new place among new people and discover Christ there in every face, to learn new things about what it is to be in relationship, what it is to love, from every single person we encounter, even those we find alien and frightening and unfathomable? To risk ourselves utterly in that encounter?
Today, we are celebrating the Trinity in a unique way, and not just in promising Kacey Minnick that after a year of Micah Fellowship with us, even as we send her forth for whatever lies ahead for her in the power of the Spirit, we are also holding her firmly in our love as fellow members of Christ’s Body with her, wherever she may be, holding her in the bonds of Oneness in the Diversity of the Trinity. We are also joining with the Reverend Judy and Dr. John Gay in the celebrating their 60 years of covenanted relationship in the bonds of holy matrimony, and witnessing to the renewing of that covenant.
If what I say is true about Matthew’s Great Commission, then it is highly fitting that we should spend our Trinity Sunday renewing a couple’s marriage vows. Marriage has always expressed a truly baptismal – a Trinitarian – covenant between two people: a self-offering one to another in which the welfare of the other ranks right alongside one’s own, a union meant to express God’s unending faithfulness to us, “day after day after day, right up to the end of the age,” as Peterson translates Matthew. Marriage means, “not holding back, but risking ourselves totally” in giving ourselves to each other. Maybe the British knew something we might forget, when in the words of their old marriage service at the giving of the rings, the couple said to each other, “With my body, I thee worship.” (Well, truth to say, it was only the man who said that, but we certainly have moved beyond THAT gender distinction!) Still, if marriage is indeed a missionary act, meant to show forth God’s love to the world, even as it all too often also shows forth our inadequacy as fallible human beings to live up to that charge, then as God has given God’s Self utterly to us on the Cross, so we risk “all that we are and all that we have” (our U.S. prayer over the rings) in marriage to each other. Marriage is a vocation to practice loving one another as Christ loved us, as his commandment demands, in which love, Christ was simply showing forth the nature of God’s own love, ever drawing us together even as we become clearer and clearer about our unique individual identities. Trinitarian indeed: same substance; different persons.
How fitting, then, to celebrate not just a marriage but the marriage of two missionarieson this Trinity Sunday in which we read the Great Commission of Matthew! John reminded me this week that he and Judy were newly married and studying jointly at Union Theological Seminary when they discerned a call to serve as missionaries. They had hoped to go to Alaska for their first posting, but the Episcopal Church had requested that they consider instead going to teach in Liberia. In the middle 1950’s, the African continent was in many places in the throes of a revolutionary fervor, throwing off the colonial yoke for the first time since the 17th & 18th centuries and seeking self-rule in nationalist independence movements. It was a demanding, even a frightening thing to contemplate going there. Judy and John were sitting in the Union Chapel for worship, and the preacher pointed to one of the stained glass windows, in which was depicted (under layers of New York grime) Matthew’s Great Commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” John looked at Judy and Judy looked at John, and they decided that this was the Word they needed to decide to go to Liberia. For those of you here who know and love them, you know that from that unfolded not just a lifetime of service on the African continent, first in Liberia and then in Lesotho, South Africa (and ordination for Judy as the first woman priest ever in the Diocese of Lesotho), but also a lifelong practice of their own continuing conversion and reaffirmation of baptism, as Judy and John met stranger after stranger and found in them the face of Christ and the love of Christ, as they shed assumption after assumption about their own hegemonical knowledge and understanding and became humble students of those whose cultures and challenges they were only just beginning to comprehend. Judy and John have spent a lifetime becoming smaller and humbler and more in awe of the gifts and challenges God has set before God’s beloved people, especially God’s beloved African people, even as they have grown larger and larger in the Spirit – and they continue on the same trajectory here in Cambridge, now including people from the Asian continent in their circle of unity and belovedness as well, as they welcome Chinese and other Asian scholars into their family of friends. And their marriage has kept pace with this spiritual learning, as they have become humbler and humbler before the awe of their union with each other, even as each has grown larger and larger in their own personal achievement and capacity. Truly we can see in John and Judy’s marriage, after these 60 years of practice, God’s own total risk, God’s own self-offering love, and in that witness, we can find useful training for ourselves in that same practice.
Now, with John’s & Judy’s support, I want to extend that witness still further. It so happens, as some of you know, that I spent last week in Kansas City at an Anglicanindaba Consultation with the Standing Commission on Liturgy & Music over their resources for the blessing of a same-sex covenant, “I Will Bless You & You Will Be a Blessing,” approved for provisional use (meaning under the instruction of the local bishop) at the 2012 General Convention. The word "indaba," meaning "spirited discussion," comes from South Africa, and is used for an ongoing process of relationship-building in the Eugene Peterson model of the Great Commission, a process of deep listening in the context of bible study and shared prayer across cultural and theological differences with indaba partners from all around the Anglican Communion. In addition to a broadly national distribution of Episcopalians, our indaba Consultation participants in Kansas City included representatives of the Disciples of Christ, the UCC, the ELCA, Presbyterians, the Moravians, and Anglicans from Uruguay, Brazil, New Zealand, Southern Africa, Wales, Scotland, and the Convocation of Churches in Europe, among others, all of them from regions in which civil marriage between same-sex partners has been made legal.
Being at the Consultation meant a full immersion in the theology of the blessing of covenants between couples committed to “fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God,”* the distinguishing marks of John & Judy’s covenant of marriage, just as they are the marks we expect from couples of the same sex as well. Our indaba meant a deep and shared consideration of what the Church believes is happening when it pronounces God’s blessing upon such relationships, and a consideration of what the Church believes the blessing of these covenants will contribute to God’s Mission, God’s own work of redeeming and reconciling love in the world.
It was the revelation of the Consultation that indeed, marriage is a part of our response to Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew: a practice of risking ourselves totally in relationship with someone very “other” than ourselves, a practice of following Christ’s commandment of self-offering love day after day after day, and of training others in the same practice – our children, our families, our friends, all who observe us and support us in sustaining and deepening our marriage covenants. And further, the Consultation was a revelation that, as such, this practice of self-offering love is equally accessible to couples of the same sex as it is to couples of the opposite sex, like John & Judy.
In fact, rather than hearing a continuing distinction between the covenants of same-sex and of opposite-sex couples, what resonated painfully in our plenary discussion at the Consultation was the acute discomfort and sense of theological incoherence experienced by those of our parish clergy who, at the direction of their bishops, abide by the instruction to tell same-sex couples they may not be bound in holy matrimony because that status is reserved for opposite-sex couples only, and the pain and sense of "lesser status" experienced by the same-sex couples themselves. (I must point out that, with the permission of our bishop here in Massachusetts, we are among the few dioceses NOT bound to such a distinction and may use either the provisional blessing liturgy or the marriage service in the prayer book in marrying couples of whatever sex.) Though concern was expressed over whether, were that distinction to be specifically removed or the understanding of holy matrimony explicitly expanded throughout the Episcopal Church at the 2015 General Convention, some members of The Episcopal Church, as well as members of other Provinces of the Anglican Communion might view the action as "American unilateralism," this gathering moved into consensus that the time has come to remove what we saw as a false distinction, and to acknowledge that all covenantal relationships blessed by the church, whether with the rite in the current Book of Common Prayer or with the new proposed liturgical resources, are, in fact, holy matrimony.
Our Anglican partner from Brazil, the Very Rev. Marinez Bassotto, Dean of the Trinity National Cathedral in Porto Alegre (and friend of our own Mary Caulfield, who has spent many months in Brazil, sharing the resources of Godly Play there), brought a chalice and patten to the Consultation identical to the one Mary brought to us here at St. James’s, made by indigenous women in honor of the 20th anniversary of women's ordination in the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil, which we used at our closing Consultation Eucharist. In presenting it, she spoke eloquently of her sense of obedience to the Holy Spirit in bringing about new opportunities to see the world afresh through God's eyes. She and many of our Anglican and ecumenical partners spoke of looking keenly to the Episcopal Church USA for theological and liturgical leadership in this area, as they respond to the opening of legal civil union and/or civil marriage to same-sex couples in their jurisdictions. Had she been reading Eugene Peterson’s Message translation of Matthew’s Great Commission, she could have said, “Train us in this way of life, in which God’s Mission of reconciliation is expressed equally among couples of the same and couples, of the opposite sex, like John & Judy Gay! Help us practice all that Jesus has commanded us, in the work of self-offering love! Join us in the Eucharistic bonds of communion and community, leaving no one out!”
In the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and fellowship of the Holy Spirit, with us always, day after day after day. AMEN.
*To Set Our Hope on Christ: A Response to the Invitation of Windsor Report (New York: The Office of Communication, The Episcopal Church Center, 2005), 63-121
Holly AntoliniSt. James's Cambridge MA
Gamble everything for love, if you're a true human being... Half-heartedness doesn't reach into majesty. You set out to find God, but then you keep stopping for long periods at mean-spirited roadhouses. -- Rumi
Ascension Day Dramatic Reading (as read by Tom Marsan and Sam Zimmerman)
Whooosh! Just like that! Like a rocket, Zoooomm, that’s how he went! Better than any fireworks I’ve ever seen! Wheeeee! And we were watching to see where he was going when a cloud came across, and, well, that was it. Gone. Ascended.
I didn’t want him to go. He’d already left us once, and that was awful. We just didn’t know whatto do with ourselves, we moped around, fearful for our lives, fearful for our sanity. I mean, he was our hope, we’d left everything for him. And he had promised that he would never leave us or forsake us. So when he died, what did that mean? Wasn’t he who we thought he was? Was he a fake or a fool, or even a fiend? So many questions and doubts. We needed him, he was showing us the way, the way to be human, to live without the legalism of the Pharisees or the rule or the Romans. But it was just those things, the rules and the rule, which caused his death. I just didn’t understand.
Then he came back. He came back! Who has ever come back from the dead! (Well, except Lazarus, and that little girl, and… er, well, perhaps I should have trusted him a bit more.) Anyway he rose again just like he said he would. And he gave us convincing proofs he was alive, showing us his wounds and eating fish and everything! I mean, ghosts don’t eat fish, do they? And he spoke to us about the Kingdom of God, and it all started to make sense, all that stuff we’d heard before but hadn’t really grasped until, well, until he’d died I guess.
One time when we were eating he said “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.”
I got all excited and said “Lord, Lord, this time are you going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?”He looked at me in his way which means “you haven’t quite got it yet, have you?” I’m getting used to that look.
He said, “It’s not for you to know the times and dates the Father has set for his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Whoooosh! Zoooooom! Gone! Ascended. Before I’d even had chance to ask him what he was going on about. And we are all standing there looking up into the sky like a load of ninnies, when we hear a voice.
“Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky?” Fair question I guess. They must not have see the Whooosh! But now I think about it they did look pretty amazing themselves, all white and shiny, like people from heaven.
They said “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
I looked at my watch and was about to ask if they could give an estimated time of return, but they had already gone.
So here we are back in Jerusalem. We are praying and waiting, waiting and praying, and I can’t say I’m not excited about the coming of the Holy Spirit, whatever that might be. But to be honest I’d rather Jesus came back himself. I need him. No one knows me like he does. No one shows me God like he does. But I guess even more than that the world needs him, Israel needs to be restored, God’s Kingdom needs to come to this world, and Jesus is the only one to do it, I really believe that. But I’m worried that not one Jesus would be enough, it’s like we need God to send maybe 100 or 1000 little Jesus’, going around and spreading his Kingdom. Little Christs, empowered to do his work. We can’t do it, we are useless. Come on God, we need your help!
Brief Sermon (as given by Micah Fellow/Life Together Intern Kacey Minnick)
Earlier this week I visited my older sister Katelyn in Brooklyn, NY. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge one morning with friends, and I, being terrified of heights, was extremely nervous, for good reason. It stands about 276.5 feet above the water, which, if you’re good at math, means about 57 (of me) (Kacey-sized people) end to end. I stepped onto the pathway with no small amount of fear of what I would see at the top.
We reached the middle of the bridge at about 11:30 a.m., and stopped for some pictures. The sun was warm, the view was gorgeous, and you could see the towering skyscrapers of the Manhattan skyline. I looked down and observed the city below me in awe. Like the cliché goes, people really were ant-sized, and scurrying about their business in miniature taxis and trains.
I realized something important then, while I watched a cyclist ride around a park: maybe this is what Jesus sees as he’s rising into the air. He sees so much more than we “ants” on the ground can, busy with our work. Jesus knows he will come back, he knows that we’re struggling to understand why he’s left, and he knows much more about us than we could ever care to admit. He sees, for lack of other words, the bigger picture.
While I stood on the Brooklyn Bridge, I turned to look at some workers in a construction site and thought some more. Despite his departure, Jesus didn’t leave us empty-handed, or entirely helpless. Firstly, he gave us a community of each other, of fellow worker “ants” with which to construct the Kingdom of God. We are the thousands of little Christs building up the world with the Word.
Secondly, Jesus reminded us that God is with us through the blessing of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit moves in each one of us, to care for our neighbor, to become priests, social workers, teachers, accountants, techies, salespeople, insurance distributors, tax collectors, activists, coordinators, educators… we are called to God’s work through our gifts.
Lastly, Jesus gives us hope. Though only God – who can see even more than Jesus can – knows at what moment Jesus will return, we are left with a sense of prayerful, meaningful waiting. So we don’t know if Jesus will come back on a Tuesday afternoon or a Friday evening. What we do know is that Jesus loves us, and we spread that love through loving God and loving our neighbor.
This is what sticks out to me on Ascension Sunday, and what I find in the dramatic reading for today: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. And we may be scared to step on the Brooklyn Bridge, fearful of what we may see when we get there. We may even be the “ninnies” in the dramatic reading, looking up in fear of what is to come, but man, let me tell ya: I can’t wait for the moment Jesus comes back and tells me what the view is like all the way up there.
Present: Sylvia Weston, Isaac Martinez, JT Kittredge, Nancy McArdle, Tom Beecher, Thomas Wohlers, Rev. Holly Antolini, Susan Rice, Joanna Kline, Mary Beth Mills-Curran
Absent: John Irvine, Saskia Grunberger, Iselma Carrington, Marian King,
Guests: Lucas Sanders, Nicholas Hayes, Rev. Judith Atkinson, Jeff Zinsmeyer
Judith led the meeting in a spiritual reflection on the issue of conflict based on Chapter 8 of Tom Shaw’s Conversations with Scripture and Each Other.
2014 Vestry Goals:
Nicholas Hayes joined the Vestry to discuss progress on 2014 goals. As part of this, Tom Beecher introduced his updated diagram of St. James activities / ministries, incorporating comments from last time.
-We discussed whether this could be put on our website with hyperlinks for ministries/activities. Need to investigate if we need copyright permission for Holy Currency citation.
- How can we get feedback from parish? Isaac will discuss with welcomers and ushers on June 8th and will speak to Holly about possibility of post-church discussion on June 15th.
- At next Vestry meeting we will discuss the Welcome Ministry (for example rolling program of three welcome meals per year).
JT moved that: we thank Tom for his work, accept diagram “as is” (with necessary / appropriate credit to Eric Law), include in welcome packet and post it on web and other appropriate places. Joanna seconded and motion was approved unanimously.
Missions Committee Grants
Nancy outlined the process / principles of the mission committee and spoke to the proposals for this year.
Mary Beth Mills-Curran moved that the Vestry accept the recommendations of the Missions Committee, seconded by JT, motion was approved unanimously.
Tom circulated the revised document on goals, survey and next steps for communication. He requested that the Vestry review and update the survey document.
We agreed that a good next step would be to pare down the Sunday News, possibly moving some of that info to the website. Tom and Joanna will work on this, and Tom will make an announcement in church to see if wider group wants to be involved.
Jeff Zinsmeyer updated the Vestry on the redevelopment.
Lights, Sound, Plaster: Building Priorities
Holly briefly outlined our problems with building lighting and sound (both of which impact worship) and how they are potentially competing priorities (along with interior work like painting/plastering) for our maintenance dollars.
JT moved that the Rector be authorized to form a committee to address the issues in the building (focusing particularly and initially on light and sound); seconded by Thomas W. and approved unanimously.
Isaac Martinez moved that the April minutes be approved. Tom Beecher seconded; approved unanimously.
Lucas provided an update from the Finance Committee, including discussion of pledge income and Food Pantry budget processes. Final letters for the Capital Campaign will be circulated this month. No red flags noted at Finance Committee.
Holly reported that a celebration of the Capital Campaign (payment phase) will be held September 21st, potentially in connection with a ministries fair.
Thomas W. moved that the finance report be accepted. Isaac seconded; approved unanimously.
- Special Vestry meeting on June 24 on Discernment for those considering the ordination process. Reports requested for the Vestry from the committees by June 17th so that Vestry has a week to review.
- In tandem with Campaign celebration, Holly suggested a ministry fair for September 21st.
- Nancy will convene discussion about Christmas Fair with several interested parishioners– thinking of goals and how we might best do fulfill them.
- Holly stated that it might be best to have 150th Anniversary celebration next July for St. James’s Day
- 15th June -Kacey Minnick’s last Sunday.
- Waiting for a second quote for refinishing of the floor.
- Peter Merrill has agreed to convene a property committee.
- Upgrade/maintenance of boiler is required by Church Insurance Company. These things weren’t done when boilers were moved – we could take this back to Oaktree but agreed that this is not a priority right in our negotiation with them right now.
Thomas W moved that: the Vestry authorize expenditure on the boilers to meet the necessary Church Insurance specifications. Tom B seconded; approved unanimously.
- Beautiful Holy Week made a great re-entry into the congregation - so glad to be at St. James's!
- Supported Jacob Klibaner in his Eagle Scout project - so great to have the Scouts at St. James's, and we all need to work for greater inter-penetration: more of our kids in the Scouts; more of our adults volunteering in leadership.
- Parish Retreat preparation
- Well into pre-marital preparation for five couples, and a probable sixth. Two weddings June 28th; one August 23rd; one (our own Vestry member Thomas Wohlers' to Melissa Millner!) September 20; one September 25th. Any contributions go into the Rector's Discretionary Fund. All parish members!
- Annual Clergy Conference Apr. 28 - 30
- Safe Church training - thank you Kacey and Judith!
- A couple of quite serious pastoral demands, including a need for significant intervention to provide adequate support in a case of mental illness.
- A farewell-to-Claire and end-of-year staff celebration lunch
- Training and orienting Myanne; and a BIG thank you to Kacey for holding the fort in the week between Claire's departure and Myanne's arrival, and for assisting orienting Myanne when I went to the monastery today, tomorrow.
- Staff evaluations pending; I missed them last year because of sabbatical, so important to hold them for Pat & Hong. Judith and I will talk about ways we can "mutually evaluate" our leadership as clergy, Vestry.
- Executive session to report on one additional staff issue
- Completion of Confirmation Class last Sunday and dinner with the Confirmands this Sunday night; Confirmation itself on Saturday May 31st.
- Newcomer Dinner - second of three "annual dinners," one just before Annual Meeting Newcomer Welcome; one in spring; one in early fall.
- Planning Welcomer-and-Usher dinner at Sarah Forrester's and planning for next year's Welcoming Ministry
- Annual prayer retreat this week; many things intruding. This is not a particularly good time of year for retreating; too many important "endings!" Plus our hearing tomorrow.
- De-compressing from the bishop process - still find myself easily tired but otherwise at peace with the outcome
- Continuing as a Dean with new Co-Convenors. Expect to keep at it at least one more year, as our new Bishop settles in, but may retire after five years' total, next spring.
- Vacation: June 30 - 13; July 31 - August 9 (including scattering my parents' ashes); and August 25th - Sept. 1
Associate Rector’s Report
- Move to three Sunday School groups and new leaders going well, leaders get-together held at beginning of May
- Young people leading service on 1st June, lunch party on 8th June, presentation on 15th June
- Lots of children / young people attending retreat
- Safe Church training took place on 3rd May, and online training being circulated this week
- Recruiting new worker for Sunday nursery
- Young Families event at Taylors on 24th May
- Undertaking supply at the Crossing from 1st June
- Attended clergy conference. Continued involvement in Mission Hub Implementation Group.
- Going to England to renew visa 20th July
Goals Check-in & New Business
No new business reported.
Nancy McArdle, Clerk
(With thanks to Judith Atkinson)
 Mary Beth Mills-Curran and Isaac Martinez are members of the Crossing (recipient of one of the grants)
6 Easter Year A 5-25-14
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Acts 17:22-31; Ps. 66:7-18; (I Peter 3:13-22); John 14: 15-21
Bless our God, you peoples; make the voice of his praise to be heard; who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip. AMEN.
As many of you know, I spent most of the last week on my annual silent prayer retreat at the monastery of the Society of St. John Evangelist on Memorial Drive. Even though there was more coming-and-going than I usually experience in this precious week of prayer, still I had the experience I always have at the monastery. It’s an experience of sinking into the quiet, only music in liturgy to stir up the silence, and reading aloud at meals (this time, a book about the remarkable abilities of BIRDS!). No chitchat. No broadcasts. It’s an experience of being held in the prayer of a whole community, renewed every three hours or so in the services of the daily office and daily Eucharist, with God’s word opened and explored in a constant tidal rhythm each day. We’re not trying to sustain our relationship with God on our own, but rather are joining a great unending stream of prayer, like the eternal procession of the Charles River outside the guesthouse windows. Being at the monastery on retreat is an experience of internal freedom: freedom to read and think and gaze at the world without the to-do list dragging our attention forward and outward. It’s a time to pay attention within ourselves without distraction. No need to posture or construct one’s persona in any way. No need to persuade anyone of anything, or recruit anyone to anything. (But lots of room to care about many, many people, whose faces bubble up into prayer, sometimes accompanied by tears of fellow feeling or joy.) Cell phone (mostly) off. Screens (mostly) blank. Heart and mind tuned to a slower, gentler frequency, a frequency that allows for probing but kindly self-examination and forbearance, for discernment, for weighing and balancing what’s important and what’s not, for letting oneself be little and inconsequential on the great stage of life without feeling badly about it. Time opened up to let the regrets creep out from the little backwaters to which they’ve eddied in the general busyness and get addressed, and for things rejoiced in to have their full appreciation.
Mind you, on the monastery brothers’ side of the ledger, this grace-filled atmosphere of prayer and freedom is full of effort, as they design, preach, and lead the services, learn the music, welcome and attend to the guests, keep the building and gardens tranquil, inviting & clean and the (delicious) food arriving at table, and in and through it all, provide spiritual direction in person and on their website. But for me as their guest, being at the monastery opens a time inside me and outside me that liturgical theologian Gordon Lathrop would call a “laetissimum spatium,” a “most joyful space,” a space in which to luxuriate in and expand into the baptismal truth that no matter what our failures and shortcomings, no matter the trials and tribulations of our daily lives and situation, we abide in Christ’s love in the power of the resurrection.
Lathrop was using that term, the “laetissimum spatium” in which to abide in Christ’s resurrection, not to describe a monastery retreat but to describe the fifty days of the season of Eastertide. A little history: the Church had been celebrating the Great Vigil of Easter from the mid-2nd century on, to honor the “pascha,” the suffering of Christ in his “Passover” through humiliating death to limitless life in the resurrection. By the beginning of the 3rd century, barely a half-century later, the Church had adopted the custom of holding open that “most joyful space” for the full fifty days from the Feast of the Resurrection, the same fifty days the Jewish people had celebrated between the Passover and the spring harvest festival called in Hebrew, Shavuoth, the feast of Weeks, and later, in the Greek of Hellenistic Judaism, “Pentecost.” This fifty-day period – a seventh of the whole church year – became known as the Sabbath of Sabbaths, so that just as every Sunday is the seventh day of the week, the day of Resurrection, so the fifty days of Eastertide became the Sunday of the year, a whole SEASON of resurrection, like a whole season of being on retreat from “life as usual.”
And here we are on Day 36 of those fifty days of laetissimum spatium. our “most joyful space” of Eastertide. And my time in the monastery has encouraged me to hear Jesus’ discourse with the disciples in John’s Gospel for today a little differently than I might have, had I been motoring along in my life as usual. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever,” says Jesus. (“To be with you forever:” the word John uses is “abide,” an Advocate who will abide with us forever.) “This is the Spirit of truth,” he goes on, “whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” That word, “abide,” is the same one John goes on to use in the next chapter of Jesus’ discourse with the disciples, in which he advises them to “abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches…” [John 15:4-5a] And he goes on: “…If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” And “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” [John 15:10, 12] If we follow this swirling invitation to abide in love for one another and for Jesus, Jesus promises that we will abide in a laetissimum spatium, “a most joyful space.” He says, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” [John 15:11]
Of course, there’s a catch in there. The Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, will come and abide with us, even IN us. But the “world,” says John’s Jesus, cannot receive that Spirit of truth, because it neither sees truth nor knows truth. On my third day at the monastery, I finally made it all the way through the New York Times Magazine for the Sunday BEFORE last (yes, it’s hopeless, isn’t it?). At the back, I came upon a book review by writer Steve Almond for a little-heeded novel called “Stoner.” It’s a novel, he says, about “the life of an academic named William Stoner, a man forgotten by his students and colleagues, by history itself.” Stoner never rises out of his inconspicuousness. He’s “a dubious leading man, introverted and passive. He fails even to protect his daughter from the deranged whims of his troubled wife. The story of his life is not a neat crescendo of industry and triumph, but something more akin to our own lives: a muddle of desires, inhibitions and compromises.” [Steve Almond, New York Times Magazine, May 11, 2014]
Why would I burden you with this little story about such an undistinguished little man in the most joyful space of Eastertide? Because, in the language of John’s Gospel, “the Spirit of Truth abides with Stoner and IN Stoner,” though the world cannot see it or know it. Almond notes that Stoner’s unrelieved obscurity “makes it hard for some readers… to see that Stoner makes courageous decisions. The dutiful son of a poor farmer, he discovers the power of literature in college and pursues his calling. He labors to honor the mission of teaching and gives himself over to a passionate affair he knows will end in ruin…” [Ibid.] because “in his middle age he began to know that [love] was neither a state of grace nor an illusion…” but more “…a human act of becoming, a condition that was invented and modified moment by moment and day by day, by the will and the intelligence and the heart.” [Stoner, by John Williams] With all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength… Though “…these events play out not on the grand stage of history but the small rooms of [Stoner’s] workplace and home,” Stoner learns from them to pay attention to his life. And that quality of attention, the kind of attention a monastery retreat invites is, says Almond, “the deepest lesson of “Stoner;” it’s what makes his life heroic. Stoner doesn’t shy away from his smallness. He abides. And love grows in him, moment by moment, day by day. It’s not a retreat but a poem in a literature class that creates the laetissimum spatium in which Stoner awakes to “the miracle of consciousness. The sky and trees take on an almost unbearable intensity. He senses his own blood flowing invisibly through his veins. His fellow students appear illuminated from within, and he feels ‘very distant from them and very close to them.’”[Op. cit.] How curious that Stoner’s awakening to his own soul, to the need to pay attention to his life, involves feeling this intense sense of connection. As John’s Jesus puts it in his circling fashion, “You will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” [John 14:20]
But “the world,” as John’s Gospel puts it, doesn’t get it. Almond again: “…How shallow our conception of the heroic has become. Americans worship athletes and moguls and movie stars, those who possess the glittering gifts we equate with worth and happiness. The stories that flash across our screens tend to be paeans to reckless ambition…It’s not just that we’re all toting around omniscient devices the size of candy bars. It’s the staggering acceleration of our intellectual and emotional metabolisms: our hunger for sensation and narcissistic reward, our readiness to privilege action over contemplation. And, most of all, our desperate compulsion to be known by the world rather than seeking to know ourselves… If the ancient ideal had been to lead an examined life, the modern goal became to lead a life that was displayed… if you want to be among those who count… well then, make some noise. Put your wit – or your craft projects or your rants or your pranks – on public display. Otherwise you wind up like poor Stoner: a footnote in the great human story.
But aren’t nearly all of us footnotes in the end?” asks Almond. “Don’t the dreams we harbor eventually give way to the actuality of our lives? As a fictional hero, William Stoner will have to dwell in obscurity forever. But that, too, is our destiny. Our most profound acts of virtue and vice, of heroism and villainy, will [likely] be known by only those closest to us and forgotten soon enough. Even our deepest feelings will, for the most part, lay concealed within the vault of our hearts. Much of the reason we construct these garish fantasies of fame is to distract ourselves from these painful truths. We confess so much to so many, as if by these disclosures we might escape the terror of confronting our hidden selves. What makes “Stoner” such a radical work of art is that it portrays this confrontation [with the hidden self] not as a tragedy, but the essential source of our redemption.” [Op. cit.] The world cannot receive the Spirit of truth because it neither sees truth nor knows truth. But if we abide in love, if we take the risk to pay attention as Stoner does, as one does on retreat, if we allow ourselves to go deeper into the truth of our lives, messy and disappointing and painful as it often is, without pretending otherwise, the baptismal joy and love of the resurrected Christ lies there, in the obscure bottom of that quality of attention.
All that we do on retreat at the monastery, all that we do in these fifty days of Eastertide, this most joyful space of the resurrection, is aimed at waking us up to our lives as Stoner wakes to his. Not to make them ready for prime time, quite the contrary: to let ourselves be precisely as human, as fallible, as perplexed and overwhelmed as we truly are, without shying away from that truth. Because, whatever the chattering, facebooking, sensation-seeking world says, we need not shy away. Jesus will not leave us orphaned. He has prepared a home in which we are invited to abide in our full humanity, loved, forgiven, encouraged, shot through with the divine creativity, the divine possibility, the divine at-one-ment, illuminated from within ourselves and surrounded by people – all people, no matter how fallible and human THEY are too – whom, like us, we discover may also illumined from within, with whom we are indelibly connected in love even as we remain our separate, unique and precious selves. Just as I experience this at the monastery, so the Risen Jesus is inviting us to discover it day by day in the laetissimum spatium of Easter, so that his joy may be in us, and our joy may be complete. AMEN.
May 24, 2014
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Job 19:23-27a; Psalm 23; Revelation 21:2-7; John 11:21-27
Let us pray:
Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever. AMEN.
There's a virtue that we underestimate in this world of innovation and sensation and hyper-stimulation and "the Next Big Thing," and that's the virtue of steadfastness. When I think of Ebert Calvin Agard, I think of a man who provided for his family, who worked the same job at MIT for four decades, revolving through the shifts week by week, one week, 7 AM to 3 PM; then the next, 3 PM to 11 PM, and then to 11 PM to 7 AM, and around again, moving his sleeping times accordingly without complaint. (Then there was the time in an emergency in 1997 when he served three shifts straight!) Ebert was a man who supported his colleagues on the job. He was a faithful spectator and firm fan of the Patriots and his beloved Red Sox, on WEEI if not at Fenway itself with his kids by his side. I mean, how many fans do you know who watch a Red Sox game, and then watch it again in the edited "Sox-in-Two" version later?!? And Ebert was a choir member at St. James's every Sunday for decades too -- a fine tenor from the days of his youth at St. Martin's Church in Barbados, I note, though I never got to hear him. Boy howdy could we use him in the choir now, right, Pat!? Going to have to rely on him in the angel choir, now, the cherubim that the Orthodox say come down from heaven and join us here on earth every time we start to sing!
When I think of Ebert, I think of a man who cleaved to his God in the Anglican Church all his life and to his wife Elaine through their 45th and then their 50th wedding anniversary -- still twinkling at her from his hospital bed even when he couldn't speak -- and celebrated those anniversaries in style with all his extended family around him. I think of a man who came from Barbados and steadily made his own way and raised a big family in the house he and Elaine owned on Cherry St. and tended their beloved dogs, Rhoda, Sam & Toby, and took everyone on vacation every year and out to dinner at fine restaurants for celebrations, a man who saw to it that all his kids went to college, which was an opportunity he never had growing up (and saw to it that they had all kinds of other lessons too, along the way, including learning to swim, whether they wanted to or not, which was another opportunity he'd missed out on!).
In and through it all, it's the word "steadfast" that comes to mind when I think about Ebert. A man who sat in the same big chair at the head of the table for every meal. (No one else dared sit in it, even after he died, till I did without realizing the tradition I was breaking!) Ebert Agard: a man who could be relied upon.
Ebert wasn't a big conversationalist. You had to depend on his relatives to learn the stories about him. But he was a DO-ER. He always had some task or project in hand, WEEI playing in the background. He was a determined handyman, always ready to fix anything that went haywire. Even after his own brain went haywire on him, in the terrible stroke that afflicted him 13 years ago, he was still determined to fix things. Elaine found him down cellar trying to re-light the boiler when he could barely stir from his chair! Imagine the frustration when such a man loses the use of one side of his body! The fact that Ebert kept his equanimity as well as he did after the stroke is a tribute to Elaine's and the kids' own steadfastness, and to the grace of God on whom Ebert relied, quietly, without fanfare or a lot of theological talk.
Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." I don't think Ebert would have been especially interested in telling you what he thought about the resurrection. But I think he trusted in the Good Shepherd in his beloved Psalm 23. He knew who was "the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning & the end." He trusted that, ultimately, as Job says, in his flesh, he would see God, face to face. And I think that, in his own unostentatious, unassuming, steadfast way, Ebert lived a resurrection life. I bet I can get some "AMENS!" to that in this congregation!
That why I love the realization Ebert's daughter Angela and I shared after Ebert up and died so suddenly at the end of that long sojourn in the ICU, after all those nights with Elaine by his side, sleeping in a chair, just when we though he might be pulling around again. When we were condoling together that morning, Angela told me that before he fell ill, Ebert had been very excited about making the trip out to California to celebrate his granddaughter Daysha's graduation from Scripps College last weekend. In fact, though he hadn't been walking at all for some months, he was pretty determined he was going to buy himself a new pair of shoes and walk to Daysha's graduation.
Angela was in the midst of telling me she couldn't see how he ever could have pulled that off, and especially after the terrible battle he'd waged in the hospital all through April and into May, when suddenly we looked at each other and realized in a flash that Ebert DID find a way to make it Daysha's graduation! He just decided to show up in his HEAVENLY body instead of his earthly one! He just put on his HEAVENLY shoes and danced there in the communion of saints, that's what he did!
So in the end, deeply as we mourn his passing, acutely as we'll miss him, we also rejoice that Ebert at last has his working body back. And in just a minute we'll pray, in the prayers Reverend Gloria will lead us in, that he will "go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in the heavenly kingdom." And since he IS such a do-er, maybe he can do some heavenly fixing up for us down here, while he's at it!
So let us stand up right now and get the angels down here to help us sing, "I GOT SHOES," in Ebert's honor. Pat, will you please lead us? AMEN!
4 Easter Year A 5-11-14
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Acts 2:42-47; Ps. 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. AMEN.
Psalm 23 is always moving to me, but this week, its limpid testimonial to the reliability of God’s care is particularly poignant. From the first day our congregation member Ebert Agard was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital for evaluation nearly two months ago, when his wife (and our Hospitality Committee Chair) Elaine found that he couldn’t speak clearly one morning, Elaine and their adult children Laverne and Angela and Mark and Steven, and so many others in the Agard family and community of friends have been praying Psalm 23 regularly with and for Ebert. An American from the Caribbean island of Barbados, and the survivor of a massive stroke that left him paralyzed on one side thirteen years ago, Ebert could join us in saying those familiar words that first day in the ER, his eyes twinkling in characteristic fashion, but almost immediately his condition worsened and he was swept off to the ICU where he remained until last week, sedated, on a ventilator, and out of communication. Still we said his favorite psalm for him, day by day, trusting that his spirit was joining in. And when he seemed to be recovering and was moved out of the ICU and off all the extra equipment, we were hopeful that the Lord was shepherding him back to at least a degree of health. Sadly, it was not to be. Ebert went into respiratory distress Thursdaymorning as Elaine and Angela stood by him, and no intervention could keep his heart going. Yet even after he had died, we surrounded his bedside and said Psalm 23 again, a circle of trust that yea, though he had indeed walked through the valley of the shadow of death, God was with him as steadfastly as Elaine had been with him, sleeping in a chair by his side week after week, just as she had been with him year after year, tending to his needs in the wake of his first stroke. The sadness of his loss was still acute. But it was somehow more bearable, believing, as we did in that moment, that no matter what transpires, no matter what the loss or the suffering, we are dwelling in the house of the Lord, with goodness and mercy abounding around us.
The Lord’s household. The Lord’s oeconomia, which is the Greek for “household.” The Lord’s ECONOMY. “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the ECONOMY of the Lord, forever.” Fascinating that on Good Shepherd Sunday – which is what we call the Fourth Sunday of Easter every year, reading scripture that refers to shepherding – we should have, in addition to Psalm 23, the reading from the end of Acts Chapter 2, with its radical vision of the gathered church, cultivating their discipleship of “the Good Shepherd Jesus” by “devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” New Testament scholar Hans Conzelmann argues that this practice of teaching & study, fellowship, breaking of bread & prayers is not simply a reference only to liturgy because Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, “has no clear dividing line between the activities of daily life and those of liturgical life. Rather, he sees all the routines of human living as a unity, including the act of eating bread in remembrance of Jesus and of eating bread as an ordinary meal.” [Nancy Claire Pittman, New Proclamation Year A 2011] The new community in Jesus’ name was cultivating its discipleship of Jesus both in and out of worship; their discipleship infused their whole lives. Living ALWAYS in the "economy," the "household" of God.
The other thing we have to remember about this newly gathered community in Chapter 2 of Acts is that following the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost earlier in the chapter, they have been gathered into fellowship – into koinonia –
from “every family, language, people and nation,” as Morning Prayer’s “Song to the Lamb” puts it. “Neither kinship nor common nationality nor language brought them together; only their common belief in a God who had fulfilled God’s promise to the Jewish people in Jesus Christ held them together.” [Ibid.] But despite their immense diversity, Acts says, their first impulse was to belong to one another and “hold all things in common, selling possessions and goods and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need;” sharing worship; sharing food. “Not only did they trust God; they trusted one another and the apostles to take care of them and to take care of their sisters and brothers in Christ.” This is not some newfound pre-Marxist vision of“communism,” though. “…The real wonder is not that people held things in common; similar practices were maintained through extended families and patron-client systems all over the Greco-Roman world. What is significant in Luke’s portrayal is that people are sharing their material goods outside of familial relationships. A wholly new family, with all attendant rights and responsibilities yet not bound by blood or patronage, has been formed.” …This kind of trusting koinonia is a gift from the Spirit and a sign that God’s new age had actually begun in this radical reordering of social patterns and relationships. [Ibid., adapted] A new economy, God's economy, God's household, in which all are members.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday at St. James’s, we are challenged anew, in the power of the Spirit, to extend the boundaries of “God’s household,” God’s economy, and the boundaries of our koinonia in Christ because many of our congregation members are worshiping -- devoting themselves to the breaking of bread and the prayers – not here at St. James’s but in Dorchester at the Mother’s Day March for Peace, where hundreds of Episcopalians are joining thousands of others as a powerful witness against the persistence of poverty and violence in many neighborhoods of our city. Our Eucharist this morning is not bound by these walls nor by who consumes the Body and Blood of Christ at this altar. This Mother’s Day morning, we are extending the circle of our communion all the way to Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, making part of ourkoinonia the citizens who deal daily with gun violence and drug trafficking, with desperate lack of jobs and high incarceration rates that drive crime and under-education– according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, teenage unemployment in the nation overall is running at 19.1 percent, and blacks in general at 11.6 percent, whereas for whites it’s running 5.3 percent. One can only imagine how those statistics soar in the inner city.
And next Sunday we'll be challenged again in a similar way to extend our household again, to reach out for a new koinonia and a new economy of God, to make the practice of eucharist a daily practice infusing our entire lives as the early followers of Jesus were doing in the Book of Acts, as Micah Fellow Greg Johnston comes to update us on the Episcopal City Mission's participation in the coalition built to support the "Raise Up" legislation seeking to increase the minimum wage in Massachusetts, include sick days and benchmark it to the rate of inflation so that it won't get out of step with cost-of-living increases in the future.
Finally, and closest to home, the passage from Acts Chapter Two challenges us here at St. James's to renew our dedicated use of the gift we have been given, the gift I was blessed with many times over in the days that Elaine and her family and I prayed Psalm 23 for Ebert at Mass General Hospital, the gift of our diversity of race & class, ethnic background and age, orientation and gender, mental and physical status of health, truly drawn from “every family, language, people and nation.” I’ve said many times to all of you, we have a unique call at St. James’s to cultivate this extraordinary koinonia of God’s household by committed work against the unconscious dynamics of racism and all the other “isms” that fragment us as a people and drive much of the economic woe suffered by the people of our inner cities. We have an Anti-Oppression Team that languished in the last year following my sabbatical, and it is time to renew its membership and its mission within and without our congregation. Anti-oppression work is very hard, spiritual work: it demands sacrifice on all sides because we resist the uncovering of the dynamics of racism and its ilk, with its attendant anger and shame and confusing attribution of blame. On this Mother’s Day of solidarity with our inner-city mothers and their families, I invite you to consider whether God may be calling YOU to join in this work by joining the Anti-Oppression Team at St. James’s in its renewal of mission.
Because if the vision of the “goodness and mercy of the house of the Lord” in Acts Chapter 2 is right, and if Jesus is indeed both "the Good Shepherd," anointing and inviting us to join him in his kindly ministry of justice & love, and also the access "Gate" to do so, as the Gospel of John says, then this “household of God” here at St. James’s needs to hold ALL things in common, including our legacy of oppression and pain, privilege and deprivation, in explicit and dedicated Anti-Oppression work. We need to be willing to walk through that “valley of the shadow of death.” And for that, we turn to yet another “figure of speech” for Jesus, as we sang in our Gospel Acclamation: Jesus is NOT just “the Good Shepherd.” He is also himself "the Lamb of God," who showed us how to sacrifice our own comfort to extend the comfort of others. As we are invited to follow him as tenders of the welfare of others, so we are invited to share the sufferings of others, to let their suffering weigh with us and make demands upon our compassion.
Please stand and sing one more time:
Lamb O Lamb of God, join with us,
share the life of your people;
Redeemer of the world, join with us,
share the life of your people;
Lamb, O Lamb of God, show that you’re one with us,
One with the helpless, the poor and the humble,
who pray for oppression to cease;
one with your children, in fear and in poverty,
bringing us all to your peace!
[Carlos Megia Godoy & Pablo Martinez, from Mass of the Nicaraguan People]
3 Easter Year A 5-4-14
©Holly Lyman Antolini
Lections: Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Ps. 116: 1-3, 10-17; Luke 24: 13-35
Now that we have purified our souls by our obedience to the truth so that we have genuine mutual love, we will love one another deeply from the heart. We have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through your living and enduring word, O God.
The words of my prayer this morning, which I took again from the lectionary reading we DIDN’T read, from First Peter Chapter 1, says an astonishing thing: obedience to the truth will be the imperishable seed from which we are born anew into genuine mutual love. In telling each other the truth, we will find ourselves able to love one another deeply from the heart.
Now I don’t know about you, but learning to “love one another deeply from the heart” is a major spiritual challenge for me, an ongoing life’s work. Loving one another in that realm of “niceness” where we’re on our best behavior, loving one another until the going gets rough, I’ve got that knocked. But when the going gets rough and the truth comes out – that “truth” we’re being “obedient to” in my First Peter prayer – and I discover that you and I don’t see eye-to-eye, or worse, I find you have done something that hurts me or hurts someone else I care about, to keep on loving you deeply from the heart? In the face of such truth? That may be an aspiration of mine but REALITY? Not so much!
So let me start this morning with a true story that’s hard to believe, a story I got from Robert Krulwich’s Radio Lab yesterday, a story about an 86-year-old man named Hector Black. The first thing you need to know about Hector is that he is a white New Yorker who, after serving in WWII, getting a degree at Harvard and getting married, when he heard about Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960’s, packed his bags and moved to Atlanta to be part of the civil rights movement. And that’s where he and his wife met Patricia, a little girl in the neighborhood who hung around their house as kids sometimes do, the child of an alcoholic single mom who drank up the money and neglected her daughter. At around 11, Patricia asked Hector and his wife if they would adopt her. So they did. And out of that shy, impetigo-afflicted child blossomed a creative, dedicated, articulate, caring woman, who taught kids to read and eventually adopted some kids of her own, just as she had been adopted.
Then, in November of 2000, tragedy struck. Patricia was murdered by an intruder who had broken into her house looking for money for his drug habit. He strangled her and then the autopsy showed that he had assaulted her sexually as well. When Hector learned of this, his first reaction was to yell out, “I’ll kill the (fill in the blank so-and-so)! What kind of a monster would do a thing like this!” The man – his name was Ivan Simpson – soon confessed. And all year, awaiting the trial, Hector was tortured by visions of what the murderer had done to his beloved daughter, as if the murderer had control of him too. He was so furious that he really did want Ivan to be given the death penalty. But then he thought, “No! This is a test, of my principles, my beliefs!” and he decided he would not pursue the death penalty.
When the trial took place, Hector came with a written statement to give but when he stood to speak, he couldn’t look at the prisoner at all. He told everyone how much he and his wife loved Patricia, how much she meant to them, how wounded they were by what had happened. And then he said, “I don’t know that I’ve forgiven you, Ivan Simpson, but I don’t hate you. I hate what you did to my beloved daughter.” Then he worked up his nerve to turn around, to face the man who’d killed his daughter, as he said the last thing he’d written: “I wish for all of us who have been so wounded by this crime, I wish that we might find God’s peace… and I wish that also for you, Ivan Simpson.” When Hector looked up from his paper, he saw tears were streaming down Ivan’s cheeks. Hector says, “It was the first time I looked into his eyes, and it was like a soul in hell. It was just indescribable, looking there.”
Ivan Simpson got sentenced to life in prison without parole. But what happened next is astonishing. Hector couldn’t sleep, that first night after the trial, tossing in his hotel bed. He says he’d never had a look like that ever in his life and he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Finally he got up and grabbed pen and paper and started writing. “Dear Ivan Simpson, I am writing because I want you to know how I feel after the court hearing, Monday. When I turned around while I was reading my statement and looked at you, it was a very powerful moment for me. When you raised your tear-stained face to look at me… ever since this happened I have been trying to find something good in all the horror and pain… I have tried to be a better person.” Then, maybe to push himself to be that better person, he wrote, “I forgive you for what you did to our beloved daughter. I don’t know if this will be of any comfort to you but I wanted to tell you. We will both have to live our lives with the pain of this deed always there. Patricia tried to make the world a better place. We should also try.”
About four weeks later, a letter shows up. “Dear Mr. Hector Black & Family, I first want to say, God bless you all in all things. Second, I have to go straight to the point. I know God has forgiven me; you have forgiven me; but I can’t forgive myself, not yet anyway. I have so much anger at myself right now, it’s unbelievable. … I will always be remorseful. I used to hear God speak to me all the time. But I guess after what I did, he took away his touch from me. Right now, I miss his voice. I don’t know the level of love Miss Patricia had but if it’s anything like your example of it, it is great. God comfort you all in everything. Feel free to ask me anything you’d like. If I can, I will try to answer it.”
Hector wrote back, “Dear Ivan, I was very glad to have your letter. I think it is important that we be as honest as possible with one another and so I have to tell you that it is hard for me to write to you. I would really like to hear about your life… about the people who loved you, the people who hurt you…” He wanted to know what had happened to Ivan that made him do a thing like that. In letters back, the story came out, Ivan being adopted by his grandmother’s sister at two days old because his mother was schizophrenic, but nevertheless being left with her while his adoptive mom worked, so that his natural mom beat him, and blurted out, “I’m glad I got rid of you!” When he was maybe 11 or so, this mentally ill mom took him and his little brother and sister to a swimming pool and tried to drown all three. She proceeded to drown the sister in front of his eyes.
Knowing all this doesn’t make Hector let Ivan off the hook. He still blames him for the murder. “He made the choices,” he points out. But knowing Ivan’s life history also made him want to write back, and tell him about his own life. And then Ivan responded, describing his drug and alcohol addiction, and Hector responded, “Dear Ivan, I don’t think God has abandoned you…” And the letters continued. At some point in this back and forth of many, many letters, they became almost casual, about mundane details… basically the two men became friends. Hector says, “It’s not at all what I expected to have happen. It’s so absolutely crazy… Oh gosh… We started to send Christmas packages! And I’d see the box on the floor and I’d think, ‘You crazy old man! You’re sending Christmas packages to the man who murdered your daughter. What the hell is wrong with you!’ It’s just so totally… out of orbit, or something! And I guess I was! Because people just don’t DO that! Maybe I’m trying to exact meaning from it. I don’t know. Because I struggled so hard with, ‘Why? WHY?’”
Eventually, after years of writing letters, Hector decided to ask that “Why” question, “What happened that night?” And Ivan answered. I’ll spare you the very difficult details which Hector reads on the Radio Lab program, but suffice it to say, Ivan tells it very scrupulously, searingly, devastatingly honestly. When he ties Patricia up, she tells him he needs to get help for his drug habit. Hector, reading the letter aloud on the program, pauses and says, “Yeah, that’s… that’s Trish. She had no compunctions about telling people off when they were in the wrong.” Then she warmed up chicken and rolls for Ivan, despite being tied up. Nevertheless, under the influence of crack cocaine, he went on to commit his heinous act against Patricia, killing and then assaulting her. He writes, “I was really hoping they would kill me in the electric chair because I shouldn’t be able to live with myself and God after what I had done. I just don’t why I had to do it. Was it because of the items and money? No. [Fear of getting caught?] No. Control or power? No. Her car? No. Because she saw my face? No. She didn’t see me at no time. Fingerprints left on something? NO. I just don’t understand why I did it.” Then he writes, “Well I feel a pressure has left me for telling you first what happened. My mom doesn’t even know. I’ve been keeping all this inside and it hurts so. I’m truly sorry for what happened. May God bless you all.”
Strangely, it helped Hector to know the whole story, and to see in the story Trish’s own fearlessness, her strength. He says, “I was just amazed that she could be so strong. When you love somebody so much you want to know about her last hours. And Ivan just wrote it in a way that I found… very kind… I mean, “kind” is a weird word to put there.” But that’s the word Hector chose. Kind. And after that letter, they still write. They’ve been writing for ten years now. Hector has folders and stacks of these papers. [http://www.radiolab.org/story/317629-dear-hector/]
Now that we have purified our souls by our obedience to the truth so that we have genuine mutual love, we will love one another deeply from the heart. This is an astonishing story of two people sticking to a nearly unbearable truth until they find in it the imperishable seed of new life and of a deeply genuine and mutual love that makes no common sense whatsoever. But is it any MORE astonishing than the story of Jesus joining the two travelers on the road to Emmaus, teaching them all day and breaking bread with them at evening in that touching foreshadowing of the Eucharist, and only then, as he vanishes, do they realize who he is and that he has risen indeed from the dead?
Is this story of Hector and Ivan – and Patricia, let’s not forget her! – is this not a story of resurrection? Who would believe it? But I know, hearing it, that my heart burned within me. It’s THAT love, that Eucharistic, reconciling, forgiving, searing love beyond love, that deep sharing of humanity, brokenness and all, that I’m living toward. You, too? AMEN.