Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Death Be Not Proud

Today is the feast day of John Donne, priest and poet.  In the midst of COVID, which has now taken over 3000 people in the U.S., I offer these.


   Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
     Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; 
     For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow 
   Die not, poor Death; nor yet canst thou kill me. 
   From rest and sleep, which but thy picture be, 
     Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow; 
     And soonest our best men with thee do go-- 
   Rest of their bones and souls' delivery!
   Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, 
     And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell; 
     And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well 
   And better than thy stroke, Why swell'st thou then? 
        One short sleep past, we wake eternally, 
        And Death shall be no more: Death, thou shalt die!

[Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.]

     Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he know not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me and see my state may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. 
     The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does, belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that body which is my head too, and ingrafted into that body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs  several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another. 
     As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. 
     There was a contention as far as a suit (in which piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? 
     No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 
     Neither can we call this a begging of misery or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarcely any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current money, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick unto death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels as gold in a mine and be no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction digs out and applies that gold to me, if by this consideration of another's danger I take mine own into contemplation and so secure myself by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020


Hi everyone,

Blessed Annunciation to you!

I really wanted write something meaningful and thoughtful about this day in our liturgical year, and in our life on earth.  Then a friend mentioned she needed groceries, and she's older and we didn't want her to go to the store, so we shopped and delivered food instead.  The day got away, and now it's almost time for Vespers and then a Companions meeting.  I thought of just doing a puzzle.

But it's the Annunciation: one of the days we hear an angel say, "Don't be afraid."  And we hear a human being say, "OK, do it."  (Or, "let it be unto me according to your word" - same thing.)  So I have to at least say hello.

And, not exactly "Don't be afraid."  There's a healthy fear, respect for the power of nature and the power of God.  There's holy awe, the awareness of our fragility and limitation.  We are all in touch with our mortality in a new way: not only our own eventual death, but the death of others, of those we love, those we care for, those we share the planet with.  There's social and economic death.  There's plenty to fear, as there was for Mary.

And yet God is indeed here, planting new seeds of life.  The seeds may look fragile next to the devastation, but in the end the seeds will overgrow the devastation.  God's love is bigger, more resilient, more virulent than any virus.  Our part is to marvel, to wonder, and to say yes to our part in God's work of planting.

Today, I invite you to say yes.  Yes to helping your neighbors, whether by active contribution or by staying away.  Yes to not giving in to panic.  Yes to loving God and others.  Yes to finding ways to reach out and dig deep.  Say yes.

You too are a God-bearer.  The Divine Spirit dwells in you.  Thanks be to God!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Sinking In

This is sinking in now.  We're living in a strange sort of whiplash.  My life, our life at the Companionary, is definitely more enclosed, but the brunt of the crisis is outside, distant.  We can see the news, or not, if it's too much.  I can choose, to an extent, my exposure to this pandemic.  I can choose, to an extent, my response.  I continue my daily routines, my prayer and writing and gratitude and calls.  But I cannot choose how this feels.

Two days ago I woke feeling fine, then by Matins my left arm was in pain, muscles seized up.  I didn't do anything I could think of, but I could hardly use my left arm.  Heating pads, pain killers offered temporary relief, but no progress.  Then Elizabeth offered to find the trigger point and gently loosen it.  As she did, the tears started to pour out.  They're still coming.  It's sinking in - all the stress,  the fear.  The virus isn't the only life-and-death going on around us this week.  I'll spare you the details, but there's a lot of grief around us.

I so love to live on the "resurrection" side of Mary Magdalene's life, but she got to that life and that message only by going through the Passion with Jesus and with the other disciples.  This week I'm turning to her, not as the "apostle" but as the beloved companion who is afraid and grieving.  I pray the psalms and hear her.  I sit in meditation and feel her next to me.  And I ask her to show me how to be in this place.  What I get is: tears.  prayers.

This is the truth of where we are.  Most of us cannot help in ways that feel adequate.  We can encourage one another, but we also need the room to be the one who needs encouragement.  I give thanks for my companions, and for all of you.  And I give thanks for my tears, as my back and arm release.

Lord have mercy on us.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

We Now Interrupt This Crisis . . .

OK, people, listen up.

We're in this for the long haul.  Shelves are emptying, houses are full of people and products.  Jobs are lost or in suspension, or being worked in new ways.  Nerves are strained.  Phew!

But here's what I want to know:

For what are you grateful today?

Five things, right now.  Write them down.

Where have you seen God at work in the past 24 hours?  Write it down.

Now, send it to someone.

Do it again tomorrow.

Don't overwhelm people with email; I know that's part of our stress.  But do share.

I'm grateful that we decided years ago to use Free Conference Call and Zoom to connect, so now I can help others.
I'm grateful for the sunshine today.
I'm grateful for a Companion in residence who is sane and mature, so we aren't killing each other.
I'm grateful for all my Companions, and companions, and family.
I'm grateful for my sobriety and abstinence, so I'm not panicking over not having access to my "drugs."

I saw God yesterday in an online group of leaders looking for creative ways to contribute to others.
I saw God in the train engineer who waved at me when I waved at him.
There's so much more!

So, pass it on.
Breathe.  Laugh.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Fear Not: Love Much

Of course you already know what I'm writing about.  As COVID-19 spreads, everyone is scrambling - not to stop it, but to slow it down enough for the health care system to avoid collapse.  I have one friend with the virus and another in quarantine, and each day it creeps closer to home.  Dario, one of our Companions, has friends and family in Italy.  He's watching with horror as doctors have to make terrible decisions in the wake of insufficient ventilators.

Last night we had our weekly Companions call, and we talked about what the tradition has to say about our situation.  I mentioned a conversation with a friend who believes that being afraid is unfaithful.  She cited "perfect love casts out fear."  I could cite the many times angels say, "Be not afraid."  But this is a distortion.  I believe they say that precisely because fear is normal and often appropriate.  It takes a leap to go forward, but it's not so much erasing fear as going ahead in spite of it.

Love is our most powerful tool (if we can call it a tool) for doing that, but being afraid does not, I believe, mean that my love is lacking.  The question is, what is love calling me to in the midst of the fear?

Other Companions cited the Biblical command to love one another, to care for the sick and the outcast.  They are looking for ways to contribute to others.  We talked about stranded students, isolated elderly, those who rely on food pantries that are closing.  I'm encouraged to hear about the many ways people are creating to take care of one another.  Dario is contributing by his research into viral sequencing (have I got that right, Dario?).

So today, after doing a massive grocery run, I'm pondering how I can contribute.  I am not sure yet where I can put my physical self to make a difference, but I know I can try to be a calm and loving presence.  In the grocery store I kept telling people, "we are going to be alright."  Yes, most of us are likely to get this thing, and for most of us it will be like any unpleasant virus.  We need to take extraordinary measures for the sake of those who are at high risk.

I'd love to hear what you are doing to love others in this time of fear.  Are you helping by showing up, or by staying away?  Are you donating to organizations that can do what you cannot?  Are you calling shut-ins?

And what do you need?  Do you need some contact with others?  I can do that.  Email me.
Perhaps you'll find that your greatest need is in fact to help someone else, to overcome the sense of helplessness.

Breathe.  God is here, in the midst of it all.  Love much.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Frederick Douglass: Now More Than Ever!

I was delighted to sit down at Matins today and find that the Episcopal Church is remembering F
Frederick Douglass.  Then I was even more delighted when I went to the monastery for Eucharist and found that they have included him in their calendar.

It would be important to remember Douglass at any time.  His fight for freedom and dignity, his challenge to the churches that did not disavow slavery, inspires me - I hope inspires all of us - to stand against contemporary slavery and oppression.

Oh yes, slavery is alive and well.  It's thriving all over the world, including the United States.  We sometimes call it human trafficking now, but it's the same phenomenon.  Women, men, children either outright abducted, seduced, or misled into positions of helplessness, often under threat to themselves or those they love, locked in and sometimes chained; millions of people are enslaved today.  They work in so many of our booming industries, legal and illegal.  Labor sectors such as domestic service and migrant labor operate with virtually no legal protection, and slavery thrives there.  Our prisons have become mass slave plantations.  Life-long citizens and immigrants are all potential victims.

The Church of England has launched the Clewer Initiative to challenge and eradicate modern slavery.  I'm pleased to say that the Community of St. John Baptist in New Jersey has joined this initiative.  If you want to learn more, start here: https://www.theclewerinitiative.org.

In the U.S. many groups are engaged in this work.  Start with the Polaris Project:

As the tide of racism and nationalism rises in the U.S. and around the world, the memory of those who have fought before becomes every more precious.

Almighty God, we bless your Name for the witness of Frederick Douglass, whose impassioned and reasonable speech moved the hearts of people to a deeper obedience to Christ: Strengthen us also to speak on behalf of those in captivity and tribulation, continuing in the way of Jesus Christ our Liberator; who with you and the Holy Spirit dwells in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Your Life as Story

I went to an amazing workshop this weekend.  For years people have said I should write a memoir, and I've tried, then stopped.  This year it finally felt like time - but I don't know anything about creative writing, I'm afraid of being a boring writer, blah blah.  But I decided to commit.  I told my family, and my brother and his wife offered space for me to write next fall.  Then I saw that Beverly D'Onofrio was leading a workshop on memoir writing at Holy Cross.  I held my breath, cancelled two commitments (huge for me), and signed up.

I was terrified.  We had some powerful writers in there, with wonderful rich stories.  I made the cardinal mistake of comparing my writing to theirs, and became convinced again I couldn't do it.  I ran to my room and texted Elizabeth, then I went to lunch.  I told another participant my fear, and she shared hers, and I found my footing again.  I not only had a desire to write, I had a community of writers.

Now I desperately want to write.  I'm looking for the slot in my schedule that will let this become a habit.  I'm pondering setting it up as a separate blog, so I share some of it (assuaging my guilt for not writing here more often).  I have other writing commitments for a while, but I need to start.  15 minutes a day becomes a habit.

Our teacher told us that writing actually heals memories, moving them from the right side of the brain to the left, like EMDR.  That's fascinating, and attractive.  I want to see what happens as I write.

I believe God is in this.  My whole life story is about God finding me and dragging me toward the light.  I believe I have a story that can help others.  But I also know I can slide away from this task simply by not making a new habit.  So I ask your prayers for me to build these muscles and reflexes, to need to write.  And know that I am praying for all of us to find our voices and let God's love flow through us.

God bless you and keep you, and God give you the courage to see and share your story.