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Mar 29 23

Down by the Rio Grande

by davesandel

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

Down by the Rio Grande

If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, King Nebuchadnezzar, may he save us. But even if he will not, know that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up.

In mid-June, by noon, Judge Roy Bean’s set-em-up tavern temperature would have been 97 degrees in the shade. Langtry, Texas didn’t have any shade, except inside. There were more hangings at the local judicial establishment in the summer than any other time. No one liked to wait around much in that heat, so the executions were usually performed post-haste, with no chance for appeal.

“Throw ‘em in the fiery furnace!” he might have yelled from time to time. Judge Roy Bean’s taste for whiskey and colorful language filled most anyone who traveled through Langtry with fear and trembling. Bring plenty of change, they thought. He killed sometimes for the theft of a quarter. If you didn’t have a quarter to lend him now and then, well, he just might consider that a theft.

So when the three boys from Judea came through on their Jewish horses, they considered not stopping. But they were hungry, they were thirsty, and they stopped.

“Got a quarter?” Bean hollered. “Nope!” Well, there goes Shadrach. Bean’s dragoons grabbed him off his horse and tied his hands behind his back. There’s no telling, down here in the deserts of south south Texas, what the local boys might do.

Meschach tried to mount a protest, but apparently that’s a hanging offense as well. Bean offered him a whiskey bottle, but Meschach declined. In a jiffy his hands were tied as well. That just left Abednego, who for a moment considered taking off on his appaloosa filly. But he really didn’t want to abandon his brothers. He stepped down off his horse and held out his hands. But he made the mistake of spitting in the general direction of the judge.

King Nebuchadnezzar’s face became livid with rage against Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego. He ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual and cast the three boys into the white-hot furnace.

But as Abraham Heschel said, “Evil is never the climax of history.” As night fell, everyone at the tavern could see the fire burning down below, on the edge of the Rio Grande. Then, although the flames should have been brighter as darkness came, the flames disappeared from sight. The judge assumed the whiskey he’d consumed that day had dimmed his eyesight, and he fell asleep.

Next morning several of the regulars at the tavern woke up with Roy, and they wandered down the trail to the cage.

Did we not cast three men bound into the fire? Oh, yes, assuredly. But I see four men, unbound and unhurt, and the fourth looks like a son of God!

Nebuchadnezzar was blown away and fell on his feet, worshipping himself the God who saved His sons and sent His angel.

What about the judge? At least Judge Roy Bean realized he was in the hands of something greater than he’d seen before. His mind cleared a bit, he sent for the boys’ horses, and opened the door of his cage. The metal was still hot.

“Now get on outta here before I do something stupid,” he hollered at Shadrach. The angel looked surprised. No one had talked to him like that before. He looked up at the sky. “Should I strike down that old bat with a bit of lightning?”

No, that old judge is my kid too, God told the angel. Best leave him alone, let him find his way.

Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in a household forever, but a son always remains. So if the Son frees you, then you will be free indeed.

(Daniel 3 – Deuterocanonical, Luke 8, John 8)

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Mar 28 23

Look up and live

by davesandel

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

Look up and live

Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord said to Moses, “Make a saraph (image of a snake) and mount it on a pole. Whoever looks up at it after being bitten will live.”

Just to remind us all, we are midway through the fifth week of Lent. The sixth and final week is called Holy Week, the week before Easter Sunday: the week of Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil, called the “Triduum.” Long hours of church, with many readings from the entire bible. Baptisms on Saturday. If the weather allows, church begins on Saturday around a fire, then the congregation heads inside.

Some churches celebrate Tenebrae on Friday night. The word is Latin, meaning “darkness.” Candles are gradually diminished. Music is mournful. A loud noise (strepitus) bursts out in total darkness at the end of the service.

I attended Tenebrae several years ago in Austin at St. Thomas More Catholic Church. I went alone and sat alone. Normal conversation seemed out of place, so I introduced myself to no one. The lights dimmed, and the candles in front were gradually extinguished. Special music and songs in whispers. In the end only a few moments of silence.

And then, the strepitus! Loud, harsh echoes boomed across the room, so final, and sudden in the silence. Just a few seconds and then, it was gone. Gradually we stood. Several hundred people left the church in silence.

Traffic outside had not noticed. Streetlights and parking lot lights stayed bright. Some people began to talk. I left the larger group and found the labyrinth I knew had been built at the edge of the church grounds. There I sat on a bench and pondered the paths, seven cycles each representing a stage of life, with seven u-turns representing changes in course at least often in a normal life. I had walked the labyrinth earlier, in the sunshine. Now in this more-than-welcome darkness, I sat still and pondered, prayed.

Let this be written for the generation to come: The Lord looked down from his holy height, from heaven he beheld the earth and heard the groaning of the prisoners, ready to release those doomed to die.

But now the stone was sturdily in place and the tomb was shut, sealed. Inside Mary and Joseph (of Arimathea) had laid him in a manger, so to speak. They had wrapped Jesus’ body in swaddling clothes, so to speak.

When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own and say only what the Father taught me.

I’ve never been much of a street preacher, never worn a sandwich sign that screams REPENT. But Flannery O’Connor’s Hazel Motes (in her novel Wise Blood) fascinates me, how his inner workings dictate his outrageous outer life. On the University of Illinois quad I watched traveling preachers settle in for an afternoon, watched them draw in students with their stories and their sermons.

Like I said, I never wanted to be one of them. But as I think of Moses in the desert, and the snakes biting all of us, I do imagine crafting a bronze snake, setting it upon a stick, and holding it in the air.

The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.

LOOK UP! And be saved.

LOOK UP! Do not be afraid.

LOOK UP! Your healing is at hand.

(Numbers 21, Psalm 102, John 8)

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Mar 27 23

Heartbreaking story

by davesandel

Monday, March 27, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

Heartbreaking story

Two elders of the people were appointed judges. In her garden, the old men saw Susanna and began to lust for her.

Which of us would cast the first stone at these men?

They suppressed their consciences; they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven, and did not keep in mind just judgments.

So here they are, and they seduce Susanna, who turns away, and they accuse her of adultery anyway, and she will be executed because the crowd believed those judges they themselves had appointed were speaking true. But those judges “would not allow their eyes to look to heaven.”

This moment of judgment came for the people, the crowd, the mob. A young man named Daniel brought them back from the brink by simply shouting “STOP!”

Daniel cried aloud, “I will have no part in the death of this woman!”

His words stopped the crowd, and they returned to further examine the judges. The judges spoke sarcastically to Daniel.

“Come, sit with us and inform us, since God has given you the prestige of old age.”

So ugly, to watch an elder take advantage of his position, which these two did twice in just one story. Daniel separated them, caught them in a contradiction, and then they were the ones who were executed.

But such an ugly story cannot have a happy ending. Everyone in the story, except Daniel and Susanna, must hang their heads in shame. Weren’t those elders once young boys like Daniel, seeking to do good and not evil?

But they suppressed their consciences and would not allow their eyes to look to heaven.

Hundreds of years later Jesus wept as he heard a woman’s accusers, as he knelt and scratched unknown words into the sand. Nothing had changed in all those centuries. Those appointed to lead were often hypocrites. They too refused to look toward heaven.

Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?

Like the story of Susanna, I want to exult in the triumph of righteousness. But the cries of joy catch in my throat. Evil surrounds and imposes itself, and I often don’t even know it.

I too have suppressed my conscience and do not allow my eyes to look to heaven.

Can I breathe deep and repent, begin to pray in humility for myself and all of us?


Weep for the world

           Out of the depths
                   I cry to you, O God.
—Psalm 130.1

It is necessary to weep for the world,
that has not learned to weep for itself.
So much to mourn! lost loves and dreams,
hopes and possibilities,
memories of futures denied,
all of us bearing pieces of our hearts around
like sacks of stones.
And if we don’t grieve—don’t dare to,
or don’t know how—
we try to offload those stones onto others,
sometimes throw them, especially at strangers,
especially at loved ones.
All war and murder, all tyranny and greed
is only grief unwept, spilling out,
thrown upon the world in desperation.
Be tender with your grief,
let it flow in tears and songs, that it not become a stone.
And be tender with this grieving world
that still has yet to learn
how to make of broken stones and broken glass
a cathedral of hope and beauty    – Steve Garnaas-Holmes

These are days that try men’s souls.

But let us rejoice and be glad.

God is alive, and magic is afoot.

Only goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

(Daniel 13 – Deuterocanonical, Psalm 23, Ezekiel 33, John 8)

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Mar 26 23

Geronimo and Jesus

by davesandel

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 26, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

Geronimo and Jesus

Thus says the Lord God: O my people, I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel. I will put my spirit in you that you may live. I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.

In football coach Mike Leach’s biography Geronimo, Coach Leach not only tells great stories but also teases out principles that apply to Indian body and spirit, internecine warfare, and of course football. In the last couple chapters (I’m in the middle of the book), those principles are:

Trust your premonitions

Don’t allow your adversary to force you into commitments

There are some things beyond your control

Honor your end of a bargain

Send a message of strength to your people.

Yes, those apply to all of life, I think. The last few chapters of the book are subtitled: resolve, fluidity, resistance, surrender, patriotism, fame, and immortality. And then, as do we all, Geronimo dies.

I trust in the Lord; my soul trusts in his word. More than sentinels wait for the dawn, Israel waits for the Lord.

Grandma Dot died last week. Now I sit and look back on her life and think how she followed much the same path as Geronimo. Through her various tragedies and griefs, Dorothy settled into a way she believed in and didn’t waver. When I think of that I feel proud of her. I see the same determination in the lives of others in my family: Margaret, my dad and mom, John and Mary Kay, Aunt Mary, Aunt Vera, Aunt Nenie, Uncle Merlie, my grandparents, our kids. Strength of character, resolve, patience, trust and faith in God – those streams of life and virtue pour through their lives, even if broken by frequent lapses and mistakes.

If one walks during the day he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if one walks at night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him. Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.

At a recent meeting spiritual director Vicki Schmidt introduced us to a blog written by pastor-poet Steve Carnaas-Holmes. He has lived awhile, through plenty of lapses and mistakes, his own and those of others. He follows a path as straight through those failures as he can. He knows the nature and the purpose of grief. Here’s one of Steve’s poems.

 Jesus wept—John 11.35

The loss of someone dear
is a sudden thing that happens over a long time.
Grief is not a feeling or a phase,
it’s a landscape we enter
as unwilling refugees,
and learn to find our way anew.
•     •
Grief is a visitor from the realm
where we are all one,
who gives us the gift of sorrow
which is divine,
for in it our hearts bear the torn pieces
of the fabric of all things,
and by holding, mend.
•     •
Grief is a wild animal that moves into your house.
It will never be tamed.
You learn to live with it,
its moods and hungers,
its sudden movements.
You learn to regard it with tenderness.
•     •
You never learn its language,
but sometimes, for the sake of the animal,
you go out on the back stoop,
overcome with love, and sit beside it
and howl.

Can this also be about Mary and Martha, and about each one of us? Of course it can. Allen Ginsburg said Kaddish grieving for friend Carl Solomon and called his poetic lament “Howl.” We all do sometimes – howl – on the back porch steps staring at the sunset, ignoring the sound of traffic, burying our heads at last in our hands.

Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, and she fell at his feet. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She wept, and Jesus saw her weeping. He was deeply troubled. Then Jesus wept. The Jews said, “See how he loved him.”

There is always more to the story.

With the Lord there is kindness and with him is plenteous redemption. Although the body is dead from sin, the spirit is alive from righteousness. The one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also. I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will never die.

It is stories like this that settle us into the path of trust and faith. You can’t have faith without doubt. You can’t have life without death. What could be more true?

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” But he stinketh, Lord! Then Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And the dead man came right out, his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said, “Untie him and let him go.”

And here’s the thing. Now Jesus says to us, “Put your own name in there, boys and girls. ________ , come forth! Let me untie you and let you go.”

(Ezekiel 37, Psalm 130, Romans 8, John 11)

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Mar 25 23

Hardly working

by davesandel

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

Hardly working

Here I am, Lord. I come to do your will.

Chris, Melissa, Jack and Aly headed back home this morning. But before they left Jack and Aly had a bit of training and then a bit of flying, birds in the wind, flat in the high powered fan-breezes in Austin’s IFLY silo, hovering several feet above the ground. What a birthday gift!

Andi has flown three times. She and Aki skydived, too. Andi also climbed some indoor rock walls. Daredevil. She watched Jack and Aly, remembering.

Not exactly a quiet day in Lake Wobegon. We found lunch at a circle of food trucks nearby. After flying, we spent awhile at Kora, the revolving sushi restaurant in Austin. The plates of sushi kept coming, and we kept pulling them off the conveyor belt. And then, as the sun set on the first big blue sky of the week, our time together was over. Pretty sweet to be with all these fine people. No hurry. Don’t worry, be happy.

So today perhaps I’ll be lazy. No driving 500 miles, no getting up earlier than early to talk to my friend in India, no place to be, or go, or avoid, or find. I’ll watch basketball, finish a book on Geronimo, sleep late, do a little writing. Margaret and I can have lunch, and then sleep a little more. Why not? Time for a hundred indecisions, and all with little consequence.

Lots of folks are working hard today at things that mostly matter. All the NCAA men’s #1 seeds are down the tubes. So much parity in college basketball, they say. Never before, and that’s a fact. A year unlike any other. Jack’s bracket has a big spot for Gonzaga. Will they survive tonight? He’ll be watching close.

But me? I notice how simple it is to rest easy today, after all the busyness of the last week. Deep breaths rise slowly from my lungs. I lean back and close my eyes. Listen to an audiobook for a half hour or so, without getting up, without moving. Can’t do this very often, I’d go a little crazy. But today? It’s just fine.

I think of Mary.

Mary said, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

I think of Mary, sitting alone in her bedroom after Gabriel has gone. His instructions were for the future. All of this will happen then. What about now? How could she stop thinking about what she just heard?

She was greatly troubled at what was said. Then the angel said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid.”

Mary couldn’t relax that day. Too much unfinished business. Life would be getting very difficult. When she visited Elizabeth, also pregnant, also locked into important business with Yahweh, whose husband was also visited by the Angel – in that community of three Mary could rest. But now? Not on your life. Even her mother didn’t know this story. Mary was breaking all the new ground.

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High … the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.

All of us have so much to do, so much to finish before we sleep, before we die. I do too. All the more important that I rest, that I make Shabat every week and close my eyes in sleep, pondering as Mary did, how God might show up tomorrow.

Then the angel departed from her.

(Isaiah 7, Psalm 40, Hebrews 10, John 1, Luke 1)

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Mar 24 23

Birds on a wire

by davesandel

Friday, March 24, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

Birds on a wire

The birds sang and sang. I looked around for them. Usually they are high on the roof of our apartment house. As of Monday afternoon, it is spring. They help me celebrate. Patrick McDonnell creator of the cartoon strip Mutts, knows that.

The birds are back! ?? What? No parade?

Henri Nouwen knows that too:

In the midst of Lent I am made aware that Easter is coming again: the days are becoming longer, the snow is withdrawing, the sun is bringing new warmth, and a bird is singing. Yesterday, during the night prayers, a cat was crying! Indeed, spring announces itself. And tonight, O Lord, I heard you speak to the Samaritan woman. You said: “Anyone who drinks the water that I shall give you will never be thirsty again; the water that I shall give you will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.” What words! They are worth many hours, days, and weeks of reflection. I will carry them with me in my preparation for Easter. The water that you give turns into a spring. Therefore, I do not have to be stingy with your gift, O Lord. I can freely let the water spring from my center and let anyone who desires drink from it. Perhaps I will even see this spring myself when others come to it to quench their thirst.

We helped each other to water over and over yesterday, during our competitive cake decorating, sitting outdoors at the Arboretum eating Cheesecake Factory pastas, walking the floors of the LBJ Museum with Chris, Melissa and Jack. What a cultural extravaganza that was. Margaret and I lived right through it. Sometimes I shivered in recognition.

My draft number in 1970 was 163. Everyone born November 17 got that number. My physical in Chicago was uneventful. I applied for conscientious objector status. My current pastor and former pastor in Lincoln wrote letters for me. Then my number was too high, and I wasn’t drafted. Many of my friends from high school went to Vietnam. I did not.

Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, he will defend him and delver him from the hand of his foes.

Much later I came to appreciate President Johnson’s accomplishments. But in the 60s and 70s I chanted with so many others, “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” At the museum we saw pictures of him slumped over the Cabinet conference table. “I can’t win, and I can’t get out!” Vietnam was, in a word famous at the time, a “quagmire.” So many boys were killed. It broke Johnson’s spirit. Although he didn’t resign, he also didn’t run again for president in 1968 after his landslide victory in 1964. He died five years later.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. The Lord confronts the evildoers, to destroy remembrance of them from the earth. When the just cry out, the Lord hears them, and from all their distress he rescues them.

I was so tired after the museum. Walking, walking, walking. Back at Andi’s I collapsed, ate pizza and watched Markquis Nowell not be tired and notch 19 assists in Kansas State’s win over Michigan State. Outside the air was moist and warm, breezy, beautiful. The air smelled sweet. Spring rolled over me. I did not die in Vietnam, although so many others did.

As my friend said to me today about two kids killed in a ski accident, “It is terrible and things keep happening.” My friend taught history all his life. When I was a senior in high school he offered me an alternative way of seeing US involvement in Vietnam by giving me a couple New Republics to read. Always a man of few words, he always knew what he thought was right. He taught me to look a little longer, so I too could make better decisions about what was right.

I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true.

(Wisdom 2, Psalm 34, Matthew 4, John 7)

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Mar 23 23

For all the saints

by davesandel

Thursday, March 23, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

For all the saints

How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?

As we participate in our own family’s life, I realize how precious is the fact that everyone loves Jesus. Our love might be more or less intimate one day to the next, but every one of us recognizes, and will say so, that the love of God never ceases, never slackens, never fades. The intimacy from God’s side goes on and on and on and on.

For a few days all our grandkids are in Austin. Jack is 14, Aly will soon be 11. Both have been baptized. Miles is six. When he watched Aly’s baptism in 2021 with his mom and dad, he asked what it meant. “It means you know that Jesus is in your heart,” Andi said. “Well,” Miles responded, “I know that Jesus is in my heart.” He’ll be ready to be baptized whenever the path turns straight.

God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, so that everyone who believes in him shall have eternal life.

Jasper will be four on July 31. His big wide eyes crinkled in an endless smile yesterday afternoon. We spent an hour or so in the bluebonnet fields at Brushy Creek Lake Park. He wasn’t given much time to hold the kite string in the strong wind, but he rolled around in the flowers. Jasper sees crosses everywhere. “That’s where Jesus died,” he says, more or less pensively. He holds my palm cross in his hand for a minute, staring at it, then passes it back to me. He says nothing.

We left our Mahomet church a little early on Sunday so we could visit the Urbana Vineyard Church to be with my brother John and his wife Karen. His son Christian, is a music minister at the Vineyard. He and Adrienne have a second child, baby Emmamarie Joy, and she was dedicated Sunday.

Each couple wrote their own prayer, and the pastor prayed it. “We thank you, God, that with long life you will satisfy Emmarie, and show her your salvation. Amen.”

I think about that long life idea. Then I found a picture of the Conrady Family Reunion, taken in 1939. Mom is 17, Aunt Mary will be 12 in December (fifth and third from the right, second row from the back). Aunt Mary was always tall. Grandma is surrounded in the front row by her daddy on the left and her hubby on the right. They are surrounded by several generations of family.

World War II is about to explode in the lives of many of those young men in the back row. The Great Depression has decimated some of their families in the last ten years, wrestling them financially and physically to the ground. And those eight kiddoes sprawled out in front of the group? If they are still alive, they’re in their nineties now.

The Conradys have met every year for more than a century. I remember Joel’s words to his people:

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.

And as I remember those words, I recognize their truth. We have so much to learn from each other. And so much fun to have while we do it. Long life for you, Emmamarie. Keep calm and hold on. Love the Lord your God.

(Exodus 32, Psalm 106, John 3, John 5)

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Mar 22 23

My roof’s got a hole in it and I might drown

by davesandel

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

My roof’s got a hole in it and I might drown

I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord; whoever believes in me will never die.

And the spring rains came. Not monsoon, but an all-day rain, surrendered by the grayed out sky, the cumulus clouds that met each other to make a dreary blanket over all of Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.

The clouds covered all the Midwest, I suppose, but I drove all day through the gray mist that covered those three states. Up at 5:30, big motel breakfast, and then nursing a cup of coffee, I talked to my friend in India at 7 am and headed out for my 539 mile drive. The car was warm and cozy, I listened to audible books from India (Murder in Old Bombay), England (The Life and Times of Prince Albert) and the US/Italy (Soldier of the Great War). I had time to talk with three more friends and to wind my way through the Dallas expressway convolutions and come out the other side, bound like a cannonball picking up speed toward Austin.

I picked up my friend George at his work and we headed for “Backyard,” a group of guys that meet once a month in the backyard to drink a little beer, eat a meal together and share bits of their stories with each other around the fire, around the pool, around a few tables. The rain let up for awhile, then started again.

Along the ways they shall find pasture, on every bare height shall their pastures be. They shall not hunger or thirst, nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them. I will cut a road through all my mountains and make my highways level.

George and I remembered rainstorms. Putting up tents, getting drenched at midnight when the tent roof caved in, listening to the droning downpour inside my dad’s machine shed, coming into our dairy barn with twenty Holsteins eating and ready to be milked. Their warm wet bodies and big breath filled the barn while they had their fill of ground corn and alfalfa hay. Music from Lincoln’s WPRC and then Lowell Thomas’ CBS newscast flowed out of the flyspecked tan RCA radio. “Good evening, everybody.”

Lowell Thomas traveled the world and with him, so did we. His broadcasts gave me hope that I might get out into that big world myself someday. “So long until tomorrow,” he told us. We opened the stanchions and the cows backed out and headed through the door. Another group of Holsteins waited to come inside. Out of the rain. Heavy udders ready to be milked.

Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth. Break forth into song, you mountains. For the Lord comforts his people, and shows mercy.

Back at our apartment, cozy out of the rain, warm here in central Texas compared to Illinois, in a few minutes I’ll finally get to bed. Long day’s journey into night. I remember the opening pages of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. In those old milking days I couldn’t get enough of Ernest Hemingway.

In the fall when the rains came the leaves all fell from the chestnut trees and the branches were bare and the trunks black with rain … At the start of the winter came the permanent rain and with the rain came the cholera. But it was checked and in the end only seven thousand died of it in the army.

The rain can get to you. First Hemingway’s dad the Oak Park physician and later Ernest Hemingway the writer and fishermen both killed themselves. The rain didn’t stop them, and it kept falling on the hot tin roof. God’s love fell through gentle rainbows upon the place beneath. We will do well to listen, and receive it.

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.

 (Isaiah 49, Psalm 145, John 11, John 5)

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Mar 21 23

I am just a fruit tree, though my story’s seldom told

by davesandel

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

I am just a fruit tree, though my story’s seldom told

Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticos. In these porticoes lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.

I love the water. All my life I’ve felt like a dolphin, sliding around the water, bending my body and holding my breath. What a life, to be swimming like a fish, goggles on, the water clear like glass. Never to come out to the dust and dirt again.

Or, I could be a crippled man, staring over at the water just unable, for soon to be forty years, to reach it in time to grasp its supernatural superstitious healing miracle when the water is stirred. I cannot be healed. I will not be healed. I am lost, I am forsaken. And swimming? Who wants to swim? I just want to be healed.

Or at least I thought I did. Maybe it’s better to let that hope fade a bit. Nothing has happened for so long. My brother tells me to keep believing, keep fighting. My mother tells me to learn a little acceptance. Healing turns out to be complicated. How do I approach the pool?

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be well?”

I did not know Jesus. Who are you, I asked? How can you ask me such a question? Of course I want to be healed. But I don’t believe anymore. I have lost my faith in this pool.

Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up. While I am on my way, someone else gets there before me.

Jesus cocked his head and looked straight into my eyes. He spoke the words of Zephaniah, our prophet.

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. I will rescue the lame, He says. I will gather the exiles. I will give them praise and honor in every land where they have suffered shame.

You don’t need this pool. You only need me. So get up. Let’s go. Everything changes now.

And he stood.

The angel brought me back to the entrance of the temple of the Lord, and I saw water flowing out from beneath the temple toward the east.

When I was in eighth grade, I passed my junior life saver’s test at Lincoln Lakes. I could rescue others officially now. A week or so later Mom and her friend Norma brought me and my friend Gary to the lake to swim. They sat on a beach blanket and talked. We wrestled with each other in the water. I jumped on Gary’s shoulders and dove into the lake. My head hit the ground hard and I came up screaming.

In seconds the lifeguard was beside me in the water. I recognized him; he was a high school student in my class. He was a senior life guard, and he helped save my life. A stretcher was brought down to the beach, and I was taken to the hospital. Nothing broken in my spinal column. No nerves severed. No paralysis. I was free to swim again, whenever I wanted to.

It took a few days. Gary felt guilty and eventually became a physical therapist in Madisonville, Kentucky, Margaret’s home town. I did not lose my love for the water. Neither, I think did Ezekiel:

There was now a river through which I could not wade; for the water had risen so high it had become a river that could not be crossed except by swimming. He brought me to the bank of the river, where he had me sit.

I imagine Ezekiel throwing off his clothes and jumping in. I would have jumped in, I think. And been happy.

The leaves of these fruit trees shall not fade, nor their fruit fail. They shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.

(Ezekiel 47, Psalm 46, Psalm 51, John 5)

(posted at


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Mar 20 23

Traveling on Mayday, 1969

by davesandel

Monday, March 20, 2023

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(click here to listen to or read today’s scriptures)

Traveling on Mayday, 1969

Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever … My kindness is established forever … My covenant with him stands firm.

God says “forever” and that’s one thing. We say “forever” and that’s another.

It was not through the law that the promise was made to Abraham and his descendants that he would inherit the world, but through the righteousness that comes from faith. It depends on faith.

Our words arise out of faith. But our faith is fragile. It’s God’s gift, this faith, and then we forget and get fancy with our faith, and claim it for ourselves. I know all about this. I might not say so out loud, but I’m proud of my humility and a little rigid in my righteousness.

Too much so, because then I’m unavailable to the soft strong sweet touch of God. And words get in the way. Here’s something about words from Czech freedom fighter and eventual president Vaclav Havel.

An enormous conflict between words and deeds is prevalent today: everyone talks about freedom, democracy, justice, human rights, about peace and saving the world from nuclear apocalypse; and at the same time, everyone, more or less, consciously or unconsciously, serves those values and ideals only to the extent necessary to serve himself and his “worldly” interests, personal interests, group interests, power interests, property interests, and state or great-power interests.…So the power structures apparently have no other choice than to sink deeper into this vicious maelstrom, and contemporary people apparently have no other choice than to wait around until the final inhibition drops away. But who should begin? Who should break this vicious circle? Responsibility cannot be preached but only borne, and the only possible place to begin is with oneself.

Pavel wrote this from prison. Where else? St. Paul, MLK, Bonhoeffer, Havel and countless others wrote their most pointed and profound words from their prison cells. In 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, Havel was released. He was quickly elected president and continued his campaign for more honest and transparent government, led by more honest and transparent people.

Long before these wonderful days of freedom in Czechoslovakia, my three Valpo friends and I left our semester’s housing in Cambridge, England and set off on three weeks exploring Europe. We rented a car and drove into West Germany. On Mayday we crossed into East Berlin, very conscious of the Berlin Wall on either side of Checkpoint Charlie. We didn’t much look like spies. We spent an hour watching Soviet tanks and soldiers parading along in the gloom of May 1, mostly unaware of the Mayday history of the last hundred years.

We weren’t arrested and headed south in our comfy (kind of) car. It rained hard as we drove through the mountains of East Germany. We passed through Dresden, knowing less than we should have known of its destruction during World War II. As was also true in East Berlin, beautiful graceful centuries-old but then bombed out buildings had been replaced by horrible Soviet architecture, awful ugly gray ten story apartment buildings one alongside the next, straight down every street.

Climbing back into the mountains south of Dresden, our windshield wipers stopped working. I was driving. I was impatient. We were headed for Prague, where just a year ago the Freedom Fighters stood up to Soviet tanks attempting to reclaim their country. In Chicago the year before at the Democratic National Convention, we rode through Grant Park listening to Larry Lujack on WLS and the Young Rascals singing “People Got to Be Free” at the top of our lungs. There were heroes in Prague. It was Mayday. We had to get there. There was an ugly transport truck plodding slowly up the mountain.

So I swung our car into the opposite lane. Or I tried. The ugly truck pulled out and blocked our way. I was young. I was an idiot. I’m sure the driver thought so. A few seconds later a car zoomed by where we would have been passing that truck.

And we were still alive.

An hour or so later we arrived at the Czech border. Tanks were parked helter-skelter around the checkpoint. We got in line along with other cars. Czech and Soviet soldiers checked our passports. We held our breath. We didn’t feel anything like heroes.

A soldier waved us through. The Czechs were blond and had bright faces. They smiled. In Cambridge at age 19 I learned about drinking Scotch. I imagined them singing at their bars tonight. And then the clouds parted, the sun came out. We saw fields of waving wheat. Everything is beautiful, in its own way.. We arrived in Prague on a Sunday, on a holiday, on Mayday for heaven’s sake, and everything was closed. No hotels, no restaurants … then we found a small cafe not far from the historical downtown and ordered our dinners. Who understood English? No one. We pointed at pictures.

But when we asked for directions to a hotel (again without many words but lots of hand signals), the owners conferred and convinced us to come to their home. “Just follow us.” We did just that. They found places in their home for us to sleep. They showed us pictures of their children, about our age. In the morning they shared their breakfast, eggs and bread and meat and yogurt.

They were the heroes. Their actions spoke louder than words. We moved on to the next day of our trip, richer than we had ever been before.

They could not find Jesus, and returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” He went down with them, then, and came home to Nazareth and was obedient to them.

(2 Samuel 7, Psalm 89, Romans 4, Psalm 84, Matthew 1, Luke 2)

(posted at


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