Archive for the ‘Special Writings’ Category

THE FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI –  A – June 18, 2017

 

A reading from the Book of Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b – 16a
A reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians 10:16-17
A reading from the holy Gospel according to John 6:52-58

“I don’t know how many more times I can do this,” Miriam thought as she stirred her morning cup of tea and listened to the strains of a Bach Mass in B Minor streaming from the radio.  She couldn’t hear such music without thinking of those dear days gone by when she had sung in the church choir.  She missed the Latin and the glorious polyphony that always lifted her spirit and seemed to provide a window into heaven.  She missed the solemnity when there weren’t so many distractions to interfere with her being able to concentrate on the Sacred Mysteries being celebrated before her.  She could adore in near rapture as the bells rang summoning her attention to the action at the altar and the smoke swirled from the thurible in graceful puffs of adoration.  It was particularly thrilling when a ray of sun pierced the stained-glass window and shone through the incense.  She always took that convergence of indicators to be a sign of God’s presence and blessing.

She nibbled a piece of jellied toast from which the crusts had been carefully removed.  Strawberry was her favorite.  If she were disciplined and relished each bite, her toast could last for a quarter of an hour.  And she could offer her morning prayer following upon her pronounced grace.

Her gaze wandered over her kitchen so neatly kept.  The floors and counters glistened.  She could not tolerate clutter and prided herself in keeping everything in its proper place and the surroundings spotless.  There was a time when there was more of a challenge to her tidiness, before her sons had grown and left the home, before her husband had told her it was over and he was leaving for a fresh start.  She had not known how to respond when he said that for years he had felt stifled.  What could he have meant?  She had pondered his words over and over again and decided he must have been going through a mid-life crisis.  He’ll come back someday, she thought.  She prayed about that.  Wait and see.  One day he’ll realize what he had and come home again.  She had already decided that she wouldn’t ask any questions.  In fact she would be grateful if he wouldn’t share any details of his sojourn away from her.  She would pick up from where they had left off and simply go on.

The clock was inching toward ten.  She would have to be getting on her way soon.  Her journey would take an hour and fifteen minutes.  She wanted to be there by noon.  Her path was carefully charted.  She had tried several different routes and found this one to be the most direct and free of traffic snarls.

As Miriam prayed she stared at the picture of her son and his friend on the breakfast bar.  She always got teary as she saw the rapturous smile on John’s face.  His eyes are closed as he leans into Joshua’s chest whose arms enfold him.  And Joshua smiles broadly and defiantly into the camera.

How long had John, her first-born son, been dead?  Could it possibly be a year next month since the choir had sung Stabat Mater while the casket was rolled into the church for the funeral mass?  Joshua, the friend, already confined to his wheel chair, had rolled his way up the aisle in the midst of the family’s procession.  Miriam had wondered how many judging eyes had looked away rather than be confronted by the evidence.  She had been grateful for the full church and the luscious music specially chosen for the event.  She wondered how many of those in attendance were moved and went on to wish that kind of music could be part of Sunday Mass again.

She rinsed her teacup and placed the cup, saucer, and the plate for her toast in the dishwasher.  She carefully wiped any crumbs from the table and straightened the chair.  She opened the refrigerator and removed the soup and the wrapped food items that would be Joshua’s noon meal.  Steamed chicken breast.  Mashed and buttered potatoes.  Mixed vegetables.  And a bit of bread pudding for desert.  She placed them in her wicker basket.  She looked over the containers and hoped she hadn’t forgotten anything.  Finally she walked into her bedroom, glanced into her vanity mirror to be sure she looked presentable, put on her coat and gloves, and knew that she was ready.  She had opened the back door when she heard the music and thought twice about turning off the radio.  But then she thought what a comfort the music would be as she re-entered her home after her time with Joshua.

Miriam walked up the stairs to the apartment that had been John’s home too.  Her throat always tightened as she fought the expectation that he would open the door when she rang.  She couldn’t resist looking up to the window as she stepped out of her car with the hope to catch a glimpse of the two of them smiling and waving.  The window was empty and the curtains drawn.

She rang the doorbell and waited a few moments before letting herself in.  She closed the door behind her and waited for her eyes to adjust to the dim interior light.  She breathed in the heavy and stale air and thought about cleaning their living room after Joshua had eaten.  She knew her touch was needed.  And that was fine with her.  She opened a window in the living room and welcomed a zephyr.

“Joshua.  It’s me.”

She placed her basket on the dining room table and then made her way to his room.  She rapped once on the door and opened it.  His room was dark, the air, stale.  She saw him lying on his back, propped slightly be two pillows.  He had a quilt pulled up tightly to his chin.  She could see the stubble on his chin and could smell that it had been some time since he had bathed.  Why had her stomach always been so sensitive to foul odors?  Oh, God, she thought, get me through this.

She sat on the side of his bed and took his hand and told him what a joy it was to see him again.  She always looked forward to their weekly visit, she said.  “How are you feeling?” she asked as she brushed the hair from his eyes.

“I think I’m better this week than I was the last time you were here.”  And he coughed.  Miriam reached for a tissue and wiped his mouth.

“You’re looking better, too,” she said.  “I’ll bet your getting stronger.  It won’t be long and you’ll be taking walks outside again.  Just you wait.”  She felt his hand squeeze hers ever so slightly.  “I’ve fixed your favorite foods for lunch.  I even brought a lovely white wine to go with the chicken.”

Silence hung heavily between them.  She knew that their relationship had strengthened.  It wasn’t that long ago that idle chatter filled every pause.  Now there were times when they could be content just to be in each other’s presence.  She could read.  He could nap.  There was peace.  But today the silence was heavy again.

“Joshua, may I?” she asked.  He looked at her in a moment of uncertainty.  She saw tears well in his eyes as he nodded.  She went to the bathroom and filled the tub with steaming water.  She added bubble bath to make the bathing more festive.  She placed his razor and shaving cream on the side table.  Then she returned to Joshua’s bedside and lifted his covers.  She leaned over him and put her arms around him to lift him.  She felt him tense at her first touch and then relax as she helped him from the bed and supported him in his trek to the bathroom.  She sat him on the closed toilet and started to turn away and leave him to his lave.  His arms hung by his side as he stared into the tub.  Then Miriam said again, “May I?”

Carefully she removed his pajamas and stifled a gasp as she confronted his gauntness.  Then ever so gently she helped him lower himself into the water with an audible sigh.  She soaped the washcloth and washed him hoping she would not tear his skin that hung like parchment.  She shampooed the wisps of hair on his head and rinsed the suds away.  His eyes stared fixedly at her and tears rolled down the hollows of his cheeks.  In a whisper barely audible he said, “I think of you as mother.  I hope you don’t mind, but you are mother to me.”  Miriam hummed a lullaby as she had when John was an infant.

Later Joshua lay on his stomach and she rubbed aloes into his back.  Then she helped him roll over and she buttoned his pajama top.  Finally she massaged ointment into his feet, wiped them, and put on his socks and slippers.

“You rest, my dear,” she said.  “I’ll heat up our lunch and then we will sit at table and share our meal.”

She set three places and poured three glasses of wine with a bread-roll by each plate.  She placed John’s picture near his plate and smiled.  Then she noticed the curtain stirring in the living room.

“I hoped you would come.  See, I set a place for you.  It’s good to have you here again,” she said.  “It seems like such a long time that you have been away.”

 

 

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SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER – A – April 23, 2017

 

A reading from the Acts of the Apostles: 2:42-47
A reading from the first Letter of Peter 1:3-9
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John 20:19-31

 

He sat in the silent church, silent except for the sound of the water trickling down from the raised bowl into the baptismal font below. The stained glass windows in the eastern clerestory shimmered as the setting sun’s blue and red rays danced on the west wall and flickered like candle flames in too strong a breeze. The last of the worshipers had left moments before. The man seemed unwilling to let go of the moment, reluctant to step out of the mystery into the approaching night.

I watched him for a few moments and felt irritation rise. I wanted to lock the doors and get on with my evening. I flicked the switches that extinguished the majority of the interior lights thinking that this surely would be a signal the man would recognize as an indication that he should be on his way. I walked to the narthex and noisily closed the doors and turned the key in their locks to secure them. Turning to start my way back up the aisle, I gazed over the font. My jaw clenched as I noted that the man continued to sit stolidly in place, giving no evidence he intended to respond to the audible signals I so clearly had given.

The sound of each step I took on my way back down the aisle echoed through the nave. When I reached the pew in which he was sitting, I stopped and turned toward him. His gaze was fixed on the Easter Candle that stood adjacent to the ambo. Tears glistened on his cheeks. I sat a few feet away from him and watched. His breathing was calm. His arms rested in his lap. Then he was looking at me, his eyes wide and unblinking.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” I asked.

Was there a hint of a smile on his lips as he turned his attention back to the Candle? “I was here a week ago for the Vigil and heard you proclaim Christ to be the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. You lit the Candle from the Easter fire and then entered this dark church to proclaim Christ our Light! I joined the others with Thanks be to God! I think I meant it. I desperately want to believe it. It was thrilling as one by one the candles we held received light and flickered a moment before the light was passed on to a neighbor. I remember the darkness of the night yielding as one by one the candles burned brighter.

“We all sat in the candles’ light and listened to the story from the beginning. The words rushed over us. Genesis. Exodus. Isaiah. On and on in hypnotic cadence the words washed over the people. I wondered, do I believe this? I want to the way I did a year ago when I entered the baptismal waters. I want to, but I don’t feel anything.”

His tears continued to flow and fell from his chin to his shirtfront.

“Feeling and believing aren’t the same thing, any more than seeing and believing are,” I said. His right hand flicked across his cheek, whisking tears away. “I can see that you are upset. It is about this lack of feeling you have, or is there something more?”

“I love the Easter Candle. When I was being prepared for my Baptism, I was told that the Candle is the great symbol of the Lord’s resurrection. When I was being baptized I kept my eyes fixed on it. What an awesome night that was. The Candle had figured in every step along the course of the service. It was the first thing I saw when I emerged from the water gasping. Three times the water poured over me.”

I thought that there must be something more that he wants to talk about. His body language spoke of someone who had just heard of the death of a loved one. My need to urge him on his way had subsided. I was content to wait and listen. Rather than stare at him, my gaze focused on the Candle, simply decorated this year with the cross and five red spikes and a wrap of marbled wax. Light of Christ. Thanks be to God.

“I’m dying,” he said. “A few months from now and I will find out for myself whether there is anything more than silence. I feel like darkness is enveloping me. I keep hearing the doctor’s words. He was sorry to tell me that the headaches I have been enduring are the result of an inoperable tumor in my brain.” He turned toward me to see how his news registered on my face. There was a pause, long but not awkward. “Thank you for not saying something trite. Thank you for not saying that you understand. It is amazing how many people say they understand my pain.”

I felt my heart pounding in my chest as I searched for something to say. I knew that silence wasn’t enough. I reached over and took his hand. “I can pray,” I said. “I can try to support you with my prayers.”

“I don’t have anyone near by, any family. They are in the Midwest. I’m not married or even engaged. But you have to die alone anyway, I guess. I hate darkness. I love light.”

His tears had stopped. He turned toward me and tightened his hold of my hand. “If I could only see something that would convince me. I’m like Didymus, maybe. Like him, if I could touch the wounds, even feel his breath, I know I could believe then.”

“You do believe. You are here. You celebrated Eucharist tonight with this Assembly. You were transformed more completely with them into the Body of Christ. The union in the Body is closer than family. The bond is love – Christ’s love for you. Your love for Christ and one another.” I remember feeling that I was struggling, grasping for words, praying that something I would say would touch.

“Am I loved? Does Christ love me? Did God send this thing that is killing me to punish me for my sins? Maybe if my faith was stronger, this wouldn’t have happened to me.”

“Hear me,” I said. “God does not send you this terrible cancer. But God does rush in to support you with love during your illness. You walk with this illness the way Jesus carried the Cross. To the crowds and to the entire world it looked like defeat. Jesus proclaimed God’s faithfulness and love. He experienced darkness. He leapt into the void, believing that the Father would catch him in an embrace and raise him up.

“That’s what God will do with you. The Father loves you with the same love he has for Jesus. In fact, God might not be able to tell the two of you apart. Remember that white robe you put on after your Baptism. Remember what it symbolized? You have put on Christ.”

“Do you mean that? Is that true for me? Can I believe that?”

I’ll tell you more. Hear me again. If you want it, when the time comes, I’ll be with you. You will feel my hand holding yours. You will hear my voice. I will remind you that God loves you and that Jesus waits to take you home.”

 

Puffs of smoke seemed to cling to his casket before ascending as I incensed his body at the funeral’s conclusion. The pall enshrouding the casket reminded those gathered that at his Baptism he was clothed in Christ. The mourners stood in testimony to the truth that he had lived in Christ, died with Christ, and now lived in Christ forever.

The Candle went before us as we made our way down the aisle and out into the summer’s sun.

 

 

 

EASTER SUNDAY – April 16, 2017

A Father’s Grief

Later he told someone that when the phone rang he felt a twinge pass through him that made him catch his breath.  The odd thing was that he held his hand over the receiver and listened to the rings, counting them, knowing how many he had before the answer machine would take over.  Just before the final ring he lifted the receiver to his ear and paused before he spoke the single word, “Yes?”  Afterwards he tried to remember how many words it had taken the caller to deliver the news that changed his world.  Had time slowed down putting everything into largo so that there were cavernous pauses between each staccato word that allowed him to hear also the beat of his heart and the sound of his swallowing?

He sank into the chair and studied the face of the clock on the living room wall.  He wanted to etch the exact moment into his consciousness.  The precise date and time seemed important.  He felt a rush of gratitude that the date had no other significance.  It wasn’t a major holiday.  No member of the family had been born on the date.  He was sure that no one close to him celebrated a wedding anniversary on the date.  Then he wondered if he would live to see the return of the date his eldest son had died alone in a crosswalk, on a dark street, in a town on the other side of the country.  What was that the officer had said?  Oh, yes.  It had been raining.  Rain might have contributed to the accident.  But so had speed, the voice said.  “Your contact information was on a card in his wallet.  It’s hard to say what he was doing in that crosswalk at that time of night, alone, in the rain.”

A child is not supposed to die before the parent, he thought, even if he is estranged.  How can reconciliation happen then?  He looked at his son’s high school graduation picture that hung amid the family memorabilia on the dining room wall.  So much promise there, so much hope and confidence in those eyes.  What had it come to?

He remembered their last conversation.  They sat on a park bench.  Children played tag.  Sunbathers lolled on blankets.  Why had he been so closed-minded about his only son?  Even as he said, “I don’t want to hear from you again until you get your life under control and give up this nonsense,” he hadn’t meant it.  He had wanted to take back those harsh words.  Instead, he had sat and watched as the young man with slumped shoulders shrugged and wandered away, disappearing among the other strollers on the path.

He knew he had to call the others in the family, the boy’s sisters, but he needed time to sit with this before bringing in his other two children.  What could they do about it at this time of night?  He would wait until morning, he thought.  Let them have their rest.

He went to the basement, to the room there that had been his son’s, the room that remained just as it was the last night the young man had slept there.  He sat on the edge of the bed and noted how strangely barren the room was.  There were no trophies for sports achievements, no awards or accolades in frames, nothing that said anything about the boy.  A crucifix lay on the pillow.  An icon of the Mother and Child hung on the wall beyond the foot of the bed.  Under it was a framed picture of the boy and his late mother, both bearing radiant smiles.

Why hadn’t he been able to understand his son’s fascination with religion?  Why had he laughed and dismissed the interest as a passing fancy that would fade with the coming of the next season?  He looked at the picture and then at the icon and wondered what it would be like to pray and believe that there was someone who would listen and care.

He picked up the crucifix and weighed it in his hand.  How could anyone find consolation is such a grim reminder of humanity’s cruelty?  What about this gave comfort?  All he could see was defeat in the body that sagged from the crossbeam with the thorn-crowned head slumped to the side.  Then he imagined his son’s body on that wet roadway and wondered if with his last breath he had reached out, if he had prayed then and experienced faith’s folly.

He carried the crucifix as he climbed the stairs and padded his way to the sofa where he sat and wondered if there had been a reunion with his mother.  Had he seen her opening her arms to him as life left his body.  His wife had grieved the estrangement between father and son and had distanced herself from her husband after that encounter in the park.  He suspected there were clandestine meetings and phone conversations.  He said he didn’t care as long as he didn’t have to hear about them.  Why couldn’t she have understood that he could not accept a son who lived like a vagabond, a beggar, content to be a street-person, and for what purpose?  He had said he wanted other desperate people to know someone cared.  The very idea had embarrassed him.  How could his mother have understood what her son was doing with his life?  They never discussed it before the mother died suddenly and unexpectedly.  He wondered if a broken heart killed her.

His thoughts shifted and he thought of the final reunion of a son and his mother.  Did they pity him now?  Would they forgive him?

The wall-clock chimed.  He was startled to note that it was nearly dawn.  He looked out the window to the east and saw the first light.  Had he dozed?  He thought he must have slept because the night had flown so quickly.  He was hungry.

Brown bread broken lay on the plate before him.  A mug of last night’s coffee steamed as he stirred in the sugar.  He spread a bit of jam on the bread, tasted its sweetness as he chewed and swallowed.

Such simple things give comfort.  For a moment he could hear the sounds of laughter and conversations that used to emanate from the kitchen table when his young family sat to meals in those days before his son’s strangeness emerged and the family fractured.  He could hear the voices and feel the presence.