This is the first real travel since Covid began its long and challenging visit. I arrived two days ago in the City of Brotherly love, and have been settling in to a routine of prayer and discovery here in Germantown. I’m in Saint Margaret’s House at Saint Luke’s Church in Germantown. I am here as a participant in a short-term popup Christian community. I am here with a few members of the Community of Francis and Clare, a dispersed group of men and women, spread over the United States and elsewhere, who are living life in the world in the spirit of those two great saints given us all by the beautiful town of Assisi.

A word about Saint Luke’s Parish. The parish was founded in 1811, It is a good part of a city block, featuring an imposing rectory that houses the parish office, the beautiful church, Saint Barnabas Hall, and Saint Margaret’s House. (There may be more!). I will share some images here.

All whom we have met thus far have been extraordinarily welcoming. The rector has been gracious, and introduced us to the church Monday morning and then spent time in good conversation. It is enlightening to hear him speak about the parish through Covid and beginning in present days to emerge. They have a food pantry open twice weekly. Before pandemic in summer they provided breakfast, lunch, and a take-home dinner to kids. In Saint Margaret’s House, retreats take place several times a year, with new plans and possibilities ahead. I love the fact that one of the signs as you approach the parish center campus speaks of “the urban center at Saint Luke’s.” And I am gratified and inspired by the truth that they do what I have written of and much more by finding and winning grants and by teaming up with other organizations doing good work here. They even work with a group helping to provide a path for families who want to remain in the area to successfully buy their home over a generation to provide stability for families and the community into the future.

Here in Saint Margaret’s House, I marvel with gratitude at the graceful speed at which genuine community can be born and begin to deepen. As mentioned, the other visitors here are all members of a Franciscan community recently founded. They have a common history and converging interests. In addition, the gentleman who is resident in the House has connected with the group. I have felt welcomed and included in every way. This experience moves me to thank God for the living connective tissue of the heart that bonds disciples of Jesus already, even as we meet. This ‘head-start’ may be true also of folks who share a common interest in Romanesque architecture or the novels of Marilynne Robinson, or whatever. But it certainly is felt here and now.

For me this coming-to-a-halt in terms of the everyday seems already absolutely vital in a way that I had not previously imagined. Arriving March 1, 2020 at Saint Matthew’s in Worcester MA we fell together immediately headlong into the experience of pandemic that no one of us would have imagined. The time since, all of it, has been filled and fraught with stress and challenge and striving and loss and victory; with grief’s sorrow and the repeated near-death and renewed life of hope. All of it, absolutely all of it, absolutely exhausting; emptying out and reconfiguring the very soul in a way and to a depth that no other experience has even approached.

So to sit on the front step here this evening, a steaming mug of black tea clutched in two hands and simply to witness a “Welcome” banner blowing, and at my ground-level perch to look through the plant life toward the churchyard – as little as it sounds – is the stuff of rebirth, of resuscitation, of (as must be said in this season) shared resurrection with the Christ.

To sit long in conversation, to remain long in silent prayer, to walk long in new company – these little things are the stuff of life. They are a long deep breath of the created delights that the God of Eden and of Easter has brought to be, to be noticed, and to be lived. Here is the first time in an uncountable time to rest in the present passing moment with a sense of fullness; and in realizing that, with a grateful heart.

Next week will see a return to a place that became lastingly sacred to me during the summer of 2005. I look forward with joy to that place and time. I am also immensely happy to live this week, this evening, this moment in this time and place.


I found,

Without desiring to find

That without Covid-infection

One can be, will be, pandemic-changed

Shifted by the very axis

In ways defiant of definition.

So I know, all this time (how much time?) later, that

I move at 3/4 speed by comparison

I speak at 1/2 speed of before

I think on occasion, if at all

And my default setting is new;

Forcibly reset from hope for to

Hope despite; from joy first to

Joy sought; from all’s well to

All shall be well, by God it shall

If we have to swim the length of hell to get there.

Saturday Morning on Earth

Entering vacation. My first night of vacation-sleep lasted ten unblinking hours somehow. As my grandmother would have said had she been puttering around the kitchen here this morning, “You must have needed it!” I woke with a backache and a languid canine awaiting attention patiently.

I awoke as well with a strong sense that, despite the tragic truth that this human world has worked overtime this past week to reveal the depth of its wounds and the pain of its brokenness, there is a deeper-down wellness indeed, as Gerard Manley Hopkins might in some moments confirm.

Where is the evidence? In simple, small, nearby truths:

The air this morning is cool and light and eager to support life.

The little lady across the street who never burns a light in her house by night and is almost invisible day-by-day, is working her way along the sidewalk with patience and love trimming the hedge that frames her property.

The big rabbit who lives somewhere in the backyard is snooping around with perfect equanimity like she owns the place, much to the chagrin of the formerly languid canine. And who knows? In some profound sense the rabbit may hold the original title to the property.

There is loving family to the south I’ll turn to visit today, and loving family and friends to the north as well. To look in their eyes this week and just to hear their voices; to converse with them on matters timely and out-of-time as well: this is enough. More than enough blessing.

This morning a man of joy who came to this country from Korea will be ordained to the priesthood in Christ. He receives a blessing surely in that, and he is a blessing as well. Rich, mutual blessing among ordinands, community, and Lord.

Hope remains that damnably thank-God stubborn thing. It starts small where it stands a chance: I hope I can vacuum this rug this morning. I hope the traffic is bearable through Jersey. Then hope dares to throw its lovely nature further afield where the dice may be stacked. Hope that the airline downing tragedy might break the Ukraine unrest, that Palestinians and Israelis might look across the wreckage between the rockets and marching boots and catch sight on either side of a living human eye and the heart that lies behind it. Hope that one of the children flowing alone to the US southern border might find their way into the embrace and into the heart of one who never expected it. Crazy hopes, as I say, but damnably stubborn.

That’s this Saturday morning in this embattled world. The trick seems to hug to ourselves these little blessings on the micro level and bring them together into something much bigger. Who in this human world believes such a move might be possible?

Ah but friends, tomorrow is the Lord’s Day. If your heart can squint a glance ahead you might at least surmise what God might purpose.

Seeing the Signs (1 Advent 2012)

First Sunday of Advent
Jeremiah 33:13-16; Psalm 25:1-10; ! Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21: 25-36
December 2, 2012

Yesterday morning I was walking the dog. The remaining green is only on the evergreens that we so value this time of year that we bring them into our homes as decorations for the celebration of the Incarnation of the Christ. But the other trees, those still sanding after Sandy, are bare. I looked at them stripped of all evidence of life, naked before the white wintry sky.

And I thought of the parable Jesus gives us in Luke’s 21st chapter on this first Sunday of the new season of Advent. He talks about the fig tree and all the trees; how we know that summer is coming and the growing season is near when we see them begin to bud and leaf up again. Jesus is saying that there are signs around us that we catch, and that we recognize their meaning. As I walked I saw the bare trees, without any sign (some of them) that a leaf had ever been on their branches, and I wondered what sign these give us, what meaning they carry?

They certainly tell us that the growing season for 2012 is past in our hemisphere. They tell us to bundle up, to prepare for winter, to get ready to bear with the cold and the darkness until the earth turns again toward the sun, and warmth returns.

Every year, on the first season of Advent, we are invited not to look back – to the manger at Bethlehem – that comes later in the season. Instead we are asked on this Sunday as the church’s new year begins to look ahead, to look further than we can even see, and to use the signs we recognize around us to help us see that bit further.

What are the signs we see today in our time and place? We need to take that question seriously, for within the answer we provide it is our sense of how (and whether) God is present with us in our living today. I came back from walking the dog yesterday to hear the news of a Kansas City Chiefs linebacker killing his girlfriend and then himself. I heard the news of continuing tension between Israel and Palestine, of ongoing civil war in Syria, and I saw families bringing Christmas trees home and putting up decorations that will be covered with lights to make a statement in the darkness of this time of year. I rose this morning to hear of an attack on American base in Afghanistan and to see the photo of a young New York City police officer with loving care placing boots he bought himself on the wounded feet of a homeless man in Times Square this past week. In the midst of all this, what does the Word tell us about where and who God is? What does the opening of Advent tell us about the deepest truth of who we are called to become and to be?

The ancient voice of Jeremiah lives and is fresh today as he speaks prophetically in God’s name and says, “Know that I will keep the promises that I have made, and that my promises are for your good and your salvation, whatever may happen. I am with you.” The voice of Paul the Apostle is filled with a bright and burning love. He is writing to the brand new church at Thessalonika. He had been living with them and teaching them the Gospel, calling them to faith in Jesus for probably less than a month when circumstances separated Paul from them for a period of time that they would have no way to measure or predict. The Apostle had only known them for a brief moment, but did you hear the love he expresses for that community, and the desire to see them again?

“Night and day we pray most most earnestly that we may see you face to face . . . . May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another, just as we abound in love for you!”

And Jesus, speaking of dreadful disasters to come of moon and sun and stars and sea and waves, yet encourages us in the next breath, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, for your redemption is near at hand!” Your redemption: your being made right with God, your completion and perfection as a person, your salvation. These blessings are coming near directly within the travails and troubles of the time.

What are the signs telling us?
That come what may, God is with us.
That whatever may happen, God loves us.
That no matter what, God’s desire is to save us and to embrace us closely.
And that we are of inestimable value in the eyes of the One who brought all things to be in creation.

What are we being told?
Pay attention as you live.
Respond to what you see happening around you.
Know that you will come into hard times.
Never falter.
Always live in hope. God can bring new possibility for blessing out of impossible hardship.

That last is a theme we will see repeated throughout this season of Advent. God is doing something new. It is more than we can imagine. It is more than all of our decorations and our shopping, our gift-giving and our singing could ever express. There is something big going on here. Pay attention!

Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest, icon of the 60’s and of anti-war and peace movements, now in his 90’s, is also a poet. His poem, “Advent,” says it all on this first Sunday as we begin to live this season worth living, this season of Advent hope:

“Advent,” by Daniel Berrigan

It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss —
This is true: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in him, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction —
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever —
This is true: For unto us a child is born, and unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of Peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world —
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth,
and lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted,
who are the prophets of the Church, before we can be peacemakers.
This is true: I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,
your young shall see visions,
and your old shall have dreams.

It is not true that our hopes for the liberation of humanity, for justice, human dignity, and
peace are not meant for this earth and for this history —
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope.
Let us see visions of love and peace and justice.
Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage:
Jesus Christ — the Life of the world.

[Source: “Testimony: The Word Made Fresh,” by Daniel Berrigan. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004.]