May the glorious song
and the echo of the voices of those we love
and see no more
joined in the heavenly chorus
bring you peace and hope
this Christmas and always
For all of the years we’ve been coming to Door County, part of the first day has been driving to the top of the peninsula, where the waters of Green Bay and the waters of Lake Michigan come together. It is the northern- most tip of the land- the departure point for the Washington Island ferry, and a stretch of crushed shell, pine shaded beach, with an outcropping of white rocks just perfect for climbing. Regardless of the temperature elsewhere, there is always a cool wind blowing. Parking the car, and slipping through the wooded path to the beach, the quiet wraps itself around me. The only sounds the gentle lapping of lake water against the shore, and the call of the gulls circling in the blue sky overhead.
I remember my first trip to the top. Stepping through the woods into the clear, cool Wisconsin air. Sitting on a blanket as the weight of whatever worlds I carried began to slip from my shoulders and I was, finally, here. It’s not a trip, this first trip to the top, that is easily explained to one who has not made it before. I remember the urgency to share it with my mother, and later my sister- both times, I, the usual passenger, insisting they ride while I drive, so they could allow the changing scenery to begin to prepare them. As the road winds north, the towns are further apart; fewer cars driving this way; longer and longer stretches of pine shaded meadows narrow roads.
There is only one word word that fits the experience of leaving the busyness of the wonderful lower peninsula and whatever crazy world I came from behind and stepping carefully over the roots and through the ferns and branches to reach the beach. It is an emerging-a leaving behind of one way of being, and entry into another. A deep intake of breath I did not know I needed or could not take before this emerging. And just as I first experienced the emerging, so I have watched the few I have taken there begin to breathe deeply of their surroundings.
“There is only one word that fits the experience of leaving the busyness , the crazy world ……emerging”
An unexpected late arrival on Saturday and Sunday storms delayed our usual first day trip until yesterday. Left- over black clouds continue to threaten throughout each day, so it was later in the afternoon when we took a chance on the blue that continued to show itself in the sky and headed north. Two surprises awaited us. The beach had narrowed since our last visit, and sitting atop the crushed shells and sand were two weathered Adirondack chairs. As far as we could see, we were alone- two adults, an eleven year old ready to climb this year’s rocks, a sixteen year old Pomeranian veteran of this beach, and a two year old rescue dog named Daisy, exploring it for the first time. We settled into the chairs and were enveloped by the peace and the quiet , external and internal, that draws us here, again and again.
I suppose it depends on one’s idea of vacation, or definition of peace. The trip to the top includes:
- a new collection of sea-honed rocks and bits of weathered shells
- running free with a dog racing alongside
- jumping from rock to rock on the outcropping until there is only water beside and ahead
- wading in the cold clear shallows
- shaking the shells from between the toes
- jumping back as even the rolled up pants legs are caught by surprise and covered with lake and sand and shells
- laps full of wet dogs, settling in for a rest
Daisy, the two year old newbie yips and we look around. Behind us, near the line of pines, a blue-jeaned figure holding a tiny bit of black- gray fur.
Through the wooded path tumble an assortment of dogs obviously familiar with the beach, and ready to meet their newest family member, just arrived moments ago. They bound toward us, leading their humans to the chairs.
And so, part 11 of a trip to the top. And one of the blessings of this place.
The chairs, it turns out, were put here by these humans who have recently moved from other parts to the top of the peninsula with their canine family, and visits from the human counterparts. Old, and weathered, the chairs might have been considered ready for the trash, but they join a shoreline collection of such seats, looking out at the water, inviting those who come to sit for awhile, and soak in the peace. To allow the world to drop away, carried off by the breeze.
The dogs romp, and we humans are drawn into conversation about the new puppy, and the one who died too soon. And when we mention that only a trip to the top assures us that we are really and finally here , there is a ‘ click’ of recognition that is a part of all that draws us to this peninsula, again and again.
Windswept and soul-filled we return to our own small Beachview cottage for the night.
“Windswept and soul-filled we return to our own small Beachview cottage for the night….”
I fall asleep feeling the power of emerging onto the beach at the top. My last waking thought is of the collage completed just before I left home. It’s called “Emergence.” I awake to an e-mail from a dear friend containing an article about Emergence.
Looking across the road to the waters of Green Bay, it occurs to me that the urgency of each trip to the top- manifested so specifically here in this place of the heart- is the urgency to emerge from whatever has been to whatever is my calling next. To know a quiet where it is possible to hear beyond my own thoughts and the busyness of my own world. To know a clearing , an emptying that leaves room for the new, the more. To meet the unexpected , make the momentary connections that offer insights that ‘click.’ How blessed I am to have found a place where it is possible to emerge.
It is Friday, the last legislative day of the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Wednesday, the Exhibit Hall closed at 3 pm, with last minute sales of merchandise that exhibitors didn’t want to haul home and convention goers are happy to do. Thursday morning when I came in my usual entrance to the Salt Palace, the Triennial rooms were empty of their tables, chairs and colorful signs. Visitors and vendors were beginning to say goodbye. Today, media colleagues are packing up, and deputies and bishops are rolling luggage behind them and planning last suppers before red eye flights.
I am sitting at the Media Team table just inside the door of the Media Room that we have called home for the last ten days. The podium with its Episcopal flag and microphones is empty now. The final media briefing of the convention has been held. We are at that point in the meeting where answers to offsite media have to take into consideration the fact that there is no time now for amendments and moving resolutions back and forth between houses. Many of the resolutions that have had the secular press calling – will the bishops vote for or against divestment in the Israel- Palestine discussions? Will the Deputies concur with the Bishops on marriage equality? – have been answered, and full reports are now being written by the Episcopal News Service. At question still are structure resolutions. And down under these ‘big’ stories is another big one that few people want to talk about – the resolutions having to do with the culture of alcohol in our church and what we’re going to do about it.
In an hour or two, we’ll call it a wrap, and head for home.
As I sit here, talking with colleagues about the action in the houses downstairs, answering questions from the New York Times, the Milwaukee Journal, and watching interviews being filmed for Salt Lake TV stations, and wondering what we will do about the addiction issue, a part of my brain is aware that on Sunday, I will have been retired from my position in the Diocese of Lexington for two weeks. After 14 newsrooms such as this, groundbreaking issues from the ordination of women to convention almost cancelled due to racist issues in the host city, thousands of UTO grantings, appearances of such spiritual giants as Bishop Tutu, Henri Nouwen and Madeleine L’Engle, the election of the first openly gay bishop, picketing by Kansas based protesters, and marriage equality, I will pack up my gear and say adios. If I should head to the installation of the 27th Presiding Bishop in November or the 79th General Convention in Austin, it will not be as diocesan media.
Funny. In October of 1973 my husband and I, and close church friends, packed up our young families and headed for the Louisville General Convention as volunteers. After all, we reasoned, this might be our only chance to attend the General Convention. Little could I have known what the future held. We were assigned to the group making paper flowers under the direction of the colorful and creative liturgical artist Vienna Anderson, who was in charge of the visual design for the Opening Eucharist. There would be eight processions into Freedom Hall, carrying the paper garlands, representing thanksgiving, joy, movement and participation.. As we worked, Father Ian and Caroline Mitchell were standing in the very center of what we knew as a basketball court, rehearsing folk songs that they would sing as the prelude. We were told that between 16,000 and 18,000 people were expected for the service. It was Kentucky and a basketball arena, so who could be surprised? It would be the convention where we would first hear the youth orchestra from Haiti, and give a piece of our hearts to that ministry. We would also always remember it as the year and the time of the tragic murder of a clergy family back home.
We also made the trip to Louisville because we knew that under the big tent of the larger church, it would be possible for our young children to receive communion , when they could not in our diocese. Our friend was actively dying of a brain tumor at age 39, and it was tremendously important to us that we all be able to go to the table together.
Most of the past 14 conventions blur together, unless I look at a list of the cities, or read the accounts as we reported them for the Diocese. There are, of course, the moments that are permanently emblazoned on my brain. Some are large, historical. Others just are.
The joy and the sorrow in Minneapolis 1976 as women were welcomed into the ordained ministry of our church. Meeting Bishop Tutu in New Orleans, where we sang hymns that would be a part of the ‘ new ‘ hymnal to the accompaniment of an old theater organ. Henri Nouwen standing at the edge of a stage in Columbus, his hands clasped as if to beg us to understand: “you will know you are in community when the people you least want to be with are there.” Early morning briefings, and late night filing of stories. End of day briefings and pick- up suppers. Streets and restaurants filled with Episcopalians. Bullet proof vests on the Presiding Bishop and the bishop- elect of New Hampshire. Packed ballroom hearings. Colorado night and Los Angeles Night and fireworks from Disneyland. Sharing tables and tips in the newsroom. The Integrity Eucharist in crowded hotels. Jack Weise leading the bunny hop in the French Quarter. “It’s a girl”” – the election of Katherine Jefferts Schori. Serving as press officer for two consecutive candidates for Presiding Bishop. Pamela Chinnis. George Werner. Bishop Browning’s ” There will be no outcasts in this church!” Walking the labyrinth in Philadelphia and sharing a red umbrella as we shared the ministry of Solo Flight. Michael Curry’s unforgettable sermon which knocked our socks off today and filled us with hope and anticipation as we Roark with laughter and wept copious tears.
As one veteran diocesan media person observed, we have gone from being the cute young things who brought our hopes and dreams and ideas to Episcopal Communicators, to being the the old timers welcoming the cute young things. We have managed to move from those not-so-portable old typewriters and print based communication to iPads and iPhones, web pages and Twitter.
For all of these years, it’s been about telling The Story, as it is being lived out in this time and place. Proclaiming the Word. And one thing I know for sure as Bishop Curry’s words fill my heart and soul: there’ s a lot more story to tell!
It’s been a huge part of God’s call to me- one which I might never have recognized, had Bishop Hosea not invited me to work with the Advocate in 1971; Bishop Wimberly taken the next step to bring the publication into the mainstream of church Communications; Bishop Sauls brought us into the digital age and more.
It has been an honor and a privilege to be a part of sharing the Greatest Story Ever Told as diocesan media. The telling the story part is in my blood – the way I process life, so as long as I am able, there will be more stories to tell of how it is as I walk the King’s Highway in this next chapter.
We sang the words this morning, and they travel with me:
” Will you use the faith you’ve found
to shape the world around?
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same….”
Thanks for reading. May our paths continue to cross on the journey.
Was it impulse or was it call? Whichever spoke to me on that snowy first day of Lent – and they may have been one and the same thing- the act of writing a reflective essay each day of the season was a discipline that spoke to me continuously throughout the forty days. It spoke to me in sudden awareness of a passage read, a voice heard, a song remembered. It spoke to me in the events shaping our every days. The deaths. The ah- ha’s. It spoke to me especially through readers who shared their responses or simply let it be known that something I wrote that was particular to me meant something to them as well. There is nothing that encourages a writer more than knowing there are readers out there- and particularly that as I write to make sense of the world around me, it helps someone else make sense of the world, as well.
It had been a number of years since a print- focused communications world mandated my rhythm of writing and deadlines. It meant the alarm clock went off a little earlier in order to,post before work- and I found that I grew fond of the time at my IPad with my cup,of tea.
Many of you have complimented this practice by asking if I will continue to write now that Lent is over. The answer is a yes/ and….
As part of my coming transition from life as a member of the staff of the Diocese of Lexington – which began with part time work with THe ADVOCATE, the newspaper of the Diocese of Lexington some forty years ago, to the next adventure to which God is calling me, you will be invited soon to “like” a web page which tells about my work- to- be. And to join me on a blog which will post once a week on a regular basis- as well as more frequently if extraordinary situations insist.
The proposed name for the blog is “And the Crazy Bird Sings Again”.
In the snowy days of Lent I wrote:
” And so the crazy bird comes. It sings its tiny song out over the cold and the brokenness. And in case I could not hear it the first time, it sings again. And again. And again. With just enough silence between the songs to make sure I am listening. And waiting, and briefly touched by the crazy thing called hope.
Crazy bird. Crazy, crazy bird. Calling me once more to the certainty of faith, and hope and love.”
It expresses much of what my writing, and my work, are about….looking at the paradoxes and complexities of life through the lens of faith and psychology and continuing to sing the songs, name the names , through life’s storms as well as it’s beautiful Easters. I look forward to continuing in dialogue with many of you who have honored me by traveling this Lenten journey, and to meeting other pilgrims along the way.
You will probably not be surprised when you find that many of the coming reflections will be about the transition that has already begun in my life…from a full time member of the staff of the Diocese of Lexington , where I have been blessed to wear a number of hats, both over the years and simultaneously, to a new calling of several hats.
Many years ago, a book title, and then the book and author themselves called out to me- LIFE IS GOODBYE, LIFE IS HELLO. This classic on loss and grief by Alla Bozarth encapsulates in its title the transition process that most of us experience many times in life. Life transitions have been a major part of my calling since graduate school- personal transitions, and more recently, institutional and organizational transitions. I hope to incorporate much of what I have walked with others into my own experience. I hope many of you will join me on this journey, and for the next chapter.
This crazy bird is still singing.
Peace and joy in Him……Kay
The book cover was like a promise. Marching across the top the letters spelled “THe Possibility of Angels.” I couldn’t wait top turn each page to see what boldly colorful, exuberant creature I would see next. An angel walks down the street barefoot, white robe billowing, a grocery basket on her arm. Another crashes through a ceiling. Some wings are attached to versions of contemporary clothing. Each bursts from the page, calling me to consider what the editor calls “Those rare and unpredictable moments when angels tread on earth.”
My angel fascination began before it was fashionable, evolving into some serious study and reflection over time, and taking on profound new meaning since the death of my sister. The angel stories, books and replicas we shared seem to connect us in a way that defies explanation.
But I am getting ahead of the story.
After weeks of working with my niece to,pack up my sister’s last home, the end was in sight. That night would be the last that I would spend in the place we had spent many happy times; overnights where the wall between the headboard of the guest bed and that of her bed certainly held our late night conversations.
The enormous realization of the last night in this place hit hard. I could not – could NOT- get in that bed, knowing that our voices would not mingle until one of us fell asleep. My tears and I curled up in her chair in the living room. At some point, sleep came.
Around 3AM I startled awake. Maybe I can try the bed, I thought. I pulled back the covers, climbed between the sheets and turned toward the wall, hoping for sleep,to return quickly. I was just settling in when I felt it. A slight, but sure touch on my back. And then, these words, “I have your back.”
When the morning came, the continuing sense of the touch and the words. Sitting in her chair, I thought of the hospital day when we had sat back to back on her bed, desperate to find a position in which I she could breathe, while providing support for her weakening body and spirit.
Marina Wiederken in A TREE FULL OF ANGELS writes: ” Listen, everybody! I saw a tree full of angels shining like stars in the night. Can you not believe that? Come now, don’t be a cynic. Your heart was made for deep things. Your entire being was designed for visions.”
The Preface to “The Possibility of Angels” ends, “As you read this volume, listen carefully. Beneath the sound of the pages as you turn them , that faint, u fathomable sound is the rustling of wings as angels take flight.”
If we are to believe those who have had them, an encounter with an angel can be challenging: troubling; uncomfortable, as it can be comforting, peaceful. The sense of a message from the world beyond most certainly will invite some internal shift in perception.
The book lives beside my bed. The touch lives in me.
MYSTICAL TRUTH, according to the late Bishop Bennett Sims, is the unsummoned presence of the Beyond. He said, ” I believe it is the deepest level of Truth available to human experience. It means that the opposite of a grasped truth is truth that does the grasping. The initiative in seeking and finding such truth is generally not one’s own, but comes unbidden by human resolve or expectation. Every level of truth above this can be experienced, comprehended and articulated, whereby mystical truth is confined almost entirely to the level of experience. It is the sensation of being taken hold of in one’s depth by an exhalting power that lifts one above the ordinary.”
From SErVANTHOOD: Leadership in
The New Millennium
Today is Saturday. We know it as Easter Even, as Holy Saturday. The day before Easter. The day between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise. It’s a little like the day before any big event, mostly. Tasks to be done to be sure that everything is ready for the big day. Eggs to dye. Food to prepare. Some last minute shopping for shoes, or a spring outfit. Finishing. Touches for Easter music and sermon .
It’s a day of waiting – a day in anticipation of what we know is coming.
Jesus’ people waited without knowing. I am sure there was anxiety in that waiting; resignation, if not acceptance, of the fact of his death.
A day o f waiting when not only is there no known answer, we don’t even know what questions to ask. A hard kind of waiting.
Waiting for results of a medical test.
Waiting for a loved one who is in a danger zone.
Waiting for a job, when there are none to be had, and bills to pay.
Waiting for the pain of loss to go away.
Waiting to know why.
It must have been that kind of waiting for the disciples. Waiting without assurance that there would be some form of relief, some punctuation to end this endless sentence. Some answer that helped make sense of it all. It never makes sense in that kind of waiting.
This Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Day, we wait in darkness. It’ s the day that Jesus lay dead and his disciples were left with dreadful uncertainty; with not knowing what the future holds. The day of darkness, the darkness of the tomb.
It seems to me that if life is filled with Maundy Thursday- Good Friday places, my faith is often a Saturday faith, and that does not feel holy. Because it doesn’t feel either comfortable or good or right not knowing. And so much of life is not knowing; waiting to know. How often when I get an insight or sense of knowing, I express it by referring to “shedding light” on a situation, or “light dawned.” When I follow the first fire of Easter into the church at the end of Holy Saturday, I KNOW. I know we will sing “The light of Christ.” “Thanks be to God.” I know that gradually the darkness of the sanctuary fills with the soft glow of candles, and we are ready collectively to KNOW- JESUS Christ is Risen Today!We know that there will be light – light that ends the darkness, that allows a kind of seeing that was not available in the dark.
Saturday is the day for me to get in touch with the part of my faith that is about waiting. Just sitting and waiting. Not knowing the answer, and still believing. This Holy Saturday comes once a year- and it mirrors those other Saturday’s that WiLL come, regardless of what I feel, or think, or say. Life has a lot of those kinds of Saturday’s. Not the ones we wish there were more of, with time out for play. The Saturdays between. The kind of Saturday’s where they waited at the tomb, not knowing.
Whatever else my Saturday faith might not know, it knows that the light of Easter comes. No matter how sad, how long, how empty, how scary. – I KNOW.
This Saturday I want to set aside the tasks, the to-do’s, for even a little while, and sit, and wait, and allow myself to feel it all. I cannot not know, because Easter has happened, and will happen again and again. I can count on it. In whatever waitings in my own life, I want to remember the difference.
They did not.
The light of Christ.
Thanks be to God.
It was a beautiful June day when we climbed into the borrowed mini-van and set off down the Bluegrass Parkway- a monk and a teacher from South Africa, two members of the diocesan staff and a diocesan hostess without peer. We were headed for The Abbey of Our Lade of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky, best known as the home and burial place of the late Thomas Merton. Because the monastery is in close proximity to Makers Mark Distillery, one of the most famous bourbon distilleries in the country, as well as the historic Talbott Tavern on the downtown square and the beauties full Roman Catholic St. Joseph Proto Cathedral, it’s hard if not downright impossible to consider a visit to just one of the places, so a day trip is generally a delightful and thought- provoking mix of the spiritual and the worldly. The conversation was non- stop as we headed down the road- one of those ‘dive into the depths’ times encouraged by the intimacy of the road, and the awareness of the shortness of the opportunity to know each other. Of the always- interesting stops on our itinerary, I couldn’t wait for them to experience Gethsemani, which of course included a visit to their fine bookstore.
And there, a book just seemed to be waiting- for me: CROSSING THE DESERT: LEARNING TO LET GO, SEE CLEARLY AND LIVE SIMPLY by Robert Wicks.
Although it lives on the bookshelves in my office, notes in the margins indicated I had not picked up this little book for awhile, when I came across it while looking for something to accompany me through Holy Week.
Dr. Wicks is a professor at Loyola University , who is known for his work with the integration of psychology and religion from a world religions perspective. His work has found him crossing many deserts, debriefing relief workers evacuated from Rwanda during their bloody civil war, working in Cambodia to help the Khmer people rebuild their nation following years of terror and torture, and training health care professionals responsible for Iraq war veterans with multiple amputations and head injuries. CROSSING THE DESERT is, in part, his own search for how he could have his own desert ‘spiritual apprenticeship.’ It is, he says, ” about the journey all of us are called to take- especially when we feel lost, under great stress or in times of desolation.”
I arrived at his thoughts on becoming a desert apprentice just in time for Good Friday. That day when the followers of Jesus saw their hope hanging on the cross. Their teacher, the one in whom they trusted and believed, was gone. As Jesus was experiencing the ultimate desolation – a true desert with no respite except death – those who loved him were certainly entering their own desert of abandonment, of the loss of the one whose loving but strong presence, whose compassion, generosity, graceful authority and humility had shown them a different way.
How awful it must have been for the disciples. Dead. He is dead. And no one knew that there would be a Resurrection. There was no Easter to anticipate, because Easter hadn’t happened yet.
This desert time- this awful Friday- that is known as ‘good’- is the defeat of death. But it does not cancel the desert time. Or the desert wisdom.
I am still pondering Wick’s words about becoming a ‘desert apprentice.’ It’s that paradox again. Possibility and difficulty. Life and death. Remembering and letting go.
The writer’s description of the fourth century Egyptian desert is “more than a wasteland” seen by the pilgrims who went there to a “a place of deep learning, a university of the soul.” At the center of this university, this learning process, were the spiritual fathers and mothers , who not only talked about the meaning of life, but epitomized that meaning in their being. Becoming a spiritual apprentice, I believe, is seeking out and recognizing those people around me in whose presence I can not only survive the deserts of life, not just navigate them, but through them, know the questions to ask, know what it is that I must let go of, what I must hold in my soul to be who He calls me to be.
On Good Friday, Jesus asked the question, gave up his life to be who he was called to be.
Today, may I enter the desert day, open to its message for me in this April 2015, as if I did not know the rest of the story. I am here, at the University of the Soul.
Co. There are a number of things in life that can be made better or worse by being co. Co- chairs. Co- parents. Co- executors. Co- administrators.Co- owners. Co- authors. The latter turned out to be one of the richest experiences of my life, shared with my spiritual sister/friend Whitty. Together we produced a manuscript entitled “The Spirituality of Singularity.” Having known each other for the better part of our lives , we serendipitously came together in the work of Solo Flight Ministries with Single Adults – redemptive work to which we were called after divorce. (God calling. Really?)
Together, with men and women in the SINGLESPACE Sunday School Room at Christ Church Cathedral, in “Re-Writing My Story” groups and at SOLO FLIGHT National conferences with single adults from across the country , we wrangled with, listened to, reflected on, prayed about and continue to come to peace with the reality that gave name to one of the chapters of that book – ” Life in the Maundy Thursday- Good Friday Place.”
Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are not subjects that are popular to talk about, much less days where people want to linger. Betrayal and death are not the stuff we want to believe life is made of. OK if we need to pay attention to the historical fact of these days once a year in order to move on to Easter. But to consider them in the present tense? No thanks. Maybe that’s why the pews are not full on either day, no matter how many different opportunities are offered, at different times of day and night.
It’s much nicer to think about spring flowers and Easter eggs, and bringing back the alleluias.
The editor who originally accepted our book proposal ‘got it.’ A few months later, his successor told us that our book didn’t fit his vision for his publishing house. Maybe he was in a hurry to get to Easter, too.
The words of many fine people helped along the way- folks who have learned through their own lives that it’s not possible to get around either Majndy Thursday or Good Friday to get to Easter. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are omnipresent. What the Easter Triduum is all about -the three inseparable days that lead to Easter. It’s the heart of our faith, from the Last Supper and the institution of the Holy Eucharist to the betrayal, crucifixion, death, and finally, the glorious Resurrection. One ongoing story that cannot be understood without all of its parts.
The thing is, that as we walked with those who were living the experience of physical death and those who were living the experience of emotional death and those experiencing betrayal or doing the betraying, there was not a chance we could miss the knowing. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday as ongoing parts of life. And the amazing thing is that as we faced our own realities, we not only cried and angered and shook our fists at God – we laughed and hugged and danced and learned more about love and living than we thought possible. In the middle of death – new life. And when the true Maundy Thursday and Good Friday came, and we moved out of darkness into the first light of Easter,p with flowers in the windows and bells ringing, we KNEW why even at the grave we sing Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
If we have never understood the Maundy Thursday- Good Friday place, it would be difficult to miss it this year, as so much death has been a part of life, as hatred and betrayal mark too much of the way we live. From the most intimate forms of relation ships to the most public, we turn our backs on each other; we cry some form of ‘Crucify him!’ We are both targeted and indiscriminate in who we hang on the cross. And yet, as Kingdom people, as Easter people, we know that the Resurrection is more than a promise. It is certain. It will come.
I don’t pretend to understand it. Only to know. The late Bishop Bennett Sims in his book SErVANTHOOD: LEADERSHIP FOR ThE NEW MILLENNIuM in speaking of a typology of truth talks of paradoxical truth, which says the opposite of one great truth is another great truth. It takes, he says, two mutually exclusive and apparently self- canceling truths to state the totality of what is true.
And so we live with life in the Maundy Thursday- Good Friday Place, on the way to Easter in a world filled with incredible beauty and inexplicable horror and pain. In its midst, I know I will meet Jesus, again and again. And out of the depths of the Maundy Thursday- Good Friday places , I will know life’s greatest gifts and greatest pains. Lest I forget, there is my forever friend, and those with whom we’ve journeyed.
Weird to juxtapose the sacred and the secular in such a way? Holy Week – and basketball? Not weird in Kentucky, where basketball is a religion, if not THE predominant religion in Big Blue Nation. For those who know that I am a living heresy in Kentucky, due to my love of football first, it might seem like a lecture is coming, or a put down of BBN and the revered Cats and Coach Cal. But not so. I don’t make up the stories that reach out to me. I just write about them when they get inside my head and won’t let go until I’ve at least tried to see what truth they hold for me. This team has caught my attention and a bit of my heart. I’m more than a little intrigued by whatever message they hold for me. Especially this week.
In a post- Christian culture, those who take this Holy Week seriously are probably outnumbered by those who don’t. The Ashes to Go with which we began Lent is one of the ways the Church Is attempting to take the Gospel message into the culture.
I don’t really see a competition between the conclusion of this week of March Madness and Holy Week as much as a curious parallel. The parallel is so in-my-face I have to go there. Of course, there COULD be competition if the championship game on the day before Easter and the Easter Vigil butt heads! What I’m wondering about while we’re still at the beginning of this parallel week of weeks is where we’re most free to express our passion for something that’s important in our lives- and how we hold up and celebrate our heroes.
It seems like a good way to begin.
Certainly Palm Sunday is one of the most public ways to celebrate a hero- a grand parade. The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, with all of the appropriate accolades. His fall from favor – the betrayal, the abandonment- happened as rapidly and ruthlessly as any modern day defrocking of a coach or star who doesn’t live up to their promise as a superstar superpower who sweeps everyone around them into the enchanted circle of ‘the winner.’
This is a basketball team that even people who generally pay no attention to sports of any kind can’t resist. Maybe it’s the number of high school,All- Americans on one team, which could be an absolute nightmare if they weren’t what one sportswriter has called a ‘group of such normal, nice kids’ while others hold up the way each has sublimated his need for individual stardom for the good of the team. To see them together when they’re NOT playing is to think you’ve wandered into a particularly large family and like the way the siblings treat each other. To see them in action is something else altogether. And then there’s the coach that some people live to hate.
Mixed together they’re the kind of team that finds hundreds of fans waiting in the cold when their charter airplane touches down at 1:45 A. M. The crowd is waving blue and white placards , not palms, but the adoration in Jerusalem must have been a little bit like that of the fans who drove many miles to stand in that cold and dark and watch.
I am a coach’s daughter, although the ball is oval instead of round. I know about the short life of heroism when things don’t go as expected; the glow of reflected glory and the human need to have a team with which to identify, live and die. And I know what it’s like when the tables turn and March Madness or its fall equivalent turn mean.
There’s a bigger thing I want to know.
Fresh off a convention sermon about evangelism, which called listeners to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ by sharing what of it touches them, engages them, excites them, makes a difference in their lives, I can’t help reflecting on the phenomenon that stops this part of the world in its tracks. Brings the most unlikely casts of characters together in shared passion for a cause. Has the utmost respect for its heroes, and is more than happy to share their enthusiasm, their passion on Facebook, Twitter , anyplace and every place.
While tickets to the one may be out of the reach for the majority of us regular folks, I know venues free of charge, just waiting to be filled.
And as I begin this holiest of weeks, the question for me remains: what do Big Blue Nation and these particular Cats who have so captivated some and brought intense criticism from others have to teach me about my passions, my heroes, my faith?
I was a teen ager when I first learned to make Palm crosses from Miss Della Pearce. For hours on the Saturday before the big day we would gather in a small room in the undercroft and manipulate the fresh palm fronds into near crosses to be worn on lapels. On Sunday, members of the choir tucked their branches into their hymnals, the tips waving in the air as we processed, sometimes tickling the back of the neck of whomever might be in front of us in the procession. Palm Sunday was a big day – a day of joyful parade to somber passion.
Who doesn’t love a parade? Something we Episcopalians do so well! Every church has its own Palm Sunday tradition, from a march around the town courthouse square to loop the loop processes up and down long aisles, with palms and banners waving as the hymn soars-‘All glory, laud and honor, to thee, Redeemer, King.” It is a joyful entry ritual, making it easy to imagine the people of Jesus’ time waving palms in the air and shouting “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” It’s easy to do in this day and time, as well,-lots of good energy, happy smiles from adults and little kids joining in waving everything from real palms to the ones they’ve made of green construction paper.
And then, the abrupt change from that triumphal entry into Jerusalme to the Passion Gospel. The lengthy story is most commonly read today by a cast of readers, and a narrator, with the congregation joining in at appointed times. Sobering, no matter how many years I have participated. The hair-standing-on-end time for me is inevitably that moment when the crowds (i.e. the congregation) is supposed to cry out in loud voices, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
It’s hard to say those words, even when I know we’re presenting a play and the ending is sure-part of a much bigger story. On the surface, it’s just hard to imagine saying them, much less to speak the words. If I dig a little deeper, I have to ask myself, when and how do I say those words in real life, whether speaking them, or by actions? How and when do I go from saying “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” to joining those guttural shouts of “Crucify him! Crucify him!”- not just in what I say, but in what I do?
I am guilty of wanting the parade without the passion. Of jumping over the holiest of weeks to get to Easter.
Of not wanting to look at my own role in the crowd. Words like betrayal and abandonment feel really strong. It’s easier to think of it as long ago.
It was long ago, and it is today. In a heartbeat I can go from waving those palms and calling hallelujahs to acting out those terrible words. M actions can hang him on the cross as surely as if I am there, hammering nails through flesh and bone.
A long ago Lenten preacher spoke these words from the pulpit of the church of my childhood. “As long as any of us stand in unhappy divisions, he remains on that cross.” I wrote them in my zip Bible, and prayed to be a part of moving past that cross to a world of peace and love.
At the beginning of this Holy Week, it is still my prayer.