I feel humbled. And sad. And wishing that I was a lottery winner or the inventor of something brilliant and money worthy.

I have a parishioner, who I’ll call Clark. Clark is an older man, with a couple of illnesses. He moves from tenement to  tenement, looking for places that are safe, drug free and affordable–an unlikely trinity in this city. He’s currently homeless (for another 2 hours and 10 minutes). He came up for communion tonight and unlike his usual response after I commune him of “God Bless you, Sarah,” tonight Clark stumbled. He took the bread from me. And the wine from the deacon. And then the deacon gave the wine back to me for me to finish. He walked back and said to me: “I didn’t get a good sip,” so I gave him the chalice again. And he sipped a small sip. And then he stumbled. “Are you okay?” I asked. “Yes, I’m okay. Good night, Sarah,” he said.

I walked out of the church, down the side aisle and found him lying on the back pew. A few minutes later our deacon/nurse and I sat with him and began to sort out his life. He can’t cash a check until midnight, so for 4 hours, he will ride the El until then to keep warm. Then he will rent a room at a less than lovely hotel, but he’ll be off the streets tonight. Tomorrow he will get back on the meds he’s been off for a month because he hasn’t been able to afford the monthly CTA pass to get to the center where he gets his meds. I bought him dinner, so he has a full belly.

I can’t do much for many with my limited means. But Clark is a long time member, who knows the liturgy better than most anybody. And a dear man. And as I sit at home, in my comfy PJs, having eaten some leftover steak, I find myself thinking about him. It’s cold. And Christ is Risen. Here’s the rub, we  are an Easter people. Redemption has come and yet the work–the work remains.

Easter 1978

Children who grow up in the Episcopal Church today probably don’t remember their first communion. Our theology today is one that includes children at this family meal from the time of their baptism, which is frequently done when they are infants. And I love that children never remember a time when they weren’t welcome, when communion was not part of what church and God and community mean. That said, I grew up at a time when first Communion was a big deal, and not done on the day of baptism, but when you were a bit older. There were classes of preparation, days, weeks, months of anticipation all for this tiny crumb of bread and sip of wine. I remember my own first communion and the excitement that went on around it. My mother took me shopping for a dress, I imagine, but most certainly for an Easter bonnet. She bought silk flowers for it and we wove them in and out of the holes in the straw hat in the week before Easter Sunday, the day that would mark my first communion.

That Easter morning, my father went, as was his custom, to the early church service to read. My mother and I ate a lazy breakfast and were getting dressed. I remember the distress in his voice as he entered the house, calling my mother’s name. Calling her name, over and over, until we both came running. “The church,” he said. “the church is on fire.” Easter morning and the church was burning. (To be precise, it was the Christian Formation building, but still, the Church).

We arrived at the church, like so many others, a silent vigil, watching in horror as hoses full of water broke through windows, as orange and red flames spit out of that beloved space. As the fire began to die down, word came that we would have our Easter Day mass at the Baptist Church around the corner at one o’clock.

I imagine how strange all of it must have been for my parents. Not just not having Easter in the Church, not just the horror of watching helplessly as that sacred space burned, but the strangeness of watching their daughter take her first communion not in the familiar marble altar rail, but in a rather generic worship space, without the smells of incense and the colours of the stained glass windows, without the comfort of what was, at that time, home. And yet, even in the different space, it worked. It was Easter. The community of the faithful was gathered and fed. Hymns were sung and Alleluias proclaimed. And we returned to our home, gratefully, the next week.

As for me, of that day, I remember very little. Except for kneeling at a rail, filled with expectation, curious and excited all at once. My eyes fixed on Father Ferguson, and I stretched forth my hands to receive that funny piece of bread. And it was good.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! Happy Easter.

Good Friday/Holy Saturday playlist

Tunes to help survive the Triduum (in no particular order):

A long time favorite, set to the tune of “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” is Paul Simon’s “American Tune.” Beautiful and haunting. Totally Good Friday.

Had I more time and energy, I’d add more, but that’s it for now. Time to make dinner and then to bed. What’s on your Triduum play list?

Good Friday

“The Coming” by R.S. Thomas
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look, he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As though through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows; a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
With slime.

On a bare
Hill, a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said. 

(Thanks to WMP+ over at I are a writer who posted this on her Facebook page earlier today)

Seven whole days, not one in seven

Sad news has come forth this week about my seminary. General, like so many other Episcopal seminaries, is struggling. Heck, it, like so many churches, is struggling. I get the realities. We live in a post-Christendom world. A place where people are “spiritual but not religious.” The church of the 1950s is dying and we’re clinging to it as if it was/were/is our only way of life. So, of course, it makes sense that our institutions are struggling. Reimagining, rediscovering who the Church is, who the Church will become, is no longer optional–but all that is another post. This is a post about a place I love more than just about anywhere (if you asked me to rank Athens GA, Israel/Palestine and General Seminary–it’d be a tough job).

General Seminary is the first seminary of the Episcopal Church. Its beautiful campus is a respite in the concrete jungle of New York City. Its chapel, the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, is the place where so many priests (including me) have been shaped and formed and begun to understand what this vocation is all about. And now General finds itself in severe financial crisis. There are emails flying in and out of my box today–all filled with the details about a meeting that happened yesterday with the Board of Trustees. This press release puts a nice spin on it. I suspect the meeting was a bit more challenging. The thought of General not being General, of priests not being formed, of it not being that place of joy (and gossip and sometime pure annoyance–all the human condition is wrapped up in that place for me), it’s just incomprehensible. A friend just posted on Facebook that he feels like he’s been hit in the stomach. I get it. It’s beyond understanding.

I sit and type this as Sojo looks out the window and Lucy is curled up beside me. My first day on the Close (the seminary campus), after the movers had left, after one of the smiling and wonderful maintenance men had installed my new air conditioner, I opened the closet door to let Lucy and Sojo finally run free in their new domain. Out came Sojo but Lucy was nowhere to be seen. I searched high and low for her. Everywhere I could imagine. She was gone. Someone called the front office to alert the staff to be on the lookout for a very lost cat from Georgia. My heart sank. One day out of Georgia and into NYC, and I had lost my beloved, declawed, defenseless cat. I sat there and questioned the decision to move to NYC, to start seminary, to become a priest at all. Somehow this seemed a horrid omen and all I wanted to do was pack up my Uhaul and head back home.

And then, on a lark, or perhaps out of sheer desperation, I got down on the floor, one last time and crawled under my bed. Lucy had always loved to hide in the box springs, and although I had already checked 4 times, I found myself looking again. She wasn’t easy to see. In the move, more fabric must have come loose and she had taken her hiding place to a whole new level. But there she was. Hidden away from the chaos of boxes and packing tape. Not yet ready to come out, but safe and sound.

I don’t really tend to believe in “signs,” but that day stands as one of the markers in my memory of knowing it was going to be okay. In the days that followed, things happened. Strangers knocking on my door with a “hey, I’m new here too–let’s go find the grocery store” suggestion, building-mates would share wine and bad reality television, study-mates would become life-long friends and classmates who always sat in the same seat at chapel, day-in-day-out, helped me grow into who I am.

I can not imagine my world or myself, who I would be, without the sacred ground of General Seminary. Here’s hoping I don’t have to.

King of glory, King of peace,
I will love Thee;
And that love may never cease,
I will move Thee.
Thou hast granted my request,
Thou hast heard me;
Thou didst note my working breast,
Thou hast spared me.

Wherefore with my utmost art
I will sing Thee,
And the cream of all my heart
I will bring Thee.
Though my sins against me cried,
Thou alone didst clear me;
And alone, when they replied,
Thou didst hear me.

Seven whole days, not one in seven,
I will praise Thee;
In my heart, though not in Heaven,
I can raise Thee.
Small it is, in this poor sort
To enroll Thee:
E’en eternity’s too short
To extol Thee.


I’m away at a clergy day, at the Morton Arboretum. It is beyond beautiful. Like those Christmas Card images of snow on trees and vast amounts of space. A winter wonderland, untouched by the city stains that turn snow to sludge to mush to gross. We spent the morning singing and in prayer, and, ever the skeptic, I expected to be annoyed by the singing. To my shock and delight, it was actually pretty great. And moments of stillness filtered in and space opened and coffee made its way to me and all was right with the world.

When I saw my mother had left a voice mail on my cellphone, my heart instantly leapt to my grandmother. Lent seems to be her dying season. This time last year we got the “she’s dying tomorrow, get your ass home” rally cry. Not only did she not die, but she got, if not better, she got stable. She has remained under hospice care.

The hospice nurse called my mom, who is understandably in shock. She thinks my grandmother has maybe a day or two left. I am looking at plane fares. Debating between church responsibilities and questions of the needs of my soul, my heart to see that face just once more.

She has let go of me, in her memory. But I have not let go of her. Bloated and changed, helpless and different as she looks in a hospital bed, she is still the face that showed me what joy looks like, that etched on me my belovedness. Hers is still the face of heartbreak and wondering what could’ve been done differently, of wondering how to fix a person who is broken. Hers is the face of love, of patience, of despair and of hope. Hers is the face of a grandmother.

Spiritual Exercises for the 40 Days (Part III)

Day Twenty Six: Remember your baptism. Remember the promises you made in baptism, or the promises made on your behalf. Write them down. Carry them in your pocket. Figure out which ones you struggle with and which ones give you life. Remember who you are.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I will, with God’s help.

Day Twenty-Seven: Write a prayer. One relatively easy was is to write a collect, which follows pretty simple formula: 1. Address to God with an attribute (Blessed are you, all Holy God, source of Life and giver of good thing). 2. Name your need or thanksgiving (Grant to your people peace in a time of war, joy in a time of sorrow, comfort in the midst of struggle) 3. A statement of intention or result of the need or thanksgiving (that we might show forth your glory in all the world) 4. Closing (All this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ, the light of the world and the hope of our salvation Amen).

N.B.: I write this having spent a good part of the day crafting a liturgy and adapting post-communion prayer from the St.Basil (which now looks remarkably un-like St. Basil’s original intent!). Anyway…this exercise, at least for me, helps me get in touch with my own deeper needs.

Day Twenty-Eight: Watch a movie in your PJs. Or something like this. The point is Sabbath. It’s a huge part of the Jewish tradition and theoretically of the Christian faith as well, but somehow we seem to miss the mark. So take make dinner the night before in the crock pot, turn off your cell phone, pour a glass of wine and snuggle up with your honey. Rest and be restored.

Day Twenty-Nine: Read. I’m reading Brian McClaren’s Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices.  It’s all about returning to the ancient practices that have been part of our faith since the time of Abraham and discovering how they can still shape and form us.

Day Thirty: Light a candle. Watch the flame. For those of us who move a lot and find it hard to meditate, focusing on the flame is a wonderful way to slow down and be still.

Day Thirty-One: Give. Stewardship is one of the most basic parts of the Christian life but the church has lost sight of the transformative power of true stewardship. What do you give? Why do you give? How has your giving changed you and the way you look at the world? Do you live in the fear of scarcity or the joy of abundance? More from me on stewardship later, because it’s a topic near and dear to my heart, but for now, from the 26th chapter of Deuteronomy: The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O LORD, have given me.

Oh, and this: TENS, the Episcopal Network for Stewardship. Their conference changed my life and the way I see giving.

Day Thirty-Two:  Engage in body prayer–yoga or swimming or simply walking. Create sacred space in yourself.

Day Thirty-Three: Read the psalms. They contain so much of the human experience, from rejoicing to lamenting. Ever wonder if it’s okay to get mad with God? Look no further than the psalms. I love the first part of psalm 139. I’m working towards memorizing it by Easter. What psalm speaks to your heart?

Day Thirty-Four: Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Or, plan for the future and get your affairs in order. I was sitting in a hospital room with a woman on life support. They expected her to be dead by 10:00 AM. At 4:00 in the afternoon, she was still alive, but only because her daughter had no idea what to do. She was a vegetable, for all intensive purposes, breathing only by machine, growing more bloated by the minute as her organs shut down. I’ve seen it now more times than I’d like.

This week, my father sent me a request to be listed as one of the people who will make decisions about his health care if he or his beloved are unable to do so. He gave me about 25 ways to say “no I don’t want to do this.” And the truth is, I don’t want to do it, but I am grateful that I have the option to oversee his care, to ensure that, if that time comes, he will be treated compassionately and in accordance to his wishes, which are clearly spelled out.

Likewise, I laugh at my mom every time she comes to visit. She brings addendums to this HUGE notebook. But in that notebook, which sits nicely on my bookshelf, is every last thing I could ever need to know about how to care for her, should she be unable to care for herself, and what kind of burial she wants. Codes to the safe, keys to the safety deposit box, health records for the dogs and hymns to be sung–all are listed.

I say all this because it’s helpful to know not only what you want, but to make sure those who love you know what you want. Because we are dust and to dust we shall return.

Day Thirty Five: Find the sacred in the secular. It’s all around us. Anyone who knows me or has heard me preach knows that I think Buffy has some of the best theology as well as imagery of the divine in our ordinary lives. But there are a million other places too. At the risk of sounding like a religious nut, there are times when I’ve turned on the radio and I could swear it was the voice of God singing to me (usually through Michael Stipe). Music, books, television, movies. Find the places where God hides in our world and recognize those places for who they really are.

Day Thirty Six: Tell stories. We are a people of the Book, which is to say, we are a people of stories. Long before The Bible was tucked away in cheap motels as a gift from the Gideons, long before St. Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, long before it was written down, it was told. Stories passed from generation to generation. Tell stories. Stories of who you are. Listen to stories, stories of where you came from.

Day Thirty-Seven: Blessed are those whose strength is in You. They have set their hearts on pilgrimage (Psalm 84:5). Make a pilgrimage.  More than a trip, a pilgrimage is a journey, one with significance, one that informs our faith. There are pilgrimages that are about exploring the destination, like Jerusalem or Rome. And there are pilgrimages that are more about the journey itself, like the Camino de Santiago. Pilgrimage is both internal and external and somewhere in that mix, God steps in and moves us in a unexpected ways.

Day Thirty-Eight: Find Jesus at the Wal-Greens. Or at Starbucks. Or sitting alone on the steps of the church. All these people, created in the image of God, walking past us, noticed and unnoticed, day in, day out. Can you see the light of Christ radiating from them?

Day Thirty- Nine: Recycle. Save water. Carpool. Walk to work. Take care of God’s creation and remember those who will live come after us.

Day Forty: Look for resurrection. We are a resurrection people. All that we do, especially in this season of Lent, can really only be understood through the lens of resurrection. So look for it. And dance with joy when it is found.

Spiritual Exercises for the 40 Days (part II)

Well day one into Lent and I’ve already fallen down on the whole write every day thing. Sigh. In fairness to me, I had a couple of things happen, one of which included a minor pastoral emergency and the second is that when I sat down to truly write, my internet was down.

So…on to the list.

Day Sixteen: Be still. The Psalmist calls us to “Be still, and know that I am God!” and yet stillness is so hard to come by. A day without the internet or television, a day with space to listen. A day may be too much, so maybe a morning or a few hours will do, to get the space open.

Day Seventeen: Hang out in God’s handiwork.  Try the Botanical Gardens or the mountain you want to hike. I realize this may be challenging for those of us who live in colder climates. Sneak a peek at the newborns at your local hospital or better yet, take dinner to friends with a new baby and hold the baby while they eat (I did this on Valentine’s Day–a great way to celebrate!).

Day Eighteen: Say grace or give thanks before you eat. Here are a few out of the Book of Common Prayer (1979), but there are plenty of others out there. And of course, you can always make up your own.
Give us grateful hearts, our Father, for all thy mercies, and make us mindful of the needs of others; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

or this

Bless, O Lord, thy gifts to our use and us to thy service; for Christ’s sake. Amen.

or this

Blessed are you, O Lord God, King of the Universe, for you give us food to sustain our lives and make our hearts glad; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

or this

For these and all his mercies, God’s holy Name be blessed and praised; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Day Nineteen: Pray in the shower. It’s short and sweet and to the point. If you need extra time, condition your hair twice.

Day Twenty: Try a new posture at church. Do you always stand during the Eucharistic prayer? Try kneeling. Do you always kneel? Try standing. Sing louder than you normally would, or, if you’re like me, sing more quietly. We approach God, through our worship, with all that we are, body, mind, spirit and voice. Sometimes moving in a new way helps us free ourselves up to hear and be with God in a new way.

Day Twenty-one: I can hear people who know me laughing at this one, but try to grow something. A small plant or seedlings that can sprout. I may be going with a Chia pet. The idea is pretty simple–watch how God can use dirt and time and little tiny seeds and make something pretty amazing. If God can do that with seeds, what can God do with us?

Day Twenty-two: Get involved. Is there a local community group that cares for the needs of the neighborhood? In my neck of the woods, it’s the Lakeview Action Coalition. Go to a meeting or just call and ask–what are the concerns in your part of the world? Through the eyes of Lakeview Action Coalition, I am more aware of the needs of homeless youth. In the entire city of Chicago, there are only 37 beds available for homeless youth. What is the Gospel response?

Day Twenty-three: Say or walk the Stations of the Cross. You can do it online, or at a church, or search for the hidden and not-so-hidden modern day realities that make up the Stations in your neighborhood.

Day Twenty-four: Spend your day looking for places of grace. When you find one, write it down.

Day Twenty-five: Spend time with someone you love, someone you haven’t seen for awhile. How better do we experience the extravagant love of God than by being with those around us, those people who remind us of our belovedness, those people who reflect the love of God back to us. And we, hopefully, in turn, do the same for them. 

More to come…