Crowded Room

Luke 20:27-38  – The 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time – November 10, 2013

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question…” (Luke 20:27)

I first wrote these sentences in 2010, when I volunteered at the hospice I now work for . . .

sunset_through_kitchen_windowA crucifix adorns the wall.

A large dog shambles into the room. He limps by and takes a token sniff of me, then settles near the window. He’s found a slice of sunshine. In the next hour, the German shepherd mix will shift positions, but it’s difficult. A car accident ruined his hind legs years ago. Smaller dogs—I never know what kind or how many—stay quiet. A barrier set across the door keeps them in the back of the house.

The phone rings once or twice. I don’t answer it.

I sit on a couch. I read a novel. There are “get well” and “thinking of you” cards on a side table. The room smells vaguely sour, slightly stale. It can be like that when someone’s dying.

Across from me, in a rented hospital bed, the woman who owns this house, and who loves the dogs I don’t see and loves the dog I can see, dozes. Medication keeps her pain in check; it also means she spends much of the day asleep. She has cancer. Her sister, her caregiver, had a to-do list of errands and called the hospice for a volunteer to be present in case anything happened while she was gone.

I am the hospice volunteer.

Nothing happens. And yet, in the somber, sour room, there’s an undercurrent of peace, of the simplicity of compassion. I look again at the crucifix. A picture of the Pope is thumbtacked beside it. I can’t be sure from my position on the couch, but it might be the current pontiff. However, I’ve visited homes in the 21st century where a crucifix joins the very 20th century Pope John XXIII on the wall, remembered for all the changes he encouraged during his 1958-1963 papacy. I’ve seen President Kennedy beside a Pope’s photo . . . and Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Theresa. Once, I recall Joe DiMaggio.crucifix-2-flash

I’ve been told the dying woman is a devoted Roman Catholic. But while I sit in her home, I ponder the small “c” of the word catholic, which means universal. Catholic as in the whole world around us, where we humans do such wondrous and wicked things. Continue reading →

20 Days Ago I Had Lunch With Mom

Luke 13:10-7 – The 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, August 25, 2013

“When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.” (Luke 13:13)

Ah, those old fairground booths that snapped a few quick pictures...
Ah, those old fairground booths that snapped a few quick pictures…

Can any passage in the Bible ever be read without context influencing a reader’s response?

I can’t study John’s Revelations, the last gasp of the New Testament, without considering the pettiness and power of the Roman Empire. You betcha Patmos-bound John dreamed a future without tears, and that a brand spanking-new Jerusalem would soon materialize. With Caesar brandishing the sword and cramming his “divine” hand into every available pocket for the empire’s taxes, old John cast his contextual visions to oppressed believers who were wary, wounded and weeping.

When I discovered the Gospel of Thomas (and other non-canonical–or rejected–gospels), I could no longer study Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with the same innocent eyes. In the context of the Christian Testament’s emergence, in the era where a movement inspired by Jesus evolved into an institution with haves and have-nots, insiders and outsiders, believers and apostates, was one gospel really better than another? Yes, winners get to choose how history is recalled and what traditions are revered. But does that mean the losers’ views are chopped liver?

And what about the context of where and when I live and who I am? Continue reading →