Luke 1:47-55  – The Third Sunday of Advent – for December 15, 2013

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (Luke 1:47)

DespairI can’t read.

I can’t write.

But I can listen . . . and remember.

I left my home and village to come to this place. Here, my family welcomed me, and their presence—along with food, shelter and other kindnesses—has made me feel safe.

Except, I don’t feel safe.

Alone at night, I light a lamp. Then two. Then three. But it’s not enough. I could light a thousand more flames and this room would still feel shrouded in darkness that has nothing to do with the night.

My mind is troubled.

And yet my soul sings with joy.

How can this be? How can I lay awake, unable to sleep, thoughts racing about all the doubts I have, all the terrible things that could happen and all of the ways the future will never be what I want and still I feel . . . confident?

I repeat the words I remembered and treasured:

My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.

I do not speak them above a whisper, for I don’t want to wake the rest of the house. It’s enough these three lamps might be seen, might cause my cousin Elizabeth to come in and ask me again—for the hundredth time—how are you doing? Is there anything I can help with? Are you sure you’re fine?

Of course I’m not fine.

She knows that. If I were fine, I wouldn’t be here.

I repeat the ancient words again. The priest back home, who probably didn’t know I’d been secretly listening as he read from the wrinkled scroll in the synagogue, called them Hannah’s prayer. Did Hannah know how to read? Did Hannah know how to write? Like me, did she feel foolish or useless? Or did she only know how to trust God and believe that her child Samuel would be the one that God sent?

I repeat Hannah’s words again. Continue reading →

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Is There An Easy Answer?

Luke 10:25-37 – The 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, July 21, 2013

“‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…’” (Luke 10:41)

Walden Pond
Walden Pond

Luke 10:38-42 is one of those gospel neighborhoods where I readily say, “I laughed, I cried!”

Ah, Mary and Martha.

Between Martha’s bustling and Mary’s attentive listening, it’s clear Jesus preferred Mary’s perspective. But take a secret ballot in church on Sunday morning, or even in your local mall on Saturday afternoon, and see who wins the popularity contest. I’ll wager that Martha the hard worker may lose the popular vote . . . but not by much. After all, don’t we need the Marthas of the world?

I’ve read that Henry David Thoreau, during his Walden Pond sojourn, used the same dishes and utensils, meal after meal, day after day. And why make his bed if he’ll hop back in a few hours later? From his Walden . . .

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail.


A sign near the site of Thoreau's cabin...
A sign near the site of Thoreau’s cabin…

But multi-tasking Martha accomplished things, from a three-course meal through a properly set table to a well-dusted living room. And don’t forget, the Lukan passage had Martha welcoming Jesus. Where was Mary? Dabbing on make-up? Finishing a chapter in her romance novel on her Kindle? I have to admit, I’ve sometimes imagined that Jesus’ reply to Martha—“you are worried and distracted by many things”—came only after she set the food before him and asked if he wanted red or white wine with his meal.

Please, give me a roomful of Marthas.

And yet . . . maybe not. Continue reading →

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The Fragrance of Faith

John 12:1-8 – The 5th Sunday of Lent – for March 17, 2013

“The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:3)

Take a breath and smell this . . .

Fresh-mowed grass.

Bread baked in an oven.

A skunk in your neighborhood.

A rotten egg, diesel engine or spoiled milk.

A puppy’s breath, orange blossoms or a Christmas tree.

mary-and-jesus-feetThere was that time when Jesus ate dinner at Lazarus’ home. What if they’d shared bread baked from earlier in the morning, grilled lamb, figs just plucked from the tree and pomegranates with red, sweet juice dribbling down chins? Can you smell the feast?

Were any doors and windows open? Did a breeze deliver the aroma of a nearby orchard? Were flowers blooming by the entry? Had Lazarus’ neighbor spent the day pressing new oil from harvested olives? Do you feast in the smells?

Jesus’ disciples crowded into the room. Judas fingered the bag of coins. Peter ached for his family. Thomas drank too much. Matthew told a long story about a tax dodger from Galilee, but forgot the punch line. All were road weary, sweat-stained and couldn’t recall their last bath.

Lazarus’ sister entered. Mary.

Readers of John’s Gospel know what happens next. Her actions led to Judas’ complaints . . . the expensive nard she possessed could’ve been sold, the money “given to the poor.” Her actions caused Jesus to comment about those same poor with a perplexing, melancholy response:  “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Mary rubbed the precious nard onto Jesus’ calloused feet. She literally welcomed the guest. She metaphorically prepared him for impending death. And impending mystery. Continue reading →

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