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.

Hold it gently.

June 30 was my birthday. It marked the date on which I became two years older than my father was when he retired in 1990. Two years older than when he retired.

Some years back, I used to choose a kind of theme for each new year of my life, summed up in a few syllables. I always consider everyone’s anniversary of birth to be their own personal new year’s day. I decided to choose a theme for this new year. It is three simple words: hold it gently.

The it is all of it. Life. Health. Work. Hopes. Expectations. Fears. Time. Faith. Love. Memory. Today and tomorrow. You name it. That’s the it.

To hold it is to respect it, to take it seriously, to care for it, to be grateful for it. All of it is gift. As the Apostle Paul wisely wrote more than a few days back, “Everything you have was given to you. So, if everything you have was given to you, why do you act as if you got it all by your own power” (1 Corinthians 4:7 ERV).

Everything (see that list of its a couple of paragraphs back and add anything more you can think of) has been given to you and me. The origin of it all is found in the One who is the Origin of all. You know who that is.

So I want my basic stance to all of it day to day, moment by moment, to be gratitude. I am constantly receiving the sustaining and the renewal of all these fundamental gifts that are given me as graces, not one of them earned. (And not one of them can be earned). I have never held in my hands the currency that could buy any of these gifts. Simply because such a currency does not exist – not US dollar, not bitcoin, not anything else.

So I hold my life, and all that is of it, in thanksgiving, always.

For me this means that my basic job, always and everywhere, is not operation, it is cooperation. (Very un-American). I am not the initiator the vast majority of the time. Even if I am allowed to think that I am. My job is to cooperate with the loving and gentle Hand that is in fact in charge of the whole shebang ( And that is some of the best news I’ve heard over the last 64 years.

Gently. As I celebrate my birthday this year, in this neck of God’s woods we are returning to ‘normal.’ I have said it before and I will say it again: I’m deadset against that move. Normal as we live it in first world nations in the 21st century is sheer inhuman madness, and the best thing to do is to leave as much of it as possible in the rear view mirror. It pushes, demands, cold calls, scams, exhausts and undoes us. That’s normal‘s job description, and he has been pretty damned good at it. Time to retire, old buddy normal. Buy a farm, put a rocker on the wrap-around porch and sit still.

In other words friends, hold it gently. Hold it all gently. Picture yourself, in memory, the first time you held a newborn infant precious to you. With what gentle loving care did you hold that little one? How fully did time stop and that moment be revealed as all that mattered? This year, and beyond, I desire deeply to hold the it that God has lovingly given to me in just that way. How precious it all is. How beautifully precious.

The pandemic has taught me (and you too?) to take seriously something I really already knew. The universe doesn’t owe me another day of life. It didn’t owe me the first one. Or any of the 23,377 days I have lived since. Again, it is all grace. I love the memory of all those days. And this one, and the ones to come, I will hold them gently.


God bless our giving thanks

Some of my best memories through the years begin at Thanksgiving.  Football games on the day or the evening before, between Saint Mary’s in Lynn and Bishop Fenwick in Peabody.  All the family around the table (or two tables when there was a kid’s table, and then the next generation’s kids’ table in what seemed like a very short period of time!).  Conversation about everything in the world, except politics.  And then politics made it onto our Thanksgiving menu and spiced up the meal.  I remember through the years looking around that table, encircled by love.  Seeing faces age and then leave us.  Seeing new faces, smiles and voices emerge.

In other words, I love Thanksgiving.  It has remained the one major holiday of the year least affected by commercialization, least infected by the earlier and perennial pandemic of greed.  And so, this Thanksgiving – though I am happy to see it come – pains me.  It pains me to think of all the gatherings this Thursday where grandparents, moms, dads, aunts and uncles, old friends who always stopped by for dessert will be missing, casualties of Covid-19, among the some 260,000 dead by today.  Every single of one of them carried unique gifts not only to that gathering once a year, but to every table at which they sat, and every conversation into which they entered.  The vast majority of that number, were it not for the pandemic, would be in palace as always this Thanksgiving too.

But it pains me as much to think of the agonizing result that could come – and I pray with all my heart that it will not – from the travel, the time together, the sharing of the meal, the laughter, the songs, the embraces of this Thanksgiving.  All the things that make that day together all it means to us have become dangers, have become weapons wielded by the virus.  It’s not that it’s wrong to celebrate.  It’s that it is profoundly risky to do so, especially during this hourly-increasing peak of this scourge.

The irony is that we stand at the nearest point to having effective tools against the virus in our hands, or rather, in our arms.  This is the intersection of life and death with a clarity we rarely witness in a lifetime, any lifetime.  And I cannot help but wonder – I beg you to excuse me for doing so – why we could not have exercised as a people a profound patience to attempt to match the extreme pain?  Why could we not have announced a new date for this year’s Thanksgiving, happening (yes!) bizarrely next year at some point, but happening safely?  Why could we not have found it in our hearts to care enough for one another, even the strangers, to slow down one more time, to sustain our meager-enough efforts in distancing and masking and washing, to wait to give thanks until the reason for thanksgiving will be so brilliantly obvious that the shout of joy would be as unanimous as a fractured nation can accomplish together?

I pray this Thanksgiving provides only joy, only the nearness of loved ones, only gratitude for the blessings we still have in all their number and variety, only a steadfast hope for the future, near and far.  For that I pray.  But my fear?  It is menacing indeed, and my allied prayer is that my fear might be misplaced.  

God bless the people of the United States this week, and in the weeks to follow.