Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


The Prophet Martin: A Polished Arrow in God's Quiver

It will come as no surprise to many of you that I have been a bleeding-heart liberal from my earliest days. A teenage rebellion, I am sure against my tastefully conservative Republican mom and dad. A straight A student, I rebelled in hippy dippy ways.  I skipped school to protest the Vietnam war.  I served — in name only — on the staff of an underground newspaper that never actually published a  single issue. (Sister Mary Clare really clobbered me for that one!)  Never a jock, I won awards with my words, my adolescent purple prose.  I earned my high school letter at debates and speech contests. In one stellar outing, I gave a speech supporting birth control in the voice of a not yet fertilized egg. And from my secure, segregated suburban life, I railed against racism. I remember but one line from my blue-ribbon speech that took me to the city finals:  “The blood of the black man is on our lily-white hands.”

I loved the talk but I myself did not always walk the walk.

Thirty years later, this preacher woman was sitting at her desk on a Friday afternoon when. an elderly African American gentleman paid me a call.  His concern and complaint. took me totally by surprise.

He wanted to know if our choir had participated in the Martin Luther King Day Choir Festival. Proudly I told him yes. that indeed both of our choirs had sung that day in honor of the slain civil rights leader. MLK, Jr., I told him, is a saint in the Episcopal Church whose feast day is April the 4th.

Well, this gentleman was a contemporary of Dr. King and said for certain that he knew there were finer preachers whose names he rattled off. And worse than that did I know, he said, that Martin Luther King had been Tom-catting around Atlanta. He and his wife claimed to know of the Rev. King’s illicit comings and goings.  And then he blamed bleeding heart liberals like me for canonizing this flawed leader.

Martin, he said, talked the talk. but he certainly did not always walk the walk.

Indeed, all of these years later many have measured the weight of Dr. King’s life differently. He has been accused of many failings including communism and plagiarism. Younger African-Americans have criticized his passivity.  And biographers have lingered over his personal life.

Sister Joan Chittister tells it well:

“The truth of the matter is that Martin Luther King Jr.  was Martin Luther King Jr. till the day he died. Organizer, preacher, prophet, father, husband, cheater, lover and leader.  He struggled with anger and depression and sexual excess all his life.  And like the rest of us in our own struggles, he never totally conquered any of them.”

Prophets you see are not always perfect. Seldom are they saints and even once sainted remain sinners.

But prophets speak truth. God’s truth.

“King was an unlikely leader, black in a white country, a preacher who led a political struggle, the son and grandson of ministers who held a privileged place in the black community.  Proud of his family and home, he learned young that he lived on the wrong side of town.  He lost his two best friends in the first grade because their mother would not let them play with a ‘colored’ boy.  When he was twelve, a society matron in a down town department store called him the n-word and slapped him across the face. The sting of it stayed with him for the rest of his life.  He was with his father when a shoe salesman refused to wait on them unless they moved to the back room of the store. It was the first time he had seen his daddy so angry and he remembered his response.  ‘I don’t care how long I have to live with this system. I am never going to accept it.  I’ll oppose it till the day I die.’”

Again, and again the message was hard to ignore.  And Martin began to get the message. Speak Lord for your servant is listening.

“And so, like his Daddy, he grew up to be pastor of a major black congregation in Montgomery, Alabama. It was 1955 and Rosa Parks had refused to give up her seat on the bus. And for the first time, King stepped out his privileged pulpit and truly became a prophet.  The first night of the bus boycott he addressed thousands who had gathered for a mass meeting. And he addressed them with the truth, with Gospel truth.”

“’Our method will be that of persuasion, not coercion. Love must be our regulating ideal.  Once again, we must hear the words of Jesus echoing across the centuries: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.’ If we fail to do this, our protest will end up as meaningless drama on the stage of history, and its memory will be shrouded with the ugly garments of shame.  In spite of the mistreatment we have confronted, we must not become bitter, and end up hating our white brothers and sisters. Let no one pull you so low as to make you hate them.’”

 “’If you will protest courageously with dignity and Christian love, when the history books are written the historians will have to pause and say. There lived a great people, a black people, who injected meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization’.” (A Passion for Life, Joan Chittister)

He talked the talk and he himself led the walk. And yes, he stumbled and he fell along the way.  But the prophet Martin prophesied so that his black brothers and sisters. so that our brothers and sisters,  might taste justice, might taste the freedom of this Promised and Privileged Land.

The Lord called him before he was born to be a prophet, and hid him away, a polished arrow in God’s quiver, until it was time.

Now most of us, if we got the call to be such a prophet would hang up. Biblically speaking, prophets are not particularly attractive folk. They tend to push the envelope of society’s conventions and expectations. Frederick Buechner says that, Elisha would have been called cruel, for turning bears loose on boys who taunted him.  Jeremiah would be called crazy for literally eating the scroll on which sweetly written was the word of God. Amos would be called a carpetbagger. for berating his southern neighbors to justice with a northern accent.

Prophecy is not very desirable work. Telling the emperor he has no clothes is a thankless task. Isaiah tells us “The Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant…I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth. He said this to me as “one deeply despised, abhorred by the world, the slave of rulers. ‘Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord who is faithful, who has chosen you.”

And the prophecy business is dangerous work. While God may have the prophet’s back, God does not show his face, and people are likely to shoot the messenger.  Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern.  Isaiah was rumored to be sawed in half. And Martin was stabbed, attacked, and his home bombed many times. And then cut down by an assassin’s bullet in April of 1968. Just thirty-nine years old.  Prophets pay a price that most of us dearly would not like to pay.

So what about us? For what did God knit us together in our mother’s womb? In what small everyday way does call us to be prophets in our own day?

God whispers in ears. Not just into the ears of saints but into the ears of all of us. Niggling, annoying words, taunting us to rise up out of our lazy beds. To witness and to speak up for those struggling at the margins.

 We live in challenging times – in a time where white supremacism is on the rise. We live in a time when Houses of Worship are wracked by violence: a mosque in New Zealand, synagogues in Philadelphia and New York, a church in Texas. We live in a time where we are prone to demonize others different than ourselves. In a time, where we barely know how to speak to people across the political divide.

In God’s eyes, our status quo will just not do. God is always calling us to more, not less, towards love and away from hate. May God grant us the strength to reach down, way down, deep down and find the courage, the compassion to speak a prophetic word.

And so aptly let us pray,

Almighty God, by the voice of your prophets, you have led your people out of slavery and into freedom; Grant that we, following the example of the prophet Martin, may resist oppression in the name of your love; and may secure for all your children equality and liberty, peace and justice here on earth and life abundant in the kingdom to come. Amen.


The Catalog(ue)

Nerdy, nerdy bibliophile, I picked up a delicious but definitely unneeded book while on docent duty at the Library of Congress. Tempting bookstore displays get me every time and this time it was a fascinating, plot-twisting history of the almighty Card Catalog(ue). (And just when did it become okay to drop the last two letters of this fabulous word?)

$35 for the library bound first edition of “The Card Catalog: Books, Cards and Literary Treasures.” A book, not authored by human hands, but by THE LIBRARY itself. Hmm, a bit pricey you might say.

I put it back and walked away but just for a little while — the duration of my two hour shift. But awesome-sauce, turns out it was on sale! So, I snagged it for just $24.99!

Much more than a coffee table book, it is the illustrated history of logging literary collections since the dawn of the written word. Stories with tantalizing text and pictures and paintings. The likes of,

Rolled scrolls, with tags dangling from their ends, at the Library at Alexandria.

Cuneiform clay tablets tallying up a Sumerian bill of sale.

Blank-sided French playing cards, one for each book plundered in the revolution.

Literary ledgers listing titles in the style of Voltaire: by memory, reason, and imagination.

And finally the House of Cards, I both miss and love, the Card Catalog(ue), itself — thanks to Mr. Dewey and Mr.Putnam (You know the former. Look up the latter!)

The Library of Congress Card Catalog “closed” in 1980 yielding to the computer age. But it is still reverently kept in the alcoves of the Main Reading Room for historical and research purposes.

And what a story each card can tell.

Subject, title, and author, of course. But also particular and personal details of each physical book.

Measurements. Color. Cover. Texture. Time. Place.

Walt Whitmans’s “Leaves of Grass” 1884. 404 pages. Bound in orange cloth. Inscribed by the author. Tucked in with the poetry on a shelf in the office.

The Library of Congress card for Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

On the cusp of a new year and by the light of my Christmas tree, I take stock of my bookcases. Cases that line every room in my condo – save the kitchen and the bathrooms. And having acquired a castoff three-drawer card cabinet, I have the itch to catalog my books.

To catalog them into what could be called an actual library.

Once upon a time, they were organized by subject, two-books deep until I weeded them back into single rows. Recently my decorator daughter arranged them by the hue of their spines. Colorful, yes, but it makes them a little harder to find.

Libraries are temples of learning; books borrowed for a while with a card. But I’ve acquired the bulk of my books with a debit card. The only return-carts to return them to are my very own shelves.

Rather than copy Dewey or follow Putnam, I am inclined to come up with a cataloging system of my own.

The “So many books, so little time” cataloging system.

This is a great end-of-year occupation, don’t you think? Sifting through my library helps me sort out my head. Surveying my books inspires me to look both forward and back.

So, with no further ado, let me launch the SMBSLT, JLP (for me!) cataloging system!

JLP.BB: Books about Books.

JLP.RE: Reading about Eating.

JLP.BBF: Books that belonged to my father.

JLP.BFC: Books I didn’t finish in college.

JLP.MH: Mysterious history.

JLP.HM: Historical mystery.

JLP.CC: Cultic classics.

JLP.AI: Astrophysics for idiots.

JLP.SFS: Science fiction for scientists.

JLP.LC: Liturgical choreography.

JLP.SB: Select biography.

JLP.VGS: Victorian ghost stories.

JLP.CL: Celtic lore.

JLP.IUT: Impressive unread titles.

JLP.PT: Ponderous tomes.

JLP.OTW: Obligatory theological works.

JLP.LCA: Lewis Carroll, all of his books, especially the “Annotated Alice”.

JLP.CBI: Children’s books I cannot part with.

JLP.FFU: Fancy folios slid under the coffee table.

JLP.BBB: Books I’ve bought but have yet to read.

JLP.BIH: Books I hope to write someday.

JLP.BBVB: Banned books, the very best ones.

JLP.FAVES: And the faves, of course: Anne Tyler, Shirley Jackson and Herman Hesse.

I’ve got stacks of colored index cards and colored real life fountain pens. Going to do this old-school. (With a backup spreadsheet on my MAC,)

So, how about you? How about taking a little inventory of your literary tastes, a compilation of last year’s books you read, a measure of the stack beside your bed. Dust them, sort them, give them pride of place. Renew your library card. Put together a reading list of every kind: high brow and low brow, classics and pulp.

And explore between the covers of a book what the world, what the universe might have in store, chapter by chapter and page by page, and word by word. Every jot and tittle.

And so expand your soul and incite your mind.

Take flight.

So many books. So little time.


"Star, Star, Teach Us How to Shine, Shine!"

A year ago, I read in The Times that the skies lit up over New York City.

“There was a boom and a hum and smoke and the sky turned fluorescent blue.”

Twitter like mindedly lit up with eerie lights.

“It was spectacular”, a deputy inspector in the 114thPrecinct said. “You could see it a half mile away. You felt it in your chest, the explosions in the night sky turned electric blue.”

“The lights were so bright,” one witness observed, that “the dark night was bright as day.”

The 911 phone lines lit up, too. 

Was it an Unidentified Flying Object?

Was it an alien invasion?

A lost aurora borealis? 

Confused, 21stNew Yorkers flocked outside to figure out what was going on. What was the meaning of it all?

Turns out it was a celestial phenomenon that can be explained by physics: a discharge of supercharged photons into the night sky – from Con Edison. Literally an electrifying event.

Two millennia and two decades ago, the night sky likewise (sort of) lit up with cosmic confusion. 

Four times Matthew’s second chapter mentions the star. The star that beckoned to the Magi and by which the Three Kings traversed afar.

A star?  A supernova, maybe? A comet? Haley’s Comet flew by in 12 B.C.E., astronomers tell us. Possibly planets aligning? Planets are the wanderers in the dark inky sky, after all.

Or maybe it was just a fluorescing symbol that lights the way?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_1078.jpg

A tracking device, a traffic light, a GPS, a giant cosmic flashlight focusing down on the place where Jesus lay.

“The Truth is Out There,” the sage Fox Mulder of the X-Files so famously said.

I am a nerdy, nerdy fan of this 1990’s sci-fi series. Collectible action figures of Fox and Dana keep watch on my windowsill. I have a UFO Nativity ornament hanging on my tree. And one my very favorite Christmas presents this year is a book called The Real Science Behind the X-Files: Microbes, Meteorites, and Mutants by Anne Simon, Ph.D.. (Yes, an actual well-respected scientist wrote this book!)

If you are familiar with the show, you know that being an embarrassment to the FBI, Agent Mulder’s office is buried in the basement of the Hoover Building. Mulder is on a quacky quest to prove that in this universe, we are not alone.

But for Mulder this is also a deeply personal quest, to search for a child, a little sister who disappeared in the dead of night. Mulder turns his gaze skywards, hoping upon hope for his sister to return.

In episode after episode, partner Dana Scully, a trained medical doctor and UFO skeptic, does her damndest to keep grounded the pie-in-the-sky Mulder. While she quite ironically, as a person of faith, finds her North Star in science.

Through eleven seasons together, Mulder and Scully stumble and fumble their way toward the truth.

3D View of a Supernova’s “Heart”

The Way, interestingly enough,is the earliest name that followers of Jesus called themselves. 

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2 KJV)

They had found a way.

Flashes of light piercing through confusion, stagnation, delusion.

Like explosions going off in our heads and opening our eyes.

In headlines screaming things we’d rather not hear.

In images revealing things we’d rather not see.

In events unfolding we’d rather ignore.

Flashes of light in the darkness. 

Epiphanies.

Flashes of light melting into the night as fast as they appear.

Gone in the twinkling of eye. Minds enlightened. Souls stirred. Limbs stretched. The Way before us clearer, brought into focus, a sage once said.

Like the Magi, now we fledgling Christians hopefully seek the same. To return to what matters most: life, love, compassion, justice.  Not just for you and me but for everybody. Not just for those with the loudest voices but for the voiceless.

We are called to follow these wise ones on the road less travelled. That other rocky and more difficult road. That road that more often than not, we are reluctant to travel.

Where we’ll have to do things, we don’t really want to do.

Where we’ll have to speak up and say things that aren’t easy to say.

Where we’ll have to let go of things that we would rather keep.

Where we’ll have to give of ourselves, losing time and losing sleep.

We’ll have to be less selfish and more self-aware.

We’ll have to keep our eyes on the prize,

on peace on earth and goodwill for all.

“Star, star, teach us how to shine, shine.”

Show us the Way of the Light Divine.

Show us a worldly way to redeem what truly matters.


Reindeer, Rainy Days & Mondays Mostly…

Bipolar, I am very rarely down. I live my life balanced in hypomanic and holy space.

This space is the woof and warp of my loony loom. Daily decisions, large and small, weave together the texture and color of my daily walk.

Yes.

Walking, talking, balking;

Reading, working, sleeping;

Lurking, leaping, housekeeping;

Netflixing, Hulu hopping, blogging;

Sermonizing, staff meet-ing, clergy colluding;

Pastoring, preaching, rabbi-teaching;

Cafe haunting, eatery slinking, coffee drinking;

Advocating, electioneering, volunteering;

Photo popping, Instagramming, grocery shopping;

Floor mopping, dish washing, laundry folding;

Clothes modeling, junk recycling, riverfront hiking;

Story Districting, Library (of Congress) docent-ing;

Sacrament celebrating, worship gathering;

Mothering, othering, recovering;

Befriending, mending;

Money lending and wallet emptying;

Rearranging, decorating;

Ginger cat psychologizing;

Writing, reflecting, philosophizing;

Showering, singing;

Laughing.

Living.

Loving.

Entertaining angels unaware. 


Rainy days and Mondays rarely get me down.

Yet —

whirling and spinning, even I have to begrudgingly admit, that my psyche, so wound up, must come down.

Tis the season, right?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_8711.jpg

Darker, wetter December days enter.

I feel a tug that pulls me downward

and closer to the earth.

An undercurrent of small sorrows,

lingering losses,

ripples of sadness,

lonesome and alone.

Bittersweet,

I taste and touch the deeper darker parts

of my happy, happy manic soul.

Like the little blue girl in Inside Out,

“Sadness”  is a place we should not fear to go.

Sadness, sometimes, is exactly the place we need to be.

Tearing up in the shower is okay.

Soul searching on the subway. Also okay.

Channel surfing in your pajamas. Okay too.

Just let it be, 

at least for a little while,

but not too long.

Darker, wetter December days are holy days,

these holidays,

like rainy days and Mondays,

yes,

they sometimes weigh us down, 

but the darkness will be overwhelmed by the light,

by light,

most luminous,

Light Divine.

So from Unorthodox & Unhinged,

A very, very,

merry, merry,

 happy, happy, 

manic-depressive Christmas to you!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is joanisign.png


Pregnant with Possibility

Once upon an Advent, I became an Anglican. Year’s end of 1984, to be exact.

Raised Roman Catholic and having spent my early adulthood agnostic, my ex-husband William and I followed breadcrumbs back to church. Not back so much really as forward. Instead of returning to the pews of our youth, we accepted an invitation to attend Immanuel on-the-Hill. (Yes, the other Emmanuel, directly across the street from Virginia Seminary.) Zach, my firstborn son was just three and Colleen was not quite six months

These little children led us to knock on the door of a church – a door we had not darkened for ages. The liturgy was strangely familiar – like a favorite old song but to a different tune. And — singing this new song was a vested woman at the altar! And we got to drink the wine, as well as, eat the bread. What a revelation this was!

Literally, leaving church on my very first Episcopal Sunday, the rector had a proposition for me. Would you like to join the worship planning committee?  Not just volunteer to read or be an usher, but to be a lay partner along with the priest planning the services of the coming season?  

Having grown up in a tradition, where women were only allowed behind the altar if they had a vacuum cleaner, I was gob smacked! Floored! 

Of course, I would love to! Yes!

And I do confess, this committee work helped fulfill a lifelong fantasy of mine – to be cast as Mary in the Christmas concert. The fantasy of every little Roman Catholic girl (and every little Protestant girl, too, I imagine!)

And alas, it came to pass for me this Advent of 1984. Recently pregnant and obviously not a virgin, at long last I had snagged the part of the BVM. Not quite as embarrassing as liturgical dance, in lieu of a sermon, I starred in a three-part liturgical drama: Mary! Pregnant with God!

Three parts. Three trimesters.

Advent 1. Surprised. Uncertain. Shaky. Nauseous. Scared.

Advent 2.  Blooming. Stretching. Aching. Hoping.

Advent 3. Heavy. Swollen. Sleepless. Bursting.

I burst into the Magnificat. 

It was Advent in the Eighties, and I wore Blessed Mother blue.

This is the blue season. The hangings are blue. The candles on the Advent wreath, except one, are blue. 

And maybe your mood is blue or the mood of those you love and care about is blue, too. And no matter where you get your news, you know too that this little blue marble on which we spin daily spins out of control: politically, environmentally, personally. Trying to have a holly jolly Christmas in this climate is a downright struggle.  In the darkness of these blue winter days, our world aches for light.

And on Advent 4, on the eve of the Christian solstice, we have walked almost all the way to Bethlehem. Walked beside a pregnant, unwed peasant girl – who artists for some reason have almost always draped in blue.

“…she was found to be with child… Her husband Joseph…planned to dismiss her quietly… But an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit… She will bear a son and you are to call him Jesus…after the prophet Isaiah who said, ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel – which means ‘God with us.’”

Now this 1st century story is a hard sell in the 21st. And I confess to you, likewise it has always been a conundrum to this Christian.  Such an illustrious and exceptional birth was a common motif for the likes of emperors-turned-gods in the ancient world. 

There are twenty-four books in the New Testament and only two, Matthew and Luke, pay any attention to Jesus’ origins. Even John who preaches the Word made flesh, the same Word spoken at the dawn of creation, is totally uninterested in the how this came to be. 

But we Anglicans welcome wrestling with angels, unafraid to ask big questions of our faith.

Twenty-eight years ago, I crossed the street from my home parish Immanuel on-the-Hill to pursue a quest that has landed me in the pulpit this Sunday  at Emmanuel on High, and many Sundays before. And the very first sermon I ever preached in homiletics class was on Advent 4, Matthew 1:18-25, the virgin birth.

And it went something like this.

Hail Mary, never virgin, the Lord is with thee.

Shocked? Got your attention, right?

And what I mean by Hail Mary, never virginin the poetic sense, is that when it comes to God, Mary is anything but a virgin. Vulnerable, perplexed, she is remarkably open to the proposition of impossibly becoming pregnant with God. Conceiving within herself all that is divine, all that is holy. Pondering what all this could possibly mean in her heart (as the Lukan version tells us.)

Don’t get hung up on the biology, my fellow seekers. Focus on the theology. The meaning behind the mystery. Focus on the good news that the Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us. Just as true in 1991, as it was in Year One.

How do we conceive of this Word of Love within us? How do we hear it, speak it, shout it from the rooftops, live it?

Like Joseph, what dream of God do we dream?

Like Mary, what does our pregnant soul proclaim?

After a pregnant pause, I returned to my seat. I was pretty sure I had flunked my first sermon, but I got an A – or maybe a B+ — I can’t quite remember. And the seminary did not kick me out.

And for twenty-five years, “Emmanuel, God with us” is the gospel I still imperfectly preach. And I am so grateful these past five years to have been able to preach it here at Emmanuel on High. Again, on Advent 4, on Matthew 1:18-25, on the virgin birth. 

I will not ask for another twenty-five, or boldly I just might. Look what God wrought with Sarah in her nineties and Elizabeth, as she was getting up in years. Ha! Every day is a gift. Every day no matter how bad or how awful or how wonderful is a holy day. Emmanuel, God with us, sticks by us in the ups and downs of our everyday – and in every way – ordinary lives.

So, Advent 4, let us all don Blessed Mother Blue, and sing along this version of Mary’s song, a song I know you have heard before.

Our souls magnify the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our redeemer, for God has looked with love on the lowliness of this earth. Generously, lavishly, the Lord blesses peoples of every generation. And in each and every human heart, God plants the seeds of all this is good. So that what was conceived in Mary, the Spirit of God this Christmas may also conceive in us: faith, hope and love. 

And the greatest of these is love, right?

Happy almost Merry Christmas!


“God Keeps No One Waiting Unless It Is Good for Them.”

Impatience, thy name was Dr. Peacock.

When I was growing up, my father, a busy and successful surgeon, did not like to wait. He would not take us anywhere he anticipated crowds or lines. He would never go to a restaurant without a reservation. When we went to the movies, we went at odd times, arriving late, sitting in the back and leaving early. Native Washingtonians, we never visited the White House or the Washington Monument. We never went to the Cherry Blossom Festival or the lighting of the National Christmas Tree.

.“Too many tourists,” my dad would say. “Too much God damned trouble to wait in those god forsaken lines.”

No time to be patient, beloved, no time to be patient.

Waiting for Santa, Circa 1960

Now most us, including myself, much like my dad, count waiting as a colossal waste of time. And via the bazillion apps on our iPhones, iPads, and MACs, we need only navigate the net to have an instant Christmas.

Point, click and shop till you drop.

UPS and Federal Express or a guy on a Segue or an Amazon.dot.com drone will deliver to your doorstop a complete Christmas, from soup to nuts: the tree, the trimmings, the trappings, the presents and all the wrappings. Cyber-Monday, Cyber-Everyday eliminates the wait and takes us far from the maddening crowds.

Awesome Sauce! Right? Convenient for lives and calendars crammed with business appointments, committee meetings, carpools, school concerts, errands and chores. This is something close to a f*ing miracle! Successful people know that time is money — more precious than money.

Waiting is for chumps, for the clueless, for losers.

Waiting is for crazy people, waiting on the end of the world – with a specific date and time in mind for Jesus to return: survivalists stockpiling food, water, and toilet paper. Only wacky Millennialists (No, not Millennials, Millennialists!) wait on the impossible. Only wacky people wait on the mountain top for the space ship to come pick them up, beam them aboard, and fly them off to who knows where. Waiting on doomsday. Waiting for the end to come.

Two thousand years ago, the people of the church of St. Paul’s in Rome were busy waiting. They were keeping Advent, getting ready for something like a Christmas. Waiting, not for Santa, but for the Son of Man to return. He would come in glory and majesty, riding on the clouds in the company of angels. (Eat your heart out, Rudolph!)

Jesus promised he would be back. He said he would be back. So they kept vigil and they waited and they watched the skies and they yearned and they longed and they pined.

But no one came.

Be patient, beloved, be patient.

Now, patience is a virtue and sometimes the wait is worthwhile. Sometimes hanging in there is indeed worth it.  After all, what is grape juice compared to a fine wine? What are Cliff Notes compared to the plot twists of your favorite book? What is a cheap and tawdry affair compared to a life long love?

Waiting cultivates desire, illuminates our need and heightens our expectations. And in the end, waiting sharpens our pain, as well as, our joy.

The people of Saint Paul’s in Rome were not just idly waiting. They weren’t just biding their time for something better to come along. They were waiting for a taste of heaven. They were waiting on eternity.

Something like a Christmas came and something like a Christmas went, year after year, generation after generation. And the folks at Saint Paul’s began to feel a little silly, a little self-conscious. And these folks, they grew plain sick and tired of waiting. And Christians everywhere, it seemed, lost the will to wait.

When Jesus did not come riding in on the clouds, like a shining knight on a white horse, as he was long expected to, we just gave up on waiting.

It’s naïve, a childish thing, beyond belief.

So instead, we now wait just four weeks for the baby in the manger.

We wait just four weeks for the Jesus who has already come.

And yet, anyone who has been through the nine months of pregnancy, or lived with someone who has, knows that birthing a baby is much more than a waiting game.

Now many a woman has wished for an Instagram/Polaroid pregnancy but it just doesn’t work that way. At first, there is the anxiety. Is the stick pink or blue? Is that a plus or minus sign? Once you know for sure, the room begins to spin and you regularly lose your lunch. And while you struggle to keep down saltines, this new little life feeds on you body and soul. You grow large and full of life, as does your heart grow and groan with love and angst. And by nine months’ end you feel a little bit like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

No part of you, no crevice of your womb is left unfilled. Over a trinity of trimesters, expectation heightens. And all those who keep watch and wait hover around you. “When is it coming? When are you due?” Some even touch and grab onto your belly as if it were their very own. (Please, always ask first!)

Who is this little one coming, who has turned you inside out?

Who is this little one coming, who will turn the world upside down?

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of its roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.”

“He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…”

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion, and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them.”   — Isaiah 11:1-10

Just like the people, two millennia ago, we are waiting on this little scrap of eternity, a little taste of heaven.

How do we tread this waiting-way? Well, here at Emmanuel, we have a little home grown devotional, Waiting Rooms: Poetry, Scripture & Icons for Advent. I am also leading a conversational class, God of the Cosmos & God in the Cradle on the four Sunday mornings of Advent at 9:15 AM between the services. Cocktails, Mocktails & Carols, Saturday December 7th, 7:00 – 9:00 PM joyfully previews the birth of the child. And Contemplative Christmas: A Taize Service of Evening Prayer, December 15th at 6:00 PM quietly anticipates the light of the coming Christ.

In this pregnant season of Advent, let us pray, that the Spirit breathe life into our weary souls; that Christ’s light penetrate these dark days of December.

And let us pray, beloved, that with patience, once again,

Christ be born — flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone into this broken, beat up, and wonderful world.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

JoaniSign

“God keeps no one waiting unless it is good for them.” Oswald Chambers


All Hallows’

Leaves turn color. Yellow, red, orange, brown.  Dry, they fly and fall from the sky.  Carpeting the ground, like parchment, they crackle under foot. You can hear them. You can smell them –  the mustiness of the earth.

Hist whist little goblin. Hist whist little ghostling.

It is that time of year again. As night falls, the veil between the worlds is torn. Spirits freely move between heaven and earth, between this world and the next. Lanterns are lit  and treats set out to guide home the wayward souls.  On this, All Hallows’ Eve – the day we call Halloween.

All Hallows’ Eve, even more than All Saints Day was a high holy day at my house.  It was just about the only holiday, as a clergy person, that I did not have to work. My children, specifically my son Zach, each year would transform our front porch into a haunted space — with paint and props, cob webs and pumpkin slime, fake blood and plastic body parts.  

One year the porch became Dr. Frankenstein’s workshop. Another year (my favorite), the porch became Hotel 666, where you checked in but could never check out!

all_hallows__eve_by_lhox-d5hoe82

Trick-or-Treaters flocked to our front door with their paper sacks and plastic pumpkins.  And we always gave out the good stuff; not Dumdums lollipops. Yuck, no! But chocolate. Especially chocolate!

All Hallows’ Eve. Ah, Holy Day.

And then, the next day, and the one after that, were also holy. All Saints Day, November 1st. All Souls Day, November 2nd. Growing up Catholic, holy souls enveloped my childhood. Christened for Saint Joan, I was doubly sainted once confirmed. For my “confirmation name” I chose Veronica — for her four melodious syllables.

And on All Souls Day, after church, my family would visit Cedar Hill Cemetery, a holy place, planted with Peacocks over many generations.

 While my siblings and I played among the headstones, my mom clipped the grass and left flowers at our grandparents’ graves. Afterward we would race down the hill to the pond and toss breadcrumbs to the ducks.  

And before we got back into the car, we’d say a little prayer for all of those who had gone before. All those saints and souls, both great and small. For all these holy persons, in whom heaven and earth got all tangled up.

We were, after all, standing in a cemetery. One must die to reach the other side.

The day we die is also the day we rise. And if a saint, it is our saint’s day, too.

In the margins of my Book of Common Prayer, in pencil, are the scribbled names of many souls whom I have laid to rest these past 25 years.

And as for me I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.  After my waking, he will raise me up, and in my body, I shall see God.  I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.

And the One whose name is above every name, counts us among the guests of heaven.

Most of us are saintly in a lowercase “s” kind of way. But this Sunday, November 3rd, we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, saints with a capital “S.”

So, how do we earn one of those? Who gets to wear an official halo and how?

Well, in the Roman Catholic scheme of things, to be canonized, not only do you have to be a pillar of virtue in life — you also have to be a miracle worker in death. 

Happily in the Episcopal Church, it’s different. Modeled on the United States Congress, we have both a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies,  who gather every three years at Convention. The Standing Liturgical Commission (Episcopalians love committees!) nominate candidates for their resemblance to Christ. Then the members of both houses vote. Yes, vote!   If elected, the new saint gets a date on the liturgical calendar. A lesser feast, so to speak.

And really good news, saints don’t have to be saints all of the time. Every saint is also a sinner. So, some Anglican saints might surprise you. There are the usual suspects, of course: the Mary’s, the martyrs, the apostles.

But also, including the likes of:

Johannes Sebastian Bach, maestro of sacred music.

Charles Wesley, composer of 6,000 hymns.

Florence Nightingale, nurse and social reformer.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, abolitionist and feminist.

Thomas Gallaudet, teacher and advocate for the deaf.

Blessed be all those who have gone before us, whose lives have shone with the light of Christ.

Be they a lowercase saint or a capital one.

May we also be counted in their number.

When the saints go marching in.

JoaniSign