Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Birth Pangs

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, “I am the Messiah!” and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs...from the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near...

'But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
(Matthew 24:3-8, 32, 36, 42, 44)

I walked into a local place where I am pretty well known last week and the conversation with the owner quickly turned from "small talk" to eschatology. He quoted from Matthew as he reflected on the news of the day: wars and rumors of wars in the Middle East, earthquakes in Japan, a world that feels like it is coming unglued.

It is hard to gauge just how bad things are: the eyes of nostalgia combined with the images of destruction that global news reports offer us means that we tend to feel sometimes like things are worse than they have ever been. I'm not so sure. In the twentieth century alone, the first half of a century was dominated by two World Wars and the Great Depression. The second half of that century included the Cold War, Vietnam, double-digit inflation...hostages in Iraq. I suspect that ever since Jesus uttered those words on the Mount of Olives, hardly has a decade passed without wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines. As depressing as the news has been of late, I'm not certain it is worse than usual:. That doesn't mean it doesn't take a toll on all of us; we live, for sure, in an unsteady and confusing world. But it also includes moments of beauty and kindness, generosity and love and we need to see and hold onto those, too.

Wherever we are in terms of "cosmic time" - whether or not the end is near - one thing is certain: in the face of all these threats that surround us, Jesus' offers us images of hope and encouragement. Instead of being scared (which usually leads to paralysis) he encourages those who trust him to see these signs as "birth pangs."  That is a very different set of lenses through which to view the world than as, say, a brain-dead patient on life support that is about to be removed. We are called to put our trust, even now, in the God who is making the heavens and the earth, and to see the reign of God is breaking in. Something new is being born...

The other image is that of the fig tree. It's technically spring according to my calendar in New England and the days are indeed getting longer, but at this moment in time there are not yet any branches getting tender or putting forth leaves. But it will happen, and I'm keeping my eyes open. Before you know it the brave crocuses will be sounding the trumpet and singing their alleluias and eventually spring and summer will come even to Massachusetts.

In the meantime we wait. But we wait not in fear, but hope. We wait with courage and we wait as people called to rebuild Japan and to work for peace in the Middle East. We wait as people who feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, and hold forth a vision for all the world, of a day when they shall not hurt or destroy on all of God's holy mountain.

It is times like these that remind us who we are, and who we are called to become. (With God's help.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Woman at the Well

Last weekend's gospel reading focused on an encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus from the third chapter of John’s Gospel. Today, in the fourth chapter of that same gospel, we see Jesus with an unnamed Samaritan woman. John has juxtaposed these two in a way that is meant to get our attention, in a way that makes it clear that God really does so love the world. We are meant to notice these polarities: male and female, Jew and Samaritan, community leader and socially marginalized. Nicodemus came to Jesus in the middle of the night; this Samaritan woman comes to the well in the middle of the day

And yet even as we notice these differences, I think that John means for us to see that Jesus meets each of them where they are, and takes their questions seriously, and engages each of them in serious theological conversation. The disciples’ astonishment is a clue to us of just how shocking it was for Jesus to be talking to a divorced, Samaritan woman in the middle of the day. In first-century Palestine the rules of the game were clear: men are not supposed to speak with women to whom they are not married in public. And as John whispers to us parenthetically, “Jews do not share cups with Samaritans.”

While we have basically picked up today from where we left off last week in John’s gospel, the lectionary omitted this important transitional verse: “Jesus had to pass through Samaria.” The thing is, while that’s the shortest way to where he is headed, he didn’t have to do that at all. Most faithful Jews would have gone around Samaria, refusing to step foot in that land. So “had to” here doesn’t mean that he had no alternative routes he could have taken. Rather, it’s John’s code-language for “God’s plan.” Jesus just had to do this—because God so loved the world. He just had to do it because it is who he is.

It’s interesting to me that this encounter at Jacob’s well begins with Jesus asking the woman for a drink. I can’t help but to hear those words from Matthew’s Gospel about the sheep and the goats echoing in my head whenever I hear this gospel reading: when did we see you Lord? When did we not see you? Jesus responds by saying that whenever you visited those in prison, or clothed the naked, or fed the hungry, or gave a drink of water to one of these little ones in my name, you did it to me. And whenever you didn’t do those things, you didn’t do it to me.

So before the conversation gets deep—before it turns to theological talk about “living water” that quenches a thirsty soul—Jesus is just a stranger in a foreign land asking for a drink of water. And while it’s true that Jews and Samaritans don’t share cups in common, and while it’s true that men aren’t supposed to be talking to women they aren’t related to in public, it is also true that this stranger is thirsty and far from home and this local woman has access to the well. Whatever deep theological insights emerge beyond this we should not miss the way it all begins: with an act of human kindness. It’s like that verse from Brian Wren’s great Eucharistic hymn, “I Come With Joy,” that says, “as Christ breaks bread and bids us share, each proud division ends/ That love that made us, makes us one, and strangers now are friends.”

Someone needs to take a risk, for a stranger to become a friend. Before we get to profound metaphysical interpretations I think we are invited to simply watch Jesus and this woman sitting at Jacob’s well, having a normal conversation in a world where they aren’t supposed to have any contact with each other. Yet strangers become friends, and the energy that is released invites transformation and healing. Instead of walls being reinforced, bridges are being built. Such encounters are only ever considered “dangerous” or “radical” because we have been taught to hate, and fear, and have become so accustomed to the barriers.

“He has told me everything about myself,” the woman declares to her friends. He has known me for who I am, and He loves me for who I am. What amazing grace!

This encounter between Jesus and this Samaritan woman has everything to do with us, because I think Jesus just has to seek us out too: all of us—male and female, young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight. Jesus cares about our stories, about our lives, about the stuff everyone in town, or our church, or our family may know about us even if it is never said out loud.

Jesus keeps finding people like us in the middle of Lent, in the middle of the day or in the middle of the night - sometimes at our favorite watering hole. He just has to, in order to call us to something much deeper, in order to cut through all the shame and fear and guilt to tell us everything about ourselves including the truth that we are loved, and to offer us living water that quenches the deep thirst of our souls. When water like that is offered, you don’t take little sips. You drink as deeply as you possibly can.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

John Stewart on Romero

How Oscar Romero Got Disappeared By Right-Wingers A Second Time

I'm a big John Stewart fan. Besides being funny, I also think he really "gets it" - and underneath all the laughs, he often offers some very serious insights. This clip (click on the link above)  from one year ago, is one of them, and it's worth another look.

All week long I've been thinking about Oscar Romero and the people of El Salvador and the sad history of the death squads. I've been pondering the observation made by Fr. Ignatio Ellacuría, S.J, that "the struggle against injustice and the pursuit of truth cannot be separated nor can one work for one independent of the other." We must tell the truth: and the truth includes our own government's complicity with the evil that unfolded in El Salvador in the 1980s. Revisionist history, and worse still denying history, is the worst kind of lying.

The problem with Texas deciding who is important enough to make it into our textbooks is that they buy a lot of them, so their (ill-informed) decisions ripple out to smaller states. I don't know what to do about that, except to make sure that the people I know and serve learn exactly who Oscar Romero was, and give thanks for his life and witness, and then teach their children and children's children about him...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Remembering Romero and the Martyrs of El Salvador

Almighty God, you called your servant Oscar Romero to be a voice for the voiceless poor, and to give his life as a seed of freedom and a sign of hope: Grant that, inspired by his sacrifice and the example of the martyrs of El Salvador, we may without fear or favor witness to your Word who abides, your Word who is Life, even Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be praise and glory now and for ever. Amen.

"Do you want to know if your Christianity is genuine?" Archbishop Romero once asked. "Here is the touchstone: Whom do you get along with? Who are those who criticize you? Who are those who do not accept you? Who are those who flatter you?" That is a rather provocative plumb-line against which we are called to measure our own faith.

One of the readings appointed for today comes from the seventh chapter of the Book of Revelation. It seems to me that Revelation is better read, and better understood, from a place like El Salvador than it is from the so-called first world. Written at a time when the Church was under siege, a time when the first-century Christians in Asia Minor were tempted to let their fears paralyze them, a time when it was easier to be neither hot nor cold but lukewarm (see Rev. 3:15) - the seer of Patmos offers us not a "prediction" about when the world will end, but a word of hope and encouragement in tough times and an insistence that the future belongs to God.

Christians in every age are called to put their trust in the Lamb who was slain, the Lamb who is seated on the throne, the one we insist truly is "King of kings" and "Lord of lords" in spite of all the pretenders to the throne. It may seem, for a time, as if the despots of this world are in charge, but they are not: God is. The Revelation of John reminds us (as one of the martyrs remembered on this day along with Archbishop Romero once put it) that "the struggle against injustice and the pursuit of truth cannot be separated, nor can one work for one independent of the other."  (Ignatio Ellacuria, S.J.) Over and against the despots of this age, we dare to pursue justice and to speak the truth in love, holding fast to what is good. In too many places, however, the truth can get you killed...

Despots from Rome to El Salvador to Libya who are in danger of losing their power become more and more ruthless. Only when we take Archbishop Romero's advice to "take the long view" can we truly say with confidence that "all will be well.” In the short run, there are costs to discipleship. In the short run, it's easy to lose heart. Today we remember those who never did and we give thanks for their witness. We remember that the death squads don't get the last word; God does:
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?" I said to him, "Sir, you are the one that knows." Then he said to me, "These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
For this reason they are before the throne of God,
and worship him day and night within his temple,
and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.
They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." 
                                                       (Revelation 7:7-13)

The Martyrs of El Salvador

"The struggle against injustice and the pursuit of truth cannot be separated nor can one work for one independent of the other."
Ignatio Ellacuría, S.J. , Murdered superior of Jesuit community at the UCA

Tomorrow, March 24, marks the the thirty-first anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. In addition to Romero, The Episcopal Church will also remember "the martyrs of El Salvador" including  four Maryknoll sisters who were murdered on December 2, 1980: Ita Ford, Maura Clark, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donovan (lay missioner.)

On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests and two of their staff members were also murdered: Ignacio Ellacuria, SJ, 59, was rector of the Central American University and Ignacio Martin-Baro,SJ, was vice-rector.Segundo Montes, SJ, Arnando Lopez, SJ,  Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, SJ, Juan Ramon Moreno, SJ, and Julia Elba Ramos, a cook, and Cecilia Ramos, her daughter, 15. An article on these 1989 assassinations that appeared at the time in The Washington Post can be found here.

Countless others whose names were not remembered were "disappeared" in the 1980s in El Salvador. May they rest in peace, and light perpetual shine upon them.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


The following comes from Holy Women, Holy Men

Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdémez was born on August 15, 1917 in San Salvador. At the age of twelve, he was apprenticed to a carpenter, but was later able to attend seminary. His family's economic circumstances forced him to withdraw to work in a gold mine. Ultimately he entered another seminary and was eventually sent to the Gregorian University in Rome to study theology. After his ordination to the priesthood, he returned to his native land, where he worked among the poor, served as an administrator for the Church, and started an Alcoholics Anonymous group in San Miguel.

When he was appointed a bishop, radicals distrusted his conservative sympathies. However, after his  appointment as Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977, a progressive Jesuit friend of his, Rutilio Grande, was assassinated, and Romero began protesting the government's injustice to the poor and its policies of torture. He met with Pope John Paul II in 1980 and complained that the leaders of El Salvador engaged in terror and assassinations. He also pleaded with the American government to stop military aid to his country, but this request was ignored.

Romero was shot to death while celebrating Mass at a small chapel near his cathedral on March 24, 1980. The previous day, he preached a sermon calling on soldiers to disobey orders that violated human rights. He had said, "A bishop will die, but the Church of God which is the people will never perish." The Roman Catholic Church declared him "a servant of God," and he is honored as a martyr by many Christian denominations worldwide. 
Almost nine months after Romero's assassination, four Maryknoll nuns were also killed in the course of their duties by the El Salvadoran army. Nine Jesuit priests were similarly murdered in November of 1989. A statue of Romero stands at the door of Westminster Abbey as part of a commemoration of twentieth-century martyrs.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fundacion Cristosal

Over the course of the past five years or so, the parish I serve has been developing a relationship of accompaniment with the Anglican Church in El Salvador. That word, like the word "solidarity," is meant to suggest mutuality, not paternalism. Those who have traveled from my parish to El Salvador have come back feeling that they have received far more than they have given, and while we have shared some of our own financial resources for various projects in El Salvador, our goal since the very beginning has been to focus on relationships over "charity."  The new Executive Director of Cristosal, Noah Bullock, has spent time at St. Francis and is someone we consider a friend in Christ. Noah's letter to The Episcopal Church can be found here.

This Thursday, March 24, marks the thirty-first anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. For me this whole week is a time to reflect on the meaning of Romero's life, from which we might find inspiration to work and pray for a more just El Salvador. At our mid-week liturgy this Wednesday night, we will remember Romero and the martyrs of El Salvador.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


The following is an excerpt from my sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent, on the gospel reading found in John 3:1-17. The full manuscript of the sermon will be posted at St. Francis Church.

I wonder about Jesus’ tone in today’s gospel reading, because tone is one of the things no gospel writer can convey. Is he trying to embarrass Nicodemus, who is after all, a teacher of Israel and doesn’t seem to be able to follow the theological conversation? Is Jesus dripping with sarcasm and saying something like “you idiot, Nicodemus, you haven’t got a clue!” Or is Jesus having a little fun with Nicodemus and teasing him a little? Something more like: “Nic, are you for real? I mean I know you’ve got that big fancy degree and all, and I’m just a hillbilly from the sticks, but this is the easy stuff, man!” It makes a difference and it’s hard to know for sure. But if I were directing a film of John’s Gospel I’d have the actor playing Jesus try to convey more humor than sarcasm and more engagement than disdain.

Notice that it’s nighttime when Nicodemus comes to Jesus. It’s quite likely that Nicodemus, who is a highly successful and important man, doesn’t want his respectable neighbors to know the company he’s keeping. So he chooses the cover of darkness. Maybe he’s a coward. But maybe he is sincere and curious. He wants to know more. But as a leader of the Jerusalem Council, he has a lot more at stake socially and politically than lepers and tax collectors by coming to this upstart Jewish outsider from the hills of Galilee. Perhaps he comes, not necessarily looking to convert or become a disciple, but even so as spiritually open and curious, aware that the signs that Jesus performs reveal God at work in his life. Maybe he comes as a genuine seeker.

He comes at night. Within the context of John’s Gospel, it’s interesting to notice how often John plays with imagery of light and darkness: it is he who refers often to children of light and children of darkness and to Jesus as the Light of the world. So here is good old Nicodemus, coming in the night, yet somehow drawn to the Light. Surprisingly, however, Jesus seems to respond rather sharply to Nicodemus: Amen, Amen (twice for extra dramatic effect!) —“truly, truly, I tell you that no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.”

Notice that Jesus isn’t talking here about how you get saved or how you “get to heaven” when you die. He’s talking about how the Reign of God breaks into our lives, into this world, among us. He’s talking about those moments when we get glimpses of “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” All those parables about the Kingdom we find in the synoptic gospels—about lost sheep and lost sons, about mustard seeds and compassionate Samaritans—are about developing eyes to see and ears to hear that the Reign of God is already in our midst. Only too often, we remain too blind to see. The whole point of the Light, I think, is to help us to see. So Jesus seems to be telling Nicodemus that there isn’t a simple formula or proof he can offer him: Nicodemus will have to learn to see for himself, if only there is some light.

In order to see, Jesus tells Nicodemus, he must be born—well, how exactly? The Greek is ambiguous and has three perfectly valid interpretations. It’s anothen. So you can say (as the NRSV does): “you’ve got to be born from above.” But if you look that up in a NRSV Bible you’ll see a notation at the bottom of the page that says: “or, you must be born anew.” If you prefer the NIV Bible, there you will read, “you’ve got to be born again.” But there, too, you’ll find a little note from the editors that says, “or, you’ve got to be born from above.” So which is it: from above, anew, or again? 


Our friend Nic initially misses the point because he hears “anothen” in a literal way and connects it only to a physical return to the womb, which Jesus says is just plain silly. Jesus speaks in parables and riddles intended to invite further reflection, and this encounter is no exception to that rule. The disciples are constantly being tripped up by this, and so is Nicodemus. So then Jesus responds by saying that what he is really talking about is being “born by water and the spirit.”  

We Episcopalians don’t tend to talk about being “born again” very often but this more sacramental language is everywhere for us, especially in the Baptismal liturgy. One reason that we get this reading in the context of Lent is because Lent is all about Baptism. In the early church, Lent was the season of preparation, a time to prepare converts to the faith who were then baptized at the Easter Vigil. By water and the spirit we are born anothen: dying with Christ, we are raised with Christ to the new life of grace.

We have been born anothen by water and the spirit. Now we’ve got to live into that reality, of course. That’s what these forty days are for: for waking up and for changing old destructive patterns and for making new beginnings. We can’t simply be passive recipients of God’s gifts: we need to respond to what God has done, and is doing, in our lives. Even if we were baptized decades ago, Lent is the time to “wake up” to that claim that God has on our lives by responding to it and reaffirming it. As we do, we begin to see the world through a very different set of glasses: through the lens of the Baptismal Covenant.

A postscript: in the seventh chapter of John’s Gospel, when the temple police are reporting back to the chief priests and Pharisees they are asked why they didn’t just go ahead and arrest Jesus. An argument ensues and Nicodemus speaks up. “Our law,” he says, "does not judge people without first giving them a fair hearing.” (John 7:50) At which point someone snidely comments: “Where are you from, Nic…Galilee?”

And then on Good Friday, in John’s telling of that day’s events, Nicodemus comes with Joseph of Arimathea to claim the corpse of Jesus. The text says that Joseph, a member of the Council, “was a disciple of Jesus.” It doesn’t make that claim of Nicodemus. Even so, it does say that he came with Joseph, and that he brought “a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds of weight.” (John 19:39)  Together Nicodemus and Joseph take Jesus’ body and bind it with linen cloths and with the spices, following the burial customs of the day.

They do it in broad daylight.

More Coffin

Back in my Campus Ministry days, we had a woman leave a bequest to us, from which we began a lecture fund. I only got to bring two speakers in before leaving that ministry, but both were outstanding. The first year we brought in Walter and June Keener Wink, who did outstanding and memorable work.

And then, in my last year at CCSU, we invited the late William Sloane Coffin to come and speak. In seminary, whenever I had a Sunday morning off, Hathy and I used to sneak into Riverside Church to hear him preach. By the early 1990s, when he came to CCSU, he was the Director of SANE/FREEZE. He was quite a witness to the faith.

I had managed to convince both Wink and Coffin to come to CCSU for less money than they usually got for such things because both retained a soft place in their hearts for Campus Ministry. (Coffin was Chaplain at Yale in the tumultuous 1960s.)

In any event, that is more than enough reminiscing for a Saturday afternoon. To me, the most amazing sermon of a career that included many amazing sermons was the one he preached just ten days after the tragic death of his son, Alex. A copy of his Eulogy for Alex can be found here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Uses and Misuses of Suffering (William Sloane Coffin, Jr.)

I just finished reading a sermon by the late William Sloane Coffin (June 1, 1924 – April 12, 2006) that was preached at Riverside Church, NYC, on February 18, 1979. The sermon was titled "The Uses and Misuses of Suffering" and can be found in Volume I of The Collected Sermons: The Riverside Years. These words struck a chord with me:
If the only God I could believe in was the God of...atheists like Nietzsche and Camus, I too would be an atheist. I could never believe in a God who didn't suffer - given the suffering of the world. I could never believe in a God whose chief characteristic was his power, not his goodness. And because my God is a God of goodness, his chief characteristic is not peace but pain. I only quote Scripture, "He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep." My God hangs upon a cross, a victim not an executioner; the quarry, not the hunter; and one who not only suffers with me but for me, seeking not only to console but, beyond consolation, to strengthen me. Such a God I can affirm and a world with such a God in it I can affirm too. Metaphysically, I can't answer the problem of pain. I can only resolve it by sharing it - by holding hands with the dying, by protesting in the name of my crucified Lord against war, hunger, oppression, torture, against suffering inflicted by our own human injustice. I know that the worst of all evil is indifference to evil...to keep vigil with him who neither slumbers nor sleeps - that's the way to live.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Self-Compassion in Lent

My wife and I celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary a couple of months early by escaping this harsh and long New England winter for the peace and sunshine of the Mayan Riviera, south of Cancun. It was a short, but rejuvenating, time away. I felt a twinge of guilt at missing the First Sunday of Lent, but to be honest I got over that pretty fast, and I felt supported and encouraged by my parish.

While sitting at breakfast, outdoors, this past Saturday morning, I was reading a Mexican weekend edition of The New York Times and came across an article entitled, "Being Nicer to Yourself May Lead to Better Health" The writer, Tara Parker-Pope, makes it clear that "self-compassion is not to be confused with self-indulgence or lower standards." Rather, it's learning to see yourself as not exempt from the human condition. It's a path toward health and self-care, not self-centeredness.

That seems about right to me. There was a link to a website that I also want to share here that is worth exploring: Self-Compassion. I invite you to take the test on that website and reflect on what it means during this Lenten journey.

I see theological and pastoral implications here, and something much more serious than a "self-help" tool. I worry about Christians who use Lent to beat up on themselves. "Remembering that we are dust" does not mean that we are malevolent creatures, just that we are creatures and therefore not God. We are human. And we are God's beloved.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Jonah Was a Prophet (But He Never Really Got It)

"But this was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing." (Jonah 3:1-2)

Why is it that when God shows mercy to us we call it "amazing grace" and break into song, but when God shows mercy to those who have hurt us we feel God may be getting a little too soft on sin? "That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning," Jonah explains to God. "Because I knew that the essence of who you are is about grace and mercy and forgiveness, and I really hate it when you forgive people I'm not ready to forgive yet!"

This parable (and I think that is the appropriate way to read it: not to try to imagine a literal prophet living in the belly of a great fish for three days, but with the same kind of lens we use to read the parables of Jesus) almost certainly dates to the post-Exilic period in Israel's history. Israel had to forgive the Babylonians before they could get on with their own lives. This story is about forgiving the enemy, or at least trying to. It's about moving on from a person or experience that has left us hurting very badly. Because until one learns to show mercy even to those undeserving of mercy, they will take up residence in our heads. There is no chance to move on from any tragedy that I can think of without forgiveness.

And that is what these forty days are all about, Charlie Brown: forgiveness. As a pastor I hear people tell me time and again it's the hardest part of the gospel for them. For me, too. But it also takes us right to the very heart of the gospel; which no one ever said would be easy.

Which is harder for you: to accept the fact that you are forgiven, or to forgive others as you have been forgiven? I suspect it depends on a variety of circumstances. In any event, both Testaments are clear: God is steadfast, merciful, and forgiving - to us, to our friends and family, and even to our enemies. It is who God is. Even more than that: we are called to be merciful, as God is merciful. (With God's help!)

These next forty days give us a chance to make a start.

NB: This post was written for the Lenten Meditations at St. Francis Church and is re-posted here. For readers of this blog who may be interested in daily reflections offered by the people of the parish I serve over the course of the next forty days, check out: Lenten Meditations 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

Caring and Not Caring

Getting ready to preach on Ash Wednesday, and once more pondering the great T.S. Eliot--the master. Particularly these last words from "Ash Wednesday."

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated 

And let my cry come unto Thee.