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Aug 15 20

God comes down, and we go up

by davesandel

Saturday, August 15, 2020     Vigil, Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

                                                (today’s lectionary)   

God comes down, and we go up

Gabriel came to Mary with a message from God.

They brought in the ark of God.

Then they offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings to God.

When David finished the offerings he blessed the people in the name of the Lord.

Mary heard the angel out, carried baby Jesus to term and birthed him in Bethlehem. She and Joseph raised him, she made him bread and sent him to his lessons with the rabbi. She walked with him throughout Israel when he became an itinerant preacher and healer, taking her lessons, the rabbi’s lessons, and God’s lessons into his heart. None of us will ever be the same.

Mary insisted he do the right thing and turn their friends’ water into wine. She wept at the foot of Jesus’ cross, and made vigil at his tomb. She was just the kind of mother you’d think Jesus would have, and she adapted her relationship with him as he grew and became a man.

Mary made it possible for God to come down to earth. So it’s only fitting for the Church  to make it possible for God (Pope Pius XII making it official) to take her up to heaven. Right? I don’t know the technicalities, but I like the picture. Plus, I had no idea the word “assume” or “assumption” meant to be carried into heaven. It doesn’t mean that anymore! (Don’t make an ASS out of U and ME!)

Let us enter his dwelling

Let us worship at his footstool.

Today I am caught up, as Paul was, in the air. “And so we will be with the Lord forever.” Mary’s Assumption foreshadows our own. God comes down, and we go up.

When that which is mortal

Clothes itself with immortality

Then death is swallowed up in victory.

My cousin Mike mused with me about the intimacy of life and death, before and after in earth and heaven, standing in the presence of all of those we have loved, are loving and will love:

I find as I get older that I think more and more about the Body of Christ—all the people of all times and places who will spend eternity enjoying the company of each other and the Trinity. I find that when I remember specific people from across the years, in the many places I’ve lived (I think I’ve had 24 or 25 home addresses in 9 states), I have a strong sense that I can only describe as an admixture of empathy, nostalgia, appreciation for the person they were, regret that I didn’t get to know them better, and a yearning for the time when we’ll truly know each other because all the internal and external obstacles and distractions will be gone and we’ll never run out of time. So all my teachers, classmates, students, neighbors, pastors, coworkers, colleagues, friends, friends of friends, relatives, family members, all my acquaintances (no matter how fleeting), even people I’ve only heard or read about or seen on TV or in a movie or listened to on a CD (Jussi Björling!)—they’re all people I hope to know intimately in the company of the angels and saints. As I age, I seem to grow in the conviction that this life is mostly about getting introduced to, and learning how to value and love, a sample of the people I’ll be knowing forever in heaven. 

Mike, busy enough as a writer and professor just a few minutes across the river from Manhattan, regularly dedicates himself and his family to visiting relatives and friends around the country, often going far out of his way to do it. His commitment to this has been a blessing to me and many others. Listening to Mike’s voice inside my head, I think of something Ronald Rolheiser wrote in Holy Longing: “A Christian spirituality is always as much about dealing with each other as it is about dealing with God” (p. 99). Mike’s thoughts release me from under-defining that “dealing” only as selfish conflict, confusion and separation.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.

But thanks be to God

Who gives us the victory

Through our Lord Jesus Christ!

The Body of Christ (which Rolheiser insists we are part of now and always, on earth today as much as in heaven later) enriches us all in all ways, in the midst of suffering or success, famine or plenty. Twenty-four hour news cycles rarely probe the depths of these riches, spending so much time on the surface suffering and chaos. But the riches are there, more precious than silver or gold, visible whenever we look into someone’s eyes.

Margaret, who bridles when I insist that life is “fun,” knows that whatever we miss now will make us more appreciative of having it in heaven. But that does not prevent either of us from yearning for whatever of heaven we might receive now. I think God’s response to this prayer is to remind us that we are now and always part of the Body of Christ. This is our unending gift. We too can nurse at the breasts of Mary, just as Jesus did.

Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.

But Jesus replied,

Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

As Peter Kreeft says in Prayer for Beginners, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” Keep it simple, sweetheart.

            (1 Chronicles 15, Psalm 132, 1 Corinthians 15, Luke 11)

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Aug 15 20

A short story

by davesandel

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 16, 2020       (today’s lectionary)

 A short story

Not that I’m complaining, but I welcome a Sunday reprieve from the relentless crazy scary stories of Ezekiel. This is ordinary time, and it calls for an ordinary story. But Ezekiel will not be giving us many of these. Today Isaiah gives me a rest.

Observe what is right and do what is just,

My salvation is about to come.

On the brink. God promises our imminent release from the savagery within and without. His justice will be revealed. Wait for it, wait for it. Waiting, I breathe deeply, purse my lips and let out the air, breathe again. This is the nature of our life. Take one breath, and then another.

Today I’ll spend the afternoon and evening with Mom, who is back home in the country this week for the first time since June 2. Her fall and recovery included surgery on her hip, time in two rehab centers and a couple of weeks with Mary Kay, her daughter and my sister, nurse, and a woman who loves her mother with her actions as well as her words. Mary Kay does what needs to be done. She carries on.

Our mom has a little trouble breathing. Her oxygen level dips below 85% at times. She’s 98 years old, and her lungs are wearing out. I forget that sometimes, wanting her to be her younger self. She cannot cooperate with my foolishness and loves me anyway.

There are times when her love invites me into her world, and I am happy to enter.

I will bring them to my holy mountain

And make them joyful in my house of prayer.

Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar.

While she was in the rehab centers, our visits were through plexiglass and windows. Once John and I met Mary Kay and Mom in a medical clinic parking lot and later had lunch with her while she sat in the car in her driveway. Her smiles were wide and real. She was so happy to see us. She was full of the moment, radiating simple joy, still.

I think her memories sustain her behind her consciousness. She rarely shares much of this in words. My mind feels like a maze of corridors where I’m constantly moving back and forth. I think of Mom’s mind as a wide room full of sunlight, without walls. Walk around, Mom. Enjoy.

May God let his face shine upon you

And may God’s bright-lit face be known in all the earth.

I cannot spend time with Mom without inviting her into my imagination. Empathy requires it. So I ask her to visit my corridors and help me with my maze. She listens sweetly. She smiles and blinks her eyes at me, and I know she has attended my request. Knowing she can return, she leaves her wide expanse so brightly lit, and asks for help getting down the steps into my corner closet. Her face registers surprise, but her eyes are bright.

May the peoples praise you!

May ALL the peoples praise you!

May God bless us to the ends of the earth.

She is careful with her steps sometimes, but at other times she practically runs down my hallways, holding her walker tight. What are you doing, slow down, Mom! She says nothing. She moves toward the corner, turning right, left, then right again. The maze is beginning to hold her like it holds me, I think.

St. Paul joins us in the dark. His eyes brighten as they encounter ours. Do not be afraid, he seems to say. He and Jesus and our Father have been saying that for years!

I glory in my ministry to save you.

If your rejection is the reconciliation of the world

What will your acceptance be but life from the dead?

What? Say that again? No, don’t. I wouldn’t understand it the second time either. Paul, are you here to help?

Paul does try again:

The gifts and call of God are irrevocable.

You disobeyed and received mercy.

This gift to you will be multiplied like loaves and fishes

And given to all the others.

Mom seems to understand, even if she is silent. She has stopped rushing around on her walker, and closed her eyes. I begin to see what Paul is saying. We have all fallen short, we all are in desperate need of mercy, and God has more mercy, more mercy, more mercy. More than we will ever need. Eat and drink, and be glad. Just mercy.

God delivered us all to disobedience

So that he might have mercy on us all.

That sounds too good to be true. But as Ronald Rolheiser says in Holy Longing, it’s even better than that. He calls up a radical joy in all of us when he says about the incarnation:

Your touch is Christ’s touch.  When you love someone, unless that someone actively rejects your love and forgiveness, she or he is sustained in salvation. – p. 89

Objection: “This can’t be true because, if it were, it would be too good to be true!”  What a marvelous description of the incarnation.  It IS too good to be true.  In Jesus birth, something fundamental has changed.  God has given us the power, literally, to keep each other out of hell. – p. 92

Most of our translations call this “reconciliation.” I call it “miracle” and jump for joy. What fools we are to think there is not enough for all. Mom looks up. “Yes,” she says. Her smile is blinding, but I don’t feel blinded. Life abounds in the three of us, in the All of Us.

Jesus proclaimed the GOOD NEWS. Look up!

Walking among them, Jesus cured every disease among the people.

There is enough for all.

There is enough for all.

There is always more than enough for all.

Paul lifts Mom into his arms. He walks through my corridors just as if they were mapped and lit, and I follow them with Mom’s walker, and we step out. We cross the driveway and step up into her house again. The wide room bursts with light. The room’s round corners sweep the three of us into a boundless dance. Paul, the nearly blind curmudgeon caught so often in self-righteousness, is free. His black hair mingles with Mom’s white, and he nuzzles her face with his Jewish nose, and they whirl around the room.

All I hear is the music of the spheres. I close my eyes and whirl with them, thinking I’ll fall. But the walker spins with me, and what should be dizzy instead is free.

Jesus at first did not speak. And then he did.

Woman your faith is great!

Let it be done for you according to your wish.

This thing we call eternity is not so far away. My life merges with yours, and St. Paul’s and Mom’s, we whirl and swirl, the sun shines through the endless window, and the hardwood floor of heaven gleams with polish applied last night. Morning has broken. Come away from the corner, jump up, reach out and grab my hand.

            (Isaiah 56, Psalm 67, Romans 11, Matthew 4, Matthew 15)

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Aug 14 20

The altogether given

by davesandel

Friday, August 14, 2020         Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr

(today’s lectionary)

The altogether given

Marytown in Libertyville, Illinois is the National Shrine of Maximilian Kolbe. Always during the nineteen weekends I spent at Marytown, his spirit rested on or near me. I walked through the towering pines or around the lake, sat for hours in a profoundly beautiful, peaceful church, listened to Ruth Haley Barton talk softly about silence and solitude, and took time to pray in all ways.

Father Kolbe was sent to Auschwitz in 1941. A prisoner escaped and the commandant selected ten men to die as a punishment. His choices were random. “You, and you. And you.”

As the ten were about to be marched away, Number 16670 stepped out of the waiting line. He pointed at one of the ten.

“I would like to take that man’s place. He has a wife and children.”

“Who are you?”

“A priest.”

No matter that Kolbe was a very famous Polish priest. No one cared on that cold day. Two weeks later the priest died. But Franciszek Gajowniczek lived on. He survived the camps for five years, as did his wife, but not his children. He lived until he was 93. “I want to express my thanks for the gift of life,” he told Pope Paul VI in 1971.

As my own priceless Marytown decade comes to a close, my life and death merge more intimately into one. Decisions to prolong my life aren’t so obvious as they were when I was forty, or fifty, or sixty. Of course I’m not facing a fatal illness or a debilitating injury or COVID-19 (at the moment). But I have more respect for death as it approaches and waits, not exactly at the table, but not far from it, either. I appreciate the confidence and peace in Father Kolbe’s words.

Two years ago I wrote about another man coming to peace with his impending death. In Isaiah 40, God speaks tenderly of Jerusalem, “Her service is at an end. Your guilt is covered.” This is what I wrote:

There are many ways to say, “I’ve got your back.” Probably the best of them are wordless, anchored by touch and service. I hold your hand, rub your feet, make you coffee in the morning, and you know I am not going anywhere. I am on your team.

God’s always got our backs. This is more clear to me as I get older. He speaks tenderly and gently to us: “Your service is at an end. Your guilt is covered.” Perhaps Margaret and I are not quite ready to hear these words, but I know they will be there for us.

I think about Hannah Coulter’s words in Wendell Berry’s novel: “The room of love is the love that holds us all, and it is not ours. It goes back before we were born. It goes all the way back. It is Heaven’s.”

Now Hannah’s husband Nathan is sick. He refuses treatment. And Hannah is beside herself.

I was beating the hell out of a dozen egg whites in a bowl. My tears were falling into the bowl and then my nose dripped into it. I flung the whole frothy mess into the sink. I said, “Well, what are you planning to do? Just die? Or what?”

“Dear Hannah. I’m going to live right on. Dying is none of my business. Dying will have to take care of itself.” He came to me then. He held me a long time as if under a passing storm, and then the quiet came. I fixed some supper, and we ate. (p. 158-161)

Hannah went back with her daughters to the doctor. “Nathan doesn’t want to die of a cure,” she told him.

And then the two of them, they lived right on. “Living right on called for nothing out of the ordinary. We made no changes. We only accepted the changes as they came.”

There is never a reason to shut off the singing. No appropriate description of life excludes the fact of death, and so we live right on. Grass withers, flowers wilt, the word of our Lord stands forever.

Hannah finishes the story of her life standing at the gate. Nathan “looks at me with a look I know. The shiver of the altogether given passes over me from head to foot.” (from chapters 20 and 24)

(Ezekiel 16, Isaiah 12, 1 Thessalonians 2, Matthew 19)

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Aug 13 20

Step, have mercy

by davesandel

Thursday, August 13, 2020                (today’s lectionary)

Step, have mercy

The word of the Lord came to me.

Ezekiel is always saying this. A couple days ago I was waiting outside while Margaret got a dental diagnosis. I walked figure eights around a small parking lot, saying the Jesus Prayer. “Step, Jesus. Step, Son of God. Step, have mercy. Step, on me. Step, on Margaret … Step, Jesus …”

Usually when I seek God’s voice I feel like my ears are full of peanut butter. Nothing gets through that goo, and I’m kind of frustrated. But I wasn’t frustrated in the parking lot. My mind flitted to and fro like it usually does, and still I wasn’t frustrated. I took some deep breaths and just settled.

They have eyes to see but do not see.

They have ears to hear but do not hear.

For they are a rebellious house.

God has something in mind for his rebellious people.

I felt surrounded, in my tiny parking lot, by concrete constructions, office buildings thrown up for haphazardly planned businesses – investment brokers, hair salons, dentists, bars and banks. I was surrounded by many trees, beautiful trees though young, but around each of them was a circle of dirt and mulch. No one was going to sit down and lean against those trees, or have a picnic under one of them on a blanket. Careful landscaping, made to make the mowing easy. Where are all the people!

But still I did not feel alone. Step, Jesus. Step, Son of God. Step, have mercy.

While the people are looking on,

Prepare your baggage as if for exile.

Let them look and wonder and perhaps they will understand

That I will leave them.

Will they not turn aside from their sin

And repent?

Again Ezekiel acts out the scene, and God hopes the people will notice. Ezekiel has become a good actor in his time, the people are curious what he will do next.

At evening I dug a hole through the wall with my hand

And set out in the darkness

Shouldering my burden.

But Ezekiel is not permitted to leave. Not really. He is not free as he would be in Jerusalem; he and his people are exiled, deported, slaves to Nebuchadnezzar, lost. Still, God is not finished being angry with them yet.

God was enraged and utterly rejected Israel.

He abandoned his inheritance to the sword.

Life flies by, like at the speed of light. All of us  need so much all the time. Sin abounds because we need need need and take take take. If God answered our prayers like Bruce Almighty tried to do, the line would stretch around the block and into the next country, and we’d never get anything done except stand in line and wait.

But we could change our prayers. Praying for what we need might take up much less of God’s time if we focus on others instead. “Step, have mercy. Step, on Margaret.”

Let your countenance shine upon your servant Margaret.

Statute #1, pray for others more than for yourself. Statute #2, forgive others seventy times seven. Statute #before 1, trust me with your life. Do not be afraid.

Forgive your brother from your heart.

            (Ezekiel 12, Psalm 78, Psalm 119, Matthew 18)

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Aug 12 20

The truth of thao

by davesandel

Wednesday, August 12, 2020             (today’s lectionary)

The truth of Thao

The last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is “thau.” On ancient excavated Samaritan coins, this “thau” resembles a cross. That’s good enough for me. God gave Ezekiel a vision of the suffering Messiah, even as he placed that mark on the heads of those who suffered for him on this day in Jerusalem.

The Lord cried loud for me to hear!

The killers came toward the city, with a man dressed in linen in their midst.

Mark a “thao” on the foreheads of those who moan and groan with grief at all of these abominations.

Theo, Vincent Van Gogh’s brother, suffered along with Vincent, sometimes with him, sometimes away with his wife in Paris reading Vincent’s agonized missives from the south of France. The mark of Thao was on Theo’s brother’s forehead also, or might have been. Vincent had been a bipolar servant of the Lord in Holland, then in Paris, then in Arles, a minister, a potato-eater, a painter without parallel, a madman, a wild and crazy servant of the Lord.

Sounds like an artistic Ezekiel to me.

God spoke to the killer angels:

Do not touch any marked with the “thau.”

Follow the man in white linen through the city, and begin at the temple.

Defile my temple and fill the courts with the slain.

Do not look on them with pity.

Show no mercy to old men, maidens, women and children – wipe them out.

Never enough suffering servants, never enough crosses marked on foreheads, never enough thao flowing through the lives of God’s saints and sinners. But there are always some. And God’s creativity knows no end. God will turn five into five thousand.

Up above it all was the glory of the God of Israel.

Turn back, O man! Forswear thy foolish ways. Even in death it is never too late for reconciliation with our Father.

From the rising to the setting of the sun

The name of the Lord is praised.

Who is like him?

Jesus will not have us settle into acceptable sin, not in our soul, nor in our society. He gives us a clear protocol to follow when sin occurs. And then he honors those who do not settle for sin, as he commends them:

Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.

About forgiveness he said,

Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

And then Jesus calls us to come together. Let us break bread together on our knees.

If two of you agree on earth about anything and pray for it,

It shall be granted unto you.

The great succor for martyrs is the presence of Jesus with them. Jesus spoke of this, teaching us not just to come together for worship, but even under the Coliseum, listening for the lions. He will certainly be there too.

Where two or three are gathered together in my name,

There am I in your midst.

Cyprian, a great pastor in Carthage during the plague of 250 AD when many Christians were being blamed and martyred, bolstered the courage of his congregation with these words, “These are trainings for us, not deaths. They give the mind the glory of fortitude, and by contempt of death they prepare us for the crown” (Christian History #135, p. 14).

            (Ezekiel 9, Psalm 113, 2 Corinthians 5, Matthew 18)

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Aug 11 20

Eat this book

by davesandel

Tuesday, August 11, 2020      Memorial of Saint Clare        (today’s lectionary)

Eat this book

Eat this book. Love the words with your whole heart and soul and mind. You will absorb their power and be strengthened from head to toe. Come and eat!

I saw a hand stretched out to me.

The Lord unrolled a scroll covered with writing,

All poems and cries of lamentation and wailing and woe!

Eat this scroll, O Son of man

There is no telling what you’ll find in the Bible, if you just look a little. Ezekiel, whose visions and stories and prophecies rival those of madmen in every century, seems not to spare a syllable of what he hears from God.

Son of man, feed your belly and fill your stomach.

And I ate it.

It was sweet as honey in my mouth, and then he said,

Son of man, go now to the house of Israel

And speak my words to them.

In truth I have been as filled as Ezekiel by words from God. Nothing has been more satisfying than stories from the faithful.

My delight, my precious, you are sweeter than honey and the joy of my heart.

I run in the path of your commands

For you have set my heart free.

Francis of Assisi might have been Ezekiel unleashed in the thirteenth century, come back to haunt the merchants and soldiers of his Italian hillside town. Perhaps when Francis walked naked into the town square, and certainly later, the young girl named Chiara (or Clare in English) noticed him. And in time the purity of Francis’ intentions appealed to her far more strongly than those of other suitors.

Take my yoke upon me and learn from me,

For I am meek and humble of heart.

Her beauty shone round about her from childhood, but Francis helped her discover the beauty in her soul. She called herself the “little plant of Francis.” Like Therese of Lisieux, who followed Clare as “the little flower,” she longed desperately for God and served others with abandon.

Unless you turn and become like children,

You will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.

Whoever becomes humble like this child

Is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.

Like Mother Teresa in Calcutta, she founded an order of servant helpers. Like Benedict, she wrote a Rule for the Poor Clares, the first rule written by a woman for women. In it she, like Francis, required the “privilege of poverty.”

OSF (Order of St. Francis) Heart of Mary Medical Center in Urbana invites me like no other hospital. Murals from Bible stories alternate on the halls with pictures of stern nursing nuns wearing white. The holiness of those hundred year old nuns pins my sickness squirming to the floor, and they stomp on it. I am profoundly grateful. I will return for more.

Their angels in heaven always look

Upon the face of their heavenly Father.

In Springfield, Illinois the Chiara Center has welcomed us for a decade. Margaret and I were trained there as spiritual directors. I have sat in silence for hours in the beautiful church built there in 1924. Several years earlier the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis bought 500 acres of land northeast of Springfield to erect St. John’s Tuberculosis Sanitarium. A hundred years later the grounds, the labyrinth, the museum and the church overflow with history and Franciscan hospitality. Clare and Francis are alive and well.

In Frankfort, Illinois the Franciscan’s Portiuncola Center for Prayer offers solitary retreats at their five hermitages alongside a beautiful forested creek, across the street from Aldi and a Steak ’n Shake. Both Chiara and the Portiuncola celebrate God’s presence with creative programs and spiritual direction, day and night, night and day.

It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.

Santa Clara Valley runs southeast from the southern shores of San Francisco Bay. Its newer name is Silicon Valley. I listen late at night, and hear Saints Clara and Francisco running around laughing with joy inside the computer right here on my desk. Fancy that!

            (Ezekiel 2, Psalm 119, Matthew 11, Matthew 18)

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Aug 10 20

Patron of cooks and firemen

by davesandel

Monday, August 10, 2020      Feast of Saint Lawrence        (today’s lectionary)

Patron of cooks and firemen

Saint Lawrence was wired to the hot grill above the coals. As he was rolled slowly across the fire he told Valerian, or perhaps it was the emperor’s servant, “I am well done. Turn me over!”

So … the Catholic committee deciding on the patronage of saints has a sense of humor.

And Saint Lawrence, who undoubtedly knew by heart the words of Paul to the Corinthians, did not judge the situation he was in to be God’s neglect, withholding, or recklessness.

Each must sow their seed as already determined

Without sadness or compulsion

For God loves a cheerful giver.

Of course that last line is the one we all know. But Lawrence knew the context might be cruel or threatening.

God is able to make every grace abundant for you.

Valerian knew his Bible too, apparently. He told Deacon Lawrence he must present the gold and silver of the church to the Roman government, because it needed money to keep up its armies. Valerian quoted Jesus words. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

“No problem,” Lawrence told the king. “Give me three days.”

He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor, his righteousness endures forever.

The good deacon gathered up his lepers and his lame, the homeless and the hysterical, the poor people in the street – all of these gifts from God. He lined them up in the church’s aisle and invited in the king. Here you are, my king. These are the ones God loves the most, the gold and silver not just of the Church but of heaven. God is blessing them right here, right now. They are yours.

Valerian had been hoodwinked. And in this moment his sense of humor failed him. Thus the hot coals. Thus the patron saint of firemen and chefs. Bad things happen to good people. But God is always near.

An evil report he shall not fear,

His heart is steadfast and he trusts in the Lord.

Pestilences and epidemics plagued Rome during the days of Valerian. From Christian History Magazine, “Public officials did nothing to prevent the spread of the disease, treat the sick or even bury the dead. Romans believed nothing could be done in a time of plague other than appeasing the gods” (p. 14).

Of course Christians did not appease “the gods.” They did not offer sacrifices to “the gods.” So they were persona non grata and as such were sometimes blamed and then killed in the midst of plague. Red martyrdom, that’s called.

Bad things happen to bad people too, by the way. Valerian, captured by enemies, probably died when he was forced to drink molten gold. His skin was stuffed with straw, and the greedy king spent years as a trophy in the corner of a Persian museum.

But neither Paul nor Deacon Lawrence nor Jesus dwell on the revenge. The way forward is never to look back and resent. Unforgiveness is dangerous … “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.

Jesus usually spoke to the big picture. Try to see past your own nose. Life is marked by death, in human society as in every other part of nature.

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies

It remains just a grain of wheat,

But when it dies it produces much fruit.

This is a simple tale, and for me its value deepens as I watch my friends, those grains of wheat who are living out their lives, fly away. Of course my time too will come.

Whoever loves his life loses it.

Be reckless in your love and you will keep your life forever.

            (2 Corinthians 9, Psalm 112, John 8, John 12)

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Aug 9 20

The Church of Our Own Roaring Twenties

by davesandel

Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, August 9, 2020       (today’s lectionary)

The Church of Our Own Roaring Twenties

Elijah waited till he heard the “sound” of silence before he ventured from his cave. I wonder what will it be like when we venture out of ours. I remember old movies, often silent but evoking sounds inside my head of honkytonk and wild jazz, the shortest dresses ever, illegal alcohol and everyone dancing, dancing, dancing. These were the Roaring Twenties, which came right on the heels of the 1918 flu pandemic. In 1919 the flu finally wore itself out. We came out from behind our doors and masks and fairly bled into each other, desperate to be touched. Our very skin cried out.

Churches and schools had been closed. Sports were non-existent, events of every kind were cancelled. Now all that is happening again. Our church has opened back up, but we haven’t attended in person. Margaret and I watch online without masks and singing, sitting side by side on our couch. Many live alone, of course, and cannot sit side by side. If I lived alone, I believe I would go and sit together at our church, even if we’re six feet apart and wearing masks. I think I would recognize everyone.

Great revivals accompany roaring parties, when the doors finally burst back open. Quarantine evolved from the Latin word for 40. Quarantines might last 14 days or 40, but not forever. I reflect on that, sitting at home on my couch without a mask, singing.

The Lord was not in the wind.

The Lord was not in the earthquake.

The Lord was not in the fire.

Then a tiny whispering sound, a still, small voice, the sound of silence awoke Elijah.

He hid his face and went to the entrance of the cave.

Issue 135 of Christian History Magazine details plagues and epidemics throughout recorded history. “Efforts by the church to diagnose and treat supposed moral or spiritual causes sometimes conflicted with medical advice and civic containment efforts” (page 7).

Lord let us see your kindness and grant us your salvation.

Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.

“Popular reactions to the Black Death and subsequent scourges ranged from calls to repentance to a sometimes cavalier and despairing licentiousness” (page 7 again).

Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow, or sooner, we die. Kiss me, and carry me away. Hold me close. Pray for me.

The Lord himself will give his benefits.

Over the years many Christians came to the aid of plague victims, although many others fled.

I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ

For the sake of my own people,

My kindred according to the flesh.

What am I doing? I trust the Rescue to authorities and the powers that be. Not always, Paul says, is this the best idea. But while I was with Marc in the hospital I walked by three ventilators, lined up and ready to go. The precautions taken by the hospital were stringent and enforced. The health of the world we inhabit in Champaign-Urbana depends more on hospitals than individual Christians. Far more. Probably not the best idea?

He saw how strong the wind was and he became frightened.

Peter began to sink.

Jesus drew Peter’s panic into his own infinitely loving heart.

Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter.

Italian hospitals often include the word “Misericordia” in their names. The word means mercy. It is a combination of “misery” and “heart.” God draws our misery into His own infinitely loving heart. This is mercy: not that we loved God but that He loved us …

I know we live in a global military-industrial-religious-medical-governmental complex. Anonymous, inexplicably linked authorities everywhere tell us how to live. They are amorphous and seem to be untouchable. On the other hand, God draws our misery into his own infinitely loving heart.

The chasm is vast between our experiences of the two. I am going to focus on the second one, and pray my heart up toward God’s mercy.

            (1 Kings 19, Psalm 85, Romans 9, Psalm 130, Matthew 14)

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Aug 8 20

Wait for it, wait for it

by davesandel

Saturday, August 8, 2020       Memorial of Saint Dominic              (today’s lectionary)

Wait for it, wait for it

Some of my best friends are Dominicans, most of them nuns, many of them amply able to fulfill their order’s defined calling: to preach. My first spiritual director, Sister Melanie at Jubilee Farm in Springfield, read widely and spoke of what she read. Her bookshelf, behind her as she sat in her rocking chair, fascinated me. I asked about authors and what they thought, and her words clarified my thinking. We talked about books all the time.

Our grandson Jack sometimes came with me to these meetings. He was three, maybe four. Jack sat outside our meeting room beside a table filled with books just for him. I think Sister Melanie prepared that table for Jack before we arrived, although she never said so. The Dominicans were teaching both of us.

After we talked, Jack and I walked in the meadow or went into the barn, where the sisters at Jubilee Farm kept llamas and chickens. Sr. Anita, also the resident sculptor, taught us how to approach the llamas and pet them. Jack shied away, stared back at the very large animal, and finally took a chance. The llama was patient with him, and Jack, I think, felt proud.

In the Bible the year of Jubilee is the ultimate sabbath. Land was kept fallow, debts of all kinds were forgiven, and property returned to the original owners. As you might guess, these ordinances of the Lord were poorly kept, when they were kept at all. The sisters’ built a farm on the principles of Jubilee and have sustained it and its ministries for decades.

Are you not from eternity, O Lord,

My holy God, immortal?

As we recognize but seem powerless to change, our culture eats us alive and spits us out. We have trouble nowadays with the simplest rhythms of honor, gratitude and grace.

Why do you gaze on the faithless in silence while the wicked man

Devours one more just than himself.

There is nothing futile about the stand these Dominican women make. They believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

I will stand at my guard post, and station myself upon the rampart,

And keep watch.

The vision still has its time,

Presses on to fulfillment and will not disappoint,

If it delays, wait for it

It will surely come, it will not be late.

Saint Dominic’s life brimmed with adventure and compassion. He worked all his life to  protect the Church. He allied with Saint Francis, and together they shared the lives of common people who were poor but ready to learn the love of Jesus. They practiced what they preached. They listened to Jesus.

He has not forgotten the cry of the poor.

Stories abound of Dominic’s determined preaching of Jesus’ Gospel. Like Jesus and Francis, Dominic was “itinerant,” with nowhere to lay his head. He rarely made plans beyond the next few hours. But as you might expect, he was known well in the countryside, and rarely did anyone turn him away.

Would he have released the resident demon in the lunatic son?

I brought him to your disciples but they could not cure him.

Then Jesus spoke to the boy, and the demon came out of him.

“Why could we not drive it out?” the disciples asked.

“Because of your little faith.”

Dominic’s faith stood him in good stead. Perhaps indeed, he might like Jesus have driven out the demon. He seemed to arrange his life so that nothing but faith would keep him alive. His mustard seed grew into a great tree.

“Nothing will be impossible for you,” Jesus told his friends.

All his life Dominic yearned for the quiet life of a contemplative. He discovered it as an integral part of his full human life. Study and prayer merged seamlessly with preaching and helping others. This became his everyday life with God. His biographers speak of how he “passed on the fruits of contemplation.”

Richard Rohr calls his Albuquerque retreat center a Center for Action and Contemplation. This preacher Dominic would love that name, who strove in his decades of living among the people of southern France “to speak only of God or with God,” consequently showing them how to live.

(Habbakuk 1 and 2, Psalm 9, 2nd Timothy 1, Matthew 17)

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Aug 7 20

The reason I have two ears

by davesandel

Friday, August 7, 2020

The reason I have two ears

There are two kinds of revelation in my life. Amidst the mundane everyday days, blessings fall. God sightings. Miracles. A parking place found. A baby’s fever breaks. Someone begins to breathe again after hours of obvious death. At just the right time, the pregnant mother’s water bursts.

I find my keys.

And the second kind of revelation? That would be when Coach God sees promise in little old me and decides to push me a little. These are God moments, except God isn’t to be seen. Dark night. Moments of doubt. Watching and waiting and finding no thing from God, no words, no emotional relief, no hearts … but as Job cried out into the dark, “I know that my Redeemer liveth!” You just know.

I think that, given these two kinds of revelation, I need no further purpose or direction. Of course I can ask God how I should live my life, but the word BIBLE is short for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” Right? What else is there to say?

And so whether I hear from God when I seek him in despair, or whether I do not, I can learn to rest easy and know how much I’m loved, and wait for him at the gate.

Job discovered how much God loved him even as he lost everything. His wife lost everything too, and learned nothing. God finally showed himself to Job, after his mountain of suffering. God does not always show himself even then.

Does my suffering mean I’ve failed or done something wrong, as Job’s friend Eliphaz said? Or maybe God is testing me, as Bildad wondered? Could God just be arbitrary and cruel, which Zophar thought might be true? Does God not even exist? Should I simply accept value in my existence, without explanation or future?

The Israelites had no idea. The Ninevites had no idea.

The Lord will restore the vine of Jacob though ravagers have ruined the tendrils.

Stumble upon endless bodies, warriors of Nineveh, you are destroyed!

I will bring both death and life,

I will inflict wounds and I will heal them.

Always both-and, always the gift today and gone tomorrow. Is this the fault of God? He is responsible. Can God be what we call reckless with his children? Can he really? Should we not speak up and call God out, then repent of our hubris before we call Him out again?

Jesus has an angle on this puzzle.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness

For theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Isn’t this too simple?

Whoever wishes to save his life must lose it

Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Stop waiting for God-sightings and miracles. Stop beating yourself up for your sins or blaming yourself for God’s supposed silence. Settle down and wait for God to come through the gate. Give all you have to the sick man on the side of the road. Breathe in, breathe out, that is more than enough.

What does it profit a man, if he were to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?

What am I living for? When all my hopes and dreams have shattered on the hard hallway floor, what do I have left?

I have my soul!

(Nahum 2, 3, Deuteronomy 32, Matthew 5, Matthew 16)

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