In the Roman Catholic devotion called "Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament,” consecrated Host, or communion wafer, is exposed for viewing in a special holder called a "monstrance," so the faithful can pray in its presence. Although the risen Christ is said to be present everywhere, he is believed to be present “in a special way” in the consecrated Sacrament.
Nothing could be more alien to my Methodist upbringing; indeed, I have no doubt that some of my church mentors would have considered the practice idolatrous. Nevertheless, or perhaps precisely for that reason, I have attempted to practice Adoration for many years, whenever I found myself in a Catholic environment in which there was Blessed Sacrament exposed for that purpose. In all that time, I never felt even a tingle – no connection whatever to Jesus in, or as, that piece of bread.
There is a sweet little Adoration chapel in the Basilica of St. Anne de Beaupré, and I visited it more than once during my pilgrimage of healing to the Québec shrine. (Below is a picture of it. I don't know whether photographing it is considered disrespectful or not; I hope not.) During my last visit, as I prayed the Adoration of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament Chaplet, I had the impression that the consecrated Body spoke to me. I don't mean that I heard a literal voice, and my ears were not involved; it was more like the words dropped directly into my head.
"You are the Body of Christ," the Sacrament said.
Then, all on its own, my mind supplied the remembered words of St. Teresa of Avila:
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
The message was clear: get up out of that little chapel, and start being the Body of Christ in the world.
Now, I'm certainly not saying that there is no validity in Adoration of the Sacrament; in fact, I have no doubt that many, many people draw from the practice the very inspiration that empowers them to function as Christ's body in the world. Maybe you need to grow up with it in order for it to "take." At least, that seems to be the case with me. I seem to have been cut from the team.
It didn't happen all at once, but over the weeks since my return from pilgrimage, I have felt as though all the spiritual practices, all the reading, all the classes and workshops I have undertaken throughout my adult life have finally begun to bear fruit. I feel a little like Daniel in the movie The Karate Kid.
Mr. Miyagi, an Okinawan immigrant (played by Pat Morita,) undertakes to teach karate to Daniel (played by Ralph Macchio) so he can defend himself from some vicious bullies. During the first several lessons, Mr. Miyagi assigns Daniel a number of menial tasks – waxing his collection of classic cars, sanding his deck, painting his house and fence – all with very specific physical motions. Eventually, Daniel decides that rather than teaching him karate, Mr. Miyagi is simply using him as a household slave. As he stalks off, Mr. Miyagi calls him back, and directs him to reproduce the motions he used for accomplishing each of the tasks. “Show me wax-on, wax-off,” he orders, insisting on the specific motions he had originally assigned; he goes through all the tasks, having Daniel show him the physical gestures he had required to use in doing them.
Then he throws a punch at Daniel.
Without thinking, Daniel uses the car-waxing motion – which, by this time, he has used thousands of times – to parry the punch. The teacher throws an array of punches and kicks at the student, who blocks each of them using the gestures he has internalized over many days of performing menial tasks. “You learn plenty," he tells the startled boy. "Come back tomorrow."
Since my return from Canada, two friends have contacted me to ask for prayer about the same issue, as it appears in different forms in their lives. Honoring their requests, I have found reserves of self-application I didn't know I had. I have found myself much more able to remain present in the moment, more patient with myself about the things I find it difficult to do now, and happier to address myself to the things I can. And while I certainly still have stiff, sore days full of debility and foul moods, I am making great progress learning to function within the new normal, and spending less time regretting the past and dreading the future. As long as I keep coming back tomorrow, maybe I can keep the vicious bullies of my soul at bay.
So maybe I do have some healing to show for my pilgrimage; maybe the intercession of Good St. Anne did obtain some grace for me. Or maybe it was just the effort of the pilgrimage itself that awoke my latent spiritual gifts. If you've read much of my writing, you know I consider this a distinction without a difference, and it doesn't interest me much. So though I haven't been cured in the way I wanted, I seem to have been healed in the way I needed – and that is a lot to be thankful for.
Healing is not about getting back to the way things were, but about learning to live with how they are now. --Ram Dass, Walking Each Other Home: Conversations on Loving and Dying
I went to Québec for three reasons – or rather, one reason in three parts: I wanted "healing of body, mind, and spirit."
Before I went to the Basilica of St.-Anne-de-Beaupré, a shrine to the mother of the Virgin Mary, famous as a site of miraculous healings, I knew that I would love to charge in, full of the faith that moves mountains, fully expecting to be healed of the effects of spinal stenosis. I held back, however, because I feared disappointment. Which, of course, may be precisely the reason I didn't receive physical healing. But healing did come-- though, as usual, not in exactly the form I looked for.
Before I left for Canada, my wife – who missed her true vocation as a travel agent – found a wonderful place for me to stay: a refurbished 17th-century Augustinian monastery, with delicious, healthy meals, a fascinating museum documenting three centuries as a hospital, a working church, and a choice of contemporary or authentic rooms. (Guess which I chose.) There are still about a dozen elderly Sisters in residence, and the secular organization that now runs the hotel has carried on, in a contemporary, nonsectarian way, the Sisters’ ideals around spiritual healing and bodily wellness.
Now, despite my skepticism concerning miraculous physical healing, I was expecting some kind of revelatory experience at the Basilica itself. The shrine is about a half hour bus ride from Québec City, where I was staying, and twice I left the quiet simplicity of the monastery for the splendid and impressive church of St. Anne. It is a place of extraordinary beauty (if you are on Facebook, you can see my pictures hereand here.) But though I prayed in the various chapels and shrines – which was, in its own way, very fulfilling – I did not experience, at least on the first day, anything I could identify as revelatory, nor did I leave my cane behind amongst the various crutches and other aids displayed in the vestibule. I have not made an ex voto offering, nor will I be applying to the Vatican for certification of a miracle.
On Friday, I did go to a weekday English language Mass, and it was as dreary and patronizing as Catholic Masses in English abroad usually are, and as cold and distant as cathedral worship generally is. After the Eucharist, the priest and the acolyte brought out two small silver reliquaries containing bone fragments from Saint Anne, and we were invited to form two lines, come forward, and reverence the relics. Which I did, despite my Protestant-bred heebie-jeebies. (I have mixed feelings about relics; at the Cathedral in Lisbon, we saw some of St. Francis Xavier’s hair. On the one hand, ew, but on the other, I really admire Francis Xavier, and there was something extraordinary about seeing his actual hair.}
On Sunday, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to bus to the Basilica for Mass, and the nearest Anglican church was too far to walk to and difficult to reach by public transit. So I sauntered around the monastery-cum-auberge in the direction of the church until I heard angelic singing coming from the wing known as “the Sisters’ Choir.” (See photo above.) After following the sound to its source, I sat in a chair at the back of the room and observed as the Sisters held their rehearsal. After they had filed out past me, many smiling and bonjour-ing in greeting, I took a seat in one of the stalls, opened my Daily Office book, and read the Morning Prayer service for that day. This was all the church I thought I was going to get. But I soon realized that what I had taken for a rehearsal was actually a warm-up, and that there was to be a Mass that morning.
For some reason, the service was not held in the gilded Baroque church to which the choir was attached; rather, an altar was set up inside the choir itself. A priest arrived, the Sisters filed back in, and one of them handed me a Mass booklet in French. I was able to follow both the prayers and the songs with ease, and was deeply moved by the elegant simplicity of the experience. I imagined the days when the many stalls were filled with hospital Sisters will, some of whom worked 12 hour shifts caring for all sorts and conditions of sick and injured people. I had seen their many names on the wall plaque in the museum section, as well as pictures of their simple lives – caring for patients, singing, sharing meals in the common dining hall, ice-skating, picnicking, playing games. I was filled with a powerful sense of their dedication and fidelity to their mission. And while it would be easy to romanticize such women living such a life, it was abundantly evident in any case that they weren't in it for the applause.
The reflection made me wonder about my own life. In my book,The Dark Hills, I wrote:
I often experience my life as confining, unfulfilling. I expected it to be full of height and depth and gravitas, and found it full of dog fur and goutweed. I looked forward to being intellectually and aesthetically stimulated on a daily basis. (What I thought would happen about the dog fur and goutweed I don’t know.) I thought I would feel more important.
I believe I experienced some spiritual healing, not in the gorgeous basilica I traveled to Québec to visit, but in the unpretentious Sister’s choir in the monastery-hotel. Since my return, I have found myself much less liable to mentally checking out as I go about my daily tasks; in fact, I'm actually doing those tasks more faithfully, at least to the extent that the fatigue caused by spinal stenosis allows. I have resumed using my mantra – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me –as a way of staying present in the moment, a practice I had not followed for a long time.
I know it is a mistake to look for what C.S. Lewis called "an endowment of grace for life;" I know that I cannot depend on this undoubtedly fleeting emotional state to carry me through the years ahead. But I'm equally sure that God touched me through the simplicity and self-dedication I witnessed among those Sisters, and to the extent that I stay dedicated to the simplicities of my own life, I can honor that unadorned gift of grace.
Historical note: during the Roman persecutions, Christians celebrated the Eucharist in underground catacombs, using the tombs of the martyrs as altar tables. This was the origin of having a saint or, failing that, a bit of a saint inside church altars. The veneration of relics grew from there.
Be who you were created to be, and you’ll set the world on fire. --St. Catherine of Siena
Growing up in the 70s as a Brainy Music Geek (BMG), I naturally listened to a lot of the same music as my Brainy Music Geek friends. Consequently, I spent many hours trying to convince myself that I liked Progressive Rock. Some, like Rush, I actually did like; some, like Pink Floyd, I still do. But such flagship ProgRock groups as Yes and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer never gained any purchase in me, no matter how assiduously I tried to absorb Brain Salad Surgery.
Committed as I was, ideologically, to brainy music, I generally looked down my nose at AC/DC, Guns n Roses, and other hard rock groups (though for some reason, I was able to admit that I liked Van Halen.) And though I flirted with Grunge in the early 90s, heavy metal was never on my radar. (Also, I never liked punk rock, but Led Zeppelin was complex enough to pass muster in my BMG world. Southern Rock I can take or leave.)
It took being over 50 and partially disabled to make me finally admit to myself that I actually like heavy music. So now I embarrass my children by playing my AC/DC Pandora station in the car, regaling their friends with Scorpions and Metallica. (Also P!nk, who scratches the same itch in a more contemporary way.) In revenge, they delight in reminding me that the two metal rods in my neck make it inadvisable, if not impossible, to bang my head.
Why do I bring this up? Because being true to myself is about more than bad-ass guitar solos and another midlife crisis. Liking what we like keeps us aligned with the people we were created to be. In C.S. Lewis's novel The Screwtape Letters, a mid-level demon bureaucrat advises his young nephew Wormwood during his first temptation assignment:
The deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting-point, with which the Enemy has furnished him. To get him away from those is therefore always a point gained; even in things indifferent it is always desirable substitute the standards of the World, or convention, or fashion, for a human's own real likings and dislikings...The man who truly and disinterestedly enjoys any one thing in the world, for its own sake, and without caring twopence what other people say about it, is by that very fact fore-armed against some of our subtlest modes of attack. You should always try to make the patient abandon the people or food or books he really likes in favour of the "best" people, the "right" food, the "important" books.
For years, I abandoned the music I really liked in favor of more "important" music. In doing so, II parted company with the person I was made to be, and tried instead to be the person I had made up in my head. If catching up with what I missed during my pretentious youth means inflicting "weird old people music" on my children, that seems a small price to pay.
In his 1988 memoir, The Ragman’s Son, Kirk Douglas revisits Paris some years after having been stationed there during the Second World War. Unable to recapture the feeling he’d had during those heady days, he realizes that what he is actually searching for is his 22-year-old self, who, obviously, isn't there to be found.
I had a similar experience the first time I revisited the Sterling Renaissance Festival after some years away. My first two years at that show – living in the woods, swimming in Lake Ontario, performing with extraordinarily talented colleagues – were in many ways idyllic, and I was eager to relive the feeling of freedom I had had there in the first blush of my youth.
It didn't happen. No matter how I tried to re-create the experience I remembered, it simply didn't feel the same. Then one morning as I walked from my tent to the showers, I heard a voice say very clearly in my head, "Why are you standing here looking up at the sky?"
I knew at once the story the voice in my head was alluding to.
Then (the disciples) gathered round (Jesus) and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.’ (Acts 1:6-11)
I had never really connected with this story. Centered on Jesus’s bodily ascension into heaven—an idea I have always struggled with—it had always left me unmoved. Likewise, the promise of Jesus’s bodily return is treated elsewhere in the New Testament, and is not the main point of this story.
For me, the operative part of this passage is when the angels ask the disciples why they are standing around looking up at the sky. As long as they all strain their eyes to catch sight of the bodily Jesus, they cannot look inward to find Christ in themselves, or outward to find Christ in others. Their preoccupation with the Jesus they have known makes them unable to "seek and serve Christ in all persons." (Book of Common Prayer) They were like Kirk Douglas and me, looking for their youthful selves rather than experiencing themselves and others as they are now. The disciples could not receive power through the Holy Spirit until they accepted that the physical Jesus was gone.
Now, my wife gazes meaningfully up to the sky whenever she catches me waxing nostalgic about our children's early years. When I start reminiscing about cute things they said and did when they were little, she reminds me that my smart, talented, kind, athletic, funny, beautiful teenagers are right here with me, ready to be enjoyed in the present rather than mooned over in the past.
I'm also apt to gaze up at the sky for a glimpse of the things I used to be able to do before spinal stenosis. It's easy to get caught up in missing those things: playing the concertina, going to contradances, walking for pleasure, picking things up off the floor without losing my balance. Hell, I even miss my hair – and I lost that long before my spinal cord turned on me.
If I am ever to be able to engage the life I have, I know I need to let go of the life that is gone. Not that I think anything ever goes to waste unless we let it; all those experiences – all of everybody's experiences – make us who we are, and are never lost. But as long as we stand here looking up at the sky, straining for a glimpse of them, trying to recapture what is gone forever, we cannot be of any use to ourselves or others in the here and now.
I first knew for sure that I had a problem when I was using the elliptical exerciser. I had been keeping myself in shape with it for years, but it slowly, almost imperceptibly, became more difficult to use. When the reckoning finally came, my left foot would clench up like a fist after only a few minutes of exercise. Then things began to happen faster.
Within a short time, I could no longer play the piano, concertina or harmonium without pain, and could only type with my right hand. (I am using dictation software to write this article.) Centering Prayer became difficult because I could no longer sit still comfortably for any period of time. Cooking became a challenge as my left hand became less adept at holding vegetables while my right hand cut them. And while "any place is walking distance if you have the time" had always been a motto of mine, I soon found even walking taxing. Spinal stenosis – a condition in which the bones of the spine thicken, putting pressure on the spinal cord and causing weakness, loss of dexterity, and decreased range of motion on one side of the body – had left me unable to do a lot of the things which had previously given me joy.
The problem had been a long time coming on; like the frog who boiled to death because the heat under the pan had been turned up so slowly that it hadn't noticed, I failed to register my increasing debility for at least a year before it became too severe to ignore. Besides, I somaticize my emotions a lot, so it was easy to assume that the muscle tension in my left arm, leg, hand, and shoulder were symptoms of stress.
I had surgery which, unfortunately, didn't work; in fact, I was worse after it than before. Everything from picking things up off the floor to putting on my pants became harder, so I did less, and between my physical inertness, and depression urging me to spend many hours sleeping on the couch, I managed to put on about 90 pounds. I went from being a person whose age people routinely guessed ten years low, to getting offered senior citizen discounts at a glance.
I developed an obsession with my "glory days," when I could do so many things I could no longer do, or do as well as I used to. At the same time, I would see friends 10 to 20 years older than me – I am 53 now – move around much more spryly than I could, and be beset with panic about ending up a miserable, contracted 65-year-old in a wheelchair. I was caught between mourning the past and dreading the future.
And the fatigue! Just walking eight tenths of a mile to church and back for Morning Prayer leaves me well-nigh exhausted, and if I follow that up with an aquacise class at the gym, I’ll either need to take a nap or drag myself through the rest of the day at 60% power. My left hand has become so maladroit that even tying my shoes makes me break a sweat. Moving around in a crowded room has become an ordeal, as I strive not to use other people as a luge course from my seat to the bathroom or buffet. Even if it’s for something I love, like shape-note singing, if it’s going to involve a lot of people in close quarters, or there aren’t comfortable chairs, I may stay home. My world is contracting.
“Most people start the day with an unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people,” wrote a blogger with Lupus. “The hardest thing I ever had to learn is to slow down, and not do everything. I fight this to this day. I hate feeling left out, having to choose to stay home, or to not get things done that I want to.”
I hate it, too, and the anxiety and weariness still trouble me during my weaker moments. I still fiercely miss making music with friends, cooking without dropping things all the time, and walking for pleasure, and I still dread those further losses that may be coming. But the good news is, I have begun, with the help of my wife and a lot of prayerful introspection, to emerge from that narrow space between the Scylla of the past and the dire Charybdis of the future. It sounds ridiculously obvious, but the secret is to focus on what I can do now.
I cannot play instruments that require the equal use of both hands, but I can play predominantly right-handed instruments like the Irish bodhran, the Basque string drum, the Indian karatals (tiny brass cymbals)—and thanks to some kind biomechanical engineers at Temple University, I now have a motorized harmonium that doesn’t require my left hand to pump the bellows. (I also found a one-handed accordion, with a keyboard on the right but no bass or chord buttons on the left.)
I cannot sit, erect and still, in meditation any longer, but I can pray Evening Prayer or Compline out of the Prayerbook, pray the Rosary once a week with the Morning Meditation group at church, and observe novenas when saints to whom I feel a connection come up in the calendar.
I cannot practice yoga or use the elliptical exerciser, but I can go to aquacise classes and walk to church for Morning Prayer.
It’s hard to slice and dice by hand, but it’s easy to use a Cuisinart and buy frozen chopped onions and pre-minced garlic. (Helpful hint: a hardboiled egg slicer can be used to slice mushrooms, too.)
All of these accommodations have been exercises in humility, of course; having to face loss of ability and accept help are potent medicine for a misplaced sense of self. The cooking accommodations have also shown me that many of the things I thought were quality-of-life choices—always using fresh garlic, rather than powdered or pre-minced, for instance—were actually ego-driven choices rooted in pride; whatever else I was, I wasn’t one of those sorry people who didn’t know what to do with fresh herbs. Now, I save physical discomfort by opening a bag of frozen chopped onions rather than chopping them fresh, and each time I do it, the ego discomfort is a little less.
Best of all, God seems to be validating my adjustments with a stream of successful and rewarding workshops, discussions, and other professional and volunteer opportunities; chances to use the training I received at the Shalem Institute, graduate school and seminary. It almost seemed as though every time I resigned myself to finding a new way of doing something, I get a phone call or email about some new project. It's enough to make you think you're doing something right.
Perhaps most excitingly, I got an email asking me to serve as a Formation Counselor for the Third Order of St. Francis--a religious order within the Episcopal Church whose members live a Franciscan life, with a Rule and under vows, but in the world rather than in community. I had plenty of reservations, and plenty of reasons to say "no". Things like deadlines, files, email, and other things to be kept straight and organized can be daunting to me. Moreover, as I read the handbook and other materials, I realized how much I had been bobbing along the surface of Third Order life in some ways.
When I was in formation, I took to heart what the formation letters said about how it was I, and not my family, who was becoming a Franciscan, and when my children were small – and until quite recently – I missed a lot of fellowship meetings because they were on Saturday mornings, which I considered family time. While the day-to-day business of keeping the rule was something I could still do, I fell out of touch with the larger order in some ways; the newsletters, the intercession list, and other ways of keeping my finger on the pulse sort of fell through the cracks. But I remembered what the Principles of the Order say about humility: "when asked to undertake work of which they feel unworthy or incapable they do not shrink from it on the grounds of humility, but confidently attempt it through the power that is made perfect in weakness."
“Hate Has No Home Here” proclaims the popular yard sign. Now available in 29 states, the sign—red on one side and blue on the other--proclaims its message in languages including Spanish, Arabic and Hebrew. But as innocuous as the message itself is, I’ve heard it denounced on talk radio as “virtue signaling.” The yard sign, the safety pin, even driving a Prius are, the thinking goes, self-aggrandizing gestures meant to smear conservatives by proclaiming our own moral superiority. Expressions of human caring are now, apparently, political weapons.
What baffles me is why conservatives would give us so much power over them. By proclaiming the public expression of compassion a partisan weapon, conservatives are practically admitting that their own positions are morally flawed.
Which is not to say that say that taking a moral stand on an issue can ever be politically neutral. Shepard Fairey’s wonderful “We the People” posters, for example, while not explicitly partisan, are decidedly political statements in favor of inclusion and the embrace of diversity. But the administrators at a Maryland high school decided they were partisan anti-Trump statements, and made teachers remove them from their classrooms. And I wonder why people who want to be seen as good would loudly claim that expressions of diversity and inclusion are acts of aggression aimed at them. They are doing the weaponizing for us; they are like the mortally wounded eagle in the Aesop fable that, looking at the arrow that has pierced its chest, sees one of its own feathers. What a lot to give away.
So now that we know that compassion is a weapon, what do we do? Well, here are two things not to do:
Marianne Williamson described the devil as our human tendency to think without love. Pema Chödrön lays human ugliness at the doorstep of our need to defend the vulnerable “soft spot” at the core of our being. Traditional Christianity attributes “this present darkness” to “spiritual forces of evil.” But however we conceive of the source of wickedness, it must be against that source that our acts of love are weaponized.
When Jesus gave His life in sacrificial love, he wasn’t aiming that act as a weapon at His tormenters; rather, He prayed for their forgiveness. But Jesus’ supreme act of compassion was indeed a mighty weapon, as St. John Chrysostom tells us in his venerable Paschal Homily:
Let none fear death;
for the death of the Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed death by undergoing death.
He has despoiled hell by descending into hell.
He vexed it even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he cried:
Hell was filled with bitterness when it met Thee face to face below;
filled with bitterness, for it was brought to nothing;
filled with bitterness, for it was mocked;
filled with bitterness, for it was overthrown;
filled with bitterness, for it was put in chains.
Hell received a body, and encountered God. It received earth, and confronted heaven.
Every act of love and compassion, undertaken for its own sake, strikes at the heart of Hell. The weapons of kindness are forged for use, not against those whom we think unkind, but against the cosmic forces of darkness—the Thing in all of our heads and hearts that makes us hate.
Once more unto the breach.
“The Adversary took Jesus to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ --Mt. 4:8-9
Jesus knew that was a bad deal. Apparently, four in five white evangelicals in America do not. They traded in the Gospel for earthly power. They took the bait that Jesus would not.
Jesus never said, “Go ye out and become ye top dogs; yea, rule ye the roost in my name.” In fact, Jesus promised us persecution. And I don’t think he meant the crèche being taken off the courthouse lawn.
When the Emperor Constantine saw that the Gospel faith—a way of life that had grown by leaps and bounds in spite of being actually persecuted--was the only thing unifying his disintegrating empire, he made Christianity the official state religion of Rome. And even at the time, there were lots of brave men and women who knew what a terrible idea that was, and fled into the Sinai desert in order to have no part of it. They were the Desert Fathers and Mothers, known today for their radical hospitality to pilgrims and travelers, and for their rejection of political power.
I’m not advocating flight into the desert (or Canada), or living as hermits, or founding monasteries. But I am urging that we, who remember that Evangelical Christianity brought us the civil rights movement, the abolitionist movement, the suffragists, child labor laws and most other progressive social movements in America before being hijacked by the Republican Party in the 1980s, need to regard ourselves as being in a desert exile of a different kind, far from the centers of worldly power.
“When they go low,” said Michelle Obama, “we go high.” When the powerful church attacks LGBTQ folks, the exiled church must welcome them. When the powerful church rejects refugees, the exiled church must embrace them. When the powerful church tries to silence women, the exiled church must make sure women continue to have a voice.
A dear friend of mine adopted four Mexican girls. This morning, the seven-year-old declared, “We need to open our home to everyone that Trump doesn't want. We can make the room. We will keep them all safe".
"I don't know whether you could tell, but there was a lot of tension here this morning."
Um, yeah. I don't know what it was about, but the tension in the office of that South Philly body shop was obvious and discomfiting the morning I dropped off my car for repair. I couldn't get away from the awkward scene fast enough.
"But when I went to get your keys," the receptionist continued, having phoned to tell me the work was done, "I saw the medal of St. Francis on your key ring, and it reminded me of what's really important, and it put everything into perspective. I just wanted to thank you for that."
This is why I like outward symbols of faith. Bearing in mind Jesus' warning against practicing your piety in front of people in order to be praised by them (Matthew 6:1), and eschewing ostentation for simplicity, I find that something like a medal or pendant can be a great conversation starter. People with questions or qualms might never know otherwise that you are someone they can approach. When someone asks, "What's that?", it's an opportunity for dialogue.
This is why I wear my clerical collar to demonstrations; people need to see white clergy declaring publicly that black lives matter, full fair funding of schools matters, a living wage matters. Like the kids say: represent.
I've been having a bear of a time getting my sorry butt to morning meditation at St. Martin's. It's a wonderful, diverse group, and I love the idea of starting the day with meditation. The reality, however, is that even when I'm not in the depths of my allergy season--which I am, and which makes me even more prone to drowsiness than usual--I spend much of the time just fighting off sleep. Which doesn't feel particularly "spiritual," whatever that is.
The lesson, of course, is that trying to stay awake is practice; showing up and exercising your will is practice; catching and correcting yourself over and over is practice. Half of the practice, at least, is just showing up.
Scott Robinson is an interfaith minister, musician, and spiritual director in Philadelphia. Hear his music at www.mandalaband.net.