The Tapestry of Scripture

How about that first reading? “Pretty good stuff, huh? Ready for a pop quiz? Any volunteers?” About this time everyone begins to look down in the hopes that if we don’t make eye contact I won’t call on them. The first reading was from the Book of Nehemiah – just the title tells you a lot – fills in the who, what, when and where of the reading we just heard. It is the people of Jerusalem, returned from Exile in Babylon some 40 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and its beloved Temple. The people are rebuilding as best they can. Life is hard. The neighbors are making it difficult. The complaints and grumbling are many. What began in joy is wilting in the hot sun of their reality. They are forgetting who they are and to whom they belong.  And so they are all brought together in one place. The sequence of events that unfold are this: Continue reading

In the moment

A wedding celebration – part of ordinary everyday life. A woman and man to be joined in marriage, a next step in a life unfolding. We see but a vignette of their life on a day filled with music, the dancing, the celebration, the servants working hard to hide their panic, and wedding guests having no idea that this celebration teeters on the edge of disaster.

They have no wine.”  These are words of scarcity in a story one associates with abundance and a richness of overflowing grace. Words that are familiar to us in our personal lives and voices we hear.“They have no wine,” is echoed in: “They have no money.” “She has no job.” “He has no friends.” “I have no strength.”  Words that have more variation and instances that I could count.  Words spoken in the ordinary of life even as things around us teeter on the edge of disaster.

This week I had a long conversation with a young woman who works in a hospital ICU. She has spent 2 years working hard to help heal as patients teeter on the edge of disaster. She is tired beyond her years. “I have no strength” The stress is endless, relentless. In the beginning the work was heroic as they tended to the innocents, people who were overtaken by the pandemic virus. Now it is more “one foot after another” as she tends to those who refused vaccination and their life needlessly teeters on the edge of disaster. It’s been two years and she is struggling. She was feeling less and less a nurse. And so she called.

Among combat veterans there is an expression: the thousand mile stare that blank, unfocused gaze of combatants who have become emotionally detached from the horrors around them. As I listened to my friend I heard the thousand mile monotone. And so we talked.

In today’s gospel the scene is a wedding feast, celebrations that lasted for days, and it was the host’s responsibility to provide abundant food and drink for the duration of the festivities.  To run out of wine early was a dishonor — a breach of hospitality that the guests would recount for years.  It is not hard to imagine the panic among servants – blame rolls downhill and takes no hostages.

We have no idea what Mary’s connection is to the bride and groom; she is one wedding guest among many.  Yet in the midst of celebration and distraction, she notices need.  She sees what’s amiss.  She knows that humiliation is brewing just out of sight. Mary notices and registers concern before Jesus does.

Mary tells the right person.  Mary knows who her son is and she trusts that he alone can meet the need she perceives. I love the assurance with which she brings her distress to Jesus.  She is as certain of his generosity as she is of the need itself.

Mary persists.   I don’t know what to make of Jesus’s reluctance to help when Mary first approaches him.  “Woman, how does your concern affect me?”  “My hour has not yet come.”  Jesus knows that his countdown to crucifixion will begin as soon as he makes his true identity known.  Maybe he’s reluctant to start that ominous clock ticking.  Maybe he thinks wine-making shouldn’t be his first miracle.  Maybe there’s a timeline known only to him and to God.  Lots of maybe’s. Whatever the case, Mary doesn’t cave in the face of his reluctance; she continues to press the urgency of the need into Jesus’s presence.  As if to say, “OK, but there’s a desperate problem, right here, right now.  Change your plans.  Hasten the hour.  Help them on their wedding day!”

Mary instills trust and invites obedience.  “Do whatever he tells you,” she says to the household servants.  She doesn’t wait to hear the specifics of Jesus’s plan.  She doesn’t pretend to know the details. She simply communicates her long-standing trust in Jesus’s loving, generous character, and invites the servants to practice the minute-by-minute obedience. The kind of obedience that makes faith possible.

Think about the servants – their task isn’t easy.  There’s no running water in the ancient world, and those stone jars are huge. How many trips to the well, how much energy, how deep a resolve the task requires!  Mary’s strength, her trust serves as a catalyst for action, for the groundwork of Jesus’s instructions: “Fill the jars.”  “Draw some out.”  Take it to the chief steward.”  She fosters a faith-filled atmosphere that becomes contagious.  She instills wonder in those around her, and ushers in a miracle. “Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee.

Would it that we could heal with the power of Jesus. We can’t do what Jesus does, but we can be like Mary in that we notice, speak out, persist, and trust. No matter how profound the scarcity, no matter how impossible the situation, we can elbow our way in, pull Jesus aside, ask earnestly for help, and ready ourselves for action. We can be the sign that ushers in a miracle and reveals the glory of God in the world.

There in the midst of a life teetering at the edge of disaster in a pandemic ICU, there are nurses and doctors who notice, call the right person, persist, and instill trust. I asked my friend about her prayer life. She still routinely turns to prayer, asking Jesus to usher in another miracle, another sign that God was present in the midst of her daily combat. She holds the hands of her patients and prayed.

I told my friend about this weekend’s gospel and offered that she was the sign of God’s presence in the ICU. As the team practiced their medical skills to save the life, she was the one whose simple gesture of holding a hand in prayer was the sign most needed in that moment. As a nurse she noticed more than just the medical needs, she persisted, she instilled trust, and she called on the right person.

I told my friend that she was the Mary of those moments.

It is advice for us all. When and wherever we find ourselves this week we can notice, persist, instill trust, call on the right person – become a sign of God’s presence for another. May we all become Mary for others in the moments that come.

The Beloved

One of my seminary classmates told me of a nice tradition his religious community maintained. Each priest had his own copy of The Rite of Baptism of Children. Written on the front inside cover was the name of the priest and the first child that he baptized. The simple notation in the Rite book was the start of two stories: a priestly vocation and a story of Christian beginning.  Stories that unfold as the weeks become months become years. Continue reading

What reason for Hope?

The celebration of the Baptism of the Lord marks the end of the Christmas Season. But I have to say, once we get past Christmas it is the life of Jesus on fast forward: Nativity, presentation in the Temple, magi, fleeing to Egypt, return to Nazareth, lost in the Temple and now we’re standing in a long line of people by the banks of the Jordan River.  Ahead of us, waist-deep in the water, John the Baptist makes a no-nonsense, unrelenting call to repentance.  Behind us, at the very end of the long line, stands that once-upon-a-time baby — all grown up.  Thirty years have gone by, and the promised child is about to come into his promise. Continue reading

Epiphany attraction

Today we celebrate The Epiphany of the Lord, traditionally celebrated on January 6th in the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches; but here in the West we celebrate it on a Sunday. So, welcome to our celebration of The Epiphany. It is a word taken from the Greek epiphaneia meaning “manifestation, striking appearance; from epiphanes meaning “manifest, conspicuous,” and from epiphainein “to manifest, display, show off; come suddenly into view.” Our liturgy marks the arrival of visitors, identified in Scripture as the magi, to the place where Jesus was born. Although we know virtually nothing about them, we do know they brought three gifts, each with traditional meanings. Continue reading

What makes a family holy?

Is your family holy? What makes a family holy? Most often when we think of families, we think of what makes them healthy – and that too is a good question, a good goal, and something worth time and energy to ensure. A family should want to be a place where its members feel welcomed, warm, embraced, safe, supported, loved and so much more.  But do all those things – as good as they are – make a family holy? Continue reading

Thinness of Attention

There is an idea in Celtic Christian thought about the “thin veil,” that the presence of God is there before us, behind us, all around us – veiled by only the thinness of our attention. It has been that way since the Spirit of God hovered over the primordial waters and brought forth life.

“In the beginning was the Word,and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.”

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Ways of the World

“Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home” (Matthew 1:20)

I really looked forward to my first Christmas in Kenya. I thought this was gonna’ be so different.  It was different from the start – even the precursor signals that let us know Christmas is coming were very different.  Certainly the slum in which I lived was devoid of any of the commercial excess.  There were no malls, no black Friday, none of the things we just accept as part of our background and routine.  Occasionally, you could hear Christmas carols, traditional and tribal, float out of one of the dwellings or tin sheds that passed for stores.  As for my traditional Christmas expectations about the season or weather were different – the days were growing a little longer and warmer – such is life below the Equator. Continue reading

It only seems ordinary

We live in a world of email, text messaging, tweets, instagrams, and all manner of connectivity in social and electronic media. It has become all very ordinary. Yet, each day, I am more than a little curious about what comes “old school” via USPS into my mailbox. There is correspondence from the Diocese, advertisements for one thing or another, bills and invoices, catalogues, and “ta-da!”… Christmas cards. Continue reading

Intentional Rejoicing

The prophet Zephaniah exhorts us to “Sing joyfully, be glad and exult” with all of our hearts. He writes in the context of the worst kind of spiritual and political corruption by the very leaders who are supposed to care for the poor and the oppressed of Judah. Isaiah writes in the midst of suffering, as the people experience the devastation of the Babylonian exile.  Paul is writing from prison. But each in their own way tells us to rejoice. Why? Zephaniah says it best: God “… will rejoice over you with gladness…he will sing joyfully because of you.” (Zep 3:17-18).  Because of you. Because of me. Wow! The source, the overflowing fountain of joy pouring into the world. The words of the second reading are the hallmark of Guadete Sunday: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I say again: rejoice.A call for a universal chorus of joy. Continue reading