Dear Folks,

Last Saturday a group of 50 people gathered in the Chapel to bury a woman who was about to turn 105.  Because the woman’s faith had travelled so many miles over her century, from doubt to devotion and back again, it seemed false to squeeze her memorial service into an Episcopal liturgy.  So we set up a circle of chairs around a free-standing altar, placed her ashes in a pottery jar, lit candles, and together held a Quaker Meeting to celebrate her life.

The stories people told about her were funny and poignant, even scandalous—her personal trainer met her at the gym until she was 102… as a 10-year-old she drove the car so her father, an Episcopal priest, could make pastoral visits in rural Virginia… she offered relationship counseling to a grandson in his 20’s… and when no longer able walk, she asked a caregiver to “carry her to that little stone church, so that she could go home.”

Everyone spoke about what a good friend she had been.  “She never knew a stranger. She made you part of the circle.  She asked how you were doing.  She looked you in the eyes.”

One person read an excerpt from The Little Prince.  “The fox asked, ‘Are you looking for chickens?’  ‘No’ said the little prince.  ‘I am looking for friends.  What does that mean—‘tame’?’  ‘It is an act too often neglected,’ said the fox.  ‘It means to establish ties.’  ‘To establish ties’? (asked the little prince).”

“‘Just that,’ said the fox.  ‘To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys.  And I have no need of you.  And you, on your part, have no need of me.  To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes.  But it you tame me, then we shall need each other.  To me, you will be unique in the world.  To you, I shall be unique in the world… if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life.  I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others.  Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground.  Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow.  And then look: you see the grain fields down yonder?  I do not eat bread.  Wheat is of no use to me.  The wheat fields have nothing to say to me.  And that is sad.  But you have hair that is the color of gold.  Think how wonderful it will be when you have tamed me.  The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you.  And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…”

“The fox gazed at the little prince for a long time.  ‘Please—tame me!’ he said.  ‘I want to, very much,’ the little prince replied.  ‘But I have not much time.  I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.’”

“’One only understands the things that one tames,’ said the fox.  ‘Men have no more time to understand anything.  They buy things all ready-made at the shops.  But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more.  If you want a friend, tame me…’  ‘What must I do, to tame you?’ asked the little prince.  ‘You must be very patient,’ replied the fox.  ‘First you will sit down at a little distance from me—like that—in the grass.  I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing.  Words are the source of misunderstandings.  But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…’”

“So the little prince tamed the fox.  And when the hour of his departure drew near—‘Ah,’ said the fox, ‘I shall cry.’  ‘It’s your own fault,’ said the little prince.  ‘I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you…’  ‘Yes, that is so,’ said the fox.  ‘But now you are going to cry!’ said the little prince.  ‘Yes, that is so,’ said the fox.  ‘Then it has done you no good at all!’  ‘It has done me good,’ said the fox, ‘because of the color of the wheat fields…”  My 104 year old friend who died knew that each of us is like that little fox, longing to be seen and known.  The world needs us to tame each other.

No shop is selling friendship this December, but we need it now more than ever.  So instead of rushing about, why not give someone new a few moments of your time?  Start a friendship.  There’s no telling how long you will know each other, and as in all relationships, someday you will part.  But we were made for each other… and like the light shining on an otherwise ordinary manger of wheat, once you have loved an unlikely stranger, you’ll carry something golden with you always.

Love,

David

That simple yet powerful sentence was the opening invitation from the convener of a 5 day workshop that I am currently taking. Sponsored by the Mental Health Association of Maryland, I am being trained to become an instructor for what is called Mental Health First Aid. Similar to a First Aid course for medical situations, this training is focused on mental health issues. Topics include depression, anxiety, phobias, suicide, psychosis, substance abuse and eating disorders. I am in a class of about 20 other professionals including a group from the Baltimore County Police Crisis team, and a number of social workers from central Maryland. I am the only clergy which is sort of fun.

So you might ask, why am I doing this? My primary motivation is reflected in the opening sentence above: “It is time we talk about mental health challenges.” I want to be a resource for the parish and the community for education and referrals. Mental illness carries with it the potential for stigma and shame. Too often it is hidden in the stories of our lives. And keeping those secrets only contributes to the challenges of recovery and acceptance. Almost 19% of the US population experiences some form of mental illness in any one year. That is not a small number. My own life has been touched by two extended family members with mental illness.  I suppose that is an additional reason I am passionate about speaking out.

I found it interesting that as I am writing this on Tuesday, this morning on Good Morning America, Ginger Zee, ABC News chief meteorologist was interviewed about her newly published memoir, Natural Disaster: I Cover Them, I Am One. In it, she describes her struggle with depression, her addiction to self harm and her decision to get in-patient help. You might find the interview of interest: https://www.yahoo.com/gma/natural-disaster-ginger-zee-opens-battle-depression-memoir-134107942–abc-news-books.html She ends the interview with: “I fought a disease called depression that a lot of people fight every single day. Unlike other diseases, there is a stigma surrounding it and I want to help people. The hundreds of thousands or millions of people who are dealing with or dealt with something I did, I want them to be able to fight without shame.”

That is my hope for our community. I choose to be an active voice. If you are interested in being a part of a group to raise awareness of mental health issues, I invite you to email me. Let’s explore productive ways to educate and inform. It’s time…..

Blessings,

Caroline

Dear Folks,

What do we do with the days that stretch between now and Christmas?  (Clue: shopping and cocktail parties may not be the most satisfying answers.)  How can we slow down and get quiet, even for just a few minutes?  How do we hear the silence through the jangle of year-end deadlines and the buzz in our own heads?  How do we make room for something holy, when what we’re mostly waiting for is a better job, or a decent place to live, or a letter from a college, or a little love in our life?

Here’s a picture of Advent that one poet paints.  “Look how long the weary world waited, locked in its lonely cell, guilty as a prisoner.  As you can imagine, it sang and whistled in the dark.  It hoped.  It paced and puttered about, tidying its little piles of inconsequence.  It wept from the weight of ennui, draped like shackles on its wrists.  It raged and wailed against the walls of its own plight.  But there was nothing the world could do to find its own freedom.  The door was shut tight.  It could only be opened from the outside.  Who could believe the latch would be turned by a pink flower—the tiny hand of a newborn baby?” (Pamela Cranston)

It surprises me every year to remember that the darkness of the world is pierced by the twinkling eyes of a baby in a manger, someone who wants to be fed and changed.  “I see you,” the eyes say.  “I need you.”  Somehow we find God and our best selves in this fragile promise between two people… maybe a parent and her child, maybe a couple of friends or siblings, maybe even between strangers.  “I’ll take care of you, until you don’t need me anymore,” we promise.   And then we hope against hope that “You’ll take care of me, if I ever get lost, or when I’m sick or old and tired.”  We know it doesn’t always work out very well, either in a particular household or within the family of man, so we tell the story again each December to hear what we’ve been missing, and to see if we can get it right this time around.  The only eyes that God can look out are ours, the season reminds us, and if the world’s wounds are going to be bound up, then it’s our hands that will do it.  And every heart will be made a little more whole in the process.

This Saturday, Caroline and I will lead an Advent retreat: two hours of silence and a few carefully chosen words.  We will invite you to experience the particular sacrament of this season: life being born anew.

Be silent.  “I ask you to be thoughtful about the noise in your life.  Perhaps you might consider tuning out, turning off, and saying no.  Saying no might be the word of God.” (Z. Vance Wilson)

Watch.  “You reveal your presence to us in unexpected places, in unexpected times, through unexpected people, in unexpected forms.” (Jayakiran Sebastian)

Wait.  “Ask me about this blessing… and I will tell you… of the seed that knows its season and the wordless canticle of stars that will not cease their singing…” (Jan Richardson)

Make space.  “When Advent seeps into our souls, we come to understand that small is not nothing and empty is not bereft.  To be small is to need, to depend on the other.  Smallness bonds us to the rest of the human race and frees us from” isolation.  “To be empty is to be available inside to attend to… the blessings of life.” (Joan Chittister)

Join us in the chapel on Saturday morning from 9:30-11:30.

Love, David

As a child growing up in Timonium, chicken was my family’s fowl-du-jour for Thanksgiving. My parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from The Philippines in the 1960’s, each with a suitcase in one hand and big hopes and dreams in the other, were not familiar with turkey. And so a baked chicken, seasoned with salt, pepper and a few dashes of paprika, was our family’s simple Filipino-American Thanksgiving meal for several years, with steamed rice, vegetables, and “bibingka” for dessert (sweet rice cake made with coconut and milk), until my sister and I were older.

Sitting at Thanksgiving dinner eating our chicken and rice, my mother used to tell us how her father, a high school principal in Ballesteros, a small town on the northern coast of the northernmost Philippine island of Luzon, was not pleased when he learned she wished to emigrate. Understandably, neither he nor my grandmother wished for their only daughter to live halfway across the world from them. It was my mother’s oldest brother, my Uncle Pons, who became her greatest cheerleader and advocate, giving her emotional and financial support so she could achieve her dream.

Last Sunday in church, Caroline began her sermon on faithful discipleship and risk-taking by recounting the story of the 102 courageous souls who boarded The Mayflower in 1620 and set sail from Plymouth, England, for a new life across the Atlantic. Since then I have been thinking of the countless trans-Atlantic and other voyages taken by courageous souls over the centuries and recent decades — both the voyages freely chosen, and the ones enforced, against people’s will — that have shaped the full, ongoing narrative of our country.

And I have been reflecting on our country’s narrative in the light of this coming Sunday’s “Feast of Christ the King”, when we are given the chance once again to reflect on and imagine “Christ’s reign”: a reality where the outcast and the established, the saint and the sinner, the stranger and the beloved-known, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, regardless of race or class or politics or religion or whatever-barriers-we-humans-place-between-one-another, coexist in life-giving relationship with each other, as human travelers on one sacred, earthly voyage together.

We are still en route to this glorious vision, and we each have our oar to pull, our piece of the narrative to write. This voyage takes all the courage and the will, all the resources and all the heart, we have to give it. As we celebrate our great American feast of Thanksgiving, a feast that is universal at its core, let us give thanks for the blessings of our lives, including the chance to be on this voyage, traveling en route together.

~Cristina

Dear Folks,

Some years more than others, we have to prepare for Thanksgiving beyond the pies and the turkeys and the stuffing.  In November 1962, only weeks after the Cuban missile crisis, the young president of the United States wrote this to a rattled nation:

“It is fitting that we observe this year our own day of thanksgiving. It is fitting that we give our thanks for the safety of our land, for the fertility of our harvests, for the strength of our liberties, for the health of our people. We do so in no spirit of self-righteousness. We recognize that we are the beneficiaries of the toil and devotion of our fathers and that we can pass their legacy on to our children only by equal toil and equal devotion. We recognize too that we live in a world of peril and change–and in so uncertain a time we are all the more grateful for the indestructible gifts of hope and love, which sustain us in adversity and inspire us to labor unceasingly for a more perfect community within this nation and around the earth.”

In his invitation to the country, I hear Kennedy imploring himself.

“Let us renew the spirit of the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving, lonely in an inscrutable wilderness, facing the dark unknown with a faith borne of their dedication to God and a fortitude drawn from their sense that all men were brothers.

Let us renew that spirit by offering our thanks for uncovenanted mercies, beyond our desert or merit, and by resolving to meet the responsibilities placed upon us.

Let us renew that spirit by sharing the abundance of this day with those less fortunate, in our own land and abroad. Let us renew that spirit by seeking always to establish larger communities of brotherhood.

Let us renew that spirit by preparing our souls for the incertitude’s ahead–by being always ready to confront crisis with steadfastness and achievement with grace and modesty.

Let us renew that spirit by concerting our energy and our hope with men and women everywhere that the world may move more rapidly toward the time when Thanksgiving may be a day of universal celebration.

Let us renew that spirit by expressing our acceptance of the limitations of human striving and by affirming our duty to strive nonetheless, as Providence may direct us, toward a better world for all mankind.”

We, too, have more to do this year than grocery shop and fix old recipes.  It won’t be easy or fast, and it will take all of us pulling together.  We need to make some things which have grown old feel brand new again:

Let us reclaim the vision of America as the land of liberty and justice for all… Let us remember on whose shoulders we stand.  Let us respect each other across lines of difference.  Let us repair the violence of racism.  Let us restore women to their rightful place.  Let us recover religion, the arts and sciences, and physical education as a means to make each of us more humane.  Let us rebuild Baltimore… through business investment and job creation, through improved transportation and restored housing, through re-engaging young people and caring for seniors, by adding strength to wherever there is light and hope.   Let us revive the spirit of Thanksgiving in our time.

Hope and love are indestructible, and I am so thankful for you.

Love, David

P.S.  If you need one, here’s a blessing for your table next Thursday, by Nicholas Samaras.

Benediction

For what we are given.
For being mindful of what we are given.

For those who grieve and those who celebrate.
For those who remain grateful in the face of everything.

For the assembly of words that links us together.
For individual speech that becomes speech shared.

For the transformations a written page may effect in us.
For those who pay attention.

For the teachers who gave us the chrysalis of language.
For the comrades of the heart who left us signposts.

For the parent who gave us the one ethic of discipline.
For ourselves who may take discipline to heart, and not resent it.

For the second chance that is the writing down.
For those who know that half of poetry is silence.

For the language of breath, and the breath that is prayer.
For those who wake to light, and know the depths of sacrament.

For this common meal, and us who bow our heads and partake.
For those who remember that “so be it” is also written.

Amen.