The Steps That Lead Me To Who I Am – Wayna Picchu

In September of 2005, I took this photograph of some steps at Wayna Picchu, the mountain right next to Machu Picchu. Many photos of Machu Picchu are actually taken from Wayna Picchu.

When I got to Peru the one thing that I continued to hear was “you must climb Wayna Picchu.” I had not really considered doing so; I was so fixated on seeing the ruins in the relatively short time that I would be there. However, Continue reading


Take Nothing For The Journey

If there is anything that I have struggled with in life – and I struggle to this day with it – is the whole notion of taking nothing for the journey. A look at Luke 9:3 reminds us of Jesus’ words:

He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic.

This one is very tough for me as I am known to leave the house for the 11 mile journey to my office with big tote full of things. I mean – it is not exactly a remote outpost where I will be stranded for a few weeks.

We are called, as followers of Jesus, to be a pilgrim people and to be reminded that we are completely dependent on God for what we need. I mean – I do know that!

However, like most of what we are called to do as followers of Christ, it is much easier to talk about than to do. And in this case, I can barely talk about it!

Here we are, always on a journey and while I don’t want to rush us to a liturgical season far away, we are on a journey to Gethsemane, to Golgotha… It’s not like one will need a lot for those places; what one will need is to be stripped away of the things that keep us from that journey and that keep us from Christ.

This is not a treatise for me – or you – or anyone to get rid of all their stuff! Although I might be talking to myself about the material stuff as well as some other pesky layers that come between Jesus and me…

The image at the top of this post was taken almost 6 years ago, as I was climbing Huayna Picchu, the mountain next to Machu Picchu. One day I will write that story, it has yet to come out of me, but it is about a day that changed my life and a day in which a very heavy backback and my fear of heights – two things I needed to let go of – made an already extraordinary day, even more so. And not always in a good way!

That is why I read two blogs with great interest this morning, after having prayed and pondered some personal matters of journey and a lighter load.

First I read Claire’s second blog, Strolling to Compostelle. Now you may be aware of her primary blog, A Seat at the Table, but this other blog is about her upcoming pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella, or Compostelle in her native French.

I have longed to make this journey, but I don’t know if I will ever do it. Claire and her husband have gone multiple times and in fact, will take a very different route for this camino, La Via de la Plata.  It is hard to imagine actually making this trip, but so much of my life is unlikely in how it has worked out, that I am hopeful that one day I will go.

In any event, I read Claire’s words and am reminded of what such an undertaking means… and just what one has to consider before taking the first step. This is a demanding journey. You know – like life is.

Speaking of the demands of life, the other blog that really connected for me this morning was Margaret’s blog, Leave It Lay. I can actually remember with startling clarity the first time I ever read her blog. It had a physical impact upon me, I was blown back in my chair!

At the header of her blog you will find these words, “pick it up. look it over. put it down. leave it lay where Jesus flang it.” Talk about take nothing for the journey! And I recall what I think was her first post – a video of Nada Te Turbe, which now resides on her sidebar. 

In any case, Margaret, an Episcopal priest, and her husband Joel are about to move from Virginia to… Well, you see that is just it, they don’t know where they are moving. So for Margaret, it really is about taking very little for the journey, isn’t it?  To that end, they are having the “biggest, baddest, best yard sale evah today,” in order to do just that. 

(As an aside, I recently  bought some books from the biggest, baddest, best Amazon used bookseller and I highly recommend it. It is officially called Joel’s Books, but let me tell you that the books that he and Margaret, “flang there” are amazing. Go have a look – religion, history and more! Pick them up, look them over and take them for at least a portion of your journey by buying some of them!)

And not unlike Claire, preparing for her pilgrimage, it is about trust and taking the one thing you need most.

Yes – that would be faith.

Striking about Margaret, at least as I “read” it via email and in reading her blog, is her ever present sense of joy. I am not using this blogpost as a way to define joy and happiness, two very different things, but bear that in mind. At least when I interact with her online, I sense the bubbling of a spring and the feel of a strong breeze that will impel me along on my journey. Which at the moment, is nothing like this.

My point, my ever-long-winded point is this – how can we take nothing for the journey? How do we “fix our eyes on the hills,” even when we don’t know where the hills are?

These are two very different – yet similar women – about to undertake two very different – yet similar journeys. Please keep them in your prayers and thoughts. One journey chosen and deliberate and the other… well actually, truth be told, anyone who calls their blog “Leave it Lay,” is making a chosen and deliberate journey as well.

All of our journeys are chosen, even when we don’t seem to be choosing them; they are quite deliberate for those of us who have made the decision to follow Christ. So whatever that means, this is a journey that is not about what and how you pack, but about the opposite.

And for a tote-bag-toting woman like me, I continue my challenge.

Prayers and blessings for Claire, Margaret and for all of those who stand at the crossroads and wonder where to go and what to take.

Loud and Bitter Words Indicate a Weak Cause and A Long Bloggy Ramble…

This was originally posted on September 15, 2009. I can tell you that the giant stack o’ journals referred to in this post remains largely unscaled. *sigh* I had no idea that when I searched for this story that I would be reminded of that. Oh well…

In any event, I posted a video to Facebook, that I found on The Rix Mix today, about Dr. Martin Luther King’s other words. These are words we are less familiar with and frankly they should make you stop in your tracks. I also posted something to Facebook from the NPR website, about President Eisenhower’s words regarding the future. These are the words he offered as he left office 50 years ago today.

Anyway, this is long and you may not have the day off, but what the hell. I’m posting it anyway. Read. Think. React. Or not!

Peace to all.

From my earlier post….

*Warning – Long Blog Post Ahead!*

I stare at a huge pile of old journals that I fished out of an enormous plastic bin from the basement.


They are the Himalayas and I must cross them. At this point, I am getting acclimated to the altitude as I work my way up. Currently I have a headache from the thin atmosphere and sheer cliffs.

*sigh indeed*

In the meantime, I am deeply disturbed by the tenor of both the right as well as the left regarding politics. There was a time when I was more strident. Trust me, I am no less passionate, but I keep thinking of a fortune I got from a cookie recently.

Loud and bitter words indicate a weak cause.

Now there would certainly seem to be a vast amount of really loud and bitter words from one side of the argument. However, there are no shortage of loud and bitter words from any side. I see this in the multiple corners of the blogworld and Facebook that I inhabit.

We as humans tend to see things in such broad strokes and in general, with a dualistic eye. I am as human as anyone in this way. That said, I don’t really want to be that way, it is truly a quest for me.

Yes, I may be nuts.

This does not mean that we should not call others out. I think it does mean that the tenor of the calling out is often pointless and much more about shouting than it is about listening, much more about staking one’s claim and telling the other that their claim is not valid. Maybe you think the other person’s point of view is invalid.

And likely they think the same of yours. Well, wherever does that get anyone? Remember, in the last post I claimed my idealism. Idealism often might call forth shouting and arguing, that is true. However, in the end, one “side” triumphs and the other side is in wait to pounce and take back what is “theirs.”

Do we not see that playing out all over the place right now?

Shouting it down forever doesn’t seem to be very effective. That is just my experience. I am reminded of a Hasidic story, a tale of Rabbi Zusya. That story is called The Lesson, by Doug Lipman. Here is a link to the story or you can read it here with my commentary. Or not read it at all, fee free!

When Reb Zusya was a young rabbi, a local merchant denounced him publicly. The Hasidic movement, the merchant said, was a dangerous innovation. Those who propounded it were fools at best and scoundrels at worst.

When his followers came to Reb Zusya with the news of this slander, Reb Zusya merely smiled. They pleaded, “Aren’t you going to counter his accusations?”

“Yes,” he said. “I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

Some time later, one of Reb Zusya’s followers, known as Moishe Lieb, heard a commotion in the marketplace. A crowd had gathered around the merchant, who was spreading his opinion of Reb Zusya to any who would listen.

“He defiles the worship services! I saw him! He dances around, delays the prayers past their proper time, and insults our dignity!”

These affronts to his rabbi were too much for Moishe Lieb. He pushed his way to the center of the crowd. “I will teach you a lesson about Hasidism, you liar!”

The merchant pointed at Moishe Lieb and roared, “There is one of the fools now! See how he insults me!”

Enraged, Moishe Lieb spat at the merchant. The merchant lunged at Moishe Lieb. Had the crowd not restrained them, they would have come to blows.

I think you might see where things might be headed here…

A few days later, Reb Zusya approached Moishe Lieb. “Would you help me with something?”

“Of course, Rabbi. For you, anything.”

“Will you come with me on a three-day journey? Just the two of us.”

“Just me, Rabbi? I would be honored.”

I love the idea that they are going on a journey. As with all new understanding, we must travel to get there. Often that travel does not seem exotic, but it truly is, as we are traversing the peaks and valleys of the human heart and being.

Travel also means going places that are very wonderful, but then putting up with a lot to get there. This also means putting your own culture and expectations in place so that you might actually see, taste and touch something entirely new. Travel, when done this way, never leaves the traveler untouched, does it?

On the appointed morning, Reb Zusya led Moishe Lieb, on foot, out of the city. By the end of the day, the two of them had left the main road and were walking on a small, faint path through dry, uninhabited hills. Again and again, Reb Zusya had to tell Moishe Lieb, “Watch out – the path goes to the right here. No, it’s this way.”

As darkness fell, Reb Zusya pointed to a sheltering rock at the base of a large hill. “We’ll sleep under there.”

When it was still dark, Reb Zusya shook his companion awake. “Come, Reb Moishe.” The rabbi led him up the hill. When they reached the top and could see the narrow valley on the other side, Reb Zusya stopped and sat down in the path. He began staring intently into the valley before him. “Let’s look, Moishe,” he said.

Reb Moishe sat down next to him and stared, too. In the first light of day, he saw a parched valley below them, with two small fields of grain. Next to each field was a shelter built from rock. Down the center of the valley, a tiny creek trickled through the first farm and into the next. As the light broadened, he saw that, in contrast to the brown scrub around the fields, the two farms were lush with green.

For a long time, nothing happened. Then, just as the sun appeared in the sky, the door of the farther house opened. A man emerged, carrying a homemade, crude wooden bucket. He went to the tiny creek – scarcely more than a moist strip with a trickle of water down its center – and put the bucket where it could collect the few drops that ran into it. After many minutes, the man picked up the full bucket and began sprinkling the precious water on his field.

They watched the man water his field in this slow way until the sun was precisely overhead. Abruptly, the man looked up in the sky, stopped his work, and walked toward the farm which lay above his. As though on signal, a man came out of the near stone shelter and, without a word, embraced the first man – who silently gave him the bucket and returned to his stone hut.

For the rest of the day, Reb Zusya and Reb Moishe Lieb watched the second man patiently water his farm, just as the first man had. When the sun set, the upstream farmer walked to the downstream shelter, silently hugged the occupant, handed him back the bucket, and returned to his own shelter of stone.

At that, Reb Zusya stood up, turned around and began to walk the way they had come. Moishe Lieb followed him.

After a time, Moishe Lieb spoke. “Teacher, why did we come here?”

Reb Zusya said, “Sit down. I will tell you what I know of those two men.” He began to tell the story.

Now comes the time where shouting is pointless and only listening is the lamp to light the way. Reb Zusya, the teacher, begins to unpack the real story of what they eye can only see of two men in a valley.

The first time I came here (he said) I saw very much what you saw today – the two green fields in this arid place and the two men who watered them so patiently. Curious – and, besides, it was nightfall and I needed a place to sleep – I approached the first shelter. My host smiled and gestured me to enter. I soon discovered that he spoke no word of my language and I spoke no word of his. So, after a short time, I went to the shelter of the second farmer. To my amazement, he appeared to speak yet another language. He could not converse with me nor with his only neighbor.

Eventually, by way of signs and grunts, I learned their story. The “upstream” farmer, fleeing empty-handed from a war somewhere, had settled here alone. Even though he had no tools of any kind and he saw the aridity of this place, he hoped that the stream would moisten his field enough for him to grow a crop. He struggled to survive, scouring the surrounding area for berries and wild grains to eat and plant here. He carried water in his cupped hands from the trickling stream to his field.

At the end of the first winter, he was nearly starved and exhausted. One day, he saw another man enter this valley, carrying a large cloth sack over his shoulder. For a while the first man hid, fearing that he would be forced to return to the war he had deserted. When at last he emerged and spoke to the man, he learned that they spoke no common language. In spite of this, he soon realized that the other man wanted to settle here, too. The first man was about to drive him off when the other opened his cloth sack and took from it a wooden bucket. Overjoyed, the first man embraced the stranger as a friend and rescuer. Soon, by sharing the bucket, they were able to water both fields and live here in peace.

I left them, amazed at the simple, tranquil life they had carved from this dry valley.

A year or two later, I passed by here again. You can imagine my amazement when I discovered that the fields were brown, their crops were nearly dead, and a wall had been built between the two fields. When they saw me coming, they both came to greet me. But when each saw the other, they growled and shook their fists. Neither would approach me, lest he come too close to the other! I visited them one at a time in their shelters. By miming questions and watching how they acted out the answers, I was able to piece together what had happened since I came here last.

Somehow, they had quarreled over the bucket. Neither seemed able to describe the cause of their quarrel, but each seemed equally furious. Evidently, the “downstream” farmer had finally refused to share the bucket at all, leaving the upstream farmer with no way to gather the creek water. Then, in retaliation, the upstream farmer dug a ditch and diverted the water from the downstream field, into a pile of loose stones where neither could reach it. Now they were both unable to water their crops.

One night, determined on revenge, the upstream farmer sneaked into the other’s house to steal the bucket. The downstream farmer, however, had taken to wrapping his body around the bucket as he slept, and woke up in time to chase the empty-handed upstream farmer away. But the next day, he began dragging stones between their fields, forming a wall that neither could cross.

That was how I found them: slowly starving to death, neither able to use the water that still flowed slowly into their valley.

Such great bounty goes to waste here because they cannot agree. Now it would be oh-so-very-easy to say that whatever our own perspective is is the good, but that might not always be true. The point is how to negotiate and live with what is. Now that is hard, it requires openness, potential compromise and cooperation. What risk.

What could I do? I took the bottle of Sabbath wine from the sack I carried. I opened it, carried it to the first farmer’s shelter, and walked backward holding the wine out toward him, enticing him up the hill as you might lure a stray cat. I signaled him to stay there, then led the second farmer with the same promise of wine. They each stayed a considerable distance away from me, one above me on the hill and the other below. They showed no willingness to get too close to each other, yet they both appeared to understand that I meant to offer them each wine.

I took out a tin cup from my sack and filled it with wine. I extended it first toward one of them, then toward the other, offering the cup to them both. At last they understood that I meant for them to drink from the same cup. Suspiciously, they each approached. I brought their hands together, put the cup in their joined hands, and stood back to let them drink.

They continued to eye each other as they brought their mouths closer to the wine. Then one of them tried to pull the wine away. The other pulled back. In a short while, they had spilled the entire cup of wine over each other and the ground. They both looked at me imploringly.

I retrieved the cup, filled it again, and set it on the ground between them. This time they each managed to drink a mouthful before starting to tussle – and spilling the rest.

I filled the cup several times. At last, they had learned to drink from the same cup. By now, the wine was gone, but the two men remained facing each other on the path. The first one pointed at the wine stains on the other’s shirt and laughed. Then the second one pointed back. When the first one looked down and discovered similar stains on his shirt, they both laughed.

Dominance… someone must always dominate and have “their” way.

Rabbi Zusya looked at his companion. “That’s how I left them a year ago,” he said. “Laughing on the path. As you can see, they must have stopped trying to retaliate.”

Moishe Lieb nodded. “I see. You taught them without teaching them. Just like you taught me.”

“What did I teach you?”

Moishe Lieb sighed. “That I didn’t help you by ‘fighting over the bucket’ with the merchant.”

Reb Zusya put his arm around his companion. “I know you meant to help. You couldn’t bear to see me attacked.”

“Did I hurt your work?”

“Yes, a little. But maybe now you know other ways to help him learn?”

The next morning, the companions began the walk back home. Reb Zusya did not have to tell Moishe Lieb where to walk. By now, he knew the way.

How will we ever learn the way? I am convinced that it is through some sort of conversation and conversion. (Not always of the religious form!)

Back to the mountains, I have my own journey to under take. I hope you will join me, I am grateful to those who do.

After all, how could I do any of this alone? And why would I want to?

Christmas Reflection for Saturday December 25 – Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

Recently I was at the home of a good friend. The purpose of my visit was to meet her new grandson for the first time. As soon as I got there, her daughter-in-law asked if I wanted to hold the baby, which of course I did. Baby Noah was placed into my arms and I gazed down at his precious face, marveled at the warmth of this small bundle in my arms. The beautiful baby scent emanating from him was intoxicating. His tiny hands, each finger so small yet so elegant, reached out before me.

I was a bit overwhelmed.

While I am blessed with a remarkable step-daughter and with many nieces and nephews, as well as the numerous children of my friends, I have never had a baby of my own.  It was at a practical level that I felt this but also at the level of awe and amazement.

Today is Christmas and I am struck with awe once again by how God came to us as a child! Earlier I was reading something over at Inward/Outward. Writer John Buchanan recounts some words via John Updike. He writes:

The birth of Jesus contradicts the idea of a God who ‘lay above the earth like a layer of icy cirrus’ (John Updike, Bech is Back). The birth means that we encounter God, not only in elegant theology but in work and in our enjoyment of beauty, friendship and love–in love particularly.”

This God above the earth, “a layer of icy cirrus” is in some ways easier to conjure, isn’t it? Or if not that, a stern judge who really wants the best for us, but in a towering and looming and sometimes-more-than-slightly threatening way, kind of God.

God as a baby turns everything on its ear, doesn’t it? Unlikely, improbable and exactly what happened.

Like baby Noah in my own arms, Jesus came as the smallest and most vulnerable of creatures. We celebrate Christmas – well, I often do anyway – with faith, but still at some superficial level.

God. As. Baby.

I am reminded of a quote that Father Pat has been struck with lately and one that he used in his own Christmas homily; “Christianity is the attitude of amazement at the dignity of the human person.”

The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. God as a baby – both a source of awe and amazement and a symbol of need, vulnerability, and the vastness of the tiniest person.

I can barely fathom a God who would love us so much to do this very thing.

Once again, through the manifestation of Jesus, we are called to the unlikely, the unexpected and the extraordinary this Christmas and always. As the carol, O Holy Night proclaims, “the soul found its worth.”

Amen and amen and amen.

Advent Reflection for Tuesday December 21 by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

I offered this as a reflection on Tuesday’s readings at Evening Prayer on Tuesday night. I think that I veered off course from this and I am not sure that this- or my reflection, really landed. But here it is nonetheless! Enjoy these last days of Advent!

Here we are, days before Christmas, with our waiting, which at this point may be bordering on full-on impatience. Enough with the staying awake and the Advent music.

Here we are – Advent people but we potentially find ourselves anxious for Christmas with its meager manger and virgin birth dancing like spiritual sugarplums in our heads.

Then we hear this:
Hark! my lover–here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?

Hark! my lover–here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.

What could the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus possibly have to do with the seemingly suggestive sentiments expressed in the reading? After all – we are about to celebrate the birth of our savior! Exploration of the story of passionate lovers might appear misplaced at best – or at worst, unseemly. So we might just push it away as part of some Biblical mystery that does not require our full attention.

But what might we miss if we uncomfortably brush past the Songs reading without considering its very important relationship to the birth of Jesus? That reading is here for a reason and perhaps we can explore what that reason might be.

Songs is an interesting piece of Scripture and one that does deserve our attention … perhaps particularly so as we await the birth of Christ.

Did you know that Songs does not mention God directly? Nowhere in the book’s eight chapters is God ever mentioned. St. Thomas Aquinas, that learned doctor of the church wrote about Songs in a commentary that is no longer extant. We don’t know exactly what he wrote about, but we are told that at the end of his life he said that in the light of Songs, everything else was “all straw.”

The other thing that makes Song of Songs intriguing both in the context of the calendar and in general, is that it offers us a rare unmediated female voice in scripture. Is rare even the right word or is it something else perhaps?

To understand this with regard to the season we might also consider the Gospel for today. Songs was the first reading for today and the Gospel that followed was from Luke – the Visitation.

This is the familiar story of Mary, making haste over the hills, to go to her cousin Elizabeth. We have some striking reminders to connect these two stories… The images of someone coming across the mountains and hills with purpose and intent… The power of love and the need to be with the other… There is the very physicality of conception, regardless of how it happened – the result of lovers meeting. We have this sense of urgency on the part of the lover and the beloved. What is life without passion, purpose, urgency, connection? Without love? Lovers of all sorts must meet.

As a result, we might not want to leave out that the recognition of God as lover is essential to both stories. God as lover is pretty much essential to all of the stories if we are really paying attention and willing to sit with the discomfort that thought might bring.

In any event, just as the woman in Songs knows her lover is there, a similar situation unfolds in the Gospel. Through the infant John within her, Elizabeth is cognizant of just who is before her – not simply Mary but more importantly, the blessed fruit of her womb. Clear recognition and proclamation of what is happening and who is coming is present in both works.

What is really remarkable in both pieces of Scripture is that voice of Songs, the elements of Elizabeth and Mary… it all comes through women!

Now I don’t want to go down some path in which women are the focus alone… That is not the point. However, it is worth noting and I do want to make clear that we should always expect the unexpected, the unlikely where Jesus is concerned. The incarnation event turns everything on its head and then some.

And is that not the point of Light coming to us in the birth of Jesus? To show us that everything can be made new and different and in ways that only our faith will allow us to imagine? That new things are being born all the time, if we cooperate and then wait with expectation and hope and then ultimately allow them to be born?

The Light comes in ways that we can rarely imagine, don’t really want to wait for, let alone welcome. However, wait we must, and then welcome we must – with the ardency of one who knows that their lover is about to arrive, springing across the hills. How can we be unmoved by love – love from our lover, love from new life?

How can our faith bring us into the places that might make us uncomfortable – like waiting? Like believing? Like sexuality? Like real love and intimacy? Like the discomfort of being present and aware of each moment of our lives? Such is the discomfort of the things that might bring us joy and redemption. Such is the savior waiting to be born.

And how can our faith remind us of the need to wait until the time is right and then to act with urgency when called to do so? No – I don’t mean responding to your boss texting you with a work emergency, but rather the urgency of the present moment and whatever is waiting to be born in that moment. What I am talking about is responding, based in active waiting – not being reactive.

It means responding to the lover who comes bounding across the mountains for us all.

Jesus – our savior.

Perhaps that is the final and most essential message of all of this – the very mutuality with which this all happens… From the mutuality of lovers, from the mutuality of cousins, from the mutuality of a God who comes to us a human.

That mutuality calls us into relationship – a challenging, potentially uncomfortable intimate relationship with not only God but with one another. Isn’t that relationship what all of this is about?

Hark – our lover comes, our savior comes! Are we ready?

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception–UPDATED

The Times Union has a nice piece on the Cathedral which you can read by clicking here. This photo is one of 6 accompanying the article and shows our bishop, Howard J. Hubbard anointing the altar with oil. I found the entire process of placing the relics in the altar and then the anointing very moving.

Another fine source of good reading in general, about a cathedral as seer, symbol and servant can be found by clicking each one of the words. These links go to the blog of Richard Vosko, a Catholic priest who has devoted his life to religious art and architecture, to sacred space. He is my professor as well. Richard is a lightning rod of a man, loved by some, reviled by others. I think that he is a prophet of sorts and as a result, he challenges, irritates but I find those things invitation and encouragement.

A cathedral is a building, an ornate one at that. It can be seen as frivolous or a waste of money. A cathedral is the place made of stone that is a place for the actual living stones – the real church, the people. We live in the tension between these seemingly contradictory thoughts. People alone without a locus have no common union. A building that does not become a haven, a beacon and a sanctuary is dead stone. We need it all.

Today I was fortunate to receive a last minute invitation to the Re-dedication of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the cathedral church here in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.

The Cathedral was originally opened and dedicated on November 21, 1852 and on November 21, 2010 it was re-dedicated after an extensive and much needed renovation. Having only moved here 3 years ago and being, for good or ill, firmly ensconced in the suburbs, I had never been to the Cathedral. Dreary, dark and depressing is what I am told it was.

In any event, the walls were restored and repainted, better colors were used, stone was refurbished along with wood. Stained glass windows were cleaned. Pews were removed, remade (using the original pews) and put back in a different format. The altar was brought forward and into the transept.

It is quite a remarkable space! Beautiful – light, color space. It is all very transcendent, which is what a church building should be. I wish I had taken photos but alas I did not.

Here is a photo from outside of the Cathedral, in 1986. On Palm Sunday that year, there was a service of reconciliation in which Bishop Hubbard apologized to our Jewish brothers and sisters for all that had been perpetrated upon them. A famous sculpture was erected for the event, called The Portal. This photo shows Bishop Hubbard and Rabbi Silverstein coming through, holding hands. Bishop Hubbard is a dedicated to ecumenism.

In any case, it was a remarkable day. More photos and video to follow.

All My Sons, Daughters… Brothers, Sisters – the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time

(Cross posted from my parish blog.)
(monologue from All My Sons)

When I was in high school, I was very involved in our theater program. This would have been either in the fall of 1974 or the spring of 1975 specifically. My involvement trictly behind the scenes, I must add! In any event, our drama teacher, Mr. Nemeth, did not want us doing watered down, lighthearted high school fare, and this spring was to be no exception. We were presenting Arthur Miller‘s All My Sons, not exactly high school fare for that era.

The reason why our teacher was so impassioned about us doing this production was that he was obsessed with what would become of our generation. He truly believed that we were headed for some kind of banal, moral and social vacuity in our adult lives.

Now you have to understand, this man was no finger-wagging moralist in the sense you might imagine.  In fact, I believe that he may have been Jewish, I know now that he was gay and that he was simply a truly good man and teacher.

He clearly wanted us to understand that our every act resulted in something and that our hearts as well as our communities would be best served if we realized the implications of our choices, both great and small. I clearly remember his saying to a confused group of teenagers, “what will become of you?!” Not that I understood at the time, but I have thought of his prophetic speech many times since.

The play is about a man who owns a factory during WWII. His plant produces less-than-quality parts which cause war planes to crash, killing many pilots, possibly including his own son. The rub is that he knowingly did so, which seemed small at the time. He ends up lying about it and compromising his entire life over it. Small things and great things – we must act in honesty, prudence and communal concern.

Today’s readings remind us that we all must be concerned about such things, no matter what the era we live in. The opportunity for us to go astray is always present, no matter how good the good old days may seem. The theme of God calling us back is ever present.

In the first reading from the prophet Amos we hear this:

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy
and destroy the poor of the land!
“When will the new moon be over,” you ask,
“that we may sell our grain,
and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat?

Amos is being  pretty clear in addressing those who trample the poor and needy! And yet, so much of society is set up to do that very trampling. The pyramid-like structure of capitalism is meant for us to aspire to more and greater. No – I am not saying capitalism is bad; I am saying that it might require the counterbalance of prophets and of moral acts, in order to make it function with justice.

We all trample over someone with our endless need for more and cheaper things. And we ourselves are trampled over by someone else.

In the second reading from St. Paul we hear:

First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers,
petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,
for kings and for all in authority,
that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life
in all devotion and dignity.
This is good and pleasing to God our savior,
who wills everyone to be saved
and to come to knowledge of the truth.

That we might live quiet and tranquil lives… and that God wills everyone to be saved. Everyone. That is something to bear in mind when we consider trampling and/or being trampled; we end up participating in both more often than we might imagine.

And then of course, our Gospel from Luke

Once again, we are offered long and short versions. This passage catches my eye and my heart:

I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth,
so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.
The person who is trustworthy in very small matters
is also trustworthy in great ones;
and the person who is dishonest in very small matters
is also dishonest in great ones. 

Have we not just come through and continue to come through a period of dishonest wealth in our country and in the world? Well, if we think about it, all eras of history have this problem. If you don’t think so, please refer back to our reading from Amos.

This is exactly why I was reminded of the play, All My Sons and my teacher’s prophetic cry for my generation. How right he was!

I will focus on our current time but these things are sadly timeless… How do we not focus just on our own wealth and good? And how do we make sure that even a seemingly small “adjustment of truth” does not grow into a greater one, a truth that comes with a high price tag.

As Catholic Christians we live a faith based on our communal salvation. That is what St. Paul is pointing to and what this Gospel reminds us of. We are all sons, daughters, brothers, sisters. What happens to one, happens to all.

 We cannot serve two masters, yet most of us serve at least that many. How can we be more aware of what this means to ourselves and to one another?

The Gospel that we are called to live, meaning the Gospel at large, but this one in particular, means that we must find ways to be responsible for ourselves by first being responsible for others. Even, and perhaps even more importantly, starting with the small things.

I am reminded of how often I rationalize an act or a decision – whether it is to use a paper plate at the risk of the environment, to shop at a store or buy a product that I know marginalizes employees or those who manufacture. This is carried forth if I make decisions that impact my family and/or community by investing my time, talent and treasure in that which does not serve the greater good.

In acts small and large we contribute to the Kingdom, literally re-membering the Body of Christ. And in acts small and large, we might also be likely to do the opposite.

It is not a destination, this choosing, it is a series of lifelong acts and actions, both great and small. And thankfully we have God and one another to help us along this way, so that all might be healed.

Oh how I wish I could find my teacher again – and thank this most unlikely of prophets for something that has been seared onto my soul by him and brought forth in this Christian life of faith.

From the "Unlikely" Files – The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In another chapter of my life, one that took place during the time around 9/11, I used to live near NYC and I traveled for my job. A car service would take me to and from the airport, a common way for business travelers to get around.

The service I used was based in Connecticut and many of the drivers were retired executives themselves and they often had interesting stories. There was one man who had such a stately demeanor, one of real power, yet he was taciturn and officious except for one late night… I got in the car at Newark Airport, hoping to sleep on the hour long drive to my home, but he wanted to talk that night.

As it happens, he told me a story of his two sons, both were successful architects. One son was gay however and this man found that out, when the son was in college. The man believed that this was a sin against God and Church (he was Catholic) and affront to what his own family stood for. However, 15 years on, he regretted his outburst and wanted to reconcile with his son. He was afraid to make the first move.

Honestly, I thought that he was going to weep as he steered the black Lincoln Town Car along the New Jersey Turnpike. It was very sad to hear and I was not really sure of what to say.

So what does that have to do with this Sunday’s readings? Well, in today’s readings we encounter a God who seeks and pursues us with loving, persistent vigilance. It is all very unlikely. I mean, aren’t we supposed to seek God? Is it really a two way street? What would God want with us?

How about everything.

In the first reading, from Exodus, we hear about how God tells Moses to get back down the mountain and set the people right. Well actually, God was pretty ticked off, but Moses – being Moses (and what a good zayde image Moses presents here) reminds God that God has pursued his people, why burn them up? God then relents and Moses sets off to turn the people back to God. It is all very unlikely, isn’t it?

In our second reading from St. Paul in a letter to Timothy, we hear some of Paul’s most compelling words, in my opinion.

I am grateful to him who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord,
because he considered me trustworthy
in appointing me to the ministry.
I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and arrogant,
but I have been mercifully treated
because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief. 

He is very clear about the source of strength, it is Jesus! I actually think of the car service drive when I read the last 3 lines shown above. Then he goes on to add:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Of these I am the foremost.
But for that reason I was mercifully treated,
so that in me, as the foremost,
Christ Jesus might display all his patience as an example
for those who would come to believe in him for everlasting life.

The essential words… Of these I am the foremost. Paul does not hesitate to name himself clearly and to say how that is a display of what is possible and in fact how it works for all of us. We are all perhaps, the foremost sinner and we are all mercifully treated. It seems so unlikely, yet that is what happened and what continues to happen.

Depending on where you went to church, you might have heard the long or the short form of the Gospel for today, from Luke. What I offer you today is based on the long form, so you might want to read it through before proceding.

The Gospel begins with:

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

This man welcomes sinners is what we first hear and then we hear that he eats with them. Both are considered heinous acts. As a result Jesus offers us three different parables, seemingly very different but all quite alike.

We are given three stories of ardent pursuit. The first is the image of one missing sheep and the shepherd that will leave the 99 in order to find the one that he must bring home. We hear about a woman who has 10 coins, but loses one. She expends money, via lamp oil and her time, via the search, to find that one coin. Ultimately we hear the familiar and powerful story of the Prodigal Son. Off he goes to pursue his wanton ways but when he returns, hoping only for scraps from his father’s pigs, he is welcomed as a king.

Shepherd. Woman. Wayward son. This man welcomes sinners and he eats with them, is what our Gospel tells us. Well, if there were some unlikely (translation: sinners) characters to make an issue of it would be shepherds, women and wayward sons.

Unlikely in what way, you may ask. When we read the Gospel we must always try to see it through how it would have been understood at Jesus’ time as well as in our own.

In Jesus’ time the lines of social conventions were drawn quite clearly. You were either “in” or “out.” Tax collectors and sinners meant the worst sort of people of that time. Today we see different people marginalized… It could be Muslims, it could be undocumented immigrants, it could be labor unions, it could be LGBT folk, it could be anyone.

If you think about it, whoever we as individuals or groups want to reject – be it a person or a group, that person or group is marginalized in some way.

It could also be our own selves as we reject the people we have become and inflict harm upon ourselves. Or worse yet, we could ignore the plank in our own eye and project that harm out onto others. (Hint: Find the person that annoys you the most. They offer you a gift through the invitation to see what might be the most annoying thing about yourself.)

Jesus has come to reconcile all unto God. All means all. Just as God did not really want to blaze his people who created the Golden Calf, just as God did not reject Saul but rather transformed him into Paul – we find countless examples of transformations of the unlikely.

Yes, that is just it, transformation of the unlikely. We are all the transformation of the unlikely, aren’t we? No one person is to be excluded, we must search for our sheep, our coin, our child or whatever is missing just as God searches, no matter how unlikely, for each of us.

No, I have no idea what happened to that man who drove the car and if he ever got to reconcile with his son. I had urged him to reach out at that time, but who knows.

Well, this is what we do know – as unlikely as it all is, God pursues and seeks us with tremendous ardency and love. This is what transforms us from lost to found and what should impel us to pursue with the same ardency and love.

Unlikely  – yes, but so very real. Is there a lost coin, a lost sheep or a wayward person in your life? Well, if so – start looking now.

What Am I Doing?

Do you ever stop to think, “what am I doing?” It could be that you are on a path that you might not want to be on, working at a job you dislike, not resolving or working on challenging relationship issues. It could be anything that causes you to consider what you are doing. 

For example, the photo in this post was taken as I was climbing Wayna Picchu, something I questioned every step of, yet was so grateful that I accomplished, once I actually did so!

And so often, when we are invited to do something – for an afternoon or for a life change – we say… “Just one minute, I have to finish this.”

Not that finishing whatever your this or that is unimportant, but what if the invitation needs an immediacy of response that most of us can’t handle?

This Sunday’s Scriptures, for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time got me to thinking about this.

What is it to drop what you are doing and follow a call for your life? Now in my case, it was a call to my faith. The whole story is so unlikely for a girl like me… Just search the tag unlikely on this blog for evidence of that. In any case, following is not some easy thing, like following someone on Twitter is; in fact I think that kind of following lulls into a place that will not serve us, no matter what our call.

Elisha follows Elijah, because he is called to do so… and he does it! St. Paul, in the Galatians reading, reminds us to not be under the yoke of slavery. Now many of us do feel like we are under a yoke of slavery whether through our job or otherwise. We are also under a yoke of slavery in how we deal with one another as humans. St. Paul exhorts us to “serve one another through love,” and to remind us of the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

This part of Galatians really caught my eye:

“But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.”

One need only think of the endless complaining we do about one another and of course, the recent incident with General Stanley McChrystal!

Ultimately our Gospel from Luke really drives the point home. If we are to follow Jesus, then immediacy and full commitment is necessary. We are clearly told this when Jesus says:

“Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”

Following means that we must give everything up; including a place to rest our head. Can we do this? I am never sure that I can even when I keep trying.  It is hard when we are also told in this Gospel that we can’t even go back and say good-bye or to bury our dead. Now means now and we are called to this.

It constantly causes me to ask the question, “what am I doing?” – both when I am following (rarely) and when I am simply trying to do so, which is most of the time.

This week, I am going to give this some thought, hopefully followed by action. What will you do?

Veni Creator – An Interruption to my Pentecost Story

Pentecost. Jarring. Unnerving. Compelling. Ultimately – uniting.

I highly, highly recommend reading Austin Fleming’s blogpost about Pentecost and this video by clicking here.

Austin says, if Pentecost teaches us anything, it’s that the Spirit comes in every language, upon all peoples and with a desire to brings us together as one. Some will argue that this means we all need to sing the same song, in the same language, but I doubt the Spirit is so limited.” 

I am always reminded of a Pentecost homily that I heard about 20 years ago… “Easter makes me unafraid to die. Pentecost makes me unafraid to live.”

Pentecost is so unlikely… and if you read me regularly, you know that unlikely is the theme of my life.

Now please… Go and read Austin’s post – it is brilliant.