Saturday, July 26, 2014

St. James Day 2007

...we were in London, England, on our way to Scotland for the wedding of our daughter, Caitlin, and Michael, who is from the village of Duns, south of Edinburgh in the Scottish Borders. There was a crises, however, because United States immigration authorities were not going to allow Michael to leave the U.S. to attend his own wedding.
    Caitlin and Michael were devastated of course, everyone was disgusted with the U.S. government, and I was mad at God. This was not an issue of "Theodicy", I dare say. It seemed more like petty harassment. It was not a "tragedy" in the grand scheme of things. It just seemed stupid.
      So I went to church. 6pm Mass at St. Augustine's Anglican Church in Kilburn. July 25, St. James Day, an unremarkable weekday Eucharist, attended by 5 or 6, at an ornate side altar. At the words of institution a great unbidden serenity came upon me, an unexpected peacefulness that left me utterly convinced that Caitlin and Michael were loved and cherished beyond all measure, and that no disappointment, however bitter or ridiculous, could invalidate that love.
    So I came to an acceptance, and returned to our hotel to compose a "wedding sermon in the absence of the bride and groom." That sermon never got preached, however, because Caitlin called to say that the same official who had been saying "no way" for weeks had changed his mind and given permission for Michael to attend his own wedding!
     What ensued was the greatest wedding celebration that I have ever witnessed. This is what "heaven" is like, and what "God" is like also. It is annoying, nerve-wracking, and wonderful.
      And it all happened on St. James Day.
                                                              St. Augustine's, Kilburn

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Once on This Island

Dominican Mission Trip: “Once On This Island”
                                                                      Beaver Island
When my daughter Caitlin was attending the University of Western Michigan she played the lead role in a musical production called “Once On This Island.” It was a challenging role, not the least because she is white and her character, Timoun, was conceived as a Black West Indian with the requisite accent. It is a measure of her ability as an actress that she was entirely convincing in the role, starting with the accent.
In the play Timoun falls in love with a white boy who washes up on the beach half dead. She nurses him back to health, and they enjoy an interlude of ecstatic romance as he recovers. When he returns to his French colonial family, however, they persuade him that he must cut all connection to her. Timoun is convinced that, once he sees her, he will remember their love and return to her. She stations herself at the entrance to the family’s grand residence, and stays there so long the gods take pity upon her and turn her into a beautiful flowering tree, where in future years her lover’s children come to find shade and pick the fruit from her branches.
I find this story of undying and unrequited love to be almost unbearably heartbreaking. The image of Timoun at the door of the mansion, convinced unto death of the authenticity of her great love, evokes every tragic and tender feeling of which I am capable. The cold hearted shallowness of the aristocratic white people appalls and infuriates me. The image of a generous and beautiful tree, sheltering the children, is a metaphor for my experience of Christ and the nurturing communities that derive their identities from him, and have sustained me throughout my life. I am often oblivious to the passionate love and suffering that is their source, and our experience among the Episcopalians of the Dominican Republic has brought it all to the forefront of my awareness.
The love and kindness bestowed on us by our Dominican hosts reminds me of Timoun, and her unconditional hospitality lavished upon the shipwrecked stranger washed up upon the shores of her island. I am sorry to admit that I feel something like Timoun’s  white lover, who returns to his privileged home and soon forgets all about his experience with her.
Our experience in the Dominican Republic was more sweat equity  than romance, and had many comic moments  and none that could be described as tragic. Our Dominican friends are not consumed with grief at our leaving, nor are we guilt-ridden at having left them. This is tgrue, partly because we are all preoccupied with events of daily life, but also because of the grace of the flowering tree. We have returned to our privileged North American lives and have been forgiven for it, both by our Dominican colleagues and by God, who shelters us all under the boughs of that “faithful cross, above all other, one and only noble tree; none in foliage, none in blossom, none in fruit thy peer may be.”    
Ti Moun

Those gods must have been crazy,
Thinking they could
Preserve her life,
Inspire her dance,
Observe her love,
Then watch her fling herself against the Wall
        That separates the hotel from the common street,
        That separates grandhommes from peasants,
        Ti Moun from him.

Those Caribbean gods must have been crazy,
Thinking they could just continue on,
       Their indolent eons spent
       Watching sleepy islands for any sign of agitation,
       Swatting, as if at flies, at any trace of innovation.
Did they think they could go back to their old habits,
Tinkering with islands
And our hearts?

Those island gods must have been crazy,
And so was I,
Thinking our hearts would not melt when she cried,
“He must be wondering where I am!” and
“Don’t you remember when I danced?”

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A message to Padre Bienvenidos Lopez

Dear Padre Bienvenido:
  Thank you for allowing me to share in presiding at the Mass today in Iglesia El Cristo Rey, in spite of my clumsy Spanish and lack of familiarity with your customs. I have been a priest for 47 years, and presided at high altars and humble tables, but today I experienced a new level of joyful ness and awesomeness in the living presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Padre, when you are at the altar you become a transformed person, not just reciting sacred words, but becoming them, with the melodious Spanish phrases flowing like wind from the sea, and your hands moving over the sacred vessels as if weaving a sacred web between heaven and earth.

I don't know how this experience may change my own way of presiding at the altar, but when the time comes for me to gather with Christ and the angels in heaven they will be singing the song you sing at El Cristo Rey right after the Canon of the Mass and before Padre Nostro... To the tune of "the Sound of Silence" by Paul Simon. I know I will be a better priest and better Christian because you invited me to visit heaven with you this morning at El Cristo Rey.

Querido Padre Bienvenido:   Gracias por permitirme compartir en presidir la misa de hoy en Iglesia de El Cristo Rey, a pesar de mi torpe español y la falta de familiaridad con su aduana usted. Tengo abeja un sacerdote durante 47 años, y presidió altares grande y mesas humildes, pero hoy he experimentado un nuevo nivel de gozo y genialidad en la presencia viva de Cristo en la Eucaristía. Padre, cuando usted está en el altar te conviertes en una persona transformada, no sólo recitando palabras sagradas, pero convertirse en ellos, con las frases en español melodiosas que fluye como el viento del mar, y las manos moviéndose sobre los vasos sagrados como si tejiendo una tejido sagrada entre el cielo y la tierra.
No sé cómo esta experiencia puede cambiar mi manera de presidir en el altar, pero cuando llega la hora de que me reúno con Cristo y los ángeles del cielo van a estar cantando la canción que canta en El Cristo Rey justo después del Canon de la Misa y antes de Padre Nostro ... por una suma de  "Sound of Silence" by Paul Simon.
Sé que voy a ser un mejor sacerdote y mejor cristiano porque me invitan a visitar el cielo con vosotros esta mañana en El Cristo Rey.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

What they noticed...

CCC youth commenting about their experience on the first day of work on the site of St. Simon's church...
"I noticed all the stray animals."
"I noticed the contrast between the lavish resorts and the shacks where the people live."
"I noticed how happy and friendly the Dominican kids were."
"I noticed a little kid talking and laughing with a soldier carrying an automatic weapon."
"I noticed how church is where people are most interested in caring for each other."
"I noticed how even the youngest of the Dominican kids waited for us to get our food before they took any."
"I noticed all the the unfinished and abandoned projects there are all over the city."
"I noticed all the ways people tried to communicate in spite of the language barrier."

Along those lines, I noticed how much I regret being monolingual, and how much I admire and appreciate the few in both our groups who can speak both languages.
I also noticed how many in our group
Inquired about our dog Remi, who had major surgery back in Michigan today. He seems fine for now.